Posts Tagged ‘Rolling Stone’

Harry Dean Stanton: 10 Essential Movies

September 18, 2017

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

“I’ve already gone places. I just wanna stay where I am.” Stanton’s role as tired-looking trailer-park owner Carl Rodd in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks prequel was as cryptic as everything else in the film, lasting just a few short minutes and some spare lines of dialogue. But he packs decades of world-weariness into his brief screen time; nobody could turn “It’s just more shit I gotta do now” into a punchline that doubled as a declaration of existential despair. Stanton reprised and expanded the role in Peaks’ astonishing third season this year, cracking jokes about defying death one minute, bearing witness to unspeakable tragedy like an earthbound angel the next – a moving, bonus grace note in a long, legendary career. STC

I consider it one of the great privileges of my career as a writer to have written about Alien and Twin Peaks for Rolling Stone’s list of 10 Essential Harry Dean Stanton Movies.

“The Deuce” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two: “Show and Prove”

September 18, 2017

By now, perhaps you can detect the pattern emergingCandy discovering porn, Vincent moving from tending bar to owning one, Lori getting a crash course in street life, Abby choosing la vie Bohème: In case after case, The Deuce isn’t just introducing us to its characters and their world, it’s introducing those characters to their world. And while it may be new to them, the approach is, frankly, getting a little old.

Think of The Deuce as the world’s seediest superhero-team movie – Avengers After Dark, say – but one in which every hero and villain’s origin story is squeezed into a single movie before anyone so much as throws a punch. Or, closer to home, imagine a version of The Wire in which newbies like the young low-level drug dealer Wallace were our entry point into every storyline. Pretend that McNulty’s a rookie cop instead of a seasoned detective; Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell meet for the first time rather than run the gang together; Tommy Carcetti campaigns for student council president instead of mayor, et cetera. No matter how much you love the Marvel and/or Detective John Munch Cinematic Universe, you can see how same-y and sloggy that would get.

For writers, this approach is awfully convenient. It gives you a semi-organic way to include exposition, since someone has to tell these noobs what’s what. And as your protagonists get an eye-opening view of their new world, learn their new role and discover whether they’re good or bad at it, you can quickly assemble their character arcs like so much Ikea furniture.

But for viewers, it’s rote and repetitive. Despite the presence of master crime novelists George Pelecanos and Richard Price in the writers’ credits, “Show and Prove” leads you by hand through the most basic of plot beats – headstrong young women hugging disapproving mothers goodbye, wide-eyed naifs getting their first look at the dark side of the city, down-on-their-luck dudes deciding that this mafioso is different from all the others, yadda yadda yadda. It all feels as predictable as the nightly visit from the paddy wagon that the women of the Deuce. Can we at least get some Chinese takeout too?

The Deuce is suffering from origin-story overload; I reviewed its second episode for my beloved Rolling Stone.

“The Deuce” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “Pilot”

September 11, 2017

Set in 1971, David Simon’s sleazier-than-thou new HBO show treats Manhattan like a Magic 8-Ball, where losers from the outer boroughs, uptown or across the country get shaken up; the hope is that they come up with a better future for themselves than “REPLY HAZY, ASK AGAIN LATER.” Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Eileen, an ex-suburbanite better known as “Candy,” one of Times Square’s most in-demand sex workers – she can switch identities simply by removing her blonde explosion of a wig. James Franco stars both as Vinnie, a Brooklyn bartender who slaves away seven nights a week, and his dirtbag twin brother Frankie, whose two most prominent personality traits are wisecracks and gambling debts. The renaissance-man actor eases into both roles simply by growing a period-appropriate mustache – a facial-hair accoutrement that transports you to the age of Richard Nixon and Travis Bickle more effectively than a million music cues. It’s a show about transformation, both onscreen and off.

