Saturday, December 31, 2016

Homeland 6.1:With a Madam President-Elect

And I thought I'd round out the 2016 year of television reviews here on Infinite Regress with a review of Homeland 6.1, courtesy of Showtime on Demand.

Given what's going on in Turkey right now with the terrorist attack in an Istanbul night club - in our reality, not on the fictional television screen, to be clear - it's never been more disconcerting to watch a drama series about spies and terrorism. But under the ethical imperative not to let terrorism change our lives, if we can help it, I watched Homeland 6.1 anyway.

But this episode would have been disconcerting, in any case, since it features the first woman President-elect - i.e., what would have happened if Hillary had won the election. (This season, and certainly this episode, of Homeland was produced prior to our election.)  Interestingly, in a bold plot move, the President-elect, who was hawkish in her campaign rhetoric, wants to deescalate American military presence abroad, and she's not too happy about the CIA here at home, either.

This has the making of good narrative tension this season, with Dar moving to actively (covertly, for now) opposing the President-elect, and Saul, unsurprisingly, being a little more moderate.  Carrie at this point knows nothing of this.  She has her hands full with two things:

  • Quinn, not doing as well as he would like in rehab, acting out, and ending up in Carrie's New York City apartment.  This will no doubt serve in good stead, and likely save her and her daughter's life, when terrorists do come a calling in New York.
  • Carrie is also helping defend a guy arrested for terrorist activities.  We've seen him make pro-terrorist videos - not calling for attack on the US, but glorifying terrorists attacks in the past. The question arises: should what he was doing be protected under our First Amendment?  It's an interesting gambit for Carrie.
So we have some provocative cards on the table for Season 6.  I'm looking forward to more - and to stories at least somewhat at a distance from what's actually happening in our world.





And see also  Homeland on Showtime ... Homeland 1.8: Surprises ... Homeland Concludes First Season: Exceptional

#SFWApro 


  more espionage in New York City

The Perversity of Things: review #1 of X: Gernsback as Philosopher of Technology

I just started reading The Perversity of Things: Hugo Gernsback on Media, Tinkering, and Scientifiction, edited by Grant Wythoff (University of Minnesota Press, 2016).  I've read the first 8 pages of Wythoff's 59-page masterful Introduction to the 359-page volume, and there's so much to say about this, because there's so much on every page, that I thought I'd post a series of reviews here, rather than try to cram everything that needs to be said about this volume into one long unwieldy review.  After all, I just posted three reviews of The Man in the High Castle second season on Amazon, even though I binge-watched it over two evenings.

I'm looking forward to spending ten times longer if not more on The Perversity of Things, which seeks to put Gernsback, most known as the father of pulp magazine science fiction due to his publication of Amazing Stories, the first magazine devoted only to science fiction, beginning in 1926. I've always had a special interest in Amazing Stories, given that it was the first "pro" magazine to publish one of my science fiction stories - "Albert's Cradle" in 1993 (thanks again, Kim Mohan, who was editor) - but The Perversity of Things is much more than a meticulously researched compendium about Gernsback's philosophy of science fiction, though it is that, too.

But as the first eight pages of Wythoff's Introduction explain and detail - each page is a small feast for the intellect - this book is about Gernsback as a philosopher of technology, and his unrecognized position as such. Wythoff tells us that the title of this book comes from what Gernsback thought and said about "things" - "the perversity of things" -which can confound, confuse, and irritate us when we (the public) have no experience with them.  We, and alas, much of media criticism and what passes as scholarship, are therefore prone to see what's wrong not right with new technology and media, and blame them for every evil in our society (look at the beating Twitter has taken for Trump's election - as if Twitter somehow forced people to vote for him). Wythoff contends that Gernsback's life project was to do just the opposite - enable the public to learn what was right about new technology, and use it for the betterment of our species.

Wythoff supports his arguments not only with powerful logic, but comprehensive research expressed in copious footnotes and illustrations from the time (at this point, the beginning of the 20th century and its publications).  On the footnotes, it's been years since I've read such well-written mini-essays, and it's a pleasure and enlightening to see them again.  (The last time I did anything like this in my own work was in my Mind at Large: Knowing in the Technological Age, 1988, which explored technology as an embodiment of human ideas and imagination.)

