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The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 68!

December 17, 2017

2017: The Year in Review

BLAH takes a look back at the year that was in our long-related return! On this episode of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour, Sean & Stefan discuss 2017’s most memorable books, films, and TV — from Twin Peaks to Dunkirk and beyond. The state of superheroes and prestige TV get a good going-over too. You’ll also hear about stuff from past years that helped keep us afloat during a year when the world went adrift. Plus! A candid discussion of the illness that kept us from recording for the past month. This is just the first of three episodes we’ll be rolling out this month to thank you for your patience and faith in us, so listen up and stay tuned!

DOWNLOAD EPISODE 68

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A brief note on Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

December 15, 2017

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This is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in a videogame

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Ten: “eps3.9_shutdown-r”

December 15, 2017

SPOILER ALERT

The best part was the axe murder.

When Dark Army fixer Irving drives the blade into corrupt FBI Agent Santiago’s chest, and eventually many other parts of his body, a lot of things happen at once. Bobby Cannavale is finally given a chance to cut loose after a season of playing Irving as a model of chatty, casual restraint; now he can go full Gyp Rosetti, and it’s a thing of beauty. Moreover, Mr. Robot has had horror in its DNA, from Tod Campbell’s often eerie cinematography to the roots of fsociety’s iconography in a slasher film; an axe murder seen in that light seems almost overdue. Finally, an explosion of intimate, savage, gory violence after a season full of tension and sadness, in which even a gigantic series of terrorist bombings is witnessed only at a remove, takes all of the show’s unspoken resentments and hatreds and buries them in a warm, wet body, over and over again. “These are for me,” says Irving as he sends his traumatized and cowed new slave at the FBI, Dom DiPierro, away. They’re for everyone on the show, really.

I wish the rest of Mr. Robot’s Season 3 finale (“eps3.9_shutdown-r”) cut half so deep. Instead, it’s a claimant for the most disappointing episode in the history of the show — a profound narrative miscalculation that sees the show retrench rather than create new possibilities, yet also denies the basic sense of completion and catharsis you’d think such a retrenchment would require. Axe murders aside, it just sort of sits there, waiting for something else to happen.

[…]

All told, it doesn’t surprise me that the finale, and the season itself, is being held up by other critics as a return to form. It was — to a fault. Audacious episodes like the Tyrell Wellick spotlight and the long-take high-rise thriller, the highlights of the season for me, now feel like respites in a long act of creative backpedaling, to get the show back to where it was when it was a zeitgeisty phenomenon during Season 1. “Like 5/9 never happened”? More like if Season 2, a phenomenally bold season of sweepingly despairing and vicious television that risked alienating the audience the show had built, never happened. We’re headed back to the start, and that’s not a ride I’m sure I want to take.

I reviewed the season finale of Mr. Robot, which made one baffling and disappointing narrative choice after another for an hour, for Decider. A truly dispiriting letdown.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Ten: “Alpha and Omega”

December 15, 2017

The true innovation and genius of Dark — the thing that separates it from even the most entertaining time-travel stories, from Back to the Future to The Terminator to The Time Machine itself — is that it’s not just an exciting riddle about creating and escaping time warps for you to try and solve, nor a chilling look at a dark future we wish to avoid (until that final scene, anyway). As I put it in an earlier review, “Dark’s true interest isn’t in the characters’ inability to escape the spacetime loop, but in using that premise to explore their inability to escape their own nature.”

The adult Jonas makes this point explicitly to his younger self. In the middle of a speech about how he has to leave the teenage Jonas locked up in Noah’s chamber, because his experiences inside will be necessary to make him the man he becomes, he drops what almost feels like a non sequitur: “Why did you kiss Martha?” Then he elaborates: “We’re not free in what we do, because we’re not free in what we want. We can’t overcome what’s deep within us.” At this, the younger Jonas begins sobbing, begging his older self to stop talking over and over again. “I want everything to go back to normal,” he says.

But there is no normal. Just as the wormhole locks the people of Winden in an inescapable loop of misery, so too do their own unchangeable natures and desires. It’s the boldest wedding of time travel to a provocative psychological theme I’ve ever encountered. For that reason alone I’ll follow Dark into the future.

I reviewed the season finale of Dark for Decider. It ends with my least favorite scene in the series so far, and it’s a bit deflating to see it reach the end zone only to trip over its own untied shoelaces, but whatever. Still a show to be reckoned with.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Nine: “Everything Is Now”

December 15, 2017

It occurs to me now that among its many other antecedents, Dark feels like a version of Lost folded in on itself, in which the action on the magical, spacetime-traveling Island and the secret-revealing, surprise-laden, character-driven backstory flashbacks all occur simultaneously. “Everything Is Now” indeed.

