250 reviews of time travel TV, movies, books right here

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Mrs. Wilson 1 and 2: Uh, Oh Mr. Wilson

If you're wondering what Ruth Wilson has been up to since she left The Affair, you'll be in for a treat with Mrs. Wilson, which debuted tonight (with two parts out of three) on PBS.  Actually, you'll be in for a treat even if you never saw The Affair (or, for that matter, Luther, in which Ruth Wilson has also distinguished herself).  And just good measure, Iain Glen from Game of Thrones is on hand in this, too.

Why, you might ask, is this mini-series called Mrs. Wilson?  Whoever heard of naming a series after its lead actress?   But the series has that name because it's indeed about a Mrs.Wilson - Ruth's grandmother.  And seeing how the theme of this story is the fine line between fact and fiction, that title and Ruth Wilson starring in it works perfectly.

The Mr. Wilson in this mostly true story - Alexander, played by Iain Glen and reminding me of that "Uh, oh, Mr. Wilson" in George Harrison and the Beatles' "Taxman" - is a piece of work who was apparently married at least three times (at, so far in the story), worked as a British spy in World War II, and was a successful spy and crime-thriller novelist to boot.   Mrs. Wilson (the real Ruth's grandmother, played by Ruth) knows about the spy stuff and the novels, but finds out about the triple marriage and Iain's other lies after he succumbs to a heart attack.   The story so far shows the pain and surprise she endures, and how she more or less copes with it.

It's a wild story, with an enhanced wallop precisely it's basically true (like all docudramas, some facts have been changed to augment the narrative, and this series may have even more fiction).   Hey, I'm a science fiction writer myself, have written some science fiction/mystery hybrids such as The Silk Code, and I found myself regretting that Alexander died before I started publishing and attending mystery writers conventions.  I would've loved to hear some of his truths and lies.

But I regret nothing about this wicked little series, and I'll be back here next week with my concluding review.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Hanna: Top Notch

Hanna on Amazon Prime - a series based on a movie - has been described as a combination of high-tech thriller and coming of age story.  It is all that, and excellently executed.  But it's also science fiction, and, in one way of looking at it, related to Westworld.

Hanna is the result of some kind of CIA program of investing human female babies with something akin to at least low-level superpowers, by which I mean, slightly but significantly better than the best that we normal people can do.  Hanna is a brilliant fighter - able to take out out more than a handful of military with her acrobatic skills and hand-to-hand combat dexterity.  She also has almost a sixth sense of being attuned to trouble and crucial people in her life.  Clara has super keen hearing and is also a master fighter.

The most significant person in Hanna's life is Erik, who raised her in a forest and whom she considers her father.   Eric was working for the CIA some 16 years ago, recruited a pregnant woman for this CIA program, and fell in love her.  He rescued her baby Hanna from the CIA facility and ... I don't want to tell you any more of the story.

So let's turn to the acting.   Esme Creed-Miles is great as Hanna. And seeing Joel Kinnaman (as Erik) and Mireille Enos (as his boss Marissa) back on the screen after their dual starring in The Killing a few years ago was outstanding.  Here they play very different roles, mostly antagonists but maybe veering towards being on the same side.   They two put in two superb performances, down to facial expressions and tones of voice.

A sign of a well-made movie or television series is how well the more minor characters are portrayed.  Hanna is grade-A on this account, with memorable portrayals of Erik's associates and a family from England whose daughter Sophie becomes friends with Hanna.  That's where the coming of age part comes into play, and it's done just right.

High-tech thrillers are almost a dime a dozen these days on streaming services.  If you're in the mood for one, put Hanna at the top of your list.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Enemy Within 1.5: The New Mole

I like a TV series that kills off a major character or two.   It keeps the show fresh, and us its viewers on edge, which is where we want to be.   Tonight The Enemy Within did that with Anna.

