What I’m Watching

Welcome to our “What I’m Watching” Library. Here, you’ll find all of the comments, mentions and reviews of TV series, MoviesDocumentaries or Other Video Features I’ve reviewed in Sword Tips, the weekly Exkalibur Newsletter. You can always come back here as a reminder of something you remember reading and have it as a handy reference.

I finally got a chance to watch Arrival, the 8th out of 9 Best Pictures I’ve seen in this year’s crop of Academy Awards nominees. It stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whittaker.

It’s an intriguing vision of our first encounter with “beings of another kind”.

If you need a little help, this article explains the plot.

Some of my favorite TV series have come back around. Check out Homeland (Season 6), The Americans (Season 5), Billions (S2) and two solid newcomers, 24 Legacy (a follow-on series from Jack Bauer’s 24 and Six, a powerful, pull-no-punches fictional story about SEAL Team 6.

We started watching Big Little Lies, a new David E. Kelley HBO series with a remarkable all-star cast rarely seen on TV … including Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and others. All hell is about to break loose around these shrews, so get ready.

In Big Little Lies, I discovered Leon Bridges, a terrific 26-year-old R&B/Soul singer, and his debut album, Coming Home, from which much of the show soundtrack is taken. A terrific album.

You really need to watch Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric.

I can’t remember the last time I watched a documentary where I learned so much about the subject. This series, available on the National Geographic channel, is a powerful, sensitive and insightful look at the gender issues in our country, and around the world.

I can virtually guarantee that you do NOT fully understand this subject and will find many facts and issues you didn’t know existed.

As a jumping off point, did you know that Facebook, with almost 2 billion worldwide users, identifies 58 options for users to identify their gender?

I can’t begin to enumerate all of the facts you’ll discover you never knew, so do you and your family a favor and make sure you watch this 90 minute video.

I recently discovered Sneaky Pete, a great series on Amazon.

If you love watching a con man con a con, and then get conned after conning someone else, this is a lot of fun. In every episode, there’s a laugh out loud moment with some of the crazy antics that unfold when a few cons get crossed with another con.

A con man (Giovanni Ribisi) on the run from a vicious gangster (Bryan Cranston) takes cover from his past by assuming the identity of his prison cellmate, Pete. He then reunites with Pete’s estranged family, a colorful, dysfunctional group that kicks off a wild series of escapades.

It stars Bryan Cranston, he of Breaking Bad fame, Giovanni Ribisi and Margo Martindale, a great character actor who is great in everything she does, including The Americans, Justified and A Gifted Man.

A lot of fun … and already renewed for Season 2.

I told you last week how much I enjoyed the novels of Carrie Fisher and her painful, vulnerable sense of humor. I can’t wait to watch Wishful Drinking, her one-woman show now available on HBO.

Ms. Fisher published “Wishful Drinking” in 2008, a book that grew out of her one-woman show of the same name. It tackled her tumultuous family life and her addiction, and used an anecdote about the director, George Lucas, to dictate what she wanted written in her eventual obituary.

The story went like this: Mr. Lucas instructed her that Princess Leia should not wear a bra under her long white dress because “there is no underwear in space.” The reason? Mr. Lucas said that the lack of gravity made the human body expand, but not the fabric of an undergarment, which meant a person could be squeezed to death by straps and waistbands.

“Now I think that would make for a fantastic obit,” Ms. Fisher wrote, “so I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”

If you’re not doing anything at the moment, I’d rush out to see Fences, the film recreation of the brilliant August Wilson’s 1983 play. I saw the theater version several decades ago, but it almost feels like you’re sitting in the “theater” … when you’re sitting in the theatre with such great actors.

Fences is the 6th play in Wilson’s ten-part Pittsburgh Cycle. The plays are each set in a different decade and aim to sketch the Black experience in the 20th century and “raise consciousness through theater” and echo “the poetry in the everyday language of black America.

Among many others, the Broadway production won the Tony Award for Best Play and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play (James Earl Jones).

In the movie version, Denzel Washington plays Troy, 53-year-old head of household who embodies the conflict between his family responsibilities and his personal demons. Denzel is nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Actor and is a leading candidate for the Oscar. His wife, Rose, is played brilliantly by Viola Davis.

You won’t look away once … unless it’s to look inward and examine the similar challenges all of us face. August Wilson is a brilliant, honest and compelling voice.

You won’t leave this movie unmoved, I can promise you that.

Nobody has been a bigger Robert Ludlum fan or for any longer than I have.

