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The Fall or Dive of Sydney Gottlieb and Company – CounterPunch

Posted: January 5, 2020 at 3:51 am

Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being Ive ever known in my life.

from The Manchurian Candidate (1959), by Richard Condon

When you think about it, after 9/11, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush did Americans a favor by taking off the gloves, so that we could wring our hands to the toll for freedom in the upcoming dark battle against Terror and Reality-based thinking. Dont ask for whom the bell tolls, we thought, it tolls for Us. The torture trills and flourishes that followed, poor Abu rolling over in his shallow Ghraib, and the mad scientists brought in to offer up new, frightful concepts in torture, such as waterboarding, were the American equivalent of Chinese drip-drip-driven insanity, but, in our shock and aweful style, we wrung out the entire black cloud the whole inshallalah on one tormented terrorist after another.

We video-taped the enhanced interrogations techniques (EIT), but later destroyed the tapes, much to Congresss quiet chagrin, because they would have shown that the methods were excessive and the results meaningless. Later, much later, in 2014, Senator Diane Feinsteins intelligence committee found that EIT were ineffective and consequently illegal. (See the Senates The Report and the recent film, for more details on the committee findings, and CIA head John Brennans illegal attempts to quash the report by spying on the Senate.) In effect, her committee found, we tortured some terrorists who provided no valuable information, and tortured many, many others who turned out to be not terrorists at all. We rang dem bells some more.

The only CIA officer who ever went to jail for revealing the excesses of EIT, John Kirikaou, admitted, in a 2007 interview (pages 15-18 especially) with ABCs Brian Ross, that enhanced interrogation amounted to torture, and that he and colleagues thought it necessary at the time, and that it worked, leading, he said, to countless heads-up details that led to Jack Bauer-like last minute interventions in new al Qaeda plots. It almost sounded like an apologists gambit.

Kirikaou went to jail, became dubbed a whistleblower (by the likes of Glenn Greenwald), and was in jail when the Torture Report came out and contradicted his assertions about the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation. (Hed known about its ineffectiveness a year or so before his 2007 ABC News interview. In February 2015, he told Amy Goodman, It wasnt until something like 2005 or 2006 that we realized that that just simply wasnt truehe wasnt producing any informationand that these techniques were horrific. So, he knew a year or so before the Ross interview). Despite this apparent contradiction, and its implications, the MSM were supportive of his conversation starter about EIT especially waterboarding.

Reading Stephen Kinzers new book, Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control, you could find yourself believing that there were parallel Americas. The list of grisly murders, lethal cover-ups, assassination mindedness, and graphic details of super-enhanced interrogation techniques that made up the CIAs approach to handling the Fifties demonstrate unequivocally that the gloves were off way before Dick Cheney publicly stated the Bush administrations intended approach to those that done us harm on 9/11. If anything, Kinzer shows in Poisoner in Chief, that, by comparison, Cheney may have put the gloves back on to fight al Qaeda. The stuff Kinzer details about CIA operations, especially in the Sydney Gottlieb era, is so depraved you wonder if youve been conned by Bush and company.

Americans have been in a cold war with Russians since 1949, the year they successfully exploded an atom bomb of their own and the nuclear arms race began. It has been a relationship powered by fear, paranoia, and not a little madness, as America sees her ambition to be an empire partially checked by Russia and her potent missiles. If Kinzers read of the Fifties was accurate, it was an era marked, for Americans (and maybe the Soviets) by the terror of instant nuclear annihilation. There were fall-out shelters, procedures for hiding under your desk, and the occasional TV and radio transmission interruptions by the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS). Kinzer repeatedly emphasizes that this fear of annihilation was so often proffered as the motivation for the actions early covert operators.

George Orwells 1948 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was not only a look to the future but a pulse-taking of his zeit geist. The Spanish Civil War and the Great Depression sandwiched between two world wars crushed the spirits of millions. The kind of nihilistic impulses described by Erich Fromm in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness or even in The Waste Land poetry of T.S. Eliot seemed manifest everywhere. Ideologies duked it out: Capitalism, Communism, and Fascism. Out of one nation fearing anothers impulses, weapons of mass destruction had evolved from brute force to chemical weapons to biological weapons to LSD and other psychoactives to nuclear weapons. This is what was on the minds of writers, politicians, soldiers, and the CIA, back in the day.

So when the Soviets exploded their first atomic weapon in 1949 and then followed that up with the launch of Sputnik in 1957, American spies felt that they were dealing with a race against time. They started gathering German scientists, Nazi eugenecists, Japanese torturers, and others of twisted scientific persuasion who could lead military programs especially in mind control. Kinzer cites CIA director Allen Dulles mission statement as the basis for what the agency did:

By the early 1950s he had concluded that mind control could be the decisive weapon of the coming ageAny nation that discovered ways to manipulate the human psyche, he believed, could rule the world.

The CIA has always wanted to rule the world in the name of national security.

Operation Paperclip was the means by which totally unpalatable scientists mostly from Nazi Germany were allowed to escape post-war justice at Nuremberg, in order to help the Cold War effort against the Soviets. So, what was supposed to be a patriotic fervor to keep Mama America safe for baking apple pies, soon led to the recruitment of war criminals.

Most prominently, from Nazi Germany, came Kurt Blome, who had been director of the Nazi biological warfare program. Kinzer writes,

They had learned how long it takes for human beings to die after exposure to various germs and chemicals,and which toxins kill most efficiently. Just as intriguing, they had fed mescaline and other psychoactive drugs to concentration camp [especially Dachau] in experiments aimed at finding ways to control minds or shatter the human psyche.

He fit right in with Dulless vision. Their thinking was, writes Kinzer, instead of hanging Blome, lets hire him.

But the most important decision Dulles made regarding his desire to find a way to reach his Mission Accomplished goal was to hire Sydney Gottlieb to run his research and development umbrella program in mind control. As head of the Technical Services Staff headquartered at Fort Detrick in Maryland, Gottlieb coordinated the hundreds of myriad sub-projects and experiments that made up the notorious MK-ULTRA program. Though many twisted details would eventually be disseminated about the doings of these experiments, Gottlieb himself was regarded as a quiet and unassuming man. Kinzer describes him: [He was] a psychic voyager, far from anyones stereotype of the career civil servant. His home was an eco-lodge in the woods with outdoor toilets and a vegetable garden. He meditated, wrote poetry, and raised goats.

Nevertheless, one of the first things that Gottlieb did was to not only hire Nazi scientists, but head East, to Japan, to confer (and hire) General Shiro Ishii, a possibly criminally insane Japanese army surgeon who had headed Unit 731, a horror camp in Manchuria, where Ishii went to work on internees. Kinzer describes prisoners

slowly roasted by electricityhung upside downlocked into high-pressure chambers until their eyes popped out; spun in centrifuges infected with anthrax, syphilis, plague, cholera, and other diseases; forcibly impregnated to provide infants for vivisection; bound to stakes to be incinerated by soldiers testing flamethrowers; and slowly frozen to observe the progress of hypothermia.

Blome and Ishii were model types of the vision the CIA sought in order to gain an edge on similar Russian experimenters looking to create Manchurian candidates.

Black sites, East and West, were set up, where expendables were brought to be mercilessly and brutally tortured, sometimes in such ways that they could not be identified as humans any more. These sites were intentionally beyond US accountability, not set up to interrogate terrorists but to experiment on the mind. Such experiments were not carried out only overseas, but, also, stateside people were unknowing participants in CIA miscreance.

Project Bluebird, for instance, called for an experiment on everyone in San Francisco. Kinzer describes how a psychiatric team performed Operation Sea Spray:

scientists from Camp Detrick directed the spraying of a bacterium called Serratia marcescens into the coastal mist. According to samples taken afterward at forty-three sites, the spraying reached all of San Franciscos 800,000 residents and also affected people in Oakland, Berkeley, Sausalito,and five other cities.

Scores of people had to seek help at a hospital, a few people died from toxic reactions, but these psychiatric scientists proved that the Bay Area was vulnerable to germ warfare. Just in case anyone was wondering.

Gottlieb kept adding shadier characters to perform more and more outrageous tasks, in his effort to nail down how humans tick, deep down inside. But nobody was shadier than ex-cop George Hunter White, who, writes KInzer, stood out even in the dazzling MK-ULTRA cast of obsessed chemists, coldhearted spymasters, grim torturers, hypnotists, electroshockers, and Nazi doctors. Gottlieb had him open up a safe house in Greenwich Village where he lured unsuspecting expendables and others to parties where they could be doused with LSD for study (think: the psychedelic scene from Midnight Cowboy). In 1949, he arrested Billie Holiday for opium possession, which she claimed was planted and which put her through an ordeal that Kinzer says led to her decline toward early death. He later worked for Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Later, White was transferred back to his hometown of San Francisco, where he expanded on his doings in Greenwich Village, starting up a safe house that added the full gamut of sex acts to LSD studies, including Operation Midnight Climax. He leaned toward fascist leathers and stilettos, and provided prostitutes with get out of jail free assurances for assisting in the experiments. There were kundalini-driven orgies, whips and chains, acid trips, and gentle Gottieb with Whites wife, humping her brains out, while he recovered from tripping.

Gottlieb was originally employed as a master chemist. But the mild-mannered meditator also had a covert killer side to him. Kinzer describes the Poisoner-in-Chiefs hand in the assassination of world leaders. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai escaped one of Gottliebs plots with a last minute change of plans. Gottlieb was put in charge of killing Cuban leader Fidel Castro with poison, both directly (cigars) and indirectly (causing his beard to fall out so hes lose face with his people). He was involved in the takedown of Congo Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, personally concocting a poison that if it didnt kill Lumumba outright, writes Kinzer, would leave him so so disfigured that he couldnt possibly be a leader (again with the losing face theme).

