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The crying game

There are lots of things in life that can make you cry. Not getting any chocolates for Valentine’s Day, very sad animal stories, breaking your toe on one of your dog’s stupid bones that you have asked her quite nicely to put away a thousand times before and the simple fact that even though McDonald’s is now serving breakfast 24/7 you still can’t get any biscuit options past ten unless you live in one of a handful of states, none of which I would ever choose to live in, despite my love of all things biscuit-y.

 

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Some people don’t cry very easily and others cry at the drop of a hat like America’s least favorite tan dad, former Speaker of the House John Boehner. Whether it was being crowned House of Representatives king-of-the-prom or getting backstage passes to see the coolest pope in the universe this guy can bring on the waterworks like nobody’s business and I sorta miss him for that, and for that reason only, because he was a terrible speaker. Personally I kinda fall somewhere in the middle between being all dead on the inside or cries like a weeping puddle of Boehner, depends on what I am watching, how crappy my day was, or you know, hormones. But if you feel like you need a good old cry these three movies bring on the waterworks for me each and every time and even if they don’t make you sniffle a whit they are still great movies.*

Dear Frankie: stars Emily Mortimer (woefully underrated as an actress in my book) as Lizzie, a single mother of a hearing-impaired mute boy named Frankie (Jack McElhone). Lizzie is on the run from Frankie’s abusive father and goes to great lengths to make sure Frankie never meets him by making up the name of a merchant ship and turning Frankie’s father into a crew member. Frankie regularly sends letters to his fake father on the fake ship and Lizzie responds with stamps from around the globe to make the story believable and everything is hunky dory until the fake ship turns out to be real and coming soon to the quaint coastal village they currently reside in. Lizzie needs a fake dad real fast and her friend and chip shop boss finds her one in the guise of an unamed visiting sailor played by Gerard Butler.

Fake daddy takes his job very seriously and his pay-to-play gig turns into something much more than anyone was bargaining for, least of all Lizzie. He buys Frankie a fancy book about the ocean and when he hugs his pretend father in genuine gratitude the feels begin in a big way and you can tell this movie is moving in a direction that will soon require some tissues. When one night Lizzie tells fake daddy that she only gets to hear Frankie’s voice in his letters we understand why she has been faking it so hard for so long. (Netflix, YouTube)

Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About A Father: I saw this movie the very first time when I was sick in bed with a cold, the kind of sick where you can listen to the TV but not really watch it because your head feels like it weighs a thousand pounds. Once the movie started though I had to get over it and watch because I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. Dear Zachary started out as one kind of documentary by the filmmaker but due to horrific, unforeseen circumstances ended up a completely different one. If Making a Murderer made you angry about the sorry state of our criminal justice system then Dear Zachary will make the Canadian one look even worse, but for opposite reasons. Andrew Bagby was an only child, adored by his parents, a good guy with a solid group of friends, one of whom Kurt Kuenne, set out to make a film about Andrew initially for his parents to remember him by and then subsequently for Bagby’s son Zachary to get to know him by after Andrew was killed by Zachary’s mother before he was born. This is NOT A SPOILER since it was the original premise of the film.

Parents are not supposed to outlive their children, that is not the natural order of things. Watching what Andrew Bagby’s mother and father go through to have a relationship with Zachary, their only grandchild and last tangible piece of their son on Earth is punch-to-the-gut-wrenching. Only an android could watch this movie with its shocking turn of events and not ugly cry, a lot. Grab a full box of tissues for this one, you will need it. (Netflix, YouTube)

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont: Recently widowed Mrs. Arthur Palfrey (Joan Plowright) decides to move to a residential hotel in London, to a room absolutely without a view and an assortment of other widows and widowers, (mostly widows). She and her fellow residents spend their evenings in front of the telly watching old Sex & The City reruns while they wait for members of their respective families to come visit. Mrs. Palfrey hopes to spend time with her grandson Desmond and calls him repeatedly but he never returns the call. One day while out on a walk she takes a tumble and is rescued by a young man around her grandson’s age named Ludavic Meyer (Rupert Friend in his pre-Homeland days). To thank him, Mrs. Palfrey invites Ludavic to dinner and all the single ladies assume he is the much talked about but never actually seen Desmond.

Mrs. Palfrey and her fake-but-so-much-better-than-the-real-thing grandson bond over their mutual love of Wordsworth and Blake and it’s all so sweet and cultured and cute that you just know something’s gonna make it all come crashing down to reality and it does when the real Desmond shows up unexpectedly one afternoon at the Claremont. This movie proves that sometimes fake or manufactured families can often times be more kind and loving to one another than the real blood ones and that old people deserve much more than just being put into cold storage somewhere until they die. (YouTube, Amazon Instant)

* seriously, if you don’t shed a tear or twenty watching one of these movies than we are going to have to assume you are a Cyberman or a Dalek or some other member of the undead.

 

When Irish eyes are smiling it’s probably because they watched at least one of these awesome movies

As an Irish-American I have always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with St. Patrick’s Day. On the one hand it’s lovely to celebrate the man who removed snakes from Ireland even if it is completely untrue because snakes were never there in the first place but we celebrate people in America who don’t really do anything all the time, in fact we have an entire network devoted to such people (E!), so why let a little thing like a big fat lie stop people from getting their drink on? St. Patrick’s Day had always been more of religious holiday in the old country, that is until Ireland had its big economic boom in the 90’s and then the piety gave way to the party and it’s been that way ever since. This year Ireland’s Brian Williams/Bill O’Reilly* celebration day will be on Tuesday so instead of bellying up to a bar why not grab some colcannon (gross) and a Guinness (super gross) and park your keester in front of the TV machine for some good time/feel good Irish movies? It will be loads cheaper and you will feel much better come hump day, promise.

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Into the West: Do you remember back in the 90’s when Gabriel Byrne was married to Ellen Barkin? Trust me he was, and they even have two children to prove it. Anyway, back when they were still married they made this incredibly sweet and quite touching movie about two little boys named Tito and Ossie and their love of a mysterious white horse called Tír na nÓg. The boys are travelers (aka: tinkers) only their father has taken them to live in a depressing tower block in the city after his wife (not played by Ellen Barkin) died giving birth to Ossie and now Papa (Byrne) has become the worst Irish stereotype of them all, a drunk, and the one that bugs me the most. One day the boys maternal grandfather (David Kelly) comes to town with a gorgeous white horse no one can touch except Ossie and Tito and next thing you know said white horse is living in a high-rise apartment and riding in elevators like a normal person much to the horror of some of the neighbors. I can’t even imagine what the pet deposit fee would be for an equine, but I am guessing pretty steep even in 1990’s prices.

In the Irish language nothing is quite like it seems and you can pretty much ignore half of the consonants and even some of the vowels in their words. It’s beautiful and makes zero sense which is precisely why I love it even though I can’t speak it to save my life. Tír na nÓg is pronounced like Turning Oak which is fairly accurate Irish/English translation but most of the words are more like Dún Laoghaire which is pronounced Dun Leary and you’re like what about the o and the g and h, why are they there if they are not going to do anything? Why Gaelic word lords, why?

