Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Partners in Crime - Episode 1 Review - The Secret Adversary


For detective aficionados, the long summer is relatively bare. The beginning of the year saw Broadchurch and Foyle's War come and go, and all the other major dramas - Endeavour, Lewis, Sherlock - await a Winter release. Into this void drops the latest Agatha Christie adaptation, Partners in Crime, starring comedian David Walliams and Call the Midwife's Jessica Raine as gumshoe couple Tommy and Tuppence Beresford.

How does it do? Being familiar with the 80's version (starring Francesca Annis and James Warwick), I found it somewhat of a mixed bag. Partners in Crime certainly looks good - compared to the original's terrible video and sound quality, this is practically Hollywood. On the other hand, the cast never feels quite at home - only the eccentric spy handler, Carter (James Fleet), really seems to know what he's doing.

Married couple Tommy and Tuppence are returning from France when they encounter Jane Finn, a mysterious young woman who keeps glancing over her shoulder. While Tommy is occupied protecting his queen bee (beekeeping is the latest in a series of failed financial ventures), Tuppence notices Jane's agitation, and when the young woman disappears in the aftermath of a murder, Tuppence is determined to track her down. This determination leads her into a seedy gambling den. While Tommy is off trying to talk his uncle (who's involved in something "hush-hush") into giving him a job, Tuppence stupidly reveals her true colors, is threatened by a vicious gangster, and summarily thrown out on her ear.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Who is the Raven King? - Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell's Mysterious Monarch


For the last seven weeks, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, otherwise known as the best fantasy series since The Lord of the Rings, has been airing in the United States. The finale airs tonight, and will (spoiler if you haven't been paying attention) at last reveal the Raven King, John Uskglass, ancient ruler of both England and faerie.

Both the titular characters are inextricably bound to the Raven King, willing or no. Mr. Norrell is a hidebound conservative, and looks down on the Raven King's "unrespectable" magic, but he owes a debt to the earlier magician's efforts. On the other hand, at this point in the series, Norrell's erstwhile pupil Jonathan Strange desires to summon Uskglass in order to employ the sorcerer's power to rescue Arabella Strange.

And who is the Raven King, exactly? The closest literary parallel may be Watership Down's trickster hero El-ahrairah. Both characters loom mythically large, but they are political, not religious, heroes - incarnations of what a country or a people should be, not a soul. They are Robin Hood, or perhaps George Washington (don't tell me he hasn't become a bit mythical), rather than Jesus.

(Some spoilers, obviously.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What If Aborted Children Could Speak?

"There are things that you will only be able to learn by the weakest among us. And when you snuff them out, you are the one that loses....What sort of people are you going to be?"
~Gianna Jessen, abortion survivor


Since 1973, there have been 54 million children aborted legally in America. 

Over the last few weeks, I've been meditating quite a lot on those missing 54 million. I thought of the half-full services in mountain churches around my home. The dying congregations. The two-child millennial families. The elementary school that closed because there weren't enough children to keep it running. I imagined my college classmates blinking out of existence one by one - until 20% of each generation had disappeared. Celebrities and politicians and doctors and abolitionists and world-changers...blink - gone - blink - gone. Who would die? Who would live? Who were they? What were they like?

If they could speak to us - what would they say?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Planned Parenthood: The New Confederacy

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Photo credit: USA Today
When I was about ten years old, my family attended Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The dinner show took place in a huge barn, where guests ate greasy food with their fingers and watched a dramatic display of stunt riding and antebellum fashion, to the backdrop of bluegrass. It was Southernness exaggerated, packaged, and monetized on an enormous scale. The guests were filtered to either side of the arena, based on place of origin. Yankees on one side; Johnny Rebs on the other. My family sat with the Confederates, and booed whenever the boys in blue galloped across the arena. Our Yankee opponents did the same as the Confederates appeared. It was fun, all in good humor, and in retrospect, more than a little obscene.

150 years ago, 600,000 men were slaughtered in a conflict which concerned the forced enslavement of 12.5 million human beings. The Dixie Stampede reduced that conflict to the level of a football game.

I didn't notice, because I didn't think about it very seriously. I wasn't alone. Southerners are quick to defend the confederate flag, because to them, it means a football game and not a war. Ask them to defend the flag, and they'll talk your ear off. Ask them where Antietam is, and they'll say, "What?" If you didn't know, the battle of Antietam was the single bloodiest day in the history of the United States.

Friday, July 10, 2015

British Detective News - Latest for 2015/2016


Coming soon (Mr. Holmes, Partners in Crime, New Tricks, Luther, Sherlock):

There's been a great deal of excitement in the British detective world lately. Across the pond, Mr. Holmes has opened to great critical acclaim, maintaining a staggering 91% positive at Rotten Tomatoes. It opens in the U.S. on July 17th.

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Tale of Two Thomases: Wolf Hall vs. A Man for All Seasons


It’s 1535. The prison is shrouded in deep shadow; only thin white light illumines the fierce human drama taking place within its stone walls. Weak from long imprisonment, Sir Thomas More gazes fixedly at the man before him. His cruel-faced inquisitor, Thomas Cromwell, glares back venomously. They’re sizing each other up, pondering, deliberating, performing a dozen separate mental calculations. It's a meeting of great political minds, and neither will cave.

Fiction is like a mirror of society. If we are to know what a generation feels, look at its stories, its narratives, its fantasies. It's difficult to think of a better example than the way the story of Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell has evolved over the years.

Within the last half-century, both have been the subject of wildly popular biopics. The first, 1966 film A Man for All Seasons, scooped up six Oscars and five BAFTAs. The other, 2014 miniseries Wolf Hall (based on the novel by Hilary Mantel), arrived amidst a flurry of critical applause, and will probably accomplish similar feats once awards season rolls around. Obviously, there's something about these two historical figures that captivates us.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Finale Review


My review of last week's episode

Obviously, there will be spoilers. There will be drama. There will be blood.

The previous episode did a terrific job establishing Strange as a potential villain. He abandoned all sense of propriety and hygiene, stumbled about Italy trying to go mad, did go mad after eating a rotten mouse, and perfected an evil villain laugh, promising his nemesis Mr. Norrell: “I am coming.” In the finale, an emotional prelude by Sir Walter Pole brings Strange's fury crashing back and underlines the hopelessness of the situation.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell - Episode 6 Review - The Black Tower


My review of last week's episode: Arabella

"Jonathan Strange, you drive me crazy"
~Jonathan Strange

Episode six opens with both Norrell and Strange mourning losses. Norrell's regret is rather less flamboyant. Though his refusal to help Strange save Arabella created yet another bone of contention between them (a collection which amounted to two or three whole skeletons already), he honestly does miss his erstwhile pupil. He sits quietly in his dark green rooms and sadly contemplates Jonathan Strange's new book.