Tuesday, December 15, 2015

In Memoriam: Anthony Valentine

Anthony Valentine, who died two weeks ago, was one of my first TV crushes. Suave, reptilian, and utterly charming, his charisma swept my teenage self off my feet. Of course, it helped that he was British. I've always had a weakness for our Anglo-Saxon brethren. And even better, he was incredibly funny.

I was first introduced to Valentine through his portrayal of the dashing gentleman thief, A.J. Raffles, on DVD. The show was from 1977, and these days looks rather clunky and dated, but Valentine's performance remains a masterpiece, sparkling with wit and charm. The part was perfectly suited to his talents (Nigel Havers and Ronald Colman don't hold a candle): Raffles is Sherlock Holmes's evil twin - a genius cat burglar in Victorian England, his adventures chronicled by a bumbling, fawning sidekick - Harry "Bunny" Manders (Christopher Strauli). The two men swan about through high society, robbing the arrogant rich to give to the deserving poor (in this case, themselves), dogged by an intrepid, friendly, but stupid police inspector (in this case, Mackenzie), in stories written by a member of the Conan Doyle family (in this case, Sir Arthur's brother-in-law, E.W. Hornung).

Sunday, November 29, 2015

St. Crispin's Day

St. Crispin's Day is already a month gone, but it's worth bringing up again, if just to share this video. Dangit if it doesn't make me get all patriotic and choked up and think that this kid is more manly any modern man I know.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Why Cave Drawings Prove You're Special

If you want to be sure you're not special, take a college biology class. All illusions of grandeur will be crushed by the power of Science. You evolved just like everyone else, buster. Don't get all high and mighty just because you've got opposable thumbs.

Belief can be explained away as the result of an ancient impersonal process. Our bodies are made up of tiny building blocks, each bearing a label of letters or numbers. Sex is laid out and explained as a mechanical process. It is neither holy nor mysterious (though still rather embarrassing.) Love comes down to chemicals. In the class, our purpose is - as Keats put it - to "Conquer all mysteries by rule and line/ Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine..." to "Unweave a rainbow..."

But even in the rarefied air of college classrooms, common sense cannot be suppressed. Some blustery day last winter my biology teacher displayed a row of pictures on the Powerpoint paralleling  animal fetuses, outlined, glowing pink in the womb. She pointed to the pharyngeal arches (gill slits) and tail on the human fetus, using the similarities to demonstrate a larger truth about common ancestry. The physical similarities between humans and animals were, indeed, marked. Nothing on the glowing screen showed a magical difference between man and beast.

I must have drifted off for a while, because the next thing I knew, she had moved on to cave-men. One mysterious question, she explained, was how European cave drawings featured creatures like rhinoceroses and other non-European animals. Obviously, they could not have seen these things themselves, as travel was just not practical. "My own theory," she said, "is that their ancestors saw these things and passed down the story from generation to generation. They remembered. That's how they knew about it."

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Happy Veterans' Day

And said "No chain shall sully thee / Thou soul of love and bravery / Thy songs were writ for the pure and free / they shall never sound in slavery."


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Inspector Lewis - What Lies Tangled - Episode Review

My review of last week's episode.

The final episode of Inspector Lewis begins with long, loving shots of Oxford landmarks (perhaps a bit longer and more loving than usual?), as a woman reads a philosophical passage of The Brothers Karamazov. Drops of quicksilver plink one by one into a petri dish. Businessman Adam Capstone looks out a window and sips his coffee just before...the...bomb...goes...off. It's a shocking and elegant moment as the shrapnel floats away in slow-motion. The slow-mo does two things: it draws our attention to the passage of time, and grants the murder just a bit more weight than usual.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Inspector Lewis - Magnum Opus - Review

My review of the previous episode: One For Sorrow

It's not often I'm erudite enough to recognize the names or references that flit through your average Lewis episode, but the instant a character in the opening to Magnum Opus referred to Charles Williams, I jumped out of my seat. In fact, Williams’s name had already sprung to mind when the soon-to-be-dead college don Phil Beskin referred to the Bible's injunction to "bear ye one another's burdens."

