Big Little Lies TV Series

Big Little Lies is an HBO miniseries based off of the book of the same name by the author Liane Moriatry.  You can read my colleague Ann’s book review here.

Reese Witherspoon stars as Madeline Martha Mackenzie. Madeline is middle-aged mother of three. Her oldest daughter’s father, Nathan, left the family when Abigail was a small child. Madeline is very angry at her ex-husband, Nathan, since he has recently moved back to town with his new wife and daughter, Bonnie and Skye. Nathan has been very involved in his daughter Skye’s life which hurts Madeline since he left her alone to raise their daughter Abigail. Madeline has remarried and has two children with her husband Ed (Adam Scott).

Madeline is taking her daughter Chloe to Kindergarten roundup and has some trouble. Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) stops to help. The two women find out they are going to the same place since Jane is taking her son Ziggy to school. Jane is a single mom and new to town. Madeline decides to take Jane under her wing. She remembers what it is like to be a single mother and to be judged by the other moms. When they arrive at school, we are introduced to Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and her twin sons. Celeste appears to have an ideal life. Her husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) is handsome and wealthy and she has two adorable boys. But we see glimpses of their home life and see that Perry abuses Celeste.

At the end of the Kindergarten roundup, one of the girls is hurt. She has bruises on her neck. The teacher asks her to identify the person that hurt her. She points her finger at Ziggy. Jane stands up for her son to the rest of the parents and Madeline stands by her side. A battle line has been drawn between the parents before school has even started.

Throughout the episode and the series, we see different members of town being interrogated at the police station. Most of them mention Madeline and Celeste and the women at school. The viewer is unsure of what has happened. From the brief instances of conversation, the viewer can guess that someone has died and it might be a murder. Who died is not revealed. So throughout the series, the viewer is left wondering which character died and who the murderer might be. The series has seven episodes. A delicious drama and tantalizing mystery leaves the viewer guessing and wanting more.

The Magicians

Full disclosure: I have the hardest time reading or watching anything with magic. Suspending reality is very difficult for me, especially when that suspension involves negating laws of physics or science or math. I’m a slightly more left-brained person (in case you couldn’t tell by my inability to handle anything that defies logical thinking), so anything with magic needs to be crafted in a way that I find believable. The television show, The Magicians, which premiered on Syfy in 2015, has elements of believable magic(at least to me), plus really engaging character development and background information, that allowed me to suspend my logical brain for a little while.

The Magicians is what I think Harry Potter would be like for grown-ups. Just imagine Hogwarts as a college and BAM! You’ve got The Magicians. The main characters of this show are college students looking to get into different graduate schools. Quentin Coldwater is an awkward student who has been selected for an alumni interview for a prestigious university. As he and his best friend, Julia, walk into the interview, strange things begin happening.

Quentin finds himself admitted to Brakebills University for Magical Pedagogy(which is NOT the college that he had the interview for). Brakebills is a secret university located in upstate New York dedicated to all things magic. Quentin and his friends at Brakebills are thrust deep into the world of magic. They are learning more and more every day about their powers, but learning to control them proves difficult.  Each student has an interview/test to figure out what kind of powers they have, where they will live, and what sort of classes they will take. (Same type of concept as the sorting hat in Harry Potter! Except it’s a teacher testing them..) Quentin and friends are struggling with normal college problems with an added level of magical complications. Watching each student struggle to learn to master even the most basic spells is what made this show believable for me the most.

Add in a magical kingdom called Fillory, the land that Quentin’s favorite book series is based in, and there’s a whole new level of mystery involved! They soon find out that this magical fantasy world is actually very real. The consequences this discovery has on not only the students, but on humanity as a whole, is catastrophic and very dangerous. This television show is incredibly layered with multiple plots running simultaneously. I found this to be refreshing because it allows each character to become fully developed and have their own separate storyline that is still connected to the others. Highly recommended.