Co-created by The Wire/Treme impresario and his frequent collaborator/acclaimed crime novelist George Pelecanos, The Deuce boasts an impressive array of talent in the executive producer chairs alone, including Gyllenhaal, Franco, director Michelle MacLaren (Game of Thrones/Breaking Bad), and The Night Of co-creator Richard Price. It also comes hot on the heals of HBO’s other big-budget–era NYC period piece from a pedigreed showrunner: The Sopranos/Boardwalk Empire vet Terrence Winter’s ill-fated music-biz drama Vinyl. The two series’ proximity makes apples-to-apples comparisons both irresistible and instructive. One title conjures up the nostalgic idea of a lost golden age, when music, and by extension life itself, was real, maaaan. The other is just a forgotten and nondescript nickname for 42nd Street. This ain’t no dream factory, kids.

[…]

[But] clocking in at around eighty minutes – nearly the length of many of the movie landmarks set in the era it’s portraying – it features a whole lot of … well, atmosphere is putting it generously. As we slowly get to know the sprawling cast, few if any surprises are on offer: smiling pimps with hidden mean streaks, workaholic husbands with restless spouses, college kids dabbling on the wrong side of the tracks, sex workers who (gasp!) have a family they’ve left behind, yadda yadda yadda. It’s tough to justify the sheer amount of screentime involved for figures who do so little but play their appointed roles.

I’ll be covering The Deuce for Rolling Stone this season, beginning with this review of its series premiere. It’s nothing to write home about yet, but to be fair you coulda said the same thing about The Wire after its pilot, too.

Emmys 2017 Predictions: Who Will Win, Who Should Win

September 11, 2017

Best Actor in a Drama
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Anthony Hopkins, Westworld
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us

WILL WIN: Here’s a Drama category in which the absence of Game of Thrones actually doesn’t wreak havoc, since HBO nominates everyone from Peter Dinklage to Kit Harington in the Best Supporting Actor slot. Plus, last year’s winner – Mr. Robot‘s Rami Malek – isn’t even nominated this year, so the field is wide open. Our guess is that the mass appeal of This Is Us gives the excellent Sterling K. Brown an edge over the star power of Anthony Hopkins on Westworld, whose show has plenty of other opportunities to take home trophies.

SHOULD WIN: Matthew Rhys and Bob Odenkirk are both plumbing such depths of unhappiness on The Americans and Better Call Saul that their performances should come with an antidepressant prescription; we’d give either of them the gold, particularly over such “well, we’ve got to nominate these guys again, I guess” choices as Schreiber and Spacey. Let’s go with Odenkirk, thanks to his material’s higher degree of difficulty this year.

ROBBED: Rami Malek won the Emmy in 2016 for his indispensable work on Mr. Robot; this year he wasn’t even nominated. The yeoman’s work that Justin Theroux has done on The Leftovers for years deserved recognition. And while we realize the networks decide which actor is submitted for which character, it’s nutty that Jeffrey Wright got tapped for Westworld‘s Best Supporting Actor and Sir Anthony got Best Actor, rather than the other way around. But tops on the list is Michael McKean on Better Call Saul, delivering a performance of such profound misery that you’ll forget Spinal Tap and Laverne & Shirley within minutes.

The tradition continues: I took a stab at predicting the outcome of all the major categories at this coming Sunday’s Emmy Awards for Rolling Stone. I have no truck with awards shows as barometers of quality, but they can be a lot of fun to analyze like a sport.

“It”: Everything You Need to Know About Stephen King’s Killer Clown Story

September 11, 2017

Pennywise is one of modern horror’s greatest monsters
He’s the original killer clown from outer space and the most infamous villain in Stephen King’s bibliography, which is saying something. (All apologies, Randall Flagg.)  Pennywise the Dancing Clown is the form most frequently taken by a malevolent entity that’s been haunting the entire town of Derry, Maine for centuries; it’s lurked beneath the land since it hurtled through the cosmos and crash-landed on Earth from another dimension millennia ago. This shape-shifter can transform into its victims’ worst nightmares, feeding on both their fear and their flesh. Its preferred target: little kids, whose vivid imaginations give it an extensive menu of terrors to choose from. This also explains the monster’s default mode: What kid doesn’t love clowns? (At least before It more or less singlehandedly ruined their image, that is.)

