Poldark’s Back!

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Drama lovers, history buffs and anglophiles, Poldark has returned to Sunday nights for its third season. Sunday brought what in the UK would be episode 3, but here is episode 2. Demelza and Ross are still in love, but Ross’ headstrong ways still make life hard for Demelza. I’m glad to see she’s got the strength to carry on no matter how obstinate Ross gets. And I’m thankful that at least occasionally, Ross tells her that he’s over Elizabeth and praises Demelza as she’s due.

George Warleggan has grown more prosperous and more pompous as he now is a Justice of the Peace. Woe, to the poor person brought before his court. Unless you’re rich, you don’t stand a chance at justice.

Elizabeth has had a new child, Valentine, whom George believes is his, but Elizabeth knows is Ross’ from another instance of Ross’ foolishness at the end of last season. Elizabeth staged a premature birth by pretending to fall down a staircase. At first she doesn’t want to bond with the baby, but as she comes to align herself more with George  she also accepts Valentine.

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Drake, Morwenna, and Sam

We’ve got a few new characters already. Elizabeth’s young cousin Morwenna is brought to the house to mind Geoffrey Charles, who’s probably about 10 and has gotten quite perceptive and witty in a way George doesn’t appreciate. If George has his way Geoffrey will soon be off to boarding school.

Also after Demelza’s father dies, her two brothers Sam and Drake come to town. Drake soon develops feelings for Morwenna, who at first is tentative because Drake is clearly low born. Sam’s a very pious Methodist and that causes trouble. George insists that Sam and his followers are kicked out of the nearby church. How Christian of you, George! Soon Demelza finds an unused farm building and since Ross is away lets Sam use it for his church.

Where is Ross? He’s gone to France to look for Dwight who’s ship has been captured or lost, no one knows at first. France is in the throws of Jacobin violence. As Caroline and Dwight eloped as her uncle lay on his death bed, Caroline is, of course, beside herself with worry all the while worrying about her love. Rightly so, as in France, they’re killing first and asking questions . . . well, never.

The drama has been true to the original book series and offers romance and drama with complex characters and exquisite scenery and costumes. I do miss Jud’s whinging ways, but with three new characters and more to come, I understand.

the collection

I gave Masterpiece’s The Collection a try when it premiered on Sunday. It didn’t take long for me to grow tired of a program where the characters all seemed dark, greedy and selfish. I confess after 10 minutes or so I changed the channel.

The show is about a struggling fashion house in Paris after WWII. The man in the center of the video’s first frame is the jaded, selfish owner of a fashion house is asked by a government official to help France’s fashion industry rise again to its former zenith.  To his left is his reprobate brother who’s a talented designer who’s got substance abuse problems.

I’d much rather PBS brought back The Paradise, where the characters were flawed and faced obstacles, but the heroine was good, though not at all boring. Dark characters like those in House of Cards or The Collection aren’t necessarily fascinating.

If I got the show wrong, and should give it a chance by catching up online, let me know.

Moulin Rouge

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I didn’t know John Huston directed Moulin Rouge in 1952. A friend, who also likes old movies,  shared a couple DVDs with me and this is one of them. I never saw the 2001 Moulin RougeI (and probably won’t because it sounds like a very different story).

Huston’s Moulin Rouge is a biopic, the story of the famous painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Lautrec, played convincingly by José Ferrer, frequents this cabaret where all the colorful characters of 19th century Paris convene to dance, drink and often fight (not only the men, but most likely, the ladies). Lautrec was born into a noble family. At and early age he is injured falling down the stairs and the doctors fail to repair his bones as they should. Thus Lautrec’s growth is stunted making him a social misfit.

Yes, he’s witty, smart and talented, but when his first love rejects him running from the room when he declares his love, Lautrec decides he’ll never fit in the country, in his father’s world so he heads to Paris and paints the dancers and clowns at the Moulin Rouge and shares drinks and barbs with the best artists of his day: Cezanne, Monet, etc.

Twice in his life he meets a pivotal woman. The first is a low class manipulator and I pitied Henri as he pined for this deceptive sponge. Later he meets a woman worthy of love, but he’s too jaded to expect that a woman would really love him.

I didn’t expect much of this film, mainly because I’d never heard of it. I found it an absorbing biography of a witty, fascinating artist.

The Jewish Cardinal

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What an absorbing — and true story!

