Monthly Archives: October 2015

Coming Attractions: The Man in the High Castle (Preview)

The best (Philip K Dick) novel of all time, The Man in the High Castle will be coming to your favored viewing device on November 20, 2015 – just in time for Thanksgiving, via Amazon. So while your drunk uncle and Trump supporting uncle (who may or may not be the same person) and other assorted relatives are watching the football, you can lean back, plug in your headphones and see the greatest alternative timeline story ever told, on your fully charged phone. That is, if you have access to Amazon Prime. So if you haven’t done the trial membership yet, wait for it.

But here’s the bestest news of all – even if you’re a shlub who blew your Prime trial on Bosch, and you don’t have a significant other or family member willing to trust you with his or her Amazon password, you can watch the pilot episode FREE now (and if you do have Prime you can watch the second episode too).

What is The Man in the High Castle and why would you want to watch it? The Man in the High Castle is the television adaptation of a novel by Philip K. Dick – the man whose books have been the basis for Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, The Adjustment Bureau and more. It’s set in a world where FDR is assassinated in 1933, the US never gets over the depression, Kirk never lets Edith Keeler die, and we lose World War II. The post-war US is divided by Japan and Germany. Japan controls the West Coast, the Germans have the East Coast and most of the rest. The Rockies form a buffer zone. The novel takes place in 1962. There’s a novel within the novel called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, which offers an alternate history – not ours – but closer to it. In that version,  Germany and Japan are defeated, but Russia barely makes it through. The US and Great Britain emerge as the world’s two competing super powers.

In 2010, the BBC announced a planned four-part adaptation, with Ridley Scott as Executive Producer. Five years later with Scott still at the helm and no BBC involvement, it’s here. Why haven’t there been previous feature films? Possibly because the tone of the novel is so dark and humorless, and the ending doesn’t feel like one. Dick planned on writing a sequel. A couple of chapters exist, but he abandoned the project finding it too unbearable to read more about nazis and try to get into their heads.

Amazon refers to “season one” availability, so it’s unclear whether or not they’ll be following the book’s storyline, or going past it to create a broader series about life under occupation or giving us the sequel Dick never finished. The pilot follows the book’s plot with some variations, but not enough so far to cause this fan to go ballistic.

The biggest difference so far is that in the adaptation, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a film, not a novel. It looks like an authentic World War II era newsreel. Some people believe it is, and that belief causes the nazis to make even watching it an act of treason punishable by death. Others believe it is merely anti-fascist fiction. In both the novel and the series, the actual man in the high castle is the creator of the work. Why a newsreel rather than a novel? Maybe it’s simply a matter of one being more visual than another. We can experience a film within a film and watch it with the characters, a book within a film is tougher.

The pilot, like the book, is uncompromising in its bleakness, and then in episode two the darkness is magnified. Imagine if you will, living in a world that totally sucks and Jon Stewart was never born because his grandparents were wiped out. Amazon seems to be attempting irony in one of its promos – which doesn’t jibe with the tone of the pilot. They  use the song Edelweiss from The Sound of Music over the opening credit sequence, but this is not satire, so don’t expect The Confederate States of America. But if you are a sucker for parallel/alternative realities, this is the mother of them all.

Enjoy (if that’s the right word) this official promo:

(This piece will appear soon on Happy Nice Time People where you can see more of my writing about television. If you can’t get enough of alternate timelines, you might want to check out this little novella. And remember, nothing says thank-you for offering all this free stuff with no intrusive advertising like buying one of my cheap books and maybe even writing a glowing review.)

Quantico Episode 4: Kill (Your Television)

If Quantico were just 10% more terrible, it would be great. For now it continues to ride the thin edge between hate-watchable and Ambien. I blame Josh Safron, the showrunner. His previous two-season camporama, Smash, was a total trainwreck, but Quantico is just a bus full of beautiful people stuck in traffic.

It’s not the constant seasaw timeshifts that make Quantico difficult to get into, or the lack of relatable characters, or even the utter ridiculousness of everything. It’s the totally awkward way characters blurt out IMPORTANT information. In the academy scenes, we watch swimming, shooting, and running exhibitions, followed by Miranda at the podium, explaining important life lessons. It’s like someone else’s summer camp home movies, if they went to a camp for runway models. Both timelines are filled with clunky dialogue dropping reveals and hints. The main means by which we “discover” anything is by being told in the present about something that happened in the past, with a hint that we’ll actually get to see that thing we now already know about in the future. It’s like getting the punch line before you’ve heard the joke.

(To read the rest of this brilliant episode recap and takedown, please visit the television blog that may be too hip for the room, Happy Nice Time People. You can also catch my Homeland recaps and other stuff.)