Phil Beskin, murdered and laid out in a sinister ritual, loved Williams, fashioning an ideology around the late theologian’s ideas. Williams was a treasure trove when it came to occult belief, and the murder itself seems to have something to do with alchemy (the episode alleges there was no connection between the two, but commenter Grevel Lindop assures me otherwise). Lured into the woods by a text message from a student, Gina Doran, Beskin is killed and covered in leaves and maggots in a wooden hut. As Lewis and Hathaway further investigate the case, it appears that Beskin is the first of four killings, each planned to fulfill the steps of an alchemical process known as the magnum opus.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Inspector Lewis - One for Sorrow - Episode Review

 My review of the last season.


The first episode of Inspector Lewis's ninth series, appropriately, begins at an archaeological dig. They're looking for a body in a well, and a body they find, rather newer than expected. This shouldn't really be surprising. After all, this is Oxford! There's a body under every bush.

Lewis, Maddox, and Hobson are quick to the scene, where they banter and wonder where Hathaway's gone on his holidays. Another pilgrimage-not-really-a-pilgrimage? Sort of, but with a goal not religious but familial. He's visiting his father, Philip Hathaway (Nicholas Jones), who lives in a home, struggling with dementia. James, never great with his feelings at the best of times, is completely lost here.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

British Detective News - Autumn/Winter 2015/16

This is older news - check out this link for the latest.

Coming soon (Inspector Lewis, Luther, Sherlock, Endeavour, Father Brown):

The start of the year saw the finale of two major series: Foyle’s War and Agatha Christie’s Poirot (and effectively confirmed that Broadchurch might as well be over.)

Inspector Lewis has been lumbering along his merry way for eight series, and many are beginning to suspect the end is nigh. The first episode airs in the U.K. on October 6th, at 9:00 PM, with the subsequent five (there are three episodes, split into two parts) airing each Tuesday thereafter, presumably. No trailer yet, but in my opinion, this is far more fun:

What a privilege and treat to work with each and everyone of the fantastic Lewis crew. With HUGE apologies to John Denver. Thankyou for supporting us. See you on the other side. X
Posted by Laurence Fox on Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My reviews: Season 8 -     
Episode 1 - Entry Wounds     
Episode 2 - Lions of Nemea
Episode 3 - Beyond Good and Evil

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Recapping the Debate With an 81-year-old Political Junkie

Yesterday evening, I had a chance to interview an 81-year-old on one of her favorite topics: politics. A mild-mannered, middle-class white Republican widow, she lives quietly in a small town, but loves to observe the excess and drama of political theater. She chose to remain anonymous ("oh, honey, they'll come and lock me up"), but said she wanted to go by the pseudonym Jane Eyre ("no kin to" the other one), and quote her thoughts on each of the candidates who participated in the latest debate. As she was a bit sleepy and distracted, some of the answers may appear a bit more focused than others, but I found the whole thing very entertaining. She has...a unique perspective.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Kim Davis vs. Sir Thomas More - How Now Shall We Disobey?

The latest battle in the gay marriage debate: I'm sure you know the story. Kim Davis is the county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky. Since the Obergefell decision, she has refused to hand out any marriage permits to either gays or straights, nor to authorize her deputies to do the same. She's now been held in contempt of court and thrown in jail.

These confrontations have become more and more common as the American government begins to tackle the gay marriage issue. Post-Obergefell, there's no reason to imagine the numbers will go down. Kim Davis is merely an opening skirmish.

As per usual when these issues surface, my immediately appeal for guidance is to historical cases I admire. Above all, I think of my favorite meditation on religious freedom, the film A Man for All Seasons, which examines the conflict between personal conscience and obeying the government.

Sir Thomas More was chancellor of England when King Henry VIII decided to amend the law, dissolve his own marriage, separate from the church of Rome, and declare himself lord over the newly-established Anglican church. More - a devout Catholic - heartily objected to the king's decision, but was aware of the danger of saying so. Instead, he resigned his post.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Partners in Crime - Episode 6 Review - N or M?

