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Monday, October 15, 2018

Manifest 1.4: Precious Little Time Travel

Well, as of Manifest 1.4 tonight, the series about a plane that jumped five years into the future continues to meander around with stories that advance the time travel story not one bit.

Tonight's big deal was discovery of a stowaway passenger with mental problems.  That, and the visions our passengers see involve a grey woman with wings (for one of the viewers) and feet that make wet footprints (for the other viewer).  Not the stuff that great or even good time-travel science fiction is made of.

Indeed, the most interesting part of the episode is passenger Ben Stone's continuing struggle to get close to his wife and his daughter, each of whom aged five years while he was on that "magical" flight.  But this is a dysfunctional family dynamic not dependent on time travel - Stone could be facing the same problems if he were away from his family for any reason, having nothing to do with time travel.

All of which is to say: the only reason I'm watching this series is because I'm a devotee anything concerning time travel.  In fact, I just gave a talk about why time travel is so enjoyable as a form of fiction at the New York State Communications Association 76th Annual Conference on Saturday.  You can see the video below.

But there's precious little time travel in Manifest, and I don't know how much more time I'll give it.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Deuce 2.6: "Bad Bad Larry Brown"

Larry Brown had the most best scenes in The Deuce 2.6 tonight.  His acting not only animates Candy's Little Red Riding Hood feature, but he's a first-class ad-lib writer, and his being beaten by cops who mistake him for the real thing when he's chasing Lori in the streets of New York leads to Candy getting a much-needed twenty grand for her movie.  Not bad for an hour's work in The Deuce - creds to Gbenga Akinnagbe in the role - and it more than justifies Candy calling him "bad bad Larry Brown" in an homage to Leroy.  (Hey, I was too busy to review last week's episode, but I'm back now, from outer space.)

Meanwhile, Candy does some fine acting herself (and Maggie Gyllenhaal some fine acting as Candy) after she insists that Frankie fire his wife for her poor portrayal of Grandma and Candy plays the part herself. And I have to say that I was completely wrong when I said that Frankie seemed to be fading from the show a few weeks ago.  In this and last week's episode, he's had a much stronger part than Vincent.

About that, Vincent's second thoughts about his life with the pimps and parlors is a bit trite and even boring.  The Vincent we've come to know always surmounted his doubts and gets on top of the situation.   In contrast to Frankie, who makes a silk purse out a sow's ear, or something like that, Vincent seems to sinking into a morass of self-doubt and pity.  But kudos to James Franco for consistently good acting in this double role.   (And while I handing out praise, I've been meaning to say how much I like the rendition of Elvis Costello's great 1978 "This Year's Girl" that plays at the start of very episode.  The vid of Costello original singing of his song is right below.)

Still unresolved is what's going to happen with CC and Lori.  He has contempt for Larry and his acting - remarking that he's no longer a pimp - and he's putting up with Lori only because she's still giving him her earnings.  But this unstable situation can't last, and I'll be back here next and the weeks ahead to review how it all explodes, falls apart, or resolves.

See also The Deuce Is Back - Still Without Cellphones, and that's a Good Thing ... The Deuce 2.2: Fairytales Can Come True ... The Deuce 2.3: The Price ... The Deuce 2.4: The Ad-Lib

And see also The Deuce: NYC 1971 By Way of The Wire and "Working with Marshall McLuhan" ... Marilyn Monroe on the Deuce 1.7 ... The Deuce Season 1 Finale: Hitchcock and Truffaut 

It all starts in the hot summer of 1960, when Marilyn walks off the set
of The Misfits and begins to hear a haunting song in her head,
"Goodbye Norma Jean" ..

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Romanoffs 1.2: The Royal We: A Walk on the Dark Side

Well, The Romanoffs 1.2, entitled The Royal We, takes a darker, nastier, murderous turn, with none of the comedy of the first episode (The Violet Hour), unless you find dwarfs acting as the royal family Romanoffs (Romanovs) on a cruise to celebrate the family, funny.

But the evil stuff was pretty compelling.  Michael Romanoff (exceptional acting by Corey Stoll) has no happiness in his life, including with his wife Shelly, though that's for no want of her trying.  He finds himself on a jury for a murder trial, obligating Shelly to go on the cruise she booked for the two of them on her own.   Michael seems to hit pay dirt on the jury.  A beautiful former ballet dancer, Michelle (excellent work Janet Montgomery), is on it, too.  He's instantly smitten.  He deliberately extends the deliberations by refusing to find the obviously guilty defendant guilty.  He soon contrives to meet with the dancer when the jury takes a break for the weekend - they're not sequestered - and manages to sleep with her after she more or less seduces him.  Meanwhile, in contrast, Shelly says no to handsome Ivan, in a corridor near the door of her room on the boat, after they kiss and he clearly indicates his intentions.