And the craziest characters kept joining his subprojects. At McGill University in Montreal, Dr. James Hebb studied the isolation technique [that] could break any man, no matter how intelligent or strong-willed. In another subproject he brought Ira Feldman, a master of old-fashioned interrogation techniques who observed, If it was a girl, you put her tits in a drawer and slammed the drawer [and if] it was a guy, you took his cock and you hit it with a hammer. And they would talk to you. Now, with these drugs, you could get information without having to abuse people.

In New York, John Mulholland, a professional magician whod worked with Houdini, joined MK-Ultra subproject 4, taught sleight of hand and misdirection to the CIA, and even developed a manual for them, The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception. The crazies and subprojects of MK-ULTRA just kept piling up. Under Subprojects 9 and 26, Gottlieb studied ways that various depressant drugs can shake a persons psycheSubproject 28 was to test depressants ..Subproject 47 would screen and evaluate hallucinogens, Subproject 124 tested whether inhaling carbon dioxide could lead people into a trance-like state, and Subproject 140 tested the psychoactive effects of thyroid-related hormones.

It wasnt until Dr. Harold Wollf came along in 1954 that CIA methods took a turn toward the ways and means we wring our hands over today. Wolff shared Dulless fascination with the idea of mind control, writes Kinzer. Wollf headed up the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology. He proposed placing subjects in inescapable situations that eroded their psyches to the point where, desperate to escape,

doctors could create psychological reactions within test special methods of interrogation, including threats, coercion, imprisonment, isolation, deprivation, humiliation, torture, brainwashing, black psychiatry,hypnosis, and combinations of these with or without chemical agents.

Hello, Gitmo. Hello, Abu Ghraib.

Gottliebs reputation for dark arts intrigues was at its height when in 1953 CIA operative, Frank Olson, suffering from acute anxiety and having reportedly confided to a colleague that hed made a big mistake being part of MK-ULTRA, either fell or dove from the 10th floor of the Statler Hotel in New York. MK-ULTRA almost went down with Olson. Was he heave-hoed out the window or did he somehow stumble through closed curtain and plate glass? It was a mystery that investigative journalist Sy Hersh looked into and opined that, based upon uncorroborated information hes been made privy to, Olson was murdered. A whole 2017 six-part Netflix series Wormwood was produced and does an excellent job of recreating the vibe of the 50s and the somewhat hallucinogenic event.

In the end, as unfriendly changes and unwanted scrutiny took place at the CIA in the wake of changing times, Gottlieb retired. And he and his wife travelled by freighter to India where they volunteered at a lepers colony. Did he spend much time in retirement recalling his Jewish roots? Thinking, there but for the grace of God (his name suggests love of God) might my Hunagrian Jewish parents have gone and me with them into some death camp, where I might have been done by Nazis in ways very similar to the methods I employed? He was essentially a Holocaust Denying Jew. Netanyahu would have called him a self-loathing Jew, then hired to mow lawns in new ways on the West Bank, returning at night to his kibbutz.

So, whats the future of mind control? Kinzer doesnt speculate much. But its clear, without a lot of thinking, that the more we humans become addicted to the honey of the Internets hive mindedness, we become more vulnerable. Edward Snowden has already warned about the mere collection of dossiers (Permanent Records) on every person connected. But there is also the risk of contagions brought on by manipulations of algorithms and newsfeeds. Think of the online white blood cell mobbing of Joseph Kony back in 2012 that created a fever to capture the black cancer, only for the fervor to die suddenly, when it was discovered he hadnt been in the country of capture for years.

Gottlieb is said to have abandoned his pursuit of the Grail for mind control in the end. But there is no question that the dark Quest to control minds is still active, as there are still Rove-Cheney-Bush type people out there who believe, as Allen Dull did, that Any nation that discovered ways to manipulate the human psychecould rule the world.

We are in the middle of a new brain warfare, as Kinzer puts it, without knowing it, because these manipulations and brain hacks are kept from us. As Kinzer suggests,

The target of this warfare is the minds of men on a collective and on an individual basis. Its aim is to condition the mind so that it no longer reacts on a free will or rational basis, but a response to impulses implanted from outside it is proving malleable in the hands of sinister men.

We are the black sites of future interrogations, by machine-like men, who, if they have their way, will not be out make AI androids of the future more human, but humans more machine-like. It might be as simple as a gizmo implanted in the brain to take the free will away and leave us open to the programming of remote sinister forces.

Think about it.

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The best Bond movie of all time, Entertainment News & Top Stories – The Straits Times

Posted: at 3:51 am

NEW YORK The trailer for the new James Bond movie No Time To Die has been released.

And it seems timely to ask: Which is the best 007 film?

The odds are on Goldfinger, a 1964 entry that set the big-screen Bond pattern for outsized plots, lavish sets, beautiful women, clever gadgets and frequent laughs.

But among Bond purists, the winner is the often overlooked On Her Majesty's Secret Service, released 50 years ago this month.

OHMSS, as it is commonly known among hardcore fans, starred George Lazenby, a first-time actor, in his only appearance as 007.

Every other Bond actor, in an official franchise overseen by Eon Productions, has played the role at least twice.

What sets OHMSS apart, too, is its faithfulness to the original Ian Fleming novel, virtual absence of fancy gadgets and emotional depth.

Bond falls in love and marries, only to see his bride, Teresa Draco (played by Diana Rigg), murdered by organisation Spectre.

Not widely appreciated at first, OHMSS has won increasing respect over five decades.

Devotees hail its action-packed direction by Peter Hunt, smart script by Richard Maibaum, music - both dynamic and romantic - by John Barry and a mastermind criminal scheme involving brainwashed young women unwittingly conducting germ warfare.

"Shot to shot, this movie is beautiful in a way none of the other Bond films is," director Steven Soderbergh blogged in 2013. Moreover, it is "the only Bond film with a female character that isn't a cartoon".

In The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia, author Steven Jay Rubin called it "a truly epic James Bond film with a story to match".

Yet, to general film fans, OHMSS is an outlier, even an aberration.

Much of the explanation lies with the casting of Lazenby, an Australian actor. A former model and car salesman, he assumed the role that Sean Connery made famous after the first five Bond movies.

Connery quit the part after You Only Live Twice in 1967. But he returned after OHMSS for Diamonds Are Forever in 1971 - and for the non-Eon production Never Say Never Again in 1983.

Indeed, there was so much uncertainty about how to present Lazenby to a curious and even sceptical public that in some advertisements, his face was deliberately obscured. Maibaum even suggested a scene in which 007 has cosmetic surgery to confuse his enemies.

"I'm told that mine was the biggest screen test in history," Lazenby, 80, said in a telephone interview from his home in Santa Monica, California.

"I think there were 800 applicants and 300 screen tests. They tested me for four months. They tested me every which way - fights, horseback-riding and swimming."

Lazenby had big shoes to fill and some critics thought he filled them well enough. Other voices were harsher. His "acting is non-committal to the point of being minus", wrote The New York Post.

Hunt chose Rigg, who had recently come off The Avengers, as the chief Bond Girl.

"I know why he called me," Rigg said in a telephone interview.

"George was an inexperienced actor, so they decided to pair him with an experienced actress. I hope I did help him. For someone who had never done a movie before, he was quite good."

But the production was fraught with on-set troubles. "Hunt never spoke to me again after the first day of shooting," Lazenby recalled. "He wouldn't even talk to me after the movie."

Hunt, who died in 2002, said his hands-off approach was deliberate. "I wanted that feeling of isolation," he told Rubin. "That is Bond. He's a loner. George wasn't experienced enough to interpret this feeling of utter emptiness."

It has been widely reported that OHMSS was a box-office failure, largely because of Lazenby's performance. The movie did substantially underperform You Only Live Twice.

But OHMSS was still one of the highest-grossing films of the year.

Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli were prepared to sign Lazenby to a multi-picture contract.

Instead, even before the movie was released, Lazenby announced he would not resume the role.

It has been said he was advised to drop it by Mr Ronan O'Rahilly, who created offshore station Radio Caroline.

The anti-establishment Mr O'Rahilly apparently convinced Lazenby that Bond was an anachronism who would not survive in the age of Woodstock and Easy Rider.

"I'm glad I didn't do another one," Lazenby said. "I didn't want to be known as Bond. The only time I had regrets was when I was broke."

In the 50 years since his brief moment in the Bond sun, he has continued to act, but only in minor roles.

Rigg said: "I could never understand why George behaved as he did because he was given such a glorious opportunity and he threw it all away. I'm sorry for him, if you want to know. At some stage, it just went to his head."

Lazenby and Rigg said they have not kept in touch. "I don't think one way or the other about Diana," Lazenby said.

Rigg said: "Oh goodness, no, he wouldn't come near me."


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The calming and productive environment of Granite Pathways clubhouse – Manchester Ink Link

Posted: December 25, 2019 at 6:50 am

At 60 Rogers Street in Manchester, the Granite Pathways clubhouse for adults sits on the second floor of an oddly-shaped building full of sharp edges. A person can approach on foot from the intersection of Lincoln and Valley streets to pass the police station and the citys water treatment plant. The building is on the right side of Hayward Street near a road barrier that prevents through traffic disrupting plant operations. They are open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Up a single flight of stairs, the clubhouse can be found behind a large white door. Once inside, an expansive area opens up to a front desk, a computer room, a series of tables, a kitchenette unit, and two refrigerators. Almost immediately upon entering, a new person will be greeted with smiles by any number of friendly female staff. During lunchtime, an aroma of delicious, often improvised, food wafts through the air. Convivial conversation is almost always occurring at any time of the day.

