The Night Manager (television series)—a brief review and commentary

managerOften, the best stories begin as, well, stories. Before The Wizard of Oz was a groundbreaking film, it was a book by L. Frank Baum. Before 2001 A Space Odyssey was an influential science fiction film, it was a book by Arthur C. Clarke. Television series have also been book based, including such diverse stories as Little House on the Prairie, based on a series of books by Laura Ingles Wilder, and Game of Thrones, which was based on a series of books by George R. R. Martin. There are literally dozens of others, but I’m going to discuss one that you might have missed: The Night Manager, based on a book by John Le Carré. A friend recommended this six part series, and we usually enjoy the same sorts of stories.

The Night Manager is currently on a streaming service offered by a large online reseller, the one that starts with an A. Originally, however, the series was made for British television and shown in the states on AMC. As I don’t subscribe to cable, I missed it there, but my hubby and I saw this winner of three Golden Globe awards recently. The plot, although updated a bit from the 1993 novel, is intricate enough to puzzle, but not nearly as confusing as modern teleplays tend to be. The direction is subtle but sure. The acting is simply outstanding, with a star cast including Hugh Laurie (who starred eight seasons in House M. D.) and Olivia Coleman (who dons The Crown in seasons 3 and 4 over on Netflix.) The main character is brought to life by Tom Hiddleston, who has several Marvel movies as well as a video game in his resumé. This series was rather expensive to make, by BBC standards anyway, and was filmed in Egypt, Morocco, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

Here’s a bit of plot summary: A former soldier for the British army, Jonathan Pine, is portrayed as the night manager of a Cairo hotel as the story begins. He gets involved with a mysterious guest who is the girlfriend of a local gangster. Through her relationship with the gangster she has acquired information linking illegal international arms sales with Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), an English billionaire. Just after leaking information regarding the illegal arms, she is found murdered.

(Minor spoilers ahead)

Fearing for his own life, Pine flees, and is next seen, a few years later, doing the same job at a remote hotel in Switzerland. When super villain Roper visits the Swiss hotel, Pine longs to have some revenge, and soon he is enlisted by British Intelligence to spy on Roper. Before long, he has a new identity and an opportunity to infiltrate the small network of arms dealing. Getting information out, while staying alive and undercover is quite a challenge.

One reviewer called it a “classy thriller.” That nails it, but do check out this amazing bingeable series.

For All Mankind—on Apple TV

MankindWith the purchase of a new device from Apple comes a free subscription to their relatively new paid streaming platform. As hubby and I are often seeking a new television series to binge watch, we just finished For All Mankind on the Apple platform, and overall, we liked it quite a lot. However, I read several reviews, with criticisms being at least as numerous as the accolades, and often both are well deserved. The series was developed in part by Ronald D. Moore, who has a stellar (pun intended) reputation for writing and producing excellent science fiction, from Star Trek the Next Generation to Outlander, and with the simply superb reboot of Battlestar Galactica in between.

The scenario is quite promising: In an alternate history, the Soviet Union beats the United States to be the first nation to put a man on the moon, and the growing rivalry between nations causes the space program of the United States to flourish, rather than founder. Neither our citizens nor our politicians like being second best, so the need to catch up and surpass drives the plot. As an alternate history, many of the characters are based upon real people, but quite a few characters are inventions. Even those who are based upon real people have different adventures (or mis-adventures) due to the fictional nature of the series. The acting is good, as is the writing. The effects are very good, also. The sets, props, and costumes are really amazing—it’s truly a back to the 60s look. So far, so good.

But, as many negative reviewers have noted, the series is typical of our “social justice” modern agenda. Immigration, same sex relationships, race relations, and feminism are more than just sub-plots in this re-imagining of the space race. Each of these social justice themes has a story arc devoted to it, and these themes are every bit as strong as the “what if America had continued to send people to the moon?” theme that is the advertised plot line.

