Posts Tagged ‘Rolling Stone’

The Rise of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy”s Rocket Raccoon

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

“You can only take these characters so far before it gets ridiculous,” Gunn admits. “Honestly, some of the latest superhero movies take themselves so seriously, they feel like a joke. This desperate, angsty need for ‘coolness’ is sort of pathetic. Guardians is a big reaction against that.” Will the grim-and-gritty-loving fanboys go along? Gunn laughs. “Who the hell knows?”

I interviewed Rocket Raccoon co-creator Keith Giffen and Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn about Marvel’s answer to Mickey Mouse for Rolling Stone. What a world!


“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five: “Gladys”

Monday, July 28th, 2014

“I don’t understand your faith,” the Reverend tells the Guilty Remnant when he comes to their houses to pray for Gladys. “But I understand commitment, and I respect it.” His understanding and respect are undermined in the very next sentence, though: “But we are all of us, no matter how we’ve suffered, still alive.” As if they didn’t know! Rev. Jamison believes that by stripping away their friends, families, clothes, voices, even their health, they’ve cut themselves off from life itself. But to the GR, these acts of sacrifice are living. Whether they’ve chosen the slow-motion martyrdom of chainsmoking or had the fast track of stoning chosen for them like Gladys did, their sacrifices have made their individual lives literally the only thing they have to give anymore. What could be more valuable?

The episode itself implicitly sides against Rev. Jamison in this matter long before he even shows up. In its harrowing, unflinchingly gruesome stoning of Gladys, it forces us to witness every blow, every terrifying and disorienting moment of her abduction, every vulnerable and humiliating moment of her execution. Violence and gore on film are often held up as crass and dehumanizing — many examples of these things often are. But when done properly, their repulsive spectacle is as humanistic as filmmaking can get: This is how vulnerable we are as humans, and this is how incredibly wrong it is to exploit that vulnerability. In this sequence, The Leftovers sees Rev. Jamison’s claim that the GR are “already dead” and preemptively calls bullshit.

But it’s not just the value of life that martyrdom highlights – the martyr’s unique philosophy about life gets its shot at the spotlight as well. Such is the circular logic of martyrdom’s emotional appeal: If you are willing to die for something, you must have found something worth dying for, right? Whether it’s faith, family, country, or love, your devotion to that something is inarguable – and that’s the kind of connection, real and true and deep and meaningful, that everyone searches for in a world where such connections are so frequently shattered. That the GRs voluntarily did much of that shattering to themselves is immaterial. They found something that gave them meaning amid the meaninglessness, something so meaningful they’re willing to die for it as a demonstration.

That demonstration is the highest calling of the true believer, because it’s a way of demonstrating that there are, indeed, true things to believe in. Black-and-white thinking exerts a powerful attraction because it implies an order within the chaos: No matter what it looks like, there is a right thing and a wrong thing, there are ideas that are objectively correct and objectively false. The martyr makes the argument with her body that she has found the objectively correct position, and that it is now easier to die than knowingly embrace the false one. What a relief it must be to know you’re right about anything! We speak of the courage of our convictions, but the comfort of our convictions is just as important.

“Enjoy” is a weird word to use about tonight’s episode of The Leftovers, but it made me think hard about hard things, and I enjoyed it. I reviewed it for Rolling Stone.


“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season One, Episode Nine: “Up Helly Aa”

Monday, July 28th, 2014

In a rare move for, well, pretty much any drama on television, Halt gave its characters a complex personal, professional, and perhaps even moral choice to make in which neither outcome was the clear-cut “right thing to do.” When Gordon guts Cameron’s forward-thinking, interactive OS to cut costs and increase speed, what should Joe do? Siding with Cameron would honor her genuine vision, preserve the one thing that made the Giant unique, keep the hope of an eventual reward for their cutting-edge tech alive, and maintain the romantic relationship that clearly matters a lot to both of them. But it would cost them the only competitive edges – speed and cost – that matter in the face of the Slingshot knockoff’s debut earlier that day, which in turn would cost them the entirety of Cardiff Electric. Fiction in general (and prestige TV dramas in particular) conditions us to root for the maverick, the underdog, and the visionary, so our initial inclination is to pull for Cameron. But Joe’s face as the elevator doors close on her speaks volumes. He knows that her computer would be better. But her better computer likely will never get the chance to exist unless they act now. And the sacrifice their love requires is too steep.

