Lindbergher, Slightly Overdone: The Plot Against America, Part 3

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020 | Posted by James Enge


I don’t know, man. It seemed like something that could not possibly fail. A brilliantly weird memoir-novel by one of America’s great writers, a timely subject, the team of writer-producers who created The Wire (one of television’s greatest shows), a gifted cast, high production values, a network known for sponsoring bold and innovative work. And yet…

No, this isn’t about the only-in-my-dreams TV adaptation of The Wolf Age. It’s the ongoing HBO adaptation of Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America that’s making me sad.

I’m not here to tell you that it’s a disaster, because it’s not. In every episode so far (see here for my assessment of episode 1, and here for my wise words on episode 2) there has been great stuff. One example: young Philip’s nightmare at the beginning of this week’s episode when all the faces on his precious stamps turn into Hitler. It’s horrible — the thing that must not happen, and yet seems to be happening no matter what anyone does to stop it. In a few seconds, without a word spoken, it expresses what the show (not to mention its source-novel) is about.

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Nero Wolfe’s Brownstone: The ‘Lost’ 1959 Pilot

Monday, March 30th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Only a few years ago, the ‘lost’ pilot of a 1959 Nero Wolfe television show came out on DVD. Surprisingly, no one posted it on YouTube until March of 2020, while much of America was staying at home during the Corona virus Pandemic. I myself saw it for the first time on March 22, so here we go!

Back in 1959, Edward Fadiman, part of Fadmian Productions, (which also acted for Rex Stout as ‘Nero Wolfe Attractions’), got a pilot episode made through CBS. Unfortunately, it was fated to be a one-episode series (or was it?). TV was still an emerging medium, competing with radio, the silver screen, and the stage. It’s no surprise that the project turned to Broadway for the dual leads. And in this episode, Archie’s star shines at least as brightly as Wolfe’s.

Kurt Kasznar appeared in one episode of a lot of TV shows, which was common in the fifties and sixties. He was a successful stage actor, including roles in The Sound of Music, and Barefoot in the Park. When notices about the pilot project began appearing in early 1959, he was appearing in Look After Lulu. At 280 pounds, he had the build for Wolfe. The press reported that he actually had lost 70 pounds and needed padding for the part! William Shatner was appearing on Broadway in The World of Suzi Wong. He was years away from boldly going where no man had gone before.

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Dracula in Espanol? Si!

Sunday, March 29th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller


Hello. Since this is my first blog post for Black Gate, I feel that an introduction is in order. My name is John Miller and I am a writer. My name is a both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it is short and simple and easy to remember, a curse because it’s common and as easy to forget as it is to remember. I have written under the name of J. J. Miller (only when I was young, and somewhat under the influence of E. E. Smith), as John J. Miller, and, finally, as John Jos. Miller, when I had to differentiate myself from the other John J. Millers of the world. (Also, as simply John Miller, but only for my technical archeological reports and papers. You can try to track down “Resource Allocation Strategies on the Navajo Reservation in the Early Twentieth Century,” but good luck in finding it.) I’ve been told that I probably should use a pseudonym (I did write one novel under a pseudonym, but that was not my choice.), but I am stubborn and bad at self promotion and John Miller is my name (along with tens of thousands of other Americans) and I’m sticking with it.

I read a lot of stuff and watch a lot of stuff and like to share my opinion of what I like and don’t like. Who doesn’t? I have my prejudices, which I will admit up front. I don’t like torture porn or most slasher movies. I don’t like most modern Rom Coms. I don’t like movies where the whole point is that the characters are stupid. Dumb and Dumber? I don’t think so. (Once I actually paid money to see an Adam Sandler movie and I’ve regretted that ever since.) I really don’t like movies where they shoot the dog. (The exception that proves this point is John Wick. I’ve seen it three or four times, but not the scene where they kill the dog. Sometime I’ll have to tell you about the discussion I had with George R.R. Martin as to why Old Yeller is a terrible children’s movie.)

Rating movies under a five star system is insufficient, even if you cheat by halving the stars. I use a modified IMBD 10-1 system, but to add a soupcon of nuance, I use a “plus,” so my scale actually runs from 10+ to 1.

I almost always finish everything, book, novel, or movie, that I start. Thing is, I’m willing to take the bullet so you don’t have to. That’s what I’m here for, but mainly I like to share things I like, so let’s get down to it already.

