Friday, August 2, 2019

Jessica Jones may be done, but she shouldn't be forgotten (many SPOILERS)

Jessica Jones gets so many things right in the World of Super Heroes that it's difficult to sift through the three seasons and find any glaring inconsistencies in either the individual episodes or the overall, series encompassing story arc. I never read her in the comic books, or much else about her outside of the press done for the show or by fans on youtube, so I can't really comment on how the Creative Team approached translating this character from one medium to the other, but I can say that these Writers & Producers gave credit to the genre and created something truly remarkable: a solid Super Hero story living within a recognizable, contemporary world with very few gimmicks and a deep understanding of their characters.

It's actually a shame that of all the unique Marvel series that existed on Netflix, this one will likely never come back. Krysten Ritter has publicly stated she's not interested in reprising the role, and given the subject matter of these stories, I can't see Disney rushing to recast, either.

It's a tough role, though, and I could understand her not wanting to live in that headspace more than necessary. Besides, the last episode of the series actually ends on a little bit of a positive note for Jessica for once, and I can see why that should be enough for everybody to settle and move on.

Season 3 picks up a few months after the tragedies of Season 2, with Jessica putting her life back together and ignoring her sister's calls for reconciliation. Instead, she's hired a sassy new Secretary and is pushing her routine with a bottle of booze always close at hand. Before the first episode is over, she picks up a stranger at a bar and then gets attacked by another stranger after she takes the first guy home with her. So, a few new faces to blend with the old familiar, and Jessica's already almost dead - that's how you open a Season!

Skipping over a bunch of stuff, I will say that it is also interesting, simply from a production perspective, how many of the storylines in each of these various Marvel series remain consistent in paralleling each other. There's the search for lost parents, regret over past (pre-super power) events, the betrayal and/or reconciliation of close friends - we also get the conversations about morality, right vs. wrong, justice, and what it means to be a Super Hero.

These repetitive plots and themes could get very tiresome depending on how the Creative Teams assigned to these projects handled their material. For example, when you ignore the source material and depend on predictable plot devices, as with the Punisher & Iron Fist series, you get a mish-mash of nonsense that fails to capture any sense of sincerity or honesty. Characters become hollow and flat. The dialogue meanders, serving the Writer's perspective more than those of their characters. Plot swerves feel forced and events become trivial, redundant, and ultimately pointless. Fans of the comics refuse to return, and those who never read the source material have nothing of substance to hook their interest for anything more than what was presented - and they won't be buying the collectible boxed set later, either. 

With Jessica Jones, there was not a whole lot of source material to begin with, as I understand it - a short but significant series and a few guest appearances in the Defenders or other comic titles - but there was enough to get started. That short series laid the ground work for Season 1, and then the Creative Team took it from there, and damn if they didn't create something worthy of sharing the ranks with the Best of the Best in Marvel Lore. As I wrote in this post, the Season 2 cliffhangers for Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones all left me feeling different forms of upset or anxiety, but only Jessica Jones held my interest for a Season 3 resolution - and she didn't disappoint, either.

From the start of this final Season, the scene structure flows smoothly, the dialogue is sharp and clever, and every character has a relationship instead of a plot point to justify their existence. Things make sense in terms of where we might expect to find each of these characters in the aftermath of Season 2, which is a relief in a way, despite the heavy material. There is very little wasted space, which lets Fans enjoy the world Jessica moves through without having to make up reasons in their own heads as to why things are happening. Or worse yet, have to listen to hours of repetitive dialogue about how characters feel about one subject. Sure, there's a few minor flaws here and there, but in comparison to its counterparts, only Daredevil remained as consistent in the presentation of their Hero as does Jessica Jones, and that team had much more source material to work with for their show.

As with Season 2, the supporting characters are just as important as Jessica's story, and they intertwine so fluidly through these last episodes that it resolves any questions prompted by earlier seasons, closing with a sense of melancholy that gets overturned by a larger sense of accomplishment and ambition. She may be starting a new life for herself at the end of all this, but she isn't going to run from anything, either. The very last shot of Season 3 portrays Jessica at her strongest, most powerful moment in the entire series, because it shows that she has embraced a sense of Hope. She deliberately decides that she will no longer be afraid of anything and she glows with the confidence of a better future that those feelings bring.