I happened upon The Jewish Cardinal (a.k.a. Le métis de Dieu) at my library and am so glad I did. It’s the story of Jean-Marie Aaron Lustiger, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants who converted to Catholicism as a boy during WWII. His mother was killed at Auschwitz and though his father isn’t religious, he’s hurt by his son’s conversion and later decision to become a priest.

As the movie starts, Pope John Paul II soon makes Lustiger a bishop and soon a cardinal. Lustiger is real, someone whom people can relate to. He shakes things up and causes turbulence but eventually people see he’s right. For example, early on he sees that the church needs to reach people via mass communication and he starts an archdiocese radio station which he himself broadcasts from.

He also doesn’t like when his Jewish origins are written about as a gimmick or when he’s asked by a high ranking rabbi to deny his Jewish identity.

He often meets with John Paul II in the ’80s when the pope is fairly new. They understand each other and he earns the pope’s respect.

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When it’s learned that Carmelite nuns have made a convent in Auschwitz, Lustiger becomes something of a mediator and possible pawn in a conflict that’s both political and religious. He’s savvy enough to broker a fair resolution, but gets betrayed.

The acting is stellar with Lustiger (played by Laurent Lucas) and the actother cast members turning in bold, believable performances. The actor who played JPII carried off the role with great credibility. The film’s never hokey or preachy, just real and compelling. I’m so glad the intriguing name called to me.

Belle et Sébastien

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Because six year old Sébastien is himself abandoned, he’s the only person in the village to give Belle, a mangy dog a chance. Sebastian lives with an old, often drunk man and his family in the mountains of France. He doesn’t go to school, but learns about life and nature from the man. Belle is a dirty gray dog everyone fears. Only Sebastian gives the dog a chance and a good bath. After the bath, the dog is snow white and comes to the aid of Sebastian.

Later when Sebastian’s unofficial adoptive family helps Jews escape the Nazi’s everyone sees that Belle is a wonderful dog. The film is suspenseful and the characters real. Their plight rings true and the story compels. It’s fitting for older kids, who can understand the history and read the subtitles, and adults.

Queen to Play

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In Queen to Play, Hèléne (Sandrine Bonnaire), a cleaning woman in Corsica develops a keen interest in chess when she sees a romantic couple playing on the terrace at the hotel where she sometimes works. Eventually, she convinces a curmudgeon Dr. Kroger (Kevin Klein), whom she also works for, to teach her to play chess.

The plot may not sound like anything special, but the film is due largely to Bonnaire’s performance. The film is strong because it avoids the usual choices. Hèléne’s marriage and work suffer because she plays chess, yet she doesn’t burn any bridges. Her husband may not understand her, but he isn’t a jerk and her marriage remains valuable, worth saving. The film is filled with absorbing scenes like when Helene dances with her rebellious daughter.

Netflix has Queen to Play

Kings of Pastry

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The epitome of achievement in the world of French pastry is the M.O.F., a pastry chef who’s merited the prestigious Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition (Best Craftsmen in France). The documentary The Kings of Pastry takes viewers into the world of the intense competition. MOF chefs receive a red, white and blue collar and a medal from the president of France.

The film follows Jacquy Pfeiffer, co-founder of Chicago’s French Pastry School, as he vies for the supreme honor. We see Pfeiffer and two other chefs preparing and competing. They must create a wedding cake, sugar sculpture, buffet of pastries under strict rules in three days.

The film is engrossing as it goes deeper than the average TV cooking competition and really examines the passion and craftsmanship of the pastry world. It did make me crave some delectable, sophisticated treats so you’ve been warned.

Spiral (a.k.a Engrenages)

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Formidable!

I’ve just discovered and gotten hooked on Spiral, a fast-paced, well written police/law show from France. Season One focuses on the murder of Elina, a beautiful, young Romanian woman who was a biology graduate student and a prostitute on the side. Her younger sister is missing and soon turns up dead.

Caroline Proust stars as the Laure Berthaud, the police captain, who leads a male staff with some gender bias. It’s clear that some fully accept her and others less so, but this isn’t the 1990s of Prime Suspect. Unkempt and down to earth, Laure is loyal to her men, protecting even the Coke addict troublemaker Gilou. She’s masculine in her attitude towards sex, very open and not looking for commitment. Yet despite, or because of her indifference to fashion, Laure is beautiful.

