Thursday, November 30, 2023

Morricone at MoMA: Ennio

He worked with American icons like Clint Eastwood and Chet Baker, but Ennio Morricone is just about everyone’s favorite Italian composer. He scored over 500 films and to his credit, Giuseppe Tornatore squeezes as many of them as he can into his two-and-a-half-hour documentary, including several of his own. Fans of the maestro should be reasonably happy with the completeness of Tornatore’s Ennio when it screens as part of MoMA’s Ennio Morricone retrospective.

There is a lot more to Morricone’s career than his Spaghetti Western soundtracks, such as Sergio Leone’s
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and A Fistful of Dollars, but those films are definitely the entry point for many Morricone’s admirers. Taking a chronological approach, Tornatore goes back to Morricone’s origins, starting with his John Cage-ish avant-garde ensemble work and his prolific pop arrangements for RCA Italy.

Of course, there is ample discussion of his Western scores and his Giallo work (specifically with Dario Argento, who appears at considerable length). There is also due consideration of Bertolucci’s
1900 and Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, which were savaged during their original truncated American releases, but both films and Morricone’s scores received rapturous critical praise, once they could be appreciated in their entirety.

Tornatore spends a fair amount of time on his own
Cinema Paradiso, but it is justified. Somewhat reasonably and logically, Tornatore’s focus is rather Italian-centric. Even though some casual listener/viewers might not recognize several of the Italian films he incorporates, the music they feature and the visuals they accompany are boldly striking.

Subrin’s Maria Schneider, 1983 (short)

For years, critics dismissed anyone who did not properly appreciate Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris as a prude. Now, it is practically cancelled, even though it is the same film it always was. The truth is, Tango always had a lot of ickiness, but Gato Barbieri’s score is absolutely gorgeous. Maria Schneider’s feelings on the film were mixed at best, due to the emotional and physical abuse she experienced (which Bertolucci essentially inadvertently confirmed). The film made Schneider internationally famous, but it became a constant source of pain and embarrassment. She made that quite clear in an uncomfortably candid French television interview in 1983. Elisabeth Subrin adapts that transcript three times with three different thesps in the 25-minute experimental short film, Maria Schneider, 1983, which screens this Saturday and Sunday at the Metrograph.

At least 80% of Schneider’s words and their underlying themes remain constant throughout Subrin’s successive takes, but she makes not-so subtle variations, to make very clear points. The first version hews the most faithfully to the actual interview. Manal Issa also probably bears the greatest resemblance to Schneider and probably best approximates the late actress’s mannerisms. As a result, the way she eerily channel Schneider makes her performance is far and away the most powerful of the three.

By casting Aisa Maiga and subtly rewriting the text, Subrin adds a pronounced racial dynamic to the second version of the interview. Maiga plays the part of Schneider with conviction, but the dissimilarities between her and Maiga heighten the short film’s artificial vibe to a distracting extent. That is even more true with Isabel Sandoval, whom Subrin has call out Bertolucci and Brando in explicit terms the real-life Schneider was seemingly trying to avoid.

It is easy to understand why Schneider was uncomfortable revisiting
Last Tango. Regardless of the circumstances of its production, Bertolucci’s film ought to make all viewers uncomfortable, because they should have empathy with her character, Jeanne. Unfortunately, as we can see from the spectacle of people ripping down posters of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, empathy is something that is in short supply these days. The late Schneider deserved more than she got from the film establishment.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Shift, from Angel Studios

Maybe we aren’t trapped in a digital matrix. Maybe the Devil “shifts” people between alternate parallel realities instead. The Mephistophelean character never exactly calls himself that, but the so-called “Benefactor” definitely sees himself as a rival to the Man Upstairs. It turns out faith-based science fiction finds a way to give dystopian and multiversal themes a new twist in director-screenwriter Brock Heasley’s The Shift, produced by Angel Studios (the Sound of Freedom distributor), which opens Friday in theaters.

Kevin Garner was finance shark who found redemption when his future wife, Molly, approached him on a dare. Thanks to her influence, he went back to church and started acting like a good husband and father. However, the death of their young son sent him spiraling down again. That is when Satan/The Benefactor approaches Garner.

It turns out, Garner has been his go-to guy in every other dimension, becoming his Faustian enforcer, to enjoy all the hedonistic perks that position entails. He can’t “shift” anyone though. Only the Benefactor’s secret “shifter” operatives, with their special shifting bracelets, can slip innocent victims into an alternation reality.


Much to the Benefactor’s surprise, this Garner turns him down, because he still has faith.  As punishment, the Satanic overlord shifts Garner to his grimmest, most dystopian reality, where his evil powers are openly recognized and feared. Forced to live underground, Garner clings to the hope that he can reunite with Molly in another reality.

The conclusion is a little clunky, but the guts of
The Shift have some surprisingly fresh multiversal science fiction elements, especially the way the dystopian characters relate to their alternate selves. Heasley’s Job-riffing script definitely reflects an Evangelical Christian perspective, but it goes for long extended periods without appealing to faith. Of course, the Devil is evil and nasty all the way through, but the same could be said for plenty of secular horror movies.

The UnBelievable with Dan Aykroyd, on History Channel

There was a reason he played true-believing Ghostbuster Ray Stantz. Dan Aykroyd also previously waxed Fortean as the host of the ripped-from-the-tabloids drama PSI Factor, one of the few dramatic TV shows that addressed the Tiananmen Square Massacre, in the “Old Wounds” episode. His latest hosting gig could be considered “Aykroyd’s Believe it or Not.” With the help of open-minded historians and scientists, Aykroyd breezes through a number of thematically related weird happenings in showrunner John Brimhall’s The UnBelievable with Dan Aykroyd, which premieres Friday on History Channel.

Based on the first two episodes provided for review, it seems Aykroyd and company strive to deliver the kind of low-impact slightly weird diversion readers used to get from the Ripley comic strip. The opening “Strange Places” offers a rather enjoyable armchair tour of some rather bizarre tourist attractions, like Mexico City’s Island of the Dolls and Brazil’s Snake Island (Ilha da Queimada Grande), which are exactly what they sound like. Both have the advantage of being certifiably true and looking colorful on-screen. The latter is probably much more fun to visit via TV, for obvious reasons. Perhaps less interesting is the extended coverage of the “Lake Michigan Triangle,” which has the vibe of a mid-grade
In Search of... imitator.

