Five Cool Things and Welcome to Marwen

See what cool things I discovered this week.
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This is what I like to call "recovery week."  After vacation, I always come home to a large stack of papers and assorted check stubs on my desk that I have to sort through and try to make sense out of.  It is always stressful and this week was no exception.  This was also the first full week of which my daughter has been out of school and not with either her grandparents or on vacation.  I mostly work from home and so it's always a challenge to balance spending time with her and actually getting my work accomplished.

Despite all of this, I managed to consume some really good pop culture, so let’s get to it.

The Shape of Water

I watched this Oscar-winning film a few nights ago, but I’m still processing my feelings on it. I was really looking forward to watching it as it garnered a lot of good reviews and looked really interesting.  Yet when I finally sat down with it, for about the first half I felt this encompassing sense of disappointment.

While clearly influenced by The Creature From the Black Lagoon, the film it kept evoking in my mind was Amelie.  They both have fairy-tale qualities.  They both feature female leads who are quirky and shy, who live inside themselves but have a certain internal assuredness.  They both use a vivid color scheme and visual style.  And they both rely pretty heavily upon whimsy to tell their story.  While this works incredibly well for me in Amelie, it did not work well for me in The Shape of Water.  I really like whimsy but here it felt like too much. I also found the somewhat explicit nature of the romantic relationship between the sea creature and the lead character a bit more than I could take.

Things eventually begin to shape up and I finally found its wavelength about two-thirds of the way through.  It is a beautiful looking film and the acting is quite good.  Its also very composed, almost too composed as if Guillermo del Toro spent just a little too much time meticulously planning every inch of the film and forgot to breathe a little more life into it.  Still, it is well worth watching, if for nothing else than to just look at the thing.

Scott & Bailey

scott and bailey .jpgScott & Bailey is a British crime show that ran for five seasons from 2011 - 2016.  It stars Suranne Jones and Leslie Sharpe as elite detectives in Manchester.  It was created by Sally Wainwright who also did the excellent Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley.

Much like Happy Valley, it places its focus more on the main characters than the crimes.  Unlike Happy Valley, it does not focus on a single crime over the course of the season but has crimes of the week.

The police stuff is well done, but it's the relationship between the two that really works.  Wainwright is great at developing characters and making them real and relatable.  There is an abortion subplot that does a great job digging into the complicated nature of that procedure without ever preaching or really taking a hardline stance on either side.

I’m only a few episodes in but I’m really enjoying it.

Bandette

bandette comic.jpgIf you are growing tired of all the grim and dark superhero stories, then Bandette is the book for you. Bandette is a young thief living in France who steals from other criminals and ne’er-do-wells who deserve to be stolen from.  She is charming and funny tossing off bon mots while avoiding capture.  It's a light-hearted caper comic in the vein of European kid comics like Tin Tin.  It is very silly and inconsequential and so much fun.

Under Capricorn

under capricorn - kino lorber.jpgThis mid-period Alfred Hitchcock romantic drama is set in Australia in the 19th century.  It stars Joseph Cotton as an ex-con who had made a fortune in the outback, but who will never be accepted into proper society.  Ingrid Bergman stars as his long suffering wife who is descending into alcoholism and madness.  The acting is strong and Hitchcock has some interesting directorial tricks up his sleeve but the script isn’t very good making it second-tier Hitchcock.  But even not very good Hitchcock makes for some pretty good cinema. You can read my full review here.

Ghosted

ghosted.jpgGhosted stars Adam Scott and Craig Robinson as polar opposite partners at the Bureau Underground - a sort of X-Files government task force that goes after paranormal monsters. For the first two thirds of the first season, it was an enjoyable but completely inconsequential show.  There were a lot of jokes, but not a lot else.  They employed a "freak of the week" strategy in which the two leads got up to a bunch of silliness but it was light on character development, light on secondary characters, light on pretty much everything else, but the chemistry between Scott and Robinson.  But there was enough of it to keep me watching.

Somewhere in the back end of the show, it started to retool.  It brought it more secondary characters (there were always three others, but by season end there were half a dozen more), making it much more of an ensemble.  They started actually developing the characters, giving them some back story and allowing them to have a little bit of depth.  They toned down the monsters to allow a longer story to develop, one that actually kept my interest and made me want to watch the next episode and the next.

I’ve never been a fan of shows that are just joke machines without giving me characters and a story to care about.  I was casually watching Ghosted for most of this season as it was something easy to put on with the family but those last few episode brought it up several notches and now I’m real interested to see where its going.

Welcome to Marwen

Years ago, I randomly caught a documentary called Marwencol on PBS.  It was about Mark Hogancamp who had been nearly beaten to death outside a bar, putting him in a temporary coma and causing him to lose much of his memory.  Unable to cope with the outside world, he created a 1/6th scale replica of a World War II-era Belgian town and populated it with dolls representing himself, his friends, and even his attackers.  It was a fascinating movie and now it's been fictionalized by Robert Zemeckis.  The trailer looks nothing like the documentary (the real dolls never came to life except, perhaps, in Hogancamp’s imagination) but it looks like a lot of fun. 

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