Body and Soul (1993)

Categories: 1993 and TV.

I keep a list of movies to watch. There are thousands of movies on the list and I will never watch all of them. I add titles to it all the time. Occasionally, due to laziness, I omit the year a movie was released when I add a movie. I did that with the film noir Body and Soul. So when I reached the “Bo” section of the list I didn’t know which Body and Soul I was looking for. The library had one, and it had Kristin Scott Thomas in it, so I naturally assumed it was the “movie” Read More

The Blue Planet (2001)

Categories: 2001 and TV.

This is a beautiful nature documentary about the world’s oceans. Having watched the excellent Planet Earth earlier, this feels like a bit of a let down, just because I think Planet Earth is more magnificent. That isn’t the fault of The Blue Planet, but I can’t help feeling some deja vu and also, that the production values improved on the more ambitious one. But this is still great to look at and reasonably informative. 8/10 Read More

The Great Train Robbery (2013)

Categories: 2013 and TV.

I like the conceit of this very brief miniseries (two episodes): first, tell the story of the crime, then, tell how it was solved. And the results are reasonably good, the show is well acted and reasonably well made (for TV, of course). There are a few issues with the direction – particularly in the second episode – but overall it’s entertaining and avoids the usual desire to spice things up. Whether or not this is an accurate telling, it feels accurate. Worth your time on a lazy long weekend if you’re into true crime stuff. 7/10 Read More

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980, Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

Categories: 1980, Movies, and TV.

In 1980, there was no real way for for North American audiences to digest non-English language television. So, on occasions when multiple-episode television programs made there way over to North America, they were screened at film festivals as “films.” A number of European “art house” films from the ’70s and ’80s are actually made-for-tv. It is a testament to the quality of some European television that their mini-series could pass for “art house” films in The United States and Canada. One of these films is Fassbinder’s 900 minute adaptation of Berlin Alexanderplatz, a novel I haven’t read but one of Read More

Show Me a Hero (2015)

Categories: 2015 and TV.

I have to say I sort of screwed myself here; my expectations were sky-high. This is a compelling, affecting and incredibly relevant miniseries about a public housing crisis in Yonkers in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. (I say it’s relevant because as it was airing, a government employee has made the news refusing to uphold the law. Also, it is incredibly relevant given the current war on black people in the US.) It is stocked with a whole bunch of great and name actors playing fairly insignificant roles, which results in a an incredible sense of place and great Read More

Angels in America (2003, Mike Nichols)

Categories: 2003 and TV.

There is a part of me that wants to say this is one of the great works of American literature of the late 20th century but I don’t know enough late 20th century literature to say that with any kind of authority and, specifically, I can’t tell you how few American plays I’ve seen written from then, so, really, I don’t know what I’m saying. It is, mostly, a magnificent work of art. And the staging of it for HBO is, mostly, magnificent (though the CGI has dated horribly). There are a few parts of the play that I think Read More

Southcliffe (2013)

Categories: 2013 and TV.

Well someone really hates British small towns… At least up until its final episode, this is the best directed piece of British TV I have ever seen. There’s an artfulness and purpose to the shots in the early episodes that is movie quality. And that’s not to say that current British TV is poorly directed, it’s just it’s clear that this guy knows what he’s doing. It was then absolutely no surprise to find out that he was a good filmmaker – this is the man behind Martha Marcy May Marlene which, if you haven’t seen…well, you should get on Read More

House of Cards (1990), To Play the King (1993), The Final Cut (1995)

Categories: 1990 and TV.

This review contains some mild spoilers. I watched this earlier than I planned in part in getting impatient for the American season 3 to start, and in part because I heard rumours of no more BBC programming on Netflix. Watching both series is very illustrative. The original British mini series (the first season) is considerably more realistic than the American show, though this realism goes off the rails a little bit in the subsequent series. But it is clear to me that the American show has learned lessons from the British one, and from the intervening “Golden Age” of American Read More

The Dust Bowl (2012, Ken Burns)

Categories: 2012 and TV.

This is Burns’ shortest major TV doc yet and, as with his other more recent work, it is significantly stronger than some of the longer documentaries, if only because there is so much less to pick apart. The film is very much in the same tone as his other films – it very much bears his mark as a filmmaker – but unlike previous films (save The War obviously), the people who lived through it are here to tell the tale, and that gives the film a great deal more power than his films that rely solely on celebrities reading Read More

Prohibition (2011, Ken Burns, Lynn Novick)

Categories: 2011 and TV.