Alas, any subtle use of themes is no more. This alternate history is very good, but the social justice warriors are using a sledge hammer to right perceived wrongs. For All Mankind is just like many modern day productions in that regard. What could have been A+ for Apple’s streaming service is instead closer to a B-.

If you have Apple TV, check it out. If you don’t, I wouldn’t buy it for this series alone.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher— brief review and commentary

DiaristI’ve met a few people who have never seen Star Wars or any of its prequels and sequels. Weird, huh? For me, when it premiered in 1977, it was the best science fiction film I’d ever seen, and to this day, it ranks among my favorites. The characters leapt off the screen and into the pop culture of the United States. Even those unfortunate folk who mistakenly believe the film has nothing for them are probably familiar with some of its tag lines, such as, “May the Force be with you.” Literary critics sometimes opine that writers can tap into themes that go far beyond what they, as writers, envisioned, and I do believe that George Lucas managed that with Star Wars. Much has been published about his source material, from Saturday morning serials to Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. Yes, the film has some flaws, but it gets a lot of things right, including setting, plot, and especially character. Casting a young Harrison Ford as the scoundrel Han Solo was a great choice, as was Sir Alec Guinness as Obi-wan Kenobi, and Mark Hamill certainly looks the part of a young man on a heroic quest. Perhaps the most controversial choice would be casting the very young Carrie Fisher as a princess, but who else could have blended innocence, sass, and strength the way Fisher did?

For some forty years, Fisher was both herself and Princess Leia. Video of interviews and even stage performances document how much the role influenced her career and her life. But, Fisher was also an able writer; indeed, she wrote multiple books and was often called upon to assist screen writers as a “script doctor.” Her last book, published shortly after her death, is a witty and poignant recollection of the filming of Star Wars, a three month interval that she documented via journaling.

The Princess Diarest includes both journal entries and some poetry, mostly about Fisher’s affair with co-star Harrison Ford. The framework, that is her introduction and conclusion, are far more interesting to me, as they benefit from the wisdom and perspective of those forty years after the filming of Star Wars. While the diary entries can be interesting, mostly they reflect the infatuation of youth. The framework, however, was fascinating, just like the author.

Some people never saw her performance in Star Wars, but it’s likely that they heard her voice, as she did quite a bit of voice work, or saw her in other roles. The world lost an icon when Fisher died in 2017. Her talents were many, but some roles can’t be left behind, and Princess Leia Organa was such a role.

Lincoln— the film


I’m not sure why we didn’t watch it when it was new, but hubby and I were perusing a list of the best films available for streaming on Netflix, and we chose to view Steven Spielberg’s ode to the controversial president. Gosh, there’s been so much written about this man. Historians can easily demonstrate how controversial and even unpopular Abraham Lincoln was during his lifetime, but since then his stature has ridden the waves of popularity, sometimes to heroic heights and then again to be mostly forgotten.

I’ve read some of the books and articles on Lincoln, but there’s many, many more that I haven’t. Still, the film version has much to offer viewers, regardless of their prior knowledge of the civil war era leader. For the two hours plus of runtime, the film focuses on the struggle to pass the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the one which prohibits slavery, except as punishment for criminal behavior. Daniel Day-Lewis does a remarkable job of portraying the title character. Sally Field is also very good as the mercurial Mary Lincoln, and the supporting cast is peppered with famous and talented actors. When we paused the streaming version for a pantry raid, hubby and I commented that it was as if the script had been tailored to showcase some aging but remarkable players, including Tommy Lee Jones and David Spader.

Mostly, this is a really good film, but the beginning, although dramatically effective, leads a well-read viewer to question its authenticity. The soldiers who quote from Lincoln’s now famous address at Gettysburg seem so sincere, but it is quite unlikely that war weary soldiers would know by memory that speech, as it was not considered to be much good when it was delivered. History has given those words their significance.

Although I don’t remember the source of the recommendation to watch this film, I, too, endorse it. While the outcomes are not really suspenseful, the film holds the viewer’s interest. No biopic is entirely historically accurate, of course, but the spirit of truth is certainly present. Watch (or re-watch) and enjoy!

