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Published: Sat, 19 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sat, 19 Aug 2017 12:36:44 -0400


CNN Looks Back at Elian Gonzalez Saga

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Elian. CNN. Thursday, August 24, 9 p.m. The night after Thanksgiving of 2016, the phone in my vacation hotel room in Orlando rang. The death of Fidel Castro had just been announced, and the obituary that I'd been regularly updating for 15 years for the Miami Herald had finally rolled out onto the internet. It caught the eye of a CNN producer, who had tracked me down to ask if I would agree to be interviewed on the air about the reaction of Cuban-Americans. So far, the dismayed producer said, all the talking heads CNN had been able to round up were saying Miami Cubans would be ecstatically celebrating Castro's departure, and they were hoping for a little balance. You know, a few words about the nostalgic and the bittersweet. "I'll be happy to go on the air," I told the producer. "But I'm afraid I'm going to say the same thing. Cubans don't come to Miami because they have mixed feelings about him—they come because they hate him. As far as they're concerned, he's a communist who robbed them, bullied them, jailed them, maybe executed some of their relatives. If anybody's crying in Miami tonight, it's because he didn't die 50 years earlier." The producer was clearly disappointed. I went on the air for a few minutes, but when I was finished, he pointedly didn't thank me. Though I've long ago given up trying to understand why so many American journalists don't recognize Castro for the tyrant he was, this conversation still left me puzzled. How could anybody imagine that there would be even the slightest sympathy for Castro in Miami? Didn't they remember the tale of Elian Gonzalez? I hope that producer is watching when his network airs the documentary Elian this week. It offers, in painful detail, the whole saga of 5-year-old Elian's 1999 voyage from Cuba to Miami on a boat that broke up and sank somewhere in the Florida Straits. His mother managed to get Elian into an inner tube before slipping beneath the waves with 10 others. The inner tube drifted to Miami, where Elian became the center of an epic tug of war with Havana that ended with federal agents kicking in the door of the home where he was staying, and snatching him at gunpoint so he could be shipped back to Havana. The Elian story triggered much journalism that ranged from uncomprehending to obscene. Be my guest at choosing which label Eleanor Clift, then of Newsweek, should get for cheerleading the Clinton administration's decision to send Elian back to Cuba, where "he doesn't have to worry about going to school and being shot at, where drugs are not a big problem, where he has access to free medical care and where the literacy rate I believe is higher than this country's." (And no, she didn't send her own kids there.) This documentary, however, is from an entirely different mold. Put together by Irish filmmakers Trevor Birney and Ross McDonnell, it gets a big boost from the presence of writer-director Tim Golden. As a former Miami Herald reporter who shared in two Pulitzer Prizes for his Latin American coverage, Golden is properly wary both of the myth that Miami's Cuban community is nothing more than a collection of deranged fascists and its counterpart, that Fidel Castro was a misunderstood social democrat. (Full disclosure: Though both Golden and I have worked as Miami Herald foreign correspondents, it was at widely different times.) The result is a film that picks its way carefully down the middle of the road, seeking to illuminate rather than vituperate, and does an excellent job, both at relating facts and providing context. Elian includes interviews with figures from virtually every chapter of this story, including the boy himself, and all viewpoints get a fair exposure. No doubt people on both sides will point to things that were left out, but the filmmakers were doing a two-hour documentary, not an epic miniseries, and there's no partisan pattern to what's missing. Aside from his young age, the Elian story was not a new one on either side of the Florida Straits. Until President Barack Obama, in the waning days of his presidency, ended a U.S. policy of auto[...]

Kat Timpf on Her #MAGA Fanclub, Elizabeth Nolan Brown on Solar Eclipse Sex Trafficking: Sirius XM Insight 9-12 AM ET

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 08:37:00 -0400

On Tuesday afternoon, just after President Donald Trump wrapped his widely panned press conference about Charlottesville, Kat Timpf, the libertarian co-host of The Specialists on Fox News, reacted negatively in a clip that quickly went viral:

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The resulting backlash against Timpf and fellow co-host Eboni Williams has been voluminous.

I'll be talking with Timpf about her fun week today during my guest-host stint on Sirius XM Insight's Stand UP! with Pete Dominick from 9-12 am ET on channel 121. Other guests will include:

* Beloved Reason Associate Editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown, who will explain why she's shilling for Big Solar Eclipse Sex Traffickers.

* Stanford kid Elliot Kaufman, who will talk about his recent National Review piece, "Campus Conservatives Gave the Alt-Right a Platform."

* New York Magazine's Brian Feldman, who will talk about his recent article, "The 'Ironic Nazi' Is Coming to an End."

* Comedian Andrew Schulz, who will talk about all sorts of Charlottesville/race issues, and generally make me uncomfortable.

Please call any time at 1-877-974-7487.

