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The Best of Drama on Television

Part I

Introduction

Entertainment is a big part of our lives, especially television and the movies. About once a year I like to post my review of movies I think are outstanding, and deserving of people taking the time to watch. This year I want to write about television, especially those television series that pertain to the category of drama.

What I discovered recently about my own TV watching habits is that, although I like most any category of program (Sit-coms, musical programs, sports programs, drama, news programs, documentaries, etc.,) I value dramatic television series the most. Consequently, I will present in this Blog what I consider to be the best dramatic series on television.

There are two categories I want to describe regarding a dramatic television series: (1) a fine quality dramatic series in which the viewer is fully satisfied and thoroughly entertained, and (2) a fine quality dramatic series in which the viewer is totally captivated, feels immersed in the emotions of every scene, and is blown away by the storyline and action. Category 1 is very good drama and Category 2 is outstanding drama of the highest quality. Deciding a category in which to place a television series is based on my own subjective definition of what it is that makes one show more dramatic in impact than another. If the television series knocked my socks off, it definitely was placed in category 2 rather than category 1. All series reported in this Blog I thoroughly enjoy; all are very much worthy of your time. Part 1 will describe the television series in Category 1 and Part II will describe the television series in Category 2.

 

Category 1

The Following

   The Following is an American television drama series which premiered on Fox on January 21, 2013, about an ex-FBI agent trying to catch a serial killer and his murderous cult. The series was created by Kevin Williamson and is jointly produced by Outerbanks Entertainment and Warner Bros. Television.

The Following’s first season centers on former FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Keven Bacon) and his attempts to re-capture serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) following the latter’s escape from prison. Hardy soon discovers that Carroll has surrounded himself with a group of like-minded individuals whom he met while teaching and while in prison, and turned them into a cult of fanatical killers, including his right-hand, Emma Hill (Valorie Curry). When Carroll’s son Joey Matthews (Kyle Catlett) is abducted by his father’s followers, Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore), Debra Parker (Annie Parisse) and the rest of the FBI discover that it is the first step in a wider plan for Carroll to escape custody, humiliate Hardy, and be reunited with his ex-wife Claire Matthews (Natalie Zea).

The second season centers on a new cult, led by Lily Gray (Connie Nielson) and her twin sons Mark and Luke (both played by Sam Underwood), as they begin to develop and make public statements to lure Carroll out of hiding while the rest of the world believes him to be dead. Weston is re-recruited by Special Agent Mendez (Valerie Cruz) and the FBI in order to find the new cult; however, Hardy and his niece Max Hardy (Jessica Stroup) have plans of their own to track them down and find Carroll, provided he is in fact alive.

Covert Affairs

Covert Affairs is a USA Network television series starring Piper Perabo and Christopher Gorham. The one-hour drama premiered on Tuesday, July 13, 2010. The show concluded its first season on September 14, 2010 and was renewed for a second season on August 19, 2010. The second season began airing on June 7, 2011, and a DVD set of the first season was released on May 17, 2011. The series was renewed for a third season by USA Network on September 15, 2011. The third season began on July 10, 2012. On September 25, 2012, Covert Affairs was renewed for a 16-episode fourth season, which began airing on July 16, 2013. On October 3, 2013, USA Network renewed Covert Affairs for a 16-episode fifth season to air in 2014, which premiered on June 24, 2014.

Overview

A young CIA trainee, Annie Walker, is sent to work in the Domestic Protection Division (DPD) as a field agent. August “Auggie” Anderson, a blind tech operative, is Annie’s guide in her new life. In the beginning, Annie’s cover story is that she works in Acquisitions at the Smithsonian Museum but she is later let go. As of the fourth season, her new cover is that of a glamorous and well-connected importer/exporter, with expensive tastes and dealings that may not always be legal.

Main cast

  • Piper Perabo as Anne Catherine “Annie” Walker: a CIA trainee who is quickly promoted to field operative in order to, unwittingly, help capture her ex-boyfriend. In addition to English, she speaks seven languages fluently and several other languages with varied skill levels.
  • Christopher Gorham as August “Auggie” Anderson: a CIA military intelligence /special ops officer who was blinded while on a mission in Iraq where he served in an Army Special Forces unit. He guides Annie through the paces of her new job.
  • Kari Matchett as Joan Campbell: a senior officer who heads the Domestic Protection Division (DPD); she is Annie’s supervisor, Arthur Campbell’s wife, and a skilled spymaster who was quite talented in her field days. She attended Pennsylvania State University, and her cover is that of an executive at the World Bank.
  • Anne Dudek as Danielle Brooks (season 1–2): Annie’s older sister, who is married with two children; Annie lives in her guest house. Initially she is unaware of Annie’s real career, knowing only Annie’s cover- that she works in Acquisitions at the Smithsonian Institution.
  • Sendhil Ramamurthy as Jai Wilcox (season 1–3): CIA officer assigned to the DPD by Arthur Campbell. His family has a difficult history with the CIA; his father, Henry Wilcox, was formerly the CIA Director of the National Clandestine Service (D/NCS).
  • Peter Gallagher as Arthur Campbell (season 2–, recurring previously): D/NCS. During his time as a field operative in the late eighties, he posed as a student in Berlin to gather Intel on the Stasi.
  • Hill Harper as Calder Michaels: (season 4–) CIA station chief based in Medelin, Columbia. Calder becomes the new head of the DPD after Joan is made D/NCS

UnderThe Dome

     Under the Dome is an American science fiction drama television series that premiered on CBS on June 24, 2013. The series was developed by Brian K. Vaughan and based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King. Both Vaughan and King serve as executive producers along with Neal Baer, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank, Jack Bender, Steven Spielberg, and Stacey Snider. Danish director Niels Arden Oplev produced and directed the pilot. Neal Baer serves as the show runner for the series.

