2023 MLB Preview: National League


2023 National League Preview




NL East


This is a strong division that might send more teams to the playoffs than other.


Who will win it? The Braves are just a year removed from winning the World Series and always manage to have superb pitching. If they falter, it will be because Acuna and Albies fail to bounce back from their 2022 injuries and the durable Charlie Morton finally pitches his age. The rest of the lineup could struggle if Acuna and Albies don’t fully recover.


For the above uncertainties, the Mets are my pick to win the East. On paper, the pitching is dominant, as long Father Time doesn’t catch up with Verlander and Scherzer. Alonzo, Nimmo, Lindor, Marte, et al. should put a lot of runs on the scoreboard.


In my view, the Phillies simply got hot at an opportune time last year. They have lost Harper until around the All-Star break. In theory there is plenty of offense (Turner, Schwarber, Realmuto, Hoskins), but Nola and Wheeler, and Walker will have to pitch well for Philadelphia to get into the postseason. I think I’ve seen enough of Nola to be skeptical that he’s much more than a should-have-been.

     Note: Rhys Hoskins tore his ACL after this was written and will miss the 2023 season. Coupled with Harper's injury, this will hurt the Phillies very badly. Last year's NL champs might struggle to make the playoffs in 2023.

They aren’t good enough to win, but the Nationals get my vote for the division team that will be tougher than anyone thinks. Robles needs to be a stud again for that to happen and Corbin needs to pitch like he deserved the ridiculous contract Washington signed him to. They will struggle again, but they will show marked improvement if the young pitchers mature. If they don’t, it’s another last place finish.  


The Marlins have emerging young players and, in Alcantara, a perpetual Cy Young candidate. I doubt they will hit well enough to be much of a threat though. What the Fishburgers need more than anything is relocation to Montreal.


NL Central:


What’s up with teams in the middle of the country? Call this the other Perpetual Disappointment Division.


Never discount the Cardinals. Goldschmidt, Arenado, and Contreas can bash if others get on base. They freakin’ stole Montgomery from the Yankees to go with Flaherty, Mikolas, and the ageless Adam Wainwright. If Matz makes it back from injury–a big if–this is a very strong pitching staff. St. Louis could easily steal the NL Central.


The Brewers will go as far as bounce backs from Yelich, Naquin, Winkler, and a few others take them. This is a low OBP team that’s built a bit like the all-or-nothing Yankees. They’ll need to score runs as the pitching is Woodruff, Burnes, and pray for a miracle. Milwaukee might well end up the most disappointing team in the division.


The Cubs should be better this year. Taillon came over from the Yankees—detect a theme here?—but it could be young Hayden Wesneski that New York will most regret losing. Bellinger, Swanson, Mancini, Hosmer, and Gomes will like hitting in Wrigley Field and we know Ian Happ is a good player. They Cubbies are my surprise team for the division.


The Pirates need new management. They might be better but who knows? I’ve not heard of half their lineup and most of those I do know are over the hill. They will trade Reynolds, their best player, as soon as the price is right. I’m not seeing much on the staff except high ERAs and 43-year-old Rich Hill.


Still, Pittsburgh will probably be better than the Reds. The Reds lineup with Joey Votto on the shelf won’t cause pitchers to quake and anyone who still thinks Wil Myers has promise simply hasn’t been paying attention. The kindest thing to do would be to not mention Reds pitching. It’s heresy to say this about MLB’s oldest franchise, but it would a good idea to move Cincy to some place that cares. (Charlotte? Vancouver? Nashville? An NL team in Boston?)


NL West:


Until someone knocks them off–and I’m not seeing it–the Dodgers remain the class of the West. Betts, Freeman, Muncy, Will Smith, and new D.H. J.D. Martinez will drive in runs. Losing Lux to injury will hurt and I’ve no idea why they or anyone else wants Heyward, but it’s fair to ask how many runs they’ll need with pitching like Kershaw, Urias, Gonsolin, and Syndergaard racking up Ws in the standings.  