It's fair and sad to say that Gernsback ultimately lost his battle.  The Man in the High Castle, superb and astonishing as it is, represents the kind of science fiction that won, in 1962 when the novel was first published, and now.  As Wythoff points out, it's amazing that we had much optimism about science and technology after the ravages of the First World War, but we did.  And that somehow lasted even past the Second World War, but not the 1960s, when, as I mentioned in my review of Star Trek Beyond just last night, the Star Trek series on television represented the last major science fictional paean to how we could improve our species and the cosmos beyond our planet with our science and technology.

There have been some exceptions to this tide - such as some of the stories in Hartwell and Cramer's Hard SF Renaissance (2004) - but the fact that Wythoff put this book together and got it published by a major academic press, the fact that the Star Trek franchise is still flourishing, speak more ringingly to the survival of Gernsback's vision despite the pummeling it has received.  The Perversity of Things will be a handbook for the resurgence of that vision - it's the best new scholarly book I've read in decades - and I'll be back here with another installment of my reviews soon in the New Year.

See also The Perversity of Things: review #2 of X: Learning by Doing ... #3 of X: The Evolution of Media ... #4 of X: Gernsback and the First Amendment ... #5 of X: Amateurs vs. Corporations ... #6 of X: Thought Experiments and Toys ... #7 of X: The Invention of Invention, and the Advent of Science Fiction ... #8 of X: Definitions and Fake News




Friday, December 30, 2016

Star Trek Beyond: The Rescue of Optimism

Continuing with my reviews of important 2016 movies, which I certainly should have seen and reviewed much earlier - in this case, July - but, hey, time itself has always been somewhat malleable in science fiction, especially Star Trek,

Star Trek Beyond is the lucky 13th movie in the Star Trek movie series - lucky to be released around the 50th anniversary of the first appearance of Star Trek on television in 1966, now known as Star Trek: The Original Series or ST: TOS for short.  ST Beyond is third in the reboots, in which  J. J. Abrams re-presented the original Kirk, Spock, McCoy et al crew, beginning a little earlier in time than TOS, somewhat before and during their time as trainees in Starfleet Academy.

In a brilliant move, the 2009 Star Trek reboot also brought into play the original Spock from TOS, older, played by Leonard Nimoy, via an alternate universe gambit.   I mention this, not only to praise it again, but because in some ways my favorite single part of Beyond was Zachary Quinto's Spock looking at a photo of his alternate, older self (Nimoy) near the beginning of the movie, and the whole original crew, again, near the end.   It was a satisfying way to again to make a connection to what started fifty years ago.

And it had a special pull on the heart because Leonard Nimoy is no longer with us, having died at 83 years of age in 2015.  The fact that Quinto's Spock not only knew but loved his alternate self, whom we also had come to know and love, has given Nimoy even more of a continuing place and life in our ongoing popular culture.

There was, indeed, a lot of the past in Beyond, with an earlier starship, the USS Franklin, playing a major role in the story.  It's a Warp 4 ship, which puts it a notch below the Warp 5 speeds of the Enterprise in the Star Trek: Enterprise series, which depicts voyages of the first Starfleet starship.   This immersion in the past was good to see, continuing a tradition which goes back to TOS itself, and its making an episode - "Menagerie" - out of its pilot episode, in which Kirk was not even yet Captain of the ship.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say the optimistic view that underlies all of Star Trek - in contrast, to say, Star Wars - comes from Victorian times, and lasted until a little beyond the middle of the 20th century, when it was assaulted but not destroyed by the cynicism and pessimism that hold so much sway today.   I've just begun reading a great anthology of the writings of Hugo Gernsback (compiled and with a pathbreaking introduction by Grant Wythoff), and his unbridled but well considered optimism about how we could and would improve our lot via science and technology (I'll be reviewing it here soon).  I share that view - and certainly Star Trek did as well.

And the inspiration of the Star Trek reboots, continuing with Beyond, is that it still does.  The stories are exciting, the repartee between Kirk and Bones and Spock is clever and fun, but it's the joy in the prospect of humans out in there in the stars that was always the beacon of Star Trek - a beacon drawing us to it and drawing us out there.  Star Trek has rescued that optimism that animated Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback, and I look forward to its continued presentation as it pursues its bold, new voyages on the screen in our 21s century.