Autistic Teen Takes Center Stage on Netflix’s Atypical

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Atypical. Available now on Netflix. Marlon. NBC. Wednesday, August 17, 9 p.m. Great false myths about television, No. 12,092: that for decades, The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet and Leave it to Beaver and their two-WASP-kids-and-a-picket fence suburban utopia were the only templates for portrayal of the American family. Actually, one of television's first sitcoms, The Goldbergs, which debuted in 1949, was set in a Jewish tenement in the Bronx. And in 1957, a quarter-century before his freakout over TV drama's first gay son in Dynasty, John Forsythe was already learning the challenges of single parenting in Bachelor Father, raising an orphaned niece. That said, in the past few years, sitcoms have been aggressively expanding their range in the past few years with shows like Blackish (in which an affluent black family simultaneously embraces and struggles against the bougie temptation) and Speechless (in which a non-speaking kid with muscular dystrophy is not merely present—which itself would be a first—but the star). The trend continues, not altogether successfully, this week, with Netflix's Atypical, which chronicles the coming-of-age of an autistic teenager, and Marlon, a raucous account of a divorced couple trying to keep their family together. Autistic characters are nothing new on TV. There was young Max Braverman on NBC's Parenthood, who once asked his parents with genuine curiosity, "Why do all the other kids hate me? Is it because I'm weird?" Or homicide detective Sonya Cross of FX's The Bridge, who apologized when her questioning brought a murder victim's wife to tears: "Am I not showing empathy?" But Atypical is the first time in which autism and its effects have been at a show's center instead of its periphery. Keir Gilchrist (so good as the emotionally whipsawed gay son on United States of Tara, and even better here) as the autistic Sam, trying to negotiate the emotional shoals of adolescence without a chart or even a clue. Unable to spot social cues, Sam needs advice; unable to comprehend sarcasm or irony, he turns to a website called for advice. Aurally striking words like "twat" trigger his tendency to get caught in an endless loop of repetition. Each new disaster triggers a new round of mindlessly brutal cruelty from his schoolmates. After watching a bit of this, you'll stop wondering at Sam's odd obsession with Antarctica, a place that, he notes, gets less than four inches of rain a year and is technically a desert. "That's why I like it," he explains in his low-key narration. "It's not what it looks like." Sam's social malfunctions fly through his family like psychological shrapnel, leaving collateral casualties everywhere. His mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Revenge), her own emotional flesh flayed away after years of nursing his wounds ("Every time the phone rings, I jump; every time") cannot even begin to calculate the potential damage to her son of a romance gone wrong. His father (Michael Rapaport, Prison Break) broods that his incomprehension of Sam's problems is regarded by the rest of the family as indifference. And the hip cynicism of his younger sister (the extremely talented newcomer Brigette Lundy-Paine) masks a growing rage that literally makes her want to scream. Created and written by Robia Rashid, known mostly for her popular but lightweight sitcom How I Met Your Mother, Atypical in some ways has the heart of an after-school special, with lots of earnest explanatory dialogue tossed around Sam's therapist, parents, and their friends. But her wise choice to expend as much effort on the characterizations of family members as on Sam himself has expanded the show from a fundraising infomercial to something much more wrenching and complex, a reflection on the high cost of defending the defenseless in a cold world. If Atypical is extraordinary, Marlon is—well, ordinary. Supposedly a loosely fictionalized version of his own domestic life, it stars Marlon Wayans as a divorced dad who spends most of his time in a pillow-an[...]

Mr. Mercedes and Comrade Detective Breathe Life into Cop Genre Shows

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 15:01:00 -0400

Comrade Detective. Available now on Amazon Prime. Mr. Mercedes. AT&T's Audience channel. Wednesday, August 9, 9 p.m. TV has been riffing on cops for close to seven decades now, going back to the days when half the Nielsen families in America gathered around their black-and-white tubes once a week to watch Dragnet's Joe Friday smack around all the usual suspects, and sometimes you wonder what's left to say. And then you see a couple of shows like Mr. Mercedes and Comrade Detective and you realize that even two decades of CSIs and Law & Orders can't kill this genre. Both Mr. Mercedes, an adaptation of Stephen King's 2014 novel on AT&T's Audience channel—available only the company's ATT U-verse and DirecTV systems—and Amazon Prime's gloriously nutball Comrade Detective are reimaginations (or, in Comrade Detective's case, maybe a hallucination) of the genre's past. Mr. Mercedes updates the much-honored hardboiled noir detectives of the 1940s. Comrade Detective, on the other hand, is a double-barreled satire of two forms that sharply declined in popularity at the end of the 1980s: the cop buddy show, and communism. King in recent years has been interested in recreating the pulp detective fiction he read as kid, most notably in a trilogy of novels about a retired homicide cop named Bill Hodges who is haunted by a big case he failed to solve. Mr. Mercedes was the first of the three books, and Audience assembled a high-powered team to bring it to the screen. The show is written and produced by David E. Kelley, the creator of a long string of intelligent and entertaining legal dramas from L.A. Law to Boston Legal. The cast includes Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges), Mary Louise Parker (Weeds), and Kelly Lynch (Drugstore Cowboy). Gleeson plays Hodges, whose national origin has been slightly tweaked (he's now said to have moved to the United States from Ireland as an adolescent, a concession to Gleeson's irrepressible accent) but otherwise remains King's sharply etched post-modern version of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. His drinking isn't done in alluring dive bars but on the couch in front of his TV and ends not with him trading rounds of bons cynique with his fellow gumshoes but passed out behind a barricade of beer cans. His gut is huge, his prostate shot, and the closest thing in his life to a sultry blonde in his life is a matronly next-door neighbor who demands he gaze upon the nude selfie on her cell phone: "I'm your only option—you're not an attractive man!" What awakens Hodges from the stupor of his life is a series of messages from the one who got away: a crazed motorist who rammed a stolen Mercedes into a crowd waiting in the parking lot for a job fair to open. Sixteen were killed, and many more maimed. But Hodges, the lead investigator on the case, never sniffed out even the faintest clue about the killer's identity or motive, and finally the cops chalked it up to a senseless incident of road rage. Now, two years later, the killer is taunting Hodges with e-mailed slaughter-porn videos of the massacre. The detective has no idea where they're coming from, but we know: wormy little geek-on-demand computer tech Brady Heartsfield (Harry Treadaway, the wan Victor Frankenstein of Showtime's Penny Dreadful). By day, Brady is bullied by the fascist manager of the big-box electronics store where he works; by night, he hides out from his predatory mother (played by Lynch) in the dim basement of the home they share, a lair suffused with oedipal musk and the eerie glow of a dozen computer monitors. (There is nothing faint about the echo of Norman Bates here.) The tingle of the parking-lot carnage long gone, Brady is looking to kill again, but this time the murder weapon will be not a stolen car but the victim's own hand. The question is whether Hodges and his makeshift team of damaged assistants (including Parker as the jittery sister of one of Brady's victims and Moonlight's Jharrel Jerome as a neighborhood hacker) can stop him. Kelley's shows have a[...]

