Monday, October 23, 2017

Curb Your Enthusiasm 9.4: "Hold You in his Armchair"

So, as I've mentioned here several times, I have something of a principle - well, not quite a principle, maybe more of just a practice - of not reviewing comedies.  They rarely have continuing storylines, and the act of reviewing always seemed somewhat antithetical to the very notion of comedy.  Yet I started against my better judgement to review this ninth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and I've been drawn so inextricably into comedy that I've even reviewed three short plays this weekend, two of which are comedies (see my review of Anthony Marinelli's  Max & Domino, for example).  So clearly, there's nothing to be gained by resisting a review of another episode of Curb.

In this case - a review of tonight's 9.4 - I drew the title from Rob Sheffield's masterful book, Dreaming the Beatles, and its maybe facetious discussion of whether the line in John Lennon's "Come Together" is "feel you in his arms, yeah, you can feel his disease" or "feel you in his armchair, you can feel his disease".  Never mind that the second makes no sense.  Sheffield says there's been a decades-long debate about which it is.

And what does this have to do with tonight's Curb?  Well, the least funny part of the episode, but still pretty funny, was Larry's quest to get his shrink (played by Bryan Cranston!) to get Larry a more comfortable armchair for their therapy sessions.  Hence the connection between armchair and therapy in Curb 9.4 and the armchair and disease lines in "Come Together".

Larry's disputing whether the patient is bound by doctor/patient confidentiality was funnier, and more profound.  And as almost always, I think Larry is right.

But the funniest, burst-out-laughing part came during Funkhouser's eulogy for his nephew, which Larry first disrupts in his pursuit of his reserved seat, then any seat, then someone who Larry is sure is about to enact the fatwa on him, but of course turns out just to be a late guest in Middle Eastern garb.  Anything Funkhouser does is funny, but this memorial scene was pure gold.

(The length of flies routine - the kind that zip and unzip - was also hilarious.  Some maybe that's a tie with the interrupted Funkhouser eulogy.)

Ok, enough of this comedy.  Time to turn to the grim and brutal Ray Donovan, which I'll do in my next review.

See alsoCurb Your Enthusiasm 9.1: Hilarious! ... Curb Your Enthusiasm 9.2: Wife Swapping ... Curb Your Enthusiasm 9.3: Benefits





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

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Lady in the Woods: The Snake, with a Twist and Political Upshot

Continuing my reviews of the six semi-finalists in the New York New Works (NYNW) Theatre Festival which I saw on Friday night at The Duke on 42nd Street - short plays, all of which were excellent - we have Hyten Davidson's The Lady in the Woods, which takes place in "a cabin the forest, upstate New York, the present, late November".  In other words, in both place and time, pretty close to home.  In more ways than one.

For although The Lady in the Woods may sound like an allegory, and it actually is, it has cutting-edge relevance to what we see and hear on the news every day.  The Lady welcomes a man from the forest with frostbite on his feet and frost in his hair into her home, where she's alone, and offers him food.  Much like the "tender-hearted woman" in Al Wilson's 1968 hit record, "The Snake" (which also frost on its skin) (written by Oscar Brown and co-produced by the great Johnny Rivers), in turn based on "The Farmer and the Viper," an Aesop's fable.

Here's the song in case you don't remember or never heard of it:



So in the song and the fable, the woman (farmer in the fable) are rewarded for their kindness by  death from the snake (viper) which proceeds to more than the bite the hands that fed them.  Now if that moral sounds queasily familiar, it may be because none other than Donald Trump read lyrics from "The Snake" at campaign rallies in 2016 and after he became President in 2017, to illustrate his argument about what would happen if we good Americans let Syrian refugees into our country (I wish I were kidding).

But this makes the ending of The Lady in the Woods even more notable.  I won't give that ending explicitly away, but suffice to say that our Lady does not end up the same as the tender-hearted woman in Al Wilson's song, or Trump's painting of Americans in her image.

Very well acted by Laura Frenzer as the Lady, and Jack Coggins as the man from the forest.  See it if you can.

