“The Crown”–Glory to Her Highness

the-crownThe anachronistic British aristocracy must sensitively negotiate its relationship with its public. “The Crown”, the November original series released from Netflix, is the story of a conflict between private and public, between the personal feelings of a wife, mother, and sister and the queen (Elizabeth II).

At its core “The Crown” is a character study and a family drama. Do you put personal fulfillment over political duty and obligation? That is the question. “The Crown” is a family saga, particularly between sisters. Conflicts with personal fulfillment and romantic love hide behind a curtain of pomp and circumstance. We are allowed behind palace doors to witness a struggle of personalities.

Elizabeth’s drama begins with the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936, which forces his reluctant younger brother George VI to ascend to the throne. His oldest daughter, Elizabeth (in a remarkable performance by Claire Foy from “Wolf Hall”), is a witness to all the regal drama. With the death of King George VI, Elizabeth must suddenly transform from a loving sibling and shy young wife and mother into a queen.

And at the moment of her father’s death, it becomes clear that Elizabeth — unlike her tearful mother and sister — is able to suppress her desires and emotions in order to assume the throne.

Perhaps the most compelling drama in “The Crown”, however, is the conflict between sisters. Her younger and more glamorous sister, Margaret, asks for permission to marry a recently divorced officer whose ex-wife is still living. This love affair, ironically, is similar in circumstances to that of her uncle (King Edward VIII) who was compelled to abdicate the throne for marriage to a divorced woman (Wallace Simpson). At that time remarriage under those circumstances was strictly forbidden by the Anglican Church. First promising to stand by her sister, Elizabeth is compelled by those in power to recant as she chooses duty as queen and defender of the Anglican Church over her love for her sister.

The popularity of “Downton Abbey” reveals an American fascination with the British royal family and aristocracy. Why is the monarchy this crucial to the nation? Queen Mary (played by Eileen Atkins), the grandmother of Elizabeth, reminds her granddaughter: “Monarchy is God’s sacred mission to grace and dignify the earth, to give ordinary people an ideal to strive towards, an example of nobility and duty to raise them in their wretched lives.”

A superb family saga with the machinations of politics as its undercurrent!

Remember–This is the Year of the Monkey

Monkey2016  For those of you who didn’t get a chance to read my Chinese New Year’s post on The Year of the Monkey–Anything Can Happen, here it is again!  This has been a crazy year — the most volatile in the Chinese twelve-year Zodiac cycle and who can argue with that after this Tuesday’s election.  Inauguration Day 2017 is January 20 and the Year of the Monkey officially ends on January 27, 2017.

“As the Year of the Sheep comes to an end and the Year of the Monkey arrives, 2016 will be a year of invention and improvisation, unpredictability and unexpected change. The Year of the Monkey is considered the most volatile in the twelve-year cycle.

The Monkey is considered intelligent, witty, and inventive. The ninth animal in the Chinese zodiac, the Monkey is also believed to be a magnificent problem-solver and independent high achiever. Clever and nimble, monkeys are playful, energetic creatures who move from activity to activity, swinging from branch to branch. Though honored in Buddhist tales, the Monkey is also famous as an irrepressible trickster.

All animals in the Chinese zodiac have a dark side too. The problem-solving in the Year of the Monkey can turn opportunistic and untrustworthy, unscrupulous and devious, capricious and misguided.

Some may gamble, speculate, take unnecessary and highly risky chances but for some there will be ingenious outcomes. Business can thrive in surprising ways under the Monkey’s optimistic and shrewd influence.  Anything can happen. Everything is in flux.

Communication also takes on a humorous, even mischievous and light-hearted side as an antidote to the stressful changes which will occur. Some risks will have astonishing results and unconventional solutions are needed to solve old problems. Daring to be different leads to success but  tremendous effort is also required. Now is the time for bold action; even the wildest ideas may succeed.

Remember this year will reward individualistic and highly original enterprises. A lot of global economic growth due to entrepreneurship can be expected in the Year of the Monkey. Also expect a lot of life changes. The Year of the Monkey 2016 is a good year to break free and take calculated risks as there is nothing more powerful or rewarding than following your instincts, passion and intuition. This is the best year for changing jobs in the next decade! Don’t look back!”

 

 

 

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“Bates Motel”–Season Four: A Masterpiece

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“Bates Motel” continues to be A&E’s number one drama of all time. I think it is a modern masterpiece!

