Monday, June 26, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return 1.8: Atom Bomb

Anyone who doubted that Twin Peaks is one bizarre science fiction horror story of a story got their answer tonight in episode 1.8: it is, with a vengeance, spun of gut-wrenching, stomach-churning, searingly mind-blowing wordless narrative the likes of which you don't often see on any television, unless you're maybe watching Donnie Darko someplace the 20th time.

Also - I'm pretty sure we got an answer of sorts to what brought the alternate reality or realities into being: the first atom bomb test in White Sands, New Mexico in 1945.  This indeed was first atom bomb ever exploded (as far as I know) on this Earth, and who knows about the universe.  If I'm getting the silent movie correctly, which was the most powerful part of tonight's extraordinary episode, that first atom bomb brought into being the alternate reality or alternate universe and all the insanity it's brought us in all the Twin Peaks stories.  You could almost hear the atoms crying in anguish as they were torn apart - more than enough to create an alternate reality.  (Come to think of it, that's how Bizarro Superman was brought into being.)

At very least, we saw Laura Palmer's iconic young face in the little globe that was one of the products of what the blast wrought.  Also spawned tonight and a decade after the blast was a homicidal maniac - the woodsman - who only wants a light, but kills the receptionist and dj at the radio station playing The Platters' "My Prayer," and whose talking into the microphone (the woodsman's, that is) in turn kills more people, including a teenager who was just kissed but later has some grotesque insect with maybe human legs crawl into her sleeping or dead mouth (I told you this was horror - of the classic 1950s variety, raised or razed up a notch, to be more precise).

The one thing we can't be sure of is whether the atom bomb brought into being the alternate reality, or whether the alternate world already existed but was understandably agitated and aggravated by the bomb.  Doesn't ultimately matter, though, because it probably all amounts to the same thing.

None of this has any discernible connection to our 2017 story - though, hey, an atom bomb creating an alternate monstrous world should be enough of a story for one hour.  But we do get a significant step forward anyway in that 2017 story, at the beginning, when evil Cooper is killed, but monsters from the alternate world bring him back to life.  It's tough indeed to get rid of bad guys in this nightmare.

I was hoping against hope that the atom bomb would waken good Cooper from his stupor, but I guess it's still too early in our story at this point for that to happen, and since the atom bomb was already exploded in 1945, long before Cooper was put in his stupor, it wouldn't make sense for that same bomb to now bring him out of his stupor.  (There is some underlying logic in this story - at least, I hope so.)

I'll tell you one thing: I'm glad I've been listening these days to Sirius/XM's Beatles channel in my car and not any broadcast radio.   That atom bomb couldn't have an effect on satellite radio - uh, could it??

See also Twin Peaks: The Return 1.1-2: Superluminal Sans Cherry Pie ... 1.3-4: Coffee and Cole ... 1.5: The Mod Squad Meets Big Love in the Diner ... 1.6: Red Door and Childish Scribbles ... 1.7: Lost and Not Lost


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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Gomorrah Season 2 Finale: The Brutal Analysis

Hey, I haven't been reviewing Gomorrah - the justly lionized Italian mafia series that takes place in Naples, and in Italian (with English subtitles) - but there's no time like the present, with the finale of the second season just on Sundance.

I'm not going to recap everything that came before - except to say it's an excellent series. If you haven't seen it, don't read anything further, because this discussion of the Season 2 finale will obviously have spoilers.

That finale features a good twist at the very end, as Ciro, with Genny's help, kills Pietro (Genny's father).  This season was aired in the UK last year, and the ending evoked a lot of criticism.  Why would Genny enable the killing of his own father, rather than kill Ciro, the man who had killed Genny's mother and humiliated him when he was younger?

This is a complex story, but the answer is straightforward.  To the very end, Pietro continued to belittle Genny and treat him like a child.  This was clearly warranted in the first season, but clearly not in the second: it was clear to everyone except Pietro that Genny was his own man.

Gomorrah has been compared to The Sopranos, but unlike The Sopranos, there's barely the scent of a hero in Gomorrah.   Genny, I suppose, is the closest to it - but what kind of hero sets up the killing of his own father?   I certainly preferred Ciro over Pietro, but, jeez, Ciro murdered his own wife. And though Pietro had a steely appeal, killing Ciro's daughter is flagrantly unacceptable.

Yet within this brutal story, there's somehow room for a little tenderness.  We see this in Genny's son, whom he names Pietro, and in the woman (Patrizia) Pietro was going to marry - indeed, she is also one of the most appealing characters in the story.

I hope we see her next season, which will no doubt be Genny's story.  Pietro would have won, had it not been for Genny.   But I can't see any alliance between Genny and Ciro lasting too long.

Meanwhile, strong acting by Marco D'Amore (Ciro), Salvatore Esposito (Genny), Fortunato Cerlino (Pietro), and Cristiana Dell'Anna ( Patrizia).

Monday, June 19, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return 1.7: Lost and Not Lost

First, let me mention that Twin Peaks, especially The Return, has a resemblance to Lost.  If you don't know what that means, I can't help you.

Meanwhile, episode 1.7 is the most informative so far in The Return, so much so that I'm beginning to feel a little non-lost, at last.

