October 22, 2020

“My Octopus Teacher” on Netflix

Who would have thought a documentary about a man who befriends an octopus could be riveting and emotionally engaging? Certainly not me, until viewing “My Octopus Teacher” on Netflix.

While the doc stars Craig Foster who produced the film, the project was directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed with underwater cinematography by Roger Horrocks. The footage was filmed for almost a year, but it actually took ten years for the project to come to fruition.

The result is an amazing look at a kelp forest off the shore of South Africa. Craig Foster dives daily for 300 days without a wetsuit or oxygen tank in this beautiful underwater enclave, observing co-operative and predatory behavior in nature. We see gorgeous-colored plants and creatures as they go about their daily life.

A female octopus Foster encounters literally reaches out to him in heartwarming scenes of human-animal contact. There are scenes of chase, danger and drama, plus a little octopus romance resulting in procreation.

While the spine of the film is the friendship between man and octopus, we watch as Foster becomes a happier human. He improves his relationship with his son who also becomes enamored with this underwater world. The son actually discovers a little octopus which may be the offspring of our female star, bringing the story full circle.

The octopus has indeed been the teacher of this filmmaker needing a reboot. Have a Kleenex box handy.

“Unorthodox” on Netflix

One of the most remarkable shows I have seen on Netflix is “Unorthodox,” a four-episode dramatic series about a young Orthodox Jewish woman’s journey from her strict Satmar community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Berlin.

The show, based on a memoir by Deborah Feldman, is Netflix’s first show shot primarily in Yiddish and faithfully depicts the customs and rituals of conservative Jews living in a borough of NYC.

Actress Shira Haas soulfully plays Esty, the young woman searching for her place in the world. Moving from the U.S. to Berlin, she examines her traditional upbringing as she transitions to different hair styles and Western clothing, along with making multi-cultural friendships and pursuing her dream of making music in public.

The German director of “Unorthodox,” Maria Shrader, won an Emmy award for Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, and rightfully so.

I highly recommend watching the 21-minute film, “Making Unorthodox,” after you finish all four series episodes. Insight into the costumes, actor and advisor comments, plus interviews with author Feldman, director Shrader and creator Anna Winger is most enlightening. Hob anoe! (For us non-Yiddish speakers, that’s “Enjoy!”)

“The American Barbecue Showdown” on Netflix

I thought it might be sacrilege to write about a Netflix barbecue show and “Unorthodox” in the same post. Pork is definitely grilled and eaten on “The American Barbecue Showdown;” meat and dairy are mixed without compunction.

In a format similar to “Top Chef” or many of the other cooking competition shows, “The American Barbecue Showdown” pits contestants against one another in cooking meat, fish and vegetables. They are also tasked with cooking complementary side dishes and designing menus that highlight specific ingredients.

The competitors are sometimes endearing men and woman of different cultural backgrounds and ages who speak with colorful accents and vocabulary. (I myself was rooting for the grandmotherly African-American woman to win the competition.)

If I wanted to torture my vegan brother-in-law, I would tie him down and make him watch this show. For the rest of us, “The American Barbecue Showdown” is a fun casual viewing experience after a day of wrestling with electronica. Let’s get back to pre-historic basics: fire, meat and gathering together for a meal.

“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” – Julia Child

Acorn TV’s “Keeping Faith” on Amazon Prime

Your Amazon Prime membership allows you free access to Season 1 of “Keeping Faith,” a thriller carried by Acorn TV.

Filmed concurrently in Welsh and English, we meet Faith Howells, a lawyer whose husband leaves for work one morning and disappears. Not quite into thin air, however, as she finds out he was deeply enmeshed in legally representing the wrong sort of people.

Faith is played by British actress, Eve Myles who viewers may recognize from “Dr. Who” and “Torchwood.” She juggles caring for her three children, resuming to work at her husband’s family law firm and trying to figure out what happened to her husband and all of their money. Faith is under suspicion for his murder and surrounded by family members with their own deadly secrets.

You have until 9/30/2020 on Amazon Prime to view Season One of the absorbing series, “Keeping Faith.”

MHZ Choice TV: “Pièges,” “Capitaine Marleau” and “Grey Zone”

I have regularly mentioned MHZ Choice, a streaming service that features European television programming, but there are some new shows worth noting.

“Pièges,” a French, two-part thriller tips the hat to Alfred Hitchcock with an intricate murder plot and a dramatic music soundtrack.

On the lighter side is “Capitaine Marleau” starring Corinne Masiero as a French detective who can out-quirk Colombo and Monk combined. The clever plots, gorgeous scenery and Marleau’s oddball attire make this series the antidote for a stressful day.

A new show from Denmark, “Grey Zone,” shows great promise after having watched two episodes. Starring Birgitte Hjort Sorenson (whom you may have seen as a reporter in “Borgen,” or as a wildling leader in “Game of Thrones”) plays drone expert Victoria Rahbek who gets mixed up with kidnappers and terrorists. New episodes will be added weekly.

The MHZ service has programs in French, Italian, German, Dutch, Serbian, Finnish, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Flemish and Spanish. Some of my past favorite series on MHZ are “Beck” from Sweden, “Montalbano” from Italy, “Borgen” from Denmark, “Commissario Brunetti” from Germany, “Aber Bergen” from Norway and “Spiral” from France. And this is the short list!

As a side note, if you really want to support a streaming site, please try to avoid signing up for the service through Apple or Amazon. MHZ makes less money if you don’t buy it directly from them. Automatic monthly debits and easy cancellations can be instigated on the MHZ Choice web site.

Happy viewing. There is a free trial offer.


“Money Heist” on Netflix

As a general rule, heist plots bore me to tears, but after two different friends recommended “Money Heist” on Netflix, I decided to give the Spanish tv series a look-see.

Wow! Every episode contains action and just enough complexity to make the show interesting yet not confusing. A band of miscreants dressed in red jumpsuits and Salvador Dali masks, led by a man called “The Professor,” hold hostages in the Royal Mint of Spain while they print themselves millions in paper currency. In their minds, they are not really stealing from anyone.

The plot thickens with the introduction of the female official who is investigating the incident. She meets and falls for a handsome stranger who is none other than “The Professor” who has masterminded the heist.

Originally a hit tv show in Spain, Netflix obtained global streaming rights and reconfigured the length of episodes. There are currently four seasons on Netflix with a fifth and final season planned.

The program has also warranted a documentary called “Money Heist: The Phenomenon.” It seems the series has been a hit in several countries. You may want to jump on the “Money Heist” bandwagon and work on your Spanish, too! The original Spanish title is “La Casa de Papel,” which is “The House of Paper.” Expensive paper, indeed!