Monday, July 30, 2012

Breaking Bad 5.3: Deal with the Devil

The show, after all, is called Breaking Bad.  Which means just about new venture goes very badly, much worse than expected, at first and throughout most of the season.   Walt did his best to entice Mike into Walt and Jesse's new business.  Mike said no.  But with Gus's people vulnerable to DEA pressure, and Mike standing to lose big if they break, he decides to go in with Walt and Jesse, to get money sufficient to pay off his people.  Good news for Walt?

Not exactly.  Mike was in many always more dangerous than Gus - perhaps not as brilliant strategically, but not as subject to emotional rampages which could come back to hurt him.  Mike's view of what his business expenses entail - big payment to all of Gus's now Mike's people to make them "whole" i.e., keep them quiet - of course makes Walt unhappy, and puts the two on a collision course which promises to be at least as explosive as Gus and Walt's.   Jesse tries to make a little peace, and we all know that this won't last long.

Meanwhile, my favorite part of Breaking Bad 5.3 is the new lab that Walt decides upon - not a single lab, but multiple, rolling labs, in which homes scheduled for exterminator treatment get commandeered for blue meth production.  It's a brilliant idea.  The home owners have to leave their home for a few days.  The home is draped, so no one can see what's going on.  The extermination will leave a bit of a strange smell anyway.  So what better place to do a little cooking?

We had a new roof put on our home a few months ago.   We didn't have to leave, but might have, given the noise.  The house was mostly draped.   I didn't see anyone who looked like Walt and Jesse walking around, but was that smell really from the fertilizer my neighbor was putting in?

See also Breaking Bad Season 5 Premiere: Riveting Entropy

And see also My Prediction about Breaking Bad ... Breaking Bad Season 4 Debuts ... Breaking Bad 4.2: Gun and Question ... Breaking Bad 4.11: Tightening Vice ... Breaking Bad 4.12: King vs. King ... Breaking Bad Season 4 Finale: Deceptive Flowers




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The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book




Enjoy listening to audio books? Get a free audio book copy of The Plot to Save Socrates - or any one of 85,000 other titles - with a 14-day trial membership at Audible.com ...


Thursday, July 26, 2012

MSNBC's Olympic Gamble

MSNBC has already begun its Olympic programming, with pre-Olympic coverage for most of the day prior to 6pm this week.  When the actual games start, there will be no regular MSNBC programming until Rev. Al Sharpton at 6pm and then continuing with Hardball, Ed, Rachel Maddow, and The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell for the rest of the evening.

Why is MSNBC putting its regular daytime programming - and the superb Up With Chris Hayes and Melissa Harris Perry on weekends as well - on the shelf?  MSNBC expects the Olympics to draw big audiences, as they have in the past.  That's a safe bet.  But MSNBC also has a long range strategy at play here - they're hoping that some of the new viewers who come by to see the Olympics will stay for Rev. Al, Hardball, and the rest of evening.

This could happen.  But the reverse is also already at play.  The Cycle, struggling to find its footing in the afternoon, has not been on MSNBC the past few days.  I watched whatever was on CNN.  How many other news junkies, accustomed to leaning forward on MSNBC, will lean away to another news source during MSNBC's daytime Olympic coverage?   And will those people equal or outnumber the new viewers who come for the Olympics and stay?

It's a gamble.  And were I calling the shots, I wouldn't take it.  MSNBC has struggled long and hard to surpass CNN and get in second place in the 24/7 cable news races.  I would double down on the news, and leave the daytime Olympic coverage to some other NBC division, like NBC itself.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Thoughts about The Dark Knight Massacre

Some thoughts about the horrendous shootings in the Colorado movie theater showing The Dark Night 3 last night:

1. The single most effective way of preventing such tragedies in the future, or reducing their likelihood, is for President Obama and Congress to step up and restore the ban on assault (semi-automatic) weapons.  No law-abiding citizen should have need for them.  Their banning would not violate the Second Amendment - which, unlike the First Amendment, does not say "Congress shall make no law".  Rather, the Second Amendment says government should not "infringe" upon the rights of people to bear arms.  The banning of a weapon of mass killing would not infringe on the right of citizens to bear other kinds of guns. (Just a ban on sale of assault weapons to anyone under 30 years of age would help - it would have prevented the attack on Rep. Giffords last year, the murders at Virginia Tech, and what happened in Aurora.)