 

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

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Frozen West: Science Fiction, Literally

Hey, most of you know I write, watch, and read a lot of science fiction - not always as much in that order as I would like - so I was especially pleased to see Frozen West at The Duke on 42nd Street last night, one of six short plays which are semi-finalists in the New York New Works (NYNW) Theatre Festival, all of which were excellent.  Now, Frozen West may not be what you or I usually expect when the genre of science fiction comes up - because this short play is about something which is not only possible but scientifically real, right now.  Frozen West is, in other words, literally a work of fiction about science - or, literally science fiction.

The science which today is real and indeed has been so since 1967 is cryonics, or the deep freezing of human bodies after death with a view to reviving them at some point in the future, when our descendants discover a way of unthawing without damage and curing the illness that killed the frozen deceased.  Wikipedia says that as of 2014 there are about 250 people in such "suspended" (not dead!, as one of the characters in Frozen West, Dana, keeps insisting), including baseball great Ted Williams (but not Walt Disney or Robert Heinlein, contrary to the urban legends that they are frozen).

The action  in Frozen West - actually, talk, not action - takes place in a cold room, with six (I think) frozen heads (a cheapo option for those who opt for the freeze), where the room's caretaker, the aforementioned Dana, converses about cryonics and the nature of life and the world with a new acquaintance, Naomi.  Both parts are well played.  But Naomi delivers the funniest lines, makes the best faces, and Maggie Dunleavy (who also directed) animates the role with a special spunk and style.

Davis Alianiello is the playwright, and he's given us a sometimes laugh-out-loud, philosophically rich clip of banter, that captures the state of life in the 21st century.

 

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


Max & Domino: Dark, Funny, Iconic

I had the pleasure of seeing Anthony Marinelli's Max & Domino at The Duke on 42nd Street last night, one of six short plays which are semi-finalists in the New York New Works (NYNW) Theatre Festival.  All six were excellent, and I'll likely review each of them in the coming days, but I'll start with Max & Domino, which was my favorite for a variety of reasons.

I saw and reviewed here Marinelli's Acoustic Space - a short 2015 movie made from his short play - which apropos McLuhan (who came up with the term) was about the impact of ubiquitous smartphones on interpersonal relations, and looked to me like a movie that might have been produced had McLuhan and Woody Allen gone on to collaborate as producers after McLuhan's appearance in Annie HallMax & Domino has nothing to do with phones, but is invested with Marinelli's savvy about media, this time about movie idols and fevered illusions.

Actually, Max & Domino is about just one movie icon, Marilyn Monroe, who as fate would have it is the Marilyn in my just published Marilyn and Monet.  Unfortunately, she didn't live long enough to star in a Woody Allen movie, but she's permanently in our firmament, as hot today as ever she was in the 1950s and 60s.

In Max & Domino, she's perfectly played by Amanda Greer, who delivers just the right verve and breathiness.  Greer is in fact Domino, one half of a mobster enforcer team who are torturing poor Charlie (well played by Mike Funk) to give up where he hid their money and who knows what.  Like a boxer on the ropes having visions of some babe in his real or mediated life, Charlie makes his beating more exquisite by imagining that at times the brunette Domino is blonde Marilyn.  (I told you this was both dark and funny.)

But the best punch comes with a twist at the end, which I won't tell you, except that all is revealed and clicks into place with stiletto precision.  I hope Max & Domino move on from the semi-finals, and Charlie rides forever like his namesake on the MTA.

 

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming the Beatles 17 of X: The Split

We arrive in Rob Sheffield's documentary/docudrama in print - i.e., vividly told book, Dreaming the Beatles - at a sad juncture.  Not the saddest, to be sure. That still awaits.  But sad enough, and the lowest ebb we've encountered so far:  which is the Beatles' final album, and whither (not wither, I'd insist, but we'll get to that) Paul McCartney.

