Posts Tagged ‘vulture’

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.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Three: “Crazy Whitefella Thinking”

May 1, 2017

Like the best science fiction, The Leftovers throws reality out the window for a reason. Its outlandish genre elements give voice to emotions that are present in our everyday lives, but which have an intensity our everyday vocabulary of ideas and events is incapable of adequately expressing. There’s a throwaway bit in “Crazy Whitefella Thinking,” this week’s episode and a wall-to-wall showcase for Scott Glenn at his most wild and weathered, that illustrates this beautifully.

During his conversation with the ill-fated Aboriginal man Christopher Sunday (who will soon die when the titular Crazy Whitefella falls off a roof and lands on him), Kevin Garvey Sr. talks about the tape recorder he’s been carrying around during his long walkabout across Australia. It originally belonged to Kevin Jr., who received it as a Christmas gift from his mother just a month before she died of cancer. After that, the dad explains, his son brought it with him everywhere — Kevin Sr. hugs it to his own chest by way of illustration. Clearly Kevin Jr. saw the tape recorder as a totem of his mother, and brought it with him wherever he went to keep her with him as well.

All of us use these kinds of grieving mechanisms, whether or not we understand them is such. Is it really that big a leap from little Kevin using a tape recorder as a security blanket after his mom’s death to the stranger things people did to deal with the stranger trauma of the Sudden Departure? Kevin’s tape recorder contains shades of Nora Durst hiring sex workers to shoot her in the chest, or Matt Jamison writing a new book of the bible about his weirdly durable brother-in-law, or Kevin Sr. deciding the voices in his head are telling him he’s the only man in the world who can stop the next Great Flood. The Departure and everything that happened afterwards are just everyday loss and coping (or failure to cope) writ large; the metaphor works because there’s no such thing as “everyday loss” to those who experience it.

I reviewed this week’s episode of The Leftovers for Vulture.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Two: “Don’t Be Ridiculous”

April 24, 2017

“Weird” and “like nothing else on television” are two descriptors that need to be purged from the critical vocabulary immediately. Believe me, I’d be first against the wall were that to happen, because quite frankly a lot of stuff on the air these days is weird and isn’t like anything else on television and at a certain point you have to call it like you see it. But simply saying so sells the work short, even before those descriptions are used to, say, lump an empty-calorie sci-fi and/or superhero and/or horror pastiche like Legion together with the trailblazing surrealist exploration of abuse and exploitation that was (and hopefully will be) Twin Peaks. The best “weird” shows aren’t just zany or confusing — they deliberately mess with your head to sneak difficult ideas in there while your guard is down. Shows that truly are “like nothing else on television” are, by definition, doing something so unique that an equally unique description is warranted.

So without further ado, let us discuss “Don’t Be Ridiculous,” tonight’s episode of The Leftovers, which was indeed both weird and like nothing else on television. Let’s talk about the title sequence, which reintroduces the memorable family-photo fade-outs of the previous season but drops the jaunty country-music accompaniment in favor of … the theme song from the cornball ‘80s sitcom Perfect Strangers? Let’s talk about the credits, which list the writers of the episode as … Tha Lonely Donkey Kong & Specialist Contagious? Let’s talk about the first thing we see after this disorientingly goofy stuff draws to a close … Jardin’s resident old hermit plummeting to his death?

What we’ve just witnessed is the proprietary blend of utter emotional devastation and madcap audio-visual trolling that has made The Leftovers what it is.

I reviewed last night’s episode of The Leftovers, which was both mercilessly funny and also just merciless, for Vulture.

“The Leftovers” thoughts, Season Three, Episode One: “The Book of Kevin”

April 18, 2017

Comedy, tragedy, horror, symbolism: The Leftovers fires them at you one after the other and doesn’t much care whether you’re able to field them. To find another show this confidently manic in its creativity you’d have to turn to Paolo Sorrentino’s The Young Pope — minus its emotional ambiguity and gorgeous European pomp and camp, perhaps, but with a relentless focus on grief, trauma, and all-American God and guns and self-improvement schemes that make for a pretty fair trade. For Lindelof (co-writing with Patrick Somerville), a creator who once seemed debilitatingly preoccupied by the reactions of his audience, this show is an absolute breakthrough. For director Mimi Leder, it’s a showcase for a steady hand and keen eye that keep all the disparate parts working as a powerful, often beautiful whole. For its very lucky viewers, it’s a sign from television heaven that rumors of Peak TV’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. That crazy frisson you feel while watching the best shows, where you start each episode having no clue what will happen, but every confidence that it will somehow feel right? The Leftovers is one of the chosen few that can give it to you.