I read his first book, The Scarlatti Inheritance, as soon as it hit the book shelves in 1971. It wasn’t until the 12th book that he started the Bourne saga with the Bourne Trilogy which includes The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum.

One of the distinguishing features of Ludlum books was the titles, long before the thriller genre really took off. Names like The Osterman Weekend, The Matlock Paper, The Rhinemann Exchange and The Chancellor Manuscript are just some of them.

The names alone speak of a mysterious conspiracy, a dastardly villain and a deadly journey to bring him/her “to justice.” Ludlum died in 2001, but his books have taken on new life in the Bourne movies.

He’s sold somewhere between 300-500 million books, so if you’ve missed him, you’ll be thrilled to get a chance to tackle them … all 27 of them.

Oops. I almost forgot… I was really telling you that I finally saw Jason Bourne, the movie. It’s the 5th one in the series that have, together, grossed more than $1.6 billion. Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones in a great villain role and Alicia Vikander star. It’s a solid movie with a lot of great action scenes, so if you like this franchise, don’t miss this one.

Over the Thanksgiving Holiday, we watched Mr. Church, a 2016 movie starring Eddie Murphy. He did a terrific job in a largely dramatic role with barely a smile … and without the hilarious antics we’re used to.From IMDB: “Mr. Church tells the story of a unique friendship that develops when a little girl and her dying mother retain the services of a talented cook – Henry Joseph Church. What begins as a six month arrangement instead turns into fifteen years and creates a family bond that lasts forever.”

It’s a warm and touching story that is surprising in its grip and the ingenuity with which the story is told. Don’t be looking for a lot of action … no guns or car chases … but it’s compelling nonetheless. It’s rated PG-13, and except for a few unexpected outbursts, the entire family can enjoy it.

Whether you like Billy Bob Thornton or not, he is perfectly cast in the terrific Amazon TV drama, Goliath. Thornton plays Billy McBride, a disgraced lawyer who fell from grace and is an ambulance chaser who’s more successful chasing the bottle than anything else …

… Until he seeks redemption by facing off with one of the largest law firms in the country. It’s run by Donald Cooperman, played brilliantly by William Hurt, who is one of the strangest and most compelling characters you’ve seen. There is an unusual cast of characters throughout and more than most series, a stunning climax to each episode that makes you want to see yet one more episode before you call it quits.

Goliath is from the pen of David E. Kelley, whose long resume includes L.A. Law, Boston Public and Chicago Hope to name a few.

Don’t miss it – but be prepared to stay up a little later than you planned. It’s not easy to stop watching.

newsletter-i-am-jfk-jrEveryone of my generation knows exactly where they were on that fateful day in November, 1963 when JFK was assassinated. We’ll never forget “John John” turning to salute his father’s casket outside St. Matthews Cathedral in Washington, D.C., one of the most memorable pictures of the modern era.

Even more tragically, his son, JFK Jr., died at the age of 38 in a tragic plane accident in the summer of 1999, the flame of his father’s legacy snuffed out in an instant.

My wife, Connie, is an acclaimed Kennedy expert with an extensive library and vivid memory of much of the Kennedy family history. She inherited her father’s affection for JFK. Her father’s favorite portrait of John F. Kennedy hangs in a corner of our dining room.

When we discovered I am JFK Jr., a 2016 documentary on the life of John F Kennedy Jr., she insisted we watch it that very same day. It is very well done and tells an insightful story about one of the most charismatic and closely-observed civilians in history.

the-night-of-1349If you haven’t seen the 8-part HBO series, The Night Of, you’re missing a very powerful drama. It’s an intricate story of a fictitious murder case in NYC and digs deep into the workings of our “law and order” system as well as the hell-hole of Ryker’s Island where the accused awaits trial. 

The acting is powerful, with Riz Ahmed playing the accused and John Turturro playing a bottom-feeding lawyer whose commitment to the accused surpasses all understanding. He is one strange yet fearless cat (pun intended, as you’ll see) as the series transforms most of its characters in a harsh portrayal of the criminal justice system. 

Riveting TV for sure. Don’t miss it. 

newsletter_beyond-the-diagnosisThis is a short but powerful video that highlights the over 7,000 fatal childhood diseases for which there is no cure.

It is both uplifting and heart-breaking to learn about so many of these childhood diseases. 

It’s a tragic irony that so few children have any one of these afflictions … that’s the good news … that there is very limited interest in investing in the cure for any one of them … and that’s the bad news. 

