Ramblin' 'bout Amblin: Raiders of the Lost Ark

George Lucas' dream was to create a modern version of the serials of the 1930's and 40's even though he'd basically already done that in 1977 with Star Wars. It was while trying to escape the madness that that very film created that Lucas and Steven Spielberg discussed the notion of directing a James Bond film. Lucas convinced Spielberg that he'd invented a movie hero that was better than Bond but just as adventurous. After the premise was explained Spielberg said he loved the idea: "Bond without the hardware". Lucas' original name for the character was Indiana Smith. Spielberg flexed his creative control right from conception and made him change it to Jones. Thank our stars. Spielberg also had some interesting ideas for the character himself. Mainly that he'd be a drunk like Bogart's character Fred Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. This idea fell away as the script was developed by Lawrence Kasdan and after five drafts they had what we now know as Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I didn't grow up with the Indiana Jones movies like most of my friends. I'm not sure why. They just never made it into my house. So by the time I was introduced to them I honestly found them underwhelming. But the more I watch them the more I love the effects and silly nature of a lot of the combat. Looking at the films production there's some great stuff to be learned. All of the silliness in the movie was done entirely on purpose. Every major studio rejected Raiders thinking that it would be far too expensive to make as well as too over the top narratively. Paramount pictures finally stepped up to fund the project but layed down the law in the process telling Spielberg the film had to stay on budget and schedule. Spielberg pre-pro'd like never before, hiring four illustrators to storyboard every scene as much as possible. Spielberg also took it upon himself to shoot the film "quick and dirty" as was the style of the Saturday matinee serials he was emulating. All the effects were all done practically using puppets miniatures and in camera tricks to keep costs down. The time and money crunch definitely aided the success of the film. Spielberg himself even said "Had I had more time and money, it would have turned into a pretentious movie".

All the background info aside I like this film more and more every time I see it. It's nothing if not a blast. Especially in a world where films that should be fun end up taking themselves too seriously. Knowing Spielberg meant to make the film look over the top allowed me to turn my head at some of the campy effects the first few times I watched it. But now I embrace the film's presentation with open arms. It's interesting because I used to find the Indy films artless but it takes a serious filmmaker to make a movie thats so reminiscent of a bygone era of storytelling. It's funny how often the film comes off as an indie production with bare bones costuming and sets. It never hurts the movie but it's great to see a film that's so highly regarded have a few budget moments. Aspiring filmmakers need to take note of things like this in huge feature films. It's a glimmer of hope.

I really don't have anything negative to say about this film. Spielberg's technique is hidden behind emulation but if you make yourself familiar with old serials both narratively and visually, you can see how great a job Spielberg and his team did on Raiders. I'll take a just a second to recognize John Williams for creating yet another amazing musical theme. Where would great American films be without his musical touch?

Up next:

Ramblin' 'bout Amblin: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a film about a lot of things. It's about aliens, family, government control, and obsession. I'm sure there's more but we'll start with broad strokes. This film went through an extremely troubled writing process with plenty of big name screenwriters turning in drafts. (Paul Schrader and John Hill to name just a pair). Ultimately though, Spielberg hated almost every treatment and script he received and ended up taking on the task of writing the film himself. This marks one of the very few films he's received a writing credit for.

Viewing the film this close to Jaws and E.T. was a learning experience. Spielberg's definitive theme, and it's evident in all of his films, is the importance of family. I could go on all day about the wonderful special effects, the now famous yet utterly simple score by John Williams, or even the complete and utter badassery that is getting François Truffaut to head up a committee of eager scientists but the film starts with two families and so then will this article.

Without explaining too much of the plot, Close Encounters is about two families. Both these families have members that end up having a 'close encounter' with an unexplained force. Barry Guiler (a 3 year old) and Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) are the two most affected by them. Barry is abducted by aliens early in the story while Roy becomes obsessed with a number of images that have seemingly been burned into his brain. These images drive him throughout the film and wind up taking him and Barry's mother Jillian (Melinda Dillon) to Devil's Tower in Wyoming. It's here that humankind makes official contact with these aliens. In a quick summation there's nothing overly jaw dropping about this film. We've seen this story before (often as a result of parody and emulation of this film) but Spielberg takes a fairly pat science fiction story and turns it into a classic with the same methodology he used on Jaws. The early scenes show two families simply living their lives. I don't know what Spielberg does but he has a way with child actors that I've never seen with any other filmmaker (save maybe J.J. Abrams in Super 8). He manages to capture children as they are rather than children trying to act like children. Watching Barry's face light up with excitement or confusion as he encounters otherworldly beings is something we've all seen a thousand times when interacting with little cousins or siblings who discover something new. Spielberg's family dynamics are the same way. They ring true in a way that forces the viewer to drop what they're doing and get completely sucked into the film. I can't imagine a film like this being made today with the same patience. The first time we meet Roy Neary he's using model trains to try and help his son with his math homework. They spend the next ten minutes arguing about the family's plans for the evening. There's no hurry to get to the titular event. For all we know it may never come. But with how well these household situations are handled I really didn't mind waiting. Spielberg does this same thing in Jaws.

It's been a great experience watching all of Spielberg's early work so close together. Close Encounters is a healthy marriage of Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark. We've got the great family dynamics and story I just mentioned and we've got these wonderful supernatural elements that help drive the framework of the film. The World War II era planes that suddenly appear in the Sonoran Desert is the opening of the film could be a story set up taken right out of an Indiana Jones film. And the story is built in such a way that anytime you start wondering whats going on with the scientists behind the scenes you get a scene switch and you're with them finding a tanker ship plopped down on a sand dune or one of my favorite sequences in the film, listening to hundreds of Dharmsala Indians singing the five tone musical phrase of the film's theme and pointing toward the sky. To borrow a phrase from J.J. Abrams, these elements create a "mystery box" that do wonders to push the story forward. Spielberg dangles just enough information in front of his audience to keep them wanting more without ever revealing the film's ultimate secret. He also achieves the delicate balance of giving just the right about and never too little. Time and time again, mystery films use too many clues that don't mean anything to keep people on the edge of their seat and it generally has the opposite effect.

The film's final act is a long one. The "contact" sequence is one of the most famous  in American film history but what's interesting is that out of context it's completely underwhelming. Close Encounters is sewn together in such a great way that even though the ending might appear slow or anticlimactic, to the audience it's completely wonderful. Many of the films questions are answered and the dazzling natures of the colors and sounds used in the alien ship's design is nothing short of awe inspiring.

And it's this ending that sets Close Encounters apart from so many other science fiction efforts. There's no battle. There's no threat. Instead there is hope. A hope for humanity I've never seen in other films. There's a wonderful quote from a film critic named Charlene Engel that says that the film "suggests that humankind has reached the point where it is ready to enter the community of the cosmos". Doesn't that just reek of Carl Sagan? And rightly so. It's a beautiful notion. Sure, plenty of sci-fi films present aliens as villains but its even more easy to believe that we'd be the aggressors were we to ever actually encounter an otherworldly force. And the idea that they allow a human chosen team aboard their ship only enhances the idea of an open dialogue between worlds. It's a wonderful ending to a great film and I give Spielberg a lot of credit for making it.

Next up:

The Heart of Salem

Rob Zombie is an anomaly. Not as polarizing, or as generally reviled as Eli Roth or Tom Six, as unfairly neglected as Greg McLean or Neil Marshall, nor as easily forgotten as James Wan and Darren Bousman, he is a horror filmmaker who has been nailed to many different crosses. Though most of us still remember when he made his living making metal music and the kooky videos that went with them, his switch from music to movies wasn't as inevitable (or, ahem, misguided) as the transitions made by Prince or Madonna, as enigmatic as David Byrne, nor as left-field and misguided as Fred Durst or Mr. Oizo. Zombie's a director without a steady cult, someone who's never made a film that we can all agree on. Unlike Roth or Wan his movies have gotten steadily better as he's steadied his craft and figured out what sorts of stories he wants to tell, even as he's often constrained by the demands of an increasingly horror-phobic studio system. But this past year, to my gratitude, the money was on his side, and he was given total creative autnomy on a project of his choosing and the result is Lords of Salem, a witch-burning film that despite clearly attempting to make it look and move like many others, speaks in a voice that could only be Zombie's. Mixing ghastly psychedelic imagery with disarming, effecting realism, Lords tells the story of a woman who falls prey to an ancient curse brought on by a coven of witches (played with Gleeful abandon by the always welcome Dee Wallace, Meg Foster, Patricia Quinn and a truly awesome Judy Geeson) and a satanic vinyl record. In other words, this movie speaks an old language. The question is, who's fluent these days? Lucas Mangum and I both gave it a whirl. 
Lucas Mangum So what did we think of Lords of Salem?

