“My Octopus Teacher” (Netflix) Superlatives really aren’t enough to describe the joys of watching this documentary. It’s the story of one man’s personal journey of being brought out of depression/burn-out by a loving connection to a sea creature that seems capable of friendship and trust. There’s underwater filming like you’ve never seen, the lush kelp forests of South African seas. I watched this with my son and his two children—three generations together, all moved to tears. It had been recommended by a friend, but I found out afterward that “My Octopus Teacher” has won all sorts of awards and has been lauded around the world. It debuted on Sept. 30 here in this country and I suspect it will have a good, soothing effect on us during the dark times we are currently experiencing: the eternal sea, its vastness, the life lived in the deep—the bigger picture, if you will—allowing us to see that we are but miniscule cogs in a huge cosmos filled with unanswerable mysteries. Kudos go to the human subject of the film, Craig Foster, for his underwater adventures and for his on-camera persona, in which he is deeply honest about himself and gives hints of the deep emotional journey he has undergone. More kudos to directors Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, and, most especially, cinematographer Roger Horrocks. If I believed in rating scales (which I do not) this one would get a 10-plus.
“Enola Holmes” (Netflix) At the first sight of Eleven, the peculiar character at the center of “Stranger Things” on Netflix, I could not decide if I was seeing a girl or a boy. The credits told the story—Millie Bobby Brown. Four years later, Brown has shown up in this homage to the Sherlock Holmes oeuvre, Sherlock and Mycroft’s much younger sister in this adaptation of a YA novel that features Enola and her ability to think rapidly and solve mysteries even more quickly than her famed sibling. And there is no doubt she is a girl, dressing in the ultra-female fashion of the late 19th century. An enjoyable romp, it has a marvelous cast, including Henry Cavill as Sherlock, Sam Claflin as Mycroft, Helena Bonham Carter as their mother and the always spot-on Fiona Shaw as a formidable and quite mean headmistress of a girls’ finishing school. A missing mother, a missing marquess, even a missing Enola are the centerpiece of a serpentine plot and, while I wouldn’t say this is an award-caliber film, it moves along at a rapidly pleasing pace and is sure to bring more notice of Ms. Brown’s many gifts.
“Flesh and Blood” (“Masterpiece” on PBS) It starts out as many mysteries do—an unidentified body, a police inspector interviewing a sweet old neighbor... In other words, we have no idea who the victim is and most likely won’t find out ‘til toward the end. In the meantime, the film is filled with characters who seem to live fairly normal lives but keep a lot of secrets. There’s a large family of grown siblings—two daughters, one son (Claudia Blakely, Russell Tovey, Lydia Leonard)—and their widowed mother (Francesca Annis). Then there’s her current boyfriend (Stephen Rea, the gifted Irish actor with the hangdog face that comes across as dear and trustworthy). Oh, and that sweet neighbor (the estimable Imelda Staunton)? She is not as she seems, either. Suspicion falls on everyone at various times in this first of a four-part series, but in episode one we are steered toward the new boyfriend, a widowed, retired doctor. The setting is the English coastline, a long stretch of weathered seaside houses and adjoining gardens. The screenplay is comprised of quick scenes that reveal turbulent lives, the siblings and their arguments with each other while worrying about Mum. It’s not great film-making, lacking something at its center, perhaps someone we can earnestly root for. But I’ll tune in for the rest of the episodes, for sure.