Monday, July 26, 2021

Blood Red Sky: Red-Letter-Day Outstanding



I'm not the biggest fan of vampire movies, but I really liked Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and Netflix says Blood Red Sky is currently its most watched new movie, so I gave it shot.  And I think it's outstanding, or, more precisely, a powerful, original mix of two venerable genres -- terrorist hijacking of a plane, and vampires -- with pounding action throughout and a great can't-catch-your-breath ending.

I should add that I haven't been in a plane since November 2019 due to the pandemic lockdown, and I didn't intend to with the recent surge of the Delta variant, but after seeing this movie I don't think I'll go on a plane for a while even if the vaccine I took early in the year were 100% effective and everyone was vaccinated.  

So here's the plot in a nutshell, without any big spoilers.  A plane is hijacked.  Unbeknownst to the hijackers, the young mother on board with her pre-teen son is a vampire (that is, she is and he's not).  Most of the movie is a backstory of the plane's harrowing flight -- the movie starts when the plane lands -- and there's a backstory within the backstory in which we find out how the mother became a vampire, when her son was just a little baby.  

In addition to the backstory within the backstory, Blood Red Sky has other nice touches.  When mom's in full vampire mode, she looks like a character out of the The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which makes good pictorial sense, given that Caligari and Blood Red Sky are both German films.  And I liked that one of the heroes of the narrative, Farid, is Muslim.

But, listen, this movie is not for the weak of stomach.  These vampires are savage.  But that savagery is warranted, and makes for several top-notch emotional scenes in which Nadja the mother is torn between vampire lust for blood and motherly love for her son Elias.  That close call of a primal conflict makes for a quite powerful movie.


Thursday, July 22, 2021

Gemini Man: A Missed Time-Travel Op



I saw Ang Lee's 2019 Gemini Man on Hulu last night.   Mainly because of what it could have been, but wasn't.  It had lots of star power with Will Smith and Clive Owen, and lesser-known Mary Elizabeth Winstead was good, too.  The action scenes were excellent.   As to the plot ...

Well, the story features Smith's Henry Brogan fighting a younger version of himself, sent to do him in by Owen's Clay Veris.   Smith not only acted well, but looked his younger self via a de-aging process I last saw in The Irishman, which worked very well.  My initial thought and expectation is this could amount to a good time-travel narrative, in which young Brogan has the advantage over his older self, in that the younger version could kill the older version, but not vice versa, since if the younger version were killed that would instantly erase the older version from existence.  (Of course, that time travel scenario would have had to account for why the older Brogan didn't remember being attacked by a younger version of himself, but that could have been fun to work out, too.)

Instead, the explanation for the older and younger Brogan is cloning.  Now, that has the advantage of certainly being possible in reality, in contrast to time travel, which (a) hasn't happened yet (as far I know), and (b) is likely to never happen, owing to the paradoxes involved (like the grandfather paradox: if you travel back in time and prevent your grandparents from meeting, how did you exist to travel back in the first place) and the "solutions" which are even more incredible than time travel (travel to past generates alternates realities, one in which the time traveler exists and one which the time traveler does not).  But, in my view, the cloning explanation for more than one Brogan makes for a more mundane, less intellectually challenging, even boring narrative.

But, hey, if I feel so strongly about that, maybe I should write a story with that time-travel mechanism, and get it to a Hollywood producer, rather than complaining about Lee's movie (for which Game of Thrones' David Benioff wrote the screenplay, with two others, so it's not even mostly Lee's fault).  Anyway, see the movie, if you haven't already, and see what you think.

 



Tuesday, July 20, 2021

McCartney 3, 2, 1: Guide to Eternity


The first thing I want to tell you about McCartney 3, 2, 1 -- Rick Rubin's incandescent black-and-white three-hour six-episode interview with McCartney on Hulu -- is that in addition to being mind blowing and musically joyful, it made me very sad.