The FBI and the Sheriff are both beginning to - slowly - close in on finding good Agent Cooper, still, mostly, in a stupor. But he had great moves in stopping the midget alter-dimensional psycho, and he also continued his rehabilitation by responding well to "Agent" - bringing the total of words he's now responded to, showing an awareness of his true identity, to I think three now, right?

And speaking of the FBI and the Sheriff, this episode had three stand-out performances by old white guys - David Lynch at his stentorian best as the FBI honcho, Robert Forster as the deadpan local sheriff, and James Morrison (not Jim) as the warden.  (Morrison, by the way, was last seen to great effect in 24, which, believe it or not, at least to me, also has some indefinable connection to Twin Peaks).

Also noticeable in this episode is no band performing at the end, or anywhere in the episode.  Instead, we get a great scene with the instrumental "Green Onions" playing as someone sweeps the floor - I mean, sweeps up the entire floor - of a bar, with the attention to task that one would find in a scene with someone sweeping the floor of a barber shop. Maybe this was in lieu of barbershop harmony? Or, more likely, you didn't need a song with words in this episode, because so many of the words in the hour added up to some kind of sense, a high-point for the series return so far.  And, as if to underscore this point, we also have an instrumental ending - Santo & Johnny's "Sleep Walk" - which is so obviously relevant to Twin Peaks it's ridiculous though it still worked beautifully.

And I'll see you again next week.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Abject Stupidity of Bank of America and Delta Airlines in Withdrawing Support from New York Public Theater

One of the stupidest, saddest pieces of news in the past week was Bank of America and Delta Airlines withdrawing their sponsorship of the New York Public Theater's production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar because ... the production presented Caesar with an orange, Trump-like wig, and, the corporations claimed, glorified Caesar/Trump's assassination.

The people at Bank of America and Delta Airlines are obviously stupid, or maybe ignorant is the better word, because Julius Caesar is not the villain (note to Bank of America and Delta - "villain" means "bad guy") in the play with his name, and neither is his killing glorified.  To the contrary, Caesar is the victim, and the villains - not the heroes - are the Senators who stab him to death, most especially the conflicted Brutus.  His assassination is presented not as something to be done or emulated, but avoided, if only because it is the undoing of the people who plot to do it and do it. That's the essence of the play.   Don't they educate executives at big corporations any more?

But their withdrawal of support for the NY Public Theater is also sad, because it follows the cowardly actions of CNN in firing Kathy Griffin and cancelling Reza Aslan's documentary series because of their criticism of the President.   Is this the society we've become, in which we can't tolerate politically lacerating humor (Griffin), cursing out a President (Aslan) - and, by the way, both did this not on CNN's air but their own time - and political commentary in art (NY Public Theater)?

People who believe in freedom of expression should do something about this.   I decided last week to watch CNN now about as often as I watch Fox News - almost never.   Fortunately, I don't bank with Bank of America, and I'm certainly not going to start.  As for Delta, I've flown with them many times, but now I don't intend to do that again.

Americans should stand up and call out these crypto fascists, wherever they rear their heads.




Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming The Beatles 7 of X: Anatomy of a Ride

Been a bit since I posted a review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming the Beatles (some 13 days), mostly because this is not a book to be rush-read or even normally read (whatever pace that might be), but savored, and also because I've been writing some science fiction, and there's also the lure of the cool water and soft beach of Cape Cod Bay.  But I wanted to record a few words about Sheffield's chapter on "Ticket to Ride", about as rich and satisfying an extended analysis you can find of a Beatles or any worthy song.

I recall well when "Ticket to Ride" came out in the Spring of 1965.  My friends and I - especially our group, on its way from The Transits to The New Outlook - knew immediately that "Ticket to Ride" was something different.  It had an edge, an imminence, a truth that none of the Beatles' songs quite had before.  (The B-side, "Please Don't Wear Red" aka "Yes It Is," is a masterpiece, too, and a personal favorite.  Not mentioned by Sheffield in this chapter, but it plays a crucial role in my 1997 Loose Ends.)

Back to "Ticket to Ride" - Sheffield tells us why.  It's a song about an adult relationship - Lennon is living with this woman.  It's a song pointed at a unique stage in their relationship - she wants to leave, she's bought a ticket to leave, but she hasn't left yet.  Maybe she won't leave (unlikely), maybe she'll come back (also unlikely), the only unambiguous note in this story is that she's deeply unhappy about living with John.   And as Sheffield aptly says, John is not arguing with her, trying to convince her to stay, he's just at the beginning of trying to understand this.

You just don't usually find relationships at this stage and presented at this level of complexity and ambiguity in love songs, although they are the marrow of real life.  This song also checks in on a quiet tally I've been keeping in my head for more than a half a century: can a love song be as socially significant as a song aimed at some social injustice?  Dylan's "Just Like A Woman" is one, rare example (as are some of Cole Porter's best works)  - but it came a year after "Ticket to Ride".  So the Beatles in terms of socially significant love songs got there first, and these two songs are all the evidence one needs that not all love songs are silly, or even just medium wise.

Sheffield also offers more testimony on behalf of George Martin's deft production skills, remarking on the perfect mix of McCartney's harmony on this track, so it provides resonance to Lennon's introspection without intruding on it.

And I'll be back sooner or later with another review.

