The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

The word ‘Family’ came into English in the 15th century. As the years passed, many families found themselves in the midst of discord and distrust. And so the term dysfunctional family entered our lexicon many years later.

Amongst the many symptoms that have been used the one that comes most readily to mind is the word ‘conflict’. And many dysfunctional families deal with conflict by:

using criticism, contempt and defensiveness, along with putting up walls and looking for scapegoats.

Now in the world of tv, films, and theatrical dramas – conflict is a major component. As such, dysfunctional families are the meat and potatoes of a lot of what we watch on our various media platforms.

From The Simpsons to the The Sopranos to The Royal Tenenbaums, and from Oscar Winning films like Ordinary People (1980) to American Beauty (1999) – we can’t seem to get enough of these dramas or dramadies.

Lets add the Meyerowitz family to the mix. The film is called The Meyerowitz Stories. It opened in a limited number of theaters in mid October while simultaneously streaming on Netflix. At the head of the family is the patriarch Harold Meyerowitz with Dustin Hoffman taking the role. His claim to fame was more for being a tenured Bard College professor than for his varied art works.  Though if you ask him – he’ll be happy to tell you of the excellence of that art in what can be described quite simply as a very ‘Trumpian’ manner.

He was far less successful in his personal relationships. He fathered 3 children – now all adults – Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Elizabeth Marvel have the roles.  His kids will tell you that each of them has a different mother – meaning that Dad, good old Dad, was divorced 4 times. At which point, Harold will correct who ever said it with – No, I was divorced just 3 times – the other marriage ended with an annulment.

Such is life with Harold Meyerowitz. Currently, Harold dwells with Maureen (played delightfully by Emma Thompson), who seems to be drunk or working towards that state of being most of the time.

Adam Sandler (as Danny) is down on his luck – divorced, jobless, and nearly broke. Ben Stiller, portraying the ‘successful’ brother Matthew, is deeply resented by Danny as apparently Matthew was the apple of Harold’s eye.  I said ‘was’ but ‘still is’ is likely still in play – if you ask me.

Elizabeth Marvel is Harold’s third child, or maybe she was the first. She’s Jean Meyerowitz and she appears to be in a permanent state of depression.  Her role is underwritten and she looks as if her costumer and her make up people turned her on to the set as a female sad-sack. I say that because she just hasn’t enough lines for us to know.

Well the set up of the Meyerowitz Stories is that each of the adult kids will all tell their own version of their stories, as in they each take a turn in narrating. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, the film has its moments of levity. Truly there’s not a lot of laugh-out-loud moments but at least there’s some.

Hoffman gives a stand out performance and that’s no surprise. All the best lines were written for him.  Stiller is at least competent but he hasn’t much to work with.

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Call My Agent – Season 2

Talent agencies are not the usual subject of a TV series. Now once upon a time, we had a fabulously successful series set in an ad agency. They called it Mad Men. It ran for 7 seasons and won a boatload of Awards, including statuettes from the Golden Globes and the outfit that hands out the Prime time Emmy awards.

On a smaller scale, and from a different country, I’ve just finished watching Season 2 of the French TV Series Dix Pour Cent, or as it is known on American shores – Call My Agent. For sure, Call My Agent is not Mad Men… but it relates to the former because it is much closer to being a mad house.

I think.

Season Two is basically a continuation from Season 1 which I reviewed here.  The widow of Samuel Kerr, the agency founder and majority stockholder, has informed the staff that she has no interest in running the boutique talent agency, and has decided to sell.

The new buyer/owner, Hicham Jankowski, is a risk for the 4 agents and the rest of the staff. The new buyer/owner might sell the agency off to a bigger firm, or he might make some changes, or worse = he’d be hands-on and he would intrude on the day to doings of one and all.

Instead – he gave each of the 4 agents (aka minority stockholders), a healthy 15,000 bonus. And that was because they negotiated firmly and never gave his original offer of 10,000 a chance.

That put a smile on all their faces. But no doubt they might have gotten even more had they been more greedy.