The second episode, “Bizarre Deaths” is a bit more humorous, but Aykroyd still largely plays it straight as the host and narrator. He chews the scenery, but never mocks any of the stories. (It would be amusing to watch someone like Dennis Miller host a show like this, undercutting all crazy talk, with his down-to-earth snark.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

John Woo’s Silent Night

What does Joel Kinnaman now have in common with Ray Milland and Shorty Rogers & his Giants? They have all appeared in a synch-sound movie with absolutely no dialogue (Milland in The Thief, 1952, and Rogers in Dementia, 1955). In this case, Hong Kong action master John Woo has better things for Kinnaman to do than make small talk. It is time for some holiday payback in Woo’s Silent Night, which opens Friday in theaters.

Tragically, Brian Godlock’s young son was killed during a street gang shootout on Christmas morning. The Christmas sweater-wearing father ran off after the thugs, managing to take several out. However, the gang-leader Playa put a bullet in Godlock voice box. He survived, but his voice did not. In its place, he nourishes a burning hunger for vengeance.

However, a normal guy like Godlock can’t simply show up at Playa’s compound, guns-blazing. He will need a full year of conditioning and training. Fortunately, the lineman has sufficient skills to iron-plate his new muscle car. Godlock also wants to make his move on Christmas Day, for the symbolic value.

There will be plenty of work-out montages and gearing-up
Commando-style, but no talking. Woo and screenwriter Robert Archer Lynn contrive a lot of non-verbal communication—an arched eyebrow here and a shrug there—but it works well enough, because who really needs to hear Kinnaman anyway? Plus, there is a fair amount of texting between the Godlocks and Playa with his henchmen.

Woo invests in a long set-up that is surprisingly gritty and moody. Nevertheless, fans can rest assured, when Godlock finally makes his move, he delivers everything they could want from John Woo film. The body-count is spectacularly high and the action never lets up. You can see many of Woo’s stylistic flourishes (which are nicely lensed by cinematographer Sharone Meir), but it never overshadows the business at hand.

The Artful Dodger, on Hulu

In England, their lives were Dickensian, literally. Jack Dawkins is still an ex-convict, but who isn’t, in 19th Century Australia? Now he is a man of medicine, but Fagin will always be a scheming slimeball. Dawkins knows that, but he opts to keep the cad close in creators James McNamara, David Maher, and David Taylor’s eight-part Oliver Twist sequel series, The Artful Dodger, which premieres tomorrow on Hulu.

Dawkins, a.k.a. “The Artful Dodger,” is now a surgeon, but in the wild and wooly colony of Australia, he still must live by his wits to earn money. Unfortunately, he owes 26 Pounds to a cheating card-sharp gangster, who aims to collect either the money or his hand. Fagin arrives just in time to suggest several dodgy capers, all of which inevitably lead to more trouble.

Nevertheless, Dawkins is a reasonably talented and conscientious medical man, thanks to his late, redeeming master. In fact, the clueless governor’s headstrong eldest daughter, Lady Belle Fox wants him to be her mentor her in surgical medicine. Even in Australia, medicine is not considered a proper pursuit for a lady, but Fox is not very traditional and the reluctant Dawkins does not strike her that way either.

McNamara, Maher, Taylor, and their fellow writers do a nice job inserting Dawkins and Fagin into new picaresque misadventures. They also remain mindful of all their awkward shared history from
Oliver Twist. Ironically, Dickens’s sympathetic title orphan is often referred to as a double-crossing villain throughout Artful Dodger. However, Fox’s constant attempts to enlist Dawkins in her crusades for gender equality and medical modernization grow tiresome. Of course, she is totally right and the backwards Colony establishment are invariably fools and knaves. We have heard this sort of bickering so many times before, it just feels shopworn here.

Monday, November 27, 2023

A Revolution on Canvas: Nodjoumi’s Stolen Report on the Revolution

When Nikzad (Nicky) Nodjoumi had exhibitions at MoMA and the British Museum, any pieces he loaned them were scrupulously returned. That was not the case with his “blockbuster” solo show, “Report on the Revolution” held at the Tehran Museum of Modern Art in 1980. Over forty years later, Nodjoumi is still trying to recover the work that inspired riots and forced him into exile. From the safety of Brooklyn, Nodjoumi reaches out to Iranian contacts who might be able to help, while taking stock of his life, work, and family relationships in A Revolution on Canvas, an HBO-produced documentary co-directed by his daughter Sara Nodjoumi and her husband Till Schauder, which opens Friday in New York.

While studying in New York, Nodjoumi was an ardent member of the militant Iranian Student Association, protesting the Shah, the Vietnam War, Israel, and the West in general. His wife, artist Nahid Hagigat, was not so sure, but she went along with him for his sake. When he returned to Iran, Nodjoumi immediately joined the street demonstrations, but as soon as Khomeini and his clerics assumed control, he realized life in Iran was about to get far worse. He even joined demonstrations critical of the new regime, which he barely survived.

As a result, Nodjoumi was not actively promoting his latest work. Nevertheless, Masud Shafie Monfared, the museum director, approached Nodjoumi, suggesting a retrospective of his revolutionary era work. When it opened, gangs of thugs loyal to the new regime rioted in the museum. The next day, the state-controlled newspaper attacked one painting in particular with such incendiary terms, Monfared removed it for safe keeping—or so he told Nodjoumi at the time. Soon thereafter, Nodjoumi fled Iran in one of the last flights that left Tehran before Iraq bombed the airport. None of Nodjoumi’s work on display in the museum has been seen publicly since then.

Strangely, Monfared, who now splits between the Sacramento and Iran, could not remember any of these events when he sat for an interview with the Nodjoumis. Strange, right? You would think he would remember a riot in his museum and handling an ideologically radioactive painting that the new regime had so vociferously condemned. It certainly looks like he is covering for the crimes of the Iranian regime, while enjoying America’s hospitality.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

EU Film Fest (Vancouver) ’23: Leave No Traces

In the West, we prosecute police brutality. In Communist nations, it was protected. Usually, it was part of a concerted campaign to harass and torture dissidents. In the case of Grzegorz Przemyk, it was force of habit, but the Communist Party reflexively shielded the perpetrators just the same. Years later, the trauma of the case still haunts Poland. Jan P. Matuszynski breaks down the Jaruzelski regime’s operation to discredit witnesses and compromise the investigation of Przemyk’s murder, step-by-agonizing-step, in Leave No Traces, which screens tomorrow as part of the European Union Film Festivalin Vancouver.