She returns to a powder keg of Michael wanting to see more of Michelle, and she demurring (she's married, too).  I won't tell you anymore lest I give too much away, but the intensity of what happens is reminiscent of both The Sopranos and Mad Men and Heather, the Totality in different ways.  Weiner is not only a master of societal foibles, but the ugliest, harrowing facets of human nature.

With two episodes of The Romanoffs now on the screen, we can see that they're as different as day and night.  What Weiner is really after in this new anthology is telling very different stories, with no connection to one another whatsoever, except for the Romanoff label. 

Which makes me wonder about the subsequent episodes even more, and want to see them.  I'll be back here next Friday with a review of #3.

See also: The Romanoffs 1.1: The Violet Hour: Compelling, Anti-Binge Watchable Comedy of Manners

It all starts in the hot summer of 1960, when Marilyn walks off the set
of The Misfits and begins to hear a haunting song in her head,
"Goodbye Norma Jean" ...

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Romanoffs 1.1: The Violet Hour: Compelling, Anti-Binge Watchable Comedy of Manners

I've been a fan of Matthew Weiner's since The Sopranos and Mad Men.  So has my wife.  I even read and rave-reviewed his 2017 novella Heather, The Totality.  So of course we were going to watch The Romanoffs, the new anthology series on Amazon Prime, now consisting of eight standalone 90-minute episodes connected by the sinew of each episode tells the story of a different character or characters who think they are descendants of the royal Russian family, all or most of whom were slain by the Bolsheviks in 1918.   The first two episodes were put up today, and the rest will be shown on a weekly basis.

All ninety minutes of The Violet Hour were excellent.  The story takes place in Paris, featuring Anushka (who claims she is a descendant), her American nephew Greg, his French girlfriend Sophie, and Anushka's caretaker Hajar, who was born in Paris and whose parents came from North Africa.  There's comedy, profundity, passion, and surprises all packaged in this tale of how Anushka is determined to see that her Romanoff bloodline survives into the next generation.

The genre is so original it's hard to classify.  It has elements of Downton Abbey and Woody Allen.  It would have been a good standalone movie, and someone said somewhere that these episodes could be watched and considered as individual movies.  But the fact that Weiner has tied them all together by this unlikely thread makes them all the more appealing - or, at least, that's what I thought before watching the first episode and even more strongly now.

Weiner's decision not to show them all at once certainly supports the each episode is a movie structure.  As such, The Romanoffs could be considered the first deliberately anti-binge-watchable series on a streaming service.  I'm not sure how I feel about that - we're going to watch the second the episode as soon as I post this review.  I know we'd want to watch the third, if not right after the second, at least tomorrow night,

But The Violet Hour was so good we'll be happy to wait for that third, next week.

See also The Romanoffs 1.2: The Royal We: A Walk on the Dark Side

It all starts in the hot summer of 1960, when Marilyn walks off the set
of The Misfits and begins to hear a haunting song in her head,
"Goodbye Norma Jean" ...

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Farewell Elton John at Nassau Coliseum

Tina and I just got back from Elton John's fabulous Farewell Yellow Brick Road Concert at the Nassau Coliseum.  This is the third retiring tour concert we've been to in the past few weeks - Paul Simon and Joan Baez were the previous - and each was superb and special in its own way.

Elton John's music has played a surprisingly significant role throughout my professional life - surprising not because his songs (with lyrics by Bernie Taupin) have been wonderful, numerous, and memorable, but because they've had such diverse impact on my own creative work.

Most recently, my novelette, Marilyn and Monet, maybe in the earliest stages of being made into a movie, begins with Marilyn hearing "Candle in the Wind" as she walks off the set of The Misfits with Montgomery Clift in 1961 (hey, it's a science fantasy story).

Back when I began my life as a published writer, the fourth article I wrote for The Village Voice was inspired by "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" - an assessment of how the Wizard of Oz figured in rock music in its first decades.  Never read that article?  Not surprising.  The Village Voice - or rather its then new music editor, dyspeptic critic Robert Christgau, declined to publish it, after his predecessor Diane Fischer had published my first three articles ever published, all about music.  (I tell more of that story here.)

