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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Elvis & Nixon on Amazon: History As It Could Have Been Written

I don't usually review comedies, but Elvis & Nixon isn't really a comedy, though it's billed as such, and even though it does have lots of laughing-out-loud scenes and lines.

But the Amazon original movie mostly is a seemingly cracked but deeply revealing double bio-pic, and a bio-pic not of two lives, but of what led up to a single moment in history when Elvis Presley met Richard Nixon in the White House.  The photograph above, the most requested from the National Archives, captured that moment.

The movie provides the background, true in general, but like all docu-dramas, replete with dialogue written for the movie.

What we learn about Nixon is nothing new, but ever fascinating to see.   He's a deeply insecure man, even in the most powerful office on the planet.  He complains to an aide, before the meeting, that he's not very good-looking, and doesn't have it as easy as guys like the Kennedys and Elvis who are.   Although Elvis doesn't hear this, he later compliments Nixon on his good lucks, as part of his successful effort to butter him up.

Elvis is riven with insecurity, too.  It's not only December 1970, but December or at very least the late Fall of Elvis's career.  Though millions of course know of him and still adore him, it's an older crowd, and he's no longer making the record-breaking records that launched him to superstardom, succeeding Frank Sinatra in the 1950s, gyrating on the Ed Sullivan show, and Elvis knows this.  He hates the Beatles, and is almost bored with his public.   Indeed his passion at this point is what brings him to the White House - collecting police badges, in pursuit of a badge as a Federal agent at large, a position he's conjured into being.

Kevin Spacey at Nixon is of course perfect and superb.  Michael Shannon, last seen to good effect on Boardwalk Empire, is outstanding as Elvis.  If you'd like to know what this off-beat movie most reminds me of it would be the second season of Fargo, which takes place in 1979.   Elvis & Nixon and Fargo have almost nothing specifically in common - the one point of similarity would be Reagan appearing in an episode of Fargo - but the two share a uniquely true, bizarre but incisive ambience you'll find in few other places on the screen.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Murder in the First 3.9: Siletti

Well, as I've been saying all season, the best story in Murder in the First this summer is not a case of murder in the first, but of drunk driving manslaughter, committed - if he's found guilty - by the main prosecutor on the series, until this season, Mario Siletti.

And Siletti wrapped it up just beautifully last night, in the next-to-last episode of the season.  No one likes him - including, significantly, his own lawyer, who rips up the check Siletti gives him and says never call me again - and that's precisely what makes Siletti so appealing as a character.  He does whatever is needed, including taking down and embarrassing anyone required, to secure his own position.  And it looks like his strategy paid off, big time.

In all fairness to Siletti, he was almost done in by his lover, who turned around and prosecuted him for manslaughter after the two made love in the bathroom.  So she got what he deserved.  And his lawyer - just brilliantly played by Michael Gaston (and hey, all the acting on the show is outstanding) - is no angel, either.  He was willing to do whatever was needed to get his client acquitted.  What burned him in the end was not being let in on Siletti's plan - even though he realized that his surprise had to be real, not feigned in the slightest, for it to work for Siletti.

If there is a fourth season - yet to be announced, but I sure hope there is - then Siletti will make a great defense attorney in whatever murder cases come up then.  The series has really excelled in defense attorneys - including, as I said, Gaston's character - and Siletti will make a fine addition to this cunning crew.

Meanwhile, Terry and Hildy are, predictably, heading towards a better, fuller relationship - but that's good to see, too.  Looking forward to the season finale, and more next summer.

See also Murder in the First 3.1-2: Wild Ride and  Murder in the First: 3.3: Fast and Steady ... Murder in the First 3.8: True Love

And see also Murder in the First: A Review


a different kind of crime


Fear the Walking Dead 2.9: The Pharmacist and the Hotel California

One of the most interesting and potentially crucially important characters on both Walking Dead series was the focus of Fear the Walking Dead 2.9 last night:  the pharmacist.

He's said to have been bitten by an infected and amply survived.  We see the bite mark, mostly healed, on his shoulder.  So what's going on?

Possibly he has some kind of natural immunity to the plague bug.  This would be consistent with what we know of deadly plagues in our own off-screen reality. Even the deadliest plague has some survivors, however few.   If there were a scientific community of researchers who could study the pharmacist, his immune system could provide a key to fashioning some kind of mass immunity injection.  This, of course, could and would change everything.

Another possibility, given that he is a pharmacist, is that he concocted some kind of drug treatment for the plague, and it worked on him.  If that was the case, then all the possibilities described above for natural immunity would apply - scientific researchers could mass-produce the drug, which in turn would change everything.

Of course, in both cases, the pharmacist needs to get in touch with researchers - and they are in increasingly short supply in this infected world.

A third possibility, probably the most likely but the least interesting and the least fun, is that the pharmacist was bitten, but not by someone infected by the plague.   Given his talk about coming back from the dead, he certainly thinks he was bitten by a genuinely infected.   I hope he's right about surviving an infected bite, but you never know.