The term clubhouse was coined in 1948 when a group of men recently discharged from a mental health facility in New York decided to help each other get back on their feet and integrate into society. When they proved effective at doing so, the men from New York decided to expand their model in a more organized way. Thus, the Pathways Clubhouse system was born.

With over 200 similar facilities all over the world and two in New Hampshire, Pathways seeks to help unemployed and underemployed people find the motivation to work and advance themselves once again. They do this by utilizing Dr. Albert Banduras Self-Efficacy Theory. The theory, in a nutshell, states the more a person does any activity, the more competent they will become doing it . Practice not only makes perfect, it makes confidence as well.

The basis of Granite Pathways is to improve each persons mental health, first and foremost, by having each member leave their diagnosis at the door. No matter what struggles a person may have had before coming in, once they come in, they are treated like any other person as though nothing was wrong with them to begin with. Members must be clean and dry; sobriety is required for anyone who participates. The staff act as recovery coaches to support individual well-being.

Ann Strachan, the Mental Health Director for Granite Pathways, explains that the clubhouses ultimate goal is to help people with co-occurring disorders achieve the best quality of life possible. She was there to start a clubhouse in Portsmouth in 2014; shes held her current position since 2016. She comes across as an intelligent, resourceful, and capable woman. When she arrives at the Manchester clubhouse, her indefatigable presence provides enrichment and edification to all who come into contact with her.

The Manchester clubhouse previously operated out of Brookside Congregational Church at 2013 Elm Street for a period of five years. At the end of five years, they could not secure funding to move to a new location despite serving 275 people at one time. Until May of 2019, a clubhouse in Manchester did not exist. Granite Pathways, a subsidiary of Fedcap, was able to open in Manchester once more under as part of the $45 million State Opioid Response Grant, and they administer the Doorways in Manchester and Nashua.

The clubhouse in Portsmouth intends to apply for accreditation in 2020, which will allow them to bill Medicaid for services rendered. If they are approved, members will be able to fill out papers describing which activities they participated in and which they didnt. Every activity is voluntary. Membership is free.

Activities are divided into work units. Members volunteer to perform various duties through the day. These include: making lunch, working at the reception desk, cleaning (which is colloquially called germ warfare), running meetings, and working on their computer skills. In the afternoon, an acupuncturist will sometimes come to provide ear acupuncture. This is has been clinically proven to relieve anxiety.

The clubhouse also provides free wi-fi as well as help with employment services. People with co-occurring disorders often live on low income through Social Security, or no income at all. Helping members get back to work is intended to facilitate personal independence and autonomy.

Each month, a meeting is held in the clubhouse to determine how everything is done. During this time, specific issues can be brought up for consideration. Members are encouraged to participate. Decisions are made by consensus. Each members ideas are taken into account. Policies are shaped by what people want and dont want. These are often what to serve for lunch, what snacks to stock, what events might be of interest.

Taken as a whole, the Granite Pathways clubhouse is a safe, nurturing environment in which people can become their best selves. Members who come in are well-fed. Their voices are heard, their concerns addressed. They arent treated as people with disabilities or illnesses. For a short time twice a week, theyre just people. There is, it turns out, emotional abundance to be found in routine simplicity.

Winter Trabex is a freelance writer from Manchester.

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TV Spies of the ’60s –

Posted: at 6:50 am

Fifty-three Christmas Eves ago, I first saw an episode of an exciting new show that hadnt yet caught on with viewers, despite great reviews in TV Guide and elsewhere. Mission: Impossible was the final entry in what had been a mid-Sixties spy craze on TV and in the movies, all of them of course due to the huge success of James Bond. Spies had never been big box office before Bond, but for a few years they were as common as Star Wars rip-offs would be fifteen years later. Mission: Impossible was unusual for the new genre; no sex, very little violence, jumpy editing that was too fast for most casual TV viewers a half century ago, with complicated, half-explained plots that you had to follow closely to figure out. Above all, its main characters were quite deliberately left blank: you didnt really know who they were, all you ever knew about them is what they did. Yet Mission: Impossible became by far the most successful and long lasting of all the TV spy shows of the 60s. Variety raved, It looks like CBS finally found its U.N.C.L.E., referring to NBCs hit spy show, then in its third year.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., debuting in 1964, was the first of the TV spy bunch, boldly announced as Ian Fleming for television!, a claim that NBC and its producers, MGM, were forced to hastily retract after Bonds producers and Flemings estate threatened to sue. That claim was a lie, or more forgivably, an awkward exaggeration, and like Mission, U.N.C.L.E. was slow to find an audience. But once it did, it was a huge, if short-lived pop culture phenomenon. Its stars, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, were mobbed everywhere they traveled. They got bushels of fan mail every week. MGM even happily publicized hundreds of fan letters addressed simply to The Gun, U.N.C.L.E.s custom-crafted handgun, accessorized with a custom stock, barrel extender, silencer, even an infrared sniper scope. Millions of plastic replicas were among the most popular 60s Christmas toys for American boys. Could you imagine the reaction to that today?

The third member of the top hit parade was NBCs other spy drama, I Spy. (NBC was also the broadcast home of Get Smart, whose competing spy agencies, corporate-looking headquarters, gadgets, and auto-opening doors were far more of a parody of U.N.C.L.E. than of Bond, much to MGMs irritation. But its a comedy, so Im skipping it.)

Like U.N.C.L.E., I Spy was popular for its two leading men, their breezy banter and their friendship. The difference was visible, literally on the face of it: Bill Cosby was the first Black leading man of television, a sensation that he and the network coolly underplayed with the brusque, patriotic note that in modern America, equality and an interracial friendship was no big deal. Theres an urban legend of sorts that race never came up, was never mentioned in I Spy. Thats not quite true; the very first episode, Goodbye, Patrick Henry, is about a boastful, rhyming Muhammad Ali-modeled character who defects to Communist China in a worldwide wave of publicity, only to seek a rescue later. Race did come up as an issue from time to time in the series, but it was rare. Cosby, and America at the time, liked it better that way. His character, Alexander Scott, was a Rhodes scholar, an intellectual giant who became one of Black Americas most admired role models. His espionage cover was being the trainer for tennis star Kelly Robinson, played by Robert Culp, who amiably shrugged off being overshadowed by his co-star.

Kelly and Scotty may have talked jivey, like jazz club or comedy club buddies, but I Spy was the most realistic of TVs spy showsno whizbang gadgets, no high tech, no mythical antagonists. It was us versus the Communists, just like real life. Their few on-screen briefings took place at the Pentagon; they learned their jobs at what sure looks like the defense language institute in Monterey, California. Like the other spy shows (and like James Bond himself), in a literal sense, they were rarely spies. Kelly and Scotty were secret agents, mostly couriers and sometimes fixers. That was also realistic: actual spies were often people with professions (sports, culture, academia) that allowed them to enter foreign countries, even Iron Curtain ones, without attracting suspicion.

By 1965, NBC was billing itself as The full-color network, and I Spy took full advantage of it. No other show of the period, and few since, went on international locations like they did, visually making the most of the real Hong Kong, Mexico or Europe. The shows cinematographer, Egyptian-born Fouad Said, was an outspoken advocate of getting movies and TV off the sound stages and into reality. A company he started, Cinemobile, devised and marketed trucks that were fully equipped camera and lighting departments, setting the pattern for the entire industry to this day.

If you havent seen I Spy, look it up on YouTube. Its a treat, well written and acted. Youll see why white and black America alike fell in love with Bill Cosby, and what a damn shame it is that he ended up the way he has. It was on the air for three years. Not every episode is a classic, but by and large, it was consistently good, beginning to end.

Regrettably for its fans, the same cant be said about The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which started strong but went off course by its third year and was ignominiously canceled midway through its fourth season. Its first year was in black and white, which surprisingly helped the shows suspension of disbelief. Unlike other spy agencies, U.N.C.L.E. was politically neutral, with the winking implication that it was part of the United Nations, right outside their window. (The UN didnt like that, so MGM explained the acronym as United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.) Dashing agent Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) even had a Russian partner, Illya Kuryakin, played by Scots-born actor David McCallum. This was the height of rock and rolls British Invasion, Beatlemania ruled the land, and the Brit, McCallum, became a heartthrob for young girls.

U.N.C.L.E.s Manhattan headquarters looked like a modern corporate office, equipped with computers and closed-circuit TV. The men were in suits and ties. U.N.C.L.E.s main opponent was also corporate looking, with secret branch offices all over the world, and their own custom-designed weaponry, distinct from the heroes. Agents of the two sides often knew each other, like staffers of competing ad agencies. When a comely enemy spy coyly declines to say who she works for, Napoleon Solo helpfully reminds her. Thrush. You know, that organization of renegades, spies, and traitorsthe place you pick up your paycheck each week. In keeping with the Thrush theme, enemies often had the names of birdsDr. Egret, G. Emory Partridge. This gimmick got old quickly.

So did one of the shows regular features, bringing ordinary citizens into the center of the action, usually by chance. They were usually (condescendingly silly) young women from what wed now call Flyover Country, impatient with their allegedly humdrum lives and the dull guy they were engaged to. For an hour of television, they had international adventures, risking death in glamorous surroundings, protected by handsome men. Then theyd invariably realize that their dopey boyfriend and dishwater-plain home town werent so bad after all, and return home happier and wiser for the experience.

