Monday, January 11, 2021

Podcast: Insurrection, Trump, Impeachment, More

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 164, in which Captain Phil on WUSB-FM Radio (Stony Brook, New York) interviews me about last week's storming of the U.S. Capitol, Donald Trump, the prospects of his impeachment, and more.



Check out this episode!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Your Honor 1.6: Exquisite Chess Game

The exquisite chess game ramped up in Your Honor 1.6, making it one of the best shows -- the most tightly and harrowingly plotted -- ever seen on television.

Here's what happened, and where the story now stands:  The Judge cleverly tracked down his blackmailer, and had a plan to keep him quiet, without killing him -- and without the Judge knowing that he was being followed by Baxter and his hit-man.  At the same time, Lee got testimony and DNA evidence that Carlo killed Kofi in prison, and let's the Judge know about this.  When Baxter is about to kill the Judge, he tells Baxter that his surviving son is about to be arrested for murder and the Judge can help.  Baxter thinks it over and kills the blackmailer (not because he's a blackmailer, but because the Judge tells Baxter the blackmailer knows "everything").

What a series of moves!  The blackmailer dead is better for the Judge than the plan he had worked out, where the blackmailer could have changed his mind at any time, despite what the Judge told him.  So where do we go from here?

Baxter still think the Judge killed his son.  Adam and Fia are falling in love.   Fia doesn't know yet that Adam is the Judge's son, that her father thinks the Judge killed Rocco, but in fact it was Adam behind the wheel on the terrible morning.  Meanwhile, let's not forget Big Mo, who is getting into a drug dead with Carlo, and won't hesitate to kill Carlo or his father if she gets a clear chance that won't stick to her.  That's a pretty good asset for the Judge, which he doesn't yet know about.

One of the excellent things about this narrative is how every time the deck is even slightly cleared, there's even more simmering, more bombs waiting to go off, than before.  See you back here next week, when we'll see what's standing.

See also Your Honor 1.1: Taut Set-Up ... Your Honor 1.2: "Today Is Yesterday" ... Your Honor 1.3: The Weak Link ... Your Honor 1.4: The Dinner ... Your Honor 1.5: The Vice Tightens

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Unknown: Fast Moving and Effective

I noticed that Unknown, a 2011 movie, is on Netflix's top 10.  My wife and I saw it a few nights ago, and very much enjoyed it.

Liam Neeson plays a professor (Martin) who gets separated from his wife Elizabeth (Mad Men's January Jones) and then loses part of his memorable when he's in a car accident.  He has enough of it to know he is married and to whom, but when he meets up with his wife, he finds she's with another man, who has Martin's name, and the couple claim to have no idea who the Neeson Martin is.

That's a good set-up for an action adventure, and Unknown follows through very well.  The action takes place in Germany, and Martin, wanting to find out what's going on with his wife, stays one step ahead of being killed.  Diane Kruger plays Gina, who becomes an ally of Martin's, and the narrative is peopled with oddly memorable characters, including a hotel factotum and a former East German member of the Stasi.

[spoilers ahead]

Unknown also does a good job of sprinkling in clues which are foundations for the surprise ending.  For example, Martin seems to be a very sharp fighter and driver for a professor, and that's because ... as revealed at the end, he's a secret agent not a professor.

The action is non-stop and effective, there's no telling who will live or die, and I very much recommend Unknown.


The View Looks Better from Here

I wrote here the morning after the election in November that there were grounds for optimism -- Biden was gaining in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Arizona, which provided enough votes to win in the Electoral College. The last stage of that anachronistic, indirectly democratic process, but the only process we have right now, was completed last night.

I don't like Vice President Pence in the least.  He's enabled and promoted four years of Trump's fascist regime.  But, in the end, he did his job in Congress certifying the electoral vote yesterday.  It's a measure of how far we've gone away from decency and integrity in the Trump regime that a Vice President deserves praise for doing his job, but there you have it.

Yesterday also brought the news that the Democrats will control the Senate, and therefore both houses of Congress.  Warnock's and Ossoff's victories in George are profound game changers, which will open the way for Biden with Harris's help to enact all the major components of his rebuilding a better America. (In addition what needs to be done in making health care universal, countering racism, gun control, protecting the environment -- I've also long yearned, on a relatively minor, personal level, for a rail system in the United States as high-speed and effective as the ones in Europe and Japan, and I think that will now finally happen.)

There's still an enormous amount of danger to be dealt with, ranging from every minute Trump is still in the White House to the tap root of fascism Trump called forth* to the still-raging pandemic.  But we've finally reached the light at the end of one of the long, deep tunnels we've been struggling the navigate, and the view looks better from here.

