Posts Tagged ‘vulture’

30 Movies to Watch If You Like ‘Stranger Things’ [or Don’t!]

October 25, 2017

The Last Unicorn (1982)

One of the most beautiful, melancholy, magical, and genuinely adult animated features in American film history. This adaptation of fantasist Peter S. Beagle’s novel comes to us courtesy of Rankin/Bass Productions and Japanese animation studio Topcraft — the former responsible for the stop-motion Christmas classics Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, the latter eventually evolving into Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli. Together, they produced the J.R.R. Tolkien cartoons The Hobbit and The Return of the King, plus this gut-punch of a film, about a unicorn who becomes trapped in the body of a young human woman. With a body-horror subtext worthy of Cronenberg and a ridiculously impressive voice cast (Mia Farrow, Jeff Bridges, Christopher Lee, Angela Lansbury, and Alan Arkin), it’s like a cross between Stranger Things and a story from the Dungeons & Dragons game its characters play.

Paperhouse (1988)

Directed by Bernard Rose — who would later adapt Hellraiser writer-director Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” into the acclaimed urban-horror film Candyman — this harrowing supernatural/surrealist film centers on an 11-year-old girl who discovers her dreams and drawings are coming to life and consuming her reality. She’s got to figure out how to take charge and reassert control. Paperhouse is what I think of when Stranger Things is at its best.

Let the Right One In (2008)

Recast the relationship between Eleven and Mike Wheeler as a tragedy instead of a heroic fantasy, and you might wind up with this morbid proto-romance between a bullied kid and the young vampire who simultaneously befriends, protects, and uses him. There’s stuff going on here about abuse and loneliness, for characters of all ages, that digs way deeper than anything Stranger Things has done; if Netflix’s series is a 101 entry-level course, this is graduate work.

What should you watch after (or instead of) Stranger Things and its obnoxiously titled second season Stranger Things 2? Whether you like or dislike the show, I think I’ve got you covered with the list of 30 movies I wrote for Vulture.

Game of Thrones’ Kristofer Hivju on Tormund’s Fate, That Huge Cliffhanger, and His Wish List for Season 8

September 2, 2017

One of the big themes of the show is putting aside differences to fight the common threat. As the wildling who made peace with the Night’s Watch, Tormund lives the values that Jon and Davos are preaching.

Yeah, exactly. It’s something my mother said to me today, actually: “Forgiveness is the most difficult way to go forward, but it’s still the only way.” You have to turn the page and let bygones be bygones. It’s nice to play a character who has that ability, because there’s so much revenge and the wish to kill each other in this show. It’s nice to have a character that’s able to turn the page and get the overall view. And it’s a skill of necessity, because you have to adapt or else you’re lost.

Your mom makes a great point. Revenge is a major plot driver for a huge number of story lines, but it’s not on Tormund’s mind at all.
No. His mentor and father figure was Mance Rayder, who gathered all the Free Folk for the reason of taking down the Night’s Watch and secure his people — but by war. That didn’t work, and I think, hopefully, that Tormund has learned from his mentor’s mistakes. I’m reflecting on the line [about Mance] that really surprised me when I came to it, in episode six, when Tormund says to Jon, “How many died for his pride because he didn’t kneel?” That’s a perspective I didn’t see coming from him.

I interviewed the marvelous Kristofer Hivju about Tormund Giantsbane and his current Schrödinger’s-cat state in Game of Thrones for Vulture.

“Game of Thrones”’ Isaac Hempstead Wright Debunks the Night King Theory

August 30, 2017

Congratulations on creeping everybody out this season.

[Laughs.] Yeah, sorry about that. There were some cool bits to get to play, less so that creepy moment with Sansa. That was weird. I don’t think Bran meant that in a weird way; I don’t think he’s trying to freak his sister out by going, “Yeah, I know everything. Don’t fuck with me.” It’s more like Bran is processing everything he’s seen, like, “I’ve seen you there. That happened to you. I’m sorry for what happened to you.” Bran has lost that emotional connection. He just states what he sees in an almost autistic way, not really connecting with things but just saying how they are.