Meanwhile, we got a great hotel from hell in last night's episode - the only thing missing was the Eagles' "Hotel California," which could have been playing the background.

Looking forward to more.

The Night Of #8: Fine Finale

Well, I've been saying all summer long that The Night Of couldn't just pull a killer out of a hat - couldn't make the killer someone we didn't see or know of until the very last episode - but the short series did just that tonight, and, you know what, it worked, and worked really well, just like the entire series.

In a story in which everyone was flawed, just about everyone, including some surprising characters, played a role in Naz's release.  Box was surprisingly dogged in pursuing who else might have killed Andrea with so much evidence against Naz. But Box's obsession with finding the real killer made perfect sense, given that he was retiring.  And it looked for a while as if his discovery would go for naught, that the mistrial for which the good guys had carefully laid the groundwork wouldn't happen after all.  But then came the biggest surprise of all.

The DA (and memorable acting by Jeannie Berlin), apparently unconvinced by Box's evidence and argument that the state was putting the wrong person on trial, was apparently shaken up and convinced enough anyway, to elect not to retry the case, after the jury was hung 6 to 6 on conviction vs. acquittal.

And that hung jury, in turn, was the result of Jack's brilliant closing for the defense - presented by someone whose main work, as we see again at the very end, was talking his clients into plea bargaining for the fee of $250.   And why was Jack not Chandra giving the summation?  Because she was sidelined by the judge, whose response to the video of her kissing Naz in prison was not to declare a mistrial but reprimand Chandra.   So in that indirect way, Chandra came through for Naz after all.

And she came through for him directly, too, in presenting strong arguments for reasonable doubt regarding the three suspects other than Naz.   She and Jack made a great team in the end, and I wouldn't mind at all if there was another season with a completely new story with those two once again acting for the defense against almost impossible odds.

The Night Of was a rare piece of surprising legal drama - rare because it was original and surprising in a genre that's been mined on television just about every year since Perry Mason back in the 1950s.
Plaudits to everyone concerned, including John Turturro whose acting is more peerless than ever, Amara Karan and lots of fine acting from people we haven't seen before, and a letter-perfect script by Richard Price.

See also The Day After The Night Of on HBO ... The Night Of #3: The Schlep vs. the Star ... The Night Of #4: Chandra To The Rescue ... The Night Of #6: Three Suspects ... The Night Of #7: The Kiss

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tyrant 3.8: Poor Bassam

Well, Bassam finds himself in about the worst place he's been all season in last night's Tyrant 3.8:

Molly's back, but she doesn't love him anymore, doesn't even want to sleep in the same bed with Barry.  Her main role now is to goad him to do the worst possible things, politically - suspend the election so he has more time to destroy their daughter's killer, but in so doing suspending the very democracy that he worked so hard to install in his original now re-adopted country.

Daliyah still loved him at the beginning of the episode, when Molly returned, but Bassam's totalitarian impulses have shattered her feeling, leaving her with pain and at best mixed emotions about Bassam.  This will likely push her into Fauzi's arms, and we saw the beginning of that last night.

Leila is now totally against what Bassam is doing, even changing her Al-Fayeed name back to her maiden name to underline that opposition.   Her American general, well played by Chris Noth, is still trying to be helpful to Bassam, but one word from the U. S. could change that, obliging Bassam to rely on his own military, and we know how that has worked out in the past.

About the only bright spot is Aziz the aide-de-camp is still alive - I thought he had been killed in the attack that almost got Daliyah - and it was good to see Sammy and Ahmed talking, however testily.

Well, I guess that's two bright spots, but they're weak ones, in comparison to what is going wrong with Bassam's presidency, and it's hard to say where all of this will land in the two concluding episodes of this season - which is a good thing, because we want to be kept off-balance.

Footnote: I coincidentally started watching Hunted this week, with a slightly younger Adam Raynor, with his native British accent, and he's good in that, too.  And I find his American accent in Tyrant right up there with the best of them (i.e., American done by Brits, like the American characters played by Dominic West).

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Hillary Clinton, Colin Powell, and Ratifying Advice about Private Email

The story concerning Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State took a new turn in the past week.   According to The New York Times, Clinton told the FBI she used private email as per former Secretary of State Powell's advice.   Powell's response to this report, in an interview with People magazine,  was that Hillary's "people have been trying to pin it on me ... The truth is, she was using [the private email server] for a year before I sent her a memo telling her what I did."

The media have widely been reporting this as evidence that Hillary was not telling the truth to the FBI about what Powell told her. Unsurprisingly, the media have once again missed the essential point: there are two kinds of advice one colleague may give another about their professional activities. One kind of advice could be given before the activity, in which case the person given the advice could say that she or he was doing this or that because of a colleague's advice.  The other could be given after the activity was underway, with the colleague's advice supporting or ratifying the activity.

