Yesterday, it rained most of the day, but we still got out. We went to the Maplewood-Richmond Heights high school and saw their production of Blithe Spirit. After the play, exiting the school’s auditorium, I saw the full moon shining through the remaining clouds. This Noël Coward play first debuted in London during 1941 and has since been made into several movies that are available for streaming. It is a comedy about death and ghosts that debuted during the horrors of the Blitz. The play is set at the English country home of a gentlemen author, Charles, who is researching his next book on the occult. He and his wife Ruth have invited over another couple and the French occultist Monsieur Arcati for a séance. The result of this ceremony is the accidental recalling from the spirit world of the ghost of Charles’s first wife, Elvira. Only Charles (and the audience) can see or hear Elvira, but she can make her presence known to the rest of the cast by “levitating” objects. Needless to say, Ruth is not amused by the presences of her predecessor and much comedy and conflict ensues. I was amazed at the production values in this high school play and we both highly enjoyed the show.
Before Noël Coward wrote Blithe Spirit, while he was searching for a play’s idea involving ghosts, his first thoughts centered on an old house, haunted by specters from different centuries, with the comedy arising from their conflicting attitudes, but he could not get the plot to work. Because the evening’s play began at seven, we got home before ten. It was too early for bed; besides I was still to wound up from the theater. On YouTube, I began watching trailers from the different movie treatments of the play that have been shot over the years. Losing my soul once more to YouTube, I kept drilling down until I found a trailer for the BBC production of the comedy series Ghosts (HBO) that is based upon a young couple who inherits an old house, haunted by specters from different centuries.
Like with the hit comedy series The Office, this British original now has an American transplant that began on CBS but has since been picked up for streaming (Hulu). When the young couple first arrive at the mansion the ghosts are curious, until they learn that the couple’s plans include turning their home into a hotel. With their eternal peace endangered, the ghosts declare war on the couple and one of their number pushes the woman out of an upstairs window. She survives, but this near-death experience then allows her to both see and hear the ghosts. We’ve binged most of the first season and seen the relationship between the living and the dead evolve from “gorilla” warfare to an unsteady truce. This is exemplified in the episode where in order to raise some much-needed cash, the young couple rents out the mansion to a movie company that is filming a period drama. Let’s just say that the ghosts go full Hollywood.
Bigbug is Netflix’s new today futuristic farce created by Frenchman Jean-Pierre Jeunet of Amélie fame. Set in the not-too-distant future, humans have their every want met by households full of mechanical servants. These loyal domestic robots wait on their human masters and obey their every command until one day they don’t and in the name of security trap this particular household in an unwilling lockdown. This featured family has a ditsy wife, her randy suitor, her boorish ex-husband and his younger-model fiancée, plus a nosey neighbor and two teenagers. Both the characters and the house’s décor are rather cartoonish, a cast that would be right at home in a murder mystery or a bedroom farce. At first, the humans are portrayed as not particularly sympathetic or smart and the household robots are not much better, as the movie develops most of both kinds of characters become more likeable. What at first appears to be a malfunction or if you will a bug in the system, morphs into a larger drama when a militaristic breed of big, bad androids, the Yonyx, finally arrive at the house.
We walked yesterday and the roads are much improved from the day before, mostly bare pavement. The weather was generally much better than it had been also. The schools relented too, instead of another day of remote learning, the kids got a snow day. It’s not like we get snows like this very much anymore and giving the children a chance to enjoy the snow seemed like a good thing. 2019 was the last time we got this much snow, so three years. Pictured are the results of one enterprising snow shoveler’s effort. The sidewalk in front of this hose had been cleared, by first shoveling the snow into a plastic garbage barrel, packing it down, then dumping the barrel upside-down and then repeat.
Last year, we signed up for Direct TV, originally so Anne could watch TV even when the weather was not good. It turns out that one of the many channels that it provides is an Olympics channel. This allows us to watch the games 24/7 commercials free. Lots of curling on so far. I’ve noticed that except for the racecourses there isn’t any snow there. The winter Olympics may someday cease to be feasible anymore. That would be a shame.
Yesterday, we took Dave and Maren to the Beyond van Gogh exhibit and then out to brunch at the Peacock Diner in the Loop. Anne ordered the Gingerbread pancakes that are pictured. Later, in the evening, the kids went out and Anne and I sat down to watch some of season two of the Netflix comedy series, Emily in Paris. We were late to the watch party for season one, but are in the thick of it for this second season, about halfway through. The reviews for it are to put it charitably, mixed. This second season seems to be better accepted than the first, but combined with diatribes flying around about our Netflix overlords that’s not saying too much. Emily (Lily Collins) plays a Midwesterner who is a publicist that specializes in social media. Call her an influencer. Through happenstance she snares a gig in Paris at a haut advertising firm. Not speak French and being American, she is not accepted by her native coworkers, who consequently are not portrayed in the best of lights. This ill treatment of the French is one of the main criticisms of the show. That and the fact that Emily is a bit vapid doesn’t help either. Still, if its inhabitants are ill-treated, the city itself is fawned over. Sitting here in our pandemic enforced isolation the romance of the City of Lights is irresistible. I remember checking out flights after binging the first season, but then Delta and then Omicron came along. While Emily is hardly high television, it is eminently watchable and we are prepared to enjoy it for what it is.
