By John Ruberry

If you know a millennial who craves communism, then I suggest that you sit that person down to watch the documentary Karl Marx City by Petra Epperlein and her husband, Michael Tucker, which was released last year. Epperlein was born in 1966 in Karl-Marx-Stadt, East Germany, which is now, as it was before, the city of Chemnitz.

And as it is was when she was a child, the most noticeable feature of her hometown is the giant bust of Karl Marx, which looks over the dwindling population of Chemnitz. Its bulk makes it too expensive to remove from its perch on the former Karl-Marx-Street.

The Marx monument is the ideal metaphor for the former East Germany. Just as Big Brother is always watching in George Orwell’s 1984, the Ministry for State Security, colloquially known as the Stasi, was watching too. Cameras were seemingly in every public space, as were Stasi agents and informants. In a nation of 17 million people, there were an astounding 90,000 Stasi agents aided by 200,000 informants. In contrast, the FBI employs a paltry 35,000.

What was the Stasi looking for? Everything. Just grab whatever information that can be found and use it for a case later. Because not only was everyone a suspect in this worker’s paradise, everyone was probably guilty. And if they weren’t guilty they likely would be soon.

Early in Karl Marx City Eppelein tells us that her father, 57, committed suicide in 1999 after washing his company car and burning his personal papers. Afterwards her family discovers cryptic typed letters anonymously mailed to her father that accused him of being a Stasi informant.

Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

Shot in black and white, perfect grim communist hues, Epperlein, looking similar to Liv Ullmann’s mute character in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, in a bit of twisted humor wanders the decrepit and mostly empty streets of the former Karl Marx namesake town holding a massive boom microphone and wearing vintage headphones while we listen to her voiceovers–in contrast to the clandestine recording done by the Stasi.

Epperlein visits the Stasi archives in Chemnitz and Berlin where we see file after file on multiple floors. She’s looking for her father’s file, but we learn that the German Democratic Republic didn’t organize its files in the manner that Google stores information on mainframes where we can instantly retrieve volumes of information on just about anything. Instead there’s something here, there’s something there.

We see a grainy Stasi film of a couple walking on sidewalk. The man picks up an object. Then he puts it down. Why did he do that? Another man picks it up. The object turns out to be a knife. He keeps it. Why?

Epperlein tracks down a childhood friend who was a true-believer in communism. Now she worships trees. Her father, a retired Stasi agent, recounts his regular break-ins at apartments. What was his most common discovery? Handwritten schedules of West German TV shows and small bags containing a tooth brush and other personal hygiene items, just in case the occupants are arrested–or forced to escape to the West.

Many political prisoners were indeed locked up for subversion. Many ended up in the West, but rather than this being an innocent Cold War liberation, we learn they were sold by the workers’ paradise for ransom to the West for much needed hard currency.

The suicide of Epperlein’s father was hardly an anomaly, taking one’s own life in the GDR was common after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Recently Chemnitz had the lowest birthrate of any city in the world.

One of the experts interviewed for the film scorns the Oscar-winning film, The Lives of Others. While Oskar Schindler of Schindler’s List was real, there was no Stasi hero fighting back against oppression.

Near the end we learn the truth about Epperlein’s father.

Karl Marx City is available on Netflix and on Amazon.

John Ruberry, whose wife was born in the Soviet Union, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

The Netflix neo-western Longmire has ridden into the sunset after six years. The final season started streaming on the network nine days ago and the results should please its fans. I enjoyed it.

My Da Tech Guy review of the first five seasons of is here.

Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor), a widower, is a sheriff in the fictional county of Absaroka in Wyoming. He and his three deputies patrol an area that is larger than Delaware. While Walt, an old-school lawman who knows the difference between right-and-wrong and who rarely crosses the ethical line, at first glance appears to be an anachronism, he still has the smarts and the brawn to set things straight.

If you haven’t watched Longmire but think you might, I suggest you skip the next paragraph as there are some series spoilers.

At the end of Season Five, Walt’s personal and professional life are in shambles. The smartass mayor of Durant (Eric Lane) wants Longmire to resign, and he gets in a brutal knock-down bar fight with his best friend who has turned into a vigilante, Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips). Henry’s situation gets worse after he is kidnapped by corrupt former Bureau of Indian Affairs police chief Malachi Strand (Graham Greene) and his goons. Walt faces a wrongful death lawsuit from the estate of a businessman who also happened to be the father of one of his deputies and the brother of Longmire’s predecessor as sheriff. (Hey, not many people live in Absaroka County.) Walt’s most trusted deputy Victoria “Vic” Moretti (Katee Sackhoff) is pregnant–no one knows who the father is. And the Native American casino in Absaroka, run by the compromised Jacob Nighthorse (A Martinez), is fostering the crime Walt predicted would result, although I’m pretty sure that he didn’t expect Irish mobsters from Boston being part of it. Walt’s daughter, Cady (Cassidy Freeman) is running a free legal aid clinic on the Cheyenne reservation, but she’s being paid by Nighthorse.

