Friday, March 25, 2016

Fact checking the first six episodes of 11.22.63.

If you have been watching Hulu's miniseries 11.22.63 and don't know how accurate the show is, there are some things you should know about it. I'll try to bring up the facts that matter the most when it comes to the 'Oswald did it alone' theory. 

1) Jack Ruby was not a fan of John F. Kennedy in real life. 

In the first episode of the series, Jake and Bill go to a bar owned by Jack Ruby. They happen to meet him and based on the encounter you get the impression that Ruby had a positive opinion of president Kennedy - even though he did not like or vote for him.

Two days after the assassination of JFK, Ruby kills Oswald in the basement of Dallas police department. His reason for killing Oswald was that he wanted to spare Jackie Kennedy from testifying at the murder trial.

In reality though, Ruby silenced Oswald in order to keep the conspiracy from unraveling. The House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded in the late 70's that Ruby killing Oswald was a conspiracy that involved Dallas police officers.

2) Oswald likely didn't try to kill General Walker.

The biggest story vehicle in the first five episodes is the question whether Oswald tried to kill General Walker. The logic is that if Oswald was behind that attempt, then he was likely behind JFK's assassination too.

The problem with this is that General Walker was a clear fascist, whereas JFK was seen as a communist. It's pretty illogical that Oswald would try to kill people that represented both 'extremes' of the political spectrum.

In addition to that, not only did Walker tell the Warren Commission that the bullet he picked up wasn't from Oswald's Mannlicher Carcano, an eyewitness also saw two people running away - which proves that if Oswald was involved, he wasn't alone.

3) George de Mohrenschildt didn't see Oswald after april 1963.

It is true that during the last visit he does joke about Oswald having something to do with the general Walker shooting. Yet, de Mohrenschildt stopped having contact with Oswald a week after the Walker incident.

I suppose the fact that de Mohrenschildt  - on the show - keeps having contact with Oswald all the way till late October 1963 was because the writers of the series wanted to keep the characters to an absolute minimum.

Not surprisingly, the moment when de Mohrenschildt tells about JFK hating communists is a complete fabrication. In real life, Oswald knew well that president Kennedy was in favor of diplomacy and wanted to have a good relationship with the Soviets.

4) Oswald had other CIA connections too.

One of the big problems with the series is that it tries to argue that Oswald had no other CIA connections than the white russian geologist de Mohrenschildt. This way it might look like there was no conspiracy to assassinate JFK.

In reality though, the list of Lee Harvey Oswald's CIA contacts is so extensive that it might even be easier to point out the people who weren't connected to CIA than those who were connected to our 'lone nut' Oswald.

Oswald had contacts like David Ferrie, Richard Case Nagell, Clay Shaw, David Atlee Phillips (aka JM/Wave's Maurice Bishop) and Ruth and Michael Paine. All these people were either CIA agents or at the very least CIA assets.

5) How Oswald got the job at the Texas School Book Depository.

In the sixth episode there's no mention of how Oswald got the job at the book depository in Dallas. All we are shown is that Oswald goes to a meeting and talks pretty good game with the boss (superintendent Roy Truly).

What makes the whole thing so interesting is that the person who actually got Oswald the job at 'sniper's nest' was Ruth Paine. She's the person that Marina Oswald was living with in the episode and who told Lee that things were going to get better.

In reality, Ruth and her husband Michael Paine's families were heavily involved with CIA activities. Ruth Paine was very likely at least a low-level participant in the conspiracy (she turned down a better job opportunity for Oswald).

6) Oswald was a terrible shot and couldn't hit targets.

Finally, possibly the worst thing about the sixth episode is the scene in which Oswald goes to the shooting range to target practice. This is when he keeps bullseyeing and shows that he's supposedly capable of killing the president.

In reality, not only was Oswald a terrible shot when he was in the marines (he used to completely miss targets), there's also no credible evidence that the 'lone nut' Oswald practiced with a rifle after getting back from Russia.

Let's also not forget the fact that not even the best rifle experts have been able to duplicate Oswald's 'achievement'. That makes it even more difficult to believe that Oswald could have killed JFK on that fateful day.

Friday, March 18, 2016

You should never take story beats for granted.

One of the most important things about writing screenplays is that you need to pay a lot of attention to the structure. Pretty much nothing else is more important than getting the fundamentals in your scripts right.