Which is even more fantastic considering the terrible state most everyone else finds themselves in by the end of the show. Unlike Season 2, where everyone was ensnared in the consequences of the Greek Tragedy that spun out before us, Season 3 serves up a good dose of Karma to remind us of the many ways evil people pay for their misdeeds.

Well, maybe "evil" is too strong a word for some of these characters, as Karma is more about balance than it is about retribution. Certainly the Bad Guy gets caught and pays the ultimate price for his crimes, but there are other, more nuanced interactions where terrible things are justified by claiming to serve a greater good, and those who commit these actions bear the consequences accordingly.

First up, Jeri Hogarth, played with an endearing grace despite her cold and calculating exterior by the profoundly effective Carrie Ann Moss. Following through with the Season 2 story, Jeri's ALS has progressed and continues to overcome her body throughout these last episodes. She's dying a slow death, and she's terrified. But, her ambitions and her own hard-earned position prevent her from daring to seek help or willingly admit her condition to anybody. She is alone, facing the end of her days.

So, remembering fonder times through the warm glow of nostalgia, she looks up an old Flame from college - Kith Lyonne - played with a deft authenticity by Sarita Choudhury. True to form, however, Jeri doesn't just re-connect with Kith. She targets her. Pursues her. Attempts to claim Kith as her own almost entirely against her will, all the while maintaining a benevolent facade. Jeri's ruthless tactics have all the compassion of a corporate takeover, and while flattered at first, Kith remembers their history more for the aftermath than the good times, and she isn't about to let Jeri run over her life.

There is a confrontation scene between the two of them in a music room that is simply delightful to watch as Kith keeps her distance from Jeri, using different musical instruments to express her emotions as Jeri tries to sway her to her side. It's moments like this that set Jessica Jones apart from the regular faire of Iron Fist, Punisher, and Luke Cage - the willingness to portray real characters in authentic, human ways rather than falling on tried and true (predictable, boring) plot devices. Instead of wasting time and energy reciting dialogue, Kith deflects Jeri's arguments with music - abrupt noise, singular repetitive notes played faster and faster as her frustration grows - she can't match Jeri in a verbal joust so she uses what's familiar in her own environment. It's a brilliant scene, wonderfully acted, and just one of many that reveal a much more creative and engaging approach to story and character - from Actor to Audience, everyone benefits from well planned and executed moments like these. We are skillfully left guessing until the very last moment what their fate will be in a way that leaves us anxious for the conclusion instead of throwing up our hands in exasperation.

How their story resolves itself reveals that Kith has done a lot of growing up on her own and is far more sophisticated than the girl Jeri knew back in college. While neither of them really "win" in the end, Kith proves that she is no mere trophy to be taken lightly. Jeri is incapable of capturing Kith's heart because, while she may be good at manipulating people, she doesn't know how to love them. Despite all of her wealth and success, she is still alone in a gilded cage of her own creation.

Speaking of cages and things not going according to plan, Rachael Taylor continues with her brilliant insanity as Trish Walker's story comes full circle. Her addictions overwhelm her once again, pushing her towards her own destruction, and Taylor doesn't flinch in her performance. The irony this time is that we see her addiction is more than a chemical problem. Her true addiction is power. Having been envious of Jessica's special abilities, and always wanting to be perceived as a Hero herself, Trish fulfills the promise made by the Season 2 cliffhanger and exploits her newfound super powers to become a Masked Crusader, executing her own brand of "Justice" on perceived Bad Guys.

Did I say she doesn't flinch? Well, truth be told, at the very last, her final line somehow gets flubbed, and that's the take they use. It's weird, like a Starbucks cup suddenly appearing in Game of Thrones. She stutters the line "I'm a Bad Guy" and it sounds like she says "I'm a - a Bad Guy" - like, it's an accident, not a performance choice - and that's the take they use! Seriously, I played it back twice because I thought I was hearing things. I even put on the closed captions and, bless them, they wrote they line as it should have been, not what she said.

