Five Cool Things and Landscape with Snow

It’s always a challenge for me to balance between the movies I want to see and the television shows I want to make it through. This year I seem to be hitting the sweet spot finding ways to watch plenty of both. That’s a very satisfying feeling.

The Greatest Showman

I initially had no interest in seeing The Greatest Showman. I’m not an enormous musical fan, don’t really like biopics, am not particularly interested in P.T. Barnum and the trailer didn’t do it for me. But then it started getting a lot of buzz on my social-media feeds. At first, I let that sweep right past me because I can’t trust what a lot of my friends enjoy but then the friends whose movie opinions I do trust started singing its praises and so we went.

For the first 20 minutes or more, I was not impressed. The story was lacking and the songs, while perfectly serviceable for a movie musical, weren’t all that memorable and the spectacle wasn’t wowing me.

Then came “This Is Me.”

It is a big, boisterous, beautiful song from the Lady Gaga school of believing in yourself. It’s got a rousing chorus you’ll be singing long after you leave the theater, and the film gives it a really dynamic, eye-filling bit of spectacle. We’ve been playing it pretty much nonstop on YouTube since we got home. The film has quite a few flaws in terms of story, but “This Is Me” makes it worth seeing on the big screen.

Halt and Catch Fire

There is a lot of Mad Men DNA in Halt and Catch Fire. They are both prestige workplace dramas set in that not too distant past. Both have charismatic male leads with a mysterious past. They both deal with women’s struggle in the workplace. And booth are really good.

Halt and Catch Fire is set in the early ’80s amongst the early days of personal computers. It’s set in a fictional mid-level Texas computer company. It stars Lee Pace as the Don Draper figure who has big dreams and a troubled history. Scoot McNairy is the computer genius whose previous failed attempt to build a brand new computer has left him depressed and without ambition. MacKenzie Davis is the cyberpunk kid brought in to help build the new computer Lee Paces’ character wants to use to put them on the map.

It’s a prestige drama that isn’t quite up to snuff. Its a cool premise with some great acting but the writing never quite hits its mark and the showrunners don’t seem to have a strong enough sense of where it’s going to make this a top-tier drama, but there’s still plenty to love.

I especially like Kerry Bishe as McNairy’s wife. She’s a computer nerd too with mad skills who has had to settle for a lesser job than she deserves, while still having to juggle home making, taking care of the kids, and putting up with a husband who isn’t always there for her. But she’s not the typical TV wife, a joykill for her ambitious husband. She’s smart and funny and really interesting.

I’m about 2/3rds of the way through the first season. I’m very much enjoying while recognizing it coud be so much better.

Deep Red

Amazon Prime is now streaming Dario Argento’s Deep Red so I just had to watch it again. Made in 1975 (five years after his astonishing debut The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and just two years before his masterpiece Suspiria), Deep Red is in some ways the most purely Dario Argento film in his filmography. In other ways, it acts as a bridge between his early more police procedural films and his later more supernatural ones.

It stars David Hemmings as a pianist who witnesses a murder in the flat just below his own who then takes it upon himself to solve the case. The story rambles and doesn’t always make sense which became a trademark of the director. As does its acute visual style. Argento uses a bright color palette with plenty of bright red and a hypnotic sense of camera placement. There is violence and plenty of blood, but Argento, moreso than many other directors in the giallo genre, knows how to pull away when needed giving the film a more suspenseful sense than a gore-filled one.

It feels a bit like he just discovered the use of the extreme close-up as he uses it to excess here. The score by his usual rock band Goblin once again thumps and pounds itself into our senses.

There is a psychic, a pretty intense use of a scary doll, and a pretty gruesome scalding in a hot bath. Argento intentionally came up with kills from every day objects, thinking this was more relatable than the more standard shootings and stabbings.

Overall, it’s a classic Argento horror with plenty to love.

Doctor Who: Battlefield

I believe this was my first story with Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor. Made in the late ’80s, the first thing that strikes me is how much the special effects have improved over my much loved ’70s Doctor Who. The series has always had a tiny budget, and it always looked like it, and that was always part of its charm. Obvious men in rubber suits or Styrofoam or even old socks is part of the beauty that makes the show.

Here, the effects look better than ever and yet they have that very “made in the ’80s” feel to it. The credits were designed with those early computer-generated graphics and the men in rubber suits still look like men in rubber suits, but the rubber has gotten nicer and the video has gotten cleaner. It’s still clearly made on a budget and still quite dated-looking but it is still light years improved over those early stories.

The plot of Battlefield is a bit befuddling. The Doctor and his companion Ace (another first for me) land on Earth sometime in the near future. The locals are all re-enacting a famous battle from the area and they are all dressed up like they are in Medieval times. Soon enough, real Medieval people show up (or rather aliens who come from a Medieval fantasy planet where the old Arthurian legends are real, apparently). They are looking for Excalibur and think the Doctor is Merlin the wizard (and who knows, maybe he is in some future adventure).

UNIT is there too, with a nuclear weapon for some reason or another. It’s led by Brigadier Bambera, but soon enough the old Bridgadier Lethbridge-Stewart shows up, called out of retirement due to the Doctor’s presence). Later, a cool-looking monster shows up in a fancy rubber suit but he’s dispensed of so quickly it’s hardly worth noticing. It’s wrapped up too quickly to be really good and Lethbridge-Stewart seems to be there to please longtime fans (and as one of those I was pleased to see him) but mostly, it’s a lot of fun.

The Last Detective

After watching Doctor Who, I stumbled upon this British detective series and as it stars Peter Davison (otherwise known as the Fifth Doctor), I just had to give it a shot. He plays DC Davies, nicknamed “Dangerous” by his coworkers, who use it sarcastically. Davies is a decent copper who doesn’t go in for the rough and tumble aspects of the job but rather treats criminals decently and with a certain kindness and respect. For that, he is maligned by everyone but those criminals.

As such, he gets the jobs no one else wants. In the pilot episode (which like so many British series is as long as a short movie), he sort of stumbled on a decades-old missing girl case. No one asks him to look into it but his own curiosity, and perhaps a need to prove himself a capable detective, he begins secretly investigating. 

It is a nice little drama. Engaging in a gentle, friendly way, exactly the way Davison plays the main character. This isn’t an edgy, or gritty crime drama. It’s a nice little show, well made and enjoyable in a Sunday afternoon sort-of way. I’ll definitely be watching more when I need something easy to turn on so I can turn off the day.

Landscape with Snow

Tired of the oppressive winter gloom in Paris, Vincent van Gogh was in mid-February 1888 to find rejuvenation in the healthy atmosphere of sun-drenched Arles. When he stepped off the train in that southern French city, he found it covered in snow, under a record-breaking cold spell. As the snow began to melt, he painted Landscape with Snow and began his most fruitful and brilliant part of his career.

Mat Brewster

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