Berlin Station

I just finished watching the first season of the TV Series Berlin Station. Aired on tv by the premium Epix Channel, this is the channel’s first venture into an original scripted drama (aka – original content) but, the series may not be available to you. In fact, I could not see Berlin Station on my Xfinity Cable as this service doesn’t carry the channel. However, I was able to buy the DVD from Amazon.

The series is set in present day Berlin. And the reference is not about the Berlin’s U-Bahn transit system. Rather it about the USA’s CIA station in Berlin.

The series, and each episode opens with the following song playing over the opening credits:

I’m afraid of Americans
I’m afraid of the world
I’m afraid I can’t help it
I’m afraid I can’t…

That was a David Bowie song called I’m Afraid of Americans circa 1997. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hMr9irtbIQ

As the series begins we learn that a whistleblower has been handing info to a Berlin newspaper reporter. Of course it is not as simple as just that, The whistle-blower, named Thomas Shaw, used an intermediary or courier, and they utilized a system of dead drops enabling the info to get from Thomas Shaw to the reporter. It was all very Snowden-ish and wiki-leak-ish. Just the sort of stuff you’d expect as the broad strokes of an espionage series.

A CIA analyst based in Langley, one Daniel Miller, is transferred to Berlin Station, and he’s tasked to discover, or uncover, and then hopefully shutdown this Shaw. All without any one working in the Berlin Station being aware of what he was doing.

Naturally what Shaw is doing is ‘outing’ CIA operatives and CIA operations emanating from the Berlin Station. These reveals were undoubtedly very embarrassing to the CIA as well as the German intelligence service.

So what do we learn?

Black ops and covert ops, dead drops, renditions, enhanced interrogations were among the topics. As was a specific black site in Morocco where the CIA did what they did to get what they needed. It was said that “if they weren’t guilty when they got here, they’d certainly be guilty by the time they got to Gitmo.”

All in all, the espionage business wasn’t all that pretty. And if you perchance were contemplating work in the State Department or any of the Intelligence services, you might want to reconsider. But that’s not a)news or b) part of the review. It is a story for another time and place

So about Berlin Station, going in, the series looked like it might be worthwhile and if done right, could be excellent. To prove that statement have a look at the trailer:

Only Berlin Station didn’t quite reach the heights I expected. Oh there was plenty that was good about the series beginning with on-location shoots, a terrific premise, and a stellar cast. Too bad the series in total fell short.

First – the opening two 1 hour episodes were dull, and with the size of the huge cast (meaning the many pivotal roles) it took a long time for the character introductions and the various plot lines to be set in motion. In short, as viewers, we were asked to take in lot of information and characters, and we were literally at sea without enough knowledge to truly understand what we were watching.

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Thanksgiving 2017

Bob Dylan 1964
from the The Times They Are a-Changin’ album:

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s the battle outside raging
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changing

Bob Dylan 2006
from the Modern Times album we have the song Things Have Changed:

People are crazy and times are strange
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed

That’s Dylan talking about the changing times. Indeed. You know, these days, they talk about the partisan issues between those that sit on either side of the aisle. Maybe they should be calling the ‘aisle’ what it really is – a canyon. We are now in the era of America First. I think  the reality is that we are in the era of Me First.

The USA used to be a kinder and gentler place. Not so much now. In my own words, I think I can both see and feel the social fabric of our nation tearing beneath our collective feet right now. We should all  have a sense of a gathering storm. And truly that’s not good. But maybe it is necessary.

And if that isn’t change…then tell me, what is?

Remember what Gore Vidal once said about this country – The United States of Amnesia.

But not everything changes. As has been my tradition on this blog, I choose the American holiday of Thanksgiving to offer my thanks for all that we have that is good, and for all that we have that is wonderful. Of course, art is a purely subjective art form. Art may be understood and appreciated, or just understood, or just appreciated, or neither understood nor appreciated.

My annual Thanksgiving post may or may not show Thanksgiving-themed art works. The artists may or may not be American. My tastes in art are varied – and I don’t stick to just one school of art.  Impressionist, Classic reality, modern, portraits and landscapes, or even historical paintings may show up in this post.