And she was a major character indeed.  A mole of Tal, right in thick of the team that's out to get him.  And Keaton feels something for her.  She reminds him of Laine.  Shepherd tells him to play that card, and Keaton does.  And it works - but only because Keaton really does feel a connection to Anna.

Her parting thus leaves The Enemy Within with a pretty big hole.   Tal attempts to fill it, when he asks Keaton at the end why he thinks Anna was the only mole.  The series, after all, is entitled The Enemy Within, so it wouldn't be shocking if there was more than one mole all along.

No one jumps out at this point, though.  Kate (well played by Kelli Garner) and Daniel (well played by Raza Jaffrey) both have gone out their way to help Keaton and the team.  Especially Kate.  I suppose Daniel's distrust of Shepherd could be a signal that he's working for Tal, but I just don't think so.  And nothing seems odd about the other two.   So who's the other mole?

It wouldn't be beyond Tal to spread discord be making Keaton suspicious, for no reason.  But I don't think that's the story, either.   So, we'll just have to see.   Not having too many answers at this point in a series is a sign that it's on the right track.   It certainly makes the series true to life.   If you think about the world in which we live, outside of espionage, just reported in the news every day, The Enemy Within provides a good approximation.

See you here next week.

See also The Enemy Within 1.4: Microsoft AI


Sunday, March 24, 2019

Mirage: See It

A sad-sweet glistening star of a time travel movie - from Spain - on Netflix.  Although Mirage doesn't break any new ground in time travel, it offers an endearingly memorable story, and takes its place as a vivid parable on the dangers of changing the past.

The set-up is reminiscent of Frequency:  a boy who makes videos in killed by a car in 1989, as he tries to escape from a man who just killed his next-door-neighbor.   Years later, in our present, there's a savage electrical storm in the same place, much like the storm that hit just as the boy was killed in 1989.   A young mother who has just heard the story of the boy from other neighbors turns on her television, and finds she is able to talk to the boy, who is looking at his television in 1989.  She warns him not to run out into the street.  Back in 1989, he heeds her warning.  In the present, the mother wakes up the next day to find some changes: the boy survived, but she has no daughter, and her husband has no idea who she is.  A butterfly effect par excellence is unfolding.

The mother, who gave up her medical career to be a mother, is a surgeon in this new reality.  She's highly intelligent and logical, and is intent on getting her daughter and husband back, without sacrificing the boy, who is now a man.   She's determined not to let anything get in her way.   One big question is where is the boy who now is a man.  There's a neat solution to this puzzle, which I almost guessed.

Adriana Ugarte does a fine job as Vera Roy, the mother/surgeon. It was good to see Álvaro Morte who played the professor in La casa de papel on the screen again, and Chino Darín as a police inspector was good, too. The cinematography and music are captivating.  Unraveling unwanted consequences of time travel is one of the toughest things to do convincingly.   Mirage does this well, which in my book means respecting all the possible paradoxes of time travel and changing the past.

See it!


Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Orville 2.11: Time Capsule, Space Station, and Harmony

A real diamond of an episode - 2.11 - of The Orville tonight, right up there with the best time travel stories of Star Trek: TOS and TNG.

Well, it's not actually time-travel, it's a time capsule that serves as the backbone of the story tonight, that plus the simulator, as Gordon falls in love with Laura, who has put her phone in a time capsule back in 2015.   Gordon figures out that he can use all of Laura's messages and images to create a facsimile of her life back then, which he can enter via what Star Trek: TNG called the holodeck.

Before the episode concludes, she sings and Gordon joins her in harmony - was he really singing or was that a simulation, too?  Doesn't matter, because, as Gordon explains to his friends/colleagues on The Orville, ultimately or at least in a very real way, they're the same.  Some of the greatest philosophers in history, from Plato to Berkeley, would have agreed.

One little error in the 2015 retrospective, which I'm surprised slipped through continuity or whatever the name of that job in the production team.  In their first conversation, Gordon tells Laura that his father makes space stations, and she has no idea what that is.   Really?  In 2015, I bet just about everyone in the United States and even the world who was over 10 years old knew what a space station was.

