Life at the time of the Corona

Or what to do when you’re stuck at home because of the COVID-19 social distancing mesures. 

There is not much we can do besides sleeping, taking walks in the park (while keeping our distance from other people), reading books, watching TV series or movies, or using the internet to virtually travel elsewhere. We took a little time to gather for you a few suggestions of places where you can find pleasurable distractions. Enjoy !

Reading

All libraries are closed but — if you don’t already have a good book collection at home or a nearby book store — you can always rely on digital books. Beside the obvious commercial options (Amazon, Audible, Barnes & Noble, Kobo), here are a few suggestions to find free digital books:

More precisely, if you want to read free manga online (see also a list on epubor), here a few suggestions:

Movies & music

There are plenty of free music streaming sites on the internet (Spotify, Pandora, Google Play, iHeartRadio, etc.) but personally I use mainly Internet Radio, Stingray, and TuneIn. 

However, beyond the commercial streaming sites (Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV+, Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, etc.), the free movies streaming sites are less well-known. Here are a few suggestions:

Also, if you are interesting in Japan and Japanese culture, I suggest you stream shows from NHK World.

Virtual visits

You can find a lot of places to visit virtually on Google: Art & Culture, but here are a few suggestions:

Museums

Music

Nature

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TV updates (Fall / Winter) Part 1

At last, another TV season is in view…

First some news…

  • The Crown S03 is now available to stream on Netflix (trailer)
  • Vikings S06 started on December 4th on History (trailer)
  • The Expense S04 started streaming (this time on Prime Video) on December 13th (trailer) !
  • Lost in Space S02 will be back on Netflix on December 24th (trailer) !
  • There will be another Call the Midwife Holiday Special on December 25th (trailer)
  • Doctor Who S12 will start January 1st (trailer)
  • The first half of Father Brown S08 will air between January 6th and January 10th
  • Grantchester will come back for another six episodes (S05) on January 10th
  • In the same genre, I can say that Endeavour will soon come back for S07 (February or March?), set in 1970. A S08 is also already planned.
  • The young Pope will have a sequel titled The New Pope and should start airing January 13th on HBO (trailer)
  • Avenue 5, a sci-fi comedy with Hugh Laurie will premiere on January 19th on HBO (trailer)
  • Star Trek: Picard will premier on January 23rd (trailer)
  • Homeland S08, the final season, will premiere on February 9 (trailer)
  • Outlander S05 will start on February 16th 2020 (trailer)
  • Westworld will be back for a third season in 2020 on HBO. Sorry no more details… (trailer)
  • The Boys S02 should be back on Amazon Prime around mid-2020 (trailer)

And then a few shows worth talking about…

Watchmen S01

Watchmen-poster-600x750I was disappointed by the trailer because the series looked cheaply made as I thought that Rorschach’s mask was not animated but only drawn but, actually, it’s not a Rorschach’s mask at all but an imitation worn by the 7th Cavalry, a group of white supremacist terrorists. The series is actually quite excellent. It is officially a sequel that tells us what happened after the comic book, ties some lose ends and builds a new level of complexity on the original story, but there is so many flashbacks that it could also be considered a prequel as it tells the origin stories of several characters. The story revolves around three generations of mask vigilantes, mostly the Minutemen’s Hooded Justice / Will Reeves (played by Louis Gossett Jr.),  the Crimebusters’ Ozymandias / Adrian Veidt (Jeremy Irons) and Doctor Manhattan / Jon Osterman (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) — we could probably also add Laurie Blake (Jean Smart), formerly Silk Spectre, who is now an agent for an Anti-Vigilante division of the FBI — and, the newest generation, police detective Sister Night / Angela Abar (Regina King) who is the main protagonist. 

In an alternate history where the vigilantes (masked heroes who won the Vietnam war and saved the world from nuclear holocaust through an elaborate hoax) are now outlawed, the social policies of the Redford government are stirring racial unrest and, as the police has become the official masked heroes, the old vigilantes seeks to ties some lose ends in order to save the world again.

