Happy Valley Season 2: Now on Netfllix

Way up in the North of Britain lies the beautiful Yorkshire County. North of Manchester and north of Leeds, this area is closer to Scotland than it is to London. West Yorkshire and the Upper Calder Valley is the setting of the Netflix/BBC TV drama Happy Valley.

Season 2 of Happy Valley aired in the UK beginning in mid-February; and when its run on the BBC ended, this six part series arrived on Netflix. If you recall, I wrote an enthusiastic review of Season One back in September of 2014. Well in the series, as well as our own calendars, 18 months have passed.

Actress Sarah Lancashire as Police Sgt. Catherine Cawood returns in the lead role. Returning from

Season One are James Norton as the sociopathic killer Tommy Lee Royce, who now spends his days incarcerated, Catherine’s sister Clare Cartwright portrayed by Siobhan Finneran, and a few of the local constables are also returning.

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New this season are Kevin Doyle who played the beloved Molesley on Downtown Abbey for many years. Here, he is the Homicide Inspector DS John Wadsworth.

Also new for this season are Sean Balmforth (as a suspect) and  Shirley Henderson (as an ally of Tommy Lee Royce), both of whom acted in some of the Harry Potter films,  Vincent Franklin as DSI Andy Shepherd who heads up the CID investigation of a serial killer, and Katherine Kelly as DI Jodie Shackleton,  round out the more prominent new members of the cast for this season. In the above photo, beginning with Balmforth in the upper left, the rest follow clockwise.

Despite the idyllic and bucolic surroundings, the residents in the Upper Calder Valley are not, generally speaking, a happy group. Drug use, alcohol abuse, and prostitution, all of which lead to additional crimes, keep Cawood and her colleagues quite busy. You’d think we were in some of the tougher and rougher neighborhoods of  London, Leeds, or Liverpool instead of the beautiful Yorkshire countryside.

And that’s not even mentioning a batch of brutal killings of women which has all the signs of a serial killer being in the area. There are plenty of broken homes, rape victims, mental instabilities, sex offenders, as well as human trafficking going on.

But wait there’s more. Tommy Lee Royce, who raped and impregnated Cawood’s daughter Rebecca, is incarcerated. But his mother, a known drug addict has been murdered. Cawood had left threatening messages on her phone. And now she is a suspect in the demise of Royce’s mother, and apparently has no alibi.

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HBO’s Vinyl: Episode 1-07: The King and I – Recap & Review

Richie and Zak hit Vegas to land the Big Fish aka The King

Richie and Zak hit Vegas to land the Big Fish aka The King

This a recap/review with some spoilers and some opinions.

The promise was there. After all, hadn’t Richie Finestra hit rock bottom in the previous episode (Episode 1-06 – Cyclone). Non-stop blow and other abuses had pushed him so far down into the sink-hole that his wife had taken the kids and left him. His life now included the hallucinatory imagery of an old friend that Richie had killed in an auto-accident caused by drugs. That would be Ernst.

But it went beyond just that. His relationship with his business partner and the co-founder of ACR, Zack Yankovich, a relationship that was already on the rocks because Richie had backed out of the Polygram deal, was in the midst of sinking into the abyss.

Richie had shown up way too late to Yankovich’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, and Zak had thrown Richie to the floor in a fit of anger.

Go destroy your own family, you’ve already destroyed mine. Oh wait, you’ve already done that, said Yankovich.

Where else could Richie go? Surely, when you hit rock bottom, a turn-around usually happens. Or is supposed to happen. Maybe not so much in real life, but in television….?

At the monthly business meeting, Skip announced that, despite the cutbacks and staff reductions, they wouldn’t be able to make this month’s payroll – a figure quoted as $33K.

Someone suggested that Richie give up his apartment in the city.

Richie: I need that place, I’m out to all hours of the night, and it’s not my apartment – it’s the company apartment.
Skip: Then how come I never get to stay there? What’s the rent?
Richie: $1100 a month.

By the standards of living in the city at that time – that was a luxury apartment. Me? I lived on the Upper East Side – and paid just $200 a month in 1973 for a small one-bedroom.

So a plan was hatched. They would sell the rights to the corporate jet that they were leasing for $100K and the buyer would take over the lease payments.And that took them out to LA. And the $100 K they’d come away with would almost cover three months of the ACR salaries.

Sounds like a plan and things immediately brightened. We heard and watched Jan & Dean’s Surf City. You know the lyrics – Two girls for every boy.

What we didn’t know at the time we heard it, that those five words would be a huge clue as to what would happen later in the episode. Then we heard Jackson Browne singing – Doctor My Eyes

Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand…

‘Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled
I’ve been waiting to awaken from these dreams

While this Jackson Browne song wasn’t really an optimistic song, it did signify a spiritual search was in the works.