When we see the results of Joe’s decision play out on the convention floor, the issues remain just as complex. His speech about the reprogrammed Giant joylessly champions all-business values, at times echoing Alec Baldwin’s legendary Glengarry Glenn Ross monologue (“Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids”) in its cynicism and intensity. Finding Cameron’s ketchup stain on his notes would normally be a sign he’s about to have a change of heart; watching him power past his qualms, then quietly close the notes away in his briefcase undermines all the expectations a moment like that naturally raises.

Yet there’s genuine fervor in the speech – a chance for Joe’s skill as a salesman to shine, which is his art as much as coding is Cameron’s or engineering is Gordon’s and Donna’s. The presentation is a hit, scoring the Giant a big order with a major retailer. There are even personal victories to echo the loss of Cameron – a loss which, importantly, Joe and Gordon honor during their presentation. Joe’s decision may have cost him Cameron, but it made possible the rapprochement between Gordon and Donna, who at last is credited with her role in the computer’s creation. It also drove a stake through the heart of Hunt and Brian’s sleazy Slingshot project – which is a bit rich, given the similarly unscrupulous way Joe and the gang have gone about everything, but is no less satisfying for it.

In the end, Halt still sends signals that Joe made the wrong choice, if for the right reasons. He and the Clarks share the world’s saddest champagne toast, with the camera lingering on the popped bottle long after such shots normally cut away, transforming its celebratory effervescence into just a spill to be cleaned up. Gordon and Donna are back together, but the events of the day make their demeanor seem miles away from their sweetly sexed-up chemistry of the night before.

Tonight’s Halt and Catch Fire told a morally and emotionally sophisticated story with actual sophistication. I was really impressed. I reviewed it for Rolling Stone.


“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season One, Episode Eight: “The 214s”

Monday, July 21st, 2014

It turns out that “recovery from a mild psychotic break” is a good look for Gordon Clark. For the first time all season, his hair’s groomed and his beard’s neat; he looks comfortable in his clothes instead of like a living mannequin for Short-Sleeved Dress Shirts Warehouse. Actor Scoot McNairy is a handsome guy, after all; now we can see that beneath the beard and the big glasses and the flop sweat, Gordon had something to offer Donna back in the day besides their shared love of electrical engineering.

What’s more, this is a case where you can judge a book by its cover. Now Gordon is able to turn on the charm, bantering effortlessly with  JoeCameron, and Bosworth as they plan for the big COMDEX computer convention before the bank-hacking bust that drives the episode. Even the camera seems captivated: As he reminisces about the party scene the last time he and Donna attended the big show, grinning ear to ear, the camera doesn’t cut away for a second.

Yes, he freaks when he finds out Joe is not taking him, but lots of people would. Plus, he quickly recovers – Gordon has the presence of mind to steal key components of the computer they’ve officially christened “The Giant” when the feds swoop in. He’s also got the vision to keep the project going anyway, the balls to break into the office and steal the rest of the computer, and the charisma to convince both Cameron and Joe to come along for the ride. Pay attention to the way he reassembles the team. It doesn’t just mean good things for Cardiff Electric — it means good things for tonight’s episode, “The 214s,” and for the series itself.

I thought tonight’s episode of Halt and Catch Fire was the best so far, by far. I reviewed it for Rolling Stone. Special shout-out to actor Toby Huss, who’s doing phenomenal work in this show as John Bosworth.


“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season One, Episode Three: “Two Boats and a Helicopter”

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

Aiming for genuine mystery, tonight’s episode — “Two Boats and a Helicopter” — feels instead like an extended Mad-Lib. Key information is repeatedly withheld just for the sake of making people scratch their head, only to be filled in later in the most predictable way possible. It mistakes intricacy for insight, sleight-of-hand for magic. It makes you jump through a series of knee-level hoops to arrive at nowhere special at all. And because it relies so heavily on a structure that showrunner/co-creator/co-writer Damon Lindelof honed during his work on Lost, it’s a worrisome indication that perhaps he’s learned precious little since that show’s conclusion.