Scout Tafoya Even as I was aware of what was going wrong from a narrative standpoint, even as a few lines of dialogue struck me as Zombie trying a touch too hard to sound unforced and normal (which...what ambition!), even as he goes too far in his penultimate freak out into Altered States territory than the film can quite handle, I was equally aware that I liked the film too much to let the problems outweigh the overall effect. Or to put it simply, I'd decided I was going to love it and I did. I like Zombie. I like him as a person as well as an artist. 

I'll now refer everyone to my writing on Zombie's Halloween Films here only because Lords of Salem is the film I was wishing and hoping for when I walked out of Halloween 2. It's a horror film but the mean-spirit of his previous work has been channelled into something a little more watchable and understandable (drug addiction and sacrificial murder, as opposed to senseless murderings for the helluvit) and thus a more ambient, lived-in movie emerges. It's basically horror-as-status-quo, which is, far as I can see, kind of its own genre. The Witch Who Came From The Sea and Maniac are sort of up this alley, but they go from straight to crazy with no discernible attempt to shift the tone accordingly. Suspiria nearly achieves something similar, but I thiiiink that's because Dario doesn't speak great English or concern himself with, as he puts it, "Cartesian storytelling." Zombie is basically making an old-fashioned slice-of-life film, or maybe a better analogy is that he's making a 70s crime film, but he's replaced a heist with witch burning. Sidney Lumet efforts like The Anderson Tapes or Dog Day Afternoon jump out, because again, it's the lives of the robbers that makes the action worth watching.

I also share that piece above because I stand by the sentiments and think they apply to Lords, even if he has begun to learn from his mistakes. He's mostly maintained that beautiful unrehearsed acting style from his players, and given some of my favourite forgotten actors a chance to play it more or less straight - Ken Foree is perfectly cast, Bruce Davison and Maria Conchita Alonso don't strike me as the perfect married couple, but individually their performances are excellent and I liked the idea that Zombie thought they could convincingly play married. He's actually a far more romantic filmmaker than anyone gives him credit for - his depiction of married life is, when it's not relevant to show otherwise as in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Myers, idyllic and lovingly detailed. Also, dig the way he shows the hopeful romance/friendship between his leads. That wide shot of Whitey on the docks is heartbreaking, not to mention beautiful in that early John Boorman way.

And the Boorman quote brings me to the film's strengths. It takes its reference points in stride (the exception being the Ken Russell nods, which stick out more than they should, but, whatever, that's more a problem in mixing music video theatrics, Animation and Live action when the live action has been up to this point very well grounded - Zombie evidently didn't realize how well he'd been doing) and creates something purposefully familiar but also spins it in a way we've never seen. The compositions, those purposeful zooms, the truly bad-ass images of the witch sabbaths, we recognize them from staples like Argento, Carpenter, Coscarelli, Kubrick and Boorman (I love the shoutout to the Zardoz head!) but also lesser known influences like Mark of the Devil or Otakar Vávra's The Witch's Hammer. But the reason the appropriation works, for me, is because they're presented just outside the fringes of lives I buy, ones that involve flirtation, record players and NA meetings. He believes in his characters and their environments and sells them flawlessly. Even the villains are believably clique-y and lovable. That they're also played by genre regulars given straight roles to go to town with, the thing I liked best about his Halloween films, is icing on the cake. He's an actor's director, even if it looks like his images took years to dream up and choreograph. Just look at Dee Wallace and Patricia Quinn! They look like they're having so much fun! Wallace's hair alone is more shading than many characters get in their own movies. And how fearless is Meg Foster?! Furthermore, I feel like Sheri Moon, at this point in her life, wouldn't just take her clothes off just because - she's gotta love her husband and believe in his ideas. The space he gives his actors delivers a sense of his world view and what a giving director he is, to cast and audience alike.

In preparation for writing this I watched a film called Reverb, which takes a different approach to a similar idea. Made and shelved in 2007, it concerns a rock musician and his girlfriend given a cut-rate deal at a swank recording studio because a friend works there. They become obsessed with a song and in the wake of hearing it and falling under its spell the guy feels a creative breakthrough and follows his muse to strange ends. His girlfriend, freaked out by his obsession, finds out the origin of the phantom song and the creepy dude who wrote it. It's mostly nonsense, the studio's too clean except for a token echo chamber/kill floor, no metaphor emerges about the recording process (which is especially pathetic considering how easy that would have been) and the filmmaking's far too slick. In short, I don't know anything about the director from watching this movie. I know loads about Zombie from his few films and his muscular stylistic/grammatical evolution. He was out to provoke at first, but his worldview has since emerged through his constructions. I know the movies he likes, but I also know his opinion of people, his humanity, his ideas about what makes for a good life lived well, how far people can fall and still be up for forgiveness. And the more I learn about him through his movies, the more I like him. Plus...I mean, come on. Vinyl as the messenger of Satan? Witch burnings? Ken Foree as a DJ? Paisley wallpaper as a sign of impending doom? This thing was made for me.

Did you take to it as much as I did?

Lucas First, I have to mention that what stands out the most in the film is Zombie's adoration, not just of horror, but of film. From the wallpaper in the apartment to the camerawork, this is a guy who just loves the art of filmmaking. As much as I enjoy his music, I almost wish he would've devoted his earlier years to film, so we could have a larger body of work to explore. The dude is clearly educated on the medium and isn't afraid to show it. Hopefully we won't have to wait another four years for his next film.

I'm not sure if I like it as much as Devil's Rejects, because that film had so much to say about moral ambiguity and how a quest for revenge can really twist somebody. Lords of Salem, to me, was just him telling a story, which is fine because it was a damn fine story. If I don't like it as much as Rejects, it definitely comes in a close second. While his love of film and horror is ever-present, it never takes away from the story, never slides into being a mere tribute to the movies he likes. I'd dare say that the first two thirds are perfect. I liked the gray tint that the film has and even though I couldn't help but shake my head when I saw that Sheri Moon's love interest looks suspiciously like Rob himself, I really liked the two main characters and their dynamic. Their back and forth really revealed the complexity of their relationship and I felt like they were people I knew, which is a golden ticket for me whenever I'm reading about characters in a book or viewing them on the screen. Though he borrows liberally from Kubrick, Polanski, Argento, and even Paranormal Activity's Oren Peli (who also produced Lords of Salem), it never once feels derivative. Again, I think that's because of character, but that could just be the writer in me.

I had mixed feelings about the third act. I mean, I liked what I saw, but only because I'm a huge Rob Zombie fan. The freakout scene with the goat-riding, the grinding black metal dude, and the melting Jesus face could have easily come from any White Zombie video. So as a Rob Zombie fan, I liked it. As a movie fan, I'm kind of up in the air. At least when it comes to how everything played out in the end. I did like the final shot of Sheri though. There was something very humanistic about showing her that way after experiencing all the horror. It also gains points for being very deliberate, which a few years ago, his detractors would've surely said he wasn't even capable of pulling off. The three witches were great. The concept was fun. And the protagonists are likable, especially Sheri, who shows us that she is more than capable of playing a dramatic role. I'd say it's a winner.

I plan to watch it again and again, because there was something really refreshing about it.

Scout Agree, though this is definitely my favourite of Zombie's films, by a comfortable margin. Those compositions are...epic. Those alone place this in my tentative top ten for the year without breaking a sweat. As for your reservations, I concede that the Altered States style animation and the black metal dude were missteps that take us out of his leading ladies believable and perverse suffering, but these are forgivable sins, I think we can agree, because after all he's trying to unseat us. He just also accidentally unseats the narrative for a few seconds.

I think you're right to make mention of Peli. That guy evidently had enough money to produce a whole fleet of horror films (hence the slew of James Wans coming out left and right...jesus that man annoys me) and chose to fund a Rob Zombie in amongst the Chernobyl Diaries and Insidii (the plural of Insidious, of course). This is the smartest thing he's done since making Paranormal, and I like this film far better than Paranormal because I feel like that film took a little time and calculation and Lords took a lot of very specific detail and a very peculiar sensibility honed over many years. Again, I don't know shit about Peli from watching his movies, but I'm grateful that he chose Zombie to make something that ultimately has nothing to do with his particular brand of films. Brave choice considering how commercially iffy Zombie's been in the past and since it gave me this film, I'm grateful.

