Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Americans 1.04

In Control

On March 30, 1981 an American citizen attempts to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. The KGB and FBI are forced to scramble. The KGB's concern is Al Haig, the US Secretary of State and retired US Army general who goes on TV and claims to be in charge. The exact words he uses are, "in control." They think that a coup is in process. It may only be a matter of hours before the US launches nuclear missiles at the Soviet Union. Elizabeth and Philip are tasked with learning what is going on in the White House.

The FBI's concern is that John Hinckley, Jr., the would be assassin, might be working for the Soviet Union. Stan is told to meet with Nina Krilova, his contact inside the Russian embassy, and learn what he can. She is reluctant to meet with him. She has a hard time getting away from the embassy but she finally does. She is followed. Her boss is concerned about her loyalty. It isn't clear if the KGB agents tailing her see Krilova meet with Beeman or know what she is up to. She reassures Stan that the Russians had nothing to do with Hinckley or the assassination attempt.

Philip and Elizabeth get orders from Claudia, their handler, to prepare for Operation Kristopher. Elizabeth retrieves the equipment from a box buried in the woods. She has a flashback as she retrieves it to her youth, just after her father died. A man who was interested in her mother brought a similar looking box that was filled with food. The box Elizabeth digs up is filled with explosives and sniper rifles. She and Philip are to prepare to wreck some serious mayhem when they get the word from Moscow. They start to stake out targets. They are spotted by a security guard in the neighborhood where Secretary of Defense Caspar Weingburger lives. Elizabeth tries to talk him out of calling the local police department and when he insists that he has to she kills him.

Elizabeth and Philip argue over the orders they have been given so far. She insists that they have to follow orders. He has his doubts about what is really going on. He thinks he knows America better than she and doesn't believe that a coup has happened. He insists that they handle the situation his way even though some of the intelligence they have gathered seems to suggest that Haig is in charge. They visit their neighbors across the street and get some reassurance from Stan that the US is not about to start a war with the Soviet Union. The tension between loyalty to family and one another on the one hand and their loyalty to the Soviet Union on the other hand is the point on which this series seems to turn.

The episode winds down with Sandra Beeman confronting Stan about his lack of communication. Prior to them moving to the Washington DC area, they lived in St. Louis. Stan was working undercover for years. He now claims that something has changed with the implication being that it was his years away working undercover that changed him. Hopefully this scene is the beginning of a subplot that will help to make Stan seem a little more well-rounded.

Philip sends the message to Moscow that there is no coup and the Americans are not planning to attack Russia. He goes home to Elizabeth and lets her know it has been taken care of. They have withheld information from their superiors. They acknowledge the fact to one another and promise to never mention it to anyone.

Another very good episode. This is not perfect TV but I like it a lot. I enjoy seeing how the two teams (KGB, FBI) mirror one another in some ways and don't in others. The tension in the Elizabeth's and Philip's relationship continues to be the heart and soul of this series. I feel as though the show could be better or tighter but I'm not sure exactly where it is lacking. I'm very happy with the show so far.

...

I was in 5th grade when I heard that President Reagan had been shot. I was on the school bus. Someone on the bus had a radio and we listened to the news coverage as the bus drove us home. I lived in the DC area and the school bus usually would pass right by the hotel where the President was shot. The bus driver insisted on taking a different route that day. Everyone else on the bus wanted to go past the hotel but the driver wouldn't be swayed. In retrospect he was right. The traffic would have been crazy down there. The Cold War was a reality that I was aware of back then but I don't recall any concern over the possibility of war specifically as a result of the assassination attempt.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Community 2.05

Messianic Myths and Ancient Peoples

Shirley wants Abed to make a Christian movie to stream on YouTube. He says no but then changes his mind. The movie he makes isn't what Shirley had in mind. Pierce starts hanging out with some other senior citizens on the Greendale campus.

I really started to get into this one once Abed got the bug. He took Shirley's idea and then ran with it in a different direction. He makes a very meta-movie in which everything that happens on set is okay. It doesn't matter if someone interrupts filming, like Shirley does at one point, because it is all part of the movie.

Not a perfect episode but I enjoyed this one. It only made me cringe a couple times.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Master of None 2.03

Religion

Dev's aunt, uncle, and cousin are visiting during Eid. Dev pretends to still be religious to please his parents. He pretends until he decides it is time to tell the truth and order a dish with pork in it.

This episode was a little too on the nose. It lacked in nuance. There really wasn't anything to the episode other than the issue of religion.

I'm not a vegan or vegetarian but I was a bit disturbed by the way that eating pork was presented in this episode. It was almost like a fetish. It also made me a bit sick seeing how much Dev and Navid ate at the barbecue.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Big Sick (2017)

Kumail Nanjiani is a stand up comedian who lives in Chicago. One night he gets heckled by Emily Gardener, a woman in the audience. They start a casual relationship. Everything is going well until she finds out that his parents wouldn't approve of him dating a non-Pakistani woman. They break up. She gets sick and winds up in the hospital. She is put into a medically induced coma for her own safety. He calls her parents, whom he has never met before and who live in North Carolina.

