Blue Light for the Long Winter (Days and) Nights

I don't know about you, but I'm in full eskimo igloo/bear hibernation mode. It’s finally properly wintry in Aberdeen. There’s a dusting of snow (and mainly ice) on the ground, which means venturing outdoors is not particularly enticing at the moment. So it’s a good excuse to wrap up warm and have some hot cocoa and popcorn (yeah I'm fantasizing, I'm still on no carbs six days of the week - this bear needs to get rid of her winter layers!), and watch lots and lots of t.v./films, if that's your bag. Here are a few things that I’m watching/ have enjoyed recently for anyone stuck for something to watch. In the U.K. there's not much on t.v., a few things are trickling back after the U.S. break (we follow you guys to some extent with U.S. shows, some of them we're just a week or two behind on). Anyway...

Saving Mr. Banks: So lovely. Bittersweet, perhaps flirting with unbearably sad at times but always balanced by Emma Thompson's flinty yet vulnerable portrayal of P.L. Travers. Based on Walt Disney’s 20 year battle to bring Mary Poppins to the screen, it centers on the few weeks the author spent in Hollywood putting up roadblocks at nearly every decision before consenting to give Disney the rights. She didn’t want music or animation, she essentially didn't want her beloved book to be a Disney tale, and we see in flashbacks to her childhood in Australia where all the germs of the Mary Poppins story came from. Her enchanting father who is a hopeless alcoholic (charming alcoholics are a bugbear of mine in film but Colin Farrell pushes it from pathos into a very touching performance nevertheless). Ruth Wilson is great as ever if slightly underused as Travers' strained mother. The modern day shows the Disney songwriters, amusingly struggling to convince Travers of anything, and Disney doing his best to charm her while still being the boss. 

The British fish out of water in L.A. is portrayed with generous humour and wit. Tom Hanks is in fine form as the man behind the mouse.They physically transformed him to look a bit more like Disney (I think?!), and he conveys a warmth and silent steeliness that are believable. And Paul Giamatti is able to inject depth into a smallish role as always. But Emma Thompson steals the show, of course. She needs more awards, stat! She’s so good, she just imbues a role that could have been caricature with so much humanity it’s heart-breaking at times. I liked this film a lot more than I thought I would.

Amazon Prime dabbling:

The good thing about the Prime service is that there are just so many films and shows I’ve never seen that maybe weren’t top of my list to buy the dvd’s of, but I’ve heard good things so I can give them a whirl. Or maybe just have a guilty pleasure Dawson’s Creek/The O.C./One Tree Hill teen angst triple bill if I feel like it, because that’s how I roll.  If you don’t want to stick with something it’s no big deal, it’s kind of like pick and mix television!

Dollhouse: Confession: I’ve only seen maybe two seasons (mixed, out of order) worth of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And the whole of Buffy is on Prime, and I do want to watch it at some point, but it‘s an investment that feels daunting (144 episodes!). That’s like…48 days of watching if I managed 3 episodes a day? And when would I find time to watch other stuff? I will get round to it eventually. Anyway, Dollhouse was a short lived Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy*, I did have a point!), 2 season show with only 13 episodes per season. So it feels do-able, and I had heard good things. I’m early days with it but it seems promising, a sci fi human nature questioning series where they wipe the brains of (semi) consenting individuals every few days so they can be re-created as whatever their wealthy clients wish them to be. It stars Eliza Dushku as one of the sexy robot people and Olivia Williams as the mastermind/I presume quite evil boss woman. They go to sleep in underground pods at night that look weirdly comfy to me!

Vikings (seasons 1-2 on Prime): Ok this is totally a waiting for season 5 Game of Thrones time filler that is more the husband’s bag, but it’s a watchable enough (loosely based) history epic. Quite gory and bleak at times, I mostly check out the Viking women’s elaborate braided hairstyles and try to work them out. Oh and there’s a lovely English monk who is rather pretty to look at. There’s lots of sword fighting and raiding and unpleasant stuff though, with very little humour to balance it out. I do like the music and the scenery is beautiful.

Web Therapy (seasons 1-4 on Prime): My mom likes this show, so I watched the first one with her in the States. I’ve since watched a few here, and can see how some people say it takes a few episodes to get into. Lisa Kudrow stars as a “web therapist” called Fiona,  a new “module” she explains in the most bizarrely droning yet overly melodious voice to all of her new clients, who for some reason have agreed to have three minute therapy sessions with an untrained therapist, to cut through the yapping and get right to the heart of the matter. It does open up immediate comedy potential, with people laying out their problems for Fiona to feast on and spit back out with pat self satisfaction but never resolution. There’s that spacy Californian streak that makes most of the characters particularly vulnerable to persuasion.

Kudrow’s character is immediately un-likeable, banal, disinterested in her clients, only interested in getting money for her business, but bizarrely she does occasionally get them to have a breakthrough through her merciless interrogations. It’s a weird one. She is so horrid she’s funny, but it might not be for everyone. The writing is sharp and subtle.  Each episode has maybe 4 or 5 “sessions”, usually with some of the same characters in each episode but new ones come in too. Her husband and her mother have both turned up for awkwardly funny exchanges, Lily Tomlin as her mother is comedy royalty and I hope she appears again. Of course Lisa Kudrow is just an irresistibly funny actress even when playing such a hard to like character that I can see her developing it into something more interesting, so I’ll stick with it. It’s a brave premise to just have a show take place on computer screens, there is no action elsewhere (it was originally a web only series), so it takes a little getting used to.