My review of last week's episode

Rules of the game: if a character is suspicious, you should look elsewhere for whodunit. Since last week found us pointing the finger at the quirky psychologist couple, the sprightly Mrs. Sprot (who Tommy likes), and the cunning Carl Denim (who Tuppence likes), it seemed a fairly safe bet that one of our other suspects would be the culprit.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Partners in Crime - Episode 5 Review - N or M?

 My review of last week's episode

If Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are all that stand between England and an atomic blast, England had better start worrying. Last week left Tuppence facing down an angry Major Khan, whose room she had broken into. It only takes a few minutes and a gun for Tuppence to spill all: name, true identity, mission. Luckily, Major Khan is not N, and is confident enough that Tuppence is not N that he lets her go.

Lest we still suspect him, he's swiftly dispatched in a suspicious suicide at a party Tommy and Tuppence wheedled their way into attending. Meeting up with Carter and Albert, Tommy and Tuppence learn that matters are far more serious than they imagined, but for reasons unknown, Carter can still offer no concrete aid.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Partners in Crime - Episode 4 Review - N or M?

My review of last week's episode

N or M? finds our two heroes on their way to meet with Tommy’s eccentric uncle, spymaster Carter. Supposedly, it’s just to discuss a business investment (Tommy’s abandoned bees and moved on to wigs), but as it turns out, Carter has a mission for Tommy: he has to find a man named Harrison, take note of what he says, and convey that information to Carter. Carter is being watched, so the only person he can trust is, as he says, “a nobody.”

And there’s no one more nobody-ish in spy circles than the ordinary man who saved the American secretary of state from an evil communist plot!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Why You Should Listen to Cabin Pressure

I feel a little bereft today. It's like the moments after a huge party and the guests have left and the house seems all echoey. That word - echoey - makes me even sadder, because it sounds just like something Arthur Shappey would say, and Arthur Shappey is no more. He has ceased to be. He's expired and gone to meet his maker. He is an ex-Arthur.

Sort of.

Am I being melodramatic, considering Arthur Shappey is a character from a comedy radio show that I just finished yesterday? Well, probably. While he's not literally expired and gone to meet his maker (he and brilliant show writer John Finnemore are, in fact, one and the same), his absence in my daily listening leaves a huge hole. And it's not just him. Over the course of four seasons, all the cast have grown so familiar they feel like old friends. As for the show itself, I permanently keep all 26 episodes on my iPod, ready at hand should I desire to evangelize some prospective new fan or simply need a laugh to keep me going, because Cabin Pressure is invariably clever, funny, and intelligent, and definitely my favorite radio program of all-time.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Partners in Crime - Episode 3 Review - The Secret Adversary

 My review of last week's episode

Has there ever been a more British threat than a promise to imperil a boy's cricket skills? Obviously disconcerted by such grim portents, Tommy Beresford - left, last week, in the hands of the communists - caves to the wishes of his sleazy captors. Big villain Mr. Brown needs a file from MI6, so bumbling bee-man Tommy is obviously the man for the job (never mind that Mr. Brown could probably have gotten it himself, but more on that later.)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Partners in Crime - Episode 2 Review - The Secret Adversary

My review of the previous episode

The world's most inefficient spy couple return! Last week left both Tommy and Tuppence in a dicey situation - Tuppence on the verge of being recognized by an evil man (with an evil birthmark!), Tommy cornered in a sleazy house in Soho by another evil man (sans birthmark). Both cliffhangers quickly resolve - Tuppence slips back to her typing job and Tommy not so much slips as stumbles crashing into the false identity of "Drennan," a rich conspirator happily unknown to the others except by name.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Partners in Crime - Episode 1 Review - The Secret Adversary

For detective aficionados, the long summer is relatively bare. The beginning of the year saw Broadchurch and Foyle's War come and go, and all the other major dramas - Endeavour, Lewis, Sherlock - await a Winter release. Into this void drops the latest Agatha Christie adaptation, Partners in Crime, starring comedian David Walliams and Call the Midwife's Jessica Raine as gumshoe couple Tommy and Tuppence Beresford.