The Padres are the sexy pick unless, like me, you’ve seen them disappoint more often than a politician with his fingers crossed. Bogaerts, Soto, Machado, center a potentially explosive lineup. It doesn’t help to have Musgrove on the DL, but Darvish. Snell, and Wacha should pick up the slack. Do they have enough to dethrone the Dodgers? Doubtful. But if the Pads don’t get a Wild card, heads will roll.


Should San Diego stumble, the window opens for the Giants to bounce back and steal a Wild Card. That becomes a definite possibility if Wood, Cobb, and DeSclafani pitch to their capability (which they did not last year). The hitting isn’t as good as San Diego’s or as consistent as that of Los Angeles, but if Jupiter aligns with Mars, I think San Francisco will be the comeback team of the division.


The Rockies have a decent lineup—Bryant, Cron, Blackmon–but also a lot of injuries and question marks. I’ve seen sumo wrestlers with thinner profiles than Colorado’s team ERA. That must improve, or Arizona will dodge the basement.


The Diamondbacks improved their hitting by prying Gurriel from Toronto, but it looks like another long year in Phoenix. The pitching is so weak that they have no idea yet who will be the number 4 starter if Bumgarner is as done as he appears to be. Who the # 5 will be requires Nostradamus and a crystal ball. 


Tar: Great Acting in So-So Film


TÁR (2022)

Directed by Todd Field

Focus Feature, 158 minutes, R (language, very brief nudity)





Tár was nominated for numerous Oscars but was shut out, though Cate Blanchette won Best Actress awards at the Golden Globes, BAFTA, and numerous film festivals. Many have said she didn’t get an Oscar because the Academy opted for political correctness rather than serious performance. I’ll get back to you on that, as I haven’t yet watched  Everything Everywhere All at Once. I will say, though, that Blanchette was riveting in a film that was not.


Lydia Tár (Blanchette) is the first female conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic and deep into plans to put her own stamp on conducting a reinterpretation of Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. That’s quite a climb for a gal from New Jersey, the accent mark in her name an implication of her own reinvention. She’s internationally famous, imperious, and when need be, ruthless. Tár is also married to Sharon Goodnow (Nina Hoss), whom she advanced as her concertmaster, which was another tall obstacle to surmount amidst wagging tongues and traditionalists. She is also trying to convince investment banker Eliot Kaplan (Mark Strong) to underwrite the Accordion Foundation to advance female musicians. All of this requires her to lean heavily upon her assistant Francesca Lentini (Noémi Merlant) to take care of details.


Lydia has character flaws that go beyond the bounds of being driven. She doesn’t have many filters and freely speaks her mind, is an egoist, and has a roving eye. She has many admirers, including Andris Davis (Julian Glover) her kindly predecessor in Berlin, but also makes enemies easily. We see her at a master class at Julliard as she coldly eviscerates a student named Max (Zethphan Smith-Gneist) who says that, as a gay person of color he’s not “into” Bach. Instead of trying to help him confront his blinders, she opts for aggression and feels that, as a lesbian, she has that right.


Tár’s lack of subtlety is deep-seated. She plots to replace her aging assistant conductor Sebastian (Allan Corduner) and implies that Francesca is under consideration, though she’s not. She also abruptly changes an upcoming performance by setting aside her first chair cello to include an Elgar concerto played by young Olga Metkina (Sophie Kauer). Never mind that Olga is a brilliant musician who easily surpasses the first cello in a blind competition; it’s easy for all to see that Lydia has a crush on Olga. Alas for her, it’s implied that the same was true of Accordion board member Krista Taylor, who sent despondent emails to her via Francesca before committing suicide. In other words, Lydia is arrogantly building a house of cards in the belief that no one would dare blow it down.


