Posts Tagged ‘Rolling Stone’

“Gotham” thoughts, Season One, Episode 16: “The Blind Fortune Teller”

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

[Showrunner Bruno] Heller has been cagey about Jerome, the gibbering ginger played by Shameless star Cameron Monaghan, refusing to outright label him the Caped Crusader’s future archnemesis. On the one hand, that’s good mythos management: The Joker has no official origin, a fact Heath Ledger’s interpretation of the character got a lot of murderous mileage out of in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. (“You wanna know how I got these scars?”) He could be anyone and no one — a big part of his terrifying allure.

On the other hand, Gotham’s reluctance to call Jerome the J-word could just be another example of genre television’s post-Lost fixation on mystery over meaning. Raise a bunch of questions, promise “the answers,” throw the audience a bunch of red herrings (or in this case a redhead), rinse, repeat. And if the series is teasing their Joker-to-be only to eventually reveal otherwise, it’d hardly be the first time a superhero show faked out its audience.

So what’s the best strategy for enjoying the character, in all his villainous potential? Ignore Jack Nicholson’s advice and don’t think about the future. Just appreciate Jerome for what he is: a little jolt of Joker-esque mirth and mayhem. He’s surrounded by the Cirque du Insanity trappings that have come with the character ever since creators Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger, and Bob Kane thought him up. Does Monaghan lay it on a little thick? You bet. So what? This is (maybe) the most famously gleeful, gloriously over-the-top supervillain we’re talking about here. Restraint is not his strong suit. If you can’t camp it up as the Clown Prince of Crime, what has this society come to?

Ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight? I reviewed this week’s Gotham for Rolling Stone.


“Better Call Saul” Thoughts, Season One, Episode Three: “Nacho”

Monday, February 16th, 2015

Conscience costs quarters. Poor panicked Jimmy McGill must have gone through half a roll of ‘em during his frantic attempts to save the would-be clients Craig and Betsy Kettleman, using nothing but Albuquerque’s conveniently located payphones. But whether he was jerry-rigging a voice modulator to warn the family or leaving voicemail after voicemail for their supposed captor, Jimmy gained something even as his wallet lost weight: our respect. “Nacho,” tonight’s Better Call Saul episode, showed that once upon a time, the Man Who Would Be Saul cared about people — which makes it a whole lot easier to care about him.

I reviewed tonight’s excellent Better Call Saul for Rolling Stone. We’re lucky this show is this good this early.


“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two: “Mijo”

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Would it be weird to call Better Call Saul lovely? Okay, not during the leg-breaking. Or the screaming about the leg-breaking. Or the vomiting after the leg-breaking. But still! After tonight’s episode “Mijo,” that’s the word that comes to mind. With its lyrical, impressionistic approach to filmmaking, largely absent from the airwaves since co-creator Vince Gilligan said, “It’s all over now, baby blue meth” to Breaking Bad in 2013, this prequel show makes for sumptuous viewing, even though its story has yet to deliver a real “this is a must see” moment….Much has been made of whether Better Call Saul has a reason to exist, given how completely its predecessor mastered this milieu. But isn’t quality reason enough? The two-part, two-night premiere of BCS has given us an unusual character (very different from an everyman who starts cooking crystal to make ends meet), and used every tool in its visual, aural, and editing arsenal to make his pre-Heisenberg life something memorable and enjoyable to watch. If that story never transforms into the runaway train that Walt’s did, so what? Stop and smell the vending-machine coffee instead.

The second episode of Better Call Saul was also very, very good. I reviewed it for Rolling Stone.


“Gotham” thoughts, Season One, Episode 15: “The Scarecrow”

Monday, February 9th, 2015

Hit the Bat-signal and spread the word: Gotham is crawling out its slump. For the second week in a row, strong writing for the series heavies, from its dueling Dons to the once and future Scarecrow, injected much-needed mirth and menace into the often shaky show. Serious flaws are still abound, but you may be having too much fun to notice.

