The Sunday Magazine: Spider-Man: Homecoming

I’m used to getting behind on my reviews especially as the days left in the year seem to be greater than the amount of perfume on my desk. In this column I usually enjoy writing about whatever is right in front of me. Which is why I don’t know why I failed to write about Spider-Man: Homecoming when it was in the theatres. I’m going to rectify that since it just got released on home video.

If there is something that irritates me when they reboot a superhero franchise it is that they feel like they must repeat the origin story as part of that first movie. I think audiences have long passed not-knowing why a hero has gained their powers especially the biggies like Spider-Man. The first thing Homecoming got right was they didn’t do that. We meet Peter Parker as he narrates his cameo, into his phone video recorder, in Captain America: Civil War. This introduced this version of Peter Parker and Spider-Man way better than another version of Uncle Ben dying would have. It also sets the stakes as less world threatening and more neighborhood threatening. Another thing about this version I admired was returning to the teenaged high school version of the character. It keeps everything on a smaller level as Peter’s relationships get put at risk because of Spider-Man.

Tom Holland as Peter Parker/ Spider-Man

The villains are equally smaller in scope. The Vulture, played by Michael Keaton, and his gang are a bunch of guys who have figured out how to profit off the stray pieces of alien technology strewn throughout New York City in previous Marvel movies. They just want to keep the job they made for themselves. This is a small-scale conflict which never felt small as a story. When it all comes together in the final act the world itself isn’t at stake but a teenager’s world is what’s on the line and it works.

When we first met Tom Holland, the actor portraying Spider-Man, in Captain America: Civil War he felt right in those few minutes he was around. After Homecoming he is my favorite of the three actors who have portrayed the web slinger on screen. I think the choice to focus on a kid with superpowers, and explore that, works because Mr. Holland conveys the thrill of that through his performance. There is a scene very late in the movie where he gets a very unique version of “the dad talk” from his date’s father. His reaction feels authentic throughout as it catalyzes the action in the final act of the movie.

The final choice in the movie is whether to stay in the neighborhood or save the world. The choice is never in doubt because of everything that has happened before. If you stayed away from movie versions of Spider-Man because they didn’t meet your expectations give Homecoming a viewing I think it can bring you back home to the movie franchise featuring your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Fear the Walking Dead, A Second Look

Two years ago, I wrote in this column after the first four episodes of Fear the Walking Dead had aired, “Because right now the only fear I have is that “Fear The Walking Dead” will continue shambling along; a zombie incarnation of its predecessor.” All throughout that first season I was pulled through by characters who grew on me and it paid off with a back third of the season which had dealt with much of my annoyances laid out back then. Now two years later I enjoy Fear the Walking Dead as much as The Walking Dead.

One big reason for my enjoyment is I don’t know what is coming. These are all characters that do not exist on Robert Kirkman’s comic book page. Mr. Kirkman created a whole new set of characters. Early on they seemed two-dimensional. As time has passed the backstory has been filled in providing the emotional connection to the characters. In hindsight I must admit I was being unfair. When The Walking Dead came on the air I already knew those people on the TV screen. My feelings about them had already been determined years earlier. Fear the Walking Dead did not have that advantage and I showed impatience early on. Now at the end of season three the cast of Fear the Walking Dead have won me over.

Ruben Blades (l.) and Colman Domingo

On The Walking Dead most of the characters are clear-cut heroes or villains. It is only with the recent introduction of Negan that the concept of whether they are “heroes” has been explored. Fear the Walking Dead has done this with characters made up of deep gray hues. The mother who will do anything to save what’s left of her family. Actress Kim Dickens plays Madison Clark with a surety of purpose. Except in decidedly small steps it seems like she might be sliding down a slippery slope to something less heroic. Actor Domingo Colman plays the hustler Strand he is the quintessential out for himself con man. The interesting thing here is even through trying to look out for himself he manages to save others. The final character in this trio is played by Ruben Blades, Daniel Salazar. He carries the burden of his past life as a secret policeman in a dictatorship. He fled to the US with his wife and daughter to start over. As the dead have shambled into his life the old habits of his original life have proven useful. The open question is does he want to fully embrace them or find a way to keep as much of his new life he had before the zombie apocalypse. These three are the heart of Fear the Walking Dead.

The show by using its California and Mexico border setting has explored all kinds of modern themes like immigration, water rights, and Native Americans. Without a previous story to adapt it feels like the writing team has more freedom to create more contemporaneously. It has felt like they have a grasp on where the show is heading.

