Friday, August 23, 2013

Weekend Stream for 08/23/13

The Weekend Stream is a weekly feature curating content for you to watch this weekend from the current selection on Netflix's US streaming service. Since titles can disappear with little or no warning, there's always a chance a title will no longer be available by the time you read this, so you'd better act fast, champ!

Weekend Stream for 08/23/13

For this edition of the Weekend Stream, we've got a documentary that comments on (or, perhaps exploits) some of the same themes from today's review of Amour, a throwback Japanese samurai epic with one of the greatest battle scenes ever staged, and a critically-beloved yet underwatched detective show.

First up, that documentary. Young@Heart is about the Young@Heart Chorus, a senior citizens' singing group led by director Bob Cilman. In Stephen Walker's film, we get to watch as the volatile Cilman demands the best out of his elderly performers, getting them to put on a show featuring a mix of oldies and modern pop/rock tracks. We're privy to the specific challenges of working with that demographic, from forgetfulness, to physical limitations, to all the illnesses, injuries, and deaths that the performers wind up confronting. There's a certain amount of objectifying cuteness inherent to the project that seems like it could almost sink the film, but ultimately we're won over by the group's dedication and the love they clearly have for performing (and for each other). A moving, inspiring look at the elders who our society too easily shunts aside, Young@Heart shoots straight for our hearts, and hits us dead-on. Bring tissues.

The second pick this week is 13 Assassins, the prolific Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike's remake of a 1963 samurai film. While Miike's massive body of work is quite diverse, he's primarily known for his audacious, violent, transgressive films like Audition and Ichi The Killer—and, in some circles, for his film adaptation of the "Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney" game franchise. At any rate, the majority of 13 Assassins is fairly tame, straightforward, historical stuff. There are, of course, extremely bloody moments scattered throughout the film, as well as some potentially-triggering sexual violence perpetrated by the villain, Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira (Gorô Inagaki), whose sadism is what the titular assassins team up to stop. Where the film shines, however, is in making each of its assassins fully-formed characters with arcs (small though some of them may be) and key roles to play. The characters and story fuel the drama, with Kōji Yakusho bringing gravitas and heart to the film's center as Shinzaemon, the assassins' leader. The contrast between Shinzaemon and Naritsugu anchors 13 Assassins's questions about honor and justice. Eventually, everything comes to a head in an epic,~40-minute battle sequence set in a booby-trapped small town. There's really nothing else like it in cinema, and American directors could learn a lot from Miike about crafting intelligible, continuity-friendly action sequences with minimal, well-deployed CGI.

Finally, for this week's TV pick, we have Terriers, a tightly-serialized comedic drama created for FX by screenwriter Ted Griffin and co-run with The Shield's Shawn Ryan. Donal Logue (Grounded for Life) stars as Hank Dolworth, a former police officer whose drinking and questionable choices derailed his career. Now sober, he and former thief Britt (Michael Raymond-James) run a questionably-legal detective service, relying on Hank's pluck and connections and Britt's stealth. The show only lasted one thirteen-episode season, during which a number of case-of-the-week stories tie together into a massive real-estate scheme that slowly traps Hank and Britt in its orbit. But the Big Case's arc often takes a backseat to the characters' emotional arcs, with Hank's struggle to remain sober, his desire to win back his ex-wife Gretchen (Kimberly Quinn), and the challenge presented by his brilliant, mentally ill sister (Karina Logue, Donal's real-life sister) all coloring the main story. The show oozes cool SoCal charm, mixed with a good amount of grit, black humor, and witty, hilarious dialogue. To this day, I have no idea how Terriers didn't last on FX, especially considering how well it would seem to pair with the rest of their lineup. At least you can bingewatch the whole thing and imagine what might have been.

So that's it for this week! Apologies for posting this so late... it's been a tough week to find time to write, between work, after-work plans, and a shockingly bad sleep schedule. Hopefully we'll be back on track next time!

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