For starters, a Scarecrow was born, as teenage Jonathan Crane receives a hot shot of toxin so strong it warps his mind forever. (If he only had a brain!) But while his J-horror-meets-4H hallucinations of straw men with gaping maws and fiery eyes were reasonably creepy, it was his father,Dr. Gerald Crane (a realistically rumpled Julian Sands), who was the episode’s true nightmare. His pseudoscientific scheme to rid himself of fear by essentially overdosing on it made intuitive, if not biological, sense; when it comes to supervillainy, that’s more than enough. The point was driven home most effectively not by Crane’s hallucinations of his incinerated wife, but by something more prosaic. “Think I’m afraid of you? Afraid of your guns?” he asks when the cops corner him — then immediately comes out blasting, right out there in the open, bullets be damned. That jolt of surprise delivered the message in a way that medical monologues or syringe close-ups couldn’t.

I liked another episode of Gotham! I reviewed tonight’s ep for Rolling Stone.


“Better Call Saul” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “Uno”

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

How do you get there from here? Breaking Bad loved answering this question. Four of its six premieres began with cold opens depicting mysterious future events, only to slowly rewind time and march us toward these inevitable destinations episode by episode. Better Call Saul, the new prequel series from co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, takes this technique of narrative reverse-engineering and recreates it on a much larger scale. We already know how Saul Goodman, the con-artist formerly known as Jimmy McGill, ends up: disgraced, alone, working behind the counter of a shopping-mall Cinnabon in Omaha, Nebraska. What’s more, we’re intimately familiar with his story’s whole final volume: how Saul scored the biggest client of his life and eventually caused him to lose everything. The question, then, is this: Will Jimmy McGill’s long, winding road to “Saul Goodman” — and to the moment that Walter White walks into his office — be worth the trip?

Based on Better Call Saul‘s Gilligan-directed pilot episode “Uno,” the answer is yes — and despite the show’s pedigree, that was in no way a sure thing. Even great shows tend to start with their broadest material, playing to the cheap seats in order to keep butts planted firmly in them. Astute viewers may recall that Breaking Bad itself began as a splatstick black comedy before reaching its dark and terrible final form around the end of the second season, with the one-two punch of a death-by-vomit and a plane going down. Even if you feel that the series finale wrapped things up too neatly and let Heisenberg off the hook too easily, the show was brutally suspenseful, morally uncompromising, and beautifully made right up until that final pulled punch.

But “Uno” earns a favorable verdict by playing to its predecessor’s quieter strengths, not trying to top its loudest ones. That starts with Vince Gilligan, the showrunner responsible for what was arguably the most stylistically bold and formally inventive show in the New Golden Age canon. So many scenes and sequences in “Uno” were simply beautiful: the hand-held, off-center aesthetic of the black-and-white “present day” opening; the piss-yellow palette and florescent-lightbulb hum of the courthouse; the torchlit darkness of the house of Jimmy’s sick older brother, Chuck McGill, a man stuck in an enveloping cloud of obvious mental illness. If you fondly remember Bad‘s visual panache — from those pants floating in the air to that pink teddy bear, from those musical montages to that crawl-space freakout — this premiere episode makes the case that you’ve got a lot to look forward to.

I reviewed the series premiere of Better Call Saul, which was very good and not in the ways I expected, for Rolling Stone. I’m psyched to be covering the show this season!


“Gotham” thoughts, Season One, Episode 14: “The Fearsome Dr. Crane”

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

Whoa, whoa, whoa: Was that really the same Bat-time, same Bat-channel we just watched?

Tonight’s episode of Gotham, “The Fearsome Dr. Crane,” was clever, creepy, funny on purpose, deliberately disturbing (instead of thoughtlessly so), and graced with an excellent villain-of-the-week. In other words, it was everything the show has not been for a long, long while. The temptation here might be to use it as a Batarang and lob it at every other half-hearted installment this lackadaisical longform origin story has given us, but I don’t think that’s what Thomas and Martha Wayne would want, may they rest in peace. This was a good hour of TV, for God’s sake. Let’s just enjoy it while it lasts.

I liked tonight’s episode of Gotham. I repeat: I liked tonight’s episode of Gotham. I reviewed it for Rolling Stone. If I might suggest it, please pay attention to the last graf, where I talk about the episode’s approach to horror, which was enormously effective.


“Gotham” thoughts, Season One, Episode 13: “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon”

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

Let us now sing the praises of no man’s lands. “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon,” tonight’s episode of Gotham, features two brief scenes shot in semi-subterranean nether-regions, places that exist solely as way-stations between the places you actually want to go. In the first, anonymous goons in the employ of Don Falcone wheel a gurney with an unseen, unknown passenger through an equally unfamiliar — and underlit — abandoned warehouse-cum-torture laboratory of a mob Mengele named Bob.