CBS renewed Under the Dome for a 13-episode second season which premiered on June 30, 2014.

     Under the Dome tells the story of the residents of the small town of Chester’s Mill in Maine where a massive, transparent, indestructible dome suddenly cuts them off from the rest of the world. With no Internet access, no mobile signals and limited radio communication, the people trapped inside must find their own ways to survive with diminishing resources and rising tensions. While military forces, the government and the media positioned outside of this surrounding barrier attempt to break it down, a small group of people inside attempt to figure out what the dome is, where it came from, and when (and if) it will go away. Characters in the show were mostly taken from the original novel, although some have been combined and others have changed jobs.

The cast members are:

  • Mike Vogel as Dale “Barbie” Barbara, an Army veteran in Chester’s Mill, on a mysterious mission.
  • Rachelle Lefevre as Julia Shumway, an investigative reporter who takes an interest in Dale, resulting in a romantic relationship.
  • Dean Norris as James “Big Jim” Rennie, a politician and owner of Jim Rennie’s Used Cars.
  • Colin Ford as Joe McAlister, a teenager whose parents are outside of the dome.
  • Mackenzie Lintz as Elinore “Norrie” Calvert-Hill (recurring season 1; regular 2-present), Alice’s daughter.
  • Alexander Koch as James “Junior” Rennie, Big Jim’s psychopathic son.
  • Jolene Purdy as Dodee Weaver (regular season 1; guest, season 2), a radio engineer who makes contact with the outside world.
  • Aisha Hinds as Carolyn Hill, a Los Angeles entertainment attorney, trapped in Chester’s Mill.
  • Nicholas Strong as Phil Bushey, a popular radio DJ.
  • Eddie Cahill as Sam Verdreaux (season 2-present), a reclusive EMT and brother-in-law of Big Jim.
  • Karla Crome as Rebecca Pine (season 2-present), a teacher who is pressured into re-opening the school.
  • Britt Robertson as Angie McAlister, Joe’s older sister who works as a waitress and a candy striper with dreams of escaping Chester’s Mill. (Season 1-Season 2, episode 1)
  • Natalie Martinez as Deputy Linda Esquivel, a loyal and ambitious sheriff’s deputy who becomes sheriff in accordance with martial law. (Season 1-Season 2, episode 1)

The Black List

     The Blacklist is an American crime drama television series that premiered on NBC on September 23, 2013. The series stars James Spader, Megan Boone, Ryan Eggold and Harry Lennix. Former government agent Raymond “Red” Reddington has eluded capture for decades, but he suddenly surrenders to the FBI with an offer that can’t be refused.

The pilot episode was written by Jon Bokenkamp and directed by Joe Carnahan. Executive producers for the series include Bokenkamp, John Eisendrath, and John Davis for Sony Pictures Television, Universal Television, and Davis Entertainment. On October 4, 2013, NBC gave a back-nine-order, filling out the series’ first season. On December 3, 2013, NBC renewed the show for a 22-episode second season. On May 11, 2014, owing to the show’s breakout success, NBC announced the show will air an episode in the coveted post-Super Bowl timeslot in 2015.

The show has been met with critical acclaim, with many critics singling out Spader’s performance.

Raymond “Red” Reddington, a former government agent and one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives, surrenders at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. He claims the FBI and he have similar interests in getting rid of dangerous criminals and terrorists. He makes an offer that the FBI cannot refuse and insists on one condition: Reddington will co-operate only with Elizabeth Keen, a rookie FBI profiler.

Keen questions Reddington’s sudden interest in her, but Reddington will only reveal that she is very special. After the FBI uses Reddington’s information to locate a terrorist, Reddington reveals that this terrorist is only the first of many criminals that he will help them neutralize. Over the course of his own criminal career, he has made a list of global criminals who he believes are truly dangerous to society, most of whom are unknown to the FBI. Reddington calls it The Blacklist.

The series juggles two narratives: the episodic stories dealing with the FBI’s pursuit of a person on Red’s Blacklist, and the overall thread dealing with Red’s personal agenda and his interest in Elizabeth.

  • James Spader as Raymond “Red” Reddington, a former government agent and one of the FBI’s’ most wanted fugitives. A U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Red was being groomed for Admiral when something happened on his way home for the Christmas holidays. He is known for brokering deals between criminals, and is called “The Concierge of Crime”. Red surrenders to the FBI and provides information on a roster of criminals that he refers to as The Blacklist: dangerous criminals who are so careful to avoid leaving any traces behind that the FBI has not even detected their existence. He has an unexplained interest in Elizabeth Keen, and knows personal secrets about her that she has never made public.
  • Megan Boone as FBI Special Agent Elizabeth Keen, a novice profiler and the only person with whom Reddington is willing to work.
  • Diego Klattenhoff as FBI Special Agent Donald Ressler. He is a stickler for procedure. He dislikes having to work with a criminal like Reddington, stemming from a previous assignment pursuing him, but he acknowledges that Reddington does get results.
  • Ryan Eggold as Tom Keen, Elizabeth’s husband and a schoolteacher.
  • Harry Lennix as Harold Cooper, Assistant Director of the FBI Counterterrorism Division. He had a particular interest in Reddington’s past, and is willing to oblige Reddington’s unusual requests due to this understanding of him.
  • Parminder Nagra as Meera Malik, a CIA field agent assigned to Reddington’s security detail in the second episode.