But that's a minor glitch in what nonetheless was a masterpiece, on a par in its own way with "City on the Edge of Forever" and "The Inner Light".  Even the humor was top-notch, with Bortus and his mate struggling to break free of their tobacco habit (yeah, the time capsule had a cigarette or two).

In more ways than one, The Orville is really smokin'. See you back here in three weeks.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Enemy Within 1.4: Microsoft AI

My wife and I have been watching The Enemy Within and enjoying it - always good to see Dexter's Jennifer Carpenter - but I haven't yet a chance to review it.  Tonight's 1.4 had such an impressive ad for Microsoft AI - woven so well into the story - that I figured, hey, why wait.

First, the overall set-up of the series is good - in fact, a wrenching moral dilemma, or series of interlocking dilemmas.  Erica Shepherd (Carpenter) decides that, in order to save her daughter, she has to betray a whole bunch of American agents, who are killled by the mastermind terrorist Tal.  One of the agents killed is FBI special agent Keaton's fiancee, who was with the CIA.  Three years later, Keaton (played by Goliath's Morris Chestnut, who's always excellent) is focused on getting Tal, and to do so, he brings Shepherd, shackled, onto the team.  The rest of the team is split on whether that's a wise thing, and the team also has at least one active Tal mole.  The storylines and action are sharp.

But what stuck me tonight was the way that Kate the technical analyst uses Microsoft AI to help the team foil the kidnapping of a Senator and his daughter at the airport.  As she explains to Keaton after we see her deftly weave her way through three-dimensional images on her and our screen, Microsoft AI allows her to "stitch" together images from the airport to create a clear flow of three-dimensional images that show exactly what lies below and ahead of where the agents are running.   And right after that cool demonstration in narrative action and subsequent explanation in character, we get a real commercial for Microsoft AI and what it can do for human pursuits other than crime fighting - like display of sheer beauty.

Hey, The Enemy Within is on a commercial TV network - NBC - so, if  you have a commercial sponsor, like Microsoft, why not flaunt it by putting it right into the plot?  I'm all in favor, and I'll be back here sooner or later with another review.


The Fix 1.1: Alternate History O. J.

The Fix debuted tonight.  It's an unusual show, the brainchild of Marcia Clark - the Marcia Clark, from the O. J. Simpson trial - and, as of the first episode, it's pretty creative.

At least, the set-up is.   The Fix takes place about eight years after the O. J. character - in this case, Sevvy Johnson (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje from Lost) - is acquitted, despite the best efforts of "Marcia" now Maya (played by Robin Tunney) and "Chris Darden" now Matthew (played by Tyrant's Adam Rayner) for the prosecution.  But eight years after the first murder, Sevvy is not sinking fast into a world of lowlife crime in Florida or wherever.  He's not as successful as he was in his prime, but he's doing fine.  And he's accused of murdering his new girlfriend.

You can see why the real Marcia Clark fantasized this, to the point of coming up with an entire series. The new murder gives Maya a chance to to put Sevvy where she believes he belongs - in jail for not one, but now two murders.  Matthew of course talks her back into the new case - she's retired on some ranch up north, with some "cowboy" that she loves - and Maya's soon calling most of the prosecution's shots.

Sevvy, for his part, has a lawyer reminiscent of Robert Shapiro, and a stepson reminiscent of Kayto.  So, all of the ingredients are in place for what could be a riveting O. J. alternate history, and at very least, so far, is diverting.  There could even be room for Sevvy to be innocent.  His lawyer has some big gambling debts, and it occurred to me that maybe he had something to do with the murder, as a way of tapping Sevvy for some huge legal fees.

We'll see.  I certainly will - I'll be watching this new series, that is - and I'll keep you posted.


