May 26, 2020

Great Big Story on CNN and as a downloadable app

When all of the negative and scary news starts to get you down, consider visiting the Great Big Story initially launched by CNN.

Short documentaries on various POSITIVE topics might just keep you from slipping over the edge. I especially like to have these clips playing when I exercise, cook or clean.

The link I included will send you to a Great Big Story on Hungarian piano-maker David Klavins who is veering away from Steinway, Fazioli and Bosendorfer in a big way.

The Great Big Story site hosts short films on a myriad of topics that will amaze and uplift you. For kicks, type “Paris,” “London,” “China” or “Italy” in the subject line which will bring up short films for those of us who would prefer to be traveling the world right now.

Politics, illness, floods and bad economic news will become background noise, at least for a few minutes.

You can download Great Big Story from your app store or go to the GBS link:

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.

Andrew Cuomo’s Daily Address on YouTube

If you want to feel informed and inspired, catch some of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily public addresses. Bear in mind, the state of New York is a few weeks ahead of much of the country in the pandemic curve so their experiences may be predictive for other states with densely populated areas.

I find that a laptop or tablet allows you to exercise or do household tasks while you listen/watch to these broadcasts.

Today’s Friday, May 8, 2020 program was especially informative. COVID-19 most likely came to New York much earlier than we thought through Europe and not China. Fake news? Cuomo endeavors to use hard data and advice from medical and science professionals.

May 8, 2020 broadcast:

Years and Years on HBO vs. Leverage on Sundance Now

In my quest to find both escapist and thought-provoking things to watch, let me recommend two wildly different shows.

Years and Years, a joint television production between the BBC and HBO premiered in the U.S. June 2019. To be honest, I found it by accident perusing my HBO offerings just recently. The estimable Emma Thompson is Vivienne Rook, a businesswoman turned politician with outrageous and dangerous ideas that are gaining a foothold with the British public.

Warning: this series has some painful correlations with current news. Immigrants are herded into prisons where a communicable disease is running rampant. A financial debacle causes people to lose their jobs, money and homes.

Focus is on the Lyons family with siblings who include an anarchistic sister who suddenly comes home after time abroad, a gay brother who as a city manager falls in love with an incarcerated immigrant, the sassy youngest sister who is in a wheel chair due to spina bifida and a brother who is a seemingly strait-laced banker. Their children include a daughter who wants to download herself onto the cloud and a half-Chinese son who dresses like a girl.

Muriel Deacon, played by Anne Reid of Last Tango in Hallifax, is the matriarch who periodically invites the whole clan to her large home for family occasions.

The series received good reviews and award nominations, but it does challenge the viewer in quick time jumps, futuristic predictions and plot twists that are a little too close to the bone for today.

If, however, you want to see fine acting and experience a production that is certainly like no other, you may want to tune into the six-episode limited series currently streaming on HBO. Emma Thompson is a marvel as she turns herself into a female version of you-know-who and Boris Johnson.

On the opposite side of the entertainment spectrum is Leverage, an action crime drama series which aired on TNT from 2009 to 2012. Timothy Hutton is Nathan Ford, a straight-arrow insurance exec turned into a corporate Robin Hood after an insurance company denied paying for his son’s medical treatment.

Every episode features Ford and his team outwitting crooked politicians, greedy corporations, dirty cops and bad guys and gals of every persuasion.

Team members include Sophie Deveraux (Gina Bellman), a grifter who has accents and personas galore, Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge), a hacker extraordinaire, Eliot Spencer (Christian Kane), a martial arts specialist and Parker (Beth Riesgraf), cat burglar, pickpocket and safe cracker. Hutton also tries on different characters and accents as he and his team set up their invented scenario for the mark.

There is an over-arching story line as Ford battles alcoholism, runs into his ex-wife, does a romantic bob and weave with grifter Sophie and continually encounters arch-nemesis Sterling played by the devilish Mark Sheppard.

I find comfort in every episode as the Leverage team helps an underdog best the fat cats. Throw in a little humor and visual action and you have the perfect dessert after more serious streaming fare.

Tim Hutton is the 21st century Jim Rockford. If you know the reference, you are definitely analog.

Making the Cut on Amazon Prime Video

Call me crazy but I love reality competition shows especially for food or fashion. Amazon Prime has entered the competitive fray with Making the Cut starring Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn whose previous fashion-centric progam, Project Runway, ran with them as hosts for 16 seasons on Bravo and Lifetime, respectively.

Although the two show formats seem similar, Gunn and Klum have upped the ante with international designer contestants who have already achieved some career recognition meaning there is less emotional drama and more professionalism. The winner receives a million dollars and a marketing deal with Amazon. High incentive for these talented competitors.

The premiere season takes place in New York, Paris and Tokyo adding a glamorous travel aspect. The judges include model and British Vogue fashion consultant Naomi Campbell and Nicole Richie, creator of fashion brand, House of Harlow. Getting to know the judges as well as the contestants is part of the fun; Campbell is brutally honest and Richie is surprisingly articulate. The real stars are Klum and Gunn who have little comic interludes that would be annoying if the two weren’t so damn cute.

Project Runway has continued back on Bravo with new hosts and judges for Seasons 17 and 18, but for my money, Making the Cut on Amazon is indeed a cut above the competition.

The Making the Cut Amazon page allows you to buy winning looks from the show, or purchase items from Tim’s Closet Staples, Heidi Klum Intimates, or judges companies, House of Harlow and Altuzara. More proof that Amazon is taking over the world.

Making the Cut Amazon page

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – Fred Rogers Doc on HBO

I watched a church service on Easter morning, cooked some festive dishes and had two virtual parties with friends and family in the afternoon. As evening approached, I tried to think of something to watch in keeping with the Easter spirit. That ruled out murder dramas, Covid-10 news and political pundits.

Suddenly, a recommendation from last Easter popped into my head. A friend had raved about the 2018 American documentary currently streaming on HBO, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I had never watched Mr. Rogers when his show was on PBS, mistakenly thinking it was strictly for kiddies. The documentary points out social consciousness always played a part in his programming.

It was with wonder I watched him share bare feet in a kiddie pool with his African-American postman, a not so subtle counterbalance to the fights over whites and blacks using the same public swimming pools. Through fairy tale stories and realistic conversations between puppets and humans, Fred Rogers tackled difficult issues of the day.

One of the most moving segments of the doc is when Rogers interviews a disabled boy in a wheel chair. There is no pity on either side of the conversation, just a positive exchange of ideas between two individuals.

First and foremost was Mr. Rogers’ reverence for the feelings and education of children. He views television as a medium to create more than just cheap entertainment for kids. (On a personal note, my husband interviewed someone from the cast and was given a ticket to see Mr. Rogers live at the Auditorium in Chicago. He related how the venue was jam-packed with kids shouting and laughing until Mr. Rogers appeared on stage. A dead hush occurred before one little voice called out in awe, “Rogers,” only to be joined by hundreds of devoted fans yelling his name. Sadly, I never got to see the man in person, but I do recall this vivid description from my spouse.)

As an ordained Presbyterian minister, Rogers chose to wear a sweater and comfortable shoes instead of a white collar but his spirituality is apparent in his songs, his speech and his very demeanor. The documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, directed by Morgan Neville, captures the essence of Mr. Rogers. Watch it with people you love.

P.S. I may yet watch A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the 2019 movie starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers, but the the footage of the real man is gonna be hard to beat.