Category Archives: streaming video

FX – “The Strain” Will Terrify You

I can’t believe that a sci-fi/horror film geek like myself missed the whole first season of this remarkable, and oh so very scary show. Gosh, it was created by Guillermo del Toro, one of my favorite horror directors who directed The Devil’s Backbone, one of the greatest ghost story movies ever made and Pan’s Labyrinth, one of the greatest fantasy film stories

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ever made. And it stars Corey Stoll, who was so brilliant in the first season of House of Cards. No cost has been spared to created great, sometimes gruesome special effects. Del Toro himself tautly directs the first episode.

The story starts when an airplane arrives on the New York tarmac with all but four passengers dead. A virus is feared and that’s right, but it turns out to be a disease that was totally unexpected. There are vampires of a special sort loose and the infected passengers begin to infect other people and on and on it goes. Stoll plays a CDC inspector who finds out the truth and through circumstance draws a small band of people in to help him. One of these is an elderly professor who has had experience with this plague during World War II when he was a Jewish prisoner of war. It is The Master, pictured below, who has started everything rolling and it is The Master who was on that plane. Prepare for a few jolts in this

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adult series (watch it when your kids are safely in bed asleep).  Prominent characters bite the dust, characters are forced to do things they find unpalatable, and it’s often all about survival. Season two premieres Joly 12 at 10 p. m. on FX . But don’t go in unarmed, you have time now to binge on Season 1. Hulu (Called Hulu Plus until earlier this week. Now the Plus has been dropped)  has all 13 episodes which makes its modest monthly fee seem quite low. While you’re there you can also binge on the first three seasons of Spiral, the gritty French crime procedural. That makes Hulu pennies an episode, and they have a lot more, too, including a huge collection of Criterion films and some very old TV shows in great shape.

Note: The first photo above is the original promotion art forf season 1 but it was withdrawn. I can’t imagine why. One of the ways the vampires can infect a person is to splatter these tiny “worms” that can enter the body through the nose, ear, or yes, the eye.

 

Foreign TV Via Netflix

Netflix streaming, which I consider one of the great values out there, has always had a smattering of foreign TV, subtitled and all, but that small number of titles has blossomed into a large number that have their own separate search division. Here are three of the  best, which you also might be able to obtain on DVD or Blu-ray disc, depending on your access. But wherever you find them, don’t miss these superlative shows.

The Code

The Code is an Australian show, so it is in English without subtitles. It’s concerned with one of action drama’s favorite topics – government cover up. A young couple, cruising in the outback, gets involved in an accident and the girl dies. A video is involved that proves that the girl was murdered. Two brothers pursue the truth. Reporter Ned Banks (Dan Spielman) wants the story for his raggy newspaper, brother Jesse (Ashley Zukerman) is a computer hacker extraordinaire, who keeps the brothers informer but also at odds. The whole cast is find but American actor Zukerman is especially good. Suspense builds and builds for six episodes. and the photography and sound are first rate. Netflix has season one, there’s apparently a season two (also six episodes) in the wings.

Salamander

Salamander is a Belgian TV show and carries easy to read English subtitles.  It’s about espionage and that favorite topic again – government coverup – adding another favorite theme – the heist. Sophisticated thieves go through sewer  tunnels to gain access to a bank’s  safe deposit boxes. They empty 66 of them, taking papers and photos that might prove embarrassing to government officials were they to be revealed. The bank wants no police involvement, fearing the knowledge of the contents of those boxes might bring down the government. One policeman, Paul Geradi (FIlip Peeters) seeks the truth and for his trouble becomes a wanted man, pursuing justice against all odds. Though 12 episodes long, Salamander is taut and exciting to the end, each episode ending with a cliffhanger that propels a viewer on to the next chapter. Breathtaking thrills and lots of cat and mouse action, with multiple cats and multiple mice! A second season is in the works, as is an English language remake.

Witnesses

The Messengers is a French show and like no other I’ve seen.  It’s subtitled and set in a French seacoast town that has vistas of amazing beauty. Three recently buried bodies are discovered exhumed and placed in the show house of a new housing development. They’ve been positioned so as to imitate an average 3-person family. It happens again, and this time, a photograph of a former police investigator is left behind. That man, Paul Maisonneuve (Thierry Lhermitte) rejoins the force and along with his former student, Sandra Winckler (Marie Dompnier), now a full investigator herself, sets out to find the culprits. In episode 3 it becomes clear that these crimes are a distraction to hide a real crime. That one is solved in episode 5, the other in the final episode 6. This show, like Salamander, is exceptionally taut, with splendid photography, and also has Class A movie style acting.  Lhermitte, usually known in France for comedy, and Dompnier have hand in glove chemistry. It’s wonderful to watch them work together.  Lhermitte walks off at the end of this one, but I’ve a feeling he’ll be enticed back for a second season. Let’s hope so.