Grégory Fitoussi plays the Vice Prosecutor, Pierre Clément, a straight arrow lawyer. Pierre is recently separated from his wife, who could pass as a model. She’s the antithesis of Laure, polished, fashionable, willing to break inconvenient rules and annoyed when her husband isn’t.  Pierre’s childhood friend has a big role in season 1 as his name appears in a murder victim’s diary placing Pierre between the Scylla and Caribdis having to choose between loyalty to an old friend and professional ethics.

Clément often opposes Joséphine Karlsson, a gorgeous, intelligent defense attorney with no scruples whatsoever. In season 1, episode, Karlsson’s boss dies suddenly. She soon agrees to work for a disbarred attorney, who was convicted for raping his last colleague. Together they make the good guys work for every conviction. If the money’s good, and Karlsson will always ask for more, she’ll get any scumbag off.

The police are a varied lot. Tintin’s a dependable, astute detective, while another, Gilou, is a junkie with a hooker as a girlfriend. Soon the junkie turns as a informant to the underworld. Viewers are on pins and needles whether Gilou’s

At first the French legal system confused me. They call a man “judge” who seems to have the duties of the State’s Attorney in our system (i.e. he reminds me of the D.A. in Law and Order.) Yet he interviews suspects and victims in his office and someone else presides in the courtroom. Like the Brits, lawyers wear black robes and white neckwear, but no fake wigs are needed.

The plot gets more twisted and complex as time goes on. The suspense rises and rises. The story’s very Aristotelean in that the greatest threats are often characters near and dear to Clément or Berthaud. In each episode you don’t know what will happen till the very last second. Your stomach will turn as you get glimpses at the criminal’s depths.

Warning: The program’s got several gruesome scenes. I admit I had to look away and since my French is poor wasn’t sure when I could resume viewing.

The characters are complex and even perplexing psychologically. No one, except the criminal and the Elina, are completely good or bad, but rather intriguing. As a viewer I was never sure if good would win out. I was rarely sure of anything other than that there’d be a complete reversal by the end of each episode. If you like The Shield or The Wire, watch Spiral on Netflix.

Here Comes the Groom

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Directed by Frank Capra, Here Comes the Groom stars Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman in an entertaining romantic comedy. Bing plays a reporter who’s working in France after WWII since he’s gotten waylaid at an orphanage helping them to get orphans adopted. He’s left a long time fiancée in the US and she’s tired of waiting and waiting for him.

With his fiancée giving him an ultimatum and his editor calling him back to the US, Pete (Crosby) navigates the red tape and returns with two French orphans planning to marry Emmadel. Unfortunately, the fiancée Emmadel is engaged, to a multi-millionaire no less. Pete must act fast to change her mind and find a mother for these kids.

Lots of singing, dancing and comedy ensues. It’s not sophisticated and I wasn’t rolling on the floor, but there was enough originality and wit to keep me entertained.

En Française: Les Misérables

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Bien que Michael Phelps d’une du Chicago Tribune et un examen étoiles et demi diminué mes attentes pour le film Les Misérables avec Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe et Amanda Seyfield et al, j’ai aimé le film. Alors que je suis d’accord avec Phelps que le travail de la caméra était bizarre avec trop de gros plans à mon goût, la musique et des spectacles surmonté cette faute.

La musique a été bien fait et j’avais oublié combien de chansons excellentes le jeu comprend. Oui, l’émotion est forte partout et il ya beaucoup de misère dans l’histoire, mais qui est destiné et sonne vrai. Je pensais que Anne Hathaway joué admirablement et que vous souhaitez l’histoire a eu plus de son sort. Les femmes sont principalement victimes de Les Mis et je pense que cela ne doit pas être le cas à être fidèle à l’histoire, non pas que la précision était l’objectif de la comédie musicale ou qu’il doit être.

Je n’ai pas été impressionné par l’acteur qui était Marius, il semblait bien d’une “average Joe” ou “average Jean,” pour définir le cœur de quelqu’un sur le feu avec un coup d’oeil.

Une autre critique est que ce film devrait être acteurs avec des accents français, pas en anglais. Je semble être le seul à cette idée que si vous allez faire un film sur un pays étranger ne doit pas le son des acteurs comme s’ils étaient de ce pays?

Tous mes critiques sont mineures. Les Mis fascine et vaut pour les habitués. Je m’attends à ce qu’il engranger plusieurs prix.

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