August 19, 2018

The Americans on Amazon Prime Video

Many moons ago, I wrote about the FX series The Americans after watching Season One. As I stated back then, the first few episodes did not grab me, but once the story took hold, I avidly watched all of the series episodes

Season Six, which just ended, is the final chapter in the saga of the Jennings family. Joe Weisberg, the creator of this based-on-fact series, depicts a fictional imbedded Russian couple living in the Virginia D. C. suburbs in the 1980s of the Reagan administration. The stakes become fever pitch when an FBI agent moves into the home across the street.

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys masterfully play Elizabeth and Philip Jennings. The all-American appearing husband and wife are actually Russian-born and have a penchant for disguises, different personas and violence. Every episode lets them demonstrate tour de force acting. Russell and Rhys have actually become a real life couple and are perfectly matched in theatrical skill and chemistry.

Equally marvelous are the couple’s daughter, Paige, played by Holly Taylor, Margo Martindale as their Soviet handler and Noah Emmerich as neighbor, FBI agent and friend, Stan Beeman.

As a whole the series is on par with The Wire, The West Wing and Breaking Bad. All six seasons of The Americans are available with an Amazon Prime membership. The theme of the show has great resonance today. Maria Butina, a current-day suspected Russian spy has been living in my old home town of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Talk about truth emulating fiction! Or is it the other way around?

Sugar Rush reality baking competition on Netflix

A while back, I wrote about Zumbo’s Just Desserts, an Australian baking competition reality series that starred famed Aussie baker, Adriano Zumbo. Up he pops into another baking competition called Sugar Rush with co-star, cupcake queen, Candace Nelson.

Numerically, this is a description of the show: 4 teams of two professional bakers, three rounds, two showcase cakes in the final round and one winning team which takes home $10,000.

The rounds are timed so there is strategy involved in how much time the teams spend on cupcakes, confections and spectacular cakes. Additionally, there is always a third guest judge who makes each episode different. Betsy Johnson asked for fashion themes in her rounds; local pastry creator/chef Mindy Segal of Chicago’s Hot Chocolate restaurant used her professional palate to judge the teams.

My only quibble is hyper-active host, Hunter Marsh, who appears to be on his own sugar rush with a dose of caffeine.

Still and all, when “reality” gets to be too much, I like nothing better than to watch reality baking programs like “The Great British Baking Show,” on PBS, plus “Zumbo’s Just Desserts” and now “Sugar Rush” on Netflix. Take that, glum news and bloody crime shows!

https://www.netflix.com/title/80201328

The Staircase crime documentary on Netflix

If true crime is one of your interests, Netflix is currently streaming The Staircase, a documentary series on the legal travails of Michael Petersen accused of murdering his wife, Kathleen in 2001.

Originally ten episodes filmed by Frenchman Jean-Xavier de Lestrade which premiered in 2004, there are now three new programs updating the public on the curious story of the man whose wife was found bleeding and dead at the bottom of a staircase in their North Carolina residence.

Each episode provides new information about the case. Without giving too much away, let me say that the viewer will hear about a similar death in Germany, more sexual information about the accused and proof of professional misconduct on the side of the prosecution.

The Peterson Family in happier times

For me, the most interesting aspect of the series is the up close viewing of a trial with both sides vying for the trust and good judgement of the jury. We also get to know Michael Peterson, his extended family and his hard-working defense lawyer, David Rudolf. This is true crime at its best showing the human element as well as the nuts and bolts of our judicial system.

Peterson’s defense attorney, David Rudolf

If you watch all 13 episodes, please let me know your reaction to the outcome. Did he? Didn’t he?

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story on Netflix

My mother was movie-mad and one of her favorite actresses was the beautiful Hedy Lamarr. Hedy had an accent but I knew virtually nothing about her background.

A documentary on Netflix, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story will surprise and enlighten you about this Hollywood star’s vertiginous journey.