War Horse— review and commentary

War Horse imageMy sister offered me tickets to a play a while back, War Horse. Since I didn’t get a chance to make the show, I decided to put the film version in my queue at Netflix. Okay, historical films are not my usual genre, but this is one heck of an impressive story. The main character is indeed a horse, a half thoroughbred named Joey, born somewhere in the UK. The story begins with his birth and follows him through his adventures, from being sold at auction to a poor drunkard who couldn’t afford him, to his training by that man’s son, young Albert, to his forced sale to an army officer, who is about to embark on a journey to Europe at the beginning of World War I. Although the horse is the primary focus, the audience learns that Albert joins the army in hopes of finding Joey, and the action switches back and forth a few times, as the characters come closer together during the fighting in France. This war is depicted in detail at times, yet there is an almost surreal look to the filmography. If a war can be pretty, there are times when this one is. But, there are times when it is heart wrenchingly terrible, too. From a strictly historical viewpoint, I had no idea the role that horses played in WWI, and that millions of them not only fought, but died in service.

Joey’s fate is the suspense in this film, for most everyone knows who won that conflict. The script is excellent, the actors are really good, as is the direction, but perhaps the most striking thing in this wonderful film is the performance of the horse(s) that portray Joey. There are times that he seems supremely intelligent, and getting a horse to “perform” as an actor is quite an accomplishment.

War Horse, a Steven Spielberg film, is available on DVD. It is worth an evening of your time, especially if you are a history buff.

How Hollywood Could Solve America’s Financial Crisis

The topic of America’s fiscal future as a topic is a departure for me, for sure, but this post is writing related. The power of Hollywood, especially series television, but also film, is the most important factor in American culture. No kidding! Generations of moms name their babies after popular characters, for instance.

In American television and film, doctors invariably are able to work miracles. Patients die and are brought back with CPR, and so everyone these days is urged to take CPR training. No one on television has broken ribs from the procedure, which is common in real life, and almost everyone coughs a couple of times and is good as new by the next commercial break. But, in real life, most such heroic efforts are in vain. Hollywood thrives on heros and heroism, so extreme measures are rewarded.

However, in real life (and death) most folks who are at death’s door are going to go through it. One out of one persons on this planet will die. Most doctors, who do know the truth, will not take cancer treatments for late-stage disease. They don’t, because they have seen “good” deaths and “bad” ones, and they want to avoid the latter. But family members, brainwashed by the success rate of heroic doctors on the screen, often insist on the latest treatments for family members, even when the pathetic success rate is clearly stated. These acts of love, which often cause patients to be miserable because of side effects of chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, cost millions of dollars. Few lives are saved, and if they are lengthened, it might be for months, at best. The most expensive years of life, for many Americans, are the last two.

My husband is a cancer survivor. His illness was treatable; that is, his doctor stated that with treatment, he had an 85-90% chance of living out his normal life. Thus, the treatments, which were grueling, were appropriate. I am not speaking of that scenario. Plenty of people are cured or helped by treatments, but side effects and outcomes need to be discussed frankly.

But, because Hollywood’s fictional doctors can cure even the most hopeless of patients, many Americans have totally unrealistic expectations. And, since our doctors, the real ones, are paid for performing services, the money flows from insurance companies, especially the ones funded by the U.S. Treasury, into their accounts. Doctors are trained to preserve life, and are paid for procedures, so they have incentives to continue aggressive treatments, and well-meaning family members can add more incentives. No one wants to say, “It is time to let go.”

Please, script writers and producers, lets have a new wave of handsome, dignified actors “go gently into that goodnight.” This dose of realism would greatly help families avert feelings of guilt for not doing enough for their loved ones, and it would also save patients from the miserable deaths associated with vigorous treatments. A serendipitous side effect of the Hollywood treatment would be a vast reduction in medicare and medicaid bills for those who are going to die, and die soon, anyway.

Be courageous, Hollywood, and write about death and dying in a manner that is more realistic and, ultimately, more kind.