*The storming of the U.S. Capitol, which happened a few hours after this blog post, is a tragic and infuriating example of what this fascism can do.  See my comments in the NY1 video below:

Monday, January 4, 2021

3022: Worthy Entry in a Bleak Genre

For some reason, 3022 is the second movie I've seen in as many weeks about astronauts stranded in deep space, unable to return to an unexpected dead or dying Earth. The Midnight Sky was the first, and both reprise Arch Oboler's (great name) masterful Night of the Auk from the 1950s.   I loved Oboler's play, but I'm generally not a fan of these apocalypse astronaut scenarios.   But like The Midnight Sky, 3022 gave me some reasons to like it.

First and foremost, Omar Epp's performance as John Laine, captain of one of the crews out there in the solar system, was really excellent.  So was Kate Walsh as Jackie Miller, engineer and in a romantic relationship with Laine.  Believability, dependent on actors providing the requisite range of human emotions, is essential in these kinds of life-and-death stories in outer space, and Epps and Walsh are up to the task.

Now one of the reasons I generally don't care for these end-of-the-world astronaut stories is that scant or no reason is given for why the Earth is kaput.  The Midnight Sky didn't, and neither did 3022Night of the Auk, by the way, did -- nuclear war.

So with the action on Earth a fait accomplis, we're left with the people in space in 3022 to tell us a captivating story.   The usual narrative, which we've seen many times, are the long-term effects life in space has on the body and mind, and even the soul.  We get a good rendition of this in 3022, with happy astronauts evolving towards falling to pieces.

I won't tell you the very end, which we get in the very last minute.  But I will recommend 3022 as a worthy entry in a bleak genre.   Good writing by Ryan Binaco, good directing by John Suits, as well as the fine acting.

first starship to Alpha Centauri ... and they only had enough fuel to get there

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Podcast Review of Bridgerton: Alternate Jane Austen

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 163, in which I review Bridgerton, and say it's an alternate history Jane Austen story.

Read this review:  Bridgerton: Alternate Austen




Check out this episode!

Your Honor 1.5: The Vice Tightens

So I realized, as my wife and I were watching Your Honor 1.5 on Showtime, that this whole series is about honor.  Not just the judge's title, but the honor -- or lack of -- of just about every character and their actions.

Big Mo has a lot of it.  She takes in the one survivor of the blast that killed every other member of his and Kofi's family.  She goes to see Baxter, because she wants to tell him what actually happened in the death of his son, and how Kofi couldn't have done it, because she doesn't want all-out war.

That war may be averted, but the daggers are closing in on Judge Diasato.  The episode ends with Baxter now knowing 100% that Diasato was involved in the death of Baxter's son.  And the blackmailer was in the car behind Adam at the gas station Adam went to after the fatal accident, and took a video of it.   Hard for Your Honor to maintain honor with life-and-death facing you at every turn.

Adam, however, continues to draw on an unexpected reservoir of cool.  When Baxter's daughter asks him what emotionally big event happened to Adam other than the death of his mother, Adam suavely responds that he met an impressive girl.  That kind of quick thinking may or may not save him and his father as the vice tightens.

At this point, halfway through the series, just about everything else is going wrong for Adam and his father.   All the attempts the judge made to direct attention away from Adam are having just the opposite result.   Does he have any more moves?   Hard to say.  But what is becoming increasingly clear is he has decreasing time to make them.

See also Your Honor 1.1: Taut Set-Up ... Your Honor 1.2: "Today Is Yesterday" ... Your Honor 1.3: The Weak Link ... Your Honor 1.4: The Dinner


Saturday, January 2, 2021

Rust Creek: Not Rusty or Creeky

We saw Rust Creek, a 2018 movie, on Netflix last night.  Neither rusty nor creeky, and in fact a quite good rendition of the well worn theme of a young woman drives off the road in some backwoods area, and is accosted by guys ranging from criminals to miscreants.

The first thing I liked about Rust Creek is the reason Sawyer (the young woman) winds up off the road: a lame GPS system that directs her to a closed road, and then provides no coherent way of getting back to the highway.  How many times has that happened to you, right?

The miscreants, who are meth dealers, are no great shakes in originality, but the cook -- the guy who makes the meth -- turns out to be a decent, likeable, highly intelligent and reliable character.  In his own way, he turns out to be the hero of the story.

The anti-hero is a local sheriff, genial and ... deadly.   He's actually running the meth show, and the ease with which he kills anyone who gets in his way provides some surprises in the narrative.  I realized, as I was watching this movie, that Sheriff O'Doyle could have been a template for Big Rick, the genial sheriff in Big Sky who will also kill anyone he perceives as a danger to his illicit business.  (I have no idea who in the making of Big Sky saw what in Rust Creek, but I'm just saying the two characters seem cut from the same cloth.)