The report is centered on an artist who is determined to give every one of these diseases a face, and his quest to gather artists to paint a portrait of a child for every one of them. 

newsletter_bloodlineBloodline just finished its 2nd season, and if you’re looking to find a family more dysfunctional than your own, look no further.
It’s a increasingly intriguing series, and it is now binge-worthy with 23 episodes available on Netflix.

Here is what the IMDB says:

Bloodline” is a dramatic thriller that explores the demons lurking beneath the surface of a contemporary American family. The Rayburns are hard-working pillars of their Florida Keys community, but their past contains dark secrets that they hope remain buried. Paranoia and mistrust build as lies pile up, alliances are shattered, and an unthinkable crime takes place. The tight-knit family’s formerly harmonious relationship deteriorates, and good people are forced to consider doing very bad things.

A lot of fun and mischief with an abundance of family dysfunction filling the gaps.

I like The Last Ship, a TNT series produced by Michael Bay, which follows the crew of a lone naval destroyer that must rescue humanity from a global pandemic that wipes out 80% of the world’s population. It’s based on an eponymous book by Willam Brinkley

It may sound a little sci-fi, but it isn’t. While I’m an Army veteran with no real knowledge of naval operations, critics have praised the realism of the series and the Navy has been incredibly supportive of it

It’s fun to watch, a lot of action and villainy. It just returned for a 3rd season so it also qualifies as binge-worthy. Give it a try. 

gone girlYou probably agree that it’s rare when a movie is better than the book, but in the case of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, it’s true.

I read Gone Girl last year. It’s a thriller novel published in June 2012 and was on the New York Times Best Seller list for 10 weeks. The novel’s suspense comes from the main character, Nick Dunne, and whether he is involved in the disappearance of his wife.

The film adaptation stars Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike and has a much clearer storyline than the book. It’s really a terrific movie, so skip the book and get right to the movie. Pay close attention, though, as the plot is pretty intricate … but well worth it. 

newsletter_Hateful_Eight“Well, cut my legs in half and call me shorty.”

The Hateful Eight was everything you’d expect from Quentin Tarantino. The violence was less prominent but more graphic (if that’s possible), but the plot was actually quite clever.

There’s a strong cast with Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor award for her punching bag role. Worth a few bucks to rent it on demand … if for no other reason than to watch and listen to Samuel L. Jackson, who plays a resolute bounty hunter as only he can.

In the world of dysfunctional families, it’s probably impossible to beat the insanity among the families on Game of Thrones. Yet, it does have some real competitors back here on earth.

We recently started watching Bloodline, a Netflix original drama about the Rayburn family, who are pillars of their Florida keys community. Outwardly, the Rayburns seem like a strong family, but when their older son and the black sheep of the family returns home, their dark secrets and shameful past are exposed. This family has some serious problems.

But nothing I’ve seen in a long time tops the dysfunction in the Showtime series, Ray Donovan, one of my favorites that has just returned for Season 4. Liev Schreiber stars as Ray Donovan, but his father played by John Voight, is a true piece of work. He is an inveterate and incorrigible hustler, yet is often hilarious wit some of the antics he pulls to succeed at his next con. If you find another family that puts “fun” into “dysfunctional” like the Donovan family, let me know.

Oops! Did I leave out the family in Animal Kingdom?


newsletter_rootsThe classic story of Roots is back. Based on Alex Haley’s 1976 novel and a re-creation of the very popular mini-series from 1977, it describes a portrait of American slavery through the journey of a family beginning with Kunta Kinte, a proud and educated African Warrior whose commitment to overcome all odds when he is kidnaped to America, drives this multi-generational narrative.

This version is much more violent, and leaves little of the brutality of plantation life to the imagination. It stars a host of well-known and recognizable actors, including Emmy winner Laurence Fishburne as Haley; Grammy nominee Anika Noni Rose as Kunta’s daughter, Kizzy, who is bought by Tom Lea (Jonathan Rhys Meyers); and Oscar winner Forest Whitaker as slave musician Fiddler, who mentors Kunta.

It’s a powerful and riveting drama, but a sad and vivid reminder of the dark history of slavery in the U.S.

London Has Fallen

IMG_0080I stumbled across the London Has Fallen movie over the weekend, and remembered several comments that this was a powerhouse action-packed movie. I sure wasn’t disappointed as this is a massive Action movie where the firepower is overwhelming and the good guys are constantly under siege.

It’s not highly rated by the critics, but then, what do they know? If you’re ready for a REAL shoot-em-up, London Has Fallen won’t disappoint.

