May 26, 2017

“Paris,” French TV series on MHZ

Those wanting to improve their ear for current spoken French might enjoy Paris, a 2015 French tv series currently available on MHZ network. The first few minutes are confusing, but try to finish episode one of the six episode series. A seemingly random cast of characters will quirkily cross paths in the next 24 hours.

A woman who is a union rep for transportation workers will deal with her troubled husband, her transgender son/daughter, her soldier son and have a private meeting with the Prime Minister of France. The PM will deal with a runaway son, his distraught wife, his staff, his frenemy, the current Attorney General and political intrigue of all sorts. The Attorney General will inadvertently deal with his pregnant housekeeper, his journalist wife and the transgender son mentioned above. The pregnant housekeeper’s ex-con Muslim husband will get a job working at the funeral home owned by the brother-in-law of the female union rep.
You get the picture.  We are shown a kaleidoscope of people in Paris from working class, to wealthy and powerful along with very shady characters involved in strip joints, gambling, burglary and smuggling young women across the French border. All will become part of the woven tapestry that is Paris.

Every person depicted is somewhat an anti-hero with both good and bad qualities on display, but you will marvel at how the plot knits all of their lives together. In the process, you do get a sense of a day in the life of Paris, albeit a day that is transfused with love, crime, politics and high drama.

For a monthly fee, MHZ is available on Amazon Prime and Apple TV.  Here are some other articles I have written about MHZ, the streaming service that caters to lovers of European dramatic television programs.

13 Reasons Why on Netflix

My hairdresser first mentioned this series on Netflix and I always check out what he recommends. Based on the popular 2007 novel, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and adapted by Brian Yorkey for the 13 episode Netflix series, I initially didn’t connect with the first few minutes of episode one. There were some stilted line readings by side characters and the high school setting seemed like an after-school special.

Then I fell in love with young male actor Dylan Minette (originally from Evansville, Indiana) who plays Clay Jensen, a square kid who knew Hannah Baker, a recent high school suicide. I was immediately sucked into the story through his eyes and ears as he listens to 13 tapes made by Hannah before she committed suicide. Each cassette is dedicated to someone who made her life miserable. I was hooked.

Katherine Langford, an Australian actress who auditioned for the part of Hannah over Skype, heartbreakingly depicts a beautiful, talented and troubled teen. Kate Walsh, Steven Weber and Brian d’Arcy James are a few of the actors who fill adult roles in the series, but it is the young thespians who steal the show; Christian Navarro playing the cryptic Tony Padilla; Alisha Boe as the promiscuous and rebellious Jessica Davis; Brandon Flynn and Justin Prentice playing jock-bullies Justin Foley and Bryce Walker, respectively.

This is not a show for the weak-kneed. Vivid re-enactments of rape and suicide had me yelling, “No, no, no…” Despite this warning, this limited series allows you into the current world of youth, social media and bullying. I have seen articles pro and con about allowing kids to watch these episodes. Certainly the issues of rape and suicide would have to be carefully discussed. I give this emotionally-charged series a guarded recommendation for those brave enough to go to dark and troubling places.

The Night Manager on Amazon Prime

My new crush is Tom Hiddleston, the English actor who plays Jonathan Pine in the spy thriller series, The Night Manager currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Adapted from a 1993 John LeCarre novel, and updated to present day by David Farr, the six-episode series originally broadcast on the BBC, was aired on AMC for American TV audiences.

Not only did Hiddleston pick up a Golden Globe best actor award, but Hugh Laurie (House) and Olivia Colman won best supporting awards as well. Director Susanne Bier and music composer Victor Reyes garnered Emmys for the production.

The story is engaging, the locales glamorous (Cairo, Istanbul, the Alps, London, Mallorca) and the acting impeccable. If you like world political intrigue, this is the mini-series for you. And I vote for Hiddleston as the next James Bond.

Victoria on PBS

After watching The Crown on Netflix, I dove into the world of Victoria on PBS. Initially the Victoria production suffered in comparison, the first two episodes seeming a bit snoozy to me, but once Albert arrives in his red boots and military uniform, the drama takes off.

