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Talk About Large and Small Screen Shows at CurtainUp
By Elyse Sommer

Streaming Features
New: Steaming Features will now be posted as separate features as was the case for my coverage of The Two Popes . . .:The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel & Shtisel. . . Madame Secretary and The Crown

February 12, 2020 Update
Stage Actors Contribute Mightily to the Increased Influence of Streaming outlets in The Irishman & Marriage story

To Kill a Mockingbird, the Hit Broadway Play Hasn't Diminished the Iconic Movie starring Gregory Peck
Playing Catch-up with Aaron Sorkin's film adaptation of the Steve Job Story

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind a winner from Netflix

Archived Film, TV,DVD Featuresv- #2
Archived Film, TV,DVD Features- #1

Playing Catch-up with Aaron Sorkin's film adaptation of the Steve Job Story
I've used computers long enough to be familiar with Steve Jobs's show biz style product launches. That's the ones that failed to live up to expectations, as the spectacularly successful iphone launch.
A detailed documentary, a 2013 bio-film ,and Walter Isaacson's best selling 2011 biography, were publicized enough to fill me in on Jobs's personal history —even without seeing or reading them. And, while I haven't succumbed to a completely Apple-powered tech life, my iphone with it's little apple icon is never far from my side.

That said, it took Aaron Sorkin's terrific stage adaptation of Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, and HBO's adding Steve Jobs also scripted by Sorkins to its streaming service to make me catch up with that 2015 film. So does its also featuring Jeff Daniels, the terrific Atticus Finch of the new
Mockingbird also on board as John Sculley. It's also a fine introduction to the new to me Michael Fassbender who, as the titular character, is very much the star here

Despite the high-tech settings and huge line-up of bit players, director Danny Boyle has structured. the film like a three act play, with the action taking us back stage to each of Jobs's three showbiz like product launches: The Macintosh, Next and the iphone. In doing so, Boyle and Sorkin smartly avoided sticking closely to what just about everyone knows. Instead they gave their viewers a chance to get a better understanding of what made Steve Jobs, the man, tick.

Though Michael Fassbender looks nothing like the man he's portraying, he's magnetic enough for to somehow come off as Steve Jobs! The dramatic arc still follows the basic outline of the Jobs/Apple story, but without being a rehash. The result is a fascinating, if not fully fleshed out, character portrait of a complex personality. For all its filmic elements, it could also have worked as a stage play since it doesn't have a lot more sets than a live theater version would. Like any good play it relies good pacing, acting and dialogue to make its impact.

Fassbender captures his character's brilliance and arrogance. Like so many icons like this, he illustrates that great men aren't necessarily good, likeable men — not when it comes to being a friend, a lover and, especially, a father. His relationship With his daughter Lisa over the three acts' 14-year time span and played by three different actresses (Makenzie Moss at age 5, Ripley Sobo at age 9 and Perla Haney-Jardine at 19). It's the gradual warmth and closeness between Jobs and the daughter he initially refused to acknowledge that gives Steve Jobs a powerful emotional core. The emotional depth is further plumbed in the scenes in which we get an inside look his relationship with his Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) and the other people in his professional sphere: Andy Herzfeld (Michael Stuhlberg), assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) and Jeff Daniels' Sculley.

In the unlikely event that Steve Jobs is just a name associated with that little icon on your phone, you may find yourself a bit at sea following the way this plays out. But no worries. As Aaron Sorkin adapted the current Broadway hit from Harper Lee's novel, so his source here was the 2011 Isaacson biography. Like Lee's book, it too is still available in hard, soft cover and digital editions.

Peck and Badham Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and 10-year-old Mary Badham as Scout in the movie.
To Kill a Mockingnird
mockingirld Jeff Daniels as Atticus Finch and Gbenga Akinnagbe as Tom Robinson in the very much "now" adaptation that's been the big hit of the 1018-19 Broadway season.
Harper Lee's 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird is one of America's literary treasures. It won a Pulitzer, was made into an iconic movie starring Gregory Peck, was adapted by Christopher Sergel into a play for school productions that metamorphosed into a version suitable for adult theatergoers frequently produced in regional theaters. All succeeded.

