Are You Not Entertained? Books, TV, Movies

Always on the quest for excellent entertainment, here continues a series of a quick report of above-average finds.

BOOKS

 

The German Girl (2016) by Armando Lucas Correa. Historical Fiction. A fine opportunity to tell the story of the plight of the passengers of the St. Louis, when in 1939, 900 passengers sailed from Hamburg to Havana. They were mostly German-Jewish refugees escaping from the Nazi regime. The protagonist is a 12-year-old girl named Hannah Rosenthal. Her wealthy family hoped to start a new life in Cuba. Her best friend Leo and her father are refused entry. The ship leaves without Hannah and her mother who are forced to live in Cuba. After failed attempts to disembark in Canada or the United States, the St. Louis is forced to return to Germany where the passengers meet their demise. There is a duo narration between Hannah the girl who grows and ages in Cuba and her eventual grand-niece, who pieces together the mysterious puzzle of her aunt’s life.  It’s a good story but falls short at times. Hannah’s life in Cuba is glossed over. It would have been better had Correa devoted more time to the challenges facing the Jewish pair living in Cuba. 4/5.

Lilac Girls (2017)  by Martha Hall Kelly. Historical Fiction. A fascinating topic concerning the Rabbits, the female concentration camp victims at Ravensbrück, who suffered medical experiments. The POV alternates between three characters based on real people. It’s sophisticated, interesting and a gripping account of WWII and the aftermath. Set in New York, Paris, Germany, and Poland, Caroline the New York sophisticate and survivor Kasia bring justice to those that time has forgotten. 4.2/5

MOVIES

A Fortunate Man (2018)2018 Danish drama film directed by Bille August. Starring Esben Smed Jensen, it’s an intellectual film about a nineteenth-century ambitious young man named Lykke-Per who escapes his strict Lutheran family in remote Denmark and becomes an important engineer in Copenhagen. He is a man who seeks opportunity and advances himself in any way possible. He’s a flawed character which makes him interesting to watch and Jensen gives a fine performance. It’s a beautiful film about the possibilities of technology from the 1880s and Lykke-Per is complex and likable despite poor decisions. Equally important is the role of Katrine Rosenthal, the spinsterly oldest daughter of a Jewish family who sponsors Lykke-Per’s projects. The actress who plays the progressive feminist is Jakobe Salamon. She is marvelous. It’s long with a running time of 2 hours and 42 minutes. If you have time to kill and want sumptuous scenery and fine acting with interesting ideas and a convincing protagonist, you can find it on Netflix. 4/5

The Professor and the Madman (2019). Great fun seeing Mel Gibson and Sean Penn give convincing performances depicting the making of the OED. The irony does not fail me — how odd that a Scotsman and an American would have a huge influence over the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. I loved it. The story, the acting, the story-line. I don’t know how authentic this film is based on “the incredible true story”, but I was greatly entertained. Check out the trailer. 4/5

TELEVISION

So as I was preparing to go to Scotland and London this summer, I watched a lot of United Kingdom storylines. Purely to get me in the mood.

Outlander (2014 -) At first I thought it was a Harlequin Romance put to television, but I did have to concede how historically interesting and the culture of the highlanders were displayed to my utter satisfaction. Details were accurate and the setting was absolutely what I was looking for. Of all things, my mother (at 78) recommended it to me. I was shocked at the graphic sex in the first season. I blushed. Now I understood what my young colleagues were talking about when they mentioned how exquisite Jamie Fraser was played by the buffy actor Sam Eughan. I offhandedly heard of the novels written in the 1990s by the author Diana Gabaldon but I was unaware Dr. Gabaldon holds three degrees in science: Zoology, Marine Biology, and a Ph.D. in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology. I am growing restless at the end of season two and might switch to Reign. It is about Queen of Scotland Mary Stuart. My mom says it’s better. We’ll see. 4/5

Luther (2010-)  This was easy to binge on. My blogging buddies, Pete and Abbi O, raved about it so I gave it a go. I got through a few seasons easily. Idris Elba plays Luther, a brilliant but emotionally impulsive detective who is tormented by the dark side of humanity while hunting down murderers. The cat and mouse plots are top-rate albeit gory. The best part of the series is the unusual relationship he has with psychopath Alice Morgan played to perfection by Ruth Wilson. 4.5/5

DOCUMENTARY

May it Last (2017) The Avett Brothers are refreshing because they don’t follow the pattern of a band rising up to stardom via sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I love their music and their relationships are heartwarming. Authentic and beautiful, their story will move you to tears in parts. 4/5.

This is the prettiest, astute song I’ve heard in ages. “No Hard Feelings”

IMO: Blues and Rachmaninov

As a person not schooled in music, it doesn’t stop the instinctual draw to the beauty of different genres. Music is like wine. Either it tastes good or it doesn’t. Your palette is in charge of you, not the other way around. Like wine, I like how music speaks to me regardless of whether someone says this is excellent or this is garbage.

