Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Under the Dome 1.6: Sentient Biosphere

Biosphere 2 operated as a closed nearly self-sufficient bio-system in Arizona from 1991 to 1993.  (I knew one of its advisers, Carl Hodges).  It was designed as an experiment, to see if humans could survive a long trip through deep space, not in suspended animation but fully alive, awake, and kicking. In Arizona, fluctuations in CO2 and insect pests forced the project to end, and switch to an open research center, which is how it still operates today.

In Under the Dome 1.6, we find that the dome has biospheric properties.   But not only is it a closed system, it is closed system that protects its inhabitants.   Last week, the dome shielded the people of Chester Mills from a deadly bomb attack unleashed by our own military.  Tonight, the dome brought rain - the condensed, naturally purified vapor and clouds arising from the town's methane-polluted lake - which helps the town survive again.  The dome protects its own.

It's facets like this that make Under the Dome not only exciting but intelligent, well-conceived science fiction.

Meanwhile, the characters and their relationships continue to develop.  Angie, who seems to have a penchant for running from the frying pan into the fire, may have finally found an unlikely protector in Big Jim, her kidnapper's father.   Julia and Barbie finally kiss.   And Joe and MacKenzie are beginning to comprehend the extent of their electromagnetically kinetic powers.

Lots of questions still to be answered.   Lots of slightly essential characters left to fall victim.  Lots of good summer television viewing ahead in Under the Dome.





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Monday, July 29, 2013

The Killing 3.10: Capital Punishment

One of the most powerful episodes in the entire three years of The Killing on AMC last night, a gut-wrenching roller-coaster of an hour in which Linden gets the AG to look into new evidence with an eye towards giving Seward a reprieve, then has reason to think that Seward did indeed kill his wife, then believes him that he didn't - as do I and I assume the viewing audience - only to see Seward hung in the end anyway.

Peter Sarsgaard's performance in The Killing 3.10 as Ray Seward was a tour-de-force and worthy of an Emmy in itself.   AMC wisely followed the episode with a showing of The Green Mile - wise because The Killing last night provided as eloquent a brief against capital punishment as you could find in television drama, the movies, and the real news.

We in the United States are one of the only countries in the world with capital punishment.  That and the ubiquity of guns makes a lot of the rest of the world think we're savage and crazy.  Hard to disagree with that.   DNA as evidence has freed many a person wrongly put on death row, but as last night's episode of The Killing brings home with a fearsome power, innocent people are still put to death.  If some Senators and Representatives in our government have their way, the same would happen to Edward Snowden for his patriotic whistle-blowing on NSA spying on Americans.

Meanwhile, the question still remains in The Killing of who killed Seward's wife.  We may never find out.   It looks like my theory that Becker did it is not gaining much traction, but I'll be watching the 2-hour season final with rapt attention next week.

In the meantime, here's a clip of Peter Sarsgaard from just a few days ago talking about the significance of fact-based movies in our culture, followed by a few words from me.





See also The Killing 3.1-2: Poe Poetic Po-po ... The Killing 3.3: Hitchcockian Scene and More ... The Killing 3.7: "Opiate of the Masses" ... Killing 3.8: The Kidnapping, and a Prediction ... The Killing 3.9: Suspect Elimination and Incompatible Components

See also The Killing Season Two Premiere ... The Killing 2.2: Holder ... The Killing 2.11: Circling Back ... The Killing Season 2 Finale

And see also The Killing on AMC and The Killing 1.3: Early Suspects ... The Killing 1.5: Memorable Moments ... The Killing 1.6: The Teacher ... The Killing 1.8: The Teacher, Again ...The Killing 1.9: The Teacher as Victim, Again ... The Killing 1.10: Running Out of Suspects ... The Killing 1.11: Rosie's Missing - from the Story ... The Killing 1.12: Is Orpheus the Killer? ... The Killing 1.13: Stretching Television

 

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download The Killing season 3 on

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dexter 8.5: Just Like Family

Almost midway in its final season, Dexter almost seems to resolve itself.   Episode 8.5 ends with one big happy family.

Well, not that big.  But Dexter and Deb have come to terms - an impressive accomplishment considering Deb almost killed Dex and herself last week, before she decided to save him - as has Dexter with Dr. Vogel.   They are now the two most important adults in his life, and he wants them to be on the boat when he dumps A. J.'s bundled body in the water.

Getting there was a thrill a minute, as is every hour of Dexter this year.   You couldn't ask more from a final season than the ticking and tocking of Dexter coming to terms with his world in every scene.