Saying “chaos is a ladder” to Littlefinger was so cool, though. I felt so badass in that scene, like, “Chaos is a ladder … yeeaaaah. How do you like that, Littlefinger?”

I went deep on Bran’s powers and motives as the Three-Eyed Raven with Isaac Hempstead Wright for Vulture.

“Game of Thrones” Director Jeremy Podeswa on Shooting That Gigantic Season Finale

August 30, 2017

Beyond Sansa and Arya’s rapprochement, the episode ends with Dany and Jon’s love scene and the fall of the Wall.

Yeah. It’s what the whole show is talking about, really, and why there is a summit at the Dragonpit in the first place. The show is so much about people fighting for power and one-upmanship and control, but at the end of the day, it’s a metaphor for life. Whatever we try — to be rich, to be happy — death is unavoidable. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, it doesn’t matter how much love you have. At the end of the day, it’s all heading that way. It puts all this gamesmanship and fight for power in relief, and it’s a big part of what this show is about.

Coming so hot on the heels of the Jon and Dany scene, which was about life and love and all those powerful forces, I was really struck by the shot you did of the zombies just watching as the Night King and the dragon destroy the Wall. There was an awful sense of violation about that.

Something that Game of Thrones always does successfully is that action sequences are never just action sequences. There’s always a point of view, and you’re always identifying with one person or one group of people. I think in this case, it’s not that you identify with the White Walkers, but there is a strange consciousness among them. It’s not spectacle just for the sake of spectacle. There’s actually a human drama that’s being played out here, and in this case this is the implacable enemy. It’s the forces of death over the forces of life. You have to believe in them as a kind of real, living, breathing, sentient mass.

The way to create drama in a sequence like this is by making it about these figures, not just about a Wall coming down. It’s really about the forces of good versus evil, and evil has a face.

I got to ask director Jeremy Podeswa about one of my favorite shots in the finale, as well as all kinds of stuff about the Dragonpit summit, Lena Headey, Aidan Gillen, and more, for Vulture.

Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham on the Dragonpit Summit, Davos’s Sex Appeal, and Why He Hasn’t Read the Books

August 29, 2017

I’ll try to be circumspect here: Many of my female friends like you a lot. Is this something you’ve noticed?

You know what? As I like to say, the star of Game of Thrones is Game of Thrones. The show is the star. I love the whole ensemble aspect of it. The best work I’ve ever done has been ensemble work, not leading-man stuff. I love doing character roles.

I think there is a certain amount of … [pauses.] Because there are so many morally ambiguous characters in this, maybe some of your female friends have daddy issues or something like that, because Davos would certainly make a wonderful father. Listen, I’d love to be like Davos. I aspire to be that man. You know where you are with this guy. He has a sense of fun, and he’s not fearful of life. As he said to Stannis, he’s not fearful of his death, either. He’s a guy you’d love in your corner. He’s a quiet hero. He’s kind of what we all aspire to be. But if it’s anything other than that, you need to speak to your friends. [Laughs.]

I interviewed Liam Cunningham, Game of Thrones’ Ser Davos Seaworth and a thoroughly delightful man, for Vulture.

Every “Game of Thrones” Episode, Ranked from Worst to Best

August 28, 2017

14. “The Dragon and the Wolf” (Season 7, Episode 7)
The giant-size finale of what was simultaneously the series’ shortest and most epic season played like a Game of Thrones superfan’s winning bingo card. Jon and Daenerys finally hooked up, even as we learned for certain that they’re related. Jaime and Cersei finally split up, as the Kingslayer realized his sister is beyond even his concepts of morality. The Stark siblings put an end to Littlefinger’s reign of error. Winter comes to King’s Landing as snow falls on the capital. And the Night King unleashed his zombie dragon’s blue fire to send the ice of the Wall plummeting to earth, allowing his undead army to pass through. The end is nigh, folks.