White Collar

     White Collar is a USA Network television series created by Jeff Eastin, starring Tim Dekay as FBI Special Agent Peter Burke and Matt Bomer as Neal Caffrey, a highly intelligent and multi-talented con artist working as Burke’s criminal informant. Willie Garson and Tiffani Thiessen also star. The show premiered on October 23, 2009, and has aired five complete seasons, with the fifth season concluded on January 30, 2014. On March 20, 2014, USA Network renewed the series for a sixth season, consisting of six episodes.

Neal Caffrey, a con artist, forger and thief, is captured after a three-year game of cat and mouse with the FBI. With only months left serving a four-year sentence, he escapes to look for Kate, his girlfriend.

Peter Burke, the FBI agent who initially captured Caffrey, finds and returns him to prison. This time, Caffrey proposes a deal with the FBI, as part of a work-release program. After some hesitation, Burke agrees, and thus begins this unconventional arrangement where Caffrey helps Burke apprehend white-collar criminals.

The cast of White Collar

  • Matt Bomer as Neal Caffrey

A skilled forger and thief, Caffrey was imprisoned after being captured by FBI Special Agent Peter Burke. Neal proposes he become an FBI consultant in exchange for early release. Burke agrees on the condition Neal wears an ankle monitor. Despite being given the opportunity to build a new, honest life for himself, Neal often craves his old life, forcing him to choose between the two.

  • Tim Dekay as Special Agent in Charge Peter Burke

Peter Burke is a hard-working, honest FBI agent, and the head of the investigative team on which Neal serves. He is very committed to his marriage and loves his home life. Peter is the person Neal trusts the most, and Peter is determined to convince Neal that an honest life is possible.

  • Willie Garson as Mozzie

Another con-man and close friend of Neal is Mozzie, or Moz; he is Neal’s most trusted confidante. Abandoned as a baby, he grew up in an orphanage and several foster homes in Detroit, where he learned to be a con-man. Though lacking Neal’s people skills, he appears to be a jack of all trades, has an eidetic memory, and, occasionally, helps with investigations.

  • Tiffani Thiessen plays Elizabeth Burke

She is an event planner and Peter’s wife. She is supportive and understanding of his work and his long hours away. An intelligent woman, Elizabeth is able to discuss Peter’s cases with him, and admires Neal’s refinement.

  • Marsha Thomason as Special Agent Diana Berrigan (recurring Season 1; Season 2–present):

Previously Peter’s probationary agent, Diana assists on Peter and Neal’s first case together. Transferred to D.C. after her probation ends, she later returns to the investigative team in New York.

  • Sharif Atkins as Special Agent Clinton Jones (recurring Seasons 1–3; Season 4–present):

Peter’s point man that is responsible for carrying out a variety of tasks during the team’s investigations, including surveillance. He appreciates Neal’s unorthodox contributions to the team.

  • Hilarie Burton as Sara Ellis (recurring Seasons 2 and 4; Season 3):

Sara Ellis, an insurance company investigator who testified against Neal when he was on trial, and was determined to see him return to prison, later discovers she enjoys working with him. During an investigation they embark on a romantic relationship, complicated by the reappearance of Alex.

  • Natalie Morales as Special Agent Lauren Cruz (Season 1):

Natalie is a junior agent who requested a transfer to Peter’s team and served on it briefly.

 

Murder in the First

     Murder in the First is an American detective drama television series that airs on TNT. The series was created by Steven Bochco and Eric Lodal, and stars Taye Diggs and Kathleen Robertson. Set in San Francisco, the show follows a single case across an entire season. TNT ordered 10 episodes on September 19, 2013, which premiered on June 9, 2014.

Although this show got off to a rocky start in terms of reviews and ratings, I recommend viewers continue to watch it. The story line is good, the cast is very strong, and the setting (San Francisco) gives it a boost as well. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. But my instincts are telling me this show has a lot to offer the viewer in terms of a crime drama on TV. Stay tuned!

Elementary

     Elementary is an American crime drama series that presents a contemporary update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes. The series was created by Robert Doherty and stars Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson. The first season premiered on CBS in September 2012 and season two began airing in October 2013. The series is set and filmed primarily in New York City.

The show follows Holmes, a recovering drug addict and former consultant to Scotland Yard, as he assists the New York City Police Department in solving crimes. His indifference to police procedure often leads to conflict with Captain Thomas Gregson (Aidan Quinn), although the two still remain mutually respectful of one another. He is accompanied by Watson who initially acts as his sober companion. She is a former surgeon and was hired by Sherlock’s father to help him in his rehabilitation. They eventually begin to work together on his cases, and she becomes Holmes’ apprentice. The series also features Holmes’ ongoing conflict with his nemesis Jamie Moriarty (Natalie Dormer). Other supporting roles include Jon Michael Hill as Detective Marcus Bell and Rhys Ifans as Mycroft Holmes, who wishes for Sherlock to return to England.

Before the series premiered, it was met with some criticism given it followed closely on the heels of the BBC’s modern adaptation Sherlock. After the premiere it was picked up for a full season, and later an extra two episodes. The season two premiere was partly filmed on location in London. The series has been well received by critics, who have praised the performances, writing, and novel approach to the source material.

CBS renewed the show for a third season on March 13, 2014.

Arrow

     Arrow is an American television series developed by writer/producers Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg. It is based on the DC Comics character Green Arrow, a costumed crime-fighter who was created by Mort Weisinger and George Papp.

It premiered in North America on The CW on October 10, 2012, with international broadcasting taking place in late 2012. The series follows billionaire playboy Oliver Queen portrayed by Stephen Amell, who, after five years of being stranded on a hostile island, returns home to fight crime and corruption as a secret vigilante whose weapon of choice is a bow and arrow. Unlike in the comic books, Oliver does not go by the alias “Green Arrow” in the television series. Arrow also features appearances by other DC Comics characters.

