British Mysteries Galore – Sherlock, Cadfael, Luther, Waking the Dead

I love British mysteries but I seldom have time for them. Prime Suspect, Cracker, and Inspector Morse are some of my favorites but they are not available on instant Netflix. Netflix does have a large number of streaming BBC mysteries though.

I thought I would single out just a few of the many available. There are tons more including plenty of literary adaptations from the works of Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Ruth Rendell.

Sherlock (2010)

“In this updated take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved mystery tales, the eccentric sleuth prowls the streets of modern-day London in search of clues. At his side — though hobbling — is flatmate Dr. John Watson, fresh from the Afghan War.”

This is one I did find time for and it is quite a bit of fun. Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as Sherlock as is Martin Freeman as Watson. Benedict Cumberbatch recently appeared in the excellent Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Martin Freeman is Bilbo in the upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit.

I’m lucky to have some good friends feeding my Cumberbatch addiction. They not only loaned us the first story of the new season of Sherlock (Surprise! I haven’t had time to watch it!), they also picked up tickets for Jen and I to see Cumberbatch in Frankenstein. Fathom Events is broadcasting this at select theaters June 6th and 7th. Grazi!

Cadfael (1994)

“In this unique mystery series based on the bestselling books by Ellis Peters, renowned British actor Sir Derek Jacobi stars as Brother Cadfael, a compassionate seeker of truth and justice in chaotic medieval England.”

I have loved Derek Jacobi ever since his incredible performance in I, Claudius. Strangely I have yet to find the time to watch this series. Only the first season/series is currently available on instant Netflix but it should be sufficient to whet your appetite.

Luther (2010-11)

“John Luther is a dedicated detective trying to keep from losing grip on his personal life in this innovative police drama that spotlights the psychological factors underlying the crimes the sleuth has been assigned to solve.”

Idris Elba headlines this British series that I have yet to make time for.

Waking the Dead (2000)

“This acclaimed cop drama follows Detective Superintendent Peter Boyd and his cold-case unit as they use the latest advancements in forensic science, psychological profiling and other investigative techniques to crack unsolved murders.”

A Touch of Frost (1992-2010)

“An arrogant nonconformist who despises following the rules, keenly observant Det. Jack Frost (David Jason) avoids serious trouble with his disgruntled superiors by consistently solving his hometown’s most perplexing criminal cases. This gripping police procedural finds the master sleuth, who rotates through sidekicks on a regular basis, investigating a girl’s disappearance, a string of home invasions and a multitude of murders.”

All 15 seasons of A Touch of Frost are now available on instant Netflix.



FREE Summer Movies – Prometheus, Spider-Man, Men in Black 3

Now that I have already seen (and thoroughly enjoyed) my most anticipated film of the year, The Avengers, I am gearing up for my second best, Prometheus. I love the Alien series (even the bad ones) and I love Ridley Scott’s ability to present a uniquely defined world (Alien, Blade Runner, Blackhawk Down).

* Best Buy and Wal-Mart are offering FREE tickets to Prometheus with purchase of a participating Blu-Ray. These films MUST have the FREE ticket sticker and, in most cases, the Blu-Rays are under $10. Participating Blu-Rays include the Alien movies (obviously), Predator, Taken, Day After Tomorrow, I, Robot, the X-Men movies, The Last of the Mohicans, The Planet of the Apes (classic Heston version – not the Wahlberg misfire).

* Best Buy also has FREE movie tickets for Men in Black III with purchase of either Men in Black or Men in Black II on Blu-ray. Those movies are currently $14.99 – make sure you get one with a sticker on it.

* Best Buy also also has coupons for $5 towards a ticket to The Dark Knight Rises. These are on their exclusive steelbook version of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. $5 isn’t enough for a ticket but I do love steelbooks.

* Target has FREE tickets to The Amazing Spider-Man with purchase of Spider-Man 1, 2, or 3 on Blu-ray. Their blu-rays tend to be pretty pricy though.

* For the kids, Best Buy has FREE children’s tickets for Madagascar 3 on blu-rays of  Kung Fu Panda 1 & 2, Madagascar 1 & 2, How to Train Your Dragon, Megamind, and Puss in Boots.

Amazon’s Prime Directive

I would really like to see someone give Netflix a run for their money. Sadly Hulu, which has a great TV selection, only pays lip service to movies. Blockbuster’s service is a joke and all others are a la carte. The individual pricing model ($3-$7 per viewing) for streaming is ridiculous given the ubiquitous nature of Redbox kiosks (less than $2 for a 24-hour rental and many coupons and special offers). Digital distribution requires no physical item and no physical presence so why would it be more expensive?