This television show is based on the book The Magicians by Lev Grossman. This book is the first in the Magicians Trilogy, which is:

  1. The Magicians
  2. The Magician King
  3. The Magician’s Land


The Infiltrator

infiltrator2The Infiltrator starring Bryan Cranston, as well as several other well-known actors and actresses, is an American crime drama film that is based on the book, The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel by Robert Mazur. Its basis on Mazur’s autobiography lends this movie a compelling fact-based story with a cast that both resembles the real-life characters and their mannerisms. This movie tells the story of the 1980s bust of Pablo Escobar’s money-laundering organization.

The Infiltrator recounts the story of Robert Mazur’s discovery of a massive money laundering scheme involving Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Mazur, a U.S. Customs special agent, is up for retirement after being injured during his previous operation. He instead finds himself back undercover as “Bob Musella”, a wealth mob-connected businessman who becomes a pivotal player for a lot of drug lords who need help laundering their dirty money. He eventually infiltrates the Medellin Cartel, the world’s largest cartel, and discovers the vast money-laundering organization of Pablo Escobar, a massive and well-known drug lord. Mazur also succeeds in taking down the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, aka the BCCI, for their involvement.

This movie shines a light on the ethics of big banks and government, as well as all of the different players, organizations, and activities necessary to keep a massive undercover investigation from being discovered. Mazur’s journey to discovering Escobar’s money-laundering organization and its eventual takedown did not happen overnight. He started small and had to gain buy-in and trust from lower level drug dealers and suppliers in order to prove his worth. Mazur befriended dirty bankers, businessmen, and drug lords across the world as he spent years infiltrating the Medellin Cartel’s criminal hierarchy. This movie tells the story of how Mazur brought these criminals to justice and destroyed the bankers and businessman who were manipulating world-wide finance systems in order to benefit the drug lords, terrorists, and politicians who gave them their money.

 

Genius

genius2I’m a sucker for literary movies, movies that give me a glimpse into the lives of my favorite authors, the time period that they were writing, and their motivations for writing. Genius fell right into my lap one day and I knew I needed to watch it.

Genius tells the story of the relationship between Maxwell Perkins and Thomas Wolfe. Perkins was a book editor at Scribner, one who discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, among others. Thomas Wolfe’s manuscript was put into Perkins’ hands by an associate who said that is was unique and that he should take a look at it. What follows is a deep dive into the psyche of Wolfe and Perkins’ relationship.

Wolfe is portrayed as a lovable American South writer who does not believe his novel will ever get published after he worked on it for four years. Perkins drops into his life right when he is at a crossroads. The two work together to carve down Wolfe’s massive manuscript into something the public will actually read. The scenes where Wolfe and Perkins are actively working on his manuscript are some of my favorite as both of their personalities shine as they rally for their favorite parts to be saved or for certain sections to be cut. Perkins’ relationship with his family as well as Wolfe’s relationship with his lady benefactor also play key roles in this movie.

Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald make frequent appearances in the movie, letting viewers see into their own personal lives and the struggles they were facing as writers. Seeing the characters’ relationships grow and change throughout the course of this movie really allows viewers to see how complex Wolfe and Perkins’ relationship was with each other and with the outside world.

This movie is based on the 1978 National Book Award-winner Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg. It’s important to remember that this is a dramatized version of a biography, so the director and writers strayed from the book a little bit. If you’re curious about what was left out or need a little more background, check out this New Yorker article entitled “The Odd Factual Gaps in Michael Grandage’s ‘Genius’ “and judge the movie’s authenticity and factuality for yourself.

Quantico

quanticoIf you’re looking for a new television show that will immediately grab your attention and, most importantly, keep it until the very last episode, I recommend Quantico. This riveting mystery begins by introducing viewers to a set of new recruits going through training at the FBI Quantico Base. Alex Parrish is one of these New Agents in Training, aka “Nats”, a thoroughly vetted group of recruits from all across the US considered to be the best and brightest the FBI has ever seen.