But in addition to being one mean, multifaceted predator, Pennywise has exerted a malign influence on the entire town. He himself – or It Itself – only emerges from hibernation once every 27 years or so for a feeding frenzy that lasts roughly a year to 18 months. But Its presence in the sewers beneath Derry radiates an evil that makes the small town the murder capital of New England … and generates a sort of willful amnesia among the population. Such forgetfulness keeps folks from reflecting on their sleepy burg’s history of atrocities, disasters and mass murders. It also prevents people from connecting the dots when the creature resurfaces and kids start going missing en masse.

Overall, Pennywise combines a killer look and set of powers with one of King’s strongest concepts: a fairy-tale troll that hides out not under a bridge, but an entire city – a ghost that haunts not just one house, but all of them. As our foremost chronicler of small-town American evil, King has a royally good time with the idea.

I wrote a primer on It — the book, the miniseries, the movie, Pennywise, Tim Curry, That Scene, you name it — just in time for the release of the new blockbuster film adaptation for Rolling Stone.

Why ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ Was the Most Groundbreaking TV Series Ever

September 4, 2017

A side note here: It feels goofy to praise David Lynch for not participating in the usual back-and-forth between showrunner and viewer about the need for answers, closure and a finale that “sticks the landing,” which the conclusions of The Sopranos and Lost have rendered a seemingly permanent part of the TV discourse. (It’s like giving Stanley Kubrick a shoutout for resisting the temptation to create the Kubrick Cinematic Universe.) Still, even if this wasn’t on the filmmaker’s mind, as seems likely, it certainly was on ours. How refreshing to watch a show wholly alien to the debates that consumed the final seasons of even the most truly wonderful dramas, from Mad Men to The Leftovers. And how cool to see a series so gloriously unsuited to the era TV takes, too. After “This is the water and this is the well,” didn’t every article you came across with a title like “Lucy Brennan Proves David Lynch Has a Receptionist Problem” or “Dr. Jacoby’s Spray-Painted Shit Shovels Would Work Much Better Using the Netflix Release Model” feel … a little small? Like, even smaller than usual?

[…]

Twin Peaks: The Return was a dazzling work of filmmaking. But unlike its jittering cameras, flashing lights, billowing smoke and ambient whooshing and whirring, its emotional foundations were rock solid. We may marvel at the cosmos Lynch and Frost created – a universe of vast purple oceans, towering metal fortresses, billowing red curtains and infinite fields of stars. We may spend another 25 years attempting to puzzle out Audrey’s location, the glass box’s bankroller, the true identity of “Judy” and what, exactly, became of the girl with the bug in her mouth. But there’s nothing ethereal or mysterious about abuse, trauma and the irresistible death-march of time. That part of Twin Peaks, the part that counts most, is as clear as your reflection in the mirror.

Twin Peaks is the best television show ever made. I tried to explain why for Rolling Stone.

“Twin Peaks” thoughts, Season Three, Episodes Seventeen and Eighteen

September 4, 2017

So ends the con job that Lynch and Frost telegraphed from the season’s subtitle, The Return, on down. After all, the original Twin Peaks ended in the worst possible way: goodness corrupted, evil triumphant. Fire Walk With Me hinted at a way forward, only to linger on cruelty and suffering. Certainly nothing in Lynch’s intervening filmography indicated that this story would have a happy ending. Why wouldn’t we wind up right back where we started: an unspeakable violation, carving a hole in the moral fabric of the universe that no one, not even the whitest of knights, is capable of making whole?

This is Twin Peaks: The Return, alright. A return to pain that can’t be healed, crimes that can’t be solved, wrongs that can’t be righted. We drank full. We descended. There’s no way up and out again.

I reviewed the final episode of Twin Peaks Season Three for Rolling Stone.

