Posts in What to watch
An impossible ascent

In 2015 Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson embarked on a multi-week attempt to free climb a 3,000 foot, nearly featureless rock face in Yosemite National Park, called the Dawn Wall. This documentary (on Netflix), called The Dawn Wall, bounces back and forth between Caldwell’s tragic past and his thrilling ascent. I’ve seen a lot of climbing movies and this is my favorite. — MF

Chinese sci-fi movie

Chinese science fiction has arrived. A recently translated sci-fi trilogy, The Three Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, won the Hugo award and a popular following in the US. It is worth reading, and re-reading. Another of Cixin Liu’s stories, The Wandering Earth, is a mega-hit movie in China, and is now streaming on Netflix. In Mandarin, with English subtitles, I’d call it a science fiction blockbuster with high-production values, special effects, and Chinese characteristics. It’s not a great movie, but I recommend it as a great window into modern China and its vision; it is more about China than the future. Watch it. We don’t have too many chances to see non-Hollywood science fiction. — KK

Street food stories

I really love street food, and I’m enjoying Street Food, a series streaming on Netflix. It plays out in the same format as the Chef’s Table series: food and culture are focused into mini-biographies of the cooks themselves. So we see the ordinarily unseen lives of street food vendors in Asia (in Season 1). It’s about the people, not the food; brilliant and delicious. — KK

The importance of play

Andy Goldsworthy is an artist I pay attention to. Goldsworthy is famous for his playful, intricate rearrangements of leaves, twigs, ice, and stones in natural settings. An incredibly enchanting documentary about his work, Rivers and Tides, shows him as he works outside overcoming pieces that keep failing, so for a brief moment I see the world as the artist does, as invisible flows revealed by play. Recently the same documentarian made a second film recording a more mature Goldsworthy working on more ambitious projects. This doc, titled Leaning into the Wind, accomplishes the same trick of helping me see the world differently, and via Goldworthy’s example, to take play seriously. – KK

Transcendental video sermons

Jason Silva is a transcendental poet who raps about technology and the spiritual in very intense short videos. He sometimes quotes me so I am biased, but I really dig his rants. Yeah, they are flamboyant, but his preaching hits my mark. Check out his channel Shots of Awe for a quick jolt of the bigger picture. — KK

Social mission Bollywood

Two notable Bollywood films give you that special dose of outlandish song, dance and rom-com drama that you expect with a Bollywood extravaganza, plus they advance a vital social cause. And they will give you deep insight into today’s India. Both films are about a maverick who takes it upon himself to undo an entrenched detrimental Indian custom. Interestingly, the same Bollywood super-star, Akshay Kumar, plays the protagonist in both films, which are based on true stories. Toilet: A Love Story is the movie version of a real guy who tried to put toilets in his home against the wishes of the village, and his wife is pressured to divorce him for this affront, and how this became a national campaign. Padman is the true story of a guy trying to get Indian village women to use sanitary pads instead of being quarantined outside during menstruation. He invents a way to make the pads cheaply, which he tests on himself. (!!!) His wife also divorces him. But all ends well in both films — it’s Bollywood! There is a third film, a straight documentary about the real Padman, called Period. End of Sentence. This won an Oscar this year for a documentary short. Quite inspirational. All three films can be streamed on Netflix with English subtitles. The first two are painless entryways into Bollywood. — KK

Maniacal performance

The fantastic documentary Free Solo deserves all praise it has received, including its recent Oscar. The film follows one guy’s attempt to climb the vertical face of Yosemite’s El Capitan without ropes. A single slip he dies. I could barely watch it, it was that crazy good. As the climber’s friend put it: this demands an Olympic gold medal performance, except here, if you don’t get the gold, you die. The film has suspense, drama, emotion, and explores maniacal obsession and perfection. Five stars. Now streamable. — KK

Russian Doll on Netflix

In Russian Doll, a video game programmer finds herself in an endless loop of dying and repeating the same day. Each reboot requires her to dig deeper into her own existence, relationships, and trauma to figure out the purpose of the paranormal glitch and try to fix it. It is Groundhog Day meets Twilight Zone meets a life coaching session from hell. It’s great — I finished it in two days. — CD

Getting the Love You Want

I really enjoyed watching the Youtube episode of the Smart Couple Podcast featuring the authors of “Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples.” Harville and Helen share insights on how relationships have evolved over the last few decades and give tips on how to be present with your partner and defuse disagreements. They are such a warm and personable couple that I kind of wish they had their own show I could watch regularly. An updated third edition of their bestselling book was released a couple weeks ago. — CD

