Good Omens (2019)

“Good Omens” is based on the novel by Nail Gaimon and Terry Pratchett. Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and Crowley (David Tennant) are an Angel and Demon who are quite fond of humanity and, grudgingly, of each other. They have had off the books meetings for centuries and have perhaps each influenced the other in a way that their supervisors wouldn’t condone. When Crowley is called upon to deliver the Antichrist, he knows the end is near. The demon and angel agree to each stay close to the child and try to influence him but what happens when it’s the wrong child? And what happens when Heaven and Hell are both willing to do whatever it takes for the ultimate face off to happen?

 

Nail Gaimon wrote the screenplay and worked in the role of showrunner for the production and it shows. I think this may be the most true translation of novel to screen that I’ve seen. From the perfect casting to joyful irreverence, this show is a pure pleasure to watch. I’ve seen it three times all the way through and have plans to watch a fourth time and am willing to bet that I’ll see a host of things of hidden jokes and sly references. A demon and an angel who have lived long among the humans and developed an affinity for humanity have a crisis of divine purpose vs what they really want. Early on there are two great scenes. In the first great scene, the Archangel Gabriel (Jon Hamm) finds Aziraphale in a sushi restaurant and question why he’d want to foul his mortal shell with ickiness. In another scene, Crowley roars up in his classic car to take delivery of the baby Antichrist and his fellow demons go over their accomplishments in securing souls. Crowley gives this off-hand high tech explanation of his mass frustration of humanity as they stand there dumbfounded. The humor in both scenes is pure Pratchett. Tongue in cheek, setting up the beings with whom we’ll spend the length of the miniseries and highlighting their hesitance to give up the comfortable lives they’ve established.

Good Omens is a complex story. In part it’s about the Prophesies of Agnes Nutter and her descendants carrying on her tradition, in part it’s the story of an impending war between heaven and hell and it’s also part the story of a great friendship of opposites formed outside of the gates of the Garden of Eden as two immortals ponder God’s ineffable plan. Narrated by God herself (voiced by Frances McDormand), it’s a mostly linear story that bounces through time. Aziraphale and Crowley do their best for the little Antichrist but, in the end, their efforts are pointless.

As one would expect from the cast, the acting in Good Omens is outstanding. Micheal McKean as Witchfinder Shadwell is just comic genius. Jack Whitehall as Newton Pulcifer/ Adultery Pulcifer is just probably the best performance this actor has turned out. Sam Taylor Buck as Adam Young (the Antichrist) is convincing in fighting his dangerous side. The scenes with Adam and his group of friends are as interesting as the playful byplay between the more seasoned Michael Sheen and David Tennant. These young actors have great futures ahead of them.

Good Omens is simply amazing. To say too much would involve spoilers. I know that there’s been some backlash against the production because it’s considered blasphemous and, if you’re religious, I’m sure it is but only in the best way. How nice must it be to be so absolutely sure that things that are unseen in life exactly as you think they are. That God is a long haired white dude and not some cheery lady with an American accent and a sly sense of humor. This is fiction, it’s not literal and I’ve always been of the opinion that if you don’t like it, don’t buy it, but that’s me.  It is tongue in cheek and clever. The rare talent that comes along in literature and thank goodness for Neil Gaimon translating it to the screen because it was the production was just a joy. To see some of the best scenes from the book acted out and exactly as one would have pictured them is just delightful. Agnes Nutter throwing open the door and facing Adultery Pulcifer was just beautiful.  Will there be more? I don’t know but given that Pratchett died after the publication of this first novel, I can’t see Gaimon going back to that well. Gaimon is an author that seems to respect legacy and as talented as he is, I would think that Gaimon would hesitate to continue without his original co-author’s cooperation.

See Good Omens. See it now. It is wonderful, amazing and fully worth binging over and over.

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Honor Killing: How the Infamous Massie Affair Transformed Hawai’i by David E. Stannard

Publication Date: May 2, 2006

In 1931, Thalia Massie stumbled from the brush into a car when she accused six Hawaiian men of gang raping her. When the accused went to trial and walked away due to a hung jury; Thalia’s mother and husband kidnapped and killed one of the subjects launching a highly contested trial. If aristocratic white folk exacting a revenge killing in a racially charged environment wasn’t enough to attract the attention of the world, Clarence Darrow for the defense in what would be in last case, was certainly a draw.

