=Borrowed Tides= and =Alpha Centauri= right here

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Nest: Scottish Noir and Bio-Ethics



The Nest concluded its 5-part mini-series Acorn run on Prime Video last night.  Top-notch Scottish noir, if there is such a thing, and there should be.

The story involves a wealthy couple who live in a gorgeous home in the Glasgow area on Loch Long, desperate to have a baby.  So desperate, they're down to their last egg, and are seeking someone, anyone, to carry their baby to term.   So desperate, they choose a young woman, barely of age, who (we learn in the course of the mini-series), when she was just a "wee lass” of eleven,  killed a pregnant woman and her baby.

The story veers from the couple deciding if they want to go ahead with this, to worrying when the surrogate mother gets drunk, to finding out just what happened when she was eleven, to ultimately dealing with the profound ethical issue of who should have the right to be the parent of this child, the producers of the embryo or the woman who brought the baby to term.

As such, The Nest is more than a noir drama, it is a narrative that portrays and grapples with one of the emerging bio-ethical issues of our age.  Martin Compston, who has been so good in Line of Duty, is equally good as the husband/father in The Nest.  Similarly Sophie Rundle from Peaky Blinders as wife/mother.  And Mirren Mack, whom I haven't seen before, was just perfect as the young woman carrying the baby.

The Scottish scenery, always a pleasure to see in person, was a sight for sore eyes in this time of COVID. But see The Nest for its winning mix of action and ethics.

 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

SpaceX Splashdown


Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 133, in which I give context to why the SpaceX splashdown today is such a momentous event in lifting our species off this planet.

Further reading: Touching the Face of the Cosmos: On the Interaction of Space and Religion


Check out this episode!

The Safdies


Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 132, in which I review two movies by The Safdie Brothers -- Good Time and Uncut Gems.

Read these reviews:


Check out this episode!

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Good Time: Great Time, Until...



So, there's a new app called Swell, which I was invited to join a few days ago, which I did.  You can discuss any topic you like, via up to five-minute audio recordings.   Today I came across a topic "Reviews," and noticed a review of Uncut Gems, which I reviewed here at the end of May.  I heard a comment there by CaliGooner aka Taylor J, recommending an earlier movie by Uncut creators Benny and Josh Safdie, Good Time.  Which is how I just came to watch this 2017 tonight movie.

Which was flat-out brilliant, worthy of Quentin Tarantino, until the end.  The dialog, the ambience, the situations, the acting - with Robert Pattinson in the lead as bank robber Connie Nikas and Benny Safdie himself as Connie's mentally challenged brother - was a combo of burst-out laughing and roller coaster action.   Connie's resourcefulness, able to think at lightning speed on his feet, and get out of and even improve upon nearly impossible situations, was true pleasure to behold.

Until the end.  When ...

[Big spoiler ahead ... ]

He gets caught.  Just like that.  And it's no consolation to see that his brother makes out pretty ok in the end.   I'm not a fan of unhappy endings, especially when they happen to characters who deserve much better.  The only remedy I can think of is a sequel, in which we get to see Connie in action and maybe this time succeeding.

In the meantime, I hope you haven't read this spoiler, and you can get to see the highly enjoyable 9/10s of the movie which is a testament to how sheer intelligence triumphs.  On the other hand, if you haven't read the spoiler, you wouldn't get to read that thought.


 



Monday, July 27, 2020

Motherless Brooklyn: Go Down Moses and Black Lives Matter



The wife and I just saw Motherless Brooklyn on HBO.  It's billed as an Edward Norton movie - he also starred in it - based on the Jonathan Lethem novel.  I didn't read the novel (I was busy writing the sequel to The Silk Code when Lethem's novel was first published in 1999).  But it's just as well.  As readers of my reviews in this blog may know, I like reviewing movies and TV series on their own terms, not on how they compare with the novels or short stories on which they may have been based.  I will say that my wife mentioned that she saw that the Norton movie departed from the Lethem novel in many major ways.

The story in the movie is about Robert Moses, the controversial, legendary builder, responsible for any number of highways in and around New York City (including the Long Island Expressway), bridges, and even Jones Beach. Moses was controversial because it was claimed he ran roughshod over and failed to provide for the poor communities near or over which he erected his great structures.  This accords with the focus and expansion of Black Lives Matter now, at long last happening, though Lethem's novel and even Norton's movie were created long before this happened.