“Twin Peaks” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Sixteen

August 28, 2017

With only one week and two hours remaining, this season/series revival had spent nearly its entire running time chronicling the (mis)adventures of a Coop far from the one we knew and loved all those years ago – and that’s not even counting the evil doppelganger who escaped the Black Lodge into our world. Our beloved federal agent may have finally escaped that zig-zagged hellscape, but he wound up trapped in the life of a Las Vegas insurance agent named Dougie Jones. Episode after episode, “Dougie” was unable to remember not just his past but, like, how to speak in complete sentences. Somehow, this didn’t prevent our hapless hero from surviving multiple assassination attempts, winning both the local mob bosses’ favor and thousands of dollars at the slots (“Hell-oooooooo!”), making sweet love to Naomi Watts and consuming his fair share of damn good coffee and cherry pie. It was as if his innate Coop-ness was still shining through, guiding him through life’s dangers even if he was incapable of figuring out how a door works.

Then, last week, something changed. Hearing the name of his old mentor Gordon Cole in the movie Sunset Boulevard, “Dougie” was somehow triggered into jabbing a fork into an electrical outlet, sending him into a coma. What emerges on the other side in this episode is wonderful even beyond the imagining of people who’ve waited for this moment for two decades and counting.

“You are awake,” says the one-armed man Philip Gerard in a vision.

“One-hundred percent,” says Dale – the real Dale – in response.

Welcome back, Cooper — the do-gooder, go-getter and wrong-righter whose decency shone like a beacon through all of the darkness all those years ago. The music that accompanies his awakening is the Twin Peaks theme itself. He even still loves and cares for Janey-E and Sonny Jim, the family you might have expected him to simply abandon. By the time his insurance-agency boss Battlin’ Bud Bushnell warns him the FBI is looking for him and he turns to the camera and says, “I am the FBI,” it’s hard to believe there was a single Peaks freak on the planet who wasn’t either screaming for joy or a blubbering mess.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been as moved by an episode of television I was by last night’s Twin Peaks. Just openly sobbing with joy. I reviewed it for Rolling Stone.

“Game of Thrones” Season 7: Who Lived, Who Died, What We Learned

August 28, 2017

Call us crazy, but for a definitive visual for Game of Thrones Season Seven, we’d rewind a few minutes back from the fall of the Wall to Jaime’s departure from his life in King’s Landing. As he rides away from the city, snow begins to fall, soon covering the familiar red roofs and imposing towers of the capital. The weather has proven his wisdom. Jon and Dany, Sansa and Arya, Tyrion and his big brother, even the freaking Hound, who spent most of the entire season bumping into people who once tried to kill him – everyone put aside their differences for the greater good.

There’s no riding out the storm that’s on its way. If you care about your family, your friends, your people and your world, you have to ride right into that storm and face whatever you find there. Only one season and six episodes remain before we discover what’s left when the snow melts and the smoke clears.

I wrote an overview of what happened during Game of Thrones Season Seven and what it means for the story for Rolling Stone.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode Seven: “The Dragon and the Wolf”

August 28, 2017

Game of Thrones’ penultimate season has rocketed along from place to place, person to person, long-awaited meeting to long-dreaded conflagration for all seven of its episodes. That pace has thrown some viewers off balance. But in these final moments, the purpose becomes clear: This story, this world, has been hurtling toward a point of no return. We’ve now reached that point. The lies, betrayals, power plays, and murders we’ve witnessed for seven years, and which still continue in this episode – they are all a distraction. We’re all in this together, and we’d better realize it ASAP. Is there a more urgent message for all of us to hear at this moment?

I reviewed the finale of Game of Thrones Season Seven, which I enjoyed a great deal, for Vulture.