The episode resembles nothing so much as a flashback segment from Lost‘s earlier seasons, filling you in on the life of one of the mysterious island’s many castaways before the plane crash that put them there. Only Matt, and all of the other characters, have no magic, monster-stalked tropical paradise to return to every few minutes. When those cuts happened on Lost, they revealed compelling contrasts between the people the castaways used to be – generally damaged in surprising ways – and the people the Island was enabling them to become by forcing them to confront their past. The cuts also told us something thrilling or chilling or both about the science-fantasy nature of the Island itself, showing us that crippled men could walk or that seeming strangers were connected by fate rather than coincidence.

But if you’re gonna tell your story as a series of unlockable riddles instead of as, you know, a story, you’d better have a damn good reason. We know from the start that The Leftovers takes place after the unexplained disappearance of millions of people, and that it follows survivors who struggle to move on and find meaning in their lives. There’s no real mystery about the plight facing Matt – it’s the same plight facing literally everyone else. So what’s the point of this Easter Egg hunt through his life? What does revealing the truth about his wife, his philosophy, his relationship to the four-times-bereaved Nora, his experience on the day of the Sudden Departure in this backwards, clue-finding, code-cracking way actually communicate? Does it advance the themes of the story? Does it show us something about Matt and his world we couldn’t learn in some other, more straightforward way – a way that could actually allow us to dive deep, instead of skimming along the surface until the end of the episode?

Certainly very little else in the episode is any of those things. Of course the church where Matt gave his impassioned sermon about his cancer-stricken youth and the comatose little girl that reminded him of it was gonna be near-empty. Of course the church’s mystery buyers (the show made a big point out of the banker not knowing exactly who they were) were gonna turn out to be the Guilty Remnant. Of course Matt’s wife’s coma was gonna be caused by a Departure-related accident, launching his vendetta against the sanctification of the Departed. Of course the drunken dirtbags who shouldered into Matt’s roulette hot streak were gonna jack him for the cash in the parking lot. Just in case you couldn’t see it coming – which anyone, especially that casino’s abysmally lax security team, should have been able to do – the camera spent a pointlessly long time just staring at Matt in his car, building up a pointless calm before the predictable storm. Like the rest of it, it’s a failed attempt to wring shock and suspense out of a foregone conclusion.

It’s difficult to overstate the failure of tonight’s episode of The Leftovers, which I reviewed for Rolling Stone.


“Halt and Catch Fire” Thoughts, Season One, Episode Seven: “Giant”

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

We don’t wanna jinx it, but…has Halt and Catch Fire started to become an interesting show?

“Interesting show” is about as far as it goes, mind you. If each episode weren’t still stuffed with predictable plotting, semi-cringeworthy dialogue, endless hostility, and scenes as joylessly functional as the boring beige box containing Cardiff’s portable PC, “good show” might roll more easily off the tongue. But there’s enough in tonight’s wildly emotional episode — “Giant” — to indicate that last week’s stormy spectacle wasn’t a one-off fluke. The performances are improving. The relationships are deepening. And the likelihood that Halt will show us something we haven’t seen before is growing.

Halt and Catch Fire is still full of time-wasting drama-by-numbers shit, but it’s at least getting emotionally sticky. I reviewed tonight’s episode for Rolling Stone.


“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season One, Episode Six: “Landfall”

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Perhaps it’s perverse, then, to claim the show itself got real in the very episode where it laid on the artifice the thickest. After all, one of its standout sequences was a dream, and the other was an unexpected visual-effects hurricane freakout that would look at home in Game of Thrones‘ Westeros. But both Gordon’s nightmare about a flower growing in his precious circuitry and his real-world run-in with the storm gave heft and flair to his same-old struggles with work, family, and white-collar frustration.

They were surprising and funny, for starters. The sight of a man in glasses staring at the tiny flower amid all the electronics recalled similar moments of tiny untameable elements driving the obsessive Walter White entertainingly batshit in Breaking Bad; meanwhile, the escalating fury of the weather and the soundtrack alike hilariously highlighted the absurdity Gordon’s standoff with the Cabbage Patch Kid display window. The latter was almost Sopranos-esque in how it turned the stuff of suburban life into the stuff of quixotic vision quests.