So, all in all, Rust Creek is an enjoyable movie, well directed by Jen McGowan, with good acting by Hermione Corfield (who was also good as the villain in We Hunt Together) as Sawyer and Jay Paulson as meth-cook Lowell and Sean O'Bryan as O'Doyle, and good writing by Julie Lipson and Stu Pollard.  I say see it.


Equinox (2020 TV series): Touches But Misses Kierkegaard and Darko

There have been a handful of movies and TV series named Equinox - check out the disambiguation page on Wikipedia -- but I thought I'd devote my first review here on Infinite Regress in 2021 to a Danish TV series by the name of Equinox that just debuted on Netflix on December 30, 2020, or two days ago.

The story begins with the sudden disappearance of high school kids on a bus, which could have made Equinox an entry in one of my favorite genres, Nordic Noir.   But crime is not in play in Equinox, unless you're talking about crimes of the soul, or, if you're inclined to be unkind, crimes of narrative.

Not that the narrative isn't compelling, which it often is.  But the mainspring of the narrative is fantasy, and not in the alt-science fiction way of His Dark Materials or Game of Thrones.  No, the fantasy at work in Equinox is some kind of mythological rite of Spring, an inchoate demon of something that demands to be satisfied when frustrated.

There are elements in this story, which apropos its Danish provenance, partakes of Kierkegaard, who is indeed mentioned at one point, but not really explored (that is, his brilliant philosophy of dread isn't intertwined in the story).  There are also elements of Donnie Darko in Equinox, but other than the demon who looks from some angles like the Darko rabbit, there's no time travel, however torturous it is in that 2001 classic.

What we do get in Equinox, which is good, and may make it worthwhile viewing for some people, is an intricate, powerful family relationship story, exploring the connection of sisters, mother and daughters, father and daughters, at younger and older ages.   But I crave a plot that weaves these relationships, if not into a current or historical reality, into a crime story that takes place in our real world, or a science fiction tale in a world that is plausibly ours or someone else's.

Instead, Equinox pins its exploration on a map of grade D fantasy (on a grading scale of A to F), which makes it disappointing in my book.


Thursday, December 31, 2020

Vikings Season 6 Part 2 (11-20): America


I thought I'd conclude my reviews for 2020 with Vikings Season 6, Part 2 (episodes 11-20) -- the end of the saga -- which I was able to binge on Amazon Prime Video the past two nights.  I thought it was wonderful, with one truly outstanding interlude.

This second half of the final season actually comes in two parts.  The first focuses on the Rus, with Ivar and Hvitserk in major play.  And in the West, Ubbe gets to Iceland and points west with Torve.  The second focuses on Wessex, again with Ivar and Hvitserk on centerstage for the Norse.  And in the West, Ubbe and his crew make it all the way to America.

That last part had my favorite interlude: the way that Ubbe's group gets along so well with the indigenous people who live in America.  As a counterpart and antidote to all the fighting and death we've seen all these years on this powerhouse historical series, there was one scene in which the Vikings and the people who already lived in this lush new world exchange gifts and get to know each other, at least a little.  I have no idea if anything like that really happened.  But it was good to see on the screen, good for the soul to see.

I've been predicting all along the Floki made it to America, and Ubbe's meeting with the master boat-builder was good to see, too.   Ubbe was always the most like Ragnar -- at least, the son who was most like Ragnar when Ragnar was the most rational -- and when Floki and Ubbe are together, especially in that final scene, it was indeed like Floki and Ragnar were back together.

There were lots of fine realizations in this finale, too.  For some reason, my favorite was that the old sage who knows everyone's future but never quite spits it out is actually in everyone's imaginations.  That is, each of the Vikings who seek counsel with him are really seeking council in each of their own selves.

Back to America: you thought Leif Erikson was the first to make it America, right?  Well, in terms of oral and then recorded history, he was -- a bit later than Floki and Ubbe.  And we'll see his and related stories when Valhalla, the sequel to Vikings, gets back on the screen.  And I'll be back here on the screen when it does.