Ripper Street: Series three (all three seasons are available on Prime). Ripper Street was mercilessly axed after season two by the idiotic BBC for not beating Celebrity Jungle in the ratings, despite being an amazing, award winning show and having a loyal worldwide fan base. Thankfully Amazon stepped in and agreed to co-produce it with the BBC, with Amazon getting first airing rights. So some of the episodes of season 3 are longer than they would be on t.v., so they might be editing them down, I’m not sure. It feels even more filmic and special in scope now anyway, so Amazon you have my eternal gratitude for this (hopefully not but rumoured final chapter) if nothing else. 

Ripper Street is about the 1889 post Jack the Ripper crime ridden Whitechapel, London police team of DCI Edmund Reid, his right hand men Detective Bennet Drake and American doctor Captain Homer Jackson. It has a sort of western/gangster-y feel to it with the unit’s rag tag outlaw style of solving crimes. Jackson’s before his time scientific/early CSI style of performing autopsies and crime scene investigating is fun. It gives it a fresh feel despite the period setting. Reid’s (also) before his time use of psychological as well as factual probing, and his refusal to settle for less than absolute proof of crimes is a bugbear to his superiors. 

There’s plenty of personal drama and tragedy too which I won’t give away. Bennet seems to make me cry a LOT, something about the character just kills me. Jerome Flynn is just wonderful as the tough yet scarred former soldier.The friendship of the men is strained by their background and personality differences but eventually becomes the backbone of the series. Season three is amazing and sort of epic feeling so far, I have a couple left to watch which I’m kind of postponing because I don’t want it to end. It will air on BBC sometime this year and I presume PBS America, so please watch it everyone so there’s a hope of another series.

Hmm so I didn't get onto films yet, but this post is rather long so I'll save that for another chilly day!
I will briefly recommend a few in the "new to Prime" list (some of which aren't very new but alas): 

Anna Karenina: Perfect lush wintry version of doomed Russian romance. Beautiful costumes and set design. 

Leap Year: It's corny, it's full of truly diabolical cliches about Ireland, but it has Amy Adams and Matthew Goode in it. Matthew Goode, I repeat, Matthew Goode (fans self - he was in Downton Abbey Christmas special, why did no one tell me?!), doing a dodgy Irish accent but irresistible all the same.

Chinese Puzzle: Romain Duris + Audrey Tautou, in a French/English rom com set in New York. Parfait. Sarah and I have a long standing date to watch the previous two films of this French trilogy.

Going the Distance: Drew Barrymore and Justin Long star in this long distance rom-com. it's really not the best but I like Drew so will watch anything she's in.

Non-Stop: Confession: I LOVE bad Liam Neeson films where he's a grizzled one man rescue mission. I'm one of them. I plan on watching and savouring Taken 2 on Prime the next chance I get. If it wasn't so yucky out I would probably go see the third one in the cinema. I don't know what is wrong with me! This movie involves Liam Neeson as an alcoholic air marshal/disgraced former cop dealing with an unknown terrorist on a plane. It also stars Julianne Moore and Lady Mary from Downton Abbey as an air hostess. It has a good premise but kind of runs out of steam mid-way through. As far as thrillers on board an airplane go, it's not as good as the Jodi Foster one or the Cillian Murphy one but is watchable enough nonsense. Liam Neeson may or may not save the day. I'm so ashamed of myself right now....

*Also by Whedon was Firefly, which I already have on dvd, but is free with Prime and well worth a watch. I feel like everyone has seen this/heard about its greatness by now but just in case...Another short lived, gone before its time fan favourite. Nathan Fillion was never fitter (see above), and even for people like me not particularly into space travel or sci fi shows, it’s more like a space travel western romance thing. It's the bee's knees.Try it!

photo credit: <a href="">dcnerd</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>


  1. Yes to firefly! I have vikings on dvd, excited to watch. I really liked dollhouse although its pretty dark. Have you tried Grimm, I really love it. Also enjoying original Batman, Adventure Time, Justice League and Mythbusters. I love my boxsets and netflix. Watching Supernatural as we speak.

    1. I may be under-selling Vikings, it is very watchable, let me know what you think! Grimm is on my list, I must get to it! We're onto season 9 of Supernatural on E4 but I hate not having it on dvd/without adverts. I used to love original Batman! Are the other shows on Netflix? We don't have Netflix yet as need some sort of conduit device for telly but hopefully sometime. :-)

  2. Mostly on netflix although batman is on dvd. My other great favourites are Homeland and Game of Thrones but I have to wait for those!

  3. I really loved the set design of Anna Karenina, and was actually pleasantly surprised by Keira Knightley, who I often find a little irritating on screen.

    1. It was stunning wasn't it? Agree Keira is hit and miss but she was v. good in this too I thought. :-)

  4. When you get to it, Buffy is well worth the time investment. Definitely watch it in order. Seriously, one of the best shows ever.