Here's a non-controversial example.  Let's say I'm teaching a class on a particular subject, for the first time, and I decide that rather  giving a final exam, I'll assign a final paper instead.   A month after the course is underway, I'm having a cup of tea with a colleague, and she tells me she taught the course a few years earlier, and she always assigned a final paper rather than giving a final exam.  In this case, I didn't assign the final paper because of what my colleague said.  But her advice ratifies what I was already doing, and is therefore relevant.

Powell's complaint that Hillary or her people are to "pin" the use of private emails on him implies that Hillary is trying to blame him for her use of private email, or that she used a private email server because of what he told Hillary.  Hence, his point that "The truth is, she was using [the private email server] for a year before I sent her a memo telling her what I did." That may be the case, but it doesn't in the slightest contradict the ratifying advice that Powell gave to the then new Secretary of State, after she was already using the email.  And the fact that a former Secretary of State supported what Hillary was doing as Secretary is indeed very worthy of mention, and shows that any notion that what she was doing was wrong is ex post facto, as was the designation of 100 of her emails as "classified," long after they had been sent.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Murder in the First 3.8: True Love

A tender moment in the usually tough as nails Murder in the First 3.8 last night, an episode in which love or some facsimile figured prominently in a variety of places.

The tender moment came when Hildy tells Terry "I love you," after Terry apologizes to her, on the advice of his shrink (played by NYPD Blue's Kim Delaney - yes!) who wisely asks him, "do you want to be right or happy?"   That was one of the best lines in this series, which has had plenty of good lines this season.

Personally, I agree with Terry, but the psychologist's advice makes a lot of sense. I'm also thinking that now that Lt. Koto knows what it's like to begin falling in love with someone whom maybe he shouldn't, and who is murdered no less, maybe he'll be more understanding about Terry and Hildy and let them work together as partners whatever they may want to do in life and bed. I certainly hope so.

Love also played a role in Siletti's trial, which had the best courtroom drama so far this season. Siletti's wife outing Melissa Danson and Siltetti - as per Siletti's plan - was a good idea, even if it did anger Siletti's otherwise unflappable lawyer.  But the mistrial certainly shakes things up, and it's not a certainty he will be retried, despite what the judge growled.   So did Siletti's wife do this out of love for her husband.  Well, sort of ...

Meanwhile, perverted love, as in the father and daughter incest kind, likely figured in the main murder case of the season - the Normandy murder - as we found out last night.  I've actually been enjoying the Siletti case  more than the Normandy, but that's ok, because there's still room for something shocking to happen or be revealed in those twisted doings.

In the sense that the secondary case has been more riveting than the primary, this third season of Murder in the First is unique.  After all, there's no charge of murder in the first against Siletti.  But that makes this season all the more interesting.

See also Murder in the First 3.1-2: Wild Ride and  Murder in the First: 3.3: Fast and Steady

And see also Murder in the First: A Review


a different kind of crime


Ray Donovan 4.9: The Ultimate Fix

Not much in the way of great music, karaoke-d or otherwise, in Ray Donovan 4.9 last night, but a great episode anyway, with one of the all-time best endings for an hour on this series.

Ray is the ultimate fixer.  And the last scene presents him with one of most literally out-of-the-blue circumstances in need of fixing: The Russians have Avi.   What they want to save his life is Sonia, whom Ray has just put on a plane that we see take off and now well into the air, thanks to a perfectly executed ploy by Lena, who baits the Russian hitman into thinking she's Sonia, and then kills him as he's about to shoot her.   Nice piece of work, indeed - but what will Ray do now?

I suppose Avi is expendable, but Ray doesn't think so, and neither do I and I bet most of the many fans of the show.   But how will Ray get Sonia back and into Russian hands that want to kill her?

Sonia doesn't have much longer to live, anyway, and Ray and we know this.   But when you're dying, every moment is precious.   Can Ray talk Sonia into turning herself over to the Russians to save Avi? I just don't quite see this happening.

Meanwhile, Mickey continues having his best season ever, which is saying a lot, because he's been great in every season.  Apropos the lack of great music, he's lost another love of his life with the killing of the singer.   Unlike other Mickey situations, there's nothing the least bit ambiguous about this - we can only feel bad for him.

On the bright side, the trauma of Nevada has brought Teresa back into her own.   She saved Mickey, and told him how sorry she felt about his loss.   It looks like Terry may be in for some romance, too, and that's also good to see.

But Ray will need to move Heaven and Earth to save Avi, and he won't have Avi's help to do it.

See also Ray Donovan 4.1: Good to Be Back ... Ray Donovan 4.2: Settling In ... Ray Donovan 4.4: Bob Seger ... Ray Donovan 4.7: Easybeats

And see also Ray Donovan 3.1: New, Cloudy Ray ... Ray Donovan 3.2: Beat-downs ... Ray Donovan 3.7: Excommunication!