See also Vikings 6.1-2: Russia! ... Vikings 6.9: Othere = ? ... Vikings 6.10: The Conversations

And see also Vikings 5.1-2: Floki in Iceland ... Vikings 5.3: Laughing Ivar ...Vikings 5.4: Four of More Good Stories ... Vikings 5.5: Meet Lawrence of Arabia ... Vikings 5.6: Meanwhile, Back Home ... Vikings 5.7: A Looming Trojan-War Battle, Vikings Style, and Two Beautiful Stories ...Vikings 5.8: Only Heahmund? ... Vikings 5.9: Rollo ... Vikings 5.10: New and Old Worlds ... Vikings 5.11: Rollo's Son ... Vikings 5.12: "The Beast with Two Backs" ... Vikings 5.13: The Sacrifice ... Vikings 5.14: Fake News in Kattegat ... Vikings 5.15: Battle ... Vikings 5.16: Peace and War ... Vikings 5.17: No Harmony in Iceland ... Vikings 5.18: Demented Ivar ... Vikings 5.19-20: Endings and Beginnings

And see also Vikings 4.1: I'll Still Take Paris ... Vikings 4.2: Sacred Texts ...Vikings 4.4: Speaking the Language ... Vikings 4.5: Knives ... Vikings 4.8: Ships Up Cliff ... Vikings 4.10: "God Bless Paris" ... Vikings 4.11: Ragnar's Sons ... Vikings 4.12: Two Expeditions ... Vikings 4.13: Family ... Vikings 4.14: Penultimate Ragnar? ... Vikings 4.15: Close of an Era ... Vikings 1.16: Musselman ... Vikings 1.17: Ivar's Wheels ...Vikings 1.18: The Beginning of Revenge ... Vikings 4.19: On the Verge of History ... Vikings 4.20: Ends and Starts

And see also Vikings 3.1. Fighting and Farming ... Vikings 3.2: Leonard Nimoy ...Vikings 3.3: We'll Always Have Paris ... Vikings 3.4: They Call Me the Wanderer ... Vikings 3.5: Massacre ... Vikings 3.6: Athelstan and Floki ...Vikings 3.7: At the Gates ... Vikings 3.8: Battle for Paris ... Vikings 3.9: The Conquered ... Vikings Season 3 Finale: Normandy

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Four Publications

I've had four publications in the past week, and since all are available FREE online, I thought I'd list them for you right here:

More Freebies from my science fiction, media theory, and music!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

His Dark Materials 2.7: Lots of Action, Little Time

The second season of His Dark Materials concluded with episode 2.7 on HBO tonight.  An odd number of episodes for any season, but they worked well enough, and HBO announced earlier this week that there would be a third and final season, which takes some of the pressure off tonight's finale to be definitive.

And it did answer some questions.  Let's see, we know that the Spectres can take a sleeping witch.  We know who Will's father is, even though now that "is" is "was".   Lee was badly wounded, but it looks like another witch will bring him back.  (Again, I haven't read the books.)

I thought the most interesting development was Lyra saying she's feeling that she's changing.   In one scene, she's starting to look a lot more like her mother.  She says the change has in part something to do with Will.  She's changing into a woman.

Mrs. Coulter ended the season in the strongest position we've seen her in since the beginning of this story.  Who or what is more powerful than the Spectres?  Not the witches, though maybe a group of them will do better than just one, asleep.   Not the Magisterium's Nazi soldiers.  Coulter's power over the Spectres will make her a formidable force in the third season.

Mary had almost no role in this season finale.  In many ways, she's our character, because she seems the most like all us here off the screen on our Planet Earth.  I'm assuming she'll have a pivotal role in the final season.   But there are still a lot of characters and story arcs at play.  And in order for them all to be accommodated, we'll either need more episodes, or less time with the bear.

See also His Dark Materials 2.1-3: Dust, Dark Matter, and Multiple Universes ... His Dark Materials 2.4: Chosen by the Knife ... His Dark Materials 2.5: Daughter and Mother ... His Dark Materials 2.6: The Hug and the Control

And see also His Dark Materials 1.1: Radiation Punk ...  His Dark Materials 1.3: Coulter's Daemons ... His Dark Materials 1.4: The Bears ... His Dark Materials 1.5:  Sleepers and Questions ... His Dark Materials 1.6: His Fast Materials

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Your Honor 1.4: The Dinner

Another wrenching, heart-in-your-mouth episode -- 1.4 -- of your Your Honor tonight, in which I thought the dinner at the Desiasto home, with the Judge and Adam, Grandma (good to see Margo Martindale!), the detective, the lawyer/the Judge's girlfriend, the Mayoral candidate, and even Django the dog all in attendance, was just a perfect set-piece for what is going on this riveting story.

The dog goes for the bloody rag he hid a few episodes ago. Only Michael knows for sure where that blood came from, and probably Adam, too.  And, yeah, we the audience.  But the other people around the table?  As smart as they are, they have no idea.  Nancy the detective realizes there's blood on cloth, but that could have come from a cut Michael or Adam had.  There's no reason she or any of the other guests at that table would even think that it came the hit and run which is gradually eating this family up alive.  Or rather, not the hit and run per se, but the Judge's understandable attempt to cover it up.