See also Star Trek: Reborn, Reset, Resplendent and Star Trek Into Darkness: Echoes, Resonances, and Great


The Neon Demon: Van Goughian Nigtmare

I saw The Neon Demon - an original Amazon movie - late last night.  It was listed as a thriller-horror - but that was enough to attract my interest, as well as short roles by Mad Men's Christina Hendricks and everyone's Keanu Reeves.   I don't know if I'd call it either a thriller or a horror, though it had plenty of blood.  Van Goughian nightmare might be a better label.

The single best part of The Neon Demon, written and directed  Nicolas Winding Refn, was the color.  It was a treat, a roller coaster ride, and an assault on the senses - which is to say, the surreal, Impressionistic coloring in every scene was a major and memorable player in this story.  In that sense, Neon Demon has a kinship with Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge.

But The Neon Demon has a barely discernible story, or narrative that so closely intertwined with someone's dream that the plot is difficult to follow.  The gist is that Jesse (well played by Elle Fanning) is a beautiful 16-year old, advised by Christina Hendrick's character to say she's 19, who is trying to break into the LA model scene.  She's befriended by Ruby (Jena Malone), the most interesting character in the movie, a make-up artist for models and the dead, which says something right there.   Meanwhile, Jesse's so gorgeous that she does break in - as well as being coveted by all manner of men and women - but the price is her own mentality.

Assuming that crucial parts of the story are in her head not actually on and in her body.  At times, this razor-edge ambiguity works perfectly - as when we discover that Jesse's corpse made love to in the morgue is (likely) not her assailant's fantasy but Jesse's.  But other times, I needed a little more to know whether the copious blood on the screen was really flowing or just imagined.

There's also some intelligent aesthetic philosophy in The Neon Demon, mainly about how important erotic beauty - stunning sexual attractiveness - really is in human life, and in Hollywood in particular. In that regard, The Neon Demon is also reminiscent of some David Lynch's work, including Blue Velvet, one of my all-time favorite movies.

But The Neon Demon is something different.  See it with a grain of salt, and be prepared to be disappointed and engaged, annoyed and bedazzled, all at the same time. 

Terminator Genisys: You Know What? I Liked It

With 2016 coming to a close, I thought it was long past time that I saw - and reviewed - Terminator Genisys, released in 2015, the 5th movie in the Terminator saga, in which a lot of the action takes place in early 2017.

The movie did ok at the box office, better worldwide, but not enough to be fast-tracked by Paramount for sequels, which nonetheless may be still be made.   It was panned by many critics.  I had lots of problems with it, but also thought it had some redeeming elements.   I loved the first two Terminator movies, the third almost as much, and enjoyed the fourth (though a lot of people didn't - enjoy the fourth, that is).  I also enjoyed and reviewed the television series. See the links below.  All told, given this history and the bright parts of Genisys, I'd definitely like to see more sequels.

Here's what wasn't so hot in the movie:  A lot of the dialog is ridiculous, such as Sarah Connor saying "bite me".   A lot of the acting - including Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones playing Sarah - was nothing special, either.  She was no Linda Hamilton or Lena Headey (TV series) in the role.

Here's what I liked: Arnold Schwarzenegger reprising his Terminator role, in fact as a young, middle-aged, and old version of him/itself.  He did this with just the right mix of seriousness, wooden style, and humor - including a smile he is trying to convey, to make himself seem more human, but which only makes him more frightening, right in the uncanny valley.   The plot around this Terminator is good, too.

And the same for the overall storyline.   There's respect for paradoxes of travel to the past, attempts to explain how someone could remember a history which his or her action had eliminated, and some good twists regarding heroes and villains.   And the Genisys being Skynet, drawing a connection between our social media giants and the emergence of Skynet, was a nice touch, too.

J. K. Simmons also was excellent as an older detective who had an encounter with our heroes when he was a young cop, and  Jason Clarke as John Connor was pretty good, too.

So, yeah, I'm down for another movie or two or more.  Emilia Clarke says she won't be back - sorry, but she's much better in Game of Thrones.   Our growing 24/7 immersion in social media - which I actually think is mostly a good thing - makes the Skynet story, especially now as Genisys, more relevant than ever.  Hey, maybe my enjoyment of social media is part of the very problem that made our species so vulnerable to Skynet.   But I'm not worried - as long as there's a good Arnold-Terminator model on hand to help us out.

