Person of Interest: s02 e10 – Shadow Box

Oh, wow! This is where things really start to roll.

This far into Person of Interest‘s life, there have always been backround elements telling something of a broader story, and there was the season-crossing three parter concerning Finch’s kidnapping by Root (who gets a mention this week, to remind us of the lady), but there has been no directly continued story, until now. This week we had a cliffhanger ending.

The Number of the Week story was again well-planned, taut, intricate. Jessica Collins played Abby Monroe, outwardly a paragon: well-educated, thoughtful, in a socially worthy job with a charity offering low cost mortgages to returning ex-soldiers. In every respect the archetypal victim, as soon as you can find the enemy.

The enemy turned out to be Philip Chapple, Abby’s ex-boss, who had fired her and framed her for stealing. The loans were a scam, interest rates becoming unpayable within a year, foreclosure, one Bank selling them on and splitting the profit with Chapple. By setting Abby up, Chapple cut off going to the Law. So Abby, sister of a soldier who didn’t make it, teamed up with victim and boyfriend Shayne Coleman (Brian J Smith), ex-Army munitions expert with a prosthetic arm, in a plan to access Chapple’s safe deposit box and steal back the money.

It’s dangerous, and they’re highly suspicious of Messrs Reese and Finch, though they needn’t be: Reese has a thing about veterans being messed with and he ends up assisting in the execution of the robbery. That’s where it all goes wrong.

But this is the Number of the Week story, and that’s far from all we got. There’s Detective Cal Beacher hanging round Joss Carter: he enjoyed dinner (and from her smile I’d guess she did too), and wants to do it again. Carter’s re-opening the Davidson case, after the tip-off last week: she asks Beacher if he knew Davidson. Fusco, on the periphery, is worried about this, starts checking Beacher out. He’s a bit flash, best of everything, hints that he may be on the take. He’s certainly connected, as the Machine makes plain, to Alonzo Quinn, head of the vastly shrunken HR. In fact, he’s Quinn’s godson.

And Quinn and Simmons are plannning to rebuild HR. Now Elias has emphatically shut down that connection, they’re looking for a new revenue stream. An association with the Russian mob?

But the biggest movement in the ‘background’ is the reappearance of Special Agent Donnelly, free, now that HR has been reduced to an irrelevance (has there ever been anything on which Donnelly has been right?) to resume his obsession with the Man in a Suit?

They’ve got a new lead, but in order for Carter to be briefed, she has to accept a temporary assignment to the FBI, for clearance. Donnelly’s sure that will quickly become permanent, to Carter’s advantage. He’s got evidence that a new group, a Private Security organisation, with Chinese backing, has aquired the Man as an asset. And Donnelly is convinced the Man has flipped missing CIA Agent Mark Snow as an asset. This time, they’re going to get him, they have tracking devices put together by their men at Quantico that can locate the Man. Here, at this Bank.

Yes, at this Bank. The one Abby and Shayn, with the aid of Mr Reese, are robbing. They’re going in underground, timing their explosions to coincide with the subway trains. Using the stolen building plans, they get underneath the vault, blow the ceiling, let it come crashing down to them. They’ve got the accounts, Finch can (and will) extract every penny and transfer it to genuine veterans’ organisations. They’ve just got to get out.

Which is the problem. Underground, three of Chapple’s thugs are there with guns (one of them is a new hire for this job: remember that, it will be significant), keeping Reese and co. from getting out. Above ground, the FBI, with temporary Agent Carter, are raiding the Bank. Above ground is Finch, or ‘Harold Wren’, legitimate Bank customer, with passes and IDs for three associates. Reese and co need to climb up the rubble and into the Bank to find him.

That’s not easy with three gunmen shooting at you. Reese sends Abby and Shayn ahead but as for him… John Reese is resigned to what’s coming. It’s been on the cards all along, the inevitable moment when it stops working out. He accepts it. Just in this episode he’s woken up chipper and bright, has found himself… happy. He puts it down to the job Finch gave him. Reese has made peace with himself.

So, Fusco arrives to run interference for Harold and Co. And Agents Donnelly and Carter sweep down into the chamber below the vault where the Man in the Suit has been captured. Except that his men are holding four prisoners. All men. All in suits. One is John Reese. The FBI have got their man. All they have to do is find out which one he is.

The game is not over. There’s an awful lot more of it. But that’s next week…


Not-Crap Journalism

Sometimes, things appear in the Guardian or on its website that are crap, or perhaps I should re-define that as particularly crap, and I jump on them.