 

This retelling of the Massie case paints the picture of a flighty and somewhat spoiled woman whose marriage to a Navy officer stationed in Hawaii was on the rocks. The author broaches slightly the idea that Mrs. Maisse wasn’t raped but rightly doesn’t dwell on the matter because that’s not the point. The point is that there was serious grounds for doubt that the five accused were guilty of the crime. In fact, witnesses saw the accused Hawaiian men far away from where Mrs. Maisse was found on the night of the alleged rape. It certainly seemed to be a case of suggestion when they were identified. Suddenly the woman who claimed not to have been able to see her attackers clearly, identified them without a shadow of the doubt. It bears mentioning that men who have been locked up for years for crimes for which they were convicted by eyewitness testimony have been found to be innocent because people simply cannot be relied upon to remember things in detail.

The plan that Grace Fortescue, Thalia Massie’s mother and Thomas Massie, developed was that they would kidnap the newly freed accused men and torture them until they admitted their crime. The kidnapped Horace Ida and beat him badly but that didn’t satisfy Mrs. Fortescue’s thirst for vengeance. They next kidnapped Joseph Kahahawai, a prizefighter; and in the course of questioning, someone shot him. They were caught pretty much immediately and that’s when the oddest thing happened – people rallied behind them. They were sent flowers and gifts and had it not been for one brave Judge; they would not have been tried for the crime at all. Stories started to travel to mainland of the lawless of Hawaii and the “Hawaiian problem.” There were tales of Native Hawiians roaming the streets and  terrorizing innocent women. Filmmakers who had worked in Hawaii rose to the defense of her people. Grace Fortescue had suffered some financial bad luck but was able to use her newfound fame and sympathy to raise money to hire the best lawyer she could find – Clarence Darrow – champion of the underdog. So why would he take this case, you wonder? The author goes into the motivations and also the damage Darrow’s reputation took in certain circles for what could be seen as selling out.

Honor Killing: How the Infamous Massie Affair Transformed Hawai’i is an engrossing work on non-fiction. It starts slowly going over Thalia Massie’s life and some what damaged relationship with her husband. He behavior when she stumbling out of the brush was confounding. She said to the driver of a car she flagged down; “Are you white people” before climbing into the car on to the lap of the couple’ teen son and demanding to be driven to her home. When the revenge killing happens, the story picks up pace and the jaw dropping nature of it’s place in time engrosses the reader. I think many of us have probably said; “If anyone hurts my daughter, I’ll be the one to wind up in jail” but would we carry through? Would we be as proud of our actions as Fortescue certainly was. I don’t think there’s any question that she believed she had the right man but certainly the benefit of looking back at a full picture leads the modern reader to know that this poor Hawaiian man very likely died without purpose.

Stannard presents the readers of Honor Killing: How the Infamous Massie Affair Transformed Hawai’i  with a painstaking researched work that is one of the stories that is stranger than fiction. That a crime that impacted Hawaii in the way it did is not more widely known is confunding to this reader. If you enjoy true crime or legal history, pick this one up today.

Buy 

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The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Publication Date: May 1, 2009

Its 1985 and the fictional world is parallel to our own and someone is kidnapping literary characters. Its the job of Thursday Next, occupant of our world but detective in the Literary Detective Division, to find the culprit and stop them before its too late.

 

 

Every book claims to be like the work of a better selling author. They’ll up the ante saying that the work is by a author who is the modern version of the author to whom they’re likened. Usually they could not be less like the author whose name they use to promote themselves. In the case of Fforde, it would be in no way inaccurate to liken him to Douglas Adams. It would also not be inaccurate to say that they are nothing alike. Fforde and Adams share a well defined imagination with a lightness of being. Their worlds are intricate. Fforde is clearly extremely well read. The characters created by others in his story are wholly within character. The description of the fictional world is beautiful and complete.

Thursday Next is a complex character. The Eyre Affair is part time travel and part fantasy. History is rewritten, extinct species are not as extinct as one might think (Thursday has a pet Dodo). Her father can slow time and has been hunted by the Chrono Guard. There is simply too much to outline when it comes to this wonderful character. In the book world, characters play role. Jane Eyre is married to a fictional character not from her own book. There is an incredibly intricate bureaucracy in both the real world and book world and a delicate ecosystem in both. There are bookworms that eat prepositions and poop punctuation. Yes, it’s just crazy, but it works so beautifully well.

The Eyre Affair is a dance. There is chaos and just when you think there could be no resolution to anything it all comes together and things fall into place. Fforde gives a master class in creativity. His world is stunning. Kids trade cards of authors instead of baseball players and whole religions grow up around favorite works of fiction.  Perhaps the “He who shall not be named” bad guy is a little weak but in the end it makes sense. The Eyre Affair is exciting and poignant and there’s a hint of romance but not so much that it distracts from the master world building.