In the first two years of the show, plots were imaginative with a touch of science fiction. From the second year on, episodes were in color. Strangely, it seemed to take something away; making it look more like real life made the cardboard aspects more obvious. Then a totally unexpected thing would change the course of U.N.C.L.E., not for the better: ABCs mid-season surprise hit, Batman. For a while, silly, joked-up superheroes were a pop culture phenomenon, called high camp for no discernible reason. If you look the term up, its called things like Artificial, affected, effeminate. The spirit of Batman filled other shows with envy, and by U.N.C.L.E.s third season the show became a lame joke, with Illya riding a stink bomb, Strangelove-style, over Las Vegas and Solo dancing the Watusi with a gorilla. NBC also made the unwise move of airing a one-year spinoff, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. Stephanie Powers was actually quite good as agent April Dancer, but there was just too much U.N.C.L.E. on TV, devaluing the original shows appeal. The producers knew theyd screwed up. Season four was a more sober, back-to-spy-basics show, but it was too late for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to pull out of its dive. Its time slot was given to a new, brief-lived sensation, Rowan and Martins Laugh-In.

In the meantime, Mission: Impossible just kept chugging along, protected by creator Bruce Gellers iron insistence on avoiding high camp, inside jokes, or in fact just about any jokes at all. It started as a product of Lucille Balls Desilu Studios, as did its 1966 stablemate, Star Trek. Martin Landau, in fact, turned down the role of Spock. Years later, he admitted that financially speaking, this wasnt a lucky move. But who knew? Mission: Impossible was a top ten show. Star Trek could barely stay on the air. True.

The very second episode Id seeand the first most Americans would seewas on New Years Eve, Dec. 31, 1966. The show became a hit overnight. Operation Rogosh was so good that for years, the producers screened it as an example for new writers. An unbreakable enemy agent has to be tricked into revealing where germ warfare bombs are placed. Like the movie 36 Hours, they construct an elaborate ruse, convincing their subject that years have elapsed. This kind of fake location plot would later drive The Sting, and in fact they were both based on the same inspiration, a 1940 book called The Big Con. This confidence man trick was called the big store, and Mission: Impossible would return to it again and again. Theyd fool a foreign traitor into thinking his plot to kill his pro-Western boss had succeeded, and while he was in the middle of gloating out loud, the Impossible Missions Forces would roll back the fake wall, and the angry prime minister, whod heard all, would promptly place the hapless villain under arrest. The IMF were con men in a good cause.

Unlike I Spys Alexander Scott, who knew everything about everything, Greg Morriss Barney Collier was strictly a technical whizkid who could rewire or reprogram anything that came his way. He was yet another role model for Black America. In real life, whenever Morriss TV was on the blink, television repairmen were astonished that he needed their help.

Mission: Impossible was an expensive show, a tough challenge for little Desilus tiny backlot. It required various Iron Curtain police and military uniforms, foreign cars and signage, and credible-looking Los Angeles substitutes for overseas locations. Lucille Ball sold the studio to its vastly bigger neighbor, Paramount Pictures, and turmoil erupted that couldnt entirely be kept behind the scenes. First, IMF leader Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) was replaced with Peter Graves when Hill started getting increasingly obstreperous about keeping the Friday sabbath. Industry veterans shook their heads. Can you imagine getting fired from Paramount for being too Jewish?, they laughed.

Two years later, married leads Martin Landau and Barbara Bain refused to report to work until they got massive raises, which the producers would be contractually required to extend to Graves as well. Hard-as-nails Paramount turned them down and they were gone. Landau would be replaced for two now-forgotten years by Leonard Nimoy, but it would take years of female guest stars until Linda Day George became a reasonably good choice. Show creator and co-owner Bruce Geller had one fight too many with Paramount, who banned him from the lot. He still had his ownership rights, he still got his producer feesbut he was gone.

To give the devils their due, Paramount had to do something. By the turn of the 70s, the spy craze was over. The studio wanted more shows in sunlit penthouses and fewer of them in frozen East European dungeons. Crime shows were in, so IMFs complex schemes were now usually aimed at amorphous crime lords called the syndicate. Formerly straight-arrow Greg Morris now had a mild Afro, and often infiltrated criminal rings with a cliched, Yeah, maaan delivery. The show would suffer creatively for all these losses and less-than-sure creative choices, though it continued to be fairly good, professionally done and consistent right through the end, season 7. Mission: Impossible was revived for two years in the late 80s, with Peter Graves still the leader of the IMF team, and was rebooted as a film series by Tom Cruise in 1996. Today, its the only remaining part of the 60s spy craze that people are still familiar with.

When Mission ended in the spring of 1972, we were far removed from the innocent-but-sexy era it was created in. Anyone who thinks wokeness is strictly a modern phenomena surely wasnt around to see feminists burn their bras for eager news cameras outside of the Miss America pageant, or doesnt remember when even the head of the AFL-CIO, as official a Democrat as it got, declared his own party to be the home of acid, amnesty and abortion. Black Americans on the big screen had gone from helping the nuns in Lilies of the Field to the murderous pimps of Superfly. It was a different world. Yet whenever TV reruns brought us back to those exciting musical themes and jazzy opening graphics, we fondly remembered a not-too-distant time of miniskirts, flirtation, Cold War gunplay, and tall, handsome men in immaculate tailoring. Because saving the world never really goes out of style.

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Cracked Vault Holding Nuclear Waste Could Leak Untold Radiation into the Ocean – Surfer Magazine

Posted: December 13, 2019 at 2:35 pm

Sometimes it really seems like were actively trying to bring about sci-fi level visions of apocalyptic end times. Ever hear of the Tomb, a cement bunker in the Marshall Islands? It looks like a flying saucer crashed into a reef atoll and half-buried itself. But the truth is actually almost as weirdthe Tomb is a basically giant trash can filled with soil thats been nuked dozens of times and also been exposed to biological warfare tests.

One could posit that the US government must hate the Marshall Islands. Uncle Sam detonated nearly 70 nukes on the place during the early stages of the Cold War. As if that wasnt enough, they dropped biological weapons there too. The Tomb is filled with the irradiated and germ-filled debris left behindoh, and also a whole bunch of soil the US shipped over that wed nuked into oblivion on our own turf.

And now its threatening to spill that wretched horridness into the sea. As if the Marshall Islands havent been messed with enough by US government experiments. Climate change is pushing tides ever higher on the Marshalls, and local officials there are bracing for the moment when the Tomb is partially beneath the waves. A problem because the Tomb has developed thousands of cracks over the decades and isnt in any way watertight.

According to the Los Angeles Times, American officials have known since the Tomb was built in the 1970s that it was already leaking radioactive waste into the soil below and considered moving the material back to the US mainland. Nope, they eventually decided, and let the Marshallese handle it.

Im like, how can it [the dome] be ours? said Hilda Heine, the Republic of the Marshall Islands President. We dont want it. We didnt build it. The garbage inside is not ours. Its theirs.

This is, of course, a problem for all of humanity not just our little corner of the world as surfers, but surfers have discovered perfect reef pass surf nearby in recent years. Slater has been surfing there for at least a decade. You may remember, in fact, this trip with JJF from a few years back:

Slater and John John and anybody else who has surfed the surrounding area may want to run themselves by a Geiger counter should they get the chance. Recent research suggests that some zones in the Marshalls are as radioactive as Chernobyl and Fukushima.

The story about the bombs and what was done to and about the people who lived there is alarming and enraging, to say the least, and one certainly worth reading. The above-cited LA Times piece would be a good place to start.

Reports now indicate that the Tomb actually moves a little with the tides as it issomething that wasnt foreseen in the 70s, but which is going to only worsen as seas rise further. The fear is that rising sea levels will eventually push the Tombs dome cover off the vault entirely, releasing nuclear terror into the ecosystem.

There is already a serious amount of coral bleaching, algal blooms and fish die-offs happening in the Marshalls, and the threat of nuclear contamination only adds to stress locals feel about rising sea levels. The US governments role in covering up whats happened there and refusal to repay the Marshallese for resettlement and cleanup efforts is shocking and disappointing.

Its certainly something anyone considering a surf trip there should be aware of. Its also something that a certain world-famous surfer with an unusually loud microphone and penchant for social causes could maybe consider looking into, considering how much fun the islands have provided him as he breezes in and out to play in the ocean.

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Cracked Vault Holding Nuclear Waste Could Leak Untold Radiation into the Ocean - Surfer Magazine

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Conviction And Removal Aren’t The Issue; It’s Impeachment Of Trump That Is Essential OpEd – Eurasia Review

Posted: at 2:35 pm

A lot of pundit verbiage and Democratic Party internal debate as well is being wasted on the question of whether Trump could be convicted successfully in a Senate currently run by a lickspittle Republican majority afraid of their shadows and devoid of any concern for the fate of Constitutional government.

Lets accept that the 20-plus Republicans among this bunch of gutless partisans that would have to join all or most of the 47 Democrats and independents in the Senate in order to convict Trump do not exist, even if they were to be shown a video of Trump plotting a military coup.

It would still be the duty of the House Judiciary, and of the Democratic majority of the House of Representatives, to fully investigate President Donald Trumps impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors, his ongoing violation of the Constitutions emolument clause against profiteering from his high office, and his use of bribery/extortion on the president of the Ukraine in hopes of getting foreign support for his 2020 campaign for re-election, and to vote out of the Judiciary Committee and to approve in the House articles of impeachment for those constitutional crimes.

Why go through such an exercise in futility if theres little or no hope of a Senate conviction?