Friday, March 15, 2019

Triple Frontier: Triple Good

I figured, how could you go wrong with Ben Affleck and Sons of Anarchy's Charlie Hunnam in leading roles, and Narco's Pedro Pascal thrown in there, too?  I saw Triple Frontier on Netflix last night and discovered I couldn't.  Not just the acting was excellent, and that includes Oscar Isaac and Garrett Hedlund, whom I haven't seen before, but the movie is one of best heist movies I've seen in years.  Best in terms of originality, action, sharp repartee, and heart.

The beginning was the most standard.  Five commandos, most of them semi-retired, get together to rob a drug lord in Colombia of his tons of money.  One guy pulls the rest together, kicking and screaming that they don't want back in the game.  We've seen that before, but story picks up in in the heist, when they find the drug lord's bank is literally his house, and he literally has a ton of money there or more.  I was watching too intently to recall the exact numbers (I'm not even sure what the "Triple" refers to in the title), but the money's much more than they expected, and makes their escape literally very heavy lifting.

The escape is the gem of the movie.  I won't spoil it for you and tell you specifically what happens, but there are surprises galore, not all of them happy by any means, with escape vehicles ranging from helicopter to mules, against some fabulous Andes scenery (so striking I wish I'd seen this in a theater).  In a way, Triple Threat is not only a heist movie, but a sequel to Narcos, in a fictional setting.

By the way, there's room for a sequel, just saying.  Check out Triple Frontier and enjoy.


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Project Blue Book Season 1 Finale: Truman

Well, Project Blue Book ended its first season tonight pretty much the way it's been all season long: intriguing, worth watching, but still not getting beyond its cheesy pulp, though some of that was good, too.

President Truman in Washington DC takes center stage in tonight's story.  General Eisenhower will be in the White House soon - it's 1952 - and that makes General Harding happy.  He thinks Ike, as a military man, will be more likely to believe that the UFOs are Soviet.

Of course, Hynek and Quinn and we know different.  And as I've been saying  for a while this season, I wouldn't be stunned if Harding himself was an extra-terrestrial, and he's using the Soviets to cover his tracks.  We'll just have to see next season.

It is significant that Quinn is now completely on Hynek's side in believing the UFOs are extra-terrestrials, and Hynek's not above lying to the Generals to keep his real work - finding out more about the extra-terrestrial visits - from being obstructed.  It's also not 100-percent certain what General Valentine really thinks about all of this.  There's room there for him to make an unexpected move next season.

Mimi has made it clear to Susie that Mimi's not in the mood for love - with her.  But Susie is continuing to move in on Quinn, and it will be fun to see how that goes next season.  I'll be back here then with more reviews.

See also:  Project Blue Book 1.1: Science Fiction, Or? ... Project Blue 1.2: Calling Roy Thinnes ... Project Blue Book 1.3: Peggy Sue Gets Space Ship ... Project Blue Book 1.4: von Braun ... Project Blue Book 1.5: A Theory ... Project Blue Book 1.6:  The Team ... Project Blue Book 1.7: The Star People ... Project Blue Book 1.8: 'Already Here' ... Project Blue Book 1.9: Shiny Round Object

here I am talking Ancient Aliens a few years ago on the History Channel

1st starship to Alpha Centauri ... Native Americans figure in here, too

Monday, March 11, 2019

Rebellion/Resistance: Brilliantly Sobering Lessons

A superbly powerful two-season mini-series on Netflix - or maybe two linked mini-series - that details the Dublin uprising in 1916, and then, with an almost completely new set of characters, the move towards independence in 1920, also bloody, but more on an individual than a citizen army versus the British military basis.

These historical dramas are, if nothing else, a vivid lesson on the British not being as civilized and reasonable as many in America deem them to have been.  At least, not all of the British.  Their treatment of Irish prisoners is the kind of thing, I'm sorry to say, we here in America associate with Nazis in Germany.