Season Six kicks off a new story thread about a serial bank robber known as “Cowboy Bill.” A stereotypical blogger–who is bearded, overweight, and shoves iPhones into people’s faces while garnering minuscule traffic on his site, causes another headache for Walt when he reports that the sheriff  “ambled in” to the robbed bank long after Cowboy Bill made off with his loot. Of course that infuriates the mayor. As for this blogger, I’m thin, clean-shaven, I own a camcorder, and I have many more hits daily on my blog than that other guy has received in the life of his blog. Da Tech Guy of course crushes the traffic of that fictional blogger’s site too.

Anyway…

John “Lee” Ruberry of Da Tech Guy’s Magnificent Seven

The lawful death lawsuit against Walt begins. Cady continues to face difficulty striking an equilibrium between the law, her ethics, Native American culture, and Nighthorse. As for the casino operator, his juggling act becomes even more difficult, as it does for Walt’s pal Henry. And we learn that the Irish mob doesn’t take “no” for an answer from a Wyoming sheriff.

The series ends with a surprise twist, one that is satisfactory too.

The first three seasons of Longmire ran on A&E, and while the ratings and the critical response were favorable, the network cancelled the show because the demographics favored older viewers. A&E is run by dopes. Thank you Netflix for rescuing the program.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

Manhunt: Unabomber, is an engrossing eight-episode Discovery Channel mini-series, which is also available on Netflix, that dramatizes the search for the man dubbed the Unabomber by the FBI, Ted Kaczynski.

Sam Worthington, best known for his starring role in Avatar, stars as James “Fitz” Fitzgerald, the FBI profiler and linguist who connects what became known as the Unabomber Manifesto to writings by serial bomber turned into the FBI by Kaczynski’s brother, James.

The Unabomber’s attack spree began with the explosion of a device that caused minor injuries in 1978 at Northwestern University and ended the fatal attack with a much more sophisticated bomb that killed a timber industry lobbyist in California in 1995. Two other people were murdered by Kaczynski’s bombs, several more were permanently maimed.

Shortly after the murder of he lobbyist, in what the still-unidentified Kaczynski later dismissed as a prank, he threatened to blow up a jet airliner. Ten months later Kaczynski was arrested in his primitive cabin Montana after a search warrant was issued that was based largely on the FBI’s linguistic analysis. Inside the cabin loads of incriminating evidence was discovered, including a bomb ready to be mailed.

FBI sketch of the Unabomber

Paul Bettany portrays the former mathematics professor in an appropriately enigmatic fashion. Is Kaczynski, who is serving six life sentences at the “Supermax” prison in Colorado, an evil man? Or is he a deeply troubled genius trying to find the elusive balance between creativity and madness, in a manner reminiscent of Vincent van Gogh’s struggles?

Manhunt explores Kaczynski’s youth in the blue collar southwest Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park. A social misfit, Kaczynski was double-promoted in elementary school but, as his Manhunt character says, “I was still the smartest one in my class.” Entering Harvard at 16, Kaczynski was mentally tortured in cruel experiments conducted by psychiatrist Henry Murray (Brian d’Arcy in the series). In this statue-razing era, I say if there is one of Murray standing somewhere, tear it down now.

Kaczynski gets into the head of Fitzgerald in his many jailhouse interviews with him. But there’s a problem here. This is a dramatization of the Unabom story–there were no meetings between the two. Here’s another: the linguistics professor with whom the married Fitz has a soft romance with in the series, was in real life a man.

Abandoned rail line north of Chicago

On the other hand, Kaczynski gets into the heads of viewers, or at least this one. My degree of separation with the Unabomber is three. A friend of mine who lives in Lombard, Illinois, where Kaczynski’s parents moved to around 1970, used to have coffee at the home of his parents. “A nice and sweet old couple,” she told me. They never mentioned anything about their sons to her. Just a couple of blocks from the Kaczynski’s modest frame house in Lombard is the Illinois Prairie Path, which was constructed in the late 1960s, it was the first trail in America created from an abandoned rail line. After the terrorist’s arrest and conviction, I mused while running on the Prairie Path that perhaps he was inspired by the pastoralization of the old Chicago, Aurora & Elgin Railway. Perhaps post-industrial society was that not far away, Kaczynski may have reasoned. He lived with his parents in Lombard for a while in the 1970s.