Przemyk and his friend Jurek Popiel (a composite) were celebrating their college entrance exams, when the local police arrested them, suspecting they were the scruffy Solidarity supporters they looked like (as indeed they were). Since Przemyk was the daughter of Barbara Sadowska, a poet and member of the Solidarity defense committee, he had a good idea of what his rights were, as a suspect under arrest. Tragically, asserting his rights prompts Przemyk’s fatal beating. Popiel witnessed it all, including the senior officer, who instructed the militia men to kick Przemyk in the stomach, so it would “leave no traces.”

Initially, cooler-headed apparatchiks like Kowalczyk, mindful of the Pope’s imminent visit, want to treat the matter like an isolated criminal matter. However, Kiszczak, the interior minister, insists on launching a full cover-up. As the disgusted chief prosecutor Fraciszek Rusak eventually notes, Kiszczak’s heavy-headed response, elevates the murder of Przemyk into an international incident. Although he dutifully prosecuted dissent during martial law, Rusak appoints a prosecutor consider sympathetic to the opposition, so Kiszczak will devise ways to undermine and replace her, while directly attacking Sadowska, Popiel, and his family.

Matuszynski has a background in documentary filmmaking that serves him well in
Leave No Traces, but it never feels academic or scholarly. Instead, his meticulous recreation of the Party’s machinations builds into an extraordinary level of tension. Frankly, it is hard to even breathe during the two-and-a-half-hours-plus of Leave No Traces, because you can see how they deliberately and ruthlessly went about breaking people. It is chilling to watch.

This is a stunning indictment of a corrupt and oppressive regime, deeply rooted in a toxic ideology that had no value for the individual. The chief witness is probably Sandra Korzeniak, who is absolutely devastating as Sadowska, the heartbroken mother. This is not an obnoxiously flashy look-at-me-I’m-Meryl-Streep kind of performance. Instead, Korzeniak shows us how the Communist regime slowly hollowed out Sadowska inside and eventually killed her. It is a pity that
Leave No Traces was not nominated for an international Oscar last year, but it is a sin that her performance has not had the recognition it deserves.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

ADIFF ’23: The Africologist

Angola, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, and Ethiopia are among the many African nations that have developed a tradition of science fiction cinema, often reflecting the Afrofuturist movement that associates traditional African history and culture with far-future speculation. Cape Verdean filmmaker Val Lopes also clearly took inspiration from the Afrofuturism, applying its themes and motifs to the documentary format. Lopes looks back at ancient African history and forward to African nations’ possible destiny in the stars (let’s not call it the “colonization of space”) in his hybrid-film, The Africologist, which screens during this year’s African Diaspora International Film Festival in New York.

Technically, Lopes is not the Africologist. She is a fictional CGI time traveler and scholar of comparative civilizations. However, Lopes gets far more screentime, explaining most of what the Africologist sees. Much of the ancient history is highly relevant, such as Caesar’s barbaric burning of the Library of Alexandria and the scholarship of Timbuktu (which was held in decentralized locations to avoid Alexandria’s fate). The more recent history is a but spottier.

Lopes makes some interesting points about Africans’ potential advantages as space travelers. However, any spacecraft they use must observe the laws of gravity and astro-physics. By the same token, the newly independent African states of the 1960s were doomed to economic failure, by instituting unsound command-and-control socialist policies, which inevitably lead to poverty and stagnation. Right now, probably the greatest threat to most African states is the predatory lending of China’s Belt-and-Road program, rather than Lopes’ vague talk of “digital colonialism.”

Friday, November 24, 2023

Steeltown Murders, on Acorn TV

In 1973, the local Port Talbot cops not so respectfully declined offers of help from the Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard), out of Welsh nationalism and turf consciousness. As a result, the “Saturday Night Strangler” murders remained unsolved in 2002, when DNA developments prompted a re-opening of the case. In addition to advances in science, DCI Paul Bethel is also determined to avoid all the mistakes he witnessed as a very junior member of the original investigation in the four-part Steeltown Murders, written by Ed Whitmore and directed by Marc Evans, which premieres Monday on Acorn TV.

Back in 1973, when everyone was cranking Mott the Hoople, Port Talbot was reeling from the murders of Geraldine Hughes and Pauline Floyd, two teens who were brutally murdered, after accepting a ride home from the unknown suspect. At the time, Bethel wanted to explore similarities to the previous murder of Sandra Newton, but the pompous inspector in charge of the task force, refuses to consider any linkage. Three decades later, DNA vindicates Bethel, but it cannot identify the killer, because the DNA database is still so limited.

Recruiting DC Phil “Bach” Rees, his former colleagues from the 1973 investigation, Bethel reinvestigates the three murders, starting by swabbing all the former potential suspects who give their consent. However, they are only allocated resources for a mere 500 swabs. Bethel hopes one will be enough when his longtime prime suspect agrees to be tested—but he won’t be that lucky.

The first three episodes flash backwards and forwards, showing how mistakes from the past continue to torment everyone involved in the present of 2002. It is mostly competent but conventional stuff. However, the fourth episode really shows why Whitmore and Evans were so interested in this story.

Bethel is down to two suspects. One happens to be dead and requiring exhumation, a fraught process that will require approvals all the way up the chain to the Home Secretary (a mixed equivalent of the Attorney General and DHS Secretary in the U.S.). This turns into some crackling drama, requiring Bechel to navigate the sensitivities of the families of the victims and the accused. Meanwhile, DC Geraint Bale, the junior member of Bechel’s three-man team, chases down DNA for their other, suspiciously uncooperative suspect.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

ADIFF ’23: Claude McKay from Harlem to Marseilles

The titles character of his novel Banjo was a frustrated jazz musician, so there darned well ought to be some jazz in any profile of Claude McKay. Happily, filmmaker Matthieu Verdeil saw it that way too. In fact, the jazz ensemble Big Hop Swing are amongst his most important collaborators. Consequently, there is a good chance the subject would have approved of Verdeil’s Claude McKay from Harlem to Marseilles (a French documentary produced in cooperation with the American consulate in Marseilles), which screens during this year’s African Diaspora International Film Festival in New York.

