A Stay-At-Home Dad’s Netflix Duvet Day

Last week I had manflu was sick. Really really sick (*cough *cough *manflu *cough *cough).

Before being a parent, feeling like that would’ve resulted in calling in sick to work and spending a day or two in bed or on the couch, eating bad food and watching TV between naps.

When you’re an at-home parent of a pre-schooler, calling in sick involves taking industrial strength cold & flu remedies and hoping your kid will give you a break for a change. They rarely do.

However, something wondrous happened. My unwellness coincided with my daughter’s scheduled time at nursery. Normally, I would spend these days catching up with blogging stuff and freelance work, but this week I thought to hell with it… I really need a duvet day, the kind I used to have before being a parent. So I treated myself…

Actually, one thing was different about this duvet day. Netflix. So I took this opportunity to explore some of the content that my daughter can’t watch with me, and my wife won’t watch with me.

Orphan Black (2013-present)

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This is one I’ve been meaning to check out for some time. It’s a BBC America sci-fi show about a woman called Sarah Manning, who discovers she has an identical double. This immediately leads to her being thrust into a world of intrigue, deception, violence, death, and some great character led drama. We soon learn that Sarah has many doubles, as she is – surprise surprise – a clone.

Central to the series is an amazing performance from Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany, who plays Sarah Manning and all her doubles with such skill that it is easy to believe they are different people.

The story so far has remained engaging and frequently edge of your seat. Needless to say I am hooked, and shall be checking out the rest of the show when I can – like tonight while my wife’s at the hairdressers. While she does like some sci-fi (such as the amazing Battlestar Galactica), I thought it likely this would be one of those shows that she would end up disengaging with, so having the chance for me to sample it properly was great.

Frank (2014)

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This was a movie I had wanted to see, but my wife already had (on a plane), and thought it was weird. Unenthused, it was never going to be a joint watch.

Inspired by the real life music and comedy persona of Frank Sidebottom, I’d say weird is a fair assessment of the movie, which is also funny, engaging, and rather endearing.

The story follows wannabe musician Jon (played by Domhnall Gleeson, soon to be seen in The Force Awakens), and how he gets involved with Frank and his band. There’s clearly something different about Frank, and it’s not just about the large false head that he wears.

Co-authored by journalist and writer Jon Ronson, who was in Frank’s band in his youth, this is a touching and quirky movie, that does go down a bit of a dark path towards the end.

Battle of Britain (1969)

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75 years ago, England was under sustained attack from the Nazi Luftwaffe in what had already been named the Battle of Britain. I’m assuming this is why the movie popped up in the ‘Trending’ category on Netflix. Curious, I took a closer look.

I’m pretty sure I must have seen this as a kid, but it’s a distant memory. A glance at the cast list alone made this movie worthy of a look – one of those epic collections of actors that is unlikely to ever be repeated in the modern era: It includes Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Robert Shaw, Trevor Howard, Kenneth More, Edward Fox, Michael Redgrave, and even Ian McShane.

It was actually incredibly moving seeing this part of history depicted on film. I had a real sense of England – my England – being under attack, and had only a glimpse of how it must have felt to see this battle raging in the sky. The all too familiar English landscapes were particularly poignant – especially as one of the locations was a former airfield up the road from me (where Star Wars: Rogue One is currently shooting).

Another aspect that makes this movie worth watching are the incredible aerial sequences. In these pre-CGI days, filmmakers had to rely on models and real vehicles to bring these stories to life. Well, for this movie, over 100 actual planes were used to recreate the aerial battles. There is nothing like seeing sequences celebrating the iconic British warplane the Spitfire on film.

It’s a fairly workmanlike movie, directed by James Bond stalwart Guy Hamilton. But the cast, flying sequences, setting, and historical accuracy make this well worth watching, if only to bring alive Churchill’s famous  quote about the battle:

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.

