Saturday, May 31, 2014

Da Vinci's Demons Season 2 Finale: Nobody's Business But the Turks

Well, Da Vinci's Demons had a great surprise in store for the very last moment of its second season finale:  Da Vinci at least sees his long sought-after mother - on the lead Turkish ship that Da Vinici has set his cannon to fire upon, in his attempt to save Italy from the Turkish invasion.

Da Vinci's DemonsIt's a nice irony indeed, in a season full of ironies and strange reversals, fortunately for the most part of the political not the supernatural kind.  Last week we discovered that Cosmo's grandson was a bad guy. Earlier we learned that Lucrezia's truest allegiance was not to the Pope, but the Pope's imprisoned brother, who is her father.   But Da Vinci's beloved mother on the Turkish ship takes the cake, especially since Da Vinci's traveled halfway around the world in the opposite direction in his fruitless attempt to find her - in addition to his fruitless attempt to find that strategy-withering Book of Leaves.

Lucrezia and Da Vinci still love one another, and that was good to see.   Somewhere in the future of this series they'll be together, unless one of them gets killed, and that would have to be Lucrezia, if this series remains true to what we know historically of the real Da Vinci's life.

So the stage is set for a third season, with the fuse literally a split second from igniting the cannon, which will destroy Da Vinci's mother.   I don't see how Da Vinci can stop the ignition at this point, but he may have something up his nimble scientifically calculating sleave.

And there are good characters poised to come on strong.   Vanessa's now set to be in charge, as the mother of the only Medici now in the city of Florence.   And did I hear something about Nico being Machiavelli, long before he wrote The Prince?

The second season of Da Vinci's Demons was considerably better than the first, and I'm looking forward to the third.

Amazon vs. Hachette: I Side with Amazon

The dispute between Amazon and publisher Hachette has dominated book talk on and off the Web this past month, as indicated in this biased anti-Amazon piece in the New York Times.

The gist of the dispute is that Amazon wants a better deal from big publishers, in terms of how much of a cut Amazon gets from its online retail sales of books.   The big publishers are resisting.  Amazon retaliated by making it more difficult for one of the big publishers, Hachette, to sell its books on Amazon.   Searches for Hachette books on Amazon result in advisories that best-selling books, which normally ship immediately, can be subject to a several week wait.   Among such best selling authors are J. K. Rowling and James Patterson.

Let me first say that I can well understand the frustration of would-be buyers and readers of Hachette titles.   No one likes delays, especially those that arise from a contract negotiation.  But I nonetheless side completely with Amazon on this one, and I say this an author published by major world-wide publishers as well as small presses, the latter of which has given me direct knowledge of how Amazon treats authors.

And that treatment by Amazon of me has been good - indeed, about as good as it can get.   I receive nearly instant reports of sales of my Kindle books, crystal clear earning statements, and monthly payments of my earnings that have been accurate to the penny.   I can't say the same about my experience as an author with traditional publishers, who are accustomed to paying once a year, twice if you're lucky, and whose royalty statements would give an accountant a headache, and certainly often give me one.   And the royalty statements are not always accurate.   I believe I have eventually received every cent that was due to me from my traditional publishers, but I don't appreciate the errors in the first place and the effort it took to correct them.

Maybe best-selling authors get better treatment from their publishers than a midlist author like me - I couldn't say.  But I do know that traditional publishers come from a tradition in which they think the author should be thrilled that her or his book is being published, and be happy for the fractional part of the sales received as a royalty.   In other words, the better deal that Hachette is trying to get from Amazon will likely not make much difference to most authors with traditional publishers.

Amazon has revolutionized the book world with its Kindle editions and the new relationships made with authors.   Understandably, the old guard may be less than comfortable with this.  But I'm convinced that the Amazon way is the road to the future, and I'm happy to be on it.

Further reading:  Here are three articles with analyses which, unlike the NY Times story, are not biased against Amazon.   Thanks to Mike Spinak for reminding me about them / bringing them to my attention:   Amazon v. Hachette: Don't Believe the Spin by David Gaughran,  More Thoughts on Hachette / Amazon  by Hugh Howey,  Updated: 'Amazon Derangement Syndrome' Characterizes Dispute Between Amazon and Hachette by Chris Meadows

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fargo 1.7: The Bungling and the Brave

Fargo continues to pick up steam, with its second exceptional episode - 1.7 - in as many weeks.

