May 26, 2017

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.

Early Voting in Chicago (and in states that allow it)

usflagI strongly recommend casting your vote early if you live in a state that allows it. My wait was only 20 minutes at 4:30 pm on a weekday. Chicago has early voting up until the day before the election. With multiple voting locations and convenient hours, you have no reason to miss doing your civic duty this November.

To find your local Chicago voting venues:

If you live in the 48th Ward in Chicago, one of your voting options is:
Edgewater Library, 6000 N Broadway
Monday, Oct. 31 to Friday, Nov. 4: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 5: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday, November 6: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Monday, November 7: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

For other states:

The Newsroom TV show

<a href="http://www viagra ohne rezept per”>When I need a break from the presidential campaign coverage, I click over to Amazon Prime Video to watch episodes of The Newsroom, a three season dramatic show about a network news room.

Aaron Sorkin is the creator and chief writer of this HBO program which is both a good and a bad thing. Unfortunately, The Newsroom does not have the magic of The West Wing, another show created and written by Sorkin.  Contrived supporting cast rom-com situations, intermittent awkward dialogue and “on the nose” political palaver keep it from being a classic show.
Still, this is amusing entertainment for the political and news junkie who wants a break from the current day’s headlines.

Jeff Daniels is stellar as news anchor, Will McAvoy along with Emily Mortimer as McKenzie McHale, his former girlfriend and current show producer. Their banter reminds me of the screwball film comedies of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Episodes feature “ripped from the headlines” topics like the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Occupy Wall Street, the Boston Marathon Bombing and the presidential election of 2012.

Sam Waterston and Jane Fonda’s engaging performances in The Newsroom take away some of the bad taste left in my mouth from watching them in Grace and Frankie on Netflix. Interesting guest stars include Marcia Gay Harden, Grace Gummer, Hope Davis, Adam Arkin and Mary McCormack.

Amazon Prime Video carries several HBO shows like The Newsroom as part of its viewing package. Game of Thrones and other premium HBO properties require you to subscribe to HBO Now, HBO Go or to buy the episodes.
Although The Newsroom just misses being on the “best tv show” list, it is smart and watchable fare.

The Divide by Matt Taibbi

Named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, NPR and Kirkus Reviews, Matt Taibbi’s book, The Divide was published in 2014, but his subject matter is germane to the current elections.

He examines a few anomalies in U. S. society. Our prison population has doubled in the last 20 years, but crime has consistently been going down. Nearly 40% of our wealth was gambled away by the upper echelon of society, yet no one went to jail.
Taibi’s supposition is that there is a Divide in the U. S. where wealth protects individuals and corporations from being found guilty, whereas the poor are sometimes locked up for minor infractions.

This is not a happy reading experience, but it is certainly an engrossing and enlightening one. Taibi’s investigative journalism is well-researched and written with passion and clarity. May all politicians and criminal justice personnel put The Divide on their bed side reading pile.

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!

The White House and Arlington Cemetery

Being an American History buff, I got to check off two biggies from my personal wish list last week.

Arlington Cemetery

A family member was interred in Arlington Cemetery so I got to see a full military funeral replete with a marching band, a caisson pulled by majestic black horses, a 21-gun salute and cadets with crisp uniforms and precise movements. A bugler playing “Taps” and a folded flag presented to my aunt were the emotional cappers.

The history geek in me was fascinated by the origins of Arlington Cemetery. The property had belonged to Confederate General Robert E. Lee who was married to the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. Lee’s home is still on a hill overlooking the cemetery, but the bulk of the property has been used for military burials since the Civil War.

I also had the great privilege to tour the White House.

White House Entrance

It was smaller than I expected, but I was delighted to see the East Room, the Red Room, the Blue Room, the Green Room and the lovely paintings and antiques that adorn the public rooms. The view from the windows wasn’t bad either!

Since 9/11, getting to tour the White House has become a complicated proposition. Visitors need to contact their congress person weeks before their D. C. trip and submit their social security numbers to facilitate background checks.

In planning your visit, plan to arrive with your I. D. (drivers’s license, military IDs, green cards or passports), cell phone and billfold only. Note that purses and bags are not allowed in The White House and there is no place to check personal items. Visitors are only allowed to enter with cell phones and billfolds.

The tours are self-guided but Secret Service Officers are there to answer any historical questions. And these people know their stuff!

White House view of the Washington Monument

White House piano with gilded eagle legs

Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder and One Man’s Fight for Justice

Russia has fascinated me since I took a student trip there during college. Bill Browder’s book, Red Notice looks at current day Russia from a political and financial standpoint. The non-fiction account reads like a spy-thriller with murder, torture, interrogations and corruption featured in the saga.

Thanks to an economics class (gratitude to prof Michael Oldfather), I actually understood some of the financial terms bandied about in the book. However, Browder’s concise writing does make the world of banks, hedge funds and world finance fairly understandable.

Browder’s grandfather having been the U. S. Communist Party presidential candidate in 1936 and 1940, grandson Bill goes the opposite direction and becomes an uber capitalist. Creator of Hermitage Capital Management, one of the largest foreign investment firms in Russia, Browder becomes embroiled in accusations of tax evasion in Russia and is blacklisted from traveling there and is put on trial in absentia.