I revisited, revised, and fully updated my ranking of all 67 episodes of Game of Thrones thus far in ascending order of quality for Vulture.

“Game of Thrones” Director Alan Taylor on the One Battle Scene He Improvised

August 24, 2017

People like to nitpick on Twitter, obviously, and a lot of the focus of discussion about the episode was stuff like, “How did he throw the spear that far? Why didn’t he throw it before? How did Jon not die of hypothermia?” As a filmmaker, do you prepare for that kind of response?

Yes. We really do care about believability. There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into making the dragons as believable as possible. It’s funny: The most unbelievable things, like lizards as big as 747s that can throw flames, people don’t have any concerns about the reality of that. It’s the smaller things that people get hung up on. I don’t dismiss it, because it’s important for us to tell the story in a way that that doesn’t get in the way for too many people. I have no problem with the way the Night King throws his spear, and the fact that it does kill a dragon and knocks it out of the sky. I think that’s fine. I think haggling over that is ridiculous. I get people’s time-frame concerns — you know, “Gendry must be running really fast! The ravens must be flying really fast!” [Laughs.]

I think if the show was struggling, it would be a drag to have people getting distracted by this stuff, but obviously the show’s doing pretty well, and it’s working. So when things like this come along, they’re plausible impossibilities. You’re hoping that even if something doesn’t quite add up, if it works within the story for us, it can carry the day. So for me, I think we were aware of the time thing, and I was thinking, Okay, if you say that Gendry is really fast, which I’m willing to say, and if you say ravens are super good at what they do, which I think you can say, and if you say the time on the island is a bit hazy because it’s an eternal twilight up there north of the Wall, so we’re not really sure how much time has passed, that’s an episode where the calculation of minutes fades away and you just sort of enjoy the story. But I did read one review where the guy got his calculator out and he could not get over the raven-speed. [Laughs.]

I interviewed “Beyond the Wall” director Alan Taylor about returning to Game of Thrones, the Sansa and Arya scenes, the big battle, the logistical issues, and more for Vulture. I think I got a lot of good stuff out of him and I hope you enjoy it.

The 10 Best “Game of Thrones” Battles, Ranked

August 24, 2017

2. Battle of the Bastards, “Battle of the Bastards” (Season 6, Episode 9)

Ramsay Bolton got his comeuppance, Rickon Stark’s short life came to an end, Wun Wun the giant went out in a blaze of glory, Sansa Stark pulled Jon’s ass from the fire, House Stark recaptured Winterfell after years in the wilderness: You know all the details about season six’s climactic confrontation. But it’s the visual component of the Battle of the Bastards that makes it so memorable. At one point, the fighting between Jon and Ramsay’s forces was so horrific that the dead bodies piled up into a literal pile — a physical obstacle that the fighters had to climb above or drown beneath. Every speech Jon or Davos ever made about the folly of fighting each other was made real in this moment, which turned the mass murder of warfare into an actual geographical feature of the battle. It was a moment of macabre beauty, power, and tragedy.

I ranked ten of the biggest battles in Game of Thrones history for Vulture. The Number One choice may surprise you!

Game of Thrones’ Jerome Flynn on Bronn’s Fate and That Terrifying Dragon Battle: ‘I Wasn’t Acting Too Much’

August 19, 2017

Bronn’s charm has completely won me over, but he still has a touch of that dark side in him. Like, after the battle where he took a shot at Dany’s dragon, my sister texted me and said, “Am I the only one who was rooting for Daenerys? Bronn’s an ass.”

[Laughs.] Well, I suppose it’s like any good writing, like with Shakespeare. I just try to keep him Bronn, which is a nice journey to roll with, and I give myself over to what he gives himself to. If I was trying to play him dark or anything, I’d just be playing what’s coming through.

