Posts Tagged ‘tv’

Saving Mr. Banks, Elementary, Captain Phillips, & Lone Survivor

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on June 23rd, 2014

Saving Mr BanksOver the last two months I’ve been able to squeeze in a couple of hours to watch a few shows and some episodes of a TV series. I was plesantly surprised to have actually had a wonderfully good run. If you haven’t watched any of these, you’re in for some awesome entertainment.


Saving Mr. Banks

I didn’t think I’d like this movie. I enjoyed Mary Poppins as a child and enjoyed it again with my kids. But a movie on Disney getting the rights to make a movie? Boring. Except I was completely wrong. This is not a story about some woman selling the rights to her story. It’s about why she never wanted to sell the rights to Disney in the first place. It’s about her childhood and the real source of Mary Poppins. And to pull that off Saving Mr. Banks has to tell two stories: an often funny one about P.L. Travers who does not want to license her story and Disney’s final attempt to win her over, and a poignant one that reveals why Travers was so resistant. And it leaves the last twist, one that expands the meaning of the title in the viewer’s heart, to the very end. I loved this movie. I loved Hanks as the affable Disney and Thompson as the irascible Ms. Travers. Loved all of the other characters. If you enjoyed dramas like Miss Potter or The Blind Side, you’ll love this too.


ElementaryElementary

I thought: another Sherlock Holmes series? Puh-lease. Yes, the two films featuring Robert Downing Jr. and Jude Law and the BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were superb. I loved both. But another Sherlock? Surely this is going to be some cheap attempt to capitalize on the success of the other two, something that is direct-to-DVD quality. Who is going to do it as well as Downing and Cumberbatch?

Boy, was I wrong (yet again!)

Elementary is delightful. Sherlock, played by the talented Johnny Lee Miller who made Eli Stone such a joy, is a modern day Brit living in New York. He’s in the final stages of drug rehab, living with a “sober companion.” The companion is Joan Watson, played by Lucy Lui. The Captain of the NYPD is one of Sherlock’s old friends an appeciates his skills and so brings him in as a consultant on various cases.

So how could they do anything different? Yes, you have the quick powers of observation and intellectual acrobatics the other Sherlocks have. But the female Watson and the whole recovering addict angle takes the stories in a new direction. This Sherlock has a past that haunts him. And this Watson is maybe a bit quicker than the other two, as wonderful as they are.

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it, but there is room for three Sherlocks and Watsons. I can’t tell you which of the three pairs I enjoy more.

Captain_Phillips_PosterCaptain Phillips

As soon as the news stories about Somali pirates started breaking back in 2008 I knew it would lead to some thrillers. Heck, Abdul Hassan, “The One Who Never Sleeps” was one of the first zings I posted on this site. What I didn’t know was that the big thriller would be based on an actual story: the 2009 hijacking of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years. Phillips is played by Tom Hanks, who always gives a great performance. But I also found the portrayal of the pirates interesting as well. As I did the many unexpected details of how these pirates operate and how the incident was brought to a close. If you like realistic thrillers, you’ll enjoy Captain Phillips.

Lone Survivor

I reviewed the book Lone Survior back in 2011. You can read my full report there, but the bottom line is that it was an awesome read. However, as with all awesome reads, you become a bit wary of the films based on those books. I’m happy to say the filmmakers did a great job on this one. They paid huge attention to detail because they wanted to honor the fallen soldiers by getting it right.

Lone_Survivor_posterIn order to get it right, they brought Marcus Luttrel, the author, and a number of other SEALs onto the project as consultants. The SEALs put the actors through some basic training before they even began shooting. This was to not only help the actors get to the point where they handle their weapons and gear as someone seasoned might, but also so they could feel what is was to work as a team, an important part of being a SEAL. The SEALs stayed on to provide input as well during the shooting.