See also Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming the Beatles 1 of X: The Love Affair ... 2 of X: The Heroine with a Thousand Faces ... 3 of X: Dear Beatles ... 4 of X: Paradox George ... 5 of X: The Power of Yeah ... 6 of X: The Case for Ringo


lots of Beatles in here

Monday, June 12, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return: 1.6: Red Door and Childish Scribbles

Among the scenes I most enjoyed or found most worthy of remark in last night's episode 1.6 of Twin Peaks, still all-but-incomprehensible in the main, were -
  • the red door to Dougie aka Agent Cooper's home: I have a front door exactly the same color, so I could relate
  • Dougie's boss getting the "childish scribbles" Dougie had drawn on the forms - this was sheer genius, though I'm not sure if this was an emperor's new clothes message or something more profound
  • the scene between the guy who looked and was acting like a young Dennis Weaver and the guy who looked and was acting like a young Christopher Walken: with all the decoys and doppels in this story, there was something about this scene which rang very true
  • the short guy from the other dimensions urging the still largely stupefied Cooper to wake up - this plea had a real poignance, which cut across and through all the fog in Twin Peaks
  • always welcome to hear talk of cherry pie in that diner
Scenes I could have lived without: I don't like seeing children killed, and I'm no fan of homicidal maniacs, either.

But the ending was good with a good song by the girl group, and I'll be back with more random but with any luck at least minimally coherent thoughts next week.

See also Twin Peaks: The Return 1.1-2: Superluminal Sans Cherry Pie ... 1.3-4: Coffee and Cole ... 1.5: The Mod Squad Meets Big Love in the Diner



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Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Cowardice of CNN

Yesterday brought the news that CNN cancelled Reza Aslan's documentary series, Believer, after Aslan tweeted that Donald Trump was "a piece of shit".  This makes the second time in as many weeks that CNN cancelled a program or fired a host because of what it deemed as unacceptable behavior off of CNN.  The first case was the firing of Kathy Griffin after she held up a severed, bloody head of Trump in a political comedy routine.

In Aslan's case, he was replying to a series of Trump tweets which attacked the Muslim Mayor of London after typically misreading or misunderstanding what the Mayor said after a brutal terrorist attack on London.  Trump continued with a reiteration for the need of his Muslim ban.

Trump could and should have been called a lot worse than "a piece of shit" for this and many of the other things he has done or attempted to do as President.  I could understand if CNN had a policy prohibiting that use of language on its air - which use, by the way, is in no sense illegal - but CNN has every ethical right to regulate what it broadcasts.

But cancelling a series because its creator tweeted something under his own name - something CNN didn't find to its liking?  A creator who was not a journalist or a reporter, but a documentary TV maker? Reporters are supposed to be objective.  Makers of documentaries are supposed to have a point of view, the sharper the better.

The cancelation of Aslan's series, after it had been renewed,  represents a dangerous precedent, especially when preceded by the firing of Kathy Griffin for the severed head.  We live in a country in which vigorous criticism is more necessary than ever, with a President who lies and insults and misrepresents almost every time he opens his mouth.  Rather than punishing and de facto censoring people in its operation who speak up for the truth, CNN should be standing behind them, and expressing its pride in giving a forum for such brave and truthful communicators.

As it is, CNN and its cowardice has become part of the problem, rather than its solution or remedy.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Devil's Mistress: A Love Affair with the Master of Propaganda

Having just watched The Same Sky on Netflix - a short espionage series about East/West Germany in 1974 - I tried its suggestion of The Devil's Mistress, the devil being Joseph Goebbels and his mistress the Czech actress Lída Baarová in this 2016 Czech movie.

First, let me say about Goebbels, although lots has been written about him and his contribution to the Third Reich, he's still not sufficiently acknowledged as one of the prime founders and practitioners of propaganda in the 20th century.  He had a PhD from the University of Heidelberg (1922), and was something very different from the Nazis as just anti-intellectual thugs.  (When I was earning my own PhD at New York University in 1970s, one of my professors, Terry Moran, used to cite Goebbels as an example of why, whatever you might subsequently do in your life, your PhD designation would never be taken away from you. Goebbels, to this day, is called "Dr. Goebbels" by historians.)  He was the first to explicate and put into baneful use the proposition that, the bigger the lie, the more likely it is to be believed by the masses.   Whatever Donald Trump may know about history, he applies this doctrine just about every day.

But The Devil's Mistress is much more about Baarová than Goebbels, who is portrayed as charming, witty, and brilliant (as well as viciously anti-Semitic),  but more for why the actress was so attracted to him (for his charm not his anti-Semitism) than as a master architect of broken history. The movie almost feels as if it is not only about the 1930s but was actually made back then, which is a plus in my book, because you don't usually see many 1930s movies on Netflix. Tatiana Pauhofová puts in an interesting almost old-fashioned and oddly compelling performance as Baarová, including a surprisingly tender scene in which she lets an assistant producer "stroke" her breast, when he shyly requests that as the thanks she offers him for enabling her escape from Nazi Germany.

Baarová's story has much in common with Leni Riefenstahl's, who may or may not have been Hitler's mistress, but definitely directed The Triumph of the Will and Olympia, to this very day among the most effective propaganda movies ever made.   (I regretted seeing no scenes with Riefenstahl and Goebbels in The Devil's Mistress.)  Riefenstahl (101 years) and Baarová (86 years) both survived the Third Reich and lived long lives, but Baarová's, as the movie shows in stark detail, was no bed of roses.