The question of the final album is Abby Road vs. Let It Be, the former recorded after but released before the latter (I think I have that right).  Sheffield sees pros and cons to both albums being final, and goes with Abby Road, assuming the we don't take Let It Be to be an album.  It's certainly not a purely Beatles album, for sure, having been mutilated with the worst overdubbing of Phil Spector's career.  Now, I've always loved much of Phil Spector's work, from the Teddybears to "Black Pearl," but what he did to Let It Be just ain't it.   So whether it's an album or not, since it's not just something The Beatles recorded - it's much more than that, and for the worse - the prize of final goes to Abby Road.  I don't blame Paul McCartney and in fact admire him for releasing the album in the 21st century stripped of Spector's sounds.   (I should add: my group The Other Voices was co-produced by Ellie Greenwich, and she loved Phil, and she's gone now, so sincere apologies to Ellie's spirit.)

But this brings us to McCartney - the album as well as the man.  As I've told you now in these reviews a bunch of times, my very first published article was "A Vote for McCartney," sent into The Village Voice as a Letter to the Editor but selected by editor Diane Fischer as an article, for which I was paid $65 in 1971.   This started me, for better or worse, on my career as a writer.

The letter turned article was a defense of the album and the man - and its follow-up, Ram - from a snooty, vicious attack by Voice critic Robert Christgau, who at some point was appointed by someone as the "Dean" of rock criticism.  You can read my full article here (if you missed the link above), but, to make a long story short, I consider "That Would Be Something" and "Every Night" to be superb (along with "Maybe I'm Amazed," which Sheffield acknowledges is excellent) from McCartney, and "Too Many People," "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey," and "Heart of the Country" to be masterpieces or close to, which would fit well on Abby Road as Beatles songs.  But the Paul McCartney overdubs make everything on these albums breakthroughs in music production, which go beyond the Beatles insofar as they were pretty much done by one person.

As I've also noted in these reviews before, Sheffield admires Christgau, and doesn't share quite my high opinion of McCartney, certainly not in these years.  But that's ok.  Certainly Sheffield is right that the combination of these albums and the way he left the Beatles - with the infamous Q & A that said he wouldn't even miss poor Ringo - marked McCartney the man with a reputation as the wheeling-and-dealing Beatle, who played at business and egoboo in a way that supposedly hurt the music.  Or, at least Sheffield is right that that's what many regularly published critics started saying back then and some are still saying to some extent.

As for me, most  of what I publish is not rock criticism, but I suspect my view of McCartney as great in his solo years (as were Lennon and Harrison) - different, of course, from the Beatles, but still unsurpassed -  is shared by millions of fans to this very day.

More reviews of this outstanding book soon.

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 ... 7 of X: Anatomy of a Ride ... 8 of X: Rubber Soul on July 4 ... 9 of X: Covers ... 10 of X: I. A. Richards ... 11 of X: Underrated Revolver ... 12 of X: Sgt. Pepper ... 13 of X: Beatles vs. Stones ... 14 of X: Unending 60s ... 15 of x: Voting for McCartney, Again ... 16 of x: "I'm in Love, with Marsha Cup"

Just published ...




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

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Curb Your Enthusiasm 9.3: Benefits

Ok, I said I wouldn't be reviewing Curb Your Enthusiasm, but episode 9.3 was such a gem, an instant classic, that I'd be a fool not to review it and become part of the history of rave reviews which this episode will no doubt garner.

The benefits of fatwa which Salman Rushdie delivers to Larry - the real Salman, not spelled or pronounced like the fish - are sheer genius, even though there are but two that Rushdie mentions: you become a magnet of dangerous sexual energy, and you have a great excuse for not attending events you'd rather miss.

Most the episode is taken up with evidence of the first, as Larry attracts Elizabeth Banks, playing herself in this episode.  It's good to see Larry with someone, after Cheryl has left him - and hooked up with Ted Danson no less - though Larry and Elizabeth, alas, didn't last too long in this episode.

Their budding relationship fell victim to Larry's inevitable tendency to derail a good relationship with one tick or another.  This time it's trying to get Elizabeth to make up a story, so Larry isn't nailed for damaging a police car.  As Elizabeth says, she didn't have much time to prepare.

The episode also has lots of great Larry one-liners, my favorite being his observation, 100% true, that for some reason people in Brooklyn pronounce the word "donkey" as "dunkey".  I actually pronounce donkey that way, too - by the way, is a donkey, however it's pronounced, the same animal as an ass? - though I'm from the Bronx.  Wait, my father was from Brooklyn, maybe that's why, though I have no recollection of his ever saying that word.

