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Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Aeronauts: Science Fiction of the Past



As long as I'm reviewing good 2019 science fiction movies about traveling off of this planet - I reviewed Ad Astra here yesterday - I might as well throw in a review of The Aeronauts before the year runs out,

Part of the story is true history.  James Glaisher was a meteorologist and an "aeronaut" who traveled further off the Earth - around 9500 meters - than anyone before him, in 1862, in a balloon that lifted him.  But in real history, his co-pilot was Henry Tracey Coxwell, not even mentioned in the movie, which had as Glaisher's pilot the fictitious Amelia Rennes.

That's what makes the movie science fiction.  But there's nothing fictitious about the real emotions Felicity Jones shows us as Amelia, working through her demons born of the loss and trauma she experienced from an earlier trip to the sky.   Indeed, in her partnership in explorations above the clouds she shares with Glaisher, she is the strong one, both psychologically and even physically in some breathtaking scenes.  In real history,  Coxwell saved the day after Glaisher passed out in the high altitude, but I have no idea if those two had conversations as meaningful as between Amelia Rennes and Glaisher in the movie.

The fiction in this scientific history of a movie calls for, once again, the important proviso that should accompany all docu-dramas: they're not the same as documentaries, which are themselves not the same as real history, since a documentary only tells us the part of the story that the filmmaker wants us to see.  But docu-dramas go one big fictional step further - they make up conversations, what real-life people do, and sometimes even make up characters from whole cloth.

That's what The Aeronauts serves us, though Amelia is said to be a composite of real women who flew in balloons in those days.   As far as I'm concerned, I don't care what parts are real and what parts of the composite are fictional.  The Aernonauts is an uplifting, inspiring movie, and I highly recommend it.


                                             Welcome Up: Songs of Space and Time


                                                      Touching the Face of the Cosmos

Ad Astra: the 2001 of the 21st Century (So Far)



What better time to see Ad Astra than now, at the end of the second decade of the 21st century, when we still have made but a pittance of progress beyond our landing on the Moon in 1969?

In the "near future" of Ad Astra, we're established on the Moon and Mars - not well established, by any means, but good enough - and the story concerns Roy McBride's (Brad Pitt) trip to Neptune to find out what happened to his father, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones).  Clifford was the first man to reach Jupiter and then Saturn, but he got hung up around Neptune, and most people don't know if he's dead or alive. 

Roy thinks he's alive, and he's right, which leads to the bigger story: is it worth leaving Earth, permanently, in the quest to find some alien intelligence, that Clifford is sure must be out there? Clifford's so sure that he begs Roy to let him float away in space, to die, rather than return to Earth with Roy.   In the decisive scene, Roy lets his father go, and Roy returns to Earth.  Because, having discovered there's likely no other intelligence out there, Roy wants to return to his home.

It's not the ending I wanted, but the movie was nonetheless powerful, and the ending was emotionally satisfying.  Indeed, Ad Astra was so good a movie, so different in the combination of individual personality and grand scale, that I'd say it's the 2001 of our 21st century, at least so far.

As to what I would have rather seen at the end: that would have been Roy refusing to let his father go, bringing Clifford back to Earth, where Roy could have unpacked, savored, and assessed his father's immense knowledge gathered over thirty years at the furtherest our species has ventured from Planet Earth.  Yes, Roy speaks of great stores of knowledge in the records his father kept, but there's nothing like actually talking to the person who made and kept the records to get the deepest and fullest picture of what he (or she) learned.

Nonetheless - great acting Brad Pitt, great movie by James Gray, see it.

                                             Welcome Up: Songs of Space and Time


                                                      Touching the Face of the Cosmos

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Marriage Story: A Star Is Born, Almost Again




Marriage Story on Netflix, as you likely already know, is a divorce story, more specifically, a story of a couple who pretty much love each other, and have a son, splitting up.  In that sense, it's pretty much an old story, one we've seen on the screen many times, but it's lifted by strong acting from Adam Driver (just seen in Star Wars) as Charlie and Scarlett Johansson as Nicole, witty dialogue, and some primo scenes.