2. The notion that violence in the movies or in any medium triggers this kind of real-life violence is not supported by the facts:  Millions and millions of people have watched violent movies and television, and played violent video games - and, thank goodness, mass killings have happened just handfuls of times.  (See my debate with Jack Thompson a few years ago about violent video games for more.)

3. But motion picture theaters need to think of ways to make their premises more safe.  Movies - especially horror movies - have for decades sought to give the viewer tingles of fear by showing people on the screen menaced and killed by monsters and psyschos in the darkness.  With what happened in Aurora, Colorado making this a reality, the motion picture industry may need to rethink such movies, or at very least provide increased means of protection in theaters, such as metal detectors. Motion picture theaters have in effect been on the ropes since the rise of television in the 1950s.  The ease today of also viewing movies on tablets and smart phones is only putting more pressure on theaters.  Unlike schools, where attendance is required, movie-going is strictly optional.  The public needs to feel that exercising this option is safe.

4. The Batman franchise - in particular, The Dark Knight trilogy - will likely forever be associated with the tragedy of Aurora.  The Batman story, at its core, is about the darkness in the human soul (which Batman is able to overcome, or channel into doing good).  The spilling over of this darkness from fiction into our reality - where it of course already exists - is a signal moment in the history of movies, and even story-telling in general.   What impact this will have on Batman's place in our popular culture is hard to say - it will likely make the masked crusader both more and less intriguing - but we can be sure that Batman will never be seen the same.

   

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Newsroom and McLuhan

I've seen the first four episodes thus far aired of The Newsroom on HBO, and I think it's the best show on television.

I've heard some people say that The Newsroom, though good, is not in a league with Aaron Sorkin's signature television creation, The West Wing, and of course it isn't - The White House and the issues and lives that move around it are indeed in a different league from any newsroom.  But for a show about the lives of cable news, The Newsroom appears just as strong, so far, as The West Wing was for the life and times of a great President.

And there's this.  If Marshall McLuhan was right that "the medium is the message" - and I think he was - then news media, and the time we spend with them, and the way they report the actions of Presidents, may have more influence on our opinions than most of the Presidential actions themselves.  McLuhan wrote in the 1960s, and we have three 24/7 all news cable stations today in addition to the three networks - as well, of course, as the Internet.

Speaking of which, there's another notion of McLuhan's that helps explain The Newsroom's appeal.  McLuhan observed that as technologies and media get outmoded, they can come to be appreciated as art forms.  As soon as I heard this, I thought of delicatessen - meat at first spiced for preservation, now enjoyed for taste.  Convertible cars are another example - first driven to keep physically cool, now (after the advent of air conditioning) to be socially cool.  Or silent movies - one of which recently won an Oscar for its unspoken art.  The more we get our information and breaking news from Twitter and Facebook, the more cable news is becoming a suitable subject of art, too.

Life and media are evolving so quickly nowadays, that specific events can become worthy of artistic treatment after just a year or two.  The Newsroom tells real news stories - at this point though 2010 and the beginning of 2011.   This Sunday brought us to The Newsroom on a Saturday in January 2011.  We didn't learn until near the end - unless, maybe, we were consulting a calendar - that the galvanizing news event for this day's story was the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  Anchor Will McAvoy and his brilliant, dedicated people courageously resist reporting her death, until and unless explicitly confirmed by a physician.  It was a heart rending, enobling moment, because we at home  knew the good truth.  It was also reminiscent of the misreporting by Fox News and CNN, several weeks ago, of the US Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act.  Of the three cables, only MSNBC got that right (all three were wrong in their initial reporting of Giffords).

MSNBC is my favorite cable news station in reality.  But I like McAvoy a little better.  He and his cohorts are a little more articulate than anyone on real television. Hey, that's what art and the improved reflection it gives us of reality is all about.