The more I think about it the more this film and its rhythms, sexuality drenched in hopelessness and the grainy look, the more it reminds me of the kind of outre desert horror films made in the early 70s. The title appearing next to the goat head is what first alerted me to the similarity, but the priest scene is a great example of capturing a feeling of hopelessness inherent in the films being made in the first place. The Wrong Way, Blood Freak, Bloodsucking Freaks, things that make Al Adamson movies seem not just professional but safe. Movies with no one who ever made another film in the cast, so there's no proof they weren't actually killed. I recently bought a Vinegar Syndrome double feature DVD whose A-side was The Suckers, the apparently legendary lost porn-version of The Most Dangerous Game. That film has the same kind of hopelessness but of course in the Zombie it's intentional, whereas in the past it's been because I've looked through the story (what little there is) and into the lives of the creators. There's always an edge to movies like that, like they shouldn't exist; like some bikers killed a guy for a camera and the resultant film was a confession.

Zombie captures a bit of that quesy magic here, more so than in Devil's Rejects, which is a little too production-designed to ever lose itself entirely in the mileau. No film with that ends with "Free Bird" could ever fool anyone into thinking there was any real murder in it. Lords has a kookiness to its images that occasionally takes you out of the professionalism and those delicious tracking shots and into the weird America of yesterday. You can't make a movie like The Suckers today because the danger and mystery of the production can't be faked. You cannot get lost in this country today; you're always accounted for. Lords harks back to a time when the 70s seemed especially long because movies would just appear in drive-ins and grindhouses with not a single name you'd heard before. It gets close to achieving that very much missed sense of despair that can sometimes come of watching American roughies of a certain vintage. And I think he gets there by not making this a routine scare-a-thon. He's not trying to scare us with his repeated image of topless, goat-headed women, or of witches flailing away by fire-light, he's just trying to fill our heads with evil, the way the catholic league of decency always assumed rock music did.

What do you think Zombie's ambition was for this film? Clearly it was sort of a commission, even if the ideas were all very obviously his, but do you think he was after something, a place in some particular canon?

Lucas I think he was going for something classic this time around. Not classic as in throwback, but I think rather than take the paths of more recent horror efforts, he was in it to give us a simple yet effective horror film. Horror over the last ten years falls into three categories for me. The first category is that of some sort of endurance test for the viewer; films like Saw and The Collection fall into this category, and Zombie himself has been guilty of it from time to time. The second category is the tribute/parody/remake where you have your Cabin in the Woods and Evil Dead. Then you have the low-budget stuff, which at best gives us Absentia and Paranormal Activity; at worst we get the stuff that just seems like a couple of drunks bought a DV camera and decided to run around an abandoned house with the night vision on. The most recent efforts that Zombie's film is comparable to would be Ti West's House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. I mention those films, because like Lords of Salem, they seem to really stand out from the majority of today's horror films. They look to the past, but rather than copy it, they pick up where the greats left off before the three aforementioned categories became such staples in the current state of the genre.

That's what I feel Zombie set out to do.

Scout And I think he achieved it, with flying colours.

Lucas You're absolutely right. It was a truly refreshing experience, and I think it will get even better with subsequent viewings.

Hearing Voices: Thoughts on To The Wonder

I'm in exactly the same theatre I was in when Tree of Life had its first public screening in the US, the basement of a Landmark. I remember the anticipation then, of everyone, including the ushers, being nervous about what we were all about to see. This was an event and the sold out theatre proved it. A man came out ten minutes before the film started and reminded us we could buy concessions upstairs. No one had ever and no one has yet to do that again before a movie screening. Ned Hinkle used to remind Brattle patrons that they could buy beer, but that was because they'd only just had the bar put in. This was different, the man in front of me was shaking almost imperceptibly, as if his job were on the line and this movie's performance was what was going to make the difference. Two years later To The Wonder is about to start and the theatre is all but empty. 

It's a little earlier in the day this time, and there are more screenings planned later today (shorter runtime, more daily showings) and finally I see a man walk down the aisles. He isn't nervous. There having trouble with the DCP and would we go upstairs to wait for the next screening. Sure. I have a half hour to kill now and I'm running through all the pressnotes I've read in my head. I'm remembering Dan Kasman and Fernando Croce's correspondences about it, their measured praise. And then I remember Darren Hughes; "Where's all the shit?" The film was too clean, too pretty, too itself for Darren, who still didn't hate it. But then, even if you go in with the wrong mind for it, as Stephanie Zacharek did, and find it obnoxiously self-indulgent and embarrassing, you can't hate all of it, right? It then occurs to me, Zacharek is changing publications. So is Scott Tobias. Will this be the last film they review before the move? Like all Malick, it's a road film, so this would be a fitting departure for them, but I won't know that til later. The movie starts and I can't give this another thought.  

It begins with digital. Digital images, no mistaking them. Has he embraced this? A small camera wielded by a character, man-made creation, as opposed to universal creation. But they rarely resurface. The first real shot is perfect: a woman crossing a train's tray table to be literally on the lap of and in the face of the man she has a crush on. Shot in that improbable, incredibly defined, wide angle that Malick and Emmanuel Lubezki mastered for The Tree of Life. These are people. They're in love. They effortlessly reign over the frame, divine to their director. The france stuff is new for Malick. His previous films start with undeniable force and assertion. This is about a boy who changed my life, a man who murders his boss, an American on an island he clearly doesn't belong on, a ship discovering america, a cosmic whisper and the death of a boy. Here, just people, if the most well dressed people in his canon. Clearly just people: their footprints vanish in the mud in Normandy. They soon leave France for America. A mistake. 

Affleck is Gary Cooper. Maybe his best performance. He isn't speaking, and Malick knows if he talks too much then he's Ben Affleck, moviestar, and not a man with problems. His posture is different, haunched, tense and masculine, but it's a perfectly forced masculinity. It's not his, it's borrowed. Affleck gets so much right. He's a real person. He reminds me of someone I know, right down to his trouble with women. First Brad Pitt, now Ben Affleck. In remaking movie stars in the image of people he knew, Malick's finding people I know, too. People, not characters. It's Malick who makes them human, and then Lubezki makes them gods. In Tree of Life, the two men were god, looking at creation and its most insignificant organisms. There, they observed. Here they worship. The people are titans. Affleck as Cooper is a monument. He can't say anything to Kurylenko's face; he's spent years not being able or feeling welcome to articulate feeling like this. Kurylenko is a marvel. She, like Affleck, has never been better and she's a fine addittion to Malick's voiceover artists. Maybe my favourite. I think about Matt Zoller Seitz' essays on Malick, and his talking with Peter Labuza about voiceover. Did he use the word contrapuntal? Or am I imagining that? Does this count? I suppose not as they do compliment each other, the voice and the images. Except... except for the subtitles. When Rachel McAdams and Ben Affleck join the unconscious fray, their words float as well as anything, but Javier Bardem's beautifully lisping Spanish and Kurylenko's otherworldly French have to show up on screen for us to see. Does this interrupt the images. Do they pull you away from the rhythm? I wonder what Matt makes of it? 

Then the film breaks. It's digital, so it doesn't really, but the technology is so new that we don't even have words for when it breaks down. That's a troubling thought and I fear for the future of film, fleetingly. We see Affleck pick Kurylenko up and swing her once, twice, then the all the colors turn a different shade of red and he keeps on swinging. Then the screen goes black. I go to get someone but another patron beats me to the projectionist whose down in the lobby. I think about Mark Kermode and the way he talks about projection. An artform. No, a performance, that's what he calls it. I think about his friend Dave Norris, the last projectionist standing. He surely wouldn't have let this happen. The audience is awfully quiet. This is clearly not the event that Tree of Life was if the audience is ok with the projector shutting off twenty minutes into the film. Or maybe...maybe the film has calmed them. I know it's done as much to me. How could I be mad? I'm watching To The Wonder. It occurs to me that this has everything to do with the voiceover and Bardem's sermons. Choice. Avoiding choice is a sin, he says. I like to think this makes our auteur pro-Abortion, but that's just me bringing that to the film. It'd be easy to make the case but who knows? No, what's clear is the answer to Hughes question. Where's all the shit? Why does no one do anything ugly in Malick films? Because we're ugly, foul things, people, we kill, we conquer and rape and steal and and piss and shit and drink and do hard drugs and hurt the people we love. But he doesn't have to show those things because those urge don't come with a lot of choice. Everyone has to relieve themselves, no different than a horse, the horses that made a mess of Hughes' property. Nothing dynamic in it. No chance of being a better person for it. No discovery. If someone decides to drink themselves to death or be violent, it's the easy choice, like peeing against a tree if you can't find a bathroom or don't feel like walking to one. It's easy to be cruel to whomever, it comes naturally in many cases. I think Morrissey said something similar. 

