Category Archives: History

Grantchester Series 3/My Mother And Other Strangers Series 1 Review

There is nothing so wonderful (at least from my perspective) as settling down on a Sunday night and knowing that the programming on Masterpiece Theater/Mysteries will help with the realization that the weekend is over.

On Sunday night, not only did the first episode of the third season of Grantchester air, but also a new show premiered, My Mother And Other Strangers.

Grantchester picks up just a few months after series 2 ended. The bromance/murder solving duo of Vicar Sydney Chambers (James Norton) and Inspector Geordie Keating (Robson Green) are back together again. But while Sydney and Geordie deal with the crimes that are happening in and around Grantchester, Sydney has another thing on his plate: his relationship with Amanda Hopkins (Morven Christie). Amanda is heavily pregnant and in the midst of divorcing her husband. While they are happily ensconced in finally being together, the storm of Amanda’s soon to be ended marriage and impending motherhood creates more than one barrier to their own version of happily ever after.

My Mother And Other Strangers takes place in Northern Ireland during World War II. Rose and Michael Coyne (Hattie Morahan and Owen McDonnell) have a full life of kids, work and just being busy. The war has yet to intrude into their world. It comes in the form of American servicemen, Captain Dreyfuss (Aaron Staton) and Lieutenant Barnhill (Corey Cott). Captain Dreyfuss seems to be paying more attention to Rose than her husband while Lieutenant Barnhill is interested in 16-year-old Emma Coyne (Eileen O’Higgins). The story is narrated by an adult Francis (Rose and Michael’s son). Ciaran Hinds tells the story in voice over flashback as an adult while 10-year-old Francis is played by Michael Nevin.

I’ve enjoyed Grantchester since the first season. Cop procedural shows tend to get a little boring when the only thing that the audience sees is inside the squad room or investigating the scene of a crime. Grantchester adds to this bland story by making the characters human and allowing the audience to see the lives and struggles of the characters outside of work. I was attracted to My Mother And Other Strangers because of the cast and how compelling the series seemed based off the trailer. The problem is that it is a little boring and it has yet to completely hook me in.

Do I recommend them? I say yes to Grantchester and maybe to My Mother And Other Strangers.

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Filed under History, Television, TV Review

The Kommandant’s Girl Book Review

When faced with decisions of life and death, we make choices that in retrospect seem questionable, but in the moment, feel like it is only thing we can do.

In Pam Jenoff’s 2007 novel, The Kommandant’s Girl, 19-year-old Emma Bau is reveling in the glow of being a newlywed. Not even a month after she marries her husband, Jacob, Germany invades Poland. Jacob has no choice but to disappear and Emma joins her parents in the quickly overcrowding Jewish ghetto. Smuggled out of the ghetto and into the home of her husband’s Catholic aunt, Emma is now Anna Lipowski, a Polish orphan.

Adding to the danger, Anna/Emma is hired as an assistant of Kommandant Richwalder, a high-ranking Nazi official. While she is working for the Kommandant, Anna/Emma uses her status to help the resistance. But while she is doing this, she is potentially compromising her life, the lives of her loved ones and her marriage vows.

This book left me with wanting more. I felt like I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. My favorite thing about the book was the character of the Kommandant. On one hand, he was responsible for the death of an untold number of innocents. But on the other hand, his affection for Anna/Emma was humanized him and if only temporarily removed the mask of the monster.

I absolutely recommend it.

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Wonder Woman Review

It’s no secret that the world of super heroes is a boys club, especially the old school super heroes. Wonder Woman is an exception to the rule.

Last week, Wonder Woman hit theaters. Stepping into the very famous shoes that Lynda Carter wore in the 1970’s television series is Gal Gadot. The movie starts with Diana’s childhood on the idyllic island of Themyscira. The daughter of Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), the Queen Of The Amazons, Diana is protected from the outside world by her mother and her aunt, Antiope (Robin Wright), who is the general of the Amazons.