Blanchette is spellbinding in a role that requires her to be fierce, controlling, and emotionally buttoned-down. If you don’t already know, she’s the sort of actress who commands the screen with such a presence that one roots for her even when you hate her guts. Kauer and Merlant are also standouts, the first because she’s so enigmatic that we can’t discern her motives, the latter because in her own way she’s as petulant and vindictive as Max. Corduner is also very good as Sebastian, a hangdog old-timer who still has bite in his jaws.


It is the case, however, that Tár is less than the sum of its wonderful performances. My own bias is that I dislike the music of Mahler and there’s a lot of it in the film. I suppose Mahler was chosen because many of his compositions are so mannered that they stand as counterpoints to Lydia’s fieriness. For me, though, they were cold water that lowered the film’s temperature.  


I suspect, though, that politics played a bigger role in the film’s tepid response in North America. It’s hard to escape the implication that director Todd Field intended a takedown of cancel culture. Lydia didn’t always play fair, but does that justify falsifying the truth to bring her down? Some also expressed discomfort with how Lydia belittled Max, but one could just as easily conclude that a Julliard student who can’t handle harsh critiques shouldn’t be there. Music criticism is often a tough place for snowflakes in the same way that residency is a weeder for aspirant doctors. The film has a surprise ending in which Lydia remains true to form, her circumstance notwithstanding. Call Tár a flawed film, but one worth watching.


Rob Weir



Lost Towns Reveals What the Quabbin Displaced





By Elena Palladino

History Press, 143 pages.



Find a pre-1938 map of Massachusetts, locate Ware in the western part of Commonwealth, and trace the Swift River, a tributary of the Ware River. You will find small dots bearing the names Enfield, Greenwich, Dana, and Prescott. Now consult a more recent map and you will see a broad swath of blue where those villages once stood. You couldn’t find any the above villages even if you had a diving suit; whatever wasn’t burned was carted away. 


Enfield Lookout Today; Photo copyright Rob Weir

Those who reside in Western Massachusetts are familiar with the broad outline of the building of the Quabbin Reservoir. Even after filling the Wachusett Reservoir in 1908, Bostonians needed more water. The Ware River Act was passed in 1926 to connect a new reservoir to the Wachusett via a 12-mile long aqueduct. Some tried to stop it, but from 1926 on the clock was ticking for a quartet of Swift River settlements that collectively had fewer than 2,000 people. The final end came in 1938, when the few remaining residents were forced to move. By 1946, the valley was filled with 412 billion gallons of water so pure that to this day it is unfiltered. (Think what you want about Boston, but you can drink the water!)


Elena Palladino developed an interest in the Quabbin through a circuitous route. Eight years ago she moved into a large home in Ware that was the post-1938 dwelling of Marion Andrews Smith, one of the last residents of Enfield. Her research into Smith’s life took her to the elderly Marian (“Tuda”) Tryon Waydaka, the daughter of a groundskeeper for whom Smith was a benefactor and de facto grandmother. One of the unique parts of Palladino’s book is that she builds her account around three of the Swift River Valley’s movers and shakers: Smith, Doc Segur, and Edwin Howe. They are also Palladino’s entry point for discussing others whose lives intersected with her core three.


The history of small places remains an under-examined topic. On the surface it wouldn’t seem a huge sacrifice to vacate four remote villages in order to benefit a thirsty metropolitan area of around a million residents. In her short book illustrated by numerous archival photographs, Palladino dives into the rhythms of small town life. If you’re thinking agricultural settlements, think again. The imperious Marion Smith was probably area’s wealthiest individual, but the money came from manufacturing, specifically the production of textiles and fabrics. There were several other mills and businesses, all of which depended upon a railroad trunk line that ran through the Valley and made so many stops that it was jocularly dubbed the “Rabbit Run.”


Willard “Doc” Segur was indeed a medical man, but he wasn't exactly a country doctor; in 1905 he bought a Dodge coupe to help him make his rounds. Those knowledgeable about automotive history realize that’s very early­–three years before the Ford Model-T. Edwin Howe was an educated man who was essential to locals. He operated the telephone exchange, served as postmaster, was a town clerk, a notary, and operated Enfield’s general store. There was scarcely a civic enterprise in which Smith, Segur, and Howe were not involved: the Congregational Church, local schools, fraternal organizations, the library, the planning of Old Home Week…. They were also organizers of the Farewell Ball when the towns were disincorporated in 1938.