See also Terminator Salvation: A Compelling Time Travel Story Nonetheless

and also my reviews of The Sarah Connor Chronicles 2.1 Cameron's Back ... 2.2 Firing on All Cylinders ... 2.3 Who, Truly, Is Agent Ellison? ... 2.4: Meet Allison ... 2.5: Unpacking the Future ... 2.6: Terminator Mom, Human Daughter ... 2.7: The Saving Robbery and Cromartie ... 2.8 Perspectives and Death ... 2.9: An Idiot's Guide to Time Travel in The Sarah Connor Chronicles ... 2.10: Riley Lashes Out at Facebook ... 2.11: Cameron Meets A. E. Housman and Andre Bazin ... 2.12 Sarah Connor Chronicles in Triple Time ... 2.13: Space, Time, and Blogging in The Sarah Connor Chronicles ... 2.18: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and the Life of Riley ... 2.20: Sarah Connor vs. Death in Two Forms ... 2.21: Profound Lessons from a Kidnapping in The Sarah Connor Chronicles ... The Sarah Connor Chronicles Season 2 Finale

And from Season 1: The Sarah Connor Chronicles 1 and 2 ... 3 ... 4. A Robot Primer ... 5 ... 6 ... 7 ... 8-9
 
time traveling a little further back in history ...

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Vikings 4.15: Close of an Era

A brutally powerful, soul-wrenching and sage Vikings 4.15 last night, which closed the book on an era, and will make this a different kind of series.

We knew it was coming, saw it was coming from far away, and getting closer and closer.   There was no way Ragnar could ever really recover from the debacle in Paris.   He was carried on his last voyage to England by second-class ships.   And, of course, we saw that conversation last week between Ragnar and Ecbert.

We saw more of that this week.  But the crucial conversation in this remarkable episode was between Ragnar and Ivar.  Ragnar telling his son that everyone around him will underestimate him, and that that will be his best weapon, which he should take advantage of.  Words to live by, and Ragnar showing a profundity of spirit and a fatherly love we've really seen from him before.

For Ecbert, the indelible scene was not painted with words by eyes.   Ecbert, looking at Ragnar as he was being tortured, then dying, conveying admiration and love in his eyes under that hood.  Last week's episode ended with Ecbert's eyes, when they realized, or attempted to realize, what Ragnar was proposing to do.   Ecbert knows, someplace deep down, that there's more to this than Ragnar told him.   Ecbert's eyes were our eyes, looking at Ragnar's last moments, but we know what Ragnar told Ivar about Ecbert, and there is indeed more to Ragnar's plan.

But he won't see it happen.  His sons will, as will history, as will the audience.  The book on Ragnar is closed.   It was a great and unforgettable story, of what surprise and power and cunning and finally wisdom can do.

I'm looking forward to what in effect will be its sequel, starting next week.

See also Vikings 4.1: I'll Still Take Paris ... Vikings 4.2: Sacred Texts ...Vikings 4.4: Speaking the Language ... Vikings 4.5: Knives ... Vikings 4.8: Ships Up Cliff ... Vikings 4.10: "God Bless Paris" ... Vikings 4.11: Ragnar's Sons ... Vikings 4.12: Two Expeditions ... Vikings 4.13: Family ... Vikings 4.14: Penultimate Ragnar?

And see also Vikings 3.1. Fighting and Farming ... Vikings 3.2: Leonard Nimoy ...Vikings 3.3: We'll Always Have Paris ... Vikings 3.4: They Call Me the Wanderer ... Vikings 3.5: Massacre ... Vikings 3.6: Athelstan and Floki ...Vikings 3.7: At the Gates ... Vikings 3.8: Battle for Paris ... Vikings 3.9: The Conquered ... Vikings Season 3 Finale: Normandy

And see also Vikings 2.1-2: Upping the Ante of Conquest ... Vikings 2.4: Wise King ... Vikings 2.5: Caught in the Middle ... Vikings 2.6: The Guardians ...Vikings 2.7: Volatile Mix ... Vikings 2.8: Great Post-Apocalyptic Narrative ... Vikings Season 2 Finale: Satisfying, Surprising, Superb

And see also Vikings ... Vikings 1.2: Lindisfarne ... Vikings 1.3: The Priest ... Vikings 1.4:  Twist and Testudo ... Vikings 1.5: Freud and Family ... Vikings 1.7: Religion and Battle ... Vikings 1.8: Sacrifice
... Vikings Season 1 Finale: Below the Ash

 
historical science fiction - a little further back in time

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Republicans At It Again in the House

Yesterday brought the news that Republicans in the House of Representatives are proposing a change in the House rules which would fine members of Congress thousands of dollars for unauthorized broadcasts - audio, video, even photographs - and live streaming from the House floor.