How does it do? Being familiar with the 80's version (starring Francesca Annis and James Warwick), I found it somewhat of a mixed bag. Partners in Crime certainly looks good - compared to the original's terrible video and sound quality, this is practically Hollywood. On the other hand, the cast never feels quite at home - only the eccentric spy handler, Carter (James Fleet), really seems to know what he's doing.

Married couple Tommy and Tuppence are returning from France when they encounter Jane Finn, a mysterious young woman who keeps glancing over her shoulder. While Tommy is occupied protecting his queen bee (beekeeping is the latest in a series of failed financial ventures), Tuppence notices Jane's agitation, and when the young woman disappears in the aftermath of a murder, Tuppence is determined to track her down. This determination leads her into a seedy gambling den. While Tommy is off trying to talk his uncle (who's involved in something "hush-hush") into giving him a job, Tuppence stupidly reveals her true colors, is threatened by a vicious gangster, and summarily thrown out on her ear.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Who is the Raven King? - Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell's Mysterious Monarch

For the last seven weeks, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, otherwise known as the best fantasy series since The Lord of the Rings, has been airing in the United States (read my recaps here). The finale airs tonight, and will (spoiler if you haven't been paying attention) at last reveal the Raven King, John Uskglass, ancient ruler of both England and faerie.

Both the titular characters are inextricably bound to the Raven King, willing or no. Mr. Norrell is a hidebound conservative, and looks down on the Raven King's "unrespectable" magic, but he owes a debt to the earlier magician's efforts. On the other hand, at this point in the series, Norrell's erstwhile pupil Jonathan Strange desires to summon Uskglass in order to employ the sorcerer's power to rescue Arabella Strange.

And who is the Raven King, exactly? The closest literary parallel may be Watership Down's trickster hero El-ahrairah. Both characters loom mythically large, but they are political, not religious, heroes - incarnations of what a country or a people should be, not a soul. They are Robin Hood, or perhaps George Washington (don't tell me he hasn't become a bit mythical), rather than Jesus.

(Some spoilers, obviously.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What If Aborted Children Could Speak?

"There are things that you will only be able to learn [from] the weakest among us. And when you snuff them out, you are the one that loses....What sort of people are you going to be?"
~Gianna Jessen, abortion survivor

Since 1973, there have been 54 million children aborted legally in America. 

Over the last few weeks, I've been meditating quite a lot on those missing 54 million. I thought of the half-full services in mountain churches around my home. The dying congregations. The two-child millennial families. The elementary school that closed because there weren't enough children to keep it running. I imagined my college classmates blinking out of existence one by one - until 20% of each generation had disappeared. Celebrities and politicians and doctors and abolitionists and world-changers...blink - gone - blink - gone. Who would die? Who would live? Who were they? What were they like?

If they could speak to us - what would they say?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Planned Parenthood: The New Confederacy

Photo credit: USA Today
When I was about ten years old, my family attended Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The dinner show took place in a huge barn, where guests ate greasy food with their fingers and watched a dramatic display of stunt riding and antebellum fashion, to the backdrop of bluegrass. It was Southernness exaggerated, packaged, and monetized on an enormous scale. The guests were filtered to either side of the arena, based on place of origin. Yankees on one side; Johnny Rebs on the other. My family sat with the Confederates, and booed whenever the boys in blue galloped across the arena. Our Yankee opponents did the same as the Confederates appeared. It was fun, all in good humor, and in retrospect, more than a little obscene.

150 years ago, 600,000 men were slaughtered in a conflict which concerned the forced enslavement of 12.5 million human beings. The Dixie Stampede reduced that conflict to the level of a football game.

I didn't notice, because I didn't think about it very seriously. I wasn't alone. Southerners are quick to defend the confederate flag, because to them, it means a football game and not a war. Ask them to defend the flag, and they'll talk your ear off. Ask them where Antietam is, and they'll say, "What?" If you didn't know, the battle of Antietam was the single bloodiest day in the history of the United States.