Martel was especially happy. She knew Jankowski from way back – before she became a Parisienne. For her, going back to her roots was a nonstarter, Her life style continues in Season 2. That would consist of picking up girls in bars, that is until she finds the one who would truly become The One. That is when she wasn’t courting clients, or dealing with film makers and film stars.

Gabriel Sarda (above) had his romance with the agency receptionist Sofia (below) go into uncharted waters as she, being an actress/singer, was also his client. People were talking, okay – whispering – that she was bartering sex for career advancement. Not true – but that didn’t stop all the whispers.

Mathias was also involved in the contretemps as it will become known about his relationship with the office ingenue who is –

Camille, and she’s played winsomely by Fanny Sidney. No, it’s not what you are thinking.  This was something we can slip into the niche called family. Mathias also has issues with his ex-wife.

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The Brave – New TV Series from NBC

Just checked my blog activity.  I posted a review of The Lava Fields on May 25th, then nothing until a pair of posts in September. Beyond that lots of ‘spam comments’ arrived needing deletion.  Nothing else happened.

Well I’m back. The hiatus or should I say the period of  a near complete lack of inspiration, which was really a nicer way of saying that I was unmotivated – has ended.

We’ll begin with a look at a new series on NBC – The Brave. NBC describes its series … this heroic Special Ops squad of highly trained undercover specialists use their unbreakable bond and commitment to freedom to save lives of innocent people and execute missions in some of the most dangerous places in the world.

From where I sit, The Brave is a new and exciting reworking of the old Mission Impossible TV series – only without any latex masks. Tom Cruise has a solid grip on the MI film franchise with MI6 currently filming – with a release scheduled in 2018. Until then, you action junkies can give this series a shot.

Seven episodes have already aired with the most recent one on Monday the 6th of November. What we basically have is a Special Ops team that normally, at least at the beginning of each episode, is based in Turkey. They live in a large warehouse (or maybe a quonset). There’s 4 guys and one girl. They have their own version of a Batphone (a video sat phone for the all important face time), and when it chimes – it generally means they have a mission to do.

The calls come (not from an unnamed Secretary) but from HQ here known as The Defense Intelligence Agency (which is an actual Washington DC based agency serving the military and founded by Robert McNamara in 1961).

Their boss is Deputy Director Patricia Campbell (Anne Heche has the role) who will not only lay it out for the team on the phone, but will also oversee the operations via the team’s body-cams. They all have a micro-earpiece and mike) so they can all hear from each other. Sometimes the boss will even put her own boots on the ground with her team.

She’s tough, knows all about working in the field, and is a no-nonsense kind of chief who has the skills needed for such dangerous work. If you’re looking for a comparable for Heche’s role – think Helen Mirren in Eye in the Sky from 2015. Oh yes, as character Campbell, she’s also a mother of a son who was KIA in Afghanistan.

Accompanying her in the photo above is her Squad leader Adam Dalton played by Mike Vogel. Captain Dalton is the leader, the comm director and a former member of Delta force. His team calls him ‘Top’ and he makes the tactical decisions when they are in the field.

In the seven episodes I’ve seen, the field has been in Karatas, Turkey, Afghanistan, Paris, Nigeria, Seville, Mexico, and the Ukraine. Sounds impressive doesn’t it? But the reality is a little different. The Afghan  scenes were shot in Morocco. As for the rest – we get some obligatory cityscapes or establishing exteriors of an unnamed Ukrainian city, ditto Seville and Paris – but all of the action and indoor scenes are actually shot in or near a studio in New Mexico, right here in the USA.

Not a real deal-breaker bust still…

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Fleeing Hurricane Irma – Part II

Saturday September 9th:

I left the Holiday Inn Express in Greenwood SC after a desultory free breakfast, and hit the road at 10:00

Most of the front portion of the trip, the  44 plus miles in a northerly direction to Greenville, SC, was on US-25 which threaded its way through rural South Carolina. This was a good road, basically a 4-lane divided highway.

Coming out of Greenville, I remained on US-25 and did so into North Carolina. Even before Hendersonville, one could see that the terrain was changing. Bigger hills could be seen to the north. This made the road a bit more complex to drive.