Of course the boys get busted by the cops for keeping a horse in an apartment (there’s always a snitch in every bunch) and the fleeing horse and its running ability catches the eye of a rich bad man who only wants Turning Oak for his own evil purposes and it does not even matter what they are because he is EVIL and we don’t like him one little bit. So Tito and Ossie steal him back and go on their incredible journey into the west, one they are really not in charge of. Papa is so sad that he finally stops drinking and goes in search of his boys with the help of his fellow travelers including a psychic gypsy lady not named Miss Cleo but Kathleen (played by Ellen Barkin and her wonderfully non-Hollywood standard looks).

The little boys are both super cute but the one who plays Ossie is extra cute and his sweet little pixie face will practically make your ovaries explode. Gabriel Byrne was at the height of his movie star hotness so depending on how you rate that there could be other parts of you exploding as well, especially if you like leather dusters. Between the music and the scenery, Into the West will make you want to seriously consider booking  trip to the land of my forefathers, stat. (Netflix)

Waking Ned Devine: What would you do if you won a lottery, say an almost seven million dollar windfall? I probably wouldn’t die from the shock myself (mostly because I never remember to buy a ticket so winning would be a bit tricky), but Ned Devine did, right there in his living room in his favorite chair with a big ol’ grin on his face. Problem is, while you might not need to be present to win the Irish lottery, you do have to be alive, and that is the premise of this charming 1998 movie. Jackie O’Shea (Ian Bannen, who died accidentally shortly after this film was shot) and his best friend Michael O’Sullivan (David Kelly once again) know that they did not win but they know someone in their tiny village of Tullymoor (population 52) did.

Jackie finally figures out that the winner is the reclusive Ned and when he goes to visit him finds out that the shock of becoming an instant millionaire has killed him. Later that night in a dream Ned tells him he wants the money to be evenly split among the villagers and Jackie comes up with a cunning plan to impersonate Ned to fulfill the prophecy. But the big city lottery man with allergies comes a bit early and poor Michael, a man who has never told a lie in his whole life, has to play Ned instead of Jackie and all sorts of hijinks ensue.

Tullymoor is filled with characters including Maggie, a single mother/greeting card writer, Finn, a pig farmer who no matter what fruity soap Jackie gives him can’t seem to eliminate his swine-y scent enough for them to have any sort of future together, Maggie’s son Morris, who may or may not be Finn’s, a temporary priest (the return of the permanent one from his pilgrimage to Lourdes is a key plot element) and the town’s cranky old cat lady on a scooter, Lizzie Quinn. Everyone in Tullymoor has to go along with the scheme for the money to be split between all 52 of them but Lizzie refuses to agree and threatens to scuttle the whole thing by turning the others into the lottery officials in Dublin for a bigger share of the winnings because just like in real-life socialism, there is always one person who has to screw it up for everyone else. If this movie does not make you laugh, between the naked motorcycle ride by the skinniest old man in Ireland (Kelly), or the sneeze that launched a phone box into the ocean, than I don’t know what will. (Amazon Instant, iTunes)

Killing Bono: bad title although there probably have been a few people over the years who have thought about doing away with U2’s fearless leader at one time or another because he kind of became that guy. You know the one who talks a good talk but then turns right around and becomes a tax dodger because he apparently isn’t rich enoughBut this movie isn’t about the rich tax cheat Bono, this movie is about the high school rock-star wannabe Bono and his similarly inclined classmate Neil McCormick and how the dream came true, for one of them.

Baby Bono, before the tax scheme

Baby Bono, pre tax scheme

Back in the 1980’s Bono was my original dream man, cute, smart (or so it seemed at the time) and most importantly in a band, the accent was an added bonus. Not to sound all braggy but I did see U2 for the very first time in the 7th Street Entry, a venue that is about the size of a cracker box if said cracker box was painted entirely in black and the inside temperature was kept at a balmy 120 degrees at all times. The Entry was a great place to see up and coming bands, like U2, but there was only one bathroom and to say it wasn’t very nice is like saying Tom Cotton isn’t very smart so ipso/facto we know that bathroom was DISGUSTING and (despite his Ivy-league education) Representative Cotton from the great state of Walmart is DUMB as a proverbial box of rocks.

Killing Bono stars Ben Barnes (from those Narnia movies) as Neil and the cuter-than-cute Robert Sheehan (Misfits and The Mortal Instruments, which should have made him famous but didn’t) as Ivan who had the chance to be in U2 (then known as The Hype) but Neil did not bother to tell his little brother that info because he was so sure his/their band was going to be bigger. For the next decade or so U2 continued on their meteoric rise to the top of the rock pile while Neil and Ivan’s various attempts went nowhere. Bono and Neil stayed friends and it was Bono who suggested the idea that the two were cosmic doppelgänger and if he died Neil would get all his good luck back and perhaps someday write a Broadway musical about a superhero, or not.

Killing Bono does a very good job of showing what the 1980’s music scene in Dublin was like even if they had to film the movie in Belfast because Dublin got too-rich-too-quick in the 1990’s (before Bono and the boys shipped all their tax money off to the Netherlands) and lost much of its grittiness. Killing Bono is funny, the music is really good (Barnes and Sheehan sing for reals) and it’s St. Patrick’s Day for pity’s sake. While rock stardom was ultimately denied him, Neil did become a rock critic for the Daily Telegraph and in ironies of all ironies, ghost-wrote the best-selling autobiography U2 by U2. (Netflix)

The Matchmaker: Not going to lie, I love this movie and even though it is probably not technically Irish it does take place in Ireland (mostly) so close enough. Janeane Garofalo plays Marcy Tizard an aide to a Massachusetts senator with a flailing re-election campaign. To rectify this potentially disastrous situation, Denis Leary (playing Garofalo’s boss Nick), sends Marcy to Ireland to find some of Senator McGlory’s long-lost relatives who Nick thinks the senator can use for some Irish-American votes. Cynical, career gal (where have I seen that plot device before, besides just about everywhere?) Marcy lands just in time for the annual matchmaking festival in Ballinagra and soon has not one but two matchmaking professionals vying to be the one to hook her up with a life partner. Dermot O’Brien (the wonderful Milo O’Shea and his fabulous eyebrows) and his rival Millie O’Dowd are sure they can find the one for Marcy but a local barman/caveman named Sean (David O’Hara) just might have his own ideas about that.  This movie is as the old timey critics used to call “delightful” and anyone who says otherwise should not be allowed to celebrate the fake snake remover holiday ever again.

While the town that Marcy gets sent to is completely fictional (filmed on the gorgeous Aran Islands, aka the land of chunky cable knit sweaters) the matchmaking festival is 100% actual and has been going on for over 150 years, something eHarmony and Match.com can only dream about in their combined digital heads. The only bad thing about this movie is how incredibly difficult The Matchmaker is to find because you can’t stream this little gem anywhere and believe me I have checked everywhere, even the free movies section of On Demand where lo-and-behold there it was only it wasn’t, just a different movie with the same name and I hated Comcast all over again for the millionth time.

Janeane Garofalo has said many times that this was her favorite movie to make and it just makes you wonder whatever happened to her film career. She was hands down the best thing in so many movies in the nineties, from Reality Bites, to Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion to The Truth About Cats and Dogs (where she was definitely the hotter one, sorry Uma) but despite her being totally adorable and talented her movie career kind of fizzled out. There are rumors that the impossible beauty standards of Hollywood really took their toll on her and when you look at what happened to Margaret Cho at roughly the same time period (too fat and not Asian enough to play herself in her own sitcom) to what just happened to Amy Schumer (again too fat to play herself in a movie she wrote) and you can kinda understand why Garofalo got out.