And Elton John's "Rocket Man" has had more long range influence on my work.  One of the few rock songs that were science fiction, it epitomized my passion as a writer for both rock music and science fiction.  And, indeed, I'll soon be recording a brand new album of my songs with science fiction themes for Old Bear Records in Batavia, New York.

Elton John sang all of these and 21 more at his concert tonight.   He hit most of the notes beautifully, and his back-up band was tight as a drum.  I've admired Ray Cooper even since I saw the way he played the tambourine in the George Harrison Memorial Concert.  It was a real treat seeing him in person, singing "pow, pow, pow" as he beat the bejesus out of the drums and anything percussive he could hit.

Elton's repartee was clever, but, more important, he comes across as one decent, sincere human being.  The graphics on the screen behind him were a tour de force.   I'm glad I had a chance to see him in person.  I know I'll continue singing his songs in my head, and who knows what big things that may lead to.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Manifest 1.3: The Murdered Passenger

A fairly interesting Manifest 1.3 tonight, centering around the murder of a passenger on the flight that skipped forward in time, Kelly.   It turns out that her death was apparently just a run-of-the-mill murder - by a significant other who didn't like how Kelly was treating her after the return - but the end of the episode provided a more important payoff for the overall narrative.  Or, rather, a question: why did the Feds take her body?

And just prior to that, we get the reveal that the survivors have a strange element in their blood, thought to be brought on by near-death experiences.   So where do those two factors leave us?

Are the Feds hiding evidence because they don't know or understand what happened to the flight, either?  Or are they the architects of what happened?  And while we're on the subject of knowing, do the passengers themselves have some kind of repressed memories of what happened?

Unfortunately, all of this moves so slowly on network television, interrupted by commercials, that it's hard to maintain interest.   Add to that a slew of acting that's close to robotic - a common problem with the network television (think of The Crossing or Somewhere Between for recent examples).  All of which leaves Manifest as an excellent idea, with a development that could be twice as astute and compelling.

But sucker for anything time travel that I am, I'll keep watching and reviewing it.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Man in the High Castle 3.7-10: The Metaphysics of Alternate Realities

The Man in the High Castle saved its crucial metaphysical reveal until nearly the last scene of the last episode, where Abendsen (the actual man in the high castle) explains to Smith that you can travel to an alternate reality only if you're no longer alive in that alternate world.  This means Smith can bring back his son Thomas to his/our world (in which the Nazis and Japanese won the Second World War), Juliana can escape our reality to the one in which she saw herself killed (which she presumably does, also near the end),  Tagomi wasn't alive in our off-screen reality which he visited in which we won the war (but great seeing him beat that Hitler youth, and fine performance throughout by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), Joe can come back to our world (in which Juliana killed him) - though I hardly missed him in these last four episodes - and all kinds of similar possibilities.

But precluded in this metaphysics is Himmler's fevered dream of Nazis marching into all alternate realities via Mengele's transport, which Himmler is not likely to get too upset about if he doesn't survive the surgery.  I hope he doesn't - good for Wyatt/Liam for shooting him.  Maybe Goebbels will succeed him.  He was smarter, anyway - with a PhD from the University of Heidelberg - and less of a ranting lunatic, but just as evil.

As I said in my previous review, though, the movement of people through alternate realities deprives death of its meaning.  So if Himmler dies, he can still come back to our point-of-view reality, as could Hitler himself for that matter.   But so could Frank.   The portals are equal opportunity conveyors of people who are bad and good.

This third season of The Man in the High Castle was one good piece of work, lifting the overall series to the best science fiction I've ever seen on television.   The iconic scene of the Statue of Liberty going down typifies the pull-no-punches cinematography of this series.   And the interjection of people from our real history such as J. Edgar Hoover, especially in the New York story, was just outstanding, as I noted earlier.  Hey, maybe we'll see Fred Trump in 1962 Nazi New York next season.

I'll be watching and reviewing it whoever's in it.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Man in the High Castle 3.4-6: "Tis Death that's Dead"

The Man in the High Castle episodes 3.4-6 contain the biggest stunner of the series.   It's so unexpected, and handled so well, that I won't say what it is, on the slim chance that you're reading this and haven't yet seen these three episodes.