Cryptic Murder Miniseries The Sinner Captivates

Fri, 28 Jul 2017 15:15:00 -0400

The Sinner. USA. Wednesday, August 2, 10 p.m. The first question any viewer is going to ask about the cable network USA's new crime drama The Sinner is, "How are they possibly going to string this thing out for eight episodes?" A murder is committed, its perpetrator captured, and her voluntary and unambiguous confession obtained, all in the first five minutes. Even allowing for a couple of arty German-expressionist dream sequences to cryptically express her remorse and perhaps a big dance number for the warden and guards as she enters prison, what's left to fill out the remaining seven and a half hours? The second question, a few minutes later, is, "Are you kidding—how can we possibly get to the bottom of this in just eight episodes?" For The Sinner quickly morphs into the least forthright crime drama, an opaque and intriguingly inverted tale in which crime and punishment are difficult to tell apart. Jessica Biel (7th Heaven) plays the killer, Cora Tannetti, a seemingly happy young wife and mother who, during a family picnic, inexplicably lunges across the lakefront beach to hack a total stranger to death with a paring knife. Not only are there dozens of witnesses to identify her and testify she acted without provocation, she immediately admits it and refuses to even see a lawyer. The extraordinary open-and-shutness of the crime confounds Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman, Independence Day), the botany-obsessed homicide detective assigned to the case. Surveying a wilting forest across the lake from the crime scene, he pronounces it "an ecosystem out of balance," a summation of his view of the ecology of the murder as much as that of the woods. The situation quickly goes from out of balance to out of control as even the simplest questions Ambrose asks go unanswered. Nonetheless, tantalizing evidence emerges that Cora's past is not the clean slate her friends and family believe: There are allusions not only to a childhood in bondage to religious guilt, but a sinister sexual entanglement in more recent times. Even more directly tied to the case are hints that the murder victim—a young doctor—not only recognized Cora but perhaps even welcomed her attack. These halting disclosures leads to funhouse-mirror scenes in which the homicide detective is trampling Miranda rules and browbeating a lawyerless suspect in search of evidence to prove to her innocent, while she evades and obstructs justice to protect her guilty plea. That role reversal may not even be the The Sinner's most captivating. Biel's artful performance as Cora makes her into a warm, winning protagonist who is also an inveterate liar. She lies incessantly, about the incidental and the important alike, even when her inventions will easily be detected. Only when Ambrose pleads in frustration that a few truthful answers could win back her old life does her response carry a chilly ring of truth: "What makes you think I want my life back?" Her pursuer-savior Ambrose, meanwhile, has his own problematic relationship with the truth. He's in danger of being undone by the web of deception he's spun around his tawdry sex life. The detective's prescription for an ailing rubber plant he sees at the local hospital—"It needs more light than it's getting" —applies to nearly everything and everybody in The Sinner. The Sinner, very loosely based on a book by German novelist Petra Hammesfahr, was created and largely written by Derek Simonds, running his own show for the first time after spending some time on the writing staffs of various forgettable miniseries. From the two episodes of The Sinner made available for review, he seems to have an adroit touch, weaving the show's many flashbacks into a dark tapestry of vengeance and remorse. "I never thought I would have a normal life," Cora tells her husband at one point. Luckily for us, she didn't.[...]

Vampires and Spies Dominate Frothy Fun Television Choices

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 15:01:00 -0400

Declassified: Untold Stories of American Spies. CNN. Saturday, July 22, 9 p.m. Midnight, Texas. NBC. Monday, July 24, 10 p.m. It's the time of the television year, safely past the May upfronts where all of next season's advertising is sold and just before the big promotional push for the fall shows begins, when all the TV bosses flee for a few weeks to Malibu or the Hamptons or wherever it is that wealthy, imperious swine go to exchange tips on the most satisfying ways to whip the household help. And while the cat's away, the junior programmers will play, unleashing hordes of vampires, spies and what-have-you who would never see the airwaves if the grownups were around. The result is usually shows that are kind of fun if not necessarily any good. Which is a pretty fair summary of the week's premieres: NBC's pleasingly trashy spook opera Midnight, Texas; and the CNN spy documentary Declassified: Untold Stories of American Spies, which is either a carefully coded revelation about American espionage or mammothly incompetent documentary filmmaking, take your pick. Midnight, Texas, is based on a series of books by Charlaine Harris, who authored the vampire novels that became HBO's epic True Blood. But if you're expecting a True Blood clone, you're going to be wildly disappointed; the two series of books are completely different. True Blood was about life in a creepy little Louisiana town populated mostly by vampires, werewolves, and telepathic fairies. Whereas Midnight, Texas, is about a creepy little Texas town populated mostly by vampires, werewolves, and telepathic gypsy psychics. So, we're on, like, different sides of the moon here, or at least different sides of the Sabine River. Actually, the major difference in the two is the absence this time around of executive producer Alan Ball, who picked up one of the True Blood novels to pass the time after showing up early for a dentist's appointment and somehow divined in its pulpy goth confusion a tool with which to slice and dice culture, theology, sexuality, identity politics, and gender migration. Whereas Midnight, Texas, is about biting people. Just as the mind-reading waitress Sookie Stackhouse turned the ignition key in True Blood, ghost-whispering medium Manfred (François Arnaud, The Borgias) sets off the sparks in Midnight, Texas. Manfred's act is mostly fake, though he does occasionally hook up with a real spirit, almost always with disastrous results. Under pursuit by somebody he conned, he heads for tiny middle-of-nowhere Midnight, a place his grandmother—she's dead, but still full of the bad ideas that got her killed—tells him would make a good hideout. It turns out Grandma wasn't the first one to have the idea. Most of Midnight's population share allergies to garlic, wolfsbane, and silver bullets. The preacher (Yul Vazquez, Captain Phillips) gets a bit growly during full moons. The nightshift clerk at the pawnshop (Peter Mensah, True Blood) is friendly, but never seems to be around during the daytime. And then there's that mysterious shopkeeper Fiji (Parisa Fitz-Henley, Luke Cage). "Some people say she's a witch," a local cop warns Manfred. "Or a lesbian." Even the town cat has a lot more on his mind than mice. Midnight's unusual demographics are due in part to its metaphysical geography. "The veil between the living and the dead is awful thin here," one local explains to Manfred. (Go ahead, insert your own George Bush/Ted Cruz punchline here.) Not only that, they turn out to be an unruly lot, popping the veil at the slightest provocation, to drip (no, you don't want to know what) on the carpet, introduce their pet demons, and so forth. Add to that the problems with the town's non-metabolically-challenged citizens, who include a motorcycle gang whose comportment can be deduced by its name, Sons of Lucifer, and an overachieving professional hitwoman (Arielle Kebbel, Ballers) whose signature line is "I need ammo," and you can[...]