I’ve reviewed the first three seasons earlier this year (see my June 13, 2016 review, Bates Motel, Seasons 1-3: A Mother-Son Obsession) and thought there was nowhere else to go with the plot except to the classic Hitchcock film, “Psycho”.  I am so wrong. Continuing to push boundaries of what constitutes a dysfunctional, hypersexualized relationship between mother and son, in Season Four we see Norma (Vera Farming) and Norman (Freddie Highmore) play off each other’s damaged psyches in ways never seen in either cinema or television. As I’ve said before, Bates Motel “unveils the darkest side imaginable of a mother-son relationship gone berserk, familiarity dissolving into psychosis” not seen elsewhere. This controversial season takes us to where only the intrepid can bear to see such damage inflicted so ferociously on family. “Bates Motel” dares to touch the unspeakable in such a brilliant and fearless manner.

bates-motel-freddie-highmore-vera-farmiga-399x600While I’ve touched upon obsessive love and fear between parent and child in my first novel, Things Unsaid,  “Bates Motel” is an even more controversial story. The twisted relationship between Norma and her son –the heart of this disquieting narrative—is gripping, unsettling, and disturbing yet also riveting in how far it takes family dynamics. A masterpiece of raw and primal screams.  

Note: Seasons 1 -4 are available on both Netflix and A&E’s website. Season 5 is in development

“Bron”—The Original “Bridge”

 

Bron

“Bron”—the original “Bridge” is a well written, well balanced story in which every episode is riveting, complexly plotted, and occasionally funny. The Bridge has earned the honor of two versions being produced: an American/Mexican and a British/French one (renamed “The Tunnel–see my August 7, 2016 review).

With three seasons now completed and only the first imitated in the other versions, we are seeing one of the best narratives in a television series ever.   This detective series, in its second and third seasons, outdoes its own standard of excellence. The main character—Saga Noren (the incomparable Sofia Helin)—is a reserved, non-emotive personality. She is brusque where her male partners (two different ones—Season 1: Martin and Seasons 2 and 3: Henrik) are the emotional, sensitive policemen trying to understand her behavior and lack of social skills. And as the series progresses, the viewer comes to admire her professional drive and ache for the damage and horrific backstory that makes Saga who she is.

It is rare when the succeeding seasons are better than the first, but “Bron” is the exception. Season 3 is also the most complicated with parallel storylines running through and crossing over each other so that the subplots are difficult to follow at times.

The two leading characters –male and female, Danish and Swedish—dance in a dynamic that is an interplay of pain and release, over and over again. While neither is sympathetic most of the time, the viewer will see humor in their idiosyncrasies. Saga and Henrik will certainly rank as some of the most original TV detectives to date. This series was a joy to watch with so many twists and turns before learning the identity of the killer that I think I may have to watch Seasons 2 and 3 again, before Season 4 is released next year. Rent them on Netflix and binge view one of the best detective dramas developed to date.

Even if you don’t like subtitles, after the intensity and suspense build up you will forget about those little white letters at the bottom of the screen!

Trust me—this is drama at its very best!

“Snowden”—A Companion Piece to “Citizenfour”

 

snowden

In Oliver Stone’s new biopic thriller, “Snowden”, we see the humanization of a young 20-something US software engineer who is self-taught and brilliant in his deciphering the surveillance agenda of the CIA and the NSA in 2013. In what is now the most well-known disclosure of US intelligence and surveillance practices, Snowden has opened a window to how counterintelligence is carried out in the global arena.

“Snowden” opens with the naïve yet idealistic twenty-one year old going through Army bootcamp. Injured, Snowden is discharged, obtains his GED and a master’s degree online and then employed as a consultant for government contracts dealing with terrorism. Snowden (played in a subtle interpretation by Joseph Gordon Leavitt,) develops “Epic Shelter” for backing up multiple databases at the secret NSA underground facility in Hawaii. Accidentally he discovers that Epic Shelter is being misused for cyberspying on US citizens, and intercepting corporate data belonging to Google, Yahoo and other companies as well as foreign governments.   Outraged, Snowden is portrayed as an American patriot who has lost faith in his country. Concerned for his girlfriend’s safety, Snowden resigns from NSA and reveals thousands of classified documents to journalists at the Guardian (UK),  Washington Post and Laura Poitras, an independent filmmaker (for what would become the 2015 Academy Award-winning documentary “Citizenfour”. See my review, “Citizenfour”—“Big Brother’s Doppelganger”, March 24, 2015).