At first her parents want him to leave as soon as they show up at the hospital. He insists on sticking around and eventually they start bonding. Kumail's parents (throughout the movie) try to set him up with Pakistani women. He doesn't know how to tell his parents that he has to live his life the way he wants to live it. Emily recovers and comes out of the coma. She is confused when Kumail comes to see her in the hospital. Her parents tell her about all he did for her but she still isn't ready to get back together with him.

Kumail plays himself it this movie but the part of Emily is played by Zoe Kazan. Emily's last name in the movie is changed from Gordon to Gardener. That seems weird. There must be a story there.

This is a mostly true story, some of the facts have been altered slightly. I heard the story before it was made into a movie, before I even knew that there was going to be a movie. I think it was it 2011 or 2012 that I first heard about it on the You Made it Weird podcast. I knew the chain of events but I didn't expect the movie to be as emotionally moving as it was. I experienced a mixture of laughter and tears as I watched The Big Sick, sometimes both as the same time. It is very effectively put together. All the performances were good to great.

I may be a bit biased. I like both main characters. I have heard them on on podcasts on numerous occasions, together and individually. I used to listen to their podcast (The Indoor Kids) when it was still on. It was about video games. I don't play video games but I still enjoyed their banter and listening to them interact with others.

This movie isn't perfect but I loved it. There's nothing quite like a movie that moves you it multiple ways. I will have to watch it again someday and see how it hits me then.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Fargo 2.01

I most recently re-watched the movie Fargo a little over two years ago. I watched the first season of Fargo a couple months later in late 2015. I wasn't taking notes on what I was watching back then unless it was comic book related. I thought the first season was chillingly good. Every one in the cast was amazing. I was very impressed. In many ways it is better than the movie, which I also love, and at the same time it is reminiscent of the movie.

I recommend checking out Bald Move's Fargo podcast if you want some one else's opinion of the show. They have covered all three seasons of the show. I also recommend their Bald Movies podcast in which they discuss old and new movies.

Waiting for Dutch

The year is 1979. The month is February.

Rye Gerhardt, the youngest son of Minnesota crime lord Otto Gerhardt, is tired of getting pushed around by his two older brothers. He is trying to make something happen but needs to convince a judge to back off one of his business associates who has typewriter selling scheme. Supposedly it will bag them a lot of money if he can just get the judge to cooperate.

He follows her from the courthouse to a Waffle Hut in Luverne, MN. He tries talking some sense into her but she isn't willing to play ball. She tells him the story of Job, from the Old Testament. When he won't back off she sprays him in the eyes with insect repellent. He gets angry and shoots her. He also kills the only other people in the Waffle Hut, the cook and the waitress. He gets stabbed in the back by the judge before she dies.

The police get a call from a trucker who finds the bodies. Lou Solverson, a state policeman, is called to investigate. Lou Solverson also appeared in the first season where he was played by Keith Carradine. Something doesn't look right. There is one too many cars in the parking lot. He pieces together what he can and then hands the case over to a local policeman, Hank Larsson, his father-in-law. What neither man knows is that the killer was hit by a car.

Rye walked out of the Waffle Hut in pursuit of the waitress. She was not dead yet and was trying to get away. After he shot her he was distracted by some lights in the sky and got hit by a car. His head got embedded in the windshield of the car. Peggy Blumquist, the driver, panicked and drove off with him still on the hood of the car. She tried to hide it from her husband Ed. But he heard noise coming from the garage. Rye was still alive, despite getting stabbed in the back by the judge and then hit by a car. He pulled the knife out of his back before he went after the waitress and still has it when Ed finds him in the garage.

Rye tries to stab Ed who is a little too big and strong for Rye, especially considering his condition. Ed wrestles with Rye and then stabs and kills him with a trowel. Ed wants to go to the police but Peggy talks him out if it. She convinces him that she will be sent to prison and their chances for a normal life will be over if he does that. They dump the body in a large freezer in their house.

The final scene is of a meeting of a criminal organization in Fargo, ND. They want to take over the Gerhardt operation. They know that Otto had a stroke the day before.

The title of the episode seems to be a reference to the opening scene which is shot in black and white. It is from the set of a fictional movie starring Ronald Reagan. One of Reagan's nicknames was Dutch. In the scene the director and one of the actors are ready to shoot a scene but are stuck waiting around for Reagan to show up.