Idiots at the Opera: Il Trovatore

Just wanted to quickly RAVE about Il Trovatore at the Met. We went to see it Tuesday night, a very last minute decision. I read this great review in the Times, which mentioned that bass baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky would be leaving after Saturday’s performance to get treatment in London for a brain tumor.

I hadn’t heard about his illness before – which he went public with in June after cancelling some recitals. It’s shocking news. Hvorostovsky is one of the reasons I became a late-in-life opera fan.

It was only a few years ago that the better half surprised me with opera tickets (not exactly on my birthday, but close to it.) It was a production of La Traviata with Natalie Desay singing Violetta, and Hvorostovsky as Germont. Who was the tenor? Who even cares?

Desay was of course great – which she usually is when she shows up. But Hvorostovsky was a revelation. He not only had a beautiful voice, but he managed to make Germont a surprisingly sympathetic character. Surprising, because anyone familiar with the opera can mentally reference those first very dark notes that herald the character’s arrival before he even sings.

Sure he manipulates Violetta, plays on her soft heartedness and gets her to give up the love of her life – even though it may cost her her life, but somehow we feel sympathy for him, and when the character comes to realize his mistake, Hvorostovsky sang his pain.

The next season we saw him as Rodrigo in Don Carlo. We disliked the production which was slow and drab, but Hvorostovsky again was a stand out. Last year, we caught him in Un Ballo En Mascara. I wish I’d seen him live in Eugene Onegrin, but I only caught that one on video.

He is not only an absolutely beautiful man with gorgeous head of snowy white hair (prematurely gray is not a description that does it justice), he is just the epitome of barrihunkdom – with a unique deep velvet voice. I had been planning on seeing Il Trovatore, but when I read that it would be the last chance to see him until February, and that given the uncertainty of his diagnosis, maybe the last chance to see him, I immediately decided to get standing room for that evening.

People who follow my cheap seats advice might wonder: “Why standing room?” My logic was as follows: There were very few seats left in the house. Most were way above my pay grade. It was almost 10 am. I could have waited and tried for rush-tickets at 12:00, but I knew I wouldn’t be the only one reading the Times rave, or finding out that Hvorostovsky would be leaving the production earlier than expected. With a cast that also included Anna Netrebko and Younghoon Lee, I knew the chances of successfully getting rush tickets – which are sold online on a “first come, first served” basis with everyone trying to “click” on at noon, would be slight. But I figured if I clicked onto standing room at 10, I’d have a good chance of getting the front row of standing, where you can actually see the stage and not the back of someone’s head. And yes, I did manage to snag front row “places” including one by the aisle which the somewhat claustrophobic better half appreciated.

How was it? Magnificent. Like Carmen, or La Traviata, there are enough familiar tunes in Il Trovatore and a lively enough plot to keep even a novice opera-goer entertained. Per the Times review, Hvorostovsky has lost nothing to his illness. He managed to make Di Luna, a flawed man whose pride and actions make him a villain, nevertheless sympathetic and tragic.

Netrebko was also at her best as Lenora. We’d heard Younghoon Lee before, as Don Jose in Carmen. I hadn’t been overly impressed then. It might have been a lack of chemistry with his co-star, but his performance seemed to lack passion, or rather his Don Jose had more passion writing to his mother than pursuing Carmen. However, Tuesday night Lee’s Manrico changed my mind about him. What a voice! And perfect for Verdi! Lyrical, romantic, valiant. Everything you could ask for in a tenor. We’d never heard mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick before. She was outstanding as Azucena.

There was certainly an added excitement, the knowledge that though we should all be optimistic about Hvorostovsky’s prognosis, we must cherish him all the more, and there was great applause when he first appeared, as well as a much deserved standing ovation for his aria, Un Balen del Suo Sorrisa. (Even conductor Marco Armiliato put down his baton to clap.)

I can’t say enough good things about the production. I am absolutely snarkless – a rare event as anyone who follows my blogs can attest.

So what should you do if you don’t have tickets for the Saturday matinee performance? There are still a few left but only at $228 and up as of this writing. There will be a very limited number of rush seats available, so your chances of getting one, let alone two is low. You could try standing room, which you can’t buy on line for Saturday matinees. You might take your chances over the phone or at at the box office (but there’ll probably be a line). However, here’s some good news – even for people who don’t live anywhere near New York City: Saturday’s performance will be LIVE in HD. So you can see it (if it isn’t sold out) at a theater near you (maybe). And you should!

Taking you out is a clip of Hvorostovsky singing his aria (from the 2011 live in HD):

(If anyone wants to thank me for giving you great cheap tix tips and the rest of these amusing posts, please go to my Amazon page and buy a book. Your contribution will help feed a formerly feral cat who now lives better than most humans on the planet.)