Which is already exacting an awful price.  Kofi was killed because of it.  And at the end of this episode, his home and who knows how many members of his family are burned up, as the mother of the hit and run victim exacts her revenge.   On a family that had nothing to do with her son's death, because only we know the truth.

And because of that knowledge, we flinch every time the slightest thing happens to Adam.  He gets into a fight in school.  That kind of thing happens all the time with boys that age if a friend makes some kind of sexually provocative comment about someone the boy has a crush on.  But we immediately worry that Adam is reacting to the hit and run, showing his guilt for something the Judge wisely wants his son to keep out of his mind, and certainly not act out in any public place, let alone a school.

A harrowing situation getting more so every episode.  Just what we want to see in a narrative.

Bridgerton: Alternate Austen

My wife and I binge-watched Bridgerton the past two nights, and loved it.  She's a devoted Shonda Rhimes fan, and has watched and is watching everything she's done on network television.   I can take or leave these shows, and usually leave them.  But I'm also a big Jane Austen fan, and enjoy historical drama, so I gave Bridgerton a try.

It does have a lot in common with Jane Austen's novels, taking place in the Regency era in England, but it has a bold alternate history element: people of color are in the aristocracy, including Simon aka the Duke of Hastings (one of the two leading characters) and Queen Charlotte.  Actually, historians have been debating for at least fifty years about whether Charlotte had African ancestry -- see the 1761 portrait by Allan Ramsay -- so that part of Bridgerton is more aptly described as controversial history not alternate history.  But Simon's character, along with other secondary characters in Bridgerton, is clearly alternate history, which is a plus in my book.

The other way in which Austen's novels differ from Bridgerton -- based on the series of best-selling novels by Julia Quinn over the past twenty years (which I haven't read) -- is the hot sex between Simon and Daphne Bridgerton that lights up several episodes.  Simon's lust for Daphne, which he has to mediate with his vow (to his father) not to have children, in age in which the withdrawal method is by and large the only way to do that, is one of the fulcrums of the narrative, and is presented just short of graphically but effectively on the screen.  And I'll say that the acting of both Phoebe Dynevor as Daphne and Regé-Jean Page as Simon was superb across a wide range of tempestuous and profound emotions,

The other notable element in Bridgerton is Whistedown (voice by Julie Andrews), a Regency gossip columnist who stirs the pot with her all-too-savvy reports.  Her true identity is not revealed until the very end, and though my wife and I pretty much guessed it, it was still fun to see this played out.

The secondary characters and stories were well done, the cinematography was just gorgeous, and I'm glad there's a second season already in the works.   Check back here in 2021 for the review.


Friday, December 25, 2020

Perfume: A Kind of Science Fiction

Perfume, a 2018 movie which my wife and I saw just last night on Netflix, starts out as a straight-up, if perverted, serial killer story, based on Patrick Süskind's 1985 novel of the same name.  A beautiful singer is found dead, with her scent glands removed.  There apparently is a murderer at large who gets off so much on scents, he (or she) needs literally cuttings of glands to satisfy the craving.

But as the six episodes of the limited series unfold, we gradually learn that there's much more than a homicidal psychosis at play here.   In the world of contemporary Germany and France where this story takes place, sense of smell is so powerful that it can make someone fall in love with someone else, or at very least irresistibly need to have sex with them.

There's no doubt that, in our off-screen world, the olfactory sense is very powerful and under-estimated.  But, as far as I know, it has nothing close to the power it conveys in this narrative, in which the scent conveyed is the equivalent of a magic spell that is cast.  In fairness to the TV series, the 1985 novel, correctly billed as historical fantasy (the story in the novel takes place in the 18th century), tells a similar fantastical story.  And I have nothing against fantasy, or its mix with detective mystery, in print or on the screen.  I thus wished it had been, I don't know, better mixed in this series.

Otherwise, the story was quite good, especially the way police as well as suspects get caught up in the same olfactory problems.  The resolution, however, was a bit rabbit of a hat, and so was less than thoroughly satisfying.  That can be remedied by a second season, which I'd definitely see.


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Midnight Sky: Uplifting Downer

Well, you couldn't ask for a better movie than The Midnight Sky in these our Covid-ridden times.  An Earth, in the year 2049, in even far worse shape than ours.  Just about everyone on the planet dead, due to some kind of planet-wide catastrophe.  A spaceship returning home to Earth from a habitable moon of Jupiter, unaware of what they are returning to.  A very sick scientist on Earth, desperately marshalling his last energies to contact them, and tell the ship to turn around.

You know what?  I think this movie, directed by and starring George Clooney, was a superb movie, and would've been outstanding, in any time, Covid or not.  In other words, I strongly disagree with the one myopic critic, in Variety, I think, whom I happened to read yesterday, who panned the movie.