Despite his weak entrance, Archeron Hades is a brilliant bad guy. He is a sophisticated Snidley Whiplash, twirling his mustache and doing bad simply for the joy of the evil act and the satisfaction of a well crafted and executed plan. It;s not just a job for Hades, it’s a calling and he’s determined. Hades is not the only bad guy by a long shot. The Goliath Corporation may not be as innocent as they seem and just might complicate life more than people might like.

Ultimately, Thursday is a Mary Sue for those of us who love books. She travels through storylines and keeps the peace for favorite characters. Who wouldn’t want that job? The Eyre Affair is my Unicorn. It is the perfect book in that its so different than anything you’ll ever pick up that it is like discovered Adams and Pratchett again.

If you like quirky fiction, The Eyre Affair is 100% for you. Pick it up. There are no regrets.

 

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Paris is Burning (Documentary) by Jennie Livingston (Director)

On December 31, 2018 Hector Xtravaganza, Grandfather of the House of Xtravaganza (one of the early Latino drag families), died at the age of 60. Hector was featured in Paris is Burning and served as a consultant on the Ryan Murphy show about the New York gay ballroom scene of the 80s. Pose.

DVD Publication Date: February 22, 2012

Paris is Burning was filmed in the mid to late 1980s and chronicles the ball culture of New York City’s Black, Latino, Gay and Transgender community.

Paris is Burning

Paris is Burning follows the largely African-American Ball scene in New York City. Livingston became interested in the scene when she met a group of young gay men doing what they called “voguing” in Washington Square Park. Thinking the ball scene would make an interesting University project, the men suggested she contact the creator of the vogue moves, Will Ninja, who introduced her to the ball scene where contestants would have walk off competitions in a variety of categories. Contestants would be scored on a number of categories including realness of drag whether it be boy drag (banjee – or passing as straight), girl drag or androgyny. In exploring the ball scene, Livingston connected with many individuals and highlighted their stories.

As a parent, this documentary tore at my soul. On the one hand there’s the pageantry and over the top nature of the ball scene. A place to be accepted and celebrated for people who normally found themselves on the outside of 80’s mainstream society. A celebration of acceptance, open hearts and love. In the ball setting of everything goes live people who want to be who they are. They want love and happiness and the societal idea of normalcy. Venus Xtravaganza is a trans woman supporting herself as a call girl while dreaming that one day she’ll have the life she’s always wanted. People who love and accept her. People who see her as the woman she knows herself to be. Her longing for a life she’d never have was heart stirring. In my review of this movie I don’t wish to pontificate on gay rights but my heart broke for Venus in her dreamy desire for a life she would never have (not to give anything away). What we’re left with is a clear, unvarnished look at a woman who is hurting no one in her longing for the life of a suburban lady who lunches. Her end is heartrending and tragic and I will admit to wishing that things had worked out differently for this compelling young person.

As a longtime viewer of RuPaul’s Drag Race and follower of drag culture, watching Paris is Burning shined a light on how much the fore-bearers of the ball scene influence gay culture. The drag houses of the film still exist and thrive and the sense of community shines in the artists appearing on our screens weekly. Livingston showed the good and the bad. The nurturing “families” and the danger of daily survival. I searched wikipedia for many of the key players in the film after finishing and many of them lived on their terms and, sadly, met an early end. Hector Xtravanganza became a key player in HIV/Aids activism.

Paris is Burning is engaging, enlightening, joyful, heartbreaking and informative. It is a must see for humanity. Check it out today. I don’t know why I waited so long.

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American Horror Story: Asylum

Aired: October 17, 2012 – January 23, 2013

Set mostly in 1964, Kit Walker (Evan Peters) is accused of killing his wife (Britne Oldford) and locked up in Briarcliff Manor, an asylum that houses the criminally insane. Court appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Oliver Threadson (Zachary Quinto) is assigned to asses Walker’s ability to stand trial. Reporter Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) requests access to the asylum as she sees exposing the mistreatment of the patients as the making of her career. Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) denies her access so Lana sneaks in and is injured. Jude initially uses the injury and then Lana’s homosexuality to keep her locked away. Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) is using the patients to make the ultimate human beings. Dark forces are at work. In modern day in the ruins of Briarcliff will history repeat itself?

Asylum is the second show in the American Horror Story series.

 

There is a lot going on in Asylum. There are serial killers, alien abduction, demon possession, war criminals, the list goes on. The show tackles homosexuality, interracial marriage, unchecked medical practices and the abuses that occurred unchecked in asylums of the era. People treated as sub-human and disappeared easily. Each character is deeply complex and unique in their own right and few are truly evil, simply misguided in their approach to what they think is best for the world.