All of that leaves Amazon as the remaining alternative. I had expected the amazon Prime service to grow by leaps and bounds when the Kindle Fire debuted but was disappointed. Unfortunately Amazon hamstrings itself. They are attached to the a la carte model so there is no incentive for them to put their utmost into Prime. This means that they are still running a distant second to Netflix in movies and third to Hulu and Netflix in television.

Two recent news stories are hopefully pointing to some beneficial changes. First they have reached a deal to finally put Amazon Prime videos on the Xbox 360. Presumably the difficulty there lay in the offerings from Microsoft’s failed Zune service. Amazon Prime is now available on Kindle Fire, PS3, Roku, Xbox 360, and many TVs and Blu-Ray players. Xbox 360 Gold members will be able to preview the Prime service from June 1st-June 3rd.

Amazon Prime has also debuted their new watchlist program on Xbox 360, PC, Mac or Kindle Fire (coming soon to PS3 and Roku). It is essentially Netflix’ queue system but is welcome nonetheless.

The second news story is that Amazon and Paramount have inked a deal to add Paramount’s back catalog to Prime. Fortunately I have learned that many of these announcements are little more than hype. What the announcement really means is that some select Paramount movies will appear on Amazon Prime. For example, the announcement mentions that Mission Impossible III will be available. I understand Ghost Protocol is too new but why wouldn’t Mission Impossible 1 and 2 be available?

Gizmodo recommended 20 films to immediately add to your watchlist, some of which I found rather dubious though it was still a good list. Additional comments to the list are mine.

Team America: World Police Really? Recommending puppet porn? Good first pick Gizmodo!

Into the Wild Please please please do not watch this – instead go read the far better source book by Jon Krakauer. Optionally, read the equally harrowing Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. The film is not a bad adaptation but it does lose something in translation.

Nacho Libre Interesting especially because there aren’t many English luchador movies but not much more than that.

Downton Abbey Sadly this has been in my Netflix queue for a while but my wife and I have not gotten around to watching it in spite of numerous recommendations.

Grizzly Man

Iron Giant This is an absolutely charming animated film that is great for children and adults.

L. A. Confidential This is a fantastic story of three VERY different cops played by Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, and Kevin Spacey very early in their careers. Won Oscars for Best Writing and Kim Basinger’s performance though I thought Spacey’s was better.

In the Loop

Last of the Mohicans This is one of my absolute favorite movies. Are there any other action movies set during the French and Indian War? Filmed in my beautiful backyard (the mountains of western North Carolina), this is a wonderfully romantic story with some of the best action setpieces made.

Time Bandits Can one ever tire of David Warner as a villain? How about Ralph Richardson as the Supreme Being? If that isn’t enough to sell you then how about John Cleese, Michael Palin, and Sean Connery? Another film that can entertain adults and children.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Entertaining and a nice turn from Jim Carrey but overrated.

Good Night and Good Luck Wait you mean George Clooney can write, act, and direct? Yes he can and wisely gives a starring role to perpetual character actor David Strathairn.

Gosford Park


Braveheart A fine biography of William Wallace from your favorite (or perhaps least favorite) anti-semitic, misogynistic madman, Mel Gibson.

Elizabeth While not as intensive as BBC’s Elizabeth R, Elizabeth is still a great film with wonderful performances, particularly from Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush.


Before Sunset

The Tudors Yikes I cannot get behind this pick as the history is pretty lousy and there are much better adaptations of the period, namely BBC’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

Page One: Inside the New York Times




FREE Movies at Carolina Cinemas in June

Time for my monthly plug of Carolina Cinemas in Asheville.

Every Thursday night is FREE Thursday Horror Picture Show in the Cinema Lounge. Serial starts at 740 with the main feature at 8.

5/31 Double feature (yay!) of Mad Love (1935, Karl Freund) with Peter Lorre and The Black Cat (1934, Edward G. Ulmer) with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

6/7 The Tenant (1976, Roman Polanski)

6/14 The Mummy (1932, Karl Freund) – One of my favorites!

6/21 Double Feature (yay!) of The Mad Monster (1942, Sam Newfield) and The Black Raven (1943, Sam Newfield) – both featuring George Zucco.

6/28 Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977, John Boorman)

Every Tuesday night, the Asheville Film Society puts on FREE showings in the cinema lounge at 8. Membership is not required.

5/29 Mississippi (1935, A. Edward Sutherland) – starring Bing Crosby and W.C. Fields.

6/5 – I’m not sure why but there’s no listing for this day

6/12 Easy Living (1937, Mitchell Leisen) – starring Jean Arthur and Edward Arnold.