Not just because John and George should by all rights still be with us.  But because Paul says at some point that since the Beatles are finished, their work now complete, he's become a fan of the Beatles, and much better able to appreciate their music which includes his songs, his voice, his bass, his ideas for arrangements, and much more.

And I don't want the Beatles to be finished.  I want them to go on forever making that uniquely wonderful and always evolving music.  And though I know that's impossible, I don't care.  The pleasure that the Beatles brought to me and so many millions and millions of people was and is magical.  Including "Free As A Bird" and "It's Real Love," recorded after Lennon was gone, and which weren't in this documentary and I missed.  But if magic is involved, anything is possible, isn't it?

The conversation, though, was one for the ages, and my guess is it will be watched and listened to and carefully analyzed for thousands of years.  A lot of it I already knew, like how McCartney arrived at Lennon's house with an essentially complete "Here, There, and Everywhere," which may be McCartney's favorite Beatles song.  And a lot of it I didn't, like how Lennon really liked "Here, There, and Everywhere," and how pleased McCartney was when Lennon told him so.

Just hearing the tracks of the songs that Rubin played and played with, as a beckoning of McCartney's remembrances and explanations, were of deepest pleasure to the ear, the heart, and soul.  As some of you may know, ever since The Village Voice published my "A Vote for McCartney" in 1971 -- my defense of McCartney's solo albums, after he left the Beatles, in the face of the Voice's dyspeptic critic Robert Christgau's attack -- McCartney has managed to be more to me than a member of the Beatles.  That essay, after all, was my first published article.  But seeing McCartney 3, 2, 1 brings home just how much this genius contributed to the Beatles, and how he strove to do that.   I used to tell people in the 1970s that I thought the Beatles' music would live as long as Shakespeare's plays.  I'd add now that Rubin's movie will be an important accompaniment to that body of music, more magnificent than ever.

 

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Summer of Soul: Immensely Enjoyable and Crucially Educational



My wife and I just saw Summer of Soul on Hulu.   We loved it.

It's a musical documentary, directed by Questlove, about a festival in Harlem in July 1969, in what is now Marcus Garvey Park.  Around the same time as Woodstock and human beings first walked on the Moon.  The concerts were superbly recorded -- both sight and sound -- at the time.  The line-up included included Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Fifth Dimension, the Staples, Mahalia Jackson, the Chambers Brothers, David Ruffin (he had just left the Temptations), and more.  The mystery is why hasn't this been seen until now?

The obvious answer is racism, but there has to be more to it than that.  I'm wondering why didn't Berry Gordy pick it up, for example?  It's true that Woodstock sucked up a lot of the energy, but surely there were a sufficient number of people who would have been thrilled to see this back then, or any time since then, to get this fabulous tableau of a movie into theaters and/or onto old-fashioned television screens, so the world could have seen it long before now.

Anyway, here's some of what I thought was most rewarding in this documentary:

  • It was great to see Stevie Wonder, the Staples, and the Fifth Dimension sing songs I didn't know.
  • It was great to see some of these groups -- especially Sly and the Family Stone, David Ruffin, and the Fifth Dimension -- sing some of their hit records, aka songs I did know.
  • About the Fifth Dimension, it was also wonderful seeing Marilyn McCue and Bill Davis, Jr. in the present day, or close to it, watching and so deeply moved by their performances back in 1969.  Clearly, this was the first time they were seeing this, too.
  • John Lindsay was Mayor back then.  He remains, to this day, the only Republican I ever voted for (in 1969, the first time I voted, come to think of it) or liked.
  • Jesse Jackson was inspiring as always to see on stage back then.
  • The commentary, by Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Darryl Lewis, and many others, was top-notch and clarifying.
One point made in the documentary that I don't agree with is the oft-heard lament that the money spent on the Moon landing could have been better spent elsewhere here on Earth.  My take on this is that human beings are citizens of the universe, not just this planet, and getting our species out into the solar system and the galaxy and beyond will be a boon for all humanity.