In the second, recently reinstated Detective Jim Gordon chases a corrupt cop called Delaware down into the GCPD’s parking garage, cuffing him on the hood of his car and rifling through his trunk for contraband. Cold blue daylight shines down through grates in the ceiling while vertically mounted florescents on every column radiate a sickly green. The settings may not be unique, especially in dark genre fare, but they’re beautifully visualized nonetheless — sprawling yet claustrophobic, creepy and lovely to look at.

If emphasizing the lighting and set dressing in a couple of throwaway sequences gives the impression that there’s not much else worth praising here…well, yeah, pretty much. Corruption within the Gotham City Police Department has driven the story of some of the best Batman comics of all time, from Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s Batman: Year One to Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka, and Michael Lark’s Gotham Central, two obvious influences on the show. Yet the topic’s handling here is as subtle as the character’s countless fists to each other’s face.

I reviewed tonight’s Gotham for Rolling Stone. It was Gotham, alright.


“Gotham” thoughts, Season One, Episode 12: “What the Little Bird Told Him”

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

Over in the mob-war storyline, Fish Mooney finally makes her move against Don Falcone by staging a kidnapping of Liza, her mole in the boss’s inner circle. “I didn’t think it was going to be you,” Falcone tells Fish when she makes contact. After playing dumb for 15 seconds, she admits the plot is hers. His reply? “Of course it is. How long have I known you? You’re the smart one in the family, didn’t I always say so?” So he didn’t think Fish would betray him, but he’s known her so long and admired her intelligence so much that “of course” he knew she betrayed him? These lines come less than a minute apart in the same conversation!

I reviewed this week’s atrociously written episode of Gotham for Rolling Stone. Do stick around for the comments; angry Gotham fans are easily the most adorable angry TV fans.


STC on DeForge in RS

Monday, January 19th, 2015

The new issue of Rolling Stone, with Stevie Nicks on the cover, features a little piece by me on First Year Healthy, the excellent new graphic novel from Michael DeForge. Pick it up and check it out!


The 50 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the ’70s

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

18. ‘THX 1138’ (1971)

As visually and sonically stunning as anything George Lucas would later do in a galaxy far far away, his future-fascistic nightmare is a pure product of the decade’s New Hollywood renaissance, exploring sex, drugs, mind-numbing television, governmental malfeasance, and both the necessity and futility of rebellion. Robert Duvall is quietly tremendous as the movie’s equivalent of 1984‘s Winston Smith. It’s not just a film, it’s a jumping-off point for an alternate universe in which George Lucas’s body of work veers closer to Sixties cerebral sci-fi than Thirties serials.

“What’s wrong?” I contributed a couple of items to Rolling Stone’s list of the 50 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the ’70s.


Rolling Stone’s 2015 Preview

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015

Better Call Saul (AMC, February 8th)

We all know the story of Walter White, but how did his lawyer break bad? That’s the intriguing idea behind AMC’s so-crazy-it-just-might-work prequel to Breaking Bad, in which Bob Odenkirk reprises his role as Saul Goodman (née Jimmy McGill), the sleazy but skillful lawyer to Albuquerque’s lowlifes. Rejoining Odenkirk and showrunner Peter Gould (the character’s original writer) are Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and costar Jonathan Banks as the infamous fixer Mike Ehrmantraut. Origin story, bitch!

I was moving last week when this went up, so I missed it, but I contributed thoughts on several upcoming works of note to Rolling Stone’s big 2015 pop-culture preview. Enjoy!


“Gotham” thoughts, Season One, Episode Eleven: “Rogues’ Gallery”

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

Movies, video games, toys, movies based on video games based on toys: The Bat-Signal has cast the Dark Knight’s shadow on such an enormous portion of the pop-culture landscape that it’s now possible for a generation of Bat-fans to never once crack the cover of a single comic book. And now that Gotham exists, they really don’t need to. Episodes like tonight’s return from winter break — “Rogues’ Gallery” — recreate the experience of reading a mediocre Bat-book so perfectly that they all but feel plucked from a back-issue bin at a Comic-Con dealer’s table. The isolated moments of zany inspiration and compelling atmospherics, surrounded by scene after scene of ham-fisted character work, inert dialogue, and rehashed crime/cop/horror clichés — it’s not a great deal, but at least Gotham is free with your broadcast package, and Senator Clay Davis makes a cameo.

