Amazon Streaming Presents: THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE

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I’d been hearing quite a bit about this P.K. Dick adaptation, produced by Ridley Scott – not all of it good, so I decided to check it out for myself last night. Now – I’ve read a small handful of Dick’s stories, and I have great admiration for the man. His concepts are often complex and difficult to follow, but the man was undoubtedly a deep thinker and obsessed with humanity as a species from a sociological, ideological, and even metaphysical perspective as well as the individual concepts of identity, destiny, and fate. That’s quite an undertaking, and his results vary wildly, and are endlessly debated among fans of his work. His book THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is not one that I have read, so I went into the episode with zero preconceptions other than those which I derived from the various internet musings that I’d perused.
TMitHC is part of Amazon.com’s Instant streaming “Pilot Season”, where they present a grab-bag of commissioned “pilots” to be evaluated as candidates for a full series. This is the first time that I’ve viewed one of their pilots, although I believe that their Pilot Season is now in its third year. Amazon’s streaming service has always been considered by most to be a pale imitator of Netflix with a greatly reduced offering of titles. While that was certainly true in the past, and the service is most certainly still treading in the footsteps of Netflix, Amazon has come some distance in distinguishing themselves as an alternative to other streaming services; and while they have yet to develop their own series that has been as successful as Netflix’s HOUSE OF CARDS (soon releasing its third season on the service), allowing subscribers to “vote” on their favorite(s) of thirteen pilots seems like a effective path to developing that key successful series that has thusfar eluded them.
The concept in a nutshell is this: *What if* the axis powers had actually won World War II and had conquered the United States? I say “axis powers”, but apparently Italy didn’t draw enough water to warrant a piece of the good ol’ US of A. Most of the nation is controlled by the Nazis, while the western seaboard is ruled by the Japanese. The two territories are separated by a thin vertical strip known as the “Neutral Zone” which is inhabited by blacks and other minorities cast aside by the ruling powers, as well as others who are fleeing rule under the iron fist of the axis. The series is set in the 1960s – approximately twenty or so years after the U.S. surrendered to the Nazis upon dropping the first H-bomb on Washington D.C. Most people have “gotten on” with their lives, even though people being gunned down in the streets and beaten to death during interrogations is a daily occurrence. Not all Americans have given up, and we are introduced to “The Resistance” early on in the pilot, and this presents the jumping-off point for the plot. The twist which drives the plot concerns a mysterious newsreel filmstrip from post-WWII which depicts the *defeat* of the axis powers. It is the same footage familiar to most of us that includes the famous image of the sailor kissing his girl in Times Square. But how can such footage exist? How indeed. One character, upon seeing the footage, remarks that it is “faked” and is part of a cache of propaganda created by the mysterious “Man in the High Castle”; but – as another character replies – if it is faked, why are the Nazis and Japanese so eager to destroy the footage to the point of killing anyone suspected of possessing it? As you might guess, we get no answers to these questions in this first episode, but our main protagonist sets out to the Neutral Zone in search of such answers.
I’ve read some criticism of the pilot of being too heavy-handed, and that in the novel on which it is based, characters ranging from Americans to axis collaborators to the Nazi and Japanese occupiers are painted in shades of gray. Since I’ve not read the book, I can’t really draw any direct comparisons, but I can confirm that characters so far are painted with rather broad strokes (Nazis are bad… mmmmkay?), although we are presented with two Japanese and German characters who are working secretly toward some purpose that would undermine each of their respective governments and for which they could be found guilty of treason. There is also at least one other character appearing in the pilot who appears to be sympathetic, but none of them get enough screen time or development for us to be sure. In fact, being uncertain of anyone’s motives is a major part of the tension in the show. Who is truly part of the resistance, and who is really a collaborator? I suppose that the producers can be at least partially forgiven for their lack of subtlety, considering that that have one hour on which to sell not only Amazon on the series, but Amazon’s subscribers as well. Overall, I really did enjoy this one-off one-hour episode, and I am extremely interested to see where the story goes. I am hoping that the pilot gets picked up for production, and I would expect that we will see a bit more complexity in the character development if/when that happens. For fans of P.K. Dick and heady speculative fiction, I urge you to set aside an hour to watch this pilot, and to share your opinion with Amazon at their site after viewing it.
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Downton Abbey Season 5: Episode 1

downton-abbey-season-5-premiere-dateAfter a year away, our friends at Downton Abbey are back. Season 5 is always a dangerous season in a TV show.  The best shows reinvent themselves, the ones that don’t seem to drag on.  Downton doesn’t have the ability to reinvent themselves.  The reason we love Downton is because our characters are so rigid that any change is totally noticeable.  And I did notice that the actresses are a little less interested in looking like they are just average people back in the 1920’s.  I thought all the downstairs staff are starting to over do the make-up and are looking a little too Hollywood.  Never fear, the show still has all that we love.

