First Day in Oslo, Norway

So it is Saturday afternoon, of the 14th of March. I’ve been shown the where’s and the hows of this apartment in the Grunerlokka section of Oslo, and soon enough, the host leaves. So let’s have a look around –

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IMG_0759The living room is set under a triple skylight.

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The dining room is next to a wall of windows and has a nice hanging lamp over it. This will prove to be invaluable, if and when I need to do something on my laptop.

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I know what you’re thinking. Is that a bathtub sitting outside on the balcony?

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It sure is. Not quite the right season for a soak under the stars – but knowing one could, at the right time of year – is a major plus.

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The balcony walls are kind of high, but the views aren’t all that special anyway. But who rents an apartment for a short stay, based on the views from a balcony.

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Happy Valley

I’m Catherine. I’m 47 years old. I’m divorced. I live with me sister who is a recovering heroin addict by the way. I’ve two grown up children. One dead, and the other I don’t speak to, and a grandson.

That’s our lead character in the brand new Netflix Mini-Series called Happy Valley. Set somewhere in a rural Yorkshire County valley, in the UK, she’s Catherine Cawood. In the local parlance she’s a copper. Actually she’s the uniformed sergeant in the local constabulary, and she’s in charge of a team.

She’s a no-nonsense kind of sergeant who believes a strong word here and there is better than a soft or mild dressing down for the staff when appropriate. With outsiders, she’s polite, fair, and fearless. In Episode Two, watch how she arrests a city-councilman who refused a breathalyzer test after an automobile smash-up.

With her ex-husband, Richard, she gets along well. They’re divorced and maybe it was them, or maybe it was her job as a homicide investigator, bad hours and all, or maybe it was the death of their daughter that pulled them apart. However, the fires haven’t gone completely out for either of them.

There’s a moment when she had met her ex-husband for a drink, and one thing led to another and Sgt. Cawood tells Richard, “You’d better come in. I’m too old to be shagging in a car…”

Then there’s the dead daughter to consider. She was raped, got pregnant as a result, and once the child was delivered, Catherine’s daughter took her own life. The good Sgt. is still haunted by it.

Of course there’s a case, and without giving away too much:

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Hand of God

Amazon.com does more than simply sell everything.They noticed what Netflix has done, and joined in to not only distribute films and TV shows via their streaming service, but they also create their own content in the form of TV shows that they’ve labeled Amazon Original Series. Among the five new pilots now available to see, today I watched Hand of God which starred Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy) and Dana Delaney (Body of Proof and Desperate Housewives).

From the Amazon site for this pilot we get this description: A psychological drama about a morally corrupt judge who suffers a breakdown and believes God is compelling him onto a path of vigilante justice.

Actually, I have no gripes about that as a description. Ron Perlman, who just wrapped the still unseen final season of Sons of Anarchy, plays a criminal court judge named Pernell Harris. Dana Delaney is his wife Crystal Harris. When we meet Judge Harris he is naked in the fountain in the town square of the fictional town named San Vicente, CA. He’s chanting in what can only be called ‘tongues’.

Judge Harris thinks he is undergoing a baptism, and on or off the record, he calls himself ‘born again’. From our perspective, the Judge looks like he’s run off the tracks. But there’s a reason. His family has had a very recent and very dark event befall them. Judge Harris’s daughter-in-law had recently been repeatedly raped right in front of her husband, the Judge’s son. The son, in despair, attempted to take his own life, but he survived his own gunshot into his head, and now lies comatose in a hospital.

Mrs. Harris is seen telling it to the judge

Mrs. Harris is seen telling it to the judge

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The Cosmopolitans

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If you are a fan of Ernest Hemingway’s novels, then you know that he wrote The Sun Also Rises in 1926. It was about a group of American and British ex-pats who travel from Paris to Pamplona Spain. In Hemingway’s own words it was his notion that the ‘Lost Generation’ considered to have been decadent, dissolute, and irretrievably damaged by World War I, was [actually] resilient and strong. The theme of the book besides love, death, and renewal in nature, and the nature of masculinity, also included Paris and how it attracted droves of the Lost Generation.

