January 21, 2018

The Big Sick movie streaming on Amazon

I recently wrote about the podcast, Stay Tuned With Preet which featured an interview with writer/actor/comedian Kumail Nanjiani who was unfamiliar to me.

Amazon is currently streaming The Big Sick, with a script co-written by Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon. The film definitely covers all the bases of a romantic comedy, but it also examines a Pakistani Muslim family’s belief in arranged marriage, the challenging life of a stand-up comedian and the travails of our medical system when one is faced with a serious and unknown malady.

The film is based on how Kumail and Emily met before their marriage. Emily’s medically-induced coma ultimately brings the couple together as Kumail holds vigil with Emily’s out-of-town mother and father. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter turn in winning performances as Emily’s open-minded but very white parents.

Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon (Zoe Kazan is cast as Gordon in the movie; Nanjiani plays himself.)

You may find yourself laughing at the comedic dialogue yet getting a little teary at some of the touching scenes about life, death and love.

Kumail Nanjiani’s acting and writing credits for tv, movies and video games indicate that he not only got the girl, but he’s done pretty well for himself. He and his wife have turned their rocky courtship in Chicago into an intelligent yet hilarious movie. The Big Sick was indeed a diverting film to view on a cold winter’s night at home.

Alec Baldwin’s Podcast, Here’s the Thing

Now that I have discovered the world of podcasts, someone recommended Here’s the Thing hosted by Alec Baldwin and sponsored by WNYC, a non-profit, noncommercial public radio station in New York City.

The guest list skews to people in the arts, but an engaging interview with Watergate cast member, John Dean indicates that Baldwin knows his way around many topics, including government and politics. I have delighted in podcasts with Barbra Streisand, Audra McDonald and James Cromwell (activist and star of the movie, Babe.) My tentative list of programs I want to catch includes interviews with Elaine Stritch (his co-star on 30 Rock), whiskey-voiced actress Kathleen Turner, Billy Joel, Rosie O’Donnell and David Letterman, but his guests include economists, athletes, newspeople and accomplished individuals in various professions.

As good as Baldwin’s roles in numerous movies and tv shows have been, including his appearances on Saturday Night Live with his dead-on impersonation of our current commander-in-chief, his podcast program, Here’s the Thing which premiered in October 2011 may be an equal claim to fame.  Baldwin has a seemingly effortless ability to bring out the human, intellectual and comedic sides of his fascinating guests.

Talk on, Alec!

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon

As I was listening to rapid fire clever dialogue in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, an Amazon original series, I was vaguely reminded of another show that uses this screwball comedy conversational timing: The Gilmore Girls. Small wonder since both series were created by Amy Sherman-Palladino and co-produced with her husband, Daniel Palladino.

The heart and soul of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is the titular character played by Rachel Brosnahan, a mixture of New York housewife chic and very blue humor. The unexpurgated comedian Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) becomes her jail buddy and helpful colleague. The two people most important in her life at this juncture, however, are her wanna-be comedian and cheating husband, Joel Maisel (Michael Zegen) and her fledgling manager, Susie Meierson played by the wonderfully acerbic Alex Borstein.

While the heroine’s overbearing WASP parents were played by Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrman in The Gilmore Girls, Marin Hinkle and a daffy Tony Shalhoub are cast as Rachel Maisel’s Upper West Side Jewish parents. Hey, if something works the first time around, why break a winning formula?

Set in the late 1950s, the music, the clothing and the New York atmosphere are all convincingly evoked. Palladino’s script does point out that racism and sexism were alive and well, so this was no golden age in our country’s history for large segments of the population. Still, if a time machine existed, I would go back for a night in one of these New York comedy/music clubs.

Thankfully, we have The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as an entertaining alternative. Season Two, please!

Get Out, a movie on HBO GO

Twenty-somethings at a recent party were all raving about a strange and engrossing movie called Get Out. Written and directed by Jordan Peele (of the comedy team Keegan and Peele), a bi-racial couple, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allisonn Williams) visit her white and very strange parents who live in a bucolic and privileged enclave.

The Armitage family employ black servants who act like automatons. Things get even weirder as people show up for an annual party on the estate. Catherine Keener plays the therapist mother who may have hypnotized boyfriend Chris. Her husband is actor Bradley Whitford playing the forceful and phony suburbanite Dean Armitage.

My favorite character is TSA agent, Rod Williams (actor Lil Rel Hower) who is Chris’ friend and phone advisor as he encounters these unsettling events.

You will find yourself laughing and pulled along by the off-beat storyline, but make no mistake, the movie is exploring some brutally honest and horrifying concepts in our history and culture.

We still need Peele to be funny as a comedian, but here’s hoping that this is the first of his many films that allow him to visit the dark side. Pun intended. We will all be challenged and wiser for it.