I would hit a lengthy bit of stop and go approaching the Asheville Regional Airport. But it only added a half hour additional to the journey.

I had told my Airbnb hosts that I would arrive at 1:00 PM and I arrived at the Dogwood Grove address at 1:06 PM.

The house was up in the hills and there was plenty of forest to be seen. The first picture below is of the solarium just off the bedroom.

The second image is a view of the bedroom which came equipped with a TV, a small refrigerator, Wi-Fi, private entrance, private bathroom, and with the ceiling fan in use, there was no need to run the AC.

I chatted with the hosts and found them to be very warm and inviting. They were also former New Yorkers like me.

Time to get my bearings. Coming out of Dogwood Grove, I’d eventually run into Route 70 and that would leave me with a choice. Shall I go Right or Left.

I turned left and that took me in an uphill direction. Within minutes I was looking at the entrance to a tunnel. No surprise there as the road is called Tunnel Road. But I didn’t know that beforehand.

This was one scary tunnel. Though quite short it was unexpected and I hadn’t time to switch from sunglasses to regular glasses. Even with my headlights on – it was till way dark. I mean really, really dark.

I could barely see the car behind me, and sometimes the approaching car hadn’t put his headlights on, so it was harrowing from beginning to end. I’m talking about a minute or a minute 15 seconds tops of sheer automotive terror.

But I made it through safely twice – out and back – which enabled me to return to write this for you.

Dinner was decided by a coin toss. Heads it would be Outback at 611 Tunnel Road, tails it would be the Yoshida Express at 30 Tunnel Road. The coin came up heads. So I headed out for some steak and some bloomin’ onions plus a side salad.

Of course leaving the apartment at 5:45 PM on a Saturday night was too late. Parking lot was filled  and people were waiting outside to get in. So I need a reversal of direction. Back on to Tunnel Road in the opposite direction.

The Yoshida Express featured Japanese style food. Steak and Chicken with fried rice and seasoned sweet carrots would do just fine.  Only aside from the style of the food, and some Japanese decorations, the place was in Asheville, NC – and I didn’t see any Japanese staff, or even hear any Japanese.

The price for the entrée, salad and a beverage was $13 and change.and then there was a mandatory tip of either 15% or 20% or a custom tip – fill in the amount yourself. I don’t mind tipping or even service changes like they do in Europe – but

– this place was completely self-service. Carry the drink to the table yourself, pick up your salad, then the entrée at the counter, then ‘bus’ your own table when finished. So the tip was for the counter girl/cashier who took your order and likely the cook..

The food was okay but the whole tip business turned me off. I would later find out that Asheville had a good many fine Japanese restaurants. I should have done more research.

Hurricane Irma Storm Post

Thursday September 7th:

My memories of last year’s storm, “Matthew” which happened in early October of 2016 are still fresh, or should I say – those memories have been refreshed. In early 2016 I had moved from Sarasota, FL to Port Wentworth, GA. The reasons for that move are not germane to for this post, so I won’t mention them. What I will say, that while living in Sarasota from May of 2008 to April of 2016, none of the hurricanes or tropical storms, or even the far too prevalent thunder storms, created any suffering beyond only a few short power outages – all of which were measured in hours rather than days.

But with storm track models for Hurricane Irma – if the storm made its way up Florida east coast, there was a distinct likelihood, that this storm would eventually impact coastal Georgia. In fact Savannah appeared in almost every projection. Now I don’t live in Savannah. I am in Port Wentworth about a 15 to 20 minutes drive west from Savannah.  Meaning I live in a western suburb of Savannah.

Now Matthew had left me with out electricity, as well as no cell phone or internet service for about three days. I also suffered some small amount of water damage. Not flooding mind you, just wind-driven rain which seeped in under the front door. The cure was four days of an electric blower (battery operated) to dry out a section of my bedroom carpet. So yeah, I escaped with a minimal amount of inconvenience and/or damage,

But I wasn’t about to take my chances on a repeat. So yesterday I booked an apartment via Airbnb in Asheville, NC, which is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains in western North Carolina. About 308 miles north and west from Port Wentworth.