Next weekend with the season eight premiere The Walking Dead will celebrate its 100th episode. Two years ago, I didn’t think I wanted Fear the Walking Dead to reach the same milestone; now I do.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Tom Petty

I first became aware of Tom Petty when he played a show in July 1978 at the Miami Jai-Alai Fronton. I was deep in the middle of my punk rock infancy and the main reason I went to the show was because of the opening act Patti Smith. Tom Petty was an afterthought. Which is pretty much metaphor for his career. Tom Petty was the overlooked influencer of a generation.

Tom Petty (1950-2017)

That show in 1978 was momentous for another reason it was the night Mr. Petty’s heart stopped, for the first time. It was a typically rainy S. Florida July evening. The jai-alai fronton was old and the roof leaked; right over the space where Mr. Petty’s microphone was. It wasn’t until he returned for the encore and he stepped forward to touch the microphone that it became obvious. There was a thunderous pop through the speakers and Mr. Petty was thrown backwards; only to get up and finish the song. He walked off stage and it was months later I found out, reading in Rolling Stone, that he collapsed and had to be resuscitated. That meant the show went on while his heart was giving out. It is what made him stand out he just kept going and doing his thing.

Another by-product of that 1978 show was he had already won my respect before the encore. I was enjoying punk rock because I felt the rock played on the radio had left behind being made up of guitars, drums, and keyboards in place of synthesizers and orchestras. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were closer to what I found so appealing in the punk aesthetic. I went out and picked up his first two albums. Songs like “American Girl” and “You’re Gonna Get It” found a place on my mix tapes next to “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “God Save the Queen”. He was the radio-friendly punk rock star.

As the video age arrived with MTV Mr. Petty would produce some of the very best videos. He was an act for whom the visual added another layer to his musical vision. My favorite is the one accompanying 1985’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More”. Mr. Petty plays an especially sinister Mad Hatter menacing a bratty Alice sneering the title line where the acid drips from every syllable. The ultimate revenge at the end of the clip seems appropriate. As with so much of his career his isn’t the first name you think of if I say “best videos” but his were right up there.

That’s the story of his career one of quiet excellence. It is always those you end up missing most because their importance doesn’t become clear until they’re gone which is probably exactly the way Tom Petty wanted it.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Girlfriend Experience

There is so much good television across so many platforms it is hard to keep up with it. It sometimes like television series are becoming as numerous as new perfume releases. What often happens is when a few are dropped all at the same time one or two get forgotten about. Which is where my readers come in. Outside of perfume correspondence the highest number of reactions I receive are on my writing in this column on my television habit. I think it is an outgrowth of what we used to call water-cooler television where we would talk about an episode with our co-workers in front of the water dispenser. Now via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram we don’t have to wait for the next day we can watch and then go look for reactions elsewhere. The latest recommendation I received was on my review of the new book “Fly Me” by author Daniel Riley. I praised it for melding multiple styles into a compelling story. Which led a reader to send me an e-mail asking if I had watched the Starz series The Girlfriend Experience. I have now.

Riley Keough as Christine Reade

I was interested because of Executive Producer Steven Soderbergh. Mr. Soderbergh’s introduction to the world was his 1989 movie “sex, lies, and videotape”. That movie explored the closely intertwined nature of psychosis and sexuality. It was unique in its unflinching ability to allow the camera not to blink when things got uncomfortable. Mr. Soderbergh has gone to have a varied career with occasional forays back into this topic. One of those was an experimental film 2009 called The Girlfriend Experience. Using the hand-held faux-documentary style of filmmaking he follows a high-priced escort who offers her clients “the girlfriend experience” (GFE) where she provides companionship for days along with sex. This all takes place in the days leading up to the 2008 US Presidential election. It was a fascinating psychosexual context mixed with politics. If there was a consistent criticism it was that it felt like two different movies at the same time.

Steven Soderbergh

If Mr. Soderbergh was desiring to make a multi-layered story using differing styles the big screen was probably not the best place for it. The current television world was. In April of 2016 The Girlfriend Experience premiered. This story follows the life of a young law school graduate, Christine Reade, as she begins her internship at a prestigious Chicago law firm. One night she meets her classmate Avery and finds out she is making a living by providing the GFE through an escort agency. Christine tags along and eventually begins her career in the GFE business. Like the earlier Soderburgh movie this television version also melds many different storylines all tenuously connected; especially early on. There is the story of a sex worker keeping her profession private. There is a corporate espionage story. There is a psychotic stalker story. There is a twisted story about family. Finally, each of the sexual encounters play like little vignettes all on their own. Each are done where the camera is unrelenting with its view of it. They all eventually coalesce into a final payoff.