I can’t say enough good things about the season premiere of The Leftovers, which I’m covering for Vulture this season.

A Guide to All “The Leftovers”‘ Theories About the Departure

April 15, 2017

We’ll never know what caused the Sudden Departure, the instantaneous disappearance of 2 percent of the world’s population at the center of HBO’s critically acclaimed drama The Leftovers. Series co-creator Damon Lindelof has said so, repeatedly, and if anyone knows the danger of promising answers he’s in no position to deliver, it’s the guy who did Lost. It’s a smart move, too. By taking “What happened?” off the table, it leaves the show free to explore a far more open-ended and rewarding question: “What happens next?”

But here’s the thing. We in the audience may know that the Sudden Departure will always be an unsolved mystery, but the people in the world of the show itself sure don’t. Much of The Leftovers is driven by the theories, belief systems, religious doctrines, mystical mumbo-jumbo, and out-and-out nihilism embraced by its various characters to explain the world-changing event and give life meaning afterward. Below, you’ll find the major schools of thought through which the people of The Leftovers attempt to understand their weird world.

I wrote about all the ways in which characters in the world of The Leftovers have attempted to understand and explain the Sudden Departure and give meaning to life on Earth afterwards for Vulture.

A “Leftovers” Refresher: Every Last Thing to Remember for the Final Season

April 13, 2017

Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux)
Kevin is the handsome, brooding, handsome, mentally ill, handsome, dead and resurrected, and last but not least, handsome patriarch of the fractious Garvey family. Kevin served as the chief of police in the sleepy New York suburb of Mapleton, a job he inherited along with a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia from his father, Kevin Sr. (Scott Glenn, whose character is currently holed up in Australia). Kevin’s “is it real, is it supernatural, or is it a hallucination?” visions and misadventures have driven much of the show’s action.

At the moment of the Departure, Kevin was cheating on his wife Laurie in an impulsive one-afternoon stand; his lover disappeared from their motel bed. During season one, the increasingly unstable family man and a local gun nut named Dean graduate from shooting stray dogs to kidnapping Patti Levin (Ann Dowd), the local leader of the Guilty Remnant cult. When she kills herself in front of him, he covers up her death, comes clean months later, and is told not to sweat it by the government, which in The Leftovers’ world has very little problem at all with the murder of cult members. This is cause for concern, since all three members of the family Kevin had before the Sudden Departure have done time in cults themselves: His ex-wife, Laurie, joined the Guilty Remnant and eventually helped recruit their daughter, Jill, while his adopted son, Tommy, took up with the British healer and harem-keeper known as Holy Wayne.

By the start of season two, all three have left their cults, but only Jill remains with Kevin. They’re joined by Lily, the infant daughter of Holy Wayne and one of his many ersatz wives, a young woman named Christine, left on the family doorstep by Tommy. Together with his new girlfriend Nora Durst, whose loss during the Sudden Departure was catastrophic, they move to the town of Jarden (see above). While there, his dissociative sleepwalking episodes lead him to attempt suicide in the same water where three local teens disappear that very night. Guilt-ridden and cracking up, he’s also literally haunted by Patti, who is either a hallucination or an actual ghost. (The Leftovers isn’t big on answering such questions.)

In order to purge himself of Patti, Kevin poisons himself with the help of a local shaman (more on him later) and travels to a purgatorial “other place” — a luxury hotel where, in the guise of an international assassin, he stalks and kills an alternate version of Patti who’s running for president. He then learns that her “real” self in this world is a little girl, whom he pushes down a well before falling in himself to finish the job. Once resurrected in the real world, he winds up getting shot by the father of the disappeared girl (again, more on him later), travels back to the hotel purgatory, and escapes by singing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” at karaoke. Season two ends with Kevin and his whole big crazy extended family reunited.

I wrote a cheat sheet for The Leftovers Season Three, which starts this Sunday, for Vulture, where I’ll be covering the show all season.

“Taboo” thoughts, Season One, Episode Eight

March 1, 2017

Like James, Taboo encounters out-and-out evil as a mere obstacle to be effortlessly surmounted in the race to the finish line. It’s ruthlessly cruel to its female characters, killing off Winter, Zilpha, and Helga with barely a backward glance. Zilpha in particular is done very dirty: She falls in love with her brother, weathers his unwelcome and life-destroying advances, kills her husband for him, has unsatisfactory sex with him, gets dumped, and kills herself with a fetishistically beautiful leap off a bridge. James cries a couple of single tears and staggers up a staircase, but then he’s back to his usual routine of mumbling and murdering. Zilpha’s suffering and death only means something in the context of his manful quest, and even then only barely.

