Life is busy, and including home-life, but still includes a fair amount of TV viewing.
Stranger Things 4
One of those was the fourth season of Stranger Things, or at least the first half of it, which came out on Netflix recently. Early promotional material for the season promised that they had amped up the horror elements of the series this time around, and that certainly was true. The first episode includes such a gruesome death scene (very obviously inspired by A Nightmare on Elm Street) that I’m pretty sure we would not have continued with the show at all if we hadn’t seen the first three seasons.
Nonetheless, we persevered with the show and have definitely enjoyed it, in spite of a lot weaknesses. So far, certain characters have been much better utilized than others. On the weaker side, there is Mike, Will and Jonathan, whose part in the story has been a drag. Elle was pretty awful at first (showing again that American TV does a terrible job showing high school bullying), but her story picked up toward the end of the run of episodes.
Much better has been the stuff with Nancy, Steve and Dustin. And I have also enjoyed the admittedly ridiculous Russia storyline with Hopper and Joyce.
But the very best of the show this year has been Max, played by the amazing (it turns out) Sadie Sink.
Three or four episodes in it became clear that Max was the character most at risk from the season’s big threat. And with the news that the show has now got a clear end point in mind (the fifth season will be the last), I’ve been worried that it will start killing off regular characters. Indeed, I think one of the real strengths of the series has been its ability to make us really believe that our beloved heroes are at real risk without actually resorting to just killing them for the sake of the shock of it. Indeed, in the first three violent seasons, only four “regular” characters have died, and two of those deaths have since been undone.
So all that to say, I was pretty worried we were actually going to lose Max. Instead, she not only survived, but did so in one of the show’s greatest ever sequences.
Now, there’s another half-season to go, due to be released on July 1st, so still anything could happen. But so far, I’m overall pretty pleased with how it’s going.
Changing gears here a bit, I recently re-watched High Society. It’s a movie I’ve only seen once before, many years ago (it was on VHS back then) and before I watched it I would have been pretty snobby about it.
It’s a romantic comedy from 1956 starring Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. I think in my young adult life I would have considered Crosby and Sinatra too old-fashioned fuddy-duddy for me to appreciate. And Grace Kelly I knew nothing about. I had seen and enjoyed The Philadelphia Story, which this movie is a musical remake of, and so I would have poo-poohed High Society as being inevitably inferior.
Well, I haven’t rewatched The Philadelphia Story lately so I don’t know how it actually stacks up, but now I’ve got a much more solid appreciation of the movie star talent that Crosby and Sinatra bring to the screen, and I’ve come to recognize that Grace Kelly was extraordinary. So I’m all in on High Society.
And the movie pays off. There are some interesting relationship turns in the film, which features not a romantic triangle, but more of a romantic pentagon (or even a hexagon, if we count the enthusiastic Uncle Willie!) The musical numbers–more singing than dancing–work well, especially when Louis Armstrong is involved (along with his band, Armstrong is playing himself). And there is a hilarious scene where Kelly and her on-screen sister (played by Lydia Reed) gaslight a couple of visiting reporters (Sinatra and Celeste Holm) by acting like the most extreme version of the upper class that they can pull off. I really enjoy this one.
It took me a while (because my daughter was busy studying for exams and when there was time we were watching Stranger Things), but we finally finished Moon Knight, the at-the-time latest MCU TV show from Disney+. I have to admit that I was enjoying this at the start but then got quickly bored in the middle when it decided to spend a lot of time inside an Egyptian tomb and featured a whole bunch of characters who were all hosts to different Egyptian deity-spirits. Another secret society influencing things from behind the scenes in the MCU? I thought.
Then suddenly the two Oscar Isaacs were in a mental institution, and I perked up again just because it had suddenly gone so strange. It held my attention to the end at that point, which meant that unlike WandaVision, Loki, and Hawkeye, the last episode wasn’t also the worst episode.
Oscar Isaac is good, and I’m curious what’s going to happen in season 2, but overall I find Marvel to be not very good at telling a strong story over a six or eight episode run-time.