The idea of a spaceship returning to a dying Earth -- an Earth that was fine when the ship took off -- as at least as old Arch Oboler's 1956 Broadway play Night of the Auk.  That was a masterpiece, too.  It's a powerful theme, one that combines the heights and the deadly failures of human civilization.  I haven't read the 2016 novel by Lily Brooks-Dalton, Good Morning, Midnight, on which Mark L. Smith's screenplay is based, so I can't tell you who deserves credit for what.  But I can say the narrative was powerful and plausible, and very well directed by Clooney,

Truthfully, despite the many things that have gone very wrong in our world, in reality, I'm much more of an optimist about our planet's future than either Auk or Midnight Sky allow.  But I'm always up for a provocative downer like his, if it's done right.  Clooney was just right as Augustine.  The spaceship crew were just right, too -- Kyle Chandler as Mitchell, determined to go back so he can at least be close to his family, gave one of his best performances in years.  Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Damian Bichir (from The Bridge!), and Tiffany Boone as the rest of the crew were good, too.

[Spoilers below]

As to the fine point of the plot --  Sully on the ship is really Augustine's daughter, and the little girl who shows up and both inspires and protects Augustine is just his vision of her (my wife realized this early in the movie)-- well, sure, it was a little hoaky, but I think that worked very well, too.   And the remaining big questions, like what kind of life will Sully and Adewole have with their baby on that moon around Jupiter, are ok, too.  Because, I would recommend, if there is a sequel, that it turns out there are some humans alive with sophisticated tech back on Earth.

But, again I'm an optimist at heart.  I don't know if you are, but see The Midnight Sky, and see what you think.

first starship to Alpha Centauri ... and they only had enough fuel to get there

Podcast Review of the Blumhouse Horror Quartet

Welcome to Light On Light Through, Episode 162, in which I review four Blumhouse horror movies streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Further reading, written reviews:

Check out this episode!

Monday, December 21, 2020

His Dark Materials 2.6: The Hug and the Control

My two favorite scenes in tonight's altogether excellent episode 2.6 of His Dark Materials on HBO were the hug Mary gave one of those waif girls, and Mrs. Coulter learning she can control the Spectres.

Not much more to say about the hug, other than it was good to see, especially in this hug-reduced age of Covid.  But Coulter controlling the Spectres calls out for a lot more to say, because it changes a lot, maybe even everything.

Up until that scene, Mrs. Coulter was almost a secondary character this season.  She was all but beaten by her daughter Lyra last week.  Now, suddenly, she has mastery of the one of most powerful and deadly forces in any alternate world.  She's gained this control, she said, by suppressing her humanity, and now she's a major evil player again.

Though maybe not as evil as some, like the theocratic Magisterium.  They're after Lyra.  The witches and just about everyone else are on her side.   So, too, is her mother.  Will the Spectres be able to keep Lyra safe from the Magisterium?  And what role will Will and his knife play?

There are so many factors and factions at play in this narrative that it's difficult to keep track.  Let's get back to Mary.  What role will her increasing understanding of the dust play in this battle?  Perhaps we'll see next week, in the season finale.  Or maybe not.  But that's ok, because there'll definitely be a third season next year.... Right?

See also His Dark Materials 2.1-3: Dust, Dark Matter, and Multiple Universes ... His Dark Materials 2.4: Chosen by the Knife ... His Dark Materials 2.5: Daughter and Mother

And see also His Dark Materials 1.1: Radiation Punk ...  His Dark Materials 1.3: Coulter's Daemons ... His Dark Materials 1.4: The Bears ... His Dark Materials 1.5:  Sleepers and Questions ... His Dark Materials 1.6: His Fast Materials

Nocturne: Deadly Player

I saw and enjoyed Nocturne last night, the fourth of four horror movies by Blumhouse on Amazon Prime Video, which four themselves are the first installment in a larger series to continue in 2021.  Like the first three Blumhouse movies I saw and reviewed -- The Lie, Black Box, and Evil Eye -- Nocturne is a tightly drawn family drama.  But Nocturne has the additional depth of being situated in music.

The story is about two fraternal twins, Juliet and Vivien, who are high school piano virtuosos and in constant fraternal competition.  Well, Vivien's a virtuoso, and on her way to Juilliard.  Juliet has problems expressing her talent.  Fortunately (or, of course, maybe not),  Juliet discovers a notebook with strange scribblings and depictions.  Will these help her find her confidence and showcase her talent?

I'll say no more, except the sibling rivalry intensifies, affairs and almost affairs with boyfriends and teachers ensue, and the music is beautiful and haunting.  The acting is fine, too, especially Sydney Sweeney as Juliet, and it was good to see Dexter's Julie Benz as the twins' mother.  The ending was somewhat predictable, but it was effectively rendered, and I thought the real strength of Nocturne was not in the plot per se but in way the parts of this inevitable story were played out.  Applause for Zu Quirke who wrote and directed.