All of this is a poignant reminder that for many, “home” was more than house or a job. Imagine the last dozen years after the 1926 bill sealed the Valley’s fate. Reactions varied. Some knew it was a fait accompli, wanted the Commonwealth to get on with it, and tried to strike shrewd bargains on their land; others held out hope for a miraculous change of plans, while still others stayed to the bitter end as construction crews systematically cleared away buildings, burned vegetation, and bulldozed the land. The grisliest job went to those who disinterred bodies for reburial.


Quabbin from a tower; Photo copyright Rob Weir

 Those who visit the Quabbin remark upon its beauty and tranquility. If you do so, think of those who once dwelt there as you traverse dams named for engineers such as Frank Winsor and Henry Goodnough. Remember too that not everyone thrived in their new homes and most missed their old ones. If you forget, you have but to leaf through the photographs for a reminder. Never fall prey to the belief that modernity is consequence-free.


Rob Weir








The Fablemans is Merely Okay



Directed by Steven Spielberg

Universal Pictures, 153 minutes, PG-13 (language)





The Fabelmans is a thinly veiled memoir and origin story of director Steven Spielberg. As we now know, it was nominated for seven Academy Awards and came away empty-handed. It will be months before I see all of the films that actually won hardware, but I can see why The Fabelmans was blanked.


I should confess my personal bias upfront. Many have called Spielberg a master storyteller, but I have always found him more interesting visually. With the obvious exceptions of Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich, and Amistad, his plotlines are too Disneyesque for my tastes. This is exactly how I felt about The Fabelmans. It’s an okay movie, but not an impactful film; in other words, it’s safe and mainstream rather than artistic or revelatory. 


Spielberg based the story on his parents and extended family. Like his father Arnold, Burt Fableman (Paul Dano) is an electronics whiz whose work paved the way for the computer revolution. As the movie shows, it also uprooted his family from New Jersey to Phoenix (1957) and eventually to California (1965). Spielberg’s mother Leah is reimagined as Mitzi (Michelle Williams), a former concert pianist turned homemaker. The narrative begins in 1952, when Burt and Mitzi take young, shy Sammy to his first movie, The Greatest Show on Earth. As the cliché goes, he never looks back. By the time he is an adolescent and the family is living in Phoenix, Sam (Gabriel LaBelle) is a Boy Scout/aspiring Eagle Scout earning merit badges in photography and 8mm movies based on films he has seen in theaters.


The Fabelmans is also about his parents’ escalating marital woes. Bennie Loewy (Seth Rogan) is both Burt’s best friend and Mitzi’s fantasy crush. The latter increases as Burt dives deeper and deeper into his work. You know what happens when fantasy, boredom, and reality bleed into each other. Mitzi begins to rekindle her concert career, slowly drifts from Burt and Sam, and emotionally craters after her mother’s death. Sam bears the double burden of having advance knowledge of his mother’s fixation on Bennie and his need to cope with anti-Semitism at his California high school, especially at the hands/punches of bullies Logan (Sam Rechner) and Chad (Oakes Fegley). He’s so out of place that his savior, Monica (Chloe East), wants him to embrace her savior, Jesus. Of course, his actual salvation came in Hollywood, though he actually met John Ford when he was 15, not as an about-to-be college dropout as depicted on the screen. (Richard Zanuck was more influential than Ford in launching Spielberg’s career.)


There are good things to say about The Fabelmans. Dano and Williams are strong as Burt and Mitzi. Likewise, Judd Hirsch, as Sam’s great uncle Boris Podgorny, and David Lynch in a cameo as John Ford have tasty small roles. Julia Butters is also affecting as Sam’s sister Regina/Reggie, who is based on Spielberg’s oldest sister Anne. It was also a clever touch to recreate Spielberg’s boyhood 8mm projects for the film, as they demonstrate his precocious visual imagination.