Rather more rarely, something comes up that is not only not-crap but which I think should be picked out and celebrated. Like this, today:

“Perhaps some of the poignancy identified in Suzanne Moore’s piece (16 July) can be attributed to the fact that those of us who added Neil Armstrong to our book of explorers as children didn’t expect him to be on the last page, but the first page of a new and much bigger book.
Christopher Ward

It’s noticable, however, that this doesn’t come from one of tthe writers, but rather a reader.

Film 2019: Superman II

I dunno. And I used to like this film so much.

Superman II came out in 1980 and I saw it back home in Manchester. I liked its breeziness, I liked how it focused on the superheroing to a much greater extent than the original film, without the long introductory sequence that told Kal-El and Clark Kent’s origin, and I liked that it put Superman up against opponents capable of giving him a good fight.

I wasn’t unaware of its faults, such as the plot-holes you could drop the Fortress of Solitude down, and the way it cheated on the ending, but I loved its relaxed nature. It was fun.

Unfortunately, it’s now forty years ago fun, and all the things it set out to do and achieve have been done far better, far more often and far more convincingly in the Marvel films. The effects in Superman II just don’t match up (hell, they don’t even match up to Superman I!) and the inability to generate any pace in the film because of the laborious natue of those effects, not to mention the way everybody struggles visibly with the walls they knock down or the things thrown at them, now leaves it looking very feeble indeed.

And a large part of my loss of pleasure at the film is down to the controversial decision to replace Richard Donner, Director of I with Richard Lester as Director of II.

The two Directors have opposing approaches to their material. Donner was heavy on the mythology of Superman. No matter how far his depiction of Krypton and its destruction varied from the comics’ visual canon, Donner is faithful to the spirit of Jerry Siegel’s original, as is his vision of the paradoxical grandeur of Kansas, the open spaces in which Clark grows, and which gives the film such a grandiose structure that the later loss of confidence and descent into silliness can’t quite spoil.

Lester, on the other hand, was actively looking for silliness from the outset. Yes, he ditches Otis (Ned Beatty) quickly, and makes minimal use of Miss Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine, mostly covered from head to toe) before letting her slip, forgotten, into the first of what is not so much a crack as a cavern, but Lex Luthor is still the bombastic clown of both films, playing both ends against the middle unavailingly.

The three Kryptonian villains are slightly better. Terence Stamp, as General Zod, phones in a generic peformance of unperturbable command, Sara Douglas, as Ursa, camps it up wonderfully in a performance of Batman TV show slinkiness, looking hot in leather slit up and down all limbs (Douglas has spoken of how, to get the right effect, she was constantly sucking her cheeks in), but Jack O’Halloran, as the dumb brute Non is just daft and not half as tough as he ought to be.

But everywhere, if there’s a cheap option that undercuts any dramatic aspect to a scene, Lester heads for it like a bloodhound scenting a man on the run, and insists  on cramming it in. It creates an imbalance that, to my eyes in 2019, leaves the film feeling uncomfortably close to the atmosphere of the Batman tv show: Lester can’t take his material seriously enough to layer the humour into it instead of faintly pointing it up. I feel condescended to for my enjoyment of the subject.

Naturally enough, the movie’s biggest plot hole is the most obvious one. Clark subconsciously gives his secret away to Lois, because he loves her and wants to share with her. The genuine love between the two is evident in the scenes that follow this, despite Lester’s desire to load things up with banality (‘I’ll just go and slip into something more comfortable’, forsooth).

But the plot, as conveyed to us by Susannah York as Lara, Kal-El’s mum (they couldn’t afford Marlon Brando twice) means that if Superman wants to shag Lois Lane as much as she wants to shag him, he has to lose the powers: we have all read Larry Niven’s ‘Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex’, right? Though Phil Foglio found a way round that in his Inferior Five mini-series. And he has to lose them permanently, as in permanently permanently.

Unfortunately, whilst Clark Kent is losing his virginity, Zod’s taking over the world. Clark and Lois discover this whilst still under the afterglow of bonking their brains out, calling in at this roadside diner as they travel south in the hire-car they had delivered to them at the cracked and broken Fortress, way in the Arctic Circle, along with Lois’s complete change of outfit. Lester’s way of playing the scene makes it look as if Clark is determined to recover his irrecoverable powers less to deal with this earth-shattering crisis and more because he’s decided that dipping his wick is less meaningful than it not hurting when loudmouth shitbags punch him out.

So Clark walks back (walks back in a short jacket and bare hands where it takes fully-wrapped-up Lex a snowmobile to arrive) and retrieves his powers offscreen in a manner we’re left to infer from the fact the green crystal was lying on the floor and didn’t crack up.