The Sun Also Rises was made into a movie and it was released in 1957. Some of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest stars of the 1940’s and 50’s appeared in the film – Tyrone Power, Ava Gardner, Mel Ferrer, and Errol Flynn were the headliners.

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I never read the book, and never saw the film either. But flashing forward to today, we have The Cosmopolitans which was written, directed, and produced by Whit Stillman. Now Whit Stillman is not a name that readily comes to mind. I’ve seen (and reviewed) just one of his films – Damsels in Distress which came out in 2011. It was about of a trio of privileged girls who set out to change the male-dominated environment of the Seven Oaks college campus, and to rescue their fellow students from depression, grunge and low standards of every kind.

l to r: Hal, Jimmy, Aubrey, and Sandro in the Paris Metro. They're heading for the pary at Fritz's place.

l to r: Hal, Jimmy, Aubrey, and Sandro in the Paris Metro. They’re heading for the pary at Fritz’s place.

In short these girls want to make things better, and have a great time doing it, just like Hemingways characters Jake Barnes, Lady Brett Ashley, and Robert Cohn did so long ago. In The Cosmopolitans which premiered its pilot today, Stillman takes what he can from both Hemingway and Damsels in Distress and sets us up in Paris, with three guys Jimmy, Hal. and an Italian guy named Sandro. Then there are three girls – Aubrey, Vicky, and Camille. The wild card is guy named Fritz who is wealthy, tosses parties, and knows every one.

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Bewakoofiyaan (2014)

He’s a marketing whiz with an MBA working in the airline sector. She’s a financial whiz.

They’ve been dating for two years, and are wildly in love. After he receives a huge pay raise and a promotion resulting in him being bumped up to Senior Executive for Marketing – he adds a new car, and then buys a whopping diamond ring for her. When he pops the question, she says yes.

There’s just one hurdle. She asks that he ask her father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Yes, it is an old-fashioned idea, but that is how she wants to play it. The hurdle? Her father wants nothing less than a top-shelf guy for his daughter.

Okay fair enough. The couple can’t see any way that Papa would not see them as just the perfect couple. But are they really perfect? Are they a couple who will stand proudly under the canopy of love conquers all of life’s problems?

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Dedh Ishqiya

Once there was a priest who had a pet female parrot.
The parrot hurled such vile abuses that even I would feel ashamed.
The priest shared his problem with his friend, the Judge.
The Judge asked the priest to bring the parrot to his house.
He had two male parrots who were very pious.
They sang praises of Allah all day long.
Good company would make all the difference.
[So] The priest brought the parrot to the judge’s house.
The judge put the female parrot in the cage with the other parrots.
A soon as she went in, the parrots stopped reciting the prayers.
One smiled and turned to the other…
…and whispered in his ear…
Stop chanting the Lord’s name. Our prayers have been answered.

This is neither a parable or an outright joke that I would normally hear much less pass on. How ever it does open the film Dedh Ishqiya, a sequel to the film Ishqiya which I reviewed (and loved) back in July of 2011.

In fact, on the DVD cover, the title reads: Dedh Ishqiya 1 1/2. So whether that makes it a full sequel or just a continuance, is up to you. But whatever you call it, this is a superb film. If the title doesn’t mean that much to you, think of this – the legendary Queen and story-teller (One Thousand and One Nights) called Scheherazade stayed alive by telling a king a story each night until he fell asleep. Now fuse that with the classic film, The Sting, and simmer with some spices from Thelma & Louise, and you have Dedh Ishqiya.

Having said that, I really mean to suggest that film has secrets kept from the audience, has a pair of strong female characters, as well as con men and plenty of dark humor. Our two protagonists are Khalu and Babban. They are an uncle and nephew con man team. They are also grifters, car thieves, and are not above snatch or grab, then run kind of robberies in jewelry stores. In fact, via flashback, we learn that it was just such a situation, that while they were fleeing with a stolen necklace, and the police in heavy pursuit, that they became separated.

So as this film opens, Babban is standing in a hole meant to be his grave, and he’s telling the above joke to his nemesis – the guy they stole a bag of money from in the first film, Ishqiya. The joke got a chuckle, but didn’t save his life. The Boss told his men, Bury Him!