What accounts for the durablity of this novel and its stage and screen spinoffs? Well, for starters there's the warmth and humor of Lee's childhood memories of her family and neighbors in Monroeville, Alabama. But the reason this atmospheric coming of age story's charm and status as a genuine classic is how Lee was able to make those memories accommodate the more serious issues of racism and bias against those different from the "norm" — issues that somehow a remain relevant despite the changes wrought by the civil rights movement.

Somehow, the brilliant blend of the idyllic and dark aspects of Mockingbird have reinforced its status as an enduring rather than dated classic. But for all its over half a century of life on page, stage and screen, it took more than half a century to bring it to Broadway. It's not that directors of the author approved, pretty much straightforward Sergel version haven't imbued it with a more contemporary attitude, or that the idea for a more high profile, new adaptation hasn't been explored. The film's script writer Horton Foote, who's also a much lauded live theater playwright (See our playwrights' album chapter on Foote
here), was an obvious first choice. But he turned it down; so did double Pulitzer winner Lynne Nottage.

Lee herself was never interested in dramatizing her novel but she encouraged others to do so. She loved the movie and Gregry Peck's Atticus and and was still alive to give stage and screen playwright Aaron Sorkin a go-ahead for a new high profile stage version. Though she was dead by the time Sorkin's script was finished so he and the producer had to deal with the estate which has maintained a tight and contentious grip on protecting Lee's legacy from any new and drastic interpreations. Thats even though Tonja B. Carter, the lawyer Ms. Lee appointed to run her estate published a first and never published version of the novel in which Atticus wasn't anything like Gregory Peck's beloved moral hero.

Though the legal problems with the Lee estate were settled, the challenge of making this cherished work viable for modern audiences had to contend with the fact that even without a more woke approach to the bigotry issues Mockingbird dramatizations have done just fine especially the movie.

When I recently watched a replay of the movie (It's still available as a DVD or for rent on YouTube), the play I saw and reviewed at the Shubert did indeed seem like a really new play. That's at first when the book and the movie faithfully followed the the leisurely set-up with its focus on the kids (who in the movie were played by kids). But once the trial that's the story's dramatic and thematic heartbeat started, it became clear to me that Sorkin and director Bartlett Sher have indeed achieved something of a miracle. Their To Kill a Mockingbird is a glorious example of how to give a totally new look and and interpretation to a classic's heretofore etched-in-stone structure and character portrayals. All while still being true to the the source material. Jeff Daniels is very much his own Atticus Finch without diminishing our memories of Gregory Peck; as Celia Keenan Bolger, an adult actress, brings Scout to rich life, without making the movie's ten-year-old Mary Bedlam less memorable nn

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
boy who harnessed the wind
When the engineer William Kamkwamba was a teenager he designd an ingenious contraption for harnessing the wind that rescued his family and fellow villagers in Malawi from a devastating period of poverty and hunger. The Nigerian-British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor was born in Great Britain. Unlike Kamkwamba's family who struggled to pay for him to attend a private school, the Ejiofors had an easier time sending Chiwetel to good schools.

At 41, Chiwetel Ejiofor, is at the top of his game. He's a top drawer actor whose many London stage roles include a memorable Macbeth. His screen career went viral with the unforgettable Twelve Years a Slave. Now he's become a tripple threat by adapting, and directing Kamkwamba's memoir The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind into a lovely, inspiring and wonderfully authentic film for Netflix, in which he also plays a major role.

Ejiofor's subtly nuanced approach to this fact based story smartly merges inspiring docu-drama with a warm family story. While young Wiliam, the delightful Maxwell Simba, is the central character, it's the entire Kamkwamba family, especially Ejiofor who plays Trywell his father, who create a rich portrait of this family, within the broader canvas of the struggles of Malawi farmers like them in the early 2000s.

This isn't one of those fast-paced 90-minute plays so common on New York stages these days. Nor is it a movie full of technical wizardry. And the tell-all title makes me no spoiler when I tell you that William will indeed harness the wind, Mr. Ejiofor makes sure that we really appreciate what ingenuity and patience it took for William to succeed given the resources available to him — and when despair had even his loving father hinder the project.

It's gems like The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, that keeps us browsing through Netflix's overstuffed with less worth seeing offerings.