In an age of shock television it is difficult to find a show that doesn’t just shock for shock’s sake but also is engaging.  Downton does a great job of balancing.  I recently watched the pilot to Black Mirror and I felt that the writers were only trying to shock me.  I feel this way on HBO shows as well.  I wish writers would try to shock me with original plots and characters.  It was the writing and characters that originally made me love Downton.  Nothing new really occurred in the season premiere and that is OK.  I call this the “Cheers” effect on television.  We didn’t want Norm and Cliff to go out and get a life, we wanted them sitting at the bar making us laugh.  We don’t want Robert or Carson to understand the changes that are taking place in the world.  We don’t want the Dowager and Cousin Crowley to get along, we want them persnickety as ever.  We don’t want the Downstairs staff to grumble about their position, we want them happy to serve.  I have heard the writers of Star Trek say it was hard to write under Gene Roddenberry’s rule of no conflict between characters.  I am sure Downton struggles to stay within their set up, but they need to or the show will not work.

Problem is with no real changes in five years my affections are waning.  There was a time when I looked forward with anticipation to see what would happen next on the show, now I look forward to it with that same feeling I get when I want to wear that old college sweatshirt.  It has gone from appointment TV to comfort TV.  That is the cycle of a show like this.  I have a feeling Downton is gonna go on for many more years than it should.  The actresses will get richer and thinner and the plots will recycle.  Your gramma will still love it, but the awards and excitement will be gone.  I used to root for Mary and the guy who left the show.  (I already forgot his name, so it may not have been the best idea.)  I now don’t really root for anyone, but I smile while I watch it.

In the end, I say, continue watching Downton Abbey.  It is cute, it is comfort but as far as being innovative Television it is probably past.  Hard to blame them though because that is what the entire show is about; holding on to an idea that has gone by.

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Podcast: The Best of TV for 2014

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We finish 2014 with a list of the 20 best moments from television in 2014.  Our latest podcast is as current as you can get, discussing the best that TV has to offer.  We go mostly spoiler free so even if you have not watched Orphan Black yet, you can listen and we don’t ruin it.  Shows that make the list are Parks and Rec, Walking Dead, Cosmos, Louie, Hannibal and more.  Thanks for another great year and enjoy the podcast.

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News Room Season 3…So Far…Better…Kinda

I spend a good portion of my time trying to convince people to watch good TV.  I believe the best TV should do 2 things: Entertain and Engage.  I do not turn on my television set to veg out or to watch other people’s misfortunes.  This is why my favorite two television writers are David E Kelley and Aaron Sorkin.  This is why the pilot episode of Newsroom was one of my favorite watching experiences I have had in recent years.  That opening speech from Jeff Daniels about how America is NOT the greatest country in the world…but it could be, made me think The Newsroom would be one of my favorite shows ever.  Well it isn’t.  That doesn’t mean its the worst either.  Season 1 was really pretty good, Season 2 was a disaster and Season 3 is…well…it’s….you see the thing is…wow, we aren’t used to struggling over our thoughts anymore are we?  We expect to LOVE it or HATE it.  I think the Newsroom is one of those spectacular failures.  We need more of them in television.  Aaron Sorkin is trying.  I give a ton of points to someone who tries.

In the most recent episode, “Main Justice“, here are the topics they covered:

1. That our Government is using the Patriot Act to spy and bully our press.

2. That news Websites are paying the writers by the hit not the content (I would be the poorest person ever.)

3. That the richest in our society can just buy a news organization whether they are crazy or sane.

4. That Global Warming is truly going to kill us all.

5. That corporations have begun to allow their HR representatives to dictate your personal life.

Everyone of these issues is so important to our day to day life.  I could lecture you on why each one truly is but if I did that this Blog would be as boring as The Newsroom is.  I hate saying that.  I am a person who truly believes that if we let rich people buy our news, they are going to stop reporting about the disparity of wealth.  I believe if we don’t stop Global Warming, terrorism isn’t going to matter a bit.  But even I am not getting over the hump that I feel like this show is just yelling at me for an hour.  With all that, I really think you should watch it.  The concepts are important, the execution is just not right.  During this week’s episode there was one person I kept thinking about: Gene Roddenberry.