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Let’s Do Something Awful: Part 2 of HBO’s The Plot Against America

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020 | Posted by James Enge


I hate putting swastikas in front of people, but it’s more or less unavoidable here

There continues to be a lot to like in this show. (See here for my thoughts on the premiere.) In the last moments of the second episode, the show’s history branched significantly away from ours, as Lindbergh was elected president on his Isolationist platform. But the show remains grounded in a patiently constructed, vivid reality — it’s not one of these awkward historical drams where people rant paragraphs of exposition at each other. This is about recognizable human lives. It’s a big deal when Bess Levin (Zoe Kazan’s character) gets a job for instance. And dad gets mad at the radio a lot — but there’s no question which thing young Philip is more worried about.

And it’s not an unfaithful representation of the book. Storylines are compressed and events are re-ordered to fit the constraints of a six episode series, but there are big stretches of dialogue that come, word for word, from the book. And they work on screen, because Roth (unlike many a novelist) knew how people talk. And, also, because the actors (especially Morgan Spector and Anthony Boyle) sell the lines convincingly. Arguments in TV shows are usually a recipe for boredom. (“WHY WON’T YOU LET ME LOVE YOU?” “I DON’T KNOW HOW!” etc. etc. until the commercial break.) But these work.

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Star Trek: Discovery: A Quick Dive Into the New Face of the Franchise

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020 | Posted by Adrian Simmons


Review’s Log, Stardate 2020.3.18

It’s not how I would have done it.

Honestly, any review/criticism of a beloved franchise that doesn’t begin with those eight words is committing a significant lie of omission. Indeed, I feel that all future reviews should be required to begin with those words, or the INHIWHDI acronym. Consider it a new Prime Directive for our wounded age.

Reviewer’s Log, Supplemental

Timing is everything, and Star Trek: Discovery (ST:D) really drew the short end of the stick on this one. When I got CBS All Access I didn’t know it was all access. As in the entire CBS backlog. Original Series Trek, Next Generation Trek, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and the Animated Series from ’74.

It is not ST:D’s fault that I dove right into the Animated Series (ST:TAS) as soon as I realized I had it. And ST:TAS was just as weird/cool/funky as you would think it was. It was also delightfully subversive and progressive. Uhuru commands the Enterprise twice. Is there even a live-action Trek that has a black woman in the big chair? Chapel solves The Problem once and solves The Other Problem once. Also, Kzinti.

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Goth Chick News: Universal Takes Up Its Dark Universe Again (insert facepalm here)

Thursday, March 19th, 2020 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Dracua Tom Cruise Goth Chick-small

A few weeks ago I shared the news that Universal Studios was adding to its theme park property with a new attraction called Epic Universe. That park would be made up of four ‘lands’, one of which will be dedicated to Universal’s classic monster characters. In my euphoria, I completely overlooked the inevitable truth that there was no way Universal was going hope the classic monster fans would make this new investment successful. No, they would have to try to attract a new generation of monster movie fans. They would have to modernize. Forget they blew it a couple of times already. The time is now to breathe life back into…

The Dark Universe.


If you haven’t been keeping score, this marketing idea was pretty much left for dead after the real-life horror that was the 2017 ‘modernization’ of The Mummy, starring (and I use that word in the absolute broadest sense) Tom Cruise.

This, of course, was the second death of Dark Universe, which quietly imploded the first time with the 2014 retelling of Dracula in Dracula Untold. Never heard of it? Of course not. But as Douglas Adams famously reminded us, it will be the marketing people who will be first against the wall when the revolution comes. Until then, they’re just banging away.

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Sad and Weird and Funny: HBO’s The Plot Against America

Wednesday, March 18th, 2020 | Posted by James Enge

The Plot Against America HBO-small

I watched the first episode of this show on the day that my Republican governor suppressed a free election, which I’m sure is one of those funny coincidences that we’ll laugh about when we’re trying to explain to the rising generation what an election was.

My feelings about the show are mixed so far. The novel is brilliant, if problematic. People who read a lot of sf/f mocked Roth for claiming to invent a new genre in this book, as if Murray Leinster and Philip K. Dick had never walked the Earth. But Roth’s novel is really different from any other alternate history that I’ve read. It’s a personal memoir of a time which did not exist, yet somehow did. It’s all very particular, filtered through the eyes and ears of a pre-teen boy — the things he hears his father shout at the radio, the appalling particularities of having to share a bedroom with his cousin who lost a leg in the war, trying to run away from home under a goyische surname so that he won’t be deported to Kentucky, etc. It’s sad and weird and funny as the narrative persona reflects on and reacts to the things he “remembers” as a child, some of which the author may actually remember from his actual childhood. This is categorically different from Professor Minott riding off to find death or glory on the shifting sands of parallel histories.