A Place to Call Home
A Place to Call Home
With four season of A Place to Call Home bundled into one DVD by Acorn TV, it looked as if this addictive Australian melodrama was finally finished. The show's creator Bevan Lee and the writers who eventually took over the scriptwriting certainly fulfilled Lee's mission to once again give the old-fashioned melodrama its due as a worthy entertainment full of flavour and surprises. The interactions and issues that were part of post World War II Australian life did indeed add up to Mr. Lee's vision of a good melodrama as "a big plum pudding of a show."

Sure, things at times went way over the top, with the villains veering into larger-than-life territory and an over abundance of plot strands to keep sorted out. But all those plot strands were carefully woven into an authentic beautifully photographed and detailed portrait of a society dealing with a painful past and inevitably changing future, especially pertaining to issues of class and religion. What kept us glued to the Blighs and their circle of relatives, friends, enemies and neighbors was that all the characters — even the minor ones — were fully developed.

Apparently the reason for the initial plan to "kill" A Place to Call Home after the second season was that its fans tended to be older than the age 24 to 35 demographic producers are most eager to reach. But hurrah for the power of those more mature audiences to make themselves heard. Their pleas for the show's survival led to two more eventful seasons, which along with the first two are reviewed below.

The final episode of the fourth season tied up the multiple plot strands of the doings in and around the Bligh mansion pretty neatly. However, the inventive writers managed to continue their exploration of existing issues, and add some provocative new ones for a fifth season and as I write this, Acorn TV has now almost finished streaming all twelve episodes of this fifth season.

If you need to refresh your memory of what went on before or are a newcomer to the series, no worries. All episodes of the first four seasons are still available. What a binge feast!

Events have moved forward four years without losing our connection to the characters, existing issues have been deepened and several new ones added, and with them, we have a few new likeable, well-developed characters; for example, an Aboriginal man who adds to the already dramatized sexual and religious intolerance, a defiant young Jewish girl in love with a local boy, and the arrival of a romantic partner for the homosexual James Bligh's ex-wife Olivia.

I'm not going to be a spoiler and tell you whether the arch-villaines Regina is still insanely awful or somehow redeemed. But she IS back, and the way the script writers deal with her role exemplifies their ability to . make even a wildly improbable character like Regina into a real person instead of a cartoony madwoman.

If the illness of Noni Hazelhurst's beloved Douglas (the excellent Robert Coleby), takes up a little too much p. time, it's also smartly tied in to the opposing views of doctors Jack Duncan (Craig Hall) and Henry Fox (Tim Drexl). The current Me-Too movement puts a timely edge on Mark Lee's predatory publisher and political manipulator Sir Richard Bennett. And Sir Richard's continued nastiness and inevitable comeuppance brings us once more to this question: Now that most of the key characters have been led to discover that love rather than a physical location is the place to call and Bevan Lee has fulfilled his mission of restoring melodrama as a worthy genre, is it finally time to mark this show as complete?

According to some reports I've had , a Season 6 has been commissioned. So, why not? Who knows if Israel which we see Dusseldorp's Sarah and Climo['s George visit toward the end of the series will be the place they'll call home instead of Ash House. And it would be nice to see what Abby Earl's Anna will write about when she trades her typewriter for a computer and know that Sir Goeorge really has played his last dirty trick. In the meantime, enjoy Season 5 (and any previous ones you missed).

Season 1-4 Reviewed
Australia's own Downton Abbey was supposed to dig d with Season 2 but the fans it won prevailed. Season 5 of A Place to Call Home is back. Like Season 4, Acorn TV began streaming it for fans to revisit its key players during the Thanksgiving weekend. Of course, Nurse Sarah Adams (Marta Dusseldorp), George Bligh (Brett Climo) and his mom Elizabeth Bligh the now lovable doyenne of Ash House (Noni Hazelhurst) are aboard and,as in the past, Acorn TV is again streaming the series two episodes at a time, each new pair to be added each Monday.

As evident from the first episode, you'll know that Sarah, George and Elizabeth, as well as Dr. Jack and Carolyn will grapple with plenty of problems — the most likely to be traumatic involving the anti-semitic, crazed Regina's reappearance. You can also expect some new characters, including an Aboriginal man and a defiant young Jewish girl.