Because the Congress is the only available government body that has the power to stop a power-crazed president from becoming a dictator.

And because even if Trump were to be prevented by other forces whether the courts, the Congress, an assassins bullet or too many Big Macs and milkshakes from wreaking further havoc on the American body politic, its society and its people, allowing him to carry on as a dictator, issuing power-grabbing executive orders, violating laws passed by the Congress, refusing subpoenas of his taxes or his subordinates, etc., not to mention launching military actions without any legal backing, his impeachment will establish a new baseline of acceptable/unacceptable presidential behavior and power for all future presidents.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made that case eloquently at the opening of the House Judiciary Impeachment Committee hearing, when she said, in authorizing the committee to launch its impeachment investigation, The Presidents actions have seriously violated the Constitution The President abused his power for his own personal benefit Our Democracy is what is at stake. The president leaves no choice but to act.

Fine words from the Democratic representative from San Francisco, to be sure.

But where was Madam Speaker back in 2002-3? Thats when President George W. Bush and his consigliere Vice President Dick Cheney, with the support of Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, lied brazenly and repeatedly on the basis of fraudulent evidence, claiming that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapons programthat was about to give him the ability to nuke US forces and the United States itself, as well as a poison gas and germ warfare capability that also imminently threatened America? It was widely known by anyone paying attention at the time that the portrayal of Iraq as an imminent threat to the US was a sham. Even as the US was building up for an invasion, inspectors on the ground, including American ones, were crying out that there were no such programs. Iraq had no navy, no long-range missiles capable of delivering the non-existent nuclear warheads, or even germ or chemical weapons. Even the white powder that Secretary of State Powell ominously held up in a little jar in the UN Security Council, claiming it was deadly militarized anthrax spores, was nothing but a cheap stage prop.

Also a fraud was the claim that Iraq had tried to arrange for the transport of yellow cake uranium ore from Niger to Iraq, purportedly for use in creating U-uranium for a nuclear weapon. Aside from the major problem that Iraq had no equipment to do the complex, costly and time-consuming work of isolating out the critical bomb-making isotope U-235 that is just 0.72% uranium ore from the U-238 that constitutes 99% of it, the evidence that this transaction was even attempted consisted of a letter typed on forged stationary stolen in a CIA black bag-job on Nigers unguarded Embassy in Rome, and signed by a Niger official who was not longer even in office, as I wrote in my and co-author Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Barbara Olshanskys bookThe Case for Impeachment(St. Martins Press, 2006).

The entire Iraq War was a war crime launched on a blatant lie!

If ever there was a president (and vice president, secretary of state and national security advisor!) who deserved to be impeached, convicted and packed off to do hard time in a jail cell in Leavenworth, it was GW Bush. But right about the time my book rolled off the presses in May 2006, this same Pelosi declared that as long as she was speaker, Impeachment is off the table.

To the dismay of then House Judiciary Chair John Conyers, Speaker Pelosi was as good (or bad) as her word and his committee was not allowed to conduct impeachment hearings or to call witnesses and investigate this and other high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush/Cheney administration.

Think about that. The biggest crime of the past half century the launching of a major war by the US in violation both of International law and of even the US Constitution, which grants war-making powers solely to Congress a war that caused thousands of US military deaths and injuries, hundreds of thousands and perhaps over a million Iraqi deaths, mostly of civilians, that cost trillions of dollars and that destabilized the entire Middle East for decades, wasbased entirely on a presidential lie, and Pelosi would not allow an impeachment hearing!

Why? Because she did not believe it would be smart politics. The Republicans had suffered an electoral drubbing after attempting to impeach President Bill Clinton, and she was afraid the same thing would happen to Democrats if they pursued an impeachment of Bush the younger for launching a war on the basis of lies.

And yet her current words regarding a Trump impeachment, true as they are, were even more applicable to Bush. As we well know, the actions of the Bush/Cheney administration in the wake of the still suspicious and unsolved 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001 from the invasion of and launching of an 18-year (and counting) war against Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq to the secret spying on all Americans by the National Security Agency, to authorized illegal torture of captives on the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba and at various black sites around the globe in the prisons of friendly dictatorships surely put US democracy in grave danger and should have left Congress no choice but to act.

But Pelosi barred any such action against Bush, and so today we have the endless war in Afghanistan, continued chaos involving US troops in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere, we had President Barack Obamas military assault on Libya leading to the overthrow and murder of that countrys leader Muammar Gaddafy, and the creation of a failed state and bloody civil conflict, and we of course have a deeply embedded national surveillance state in which every man, woman and child has her or his communications and travel constantly monitored.

Thank you Nancy for your diligent protection of our democracy and our freedom.

So yes, lets impeach this degenerate, egotistical psychopath president by all means. It is indeed important that he be charged with impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by the House of Representatives. But this Trumpian nightmare might not have even happened or been necessary had then Speaker Nancy Pelosi done the right thing back in 2006 and ordered Judiciary Chair John Conyers to launch an impeachment investigation into the Bush presidency.

Pelosi now warns, If we allow a president to be above the law, we do so surely at the peril of our Republic. Shes right. We can see clearly, however, that her warning would have been equally appropriate in 2006 had she said it back then instead of saying, Impeachment is off the table.

The results of the Speakers cupidity are before our eyes today in the form of a US government that is neither a democracy nor a republic worthy of the name, with a president who rules by executive decree and a congress that is largely a rubber stamp whose members simply view their positions as a means for collect legal bribes from wealthy influence peddlers.

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On SNL, five-timer Will Ferrell gets plenty of help, doesn’t need any of it – The A.V. Club

Posted: November 30, 2019 at 10:35 am

Id kill my own mother for a time machine.

Nobody needs to be sold on the premise, Will Ferrell = funny at this point, but, if youll all indulge me. Ferrell is one of the best (like, if hes not in your top 5 all-time, youre disqualified) Saturday Night Live performers ever, for the simple reason that he has never been any less than 100 percent present. No matter how dire the sketch, Will Ferrell is in. And while that hasnt always carried over into his movie career, well, I suppose its harder to maintain that level of commitment when youre asked to sweatily keep a 90-minute bad joke afloat than a 5-minute one. But in the sketch comedy (or late-night talk show) form, theres never been anyone more willing and able to command focus like Ferrell. As with tonights monologue, watch Ferrell on a talk shownever content to just put in the studio-mandated time, hes always armed with a bit, his bottomlessly febrile and restless comic animal too primed to allow anything like coasting.

Back hosting SNLfor the fifth time, there wasnt a Five-Timers Club bit. And there wasnt a single returning Ferrell character, although no doubt the audience (and the show) would have been more than content with Ferrell wheeling out any one of a dozen or more. And while there were even more returning SNL pals (Maya Rudolph, Fred Armisen, Rachel Dratch, Tracy Morgan, Alec Baldwin, whos essentially a cast member/hostage at this point), and others (Ryan Reynolds, Larry David, Woody Harrelson) than usual when theres an alum in the house, Ferrells contribution took the form of all new material and characters, about which, once more, I ask you to stick with me.

Ferrells stock-in-trade is thwart. Hes got those small, deep-set eyes that he can seemingly will to go doll/shark-black in an instant once his characters own desperately smiling confidence isinevitably revealed as faade. Its in this gift for conveying the inner storm raging under the placid outer appearance of white male assurance that powers a Will Ferrell sketch character, and turns a premise as simple and potentially unprofitable as, say, ketchup bottles that make fart sounds into something more akin to improbably potent characterization haiku. When Ferrells seemingly serene Thanksgiving dinner dad responds to his familys harmless jokes about him cutting the cheese, Ferrells tightly controlled burst of a line, Its not who I am! transforms the sketch from a simple observational toilet-joke into a tiny gem of characterization, all in the never-blinking blink of those eyes.

The same goes for the Cinema Classics sketchyes, a repeater, but not a Ferrell repeaterwhere the central gag becomes more about the righteous ire of Ferrells diminutive doctor than that Dorothy (Kate McKinnon, killing it) could only dream up insulting dream stereotypes for the surprising number of accomplished little people in her Kansas life. There, too, its Ferrell, and its one line (What were we wearing!) that flicks the sketch alight with the flash of a seemingly ordinary guy whos got a whole lot more going on inside than it first appeared.

Even the monologue was the sort of self-contained piece of performance art that Ferrell invariably brings to his in-person TV appearances, the joke that the flustered Ferrell cant get over the fact that Ryan Reynolds is right in the front row turning into a tightly controlled exercise in manic absurdity. No way, its too late, Im locked in! is this Ferrells on switch this time, his star-struck semi-self fanning out in too-awkward-to-please catchphrases until he lapses into a ranting Tracy Morgan impression, and until hes one-upped by Morgan himself, both of them eventually shouting about the prophecy!, and the whole loopy enterprise working better than any monologue in a while. Reynolds did some fine embarrassed underplayingcredit where its duebut it was Ferrells stubbornly hilarious unwillingness to go through the motions that made the whole monologue (and episode) work.

For the worst, check politics below. Otherwise, you get to see just how much better Will Ferrell can make your sketch comedy show.