Malick was raised by parents who split the difference between our worst urges. His dad, or what we gather of him through Pitt in Tree of Life, was a man dangerously consumed with anger. David Cairns hypothesizes that our anger comes from our having had the American Dream to fall short of. We're supposed to succeed and we don't. Because we believe in the Dream, same as we believe in a god whose looking out for us, we get real mad when our great loves look elsewhere. Here's Bardem and Affleck going into slums and seeing the lives of the unfortunate, proof that God isn't looking out for us. We have to do that. God's whatever makes you leave the comfort and security of doubt and gets you out into the world helping those to whom you can make a difference. 'God' is why Affleck remains mute for most of the film. He goes to church, same as Kurylenko, but neither of them seems to get what Bardem discovers. Going to church doesn't mean shit if you don't let it help you be the version of yourself you keep locked up: "an avalanche of tenderness." Movement. Evolution. We have to choose to evolve. Biological, behavioral theology. Finally something contrapuntal. 

Kurylenko says that Malick's one consistent direction on set was that everyone had to keep moving. If you stop, he urges you on. Because the one thing he hates is when people stop, when they refuse to think for themselves, to make choices, to examine our lives and make them better. Affleck makes for a compelling addendum to the male in Malick. A 21st century update of Badlands' Kit or Days of Heaven's Bill, with a fresh sense of willful blindness. Kit and Bill were outlaws, so had no real room to consider the feelings of their women, what they want, let alone need, but they did show them a certain level of tenderness and understanding. The Farmer in Days of Heaven came at the problem from a different angle: his heart was full of love and cared only about Abby. So when things go south he reacts violently. Affleck's too full of hang ups to quite be The Farmer, he won't give himself fully to love. What would the neighbors think? But he's a far cry from the soldiers of The Thin Red Line and The New World, always considering their place in the world, aware that they're insignificant. So there's precedent, but he's an old-fashioned male given a new coat of paint, fully in keeping with how men behave today. More evolution. 

And then leaving it strikes me that the last thing Roger Ebert ever wrote was a review of this film. Which means that there's a chance it was the last movie he ever saw. I have no proof, but I'm comforted by the thought. Here are people making boundless use of their bodies, the landscape, their homes, their minds. Their thoughts and desires are laid bare for us. Roger couldn't speak any longer, but his thoughts were just as available to us, just as rich, and full of love; accepting and appreciative of life's rich details. Bardem's prayer, his interpretation of God seems perfectly in keeping with Roger's attitude toward the end of life. I thought about Roger Ebert hearing the prayer that closes the film. And it becomes more than art. It's an experience, a continuation of a man's life, and maybe the comfort another found at the end of his. It's proof of the power of film, at least to me. Proof that film criticism is part of my religion, the son of film. Or maybe if film is a religious event, then criticism is my bible, recording and interpreting the events that change our lives, like Malick does when he puts biographical info in his dreamy narratives. And just as we hear the voices of his characters in his movies, I hear film critics wherever I go. He's clearly got something there. Watching this film my brain swelled with the different takes I'd encountered, of the words of critics, of possibilities introduced by people who do little else but consider what film means, making it richer. Even if I disagree with a review it make the film richer because it stands in opposition to one reading. We can't and won't all agree, but our disagreements make us better, they help us understand what we prize about works of art. That's why Terence Malick is so important to me and his films so close to my heart. He lays everything on the table so we can do the same in response. He knows we're not perfect, but he loves us anyway and no one makes even our worst impulses beautiful like he does. Maybe we're not God, but we're the closest thing we've got.

Game of Thrones Season 3 - Episodes 1 and 2

We're going to make an effort to have these Game of Thrones chats with something resembling regularity this season, as I completely dropped the ball last time. It may have to wait until I have enough material for a whole post, or if a group of episodes are obviously linked by incident, we may wait. The show has finally caught up with all its major characters and to quote Professor Roger House, we're off and running. Without further ado, here's Fox and myself on the first two episodes of the third season of Game of Thrones.

Fox It's that time of year again. It's time to talk about Game of Thrones. Let the great discussion begin! Have you watched "Valar Dohaeris" yet?

Scout Tafoya I have indeed and in doing so discovered that this is the first time that I've truly "gotten" what great TV feels like to those who most often talk about it. I knew these people and places like old friends or my own distant memories. This is a story that I will follow until it's over. I don't know that I've ever felt this much loyalty to a series.  I've loved TV series before of course. Deadwood, Twin Peaks, Pushing Daisies, what have you, but they've often felt like something I was eavesdropping on - as I'm sure Breaking Bad will when I get around to watching it. Shows made for other people to fall in love with that I can appreciate but ultimately I understand that they were made with people who couldn't resist it in mind. The Sopranos is such a show. Alternately, as was the case with Deadwood, I'll discover it after it's been cancelled. So while I love it deeply all I can do is praise it while mourning. The storyline will never pick up after George Hearst leaves town. But with Game of Thrones I'm caught up, I'm on its wavelength and there are still many years left of story to tell that I will happily sit on my couch and digest. 

Fox That's exactly how I felt when the episode was over. Nothing particularly miraculous took place in the premiere but it left me with a warm fuzzy feeling inside knowing that I was allowed to live in Westeros for the next ten weeks. But the warm feeling aside it's disgusting how much better GoT is on almost every level when compared to other television. It's as close to art as the medium can get and I'm just happy we're around for it. 

Scout The episode features what I believe must be my favourite shot of the whole series, which is when the pirates drop Davos off at Dragonstone to find and kill Melissandre. He knows it won't work, he knows exactly how it's going to play out when he goes up there, but he's lost everything and like so many of the best characters on the show, he can't help himself. They frame him as a tiny, dirty, broken little man on a rock standing beneath the enormous castle, literally dug into stone, and all he can do is acknowledge that he's never going to make a difference. He's been forgotten. The shot is beautifully composed, the matte painting (digital matte painting?) is flawless and even at that great a distance Liam Cunningham's doing some of his best work. This gets at why the show works as well as it does, even as you say, nothing quite happens in this episode. It writes some of the best moments for characters who may end up being little more than cogs. The writers, directors, and crucially their art directors, never miss a moment to render Martin's text with the most rich detail imaginable. 

Fox Davos' storyline is one of the most contested of the series. In the novels many fans actually feel that his plot is boring and to a certain extent they're right. But thats where the show comes in. Davos' storyline in the show is one of my favorites. He's the only reason we ever get a glimpse of Stannis. That's only part true in the novels. So not only is he used as a function of storytelling but he's a great character himself and one of the few "good" characters in the show. The writers of the show have done a great job of involving him in scenes that he wasn't really a part of in the novels and in the case of him directly confronting Melisandre, that doesn't even happen in the book. Instead he simply gets to Dragonstone and is immediately arrested. Plus Liam Cunningham is just so easy to watch. As is basically every single person on the show. It's the most well cast anything I've ever seen. I just watched the episode last night with Emily as she missed the original broadcast and came to the realization that any one character could be the basis for an entire fantasy series. Watching Sir Barristan save Daenerys from the warlock child reaffirmed that idea. That said it's amazing that the premiere didn't even touch Arya, Theon, Jaime, or Bran's story lines. This universe is astoundingly conceived and enormous.

Scout I know! And you're absolutely right. I think what makes Game stand HIGH above the heads of various dimwitted fantasy series (I'm looking at Legend of The Seeker, for want of more examples) is that it isn't a show about some charisma free Logan Lerman-esque twit learning about a spell he's got to master and going on a hero's journey. It's about an entire functioning set of opposing governmental systems filled with people, all of whom have well defined personalities and conflicting belief and moral system (though the orphans of King's Landing could admittedly use a little shading. But I kid the writer). That's a pretty herculean feet of storytelling, to not only have these largely very distinct characters exist alongside each other while also propelling a very clear narrative. That the show can afford to spend a week without three or four of its most compelling denizens and not suffer says an awful lot about how much they've achieved so far. We in the audience can see that they will appear and it will be satisfying and not panic. Deadwood had...what? 60 speaking characters? 80? And when one of them showed up for their 3rd or 4th appearance, you knew exactly what you were in for without a word of dialogue. Calamity Jane, Mose, Samuel Fields or Eddie Sawyer were splendidly themselves and could only handle themselves in the way that Milch and the writers set them up, because they were people, not characters. I don't think Game's quite there yet because there's a little more plot than ever drove Deadwood, but it's real close. Sir Barristan's showing up didn't have the kick for me that perhaps it could have, even though the gesture was amazing. But it's proof that these guys have the utmost command of the form, as well as a pretty amazing grip on their characters. 