“The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race” is the opening sentence in the Unabomber Manifesto. A few paragraphs later he adds, “We therefore advocate a revolution against the industrial system.”

Bettany’s Unabomber is a bit too sympathetic of a portrayal for me. Missing are the cold-blooded journal entries recounting his bombings, including one described as “excellent.” In another recounting, Kaczynski expressed “no regret” that his last murder victim was not his intended target.

“People with advanced degrees aren’t as smart as they think they are,” Kaczynski mockingly wrote to one of his victims who was severely wounded by one of his bombs. “If you’d had any brains you would have realized that there are a lot of people out there who resent bitterly the way technonerds like you are changing the world and you wouldn’t have been dumb enough to open an unexpected package from an unknown source.”

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit and he is a native of Chicago’s southwest suburbs.

By John Ruberry

Much well-deserved criticism has been leveled at the BBC for compelling Doctor Who to go transgender by having, after 41 years, a woman take the lead role. Not because, as DaTechGuy himself noted two months ago, the best performer was hired, but because the Doctor Who franchise apparently needs more diversity.

Keep in mind that the most recent companion of the Doctor was a black lesbian with a Colin Kaepernick-style afro. Oh, I am not automatically opposed to a female Doctor. Let’s say Judi Dench wanted the role. Would I watch? Sure, I would. It would be the same for me if Meryl Streep grabbed the controls of the TARDIS. But that last one can never happen. An American playing the Doctor? And one from New Jersey? Imagine the uproar!

But I’m here to review a different TV show.

Y Gwyll, which is Welsh for The Dusk, is called Hinterland in English. It’s a production of S4C, a Welsh-language public television network in Britain. So far three seasons have been released. Hinterland is also broadcast on BBC Wales–which ironically produces Doctor Whoas part of its commitment to provide more Welsh cultural offerings there. And BBC One offers the show too.

So does a political agenda and enjoyable television viewing mix? In this case, yes, they do.

Hinterland is a noir crime drama, a genre that is very popular in Scandinavia, where some of the funding for the program comes from. It’s an expensive series to shoot as every scene with dialogue is filmed twice, once in Welsh and then in English. And there is much outdoor filming which costs more than controlled studio shots.

After ten years working for the London Metropolitan Police, Detective Chief Inspector Tom Mathias (Richard Harrington) relocates to the coastal town of Aberystwyth in western Wales after a family tragedy. The laconic and brooding character lives in a caravan, what the Brits call a trailer home, in front of the stone ruins of presumably an old farmhouse. Does this symbolism mean that Mathias cannot rebuild his life?

In the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood, which is set in Cardiff, we see a gleaming modern city, which is not surprising as the Torchwood alien-hunting team is led by a post-American time traveler from the 51st century. The Wales of Hinterland is one of collapsing old homes, crumbling walls, and failing farms. Yes, I love the cinematography here, but remember, I’m someone vacationed in Detroit two years ago to snap urban exploration photos. And in every Hinterland episode it seems to be early March–a stillborn spring. The countryside is gorgeous, reminiscent, to me at least, of the Flint Hills of Kansas.

Detective Inspector Mared Rhys (Mali Harries), a single mother is also burdened by a complicated past, is Mathias’ primary assistant; he is also ably aided by Siân Owens (Hannah Daniel) and Lloyd Elis (Alex Harris).

Hinterland is a slow-moving program–if car chases and gun battles are your Jones, then move along, there is little here for you. And it takes a while for the series plot to play out as a murder in the first episode of season one doesn’t begin to expand into other crimes until the end of that season. It builds from there as Mathias confronts Iwan Thomas (Geraint Morgan) who used to hold his job in Aberystwyth and whose past is as troubled as his own. Chief Superintendent Brian Prosser (Aneirin Hughes), Mathias’ recondite boss, discourages him from pursuing the Thomas angle in his investigations.

Season three was my favorite, as many loose ends are tied up. There are no plans for a fourth Hinterland batch–but the series hasn’t been cancelled either. But as Hinterland also receives funding from the European Union, politics could push the show out of its stillborn spring and into permanent winter.

Ah, politics. It really does ruin everything.

All three seasons of Hinterland are available on Netflix in the United States and in DVD form on Amazon.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

Last night I ended another binge-watching venture, this time it was Ozark, a Netflix original series starring Jason Bateman. Season one, consisting of ten episodes, was released in July and Ozark has already been renewed for a second run.