Below is my own take on the series so far:

While there's an abundance of issues and plot developments, the essential heart of the saga revolves around Nurse Sarah Adams (Marta Dusseldorp) and the aristocratic Bligh family. It all starts with Sarah's first meeting with the Blighs while she's working as a nurse on a luxury ship carrying them home from a wedding. That sets things up for the soon to unfold central events, the main one seeing George Bligh (Brett Climo), the attractive, widowed head of the Bligh sheep farm's business, smitten with Sarah —and so will you be with the terrific Marta Dusseldorp playing this woman who has her own past to contend with.

Though the autocratic Bligh matriarch was pretty much a dominating bitch in the early series, she was so fully dimensioned that there was plenty of room for the superb Noni Hazlehurst to make her a decidedly human villain.

The show's reprieve from its scheduled conclusion at the end of Season 2 required a new finale. That new ending saw George Bligh shot. How that happened and how he survived laid the groundwork for more melodramatic complications in the Bligh family's life and that of Nurse Sarah Adams and her seriously shell-shocked ex-war prisoner husband René Nordman (Benjamin Winspear).

Season 3 moved forward and again concluded with a cliff hanger. That finale left things looking pretty bad for Nurse Sarah, courtesy of rat poison sent her way by dragon lady Regina (Jenni Baird). Things were no better for Elizabeth Bligh, Ash Park's manipulator in chief. Just as she was morphing into a near saintly persona, her bad heart threatened to do her in.

Given that Sarah and Elizabeth are the two most crucial to the plot characters, it didn't take a super optimist to assume that they would survive for Season 4. But the devil being in the details, what was once again harder to know was just how this would happen and how George would react when he found out just how nasty a piece of work Regina, his former sister-in-law and now wife, was.

And sure enough, Sarah and Elizabeth are alive in Season 4, the first two episodes of which arrived in time to enjoy the continuing saga of the Blighs and Nurse Sara and assorted others along with our Thanksgiving leftovers. The talented writers who've taken over for Bevan Lee, the show's creator, have added new plot lines with the same appreciation of the rewards of the melodramatic genre which Lee explained in an interview as follows: "I want to fight the rise of melodrama being viewed as a somehow lesser form. To me a good melodrama is a big plum pudding of a show, full of fruit, flavour and the odd surprise threepence." Elizabeth Bligh, the initially nominal villainess has become more and more likeable; actually, lovable. But that doesn't leave the saga without the vital ingredient of a villain. Regina, the anti-Semitic schemer, has morphed into an Über-villain. She's like ten of Rebecca's Mrs. Danvers rolled into one poisonous package. As a runner up in the bad guys making trouble for everyone, there's also Sir Richard (a deliciously odious Mark Lee). That's the full of dirty tricks publisher who got George to go into politics and almost destroyed the rekindled love of his sister Carolyn Bligh (Sara Wiseman) and Dr. Jack Duncan (Craig Hall).

The marriage of the homosexual James Bligh (David Berry), his wife Olivia (Arianwen Parkes-Lockwood) was still very much front and center, as was that of Anna Bligh (Abby Earl) and Gino Poletti (Aldo Mignone) who overcame the cultural clashes of Italian farmers and landed Aussie gentry.

Since the complete series is archived at Acorn, readers who are new to it can do a marathon binge, starting with Sarah's first meeting with the Blighs while she's working as a nurse on a luxury ship carrying them home from a wedding. That sets things up for the soon to unfold central events, the main one seeing George Bligh, the attractive, widowed head of the Bligh sheep farm's business, smitten with Sarah —and so will you be with the terrific Marta Dusseldorp playing this woman who has her own past to contend with.

Though the autocratic Bligh matriarch was pretty much a dominating bitch in the early series, she was so fully dimensioned that there was plenty of room for the superb Noni Hazlehurst to make her a decidedly human villain.

ash house
The Bligh estate is actually a heritage-listed property called Camelot located at Kirkham, on the outskirts of Camden. It was built in 1888 and was used as a setting for the 2008 Baz Luhrmann film Australia.

While most of the gradually revealed surprises were — and still are — fairly predictable, I stayed hooked, as was the growing audience. It all adds up to a pungently atmospheric, thematically potent depiction of 1950s Australia still dealing with the aftermath of the painful World War II years, lingering Anti-semitism and mistreatment of homosexuals. Even when some of the action goes over the top, there's the top to bottom wonderful cast to make it all work.