This is the shortest Burns mini-series yet, and I am tempted to say it is the best, or at least the most consistent. It also feels the least mythological, which is refreshing coming from Burns, a man who can never avoid mythologizing or re-mythologizing his country’s history. Though I knew a fair amount about the era, it’s safe to say there is still plenty to learn about it in such an intensive treatment (6 hours or so) and, as always, Burns provides interesting personal stories and interesting insight from people who have thought about this a lot more than you Read More

The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (2009, Ken Burns)

Categories: 2009 and TV.

This is probably Burns’ most over-mythologized documentary to date, and that alone should make it kind of bad. I mean, it’s practically insufferable how over-the-top some of these interviewees are with The Meaning of the National Parks. All of Burns’ other mini-series that I have seen have done this to an extent, but this one takes the cake. However, there are a few reasons why I am overcome by the film to stop caring about the bullshit pouring out of these people’s mouths. For one thing, it is gorgeous to look at. Combining both contemporary footage and historical photography and Read More

Jazz (2001, Ken Burns)

Categories: 2001 and TV.

Jazz is a noble attempt to be the defining documentary about jazz, “America’s art music” and one of the greatest things to happen in human history, in my humble opinion. Burns has assembled his usual materials – pictures, quotes, historians, contemporary music – to go along with video clips and reminiscences due to the fact that much of this music was performed when it could be recorded either by audio alone or by audio and film. And it should be commended that the tried to do this, just like Burns should be commended for his other long-form documentary projects. But Read More

The West (1996, Stephen Ives)

Categories: 1996 and Movies.

This is a “Ken Burns” documentary series, but unlike his most famous works, he acted only as Executive Producer (or, perhaps, Show Runner, as we call it now days). The show is, at times, incredibly Burnsian, despite Burns’ relative lack of involvement. And this is the biggest problem with what is an informative and interesting (and at times, affecting, mini series). Some episodes are more in debt to Burns’ trademark style than others (some feel like carbon copies of The Civil War albeit with different subject matter). Burns’ remaking on myths is on full throttle here, and it feels as Read More

Baseball (1994, 2010 Ken Burns, Lynn Novick)

Categories: 1994 and TV.

Burns and co.’s constant mythologizing is a lot more appropriate here than it was in The Civil War, and as such I feel like this effort is the more successful one, despite the greater historical importance of the first series. And to their credit, they only mythologize about certain things: for examples, the game’s ludicrous origin myth is thoroughly destroyed, as is the idea that the best players of all-time played in the early 20s when Blacks weren’t allowed. But the program is a little myopic given its length: though some local focus is necessary this documentary is far too Read More

Himalaya with Michael Palin (2004)

Categories: 2004 and TV.

This is yet another excellent Michael Palin travel series with the usual: great scenery, fascinating places and people, and Palin’s general affability. The only thing I can really say in criticism is that it seems a shame they were only able to get 6 hours out of 6 month trip through some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. I am guessing that a longer series would have involved endless shots of him walking up or down or along a mountain. Well worth seeing for any fan of travel documentaries, as is always the case with everything he has Read More

The Prisoner (2009)

Categories: 2009 and TV.

I was certainly sceptical of this but I guess I couldn’t help myself. I have a fondness for the original even though the second season was unnecessary and kind of terrible and even though the whole series has dated rather horribly. But I don’t know what these guys were thinking: they have changed enough of the story to make it somewhat unrecognizable: the village is significantly less creepy this time around and far less sinister given that there are actually people who want to get out. The new version is an excuse for over-directing galore and some pretty odd pacing Read More

State of Play (2003)

Categories: 2003 and TV.

For about all but a half hour of its run-time, this is a fantastic – if occasionally unbelievable – miniseries about political corruption and journalism. It’s like the British All the President’s Men – yes it’s that good – but with a little bit of soap thrown in (apparently they couldn’t resit). The one thing keeping it from being an all-timer, as mini-series go – is the ridiculous ending that does not in any fit with the behaviour of one of the characters. It seems as though, rather than identifying a likely source of all this, the creators thought they Read More

Generation Kill (2008)

Categories: 2008 and TV.

Generation Kill bears an uncanny resemblance to Jarhead. Yes, it’s a different war. And yes, these soldiers actually do get to fight. But we are still following overly intelligent but somehow still dehumanized, over-trained soldiers given inappropriate missions and placed in bizarre situations that don’t make any sense, even in the context of their mission (and outside of that context, make far less sense). This is obviously a little more expansive. More of an ensemble piece. A little more interest in the “why are we here” angle. But it’s it still echoes the Sam Mendes movie. And honestly I think Read More