Category Archives: review of television

The Iron Fist

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Comic books are not real life.  They are better than real life.  They allow you to go forward in your own story with the myth of the super power to bolster your courage.  You can face your daily devils and demons secure in the knowledge that, while no one is perfect, we can all at least imagine holding firm to an ideal in spite of the trials we face…  being true to a power and a goodness beyond ourselves… being a hero.

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I have followed Iron Fist’s adventures since the 1970’s.  It is true that I haven’t been as devoted to him and his heroics as I have been to Spiderman and the Avengers.  But I love the idea of a good guy in white standing up to the bad guys in black and beating the poop out of them with a good heart and a bare fist, not resorting to guns and bombs and gratuitous killings.  Danny Rand, the Iron Fist, has always been such a character to me.  Noble because he does not intentionally kill the enemy, like Batman, Superman, Captain America and so many other favorite super heroes.

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I admit it, this love-gush of a post is only happening because I finished binge-watching the new Iron Fist series on Netflix.    I depend on Netflix now to deliver to me effortlessly what I used to endlessly hunt and scrabble for in the way of idea fuel and motivational electricity.  And even though I am a notoriously uncritical critic, I have to say, it was not as heart-thumpingly good as either Daredevil or Luke Cage.  But it brought an old friend to life in a way that I never before believed could happen.  And I love the way it fit this puzzle piece into the overall jigsaw of the Marvel superhero stories on Netflix.  It used characters like the ER nurse Claire and the villainous Madam Gao to connect plotlines in Daredevil and Luke Cage, and the evil but helpful lawyer character from Jessica Jones.  Will I watch it again?  Definitely.  Will I need to draw Iron Fist for myself?  Probably.  But this is a hard experience to either explain or recapture.  Television using comic book heroes, sometimes, at its best, makes life better than it really is.

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A Pair of Pertwees

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When I was a teenager in high school, PBS began running episodes of the BBC sci-fi show Doctor Who.  And back then, the show had already gone through two doctors before I ever saw it.  So the first Dr. Who Doctor for me was Jon Pertwee.

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the whole idea of Doctor Who, a time-travelling fixer of plot holes in history who goes about appropriating young women as companions and travelling through time and space and other dimensions by using a T.A.R.D.I.S. that manipulates “timey-wimey stuff”, I am afraid there is no hope for you here.  I am a Whovian and am not inclined to be a chief explainer  of all things Whovian to basically non-Whovians, and especially not never-will-be-Whovians.

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I was in college already by the time Jon Pertwee was no longer Dr. Who.  And though I also loved Tom Baker as the Doctor, I was forever caught by the heart with the first Doctor I watched and will forever hold in my heart the notion that Pertwee is the real Doctor.

And he was a gifted comedic actor that had a long career stretching back to Vaudeville and would also come to be identified with British comedies like Worzel Gummidge.

He had a prehensile face, capable of many comic contortions, and an ability with voices and characterizations that made you think “multiple personality disorder”.

Jon left us in 1996, but he has had a new life for me through his son, Sean Pertwee.  His little boy is practically a clone, though as far as I can tell, a very serious clone.  The comic DNA was apparently forgotten on the laboratory shelf.

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Sean Pertwee is now playing the ninja butler in the pre-Batman show on Fox called Gotham.  He has stepped into the role of Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler, and it’s like having my first Doctor back again.

Now, I admit that this post is mostly just fan-gush about people and characters that are mostly forgotten now.  But Jon Pertwee lives on in me.  I saw him play the Doctor back when some things in life could still be absolutely perfect just as they were.

 

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Who Do You Listen To?

There was a time when you could turn on the TV news and listen to what you were fairly confident was actually news.  Walter Cronkite on CBS always seemed to really “Tell it like it is.”  He never seemed to put a spin on anything.  No one doubted anything he said when he reported space missions from NASA or the assassination of JFK.  You never had to wonder, “What is Cronkite’s real agenda?”   His agenda was always to tell me the news of the day.

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The question of politics and ideas was always one of, “Which flavor tastes best in my own personal opinion?”  Because I was weirdly and excessively smart as a kid, I often listened to some of the smartest people accessible to a black-and-white RCA television set.