No St. Patrick’s Day celebration can be complete without a little Dropkick Murphys because of this:

@ScottWalker @GovWalker please stop using our music in any<br /><br /><br /><br />
way...we literally hate you !!! Love, Dropkick Murphys

 

and this:

 * both known as major Fibber McGees but at least St. Patrick did not spread the lie about the snakes himself unlike the other two.

Shoot that poison arrow through those boring old Hollywood rom-coms and check these out instead

I am one of those people who pretty much despises what passes for romantic comedies these days, they all either have Kate Hudson in them (one of the worst/best examples of nepotism in Hollywood) or are pure sap written by the likes of Nicholas Sparks* (otherwise known as the Thomas Kincaide of fiction) and are in general just God-awful. I much prefer movies that take a more unique, non-traditional and humorous approach to love so in honor of this totally made up holiday by Hallmark (with a generous dose of assistance from the chocolate and floral industries), here are a few more interesting movie choices for you to check out this pretend holiday weekend.

Fun Fact: Did you notice Lisa Vanderpump, of Real Housewives of whatever and Vanderpump Rules as the video vixen because it really is her. She still looks awesome today, if not better (blame the 80’s hair) and appears to still have her original face which is something Uma Thurmond might be missing.

Born Romantic: This one would probably qualify as the most traditional romantic comedy of the bunch but with just enough quirk and off-beat charm not found in movies generally made on this side of the pond to make me love it. Born Romantic centers around a London salsa club and three of the couples who frequent it. Snobby art historian Eleanor (Olivia Williams) flat-out rejects Rat-pack obsessed professional wedding singer Frankie  (Craig Ferguson) from the get-go because his face is not symmetrical enough for her tastes but Frankie does not let a little thing like his wonky face or lack of money stop him in his valiant quest to win her over.

Couple number two includes Eddie (Jimi Mistry), the world’s worst mugger who one day while trying to elude the cops ducks into the club where he meets professional grave tender Jocelyn and promptly steals her wallet which is probably not the best way to get a girlfriend but this is a movie and not real life so it kind of works. Dia de Muertos’s biggest fan Jocelyn (Catherine McCormack) sports a completely unnecessary neck brace and a pair of vintage 1980’s Rhonda Weiss glasses that almost makes you forget that in real life McCormack is quite stunning and is playing totally against type.

Am pretty sure my mom had these glasses in the 80's too

Am pretty sure my mom had these glasses in the 80’s too

But my favorite couple in Born Romantic has to be sad-sack failed musician Fergus (played by an almost unrecognizable as a blonde David Morrissey) and Mo (the absolutely fabulous Jane Horrocks). After dumping her one week before their wedding eight years earlier, Fergus decides he wants Mo back and will leave no stone, or in this case marbles (the Elgin Marbles to be exact), unturned until he finds her. When he finally does and Mo reacts just about how anyone but Fergus, the human equivalent of a golden retriever (sweet but dumb) would expect, he is devastated. Fergus’s numerous attempts to get back in Mo’s good graces is like watching a grown up dating game version of Captain May I? with one step forward and many, many, many steps back. (Amazon Instant)

Fun fact: Way before Craig Ferguson was a late-night talk show host or Mr. Wick on The Drew Carey Show and way, way before Peter Capaldi became the 12th (?) Doctor, they were in a punk band together called The Dreamboys.

Cherish: Robin Tunney stars as Zoe, a socially awkward career woman who loves music, especially 70’s and 80’s pop songs so be prepared for a lot of Hall & Oates and don’t even try to pretend that you don’t like it because everyone does, deep down inside. Zoe spends her days as a computer animator at a snooty San Francisco start-up where she works with a bunch of mean girls, chief among them is Brynn played by 90’s indie music darling Liz Phair who I don’t think had much of either a movie or music career post-Cherish. One night after one too many cocktails a crazy man who has been stalking Zoe takes control of her car and makes her run over a policeman, which is very uncool and a surefire way to end up with something on your permanent record. Before help can arrive the crazy stalker flees so of course no one believes poor Zoe that she wasn’t driving. The policeman later dies from his injuries and Zoe ends up on house arrest with a super restrictive ankle bracelet and the imminent threat of jail hanging over her head.

Stage actor Tim Blake Nelson plays the man in charge of her ankle bracelet and one of Zoe’s few contacts with the outside world. Zoe knows she did not hit the policeman so she spends her time roller-skating around her sparsely furnished apartment trying to figure out how to find her stalker and thereby clear her name. This movie came a few years after Tunney co-starred in The Craft which was hugely successful however Cherish was not and that is unfortunate because it is clever, sweet and original but has absolutely no black magic involved so the teens stayed away in droves. Look for both Nora Dunn and Jason “Brandon Walsh” Priestly to show up and I don’t want to say anything else other than spend the three bucks and watch this. (Amazon Instant)

Let the Right One In: the original Swedish version only please. I would like to forget the American one ever happened much like that time I tried henna in my hair and ended up looking like Lucille Ball despite bi-weekly applications of ash-brown Loving Care hair color to dull the orange nightmare on my head. Just like I had to do with the henna-from-hell,  you too can suck it up and read the subtitles because reading is fundamental and good for you.

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Very good hair color for Lucy, very bad hair color for Amy

Lonely, picked upon so blonde he is practically translucent Oskar spends his evenings plotting revenge against the boys who torment him at school. One day or night (who knows it is almost always dark in Sweden in the winter), a girl named Eli moves in with her guardian to the apartment next door to Oskar’s and the next thing you know people start disappearing, cats start freaking out and nothing in their quiet little town is ever the same. Let The Right One In is a movie about a vampire but at its core is really a story about two socially isolated 12-year-olds only one of them has lived for a couple of hundred more years than the other and maybe isn’t even a girl so I guess you will have to watch it to find out for sure.

This was one of the rare times that I read the book AFTER I saw the movie and while the filmmakers did a very good job the book fills in a lot more of Eli’s back story and Oskar’s loneliness. It also has a lot more kitty paranormal activity that thankfully was not in the movie as one or two scenes of cats on crack is enough for anyone. There is some gore as to be expected when vampires require human blood to survive but it was not at all gratuitous and if squeamish me can take it anybody can. The ending of Let The Right One In has one of the best what-goes-around-comes-around scenes in the entire history of movies because sometimes karma IS a bitch/. (Netflix).

Fun fact: I never knew until this movie how courteous vampires are and that they must be properly invited into one’s residence, nor was I aware how much cats despise them and will freak the hell out should they come across one. Definitely news you can use.

Obvious Child: Donna is a twenty-something under-employed by day stand up comedienne by night who goes on a serious booze and ice cream filled pity party after her long time boyfriend dumps her for someone else. It’s a painful rite of passage we all go through, so much so you would think there would be a Girl Scout badge for it somewhere between good citizenship and positive body imagery.

I don't even like wine but I want this Girl Scout badge

I don’t even like wine but I want this Girl Scout badge

One night she meets a cute guy named Max, they get drunk, they spend the night together and Donna thinks that is the last of it. Until a few weeks later when Aunt Flo does not come to town and Donna finds herself in a bit of a conundrum. What follows next is bittersweet, poignant and one of the very few times the movie industry has ever tried to be realistic in showing what an unplanned pregnancy looks like from the inside.