The series takes a realistic look at the Green Arrow character, as well as other characters from the DC Comics universe. Although Oliver Queen/Green Arrow had been featured in the television series Smallville from 2006 to 2011, the producers decided to start clean and find a new actor (Amell) to portray the character. Arrow focuses on the humanity of Oliver Queen, and how his time on a presumably deserted island affected him. The creative team chose to illustrate that in the series by crafting flashback scenes to the island for almost every episode. The series is primarily filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

     Arrow has received generally positive reviews from critics, and was the highest rated new series on the CW in past five years up to its release. The series averaged approximately 3.68 million viewers over the course of the first season, and has garnered multiple award nominations and three wins.

To assist in promotion, a preview comic book was released before the television series began, while webisodes featuring a product tie-in with Bose were developed for the second season. The first season is available on DVD and Blu-ray in regions 1, 2 and 4 and a soundtrack of it also been released. The second season of Arrow premiered on October 9, 2013.

On February 13, 2014, The CW renewed the series for a third season, which will premiere on October 8, 2014.

Fargo

     Fargo is an American dark comedy, crime driven television series created and written by Noah Hawley. The show is inspired by the 1996 film of the same name written and directed by the Coen brothers, who serve as executive producers on the series. It premiered on April 15, 2014, on FX The series stars Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks, and Martin Freeman.

Hawley confirmed that, if the series is renewed for a second season, it will be a new story featuring different characters.

In January 2006 Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) passes through Bemidji, Minnesota and influences put-upon insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) with his malice and violence. Meanwhile, Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) and Duluth police officer Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) team up to solve a series of murders they believe may be linked to Malvo and Nygaard.

Final Choices for Best of the Best

Category 1

#1     The Black List

#2     The Following

#3     White Collar and Covert Affairs tied

#4     Under the Dome

#5     Elementary

#6     Fargo

Read Full Post »

More Recommended Movies

For many of us movies are an important part of our entertainment. Consequently, from time-to-time, I like to review movies I’ve seen that I think other people might find worthwhile and entertaining. At this time I am reviewing and commenting on 11 movies for your consideration.

Some of these movies may have fallen below your radar screen, while others you may have already seen. If you’ve seen some of my recommended movies you might want to pass them along to your friends and family. I watch a lot more movies than I should, but the following movies I consider worth your time to watch:

My Name is Kahn

Marmaduke

Secret of the Grain

Freud (Volume 1 and 2, BBC America)

Extraordinary Measures

The Pacific (TV Mini Series)

Knight and Day

Secretariat

Cowboys and Aliens

John Adams

The Way Back

 

MY NAME IS KAHN (2010)

 

My Name is Kahn is a great eye-opening movie. It reveals many truths American society has difficulty facing. We are the greatest country
on earth, but we seem to have a conservative “political blindness” that seems to mar and denigrate the dignity, honor, and integrity of American society.

The plot is as follows:  Rizwan Kahn is a Muslim man (Shahrukh Khan), with Asperger syndrome; He lives happily with his wife, Mandira (Kajol), in San Francisco until a tragedy drives her away after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He then goes on a quest to recapture the heart of the woman he loves. Traveling across America, Rizwan faces prejudice because of his religion and unusual behavior, but he also inspires the people he meets with his unique outlook on life.

This was one of the most interesting movies on the paranoia that can follow tragic events in a society. In a larger context it reminded me of the total suspension of civil rights of Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor. History does unfortunately seem to repeat itself, implying that institutions and people fail to put continuously into action the highest ideals of a freedom-loving democratic society.

This movie reflects just one more account of the many failures of the Bush Administration during both Katrina and the War on Terror. Similar parallels to the movie My Name is Kahn can be found in Dave Eggers book, zeitoun.One day there will be an accounting of the Crimes against Humanity committed during the Bush Administration and by the CIA going back nearly 65 years. Let’s all hope that the day of judgment and retribution for those involved in such crimes comes sooner rather than later.

 

Marmaduke (2010)

The animated character Marmaduke is based on a comic strip drawn by Brad Anderson (and creatively helped by Phil Leeming) going back to 1954. The plot goes something like this: When Phil and Debbie Winslow (Lee Pace and Judy Greer) relocate from their native Kansas to the sunny climes of Orange County, their big-hearted, havoc-wreaking Great Dane (voiced by Owen Wilson) gets a taste of the dog’s life, california-style.

Featuring the voices of Emma Stone, George Lopez and Steve Coogan, this family comedy blends live action and computer animation to bring the-beloved, if slobbery, comic-strip mutt to life. I really enjoyed this movie and, if you have small children, this makes for great
entertainment.

When my kids were young we’d all watch cartoons regularly on a Saturday morning, like Scooby-Doo. When my kids would leave the room I’d still sit there watching the cartoons. There is something very amusing about animated features and other make-believe movie creations that I enjoy. I can’t figure out what it is—-maybe unless it’s because I’m really a big kid at heart. That must be the reason. How do I know
this? After more than 60+ years—I still hum and sing musical tunes from “The Wizard of Oz.”

 

SECRET OF THE GRAIN (2007)

 

This was a very entertaining foreign movie. The plot goes something like this:After working in the shipyard for 35 years in the French port town of Sète, Tunisian immigrant Slimane (Habib Boufares) takes his severance pay and pursues his impossibly expensive dream of opening a couscous restaurant.

His only hope lies in his fractured family, including his mistress, Lilia (Leila D’Issernio), her entrepreneurial daughter, Rym (Hafsia Herzi), and his ex-wife and ace couscous cook, Souad (Bouraouïa Marzouk). in this César-winning drama.

From an American point of view it is rewarding to watch a movie that reveals just how similar people really are from one culture to
another. We all have our dreams, and we are all very human in our abilities and our frailties. I enjoyed this movie very much; I hope you will too.

