Thursday, March 6, 2014

Weekend Entertainment Recs for Seniors & Others

TV The Americans stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys
The premise is that two spies from Russia are sent to live in DC and work as travel agents. They pose as a married couple and have children together. They totally fit in as suburban Americans. They started doing this in the late sixties and we pick them up during the Reagan administration. They now have two children in local schools, who have no idea they are Russian spies. Ironically, the kids are 100% american, having been born on US soil. The two spies are constantly engaged in covert activities and do only a minimal amount of travel agency work (I assume it is a front business set up by the Russians). These two spies are played by two incredibly sexy and talented actors. We also have the wonderful Margo Martindale as their female spy boss. One curious thing I noticed is that this Russian spy vs. American law enforcement seems relatively sane compared to what we are steeped in today on the international scene. Today we have this whole crazy Middle Eastern scene where they don't even bother with the sophistication of spies. I didn't expect to even like this show and I loved it. I am now watching season 2. Shown is season 1.

Audio Book: Sh*t My Dad Says 
by Justin Halpern

I listened to this book instead of reading it. It was such a wonderful experience that I promptly listened to the whole thing again! The star of this book is Halpern's father, Sam, who is the salt of the earth as a father and advice giver. His language is salty as well. The odd thing is that the father is a doctor and professor of nuclear medicine at UC San Diego, now retired. You would think that he did something a whole lot more pedestrian listening to him, that is until his son tries to fudge a science experiment in grade school. I loved the letter the father had him read to the class about "shaming the scientific community" as a result. The father is priceless out on the little league field, taking his son to work, grinding up the son's zoloft in the disposal and cooking meals for his dog. This is just a spectacular book, worth double the five stars. The narrator Sean Schemmel is also superb. This is my #1 audio book of all time.

Music: Billy Joel Greatest Hits Volumes I& II 

I haven't listened to Billy Joel for a long time. Recently I started listening to him again. His musical ability straight across the board is first rate. He composes all of it, music and lyrics, plays all of it and sings all of it. Perfectly. 
These songs are his greatest commercial successes. If you like those, then I recommend you go back and buy every other single album. This is because his less commercial songs are every bit as good as the commercial ones. He has stopped making this kind of music. Now in his mid 60s, he is tired of pop songs and is composing modern classical music. The piano has always been his main thing in life, as pictured, so it is not surprising that he would turn to a different genre. I was reading about him on Wikipedia as I am always interested in how early a talent like his emerges. His emerged super early. He lived with his mother and they were just scraping by. He dropped out of High School and started earning money by playing in piano bars. His parents were divorced and his father and half-brother by his father's remarriage played classical piano. Billy was the one left behind. You can almost guarantee when someone does this that the one left behind who comes up the hard way is the one who becomes the huge international star. This half brother, Alexander Joel, became a classical conductor and musical director in Europe.

Film  Inglorious Basterdsdirected by Quentin Tarantino 
starring Brad Pitt & Christophe Waltz 

I stopped watching Tarantino movies for some years. I started watching again last year with his terrific slave movie. I decided to work backwards so next tried this. It is just utterly fabulous, about the Nazis at the end of WWII as the allies close in on them in France. One unit, with the name of the movie, goes around killing any Nazis they can find and become very well known. At the same time, a young woman cinema owner plots to do away with all of the Nazi high command at a movie premiere. Everyone is great but let me single out Christophe Waltz as as SS commander who simultaneously tries to foil the allies as well as bargain with them. He brings a wonderful humorous overlay to the whole movie. Also, Brad Pitt is excellent with a Texas drawl as an allied commander leading the Nazi murdering squad. All of his unit members are jewish. Pitt is consistently underrated for his acting talent but I think he is one of the most versatile actors out there. As his looks become ever less important due to aging, perhaps others will finally notice his talent. This is a must see film. note: this is a work of fiction. Tarantino does do some things in his film which do not square with the history of that period.

Novel:  You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz

This novel grabbed me from the first chapter. I finally finished at 3am. I had four hours of sleep in me and need more. But, oh yes, I enjoyed it. The plot point that hooked me was that the heroine was a couples' marriage therapist about to release an expected bestseller on how you should know in your first dates with a louse that you should never marry him. And of course she has the storybook happy ever marriage and family to prove it is possible to spot a winner early on. Of course, she has tempted the Gods, the Fates, whatever and is about to receive the ultimate in smack down from them for hubris. With that we are off and running as we meet her perfect mate Jonathan, a pediatric oncologist, to whom she has been married for twenty years and with whom she has a son, Henry. If you can put this roller coaster thriller down after that set up, you have more self control than I do. Great read. Highly recommend.

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