And they were simply beautiful to look at, too. Who needs Gordon’s umpteenth harried conversation with Donna when we can watch him grasping for a flower growing just out of reach? Who needs another shot of Joe in his underwear silhouetted against his window when you can watch for several seemingly endless seconds as Gordon steps into the middle of the street to see the full electric-gray majesty of nature at its most malevolent? Even as good as Joe’s revelation wound up being, doesn’t the wordless sight of a father, dolls clutched in his arm, coming face to face with an electrocuted corpse communicate just as much about the frailty of family? Don’t forget how Gordon’s dream ended: His finger touched the machine’s innards, and he electrocuted himself awake.

Over at Rolling Stone I explain why I liked tonight’s Halt and Catch Fire, which was visually inventive and featured a stronger than usual performance from the heretofore disappointing Lee Pace.


“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two: “Penguin One, Us Zero”

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Despite its fundamentally supernatural premise, The Leftovers posits a world in which it’s precisely this proof of powers-that-be that renders human life finally and fundamentally meaningless. Whatever’s responsible for the Sudden Departure, it’s not answering our phone calls. Things still just happen, and no one’s responsible. But when you’re a writer, the opposite is true. Everything you put on the page got there because you decided it belonged. You’ve got the power to take any stock character who serves a purpose, any rote plot point that exists to get you from A to B, and twist it into some new shape before soldering it into place. Meg’s indoctrination could be unique. Holy Wayne could be a kind of cult leader we haven’t seen before. Kevin Sr. could have simply been crazy, instead of the umpteenth potential prophet-in-disguise. But Lindelof and series writer/source-material author Tom Perrotta didn’t bother. Where were the Guilty Remnant and their protest placards when we needed them?

Over at Rolling Stone I explain why I didn’t like tonight’s episode of The Leftovers, which suddenly started doing stuff we’ve all seen a million times before. You never have to do that.


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

Monday, June 30th, 2014

No, The Leftovers is not easy viewing. But nor is it callous or thoughtless in how it ladles out the misery, or in how it asks you to view the misanthropes. Unlike so many of its recent prestige-TV competitors, the story is not about its protagonists’ greed, but their grieving. Shot with handheld-camera immediacy and enlivened by visual details that are creepy, moving, even darkly funny – sometimes all at once – the show keeps its focus on those who feel pain, not those who cause it, and is much the better for it.

Set three years after the sudden, unexplained disappearance of two percent of the world’s population on October 14 – a date that lives in 9/11-style infamy in the show’s just-slightly-science-fictional America – the pilot further distinguishes itself by avoiding the usual themes of post-apocalyptic fiction. The society that the New York suburb of Mapleton represents has not disintegrated: school’s in session, reality-TV dating shows are still a hot topic of conversation, people sing along to oldies on the radio. This, it seems, is exactly what’s making everyone so miserable. When you’ve lost so much and the world doesn’t end, it’s almost insulting to be forced to go on.

To my surprise, I thought the pilot of The Leftovers was very good. I reviewed it for Rolling Stone and also talked quite a bit about co-creator/showrunner Damon Lindelof’s last show, I dunno, maybe you watched it.


“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five: “Adventure”

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Moments of cooperation and admiration are vital in workplace dramas, no matter how contentious things get. Breaking Bad‘s spectacular middle seasons would have failed if Walt, Jesse, Gus, and Mike had always been at each other’s throats without ever establishing the well-oiled machine that made their empire hum. Mad Men wouldn’t work if Peggy and Pete didn’t genuinely respect Don’s talent, or if Don didn’t overcome his selfishness to support his protégés. People make animated GIF sets out of the moments Don and Peggy have held hands for a reason, you know?

I reviewed tonight’s Halt and Catch Fire for Rolling Stone.


“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season One, Episode Four: “Close to the Metal”

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

The human resources file on this episode is gonna be a doozy, folks.

