The Book Thief–Not to be Shelved

Book Thief

A pre-teen  girl, Liesel Menninger (the extraordinary Sophie Nelisse)  is handed off by her mother, who no longer  can care for her , to a middle-aged couple. The time is pre-Kristallnacht Germany, 1938.

Her foster home is simple and impoverished.  Her foreboding foster mother, Rosa Hubermann (the extraordinary Emily Watson) shows little affection, at first,  for the frightened girl. But the  irascible  father Hans (the endearing Geoffrey Rush) comforts the shy twelve-year old with magical and fanciful allusions to literature and music, playing his accordion and composing songs just for her.  Liesel soon adapts to her intimidating environment.  Her foster father teaches her to read and to find comfort in books, even though the only book she has is one thathad dropped in the snow.  Soon she begins  stealing books and, even hiding them, when Kristallnacht’s infamous night happens.

This moving is hauntingly beautiful, but moves at a pace that , at times, is slow. Moreover, the  ending  is anti-climactic.  But the performances are startling and award-worthy.    Based on a novel, commenting on the inhumanity  of Nazi Germany, “The Book Thief” is  a graceful tale of one small soul fighting to make sense of her world, questioning its cruelty, and seizing independence. Liesel is determined  to find a way of being “normal” in a world of unspeakable horror.

“The Book Thief” is  a love story:  of friendship, love of integrity, love  of the written word, with the feel of a fable or children’s tale, a dreamy sort of look at the life books open to the eyes of a child.  A must-see.


Rent it on Netflix, which has just released it!

“Happy Valley”-No One’s Idea of Happiness

Happy Valley

This compelling and addictive police drama stars Sarah Lancashire as  the middle-aged Yorkshire police sergeant Catherine Cawood,  who struggles daily between remembering  the suicide of her teenage daughter and developing love for the young boy her daughter left behind.  Divorced and estranged from her son partly because of that tragic death, Catherine  is determined to capture her daughter’s lover/killer/rapist, but the search almost spirals out of control when the perpetrator, Tommy Lee Royce (played by James Norton) is released from prison.  Her pursuit of Tommy Lee Royce becomes an obsession.

A popular BBC production distributed by Netflix on August 20, Happy Valley consists of  six episodes, which  do not involve any hunting for clues, since we know the heinous nature of the crime from the first episode.  But the characters are so sharply drawn and the situation so suspenseful that binge viewing is the way to go.   . The proliferation of drugs, corruption of government, and police complicity are part of the  problems  she faces every day.

Cawood is the type of woman we rarely see on television:   self-aware at times,  unbelievably vulnerable and foolish also.  Occasionally, she is just out of control–both emotionally and physically–and recklessly puts herself in danger. Happy Valley

“Happy Valley”, like “The Fall” (also from the U.K. and distributed exclusively through Netflix) as well as The Killing and The Bridge (American adaptations of two Scandinavian shows)—not to mention the mother of them all, Prime Suspect—suggests just how much a thriller can be designed focusing on  a woman  police officer, who is damaged but tenacious in accomplishing what she needs to.  Season Two of this highly unusual drama is being produced now and scheduled for US release in January 2015.


Posted in Television reviews | Tagged , , | 4 Replies

4 comments on ““Happy Valley”-No One’s Idea of Happiness

  1. Happy Valley is truly an engaging and intense series. Catherine Cawood certainly brings to life this character “who is damaged but tenacious in accomplishing what she needs to.”
    I agree, this is yet another example of a thriller that is focused on a woman.

  2. Sorry to be off the topic, but I can’t help commenting about another exceptional series. Just finished watching TRUE DETECTIVE on NF. It was phenomenal in terms of acting, plot, unique story line, etc. Superb lineup of seasoned very talented actors. Highly recommend this thriller with intense character development . I have never been a fan of Matthew McConaughey, but I am one now. Couldn’t believe the depth of his performance. Just remarkable. Emmy winning as far as I’m concerned. Complex, engrossing, many layered mystery and characters.

    • Yes, “True Detective” was quite absorbing. Cary Fukunaga (director/producer) is from Oakland and I have been following his work ever since the Oscar-nominated “Sin Nombre”, a fabulous movie about immigrants crossing the border into the US, both timely and heartbreaking!
      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Thanks for the recommendation, Diana. Watching Damages these days with Glenn Close as a tenacious attorney. Incredible acting, character depth and one is never sure who the antagonist/protagonist is. I’m only in the first series……

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“Boyhood”–Childhood is Never Easy


BoyhoodFilmed over 12 years with the same cast, “Boyhood”  is like no other movie made in Hollywood.  This groundbreaking story feels like a documentary, not a scripted narrative written and directed by Richard Linklater (of “Slacker” fame), who films  intermittently for five days each year over an eleven-year period (from  2002 to  2013).  The decade-long time-span for shooting the story is in itself pioneering, but “Boyhood” is so much more.  This coming-of-age story is about all families, families we know and families we grew up in.  It is not exclusively about boys, although there are scenes encapsulating maleness.  “Boyhood” is more  about all of us: growing up and growing old.

The viewer is pulled into the film, almost as a voyeur.  We see the  beautiful six-year old boy,  Mason (the phenomenal newcomer Ellar Coltrane),  grow to eighteen years old, encompassing the baby-faced  charm, but also the  pain, of early childhood through the indecisiveness of adolescence with a single mom and a well-meaning  father ill-equipped for either parenting or marriage.  “Boyhood”  opens with a sudden decision by Olivia (Patricia Arquette),  the lovely but exhausted single mother, to move to Texas in order to start a new life with her two children, Mason and Samantha (Lorelei Linklater).   The drifter dad Mason Senior (Ethan Hawke) insinuates himself into their lives.  There is no place any of them can call home.    Boyhood 2




Everyone in the family makes very poor choices.  As the story unfolds, there are other possible outcomes , different from what actually happens, but equally viable. When Mason, now eighteen years old, is asked: “Do people seize moments or do moments seize them?”  Mason replies:  “We are always in the moment.”  And “Boyhood” reveals the ever-constant present that replays our past. That is part of the genius of “Boyhood”, although the pacing is at times uncomfortably slow.

Ultimately, “Boyhood”  belongs to the young actor Ellar Coltrane who plays the boy Mason.   Lorelei Linklater, as his sister, Samantha,  also shares center stage for underscoring the tensions of everyday family life.   I wouldn’t be surprised if this movie  becomes a film classic!


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2 comments on ““Boyhood”–Childhood is Never Easy

  1. It is classic as far as I’m concerned.
    The pace is perfect for the movie to comment on such complex subject matter.
    It is done which such sensitivity and compassion.
    Mason definitely steals everyone’s heart!
    I was sad it had to end, such a beautiful story is rare these days…

  2. yes, this is a movie that will be one of those that will be seen over and over again over the next few decades. it is much like the “sunrise” movies linklater made with ethan hawke. it speaks to so many on so many different levels – how we all grow up and what kind of experiences make us who we are and how we come to be. i think this film shows the childrens’ point of view as well as the adults’ and how life’s circumstances make us become the people we become. it is a story of this boy, his sister, his mother, his father and all those intimately related and how life develops and how children and their adults handle the difficulties of every day life. it is definitely a keeper for years to come.
    and i haven’t even mentioned how impressive it is that it was filmed over a 12 year period – remarkable work.

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