Friday, July 10, 2015

British Detective News - Latest for 2015/2016

This is older news, for the latest, check this feed.

Coming soon (Mr. Holmes, Partners in Crime, New Tricks, Luther, Sherlock):

There's been a great deal of excitement in the British detective world lately. Across the pond, Mr. Holmes has opened to great critical acclaim, maintaining a staggering 91% positive at Rotten Tomatoes. It opens in the U.S. on July 17th.

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Tale of Two Thomases: Wolf Hall vs. A Man for All Seasons

It’s 1535. The prison is shrouded in deep shadow; only a thin white light illumines the fierce human drama taking place within its stone walls. Weak from long imprisonment, Sir Thomas More gazes fixedly at his cruel-faced inquisitor, Thomas Cromwell. They’re sizing each other up, pondering, deliberating, performing a dozen separate mental calculations. It's a meeting of great political minds, and neither will cave.

Fiction is like a mirror of society. If we are to know what a generation feels, we must look at its stories, its narratives, its fantasies. And it's difficult to think of a better example than the way the story of Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell has evolved over the years.

Within the last half-century, both have been the subject of wildly popular biopics. The first, 1966 film A Man for All Seasons, scooped up six Oscars and five BAFTAs. The other, 2014 miniseries Wolf Hall (based on the novel by Hilary Mantel), arrived amidst a flurry of critical applause, and will probably accomplish similar feats once awards season rolls around. Obviously, there's something about these two historical figures that captivates us.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Finale Review

My review of last week's episode

Obviously, there will be spoilers. There will be drama. There will be blood.

The previous episode did a terrific job establishing Strange as a potential villain. He abandoned all sense of propriety and hygiene, stumbled about Italy trying to go mad, did go mad after eating a rotten mouse, and perfected an evil villain laugh, promising his nemesis Mr. Norrell: “I am coming.” In the finale, an emotional prelude by Sir Walter Pole brings Strange's fury crashing back and underlines the hopelessness of the situation.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Episode 6 Review - The Black Tower

My review of last week's episode: Arabella

"Jonathan Strange, you drive me crazy"
~Jonathan Strange

Episode six opens with both Norrell and Strange mourning losses. Norrell's regret is rather less flamboyant. Though his refusal to help Strange save Arabella created yet another bone of contention between them (a collection which amounted to two or three whole skeletons already), he honestly does miss his erstwhile pupil. He sits quietly in his dark green rooms and sadly contemplates Jonathan Strange's new book.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Episode 5 Review - Arabella

My review of last week's episode: All the Mirrors of the World

This episode started off with a bang as Jonathan Strange returns to the battlefield, finally breaking his own rule about killing by magic - and thereby losing a piece of his soul (merely a metaphor, Harry Potter fans). But while the Napoleonic wars are over, another battle is brewing on the home front. In the North a Raven King-supporting brand of Luddites (Johannites, they call themselves) are raising Cain, which gives credence to Mr. Norrell's request to censor Strange's upcoming Magic in 5 Easy Steps for People Of Whom Norrell Disapproves.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Matthew Perryman Jones - Land of the Living Review

I was first introduced to Matthew Perryman Jones's music in the summer of 2012, when he gave away his CD Land of the Living on Noisetrade. I wasn't overwhelmed - it was a slow-burn kind of album, and snuck up on me all through the long drowsy summer months. It took about two years for me to understand it was the best album I'd ever heard.

I'm glad I stuck with it, because while Land of the Living doesn't easily surrender its secrets - it does have them, and they are worth pursuing. The album is book-ended by songs which allude to the crossing of the Jordan and fall of the walls of Jericho. Stones From the Riverbed is vaguely a story of baptism, one must relinquish sin and darkness and "Fall into that mystery / or it will pull you under / It's okay to say goodbye."

Monday, June 8, 2015

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Episode 4 Review - All the Mirrors of the World

My review of last week's episode: The Education of a Magician

What do you do if you accidentally magic away the king of England? Happily for Jonathan Strange, the answer is not to panic. The first item on his agenda after returning from fortune and glory in France is to visit mad George III. He is accompanied by a reluctant Mr. Norrell, who, after last week's violent finale, is more concerned than ever to preserve magic's reputation as "respectable."