Millennials Stare Down Looming Midlife in Friends from College

Fri, 14 Jul 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Friends from College. Available now on Netflix. Nothing jingles at the box office like that first intimation of generational mortality. From the wistful yuppies in The Big Chill mourning the loss of their Woodstockian certainty that property is theft to the crushed Gen-Xers of St. Elmo's Fire who've just realized that the baby boomers already said, thought, did, ate, drank, smoked and fornicated everything worthwhile, age-demographic genocide is one of Hollywood's best loved themes. And now time's up for the millennials, who with Netflix's new series Friends from College get to marvel at the squalid failure of their lives while weeping with nostalgia for 9/11, the dot-com bubble and all the other deliciously dope days of their youth. But as clichés go, you could do a lot worse than Friends from College. It mostly avoids portentous "Voice of a Generation" claptrap and sticks to a character-driven story of six college pals who for 20 years have clung to a dysfunctional friendship that's less a lifeboat than a pocketful of lead weights. If the tagline for The Big Chill was, "In a cold world, you need your friends to keep you warm," Friends from College's might be, "You need your friends to remind you that, though the world has grown, you're still the same shallow, emotionally stunted dork you were as a teenager." At the center of the phalanx of six pushing-40 Harvard alumni is Ethan (Keegan-Michael Key, Key and Peele), a novelist whose work is wildly popular with critics and ruthlessly shunned by readers. His move to New York with his wife and fellow alum Lisa (Cobie Smulders, How I Met Your Mother), a former ACLU lawyer who has just jumped ship to the corporate dark side, reunites the circle of friends—but also threatens to surface some damaging secrets in a group that imagines it has none. The most threatening is Ethan's long-running but totally clandestine affair with upper-crust interior designer Sam (Annie Parisse, Vinyl), which predates even his marriage. Almost as complicated is Ethan's relationship with another member of the group, Max (Fred Savage, The Wonder Years), who doubles as his agent. Their friendship has, until now, kept Max from saying what he really thinks of Ethan's flock of literary awards: "You won a ton of shit that one's ever heard of." He advises Ethan to give on writing the Great American Novel and turn to young-adult books. Specifically: "Vampires with cancer. They live forever, they die forever!" Rounding out the group are Marianne, (Jae Suh Park, The Mindy Project) an aspiring actress who has just hit the apogee of her career with a role in a waaaaaay off-Broadway (specifically, in a high-school gym) reverse-gender production of A Streetcar Named Desire, and Nick (Nat Faxon, Married), a trust-fund playboy whose major concern in life is the impending demise of the C-word. "When they came for 'retard,'" I said, 'that's okay,'" he broods over a drink. "When they came for 'that's so gay,' I said nothing. But you gotta draw the line—you can't take away 'cunt'!" Superficially, the interactions among these characters often concern the here and now, particularly the concerns of impending middle age from infertility to infidelity. But often they seemed to be literally continuing arguments from sophomore year, as when one yells, out of the blue, "You are such a Kantian!" during an argument over a dead rabbit. (Don't ask.) And nearly always they seem to take place within harsh emotional and intellectual parameters established 20 years earlier. Sighs Sam's exasperated husband, who didn't go to Harvard, after one dinner: "Every time you get together with them, you all become a bunch of little bitches, all this sniping and shoving." And the petty backbiting has taken a toll over the decades, among other thing, in unasked question like: What's lacking in my marriage that has fueled a 20-year-affair? And why hasn't my spouse sensed anything wro[...]

Game of Thrones: Libertarian Edition

Thu, 13 Jul 2017 14:20:00 -0400

As HBO's blockbuster series Game of Thrones returns for its seventh season, Reason offers its own freedom-filled parody. A libertarian paradise north of the wall? What's happened to Westeros' social security trust fund? Should it take low-income Dothraki four years to get a hair-braiding license? Watch!

Written and produced by Austin Bragg, Meredith Bragg, and Andrew Heaton. Shot and edited by Bragg and Bragg. Starring Andrew Heaton, Austin Bragg, and Remy.