There are a lot of twists and turns in this episode. It got weirder than I thought it would on at least two occasions. I enjoyed it quite a bit and look forward to seeing how it develops from here. There really wasn't one central character in the first season. So far I'm don't think there is one here either. There are a number of players. Some will probably have bigger roles than others but I wouldn't be surprised if once again the story focuses as much on the bad guys as it does on the good ones.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Americans 1.03

Gregory

Robert's body is found by the FBI, with some help from the operative within the Russian embassy who is now passing them information. They send out an alert and are able to match his picture to one from a Pennsylvania drivers license. Robert is the KGB operative who was killed in 1.01 (Pilot). The FBI sends a surveillance team to Philly and discover that he had a wife. This is where it really starts to get interesting.

The wife recently put an ad in a newspaper. It is a signal to Philip and Elizabeth which perplexes them because they know that Robert is dead. Elizabeth sends Gregory, a longtime associate of their's to Philadelphia to attempt contact with whomever left the message. He sees the FBI surveillance team and holds off on making contact.

There's another angle to this episode. Elizabeth and Philip are married, they have children together, they have been living together, they are a couple but up until the beginning of the series it has just been a job. In the first couple episodes there are hints that some sort of spark has been kindled between them.

That spark could develop into something warmer, hotter but there's something Elizabeth has been keeping from Philip: she's been seeing Gregory on the side for well over a decade. Gregory has been her confidant. Now she's having second thoughts about her relationship with Gregory and is starting to feel a bond with Philip that she never felt before. She tries to break it off with Gregory but it isn't that simple.

Gregory arranges for Joyce Ramirez, Robert's widow, and her baby to evade FBI surveillance. The are picked up and brought to a safe house. Robert told her very little other than what to do if he disappeared. She hands over a name and phone number which Robert gave to her to give to them. They try to decide what to do. Gregory doesn't make things any easier when he has a private chat with Philip and reveals his long term intimate relationship with Elizabeth.

FBI agents Beeman and Amador try to figure out what happened to Joyce Ramirez. They investigate the area where she disappeared. They puzzle over how the FBI team lost Ramirez. They spot some one following them around, one of Gregory's crew. They give chase but he eludes them.

Philip goes for a walk and catches wind of the fact that someone is tailing him. That someone turns out to be Claudia, General Zhukov's replacement. He tells her about Joyce and what she knows. Elizabeth and Philip end up bringing Joyce and the baby to Claudia who promises to relocate them to Cuba. Something didn't feel right about the hand off. Claudia was acting too sweet for a KGB handler. By the end of the episode my suspicions proved to be correct.

Philip calls and arranges a meeting with the person on the piece of paper that Joyce gave them. He brings money and in return gets what look like plans to machinery. Philip doesn't know what the plans are for but it seems logical that they are for Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) technology.

The episode ends with a tender moment between Philip and Elizabeth. She explains to him what Gregory has meant to her and that she tried to end it with him. She feels for Philip now what she felt for Gregory at the beginning of that relationship. She wants Philip now.

This show has yet to disappoint me. Not every moment works but I like the mix of character moments and plot developments. Damn good episode.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Star Trek: Enterprise 1.21

Detained

Captain Archer and Ensign Mayweather are captured and thrown in a Tandaran detention facility. All the other detainees in the facility are Suliban. Archer and Mayweather are suspicious of the Suliban but soon learn that they are ordinary citizens and not members of the Suliban Cabal. Colonel Grat, commander of the detention facility, tries to get information out of Captain Archer. He is aware that Archer has had interactions with the Suliban in the past.

The detention facility is just one of many that hold Suliban citizens. Part of the inspiration for this episode is the internment camps in which Japanese-Americans (including George Takei) were forced to live during World War II. The concept of viewing citizens of foreign origin as potential threats still resonates today.

The Enterprise is contacted by Colonel Grat and informed of the situation. They are directed to head for Tandar Prime and given directions. They are not told where Archer and Mayweather are being held. They figure out where the transmission is coming from and trace it back to the planet where the detention facility is found. They beam down a communicator to Captain Archer and start to makes plans to get him out of there.

Colonel Grat finds out about the communicator and has his men rough up both Archer and Mayweather. Lieutenant Reed beams down, disguised as a Suliban, and well armed. Archer, Mayweather, Reed, and the Suliban prisoners overwhelm the guards and escape. The Suliban take off in spare ships that are conveniently found nearby.

Colonel Grat is played by Dean Stockwell, Scott Bakula's costar on Quantum Leap. He carries around a small device that resembles Ziggy, the device that his character on Quantum Leap carried around. I didn't detect any other nods to Quantum Leap.

I like the mysterious manner in which the episode opens. The story slowly unfolds. Grat tries to play like he is on the side of the good guys. I like how this episode opens up the possibilities. The Suliban have been the bad guys up to this point. Everything is a little more gray now that it is revealed that not all Suliban are part of the Cabal or fighting against it.

This episode is not perfect but it like it. I think I would have liked it more if it had been a little more nuanced. The Tandarans aren't very sympathetic. The Suliban (in this episode) are victims who learn to overcome oppression. The painting here was in broad brush strokes. By itself this isn't much of an episode but as a part of a bigger picture I think it works well enough.