Monday, June 1, 2015

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Episode 3 Review - The Education of a Magician

 My review of last week's episode: How Is Lady Pole?

This show remains ridiculously entertaining. It's the most beautiful fantasy world I've seen in ages, bar Miyazaki. The effects are staggering, and the story intelligently told. True: this episode shows a few more missteps than the previous two, but the final scene still leaves me hungry for more.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Episode 2 Review - How Is Lady Pole?

My review of last week's episode: The Friends of English Magic 

One of the best things about magic in the world of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is that it doesn't fix things as if...well, as if by magic. It is a tool like any other, and usually less helpful than most. The mechanics are kept vague for most of the story (as I recall from the book: when there are any specifics, they're wrapped in a semi-scholarly debate about something which sounds a little like HTML code.) Magic doesn't exist in a vacuum. It neither creates nor destroys matter, but merely rearranges it, in the process staying true to Newton's third law: creating an equal and opposite reaction.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Inspector George Gently - Series 7 - Son of a Gun

My review of last week's episode: Gently Among Friends

Perhaps the greatest irony of Inspector George Gently is that its tragedy always stems from its basic conservatism. To quote C.S. Lewis: "A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line." This show has always remembered what a straight line looked like. I remember that Gently Upside Down, an episode back in series 4, ends with a young woman, Hazel, berating a failed authority figure. He was meant "to take care of us, not use us." She acts like that should be the natural state of the world.

George Gently has spanned most of the 1960s and Hazel was hardly the only iconoclast. But these children railing against their fathers are never righteous heroes. They're always broken, and even if they wish to transcend "the system," they still display a tangible hunger for the world before it was fallen. They hate their fathers, but want to impress them. They are not men but stunted children desiring attention.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Episode 1 Review - The Friends of English Magic

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
It's 1806, and magic has been dead in England for hundreds of years. So says the estimable Learned Society of York Magicians, but this declaration is turned on its head by the arrival of a powerful, fearsome practical magician, Mr. Norrell (Eddie Marsan). He offers them a deal: if he can make good on his claims to do real magic, then they must relinquish any right to study magic themselves. The ultimatum is a massive piece of foreshadowing. Norrell's success does not allow for sharing. He's not interested in democracy (of course not, he isn't one of those blasted French Republicans, is he?)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Inspector George Gently - Series 7 - Gently Among Friends

My review of last week's episode: Breathe In the Air

Two weeks ago my dad bought half a dozen Lyle Lovett CDs from a sales rack. For the last few days, my listening library has consisted mostly of Lovett and Johnny Cash. Pondering over the previous episode of George Gently while listening to That's Right (You're Not From Texas) made me think of odd things. What if our heroes were transported abroad (a la Inspector Morse, in two episodes), to investigate crime in the Lone Star State?

Imagine my amusement when I found Gently and Bacchus dropped into a flashy American club with Johnny Cash playing in the background (Will the Circle Be Unbroken and Ring of Fire, to be specific). They're looking into the death of Scott Parker, a visionary who wanted to be "Mr. Newcastle" (wait, I thought this was Durham?). It looks like suicide at first: he threw himself off a bridge onto a pile of trash - but it's soon seen that he was dead before he fell. It's looking like murder.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2 Review

The second season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is almost the exact opposite of the first season. Season one was founded on a good idea, drawing its setting from the Marvel universe and its dynamic from Firefly. But Firefly it was not. While that show could leap from genre to genre and tone to tone with ease, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. couldn't settle on anything. One minute it was so campy that it felt like a kids' show, the next the characters personal lives were right out of a soap opera. All of this compounded by the fact that there was no real sense of danger.

But then, suddenly, Danger! Intrigue! Character development!