Ok, enough for this comedy, there are dramas to review.  But, by the way, I agree with Susie that Larry looked better in his disguise.

See alsoCurb Your Enthusiasm 9.1: Hilarious! ... Curb Your Enthusiasm 9.2: Wife Swapping

Just published ...




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

Ray Donovan 5.10: Bunchy's Money

With just two episodes left to go, it makes sense that at least one crisis in the family Donovan this season has been resolved: in episode 5.9, Bunchy at last gets back his stolen money.

It took all three Donovan brothers to do it, with Terry saving Ray's life, and that was a memorable scene.  But was that enough to get Ray to forgive Terry for helping Abby take her life?  Or at least begin to come to terms with what Terry did?  Of course not.  Ray never forgives and rarely comes to terms with anything his older brother and father do or did.  Ray's a veritable Rock of Gibraltar when it comes to holding grudges, or at least, never forgetting.   He barely let Avi live, after all the years of service Avi had rendered, when he wasn't addicted and was Ray's always reliable aide-de-camp.

Which brings us to Samantha Winslow.  She has some sort of power over Ray - at least, enough for Ray not to put up more of a fight after she orders him to kill Doug Landry.  Why would Ray take anything she says seriously, especially an order to kill someone, or else?  Wouldn't Ray elect to kill her rather than be under her thumb that way?

That's my guess about he'll do, in the end.   In the meantime, he has to get Bridget out of jail, and do something about Dr. Bergstein, played by Kim Raver, whom I always think of as Audrey on 24, another incredibly irritating but well played character whom Jack Bauer would have been much better off without.

But I digress.  On Ray Donovan, crises and challenges are rarely resolved as easily as Bunchy getting back his money - and that wasn't easy at all.  I'll see you back here next week (and note that I'm invoking the 10-foot-pole rule and not talking about what happened to poor Mickey tonight).

See Ray Donovan 5.1: Big Change  ... Ray Donovan 5.4: How To Sell A Script ... Ray Donovan 5.7: Reckonings ... Ray Donovan 5.8: Paging John Stuart Mill ... Ray Donovan 5.9: Congas

See also Ray Donovan 4.1: Good to Be Back ... Ray Donovan 4.2: Settling In ... Ray Donovan 4.4: Bob Seger ... Ray Donovan 4.7: Easybeats ... Ray Donovan 4.9: The Ultimate Fix ... Ray Donovan Season 4 Finale: Roses

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

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

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

Just published ...




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

Marilyn and Monet

Just published ...




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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Ray Donovan 5.9: Congas

Episode 5.9 of Ray Donovan was just the way I like it - back to the classic Ray.  Although he hasn't gotten over Abby's death, and never will, he's beginning to focus on some other things.

But, actually, my favorite scene, for some reason, was Mickey playing congas on the backsides of the prostitutes in Ray's home.  Or would bongos be a better analogy?  I don't know.  But Jon Voight, who's been giving Emmy-deserving performances in every episode of this series, was never better than he was last night.

I'm also enjoying the writer's-plight-in-Hollywood story that Mickey is delivering this season.  As I said in an earlier review, it rings true as a bell.  I'm always rooting for Mickey, but never more than about this movie.  I hope we get to see it made the way he likes it.

I wasn't happy to see Natalie dead on the bed.  Lili Simmons deserved a bigger or at least longer-lasting role.  But, hey, that's Hollywood, too.  And we now have the mystery of who killed and her sleaze boyfriend or whoever he was exactly.  As soon as he left his dog in the bar, I figured he'd soon be getting his just desert.  As to who killed them?  I'm betting Samantha Winslow.

Back to Ray - so now he's lost not just Abby but Natalie.  About the only bright spot in this episode for him is that Bridget came home.  And she handled what she saw going on with her uncle and grandfather and those prostitutes pretty well.  Will she forgive Ray for what he did to the boy in New York, depriving him of his life-saving treatment?  Will she understand that Ray did it, yes, out of selfishness but still out of love for her mother?