This might not seem like it could even remotely be a rom-com and it isn’t, not in the traditional sense. Donna is forced to grow up and make a decision that she probably never thought she would have to make and the guy is not even a jerk which is so not the way a typical Hollywood film would have played it. This movie got unfairly pigeon-holed by some as “the abortion movie” but it is so much more than that. I honestly did not want to see, not because I had anything against it, I just wasn’t super interested but am glad I did because while I have always liked Jenny Slate as a comedic actress, I had no idea she could you know, act act and she does that in this, very convincingly. And in case you have never seen the magic that is the one and only Mona Lisa Saperstein from Parks and Rec, check it out here. (Amazon Instant & Apple TV)

Fun Fact: Jenny Slate voices the absolutely adorable-as-all-get-out Marcel the Shell character she co-created with her husband.

Tampopo: the first ever Japanese noodle western and if that was all I said about it that should be enough to pique your interest. I mean how many of those have you seen before because I don’t think there has ever been another one. I first saw this movie during my international film formative years otherwise known as college when I saw pretty much everything that the U Film Society brought to town and is how I came to ultimately minor in film. Tampopo, which literally translates to the English for dandelion, is a widow with a young son running a crummy road side noodle shop frequented by truckers. When one of the not very nice truckers insults her culinary skills, a nice trucker by the name of Goro steps in to intervene. Of course he gets beat up because they out number him three to one but nonetheless Goro decides to stick around and educate Tampopo on the finer points of noodling and other things since this a romantic comedy and all.

There are some hilarious sidebar stories including a shopkeeper who is terrorized by an old lady squeezing all his goods like poor Mr. Whipple and his Charmin and a handsome gangster and his lady friend who were about 20 years ahead of the whole naked sushi trend and take food erotica to a whole ‘nother level that could be called 50 Shades of Seafood. This movie is funny, charming and will leave you wanting to find the nearest Japanese restaurant for some noodles and broth as soon as it’s over. Tampopo will be a little bit harder to find (no streaming) but I whole heartedly recommend you go the extra mile for this one and I am not the only one to think so since it has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (Netflix disc only)

Fun fact, you can find a lot of movies at your local library, and a quick check of my local country library showed they had five copies of this very film.

*Full disclosure, I have seen The Notebook and just like George Washington I can not tell a lie, I cried my guts out and am not ashamed to admit it AND I still think Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams are destined to be together FOREVER, despite Eva Mendes and her little baby friend trying to keep them apart. 

 

Finding Vivian Maier and some good popcorn to boot

Award season is the time of year when I try to get super serious and catch up on all the movies that I wanted to see but somehow missed for one lame reason or another. Thankfully it occurs in the winter when any excuse NOT to leave my house comes in super handy. About the only category that I usually see all the movies from is the documentary one, with maybe a couple of the foreign language flicks thrown in for good measure. I generally don’t see a lot of the movies that the average Oscar voter likes as they have terrible taste and I am still pissed off about Crash winning best picture in 2005 because it was like a bad ABC Afterschool Special from my childhood, only worse. Seriously, it has been ten years and I still have not forgiven them. While I love being able to watch movies at home at will, there is something missing, besides the annoying person who keeps checking their Facebook status every fifteen minutes and distracting everyone with their screen light (usually not a youngster by the way, more like an oldster who should know better).

What is missing, other than not showing Strax before every movie viewing, is popcorn, the quintessential movie treat. Luckily I have found a movie theater replacement version that is not only quick and easy, but also a much healthier option, it’s called Quinn Popcorn. I quit eating microwave popcorn in the 90s, that stuff stinks (hospitals wisely banned its use years ago) and it probably has more chemicals in it than the Gulf of Mexico thanks to BP and their incredible safety record by which of course I mean the opposite of that. You can make popcorn the old-fashioned way, on the stove, but if you are watching movies the modern way why make popcorn the retro way?

Makes every night movie night

Makes every night movie night

Quinn Popcorn comes in compostable wax paper bags and in my microwave takes about 90 seconds tops to pop. Toss in the flavoring, shake the bag and voila, movie theater taste with way less calories and absolutely no petroleum by-products. It’s a victory for home theater movie watching. I have tried almost all their flavor options and am pretty loyal to the butter and sea salt one. It used to be more of a co-op/Whole Foods kind of product but I see it now in local grocery stores like Lund’s and Byerly’s. You can also order it here.

Finding Vivian Maier is one of those movies that I really wanted to see for a lot of reasons, one being that I am a proud documentary nerd and have been since I first saw Michael Apted’s wonderful Up Series in high school and totally fell in love with it. I have continued to see each installment as they have been released since then and if you have not yet seen these movies than you should do so right now before the next one comes out in 2019. I think that gives you plenty of time.

I also wanted to see it because I was fascinated by the story of a nanny who was such a prolific street photographer and yet no one knew about it. Nowadays street photographers are practically a dime a dozen and run the gamut from Humans of New York to Advanced Style, and of course the most famous reindeer of all, Bill Cunningham New York (another movie by the way you should add to your documentary viewing schedule somewhere between 7 Up and 56 Up).

You won’t learn a whole lot about Vivian Maier the woman in this movie but you will learn a lot about Vivian Maier the photographer. She was a nanny, mostly in the Chicago area and even spent a few months working for Phil Donahue (yeah that guy who used to have a talk show that everyone’s mom watched before Oprah, not sure who the moms watch now, Ellen?). If not for the filmmaker John Maloof buying a bunch of her negatives at an auction her work might not have ever seen the light of day let alone become a worldwide story. Two years after Maloof purchased the negatives and after posting some of the scanned images on Flickr he tries to track her down only to find out she had died two weeks earlier. Following up on leads from the obituary notice he tries to find out as much as he can about her.

A lot of the interviews are with former employers and their now grown-up children, although interestingly enough not the three boys she took care of the longest who in return took care of her by paying her rent and burying her. She was born in New York, but spoke with a French accent courtesy of her French-born mother who took Vivian to live for years at a time in her tiny home village in the Alps. Some of the people interviewed in the film seem shocked that a woman of such obvious artistic talents would waste her life being a nanny which is more than a little bit condescending, as if one necessarily excludes the other. Vivian believed very strongly in the idea of free-range children* and being a nanny offered her and the kids she took care of the opportunity to get out of the suburbs and into the city and explore what the world had to offer. Even if sometimes the parents were less than thrilled about where she took their children.

Just a spoonful of free-range children

Just a spoonful of free-range children

Vivian was a feminist, a Socialist and as the dude from the New York public records office tells us a “spinster”, like that’s a bad thing (FYI beardy, I  wear my spinster badge proudly). Vivian’s photography definitely shows an empathy towards the poor and less fortunate like the work of Dorothea Lange. There are shades of Diane Arbus in some of her portraits and a bit of Weegee in her street scenes (she had a fascination with crime) but her style was very much her own which is incredible when you learn that out of the 120,000 plus negatives found she printed very few of her images.