I wrote about the baroque complexity of Dark’s penultimate episode for Decider.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Eight: “As You Sow, So Shall You Reap”

December 15, 2017

Like so much great genre art, Dark uses its fantastical elements not just because they’re compelling in their own right, but because their spectacular nature is closer to the inarticulable gravity of the emotions we experience every day.  Helge, Ulrich, Mikkel, Hannah, Jana, Jonas, the mysterious stranger, and (in a striking reveal) Claudia Tiedemann all seem to have driven to mental illness by the wormhole’s impact on their lives, but as another great work of genre fiction about family and murder once put it, we all go a little mad sometimes. And what else do the worst disasters and failures of your life feel like if not a tear in the fabric of space and time themselves?

I reviewed episode 8 of Dark, which really fucking went there, for Decider.

Awards

December 13, 2017

Between Bon Jovi, the worst rock and roll band of all time, getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Twin Peaks, the best television show of all time, not getting nominated at the Golden Globes, this is a bad fuckin’ week for awards.

The 10 Best TV Episodes of 2017: ‘Girls’

December 11, 2017

When 2017 lies dead and buried in the ground, “Separate the art from the artist” will be chiseled on its tombstone. But what will we find in the grave?

If it’s the idea that creators are shielded from scrutiny by the strength of their creations, then goodbye and good riddance. For too long, sexual predators in entertainment and media triple-axled their way across the thin ice of “open secrets,” their safety ensured by power. (Why, one of these men even became president!) The crack, the splash and the final desperate glug-glug-glugs were long overdue.

If we’re lucky, though, this year of revelation and reckoning will force a deeper reexamination of our desire to see artists and their art as identical, because that dull blade of interpretation cuts both ways. Like a bizarro Louis C.K., whose professional accolades protected his personal reputation, Lena Dunham is a multi-hyphenate auteur whose detractors see her history of poor attempts to address urgent issues offscreen and take it that her art is similarly inept. The best way to argue against this clumsy conflation is by example – and “American Bitch” is as good an example as it gets. The third episode of Girls‘ sixth and final season, what’s arguably the series’ finest (half-)hour attacks the creator/creation dichotomy with funny, frightening ferocity. This parable about abusive artists doubles as case for its own artist’s singular skill as an observer of moral failure … including her own.

I wrote an essay about Girls’ “American Bitch” for Rolling Stone. This is just the first in a series of deep dives by the usual murderers’ row of RS writers. Stay tuned!

Mirror Mirror II – Horror and Erotica Converge in the Julia Gfrörer and Sean T. Collins-Led Anthology for 2dcloud

December 8, 2017

Mirror Mirror II is a sexy, creepy book which is daring in the topics it addresses, its creators eliding conservative platitudes or easy explanations for parts of human behaviour which psychologists have spent decades struggling to get to the bottom of (can you imagine if Freud had had access to PornHub’s stats when doing his formative work?). It does not shy away from how complex and difficult its subject matter is. It’s also a sumptuously designed, beautifully illustrated compendium of some of the most talented alternative comic creators working today. Just don’t read it on the bus.

Another wonderful review of our book Mirror Mirror II, this one from Tom Baker at Broken Frontier. I can’t begin to tell you how good it feels to see this book hit exactly the way we always wanted it to.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Seven: “Crossroads”

December 8, 2017

As convoluted as Dark‘s plot can be, forcing you to keep track of a sprawling cast of interrelated characters across multiple timelines, it’s done an impressive job of making that task easier as the show goes along. This is where the show’s emphasis on the emotional struggles of Winden’s townsfolk pays practical dividends as well as dramatic ones. Like Game of Thrones or Twin Peaks, two shows that also boast large casts and complex storylines involving secret identities and family connections, Dark digs painfully deep into the darkest recesses and most burning desires of its characters, which in turn makes figuring out who’s who and what’s what much more intuitive.

I reviewed the seventh episode of Dark for Decider; new reviews will resume Monday. Use that time to catch up over the weekend, please, since this show is one of the best Netflix has ever done. (More on that anon!)

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Nine: “eps3.8_stage3.torrent”

December 7, 2017

The reason I singled out the kisses at the start of this review, though, is because they represent something larger. At an impromptu meeting between E Corp CEO Phillip Price, his once and future underling Tyrell Wellick, and Tyrell’s ersatz hacker ally Mr. Robot (who’s just Elliot, as far as Price knows), Price tells Elliot “World catastrophes like this? They aren’t caused by lone wolves like you. They occur because men like me allow them.” Certainly the past year of real life has borne this out. Much as we’d like to pin the rise and fall of campaigns, parties, and countries on rogue actors, who therefore can be isolated and eliminated if we’re smart and good enough, the real fault is systemic, and that system is run by men who make themselves increasingly untouchable with each Supreme Court decision and tax cut.