And finally…

Monsters University (2013)

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All things must come to an end, and so did my time alone on the couch. I finally dosed up on cold remedies and picked up my daughter from nursery. But I still had a few hours of lone parenting ahead, so the couch day continued, and upon returning home, my daughter and I settled down to watch Monsters University, a prequel to Pixar’s Monsters Inc. (which had been my daughter’s first film – we put it on because one weekend we were all sick, and watching a movie was the last resort).

It was a nice idea to follow up Monster Inc. with a prequel – a sort of ‘Mike and Sully Begins’. They start out as rivals, but of course become friends.

It was fine. It lacks the greatness of a Toy Story sequel, female characters hardly get a look in amongst the new creatures, and it lacks the clarity of the original’s reversal of the ‘monster in the closet’ scenario. But the characters remained engaging, the animation is inventive, and it was a fun way for my daughter and I to interact without too much physical effort from me. So I’ll take that as a win.

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This month we have also been alternating between Narcos and Orange is the New Black, both of which remain great.

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Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.

If any of these grab your attention, please head over to Netflix to check them out.
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You Baby Me Mummy

Of Dinosaurs, Detectives, and Drug Lords (#StreamTeam)

This past month we’ve shown our daughter a classic superhero in action, brought some long dead creatures to life, learned about the highs and lows of an iconic performer, and discovered a great new drug (show) to get hooked on.

Batman: The Movie (Cert U)

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Batman: The Movie

My 3-year-old daughter has declared that two of her favourite superheroes are Batman and Robin. The 1966 Batman movie is probably why.

It’s ironic that the majority of modern superhero movies aren’t actually suitable for young children. That’s certainly not the case here, with this movie version of the famed campy Batman TV show.

The film features largely the same cast as the show, and the same style and sense of humour. The ‘plot’ sees Batman & Robin (Adam West and Burt Ward) take on a super villain team of the Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman.

Made after the first season of the Batman TV show, legend has it that it was made so the production could have access to more Bat-vehicles for the ongoing TV show – so here, as well as the iconic Batmobile, you also get the Batboat, Batcopter, and Batcycle.

In an age where superhero movies have become ubiquitous and ever darker (thanks in part to the dark detective’s recent trilogy), seeing this movie is a great reminder of how much fun comic books and superheroes can be.

The Land Before Time (Cert U)

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The Land Before Time (1988), Dir. Don Bluth

My daughter has also taken a liking to Dinosaurs of late, after reading a book to her about them. She also has a few toys, but I really wanted to show her some film and /or TV showing them for her to engage with them even more.

This was the perfect choice. Directed by Disney exile Don Bluth (An American Tail, The Secret of NIMH), and produced by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas no less, this is a great introduction to dinosaurs for little ones. It’s the story of a group of cute young dinosaurs who get separated from their family, and their journey to be reunited with them – with a T-Rex in hot pursuit.

While it’s rated U, it does have a family death near the start which might upset some children.

(We also tried Walking With Dinosaurs on her, but it was so well done – even though it’s 16 years old – it was too scary. For her, not me. Honest.)

What Happened, Miss Simone? (Cert 15)

Netflix has a great documentary selection, and this (a Netflix Original) was one I’m really glad we watched.

Previously, I knew very little about Nina Simone other than she was an African American performer who’s most famous song was ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’.

So I didn’t know about her role in the civil rights movement, her protest songs, the troubled family life, and the highs and lows of her career and life.

A fascinating story, well constructed with a mixture of new and archive footage & interviews, with some great music too – this is well worth a watch.

Narcos (Cert 15)

This is a terrific new Netflix Original series. I’m a sucker for a good organised crime drama, and this is a fine example. It’s a dramatised account of the 1980s American drug wars and the rise of the infamous kingpin Pablo Escobar. The story is told through the eyes and narration of US DEA Agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook), who guides us through the ins and outs of the emerging Central & South American drug cartels – especially the Medellín Cartel headed by Pablo Escobar (played here by Brazilian actor Wagner Moura).

We’re only two episodes in, but rest assured that if we didn’t have a 3-year-old in the house we’d have binge watched it all weekend.

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Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.

If any of these grab your attention, please head over to Netflix to check them out.