=Borrowed Tides= and =Alpha Centauri= right here

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Trial of the Chicago Seven: A Little Too Much Fiction in this Docudrama




My wife and I saw The Trial of the Chicago Seven on Netflix on Saturday. Having lived through the real trial of the Chicago Seven (originally Eight) in 1969-1970, we thought there was a little too much fiction in this docu-drama to be 100% successful and effective.  Nonetheless, it was powerful viewing.

To back up a little, as I alway tell my classes, docu-dramas are by definition never 100% truth or exactly as the events in the movie actually happened.  Hey, even straight-up documentaries are never 100% true, because the film-maker inevitably has to leave some events, one hopes inconsequential, out of the film.  Real life is too sloppy and inexact to fit in just as it is or was in a documentary.

But docu-dramas go a big step further away from truth.  At the very least, they rewrite or make-up dialogue.   Worse, they often make up characters and/or endow characters who existed in real life with deeds they never did.   This works best the further back in history the docu-drama goes.  I couldn't possibly have any personal recollection of what Lincoln said and did.  So I was able to enjoy Spielberg's Lincoln with zero quibbles.   But 1969-1970 is a lot closer than are the early 1860s to our time.

So, lots of people noticed that Tom Hayden's closing statement in the Aaron Sorkin docu-drama wasn't made by Hayden in reality, and was not a closing statement.  Or that the pacifist Dellinger -- who did in fact earlier read the names of some of the American fallen in Vietnam during the trial-- never hauled off and punched a guard who was trying to escort Dellinger out of the courtroom, as so dramatically depicted in the movie.  To be honest with you, neither my wife or I jumped up and shouted during the movie that those events never happened.  But my wife had a vague sense of irritation throughout the film, and I was annoyed after the movie to have been brought to tears by that closing scene, so effective, that didn't happen in real life.

I suppose Sorkin might say that such a reaction is my problem, not his, and if I was brought  to tears by the ending that didn't happen in reality that shows that Sorkin succeeded, doesn't it.  I'm not so sure.  I think that, even in a docu-drama, or maybe especially in a docu-drama, the film maker has an obligation to present a greater quotient of truth.  Again, especially if the docu-drama is so close to home in time.  I'm sure Marc Anthony never said "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;  I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him," but that didn't in the least get in my way of really enjoying Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, from the moment I first read it, so many decades ago, and for that matter thinking about that play right now.

Maybe the answer is Sorkin's movie is meant for a younger generation than mine.  It has lots of assets, including boiling down the differences between the protestors on trial to Hayden vs. Abby Hoffman.  I don't know if that's true, either.  But since I don't know for sure that it isn't, I'm ok with thinking back on that crucial aspect of The Trial of the Chicago Seven, and enjoying the recollection and contemplation of that fundamental conflict between political revolution (Hayden) and cultural revolution (Abby Hoffman). And I should say the acting in this movie, including Eddie Redmayne as Hayden and Sacha Baron Cohen as Abby Hoffman, was just superb.   Regarding those two, special kudos to two Englishmen talking at each at some length in passable American accents.

So, see the docu-drama - with no reservations if you weren't around the first time this trial happened, back in the 1969-1970.  And see Medium Cool made in 1969 if you'd like to see a documentary about the protests around the Democratic National Convention which ignited the trial.




Monday, October 12, 2020

Keeping Faith: Yes, a Real Keeper


The wife and I quickly binged the first two seasons of Keeping Faith, billed on Acorn by way of Amazon Prime Video as a Welsh thriller but just as much a powerfully effective family drama. We loved it.

The Faith in question is played by Eve Miles, last seen here just a few weeks ago as Lola in We Hunt Together.   She was appealingly effective in both roles, but Keeping Faith called for a wider array of emotions, which Miles delivered on beautifully and memorably.

Faith's a lawyer whose husband, also a lawyer, disappears.   Is he dead or missing, and, in either case, why?  The action in the first season all takes place in a week, replete with a clocking calendar giving us the day and whether it was AM or PM, making Keeping Faith a sort expanded version of 24, without a Jack Bauer.

That's because Faith is not only bright, articulate, and tough when she needs to be, but also very vulnerable, and especially when she needs to nurture her kids, a boy baby, a little girl, and an older girl approaching teenhood.  And these family scenes and interactions are where not only Faith the character but Keeping Faith the series show their mettle.  It's a heartache and a pleasure to see what this family goes through in just a week.  The older daughter Alys has the biggest role in this, and here's a tip of the hat to Demi Letherby for doing a fine job in this.

Beyond the family, Hannah Daniel as Cerys who is Faith's partner in the law firm and Aneirin Hughes as Tom, Faith's father-in-law and semi-retired lawyer in the firm, are vivid and well-played characters.  There are criminals that the police are after, and who are themselves police, and of course someone who was and may or may not still be a criminal whom Faith comes to rely upon and even more.

But I'll say no more about the plot, lest I give something crucial away, so just watch and enjoy.

 

Cheng Gong's Book entitled Paul Levinson's Media Evolutionary Theory

This is the cover of Cheng Gong's book, just published in China, (English translation): "Media Competition for Human Selection, Survival of the Fittest: Paul Levinson's Media Evolutionary Theory" - as far as I know, the first book published anywhere on Planet Earth devoted entirely to my work. The Preface that Cheng Yong asked me to write follows (it appears in the book both in my original English, which you can see below, and in Chinese translation).


 


Thursday, October 8, 2020

Podcast: Running Scared


Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 150, in which I discuss Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2nd 2020 Presidential debate because it was virtual (online not in person) which allow him to be easily "cut off".

Further reading (blog post):

Running Scared: Trump Withdraws from Second Presidential Debate

 


Check out this episode!

Running Scared: Trump Withdraws from Second Presidential Debate

 I was not in the slightest surprised to just hear this news

“I’m not going to do a virtual debate,” Trump told Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo... “I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. That’s not what debating’s all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate — it’s ridiculous. And then they cut you off whenever they want.”

I and many others have been calling for moderators to have the technological capacity to cut off microphones during the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates.  Trump interrupted Biden just about every time the Democratic candidate started talking in their first debate, and Pence repeatedly talked far over his allotted time in the VP debate last night.  Moderator Chris Wallace in the first debate and Susan Page in the second debate complained and chastised Trump and Pence, but to no avail.  A capacity to cut off the microphone would have been  useful indeed, and would have well served the goal of the debates to give the American people a chance to see and hear the candidates discuss the issues.

Of course, there's no guarantee that a moderator, in-person or virtual, would use the option to cut off the microphone of a bullying (Trump) or over-talkative (Pence) debater.  But without such an option, the moderator's ability to reign in abusive and errant debaters is limited.  I would have liked to have seen Wallace and Page stand up and refuse to allow the out-of-line candidate to continue talking, but I recognize that that's easier said than done.  

A cut-off switch would have surely helped, and muting someone in an online conversation is easier and far less confrontational than in person.   Not to mention that online debates cannot be vectors of COVID-19.  But Trump cares as much about personally spreading the virus as he does about adhering to the rules of civil debating, which is to say, not much at all.  So, with his poll numbers plummeting, and his desire to keep faith with those who like his truculence, he ran scared and pulled out of the upcoming virtual debate.  Good riddance, and looking forward to November 3.


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Harris vs. Pence in VP Debate: Pence Avoids Answering Most of the Questions

I didn't keep a strict count, but I'd say VP Pence avoided answering more than half the questions put to him by Susan Page in the just concluded VP 2020 debate.  The most egregious avoidance came near the end, when Pence didn't answer Page's question about what Trump would do if he lost the election.  That is, the all-important question of whether Trump would peacefully leave office, as the law requires, if Biden won the election.

And that, in turn, raises the question that was raised last week about Chris Wallace: why wasn't Page more forceful in holding Pence to account when he ignored her questions?  She was somewhat better than Wallace in challenging Pence when he talked over his allotted time, but as a moderator, shouldn't she have insisted that the candidate answer the questions put to him?   Is that part of the job of a moderator?  As it was, she complained a lot but took little action.  Once again, a mute button would have helped.

Meanwhile, Harris had a good outing.  She more than once stopped Pence when he was talking over her, intruding on her time, and offered a both logical and passionate defence of her and Biden's progressive positions.  For his part, Pence was far better than Trump in presenting his conservative positions or whatever exactly they were than was Trump, but that's faint praise indeed.

In general, I doubt that this debate changed many if any minds.   But Biden is now so far ahead in the polls, that probably doesn't matter.  What Trump needed tonight was a decisively powerful and winning performance from his Vice President.  What he got was a somewhat weary, smug presentation which will likely do nothing more than seal the much deserved fate of this rapidly disintegration administration. 


Sunday, October 4, 2020

Podcast Review of Utopia


Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 149, in which I review Utopia,now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Further reading (blog post):

Utopia: More Fun the Real World


Check out this episode!

Utopia: More Fun than the Real World



Just what we needed, right?  A series about a virus that's spreading quickly from city to city -- and killing children no less?  And the plot hinges on a hyped vaccine that may not be effective at all?   So, yeah, Utopia on Amazon Prime is all of that and more, and at the worst possible time.  But maybe at the best possible time, because I found the first season of this series really enjoyable and binge-watched all eight of its episodes yesterday.

As for the specific story, first, just to get this out of the way: the part I liked least -- by which I mean, it was ok, but did not in itself make Utopia worth watching -- was the graphic novel, i.e. comic book, set-up, which was the foundation of the narrative.  At its best, the "Utopia" comic serves the same purpose as "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy" in The Man in the High Castle -- a secret manuscript which provides the heroes clues to what's going on -- and that was not my favorite part of The Man in High Castle, either.  In Utopia, the comic book does provide entre into a fandom story which provides a strong argument in favor of virtual conventions and which was well done in terms of the individual characters, but cliched in its overall concept.  So, in sum, I think Utopia could have done just as well without it.

The main strength of the series were the stunning surprises that pop up at or near the end of just about every episode.  Excellent characters are unexpectedly killed, apparent allies are suddenly revealed as villains, and other villains themselves evolve into something better.  Although the transformations could have been a bit more plausible, with better prior signalling of traits emerging or latent in the characters, they are believable enough, and make Utopia an adrenalin spurting rollercoaster ride, always welcome in a television series, and the essential element in a bingeable series, which Utopia most certainly is.  (I'll note that I was very unhappy with the death of one of the characters, though it certainly moved the shocked needle way off the dial.)

The overall plot has touches of The Boys from Brazil, and also offers a familiar prosecution of the evils of corporate greed.   But applied to the pandemic, it has a searing and even frightening relevance to our world off the screen, and since it (presumably) is not something that is current happening in our world, it is strangely refreshing to see.  As I was watching it, I was thinking that Utopia threaded the needle between disconcerting because it was so close to our reality, and fun to see because it actually isn't that close (I hope), just perfectly.  Amazon Prime deserves plaudits for scheduling and streaming Utopia in this crazy Fall of 2020.





 

Friday, October 2, 2020

Podcast Review of Raised by Wolves 6-10


Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 148, in which I review episodes six to ten of Raised by Wolves

Further listening: 

podcast review of Raised by Wolves 1-3

podcast review of Raised by Wolves 4-5

Further reading:

Mind at Large: Knowing in the Technological Age

review of The Silicon Man

The Silk Code

 

Check out this episode!

Raised by Wolves Season One Finale: The Serpent

A powerful, even stunning, season one finale for Raised by Wolves on HBO Max last night.

[spoilers follow]

The big reveal is that Mother and I and everyone was wrong about how her baby came to be, and what it in fact was.  The virtual sex she had with her creator apparently didn't inseminate her via triggering some kind of organic material she already had insider her.  Whatever it was that got her pregnant presumably came from this extraterrestrial Kepler world.   I say "apparently" and "presumably" because I suppose it's still possible that this hellish serpent she delivered was indeed something that her creator embedded in her back on Earth, and this "baby" is indeed the future of humanity.  But at this point it looks as if that entire virtual, remembered conversation and activity with her builder was just a piece of masterful misdirection.

Other than all of that, which was game-changing, the season finale had a variety of good touches, ranging from Father's jealousy to whatever was going on with Paul.   Again, presumably, I'd say that the voices he heard in his head came not from Sol (of course not) but that ship that we saw hovering in the atmosphere. No doubt that ship will have a major role in the second season (and great that Raised by Wolves has already been renewed.

Another provocative element is the devolution of the beings on Kepler-22B.  I've been thinking ever since we first saw one of those beings early on that there was a human-like quality to its head.  A Neanderthal skull was also revealed in the finale -- works for me, Neanderthals were the centerpiece of my first novel, The Silk Code -- and that skull also raises the possibility that there was a connection between Kepler-22 and Earth in the distant past, if parallel evolution isn't the explanation for Neanderthals appearing on these two worlds, so very distant from each other.

Lots of fascinating issues left hanging.  Good set-up for the second season!

See also Raised by Wolves 1.1: Fast Action and Deep Philosophy  ... Raised by Wolves 1.2-3: More than Meets the Eye ... Raised by Wolves 1.4-5: Halfway to Dune ...Raised by Wolves 1.6-7: The Look on Mother's Face ... Raised by Wolves 1.8-1.9: Frankenstein and Motherhood

 



Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Biden vs. Trump Presidential Debate #1: Chris Wallace Should Have Cut Off Trump's Microphone

Donald Trump, who has destroyed or impaired so much of what we cherish and deem important in America, took his pickaxe to the First 2020 Presidential debate tonight, interrupting Joe Biden almost every time he spoke.  And though Chris Wallace weakly protested this disruption many times, he failed to stop Trump's rampage.  Wallace should have cut off Trump's microphone, or requested the audio engineer to do that.

Nonetheless,  Biden did break through a good number of times, beginning with when he said to Trump, early in the debate, "will you shut up, man".  Biden went on to be very effective when he looked at the camera and spoke directly to the American people about his positions about health care, Black Lives Matter, the importance of voting, and other crucial issues.

I just heard Nicole Wallace say on MSNBC that Trump abused Chris Wallace as moderator.  That may be true, but the more important point is that Wallace had a responsibility to keep this abusive President in check.   And although he tried from time to time, he let Trump interrupt Biden over and over again.

I've enjoyed Presidential debates since Kennedy-Nixon in 1960.  Tonight's debate, although I thought Biden the better candidate won, was a disgrace.  Civilized discourse lost, another victim of Trump and his contempt for reason.  I hope subsequent moderators do better.


Monday, September 28, 2020

The Comey Rule Part 2: The Reality, Part 2


The second and concluding part of The Comey Rule, just concluded on Showtime, was every bit as powerful as the first.  By which I mean to say, brilliantly acted and staged.

As to the facts of the story: well, it's frightening indeed to see what a narcissistic psycho Trump is, but we already knew that.  I wish I could I say it was worse in this docu-drama than it was in real life, but it was just awful truth, enhanced by close-ups and Brendan Gleeson's stunning performance as Trump.

As for Comey, also superbly enacted by Jeff Daniels, you could almost feel sorry for this Shakespearean tragic character, from the day and way he was fired, so brutally by Trump, and in everything that followed.  But I caught myself from falling into this emotion too deeply, because Comey did a lot of damage.  As I indicated in my review of Part 1 last night, he may not have been totally responsible for Hillary's loss, but he certainly was at least in part.

But you know what the worst thing about watching this enactment of Trump's first months in office was for me?  It was my obvious realization that all of this happened before the COVID pandemic, which has killed 200,000+ here in the United States.  Was Trump completely responsible for this?  Of course not, he didn't create the virus.  But he was at least in part, in his worse than insanely irresponsible leadership when the pandemic hit.

So for all the horror portrayed so effectively in this mini-series, it was but a prelude of something much worse to come.   And now we soon are having another election.  I don't see how anyone who has lived through the past four years, who has lived through the pandemic, could vote for Trump.   Or, not vote at all, which amounts to voting for Trump.   And that's a conclusion we tragically do not need a superb mini-series to know, which is in itself an indication of the extent of our real-life tragedy.

See also The Comey Rule Part 1: The Reality, Part 1


The Comey Rule Part 1: The Reality, Part 1



I had planned on waiting until I saw all of The Comey Rule on Showtime -- the two parts -- before I reviewed it.  But there are too many things I want to say about first part, on earlier tonight, to wait until tomorrow.

First, as for the craft of the docu-drama, including the acting, it was just superb, ranging from Jeff Daniels as Comey down to every FBI man and woman, in every scene, and also Comey's wife.  Even Kingsley Ben-Adir in the relatively small part (in this narrative) of Obama was good.   I could write all day about how well this first part was done, but the reality it describes cries out for comment.

No one can say with any certainty why Trump won the Electoral College vote, even as he lost the popular vote.  The fact that this resulted in him becoming President, and the horrendous job he has done in that office, is more than enough reason to do away with that anachronistic "college" as soon as possible.

There are other villains in this true tragedy.  Anthony Weiner unable to control his impulses, Jill Stein unable to control her ambitions, the Russian assault on our country via cyberspace, all played some role, and deserve some apportionment of blame.

And Comey?   This first part of this two-part series shows at least three interlocking errors:  the way he first announced the non-actionable result into the FBI investigation into Hillary's emails, his refusal to go public with the FBI's investigation into Trump's Russian connections, and his second announcement (in a letter to Congress) that the FBI was reopening the investigation into Hillary's emails just ten days prior to the election.   Like a classic Shakespearean tragedy, Comey did those three things for noble reasons.  But the result was the complete antithesis and annihilation of nobility, putting America into the most dangerous condition it has been in since the Civil War.

Can we reasonably say Trump in the White House was the result of Comey's actions?   No doubt not completely, but also no doubt yes, at least in part.   I will say, on Comey's behalf, that the writing of his book, A Higher Loyalty, the basis of this mini-series, is at least an attempt at retribution.  And kudos to Showtime for putting this on at a most appropriate time, when we Americans are again focused on an impending Presidential election.

And I'll be back with thoughts on Part 2 tomorrow.   I'm especially looking forward to seeing more of Brendan Gleeson as Trump.  They somehow managed to get someone made to look uglier and sound even more abrasive than the real thing,  A nightmare of a nightmare.


Friday, September 25, 2020

Raised by Wolves 1.8-9: Frankenstein and Motherhood

The story brought vividly home in Raised by Wolves 1.8 and 1.9, that androids can bear biological children, a hybrid of some sort of android and human, lifts this series into territory not even explored in a series as sophisticated as Westworld.   Of course, Westworld takes place on Earth, with a science a lot earlier in its development than what we see in Raised by Wolves, so I'm not criticizing Westworld on this account as much as noting the difference.  And that difference is about as profound as it gets.

A question I started addressing in the 1980s when I first began considering artificial intelligence was the connection between artificial intelligence and life.   Since the only intelligence that we know arose in living beings -- i.e.,  us, we humans - it struck me that an attempt to develop artificial intelligence truly worthy of the name without first understanding how intelligence arose out of our own DNA was "putting Descartes before the horse" (Mind at Large: Knowing in the Technological Age, 1988, p. 180; or see this if you don't want to read the book).   Yet most artificial intelligence, in science fiction as well as our real world laboratories, has proceeded on the basis of non-living circuitry.

In fiction, the monster created by Dr. Frankenstein -- colloquially known as Frankenstein, in Mary Shelley's 1818 novel of the same name -- can be considered the first modern android.  It is made of flesh and blood, and has a DNA-developed brain, so there is no reason he and his eventual almost-bride could not have had children -- indeed, it is Dr. Frankenstein fear of creating a species of monsters that gets him to abandon his project of giving the monster a mate.   Even in the Boris Karloff movies made over a century later, in which a bride of the monster is created, one catastrophe or another that befalls the "monsters" always preclude them from reproducing.  Which makes what was is happening in Raised by Wolves all the more remarkable.   

How exactly Mother, now on the way to being a completely biologically apt name for her, came to be impregnated is not completely clear, and she doesn't completely or even mostly understand herself.  She had virtual sex with her male human creator in a simulation.  Presumably this triggered a fetus that developed from what already was inside her, in contrast to the embryos that were implanted in her and we met in the first episode.

With only one more episode left this season, it will be fascinating to see where this -- "the future of humanity" -- goes.  It was good to see Father back to his senses, and all the children together, and Marcus get his comeuppance, though I hope he's not dead, he's too important and well-acted a character.  (It occurred to me as an outside possibly that possibly Marcus had sex with Mother at some point after he so nearly kissed her, that we didn't see.  Maybe that relates to that look on Mother's face that I talked about in my review last week.)   Not likely, I'll be definitely back here next week with some thoughts on the season finale.





See also Raised by Wolves 1.1: Fast Action and Deep Philosophy  ... Raised by Wolves 1.2-3: More than Meets the Eye ... Raised by Wolves 1.4-5: Halfway to Dune ...Raised by Wolves 1.6-7: The Look on Mother's Face




Thursday, September 24, 2020

Spun Dreams on Bandcamp

Before Twice Upon A Rhyme and Welcome Up: Songs of Space and Time, there were Spun Dreams: studio and home demos, most from mid to late 60s, sunshine pop with a bit of an edge and a psychedelic flavor, especially as you get into the album. My group back then was The New Outlook, a folk-rock trio. Spun Dreams has been streaming for almost a decade on Spotify, Apple Music, and all the usual places. But now it's up on Bandcamp, with all kinds of details on songs and tracks that I haven't mentioned before. Details in the track credits about how the likes of Ellie Greenwich, Mike Rashkow, Tash Howard, and dj Murray the K figured in these songs. And check out the bonus items for at least one special photo I haven't laid eyes on since 1966.

Monday, September 21, 2020

The Platform: Don't Watch Before Dinner



Parables come in all kinds of platforms. The Platform, a Spanish film with English subtitles now on Netflix, is a story about the essence of humanity tested to its very limits. That’s a worthy parable, to say the least. Unfortunately, this movie’s unique way of telling it is disgusting, in the literal sense of that word. The question is: was that kind of stomach-turning story necessary to convey such a crucial message?

The story features Goreng, who finds himself in a "Vertical Self-Management Center,” a tower with hundreds of levels, in which a big feast of a platter is prepared and sent down, level by level, allowing the two people in each cell it reaches to consume as much as they can in a short period of time. Such a set-up allows the people on the higher levels to eat more and much better than the people below them, who are left with successively fewer scraps until there’s nothing on the platter other than empty plates and the longing, furious stares of hungry people. Further, to make matters even more interesting, the inmates, or whatever exactly they are, are sent to higher or lower levels each month, for whatever random reason.

At this point, although watching people stuff their mouths with food is no pleasure to watch, I wouldn’t call The Platform disgusting. But it soon takes a turn which, though logical enough, is certainly physically revolting. When food on the platter is non-existent, there’s always cannibalism. We see this more than once, in blood-dripping detail.

After a series of unsuccessful ventures in moral persuasion – such as trying to convince the people on the upper levels to forego a meal so that the people on the lower levels have a crumb or more to eat – Goreng teams up with Baharat, and together they plan a way of getting the administration of this mostly involuntary hotel to see the error of their system. The two awake one month on a very high level, and a pristine panna cotta is on the platter they receive. If they jump onto the platform with the platter, and take it all the way down to the bottom level, then back up to the top, with the panna cotta uneaten, they can show the administration that the human beings in the tower have self-restraint, and don’t deserve to be treated like animals. Indeed, apropos Marshall McLuhan’s “The medium is the message,” the two voyagers come up with and repeat the mantra that “The panna is the message.”

I won’t tell you the specifics of the very end, except that the mantra changes, and I’m not sure that the new mantra works as well as the panna in this parable. The shift in metaphor feels a little heavy handed. As did the depicted cannibalism and other gross activities that were in one way or another related to food. The movie at least was leavened in places with a little humor – as when Goreng says to a woman who brings her sausage dog with her, “In here, he’s more a sausage than a dog.” My advice: a bit more humor, a lot less gore, would have made this parable more effective. Not that a parable has to be effortlessly palatable to make its point, but it needn’t make you gag.

 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Review of Anthony Marinelli's Virtual Production of Sartre's No Exit



Just saw Anthony Marinelli's virtual production of Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit.  A scorchingly brilliant two hours.

First, seeing this play on a screen was in many ways better than in person.  The close-ups of the faces lent an additional dimension to the performances.  Jeff Musillo's facial expressions in the relatively minor role of The Valet at the beginning of the play, for example, were just perfect, at once powerful and subtle, and would have been not quite as effective when seen from a seat in a physical theater, unless that seat was in a very close front row.  (The virtual rather than physical presentation also made this seem like a full-fledged play, not a "reading," which it is technically billed as being.)

The three performances of the major characters were stellar.  I saw Amanda Greer as a kick-ass Marilyn Monroe a few years ago in a play Marinelli not only directed but wrote,  Max & Domino.   She plays the caustic, vulnerable, gay postal worker Inèz in No Exit, and her delivery will leave singe marks on your fingers.  Heat of course is a major component of this story, because all three people are not only dead but in some kind of hell.  I suppose this also makes them vulnerable, though being dead could also make them invulnerable, and you never quite know with Sartre.

Thomas Gipson plays Garcin, a pacifist journalist who is shot down by a firing squad for his troubles.  The two other characters call him "garçon" -- French for waiter -- I have no idea if that's the way you pronounce Garcin, or Marinelli instructed the other two to call Garcin that as a indication of their contempt for him, but either way, it worked.  And Gipson worked very effectively, too, sincere, logical, and highly aggrieved.

Inèz certainly has contempt for Garcin.  Denise Reed's Estelle mostly wants to seduce him, and though that's not quite an indication of contempt, it's certainly treating Garcin as an object.  Inèz true to form is infuriated by all that, and Reed does a fine job shuttling between vamping and anger, with the undertone of desperate vulnerability that everyone accept The Valet understandably has, though he has a touch of it too when Garcin says something about his looks.

In case you didn't already know, the essence of this play is "hell is other people".  Marinelli does an especially strong job of conveying this, given that this production is not only virtual but the actors are each in separate rooms in their separate real dwellings.  Marinelli intersperses with appropriate filmic footage, which brings to our eyes the backstories that the characters tell us and one another.

A memorable rendition of an eternally classic play, and never more relevant in its story conveyed via literally separate rooms in these our Covid times.

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If you'd like to see this in an in-person theatre, here's where you can make a tax-deductible donation.

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Friday, September 18, 2020

Raised by Wolves 1.6-7: The Look on Mother's Face

Lots of important, even game-changing events in episodes 1.6-7 of Raised by Wolves, up on HBO Max yesterday:

  • Campion and Paul are becoming rivals, even though it looks as if they'll still ultimately have each other's backs in life and death situations.  But other than that, Campion is representing spirit and Paul logic and science, which is interesting in itself since Campion comes from the atheists and Paul the true-believers. This may be a significant indicator of the future and the changing roles of central characters on this planet.
  • The difference between true believers and atheists is also raging inside Marcus.  He of course is an atheist in the skin of a true believer.  But he's hearing voices that tell him not to kill Mother, and in the end of 1.7 he comes to believe he might be the true-believers' chosen one, the orphan who lights and leads the way to a better world.
  • It was night of sharp turnarounds, to say the least, for Father and Mother.  Father is re-wired to become a robotic servant of the true-believers.  All that's left of the original Father - courageous and wise and devoted to both Mother and their adopted children - is a tremor he betrays in one of his hands.   Mother herself is almost destroyed, saved only by the voice in Marcus's head.  At least she gets to have some good virtual sex with her human creator/programmer.
So where do we go from here?  Marcus is convinced that he can get Mother to fight on his side.  Ironically, that side is likely ultimate the atheists - since that's where Marcus originally came from - but he seems to be tipping into the true-believers.  As for Mother, the expression on her face right after Marcus almost kisses her, his lips just a long fraction of an inch from hers, must hold some clue.   It's not a look of hate or revulsion - certainly not only that.  It's more a look of profound hurt -- some kind of, I don't know, recognition of deep connection between her and Marcus.  Is there even somehow some love there? The image is below - what do you think?

One thing I'm sure of is I hope we see all three concluding episodes next week.




Trump Ban of TikTok Violates the First Amendment


Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 147, in which I offer a lecture I gave just last night -- the night before Trump's ban on TikTok was announced -- about why that ban violates the First Amendment.  I discuss such issues as why the public's right to know protects non-American media in the United States, why entertainment is and has long been protected under the First Amendment, and Trump's real reasons for the ban.

Further reading: 

TikTok, the First Amendment, and the Public's Right to Know


Check out this episode!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Wisting: Nordic Noir at its Best



When they came up with the name Nordic Noir -- whoever that they was -- they surely had something like Wisting in mind.   Not only does it take place in Norway and feature a seasoned detective and his team hunting not just one but at least two serial killers of beautiful blonde women, but in its single-ten-episode season it manages to weave together two quite separate though connected murder stories, and tell us compelling backstories for at least half a dozen diverse characters.

Many of the characters are of course police.  William Wisting, whose name the series takes, is head of a unit with Nils (a detective Wisting's age who has almost nothing but contempt for the FBI pair who come to assist Wisting in the first half of the season, because the serial killer is likely a transplanted American), a younger male detective earnest but unseasoned, a woman who has to juggle in-vitro fertilization with her work on a breaking murder case, and like that.  Carrie Anne-Moss (The Matrix) plays one half of the FBI team, and I didn't know the rest of the actors, but they are were superb.

The biggest personal story that runs through the season is the relationship between Wisting (a recent widower) and his daughter Line, an investigative reporter with penchant for crime stories, blonde, and you just know she's in danger from at least one of the serial killers, which in fact she is.  She's played by Thea Green Lundberg whom, come to think of it, I did see in another fine Norwegian series, Occupied (with a memorable Dylanesque opening song), and she was excellent in both.  And as long as I'm giving kudos to the actors, let me mention Mads Ousdal as Nils, who almost could be a Norwegian Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Sven Nordin, who does a perfect job as Wistng.

In addition to all that, the scenery is a sight for pandemic-sore eyes.  Characters have homes on, over, or near the water, and the roads and the forestry are lush.  Hey, I'm not a detective, but the environment was so inviting I was tempted to jump through the screen and see if I could be of any help.

I'll have to settle having seen a captivating season, and looking forward to a season two.

 

Monday, September 14, 2020

We Hunt Together 1.6: The Sacrifice



I thought the finale to We Hunt Together's short six-episode first season, on Showtime last night, was just right:  meaning, all four central characters ended up just where they best, or most appropriately, belonged.

Let's start with the killers.  Freddy has been on the top of the game all along.  Even that, though, didn't guarantee her a ticket out of the situation she and Baba found themselves in: in a house surrounded by police, most of whom wanted to go in blasting.   Fortunately, Baba had a solution.  And Freddy had the smarts to play it to the hilt.

As for Baba, it was becoming increasingly clear that there was nowhere in this world he now fit.  He loved Freddie, and was willing to kill for her, but he hated doing that.  What better way than to sacrifice himself, and in that one fell swoop atone for his sins and give Freddie a way out.

Jackson was at his best trying to talk Baba into surrendering.  Even though that conversation failed, Jackson's sense of self, already strong, got even sharper.  He'll be an even more effective detective in the second season, which I certainly hope there is.

Lola's trajectory in the finale was the most complex, but also the most rewarding.  She was furious that Freddy was getting away with it.   But she applied that fury and came up with evidence that shows, at least to her and Jackson, that Freddie was involved in the murders.   A good lesson there: fury can be a powerful asset, if it's logically applied.

So ... I really enjoyed this short series, and would welcome another season, with more of Jackson and Lola, and maybe Freddy (though another case would be fun, too).

See also We Hunt Together 1.1: Compelling Pairs ... We Hunt Together 1.2: Upping the Game ... We Hunt Together 1.3: Fine Tuning ... We Hunt Together 1.4: No Murder, But ... We Hunt Together 1.5: Short and Deadly

 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

First Amendment and Public's Right to Know Could be Put to the Test: ByteDance rejects Microsoft Bid for TikTok

The news just broke that ByteDance just rejected Microsoft's offer to buy TikTok*.

This is big news, with profound First Amendment implications.  Trump has threatened to ban TikTok in the United States.  Were it owned by Microsoft, an American corporation, banning any of its media would be an obvious, ipso facto, violation of the First Amendment, and its provision that "Congress [i.e, the Federal government] shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press".

But what about TikTok, now owned by the Chinese company ByteDance?   Some would argue that the First Amendment pertains only to American media.   I (and others) would argue otherwise.  The First Amendment is designed to protect the public's right to know -- Congress is prohibited from banning or restricting media because that seriously interferes with everyone's right to know what's going on.  How else can a democracy function?

I'm glad that ByteDance said no to Microsoft. I have nothing at all against Microsoft -- in fact, I defended Microsoft against our government's foolish threats to break up their alleged monopoly back in the 1990s -- but I'm glad that ByteDance's action will put Trump's blustering to a legal test.  If that happens, if he doesn't back down, it will ultimately be up to the U. S. Supreme Court to determine whether the First Amendment protects the public's right to have access to international media, which is becoming increasingly important in our interconnected world.

You never know for sure about any Supreme Court decision before it's rendered, but I'm always glad to see an issue like this, which gets at the First Amendment and its foundation of our democracy, put to the judicial test.

*PS: And news just came through that ByteDance decided to make Oracle, a U. S. firm, as its partner for Tikok.  Will that qualify for TikTok as being an American firm?


Friday, September 11, 2020

Amazing Stories (2020)1.5: "The Rift": Time Travel and a Candy Bar

Well, Amazing Stories saved the best for last in its short five-episode season on Apple+ TV this past Spring, and it made a fine bookend with the first episode, because both were about time travel.

This time the time travel involves a World War II pilot, shot down and meant to die in Burma in December 1941 but thrown through "The Rift" instead, winding up in his home town in Ohio in early 2020 (right, before COVID).  (A second parenthetical note: I can't get too much time travel.)  As in many time travel stories, this going through a rift has a purpose: he never said goodbye to his wife when he left her in 1941 to go off to war.  But in a nice additional touch in this kind of story, the pilot's travel through time has a second purpose.

The second story is also a kind of love story, with a happy ending, in its own right.  Actually, even happier than the primary story, in which the pilot after giving closure to his wife has to go back to 1941 to die.  The people who help the pilot -- a boy and his step-mother (nice job acting by Duncan Joiner as the boy and Kerry Bishé as his mother), on her way to delivering the boy to his aunt in Indiana, so she can leave the painful memory of her late husband behind, and start a new life in California -- also see their lives changed for the better, when the pilot convinces the step-mom to take the boy with her out West.  

But here's what I really liked best about this fine episode.   The pilot gives the kid a Whiz candy bar - which really existed in our reality, by the way.  Later, we find out that in order for The Rift not to rip up the current world, anyone who went through it has to return to the past exactly as he or she left it on their trip to the future.   The boy needs to give the candy bar back to the pilot -- but the boy has eaten the bar (he got hungry).  No problem -- the pilot realizes that as long as the purposes of the time travel trip are served, The Rift's needs will be served, so it doesn't matter if he travels back in time with no candy bar.

You can always tell a good narrative by how well it handles the details.  "The Rift" handled them perfectly, and gave us a happy ending in a time travel story.   It did get me in the mood for a chocolate bar -- which I'm going to resist -- but that's ok, because I'm even more in the mood for more Amazing Stories, which, just like the Whiz candy bar, began its life in our reality a long time ago.

See also Amazing Stories (2020) 1.1: "The Cellar": The Tops ... Amazing Stories (2020)  1.2: "The Heat": Life After Life ... Amazing Stories (2020) 1.3: "Dynoman and The Volt!": Sweet Superpowers ... Amazing Stories 1.4: "Signs of Life": Happy Revivals








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