The story, about racism and justice, is well written and riveting, the visuals (without any big special effects) are stunning and respects the look and spirit of the original comic book. Despite very mixed ratings on Rotten Tomatoes (critics’s rating of 96% versus an audience score of 49%), I personally think that Watchmen is a superb production and a must see TV series. stars-4-0

[ GoogleHBOIMDb • WikipediaYoutube ]

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The Expanse S04

the-expanse-season-4-posterThe creation of the Ring by the Protomolecule has opened the way to thousands of new worlds. However, Avasarala, the U.N. secretary-general, had ordered a blockade until it is sure that those worlds are safe for colonisation. Unfortunately, some ships were able to pass through the blockade. When crews of both Belters and an Earth Corporation landed on Ilus to claim its natural resources, Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are sent by the U.N. the assess the situation — which quickly degenerate into conflict. On top of that, the protomolecule entity known as “Miller”, with which Holden is in contact, is wreaking havoc with the planetary systems in order to investigate why its civilisation has been obliterated and by whom. Despite the truce, all factions from Earth, Mars and the Belt are on edge…

This series is an example of incredibly well written hard science-fiction, where the complexities of science and politics make for a rich and intriguing plot. It offers breathtaking visuals that make you feel like you are there with the characters. I bingewatched the entire 10-episode season in only a couple of days. It is definitely the best sci-fi TV series of the moment and my favourite show. And I’m not the only one to think that because it received excellent ratings (an overall rating of 8.5 on IMDb although the lowest episode rating for season 4 is 9.1 and on Rotten Tomatoes we find a critics’ rating of 100% and an audience score of 98% !!!). I can’t wait for season five (which has reportedly already began shooting)! It is really a must see. stars-4-5

[ Amazon PrimeGoogleIMDbWikipediaYoutube ]

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Ken Burns’ Country Music

KenBurnsCountryMusic-DvdLast night I watched on PBS the first episode of Ken BurnsCountry Music documentary and I was mesmerized! I don’t really like country music (or at least I thought I didn’t) but I was fascinated by this documentary about the history of country music in the USA. In fact, it is much more than that: it is the history of America and its culture — mostly of the deep America. It is very interesting and educating. Like all documentaries by Ken Burns it is very well researched. It is very interesting to see all those old pictures and footage, as well as to ear such music from another era (the documentary covers until 1996)… Certainly a must see.

Country music is certainly a pretty large musical genre that has evolved a lot and encompass many sub-genres (hillbilly, bluegrass, western, etc.) and cross-over styles. It is difficult to define and I am looking forward to learn more about it. For instance, Bob Dylan sang many songs from the country music pioneers (and adopted their style) but he is considered a folk singer. What’s the difference between country and folk? Is folk a sub-genre of country music? I am just wondering…

Country Music is an eight-part mini-series (120 mins each) that premiered September 15, 2019 and airs on PBS every week day until September 25. It is also available for streaming on PBS website (U.S. only). stars-3-0

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

[ AmazonGoogleIMDbOfficialPBSWikipediaYoutube ]

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Carnival Row

5860359.jpg-r_1280_720-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxWith a serial killer loose on Carnival Row, and a government that turns a blind eye to the deaths of its lower class citizens, Rycroft Philostrate, a war-hardened investigator, is the only person willing to stop the murders and maintain the fragile peace. But when Vignette Stonemoss, a faerie refugee, turns up in the Burgue, she forces Philo to reckon with a past he’s tried to forget.

I was quite intrigued as soon as I watched the teaser for this superb dark fantasy (“neo-noir”) TV series on Amazon’s Prime Video. The world it offers is really interesting. It doesn’t feel entirely original since it is constituted by a blend of mythos that oozed from our collective psyche (legendary creatures mostly from celtic or classical lores) and it seems inspired by various literary classics (you’ll find little hints of Shakespeare, of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, of Alexandre DumasCount of Monte Cristo, of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, or a little Jack The Ripper and even a bit of Lovecraft), but it is all put together in a very clever and inspiring manner.

In an alternate Victorian world, a British-like country (a city-state named The Burgue) is fighting a German-like folk (The Pact, which remains quite mysterious throughout the series) over new territory to increase their colonial empire. It seems set in a period similar to the Boer War mixed with some aspects of WWI. Strangely, this society looks almost like the Victorian or Edwardian era from our world, but with slight differences in technologies and with everything having akin but different names. For example, the religion they practice is very similar to Christianity (with the typically puritan attitude of the Victorian England) but the Christ is called the Martyr and is represented as a hangman on the gallows instead of a cross! 