Marty Byrde (Bateman) is a financial planner who makes a deal with the devil, actually a Mexican drug cartel, to launder its cash. So, Byrde quietly toils away and the cartel graciously thanks him for his efforts and all is well?

Uh, no.

Byrde and his wife Wendy (Laura Linney) are the typical smug Chicago area couple who I interact with regularly. Wendy is proud of her political activism, she even worked on Barack Obama’s state Senate campaigns, although it’s difficult to say why she was needed as Obama ran unopposed in all three of his Democratic primary races and the district he represented was far more Democratic than Wyoming is Republican. Perhaps Wendy was the scoundrel behind knocking all of Obama’s primary opponents off of the ballot. If so, it fits her character. Interestingly, there is an early scene of Marty inspecting office space Chicago’s Trump Tower.

Bryde’s handler, Camino Del Rio (Esai Morales), discovers $8 million in cartel cash is missing. After Byrde’s co-workers are well, liquidated, in an act of desperation Byrde convinces “Del” that Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, which has “more coastline than the state of California,” is a far better place than Chicago to launder his dirty money because it’s not crawling with federal agents.

So seemingly quicker than it takes me to check out of a hotel room the Byrdes and their children, 15-year-old Charlotte (Sofia Hublitz) and Jonah (Skylar Gaertner) do a reverse-Beverly Hillbillies and relocate to the Lake of the Ozarks, one of several places in America known as a Redneck Riviera.

The Byrdes nearly immediately confront a family of small-time criminals, the Langmores, who live in–wait for it–run-down trailers. They are raising two bobcats. Just inside the door of one of the trailers is a a poster of a topless woman.

And like Brewster in the several Brewster’s Millions movies, Marty finds that quickly spending millions, or laundering it, is harder than he thought it would be, particularly in the rural location he chose. An even greater challenge for the Byrdes is a mysterious family of big-time criminals we meet later on. For comic relief, mostly, is the dying old man who lives in their basement–he is convinced Obama is a Muslim.

Even before the move the Byrde’s marriage is on the rocks–and the tension of a disintegrating family operating an illegal enterprise is reminiscent of Breaking Bad. The graphic violence is reminiscent of Sons of Anarchy. And while no genitalia is shown, the sex scenes are also quite graphic. So this family drama is by no means appropriate family viewing. Jason Bateman has come along way since his NBC sitcom Silver Spoons.

Blogger outside Chicago’s Trump Tower

I don’t expect there to be a tourist boom to Lake of the Ozarks because of the show, as the redneck cliches and the rampant lawlessness of Ozark will serve as a definite buzz-kill for travel-minded families. The Northwoods region’s vacation dollars are secure. Although outside of a few scenes in downtown Chicago, most of the show is filmed in a reservoir area in northern Georgia. And some of the Chicago scenes are laughably wrong–where do all of these hills come from? And there are no hills in Morris, Illinois either–a wonderful town I’ve visited many times, by the way. Here’s another inconsistency: The Byrdes’ suburban home was in Naperville. So why does their Honda Odyssey have an expensive Chicago vehicle sticker? An astute financial planner wouldn’t waste $136 on a useless decal.

Yes, I’ll be back for the next season. By then end of that one Ozark may have shed the shadow of Breaking Bad.

John Ruberry regularly blogs in the Chicago area at Marathon Pundit.

Characters in Broadchurch

By John Ruberry

A few days ago I finished watching season three of Broadchurch, a British mystery series which is broadcast in the United Kingdom on ITV–and here on BBC America–starring David Tennant as Detective Inspector Alec Hardy and Olivia Colman as Detective Inspector Ellie Miller.

Tennant of course is best known as the Tenth Doctor–and the second one of after its revival–in Doctor Who. Except for the first half of the “Tooth and Claw” episode, Tennant uses an English accent as the Doctor, here his natural Scottish accent is utilized for his Hardy character. One of the supporting characters in Broadchurch is Jodie Whittaker, who will accede to the Doctor’s role in the next Christmas episode of Doctor Who and become the first female Doctor, to the horror of some longtime fans, including the founder of the blog you are reading now.

The creator–and sole screenplay writer, save for one episode that he had a co-writer for–of Broadchurch is Chris Chibnall, who has been executive producer of Doctor Who since last year and who will be showrunner for the feminized edition next season. Chibnall was a co-producer and screenwriter for Torchwood, the sexualized “grown-up” spinoff of Doctor Who.