Conspiracy, seduction, and suspense rock the recruits as they struggle to complete their training and not get kicked out of the program. Each recruit is subjected to high levels of scrutiny with their trainers digging into their lives and subjecting them to immense pressures all to prepare them for the rigors of daily FBI cases. Each NAT has their own secrets and complicated pasts, but they are all considered to be the best. This series flashes between Alex and her fellow agents training time at Quantico and the present where a bombing has rocked New York, shattering the FBI and the nation, while leaving Alex to try to figure out the truth of what really happened.

A deadly bombing has destroyed Grand Central. This event is the most lethal attack on New York since 9/11 and Alex is being framed as the mastermind. She must race against time as well as the judgments of her fellow FBI agents and the public to prove that she isn’t behind the attack. Alex is in a race against time to find the real culprit in order to prevent future destruction. Her task becomes even more difficult when it becomes apparent that the bomber is working from inside the FBI. Alex is forced to betray her friends and colleagues to find the truth and to prove that she is not a sleeper terrorist.

The Catch

catchThe Catch is a television drama crime show that comes from the minds of Shonda Rhimes and the producers behind the hit shows, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. The Catch follows a female private investigator, Alice Vaughan, whose firm Anderson/Vaughan Investigations specializes in catching and foiling world-class criminals. Ali and associates have a knack for exposing fraud, something that has gained the firm extensive notoriety and as a result, has made them the target of Mr. X. Mr. X has managed to steal five million dollars from two of the firm’s biggest clients and Anderson/Vaughan haven’t been able to catch him.

Ali manages work crises while beginning to plan a wedding to her fiancé, Christopher Hall. She is blindsided one day to discover Christopher has completely disappeared from her life. Ali has lost her fiancé and her entire life’s savings to this international conman whose name isn’t even Christopher.

Desperate to find out the truth about her fiancé, to recover what he has stolen, and to prove herself, Ali begins to secretly search for him. She quickly finds herself way deeper and more involved in Christopher’s crime world than she ever could have imagined. Soon the two of them are trying to escape notice from her investigative colleagues and his dangerous accomplices. Their relationship intrigue, scandalous pasts, and unpredictable present have both Ali and Christopher fighting against the sparks that brought them together and threaten to overwhelm them again. This television series is a riveting journey through crime, fraud investigations, relationships, and private eyes.

Miss You Already

miss you alreadyCertain movies tug at your heart strings and leave you pulling for every character to get their happy ending. Miss You Already, starring Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette, had me rooting for their friendship to stay strong and last through whatever they faced.

Miss You Already is a very powerful story that follows two best friends, Milly and Jess, through life’s many challenges. The two have been friends since childhood and have lived through many secrets, pregnancies, boyfriends, weddings, and sharing of clothes. Inseparable for as long as they can remember, both Milly and Jess are certain their relationship can survive anything. A trip to the doctor hits Milly with life-altering news, something that sincerely tests their friendship, as well as Milly’s relationship with her husband and Jess’s relationship with her husband. Everything is flipped upside down as Milly and Jess forge out a new path through their shared lives and find that even though life throws you curveballs, true friendship will last forever.

Shetland

shetlandCrime television shows are one of my favorite things to watch, but sometimes they can follow a predictable plot, so predictable in fact that it is easy to guess who the murderer is within the first ten minutes of the show’s beginning. When I stumbled upon Shetland, I was expecting the same predictable plot. Boy, was I wrong!

First of all, this dvd compilation of Shetland gives you the complete first and second seasons. (In case this seems daunting to you, let me ease your fears. Each season is only six episodes long, so in reality you are only watching twelve episodes total in this one case.) This show is the perfect length to get you hooked and invested in the characters without having to spend a lot of time getting through two full-length seasons of the show. Bonus: I wasn’t able to accurately guess who ANY of the murderers were in any of the episodes! Major score!