Ray Donovan has always been about family, so I'm thinking the chances are pretty good.


 FREE on Amazon Prime  


See Ray Donovan 5.1: Big Change  ... Ray Donovan 5.4: How To Sell A Script ... Ray Donovan 5.7: Reckonings ... Ray Donovan 5.8: Paging John Stuart Mill

See also Ray Donovan 4.1: Good to Be Back ... Ray Donovan 4.2: Settling In ... Ray Donovan 4.4: Bob Seger ... Ray Donovan 4.7: Easybeats ... Ray Donovan 4.9: The Ultimate Fix ... Ray Donovan Season 4 Finale: Roses

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

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

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

Monday, October 9, 2017

Outlander 3.5: The 1960s and the Past

Outlander 3.5 finally got Claire and Jamie back together - twenty years after they last were together, in the 1700s, with Jamie now in Edinburgh.  There were lots of nice touches, including Jamie being located by a literary device - literally - I first noticed in Isaac Asimov's The End of Eternity (still my all-time favorite time travel story) back in the 1950s.  The person in the past wanting to let someone in the future know where to find him or her puts an ad in a newspaper with some reference to some event that hasn't happened yet (Asimov's method) or a poem from the future (Jamie's method) as a marker for the future to see.   It's a nice, soft touch, and usually does the trick.

Claire's anxiety about whether Jamie will still love her, find her attractive, makes sense and was handled well.  But, as is always is the case for Outlander for me - and maybe this stems, again, from my not having read the books (I almost sound like John Lennon here in "A Day in the Life") - there are some pieces of this unfolding narrative that don't quite make sense.

Such as, why doesn't Brianna and her beau, an historian no less, go with Claire to the past?  That would alleviate at least some of Claire's qualms.  I get that Claire doesn't want to risk her daughter's life, and wants her to have the benefits of living in the United States in the second part of the 20th century, but why was this not even discussed at some length?   Also, let's face it, the 60s especially in America were a time of turmoil and assassinations - by Christmas 1968, not only JFK, but Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had been killed.  Wouldn't Claire at least have considered the benefits of removing Claire from that?

My wife also noticed a minor error of history in the episode: women weren't admitted to Harvard proper until the mid-1970s.  They could take Harvard classes, and earn Harvard degrees, but as Radcliffe students (Radcliffe was Harvard's "sister school").  With all the talk of Brianna dropping out of Harvard, some small mention should have been made of that.

But it was nonetheless wonderful to see Claire and Jamie together again, and I'm looking forward to more in two weeks.

See also Outlander Season 3 Debut: A Tale of Two Times and Places ...Outlander 3.2: Whole Lot of Loving, But ... Outlander 3.3: Free and Sad ... Outlander 3.4: Love Me Tender and Dylan

And see also Outlander 2.1: Split Hour ... Outlander 2.2: The King and the Forest ... Outlander 2.3: Mother and Dr. Dog ... Outlander 2.5: The Unappreciated Paradox ... Outlander 2.6: The Duel and the Offspring ...Outlander 2.7: Further into the Future ... Outlander 2.8: The Conversation ... Outlander 2.9: Flashbacks of the Future ... Outlander 2.10: One True Prediction and Counting ... Outlander 2.11: London Not Falling ... Outlander 2.12: Stubborn Fate and Scotland On and Off Screen ... Outlander Season 2 Finale: Decades

And see also Outlander 1.1-3: The Hope of Time Travel ... Outlander 1.6:  Outstanding ... Outlander 1.7: Tender Intertemporal Polygamy ...Outlander 1.8: The Other Side ... Outlander 1.9: Spanking Good ... Outlander 1.10: A Glimmer of Paradox ... Outlander 1.11: Vaccination and Time Travel ... Outlander 1.12: Black Jack's Progeny ...Outlander 1.13: Mother's Day ... Outlander 1.14: All That Jazz ... Outlander Season 1 Finale: Let's Change History

Curb Your Enthusiasm 9.2: Wife Swapping

Well, it wasn't really wife swapping, and I said I wouldn't be reviewing any more episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm - because I don't usually review comedies - but here I am with a review of Curb 9.2, in which the wife swapping which wasn't really wife swapping was one of the funniest parts.