The good men and women of Cardiff Electronics are working overtime to create the fastest, most portable PC on the market. What does this entail? Project manager Joe MacMillan steals whiz-kid programmer Cameron Chase‘s back-up files, fries her computer, gives her a panic attack, and convinces her and everyone else that all the work is lost. Engineer Gordon Clark physically assaults Cameron in response. Joe, his boss John Bosworth, and a reporter from the Wall Street Quarterly repeatedly threaten each other (off the record) over the contents of the reporter’s eventual article. Cameron responds to being insulted by Gordon and his data-retrieval expert wife Donna by teaching their kids how to make a homemade flamethrower, breaking into their home, and preparing to trash the place. She’s interrupted only by her former coworker, Brian who’s also broken into the house and is wielding a shotgun. Finally, Bosworth has Joe pulled over, beaten, and arrested by friendly cops to teach him a lesson.

When that Wall Street Quarterly reporter writes his eventual tell-all book Cardiff: The Little Computer Company That Could and the Sociopaths Responsible, this single day will require a whole chapter, and no one will believe it anyway.

And frankly, neither should we. The pointless and instantaneous hostility between the characters has been one of Halt and Catch Fire‘s biggest flaws since the pilot. In “Close to the Metal,” the show uses the company’s dire straits and high-stakes visit by the press as an excuse to ratchet that hostility up even higher. The question they don’t ask: Who cares?

I reviewed last night’s Halt and Catch Fire for Rolling Stone. I feel like this show is what the people who complain about Game of Thrones being a relentless downer think Game of Thrones is, only, you know, no one gets stabbed in the mouth.


The Top 10 Greatest Moments from “Game of Thrones” Season Four

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Like the superheroes of a post-Christopher Nolan world, fantasy in the era of Game of Thrones could too easily become a genre where “dark and realistic” is automatically equated with quality. Thank goodness this show realizes that when you make an epic fantasy, you sometimes need to hack “realistic” to pieces with a small army of sword-wielding reanimated skeletons. The final obstacle in Bran Stark’s vision quest, the skeletons — like the giants, the mammoth, the 50-foot ice scythe, the dragons, the direwolves, the White Walkers, and the Wall itself — was a reminder that fantasy can speak to us with pure spectacle, the way great music conveys something that just reading a song’s lyric sheet can’t touch.

I listed the best moments from Game of Thrones Season Four for Rolling Stone, trying to capture a range of moments and moods.


“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season One, Episode Three: “High Plains Hardware”

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Cameron’s joyless episode-ending booty call to Joe is yet another example of Halt‘s dire depiction of sex solely as a means of marking territory or venting aggression. Ditto Joe’s left-field tryst with Travis, the closeted arm candy for the would-be investor played by Jean Smart: What seemed at first like both a revealing character development and a refreshing fuck-you to the relentless heterosexuality of TV antiheroes was quickly revealed to be just another business maneuver.

While displays of dominance and lack of emotional investment are inexplicably popular drivers of TV sex scenes, they have almost no bearing on sexual relationships (however brief) in the real world, which result from a complex cocktail of emotional compulsion. To make a comparison invited by AMC itself: From its very first episode, Mad Men made its sex scenes sexy by using them to show its alpha males at their most vulnerable. Even at the apex of his ladies’-man days, Don Draper still looked flushed and moony-eyed every time he made a move, not like some kind of dead-eyed sex shark. Sex is everybody’s weakness. If you turn it into armor every time, you lose a chance to reach your characters where they really live.

Halt and Catch Fire got not-so-good again this past weekend; I reviewed it for Rolling Stone.


“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Ten: “The Children”

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Intimacy and grandiosity, empathy and brutality – Game of Thrones doesn’t just straddle these lines, it water-dances on both sides at once. So you get a skeleton-army attack out of a Ray Harryhausen Saturday-matinee movie and a domestic-violence murder out of a Michael Haneke art-house joint. You get an elf lobbing magic fireballs at zombies like something out of Dungeons & Dragons, and a man getting shot to death in a bathroom like something out of a mob movie. Jon Snow strides into the wilding camp, allowing himself to be surrounded and subdued — then Stannis and Davos charge into it on horseback, killing at will. Beautiful, peaceful, dead Ygritte on her bier or comatose, rotting, living Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane on Qyburn’s mad-science operating table — take your pick. You get the Hound repeatedly begging for death, and Tyrion repeatedly apologizing for causing it.