While Diana’s curiosity is temporarily quelled by her elders, it will soon be made unquenchable by the unexpected arrival of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). Saving Steve from death, he becomes her conduit and her guide to the outside world. World War I is raging on and Diana, believes that she can end the war. She will soon learn that the world is not as simple as she believes it to be and sometimes, meeting our destiny means learning some hard truths.

The problem with many super hero films that are based on comics is that the films are often short on narrative and long on action. They also have a mostly male cast with a male director. If there are any women, they are either the token female or the damsel in distress love interest. This film contains neither. The character arc in this film is exactly what it should be. Diana starts off not exactly naive, but very gung-ho and eager to complete her mission. Steve, on the other hand, starts off as believing himself to be the traditional dominant male, but will learn quickly that Diana/Wonder Woman can easily take care of herself.

The film was also very funny, which is not often the case of the film of this genre. Many films take themselves a little too seriously.

I absolutely recommend it.

Wonder Woman is presently in theaters.

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Filed under Feminism, History, Movie Review, Movies, Television

Flashback Friday-Radio Days (1987)

When a writer mines for ideas, sometimes the best ideas come from their childhood.

The 1987 movie, Radio Days, is based on the childhood memories of writer/director Woody Allen. Growing up in Rockaway Beach, NY during World War II, Joe (played by Seth Green as a child and voiced over by Woody Allen as an adult) associates the various aspects of his life with the radio programs of the era. Told through the memories of the adult Joe, the film is a love letter to not just childhood, but also a time when radio was the medium that the world relied on for news and entertainment.

The best films are timeless because there is a universal quality to them. Despite the physical location and the time period that the film is set in, anyone from anywhere will find an aspect of the film that they can relate to. This movie is universal because it is about childhood, family and the memories we have long after we have become adults.

I recommend it.

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Bandstand Review

War is never as simple or clear-cut as it appears to be. Those lucky enough to return home in one piece may appear to be fine, but the reality is often quite different.

In the new Broadway musical, Bandstand, Donny Novitski (Corey Cott) has just returned from World War II. A musician before the war, music is the only thing that quiets the dark memories of his war-time experience. When he hears that NBC is holding a contest to discover unknown bands, he jumps at the chance to enter. But while he is putting his band together, Donny has another task to strike off his to do list: checking on Julia Trojan (Laura Osnes) the widow of one of his friends who was killed in the war. Julia is a singer, but only sings in church. Donny convinces her to consider the idea of joining his band. Music maybe the one thing that heals their broken hearts, but do they have the drive and the talent to actually win the contest?

I saw the show the other night and I walked out singing the songs. It’s one of the best new musicals that I’ve seen in a long time. My original impetus to see the show was that I love swing and big band music. I enjoyed it because there was a level of realism, especially when it comes to the agony of war and the PTSD that many soldiers have to deal with then they return home. The show is funny, charming and very entertaining. I also find it impressive that the actors are playing their own instruments instead of pretending to play prerecorded music.

I absolutely recommend it.

Bandstand is at the Bernard B. Jacobs theater at 242 W. 45th Street in New York City.

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Filed under Broadway Musical Review, History, Music

Flashback Friday-Golden Door (2006)

For millions of immigrants, Ellis Island was more than the gateway to America. It represented the opportunities and freedoms that did not exist in their previous homelands.

In the 2006 movie, Golden Door, Salvatore Mancuso (Vincenzo Amato) is a poor farmer from Sicily whose wife has died. Together with his surviving family, they hope to emigrate to America. On the ship bound for Ellis Island, he meets Lucy Reed (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who hopes to enter the US as a Mrs. and not a Miss. They agree to marry. But when they get to Ellis Island, both Lucy and Salvatore are in for a rude awakening. Before they can leave the island and truly become Americans, they have to pass a series of examinations and hope that the customs officials are satisfied with the results.

Like many Americans, my immigrant great-grandparents were part of the millions who passed through Ellis Island. What I appreciate about this film is not just the entertaining narrative, but it sheds on the lengths that many went through so they could truly call themselves Americans.

I recommend it.

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Memorial Day

It’s easy to forget the sacrifices of past generations. We go about our daily routines as if it has always been that way.