As will the vibrancy of bold colors, or paintings in which the colors are more important than the subjects. If a work of art appears in this annual post, it is because I like what I see, and wish to share with you. I can only hope that you will have similar feelings.

I have chosen the American painter Jeremy Lipking to open this post. Lipking is a 40 something from Santa Monica, CA, and he is most easily described as an American realist.

This first Lipking painting is called Whispering Pines. I love the soft color mix of this work, and I hope you can feel both the awe and the mystery that this work evokes. Just look at the foreground details and then, behind the woman, in the distance, we only have the colors and shape of the ridge of the hills meeting the sky with just the slightest bit of detail.

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The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

The word ‘Family’ came into English in the 15th century. As the years passed, many families found themselves in the midst of discord and distrust. And so the term dysfunctional family entered our lexicon many years later.

Amongst the many symptoms that have been used the one that comes most readily to mind is the word ‘conflict’. And many dysfunctional families deal with conflict by:

using criticism, contempt and defensiveness, along with putting up walls and looking for scapegoats.

Now in the world of tv, films, and theatrical dramas – conflict is a major component. As such, dysfunctional families are the meat and potatoes of a lot of what we watch on our various media platforms.

From The Simpsons to the The Sopranos to The Royal Tenenbaums, and from Oscar Winning films like Ordinary People (1980) to American Beauty (1999) – we can’t seem to get enough of these dramas or dramadies.

Lets add the Meyerowitz family to the mix. The film is called The Meyerowitz Stories. It opened in a limited number of theaters in mid October while simultaneously streaming on Netflix. At the head of the family is the patriarch Harold Meyerowitz with Dustin Hoffman taking the role. His claim to fame was more for being a tenured Bard College professor than for his varied art works.  Though if you ask him – he’ll be happy to tell you of the excellence of that art in what can be described quite simply as a very ‘Trumpian’ manner.

He was far less successful in his personal relationships. He fathered 3 children – now all adults – Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, and Elizabeth Marvel have the roles.  His kids will tell you that each of them has a different mother – meaning that Dad, good old Dad, was divorced 4 times. At which point, Harold will correct who ever said it with – No, I was divorced just 3 times – the other marriage ended with an annulment.

Such is life with Harold Meyerowitz. Currently, Harold dwells with Maureen (played delightfully by Emma Thompson), who seems to be drunk or working towards that state of being most of the time.

Adam Sandler (as Danny) is down on his luck – divorced, jobless, and nearly broke. Ben Stiller, portraying the ‘successful’ brother Matthew, is deeply resented by Danny as apparently Matthew was the apple of Harold’s eye.  I said ‘was’ but ‘still is’ is likely still in play – if you ask me.

Elizabeth Marvel is Harold’s third child, or maybe she was the first. She’s Jean Meyerowitz and she appears to be in a permanent state of depression.  Her role is underwritten and she looks as if her costumer and her make up people turned her on to the set as a female sad-sack. I say that because she just hasn’t enough lines for us to know.

Well the set up of the Meyerowitz Stories is that each of the adult kids will all tell their own version of their stories, as in they each take a turn in narrating. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, the film has its moments of levity. Truly there’s not a lot of laugh-out-loud moments but at least there’s some.

Hoffman gives a stand out performance and that’s no surprise. All the best lines were written for him.  Stiller is at least competent but he hasn’t much to work with.

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Call My Agent – Season 2

Talent agencies are not the usual subject of a TV series. Now once upon a time, we had a fabulously successful series set in an ad agency. They called it Mad Men. It ran for 7 seasons and won a boatload of Awards, including statuettes from the Golden Globes and the outfit that hands out the Prime time Emmy awards.

On a smaller scale, and from a different country, I’ve just finished watching Season 2 of the French TV Series Dix Pour Cent, or as it is known on American shores – Call My Agent. For sure, Call My Agent is not Mad Men… but it relates to the former because it is much closer to being a mad house.

I think.

Season Two is basically a continuation from Season 1 which I reviewed here.  The widow of Samuel Kerr, the agency founder and majority stockholder, has informed the staff that she has no interest in running the boutique talent agency, and has decided to sell.