The fictional town of Broadchurch is where this particular show is set, it sits on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset in southwestern England. Broadchurch is a tightly knit–perhaps too much so–small town that, in season one, is wracked by the murder of 11-year-old Danny Latimer (Oskar McNamara). Whittaker portrays his mother, Beth, and Andrew Buchan plays his father, Mark. The suspects are numerous and there are plenty of plot twists to keep you on the edge of your couch for all eight episodes. Season two, which also consists of eight episodes, splits time between being a courtroom drama and the re-opening of the investigation of a murder and disappearance in Sandbrook, which presumably is near Broadchurch. The botched handling of that investigation is what led Hardy to take the DI position in Broadchurch, which Miller assumed was already hers.

In the third season, which is said to be the final one, Hardy after time away from Broadchurch, returns and again is teamed with Miller. Their relationship has always been tense–but by this time they carry on like elderly spouses, albeit there is no physical side of it. When Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh) calls the police a few days after being raped at the 50th birthday party of a friend and co-worker, Hardy and Miller oversee another investigation that tears the town apart. This season is just six episodes long.

There are many fabulous performances in Broadchurch, beginning of course with Tennant and Colman, but also by Hesmondhalgh, Eva Myles (Gwen Cooper in Torchwood), David Bradley (Walder Frey in Game of Thrones and the new First Doctor in Doctor Who), Arthur Darvill (a onetime Doctor Who companion), who portrays a vicar attempting to heal the town of its wounds while preaching to mostly empty pews, as well as Carolyn Pickles. She plays a rarity–an honest journalist searching for the truth who goes out of her way not to hurt anyone.

I didn’t include Whittaker in that list, but perhaps not much was asked for her by directors of Broadchurch, although as the mother of a murdered child, that doesn’t make very much sense. Based on what I saw in the program, all the performers listed in the previous paragraph would have been better choices as the Thirteenth Doctor, not that I would expect Tennant to return to Doctor Who. My choice would have been Bradley as the next–the first shall be the latest–Doctor. But perhaps a septuagenarian as a lead character in a classic television show is too broad of a bridge to cross for our youth-worshipping culture to cross.

All three seasons are top-notch, but I’ll give my nod to the first one, which was re-done as Gracepoint for Fox in the United States. I haven’t seen that one and from what I’ve heard, it isn’t worth my time or yours, despite Tennant reprising his role as Hardy and Chibnall’s involvement.

Broadchurch is available on DVD, on Amazon, and Xfinity On Demand. Seasons one and two can be viewed on Netflix.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

Deep in southwestern Germany in the Rhineland-Palatinate state lies the small village of Kallstadt, which has about 1,200 residents.

It is well-known for two reasons. It’s a stop on the German Wine Route and it’s the ancestral home of Henry J. Heinz, the founder of the H.J. Heinz Company, and President Donald J. Trump. In fact, Heinz and Trump’s grandfather, Kallstadt-born Friedrich Trump, were second cousins.

I was digging deep–very deep–on Netflix for something interesting to watch when I stumbled across Trump’s face on a movie poster for Kings of Kallstadt, a documentary by Simone Wendel, a Kallstadter. It was filmed in 2012 and released in 2014; her movie probably would have been forgotten outside of Rhineland-Palatinate had the Trump Train not steamrolled into Washington last year.

Much of the dialogue is in German–with subtitles of course.

There is a Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon feel within Kallstadt, because Wendel tells us that “the sun always shines and the wine never runs out.” And while Kallstadt has only 1,200 inhabitants it counts 1,600 members in its 27 clubs. “That amounts to 135 percent of love,” Wendel beams. Does Kallstadt have a Miss Kallstadt? No, it has a Wine Princess. No, make that two of them, which is a situation you might expect to find in the Andy Griffith Show’s Mayberry. Kallstadt’s culinary delicacy is saumagen, that is, stuffed sow’s stomach.

Yummy!

Trump is interviewed here, along with the family historian, Trump’s cousin John Walter. If you ever imagined what our president would be like if he was a modest accountant–that’s Walter. Because he’s a modest, albeit retired, accountant.

Fascinatingly, even before he officially entered the political world, the man who was then simply known as the King of New York felt compelled to bring up his troubled relationship with the media.

“Okay, I think (there are) a lot of misconceptions about me,” Trump explains to Wendel in a Trump Tower conference room. “I’m a lot nicer person than the press would have you think. I don’t want to ruin my image by telling you that, but I believe that.”