And see also Ray Donovan 2.1: Back in Business ... Ray Donovan 2.4: The Bad Guy ... Ray Donovan 2.5: Wool Over Eyes ... Ray Donovan 2.7: The Party from Hell ... Ray Donovan 2.10: Scorching ... Ray Donovan 2.11: Out of Control ... Ray Donovan Season 2 Finale: Most Happy Ending

And see also Ray Donovan Debuts with Originality and Flair ... Ray Donovan 1.2: His Assistants and his Family ... Ray Donovan 1.3: Mickey ... Ray Donovan 1.7 and Whitey Bulger ... Ray Donovan 1.8: Poetry and Death ... Ray Donovan Season 1 Finale: The Beginning of Redemption

  different kinds of crimes and fixes


The Night Of #7: The Kiss

Not much that we didn't already know in last night's penultimate The Night Of episode 7 on HBO, but it was a very satisfying episode, anyway, mainly because of the kiss between Naz and Chandra.

I don't know realistic that was - a lawyer kissing her client like that in a jail-cell visit - but it felt right and told us something important:  Chandra believes in Naz's innocence.  In fact, her statement of that is what leads to the kiss.  Not many other people share that belief.  Naz's mother apparently does not. Even Jack has made it clear, many times, that this is not about Naz's guilt or innocence, but about giving him a fair hearing.

Though it's not clear if Jack's thoughts have changed on this, especially given what he's been uncovering about the retiring Dt. Sgt. Box.  And Jack doesn't know the half of it, at this point.  What was it that we saw at the very beginning of last night's episode, and we saw nothing more of in the hour? Wasn't that Box on the scene of another murder, with a knife-riven body cut up a lot like Andrea's?  And when exactly did that take place - before or after Andrea's murder?

Meanwhile, as The Night Of has been doing in almost every episode, we get another little shot against Naz - he committed not one but two violent acts while in school.  But you know what?  I have confidence in Chandra, and her kissing Naz has now 100% convinced me of his innocence.  I think she's a good judge of human nature.   And there's that intelligent testimony that that Michael Baden-like coroner Dr. Katz gave on Naz's behalf on the stand.

But that, then, leaves us with who else?  I went over the three prime, non-Naz suspects last week.  I guess I'm hoping that it's Duane Reade, not because he seems more guilty than the others, but because it would be great to see Richard Price's little joke made even more memorable by Reade being the killer.  Price must have thinking, when he came up with this little gambit, that, hey, how many times, like in The Usual Suspects, do we see someone under questioning come up with a name that was on a nearby coffee cup or sign, so why not make it the suspect's or whoever's real name after all?   I have nothing at all against the drug store chain, but it would be cool if Duane Reade were the killer, after all.

Looking forward to finding our more about that next week.

Fear the Walking Dead 2.8: Nick and the Talking Dead, Literally

Fear the Walking Dead returned for the second part of its second season, with an episode - 2.8 - that featured Nick and a few of the best scenes we've seen in either of The Walking Dead series.

The very best, for me, was Nick walking with the walking dead, and imagining them speaking to him, gradually more discernibly, until we literally had the talking dead, but with no Chris Hardwick.   Now it would've been a wild change indeed if somehow some of the dead were indeed able to talk, and you never know completely with these shows, but the speaking in Nick's imagination was wild enough in itself.

We already knew, from earlier in the season, that Nick walked with the dead, and feels a sort of kinship to them.  But seeing him walk with them, experiencing this from the inside out, was impressive and memorable.   The way he got there was, too.  He's limping not because he's putting on the gait of the dead, but because he was bitten in the leg by a savage dog.  And, in the end, he can't even keep up the with the dead.  He's not stronger than the walkers, but in a real sense weaker, and his collapse on the highway made perfect sense.  It's saying, in effect, that the dead are in some sense stronger, less vulnerable, than the living - something we already knew from The Walking Dead, but never saw so clearly before with our very eyes on the screen.

The ending of this episode, though happy, was also the one trite element in this hour.  I mean, how many times are we going to see one of our heroes end of up in a town that looks like a piece of paradise in this infected world?

On the other hand, given what Trump thinks of Mexicans in our own real world, this happy ending was a tonic and good to see.   And I'll be back here with more as the season progresses.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Fifth Wave: Pretty Good, Actually

Just saw The Fifth Wave on Starz.  The film received a fistful of negative reviews - see the summary on The Fifth Wave's Wikipedia entry - but I find critics to often be pretentious ignoramuses anyway, and guess what, I liked the movie.

Which is not to say it's great - far from it - but it has a lot to like.  Apropos Starz, it has a lot of impressive star power, with Liev Schreiber (Ray Donavon), Maggie Siff (Sons of Anarchy), and Maria Bello (kitchen sink) in very well-played supporting roles.  And as to the leads, Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, and Ron Livingston are more than good enough to carry the story.