But lest we be lulled, we should know that the greatest shocks in Dexter come after the apparent lulls and resolutions.   If Dex and Deb and Vogel are together now, it can only be because they'll face some danger far worse than the psycho A. J.

Vogel showed a physical toughness tonight, when she almost got the better of A.J. by slapping him as his mother might have done.   I'm still thinking that we've yet to see the violent depths of Vogel, though she's done a pretty good job of adhering to her role as the brilliant but sane shrink with a consuming interests in serial killers.

But the deck is now cleared for what might really be the final storyline of Dexter, with what we've seen so far this season just the incredibly good job of setting all of this in order for what's to come - the appetizer for the main pulsing course.  Bring it on.

See also Dexter Season 8 Premiere: Mercury in Retrograde, Dexter Incandescent ... Dexter 8.2: The Gift ... Dexter 8.3: The Question and the Confession ... Dexter 8.4: The "Lab Rat" and Harry's Daughter


And see also Dexter Season 6 Sneak Preview Review ... Dexter 6.4: Two Numbers and Two Killers Equals? ... Dexter 6.5 and 6.6: Decisive Sam ... Dexter 6.7: The State of Nebraska ... Dexter 6.8: Is Gellar Really Real? .... Dexter 6.9: And Gellar Is ... ... Dexter's Take on Videogames in 6.10 ...Dexter and Debra:  Dexter 6.11 ... Dexter Season 6 Finale: Through the Eyes of a Different Love


And see also
 Dexter Season 4: Sneak Preview Review ... The Family Man on Dexter 4.5 ...Dexter on the Couch in 4.6 ... Dexter 4.7: 'He Can't Kill Bambi' ... Dexter 4.8: Great Mistakes ...4.9: Trinity's Surprising Daughter ... 4.10: More than Trinity ... 4.11: The "Soulless, Anti-Family Schmuck" ... 4.12: Revenges and Recapitulations

And see also reviews of Season 3Season's Happy Endings? ... Double Surprise ... Psychotic Law vs. Sociopath Science ... The Bright, Elusive Butterfly of Dexter ... The True Nature of Miguel ...Si Se Puede on Dexter ... and Dexter 3: Sneak Preview Review



 

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Defiance: Alien DJ, Great Music, Star Wars Bar on Earth

I caught the first season of Defiance over the past few nights.  The new SyFy post-apocalyptic drama joins The Walking Dead, Falling Skies, and more in this now flourishing television genre.   But Defiance has a few special facets going for it:
  • The music is just fantastic, starting with the Johnny Cash - June Carter "We Got Married in a Fever" (aka "Jackson") in the first episode to Raya Yarbrough's outstanding cover of Cindi Lauper's "Time after Time" near the end - and even a fine cover by Yarbrough of The Five Stairsteps' "Ooh Child" somewhere in the middle.   Bear McCreary, of Battlestar Galactica fame, has done his customarily brilliant job with the music throughout.
  • Speaking of BSG, there's a lot of its flavor and feel in Defiance, which I take as a good thing.
  • There's even a kid in a radio station in Defiance - making a pair with the DJ in Under the Dome - but in Defiance the kid is an alien.   Anything that harkens to Alan Freed, Murray the K, and Wolfman Jack is a plus in my book.
But speaking of aliens, there's a tad too many of them - seven different alien species, that is, which came to Earth as part of the Votan collective.   I'd be happy with just the three major brands, Irathient, Castithan, and Imogen.   The additional species, including Earth mutants which add to the seven, give Defiance the ambience of a Star Wars bar scene, and an everything-but-the-kitchen sink effect, which has the unintentional consequence of giving Defiance a slight touch of parody.

The sex, though, is pretty good - between Castithan Datak Tarr and his wife, and Irathient Irisa and Tommy, her human lover.   Thanks to our childish, unconstitutional FCC, we see no real skin - and the Castithan custom of bathing privately in bathing suits is inconsistent with their otherwise hedonistic culture.   But expecting our television networks to stand up to the FCC is a hopeless case, even if the FCC has never tried to exercise power over cable television.

The plot works well, with a good mix of unexpected heroes and villains, and characters you can care about.  I'm looking forward to season 2.





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Friday, July 26, 2013

The Interviews: Science Fiction

Hey, I've had a bunch of interviews this year, most about my science fiction, publishing on Kindle, the drawbacks of traditional publishing, and all kinds of much more irreverent stuff.   Here's a list of them -



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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Father and Son and Paul McCartney

Today's a great day for the Vozick-Levinsons.   Son Simon's pathbreaking interview with Sir Paul McCartney has just been published in Rolling Stone.  It contains such gems as McCartney reminiscing about "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" -
I have great memories of writing it with John. I read, occasionally, people say, "Oh, John wrote that one." I say, "Wait a minute, what was that afternoon I spent with him, then, looking at this poster?" 
If you've ever loved the Beatles, this interview is bound to bring a smile to your soul.

