Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women

louisa may alcottMovie – Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women is based on the biography of the same title written by Harriet Reisen. The docudrama gives us an intimate look at the great American author Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888). She was raised by transcendentalist parents and grew up living near many of the well-known intellectuals of the day, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau. The documentary uses dialog taken from diaries and letters, as well as interviews with scholars of American literature. Poverty made it necessary for her to go to work at an early age as a teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper, Civil War nurse and writer. It was the tremendous popularity of her most famous work Little Women that lifted the family out of poverty. Alcott became the equivalent of a multimillionaire in her lifetime, based on the astounding sales of her books. Most surprising is that she led, anonymously and under the pseudonym A.M. Barnard, a literary double life, not discovered until the 1940s. As Barnard, Alcott penned some thirty pulp fiction thrillers, with characters running the gamut from murderers and revolutionaries to cross-dressers and opium addicts. The documentary is a remarkably detailed portrait of a strong-minded woman who was far ahead of her time and much more complex than the dainty lady others have presented.

Ernest Hemingway: Rivers to the Sea

ernestMovieErnest Hemingway: Rivers to the Sea is the DVD for American Masters, a PBS documentary about the life of the Nobel Prize winning author Ernest Hemingway. The treatment is typical post-Ken Burns music/words over pictures montage. Obviously, you can’t pack Hemingway’s work and adventures or complex personality into 90 minutes, but the narrative does capture most of his life. It uses fragments of his fiction, diaries and letters plus interviews with his friends, relatives and various academics. More than 40 years after his death, Hemingway is one of the most widely read, and widely written about, American authors. In literally throwing himself into a variety of challenging and potentially life-threatening situations, Hemingway swayed public perception of writers from that of presumed privilege to that of bold action. He lived a “big” life but under the macho exterior beat the heart of a sensitive soul. The documentary, in a kind of stream-of-consciousness style, moves through his early life in Oak Park, IL, to his war injury in World War 1 Spain, to Paris in the ‘20s, to his home in Cuba, to his final days living in Ketchum, Idaho. It speaks to the difficult art of writing and the writer’s lonely life, as well as bullfighting, fishing, big-game hunting, gangsters, boxers, soldiers and, of course, his four wives.

Love in Portofino by Andrea Bocelli

Love in PortofinoMovie - Love in Portofino by Andrea Bocelli is a CD/DVD set which is THE perfect date night, romantic, video.  On this release, Andrea delivers the performance of a lifetime from the beautiful surroundings of the Pizzetta in Portofino, Italy.  Playing to an intimate crowd at sunset, the legendary tenor sings the most famous love songs in the world accompanied by 16-time Grammy Award winner David Foster and a 40 piece orchestra.  Bocelli has sold over 80 million albums worldwide, making him the biggest-selling singer in the history of Classical music. He holds the 1, 2 and 3 positions in the Guinness Book of World Records on the Classical music charts, and a record six of his albums have reached the Top 10 on the Billboard 200, and a record-setting eight have topped the classical albums charts in the United States. Andrea, who has a law degree and plays many musical instruments, has been blind since age 12. Although the PBS special of this performance has more songs on it, and many of the songs were previously recorded on his album Passione, the background of the truly picturesque harbor on the Italian Riviera just takes your heart away.  I loved the songs like “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars,” “Love in Portofino,” and “Champagne,” but all of the songs are wonderful and the night could not have been more romantic.  Andrea has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (as of 2010). Take this DVD/CD set along on your next date.

Marley (2012)

marleyMovie – This new DVD is the definitive life story of Bob Marley, the musician, revolutionary, and legend. It is the story of the man from his humble beginnings in the Jamaican slums to his rise to international superstardom. Over 30 years after his death, Marley remains the most widely known and revered performer of reggae music. He is credited for helping spread Jamaican music to the worldwide audience. Working with official rights to the music and access to Marley’s family and friends, Oscar-winning documentarian Kevin Macdonald creates a thorough account of Bob’s life. The film features rare footage, never before seen performances, previously unreleased music, and revelatory interviews with the people that knew him best. His death, at age 36 in 1981, does not dominate the movie. Instead, the message of hope and freedom from oppression for people everywhere is the theme, as much as the great music. Marley’s music and imagery was popular during the protests in the Middle East and Africa and at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. Bob’s album Legend is the second-longest charting album in the history of Billboard magazine’s record-keeping. Marley is an impressive and thoughtful portrait that will remain one of my favorite documentaries.

Hannibal (2013)

HannibalSeason1_DVD_CoverArt_small1TV Show – Before he was a serial killer, Hannibal Lecter was a psychiatrist.