I will offer this proviso:  when you're dealing with intersecting alternate realities, as The Man in the High Castle is most surely doing this season, anything that happens in our point-of-view reality can be reversed or undone, or at very least deprived of its impact, by the same character or characters from another reality popping into ours (or arriving by whatever means).  Or as the poet Shelley wrote about Keats in our reality, "tis death that's dead not he".

And the potential for undoing or reversing animates everything and everyone in the multi-verse that this season of The Man in the High Castle has become.  All that remains in question in which things or people.

Meanwhile, the action in our reality -- that is, the point-of-view alternate reality in which the Nazis and the Japanese won the Second World War -- remains taut and excellent.  I said in an earlier review that ARBI (American Reich Bureau of Investigation) Director J. Edgar Hoover would always act in his own best interest, and that's just what he does in these episodes, as Smith, always one step ahead of the game, uses Edgar to turn the tables.  The consequent killing of George Lincoln Rockwell (I never said there would be no spoilers at all in these reviews) is a satisfying touch, since Rockwell was in fact murdered in our off-screen reality, in which we won the war.  And speaking of deft details, we also learn that in this alternate history John Wayne left the screen to fight with the Americans (of course) and lost his life in the "Battle of Dayton," and Joe DiMaggio plays for the "New York Valkyries" (I hope they whip Boston, whatever their name).

Smith continues to be a riveting character - brilliantly played by Rufus Sewell (all the parts are well acted, but William Forsythe's sieg heiling J. Edgar also warrants special kudos) - and now we're tasked to wondering what he'll do about his wife. I just can't see him killing his wife, as Himmler told Smith he would have to do if she displayed any more weakness, but you can never be 100% sure about these things.

The final scene in episode 3.6 was one of the most effective and iconic of the series: Smith getting a ticker-tape parade, Nazi-style, in New York to mark his promotion, intercut with Frank Frink's bar mitzvah (yes, he's alive) in Denver.   That says it all about the resilience of freedom in the face of overwhelming power.

And I'll be back here soon, likely after I've seen the concluding four episodes of this superb season.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Man in the High Castle 3.2-3: Alternate Realities, Frederic Brown, and Rockwells

The Man in the High Castle episodes 3.2-3 go full bore into alternate realities, including -
  • Dr. Mengele in New York schooling a shocked Smith about them, with Smith even remarking that this sounds like something out of "Frederic Brown" - a real science fiction writer in our reality, known mostly for his humorous science fiction stories, but author of the 1949 What Mad Universe, a novel with plenty of humor but also alternate universes.  (The mention of Brown continues the weaving of elements from our reality into the alternate history of the Nazis and Japanese winning the Second World War that is the central story of The Man in the High Castle, with elements of our reality seeping through.)
  • Smith, later watching one of the movie clips, sees his son Thomas alive and well, giving him a far deeper than professional stake in getting into or to the bottom of these alternate realities.
  • Out West in Japanese California, the access to alternate realities is more mystical than scientific, as they are in the Nazi East Coast of America.  This mysticism, by the way, is more consistent with Philip K. Dick's approach, but I like the way it's expanded to laboratory science in this third season of the story.
  • Juliana's sister Trudy - the one who wasn't killed in her reality, but was in ours, now back in our reality alive and with Juliana - is discovered by Kido, the Japanese inspector who happened to kill her.  This creates an unacceptable situation.  Although Tagomi gets her and Juliana freed, they need to do something about the sister, given Kido's understandable desire now to find out what's going on.  Fortunately, I Ching is just thing to send her back to her reality in a flash.
So we have the alternate realities on center stage now.  But the backdrops are excellent, too.  The Japanese Admiral realizes that the Japanese could benefit from working with Americans, rather than killing them, in the Japanese attempt to fend off the Nazis.   Kido is instructed to go "lightly" in his enforcement - "persuasion" rather than "punishment" - and to use punishment only when needed.  This should make for a more interesting storyline than just lining up captured Americans and shooting them.

Last - for now, before I go back to Prime to watch more episodes - I'm liking Robert's character more this season, too.  He gets off a good line, talking about the Rockwells - Norman the painter and George Lincoln the Reichsmarshall of North America - underlining the ubiquitous mixing of realities in this compelling third season.

Back soon with more review.

The Man in the High Castle 3.1: Real People in Alternate History

With the kick-in-the-gut news of the all-but-certain confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U. S. Supreme Court today, I only managed to see the first episode of the third season of the brilliant Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime tonight.  Its alternate history of the Nazis and Japanese winning the Second World War was much more enjoyable than the real news in our reality.  Herewith a review of that first episode, with more to come as I see the rest over the weekend.