This movie has its flaws, some of the interviews lead nowhere, like the linguistics guy who doubted her accent, or the Southampton lady (aka The Official Preppy Handbook real life doll probably named Muffy) but overall it just made me want to find out a whole lot more about Vivian Maier, which is what all good documentaries should do. This one is definitely on the short list to win this year’s best documentary entry and is available on iTunes, Amazon Instant and is currently airing on Showtime.

Vivian Maier, Chicago

Vivian Maier, Chicago

*free-range, it’s not just for chickens anymore. Really, it isn’t.

 

 

 

 

Shot through the heart and tv bosses are to blame–five shows whose early demise caused great pain

I gave up on network television a long time ago. Pretty much anything that was either interesting or unique or perhaps even entertaining never lasted with few exceptions. I weep to live in a world where Sofia Vergara is the highest paid television “actress” and Asshton (deliberate misspelling) Kutcher is the highest paid “actor”. It’s insulting, not only to you and me, but also to people who are talented for reelz. It’s not just limited to the big three networks either, even the almost-networks (CW/UPN), basic cable and premium channels have been known to pull the plug way too quickly which is why we are stuck with fifteen versions of  Law & Order you-name-the-division or CSI-someplace-I-am-not- at-all-interested-in on at least one channel at all hours of the day. For some reason those of us with standards are not allowed to have nice things on television. Thank heaven for modern conveniences like streaming services, DVDs and the internet, or else these little gems would be gone and lost forever.

Bunheads: I was a little late to the Bunheads party and have felt ever so bad about that because once I discovered it of course I fell in love and wanted to see all the episodes I had missed, stat. We live in a wonderful modern digital world where everything lives in a magical cloud up in the sky, somewhere next to heaven and the rainbow bridge I imagine, so you would think that would be easy peasy. But thanks to Comcast, in its never-ending quest to be known as the worst person in America (remember, corporations are people too), I could not On Demand all the episodes I had missed. So I joined Amazon Prime for the introductory thirty-day trial and guess what? Only a few of the episodes were available without an additional fee. This is why I don’t really like Amazon Prime, they suck you in like a midway carny huckster promising you the world (or the largest teddy bear known to man), but then anything really good they make you fork over more money for (or try to palm you off with a dollar store sized teddy bear). Well, I have iTunes for that pay-as-you-go-kind of relationship thank you very much so I don’t need another one in my life.

Bunheads is set in a quaint and quirky ocean-side town full of lovable eccentrics so essentially its The Gilmore Girls* on the west coast with even a few of the same actors thrown in for good measure. Most of the action takes place in a dance studio (hence the name ), run by a cranky yet lovable (of course!) dance mom of all dance moms, Fanny Flowers, played by Kelly Bishop (the ultimate WASP mom of Ms. Lorelei Gilmore from Gilmore Girls) and her former showgirl daughter-in-law Michelle Simms (played by Broadway hoofer extraordinaire Sutton Foster), who was married to her son for about five minutes before he inconveniently dies and leaves her not only his lovely home by the sea but the dance studio next door his mom has run forever. Talk about awkward. The ex-showgirl/reluctant dance teacher and her students with their complicated high school lives along with a cast of crazy locals. Toss in some interesting dance routines to artists ranging from Bjork to They Might Be Giants and Bunheads makes for some mighty fun viewing and it is a shame that ABC Family pulled the plug so very quickly. Check it out for yourself and you too will become a bunhead, I guarantee it. (Amazon Instant, iTunes)

 

Veronica Mars: this one hurt, it really did. Anyone who ever went to high school can relate to this show, whether or not you grew up in southern California or any other state in the union. Like Bunheads I was a bit late to the VM party but once I got there, I never wanted to leave. Kristen Bell plays Veronica, a girl whose alcoholic mother left her maybe/maybe not father, the town sheriff, after he accused local rich guy Jake Kane of being involved in the murder of his own daughter Lily, who just happened to be Veronica’s best friend. Since the 1% do not appreciate being accused of crimes let alone murdering their own child,  this does not go over well with a town of mostly rich people so Mr. Mars loses his city job and becomes a private detective. Because we all know how nice high school children can be to the downtrodden, Veronica goes from being little miss popular cheerleader Barbie to her less attractive no-one-wants-to-play-with-her-ever Midge, in an instant. Since her dad can no longer investigate the mystery of Lily Kane’s death, Veronica takes it on in her spare time, after school and the periods between lunch and algebra. It totally helps that she works in her dad’s PI office and can use all his fun investigative toys, many of which I wished I had access to in my high school days, especially the stun gun.

Part of what makes this show so good is watching Kristen Bell totally nail being a scrappy teenager with a gigantic chip on her shoulder and major mommy issues. She has a great, solid as Sears relationship with her father, or as she calls him, “the one who stays”, and a couple of good friends she regularly ropes into helping her along with her various investigations. The rich kids make her life miserable, the poor ones don’t treat her much better and she has a major love/hate relationship with her dead friend’s boyfriend Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring). Season one was perfection.

During its three-year run Veronica Mars had a lot of guest stars who went on to bigger and better things like Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Adam Scott (Parks & Rec), and Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad, bitch). New Girl’s Max Greenfield had a recurring role as Deputy Leo, Veronica’s sorta boyfriend (totally illegal dude, she’s in high school!), Alyson Hannagan played Logan’s crazy sister Tina, and my imaginary boyfriend Paul Rudd even showed up for one episode in season three, when the show made the movie to college. VM was killed after that third season, and the people on the internets were not one bit happy about it. They wanted more, so a Kickstarter fund happened and a movie got made and let’s just say Jason Dohring should seriously consider joining the navy in real life because when he shows up to pick Veronica up at the airport I practically choked on my popcorn, boy looks damn fine in a uniform. (Amazon Instant)

 

The Riches: On the run from their own clan, Irish traveller (aka grifter) family the Malloys get into a car accident that kills a wealthy family, the Riches, on their way to a new home and new jobs in Baton Rouge. Wayne Malloy (Eddie Izzard) and his recently paroled wife Dahlia (Minnie Driver) and their children decide to take the opportunity to assume the dead family’s identities and try to live a normal, i.e. straight life for the first time in their lives. How they manage (or don’t) is what makes this show so compelling.

Doug Rich is a successful lawyer about to start a new job and seeing how Wayne fakes his way into becoming in-house counsel to a bat-shit crazy client is a true thing of beauty. Cherien Rich is a dental hygienist but thankfully Dahlia doesn’t last too long in her new career due to her pesky drug problem which is what put her in the pokey in the first place. The drug problem does however bond her forever to her next door neighbor and fellow junkie Nina, the wonderful Margo Martindale who followed up this role with an Emmy-winning turn as the evil Mags Bennett on Justified. Note to the non-Justified readers, don’t ever accept a beverage from Mags, just don’t.