So I'm all set for the next Blumhouse quartet next year.   In a way, the more I see of these movies, the more they look like a 21st-century streaming Twilight Zone, with longer episodes.


Sunday, December 20, 2020

Your Honor 1.3: The Weak Link

It became more clear than ever in Your Honor 1.3 that the weak link in the judge's plan to get Adam off the hook and out of harm's way of his hit-and-run of the mobster's son is Adam.  Tonight he confesses to his teacher/lover.  There's no telling what he might do next week and in the weeks ahead.

That's why, even if Kofi is killed -- and it looks like that's happening when this episode ends -- Adam will not be home free.  Ordinarly, it would indeed mean a get-out-jail-free card for Adam.  Neither the Baxters nor the police would be looking for the hit-and-run driver.  But not with Adam torn apart and confessing to just about anyone who'll listen.

He did do pretty well with the cop who has the hots for the judge.  Adam's a smart and resourceful kid.  But the guilt that he has is unlikely to abate.  What is his father going to do about that?

The New Orleans in this excellent series has dangers on every corner.  No one can be trusted.  What will Kofi's lawyer do if her client is killed.  Just forget about all of this?  Not likely, since she and Judge Michael are already kissing.  And the last thing Michael needs is someone with legal smarts joining Nancy the cop within kissing distance of the awful truth.

So, at this point, it looks as if the judge is in an impossible situation.  But he is incredibly resourceful, too.  He thinks of pretty much every angle, and has been doing a pretty good job of erasing incriminating evidence.  In the end, the question is who will prevail:  the savvy judge or the guilt-wracked son?

The Mess You Leave Behind: A Rich and Deep Mystery

My wife and I binged watched The Mess You Leave Behind, a Spanish eight-episode series on Netflix.  Nothing really messy about it.  Instead, a rich and powerful narrative of love and crime, presented in a lovely tapestry that intertwines two engaging stories.

Each of those stories is about a beautiful high school teacher, of the same literature class. The first (Viruca) is found dead in the water, a presumed suicide.  The second (Raquel) is her replacement, and has to deal with the same group of students, including a guy who was obsessively in love with Viruca.  The cutting between the two stories is artfully done.  We see Viruca and Raquel literally in the same classroom, standing before the same mirror, walking the same paths by the river.

Those paths lead to sex, love, and danger.   Did Viruca really take her own life or was she murdered?  If the latter, by whom?   Is Raquel endangering her own life by increasingly wondering about and investigating these questions?   The acting -- Bárbara Lennie as Viruca, Inma Cuesta as Raquel, and Arón Piper as Iago, the love-struck teenaged guy who has a violent edge -- is excellent.  And the ambience is a creative blend of almost 19-century countryside and 21st smartphones and laptops, all of which play important roles in the twin, intertwining stories.

Carlos Montero gets the "created by" and some of the directing credits.  The series is based on his novel of the same name, and its mix of Victorian and digital sensibilities, and the story it tells, is not quite like anything I've seen before.   I highly recommend it.  Take a look, and see if you agree.


Saturday, December 19, 2020

Darkness: Those Who Kill: Brutally and Rivetingly

It's been too long since I reviewed a Nordic Noir series -- Wisting on September 15 -- so I thought I'd jump back with a vengeance and tell you about the Danish Darkness: Those Who Kill, which my wife and I binge watched on Acorn via Amazon Prime Video the past few nights.

Vengeance is a good word for Darkness.  So would brutal, harrowing, and riveting.   A squad of ok not brilliant detectives in Copenhagen, assisted by a profiler who is sharp enough but also has some demons in her background, struggle to apprehend a serial kidnapper/killer.   Who turns out to be not one but a serial kidnapper/killer partnership.   

Take that literally.  One is a kidnapper who keeps his young blonde female victims in chains in his cellar and his sex with them because he loves to the control them.   He also has sex with his partner, a woman, who gets off on killing the kidnapped victims.   The kidnappings and the sex are shown in brutal detail, in which the victims are usually subdued in a flurry of punches.

[Spoilers ahead.]

There's in-depth development of the killer's story, who was raped as a young teenager by her even younger brother, after leading him on.   Being a woman, she's just not suspected as being part of this murderous spree, and in fact being the one who drives it and directs the kidnapper.   It understandably take the police and the profiler a long time to catch on to what's going on.