Last week, in the blizzard, Molly gets shot by Gus at the end of a literally blindingly harrowing scene. This week, we learn that the shot went "clean through," and caused no lasting damage.  But the time in the hospital gives Molly and Gus some good time to draw closer together, as well as leaving Molly isolated from the ground-changing developments back in Bemidji, which sets her up for another evocatively symbolic frame of her face at the end of the episode.

The most important action - and it's brilliant - concerns Lester's framing of his brother Chaz.  Last week, we saw Lester at his crafty best, leaving the hospital, carefully planting evidence in his brother's house, and returning to the hospital with no one knowing he had left.   This week, we see him reaping the rewards for this hard work.

Chaz is arrested for the murders.  No one including his wife supports him.   The painfully dumb sheriff of course buys Lester's "confession" that he witnessed his brother's murders - hook, line, and sinker.   And Lester, intent on pressing his advantage, has some great sex with the widow of the guy whose bullying started all of this.   It's just one of the perks of being an insurance agent intent on giving personal service to the policy holders.

The police in this fine series are almost all morons - the exceptions being Molly and Gus - and 1.7 makes this point yet again in a horrifying and hilarious scene in which the two FBI guys argue about a sandwich in a car while Malvo massacres everyone in the building outside their window.   Malvo then unsurprisingly makes his escape with ease.

And this leads us to the last scene.  Molly learns that Lester's brother, not Lester, has been charged with the murders, and knows that this is wrong.  In her absence, the bungling police did it yet again.   The expression on her face as this episode ends is just priceless, as is this wild and off-beat series.

See also: Fargo Debuts with Two Psychos



A story about another kind of killer ...  The Silk Code

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Turn 1.8: Nice, Instructive Turn

Turn 1.8 took a nice turn on Sunday night, with Abe and Anna finally together, without interruption.

Also revealed is the guilt Abe has been carrying for the death of his brother, important to know in any case, and the catalyst for Abe and Anna taking their clothes off, at last.   There was also a fine poetry in the way this was presented in the episode, which starts with the two dressing, separately, and concludes with the two undressing, together.

Meanwhile, this was also a good Robert Rogers episode.   He's clearly the best that the British have against the Americans, because he's more than willing to break the rules in pursuit of American revolutionary quarry.   But when he fires into a prisoner exchange, that's going too far for the Red Coats, who now want him dead almost as much as do the Americans.   Britannia is all about the rule of law, hence the Brit opposition to American independence, as well a wily trapper like Rogers who puts victory above the law.

In that sense, Rogers is a very modern combatant, and one could even make a connection between his way of conducting war and the drone strikes of today.  Rogers' team is also worthy of note - a Native American and an African American.  It's historically accurate that some of both groups tended to fight on the side of the British, which at first seems to clash with our American sense of history, and how we have always been a country that values freedom above all else.   So why, then, did anyone from two oppressed groups fight on the side of the Brits?   The answer is that neither group was free in Revolutionary America.   The "all men are created equal" in our Declaration of Independence not only applied literally to men - not women - but also excluded slaves, Native Americans, and, for that matter, any white man who was poor (not a land holder or a very wealthy merchant).  Small wonder, then, that both groups tended to be more kindly disposed to the Crown than our Continental Congress.

As Turn has already explored, Britain was well on the way to abolishing slavery by the time of the American Revolution.   Not that the Brits were above using African Americans for their own lofty ends, but there's no doubt that Britain was well ahead of American in ending slavery, and indeed did so throughout most of the Empire in 1833, or 30 years before our own Emancipation Proclamation.

Turn can be a little slow moving at times, but episode 1.8 was just fine, and the series continues as one of the most historically intelligent on television.

See also: Turn Premiere: Good Historical Drama in Revolutionary New York ... Turn 1.5: Shot in the Arm


 
a little earlier history in ... The Plot to Save Socrates

Monday, May 26, 2014

24 Season 9.5: Jack and Audrey

The 9th season of 24 is now operating at peak performance, which means it's as heart pounding, complex, and peopled with compelling and multifaceted characters as it ever was, at its best.  Among the best scenes and developments tonight in 9.5:


  • Audrey and Jack,  and Jack acting as the perfect gentleman, with Audrey in his arms and their lips nearly touching.  Hats off to Kim Raver for the best performance I've ever seen her give, not only in earlier seasons of 24, but other shows like Third WatchRevolution, etc.
  • Her father, President Heller, continues to be just a little behind the 8-ball.   You would think that, after his grievous error in not going with Jack last week (or, in 24 time, just an hour before), he would have agreed to Jack's recommendation this week.  Not so - which is both plausible (he's not at his top mental capacity) and keeps the peril brewing to the max.
  • Chloe standing up to the Julian Assange character was heartening to see, too.  Adrian (the Assange character) is hard to fathom.  He may yet come through with a decisive move for the good guys.   At this point, he has point-blank refused Chloe's plea for assistance, and wants to exit London as quickly as possible.   But Chloe being on the job for Kate and Jack may be enough to stop Margot - as it almost did in stopping the ambush to tonight, and managed to save some lives in any case.
  • Kate continues to be a vibrant, powerful character - about as good as Renee at this point, which is good indeed.  Whether she'll sleep with Jack - especially with Audrey around - remains to be seen, but it'll be a pleasure to see Jack and Kate continue to work together.
  • And Margot continues to be an arch villain, as intelligent as she is ruthless.   She understood Naveed completely, engineered his replacement, and apparently got her daughter to go along with this execution.   The only mistake she might have made is believing so totally in his replacement, who may in the end not have to talent of Naveed.
  • Jack, it's worth noting, tells Heller he can get the information out of the Margot-contact via "stealth".   This is an improvement over the torture which served as the last resort in interrogation in some previous seasons.
In its prime, 24 was my favorite show on television.   It's right back up there for me now.

See also 24 Season 9 Hours 1 and 2: The Sheer Intelligent Adrenalin Is Bac... 24 Season 9.3: Shades of Disloyalties ... 24 Season 9.4: Brass Tacks and Strong Women

And see also Season 8 reviews: Hours 1 and 2 ... Hours 3 and 4 ... Hour 5 ...Hour 6 ... Hour 7 ... Hour 8 ... Hour 9 ... Hour 10 ... Hour 11 ... Hour 12... Hour 13 ... Hour 14 ... Hours 15-16 ... Hour 17 ... Hour 18 ... Hour 19... Hour 20 ... Hour 21 ... Hour 22 ... 24 Forever!

And see also Season 7 reviewsHours 1 and 2 ... Hours 3 and 4 ... Hour 5... Hour 6 ... Hour 7 ... Hour 8 ... Hour 9 ... Hour 10 ... Hours 11-12 ...Hour 13 ... Hour 14 ... Hour 15 ... Hour 16 ... Hour 17 ... Hour 18 ... Hour 19 ... Hour 20 ... Hour 21 ... Hour 22  ... Hours 23-24  

And see also Season 6 reviews: Hours 1 and 2 ... Hours 3 and 4 ... Hour 5 ... Hour 6 ... Hour 7 ... Hours 8 and 9 ... Hour 10 ... Hour 11 ... Hour 12 ... Hour 13 ... Hour 14 ... Hour 15 ... Hour 16 ... Hour 17 ... Hour 18... Hour 19 ... Hour 20 ... Hour 21 ... Hour 22 ... Hours 23-24


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  Enjoy a little high-tech espionage?  Try The Pixel Eye

Mad Men Mid-Season 7 Finale: Telescope vs. Television

A thoroughly excellent, even inspiring, mid-season 7 finale of Mad Men tonight, in which my favorite scene was the boy showing Sally the heavens through the telescope, which he correctly says is much better than watching the Moon landing on television.   The reason, unstated but profound, is that what we through the telescope is real and unedited, in contrast to what we usually see on television, which when not outrightly fiction is heavily edited and lacerated with commercials.

This serves as a good metaphor for everything that Mad Men is about, the difference between reality and edited reality, and the role of edited reality in selling.   Peggy does a masterful job at this as she comes through brilliantly at Burger Chef.   And Don does the same when he talks Ted into staying with the company - crucial in Roger's deal to save the company and Don's job.

I'd expected Joan to support Don, especially after Bert's death, but she didn't quite, and I don't quite get why she didn't.   But it was a pleasure indeed to see Roger put it all together and run with it to success when he was given the opportunity.

Bert will be missed.  Even tonight, he thinks Don is "a pain in the ass," but is more angry that his name was put to Jim's decree without Bert's permission, so he voted to keep Don in the firm.  That kind of quirky but incisive reasoning was a quality in short supply with these characters.



And Bert's curtain call, as a figment of Don's imagination, was just the thing, and a great way to end this demi-season.   Robert Morse was a song and dance man, and he sang and danced just great tonight. This episode was fittingly the best of this season, and I can't wait to see the final seven in 2015.