Bury him!

Bury him!

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Tyrant – New FX TV Series

Somewhere between the Garden of Allah and the Sicilian village of Corleone, lies the fictional country Abbudin. This country had long been under the heel of a tyrannical despot, Khaled Al Fayeed. This man had two sons – the older was Jamal, and the younger one was called Bassam.

Bassam would leave his family for sunny Pasadena in Southern California and become a practicing pediatrician. He left Abbudin 20 years ago. He now has a wife and two teen age children, and has not returned to his homeland until now.

While he may be a member of the Al Fayeed family, he now calls himself Barry rather than Bassam. The occasion for his return is the wedding of his brother Jamal’s son. Burdened with some horrific memories,

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Barry reluctantly agrees to return to his homeland and to be re-united with his family.

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Million Dollar Arm

In 1976 we had Rocky. In 1986 we had Hoosiers. Rudy appeared in our movie theaters in 1993. And in 2000, The Replacements was a popular film. All of the above are about sports, and competition, and all were the stories of underdogs who no one believed in except for one or two some bodies who were involved. Yes, films about sports have so very often told the story of the underdog.

We can now add Million Dollar Arm to the list, and while we are in the mood to add to this family friendly film from Disney, let’s add in some of the old cinematic chestnuts from films that we all have seen again and again.

There's Arkin as Ray on the far right

There’s Arkin as Ray on the far right

a) Like the grumpy old coach, manager, or trainer – how about Alan Arkin playing a baseball scout so bored and uninterested that he only has to listen to a thrown pitch to know its speed, that is when he’s not napping, or cracking wise.

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Transcendence

Transcendence opened today. Not quite with a thud but almost. Johnny Depp has little to do except think, dream, die – and  once that’s done, then the whole process begins again. Think of the fact of men, machines, and God; then roll them into one entity – as in sort of a new wave trinity, then upload this new being to the Internet, and you have a transcendental event or the theme of this film.

Now this film may sound as something provocative, or important, or even worthy of your time, money, and consideration. But really it isn’t. While not quite as numbingly bad as Depp’s turn as The Tourist in 2010, this is a film with little action, so-so dialogue, and a lot of philosophizing about the current natural order of things, and a new way to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Depp’s character Dr. Will Caster is not quite saying – We have met technology, and now we are technology. But that’s what the film is about. You see, as one of the world’s foremost authorities on Artificial Intelligence, Caster is set on building the ultimate Siri. Only he’s not talking about a mobile phone – instead he’s filled with terms like nannites, neural networks, AI, and more of the same.

Of course there are opponents. To wit, an anti-technology faction with Kate Mara as the Queen Bee called Bree. She’s not the least bit like a physical bee,  but don’t be fooled, she can surely sting as she’s the head of the opposition.

Now Caster has his allies as well. One of which is his wife Evelyn, played nicely by Rebecca Hall, another is Max Walter played by Paul Bettany, and a third is a think tank buddy/colleague/fellow scientist called Joseph Tagger and Morgan Freeman has the role.

So as the film begins we find the earth is mostly powerless, and since this is the case – we are back in the dark ages literally. We are told that Denver and another city have some power, but that is it Quickly we flash back five years and Dr. Caster is about to present his findings to an august body of some sort, or at least a packed auditorium, as opposed to a few guys at a corner pub.

He gives his speech and hallelujah, we all should embrace his benevolence and ways and means of not only protecting us from our own follies, but also, by doing so, we, along with AI, shall save the world. As he puts it, Once online, a sentient machine will quickly overcome the limits of biology; in a short time, its analytic power will become greater than the collective intelligence of every person born in the history of the world.

He means that all of that intelligence would now be available to us, and would now be at our finger tips, or actually he means a keyboard.

But then, those bad folks, those anti-technology folks, gun him down in the lobby of the auditorium while he’s signing autographs – yes, geeks have groupies in this film. He doesn’t die of the gunshot. But that bullet was actually a very small projectile that might also be considered a dirty bomb. He’s given four or five weeks to live before he will die of radiation poisoning.

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