Fox And I think that really says it all. Series like The West Wing, Mad Men, Deadwood and GoT all take the time to make their characters so real that you could easily pass one of them on your way to somewhere and not bat an eye. That said I cannot wait to see Arya again.

Fox "Dark Wings, Dark Words" was awesome. They managed to find time for almost every character in the show and still tell a whole lot of story in an hour. They did a really wonderful job with the warg concept. I spent yesterday talking about the show with people and one of the story elements I'm worried about when it comes to the series is the supernatural. So far I find that show has done a much better job than the novels of introducing the magical in a way that doesn't bring everything else to a halt. Often while reading the books I'd actually double take alone in my living room when something magic happened seemingly out of nowhere. Watching a man beyond the wall sit with his eyes rolled back in his head while his consciousness is projected elsewhere was a nice easy way to tell you something without jarring the senses.  I also entered the episode a little wary of Arya and Bran aging. I noticed how much older Sansa looked in the premiere and she's already passed the age where a week can change your face completely. The two pubescent Starks are noticeably older but I'm totally in favor of it. Bran's dream in the woods with his brothers and father advising his shot was incredible. Apart from it being incredibly touching and reminding us that he hasn't seen his family almost two full seasons, his face now resembles a young man rather than a boy and for the first time Bran's presence became a little frightening. Though Bran can't walk he'll still be a man soon and when that day comes he'll be exceptionally dangerous to his family's many enemies.

Scout Two episodes in something became clear to me. The show had, up until this point, made distinct and fascinating entities out of the many warring camps. But they've finally started taking sides. Robb is unwilling and clearly unsuited to leadership - he's basically his dad, which isn't the worst thing in the world, but he'd fuckin blow it in Tyrion or Joffrey's place. He's better suited to ruling the north, I think. Stannis is very clearly not the guy for the job (despite what David Sims thinks) as evinced by locking his moral center in the dungeon - Though his humanity is still buried in there somewhere as he didn't just burn Davos on the spot. The Ironborn are clearly too grim and gross to be the favourites. We don't know enough about the king beyond the wall or Jon's play yet, so they're a big question mark, but it doesn't look like the showrunners want us to think of them as the best imaginable option. So that leaves us with Dany, who we're supposed to be watching her wrestle with moral issues so she can come out on top of them and earn her place on the throne, which is where I think we're headed - morally anyway. This is what they want us to think. It's the first time they've really shown their hand other than in the broadest terms - Joffrey bad, Ned good, Jamie handsome...ok, so that's beside the point, but still... - so it feels like the lines are being drawn more clearly, the action will be more efficient, and the stakes will always be as high as the wall. They know who to kill now to get our attention. Which brings me to your comment about the aging faces. We're now watching the Stark kids grow up, which means now there's the added element of knowing the characters personally, because we remember what they looked like two seasons ago. We've lived with them and if the show puts them in danger, it's going to be more than fiction for many people.

On an individual note, now that they've set every plate spinning, it's time to see which one falls first. You have to hand it to the writers, they left every story on a cliffhanger. Who's got Theon? What will the brotherhood do with Arya? Should Bran be worried about Thomas Brodie-Sangster and his sister and their calling his powers out? Will Dany accept slaves and what does the arrival or Barristan mean? Will Brienne and Jamie get out of bondage? Will Tyrion be able to keep Shae safe? Will Margaery Tyrell punish Sansa or will Little Finger do it for her?

Finally, how lovely is it to see Dame Diana Rigg at work. The scene where she and Natalie Dormer are trying to grill Sansa is the best moment of the episode because we're just as conflicted as she is. We don't know these women, except that if Margaery learned her social cunning from her grandmother, then they're both to be feared because they goddamn get it. Margaery is among the more cunning characters in the show, even if we've only seen it in doses. And her grandmother is clearly the same, if now older and thus less calculated. She no longer gives a shit about concealing her intelligence. So, they could just be feeling Sansa out about Joffrey to plot strategy, or they could be planning to turn her in to make themselves look favourable in the fucking king's eyes. Margaery essentially seducing Joffrey (ick) says this is a possibility. And then what happens to her if Shae is discovered and killed by Tywin? Whatever way you look at it, Sansa's in the most trouble of anyone in the series right now, and I'm rather worried about her safety. In short, Game of Thrones is back, baby!

Fox I had a very clear memory of Books 1 and 2 but 3 is where things really start to go all over the place so I'm approaching this season very much in the dark until the moment things happen. It's making for some truly thrilling television. I yelled "Oh goddammit!" at the television when The Hound calls out Arya near the end of the episode. Do they make it at all clear in the episode who actually has Theon? I know from the novels but I'm not sure if it remained a mystery in the show.

Scout No mention made. Just some dudes in hoods and his sister knows about it.

Fox Okay thats what I thought. Natalie Dormer continues to rock my world. Now that her and her grandmother The Queen of Thorns (Rigg) are in the game (of thrones) I think shit's going to hit the goddamn fan

A Clean Sword - Game of Thrones Season Two

Last year around this time, Fox and I started a very tangent-filled, casual, spoilery, swear-laden dialogue about Game of Thrones, which was airing its second season. I had intended to edit each one down every week and run them as a series, but we would inevitably still be talking by the time the next episode aired and I lost track of time. So here, in honor of the third season beginning (and our chats along with them) is our talk about Season Two, with most of the smut and personal anecdotes excised for clarity. This happened over ten weeks so bear with it...

"Power resides where men believe it resides. It's a trick. A shadow on the wall. And a very small man can cast a very large shadow." -Lord Varys

Fox Alright, I'll start by saying that much like the first season its incredibly hard to watch the show one episode at a time. It's a slow burner for sure but I think its more based on the fact that since they're really adhering to the bookish nature of the storyline there aren't really "breaking points" for an episode to end. Every episode just leaves me wanting more which is definitely the mark of a solid show but it's different. I'm not quite sure how to convey that idea.

 In short I'm loving the new season. More importantly I'm loving the new characters. So far I think they've spent just as much time if not more time on the new people, which is ballsy for a young show like this but I think its really working.


Aside, this is from an international dvd brief from Cinema Scope magazine: On another recent trip, thanks to Bloomington resident James Naremore, I managed to land an English-subtitled version of one of my all-time favourite French noirs (and, arguably, the very first), Jean Renoir’s 1932 La nuit du Carrefour (1932), on a homemade label calling itself Video Dimensions, with Douglas Fairbanks’ The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916) included as an extra.


Well thats possibly the best news I've ever gotten in a Game of Thrones facebook thread.

Scout To damn that piece of news with faint praise. Balon Greyjoy blew my mind. I loved him in yesterdays episode. What a shitbag he is.
 I liked how much of a shitbag he was because with Theon standing next to him to intimidate, he's basically powerless.

Fox boooooi! Love Davos the pirate, too. And Melisandre is downright terrifying


Oh yeah. Carice Van Houten, a titan! Perfect for that role! I love that Melisandre's whole story line is spelled out in just that moment alone with Stannis. Like you can see every possible bad way that shit's gonna end.

Fox Although it's killer watching it one at a time - it's the most all-at-once show I've ever seen


You wanna be like "Ain't you seen a goddamn movie before!?" 

It's so fatalistic. Even more so than Deadwood.

Fox For sure. I just love how hard they're going to make it a book-tv show
. They don't give a shit about spending time with fan's favorite characters. 

They're telling a story and refuse to compromise



Exactly. But in doing so they actually get more mileage out of their cast. The thing about the structure is that, yes, you'll only spend a minute with Daenerys and Jorah, but those two sell the plight in that time with no problem because they're great at what they do. And it also makes you appreciate those few minutes with these people because you know there's a lot going on in the world.