The Jamaican-born McKay was associated with the Harlem Renaissance, but Verdeil and company make it clear that he did not spend that much time there, before he was off globe-trotting. McKay was a leader of the movement to incorporate dialect and vernacular, whereas Countee Cullen strictly adhered to proper grammar (but both should be more widely read).

In many ways, McKay’s life and work compares to that of B. Traven. He often labored as a sailor or longshoreman and frequently wrote about the people working on the margins of society (and legality). Yet, he was also toasted by the rich and powerful, including Lenin and Trotsky.

Verdeil devotes a fair amount of time to McKay’s Soviet visit, which predated Stalin and apparently never resulted in any direct collaboration on the writer’s part. However, he glosses over McKay’s conversion to Catholicism, foreswearing secular ideologies. It seems like Verdeil is overlooking the final piece of the McKay puzzle.

Nevertheless, the prominence of jazz, particularly the way he and Big Hop Swing link it to McKay’s own words, is a homerun. Throughout the film, Lamine Diagne reads excerpts from McKay’s work (he also plays saxophone and flute, quite distinctively). Their arrangements evoke the rhythm and energy of 1920s and 1930s swing, but with what we in New York might describe as a “downtown” sensibility. The important things are their music (including several renditions of “Shake that Thing”) swings and sounds great. Frankly, the musicians could carry the film just fine without the talking heads.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

They Shot the Piano Player, the Bossa Animated Doc

It is a Bossa Nova mystery that technically remains unresolved, even though it is pretty clear what happened. Francisco Tenorio Jr. (who was simply billed as Tenorio Jr.) could have been the great piano improvisor of the Bossa Nova movement, even though a lot more bop came out in his solos than most of his contemporaries. Unfortunately, he disappeared off the streets of Buenos Aires when he went out looking for cigarettes or a sandwich (stories vary slightly in this respect). That was on the eve of the military coup and he looked like a scruffy musician, because he was. Years later, fictional magazine writer Jeff Harris sets out to tell his story in Fernando Trueba & Javier Mariscal’s animated hybrid documentary They Shot the Piano Player, which opens Friday in New York.

It all started with a magazine article about Bossa Nova. Would it be fair to ask someone to sum up punk rock in 2,500 words, because Bossa Nova would be even harder. Regardless, it was apparently all new to
New Yorker readers. Indeed, the article is such a hit, Jessica offers him a contract to expand it into a book (by the way, if there are any interested editors out there, I’m available and kinda sorta speak Portuguese). Soon thereafter, Harris is back in Brasil, conducting interviews with Bossa Nova legends, arranged by his old friend, Joao.

However, Harris soon falls into a Tenorio Jr. wormhole, having discovered the pianist’s only session as a leader. Of course, Joao enables him, helping secure interviews with Tenorio’s widow and close musical collaborators. Inevitably, the trail leads him to Argentina, where the government’s human rights commission is always more than happy to discuss the Dirty War.

Chico & Rita, Trueba exposed the oppression of Castro’s Cuba, so maybe it is only fair he takes aim at the Brazilian and Argentine military coups this time around. Both films look and sound incredibly cool, because they combine jazz and animation. They also have one happy constant: the late, amazingly great Bebo Valdez, who appears (animated) as himself, playing one of Tenorio’s tunes.

In fact, the music might even be better in
They Shot the Piano Player. We hear classic selections from Joao Gilberto, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Vinicius de Moraes, and, obviously, Tenorio. Plus, there are rotoscoped (live action translated into animation) interviews with the likes of Chico Buarque, Joao Donato, Edu Lobo, and Milton Nascimento. Yet, perhaps the most emotionally resonant segment features Bud Shank (who sold an awful lot of collaborations with Brazilian musicians in the 1960s, but never truly got the recognition he deserves), who apparently learned Tenorio’s tragic fate during the interview.

ADIFF ’23: Dancing the Twist in Bamako

In 1962, the socialist government of newly independent Mali sounded like John Lithgow in Footloose, at least when condemning dancing and rock music. In contrast, they were keenly enthusiastic about the collectivization of agriculture. It did not work any better there than it did in 1930s Ukraine. Eventually, ardent young Party activist Samba Toure will learn the cold hard truth about socialism, but he is a true believer, albeit one who still enjoys clubbing, at the start of Robert Guediguian’s Dancing the Twist in Bamako, which screens virtually as part of this year’s African Diaspora International Film Festival in New York.

Toure completely swallowed the promises made by the socialist president Modibo Keita. That is why he is such a persuasive speaker among the student cadres, organized by Namori, the Minister of Youth. Toure is sure that socialism will work out just fine, even though most of his comrades think it is against his best interests, being the son of Lassana, a successful textile trader. For Toure, socialism’s real conflict is with the traditional Islamist ways that still hold sway in the remote villages. On his latest proselytizing expedition, he meets Lara Samassoko, a youthful newlywed hoping to escape her arranged marriage.

Of course, Toure falls for Samassoko, after he helps her escape to the big city of Bamako. Being a good socialist, he expects the Party to rally against the backwards traditions that oppress young women like her. Instead, Namori prefers to defer to the village chief. He wants his protégé to forget about social policy and return to his work promoting their collective agricultural plots, which apparently have been failing at an alarming rate.

There will be many opportunities for viewers to say “I told you so,” to Toure, but that does not make his tragic spiral of betrayal and regret any less sad. Ironically,
Dancing the Twist is visually bright and colorful and its young ensemble is energetic and charismatic, but it inevitably ends in tears. For extra, added fatalism, the concluding epilogue flashes forward to the 2012 Jihadist occupation of Mali, which shows things could still get even worse. It is a heartbreaking, but fitting way to end.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

The Levys of Monticello

Jefferson Monroe Levy would find it bizarre that campus radicals would now accuse his Jewish family of benefiting from “white privilege.” According the socially “respected” jew-haters of his day, he was far too “oriental” to retain ownership of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Yet, the Levy family were much more responsible custodians than the other interim owners, a flaky WASP and the CSA. The Levys spent hundreds of thousands of 19th Century Dollars to restore and maintain the historically significant property, but for years, they were written out of Monticello’s history. Filmmaker Steven Pressman and his on-camera historians set the record straight in The Levys of Monticello, which releases Friday on VOD.

