Tag Archives: Netflix

‘Ragnarok’ on Netflix

At long last, and now that I am well and truly out of the script translation business, you’ll have the opportunity to view a Norwegian production I had a hand in translating. (I can’t watch it myself, having divested myself of Netflix in the recent austerity initiative.)

Ragnarok can perhaps be described, in what scriptwriters call an “elevator pitch” (a description short enough to be given during an elevator ride) as “American Gods,” crossed with “Stranger Things,” set in a Norwegian high school.

The theme is environmental, and the visuals are, by all accounts, spectacular. I worked on two or three episodes, and some of my work will probably have survived in the subtitles. Not for younger kids.

The Personal History of Mr. Sunshine

We recently finished a 24-episode historical drama created for South Korean television in 2018 and distributed this year through Netflix. Set at the end of the Joseon kingdom, while Korea tried to move into the 20th century as subjects of a king, Mr. Sunshine is essentially a fiercely patriotic story. It begins with loyalists attempting to defend their peninsula from colonialists, despite obviously being outgunned. It ends with rebels raging against the rising tide of Japanese occupation.

We first see Choi Yoo-jin (Lee Byung-hun) as the son of slaves, who runs to avoid being killed and makes it to New York City. He grows up to become U.S. Marine Captain Eugene Choi, deployed to the American embassy in Joseon. He’s an American soldier with Korean skin; most people don’t know what to make of him. But he’s glad to be back in Joseon so he can find the people who murdered his parents and take his revenge.

On a risky American assignment, he encounters the beautiful Lady Go Ae-shin (Kim Tae-ri) doing something distinctly unladylike. He won’t know about her family until long after his interest in her has grown. But two other men are interested in her too: a Korean samurai, who is thought to have sold his soul to Japan, and the son of the second richest family in the country, who happens to be Lady Go’s fiancé. The three men are drawn together by their proximity and held by various mutual interests.

It’s a beautifully filmed drama told reservedly and works as a personal story of love and duty as well as a historical tribute to Korean independence. Americans will find many things to love about it.

If you know a bit of the history of Korea, you’ll be able to guess the story doesn’t have that happy of an ending; if you don’t know the history, you’ll be able to guess the tenor of the end by the prominent place of “Greensleeves” or by the first English words Lady Go learns: gun, glory, sad ending.

Netflix Review: ‘Safe’


Back in 2006, a French movie appeared, based on Harlan Coben’s novel Tell No One. I’ve seen it on Netflix. It’s a pretty good thriller. Coben says he agreed to sell the rights to the French company rather than taking an American offer, because the filmmakers understood the story – that it’s primarily a love story, not a mystery.

Although he takes his material overseas again (this time to England) for the miniseries Safe, available for viewing now on Netflix, I think it’s not as successful as the French movie. But it’s a pretty fair entertainment.

In spite of the uprooted location, Safe is a very recognizable Coben story. You’ve got a secure (in this case gated) upper middle-class suburban community, where neighbors are friends and everybody knows everybody’s business (or thinks they do). You’ve got a family friend who tells some of the kids that if they ever need a designated driver, call him night or day – no questions, no snitching to the parents. You’ve got a teenagers’ party that gets out of hand – a boy drowns. Then a girl disappears. Then the clues lead back to very old, buried secrets.

American actor Michael C. Hall plays Dr. Tom Delaney, widowed father of the missing girl. (His English accent sounds OK to me, but apparently the actual English have laughed at it.) His relationship with his daughter Jenny (Amy James-Kelly) has been strained, since her mother’s death from cancer. He desperately tries to trace Jenny’s movements on the night of the party, assisted by his best friend, a gay doctor, and his girlfriend, a police detective. Clues lead to drug dealing, concealment of a body, and a guilty secret shared by members of the close-knit community.

I found the solution, and the Big Surprise that followed it, a little improbable and forced. However, the series as a whole was compelling and I enjoyed it. Cautions for mature themes and a few obscenities.

The Almost Christian Theme of Luke Cage 2

Isn’t it hard to hear the truth come from a hateful, abusive mouth? It can sound like a lie just from the context of who speaks it.

In the first few episodes of Netflix and Marvel’s Luke Cage season two, the most Christian things spoken came from Luke’s abusive father, James Lucas.  We had heard in the first season how Rev. Lucas mistreated his wife, committed adultery, and favored the son of the other woman over Luke. He was a minister of self-righteousness, who beat people with the Bible and knew nothing of its power.

At the beginning of the second season, we heard him practicing a sermon that asks whether Cage serves the Lord or himself. When he runs into Luke on the street, he just wants to tie a leash around his neck, demanding the respect due a father though he has undermined that relationship for many years. Luke tells his girlfriend Claire he cannot reconcile with his father because he blamed Luke for his mother’s illness and death. He didn’t believe Luke was innocent of the crime that sent him to prison. He seemed to hate his great strength now. Luke has too many wounds to heal to return.