The grifter children get sent to fancy private school with various degrees of success. Doug’s ex-wife wants more money, Cherien’s coo-coo for cocoa puffs mother even comes to live with them and yet they manage to stay one step a ahead of their former clan members who are out for both blood and money. The Riches aired originally on FX, a network not used to shows that are exactly killing it in the ratings department so I am not sure why this one only got a lousy two seasons. It deserved a proper send off to wrap up loose ends off ala Veronica Mars. Eddie Izzard has talked about a movie that would do just that in interviews but at this point it has been years and I am thinking that sadly that shipped has sailed and this is all we are going to get. (Netflix)

 

Dead Like Me: On the face of it you would think that a show about a teenager girl killed by a falling toilet seat from the Space Station Mir would have a lot of laughs in it but you probably would not think that it could make you cry, Dead Like Me does both on a regular basis. The show aired on Showtime but since I don’t have premium channels I watched most of the episodes on DVD from Netflix. Our heroine George Lass (aka Toilet Seat Girl), played by Ellen Muth dies an untimely and undignified death only to find out she has to work as a reaper before she can pass on to the great beyond, next to the cloud where all my cat photos are safely stored. George and the other reapers meet at Der Wafflehaus restaurant (food looks really good too, but then again I’m a breakfast gal), where their leader Rube (Mandy Patinkin, pre-Homeland) gives them post-it notes with the names of their daily reaps. George and the others need to take the souls of the soon to be departed BEFORE they die or all hell breaks loose. Kind of like Miracle Day on Torchwood.

Each of the reapers come from different time periods and have their own back stories we get tiny glimpses of throughout the series. The reapers have to work-work too to pay the bills, and take on a different physical appearance to the living. George’s family is understandably not handling her demise very well, her parents already fractured marriage gets even worse (her professor father has an affair with a student), her younger sister Reggie, who she was never very nice to in that big sisterly sort of way, starts acting out (stealing toilet seats and hanging them in trees, the ultimate tee-peeing prank I guess) and how each of them react to their loss is where a lot of the pathos comes from. Cynthia Stephenson as the mom so ironically named Joy is particularly good at breaking your heart and it is a good things reapers have to have jobs or else this show would just be too sad.

George’s job just happens to be at Happy Time Temp agency, the same place she was working when she stepped out for lunch on that fateful day and got creamed by the toilet seat. Now George with her new appearance is known as Millie and she has the same boss Dolores, who while she did not care for George much seems to like Millie a lot. Dolores (Christine Willes) is overly optimistic, super enthusiastic and the original cat lady (his name is Murray by the way) with an interesting past which apparently involves cocaine, tattoos and a bunch of restraining orders which sounds like pretty fun happy hour material to me. The Happy Time receptionist Crystal has a bit of the Mimi from The Drew Carey Show about her, only weirder, and has an unhealthy attraction to post-it notes. It almost makes you wonder if 3M had a stake in this show? (Amazon Instant)

 

 

Victoria Beckham: Coming to America: It is no big secret that I am a fan of Victoria Beckham. Not only was she one of the least talented Spice Girls (not that big of a competition really), but she also went through a very public, very terrible WAG/chav phase back when Mr. Bend it Like Beckham was Britain’s most famous footballer and she was trying really hard for a solo singing career that never went anywhere. Hmm, wonder why? It doesn’t really matter now because Miss Posh got the last laugh in the end when she landed on her high-heeled feet with not only the cutest celebrity baby in the history of the universe but also turned her former hideous fashion sense into becoming a truly stellar clothing designer herself. Yep, Victoria has serious street cred now with the fashion in-crowd and recently opened her first retail store in London. A store that I will be more than happy to check out and report on the very next time I go there. I may have to fast for a month or two before hand so I can fit into something other than a scarf but food can be so over-rated and I will probably need the extra money to be able to afford anything anyway so I am willing to give it a go, for the blog and all.

Quite possibly the cutest celebrity baby ever

Quite possibly the cutest celebrity baby ever

Vicky Pollard, the ultimate chav

Vicky Pollard, the ultimate chav

in 2007 when this show originally aired Becks had just started to play for whatever professional soccer team there is in Los Angeles (too lazy to look that up since it lasted for like a minute) and the premise of the show was following Posh as she got acclimated to life in the US with her family of boys (this was pre-cutest baby in the universe). Some of the reviews were merciless and the show was yanked from NBC and put out to pasture on Bravo, before Bravo was taken over by Andy Cohen and became his Real Housewives but Abysmal Humans all the time network. I miss those Queer Eye for the Straight Guy glory days. VB: Coming to America portrayed Victoria Beckham as funny, self-depreciating and someone you would totally want to hang out with, at least I would. She seems pretty aware of her reputation as a glamazon who never smiles and regularly pokes fun at it. Check out her some of her posts on Instagram if you don’t believe me. Also check out some of her clothing while you are at it, she is good. (youTube, sadly one episode only available)

 

* you have seen Gilmore Girls, right? If not I am not sure we can be friends** so high-tail it on over to Netflix because you can stream all seven seasons right now. Then take this quiz to see which character you are, I got Paris Geller and am still not sure how I feel about that. Once you watch GG you will understand why.

**just kidding, we can still be friends but we probably can’t be FRIEND friends because there are some baseline pop culture things that we should have in common.

 

 

Five period dramas to give you the vapours*–and none of them are called Downton Abbey

Since I have made slightly disparaging remarks about Downton in my last two posts (counting this one), I thought I should explain why. As someone who has pretty much watched every series on Masterpiece Theatre since the 80’s I can easily say that there have been at least a hundred shows that were ten times better than Downton Abbey in just about every respect, yet Downton is the one that seems to get all the hoopla. Downton is like the Marcia, Marcia, Marcia of PBS and every other show is slighted middle child Jan who has to make up fake boyfriends to get attention when she shouldn’t have to because she is actually the superior sister like just about every other offering from PBS. Honestly, Downton is one of their weakest shows despite Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess and Isis the lab (her kidnapping scenes were heart-breaking) out actress-ing everyone else on the show, in particular former Oscar contender Elizabeth McGovern. (a best supporting actress nominee, really?) Without even taxing myself I can think of five other PBS mini-series that beat Downton by a mile, at least in my book.

 

Lady Edith, have you been time traveling again?

Lady Edith, have you been time traveling again?

 

North & South: no, not the cheesy one from the mid-80’s with Kirstie Alley  (always the mark of a high quality production) and Patrick Swayze (RIP). Believe it or not there are other countries who also have their own version of the Mason/Dixon line and this one happens to be in England (although I am not sure where that imaginary line dividing north and south is), but no matter because this North & South is from the BBC based on the Elizabeth Gaskell novel of the same name and stars Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret Hale, a woman originally from the more sophisticated south who moves to the not as chic industrial north because her reverend father left the Church of England and was essentially run out-of-town for being a nonconformist (i.e. heathen–how very American Bible Belt of them) and takes the family to a mill town in the north. Her father becomes a private tutor and starts book learning the local mill owner John Thornton, played by Richard Armitage.

Just like in Pride & Prejudice, Margaret and John get off to a bad start and it only goes downhill from there. Of course John Thornton isn’t really a bad guy (just a proud misunderstood man trying to improve both production and the lives of his mill workers), and Margaret Hale is really not that sweet even though she does charitable work and ends up being friends with a doomed dying girl (Anna Maxwell) and her father, the one and only Mr. Bates himself (Brendan Coyle) although in this series he is called Nicholas Higgins and he is the north of England’s own Norma Rae but in male attire.