But the details went beyond that. I have never seen a military film that felt as real to me, especially when it came to the characters. SEALs are warriors. But that doesn’t capture the variety they come in. And in the opening 25% of the movie we see sides to these men that many movies do not portray. It was so refreshing! In fact, without the groundwork laid in the beginning, this film wouldn’t have had near the impact it did. Yeah, the action is ACTION! It’s thrilling. You have never seen some of the shots the film portrays. But the action means nothing without the men.

And this story is about the men.

It’s about what it means to be one of those guys and gals who put their lives on the line for the rest of us. And if you want a special treat, when the film is over, you’ll watch all the extras.

The f-word is used about five million times in this movie. I usually don’t like a lot of vulgarity in my entertainment. But I cut the folks some slack in this case because I felt the story was worth it. Besides, I didn’t consider it entertainment anyway, more documentary.

If you are interested in what it’s like for Special Operations forces, if you want a story to help you see what so many are doing for the rest of us, I don’t know that it gets any better than this.

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Sing-Off, Reliable Contractors, Cruise & Valkyrie

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on October 4th, 2011

The Best Vocal Show Currently Running

We are now two weeks into the third season of NBC’s The Sing-Off, and it’s going to be just as good as last year’s or better.  It airs for the next few weeks on Mondays from 7-9 p.m. Mountain. But you can catch the performances on the site http://www.nbc.com/sing-off/ if you miss them.

According to the site, “The show scours the country in search of the best a cappella groups, ranging in various sizes and ages. This year, the competition has expanded to the 16 very best groups, who will perform popular songs in weekly competitions, which will culminate with a live finale revealing the grand-prize winner. The groups will be competing for America’s vote and a chance to walk away with the ultimate prize – a Sony Music recording contract and $200,000.”

There are a lot of great groups this year, including Vocal Point from BYU and the University of Rochester Yellow Jackets, who both nailed their second songs this week–“The Way You Look Tonight” by Fred Astaire and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by Frankie Valli. These guys were sooooo good. Delilah, an all-girl group, wowed with their week one performance of “Grenade” by Bruno Marks. A number of the other 16 groups are spectacular, but there’s not enough time to list all the wonderful performances.

This is the best vocal show on TV right now. The judges and host, who are all successful singers themselves, give interesting feedback, even if they sprinkle it with too many mild expletives for my taste. Tune in and enjoy.

3 Reliable Men

For almost a year now I’ve been trying to find somebody, ANYBODY, to come and fix some issues with my house. We had a leak in the roof, a leak through a window, and an exterior French door that was never hung right and gaped open at the top, especially when we had a strong north wind blowing at us in the winter. Lovely Wife had to take to stuffing the gap with a towel.

So I called a number of local construction guys. I called folks in Evanston, Wyoming and Logan, Utah, and it boggled my mind how many promised to drop by but never showed up, or came by but never followed through. I was happy to pay good money. But contractor after contractor after contractor shined me.

Then I ran onto three guys who made promises they could keep, showed up, followed through, did an excellent job, and did it quickly.

Ryan Hoth of Hoth Boys Construction in Logan, UT, recommended to me by Burton Lumber in Logan, does framing, concrete, and general contracting. Ryan personally fixed the troublesome French door with a very creative and simple solution that I wouldn’t have come up with in a million years. Hoth’s number is 435-994-0169.

Todd Bohman of Valley Trades in Logan, UT, which does siding and windows, came up and assessed, then sent one of his crew to fix our window/siding issue. The crewman not only worked expertly and quickly, but he fixed a piece of siding another contractor had broken without being prompted. Bohman’s number is 435-752-7642.

Keith Homer of Homer Roofing in Logan, UT, not only assessed our issue, but steered us towards a fix that cut the amount of money we would have to pay him. He gave up revenue we were willing to pay because it was the right thing to do. Homer’s number is 435-787-0910.

If I ever need any construction, siding, window, or roofing services, you can be sure I’ll be calling these guys first. 