This sets up a character theme for these men–forgiveness. I just wish it had gone another step further.

When the violence escalates, Luke and the Rev come together out of necessity and finally share their sins. The Rev owns up to at least some of his past and Luke does his part as well. They forgive each other, but the Christian language disappears. Their forgiveness stays on a human level. Even with a prayer for safety at the beginning of a night of hiding, talk of faith seems to be watered down so as not upset the science-fiction. The Rev speaks of “science, magic, God” as if to blur each those things together.

It would have been so easy to have the Rev see the truth that sets us free in that Bible he professes to love and put a few words of real redemption in his mouth.

(Image of Luke Cage from IMDb.com)

Netflix review: ‘Norsemen’


I really wanted to like Norsemen, a Viking Age comedy produced by the Norwegian NRK network. The series is filmed at the reconstructed Viking farm at Bukkøy, which is associated with the North Way Interpretational Center at Avaldsnes, Karmøy, Norway. Avaldsnes is the parish where my great-grandfather Walker was born and baptized. I’ve been to the Viking Farm, so when I watch this show I’m looking at a familiar place.

In the first episode, a shipload of Viking raiders under the command of Chieftain Olav return to their home in Norway. Olav’s brother, Orm, has been in charge in his absence, and he’s so bad at it that old men are reduced to jumping off a cliff to reduce the number of mouths to feed. Orm’s wife, Frøya, was along on the raid as a warrior, while Orm himself is pretty much useless with weapons. She despises him. Olav’s chief warrior is named Arvid. Olav arranges for Arvid to marry a widow – or rather, she becomes a widow after he’s killed her husband. But they find themselves incompatible. Meanwhile, the chief slave, Kark (saga fans will recognize that classical reference), gives instruction to the newest slave, Rufus of Rome, a professional actor who seems to think he’s on a pleasure cruise and keeps complaining about the accommodations.

What you’ve got here, essentially, is the History Channel’s Vikings series, crossed with The Office. The costumes and hair are intentionally similar to those on the Vikings show (which is to say, even worse. Black leather, which real Vikings never had, abounds). But the dialogue is straight out of The Office, with people talking in 21st century jargon. That dialogue concerns a lot of killing, which is played for laughs, and it’s also very smutty. The program was filmed in both Norwegian and English, so what you see on Netflix is neither dubbed nor subtitled.

I watched three episodes. The first two, which mostly introduced us to the characters, seemed to me kind of rudderless. But the plot began functioning at the end of Episode Two, and I went on to watch the third one. I could probably continue, because the story got more interesting once I detected a plot, and realized that the characters I’d felt sorry for were pretty much as awful as the characters I’d hated. What it boils down to is that this is one of those shows about appalling people whom I don’t care about at all. And considering the level of profanity (very, very) black humor, and casual violence, plus a little nudity, I don’t think I’ll continue with it. And I don’t recommend it to our readers.

Netflix viewing report: ‘Hell on Wheels’

Hell on Wheels

The series “Hell on Wheels” was recommended to me.

I must explain, or apologize, for the title of the series – not for inventing it of course, but for not rejecting out of hand a show with a curse word in its name. “Hell on Wheels” is actually a historically bona fide term. When the Intercontinental Railroad was being built, there was a mobile town that moved with it. Whenever End of Track got out of sight, they’d load the town up on wagons, move it a couple miles, and rebuild it at the new railhead. They called it “Hell on Wheels,” which is where the expression comes from. As the name suggests, it was a town devoted to vice.

We follow former Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount). He has come west, not for his fortune, but for revenge. A group of Yankee soldiers violated and murdered his wife during the war, and he’s hunting them down one by one. Cullen is an interesting antihero – a man with great capabilities, but hollowed out by hate. When denied his vengeance, he collapses into a bottle.

Through circumstances I’ll skip over, Cullen becomes foreman of the Union Pacific work crew. He commands both white workers and black workers, chief among them Elam Ferguson (played by the rapper, Common) with whom he strikes up a fragile and hostile alliance. His boss is “Doc” Durant (Colm Meany), a pure huckster out for the biggest of scores. Cullen’s nemesis is “The Swede” (Chris Heyerdahl), the head of security (he confides that he’s actually a Norwegian), a man who seems to combine piety with tremendous corruption and contempt for human life.

But there are (and I salute the producers for this) actually decent, decently portrayed Christians in this series. The preacher who ministers to Hell on Wheels (Tom Noonan) delivers a pretty good explanation of the gospel as he tries to minister to Cullen’s hollowed out soul. Or at least as far as I’ve watched so far—four episodes.

