Recommended (or not) on Prime

I thought I’d do you the favor of listing some more quick Amazon Prime Video recommendations so you don’t have to waste your time wading through mediocre productions. This is assuming our tastes align, but have I gone wrong before?

You’re welcome.

I sifted through the mountain of Dickens productions to find these gems:

Dickensian– 10-Episode Series- Highly Recommended. I kept scrolling past this one, and then decided to try it. Dickensian, for me, was one of those transporting, elevating pieces of entertainment. It brings together a number of Dickens’ characters for an original story arc, a murder mystery, but so much more than that formulaic genre. It’s really about people, about human nature and what individuals will do to get what they want, at others’ expense. Some pursuits are petty, some are avaricious, and unfortunately all feel true to life. It’s also about sacrifices and the remarkable lengths that some will go to ensure that right wins in the end. And there is another truth explored: that real honesty–difficult reality brought to the light–is loving and cleansing, even to those who do not want to be reached.

Although sometimes dizzying with its carousel of plots and characters, and at times lacking subtlety in final resolutions, this is a beautifully filmed, scripted, and acted series. It is also great fun to recognize Dickens’ characters, made to live again in new stories that are nonetheless respectful of their original source material. And the men and women I don’t know–Jaggers, for instance, and Honoria–have sparked my curiosity so that I will have to look them up. Bucket of the Detective, who might be an original Dickensiancreation, is odd, clever, and warm-hearted enough to be one good reason I revisit the series every few years.

Oliver Twist-(1985) 12-Episode Series-Recommended. Because this is more than three decades old, I was skeptical about the production value. But while it does somewhat have the feel of being filmed on a stage, and costumes and sets are not always convincing, the acting and script are solid, and I found myself getting absorbed in spite of myself. I realized that this Oliver is one of my favorite Dickens TV adaptations to date.

David Copperfield (1999) 4-Episode Miniseries- Recommended. This is colorful, well-acted, and well produced, with funny and kind, evil and tragic characters. The actors are appealing, and the film sets beautiful. I would watch it again just for the wallpaper at the great aunt’s house–just splendid.

Our Mutual Friend 6-Episode Series- Recommended. Yet another Dickens adaptation, this production is a little hard to follow at the beginning, and actually more than a little creepy. Yet the story is not without hope, and the engaging, compelling actors won me over.

Movies with some real historical context that I enjoyed for their unusual settings and production values: Thousand Pieces of Gold and The War Bride. Both have their coarse, gritty details, but made me appreciate the predicaments of the characters.

Next, here are some that are okay picks if nothing else is on:

The Indian Doctor– This series, featuring an Indian couple in the 1960’s who took the doctor’s post in a small Welsh town, is a great concept, with charismatic main actors and beautiful filming. I got mostly through the third season, but have not yet returned to finish it due to over-the-top humor and obnoxious, cliched story arcs.

The Special Needs Hotel: This reality show about a hotel set up to train young people with autism, Down syndrome, and other special needs impresses the viewer with the effectiveness of the program and the kindness of the staff. There are some segments that are gems, such as one resident supported as he plans his big birthday party while practicing phone communication. But it is a reality show, so some awkward love scenes are clearly staged, to the detriment of the actors, perhaps, and for sure the discomfort of the viewers. In another big puzzler, the residents are offered alcohol at their dance parties. However, should a second season be offered, I would watch it.

Home Fires: This series about families left at home in an English village while World War II raged abroad had me electrified. I was delighted to discover a second season, to live again with characters who loved their families and struggled through physical and emotional challenges. Later, however, it felt like the stories burned less brightly, their moral core dampened by BBC writers once again. The series was then consumed in an abrupt blaze, a cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers that was never resolved due to cancellation of the show. Watch at your own risk.

Aristocrats: Six episodes cover the lives of four sisters, English nobility from the 1700’s who make disappointing choices and still have to live with themselves. The series attempts to capture the long sweep of their lives, and so makes a jarring turn at the end, when main actors are replaced by older ones in order to more convincingly show these men and women in their dotage.

BBC’s Emma (2009 miniseries, currently offered through Britbox): I thought I would love this production, featuring Romola Garai. Every time I started watching it, it seemed superfluous given all the current Emma movies out there. It does have its charming, aesthetically pleasing, engaging side, good for dark winter evenings. However, I thought Garai came across too pouty and spoiled, making her Emma not likable enough to carry the scenes with Knightley.

Here are some to not bother with, in my opinion:

The Darling Buds of May: Cute concept, beautiful setting, and engaging acting, but the series celebrates excessive drinking and nontraditional living arrangements with lots of winks and merriment.

Lorna Doone: This was just meh for me. Two young people from opposing sides–one a daughter of a violent clan of outlaws–meet and carry on a dangerous connection. I stopped watching it, so I can’t tell you much else. It didn’t offer much depth to keep me watching.

Wild at Heart: Although some reviewers loved the series, I never finished the first episode. It sounds interesting: a family in England goes to South Africa and ends up staying to run a game reserve. But I thought the story details a little shallow and more suited to younger viewers.

What’s your list? Help us out and save us time by recommending your favorites and steering us away from less worthy material.


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Born Rich

Apropos 10 Cent’s post about people bribing their way into school, the 2001 film Born Rich is a fascinating look at some of the people who grew up in the richest families in America.

It started as a school project by Jamie Johnson, an heir to the J&J fortune and was eventually released at Sundance and shown on HBO.

It’s conveniently online, so I won’t say a lot about it except for a few takeaways I had from watching it.