The Girlfriend Experience thrives because of actress Riley Keough who manages to navigate the potential acting pitfalls of a narrative as dense is this with aplomb. Much of the work she is asked to do is done without dialogue as her facial expressions and her eyes do more storytelling than anything passing her lips. This is her first large role and it is a fantastic performance which I hope is a springboard to other things.

Her performance is particularly remarkable over the final two episodes where Christine returns home for her parent’s 30th anniversary party. Which leads to the final episode where we learn where all of this leaves her with a final scene that indicates it all might have been for nothing.

If you are looking for something to binge The Girlfriend Experience is very worthy of a few hours of your time.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: It Will Never Last

If you grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s you probably heard a familiar dismissal of this new-fangled rock and roll music, “It will never last.” That would be further supported that there were no Sinatras, Comos, Crosby, etc. doing that crazy music. Of course, it was frustrating to know that the only proof that they were wrong was living long enough to see the truth of it all. I have been in a reflective mood because I have been reminded that thirty years ago there were a trio of albums which in many ways defined the ways this rock and roll music was going to diversify; they are also among the greatest albums of all-time. I am talking about “The Joshua Tree” by U2, “Sign O’ The Times” by Prince, and “YO! Bum Rush the Show” by Public Enemy.

“The Joshua Tree” was the album which was the slingshot to superstardom for the Irish quartet of Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. Their success had been consistently rising but they carried the sometimes-dismissive label of “experimental” especially since the previous album, The Unforgettable Fire was all over the place musically. What often gets forgotten is experimentation leads to discovery and during the process of recording “The Unforgettable Fire” U2 discovered the foundation of their music going forward. Combining with the same production team of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois; “The Joshua Tree” would be the glorious result of that process. The opening track “Where the Streets Have No Name” still rings true three decades hence. “With or Without You” is a song of disaffection but it is the way the guitars and drums diminish at the end which seals the emotion of the lyrics.

All throughout the 80’s the idea of rock and roll was being redefined. Prince was an artist who fused crunching guitar onto a funky foundation matched with his distinct vocals to produce his own corner of the genre. “Sign O’ The Times” is the greatest example of this and I consider it Prince’s best album. Prince has been compared to Jimi Hendrix as a guitarist and most of that has to do with the easy comparison of race. It downplays that he is as elite a lead guitarist as anyone who has ever picked up the instrument. “Sign O’The Times” is the dissertation where he lays it out there to be seen. A double album, many of the tracks carry elongated guitar solos to match with the lyrics and the drum machine laden funk underneath it all. The title track which leads it off is one of the greatest displays of every facet of talent Prince contained. “U Got the Look” where he would duet with Sheena Easton was a giant hit because all of this was distilled into a set of matching vocals trading jabs.

1987 also saw the beginning of what has become one of the most dominant music genres of today; hip-hop. Spending a lot of time in New York City during this time I saw the building blocks of the East Coast version which would assemble into the debut album of one of the seminal hip-hop bands Public Enemy, “YO! Bum Rush the Show”.  Public Enemy was fronted by Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and backed by DJ Terminator X. Up until this point hip-hop was all about talking about yourself. Public Enemy would be one of the first to take on what it meant to be black in America. Terminator X used the technique of scratching to lay down unsettling sonic foundations for Chuck D and Flavor Flav to build upon. Those words are what become the percussion and the message. This was not safe it was troubling because these were authentic voices from a portion of society being allowed the chance to express it to a larger audience. This was the year where hip-hop stole into the spotlight; Public Enemy was not going to let it go out which is why it is now so popular.

As my birthday gets closer I begin to realize how much I’ve experienced. Looking back thirty years ago shows rock and roll has lasted. Not that anyone who told me it wouldn’t is around for me to tell them so.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Characters Who Live on TV

I have spent the last couple days looking over the preliminary schedule for the upcoming New York Comic-Con. It is part of the fun of going is to look over the upcoming panels and screenings and see which ones I’m most excited about. It becomes a way of my assessing the things I have at the top of my list against some things which have fallen.

