Tag Archives: Netflix

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’

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.