In the movie, Robert Moses is renamed Moses Randolph, and unsurprisingly very well played by Alec Baldwin.  His antagonist is Lionel (nicknamed Brooklyn and long without a mother, hence the title).  Lionel is a detective whose boss is killed, likely because he crossed Randolph in some big way.  Also, Lionel has Tourettes, which makes for an especially memorable character, and gives Norton the opportunity to deliver an Oscar-worthy performance, which he does.  Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Laura Rose, a pivotal character to Lionel and the movie, and she puts in a winning performance, too.

I also liked the less leading characters.  My favorite was The Wire's Michael Kenneth Williams, who plays a Mile Davis-type character (identified only as "The Trumpet Man") who uses his trumpet in more ways than one. Also, The Trumpet Man and Brooklyn have a conversation about the shared basis of extreme musical talent and Tourettes that is itself worth price of admission.

I should mention that The Wire is in my view sometimes the best series ever on television, and always in contention for that position, and one of the reasons is that its cast was so stellar.   But back to Motherless Brooklyn, it's a satisfying and altogether excellent movie, and I highly recommend it.

 

Into the Dark: The Body: The Hitman and the Supernatural



I said in my review last week of Into the Dark's current episode, "The Current Occupant," that I'd be going back and coming back to review all the earlier episodes, so here's my review of "The Body," the very first episode in this Hulu series.

The story is about a hitman, on Halloween, so it has a supernatural element, which doesn't become fully apparent until the end.   The ending thus becomes something of a twist, and it's a pretty good one.  Our hitman is apparently invincible, but it turns out this invincibility applies only to human antagonists.

[spoilers follow]

He, our hitman, named Wilkes, is also impervious to women and romance.  Beautiful, resourceful Maggie would love to be in bed Wilkes, but he says no to that, even as he begins to increasingly rely on her in his increasingly complicated and difficult attempt to deliver a dead body he was contracted to kill.  Indeed, he's so determined that there be no "we" - he and Maggie - that he kills her as soon as he realizes he's become too dependent upon her, and may be finding her erotic appeal too hard to resist.

Here, a question arises about Maggie.  Why does she continue to work with and do her best to help Wilkes, after she realizes he's a killer?   The non-supernatural answer is she's just so stimulated, mentally and physically, by Wilkes and what he does.  But the twist at the end offers a much better answer: she's some kind of supernatural being who feeds on the energy of death.

That's completely appropriate for Halloween, and I sort of half-expected a twist along those lines, because ... when Wilkes kills her, he doesn't chop off her head or blow her to bits.   The Levinson principle when it comes to whether a character is really dead on television is that the head has to be separated from the body, or the body completely destroyed.   Maggie suffered neither.

But the 90-minutes was still well worth viewing, lifted by the excellent acting of Rebecca Rittenhouse as Maggie, and Tom Bateman (whom I also just started watching in Beecham House) as Wilkes.  And I'll be back soon with a review of another episode from Into the Dark.


 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Sanditon: Wonderful but Cries Out for a Sequel




A belated but much appreciative review of Sanditon, folks - the Jane Austen unfinished novel, completed by Andrew Davies. Well, not completely appreciative, because I didn't find the narrative satisfyingly complete, meaning, I didn't like the ending.

But before that, Sanditon on the screen offers a Jane Austen story updated with more sexuality and a social relevance that goes beyond romance and class.   As one of the actors mentioned in the commentary after the episodes, the setting by the Regency-era sea in the south of England almost feels like a Western.  Except there's no gunslinging.  Just a lot of building a town out of mud, or turning a town built in the mud into a colorful resort.

There's plenty of romance, unrequited and otherwise.  What's the opposite of unrequited, requited?  Yeah, I guess so, as in returned. But there's nothing quiet about Sanditon and its inhabitants, who bubble with passion, dreams of a better tomorrow, and firmly believe that a good regata or ball can always make things better.  The costumes are fabulous, as is the acting of everyone.  Rose Williams is especially wonderful as Charlotte and Theo James as Sidney.

[spoilers follow]

Which brings me to the ending.  I don't care for unhappy endings.  Davies expanded on Austen in lots of good ways, but I always loved the ending to Pride and Prejudice.  Sidney's sacrifice may have seemed to be necessary to save his brother's dream, but there had to be another way.  My wife actually suggested a good one: Georgiana's money.  And for that matter, why was Lady Denham unwilling to help after the fire?  Surely, she saw that it wasn't Tom's fault.  Was she punishing him for not getting insurance?