There's edge-of-the-seat action in every episode, along with the punching and the degradation of the victims.   Well worth watching, but not by the faint of heart or the weak of stomach.   Good writing and creation by Ina Bruhn, good directing by Carsten Myllerup, with persuasive acting by Natalie Madueño as the profiler and Signe Egholm Olsen as the killer.


Friday, December 18, 2020

Evil Eye: Reincarnation Across Continents

Do you believe in reincarnation?  Or, if not, are you open to accepting it as a premise for a taut, slow-burning family thriller that builds up to a clutched-by-the-throat ending?  If yes, you're in for a rewarding 90 minutes with Evil Eye.

This is the third Blumhouse production my wife and I have seen on Amazon Prime Video in about as many nights.  The Blumhouse "program" on Prime Video is presented in the promotional trailer as a quartet of "horror" stories.  But, The Lie was straight-up crime.  Black Box was science fiction -- nothing supernatural.  Both were excellent, but neither was horror.  I haven't yet seen NocturneEvil Eye was also excellent -- and, at last, horror!   So, if that's your cup of strange tea, come and get it.

Here's the set-up:  Usha in India is worried that her daughter Pallavi, in the U.S., is 29 and not yet married.  That may soon be corrected, though, when she meets a cool, well-spoken, good-looking guy.  But Usha has increasing misgivings, which we eventually learn derive from her being attacked on a bridge when she was pregnant (with Pallavi) by a ten-years former boyfriend.  Usha survived the attack by pushing her former boyfriend off the bridge.   Has he come back in America, transcending space as well as time, in the body of Sandeep, Pallavi's suave boyfriend, to exact some kind of revenge all of these years later on Usha?

Ok, that's all I'll tell you about the story.   I will say that it's fleshed out by a family of appealing characters including Usha's husband, Krishnan, a man of science and therefore not a believer in reincarnation  (good job by Bernard White, whom you may have seen on Homeland), Pallavi (well-played by Sunita Mani) who of course doesn't at first believe in reincarnation, either, and Usha, played by Sarita Choudhury, every bit as impressive as when we first saw her on the screen with Denzel Washington in Mississippi Masala way back in 1991.

Written by Madhuri Shekar, directed by Elan Dassani and Rajeev Dassani, Evil Eye serves up a narrative that blends current Indian and American flavor with ancient belief, in a story that would have fit well in any issue of the late, lamented Weird Tales.


McCartney III: Endearing, Strong, Memorable

I was never one to look for differences between the Beatles on their individual own and when they were The Beatles. To my ear and soul, Paul, John, George, and Ringo on their own sounded far more like The Beatles, captured and continued their extraordinary essence far better than any other artist. Sure, some solo numbers sounded more like The Beatles than others. I heard "Ticket to Ride" in Paul's "My Brave Face," and when someone on the Steve Hoffman Forum said it evoked "Things We Said Today," I could immediately hear it. 

Maybe that's why Robert Christgau's dispeptic reviews in The Village Voice of McCartney's of first two solo albums felt so wrong to me that I wrote a Letter to the Editor objecting to it, which The Voice published as a straight-up article, which turned out to be my first writing published anywhere.  I realized back then that professional reviewers get to where they are because they write well, not necessarily because they hear well (and the same applies to movie critics writing not necessarily watching well, etc).

So, although I've loved The Beatles more than any other music over all of these many years, I've loved Paul's work almost as much and sometimes just as much, and eagerly await everything he does.  McCartney III, which I just listened to, was well worth waiting for.

The album, as I'm sure you know, is the third album in the McCartney (1970 - the one that Christgau didn't care for) and McCartney II (1980) series of recordings in which McCartney played all of the parts.  One of the reasons why the new album is so endearing is that it evokes elements from both The Beatles and these solo all-McCartney albums.

Here are my favorites:

  • "Seize the Day":  I just love the sound of "when the cold days come and the old ways fade," which could have come from any Beatles album.  Not to mention the double rhymes (cold days and old ways) which I always strive for when I can get them in my own lyrics.
  • "Women and Wives":  A strong song with a good melody and lyric ("chasing tomorrow")
  • "The Kiss of Venus":  Another good melody, which Paul sings in falsetto.  Look, his voice is obviously not as powerful or supple as it was for most of his years, but it's still enjoyable to hear. His phrasing and emotion come through fine.
  • "Deep Down Feeling":  What I really like about this track is the way it shifts into acoustic/melodic in the last minute of the 8-minute-25-second song.  That was one of the fabulous moves in "Admiral Halsey".
All of this is after only one listening to the album.  It took me at least three or four hearings of Sgt. Pepper before I realized how great it was, and I still like Rubber Soul better.  But there's no doubt that McCartney III makes a memorable contribution to Paul's astonishing lifetime of work, which continues to light up many a soul.

from the Steve Hoffman forum