Movie – Half the Sky: turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide is the two-disc, four hour PBS documentary based on the bestselling book Half the Sky written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Kristof and WuDunn risk their lives interviewing women in these countries about education for girls seen as second class citizens, maternal mortality and female genital mutilation, forced prostitution and sex trafficking, gender-based violence, and microfinance. Half the Sky is a call to arms, a call for help, a call for contributions, and a call for volunteers. It asks us to open our eyes to these enormous humanitarian issues. You will be touched by the brave, resourceful and resilient women it features, and their personal journeys from utter despair to a sense of hope and direction. This video shows how despite the unimaginable atrocities endured by women across the planet and particularly in developing countries, with some practical help, they absolutely have the potential to move beyond the enslavement, disempowerment and suffering to become positive role models, movers and leaders in their communities and to break the cycle of abuse in future generations.
Music – Tierney Sutton’s new CD, After Blue, definitely has my vote for this year’s Grammy for “Best Jazz Vocal Album.” Tierney has been nominated the last four years, and her band, the Tierney Sutton Band, has nine CDs – each of which has consistently topped the US jazz charts. After Blue is a tribute album; it is an intimate, jazz-inspired re-imagining of the legacy of singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. In After Blue, Sutton expands the scope of Joni Mitchell’s songs and recasts them in new and refreshing ways. It is Sutton’s first solo album without the Tierney Sutton Band, and it features Al Jarreau, Hubert Laws, and the Turtle Island String Quartet. All twelve tracks on the album are excellent. I like the dreamy “Both Sides Now,” and the lush, intimate “Don’t Go to Strangers.” The Turtle Island Quartet string arrangements are splendid, and the great Larry Golding’s moody piano on “Court and Spark” and “Woodstock” is the perfect touch. Tierney has won Jazzweek’s Vocalist of the Year,and she has headlined at The Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center and Jazz at Lincoln Center. She is also an active educator and is currently head of the vocal department at the Los Angeles Music Academy in Pasadena, CA.
Movie – Mark Twain is a biographical documentary about the great 19th-century American author Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain), directed by Ken Burns. Burns distills the essence of Samuel Clemens into almost four hours via interviews with many Twain scholars, plus other authors, such as Arthur Miller and William Styron. Hemingway called Twain’s book, Huckleberry Finn, the beginning of American literature. The character “nigger Jim” represented the first time that a black man was given a voice in literature. No aspect of Clemens’ life was omitted from this documentary – his family and relationships, his failed businesses, and his travels through Europe. Burns documents Clemens’ life with hundreds of photographs, maps, journal entries, readings and even a few very early film clips of Clemens himself. Clemens was raised in Hannibal, Missouri, along the Mississippi River. As a young man, he traveled west and moved frequently from city to city working as a printer’s apprentice, a steamboat pilot, an unsuccessful prospector and a newspaper reporter. He later became an essayist and novelist, and his comic genius was soon apparent. Twain made money doing speaking tours, where he regaled audiences with humorous stories of his travels and life on the Mississippi. He was a poor kid who became very wealthy and built a fabulous mansion, yet railed against the indulgences of capitalism. I loved this documentary about Mark Twain’s legendary life. Did you know that Mark Twain was a lifelong creator and keeper of scrapbooks? He took them with him everywhere and filled them with souvenirs, pictures, and articles about his books and performances.