In the late 60s, Gene knew that society needed to be taught a lesson or two.  He brought Kirk, Spock and Bones into our living room.  They told us exactly what we needed to hear without us evening knowing it.  Will McAvoy, Mackenzie McHale, and Don Keefer are not these characters.  It really isn’t that the show is bad.  It just is missing what David E Kelley brought to Boston Legal during the Iraq war.  It is missing what Archie Bunker brought to the Civil Rights issue.  It is missing what Murphy Brown brought to the Reagan years.  We need a TV show that tells people that Global Warming is real.  We need a show that makes America take notice and talk about the issues at the water cooler like they discussed the Puffy Shirt from Seinfeld.  I believe Aaron Sorkin is the writer to do it.  But I just think this isn’t the show to carry it out.  It makes me disappointed, but it doesn’t make me give up on the show.  It makes me miss James T. Kirk or Denny Crane.  Basically yes, I am saying we need William Shatner back and we need him to entertain us as he says, Engage.

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Podcast: Wrapped In Plastic Editor, John Thorne

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Scott Interviews John Thorne who was the co-editor of the Twin Peaks Magazine Wrapped In Plastic for 75 Issues. From the early 90s to the early 2000s Wrapped In Plastic kept the life of Twin Peaks alive.  On this episode Scott finds out how John Thorne and his friend, Craig Miller, who passed away a few years ago, started this amazing run.  John talks about how the two of them covered Twin Peaks in those years before the internet.  Discussions include: interviews with the cast, the return of the Twin Peaks to Showtime and the critical life of Fire Walk With Me.

This episode is sponsored by Scott Luck Stories. If you are a Kindle user, click here.  If you read through iTunes on iBooksClick here. If you have a Nook from Barnes and Nobles, click here.

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A Review of “David Lynch: The Unified Field”

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IMG_0735Special Agent Dale Cooper from the TV series “Twin Peaks” once said, “When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry we must always pay strict attention.” I never had the opportunity to visit Philadelphia, but I found myself there last week attending a conference. I was intrigued by the city because it had an enormous influence on my favorite filmmaker David Lynch. As it so happened, two months ago, Philly opened a special David Lynch exhibit featuring much of the work he created while a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA). My worlds of inquiry had collided, and I had to take advantage of both.

The David Lynch exhibit is located in the Historic Landmark Building of the Academy on Broad Street. The museum is a sanguine brick Victorian Gothic treasure in the heart of Philadelphia. “David Lynch: The Unified Field” exhibit is located on the top floor and is comprised of three exhibition rooms. It contains approximately 90 paintings and drawings from 1965 until circa 2013. The exhibit also displays several of his short films from his time at PAFA. Much of the work in the collection has never been on public display. According to the PAFA exhibition, David Lynch explained “I never had what I consider an original idea until I was in Philly.” This is really what the exhibition is about: the “unified field” both in terms of the external (the media through which Lynch explored his art) as well as the internal (the fields of the conscious/subconscious, dreams, nature, and urban decay in which he explored his art).

Lynch had studied art at schools in Washington, D.C. and Boston, but it was in Philadelphia where he discovered his true voice. Themes that reoccur throughout his career emerged during his time at PAFA. Although Lynch’s first medium was painting, it was in Philly in 1967 that he crossed over from still art into the dynamic cine of moving images. The city was ground zero for his film career.

The first room of the exhibition contains early paintings and sketches from his years at PAFA. It also includes a TV, which plays his early experimental films on a loop while the attendees gaze upon his works. These early films include “The Alphabet” (1968, 4 min.), “The Grandmother” (1970, 34 min.), “16mm Experiments” (ca. 1967-1969, 21 min., 40 sec.), and “Opening of James Harvard’s ‘Crayola’ Exhibition, Dianne Vanderlip Gallery, Philadelphia” (1967, 3 min., 8 sec.). “The Grandmother” particularly struck me because it reminded me of the themes of Lynch’s film “Eraserhead” (1977). An abused young boy plants a seed in order to grow a benevolent grandmother who will help him escape the domestic violence in his home. Sexual violence, distortions of nature, birth and urban horror play out in ways that reminded me of his AFI film. (For my blog post about “Eraserhead,” click here.)