Fox I've never had more faith in a show runner (or show runners in this case). They love Game of Thrones to death so they're doing it right. It's funny because having read the story I still come at this season like its something completely new. I guess I did with the first season as well

 but it's got me in unfamiliar territory and I like it


Scout Last season seemed so much more about establishment. They had room in a given episode to follow winding and often cryptic conversations to strange ends because they were helping you get to know these people and understand exactly what sort of world this was. Which worked not only to give you a sense of what the show was, but also what it wasn't. It's not whimsical, it's not about fulfilling prophecy, it's about everyone trying to keep their head above water. So the first season played like a cross between something by Aaron Sorkin and The Sopranos. They took their time within a given scene and filled them to the brim with crackling verbiage. This season, whole nother fuckin' ballgame. Because we know everyone every scene feels like a cliff-hanger, even if nothing happens. Far more than last season I feel like I absolutely have to know what happens next when the credits roll, which is a major improvement over the great first season. The show isn't as densely written these days because it can only spend a minute in every kingdom, which is slightly to its detriment, but the pacing is now closer to first season Walking Dead territory. I need to see what happens, something that the first season only managed in the last few episodes for me.


Thats a great way of putting it. Yeah I'm interested to see if they slow down. I'm really trying not to compare it to the book. We recently discussed the problems with that. What I will say is that the novel is SUPER slow and it's almost entirely Tyrion's ballgame. I think that the writers know that it's a stagnant story at times (though never bad or boring) so they're trying to make it as manic as possible, especially since there's a war on now even though there's no combat yet


 Indeed. It's a little more West Wing this time around and less Sopranos. Which I like because I know these people and because the writing is still amazing. If we get one good Tyrion scene, I'm happy because I know he's got a lot to do this season and if it's stuck between the other people that the Lannisters will have to deal with when the actual combat starts, I'm ok with it. What they've done is made this season The Two Towers. It's a gradual build-up to something we know is being promised. The difference is that Towers felt like a lot of wheel spinning when it wasn't directly about Aragorn building up the Hornburg's defenses. GOT is better because everyone's headed to the same fracus, and you want to know what the combatants will be up against and whether the fighting will actually come to mean a damn. If the backroom dealings and stealth firings/assassinations continue, there may be no allies left. It's an exciting feeling whenever someone leaves by a different door than they came in.


I'm rewatching "The Night Lands" and I'm realizing how I'm a total sucker for horribly sun burned lips. Dany and Jorah wandering the desert is actually the most compelling part of this season so far. And you're totally right. Even though the sequences are so brief they pack the most wallop.

 The one thing I will say is that they had better really nail us with a battle near the end of the season. Even though the show is brilliant with just dialogue-driven sequences they really need to build up to something this season. I think they will but I'm saying that they must to give a lot of what they're doing real meaning.


It's funny, there are a few things I can think of where a sort of action setpiece is filled exclusively with people we know. To go back to a previous example, Helm's Deep may as well have been a Hanna Barbara cartoon because the only people we knew or cared about on either side of the fighting was Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas, who we'd been with the whole time and who were never in any real danger to begin with. What I'm excited to see is a battle where all sides are filled to bursting with people we know, and not simply faceless soldiers. The beauty of HBO is that the cast of characters on a given show is massive and so when even a minor character is stabbed to death, you feel it. The best example of this is, for my money, on Deadwood when out of nowhere you discover that someone, who is narratively a minor character, turns into someone you realize is a huge part of the reason you love the show. I'll always cite W. Earl Brown as Dan Dorrity perfecting the art of the Milch side character. Brown meant nothing to me until midway through the second season when Al Swearengen's laid up in bed, suffering and pissing blood, and Dorrity excuses himself to cry on the balcony. Until then you hadn't really figured he was much more than a child in a hulking and terrifying man's body. You'd seen him capable of jealousy, but that's not much on the emotional richter scale. Here he was openly sad, experiencing emotions so overwhelming he could barely explain them to Trixie later in the day. And just like that someone who will never actively figure into the plot as you could write it on paper, became an indispensable character. To the point that when his life is in danger, I found myself saying that he was the one character I was certain I could not live without. And then they pull the rug out from under you by killing someone equally if not more important. Now, that's a very long tangent, but my point is that the best shows on HBO or Showtime or wherever will fill their worlds with enough people to sell the place as believable. 

Todd Van Der Werff constantly talks about Deadwood as a microcosm of community which means that someone like Dorrity or in his case Charlie Utter can be people you love and believe in, even if they're often sidelined by the ostensible leads. So what I'm saying is that when Game of Thrones gets to the combat portion of the story, it's going to be one of the most brutal and honest moments in currently running TV series. Let me explain: until this point the GOT writers have made it abundantly clear that no one's life is guaranteed, unless they're so much a shitheel that killing them before the end of the show would rob the series of a lot of drama and of a greater catharsis, as in the case of Cersei and Joffrey, who still have so many more situations to ruin. And as we've seen not even being the show's lead character and poster adornment will save you from the executioner. So, why this is so exciting is because as the show fills out its world with more and more characters, each of whom we know better with every episode, when they finally clash, the stakes will be astronomical because everyone in danger of being killed in their scenes of combat could be someone's favourite character. If Stannis' forces make it to King's Landing first, you have Bronn, The Hound, Ilyn Payne and potentially Tyrion on one side, and Davos, Stannis, Mathos and Salladhor fighting with the fate of Melisandre, Joffrey, Cersei, Baelish and countless others in the balance. If the North gets their first, Theon, Robb, etc. will be on the battlefield. Then anyone could and probably will get an axe buried in their face and that'd the end of it. Film typically doesn't have the potential for wringing this much pathos out of a set piece, unless it's something like the excellent Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World, but even there you only really knew about 10% of the crew. What I'm saying is even if it only lasts for ten minutes, it's going to be amazing.

It certainly doesn't help that I'm approaching this show from a reader's stand point as well so I know more or less exactly what's going to happen narratively. Though some of my excitement is extinguised in that regard I have even more fun watching exactly how the writers decide to carry out a lot of the action in the show. I'm in full agreement with your saying that the stakes are high no matter what. That is unquestionably true. The way the book goes about telling the eventual chaos (as with a lot of what goes on in the book) is they sort of sideline the action and only tell you hearsay and at most what one or two characters experienced there. 

I really have no problem with this method and much prefer it to being treated to a God's Eye camera so that I always know what's going on. This method fails more often than not because it doesn't allow the audience to truly delve into the world they medium is trying to sell you. GOT does a tremendous job of putting its viewers into its locales by first putting you into it's character's shoes. I guess my plea for violence comes from a yearning to really see GOT go ballistic on itself. I think their advertising for this season (constantly promising that "War Is Coming") had better pay off with some serious blood if only to satiate the viewers who don't really get what GOT is going for yet, but I have to say I'd love to see a really well executed battle sequence mainly because I've seen the series succeed flawlessly at just about everything else. I want one more great battle for my "best of" pantheon.

"You gave me away!" -Theon Greyjoy

Stray observations from this week: First, best episode this season. Second, Lena Headey rocks the fucking shit as Cersei. Even more so than people give her credit for. Theres so much going on in her head. You can see these wonderful little nuances in her eyes, particularly when she's dealing with Sansa. It's like Cersei really just wants Sansa to bust out and rebel like crazy but can't ever let her at the same time. In direct opposition to that, the guy that plays Little Finger drives me fucking crazy. He looks the part for sure and I'd never call him a bad actor but he is incredibly inconsistent as LF. I hate to judge him harshly but LF is one of the most secretive and interesting characters and I really think he's dropping the ball more than he's carrying it.

Let me first say this: Natalie Dormer's here, and I couldn't be happier. She's got that very english cuteness that I can't resist and has a splendid curiousity about the violent craziness around her. Those eyes are alive with it. The way she treats her husband is so goddamn perfect (Oh, and I'm glad as anything that the gay knights are back) her manner is so agreeable that you don't know if she's taunting him or appeasing him when she says that she'll turn over and pretend to be her brother. Either way, she's running the show at Renly Baratheon's place. Anyway, I'll see your Cersei compliment and raise you a Theon Greyjoy finally coming into his own. I liked him more and more as his dad smacked him around but it wasn't until Theon bites back with "You Gave Me Away," that a whole season worth of his being minor and ineffectual made sense and he became a real character. He's been in the shadow his whole life - unloved by one family, another kind of bastard in the other. 