But that doesn't stop in the slightest this documentary from being a masterpiece, and the rare combination of something that is immensely enjoyable (the music) and crucially educational on the subject of Black Americans being treated fairly and decently, a goal which we still in this country are clearly a long way from achieving.



Friday, July 16, 2021

Podcast: Thinking about Asimov's Foundation on Apple TV+


Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 186,  in which I consider the history, implications, and possibilities of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series debuting on Apple TV+ this September.




Check out this episode!

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Professor T: Sherlock with a Different Name in the 2020s



Checking in with a quick review of Professor T, a British version of a Belgian TV series which debuted on PBS tonight.  It's quite good.  An idiosyncratic professor of criminology at Cambridge who is mildly OCD and very reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, called in to help the police with a variety of cases.

Of course the professor is reluctant but of course the professor agrees.  He's brilliantly perceptive, able to hypnotize a reluctant victim,  and bald-facedly lie to a suspect to secure a confession.  The Professor is backed up by a suitably modern of cast of police, ranging from those are thrilled to have him work with them to those who are threatened.

The Cambridge location is anything but modern, though, and that's a big part of the series' charm.  If you subtract the current cars and other 21st century, you could indeed be watching a story taking place in the 1890s or 1920s or 40s.  That's because, in addition to Cambridge, Professor T moves and talks in an ageless way.   Good job by Ben Miller (Bridgerton) playing the professor.

The series consists of new cases in every episode -- rather than an investigation that continues across episodes -- and while I usually prefer the continuing format, the standalone episode format is part of the old fashioned charm of this series, too.  It's on a little too late for me to brew a pot of tea and sip it as I watch the show -- with mik, thank you -- but I'll think of Professor T when I have cups in the morning and during the day, will look forward to watching it on Sunday evening, and will do my best to report back to you about it later that night or straightaway on the next day.


                   another kind of police story 

Virgin River 3: Good to Be Back!



The wife and I binged Virgin River 3, just up on Netflix.  We really enjoyed it, which is to say, we got totally caught up in the romance, the heartbreak, the roller-coaster ride of soap opera life in this fictional town on a river with sunsets at least as beautiful as Cape Cod Bay, where were for all of June.

Here are some bullet points of what I most liked, and didn't (well, just one), and of course these are spoilers, so don't read on if you haven't yet seen this third season [spoilers follow]:

  • It was great to see Mel and Jack together for most of this season.   Because that's where they belong.   Alexandra Breckenridge and Martin Henderson did their customarily fine jobs in these roles, and it was a relief especially to see Henderson as Jack again after he played some weirdo bad guy in The Gloaming, which actually was weird across the board.
  • Accordingly, I wasn't happy with Jack breaking up with Mel for her own good. It was necessary in terms of the ensuing narrative, but didn't make sense given how much he'd longed for her in the first two seasons.
  • Tim Matheson as Doc Mullins was just outstanding, speaking truth to Jack and anyone who would listen at all the crucial moments.
  • Hope was absent from this season, except for a Facetime call or two, because Annette O'Toole couldn't travel due to the pandemic.   The narrative did a good job of working around her absence.  There seemed several times when Hope might return from back East, but the pandemic said otherwise, and you could almost see the narrative being rewritten at those moments.
  • The supporting characters and stories were all strong.  My favorite was Brie (Zibby Allen) and Brady (Benjamin Hollingsworth), tipping at least a little into the criminal element of this narrative.
  • Lilly's death was heart-rending, and was especially resonant with our world today, in which untimely death has been all too present.
  • The very last words of this season were a letter-perfect soap ending, ending right in the middle of a conversation between Mel and Jack (my wife tells me such endings are hallmarks of soap operas).
There's a winning joy woven deep into Virgin River, and I'm up for season 4 as soon as it's on Netflix.