Last night, after watching that fourth episode, I had what seemed like an epiphany, an attack of what I might call Writer’s Disease. I realized that, given the arc of the plot, it’s almost inevitable that something really awful is going to happen to the most sympathetic character in the series. The story kind of demands it.

And I’m not sure I have the courage to go on watching, and see that.

Writer’s Disease? Or just an old man’s moral cowardice? I’m wrestling with the question.

“Hell on Wheels” is not bad if you can handle the language and adult themes. No actual nudity so far.

Netflix video review: ‘The Ranch’

The Ranch

Somebody recommended the Netflix comedy series, “The Ranch.” After all, it stars Sam Elliott, and he plays an unapologetic conservative.

Sam Elliott is always a draw, but he isn’t enough to sell me this spread.

Elliot plays Beau Bennett, patriarch of a ranch in Colorado. He’s acerbic and obsessive, working day and night to keep the failing operation going. He’s angry at everybody, and globally critical.

In the first episode his second son, Colt (Ashton Kutcher), returns home for a brief stopover. He’s a local hero because he was a football star and actually had a pro career, though it’s sliding downhill now. Realizing his father is in danger of losing the ranch, he decides to stay on, for which he gets no appreciation at all. He has many bad habits, and needs to grow up.

Danny Masterson plays the older son, Rooster, who stayed home like the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. He tries to be a peacemaker, but is generally ineffectual. He also seems to have a drinking problem.

Debra Winger plays Maggie, the mother, who divorced Beau but lives in town where she runs a bar.

Sound like fun to you? Maybe this set-up is comedy gold for normal folks, but for someone like me who grew up in a genuine dysfunctional home, it’s like a half hour of dipping sheep. I understand we’re supposed to be laughing, but I never even came close to smiling. There seems to be an idea abroad in the land that if you throw enough f-bombs into the mix, hilarity must inexorably ensue. This idea is wrong.

I didn’t even like Sam Elliott here. His character is – how shall I put it? – pretty much a donkey. I assume that through the course of the series we’ll be treated to moments suggesting that he actually cares for his family, somewhere deep inside. I gave it two episodes, but I’m not willing to put up with more of this abuse for the sake of such moments.

So I didn’t like it. Your mileage may vary.

Netflix Review: ‘Detectorists’


It was suggested to me that I might enjoy the English TV series, “Detectorists.” I think I know why the suggestion was made. In very broad terms, it’s a picture of my life. In spite of that, I found it entertaining.

The series centers on the lives of a pair of friends who belong to a metal “detectorists’” club (it’s pure coincidence that the mystery novel I reviewed last night involved the murder of a detectorist). Lance (Toby Jones) is a small, unprepossessing man who is nevertheless quite intelligent. He works as a forklift operator in a produce warehouse, but his twin passions are his ex-wife, who exploits his affections, and metal detecting in the Essex countryside. His friend Andy (Mackenzie Crook) looks and dresses like a homeless man, but actually is nearly qualified as an archaeologist when the series starts. He lives with a girlfriend, Becky (played, I was delighted to discover, by Rachael Stirling, daughter of Diana Rigg, the great crush of my youth). Andy and Becky dream of going to Africa to do excavations, but Andy drags his feet, crippled by self-doubt. He and Lance spend a lot of time together in the fields with their detectors and in pubs, even to the point of raising mild jealousy in Becky.

They are members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club, a small, struggling group of moderately obsessed social misfits. Their mortal rivals are the “Antiquisearchers,” a less principled detecting group, suspected of “Nighthawking” (detecting at night so as to take possession of their finds without properly declaring them to the authorities). The DMDC is galvanized in the first season by the appearance of a young woman named Sophie (Amy-Ffion Edwards), who attracts Andy’s attention enough to put a strain on his relationship with Becky.

The first season centers on Lance and Andy detecting on the farm of an affably crazy farmer, who constantly calls out commands to nonexistent dogs, and is suspected of having murdered his wife and buried her somewhere on his property. In the second season, a young German man shows up and asks the group’s help locating the crash site of a plane which had carried his grandfather during World War II.

“Detectorists,” written by Mackenzie Crook himself, is a well-crafted, character-based comedy which treats its cast of characters with affection. We laugh at them but also with them, and they are portrayed with pathos and compassion. Also, the scenery shots are breathtakingly lovely.

I liked it a lot. The only thing that really annoyed me was the final episode, broadcast as a Christmas special, which involved elements of superstition. Cautions for language.

Marcella Will Have a Second Season

The new Netflix crime show, Marcella, starring Anna Friel and Nicholas Pinnock, will have a second season. The eight-show series labeled “crime noir” has a bleak tone to the visuals, soundtrack, and characters, and perhaps this bleakness left me wondering if my watching it was time well-spent.

