Three men are dominating my time this week:
Now, technically, Carl Brashear was a Master Chief. In the Navy. But I speak of a different one, oh yes, oh yes.
John Adams: People, HBO has come out with a hum-dinger of a miniseries on this founding father. It makes my toes curl in glee. Yesterday, I rented the first few parts of the series. It's so good I can't wait to go home and watch some more. Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney portray John and Abigail Adams, and I admit to a bit of skepticism: playing iconic founding citizens of the country requires a lot of flexibility as an actor, when it's a period piece, when you're not imitating a person who was alive, to mimic his or her accent, mannerisms or expressions.
It's stunning. The first episode eases you into familiarity with the time period, the characters, and the character of the characters. But then somehow it's several hours later and you look up and blink and it's dark outside. Executive Producer Tom Hanks lends quality to everything he does. So far, here are a few observations:
~"John Adams" succeeds in being strongly biographical; that is to say, it illuminates the historical events going on by portraying the personalities that moved them with keen fascination. It is historically driven, in terms of accuracy, but it is personality driven, so far, in the movement of the plot.
~"John Adams" succeeds in showing both the courage and the frailty of men and women that we're used to hearing either idolized or demonized. Patriots hate hearing anything disparaging about the founding fathers; revisionists leave little room for praise. The key, once again, is that the plot moves along very personal scenes: John Adams was one man who found himself in Boston at a critical juncture.
~"John Adams" succeeds in thereby avoiding an agenda that feels forced on the script. It is not a treatise on weapons of mass destruction, Barack Obama, or John McCain. It tells a story - but it sticks to that story, not forcing sermons on today's events. This, indeed, is one of the elements of quality to it, and this is also something I respect so much about Tom Hanks. He appreciates history for what it is. And whatever his political persuasions, I appreciate that.
~"John Adams" succeeds because no corners were cut. I have no idea the cost of creating a miniseries with top actors, amazing special effects, period costumes, and so on, but this is neither an ego-driven special effects experiment, nor is it a hack-job reminiscent of some 1980's PBS productions. And may I just say how authentic - but unusual - it is to see the lead actress in makeup that looks like she's not wearing a drop. Of course, any woman knows she's at least wearing foundation, but that is it. No mascara on fair-skinned Laura Linney. Many times so-called period dramas fudge on this issue, and one wonders how Nicole Kidman could have access to lipstick in such remote places. No suspiciously ornate hair-do's, either, that a woman could never practically arrange with her own two hands out on a farm. Thank you, authenticity.
Rent, check out, or buy "John Adams". It's not for young children - there are some scary scenes of war violence, a pox epidemic, a war wound at sea, and a rather gruesome tar and feathering - and that's only in the first three parts, or episodes. But they're not extended, so sensitive viewers can easily take a sip of tea (recommended viewing beverage) or study their fingernails for a moment.
Master Chief: If you have ever seen or played the outrageously popular video game "Halo," or any of its sequels, you have seen Master Chief. In fact, in the first installment, he was the only character you could play. It deeply scarred my psyche when I learned you could be an alien in later sequels.
Now I know what you're thinking: she doesn't know what she's talking about, look at her, she likes mysteries and theology and hot chocolate.
But oh, my friend, you would be wrong.
You see, I have a brother. And most of his teenage years, the only way to spend time with him was to play video games.
I played Tekken. I played Gran Turismo. I lost Gran Turismo. I never used the brakes.
And then Halo came out.
Halo was responsible for burning the chicken on the grill one night. Notice I say it was the game, and not me and my brother, who both forgot the chicken while slaying aliens.
Halo was responsible for dry contacts. Intense battle scenes left me staring at the TV screen without blinking for extended periods of time. I wasn't good enough to not get killed a lot of the time, so I really had to concentrate.
Well, my sweet brother's birthday is a-comin', and wouldn't you know it, he's actually in the area for once, so I've decided to throw him a Halo-themed birthday party. And I spent quite a while today trying to find a large cardboard stand-up of Master Chief.
Video game store workers all around central Kentucky are still laughing. "Are you kidding? We didn't even get one when the last game came out, man." Gen Y-ers have an interesting comfortability with calling everyone man.
And eBay's only offer is a whopping $60. My Microsoft-Excel-swamped friend suggested I make one.
A brief vision of a hastily constructed, crappy as all get out cardboard video game figure flitted briefly in my mind. I can't imagine it would be a Good Thing, to paraphrase Martha Stewart.
Carl Brashear: John and I watched "Men of Honor" the other day, a Cuba Gooding, Jr./de Niro film about the struggles of black diver right after desegregation of the Navy. Carl Brashear became the first African-American Master Chief, ever - and the first diver with an amputation, after an accident on board.
The man worked hard to join a formerly all-white Navy diving school, and let me just say, having access to the technology we do today, it is scary realizing what our armed forces used to use. Those diving suits were ridiculous.
While parts of the film are fictionally amplified, most of the main points remained true to life.
John Adams, Master Chief, Carl Brashear. I hope you acquaint yourself with at least one of them over the next few weeks.