Monday, July 24, 2017

The Killing: Seasons 1 and 2 Review

By the time the credits rolled for the second season finale of THE KILLING, my mouth open on account of the jaw-dropping revelations, I realized I had just experienced one of the best crime/mystery TV shows I've ever watched.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally relented to my wife’s urging that I watch Netflix’s (nee AMC) THE KILLING. She had watched seasons 1-3, but was willing to re-watch with me if I’d just give the show a chance. I did and wrote about Season 1, Episode 1 and how it hooked me.

Here’s a little tidbit about my wife: she rarely reads or watches things over and over. “I got it the first time,” she says. So what does it tell you that she’d be willing to re-watch a show again just so I could catch up? Let me put it to you this way: after I saw the season finale of Season 2 last night, I already want to watch both seasons again.

The first two seasons of THE KILLING, totaling 26 episodes, follow a single case. The show focuses on how the killing of a young, seventeen-year-old girl affects her family, the police detectives investigating the case, the mayoral race, and other characters in their periphery. Being based on a Danish TV show, THE KILLING is less like a typical American police procedural show than a character study, and it is in this aspect where the acting is stellar.

Mireille Enos plays Sarah Linden, detective for the Seattle Police Department. As the show starts, it’s her last day. She’s to catch a flight down to California with her thirteen-year-old son where she’ll get remarried. She is ordered to look into the new case and bring along Joel Kinnaman’s Stephen Holder, recently transferred from county, to show him how to work a case. Naturally you know how this is going to go, but Enos’s performance brings so much depth and pathos into the character that you get lost in just how good she is. Linden is a damaged person, and you get the backstory as the show moves forward. The physical way Enos plays Linden shows the damage, especially in her walk. It’s striking. So, too, her interpersonal relationships. You root for her, but it can sometimes be difficult. I can’t think of another character—especially a woman—who is quite like Detective Linden. It makes this show truly unique, and Enos was utterly compelling.

Kinnaman is an actor I only knew from House of Cards. Here, he’s the rookie homicide detective, formerly a narcotics cop who became an addict. With his street talk and attitude, he’s a bit irritating at the start, but that all changed at the end of episode 1, season 1 when Holder gets a look at the dead girl. His performance grows on you, episode by episode, as Holder grows and changes. Often I laughed out loud at some of his comments. Kinnaman owned this performance and became the character I truly enjoyed in every scene.

Other actors who also shined were Brent Sexton, as the father of the dead girl, and Billy Campbell, as Darren Richmond, the city councilman who is running against the incumbent mayor. I saw myself in Sexton’s character, his anger, his soul-crushing sorrow, his desperate attempts to hold his family together. So many times he could say so much without saying a word.
Campbell I’ve known since The Rocketeer, but haven’t seen much of his work other than sporadic episodes of Once and Again and The 4400. He was fantastic in his understated reading of Richmond. The more the show went on, the more I thoroughly enjoyed his character.

Acting is one thing. You can have great acting with a not-so-great story, but with THE KILLING, you get the marriage of all the excellent acting with a phenomenal story. With 26 episodes over two seasons focusing in the one case, the story is long, but utterly engrossing. There’s never a boring moment. As a writer who constantly throws in gun fights and chases, to see a show without much of that but with an equal amount of tension, was an eye-opening experience. I was completely consumed by the storytelling, how each new revelation plays on the various characters, and how well the nuts and bolts of the episodes were layered on each other. I’m a writer, so naturally I analyze story. True, there are moments when a character says something and you pretty much know they’re holding back, but it doesn’t detract. The complications that arise for our characters are legitimate and not some out-of-left-field shenanigans.

Then there is the mystery itself: who killed Rosie Larsen and why? Some shows you can figure out the bad guy a mile away. I developed my own theory of who and why and stuck to it until the end…when I was wrong! And then, just when you think you’ve reached the satisfactory conclusion of the show, there is a twist. And then another one! My mouth literally dropped open during the last episode. I may have even whispered an expletive.

I don’t like to binge. I’m still rooted in Appointment Television. THE KILLING is a show that you’ll want to binge, but I urge some restraint. On most nights, I watched a single episode. On weekends, maybe two. It gave me time to ponder the story, the characters, and the plot. I enjoyed that time, even laying out my theories on my wife before each new episode began. Going into this past weekend, we had eight episodes to go. We watched four on Saturday night. The pace had increased and I just wanted to get to the end.