Guess who’s officially covering Gotham for Rolling Stone now?


“Gotham” thoughts, Season One, Episode Ten: “LoveCraft”

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Any superhero story requires a certain suspension of disbelief. We’re not even talking about the secret origins and incredible powers here, mind you — a culture that can accept Matthew McConaughey as an astronaut can handle a few radioactive spiders, green power rings, and super-soldier serums with no problem. The real storytelling stretch that superhero stories ask their audiences to accept is one of basic human behavior. After all, no billionaire has ever spent their ducats to become a masked, armored vigilante, fighting crime in a gaudy costume under a nickname ending in “-man.” A good caped-crusader story — even one like Gotham, which several crusaders but no actual capes — convinces you that “well, yeah, no one acts like that…but what if they did?” is a question worth asking.

By that standard, Fox’s year-one prequel to the Batman story not a good superhero story. Oh, it’s a fun romp, from time to time anyway. As it approaches the mid-season mark under showrunner Bruno Heller, it’s created a more visually entertaining Gotham City than Christopher Nolan’s dour concrete canyon, a place where buildings, bridges, burlesque clubs, even bathrooms are just a bit bigger than our workaday world’s. The score, by Graeme Revell and David E. Russo, is similarly souped up, swelling and humming and clanging and making everything feel, well, like a comic book. (That’s a compliment where I come from.) The setting looks and sounds like a world where a man who dresses up like a bat and punches evil clowns would fit right in.

But tonight’s episode, “LoveCraft,” reveals a fundamental problem with Gotham’s tone: Evil clowns, sure, bring ‘em on. Larger-than-life heroes who battle injustice in spectacular style? Not so much. With a lack of actual bona fide Batman built right into the premise, the show pitch-shifts real life up a few octaves, sure, but almost always in an unpleasant direction. What should feel camply thrilling, and often does in the moment, winds up leaving you feeling as dirty as Harvey Bullock looks.

I reviewed last night’s Gotham for Rolling Stone.


The 10 Craziest Things We Learned from “The World of Ice and Fire”

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

2. Tywin Lannister was an even bigger bastard than we thought.

Before he became the not-so-proud patriarch of the dysfunctional Lannister clan, the future Lord Tywin was a fed-up heir trying to clean up his weak father’s messes. As you might expect from the future architect of the Red Wedding, this mostly involved killing a lot of people. The most famous incident involved Tywin’s slaughter of every last man, woman, and child from House Reyne, who’d risen in rebellion against their Lannister overlords. In both the books and the show, Tywin’s revenge was immortalized in the song “The Rains of Castamere”; the HBO series has featured versions by both the National and Sigur Ros, and when the band at the Red Wedding started playing it, that was the tip-off that the shit was about to hit the fan.

But we’d never learned the specifics of the massacre until now, and they’re somehow even more cold-blooded than the song made it sound. Castamere, the Reynes’ castle, was a mostly subterranean stronghold, extending deep underground into the old gold and silver mines through which the house had made its fortune. When Tywin attacked, the Reynes and their followers retreated underground, thinking the complex below was impervious to assault. It was — but it wasn’t waterproof. Tywin had his men redirect a river into the few remaining cracks and crevices. Tywin’s rain washed the Reynes right out of existence.

The 10 Craziest Things We Learned From ‘The World of Ice & Fire’ | Rolling Stone

I wrote up a list of weird, wild, wonderful stuff from The World of Ice and Fire for Rolling Stone. In other words, the publication that gave us Hunter S. Thompson paid me to write about Sothoryos. This is bat country!


The 20 Scariest Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen

Thursday, October 30th, 2014
RAVENOUS (1999)
Don’t let the snakebit production (two directors came and went before Antonia Bird was brought aboard) or the jarring score put you off. Ravenous is a roaringly good cannibal-horror movie, and one of the finest film examples of the “Weird West” subgenre, which situates supernatural evil amid 19th-century America’s wild frontier. Trainspotting’s Robert Carlyle chews more than just the scenery as the lone survivor of a Donner Party-style expedition, while Guy Pearce, Jeffrey Jones, and Jeremy Davies are among the motley crew of a remote Army outpost who try to find his lost companions — and fall into his trap. Spectacular gore, genuinely funny black comedy, and a surprisingly powerful exploration of cowardice in the face of violence make this one worth sinking your teeth into.