I especially like the mix of real people from our own reality into the American Reich in 1962.  J. Edgar Hoover, unsurprisingly, fits right into Nazi New York, collecting all kinds of "scheiße" for the Reich, and, if he's anything like our J. Edgar, for himself to use to maintain his power as well. George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party in our reality, is the Reichsmarshall of North America in Man in the High Castle.   He and Edgar will no doubt cause Smith a lot of trouble, even with his promoted status, and vice versa.

Leni Riefenstahl, the brilliant Nazi film maker (Triumph of the Will) who lived to be over a 100 years old in our reality, gets a shout-out - and a put-down - as being more than 60 in this episode by a dazzling blond Nazi film maker who has some talent with the camera herself.   And Elvis's "Can't Help Falling in Love" gets sung in the Neutral Zone by someone who reminded me a bit of Buddy Holly (who died in our reality in 1959), but probably isn't.

So the first episode comes packed with lots of things that make alternate reality storytelling so much fun.   And, speaking of alternate realities,  there's also a hint that they'll play a much bigger role - literally interacting with and bumping into one another - than they did in the first two seasons, with Juliana talking to her sister about the different realities they each inhabited, one of which, as we know, had the sister dying.

The story is now moving well beyond Philip K. Dick's novel, but still true to its intentions, and I'll be back here tomorrow with more.

See also The Man in the High Castle 3.2-3: Alternate Realities, Frederic Brown, and Rockwells ...  The Man in the High Castle 3.4-6: "Tis Death that's Dead" ... The Man in the High Castle 3.7-10: The Metaphysics of Alternate Realities

See also The Man in the High Castle 2.1-2.3: My Heimisch Town ... The Man in the High Castle 2.4-2.6: Rails and Realities ... The Man in the High Castle 2.7-2.10: Alternate Reality to the Rescue, Literally

See also The Man in the High Castle on Amazon ... The Man in the High Castle 2-10: Timely Alternate Reality Par Excellence ... The Man in the High Castle in Reality - Well, on NYC Subway Cars

Friday, October 5, 2018

I Also Blame the FBI

There are ample causes of the miscarriage of democracy that happened in the U. S. Senate today - the anti-democratic Electoral College that put Trump in office in the first place (while Hillary Clinton won the popular vote), the anti-democratic set-up of the Senate itself (as Lawrence O'Donnell pointed out on his show The Last Word tonight), with populous and non-populous states getting the same number of Senators - but I also blame the FBI.

Yes, I know that the background investigation the FBI was tasked to conduct is not the same as a straight-up investigation.  I get that background investigations are constrained from the outset.  But given what has been going on in this country, the intense controversy over the charges raised against against Brett Kavanaugh, the FBI had an obligation to either conduct a fuller investigation, or the let Senate and the American people know that the investigation it did conduct was a sham.

Presumably, Senator Flake was not interested in a sham, but a full investigation in which all leads were looked into, when he called for a pause in the confirmation process last week.   Presumably Senator Collins knew that all leads had not been investigated by the FBI when she said today that no one interviewed by the FBI had corroborated Dr. Ford's account.  Or did she?

The point is that there should have been no ambiguity, no wiggle room, in what kind of investigation the FBI conducted.   By allowing itself to be cited as conducting an investigation that Senators relied upon when casting its votes, even though that investigation was obviously incomplete, with interviews of just a fraction of all the potential witnesses who had been brought to its attention, the FBI became complicit in the result, the likely confirmation tomorrow of someone who has been accused of multiple assaults of women, and who obviously has a temperament unfit to be a Supreme Court Justice.

Count yet another part of government that has been compromised in our age of Trump.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Mayans, M. C. 1.5: "Not Fredo" - "Putas and Plata"

One of my favorite parts of Mayans M. C. are the conversations - cool and wise, literate and tough, all at once.  Episode 1.5 last night had plenty of this, especially in the conversations between E. Z. and Angel, the brothers Reyes.

Talking about The Godfather, E. Z. says he wouldn't want to be Fredo.  Can't argue with that.  But the deeper import of that conversation is the meta-point that Mayans M. C. is another retelling of The Godfather story, just as Sons was a retelling of Hamlet.

And, in another highlight, Angel tells E. Z. that if they succeed in their plans, they'll have "putas and plata".  Nothing more I can say about that great line, except how's that alliteration.