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William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal were both identifiably smarter than me.  I loved to listen to them argue.  They were equally matched.  They respected each other’s intellect, but they hated each other with a passion.  Buckley was a Fascist-leaning conservative ball of hatred with a giant ego.  Vidal was a self-contradictory Commie-pinko bastard child of liberal chaos  with  an equally giant ego.  I never agreed with either of them on anything, but their debates taught me so much about life and politics that I became a dyed-in-the-wool moderate because of them.  They were the key evidence backing up the theory that you needed two sides in the political argument to hammer out good ideas of solid worth.  And, though I didn’t trust either side of the argument fully, I always trusted that both were basing their ideas on facts.

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When I was young I identified as a Republican like my father, and thought George Will was a reasonable opinion-leader.  After all, a man who loves baseball can’t be a bad guy.

Then along came Richard Nixon and the faith-shaking lies of Watergate.  The media began to be cast as the villain as they continued to show the violence and horrors of Vietnam on TV and tell us about campus unrest and the terrible outcomes of things like the Kent State Massacre.  The President suggested routinely that the media was not using facts as much as it was using opinions to turn people away from the Nixon administration’s answer to the problems of life in the USA.  I tried to continue believing in the Republican president right up until he resigned and flew away in that helicopter with his metaphorical tail between his legs (I am trying to suggest he was a cowardly dog, not that I want to make a lewd joke about poor Dick Nixon… or is that Little Dick Nixon, the man who let me down?)

And then along comes Ronald Reagan, the man acting as a “Great President” because he was a veteran actor and knew how to play the part.  And with him came Fox News.

Roger Ailes, a former adviser to Nixon, got together with media mogul Rupert Murdoch, a man who would commit any crime necessary to sell more newspapers, and created a news channel that would pump out conservative-leaning propaganda that would leave Joseph Goebbels envious.  I make it a rule to only listen to them and their views on anything when I feel the need to get one-foot-hopping, fire-spitting mad about something.  So, since, I am a relatively happy person in spite of a long, hard life, you can understand why I almost never watch Fox News.  They are truly skilled at making me mad and unhappy.  And I suspect they do the same for everyone.  They deal in outrage more than well-thought-out ideas.

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News media came under a cloud that obscured the border between facts and partisan opinions.  And conservatives seemed to have a monopoly on the shouty-pouty angry news.  So, I began to wonder where to turn for a well-reasoned and possibly more liberal discussion of what was politically and ethically real.  I found it in the most surprising of places.

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I turned to the “Excuse me, this is the news” crews on Comedy Central where Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were busy remaking news reporting as a form of comedy entertainment.  It is hard work to take real news and turn it into go-for-the-chuckles statements of fact that make you go, “Hmm, that’s right, isn’t it?”  Stewart and Colbert consistently examine how other news organizations  hurl, vomit forth, and spin the news, and by so doing, they help you examine the sources, get at the truth, and find the dissonance in the songs everyone else is singing.  And these are very smart men.  As I said, the intellectual work they do is very difficult, harder than merely telling it like it is.  I know because I have tried to do the same myself.  And is it really “fake news”?  It seems to me like it is carefully filtered news, with the poisons of propaganda either surgically removed, or neutralized with antidotes of reason and understanding.

So, Mickey listens to comedians to get his news.  Is that where you expected this article to end up?  If not, where do you get your news?

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Penny Dreadful (Thoughts from the Uncritical Critic)

 

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I confess to binge-watching the show Penny Dreadful, all three seasons on Netflix.   Good God!  What was I thinking?  It is everything that I cringe about in movies.  Blood and gore.  Gratuitous sex and debauchery.  I almost gave up and stopped watching when the Creature came bursting through the chest of Dr. Frankenstein’s latest creation.  And yet for a monster to be introduced to the series in such a way, and then to become the one character that strives hardest for redemption… I was hooked.

Sin and redemption is the major theme of the whole series.  And each character strives so painfully for redemption that you cannot help but love them… even though they are monsters.

You see, I, like all other people, am aware that one day, sooner than I would like, I will die and live no more.  And life, though filled with heartache and suffering and regret, is a priceless treasure to be guarded for as long as I can hold onto it.  There is poetry in that condition.  The greatest beauty that can be beheld is soon to pass away into ugliness.  The candle flame lights the darkness briefly and then is gone.