This great virtue of the book doesn’t really transfer to the screen. They have a capable young actor playing young Philip, but it’s much more difficult for movies and TV to pull off that restricted 3rd-person POV that Roth creates so skillfully in prose. The story is bigger on screen, with more voices, but also shallower.

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An Intelligent Medical-Thriller about a Worldwide Plague: Contagion (2011)

Saturday, March 14th, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly


The 2011 film Contagion is being remembered in light of current events. I remember it well — especially the part about not touching your face! Here’s what I wrote about it on my blog, back then.

Brief plug for the movie Contagion, an intelligent medical-thriller about a plague [that] quickly breaks out worldwide, killing a quarter of those infected. I was impressed by the Slate dialogue between Arthur Allen and Carl Zimmer, and advance articles that described the lengths director Steven Soderbergh went to instill scientific authenticity. The film tends towards a documentary style rather than a overtly dramatic end-of-the-world thriller style; I appreciated the focus on the *process* of analyzing the infection – to an extent it reminded me of The Andromeda Strain, with a similar focus on scientists as heroes (!). I was affected by the dramatic structure which begins the film with “Day 2″ and ends the film with “Day 1″, revealing — to the audience but not to the characters — the ultimate source of the contagion. And the music by Cliff Martinez is my kind of film music (though apparently not yet available on CD).


Goth Chick News: Watching Pet Sematary in a Pet Cemetery Is the Distraction We All Need

Thursday, March 12th, 2020 | Posted by Sue Granquist

On Set Cinema

With the zombie apocalypse bearing down on us in the form of this year’s flu season, Big Cheese John O has given up and ordered the Black Gate staff to work from home. I mean, there was really no point in Clorox wipes when this office is full of boys who haven’t dusted anything since we moved in. Trying to disinfect surfaces simply resulted in swirls of little antiseptic-smelling puddles everywhere. Weeks ago, I had fully abandoned the office’s unisex bathroom as a bad bet and started dropping in at the far more hygienic bus station down the street. And since no bakery would deliver individually-wrapped donuts, the only safe alternative to keep Black Gate running was to separate everyone. Of course, there’s no telling what leaving the staff unsupervised will do to the quality of the writing, but time will tell.

So, though hunkering down for some serious binge-watching seems fairly attractive at the moment, there are still some extremely good reasons to go out, besides having the outside world pretty much to yourself.

Namely, a company called On Set Cinema.

The concept is a simple one. Kenny Caperton, owner of The Myers House NC, which is a life-size replica of the infamous Michael Myers house from John Carpenter’s Halloween, came up with the idea to show movies in their actual filming locations. Though he screens content from all genres, his focus is horror films.

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Neverwhens, Where History & Fantasy Collide: Witcherian Swordplay and…. er… 14th century Mullets?

Wednesday, March 11th, 2020 | Posted by Greg Mele

The Witcher sword fight-small

OK, this is just STUPID, assuming one likes their fingers. (If, you are also angry that a guy in vaguely
Renaissance clothing is swinging a Roman gladius at a man with a medieval longsword,
I salute your attention to detail, but you’re probably watching the wrong show.)

There’s an interesting side-effect to being a researcher and author on historical, European martial arts (HEMA), especially when you also own a large, full-time school for the same in a major city. I wish I could say that side-effect is vast wealth and fame (someone pass a Kleenex to my wife, she always tears up when she laughs), but instead it is that, every time there is a major media event involving something sword-like, a well-meaning reporter wants your take on its authenticity. This happened almost every season during Game of Thrones, until I quipped “the show is so much more exciting when everyone keeps their swords sheathed,” and perhaps the funniest one was when The Force Awakens came out and the interviewer wanted my take on Kylo Ren’s new lightsaber style with its cross-guard/vent thing. I tried to give an honest answer:

Well, that seems a great way to cut your own arms off, but it sure looks neat. As to how they fight with the saber… I have to be honest, I have no idea how a psychic, telekinetic space-wizard uses a very light, edgeless plasma-beam trapped inside a force-field.** But it was fun!

**If I bungled some detail of lightsaber technology in that reply, don’t tell me. Ignorance is bliss, and honestly, it won’t change the point — a lightsaber isn’t a real sword, doesn’t behave like  a sword, nor are Jedi normal people. Consequently, the fights can pretty much be whatever the director wants. If you’re looking for “realism” in Star Wars, and have zeroed in on critiquing the lightsaber fights, you’re so far down the rabbit hole, I can’t save you.

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