Where the film does rise above itself is in the first part of its ending. Clark’s Superman again, the Kryptonians have fallen down ice-chutes and been forgotten like Eve Teschmacher, and Lois has got to learn to live with the knowledge that she can’t even let on to Clark Kent how she feels about him, let alone ever sleep with him or even kiss him. And she loves him, oh how she loves him. Kidder portrays it in every quaver and attempted calmness of that delicious husky voice, in the haunted eyes that look everywhere but at Clark, in the words that the scripters, for once in the film, have chosen well. And Clark/Superman is for once helpless to prevent this private but altogether real tragedy, the pain he has brought to this one person who means more to him than anyone else, that he can’t let mean more to him than anyone else, this one person that he cannot save.

So toss in some fucking mumbo-jumbo about kissing Lois and she’s forgotten everything, including loving Superman and the audience is so fucking dumb they won’t spot that we’ve just shat on them.

I dunno. I used to like this movie. Now, all I can see is where the ridiculous Superman III is coming from, and why the franchise failed after IV, which I’m not looking forward to watching for a second time in case this time it starts to resemble Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice….


Man on the Moon

Fifty years ago today, we reached out from our planet and landed a manned spacecraft on the Moon. Neil Armstrong became the first human being to stand on the surface of another body in this Universe. I was a thirteen year old boy who had grown up on Dan Dare. We sat in front of the television that evening, the Sunday evening of 19 July for us in the UK, watching an animated Moonlander descend against a backdrop of stars until, with an ironicly unexciting ending, it stopped on a lunar landscape.

The actual moment when Commander Armstrong descended the ladder came during our night. I was thirteen, almost at the end of my third year at Burnage High School, with a bedtime of ten o’clock (or was it still nine?), and school in the morning. I was asleep when it happened. I never even thought to ask my parents if I could get up for the actual moment we walked on the Moon. There are few things I regret more than not even asking.

Maybe it means more to me now than it would back then, the Eagle-loving kid, who was one of that generation that expected things to get better forever, maybe it means more now that I know we stopped going to the Moon in 1973 and those who remember that day are growing fewer.

There were critics then, there are critics still, of then and any thought of now, and they have a valid point about the problems we have on our planet and the futility of spreading our presence further. But even if it was a political and military race that lost its point once America outstripped Russia, the Moon and Space were pointers for our generation, the very symbol of Optimism, the outward surge, the confidence in ourselves, the thing that said that nothing is beyond us.

Fifty years ago, we slipped the surly bounds of earth. Where have we gone?

The Infinite Jukebox: Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’