About 6 minutes.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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Salvation Will Have You Hoping for the World’s End

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Salvation. CBS. Wednesday, July 12, 9 p.m. In one of the first scenes of Salvation, an astrophysicist whose giant hydrocephalic brain is second only to that of Neil deGrasse Tyson is trying to explain to a bunch of dumb-cluck MIT students and professors that a meteor could hit the earth like at any second because even a cyclopean intelligence like his own doesn't know where every single meteor is all the time. "There have been at least five mass-extinction events in the last few hundred million years, people!" he shouts into the glassy-eyed faces of the bovine MIT fools. "Five!" What's interesting about this—and, honestly, just about the only thing interesting about Salvation—is the show's conceit that Americans would be dumbfounded at the suggestion of a meteor striking the Earth. Tales of planetary fender-benders have been sci-fi bestsellers since a couple of rogue planets came our way in 1933's When Worlds Collide. (Spoiler alert: there was a sequel called After Worlds Collide.) Hollywood alone has generated at least a dozen pictures in which inauspicious encounters with random space crap have variously left Earth battered by quakes and tidal waves (1998's Deep Impact), under attack by homicidal vending machines (1986's Maximum Overdrive), being devoured by hungry plants (1963's Day Of The Triffids), or besieged by zombies who can be vanquished only by locked-and-loaded Valley Girls (1984's Night Of The Comet). In the most terrifying of all, 1958's The Blob, a puddle of meteorite gloop threatened to destroy Burt Bacharach's career before it even began. That gloop would be a towering dramatic presence if it came crashing into Salvation, the latest and least summer popcorn series from CBS. Insufficiently inane to be funny, way too sloppy and foolish to qualify as tense, it's a grimmest foretelling ever of the way the world ends: not with a bang or a whimper, just a strangling snore. As usual in big-bang apocalypse tales, a lone scientist—in this case a nerdy MIT grad student named Liam Cole who's mapping the entire universe so people will stop running out of gas on their way to Ursa Minor—blunders onto the track of a meteor hot-rodding its way in from Jupiter, six months off. Cole is reluctant to get involved with a lot of save-the-world-and-whatnot because he doesn't want to be distracted from porking this smoking little sci-fi writer chick he recently picked up (Jacqueline Byers, Roadie). Nerdporn, by the way, is quite common in Salvation, with hot girls constantly flopping down to be ravished, their heads spinning—whether in lustful ardor or despair that the human race is worth saving, I could never quite tell—at pickup lines like, "When two celestial bodies cross paths, it can change their trajectories forever." Eventually, though, Cole teams with astrophysicist-tech zillionaire Darius Tanz (Santiago Cabrera, Big Little Lies), a Randian madman who believes the entire human race can be reconstituted from 160 survivors of the impending collision. They, naturally, will escape in rockets manufactured by one of his companies at a very reasonable price. Their chief adversary is slithery Department of Defense official Harris Edwards (Ian Anthony Dale, Hawaii Five-O), whose bearing suggests a credibility unseen in military affairs since Saddam Hussein's spokesman Comical Ali was doing daily briefings in Baghdad. Wavering someplace between the two sides is Grace Barrows, a Pentagon press spokesman who would really love to help keep the Earth from being blasted into space confetti, you know, but it's just so exhausting being a single mom and all. It seems the Defense Department has known all along about the meteor. And even though all its rockets keep blowing up on their launching pads, the Pentagon won't be deterred from its plan of shooting a transmogrifier—I mean, gravity tractor—at the aster[...]

Snowfall Presents Cracked View of Drug History

Fri, 30 Jun 2017 15:00:00 -0400

Snowfall. FX. Wedneday, July 5, 10 p.m. John Singleton was once the buzz king of Hollywood. At 24, he was the youngest nominee ever for a best directing Oscar for Boyz n the Hood, which he wrote while a film student at the University of Southern California. His film launched a whole generation of stars. (Cuba Gooding, Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, Laurence Fishburne, Nia Long, Regina King, and Angela Bassett all got their first major exposure in Boyz.) These days, however, the biggest buzz around Singleton is about films from which he's been bounced. He mostly works on remakes and sequels with lots of flying lead and crashing cars; he hasn't written or directed a movie or, apparently, had a thought of any importance this century. Nothing in the hackneyed and ahistorical Snowfall is likely to change that. Billing itself as the story of "how crack began," Snowfall is really just a collection of cliches and set pieces you've already seen in other, much better narcodramas. Set in Compton in 1983, Snowfall represents the collision of two overworked genres: the growing-up-in-the-hood melodrama and the drug-dealer-as-rebellious-resistance-leader action flick. And it's all wrapped up in the old story, thoroughly debunked but eternally popular among hipsters who just know it must be true, that the CIA foisted crack cocaine on America to finance a war in Central America. All your standard characters are present: Franklin Saint (British TV actor Damson Idris), the straight-arrow ghetto kid who plays by the rules until one morning when he realizes "the game's rigged ... I'm rewriting the rules." His loving mom Cissy (Michael Hyatt, True Detective), leery about Franklin's new direction. His uncle Jerome (Amin Joseph, The Shield), a burnt-out coke dealer who still knows the ropes. Lucia Villanueva (Emily Rios, Quinceanera), the daughter of a Mexican crime lord desperate to show daddy that girls can be ruthless mafiosi, too. Avi Drexler (Alon Moni, Body Of Lies), a crazed Israeli cocaine trafficker, because what's a conspiracy film in the ghetto without a sinister Jew? Gustavo Zapata (Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Love Ranch), a dim but brawny ex-wrestler who just wants to be loved, if only by murderers and torturers. And Teddy McDonald (stage actor Carter Hudson), a CIA officer "banished" to Los Angeles (such a comedown once you've seen the bright lights of Kabul) for behavior too mischievous even for his employer. What sets all these characters spinning toward one another is the arrival in town of a vicious Nicaraguan contra (TV character actor Juan Javier Cardenas) with a planeful of Colombian cocaine and a need for a sales force. Working together, the group comes up with cheap, addictive crack, the greatest drug marketing ploy of all time until the Yves Saint Laurent TV ad for its Belle d'Opium commercial, in which a seductive blonde model plugged perfume by appearing to shoot up. As history, Snowfall is drooling idiocy. The story of the CIA using cocaine to underwrite the anti-communist civil war in Nicaragua at a time when Congress cut off funding, advanced in the late 1990s by a San Jose Mercury News reporter who was long on ambition and short on facts, was shot to pieces by other news media. (Not to mention that Congress didn't cut funding to the contras until 1985, two years after the time frame of Snowfall.) And there is no evidence that crack originated in Los Angeles; it seems to have been derived from the smoking of coca paste, which was popular in Peru and the Bahamas in the 1970s and then spread to the east coast of the United States. But, okay, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter may have been thinly sourced, but it was pretty entertaining anyway. So perhaps we shouldn't judge Snowfall as a history text. Unfortunately, it's no better as an entertainment vehicle. Nothing in the show seems auth[...]