Have no fear, Pressman’s talking heads do not try to sweep Jefferson’s slave ownership under the rug. They discuss it immediately and frequently return to the point throughout the film. Rather awkwardly, Commodore Uriah P. Levy also owned slaves, as did James Turner Barclay, the schemer who bought Monticello from the Jefferson estate and sold it (at a loss) to the Naval officer. However, the CSA eventually confiscated Monticello, because Levy remained loyal to the Union, at great personal cost.

He also abolished flogging in the U.S. Navy and constantly battled antisemitism amongst the senior officer corps. Perhaps reasonable people could agree that all aspects of his complex record should be taken into consideration before passing final judgement. Nevertheless, Levy’s living ancestors still feel compelled to apologize for him.

As an on-again off-again New York Congressman, who regained ownership on Monticello in 1879, Jefferson Monroe Levy did not share the slave-holding sins of Monticello’s past owners. Not surprisingly, the estate fell into a dangerous state of disrepair while the Confederacy held it, so Rep. Levy was forced to spend another not-so small fortune on repairs. Yet, Maud Littleton, a busybody hater and Congressional wife nearly convinced Congress to wrest Monticello from him, because he was Jewish. If she were around today, she could probably find a teaching position at Harvard or CUNY.

Frankly, the Levys are an incredible American family, so it is deeply depressing Pressman and company are not more willing to celebrate their legacy. Arguably, both Uriah P. and Jefferson Monroe were quite progressive for their eras and milieus. Some of Pressman’s historians even give them credit for launching the practice of historic preservation as we now know it.

Osamu Tezuka’s One Hundred Tales, Manga

There were not a lot of heroic samurai accounts during the Feudal era—and Inchirui Hanri was not about to be the exception. He is no Minamoto no Yoshitsune, so when he is instructed to commit hara-kiri because of a clan scandal (for which he was blameless), Hanri balks and disgraces himself. To save his skin, he sells his soul to a witch in the late great manga writer-artist Osamu Tezuka’s One Hundred Tales, his fantastical samurai riff on Faust, which releases today.

Just when all seems lost, Sudama, a shape-shifting Yokai-witch offers to save Hanri and grant him three wishes, all for the amazingly low price of his immortal soul. Being a greedy coward, Hanri immediately agrees, but he subsequently displays more character than Sudama expected. She alters his appearance, putting him on the road to wealth and power, under his new identity, Fuwa Usoto. However, he also wished for the most beautiful woman in the world. Much to Sudama’s annoyance, Usoto/Hanri decides an alluring fox spirit living in a forbidden realm must be his mate.

A wish is a wish, so Sudama reluctantly agrees to help him. She is especially put-out by it, because she is starting to fall for Usoto herself. He is a real pain to deal with, but he also starts to feel something for her too, even though that could be his downfall. Once he starts feeling satisfaction in his new life, the contract is fulfilled and his soul reverts to Sudama.

It is easy to see how Tezuka drew inspiration from
Faust, but One Hundred Tales is far from a beat-by-beat translation and transposition from 18th Century Germany to the age of the Samurai. It is also surprisingly hip and postmodern in ways that seem decades ahead of its time. Tezuka regularly parodies Japanese pop culture and other manga and comic series, including his own Astro Boy. Even manga newcomers will immediately get the Popeye send-up.

Tezuka also regularly has Usoto/Hanri break the fourth wall, addressing readers in a self-referential manner. Some of the jokes will only really land for readers well steeped in manga history. Nevertheless, the subversive zeitgeistiness still comes through.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Obituary, on Hulu

The old joke about people dying to get into the cemetery applies to the obituaries as well. Unfortunately, for freelance obituary writer Elvira Clancy, they are not dying quickly enough in her not so quaint Irish village. She starts helping along Kilraven’s the oldest and meanest citizens, but of course, unexpected consequences invariably result in writer-creator Rudy Lawlor’s six-part  Obituary, which premieres tomorrow on Hulu.

Living in Kilraven is generally grim, but it is especially so for ragingly neurotic Clancy. She lives with her alcoholic father Ward, who is drinking to forget something. Her childhood defender, Mallory Markum, remains her only friend. However, they are both seriously attracted to the paper’s new crime reporter, Emerson Stafford, who seems over-qualified for such a low-profile publication. It turns out he was personally recruited/blackmailed to come to Kilraven by his terminally ill predecessor, Clive Cavendish, to solve the decade-old murder of German national Maria Riedle.

The death-obsessed Clancy is happy with the obit beat. She just needs more work, so she soon decides to create some business for herself. However, she has strict rules, like her victims must be over 18-years-old and basically have it coming. Much to Clancy’s surprise, one of her near-misses turns over a new leaf, which spurs her boss, Hughie Burns to also start poking around the Riedle case again. It turns out just about everyone she knows has a hard-to-explain connection to the case, including Clancy herself.

Lawlor’s homicidal obit-writer premise is pretty sly, but his twists and turns take it to a higher level. The way evil karma keeps coming back around, over and over again, is quite clever. This really is some impressively slick television writing.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

The Velveteen Rabbit, on Apple TV+

What do Rankin-Bass, Hanna-Barbera, pianist George Winston, and Don Bluth all now have in common with Magic Lantern Pictures (the producers of The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom)? They have all worked on adaptations of Margey Williams children’s classic. Sadly, Bluth’s never came to fruition, but the latest from Magic Lantern might just become the definitive version. Jennifer Perrott’s The Velveteen Rabbit (with animation directed by Rick Thiele) also plays up Christmas, making it perfectly timed to premiere this Wednesday on Apple TV+.

While clocking in at a kid-friendly 45-minutes, this
Velveteen Rabbit incorporates live-action with both stop-motion animation of the Rabbit interacting with the other toys and traditional cell animation of the floppy-eared mammal’s imaginary adventures with William. The lad is a shy and moody little boy, who is having trouble making friends in his new school. (You would think he would have no trouble making friends, because his family is clearly loaded, but so be it.)

Ever since William received the Rabbit as his first Christmas present in their sprawling new manor house, they have been inseparable. Yet, the snobby other toys look down on the Rabbit, because he lacks their shiny metallic parts. Nevertheless, when William gets sick, it is the Velveteen Rabbit who offers him comfort.