If you don't manage to make your story beats - your story structure - work, there's basically no chance that your script as a whole is going to work. The end result is going to be a disappointment that won't make sense.

I thought about this especially when I watched the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory, 'The Application Deterioration' (S9e18). I couldn't help but to notice that there were pretty big problems with the episode's main storyline.

This was the episode in which Sheldon, Leonard and Howard decided to file a patent for their 'infinite persistence gyroscope'. Our likable nerds had come up with their innovation, so they felt they needed to do something about it.

Probably the biggest problem I had with the episode's storyline was that it just wasn't properly set up. The writers of the show didn't give us a proper introduction to what the main storyline was supposed to be about.

Instead of developing the story and having 'a debate' section - in this case their excitement about the patent thingy -  the writers skipped that part completely. The episode went right to a scene that should have occurred much later (the patent meeting)

The problem with all this was that once Sheldon, Leonard and Howard got out of that actual meeting - Howard perhaps not being able to be part of the deal - it became pretty obvious that the story would run out way too soon.
There was no chance that the writers would come up with decent story beats that would eventually save the episode. They had made a major structural mistake, so they would be in deep trouble with their script later on.
Sure enough, instead of us getting an organic and plausible storyline that was about our guys doing and fixing something together, what we got was 10 mins of plausible stuff and after that another 10 mins of material that made very little sense.
It just didn't feel plausible that Bernadette would doubt Sheldon's ability to make a deal or that she would doubt his ability to be a solid team player. All that stuff felt remarkably forced and didn't feel organic at all.
In my opinion, many of these problems could have been avoided, had the writers simply respected the structure more and had they understood that it's not easy to come up with plausible story beats for your episode.

Instead, the writers should have thought about their storyline a bit more and figured out that the story needed to start earlier than it did. In that case the episode as a whole wouldn't have been as disappointing as it turned out to be.

But that's not what they did and that's why The Big Bang Theory's S9e18, 'The Application Deterioration' was so underwhelming. As unfortunate as it is, the writers really dropped the ball when it came to writing a good, plausible episode.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The nerve-wracking Bernie vs. Hillary primary.

At least for me it hasn't been easy to follow the democratic presidential primaries. As a pretty huge (yuge) supporter of Bernie Sanders, I have been really worried about how well he's doing in the race.

For example, on Tuesday night I tried my best to go to bed early, so that I wouldn't have to worry about the democratic presidential primary in Michigan. I wanted to fall asleep so that I could simply check the results (EST +7) when I'd wake up the next morning.

After all, I knew that if Bernie Sanders would lose to Hillary Clinton in Michigan - he was down by an average of 21% in polls - he almost certainly wouldn't be able to recover from that loss.  He would have to drop out of the race sooner or later.

The biggest reason that I've been so worried is because Hillary isn't a good candidate by almost any definition. Just about the only genuinely progressive thing about her is that she's a proponent for women's reproductive rights - and that's about it.

Pretty much everywhere else she's a right-wing republican that you can't support. That is that she's for endless wars, against universal health-care, pro death penalty,  pro wall-street, pro big pharma and for privatizing social security too.

Bernie on the other hand is simply the better candidate. Among other things, he wants to raise the minimum wage to 15$ per hour, wants medicare for all, is a staunch proponent of free college education - and unlike Clinton, voted against the Iraq war.

He's also for raising taxes for the rich, wants to expand social security, wants to help the environment, is for reinstating Glass-Steagall, wants to overturn 'Citizens United' and wants to get rid of the private prison industrial complex.

So knowing how much was at stake two nights ago, it shouldn't really come as a surprise that it wasn't easy to fall asleep. All these things were running in the back of my mind and I couldn't stop worrying about them.

Unfortunately, even though I did my best, I didn't managed to sleep for more than like two hours before I woke up again.  Even though I went back to bed, I only managed to get two more hours of sleep,  which wasn't enough.

So I decided to stay up and started following the primary results with my smart phone. I felt that Bernie had to have a decent chance, especially because he had done so well during the last two debates on Sunday and Monday.

I felt that there's no way that these primary voters could be so uninformed that they'd vote for Hillary, who's such an obvious wolf in sheep's clothing. It takes a genuinely ignorant person to vote for a compromised candidate like her.