Hotter than a hobbit has a right to be

Hotter than a hobbit has a right to be

When Ms.Denby-Ashe was on EastEnders her character Sarah was beyond annoying so initially I had a hard time letting go of that bias but by the end even I was rooting for Margaret and John to get it together. This show pretty much launched Richard Armitage’s career, but he really needs to go back to being a spy, he was dead sexy as Lucas North on MI-5** or even a love-sick jerk like Guy of Gisborne in the BBC version of Robin Hood. He looks way better with long hair and guyliner than as a singing dwarf in those Hobbit movies. (Netflix)

 

 

Persuasion: The 1995 Ciaran Hinds/Amanda Root version is the one I usually think when I think of filmed versions of this Jane Austen novel but PBS did a bang up job of it as well back in 2007 and since it stars Rupert Penry-Jones, (aka Adam Carter, the hottest Spook from MI-5 known to man, sorry Richard Armitage, you’re a close second though) and the theme of this post is PBS shows BETTER than Downton, we will stick to this one. That being said, the 1995 theatrical version is pretty swoon-worthy in and of itself so I recommend watching both.

Girl, what were you thinking?

Girl, what were you thinking?

The story is typical Jane Austen fare which is why it is so freaking fabulous. Anne Elliott (Sally Hawkins) is the lead female character who eight years prior broke her engagement to naval officer Frederick Wentworth (silly silly woman), because her snobby awful family thought he was socially inferior and a poor to boot so Anne foolishly dumped him. Eight years later their paths cross again and guess who shows up at the high school reunion (Bath, actually, but sort of the same thing) all rich and fabulous and on the prowl for a lady to call his own? Why if you guessed CAPTAIN  (he got promoted in those eight years) Freddy Wentworth then you know exactly how Jane Austen novels work and how she handsomely rewards the previously snubbed/less wealthy on a regular basis. And now guess who is poor as a proverbial church mouse because their snobby awful father (Giles from Buffy) lost all their family money AND home? If you guess Anne and her snobby awful family then you probably have read an Austen novel or two. Austen bonus points if you also guessed that Captain Wentworth is now living in said lost home. (God, I love Jane Austen, she was such a righteous bitch to those who deserved it.)

Only Anne isn’t awful and snobby like her family and we the audience are left rooting for her to get her groove back before she turns thirty. Only Freddy is a bit of a grudge holder and is now the one holding all the love cards in this messed up deck of romance. Will Anne’s innate goodness and lack of bitterness win Freddy’s heart once again? Is there really any question? But watching that unfold is lovely. (Amazon for purchase only but shows up on PBS sporadically, the movie can be found on Amazon Instant)

 

 

Midlemarch: remember that brief time period back in the early 90’s when Rufus Sewell was seemingly everywhere and seemed destined for Hollywood heart-throb status? Well, it doesn’t really matter if you don’t because that never quite happened for him which is too bad because he is so very good in this adaptation of George Eliot’s novel. Dorothea Brooke (Juliet Aubrey) is an idealistic, wealthy, educated do-gooder in a time and place when women like her were supposed to just get married and start producing heirs. But instead of marrying the boy next door like everyone thought she would, Dorothea marries a much older man, Edward Casaubon, who considers himself a great intellect and aspiring author with whom she could share her deep thoughts with. After the honeymoon is over Dorothea finds out that shit ain’t gonna happen and like so many women before her realizes what a bitter disappointment marriage is for a lady with ambitions. Disappointing husband does have a younger, infinitely more attractive cousin named Will Ladislaw and that is where Mr. Sewell enters the picture. Old cranky pants husband notices their mutual attraction and before he dies makes a will that expressly forbids Dorothea from inheriting his fortune if she ever hooks up with cuter cousin. Bastard.

Cute and artistic to boot

Cute and artistic to boot

Tons of other characters with their own trials and tribulations also appear but let’s face it, the real story here is will Dorothea give up her inheritance for love? Hmm, loads of money or Rufus Sewell at his cuteness peak? I know what I would do in that situation and it is not what Dorothea does. You will have to watch to find out which is which. (Netflix)

 

 

Forsyte Saga: I loved this 2002 adaptation so much when the first part aired I had to read the book, no small undertaking since it is three John Galsworthy novels in one and about eleventy billion pages. You could probably just watch the mini series and call it a day, unless you like to read LONG stories like Bleak House or War and Peace which I normally don’t but I was that sucked in. Set out over the course of decades, the Forsyte Saga is the story of two cousins (again) Soames (Damian Lewis)  and Jolyon Forsyte (Rupert Graves). Soames is a man of property and just wants to own things and people, in particular the lovely Irene (pronounced Irenie and played by Gina McKee) who does become his wife. Big mistake Irene, big mistake. Not only does Soames want to possess Irene, he wants to get her the hell out of London and isolate her from all her friends and family, which is never a good sign in a life partner. Because Soames is such an abysmal husband Irene falls for the architect building her new, not-in-London marital home, who also just happens to be a friend’s fiance and just when you think that things can’t get any worse for Irene they do, they really do.

I honestly have not been able to trust Damian Lewis in any other role (including real life) since this show aired. Someone that good at being an asshole is perhaps not that good at acting? In fact the minute I saw his face as Brody in Homeland I knew he was going to be trouble. Damian Lewis could play St. Francis, the best saint in all of sainthood (patron of the animals), and I still wouldn’t let him anywhere near my dog, ever. He is one scary ginger.

Definitely not anyone's idea of a pet sitter

Definitely not anyone’s idea of a pet sitter

After one final showdown between the two of them Irene leaves but Soame’s refuses to give her a divorce and accuses her of having an affair with the already somewhat disgraced cousin Jolyon (who had ran off years before with his daughter’s nanny). This is not true initially but eventually becomes true which I am sure made family holidays more than a little trying. Soames continues to be a major pain in everyone’s backside until he meets a young French woman and finally agrees to a divorce. Irene goes on to marry Jolyon, they have a son Jon, while  Soames marries the French woman and they have a daughter Fleur, and from there on you can pretty much guess what happens in the third series. It’s like Romeo and Juliette all over again. (Netflix)

 

Brideshead Revisited: Quite possibly the best mini series PBS ever aired (and it’s not just me saying that), this 1982 adaptation is the granddaddy of them all starring a slew of British actors from Jeremy Irons in his break-out role as Charles Ryder to Lawrence Olivier and Claire Bloom (the Doctor’s mother in The End of Time) as the estranged Lord and Lady Marchmain and John Gielgud as Charles’s sardonic scamp of a dad. Evelyn Waugh’s novel tells the story of the well and truly messed up aristocratic Flyte family as told by Charles. Mister Ryder first meets Lord Sebastian Flyte (Anthony Andrews) at Oxford where both are students after a late night puking episode and just who hasn’t met a future BFF or two after a similar college experience? It’s a bonding thing not just reserved for girls. The teddy-bear-toting Sebastian (teddy is named Aloysius) brings Charles home to meet the family at the eponymously named Brideshead and once Charles sees all that glorious real estate and meets Sebastian’s family he pretty much gets sucked in to all their drama for life.

Plenty of closet space and a view, what more could you ask for?

Plenty of closet space and a view, what more could you ask for?