I'll leave it to you to decide if the end of episode end is really the end. After seeing the 4 sets of 12 episodes, I felt that, A Pla;ce to Call Home, like Downton Abbey, may have had it's day. Still, moving forward with these characters is not without its melodramatic possibilities. And so, why not another season?n f you ever found the body count of lovers and their circles piled up by Francis Underwood and crew in House of Cards as too far-fetched for real life, allow me to introduce Jeremy Thorpe and Amazon’s quite excellent A Very English Scandal. Led by a once again cracking Hugh Grant as the once pivotal and then disgraced UK politician, and Ben Whishaw as the former male model and the inamorato Thorpe tried to have killed in the late 1970s, the June 29-launching limited series would have been a surefire Emmy contender for its top actors if it had come out earlier, as I say in my video review above. As it is, because the true events it so deftly depicts are largely unknown to American audiences, the three-part A Very English Scandal will make for very satisfying mini-binge on Friday night or this weekend – and would be a crime to be ignored by TV Academy voters next year. Based on John Preston’s 2016 book on the twice-married Thorpe’s affair with Norman Scott, the almost comically bungled attempt to murder him and the 1979 trial of the well-bred Liberal leader that captivated the British public and tabloid press, the Stephen Frears-directed and Russell T. Davies-penned series finds the expanse of Grant’s skills on display big time. While Thorpe was ultimately found not guilty, Grant grimaces, growls and grandly takes this potential comedy of errors, which has already aired in the UK, beyond nonfiction farce to true tragedy with heartfelt candor over broken souls, a broken system, and a love that sadly could not and would speak its name.

The Road to 1984
James Fox as George Orwell in The Road to 1984
One thing that hasn't led to an angry presidential tweet or outraged comment by President Trump's press secretary is the boom in sales of George Orwell's horror novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. While the book has remained in print since its publication in 1949, sales have recently boomed as if it had just been written. And while the book has seeded a movie and several stage adaptations, the Broadway production coming to the newly re-opened Hudson Theater in June is definitely a ripple effect of the Trump administration.

For many Americans the use of "alternative facts" by Mr. Trump and his colleagues brings shivery memories of the book's "two plus two equals five" ("2 + 2 = 5"). That title described a mantra of novel's dystopian world. Orwell used that slogan to chilling effect to strike a contrast between this example of an obviously false dogma that one may be required to believe with the phrase "two plus two makes four" as the obvious—but politically inexpedient—truth.

I'll be reporting on the Broadway production when it opens next June (actually, you can preview the Headland adaptation which will be used in the States
here . But you might also want to see an excellent film released in 1984 to coincide with the predicted prophesy about the triumph over the forces of evil over good, truth and mind control— and recently released for its viewers by Acorn.

As someone who's read Orwell's early novel Burma Days (inspired by his days as a policeman there), as well as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, I found this film an absorbing and very smartly directed and well-acted biography. I was particularly impressed with the way the dialogue was astutely taken right from Orwell's writings by screen scripter Willis Hall. Not having read Orwell for a while the precision and yet richness of Orwell's language had me resolve to make time read some of his published essays, especially his Politics and the English Language.

James Fox, a busy British film and TV thespian looks reasonably enough like Orwell. He captures the intensity of the man's desperate struggle to complete Nineteen Eighty-Four even has he waged his long and painful battle with tuberculosis, to which he succumbed at age 46.

Director Wllis Hall has vividly dramatized the cruelties that Orwell wrote about in Burma Days as a recurring nightmarish leitmotif in the film. The bucolic retreat beautifully evokes a little known side of him —as a forlorn lonely widower's tender relationship with his young adopted son. Of course, anyone who's read Animal Farm, will recognize the dialogue of the outdoor scenes on his farm from that memorable satire.

Mr. Fox is ably supported by the various women in Orwell's life, notably Janet Dale and Julia Goodman as his first and second wives.

I doubt anyone in President Trump's inner circle will want to see The Road to 1984; nor are they likely to turn up at the stage adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four when it comes to the Hudson Theater (unless they come heavily disguised). But everyone else will appreciate this fine film. To see it, go to

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Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins in The Two Popes

Tea Leon
Tea Leon in Madam Secretary

Final season of A Place to Call Home
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