See also Virgin River: The Scenery, The Food, The Acting, and the Story


Cape Cod sunset 

 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Podcast Review of The Tomorrow War


Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 185,  in which I review The Tomorrow War.    So, I saw today in The Hollywood Reporter that The Tomorrow War has been picked up for a sequel on Amazon Prime Video -- which supports my view  that, contrary to some nitpicking critics, The Tomorrow War is one excellent movie!   Listen to my review and find out why.  (No real spoilers, except at the very end of my review.)

 


Check out this episode!

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

24 seconds about Social Media



I offer 24 seconds about the impact of social media. Listen to the entire 23-minute interview here.  Also in this interview: Mary Ellen Slater, Elena Valentine, Benjamin O'Keefe, Sven Smith.

Monday, July 5, 2021

The Tomorrow War: Cli-Fi, Interstellar, Time Travel



I saw The Tomorrow War on Amazon Prime Video late last night.  Some myopic critics gave it mixed reviews.  I thought it was just excellent.  And not because of the time travel, which was ok, but because of the unfolding plot of the movie, which brings in interstellar species, climate change, and parent-child relationships in an original and rewarding way.

The time travel set-up is the most ordinary part of the movie.  Humans from the future come back to our time to recruit soldiers to help in a desperate, losing fight against a species from outer space that moves around here on Earth so quickly they're very difficult to kill.   Severing their heads from their body does the trick, but that's tough to do when dozens of these creatures are on screeching lightning attack for every one human soldier.  So ... former Green Beret and biology teacher Dan Forester is sent pretty much on a suicide mission to maybe briefly delay the extinction of humanity when he's recruited aka yanked from 2022 and whipped three decades into the future.

Until he meets his daughter, Muri, whom he last hugged when she was a precocious little girl, now in the future a fighting colonel and a brilliant scientist working on some last hopes for humanity.   Here's where the movie takes off.  The relationship between the embattled Muri and her father is heart-rending and beautiful.  Dan helps her develop a toxin that can kill the horrific creatures, but of course all they have is a small amount of it, so the only way it can save the day is for Dan to go back in time and kill the Whitespikes (that's their name) right after they first arrived.

But when did they arrive?  Much earlier than anyone thought.  And here I'll leave this recounting of the narrative, on the slight chance that you're reading this and haven't seen the movie.*[footnote spoiler]  But the location and time of the interstellar arrival and why the monsters took so long to emerge is a compelling slice of cli-fi.  

Meanwhile, the action scenes -- the battles with the Whitespikes -- are breathtaking and top notch.  Yvonne Strahovski -- who was excellent in Dexter and 24: Live Another Day -- was even better as Muri in The Tomorrow War.  J. K. Simmons is a pleasure to see in any role, and he was perfect as Dan's estranged father.  And Chris Pratt was fine as Dan, reminding me at times of Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.

My advice: forget about the nitpicking critics.  Sit back and enjoy an adrenaline pumping, thought provoking, A-1 summer science fiction movie.





 
a different kind of time travel

=================================================


*I will say, for people who saw the movie, that we could call the world in which Dan goes into the future, before he destroys the Whitespikes, World 1.  In that world, the adult Muri dies.  The destruction of the Whitespikes instantly shifts World 1 into World 2, where the narrative concludes with Dan reunited with his family and young Muri.  She probably will become a brilliant scientist, but she won't be fighting the Whitespikes and won't be killed by them, because they no longer exist.  That part of the story is the best time travel part.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Bosch Season 7: Can't Let Go


It's the theme song of Bosch (written by Jesse Nolan, performed by Caught a Ghost) because it's the story of Bosch's professional life. It's animated every season in this best cop drama ever on television, and never more so than in it's seventh and final season on Amazon Prime Video.

What Bosch can't let go of is satisfying his profound sense of justice, or bringing to justice the perpetrators of the murders he's investigating and haunted by, or haunted by and investigating.  In season seven, the victim is a 10-year old girl who dies in a deliberately set fire.