When I auditioned for the part, I had no idea what sort of show it was going to be, or even what it was. I hadn’t read any of the books. But there was something in the writing that came through. I couldn’t ignore his sense of humor, these different sides to him, and how he does what he needs to do. The dragon annihilated thousands of soldiers — he had to do something, didn’t he? There was a lot on the line.

It’s amazing. I was just talking to George before this — people’s responses have been quite extreme. The thing about this season is that all these characters are coming together. It’s been easier to separate them before, but suddenly they’re in conflict. People who like Bronn also love Daenerys and the dragons. My postman doesn’t speak to me anymore because of that! [Laughs.] So it’s gonna happen, isn’t it? That’s Bronn. That’s true Bronn. That position he got himself in is a combination of courage, doing what he has to do, and looking after number one. And that’s what makes people love him: He’s so honest! It’s interesting when it comes to dragons and Daenerys, because that’s sacred territory.

I interviewed the marvelous Jerome Flynn about Bronn’s recent doings on Game of Thrones for Vulture.

How Game of Thrones’ Fiery Battle Came Together

August 8, 2017

Sean T. Collins: Near the end of the battle, there’s a shot of two white horses who are hitched to a wagon that’s on fire. They’re desperately trying to run away from it, but of course they’re attached to it and can’t. Both the audience and some of the characters watch it happen. It really got to me, and a lot of other people too. What was the origin of that image?

Matt Shakman: We wanted something that was iconic and that could fit in the “all is lost” moment, something that really helped tell the story of the horrors of war, and something that could unite Tyrion and Jaime. Both of them are looking at the same image at the same time; it helps you understand where they are in the battlefield in relationship to each other, and that they’re both having the same experience as the potential end of the Lannisters is happening in front of them.

A few years ago [in season five’s ninth episode, “The Dance of Dragons”] there was the burning horse in Stannis’ camp. It’s quite a horrific image, as the horse runs by fully on fire. We talked about images like that. But then it became more compelling to do this idea of a wagon on fire, with the horses fleeing even as they’re still tethered to it. You have this idea of the wagon train that was supposed to be orderly and safe and heading to King’s Landing — now here it is, off in the wild, dragging flames behind it. I felt like it was a pretty good image to tell the story of the horror of that moment.

I interviewed director Matt Shakman about filming the battle sequence in this week’s Game of Thrones, “The Spoils of War,” for Vulture. Fun fact: Shakman also directed “Mystery Date,” the episode that kicked off Mad Men’s run of back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back masterpieces during Season Five.

Game of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel on Missandei and Grey Worm’s Sex Scene: ‘It Was So Much More Than Just Two People Making Love’

July 26, 2017

Grey Worm was reluctant to take off his clothes, but Missandei insisted, saying, “I want to see you.” It reminded me of a line from one of the show’s other most romantic scenes, when Jon Snow and Ygritte are in the cave in season three and she tells him, “I want you to see me.” They both demonstrate that when you take your clothes off in front of someone you care about, it’s not just about turning them on. It’s vulnerable.

It is. In fact, it’s a trust thing too: I want to see you, and I want you to see me in my most vulnerable state. I’m scared, but I’m here. It’s the most vulnerable place you can put yourself, essentially. And I think this is a unique thing. Everyone knows that intimacy can be so scary when it’s someone you care about, but it’s especially so for Grey Worm, because he’s in a unique situation with his mutilation. His letting her take his clothes off is such a huge deal, because he probably never considered himself able to be intimate or a lover for any woman. The fact that he loves her is huge for her. It just shows how true their connection is. It’s a really beautiful thing.

A lot of people just focus on the mechanical nature of consummating their love. I think people have to stop and consider what consummating their love entails for these two characters, because of the fact that Grey Worm has that injury. People consider the anatomy of it and the mechanical nature of it, so they forget the emotional weight of it for these two characters — to be that vulnerable with each other, considering where they came from. Grey Worm has the obvious situation of having been castrated. And Missandei touching a man out of love and care, and with intimacy … no doubt, from where she’s come from, any sexual contact she’s had has been forced upon her. So for them, this is a huge moment. Almost like they’re essentially doing it for the first time, like they’re virgins exploring each other’s bodies. It’s a huge thing.