At several points, though, the movie goes off track like Sammy’s Lionel train. There is too much time wasted establishing family dynamics in an overly long film, thereby forcing Spielberg to truncate anti-Semitism themes. Although Sam’s “Ditch Day” film is delicious revenge, the movie’s Jew-baiting is more standard public school bullying than a serious exploration of Golden State prejudice in the mid-1960s. For what it’s worth, it also bugged me that as the movie goes on, Sam looks and acts more like Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate. I also began to wonder if the movie’s title was a self-serving pun on “fable-man” with the b and the l transposed. Mainly, though, I pondered what happened to co-writer Tony Kushner’s edge; he’s usually more adventuresome. In addition, parts of The Fabelmans are as overblown as a John Williams movie score, and he happens to have scored this one.


I reiterate that it’s not a bad movie, but though I’ve seen just a few of the Best Picture nominees, I can easily imagine there were at least five better choices for consideration. If you want to watch a great film about a boy whose imagination was sparked by cinema and went on to become a director, the gold standard is Cinema Paradiso (1988), director Guiseppi Tornatore’s semi-autobiographical retelling. It’s a beautiful mix of sentiment, tragedy, and nostalgia.


Rob Weir






March 2023 Music: Mark Erelli, Karan Casey, Iberi Choir, Duplex, VRi, Cucchi , ARAR




Mark Erelli
named his newest record Lay Your Darkness Down and he wasn’t just dealing in metaphors; he’s been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. He’s already legally blind in that he has lost his night vision and his overall prognosis prognosis is uncertain. That’s quite a blow, but Erelli has opted for optimism and clarity: Lay your darkness down/… Show us where the light is shining through. Though he came through then folk music ranks, Erelli has long been a hard act to classify. “The Man I Am” is bluesy and, though acoustic, dipped in Motown sprinkles. “Is It Enough” has some of the same flair, but is more blues/folk rock in construction. My favorite track is “Sense of Wonder,” which is summed by the line: If you ever lose you sense of wonder/Honey it will be too soon. It’s a paean to nature, but Erelli’s vocal style evokes Bob Dylan in stress and cadence. By contrast, “Up Against the Night,” whether acoustic or with a full band, is a driving rocker that would be at home on a Springsteen album. He rocks out some more on “Love Wins in the Long Run,” but “You” is quiet and tender. It’s impressive that Erelli has maintained his equanimity in the wake of what most would say is a tough break but, as he reminds us on “You’re GonnaWanna Remember This,” we all try to hang on to memories and glory because: it happened once and it might not happen again. The quality of the record alone impresses but coupled with courage, Lay Your Darkness Down makes Mark Erelli my March artist of the month.


Erelli will perform a 3 pm concert at the Parlor Room in Northampton, MA on March 25.



Karan Casey
has released her first solo record since 2018. If you can believe it, the former Solas lead vocalist is now 54, and Nine Apples of Gold continues her shift toward a diversified approach that often strays beyond a purely Celtic repertoire. The Irish press has made much of Sinéad O’Connor influences and you can certainly pick up flashes of mutually defiant feminism in Casey’s “I Live in a Country” that plumbs some of Ireland’s bleak past: We are the daughters of the witches you could not burn for centuries /We are the daughters of the Magdalene laundries when you had us down upon our knees. That’s Pauline Scanlan assisting on the track. Casey asserts sisterhood on other tracks such as “Daughter Dear,” upon which Ríoghnach Connolly guests. Though it’s a mother/daughter song, melancholy piano and Casey’s emotive vocals give it a mythic feel, which is a good time to mention the album’s title track Like many during Covid lockdown Casey took time to reconnect with nature and listen to bird songs. This took her back to an ancient Irish tale of Tonn Clíodhna, a goddess of love, who escaped her pursuers by turning herself into a wren. She is also associated with birds with magical apples that heal illnesses. Though it’s a new song, “The Rocks of Bawn” is the most traditional-sounding song on the record. It’s an accompanied track, but I’ve attached an a cappella performance that highlights Casey’s vocal prowess. My personal preference is for songs such as this, but I begrudge neither Casey’s powerful politics nor her more contemporary musical explorations.