My favorite was Charlie and Nicole screaming at each other about why they split up, both brought to tears by the knowledge they already knew that they still loved each, and frustrated beyond belief that this had happened to them.  So, why did it happen?  That's the story of this Marriage Story.

It's actually a little more Nicole's than Charlie's story, since she initiated the break-up.  She couldn't abide her creative life being subsumed by Charlie's, something he was for the most part blissfully unaware of.  I guess to make her leaving more believable and better motivated, he does sleep with another woman - though only "once," as he would and does tell us, and Nicole as well.

But the deeper story is how can two creative people have a life together?  This was explored beautifully in A Star Is Born, more than once, four times, to be exact, but that was a special case of marriage of an aging star and a rising starlet (or singer), which story very different than Marriage Story, where Charlie is only a bit ahead of Nicole in his success.  So maybe Marriage Story can be best understood as a compressed Star Is Born, though likely not.

Driver also does some impressive singing in the movie, of a Stephen Sondheim song no less.  Which raises another point.  There's a studied hipness in this movie.  But it's done so well that it doesn't seem studied.

Anyway, romantic that I am, I would've liked to have seen the two together at end, and who knows, since this isn't A Star Is Born, that could actually happen, notwithstanding Nicole's boring boyfriend.




Dublin Murders: You Can Go Your Own Way



My wife and I just finished the first (and so far, only) season on Dublin Murders on Starz.  It's a strange, compelling BBC series set in - of course - Dublin, and I hope it's the first of more to come.

It has a pace and focus and intensity all its own.  Although the two murder cases are solved by the end, they're solved in a way that leaves much more open than we find at the end of most other American, British, or for that matter, any murder series made anywhere in the world.  Whether that's due to a strict adherence to the novels of Tanya French upon which this season was based, I couldn't say, as I haven't read the novels.  But I very much like this very different way of telling two interlocking stories.

As is often the case, though, in stories dubbed this or that murder or murders, the narrative is really much more about the detectives investigating the cases than the murders.  In this case, Rob Reilly and Cassie Maddox, very well played by Killian Scott and Sarah Greene, are a very compelling if ill-fated team, or are very compelling because they're ill-fated, both individually and as a team and, just for good measure, as a romantic couple.   Rob is really Adam, a boy who witnessed a murder and escaped - a murder in the same woods in Dublin where, back now in his new identity as the English detective Rob, he's investigating a murder that happened in the same woods.  He's investigating this with and against the best advice of his partner, Cassie, who is also damaged goods herself, having as a child been in the back seat of a car in which her parents drove into a stag (a male deer) and were killed.  She makes up a character, Lexie, who turns out to be real and ... well, I don't want to give too much away, in case you haven't seen Dublin Murders, which you should (and if you haven't, you probably shouldn't have read this far, anyway, but, in any case, don't read any further).

I will say that I don't like the way the finale handled their love affair - or, at least, the love Rob wanted to profess when he asked Cassie to call him back.  I mean, a series of things getting in the way of professing one's true love was already old hat after Jane Austen did it so well in her novels.

Will there be another season of Dublin Murders?  There should be.  Will it have all new characters?  I pretty much hope not, because I want to see more of Rob and Cassie, but I'll watch it anyway.




Ray Donovan 7.7: Back Story



Tonight's episode 7.7 of Ray Donovan provided another reason for me to like this season the best.  In the case of this episode, it offered one of the best backstories I've seen on any series, period.

Especially the acting.  The guy (Bill Heck) who played young Mick had his (Jon Voight as Mickey's) mannerisms down pat.  His voice even sounded so much like Mickey's, it could have been Voight's overdubbed - for all I know, it was.  And the story this young Mick brought us finally gives us some crucial missing pieces in what makes the family Donovan tick.

In our present time, Mickey played by Voight tells us near the end of the episode that he's finally grown up - that everything we've seen him go through and do in these seven seasons has profoundly changed him.  Made him a, well, more responsible adult, even if that responsibility entails murder and whatever it takes.