In the latter category is the panel for the new Star Trek: Discovery. I looked at it on the list and was surprised I have little interest in it. Star Trek is why I am a 57-year old man on my way to Comic-Con but they have found a way to fatigue my interest. If I hear good things I suppose I’ll catch up but for the very first time I won’t be there for the first episode of something which has Star Trek in the name.

There are many other things I am looking forward to but right at the very top is the American Gods panel on Thursday and The Walking Dead panel on Saturday. Funnily enough the reason I am so fond of both series are characters who are very different from the printed page version.

Pablo Schreiber and Emily Browning in American Gods

In the Starz American Gods series, it is the duo of the leprechaun Mad Sweeney and Laura Moon. As portrayed by actors Pablo Schreiber and Emily Browning they are the reason I tuned in each week. What is crazy is in the book the characters exist but are small supporting characters. On TV, they are the best thing in American Gods.

Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus in The Walking Dead

In The Walking Dead, it is the characters Darryl Dixon and Carol Peletier portrayed by actors Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride. They also form a rough duo within the zombie apocalypse although the story separates them often. Darryl doesn’t exist in the comic book and Carol died a long time ago. On TV, they form the beating heart of the show. Despite many storytelling excesses these characters bring me back week after week.

Darryl and Carol are so popular that when writer Robert Kirkman talks about killing either of them you can almost feel the held breath in the room. I have been considering what it is that makes both characters so important to my enjoyment of this show. I think it is the uncertainty they bring as they don’t exist in the comic which means I have no idea what happens to them. It makes me invest more closely because of that. The other characters are great but because of the comic I know who is eventually going to die which maybe makes me keep them at arm’s length emotionally.

When it comes to Mad Sweeney and Laura it is much easier to pinpoint the reason; the actors. On American Gods, these two actors have created a chemistry which does not exist on the page. These characters were never as alive until Mr. Schreiber and Ms. Browning breathed new life into them. This presents a problem for the writers for season two as I am far from the only one who feels this way. How they will find ways to use the two characters when there is precious little left on the page for them to do is going to be key to a successful run.

I am looking forward to these actors talking about their roles and answering questions in a few weeks. Seeing and hearing from them is the reason I want to be in NYC the first week of October.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Twin Peaks: The Return

Sixteen weeks ago on the eve of the premiere of Twin Peaks: The Return in this column I said “it’s been twenty-five years; tell me a story”. Well after the 18-hours of this I have been told a story that has been more than I could’ve expected. I have been given so much story, along with spectacular visuals, I suspect it will take another twenty-five years for me to digest it all.

Back in 1990 when Twin Peaks premiered on ABC it was so unexpected for a broadcast network to show something like that. In 2017, with the niche television landscape Showtime could commit to 18-hours. This allowed creators David Lynch and Mark Frost to fully realize their visions. Mr. Lynch would direct every episode. It resulted in one of the greatest collection of a particular visualist’s aesthetic since Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s “Berlin Alexanderplatz”. For a director to be given the opportunity to make an extended version of a movie over a number of segments must be a gift. Mr. Lynch took this largesse and displayed everything I admire about him. If you’ve been a long-time viewer of Mr. Lynch’s style every bit of it was here to one degree or another.

Michael Cera as Wally Brando

There were long pauses between dialogue verging on and passing uncomfortable. Commentary on how we are so used to word salad when it comes in haute cuisine we’re not sure what to do with it. There were moments of sweaty palmed tension released in a horrific climax. To the point that other moments ratcheted up tension that didn’t get released. The sound editing also done by Mr. Lynch carried by crackling electricity throughout was all about the energy running through the story. There were moments of wry commentary on our current way of life epitomized by Michael Cera who plays the son of Deputy Andy and Receptionist Lucy; Wally Brando. Mr. Cera gives a comedic performance where he channels the cadence of Marlon Brando as he comes to pay respect to his godfather, the local sheriff, in the dialogue of Luca Brazzi. It is four minutes of writing and performance gold.

The Three Faces of Kyle MacLachlan in Twin Peaks: The Return

Another component of all of this is the David Lynch Repertory Company was represented throughout. Many of the actors he has worked with in his movies joined original cast members. There are so many good acting performances I am only going to focus on one; that of Kyle MacLachlan. Mr. MacLachlan had to be the glue that held all of this together as he played three versions of characters who looked like him. He gave each of them distinct personality so just the way he delivered the line you could tell which character it was. Through his performance Mr. MacLachlan portrayed almost every imaginable human emotion through the entire series. I know Twin Peaks: The Return is going to be odd but if Mr. MacLachlan is not in the Best Actor Emmy race for a Limited Series then the Academy is full of idiots.