The eight-episode season is powerful and memorable for other reasons, too.  Episode six contains one of the most intense short shoot-outs I've seen on any screen.  Paul Calderon is practically shaking with tension and fear as his Jimmy Robertson tries to protect Bosch's beloved daughter Maddie from a skilled hitman who has just taken out a judge who is Bosch's current lover.  The acting, by the way, is superb on the part of every character, both in this scene and the entire series.

Titus Welliver in the title role gives the performance of his career.  Jamie Hector as Bosch's partner Jerry Edgar may be even more than impressive than he was as Marlo in The Wire, which is the biggest compliment in my book, in case you didn't know what I think of The Wire.  Speaking of The Wire, Lance Reddick is always good, and he's as good as ever in Bosch.   I've seen Amy Aquino in a few prior series, but she became an essential character in Bosch.  Madison Lintz has really grown into her crucial part as Bosch's daughter, and I'm looking forward to seeing her in the Bosch spinoff.

Bosch began on Amazon at the dawn of our age of streaming, and helped establish it.  The series went out every bit as strong as it began, something you can't say about every great series.  Similarly, it kept a consistency of character and focus, something you can't say about too many things, period, in this our uncertain age.   But I'm certain I'll be watching the Bosch spinoff, and I'll see you back here with a review of that when it's up on Amazon.

See also Bosch: First Half: Highly Recommended ... Bosch: Second Half as Fine as the First ...  Bosch Season 2: Dragnet with Uber ... Bosch 3: Best Season So Far ... Bosch 4: Delivering and Transcending the Genre ... Bosch 5: Room with a Killer View ... Bosch Season 6: The Best Police on Television ... 



                   another kind of police story 

 Bosch Season 6: The Best Police on Television ... 


 


Friday, July 2, 2021

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

"Merri Goes Round" Played on The Music Authority Today


Robbie Rist + Don Frankel = Sundial Symphony

That's right -- starting at 4 minutes 54 seconds into the first hour of today's Music Authority program, you'll hear Sundial Symphony singing "Merri Goes Round," a song I wrote with Ed Fox in 1971, recorded back then by a studio group I put together called The Trousers.

Sundial Symphony's version was recorded in 2016, and released on Big Stir Records in 2019.  I should mention that Sundial Symphony consists of Robbie Rist (yep, Cousin Oliver) and Don Frankel.  Don played keyboard on lots of the tracks on my 1972 LP Twice Upon A Rhyme, and accordion on "If I Traveled to the Past" and "Tau Ceti" on Welcome Up: Songs of Space and Time, released on Old Bear Records and Light in the Attic Records (vinyl) in 2020.

James Jim Prell, DJ for The Music Authority, says all the songs he plays are chosen by "algorithm".  But I owe him a big thank you anyway, for presiding over that algorithmic choice!






Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Rain: Lessons for Today



So, I watched all three seasons of The Rain on Netflix 2018-2020, and see that I somehow never got around to reviewing it at the time.  I'll make up for that now.

The Rain is a Danish science fiction series, in which the rain carries a deadly virus that wipes out most of humanity.  We learn that some group of people embedded the virus in the rain, which makes this a potent biowarfare story.  And since in the immediate aftermath of the series, our species off screen in our world fell prey to the deadly COVID19 viral pandemic, The Rain has special relevance today.

As to the narrative, for a variety of reasons, teenagers are the ones who for the most part survive.  I liked the first season the best, because it's mostly about stranded teenagers struggling to survive.  Simone and her young brother Rasmus take center stage, after their mother succumbs, and their father, a scientist, seems to have disappeared.  We soon learn that he was involved in research about the virus -- whether to create or counter it is not clear at this point -- and Lucas was somehow part of his father's experiment.

Although the quest for a cure continues in the second and third seasons, the narrative switches focus to Simone and Lucas's discovery of various groups of people who have survived the rain plague, in remote and sometimes militaristic communities.  We also begin to see back stories of some of the major players, giving The Rain a Lost-like quality, which works ok but distracts from the central pursuit of getting a cure for the virus.