6/19 The Horse’s Mouth (1958, Ronald Neame) – starring Alec Guinness.

6/26 The Gang’s All Here (1943, Busby Berkeley) – starring Carmen Miranda and Benny Goodman

Finally Carolina Cinemas also has FREE children’s movies in June. The showings are Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at 11 am.

6/12-13 How to Train Your Dragon

6/19-20 Despicable Me

6/26-27 Ice Age

That’s a lot of FREE movie! Be sure to take the time to THANK them for the FREE shows.


Terra Nova vs. BBC Outcasts

My daughter and I enjoyed the TV series Terra Nova. I love apocalyptic scenarios and she loves dinosaurs. The only problem is that of other shows. Terra Nova was carefully paced and got really interesting with the final episode. Sadly I think that really was the final episode as I don’t think it had the viewership to justify the expensive effects budget for another season. We had watched it on Hulu but for some reason, it is no longer available there.

The other day I started watching Outcasts on instant Netflix (not to be confused with the UK film Outcast – also available on instant Netflix).

Outcasts (2011) – TV-14

“Set in 2040, this BBC sci-fi drama focuses on the residents of the frontier town of Forthaven on the planet Carpathia — a region colonized by a hardy group of settlers who rocketed away from Earth in the wake of war and nuclear devastation.”

Terra Nova is about a colony set up on an alternate Earth. This colony may be the last hope for mankind. Opposing the colonists are a group of outcasts from the colony – now living in the wild. There are many other problems including a shortage of supplies and a lack of communication from Earth.

Terra Nova is run by a gruff leader with a shady past played by a known actor, Stephen (Avatar) Lang. The protagonist is a police officer for the colony. He works for a female head of security. The leader’s son is an unreliable super genius.

But enough about Terra Nova – what is Outcast like?

Outcast, made the year before Terra Nova, is about a colony set up on alternate to Earth. This colony may be the last hope for mankind. Opposing the colonists are a group of outcasts from the colony – now living in the wild. There are many other problems including a shortage of supplies and a lack of communication from Earth.

Forthaven (Outcast’s colony) is run by a gruff leader with a shady past played by a known actor, Liam (Game of Thrones) Cunningham. Both of the protagonists are police officers for the colony. They work for a female head of security. There is also an unreliable super genius.

While Terra Nova is clearly a blatant ripoff of Outcasts, it does have dinosaurs, Stephen Lang, and a really nice effects budget. At least as of the third episode Outcast has none of these things.

The indoor shots of Outcast look soooo cheap – all cardboard and aluminum. Every shot looks like they are shooting on a set. By contrast the outdoor locations, filmed in South Africa, are absolutely gorgeous.

Acting is good as is typical for a BBC production. Jaime Bamber of Battlestar Galactica shows up in the first episode. Daniel (The Adventures of Tintin) Mays and Amy (Being Human) Manson play our peace officers. Eric (Resident Evil) Mabius plays a quasi-religious leader.

Three episodes in, I’m enjoying the series. It moves slowly (again typical of BBC productions) but intelligently. There is no second series so there are only eight episodes in toto. If you particularly like post-apocalyptic scenarios then I recommend it. Otherwise it is just okay.

My Love Hate Affair with Television

First a wonderful display in our local theater:

I was worried that it wouldn’t hold me as it appears to be made of cardboard and I am not insubstantial.

Speaking of insubstantial, time for one of my rants. My wife and daughter love TV shows. I love movies. We each watch the other but that’s where our preferences lie.

I like movies that bring something new to the table (more and more uncommon these days) and I love that directors have between an hour and a half and a few hours to bring that vision to life on the screen.

My wife likes the familiarity that TV brings. Every episode of Bones is essentially the same – some citizens find a body, the folks at The Smithsonian work their magic, Booth (David Boreanaz) and Brennan/Bones (Emily Deschanel) banter, science solves the case and, very often, the murderer makes a full confession when confronted. The confession is mostly closure because Bones is not a legal show a la Law & Order so there is no lengthy judicial process.

The one hilarious exception is the Bones episode featuring the Finder. The Bones execs took a page from CSI’s book. CSI used a crime that was linked to both Miami and Vegas to use their number one show CSI to promote their brand new show CSI: Miami. It worked quite well and it wasn’t long before CSI:New York joined the ranks.

The Bones folks linked their show to a Florida case so they could promote their new show The Finder. The problem is that chemistry was poor among The Finder cast and especially poor between the two casts. This ended up being the only Bones episode that is actually awful.

