Friday, September 30, 2011

Inspector Montalbano Series: Crime, Comedy and Camilleri

This may be a great time to discover the Italian detective series Inspector (Commissario) Montalbano, based on the books and short stories by Italian writer Andrea Camillari.  MHZ Worldview in the US will be having a Mini Montalbano Festival on October 4 and 5 with four new episodes, U.S. premieres, of the series.  (MHZ Worldview is available in the U.S. through Public Television channels, Cable broadcasters, or Direct TV.)

Salvo Montalbano is a Sicilian police inspector in the beautiful fictional town of Vigata.  While doing a bit of research on the character I found that Camillari based his name on Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán who also wrote a series of detective novels. Montalbano is played by Luca Zingaretti. Not a traditionally handsome man, there is something about Zingaretti's screen presence and personality and his sense of humor that makes him very attractive.  Montalbano often uses unconventional means to solve a crime, while dodging his superiors and the influence of organized crime (OK, the Mafia). All while avoiding marriage to his long distance and long time girlfriend, business executive Livia (Katharina Bohm). He's also a lover of good food and great restaurants and we're treated to long lunches and great home cooked meals in every episode. Is there an Inspector Montalbano cookbook? If not, someone should write one. 

Of course, it wouldn't be a detective series without a "Watson" for the brilliant investigator, and this role goes to the only efficient man in the Vigata police station, young detective Fazio (Peppino Mazzotta). Fazio is quiet and dependable, a great contrast to his boss Montalbano's volatile mix of genius and guile.  Add to this mix the resident Don Giovanni of the station, Inspector Mimi Augello (Cesare Bocci).  Mimi never met a woman he doesn't want, and even when he surprisingly gets married and then becomes a father, there is no keeping him from flirting outrageously with every woman in sight, even crime suspects. As far as I can tell, Mimi, or Dr. Augello, hardly does any work and only solves crime because of the help of best friend Montalbano and dependable Fazio.

Catarella, Montalbano, Fazio, Mimi

The series also has an interesting twist on the police techno geek role. Catarella (Angelo Russo) is the only person in the Vigata police station that even has a PC at his desk, and in this world he is the computer guy and the incompetent comic relief.  The best are the scenes between Montalbano and Catarella in the police station. Below is a video clip (in Italian) of a scene between Zingaretti and Russo.  

One of the pleasures of watching this series is the breathtaking views of Sicily. Though I've been lucky to travel to Italy a few times in my life, I've never been to Sicily, but after watching Montalbano I would love to go one day. I understand the series is filmed in the Sicilian city of Ragusa.  In the clip below you can see the opening credits of the series are a beautiful advertising for Sicilian tourism.  

I've watched the Montalbano series, with  English subtitles, for several years now on MHZ Worldwide and missed not seeing any new episodes for a long while. Even if Montalbano, Fazio, Mimi, and Catarella are all older now, I'm very happy that the series is back for four new episodes next week.  If you like great detective fiction and are in the US it is worth checking to see if MHZ Worldwide is in your area. You can also buy the DVD's from MHZ Worldwide. More information on the new Montalbano episodes at the link below:,com_worldviewchannels/Itemid,146/sid,2467/lindex,d/

Check the series Italian website Here.

I understand BBC4 aired an episode of Inspector Montalbano today, October 1. Maybe there will be more for viewers in the UK. 

Update:  Video Interview with Cesare Bocci (Mimi)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Why Spooks? Why?

I was lucky to be able to watch Episode 2 of Spooks (MI-5), Series 10, late last night. (Thank you friend M, for making it possible, and Ricrar for alerting me about last night's episode!).  I was shocked that another beloved character has passed on to Spooks Heaven (I won't give it away here, but the news is already out there).  But I was also not shocked because after all, this is Spooks,and as an old fan of the series,I've come to expect characters to depart in all sorts of ways. I was happy though to see that it was a heroic death and we could all have good memories even if with a tear in our eye. (*Also, I was reminded of the real life spy death that inspired last night's episode.)

But then this morning, thanks to, there is this radio interview clip with Nicola Walker and Peter Firth (see link below), and Nicola talks a bit about how Richard Armitage dealt with the reversal of his character, Lucas North.