That quest puts The Rain right in our home territory, where we're trying to vaccinate as much of the world as fast as possible.  The Rain is worth watching not only for its vivid drama, but for the lesson it provides about humans messing with nature, and failing to come up quickly enough with a remedy for their errors.






Thursday, June 24, 2021

Podcast: Supreme Court Protects Student Right to Free Speech!


Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 183, in which I discuss the importance of the Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. US Supreme Court decision yesterday, which found that a high school's attempt to punish a student for using obscene language on her Snapchat violated the student's  (Brandi Levy's) First Amendment rights.

Read the Supreme Court decision here.

Read blog post about the decision here


Check out this episode!

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Supreme Court Protects Student Right to Free Speech!

A very important and precedent-setting ruling came down this morning from the U.S. Supreme Court,  which ruled 8-1 that the Mahoney Area School District in Pennsylvania was wrong to try to punish high school student Brandi Levy for posting "Fuck school, fuck softball, fuck cheer, fuck everything" on Snapchat in 2017 after she was not given a spot on her high school's cheerleading squad.

The decisive ruling affirms that the protection the Supreme Court gave students in its 1969 Tinker decision -- in which it held that students could not be prohibited from wearing black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War -- applied to non-political statements made outside of school on a social media network like Snapchat.

The decision is significant for at least three reasons:  (1) it recognizes that obscene language is worthy of First Amendment protection, (2) it protects students from school censorship for statements made outside of the school, and (3) it does not make an exception for First Amendment protection because the communication was on the Internet.

The first point, I hope, should from now on be taken as a precedent not to allow the FCC to censure and fine television and radio media for broadcasting obscene language, which, for example, has led CBS to lacerate rap and hip-hop performances during the Grammys every year.  Today's decision can also be seen as a reversal of the Supreme Court's unfortunate FCC v. Pacifica decision in 1978, which upheld the FCC's right to censure and threaten WBAI-FM Radio for broadcasting George Carlin's seven dirty word routine.

The second point and the third point in effect reverse the Supreme Court's 2011 decision to not even consider Avery Doninger's appeal of the 2008 US Court of Appeals Second Circuit decision (made by a panel that included Judge Sonia Sotomayor, before she was appointed to the Supreme Court) that Doninger's high school was entitled to punish her after she called school officials "douchebags" on her Live Journal blog.  (See my 2009 interview with Avery and Lauren Doninger for more).  Now, just under a decade later, the Supreme Court including Sotomayor has spoken clearly and overwhelmingly on the excesses of school officials, who could use an education themselves on the First Amendment.

The one dissenter in today's momentous decision was Clarence Thomas, who (amazingly) found the Court's decision  "untethered from anything stable".   The First Amendment couldn't be a more reliable post on which to tether our freedoms.

Thomas, of course, was appointed by George H. W. Bush in 1991.  In other words, every single one of Trump's appointees did the right thing in this hallmark case, demonstrating again the independence of our judiciary, which more often than not over the years continues to be one the pillars of our freedom and our democracy.

=== Read the Supreme Court decision here ====

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Katla: Nordic Noir Science Fantasy



My wife and I binged all eight episodes of Katla, which debuted on Netflix just a few days ago.  It's Icelandic, and billed as mystery, drama, and science fiction.  I'd say it's definitely Nordic Noir -- which takes care of mystery and drama -- but more science fantasy than science fiction, in case that matters to you.

It takes place in Vik, a real "remote seafront village in south Iceland" (according to Google), which "sits in the shadow" (also from Google) of the nearby volcano Katla (also real).  What's not real, and here is where the story begins, is that after an eruption, deceased residents start coming back to life.  These include Ása (who disappeared a year ago, sister of protagonist Grima) and Mikael (who was killed three years ago, eight-year-old son of volcanist Darri).  Pretty soon, people begin appearing not when their dopplegangers are dead, but just when they have a terminal illness, or are out of town, say, in Sweden.