Not discussed in the film is what Donald and his father, Frederick, said about their heritage–the Trumps were Swedish–which the legions Trump-haters jumped on during the presidential campaign. But the Swedish fib is an understandable distortion of the truth. During World War I it was quite common for German-Americans to hide their ethnicity. I regularly run into people who tell me stories of a grandfather or great-grandfather who changed his name from say Muller, to Miller, after being hounded out of a town as Americans fought the Kaiser’s army. After World War II Trump’s grandmother, Elizabeth, and Frederick rented many apartments and sold many houses to Jewish New Yorkers, who understandably had extremely uncomfortable feelings about Germans.

“He had thought, ‘Gee whiz, I’m not going to be able to sell these homes if there are all these Jewish people,'” Walter told the now-failing New York Times last year about the dilemma of Trump’s dad.

More on Grandma Elizabeth in a bit.

“After the war, he’s still Swedish,” Walter continued. “It was just going, going, going.”

As for the Swedish tale, Donald repeated it for his best-seller, The Art Of The Deal. Frederick was still alive then. But by 1990 the Swedish stuff was dead lutefisk.

Outside Chicago’s Trump Tower in 2017

Friedrich Trump left Kallstadt at age 16 for America where he enjoyed great success in Seattle, Yukon, Alaska, and then New York. Walter tells Wendel that Grandfather Trump married Elizabeth Christ, a Kallstadter. She demanded that he sell his American properties and return to Kallstadt, which, in a story Trump confides to Walter that he never heard, Prince Leopold of Bavaria deported Friedrich. Yes, a Trump was deported! Friedrich died in 1918 in Queens, likely an early victim of that year’s flu pandemic. Elizabeth and Frederick then founded Elizabeth Trump and Son Company, now known as the Trump Organization.

Back to the almost present: a group of Kallstadters are invited as guests of New York’s German-American Steuben Parade. Trump was the parade’s grand marshal in 1999. They also visit Pittsburgh and the Heinz History Center, where amazingly, no members of the Heinz family meet them. Say what you will about Donald J. Trump, but he earnestly tries to make himself accessible except to those who are openly hostile to him. Trump could have easily dismissed Wendel’s request for an interview for her quaint little film. But Trump has alway been a salesman.

The Kallstadters attend a Pittsburgh Pirates game–big league baseball–but one cranky woman constantly complains that there is “no action” in the game.

But is there is a lot of action in a 0-0 soccer match, frau? Other than the brawls in the bleachers?

Then comes the Steuben Parade. As the Kallstadters–two of whom are carrying a giant model of a saumagen–and Walter gather on the route, an “Obama 2012” sign is seen from a window behind them.

Blogger in Washington State last year

Late in the film Wendel asks Trump if would like to visit Kallstadt. “When I’m over there I will certainly visit,” he replies. “Absolutely.”

The president will be in Germany next week for the G20 summit. No word of a Trump homecoming yet, along the lines of his visit to the birthplace of his mother in Scotland in 2008. Although Trump isn’t very popular in Kallstadt, at least according to media reports, since his political rise.

“Believe me,” Trump just might respond to such stories, “that’s just fake news, believe me.”

In addition to Netflix, Kings of Kallstadt is also available on Amazon. It’s an enjoyable, wunderbar, and yes, big league movie. Even if you hate Trump. Believe me.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

Last fall in my review of the first season of The Last Kingdom I wrote:

I’ll be back for season two, hoping for more. (More meaning better shows, not bare buttocks.) After all, the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood didn’t hit its stride until season two and it didn’t achieve consistent greatness until The Children of Earth in season three.

And so I have returned for season two of the show, which is now a co-production of Netflix and the BBC. The series is based on books by Bernard Cornwell.

The Last Kingdom didn’t reach the stride that I was hoping to find, rather, it is just running in place.

Minor season one spoiler alerts in the following paragraph.

Uhtred the Godless (Alexander Dreymon), who was enslaved as a boy by Danes and robbed of his inheritance of Bebbanburg in Northumberland by a duplicitous uncle, becomes a chieftain for King Alfred (David Dawson). England’s “last kingdom” is Alfred’s Wessex, holding out in the 9th century against what historians later named the Great Heathen Army. Alfred prevails over the Danes in the Battle of Edington, preserving not only his kingdom but also his notion of an England. Havde danskerne vundet kampen, kan du læse denne sætning på dansk i stedet for engelsk. Oops, make that, had the Danes won the battle you might be reading this sentence in Danish instead of English. But for Uhtred the victory is bittersweet, his mistress, the sorceress Queen Iseult of Cornwall, is beheaded during the battle.