I booked the place for Saturday, the 9th with checkout on Wednesday the 13th. My plan was to remain high and dry and not lose days to a loss of electricity, or worse.

That was the plan.

Friday September 8th: Watching CNN’s coverage of the storm was not at all pleasant. The size, strength, and direction of the storm remained ominous. Which is a long way from assuring.

Around 1:00 PM, I left the apartment to fill up the gas tank of my car. No problem to do that, as there was plenty of gas, and no lines.

But –

The gas station  was close enough to I-95 that I could see that the northbound traffic was stop and go as in bumper-to-bumper. Now Port Wentworth is exit 109 on I-95 in Georgia. This makes it the last exit in Georgia and it is only about 4-5 minutes from the Georgia-South Carolina border.

Now my route to Asheville was not going to put me on 1-95. Rather I would take GA-21 north from Port Wentworth utilizing a series of state roads and the older federal highways that aren’t Interstates but are still excellent. That is until I would get on I-520/I-20 coming out of Augusta, GA But it wasn’t the traffic that worried me. I thought that there would be a gasoline shortage based on the amount of traffic

So after deciding to leave one day earlier, I went back to my apartment and booked a room at the Holiday Inn Express in Greenwood, SC. Staying in Greenwood would leave me with about a 128 miles run up to Asheville.

So I quickly packed and at 2:30 PM I started the car. Having met some of my neighbors, I was the 4th of 6 tenants in the building to leave for higher ground. Chatham County had issued a mandatory evacuation notice. Plus the apartment complex office would be closed, meaning there would be no staff on hand, and no maintenance issues could be dealt with.

So it seemed a no-brainer to take off.

I saw plenty of mileage through Georgia’s ‘back roads’, There was no traffic at all until I got within 5 miles of the I-520 exchange in Augusta. What should have been a quick 5 miles became a lengthy crawl of nearly an hour. Nevertheless, I made it onto I-520 then exited to I-20. I think I was only about 10 minutes on the interstates. Then more of the Georgia and the South Carolina back roads.

I did make it to the Holiday Express in Greenwood, and it is from that location that I write this.

Tomorrow is a new day and I’ll have about 128 miles to go to get to Asheville.

 

The Lava Field – TV Series from Iceland Now on Netflix

I’m just thinking out loud as well as wondering. How many times have you said to yourself, I’d love to visit Iceland, maybe stay in Reykjavik for a few days. Then take a drive out to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and see the lava fields.

I must admit that although I am a world traveler, I’ve never harbored those thoughts. Well if you watch the 4 part 2014 TV series – The Lava Field, which is now airing in Netflix, you can find yourself enmeshed in a murder case in the very same Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and you won’t even have to leave your sofa.

You will be joining Detective Helgi played by Björn Hlynur Haraldsson,

and his rookie partner, Greta who is played by Heida Reed.

Helgi is a former Reykjavik homicide detective and he’s been summoned out to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula which is in western Iceland, and is the same area where he grew up. And still is troubled by an event that happened to him long ago.

He is divorced and had two children with that woman who still lives in the area. One of Helgi’s children died at an early age., So that leaves us with a troubled detective whose past washes over him every day that he is in Snaefellnes.

His partner Greta, is a young rookie detective, fresh out of detective school. She goes for layered clothing on top, and leggings for her lower half. She’s cute, perky, and wholly understands the effect she has on some men. That said, she surprises Helgi  – who as expected didn’t want her as his partner at the outset – with her sleuthing skills.

The show begins with a wealthy financier taking his own life in a swanky beachfront home. Or so it seems.

From there the story expands into financial misdeeds, drug smuggling, and as the cherry on the top – a young six-year-old child goes missing.

We will meet all of these folks as well as the brass at the local police station where Helgi is now working,  There’s the domestic issues with his ex-wife, another kidnapping, and a series of folks come into focus as suspects in all of the above.