But I’m glad I waited for the last two episodes and watched them on their own. It allowed the denouement to wash over me, complete with tears. Patty Jenkins, recently of Wonder Woman, directed the pilot and the season 2 finale. She and the writers did a thing in the finale that I can’t say has ever been done before. And it was excellent and so emotional. THE KILLING is very much like THE SIXTH SENSE: as soon as you watch it and know the ending, you really do want to re-watch.

I have seen many, many TV shows and films featuring crime, mystery, detectives, victims, and politicians. There are some truly great shows with great performances. THE KILLING, Seasons 1 and 2, is nothing less than one of my favorite crime/mystery shows I’ve ever seen.

Now, on to Season 3.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

My Discovery of Jason Isbell in Houston

Have you ever had an experience when you discover something new to you, it blows you away, and you look around and see if anyone else knows about it? That was me last night when Jason Isbell stopped at Houston’s Revention Center and blew the roof off.

Jason Isbell landed on my radar because of my wife. She heard a song, “Children of Children,” on our favorite streaming service, Radio Paradise, and played it for me. It’s a slow, quiet meditative song about his mother having him when she was just seventeen. That alone would qualify it as a great song, but when drummer Chad Gamble plays this one powerful beat, everything changes. Isbell drops the acoustic guitar, picks up an electric, complete with slide, and transforms the song into something wholly different. It is a sublime song and transcendent performance. Here he is performing it on CBS Saturday Morning in 2015 (The song starts around 1:45 but watch the short interview first).

He is touring in support of his new album, The Nashville Sound, with his band, The 400 Unit. My wife and I snatched up a pair of tickets and joined the intimate crowd at the Revention Center, a 3,400-seat venue that is the perfect size. It’s small enough that you’re never far away from the stage, but large enough to turn up the speakers and shake the rafters, which was exactly what happened last night.

Amanda Shires, a member of the 400 Unit and Isbell’s wife, opened the show. She plays violin—er, fiddle—like a lead guitar player. Her four-piece band ran through her songs with aplomb. The set was great. I don’t know about y’all, but opening acts are often the time where you chit-chat in the hallways waiting for the headliner. Not so with Shires. She held the audience with the charm and wit of her great lyrics, her beautiful voice, and surprising fiddle playing. My wife and I liked it so much we bought her new CD, My Piece of Land, right then and there.

Shortly after nine, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit took the stage, opening with the powerful “Anxiety.” I don’t know the new album well, but if there was any question about the power Isbell brings to a live performance, the first few bars of this song dispelled all doubts. This song is a good example of how Isbell can take the listener from a quiet moment to a blasting cacophony in the span of a single beat. As a fan of loud music, I was enthralled and grinning ear to ear. Little did I know this was only a taste of what was in store.

On stage, Isbell knows he is the reason folks bought tickets, but he is an unpretentious performer. Other than Shires and Gamble, the 400 Unit contains Jimbo Hart on bass, Derry DeBorja on keyboards, and Sadler Vaden on electric guitar. They all sing backup vocals. This is a tight band, one of the tightest I’ve ever seen. Vaden is so talented he could front his own band. Some band leaders might balk at having someone of Vaden’s talent in the band, fearing the other guitar player would overshadow him. Not with Isbell. No matter if he’s playing electric or acoustic guitar, Isbell easily cedes the spotlight to Vaden. The pair make for a compelling set of dueling guitars, both frequently playing with a slide. With Shires singing backup harmony, she and Isbell often look at each other, bringing in that special something to the songs. Frankly it reminded me of Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa. Not to make much more of the comparison, but Isbell on stage brought to mind Sprinsteen’s onstage charisma as he wandered the stage, standing next to certain members while others soloed, perfectly content to be in the shadows.

Frankly, most of these songs I heard for the first time (but not the last!). All were good, but three (no four! Five!) stuck out for me. “The Last of My Kind,” with its lyrics about modern society, being lost amid that modernity and wondering where he fits, was moving. “Cover Me Up” is the song he wrote for his wife. Again, having Shires on stage with him gave this performance that extra bit of specialness. The Revention Center is small enough that when Isbell sang “But I sobered up and I swore off that stuff forever this time,” many in the audience cheered him on, whether because they, too, beat ‘that stuff” or that he got his act together to make such gorgeous music, I couldn’t tell. Probably both.