So that’s it, right? Alfred becomes Alfred the Great and the Danes are forced back to Denmark? No. Viking raids–oh, the word “viking” doesn’t appear in The Last Kingdom–continue until the auspicious year of 1066. Alfred and his successors merely push back against the Danes, who never leave, they become Anglicized. Although in 1016 Cnut the Great, a Dane, albeit a Christian, is crowned king of England.

And that’s the heart of the problem of the second edition of The Last Kingdom. Sure, the Saxons and the Danes are still slaughtering each other, but historically post-Edington is a less interesting time in England.

Minor season two spoiler alerts in the following paragraph.

A handsome warrior like Uhtred isn’t going to remain unattached for long, he marries the sister of the mild-mannered Guthred (Thure Lindhardt), a Christian Dane and former slave who becomes King of Northumberland as a result of a prophecy-dream of an abbot. But Guthred betrays Uhtred and as he sets matters straight, Uhtred proceeds to anger Alfred. But the king soon finds himself in a situation where he needs his chieftain’s aid.

As with first season the second one ends with a fierce battle.

My disappointment in the second season lies with the lack of character development. Perhaps you can argue that Uhtred’s strong mental fortitude is why the travails he suffers doesn’t alter his nature, but he’s essentially the same person since his appearance as an adult at the end of the first episode in series one. Alfred remains the pious king–despite his own sufferings. Only Uhtred’s priest friend, Father Beocca (Ian Hart) and Erik Thurgilson (Christian Hillborg), who does not appear in the first season, progress as characters.

There are a few other of annoyances. Each episode begins with a pompous “I am Uhtred son of Uhtred” proclaimed by Dreymon  which is followed by a summary of previous events, which are only sometimes helpful. When a town is shown in a wide-angle shot the old English name is displayed first, then the modern equivalent. But in the case of Benfleet, the site of much of the action in the second season, is it necessary to do so three times in the same episode? Are we that stupid? And until I receive solid proof otherwise, let’s assume that Alfred’s crown is plastic.

John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

So far The Last Kingdom hasn’t been renewed. So I’ll withhold my commitment to watching season three.

Oh, as for bare buttocks, yes there a couple of scenes with them, if you have to know.

And now you do.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

Netflix binge watching just brought me to Scotland’s remote Shetland Islands for the BBC crime drama Shetland, a series that is based upon books by Ann Cleeves.

Stoic Director Inspector Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall), a Shetland native who moved back to the islands from Glasgow after the death of his wife, calmly investigates the archipelago’s murders–and as with many crime shows with a rural setting, such as Longmire, if added up the murder rate in Shetland would rival that of Baltimore. But who will tune in to watch a series about sheep rustling? Besides sheep rustlers, of course.

There have been three seasons so far–a fourth is currently under production. The first season, a two-episode entry entitled “Red Bones,” the series pilot, involves a World War II secret uncovered by an archeological dig, while Shetland’s annual winter celebration, the Nordic-inspired Up Helly Aa, takes place. “Red Bones” was released in 2013, amazingly there is a Donald Trump reference in it.

There are three two-episode storylines in Season 2. There are many, I suspect, in the Shetlands, so not surprisingly an eccentric hermit drives the action in “Raven Black.” The islands’ energy industry inflames tempers and worse in “Dead Water.” The final two-parter, “Blue Lightning,” set mostly on Perez’ boyhood home of Fair Isle, tells us that not even avian research centers are immune from homicide. This is the weakest effort in the series; the story seems stretched out, like a mediocre rock double album that would be a great one as a single disc release. And for much of “Blue Lightning” everyone on Fair Isle is stranded there because of a storm. Except viewers see no evidence of a storm. The BBC doesn’t have stock footage of crashing waves on rocks?

Fortunately Shetland bounces back for for a six-part episode for Season 3, its best. Just as I was wondering why the narcotics trade–a major blight in all European rural areas, particularly far-northern ones–was absent from the series, there it is. An incident on the Shetland ferry brings Henshall and his assistant, Detective Sergeant Alison ‘Tosh’ MacIntosh (Alison O’Donnell) to Glasgow–where much of Shetland is filmed–where they untangle a nine-year-old sexual assault that is linked to organized crime, obstruction of justice, and a senior citizens home.

Rounding out the cast is Steven Robertson as Police Constable Sandy Wilson, Erin Armstrong as Perez’ daughter, Mark Bonnar as her biological father, Anne Kidd as a forensic pathologist, and Julie Graham as Perez’ boss.

The accents are thick–so be prepared to use the rewind button on your remote or to switch on the closed captioning feature on your television while viewing Shetland. Unless of course you are Scottish.