As The Burgue is losing the war, refugees from their invaded colonies are starting to flow into the London-like city-state creating social problems and racial frictions. It would be a normal historical drama if those population were not made of mythical creatures like faeries (fae), goblins, pucks, kobolds, werewolves, centaurs, etc. In the middle of all this, Rycroft Philostrate — a police inspector with a mysterious past and an identity crisis — is investigating a series of gruesome murders and is somewhat reunited with his long lost lover, Vignette Stonemoss.

CarnivalRow

Carnival Row is an excellent steampunk story (they still use coal but also telegraph, electricity, airships, gatling guns and small rockets). It is full of mystery, moral (battle of good vs evil, high society vs the slums), politics, forbidden love (inter-racial and LGBTQ+) and even sex (faeries are apparently quite sexual creatures). It tackles very contemporary themes, like social inequity, immigration, feminism or racism. This series is a real advocacy for tolerance and diversity, a call to rediscover and preserve the magic that is in our hearts. It makes me realize that steampunk (and Neo-victorian), as a genre, is really getting popular — we start noticing it more and more in novels, in anime and manga, and now even in TV series.

This series is quite captivating (I binged the first season in a couple of days) and incredibly well-made (superb special effects and costumes), with a great cast (Orlando Bloom, Cara Delevingne, Indira Varma, Jared Harris) and an excellent storytelling. It will surely be the event of the season. I found it both fascinating and entertaining, and cannot understand the poor reception it got from the critics (54% on Rotten Tomatoes !) although it was better appreciated by the public (87% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.1 on IMDb). I admit that the ending of the first season was a little predictable and disappointing (aren’t they all — but this one does solve the identity crisis of the main character and the murder mystery). Some people complained that the folks of the Pact were never properly introduced or developed, but I am sure that more will be explained in the second season (I can’t wait to see where the plot will take us). No, this series is definitely a must-see (be sure to check also the behind the scene videos) and I highly recommend it. stars-4-5

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

[ GoogleIMDbPrime Video  Wikipedia ]

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Arzak Rhapsody

ArzakRhapsody-DVDPerché sur son fidèle Ptéroïde anti-gravité (où rien de grave ne peut l’atteindre), Arzak explore le Désert ‘B’, un monde parallèle peuplé de créatures étranges, situé aux frontières du rêve et d’une réalité au-delà du réel. Mais Arzak ne rêve-t-il pas d’un univers qui est en lui…ou en chacun de nous ?

(Texte promotionnel — voir aussi la couverture arrière de la jaquette)

Ce dessin animé est une série de quatorze capsules de 3:30 min. chacunes qui offrent un dessin minimaliste qui est terriblement animé. On y retrouve différentes aventures (et mésaventures) du célèbre guerrier solitaire et (généralement) silencieux alors qu’il parcours le désert B, affrontant l’herbe-serpent ou diverses autres créatures. C’est un peu sans queue ni tête mais les récits sont étoffés par une narration et Moebius donne, pour la première fois, la parole à Arzak. Tout comme les planches de Moebius, ces capsules sont un peu inégales en qualité (et en intérêt). L’univers d’Arzak est un peu tourné en ridicule avec des personnages clownesques (où l’on pourrait peut-être discerner une influence de Winsor McCay?). 

C’est mauvais mais tout de même amusant et intriguant. À la défense de cette curiosité décevante, il faut admettre qu’elle est définitivement produite pour un public jeune alors que la série originale s’adressait aux adultes. On s’attendrait néanmoins à mieux de la part d’un créateur comme Moebius. C’est trop court et plein de potentiel inexploité (quoique le graphisme s’améliore avec les derniers épisodes). Cela aurait pu être tellement mieux…

Il est intéressant de constater que l’on voit déjà le début de la convergence des différents univers (et styles) de Giraud / Moebius avec des éléments qui rappellent Le Garage Hermétique, d’autres qui font définitivement partie du monde SF déjanté et imaginatif de Moebius — parfois hilarant et absurde, parfois mystique et obscure (avec des allusions au Arzach original ou à Edena) — et même des relents d’atmosphère western à la Blueberry. Cette série d’histoires nous laisse donc présager la suite — L’Arpenteur

À voir par amusement ou par curiosité.

