Thumbs up to “Pillars of The Earth”

The Pillars of The Earth — I watched this TiVo recorded 8-part mini-series over 3 days just before going to bed (in bed on my netbook) and enjoyed it more than Lord of The Rings. (I’ll probably watch it again properly when it comes out on disc.) It’s not fantasy, but it’s full of knights in armour, sword fights, battles, corrupt kings and queens — that whole scene. It’s about a guy who tries to build a cathedral in a small town in England during the 12th century, but the powers that be keep getting in the way. 8 episodes is the perfect length for a series. It doesn’t drag on, all the scenes are significant, and there’s not much to take track of. Great story of good vs evil. Characters are introduced and you know BAD GUY or GOOD GUY. At times the politics and back stabbing can seem convoluted, but it always boils down to, “They don’t like that guy, so they’re going to attack him.” Some blood, but no gore. It’s dramatic and engaging to the point where you want the bad guys to get it and the good guys to live happily ever after. That’s fun, isn’t it? High quality television shows like “The Pillars of the Earth” are more rewarding than most movies I see these days. And it’s only 8 episodes, so go for it.

It also stars Ian McShane from Deadwood, and Donald Sutherland and Gordon Pinscent in smaller roles.

Mad Men – Season 4 is Killer

Has anyone been watching the fourth season of Mad Men? That show is off the hook. In the past four or five episodes (about half way through the 13-episode season), it’s shifted into a whole near gear. It’s sublime. It’s more cinematic than most movies I see in theatres these days. Here’s a season 1 trailer that won’t give anything away:

I didn’t think they could beat season 1, and they didn’t with season 2 or 3. But now, I don’t know what’s going on, if they’ve hired new writers or producers, but each episode plays out like a work of art. They’ve dispensed with all the melodrama that was over-taking the storyline in seasons 2 and 3, and they’ve dug deep. Real deep.

Check out Jim Emerson’s blog for someone who seems equally impressed with the show. He has a lot more insight into all this cinematic stuff than I ever will. And it’s kinda cool.

10 DVD & Blu-ray Recommendations (October 2010)

Here are 10 new and old movies or TV shows I’ve seen in the past year that are now available on DVD and Blu-ray, and probably Netflix, etc. They’re all top-notch, but I’ve listed them in order of highest recommendation to least-highest recommendation. If your tastes are close to mine, you might enjoy them.

#1: Band of Brothers is a 10-part HBO mini-series that follows a bunch of guys through basic training during WWII, their deployment on D-Day and all the battles they went through until the end of the war in Europe. It’s intense, and for me, educational. It made the soldier’s perspective on the war more vivid than anything I’ve seen before. I felt scared for them. It reminded me of William Wharton‘s novel, A Midnight Clear. It’s about the everyday experiences of soldiers in the trenches (and thankfully not an excuse to wave the US flag in our faces). I would have been a Section 8 after D-Day. Don’t let the first episode with “Ross” from TV’s “Friends” turn you off. He leaves and it only gets better after that. (The following-up series, The Pacific has similar production values and is worth a look, but it’s not essential viewing like “Band of Brothers.”)


#2: A Serious Man, directed by the Coen Brothers, is about a physics professor in 1967 who’s life is going down the toilet one piece at a time. Everything in the movie is so well done — the look, the feel, the acting — any random 2 minutes of “A Serious Man” is more interesting, intelligent and entertaining than most entire movies I’ve seen in the past year. This is filmmaking. And it’s fun, not cruel or bizarre like some Coen Brothers movies can be.
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