And we get Ray's story, too.  The young Ray, wanting to kill his father.  This Ray (played by Aidan Pierce Brennan) is also given an excellent performance by someone who literally has a lot of Ray's (Liev Schrieber's) ways of looking at the world.  And our present Ray is changing in significant ways, too.  Under Molly's good influence, he refrains from killing someone who, at least in Ray's world, would have been better off dead.

A lot of this season, especially in the unpacking of those prior lives that bring the lives of our current characters into clearer focus, has the feel of a final season.  I'm very glad that it apparently isn't.  Because knowing what we now know of Mickey, and Ray, it will be more riveting than ever to see where there are next season, after this one concludes.  And we haven't even seen what else this current season has to teach us.

See also Ray Donovan 7.1: Getting Ahead of the Game ... Ray Donovan 7.2: Good Luck ... Ray Donovan 7.3: "The Air that I Breathe" ... Ray Donovan 7.4: Claudette and Bridget ... Ray Donovan 7.5: Bing! ... Ray Donovan 7.6: Phone Booths and Cellphones

See also Ray Donovan 6.1: The New Friend ... Ray Donovan 6.2: Father and Sons ... Ray Donovan 6.4: Politics in the Ray Style ... Ray Donovan 6.6: The Mayor Strikes Back ... Ray Donovan 6.7: Switching Sides ... Ray Donovan 6.8: Down ... Ray Donovan 6.9: Violence and Storyline ... Ray Donovan 6.10: Working Together ... Ray Donovan 6.11: Settled Scores and Open Questions ... Ray Donovan Season 6 Finale: Snowfall and Mick

See also Ray Donovan 5.1: Big Change  ... Ray Donovan 5.4: How To Sell A Script ... Ray Donovan 5.7: Reckonings ... Ray Donovan 5.8: Paging John Stuart Mill ... Ray Donovan 5.9: Congas ... Ray Donovan 5.10: Bunchy's Money ... Ray Donovan 5.11: I'm With Mickey ... Ray Donovan 5.12: New York

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 ... Ray Donovan 4.9: The Ultimate Fix ... Ray Donovan Season 4 Finale: Roses

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


It started in the hot summer of 1960, when Marilyn Monroe walked off the set of The Misfits and began to hear a haunting song in her head, "Goodbye Norma Jean" ... Marilyn and Monet

Saturday, December 28, 2019

You 2: Killer Charm



Well, it's rare that a mystery or thriller surprises me with almost all of its twists, but the second season of You, now streaming on Netflix, did just that.  And with the same wit and style that lit up the first season, maybe even more.  All of which adds up to a highly, often immensely, enjoyable second season of this literate and introspective serial killer.

Joe Goldberg worked in a bookstore in New York City in season one.  Now he's trying to establish a new identity out in LA.  He employs his time-honored way of making things happen: he locks a guy up in his basement and assumes his identity.  Just before he falls in love with Love.  Well, Joe was already in love with love, certainly obsessed with it. but this Love is Love Quinn, perfectly played by Victoria Pedretti, whom I last noticed in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

But she's just outstanding in You, down to that smile she gives us when she realizes that she's finally getting Joe to sleep with her.  Her character is complex, to say the least, and I actually liked her even more than Guinevere Beck in the first season, as Joe's all-consuming passion.

[big spoilers ahead]

And the plot is brilliant.  Here are some of the surprises I didn't get:  Joe letting the real Will go - the guy whose identity Joe stole.  The best surprises are well-motivated, and this one was a logical result of Joe wanting to really be a good person, as part of his love for Love.  The cop killing Forty at the end, and, for that matter, Forty figuring out that Joe killed Beck et al back in New York.  Candace's deployment was not surprising, but very well played.

