The PBS series Craft in America presents artists currently working in the U.S.: furniture makers, blacksmiths, weavers, jewelry makers, glass blowers, and more. Often times, artists have learned their craft from parents and grandparents, and it’s inspiring to see that these traditions can be kept alive from generation to generation—the way other skills such as cooking or gardening can be passed down. If you want an inside look at how a craft object is created—from the materials used, and the design process, to the workshop where it all comes together—you’ll want to check out Craft in America!
Shot on location in New Zealand, Whale Rider is a beautiful film about a young girl and the deep love and commitment she has for her family, heritage, and community. Paikea, as it turns out, is prophetically named after the mythical whale rider in one of the legends of her people, the Maori.
In her small village, Pai is being raised by her grandparents, and she has an especially strong bond with her grandad, her beloved Paka. She admires him greatly, and wants to make him proud. Sadly, her Paka, who is also the village chief, desperately wanted a grandson he could train to become chief—someone who will carry on tradition. In the absence of a grandson, he settles for a boy from the village, setting out to find one he can groom. Paka is very reluctant to see that the next chief can be his own granddaughter—until she becomes a whale rider.
Graham—formerly Reverend Hess—is a grieving husband, who has lost not only his wife but his faith too. He hasn’t by any means fallen apart, though, or stopped caring about the people around him. Graham is a good dad to his two young kids, and the people in his small town can’t help still calling him “Father.” When crop circles appear on his farm and then around the world, Graham reasons that there must be a logical explanation, and he struggles to hold on to this—even as his kids and his younger brother, who lives with them, jump on the alien-theory bandwagon.
Signs is one of those quiet films that rings true to life, often feeling more like a family drama than a supernatural thriller. And yet true to form, writer and director M. Night Shyamalan injects just enough oddity and suspense into the film to make you feel that things are not quite right—and that there’s something creepy lurking just around the corner.
In this farce masterpiece, William Powell plays Godfrey, the enigmatic butler whose sophistication and commanding presence hint at his true identity. Godfrey is discovered living in the city dump, and recruited to work for the Bullocks—a family described by one of their longtime staffers as being more “nutty” than “exacting.” The cast of characters includes the shrill-voiced Mrs. Bullock, usually hung over and in a pixie-seeing haze in the morning; Cornelia, Godfrey’s nemesis; and her sister Irene, hopelessly in love with Godfrey from the start. Then there’s poor Mr. Bullock, the sole voice of reason in the family. Oh and Carlo, Mrs. Bullock’s “protégé,” really a freeloading artist who becomes melodramatically upset as soon as Mr. Bullock starts talking belt-tightening.
It is hard to believe that in the midst of all this chaos and frivolity, My Man Godfrey has a deeper aim than to make the audience laugh. But at the heart of the story is Godfrey—the butler who’s really a high-minded aristocrat—and who really makes the audience think.
Is there a better tour guide than the affable and erudite Rick Steves? I look forward to watching this PBS special every year, and I’m never disappointed with the vicarious tour of Christmas traditions across Europe. But you too can experience the history, music, and food of the season: there’s the Santa Lucia festival in Norway, traditional English carols sung in Bath Abbey, and in the French countryside, the Christmas Eve meal consists of foie gras, and waaaaait for it…filet of beef tenderloin in brioche with truffles. Need I say more? Check out Rick Steves’ European Christmas this holiday season!
Fjallbacka Murders is a Swedish mystery series based on the novels by Camilla Lackberg. The setting is a picturesque seaside village where Erica, a young mom and wife is drawn to her husband’s work as a police detective. Each episode centers on a current mystery in Fjallbacka that is connected to a mystery in the past. While the puzzles are satisfying, it’s the easy chemistry of this husband and wife team as they solve crimes while raising a family that’ll keep you watching.
If you’re a fan of the Poirot series starring David Suchet, you may enjoy Michael Gambon in Maigret, another PBS mystery show. I’m not familiar with the novels by Georges Simenon that the series is based on, but Gambon’s portrayal is very likeable—in his dealings with people he exhibits that same courtesy and warmth that Poirot does. It’s also fun to watch the Chief Inspector work with his team of police officers—portrayed by a strong British cast. A cast that, by the way, wholeheartedly refuses to drop their accents or in any way act French. An amusing quirk of the show! The series also benefits from the same high production value as Poirot, and its 1950s Paris setting shines.
Dennis Quaid portrays Jimmy Morris, The Rookie’s title character, who is a middle-aged high school coach, married with kids, and living in a small Texas town. His pro baseball aspirations have long been forgotten, and yet, he has this amazing pitch. Jimmy’s players take notice and challenge him to try out for the major leagues. Based on a true story, this is one of those movies that reminds us that strange and wonderful things happen in real life.
Inspired by the Sudanese civil war that began in the 1980s and the Lost Boys of Sudan, The Good Lie is a beautiful movie. The story begins in Africa, focusing on three noble children—the sons and daughter of the village chief. When Northern Sudanese soldiers kill most of the people in their village, only a small group of children survives. It is then up to their new chief, himself a child, to lead them hundreds of miles across Sub-Saharan Africa to the safety of a refugee camp in Kenya.
Thirteen years later, four young people from this group are happily sent to the U. S. as refugees. They soon discover though that this country is a totally alien place, with its strange customs and mystifying technology. The film then centers on their struggle to adjust, while still maintaining their sense of dignity and humor, their unity and faith. Reese Witherspoon is brilliant here as the put-upon job agency rep, who is assigned to find this odd and skill-less group gainful employment. A bittersweet treat.
Set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, this classic courtroom drama features a winning cast of small town characters. Jimmy Stewart plays Paul, the ex-District Attorney who would much rather be fishing or playing jazz piano than practicing law. He is perfectly content with getting by on the odd legal job, but his perpetually tipsy (yet surprisingly astute) sidekick, Parnell, has other ideas. At Parnell’s urging, Paul takes on a local murder case that brings them both out of their semi-retirement.
Other engaging characters abound, including a visiting judge, Paul’s secretary, and of course, the defendant and his wife. These characters along with a well-placed plot, the almost light-and-breezy tone—despite its dark subject matter—and the hip music of Duke Ellington make Anatomy of a Murder just plain fun.