December 5, 2020

Fairy Tales Are Not Just for Children

Die drei kleinen Schweinchen or Three Little Pigs

Have you ever read a fairy tale to a child? Did someone read them to you when you were young?

Cinderella or Cendrillon by Perrault

There are usually five elements to fairy tales; a moral lesson, a hero and a villain as stock characters, an element of magic, obstacles or tasks for the main character to overcome, and a happy ending. Fairy tales teach children what it is to be human and how they may fit into the world.

Let me point out two other great uses for fairy tales.

Language-learning can be greatly enhanced by reading and listening to these familiar stories. Pinterest has dozens of posts on fairy tales in French, Spanish, Italian, German and other languages. Some posts take you to paid services, but many allow you to use the material for free. There are even slow audio versions so you can really train your ear to hear the new language.

The Fable Cottage allows you to read fairy tales in five different languages for free; access to video and audio material does require becoming a member, however.

YouTube is another excellent source for fairy tales in other languages, but there is another use for English speakers: sleep enhancement. There are videos using readers with soothing voices to lull both children and adults to sleep. Some of the videos bill themselves as “Truly Boring Fairy Tales,” “Bedtime Story Fairy Tales to Fall Asleep,” or “Softly Told Tales.”

Then again, perhaps we should avoid some of the more gruesome tales by the Brothers Grimm if we want sweet dreams.

Buona notte! Bonne nuit! Buenas Noches! Gute Nacht! Good night and sleep tight!

The Fable Cottage web site which has selected fairy tales in five different languages:

https://www.thefablecottage.com/

“Truly Boring Fairy Tales” on the Casper Sleep Channel:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7p0B2MD11QI

“Bedtime Stories for Adults – More Viking Myths”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNUbZtbi_HY

Sophia Loren in “The Life Ahead” on Netflix

Netflix’s offering of the movie, “The Life Ahead,” is creating quite a buzz. Not only does it feature the iconic Italian actress, Sophia Loren at age 87, but the director is her son Edouardo Ponti.

Is it the greatest movie ever? No, but it has enough redeeming qualities to invest roughly 90 minutes of your time. Momo, a Senegalese-Italian orphan played by first-time film actor, Ibrahim Gueye, has a natural presence that makes up for his inexperience as a thespian. We have noble plot lines galore. Loren as Madame Rosa is a survivor of Auschwitz and a retired prostitute who has been a foster mother to the children of working girls. She provides daycare for Babu, the son of her transgender neighbor, Lola, along with a Jewish boy named Iosif who was abandoned by his mother.

The heart of the movie is the friendship that develops between Madame Rosa and Momo. The young orphan is pulled in the direction of drug-dealing for one man, and doing more honest work for a kindly Arab artisan who patiently introduces him to his birth family’s Muslim faith.

As a side note, the American film world tends to retire actors as they age, and the tendency is even more stark for actresses. Try to think of women who have had major roles in their 80s. Maggie Smith and Judy Dench (both 85) spring to mind, but the big screen tends to be geared towards more youthful appearances. Streaming productions, however, have opened up new avenues for senior actors. Witness the success of Jane Fonda (82) and Lily Tomlin (81) in “Grace and Frankie,” or Alan Arkin (86) in “The Kominsky Method” and the late Max Von Sydow who was 87 when he was in “Game of Thrones.”

TWO WOMEN, Sophia Loren, 1960

Back to a final word on “The Life Ahead.” It certainly gives you a slice of Italian culture. I would also suggest you watch Loren’s Academy Award-winning performance in Vittorio DeSica’s 1960 film, “Two Women,” not to note how she has aged in the intervening decades, but to see that she still has the vibrant screen presence that has made her an international screen treasure.

“The Trial,” Italian Murder Mystery on Netflix

Originally airing on Italian television 2019, Netflix picked up “The Trial” for streaming spring 2020. The plot is improbable, but the Italian legal system makes for fascinating (albeit fictional) viewing.