As the powerful depiction of Kristallnacht in The Devil's Mistress makes clear like a kick in the solar plexus,  The Nazis were monsters, the likes of which our world must make sure never get into power anywhere again.  All people of reason need to keep that in mind, with a President of the United States who takes far too many of his cues from the Goebbels handbook.



        fake news and propaganda 2016-217

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Same Sky: Nixon, Trump, and the German Democratic Republic

I saw The Same Sky, the German short series now on Netflix, the past few nights. Like Deutschland 83 on Sundance, The Same Sky is about East German / West German espionage, and mostly in German with a little English from time to time. Since I speak a little Yiddish - which is a kind of medieval German - it's especially enjoyable to watch shows like this, where I can understand some of the dialogue without the English subtitles (which are often too quick to read, or shown against a light background with light letters, anyway).

The other nice plus about The Same Sky is that it takes place some nine years before Deutschland 83, in 1974, as Nixon is unsuccessfully fighting to keep his job against the rising tide of outrage and evidence about his attempt to cover up the Watergate break-in.  Having watched James Comey's testimony before the Senate about Trump's obstruction of justice yesterday, it was satisfying indeed to see Nixon get his just desert on The Same Sky a little past midnight.

The plot, as was the case with Deutschland 83, has been aptly described as a "Romeo agent" from East Berlin on a mission to seduce a woman in West Berlin with valuable connections to NATO and the capitalist West.   Taking place in closer proximity to the Nazis than 1983, The Same Sky interestingly shows the stated revulsion to the Nazis of the East Germans, who see themselves as more truly a refutation of Nazi ideology than their cousins in the West.

As a spy story, The Same Sky has some good twists and subplots, especially those in East Germany, where a family struggles with a daughter being given testosterone injections so she can qualify for the German Democratic Republic (East German)  Olympic swim team.   The six episodes end with Nixon resigning, a few other resolutions, and lots of hanging questions - more than enough for a second season, which I'd certainly watch, with any luck with a new President in our current White House.


Monday, June 5, 2017

Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming The Beatles 6 of X: The Case for Ringo

Rob Sheffield makes the case for Ringo in the next chapter of his stellar Dreaming the Beatles, putting the question regarding Ringo as whether he was an all-time genius drummer who made the Beatles possible, or "a clod who got lucky, the biggest fool who ever hit the big time".  Sheffield puts his chips on the genius.

So ... let me first say that, as a self-professed expert in time travel (that is, I write it in fiction, and about it in nonfiction, and can't, alas, do it), I readily acknowledge that every event major or minuscule that ever took place might not have happened if even one exceedingly minor ingredient had not come before, and therefore the Beatles might well not have amounted to much if Pete Best had remained their drummer, and not in fact been replaced by Ringo.

But there's a big difference between being a necessary ingredient and a quintessentially great drummer, and Sheffield wants to shoot for both for Ringo.   Towards that goal, he presents two arguments: One, that Ringo's infectious presence inspired the other Beatles.  And two, that Ringo did incredibly good drum work in various songs like "Rain" (one of the my all-time favorites - I like the song and rain itself so much that I often include "Rain, I don't mind" in lists of my favorite quotes) and the cowbell for "Drive My Car" (which as I mentioned in an earlier review, is also one of my favorite songs).

The great drum and percussion work in specified songs is of course easier to prove than Ringo being an inspiration, and Sheffield does a pretty good job of the first.   But for Ringo to be as great in his own right as, say, drummers Phil Collins and Don Henley, I would've wanted to see Ringo do equivalent work on his own, which I don't think he did.   And if he didn't manage to do that on his own, I think this makes Sheffield's claim that Ringo did such great work for the Beatles a little harder to demonstrate. So Sheffield's convinced me only partially, at most, though I much enjoyed his chapter.

Three last little points -
  • Sheffield cites Robert Christgau in support of Ringo's importance.  While I don't disagree with Christgau's assessment - that Ringo was like a member of the audience, one of us, being in the band - I can't let a mention of him go by without objecting to Christgau's peevish attack on McCartney (Paul's first solo album) once again.
  • Sheffield mentions Paul's famous kazoo solo in Ringo's "Sixteen" - but Wikipedia cites someone who says Paul is really singing the part, making his voice sound like a kazoo, even though the liner notes credit Paul with playing the kazoo.  I'm just wondering who is right?
  • And speaking of Paul and Ringo, I just want to say that there once was a time, when the White Album first came out, that a lot of people were saying that the voice on "Good Night" was Paul doing his Ringo voice - I assume this has now been settled as the voice actually being Ringo.
And I'll be back soon with another review, writing as best I can in my own voice.




Twin Peaks: The Return 1.5: The Mod Squad Meets Big Love in the Diner

Well, I have no idea what tonight's insane episode 1.5 of Twin Peaks is called, or even if it has a name, but I might entitle it, "The Mod Squad Meets Big Love in the Diner".