Fox Hosts for Legalizing Heroin

Thu, 29 Jun 2017 12:54:00 -0400

Like a lot of 78-year-old white men, my father was watching Fox News Monday, and decided to click the next channel over to catch the rapid-fire libertarian stylings of our friend Kennedy. There, in a segment interviewing Wall Street Journal U.S. News Editor Glenn Hall about a recent story on drug smugglers increasingly sending their product through the mail, the eponymous host of the fast-growing show (up 35 percent in overall ratings in the second quarter this year) pivoted immediately to the underlying policy: KENNEDY: So, this is obviously sad and tragic, the fact that opioid overdoses have increased in recent years. But I don't think the problem is that FedEx and UPS and the postal service need more screening tools. I think the problem is that heroin is illegal. And so people go to nefarious means in order to get a drug they would get anyway. […] If you legalize these things and people have access to them and may know what's in them, do you think knowing the ingredients in a drug you're taking increases or decreases the chance that you will overdose on it? HALL: Well, I don't know the answer to that question exactly. KENNEDY: It decreases the chance because you know what's in there, so you know exactly what you put in your body. This isn't Kennedy's first time making the on-air case for heroin legalization—back in March 2013, when then-host John Stossel talked about how he once struggled with legalizing hard drugs, but then concluded that owning one's body is a "powerful" counter-argument, the non-drug-using former MTV VJ replied "amen," and added: "having drugs be illegal is downright deadly. It's dangerous. And, you know, Ron Paul always made a good point, which was, let's say heroin was made legal right now, like who really wants to go out and jack their vein with heroin?" And in September of last year, when our own Katherine Mangu-Ward reacted to a story about elephant tranquilizers getting cut into smack by saying "this is why we want to legalize heroin now because it would save lives," Kennedy replied "Yes, absolutely. But instead, the problem here is, you know, not that legislators and…city council members are going to wake up and smell the cat food and realize that prohibition is directly leading to death." But Monday's blunt comment was not some response to a how-far-would-you-go libertarian dare, or a legalize-bazookas type of thought experiment, but rather a deliberate insertion of anti-prohibition policy argument into a story that the Bill O'Reillys of the world would surely treat as reason for another crackdown on opioids. As such, I flagged the occasion on Twitter: "I think the problem is that heroin is illegal." -- @KennedyNation, on Fox Business Network, on the show she anchors. — Matt Welch (@MattWelch) June 27, 2017 One guy responded that Greg Gutfeld and his former Red Eye-mate Andy Levy (who leaves Fox tomorrow, BTW) were pro-legalization, to which I added Kat Timpf, co-host of The Specialists, though with the caveat that I didn't know if they all went as far as heroin. Yesterday, Timpf cleared that up: Yes, I'm pro-legalization. Including heroin! — Kat Timpf (@KatTimpf) June 28, 2017 Gutfeld, meanwhile, has made the conservative case for hard-drug legalization multiple times on air, including in November 2013, when The Five co-host said, "I believe heroin could be legalized if done in a delivery system which makes it more like a cigarette." What's striking about all this is that the comments from Kennedy and Timpf come one year to the week that the Libertarian Party nominee for president, a man who previously was most famous for being the first major elected official in the U.S. to favor legalizing marijuana, could not bring himself to fully advocate legalizing heroin at a crucial CNN townhall, despite making some[...]