Arzak Rhapsody: France, 2002, 51 min., série télévisée d’animation (14 episodes); Dir., Scr., Des.: Moebius; Dir. Art.: Alexandre Brillant; Ass. Réal.: Francois Narboux; Mus.: Zanpano; Studio: Millimages Online; Prod.: Wolfland Pictures, Carrere Group, France 2. stars-2-5

Pour en savoir plus vous pouvez consulter les sites suivants:

[ AmazonGoogleIMDbWikipedia ]

 

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TV Rant

What is it with this new trend? Many paying TV services like AMC Premiere, HBO Now (U.S. only), PBS Passport (U.S. only), etc., start appearing. Look, I am already paying for the damn channel and now you tell me I have to pay some more to get access to your back-catalog streaming, bonuses, extra, previews or advance screening ? Man, that’s harsh. That’s being greedy. That’s exploitation of the masses. I really effing hate you, TV.

And now a special word for PBS: I am already paying for your damn stations (three, in fact) with Bell Fibe TV. How come when I go to your website I cannot watch ANYTHING because “this video is not available in your region due to rights restrictions” ? And it’s the same damn thing for Passport ! Isn’t your call sign saying “Mountain Lake PBS : Plattsburg, Burlington, Montreal” ? I can even donate some money to your station. And yet I cannot use your website or the iPad app ? That’s nonsense! Just go to hell. I’ll donate money when I’ll be treated as a real customer and be able to use your online service!

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TV updates

The Boys

The_BoysNow I’ve watched the entire first season. Impressive. It’s funny, dark and, if not entirely original (it reminds me of several other superheroes shows or movies), fresh enough to be interesting. However, not enough for me to increase my appreciation to four stars. So it remains at stars-3-5.

Maybe it’s my imagination, but it looks to me that Vought International is some kind of allegory for the Trumpian White House, where Homelander represents Trump, the rest of the Seven being his cabinet members and the corporation’s high hierarchy being the PAC that finance and control the whole thing… Of course, the comic book was published in 2006-2012 and couldn’t have predicted such a freak president, so it’s probably just my mind playing a trick on me (although the show producers could have put a slight emphasis on this aspect…). 

A friend, who has read the beginning of the comic, told me it was quite violent and he was rather disappointed by how tame the TV series was. The comic intended to out do the violence and sexuality of Preacher, but unfortunately it appears that Amazon Video is not as daring as AMC or HBO when it comes to TV adaptation.

The way it ends offers a little closure, but this end most likely calls for more. Indeed, Amazon has renewed it for at least another season. Now what?

Check my first comment for more information on The Boys.

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Euphoria

euphoria2I’ve caught up to the episodes I had missed at first and even watched the complete first season. This show is a mess — but a beautiful mess. It’s intriguing and even enthralling — almost addictive. It gets better and and better with each new episode. The characters grow on you and it makes the drama created by Rue’s self-destructing behaviour or the misunderstanding and missed opportunities of everyone’s relationships even more painful to watch at time. That’s the sign of excellent writing. That’s not the type of show I would normally watch, but now I feel I would like to see more. Too bad the first season is over… Although it is still available on streaming and the show has been renewed for another season next year… However, if THAT’s the life of today’s teenagers, I weep for the future…

This one definitely deserves to be upgraded to stars-3-5 or maybe even a stars-4-0 !

Check my first comment for all the show details.

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Jamestown

JamestownS03Tonight on PBS, the Jamestown series is concluding with the end of its third season. It started as an interesting historical drama about one of the first successful British colonies in America — although it is not clear how much “historical” it really is (the series is shot in Hungary; they use the names of some of the colonists, like James Read, but mostly of the Governor Yeardley and his wife Temperance, as well as the Pamunkey King, OpechancanoughPocahontas is NEVER mentioned). After the failure of Roanoke in 1585, Jamestown was established in 1607 and the story begins twelve years later with the arrival of the first women and, in second season, of the first indentured “servants” (African slaves). At first, it focuses on the politics of the colony and the schemes behind the Virginia Company. Unfortunately, it quickly turns into fantasy with lots of supernatural plot elements and ends abruptly with the massacre of 1622 — when the local native tribes, the Pamunkey and the Powhatan Confederacy, get fed up with the abuses and false promises of the Englishmen. The reviews were probably so bad in the U.K. (however ratings on IMDb [6.9] and Rotten Tomatoes [78%] were relatively good) that it was quickly brought to a conclusion and terminated. It was an entertaining drama, but it could have been so much more. Disappointing. stars-2-5