Germany does play an important role in this story.  Britain was at war with Germany in 1916 - the First World War - and we tend to think of the Germans as the bad guys, even though Germany versus England in that war was constitutional monarchy vs. constitutional monarchy, with no Nazis yet rearing their heads in Germany.  From the point of view of the Irish, who were open to any support for their independence from England, Germany was a likely ally.

The characters in both series were excellent, usually in shades of grey rather than black and white.  We have reasonable Brits and trigger-happy Irish, along with the more usual brutal British and heroic Irish.  Women also play a major role in both stories, being treated more equally by the Irish than by the British, an egalitarian characteristic that typifies many revolutions.

It's sobering to think that this situation has yet to be totally settled, even today, with Northern Ireland still part of the U.K.  If you're in the mood for some trenchant and educational television, outstandingly acted, these two mini-series are highly recommended.

The Case Against Adnan Syed 1: Reasonable Doubts

The Case Against Adnan Syed debuted tonight on HB0, the first in a four-episode documentary about the murder of Hae Min Lee on January 13, 1999, for which Syed was convicted.  The podcast Serial in 2014 generated enormous international interest about this case, and the possibility that Syed was not the killer.  Presumably at least in part as a result of this and new evidence brought to light, the path to a new trial for Syed was set by a Maryland Court of Special Appeals in July 2016.  That court indeed so ordered a new trial in March 2018.  But a higher Maryland Court of Appeals overturned that order on March 8, 2019 - or, amazingly, just two days before the premiere of the HBO series tonight.  You just can't make this stuff up.

With all of these bizarre and incredible turns, this documentary has more than a fleeting resemblance to Netflix's two seasons and counting of Making a Murderer.  And although True Detective and The Night Of are fiction, the documentaries have a lot in common with those two series, too.

It's always important to bear in mind that documentaries -  though more truthful than docu-dramas if only because the documentaries show real people not actors - are by no means literal mirrors of reality.  The documentary creators have to decide what to show and what not to show in the true story they are retelling.  Still, I believed after the first season of Making at Murderer that Steven Avery and his nephew  Brendan Dassey were not guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted, and had no reason to change my mind after the second season.  Indeed, I now believe even more strongly that their convictions were wrong (testament to the great work of the defendants' attorneys, especially Kathleen Zellner).   After just one episode of The Case Against Adnan Syed it's difficult to come to any strong conclusions, but there certainly seem to be other suspects, such as Hae's boyfriend at the time of the killing, Don (Adnan and Hae were no longer a couple when she was killed).

I'm also naturally suspicious whenever a higher court reverses a decision of a lower court to reopen a murder case, which is also what happened in the Avery/Dassey cases.  I mean, we're talking about murder here, shouldn't our legal system bend over backwards to consider new evidence that comes forth?

As for the making of the documentary, it has good use of animation and Impressionistic paintings, which were one of Hai's  loves.   I'll let you know more about about I think about this case and the documentary in the following three weeks.

See also Making a Murderer: Showing Us the Truth about our Unjust Justice System ... Making a Murderer 2: The Very Pits of Justice


Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Orville 2.10: Exploding Blood

Well, critics are waking up, after the two-part episode last week and the week before, about how good and important The Orville is.  Will Harris of The Verge observed that "With the two-part episode Identity, The Orville has matured into serious science fiction".   I actually thought the series was born serious science fiction - that is, in its very first episode - but, hey, welcome to the club.

Episode 2.10 was another excellent example.  Friendship, revenge, and the difficulty of enemies stepping back from war were all well explored.  Spoiler alert:  Let's just say that Ed did better with the Krill tonight than Trump did with Kim last week.

And there are lots of good feints and twists as loyalties and savvy were continually tested.  But my favorite part of this episode was a genuine piece of science fiction I don't think I've come across before.   The secret weapon is blood in a humanoid species which explodes when it comes into contact with our kind of atmosphere.  On their home planet, there's something in the air which prevents this from happening.  Needle marks turn out to be not injections but withdrawals of blood to make a powerful explosive weapon.   That's what I call a nice, neat classic little package of science fiction.