All of this can be answered in a sequel.  I know, there's no sequel planned.  But, hey, if you've gone to the trouble of brilliantly fleshing out and extending a Jane Austen story, if you have the inspiration and talent to bring it into the 21st century while leaving it two centuries earlier, why not go the extra mile of giving it a brilliant Jane Austen ending?  That's what sequels are for.

 

Code 8: Superhero Action with an Ethical Conundrum





Just caught Code 8 on Netflix.  It's at once a story of people with superpowers, robot cops, human cops, and criminals.  The people with superpowers are feared by normal humans, with the result that most of the superpowered have become criminals.   None of this is particularly original, but Code 8 is lifted by a real humanity that infuses the narrative.

The humanity in the people with superpowers - different superpowers - is propelled by Mary Reed, whose superpower is freezing, and her adult son Connor, whose superpower is electrical.  Again, we've seen all of that before, in Heroes on television, and in countless movies.  But what starts to separate Code 8 from the pack is Mary is also suffering from a brain tumor, which is killing her by scrambling her control of her freezing power to the extent that she's freezing herself to death.  Connor of course is determined to save her, first by making enough money through crime to pay for Mary's operation, and then by getting Nia, whose superpower is healing, to cure his mother.  The problem, though, is that Mia heals by taking unto herself the ill that she's curing.  And that's where Code 8 shows its mettle, in the form of real heart.

Most of the movie are sequences of good shoot-em ups, displays of superpowers, and members of the superpower gang double-crossing each other as members of gangs with no superpowers are prone to do.  All of that is fun to see, but nothing close to memorable,  In contrast, the ending, where we find out just how far Connor is willing to go to save his mother, is an excellent treatment of the classic philosophic conundrum of if you see two people drowning, and can only save one, which one do you save?   Is the answer, save the one you love, by sacrificing someone you may care about, and is certainly innocent?

See Code 8 and decide what you think.   And if you enjoy this action movie charged by a fundamental ethical question, thank Jeff Chan, who wrote and directed the 2019 feature-length film, based on the 2016 short version of the movie, which Chan also directed and wrote (Chris Pare shared in the writing in both versions), which I didn't see.




Saturday, July 25, 2020

Friday, July 24, 2020

The New Unsolved Mysteries: A Proper Review



Having complained about the lack of a host in the new Unsolved Mysteries now on Netflix, I figured the least I could is review the first six of twelve(?) episodes now streaming.  In a phrase, they by and large were excellent.

Being a science fiction fan and author, my favorite unsurprisingly was "Berkshires UFO" about, well, a UFO in Great Barrington, MA and its surrounds in the Berkshires.  You already know how much I liked the Dutres episode in the original series (especially the way Robert Stack pronounced it), and the first thing I realized is that the Berkshires are not that far from Truro and Dutres.  Hey, what is it about Massachusetts, maybe it was the same UFO?   In any case, the Berkshires episode was so convincing, especially the disparate unrelated people who either saw and/or were picked up by the UFO, I could almost believe the extra-terrestrial visit really happened.  As I've said many times, I'll completely believe it when a flying saucer hovers over Time Square, where everyone can clearly see it, or wherever CNN is currently headquartered.

My next favorite episode in the returned series was "House of Terror," which takes place entirely in France, with people appropriately speaking French, a great language.   Unlike some of the other unsolved mysteries, we know pretty quickly who the killer is, so the mystery resides in how and will the killer get away.  In "Missing Witness," we not only know who the killer is, but she's pretty much living in plain sight at the end of the episode, leaving it a mystery as to why she hasn't been arrested.

The other three episodes were also quite good, which is why I said this first part of the first season is by and large excellent.  I still miss Robert Stack, but at least we get his picture at the end of the intro, and I'll be back here with a review of the remaining episodes as soon as they're up and streaming.

See also Unsolved Mysteries Is Back: With No Host?



 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Survival of the Media Fit


Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 130, in which I talk about one of the bedrocks of my "anthropotropic" theory of media evolution -- why some media, such as sight-only silent movies, are obliterated by the advent of newer media like "talkies" (sight and sound), in contrast to other media, such as sound-only radio, amply survive and even thrive in the advent of newer media like television (sight and sound).
Further reading:

Check out this episode!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Unsolved Mysteries is Back: With No Host?