It’s not to say that what they do physically is unimportant, but the real consummation of their love is, as you say, seeing each other.

It’s almost not physical, which is so lovely about it.

I was very happy to speak with Nathalie Emmanuel about Missandei and Grey Worm’s love scene in the most recent episode of Game of Thrones for Vulture.

Game of Thrones’ John Bradley Reveals What Was Actually Inside Those Bedpans: ‘Soaking-Wet Fruitcake’

July 20, 2017

Before we tackle the big issues, I’ve got to ask: What was in those bedpans?

Well, if you want to re-create human feces onscreen, the best thing to do is to use soaking-wet fruitcake and mold it into the shape of turds. The thing about wet fruitcake is, when you see it for the first time at 6:30 in the morning, it’s fresh. But when you get to 5 in the afternoon and you’ve been shooting all day, and the wet fruitcake has been in the water and under the hot lights all day, it starts to become only slightly less unpleasant than the real thing.

I recently found out, because our producer Bryan Cogman reminded me on Twitter, that while I was shooting that sequence on my own over five days, the rest of the cast were at the Emmys! They were on the red carpet in L.A. while I was on my own in Belfast, dry-heaving and pretending to scrape shit out of the bedpan. The balance is a little bit off here.

You’re like Sam, sacrificing for the greater good.

Yeah, though I was even less happy about it than Sam seemed to be. I totally forgot they were even there! I think they tried to make me forget, and not notice this kind of injustice writ large. [Laughs.]

But no, I needed to be able to shoot that sequence. It was so fragmented in those little five-second shots, so I didn’t get a sense of the overall shape until I saw it all edited together, but I knew it was going to be something special. It’s something that was never quite done on Game of Thrones. We’d never done an edited montage like that. It’s a comic set piece with such a different kind of flavor that it took people by surprise. I love the fact that we are able to take risks, because we do abandon the formula and introduce new elements and styles to it.

I think that’s why people keep coming back. Even after six seasons and 60 hours of TV, you never know quite what to expect. That could be a character dying or a pivotal plot development, or just a funny little montage they weren’t expecting. There’s so much scope to surprise people, and it’s something that Game of Thrones mines very thoroughly, and always has.

I interviewed John Bradley about Samwell Tarly, bravery, morality, and fake poop for Vulture. It’s been a while since I’ve interviewed someone from the show, but my streak of discovering that every single cast member has put a great deal of thought into their character, their performance, and the world they inhabit remains unbroken here.  Anyway, I’m psyched to be speaking to the cast and crew of the show for Vulture throughout the season, just like I did for Rolling Stone back in the day.

Thought Leader

June 30, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-06-30 at 11.24.39 PM

I really couldn’t ask for a more delightful criticism of my Game of Thrones Evil Rankings than Ross Douthat defending the High Sparrow

Every Major Game of Thrones Character, Ranked From Good to Evil

June 29, 2017

Jon Snow
A reformer with results. Ned Stark’s (alleged) bastard rose from the ranks to become Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, then rose from the dead after his underlings murdered him for being too humane to their lifelong enemies, the wildlings. He then helped liberate the North from the bloody grasp of House Bolton. He’s also a generous lover (“You know nothing, Jon Sn — oh!”), a secret Targaryen prince, and most likely the messiah.

Sansa Stark
There’s a line in George R.R. Martin’s books about how alone among the Baratheon brothers, Robert was “the true steel,” strong and sharp and flexible and durable. Out of the Stark siblings, Sansa is the true steel. She’s shaken off a short lifetime of sexist princess stories, survived the lethal court intrigues of King’s Landing, weathered the untoward attentions of Littlefinger and the Hound, outlived her rapist Ramsay Bolton, and saved her brother Jon’s life. It’s possible that Petyr Baelish may win her over to the dark side, but until that happens, she’s on the side of the angels.