While Ferrell himself made the aforementioned ketchup and Wizard Of Oz sketches into something, the pizza restaurant (chain name redacted because Im a bitch about doubling down on Lorne Michaels product placement deals) sketch matched Ferrell and Kate McKinnon for the first of two times tonight, and it was, unsurprisingly, pretty great. Those two made a different kind of funny in a similar sketch in the past, but here its more about character work than just goofing around on old Mainers at a diner. First up was Kate, her chipper mom lapsing into sullen, passive-aggressive murmurs once her kids object to her mom-joke about being all horned up for pizza. Then, once mom flees, snapping that at least the death row guys she teaches typing to appreciate her, its Ferrells dad who, unable to function without his wife to prop him up, has a different sort of breakdown. Asked by the director to just talk to his kids as he normally would, he first asks his teen daughter abruptly about her period before telling his son, haltingly, And son, um, fight me? He then reveals how lost he feels with a series of escalatingly absurd details (hiring a prosititute to teach him how the stove works when McKinnon was away for the weekend was the capper), before she came back to save the day with the reunited couples co-dependent assurance restored.

The weeks music video, about teens Mikey Day and Cecily Strongs house party being unnervingly disrupted by the smiling presence of Ferrells AP English teacher, lived in some funny details, like Ferrell inexplicably watching The Shawshank Redemption in the middle of things. But it was really all about Ferrels teacher and how his circulating air of placidly pleasant incongruity kept interrupting the teens party rap flow, culminating in a final, last-to-leave meltdown all the funnier because of how underplayed it is by Ferrell. Its a fine idea, but, with Ferrell at the heart, it was great stuff.

If there was one (again, toilet humor) sketch that even Ferrell couldnt do much with, it was the Native American Thanksgiving sketch. Look, I get that having Ferrell put a stop to the thing with a to-camera button about there being a lot of problems in this crazy, crazy sketch is a funny conceit/construction. (Although the only white actor playing a Native in the sketch, technically, is Ferrell, hes right that the idea is sort of 2014.) But having the sketch turn on a poop/corn joke wasnt the most sophisticated way to disarm the whole uncomfortable dinner conversations with racist old relatives premise, especially when Ferrells Native grandfather keeps using Trump minions talking points about building walls and dirty, criminal foreigners while describing, you know, the actual settling/invasion of white settlers, all the way up to and including germ warfare and genocide. (Instead of that white supremacist/Fox News/Stephen Miller nonsense white genocide.) I mean, self-mockery about SNLs history of black-/brownface is cute and all, but the parallelism of the underlying joke here is so wrongheaded as to remain queasily unrealized, even after the turn.

And I know what youre asking: Can Ferrell even make something of a sketch about a ventriloquist dummy hand up my ass gag work? See the ten-to-one section, O ye of little faith.

Is it fair to get annoyed that one of the still most-watched satirical fake news outlets on TV is content to take snarky potshots in one of the more dire and eminently mockable political and social crises in American history? Well, Im writing this, so I declare my annoyance is entirely justified. Che and Jost have just 10 minutes or so to cram in a weeks-worth of overflowing political material? Make it a tight, focused 10 minutes. This weeks Update was . . . fine. With Trump and the GOPs calumnious culpability in the undermining of everything America brags about standing for on bare-assed display all week in televised impeachment hearings, Jost and Che felt smugly comfortable lobbing blunt insults. (GOP conspiracy conspirator Devin Nunes looks like Spongebob? Trump is brain-damaged? Mike Pence is still in the closet?) Its . . . fine, especially since Trumps made it abundantly clear how even such so-so critical material gets under hislets call it skin. But smirking your way through some self-satisfied mediocrity isnt going to cut it when the possibilities for actual, insightful political comedy are as abundant and potent as they are.

There were a few jokes around the edges that worked better. Che ending his report on billionaire presidential candidate late-comer Michael Bloomberg performatively apologizing for instituting New Yorks blatantly racist stop-and-frisk policy with, Apology . . . noted stung. The fact that Jost is still willing to do jokes about college pal Pete Buttigiegs abysmal polling among black voters at least smacks of some comedy courage. (Well see how things go in that department when the co-head writers fiancee hosts on December 14th.) And Ches line about that whole Julia Roberts as Harriet Tubman story being titled Runaway Bride 2 was just solid.

And, in the one correspondent piece of the evening, the whole one-joke joke of Alex Moffats obnoxious Guy Who Just Bought A Boat at least brought out Reynolds to shore up the premise that overcompensating douchebags actually have lots of things to overcompensate for. The way that Moffat initially let slip his sexual inadequacies between his insufferably lame double entendre was a great little piece of comedy, but the dudes asides about his tiny wang have become more obligatory over time, and Reynolds (big wang that doesnt work) prep school chum just doubled down on the gag, giving the pair an excuse to say the grossest stuff they could get on TV. Meh.

I was anticipating more of a Kristen Wiig-style cavalcade of threadbare favorites, but Ferrell just wasnt interested, seemingly. Just Guy Who Bought A Boat and Cinema Classics.

Wow, does Alec Baldwin not want to be here. In the shortest and least-consequential Trump cold open in memory (which is saying something), the whole gag during a week were the House is on the verge of returning articles of impeachment against a sitting president is the premise here was that Trump likes to dodge questions by standing near a running Marine One. Ferrell dutifully donned a bald cap as GOP star witness who actually totally buried Trump Gordon Sondland, trying to wring laughs out of enthusiastically throwing his boss under the boss and yelling about people loving his ass, but at least this one was over with merciful quickness. (Baldwins muffed line didnt help things.)

Another Democratic debate sketch really brought in the ringers, as Dratch (Klobuchar), Harrelson (Biden), David (Sanders), Rudolph (Harris), and Armisen (Bloomberg), joined Ferrells unblinking Tom Steyer, and actual cast members Bowen Yang (Yang), Chris Redd (Booker), Colin Jost (Buttigieg), Strong (Gabbard), McKinnon (Warren), and Melissa Villaseors moderator Rachel Maddow. There were a few okay touchesI liked how Armisens coy Bloomberg kept interrupting things carrying big fountain sodas, and his joke about Trump fans finding nothing to conspiracy theorize about with a Jewish billionaire with his own media company at least went there. McKinnons Warren remains the best presidential hopeful impression of the season, here, enthusiastically telling would-be voters to just leave her alone to get on with fixing things like a mom who just needs everyone out of her Thanksgiving kitchen. But the rest was just all quick-hit nothing jabs at the easiest targets, leaving the whole overstuffed exercise inoffensively forgettable. Bernies old, GOP operative Gabbard is evil, Bidens also old, Yang and Klobuchar exist. The joke that other billionaire attempting to buy his way into office Steyer walked unsettlingly straight toward the camera was at least some funny Ferrell business. And Mayas Kamala Harris benefits from Maya being Maya, but the joke that Harris (a formidable debater with a few good showings under her belt) is relying on meme-able moments to carry her debate performance is just . . . an idea that SNL would have.

Alt-pop wunderkind King Princess is 25 years younger that Saturday Night Live, which isnt a knock, just an observation to make myself feel old. Her two songs were energetic enough. I like that her teasingly raunchy Hit The Back went straight-up disco partway through, because, again, old.

After finally getting a decent showcase last week, where the hell was Ego Nwodim? Same goes for Pete Davidson, whose peek-a-boo season continued with a very successful disappearing act. Chloe Fineman had very little to do once more, although hers was the best and most committed of the munchkin voices, so thats something.

Its dispiritingly apparent that Lorne isnt interested in letting his actual cast members prove themselves in political sketches, as he deployed just a limo-load of ringers throughout. Seriously, hes got both Fineman and Villaseorfine impressionists bothand theyre barely used in that capacity, even when the DNCs inability to whittle down its debate roster provides nothing but opportunities. It was a sparse night generally for the cast. Cecily had a few plum parts, but its Kate again, thanks to her Elizabeth Warren, pizza mom, and Dorothy.

If you see a sketch performer bring out a ventriloquist dummy, the joke about having a guys hand up my ass is, more than likely, going to make an appearance. That Farrell (plus horrified audience members Kenan and Cecily) managed to score with this brief bit (it started at 12:56, by my clock) was a neat combo of all-around commitment, gross-out comedy (so much lube), and good old ten-to-one (four-to-one, in this case) weirdo spirit. (My name is Lewis Maldonado! Someone please call my wife!)

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On SNL, five-timer Will Ferrell gets plenty of help, doesn't need any of it - The A.V. Club

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On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: This Never Happened to the Other Fellow –

Posted: at 10:35 am

This post will eventually contain a key plot spoiler, some distance down the page from here, so if you want to see this 1969 film with virgin eyes, stop reading. But do come back after youve seen it. The second spoiler is no spoiler at all, no surprise to anyone: Sean Connery is not James Bond in it, and the Bond of On Her Majestys Secret Service, George Lazenby, is most famous for never having played the role again. That set of facts and how they came about is the main subject of this post, although we will also cover the merits and flaws of the film itself, which some Bond snobs consider one of the best, if not the best, of the entire series. But I cant tell you why yet, not here at the top of the post, because it will involve the spoiler. You have been warned.

By the time Thunderball (1965) wrapped, Sean Connery was tired of being Bond. Actually, thats English-style polite understatement that the blunt, Scottish-born Connery would have impatiently penciled out in favor of thoroughly sick of it. He felt his character was becoming overshadowed by ingenious gadgets, Ken Adams enormous sets, one-liner quips and a growing fantasy element. Connery started the series in 1962 as a relatively unknown actor, quickly became a leading international star, and made an astonishing amount of money. Being a practical Scot, adding to that pile was the only reason he reluctantly stayed aboard for You Only Live Twice (1967). Then he was gone, he swore, for good. So EON Productions, producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli, conducted an ostentatiously well publicized search for the next Bond. Each new actor in the role of James Bond is a multi, multi-million-dollar box office gamble, and from that standpoint this very first replacement would be by far the most ill-fated.