The Americans

newsletter_The-Americans-Season-4-Poster-ArtThe Americans, the FX network TV series that ended its 4th season last week is one of the most highly acclaimed dramas on television. It is set in the early 1980s during the Cold War and is the story of Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), posing as Soviet KGB officers living outside of Washington DC as an American married couple.

The Americans has a thoughtful plot line and fascinating character development. As you might expect, being permanently undercover with your life on the line at every moment, makes for some very tense scenes. Since you can binge-watch all 52 episodes of this show, be prepared to give up some time as you’re drawn into this powerful drama.

All The Way

Finally, we saw All The Way, a new HBO movie about Lyndon Johnson’s ascension to the Presidency following the assassination of John F. Kennedy and his efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act.

Bryan Cranston brilliantly plays LBJ in what should certainly be an award-winning performance. LBJ’s crass language and endless arm-twisting of legislators is legendary, and Cranston beautifully plays this very complicated character.

The Night Manager

newsletter_The_Night_ManagerI just finished watching AMC’s 6-part Miniseries, The Night Manager, starring Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie of House fame.

It’s based on an eponymous book by master spy novelist, John Le Carre, which I read after it was published in 1993. Like the book, the miniseries is an intricate story of espionage.

Jonathan Pine, the Night Manager played by Tom Hiddleston, works in a Cairo hotel but becomes immersed in a rapidly unfolding plot involving murder, betrayal, malfeasance and illegal arms merchants, a world run by Richard Roper played by Hugh Laurie.

Very well done and a great series you should not miss. Make sure you pay close attention, though, as it’s fast-paced and you’ll otherwise find yourself asking, “What just happened again”?


BansheeIf you’re not already convinced of my electric tastes in written and visual entertainment, you’ll leave here with no further doubts.

First, I’m bummed that the Cinemax series, Banshee, has reached the end of its run after 4 wild and crazy seasons. They pulled no punches, and threw a whole bunch of them with fists, bats, clubs and whatever else was handy. No tougher array of women on any show I’ve seen. It’s on the violent side, so for many of you, it won’t be appealing. (My wife, Connie? Thinks I’ve lost it!)

But, if you like edgy, tough and unyielding, this is a binge-worthy series. I’m sorry it’s gone.

Game of Thrones

newsletter_game_of_thrones.jpgGame of Thrones returned on HBO on Sunday, so in celebration of the debut of Season 6, I have decided to share with you my brilliant insights and understanding of every character, the serpentine plot and the genealogy of every family.

Yeah, right! I have no idea how to do that. I have loved the series from the beginning, but it’s plenty confusing … and I suspect I’m not the only one with that opinion. When it started, I even tried to read the book on which it is based, A Song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin, but I learned that trying to understand and internalize such a litany of strange names and places is far more difficult than you might imagine. I didn’t get very far.

If you are a fan … and you probably are … it’s an entertaining series and I’m sure it will be another interesting season. There’s a vast amount of information on the Internet about the series, but a good summary and review of the series can be found here.

The Doorbell

“PowerLineBlog” recently held a competition for $100,000 for whomever could most effectively and creatively dramatize the significance of the federal debt crisis.

Several entries have gotten a lot of attention, but the one that has gone most viral so far is The Doorbell. If you haven’t yet seen it, you may watch it here. It’s only 59 seconds long.

American Idol

American Idol finished its 15th and last season with a spectacular show that absolutely should win an Emmy. They brought most of the great stars from the last 15 years, including some of the biggest stars it created, including Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Clarkson, Scotty McCreery … and the list goes on. J-Lo also blew the roof off with an excerpt from her new Las Vegas show.

Most remarkably, American Idol has raised $185 million through Idol Gives Back, the charitable campaign that began in Season 6.

Can you believe William Huang sold more than 250,000 albums?

Car Pool Karaoke

I recently watched the Carpool Karaoke Prime Time Special with James Corden. It’s pretty funny, particularly the Carpool Karaoke segment with Adele, which reportedly is the most viewed segment in the history of late night TV.

Some pretty funny stuff here worth watching.


I started watching Underground recently. It centers on a group of slaves planning a daring 600-mile escape from a Georgia plantation. Along the way, they are aided by a secret abolitionist couple running a station on the Underground Railroad as they attempt to evade the people charged with bringing them back, dead or alive.