Sometimes, the pace slows down to a crawl, and for me, there wasn’t enough action. But all the characters are interesting, and the dynamics between Helgi and Greta are intriguing.

But the biggest pluses of the show are the haunting and mysterious lava field where it is said that if you get lost there, in that lava field, you will never be found. The rest of Iceland is simply stunningly beautiful. And you will see plenty of the country side. Hardly any of Reykjavik itself.

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Agent Raghav – Crime Branch

Resuming our recent series of posts about detectives and criminality overseas, this post will discuss a TV series from India. They call it Agent Raghav – Crime Branch. Portrayed by Sharad Keikar, Raghav is a homicide detective working for the Special Case Unit in the Indian version of the FBI which is known as the CBI or Central Bureau of Investigation.

The headquarters is based in New Delhi, India.

Agent Raghav is certainly brilliant. He notices everything, and is especially astute in taking note of body language and facial expressions. In most of the cases, we will have to depend on him to tell us what we know and that’s because we won’t always notice what he does. That said, the series often takes great pains to show the obvious. Which is another way of saying that there’s an overabundance of reaction shots. Especially between Raghav and his boss.

My problem with Agent Raghav is that he’s good, and he knows it. Which is another way of saying that he is a bit conceited.

His Supervisor in the unit is Agent Trisha Deewan who is played by Aahana Kumra. She’s a tall and willowy woman who is actually quite attractive. She’s particularly driven to succeed in the ranks of the CBI.

And that often leads to differences of opinions between Raghav and Deewan. That said, despite their differences in how to best go about solving a particular case, there’s also a strong subtext of a mutual attraction between them.

Rounding out the unit are two lower ranked agents – Danish Pandor as Agent Rajbir, Jason Tham as Agent Bikram, and a forensic and tech expert – Agent Gauri who is played by Deepali Pansari (holding the umbrella in the above picture).

The series is airing on Netflix and there are thirty episodes.  I’ve watched the first seven and I think I have a good feel and understanding of the series. While the scenes that are supposed to be at the Crime Branch’s HQ – they’ve most likely been shot on a studio set – we get a repetitive static look at the actual CBI Building from the outside. There’s not different views or different angles – no helicopters shots, or even shots of cars pulling up in front of the building.

After a while – it gets a bit stale.

That aside, there is indeed plenty of location shooting.

The crimes are varied and often quite interesting. As an example, the first case involves at least three suicides at the main Delhi train station. All three on different days, but all at the exact same platform location, and at the exact same time, with people stepping off the platform in front of the same train.

Of course there’s a connection between the suicides – but it isn’t obvious.

Other crimes include kidnapping, corporate frauds, love triangles, battles over property and inheritances, and a good deal of cases that you seen before. Not only seen before elsewhere, but done far better on other shows or in different countries.

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HBO’s Wizard of Lies

HBO aired a brand new entry from its film division a few days ago which was Saturday May 20th. They called it Wizard of Lies, and the lead was Robert De Niro as the infamous Bernie Madoff. Michelle Pfeiffer c0-starred as Ruth Madoff.

Most of us remember Mr. Madoff’s fall from grace. And that’s being kind. Madoff was the kingpin in the biggest Ponzi scheme in recorded history. His Asset Management firm gobbled up literally billions of US dollars ($64.8 Billion to be accurate), and in return gave their clients fake statements as documentation of the fake trades.

Madoff took their investment dollars and deposited them into his account at Chase Bank. When a client requested a withdrawal, Madoff paid them out of the money in the Chase account. In a sense this was a never-ending ‘take money from Peter to pay Paul’ scheme with an infinite number of replications.

In Madoff’s own words – It’s a fraud. Basically a big Ponzi scheme. There were no trades, no investments. I made it all up.

Madoff is now known as Prisoner 61727-54 serving out a 150 year sentence in a medium security federal prison in Butner, N.C. which is outside of Raleigh, NC.

The film opens with Madoff being interviewed in this prison by a NY Times reporter – Diana Henriques – who would go on to write a non-fiction book about Madoff and his exploits. Henriques appeared in the film as herself.