And now for a change of pace. The Iberi Choir hails from the mountainous eastern region of the nation of Georgia, Iberi being the ancient Roman and Greek name for it. It is a place where polyphonic (many voices) choral singing is a hallowed tradition–so hallowed that a former professional rugby player leads the choir. Their latest album Supra features feast songs, lullabies, work music, and ballads. At first hearing it might remind you of Gregorian chant, though there’s more dissonance and overlapping melody in Georgian music. Here are three songs to sample. “Shen Khar Venakhi” is a gentle song evocative of a lullaby, though the title translates as “The Vineyard.” “Kutaisi Mraralzhamieri” is more spirited and you’ll hear a booming dissonant voice. It’s similar to the strong call out voice you’ll hear in “Arkhalalo”


Duplex is the Belgian duo of Didier Laloy (accordion) and Damien Chierici (violin), who ably assisted by guest artists on Malestrom. The title track literally builds a storm. Some gentle keys lead into rolling violin and resounding percussion brings the piece into full force, the melody unfolding within a mix that is slightly cacophonous in places. They head out to Western Canada for “Wapta Falls” with a drum machine and create a piece that sounds more like the Russian steppes than the Rockies or the prairie. “Magic House” opens like a gentle rain shower but weaves in other sounds that take us on a sonic journey. There are 14 tracks in all, which I found fitting for either quiet contemplation or pleasant background music whilst puttering about. Though Duplex might be considered New Age music, I found it more experimental and less structured. Maelstrom really grew on me.


might look like a hook developed by some hipster-wannabe marketer, but it’s legit. It’s an old Welsh word that means lifting or levitating. As anyone who has been to Wales knows, the only way to escape Methodism is to board a ferry for Ireland. The trio VRï (Patrick Rimes, Aneirin Jones, Jordan Williams) does the next best thing by taking the chapel tradition in new directions, in their case a mix of chamber and folk music. “Y Gaseg Feln,” for instance sounds as if it could be a slow sea chantey. “Glan Meddwdod Mwyn” has lovely fiddling that falls somewhere between classical and a slow Celtic air. And it’s hard not to admire the vocal purity and dexterity of “Brithi I’r Buarth.” Their newest album Islais a A Genir is a welcome change from bands playing to formulae..


It would be inaccurate to call Flavio Cucchi an Italian guitarist. He’s been thrilling festival and concert audiences around the globe for so long he has become an international virtuoso, a master of classical guitar, folk, and avantgarde offerings. The very name of his latest project, Flavio Cucchi Plays Dances, says it all. Want a slow sensual Cuban habanera? “Habanera para Maria” will fit the bill. How about a tango? “Tango da Balera” showcases his amazing fingering. Once you watch this live clip you don’t need me to tell you that man knows his way around, up, and down the fretboard.



Let’s stay on the quiet side. ARAR is the Barcelona-based duo of Marina Tomás Amado (voice/guitar) and Maria Cruz Millet (sax/piano/voice). Their self-titled album is explores topics such as creativity, youth, love, and the glories of the Catalonian language and culture. Some of it is as languorous as a lazy Sunday morning. The translation of a line from “Simulacres” is suggestive of their worldview: Tell me what we should do/So the sky does not fall on us. Gamma Velorum” references a star cluster with two binary systems that consist of one visible and one invisible star. The five-beat instrumental “Eclipsi Lunar” has a jazzier feel. There’s even a song (“Cucut”) in which voices emulate a cuckoo.



Rob Weir


In the Lives of Puppets: Imagination Tops Repeated Structure


By TJ Klune

Tor Books, 432 pages.




