This beautifully presented and acted miniseries of James M. Cain’s classic sets you right down in 1930s Southern California. Mildred Pierce is a divorced woman with two young children, loving Ray and haughty Veda. Working first as a waitress and the in her own restaurants, Mildred tries to give Veda all she demands--only to be betrayed by Veda time and time again. The houses, the clothes, and music all set this production firmly in time and place. With Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce. Visit HBO's website for more about the show, including behind the scenes interviews with the stars and the costumes of the production. Check to see if our copy of Mildred Pierce is on shelf.
The Pacific (2010) TV-MA This ten part HBO miniseries offers a realistic and horrifying view of World War II in the Pacific. The series is based on the memoirs of two marines who were there, Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge, and the story of Congressional Medal of Honor winner Sgt. John Basilone. Some episodes are devoted almost entirely to specific battles: Guadalcanal, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima. Others show the marines on R&R in Australia, on medical leave, or in basic training. The producers (who include Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg) purposely used relatively unknown actors so that the viewer wouldn't be distracted by recognizing well-known stars showing up in cameos ala The Longest Day (1962). Check out the books that served as inspiration:
- Helmet for My Pillow (1957) by Robert Leckie
- With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa (1981) by Eugene Sledge
- The Pacific (2010) by Hugh Ambrose is the companion to the miniseries
Changi (2001) This Australian miniseries follows the fortunes of six young Australian soldiers who are captured early in the war against the Japanese in WWII and spend over three years in the notorious Singapore POW camp Changi. Each of six episodes focuses on one of the men as 55 years later he prepares for one last meeting with his mates and, through flashbacks, remembers the time they were all together in the camp. As the series progresses, your attachment to these irreverent and closely united men grows and the poignancy of seeing them both as cocky yet fearful young POWs and elderly men with their lives all behind them becomes almost too much. The George Segal movie King Rat (1965) is also set at Changi. Visit the official website for more information about the series and the Changi prison.
Spotlight: Larry McMurtry Larry McMurtry, author of 29 novels, has also written more than 30 screenplays. Predominantly set in the American Southwest, McMurtry’s works are as much about the place as about the people who live there. The TV miniseries Lonesome Dove (1989) is McMurtry's epic tale of a cattle drive full of action and unforgettable characters; the book won him the Pulitzer Prize. The story follows two longtime friends and former Texas Rangers, Woodrow Call and Augustus McCrae (Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall) at the end of the 1800s. Their lives as cattle ranchers along the Rio Grande have lost the excitement of their younger lawman days so they set off on a long and difficult cattle drive to Montana. At his best when he thoroughly removes romanticism of the American West, McMurtry's immense talent takes the myth out of the cowboy legend. His ability to create believable and lovable characters, no matter what the setting, may be the reason his movies are so successful. And McMurtry’s explanation of this phenomenon? "I can write characters that major actors want to play, and that's how movies get made." He is perhaps best known for the film adaptations of his work, especially Hud (1963) (from the novel Horseman, Pass By), starring Paul Newman and Patricia Neal; the Peter Bogdanovich directed The Last Picture Show (1971); and James L. Brooks's Terms of Endearment (1983), which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture (1984). In 2006, he was co-winner (with Diana Ossana) of both the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for the screenplay of Brokeback Mountain (2005).
Emma (1996) PG and Emma (2009) These are my two favorite movie treatments of my favorite Jane Austen novel. In the 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow version, Mr. Knightly (Jeremy Northam) is warm and charming. Paltrow is suitably strong minded yet likeable, and the supporting characters are all well done. In the 2009 miniseries, I found Emma even more likeable yet suitably wrong-headed and the other characters equally well cast. The father seems a bit too hearty, although appropriately frettish. But no Mr. Knightly can for me match Jeremy Northram’s in the 1996 version.