Posts Tagged ‘Rolling Stone’
Speaking of the Wall, it’s there where Jon Snow, alone among his surviving siblings, may still have a way to retain his humanity. Arya has entered the House of Black and White, a training temple for elite assassins. Sansa has embraced her position as the apprentice of Littlefinger, rejecting the help of the increasingly unhappyBrienne of Tarth in the process. Bran is off-screen learning to become a psychic sorcerer, and Rickon is god knows where doing god knows what. So when Stannis Baratheon offers to make Jon the new Lord Stark of Winterfell, the offer’s not just hard to resist — it’s likely to work.
But there’s a different road ahead for Lord Snow. Led by good-hearted bookworm Samwell Tarly and ancient Maester Aemon, the brothers of the Night’s Watch vote him their new Lord Commander in one of the only democractic processes Westeros has left. Instead of seizing power by force or gaining it by decree, he’s earned it through hard work, kindness, trust, and sacrifice. He’s got a chance to start a new cycle, right at the place where it counts the most: humanity’s last line of defense against the cold to come. We’ll see how that works out.
It feels weird to complain that a TV show is too violent the day after the new Game of Thrones season premiere was eagerly consumed by thousands (some of them legally, even). But since neither Batman nor Tyrion Lannister got where they were by playing by the rules, neither will we. “Beasts of Prey,” the aptly named episode that marks Gotham’s return to the airwaves after a number of weeks off, is a boringly brutal affair. It’s stuffed with bloodletting that wastes time on characters we’ve got no attachment to and, in the process, tarnishes those we do.
It begins in the mud. A girl who would be queen trudges through the muck toward a witch who sucks her blood and sees her future — and if you want to tap that kind of magic, you’ve gotta get your hands, (and your feet) dirty. By the sound of things, young Cersei Lannister is used to having her way. But she has no idea that getting exactly what you want can be the worst thing in the world.
Cersei will be queen alright, the witch named Maggy tells her, but she’ll marry a loutish philanderer to get there. Her reign will only last until another queen, “younger and more beautiful,” sweeps her aside. And her three royal children? “Gold will be their crowns,” the witch coos, before adding her cackling kicker: “and gold their shrouds.” She’ll get to the top, but the royal won’t like what she finds there.
Like all of Game of Thrones’ season premieres, this episode — titled “The Wars to Come” — is a largely utilitarian affair, showing us who’s alive, who’s dead, who’s on top, and who’s on the lam. But Cersei’s flashback (the first in the show’s history) both sets the tone and provides the theme for the big Season Five kickoff. Once you’ve seized the power you’ve spent a lifetime fighting for, what do you do with it — and what does it do to you?
I reviewed the Game of Thrones season premiere for Rolling Stone. Back on the beat, baby!
The shit didn’t hit the fan. It just slid through the sunroof.
Nothing shocking happened during Better Call Saul‘s season finale. No one was murdered and no one was betrayed; no one poisoned a kid, caused an aircraft collision, or blew a drug lord’s face off. The show’s inaugural go-round ended not with a bang but a guitar riff, as Jimmy McGill sped away from the square life and toward “Saul Goodman, Attorney-at-Law,” singing “Smoke on the Water” all the while. Ironically, this refusal to be daring is the most daring thing the show could have done. Written and directed by Peter Gould, the co-creator of both the character and his solo series, tonight’s episode — “Marco” — played out with the confidence that we didn’t need to see fireworks to enjoy the show. And you know what? That’s probably right.
Back in King’s Landing…
In the words of Ser Paulie Walnuts, bannerman to House Soprano, it’s fuckin’ mayham out there. King Joffrey is dead, courtesy of a conspiracy between Littlefinger and Lady Olenna Tyrell, leaving his kid brother Tommen to take the crown and his uncle Tyrion Lannister to take the rap. Tyrion nearly escaped his death sentence when he tapped Prince Oberyn “The Red Viper” Martell to take his side in a trial by combat — a resident the Southern kingdom of Dorne who, you’ll remember, had come to the capital seeking vengeance against the Lannisters. (His previous go-to guy, Bronn, was bought off with the promise of a castle and a lordship of his own.) Oberyn mortally wounded his opponent, the towering murder machine Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane — but the big man ended up squashing the Viper’s skull.
In the aftermath, Oberyn’s girlfriend Ellaria Sand fled to her native city. (Which is where, you might recall, Tyrion sent his niece Myrcella as a goodwill gesture.) Queen Cersei handed the dying Gregor over to her creepy new pal, the Mengele-like ex-maester Qyburn, for experimentation. And the Imp himself was saved from execution by his brother Jaime, who ordered the spymaster Varys to help his fugitive sibling get the fuck outta Dodge. Unfortunately, Tyrion made a pit stop on the way, murdering his ex-girlfriend Shae and his all-powerful father Tywin Lannister for their involvement in his conviction. He and Varys were last seen aboard a ship, secretly sailing to parts unknown. That means no one’s left to keep Cersei and her son’s bride-to-be, ambitious beauty Margaery Tyrell, from each other’s throats.