The background, in case you missed it this past summer, was that Democrats were frustrated by Republican refusal to consider new gun control legislation in the wake of the most recent mass murder.   As the Democrats sought to keep talking about this, the Republicans adjourned, and then shut off the CSPAN coverage of House events.   The Democrats responded by employing Periscope to send a video of what had now developed into a sit-in to America and the world at large.  CSPAN joined the effort by broadcasting the Periscope feed.

This is what the Republican saber-rattling about hefty fines is designed to prevent from ever happening again.   In other words, they're concerned not about weapons that kill innocent people but about letting the public know about debates to limit those weapons.  If Republicans are so confident about their position on gun control, why are they so afraid to let the world know about it, and the Democratic opposition?

Indeed, in their concern about protecting the Second Amendment to our Constitution, Republicans seems all to ready to violate the First Amendment, and its prohibition on Congress making any law that abridges freedom of speech or the press.

Apparently, the GOP is not only ignorant or uncomprehending of the First Amendment, but the lessons of history, and what they tell us about totalitarian attempts to crack down on new communications media. Whether The White Rose and their courageous use of primitive photocopying against the Third Reich, or samizdat video in the Soviet Union, the new media always win in the long run.

See also Periscope Sticks It to House GOP on Gun-Control Sit-In


more on social and democracy

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing Living Forever in Star Wars

The news of Carrie Fisher's passing today is just awful, and the puts the controversy regarding Peter Cushing's digital appearance in Rogue One in a new light.

I see no ethical problem in Cushing, who died in 1994, appearing anew as the evil Tarkin in Rogue One.   Aside from his estate giving permission, what other permission was needed?  Certainly not the general public's, whose permission would have been impossible to gauge anyway.   In that way was Cushing or his memory disrespected by his inclusion in the new movie?  To the contrary, I think his inclusion is testament to the power of his face, and the actor in this role and in general.   If anything, the only valid complaint is that the digital configuration of Cushing as Tarkin in Rogue One was not that good - it was subtly too intense and out of place in the context of everything around it in the scenes in which he appeared.  But still, all in all, I was glad to see it.

One could argue that Tarkin was not an absolutely essential character for Rogue One, which could have run just as well with other villains.  But Carrie Fisher at the end as Princess Leia was indeed essential, as the literal embodiment of the word hope which she says.

Carrie Fisher of course gave her permission for the digital appearance as her younger self in Rogue One.  And now that's she's gone, that last appearance will serve as wonderful parting word from Princess Leia and Carrie Fisher to the world.

Is that so different from Peter Cushing's estate giving permission for his character to appear again in a Star Wars movie?   Rather than seeing what's wrong with this - because there isn't anything wrong with it, really - I prefer to see what's right, and thank the creators of Rogue One for bringing us the face of Peter Cushing and the grace of Carrie Fisher one last time.

See also Rogue One: Why Did They All Die? and The Force Awakens: Shakespearean and Fun and Ten Reasons to Like the Clones

Monday, December 26, 2016

My List of the Top 10 Television Series of 2016

Continuing the tradition - just started last year - here is my Top 10 list for 2016,  from who knows how many series I've seen this past year on network television, cable, and streaming (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Acorn):

Honorable mention (narrowly not making the list, for a variety of reasons):  On the list last year: Rectify concluded its run this Fall, and although it was still excellent and unique in many ways, some of the episodes lacked the intensity of the earlier seasons.  The Affair has just begun a new season on Showtime, and so far it's too soon to know if this will be another Top 10 season.   Returning in honorable mention: Chicago Fire is still superb, but still suffers from the limitations of network television.  Nordic noir:  Case, The Department Q Trilogy, Dicte - all outstanding, subtitled Scandinavian police drama that almost made the list.  Apples and oranges: Veep is hilarious, but it's impossible to rank a comedy with dramas, so I put it here in honorable mentions. Closest runner-up: The Fall's third season (BBC, streamed on Neflix) was its best yet for this sociopathic crime drama, with an Emmy-worthy performance by Gillian Anderson.