One of David Lynch's early works of a man getting sick.

One of David Lynch’s early works of a man getting sick.

In this first exhibition room, I was impressed by the boldness, texture and elements comprising the paintings – including horsehair, cigarette butts and resin. A television played in rotation Lynch’s short films while the viewer gazes at an abstract painting of a man getting sick as well as a rendering of the “baby,” which would feature prominently in the 1977 film “Eraserhead.” At the center of the first exhibition room is a case comprised of sketches of the “baby,” too.

A drawing of the "baby" years before the film "Eraserhead."

A drawing of the “baby” years before the film “Eraserhead.”

The second exhibition room is titled “Home.” The explanation of “Home” really distills Lynch’s preoccupation with nostalgia, childhood and the importance of place on the subconscious. The PAFA plaque reads “These are issues Lynch is close to and partially explain why his work deals so often with violence, sexuality, and the potential for something sinister to be discovered in one’s backyard.”

A painting of a small child who shot a gun. The words read "I not know gun was loaded sorry." In the exhibition room "Home."

A painting of a small child who shot a gun. The words read “I not know gun was loaded sorry.” In the exhibition room “Home.”

According to David Lynch, “[Home] is a place where things go wrong.” The featured paintings explore gun violence in the home and fleeing from the home – a place that should be a site of refuge rather than one of “bad thoughts,” violence and death.

One of the paintings in the exhibition room "Home."

One of the paintings in the exhibition room “Home.”

The third and last exhibition room, “States of Being,” represent the last twenty years of Lynch’s work. As in much of his work, he explores the unnerving opposites of good and evil in an almost childlike dream. According to the PAFA exhibit, “Lynch’s vision can bear extreme darkness and optimism in the same work. ‘It is why we exist,’ he claims, ‘To gain divine mind through knowledge and experience of combined opposites.’”

"My head is disconnected." Featured in the exhibition room "States of Being."

“My head is disconnected.” Featured in the exhibition room “States of Being.”

The influences on Lynch’s oeuvre, including the importance of the subconscious and transcendental meditation, are especially evident in these more recent works. The 1994-96 work, “My Head is Disconnected,” is ambiguous in its connotation. Is the disconnected head a symbol of the mind’s liberation or the body’s death? It is this ambiguity and playfulness that I enjoy in his pieces. There is a kind of horror in transcendence and change. We mutter about it all the time – the fear of change. That’s why these pieces are so powerful. For example, the “Holding onto the Relative” (2008), features an exaggerated figure desperately clinging to earth while he or she is in the process of being pulled away from it. There is a desperation and futility to the clinging.

“Holding onto the Relative” One of the paintings in the exhibition room "States of Being."

“Holding onto the Relative” One of the paintings in the exhibition room “States of Being.”

The 2000 work, “Mister Redman,” features a character named “Bob” and “Mister Redman,” who, according to the PAFA exhibition, “has been summoned to punish Bob for his indiscretions.” A curtain protrudes from the painting as the viewer glimpses the violent scene. Is this the same evil “Bob” from the “Twin Peaks” universe? Will we see a “Mister Redman” factor into future storytelling?

“Mister Redman” featuring the ominous "Bob." This painting is displayed in the exhibition room "States of Being."

“Mister Redman” featuring the ominous “Bob.” This painting is displayed in the exhibition room “States of Being.”

If you are visiting the exhibition, make sure to stop on the second floor for a parallel exhibition, “’Something Clicked in Philly’: David Lynch and His Contemporaries,” which features at least one work by Lynch as well as the work of the PAFA artistic community surrounding him. Artists in the exhibition include Morris Blackburn, Will Brown, Murray Dessner, Eugene Feldman, James Havard, Ben Kamihira, Leon Kelly, Kocot and Hatton, Rodger LaPelle, Noel Mahaffey, Virginia Maitland, Christine McKinnis, Eo Omwake, Elizabeth Osborne, Tom Palmore, Hobson Pittman, Peggy Reavey, and Bruce Samuelson. The curator for this exhibit is Althea Rockwell, curatorial assistant for the museum. There is a lovely portrait of David Lynch by Peggy Reavey, his first wife and fellow art student at PAFA. Please note that this smaller exhibition only runs through Dec. 28, 2014, which is a different end date than the “David Lynch: The Unified Field” exhibition.