My wife and I caught the first episode of the revived Unsolved Mysteries on Netflix. It was good enough, and we're going to watch the other episodes, but ... the show had no host!

Now, I know that Robert Stack, the original host, died in 2003.  (His niece was a student of mine when I taught at Fairleigh Dickinson University in late 1970s, but I of course knew of Stack and admired his work from well before that, when he played Eliot Ness in The Untouchables.)  My wife reminded me that Dennis Farina was host when Unsolved Mysteries returned, the first time, in 2008, for a five-year run.  Farina was no Stack, but he was ok, and the show worked well with him.

So what's going on with the Netflix reboot?  According to Bianca Rodriguez's July 1 article in Marie Claire, Unsolved Mystery producer Shawn Levy deliberately chose not to have a host, or at very least, is defending that absence, commenting that "In Robert's absence, we are letting the spirit and the strength of the stories carry the narrative. Above all, our aspiration was to make a new chapter worthy of his memory and of iconic contribution to this iconic series." I don't believe that for a second!  A more plausible explanation is that (a) the show couldn't find a suitable host, (b) the show didn't want to shell out the money for a new host, or (c) both of the above.

Which is unfortunate, even if Levy's explanation is bona-fide.   Because, as good as the mysteries are, they deserve a host, if not with the perfectly sonorous of voice of Stack, at least with a voice.  The host's commentary set up every scene, and tied the loose ends together - or explained when those ends couldn't be tied.

Well, at least the Unsolved Mysteries theme song is still there. I'd sing it to you if you were here.  It makes me want to drive back up to Dutre's, like we once did.   Don't know what that is?  That's part of the mystery.

See also The New Unsolved Mysteries: A Proper Review




 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Into the Dark: The Current Occupant: Proof of Sanity Hard to Come By



I saw "The Current Occupant" late last night, the current 90-minute offering on Hulu's Into the Dark monthly anthology series.  In a word: outstanding!  A narrative that I'd say is up there with the best of The Twilight Zone, Black Mirror, Amazing Stories, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and the other science fiction and mystery anthology series in whose steps Into the Dark follows so vividly in this episode.

The series is billed as "horror".   Other than "The Current Occupant," I've seen only one other episode, "The Body," the debut episode that aired for Halloween in 2018.  (Each episode is keyed to a holiday - "The Current Occupant" to July 4).  I thought "The Body" was excellent, too, and I may review it, and some or all of the other episodes, if I get a chance to watch them.  No, I'll definitely watch them, and post reviews here.   But I saw "The Body" right before "The Current Occupant" last night, because I wanted to get a sense of the series.  And my sense is, although it's indeed horror, it's a little closer to Alfred Hitchcock Presents than The Twilight Zone, meaning its horror is closer to mystery than science fiction, but it has a Black Mirror-ish science fictional flavor nonetheless.

Now the story of "The Current Occupant" couldn't be more current.  It revolves around the question, repeatedly put to the lead character, a patient in a mental institution who believes he is President of the United States, and is being kept in the institution for political reasons:  if you find yourself in a mental institution, and believe you are President of the United States, being held in the institution against your will, is it more likely that (a) you are indeed the President or (b) you're not and you're a person suffering from the encompassing delusion that you are the President.   Most of us, observing from the outside, of course would choose "b" - the lead character is suffering from a delusion - but this after all is a horror story, not quite our reality on our side of the screen, and the story is so tightly drawn (kudos to writer Alston Ramsay, and director Julius Ramsay) with sequences that support both answers, and so well acted (by Barry Watson as "President" or President, and by everyone else in the cast), that it's very tough to say how this story will end.  Which is the hallmark of a great story, and one of the reasons I said this episode is outstanding.

I won't tell you how it ends, because I don't want to spoil the tension and the fun, except to say that there's a final shot on the screen that's so exquisitely ambiguous it will make you feel like you and we are all current occupants in a mental institution.  Which, come to think of it, maybe we are.   

And somehow, Marshall McLuhan's quip that the only people who have proof of their sanity are those who have been discharged from mental institutions seems relevant here, too.

See also Into the Dark: The Body

 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Dirty John Season 2: Betty: Truth Stranger than Fiction but Not Quite as Compelling



My wife and I just finished binging Dirty John Season 2: Betty on the USA Network.  It was a powerful season, brilliantly acted by Amanda Peet in the title role, but not as good as the first season.