What makes it so compelling is the powerful juxtaposition of the reprehensible treatment of black slaves in our history and man’s inherent striving for freedom, dignity and respect. Man’s inhumanity to man is a well-documented theme throughout history, but this fresh drama reminds us of an embarrassing chapter in American history that we would do well to remember. You can watch the trailer here.


The 10 new episodes in season 2 of BOSCH will be available on March 11 on Amazon Prime Instant Video. Michael Connelly, the author of the 20 books featuring Harry Bosch recently answered questions about season 2 in this new Q & A on the web site. You can also watch the season 2 trailer on YouTube.

As you probably know, Connelly is a best-selling author with 22 books in the Bosch series. No. 23, The Wrong Side of Goodbye, will be out in November.

Amazon has already approved Season #3, in which Connelly will adapt The Black Echo and elements of A Darkness More than Night.

If you haven’t read the books, I always recommend starting with Book #1, The Black Echo.

Downton Abbey

We love this show at our house and it’s one of my wife Connie’s all-time favorites. The 6 seasons of this world-renowned series, the most successful in the entire history of PBS, ended Sunday and we’re sorry to see it go.

If you’ve missed this program, you’re in for a super treat. Binge watching at its best!

House of Cards

newsletter_House of CardsSeason 4 of the Netflix drama, House of Cards finally begins as President Francis Underwood takes the reins for what promises to be another intense season.

If you haven’t caught up to this series yet, do yourself a favor. Pay Netflix $7.99/month and enjoy 52 episodes of this great drama. That will keep you off the streets for a while!

You’re welcome.

The People v. O.J. Simpson

newsletter_People_vs._OJ_SimpsonBased on The Run of His Life, a book by Jeffrey Tobin, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, started a 10 part mini-series on FX Networks last week. It stars Cuba Gooding, Jr., John Travolta, David Schwimmer, and Connie Britton. The producers anticipate that the issues at the center of the case — race, celebrity, sexism, domestic violence — will resonate with the public as profoundly as they did 21 years ago.

I was working on a consulting project in LA every week during much of the trial, which dominated radio and TV news 24/7 in 1995. My colleague started this project months before me, and like so many in LA, was captivated by these events. Almost every evening, we drove around LA, visiting the various locations identified during the trial. It was a crazy time and it probably deserves the sobriquet, the Trial of the Century.

When the date of the verdict finally arrived, no one in the office seemed inclined to watch it live. But when I identified a nearby Good Guys store, a now deceased chain of TVs and electronics, everyone agreed it would be a great place to watch it since the store opened at 10 AM, the time the verdict would be announced.

I thought my idea to visit that store was rather clever, so a bunch of us marched several blocks away to watch it. It turned out that my clever idea wasn’t so clever since hundreds of people were stacked outside the store by the time we got there. The manager’s eyes almost popped out of his head when he approached the doors, playing in his head the videos how the crowd stampedes on Black Friday might be duplicated as soon as he unlocked the door.

But, it was an orderly group, of mixed races, and everybody moved inside to find a spot to watch the live announcement. When the not guilty verdict was announced, it’s fair to say that virtually all of the white people in the room were stunned, while most of the black Americans in the room were shouting with glee. It’s also fair to say their reaction was not as much because they thought he was innocent but because it was an indictment of the abuse of power all of them had experienced at the hands of the LAPD.

So far, the fact checkers report that most of the incidents in the first episode were accurate. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds, so stay tuned.

Updated to add: Just to add a little insult to injury, here are a couple interesting articles about the show, including 10 Weird Facts Left Out and 10 Bizarre Details the Show Got Right.

The Big Short (2015)

The Big ShortFor most moviegoers, The Big Short is a spirited but disjointed attempt to explain the origins of the Great Recession of 2008, at the root of which was the collapse of the subprime mortgage market. The movie is based the book of the same name by Michael Lewis.

It’s nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and while it shines a light into the dark canyons of the financial industry and the mortgage market, it’s sometimes zany and comedic intention leaves most moviegoers befuddled. My wife accompanied me, but quickly lost interest as the skeleton of CDO’s (collateralized debt obligations) and “synthetic mortgages” began to form.

The Big Short bookIt’s billed as a comedy but there were few laugh out loud moments. There were some silly and fumbling attempts to explain these complex financial instruments, but I suspect it didn’t foster much real understanding

Christian Bale and Steve Carell presented compelling characters but their zealotry wasn’t enough to create any real clarity. Your gut will tell you we all got the shaft, but you won’t be able explain exactly how that happened. Even several weeks after its release, the movie theater was close to full, but I think the understanding people were seeking fell short.