A portrait of David Lynch by Peggy Reavey. Featured in the exhibition "’Something Clicked in Philly’: David Lynch and His Contemporaries.”

A portrait of David Lynch by Peggy Reavey. Featured in the exhibition “’Something Clicked in Philly’: David Lynch and His Contemporaries.”

The first floor of the museum features David Lynch’s initial foray into filmmaking with the installation “David Lynch: Six Men Getting Sick.” According to PAFA, Lynch once paused before a canvas he was working on, and perceived sound and movement emerging from the work. He made the connection and thought, “’Oh, a moving painting.’ And that was it.” The film is a hybrid between moving images and art because it contains a projected image with sound, but the image is projected on the sculpture of bodies protruding from the wall, creating a three-dimensional screen. Fellow PAFA student Jack Fisk cast his body to produce the sculptures of the sick men. The film is set in a dark room in the exhibit and is played on a loop. The sick men’s stomachs fill up with liquid, which eventually protrudes through their mouths. One reacts with revulsion and fascination simultaneously.

David Lynch's film "Six Men Getting Sick.”

David Lynch’s film “Six Men Getting Sick.”

In her 2005 work, “The Uses of Cultural Studies,” British scholar Angela McRobbie explained how David Lynch’s films “exemplify postmodern thinking and also perform a kind of double take on academic postmodernism. It seems to engage directly with this body of writing, and it goes further so that there is an almost total ‘derealisation of the world of everyday life.’ This is done by fusing the cinematic with the psychoanalytical, the narrative with the anti-narrative, the aesthetic with the unconscious, the landscape of sexual desire with that of dreams of fantasy.” The unified field of David Lynch’s work plays out these themes on canvas and on film.

David Lynch reached into his subconscious mind to explore violence, sexuality, humor, home, childhood and loss. He gives the viewer no explanation of his images. Rather, his images encourage us to explore our inner selves. Once viewed, his works create a circle of experience of the subconscious. Finally, this circle of exchange and experience between the viewer and the artist are what becomes true art.

The exhibition could not have come at a better time for David Lynch fans – specifically fans of the 1990-1991 television series “Twin Peaks.” With the recent release of the “Twin Peaks” blu-ray, the publication of Brad Duke’s “Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks,” and the announcement of David Lynch’s and Mark Frost’s continuation of the show after 25 years, which is set to air in 2016 on Showtime, now is an opportune moment to begin immersing yourself in the Lynchian world. If you can make the journey to Philadelphia, you will not be disappointed, my friends.

“David Lynch: The Unified Field” is on exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and runs Sept. 13, 2014 through Jan. 11, 2015. The curator of the exhibit is Robert Cozzolino, and the William Penn Foundation is the presenting sponsor of this exhibition. Visit the PAFA website for more information.

 

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Purchase The New Scott Luck Stories Book

Here is the link to purchase the Brand New Ebook, Scott Luck Stories.  If you are a Kindle user, click here.  If you read through iTunes on iBooks, Click here. If you have a Nook from Barnes and Nobles, click here.  Scott has written a new book with 20 stories from his life.

FB cover postFor those of you who have an iPad or smart phone, remember that you can download the Kindle or Nook ap on your phone and download the book.  The book contains 20 stories, all fleshed out and rewritten from the podcast.  It also has one completely new story never released before.  Here is an summary of the book by my editor, Marisa C. Hayes.

Scott Ryan’s debut collection of 20 short stories explores the author’s own everyday misadventures of living in modern day America. From the trials and tribulations of corporate office jobs to parenting, Scott Luck Stories will leave the reader laughing out loud while following Ryan’s hilarious and offbeat insights into life’s unpredictable and absurd twists of fate. Based on the podcast of the same name, Scott Luck Stories have been rewritten for publication and deliver comedy gold while revealing a more poignant undercurrent that delves into the nature of family, relationships, and how we choose to live our lives.

Readers will find delight in this short story collection’s sage advice, whether it comes from a fast food chain or the bottom of a dirty diaper, inspiring them to see the upside of just about any situation be it a traffic jam or a job interview from hell. Contemporary and straightforward in tone, Scott Luck Stories are tales we can all relate to, yet it takes a gifted storyteller to reveal the humor that life’s worst and best moments deliver 365 days a year.


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