Five Cool Things and Christopher Walken

This week's cool things include the Filmstruck app, a Kurosawa film, a couple of shows I'm catching up on, and a new teaser trailer.
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For my birthday last week, my wife bought me an Amazon Fire TV.  We’ve had an Apple TV for several years and enjoyed it but it needed an upgrade and I decided to give Amazon a try.  For obvious reasons, the Apple TV doesn’t support Amazon streams and since I’ve been an Amazon Prime member for awhile we were losing out on lots of interesting stuff.  I could actually stream Amazon content from my iPad to the Apple TV but that's an extra couple of steps to take and my lazy self rarely went to the trouble.

Here's five cool things I (mostly) found on my new toy.

Filmstruck

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When I got my new Fire TV set up, the first thing I did was download the Filmstruck app.  That’s a fairly new streaming service designed by the Criterion Collection  and Turner Classic Movies.  It leans pretty heavily into Criterion's catalog and films that would fit right into it.  With TCM on board, I really expected to see more classic Hollywood fare starring folks like Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, and Katherine Hepburn, and while some of that stuff is there, the bulk of the selections are more foreign language, art-house, and independent films.  This is not necessarily a bad thing but it does mean I won’t be using the service as often as I might otherwise.  I love me some Ingmar Bergman and Jim Jarmusch but they don’t make the sort of films I want to throw on a Friday night and veg out on.

They’ve done a nice job of curating the films they do have.  They are laid out in various categories from directors and actors to themes and country of origin.  There are essays about why each film fits into each category and then again essays on each film.  Like the Criterion Collection itself, there are supplemental materials ranging from commentary tracks to documentaries on the films.  It's like your own private film school all streaming straight to your TV.  I love it.

Drunken Angel

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In my sales pitch to my wife about Filmstruck, I ended with something like “how cool is it that you can stream Kurosawa films at any time?”  It is extremely cool and one of the first films I streamed was Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel.  It's generally considered the film in which the director came into his own.

It's also notable for being the first collaboration between Kurosawa and Toshiba Mifune (the pair went on to make another 15 films together).   He stars as a Yakuza gangster dying of tuberculosis.  Another great Kurosawa collaborator, Takashi Shimura plays a down-on-his-luck doctor whose alcoholism (he is the angel of the title) and angry disposition  have kept him working in the slums of post-war Tokyo.  The two form an unlikely bond as the doctor tries to heal the gangster while he tries to navigate life in the Yakuza.

It's not quite as splashy as The Seven Samurai or as moving as Ikiru, but it really starts to get at some of the themes Kurosawa would deal with over and over and it's always great to watch Mifune and Shimura working together.

Orphan Black

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As mentioned, I was able to stream shows unavailable on my Apple TV through my tablet but setting it up and keeping a good sync was more trouble than I often felt it was worth.  Still my wife and I did watch a few things on Amazon Prime (albeit it rather slowly) and Orphan Black was one of them.  I don’t think it's much of a spoiler at this point to say the show is about a group of clones trying to find out who created them and why.  Tatiana Maslany portrays all the clones.  With a change of costume, a few hair adjustments, and some world-class acting, she’s created a whole world of different characters who have the same genes but exist as very different personalities.

It's a really interesting and incredibly thrilling show and I’m glad we are now going to be able to watch it at a much faster pace.  Hopefully, we’ll catch up quick so I can stop avoiding all the spoilers when a new episode airs.

The Americans

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Set in the 1980s, The Americans stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as Russian spies living a comfortable middle-class life in Washington D.C.  It's a great deal of fun and a bit of a throw back to shows like Remington Steele and Moonlighting (though less goofy than either of those and with much higher production values).  The cast is great and I get a real kick out of all the '80s set pieces.  It has a tendency to rely a little too heavily on its episodic nature rather than giving us longer, more interesting seasonal story arcs.  This causes the show to make each episode a little too exciting and action-packed, making it lose some credibility.  There are just so many times the main characters can murder someone before they’d realistically get caught.  But all in all, it's really enjoyable.

It - Official Teaser Trailer

I’ve never read the Stephen King book it's based upon but I have very strong memories of the '90s mini-series starring Tim Curry.  And by strong memories, I mean it scared the ever-loving crap out of me.  I still hurry past storm drains afraid some crazed clown is gonna grab me.

They are making a new feature-length film of it and the first teaser trailer is out.  It's effectively creepy looking and its gotten me all sorts of excited about it.

Christopher Walken

It's Christopher Walken’s 74th birthday.  To celebrate I recommend watching him read The Three Little Pigs in a way that only Christopher Walken can.

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