Castle is much the same as Bones except that instead of Bones the scientist, we have Castle the mystery writer and because the writer is male, the cop is female. Every single week you have basically the same story unfold. A body (not usually decayed since we’re not using science to solve the crime) is discovered, Castle and Beckett banter and flirt, red herrings are weeded out and the guest star turns out to be the villain (Jeepers , it’s Mr. Jenkins from the zoo Shaggy!). I love Nathan Fillion but again every episode is the same.

This turns out to be true for almost every series. House has a strange malady brought to his attention, he and his brilliant staff work on it, House bellows like a child tyrant, they misdiagnose the case several times, and then House has an epiphany and solves the case (why does House have people on his staff? For gofers I guess).

Ditto CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, and CSI: Podunk. They just make the crime grislier, focus on the science for CSI and Caruso for CSI: Miami, and have less romance.

Ditto Law & Order where not only the episodes but the different series are pretty indistinguishable from each other though they do try to show both crime-solving and the judicial system.

This latest TV season, my daughter and I enjoyed Alcatraz for the neat premise but each episode was just the criminal of the week. Once Upon a Time turned out to be far more enjoyable than Grimm in part because it had an overall story line rather than a monster of the week.

Old series are exactly the same way as well. Moonlighting is almost the same show as Bones and Castle. The X-Files takes the same premise and tones down the flirting and they investigate the inexplicable. Fringe takes The X-Files and adds more science fiction.

I love a good story told at a nice pace. I really enjoyed Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles but you really got to see how studio pacing works. The series had two separate pacings – a normal one up until the last half dozen episodes and then the last six episodes which tell a good story with a lot of the main characters dying. Apparently the makers were told of the cancellation with enough time to wrap up the series so they went ahead and told the best stories they could to end the series (although they did cop out in case there was a chance it would be renewed).

The real question then is why couldn’t the series have been as good as the last few episodes? Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse is much the same, pacing is glacial until cancellation is announced and then they pack a couple seasons worth of content into a few episodes.

Think about the episodes you really like from a given show. Aren’t they mostly the season-enders? You know the episodes where something actually happens? The ones where a member of the cast is in actual danger? Faux danger if it’s the eponymous cast member – what are you going to do change the name of the show to Wilson? Beckett? Booth?

On the other hand familiarity is very comforting. Every episode is about the same quality so if you like episode 32, you’ll probably like episode 47 just as much. I see a ton of good movies every year but I see just as many bad ones and a lot more mediocre ones. Quality is much like a bell curve on movies.

I enjoy some of the British series where they know they have just six episodes to tell a story and that there may never be a second season. That is why they call their shows ‘series’ instead of ‘seasons’.

Anyway that’s enough for now.


The Avengers – Great Superhero Movie or Greatest Superhero Movie

The above picture is for my youngest daughter. She even named her cat Loki (after the Norse god though – not the comic book character).

I am a sucker for comic book movies. I see every comic book movie I can and I enjoy myself whether they are good (The Avengers), bad (Green Lantern), or even downright ugly (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – worst movie I’ve seen at the theater this year but thanks to Netflix not the worst movie of the year). My wife and I went to see The Avengers again last night and I’ll probably see it a third time because my older daughter has yet to catch it.

I loved comic books as a pre-teen (my favorite was Tomb of Dracula) and then rediscovered them when I went away to college (and then stopped for a couple decades and now pick up the occasional graphic novel). It was in college that I discovered that it wasn’t so much the character but the writer that made the difference. This applies to movies as well – when I was a child, I looked forward to any movie starring my favorite actors. As an adult, I look forward to movies from my favorite directors much more than actors.

If you haven’t yet caught The Avengers, it is just as awesome as most people say it is. All of the wonderful Marvel movies have paid off in a great magnum opus. Comic book fans will delight in seeing their favorite heroes square off against one another before tackling the villains.

The only review point I disagree with is that they finally got the Hulk right. I thought Edward Norton’s Hulk/Banner was great. It is just that in The Avengers, the best laughs are from the Hulk. Also being an ensemble cast, the Hulk is not overused.

I hope The Avengers finally gives Joss Whedon the carte blanche that fanboys know he already deserves. As usual Joss’ strength is with ensemble casts and he is great at giving each character a unique voice. I dearly hope that he is onboard for the already greenlit sequel.

I am very much looking forward to The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises later this summer. The first trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man looked awful but the latest trailer looks much better. I will miss Sam Raimi though.

I have no doubt that The Dark Knight Rises will be a good film. Christopher Nolan has not made a bad movie yet and they range from interesting (Batman Begins, Inception, Insomnia) to masterpieces (The Dark Knight, Memento, The Prestige).