Awards and nominations for
this movie:

 

César Award,
2008:

  • Best French Film
  • Best Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
  • Best Original Screenplay: Abdellatif Kechiche
  • Most Promising Actress: Hafsia Herzi

Antalya Golden
Orange Film Festival, 2007

  • Best Director (Eurasia Film Festival): Abdellatif Kechiche

Venice Film
Festival, 2007:

  • Special Jury Prize (ex-æquo / tie, with I’M Not There)
  • Marcello Mastroianni Prize (for actor or actress in a début role): Hafsia
    Herzi
  • SIGNIS Award – Honorable Mention: Abdellatif Kechiche
  • Nominated: Golden Lion

Louis Delluc
Prize, 2007

 

FREUD (VOLUME 1 AND 2)
—BBC
AMERICA (TV Series, 1984)

David Suchet (who is absolutely brilliant) offers up an award-winning performance with his portrayal of Dr. Sigmund Freud in this 1984
BBC miniseries tracing the life and career of the founder of psychoanalysis, from his early professional days until his death.

The production also features Michael Pennington as Freud’s nemesis, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung; Helen Bourne as his wife, Martha
Bernays; Suzanne Bertish as his sister-in-law; and Alison Key as his daughter, Anna.

People with some knowledge of Sigmund Freud must be aware that Freud’s daughter, Anna, not only followed in her father’s footsteps, but
distinguished herself as a pioneer in her own right in the field of child psychiatry and psychology. People may disagree with this but Anna, like her father before her, created knowledge and insights into human behavior that have withstood the test of time.

For those less interested in the intellectual nature of Freud’s work will nevertheless be entertained by the complex personal life of
Freud the man. In addition, watching this movie once again helps people become aware of the sheer excitement that science and discovery itself generates. Whatever your movie watching expectations are, believe me when I say—there is something for everyone in this BBC miniseries.

 

EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES
(2010)

After their two young children are diagnosed with a rare genetic disease for which conventional medicine has no cure, John (Brendan
Fraser) and Aileen (Keri Russell) pin their hopes on the work of unconventional scientist Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford). Director Tom Vaughan’s heartfelt drama is based on the true story of the Crowley family, as chronicled by journalist Geeta Anand in her book The Cure.

I think anyone who has children can identify with the struggles people sometimes have to endure when their children are sick. This
movie is more than entertainment; it will make you feel deeply about what is going on emotionally in each of the characters. I’d say it’s best to keep a Kleenex box close by while watching this movie.

 

THE PACIFIC (TV Mini
Series, 2010)

 

This companion piece to HBO’s hit Band of Brothers follows three World War II Marines — Eugene Sledge (Joseph Mazzello), Robert Leckie
(James Badge Dale) and John Basilone (Jon Seda) — through harrowing battles in the Pacific theater, including Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Based on memoirs by Sledge and Leckie and produced by Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, the miniseries racked up eight Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe nod. This was one of the finest mini series I have ever seen whose equals might include Roots, Shogun, and The Winds of War.

The Pacific TV Mini Series was created in exacting detail, and gives a clear message to younger generations why it was Americans during
the Depression Era and World War II just might really be—The Greatest Generation.

 

KNIGHT AND DAY (2010)

Perpetually unlucky in love, June (Cameron Diaz) becomes intrigued by a mysterious man (Tom Cruise), who unexpectedly drags her into a
whirlwind adventure involving devious enemies, life-threatening confrontations and a major discovery that may alter the future of humankind. Directed by James Mangold, this exhilarating action-comedy also features Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Dano, Maggie Grace and Viola Davis.

A movie really needs to be evaluated for its cleverness of plot, how well actors “act,” impact on the audience, historical importance if
applicable, and that “X” factor that can’t be quantified. Whether you think an actor is a complete and total moron in his personal life (not you Cameron) shouldn’t cloud your judgment when evaluating movies. Therefore, I have to say that the acting was very good, action was fast-paced, and the chemistry between Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz really worked. This was a fun-to-watch escapist movie. Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz are really outstanding as actors. For several of these reasons I do recommend people see the movie.

 

SECRETARIAT (2010)

When Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) agrees to take over her ailing father’s thoroughbred stable, she transforms from housewife to horse breeder — and owner of the colt that will take the 1973 Triple Crown — in this dramatic biopic. The film explores Chenery’s bond
with “Big Red” and depicts her rise to greatness as the “first lady of racing.” John Malkovich plays trainer Lucien Laurin, and Fred Dalton
Thompson co-stars as big-shot breeder Bull Hancock. People are often stumped when asked, “Who is the greatest athlete of all time?” They say things like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Jim Brown, or Michael Jordon. Wrong! Wrong! The greatest athlete of all time was the four-legged racing horse—Secretariat. I watched that day in June 1973 when Secretariat won the Triple Crown. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing.
This horse didn’t win by a nose or a much faster 1-2 lengths. Secretariat won by 31 lengths—a nearly impossible feat. I remember jumping up and down with excitement in my living room as this occurred. This would be the equivalent of an Olympic athlete running the 100 yard dash in 7 and a half seconds. Incredible, just incredible.

Even if you don’t like horse racing this movie is a triumph of the spirit. It is entertaining and is my pick as one of the very best entertaining
movies of 2010. 

COWBOYS AND ALIENS (2011)

Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s graphic novel series leaps to the screen as amnesiac gunslinger Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) stumbles into the
Wild West town of Absolution, where he’s confronted by potent enemy Col. Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and a terrifying problem: invading aliens. Aided by the lovely Ella (Olivia Wilde), Jake rallies a posse of the townspeople, Dolarhyde’s minions and local Apache warriors to
fight off the extraterrestrial threat. Before watching this movie I thought “Cowboys and Aliens”—is this some sort of joke?  Well, far from it. I saw this on the large screen in a theater (which I recommend you do) and thought to myself this movie is again a graphic visual testimony to the genius of Steven Spielberg. Special effects were fantastic.

