Vietnam by Ken Burns

Currently in the queue on Netflix is the “Vietnam” by Ken Burns. I just finished it, and, like all the Ken Burns targets, it is outstanding.

It starts well before the common story (with advisors ramping up through the early Kennedy administration,) back when the real drama started with the French trying to maintain its hold on its Indochina colonies after WWII. The French were abysmal stewards of their colonial properties, ruthless, and exploitative to the extreme of the indigenous population. However, their strength sapped, they turned to us, and our paranoia of the spectre of communism leaking out of the USSR and China realm, took the bait. Continue reading →

Netflix Originals

Bagging on netflix is becoming a recurring theme, but alas, I need to circle back.

When Netflix streaming began to take off, it was pretty much the only game in town. At the time, the catalog was far from complete, but Netflix got in at the ground floor, and all the content owners pretty much granted access to their catalog. Not complete access, and there were significant holes, but the selection was solid.

Then a few years ago, Netflix began radically changing their focus. As competitors rose (Amazon, Hulu, Apple,) Netflix was competing for content, and not winning the fight. Instead of having a dwindling catalog, and having to bid against the rising competition, they pivoted to funding the creation of content. The concept of “Netflix Originals” (N-O) made an appearance, and now the catalog is flooded with Netflix Originals. To the point of crowding out the outside content. Continue reading →

Notes on Perry Mason

Being an “old fart” I enjoy watching old television programs. Rockford Files was a favorite growing up, and I watched it not long ago on Netflix. Lately, I have been programming my Tivo to capture the old Perry Mason episodes from MeTV. It is a classic, and enjoyable, but there are some attributes from its “era”.

First, unlike Columbo, you don’t know whodunnit up front. Of course, human nature causes you to speculate, but one thing is certain, the person charged is NEVER guilty, regardless of how bad it looks for them.

Second, the show ran for 9 seasons, and you can see some very distinct changes. In the early episodes, you would often see Raymond Burr lighting up a cigarette, and then in later episodes, he abstained from the weed. Of course, throughout the run, there was plenty of smoking from the cast and guests. Also, it seemed very common that there was heavy drinking, lots and lots of bottles of alcohol being tippled into tumblers.

Third, the episodes (with commercials) were an hour, and it is a pretty predictable cadence. An intro, a murder (always a murder), at about the 30 minute mark, you are in court, things look bleak for the defendant, with the prosecuting attorney, Hamilton Burger, zeroing in, and then the “twist”. Paul Drake or Della Street brings in a critical piece of information, and BANG Perry gets the guilty party to confess or act out.

Fourth, even as adversarial as Mason and the prosecutor, Burger are, they seem to have a jovial, relationship outside the courtroom. I suspect that in real life, there isn’t so much clubishness between prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Even with this formulaic structure, this snapshot of life in the late 50’s and early-mid 60’s, is amusing, and I enjoy watching.

The X-Files


I remember watching the X-Files in the 1990’s when it was first ran, and enjoyed it. The premise was interesting, an FBI agent who believes in UFO’s, extra terrestrials, and other spooky conspiracy things.

Agent ScullyStarring Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, the early episodes are rapid fire, entertaining, and engaging, even if, implausible. Written by Chris Carter, the production was outstanding.

During the original run, I was a dutiful follower, but sometime in the 3rd season I wandered off. Still, I had fond memories.

Then I found it on Netflix, so I started watching it again. My early, fond memories of the show were validated, and reinforced, and let’s face it, an early 1990’s Gillian Anderson? Rawr!

But with the miracle of Netflix, come the ability to binge watch. I raced through season 1 and 2 gleefully, then starting in season 3, it starts to alter direction. The stories are less entertaining, the darker turn to more government conspiracies, the more fabulous the setups, the uh, less enjoyable it became.

Agent MulderBy the time I got into the 4th season, I was completely turned off. Not even the “are they screwing yet” question could keep me watching the show.

I can’t help but wonder if they completely jumped the shark, and were on life support long beyond the sell-by date.

Oh well, one more of my enjoyable splurges is ruined forever.

(I am typing this watching the episode where they encounter the fetishist who has abducted Scully and is going to harvest her hair and fingernails. Creepy, and part of the “good times”)

Jurassic Park III

Last night, while scrolling through Netflix, one of their “Recently Added” titles was Jurassic Park III. Since I had re-watched Jurassic Park, and then the less enjoyable sequel, The Lost World, my thumb tapped the play button.

Ugh, what have I done.

It starts with a boy and a man (presumed to be his father) going parasailing on Isla Sola, the “Second” JP island that we learnt so much about in The Lost World.