Edward Louis Severson III a.k.a. Eddie Vedder at The Roadhouse

The final part of what made Twin Peaks: The Return a joy for me was almost every episode ended with a musical performance in The Roadhouse. Some of my favorites like Chromatics, “the” Nine Inch Nails, The Cactus Blossoms and Lissie were already on my playlist. I added new bands Au Revoir Simone, Sharon van Etten, and The Veils. Just from a musical perspective it was a feast. The one single performance which made the top of my list over the entire series was Edward Louis Severson III’s “Out of Sand”. You might know the singer better by his stage name Eddie Vedder and this song was a perfect capstone to one of the pivotal episodes. Giving these musicians the opportunity to enter the Twin Peaks playground was another brilliant decision.

Take a Bow Mr. Lynch

I know I have a lot of readers who were frustrated by everything; I got a lot of e-mail about it. I know Episode 8 was the break point for many. That episode was done in the most surreal way where I think Mr. Lynch was equating the A-bomb was responsible for the release of evil in to the world. I’ve watched the episode six times now and It is jam packed with so many visual beats I am still seeing new things. I think everyone who returned for episode 9 was like me completely captured. There was almost the idea of Mr. Lynch laying down this barrier of if you can’t deal with this I still have ten more hours for you.

My opinion is Twin Peaks: The Return has incredibly duplicated what Twin Peaks did. It re-invented what you can aspire to on television. If it spawns half of what the original did it will be fabulous.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: HBO’s Game of Thrones Season 7

There are often some great lessons about how you can’t please people so you might as well please yourself. Latest example is the recently completed season seven of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones is one of the last remaining big appointment television shows left running. After the completion of the sixth season last summer they announced they would be finishing the story with two final seasons; a 7-episode seventh season followed by a six-episode final season.

Game of Thrones is in a completely unique place to any other adaptation ever put on film as it has gone past the written page. George RR Martin the author behind the story being depicted in Game of Thrones has been unable to stay ahead of the producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. They only took on the project because Mr. Martin gave them much of the tentpoles of the end of the saga including the eventual ending. What is incredible is the television show is going to reveal the ending before the author does. I am sure Mr. Martin’s path to the same place has some more twists and turns but both the visual and the printed versions will end up in the same place.

With only thirteen episodes left the producers and the cast mentioned that the narrative pace was going to pick up speed now headed towards the end. I have no problem with that because I have spent sixty previous episodes with these characters I am now ready to get to the resolution of their individual paths. Here is where my first sentence comes into play. The first episode of this season was all about reminding us where each group of characters was while placing them within the overarching plotlines. After that first episode, the internet was ablaze with “what happened to speeding things up?”. I was thrilled with it; the final eight minutes showed the return of one character, who had been exiled the entire series back, to where she was born. The actress conveyed all her emotions on her face and in her eyes before speaking the final line of the episode. That was what I wanted; payoff for having followed this journey for six seasons. The next two episodes would move our characters rapidly towards their inevitable intersections. Time and again paying off the foundation built in many seasons prior. At the end of episode three with a single line from a dying woman a verbal dagger was plunged in to two hearts. Again, complaints were rife about how fast characters moved around and unrealistic timelines while also wondering where the action was.

Please address any complaints to our head of GOT Customer Service

Two of the next three episodes were some of the greatest spectacle ever done in television. Full on war with dragons and a terrifying battle of a few men against an army of the dead. This was broad action as has never been attempted on a television screen. During both moments, I kept thinking “Thank heavens for wide screen hd tv.” For all of that it was a quiet moment at the end of the episode in between which showed how smart these writers are with these characters.

One of the fun things is finally getting to see characters who have not always been together meet on screen for the first time or as part of a group for the first time. it is the latter that takes place at the end of episode five. In an example of narrative economy eight characters ping-pong, via a line or two, the reason they don’t trust one of the others in about two minutes. Each character is true to what we’ve seen before, each character reveals something new, and each character knows they are going to do something with this group that likely will kill them.