 

JOHN ADAMS (2008)

Paul Giamatti shines in the title role of this epic Emmy and Golden Globe winner that recounts the life of founding father John Adams
as revolutionary leader, America’s first ambassador to England, the first vice president and the second president. The iconic cast of
characters includes Abigail Adams (Laura Linney), George Washington (David Morse), Thomas Jefferson (Stephen Dillane) and Benjamin Franklin (Tom Wilkinson).

This is a mini-series that constantly reminds one just how incredibly lucky we are today to have had the kind of Founding Fathers who influenced our becoming the greatest democracy in the world. You don’t have to be a history buff to love this mini-series. Watch it; you’ll like it very much.

 

The Way Back (2010)

 

After narrowly escaping from a wretched World War II Siberian labor camp, a small band of multinational soldiers desperately
undertakes a harrowing journey to traverse Siberia, the Gobi Desert and the Himalayas  on foot. This movie has a great cast including Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong, Dragos Bucur, Gustaf Shargard, Sebastian Urzendowsky, and Alexandru   Potocean.

The best way to watch this movie is from the comfort of your own home. Have food and drink nearby as you watch the horrendous conditions
people sometimes have to endure in life. I hate the extremes of cold or heat. This movie can make you feel uncomfortable to the extreme. Nevertheless, it is exciting, realistic, and is based on a true story from World War II. You might like to have a fan next to you as you
watch the characters cross the Gobi Desert and cover yourself with a blanket when they cross out of Siberia and later trek across the Himalayas. I never thought I could be so “suggestible” as an adult while watching a make-believe movie. Perhaps it is a real tribute to those who created The Way Back that I now have to reconsider my position on that.

Early in 2012, I’ll bring you again more movies to consider. In the meantime, enjoy your time at the movies.

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In this Blog I’m making a recommendation for eleven movies to see and a couple of really neat places to visit. If you can take time from your busy schedule I’m sure you will be thoroughly rewarded for time well spent. 

 

Back in June, 2010 I recommended a few great movies including: Uncle Nino, Somewhere in Time, Where the Heart is, and Taking Chance. I hope you’ve had a chance to see them. From time-to-time I plan to share with you other movies I think you would really enjoy and find entertaining. Recently, I watched all of the movies I’ve listed below. They are very much worth your taking the time to see them. These movies are all 4-star plus movies in my book.

 

Three out of these eleven movies I recommend are about artists. Yeah! It’s true. I really identify with the artists of this world and have a real undying respect for their work. When some producer is willing to do a movie (usually some form of biography about an artist) I’m always one of the firsts to watch it. I like to see movies on the “Big Screen” but the last few years I do that less often because movie houses like to charge a trillion dollars for a bag of popcorn, not including a diet coke.

 

My Recommendations

 

Serious Drama 

 

Stolen

 

A detective deals with the loss of his own son while trying to uncover the identity of a boy whose mummified remains are found in a box buried for fifty years (2008). Josh Lucas is outstanding in his role, as are James Van Der Beek and Jon Hamm. This is a powerful, emotional movie that will cause you to feel the fear a parent would have with a child who has been kidnapped.

 

Bordertown

 

The film (2006) is based upon a true story surrounding the multiple murders of young women in Juarez, Chihuahua. Those of you who read my Blog on the Hidden Side of Immigration will immediately recognize the infamous nature of the city of Juarez, Mexico. In the movie two men brutally rape a young woman by the name of Eva Jimenez (Maya Zapata) and leave her for dead. She wakes up in, and crawls out of, her own grave.

Lauren Adrian who is played by Jennifer Lopez is an American journalist from the Chicago Sentinel who is assigned to cover the story of the murders in Juarez. Lauren is haunted by terrible memories of her own while she helps Eva, the only surviving victim.

Lauren is determined to catch Eva’s rapist. With the help of Eva and a Mexican newspaper editor Alfonso Diaz, (Antonio Banderas), Lauren goes undercover and poses as a Mexican worker to identify and trap the rapists. As she discovers hundreds of victims, she gains the trust of local factory workers but becomes a target herself. They catch one of the rapists, but the other escapes.  Then, only days before Eva is to testify against the rapist, Lauren is forced to leave Juarez to try to have her story published.

With Lauren gone, Eva flees to the United States but is caught by the border police and returned to Juarez. Lauren returns and while looking for Eva, encounters the rapist instead.

 

 

The Stoning of Soraya M.

 

This is one of the most emotionally powerful movies I’ve seen in a very long time. It is a drama set in Iran in 1986 and is centered on a man, Sahebjam, whose car breaks down in a remote village and enters into a conversation with Zahra, who tells him a story about her niece, Soraya, whose arranged marriage to an abusive tyrant led to a tragic ending. Without reading the credits, see if you can recognize at the beginning of the movie the actor who plays Sahebjam. I was not aware of who he was until the end credits; see if you can do better.

 

Green Zone

 

This movie is about discovering covert and faulty intelligence information. It causes a U.S. Army Officer to go rogue as he hunts for Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq in an unstable region.

The 2010 movie stars Matt Damon as Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller, and Irish actor Brendan Gleeson who plays Baghdad CIA Bureau Chief, Martin Brown. There are many good performances in this movie but Damon and Gleeson really stand out as two terrific actors. The recent historical back story to the movie’s plot makes it both intriguing and thought provoking. If you like action movies as I do you’ll find watching this movie very rewarding, and sobering at the same time in terms of its recent historical content.