So here I am, angry again, so very angry again, about what the Spooks writers did in Season 9 to the heroic character of Lucas North we grew to care for and admire from Season 7 and Season 8. It wasn't very original, or original at all, to make Richard Armitage play another villain, when he had just played a villain in another BBC series, Robin Hood. (Though I confess I love Guy of Gisborne, who had the reverse story arc, starting as a villain and ending as a hero. Thanks to Richard Armitage he was the most complex character in the Robin Hood series.) Even Ros (Hermione Norris) who was not the most loyal of spies on the Grid for most of the character's career in Spooks was allowed to die a hero. So why Spooks writers, why? If Lucas had to go, because it was time or because Richard Armitage was cast in The Hobbit, why not let the character die a heroic death? 

We need more heroes in this world.

Thank you to

*The Real Life Death-by-Umbrella** of Georgi Markov: In 1978 Bulgarian dissident writer Markov was killed on the streets of London after a ricin pellet was fired into his leg by means of an umbrella. His death was ordered by Bulgarian Intelligence. The real life case was referenced in Sunday's episode of Spooks in a scene with Sacha Gavrik. You can read the details HERE.  I  also thought the Spooks writers were inspired by the story of Alexander Litvinenko, a real life former agent of the KGB and later FSB. He had left with his family for the UK and lived in London. He died as a result of radioactive poisoning administered in a mysterious way after meeting with two former KGB agents. It is still an unresolved case.  Yes, truth is stranger than fiction.

** Thanks to The Compleat Sean Bean for inspiring the title :)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Gisborne on the Grid

Richard Armitage and Lara Pulver in Spooks (MI-5)

Lucas North

Erin Watts - Spooks

My favorite brother and sister act

Richard Armitage and Lara Pulver as Guy of Gisborne and his sister Isabella  in Robin Hood

Saturday, September 17, 2011

My Remedy for Lucas North Withdrawal

Spooks Season 10, the final season, starts in the UK tomorrow. I've been feeling a bit nostalgic about Lucas North (NOT John Bateman) and the only solution today for me was to make a video. I don't know why a video, just what I needed to do. I thought about Lucas and Beth, the good times, because Sophia Myles is also not returning to Spooks for Season 10.

When will we see the new and last Spooks or MI5 season in the US? Who knows? My local PBS station is repeating Spooks Season 5, I catch it once in a while late on Sunday. I know not all PBS stations show Spooks/MI5. So I might have to wait for the DVD as always.

I'll miss Spooks/MI5 and Harry and Ruth.  I still miss Lucas. 

The song is from the Finnish TV series RAID, the singer is Mari Rantasila.  I just like the song. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Five of My Favorite Films of the Past Decade (2000-2010)

As the fall 2011 movie season approaches, I wanted to look back to five independent and foreign (international) films that were among my favorites in the previous decade (2000-2010). 

Caché (Hidden) 2005

Starring Daniel Auteuil  and Juliet Binoche Directed by Michael Haneke

A successful Parisian couple start receiving anonymous surveillance videotapes of their home.  As the unexplained tapes start arriving with strange drawings and references to Georges (Auteuil) past and a man named Majid, the marriage and family start unraveling.  An interesting psychological thriller.  

Dirty Pretty Things (2002)

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou  Directed by Stephen Frears.

The film follows the lives of several illegal immigrants in London. Ejiofor plays Okwe a Nigerian doctor who now works as a cab driver by day and in the front desk of a hotel at night.  He shares an apartment with a maid at the hotel,  Senay, played by Tautou, an immigrant from Turkey.  Okwe tries to help other poor illegal immigrants by illegally giving them medical treatment. One night at the hotel he discovers an illegal black market operation involving other illegal immigrants, including Senay. A unique film that is part thriller, part social commentary, part love story.

Far North (2007)

Starring Sean Bean, Michelle Yeoh, and Michelle Krusiec Directed by Asif Kapadia

One of Sean Bean's best films, it was written by Asif Kapadia and Tim Miller, and based on a story by Sara Maitland. The film was unfortunately marketed as a horror film because of its strong dramatic ending, but it is primarily a study of human emotions and the complicated relationship of three people isolated  in a frozen and striking landscape. Two women live alone in an undetermined time far from civilization. Yeoh is the older woman and  Krusiec her grown adopted daughter. The full relationship of the women is never clear. In their remote world comes a man, Sean Bean as Loki, who is inexplicably rescued from certain death by Yeoh's character.  His very  masculine presence disrupts the women's insular world. The film has very little dialog, but wonderful performances especially from Bean and Yeoh. 