Don’t get me wrong, Rufus Sewell as Lord Melbourne and the queen’s first confidante is engaging, but the suggested emotional connection between the Prime Minister and Victoria seems to be a dramatic contrivance. The show is really about the wonderful happenstance that an arranged royal marriage could still contain romance and genuine sexual heat. Actor Tom Hughes as the serious but dashing German-born Prince Albert seems straight out of a fairy tale.

Some of the side characters (Victoria’s maid and other serving staff) have compelling story lines, but the true heart of Victoria is the queen herself, marvelously embodied by Jenny Coleman. At one point she wishes to be just an ordinary woman and not the monarch of multitudes of citizens. The tug of war between Victoria’s regal responsibilities and her personal wishes provides the drama in this series created by Daisy Goodwin, formerly an executive producer of The Apprentice and the author of a book entitled Victoria on which the current series is based.

Upcoming episodes in Season 1 show her holding firm against her husband and advisors, so I look forward to seeing her go from young queen to seasoned sovereign.

If you need car chases, guns and a fast pace to be entertained, this is definitely not your show. Victoria shines with splendid cinematography, impressive costumes, first-rate acting and well-crafted script-writing.
The series has already been renewed for a second season which is not surprising since Queen Victoria ruled for 63 years.

La La Land: Oscar-worthy

I finally had the opportunity to see La La Land this past week. In short, I was delighted from start to finish. Imagine my surprise when the two men who accompanied me to the cinema proclaimed this to be “a terrible movie” and “boring,” respectively.
Another friend disliked the opening sequence with a traffic jam resulting in people getting out of their cars and singing and dancing.
As for me, I loved the opening for quickly putting the viewer into the world of Hollywood where every other person seems to be grasping for a toe hold into the world of entertainment. Although they may get to sing, dance, act, write, direct or design for TV and movies, all of these people have to keep on scrambling to pay bills and keep their cars running. The scene also has the principal characters “meeting cute” with an angry flipped finger at one another.

The use of bright colors throughout the movie whether it be with clothing, furniture, signage or scenery absolutely delighted my eyes. The score was tuneful and lyrics well-crafted. The song “City of Stars” is still going through my head. The orchestration found so many different ways of presenting the simple but potent melodies. The script dialogue is reminiscent of the rapid bantering of 1930’s screwball comedies.

Now a word about the stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. She can actually sing pretty expressively. Gosling’s singing is serviceable, but I was really impressed with his ability to simulate playing the piano really well. He reportedly sang and played piano, guitar, bass and cello in a group in 2009 so he came to the film with some musical skills. His dancing is pretty impressive, too, especially since he is six feet tall and gracefully manages his long legs. Stone and Gosling were cast for their box office names and their acting chops, but their musical and dancing skills are most entertaining.

One of the men who dissed the movie did sheepishly note the large number of Oscar nominations for this “terrible movie.” Let me compare this to the political climate. We definitely see the world through our own filters, be it for movie-watching or political opinions. Some of us just have better taste!

Nobel tv series on Netflix

Netflix continues to feature foreign tv series for those who want to see what the world is watching. Nobel is an engaging series on Norway’s military involvement in Afghanistan. We follow Erling Riiser, a special forces soldier working in this troubled region. His wife, Johanne works in Norway’s foreign service so we get to see the different threads feeding into the conflict. Business interests, regional feuds, the status of women and diplomacy all figure into this complex mix.

The title refers to the annual Nobel Prize and the Nobel female descendant who helps choose who is honored. As the series unfolds, we keep shifting our opinions about who is behaving honorably and who is letting greed and expediency determine their behavior.

Tuva Novotny as Erling comes off as a modern day Viking as he literally “soldiers on.” His friend Jon Petter Hals (admirably portrayed by Anders Danielsen Lie) loses his legs in combat, and we observe his painful recovery back in Norway. The program may make you more sympathetic to our vets who have lost limbs in foreign combat.

If you’d like to know more about Norwegian politics and its involvement in Afghanistan, Nobel might be the well-made drama for you.

The Crown on Netflix

I was going through a bit of Downton Abbey withdrawal so The Crown, a Netflix ten-part dramatic series seemed to be the perfect “hair of the Corgi.”

High quality production values were apparent from the opening credits, but what unfolded was impeccable acting and emotional script-writing as well as gorgeous cinematography and beautiful film music.