Actually, that’s not quite right. He’s already a serial killer, it’s just that nobody knows it yet. Not even FBI profiler Will Graham, who’s being treated by Dr. Lecter for the depression and instability he suffers as a result of his work with deranged minds. Graham is obsessed by the hunt for the Chesapeake Ripper, a serial killer who’s been taunting him for some time but continues to escape his grasp.

While it’s based on characters from the books by Thomas Harris, Hannibal is set before any of those books take place. It’s a gruesome show, definitely not for everyone – even I, a veteran Criminal Minds fan, have to look away from some of the murder scenes. But there’s a grim kind of humor to the show, too, courtesy of producer and writer Brian Fuller, creator of such whimsical series as Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me. If you enjoy serious psychological drama (and cannibal puns) you should love Hannibal.

Season two of Hannibal premieres tonight on NBC at 9pm.

Half the Sky (2012)

halfMovieHalf 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.

Breaking Bad (2008)

breaking badTV SeriesBreaking Bad features brilliant but timid high school chemistry teacher Walter White, who is diagnosed with lung cancer. A father of a special needs son and husband of a pregnant stay-at-home wife, he worries about how he can possibly pay for his treatments and care for his family in case of his death. He decides to produce meth to subsidize his income. He enlists the aid of a former student and naively embarks on his new moonlighting career. What ensues is chaos, tragedy and hilarity as Walt and his hapless associate encounter ruthless kingpins, territory squabbles and bumbling employees. To complicate matters, Walt’s brother-in-law is a DEA Officer who is (unknowingly) hot on his trail. Juggling matters with his wife (annoyed at his frequent unexplained absences), teaching responsibilities, drug operations and cancer treatments keep Walter busy and viewers entertained. I’m just finishing Season 2 and all other non-essential activities in my household are on hold until we finish the series. Breaking Bad, which was first aired in 2008, ended in 2013 and won over fifty awards.

Scandal (2012)

scandalTV Show – If you want fast paced juicy escapism then you should watch the TV series Scandal. This is about dirty politics and politicians in Washington, D.C. and their greed for power. Sometimes reputations get tarnished and scandals arise. That’s where Olivia Pope comes in.  She is a professional “fixer” who makes problems go away before anyone knows they exist. Kerry Washington stars as Olivia who worked previously as the White House Communications Director for the current President of the United States and was instrumental in helping him get elected to the Oval Office. Her crisis management firm has a staff of intelligent devoted operatives, who like Olivia, are very good at keeping secrets, perhaps because they all have secrets of their own.  These people devote their lives to managing crisis after crisis and they work very hard at trying to punish the bad guys and reward the deserving.  The characters are well developed and the twists and turns in the storylines will keep you watching. Shonda Rhimes of Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice is the creator of Scandal.

The Bletchley Circle (2012)

bletchleyTV Show – The Bletchley Circle is a new British crime drama, premiering on ITV in 2012 and on PBS in America in 2013. The main character, Susan, was a codebreaker at Bletchley Park during World War II, and although nine years later she’s now a housewife, she’s also been following the news reports on the murders of several young women in the area. She enlists the help of three of her old friends from Bletchley to help her decipher the pattern she’s sure is buried in the crimes to stop a killer the police can’t seem to catch up with.

I wasn’t expecting to love this show as much as I did. I tore through all three episodes in a day and a half. The show was a little more graphic than I expected – not gory, but they don’t shy away from describing the horrible things the killer does to his victims. It’s a delight, though, to watch a serious crime drama so completely focused on women that most of the men have only a few minutes of screen time. For any fan of British crime drama, this is a must-see.

Shutter Island (2010)

shutter islandMovie – Shutter Island  is  a psychological thriller directed by Martin Scorsese starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The film opens in 1954 as federal marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner, Chuck Auel are on their way to Shutter Island, a mental hospital for the criminally insane off the coast of Massachusetts. They have been asked to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando a patient admitted to the asylum after she murdered her three children. It is a mystery that Rachel was able to escape barefooted from a locked cell and no trace of her had been found after a thorough search by the staff of the island and its buildings.  As Teddy question staff, patients, and Dr. Cawley, the head of the institution, it seems like everyone has a secret. He begins to suspect that a terrible fate may be in store for the inmates in Ward C  which houses the hospital’s most dangerous and evil patients. There are hints of experimental, unconventional, and cruel treatments.  Teddy also has a secret, his wife’s murderer is a patient at the institution.  Not only is Daniels driven to find Rachel Solando, but he wants to confront his wife’s killer. The gothic tone of the movie is spooky and unsettling with unexpected twists and turns.  The storyline closely follows the book by the same title written by Dennis Lehane, which I also highly recommend.