The show pivoted off the events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier to become a surprisingly engaging and tense story. The team were now lovable outlaws rather than benevolent civil servants. There were enemies under every face-altering mask. Things mattered.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Inspector George Gently - Series 7 - Breathe In the Air

My review of last week's episode: Gently With the Women

It's not really a proper George Gently series until George battles evil in high places (last week, it was only mid-places). Now he must cope not only (as per usual) with corruption in the ranks, but the vast bulk of corporate crime, as well as his bickering subordinates.

After a brisk morning run, George dashes off to investigate the suspicious suicide of Valerie Cullen. All seems straightforward, but George isn't convinced. He starts to delve into her past. She's a doctor, suffered from depression, and was estranged from her smarmy husband - also a doctor. Eventually, it becomes apparent that Valerie had been investigating health violations at an old factory - a fact which many people resented.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Inspector George Gently - Series 7 - Gently With the Women

The new series starts off on a somber note as a woman is violently attacked in the shadows beneath Durham Cathedral. It is pitch dark in the alleys by the river, but the glowing face of the enormous edifice looms against the night sky, passive, silent, immovable, uncaring, unhearing.

Meanwhile, George Gently is in the ring, attempting to keep up with a younger colleague. Martin Shaw, at 70, still looks like he can throw a mean punch, but George's age is catching up with him. He is suddenly KO’d, letting a punch fly right past his guard, and wakes up in the doctor’s office. He's none too happy about the fuss, but she is insistent that this may be more than a mere fluke.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Power and the Fourth Estate: Why the White House Correspondents’ Dinner Should Be Canceled

"We do not need a censorship of the press. We have a censorship by the press."
~G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Every year, the press corps arrives on the red carpet outside the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Amid a flash of cameras, guests step from their vehicles, a glittering conglomeration of media luminaries and big names in Hollywood. Bill O’Reilly, Chris Matthews, Brian Williams. Steven Spielberg, Nicole Kidman, Kevin Spacey. They are the superstars of information and entertainment, and this night they will be wined and dined by the equally stylish leaders of the free world.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sofía Vergara, Nick Loeb, and Solomon

From Acculturated:

Sofía Vergara and her ex, Nick Loeb, have two female embryos in a freezer somewhere. They had them made (awkward phrasing, I admit, but how else does one put it?) with the intention of having one or both of them implanted in a surrogate. But before they got that far, they split.... 
[Loeb] is suing her to make sure that she does not have the embryos destroyed. To Loeb, who believes that life begins at conception, destroying the embryos is tantamount to killing his unborn children. Now that Vergara is engaged to another man, he is worried about the fate of his girls.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Star Wars Trailer Breakdown - Good and Bad

It was one of the great shocks of my young life to find out Darth Vader's true identity. I followed my dad around, badgering him with questions. How could that be? Anakin is dead! He's not dead? Obi-Wan said he was. He LIED? Why didn't Obi-Wan tell Luke the truth? I thought Obi-Wan was a good guy!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Upcoming British Detective Shows, 2015, 2016

This is older information - check out the latest here.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that if one is a British actor of mature years, it is pretty much inevitable that one will play a detective on the telly. This is the case for Martin Clunes, who is best known for playing the irascible title character in Doc Martin, and who is now, at last, taking up the magnifying glass to do a bit of investigating.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Clunes) is best-known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, but he was also quite a sleuth himself. In 1903, Anglo-Indian solicitor George Edalji was arrested and jailed for a series of brutal attacks on animals. Three years later he was released, but the taint of the crime remained. He enlisted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who, after Kipling, was Britain's most famous author - to help clear his name. Along with his loyal secretary, Alfred Wood, Sir Arthur traipsed around the countryside, using his powers of deduction to track down the truth.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Music of the Spheres - Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett was a master of the art of British comedy. What's more: he was one of the great fantasy novelists and satirists of the 20th Century. In being all these things, he is - at least in America - often unfairly overshadowed by specialists in each. He created a famous black-haired, bespectacled young wizard who goes to a school in a castle, and then a young upstart came along and stole his thunder. A successor to Monty Python and P.G. Wodehouse, a contemporary of Douglas Adams, he was a bit more serious than any of them. The breadth of his invention rivaled Dickens, but then, he wasn't Dickens. And of course, Pratchett was far too funny to be taken seriously as a satirist.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Tale of Two Cities Dream Cast