Worse still is the use of slavery as a motivator. If we’re being charitable, we could say that Taboo’s handling of this human-rights savagery as primarily a dispute about the Crown reflects how men like Sir Stuart, Coop, the Prince Regent, and even Delaney himself would think about the issue. It’s the smuggling and the treason that matter to them, not the murder of innocent men, women, and children.

Yet how do you square this with Delaney’s bizarre kiss-off to his faithful servant Brace, telling him he wasn’t born to be free? How can you countenance the show’s characterization of Delaney’s final double-cross, in which he leaves Chichester the testimony he needs to punish the EIC for its involvement in slaving? “Justice,” Chichester gravely intones to no one in particular — yet the three men who ordered and orchestrated the crime (Strange, Pettifer, and Wilson) have been murdered on the order of the man (Delaney) who nailed the slaves into their sinking ship and is already sailing for freedom.

James’s primary interest was personal vengeance, not redressing the grave moral horror in which he took part. After all, he comes right out and says that Sir Stuart’s slave-trading is small potatoes compared to the evil things he himself had done. To call the legalistic postscript to his subsequent killing spree “justice” is to subsume a centuries-long atrocity into one weirdo’s vendetta. As a stand-in for Taboo’s artistic approach, in which an entire world is meticulously constructed to give a single character the people and places he needs to show off how awesome he is, it’s all too perfect.

I did not care for the season finale of Taboo, which I reviewed for Vulture. I did not care for Taboo period, really.

“Taboo” thoughts, Season One, Episode Seven

February 22, 2017

Tonight, Taboo brought the pain.

The climax of the show’s seventh episode is an extended torture sequence in which Coop, the Prince Regent’s right-hand man, puts the screws (and the waterboard, and something that looks like a cheese grater) to James Keziah Delaney. The goal is to extract information about his grand gunpowder scheme: the names of the co-conspirators, the location of the contraband, and most importantly, the identities of the American spies who planned to buy it from him. Perhaps because he has a sack over his head and can’t see the Hostel leftovers the props department gathered for the festivities, James refuses to divulge anything at all. He instead insists that he’ll give the Crown all the info it requires, as long as he’s first given a private meeting with the East India Company’s Sir Stuart Strange right there in the Tower of London.

What follows manages to be both gratuitously gruesome and weirdly weightless. The camera lingers on the torturers, their implements, and their handiwork with sordid glee. Techniques are trotted out one by one: scraping the flesh from Delaney’s leg, waterboarding him Gitmo-style (complete with a supervising doctor to make sure he doesn’t die), and finally securing him in an iron gimp mask, submerging him in water except for a small pipe into his mouth, and forcing him to ingest some kind of hallucinogenic truth serum. It’s not a terribly gory sequence, mind you. It’s just relentlessly unpleasant, an attempt to derive entertainment value from human suffering.

Honestly, I’d be okay with that if it actually succeeded in saying something about suffering. But of course it doesn’t: This is James Keziah Delaney we’re talking about, and he’s far too badass to succumb to torture. (Because that’s how that works, apparently!) A full 12 hours pass before the Prince Regent gets fed up with Coop’s failure and orders the man to procure Sir Stuart for James’s requested meeting. “My God, look at you,” Strange stammers when he sees his foe … for no apparent reason, since Delaney looks no more scarred and filth-encrusted than ever. For a guy who just spent half a day getting worked over, he’s sure taken it well, sitting at a desk as if this were an appointment in his office. Perhaps he’ll include “this whole torture thing was a waste of screen time” in the minutes of the meeting.

I reviewed last night’s Taboo, a lesson in how to render scenes of torture pointless, for Vulture.

“Taboo” thoughts, Episode Six

February 15, 2017

Skulking, spying, smuggling, sabotaging, and slaying: These are James Keziah Delaney’s stock in trade, and tonight’s episode of Taboo is all about his tradecraft. As the rogue’s plan to secure a lucrative trading route out from under the rival English, American, and East India Company factions moves forward, the show’s portrayal of his dirty deeds has gotten much clearer and tighter than it used to be, and more entertaining as a result….Unfortunately, many of Taboo’s old troubles — the workmanlike plotting, the half-baked supporting cast, the overreliance on James’s alleged magnetism — are still hanging around.