See also Why CNN and Fox News Wrongly Reported the Supreme Court on Health Care









Political Animals: Alternate Hillary History

Political Animals (6-part mini-series) debuted on the USA Network Sunday night.  The Hollywood Reporter called the 2.6 million viewers "soft ratings"- I disagree, those numbers are pretty decent. I hear tell that the producers say that series was not really inspired by Hillary and Bill Clinton - that's complete nonsense, and another demonstration of literary critic I. A. Richards' admonition that the creator of a narrative is the last person you should go to for an explanation of what it means - the creator could be anything from dissembling to not being in touch with the implications of the work.

Alternate history is a form of story telling well known in science fiction.  How would the world have been different had Lincoln or JFK not been assassinated, had Germany won the Second World War, etc?  I take a similar tack about Socrates and the hemlock in The Plot to Save Socrates.

Political Animals is the story of Elaine Barrish, former First Lady of a popular two-term President (the most popular "since Kennedy") with a southern accent and a penchant for the ladies and affairs.  She loses a close campaign for the nomination for President to a young, well-spoken, dynamic opponent.   So far, the history is not alternate but all but identical to Hillary and Bill's.  But on the night she concedes to her opponent, the divergence from our real world begins:  Elaine wants and gets a divorce from her philandering husband.

So the excellent set-up for this series is: what would have happened had Hillary left Bill after conceding the nomination to Barack Obama in 2008?  One highly significant development stays the same:  President Garcetti (played by Adrian Pasdar, who also played a President in one of the realities in Heroes) makes Elaine his Secretary of State.   And the show if off and running.

There are inevitable minor differences between the reality of Political Animals and ours.  Former President Hammond and Elaine Barrish (who uses her original name, unlike Hillary) have two sons (one gay, the other engaged to a bulimic) and no daughter.  And, at this point, it looks like Obama is a better President than Garcetti (who is Italian American not African American).

But the tableau is easily recognizable as ours, with the twist, and that's its appeal.  What differences will this twist engender? Elaine is free to sleep with other people - though the only man she sleeps with so far is her former husband, at least once, for special emotional support - and she vows to run again for President. The acting is excellent - Signorney Weaver as Elaine and Ciarán Hinds (Caesar in HBO's superb Rome) as her former husband and former ex-President, and I'm looking forward to every episode of this original, courageous, and highly entertaining series.




The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book

Monday, July 16, 2012

Breaking Bad Season 5 Premiere: Riveting Entropy

Breaking Bad, one of the best and most unique series ever to be on television, was back with Season 5 on AMC last night - as good as ever, or superb indeed.

This one begins with a glimpse of the future, and Walter with a head of hair and a life-and-death mission as per usual.  But this one had a special edge to it, likely because of the way Walter looked.

Meanwhile, back to a minute after Season 4 ended - another Breaking Bad technique - Walter's joy at engineering the indestructible Gus's complete death is short lived.  There's always an overlooked detail - another staple of the series - and this time it's a video cam that may have recorded more than Walter wants the police to see about how Gus came to die.

The solution is suggested by Jesse - a magnetic attack on the police evidence locker - and Mike (pretty much recovered) is pulled into this, since the vid on the hard disk of a laptop in the evidence room could well implicate him, too.  An unlikely but necessary alliance at this point.

And, as also always seems to happen on Breaking Bad, even the resolution of this problem with a successful magnetic attack engenders another problem - this time, something written down the good old fashioned way on the back of a picture frame or whatever which is damaged in the magnetic attack so the writing is now visible.

But if Breaking Bad is so predictable, why is it so excellent?  There's a fundamental principle in the universe - entropy - which says that whenever you try to eliminate noise or distortion or error or breakdown, the remedy will inevitably introduce a new noise of its own.  Breaking Bad is great because it embodies this unstoppable reality better than any other narrative I've seen.


See also My Prediction about Breaking Bad ... Breaking Bad Season 4 Debuts ... Breaking Bad 4.2: Gun and Question ... Breaking Bad 4.11: Tightening Vice ... Breaking Bad 4.12: King vs. King ... Breaking Bad Season 4 Finale: Deceptive Flowers



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The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book




Enjoy listening to audio books? Get a free audio book copy of The Plot to Save Socrates - or any one of 85,000 other titles - with a 14-day trial membership at Audible.com ...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Falling Skies 2.6: Ben's True Motives

An excellent Falling Skies 2.6 tonight, in which Captain Weaver nearly dies, but is saved by Anne's persistence and Lourdes' medical insight (yes), but the deeper story resides in the return of Karen.