“Twin Peaks” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Fifteen

August 21, 2017

SPOILER ALERT

But the beating, breaking heart of the episode is undoubtedly the death of Margaret Lanterman, the prophetic Log Lady. During one of her regular phone calls to Deputy Hawk, she tells him, repeatedly, “I’m dying.” She seems to have as positive an outlook on it as possible, saying death is “just a change, not an end.” But this is all coming from the mouth of actor Catherine E. Coulson, who was herself actually dying when the scene was shot. “Hawk, my log is turning gold,” she says, her voice wavering. “The wind is moaning. I’m dying. Goodnight, Hawk.” “Goodnight, Margaret,” he says as they hang up. Then, after she’s gone, he mournfully repeats the phrase: “Goodbye, Margaret.” If you could make it past that point without bawling, you’re made of stronger stuff than most of us.

The Log Lady, Big Ed and Norma, Audrey, Steven and Gersten, the screaming woman at the Roadhouse: They’re all connected not just by geography, but by states of spiritual extremis. They experience enormous, nearly crippling feelings – all of which leave them questioning their place in life. Lynch and Frost still bring the bizarre in this hour. But they also carefully, respectfully depict deep, vulnerable emotional states and trust us to take them seriously. That makes all the difference.

I reviewed last night’s amazing Twin Peaks and wrote about David Lynch and Mark Frost’s abiding respect for people at their most defenseless for Rolling Stone. God did I cry.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode Six: “Beyond the Wall”

August 20, 2017

Yet for all the majestic melancholy of watching that graceful, terrifying behemoth fall to earth, there was something strangely antiseptic about the battle between the living and the dead around which this episode centers. No one in their right mind would deny the power of watching Dany’s dragons torch zombies by the thousands. Or the visceral thrill of seeing seasoned warriors like JonTormundJorah and the Hound go toe to toe with the undead. Or the romance of watching the King in the North swallow his pride and swear allegiance to his new Queen, the Khaleesi. Or even the simple pleasures of hearing this makeshift Winterfell Magnificent Seven swap war stories.

But compared to all of Game of Thrones‘ set-piece battles before now, something was missing. Unlike past episodes featuring show-stopping showdowns and stand-offs – think “Blackwater,” “The Watchers on the Wall,” “The Battle of the Bastards” – this was not a demonstration of the gruesome futility of man’s inhumanity to man. And unlike the still-shocking best-of-show chapter “Hardhome,” there was no sense that this was a completely unexpected cataclysm in which life itself was under threat. This was just seven main characters and a bunch of redshirts against an improbably patient and inefficient swarm of zombies, who let nearly every one of our protagonists (Thoros of Myr and the aforementioned dragon excepted) escape with their lives. Even Snow himself dodged certain death when his undead Uncle Benjen appeared, just long enough to hold off the onslaught until his nephew could flee.

But perhaps there’s more to this battle than meets the eye. Sure, Jon and company survived seemingly impossible odds (how many days were they out there on that rock in the middle of the lake, anyway?). But maybe that’s the point. The closer we draw to the endgame, the more openly epic the story is going to get. This doesn’t just mean that the human-on-human battles that have dominated the series’ warfare will now give way to dragon-vs.-demon conflicts. It means that the same magic that fuels those winged creatures’ fire, keeps the walking dead moving and brought Lord Snow back from the Great Beyond will drive the narrative as well. The wheels of fate and the power of prophecy are becoming prime movers. In some cases, they may even supplant the show’s message about the folly and cruelty of war.

In that light, how the King in the North survived his dip into those icy, zombie-filled waters is less important than the simple fact that he survived. As his fellow resurrected warrior Beric Dondarrion put it, the Lord of Light didn’t bring them back to life “to watch us freeze to death.” The regent has a date with destiny. That time has not yet come.

Similar forces are at work in the budding romance between Jon and Daenerys. The two rulers – and the actors who play them – certainly have chemistry to burn. But love and lust share equal billing with pure providence. These two are meant to be together and they know it, however confusing it may be.