The one big twist I sort of saw coming - indeed, the biggest twist in the season - was Love killing Delilah, etc.  I put her at the top of the list via process of elimination, behind Love's parents, all higher as would-be protectors of Joe than Joe himself, which have been too obvious.  And I can't say I was thrilled by the very very ending, with Joe starting to fantasize about the neighbor we don't really see.  But, hey, I liked seeing Huxley's Brave New World among her books, and that's just entree to the next season.

All of this is brought to life not only by great acting - the scenes with Joe (also perfectly acted, by Penn Badgley) and Love are nonpareil - but sparkling dialogue, mostly from Joe, often interior, as when he grumbles that "this is what I get for trying to out-tech a teenager" (Ellie) or "the robots are not our friends".  Yeah, though Joe is social media-literate enough, his true talent are words and word-play in the Victorian tradition, and thus he's often challenged by latest tech, all of which adds to his charm.

And charming might be one of the best words to describe this second killer season.

See alsoYou: Review from an Unconflicted Fan

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Welcome Up: Songs of Space and Time nearly here!

Paul Levinson


Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year!  My new LP Welcome Up: Songs of Space and Time -- my first new album since Twice Upon A Rhyme in 1972 -- is almost here!

In fact, advance copies of the CD, with all eight songs, are available here.  There's also complete information on the writers of the songs, and the musicians, and all the lyrics (scroll down) at that link. Also, here's a video of a little concert I did with songs from the album at a science fiction convention in Philadelphia last month.


Old Bear Records will be officially releasing the LP on digital, vinyl, and CD on February 7, 2020, and digital will go up on Bandcamp on January 17.  If you're a dj or music journalist (including citizen journalists and reviewers with blogs), send me an email and I can give you access to the digital album and/or an advance CD right now.


And stay tuned for announcements of a series of concerts, mostly at science fiction conventions, I'll be doing in the Spring.



Music
Play SongSamantha (rough mix, from Welcome Up)
Play SongIf I Traveled To The Past (rough mix, from Welcome Up)

Press
"Sundial Symphony, “Merri Goes Round” (words by Paul Levinson, music by Ed Fox)…Another track where the British Invasion tips its hat to Brian Wilson on the way to San Francisco, circa 1967. This one will feel fresh and familiar to you, all at once. Sundial Symphony, “Looking For Sunsets (In The Early Morning)” (words by Paul Levinson, music by Ed Fox) …The album wraps up with another nod to psychedelic San Francisco, with a Jefferson Airplane dynamic in its sing-along chorus."— Mike DeAngelis, There Once Was A Note, Oct 12, 2019

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Physical inquiries can be sent to: 65 Shirley Lane, 9146596160, White Plains, NY, 10607, USA
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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel 3: Op-ed, Closet, and Lenny



What better night to review the third season of Mrs. Maisel (on Amazon Prime Video) - the third night of Chanukah - and, at the same time, Christmas Eve!  I loved all three seasons, and it may be because my wife and I just finished watching this, but I loved this season the best.  The acting was brilliant, hilarious, and better than ever!

Just some story highlights, and some analyses and questions below -


  • Mrs. Maisel and Lenny Bruce- why didn't she sleep with him?  It looked like he wanted to.  She's definitely attracted to him.  So ... she didn't want to do anything that might somehow throw her career off-course?   (I won't say of course, just off-course, because of course I'm not sure.) But it is ironic, given what happened at the end.
  • Fact-checking and continuity:  Abe talks about an op-ed in The New York Times - but it's 1960 or 1961, and, hey, even if was 1965 that would be wrong.  The first New York Times op-ed didn't appear until 1970.  (Ok, I'm a Professor of Communication and Media Studies - at Fordham University - so I would know this.  But, memo to Mrs. Maisel production - get your details right.)
  • I'm still trying to decide what ratio of Johnny Mathis and Jackie Wilson best describes Shy Baldwin?  I'm thinking maybe 80% Mathis?  Not 100%, because, on occasion, Shy has a nice burst of rock in his singing.
  • Regarding Shy, my wife called it that Midge went over the top with her jokes which came too close to outing Shy.  I was thinking if you didn't already know it, you might just think she was riffing on his effeminate elan (didn't Saturday Night Live once have an hilarious skit on the effeminate heterosexual?).  In any case, what happened was Susie's fault for not being there to calm Midge down.  And once she's up on stage, a different part of her brain takes over - a part that bounces ideas around like basketballs, and makes her brilliant, but which doesn't think of consequences.
  • Susie at least came through for Midge with Midge's money.  But now that Shy's contract is gone, what she will use as collateral?
All of this has the makings for a great fourth season, which I'll 100% be reviewing!  Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!   