So I started following many pages: from The Young Turks live show to CNN and MSNBC, from Daily Kos to Democratic Underground and Crooks & Liars. I kept refreshing the pages hoping for new information.

Those were very long five hours for me. I got out of bed and went back in. I got hungry and had to eat. My smart-phone ran out of battery and had to be recharged. I visited the bathroom and then got back to check the latest results.

Fortunately, after all that sweating and worrying and after all that anguish,  it turned out that I hadn't given up my precious sleep for nothing. All that pressure and feeling that that my mind was falling apart had been worth it.

That is because against all odds, Sanders had pulled off the biggest upset in the democratic presidential primary history. He had managed to win Michigan by 25 000 votes, something that none of the pollsters were able to predict.

He won, even though very few people in the media and in the press had faith in him. Most people in the newsmedia had written him off and had hoped that this would have been the evening of Hillary's coronation.

But that didn't happen and against the wishes of the establishment, Bernie Sanders is still in the game. There's a pretty decent chance that he can still win the nomination, even though everyone in the media is against him.

It won't be easy though, especially because next Tuesday we are going to have another round of crucial primaries in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina. These are the states where he has to outperform those polls again.

Yet, I can only hope that one way or the other Bernie is going to succeed and win. In that case it would show that you don't need all these super-pacs and billionaire and millionaire donors who would bankroll your campaign.

Instead, this would be a winning campaign that was supported by millions of ordinary working class citizens who had finally had enough. These people with their modest individual donations would be able to best Hillary Clinton's ruthless political machine.

In the end, it would be the greatest political upset in history and one of the greatest underdog stories of all time. A victory that would show that that we can still make a difference in this world and that we as people should never give in.

Friday, March 4, 2016

I've enjoyed watching '11.22.63'.

For me it wasn't the easiest thing to start watching Hulu's new miniseries '11.22.63' about the John F. Kennedy assassination. I didn't think I would be able to watch a show that wouldn't be historically accurate or truthful.

That is because I had read that the book that series was based on didn't get its facts and research right. I knew that the series would make the false claim that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman and that there was no conspiracy.

Yet, since I had felt bored lately and didn't have anything better to do, I managed to give the show a chance. I thought that the series couldn't be that bad and that there probably had to be at least some redeeming qualities about it.

So after having seen the first three episodes of '11.22.63', I have to say that my initial thoughts were somewhat wrong.  For me it has actually been rather interesting to watch this time-travel series about the Kennedy assassination.

Among other things, the mini-series looks really good and has surprisingly good production values. It's fascinating to be able to go back in time to an era when things were a lot different than they are today.

The show is good at showing how people back then weren't the same as they are today. It's  fascinating, although a bit difficult to watch how women, blacks and other minorities were treated so differently only fifty years ago.

Another good thing about  the series is that it is so well cast. The producers of the show have paid a lot of effort to casting talented, capable actors for the roles, which is something that has to be appreciated.

Even though it's true that Chris Cooper is probably the best actor on the show, James Franco has also been surprisingly believable in his role. There's no sign of 'Seth Rogenism' here, which of course is a great thing.

As a somewhat serious student of the assassination, I have also enjoyed the show for its real-life characters. It has been pretty cool  to watch characters like Jack Ruby, George de Mohrenschildt, General Walker and Lee Harvey Oswald so far.

When it comes to the storylines in '11.22.63', some people have complained that there's too much filler after the first episode. Too much time is wasted on other storylines, like Franco's character meeting the girl of his dreams.

Yet, at least in my case that hasn't been that much of a bad thing. Just about anything that keeps me from paying attention to the factual mistakes (for example, Jack Ruby was not a fan of JFK and that Oswald-Walker confrontation never happened) is a good thing.

In any case, if I had to rate the mini-series based on the first three episodes that have aired,  I would be more than willing to admit that so far '11.22.63' has been surprisingly good, entertaining and informative.

I mean, I do know that the show is probably going to get worse later on, when the facts of the case are going to matter more. The writers are likely going to get in trouble once we get closer to the actual assassination.

At the same time, I'm genuinely hoping that in the end this won't be the case with the mini-series. If only Hulu's '11.22.63' could keep its quality high and could entertain and keep us interested all the way till the end.