I reviewed tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones, where the drama rubber met the destiny road, for Rolling Stone. As you can see, I have mixed feelings about it, but I also think the Night King’s most sinister power is turning everyone who posts about this show online into TVTropes.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode Five: “Eastwatch”

August 14, 2017

But for all the awe-inspiring imagery and white-knuckle tension, this is still a show that allows its actors to do the storytelling. There were almost too many intimate moments to list, but seven hells, we’ll try: There’s the way Lord Randyll Tarly reached out to hold his son Dickon’s arm, one last act of fatherly love before their fiery execution. There’s the tears in Jon Snow’s eyes as he touched Dany’s dragon, moved by its power. There’s the more or less open attraction these two rulers now have for another, visible to everyone from Tyrion to Jorah Mormont whenever the regents exchange so much as a glance. There’s the eerie, dead-eyed look Cersei shoots Jaime when he tells her he met with their little brother, and their embrace when the Queen tells the Kinglsayer she’s pregnant. There’s the villainous smirk of Littlefinger as he makes his moves, contrasted against the bright-eyed self-confidence of Arya Stark as she works to uncover them. And there’s the mix of regret and rage on Samwell Tarly’s face as he departs the Citadel, sacrificing his dreams for the greater good.

(By the way, Sam: When Gilly tells you that a maester annulled the marriage of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen so he could marry someone else in a secret ceremony in the same kingdom where Jon was born [cough, cough], you might want to listen!)

If there’s a bridge to be found between the massive political forces at work and these smaller, more personal connections, it’s in the episode’s closing sequence. The assembly of Jon Snow, Jorah Mormont, Tormund Giantsbane, Gendry, Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr and Sandor Clegane – and their transformation into the anti-zombie Magnificent Seven – is simply a smaller version of what the Mother of Dragons and the King in the North hope to do on a larger scale. Seeing this dream team of Westerosi tough guys walk off into the frozen no man’s land beyond the Wall is epic fantasy at its most heroic.

But it’s also more than that. The crimes and betrayals these men have committed don’t matter at all compared to the menace that is the army of the dead.The mystically minded Beric has it right when he says that no matter their beliefs or their reason for fighting, they’re all on the same side, for the same reason: the common struggle of humanity against the forces that would destroy us all. Solidarity forever – their union makes them strong.

I reviewed last night’s lovely episode of Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.

“Twin Peaks” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Fourteen

August 14, 2017

The flipside to Andy’s stairway to heaven is Sarah Palmer’s ongoing descent into hell – a journey, it seems, that’s literal as well as psychological. When the matriarch is hit on by a barfly, it sounds as if she can barely get out the words to reject him: “Would you sit back where you were,” she she stammers. “Please.” He turns vulgar, and potentially violent, at which point actor Grace Zabriskie’s eyes go wide. Then Mrs. Palmer reaches up … and takes her own face off, revealing a void inhabited by snake-like tongue, a ghostly hand, and an enormous, terrible grin. “Do you really want to fuck with this?” growls her voice from within. She puts her face back on. And then she bites an enormous chunk out of her harasser’s neck. When the bartender comes over to see what happened, Sarah turns cold. “Sure is a mystery, huh?”

It’s a horrifying scene, and not just for the obvious reasons. The Black Lodge is not just a supernatural locus of darkness; it’s an opportunistic infection that enters our world where our boundaries are worn thin by all-too-human evil. A quarter of a century ago, Mrs. Palmer was helpless to stop her possessed husband from assaulting and killing her daughter Laura (and other young women too) before the entity inside him devoured the man in turn. How do you recover from that? The allegorical answer offered in this scene, and its vision of corruption beneath the surface, is that you don’t. The Lodge, which first used her as its mouthpiece during a scene you may have forgotten from the original series finale, has eaten her away from within. (And while it’s tempting to wish that Laura had her mother’s powers when facing any of the men who abused her, you should recall that the original series’ posthumous heroine chose death rather than allowing that kind of evil to inhabit her.)

I reviewed last night’s episode of Twin Peaks for Rolling Stone.