See also Mad Men 7.1: Vignettes and Playboy ... Mad Men 7.2:  Flowers and the Hung-Up Phone ... Mad Men 7.3: "Lunch with Rod Serling" ... Mad Men 7.4: Computer! ... Mad Men 7.5: Retrofit Paranoia ... Mad Men 7.6: The Dance

And see also Mad Men 6.1-2: The Lighter and the Twist ... Mad Men 6.3: Good Company ... Mad Men 6.4: McLuhan, Heinz, and Don's Imagination ... Mad Men 6.5: MLK ... Mad Men 6.6: Good News Comes in a Chevy ...  Mad Men 6.7: Merger and Margarine ... Mad Men 6.8: Dr. Feelgood and Grandma Ida ... Mad Men 6.9: Don and Betty ... Mad Men 6.10: Medium Cool ... Mad Men 6.11: Hand in the Cookie Jar and Guy de Maupassant ... Mad Men 6.12: Rosemary's Baby, Dick Cheney, and Sunkist ... Mad Men Season 6 Finale: Beyond California

And see also Why "You Only Live Twice" for Mad Men Season 5 Finale ... Mad Men Season Five Finale

And see also Mad Men Season 5 Debut: It's Don's Party  ... Mad Men 5.3: Heinz Is On My Side ... Mad Men 5.4: Volunteer, Dream, Trust ... Mad Men 5.5: Ben Hargrove ... Mad Men 5.6: LSD Orange ... Mad Men 5.7: People of High Degree ... Mad Men 5.8: Mad Man and Gilmore Girl ...Mad Men 5.9: Don's Creativity  ... Mad Men 5.10: "The Negron Complex" ... Mad Men 5.11: Prostitution and Power ... Mad Men 5.12: Exit Lane

And from Season 4: Mad Men 4.1: Chicken Kiev, Lethal Interview, Ham Fight ... 4.2: "Good Time, Bad Time?" "Yes." ... 4.3: Both Coasts ... 4.4: "The following program contains brief nudity ..." 4.5: Fake Out and Neurosis ... 4.6: Emmys, Clio, Blackout, Flashback  ... 4.7: 'No Credits on Commercials' ... 4.8: A Tale of Two Women ... 4.9: "Business of Sadists and Masochists" ...4.10: Grim Tidings ... 4.11: "Look at that Punim" ... 4.12: No Smoking!  ... Mad Men Season 4 Finale: Don and -

And from Season 3Mad Men Back for 3 and 3.2: Carvel, Penn Station, and Diet Soda and 3.3: Gibbon, Blackface, and Eliot and 3.4: Caned Seats and a Multiple Choice about Sal's Patio Furniture and 3.5: Admiral TV, MLK, and a Baby Boy and 3.6: A Saving John Deere and 3.7: Brutal Edges ... August Flights in 3.8 ... Unlucky Strikes and To the Moon Don in 3.9 ... 3.10: The Faintest Ink, The Strongest Television ... Don's Day of Reckoning in Mad Men 3.11 ... Mad Men 3.12: The End of the World in Mad Men ... Mad Men Season 3 Finale: The End of the World

And from Season TwoMad Men Returns with a Xerox and a Call Girl ... 2.2: The Advertising Devil and the Deep Blue Sea ... 2.3 Double-Barreled Power ... 2.4: Betty and Don's Son ... 2.5: Best Montage Since Hitchcock ... 2.6: Jackie, Marilyn, and Liberty Valance ... 2.7: Double Dons... 2.8: Did Don Get What He Deserved? ... 2.9: Don and Roger ... 2.10: Between Ray Bradbury and Telstar ... 2.11: Welcome to the Hotel California ... 2.12 The Day the Earth Stood Still on Mad Men ... 2.13 Saving the Best for Last on Mad Men

And from Season OneMad Men Debuts on AMC: Cigarette Companies and Nixon ... Mad Men 2: Smoke and Television ... Mad Men 3: Hot 1960 Kiss ... Mad Men 4 and 5: Double Mad Men ...Mad Men 6: The Medium is the Message! ... Mad Men 7: Revenge of the Mollusk ... Mad Men 8: Weed, Twist, Hobo ... Mad Man 9: Betty Grace Kelly ... Mad men 10: Life, Death, and Politics ...Mad Men 11: Heat! ... Mad Men 12: Admirable Don ... Mad 13: Double-Endings, Lascaux, and Holes

  

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