But the reality is that generations of Americans have fought and died for the daily routines that many of us think as commonplace.

Today is not just a day off from work and school. It is also a solemn reminder of the soldiers across the generations who have fought and died for the freedoms that we take for granted.

To the men and women fighting for not just our freedom, but for the freedom of those who don’t know what freedom feels like, thank you from the bottom of my heart. To those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, you will never be forgotten.

G-d bless the USA and those who put their lives on the line so we could live another day.

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Dirty Dancing TV Movie Review

*Warning-This review contains minor spoilers. Read at your own risk if you have not seen it.

Dirty Dancing is one of those movies. It became an instant classic when it hit theaters in 1987. Everything about that movie is iconic. The music, the story, the characters, etc, are instantly recognizable.

It’s therefore no wonder that ABC rebooted the movie last night into a television movie musical with Abigail Breslin and Colt Prattes stepping into the very large shoes of Jennifer Grey and the late Patrick Swayze.

It’s still the summer of 1963. Frances “Baby” Houseman is on vacation with her doctor father, Jake (Bruce Greenwood), homemaker mother, Marjorie (Debra Messing) and elder sister Lisa (Sarah Hyland) at a resort in the Catskills. About to go to college and enter the real world, Baby is full of hopes and dreams, but also sheltered from the world by her parents.

She becomes infatuated with Johnny Castle, one of the resort’s dance teachers and steps up to become his dance partner when his regular dance partner, Penny (Nicole Scherzinger) gets pregnant and goes to a less than reputable doctor to have an abortion. While their relationship starts off as merely dance partners, they soon become more than dance partners, but their differences may tear them apart.

I very much appreciated that certain narratives and characters were expanded from the original movie. In the original movie, Lisa is a stereotype and Mrs. Houseman is a background player. In this version, Lisa is a deeper character (i.e. she is convinced by Baby to read The Feminine Mystique and see her herself as more than a girl who just wants to get married). Like many women of her generation, Mrs. Houseman was told that they should get married and have families. While they have done this, there is an aching need for something more. I also appreciated that Abigail Breslin is not a size 2.

For the most part, the creative team stuck to the story and characters that the audience anticipated. But there was something missing, something that the movie has that the television version does not.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Filed under Books, Feminism, History, Movie Review, Music, Television, TV Review

Throwback Thursday-The Courage To Love (2000)

Our strongest sense is sometimes not our sense of smell or taste, but our gut. When we have nothing else to guide us, our gut will.

In the 2000 television movie, The Courage To Love, Henriette Delille (Vanessa Williams) is a biracial woman living in 19th century New Orleans. While her parents are in love, they cannot marry due to the fact that her father is white and her mother is black. Dr. Gerard Gaultier (Gil Bellows), a Caucasian doctor from France proposes to Henriette and take her back to France, where there would be no opposition to their marriage. But Henriette is devoted to the Church and must choose between saying I do and joining the Church.

As interesting as this television movie is, it is a little heavy-handed. It comes out more preachy than entertaining while teaching.

Do I recommend it? I have to lean toward no.

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The Jane Austen Project Book Review

History records that Jane Austen died in 1817, at the age of 41. She left behind six published novels and numerous unfinished manuscripts. What if there was a way to go back in time, to prevent her from dying young so she could write for years to come?

That is the premise of the new novel, The Jane Austen Project, by Kathleen A. Flynn. Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane live in an alternate universe where time travel is not just science fiction, but real life.  Rachel and Liam are sent back in time to 1815 to steal what they believe is an unpublished Jane Austen novel. Posing as a West Indies doctor and his unmarried sister, their plan is simple: infiltrate the Austen family, get close to their target and find the novel. They are supposed to not change history and play their part, but the task is not as easy as it seems.

I was very intrigued by the concept of the book. While the concept drew me in, I have to sadly admit that I felt at times that I was forcing myself to finish the book. The first third of the novel is rather slow and by the time the narrative began to quicken at the half way point, I still felt like I was not completely hooked.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Filed under Book Review, Books, History, Jane Austen