The new buyer/owner, Hicham Jankowski, is a risk for the 4 agents and the rest of the staff. The new buyer/owner might sell the agency off to a bigger firm, or he might make some changes, or worse = he’d be hands-on and he would intrude on the day to doings of one and all.

Instead – he gave each of the 4 agents (aka minority stockholders), a healthy 15,000 bonus. And that was because they negotiated firmly and never gave his original offer of 10,000 a chance.

That put a smile on all their faces. But no doubt they might have gotten even more had they been more greedy.

Martel was especially happy. She knew Jankowski from way back – before she became a Parisienne. For her, going back to her roots was a nonstarter, Her life style continues in Season 2. That would consist of picking up girls in bars, that is until she finds the one who would truly become The One. That is when she wasn’t courting clients, or dealing with film makers and film stars.

Gabriel Sarda (above) had his romance with the agency receptionist Sofia (below) go into uncharted waters as she, being an actress/singer, was also his client. People were talking, okay – whispering – that she was bartering sex for career advancement. Not true – but that didn’t stop all the whispers.

Mathias was also involved in the contretemps as it will become known about his relationship with the office ingenue who is –

Camille, and she’s played winsomely by Fanny Sidney. No, it’s not what you are thinking.  This was something we can slip into the niche called family. Mathias also has issues with his ex-wife.

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The Brave – New TV Series from NBC

Just checked my blog activity.  I posted a review of The Lava Fields on May 25th, then nothing until a pair of posts in September. Beyond that lots of ‘spam comments’ arrived needing deletion.  Nothing else happened.

Well I’m back. The hiatus or should I say the period of  a near complete lack of inspiration, which was really a nicer way of saying that I was unmotivated – has ended.

We’ll begin with a look at a new series on NBC – The Brave. NBC describes its series … this heroic Special Ops squad of highly trained undercover specialists use their unbreakable bond and commitment to freedom to save lives of innocent people and execute missions in some of the most dangerous places in the world.

From where I sit, The Brave is a new and exciting reworking of the old Mission Impossible TV series – only without any latex masks. Tom Cruise has a solid grip on the MI film franchise with MI6 currently filming – with a release scheduled in 2018. Until then, you action junkies can give this series a shot.

Seven episodes have already aired with the most recent one on Monday the 6th of November. What we basically have is a Special Ops team that normally, at least at the beginning of each episode, is based in Turkey. They live in a large warehouse (or maybe a quonset). There’s 4 guys and one girl. They have their own version of a Batphone (a video sat phone for the all important face time), and when it chimes – it generally means they have a mission to do.

The calls come (not from an unnamed Secretary) but from HQ here known as The Defense Intelligence Agency (which is an actual Washington DC based agency serving the military and founded by Robert McNamara in 1961).

Their boss is Deputy Director Patricia Campbell (Anne Heche has the role) who will not only lay it out for the team on the phone, but will also oversee the operations via the team’s body-cams. They all have a micro-earpiece and mike) so they can all hear from each other. Sometimes the boss will even put her own boots on the ground with her team.

She’s tough, knows all about working in the field, and is a no-nonsense kind of chief who has the skills needed for such dangerous work. If you’re looking for a comparable for Heche’s role – think Helen Mirren in Eye in the Sky from 2015. Oh yes, as character Campbell, she’s also a mother of a son who was KIA in Afghanistan.

Accompanying her in the photo above is her Squad leader Adam Dalton played by Mike Vogel. Captain Dalton is the leader, the comm director and a former member of Delta force. His team calls him ‘Top’ and he makes the tactical decisions when they are in the field.

In the seven episodes I’ve seen, the field has been in Karatas, Turkey, Afghanistan, Paris, Nigeria, Seville, Mexico, and the Ukraine. Sounds impressive doesn’t it? But the reality is a little different. The Afghan  scenes were shot in Morocco. As for the rest – we get some obligatory cityscapes or establishing exteriors of an unnamed Ukrainian city, ditto Seville and Paris – but all of the action and indoor scenes are actually shot in or near a studio in New Mexico, right here in the USA.

Not a real deal-breaker bust still…

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