The music of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit is a miasma of influences: rock and roll, country, soul, the Memphis sound, folk, and, of course, southern rock. He pays tribute to that influence with a massive cover of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Whipping Post.” Actually, massive is too understated a word. The second of two songs in the encore, everyone was on their feet, arms waving, just letting the music blowing off the stage wash over them. Shires soloed, but it wasn’t just some simple fiddle thing. It was high energy, rock and roll fiddle. Vaden took over and brought the level higher. Isbell is a master at taking the listener up and down the musical roller coaster. When I thought it couldn’t get any more intense, Isbell showcases why he is likely one of the most gifted guitarist playing today. I’m not exaggerating when I say the final song left me breathless. Even my wife, who isn’t always a fan of loud music—she even commented on it earlier in the show—was smiling at the intensity of this performance.

For some unknown reason, Jason Isbell hasn’t been on my listening radar. That all changed last night. His lyrics have depth and weight. He is one of the best guitar players I’ve ever seen—and I’ve been watching live music for over thirty years. As I was leaving last night, I heard some folks behind me talk about how underrated he is. Damn right. Those that have seen him live know how good he is. I now count myself among the converted. His on stage performance and energy captivated the audience last night. Isbell is a powerful singer. He could easily fill up the Toyota Center with his voice and music. Heck, he could play at the Houston Rodeo and fill up NRG Stadium. At least there, they could open the roof.

I have a pretty broad musical palette but somehow, up until now, have missed Jason Isbell. He’s a two-time Grammy winner! How did I not know about him? That ended last night. And I’m the better for it.

He will undoubtedly and deservedly play for bigger and bigger audiences the more folks discover him. The jealous part of me kind of hopes he keeps playing in smaller, more intimate venues like the Revention, but those days are likely numbered.

I’m so glad my wife discovered him, thrilled that we got tickets to the show last night, and blown away at what a complete performer and lyricist Jason Isbell is. He is the best open secret in the music business.

Here is his 2017 performance on CBS which includes three songs from The Nashville Sound. This performance compelled the couple who sat next to us last night to drive an hour from Galveston, on a week night, to hear Isbell perform.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Jared Martin: RIP

One of the many blogs I have in my Feedly feed is Space 1970. The tagline says it all: Celebrating the Science Fiction Films and Television of the Polyster Decade.

With the recent passing of Martin Landau and George Romero, blogger Christopher Mills listed some other actors we have lost this year. One of them was Jared Martin. You know his face, most likely.

He starred in the 1977 show "The Fantastic Journey" playing Varian, a time traveler. The show centered on a group of scientist who get lost in the Bermuda Triangle. Together, they meet up with other travelers and have adventures as they try to find their way back home. Roddy McDowall was in it as was Ike Eisenmann, veteran of Disney's Witch Moutain movies. One of those adventurers was a lady from Atlantis. Bermuda Triangle and Atlantis? Perfect 70s combination.

But the character that struck me most of Martin's Varian. With no makeup, he just came across as otherworldly. Probably was the eyes. He carried some sort of weapon that resembled a tuning fork. Imagine my great delight when I discovered my mom had a tuning fork! Naturally that led me to many backyard adventures in which mom's tuning fork was Varian's weapon.

Anyway, those are just a few thoughts that entered my mind when I learn of Jared Martin's passing. He later went on to star in TV's Dallas, but it will be for The Fantastic Journey by which I'll remember him. Yet another childhood actor gone.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Erle Stanley Gardner Acted Like An Independent Author

According to my Half Price Books calendar, today marks the 128th birthday of Erle Stanley Gardner. I noticed that fact yesterday while sipping coffee and thought I would commemorate the birthday with a little thought experiment.

Erle Stanley Gardner acted like an independent author even though he was traditionally published.

Let me explain, but first a bit of background.