It all started in the hot summer of 1960, when Marilyn Monroe walked off the set of The Misfits and began to hear a haunting song in her head, "Goodbye Norma Jean" ...  Marilyn and Monet

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Ray Donovan 7.6: Phone Booths and Cellphones



Some profound media theory in tonight's episode 7.6 of Ray Donovan, from the mouth of the redoubtable Sandy.  She remarks, when a cellphone is the object of discussion, that she prefers phone booths to cellphones, because of, well, the things that a man can do for a woman in a phone booth but not in a cell phone.  Of course, that could also well be what a woman can and can't do for a woman in a phone booth, but I'm guessing that's not or wasn't the way Sandy rolls.  It is true, and now a great point of historical observation, that cell phones have all but eliminated phone booths, though based on my casual observation, they just may be making something of a comeback in New York City.  Whether it's for the reason Sandy stated ... ok, enough of that already.

Meanwhile, we got another good hour of story on tonight's episode.  Smitty continues to be in fine form, and he and Terry had some outstanding scenes, from the bathroom to the car.  I'm really not liking Detective Perry.   She left Terry alone, not really able to drive his car.  She has to know, given how much attention she's given to the Donovans, that he has Parkinson's.  At very least, she must have seen him shaking.  And her boss told her to drop the case.  I'd say she's out of control, lacks a heart, or both.

The closing scenes with Ray and Daryll were significant and top-notch, too.  The two have always had something of a tension or a history between them.  At this point, Daryll is also more upset than usual because he killed someone.  And he doesn't appreciate Ray trying to interfere with what Daryll, Sandy, and Mick are doing.  But accusing Ray of racism is unexpected.  What Daryll saying that just to rile himself up, or has Ray really been racist to Daryll?  Condescending, yes.  But I'm not sure I'd say racist.  And that's what made those scenes so interesting.

This whole season has a subtly different, more psychologically sensitive approach than the earlier seasons.  That's maybe one of the reasons I'm liking it as one of the best.

See also Ray Donovan 7.1: Getting Ahead of the Game ... Ray Donovan 7.2: Good Luck ... Ray Donovan 7.3: "The Air that I Breathe" ... Ray Donovan 7.4: Claudette and Bridget ... Ray Donovan 7.5: Bing!

See also Ray Donovan 6.1: The New Friend ... Ray Donovan 6.2: Father and Sons ... Ray Donovan 6.4: Politics in the Ray Style ... Ray Donovan 6.6: The Mayor Strikes Back ... Ray Donovan 6.7: Switching Sides ... Ray Donovan 6.8: Down ... Ray Donovan 6.9: Violence and Storyline ... Ray Donovan 6.10: Working Together ... Ray Donovan 6.11: Settled Scores and Open Questions ... Ray Donovan Season 6 Finale: Snowfall and Mick

See also Ray Donovan 5.1: Big Change  ... Ray Donovan 5.4: How To Sell A Script ... Ray Donovan 5.7: Reckonings ... Ray Donovan 5.8: Paging John Stuart Mill ... Ray Donovan 5.9: Congas ... Ray Donovan 5.10: Bunchy's Money ... Ray Donovan 5.11: I'm With Mickey ... Ray Donovan 5.12: New York

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 ... Ray Donovan 4.9: The Ultimate Fix ... Ray Donovan Season 4 Finale: Roses

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


It started in the hot summer of 1960, when Marilyn Monroe walked off the set of The Misfits and began to hear a haunting song in her head, "Goodbye Norma Jean" ... Marilyn and Monet
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