But I take a special pleasure and pride in this interview.  Turns out that my very first published article was "A Vote for McCartney," which appeared in the Village Voice in 1971.  The story of how I got it published is a story in itself.  I had read a scathing and lame review of McCartney's latest album - a post-Beatles album - by the dyspeptic Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau, and fired off a letter to the editor with my counter-arguments.   To Christgau's claim that McCartney's Ram was "a classic form/content mismatch," I systematically explained why that was manifestly not the case, and concluded that the mismatch is "apparently in the wires and components of Robert Christgau's stereo."

That was about the gentlest criticism I offered of Christgau, and I had doubts that the Voice would even publish my letter.   I poured over the "Letters" section of every new issue, and had pretty much come to the conclusion of, oh well, at least I had gotten this out of my system ... until, one day, a Thursday, my phone started ringing.  At least three of my friends had seen my "article" in the Village Voice.  A check for $65 arrived in the mail the very next day - accounts payable departments rolled a lot better in those days - with a note from Diane Fischer, a Voice associate editor, saying she hoped it was "ok" that rather than publishing my letter as a letter, the Voice had published it as an article in its "My Turn" section!

That first published article not only set me on a career of writing, but teaching.  When I applied for my first teaching job at St. John's University in 1975 for a "Creative Journalism" course, I  brought with me "A Vote for McCartney" and two other articles I had subsequently published in the Village Voice. I was hired on the spot.

Reading the article from where we are now in 2013, I think I went too far in my criticisms of Lennon and Harrison.   But I was right-on about Christgau's tin ears, and about the transcendingly enduring beauty and power of Paul McCartney's lyrics and music.   And what a joy it is to see my son bring that point home today in the online pages of Rolling Stone.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Under the Dome 1.5: vs. Bomb

Well, we learn another crucial thing about the dome in episode 1.5:  it's even stronger than we, or least Barbie, thought.

Barbie realizes that the visitors on the other side are saying goodbye not hello to their relatives and friends on the inside, because the good old US military is planning on bombing the dome with the strongest non-nuclear bomb they can find, and Barbie is sure the bomb will not only destroy the dome but everyone locked inside it.   Why is the military doing this?  Not completely clear, but presumably because it's safer to destroy any threat we don't understand, rather than keep it around and risk it destroying us.

But the dome survives the bomb, and with it the relationships of the various couples who for one reason or another didn't take shelter below - in fact, these relationships improve as a result of their tempting and beating death, at least for now.  First and foremost are Junior and Angie, who actually moves closer to Junior as the end apparently approaches for Chester's Mill.  Norrie and Joe draw closer too, and even kiss.   And Julia takes Barbie's hand.  On this last relationship, it's beginning to look as if Julia's husband was a bad guy, killed by Barbie as some sort of military action.  The husband certainly was no bargain for Julia, sending her some kind of Dear Joan letter as one of his final acts.

About the only relationship which doesn't improve as a result of this threat of extinction is Big Jim and the Rev's.  Convinced that the Almighty not the mighty dome saved the town, Rev. Coggins makes the mistake baiting Jim one more time.  Jim responds by killing him.  Good.  The character got on my nerves and killing him was the only logical move for Jim, given what the late Reverend knew about Jim's misdeeds.

So the dome was able to withstand an attack that reduced everything immediately outside it to rubble.  An impressive accomplishment, which raises anew the questions of who put it around Chester's Mill and for what purpose?





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Falling Skies 3.8: Back Cracked Home

An usually sensitive gem of an episode 3.8 of Falling Skies last night, as we get to see Tom back home in Boston with his wife and three boys.

It's not a flashback, but a kind of dream brought on by Karen's bad-alien probing, which means that Tom is able to invest his voyage home with characters from his alien-invasion present.   His boys are thus their current ages, even though they seem to be just a little younger.   Pope's a philosophy professor whose academic babble about a "simulacrum" is of course right on target.   And in an alternate take on that same theme, Weaver's a derelict who's holding up scrawled signs with the truth.

But the heart of the story of Tom's voyage home is the tender love between him and his wife, and their concern that he may be having some sort of affair with a mysterious woman named Anne Glass whom Tom professes not to know.  Anne in this dream is determined to get Tom to take a weekend jaunt with her to one of four cities in the U.S., and in a nice bend in the plot this turns out to what Karen wants to know from Tom: upon which city are the humans and good aliens planning their massive counter-attack against the bad aliens?  