As would be expected from the calibre of performer to appear in a Ryan Murphy production, the acting is beyond reproach. I read a tweet not long ago that lauded Evan Peters as the Meryl Streep of the modern age and I can’t say that I disagree. He is an absolutely phenomenal artist. In Kit he is traumatized, confused and desperate. Kit is a man fighting for his life and the audience believes the urgency of his dilemma. Lily Rabe appears in this second outing as Sister Mary Eunice, a nun imbued with childlike innocence who turns evil. Frances Conroy appears briefly as an angel of death of sorts and her brief appearances are simply breathtaking. Though there are sex scenes in Asylum, they are less pronounced than in Murder House though, I must warn viewers that might be triggered, there is a pretty brutal rape scene that is in no way gratuitous.

Because of the many directions in which the stories go, some of them simply aren’t done very well. I know that there are lines throughout that will connect in the final season, perhaps the very poorly executed alien story-line that seems like an afterthought will re-emerge in Apocalypse. The backstories of the varied inmates (woman accused of killing her family, sex addicts, Anne Frank,  Pepper – a nonverbal patient who appears as a main character in the later installment Freak Show, etc…). Each character is explained and their motivations explored. Innocent and guilty melted together and forced to survive. Sister Jude rules the roost but she’s at odds with Doctor Arden believing that the experiments Briarcliff’s founder, Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes), has given Arden the space to perform is against nature but she soon finds herself with a greater adversary…her past.

I expected to be deeply uncomfortable with the cruelty of the Asylum and was but was intrigued with where the story would go and was not disappointed. The tie in of the past storyline with it’s present counterpart was expected but really well done. Adam Levine and Jenna Tatum are perhaps not the strongest actors in the piece but their brief appearance certainly makes its mark. Sarah Paulson especially was a standout as a later life Lana Winters. 

To say much more would be giving away the story so if you are one of the few people who haven’t seen this series and enjoy well acted drama, check it out. Let me know what you think.

 

American Horror Story Asylum is available as a DVD, Blu-ray and on Amazon Instant Video.

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Title American Horror Story Murder House
Director Ryan Murphy (and others)
Actors Evan Peters, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, Zachary Quinto (and others)
Length 13 episodes
Rating NR
DVD Release October 8, 2013

Eubeltic Descent by Nadine Keels

Publication Date: August 22, 2018

Abigaia Grena has only known a life of crime. A talented thief, she has come to hate what she’s become. She dreams of returning to her ancestral home but her intended isn’t interested in making the trip across the ocean. What will she do when the Euebeltic Realm needs her?

The author, Nadine Keels, gave me a copy of Eubeltic Descent in exchange for my review.

We learn the most important thing about Abigaia in the first few sentences; she rationalizes morality. She’s a thief but vendors anticipate thievery and make allowances so Abigaia suggests that it’s something of a social contract. At her core, she’s a deeply principled person caught in a situation she’s unable to control but she can dream and, perhaps; find the strength to make dreams reality. She’s a master of distraction and analytical thinking in her craft and uses that not only to misdirect vendors and readers. She’s led a rough life having lost her mother young and while her father was physically there for a while and impressed upon her the importance of her heritage, she’s terrified of him. Abigaia, now living with her aunt, has turned to something of a pack of thieves. Her aunt knows she can’t afford the things she brings from market but asks no questions. Keels impresses on us that these are desperately poor people living on the edge and hence, the world to which Abi’s ancestors immigrated isn’t quite the bright land of opportunity it once was and as she learns about her ancestors, her hope grows.

There’s a metaphor of modern life in Eubeltic Descent. The class system and shattered lives and the proud ancestry that one would hope is re-found. Keel’s writing style is an intelligent mix of a classic world and a carefully constructed progressive plot that shows massive growth in its main character that is in keeping with the girl we meet in the first few chapters. Abi starts as a little girl sure she’s too old for the games and matures into a strong and capable woman. Keel’s skill with the language is visceral. We see Abi’s hair fall to act as a disguise, we see Tarek’s raking smile, we stand in the kitchen with Abi’s aunt as she makes apple tarts. Its hard to go into the story without revealing massive spoilers but the lines of the plot come together smoothly taking readers on a journey to the unexpected.

As fantasy novels go, Eubelic Descent is a good one. It flows well and is a fast read. If you like character driven fantasy, be sure to pick this one up today.

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About Nadine Keels
For more information about Nadine Keels, visit her blog. You can connect with her on Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter @nadinekeels.