Three Netflix Jewels

Remember when Netflix just sent out discs? The company has rapidly progressed beyond that to offer unlimited streaming video at a bargain rate (if you watch nine or more titles a month it will be less expensive than Red Box and right to your home). A few years back Netflix also started producing its own shows, delivering a entire series at once. Unlike the networks, which provide one episode a week, Netflix offers all at the same time and leaves  the pacing up to the viewer. House of Cards and Orange is the New Black have received the most attention, justly so; but there are others worth seeing, And Netflix makes all seasons available so you can start at the beginning, which I recommend.  Here are three of my favorites.

The Fall

The Fall. Two seasons (A) Netflix doesn’t actually produce this show but licenses it for U. S. distribution. It stars Gillian Anderson as Stella Gibson, a Brit police investigator who is brought in to catch a serial killer in Belfast.  That murderer is played by Irish actor Jamie Dornan. The show is unusual in that the audience knows who the killer is; the concentration is on the chase and how it affects both police detective and killer. If you like British crime dramas, you can’t miss this. The long interrogation scene between Stella and the killer in episode six of season two alone  is worth the price of admission.

Lilyhammer

Lilyhammer. Three seasons (A) Steven Van Zandt, who plays in the E Street Band and had an ongoing role in The Sopranos, stars as a New York mobster who has been put in witness protection and sent to the small Norwegian town of Lilyhammer for protection. He quickly learns that he can easily replicate the life he had in the U. S., opening a bar and making protection deals with locals. It’s a hilarious show that you might think would rely on the one joke, but the writers are brilliant at keeping things interesting. It is, to my mind, one of the funniest shows of this century.  Bruce Springsteen, “The Boss” and Van Zandt’s boss in making music, appears as a coroner at the end of season three.

Mar5co Polo

Marco Polo. One season (B) A sprawling, grandiose fictionalization of explorer Marco Polo’s time spent in the court of Kublai Khan.  Marco (a handsome Lorenzo Richelmy) becomes the Khan’s confidant, when it seems like a good idea, but is often  the first one blamed when anything goes wrong. Expansive battle scenes and great attention to period detail make the series seem more historical than it is. Still if you can accept it as fiction, it’s often quite thrilling. Be patient, it doesn’t really settle down until the third episode.  Netfloix has remained mum about a second season.

The Returned

I’m a bit behind the curve on this, but my goal is to share with you anything I discover that’s quality home entertainment. Now there have been a lot of shows on TV lately about zombies and resurrected humans, but it is only now that I have discovered the best one, the French TV series The Returned. It’s set in a small town in France that has an elderly, creaking dam positioned above it. In the past that dam broke and killed most of the population; now, when the water is low, you can see a church steeple poking out above the water line. And that water line is getting mysteriously lower and lower, while the dam shows no cracks.  The first episode takes us back two years when a school bus loaded with kids plunged over a railing, killing them all. In the present ,one of those kids comes back, unscathed and unable to remember what happened.

The Returned

Others return, including a weird looking boy who was murdered in a home invasion 35 years ago. He finds his killer alive in a most unusual place. A serial killer comes back, and a young man who committed suicide on his wedding day. His intended betrothed is now about to marry a police captain. Even animals come back. A wolf slated for taxidermy comes back with a growl.  Then some of the returned and some of the regulars get hideous skin lesions. And well, no more spoilers, there’s a surprise around every corner in this series. It’s well acted and directed, scary as can be, eerie as can be, and shot in HD with a surround soundtrack. And it’s streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime. If you don’t know about it, Netflix streaming is one of the best bargains on the planet, now licensing more and more foreign television. The Returned is also going to be on DVD and Blu-ray in February 2015. Finally, A & E is going to produce an American version to air in  March 2015, but even though it has Michelle Forbes in the cast, I’m betting the original will still be better. Oh yes, the original has subtitles but they’re easy to read.

Savage “Snowpiercer”

I missed this in the theaters and you probably did, too. It didn’t seem to play the burbs. But now it’s on Netflix streaming in HD and surround sound, so you’ll have a better chance of seeing it.  And by all means do! In a cinematic world where everyone seems determined to do the same old thing over and over again, albeit with variations, Snowpiercer stands out as thrilling and original. Here’s the plot – An experiment to cure global warning backfires and the earth is turned into ice.

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The last remaining humans are on board a lengthy train that circles the earth once a year.  The well to do are up front, where they have restaurants, an aquarium – in sum, just about all they need. They comprise about 2 percent of the train’s population. The rest are crowded in the back cars, dirty and disheveled, their children taken from them at will. They subsist on black protein bars. Since you’ve all seen Soylent Green, you know what that means. A movement to take over the train hatches and the main body of the film is spent on a revolutionary group’s passage from  the rear to  the front. Excellent performances from Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, and John Hurt; and nonstop action and thrills, with very exciting digital special effects. In sum – not to be missed and reason enough to subscribe to Netflix.