In the Lives of Puppets, the forthcoming novel from TJ Klune, delves into one of fantasy’s most intriguing questions: What makes an individual fully human? He comes down on the side of those who doubt that biology is the sole (or even main) determinant. You’ll find echoes of familiar sources in Klune’s book: Pinocchio, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Data (and the Borg) from Star Trek, and Philp Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? from whence Blade Runner movies derived.


Klune takes us to an indeterminate future in which machines have taken over the world. Insofar as the AI Authority knows, Earth’s human contagion has been eradicated. That also renders a lot of machines obsolete, which are decommissioned and scrapped.  As you no doubt anticipate, there’s at least one human left. Victor Lawson lives near a salvage yard but deep in the forest with his “father” Gio/Giovanni and his friends Rambo and Nurse Ratched. Their arrangement is, shall we say, unusual. Gio Lawson is an android, a tinkerer, benevolent, loves old jazz, and his fatherhood has nothing to do with sex. He and Victor scour the junkyard for parts for their hidden compound, taking care that Victor doesn’t bleed as even a drop of blood would set off alarms.


Gio is actually a General Innovation Operative, an android inventor/builder that became a renegade with a distinct personality. He does a great job raising Victor, courtesy of the wooden heart animated by a drop of blood. Rambo was once a vacuum cleaner that Gio rebuilt and reprogramed, a Roomba whose lettering wore off. So why not give him a few arms, the ability of speak, a Piglet-like personality, and a love of the musical Top Hat? Ratched was a medical device that used to serve humans: Registered Automation To Care, Heal, Educate, and Drill. She has an empathy protocol, but she prefers to turn it off and drill!


To say this is an unusual grouping, but Victor sees nothing weird about having two machines for friends; you take what you can get when you’re the only homo sapiens. Part One, the Forest” details some of these relationships and introduces one of Vic’s salvage efforts, the grumpy HAP, whom Rambo dubs Hysterically Angry Puppet. HAP is powerful, ominous, and stutters. It’s a good thing his systems were corrupted. Unbeknownst to Victor, the R on his chest has worn off and he’s actually a HARP, a Human Annihilation Response Protocol android like the ones that wiped out humankind. Instead, he becomes Victor’s protector and, we sense, the two are falling in love, after HAP is given the spare heart Vic had built for Gio. (Klune is an icon of gay literature.)


Part Two, “The Journey” occurs when Gio is captured and the others must flee their destroyed refuge. They encounter a strange machine known as The Coachman who, after playing a different role, helps them get inside the City of Electric Dreams, where Gio has probably been taken to be reprogramed. The city is Part Three of the novel and a weird one it is. Gio once told Victor that the Blue Fairy (a “they”) might or might not help if danger arose. First, they must gain entry to a glass pyramid where, legend holds, “unchained” machines follow their electric dreams. It’s not clear whether the Blue Fairy and their helper are benevolent, volatile, or flat-out dangerous, nor does Klune spell out exactly why the Authority allows them to exist. Let’s just say that things inside the pyramid are strange. I could say the same for the entire book, part four of which resolves various dilemmas.


In the midst of this idiosyncratic work Klune raises a few universal questions. What does it mean to be “alive?” What makes a family? What gives purpose to existence? Where, if at all, do we place the parameters of desire? Shades of the Tin Woodsman of the Oz, Klune also asks us whether poets and ancient philosophers were right to locate emotion and memory in the heart rather than the brain.


I won’t pretend this novel will light up every reader’s circuits. I enjoyed it quite a bit because it’s so odd. I admit, though, that Klune is guilty of repeating stories he has previously told and has merely dressed this one in metal clothes. The overarching moral is that a vivid imagination serves authors and characters equally well.