We writers all have our list of go-to books that helped us hone our skills and learn how to be a writer. One of those books rarely shows up on when we discuss famous writing books. It’s called The Secrets of the World’s Best–Selling Writer: The Storytelling Techniques of Erle Stanley Gardner by Francis L and Roberta B Fugate. The book was published in 1980. It’s the story of how Gardner went from being merely a lawyer to, at the time of his death in 1970, the world’s best-selling writer. It is a fascinating book. When I first discovered it a few years ago, I checked it out from the Houston Public Library and read through it very quickly. I took copious notes. I mean a lot of notes. I ended up reading it a second time and then a third time. There is little about Gardner’s personal life; instead, this is a “biography” of how writer practiced, honed his skills, and ultimately, was successful.

The Erle Stanley Gardner papers are housed at the University of Texas at Austin at the Harry Ransom Center. When I attended school there, I never knew it and, let’s be honest, I had never read any of Gardner’s books. The two Fugates scoured through all of Gardner’s papers and pulled out a wonderful history — complete with many of Gardner’s own notes — of the steps he took to become the writer he became. The appendices are wonderful and there are even a few photographs of Gardner’s own handwritten notebooks complete with descriptions, timelines, and all the other things he needed to craft his mystery books. A particularly neat thing is the transcription of a lecture he gave to the writers of the Perry Mason TV show back in 1959. And when I say transcription, I’m talking about an 8 to 10 page block quote. He basically summed up everything you needed to know about how he wrote all his books in this single transcription.

So how do the writings of Gardner and independent authors collide?

As independent authors in 2017, we are urged to publish regularly and frequently. This helps us build up an audience as quick as possible and, if one can maintain a certain writing production, it will give our readers a constant flow of our work. There are many different definitions of “publish regularly and frequently.” Current thought is readers prefer 3-4 books a year. If you think about it, even a moderately paced writing schedule of 1000 words a day (30 minutes or less) can yield, more or less, four books a year that you can then publish.

The reason I bring up Erle Stanley Gardner when talking about independent publishing is his publishing schedule. Now, for the purposes of this discussion, I’m only talking about his novels. He honed his skill as a pulp writer in the 20s and early 30s, writing short stories, novelettes, and novellas. At one point in his early writing career, he set a goal of 1.2 million words a year. That comes out to a 10,000-word novelette every three days. I know some modern-day writers who can achieve this feat — James Reasoner being one of them — but the mere fact of writing a million words a year is incredibly staggering. That's 2740 words a day. But with the writing and publication of Gardner’s first Perry Mason novel, The Case of the Velvet Claws, Gardner turned toward writing more books and fewer short stories.

Consider these statistics. In 1933, he published two Perry Mason novels. In 1934, he published three. In 1935 and 1936, he published two each. So that’s nine books and four years. Starting in 1937, things get more interesting. In 1937, he published three novels, two Perry Mason’s and one of his Doug Selby, DA, series. In 1938, same thing: two Perry Mason books and one DA book. Now comes 1939. We get two Perry Mason books, one DA book, and the debut of the Cool and Lam series. That’s four books in one year! He tops himself in 1940: two Cool and Lam books published*, two Perry Mason books, and one DA book. So, if you do the math, in the first eight years of his novel writing career, Erle Stanley Gardner published 24 books in three different series.

*The Fugates' book was published well before the discovery of the manuscript that became THE KNIFE SLIPPED, the 30th Cool and Lam novel but the second one written. It turned out that the publisher thought the content of THE KNIFE SLIPPED too much for readers in 1939. Instead of revising the novel, Gardner simply wrote another book altogether (TURN ON THE HEAT).

And he kept writing and selling stories to the pulps, although at a slower pace than before. Just for curiosity’s sake, I extracted all the material Gardner published in 1939. Here it is and I'll leave it up to you to factor in the writing time. NOTE: I left in the January 1940 publication of TURN ON THE HEAT knowing he wrote two Cool and Lam novels in 1939. The novels are in capitals.

