Category Archives: Movies and Entertainment

GRANTCHESTER: RIVETING AND INSPIRING TV SERIES

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Grantchester is a British TV detective drama featuring an investigative Anglican priest, Sydney Chambers (played by James Norton) who teams up with a real detective, Geordie Keating (played by Robson Green) and together they go about solving crimes in their small town of Grantchester, just off Cambridge along the River Cam. The time setting is 1953 only a few years after World War II.

The series is a more complex version of Father Brown, another TV series featuring a nosey Catholic priest who always manages to upend the real detectives. And just like Father Brown’s Mrs. McCarthy, Grantchester has its Mrs. Maguire (played by Tessa Peake-Jones). Unlike Mrs. McCarthy though, Mrs. Maguire’s life is far more complicated than

Grantchester is Father Brown on turbo. While together Sidney Chambers and Geordie Keating go about solving crimes, their disposition and outlook in life are as disparate as wine and beer – the latter of which they do share heavily together. A common scene in the series is the local pub where not only beer is poured, but all the heartaches and joys of the two men are poured out as well.

As an Anglican priest, Sidney has to stay close to the tenets of the Church. And no test for his faith could be more challenging than expressing his love for Amanda (played by Morven Christie). Amanda had been his long-time friend, a friendship that presumably started platonically but which, over the years, blossomed into real romantic love. Alas, by the time Sidney realized his true feelings, Amanda was betrothed to another man and was soon married.

The real conflict, however, does not start until Amanda decides to leave her husband, to divorce him, and she goes back to Grantchester. And here’s where the love story really crescendos to a deafening contrapuntal of their romantic symphony. An Anglican priest cannot marry a divorcee. So should Sydney leave the priesthood which he loves so much, or stay and leave Amanda and her baby girl?

Geordie, on the other hand, had no qualms about having an extramarital relationship with his secretary. In spite of a loving wife, two beautiful girls, Geordie was too weak to resist the temptation of youth, beauty, and the thrill of an affair. This affair was always a point of contention between Geordie and Sidney, a point that very often tested the very fabric of their friendship.

The other characters are fascinating as well, especially that of Leonard Finch (played by Al Weaver). Leonard is assistant to Sidney who is not only struggling with the demands of the job but also with his sexuality. The show also highlights the challenges faced by the Church of England even at that time. Amanda at one time, in desperation, had to ask: “How can a church founded because of divorce not allow divorce?” She was referring to the fact that Henry VIII founded the Anglican Church because the Pope then refused to allow him to marry Anne Boleyn because he was still married to Catherine of Aragon.

And the series is steeped in jazz. The John Lunn composed the main score. A Scottish composer, he also wrote for Downtown Abbey, among others. However, Sidney Bechet, Gloria Dee, and the other great jazz performers come up in almost all episodes as Sidney is a jazz aficionado (he refuses to be called such). He has his portable vinyl player which he always plays when contemplating with a neat glass of scotch on the one hand and a cigarette stub on the other. So, yes, this is the other reason why I love the series.

Led by James Norton who was nominated for Best Actor by Broadcasting Press Guild Award in 2017, the acting has been excellent, definitely of the highest level. Robson Green plays the detective with the earthy common sense which, often times, runs contrary to the “big picture” logic of Sidney. Tessa Peake-Jones who plays Mrs. Maguire is apt for her role as the purveyor of good morals and proper behavior. With her pursed and stiff lips, she never fails to tell the people around her when infractions against the Church are being committed. Morven Christie as Amanda is lovely as she comes out as this fragile woman whose inner strength comes from her determination to keep the flames of her love for Sidney burning.

I stopped watching the series after the penultimate episode of Season 3. There is a Season 4 with a new priest…that is why I will not watch the last episode of Season 3. I hate tragedies in movies or TV – there are enough real-life tragedies for me to deal with these days. I want to preserve Sidney and Amanda as they are up to that point (SO3 EO6). My kids find it funny that I do not want to watch movies where the main character dies. I sometimes go to the extent of watching a series in reverse – I start with the last episode first!

Don’t mind my quirk – watch Grantchester on Prime Video. It is a series whose stories about murder are riveting but whose characters are full of life and inspiration.