The strong narrative continuity which typifies The Orville also continued in fine form.  A possible peace with the Krill follows perfectly from the alliance of humans and Krill at the end of last week's episode.  And in that same subplot, it was good to see Isaac where he belongs on the helm of The Orville, and Yaphit getting a medal for his oozy heroism last week.

Next week's an Orville vacation.  I'll see you back here in two.

See also The Orville 2.1: Relief and Romance ... The Orville 2.2: Porn Addiction and Planetary Disintegration ... The Orville 2.3: Alara ... The Orville 2.4: Billy Joel ... The Orville 2.5: Escape at Regor 2 ... The Orville 2.6: "Singin' in the Rain" ... The Orville 2.7: Love and Death ...  The Orville 2.8: Recalling Čapek, Part 1  ... The Orville 2.9: Recalling Čapek, Part 2

And see also The Orville 1.1-1.5: Star Trek's Back ... The Orville 1.6-9: Masterful ... The Orville 1.10: Bring in the Clowns ... The Orville 1.11: Eating Yaphit ... The Orville 1.12: Faith in Reason and the Prime Directive

1st starship to Alpha Centauri ... had only enough fuel to get there

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Project Blue Book 1.9: Shiny Round Object

Well, the round shiny object in tonight's Project Blue Book - 1.9 - wasn't in the sky, or even on the ground.  It was in Barney's neck, and was evidence that he had been abducted by extra-terrestrials.

In what passes for our real world - that is, the world you and I know, off-screen - Barney Hill and his wife Betty indeed claimed they were abducted by aliens from the Zeta Reticuli star system in 1961 (our system for keeping track of time).  They confirmed their stories several years later, under hypnosis - that is, under hypnosis they recalled that they had been kidnapped by extra-terrestrials.  The government (as far as we the public know) thought otherwise - that they two had similar dreams.  Books have been written about them. Movies have been made.  And tonight it was Project Blue Book the television series' turn.

As always - so far - our intrepid team come to no conclusion they want to stand up for and shout about.  Hynek and Quinn now both clearly believe there are extra-terrestrials at work on Planet Earth.  When Hynek asks Quinn what Quinn really believes, Quinn replies that it doesn't matter what he believes.  That's good enough as an admission.  He's being paid to help keep the public from going crazy about visits from the stars.   But, at some point, I'm hoping this character has to see that such a strategy is bound to fail, if, after all, we're indeed being visited by starships.

Meanwhile, on the Russian front back at Hynek's home, Mimi is drugged, seduced, and photographed by the wily Susie, which all turns out to be prelude towards the big terrestrial shock of the evening.  I liked this earthquake. I was glad to see her husband dispatched to someplace that even the aliens presumably can't reach.  He was an unpleasant and brutal guy.

Next week, the season finale takes us to Washington DC.   It's been an odd and interesting season, and I'll tell you more about what I think about it next week.

See also:  Project Blue Book 1.1: Science Fiction, Or? ... Project Blue 1.2: Calling Roy Thinnes ... Project Blue Book 1.3: Peggy Sue Gets Space Ship ... Project Blue Book 1.4: von Braun ... Project Blue Book 1.5: A Theory ... Project Blue Book 1.6:  The Team ... Project Blue Book 1.7: The Star People ... Project Blue Book 1.8: 'Already Here'

here I am talking Ancient Aliens a few years ago on the History Channel

1st starship to Alpha Centauri ... Native Americans figure in here, too

The Widow: Jolt to the Heart of Darkness

Check out The Widow, eminently binge-able on Amazon Prime Video, a top-drawer action series with great locations in the Congo and strong acting by Kate Beckinsale in the lead role.