The heart of the story concerns the imprisonment and death of his Russian attorney, Sergei Magnitsky. He is perhaps the real hero of this riveting account. If you are interested in Russia, world finance and politics, by all means put this on your reading list.

Madam Secretary: Season One on Netflix

Madam Secretary on CBS received only so-so reviews so I did not bother to record it when it premiered in 2014. Netflix, now carrying season one allows me to rectify my initial error in avoiding the show.

Reminiscent of The West Wing and The Good Wife, Madame Secretary stars Tea Leoni as a former CIA analyst and college professor Elizabeth Faulkner McCord who is tapped to become the U. S. Secretary of State after her predecessor is killed in a dubious plane crash. President Conrad Dalton, who used to be McCord’s boss at the CIA, is played with gravitas by none other than Keith Carradine.

Bebe Neuwirth is cast as McCord’s chief of staff at the State Department. Tim Daly (Wings, Private Practice) plays Elizabeth McCord’s husband Henry who is currently a theology professor at Georgetown, with the NSA and U. S. Marine Corps being his previous employers. Tom Skerritt turns in a cameo role as Henry McCord’s steelworker/unionist father.

Zeljko Ivanek who has been in everything from True Blood, Oz, 24, Big Love to the original Heroes is cast as scary presidential chief-of-staff, Russell Jackson. Elizabeth McCord tries to figure out whether he is a good or bad guy throughout much of Season One.

There are other on-going story lines in the initial 22 episodes, but the format is predominantly one international problem per program which can seem a bit formulaic. Leoni is the strong female character at the helm of this show, but the acting ensemble is filled with both seasoned and newer actors that bring heart and wit to their roles.

The series creator is Barbara Hall with well known names listed as directors: Eric Stoltz (4 episodes), Morgan Freeman (2 episodes), Eric La Salle (1 episode) and Tate Donovan (1 episode.) Madam Secretary is decidedly a network show, but the “of the moment” international topics and the snappy dialogue plus some fine work by veteran actors make this a show worthy of your viewing time. I vote “yea” on Madam Secretary.

Atlantic Magazine: Food For Thought

Airplane miles I couldn’t use were commandeered by my husband to order magazines by the postal carrier truckload. Suddenly my mail box was filled with issues of People, This Old House, Time, Food and Wine, Traveler, In Style and more.

To my surprise, The Atlantic Magazine has been my hands-down favorite. I remember it as The Atlantic Monthly and being rather dry, but this bi-monthly current incarnation is thought-provoking with articles  on politics, religion, technology, the arts, social phenomena and important ideas, in general. In fact, the issue now on the newsstands is “The Ideas Issue.” Adding a literary touch, poems are scattered throughout the pages; even the book ads are sophisticated and intellectually stimulating. This is a news magazine, rather than a cultural reader, but the writing is every bit as good as The New Yorker magazine.

To whet your appetite for the July/August issue, learn “Why the Saudis Are Going Solar,”  ask yourself “Is Silicon Valley Really Evil?” or the cover article, “The End of Work.” Much food for thought, indeed.

The Honorable Woman on Netflix

Every so often, a television series comes along that is incredibly complex and smart, yet engrosses the viewer with its passionate writing and acting. “The Honorable Woman,” a BBC and Sundance co-production currently streaming on Netflix fits that description perfectly. Maggie Gyllenhaal has been justly nominated for best actress awards for her many-layered portrayal of Nessa Stein, a woman who is not only a life peer Baroness, an Anglo-Israeli living in both Great Britain and the Middle East but also the driving force behind a global telecommunications firm started by her assassinated father. I looked up this Parliamentary title so you don’t have to: a life peerage, as opposed to a hereditary peerage, can be awarded for achievement, in Nessa Stein’s case, for her work towards peace in the Middle East.

Kidnapping, murder, rape, adultery and duplicity figure into the plot as we are introduced to Nessa’s brother, Ephra Stein, her sister-in-law Rachel and Atika, the devoted Stein family nanny played by Lubna Azabal. We also meet the Stein Israeli and Palestinian business partners and a whole network of spies both benign and deadly. Janet McTeer plays the ballsy head of MI6; Stephen Rea (Crying Game) plays “an old dog” head of the MI6 Middle East desk; Eve West (Nurse Jackie) plays a cut-throat operative working with both British and American covert entities. Tobias Menzies (Outlander) is Nessa Stein’s heroic personal bodyguard. Flashbacks take us back 8 years when Nessa and Atika were held captive in Gaza by Palestinian activists. They become chess pawns as the Israelis, Brits, Palestinians and Americans play the “long game.” This series is reminiscent of “Prisoners of War,” the stunning Israeli series that inspired Showtime’s “Homeland.”

The historical, political and emotional terrain covered in this 8 episode series may be daunting at times, but this show has a good chance of resonating with you long after the final episode has finished. If “The Honorable Woman” were food, it would definitely not be cotton candy, but rather a big juicy T-Bone steak with peppercorn sauce.