“Game of Thrones” Season Seven Halftime Report: Who’s Dead, Who’s Alive

August 8, 2017

Ice? Check. Fire? Check. Thrones? You bet. Game? Not anymore.

After last night’s incendiary hourGame of Thrones‘ shorter but still stunning Season Seven is now just past the halfway mark, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. The once-sprawling story is down to just three major factions now: King Jon Snow in the North,; Queen Cersei Lannister in the South; and Daenerys Targaryen, a.k.a. the Mother of Dragons,  on her native soil for the first time since her birth. The battles that followed eliminated entire houses and unleashed fire and blood on an unprecedented scale. Meanwhile, the White Walkers are prepping their own assault on Westeros – and if the war between humans continues, that attack will be impossible to resist.

In this status report that catches you up on all the major players, you’ll find the intel you need to prepare for the four episodes that remain … and the winter that’s about to hit.

I wrote a quick and dirty rundown of the events of Game of Thrones’ season so far for Rolling Stone.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode Four: “The Spoils of War”

August 8, 2017

In “The Spoils of War,” these irresolvable conflicts get cranked up to an even more unbearable level. Jaime is a repentant villain deep into his redemption arc. Bronn is a mercenary who won over characters and audience alike with his wit and wisdom. Dany is a messianic conqueror who’s saved countless lives; the very existence of her her magical beast Drogon is a miracle. How can anyone feel comfortable choosing sides? Sure, House Lannister are clearly the heels in this war, but a victory that reduces beloved characters to ash would be impossible to enjoy.

Writers creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and director Matt Shakman offer us precious little shelter from the zero-sum nature of this bloody game. Twice, they stage one-on-one conflicts between the major characters: First when Bronn stares down the beast with his massive “scorpion” crossbow; then when Jaime grabs a spear and charges the Khaleesi. These are shout-at-the-screen, cower-on-your-couch moments. Even though it appears everyone involved makes it out alive both times, it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that you feel inches away from the death of a credit-topping character during every second of screen time.

And if you’re afraid, hey, you’re not the only one. After all, nothing sells the menace of the horselords – their tactics based on the real-world Mongols, who cut through armies from China and India to Iraq and Eastern Europe like a hot knife through butter – or the shock-and-awe power of Dany’s pet monsters like seeing seasoned warriors like Jaime, Bronn, and Randyll Tarly (Sam’s tough-as-nails dad) scared completely shitless for minutes on end. It’s so rare for actor Jerome Flynn look anything but cocksure on this show that his panic during the assault should come with a trigger warning. Meanwhile, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has long been an undervalued member of the cast, but he powerfully conveys the Kingslayer’s terror, horror, and grief at watching his men get massacred. When he makes that almost-sure-to-be-fatal suicide run on Daenerys, it feels as much like his version of “suicide by cop” as a last-ditch effort to save the day.

I reviewed last night’s excellent episode of Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.

“Twin Peaks” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Thirteen

August 8, 2017

What’s worse: Crushing a person’s skull or crushing their spirit? The back-from-the-dead Twin Peaks has seen its fair share of the former violation, courtesy of the supernaturally strong denizens of the Black Lodge. When those demonic entities are around – whether they’re Woodsmen assaulting radio-station employees or Dale Cooper‘s evil doppelganger shattering a rival criminal’s face with a single punch after an arm-wrestling bout – no cranium is safe. And then there’s the long, wordless scene starring Big Ed Hurley (Everett McGill, making his revival debut), which features no monsters and no murders – but as the credits roll over his sad and lonesome face, didn’t your brain feel under assault?

It’s not as if co-creator/director David Lynch is new to depicting the trials of growing up and getting old. You don’t need to look any farther afield than Twin Peaks‘ own Carl Rodd, played by Harry Dean Stanton, for a portrait of the weariness and wisdom that comes with that territory. (Stanton’s wordless appearance in the filmmaker’s 1999 movie The Straight Story is quietly devastating for the same reason.) Moreover, the visible effects of aging on actors such as Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs), James Marshall (James Hurley), Michael Horse (Deputy Hawk), etc. were enough to take the breath away from any fan who remembered them primarily in their youthful, brown-haired heyday. It’s not that they looked bad, by any means – just that the lines in the face and the gray in their hair, or in James’ case the absence of hair altogether, remind you that you, too, have aged 25 years since our last visit to this sleepy, sinister town.