She's found all but dead in the woods - with other humans, formerly harnessed, who are dead - and the responses are predictable:   Hal is thrilled and in touch with the love he and Karen shared, Maggie is suspicious, Tom is mostly suspicious, too.

Ben at first is also suspicious - extremely so - but seems to be taken in by Karen as the episode develops.  In the end, he and Karen escape - so they can both be "safe".

Has Ben been really been taken in?  Or, is it possible that Karen isn't really being directed by the aliens?  I'd say neither.

First, it's clear, as the resurfaced Pope indicates at the end, that Karen has been sent on a mission to recapture or at leas neutralize Ben.   (I thought this as soon as I saw the way Ben and Karen first interacted.)

But I think Ben is more in control than that.  The strategy he's pursuing is to let Karen think she has him in her sway, and use that to get her as far away from  our people as possible.  At that point, he'll kill her.  (She wouldn't allow him to kill her on the base - her guard would be up.)

Or at least, that's his intention.  The thing about these aliens, and what makes Falling Skies so good, is that the alien powers, even over Ben, are never clearly defined ...

See also Falling Skies Returns

And see also Falling Skies 1.1-2 ... Falling Skies 1.3 meets Puppet Masters ... Falling Skies 1.4: Drizzle ... Falling Skies 1.5: Ben ... Falling Skies 1.6: Fifth Column ... Falling Skies 1.7: The Fate of Traitors ... Falling Skies 1.8: Weaver's Story ... Falling Skies Concludes First Season




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The Plot to Save Socrates



"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book





Enjoy listening to audio books? Get a free audio book copy of The Plot to Save Socrates - or any one of 85,000 other titles - with a 14-day trial membership at Audible.com ...

Friday, July 6, 2012

The New Dallas: An Outright Pleasure

The new Dallas on TNT is being promoted as this summer's "guilty pleasure".  I disagree - it's just a real pleasure, period.  I don't feel at all guilty about really enjoying it.

J.R. and Bobby are as ruthless and infuriatingly decent as ever.   Larry Hagman's J.R. continues unscathed, in an arc that runs straight through the original series to the solar power commercials in 2010 (and their great J.R. cackle) to the J.R. now on the screen - older, sure, but every bit as cut throat.  He still loves Sue Ellen, who looks like she's barely aged a day.  Bobby is excruciatingly sincere, as always, which makes him an ideal opponent brother for J.R.

The next generation is also excellent.  Christopher - adopted son of Bobby and Pamela (not yet in evidence) - is not quite as decent as his father,  not quite as willing to forgive.  He sends his beautiful wife Rebecca packing, not long after they get married, because she may have been using him in her brother's scheme (the brother certainly is).   Christopher's professional interest is not oil in the ground, but alternate sources, and this creates a refreshing new scientific element in the show, as he struggles to work out technical issues.

John Ross - J.R. and Sue Ellen's son - is maybe a tad less ruthless, but he's learning, quickly.  He's discovered oil on South Fork, and needs to move Bobby out of the way so he can start digging.  His business/technological partner is another beauty, Elena, who was on track to marry Christopher, until Rebecca's brother sent her a bogus email from Christopher calling it off.  Elena also has a hot and cold romantic relationship with John Ross, and Jordana Brewster does a good job of playing the torn between two lovers part.

Cliff Barnes, Ray, Lucy are also on hand.  The key to this Dallas, even more so than in the original series, is that just about everyone is more or less or different than they seem to be.  Alliances shift with the frequency of the summer breeze, but my money is on J. R. succeeding, as he always did, whoever his opponent.




                 Special Discount Coupons for Angie's List, Avis, Budget Car, eMusic






The Plot to Save Socrates



"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book





Enjoy listening to audio books? Get a free audio book copy of The Plot to Save Socrates - or any one of 85,000 other titles - with a 14-day trial membership at Audible.com ...

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