Monday, April 06, 2015

7 Days in May: The Week in What I've Been Watching



This year the blog's going to be heavily focused on James Bond, but that's not all I'm watching and it's not all I want to write about. Since I don't have a ton of time for posts that dive deeply into other interests, I thought I'd borrow from guys like Siskoid and William Bruce West and just do weekly capsule posts for some of that stuff.

So, here's what I've been up to the past seven days:

Ken Burns Presents: The West



My family was traveling in Arizona last week and that reignited my interest in the West. In preparing for it, we watched some Zane Grey movies and other films that were either shot in the state or took place there. A lot of these movies reference the Civil War, which David is studying in school, so we've had some discussions around how the war affected the West and when various events in Western history happened in relation to it.

I realized that while I know a lot of tales and legends about Western people, I don't have a great grasp of the timeline and how all of those stories fit together, so I started watching Stephen Ives' The West to help sort that out. I'm only a couple of episodes in - up to the 1840s and the gold rush - but it's as informative and easily digestible as I expect from a project produced by Ken Burns. I have a way better grasp now on the Louisiana Purchase, the roles of Spain and Mexico in the history of North America, and specific tragedies in American relations with native peoples (particularly the Trail of Tears).

Turn: Washington's Spies



Thinking about American history got me interested in finally checking out AMC's Turn: Washington's Spies. It's been showing up as recommended viewing in my Netflix queue for a while, so I pulled the trigger and watched the first couple of episodes. I'm totally hooked.

Jamie Bell and Angus Macfadyen are already favorite actors of mine, so it had that going for it, but the time period is so ripe with drama that I can't believe no one's taken advantage of it before. Turn does though by having Bell play a farmer in English-controlled territory. He's unwillingly recruited into a colonial spy ring, pitting him not only against his government, but also his neighbors and family. In addition to the espionage and family drama, there's also a murder mystery in the first couple of episodes. It's one of those shows where I finish each episode and immediately want to watch the next, but I'm going to hold off and let Diane and David catch up with me before going further. I'm hoping we can get caught up in time to watch the show live as it enters its second season soon.

The Rocketeer (1991)



This was inspired totally by Nerd Lunch's recent episode about it. I hadn't seen it in years and needed to revisit it. The last time I watched it, I'd recently discovered Bettie Page and held a grudge against Jennifer Connelly for not being her. I don't think I'd actually read Dave Stevens' comic by that point though and didn't realize how obnoxious Cliff and Betty are as a couple. As the Nerd Lunchers and Kay point out on the podcast, Cliff and Jenny are still selfish and troubled, but it's way easier to root for them to work out their differences.

The movie does suffer from being an origin story, which means that there's more of Cliff's getting used to the rocket pack than there is of his flying and being awesome with it, but the movie's still full of pulp homages and a lot of fun. Somewhere between it and Sky Captain (which would have benefitted from The Rocketeer's practical effects) is the perfect pulp adventure movie.

Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond



Not so much a biopic as a heavily fictionalized version of Fleming's life and how various events from it may have inspired aspects of James Bond's. I wouldn't give a lot of credence to the connections it draws, but they're interesting analogues and fun to wonder about. Beyond that, Fleming mixes WWII spy drama with tragic romance in a compelling way and also nails my impression of the author as an enormous butthole who also happened to be completely charming. I disliked him immensely while simultaneously feeling bad for him and wanting him to get better.

Psych, Season 1



Finally, David and I started watching Psych. David had seen the pilot episode at a friend's house, but what got us into it last week was watching an episode of Castle with the friend we were staying with in Arizona. David wanted to see more Castle, but it's not streaming on Netflix, so I suggested Psych as an even better alternative. The mysteries and detective work are more clever than Castle and the banter is funnier. We'll be adding this to David's regular viewing schedule.
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