We’ve had a lovely time seeing lots of family and friends over the last week. Thornbury celebrated its Old Fashioned Christmas yesterday and we walked into town twice to experience the joys of a small town Christmas. What started out as a cold, crisp blue sky winter day morphed into a full-scale blizzard by the afternoon and the whole town was blanketed by a fresh layer of snow by evening. Picture perfect for enjoying hot cider as the tree was lit at City Hall accompanied by a pipe and drum band. As for my viewing recommendations, here goes:
Our family enjoyed seeing the Broadway-bound musical Come From Away. Set in Gander, Nfld on 9/11 and the five days following, the musical tells the story of the 7000 stranded air passengers who were grounded by the closing of US airspace. They were looked after by the 9000 people of Gander who fed and housed them. The show is heartwarming and conveys the generous and joyous spirit of the Newfoundlanders who showed such kindness and compassion for their guests. Great Nfld humour and song. We had spent 2 weeks touring Nfld last summer, so the show was a great reminder of what a wonderful people the Newfoundlanders are. The show heads to Broadway in January (I fear for it given how little Americans know and care about Canada), so fingers crossed that it’s a great success.
On the Big Screen
Moana is a very sweet Disney musical with songs penned by Lin Manuel Miranda of Broadway’s Hamilton. In ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain’s daughter’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the demigod to set things right. The music is very pleasant and the singing is terrific. On the whole, I found the film a little slow. The theme is really one of female empowerment and I don’t know how much little boys will identify with the film’s heroine, but they will love the Maui character who is voiced by Dwayne Johnson (The Rock of Fast and Furious fame). Auli’l Cravalhoa is spectacular in the lead role of Moana, but Dwayne Johnson holds his own as Maui.
Given the blizzardy nature of our weather in Thornbury yesterday, it was the perfect excuse to binge on Fauda (Arabic for chaos). The Israeli series is told in 12 episodes of about 40 minutes each. It depicts the two-sided story of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Doron, a commander of an undercover Israeli unit operating inside Palestinian territories, and his team, are hunting down Hamas activist Abu-Ahmed. On the other side of the fence, it depicts the tragic life of Abu-Ahmed and his family , and the reasons for their escalating hatred towards Israel. Great suspense series, but probably not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s told with subtitles for Arabic and is dubbed into English for the Hebrew scenes. The dubbing is rather flat and takes a little getting used to.
I watched the remake of The Magnificent Seven which recently opened the Toronto International Film Festival. It retells the story of seven gun men in the old west who gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves. With an all-star cast that features Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard, etc., the film is a very strange remake of the 1960 film with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, full of stereotypes and seeming very stale despite the endless barrage of violence. It was very odd to watch this having just watched the last episode of Westworld on Netflix. Westworld takes all the Western tropes and plays them out to an extreme degree. That is equally true of this film. I was curious to see the film for the performance of Haley Bennett in the lead role of Emma Cullen who is motivated by the senseless killing of her husband in the opening scene to organize the rebellion of the town to overthrow the ruthless despot who is intent on driving the villagers away. I first heard about Bennett from her mother who was my drapery designer in Naples, Florida. When we chatted about our children, Lani Bennett mentioned that her daughter was a movie star who would be coming out in several movies this year. I had caught up with her in The Equalizer (20l4 also with Denzel Washington), but her more recent releases include Hardcore Henry, A Kind of Murder, The Girl on the Train, Rules Don’t Apply, Weightless, and Thank You for Your Service. I have to say that Bennett’s performance in this film is a little lacklustre. One wonders how much ended up being edited out in favour of the endless violence that makes up most of the plot. She resembles Jennifer Lawrence very strongly and it will be interesting to see how similar their career trajectories are.
New Blood is a British BBC TV series starring Mark Addy and Anna Chancellor. It follows junior investigators Stefan and Rash,who are brought together by a link between two seemingly unrelated cases. A buddy series in the Odd Couple vein. Very cute and fast moving, Season 1 has 7 episodes and involves 3 cases. Worth a look for crime series fans.
Younger (TVLand), Berlin Station (Epix) and Chance (Hulu) all continue to keep me entertained.
As for my Network picks, things are dying down as Christmas programming takes over. I managed to catch Designated Survivor (ABC) where intrigue abounds around Kiefer Sutherland who has managed to hang on to his Presidency despite many hazards coming his way. Chicago Fire (NBC) had a happy cliff-hanger ending for its last pre-Christmas episode show. I haven’t managed to catch up with many other shows that I recorded but haven’t watched yet including Arrow, Shooter, etc.
We are currently listening to Trevor Noah’s autobiography Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. Noah tells the story of his childhood, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed. I am loving his story, narrated in his own voice. I think Noah is a great host for The Daily Show (which he took over after Jon Stewart’s departure). It’s inspiring to hear him recount the many obstacles that faced him growing up in a country where miscegenation was a very serious crime. His love and admiration for his mother is incredibly touching.
I continue to seek out Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal, Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show (as described above), and Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show, as they all manage to find humour in the looming Trumpocalypse . This week’s SNL had a great cold opener which starred Bryan Cranston (aka Walter White on Breaking Bad) as the newly nominated head of the DEA because of his background as a high school chemistry teacher. I was looking forward to seeing Alec Baldwin as Trump, the newly named Time Person of the Year, President Elect of the Divided States of America. However, Bryan Cranston did a great job as the meth dealing Walter White. Sadly, this is not far from the possible, as Trump seems to be nominating people who are distinguished by their antipathy towards the federal departments they are supposed to be leading. Very scary. Truth is stranger than fiction?
My usual Christmas funk is descending upon me. I haven’t done a thing regarding Christmas preparations and I’m starting to get a little worried. The thought of entering a mall at this time of year fills me with great trepidation. Thank goodness for gift cards!!! Lots of get-togethers with friends and family this week and our big Hungarian celebration is happening next Sunday with the Uxbridge relatives. In the meantime, stay warm wherever you may be, and be careful on the roads. Remember, this season is all about family and friends, so enjoy the season and be thankful for the joys that you have.