 

Gran Torino

 

Walt Kowalski (played by Clint Eastwood, who also directed) is an embittered Korean War veteran who just lost his wife. He finds himself in the middle of a changing world. The formerly all-white neighborhood he once lived in is now mostly Southeast Asian and he has a Hmong family living next door. On his own family front he doesn’t get along with his sons, and is out of touch with his grandchildren, all of whom seem more interested in getting his house than anything else.

But Walt’s greatest interest is in his mint condition, 1972 Gran Torino. When the Hmong teenager next door, Thao, is challenged in a gang initiation ritual by his cousin and other gang members, to steal the Gran Torino, Walt nearly shoots him.

Soon, however, Walt realizes that he has more in common with his neighbors than with his own family, he becomes something of a neighborhood hero when he prevents gangbangers from forcing Thao into their car. He gradually takes Thao under his wing, teaching him a few things about life and helps get him a job.

Walt’s intervention has a price when the gang shoots up Thao’s house, and attacks his sister. Walt is determined to take action.

The script writing is fabulous and the script’s unexpected ending testifies to that fact. I’ve always liked Clint Eastwood for all his many roles and movies he directed and acted in. Clint Eastwood is now 80, and has seen and done it all in Hollywood.

 I like him best as an actor; others appreciate his ability as a movie director.  But by far his greatest talent is his uncanny ability to sniff out what makes a good story, and his story-telling genius that helps him translate a good story (David Baldacci’s Absolute Power comes to mind) into a great movie. And, for that reason above all else, I think you will see what makes Gran Torini a great movie, and top-notch entertainment.

 

 

Georgia O’Keefe

 

This movie is about American artist Georgia O’Keeffe and her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz (2009). Joan Allen gives a nice performance in the movie as her subtle acting qualities gives the movie a nice handling touch to her dialogue in the script. There is an underlying tone of sadness to the story of Georgia O’Keefe.

You may come away with a different assessment than I did, but I felt that Stieglitz and O’Keefe absolutely loved each other but whose inner self-directed personalities made it impossible for them to live together. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is not all that uncommon today. Opposite her (playing Stieglitz) is Jeremy Irons, who has always been a first rate actor and is very convincing in his role as the self-centered jackass.

 

Little Ashes

 

In the years that followed after World War I, life and values were changing in Europe. Spain during the decade of the 1920s was no exception. In 1922, Madrid was wavering on the edge of change as traditional values were challenged by the dangerous new influences of Jazz, Freud and the avant-garde. During this year Salvador Dali arrived at the university. He was 18 years old and determined to become a great artist. His bizarre blend of shyness and rampant exhibitionism attracted the attention of two of the university’s social elite – Federico Garcia Lorca and Luis Bunel. Dali is absorbed into their youthfully decadent group and for a time Salvador, Luis and Federico became a formidable trio, the most ultra-modern group in Madrid. However, as time passed, Salvador felt an increasingly strong pull towards the charismatic Federico – who is himself oblivious of the attentions he is getting from his beautiful writer friend, Magdalena. In the face of his friends’ preoccupations – and Federico’s growing renown as a poet – Luis sets off for Paris in search of his own artistic success. There are twists and turns in the lives of these three friends, but one of the turns made was totally unexpected for the famous Poet Lorca (2008).

 

 

Broken Trail (2 Discs—TV Miniseries)

 

Set in 1898, Print Ritter and his estranged nephew Tom Harte become the reluctant guardians of five abused and abandoned Chinese girls. Ritter and Harte’s attempts to care for the girls are complicated by their responsibility to deliver a herd of horses while avoiding a group of bitter rivals who are intent on kidnapping the girls for their own purposes (2006).

In todays urban modern life most of us don’t even know our neighbors and seldom interact, positively or negatively. What I was struck by in this movie was the stark contrast in temperament in relationships during social interaction despite living in a rather harsh and sometimes dangerous violent environment. In 1898, there was a rather formal politeness and gentility (even unexpected tenderness) between men and women as reflected in language and custom. However, getting someone to talk about their inner feelings (usually for one another) was just as difficult a hundred plus years ago as it is now. Broken Trail was an award-winning miniseries on TV. As soon as you start watching it you’ll see why.

 

 

Feel Good Movies and Fine Family Entertainment

 

Blind Side

 

A homeless black teenager, Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) has drifted in and out of the school system for years. Then Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) and her husband, Sean (Tim McGraw), take him in, transforming Michael’s life and theirs (2009).

This was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. Sandra Bullock and Quinton Aaron are outstanding in their roles. This is one movie where I think the casting director was an unsung hero. All of the actors, including supporting actors, mesh very well together producing a kind of human chemistry that goes way beyond people coming together to act. All the characters in this movie really make the entire movie work extremely well.

 

 

My Kid Can Paint That

 

Don’t bet your life on that! Your kid can’t paint the way Marla Olmstead does today as a 10-year old, much less the way she did as a 4 year old when she became such a national sensation. I’ve reviewed the film, evaluated the controversy, and looked at her paintings. As an abstract artist myself I came away from this movie convinced that Marla Olmstead is indeed the real McCoy —Yes, Marla Olmstead is the real McCoy. She is a true prodigy of color, form, composition and line. Her abilities are not a function of learning how to do it; they are a function of her feeling how to do it. What Marla Olmstead composes with paint is like a great symphony; what most children do with a paint brush in their hands is a lot more like playing chop sticks, not a symphony. Innate abilities are in some of us. I have a close 70-year old friend who possesses natural gifts. He has the uncanny ability to draw cartoons with pen and ink, draw landscapes with a pencil, and do oil painting with tremendous visual clarity. Unfortunately, oil painting doesn’t come that easy to me. I don’t have natural gifts in art like my friend; I have to work very hard at my craft. Marla Olmstead, like my friend, does have innate natural abilities. Go to Marla Olmstead’s website and see her paintings, and painting style, firsthand. You will be rewarded many times over.  

