August 7, 2020

Fauda tv series on Netflix

My first binge-watching experience was with the tv series, “24.” The local library had all eight seasons on DVD which worked out to 192 episodes. I just discovered another tv series that checks some of the same boxes; international intrigue, high action scenes and cliff-hanger episodes that have you saying “just one more.”

“Fauda,” an action series from Israel currently streaming on Netflix, was created by Lior Rax and Avi Issacharoff who based the show on their experiences while working for the Israel Defense Forces.

First season is set in Kafr Qasim, a predominantly Arab-populated city just 12 miles from Tel Aviv and managed by Israeli security forces. In this depiction, you can’t always tell the good guys from the bad. Doron, an Israeli soldier, comes out of retirement when he discovers that Taufiq Hammed, a Hamas terrorist he thought he killed, is still very much alive. Doron scopes out a Hammed family wedding in hopes of catching “the Panther.”

The viewer sees how every killing, including mass bombings, ratchets up enmity on both sides. Wives, girlfriends and children not only suffer collateral damage, they sometimes become radicalized themselves. This is no mere “shoot ‘em up,” but a look at the personal and professional lives of opposing sides locked in a deadly battle of geography, culture, religion and power.

Fauda means “chaos” in Hebrew, and thought-provoking entertainment chaos it is. I have appropriated the word for aspects of life today.

Please note that Netflix has made the decent English-dubbed version the default. You can, however, change the settings so you can get the original Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles which is my preference. Your choice.

The Bureau French tv series on Sundance Now

If you are up for a French tv show that has some similarity with Showtime’s Homeland, The Bureau or Le Bureau des Légendes on Sundance Now may be your cup of cafe au lait.

Guillaume Debailly (Mathieu Kassovitz) is an undercover agent with France’s DGSE (General Directorate of External Security), the French equivalent of our CIA. He has been posing as a French teacher in Damascus, Syria and falls in love with an Arab woman who is college professor. Their relationship and its complications is the main through line of Season 1. We are also introduced to Marina Loiseau (Sara Giraudeau), a newbie spy who is embedded as a seismologist in Iran to shed light on that country’s nuclear program.

Ancillary characters are other French agents along with their bosses and handlers, CIA operatives, Kurds, terrorists, politicians and business people from different countries, kidnappers, imams and family members of the main players. There are brutal scenes with French captives so this is not a show for the faint of heart.

What you will get with The Bureau is whip smart plotting, memorable characters and a greater sense of the stakes in the Middle East. This is not light entertainment, but you will be immersed in a world that is, hopefully, unlike your own.

All four seasons of Le Bureau are available on Sundance Now.

McMafia on Sundance Now

I am still on a crime drama tv-watching spree and McMafia on Sundance Now has fed that yen with international style. A co-production with the BBC, AMC and Cuba Pictures, the tv series is based on the 2008 non-fiction book by reporter Misha Glenny, McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld.

James Norton plays Alex Godman, son of a Russian mafia don who is trying to go straight in England. Alex and his British fiancee get drawn into the international skullduggery. Vadim Kalyagin (actor Merab Ninidze) shows up as the arch nemesis crime boss still in Russia who threatens the entire Godman family.

Almost all of the major male characters have attachments to family members or friends who become their points of weakness. A grey-bearded David Strathairn as shady Israeli businessman Semiyon Kleiman and Antonio Mendez (actor Caio Biat) as a handsome liaison for a vicious Mexican drug cartel are some of the bad guys who make use of these relationships. Wives, daughters, mothers and girlfriends are, for the most part, collateral damage in this serious-as-death global game.

The show intro shows a red map line extending from Mumbai, to Prague, to London to Moscow with exotic stop-overs that include Tel Aviv, Cairo and the Cayman Islands. The cinematography can be stunning and the cultural glimpses intriguing.