This all culminates in a last episode that slingshots the audience to the final season with anticipation. Except for those sad souls who can’t stop complaining. I am completely satisfied with this penultimate season as it felt like almost every important character development had been earned from what had come previously. Maybe the complainers just can’t bear the thought of it all ending. I can’t wait for the final six episodes.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: It Is Not a Documentary

Back during the holidays in 1978 I went to the movies with a group of friends to see Superman : The Movie. This was Christopher Reeve in the movie which advertised “You’ll believe a man can fly”. At the end of the movie Superman flies quickly around the Earth in the opposite direction of the natural spin to reverse time. When we were at a local diner one of the group said about this, “You know that wouldn’t work. It would just throw everyone in to space.” There was a bit of silence and I internally thought,” So you bought a flying invulnerable Superman with no problem but reversing the spin of the Earth to reverse time; that’s a bridge too far?”

Superman reversing the spin of the Earth

I’m not sure what it is about popular entertainment which brings out a group of people who must criticize the reality of the fantastical. It has existed from that moment after Superman: The Movie to today. What I really find irritating is when scientists have an insatiable need to point out that fantasy is not real.

Shh! Dr. Tyson says this is impossible.

One of my favorite scientists from whom I derive a great deal of pleasure listening to on subjects of actual science is extremely guilty of this. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson just couldn’t help himself after Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out. The well-known astrophysicist just had to be a buzzkill pointing out the fighters shouldn’t be making noise in space. A weapon which absorbs the power of a sun should vaporize itself.  Finally, the small ball shaped robot which rolls everywhere would skid on sand uncontrollably. I am sure he felt better after correcting all the errors in the documentary that was presented on a galaxy far, far, away. Except Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not a documentary it is a science-fiction, notice the word after the hyphen Dr. Tyson, fantasy. You probably should look up the definition of that word too Dr. Tyson. There are so many important scientific questions which could use your expertise to spend time acting like the Star Wars universe is real science is beneath you.

How Fast Do You Fly Little Raven?

This past week has seen my internet filled up with many people who have also mistaken the sixth episode of the current season of Game of Thrones as a documentary, too. In a series where a woman has stood in a fire while everything around her burns not once, but twice, without her hair burning up got no comment. In a series where dragons exist right next to ice zombies, that’s okay. People are resurrected by a Red God, no problem. And assassins can change the shape of their bodies and voices just by putting on a mask; sure. All of a sudden, this week has been spent debating the relative running speed of one character, the flying speed of a raven, and the airspeed of dragons because of an improbable sequence in which our heroes are rescued from certain death. As this debate became more ridiculous I thought back to the scene between The Bridgekeeper and King Arthur in “Monty Python and The Holy Grail”

What is the air-speed of a Northbound dragon with a girl on its back?

The Bridgekeeper asks, “What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?. Arthur replies, “What do you mean? An African or European swallow?” The Bridgekeeper says, “Huh? I don’t know that.” Just before being flung into the abyss. For every person who can’t sit back and watch a piece of fiction and just be entertained I wish you the fate of The Bridgekeeper except I want every channel on your television and every screen at your movie theatre to be full of documentaries then those pesky inconsistencies in fiction will cease to be bothersome.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Fly Me by Daniel Riley

I have been thinking about the good old days of air travel back in the 1970’s. When I took my first plane flight I wore a tie. They put linen down on the tray table; in coach. The stewardesses were exotic examples of American womanhood. Of course, that is not the case today; it costs less, you’re lucky if you get pretzels, and there are flight attendants who are as harried as anyone whose job is to work with the public. A new book sets itself within the early 1970’s following a stewardess living in Southern California. It is the debut novel by author Daniel Riley called “Fly Me”.

The protagonist is recent Vassar graduate Suzy Whitman who, in 1972, heads to California to join up with her sister Grace as a stewardess for fictional Grand Pacific Airlines. Mr. Riley captures the lifestyle of a stewardess expertly. The weight checks, insistence on proper makeup, that they stay single to further the fiction of availability. Grace is married and they must have two phone lines one for the airline to call and another for her and her husband. The airline milieu provides the backdrop for the main plot.

Daniel Riley

Suzy gets caught up in moving drugs for the local weed dealer. Money issues sink her deeper in her life of crime. Mr. Riley brings it all together with a liberal sprinkling of 1972 touchstones throughout the narrative. It is in this middle part of the book where it is at its best. The ending is a frantic mixture of implausible events that only happen in novels.

I found Fly Me a perfect book for the summer as Mr. Riley kept the story moving even when the plot lines got a little frayed. If you’ve been looking for something to remind you of the early 1970’s or you just want a breezy fun read for the last few weekends at the beach grab Fly Me and let Mr. Riley take you on a flight of fancy.

Mark Behnke