Valkyrie

I love a number of movies Tom Cruise stars in. The stories are usually strong, and Cruise is a great actor. Nellie and I recently watched and enjoyed Knight and Day, a hilarious romantic action comedy with Cameron Diaz. We enjoyed him in Collateral, a thriller where a cab driver gets shanghaied to drive for a contract killer, and fights to save himself and the last victim. I loved him in Minority Report, Last Samurai, and Far & Away. In Valkyrie, Cruise stars as Claus von Stauffenberg, a colonel in the German army who attempts to assassinate Hitler.

The movie is based on a true story, and dramatizes just one of many attempts those who disagreed with Hitler made to remove the despot from power. It shows just how close they came. The story is full of suspense and, ultimately, heartache.

This is a movie to make you think. It’s also a great introduction to the history of WW2 Germany that’s often missed. According to a number of top WW2 historians, the film is accurate.

If you’re in the mood for a suspenseful serious film, I think you’ll love this one. And when you’re done, you’ll ponder on the meaning of courage.

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Wowser sequence in Life season 1 episode 3

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever, On Writing  by John Brown on December 20th, 2010

I just started watching Life, the NBC series. I’ve enjoyed the first four episodes. In fact, episode three has one of the most brilliant sequences I’ve ever seen.

Here’s the setup. Charlie Crews is a detective who was sent to jail for a murder he didn’t commit. Being a cop in prison made him a target for many many beatings. Eleven years later they found none of the DNA at the murder site was his. So they released him, and, as settlement for damages, gave him a bunch of money, and allowed him to be a cop again. He’s been partnered up with Dani Reese. Nobody really wanted him, but she’s had problems of her own and got stuck with him. Crews had a car in the first episode, geeked out about GPS and handsoff telephone (stuff his missed in prison), but the ex-con lawyer Crews has put up in his mansion ran it over with a tractor. He’s been riding the bus. In this sequence, Crews and Reese are looking for a guy named Manny Umaga who carjacked a man and his wife then shot the wife. In this sequence they go find where he is and then go get him.

Watch it and then read my comments below. It runs from minute 15:49 to 21:15.

1. Surprise. You walk into a dangerous car shop. What are you expecting? You know you’re going to meet hard characters. They’re not going to want to talk to you. There’s some danger and so a bit of suspense. So we meet some hard characters. I was still surprised by the particulars of Buscando Maldito–his neck tattoos and hat. Wonderful and new (at least to me). But before we can have a confrontation–surprise–Crews sees the car of his dreams. Then we get that wonderful exchange between him and Maldito and El Repitito. Total humor. Totally unexpected. Then Maldito suggests a posse? Not only is he willing to talk, but he suggests he goes with them? When going to get Umaga, more surprises. Flash bangs? Big honking Samoan running? Busts down the door? Takes Crews by the neck? Crews pulls his own knife? Surprise after surprise after surprise.

2. Characters. Loads of interest factors (see my post on character). Maldito and Repitito have fabulous eccentricities. Crews displays his own interesting reaction to the car. Surprising, but logical (BTW, in a later scene you see him driving the car!) Then we see his prison background coming up with the knife. Love his backstory. And did you notice how strong Reese is, taking none of Maldito’s crap?

3. Dialogue. Did you notice how the first few times Reese says anything to Maldito he doesn’t respond to her question? Total avoidance of on-the-nose dialogue, talking cross-purpose.

4. Soundtrack. The way they bridged the two scenes with that music was fabulous. And the music itself. Wow. BTW, that’s “No Nadie” by Edgard Jaude, Rafael Torres, & Andres Ayrado.

5. Conflict. Between the Maldito and Crews about the car, between Maldito and Reese, between Umaga and Crews. Then Crews and Reese (with the knife).

I think I watched this a dozen times. Loved it.