Because ... my favorite scene featured Mädchen Amick (original Twin Peaks) and Peggy Lipton (also original Twin Peaks, but I'll always think her as Julie Barnes in The Mod Squad) as waitresses in that Twin Peaks diner, into which walks Amanda Seyfried (from Big Love).  There's no Agent Cooper or cherry pie, but Amanda walks out, gets into a car, and the Paris Sisters' "I Love How You Love Me" starts playing as she goes into some kind of rapture.  Call me crazy, but that's always been one of my favorite early Phil Spector productions, and one of the reasons this was my favorite scene.

As for Cooper, he's still not up to cherry pie, but he's drinking more coffee, and begins responding to "agent".   Petit a petit, l'oiseau fait son nit.

There were some other good scenes, but it's almost pointless to describe them, in any known or unknown language,  because Twin Peaks is more than ever about the medium not the content, in true David Lynch implementing Marshall McLuhan fashion.  McLuhan famously tagged the electric light as all medium with no content - or a medium without a message - and this is as good as any a description of Twin Peaks, even though the music breaks through in almost every episode as some mighty good acoustic pie.

But you could easily reverse that, and say that Twin Peaks has so much content that it's too much to watch and comprehend - like trying to understand what you see when you look into an electric light - so you might as well just let the max headroom info flow over you and enjoy the sensory massage.

See you next you all on the other side of the bulb next week.

See also Twin Peaks: The Return 1.1-2: Superluminal Sans Cherry Pie ... 1.3-4: Coffee and Cole

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

House of Cards Season 5: Reality Less Alternate

Well, it's obvious that with Trump in the White House, the alternate reality that House of Cards is with Frank Underwood as President is a lot less alternate than it was last year, in Season 4, with Obama in the White House on our nonfictional television screens.  Indeed the only big difference between Trump and Frank is that Trump has not actually murdered anybody - by his own hand or by order - and I'm not sure how much money I would bet on that, especially the latter.

That said, however, Frank Underwood is a vastly more literate and likely intelligent man that the current winner of the Electoral College vote.  Frank has a grasp of history so astute that he knows that Jefferson not Washington was the author of a famous statement.  One gets the impression that Trump won more from dumb luck that brilliant planning, which is precisely the opposite of how Frank has climbed to the top.

In previous seasons, we've seen Frank first work his way into the Vice Presidency, and then into the Presidency, culminating with a knock on the desk in the Oval Office, and a trail of bodies and broken lives in his wake.  He does the same in the first half or so of Season 5, holding on to the Presidency in the face of a JFK-like Republican challenge.  I don't know if I find the way he did it - manipulating the governors of Tennessee and Ohio to close their polls, due to a terrorist threat that Frank fabricated - completely plausible, but it worked in the narrative.

Even less plausible is Frank withdrawing in favor of his VP wife Claire, on her promise that she'll grant him a pardon (which of course she doesn't - at least not when she says she will - which nicely sets up the next season).  Claire has really come into her own as almost or even every bit Frank's equal in this season, with a new hairdo about halfway through that makes her look more like Megyn Kelly than Mika Brzezinski, and killing her lover Tom literally in flagrante delicto with her on top, which puts her not only in Frank's class but a significant step above.

But I don't completely buy Frank resigning because he thinks the truest power resides outside the White House, not to mention that he had to have seen that Claire's promise of a pardon could be broken.  So I'll be eagerly awaiting the next installment of this alternate reality, which begins sometime after Al Gore conceded and then withdrew his concession in 2000, which Frank aptly cites.

And it will be fun to see how the two new enigmatically powerful advisors whose loyalty to Frank or Claire is unclear - gamely played Campbell Scott and Patricia Clarkson - all works out.

See also House of Cards Season 1: A Review ... House of Cards Season 2: Even Better than the First, and Why ... House of Cards Season 3: Frank, Claire, "Putin," and Superb ... House of Cards Season 4: Trump and Frank


Friday, June 2, 2017

Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming The Beatles 5 of X: The Power of Yeah

Rob Sheffield's short chapter in his Dreaming the Beatles (actually, they're all short, which is good) is about "It Won't Be Long," and is about as fine a piece of music journalism, or rock 'n' roll analysis, or whatever you want to call it, as you can find. It's a holographic sample of why the book as a whole is so enjoyable and important.

The mini-essay begins with a meditation or disquisition on the role of yeahs in this song in particular and the Beatles music in general, replete with a count of the number of yeahs in this song, and which one is Sheffield's favorite (I've long agreed with his choice).

But it quickly turns out that this chapter is not about yeahs but about the Beatle's love of American girl groups, ranging from Rosie and the Originals (I love their "Angel Baby" so much I from time to time listen to the dozen or more excellent covers on YouTube) through the Shirelles, the Motown girl groups, and of course the Ronettes.  (The first piece of music journalism I remember ever being impressed with was a review - maybe in one of the student newspapers - of the Ronettes' appearance at CCNY, where I was a student,  around 1964, and how the jeans of every guy in the audience tightened as Ronnie began singing and moving.)

The Beatles expressed their admiration of these groups by injecting the girl groups' vitality into their (the Beatles') yeahs.  And in a brilliant analysis of a single line - one of Sheffield's specialities - he explains why the Beatles concluded "It Won't Be Long" with the line "Till I belong to you" rather than the more expected "Till you belong to me":  it's because the former is what a girl group would sing.