The annual tradition continues: I wrote a Game of Thrones Cheat Sheet for Rolling Stone, perfect for anyone who wants to catch up or brush up before Season Five starts this Sunday.
20. “Winter Is Coming” (Season One, Episode One)
Here’s where it all begins. From the opening image of the Wall to the closing shot of Bran Stark’s fall, Game of Thrones‘ premiere episode confidently created the world we’d be inhabiting for five seasons and counting. Getting there wasn’t always pretty: The sprawling cast and complex fantasy setting required a heaping helping of exposition, while an earlier version of the pilot was replaced and reshot with a new director, new costumes, and even new cast members. But strong performances by Sean Bean as noble Eddard “Ned” Stark, Mark Addy as blustery King Robert Baratheon, and Emilia Clarke as tormented Daenerys Targaryen proved from the start that thisGame would be worth playing.
I listed the 20 Best Episodes of Game of Thrones, according to me and Rolling Stone. I am right about this.
When Jimmy finally confronted him with the truth, Chuck’s usual open-book of a face snapped shut, his mouth a tight grimace, his eyes narrow slits. Even before he delivered that final devastating monologue — “What a joke! I worked my ass off to get where I am, and you take these short cuts and you think suddenly you’re my peer?” — his feelings were clear: When he sees his brother, he feels nothing but resentment, fury and contempt. The work being done by both Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean is absolute dynamite. Who’d have thought one of the most powerful dramatic scenes of the year would take place between two comedians?
“Slippin’ Jimmy with a law degree is like a chimp with a machine gun,” Chuck concludes, condemning his kid brother’s con-man past. “The law is sacred. If you abuse that power, people get hurt. This is not a game! You have to know, on some level I know you know I’m right. You know I’m right!” Thanks to Breaking Bad, so do we. The tragedy is that the older sibling had the opportunity to prevent that awful outcome by letting Jimmy go legit. By stabbing his brother in the back, he’s creating the very future he sought to avoid.
Better Call Saul: the feel-good hit of the season? It was tonight, anyway. This week’s episode, “Rico,” administered a mainline hit of happiness from the start. Hard work, brotherly love, sticking up for the downtrodden, sticking it to bullies in business suits — if you didn’t know better, you’d think you’d tuned in to Disney movie about an underdog sports team. But the cinematography, pacing, and performances kept this surprisingly sweet Saul from sliding into schmaltz. You get to watch characters you like do something good, and do it very well. If that doesn’t put a grin on your face the size of a James Morgan McGill Esq. billboard, your case is hopeless.
Though it helps humanize many current and former believers, Going Clear pulls no punches against Scientology’s biggest “celebrity megaphones” — especially its superstar public face, Tom Cruise. Both the book and film allege that Cruise, a close friend of Miscavige (who was the best man at the actor’s wedding), has benefited for years from a labor force of Sea Org clergy members. “I’m singling him out,” Wright says. “More people got interested in Scientology because of Tom Cruise than any other individual, and he knows what’s going on. He could effect change, and it’s on his shoulders that he should.”
Gibney is harsher still. “For [Cruise] not to denounce, or at least investigate, what’s going on seems appalling to me,” he says. “He gets a lot of money and a lot of privilege from a lot of fans, and the idea that allows the vulnerable to be preyed upon in his name seems reprehensible.” In fact, Going Clear claims that Cruise’s own ex-wife, Nicole Kidman, fell victim to Scientology’s excesses herself. According to high-ranking defector Marty Rathbun, the Church wiretapped Kidman as part of a multifaceted campaign to drive the couple apart when Miscavige felt she was pulling him away from his faith. Even to readers of Wright’s book, this is breaking news.
“That was something Marty told me in my interview,” Gibney says. “When he spoke to Larry for the book, emotionally, he still had one foot in the Church. [Rathbun] had been a key enforcer for them. To unravel those big lies takes years, and to undo the psychological damage that was done to him by the Church is a slow healing process. He was able to say things now about how aggressive the Church was, in terms of trying to get Cruise back, that he might not have been willing to say before.”
I interviewed Oscar and Emmy–winning director Alex Gibney, Pulitzer-winning journalist Lawrence Wright, and high-ranking Scientology defector Mike Rinder about thir upcoming HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief for Rolling Stone. I’ve been working on this for a long time, and I hope you enjoy reading it.