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The story is built from Victorian era literature and includes Mary Shelly’s Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a couple of werewolves, numerous witches, demons, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll, and a character named Lord Malcom Murray who is obviously based on the African explorer Allan Quartermain from King Solomon’s Mines by H.Rider Haggard.

The characters all do a lot of suffering and striving.  Friendships are formed and made blood-and-family deep by shared adventures and brushes with pure evil and death.  The main character, Vanessa Ives, is variously possessed by a demon, courted by Lucifer, hunted by witches, and then seduced by Dracula.  She uses her deep faith in God, which wavers continually, to defeat every enemy but the last.  She is also aided by a cowboy werewolf and sharp-shooter who is her destined lover, protector, and killer.  It all swiftly becomes ridiculous-sounding when you try to summarize the convoluted Gothic-style plot.  But as it slowly unfolds and reveals new terrors with every episode, it mesmerizes.  The sets, the cinematography, the costumes, and the horrifyingly sweet-sad orchestral background music puts a spell on you that, when you awaken from it, you realize you want more than is available.  Three seasons was simply not enough.

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As I believe I indicated previously, the character that almost made me give up on the series, Frankenstein’s Creature, became the most compelling character of all to me.  He began as such a violent, repellent, selfish thing… and in the end became the most self-sacrificing and tragic character in the entire drama.  He took the name of the English poet John Clare for himself, and became a tragically beautiful person.

Do I recommend that you watch this thing?  This poetic and sometimes deeply disturbing depiction of what it means to be human and be alive?  I cannot.  It was a moving personal experience for me, one that made me weep for beauty and horror at almost every episode.  No one can find that sort of thing through a mere recommendation.  It is entirely between you and your God.

 

 

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There Are No Stranger Things Than Kids

I am planning to re-watch all eight hours of Netflix’s Stranger Things.  I can’t help it.  I really seriously love that show.  And the reason is the kids in the series.  Yes, it was set in the 80’s, a decade I long to return to, but I wasn’t a kid myself in the 80’s.  That was my first decade as a teacher.  The thing is… I taught each and every one of the kids in that series.  I admit, they had different names and lived in different bodies, but they were the same faces, the same personalities.

And it is not so much the characters the kids inhabit in the show, though they were obviously cast as themselves.  It is the real-life screwiness that Jimmy Fallon brings out with the silly string that I recognize.

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Finn Wolfhard’s character, Michael, is basically me.  The dreamer determined to make the fantastic become true.  And when they played Dungeons and Dragons in the basement, he was the Dungeon Master.  That was me.  The teller of the stories, the maker of the meaning.  He’s the one that creates the Demogorgon adventure that eerily comes to life.  He is also the one that finds and befriends the mysterious Eleven.  He is the driving that leads them all to the inevitable conclusion of the adventure.

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And while I never met anyone quite like the mysterious Eleven, Millie Bobby Brown is definitely no stranger to me.  She is bubbly, outgoing, and utterly charming.  She can channel Nikki Minaj.  I must’ve taught at least five different versions of Millie in three different schools when I was a teacher.

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She makes the weird and otherworldly character of Eleven become believable through the sheer force of a natural talent for empathy and understanding.  She is a highly intelligent girl with a knack for making things work.

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I have also taught about four different incarnations of the Dustin character’s actor, Gaten Matarazzo.  The goofy but courageous kid with a broad sense of humor and a focus on food is a very common type of junior high kid.  And while he isn’t usually a leader in the classroom, he’s the one you turn to when you need help getting the group to choose the right path.

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I swear to you, I know all these kids, even though I have never met them.  You see, when you are a teacher for long enough, everyone in the world comes in through your door.  You have to get to know them and learn to at least like them if not love them.  You do the thing for long enough, and you learn that there are a limited number of different faces and personalities that God distributes over time and circumstance to many different people.  It is possible to get to know nearly all of them.  And there are no Stranger Things than kids.

 

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Happy Belated Birthday, Lucille Ball

Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri speaks to journalists as he arrives at the Imam Khomini Airport in Tehran

On Lucy’s birthday the “Scary Lucy” statue of her in her hometown of Celeron, New York was finally replaced with one that actually looks like her.

