|Peter Finch's Howard Beale is "mad as hell" in Network.|
Saturday, September 12, 2015
Friday, September 11, 2015
|The cast of Other Space, currently streaming on Yahoo! Screen.|
Other Space tells the story of a crew of inexperienced officers who set off on a routine exploratory space mission, only to find themselves sucked through a rift in space that thrusts them into another universe. Lost in space, with no way of getting home, they struggle for survival with no-one to depend upon but themselves. In others' hands, this would be the beginning of a traditional science-fiction story – and it has been. Variations on this story have been seen on television for over fifty years: from Lost in Space, to Buck Rogers, to Star Trek: Voyager, to Battlestar Galactica. (Not to mention Andromeda, Farscape, or SyFy's recent Dark Matter.) Other Space is not like any of those shows."In 2054, to celebrate the end of the war between the United States and Switzerland, a multi-national corporate coalition created the Universal Mapping Project to explore the known universe for the purposes of scientific inquiry. The following is an account of the UMP Cruiser, an exploratory vessel that went missing in 2105."
– from the opening of Other Space
Back in March, Yahoo's online streaming channel, Yahoo! Screen, garnered a lot of attention by bringing back the NBC cult comedy Community for a sixth season. A month later, with far less fanfare, it added another comedy to its small line-up of original programming: Other Space, a science-fiction comedy in the vein of the BBC's long-running classic Red Dwarf. The animated (and often brilliant) Futurama notwithstanding, there have only ever been a handful of science fiction comedy shows on American television, perhaps the most popular being 3rd Rock from the Sun and, I suppose… Alf. (Red Dwarf had a famously failed attempt at an American adaptation for NBC back in 1992, when only a poorly-received pilot was filmed.) But, unless you count NBC's Quark – a one-season wonder from 1978 starring Richard Benjamin, which was Buck Henry's follow-up series to Get Smart – the output has been entirely earthbound. This year, with all the original television being produced, it is very possible this small comedy has escaped your notice. Fortunately we have a few weeks still before the new fall season begins, and you have more than enough time to flip your browser over to Yahoo and watch a new comedy that is at once unassuming and suprising.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
|Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar, in Netflix's Narcos. (Photo: Daniel Daza/Netflix)|
Since Escobar was killed in a 1993 shootout with police after “escaping” from his prison-fortress, an effort has been made to construct a counter-legend refuting the idea that there was anything glamorous or exciting about him. According to this line of thinking, the real Pablo, who looks pudgy and plodding in the photographs from his later years that tend to appear in articles about him, was a middle-class dullard whose groveling for public approval and doomed efforts to be accepted as a legitimate leader by the landed gentry disqualified him from the role of noble outlaw as defined by Bob Dylan: “To live outside the law, you must be honest.” There’s a good moral message attached to this view of Pablo, and there may be a lot of truth to it. It’s pretty much the view endorsed by the ten-episode Netflix series Narcos, which tells Pablo’s story from the founding of the Medellin cartel to the prison escape that would lead to the manhunt that ended with his death, but a single image embedded in the show suggests that it may not be the whole truth.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
|Ronald Zehrfeld and Nina Hoss|
The German director Christian Petzold garnered some deserved attention for his 2012 movie Barbara, which told the story of an East German doctor (Nina Hoss) in the 1980s, banished to a country hospital as punishment for applying for an exit visa, who plots to defect but is sidelined by her emotional involvement in the case of a female patient. As a chronicle of life in East Germany in the years before the Berlin Wall came down, Barbara is smaller-scale than The Lives of Others – one of a small handful of movies since the millennium that truly deserve to be called masterpieces – but it demonstrates a piecing intelligence, a gift for working with actors (Hoss gives a superlative performance), and an easy mastery of film vocabulary. It’s an elegant and fiercely compelling piece of moviemaking, and I think that Phoenix, his new picture, is even better.
Petzold is again working with his co-writer on Barbara, Harun Farocki, and again features Hoss opposite the fine actor Ronald Zehrfeld, who played the head of the clinic Barbara is exiled to. In Phoenix Hoss, in a performance of profound tremulous feeling, plays Nelly Lenz, a Jewish cabaret singer who returns from the camps at the end of the Second World War so badly disfigured that she hides her face under a bandage. Her experience has left her so fragile that she barely seems able to function. She arrives back in Berlin under the care of another woman, Lene Winter (Nina Kunzendorf), who seems to have an administrative job that gives her access to government documents. (I think we’re meant to assume that Lene and Nelly met in the camps, but the movie is rather mysterious on the source of their association.) Lene guides her through reconstructive surgery that leaves her looking somewhat but not exactly like the woman she was before she was taken by the Nazis, and Lene makes plans for the two of them to emigrate to Israel. But Nelly didn’t think of herself as a Jew in the days before the Holocaust, and she still doesn’t. And what she wants is to find her Gentile husband Johnny, a pianist who hid her from the Gestapo in a boat until they finally caught up with her. Lene is convinced that it was Johnny who turned Nelly in at the end, but Nelly is still crazy about him and doesn’t believe her friend’s version of events. Haunting the seedier clubs, she locates Johnny (Zehrfeld), working not as a musician but as a waiter, and of course he doesn’t recognize her. But he notes her resemblance to his wife, who, he is certain, died during the war.
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
|Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in American Ultra. (Photo: Alan Markfield/AP/Lionsgate)|
In American Ultra, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart star as Mike and Phoebe: two West Virginian stoners with dead-end jobs and a happy, if troubled, relationship. Mike’s panic attacks prevent them from going on vacation, and his absent-mindedness ensures he almost burns down their house every time he tries to cook. Phoebe has a lot on her plate in taking care of him, but she soon has much more when a CIA operative named Lasseter (Connie Britton) reveals that Mike is a sleeper agent whose deadly skills at hand-to-hand combat have been locked inside his mind, lying dormant. His (mostly) blissful life is a sham, and CIA honcho Yates (Topher Grace) has targeted him for elimination. Stoner laughs and blockbuster action (supposedly) ensue, in the tradition of films like Pineapple Express (2008).
Monday, September 7, 2015
|Charlie Gallant, Claire Jullien and Thom Marriott in Light Up the Sky at the Shaw Festival. (Photo: David Cooper)|
Sunday, September 6, 2015
I started to think about what song might illustrate best for me the notion of playing 'what's left.' On Beatles for Sale (or Beatles VI – if you grew up like me in North America), "What You're Doing" has a solo that's quite economical in that George Harrison style. The notes he plays (over-top George Martin's rumbling piano) are picked at with a brightness that gives the song some of its shimmering texture. Yet it still harmonizes with the song's melodic line even when it briefly breaks free from it. Heard here best in mono, rather than stereo, the pieces are always designed to fit the whole.