And what is the story?  Well, alien invasions are as cliched as they come, but this one manages to break some new ground, in the five-stage (five waves) strategy they apply to rid the Earth of us, the human inhabitants.   The key is explained about two-thirds through the movie: you bomb a house for insects, but some always survive, so you have to devise more innovative, hand-to-bug methods to get the very last ones.   It's a strong idea, straight from the 2013 novel of the same name by Rick Yancey.

Since I haven't read the novel, I don't know if the one part that bothered me is due to the book or the movie adaption.  It was a ham-handed love conquers all theme, wherein an alien guy falls in love with the heroine Cassie, and turns on his own kind to help her and humanity.   Not that I object to love as a motivator.   But laying it all out in a five minute narration was not very convincing, and only made it because Chloë Grace Moretz as Cassie is so innocently appealing.

But when the movie was over, I found myself wanting more of the story, which means with all its flaws, The Fifth Wave did a lot right.   Let's hope there's a sequel.  And, critics, should you see it, get your heads out of your backsides and learn to relax and enjoy a movie.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Stranger Things 1.6-1.8: Lando to Fringe

And herewith a review of the last three episodes of Stranger Things, Season 1 -

  • I say Season 1, because the ending certainly cries out for another season.  That, and the justified popularity of Season 1, makes a second season a dead certainty - or maybe live certainty would be a better word, given the context.
  • El aka Eleven is certainly alive in some form - why else would Hopper be leaving her favorite food for her out in the woods?  And this of course opens a whole bunch of questions starting from what happened to her when she destroyed the monster, to why is she hiding in or near the woods?
  • Will's being infected by the tentacled monster is the trite part of the ending, but it provides a good, dangerous foundation for things to come.
  • Is Barb dead? Probably/maybe - I thought I saw her with a tentacle in her mouth, and no one as far as we know rescued her, but you never know.
  • Dr. Brenner looks like he was killed, too - but without seeing a dismembered or eaten-before-our-eyes body, you never know about that, either.
In general, I'd say this fine series is most reminiscent of Fringe, especially with the tank of water being a conduit to another plane.  Fringe, of course, was 21st century not 1980s, but it was very 1950s retro - see Fringe Science for more on this - so Stranger Things is retro even if it comes by that via an intentional or unintentional indebtedness to Fringe.

Stranger Things also has a great sense of humor, with the riffs on Lando Calrission being my favorite in the concluding episodes.  Bring on the next season already!

See also Stranger Things 1.1-1.5: Parallel Horror

more parallel worlds ... "flat-out fantastic" - Scifi and Scary

Stranger Things 1.1-1.5: Parallel Horror

So I saw the first five episodes of Netflix's Stranger Things on a colleague's recommendation, and really enjoyed.   I'll see the rest tonight, and put in a review after that, but I thought I'd say a few things about the series now.

First, it's correctly billed as "science fiction horror".  Horror can come in two flavors, science fiction and fantasy, and like the dichotomy in general, it hinges on whether the story has scientific plausibility.   For example, if a vampire story hinges on a virus, an alien invasion, or a mutation in our species, it would be science fiction horror.  If, on the other hand, vampires arise due to some inchoate curse, we're dealing with fantasy horror.

Stranger Things is definitely science fiction.  In addition to the campy scientists, we have a teacher giving a great little talk about Hugh Everett's "many worlds" interpretation of quantum physics - that is, an infinitely of possible worlds, much like but subtly different from ours, set off by whatever events. That may not be scientific fact, but it's certainly plausible science theory, and is the bulwark of Stranger Things, and makes it very different from A Nightmare on Elm Street, however much the two may share the same teen horror angst.

Indeed, though much has been made about the homages Stranger Things provides to Wes Craven and the 1980s, it cuts a swath all its own.   It needed to be situated in the 1980s, in an age before cell phones with cameras, because the lack of ready contact and photographic evidence is essential to the isolation of our characters and their inability to prove what they know to be true.  Thus the 80s accoutrements are not so much homages as they essential conveyors of the story.

I'll be back with more when I've finished the series, but it looks like, once again, Netflix has stepped up with a narrative that soars above what is usually found on the networks and cable, including, in this case, series on the Syfy Channel.

See also Fringe 1.6-1.8: Lando to Fringe

more parallel worlds ... "flat-out fantastic" - Scifi and Scary

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Occupied on Netflix and Trump

Just finished streaming Occupied on Netflix.  It was not only good, often riveting, in its own right, but offered a disturbing projection of the world if Donald Trump were somehow elected President of the United States.

Occupied takes place in Norway, slightly in the future.  The country has decided to go all-green, give up fossil fuel completely, in the wake of a terrible environment crisis.  Its neighbors the European Union and Russia don't like this.  Russia decides to do something about it.  They come into Norway, over the objections of its weak government, and keep the fossil fuel plants humming.  The EU does nothing about this.