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In this Wednesday, July 20, 2016 photo, artist Carolyn Palmer prepares to apply a cold patina to her bronze statue of Lucille Ball in Saddle River, N.J. The sculptor was chosen to create a replacement statue for one dubbed “Scary Lucy,” in the late actress Ball’s hometown. The much-maligned statue of Ball will be replaced after it drew worldwide attention as “Scary Lucy,” according to the mayor of the western New York village where the 1950s sitcom actress and comedian grew up and her life-size bronze has stood since 2009. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

On Saturday, August 6th, Lucille Ball turned 105.  While it is true that she has also been dead since 1989, we never-the-less must acknowledge the fact that this comedienne and her singular body of work have been influencing life on Earth for over a century.  Perhaps we could even use more like her.

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She has been subtly guiding my own life since the days of black-and-white television and the genre-establishing sitcom, “I Love Lucy”, where she has been advocating for a woman’s right to work and have a career of her own by making us laugh at the situation over and over until it becomes a mirth-filled, easy-to-swallow fact-of-life.  She was the first female film producer to run her own production company, Desilu Productions.  She is the producer behind such television milestones as Star Trek and Mission: Impossible.  Being a child of the 60’s, raised by television almost as much as by my parents, she is a big part of who I am as a person.  To this day she still influences how I feel about things.  She is one of the primary reasons I can laugh at life’s troubles and, by laughing, overcome them.

So, I want to wish Lucy a happy 105th birthday.  And I find it amusing and ironic that “Scary Lucy”, the bronze golem of Celeron, New York, has finally been replaced on her birthday with a statue that pictures her more accurately.  We all need to see Lucy more accurately.  We all need to laugh more and love more and live better lives.  It was the “Golden Age” of television not because of the technology and the craft, but because of the essential goodness we can still get from it, that has stood the test of time for a century.

And I don’t think that I am merely looking at the whole thing through the colored lenses of my own affection for things in the past.  I think more modern and definitely younger people than I can benefit from getting to know Lucy too.  Lasting  105 years is a pretty big thing, even if you are dead when you do it.

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The Story Continues…

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I find myself caught up in the story once again.  Netflix put a new monster-movie series out there with eight episodes starring a Dungeons & Dragons-playing group of middle school kids, a psychically powerful girl-experiment named Eleven, an assortment of dysfunctional adults, star-crossed teen romantics to use as potential monster food, and a creepy mouth-headed monster from the “upside down” to eat them all.  How could I not binge-watch such a thing?

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This binge-watching addiction comes at a time when I have other things on my mind.  My aging parents are in poor health and have a critical doctor’s visit coming up this week.  Bank of America has decided to experiment on me to see what happens if they sue me for the total amount of my debt, plus court costs, plus additional fees for betraying them by going to Wells Fargo, plus additional additional fees just because they don’t like me and think I’m ugly.  I am awaiting a call from a potential lawyer-advocate to help me even as I am writing this.  I am also planning how to live without money until the total is payed off in garnished pension, seized property and bank accounts, and whatever other way they can squeeze more money out of me.  Some monsters are all mouth.   This of course comes after I completed a program of debt resolution and paid off all my other creditors.  When I called Bank of America, they didn’t seem to know what happened to the debt, so they did not participate in that.   Were they plotting evil, or just that stupid?  Such questions go into the making of a monster.  Perhaps a monster movie television series on Netflix was precisely what I needed.

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The only episode I haven’t watched yet is the last installment.  Potentially the monster gets its comeuppance.  That’s what the lawyer, a consumer rights attorney, promised me in his letter.  It also is what the kids in Stranger Things are promising as they prepare to enter the monster’s lair.

Why do I need to see the ending of the story so badly?  Because when we reach the end of our life course, the happy ending, in real life, does not overcome death and endings.  We live our time on Earth, reach the end, and then we are no more.  Only the story continues.  New lives and new adventures begin, only to proceed relentlessly to their ending.  Even when the human race’s story comes to end and there is no more life on Earth, the story continues.  You have to be caught up in that.  There is no other choice.  The things you dread stalk you and eventually catch you, and the happy ending is bound up in how you handle it along the way.

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