Established movie stars such as Richard Burton were considered, but Saltzman and Broccoli wanted to repeat what theyd done with Sean Connery, create their own star, who would presumably cost less and be easier to control. Australian actor George Lazenby, whod so far mostly done commercials for British television, seemed to fill the bill. Less slender, more muscular than Connery, he radiated confidence. Even his TV commercials worked in his favor, as they were mostly for luxury products that showed how at home he looked with beautiful women, expensive tailoring, exotic cars, and champagne. True, he had a case of loving-cup ears, but that hadnt stopped Clark Gable, among others. In screen tests, he handled himself well in fight scenes. He was hired.

British film writer (and lifelong conservative) Alexander Walker was one of the few whod treat Lazenbys career arc with some sympathy. Walker points out one critical difference between the way men became stars in Britain and classic-era Hollywood. At that time, most UK actors went to acting school, often RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and learned their profession on stage. By contrast, most American stars didnt; they were truck drivers (James Stewart), worker in a tire factory (Clark Gable), cowhands (Gary Cooper), bodyguards (George Raft), WWI sailor (Humphrey Bogart) or what have you, and got hired primarily for their looks. Sometimes that minimal preparation for the sound stage was a handicap, but frequently it gave our guys a rough, untutored masculine edge. Sean Connery, though he briefly trod the Shakespearean boards, came up the American style. Hed been a boxer in the Royal Navy, and despite his ability to project refinement, he never lost the brusque suggestion of real, not just on-screen toughness, even in extremes a touch of cruelty. Thats a fair part of what made him so good as Bond, a quality that present-day Daniel Craig has, and as it turned out, George Lazenby lacked. But that wasnt evident when production began on On Her Majestys Secret Service.

To accompany the new Bond, the writer and producers tried out a back-to-basics style; far fewer flashy gadgets and tricks, less over-the-top sets, and returning to sticking (mostly) with the original Ian Fleming story, all things they hadnt done since From Russia With Love (not so coincidentally, another film much beloved by Bond purists). OHMSS would be notable for spectacular winter photography and skiing stunts, all of course real and dangerous in that pre-CGI age. Downhill Racer, another skiing picture, this one with Robert Redford right before Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid made him a superstar, filmed in the same location during that season, and the crew of Downhill Racer would enviously tell stories to pals at Paramount Pictures about how elaborate the special camera platforms, cradles and mounts were on the higher budget Bond picture. This time, the flashy gadgets were behind the camera.

There were other differences. Telly Savalas was every bit as bald as Donald Pleasance, the original Ernst Stavro Blofeld (the best of the bunch, IMHO), but he comes across less like Pleasances evil global mastermind and more in the manner of a conventional mob boss, except for one thing: while the main weakness of other Bond villains was an unfortunate desire to take over the world, the Blofeld of OHMSS has a most surprising weaknesssocial status insecurity. It leads him to try to establish an aristocratic family tree, giving British Secret Service a chance to plant Bond in Blofelds inner circle as Sir Hilary Bray, expert in heraldry, arbiter of ancestry. James Bond is a secret agent, but not generally an actual spy, as he is here, working within the enemy camp under a concealed identity.

When housed in a spectacular mountainside hideaway with a bevy of nave beautiful young women, Bond has to pretend to be a stereotype sniffy, diffident English gentleman, asexual if not outright hinted to be homosexual (a point made in the novel.) Of course, this being James Bond, he strategically beds one and then another of the women and begins to unravel Blofelds plot: using the women to unwittingly spread germ warfare. The Sir Hilary Bray cover story falls apart, and Bond makes his last-minute escape in one of the best action sequences of the first decade of the series.

Thats the outline of the main plot, but the subplot is what makes OHMSS special to fansthe character of The Girl. (Dont faint at the term, Ricochet stalwartsits 1969, remember.) Shes Tracy Draco, played by Diana Rigg, the tempestuous, troubled daughter of a mafia superboss. In the pre-credits scene, Bondwho we first see only in glimpsesrescues her from a seaside attack, with a longer fight scene than usual, but she drives away without a word of thanks. This never happened to the other fellow, he grumbles. By coincidence, shes staying at the same posh hotel, and Bond begins to pursue her. At least as gorgeous as any of her (many) predecessors, she doesnt tumble into bed, and it becomes clear that Riggs Tracy Draco is something new for the series, the closest thing to James Bonds equal weve ever seen. Her scary dad actually encourages Bond to pursue his spirited daughter, and with the mobs army at his disposal Draco becomes a key factor in the fight against Blofeld.

Diana Rigg was an excellent choice, not only because of her talent and looks, but because unlike Lazenby, she was already a known quantity to worldwide TV audiences, well liked as Mrs. Peel in The Avengers. (Honor Blackman, Goldfingers Pussy Galore, was her predecessor in the role, but the early years of that UK series never made it overseas.) We cant credit womens lib for Riggs strong role; its pretty much as Fleming wrote it in 1963. Blofeld captures her, giving Bond the motivation to ignore official Britains reluctance to violate Swiss borders, and do a rescue raid on the mountain stronghold with the assistance of Dracosthe mafiasbest killers.

They escape. Bond realizes that this is the woman hes always wanted, after whats been, after all, a pretty thorough search. They get married. On the drive to the honeymoon, Blofeld and his gunwoman ambush them and kill her, with one shot through the windshield. As the film ends, hes holding her in his arms, silently crying. Its largely this stunning ending, straight out of the book, that has earned the film cult status. Thered be no Bond movie finale with this emotional power until Skyfall, 43 years later.

Lazenby fans, and he acquired a few, claim that Sean Connery could never have pulled this off. I dont know about that. Connerys a fine actor. It should be conceded, though, that Lazenby, the smiling Bond, managed to make the saddest ending in the series believable.

But the bottom line cant be denied. Call it the downbeat ending, call it lack of Connery, On Her Majestys Secret Service earned less than half of what You Only Live Twice did, alarming United Artists with what seemed to be a franchise-killing loss. Panic ensued. But they didnt have to get rid of Lazenby; incredibly, hed already quit, relieving UA of paying off his contract options for sequel films. Unlike Sean Connery, who in his early films was (sensibly) grateful for the chance to become rich and famous, George Lazenby was inexplicably spoiled, arrogant on the set, and difficult to work with. He apparently thought he could do better. He thought wrong. Like Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, who quit Mission: Impossible, like Chevy Chase, whod quit Saturday Night Live just as the party was getting started, Lazenby walked away for greater opportunities that proved imaginary.

Thats the OHMSS story, but for United Artists it couldnt end there. UA studio chief David Picker managed to get Sean Connery back for one more film. He did it the old-fashioned way, by offering a deal that was unprecedented at the time, lucrative beyond even the greediest kings ransom, including $2 million up front (roughly $20 million today), 10% of the actual, un-steal-able gross, and the right to produce two independent films of Connerys choice, a come-on to his artistic vanity that sealed the bargain.

So he made Diamonds Are Forever (1971), the weakest of Connerys Bonds, which gave the box office a shot of adrenaline. When it was over, Connery walked away again, as he said he would, with a public vow of Never again that would provide the rueful title of his final Bond film. Fans who associate Roger Moore with the sillier, more lightweight Seventies Bonds (or blame him for them) should give Diamonds a critical eye; Connery cheerfully phones it in, with all the sets, gadgets, and jokes he previously disdained.

This time EON Productions didnt go for an unknown actor, but for Roger Moore. Like Diana Rigg, he was already known worldwide for a British TV show, in his case The Saint, where he played a vaguely Bondish leading man. No, Moore wasnt Connery, but at least he wasnt Lazenby. Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli had learned their lesson, and didnt clutter Moores entrance with OHMSSs too-elaborate attempts to link the new Bond to the earlier films. He just stepped into the part, Live and Let Die was a big success, and that was that.

Much later, in the pre-credit scenes of For Your Eyes Only (1981), the film would begin with Moore in a cemetery, solemnly placing flowers at a tombstone: Teresa Bond, 1943-1969, Beloved Wife of James Bond. We Have All the Time in the World. It was a rare acknowledgment of a unique moment.

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The Man in the High Castle Recap: Guess Whos Coming to Dinner? – Vulture

Posted: November 22, 2019 at 8:43 am

Photo: Liane Hentscher/Liane Hentscher/Amazon Studios

After a wonderful intro that sees the return of Stephen Root as Hawthorne Abendsen, aka The Man in the High Castle, now forced into a role as a Rod Serling for the Nazi propaganda machine, Happy Trails becomes another chapter heavy on wheel-spinning but with a solid final 15 minutes. Theres a disturbing pattern this season in which it really feels like one could skip the first half of each episode and still get the good stuff, and pretty much be able to follow whats happening. Lets hope that changes.

Much like Helen Smith returned to New York last episode, Juliana Crain decides shes not going to wait around anymore for the Nazis to come and get her. She travels back to her original timeline, allowing for some nice production design regarding the state of Washington DC, including the decimated rubble of the Lincoln Memorial. Juliana is quickly picked up by inept authorities, whom she even more quickly escapes from, finding her way back to a Resistance. Heres the key question that the show hasnt really answered, though: How did Julianas time in the good reality change her? If she just returns to the Resistance to topple the Reich, will it feel like a narrative waste of time?

Meanwhile, John and Helen Smith are preparing for an important dinner with Fuhrer Heinrich Himmler. Theyre both not-so-subtly threatened by people allied with Himmler, including a new rising star in the party for John and Himmlers horrendous better half for Helen. The former meets with Smith about moving to New York, clearly threatening his position. The latter throws a bunch of passive-aggressive strudel at the feet of Helen Smith about her being away and how to be a good Nazi wife.