 

 

Leap Year

 

A woman who has an elaborate scheme to propose to her boyfriend on Leap Day, an Irish tradition which occurs every time the date February 29 rolls around, faces a major setback when bad weather threatens to derail her planned trip to Dublin. With the help of an innkeeper, however, her cross-country odyssey just might result in her getting engaged (2010). In many ways this movie reflects the age-old notion that opposites really do attract. This is a delightful movie and Amy Adams and Matthew Goode are a good match for these roles. I found Amy Adams, a red headed beauty, to be one actress worth watching. Her quirky yet innocent outlook on life and her adorable personality was very appealing in Leap Year. She has played other excellent roles in such movies as Enchanted (2007), Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), Doubt (2008), Night at the Museum, (2009), Julie and Julia (2009), and Moonlight Serenade (2009).    

 

 

In Memoriam

 

Tony Curtis (1925-2010)

 

Tony Curtis passed away on Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at the age of 85. He will be remembered for a long time and he will be missed by those among us who enjoy movies and what breathes life into any movie or book—great characters.

Tony Curtis was an American Icon of the Hollywood Movie Industry. I enjoyed watching him act and in fact first saw him while I was in High School. I enjoyed his seedy role as Sydney Falco in the drama, The Sweet Smell of Success (1957) in which Actor Burt Lancaster also was very convincing as the “sleeze-ball” New York City Columnist, J.J. Hunsucker.

I later bought the music from the movie in an old vinyl 78 RPM album format. That album I still own today, having kept every record (all 500 of them) I ever owned. Two other favorites of mine are, Some Like it Hot (with Jack Lemmon), and The Pink Submarine where Tony Curtis played opposite another favorite actor of mine, Cary Grant.

During his career Tony Curtis was nominated for Best Actor in 1958 for The Defiant Ones opposite Sydney Portier, who also received a Best Actor Oscar nomination. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe in 1968 for his role as Albert De Salvo in a very chilling movie, The Boston Strangler. The role he played as a psychopath was brilliant and demonstrated his great versatility as an actor for serious drama in addition to his outstanding performances in comedy roles.  How many of you remember his role as The Great Houdini with Janet Lee in 1953? I was 10 years old at the time and was captivated by all the stunts the real Houdini was capable of doing.   There are, and were, many great actors in Hollywood and elsewhere. For me, Tony Curtis has to be worldwide among those at the very top of the list.  

 

Full biographies of Tony Curtis’ film career can be found on the Internet if you are interested in more detail.

 

 

 

Some Fine Places to Visit

 

Two places I visited this year worthy of your time are the Charles Schultz Museum in Santa Rosa, California and the Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg along the California coast. These places are different venues but both are very enjoyable to see.

 

Charles M. Schultz Museum

 

Have you ever enjoyed the Peanuts comic strip and wondered about the cartoonist who could so easily translate all your feelings into a funny comment?  Then the Charles M. Schultz Museum will be worth a visit or two.  This museum used Schultz’s own comics to help chronicle his life and ideas.

 

In the museum are two scrapbooks which you can spend a lot of time reading. One scrapbook chronicles his life and family and one shows the history of his career.  It seems he wasn’t an overnight success.  This is amazing for a man who eventually won the Reuben Award for cartoonists not once, but twice.

 

Schultz once said that, “Drawing cartoons is a great way to share your ideas. A cartoonist is no different from any other type of artisthe or she wants to express him/herself. There is a joy in playing the piano or painting a wonderful watercolor. There is also a joy in communicating a thought, whether serious or funny, to another person (1996).” This museum is an enjoyable visit to the world of Schultz’s art.

 

Directions: From San Francisco, take Highway 101 North across the Golden Gate Bridge. On the north side of Santa Rosa, exit at Guerneville Road/Steele Lane. Turn left onto Steele Lane, then get into the right lane and stay there. Where the street splits, go straight ahead on West Steele Lane. After you cross Range Avenue and past the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, you’ll find the museum at the corner of West Steele Lane and Hardies Lane.

 

 

Botanical Gardens, Fort Bragg, California

 

 

Garden by the Sea…
A Rare Botanical Jewel on the
Mendocino Coast

The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg, California is one of the most beautiful, relaxing spots on this earth.  It has had many years to flourish since being founded in 1961. Financed through grants from the California Coastal Conservancy these gardens now have one of the best collections of coastal flora.

If you’ve always wanted to grow rhododendrons this is the place to visit. Here you can see almost limitless possibilities and varieties.  The rhododendrons grown here are species that are unique to Southeast Asia and the Himalyas and require a foggy coastal climate such as the one California has.  Take the time to enjoy these fabulous plants because many are rare and difficult to find in nurseries today.

One of my favorite spots is the cactus and succulent garden.  These are plants that can be grown in the dry inner valleys of California but evidently they can grow along the coast as well.  This section always makes me want to go home and plant a cactus.

A short walk will take you to the bluffs overlooking the ocean.  On a beautiful day the breeze and sunshine along the ocean can make the prairie grasses and stunted pine trees seem like the most beautiful view you’ve ever seen.  There’s nothing like a walk along the California coast, and if you keep your ears open, you can enjoy the bird sounds of over 150 bird species; more than you can spot.

I highly recommend an afternoon at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens even on a foggy dreary day.  It can lift your spirits and bring out the sunshine a little. But, above all, just enjoy yourself and soak up the ambience of a truly beautiful place on earth.

Visit the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens yourself at:

http://www.gardenbythesea.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/home.home/index.htm 

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