Monday, August 22, 2022


There are multiple and disparate views in the Rosenzweig/Gless household about what does and what does not make good TV. One of my all-time favorite shows is the erstwhile Showtime series, Homeland. Sharon could never get into it as too much of the series took place on the desert sands of the Middle East.

My wife simply does not like stories set against a parched landscape. As a result, we more often settle in on shows filmed in the English countryside such as Gentleman Jack, while shying away from such series as the Israeli mega hit, Fauda.

It is one of the things that surprised me about Tehran. I was sure my spouse would resist the show’s Iranian locale, the intricacies of plot so replete with spy-intensive twists and turns. I underestimated her. Might have helped that the series is set in the population center of what was once Persia in a city with all the attributes of a major cosmopolitan center and minimal desert sands.

Sand or no sand, Tehran is a terrific show. We completed the eight-hour first season in just two nights and are looking forward to taking on season two as soon as possible. You should too. Spy dramas do not get much better than this.

In contrast to APPLE TV’s Tehran, we have the HBO series, Industry. No sand and no spine. Two episodes in and I haven’t a clue what the show is about, nor do I care… even a little… for any of the many characters already introduced. I would guess this must be intended to be the successor to Billions. If so, this series is at least 999 million short of that goal.

Delaying my review of Station 11 smacks of avoidance… the HBO mini-series is very good stuff, but so teeming with so many ideas that committing my reaction(s) to the readers of these notes became a bit intimidating.

The mini-series is science fiction (sorta). Not really my “thing.” But it is not so much in the future, nor so fantastical to be excluded from the pantheon of mini-series I do like to watch.

It is a post-apocalyptic tale. We all know how off-putting those can be and how overwhelmed we all can get when the seas rise to create ocean frontage in Des Moines. Well, Station 11 isn’t really that either. Actually… in most ways… it is more about the beginning of the world than the ending of it. More positive than negative.

It is a very COVID centric kind of apocalypse, but one that doesn’t focus at all on the dying, but rather on those few who make it in the world of the living. Okay… simple enough, right? So, shoot the scenes in Montana, or wherever the landscapes are empty and beautiful, then populate the place with the few dozen actors to be featured and tell your tale.

But why begin at a stage production of King Lear and end with a group of thespians committed to bringing Hamlet to the hamlets in the Great Lakes region of what used to be the U.S.? Is there symbolism there? What has Shakespeare got to do with any of this? Could it be that, like the characters in this drama, Shakespeare represents the very best of what it is to be human? Is the simple message in this not-so-simple HBO drama “all’s well that ends well”? I don’t know.

What do you make of a multi-hour mini-series without a real villain… with  human beings simply working out very human problems? This whole thing could just be too smart for most of us, but I will tell you this: good acting. Good direction. Good production values, and very good, non-linear, storytelling.

And without a real villain in the piece who wins? Just maybe all of us.

Onward: I have recently referred to the American Film Institute’s list of 100 films. These are, for lack of a better label, “the movies”… American films, every one… and so there is no reference to the works of Akira Kurosawa, Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Marcel Carne, Werner Herzog, Rainer Fassbinder, Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini, Bernardo Bertolucci, Alfonso Cuaron, or so many others.

David Lean (an Englishman using international casts) has a couple of his films on the list. The fact that they (Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai) were both awarded Academy Awards as Best Picture in their respective years may have had something to do with that.

Here is a link you can either click or cut and paste onto your favorite browser to obtain this resource.

I do not agree with all of it, by any means. Lawrence of Arabia, in my view, is way too high at #7, as is Schindler’s List at #8. The former is very good, but not in the league of many that follow in this collection. As to Schindler… a lovely movie, but it isn’t even Steven Spielberg’s best in a list that contains at least three other of his films that are ranked lower.

#9, Hitchcock’s Vertigo, doesn’t belong in the first one hundred at all and, great as it is, The Searchers is way too high (in the #12 spot). There are other John Ford films that deserve higher marks… hello… The Grapes of Wrath, The Quiet Man.

Some Like it Hot is listed in the 22nd spot, way ahead of many much better films, and at #32, The Godfather, Part II, is 29 to 30 places too far down this list. #43, Midnight Cowboy, doesn’t hold up well enough to be this high on this inventory and should be moved down into the 90s. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is way too high at #67 and maybe shouldn’t even be listed in the top 100.

Forest Gump at #76 is actionable. This is arguably one of the best films of the latter part of the 20th century and the same goes for #94, Pulp Fiction. They both belong in the top 50.

What films would I have included that did not make the list? The Lady Eve, The Way We Were, Spielberg’s Lincoln, Robin Hood, directed by Michael Curtiz, maybe a double feature of Oliver Stone’s JFK and Nixon. The industry cried “BS” to Stone’s version of real events and turned its collective back to them at award time… then gave a sort of pass to Michael Cimino and his totally made-up out of whole cloth/xenophobic Deerhunter, citing its verisimilitude. Sometimes life… and/or the Academy… isn’t fair.

I would also add Amadeus (it’s as American as Lawrence of Arabia), Fargo, and Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country.

Run these films at home with your children and (maybe even better still, your grandchildren) and talk about these movies afterwards. Avoid the temptation to throw in some of your remembered favorites not referred to here… such as Where’s Poppa?, The Landlord, and Born Yesterday. Trust me, they no longer hold up to your memory of them. It could be simply that laughter is infectious and that comedies such as these need to be seen in a theatre with an audience. That is glib enough, but it doesn’t explain why Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton’s The General, and almost anything with Chaplin still work, whether in the privacy of your abode, or in a public hall.

Once again, a plea for “trust.” The suggestion about the grandkids just may be the best thing you will ever glean from one of these columns.


Barney Rosenzweig

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