If you don’t have HBO GO, you can purchase the movie at iTunes, Amazon Instant Video or YouTube.

The Good Place on Netflix

When I first heard the premise of NBC’s The Good Place television series, I vowed to give the show wide berth. Still, Kristen Bell had charmed me in the cult hit, Veronica Mars, and who doesn’t like Ted Danson, who just gets better with age?
The Good Place showed up on the Netflix trending list, so I gave the first episode a gander. Call me crazy but this comedy is the perfect antidote to all of the crime shows littering the tv scene. Thankfully, there is no laugh track, the dialogue is snappy and the art direction is eye-poppingly inventive. Not to mention the plot twists that hit you right and left in the 13 fast-paced 21-minute streaming episodes.
Besides Bell and Danson, the cast includes the nerdily attractive William Jackson Harper as Chidi, a former university ethics professor, Tahani, a wealthy philanthropist played by gorgeous Jameela Jamil, know-it-all robot, Janet played by D’Arcy Garden and Manny Jacinto who appears to be a silent Buddhist monk named Jianyu. The show explores cultural differences and the thin line between good and evil within the confines of this goofy after-life.


Who would have thought these serious topics could be funny, but show creator Mike Schur has created a world that is…..well, out of this world. Season Two premieres with an hour-long episode September 20, 2017 on NBC. Hey, I’m there.

French television shows available on streaming services

Anyone who wants to begin learning a language or freshen their knowledge of current dialogue in a foreign language may consider checking out television programs in that language.

My emphasis in this blog post is on French programs that have legible sub-titles on internet streaming platforms.

Even if you aren’t trying to learn a language, you will delight in Gallic crime shows, dramas and comedies.

MHZ has a large collection of French tv shows, but Netflix also has some very interesting selections. You can add the MHZ service to your Amazon Prime account, or add the app to your Apple TV line-up. Please consult the link below to see how else you can access MHZ. Hulu is adding a few more French programs so check them out as well.

I will continue to search for more French television series on streaming services. If you run across anything good in French, please send me your French tv recommendations and where you found them.

Bonne chance!

French television shows available on streaming services:

Braquo – MHZ – A brutal but well-made police procedural.

The Break (La Treve) – Netflix – An unsettling Belgian psychological crime series.

Bureau of Sexist Affairs – MHZ – Comedy shorts on various topics.

Cain – MHZ – A charming cop show starring Bruno Debrandt.

Call My Agent (Dix Pour Cent) – Netflix – A comedy about stars and their agents in France.

The Churchmen (Ainsi Soient-Ils) – MHZ – A thoughtful drama about young men studying to become Catholic priests.

Detectives – MHZ – A light, entertaining detective series.

Dolmen – MHZ – A ridiculously romantic series if you are in the mood for such fare.

Frank Riva – MHZ – The iconic Alain Delon plays an ex-detective who returns to the fray.

A French Village (Un Village Francais) – MHZ & Hulu – Historical fiction about World War II in a small town in France.

Kaboul Kitchen – MHZ – Comedy set in Afghanistan. Not my cup of kefir, but some like it.

Maigret – MHZ – Simenon novels are depicted on the small screen. Very popular, but not one of my favorite series.

Maison Close – Hulu –  Quite raunchy story about a bordello in France. Only if you are not easily offended.

Marseille – Netflix – Fair to middling political intrigue in Marseille. Tune in to see the marvelous Gerard Depardieu and Benoit Magimell who goes toe to toe with him.

Paris – MHZ – Off-beat series about Parisians whose paths cross in surprising ways.

Pigalle, la Nuit – Hulu – A dramatic series set in Paris’ Pigalle area depicting tawdry doings.

The Returned (Les Revenants) – Netflix – The dead return. Season 1 was mesmerizing; Season 2 bored me to … tears.

Spiral (Engrenages) – MHZ & Hulu – Voted best 2015 tv show in the world and rightly so. Crime, legal and political skullduggery.

The Witnesses (Les Temoins) – Netflix – Decent detective series starring Thierry Lhermitte.

https://www.primevideo.com/splash/getTheApp/ref=dv_web_nav_wa

https://www.hulu.com/a-french-village

http://www.mhznetworks.org/

https://www.netflix.com

And for short clips for the beginning French student:

Oh La La, Hollywood Speaks French (two French sisters in the U. S.) – youtube

BET’s Being Mary Jane on Netflix

I had heard good buzz on BET’s (Black Entertainment Television) tv series, Being Mary Jane and just found it on Netflix. I needed a break from my crime show viewing and this show was the perfect antidote.
Created by Mara Brock Akil and starring the adorable Gabrielle Union, this earthy, sexy show has its share of comedy and drama. Union plays Mary Jane Paul, a successful tv show personality who lives in a beautiful house, wears designer clothing and drives a hot car, but family and romantic problems continue to mar her seemingly perfect life. Her extended family treats her like their personal ATM and she seems attracted to handsome, yet selfish and sometimes cheating men.