It's not really wife swapping because Larry and Cheryl (the fictitious couple) are no longer married, though Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen really are - in reality - even though not on the show.  Which means (I think) that by the internal logic of the show (or any logic, even Aristotelian), Larry and Ted would not have been trading mates if all parties had agreed to Larry's suggestion after Ted came to ask/inform Larry about Ted's interest in Cheryl. Not that anyone actually said it was wife swapping.  But what is the case is that Cheryl and Mary both look great, and Mary turning Larry down because he's just not her "type," only to be seen by Larry walking cosily with a man who looks a lot like Larry was pretty funny, too.

By the way, speaking of what Larry looks like, wouldn't you agree that he never looked better than in his Buck Dancer disguise, that he's using to avoid the fatwa?  He looks, like, I don't know, maybe an older rock star who can still do a good concert, or even like Don Johnson and whatever he might look like now.

The other best part of tonight's episode for me were actually two unrelated things that both speak to same brilliant part of Curb Your Enthusiasm: the difficulty of opening a pickle jar, and the stupidity of using tongs to pick up cookies from a table in a hotel lobby (or, by extension, at any public event).  Larry always has a way of putting his finger - in this case, a hand, or a tong - on an aspect of our lives which is illogical, even ridiculous, but we somehow put up with, anyway.  Larry in effect is the voice for what we all believe but never quite get around to actually saying or complaining about.

Lots of other funny parts in tonight's episode, but, as I said last week, I don't like assessing what makes comedies comedies, so I'll end this now and may or may not be back here next week.

See also: Curb Your Enthusiasm 9.1: Hilarious! 


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Review of Doug Hill's Not So Fast: Worth Reading, Not Too Quicky

 photo Not So Fast_zpsdbrxn5pv.jpgI've had an advance reading copy on hand for quite some time of Doug Hill's Not So Fast: Thinking Twice about Technology, and I guess, given the title, who could object to my taking so long to read and review it?  But I've slowly been reading and reviewing two other books - Grant Wythoff's The Perversity of Things and Rob Sheffield's Dreaming the Beatles - and, anyway, now that I've finished Not So Fast, I can tell you two things about it:  I strongly disagree with its premise and just about every argument Hill makes in the book, and I recommend it.

Now, it's rare that I would recommend a book with which I disagree, but it happens.  Before I tell you why, let me tell you why I disagree with this book.   I'm a technological optimist.  Not because I'm ignorant of the many critics of technology Hill cites in his book, but because I've read them all and found them wanting.   The critic often thinks the optimist is ignorant, but the optimist can just as often be a critic of the critic.  In my case, though I don't preach the singularity or any kind of technological utopia, I think technologies help us fulfill our human goals on multiple levels.  I've been saying this since my doctoral dissertation, Human Replay: A Theory of the Evolution of Media (New York University, 1979), which was recently put up on Amazon.

Unfortunately, Hill overlooks the most reasonable pro-technological arguments, and relies instead on quasi-mystical futurists as his opponents.  And sometimes he misrepresents a seminal thinker such as Marshall McLuhan, for example, who didn't turn from pro-technology with the global village to critic of technology with discarnate man as Hill says.  McLuhan instead insisted that he never made value judgements, and indeed his global village had beds of roses with plenty of thorns.

So, why, then, am I recommending Hill's book?  Because I think it's important that we continue to discuss and strive to understand the nature and impact of technology, which is what Hill does in Not So Fast.  I also think it's important to draw into the discussion ancient philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, and modern practitioners ranging from Edison and Ford to Steve Jobs.  (Indeed, I think touching base with such minds is so important that I frequently include them in my science fiction.)  It's also good to see outright critics of technology ranging from Jacques Ellul to Langdon Winner given such play, if only to offer avenues to students of all ages who are new to the game of fathoming technology.

But in the end, as the Nobel laureate biologist Sir Peter Medawar liked to say, what's most human about us is our technology, which means that to oppose it with a tone or implication of apocalypse amounts to despairing of the human condition itself.