It was risky for Tom to go off on his own last week - setting up his capture and probing by Karen -- but gratifying to see even this distorted bit of Tom's life before the alien invasion, so we should be grateful to Karen, whose attempt to get the crucial info out of Tom unsurprisingly fails.   But meanwhile, back in Charleston, the bad beings from space are having a little more luck.  Lourdes is still at large, and, to make matters worse, Weaver - the real Weaver not the derelict - is suspecting Peralta as the mole, and is enlisting Pope's aid to keep her in the dark about certain crucial matters.   Not a good position from which to launch our crucial attack, but a fine way to keep the pot boiling as we build up to the final episodes of the season.


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Monday, July 22, 2013

The Killing 3.9: Suspect Elimination and Inexplicable Components

The Killing 3.9 continues in its inimitable way of eliminating suspects - suspects, that is, other than Ray Seward, a day away from execution for the murder of his wife - without giving us anything close to a clear line of vision and reason as to who the real killer of Seward's wife is.

Kallie's mother's lowlife boyfriend is not the killer of Seward's wife.  He killed Bullet, confessed to the murder of the 17 young women, and their rings were in his possession.   Seward's son picked out his photo, but Kallie's mother negated that with the bad news that the murderous creep was in Alaska at the time Seward's wife was killed.  Linden realizes that the boy was just trying to save his father - he'd seen Kallie's boyfriend's face in the news.

So with the pastor and now the pornographer taken out of the running, we're left with what I was talking about last week:  Becker the unbalanced prison guard as the killer of Seward's wife.

But at least two questions need to be cleared up before we can definitely say it's Becker.

First, how did he come to know Seward's wife, or be at her home on the night she was murdered?   We've seen Becker come to know Seward, of course, as Seward spends his time on time on death row. But Seward's there for the murder of his wife, which means Becker had to know Seward before that, and be motivated enough to kill Seward's wife.   Anything less would be too much of a coincidence.   Maybe my recollection is fuzzy, but I don't recall any history between Becker and Seward before Seward got to death row.

Second, how did Seward's boy come to draw the pictures of the place where the 17 bodies were found? If Callie's boyfriend, who presumably killed the 17, was in Alaska when Seward's mother was killed, and therefore had no connection to her killing, why would the boy know anything about the 17?

With The Killing, the plot is so intricate and intense that it's always possible to miss a piece of evidence or logic.   On the other hand, inexplicable components would well mean that a theory is wrong.   I'm  looking forward to more.

See also The Killing 3.1-2: Poe Poetic Po-po ... The Killing 3.3: Hitchcockian Scene and More ... The Killing 3.7: "Opiate of the Masses" ... Killing 3.8: The Kidnapping, and a Prediction

See also The Killing Season Two Premiere ... The Killing 2.2: Holder ... The Killing 2.11: Circling Back ... The Killing Season 2 Finale

And see also The Killing on AMC and The Killing 1.3: Early Suspects ... The Killing 1.5: Memorable Moments ... The Killing 1.6: The Teacher ... The Killing 1.8: The Teacher, Again ...The Killing 1.9: The Teacher as Victim, Again ... The Killing 1.10: Running Out of Suspects ... The Killing 1.11: Rosie's Missing - from the Story ... The Killing 1.12: Is Orpheus the Killer? ... The Killing 1.13: Stretching Television

 

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download The Killing season 3 on

The Newsroom 2.2: The Power of Video

The power of video was in evidence in The Newsroom 2.2 tonight - including what can happen in its absence.

At an Occupy Wall Street protest, the NYPD - who in reality and on this show demonstrate a blissful and vexing disregard of the First Amendment - Neil is arrested for doing his job, i.e., reporting on the event.   Fortunately, he live streamed his unconstitutional arrest, so even though the marauding NY cops took and likely broke his phone, the video of his outrageous arrest survived.   Will is able to use it to get Neil released.   Journalists arrested by constitutionally illiterate cops weren't quite so lucky in our reality.  But Tim Pool's video did get the case against OWS reporter Alexander Arbuckle thrown out of court last year. (I was pleased to have Tim Pool guest lecture in my class at Fordham University a few months earlier.)