There's Brill Building, Ellie Greenwich (I mentioned my connection to her in my first review of this book), and all kinds of things that show Sheffield is adept not only in understanding the Beatles but the music that inspired them, and which they incorporated and ultimately built upon rather (than is often wrongly said) they replaced.

The next chapter is about why Ringo was crucial - and that deserves a review of its own, to come as soon as I've read the chapter, which won't be long, yeah.

See also Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming the Beatles 1 of X: The Love Affair ... 2 of X: The Heroine with a Thousand Faces ... 3 of X: Dear Beatles ... 4 of X: Paradox George

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Bloodline Season 3: Peak Shoreline

My wife and I saw the third season on Bloodline on Netflix the past few nights. It's especially good to see on Cape Cod, where the shoreline at the foot of our stairs has a lot in common with the shore that's the swaying backbone of Bloodline.  But Bloodline's especially good to see anytime, being, as it is, one of the finest narratives ever to be on any kind of television screen.

I don't usually start my reviews with the acting, but it was a tour de force, across the board, in Bloodline.  We've been Kyle Chandler fans since Friday Night Lights, but he put in a performance in Bloodline which in some ways exceeded that, given the intensity of torment in his lead character, John Rayburn.  Norbert Leo Butz as John's younger brother Kevin was also superbly memorable, playing a character who is somehow even more complex and realistic, a package of weaknesses and surprising strengths impossible to classify.

When Sally - also wonderfully played by Sissy Spacek - surprisingly lashes out at John at the end (no doubt born of her hated over what he did to her beloved Danny), Kevin suddenly becomes the wiser, protective brother, telling John he doesn't have to absorb this abuse. Unlike John, who's too damaged to keep his wife and family together, Kevin is able to grow into being a father, and even tell his wife the truth about the family she has married into.

On that note, I would have rather seen a different ending - hopeless romantic that I am, I think Kevin and his wife and baby deserved better.  But the Rayburns are manifestly never ever about happy endings.

The storyline has all kinds of shockers, my favorite being the role of the coroner in the early episodes of this final season.  Even the smaller roles are top-notch, with great work by Beau Bridges and Melvin Van Peebles and Ben Mendelsohn.  It was also good to see David Zayas, almost reprising his police role from Dexter, and Linda Cardellini as sister Meg Rayburn.

But back to the storyline - not only would I have liked to see a slightly different ending, I'd be much happier if this was not an ending to the series at all.  There are all kinds of questions hanging, not only what John says to his nephew Nolan (Danny's son) on the dock, but the source of the same dream John, Kevin, and Meg are having, and what exactly happened on the boat years ago with Roy and Robert.  So here's a plea to show creators Glenn and Todd Kessler, and Daniel Zelman, and Netflix, for at least one more season (hey, their superb Damages had five).

The sun is high, the water's just right, so I'm going for a walk by the bay, and thinking how good it would be if we could see another season of Bloodline up here next year.


See also Bloodline Season 1: Mainlining Family ... Bloodline Season 2: Darker Maybe Even Better than the First


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Americans Season 5 Finale: The Little Things

Well, in an excellent season 5 finale last night, The Americans resorted to a chestnut of many a classic piece of fiction:  with the main wheels of motion all taken into account on what looks like a major move or development, everything changes because of one little detail that we haven't been paying too much attention to.

Kim and her father were barely in the story this season.  There's a good scene in the finale of Philip in disguise saying goodbye to her - goodbye because he and Elizabeth have definitely decided to go back to the USSR.  But, as Philip is going over what he thinks will be his last round of surreptitious recordings of Kim's father, he discovers something which Elizabeth and even Philip agree just can't let them leave just now: Kim's father is moving up to be head of the U. S. anti-Soviet spying division.

It's a good thing, too, that our point-of-view couple aren't leaving, because Henry's acceptance by that high-class prep school and Philip's sudden reversal on that - because Philip still thought at that time that they were leaving - was left hanging like worse than a big hangnail last night, with no easy resolution.  So Philip and Elizabeth's staying at least will allow Henry to go off to school.

In a significant parallel, Stan is also talked out of leaving his division of the FBI by Renee, which pokes at another significant question that Philip and Elizabeth and we the audience haven't yet resolved: is she just Stan's good fortune, or is she another Soviet spy, called in to get what she can from Stan?  It will be fun to see how that plays out next season.

And last but not least: good to see Martha edging toward some happiness in Moscow, as her translator introduces her to the possibility of adopting a Soviet orphan girl.   "We want you to be happy," he says to her, revealing a surprising humanity in the Soviets, which we had seen previously only in Gabriel (and of course Philip).

And I'll see you all here with reviews of the final season next year.






Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming The Beatles 4 of X: Paradox George

I don't want to get too far into Rob Sheffield's addictive book without posting another review, so I thought I'd check in here after finishing a chapter on George, which comes after discussions of Ringo (which I talk about in my last review) and Paul and John, which are of course a part of every chapter.

Sheffield in effect tells us that George is the Beatle he most identifies with, mostly or most likely because George was a Beatles' fan, too (before and during George's tenure as a Beatle).  This of course raises the question of who is your favorite Beatle - or, what Beatle or Beatles produced work that you most admire.  And this gets at the very heart of everyone's experience with the Beatles. For me, I always found George's contribution almost impossible to gauge in comparison to John and Paul's.   Although some of George's songs - both as a Beatle (Taxman, While My Guitar Gently Weeps) and after (All Things Must Pass) are among my all-time favorite songs/recordings, period, I still see him as a little below Paul and John because their contributions were either somehow even a little better, or definitely more numerous (She Said, Penny Lane, Across the Universe, every Lennon-McCartney song on Rubber Soul for starters).