But to your criticism about Aiden Gillen - I don't mind him being tossed aside like this because he's paying for handing over Ned Stark by losing his control over everything except the girls in his harem - and even they need to be terrorized in order to do what he wants. He was who you describe him as in the first season, but the way I see it, and the way I want it, everyone who had a hand in Ned's murder (namely LF, the eunuch and Walter Donavan), Tyrion's going to make them pay. Not because he cares about Ned Stark (though I think he respects him and was sorry to see him die) but because everyone who killed him happens to be in opposition to his taking power, pleasing his father and staying alive. So perhaps LF's fallen in your estimation and in his stature as secret keeper, but I don't think it's by accident. Watching Tyrion move pawns is so hugely entertaining that I don't mind anyone seeming small in his presence. I loved his conflicting wedding proposals, I loved him putting Shae in Sansa's bed chamber (maybe one of the best scenes in the episode), I loved him intimidating Donavan with Bronn. I love him in charge. And because of this, I have to predict that it won't last because this show is just as crafty and backhanded as he is.

A final note. The series is paced much more briskly this time around, so even if we spend time with a given character, it's in a series of locations, as with Renly and Tyrion. And then comes that beautiful sequence with Arya and Yoren. Yoren is my favourite kind of character on Game of Thrones - dependable, colorful and bearded. Yoren, along with Bronn (who, it must be said, is to GOT what Dan Dorrity was to Deadwood) and Jorah Mormont, lives to serve, each in his own way. They are supporting players but they imbue their characters with experience, of lives hard lived and piece of mind hard earned. They have nothing to prove and act because they believe in who they act for. 

The story Yoren tells is about the one purpose he had in life, revenge, is beautiful not only because he delivers it quite nicely, but also because it shows that the things that Arya and the other lead characters are building to now, the things that this series are ultimately about, are still ahead of them. His purpose has been met; he killed the man who killed his brother, so every step he takes is for someone other than himself. So it was fitting to see him go for Arya because she still has her destiny, for lack of a better word, ahead of her. And I think he was happy to die for her. And better still, he left with a cry that will ring in my ears long after his presence has ceased to be felt on the show: "There's men out there want to fuck your corpses!"


Good gravy Natalie Dormer. Yes she runs the show in Renly's camp for sure. And I agree 100% about not being fully sure how she actually feels about Renly's orientation which was brilliant. I think for the first time in the show's 13 episode run I actually came away liking Theon. Which I'm glad about. As far as the book is concerned, you're occasionally in Theon's head but you never really like him and more importantly you don't sympathize with him. The writers here have done a fantastic job putting us in Theon's camp, even if it is only for a little while.

Now Aiden Gillen. My complaints have very little to do with his situation. One of my favorite sequences ever in this show is Tyrion laying down the law 3 different ways on Varys, Little Finger, and Grand Meister Pycelle. My troubles with Alden come entirely from watching his body language. Because though Little Finger is a sniveler to some degree he's almost always in control whether the audience knows it or not. I found him particularly inconsistent in last night's episode. Alright I'll stop complaining about him. It's not worth it since last night was (for me) the best episode this season. They're really picking up speed but managed to spend more time with almost as many people as the previous two episodes. 

Arya and Yoren stole the show for me last night as well, even after I just harped about Tyrion's wonderful work. It was so tender yet very funny in the way that I only thought Deadwood could ever truly deliver on. I'm just happy that Arya got even a little bit of sympathy for her plight from Yoren. Because at the end of the day, Arya is 12 years old and that girl is going through some serious shit for anyone let alone a girl her age. And as far as last lines go, I'm putting Yoren's on my tombstone.

"Bronn, the next time Sir Meryn speaks kill him" - Tyrion Lannister


 TCM's running an old ad for Mack Sennett. With Featured player Harry Langdon. On a keystone cop pie fight, the narrator helpfully informs us: "This one killed in its day!"


You have to remember that all the guys that put those ads together were first seeing those things their freshman year in quallege. Ladies and Gentleman, this is "Garden of Bones"

They start by doing a lovely little job of showing the ferocity with which Robb Stark is fighting his war. The soldiers that die at Grey Wind's jaws are not obviously evil men. They're sitting their post (in a heavy downpour no less) and are trying to make the best of their situation. Robb's conversation with the field nurse Talisa, following the slaughter was great as well. Eye opening for both sides of the war. We finally get a little insight as to Robb's intentions and its almost comforting that he wants nothing to do with the Iron Throne.

Fox When Joffrey's bedroom scene got going I really felt it was over the top. I wasn't exactly sure if they needed to drive the point home as much as they did as far as him being a madman. I came to be fine with the scene only because they're really trying to ramp the stakes up. Absolutely no one is safe from Joffrey's sadistic nature. Not whores. Not Sansa. Not even his own mother. Though these are all female examples, we got a few others at the end of Season 1 including the minstrel who was singing ill-willed songs about Joffrey's lineage and of course Ned Stark himself.
 Little Finger got some nice air time in this episode. He heads to the Storm Lands to speak with Margaery Tyrell (and any time at all with Natalie Dormer is a blessing) as well as Cat Stark and Renly. Though he's here on Tyrion's orders, he does a wonderful job taking control of his situation and getting everything he would want and every word he wants said, out before taking his leave. Little Finger also has no qualms about toying with Cat. Even though he loves her (and its probably the only genuine feeling that he feels for anyone) he isn't even remotely afraid to play with her motherly affection to try and strike and deal with her instead of Robb.

Arya's storyline is frightening as always. The first shot of Harrenhall is fucking horrifying and then we watch with Arya as strangers and friends are tortured. It was smart of the writers to not really explain yet what it was the interrogator was asking for. It added to the general confusion of the situation. Tywin knowing she was a girl was a great little touch. Plus its a nice surprise to see a Lannister appear as a guardian angel.

"Born amidst salt and smoke? Is he a ham" -Renly Baratheon


Daenerys finally learns that being a Targaryen and a Khalisee will not get her everything. She's spent her life surrounded by men who get everything they want through threats, violence, and fear. At Qarth, Dany now has to try a new method: Submission. And she doesn't take to it well since she spent the first 16 odd years of her life being forced into this very way of life. Arya is really beginning her transformation this episode. When she watches her friends (and even strangers) die, she doesn't cry or show fear. She's tempering steel. She's hardening herself for the most true and total revenge. And I really can't wait until she gets it. Tyrion is so absolutely thrilling to watch. Not only because Dinklage is a revelation but because Tyrion is literally the most powerful man in the realm and he's utilizing his power in the smartest way. He's moving the most pieces out of anyone but he's doing it with such skill that it's impossible to look away.

Lastly, we don't see magic a lot in Game of Thrones. So when we do it needs to be a big deal. Melisandre's shadow child is absolutely terrifying and is important for a number of reasons. 1. Renly seems to be in real trouble now that we see exactly what Stannis was threatening him with. 2. Melisandre isn't just all morbid talk. The woman is very very dangerous especially now that we know the kind of power she can harness. Great episode.


This episode is all about sleight of hand. The show could be said to be about the hands moving pawns, the action behind the action. This episode has Tyrion responding to harshness with uncanny deftness. He'll walk into any given room, change the tone and direction of whatever conversation or action he witnesses, and then leaves in charge of everyone and everything. He's going around snipping wings in King's Landing, meanwhile I couldn't help feeling like the whole scene in Qarth was a put-on, a bait-and-switch to lull Dany into a false sense of empowerment. Stannis talks a big game, but he's in Melisandre's pocket. Tyrion and Baelish are hoping to use Cat to get around Robb. Stanis came to Renly to get him to surrender, already prepared for his refusal. Tywin Lannister, in thirty seconds of screentime, puts a few people abusing their tiny amount of power in their place and changes the fortune of many. In other words, earnestness is a put-on, and everyone's hoping that someone gives them a reason. Everyone wants to be pushed so they can flex their muscle, whatever it may be. So even though no one is stabbed to death, this is the most exciting episode we've seen all season.

So 6 seasons in, The Sopranos is just starting to be on the same level as Deadwood.

Scout Yeah, it took some time getting there, but the time it wrapped up, it was absolutely unmissable. I love the last episode so much.


I didn't even know you've watched The Sopranos, but yeah this season is so far above the last seasons and i'm only 4 episodes in.


 Oh, yeah. I saw the whole thing. Barring a few in Six part 2. 

You hit johnny Sack's Wedding yet? That's some Godfather type genius shit. 

Or, well I guess it's not his wedding. It's his daughter's wedding.


 It's in the next episode but I'm watching this show entirely for the last episode so that i can understand everyone's problem with it. I'm fully prepared to love it.