She's the widow, and gets caught up in lethal twists and turns after she sees what looks like a quick shot of her husband in a demonstration in Kinshasa three years after he was reported killed in a nearby plane crash, in which not every passenger's body was identified.  Just about everyone is a culprit - including, yes, our dependence on smartphones - and memorable characters abound, from a 12-year old girl pressed into service as a child-soldier (well played by Shalom Nyandiko) to a guy from Iceland (with a love of Whistler's Mother) who did survive the flight but was blinded (well played by Ólafur Darri Ólafsson).  Even Charles Dance puts in a customarily suave, savvy, and dexterous performance.

But Beckinsale runs the gamut from heartbroken to furious to tender - not always to different people - and since her Georgia Wells had some military experience, she's also good with a gun.   There've been many other screen narratives of people looking for lost loved ones, but none with this level of kick-in-the-stomach shockers in just about every episode, and none situated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.   The combination of the downed flight in the jungle, intercutting of all kinds of flashbacks, and psychological stressors undergone by all sides in the story are reminiscent of Lost at its best (including a strong supporting role by Alex Kingston), and in a different way, of 24: Redemption, which thrust Jack Bauer into a fictional African nation beset by all manner of murderous characters.

I wouldn't quite say Georgia Wells is a female Jack Bauer, but they do have a lot in common, and I certainly would be up for seeing her continue in a sequel series.  Kudos to writers Harry and Jack Williams.


Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Tunnel: Final Season: Moral Dilemma Par Excellence

I see, to my surprise, that I never got around to reviewing the first two seasons of The Tunnel - the British/French take on the Swedish/Danish Bron/Broen, and the American The Bridge.  Indeed, though I reviewed The Bridge, I thought it was not the best of the three.  That accolade belongs to The Tunnel, though I have yet to see the last two seasons of Bron/Broen, so I conceivably could change that ranking.

Not likely, though, seeing as how good The Tunnel, especially its final season 3, is.   I've admired Stephen Dillane's work since I saw him play Thomas Jefferson in the John Adams mini-series in 2008 (I thought it was longer ago than that).  He plays Karl, the British and non-Asperger's detective.  Clémence Poésy I don't recall having seen before - actually, she was in some Harry Potters and In Bruges, a movie my wife and I loved,  and she does a fine job playing Elise in The Tunnel.  In all three versions, the detective with all the advantages and disadvantages of Asperger's - the focus on logic and details, the lack of social sensitivities - is a woman.

Also in all three version, the team is sooner or later thrust into a severe moral dilemma - whether to save this person or that, when at least one of the likely victims is someone beloved to at least one of the detectives.   This moral choice - whom to throw a rope to when two people, not near each other, are drowning - was given the best presentation, the epitome of this dilemma, I thought, in the final episode of The Tunnel.

I won't say anymore about that, in case you haven't seen it.  I will say that all three versions require a strong stomach, meaning the villains they deal with are as perverse and ethically as ugly as these sort of monsters come.  In fact, the going was so rough in season 3 of The Tunnel that I was close to deciding I didn't like it as much as the other versions and seasons.  Until the ending.

So ... see this.  It's human beings with souls fighting humans who've lost them, a story that typifies a lot of our age, and presented here at its searing best.


The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Seasons 1 and 2: Triumph for Risks and Laughter

I don't usually watch comedy on television or streaming, and review it even less.  But our daughter Molly raved about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel after the first season, and given that she'd recommended such winners as Alias and Sons of Anarchy, her praising of Maisel certainly put it on the possible list.  Sisters-in-laws and in-laws urged us to watch it, too.  But what put me over the top was the lunch I had with Bob Mann, a professor with inimitable tastes  (I was a guest on his late, lamented Sirius XM Radio show "Let's the Consider the Source" at least 50 times.  It should be coming back as a podcast soon.)

Maisel was everything Mann and the family said it was.  Hilarious and profound, and one of the best portrayals of Jewish life in 1950s New York City on any screen.   Further, Mrs. Maisel, mother of a baby girl and a young son whose husband Joel leaves her at the beginning of the story, provides a memorable tableau of late 50s Village cafe culture and extended media, as she tries to break into the stand-up comedy circuit.