Some records you have to grow into.
I was just turned 14 when I first seriously began to listen to music, the beginning of the Seventies, 1970. A year of naivete, lack of knowledge, lack of background, and trying to work out what my tastes might possibly be.
One of the Top 10 records I heard that year was Marvin Gaye’s ‘Abraham, Martin and John’. I had no idea how uncharacteristic of Gaye’s recordings for Motown this song was, nor that it was a cover of a successful Dion single of two years earlier. Probably I’d never heard or heard of ‘I Heard it through the Grapevine’, though I did know Gaye’s name from his duet with Tammi Terrell at the end of 1969, on ‘The Onion Song’, whose simple, catchy melody I’d liked even as I struggled to reconcile it with the similarly themed ‘Melting Pot’ by Blue Mink. Did I like ‘Abraham, Martin and John’? Between then and now, I can’t remember.
One of the other things I didn’t know was Tammi Terrell had died at the age of 24 years within only a few months of ‘The Onion Song’, dropping out of our charts, of a brain tumour that had resisted nine operations, or that this was first diagnosed after she had collapsed on stage whilst singing live with Gaye in 1967. Gaye had held his partner’s voice in high esteem, and was devastated by her death. Because he was her friend, he was the only person from Motown to be allowed to attend her funeral, at which he sang.
Terrell’s death affected Gaye immensely, driving him into depression and drug use and into a deep rethinking of what he wanted from his music. The result of this was ‘What’s Going On’, as a song and an album. Berry Gordy hated it, thought that a song about Vietnam would kill Gaye’s career. Don’t forget that Motown was a commercial label, a hit factory, a production line, just one with incredibly talented musicians and singers. In Gordy’s eyes, ‘What’s Going On’ was anathema. Motown didn’t do politics, didn’t offend. I believe that Marvin Gaye responded to this by refusing to sing for six months, until Gordy gave way and agreed.
I heard it in the early part of 1971, a year on from beginning but not yet even beginning to form my own tastes. It was the follow-up to ‘Abraham, Martin and John’, but it didn’t chart, it didn’t get much airplay, and in my naïve way I blamed it on the contrast between the smooth surfaces, the easy, flowing vocals, the sweet music, and the busy, fussy percussion, bubbling beneath the surface of the song.
Every now and again, through the Seventies and beyond, there’d be Best Album polls. The New Musical Express came out with the first I saw, in 1973: their writers nominated 99, and a competition was set the readers to write 100 words nominating the 100th, with the winner getting the whole 100. Except that it was a Moody Blues album (my then favourites) and I had to pare my initial draft down from 200 words to exactly 100, I don’t remember my entry, but I didn’t win.
And the winner was What’s Going On, an album I’d never heard, that I’d never heard of, that seemed totally alien to the rock coverage of the NME. And every succeeding iteration of that Best 100, in that paper at least, was always won by Marvin Gaye and this album.
I was a white boy whose tastes started in pop, diverged into rock, with unwilling exposure to prog, and no interest in soul or disco, except for very odd things here and there (I was the least likely Jimmy Ruffin fan you could imagine). I’ve no idea now when I finally did listen to What’s Going On, but I was a long time past the Seventies, I had broadened my tastes in many unexpected directions (and I hadn’t had to listen to prog for a very long time).
And I was ready. Ready to listen with ears wide open to something that I at last understood was a masterpiece. To an album, to a song, that a man with things on his mind, looking at the world around him and seeing so many wrong things in it, seeing both his people and their people driven and riven, and speaking out, asking people to see and hear and and not keep on this path because of where it went.
First and foremost was this song. Musically, now I’ve discarded my stupid ideas about the clash between the voice and the percussion, I am in awe of it, as a relaxed, whole experience, that brings together Gaye’s assurance as a singer and his uncertainty as a man. The lyrics are simple and straightforward, couched as addresses to those around him as members of a great family: mothers, too many of them crying, brothers, far too many of them dying.
It speaks to the times, of a stupid, needless, cruel and draining war that too many rich white men avoided too easily and too many poor black men fought. Gaye sang from within the destruction of the Vietnam War, seeing the loss around him, asking for the tide to be stemmed, for the people to see each other as people. War is not the answer could be said in 1971, and increasingly many were saying it, though they were loathed and screamed at by the ones who weren’t at risk of dying.
Only love can conquer hate, in another’s voice, might have been a pale reflection of the hippy dippy trippy Flower Power of 1967, but in Gaye’s vision it was a reminder that we all of us must live together and that love was the only thing that worked for us all.
By the time I was old enough to hear these things, and to understand them outside of their being words, I was cynical and mistrusting, but I was old enough to hear this music and understand all it tried to do, and that its spirit was real, was whole, whole enough to overtake me.
America is no longer at war in Vietnam. Marvin Gaye was murdered by his father in 1984. But just as Sam Cooke saw what was around him, and put what he knew into ‘A Change is Gonna Come’, Marvin Gaye looked about him and sang ‘What’s Going On’. It too has not aged a nanosecond. It wrapped its time around itself, it was bold enough to make a statement, not a question, and it will forever speak to us of what we are and what we need to do and be if we are to extend our time on this planet.
Mama mama, there’s too many of you crying, brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying. Still.

Now here’s a thing…

Back on 29 June, I bought an item on eBay. I was notified to expect this 3-4 July. On 7 July, not having been notified that the item had even been despatched, I opened a query with eBay. The Seller did not respond. On 17 July, I was asked by eBay if the matter was resolved. I replied that I had had no contact with the Seller and requested a refund, which was made within thirty minutes.

Anticipating this outcome, I had already purchased the item from another seller. Despatch was notified same day and the item was received 18 July.

On 18 July, the Seller messaged me, asking me to re-pay. He claimed he had evidence of delivery. I replied that it had never been delivered, he’d never even notified eBay that it had been despatched, he’d never responded to my issue and I had no intention of re-paying for something I hadn’t had.

You know what’s coming, don’t you? I have returned from work tonight to a parcel, without a return address. It was posted on 16 July. It contains my item, no doubt from the original seller. Who still hasn’t notified me it’s been despatched.

I now have two things instead of one, and I only want one. I can’t return the superfulous one because I don’t know where to send it and in all frankness, I would resent the hell out of any suggestion that I pay return postage.

I don’t intend to do anything, except keep the one that arrived first. Some people are just idiots, aren’t they?

The Next Expedition?

There’s only a few minutes before I have to get moving and go to work. It’s been raining all morning, sometimes hard, but I feel as if my brain is finally starting to work properly again after a week of listlessness. So, after last week’s successful Patterdale Expedition, I’ve started thinking about where I might be able to get to next.

Do you know that it’s possible to get from Penrith to Buttermere village in just over two hours by bus, change at Keswick and via Borrowdale and Honister? And I already know it’s possible to get to Penrith by train early enough…

Thinking cap on, Crookall.