Of course, this goes horribly wrong and they detach from the tether and glide inland where the Dinosaurs are.

of course, parasailing doesn’t get you high enough to go in as far as they were int he early filming, but hey, let’s completely suspend belief…

The next eon is a very slow setup. You see Professor Alan Grant with (whoever Laura Dern played – yeah, that memorable) and kids. You assume that they are married, and it is their family, but oops, her husband comes in. It was just a visit. Continue reading →

Jurassic Park

On the train with Netflix viewing again, Friday night I fired up “Jurassic Park” on Netflix. Released originally in 1993, it was the first movie I recall with this much immersive CGI effects. I did see it originally in the theaters, and I recall being wowed by the cinematography.

The Premise

InGen LogoA wealthy “Showman”, John Hammond (played by the amazing Sir Richard Attenborough) undertakes a massive program to bring the dinosaurs back to life for a modern safari park on an island off the coast of Costa Rica (in reality, the filming was done on Kauai). By extracting DNA from fossilized mosquitos in amber, enough DNA was recovered to allow the genetic engineers of the fictional InGen corporation to piece together whole DNA strands to then create the embryos of the recreated dinosaurs (more on this later in the review).

From there the embryos were implanted in ostrich or emu eggs, and carefully hatched. Continue reading →

Netflix Binging – Battlestar Galactica

For some reason, Netflix “recommended” the Battlestar Galactica series to me. Having vague memories of it as a kid, I thought why not, and put it on.

Star Wars logoThe Pilot is long. I mean, REALLY REALLY long. It is three 1 hour episodes (part 1, part 2, and part 3). Originally broadcast in 1978, it was about a year after the first Star Wars movie, and clearly it was influenced by the blockbuster hit that preceded it. A space opera, with action and special effects to captivate the audience.

The premise is that an ancient race of cyborgs (the Cylons) are ostensibly engaging with humans to negotiate a long term peace. Of course, they really are planning on wiping out the humans, to cleanse the universe of these pesky life forms.

Continue reading →

Netflix Binge – Columbo

I have written before on my love of classic TV, including a Detective series from the early 1970’s, Columbo.

Once again, I am back, re-watching the series, and I am again struck by the production quality, and the stories.

Yeah, like many of the genre, the stories are predictable, but the theatrical presentation is outstanding, and the character Columbo, is the perfect vehicle for Peter Falk to shine. Quirky at his finest, and completely at home in his role as the unkempt homicide detective, Peter Falk remains charming in his portrayal, and the type of character is reprised often (including his outstanding performance in “The In-Laws“, a movie I highly recommend.

Furthermore, unlike many detective stories, the viewer knows up front who the villain is, and we get to watch the process of elimination that Columbo follows, ultimately finding out that it was an early clue (that we all caught), that causes the culprit to dissemble and be caught in the act.

One more point, the shows work out to about 70 minutes, so they were broadcast in a 90 minute time slot, giving ample time for story and character development. This really helps the enjoyment of the story, as there isn’t a feeling of being rushed in the telling of the story.

There is the trademark green, “stinky” cigar that Columbo is always puffing on, as well as the “Oh, one more thing…” the beginning of a question that cuts to the bone, and begins to unravel the composure of the guilty party…

Ah, how I love Netflix, and binge watching. My classic TV addiction is fed once again.

Oh, and pick up a copy of The In-laws, it is a very very funny movie…

Drugs, Inc.

I have posted before on the NatGeo show, Drugs, Inc. having blown through the first 4 seasons in a binge watch, then forgot about it. Lately, I saw that Netflix had a couple of new seasons, so back I go into it.

This set of episodes is a little different than the early ones that were more on the supply chain, and talking about the logistics. Now they go into detail on the party scene that drives demand, like the Molly users on the club circuit, or spring break celebrations, or the Independence Day celebration in Chicago, or New Year’s Eve in New York.

Like the original episodes, they do a great job of capturing the human element, the risks taken by the people who source the raw materials, the intermediate production steps, and the traffickers.

Of course, there is plenty of focus on the users, the “demand” component to the equation.

In all it is a pretty balanced view, and there is little sympathy for the end users. They clearly have gotten themselves into their situation, and many of them acknowledge their problems, and don’t blame anyone but themselves. Still, it is fairly tragic to watch.

The detail that they go into, particularly around the Mexican cartels, and the hidden camera work is impressive. Clearly, they have made good use of GoPro cameras.

If you get a chance, drop it in your Netflix queue.

The new Hawaii 5-0

As part of my Netflix binging, I have watched (most) of the original Hawaii 5-0 and the 2010 remake. An interesting amalgam of shows.

The original series was a Jack Lord vehicle, a way to justify living in Hawaii, and to promote tourism in Hawaii. Beautifully filmed, the writing was crisp and fresh (for 1968 that is), and the stories were compelling.

The Remake is refreshing. A lot more character development gets you more involved with the personalities behind the main players. In the original, over the 8 years I watched, there was “some” development of the McGarrett character (played by Alex O’Laughlin, a favorite for the ladies), and even less of the Danny Williams character. In the remake, there is a lot more background, and extended divergences into their backstories. Continue reading →