House of Flying Daggers (2004)

Starring Zhang Ziyi, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau, directed by Zhang Yimou

One of the most visually beautiful films I've ever seen.  The colors in this film are amazing in their beauty and intensity. One of those epic Chinese martial arts films, but so much more. A poetic love story and love triangle with echoes of Romeo and Juliet. Wonderful  and intense performances by the three stars. 

Memento (2000)

Starring Guy Pearce  Directed by Christopher Nolan

A film you have to watch from the beginning and demanding of your full attention. Guy Pearce plays Leonard, a man afflicted with a strange case of amnesia.  Leonard's amnesia forms a key part of how the story is told, through flashbacks and flash forwards and what seems like two separate stories .  Leonard is seeking revenge, and the film follows his journey to discover why through people he meets, photos, and etc. and to say more would spoil the film. It's not until the very end of the film that you know what has happened and why, or do you? 

Have you seen any of these films? What did you think? What are some of your favorite independent or foreign (non-English) films of the previous decade?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Film Review: Sarah's Key

I haven’t read the book “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosnay but after seeing the trailer I was interested in the film because of the story and because it stars one of my favorite actresses, Kristin Scott Thomas.

“Sarah’s Key” is the story of two women, two different time periods, their families, and how their lives intersect. British actress Scott Thomas plays an American journalist, Julia Jarmond, living in Paris today and researching an article about a terrible event that happened during World War II in German occupied France.  On the 16 and 17 of July  1942 French police, under Nazi orders, arrested a large number of the Jewish population of Paris and sent them to concentration camps.  The real historical event,  the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup, serves as the backdrop of the fictional story of ten year old Sarah Starzynski, played by Melusine Mayance, who is arrested with her parents in their apartment in the Marais district of Paris. 

Sarah and her family have a secret about her brother, and it’s the key that the little girl keeps as she’s forcibly separated from her parents and sent to a separate camp, that holds the answer to the secret. 

As Julia researches what happened to Sarah and her family after Vel d’Hiv, the little girl’s story becomes part of the story of Julia’s own family, her husband’s family.  Her husband’s grandparents once lived in the apartment occupied by Sarah and her parents.  In Julia’s search for the truth she wanders what did her husband’s family really know, and how complicit were they in what happened to the Starzynski’s.  Through it all Julia is also locked in her own personal drama with her husband and the state of their marriage.

Through flashbacks we see the story of ten year old Sarah and her struggle to survive the camp, and escape and return to Paris.  Melusine Mayance is very believable as Sarah and we feel her desperation and sadness, and admire her bravery.  Along the way, amid all the horrors of the time, she finds good people who help.   Watching Sarah’s story unfold, the film leads us to wonder what we would do under the same circumstances.  Would we risk our own lives to help a fellow human being we don’t know?

For Julia the question is what are the consequences of digging up the past?  Is she selfish in her pursuit of the story?

The film is less successful for me in the story of the teenage and adult Sarah. The feisty, brave, smart, resourceful child is turned into a silent Vogue model on a break from Fashion Week in Paris.  I don’t know if the book does a better job with Sarah as she grows up, but what happens to her as an adult is a series of beautiful looking but empty scenes. As a result, when Julia puts the pieces together and we finally get to know the truth, it is not as emotionally striking as the story of Sarah as a child.  

Beautifully acted and emotionally powerful until the last third of the film, it loses power once we know the rest of the story.  The film settles all at the end a bit too neatly for a French film.  But I definitely recommend the film, especially because of the performances of Kristin Scott Thomas and Melusine Mayance.   

The film is interestingly in both French and English, directed by Gilles Pacquet-Brenner.  

Museum Exhibit News - Movies, Books, TV: Cheech Marin's Collection of Chicano Art and Indian Cinema Playhouse Photos by Nandita Raman

Chicanitas: Small Paintings from the Cheech Marin Collection:

Cheech Marin, yes of Cheech and Chong fame, has a noted collection of Chicano art.  The Snite Museum  of Art, University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana, has an exhibit of small paintings  from his collection  from September 4 through November 13.

Below is a related video from the exhibit:

Chicanitas: Small Paintings from the Cheech Marin Collection from Roberto S. Oregel on Vimeo.

Cinema Play House, Photographs by Nandita Raman

Also at the Snite is an exhibit of photographs of historic Indian movie theaters by photographer Nandita Raman.

Raman's family owned one of the first talkies movie theaters in Varanasi, India, but the popularity of video and now DVD rentals caused the closing of her family's theater as well as other theaters around India. She's tried to preserve the memories of these wonderful movie theaters through her photographs.  At The Snite Museum of Art from September 4 through December 4. 

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