It's pretty clear from the outset that the volcanic eruption is in some way responsible for this.  But how?  We learn, in an episode near the end, that a meteor from another solar system landed in the volcano a millennium or so ago.  So now I'm thinking we've got a late and lamented Debris kind of effect going on here.  But that's never really spelled out, either.

In the end, Grima and Darri come to realize that the dopplegangers came forth to help the relatives in Vik repair their lives and their relationships.  Mikael, though he's psychotic, helps Darri and his wife get back together.  Grima gets not only her sister back for a while, but another version of herself, and this helps her repair her relationship with her husband.  But how?  We're given no clue about this, and that's why I say Katla is more correctly characterized as science fantasy than science fiction.

But that's ok.  It's the relationships among the affected people, not the science, that is of most interest in this compelling drama, and I'm definitely onboard for seeing another season.



Saturday, June 19, 2021

Podcast Interview with Jay Kensinger about The Chronology Protection Case


Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 182, in which I interview Jay Kensinger about "The Chronology Protection Case," the short film he made (now on Amazon Prime) from from my 1995 Nebula nominated novelette of the same name.

  • See video of the interview
  • Read the original story
  • See the movie on Prime Video
  • Jay Kensinger's account of how he made the movie
  • complete, uncut radio play of "The Chronology Protection Case," recorded before a live audience at the Mark Goodson Theater in the Museum of Television and Radio in New York City in September 2002, nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Radio Play (radioplay written by Mark Shanahan)
  • audio reading of original "The Chronology Protection Case" [starts at 27min 20secs] 

 


Check out this episode!

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

In the Heights: Everything That's Good about America


My wife and I just saw In the Heights, the Jon Chu movie on HBO Max, based on Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical play.  We loved it.  It's a righteous joy of a movie, symbolizing everything that's good about America.  That would be that when left to our own devices, we are a land of dreams that can come true.

The story takes place in Washington Heights, a place I know well.  I was there a few days a week for a good ten years or so, going to and from my first full-time teaching job at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck.  I didn't drive yet back then, so I got from the Bronx to Teaneck, New Jersey on a train to Washington Heights and a bus from the Port Authority on Route 4.   When I had time, I grabbed some delicious Cuban-Chinese food in a restaurant across the street from the Port Authority.

Anthony Ramos (who's been doing a great job on the new In Treatment) is outstanding as Usnavi, doing an especially good job giving voice to Miranda's catchy, soaring, soulful songs, with surging melodies and top-notch lyrics.  At times the songs were so good they evoked Cole Porter.

The story was people from the Caribbean struggling to make it in New York, more specifically Washington Heights.  What they have going for them is irrepressible energy and incandescent talent.  But it's tough surmounting poverty, even when you don't have Trump and his ilk beating you down.   Your homeland in the islands is always calling you back ... and I'm not going to say anything more about the plot, except that the ending is a kind of artistic magic, literally.

The movie's Hispanic fabric reminded me of West Side Story, and my wife mentioned Evita.  But In the Heights is most demonstrably neither.  It's about the people not the dictator.  And it's a triumph of life not a Shakespearean tragedy.

Three cheers to Anthony Ramos, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Corey Hawkins, Jimmy Smits and everyone who acted and sang their hearts out in this movie.  Including Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose Piragüero selling flavored ice has what will go down as a classic non-violent fight with Mr. Softee.




Sunday, June 13, 2021

Light On Light Through podcast listed in Whelp Magazine's Top 20 Best Concerts Podcasts


Pleased to announce that my Light On Light Through podcast has been listed in Welp Magazine's 20 Best Concerts article.  Read all about it here  (scroll a little down).

And here are some of the in-person, radio, and virtual concerts on the podcast over the years:

More of my music on Spotify, Apple, and Bandcamp.   Reviews of my music over here.   Interviews about my music over here.




Saturday, June 12, 2021

Podcast: Solar Eclipse, Politics, Online Learning, Origin of Covid, More


Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 181, in which "Captain" Phil Merkel interviews me about the recent solar eclipse, politics, Phil Ochs, online learning, origin of Covid, defense of Dr. Fauci, and much much more (including a shout-out to the Applebee's in Batavia, New York, near the end of the episode).

