It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you've been watching.
It's the final week before Christmas and TMINE's usual end-of-year break, so this is going to be the final WHYBW of 2016, unless I do another one on Thursday and Friday to mop up a few concluding shows.
As usual, American TV has just about wound down in readiness for Crimbo but this year, Internet TV has started arming a flotilla of box sets for everyone to settle down with once the turkey has subsided and no one can move any more. I'll be looking a couple of those in a mo, but there's too many for me to deal with by myself, so if you've already watched season two of The Man in the High Castle on Amazon or season one of Une Chance De Trop (No Second Chance) or Cannabis on Netflix, feel free to let everyone know what you thought of them in the comments section.
Chance, Falling Water, The Great Indoors, Shooter, and Timeless.
But first, a couple of newbies:
Nobel (Norway: NRK1; UK: Netflix)
Aksel Hennie (The Martian) is a Norwegian special forces officer just back from Afghanistan who is ordered to investigate when a former Taliban target turns up in Oslo. Hennie ends up killing him, but begins to learn that maybe his orders weren't as legitimate as he first thought. Who's responsible, will he get found out, has it anything to do with the Nobel Peace Prize committee and what happened back in Afghanistan anyway involving the target's wife?
Something of a leap up in quality from previous Norwegian efforts such as Okkupert (Occupied) and Mammon, Nobel is a geopolitical thriller that juxtaposes the individual with realpolitik, examining the decisions individual soldiers have to make on the ground, the effects of war and the little bit people who get caught up in big decisions, while looking at the alliances needed and compromises made to end war, where even a $60bn deal can be threatened by the wrong person turning up to a party at the wrong time. It all feels nicely realistic for a change, even if some of the nuances of the language and culture passed me by (eg a translator appears to be speaking Norwegian with everyone else and then someone says to her "six languages and you still can't speak Norwegian". What language is she speaking then?!), and Hennie makes for a very plausible special forces operative.
I'm only two episodes in but this looks like a keeper.
The OA (Netflix)
Netflix has started to develop a habit of covertly producing very odd but wonderful little series with no publicity that it puts out of a Friday as a boxset and surprises everyone. The OA is such a show, a genre-defying piece created by and written by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, directed by Batmanglij and starring Marling (as well as a certain Jason Isaacs) that's almost impossible to categorise - the best comparison I can come up with is if Neil Gaiman and Hal Hartley sat down together and decided to mash up Stranger Things, Room and Anastasia.
It starts with Marling jumping off a bridge. But when her parents come rushing to her hospital, they reveal she's been missing for seven years - however, before she disappeared, this fully sighted girl was blind. Returning to her home, she's soon shaking up the town with some special powers she seems to have acquired. But she needs five "strong and flexible" people to help her rescue someone, perhaps from that mysterious other realm she once visited…
Full of strange authorial decisions from Marling's insistence that everyone now call her 'The OA' through to only starting the title sequence 45 minutes into the episode once she begins to retell her story of actually being a reincarnated Russian oligarch's daughter, it's a properly auteured piece of work that needs to be watched if you're to stand a chance of knowing what it's like. Visually beautiful, it is by turns upsetting, bewildering and heart-warming, and most frequently like a fairy tale - but even that's a classification it eludes.
I've seen one episode so far and it never once did any of the things I suspected it would do and did many things I've never imagined. I'm going to watch more just to see if it'll blow my mind any further, but it requires a good deal of patience and I suspect it won't be to everyone's tastes.
I also watched a movie this week!
Rogue One (2016)
An almost immediate prequel to Star Wars, Rogue One reveals the full details of how those plucky spies mentioned in the first movie's opening introduction were able to retrieve the plans for the Death Star and ultimately help to stop the Empire's plans for galactic domination. Directed by Gareth Edwards and co-written by Tony Gilroy, the film is more like a proper war movie than any of the other Star Wars flicks, echoing The Dirty Dozen and The Seven Samurai, as plucky crim Felicity Jones puts together a band of warriors that includes Donnie Yen and Riz Ahmed to track down the man who designed the Death Star - her father, Mads Mikkelsen.
Operating resolutely in the vein of Edwards's previous blockbuster, Godzilla, it's a game of two halves. The first is a slow, character-builder that shows off the Star Wars universe with some spectacular location filming. The second is then a giddy, action-packed pay-off that surprises with an oddly large number of heroic deaths. On top of that, you have the return of a number of original Star Wars characters and actors who appear as their young and/or not-dead selves through the power of CGI, the movie effectively spelling out why the Empire was so fearsome, why everyone was properly worried of the Death Star and by the end, precisely why everyone was right to cack themselves as soon as Darth Vader entered the room.
All in all, a movie that gets better in the memory and which finally does something new and worthwhile with the franchise. It's also best to watch Star Wars afterwards to see how it almost exactly matches up with everything we see in that.