Scout I had no problem at all with the last episode. To me it's as fitting as Al on his knees scrubbing blood off the floor. How else are you going to end a show that's one portion of a hundred people's lives? Nothing's going to wrap it all up for them. You know? Van Der Werff said of Deadwood that he liked the feeling that you could still happen upon these people if you somehow walked into the black hills. I think they were after the same sort of thing.


A great point. I think the people that were upset were the non-critical viewers who watched it for the mob part, which is still the least interesting aspect of the series for me


 Yeah. I like that critics are still talking about the ending to The Sopranos.


I know pretty much everything about how it ends except how they get there


Scout You'll like it. There's a thing at a gas station that is blackly hysterical that I still think about from time to time.


But having seen most of this, most of The Wire, and all of Deadwood I think the latter tops the holy trinity of television.

Scout Game of Thrones has the uncanny ability to turn my hands into Devil Horns. My official word is simple: This episode manages to burn even brighter than last week's despite it being simply the release of tension expelled in the first scene. It's all agreements, bonds and promises, and is it ever thrilling! Brien and Cat, Arya and the prisoner, Little Finger and the widowed queen, Tyrion and the alchemists, Theon and his first mate, Jon and the rangers, and on and on and on. Every union broadens my smile because not only is it this kind of bond that Game does so well (somehow people swearing allegiance to each other has the excitement of a swordfight and the catharsis of a love scene in this show) but also because they all grow stronger to fight each other. Each gains a powerful ally, each goes from crawling to walking in proving themselves worthy of the throne and toward their destiny.

On an individual note how goddamned great is Iain Glen? We've talked about him before, how much we adored his understated performance in the first season and here he finally gets a moment of confession that you believe in. Most confessions in the show come either with the stench of guile or the earnestness of the naive. Jorah Mormont is neither a liar nor an innocent. At times he seems the last noble character. When backed into a corner he does not grovel and beg for Dany's love or even confess what I assume is the extent of his; he keeps his head above water, remains uninvolved and yet somehow strikes at her sympathy deeper than if he had started in with schoolboy language. "Sometimes I stare at you and can't believe you're real." These are the words of someone besotted, and it's clear that Mormont has feelings that run deeper than protector or companion, but he sells his devotion so simply and so perfectly. He is there to keep Dany honest, to remind her that she can unseat the firmly grounded simply by being herself. She seems uncertain of it because she sees a veritable buffet waiting for her just within reach but Mormont has two excellent reasons to warn her away from what she thinks she wants. One, she won't be queen as he sees her, free of debts to anyone but himself (which I feel he'd shrug off in a minute - he seemed content to die of thirst for her). And second she'd be another man's wife, which would kill him a little. And mind you, Glen says all this in about twenty seconds with nothing more than that beautifully grizzled face and the most heartfelt delivery a man with his inner scars can muster. It's a command performance among command performances. To return once more to Deadwood, he's Whitney Ellsworth with a touch of the bleeding, violent interior of Seth Bullock. As if it needed to be said, I can't goddamn wait to see what happens next.

Fox Everyone made a partnership this episode and if the pieces weren't clearly moving before, they certainly are now. I'm so glad you mentioned the fealty bit because I was on the edge of my seat when Brienne drew her sword for Catelyn. I'm trying to keep the book and the series seperate but Margaery Tyrell gets a lot less time in the novel. Its clear the show runners know what they've got and are giving Natalie Dormer every single chance they can for her to slowly turn her head and flash those sexy ass fox eyes. Arya's new friendship with Jaqen H'ghar is wonderful. He makes me smile everytime he's on screen but what's more important is Arya has power (though a thimbleful) for the first time ever and it'll be very interesting to see who she picks for the remaining two lives owed. Literally every scene with Bronn has me psyched. The dude doesn't have to even do anything anymore and I'll still be laughing madly at every one liner he's got.


Ladies and Gentlemen, Iain Glen. I didn't even know what to do with myself when he dropped his 20 second monologue. I really wish it was the last scene in the episode only so that it'd force viewers to think about it even more. In a show where literally every single word uttered is a lie, we finally got some genuine truth and its about what seems to be the rarest thing in Westeros, Qarth and all the rest: Real genuine love.

Scout Charles 'Charlie' Dance and Maisie Williams rocking out. Fuck a goddamn I love the way this show does verbal sparring matches. Jon and Ygritte, Jaime and his cousin, Tyrion and Cersei, Theon and everybody who'll listen to him bitch. It's like chess and sex in one. This was the first episode where tension was sustained from scene to scene. Skipping between Qarth, Winterfell and beyond the wall was an excellent choice. Stakes are always high in Westeros but we've never been more certain that death is over the next hill.


The last couple of episodes they've actually strayed from the books a great deal. I don't want to compare them but its nice to see that the writers of the show are treating the series like a second chance to tell a great story. Dany's dragons never get stolen in the book but it's making for a much more interesting plot line for her. And Tywin and Arya literally never say word one to each other in all their time together at Harrenhall. Thank god they've added those sequences because they're arguably the best the show has ever done. And yes, even with only a brief glimpse at Tyrion he's a frontrunner for stealing the show with that little quip off with Cersei. This show needs to stop casting such wonderful women because ever since Ygritte showed up I've just been pawing my way over furniture to be as close to the TV as possible when she says anything. She's one of the best casting choices yet.

"Any man dies with a clean sword I'll rape his fucking corpse!" -The Hound


 How did "Blackwater" treat you?


Haha!!!!! "Blackwater" proves my desperation in the face of a narrative and spectacle. So a storm knocked out my internet and I got it back around 10. I started two downloads, one for a 1.56 gb, one for a 386 mb, which oddly took longer. So I start watching and the file's too big for my processor and every few seconds the screen freezes, then tries to trudge through the frozen image - I'm sure you know what I mean. So this won't do. I go online to find it streaming and it works, but the picture and sound are shit. So I kept switching between them until Stannis hits the beach. Finally the other download is at 97% and I decide to just sit in silence and wait it out to watch it in slightly diminished quality but better sound. Which means I watched that guy get his shit wrecked by a thrown rock three or four times. Upside I got to hear the Hound say "Any man dies with a clean sword I'll RAPE HIS FUCKING CORPSE!!!!" three times
. A fantastic episode that makes you forget about everyone else in Westeros. The Hound makes the strongest showing of himself yet. Rory McCann takes a one-note character and gives him life. I loved this episode. I loved Tyrion cutting off a warrior's leg and proving Varys right about his ability to save the city. I loved this fucking episode!


Couldn't have said it any better myself. The wildfire explosion actually forced me to stand up out of my chair and yell at the tv. George R.R. Martin actually wrote that one too. It's always interesting to see changes that an author makes on their own material for film and television.


 Agreed. It's like Lindqvist doing the script for Let The Right One In - you have to know the strengths of the medium, because that novel is a real grotesque slog and that movie is the most beautiful thing ever made. 

But I think the best parts of the episode were all the dismemberings. They were fucking incredible and all completely unexpected.

Scout Rewatching this, I agree with your dismemberment theory two-fold. For this we have Director Neil Marshall to thank. Someone else might not have thought like he did. Neil knows work on a budget - he's never had bloat (except maybe Doomsday, when he blew it) so he knows that if you get a little money, you've got to make it last. So the dismemberments are not only tonally appropriate to the grisly proceedings in Westeros, but also Neil uses them as shorthand for the violence of combat. You only see one or two men getting killed in battle, but those few men are cut in half or have the tops of their heads cut right the fuck off so their brains are like a blood mary in Dudley Moore's shaky hands. You're going to remember those images, and you're going to get how fucking dirty the men of King's Landing fight.


I think you're totally right. The imagery from the episode that really stays with me are all the dismemberment and the Wildfire explosion. I remember the entire time I was watching it on tv I kept looking at the clock hoping for more time for fighting. What I didn't notice while doing that is the entire episode goes by in a flash. Its nothing but gold even when there isn't any fighting. Cersei's drunken breakdown is fantastic. (Though I will say that the most touching thing on the planet also happens in "Blackwater". Sansa bitched Ned out for getting her that doll and she was so attached to it in this episode) Really tugs at the haat strings....

Scout Tugs right on 'em.


 Well that was a hell of a way to end a season.


 Haha. Yeah they're really setting everyone up for disaster in book three. It was an extremely busy finale unlike the first season. I'm just about to the point where I want a spin off buddy cop movie with Jaime and Brienne.


Best scene. I loved Jamie's cockney put-on


And then we start talking about lord knows what. A bit of a copout considering how well the season ended, but then, we were too heartbroken to admit it was over. So we didn't say goodbye...we said bon voyage.