 


Check out this episode!

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Podcast Review of the Mosquito Coast: Well Bitten


Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 180,  in which I review The Mosquito Coast, Season One.

Blogpost written reviews:


Check out this episode!

The Mosquito Coast Season 1 Finale: I'm Well Bitten



So, I've saying here in these reviews of The Mosquito Coast all season that Charlie's gun would play a major, decisive role, and Margot would reach the breaking point with Allie's wild ideas and escapades. And, sure enough, both happened in the season finale, which was one breathless ride of an hour.

Charlie saves the family when he shoots Lee's henchman in the head.  And Margot does tell Allie she's going to go her own way with the kids, a narrative-exploding move which only doesn't happen because she needs to work with Allie and Dina to break Charlie out of jail.  But, of course, it could still happen next season, and I'm very glad there will be at least a second season of this quirky, really excellent series.

This finale also really showcased the unusual genius of Allie.  He's able to think at lightning speed, evaluate a situation, and come up with a daring plan.  More than that, he's able to improvise when needed.  His quick thinking not only sprung Charlie from jail, but got Allie and Charlie to safety even with lethal Lee and his men literally in the same cell.

One quibble, and it's not just about The Mosquito Coast, but all television in the past few years.  Allie tells Dina, "You’re better off with your mother and I".  "With" is a preposition, which takes the objective case ("me") not the subjective case ("I"), so Allie should have told his daughter, "You’re better off with your mother and me".  Allie, as a genius and highly educated man, would know this.  And surely he would want to speak grammatically to Dina, since he's such an advocate on home schooling and its benefits.

But, hey, that's a very minor point.  I truly loved this series, and I'm very much looking forward to more when the second season rolls along.

See also The Mosquito Coast 1.1-2: Edgy, Attractive, Enlightened, and Important ... The Mosquito Coast 1.3: Broadening Horizons ... The Mosquito Coast 1.4: Charlie and the Gun ... The Mosquito Coast 1.5: Charlie and the Gun, Part II ... The Mosquito Coast 1.6: What Kind of Brother?






Monday, May 31, 2021

Mare of Easttown: Jude the Obscure near Philadelphia



Mare of Easttown concluded on HBO last night.  One downer of a mini-series, brilliantly acted, but with resolutions so somber it could have been Jude the Obscure near Philadelphia.

The ultimate resolution left lives broken everywhere.   If they were not literally ended already.  Colin was killed a few episodes back, for reasons barely related to the main murder under investigation.  Even Erin's murder turns out to be something of an accident, rendering it a statement about the insanity of so many guns in this country (which I agree with), rather than the more narratively satisfying result of an evil intention.

And the broken lives are ubiquitous. Julianne Nicholson was just superb in that last episode as Lori, with her beloved son going off to prison.  Even Mare herself, wonderfully played by Kate Winslet, has just a hope of some happiness, as she walks up those stairs to the attic, to perhaps find some peace about her son up in heaven.  It would have much better had the storyline at least left Guy Pearce's Richard in town.

Maybe it says something about my age, but my favorite characters were Mare's mother Helen (great to see Jean Smart), who had an irrepressible sense of humor and a winning penchant for the wise crack, and Chief Carter (first time I've seen John Douglas Thompson), who had a way of injecting calm and reason with his words and his presence, sorely needed in this often, almost always, harrowing story.

I suppose heartbreak is especially pertinent in this year we've just been through off the screen.  When Mare mentions the year everyone has been through in Easttown, she's talking about the deaths and breakups and breakdowns in this fictional world.  But she could just as easily have been talking about the world her viewers have inhabited and tried to live in during the lockdown due to the pandemic and the bashing of democracy by the former President.   In that sense, Mare of Easttown may be perfect viewing for our time, and, like Jude the Obscure, a sad kind of masterpiece.


 

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