But Big Ed’s return is especially gutting. While at first it appears he’s together with Norma Jennings, the love of his life, at last, it turns out they’re now just friends; she’s actually seeing a corporate suit who’s helped her turn the Double R diner into a franchise. He still wears his wedding ring, but it’s unclear if he’s still together with his one-eyed wife Nadine; at any rate, she seems far more interested in Dr. Jacobyand his goofball anti-government, anti-capitalist screeds. Even Ed’s “Gas Farm” seems to be dying out from lack of business. So we’re left with a vision of this man alone at night, joylessly sipping soup – or is that garmonbozia? – from a Double R take-out cup and idly lighting fires that burn down to his fingers. With his high cheekbones and severe haircut, McGill gives the impression of a childless King Lear, surveying a kingdom of rust with no heirs to claim it.

I reviewed last night’s Twin Peaks for Rolling Stone. The Big Ed scene is one of the most powerful and memorable things Lynch has ever shot, full stop.

The Top 30 Stephen King Movies, Ranked

August 3, 2017

3. The Dead Zone (1983)

David Cronenberg is the man who made “body horror” a thing; Stephen King’s tales of terror derive much of their power from down-to-earth Americana. An odd couple, to be sure. But the Canadian auteur brings out the best in the story of a New England schoolteacher (professional weirdo Christopher Walken, pitch-perfect) who awakens from a five-year coma with the ability to see the future of anyone he touches. Co-starring Martin Sheen as a blustery, right-wing politician rising to power via blue-collar populism and ready to trigger World War III – imagine that! It’s cerebral but not chilly, complex but compelling – and as eerily prescient as its psychic protagonist.  STC

I wrote about The Dead Zone for Rolling Stone’s very gutsy ranking of Stephen King movie adaptations. The Top 10 is going to throw you for a loop.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode Three: “The Queen’s Justice”

July 31, 2017

Game of Thrones sends a message. You can focus on worldly, bloody matters like revenge. Or you can make the leap of faith and focus on the lives of your fellow human beings. “People’s minds aren’t made for problems that large,” Tyrion frets. Almost in response, Bran Stark tells his sister “I can see everything that’s ever happened to everyone” — a mystical callback to the far more self-interested seven-dimensional-chess advice Sansa’s advisor Littlefinger gave her. Seek triumph, and you’re merely a killer. Seek solidarity, and … well, that’s not quite clear yet. But if winter is here, which of the two would you count on to turn back the cold?

I reviewed last night’s Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.

“Twin Peaks” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Twelve

July 31, 2017

As played by Grace Zabriskie, who is still utterly mesmerizing in the role, Sarah Palmer looks and acts like her daughter Laura’s murder incinerated her spirit and sanity for good. Staggering through the supermarket to pick up vodka and cigarettes, she has a panic attack at the checkout line, triggered by new items behind the counter. Her dialogue, reminiscent of the screaming driver from last week’s episode, is a crescendo of terror. “The room seems different. And men are coming. I am trying to tell you that you have to watch out! Things can happen! Something happened to me! I don’t feel good. I don’t feel good!” By the time Deputy Hawk checks in on Sarah later that day, she’s no longer agitated, but her flat affect is even harder to behold.

We’ve all got stories, yes. But in Twin Peaks, as in life, some of those stories end long before the lives of their main characters, leaving a lifetime of blank pages to turn, one after another, before the book closes.

I reviewed last night’s Twin Peaks for Rolling Stone. I focused mostly on Audrey Horne’s unusual return and what such scenes say about the unseen stories of everyone’s life, but I wanted to share this concluding passage about Sarah Palmer.