Like German-born Marlene Dietrich, Hedy, an Austrian Jew left her Nazi-leaning country for California to pursue a movie career. She became an ardent supporter of the U. S. cause selling millions of dollars worth of war bonds.

Her scientific interest and natural talent at devising inventions was the real shocker. This gorgeous dame was also smart. She shared a patent for frequency hopping with composer George Antheil, a concept that is used in both civilian and military applications in current day. Unfortunately, she earned not one penny from this brilliant invention.

Her beauty was also her curse. Six failed marriages were perhaps a result of men falling in love with the Hollywood image but not the actual woman. As she aged, she became one of the first devotees of plastic surgery in an attempt to hang on to her storied face.
Her last years were spent in seclusion, much like Garbo and Dietrich. Were these beauties unwilling to let the public see them as older versions of their movie images?

If Hedy Lamarr had been born with average looks, would a scientific career have resulted in a more stable life and even more successful inventions?
The documentary allows the viewer to ponder the remarkable life of Hedy Lamarr and draw their own conclusions.

A trusted friend recommended the documentary and pointed out these words quoted by Lamar towards the end of the movie. An internet search indicates that the quote was erroneously attributed to Mother Teresa. The full quote was actually written by college student Kent M. Keith in 1968. Here are all ten of the inspiring ideas:

1: People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
2: If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
3: If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
4: The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
5: Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
6: The biggest men with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
7: People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
8: What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
9: People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
10: Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

Le Chalet, French tv suspense series on Netflix

The French are noted for their romantic comedy movies, but a six-episode series on Netflix called Le Chalet highlights the Gallic penchant for murder mysteries.

An accident occurs which destroys the bridge to civilization, setting up a Ten Little Indians scenario as bodies begin to pile up. The screen play does not rival vintage Hitchcock, but plot lines concerning greed, rape, revenge, hidden identities and murder keep the viewer engaged.

The acting is generally excellent, but I was delighted to see three actors from the French Village series in this production as well. Nicolas Gob who was collaborating cop Jean Marchetti on FV is the bully/villain of The Chalet, while Thierry Godard and Nade Dieu play smaller but key roles in this 2017 tv program.

The cinematography is eye-popping, having been filmed in a picturesque village in the French Alps.

My only quibble is the alternation of scenes from present day and those of twenty years ago. Most of the time, it’s clear what time period we are seeing but every so often, one has to puzzle out the past from the present.

Kudos go to Netflix for carrying foreign tv material, especially shows with suspense and high production values like Le Chalet. As the tagline says in French, “When Stephen King meets Agatha Christie” which is quite apt.

Billions on Showtime

I happened to have the Showtime app open to watch Homeland. To my chagrin, I had to wait another few days to see a new episode. Another Showtime program, Billions, had not previously snagged my interest, but I decided to give it a try.

Wow! The story is intriguing with Damian Lewis playing billionaire money manager, Bobby Axelrod doggedly pursued by Paul Giamatti cast as U. S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades. Talk about two heavy-hitting actors going nose to nose!
The wife of Rhodes (Maggie Siff) works as an in-house therapist at Axe Capital complicating her work and personal connections. She and Bobby Axe have a special bond that drives her husband, Chuck crazy.

The supporting cast members are equally phenomenal. Terry Kinney of Steppenwolf fame, is Axelrod’s shady henchman, Hall; Malin Akerman plays Axe’s tough, from-the-hood wife, Lara. Second in command at Axe Capital is Wags Wagner, quirky but endearing actor David Costabile. Jeffrey DeMunn is excellent as Chuck’s overbearing and very wealthy father. I could cite several more actors for fine work, but suffice it to say that the level of acting is extremely high.

The show writers throw plot curve balls every episode which keeps you wanting to know more. Characters go in directions you don’t see coming with the pull of good and evil turning people by turns into heroes, and the next moment into morally bankrupt posers.

I still wait with bated breath for new episodes of Homeland, but Billions is a worthy show that also impels the viewer to stream from Showtime which I have on my Amazon Prime platform.