On June 21, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice charged Snowden with two counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and theft of government property. Two days later Snowden flies to Moscow hoping to seek asylum elsewhere but resigned to secret residency in Moscow after other nations refuse to offer a safe haven. For now, he is still living in an undisclosed location in Russia while seeking asylum elsewhere.

Snowden has been called a hero, a whistleblower, a dissident, a patriot and a traitor. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the last three years. His disclosures have fueled debates over government surveillance, and the balance between homeland security and citizens’ privacy. President Obama refused to grant him a pardon, Apple co-­founder Steve Wozniak called Snowden a hero, Secretary of State John Kerry called him a traitor, and Donald Trump called for his execution.

Oliver Stone has never been intimidated by politically charged stories (“Platoon”, “Born on the Fourth of July”, “Wall Street” and “JFK” to name a few) and this is no exception. No matter what you think of Snowden’s disclosure of classified documents, this epic story of why he did it and how he pulled it off makes for a compelling and exciting film. It should be seen along with “Citizenfour” which provides less of the idiosyncrasies of Snowden’s personality and more of his software genius as well as the motivation for his disclosures to Poitras, in particular. Oliver Stone recaptured some “Citizenfour” scenes almost in identical detail. This is a must-see for 2016!

 

“Morgan”—Science Embedded in Sci-Fi

morgan
Viewers of science fiction movies have an interest in the scientific ideas driving the plot. In the sci-fi movie, “Morgan”, (http://www.foxmovies.com/movies/morgan) a computer captures Morgan’s behavior with the intention of giving an in-depth understanding of the science behind artificial intelligence.

For years a team of scientific researchers have been at work creating, developing and observing artificial humans. Morgan is their latest prototype. The group of people charged with Morgan’s care were optimistic about the advanced development of its artificial intelligence. Although only five human years old, Morgan appears to be about twelve. There is a reason the central character in the movie “Morgan” has a genderless name. In the movie the main character, Morgan,is referred to as “it”, the product of secretive scientific research at a remote facility. After an unexpected and horrific incident occurs, a risk assessment employee (Kate Mara) from corporate headquarters arrives to investigate, her very presence increasing the tension and drama, moving the plot forward.

Anya Taylor-Joy effectively played Morgan as a haunted creation, trying to understand the world, and how to live in it. The movie’s most compelling character, Morgan’s movements and haunted, expressive face are unforgettable and stay with this viewer long after the movie ended.

Although “Morgan” has some good performances, it lacks character development that mirrors the flaws of some science fiction prose. The characters are flat at times and one-dimensional. Dr. Alan Shapiro (Paul Giamatti) and Dr. Amy Menser (Rose Leslie) could have been more fully developed personalities with clearly defined motives.

This is a movie for sci-fi lovers but not on the level of “Ex Machina”.

Lenore Gay, guest blogger

This post was written by Lenore Gay, author of Shelter of Leaves, a suspenseful novel about a dystopia reality in the aftermath of terrorism. Lenore was gracious enough to cover for me while I was on vacation.Go to her author website: www.lenoregay.com for more information about her writing.

“Bloodline”—An Intravenous Infusion of Disaster

 

Bloodline

“Bloodline”, a dramatic thriller from the creators of “Damages,” just completed its second season on Neftlix Originals. Exploring the darkest secrets of an affluent American family in the Florida Keys, Bloodline digs deep into the underbelly of the Rayburns, the upstanding pillars of society for their small coastal community. Their past, however, contains dark secrets that have damaged all of them. After an unthinkable crime takes place, the façade of the tight-knit caring family disintegrates, replaced by betrayal, abandonment, and more criminal behavior.

The theme of family is always a heady combination with the addition of crime and dysfunction. “Bloodline” punches us in the guts as we ask ourselves what would we do if we were accessories to a crime in the name of family solidarity. Family roles change, and in “Bloodlines” we see the dark side of each family member morph and astonish. With Sissy Spacek playing the matriarch, and Kyle Chandler as the titular head of the family and Ben Mendelsohn as his brother, we can understand the Emmy-nominated performances in this riveting family-thriller. The ghosts of the past dictate limited options and new role formation for each. This is another outstanding series on the ferocious nature of family sagas and the Rashomon perspectives and chameleon nature of family structure. Highly recommended. Season 3 will be released next summer.