Basically this interview established the framework of the film. Our perspective was the interview and then a flashback to the day before Madoff was arrested by the FBI and taken out of his swank Manhattan penthouse in handcuffs.  They didn’t show us the ‘perp walk’ but we didn’t need to see it.

From there we see the interview continued as well as the flashbacks. Basically we never saw the day-to-day operations or said a different way – the nuts and bolts of how this huge scam was perpetrated.

How do you now plead?

We also didn’t see much of the victims who lost millions to Madoff. It wasn’t until the sentencing phase of Madoff’s trial that we saw the victims –

He discarded me like I was road-kill…

He took our entire life savings…

So mostly this was a family drama. De Niro’s Madoff was all internalized struggles. Madoff had this terrible secret which he had to keep from his family and closest friends. There was a line that Madoff said to the reporter – For 16 years I kept this secret from my wife, my sons. How I was able to do that and maintain any degree of sanity…

The film was kind of a Grand Guignol of greed. One might understand how a Madoff might temporarily sink to the depths of this kind of behavior. Oh he did say that he intended to make things right – but he never did. The deception rolled unchecked and unabated for years. Of course there were accomplices – back office types that created the make-believe statements and trade confirms.

Bernie had his penthouse apartment in Manhattan, a swanky beachfront estate in Montauk Pt, NY, an elegant home in the south of France, cars, yachts, jewelry – he even had enough watches to wear a different one each day of the month.

And yet – the film manages to evoke sympathy from the viewer. Not for Bernie, of course – but for Ruth Madoff, and the two sons Andrew and Mark – one of whom committed suicide by hanging himself, and the other died of lymphoma cancer.

That’s Nathan Darrow on the left as Andrew Madoff. Darrow played Edward Meechum for a few seasons on House of Cards. Alessandro Nivona is on the right as Mark Madoff

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Shetland – TV Series on Netflix

Some people who love dogs may be amazed by the instincts and smarts of the dog known as The Shetland Sheep Dog. The dog looks like a small collie and at one time was even known as the Shetland Collie.

But that name was lost in the legal wranglings brought on by the collie breeders. So the Shetland Collie ultimately became known as the Sheltie, and today is known as the Shetland Sheep Dog.

And who among us, both men and women, have not treated ourselves or been gifted a beautiful Shetland Wool Sweater?

So considering that you may already know about the dogs, and the wool, and of course the sheep – where exactly is Shetland?

Southeast of Iceland, west from Bergen, Norway, and northeast out of Scotland are the general instructions to find the Shetland Islands on a map.

You know I like to watch TV series set in places I’ve not been to. One such series is called Shetland and you may currently watch the first three ‘seasons’ on Netflix. I’ve placed quotation marks around the word seasons for a reason.

Season One of Shetland (available for streaming on Netflix) consisted of one mystery which aired in two one hour episodes. This two parter was called Red Bones. This was in effect a ‘pilot’ and was based on the novel Red Bones written by Ann Cleves.

The lead of the series is Detective Inspector Jimmie Perez who is played by Douglas Henshall. Now Henshall in real life, is a Scotsman born and bred. There is a back story of how a Scottish Detective comes to have the name Perez, and it is revealed but really doesn’t command or need a lot of space in this review.

He is ably assisted by Detective Constable later to be promoted to Detective Sergeant Alison ‘Tosh’ MacIntosh. She’s played by Allison O’Donnell. 

The third member of their team is Detective Constable Sandy Wilson and he’s played by Steve Robertson.

Season One’s Red Bones is about a present time murder that some how reaches back in time and connects with a previous murder some 19 years earlier. We get lots of outdoor location shooting and what seems to be most remarkable is the utter absence of trees. We have lots of green rolling hills and the sea, and an often rocky coastline, but – NO TREES. Most of the roads are narrow, and outside of town, the homes are spread far apart.

For those of you who have watched the TV series Humans, you will be happy to know that Gemma Chan from Humans is in this series. She plays an archeologist involved in a dig for relics from long ago. In case you didn’t know this, humans have lived on the Shetlands all the way back to the Mesolithic Era.

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