Miss Marple: The Body in the Libary
During this time Ms. Marvel began on Disney+ as well, and one night I suggested watching the first episode. Everyone responded pretty enthusiastically, which seemed to really please my wife. This was strange as she’s pretty indifferent to the stranger corners of the MCU. Turns out she had misheard us, and thought we were talking about watching Miss Marple, the English detective character from Agatha Christie.
So that night we watched the first Ms. Marvel (more on that when it’s all done) and also the first episode of Miss Marple–The Body in the Libary part 1. Since then we’ve watched the rest of the story (three episodes total). The story originally debuted in 1984.
Joan Hickson is by far the best Miss Marple I’ve ever seen (some lists will put Margaret Rutherford at the top spot, but though she is a lot of fun, she’s a far cry from the character that Agatha Christie actually wrote) and the story is told with the impeccable detail and care that the British are especially good at. Body in the Library is a great puzzle to start off with, and one that kept me fooled even though I’d actually read the book at some point in the past–I have always found Agatha Christie’s plots hard to remember once a certain amount of time has past, which it seems is going to serve me well if we keep watching this old show.
Overall my family enjoyed it and my middle daughter loved it. She thought Miss Marple was a boss, which surprised me as she usually is pre-occupied with fantasy, science fiction and animation.
Death in Paradise
Speaking of mysteries and detectives, my wife and I finally finished the first two seasons of Death in Paradise, starring Ben Miller and Sara Martins. I’ve watched lots of the show before, but started with season 3 when Kris Marshall joined the cast as the (at the time) new lead detective. Now I’ve seen all of the show before then, when it was about DI Richard Poole, an extremely irritating man who always seemed to hate his assignment to a Caribbean police station so much that he made life miserable for himself and everyone around him.
Fortunately he does ease up a little over those two years, and to develop a softness in his relationship with his main assistant, DS Camille Bordey (Sara Martins). It would have been interesting to see where it had gone, if Miller had remained with the show. As it is, I never came to enjoy these episodes as much as I did the later ones featuring Marshall and Martins (my favorite pairing in the show that I’ve seen, though that only goes up to Season 8 so far), but it did eventually stop being annoying.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Another change of pace was this war-time drama by writer-director Mark Herman, based on the novel by John Boyne. The story is a highly affecting one about Bruno, the son of a new Nazi camp commandant (implied though not stated to be Auschwitz) who is incredibly naive about the situation around him. He ends up befriending a boy, Shmuel, on the other side of a fence nearby. Shmuel is obviously a Jewish prisoner but the ignorant Bruno assumes it’s a farm with a fence to keep the animals in. He just wonders why Shmuel and all his friends wear pajamas with numbers on them.
The movie follows the lonely Bruno as he struggles to make sense of everything going on around him, even while his family seem to be falling apart. His inability to do so results in him ultimately (and inadvertently) following Shmuel to his tragic fate in the gas chamber, along with many others.
The movie (and the novel its based on) have been the subject to some criticism for some of its historical inaccuracies (many say it would have extremely unlikely that Shmuel would have been allowed to live as long as he did in this story), and for creating a false equivalence between the suffering of the Jews and the suffering of the Nazi family at the loss of their son. I’d say these criticisms are valid, but only significant because how sensitive the subject matter is–in most instances historical accuracy is not the highest priority in fiction, and usually stories from all different perspectives are valuable.
Everyone can decide for themselves if these problems make this movie one that shouldn’t be engaged with at all, but that’s not how I feel. And I think aside from all that, it’s a well-told story that packs an emotional wallop, and is well acted by young actors Asa Butterfield and Jack Scanlon, as well as by David Thewlis and Vera Farmiga as Bruno’s parents.
(Incidentally, I just discovered that the movie is actually called The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas when it’s outside the United States, which is the same title as the novel).
There’s actually a lot of other things, both on TV and in real life. I’m continuing to make progress on the Sister Veronica documentary, and hopefully will be able to move seriously into the more detailed and fiddly post-production activities, such as color correction and serious sound adjustments.
I’ve also completed most of my birthday activities, but I might share that in another post.