The first season told the story of John Meehan (hence Dirty John), who actually was a character far more familiar to television drama than Betty Broderick.  John is a sweet-talking con-man killer, who ensnares Debra, superbly played by Connie Britton, who has delivered masterful performances in at least two other television series, Friday Night Lights and Nashville.  Britton on the screen, as well as Eric Bana as John, as well as the mounting, almost excruciating tension of whether Debra will realize what John is, and escape with her life, was an irresistible combination.

The acting was equally strong in the second season.  I already mentioned Peet as Betty, and Christian Slater was equally effective as her husband Dan.  But the story of Betty, a woman so devoted to Dan that, when he leaves her to be with and eventually marry Linda, Betty eventually kills them, is bizarre more than frightening, a study of a woman scorned becoming a woman insane, to the point of acting against her own self-interests, since by killing Dan and Linda, she loses any chance to be with her four kids whom she very much loves. 

I know that this a true story, with the typical docudrama  proviso that a few characters and scenes have been changed.  And they say the truth can be stranger than fiction, which is true enough.  But that doesn't mean such stranger truth can make for as gripping a story as an outright fiction, or, in this case of the second season of Dirty John, as gripping a story as the stranger truth of the first season.

But the second season was enjoyable and nonetheless worth viewing, if only for the sterling performances of the leads, especially Amanda Peet.

See also: Dirty John 1.1: Hunter and Hunted ... Dirty John 1.2: Motives and Plans ... Dirty John 1.4: The Forgiveness Gene ... Dirty John 1.5: John's Family ... Dirty John 1.6: Getting Wise ... Dirty John Season One Finale: Truth Stranger than Fiction

 

Friday, July 17, 2020

Media Determinism


Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 129, in which I give you a little primer about "media determinism," the bedrock of just about all media studies.

Further listening:  Politics and Media in History and Voice Mail from Marshall McLuhan, 1978

Further reading: The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution and McLuhan in an Age of Social Media


Check out this episode!

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Hightown 1.8: Up and Down and Up



Hightown's season one wrapped up tonight (episode 1.8).  A short but powerful season, all set to fire on all kind of cylinders in season two.

[Spoilers follow]

The gist of the plot is that Jackie's up, Ray's down, but the real kicker is Frankie's up, too.   The man responsible in one way or another for all the killings is not only unscathed but of prison.   Not only that, he's back with Renee.  Not that she loves him.  But she's accepted that she has to be with him.

Why?  Because she didn't like being listed as an "expense" by Ray?  She still loves Ray, or close to that, deep inside.  Her reaction when Ray tells her he loves her says it all.  But with Frankie back in bed with her, literally, there's not much she can do about it.  Not now.

It was good to she Jackie, finally, on top of things, and riding into a new life.   It will fall to her to do what she can to stop Frankie next season, at least at the beginning of the season.  There won't be much that Ray can do in his position as bouncer or muscle at some bar.   All because he had sex with Renee.  We and he and she know it was not just lust, but because he loved her.   But the police and DA above him don't know about that, and wouldn't care about it even if they did.

I thought Osito went down a little too easily tonight.  I still like him as the best bad character in this series.  But I guess Osito down was necessary for Jackie's fortunes to rise, and I'm certainly glad about that.  (Those two girls on that bus to the Cape at the end, taking over that part of the business, will make good villains next season.) And I'll say one more time that Monica Raymund was really outstanding as Jackie.   She came into her own an actress, vastly better than the emotionally handcuffed part she was given as Dawson in Chicago Fire.

So ... the wife and  I still didn't get up to the Cape this year.  Maybe in the Fall.   Definitely next summer.  But at least we had Hightown.


Saturday, July 11, 2020

Reckoning: Reckon It's Great



My wife and I just binged Reckoning, an outstanding psychological thriller about a serial killer and the detective bent on nabbing him that's been on Netflix since May.   The ten episodes are each little masterpieces in themselves, and there's more than enough room for a second season, which I'd put at the top of any list to watch.

Aden Young from Rectify plays Detective Mike Serrato.   In fact, Sertato is so much like Daniel Holden from Rectify that I could easily believe it's same character, a little older and a little less tormented.   Whether that's a limitation of the actor or not, I don't care.  Young does such a memorably effective job in both roles.