Eddard Stark
Ned is dead, but he didn’t deserve to be. He made moral compromises over the course of his life, from lying to his wife Catelyn and everyone else about Jon’s parentage (including Jon himself) to playing the game of thrones alongside his dissolute old friend King Robert. But in the end, he sacrificed his honor to save his daughters’ lives. It’s not his fault that Cersei, Joffrey, and Littlefinger repaid his kindness with a knife in the back and a sword through the neck.

93 Shades of Gray: Because I am insane, I ranked every major Game of Thrones character in ascending order of evilness for Vulture. This trio of faves is on the good end of the spectrum.

8 Comics You Need to Read This June

June 14, 2017

Mirror Mirror II by various (2dcloud)

There was a time when you could rely on comic books for bone-deep terror — the early-1950s was the heyday of horror tales produced by publishers like EC Comics. Alas, that heyday was cut short by a moral panic and a subsequent regime of censorship, and horror comics never quite recovered as a phenomenon. Thank goodness, then, for Mirror Mirror II, a new collection of short horror pieces edited by Sean T. Collins (who is a contributor to Vulture) and Julia Gfrörer. It awakens the long-underused genre and pushes your fear buttons in ways you could never have anticipated. It’s hard to pick the most memorably mind-devouring portion: Is it cartoonist Mou’s tale of a guy who one day finds himself painfully ejaculating letters that spell out a set of cryptic sentences? Or filmmaker Clive Barker’s painted vignettes of savaged and distorted human figures? Or Al Columbia’s unnerving single-panel depictions of old-timey cartoon characters engaging in unspeakable acts? Open wide and decide for yourself.

Abraham Riesman included our book MIRROR MIRROR II in his list of the month’s must-read comics for Vulture. I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to get it one way or the other — retail or online — either at the very end of the month or the very beginning of July. I can’t wait till you all can see it.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Eight: “The Book of Nora”

June 5, 2017

If your primary interest here is watching Nora navigate her journey to an alternate dimension, traverse the empty globe, track down her surviving family, change her mind when she sees that they’re happy without her and she’d just destroy that hard-earned happiness, turn around, cross the globe again to find the scientist who invented the Departure machine, wait for him to rebuild it, and travel back through, then yeah, you’re getting told rather than shown. You’d have needed, conservatively, an entire episode to see it all. If you really wanted to get the flavor and feeling of this all-new, all-different Leftovers world, you might have asked for an entire season. Maybe each episode could be split between the main branch of reality and, oh I dunno, let’s call it a sideways universe? You get the picture. I’m not here to tell you that following Carrie Coon through a depopulated planet that’s even more emotionally and physically scarred by the Sudden Departure than her own would be boring — it sounds amazing, frankly. But for all kinds of logistical and financial reasons, it clearly wasn’t in the cards.

What is The Leftovers showing us instead? Just Nora, herself, in one of the many sustained closeups that director Mimi Leder uses to drive this episode, the way another show might use action sequences. We stare at her face as she spells out the entire saga. You might expect the telling to break her all over again, but she’s had years to process what she experienced. So perhaps the most extraordinary thing that has ever happened to a human being in history gets boiled down to a story told over a kitchen table between two estranged lovers, in a calm but sad voice, with a placid but sad face. The Leftovers has the confidence in its camera and in its performers to convey the enormity of it all, and Nora’s lonesome acceptance of that enormity, just by watching and listening to Carrie Coon talk.