And what about the United States, long an alley of Norway and no friend of Russia?  In this near-future scenario, the U.S. has pulled out of NATO, and has an isolationist stance, similar to what some Americans wanted at various times in the 20th century.

In our reality, Trump wants to pull out of NATO now (though he's also said, at times, that he doesn't, typical of his often incoherent campaign).  But a United States unwilling to stand up for Norway, especially to Russia, is completely consistent with the footsies Trump has been playing with Putin, and his often otherwise isolationist rants.

The U.S. is frequently depicted poorly in European drama, something which I'm not particular pleased about but which I've become used to.   But in Occupied, given what we're now seeing with the likes of Trump, this depiction is not unjustified.

The story itself is excellent and suspenseful, with all kinds of unexpected twists and turns, especially at the end.   It's reminiscent of Borgen - the Danish political drama - with a little Homeland thrown in. Highly recommended summer viewing - especially this summer, when an isolationist United States is not that far from fiction.

Based on an idea by Jo Nesbø, directed by Erik Skjoldbjærg, who says a second season is in the works.

In the meantime,  here's the Dylanesque "Black and Gold" from the opening credits.  By Sivert Høyem - also a little reminiscent of Gordon Lightfoot.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Silvercup North in the Morning

I spent a wonderful hour this morning at the opening ceremony of Silvercup North - the spacious new, third motion picture and television production studio of Silvercup Studios in the Port Morris area of the Bronx - where New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was the featured speaker.

Everything about this ceremony was right.  I grew up in the Bronx, a little north of Port Morris around Allerton Avenue and White Plains Road.  I've been a professor at Fordham University (the Governor's alma mater), across the street from the Botanical Gardens and the Bronx Zoo, since 1998.

I grew up eating Silvercup bread.  The very sign makes me hungry and smells good.  "The Bronx is Back" looked good, too.   And although I moved up to White Plains from the Bronx with my family in the early 1990s, the Bronx was never really gone for me.

The is the first time I've had the pleasure of hearing Andrew Cuomo speak in person.  And it was a pleasure, indeed.  Our governor is articulate, humorous, and sharp as a whip.   Somewhere down the line, I'd like to see him run for President.  Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., who introduced Cuomo, also has a great future ahead.  Like the Governor, Diaz got involved in politics via his father, Ruben Diaz, Sr., who is currently a NY State Senator and took a bow from the audience.

The Suna Brothers, who brought Silvercup Studios to prominence in Queens in the 1980s, were on hand. Silvercup Studios has already made an enormous contribution to New York and the world's popular culture.   The studio was talked about on panels at The Sopranos Conference I organized at Fordham University in 2008 - lots of The Sopranos was filmed at Silvercup in Long Island City.

As many of you know, time travel is one of my passions - as a reader, viewer, and author. I was therefore delighted to hear, and consider it a most auspicious omen, that the first production in Silvercup North will be ABC-TV's Time after Time, based on the movie about the young H. G. Wells.  What more could you ask for! (Shameless plug, H. G. Wells makes an appearance in my Ian's Ions and Eons - the name of a time-travel agency located a little off Johnson Avenue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.)

As icing on the cake of this morning, it was great to see Gary Kesner, Executive VP at Silvercup. Gary and my wife Tina were in class together many years ago at the Bronx High School of Science - there's the Bronx again - and we've stayed in touch all too sporadically over the years.

Thanks to Jim Jennewein, Artist in Residence at Fordham University, for inviting me to this event, and to Rachel Honan, photographer and our student at Fordham, who conversed with us before the speeches.

Good times for the Bronx on street and screen beckon ahead!

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Night Of #6: Three Suspects

So as of episode #6 last night, we now have three suspects in the murder - other, of course, than Naz.

In episode 5, last week, our attention was brought to bear on the guy who did not come forth to police when his friend did, after the two encountered Naz and Andrea right outside her apartment.  In fact, Trevor went out of his way not to mention his friend, when he gave his otherwise truthful (as far as know) account to the police.   I guess Trevor himself can be considered a suspect, but his friend certainly seems more suspicious.

Then there's the guy who offered Andrea a ride in his hearse.   He either could be someone hired to track her and kill her, or someone who took a sick, lethal liking to her, and followed through.

And if we're talking about someone hiring Andrea's killer, we now have Don Taylor, and a nice big financial motive.  He also doesn't seem to be a very nice guy, for whatever that's worth.

So where does that leave us?  The killer could still be Naz, a possibility the story is keeping at least slightly in play by revealing his past propensity for violence (and which we've seen again in prison), but I still don't think so.   I thought from the beginning that maybe Naz's brother was somehow the killer, but we've seen nothing in that direction at all, so far.  And the killer could still be someone we haven't met as yet - but it's getting pretty late for that.

