What the … Flix?

“Another Life” (Netflix series)On July 25, 2019, a new science fiction television series, Another Life, was released on the Netflix streaming video service.  As Netflix often does with their own productions, the entire series was released at once, as opposed to one episode per week as on broadcast television.  I get most of my news about events in science fiction from Twitter, where I follow a collection of independent science fiction authors and fans whose opinions I have come to respect.  There have been relatively few comments about the new series, but they have been curiously bimodal: some people like it and others hate it, with very few in the middle.  A couple of nights ago I had a pile of tedious system administration tasks to do which took a lot of time but relatively little concentration, so I put it on to have a look for myself.  I was astonished by what I saw…or rather heard.

The story is, from what I’ve seen, banal, and although they seem to have science advisors on tap which keep them from tripping over pesky things like confusing planetary systems with galaxies and the like, there are other inanities such as instantaneous communication over light-year distances and the need for suspended animation on a faster than light ship.  Almost every male (including a computer-emulated hologram) with the exception of one political twit seems to have a dumbeard™, and nobody on this ship sent for first contact with mysterious aliens seems to have a rank or title.... [Read More]

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Netflix Recommendation: “Shtisel”

“Shtisel” is a brilliant Israeli series that follows a family from a conservative Jewish community in Jerusalem. There are no fireworks–just the drama of ordinary lives–but it works well. It’s real, and even disturbing at times, without sinking into fatalism. The characters develop, so I’m glad I stuck it out after the first couple of episodes. It uses flashback and surreal dream scenes, and it took some getting used to. In detail after detail, for twelve episodes in each of the two seasons, individuals’ gifts, flaws, and motivations are revealed. Some scenes will give you an “aha” moment about the family, as you connect the incidents with narrative from previous episodes.
 
The main character, Akiva, is the youngest son of the Shtisel family, living with his father and seeking a match after his mother has died. He is kind of a dull fellow, who doesn’t seem to have a backbone or many interests besides drawing. His several siblings are already grown and married, some likable and interesting, others not. Akiva and his father teach at the local boys’ school, and the family adhere to Orthodox Jewish practices such as uttering a prayer before eating and kissing their fingers as they go through a doorway. Although Akiva’s mother has died, her presence and influence is still felt in the household. None of this sounds like a formula for a fascinating series, but the journey was so rewarding that I watched its two seasons and look forward to a third.
The show made me curious about a couple of points. First, I was surprised how basic the standard of living was for this community. The houses are just ugly inside, with little adornment and plain, cheap materials. The food doesn’t look appealing, either. Good jobs seem like a scarce commodity. Then I realized that it must have been the way of life for that community; when characters finally travel outside of that, you see a metropolis that looks a bit like San Diego. Second, I thought Hebrew was spoken in Israel, but it sounds a lot like German, definitely with German words. Someone suggested that it could be Yiddish, but then I saw a dialogue where a character offers to speak in Yiddish so the children wouldn’t overhear what he was about to say. Maybe they are switching among three languages. English words and phrases are inserted occasionally, but English doesn’t seem to influence their discourse much other than that.
 
With its rich detail, the series effectively immersed me in this community, showing–beyond the portrayals of clothing, customs, and daily rituals– the humanity of the residents and their challenge in living as Orthodox Jews in today’s world.

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Two Movies on One Screen: TAU

Scott Adams has frequently written on the phenomenon of “two movies on one screen”: where people observe the same objective events and interpret them in two (or more) entirely different ways.  I recently encountered an example of this which was based on a movie.

On 2018-06-29, Netflix released a production entitled TAU.  Here is the official trailer for the movie.... [Read More]

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