So George is in the paradoxical position of being at the top of the human game of music, yet still being secondary, at least in my mind, to John and Paul.  Further, there's no doubt in my mind - and I'm sure everyone else's - that The Traveling Wilburys were light-years better than Wings, even though Wings was great, and this is not a shot against Linda or Denny Laine.  The Wilburys were astonishing in significant part because of George's songwriting, and the sound he contributed to this superstar group, which often sounds just like him.

Sheffield also notes that George's fame as the "Underrated Beatle ... raises the question of how famous it's possible to get for being overlooked and still qualify," which is a great example of another kind of paradox, and one that deepens our difficulty in understanding and evaluating George and his contribution.  Ringo became and is still very famous, too, but there's nothing paradoxical about that, since no one would consider him "underrated".

Sheffield quotes John in 1980, about how George before the Beatles used "to follow me" after school, "hovering around like those kids at the gate of the Dakota now".  Quotes like that can bring you to tears, not only because of what would soon happen to John, but because George died far too early, too.

The Beatles Channel and books like Sheffield's can provide some measure comfort.  But there's not a day that goes by when I don't wish that all four of The Beatles were still around.

And I'll be back soon with more.

See also Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming the Beatles 1 of X: The Love Affair ... 2 of X: The Heroine with a Thousand Faces ... 3 of X: Dear Beatles ...  5 of X: The Power of Yeah

Monday, May 29, 2017

Twin Peaks: The Return 1.3.-4: Coffee and Cole

The second installment of Twin Peaks: The Return - aka episodes 3 and 4 - continued tonight in the unmitigated gonzo, steampunk, B-movie style to which we became accustomed last week.

Let me also say that one of the high points - perhaps the highest points - of David Lynch's work have been the singers on stage at one point or another in the narrative.  The Dean Stockwell character lip synching Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" in Blue Velvet, with Dennis Hopper's self-tortured character trying to sing along but taking the needle off the record, and Kyle MacLachlan's character in shock in the small, standing audience in the room, was so powerful that I've wanted to write a book about that scene as a transcendent moment in popular culture for years.  As it is, it's easily one of the best scenes in any movie.

Performances of original songs by unknown (to me) musicians and singers have ended every episode of Twin Peaks: The Return so far, and they've all been excellent.  But that Everly Brothers-like performance at the end of 1.3 was superb and to my ears and eyes already a classic.

Back to Kyle MacLachlan, the central story in episodes 1.3-4 was Agent Cooper's return to this planet.  It's unsurprisingly no easy return.  Part of the difficulty makes sense.  Cooper can't talk or think normally because he's been in that insane, other-dimensional room for 25 years.  Part of it, like all Lynch works, doesn't - or doesn't quite make sense.  Apparently, Cooper was "tricked," and his doppelgänger is still out and about on Earth, though soon locked up.  But the real Cooper seems to be making at least a little bit of progress, responding well to a cup of coffee in the morning, put on his breakfast table by his doppelgänger's wife (played by Naomi Watts, who starred in Mulholland Drive, generally recognized as David Lynch's second-best work - high praise - and I agree).

And speaking of Lynch, it was good to see him return as FBI Deputy Director Cole these two episodes (he was actually an FBI Regional Bureau Chief in the original), which got me thinking: how about Cole as Comey's replacement, now that Lieberman has bowed out?

Hey, if that actually happened, it would be a lot less strange than some of the developments in Twin Peaks: The Return, which I'll be back to offer a few more paragraphs about next week.

See also Twin Peaks: The Return 1.1-2: Superluminal Sans Cherry Pie

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sense8 Season 2: Sense8tional



[Note added June 13, 2017: Sense8 was cancelled, according to Netflix, because "A big, expensive show for a tiny audience is hard even in our model to make that work very long" (quoted in Polygon).  The following, written in May before the series was cancelled,  is as good a reason as any why Netflix made a bad decision.]

I realized a while ago that binge-watching, like all human activities, isn't the perfect strategy for all television watching.  It's almost never preferable to wait a week before the next episode of a compelling series is available, but sometimes watching a complete season in one or two seasons is not the best way to go, either.  Sometimes you want to savor each episode a little longer, let it slosh around in your mind a little, until it settles into some place or maybe keeps quietly percolating.
I'd intended to watch all of Sense8 season 2 in one swoop - that is, all the episodes after the Christmas special which aired late last year - but decided, after the first two new episodes (2.2-3), that I wanted it to last a little longer.
We saw and learned lots of things in these two episodes.  Among the most profound is that when one of the cluster is nearly hung -- that is, nearly choked to death at the end of the rope - the other members of the cluster start to lose consciousness, too.  This raises a crucial question: if Sun had indeed died in that noose -- if her cellmate hadn't rescued her (in a great scene) -- would the rest of the cluster had died, too?  I can't recall exactly what happens when one of the cluster falls asleep, but my impression is the others, though aware that one member is sleeping, stay awake.  If that's the case, why would the near-killing on Sun so viscerally affect the rest of the cluster?
The question is whether the effect is just mental, or physical as well.  Of course, mental and physical are always intertwined -- what we think and feel in our heads inevitably affects our bodies -- but in the case of the sense8s, is this so much in play that the violent death of one will kill the others?  I'd think not, but if this possibility remains open, our sense8s are even more vulnerable than we realized.
But they're making good progress in these two episodes -- Sun is free, Whispers is set back, and the sense8s continue to bring their talents to bear when one or two of them needs help, even in a difficult conversation with reporters.   And we're beginning to learn more about homo sensorium, and the deeper evolutionary significance of the sense8s.
***
One of the most significant secondary themes of Sense8 is the personal relationships our sense8s have to sapiens, as we humans are now increasingly known and referred to in the series. These range from significant other partnerships, as in Lito and Hernando, Nomi and Amanita, and Kala and her devoted but lackluster husband, to lifelong friends such as Wolfgang and Felix, to mortal enemies as in Sun and her monster-in-sheep's-clothing brother. 