She's enormously talented, and her riffing routines in themselves provide one of the real joys of this series.  Other highlights include
  • a 2+ episode spot-on depiction of the Catskills in the summer, at least as good, and in some ways better, than what we saw in Dirty Dancing
  • a portrayal by Luke Kirby (Rectify) of Lenny Bruce - who recognizes Maisel's talent, and does what he can to support her - that I actually liked better than Dustin Hoffman's in the 1974 Lenny, which, I don't know, was powerful, but too much Dustin
  • and speaking of acting, Rachel Brosnahan (House of Cards) as Mrs. Maisel, Tony Shalhoub (Monk) as her father Abe Weissman, a professor of mathematics at Columbia University (though it looked like some of the exterior scenes were shot at Fordham), and Alex Borstein (never heard of her before) as Maisel's manager are just off-the-chart in their unique and fabulous performances.
But not everything has been perfect in this delightful, insightful series.
  • Some of the details were anachronistic, i.e., incorrect for the time portrayed.  The Defenders debuted in 1961, and couldn't have been known to Maisel characters in 1959.   Same for Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," which was released in 1967.  Were the producers of Mrs. Maisel not allowed to look at IMDb and Wikipedia as part of their immersion in the time?
  • The guy who played Steve Allen at the end of season 2 looked nothing like him.   Even Elvis Costello or someone I saw on Meet the Press would have been better.
But these are small quibbles for a series that has already taken its place along side of All in the Family and Curb Your Enthusiasm as laughing out loud, stoking your heart, and learning about life comedy.  And the second season was even better than the first - wilder and more clearly drawn story lines, always a good sign in a series.  Another triumph for risks and Amazon Prime Video.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Janet Opal Asimov, 1926-2019

 photo Isaac and Janet_zpstcjcjj0t.jpg

I was sad to learn that Janet Opal Asimov died on February 25.   She was Isaac Asimov's second wife, and truest love.   She wrote science fiction under the name of J. O Jeppson, and was a psychiatrist who practiced psychoanalysis.

We had several wonderful dinners and conversations, in the years after Isaac died in 1992.  I guess my favorite was one that then-editor of Analog Stan Schmidt arranged for the three of us, in an old-fashioned Italian restaurant in the high 40s on the West Side of Manhattan.   I ordered calamari (a name very much in the news these days, due to Michael Cohen's recent Congressional testimony), one of my favorite dishes.  Janet asked me if I knew that was squid.

One of my all-time greatest honors was when she asked me to write a blurb for Isaac Asimov's It's Been a Good Life (2002), a condensation Janet sagely and lovingly put together from Isaac's encyclopedic two-part autobiography.   I of course said yes, and produced the following, which appears on the back cover

"Isaac Asimov was certainly the Shakespeare of the twentieth century--no other author, no ten other authors, matched his output in range, quantity, clarity, joy, and depth of writing about the growth of knowledge and human conditions. Grab this autobiography for a fascinating, delightful series of glimpses into the many lives of this extraordinary writer." -- Paul Levinson, author of THE SILK CODE

This is right under Harlan Ellison's blurb.

The first time I met Janet was in the early 1980s, at an American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in New York City.  Isaac and I had spoken on the phone and corresponded.  I had sent him my assessment of the Foundation trilogy in 1979, and he had replied with one of his famous postcards.

I  got him in 1982 to write a Preface for my first published book, In Pursuit of Truth: Essays in Honor of Karl Popper's 80th Birthday.   You know, that sort of thing.  But we had never met, when I came up to him after he had finished a talk at the conference.  We shook hands, I said how good it was to meet him-- and Janet whisked him away.   I liked her immediately.

I wish I believed that she was now with Isaac, and she was whisking him away from his legion of dazzled fans who were up there with the two of them.   As it is, I consider myself extraordinarily fortunate to have known and spent a little time with both of them.   They made my good life better. Their writing and my recollection of them always will.