Enemy at the Gates

Monstrosity at City Museum

We are currently on track to exceed the American mortality from the 1918 flu. Then 675,000 died. Today, 245,000 Americans have died from Covid. In the last week, a million new infections have occurred. Within a month these new cases will result in 25,000 new deaths. 25K per week or 100K per month. The start of winter is still a month away. Three months of winter could result in 300K more deaths, but that is only at the current infection rate. Infection rates are now skyrocketing out-of-sight. 100K per month could be rather conservative. With families soon gathering for the holidays, these estimates could soon explode. We all know what to do, wash hands, socially distance and wear a mask. We just don’t want to and so far we didn’t have to, if we didn’t want to. In six months an effective vaccine will be available. I say suck it up people. Do the right thing. If not for yourself, then for those you love. Do you want to be made to do it?

World Chess Hall of Fame, St. Louis, MO

Thank you for enduring the preceding health announcement, as we now resume our regularly scheduled programming. I finished watching The Queen’s Gambit last night. Netflix’s new series on coming of age, addiction, sexism and oh, chess. This seven part series follows fictional female phenom Beth as she storms the chess world, racing to out race her own inner demons. Played by two actresses, we first meet eight-year-old Beth Harmon (Isla Johnson) entering an orphanage. She learns two things within its forbidding walls, a love for chess and downers. Adopted by the second episode, teenage Beth (Anya Taylor-Joy) steps out into a world of male prejudice that she proceeds to topple, one king at a time. At its heart Gambit is a sports movie—Queen’s bishop’s pawn advances down the field for a first-down, to mix sport’s metaphors. Aided by tranquillizer induced hallucinations that feature giant ghostly chessmen, floating on the ceiling, suspended upside-down, she maps out her moves. Set in the Sixties, with mod fashions, rock-and-roll and the Cold War, Beth is propelled pell-mell towards a confrontation with the Russians. As in any sports drama, there is the action on the field and the drama off of it. It is a testament that Gambit has made the drama surrounding Beth so compelling and the chess action so exciting. 

The Last Ship

The Last Ship

In the navy, yes, you can sail the seven seas
In the navy, yes, you can put your mind at ease
In the navy, come on people, fall an’ make a stand
In the navy, in the navy, can’t you see we need a hand
—The Village People

All of the beautiful people have enlisted and are serving on the Nathan James. They all have high tech jobs and a beautiful ship to play on. They’ve been at sea, sequestered in radio silence, in the artic. Decoyed on a mission for which no one was briefed. In their absence a pandemic, no the pandemic, has struck with a mortality of 99%. It turns out that their real mission was to help create a vaccine. Now it is all on them, because they are all that is left, they are the last ship.

This Michael Bay production, like all of his work, delivers lots of action. It is well packaged and easy to follow. A 2014 debut put it ahead of its time. If it had waited, it could have been prophetic. Now, it is without a flock after a five year run. First, serialized on TNT, I can now binge it on Hulu. I’ve only just begun to stream it, but I think that I am already hooked. It has a lot to offer. It is relevant with its pandemic. There is of course the action, but I think it is the sea that calls the most. A good sea yarn is hard to resist, especially one with such depth.

The parallels between this series’ fictional plague and the real one that we are now enduring are remarkable, people’s panic, the shortages, the false hope of false cures. It has it all. Even the stop-start, two steps forward, one step back development of a vaccine seems eerily prescient. This week we received some much welcomed news on the vaccine front. Pfizer announced some initial results purporting that their vaccines is 90% effective. This is fantastic news. It is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Hope has been rejuvenated. Closer to home, it has been a week since Anne worked the polls. Today, she took a rapid Covid test and she is not infected. We have quarantined from each other, but now they are advising us to go another week. What was the point of the test? I really want to get off this boat.

Point Iroquois Lighthouse

Point Iroquois Lighthouse from Above

Dan and Britt got permission to fly their drone at the lighthouse, but photo aside, there were a lot of other people visiting the lighthouse and they didn’t want to fly over any of them. This and the wind limited their flying time on the grounds. Of particular concern was the pictured flagpole and some old guy driving around on his riding mower, for no apparent reason, since the grass didn’t need cutting.

I watched the first episode of the new HBO-TV Sci-Fi series, Raised By Wolves. It debuted last night, with its first three episodes. Directed by Ridley Scott, who directed the original Alien movie and its latest sequel Prometheus (Which also appeared on HBO this week). While Wolves is not per se part of this Alien universe, it sports a similar, gloomy look and feel. In this dystopian future humanity has divided into two factions, Atheists and people who believe in a vague Christian-like religion. Earth is dying under their war. A pair of androids rocket to a distant planet. On their tiny ship are a dozen human embryos. Dubbed Mother and Father, it is their mission to raise these children as atheists, making them the titular wolves. One-by-one though, the kids perish, either through disease or accident, until only one is left alive. Also, Mother and Father have almost reached their expiration dates, when another spaceship piloted by their religious rivals arrive. It really hits the fan then. This is a lot to pack into one episode and things really go off the rails by the end. I probably will watch some more of this series, but I think that I’ll wait until I’m back home again.