Did that mean that Richie Finestra would turn the corner? He was already off the blow and had also given up booze. It was a beginning, wasn’t it?

The buyer of the plane had invited them out to his beach pad in Malibu. We saw Gram Parsons, Stephen Stills, and even Neil Young plus Mickey Dolenz  and Mama Cass – not really, but at least the actors used had a likeness to the originals.

Also at this party, we overheard that The King – Elvis Presley – was unhappy with his label RCA. That got Richie’s attention. Presley was now doing his thing in Las Vegas. In 1973 he was 38 years old. He now performed for an older crowd, and although Vinyl didn’t go into any of Elvis’s problems (he’d be dead four years later in 1977) – the show did show us that Elvis was far from happy, that he had become something of a caricature of his younger days, and he was still under the control of Col. Tom Parker.

So Richie and Zak, along with two bimbos they picked up at the pool at the hotel in LA , were soon touching down in Las Vegas. Richie had a plan – they would promise Elvis a return to what he loved = rock ‘n roll music, and sign him to their label American Century Records.

When Zak stated that Elvis was big and made BIG BIG money, Richie said – We’ll worry about that AFTER we have him sign the contracts.

Richie meets Col. Parker in the Vegas hotel lobby and it is all arranged. Parker would call them later, and Richie would then meet with Elvis after the show. But Elvis was now doing songs like Polk Salad Annie, and was beginning to look a bit bloated, and in truth, Elvis wasn’t a happy camper. Speaking of which, he wasn’t a camper either.

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Occupied – A Norwegian Geo-Political Thriller Airing on Netflix

Occupied is set in Norway in the not distant future. The main thrust of the story of this 10 episode series is that the Norwegians have elected an environmentalist who heads up the Green Party as the Prime Minster. This followed in the wake of a series of events:

1) Turmoil in the Middle East has compromised oil production.
2) The USA has achieved energy independence and has said adios to NATO.
3) A catastrophic Hurricane has devastated Norway.
4) Europe is in an energy crisis.

The newly elected Norwegian PM, Jesper Berg, has shut down all fossil fuel production. The country will no longer use oil as an energy source. Instead, thorium, a nuclear-based energy product will be used.

This sets off panic in the EU (European Union). And shortly after the opening ceremonies at Norway’s spanking brand new thorium plant, the Prime Minister is kidnapped and spirited away in a helicopter.

The PM’s bodyguard, Hans Martin Djupvik, chases the helicopter in a police car.

Okay, that is the bare bones opening. We will come to learn that the EU, in conjunction with the Russians, want the PM to capitulate and return to fossil fuel energy.

And to help him decide, the Russians promise a ‘soft’ occupation at least until the oil production is resumed, and if not, Norway will then face a full-scale invasion.

Berg, played by Henrik Mestad, as the Prime Minster is between a rock and hard-place. His country is on the wrong side of the EU, The US has withdrawn from NATO, and little Norway, with no support from former allies, would stand no chance against the superior Russian military if it came down to war.

I’ve completed all 10 episodes of this series which is screening on Netflix here in the USA, Australia, India, and Canada. The series has also been sold to the UK, Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. As expected, Russia was none too happy about this TV series.

But here’s the rub. This is not simply the good guys vs the bad guys. If anything, the Russian ambassador to Norway, Irina Sidorova (played by Ingeborga Dapkunaite) comes off as a rational, fair-minded, and nearly sympathetic figure.

The Norwegian PM is somewhat of a more complex figure. He is indeed a patriotic Norwegian, but his countrymen do not all see him that way. They think his capitulation to the Russian demands, is both disloyal, if not traitorous, as well as misguided.

So a resistance movement called Free Norway comes into play.

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2016 Sarasota Film Festival Kick Off Event for Sponsors, Supporters, and the Press

Sitting on the edge of Sarasota Bay, the Marie Selby Gardens are indeed a very fine and beautiful venue for the 2016 Sarasota Film Festival to hold its Press Kickoff event.

I arrived at 5:55 PM for the 6:00 PM opening of the gates. There was available free parking across the street in the Selby lot; or Valet Parking was there if that was your preference. It was a beautiful setting that only lacked a view of the bay and the anchored boats as the sky was overcast and dark, and fog had already obscured the view.

But there was plenty of glamour on view and that was just within the ranks of the attendees. The bar was open, and finger food properly sized to be finished in one bite were available via strolling servers.

Though we didn’t know it at the time, we would have an hour to kill. At just a moment or two before 7:00 PM, Mark Famiglio, the Sarasota Film Festival President stepped up to the podium and off we went. We were greeted and welcomed and then sponsors had to be thanked as well as major financial contributors, festival volunteers, and the hard-working staff of the SFF.