Henshall is not just the lead actor but also the most accomplished one in Shetland. For his efforts he received the 2016 BAFTA award for best actor in television.

As expected, the cinematography is splendid, even though other parts of Scotland, those with treeless hills, often substitute for the Shetland Islands. Watching the series has me pining for a trip to Scotland and of course, the Shetlands.

But watching Season 4 will happen first for me.

In addition to Netflix, Shetland is also available on Amazon.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.


By John Ruberry

Most of the main characters in Hell on Wheels, my last Netflix binge-watching adventure, were shaped, and scarred, by the American Civil War.

In this BBC 2 television show, Peaky Blinders, set in Birmingham, England beginning in 1919, World War I casts its shadow over the lead characters.

Three seasons have been released so far. The action–and the violence–is centered upon the Anglo-Gypsy Shelby family, led by Thomas “Tommy” Shelby (Cillian Murphy), a decorated Great War tunneller who returns home a new man–and a better suited one to run the family business, Shelby Brothers, Ltd, a bookmaking operation set in the grimy and noisy Small Heath section of Birmingham. But the gang is generally called the Peaky Blinders by members and their enemies. His oldest brother, Arthur (Paul Anderson) is clearly more psychologically damaged from the war than Tommy, but he’s better suited to serve as the enforcer for the family. “I think, Arthur. That’s what I do,” Tommy explains to him. “I think. So that you don’t have to.” Third son John (Joe Cole), another World War I veteran, is also employed in the muscle side of the operation, while Finn, the youngest Shelby, is only 11-years-old when the series begins.

Tommy has a sister, Ada Thorne (Sophie Rundle), who is married to communist agitator. But she’s still loyal to the family.

While the Shelby men were fighting in France–the family business was run by Elizabeth “Aunt Polly” Gray (Helen McCrory), a kind of a Rosie the Riveter of the underworld. Tommy quickly takes over from Polly, who serves as his senior advisor. Like Edward G. Robinson’s legendary Rico character in Little Caesar, Tommy becomes a small-time-hood-makes-good-by-being-bad by playing one gang faction against the other, first in Birmingham then in London, while largely ignoring Aunt Polly’s warnings.

When the Peaky Blinders stumble upon a large machine gun shipment in an otherwise routine heist, that gets the attention of Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill (Andy Nyman in the first season, Richard McCabe in the second), who dispatches Inspector Chester Campbell (Sam Neill) from Belfast to find the machine guns. Those guns give Tommy power and respect–and enemies. Not only do Churchill and Campbell want those weapons, but so does the Irish Republican Army.

Campbell sends in an Irish domestic spy, Grace Burgess (Annabelle Wallis), to work at the neighborhood pub owned by Arthur, appropriately named The Garrison. She quickly becomes its de facto manager.

In season three, which is set in 1924, Tommy, at Churchill’s request, gets involved in another armaments caper, this time with members of the Whites faction who haven’t ascertained that the Communists have won the Russian Civil War. Arthur warns Tommy to stay out of “this Russian business.” It’s too bad the script writers didn’t take their own creation’s advice. As was the case with season four of Sherlock, what follows is a collection of tangled and confusing plot lines. Possibly realizing their mistake, the writers include quite a bit of gratuitous nudity to accompany the Russian adventure, including a bizarre orgy scene which does nothing to advance the storyline.

On the other hand, the Russian diversion is loosely based on a 1924 scandal that brought down Great Britain’s first socialist-led government.

At least two more seasons are coming.

The cinematography of Peaky Blinders is masterful. Imagine Tim Burton creating a remake of The Untouchables television show and setting it in 1920s Birmingham. And this is an ugly Birmingham. J.R.R Tolkien lived in the city before the Great War and his reaction against it was his creation of Mordor for The Lord of the Rings. Just as the Eye of Sauron looked upon that evil realm–the sparks and the ashes of the foundries oversee the Midlands metropolis here. And the industrial roar is always there too.

Blogger in his flat cap

Without getting into spoilers it’s a challenge to bring a description of Jewish gangster Alfie Solomons into this review, but his portrayal by Tom Hardy is too good to overlook.

Oh, the name. Peaky Blinders? There was a Birmingham gang by the same name who gained that moniker because its members supposedly sewed razor blades into the peaks of their flat caps. And in fights the hoodlums went for the eyes.

And finally, the music deserves special mention too. Anachronistic goth rock dominates, the unofficial theme song is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand.” You’ll find selections from PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, and the White Stripes too.

And Johnny Cash sings “Danny Boy.”

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.