And yet! Here’s why Phillip Price, Master of the Universe, decided to hire Allsafe, the firm that Elliot and Angela worked for, to handle E Corp’s cyber-security, thus setting all of this in motion:

Stages 1, 2, and 3 happened because Phillip Price fell for Angela Moss at first sight. They happened because Angela and Elliot and Darlene were heartbroken over the deaths of their parents. They happened because Whiterose, as the cracks in her voice betray, is tired of men like Price, who “only understand force, and a lot of it. That is the only currency with these men!” They continue to happen because Grant loves his boss, and because Dom is a lonely person who turned to Darlene for comfort, and on and on and on. Systemic causes trump individual ones, yes. But the personal and the political are inextricable, because external power and internal passion are inescapable. If you want to survive, you must endure them both.

I reviewed the penultimate episode of Mr. Robot Season Three for Decider.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Six: “Sic Mundus Creatus Est”

December 7, 2017

“You don’t really know your parents, do you? What they were like as kids, or teenagers. You’re a family, but you don’t really know anything about each other.” Martha Nielsen says this to her brother Magnus as they lay in bed together, contemplating the disaster area their lives have become following the disappearance of their brother Mikkel. The most moving sequence in “Sic Mundus Creatus Est,” Dark‘s excellent sixth episode, demonstrates the truth in her words to devastating effect.

I reviewed episode six of Dark for Decider.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five: “Truths”

December 7, 2017

This latest installment of the time-traveling trials of the men, women, and children of Winden is bookended by lengthy splitscreen montages. It’s the most effective, and stylistically bold, use of the technique I’ve seen since Fargo Season Two. And rather than showing us multiple points of view as characters move toward confrontation or through a suspense sequence, the splitscreens are used to compare, contrast, and highlight the emotional reactions of the characters to the romantic and familial trauma they’re experience. It’s like calling in Brian De Palma to cut an Ingmar Bergman film.

I reviewed the fifth episode of Dark for Decider, and this passage about its formal aspects is really just the tip of the iceberg. This is a very challenging and very rewarding show, and I’m proud of the writing I’m doing on it.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Four: “Double Lives”

December 5, 2017

There’s power of a different sort in nearly everything the Dopplers’ daughter Franziska does in this episode. Like a teutonic Laura Palmer, she leads a double life — star student and ribbon-wielding rhythmic gymnast by day, big-money drug dealer by night. The latter truth is uncovered by Mikkel’s goonish older brother Magnus, who’s simultaneously angered, repulsed, and attracted to the mismatch between Franziska’s emotional exterior and interior. Of course, he finds her just as magnetic in her gymnastics uniform, while his anger at her sparks a sudden torrent of truth-telling about the state of her family. The next thing you know, the two frienemies are fucking while fully dressed in the school locker room. Again, this is powerful stuff for a supernatural Netflix show to play with: probing the point at which intense feelings of any kind grow so white-hot that they exceed the capacity of the designated area of the brain to process and wind up fueling sexual energy instead, and depicting sex as a way damaged people can address the things that are damaging them without doing so directly.

I wrote about Dark’s very strong fourth episode for Decider. The complex dynamics in the Doppler family — including their extremely awesome and funny deaf daughter Elisabeth — demonstrate how the show puts in the work where other supernatural shows just coast.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Three: “Past and Present”

December 5, 2017

“Past and Present,” the aptly named third episode of Dark, continues its predecessors’ pattern of being hella reminiscent of a past genre work. In this case it’s Richard Kelly’s melancholic cult-classic science fiction film Donnie Darko, which the episode echoes in ways that feel more like homage than out-and-out swipes.

Yes, Mikkel has indeed been transported back in time through some kind of “crossing” (to borrow the term from Jonas’s late father’s map) in the caverns outside of town. After his unpleasant run-in with his parents and grandmother — the former are assholes, the latter is too distraught by her missing son Mads to do anything but grab the kid and beg him for information — he wanders to his school, only decades in the past. As he wanders around in a skeleton costume that looks like the one Donnie wore in the film except a few sizes smaller, the totally-’80s style of the town’s teens are paraded in front of the camera while a Tears for Fears song plays on the soundtrack (“Shout” here, “Head Over Heels” in the movie).