In some ways, Williams’ story is a bit of a downer. To the credit of all involved, including screenwriter Tom Bidwell, the Magic Lantern production stays faithful to the early 1920’s realities of Scarlet Fever. Yet, when you really think about it, the Rabbit’s ultimately reward definitely relates to some seriously Christmasy themes.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

NY Baltic ’23: Soviet Milk

Astra has not had many positive male models in her life. She never knew her dad, who disappeared while in the hands of the Soviet occupiers and the father of her own daughter is no longer in the picture. Arguably, Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s study of the underclass resulting from the breakdown of the family unit could have applied just as well to Latvia. Even though she is a gifted doctor, Astra is so embittered by the Communist system, she believes her own milk is toxic, so she withholds it from her baby Nora in Inara Kolmane’s Soviet Milk, which screens virtually as part of the 2023 New York Baltic Film Festival.

She was a shy but bright student, so it only follows Astra became a gifted doctor. However, her mothering skills and instincts are lacking. Since she cannot be bothered, Nora will largely be raised by her grandparents (Astra’s mother and her step-father, who is a decent man, but he too has been badly damaged by the Communist system).

When Astra secures a prestigious residency in Leningrad, she leaves Nora behind without a second thought. Ironically, her specialty becomes fertility, helping desperate women get pregnant. Unfortunately, she ruins her career when she violently confronts a serial domestic-abuser, because the authorities automatically side with him, against her. As a result, the only posting open to her is a remote rural clinic. Rather perversely, Astra now insists on bringing Nora, who loyally agrees.

Soviet Milk
should be required viewing for all young socialists, because it shows how much the Soviet system was at odds with the values they profess to hold. Of course, there is no due process, as the prologue arrest of Astra’s father vividly illustrates. Wife-beaters are protected, but Astra is forbidden from treating, or even discussing the condition of her inter-sex friend, Jesse. As a bonus, Nora is instructed how to properly field strip infantry rifles as a member of the young pioneers.

Yet, more fundamentally,
Soviet Milk bears witness to the regime’s concerted efforts to undermine the Church and the family as the building blocks of society. Astra is a good and “faithful” atheist, as per the state’s requirements, but the worldview she is forced to adopt makes her miserable.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Kennedy, on History Channel

He was a military veteran and a hawkish Cold Warrior. In his era, that was largely expected of presidential candidates from both major parties. John F. Kennedy continues to be a source of inspiration for Democratic Party members and those who remember the promise of his campaign, but could he still win a party primary? Tragically, we will never know how Kennedy might have guided his party and his nation as a respected elder statesman. For the 60th anniversary of his assassination, writer-director Ashton Gleckman chronicles the President’s short but eventful life in the 8-part Kennedy, which premieres tomorrow on History Channel.

Gleckman and his on-screen commentators start at the beginning and work their way towards that fateful day in Dallas. Unlike the Doris Kearns-Goodwin and Malcolm Venville produced presidential docu-series (like
FDR), Kennedy features no dramatic re-enactments, relying instead on archival news footage (and talking heads).

Not surprisingly, there is bias in JFK’s favor, but that would almost be required to invest sufficient time out of your life to produce an eight-hour docu-series. On the other hand, Joe Kennedy Sr. does not get the same treatment. In fact, most viewers should conclude his ambassadorship to the United Kingdom was a dangerously poor appointment at a particularly precarious moment.

On the other hand, it is interesting to learn JFK was a rather hawkish college student, who greatly admired Churchill. He even wrote a bestseller,
Why England Slept that completely vindicated Churchill’s wilderness years. There are also some valuable lessons regarding retail politics to be gleaned from Kennedy’s primary campaign for his first congressional term. Out of the entire field, he was the only veteran.

Probably the best sections of
Kennedy break down the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was even scarier than most people understand. The media also often overlooks the death of American U2 pilot Rudolf Anderson Jr., who was shot down by the Soviets during the standoff. In recent years, Khrushchev has gotten a lot of good posthumous press. However, Gleckman and company clearly portray the Soviet General Secretary as the escalator and Kennedy as the cooler head.

In a glaring omission, the term “missile gap” is never mentioned, even though it was one Kennedy’s major lines of attack against Nixon. It was also largely non-existent, as Kennedy knew, but Nixon was constrained in how he could respond. Perhaps the most conspicuous absence is that of Robert Kennedy Jr., who has had an interesting year, but he is still JFK’s nephew and the son of his closest confidant.

Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving

Right-Mart's notorious Black Friday sale was more insane than anything Crazy Eddie ever advertised. Technically, it was Black Thursday, but it wasn’t just prices getting slashed during the riot that ensued. The next year, most citizens of Plymouth, MA tried to forget it ever happened, but the mystery man in the pilgrim mask remembers. Boy, does he ever. Everyone he deems responsible had better watch out in Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving, which opens today.

At the behest of her obnoxious new stepmother, Theresa Wright’s father Thomas agrees to open the Right Mart on Thanksgiving, offering a free waffle iron to the first one hundred customers. Several of people die for those waffle irons during the resulting stampede. She was there to see all the madness up close, after admitting her toxic friends through the employees’ entrance. Like most Gen Z’ers, they make everything worse, posting cell phone footage of the riots, with their snarky commentary. Their footage provides a handy starting point for the killer, who will become known as “John Carver,” because he wears one of the masks of the original governor of Plymouth Colony, which are littered all over town during Thanksgiving.

In terms of tone,
Thanksgiving is a lot like Terror Train, because most of John Carver’s prey really have it coming, except Theresa, who like Jamie Lee Curtis, is largely a victim of guilt by association. It is also often gruesome, but in an admirably energetic way. Thanksgiving was inspired by Roth’s fictional trailer for Tarantino’s Grindhouse, but he and co-screenwriter Jeff Rendell wisely went back to the drawing board, reconceiving a largely fresh and new Thanksgiving-themed slasher.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, on Apple TV+

The agents of Monarch, the super-secret kaiju-response agency, are the world’s worst Men in Black. In their defense, it is hard to keep a Godzilla rampage under wraps. Now that the kaiju is out of the bag, the agency is internally debating its role post-G-Day (as seen in the 2014 American-produced Godzilla). Two step-siblings stumble across the agency right when the kaiju are stirring in co-creators Chris Black & Matt Fraction’s Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, which premieres tomorrow on Apple TV+.

Technically, Godzilla levelled greater destruction on San Francisco than the current mayor and governor have so far, but give them time. Cate Randa barely survived G-Day, but her elementary school kids were not so fortunate. Although still traumatized, she agrees to visit Japan to attend to her recently deceased father’s affairs. However, instead of an empty commuter flat, she finds a second family, including the adult-aged (but not necessarily adult-behaving) Kentaro Randa.