McMafia, co-created by Hossein Amini and James Watkins, is a smart international crime show that is all the more frightening when you consider its inspiration was a non-fiction book. Season 2 has been ordered. Release date pending.

Riviera TV Series on Sundance Now

When the mood is somber in your home and abroad, what better way to disperse the blues than to watch some escapist soap opera fare? Riviera, set in, you guessed it, southern France and Monaco is definitely eye candy.

The show has quite a pedigree. Neil Jordan, the director of such notable films as Mona Lisa and The Crying Game, has created and co-written Riviera with high brow British author, John Banville. Jordan has since disavowed any connection to the series with the addition of sex scenes and writing changes that he did not sanction. That somehow ups the trash factor allure.

The cast features Julia Stiles as recent widow, Georgina Clios whose husband, billionaire and art collector Constantine Clios is mysteriously blown up on a yacht in episode one. Anthony LaPaglia plays the shady mogul in flash backs, with Lena Olin dramatically entering the scene as his first wife. The most surprising cast member is Will Arnett in a semi-serious role as Georgina’s uncle.

The plot is littered with screwed up children, rich and dangerous friends, racehorses, scary strong men, corporate skullduggery and art fraud.

I can see why Jordan has divorced himself from this project. Murder, mental illness, kidnapping, and surprise parentage are soap opera staples thrown into this improbable potpourri. Still, the cinematography, the homes, the clothing and the very bad behavior is strangely compelling. Just what the doctor ordered when stuck at home without a Monet on the wall or a bottle of Dom Perignon in the wine cave.

I watch Sundance Now as an added channel on my Amazon Prime Video account.

Library apps: Overdrive, Hoopla and Libby

Libraries have two strikes against them during this Covid-19 outbreak. They are not considered essential services and they risk attracting numbers of people who may catch or spread the disease. I understand the rationale, but if ever we needed the comfort of books, it is now.

Library apps to the rescue. If you have a library card number, you have access to a wealth of downloadable material on at least three different apps. Overdrive lets you download e-books, audiobooks and magazines like Oprah, Newsweek, Prevention, House Beautiful and Forbes, among others.

https://www.overdrive.com/explore

Hoopla not only carries ebooks and audiobooks, but movies, comics, an impressive catalogue of recorded music and a treasure trove of television shows both old and new. The library card holder is limited to six selections per month however.

https://www.hoopladigital.com/my/hoopla

Libby, an off-shoot of Overdrive, specializes in audiobooks and ebooks. The user is able to set preferences like genre, language and availability. One can explore new releases with the ability to put holds on the most popular titles. Libby estimates how many weeks one will have to wait for a title. I always have one or two books downloaded from this easy-to-use app.

https://www.overdrive.com/apps/libby/

If you have the money, please order a book from your local bookstore. If, however, you are pinching pennies, you can be grateful Overdrive, Hoopla and Libby apps are free. We have our public library system to thank for this. Books, to my mind, are essential.

The Embassy: Spanish tv series on MHZ

MHZ, the tv streaming site which now bills itself as the Euro TV Place, has just added its first Spanish tv series, The Embassy. Ripped from today’s headlines, we are introduced to the new Spanish ambassador sent to Bangkok, Thailand. He discovers a vicious nest of corruption in his new office.

The crooked staff push back by sending his wife doctored photos showing him with a female employee. They hire someone to plant drugs in his daughter’s purse causing her to be arrested and sent to prison. They also frame him for corruption and generally make his life miserable.

This is a dramatic soap opera, so we watch with glee as his attractive wife has a one night stand with a younger man who turns out to be her daughter’s boyfriend. The brother of the main bad guy also falls in love with the ambassador’s daughter.

Political intrigue, greed, emotional deception and murder all play a part in this very entertaining 11 part series. The final episode is a little too melodramatic for my taste, but the series is a fun ride nonetheless.

After reading more about our current foreign policy, The Embassy does not seem so outlandish!

Link to the tv show: https://watch.mhzchoice.com/the-embassy