  • I felt a surprising amount of sympathy for Jamie Johnson.  He talked about how hard it was to get credit for anything he did:  If he succeeded, people would say “obviously, with your family money” and if he failed, “how can you be so stupid to lose even with your family money?”  The scene where his uncle(?) sends him to a antique map dealer(!!) so that he can consider a career as a “map collector” borders on the surreal.
  • Ivanka Trump is featured.  One reason I was an early Trump supporter was seeing how amazing his 19 year old (at the time)  daughter was.
  • There were one or two characters who might be the first against the wall when the revolution comes, and nobody’s going to feel very bad about it.

Here’s the video on Youtube; there’s interesting background on Wiki, but I would read that after viewing for best effect.


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Mini Movie Review: Little Forest a Bright Spot in a Dark Winter

Movie recommendation: I’m watching a beautiful movie on Prime called Little Forest, cheering fare for dark winter evenings. A young woman returns to her rural roots, a Korean farming village, for reasons she can’t fully explain except that she was “hungry” after all the pre-packaged city food. In the gentle plot, she searches for her mother, reconnects with old friends, and cooks lots and lots of comfort food. We are treated to scenes of bubbling pots, steaming soups, and delicate vegetables sautéed at high heat. Much of the action in this movie consists of characters sitting down to eat the lovely concoctions, which is somehow very satisfying. As the cozy winter turns to spring and vivid summer, the viewer is served crisp, colorful scenes of local plant and animal life. All this combined with charming actors and script create a sumptuous work of art.

What delectable edibles have you discovered amongst the garbage of Netflix and Prime?


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Pulp Fiction

My Film Group viewed Pulp Fiction (1994) this Monday. It was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino (54). The name refers to the pulp magazines and crime fiction that was popular during the 1960-1980s, as he was growing up. These were known for their graphic violence. From his early childhood, he knew he wanted to make films, and studied the lives and work of other directors in the genre of gangster and crime films. He then went on to develop his own style, as do all great artists. He is considered one of the greatest film makers of his generation. Pulp Fiction was given seven nominations in the Oscars, including for Best Picture. In 2013, it was preserved in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Pulp Fiction is certainly violent, with John Travolta as Vinvent Vega and Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield, two of the most objective hit men you wouldn’t ever want to meet. They are magnificient as two men with a job to do, which doesn’t interupt their very serious conversation about a foot massage given to Uma Thurman as Mia, the wife of the crime boss Marcellus Wallace. Jules is fearsome as he recites Ezekiel 25:17 incorrectly before he puts a bullet in his target. But what he adds does sound biblical, and the sentiments can be found elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible. The correct quotation, in case you are interested, is, as follows:
Ezekiel 25:17 And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.

As Jules lays the vengence of Marcellus on Brett, he certainly epitomises the most fearful image anyone could have conjured up in their worst nightmare. Then he goes outside and continues his conversation  with Vincent as if nothing has happened. It is so funny, but also so horrific, and the audience are left wondering at its own mixed reaction to it. Absolutely brilliant! This continues throughout the film, and we are left a little shaken that we have laughed our way through a film full of violence, with totally amoral characters, who have so heartily entertained us. Bruce Willis as Butch Coolidge, Ving Rhames as Marcellus Wallace, Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace, and Harvey Keitel as Winston Wolfe, were all perfect for their parts, as was everyone else in this film. I loved each one of them.

Pulp Fiction inspired a wide discussion on its meaning. It appears to deal with American nihilism, which describes the loss of value and meaning in people’s lives, with the loss of religious belief systems. The words of Nietzsche, “God is Dead”, infer that there is no inherent moral code. This film does seem to illustrate all these ideas, and show what life without meaning can look like.

Quentin Tarantino created a masterpiece with Pulp Fiction. It is brilliantly directed, and apparently the actors loved working with him. It reactivated many careers, and furthered others. When it first was screened, I avoided seeing it because of its well-advertised violence, and all the criticism it aroused. I’m very glad I’ve seen it now, and have developed my own opinion of it. I ought not to have listened to the critics. It is a multi-layered film, with lots of food for thought. The characters were so strongly drawn, they remain in my memory, and I even feel fond of them, in spite of their violent jobs.

There is so much more one could say, but primarily I am left with the feeling that Quentin Taratino is saying it with his tongue in his cheek.


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Oscars low ratings

The Oscars is one of those shows that has become a touchstone of popular culture.  Because movies are such an important element of modern American culture, many people entertain themselves by following who is nominated and then anticipating the awards and the patter of the show’s hosts, along with snippets from the films and some video and stage presentations.   It is supposed to be a star-studded celebration of celebrities associated with films, and it generally delivers that.   (I have not watched the Oscars in many years, and am speaking from memory.)

The big news that came out of this year’s Oscars show was the low ratings of the show.   Conservatives blamed the Oscars, saying many former viewers tuned out because they are tired of the tedious and tendentious speechifying and moralizing that have become hallmarks of the show in recent years. Leftist mass media blamed President Trump.

Here is the Washington Post, who were so incensed that Trump voters mostly skipped the Oscars that they lowered themselves to quoting Breitbart News:

John Nolte of Breitbart News said the “writing was on the wall for this ratings catastrophe,” calling Kimmel, this year’s host, one of the most “divisive and polarizing figures in the country” and a “Trump-hating Democrat.”

“On top of insulting Trump voters, this Oscar telecast also promised to be a lecture in favor of gun control (by elitists protected by hundreds of armed guards) and against sexual harassment (by elitists who are either harassers or enablers),” Nolte wrote. “As the early ratings show, even Democrats were not interested in watching that kind of self-serving hypocrisy.”

You should read the entire article.  They quote from several other conservative sources, and complain bitterly about conservative gloating over the low ratings of the Oscars show.  Of course, this is what unnerves them the most:

Lowest rated Oscars in HISTORY. Problem is, we don’t have Stars anymore – except your President (just kidding, of course)!




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