A Tale of Two Cities is my favorite novel. So, even the whiff of a chance of a rumor that it may be filmed is enough to get me out dream casting. As it is, we're pretty sure that BBC4 will be adapting it soon. It's more than due, since the last TV version was in 1989, and it hasn't been on the big screen since 1958, if we don't count The Dark Knight Rises (which, given the cop-out ending, we don't). The new version is written by Alan Bleasdale, and Netflix might co-produce. There's also a feature film which has been on the shelf for ages. So who knows? Maybe we'll get two, which means there will be lots of thinkpieces from me.

To begin with some minor characters...

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Phantom of the Opera - Grace and Truth

[Second of a series on female characters, feminism, and all that jazz. Previous: Agent Carter - Victimhood and Humility.]

It's very hard to take The Phantom of the Opera seriously when one was raised singing along to Riders in the Sky's Phantom of the Chuckwagon (I recognize, that by linking to that, I have probably sacrificed any credibility this post will have.) And sure enough, when I watched a performance of Phantom for the first time, it was easy to mock. Ostentatious, theatrical, melodramatic, shamelessly populist - it's a mishmash of 80s rock, Broadway musical numbers, and just a bit of real opera, all knitted together by the plot of a 1910 novel, Le Fantôme de l'Opéra. But there's something more than that - an honesty lacking from many such stories.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Agent Carter: Victimhood and Humility

[First of a series on female characters, feminism, and all that jazz. Haven't got it all worked out yet, but expect posts on The Phantom of the Opera, The New World, and more.]

When it comes to period drama, it's best to go British. Happily, despite the fact that Agent Carter is produced in America, it features the very British Hayley Atwell in the title role of Peggy Carter, which is nearly the same thing.
Taking up a few years after Captain America: The First Avenger left off, the first episode of Agent Carter finds Peggy (a luminous Atwell) struggling to readjust to civilian life. By what was surely some catastrophic bureaucratic error on high, Peg has been confined to an office job, serving coffee and pushing paper for a bunch of sexists. This has left her pretty depressed, feeling not only inadequate, but sorrowful, flashing back to her last moments talking to Steve Rogers. Thankfully, this morose introspection is interrupted when she's enlisted by Howard Stark (father of Tony, played by a delightfully mischievous Dominic Cooper) to help clear his name. Stark has been accused of selling weapons to the enemy - when, in fact, some super-sinister organization is behind it all.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

It's a Dangerous Business - Tolkien, Rob Bell, and Belief

Yesterday was J.R.R. Tolkien's birthday. I refer, of course, to the man who wrote the best novel of the 20th Century: The Lord of the Rings. And no, that fact is not up for dispute.

Or is it? Among the fantasy crowd, there's a stubborn set of naysayers who deride Tolkien's work as reactionary and cliched. There's some truth in both of these criticisms, but here's the thing: it's not really all that brave to be edgy. These days, it's more cliched to have a main character who is plagued by self-doubt, wrestles with abstract dilemmas, and is always seeking to "find himself," rather than a protagonist who is certain of anything. If they are certain of their faith, they're a religious nut job like Noah; otherwise we reshape Moses into a postmodern skeptic.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Gospel of Bono

In all the talk about how Bono may not be able to play the guitar again, the media has (shocker!) been missing all he says about Christmas. It's a pretty good way to start off the year.

At this time of year some people are reminded of the poetic as well as the historic truth that is the birth of Jesus. The Christmas story has a crazy good plot with an even crazier premise - the idea goes, if there is a force of love and logic behind the universe, then how amazing would it be if that incomprehensible power chose to express itself as a child born in shit and straw poverty.... 
But back to the Christmas story that still brings me to my knees - which is a good place for me lest I harm myself or others. Christmas is not a time for me to overthink about this child, so vulnerable, who would grow so strong... to teach us all how vulnerability is the route to strength and, by example, show us how to love and serve. 
To me this is not a fairy tale but a challenge. I preach what I need to hear... 

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