Serrato, as I said, is a little less tormented.  But not much.  He's vexed to the point of his own sanity about not catching this serial killer, played, also to perfection, by Sam Trammell from True Blood.  And indeed Trammell's Leo Doyle is the most difficult kind of serial killer to catch.  He doesn't want to be a serial killer.  He's constantly fighting his basest instinct.  He wants to let his victim go - he wants to save them, from himself - and sometimes he does.

The wives of these two men are complex characters, too - not just throwaway players, as wives of cops and killers often are in these kinds of stories.  Simone Kessell does a great job as Paige, a psychologist who can't rid her husband of his demons, as intelligent and empathetic and tough as she is.  And Laura Gordon is excellent as Leo's wife, but I can't tell you more about her story without giving a little too much away.

How good is Reckoning?  Even the kids are standouts, especially Pax (Leo's son) and Sam (Mike's younger daughter), well played by Ed Oxenbould and Milly Alcock.  And I'll also throw in a plaudit for Gloria Garayua as Cyd Ramos who is Mike's partner, and, like everyone else, gives more than you usually get from detective partners in these tales.  There in fact is not an off note in the acting, plot, or dialogue.   Back to what I said at the beginning - bring on a second season.




Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Five: May Be The Best



So my wife and I binged Harlan Coben's The Five the past few nights on Netflix.  It's a 10-episode series by way of Sky One in the U.K. from 2016, and somehow we missed it.  Better late than never - a lot better - because The Five may be the best of the four Coben narratives we've now seen on the screen.

I'm not such an expert in the mystery genre that I can tell you how many of the tropes The Five rolls out were seen in that series for the first time.  I can tell you they were done really well.  This ranges from teenagers in the forest with a younger kid who gets lost and was he killed or kidnapped - this has been done now so many times you can pin up a list of TV and cinematic mysteries, throw a dart at it, and you're likely to hit one - to the old cop, well into senility, whose memory may hold the key to the whole mystery (acted so well in the latest season of True Detective by Mahershala Ali).

And The Five has all sorts of other cool Coben hallmarks, including mysteries neatly solved at the end (a suspect vanishes after going into a building with no other egress, moments before the cops arrive) to self-contained brilliant little vignettes (an investigator breaks into a house, finds a kettle boiling, turns it off - but the owner soon returns to turn it off himself, and finds it not whistling, but the investigator still gets away with it).  

But the heart and soul of the story is what the vanishing of the little boy does to the four teenagers, who are adults for most of the series.  Further, one is the little boy's older brother, another is now a police detective, and there's another guy and a girl/woman in the group, and lots of love as well as tension in the air.  Add to this a murderous pedophile - another Coben speciality - who takes credit for the disappearance of the little boy, and you have a series which is so riveting that you'll wish there was a second season, even though there couldn't be.


Sunday, July 5, 2020

Hanna 2: High Intellect and Octane Espionage



Hanna 2 starts a little slow, with a few too many episodes devoted to Hanna getting back to The Meadows and re-uniting with/saving Clara.  But once it gets over that, this second season delivers a story with far more punch and complexity than the first season, especially the complexity part.

The essence of the narrative is the power of the brainwashing that takes place in this facility.  It's so strong that it works completely on all the young women, with the exception of Hanna and Clara (well played, again, by Esme Creed-Miles and Yasmin Monet Prince) .  The question, until the last few episodes, which are pure twists and turns on adrenalin, is how far gone the two of them are.  

Mireille Enos is back as Marissa, and her loyalty to Hanna is clear throughout.  Dermot Mulroney is new in the story as Carmichael, and he makes a suitably single-minded and recalcitrant villain.   So, too, is the soft-spoken Anthony Welsh as Carmichael's prime and gently lethal assistant Leo.  But my favorite new character (well, almost new, she was in two episodes in the first season) is Áine Rose Daly as Sandy.  There are few combinations bound to be as effective as a pretty face and an evil mind in these espionage kind of tales.  The pretty face is easy, either you have it or you don't.  The evil mind is not, and Sandy provides an excellent rendition of that pivotal role, with subtlety and focus.