Obviously, it is a super awkward first meeting. Nevertheless, she and her step-brother agree to clear out his office together, where they find a cache of secret Monarch files, which they decrypt with the help of Rentaro’s resentful not-quite ex, May. That trove of documents leads them to retired Col. Leland Shaw, who was there when Monarch was founded, along with their grandparents, Keiko and Bill Randa.

In flashbacks, we see young Shaw and the Randas (who aren’t the Randas yet) chasing after radioactive anomalies that turns out to be kaiju trails. Their research prompts the miliary to create what becomes Monarch. Even back then, Shaw was not always on the same page as his superiors. That is particularly true when the Randa step-siblings break him out of his maximum-security retirement home.

According to the timeline, post-G-Day Shaw would have to be in his 90’s, but Kurt Russell certainly does not look that old. Somewhat cleverly, Black, Fraction, and their co-writers make a regular bit out of characters telling him, dude, you can’t really be that old. Regardless, the paring of Russell and his son Wyatt as the 2010’s and 1950’s is not just a stunt. It is a genius stroke of casting. Obviously, the older Russell can grin and growl his way through any action scene, but the real news is how good Wyatt Russell is as the young Lieutenant Shaw.

Legacy of Monsters
shifts so frequently between timelines, some viewers might experience whiplash. Based on the first eight (out of ten) episodes provided for review, it is always easy to distinguish the respective eras, but they are not equally compelling. In addition to Russell the younger, Mari Yamamoto and Anders Holm are convincingly smart and conscientious as the Randa grandparents, thereby giving the 1950’s the clear advantage.

In contrast, the Randa grandkids and the mysterious May are abrasively whiny and annoying. It would be more pleasant to whether a kaiju attack than sit next to any of the three on a transcontinental flight. Aside from old man Russell and old man Godzilla, the most interesting character in the post-G-Day timeline is Tim, a geeky Monarch analyst seeking redemption in the field. Joe Tippett’s performance initially delivers laughs, but evolves in interesting ways.

Eastside/Westside: Who Do You Kill & No Hiding Place

It is hard to believe a TV show about a social worker was cancelled after its first season, right? Each episode addressed unusually heavy subject matter, especially for the early 1960s. However, the music was terrific, thanks to the jazzy score composed by the great Kenyon Hopkins. Social worker Neil Brock tries to cure the social ills of New York City, but the system is stacked against him in “Who Do You Kill” and “No Hiding Place,” two of the most acclaimed episodes of creator David Susskind’s Eastside/Westside, which screen Saturday at UCLA.

"Who Do You Kill?” won an Emmy for director Tom Gries and also earned nominations for guest stars James Earl Jones and Diana Sands. Arguably, the rat problem that ignites the drama is just as bad now in the City, if not worse. However, when a rat bites Joe and Ruth Goodwin’s toddler daughter, it reveals all the inequalities of life in the 1960s inner cities.

Beyond the social commentary, Arnold Perl’s script features a compelling dramatic shift. Initially, the angry Joe Goodwin spurns the assistance of Brock’s agency, but as his wife sinks into despair, he alters his attitude, for her sake.

Unfortunately, neither the show’s credits or the official soundtrack album listed the individual musicians who performed Hopkins’ score. Of the two selected episodes, “Who Do You Kill? is bluesier, jazzier, and more distinctive. It definitely features some superb session work. Hopkins’ soundtrack for the TV show
The Reporter, released one year later, is stylistically similar. It included Joe Newman and Joe Wilder on trumpet, Phil Woods on alto, Jimmy Cleveland on trombone, Bernie Leighton on piano, and Barry Galbraith on guitar. It is very possible many of the same musicians played on Eastside/Westside as well.

Thematically, “No Hiding Place” pairs up quite compatibly with “Who Do You Kill?” For this episode, Brock’s old college roommate, Chuck Severson, brings him out to the Long Island burbs, because he is concerned the racial integration of his neighborhood could lead to trouble. Again, the teleplay (written by John Gabriel and Millard Lampell) pulls off an ironic inversion, when Severson’s former southern belle wife Ann turns out to be more genuinely welcoming and progressive than he does. At one point, Brock admonishes him: “Stop playing Larry Liberal!,” which might be the best line of television dialogue from all of 1963.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Paul Vecchiali’s The Strangler

If the French police departments’ records had been computerized in the early 1970s, they might have caught on to Emile much sooner. As a child, he witnessed a strangulation using his own knit scarf. As an adult, he commits similar murders with identical scarves. Each woman he kills is a depressed and lonely, so he truly believes he is doing them a favor, as he explains to Inspector Simon Dangret, each time he calls him. He might be right, because everyone is basically lonely and neurotic in Paul Vecchiali’s freshly restored The Strangler, which opens today at Anthology Film Archives.

Obviously, what young Emile witnessed had a traumatic impact on his emotional development, but Vecchiali implies he was a slightly weird kid even before. He is keenly observant, singling out potential victims who are on the brink of suicide anyway, so Emile just relieves them of the burden of such a heavy responsibility. After a bad breakup, Anna Carre assumes she could be next, so she approaches Dangret, suggesting herself as bait.

Dangret is a police inspector masquerading as a journalist, who takes to the airwaves, offering to give the killer a fair hearing. Soon, Emile starts calling Dangret and even agrees to meetings with the presumed journalist, under conditions he tightly controls. Meanwhile, Carre will not take no for an answer, so Dangret agrees to an unlikely sexual relationship instead.

It is easy to see how the under-screened
Strangler might have influenced a whole lot of more famous serial killer movies. The press materials refer to it as a French “Giallo,” which might be overstating matters, but it is easy to believe it could have been a source of inspiration, particularly in the way all three main characters eventually develop relationships with each other, which are symbiotic and voyeuristic.

Some critics also claim it as under-heralded classic of “queer cinema” as well. If they want to read that into Emile’s anti-social homicidal behavior, that’s their right, but why would they even want to? Regardless, you can watch
The Strangler without feeling Vecchiali is beating them over the head with ‘isms and identity politics.