I reviewed this week’s Taboo for Vulture. Better than it started, still not as good as you’d hope.

This Valentine’s Day, Watch ‘The Love Witch’

February 14, 2017

But the most romantic thing about The Love Witch is the existence of the film itself. To call a work of art “a labor of love” is to imply a sort of jejune passion, an amateur’s enthusiasm, but nothing could be further from the case here. Taking the concept of the auteur to a whole new level, Anna Biller not only wrote, edited, scored, produced, and directed this movie — she also served as the production designer, the set decorator, the art director, and the costume designer. She personally built, knit, sewed, collected, or otherwise provided many of the film’s key props, from the witches’ altar to the characters’ jewelry to a rug that took her months to make. If the lengthy and thoughtful essays and interviews on her blog are any indication, she also served as the movie’s on-set philosopher. Short of starring in the movie herself, there’s no way The Love Witch could be more Anna Biller’s vision.

The result is unmistakably familiar. To watch The Love Witch is to enter the headspace and heartspace of another human being as surely as falling in love.

This becomes crystal clear barely five minutes into the film. After an opening driving sequence that’s a loving homage to similar scenes in Hitchock’s Psycho and The Birds, we enter the Billerverse in earnest — a world where every detail is deliberate and delightful. Tucking her cherry-red cigarette case into her cherry-red purse, Elaine emerges from her cherry-red car in her cherry-red dress, then takes her cherry-red suitcase out of the cherry-red trunk to enter an apartment full of occult artwork so colorful it’d make a Crayola 64-pack blush. Next, we’re off to a sumptuously appointed tea room in which every one of the all-female clientele is clad in cotton-candy pink; the matching floral-patterned tea set, hand selected by Biller herself, looks like something made of marzipan in the sugar-spun home of a fairy-tale cannibal witch.

By the time I hit this point in the movie, I was laughing out loud in sheer joyful admiration. Whether working in true independent form like Biller or blessed with the carte blanche freedom afforded to established and acclaimed names like Scorsese, Anderson, Tarantino, or Coen, few filmmakers have anything close to this level of confidence in their own taste and vision. Pulling this off for a single scene would be reason to celebrate. Constructing an entire film from a single intelligent, idiosyncratic worldview is close to a miracle. And from its first scene to its last, from the font choice in its opening titles to the music over the closing credits, that kind of miracle is exactly what The Love Witch delivers. Watch it with some witch you love.

Love Witch and chill: I wrote about what makes The Love Witch the perfect Valentine’s Day movie for Vulture.

“Taboo” thoughts, Episode Five

February 8, 2017

Look out, London: There’s a new man in charge. No, not James Keziah Delaney — he’s pretty much doing the same things he always does. I mean behind the camera. Here at the halfway mark of Taboo’s eight-episode run, director Anders Engström takes the reins from Kristoffer Nyholm, who helmed the show’s first four installments. It’s not exactly a whole new ballgame, but now it’s much more tempting to stay through the final few innings to see how Taboo ends.

Although he retains cinematographer Mark Patten, who shot all eight episodes, Engström nevertheless brings a new crispness and clarity to the show’s look. Nyholm relied on alternating muddy realism with nightmarish surrealism; the result was a murky mess that offered little in the way of arresting imagery no matter which side of the divide a given scene or shot landed. By contrast, Engstrom makes the muck a little brighter and more fantastical, and gives the dreamlike sequences more solidity, improving the power of both.

Take the early scene in which Delaney returns home from his duel. He and Lorna Bow decide to take their egg breakfast outside, and eat it while sitting on heaps of driftwood, rock, and rotted dockworks covered in lush green moss. A few episodes ago, we’d have seen nothing but mud out there; now everything’s as emerald as a shot from John Boorman’s Excalibur. The color palette really makes Lorna’s red dress pop — a scarlet slash across the screen that befits her wild-card spirit and status. A later shot of Delaney riding his white horse across a verdant green landscape takes a similarly striking approach.

Last night, Taboo got a new director and suddenly got much better. Coincidence? Beats me, but I reviewed it for Vulture.

“Taboo” thoughts, Episode Four

February 8, 2017

Tonight, Taboo lives up to its name. To a fault. As if adhering to some arcane contract it had signed with the East India Company — “Taboo may show all the ultraviolence and sexual assault it desires, but only beginning with episode four” — the show suddenly let loose with an awful torrent of torture, rape, attempted rape, murder, and disembowelment. It’s a bloodbath in a world where no one bathes.

