Stuff I’ve Read, Watched, Done #12 – October 5, 2020

Another week lived, another week gone. It’s school holidays at the moment, which has meant a bit more TV with the kids!

That’s included slowly pushing forward on shows like Young Justice, Star Trek Voyager, and (with my eldest daughter, who doesn’t like the other shows) The Umbrella Academy, and (without any kids) Battlestar Galactica. I just finished the second season of that show which just went into crazy directions. If you haven’t seen it, this is a bit of a SPOILER, but in the season finale the show’s plot takes a massive turn and then about ten minutes to the end of the episode the whole story jumps forward a year to see how things have played out. This isn’t just a temporary event that gets “reset” in any way–it’s the beginning of the show’s new status quo. Quite surprising.

I’ve also watched a handful of movies. I finally finished The Last Samurai for my Fifty New Old Movies series (commentary forthcoming), but most of the things I watched this week were old movies that I was introducing to my kids.

First up was Cool Runnings–the vaguely true story of the first Jamaican bobsled team back at the Calgary Olympics in 1988. It’s not the sort of thing one can take too seriously, but still it’s funny, light-hearted and kind of inspirational. I’ve had it in the back of my mind to re-watch for a long time, and now Disney Plus has provided a way! It features a catchy soundtrack and some fun performances by Leon, Doug E. Doug and John Candy in his last role. I was surprised to find the music was composed by Hans Zimmer, but it turns out he was already well into his Hollywood career by that point. It’s a silly movie, but with at least one meaningful line: “A gold medal is a wonderful thing, but if you’re not enough without one, you’ll never be enough with one.”

The next night, we watched Aliens, directed by James Cameron. So you know, basically the same movie.

There seemed to be some sort of deal on iTunes where the movie was available to either rent or buy for only $5.00. So you know, we bought it.

Aliens is slightly-less-horrifying-but-more-fun sequel to Alien, which I’m in no hurry to show my kids. But we all enjoyed Aliens, which let’s face it, is one of the best action films ever made with one of the best action leads–Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. But she is backed up by a whole bunch of other great characters–amongst them the level-headed Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn), the understated synthetic officer Bishop (Lance Henriksen), the tough-as-nails Sergeant Apone (Al Matthews) and the hilarious and irreverent Private Hudson (a scene-stealing Bill Paxton). Plus a standout performance from Carrie Henn in her only credited acting role as Newt. Aliens is a rip roaring fun time with some fantastically staged action and some amazing jump scares.

At the end of the film, my one daughter said she loved the characters and declared boldly in a way that is typical for her that if anyone ever did anything bad to the survivors in the future, then she’d be very angry.

I guess I won’t be showing her Alien3!

Then just last night we watched The Journey of Natty Gann, again thanks to Disney Plus.

Natty Gann is a depression-era family drama about a teen girl who leaves Chicago to find her father who has had to leave to find work in Washington. It’s an earnest story of her adventures in some beautiful American countryside which is mostly told without sentiment, although it does involve her becoming friends with a wolf. Meredith Salenger plays Natty in her debut role–she’s very good, although I haven’t really seen her in anything else. She’s supported by John Cusack as a guy she meets on her travels, Ray Wise as her dad, Lainie Kazan as the woman who is supposed to be looking after her, and Scatman Crothers as a friend of hers in Chicago. It’s probably a bit of a slow film for today’s standards, but I still find it an engaging emotional story.

The Journey of Natty Gann came out originally in 1985, one year before Aliens. Both films’ music were composed by James Horner, which I found to be a funny coincidence.

In my own world of creativity, I haven’t done much. But I did get a bit further coming up with the rough version of the sound effects for the latest and last episode of The Hanna Jo Stories, so that’s good. Currently I’m in the middle of a scene where two kangaroos attack a mechanical rabbit and a small flying horse with a deadly robotic hippopotamus. It’s thrilling stuff!

Oh, I forgot to mention last week that amongst other things, we watched the Netflix original Enola Holmes. The story is about Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister Enola (read it backwards), who was basically abandoned by her older brothers to live with her free-spirited but revolutionary mother in their ancestral home. When the mother suddenly disappears, Enola’s freedom is going to be taken away by the insufferably stodgy eldest brother Mycroft, so Enola makes her escape. She sets off to find her mother but instead comes across a mystery involving the attempted murder of a young love interest / member of the House of Lords whose vote will be pivotal for a bill that will provide vague and unspecified reforms for women. This is also the general area the mother is fighting for, and helps to establish the film’s themes of female empowerment and self-determination.

Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things is Enola, and Helena Bonham-Carter is her mother. Henry Cavill is the best looking Sherlock Holmes we’ve ever seen, and Sam Clafin is the most annoying Mycroft. The whole film is pretty entertaining and I’m sure I’ll tune into the inevitable sequel, but I can’t really bring myself to say it was actually good.

It’s too simplistic in its treatment of its themes, and has an annoying conceit in which Enola narrates parts of the story by speaking directly to the camera. Henry Cavill’s Sherlock is likable but one of the least interesting versions of the character I’ve ever seen. I’m not a Sherlock Holmes purist, but he only bears a passing resemblance to any concept of Sherlock Holmes that I’ve ever imagined, and is mainly there to reinforce how clever Enola is.

Oh well. At least, after it was over, I was able to pull out some stuff on Youtube and show a couple of my daughters some of the best Sherlock Holmes depictions of the past, including the likes of Jeremy Brett, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Robert Downey jr.

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