Published Bibliography 1939

  • THE BIGGER THEY COME (Cool and Lam #1 written and published) January 1939
  • "The Monkey Murder" Detective Story January 1939 Lester Leith novelette
  • "Without Gloves"–Clues–January 1939–Barney Killigen novelette
  • "It's the McCoy"–Dime Detective–January 1939–Paul Pry novelette
  • THE CASE OF THE PERJURED PARROT (Perry Mason #14) – February 1939
  • "Unstuffing One Shirt"–Clues–February 1939–Barney Killigen novelette
  • "The Seven Sinister Sombreros"–Detective Story–February 1939–Lester Leith novelette
  • "The Joss of Tai Wong"–Adventure–March 1939
  • "The Fourth Musketeer"–Detective Story–March 1939–Lester Leith novelette
  • "Take It or Leave It"–Black Mask–March 1939–Pete Wennick novelette
  • "The Rhyme and Reason"–Detective Story–April 1939–Lester Leith novelette
  • "The Queen of Shanghai Night"–Detective Story–May 1939–Lester Leith novelette
  • "Dogs of Death"–Clues–May 1939–Barney Killigen novelette
  • "The Eyebrow Moon"–Toronto Star Weekly–May 13, 1939
  • "The Ring of Fiery Eyes"–Detective Story–August 1939–Lester Leith novelette
  • THE D.A. DRAWS A CIRCLE (Selby #3) –September 1939
  • "Dark Alleys"–Black Mask–September 1939–Ed Jenkins novelette
  • "Lester Leith, Magician"–Detective Fiction Weekly–September 16, 1939–Lester Leith novelette
  • "A Thousand to One"–Detective Fiction Weekly–October 28, 1939–Lester Leith novelette
  • "Mystery by Inches"–Toronto Star Weekly–October 28–December 23, 1939
  • THE CASE OF THE ROLLING BONES (Perry Mason #15) –November 1939
  • "A Hearse for Hollywood"–Double Detective–November 1939–Jax Keen novelette
  • "Fair Exchange"–Detective Fiction Weekly–November 18, 1939–Lester Leith novelette
  • "A Headache for Butch"–Double Detective–December 1939–Ed Migrane, the Headache, novelette
  • "At Arm's Length"–Detective Fiction Weekly–December 9, 1939–Jerry Marr, P. I.
  • "Where Angels Fear to Tread"–Detective Fiction Weekly–December 30, 1939

1940–TURN ON THE HEAT (Cool and Lam #2 published; #3 written) – Morrow – January 1940

So yeah, Erle Stanley Gardner pretty much published like an independent author. The only difference between him and what we do in 2017 is that he had a traditional publisher who, frankly, did the marketing for him. And it was the 1930s, so things were different. And he was able to devote all his time to writing. And he dictated everything. Famously, he dictated the first Perry Mason book in three days. He said it took him a half a day to come up with the plot and 2 1/2 days to dictate the entire book. Wow. I’m majorly impressed.

And if you want one more little tidbit from the mind of Erle Stanley Gardner regarding how he thought about his readers and the editors of the pulp magazines in the 1920s, there is this: “My own approach to the question is different from that of the critic. I am a writer. I serve the reading public. The reading public is my master.” And, according to the Fugates, “After that, he became an outspoken exponent of the idea the publisher of the magazine was simply acting as a middleman in purveying merchandise — story supplied by writers — to readers, the ultimate consumers.”

Erle Stanley Gardner. He acted like an independent author when such a thing rarely existed. Now it does. I wonder how many authors can replicate his success over the nearly 40 years of his novel-writing career? I have my own answer. I aim to try.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

I know far less about Spider-Man than I do about Batman, Superman, or most of the DC Comics heroes. I was a DC-first guy growing up and I pretty much stayed that way ever since. But, of all the Marvel heroes, I know Spider-Man the most. Which is to say I’ve barely read a Spider-Man comic since the Ultimate version around 2000, but I read a lot them back in the day, mostly in the reprints of the original Steve Ditko-Stan Lee run. I watched the Tobey Maguire movies—enjoyed them, except the third which I can barely remember—and missed the Andrew Garfield ones altogether. But when Spidey showed up in Captain America: Civil War last year, I was thrilled. They way he interacted with the other heroes, the quips, the isn’t-this-awesomeness of Spider-Man being played as what he started out to be—a high school kid—was fantastic. Even with my limited knowledge of the character, I knew that, at last, we had a live action Spidey that matched the early comics.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is all of that and more. In a real sense, this is a high school movie about Peter Parker who just happens to be Spider-Man. All the teenaged angst, awkwardness, and attitude just puddles over in nearly every scene of this movie. This is a high school film, and I mean that in a good way. I saw the film with my boy and his friend. I laughed at the moments in the film because I remembered them; they laughed at the same moments because they are now living through them.