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Others

PreacherSeason4Preacher has restarted but it will be the last season. I can’t wait to see how they will end this one. The first episodes are set at Masada, in the Middle East, and then it will move to Australia. Actually, it was all shot in Australia. An amusing splatter & gory series that I will not really miss after it’s gone. Check the trailer. stars-3-0

Poldark is also concluding with a story line that covers the gap between the two book series. So it has more to offer for those who has loved the books. I’ll be sad when this fifth season comes to an end. I really liked those characters. After tonight, there will be only three episodes to go… Check the trailer. stars-4-0

Pandora continues its disappointing run. Its not good enough to really appreciate it, but it’s not bad enough to drop it. So, I’ll continue watching it hoping for improvements… stars-2-5

KilljoysS05Killjoys has also restarted for a fifth season. The team is struggling hard to escape the grip of the Lady… A beautiful and excellent Canadian sci-fi series (second only to The Expanse) that will unfortunately conclude in September. Check the trailerstars-4-0

The first season of Blood & Treasure has ended but the series was renewed for a second season. A cute but quite ordinary action/adventure series. stars-2-5

The seventh season of Elementary will end next week and that will conclude the series. It was an interesting modern adaptation of Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes (more palatable for the general public than the excellent but frantic Sherlock). I liked the idea of making Watson into a woman (played by Lucy Liu!). It was nice while it lasted but I won’t miss it too much as it was getting a little repetitive and stale… stars-3-0

The sixth season of The 100 has ended and there is only one more season to go as it was announced that the series will end next year. It is not super original, but the story and setting are quite interesting — I can’t miss on a post-apocalyptic series! Good sci-fi drama. stars-3-0

Tonight, the second part of the fifth season of Fear the Walking Dead is restarting (check the sneak peek). I didn’t like the first season, but now I like this series even better than the original The Walking Dead. I don’t see the horror in it, but I like the post-apocalyptic survival aspect. The fifth season will end in September and it was renewed for at least another season. It’s an interesting drama. stars-3-0

TheTerrorInfamyThe second season of The Terror is starting tomorrow. The first season about the Franklin’s lost expedition in the Northwest passage was quite good (see my comment). This new season offers an entirely new story and cast (including Derek Mio, Kiki Sukezane, Naoko Mori, C. Thomas Howell, and… George Takei !). Subtitled Infamy, it is now set in a Japanese-american internment camp during WW2 as some characters are haunted by a ghost from their past and the camp is terrorized by a bakemono! It airs Mondays 9e/8c PM on AMC. Check the official trailer.

Season_4_SDCC_2019_PosterThere’s now a longer trailer for the Watchmen playing on TV (HBO, October 2019). The visuals still doesn’t excite me and the story will definitely be different from the comic or the movie, but it looks intriguing. We’ll see. There’s also a longer trailer for His Dark Materials (HBO, late 2019), which seems even more intriguing and appealing. I can’t wait for this one…

You will be glad to learn that The Expanse is coming back in December for a fourth season and that it has even been renewed for a fifth !!! However, it moved from SyFy to Amazon Video (check the production trailer). Also, there is still no news on the third season of Westworld set for broadcast in 2020… Finally, everyone is asking where is the twelfth season of Doctor Who ??? Apparently it is currently in production, but the release has been delayed to 2020.

While writing this article, I have discovered Carnival Row, a very intriguing victorian (“Neo-noir”) fantasy that will start on Amazon Video on August 30. It certainly deserves a look. Check the trailer. 

It really seems that there’s a lot of good TV series coming ahead. The competition between all those independent or internet pay channels (like AMC, HBO, Prime Video, Netflix and soon Apple TV+) is bringing out all the good stuff. Where/when will I find the time ?!

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