September 21, 2020

MHZ Choice TV: “Pièges,” “Capitaine Marleau” and “Grey Zone”

I have regularly mentioned MHZ Choice, a streaming service that features European television programming, but there are some new shows worth noting.

“Pièges,” a French, two-part thriller tips the hat to Alfred Hitchcock with an intricate murder plot and a dramatic music soundtrack.

On the lighter side is “Capitaine Marleau” starring Corinne Masiero as a French detective who can out-quirk Colombo and Monk combined. The clever plots, gorgeous scenery and Marleau’s oddball attire make this series the antidote for a stressful day.

A new show from Denmark, “Grey Zone,” shows great promise after having watched two episodes. Starring Birgitte Hjort Sorenson (whom you may have seen as a reporter in “Borgen,” or as a wildling leader in “Game of Thrones”) plays drone expert Victoria Rahbek who gets mixed up with kidnappers and terrorists. New episodes will be added weekly.

The MHZ service has programs in French, Italian, German, Dutch, Serbian, Finnish, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Flemish and Spanish. Some of my past favorite series on MHZ are “Beck” from Sweden, “Montalbano” from Italy, “Borgen” from Denmark, “Commissario Brunetti” from Germany, “Aber Bergen” from Norway and “Spiral” from France. And this is the short list!

As a side note, if you really want to support a streaming site, please try to avoid signing up for the service through Apple or Amazon. MHZ makes less money if you don’t buy it directly from them. Automatic monthly debits and easy cancellations can be instigated on the MHZ Choice web site.

Happy viewing. There is a free trial offer.

https://watch.mhzchoice.com/

“Les Miserables” drama series on PBS

I groaned when I saw yet another version of “Les Miserables” being promoted on Amazon Prime. (Season One of the 2018 PBS television series has been available for free in August for Prime members.)

Curiosity got the better of me and I found myself watching episode one of this mini-series adapted by Andrew Davies. I was instantly sucked into this fresh take on the Victor Hugo novel, in no small part due to actor Dominic West’s tour de force performance as criminal turned do-gooder, Jean Valjean. In color-blind casting, David Oyelowo is outstanding as Javert, the policeman who dogs Valjean for the duration of the story. Derek Jacobi, BBC thespian heavyweight, shines as Bishop Myriel, the cleric whose forgiveness and generosity changes Valjean’s path.

Without singing a blessed word, Lily Collins (daughter of English musician Phil Collins) is stunning and heartbreaking as the beleaguered Fantine. Olivia Colman and Adeel Akhtar are odiously entertaining as the greedy Thenardiers. David John Bradley, replete with wig, powdered face and fake beauty mark, villanously turns his grandson against his father who was an officer with Napoleon’s army.

Fine acting and superlative production standards make this worth viewing on the PBS Passport streaming service. Unless you can marathon watch it on Amazon Prime in the remaining hours before August closes. Ready, set, binge…

Mon Ami Gabi French Restaurant in Lincoln Park and elsewhere

I wanted to do something special on my birthday so having a Lettuce Entertain You gift card from an adult student of mine really came in handy.

Mon Ami Gabi was my restaurant choice since I had a yen for French food. Some people are opting to use the outdoor patio in front of the venerable Belden Stratford apartment building (pictured above), but we chose to order carry-out and dine al fresco in the park next to Lincoln Park Zoo.

I ordered a filet mignon in a pepper and creme fraiche sauce along with side dishes of green pea and Leek mash and sautéed mixed mushrooms. Magnifique! I don’t eat beef that often, but this was a beautiful cut of meat. My husband wanted the hamburger with blue cheese on a brioche bun, paired with crispy frites. We polished off the meal with blueberry crumble à la mode and chocolate mousse with Chantilly cream. Surprisingly, the high quality vanilla ice cream stayed cold until we were ready for dessert. We brought our own silverware and napkins, so make sure you request those if you are not taking carry-out food directly to your home.

Most people do not realize there are five Mon Ami Gabi restaurants: the Chicago original named after beloved chef Gabino Sotelino, OakBrook IL, Reston VA, Bethesda MD and the Las Vegas Strip. The Vegas outpost is a favorite for locals and visitors alike with premium outdoor seating overlooking the fountains at the Bellagio Resort. The bottom photos are from a charming lunch I had at the Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

https://www.monamigabi.com/

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.

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.

Cafe Sabarsky/Neue Galerie in NYC: A Little History

Although I have not yet visited Cafe Sabarsky and the Neue Galerie on New York City’s Upper East Side, I did a little research on this storied venue.

Art dealer and museum organizer Serge Sabarsky and entrepreneur, philanthropist and art collector Ronald S. Lauder discovered a common interest in German and Austrian art and culture of the early 1900s. After Sabarsky’s death, Lauder created Neue Galerie in 2001 to honor his friend.

Located on New York’s Museum Mile, 5th Avenue from 83rd Street to 105th, Neue Galerie is the former William Starr Miller mansion at 86th Street.

The second floor is dedicated to Austrian work of the early 1900s from the Wiener Wekstätte movement and by luminaries such as Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele. Third floor contains work from the same time period by the Bauhaus movement and artists that include Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Lyone Feininger, Otto Dis and George Grosz.

The museum campus includes a bookstore, a design shop and two Viennese restaurants, Cafe Sabarsky and Cafe Fledermaus.

Cafe Sabarsky features light fixtures by Josef Hoffmann, furniture by Adolf Loos and banquettes upholstered with a 1912 Otto Wagner fabric. Periodic cabaret evenings and chamber music concerts benefit from the on-site Bösendorfer grand piano.

Here is a link for Cafe Sabarsky:

kurtgutenbrunner.com/restaurants/cafe-sabarsky/

For more info on the Neue Galerie:

https://www.neuegalerie.org/