"POV: Fallen City" (
"Losing Iraq," which premieres this week on the PBS news series "Frontline" and features that series' usual impressive mix of expert and first-person testimony, tracks the state of Iraq from the time of the 2003 invasion through its present descent into civil war — a state of national destabilization the United States undoubtedly did much to bring about and little to prevent; time after time, defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory. On the testimony here, much of the misadventure is due to people in power not listening to those closer to the situation — trusting their gut instead of intel or making foreign policy decisions to satisfy the necessities of American politics. It was Bush's war, certainly, or the war that Donald H. Rumsfeld went out and got him, carried out on a false pretext and never thought through, but it's plain to see also that President Obama's desire to get out of Iraq left it wide open to trouble. Thoroughly depressing, but watch it anyway; there is a through-line there you may find useful to get a hold of, if only for your own sense of things, as the clock runs backward. From the team that brought you "The Lost Year in Iraq," "The Torture Question," "Endgame" and "Bush's War" — so, you know.
Qi Zhao's "Fallen City" is a different sort of story, set in the aftermath of a 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province that killed nearly 70,000 people and completely destroyed the river city of Beichuan. This is the story both of the fate of the city and some of its survivors: 14-year-old Hong, listless, missing his father ("He could help me fix some mental conflicts.... some man-to-man things") and at war with his mother; Mr. and Mrs. Peng, whose 11-year-old daughter died in the collapse of her school; and Li Guihua, a middle-aged divorced woman living only to take care of her mother, paraplegic and unable to recognize her. ("I think I have seen through life already," she says.) Qi, who arrived with a camera three days after the earthquake, follows his subjects over three years, in which time the town is both replaced and displaced, as the people of Beichuan take up residence in an orderly new high-rise city, proclaimed by the state "safe, beautiful and culturally rich," but no place like home: "We used to live really close to one another," says one, "but we can't anymore." And yet, though it goes to dark places — there are some surprising turns I won't reveal because, really, watch it — it is a strangely beautiful film: intimate and individually human, connected to the land and to living things. It begins with water, and a leaf that reveals itself to be an insect lifting itself onto rock or rubble. "It's only a small town in the mountains," Hong will later say, looking over its remains, "but to me, it's very grand."
"Penn & Teller: Fool Us" (
The contestants represent a range of approaches, from big-scale disappearing/reappearing acts (Penn: "I think it was about the time you pulled out the flag, Teller said, 'Real girl in the box, he'll be in the back' ") to the blindfolded dealing of a straight flush from a deck the duo supplied. (Penn again, since Teller doesn't talk, much: "I have never seen anyone who did not do hard time in prison do that move you did … that well." Which is to say, practice makes perfect.) Additionally, there is the vicarious gratification of seeing other people's excellence recognized by experts. The CW also has a magical variety show, "Masters of Illusion," coming Aug. 1, followed by
"Phineas and Ferb:
They bustle about just around the corner from where the original movie takes place, occasionally interacting with its characters — animated with a sort of 1970s look, perhaps by intent — but also moving their own story forward. There are jokes, not for the first time in the joshing of science-fiction, that picture the unglamorous support staff needed to keep a Death Star running, working in cubicles, drinking black coffee. There are cracks about the lack of female characters and how fruit in a marketplace only ever has a short time to live in an action film, and the fact that the galaxy's most dangerous weapon comes, basically, with "a self-destruct button — what kind of idiot would design that?" All the best "Star Wars" stories since halfway through "Jedi" have been cartoons, anyway, especially those that don't take the movies too seriously — while of course taking them so seriously they can fill an hour with jokes about them.
"The Meltdown With Jonah and Kumail" (
Still, it's funny a lot and a useful guide to the range of styles and points of view available now in the very healthy comedy universe. Frequent cutaways to the green room, where comedians hang out and talk shop and trash and