The Mist Gets Lost in a Baffling Cloud

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 15:00:00 -0400

The Mist. Spike. Thursday, June 22, 10 p.m. Stephen King's novella The Mist, published back in 1980 before he was too important to suffer editors, was a marvel of taut, muscular prose. A bunch of shoppers are marooned inside a grocery store when a heavy mist suddenly rolls across their small town. Inside it are a pack of fantastic creatures: Pterodactyls. Giant bugs. Other huge things, indiscernible through the fog except for their enormous, questing tentacles. They are hungry. They eat. A handful of people escape the grocery store and drive as fast and as far as they can in hopes of escape, but as the story ends, there's no real sign that they've succeeded. The whole thing was sort of like walking outside and discovering you had stumbled into a better-dubbed and shockingly realistic Japanese monster movie. There was a single subplot that extended directly from the action: the devolution of many of the people inside the store into superstitious religious mania. No soap-opera detritus, no Sophie's-choice moments about saving kids or mistresses over wives, no Freudian agonistes, not even all that much time pondering the cause of the events. The Mist landed like a brutally hard punch. Frank Darabont's 2007 film adaptation took almost exactly the same approach to great effect (though he did add a Hitchcockian surprise ending that, purposefully or not, seriously subverted King's contemptuous treatment of religion). If it doesn't seem to you that The Mist sounds like a good fit for a television series, then I've got bad news and worse news. The bad news is that you'll never be a production executive at Spike, Viacom's manly-men cable channel, which thought a TV version of The Mist sounded like a capital idea. The worse news is that a legion of demons did not burst from the ninth circle of Hell during production, set upon the cast and crew with fangs and claws, and leave them dangling from the sound-stage lighting towers by their own shredded intestines. Okay, it's possible I'm overreacting here just a smidge. But Spike's version of The Mist is one dumb piece of work. It's a "reimagination" (Spike, mindful of the scant resemblance of its show to King's novella or Darabont's film, has been careful to avoid the word "remake") by Danish TV producer Christian Torpe, whose shows are much beloved there. But his notion of U.S. politics and culture seems to be drawn in equal parts from a video archive divided between smarmy liberal-moralist soap operas like Peyton Place and redneck drive-in paranoia like Jackson County Jail. Cops beat the bejeezus out of practically anybody they encounter, just on general principle. A teenage girl who reports she was roofied and raped at a party is immediately branded a lying slut by the whole town. A popular teacher is fired for explaining to her high school class where babies come from. (And it's not from giant prehistoric eggs coaxed into hatching by tiny Japanese fertility goddesses.) That's just in the first episode. By week two, I'm sure we'll have worked our way to the Scopes Trial, Rosemary Kennedy's lobotomy, and a mayor who takes a sledge hammer to Elvis Presley on the steps of city hall. Even if Torpe's characters hijacked a time machine to escape 1955 America, though, his conception of The Mist is dreadfully wrongheaded. Virtually every one of his changes conspires to rob the work of its gut-punch power. Stretching out the show's timeline and giving its characters extensive back stories (even if they were less silly ones than these) distracts from the story's sheer horror. Trapping the survivors in a shopping mall instead of a grocery store dissipates its air of claustrophobia. What you're left with is a version of As the World Turns in which booty calls have been exchanged for body counts. And [...]

Summer Means Time for Television to Go Bonkers

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 14:55:00 -0400

Claws. TNT. Sunday, June 11, 9 p.m. Blood Drive. SyFy. Wednesday, June 14, 10 p.m. Summertime has arrived, and popcorn television is on us like a pack of rabid weasels. Like Santa and the elves at Christmas, sociopathic strippers and mechanical vampires frolic through the airwaves with increasing frequency until Labor Day Eve and the annual viewing of It's the Manson Girls, Charlie Brown! Good popcorn TV movies and shows are, as they used to say on one of its first exemplars, faster than a speeding bullet, the better to distract you from its innate stupidity. Claws (which, I was momentarily disappointed to discover, is not a modern blood-and-boobs remake of the epochal 1957 popcorn masterpiece Attack of the Crab Monsters) sets some kind of record in that regard. Set in a small-town Florida nail salon, it starts out like a Tyler Perry party-hearty sitcom, with astronomical numbers of tattoos, big butts, and random shouts of "Off the hook!" and "Shake it!" But within minutes it morphs into an entertaining, if slightly idiotic, action-suspense drama: The salon offers the full menu of traditional Florida services running from erotic asphyxiation to money-laundering to off-site drug hootchie-ism to murder. At the center of this lunatic universe is Desna (Niecy Nash, Scream Queens), the salon's owner and chief emissary to the money-laundering world. Her henchpersons include just-out-of-jail Polly (Carrie Preston, True Blood) and resident butt-kicker Quiet Ann (Judy Reyes, Devious Maids). They're all perpetually undersupplied with money and oversupplied with unreliable men—or, in Quiet Ann's case, women. Claws is the sort of show where funeral corteges include lines of flatbed truckers equipped with stripper poles, where characters reminisce about their good old days as hookers holed up in ratty beach motels "shooting Easter eggs out our butts" and launch into reflective soliloquies about the random interaction of the universe with human genitalia. "You tell yourself that you're just fulfilling your deepest carnal appetite, that deep need we all as human share for connectedness," muses Polly. "Then, boom, you're knocked up by a minor Kennedy." Nash, Preston, and Reyes play their roles with such gusto that your profound, debilitating shame at enjoying Claws will fade quickly. Blood Drive may take a little longer, but ultimately the charm of dialogue like, "Hand up! Turn around! Drop the leg!" is difficult to resist. A deeply deranged cross between Death Race 2000 and The Gumball Rally, Blood Drive—set in a wasteland America of 1999 (!) in which water is dispensed through ATM machines and the new police motto is We Kill Because We Care—is about an illegal cross-country race. But where the titillation in Gumball Rally was that the vehicles all had their catalytic converters removed, the cars in this race run on human blood. (When an appalled cop who stumbles onto the race asks, why blood, one of the drivers replies: "Have you seen gas prices lately?") The winner gets $10 million; the losers get fed to their cars. Like Claws, Blood Drive is part action-adventures thrills and spills, part darkly surrealist belly laughs. For instance, the drivers are regularly chided by a prim Siri-like voice from their cell phones that admonishes them for things like reckless driving but shrugs no-hard-no-foul when they feed a squad of Girl Scouts into a wood chipper for fuel. But Blood Drive has much more of a grindhouse feel (literally, in the case of the refueling scenes with those toothy gas tanks) and it rarely can resist the opportunity for a sophomoric crack. The show arguably has the worst potty-mouth in the history of basic cable, and its humor often meanders the line between penile and puerile. A race driver nam[...]