Lord and Lady Marchmain are married, but the Lord (that sounds all sorts of wrong) lives in exile in Italy with his much younger mistress and the Lady lives at the estate compete with her own church and therein lies the problem. The Lady is super uber Catholic and D-I-V-O-R-C-E is not an option, no way no how, so everyone suffers because of it. Also in the pious pile of the Flyte family is Bridey (Simon Jones, Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy–the original tv series, not the movie), Sebastian’s eldest brother and Cordelia (Phoebe Nicholls, Sienna Miller’s child’s paternal grandma, if you want to feel real OLD) who despite her religious zeal has been deemed the “worst” girl at her private school by her head mistress. However, it’s Julia (Diana Quick), Sebastian other sister who Charles falls head over heels in love with, not in the least because (according to the book), she looks a lot like Sebastian. (Diana Quick and Anthony Andrews look NOTHING alike, and there was some criticism of this at the time but it was a minor kerfuffle.) And while they never really come out and say it, the assumption is that Charles and Sebastian had a bit of a thing going on. Lady Marchmain and Sebastian do not get a long, and she is particularly hard on him. Hmm, wonder why???

There is no greater love than that between a grown up man and his teddy

There is no greater love than that between a grown-ass man and his teddy

The years go by, teddy-bear-toter Sebastian develops a drinking problem, love struck couple Charles and Julia marry other people, the war happens, Lord Marchmain returns to Britain to die at Brideshead and all throughout Catholicism plays a huge role in every characters development to one degree or another. Evelyn Waugh himself was a convert and is said to have based the story on the real life Lygon family and the parallels are dead obvious. Check out their story here, it is pretty fascinating and sad all at the same time, much like this series. (Amazon Instant)

 

 

 

* British spelling for British teevee shows and to not confuse anyone that this post was about a band, also British, but spelled the proper American way.

 

** In my last streaming post I noted that all British actors seem to have appeared on either Doctor Who or EastEnders or both at some point in their careers. I am amending that to include MI-5 since they killed off so many characters and ran for so many years lots of people cycled through that show as well 

Stream the night away–in a posh hotel

Sometimes after a long, hard day of advertising (and they happen way more often than Melrose Place ever led me to believe), I just want to come home and watch something that requires no complicated thinking or thought processing whatsoever on my part. Mindless escapism with a sense of style is what I am looking for and luckily Netflix comes through for me with plenty of options every time. (A show like Mad Men, while entertaining to some, is just too close to reality for me despite it taking place in the 60’s, although no one has ever been run over by a lawnmower or killed themselves at any of the agencies I have worked at, even if they considered it for a quick minute.)

One of my dream jobs has always been to work at a super chic luxury hotel. The type of hotel that caters to heads of state from places with so many consonants in their names I can’t spell them let alone pronounce them properly and twenty-something internet billionaires. In order to do this I would definitely need to step up my sartorial game though as it has become far too lazy from working in the agency world forever where pretty much anything goes wardrobe-wise and my preference for over-priced casual wear has gotten out of hand. For this job I will need to dress exclusively in Prada (Chanel would be just too casual, sorry Karl!), rock a cat-eye like Kate Moss and get a much more professional hairdo, a super sleek blunt-cut bob so awesome even Anna Wintour herself would be jealous of it. Everyone else at the hotel will be simultaneously jealous and impressed by my ability to do the seemingly impossible such as finding discreet high-class escorts (male or female) at the drop of a hat, while securing tables at the hottest new restaurants and scoring tickets to those impossible to get sold-out Broadway shows. Did I mention I will need to relocate as well as get a new wardrobe and haircut for this job?

That bob will be mine, minus the bangs. I have spent a year growing those suckers out!

That bob will be mine, minus the bangs. I have spent a year growing those suckers out!

Hotel Babylon: actually this might even be an even better location than NYC for my fantasy job as this show is set in London, my favoritest city on Earth. Hotel Babylon is based on a book that I have never read by Imogen Edwards-Jones (hyphenated names = posh in the UK) and ran on the BBC for four seasons. For the first two seasons the hotel is run by a tough as nails career woman with a bad marriage (natch) named Rebecca Mitchell (Tamzin Outhwaite in real life, forever Melanie Owen from EastEnders* to me). The other various hotel employees all have their own personal baggage (pun intended) and include a stereotypical catty gay guy receptionist named Ben, another receptionist Anna Thornton-Wilton whose fake hyphenated name is as fake as her accent, Rebecca’s right hand man with a secret criminal past Charlie, and Tony the jaded but ever so efficient concierge. I am pretty sure Tony has my dream job, but not my dream outfit since he wears a uniform and that is a big fat NO in my book, unless it’s Prada, and even then I would have to think about it.

Why hello Mr.Nelson, come on in.

Why hello sir, come on in.

Hotel Babylon is like a modern, much more stylish version of The Love Boat, with new guests and new stories for each episode. Most of the guest stars I wouldn’t recognize if they came to my front door trying to get me to read the Watchtower. Sadly this happens kinda regularly with a Kingdom Hall for Jehovah’s Witnesses down the road. A congregation Mr. Prince Rogers Nelson himself is rumored to be a member of and while I might open the door for him I still would not read the Watchtower. Not ever. And while I might not know these guest stars faces their names are certainly familiar because I do read the Daily Mail every day (I know it’s bad but it’s fun bad) and I always think to myself, who ARE these people? And then there they are, in the Daily Mail! This show is trashy good fun (just like the Daily Mail) with a posh British accent (definitely NOT like the Daily Mail). Amazon Instant** since Netflix must have lost the rights to this one back in July when Outrageous Fortune disappeared and my life changed forever because of it.

Grand Hotel: lots of critics and regular people like to compare this to Downton Abbey but I think that is a a major diss because this series from Spain is way more fun. While there is the same sort of Upstairs/Downstairs vibe going on and it takes place in roughly the same time period, the romance between the rich girl whose family owns the hotel, Alicia Alarcon, and Julio Olmedo/Espinosa/Molins (he has a lot of aliases), the waiter, is the centerpiece of this series rather than a side note like the relationship between Downton’s Lady Sybil (poor dead Sybil) and Branson her chauffeur turned husband turned widower. Mama Alarcon and her evil henchman Don Diego will do ANYTHING to hold onto the Grand Hotel, they are kind of a lot like the Borgias in that way. Add in some craziness that would not be out-of-place on a daytime soap like a faked pregnancy (hello Beyoncé!), some baby swapping, illegitimate children crawling out of the woodwork, a serial killer and a bromance rivaling that of Joey and Chandler from Friends between Julio and fellow waiter Andreas, and this show kicks Downton’s proverbial British ass.

The Grand Hotel even has some real people show up as guests like Agatha Christie (who also shows up in an episode of Doctor Who, but that episode features giant bee people and is even too weird for me and I am a fan), as well as Harry Houdini who even performs one of his daring escapes. Interestingly enough, everyone who works or lives at this hotel seems to have above average hearing abilities, like whatever the ear equivalent of 20/20 eyesight is these people have it and thankfully they use their super human abilities at every opportunity in hallways and doorways all over the place or else we would never know what was going on.

After watching all 42 of the episodes available on Netflix I have now picked up some basic Spanish beyond counting to ten and writing no basura on my recycling box at work so the cleaning staff does not throw it away. All that valuable second language knowledge is going to go to waste real soon if Netflix does not get the remaining episodes like yesterday. Not to mention that season three ended with an explosive cliff hanger and I need to know what happened por favor!!

* Pretty much every actor in the UK has either been on Doctor Who or EastEnders or both. It must be some sort of a rite of passage like a spiral perm or a goth phase, not that I ever experienced either of those. Well, maybe just the one.

**good news people, apparently my Netflix search skills suck because guess what showed up as a recommend show for me, on Netflix? Why Hotel Babylon of course!