The sector of the spy drama genre devoted to creating a cadre of super young agents is well worn, but Hanna 2 does a good job of keeping it new and surprising.  Part of its secret is in the details, as in the "face and trigger" method of conducting a smooth assassination.   Part of it is the way it masterfully uses digital text to convey affection that the cadre knows in their hearts is a lie, but they find so difficult to resist.  But the part of the narrative that will be most responsible for keeping you glued to the screen until you've watched every episode is the implacable intelligence of the villains, keeping you and the heroes on the edge until the very end.




Saturday, July 4, 2020

Justice in America: The View from the Jury


Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 128, in which I tell you what happened more than seven years ago, when I served as foreperson on a jury in Westchester County, NY, where an African-American male was charged with the felony of assaulting a police officer.  I published a blog post about this right after the trial was over back then, but didn't get a chance to provide the account in a podcast.  I thought, given the murder of George Floyd and the continuing protests about police mistreatment of African-Americans, the time was long since overdue.


Check out this episode!

The Problem of Police Authority


Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 127, in which I talk about the problem of police authority, which has afflicted African-Americans for decades to the point of innocent people being shot to death and choked to death, and everyone else who challenges police authority in the slightest being assaulted and brutalized in usually less grievous ways.  I relate this to being victimized myself, a 12-year old white boy, in the Bronx in 1959.

Read more about this:  The Problem of Police Authority (Paul Levinson, June 2020)

Videos:  Paul Levinson talks about Black Lives Matter and Videos (2 July 2020) ... Paul Levinson talks about Black Lives Matter and Video Cams at Annenberg (4 December 2015)


Check out this episode!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Politics and Media in History


Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 126, in which I share an online lecture I gave a few days ago about Politics and Media in History.  I touch on such topics as literacy and democracy in Ancient Athens, how the printing press revolutionized the world, the four "radio heads" of the 1930s-1940s (FDR, Churchill, Hitler, and Stalin), television Presidents of the United States from JFK through Obama, and the role of Twitter in our current age.

Further reading:

The Soft Edge: A Natural Future and History of the Information Revolution (Paul Levinson, Routledge: 1997)

Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Revolution (Paul Levinson,  Routledge, 1999)

McLuhan In An Age of Social Media (Paul Levinson, Connected Editions, 2015-2020)

More Summer 2020 lectures (on YouTube)


Check out this episode!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Balthazar: Quincy and The Fugitive with Much More



My wife and I just finishing bingeing two seasons, sixteen episodes, of Balthazar, the French series on Prime Video Acorn, made in 2018 and 2019, streaming here since April.  Despite it being about a Parisian coroner (Balthazar) who cuts open dead bodies and hasn't gotten over the terrible murder of his fiance (or maybe wife) 15 years ago, the series is actually a great pick-me-up in these, our very troubled, times.

It has lots of humor, gallows and other varieties, to be sure, but that's not why it's so refreshing.  Somehow, this combination of Quincy (the Los Angeles medical examiner, same thing as coroner, or whatever exactly they call it France) and The Fugitive manages to be heartbreaking, harrowing, and even cuddly all at the same time.

Part of the reason is the sheer brilliance of the wounded Balthazar, which he manages to flaunt almost all of the time.  This annoys Captain  Hélène Bach, who nonetheless relies on him and falls more than halfway in love with him, and not only or really because her marriage is on the rocks because of her cheating husband.   That chemistry between Balthazar and Bach keeps the series bubbling and on edge, along with the constant search for his fiance/wife's killer.

Indeed, those are the constants in what is otherwise a more or less standalone episodic series, which goes against the grain of the now more usually continuing story kind of series, which I almost always prefer.  In fact, the stories in these episodes are usually nothing special, and the chemistry and the search and the sheer pleasure of watching Balthazar's mind at work keep you riveted to the screen.  And when the episode itself very much matters, as when Bach's or Balthazar's very lives are at stake, well, those hours are masterpieces that you don't come by too often on television of any kind.

The leading roles are perfectly played by Tomer Sisley as Balthazar and Hélène de Fougerolles as Bach.  And the supporting cast, including Pauline Cheviller as Lise (Balthazar's slain fiance or wife), Côme Levin as Eddy and Philypa Phoenix as Fatim (Balthazar's at once funny and heroic assistants), and even Yannig Samot as poor Delgado (Bach's police partner, who is told by Bach, when he says she's in love in Balthazar, in danger of dying, "you never loved anyone, other than your mother and your dog") are top-drawer, too.  There's a third season well underway.  There had to be, given the ending of the second.   See it, after of course the first.  You'll be in for a real treat.


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