 

The Night Manager

night-managerBased on John le Carré’s 1993 novel, The Night Manager,  this AMC/BBC television miniseries is a spy thriller directed by Danish phenomena Susanne Bier (Of “A Better World”, see my October 7, 2014 review). Luxury hotel night manager Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), situated in Cairo during the impending Arab Spring, faces off against Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie of “House” fame), a formidable gun-runner turned financier and philanthropist living on the island of Mallorca.   Roper is an international jet-setter who entertains his beautiful mistress and his entourage in the Swiss Alps, Mallorca, and wherever arms deals can be brokered.

Pine is contacted by an intelligence operative (coordinated between MI6 and the CIA) who asks for his assistance in taking down Roper by infiltrating Roper’s virtually impenetrable inner circle.  After several horrifically violent scenes,  Pine seems to have succeeded.

The combination of star power performances by Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston make The Night Manager fun to watch with a distinct James Bond feeling. Hiddleston is every bit as sexually magnetic as any of the past James Bond actors who elicits lust in every woman who meets him.  And seeing Laurie as the evil villain we’ve come to expect not in our curmudgeonly Dr. House but in every antagonist in a Bond movie, the viewer can’t help but enjoy Laurie’s performance even as we root for Pine.

Like a Bond movie, part of the  pleasure in watching the story unfold is suspending one’s disbelief at the preposterous plot lines and heroic battles.  The Night Manager is as easy to watch as it is to forget, with sumptuous shots of Mallorca and Switzerland that could hold their own against any travelogue.

Suffice it to say the spycraft in The Night Manager is entertaining with a quirky subplot on the sad bureaucratic lives of government intelligence officers.  The first episode of “The Night Manager” was broadcast on April 16 and past episodes are available at www.amc.com

“The Big Short”—We Were All Duped

The Big Short
The Big Short

“The Big Short”, based on Michael Lewis’s book, is a film that wildly fluctuates between comedy and deadly serious criticism of Wall Street.

The producers, shouting out “Finance For Dummies”, follow a group of outlier financial analysts who predicted and bet on the fall of the U.S. housing market. 2011’s “Margin Call” told a similar story. “Wolf of Wall Street” also focused on investment banking as one excessive party, with attempts at humor.

The Big Short, a true story, feels like a lecture with subtitled definitions of arcane financial acronyms like CDO in PowerPoint slides. The tone becomes wearying, even nonsensical. For example, placing the beautiful Margot Robbie of “Wolf on Wall Street” in a bubble bath to explain what a “subprime” loan is. Laughable?

More a powerful expose of the securities market and how Wall Street bet against the ignorance of the average investor, “The Big Short” sometimes does entertain the viewer as we laugh at ourselves for our guileless trust in those folks who duped us out of billions of dollars of our hard-earned money. We feel the horror of understanding that on Wall Street greed trumps common sense. The film shines light on the backrooms of the financial meltdown and collapse, bringing self-interest and corruption into the stark light of the banking and financial world.

The cast, particularly Steve Carell and Christian Bale, own “The Big Short”, channeling the “Boiler Room” and “Glengarry Glen Ross” as whistleblowers who realize that gaming the system can’t last. Playing a changed man whose brother paid the ultimate sacrifice in Wall Street battles, Mark Baum (Carell) vows to uncover the corruption that allowed the system to become rogue.

Bale’s Michael Burry, a doctor turned broker, has an analytical brilliance about the pending financial doom which goes unrecognized, even thwarted, when his bosses are threatened. Annoyingly, his character beats on drums in his basement while projecting when the housing market will crash.  Reflecting  on subprime loans and duplicitous securities created to bundle high-risk mortgages in such a complicated way, Burry understands  that professionals as well as the average investor have no clue what the mortgages represent or who owns them.

As the debacle is in free-fall, Baum is incredulous that his team has bet against their own umbrella entity, Morgan Stanley. The imploding financial system caused by corporate greed and deceit has even fooled him.

Both Carell and Bale give some of the best performances of their careers. Yet cinematic clips jump from one scene to the next, attempting to evoke the financial crisis of 2008, with rap and other distracting scenes overlying the depressing subject of capitalism gone amuck. Ryan Gosling narrates by talking directly to the camera a la Kevin Spacey in “House of Cards”, one of my least favorite film conceits.