That’s not all: The episode’s nonviolent but otherwise quite eye-melting events include gratuitous sex scenes, gratuitous oral sex scenes, incestuous invisible sex scenes, the large-scale smuggling of prostitute urine, horny aristocrats on nitrous oxide, and a guy who eats not one but two different kinds of animal feces. Peak TV, baby!

Forgot to link to it at the time, but I reviewed last week’s Taboo for Vulture as well. It wasn’t good, which made this week’s somewhat better episode a mildly pleasant surprise.

“24: Legacy” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two: “1:00 PM – 2:00 PM”

February 8, 2017

For the sake of argument, let’s say the critics-of-the-critics are right, and politics should be left out of the 24: Legacy discussion. Fine with me: Put aside the Islamophobia, the xenophobia, the misogyny, the fear-mongering, and the glorification of the all-powerful security state … and there’s still so, so much dislike.

Following hot on the heels of its post-Super Bowl premiere, tonight’s episode offers evidence aplenty. The worst offense is the doughy, first-draft dialogue. Whether they’re spouting tech jargon, spilling their guts, or trying to make someone see we don’t have enough time!!!, every character speaks in boilerplate. Some examples:

• “Let me out of here!” “I can’t do that. Not until I know that I can trust you.”

• “Killing the Rangers is only the beginning. These people are planning attacks against our country.”

• “Will you be able to find the leak or not?” “Yes, but I don’t know how long it’ll take.”

• “We’re here to finish what my father started.”

• “I don’t expect you to believe me, but if I don’t get that money, a lot of people are gonna die.”

Sure, we could talk about the characters who uttered each line, but why bother? You’ve seen those characters and heard those lines in dozens of movies and series. Nothing here distinguishes them, complicates them, makes them clever or unexpected.

Just for fun, I spent most of my second 24: Legacy review for Vulture focusing on the show’s many artistic failures, as opposed to its political ones. But don’t worry, I kick the shit out of its politics too.

“24: Legacy” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “12:00 Noon – 1:00 PM”

February 8, 2017

The climax of Oliver Stone’s 1994 film Natural Born Killers takes place on Super Bowl Sunday. Wayne Gale, the tabloid-TV sleazeball played by Robert Downey Jr., has booked an interview with Woody Harrelson’s mass-murdering media sensation Mickey Knox, airing live from prison immediately after the Big Game. The killer’s Zen-nihilism ramblings and the host’s how-dare-you-sir platitudes are interrupted with soft-drink ads and shots of happy families watching at home. When the show cuts to commercial, the inmates riot. Mickey slaughters his guards, rescues his wife, and escapes, leaving literally hundreds dead, including the host of the interview. All of it is broadcast live to viewers nationwide.

This is only a slightly less responsible programming decision than the one Fox made when it chose to put 24: Legacy on the air.

I reviewed the absolutely abhorrent pilot episode of 24: Legacy for Vulture. This show features a teenage Muslim girl who immigrated to the United States for the express purpose of blowing up a high school. Ghastly, irresponsible, dangerous television.

“Taboo” thoughts, Episode Three

January 25, 2017

Appropriately enough, the third episode of Taboo opens with a shot of muck. Already TV’s most dirt-encrusted show by a substantial margin, Steven Knight and Tom Hardy’s period-piece opus reached new levels of physical filthiness in tonight’s go-round. When lead character James Keziah Delaney (played by Hardy) turns to actor Michael Kelly’s American spy for lifesaving surgery, the doc’s teeth are so rotten they’re practically orange. When James staggers home to clean and dress the wound, you can barely see blood beneath the layers of grime. When he unearths a mysterious symbol from the fireplace in his late mother’s room, he winds up looking like he used his own body to sweep the chimney. Like the gag from Monty Python and the Holy Grail about being able to recognize the king simply because “he hasn’t got shit all over him,” Taboo is out to paint the town brown.

Which is not to say it traffics solely in the disgusting. On the contrary, if you’re a fan of Hardy’s thighs — and who isn’t? — there’s much to enjoy here. Whether he’s recuperating from his assassination attempt, wading through his flooded cellar (where the water comes in so frequently, it literally ebbs and flows with the tide), or sitting cross-legged after a nightmarish vision of a crow-cloaked, white-faced sorceress, he seems to do his best work pantsless. Hardy cuts a different figure when he’s wearing nothing but an oversized shirt than he does when he’s striding around London in all-black everything, but it’s fair to say the overall effect is equally impressive.

Lord of the Thighs: I reviewed last night’s episode of Taboo for Vulture.