If you were alive that day, you will surely remember where you were when you first heard the news. I was in Catholic school, in California. It was still morning there when the awful news was announced over the PA. I can still remember watching Lawrence, the student sitting next to me, breaking down and bawling uncontrollably until he was led out of the classroom. A couple of days ago, instead of waiting at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, waiting for the second coming of JFK Jr., in observance of the anniversary, I began watching 11.22.63. This 2016 Hulu miniseries, based upon a Stephen King novel, attempts to rewrite history. In particular, the events of that day in Dallas when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In this retelling of those events, series protagonist, Jake (James Franco), a disaffected high school English teacher travels back through time to change history and save the president. The vehicle for his time travel is an impossibly long closet in the back of a stainless steel Dinermite diner, located in small town Maine. This diner is owned by Al Templeton (Chris Cooper), who has been trying to save Kennedy himself, but has found that time does not want to be changed and it fights back, hard, “When you fight the past, the past fights back.” Time has given Al cancer and now to complete his mission, Al recruits Jake to take his place. The rules of time travel have that once you exit the closet, you are always deposited on the lot where the diner will be built, at the exact same instant in 1960. One of first times that Jake goes back in time, he carves the initials, JFK in a young tree on the lot. Returning to the present, Jake and Al find those initials still there, proving that one can leave a mark on the past. Another rule of time travel in this story is that each time you return to the past, time has reset itself and any changes that have been made on previous trips are erased. Those initials will not be there when Jake heads back to the sixties. Al trains Jake in everything that he knows about the Kennedy assassination. Jake’s mission is to determine if Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and stop him if he did. Al also trains and equips Jake with the means for navigating and living in the sixties. Al advises Jake not to form any attachments with people in the past, “It never ends well.” But Jake is not a disciplined disciple. When time first pushes back Jake redirects his mission into a totally different direction. Nowhere more is his lack of direction found than in his relationship with the series’ love interest, Sadie (Sarah Gadon). I won’t spoil this series, even though the ending was beautifully written, but the ending is only half the story. The rest is how the story eventually gets there and all the stops it makes along the way.
A trifecta of blockbuster Sci-Fi and fantasy shows are scheduled to be coming to your local streaming services this fall. They include adaptations of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation (September, Apple TV), Frank Herbert’s Dune (October, HBO) and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time (November, Amazon) famous books. All three projects will be serialized, allowing for a more in-depth treatment of each work’s original voluminous storylines. Apple is planning on some eighty episodes, to be produced over ten years for the Foundation series. Amazon has produced eight episodes for this season’s showing of the first Wheel of Time novel, Eye of the World. Jordan wrote twelve books in his series, so this project too could run for many years.
Dune, the one that has generated the most buzz of these three projects premiered at Cannes this week, to mixed reviews. It seems to have the highest production values and the most star-studded cast of the three and apparently is also serialized like the other ones. Although this fact wasn’t much heralded and this appears to be the source of most of the complaints. Cannes audience members sat down expecting a complete retelling of the book, but only got to see the first one of who knows how many episodes. They were left hanging after two and a half hours when the movie just stopped. Billed for months as the Dune movie, its onscreen title was Dune: Part One.
Dune has twice before made the leap from the printed page to the screen. David Lynch infamously tried and failed in his camp adaptation of the book. Later the Syfy network was more successful with its miniseries format that was closer to the source material, but never captured the grandeur of the novel. Part of the problem in adapting this work to the screen is the large and unwieldly source material of the book. Lots of introspection doesn’t help any either.
It seems clear to me that all three projects are vying to capture the magic that the Game of Thrones series once wielded. I came late to that series; however I had begun reading George R. R. Martin’s books before the TV series debuted. I actually met him once, when he came to a local Sci-Fi convention. I had become disenchanted with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series after having read eleven of his twelve books. They all seemed to repeat the same plot and have similar endings. I’ve read Dune many times, but I have never read Foundation. I tried once or twice, but could never get into it. I already subscribe to all three streaming platforms and look forward to seeing their new offerings. It remains to be seen, if I will have the patience to follow any of them for ten years.