With music, I enjoy different viewpoints. Why is this piece good? How did the artist create it? The appreciation grows, and my initial like turns to love. Time plays a part. A song I loved at twelve makes me cringe when I hear it today. Basically the entire Carpenters collection. So what? At twelve their music depressed me and somehow that made me happy. Anyway, when I investigate a genre of music, learning about the layers of its history and composition alters me at an emotive level. Rachmaninov is a friend of mine. In fact, his music invades me and becomes a part of who I am. Even if, like me, you can’t play a note.

Blues

I don’t claim to know much about the Blues other than it is the great influencer. I can tell you a famous name like Muddy Waters who played an important role. But I couldn’t tell you why, other than when he migrated to Chicago, he influenced others to play like him. Blues influenced Rock and Roll. I have listened to Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin,  Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan all my life. They all link their beginnings to previous blues greats. In the historical timeline, who is first? .

On Netflix last night, I watched a brief documentary (48 min) about Robert Johnson, a legendary Mississippi Delta Blues player called ReMastered: Devil at the Crossroads. I enjoyed hearing from other blues artists like Taj Mahal and music scholars who researched Johnson’s life and attempted to explain his importance. Surrounding the biography was the legends about him. The supernatural slant gave it a flavor that coincides with African American mythologies. Then, add to the mix Robert Johnson is a member of the 27 Club. Well, you can see how the man and the myth are a theme within the story.

It was his actual technique with the guitar which interested me. With huge fingers, he managed to sound like three players playing at once. Dexterous fingers illustrated. Though Robert Johnson recorded only one record of approximately 29 songs, his tragic life earned him the right to play the blues. He influenced a host of subsequent blues musicians.

Blues is a world where the gritty aspects of life are made better by its escape. Blues has a life of its own and the artists and the audience are connected. When I listen to blues, I’m on a trip where my mind and heart sit side by side. It’s a fine journey.

Rachmaninov

In the same 24 hour period, I switched from Blues to classical piano. Sergei is my man. In chapter one of my recent book, Fritz Lang’s wife, Thea von Harbou, is an accomplished pianist killing time on a set at UFA studios. My anti-hero, George, discovers her playing Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor. As she bangs the death march, she swears at her husband in sync with each chord. It was a challenge to write the scene expressing the beat of the piece.

This morning I discovered “Rousseau” on Youtube. It visually shows you the chords and their beats. It’s stunning. What a great way to experience classical music! Different genre, another trip. Add the visual to the auditory–it made me experience Rachmaninov on a different level. He wrote this piece apparently when he was only 19. He had a dream, the story goes, where he marched forward to a casket. He opened it up and it was him inside.

This prelude best describes what my mind and heart feels like inside. It’s loud in here.

And you? What do your mind and heart sound like as if it were set to music? 

Are you not entertained? Films & TV

In this series, I share my choices for better-than-average entertainment. Maybe you liked these, too? 

FILMS

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Green Book (2018) Easily the most enjoyable film of the year for me so far, the chemistry between Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) and Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) is believable. Both actors shine brightly in this inspiring true story about the black concert pianist in the 1960s who lives above Carnegie Hall alone in his ivory tower. Highly educated and affluent, respected with friends in the highest places, Shirley travels to the deep south to be a presence among whites who only see blacks as sharecroppers. He takes with him a Bronx bouncer, a loveable Italian called Tony Lip. Their road trip doesn’t change the world, and the straightforward story doesn’t preach. If you liked Driving Miss Daisy, this story was just as good, if not better. I cared for both men and their ironic friendship. High praise to the acting of Mortensen. My ex-husband was from the Bronx and lemme tell ya, Viggo nailed it. Highly recommended. 4.5/5 

Trespassing Bergman (2013)  I find it is interesting to begin at the end of a story and learn backward. For example, if you are like me and know little about filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, instead of first watching his films blindly, a documentary provides me with the end result, his legacy. I want to know about the person first. Who better to explain his impact than the leading filmmakers as they recall their memories and the influence Ingmar Bergman had on them? Tip-toeing around Bergman’s estate on the faraway Swedish island of Faro, top directors pay homage. Jane Magnusson and Hynek Pallas direct this documentary oozing with ethos. Interviewees include Woody Allen, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Ang Lee, Lars Von Trier, Yimou Zhang, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Wes Anderson to name a few. For the sophisticate who possesses a solid foundation about Ingmar Bergman, I do not know how much will be gleaned. But for me, I enjoyed getting to know the man in his natural habitat and learning why his films had a powerful impact on filmmakers today. Now I will explore a few of his films. Where should I begin? Summer with Monika3.5/5 

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TELEVISION

SEASON THREE  – THE LAST KINGDOM 

Oh, King Alfred! I knew you would die in season three. I knew it was coming, but seeing you dead on your royal bed truly saddened me. What a sophisticated, complicated character! Better than the Game of Thrones and The Vikings, and far better than Outlaw King (2018) starring Chris Pine, what makes this BBC Netflix series entertaining is the balance achieved between the battles and the struggles, the accomplishments, and the forgiveness between Alfred (David Dawson) and Lord Uhtred (Alexander Doetsch). Series three was all about closure. Swedish director Erik Leijonborg did a fine job encouraging the actors to feel and provided them time to cultivate their personalities. If you have not seen the series, this is outstanding entertainment. 4.8/5.

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