Another conversation, one I won't tell you too much about, features Angel holding up a severed head - shades of a different part of Hamlet - and telling E. Z. and Coco what he'd like to do with it.  (Yeah, it's better scene than described.)

But I will tell you that I thought the rescue of Adelita was a fine piece of work.   And the closing scene, in which Miguel and Emily go at it, and she's fantasizing about E. Z. in Miguel's place, was a fine scene, too.  In fact, Mayans M. C. is top notch in just about every scene, with only three more episodes left this season (hey, did you see the news?  it's been renewed for a second season).

So far, no really major characters - ones we've come to know and love or hate - has meet his or her fate.   I find all of these characters so compelling that I almost hope none of them do.  But that's not likely to happen.   And, like Chucky - good to see this Sons alumnus in his second Mayans appearance - I'll be somewhere on the sidelines watching, though totally off-screen.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Manifest 1.2: Arthur C. Clarke's Magic

Precious little offered in Manifest 1.2 about what happened to those passengers on that fateful flight - or who or what caused it to happen - with the government team going over the usual suspects including aliens, etc.

God and magic also came into some other conversations, with Ben observing that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Great line - but I would've liked it better had Ben (meaning the writers, producers, or director of this episode), added that Arthur C. Clarke wrote that years ago.  (I don't like plagiarism in any form.)

Otherwise, the compelling, if obvious, family and romantic dilemmas continued to develop in this episode.  Ben and Michaela are both apparently forgiving.  Michaela seems to forgive Lourdes - her best friend - for marrying her almost fiancee, and Ben is understanding if not accepting of his wife Grace's relationship with the other guy.   As a romantic drama, Manifest is firing on all cylinders, and there will no doubt be more ahead.  The course of true love never did run smooth (Shakespeare), especially when time travel is involved (me).

And time travel is why I'll keep watching Manifest.  I'd like to know what caused the plane to jump more than five years in time, and what connection that has to the voices our time-traveling passengers are hearing.   And I'm hoping, to get back to Arthur C. Clarke, that the explanation is technological not magical.

We'll see.

See also Manifest 1.1: Canterbury Voices

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Deuce 2.4: The Ad Lib

Well, The Deuce 2.4 began tonight with full-frontal nudity for Larry Brown, in a series of stills on his way to becoming a porn actor.  And the best scenes in the episode continued to be with Larry.

The set-up, like most of the threads in The Deuce, is trite in terms of overall movies and television. But it achieves a surprising power in The Deuce.   Candy is having trouble getting a good script.   She can't do it herself.  She hires a young, hippy-like guy.  He doesn't know what he's talking about.  Larry can't remember his lines.  Candy comes up with the brilliant solution: ad lib it.   And it's great.  Larry's no Brando, but he ad libs an effective scene.

Otherwise, the killing of one of Bobby Dwyer's working girls in a fire set by the opposition is a worse assault on decency than usual, because she is, literally, a girl, just 15 years old.   The pimp and prostitute and related stories are a lot more brutal and ugly than the porn movie stories, where Candy played by  Maggie Gyllenhaal adds a real spark.   Similarly, Larry Brown played by Gbenga Akinnagbe is much more compelling and unusual as porn star than pimp.

The Deuce with its short eight seasons is now half over with 2.4.   It's a dead certainty that the mob war over the bars and parlors will result in the death of at least a few characters.   The question is not only who, but how major?

Here's my prediction, based on nothing but hunch:  Frankie.   The truth is, after the first episode in this season, he's had a minor role.  His death would transform Vincent into someone very different.  We saw tonight how Vincent was affected by the sight of someone being shot dead in plain sight.

We'll see what happens in the weeks ahead.

See also The Deuce Is Back - Still Without Cellphones, and that's a Good Thing ... The Deuce 2.2: Fairytales Can Come True ... The Deuce 2.3: The Price

And see also The Deuce: NYC 1971 By Way of The Wire and "Working with Marshall McLuhan" ... Marilyn Monroe on the Deuce 1.7 ... The Deuce Season 1 Finale: Hitchcock and Truffaut 

It all starts in the hot summer of 1960, when Marilyn walks off the set
of The Misfits and begins to hear a haunting song in her head,
"Goodbye Norma Jean" ..

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Yesterday's Victory for Justice, Democracy, and Reason Depicted on Lawrence O'Donnell's The Last Word

What I saw last night on Lawrence O'Donnell's The Last Word on MSNBC was one of the most inspiring things I've ever seen on television.   Republican Senator Jeff Flake being talked to in the elevator by Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila.  Flake later listening intently as his Democratic colleague Chris Coons made the eminently rational case for an FBI investigation of the Kavanaugh sexual assault charges.  Flake standing up, walking by Coons, and signaling his colleague that he wanted to talk.  All leading to the result:  the FBI, ordered by Trump who had no choice - because Kavanaugh needs Flake's as well as Sen. Sue Collins' or Lisa Murkowski's votes to be confirmed - is now conducting this investigation.

Lawrence aplty called this historic moment in American and U. S. Senatorial history "a victory for decency".  Maria Teresa Kumar said "that's what democracy looks like".   Both true.   And as media historian, I would also add this was a wonderful moment for television.  Lawrence and his producers put the segment together perfectly.  Lawrence's narration was perceptive and sage, like everything else he says.  Only television, only with us in American homes since the late 1940s, could have done this.

And it also is a vindication of John Milton's view that if truth and falsity are allowed to fight it out in the marketplace of ideas, our human rationality will award the victory to truth.  Not for everyone all the time.  But for enough people enough times to make democracy work.  Were Milton able to be a guest on Lawrence's show last night, he would have no doubt said that Jeff Flake's decision was evidence of this power of our rational minds.   It's not easy being reasonable when emotions run high.  But Gallagher and Archila provided the wake-up call, making Flake realize that something had to be done, and Coons the path forward, with his focus on the FBI investigation.  Flake's mind was open enough to hear it all, and rational enough to be persuaded by it.

Democracy has been called, with due cause, the least worst form of government.  Yesterday demonstrated that in a way I've never seen before.  For those like me who view Kavanaugh on the Supreme Courts as an affront to everything we hold in high esteem in our democracy, his fate is still undecided.   But we pulled back from the cliff yesterday, and a way that all champions of justice, democracy, and reason should applaud.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Mayans, M. C. 1.4: Finger and Face

Mayans M. C. keeps getting better and better, with an altogether excellent episode 1.4 in all sorts of ways.

First, it has my favorite line in the series so far, a line which perfectly typifies the mix of brutality and cool that is the essence of the narrative.  It comes from Angel, who tells E. Z. to cut off a dead guy's finger, so they can have continuing access to his phone.   E.Z. objects with "seriously?" And Angel replies "you're lucky it's a not a new phone, you'd be cutting off his face".  What can I say?  Brutal and ugly, yes, but thoroughly hip to the latest tech.

Meanwhile, the big continuing reveal in the plot is that there is a lot more to Felipe than even was revealed last week, when we saw how handy he was with an old-fashioned gun.   Tonight we learn that Reyes was an identity he assumed in 1985.  So, who was he before?  My guess is some kind of very powerful drug cartel leader, but we'll just have to see.   The Reyes are one complex and compelling family.

Also significant is Coco's sister really being his daughter.   The Reyes may be the most complex, but it's looking like no one in the M. C.  has a straightforward family life.   The advice that Marcus gives E. Z. to be loyal to club above family may make sense, but it will be difficult if not impossible to follow for just about everyone.  Just as it always is.

And last but not least, there's the tunnel that Angel's company literally falls into.  Tunnels are always good conduits of storylines - in reality like El Chapo as well as in fiction - and it will be fun to see what this tunnel brings to the Mayans M. C.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Manifest 1.1: Canterbury Voices

I reviewed the 9 and 1/2 minute sneak peek of Manifest in August, and said it had some outstanding possibilities as a time-travel drama.  I therefore watched the full first-hour debut tonight with great expectation.  And it was good.  But ...

It had very little to do with time travel.  There were some nice time-travel touches, like twins before the airplane which took the passengers five+ years into the future, now separated by those same 5+ years, since one was on the plane and the other on the ground.  Or the almost-fiancee who married someone else, because, well, he thought his girlfriend had died on that plane.

But the real story is that all the people on the plane - captain as well as passengers - hear voices which tell them important things, like the need to free two girls who had been locked in a metal shop.  That was the main story of tonight's episode, which ended with a promise of who knows how many other stories from the other passengers.

So Manifest may well be a Canterbury Tales of time-travel.  Or, this may be a Canterbury Tales of astounding stories in which the vehicle - not of the tales but the people who deliver them - is a plane that skips ahead 5+ years.   This episode also ends with the question of who or what is responsible for this?

Possibilities are people from a future far from ours, aliens, beings from another dimension, the Deity, take your pick.  There's powerful material here - including a boy (one of the twins) who otherwise would have succumbed to leukemia, but now can receive a life-saving treatment not yet available when he boarded the plane in 2013.  So I'll keep watching Manifest, even if, at this point, it may well have little more about time travel.

See also Manifest Sneak Peek 9 and 1/2 Mins:  Could Be Outstanding

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Deuce 2.3: The Price

I've been saying how glad I am that The Deuce is focusing much more on the porn business this season, and commensurately less on the prostitution and pimp business - what can I say, I'm a media historian - and episode 2.3 seemed to be doing the same tonight, until it turned it all around.

Lori and Harvey won awards in California - I cheered - and Candy gets an appointment with a money-man who can finance her "Little Red Riding Hood" movies - actually, two movies, one X-rated, one not, to maximize its appeal.  And the guy seems interested.  He offers to write a $10, 000 check.  Good news!  But ... only if she performs fellatio on him, as he's writing the check, to use the courteous term for that.  Candy considers, and agrees.  We can see that she's disgusted.  The price she has to pay for leaving her life of prostitution in the past is to be a prostitute, albeit briefly, again.  In her final scene of the evening, we see her thinking, unhappily, about what she had to do.  But she takes out the check and props it up on her table.  She's determined to make it as a director, whatever it takes.  She thinks, ultimately, that she made the right decision.

Lori has a different crash with reality.  She comes home to New York, elated about her win, and tells CC that she's finished "tricking".  He throws her trophy against the wall, and partially breaks it.   CC has no intention of letting her go.  Lori is not likely to put up with that, in the long run.  But, for now, her award has no impact on her status as prostitute.

So the story of the emergence of the porn profession from the prostitute profession, at this point in The Deuce, is that the emergence is no easy path.   The advance from prostitute to porn director or star either requires more prostitution, or can be blocked by the prostitute's pimp.

I'll see you back here next week with another report on how this story progresses.

See also The Deuce Is Back - Still Without Cellphones, and that's a Good Thing ... The Deuce 2.2: Fairytales Can Come True

And see also The Deuce: NYC 1971 By Way of The Wire and "Working with Marshall McLuhan" ... Marilyn Monroe on the Deuce 1.7 ... The Deuce Season 1 Finale: Hitchcock and Truffaut 

It all starts in the hot summer of 1960, when Marilyn walks off the set
of The Misfits and begins to hear a haunting song in her head,
"Goodbye Norma Jean" ..

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Joan Baez at the Beacon Theater

There are so many ways I could begin my review of Joan Baez's superb concert at the Beacon Theater tonight -
  • This is the second time in less than a week that Tina and I attended a farewell concert - Paul Simon's at the Prudential Center in Newark last week and Joan Baez's tonight.  In both cases, the concerts were so good that it's hard to believe these masters of music, voice, and lyrics are retiring from touring.  
  • Joan Baez, always current and trenchant, sang a powerful Woody Guthrie song about immigrants.   We couldn't help thinking about Joy Reed's interview of Jose Antonio Vargas at the Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn Wednesday night.
  • One of Joan's last songs was Paul Simon's "The Boxer" - also one of the last encores that Paul Simon sang last week.  "I am leaving but the fighter still remains" was never more apt.
And all of those openers are valid.   And there is much more to be said about Joan Baez's concert tonight.  She said, after one song - a song her sister Mimi sang all the time - that it's hard to sing and cry at the same time.  At several times in the concert, I felt the same way about applauding and crying.  Especially after she sang Zoe Mulford's "The President Sang Amazing Grace".  (Yes, that's exactly what the song's about.)

Baez sang one of her masterpieces early on - "Diamonds and Rust," her parting reflection about Bob Dylan.  This was after opening the concert with a Dylan song.  She followed with a wonderful rendition of Phil Ochs' "There But For Fortune" - a lyricist who never received the recognition he deserved as someone right up there with Dylan.  And she sang several more Dylan songs, including the incomparable "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," which Baez linked to the state of the nation and world today.   After all these years, Joan Baez remains the best voice Dylan ever had.

And we do live in a world "where souls are forgotten," certainly by the White House and its minions.  Which means we need Joan Baez's voice more than ever.  I remain ever hopeful we can hear it again.