Tom Holland is now twenty-one, which meant he was 19 or 20 when filming this movie. And he looks five years younger. Pitch perfect casting. He showed, often through facial expressions, the awkwardness of being a fifteen-year-old boy in high school. His best friend, Ned, played by Jacob Batalon, is exactly how most of us would be when we discover our friend is Spider-Man. Man, he SO wants to tell everyone, and often he’s barely restraining the urge to blurt out “Peter Parker is Spider-Man!” Loved him because he is me.

But if you want pitch perfect casting, look no further than Michael Keaton. It’s be 25 years since his last stint as Batman, but he’s always played a great bad guy. Remember Pacific Heights? I loved to hate him in that movie. In this, well, frankly, his character, Adrian Toomes, does things some of us might do. The film opens with a flashback to the aftermath of the first Avengers film with much of New York destroyed. Toomes and his men are contracted to salvage, but the new Department of Damage Control takes over. He’s overextended himself, he’s got a family and employees who rely on him. What is he supposed to do? Well, he never turns in some of the alien technology he already salvaged and he and his team become weapons dealers with Keaton himself being the man who, over the eight years since the flashback, steals more tech from Damage Control.


In the trailers, Toomes talks about Tony Stark and all of his rich friends and the powerful heroes that make such destruction. Toomes is disgusted that Stark helped create Damage Control, so the very man who makes the destruction also gets paid to clean it up. He’s got a point. Going into the movie, you think Toomes is talking to fellow bad guys, trying to enlist their help to do some thievery. But no! He’s talking to Spider-Man who, at this point, he knows is Peter Parker. Nice twist there.

But perhaps the best sequence of the film is one of the smallest, most intimate scenes: three people in a car. Peter finally gets up the courage to ask his crush, Liz, to homecoming. She says yes. She’s played by Laura Harrier, a young woman of color. The entire film, Toomes is talking about providing for his family. Keaton is no a person of color. So when Peter knocks on Liz’s door to pick her up for the dance, he, and probably the entire audience, never expected to see Toomes opening the door!

Now, my instant reaction was “Vulture found out who Peter likes and is holding her hostage!” But no. Toomes really is her dad. His wife is African-American and thus you have the best twist of the entire movie. Which leads to the best sequence in the film.

Toomes drives Peter and Liz to the dance. Spider-Man has already saved Liz’s life. Peter knows Toomes is Vulture, but Toomes, at the start of the scene, doesn’t know Peter is Spidey. In the course of the drive to school, you see, via Keaton’s nuanced acting, Toomes figure out Peter is Spidey! In a nod to what makes Keaton such a fantastic actor, he arrives at school and asks Liz to step out so “I can have the dad talk with Peter.” Keaton delivers that one line as a comedy beat, complete with a funny face. In that instant, he’s Beetlejuice. In the next, he’s stone cold bad…but with a twist. He tells Peter thanks for saving his daughter’s life, go inside and show her a good time—“but not too good”; he’s still a dad!—and forget all about the Vulture’s arms dealings.

Now, do you think Peter is gonna do that? Yeah, me neither.


There are so many good moments in the film that I’ll happily see it again. You should, too. This is a super-hero film that’ll put a smile on your face early on and it’ll rarely leave.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Killing: Season 1 Episode 1

For a few weeks now, my wife has been enjoying AMC’s The Killing. I know next to nothing about it other than it is an American remake (re-imagining?) of a Danish show called “The Crime” (I had to look up that last bit). In my walks into and out of the TV room, I’ve noted a few things, namely the actors.

As a recent fan of House of Cards, I immediately recognized Joel Kinnaman. In HOC, he plays Governor Will Conway, the man who ran for president against Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood. I also took note of Michelle Forbes who I know as Ensign Ro from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Other than those two actors, I knew nothing about the show other than my wife loved it and constantly reiterated, “You know, you’d really love this show.”

Maybe, but isn’t The Killing yet another cop show?