This program is mildly reminiscent of the late 90’s tv series, Ally McBeal, especially in its spunky heroine and in its use of engaging contemporary music throughout the show.

As a blast from the past, action-actor Richard Roundtree plays Mary Jane’s compassionate father.

When I need a break from the rigors of the day, visiting Mary Jane’s world is a charming respite.
Seasons 1 through 3 are on Netflix; Season 4 is currently on BET.

Call My Agent, French rom-com tv series on Netflix

Let me state that I love romantic film comedies which the French seem to have mastered to perfection.

Imagine my delight to find a TV series billed as original content on Netflix that captures the madcap breeziness of this genre. The show, Call My Agent, also listed as Ten Percent, depicts four agents who deal with spoiled actors, temperamental film-makers and difficult screen writers while they manage their own wackily complicated lives.

The creator, Fanny Herrero has cast Camille Cottin, Thibault de Montalembert, Gregory Montel and Liliane Rovere as the quartet of agents that you both love and hate-watch throughout the six episode Season 1. Cedric Klapisch, one of my favorite comic French film auteurs and his wife, Lola Doillon, a director and writer in her own right, are on board as episode directors.

The cameos made by French personalities will tickle film buffs, including Nathalie Baye and her daughter Laura Smet (her father is rock musician Johnny Hallyday), Audrey Fleurot (Spiral, A French Village), French rapper JoeyStarr and Cecile de France (who is in HBO’s The Young Pope), among many others.

Some people complain about sub-titles after a hard day at work, but witty dialogue and droll acting should pull you through the extra reading effort. Keep your eyes peeled for the terrier named, Jean Gabin who gives Asta of The Thin Man fame a run for his movie mutt money.

Gilmore Girls Reunion on Netflix

Many mothers and daughters watched the iconic TV show, Gilmore Girls from 2000 to 2007. Netflix has wisely hired co-creators Daniel Palladino and Amy Sherman-Palladino to give fans a reunion mini-series that catches us up with the lives of Lorelei Gilmore (Lauren Graham) her daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel). No less than Time Magazine and Rolling Stone have written about this cultural phenomenon.

The old series, set in the fictitious Connecticut town of Stars Hollow, featured characters played by actors who continue to star in TV and films. Melissa McCarthy was Sookie, the chef at Lorelei’s charming little inn. Rory’s boyfriends included Matt Czuchry (The Good Wife), Jared Padalecki (Supernatural) and the marvelous Milo Ventimiglia (This Is Us, Heroes) all of whom make appearances in this new four-episode series.

In truth, Kelly Bishop who portrays Lorelei’s mother is also a Gilmore Girl and is shown redesigning her life after the passing of her husband (Edward Herrmann who died in real life.) The current series is graced with cameos and small roles for celebrities such as Sally Struthers, Carole King, Todd Lowe plus Broadway veterans Sutton Foster and Christian Borle.

The emphasis may be on the “girls,” but men have important roles, too, such as Lorelei’s inn manager, Yanic Truesdale, town oddball Sean Gunn and the hunky Scott Patterson who plays Lorelei’s live-in boyfriend. The final Netflix episode left some with questions about how the show ends, but just let me say that history is again repeating itself with those Gilmore Girls. They may be tempted by the rich bad boys, but they end up with the salt-of-the-earth good guys. A happy ending indeed.

Catastrophe on Amazon Prime

catastropheAmazon, Hulu and Netflix continue to initiate more of their own programming. The streaming tv series, Catastrophe was the result of British actress/writer, Sharon Horgan and American comedian Rob Delaney meeting via Twitter. They decided that a comedic collaboration was meant to be.

Their inspiration was a quote from the movie, Zorba the Greek: “I’m a man, so I married. Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe.”

While on a business trip to London, American Rob Norris has a fling with Sharon Morris, an English grade school teacher. Once he’s back in the US, Sharon informs him that she is pregnant with his child. Rob decides to move to England to see if being a parent might be his next chapter.

We see their story unfold with catastrophic hilarity. Their respective friends and family are a motley crew who sabotage their tranquility at every turn.  Carrie Fisher is Rob’s abominable mother back in the States.

This is not a show for the easily offended. Graphic sex scenes and extremely bawdy jokes are sprinkled throughout the two seasons of 12 episodes. If you turn your taste meter down, however, you may find yourself laughing at the improbable situations, the profane banter and the marvelous interplay between Horgan and Delaney. The BBC passed on this show so Amazon, it’s up to you to order more episodes.