And now the Top 10:

10. Designated Survivor (ABC TV):  The only network series on my Top 10, which says how far cable and streaming have surpassed traditional network TV in the U.S.  But Designated Survivor is a worthy exception, in effect a blend of 24 and House of Cards - or Jack Bauer in the White House. Fast-paced, dangerous, and unafraid to address current controversial political issues.

9. Vikings (History Channel):  Moving up from honorable mention last year to #9 on my list this year, Vikings is superbly rendered historical drama.   What and how the Vikings managed to conquer is fascinating just as straight history, but this series brings these stories alive with unforgettable characters and breathtaking battle scenes.

8. Colony (USA Network):  Near-future Los Angeles under totalitarian alien control - aliens from outer space not other countries - debuted in 2016.  A taut, excellent mix of action and intelligent political philosophy.

7. House of Cards (Season 4) (Netflix): Back on the list, down one notch, but that's because of the tougher competition, not because of any loss of quality.  Frank and Claire Underwood remain brilliant templates of American Presidential politics and governance, becoming less hyperbolic and more in tune with our reality with every passing year, and not because House of Cards is changing.

6. Narcos (Season 2) (Netflix): We streamed seasons 1 (2015) and 2 (2016) in 2016, and loved them both.  Irresistible, brutal (how's that for a combination) docu-drama about Colombian drug-lord Pablo Escobar.

5. 19-2 (Acorn).  This is among the best beat-cop shows ever on television.  All three seasons are streaming on Acorn, with Season 3 first airing in the summer of 2016.  Originally a French-Canadian series, my wife and I enjoyed the English version so much we'll probably see the French sooner or later too. Indelible characters.

4. Travelers (Netflix).  Ok, I love science fiction, but I especially love time travel.  I said in my review of this Canadian series, now streaming on Netflix, that it was in some ways as good as 12 Monkeys.  Now that it's settled in, I think it's even better.  The thing is, Travelers starts out very slowly, so much so that I wouldn't have kept watching if I didn't have an insatiable interest in time travel stories.  But Travelers gets better very quickly, and the last four episodes are pure, incandescent genius.

3. The Girlfriend Experience (Starz): Both a lawyer and a call-girl show, and a gem of a drama.  The "girlfriend experience" gives the customer not just sex but a girlfriend for the rented time, and the situations this engenders make for an outstanding portrayal of life in the fast lane.

2.  Westworld (HBO): There's going to be more science fiction this year than last year.  I am indeed a science fiction fan (as well as author), but these series were extraordinary, and should be very appealing to everyone who doesn't dislike science fiction.  In the case of Westworld, it was a very close second to The Man in the High Castle, offering the best depiction of the profound issues in human-like artificial intelligence I've ever seen on television or in the movies.  (Humans was #9 on my list last year - its new season will be on in 2017.  I found Westworld better than Humans, as good as it was.)

1. The Man in the High Castle (Season 2) (Amazon):  This was #1 on my list last year, and this year's episodes were even better.  Goes well beyond Philip K. Dick's masterful novel in intelligent, relevant, vivid, and riveting ways.   And speaking of relevant, never more so, given the support President-elect Trump received from white supremacists in the recent election.

See also My List of the Top Ten Television Series of 2015

Rogue One: Why Did They All Die?

Let me begin by admitting/proclaiming that I've loved all seven of the Star Wars movies prior to Rogue One - not precisely equally, I do think some were a little better than others, but not by any big margin.  Which means, when I say I really enjoyed Rogue One, that's not because it in some way diverged from other prequels or sequels which I think in some way failed.  To the contrary, I think they all succeeded in telling different pieces of the grand and gritty story in the stars, and Rogue One continues this tradition.

That said, it's refreshing to see new characters, especially a new droid, which vaguely resembles R3PO, but has a winning nastiness and combativeness.   So much so, that I grieved at K-2SO's brave death more than for most of the other fierce and savvy rebel fighters who die in battle.

