March 28, 2017

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.

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.

SyFy’s The Expanse on Amazon Prime

The holidays allowed me to get my sci-fi geek on with The Expanse, the SyFy series currently streaming on Amazon Prime. Termed a space opera/mystery science fiction drama, my brother-in-law informed me that the show is based on a series of books written by James S. A. Corey (the pseudonym for two guys named Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.)

The show is set in the future when humans have colonized space including Mars and outposts on the asteroid belt. We are introduced to Belter detective Joe Miller (Thomas Jane) who is tasked with finding Julie Mao (Florence Faivre), the missing daughter of a business tycoon. The main cast is rounded out by Jim Holden (Steven Strait), an Earther airship captain, a Martian pilot named Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), another crew member who grew up poor “on the Belt,” Amos Burton (Wes Chatham), a mechanic who is dangerously devoted to Nagata plus Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), a leader with the U.N. and strongly pro-Earth.
Ancillary roles are filled by Paulo Costanzo (Royal Pains), Chad L. Coleman (The Walking Dead), Shawn Doyle (Big Love) and Jared Harris (The Crown) among many others.

The computer generated images of life in space are impressive, the clothing in crowd scenes amusing and the acting and writing quite good. If you like sci-fi shows, The Expanse may be your kind of program. Season 2 returns to the SyFy channel on February 1, 2017.

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.

Beck is Back!

Like Wallander, another Swedish fictional detective, Martin Beck has had several incarnations in film and television. I have been following the 34 episode tv version, Beck starring Peter Haber.

Based on ten books by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, the first three seasons of 8 episodes each feature Martin Beck tackling socially relevant crimes with the help of his volatile police partner, Gunvald Larsson played by Mikael Persbrandt. Beck is just an ordinary guy, never glamorous, sometimes gruff, but always dogged in his pursuit of the truth behind crimes.

Thanks to MHZ Choice for streaming the original three seasons and new Beck material including Season 4, at just 2 episodes and seasons 5 with eight episodes. It’s so good to be back in the world of Martin Beck, albeit in Sweden.

https://mhzchoice.vhx.tv/beck

Marseille – French tv series on Netflix

Netflix is embracing original tv projects in other languages with Marseille, a French production starring Gerard Depardieu currently trending on the streaming service.

Depardieu plays Robert Taro, the longtime mayor of Marseille. There are some parallels to Kelsey Grammer’s portrayal of a fictional Chicago mayor in the Starz show, Boss. Both characters are portrayed, warts and all. Taro is up for re-election. He loves his city and does a reasonably good job as mayor, but is considered “old school” and is secretly addicted to cocaine.

His rival, Lucas Barres (malevolently played by actor Benoit Magimel) is a former protege who is even more flawed than Taro. Son of a convict mother and raised in the foster system as an orphan, Barres uses his sexual wiles to sway both sexes, makes questionable deals behind the scenes and hires thugs to “convince” voters. Taro’s wife, Rachel (the elegant Geraldine Pailhas), is a talented cellist suffering from a neurological disorder. His daughter, Julia, played by Stephanie Caillard is dating a drug-dealing young man of Arab heritage. Actress Nadia Fares is cast as Vanessa d’Abrantes, the villainous political accomplice of Barres.

This series does not share the excellence of French show Spiral, but it has some redeeming qualities. The cinematography of Marseille really gives you a good feel for this southern French port city. Production values are high with elegant art direction and an interesting music soundtrack. The show gives you a unique perspective on political campaigning in France, proving that politics is a rough business in any country.

Depardieu, who has had a successful decades-long career in film, is still an imposing figure both physically and in his acting technique. Magimel is a revelation as he matches Depardieu in presence and skill.

If you are working on your French conversation, you will hear current slang that you definitely won’t find in Balzac or Moliere!

30º i februari, Swedish TV Series on Netflix

Swedes visit Thailand in droves so is it any wonder that Swedish tv producers have created a series, 30º i februari that features Scandinavian characters visiting this beautiful Southeast Asian locale?

There is the lonely, Swedish middle-aged heating system installer who is looking for an Asian bride. A wheel chair-bound man has been reluctantly talked into a vacation by his long-suffering wife. A woman who has suffered a stroke moves to Thailand and buys a resort with her two daughters, in hopes of finding a less stressful life. The previous Thai resort owner becomes her business rival. His ex-druggie son is in love with one of her daughters.

Throw in a transgender Thai massage therapist, a young female Swedish dive instructor and police that could rival any of our over-zealous U. S. law types and you have a potent dramatic mix. Imagine “Dallas” set in Thailand, but with a decidedly quirky Scandinavian flavor.

If you are up for for gorgeous scenery, quirky, flawed characters and a plot that is by turns dark and zany, this may be the ten episode show for you. I recommend you have your Thai carry-out restaurant menu handy so you can really get into the mood.

Montalbano and The Young Montalbano, Italian detective programs

I’m trying to learn more Italian right now and, short of visiting Italy, watching television shows “in italiano” seems to be the next best thing.

Inspector Montalbano is a beloved Italian detective tv series based on the best-selling books of Andrea Camilleri. The episodes began appearing on tv in 1999 and are slated to continue airing through at least 2017 or 2018. I have been watching old episodes on MHZ Choice. http://watch.mhzchoice.com

Salvo Montalbano, charmingly played by actor Luca Zingaretti, is the middle-aged Chief Inspector of Police in Vigata, a fictional town in Sicily. Supporting characters include Mimi Augello, his womanizing deputy, bumbling police officer Catarella, his stalwart assistant Fazio  and Pasquano, the dead pan local coroner.