So I would say there's a better than 50/50% chance it's one of three main suspects, but I wouldn't put money on any one of them, and not overwhelming odds on it even being one of three.   I would add that there's no way Andrea committed suicide, and since this is not science fiction, it can't be the cat.

But the cat has some connection to this, and, at very least, it's good to see Jack taking care of the cat, and his foot condition finally cured!

Peaky Blinders Season 3: Still Peak

Finally had a chance to see the third season of Peaky Blinders on Netflix - available for a few months now - and happy to report that it's superb, as good or better than the first two seasons.

I'll try not to give you too much away - there are lots of surprises, well worth waiting for.

First and foremost comes at the very end, when Thomas comes up with a unique way to keep his family and business together.   Totally unforeseen, and astonishing.

We also have a shocking death, early in the season, which changes, well, not everything, but a lot.  As much as I regretted this happening, it gives the story a jolt, to say the least.

Arthur and John are in fine form - including in one scene in which tattoos are searched for - and Michael and Polly have an important roles, too.   Tom Hardy is memorable, again, as Alfie, and in fact all the acting is outstanding, with Cillian Murphy and Paul Anderson in the lead.

As always, Tommy has his hands full, fighting old and new enemies, and keeping his family in line and resistant to inner and outer demons.   After three seasons, I would say that Peaky Blinders has equalled or exceeded Boardwalk Empire, and may be on its way to giving the Godfather saga a run for its money.

England in the 1920s is a great locale for this story, mixing cars and horses, Soviets and locally corrupt authorities of all stripes.   The third season, like the first two, is just six episodes, leaving plenty more to tell in the story.  So you here next year!

See also Peaky Blinders: Peak Television

deeper history


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Tyrant 3.6: Alive

A rare Tyrant 3.6 this past week, in which almost no major character was killed.

Al-Qadi did have a pretty close call, at the hands of Ihab Rashid, who is stopped at the last minute by a wiser, more ingeniously devious Caliphate leader.  And the plan worked, putting Al-Qadi, who was one of Abuddin's best hopes for reconciliation, right in the cross-hairs of Bassam's rage.

This whole season, as I've mentioned before, can be seen as a story of how Barry is inexorably becoming more like his now late brother, and the true tyrant in this saga.  About all Bassam has going for him now is a son who does love him, and Daliya, who, I was very glad to see, wants very much to continue her relationship with Bassam.

She was also almost killed in this episode - good thing she wasn't - in the bomb that took Bassam's murderous butler or chief aide, or whatever exactly he was.   He certainly had it coming, given his killing of poor Nusrat, and I wouldn't consider him quite a major character, which is why I said almost none were killed in 3.6.

But back to Daliya, there's still a big loose end which can hurt Bassam, since Fauzi still does not know about Daliya and Bassam.  In a satisfying scene, she broke the news to Fauzi that he'd be ill-advised to wait for you her, and he took it pretty well, but there's no telling what seeing or hearing about Daliya in Bassam's arms will evoke in Fauzi, and there's obviously a lot of pent-up dynamite to explode.

Sammy knows about his father and Daliya, but he has no connection to Fauzi and won't tell him even if he did.   But ... what about Leila?   She also has her suspicions, and who knows what she might do and unleash to further her ambitions.

Good viewing ahead.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Downfall of Julian Assange

One of my favorite quotes come from John Maynard Keynes, "when the facts change, I change my mind" (see Goodreads for a list of my favorite quotes).   This has now happened regarding my opinion of Julian Assange and Wikileaks.

1. When Assange and Wikileaks were releasing classified government documents, which detailed what our government was saying behind the scenes about our foreign policy maneuvers, I thought that was akin to what Daniel Ellsberg had done with the Pentagon Papers regarding our involvement in the Vietnam War - i.e., good for freedom and our democracy.  I noted that then Secretary of Defense Gates said those initial Wikileaks had not endangered any American lives, and that Ellsberg himself said he stood with Assange.

2. I took pause, and was certainly concerned, when Assange was accused of sexual molestation and "lesser rape" in Sweden shortly after (details here).  But I thought Michael Moore made a good point when he wondered if the CIA or some other governmental organization was conveniently trying to frame Assange, and I noted, as time ensued, that no further allegations (that I know of) were raised against Assange regarding his sexual conduct (unlike the egregious Bill Cosby, for example).  It was also possible that Assange was a personal predator but still doing the right thing as far as freedom of information and world politics.

3. All of that happened in 2010.  Earlier this year - 2016 - I thought Assange's release of DNC emails at the beginning of the Democratic National Convention was not shining a cleansing light on government secrecy, but a heavy-handed attempt to influence our Presidential elections.  This was especially grievous, given that the opponent of the Democrats is a fascist, Trump. the likes of which we have never seen get so far in America before.