The British Left vs. the Deep State

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 11:15:00 -0400

A phrase keeps cropping up in certain corners of the English press: A Very British Coup. That's the name of Chris Mullin's novel about a near-future U.K.—and by "near-future" I mean the early '90s, because the book was published in 1982—where a hard-left Labour government comes to power and then is undermined by intelligence agencies and their allies in the media. Writers started invoking the book after Jeremy Corbyn made his bid to be leader of the Labour Party, and Mullin himself got around 1,000 words in The Guardian a couple years ago to speculate about "how the political establishment would react to a Corbyn victory." Now that Corbyn has denied the Tories a parliamentary majority, you can expect the allusions to multiply. I haven't read the novel myself, but I've seen the 1988 miniseries based on it. Watching it today should be a resonant experience for both the Corbynite left and the Trumpian right: the former because of the hero's similarities to the current Labour leader, the latter because the idea of the deep state subverting an elected outsider has suddenly picked up currency among conservatives. And if you're neither a Corbynite nor a Trumpian, you still might enjoy it, just because it's a pretty good conspiracy thriller. Great cast, too. By the time this aired in the late '80s, the idea that Britain might make a sharp left turn seemed like an outlandish science fiction scenario. But Mullin was writing at the dawn of the decade, when the U.K. was in a deep recession and the solidly socialist Tony Benn had a shot at becoming Labour leader. The idea that hidden forces might try to undermine such a government didn't spring entirely from Mullin's imagination either: He was drawing on widely circulated stories that MI5 had deliberately subverted the Labour government of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, effectively pushing him out of power. I don't know the evidence well enough to have an informed opinion on whether those tales are true. But I do know that James Jesus Angleton, the famously paranoid CIA counterintelligence chief, was convinced that Wilson was working for the Russians. Speaking of notions that have come cycling back into style. Here is part one of A Very British Coup: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Here is part two: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> And here's the final installment: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> The story was remade in 2012 as a four-part miniseries called Secret State; I haven't seen that one, but if you want to check it out you can watch the first episode here. Wikipedia's page on Harold Wilson conspiracy theories is here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.[...]

I’m Dying Up Here Wants Viewers to Take the Saying Literally

Fri, 02 Jun 2017 15:00:00 -0400

I'm Dying Up Here. Showtime. Sunday, June 4, 10 p.m. Somebody—Harry Shearer? Al Franken? Memory and Google both fail me—describing one of the grisly bloodbaths among the cast in the early day of Saturday Night Live once said, "It's not comedy if somebody's not crying." That's very much the idea behind Showtime's I'm Dying Up Here, a melodrama about the lives of a group of young stand-up comics scuffling through the comedy-club dives of Los Angeles as they wait for their big break. In the world of I'm Dying Up Here, comics succeed not by telling jokes but by ripping their own hearts out on stage. They achieve authenticity not by getting laughs but by dishing their secret fears, avarices and perversions to a bunch of voyeuristic strangers. "These are tortured souls who leave it all out there every night," declares Goldie, the owner of the seedy club where most of the show takes place. "That volatility, that pain—that's the price of brilliance." If this seems a bit of an overwrought view of, say, Jay Leno's monologues or Steve Martin's salute to King Tut, you've already zeroed in on the weakness at the heart of I'm Dying Up Here: its relentless pretension. Successful stand-up comedy does not require emotional vivisection any more than successful portraiture requires auriculectomy. The fact that a particular artist is neurotic does not make neurosis a job requirement. When the show's characters start talking about the nature of art, they sound like a sophomore English colloquium meeting at a beer garden. But considered for what it really is—a sharply observed soap opera about a wholly debauched and dysfunctional group of friends preying upon their mutual insecurities—I'm Dying Up Here offers considerable viewing pleasure. The show is based on a non-fiction book of the same name about the Los Angeles comedy scene of the early 1970s, when Pet Rock jokes were the order of the day and comics like Leno, Andy Kaufman and Robin Williams were trying to break in. Executive producer and creator Dave Flebotte (whose wildy disparate writing credits include everything from The Sopranos to Desperate Housewives) has elected to fictionalize his story. And although some elements are nonetheless unmistakable—particularly Goldie and her eponymous comedy club, who strongly resemble L.A.'s Comedy Store and its skinflint owner Mitzi Shore—it's a mistake to watch with a scorecard, trying to match real comedians to fictional counterparts. I'm Dying Up Here's characters are very much its own creations. They scrape by on gigs that that barely cover the cost of an overpriced Sunset Strip burger, picking up side work as game-show contestants or sexual Tinkertoys when that fails. They sleep in walk-in closets rented for $60 a week and comfort one another with bromides of the business. ("Lenny Bruce's first paying gig was for $12 and a plate of spaghetti!") And they wait to be "Discovered," which is generally defined as a spot on The Tonight Show (especially if Johnny Carson summons you over to the couch to chat after your bit). But in lean times, even getting invited to play the upstairs lounge at Goldie's—as opposed to the truly tawdry basement—will do. Both venues pay the same: nothing. Meanwhile, Goldie herself—the troupe's den mother to those on the way up, Cruella de Vil to everybody headed the other way—sits in the back cutting business deals over pizza-pans of cocaine. The passengers on this voyage of the damned endlessly reconfigure themselves for various acts of sexual piracy, backstabbing, career sabotage, and ultimately shoulder-crying. At times they seem linked mainly by a seemingly endless capacity for self-denigration if that's what it takes [...]