Politics, in particular the presidential race is driving me crazy these days. I careen between hopeful optimism and abject terror. These feelings are part of the reason that I have elected to put-off watching anymore of Wolves just now. There is enough dystopian in the here-and-now, without going looking for more in some alternative future. I pray that we, or at least enough of us will do the right thing and we are not left to casting our seed out upon the interstellar wind.

A Puzzlement

A Puzzlement

Last night we watched the HBO season finale of Perry Mason. Before the final episode dropped, we re-watched the show’s penultimate episode, just to refresh our memories of all that had happened so far. This show has been a departure from the 1950s Raymond Burr rendition of this courtroom drama. First, it is set in the 1930s, at the height of the Depression and in the middle of Prohibition. It is still set in LA at the same iconic city hall, only then the building was brand new. In addition to Perry, this incarnation still hosts the other staple characters, such as Della Street, Paul Drake and Hamilton Burger. Although, other than their names, they are all completely different people.

No one is more different than Perry himself. He begins the season as a washed-up private detective, who has made a mess of everything in his life and only rises midway through the season to Perry Mason attorney-at-law out of sheer necessity. He passes the bar, which has been set laughably low, with the aid of Hamilton Burger. I wonder how long it will take Burger to regret this help?

Instead of springing like clockwork one client per episode, in this rendition the entire season is devoted to just one case. A mother is on trial for the murder of her baby boy, who was snatched in a kidnapping that went south. She and her husband are wrapped up in a tele-evangel church, except this being the thirties services are broadcast via the radio. Same story though, long on showbusiness, but short on religion and peopled with enough seedy characters to muddy the chances of any amateur audience sleuth. 

Not to worry though, because by the time that the final episode aired the cat had been already let out of the bag. We all knew who did it, the particulars of what they did and why they did it. Mystery solved! Except for, how is it all going to turn out? There is a sendup of the Perry Mason cliché courtroom-confession, but like everything else in this reboot, nothing is the same as before. This twisting of the genre has become an unexpected pleasure of watching this drama, seemingly all so familiar, yet new and different at every turn and always beautiful to watch.

In the end, after everything has been settled and most of the chess pieces have been removed from the board and the few that remain have also been moved, we meet Perry’s new client for next season. HBO has already green-lit this series for a second season. She is a blonde bombshell straight out of film-noir central casting, who introduces herself by saying, “I’m in trouble.” Della adds that she can pay the retainer and Perry answers her, “You’ve come to the right place.” 

Perry Mason

LA City Hall, Built in 1928

We have been watching the new HBO TV series, Perry Mason that airs on Sunday nights. This show is not your father’s Perry Mason. Except for a few character’s names and its Los Angeles setting there is little to equate it with the long running TV crime series starring Raymond Burr in the title role. Billed as an origin story and more closely aligned to the underlying novels of Erle Stanley Gardner, what is served is a noir detective story. It echoes more of Dashiell Hammett and Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade than the courtroom drama that made the name more famous.

I grew up watching the Burr courtroom drama. It was a show that the whole family watched together. We all took delight as the minute hand climbed to the top of the hour, as each episode drew to a close and all tried to guess who was the real guilty party. Knowing full well that that person wasn’t sitting at the defense table. I must say that my conviction rate fell far short of Mr. Mason’s.

Unlike in that series where every week brought a new case in this reboot the entire season is all one big case. In this series Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys) is not even a lawyer, but a down on his luck private investigator, who in 1931, at the height of the Depression cannot catch a break, until he is hired by another defense attorney, played by John Lithgow. Involving a baby, Mason is thrown into a grisly kidnapping case that has gone horribly sideways. In addition to Mason, two other familiar character names from the old TV series appear, Della Street and Paul Drake, but also in guises other than remembered or imagined.

This show has a very dark reimagining of Perry Mason and his world, but also a splendidly drawn one. His attire is always disheveled, no tailored suits for him. More than just a gumshoe, he looks like he rolled around in it too. LA itself is just as seedy. The LA cops are not just corrupt, but viciously so, but throughout this noir story nothing is as dark as Mason’s brooding soul. This quote is typical of his world view, “Everybody’s up to something. Everybody’s got an angle, hiding something. And everybody is guilty.” The show’s cast of characters are so richly developed that it will be a shame to pick only one of them as the guilty party, as it will also be impossible to pick the right one. We’ve watched the first three episodes of this eight part series. The fourth one drops tonight.

Now Playing

AMC Esquire 7 – Main Theater

Video killed the radio star and Netflix killed the movie theater. America’s largest movie theater chain AMC announced this week that there is a strong possibility that it would not survive this pandemic. Our local AMC is now an octogenarian and as such, would seem ripe to succumb to COVID-19. Over the years, it has striven to remain au currant. Originally it was only a one screen show, by the time that we moved to Saint Louis, it had broaden its venue to two. Later it made that seven. Most recently, it has redecorated itself as your living room, now with wall-to-wall lay-z-boy seating. It even added a bar and in-seat wait service. We are riding out our quarantine, while sampling multiple streaming services. I can’t remember when was the last time that I went to the Esquire. It has been more than a year. Meanwhile, in that same timeframe, I have attended dozens of live performances, many of them at the Fabulous Fox Theater, which started its life as a movie theater. Video killed the radio star and Netflix killed the Esquire.