Well, last night, I gave the first episode of season 1 a viewing. With a title like “The Killing,” you know there is going to be one, and you see it right out of the gate. No surprise there. But you don’t know who the victim actually is. The scenes of the victim running for her life are cut in with our lead character, Detective Sarah Linden on her last day as a detective with Seattle’s police department. We learn she’s going to marry her second husband and she and her fifteen-year-old son will move down near San Francisco. She’s packing her office when Kinnaman’s Stephen Holder waltzes in to his new office. Naturally, her boss instructs her to head up the investigation until 6pm that day. She’s got a flight at 9:30pm and, according to the boss, she’s still on the city’s dime.

Along with those scenes, you see a family with Michelle Forbes as the mom. It’s no slight of hand to know that this is the family to which the victim belongs, made even more obvious by the fact that their seventeen-year-old daughter hasn’t checked in since Forbes, her husband, and their two elementary age boys returned from their weekend camping trip.

You know where this is going as much as I did. The victim is the daughter. Detective Linden will somehow not get on the plane, and her last case will be the one that’ll likely cause some domestic strife with her fiancĂ©e.

But those elements are not in this episode. What is present is one of the more agonizing scenes of parents learning their child is dead I have ever seen. My benchmark for this kind of thing is Sean Penn’s character from Mystic River. That animalistic roar that Penn spews out is heartbreaking. In The Killing, you have something similar. Brent Sexton plays the father and he’s driving out to the location where his daughter’s friend said she went. He’s on the phone with Forbes. In the previous scene, the dad said he was heading out to the island to pick up their daughter. Forbes sighs with relief as does the dad…until he sees the police lights.

At the same time, the detectives are discovering the victim’s final resting place. Their reactions—especially that of Kinnaman (who is a narc cop coming over to homicide)—are great. But what tears your heart out are the reactions from the dad and Forbes, who can only hear what’s going on via her phone. Excellent, excellent scene and it truly rips your heart out of your chest.

What began, for me, as yet another cop show transformed in that moment. I’m all in for The Killing.

Yeah, I guess my wife was right after all.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

ESCAPE is the third movie of the original five-movie Planet of the Apes saga. If I’ve ever watched it, I have no conscious memory of it, so, for all intents and purposes, this is my first time viewing it.

BTW, for those keeping score at home, you’ll likely note there is no review for Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). I wrote one for the original 1968 film. It is better this way. I just flat-out didn’t like it and was glad they went ahead with ESCAPE.

ESCAPE opens with a great shot: three astronauts emerging from the same spacecraft Charleton Heston used in the original POTA movie, except this time, when the trio remove their helmets, they are revealed to be apes! From the future! The producers, probably realizing their mistake with BENEATH, brought back the two best apes from the first film, Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowell) and threw in a third one who dies pretty quickly and I’ve already forgotten his name. Thus, two simultaneous things are at play now: the apes can comment on modern culture circa 1971 and the producers can save a ton of money by needing only to have two actors in make up.

Zira and Cornelius are befriended by a kind scientist, Dr. Lewis Dixon, who takes them on a whirlwind tour of Los Angeles (another way to save money by shooting locally) and letting them experience everything we humans take for granted. In the meantime, the President has started a special commission to determine what to do with the pair of simians and what nefarious means they might or might not have used to overpower Heston’s character in the future.

Naturally, there are misunderstandings and imprisonments, escapes and chases. A few things struck me, however. There is a lot of talking in this film (and the previous two). Characters discuss who should live or die and what it means to be the dominant caretaker special of the planet. The humans, of course, are horrified that the future apes experimented on humans, forgetting that we humans now experiment on nearly all animals considered lower than us on the food chain. It was also nice to see the President being a voice of reason. Too often in films, this is not the case. Lastly, I find it strange that the humans of 1971 care so much about events 2,000 years in the future. We must kill these two apes now to prevent Future Apes from becoming the dominant species. Really? But it’s a decent plot point.

The ending was a surprise when I watched the film but not so much given some more time for thought. There was little where to go with the current story line so it needed to end the way it did. Not nearly as iconic as the original POTA film, but right in line with nearly every other monster movie ever made.

A little nuance struck me while watching the film. If you take the titles literally, then ESCAPE is the three Future Apes escaping back into the past in order to live. However, as the story progresses, you can also interpret the title to mean that we humans in 1971 are the “beasts” and that the Future Apes must escape from 1971. But they have nowhere to go.

Enjoyable film and I’m looking forward to the next one, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.