Red Harvest, Graphic Novel

The desire to erase Ukraine as a nation and the Ukrainians as a people did not start with Putin. He just revived a longstanding Soviet tradition. In the early 1930s, Stalin deliberately killed at least four million Ukrainians through starvation and other contributing methods in what is now known as the Holodomor. In this case, the “bug” of socialism’s poor performance became a “feature” when applied to the brutal collectivization of Ukrainian agriculture. As both writer and artist, Ukrainian Michael Cherkas depicts the true story of the Holodomor through the fictional eyes of Mykola Kovalenko, the sole survivor of his composite family, in the graphic novel, Red Harvest, which is now on-sale where books and comics are sold.

Initially, Kovalenko was born into a big, loving rural Ukrainian family. Their recent harvests were bountiful, which should have been good news. However, Stalin’s true-believing enforcers tar successful family farmers such as themselves “kulaks,” or wealthy peasant. That might sound like a contradiction in terms, but it really meant a class enemy, likely to be dispossessed and deported to work camps.

In some ways,
Red Harvest is the dark inverse of Fiddler on the Roof, in which Kovalenko’s big sister Nadya marries Borys Shchurenko, an ardent Communist activist, who whisks her away to the big city. However, unlike the faithful Perchik, Shchurenko returns to sleepy Zelenyi Hai in triumph. Those who are not blacklisted and deported are forced to relinquish their farms and slowly starve, as all the collective crops are shipped to Moscow, to be exported for hard currency. Instead of protecting the Kovalenkos, Shchurenko betrays them, while brutally abusing Nadya.

Somehow, Kovalenko, now a “Tato” (grandfather) himself, survived and escaped to Canada. He is now the happy patriarch of another large family, who are safe from the horrors of famine and collectivization. It is easy to understand why he rarely talked about the Holodomor before the events of the current day prologue and epilogue. Every time readers see the young Kovalenko loses another family member, it is absolutely heartbreaking. Yet, this is still a survivor’s story.

Cherkas opens a window into the devastating horror of the Holodomor by showing it from young Kovalenko’s perspective. It is hard to fully grasp the enormity of it all, but we can start by multiplying what happens in Zelenyi Hai, by hundreds of thousands.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Forever Young, Co-Starring Bernard Hill & Julian Glover

Every time somebody thinks they have developed a fountain of youth, it always turns out tragic, in a suitably ironic way. Seriously, haven’t they seen The Twilight Zone? Yet, they keep trying. In this case, Robyn Smith’s old ex-flame convinces her to take his new youth serum with him. However, she cannot cajole her faithful husband Oscar to take the plunge with her in Henk Pretorius’s Forever Young, which releases today on VOD.

Smith was once a literary star. Her sales have diminished, but she still outshines loyal old Oscar. Her latest autobiographical book has her pondering all her considerable life regrets, particularly never having a child with Oscar, who was always grade-A fatherhood material. Consequently, she is primed to accept when dodgy old Jim Petrak shows up offering her eternal youth, in the form of his miracle drug Novus.

Seeing Petrak transform himself from an elderly callow reprobate into a young callow reprobate convinces her. However, Petrak has a few fine print details. Smith and all other potential Novus users must pass a battery of health tests. Any form of cancer is disqualifying, because Novus would accelerate the growth of cancerous cells. Unfortunately, Oscar has just been diagnosed, but he hasn’t told his newly youthful wife yet, because he prefers to contemplate his mortality on his own for a while.

Forever Young had been whittled down to forty-some minutes, it could have been solid Twilight Zone-ish anthology episode, in the lowkey tradition of “Kick the Can.” Pretorius and co-screenwriters Jennifer Nicole Stang and Greg Blyth explore some of the intriguing aspects of immortality, especially asymmetric immortality. However, the big twist we can see coming from twenty blocks away.

Bernard Hill (whom everyone on planet Earth has seen on-screen, since he had smaller supporting roles in
Lord of the Rings and Titanic) is terrific as sensitive, soulful Oscar. He also forges consistently poignant chemistry with both Diana Quick, as the senior Smith, and Amy Tyger, as the Novus Smith.

Quantum Leap: Secret History

When it comes to time-travel, timing is everything. Poor Dr. Ben Song is understandably disappointed when he leaps into 1955 Princeton, a few weeks after the death of his idol, Albert Einstein. It is also ironic that this episode features villainous Nazis, who are usually the safest possible choice for bad guys, right when so-called “peace protesters” keep praising Hitler at their street rallies. We need Dr. Ben Song to fix our own current history and somehow prevent this wave of jew-hatred, but first he must work out why he is in 1955, but he gets some unexpected help in “Secret History,” the latest episode of Quantum Leap, which premieres tomorrow night on NBC.

Obviously, Song will be more comfortable during this leap, especially since he leaped into the body of one of Einstein’s close physicist friends, who also happens to be a D-Day veteran. Shockingly to everyone back at Quantum Leap, Song also meets an “old friend” of his “own,” Hannah Carson, who he encouraged to apply for the physics program at Princeton, with a little bit of coaching from his historical perspective, back during “Closure Encounters. Song definitely recognizes her, but he cannot help wondering if she is getting any déjà vu vibes from him.

Regardless, Song and Carson must work together to find Einstein’s lost notebooks, which just might hold the secret of cold fusion, or something similar. Of course, the same people who killed the friend of Song’s host at the top of the show (not Einstein, but another physicist, who were apparently dropping like flies at Princeton in 1955) are also looking. At first, they assume it is the Soviets, but then their suspicions fall on Nazis. In this case, organized sleeper agents admitted under Operation Paperclip.

For those currently studying at Princeton, the Nazis were actually bad people. They wanted to exterminate the Jews, homosexuals, and the Romani people, which was evil. That is what genocide really means—and it is Hamas who are now trying to commit genocidal crimes.

Everyone on the same page now? That cannot be said for the team at Quantum Leap this episode. Things get so chaotic, Tom Westfall, Addison Augustine’s new romantic interest, must step in as Song’s holographic guide. It is super-awkward, but as a Princeton grad, he knows his way around the place. Song will also break one of the cardinal rules of leaping, but it is for the sake of setting up a potentially interesting ongoing subplot.

Ernie Hudson’s Magic Williams had this leap off, but Peter Gadiot has his best episode thus far, as Westfall. Any fans still resenting him out of loyalty to Song will feel a real pendulum shift in their sympathies this episode. He is also a veteran, like Williams and Augustine, which makes him more likable than Song, when you think about it.