And that was just about everyone, including the blind Chirrut (a nice homage to Marco Polo), who's not blind at all when it comes to the Force, and uses it to better effect than everyone other than D'arth Vader, who of course wields it with awesome power for ill.   Vader also of course survives - since Rogue One is a prequel to the first trilogy, and we know when Vader dies, which would be at the end of the third movie in that very trilogy.  But just about everyone who's good dies in Rogue One, and that includes especially Jin and Cassian, who had no good reason to die.

Meaning - well, given the odds against the rebels, it makes sense that all of our heroes died, including Jin and K, but that has not stopped our heroes from amply surviving just as deadly and massive and evilly intelligent array of forces in the past (or, the future, if you consider the first trilogy and its one sequel in time).

So why did they all die?  I assume to underline the point that Rogue One is a standalone, and we're not going to see any of the characters again, other than Vader and the villainous Tarkin, and maybe a few good rebel Senators.   Indeed, so undead is Tarkin that he's played in Rogue One by Peter Cushing, who died in 1994, and had a long career as Van Helsing in the most undead undead series of all time, Dracula.

But the story of Rogue One is not supposed to be about death, but life - or at least, hope - which young Princess Leia, in another reanimated scene, tells us the very end.   See this in IMAX 3D if you can - the cinematography is wonderful, stunning, and the story, notwithstanding my quibbles, is a great addition to the canon.

See also: The Force Awakens: Shakespearean and Fun and Ten Reasons to Like the Clones

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Travelers: 12 Monkeys meets Quantum Leap meets Air Raid, with a Story All Its Own

The premise of Travelers - people from the future coming back to save our world from devastation, by changing the past, and traveling via insertion of their minds into 2016 bodies, of people who are on the verge of dying - is something we've seen before in time travel, notably in 12 Monkeys (save the world), Quantum Leap (mind from the future into present bodies), and Air Raid/Millennium (bodies on the verge of death).  Travelers even feels a little like Trancers (1984) - which is to say, very welcome, since Trancers is one of my all-time favorite low-budget time travel series of movies - but the actual story and stories of the new Canadian series, streaming since a few days ago on Netflix, has twists and turns and an appeal all its own. And, in the end, it's altogether outstanding.

Indeed, the episodes get better and better, with the last few being brilliant pieces of time travel narrative, culminating in a puzzle as profound and vexing as ever we've seen on television, and left almost in mid-air and crying out for continuation in a second season.  This first season is a classic case of a story that goes from interesting to engaging to absolutely riveting.

Time travel, of course, can never work exactly as planned.  Imperfection is the demon of the most carefully designed time travel strategy, and it makes for an intriguing story.   The present bodies that our future travelers shunt into are supposed to be in good physical and mental health, about to die by accident or some external assault, but sometimes the future's reconnaissance on the would-be hosts is not up to snuff.  One of the most interesting characters ends up in the body of someone who was supposed to die of his first drug dose, but the hosts turns out to be an addict.   Another appears in the body of young woman who was to be killed by some thugs, but her brain is already suffering from a congenital problem that the new possessor has to deal with.   Romantic relationships from the future and past also complicate and animate the doings of our time-travelers, and become mainsprings of the stories.

There are a couple of weaknesses in the plot - the main one being that new travelers from the future appear a bit too often as solutions and dangers.   But the fundamental tale is strong and provocative, the acting excellent -  especially good to see Eric McCormack (of Will and Grace) and MacKenzie Porter (of Hell on Wheels) on the screen - and we're treated to not only superior time-travel reckoning but sophisticated AI dilemmas as well in Travelers.

The big time travel questions are handled well, including the chestnut of how will the future unexpectedly change due to the changes deliberate and accidental in the past, especially with unforeseen consequences for the primary mission from the future? The details are done with savvy, including the travelers can't go further back in history than the digital age, since our computers are needed to precisely track times of death for the hosts and arrival for the travelers. So how would I rate Travelers in comparison to other time travel television series now or recently on the screen?   Better than Timeless and Frequency, and in the end as good as 12 Monkeys, which is high praise indeed.   Great work by Stargate creator Brad Wright.

 
 travel a little further back in time


Friday, December 23, 2016

Dicte: Dark and Licht

A friend on Twitter suggested I watch Dicte on Netflix to feed my new-found craving for Nordic Noir, and I'm glad I did. The three-season series was one of the most thoroughly enjoyable of this genre, and though I say this about just about every show that takes place in Scandinavia or Iceland with English subtitles and American euphemisms and music, it's especially true of Dicte.