These couplings in effect represent the hope and perils for sense8/sapiens on the planet-wide, species level. So far, we've seen only the perils for sense8s, and the general unawareness that our species has about the very existence of sense8s. But, as of the end of episode 2.5, that appears set to dramatically change. 

In some ways even more crucial to the story are the relationships members of our cluster have to other sense8s. The decision to go public as a way of vanquishing their mortal enemies stems from Will's realization that there must be, if not a myriad of sense8s, a number large enough to attract such powerful enemies. 

My favorite new sense8 in season 2 is Lila, and not only because she appears totally nude in an attempt to seduce Wolfgang. She earlier tempts Wolfgang when he's telepathically communicating with Kala, providing a fine example of a simmering, tempestuous triangle, totally sense8-style. Love flows in all kinds of ways in this story.

***

Every action movie, every police drama, every thriller needs a shootout. Since Sense8 is all three and much more, it gets a one-of-a-kind, multi-valent shoutout in 2.6, and it's a thing of violent beauty to behold.
The cinematography, always a splendid eyeful in Sense8, is especially good in that bar, where it all begins with Wolfgang and Lila across the table. Her new seduction attempt erupts into a gunfight, between Wolfgang and Lila in physical space, and their clusters whirling like dervishes and firing away in mental space at every opponent they can see.   The shots of the two clusters, menacingly walking behind their live anchors, drawing closer together, almost into a single line, then spreading apart and shooting, makes for a veritable gunfight at the OK coral, Sense8-style.
Just to be clear -- though that's never really completely possible, given the speed of thought and the inherent multiplicity of the story -- there are players in the bar who are on Lila's team (though whether sense8 or sapien not completely clear).  So Wolfgang is physically outnumbered, and he and his/our cluster have to fight not only Lila but other physical people in the room bent on killing him.
The upshot: both Wolfgang and Lila survive, and we learn that locating other clusters can just as easily be death as salvation for our sense8s. Not only are some sapiens out to kill sense8s, but some sense8s are out to kill our sense8s, too.
At some point, not in the bar, another sense8 not in our cluster remarks that sapiens invented Google in the 1990s, but sense8s were instantly communicating worldwide (what Marshall McLuhan and I would call a global village) back in prehistoric times.  Earlier this season, someone explained that just as homo sapiens exterminated Neanderthals, so our kind sought to eradicate homo sensoriums aka sense8s.
Which got me thinking -- what if in our reality, some Neanderthals had survived?  Hmm ... there's an idea for a novel.
***
Sense8 season 2 came to a cliff-hanging, mid-scene conclusion, with a smart turning-of-the-tables on the sense8 strategy in their battles against sapiens and sense8s.
That strategy, deployed throughout the series, and one of the key and especially enjoyable mechanisms of the story, entails one sense8, under physical attack or in some kind of social crisis, deploying the talents and powers of the other seven sense8s to succeed or at least get an upper hand.  In the final few episodes, we see this done to excellent effect in one of the best scenes of the series -- a car chase -- as Sun tries to put away her evil brother.  And we see what happens when one of the sense8s -- Will -- is not able to pour his talents into the action, as Capheus almost loses his life in a campaign-rally riot in Kenya.
So it was particularly smooth to find that Will's declaration of war on BPO and Whispers is a physical declaration, with Will and the other six sense8s and their allies literally on the way to mounting an in-person attack in their efforts to free Wolfgang.   It begins with Will surprising and getting the better of Whispers by being actually physically in the room with him, and ends with ... well, we'll need to wait for Season 3.
One question is why doesn't Will just kill Whispers and be done with it, but part of the answer to that is that people - that is, sense8s - don't seem to completely die in Sense8.   In fact, not only do they not die, but they seem to change sides -- reverse loyalties -- in a way that harkens back to one of the mainsprings of the Dune saga.
I've seen it said that Sense8 is enjoyable if you don't pay too much attention, but I'd say it's just the opposite: the complex, multi-dimensional and multi-layered narrative works best when you give its elements careful consideration. Indeed, one of the joys of the second season, which I thought was better than the first (high praise, since I liked that one, too), is that it is beginning to uncover some of what Noam Chomsky might call the deep structure of sense8 grammar.
And I'll be back here some time in the future with reviews of season 3.
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