The demented and corrupt circus of Wall Street can only exist based upon a society which blindingly trusts them. Even the “good guys” (Baum and Burry) are ultimately motivated by making obscene amounts of money. Isn’t that what society tells us we have to do, in order to be valued? It’s sick and the whole thing has started up again, “The Big Short” informs us before the ending credits. Neither regulators, nor banks, nor the public seem to care enough about the damage of a cycle of boom and bust to really do anything about it. They – we – smell money. Ultimately a bleak repeat of history.

Not as good as “Wolf on Wall Street” or the superior “Margin Call” but we need reminding: we are all being duped.

 

“Fargo”: Season 2—Still Far to Go

 

fargo-season-2-ted-danson-patrick-wilson

Season 2 of the award-winning Fargo mini-series is a stunning repeat performance not only of the Coen brothers’ iconic movie by the same name but also in its succession to Season 1. The season finale of Fargo was broadcast this week.

Comedy meets tragedy. Humor meets violence. Surreal meets the real with an infusion of the main theme: the loss of innocence. Hell descends, though the characters are ill-prepared, and now there is no turning back. Their unexpected dark side grows like a cancer. [And the ferocious transformation of characters is not unlike Walter White in “Breaking Bad”.]

Welcome to the world of Fargo, where wisecracks about food sit comfortably next to corpses in bloody scene after bloody scene. Season 2 is planted firmly in 1979, when the tensions of the Vietnam War have left their scars, when women’s changing roles and race relations are in the average American’s consciousness. Even in North Dakota and Minnesota, there is no escape. Social change will be traumatic for some, even in this isolated enclave where Lutheran pragmatism dictates avoiding self-expression and standing out from one’s family and community.

The ensemble cast is remarkable: Ted Danson, Patrick Wilson, Jesse Plemons (from “Breaking Bad”) and most of all Jean Smart and Kirsten Dunst. Jean Smart’s performance as Floyd Gerhart, matriarch of a small-town family syndicate, is a standout. Kirsten Dunst, in her first major television role, as Peggy, is stunning as the quiet beautician wanting to make her dream– “I just wanted to be someone”– come true. Echoes of perhaps the most famous quote in “On the Waterfront” (1954) by another dreamer, Terry (Marlon Brando): “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody.”  Flash-forward twenty-five years and Peggy is yearning for the same thing.

Their 1970’s North Dakota and Minnesota is populated with UFO’s (a sighting in Fargo was reported in 1975), crystals, “self-actualization” EST seminars , sideburns and bell bottoms. Peggy is so self-absorbed in becoming a new person, that in perhaps the most bizarre of the episodes , [Spoiler Alert!!] she is nonplussed when a UFO descends in the midst of a shoot-out. “It’s just a UFO, Ed. We gotta go”. Both startling and silly, the scene nonetheless epitomizes Fargo, North Dakota and its residents at that time.

The wonder of wonders is that this season marks the repeat of a new trend in mini-series: a continuation of the mini-series with a completely new story and cast, a trend started by “True Detective”. With far more sophistication and complex plot devices, the creators of Season 2 (notably Noah Hawley) leave no question in the viewer’s mind that this is indeed Coen territory. Fargo pays homage to Season 1, with the same characters (different actors) in a flash-forward to their older selves.

Although this season can stand on its own (for those who haven’t seen Season 1), tying in the principal characters from the first season into Season 2 is masterfully crafted. Moreover, I’m hoping some of the new characters added to the story will undoubtedly also be reborn in Season 3, whether as a flash-forward or as backstory. There is still far to go in this anthology in the Coen spirit. Season 3 of Fargo is now underway. The surprise and intrigue continue!

“Photograph 51”—Rosalind Franklin: Double Helix and Double Crossed

 

Nicole Kidman
Nicole Kidman

The critically acclaimed play, “Photograph 51”, currently in London, and written by Anna Ziegler, exposes the obscurity of a brilliant crystallographer, Rosalind Franklin, who identified the chemical structure needed for understanding the molecular composition of DNA as well as raising the question: Are women still sidelined in the scientific world?

Kidman Photo51Most people familiar with the double helix have probably associated it with Nobel Prize winners Francis Crick and James Watson. The critical scientific role Rosalind Franklin played at King’s College London is still, to a great extent, sadly overlooked.