Top of the Lake: China Girl: Top of the Genre

My wife and I saw all six episodes of Top of the Lake: China Girl on Sundance last night.  It was that good.  The first season a few years back took a little longer, and not just because it had seven episodes.  It was compelling and memorable, but meandered down side stories a little too often.  In contrast, China Girl was even more compelling, and tight as a drum in its complex, multi-tiered plot.

Elisabeth Moss is back as Robin Griffin, a detective with a palette of smarts, passions, and vulnerabilities like none you've ever seen on television (I guess Gillian Anderson as Stella Gibson in The Fall would be about the closest, but even she is figuratively as well as literally continents apart from Robin).   Robin's back in Sydney from her visit in season 1 to New Zealand, this time to investigate the death of a prostitute who turns out to have been part of a surrogate mother ring.  Robin's personal life is woven in perfectly - which is to say sometimes harrowingly, sometimes lovingly - into the plot, including her 17-year old daughter last seen by Robin shortly after she was born.  Moss's performance is incandescent.

Her police partner is a nice surprise - Miranda Hilmarson played by Gwendoline Christie from Game of Thrones, with Christie showing a much greater gamut of acting talent than she did on Thrones.  Robin and Miranda are a complicated, ultimately powerful team, alternately screaming at and consoling each other, and one of the best scenes in this series is the two of them sitting on a dock, coming to terms.

There are paucity of really worthwhile men in this story - I'd say maybe one and a half - with the majority being liars, psychos, sleazes, and killers.  But that's the story, the scoundrels are very well acted, and some of the women are close to despicable and well acted, too, including Nicole Kidman (with grey hair) as the adoptive mother of Robin's daughter.

The plot contains all kinds of twists, some sudden, some long and dangling, and I'd rate these six hours as among the best ever on television.  Kudos to Jane Campion who wrote and created this.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Review of Rob Sheffield's Dreaming the Beatles 16 of X: "I'm in Love, with Marsha Cup"

Back with a review of the next two chapters of Rob Sheffield's continuing-to-be-excellent Dreaming the Beatles.  These chapters were particularly superb, replete with discussions of the Abby Road photographs and the Paul-Is-Dead controversy - actually, almost every chapter so far has been particularly superb - but what I most enjoyed was Sheffield's assessment of the public's input on what are the lyrics of a song, transcending at times even the lyricist's, because he or she may not quite know what the lyrics are (certainly not what they mean - see what I say about I. A. Richards below), and may not even get them right.  As examples of that, Sheffield cites Lennon's "two foot small," which he sang in "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" instead of the intended "two foot tall," or the debate about whether Lennon was singing "hold you in his armchair, you can feel his disease" or "hold you in his arms, yeah, you can feel his disease" in "Come Together".

I've always been an "arms" man myself, but, then, again, when I first heard Elvis's 1957 #1 single I was sure he was singing "I'm in love, with Marsha Cup," whoever exactly she was.  But those kinds of mishearings happen all the time, and what Sheffield is really probing is what is the ultimately correct lyric when there is no absolutely factual record to consult?

Here I. A. Richards, a literary theorist who made his mark back in the 1920s, always struck me as being of great value.  Richards argued that it is the reader (which can easily be translated to listener) not the author of a text who is and has the ultimate authority on what that text means.   In the case of the acoustic realm, where the words are intrinsically not as clear as in the visual, the question can sometimes become not just what the lyrics mean, but what they are.

Sheffield develops the question of lyrics and their reality out of the Paul-Is-Dead nonsense from the late 1960s and after, which emerged out of interpretations of lyrics played backwards.  Although I never believed any of that for instant - it was a form of fake news, years ahead of its time -  I can report that Paul was definitely alive and well and sounding great at his Nassau Coliseum concert last week

Unless he was an imposter.  But, in that case, that imposter has done an unbelievably great job, as Sheffield points out, from "Hey Jude" to "Golden Slumbers" and "The End".  McCartney sang them all last week, including "Let Me Roll It," proving the imposter continued showing his mettle even after the Beatles disbanded.

And I'll be back with another review soon.

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