Claire Foy is wondrous as Elizabeth II, from her father’s death in her 20’s, through her coronation to dealing with family and national squabbles in her first years as queen. John Lithgow as Winston Churchill is surprisingly good despite being a Yank actor and is both an adversary and advisor to the young Elizabeth. Matt Smith, known for his stint on Dr. Who, is believable as the prince consort who finds himself overshadowed by his regal wife. Elizabeth’s sister, Margaret is vibrantly played by Vanessa Kirby. Their sororal relationship in this very visible British royal family provide some of the most dramatic scenes.

Friends have found the slow pace of the episodes off-putting, but I luxuriated in the elegance and grace of this production. The Crown might make a relaxing binge between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

The Inspector Lynley Mysteries

inspector_lynley_mysteries_uk-showThe Inspector Lynley Mysteries, a British crime tv series issued a total of twenty-three episodes, most of which I have seen and enjoyed, but I knew relatively little about the Elizabeth George novels which inspired the tv program. Eleven of her murder mysteries were turned into scripts, but she wrote 19 books featuring the aristocratic Inspector Thomas Lynley and his lower-class partner, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers.

Other characters woven throughout the series are his girlfriend and later wife, Helen Clyde, and his old school friend, Simon St. James, both from upper crust backgrounds. Her first Lynley novel was A Great Deliverance published in 1988. I accidentally happened upon With No One as Witness, issued in 2005.  As good as the tv episodes were, I find her writing even more thrilling and satisfying. My literary bias showing?with-no-one-as-witness

elizabeth-george-c-michael-stadlerIn George’s bio, I find out that she is an American, born in Ohio and raised in California, but has set many of her novels in Great Britain, featuring police officers, criminals and ordinary folk both rich and poor. Her book output also contains 7 other fiction works and a non-fiction release entitled Write Away.

Donna Leon also springs to mind, the New Jersey author of 26 crime novels set in Venice with Commissario Guido Brunetti as the hero. What is it about these American women who write compellingly about crime in other countries? If you are a fan of the murder mystery genre in the spirit of Agatha Christie, you can’t go wrong with books either by Elizabeth George or Donna Leon.

This Is Us on NBC TV

this_is_us_tv_series-679172651-largeWhile the critics have not been unanimously positive, This Is Us, one of the few dramas on network television, has me tuning in each week. Granted, I have only watched the five available episodes.

Parents marvelously played by singer/actress Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia (Gilmore Girls, Heroes) are expecting triplets. One of their children is still-born and the couple decide to adopt an African-American orphan that was left that day at a fire station.

With present day scenes and flashbacks, we view the triplets as they enter the world, their upbringing and their current adult lives. Show-creator Dan Fogelman orchestrates surprising reveals and intensely emotional dialogue. Watch for a dynamite scene between Ventimiglia and Gerald McRaney playing an obstetrician. Have your Kleenex at the ready.

The third triplet is played by the amazing Sterling K. Brown (Emmy winner for playing Christopher Darden in The People vs. O. J. Simpson) who is arguably one of the best actors on tv today. Chrissy Metz is the weight-challenged female sibling that appears to have been “daddy’s girl.” Her twin is played by hunky Justin Hartley (Smallville) who is trapped in beefcake tv roles. I love spending time with these people and all of the ancillary characters, too.

Not every network tv show gets you to think about nurture versus genetics, sibling bonding and rivalry, parenting and race relations. This Is Us is a bit manipulative with one’s emotions, but it does that very well, with warmth and wit. I eagerly await episode six.

The Jinx on Netflix

<a href="http://www viagra in usa×350.jpg”>We are living in a time when documentaries are going toe-to-toe with movies and television programs in grabbing our attention.

If you have developed a taste for docs that cover true crime stories, you may want to check out The Jinx on Netflix, the story of Robert Durst, part of a successful real estate family in New York who has been accused of murdering his first wife, his Texas neighbor and his best friend in California. He has never been convicted for any of the three crimes.

Director Andrew Jarecki interviews Durst throughout the film and we see the two develop a bond, of sorts.

The film methodically makes revelations that change how Durst is seen by the viewer, his friends and family, and ultimately, by Jarecki. The six episodes are addictive and chilling.