As charming as the original series is, I have liked The Young Montalbano, the tv prequel even more. Michele Riondino plays Montalbano as a young man who has just been appointed police chief of Vigata. The episodes show the origins of his chilly relationship with his father, his first encounters with his co-workers, and how his job has negatively impacted his love life.
Both Montalbano and The Young Montalbano are highly entertaining with stunning cinematography and clever plots, but the prequel has a bit more heart. Six new episodes of The Young Montalbano will premiere on MHZ on May 17, 2016.

Happy Valley, Season 2 – still unhappy but entertaining for us

Second seasons can be a problem for many tv shows with Broadchurch and the French version of The Returned failing to reach the success of their first seasons.

Not so with Happy Valley, the BBC crime thriller currently available on Netflix. The sophomore season just may be even better than its debut season. Three British actors give tour de force performances that are very different from their other popular roles. Sarah Lancashire, so charming as the intellectual lesbian school headmistress in Last Tango In Halifax, plays rough-and-tumble police sergeant Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley. James Norton is cast as repellent psychopath Tommy Lee Royce, even though he believably plays a crime-solving vicar in the BBC’s program Grantchester. Kevin Doyle, last seen as shy servant Molesley in Downton Abbey, is adulterous and unhinged police detective John Wadsworth in this show. <a href="http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Happy-Valley-Royce viagra legal kaufen.jpg”>

Shirley Henderson plays Miss Wheland, a woman besotted with Tommy Lee Royce and willing to go to great lengths to impress him. The plot is further complicated by Cawood’s grandson Ryan, the biological progeny of the incarcerated murderer.

You may want to watch Season 1 of Happy Valley so you are familiar with the backstory. That means you have 12 episodes to binge watch between the 2 seasons and Sally Wainwright, the writer and creator of the series to thank.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Kayaks on the Chicago Riverwalk

Some of you have been reading my Culture Beat blurbs since my tenure at the Fairmont Hotel and Convito Italiano many moons ago.

Here are some recent Culture Beat blog posts and their links:

The cell phone headset that has improved my connectivity:

LG Tone Pro Wireless Stereo Headset

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2016/03/lg-tone-pro-wireless-stereo-headset/

The little speaker that makes my phone or iPad a portable stereo:

Jambox speaker by Jawbone

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2015/08/jambox-speaker-by-jawbone/

My favorite site for foreign tv streaming:

MHZ Choice launches on Oct. 20 (updated blog post forthcoming)

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2015/10/mhz-choice-launches-on-oct-20/

The show you may want to watch to see women in political power (in Sweden):

Those In Power: a Swedish political tv drama on MHZ

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2016/02/those-in-power-a-swedish-political-tv-drama/

If you want to delve into charming French literature, check out:

The President’s Hat and The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain (in English)

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2015/12/the-presidents-hat-and-the-red-notebook/

A book I’m recommending if you like science and business:

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2016/03/elon-musk-tesla-spacex-and-the-quest-for-a-fantastic-future-by-ashlee-vance/

Need some food items to add a little zing to your healthy diet?

My current favorite taste sensations (triple cherry blend, rice tortillas, dill relish, sauerkraut)

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2015/09/my-current-favorite-taste-sensations/

If you are trying to cut down coffee jitters and acidity, try this ayurvedic tea:

Raja’s Cup: the anti-oxidant coffee substitute

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2015/09/rajas-cup-the-anti-oxidant-coffee-substitute/

When your sweet tooth hits, candy from a home-grown company:

Terry’s Toffee and Wackerpop

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2014/10/terrys-toffee-and-wackerpop/

Stores that both amateur and professional chefs adore:

The Spice House: Seasoning the World

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2015/04/the-spice-house-seasoning-the-world/

Balsa Mela and Italian Herbed Salt at The City Olive

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2015/05/balsa-mela-and-italian-herbed-salt/

My favorite chain restaurant:

Lyfe Kitchen

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2015/03/lyfe-kitchen/

The delightful Chicago attraction that not everyone has visited:

Chicago Riverwalk from LaSalle to Lake Michigan (updated photos soon as construction continues further west)

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/category/outdoor-fun-in-chicago/

Chicago’s classy classical record label:

Cedille Records Celebrates 25 Years as Chicago’s classical record company

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2015/04/cedille-records-celebrates-25-years-as-chicagos-classical-record-company/

One of the best apps for listening to customized radio:

AccuRadio: Hand-crafted by music lovers-not by a computer

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2015/05/accuradio-hand-crafted-by-music-lovers-not-by-a-computer/

My favorite app for news on your iPad or tablet:

Flipboard, a new way to get your news fix

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2014/02/flipboard-a-new-way-to-get-your-news-fix/

The best app for checking out other opinions on movies and tv:

Metacritic, when you want to know what the critics think

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2015/07/metacritic-when-you-want-to-know-what-the-critics-think/

Some of my favorite apps for finding sheet music, paid or free:

Printed Music in the Digital Age

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2014/04/printed-music-in-the-digital-age/

Best app for electronic music storage:

Sheet Music at Your Fingertips: ForScore

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2014/07/sheet-music-at-your-fingertips-forscore/

The best fake book for song standards on your tablet or desktop:

iRealPro app for your portable device or desktop

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2015/08/irealpro-app-for-your-portable-device-or-desktop/

More apps for the musically inclined:

Music App Happy

http://www.elizabethdoylemusic.com/2014/04/music-app-happy/