More Idle Thoughts in May – Avenging Dawson’s Creek Through Music

* I hate the Xbox Netflix interface (which shares similar problems with the Roku and the iPhone/iPod/iPad). It is really nice that it automatically boots up the next episode when you select a TV show but if that’s not the episode you want then wow are you in for some juggling.

The search function is horrific. It works just fine if you know the exact title you are looking for but good luck trying to find a Clint Eastwood movie for example.

The genre headings work great on the computer – over 20 different categories that you can then pick different subcategories from. For instance I can choose Horror (you’re shocked I can tell) and then select Foreign Horror or Vampires.

On the Xbox, I can select many of the same categories but none of the subcategories. For example I can choose to watch foreign movies but I can’t tell it that I want to watch a Japanese film. Also you can only scroll through so many movies in each category – the full catalogue is not available.

Mind you this is still an improvement from the old days. In the previous interface, you could only watch movies that you had placed in your queue from your computer. Of course before that you could only watch on your computer so we have come a long way.

My daughter also pointed out that it would be really nice if you could sort movies by rating. I’d also love to see multiple field searches with designated operators but I guess that’s too complicated.

* A new batch of concerts showed up on instant Netflix including: Snoop Dogg: Puff Puff Pass Tour, Rick James: Superfreak Live 1982, Santana: Hymns for Peace, and more classic albums from Elton John, The Who, The Band, and Elvis Presley.

Dawson’s Creek (1998-2002)

“This thought-provoking nighttime soap about a group of close-knit teens, led by dreamer Dawson Leery, frankly portrays the issues of adolescence that obsess young adults as they navigate through high school and college — including sex, sex and sex.”

I really don’t have time for more TV but I thought I’d mention that the six seasons of Dawson’s Creek just showed up on instant Netflix. Kevin Williamson is a pretty sharp writer/creator.

44 Inch Chest

Okay the mediocrity of yesterday’s Dead Cert left me with an urge for a good British gangster flick. 44 Inch Chest is currently available on instant Netflix.

44 Inch Chest (2009) – Rated R

“After his wife, Liz (Joanne Whalley), cheats on him, gangster Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone) gets his revenge by enlisting his underworld pals to kidnap her hunky French lover (Melvil Poupaud) in the feature debut of director Malcolm Venville. Top British actors, including Ian McShane, John Hurt and Tom Wilkinson, round out the cast of the crime thriller, penned by the screenwriters of another memorable Winstone vehicle, Sexy Beast.”

“Love’s hard work, hard graft. Love can be murder. Love is watching what she wants to watch on the telly, taking her the papers and a cup of tea on a Sunday morning in bed and inquiring to how she might be feeling, “You all right, Liz?” whilst plumping up her pillows. “

Warning: When this says it is rated R for strong language, they mean it. According to imdb, the F bomb is dropped 162 times in this movie and that isn’t the worst of the language. I’ve never heard the C bomb dropped so often in any movie but it means a lot less in Britain than it does here in the States.

Well I liked the British B-list class of actors in Dead Cert. Steven Berkoff and Dave Legeno from that film also appear in this but 44 Inch Chest has much bigger names to throw around. Ian McShane (a favorite of mine since Deadwood), John Hurt (ditto but since Alien), Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins), and Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones) all star here. They are all here to backup Ray Winstone as cuckolded gangster Colin.

The film opens brilliantly with Colin (Ray Winstone) lying amid the wreckage of his living room with the strains of “Without You” playing over the stereo. Most of the rest of the film is just Colin in a room with his mates and Loverboy (I like that we never know his name).

I really don’t mind language. Actually I love language, harsh or otherwise. I don’t use harsh language much myself – I dropped something yesterday, accidentally said ‘crap’ and had it repeated immediately by my two-year-old granddaughter. Whoops! South Park: The Movie used the volume of harsh language to humorous effect. The HBO series Deadwood used harsh language lyrically in a splendid combination of cursing, historical slang, and poetry.

Unfortunately 44 Inch Chest simply throws in language willy-nilly. It is important to throw in enough language to show how salty these friends are, particularly John Hurt’s misogynist character. Sadly they often go over the line into self-parody.

In spite of the nice cast, the movie goes nowhere for the first two acts. The third act has a few interesting revelations but is not terribly well-handled.

Be aware that in spite of the Netflix description, this is by no means a crime thriller. It is meant to be an introspective character study of Colin with some window dressing. It is mildly interesting but could have been really good with a better director and screenwriter.

People Watch: Derek Lea who plays Bumface is normally a stuntman and has worked on Titanic, Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator, Troy and many others,