And it’s never stronger than when the care feeds the cruelty. Look at the episode’s two strongest sequences: Tyrion’s escape and the Hound’s last stand. Tyrion is the more or less undisputed fan-favorite character of the series; his framing and trial for murder was the season’s central storyline. The Imp’s emergence from his family’s hideous shadow has been crucial to the whole series since Peter Dinklage got top billing at the start of Season Two. But his great escape first sees him choke his ex-girlfriend to death, then murder his own father while the elder man takes a shit. Now he’s locked in a box literally and figuratively – set to stew in rage, resentment, and regret most likely for the rest of his life. This, it argues, is the inevitable consequence of greatness.

By contrast, Brienne and the Hound should theoretically be spared this kind of final reckoning. They’re both ronin, masterless misfits who don’t fit in with any side in the War of Five Kings. They even have the same motive: protecting the Stark sisters. Yet the show concocts a confrontation for them that’s nowhere to be found in the source material, taking two beloved characters and crushing them against one another until only one’s left standing. It basically weaponizes the affection we feel for them.

A lot of viewers bang their heads against this kind of dichotomy. Sometimes Game of Thrones is a widescreen epic fantasy, other times it’s a small-scale study of violent lives, and it’s a struggle both to anticipate and appreciate whatever you wind up getting. The answer is to stop struggling. At its best – and “The Children” is certainly this show at its wide and wild best — Game of Thrones is all of these things, simultaneously.

I reviewed GoT’s sprawling season finale for Rolling Stone.


“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two: “FUD”

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Halt’s first proper installment plays in many ways like a response video to the pilot: It does to the pilot’s hackneyed presentation of alpha-male antihero tropes what Joe apparently did to IBM’s data center before he disappeared — damage, and lots of it. And just like IBM, who cashed in on an insurance windfall after Joe’s top-secret rampage, the series emerges from the rubble better off.

This time, we watch Joe reap what he’s sown. The smirking, swaggering arrogance that made him so grating in the pilot turns out to be just that – grating (and, we find out, unearned) arrogance. He’s so fixated on his grand vision of a new era in personal computing, so focused on coercing and cajoling his underlings and accomplices into playing ball, that he completely misses the totally obvious tools of retaliation at his former employer’s disposal. We later learn from IBM’s chief goon that he’s not just overconfident; he may be actually crazy. Hell, the best line in his pep talk, the bit about putting a ding in the universe, is stolen from Steve Jobs. “You were just pretending,” his mousy engineer Gordon Clark marvels. “You’re like one of those guys who goes out and reads The Catcher in the Rye too many times and then decides to shoot a Beatle — only in this story, I’m the Beatle.” This is the show stomping all over its own lead character’s sophistry and sociopathy, and it’s glorious to watch.

I reviewed last night’s Halt and Catch Fire for Rolling Stone. I liked it a lot more than the pilot.


“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Nine: “The Watchers on the Wall”

Monday, June 9th, 2014

In the middle of its biggest battle since Season Two’s carnage at Blackwater, Game of Thrones takes us on a tour, via tonight’s episode, of Castle Black. Our guides just happen to be busy killing people.

We start with Jon Snow. He’s just brought reinforcements to the castle’s courtyard from the top of the Wall, and after killing his way through half a dozen wildlings, he pauses to survey the carnage. As he runs down the stairs to resume the fight, the camera leaves him, swooping across the chaos of the courtyard until it finds Jon’s former lover and would-be killer — the archer Ygritte. She draws and looses, and the camera moves on again to the axe-wielding, bald-headed barbarian Styr, leader of the cannibal Thenns. The camera moves again, and it’s back up another flight of stairs with Tormund Giantsbane, the red-headed ringleader of the raiding party. Then we take one last pass across the courtyard and its countless killings until the camera at last finds Sam Tarly, on a mission to free the great white wolf Ghost and even the fight.

It takes 43 seconds to make the circuit of Castle Black – 43 seconds involving dozens of performers and stuntmen arrayed across a multi-level set, shot without a single cut. Like all great action filmmaking, that shot rooted us in a specific environment, and did so clearly enough that you could practically give a tour of it yourself now if you were paying close attention. The stakes of every sword stroke were crystal clear – kill your man or you lose this patch of ground, and this one, and so on until there’s no more left to lose. It’s not just a choppily edited jumble of indistinguishable hacking and slashing; it’s the battle for Castle Black, and you are there.