Video, of course, can also incriminate, and it lands Maggie in increasing hot water - that is, a video of her, recorded by a bystander and put on YouTube, when she was in effect proclaiming her love for Jim. Determined to get the video off of YouTube, Maggie (with Sloan insisting on accompanying her) track down the video poster via Foursquare.   The poster is not prone to remove the video - it's getting lots of hits and is connected to her blog, after all - but Sloan tries to buy the poster's compliance by offering to tweet a pointer to the poster's blog to Sloan's nearly half a million followers on Twitter.  The poster agrees, takes the tweet - only to write a blog post about the whole event, anyway, which of course garners even more to attention to the video, which she hasn't removed, and her blog.  A savvy and amusing lesson about the labyrinthine power of social - or what I can "new new" - media, and the wheelers-and-dealers who try to use these media for their often conflicting purposes.

But the final lesson about video in this episode, about the impact of no video, is not amusing at all. Troy Davis is executed for killing  a police officer in Georgia.   He proclaimed his innocence until the end.   If only a video existed of what really happened to the cop.   Just as justice would have been better served if a video existed of what George Zimmerman did to Trayvon Martin.   We don't yet live in such a world, but we're slowly getting there.

See also The Newsroom Season 2 Debuts on Occupy Wall Street and More ... and (about Trayvon Martin) If Only There Was a Video Recording

And see also The Newsroom and McLuhan ... The Newsroom and The Hour ...The Newsroom Season 1 Finale: The Lost Voice Mail



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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Dexter 8.4: "The Lab Rat" and Harry's Daughter

That was my favorite phrase in the once again superb Dexter 8.4 just on tonight - "lab rat" - which Dex realizes or at least thinks Vogel is treating him like, and which gets Dexter to vow he'll have nothing more to do with her after he takes of A.J.  But is Dexter nothing more than a lab rat for Vogel?  Not really, he's more like, well, a son to her, though I don't know the woman shrink well enough to be sure how she differentiates between sons and patients and lab rats in her practice and life.

Meanwhile, Deb under Vogel's far less than perfect treatment has come to a realization herself: she's just like her father.   Meaning, her love for Dexter got her to bend the rules to save him, just as Harry's love for Dexter got Harry to do the same.  Of course, Deb bent the rules far more than Harry ever did, when she killed Laguerta to save her brother.

But Deb doesn't see that - or maybe she does.   When she showed up to talk to Dexter, my wife thought that was prelude to taking her own life, just as Harry did his, out of despair of what they had done for Dexter.  My thought was Deb was there to make things right by killing Dexter.

Turns out we were both right, and the episode concludes was Deb trying to kill her and her brother by getting their car to dive into the water.   It was great ending - including that neither dies, even though that was predictable from the metaphysics of television drama.  Had this been the last episode in the series, then their joint survival would have been stunning, since either or both could have died at that point.   But in just episode 4 of the finale season, it's just too early for either to die.

Still, this may clear the air, at least for Deb, who again realizes she can't let her brother die, and goes back into the water to save him after a guy fishing on the shore saves her.  For Dex, this episode may well turn him against his sister - which we see a little in the coming attractions - but that won't last either.

I sure wish it was Sunday again tomorrow.   But speaking of dates, did you catch that the calendar in A.J.'s place said "July 2012"?   I thought Dexter was taking place pretty much in our present ... but who knows ....

See also Dexter Season 8 Premiere: Mercury in Retrograde, Dexter Incandescent ... Dexter 8.2: The Gift ... Dexter 8.3: The Question and the Confession


And see also Dexter Season 6 Sneak Preview Review ... Dexter 6.4: Two Numbers and Two Killers Equals? ... Dexter 6.5 and 6.6: Decisive Sam ... Dexter 6.7: The State of Nebraska ... Dexter 6.8: Is Gellar Really Real? .... Dexter 6.9: And Gellar Is ... ... Dexter's Take on Videogames in 6.10 ...Dexter and Debra:  Dexter 6.11 ... Dexter Season 6 Finale: Through the Eyes of a Different Love


And see also
 Dexter Season 4: Sneak Preview Review ... The Family Man on Dexter 4.5 ...Dexter on the Couch in 4.6 ... Dexter 4.7: 'He Can't Kill Bambi' ... Dexter 4.8: Great Mistakes ...4.9: Trinity's Surprising Daughter ... 4.10: More than Trinity ... 4.11: The "Soulless, Anti-Family Schmuck" ... 4.12: Revenges and Recapitulations

And see also reviews of Season 3Season's Happy Endings? ... Double Surprise ... Psychotic Law vs. Sociopath Science ... The Bright, Elusive Butterfly of Dexter ... The True Nature of Miguel ...Si Se Puede on Dexter ... and Dexter 3: Sneak Preview Review



 

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