Tellingly, Nora starts breaking down only when she gets to the most recent development: Kevin’s return to her life forces her to face the fear that kept her away from him all this time, the fear that he wouldn’t believe her. Here’s where “show, don’t tell” comes into play again. As we’ve seen, Nora has long since come to terms with her astonishing journey to another world and back again, in search of a lost family she now chooses to leave behind after years of grief over having that decision taken out of her hands. That’s not really what this conversation is about, for her. It’s about whether she can ever get close to anyone again, or whether her peerless pain has rendered her separate from all of humanity basically forever. To find out, she has to face her fear of rejection by the human she once cared about most. She has to find out if Kevin Garvey believes her.

“I believe you,” he says, through a face so warped by emotion his skin seems to be sloughing off his skull on one side of his face. “You do?” she asks, stunned. “Why wouldn’t I believe you?” he replies. “You’re here.” “I’m here,” she confirms, to herself and to him, her hand in his, both of them smiling through tears.

It’s the final dialogue in the series, and it wouldn’t work nearly as well had we actually watched Nora’s trans-dimensional adventures. Here, we’re put in the same position as Kevin, whose own alternate-reality experiences the show has depicted in lovingly bizarre detail, enhancing the contrast with the finale’s approach to Nora’s. We’re presented with the same information and asked to make the same decision. That, not the trip from world to world, is what The Leftovers wanted to show: a desperate person asking to be believed, and another desperate person believing.

I reviewed the final episode of The Leftovers for Vulture. I’ll miss this show very much.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Seven: “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother)”

May 31, 2017

At the beginning of season two, The Leftovers’ theme song made its own sudden departure. The epically morose music by series composer Max Richter vanished, along with its Sistine Chapel–style imagery of people falling away from Earth to the anguish of the loved ones left behind. They were replaced by the jaunty country jangle of Iris DeMent’s “Let the Mystery Be” and a sort of reverse-Polaroid montage of family photos created by inescapable prestige-TV title designers Elastic. As of tonight, the circle is complete. “The Most Powerful Man in the World (and His Identical Twin Brother),” the series’ penultimate episode, combines the two opening sequences, using the soundtrack of the former to accompany the imagery of the latter.

Richter has done fine work for The Leftovers as time has gone by, but his original opening theme sounds hilariously dour and overwrought after the black-comic brilliance of seasons two and three. Or maybe I have that backward: Is it the ironically sunny pictures of everyday people smiling as their loved ones vanish and their world comes crashing to an end that’s inappropriate, given the gravity of the situation as conveyed by Richter’s music? It’s a matter of perspective, I suppose. Which makes the use of the original theme song in this context just as predictive as every other opening theme has been during this wild final season. After all, the episode ends with Kevin Garvey, doomsday-cultist president of the United States of America in an alternate dimension, facing down Kevin Garvey, international assassin and the president’s identical twin, with the fate of the entire world at stake. Who ought to win depends on where you’re sitting.

I reviewed the second-to-last episode of The Leftovers ever for Vulture. This show sure seems to be going out on a high note!

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Six: “Certified”

May 22, 2017

SPOILER ALERT

Then we get to the final scene. Laurie has had heart-to-hearts with her husband John, her ex-husband Kevin, and her frenemy Nora, and seems unburdened by it all, though she’s decided not to stick around to see if Kevin is the messiah. (“Is Nora gone?” he asks her as she leaves. “We’re all gone,” she replies, not unkindly.) The whole wide world is open to her, and sure enough she seems to be taking advantage of it. We pick up with Laurie as she rides a boat out into the ocean, wearing scuba gear, and … oh God, scuba gear. That’s my third and final “oh, no” moment: the realization Laurie intends to kill herself, just as Nora described. Then she gets a phone call, from her daughter Jill, with her son Tommy laughing along in the background. They’re calling to clear up an argument about a kids’ show Jill used to watch on a tape salvaged from a garage sale — the old Nickelodeon show Today’s Special about a mannequin who comes to life, that’s got a real earworm of a theme song. Grinning from ear to ear, Laurie clears up the question for her kids, tells them she loves them, and hangs up.
“It’s now or never, miss,” the captain tells her. A storm’s been coming since the day before, as Kevin Sr. pointed out earlier with evident satisfaction, so if she’s going to dive she’d better go before it hits. She puts on her mask and mouthpiece, breathes, breathes, breathes, breathes, breathes, and falls backwards into the sea. The camera just sits there, filming the emptiness she’s left behind. The sound of the storm approaches. The scene cuts to black. Laurie’s love for her children, for her husbands, for Nora, for everyone — it’s all real, and it’s still not enough to stop her. Everyone involved, from Brenneman to episode writers Patrick Somerville and Carly Wray to director Carl Franklin, seems determined to drive both points home. Love is real, and love is not enough. The episode ends as it begins: with a woman giving up.
What an extraordinary show.