I have a couple of entries in Rolling Stone’s fine list of widely overlooked horror films. Find them…if you dare!


“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Five, Episode Seven: “Friendless Child”

Monday, October 20th, 2014

“You probably don’t even hear it when it happens, right?”—Bobby Bacala, The Sopranos

“You tell yourself it’s quick, but you don’t know. You can’t know, until it’s you, and then you can’t tell anyone.”—Nucky Thompson, Boardwalk Empire

In an echo of the New Jersey gangster masterpiece that spawned it, Boardwalk Empire‘s penultimate episode ever — “Friendless Child” — walked Nucky Thompson right up to the edge of the great unknown. He’s lost everything now, or close enough not to make much of a difference. His unlikely right-hand man Mickey Doyle and ruthless, loyal bodyguard Archie were tossed on the pile of bodies that’s been mounting around him for years — a levee of corpses designed to protect his kingdom by the sea. But that empire, too, has fallen, traded away for the life of a nephew who wants nothing to do with him to a trio of crime lords who couldn’t possibly intend to honor the agreement. When they break it, they’ll break it with a bullet.

But now that Nucky is alone – now that there are no more plans to hatch, deals to make, wars to fight – what does he see in his isolation? A letter from Gillian Darmody, and the sight of her face staring back, begging for help. Her plea and her gaze are an indictment of the terrible crime Nucky committed by bringing her to theCommodore in order to begin his long road to power. (A decision, we learn tonight, he made knowing full well the fate that awaited her.) By having her direct them not just at Nucky but at everyone watching the show, Boardwalk makes this act’s importance clear in no uncertain terms. That final shot puts young Gillian at the center not only of the frame, but by extension the episode. It suggests that the suffering of the series’ greatest female character is no less important than the moves and machinations of the men fighting for control of the empire she eked out an existence within. It shows that that empire would not exist without the suffering of Gillian and countless other people like her. It’s the series’ gutsiest, and most moral, move to date.

I reviewed tonight’s penultimate Boardwalk Empire for Rolling Stone. I cannot stress enough that if this show were the vapid, self-serious shoot ‘em up it’s made out to be, Gillian Darmody would not be where she is in this episode.


“Boardwalk Empire” thoughts, Season Five, Episode Six: “The Devil You Know”

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

I can’t really excerpt anything from my review of tonight’s Boardwalk Empire without ruining it for someone. If you’ve seen it, though, please read the review.


The 30 Best Twin Peaks Characters

Friday, October 10th, 2014

1. Laura Palmer

She gave the show its central mystery, and its zeitgeist-conquering catch phrase: Who killed Laura Palmer? But even though her death is literally what made the story possible, it’s her life that made it matter. Unlike the macabre MacGuffins of so many post-Peaks dead-girl mysteries, Laura was not a beautiful cipher, existing solely to inspire the male detectives investigating her murder. She was a vibrant, complicated character in her own right, the person who best embodied the small-town-secrets theme, and who paid the highest price for those secrets. Her life, and the suffering that ended it, were always foregrounded. And our glimpses of her in the series – a videotape, an audio recording, a diary entry, a visitation from Another Place – were all merely a prelude to her starring role in the prequel film Fire Walk With Me, featuring actor Sheryl Lee’s tear-down-the-sky performance of a character coming to grips with the most profound cruelty imaginable. “She’s dead, wrapped in plastic”? Yes. But she’ll live forever.

I ranked the 30 Best Twin Peaks Characters for Rolling Stone. I got so much out of doing all this writing about this show, which I love deeply and think is one of the two or three pinnacles of the entire art form of television. I hope it shows.


Jumping the Shark: 10 Great TV Shows That Took a Turn for the Worse

Monday, October 6th, 2014

In the words of Sick Boy, “Had it. Lost it.” I covered Homeland (the pacemaker) and True Blood (“I’m a faerie? How fuckin’ lame!” Indeed, Sookie, indeed) for Rolling Stone’s list of 10 shark-jumping moments from once-good tv shows.