My review of last night’s Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone also doubles as a sort of “How to Make Action Cinema and Why” manifesto. I hope you like it.


“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “I/O”

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Maybe you can already see the problem here: Who gives a shit about another master-of-the-universe type treating his industry of choice and everyone in it like Tony Montana’s proverbial giant chicken just waiting to get plucked? (We’re using the dialogue as it would air on AMC, of course.) Sure, Lee Pace is a handsome guy – he has the face of an ecstatic saint in a Renaissance portrait – but we’ve been watching Jon Hamm perfect this routine for seven years now. Halt runs into the same problem the nascent personal-computer industry it chronicles is facing: Why innovate when it’s so much easier to duplicate? Complete with a mysterious past, and an opening title card that explains the name of the show! Something got reverse-engineered here, but I think Matt Weiner should be more worried than IBM.

Abort, Retry, Fail? I wasn’t crazy about last night’s series premiere of Halt and Catch Fire, which I reviewed for Rolling Stone.


“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Eight: “The Mountain and the Viper”

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

It all comes back to the Mountain and the Viper, really. For all his decadent swagger, Prince Oberyn was genuinely a man out for justice against people who committed monstrous war crimes against his innocent family. Yet it’s his insistence that Gregor Clegane die as punishment for those crimes, instead of just because he’s the dude who got tapped to represent the prosecution in Tyrion’s trial, that gets him killed in turn. And so, an admitted rapist and murderer crushes a man’s head with his hands, and in so doing insures that an innocent man will die for a crime he didn’t commit. That horrifying special effect was as symbolic a spectacle as any Fourth of July fireworks display – a bright-red tribute to Game of Thrones’ central contention that power is the only thing that matters, and any claims to the contrary are as hollow as a shattered skull.

—Head like a hole: I reviewed last night’s Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.


“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Seven: “Mockingbird”

Monday, May 19th, 2014
“You cannot give up on the gravy.” So declares Hot Pie, former running buddy of Arya Stark and budding Great Chef of Westeros, to an unappreciative Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne. All they signed up for was a square meal and a place to spend the night on their quest for Sansa Stark. Instead, they get a monologue from a refugee from Flea Bottom who can’t stop talking about what makes for a good pie. Eventually, the kid gives them information they find a bit more useful: Arya’s alive and headed for her crazy aunt Lysa’s place. He also dropped some science: Westeros may be a hellhole of murder and deception, but individual moments of pleasure and kindness are all the more vital for it. Ice demons, zombies, dragons, giant sword-wielding maniacs, it doesn’t matter: You cannot give up on the gravy.

Or the hot sauce, for that matter. For all that we critique the show’s handling of nudity and sexuality, we should probably also celebrate it when it’s, you know, sexy. To wit: Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, getting some of that Daario D. Henry Kissinger once called power “the ultimate aphrodisiac,” but it’s unlikely he realized that it applies not just for those in the presence of power, but for those who wield it as well. Dany is intoxicated by her command of this swaggering sellsword, and the master/servant dynamic she establishes by making him drop trou in front of her – and the audience, woo-hoo! – is intensely erotic. The look on her face as she stares at Daario’s exposed Naharis? Hot as dragonfire.

I reviewed last night’s Game of Thrones episode for Rolling Stone, and for once I got to write as much about sex as I did about violence. Wheeeeeeeeeeee


The 40 Best Cult TV Comedies Ever

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

“31. ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’
Sure, they did it out loud in front of a big screen (or at least their silhouettes did) back then while we do it now by livetweeting the latest episode of Scandal. But in a twist stranger than any of the countless B-movies they watched, MST3K – in which a human and two robots watched bad movies and made fun of them the whole time — basically became our culture. Not bad for a show that started out on a local Minneapolis TV station, though keeping the microscopically low budget and cosplayers-at-a-comic-con aesthetic was a brilliant move; the low-rent feel is part of the charm. The later schism between hosts Joel Hogdson and Mike Nelson has caused almost as much intra-nerd strife as Kirk/Picard or Edward/Jacob — still, we’ve all put our faith in Blast Hardcheese.”

I helped write a countdown of the greatest cult-tv comedy series ever for Rolling Stone. It was fun!