Music – This is the new 2013 CD recorded by Placido Domingo. The album, simply titled Verdi, is the first time the world-renowned tenor has released an album of baritone arias. Domingo is certainly still capable of singing all the tenor arias, having recorded every major tenor aria there is, but these baritone arias are a fabulous tribute to Giuseppe Verdi. The album is a celebration of Verdi arias, with selections from Macbeth, Rigoletto, La Traviata, Simon Boccanegra, Il trovatore, Don Carlo and others. It is well over an hour of music with eighteen tracks from nine different Verdi operas. Placido Domingo may be both the greatest tenor AND the greatest baritone of all time! He has opened the Met season 21 times, surpassing Caruso’s record of 17 opening nights. He has performed in every major opera house in the world, and has made an unparalleled number of recordings, of which 101 are full-length operas. He has earned nine Grammy’s and two Grammy’s in the Latin Division. He also conducts operas in all the important theaters, from the Metropolitan to London’s Covert Garden and the Vienna State Opera. He has conducted purely symphonic concerts with such renowned orchestras as the Berlin and the Vienna Philharmonic, the London Symphony, and the Chicago Symphony. As of the end of 2013, he has sung 144 different roles! Verdi was recorded in 2012-2013 at the Palau de les Arts “Reina Sofia” Auditiori, Valencia Spain and Angel Recording Studios, London, England.
Movie – Andre Rieu’s Home for the Holidays is a two-hour DVD of beautiful Christmas melodies. Andre conducts his world famous Johann Strauss Orchestra and Choir along with six powerful soloists, and an Austrian children’s choir in a spectacular setting in and around Andre’s fabled castle in Maastrict, The Netherlands. He presents 26 classics, including Silent Night, Ave Maria and O Come All Ye Faithful, as well as unforgettable renditions of all-time favorites like Jingle Bells and Go Tell It on the Mountain. Home for the Holidays is perfect in every way: dazzling, intimate, warm, and visually beautiful. Snow is used throughout this production to create a certain winter ambience. The white of the snow is in contrast to the pastels of the lovely gowns worn by the women in the orchestra and the women soloists. The concert was performed in Andre Riue’s home and garden for a small audience. It is the best Christmas DVD I have ever seen! Andre is simply the most commercially successful classical musician in history, having sold 30 million CDs worldwide. He conducts the orchestra with great energy, verve, and visual effect playing his 1667 Stradivarius violin. Rieu and his orchestra (between 80 and 150 musicians) have performed throughout Europe, North and South America, and Japan. Their recordings have gone gold and platinum in many countries, including 8-times Platinum in the Netherlands, plus two World Music Awards. I found that every detail was exquisite, and I plan to play this in my home every Christmas.
Music – How Mercy Looks From Here is the new bestselling Christian album from Amy Grant. It’s her first full length album with all new songs in 10 years. It’s a stellar collection of songs and includes duets with Vince Gill (her husband), James Taylor, Sheryl Crow and Carole King. The songs are soft and introspective, reflecting on faith and family. She also draws on her experiences of the last decade, including her parents’ aging and declining health. Amy Grant is known as “The Queen of Christian Pop,” and she is the best-selling contemporary Christian music singer ever, having sold 30 million albums worldwide. She has won six Grammy awards, and has six Platinum and four Gold albums, plus a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The song “Don’t Try So Hard” is a tender ballad about resting in God’s grace, that features James Taylor, and the song “Better Not to Know” is a prayer-song about finding courage in God’s faithful mercy. Carole King joins Amy on the song “Our Time is Now,” which features Amy’s children and her father. This is Grant’s masterpiece; she sings about real life with messages about the glories and mysteries of faith, mercy, grace and life lessons for young and old. I was moved by the album and quickly noticed how polished the arrangements were played by the Nashville Session Players, a string orchestra. Do you know that Amy’s album Lead Me On is still considered the number one all-time Christian music record?