Eventually, Director of Programming Mike Dunaway would appear at the podium, and that meant that we would then learn about this year’s film Festival. Dunaway is kind of a dashing figure resplendent in his white sports jacket, rolled up denim trousers, and his trademark blue-lens glasses.

A joyous Michael Dunaway the director of programming of the Sarasota Film Festival during the kickoff party at Selby Gardens, who announced this year's lineup for festival. (March 16, 2016; STAFF PHOTO / THOMAS BENDER)

With his thick and bushy white/gray beard, Dunaway looks like a cross between old-time cowboy actor Gabby Hayes and a peacock.

The theme of this year’s festival is called Find Yourself in Film. And the underlying issues for this year are Mental Health, politics, women film makers as film-fatales, Making LGBTQ  films, the changing face of Documentary Film, and acting for Television.

Special screenings will be Mommy Dearest from 1981, with Joan Crawford’s adopted daughter Rutanya Alda on hand to discuss the film. Also receiving a Special Screening will be Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Actor and author Matthew Modine will be on hand at the Florida Studio Theater on Saturday April 9th at 10:00 AM to discuss the film

Full Metal Jacket, and his new interactive e-book Full Metal Jacket Diaries.

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An Evening with Sophia Loren

Her film career began way back in 1950. She’s won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1960. She has starred in films with the greatest and best leading men in the history of films. In 1991 she was given an Honorary Oscar for he indelible contributions to world cinema.

She literally burst into the consciousness of American film goers in the 1957 film called Boy on a Dolphin.

Her leading man was Alan Ladd. Later in 1957 The Pride and the Passion hit the screens in American film theaters. Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra were her co-stars.

She starred with John Wayne in the 1957 desert adventure film Legend of the Lost.

Her name is Sophia Loren, and as 1957 ended, Loren’s film career had barely started, but was already memorable. That was nearly sixty years ago. Loren would go on to become one of the most recognizable film stars all over the world.

Here is a list of some of her notable films:

1958 Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms. Loren starred with Anthony Perkins

1958 Houseboat with Cary Grant as the co-star
1960 It Started in Naples with Clark Gable


1960 Two Women – Loren won the Oscar for her performance in the Best Actress Category
1963 Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow with Marcello Mastroianni
1964 Marriage Italian Style with Marcello Mastroianni
1965 Lady L with Paul Newman and David Niven
1966 Arabesque with Gregory Peck
1967 A Countess from Hong Kong with Marlon Brando
1972 Man of La Mancha with Peter O’Toole
1974 The Voyage with Richard Burton
1994 Grumpier Old Men with Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Ann-Margret

Now that is an impressive list of films, roles, and co-stars.

On this March 31st, Sophia Loren will be feted at the Sarasota Film Festival. She will be awarded the 2016 Legend Award. The event will be called An Evening with Sophia Loren.

This event, to be held at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, here in Sarasota, will kick off the 2016 Sarasota Film Festival which begins on April 1st and continues through April 10th.

Here is a quote from the Van Wezel:

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HBO’s New Series – Vinyl

Back in the 70’s, I lived in New York, was part of the work force, and I listened to music. I didn’t do the club scene, nor the disco scene, nor was I a card-carrying member, invested or otherwise, in the world known as Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll.

I knew of Max’s Kansas City on Park Avenue South which would close in December of 1974, forcing Andy Warhol and his entourage to find a new hangout. I went there once.

CBGB’s on The Bowery, would open in 1973 and I believe I went there once as well. I attended one or two concerts at the Palladium on East 14th Street which had originally been called the Academy of Music.

I would see Van Morrison at the Palladium on October 6th, 1979. I would see the Allman Brothers at the Fillmore East on September 23rd, 1970,

and I would see both The Beach Boys and the Allman Brothers bands in Central Park, in 1977 and in 1971 respectively.

It wasn’t that I was on the outside of the music scene looking in. Instead, I was just on the outside.

So when the news broke about HBO, Martin Scorsese, and Mick Jagger joining forces to produce a TV series about the music business in those days so long ago, I didn’t jump out of my shoes with excitement.

Oh, I would definitely plan to see the series, but not for the memories. Rather I’d see it because watching and writing is what I do these days.

Created and produced by Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, Rich Cohen, and Terence Winter, Vinyl is more than just a walk on the wild side, or a trip onto those mean streets of New York which for most New Yorkers – the streets that were both real and/or imagined.

Vinyl is the story of Richie Finestra, the CEO of American Century Records. Finestra is played by Bobby Cannavale who simply commands your attention every second he’s on the screen. Let’s make that explicitly clear – Cannavale as Finestra is so good that he elevates the series all by himself.

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Bosch Season Two – An Amazon Original Series

The second season of the Amazon Prime Original Series Bosch premiered on March 11th. Titus Welliver is back as the laconic LAPD Homicide Detective Harry Bosch. Also returning as part of a stellar cast are Lance Reddick (The Wire) as Deputy Police Chief Irvin Irving, Amy Aquino as Bosch’s direct supervisor Command Detective Lt.Grace Billets, and Jamie Hector (also from The Wire) as Bosch’s partner Jerry Edgar.

They work out of the Hollywood Division and the direction likes lots of airborne cameras so we always are aware of the huge size and sprawl of LA as seen from a helicopter. Now airborne cameras are nothing new to TV or even police shows – just think of True Detective’s second season.

But Bosch is nothing like the detectives we watched in True Detective. As the second season begins we witness a murder or execution (gangland style) high up on Mulholland Drive. We then cut to Bosch shaving off his beard that he grew while he was under a six-month suspension that he got after tossing a supervisor through a plate-glass panel at HQ at the end of the 1st season. He’s about to return to work.

Harry does return to work, and as we watch and admire his intensity, we also have to live with his dry humor when we get to see it as he’s mostly humorless. But this makes for a strong detective. Yes, he’s often grumpy – but that’s the result of his drive to solve the cases.

 

The case that Bosch and Edgar caught was the Mulholland Drive murder. The vic was a porn producer who apparently did quite well as he lived in a posh gated community high up in the Hollywood Hills.

This porn producer, named Tony Allen, was connected to the Armenian mobster Joey Marks, and Allen’s trophy wife Veronica is played by Jeri Ryan who long ago starred in the Star Trek: Voyager series.

But Bosch is more than just one case at a time, so there’s a whole lot more. Watching this second season requires that you keep track of a number of story threads, and they take their time in tying them all together.

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House of Cards – Season 4, Episode 1

The long wait is over (nearly a year for me). House of Cards returned to Netflix today to open its 4th season. Though all the episodes are available, I will only discuss the past season and the opener in this post. This is not a full recap, but there are some spoilers – so you’ve been alerted.

When I had finished last season, I was sure (looking ahead) that Kevin Spacey‘s President Frank Underwood would be facing a difficult year. There was the Presidential election to deal with and Underwood’s rival, Heather Dunbar, played by Elizabeth Marvel, was a way tougher opponent than the usual straw men that Underwood pushed around, stepped on, or sent packing as if they mattered not. Of course they mattered, otherwise why would Underwood have bothered.

Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) returned from the presumed dead and eventually, he not only resumed his role as Underwood’s chief-of-staff, fixer, bagman, and aide-de-camp; that is, after Remy Danton stepped aside and moved to a less stressful (and better paying) job in the private sector, a position made available by the maneuverings of Underwood’s Press Secretary Seth Grayson, but Stamper also joined his boss the President in that not so exclusive club known as I Am a Murderer, after he disposed of the bothersome (in Stamper’s mind) Rachel Posner.

Now Rachel had gone off the grid, like Jason Bourne did in India, only in her case it was somewhere in the Southwest and would have remained so, but Stamper put the screws on Gavin Orsay to bend the FBI rules and discover her whereabouts via facial recognition software, so he could thereby remove the last possible impediment to making sure Congressman Peter Russo’s demise remained as reported – a suicide.

On top of everything else, as season three ended,

The First Lady, Claire Underwood announced to her husband Frank, I am leaving you.

So of course, I was taken completely by surprise when this, the fourth season, opened in a prison cell –

the one where Lucas Goodwin was incarcerated. Goodwin, as you may recall, worked with Zoe Barnes until she had an unfortunate collision with a fast-moving Washington Metro train at the hands of Francis Underwood to open Season Two. Goodwin did not witness Zoe’s murder, but he knew enough about Zoe and Underwood to raise many questions. Goodwin got sent to prison after he was duped into committing a cyber-crime, a crime that was arranged by the big-nosed guy from the FBI, and his operative, Gavin Orsay.

More than a few folks said at the time, that this Lucas Goodwin would be a key person down the road, and be at least an involved player in bringing down Frank Underwood. Which is all fine and good, but in this the opening stanza of the 4th season – Goodwin appeared in 4 separate scenes – 2 in his cell, one with his lawyer, and then again, in a safe house that he would occupy under a new identity.

As his attorney would say – the government is not your enemy. The government is protecting you. I’m not sure why – unless, Goodwin has told them what he knows about Barnes and Underwood.

To me, this undercuts any drama that might have arisen when we learned that Goodwin was no longer in jail. I think it was a mistake to reveal this in the first episode of the season. In fact it was an even bigger mistake to open the episode with him.

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