AR glimpses

I’ve been writing about the future of Augmented Reality (AR), where you can see virtual things in the real world. Two short video fantasies by Keiichi Matsuda are key illustrations of what could come. One is Hyper-Reality, a overly dense packed layer of information and ads, the other is Merger, a workplace that takes over. Neither are futures I want, but the technology design seems plausible. — KK

Vietnam War masterpiece

I’m late in getting to Ken Burn’s masterpiece The Vietnam War, a 10-part documentary streaming on Netflix. But OMG, it is electrifying. Even though I lived through that war, I apparently knew nothing about it. It would have been easy (and cheap) to stir up a continuous thread of outrage, but instead this monumental work stirs up a continuous thread of clarity and insights: “Oh, so that is why they did that!.” This should be mandatory viewing for all citizens of the US and Vietnam. — KK

YouTube shortcut tips

These YouTube keyboard shortcuts are handy, especially when watching how-to videos. For example pressing the 1 key will make the video start playing at the 10% point, pressing 2 takes you to the 20% point, and so on. The space bar pauses the video, and then you can press the period key to advance one frame at a time. — MF

Global gardens of culture

There are legions of TV shows using food as an excuse to travel, more focusing on history and architecture travel, but only one that I know about features gardens of the world. The host Monty Don, who is an institution in England, travels the world and in a deeply personal and sympathetic manner, uses gardens as his lens into cultures. His Netflix streaming series Italian Gardens and French Gardens are eye-opening and totally refreshing. His previous series Around the World in 80 Gardens is likewise mind-expanding. You won’t look at gardens the same. — KK

Thrilling documentary

Icarus is a Netflix streaming documentary that starts out small. The director has the idea of documenting how elite bicycle racers elude doping tests by doping himself and getting tested. This leads to Russian doping experts, which in turn stumbles into the Russian doping underground, which eventually breaks into the Russian doping scandal, and as the director gets involved with newspapers and FBI, his investigations lead directly to the ban on Russian athletes in the Olympics and an international diplomatic crisis. All the while the director is filming everyone, including the Russian whistleblower, who is put into the US federal witness protection program for fear of Russian assassination. It’s a mind-boggling Oscar-winning documentary that expands bigger and bigger as it proceeds. — KK

Nature live cams

For a dose of awe and wonder head over to Explore.org and choose from almost 100 live nature cams available at any time. There’s ocean cams, bears, gorillas, puppies and kittens and other animal sanctuaries (this sheep barn can be pretty mesmerizing to watch when they’re in for the night). Never a dull moment. — CD

Quirky series about marriage and afterlife

I stumbled across Forever on Amazon Prime having never heard of it. The show stars Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph as a married couple stuck in the same old routine who then die, only to reunite in the afterlife and pick up right where they left off. It’s so funny and unexpectedly romantic. There may or may not be a season 2. Fingers crossed there is, but even if not this 8-episode series feels complete and worth binge-watching. — CD 

Inspiring livelihood documentary

Shorebreak is a fast 60 minute doc on Amazon Prime about this surfer who found a special niche in photography. His thing is standing at the scary point where giant waves break onto the beach while he photographs whatever crazy surfers are in the wave, before he ducks under the pummeling mountain. The doc is well done, his photography is stunning. But what I love is the lesson of focus, enthusiasm, mastery, and foolish individualization. His relentless enthusiasm, going back to the shorebreak day after day to see if he could make something new again and again, has improbably earned him a living doing this. What a treat! — KK

Bingeable British drama

Ever since the last season of Downton Abbey wrapped up, I’ve missed a good British historical drama. That itch has been satisfied by The Crown (on Netflix) a lovely, beautifully casted and acted drama about the life of the still living Queen of England. The series begins in the 1940s and runs till today. Remarkably, it’s far more entertaining than I would have thought. It has everything, including real drama, and actual history, and is more educational than most documentaries. With 20 episodes so far (and a 3rd season on the way), it is superbly bingeable. — KK

Download YouTube videos

The fastest way to download any YouTube video is to add “ss” before the “youtube.com” part of the URL, like this: “ssyoutube.com”. This redirects to you to Savefrom.net, click on “download video in browser” and select the video quality you prefer. Done in less than a minute. — CD

What to watchClaudia Dawson
YouTube shortcuts

I can’t believe I didn’t know these YouTube shortcuts before! To pause a video press K. To fast forward press L. To rewind press J. To watch frame by frame forward or backward, press the period or comma key. — CD 

What to watchClaudia Dawson