Photograph 51 refers to the pioneering Xray-diffraction image of the DNA double helix, the elegant result of Franklin’s pioneering crystallography technique. Together with a seminal research paper, Photograph 51 was given by one of her graduate students to Maurice Wilkins, her laboratory supervisor, without her knowledge. Passed on to Watson and Crick who were racing for the Nobel Prize before Johannes Salk (also researching DNA), Franklin’s Photograph 51 was not acknowledged until decades later by other scientists. (She had died four years earlier from ovarian cancer at the age of 37.) None of the Nobel Prize winners paid tribute to Rosalind Franklin’s pioneering work. (Watson was later to portray Franklin negatively in his book on the history of his research, the best-selling The Double Helix, which ironically started a deeper investigation into her contributions.)

Nicole Kidman’s powerful and commanding performance as Rosalind Franklin, avoids stereotypes of a female intellectual without social skills. Rosalind Franklin had a reserved personality, often bristly and uncompromising, which compounded her distance from her colleagues’ sexism, petty academic jealousies, and anti-Semitism. Kidman’s Franklin reveals subtle layers of vulnerability underneath the hostility to colleagues who had promised her a laboratory of her own but relegated her to assisting Wilkins. Later, Wilkins would be the conduit who robbed Franklin of her place in the history of science. Kidman, as Franklin, reveals through her stillness and her posture, her backstory with her parents. She retreats into her own world, a quiet determination to prove her hypothesis about DNA, and the tentativeness of women not to make mistakes or take risks in a male-dominant profession or be sanctioned for life.

Kidman’s performance captures not only the complexities of Franklin’s personality but also luminous intensity as the scientist absorbed by the findings of photograph 51. It is a fine performance, and a subtle one, in which Kidman reminds us that the scientific life can be informed by private passion but at great personal sacrifice. Her gaze both chills and fascinates, radiating and demanding, in a singularly self-possessed presence. At curtain call, I noticed a flick of tears from Kidman’s cheek after a particularly moving finale.

Photograph 51’s stage design sets the tone: a bombed-out Gothic university laboratory evokes a tomb, the death of Franklin’s prospects for scientific recognition. My only complaint is that, given the title and the complex scientific theory, there was not even one projection of photograph 51 on a screen so the audience could see the visual image of Franklin’s ideas.

Note: Kidman is in discussion for a possible Broadway production.

 

 

 

“Muscle Shoals”–Music Muscle from the Deep South

Muscle Shoals A [This movie review can be also seen at Josephsreviews.com where I was a guest blogger on July 17,2015)

A 2013 documentary about an Alabama musical legacy, “Muscle Shoals“,  brings to light a group of musicians who never had their day in the sun.

Two iconic recording studios in the tiny town of Muscle Shoals Alabama—FAME (est. 1959) and its spinoff Muscle Shoals Sound (1960) —became the “must have” sound for, among others, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Etta James, and many other Rock-and-Roll legendary artists. The magic of a group of background musicians, who called themselves the “Swampers”, some of whom were classically trained, were the touchstone of FAME. The Swampers were all white. Keep in mind this is the early 60’s.  FAME

 

 

 

 

“Muscle Shoals” is the love story of American music roots in the Deep South. For this viewer, some of the most spellbinding scenes focus on Rick Hall, the pioneer and open-minded founder of FAME studio. , Rick Hall’s own poverty and family upheaval perhaps allowed him to empathize with the racial hostility young music artists of color faced in most of the US, not just the south. Before the Civil Rights Movement really became a force shaping US history, FAME gave some of our most creative musicians their break in the music business. The movie gives the impression that the principals of FAME were unaware of the significance of their race-neutral music production.

Hall brought black and white music together. He produced signature music: “I’ll Take You There” and “When a Man Loves a Woman” by black musicians unknown at the time.

“Muscle Shoals” bears witness to how Hall’s color-blind passion for music infused a magnetism, mystery, and magic into the music that became known as the Muscle Shoals Sound. The filmmaker allows the key players to speak for themselves, with many cameo interviews of the legendary including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, and Etta James. On its own, the cinematography of Muscle Shoals, the backwater town along the Tennessee River is an eye opener. And “Muscle Shoals” is not to be missed for its music history, racial progressiveness, and its imagery. A visceral and magical vision indeed!

Postscript:

) The original Muscle Shoals Sound Studios building is listed on The National Register of Historic Places and maintained, by the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation. Their goal is to turn the historic building into a music museum.

2) FAME is still owned and operated by Rick Hall and his son Rodney Hall. Beats Electronics, after seeing this movie, is underwriting the renovation of FAME to support young musicians.

3) Actor Johnny Depp is developing this movie into a TV series, according to Variety (July 8, 2015).