Theres some junk about Kido investigating corruption and how the Resistance hurt their cause, but the next major moment comes when John learns from his Nazi Terminator that, well, hes been murdered. Sewells pause is glorious on You killedme? You can tell he understands that John almost enjoys the insanity of it all, and that he knows now that he can just Marty McFly the whole thing and step right into the shoes of the Salesman of the Year. But what about Helen? Could he leave her in this reality with his daughters and just go live with his son and the other Helen in ours?

Again, were distracted by Juliana forced to convince people of her worth again by teaching them about the New Deal and Kido doing some espionage stuff that doesnt matter until we zip back to the real draw of this episode: Himmler Dinner! The Himmlers brought toys, chocolates, and their new Aryan favorite son for the dinner. While showing off her German, young Amy Smith betrays her mothers story about being away to take care of a sick brother, and one could cut the tension with a sausage knife. Helen is worried that theyre building a case against her for leaving New York and possibly even her husband for letting it happen. During dinner, Himmler yells about germ warfare and clearly has one of those coughs thats bad enough in episode four that you know hell be dead of tuberculosis or something by episode eight. Himmler also speaks of smiling faces all around him but absolutely no one he can trust. He doesnt want Johns loyalty; he wants his devotion. The former is easy to fake; the latter could get you killed.

It turns out that the awesome cameo by Emmy nominee Stephen Root (isnt that fun to say?) in the opening wasnt it for Hawthorne Abendsen this episode. Joining up with him again, we learn that hes not only a reticent part of the propaganda machine but that hes doing so in order to keep his wife alive. Again, the theme of having something to fight for returns, although it can sometimes be double-edged. Hes doing what hes doing just to keep her breathing and so he can see her, but hes harming the cause. She wants him to stop. We also get a wonderful scene between Root and Sewell they should really be in a buddy comedy in the creepy room with the multiverse map. They discuss how what happens in one universe can impact another. What impact will the death of John Smith in one timeline have on this John Smith?

Well, its gonna turn him into a Nazi Stargate jumper, thats what! Hes going in. The Nazi leader gets his wedding ring from the real timeline that the man who killed, well, him retrieved, and dons an ordinary beige suit. No one will even notice. Well, as long as he can keep the Seig Heils to a minimum.

The very existence of a show like Tales from the High Castle is one of the cleverest touches so far. Of course the Nazis would make a politically blatant sci-fi show. After all, thats the cover theyre using to explain the Man in the High Castles films in the first place that theyre just sci-fi. And the entire premise of the show is something straight out of an episode of the clear inspiration here, The Twilight Zone.

Smith discusses the theory with Abendsen that just observing something changes it, which Hawthorne informs him is the Heisenberg Theory. No, not Walter Whites nickname, the actual Uncertainty Principle, which you can read more about here. In this context, its a bit odd. Is Smith wondering if just going to our timeline will alter it? Or are the writers just showing off their big brains?

Anyone else think Alexa Davalos is a bit weak this year? Shes always been best with a strong partner, and shes been left on her own a lot so far this season, failing to really convey the fear and confusion that Juliana Crain would be feeling although thats partially the fault of the writers too, who seem to be unsure of what to do with her without her male counterparts.

It could have been tempting to completely invent brands, celebrities, etc. in this universe, but the writers have stayed incredibly loyal to reality. Even the chocolates that Herr Himmler gives the Smith family are from a real shop in Vienna: Demel Caf.

While Ive been a little hard on this season for a lack of final year tension, much love to the producers who decided to make a few episodes closer to 45 minutes than 60, like these last two. Most TV is too long. Keep up the good fight.

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Depression Quest: Bad Brains, Good Friends and Night in the Woods –

Posted: at 8:43 am

My brain and I have often been at war with each other. At times in the past it was a blitzkrieg of bad decisions. At others it was like constantly shifting alliances mediated by therapists, friends and family. At the moment things are good, better than good but theres a tension there; as if the bullets might start flying again. When I play Night in the Woods I relive all those battles and ceasefires. Mental health and, by extension, mental illness is something that has to be fought and negotiated with. Its a constant push and pull that in a lot of cases never has a definitive victory or defeat, only the constant promise or threat of either. Thats what makes Night in the Woods such a cathartic, warm and often heartbreaking journey.

Mae is a recent college dropout, also a cat but thats not hugely important, who has made her way back to her hometown of Possum Springs. A former mining town Possum Springs is starting its descent towards economic ruin. Mae suffers from some kind of disassociative disorder a symptom of which seems to be depression. The signs are all there from the start: poor diet, heavy drinking, nightmares, a lot of sleeping and fragmenting personal relationships. Maes old friends Bea, Gregg and Angus are in the middle of going about their lives when Mae lands back in Possum Springs. All is not right however as disappearances and shadowy figures haunt the edges of both the town and Maes psyche.

I have a lot of respect for Mae. It takes a lot more strength than a lot of people know to up and quit when things get hard. The phrase When the going gets tough, the tough get going gets thrown around a lot and its true that sometimes the best thing to do in a difficult situation is to persevere. On the other hand it takes a great deal of courage to admit that perseverance can hurt more than giving up. Mae, through previous experience realises this but shes afraid that her loving parents and supportive friends wont see things the same way.


Locking yourself away behind emotional or even physical barriers is pretty common when the fog descends. Being depressed, whether chronically or only occasionally, can feel like wandering through thick fog or looking at the world through a heavy pane of glass. Being close to people whether physically or emotionally doesnt help. Its a chemical imbalance in the brain. Even though youre in control of your body and all its functions the emotional centers of the brain are misfiring, flooded as they are with the wrong kind of emotional chemical. And so we close ourselves off not content to wallow in misery but incapable of doing anything else.

It all paints a dark, grim picture of life for the people in small town America but Night in the Woods isnt all doom and gloom.

These things are easy to do. To lock the bedroom door, to not talk when someones willing to listen, to stop seeking professional help. Whats hard is opening up. Mae doesnt make it easy on herself though. Shes a headstrong, difficult young woman with severe emotional issues but shes also a loyal friend and a loving daughter with a mischievous fun streak. Night in the Woods is a game after all and although games arent necessarily meant to be fun it really helps when they are.

For as many razor sharp reveals and moments of heartbreaking darkness that Night in the Woods has it also has a great deal of levity. Mae and her fellow Gen Z-ers view the world with the sort of ironic detachment and humour common to those raised on message boards and MySpace. But life in small town America tends to fuck you more often than life in the Big City does.

Bea, Maes chain-smoking childhood crocodile friend, has recently lost her mother and is now in charge of the family hardware store. Gregg, the manic anarchist fox Mae has known since adolescence, can also feel the clouds moving in darkening his view of himself, his relationship with his bear boyfriend bearfriend? Angus and life in general. And thats without mentioning Maes parents financial troubles brought about by recession and bad luck. It all paints a dark, grim picture of life for the people in small town America but Night in the Woods isnt all doom and gloom. It wouldnt be much fun to play otherwise.

Gameplay-wise beyond some short mini-games Night in the Woods pretty much boils down to walking, jumping and talking. Your time in Possum Springs will be spent traversing the town from its bustling but slowly shuttering Main Street to its starkly gorgeous church to the oppressive woods of the title. In Possum Springs youll while away the mornings and afternoons talking to the townsfolk like Pastor Kate, the bad-good poet Selmers and the homeless drifter Bruce.

The evenings is when Night in the Woods truly comes alive as Mae embarks on adventures with either Mae, Gregg or her bird friend Jeremy Warton aka Germ Warfare. This can involve a trip to the mall with Bea, a friendly knife fight with Gregg and several ghost-hunting trips with the gang. Its in these moments as well as those that Mae spends at home in the kitchen talking to her mom Candy, watching TV with her dad Stan or reminiscing on her role model: her Granddad.

As much as Night in the Woods is about finding the light through the fog as provided by friends and family its also about the things we leave behind as life goes on. Whether it be the place we grew up, the friends we left there or the people that passed on along the way Night in the Woods has a great reverence for memory. I relate to Mae in a lot of ways both in her struggles and successes. She and I have fought our bad brains to a standstill time and again. Weve both surrounded ourselves with good friends willing to support us ad be supported by us. And perhaps most important of all to me: we both really miss our granddads.

Losing an older relative hurts. Ive lost both grandfathers in the last dozen years. Losing a grandparent or any older family member, especially when youre close to them, feels like a very special kind of loss. A door to a specific view on and interpretation of history has closed forever. The past is no longer as accessible as it once was but that makes memories shine all the brighter.

I wasnt as close to my granddad as Mae was. He read to her in bed. He left her his old collection of horror stories. He visited her as a ghost in a dream. As people pass on their image grows in our mind. My granddad might not have been much of a talker but what he said may as well have been gold. He always knew what to say and when to say it, a talent that seems to have skipped a generation or two in my family. The images that myself and Mae have are idealised but theyre all we have now and that has to be enough, even when its not.

Despite its distinct focus on mental health and the debilitating effects grief and mental illness can have on it Night in the Woods never feels like a game exclusively about either of these issues like, say Depression Quest or Hellblade: Senuas Sacrifice. Instead Night in the Woods with its get-up-and-go attitude to depression and distinct, ironic sense of humour feels like a game about coping as best we can with life and all the things it can throw at us. Even when it descends into an occult nightmare inspired by Algernon Blackwood stories Night in the Woods is quick to return to the themes powering it. Night in the Woods is a game about life in all its fragile beauty and how despite all its hardships and losses it is ultimately worth both living and enjoying.

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