Shetland is a BBC Scottish crime drama that follows the life of Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez and his various staff members as they solve murders against the backdrop of the breathtaking Shetland Isles. Perez is a single dad raising an almost 16-year-old daughter. DI Perez and his team are responsible for keeping people safe within the community, a task that proves difficult as they are investigating crimes within such a close knit community that is spread across a number of islands within the Shetland Isles. This television show takes place against a gorgeous backdrop of sweeping cliffs, deep blue sea, and skies redolent with cloud cover. With such breathtaking scenery, the stories of crime, murder, mystery, and intrigue are pushed to a higher level, letting the writers, producers, and actors explore issues dealing with family and small communities in deep detail. I highly recommend this show as a way to cleanse your palette of the more traditional crime shows.


raven black

The first two seasons of Shetland are adapted from the book Raven Black by Ann Cleeves. Contact the library to find it today!

True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa

True Story starring James Franco and Jonah Hill
True Story starring James Franco and Jonah Hill

December 19, 2001.  Waldport, Oregon.  The body of a young boy was discovered floating in a pond.  No one knew who the boy was and there were no missing persons reports for a child.  Three days later, divers searched the pond, looking for clues on the boy’s identity.  There was a highway bridge over the pond, and it was suspected that a car with the child’s family may be in the pond.  Divers found the body of a girl with a rock tied around her ankle.  The media ran the story asking for help finding the children’s parents.  A babysitter stepped forward and identified the children.  From there, the authorities searched the children’s residence.  It was evident that someone had packed up the personal belongings.  But the father, mother, and younger sister of the children were missing.  Divers searched the water nearby and found two suitcases.  Inside were the bodies of the mother and the baby girl.  Four out of the five members of the Longo family were dead.  Mary-Jane and her children Zachary, Sadie and Madison had been murdered.  Christian Longo was no where to be found.

The story of the Longo family is truly horrific.  Stories such as these remind us all that there are dangerous people in the world.  Even a person that you love and trust could be the person that ends that your life.  But True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa is not just about the murdered Longo family.

Michael Finkel lives in Montana and is a writer for the New York Times.  He had recently written a story that was not entirely true and was terminated for it.  So when he gets a call from a journalist at The Oregonian, Finkel expects the call to be about his disgrace.  Instead, the newspaper writer asks him about his reaction to Christian Longo being arrested after claiming to be Michael Finkel from the New York Times.

And so begins the bizarre relationship between the accused murderer and the disgraced journalist.  Longo calls Finkel from prison on a weekly basis.  They exchange letters.  Finkel even drives to Oregon to visit him a few times.  And Michael Finkel is in the court room during Longo’s trial.

True Crime: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa by Michael Finkel
True Crime: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa by Michael Finkel

An interesting story of murder, deceit and redemption.  True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa is a must read for true crime fans and for those interested in human behavior.  It is available in print and in audiobook.

There is also a movie based off of the book.  True Story was released in 2015.  It stars James Franco as Christian Longo and Jonah Hill as Michael Finkel.  True Story is available on DVD from the library.

Copper

copperCopper tells the story of an Irish-American boxer turned cop named Kevin Corcoran, who after returning from the Civil War finds his wife missing and his young daughter murdered in their home. Corcoran keeps in contact with two of his soldier friends: the son of a rich industrialist and an African-American physician. These three are linked together by a secret that happened on the battlefireld, one that changed the future of their lives forever.

Right off the bat, Copper is fast-paced and running you through the streets of Five Points, the immigrant neighborhood in New York full of lawlessness, deceit, and murder. Kevin Corcoran, or Corcy as his friends call him, frequently finds himself having to solve the many murders that happen in Five Points. Corcoran never lets a case close without finding the true killer and getting vengeance for the families left behind. The entire time he is solving crimes for the police department, he is also looking for any clues into his wife’s disappearance and his daughter’s murder, asking people in the streets and looking for anyone who saw them before they died.

This television show hits every aspect of tv that I love: romance, murder, mayhem, secrets, espionage, politics, etc. This is 1864, so Copper deals with slavery, Lincoln’s election, spies for the Confederacy and the Union, lynchings, upper and lower class struggles, immigration, murder. Just when I thought I had this show figured out, I realized that the characters had far more depth and far more secrets than I ever realized.