Oh yeah, The Leftovers aired last night too, and it was excellent. I reviewed it for Vulture.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Five: “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World”

May 17, 2017

SPOILER ALERT

Okay, here goes. On this week’s episode of The Leftovers, a French naval officer strips naked, blasts old music at full volume to attract the attention of his captain, murders the man, steals his nuclear launch key, seals himself in the missile launch control room of a submarine, and fires a nuke at an uninhabited island in the South Pacific. With commercial flights grounded following the explosion, a quartet of our heroes led by Reverend Matthew Jamison board a relief plane and land in Tasmania, where they board a boat to travel to Melbourne and rescue Kevin Garvey so he can resume his duties as the messiah. This boat happens to be the venue for a massive lion-themed orgy. One of the guests is a former Olympic bronze-medal decathlete who rose from the dead after breaking his neck three years ago and now believes he’s God. If he looks familiar, that’s because he appeared in the hallucinatory afterlife purgatory where Kevin went when he died and came back from the dead. “God” murders a guy by tossing him overboard in the middle of the party; Matt’s the only witness and no one really believes him. Matt is also, apparently, dying. Matt confronts God twice, first getting punched in the gut, then knocking him out with an axe handle and holding him prisoner until, half-convinced he’s got the real deal on his hands (or just too delirious to care), he frees the deity in exchange for being saved from his illness. The cure doesn’t seem to take. When the boat finally docks, police arrive to arrest God because a fishing boat found a floating corpse, which confirms Matt’s story. In the confusion, a splinter faction of the lion orgy frees the actual live lion brought onboard as the guest of honor. The lion promptly kills and eats God as he attempts to flee. Matt turns from the scene toward the camera, looks at his friends, and says, “That’s the guy I was telling you about.” The end.

When you lay it all end-to-end like that, the sheer narrative and tonal audaciousness of The Leftovers is clearer than ever. From the crazy lion orgy boat to the storm-tossed cargo plane to the nuclear submarine commandeered by a madman in his birthday suit, this is a strange trip. But the show’s confidence that it will get to its appointed destination carries you along for the ride — just like Matt’s sheer bloody-minded belief in God, in Kevin, and in himself was enough to drag former skeptic John Murphy, his devoutly Christian son, Michael, and his strictly rationalist wife, Laurie, all the way across the globe. Right down to a willfully goofy title — “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World” — that practically dares you not to take it seriously. This episode is The Leftovers at its boldest and best.

I reviewed this week’s episode of The Leftovers, one of the best the show has ever aired, for Vulture.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Four: “G’Day Melbourne”

May 8, 2017

SPOILER ALERT

This is the way the relationship between Kevin Garvey and Nora Durst ends: not with a whimper, but a bang. A big one, apparently. Sirens-in-the-street big. No-cabs-available big. “All flights have been grounded” big.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we look back on “G’Day Melbourne,” tonight’s episode of The Leftovers, and conclude that not showing us the explosion that brought society to a standstill was the smartest thing it did. In the luxurious confines of their personal hell hotel, neither Kevin nor Nora (nor we in the audience) had any idea it even happened. They were too busy undergoing an emotional apocalypse of their own.

I reviewed this week’s episode of The Leftovers for Vulture. Carrie Coon + Justin Theroux forever.