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The Sing-Off, Sam’s Salmon, The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on December 14th, 2010

One of the best TV programs this fall

American Idol was good until the judges became irrelevant and annoying. Or maybe I was just tired of the format. I didn’t think I’d watch another singing show. But I tuned into the opener for The Sing-Off on NBC last week, and holy harmonies, Batman–it was wonderful.

Ten of the best a’capella groups in the country compete for a $100,000 prize and a recording contract with Sony Music. Unlike American Idol, the groups represent a wide range of ages—from kids in high school to older adults—and backgrounds. They don’t use any instruments, just their voices, to sing incredible arrangements of modern songs with percussion, bass, and lovely vocals. This ain’t no choir music. And unlike American Idol, the judges actually have interesting and useful things to say. Also unlike American Idol, the judges eliminate the groups until three are left. Only then do the rest of get to call in and vote.

We were glued to the TV watching each episode. The programs are all two hours long, but move like lightening. Our favorite groups at this point are Committed and The Backbeats.

This whole show runs a total of three weeks, one episode each on Monday and Wednesday. It started last week, continues this, and finishes next week. Some of you might be depressed, feeling you’ve already missed it.

Not so! You can watch all of the full episodes online at www.nbc.com/sing-off/ (with fewer commercials). Then tune in for the grand finale. I can’t wait. 

Are you kidding? From a can?

Canned tuna fish is one of those un-meats. It doesn’t taste like fish. It doesn’t taste like chicken. I guess the all-white albacore is okay. But tuna’s not one of those spectacular foods I crave.

So you’d think, as I strolled the isles of Sam’s Club, that I would have passed up the canned Member’s Mark Atlantic Salmon. But one of my wild culinary urges, the ones that rarely pan out, overtook me.

I purchased a pack of five, seven-ounce cans for $11.88. I brought the pack home put it on the shelf and didn’t dare open it. What was I thinking?

Canned salmon? Canned meat?! When was the last time you had a steak out of a can?

It couldn’t be good.

Of course, my sensible hesitations only last so long. I broke down one afternoon when the cupboards were bare. I saw the salmon and thought that it might go well with a salad and baked potato.

I opened the can. It was pink, like the trout I used to catch and immediately fry when I went camping as a boy. I tasted it. And it tasted like .  .  . fish. Real fish. The light delicious taste of those trout I caught so many years ago.

I enjoyed a wonderful meal that day and have had several repeats since. Boneless, skinless filets in water, packed with omega-3 fats, all grown on fish farms in Chile. 

Great movie set in Wales

I enjoy Hugh Grant as an actor. I loved him in Sense & Sensibility with Emma Thompson, one of my most favorite movies ever. And so I was curious about another movie with Grant that received two thumbs up from Siskel and Ebert. It’s called The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill And Came Down A Mountain.

The setup is unusual. In 1917, with the war still raging in Europe, two English cartographers visit the small South Wales village to measure what is claimed to be the “first mountain inside of Wales.” The villagers are proud of their “mountain,” but become alarmed when the Englishmen measure it and find it’s not a mountain but a hill. The villagers are determined not to lose their status. Especially not to two Englishmen. What follows is good humor, drama, and a bit of romantic comedy. I think you’ll fall in love with the characters. It’s a wonderful tale. And it’s on DVD.

As a little bonus, here are the opening lines, given to us by two narrators.

“Narrator: For some odd reason, lost in the mists of time, there’s an extraordinary shortage of last names in Wales. Almost everyone seems to be a Williams, a Jones, or an Evans. To avoid widespread confusion, Welsh people often add an occupation to a name. For example, there was Williams the Petroleum, and Williams the Death. There was Jones the Bottle, and Jones the Prize Cabbage… which described his hobby and his personality. Evans the Bacon, and Evans the End of the World. But one man’s name was a puzzle, and it wasn’t until I was 10 years old that I asked my grandfather about the man with the longest and most enigmatic name of all.

“Grandfather: The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain? Now there’s a long name for you. And a long story. You are not going to fidget, are you? For this is a story… an epic story. Yes, epic.”

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