Rob Weir



Till a Good Film, but not a Great One



TILL (2022)

Directed by Chinonye Chukwu

United Artists, 130 minutes, PG-13 (disturbing images, racism)





Is it possible to make a Hallmark-like film about one of the most stomach-churning episodes in 20th century history? Allegations of racism ensued when neither Till nor director Chinonye Chukwu received Academy Award nominations. For once, though, the Academy was on target.


We should not confuse a compelling subject with a great movie. For instance, Pearl Harbor: Day That Will Live in Infamy (2001) was a loud romance with bad dialogue, The Help (2011) was a white girl fantasy, and Winnie Mandela (2013) a mess. Till is much better but it’s a decent movie, not a distinguished one.


First, a bit of history. In August 1955, Mamie Till-Bradley reluctantly allowed her 14-year-old son Emmett to travel from Chicago to Mississippi to visit his cousins. He was warned about Southern racism and told to be polite and deferential to whites. Alas, Emmett was said to have wolf-whistled Carolyn Bryant at her husband’s small grocery store in Money, Mississippi. Her husband Roy and his half brother J. W. Milam abducted Emmett from his uncle’s home. His bloated and decomposing body was discovered in the Tallahatchie River. He had beaten, shot in the head, and sunk into the river with a cotton gin fan. Emmett was so badly disfigured that many local whites denied it was his body. Mamie had Emmett’s body sent back to Chicago and displayed in an open casket to call attention to racism. Nonetheless, an all-white jury barely deliberated before acquitting Bryant and Milam. During the trial, Emmett was also said to have assaulted Carolyn and aspersions were also cast on Mamie’s character. (Thereafter, Bryant and Milam bragged of having slain Emmett.)


Till is more Mamie’s story than her son’s, though Jalyn Hall gave a convincing performance as Emmett. His was a nice mix of a 14-year old’s charm, naiveite, and presentation as more world-wise and mature than he actually was. Danielle Deadwyler was terrific as Mamie, whom she transforms from protective mother to activist. We watch her simmer as she tries to bite her tongue during the Bryant-Milam trial, then regains her voice in the civil rights movement.


Till ultimately trips over a flawed script and Chukwa’s conservative direction. Call it a missed opportunity. Emmett Till’s murder galvanized the civil rights movement so thoroughly that the event has become a familiar narrative. Chukwa could have shed light on Mamie, whose post-1955 life is less known. Perhaps Chukwa was stymied by how to dramatize her story. Mamie was initially fiery and outspoken–presented in the film as a brief addendum–but most of her work was organizational and educational.


To circle back to the film’s conservatism, there is a lot of time wasted in presenting the extended Till family as a black counterpart to the white Golden Fifties myth. Mamie is such a doting mom that today we’d call her a helicopter mother. Whoopi Goldberg and Frankie Faison appear as her parents to add additional dollops of domestic bliss, and the script infers that Emmett’s father was killed in action. In truth, Louis Till went into the Army instead of jail after abusing Mamie after they separated. In Italy he was accused of rape, was court-martialed, and hanged. His was probably another miscarriage of justice, but the film sidesteps the impact on Mamie and barely mentions that she divorced her second husband when Emmett was 11. One might think such matters are personal, but they were not in 1955; both came up during the Bryant-Milam trial.


How do we explain that most critics praised the film and most who saw Till recommended it? First, not many have seen it; Till’s box office returned just half of its cost. Second, audience scores stripped from critic responses are not as enthusiastic. The Metacritic audience rating is 7.1, which is hardly a ringing endorsement in our age of grade inflation.


Chukwu’s focus suggests a “family” picture, but it’s ultimately tepid where it should scorch. If the idea was to avoid making a voyeuristic murder drama, why resort to grisly images (a realistic mannequin) at all? Especially at the expense of giving short shrift to the courtroom misjustice? Or truncating the Medgar Evers backstory?  


Till is an unstirred mix of domesticity, brutality, racism, and triumphalism (see the scroll over at the end). I admired Mamie Till-Bradley-Mobley, but it’s hard to get past the fact that her son was and always shall be the center of this great American tragedy.


Rob Weir