Once again, Jimmy’s done the right thing at his own expense, robbing clients to save their bacon and then ordering them to re-hire Kim to save hers. But this unexpected career rebound makes her less likely than ever to leave the firm and partner with him, legally or otherwise. So he walks into the corner office he’d hoped she would one day occupy, closes the door, and flips out. Yelling, crying, punching the wall, venting years of personal and professional disappointment — who is this man, and what has he done with James Morgan McGill?
On Breaking Bad, Saul had three settings: greed, fear, and entertaining bullshit. The larval form we’ve come to know in BCS is a good deal more nuanced, yet he’s still been driven by a limited number of factors: frustration, finances, fraternal affection for his sick brother Chuck. But while we’ve seen him get bent over plenty of times, we’d never seen him break. Beneath the bluster is a human being in enough pain to make him literally lash out at the world. That’s the kind of hurt a person will radically remake their own life to avoid. It takes way more than a new name or a fancy new office, however, to leave yourself behind.
I reviewed last night’s Better Call Saul for Rolling Stone. The verdict: beautifully shot, way too much Kettleman.
The alchemists of Europe had a saying that’s still popular among mystics and spiritual seekers: “As above, so below.” The idea is that the macrocosm and microcosm are mirror images; by understanding the forces that animate mind and body, we can unravel the mysteries of the universe. It’s a concept not without its uses, art-wise: Style and substance are indivisible. Writers, musicians, and filmmakers make both large and small choices that are reflective of one another. Major themes can be glimpsed through minor details, visuals can echo dialogue, and the point of view of a character might hold the key to an entire TV show.
It’s this process that powers “Five-O,” tonight’s stunning episode of Better Call Saul. In shifting its focus almost entirely from hard-luck lawyer Jimmy McGill to aged ex-cop Mike Ehrmantraut, the show also alters its look, its sound and its feel — all of this a mere six episodes into its first season. Characters are bathed in darkness and immersed in long stretches of silence, while the editing fades from one scene to the next like a dream…or a nightmare. And we see a side of Mike himself — multiple sides, even — that we’d never come close to discovering before.
I reviewed tonight’s absolutely wondrous episode of Better Call Saul for Rolling Stone. I cannot overstate the power of Jonathan Banks’s performance.
But it’s the Mike material that sees the episode really come alive, though it does so with barely a whisper. After some 40 minutes of funny old folks, space blankets, and poop jokes, things suddenly get somber. Mike sits a lonely vigil in his toll booth, an illuminated island in a sea of parking-lot darkness. He eats alone, rubbing his furrowed brow. He parks outside a woman’s home (his daughter’s?), exchanging a drawn-out glance with her as she drives away. He returns to his own house, watching old movies and drinking a cold one by his lonesome. The stately pace, steady camera work, and lack of dialogue throughout the sequence create an atmosphere of tension and menace; when a shadow moves past Mike’s window, you half expect a cartel assassin to burst in, guns blazing.
The Scarecrow. The Joker, maybe. Fish Mooney carving her own eye out with a spoon. Gotham has really been cooking lately, and the madness and mayhem of its villians are what’s kept the fire burning. In that light, the prospect of an episode about bad apples in the GCPD is about as welcome as a VIP pass to a nightclub performance by the Penguin’s mom. But on the mean streets of Gotham City, miracles, like full-body transplants, can happen. And tonight’s cop-centric installment “Everyone Has a Cobblepot” was the latest in a long line of beautifully berserk hours of pseudo-superhero TV.
If you say a show is “firing on all cylinders,” you conjure an image of a vehicle moving at maximum speed, all its component parts working together for optimum effect. Gotham, on the other hand, may be more like the Wonkamobile. But its tonally disconnected bangs and clangs and explosions are, at this point, no less formidable than the proverbial well-oiled machine. The past few weeks have shown that if the show jerry-rigs enough weird, wild, occasionally emotional parts together, the whole can be a real whiz-bang contraption. And tonight’s episode — “Red Hood” — had plenty of pop to go around.
For starters, Jada Pinkett Smith carved her own eyeball out with a spoon.
Just four episodes out of the gate, Better Call Saul is proving to be one of the most visually striking and well-acted shows currently on television. When Saul and his patsy drunkenly discuss wolf howls outside their town’s shut-down bars, or when Jimmy stands inside the Day Nail & Spa salon at night, the shots are like something out of an Edward Hopper painting. Michael McKean continues to impress as Jimmy’s mentally ill older brother Chuck, selling both the man’s pride in his baby bro’s supposed accomplishments and his crushing disappointment after risking (he thinks) his life to find out whether they’re true. As Kim, actor Rhea Seehorn has an easy rapport with Bob Odenkirk, playfully slapping his hands away from the controls of her massage chair when she comes to visit him. (She wants to go see The Thing on the big screen? She’s a keeper.) And there’s Odenkirk himself, playing an orange shirt/magenta tie man in a Haml-indigo Blue world. It’s going be a thrill to watch him suit up for real.
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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!