To be clear, Dicte's not all dark. There are some laughing-out-loud lines and scenes sprinkled into this drama, which is one third police procedural, one third newspaper reporter, and one third slice of life of Danish upper middle class living in the second largest city in the country, Aarhus up north.

Now whenever I see or hear that name, I feel like singing that Crosby, Stills, and Nash song - "Our House" - and Aarhus does seem like a very very fine house, but it also has its fair share of low-life residents, sickos, and the kind of people who commit a gruesome crime or two. Dicte indeed seems to have a penchant for running into dead bodies, and these provide fodder for her investigative reporter instincts and talents, much to the consternation, amusement, and appreciation of  law enforcement, depending on which day of the week it is, how desperate they are for some help, and depending on which detective you're talking about.

Like all good noir detective stories, the evil Dicte looks into eventually spills into her life and the lives of those she loves, providing heart break, tears, and stunning surprise lurking behind near and distant corners. Iben Hjejle was just fabulous in the lead role, as was Lars Brygmann as the main detective, and in fact everyone in the cast. See this on a cold night - or for that matter, even when it gets warmer.



more like Neanderthal noir

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Vikings 4.14: Penultimate Ragnar?

A crucial Vikings 4.14 last night, with a long overdue, wonderful and painful conversation between Ragnar and Ecbert, which took up most of the episode.

Among the high points of the conversation was Athelstan, how Ragnar and Ecbert both loved him, competed for his attention, with Ragnar saying and Ecbert acknowledging that Athelstan loved Ragnar more, which is why he went back to Scandinavia.  (I always thought that Athelstan went back with Ragnar more from a motive to learn more about this strange new culture, than  the magnetism of Ragnar, but the two factors are related.)  But Ragnar also feels deep guilt about Floki's murder of Athelstan, and Ragnar's failure to protect his friend.

The appearance of Athelstan's son in many ways epitomized this profound scene.  It indicated that Athestan would be continuing in some way in the flesh, and gave Ragnar another chance to show his love for Athelstan, in that long hug.

The death of Athelstan and his continuance in his son also serves as prelude for the ultimate message of the conversation between Ragnar and Ecbert.   Ragnar feels his time on this Earth is ending, and he wants to take his leave in a way that most protects his sons and his legacy.

The look in Ecbert's eyes when he realizes what Ragar is asking him to do, well, just said it all - and superb, deftly effective acting in this season from both Linus Roache and Travis Fimmel.  

So will Ragnar be dispatched to Valhalla in the next episode?  The coming attractions certainly suggest that, but we've been surprised before, and as much as I like change, I'd like to see Ragnar stay on forever.


See also Vikings 4.1: I'll Still Take Paris ... Vikings 4.2: Sacred Texts ...Vikings 4.4: Speaking the Language ... Vikings 4.5: Knives ... Vikings 4.8: Ships Up Cliff ... Vikings 4.10: "God Bless Paris" ... Vikings 4.11: Ragnar's Sons ... Vikings 4.12: Two Expeditions ... Vikings 4.13: Family


And see also Vikings 3.1. Fighting and Farming ... Vikings 3.2: Leonard Nimoy ...Vikings 3.3: We'll Always Have Paris ... Vikings 3.4: They Call Me the Wanderer ... Vikings 3.5: Massacre ... Vikings 3.6: Athelstan and Floki ...Vikings 3.7: At the Gates ... Vikings 3.8: Battle for Paris ... Vikings 3.9: The Conquered ... Vikings Season 3 Finale: Normandy

And see also Vikings 2.1-2: Upping the Ante of Conquest ... Vikings 2.4: Wise King ... Vikings 2.5: Caught in the Middle ... Vikings 2.6: The Guardians ...Vikings 2.7: Volatile Mix ... Vikings 2.8: Great Post-Apocalyptic Narrative ... Vikings Season 2 Finale: Satisfying, Surprising, Superb

And see also Vikings ... Vikings 1.2: Lindisfarne ... Vikings 1.3: The Priest ... Vikings 1.4:  Twist and Testudo ... Vikings 1.5: Freud and Family ... Vikings 1.7: Religion and Battle ... Vikings 1.8: Sacrifice
... Vikings Season 1 Finale: Below the Ash

 
historical science fiction - a little further back in time



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