The stand-outs are Vittoria Puccini playing prosecutor Elena Guerra against ruthless defense lawyer Ruggero Barone (actor Francesco Scianna). A young woman is found murdered outside a posh party and the likely suspect is the spurned wife of a businessman who had a relationship with the murder victim. Barone goes to great lengths to acquit his client, the beautiful, rich daughter of a local business mogul.

“The Trial” is on par with many of the BBC or PBS murder mysteries in terms of production quality. As an added benefit, you get to see Italian fashion and architecture, glimpses of the police and legal system and see if you understand any Italian.

Prego e grazie! Please and thank you!

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/

The Vertical Line on MHZ – Italian tv series

MHZ Choice, the tv streaming service, continues to introduce me to European television programs that I can’t find other places. The Vertical Line, an 8 episode dramedy from Italy is the freshest series I have seen in quite a while.

The cancer ward of an Italian public hospital seems like an unlikely place for a television show meant as entertainment, but each brief episode packs a punch of deep emotional truths and yes, comedy.

The main character, Luigi, played by the expressive-eyed Valerio Mastrandrea, is a devoted fortyish husband and father of a young child with a baby on the way. He tragically finds out he has a cancerous tumor that must be surgically removed.

He becomes part of an oncology ward where he encounters quirky patients, blasé doctors, aggressive nurses and med-techs and a morose hospital chaplain.

The show is semi-autobiographical in that the creator, Mattia Torre passed away on July 2019 at the age of 47 after experiences with the Italian medical establishment. As his tv swan song, Torre depicts joy and humor in The Vertical Line, as well as sadness in this excellent limited-run series.

If you want something completely different from American medical shows, check out The Vertical Line currently streaming on MHZ Choice. As a reminder, you can add MHZ Choice to your Amazon Prime Video package or sign up for the stand-alone app. It is worth every penny of the monthly $7.99 or $89.99 for the year.

https://watch.mhzchoice.com/

HBO – More than just Game of Thrones

Just when I was about to cancel my HBO subscription after the Game of Thrones final season, I discovered a few other worthy things to watch on this premium cable channel.

For those of you who have read one or more of the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, HBO’s treatment of the first book in the series, My Brilliant Friend may be your small cup of espresso. The eight episode season, in Italian with English subtitles, depicts the friendship between Lila Cerullo and Lenu Greco, two young girls living in 1950s Naples. We get a snapshot of the entire Italian neighborhood including parents, children, teachers and business owners.
Rivalries between families, romantic attachments and even gender discrimination are seen through the eyes of Lenu as she manages her relationship with her brilliant but troubled friend, Lila, in this literate mini-series.

Even darker is the five episode series, Chernobyl which gives an account of the infamous 1986 nuclear reactor accident that occurred in the former Soviet Union. Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard and Emily Watson give stellar performances as some of the professionals who try to discover what happened and what actions to take to limit damage to the area and its inhabitants.

The Soviet Union itself is the “bad guy” as officials try to cover up details, sacrifice workers knowing that radiation will kill them and search for the least politically damaging ways to contain the catastrophe.
This is a real life cautionary story that hardly seems 33 years old and has much to say about the current treatment of our environment today.

I give a guarded recommendation for Barry, a very dark comedy vehicle for the singular talents of Bill Hader (8 seasons on SNL) and Henry Winkler (the Fonz on Happy Days). Hader plays Barry Berkman, a contract killer who discovers a love of acting when he is tasked with murdering one of the acting students. Winkler is acting guru, Gene Cousineau who takes Barry under his wing. Stephen Root as Monroe Fuches, Barry’s murder pimp is outstanding, as is Sarah Goldberg as Barry’s actress girlfriend. Anthony Carrigan, he of the bald head and no eyebrows is hilarious as a Chechen crime lord wanna-be.

My reservations in heartily recommending this program stem from the amount of violence seen in every episode. This is the Three Stooges with lots of guns and bloodshed. If that does not put you off, this may be your gallows humor show for the acting alone.

HBO is trying to keep us watching and for now, it just may be succeeding.