Would it be nice if shows stopped doing this kind of thing? Even good shows? Yes. The Punisher, for example, was strong enough on its own for its in-your-face (ahem) borrowing from the climax of 28 Days Later… in its penultimate episode to feel completely unnecessary, though perhaps not ethically or creatively ruinous. And Dark has enough going on to render this hat tip superfluous. Admittedly, though, the line between homage and theft is a blurry one, particularly in horror, a genre more in conversation with itself than any other. I could rattle off scene-by-scene comparisons in, say, Get Out or The Descent with the movies their filmmakers clearly know and love. But those two films are animated by a spirit that is unmistakably their own. Dark isn’t at that level, but it’s operating with enough sophistication to provide context for nods to its antecedents, instead of simply constructing itself out of nothing but such nods.

I reviewed the third episode of Dark for Decider.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “Lies”

December 5, 2017

Two episodes in and Dark is reminding me of a different touchstone in recent zeitgeisty supernaturally-tinged murder mysteries: True Detective Season One. Co-creator/director Baran bo Odar’s style is not far removed at all from TD‘s original helmer Cary Joji Fukunaga: wide, stately shots of the imposing yet beautiful natural landscape, deep greens, lots of tree imagery, the occasional crazy conspiracy wall. Throw in references to time as circular — “yesterday, today, and tomorrow are not consecutive; they are connected in a neverending circle,” as the pilot’s cold open put it — and you half expect local cop Ulrich Nielsen to call Rust Cohle in for a consult. None of this is blow-you-away amazing, or all that original (duh), but Dark creates a vibe for itself and deploys it effectively, and doesn’t require you to think back fondly on stuff you loved as a kid to do so, unlike certain other shows we could mention.

I reviewed episode two of Dark for Decider.

“Godless” thoughts, Season One, Episode Seven: “Homecoming”

December 5, 2017

The massacre at Blackdom that follows is tougher to justify, or enjoy. For one thing, it’s unnecessary. Frank Griffin’s bona fides as an indiscriminate killer of men, women, and children in any place that crosses him were established in the town of Creede way back before the opening credits rolled on the series premiere, and his likely intention to do it all over again in La Belle was the dramatic underpinning of the entire season that followed. Having him and his gang slaughter the town right next door mere minutes before the final face-off feels like gilding the lily, in blood.

Worse still, it undercuts the stakes of the showdown in La Belle, in an ethically dubious fashion. For seven episodes we’ve wondered if this town of outcasts from an oppressed class of people would be able to stave off an atrocity. What narrative or thematic purpose does answering that question solve if we’ve just seen another town of outcasts from an oppressed class of people succumb to that very atrocity in the same episode? The people of Blackdom may not be our main characters, but it’s not like that’s their fault. Only the nature of the story and script renders their lives more disposable than those of their counterparts in La Belle. Our interest in the showdown at the Hotel La Belle is predicated on whether or not the worst will happen—but as Alice’s horrified glimpse of scores of corpses in Blackdom earlier that day makes clear, the worst already has happened. What difference does it make if if it happened an hour’s ride away?

I reviewed the pointless-seeming finale of Godless for the A.V. Club. It was interesting to find most of the commenters (who are basically unavoidable when you use AVC’s back end to file your reviews) agreeing with me as the season progressed.

I Quit Twitter

December 1, 2017

Like, for real. I haven’t deleted my account because I don’t want to contribute to the plague of linkrot, but I have used arcane methods to make it impossible for me to even log in anymore. You can find me here or at boiledleather.com for the duration; my email address is easy enough to find in both locations. Thank you for your support.

“Dark” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “Secrets”

December 1, 2017

The opening credits for DarkNetflix’s first German-language original series, are simple but striking. Eschewing the “here is a significant object and/or an image of one of the cast members’ faces, slowly moving through a black field, with some cool coloring” technique beloved by so many shows for the past few years, the title sequence reflects moments seemingly plucked from throughout the series back on one another, symmetrically — the mirror effect from “When Doves Cry,” basically. Like a kaleidoscopic rorschach test, it renders the familiar suddenly weird and angular as if it’s being sucked into or ejected from an invisible portal in the middle of the frame, simply by repeating what you see and smushing it back in on itself.

If that ain’t the Netflix model, I don’t know what is.

Created by Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar and directed in its entirety by bo Odar, Dark sure feels familiar. “Secrets,” its series premiere, is set in a small town surrounded by a forest that borders a nuclear power plant, where teenagers and their adult parents are forced to come to grips with the unexplained disappearance of a young boy. And based on a brief glimpse we’re given of the plight of a previously vanished teenager, it seems he might be subjected to strange psychological and physical experiments designed by a mysterious lone captor. In other words, if you watched Stranger Things and The OA, this is Recommended for You: The Series.

Yet Dark does not feel nearly as derivative as it could, or perhaps even should. For starters, it’s dealing with much more emotionally fraught material than Stranger Things, the show to which it will no doubt most frequently be compared. (Including by me, apparently.)

I’m covering Dark for Decider, starting with my review of the series premiere. Could be a pip, could be a pip.