Movie – Constitution USA is a new PBS four-part series about America’s ever-disputed founding document, directed by Ken Burns and hosted by NPR’s Peter Sagal of Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! It attempts to bring light and understanding to the nearly 4,500-word document, its history and important moments in its development. Peter Sagal (who is from Oak Park, IL) buys a motorcycle in Villa Park and rides all around the USA, from New England to the Hoover Dam to the Golden Gate Bridge to Little Rock, Ark., Montana and Texas. He interviews scholars, lawyers, pundits and ordinary people about the relevance of the Constitution in the 21st Century. Without being overly technical or dumbed-down it shows the role the Constitution plays in our everyday life. It has four segments: A More Perfect Union (federal, state and local questions), It’s a Free Country (the Bill of Rights and controversies surrounding it), Created Equal (about the Fourteenth Amendment and equal protection for individuals and groups) and finally Built to Last (the vitality and staying-power of the Constitution). All four segments have a very nice balance of commentary from scholars and regular folks, and Sagal provides a lot of wit and humor along the way. There are many fascinating stories touching on free speech in the digital age, same-sex marriage, voting rights, separation of church and state, and presidential power in the post-9/11 world. Each one-hour episode of Constitution USA vividly illuminates a central theme essential to the Constitution.
Movie - Hemingway and Gellhorn is HBO’s prestige movie featuring the tempestuous relationship between the two great writers Ernest Hemingway and Martha (“Marty”) Gellhorn. Hemingway wrote 25 books and won the Nobel Prize, as well as a Pulitzer Prize. Marty Gellhorn is known as America’s greatest war correspondent, male or female. The movie is really about her and her amazing career. She liked to say “I do not see myself as a footnote to someone else’s life.” In the late 1930s, she met Hemingway and the two of them traveled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War, and the movie uses black and while film to depict war scenes from that time. She and Hemingway lived together for four years (they were married in 1940; she was Ernest’s 3rd wife). Nicole Kidman is absolutely brilliant as Martha Gellhorn, but to me Clive Owen was not very convincing as Hemingway. The movie features a lot of sex, drinking and violence, but does not delve very deeply into the writing. However, Hemingway’s most famous book, For Whom the Bell Tolls, was inspired by Gellhorn. Hemingway and Gellhorn is set against a backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, and homes in Key West, Florida, the Finca Vigia in Cuba, and Ketchum, Idaho.
Music – The Best of Burt Bacharach: anyone who had a heart is a two CD-set of 40 hit pop songs; all of them composed by Burt Bacharach, with lyrics by Hal David. Each selection is sung by a famous singer, including: Dionne Warwick, Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, Barbara Streisand, and many others. Bacharach’s music is characterized by deeply felt emotions. His arrangements evoke strong feelings of love, joy, sorrow, yearning and loss. The music has unusual chord progressions, striking syncopated rhythmic patterns, irregular phrasing, frequent modulation and odd, changing meters. He has composed 73 Top 40 hits, won six Grammys and three Academy awards. He is one of the most important composers of popular music in the 20th century, almost equal to George Gershwin, or Irving Berlin. I like all of these songs, but especially “One Less Bell to Answer,” “This Guy’s in Love with You,” “A House is not a Home,” “Arthur’s Theme (Best that You can Do).” The album coincides with the publication of Burt’s memoir titled Anyone Who Had a Heart: my life and music by Burt Bacharach.
Music – Ultimate Love Songs is a pleasant and wonderful collection of ballads and melodies with lyrics to touch your heart and inspire your mind to recall your most lovely and in love moments! It is a collection of duets taken from the best selections of Brickman’s many CDs. He is the most commercially successful instrumental pop pianist of the last two decades. Four of his albums have been certified Gold (sales of more than 500,000 copies): By Heart, Picture This, The Gift, and Destiny. Overall, he’s sold more than 7 million albums and amassed 27 Top 40 singles on the adult contemporary charts, including 14 Top 10 smashes. Ultimate Love Songs features pop and country songs, but is classified as New Age, like all of his other albums. Brickman’s style and his music are great for quiet times. I liked “Valentine” featuring Martina McBride, “Never Alone” featuring Lady Antebellum, “Hear Me” featuring Michael Bolton, and “A Mother’s Love” with Mark Masri. Christmas 2013 will mark his 18th holiday tour! He hosts an annual fan cruise, PBS specials, and a weekly radio show “Your Weekend with Jim Brickman.” He was born and raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio.