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Friday, September 21, 2018

Mayans M. C. 1.3: Two Presidents

An excellent Mayans M. C. 1.3 this week, in which what struck me as the most potentially provocative thing in this explosively provocative series was the two Presidents of the two Mayan motor clubs.

One is Bishop, well played by Michael Irby, and head of the Mayans club in far-southern California.  The other is Marcus, well played by Emilio Rivera, head of the club more up north, and someone we saw in Sons of Anarchy.  The focus in Mayans M. C. is on Bishop's club, but Marcus's presence is not insignificant.

And this week we saw an important exchange between them.  After Bishop shoots and kills Jimmy - the surprise killing in this week's episode (almost every week has one) - he asks Marcus why Marcus did not want Bishop to tell his club about the planned killing beforehand.   Marcus's response indicates he doesn't trust Bishop's crew - Marcus suspects that someone in the southern chapter may be a rat.

This conversation between the Presidents demonstrates an important facet in Mayans, M. C. - there's not just one, but two, Mayans M. C, in this story, and I'd guess that sooner or later that number will be crucial.

Meanwhile, we also get a great scene from Felipe, when he takes a classic-looking gun and points it a detective keeping track of him and E. Z.   There's more to Felipe than meets the eye.  He's not only fiercely protective of his two sons.  He knows how to deal with pesky police.

Looking forward to more of this series.

See also: Mayans, M. C. 1.1: Pulling Us In ... Mayans M. C. 1.2: The Plot Thickens


The Sinner Season 2 Finale: The Ambiguity of Harry

A good twist in the season 2 finale of The Sinner this week.  Turns out Marin's killer wasn't a killer - her shooting was an accident in a scuffle - and it wasn't the Beacon who was part of this.  He's apparently long dead after all.

Jack Novak was a pretty good surprise - the kind that is instantly believable after coming out of the blue.   And his connection to Marin certainly is plausible.  He raped Marin, after she and Heather came back to his/Heather's house, as teenagers, with Heather blind drunk and Marin not in any shape to go home.  And at that point, the rest was predictable:  Jack is Julian's father, and he'd been sending money to Vera for Julian (maybe Vera was blackmailing Jack).

The Vera and Julian escape thread was also handled well.  Vera wants to take Julian to Washington state, where'd he'd be free and safe.  But Julian doesn't want to run the rest of his life.  And Harry is able to convince Vera on the phone that her best course of action is to bring Julian back to upstate New York.

The one unsatisfying part of this finale is, unsurprisingly, Harry's story.  We still don't know exactly what happened between him and his mother, and still don't not know exactly why he wants oblivion, even after he and we finally here the recording of what he said to Vera when he was under the influence of that mind-altering drug.   I guess this means that, if The Sinner continues - which I hope it does - we'll have as a more-or-less constant the ambiguity of Harry, and still not knowing what made him what he is today.

But that still amounts to a highly original, compelling character, and I'm definitely game for a third season.

See also The Sinner 2.1: The Boy ... The Sinner 2.2:  Heather's Story ... The Sinner 2.3: Julian's Mother ... The Sinner 2.5: The Scapegoat ... The Simmer 2.7: Occluded Past Unwound - Mostly

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Jose Antonio Vargas and Joy Reid at Powerhouse Arena

 I first heard about Jose Antonio Vargas in 2007 from my wife Tina.  She was editing Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's Wikipedia pages, and Jose had called her for an interview in a article he was writing for The Washington Post about the impact of Wikipedia on that Presidential election.  Those were early days in the advent of social media - or what I call New New Media (buying a book online is new media, creating a book online is new new media, or consumers becoming producers).  Twitter and YouTube were just a year old, and Wikipedia, though a little older, was not allowed as a reference in student papers in probably every class except mine at Fordham University.   But it was a new new medium par excellence - anyone who could read an article on Wikipedia could edit it - and Tina and Jose recognized its importance.

Tina and Jose kept in touch after that article was published in 2007.  We were delighted when Jose's team at The Washington Post won a Pulitzer Prize the following year for their reporting of the Virginia Tech massacre, and applauded his incredible bravery when, in 2011, he announced that he had been living here in the United States since age 12 as an undocumented immigrant.  Jose and I had met for the first time, a month earlier, in May 2011, when we both were guests on The Dylan Ratigan Show on MSNBC, talking about social media and politics.   Tina and I greeted him at a screening of his autobiographical documentary Documented at the Village East Cinema in Manhattan in 2014 and saw it again on CNN.  (Jose had asked Tina to look at part of it before the film was completed.)

We of course were in the front row last night when Jose was interviewed by Joy Reid at the Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn about his new book, Dear America.  First, the venue, with a Manhattan Bridge archway out the window as backdrop for the speakers, was perfect.  And Joy conducted a savvy and empathetic interview, not easy when you're better known than the subject of interview.  Jose told the story of his difficult and dangerous life, which is the story of his book, which I'll review here in the next few weeks, after I've read it.  It's the story of someone not only unwilling to accept the hand our idiotic and arbitrary immigration laws has dealt him, but unwilling to accept this everyone else in the same or similar boat as he.   Not only does Jose refuse to live off the radar, he and his group Define American, actively campaign in every way they can to take this discriminatory radar, inconsistent with the true spirit of America, totally offline.

From such an all-out warrior, we shouldn't be surprised to find unusual opinions.  Jose of course sees Trump as a threat to what is good in America, but musing about Presidents and their impact on immigrants, he cited George W. Bush as the President who was most congenial to immigrants, meaning that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama not as much.  In other words, Democrats and Republicans have been more equal opportunity abusers of this crucial aspect of the American dream than we may have supposed.

Go see Jose talk wherever you can.  And get his book.  And look here soon for my review.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The First: The Best

Tina and I binged The First on Hulu the last couple of nights - the first being the first mission with people onboard to Mars.   We enjoyed it immensely.  I'd say it's the best of any-mission-to-anyplace-in-space narrative on screen, and that includes some masterful motion pictures like Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff.

The First begins with a shocker which I won't reveal, and then focuses on a mission to Mars in the 2030s.   The future depictions on Earth are just right - causal voice commands to turn lights and phones off, given by characters for whom these ways of doing things have become a comfortable way of life.  But that's about the only thing that's not teeming with tension and anxiety, as five humans plan to risk their lives, in a joint private company/NASA mission which the U. S. President is by no means 100% in favor of.

But the real emotional pay dirt in The First is not political or scientific - and there's plenty of excellent science in the story - but in the impact of this mission on the families of the astronauts. This has been a complex dimension well explored in earlier missions-to-space movies, but not as effectively as in The First, in which each one of the astronauts has to negotiate a powerful nexus of family reservations, to say the least, about their loved ones going on a life-risking voyage.

The story is buoyed by two off-the-chart performances.  Sean Penn has been an Al Pacino/Robert De Niro-level actor for decades, but he's been infrequently seen on screen in recent years.   His Tom Hagerty in The First, the astronaut leading the mission, more than makes up for lost time.   I've previously seen Natascha McElhone, who plays an Elon Musk or Richard Branson kind of outer space CEO in The First, in Californication and Designated Survivor.  Her Laz Ingram in The First is so much better - a tour-de-force combination of powerful, single-minded, and empathetic - that I could almost believe I was seeing a different actress.   Penn and McElhone, and indeed The First as a whole, are eminently Emmy-worthy.

I was on a plenary panel about Religion on Mars at The Mars Society Conference in Pasadena this past August 24.  I had to leave before Beau Willimon's panel on The First on August 26.  Willimon was the brains behind House of Cards and now The First.   If I could flag down a time machine, I'd travel back there and tell Willimon what an outstanding job he did on The First.   Like all great popular culture, this series will play a role in getting a real mission to Mars with humans aloft in what I hope will be sooner rather than later.  In the meantime, I look forward to the next season.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Deuce 2.2: Fairytales Can Come True

The evolution of porn continues to take center stage in The Deuce 2.2, with Candy realizing that a good way to go forward, get more sophisticated, in her movies is to base at least one on a fairytale - or maybe it's a nursery rhyme - Little Red Riding Hood.   Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs' "Little Red Riding Hood" plays in the background - also a raunchy version of that nursery rhyme and always good to hear.

In other movie-related developments on The Deuce, Larry Brown - played by Gbenga Akinnagbe from The Wire and lots of other memorable performances - asks Candy why there are not any "brothers" in her movies.  He aptly points out that acting is the essence of being a pimp, and he would be up to cast in her movies, and you can see the wheels in her head beginning to turn.

And ... at very least, Lori will be heading out to Hollywood, because you can't have a story about the movie business without some significant kind of Hollywood involvement.  What these movies are of course doing is lifting our characters way beyond New York to the world at large.

Indeed, the local non-movie threads in this episode are just two brief scenes.   One concerns the windowless peepholes and their complications.  The other concerns an alternate mob move on Vincent's bar, and will likely lead to some sort of bloodshed before the season is over.

As a media theorist, I'm enjoying the emphasis on porn over in-person pimping and prostitution, meaning, so far, I'm liking this season more than season 1.

See also The Deuce Is Back - Still Without Cellphones, and that's a Good Thing 

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" ..

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Paul Simon Farewell Concert at Prudential Center: "Don't Give Up"

Tina and I just got back from Paul Simon's Farewell Concert at the Prudential Center.  We both thought it was one of the very best concerts we've ever attended - and that includes at least two concerts with Simon & Garfunkel decades ago.

Paul Simon was always as much a poet as a lyricist and songwriter, which is not something you can say about even the greatest lyricists, like Lennon and McCartney, whose words only occasionally reached the realm of sheer poetry.  Simon does that almost every time, in every song.   I knew that before tonight, but his words leaped even more out at me than I recall in the past.   He has a nonchalant profundity almost rolling off his tongue, from "Call Me Al" and "Late in the Evening" to "Crazy After All These Years" (his line "I fear I may do some damage one fine day" has always been one of my all-time favorites).

And his new songs have it too.   The fun and sass of "Rewrite" is as good as "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,"  the haunting beauty of "Questions for the Angels" as memorable as "For Emily," and the keen watercolor imagery of "Rene and Georgette Magritte with their Dog After the War" is right up there with the brush strokes of "Hazy Shade of Winter".

And if the music and singing and band weren't enough, Simon's repartee between songs was worth the price of admission.  He talked about a song he gave to someone else, and he now wanted to reclaim as his own. I thought he was perhaps talking about "Red Rubber Ball," which he wrote and was a big hit for The Cyrkle.  He wasn't.  He was talking about "Bridge Over Troubled Water," the big Simon & Garfunkel hit, mostly sung by just Garfunkel.   Talk about a dis - I don't why Simon harbors such anger for his former partner, but this was a rapier thrust all the way back to 1970.

But in many ways the best line was what Simon had to say about these Trumpian times we live in, without mentioning his name.  "Don't give up," he said quietly to a cheering audience.  And then he sang an especially meaningful "American Tune" ... "I don't know a soul whose not been battered ..."  And we all were tearing not cheering, then applauding.

You know what - I don't think this and his next few, concluding performances on his farewell tour will be his last.  The audience tonight had too much groove, and Simon far too much joy and commitment to his performance, for that to be true.

Look for my review here whenever he does his next series of concerts.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Mayans, M. C. 1.2: The Plot Thickens

Mayans, M. C. continued to develop and flex its muscles and smarts in 1.2 as a complex, multi-level drama with all kinds of conflicts and connections.

The big one in 1.2 was between the cartel and the rebels, who have kidnapped cartel leader Miguel's young son.   He wants the Mayans to get him back, and since the Mayans have all kinds of connections to the rebels, this puts them right in the middle, where they'd rather not be.  Among other things, the Mayans don't like Miguel's brutal tactics, leading to one of the best scenes in the hour, when prospect E. Z. speaks out against this, and Bishop literally puts his body between E. Z., and the angry Miguel, who is menacingly advancing on E. Z.

Miguel and E. Z. have another profound reason to be at odds.  Miguel's wife Emily, loving mother of the kidnapped boy, was E. Z.'s girlfriend before he went to prison.  She seems to love Miguel now, but has problems with his business, which she'd rather not know about, but now needs to, so she can understand why her son was kidnapped.   She still has some feelings for E. Z., and he definitely has some for her, and given his connections to the rebels, this puts him a conflicted situation par excellence.

His only completely reliable ally at this point is his father, well played by Edward James Olmos.  Actually, all the parts, major and minor, are very played, including Michael Irby as Bishop, Richard Cabral as Coco, and Clayton Cardenas as E. Z.'s brother Angel, who (presumably) doesn't know about his brother's sleeper status.

All of this is riveting viewing, and I'm looking forward to more.  (Prediction from my wife Tina: Devante - great to see Tony Plana in this role - and Miguel's mother killed Miguel's father.  This is in keeping with the Sons' Hamlet motif, and makes sense.)

See also: Mayans, M. C. 1.1: Pulling Us In


The Sinner 2.7: Occluded Past Unwound - Mostly

The Sinner really came together - or maybe, its occluded past unwound - in episode 2.7 earlier this week, the next-to-last episode of this season.

We finally have almost all the pieces in the puzzle of how and why Julian came to murder the couple who were driving him to Niagara Falls.  He thought he was being kidnapped.  They weren't his parents.  And, actually, he was being kidnapped, by his mother, Marin, who had prevailed upon the couple to bring her biological son to her.

So that part is mostly settled.   But there's a new mystery, which could be connected to a piece of the original mystery of Julian and the poison he administered.   Who shot Marin to death?  We saw that Julian had access to Marin's gun.  This of course suggests that Julian killed her.   But we also saw Marin talking on the phone, to someone who in some way was her accomplice in her retrieval of Julian.

Who was that?  The only one who makes any sense is Lionel Jeffries aka The Beacon.  He's after all Julian's father.   And he's been missing from Mosswood.  We assumed he was dead, but we never actually saw him killed.   And... if Jeffries killed Marin, is there some way that he killed the original couple, or at least, helped prepare the deadly tea?

The main argument against that is why didn't he then take Julian with him?   Will be good to see how this all works out in the finale of this strange, compelling season of this strange, compelling series.

See also The Sinner 2.1: The Boy ... The Sinner 2.2:  Heather's Story ... The Sinner 2.3: Julian's Mother ... The Sinner 2.5: The Scapegoat

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Deuce Is Back - Still without Cellphones and that's a Good Thing

The Deuce is back on HBO for its second season.  As was the case with first season, the most enjoyable aspect of this series is its deft capturing of the New York City sleaze ambience of the 1970s.   I remember it quite well - no, not because I was a part of it - but because I walked those streets often, first as a singer/songwriter going in and out of recording studios (which resulted in Twice Upon a Rhyme), later as graduate student at The New School and NYU.

Season 2 zooms in more than half a decade after Season 1.  Koch is now Mayor - as cops debate whether or not he was a "homo," and take figurative shots at Abe Beame, admittedly the most boring Mayor in New York history.  The pimp business is now thoroughly appreciative of the monetary opportunities of porn, and a much slimmer Harvey is still making movies, while Candy continues to push their creative boundaries.

As with the first season, the centerpiece is Vincent Martino (James Franco) and his twin brother Frank (of course also played by Franco).  In a different kind of narrative, Frankie could well be an invention of Vincent's brain.   He flits in and out of scenes, and is often barely seen.   But since he is indeed seen and interacted with by characters other than his brother, chances are Frankie is real.  Certainly Abby acts as if he's real, and the decisive moment in 2.1 is the love she sees in Vincent for his brother when Vincent forgives his debt.   This fans the attraction and love she feels for Vincent, and provides a nice bed for the two of them in bed together at the end.

Something I also liked in the first season, which continues in the second, is how everyone manages to live personal lives and do whatever business with no cell phones.  The 1970s would be the last decade without even a hint of one in the streets or in a car, and the same is true for personal computers.    Given the enormous degree to which all of us in 2018 depend upon those devices, it's almost gratifying to see how well our people did without them back in the 1970s.

So I'd keep watching The Deuce, even if it wasn't about porn and all of that.  See you here next week with more.

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" ..

Friday, September 7, 2018

Paul McCartney at Grand Central Station: Unique, Memorable, Gratifying, and Priceless

left to right, front: Rusty Anderson, Paul McCartney, Brian Ray
left to right, back: Wix Wickens, Abe Laboriel, Jr,
"I've Got a Feeling" - tonight at Grand Central Station

My wife and I saw Paul McCartney and his band perform at the Nassau Coliseum a year ago.  We loved it.  Thought it was the best concert we'd ever attended.  Tonight's nearly surprise concert at Grand Central Station, which we just saw live streaming on YouTube, was even better.  I'm not kidding.  I'd intended to live tweet it at least a little, but the music was too good to do anything other than watch and listen.  I managed a couple of snapshots at the beginning, then even that was too much of a distraction from this wonderfully astonishing performance.

It's often said that the Beatles invented all kinds of trends in music, which McCartney continued doing after the group split up.  "Helter Skelter" presaged heavy metal.  Tonight McCartney and his band  (Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson guitars, Abe Laboriel Jr. drums, Paul "Wix" Wickens keyboard) - always fabulous - gave it an extraordinary performance, with Wickens picking up a guitar to join McCartney and his other two guitarists for a four-guitar rendition.

Speaking of guitars (by the way, this review is just about what most struck me, and is not in order of the songs performed), Paul and his two guitarists did that priceless three-way guitar duel in the "Carry that Weight" medley just pefectly.  And just about every song was that way - unique, memorable, gratifying, and priceless.

The mini-early Beatle set, in which McCartney did "From Me to You" and "Love Me Do" was a heart-tugging form of time-travel, with the songs sounding almost just the way I first heard them, or remember first hearing them, in the early-mid 1960s.   "Let It Be" - a song which McCartney wrote for Aretha (she turned it down, but later recorded it after the Beatles) - was profound and tender.

The new songs, from the just released Egypt Station, were great, too. I've already heard a lot of "Come On To Me" on The Beatles Channel on Sirius XM Radio, and it's already a favorite.  I liked the live performance even more than the recording. "Fuh You" and, especially, "Who Cares?" - a put down of bullies - were outstanding.

The Beatles were far and away the best in their time.  Paul McCartney continues to be that to this very day, with new albums and concerts.  We're lucky indeed to have him on our planet.

Hey, the concert is still up on YouTube at this moment - you can watch it here.  See also Paul McCartney's Two New Songs, Paul McCartney at Nassau Coliseum, and A Vote for McCartney.  Also The Village Voice Goes Silent.

Paul McCartney, "I've Got A Feeling," tonight at Grand Central Station

nothing to do with McCartney, but a lot about Grand Central Station

Mayans, M. C. 1.1: Pulling Us In

Hey, the Mayans M. C. debut, Kurt Sutter's latest, was good, and may well have the makings of great.   My wife and I enjoyed it.

A little context.  Sutter is best-known for his series, Sons of Anarchy, also on the FX Channel.  I first heard about Sons when I was teaching a graduate course about "Television and New Media" at Fordham University in 2013.  Each student was required to choose a TV series, and follow its reception in social media.  Most students chose high-concept, sophisticated series that I was already was watching, like The Americans.  One guy picked Sons.  I'd never heard of it, but he was a bright student, so I said sure.  His reports got me interested in the series.

But I still didn't get around to watching it - which of course required watching all of the earlier seasons (Sons of Anarchy debuted in 2008), and I wasn't quite ready to make that commitment.  Our daughter, telling us about a year later that SOA was one of the best series she'd ever seen, pushed us over the top.  We watched and devoured every episode of Sons of Anarchy, and consider it one of the very best shows ever on TV of any kind.  It was indeed high concept and sophisticated and so much more.

Mayans take place in the same place as Sons, and indeed we saw some of the Mayans in Sons.  But that means Mayans has huge burden - it's in effect competing with SOA, where there was so much powerful content that I won't even summarize.  The first episode shows that Mayans could be on track to doing that.

For Sam Crow fans, we got a quick view of Gemma (Katey Sagal), in an eight-years earlier scene with E. Z. (J. D. Pardo) in prison.  And Les Packer, a character played by Robert Patrick who appeared in a couple of episodes of Sons, leads a group Sons in support of a Mayans operation.  The Mayans and SAMCRO were by and large allies in Sons of Anarchy, so that makes sense.

It's too soon to tell if Mayans will achieve the Shakespearean heights of Sons of Anarchy, but there are already some strong and tempestuous family relationships on hand in Mayans, including father and son, and brother to brother.  Sutter wove his magic in SOA, the unlikely but irresistible mix of violence and humor, and after the first episode of Mayans, we're more than ready to give this new series a shot.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime: Right Up There

You've got to give Amazon credit, doing a new, rebooted Jack Ryan series, starring John Krasinski in the title role, after the likes of Harrison Ford, Alex Baldwin, Ben Affleck had knocked the role out the ballpark - well, certainly Harrison Ford - in a series of riveting movies from 1984 through 1996.  Sort of like what Amazon attempted when it brought Philip K. Dick's alternate history masterpiece novel The Man in the High Castle to the streaming television series screen with little-known actors.   And with the same result: both succeeded splendidly.

I haven't read any of Tom Clancy's novels, which I think is actually good when judging a movie or a television series based on the novels, because it allows appreciation of the movie or TV series on its own terms.   And my wife and I, binge-watching the eight Jack Ryan episodes in just two nights, really enjoyed this first season of this classic American spy-action story.

The trapping are familiar and updated - ISIS in Syria, attacking a church in Paris, and before the end of these episodes, bringing the fight to the U. S. homeland, with an ebola virus and a dirty bomb designed to wreak havoc.   But although this new Jack Ryan is reminiscent of both Jack Bauer and Homeland, with some Doron from Fauda thrown in, it has a pace and a heart all its own.

Jack is determined to not only save the day but do the right thing - as in trying to come through for the people around him on his commitments - for not only his friends but relative innocents caught up in the struggle.  His immediate boss, James Greer, is played by Wendell Pierce, who gives the best performance of his long career since The Wire.  Abbie Cornish is good as Dr. Cathy Mueller, who we know in a subsequent story will become Cathy Ryan or Mrs. Jack Ryan (Jack, by the way, is a Dr., too - a PhD in economics).  Ali Suliman as Suleiman is scathing, sensitive, and memorable as the terrorist mastermind.

There's humor, surprises, interludes of non-stop action and deaths - expected and unexpected - in just about every episode.  I'm ready for the second season, which I'll review here as soon as it's up on Amazon.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Ozark 2: Against All Odds and More

Tina and I binge-watched Ozark 2 on Netflix, about a year after we did the same for the first season.  The second season is at least as good, which is to say, excellent indeed, in many ways a unique piece of television narrative.

As in the first season, the Byrde family is against all odds in their (Marty and Wendy's) attempt to set up a casino or at very least survive in the Ozarks.  Their in-and-out enemies include not only the cartel and the FBI, but a variety of psychos, miscreants, and killers including the Snells (or at least, Darlene Snell), the preacher Mason, Ruth's father Cade, and just for good measure the Kansas City mob.  Some of these characters don't survive the season, but I won't tell you who.

I will say that Wendy has a more prominent and crucial role than in the first season, and Laura Linney gives this a tour-de-force performance, one of her best in any role in her long and storied career.  We see her delivering every conceivable emotion, ranging from rage to tenderness, balancing her maternal instincts with an iron will to survive.

Indeed, for a variety of reasons, women play a more decisive role in this second season than in the first, with not only Wendy, Darlene, and Ruth on center stage, but Helen the cartel lawyer in some critical scenes delivering memorable lines.   The Byrde children - Charlotte and Jonah - are also more central to the story, and it's great to see Harris Yulin as Buddy back in action (it is only me, or does Yulin look like at least two or three other actors).

Ozark has carved out an original and compelling niche for itself, and I'm looking forward to more.

See also Ozark: Frying Pan into the Fire

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Village Voice Goes Silent

Last night brought the news that The Village Voice, once the hottest, coolest, in synch weekly newspaper in town, was ceasing publication.   This was the last act in a decline which saw the Voice being given away for free on the streets of New York (in an attempt to boost circulation to staunch declining ad revenue) to going completely online just last year.  Though I've long read much more online than on paper, I hate to see any newspaper go under.   And the Voice's passing has special meaning for me, since it was the first place to publish anything that I'd written.  Actually, my first three publications were in The Village Voice.

In September 1971, I was putting the finishing touches on my LP Twice Upon A Rhyme in Mario Rossi's recording studio at the end of Brooklyn.   Ed Fox, Peter Rosenthal, and I lived in the Bronx, and on the clacking train ride out to Brooklyn, a copy of the Voice, then in just its 16th year of publication, was usually close at hand.   One night, I read a typically tone-deaf, dyspeptic review by Robert Christgau in the Voice of Paul McCartney's second solo album, Ram.  I was sufficiently infuriated that, next day, I pounded out a lengthy Letter to the Editor on my electric portable Smith Corona, stained with coffee and orange juice but still working, and I sent it off to The Village Voice.  I doubt I even made a copy, and pretty much forgot about it.   I didn't really expect to see it published there in the Letters column.

My expectations were right.   I eagerly grabbed a copy of the Voice the next week.  The first page I turned to was the Letters page.  Nothing whatsoever there by me, or about McCartney.  But a few days later, early in October, I found a letter from the Voice in my mailbox - a letter and a check.  I looked at the check, first.  $65.00.  I looked at the letter.  It was from Diane Fischer, one of the Voice's main editors.  She said she assumed it would be ok with me if the Voice published my letter as an opinion piece, in its "Taking Issue," section, and paid me $65.00 for it, for which a check was enclosed.

I was thrilled.   The release of Twice Upon a Rhyme on HappySad Records (a record company created by Ed Fox and me, after two or three major labels turned our album down, and we were not interested in shopping it around, for what could have been years) was still a year away, and I still thought of myself as a singer and songwriter, not an essay writer.   But in retrospect, the publication of my letter as "A Vote for McCartney" in The Village Voice on October 21, 1971 was a turning point in my life.  I'd imagined that Paul McCartney would contact me after reading the article, and maybe get me signed to Apple Records.  That didn't happen.  But what did is I began getting far more recognition as as a Voice "columnist" - on the strength of that one publication - than I'd received, or would receiving in ensuing years, as a singer and songwriter.

My second essay in The Village Voice, "Murray the K in the Nostalgia's Noose" was published a little over a year later to the day, in the October 26, 1972 issue.   I'd sent that one in as an essay, not letter, to Diane, after Tina and I had heard and loved Murray the K's return to New York's airwaves on the July 4th 1972 weekend.   Diane (or someone at the Voice) had taken that title from a line in my generally very flattering essay, which said Murray needs to be careful that "nostalgia doesn't become a noose around his neck".  Murray managed to track down my phone number - no doubt the Voice gave it to him - and I received a call from him the very evening that that issue of the Voice hit the streets.  He told me how much he appreciated my essay and offered me a job as a producer on his new NBC radio show.  I took it, and even wrote and recorded a song, "Murray the K's Back in Town" which he played on his show.

By the time my third and final article was published in The Village Voice - in its July 4, 1976 issue - I was already back at school, completing my BA in Journalism at New York University after a long break from the classroom.  My article about Murray the K had brought me to NBC where, after Murray left, I began working as a producer for Wolfman Jack.  After he left, I wrote an essay about his departure from New York, and Diane not only published it, but kept my title, "Wolfman Hits the Road, Jack".

I'd go on, academically, to walk up the street to the New School after getting my BA from NYU.  At the New School, I earned an MA and began reading everything I could by and about Marshall McLuhan.  I went back down the street to NYU's Media Ecology program for my PhD, which I earned before the end of the decade.  And the rest, as they say, is (my) history.

I did have two more significant interactions with Christgau in that decade.  One came in the mid-1970s, when he rejected an article I'd as submitted about the evolution of "The Wizard of Oz" in rock music, then culminating in Elton John's "Yellow Brick Road".  Christgau had been put in charge of all the music pieces in the Voice, and I received a letter from him saying that my essay was very well written but said nothing of any any importance.  No check was included.  Undaunted, I sent the article to The Soho Weekly News, a more local kind of Voice, focusing more on popular culture than politics, just down the street.  They accepted the article, sent me a pen-and-ink drawing to go with the article, but before they'd had a chance to publish and pay me for the article, I received a letter from - believe it or not, Christgau - explaining that he also was a consultant or something for the Weekly News, and was advising them not to publish my article.  So it goes.

The Soho Weekly News was gone by the early 1980s.  But Christgau continued at the Voice, which I continued to read, despite his caustic reviews of music that I loved.  But the Voice also had Nat Hentoff, as passionate a champion of the First Amendment as ever there was, and Ron Rosenbaum, who could write a riveting, lengthy essay that you couldn't put down, about Mayor Abe Beame, who took boring to a whole new level.

I consider myself privileged to have been in the pages of this remarkable publication which captured the times we were in, fanned and extended them, and made me even prouder than I was to be a New Yorker.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Sinner 2.5: The Scapegoat

A strong episode of The Sinner tonight - 2.5 - after last week's episode 2.4, which was also strong, with its God knows what happened to Harry at the end, but I didn't get a chance to review.

The most interesting and possibly the most profound aspect of tonight's episode was the Beacon's literal adoption of the ancient scapegoat sacrifice, in which a poor goat that everyone in the community has loved and cared for is slaughtered in the interest of expiating everyone's sins.  His understanding of ancient Greece, however, is somewhat flawed, when he calls this exercise a "catharsis".  The Greeks were not talking about killing goats but releasing pent-up emotions through art.  Freud later expanded this concept to any human activity that resulted in an emotional release, with an emphasis on safe activities that did this.  So, any way you cut this, the Beacon was somewhat out of his mind or jumbling the truth.  No surprise.

Otherwise, the people in town - just about everyone - are closing ranks in their protection of Mosswood, including getting Harry removed from the case.  This is an old story with Harry - going at least as far back as last season - and he's used to it.   He'll continue to work on this case regardless of how many people want him off it, and it's good to seeing him do just that at the end.

In additional news from the commune, it looks as if Marin was killed at some point, after giving birth to Julian.   But we should've learned by now not to take anything for granted in The Sinner, including conclusions which evidence seems to be pointing at.  All of which is to say I won't be surprised if Marin turns up alive before this season is over, despite that coming attraction of the skeleton being pulled out of the lake.

And here's a prediction, which I guess is pretty obvious:  I think we'll see Vera and Harry in bed before the end, if that hasn't happened already in that black-out for Harry at the end of 2.5.  And, for a variety of reasons, I think that would be a good thing for Harry.

See also The Sinner 2.1: The Boy ... The Sinner 2.2:  Heather's Story ... The Sinner 2.3: Julian's Mother

Amazing Stories launch event in Toronto

For Immediate Release

Amazing Stories, the first science fiction magazine created in 1926 by Hugo Gernsback and featuring such luminaries of the genre as Jules Verne, H. G, Welles, E. E. “Doc” Smith, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clark, has returned!

To celebrate the first new print issue of the magazine since 2005, a special launch event will be held at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy (239 College St.). The event will take place on Wednesday, September 12, from 6 to 8 pm.

Editor-in-Chief Ira Nayman will be on hand to give a brief history of the magazine and talk about the challenges of reviving it in the current economic and political climate.

Authors who have confirmed their attendance include: Paul Levinson (“Slipping Time”), Shirley Meier (“Flight of an Arrow”) and Drew Hayden Taylor (“When Angels Come Knocking”). Julie Czerneda (“Foster Earth”) has expressed an interest in attending if her schedule allows. Various other contributors to the magazine will also be on hand.

The first 50 people to attend will receive free copies of the magazine.

“This is both exciting and a little scary,” admitted Toronto native Nayman. “Amazing Stories has a – ahem – storied history. This makes reviving the magazine a delicate balancing act between honouring Amazing Stories’ legacy and updating it for a modern audience. Fortunately, the authors who have contributed to the first issue have given us a great start!”

Advance copies of the first issue of Amazing Stories are now available. Toronto-based author Ira Nayman is available for interviews.

For more information, contact:
Ira Nayman, Editor-in-Chief, Amazing Stories
(416) 630-7331

Manifest Sneak Peak 9 and 1/2 Mins: Could Be Outstanding

Having flown back a few days ago from The Mars Society Convention in Pasadena, and time-travel being my all-time favorite genre, how could I resist watching the 9 and 1/2 minute sneak preview of Manifest, a series about a plane that travels instantly through time from 2013 to 2018, to debut on NBC at the end of September?

I couldn't.

Airplanes have been vehicles of the very best time travel, from "The Odyssey of Flight 33" on The Twilight Zone in 1961 to John Varley's brilliant 1981 novel, Millennium.   Can the NBC series possibly live up to this?

Very possibly.

Under ten minutes is not much time to tell, but I'd say Manifest has a fair shot of doing this - of finally telling a time travel story on network television in the same league as the very different Quantum Leap, now decades old.  The key to any good story is memorable character development.  From what I saw on YouTube, where you too can see this sneak preview - I've posted the video below - the people in this story are real and appealing.

But it's still too soon to say for sure.   We'll know more after the first episode, after which I'll be back here with a full review.  And even then, the history of television is littered with great debuts that never went anywhere, or flew way off course.  I'm hopeful that that won't happen with Manifest, where the flying of course already took place, but through time as well as space.

See you here in about thirty days.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Foreigner: Rumble, Bond, and Remington

I reviewed the movie I saw on the plane out to Pasadena for the Mars Society Conference the other day.   Only fair that I review the movie I saw coming back.  Even if that isn't fair, there is at least one very good aspect of the movie.   I'd therefore recommend it, if you'd think you'd find that aspect as appealing as I did.

The two stars of the movie, Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan, are no youngsters.   And they play their parts perfectly: oldsters who still have all their smarts and most of their moves from their younger days.

Chan is the devastated father of a daughter killed by terrorists in the U. K.  He's determined to find and punish her killers.  Since he's a lot like an older Bruce Lee, he has the smarts and moves to do this, though he's a little creaky.

Brosnan is a former IRA terrorist now in some pretty high-up government position.  Chan thinks he knows who the killer are, since Brosnan is in charge of the investigation.  In a classic James Bond opening, we first see him in bed with a woman who isn't his wife.  Well, Bond isn't married for most of his exploits but you get what I mean.   And it turns out that the woman is one of the bad guys - bad people - bad because her group has big connection to the terrorists who killed Chan's daughter.

There are good fight and action scenes, and even some surprises in this well-worn kind of story. If anything, Chan is better than he ever was.  And this is best I've seen Brosnan since Bond and  Remington Steele.  So if you like this kind of movie, see it.  You won't be disappointed.


Sharp Objects: Final Thoughts

I've resisted reviewing Sharp Objects for the two next-to-last episodes until the finale, because, well I wanted to see how it turned out.  (Spoilers ahead.)

Amma and her friends are revealed as the murderers of the girls - the murder that brought Camille to town - and I'm not particularly happy with that revelation, or the way it was shoe-horned in as a coda.  It's not that I don't think Amma and her friends couldn't have done that - they certainly could - but one of the planks of the investigation has been that it required a man's strength to extract those teeth.  The twist that it not a woman, but more than one woman, strikes me as clever but weak.  Wouldn't a smart detective like Richard have thought of that?

And speaking of Richard, I didn't like how Camille jumped so quickly in bed with Natalie's brother.  I get that this at least was in part designed to show us how hurt and vulnerable she is to anyone who shows her affection.  But, I don't know, it happened too fast, with almost no build-up or prelude.

Back to the murder - I suggested Adora's husband early in my reviews, and I still think he makes the most sense.  He has a man's strength and the motive of protecting Adora. All that was needed to make this work was something that the two victims had over Adora.   Not hard to find or imagine, given that she was all about Munchausening her daughters by proxy.

But hey, I didn't write this, and I assume the TV series adhered to the story in the novel.  Fine acting all around, especially Amy Adams as Camille.  But I can well understand why she said no to reprising the role in a second season.

See alsoSharp Objects 1 and 2: Serial Tennessee Williams ... Sharp Objects #3: Lateral ... Sharp Objects #4: "You Can't Change History" ... Sharp Objects #5: Men in Badges