A MOVIE REVIEW: THE IMITATION GAME

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I am on a 14-hour flight from Taipei to Amsterdam. I have been doing these long flights for over a quarter of a century and in-flight movies are always what I look forward to. In the past, I used to watch more movies. These days, I either sleep longer or start work early.

This time I decided to sleep less and watch one movie before I work on some writings I have to do. I chose to watch “The Imitation Game” because of Benedict Cumberbatch and because of Alan Turing’s story. Cumberbatch has become one of my favorite actors principally because of “Sherlock Holmes.” Turing, on the other hand, was in my subconscious for quite some time because of being the person principally responsible for breaking the German Enigma. His importance to the free world resurfaced when Queen Elizabeth gave Turing a Royal Pardon in 2013 for a conviction related to indecency which may have led to his suicide in 1955. Turing was only 44 then.

The movie’s plot is intertwined in three different phases of Turing’s life: post war when he was working in Manchester, his teenage years in Cambridge, and his war years. At the start it can be confusing but as the movie progresses, one can discern one major plot moving and carrying with it simultaneously these three sub-plots, beautifully.

The movie is really a love story. Turing, physically bullied in school in his younger years, found solace in a friend and classmate, Christopher. Christopher was a friend he could talk to and was the person responsible for introducing codes and cryptography to Turing. Turing loses Christopher early on on the account of tuberculosis but his love for his friend was transferred to the machine he built which he named Christopher. At the end of the movie where he would rather take drugs to “cure” his homosexuality rather than go to prison was because he had built another machine which he christened “Christopher” and he did not want to be separated from “him.” His obsession with Christopher – the machine – would not be different from a lover wooing and romancing his partner. The only difference is Turing used his genius to woo, to romance his Christopher, the machine.

The movie is also about the frailty of the spirit of human beings, even brightest among us. In other words, even the best and brightest among us is but a cog in this huge wheel called humanity and such realization can affect our spirit. How we view our role in mankind’s unfolding history depends on how we take this fact in perspective. Turing was burdened with the fact that he was among the very few people during the war who could decide who were going to live and who were going to die. His life was changed when he realized he was no longer “just a mathematician.”

The Imitation Game cleverly and successfully projects Turing’s genius and at the same time the weaknesses that such a talent could bear down on people like Turing. His genius came with some arrogance. The movie though weaves that arrogance as a veneer of protection that Turing had to put on against the physical and mental bullies he had to deal with in his life. His homosexuality added another aspect of his being which , at that time, he needed to protect. If, indeed, Turing is a man to be admired, The Imitation Game did justice to this man.

Benedict Cumberbatch was just superb depicting genius, insecurity, fear, sadness, and happiness as Turing in perfect harmony. I particularly liked the scene when he had to stand his ground not to call of a potential U-boat attack on a ship where one of the team’s brother was on. Peter pleased for his brother’s life, Cumberbatch, as Turing, showed the pain etched all over his face but with firm lips that uttered, “no.” The last scene where, sickly as a result of the drugs he was being forced to take by the government, he broke down explaining to Keira Knightly’s character, why he could not agree to going to prison.

I feel though that Keira Knightly’s character,Jane Clark, should have been developed more deeply. Keira’s acting was fine but I feel her talent would have allowed her to go deeper into the character had she been allowed to. Keira’s character was bright young woman who had to live in a world of bigotry against women in England. Her character was torn between staying with her parents, bowing to pressure to get married and relegated to work as a “clerk” during the war because she “was a woman.” As a fiancé to Turing, Keira’s character was like another veneer of protection, a facade really to hide Turing’s real sexual preference and his lack of social and interpersonal skills. That character it seems, was really deeper than what the movie projects her to be. However Keira was perfect to Cumberbatch’s dour character (depicting Turing) in the movie.

As I do not know the facts around Turing’s life or the war efforts to breaking Germany’s code called Enigma, I cannot ascertain whether the movie is an accurate depiction of the events and characters. However although I said The Imitation Game is aa love story, it can be, for other people, be a historical war movie, or for technology buffs, a movie about how computers came to be. Before “computers” there were “Turing machines.”

Captivating, gripping at times, heart-rending in a few scenes, The Imitation Game is an inspiring movie. You need not take a 14-hour flight to watch this. But watch it, it will be worth your while, worth your iTunes purchase.