Marcella is a detective who has been off the force for ten years at the beginning of the story. She comes back because it appears the murderer she tracked but did not catch in her last case may have returned. Perhaps she can contribute to the investigation by remembering her own history. But Marcella brings with her some gaping wounds. In the first episode, she sits trembling in her tub, possibly wounded. We can see blood on her head and the wall. Even when we see at what point in our non-linear storytelling she is traumatized in her home bath, the explanation barely connects. Did she do something and is covering her tracks? Is this a kind of Jekyll and Hyde story that will end with Marcella being the murderer all along?

In the first episode, she confronts her husband about leaving her, which happens in the first few minutes, and they fight. She rages against him and blacks out, but this isn’t a typical fainting spell. It’s “dissociative fugue.” She detaches from reality enough to lose all memory of what she does but is still able to function while detached. So she shoves her ex-husband down the stairs and calls him later to ask what happened. This is the chink in her armor.

Marcella isn’t presented as a genius detective whose skills outpace her police comrades by several steps. She just has good instincts and isn’t bound to a set of political rules or a timetable that prevents her from seeing uncomfortable questions. Some may see her story as a replay of returning star vs. uninspired police force, butting heads constantly over what should be done next. I see it more as a team of professionals with slightly varying priorities, looking at a difficult problem together. It works.

The season ends on a curious thematic note, a question that will have to be explored in season two, but I can’t say I enjoyed the story overall. I was interested, but I didn’t connect to these characters. I remember how invested I was in Idris Elba’s Luther. I wanted him to succeed. I hated the pain he suffered. For Marcella, I was a bit concerned but more puzzled. The storytelling doesn’t allow much time to develop her or the many (perhaps too many) other people around her. It dwells instead on creepy moments that tease you with another horrible revelation. Though the overall story works, it probably has too many moving parts.

Shadows in Netflix’s Stranger Things

Netflix has a winner in its new original Stranger Things, an eight-hour sci-fi/horror show with Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, and Millie Bobby Brown. I’d like to list all of actors, because everyone was fantastic. I want to talk about it here, but I can’t avoid spoilers.

For lovers of Stranger Things (no Spoilers) – Credit to u/pyrobob4

Yes, there’s a bit of an E.T. vibe because we have boys on bikes and bad government agents, agents so bad the public affairs guy at the U.S. Dept. of Energy felt compelled to say, “Whoa! I like Stranger Things like all you guys. It’s a great show, but we do not experiment on people and hunt down monsters, okay? That’s NSA, not us. And Dr. Brenner doesn’t work with us anymore.”

You could say Eggos replace Reese’s Pieces, but the Duffer Brothers aren’t trying to remake E.T. They’re telling a good paranormal story. (By the way, E.T. could have been munching M&Ms, but someone at Mars said, “We know for a fact aliens do not like M&Ms, so the premise of this movie is wildly unrealistic. Hot babes like M&Ms. Why don’t you make a movie about them?”)

When asked about the parallels between Stranger Things and other sci-fi movies, like The Goonies and Close Encounters, co-creator Matt Duffer said,

When you get into the writers’ room and you’re working on individual episodes, actually very little time is spent referencing other movies. Mostly you’re just trying to tell the story, letting the characters guide where everything’s going. Otherwise it would just be a jumble and a mess. Someone sent me that Vimeo video that had our images side-by-side with [‘70s and ‘80s movies] and some of it was purposeful and some of it was not, which was really cool. And some of it I haven’t even seen. Continue reading Shadows in Netflix’s Stranger Things

“Nothing drives people to the church faster”

The second season of Netflix’s “Daredevil” was released today. Aaron Earls of “The Wardrobe Door” talks about the themes of the series.

“Nothing drives people to the church faster than the thought of the Devil snapping at their heels. Maybe that was God’s plan all along,” Father Lantom, Matt Murdock’s priest, says, “why he created him, allowed him to fall from grace to become a symbol to be feared, warning us all to tread the path of the righteous.”

Netflix’s “Daredevil” confronts the problem of evil in the world and challenges viewers to consider how they can be part of the solution. And it does it through the life of a blind Catholic superhero. . . .

When wrestling with the problem of evil, “Daredevil” gives an answer that may not address all of the philosophical wonderings, but addresses a much more practical issue. We see evil in the world and we wonder what God is doing about it. As those created in His image, we have to once again look in the mirror. “Daredevil” reminds us that God is there in the midst of the suffering, able to serve, because we are there.

I’m looking forward to this season. One image from the first season that sticks with me is that while the hero takes up the metaphor of the devil, the villain sees himself as a savior, at least until the very end when he spins another metaphor for himself. Unlike Jessica Jones, Daredevil wants to team up with God in this fight.