4. But the straw that finally broke the camel's back for me regarding Julian Assange was his recent implication that Hillary Clinton may have had something to do with the murder of a DNC staffer in Washington DC in July.   With this suggestion, Assange has moved from disseminator of classified information and hacked DNC emails, to purveyor of sick conspiracy theories, in league with the arrant nonsense that Hillary killed Vince Foster, etc.  It's in league with what Trump has been spewing, and caters to worst elements of humanity.

So, as the Jerry Orbach character says in Dirty Dancing, "when I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong".  I was very wrong about Julian Assange.  He is part of the problem not the solution.  And I can only hope that, whatever happens with the rape charges, he and his business are quickly consigned to the dustbin of history.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Marco Polo Season 2: Masterpiece

I binged watched the second season of Marco Polo on Netflix the past few evenings - superb, better than the first season in every way, and the first season was pretty good indeed.

I don't want to give anything away in the complicated, twisty story - with lots of surprises, even for those who know history - so I'll just mention some of the highlights -

  • The opening credits are themselves a treat for eye and ear - animated brushstroke with meaningful images, and evocative voicing you just can't get out of your head.
  • Probably my favorite single scene were horses set ablaze and running into the enemy camp - an assault via horseflesh, literally, deadly and devastating, with no loss of human life for the attackers.
  • There's a great mix of religion, especially Islam and Christianity, into the story.  This was present in the first season, because Kublai Khan indeed welcomed all religions in his realm, but the religions play a much more decisive role in the second season.
  • Women have outstanding roles, as fighters, lovers, strategists, and indeed all aspects of life.  A pleasure to see.
  • There was so much attention on Kublai in some episodes, and so little on Marco, that at times I was thinking the series could be better named Kublai.  But Marco has some crucial moves, especially near the end.
  • A personal favorite of mine in the twilight zone between historical fact and myth is Prester John.  It was good to see him brought into these battles for the world.
  • Gabriel Byrne makes a fine appearance as the Pope.   And, actually, all the acting was top-drawer, with special kudos to Benedict Wong as Kubai and Joan Chen as his wife, the Empress Chabi.
Beautifully projected, brilliantly plotted, with an eye equally keen for the teardrop, which the blind monk hears, and the grand spectacle of a people who conquered more of the world than any other, Marco Polo is a masterpiece of historical drama, and I'm looking forward to more.

See also Marco Polo: Evocative History

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Ray Donovan 4.7: Easybeats

An altogether perfect episode 4.7 of Ray Donovan tonight.

First and foremost, the Mickey story, most of which is Ray's plan to get him to a safer haven in prison - the gay ward - before getting him released.  Mickey agrees, and gives the plan his all.  It's a matter of life and death, because the bad guys have put a man on the inside to kill Mickey.  Bunchy and Terry, forewarned, attest to their father's gayness when questioned; Conor, not forewarned does not;  but Mickey comes through with a brilliant spur-of-the-moment move, and he escapes getting strangled by the skin of his something or other.   It's a brilliant set piece, with equal doses of suspense and hilarity, served up with another outstanding Jon Voight performance.

The other fine part of the episode also concerns Mickey, but via Cochran, whom Ray has hired to get Mickey ultimately free.  And the best part of that was hearing "Friday On My Mind" - first sung by Hank Azarian (Cochran), pretty good, and then at the end, even better, by, I'm not sure, it was the same arrangement as the original, great Easybeats, but didn't sound exactly the same, maybe it was a different mix, but listen for yourself to video at the end of this review, and see/hear for yourself.

But, anyway, I've always loved that song and it was great to hear it again.  As I've said in my reviews of Ray Donovan a couple of times this season, the music has been just outstanding.  And, as a special treat, Stacy Keach came on at the end as the Texan, and I was glad to see he was was still breathing, because it will be good to see him back on the screen next week and maybe more.

Ok, I'm going to listen again to Friday on My Mind, and then maybe some Bob Seger - whose music was on a few weeks ago - and then, I don't know, maybe try to predict what they'll play on this show next week.

See also Ray Donovan 4.1: Good to Be Back ... Ray Donovan 4.2: Settling In ... Ray Donovan 4.4: Bob Seger

And see also Ray Donovan 3.1: New, Cloudy Ray ... Ray Donovan 3.2: Beat-downs ... Ray Donovan 3.7: Excommunication!

And see also Ray Donovan 2.1: Back in Business ... Ray Donovan 2.4: The Bad Guy ... Ray Donovan 2.5: Wool Over Eyes ... Ray Donovan 2.7: The Party from Hell ... Ray Donovan 2.10: Scorching ... Ray Donovan 2.11: Out of Control ... Ray Donovan Season 2 Finale: Most Happy Ending

And see also Ray Donovan Debuts with Originality and Flair ... Ray Donovan 1.2: His Assistants and his Family ... Ray Donovan 1.3: Mickey ... Ray Donovan 1.7 and Whitey Bulger ... Ray Donovan 1.8: Poetry and Death ... Ray Donovan Season 1 Finale: The Beginning of Redemption

  different kinds of crimes and fixes