Why did they do that!? Was there only that one take available for one of the most dramatic revelations a character has about themselves? Was the Editor asleep at the wheel? Were they facing a deadline? It completely undermined the power of her performance, and based on everything else we've seen from the otherwise riveting Rachael Taylor, there had to have been a better take to use.

Fortunately, despite not having anymore lines, we do get to see a bit more of her, including a nice interaction between her and Jessica, which (kinda) makes up for the disservice they do with her last line in the entire series.

Despite that one flub, this is actually another clever secret weapon in the overall effectiveness of Jessica Jones as a series: Jessica's not the only "Hero" in the show. They take full advantage of these three seasons to adapt and develop Trish Walker's origin story for the character Hellcat, who was a Hero in the comics around the same time period as Jessica, even though Jessica wasn't really "on the scene", so to speak, until much later in the publications. I don't think they shared any time in the comic books together. I could be wrong about that, though. Ironically, while Hellcat had more comic book time than Jessica, her story plays out more as a supporting role in this series, which is good for building their relationship and setting up a real conflict centered around what it means to be a "Hero".

They stay true to most of the source material, with one significant tweak: her addictive, somewhat obsessive personality - and it's enough to begin blurring the lines between right and wrong in this conflicted World of Heroes.

I mention this only to note another area where the Creative Team made fundamental character changes to suit their series which may not have pleased comic book fans. The main difference this time, though, is that the revisions fit well within their established world without straying too far from the source material. Nobody really wants to see a hero disgraced by their own weaknesses - not even Jessica - but the plot is handled in a way that makes Trish far more sympathetic than your average Bad Guy. Again, Jessica Jones the series succeeds in translating and adapting characters from page to screen without falling on predictable, worn out plot devices.

It's pretty cool how this Creative Team took their time establishing the relationships and conflicts between these characters before jumping into some clash between super powered yet embittered rivals. There's a genuine give and take between these two that, while it does stray from Hellcat in the comics, it feels right in the series - lacking contrivances and rich with development that makes us sympathetic to both characters. There's no dwelling on one topic or another longer than it takes to move the story forward. In sharp contrast to another Marvel series on Netflix, Jessica Jones sets a standard, proving once again that respecting the source material benefits everybody. I'm looking at you, Punisher series - with your lame, huge wasted opportunity, psychobabble BS "origin" story for Jigsaw.

Ugh. Painful.

It's actually fun in the beginning as Trish gets to explore her powers. There's a nice bit where, ever fashion conscious, she tries on different disguises, giving us an opportunity to see her in the costumes from the comic books. It's fun because, for a moment, we get the fan service of seeing the Hero as drawn, but we are also allowed to recognize that such costumes do not work in the gritty "real life" world of Jessica Jones. Fun, smart, without dwelling too long on anything, yet giving the audience enough to get the situation along with the satisfaction. The audience is naturally included instead of being told what kind of fun they should be having. That's clever writing. The kind that keeps an audience hooked and asking for more.

It's also more evidence, despite the dismissive excuses from various Guilds and Academies, that the Netflix brand of production and distribution is not only groundbreaking, it is wholly capable of generating award worthy material created by new and inventive Artists across the Entertainment Industry. Not only are they here to stay, they continue to force major Studios to mimic their model or lose profits. It won't be long before those Studio Egos insist on their awards, and then shows like Jessica Jones might finally have a chance of receiving the recognition they deserve.

But I digress...

Rebecca De Mornay deserves recognition for her authentic performance as the often annoying and occasionally terrifying Dorothy Walker. Portraying the best and worst of the Stage Mom stereotype, we are given glimpses of how an abusive relationship can warp a person's perceptions and undermine even the best of intentions. In a series of flashbacks, we see how cruelty at a young age shaped Trish into the misguided Hero she becomes as an adult. Dorothy is presented as a single Mom using her only Daughter as a pretty little pawn to advance her own agenda - Namely, placing Trish Walker as the face of a popular new children's TV series. She's ruthless, pushing her Trish to take sides and "pay what she owes" for all the sacrifices her Dear Mother makes for her.

It's all the more tragic to recognize that this deeply manipulative relationship exists to the present day, with Dorothy doggedly maintaining Trish's public image and trading her celebrity for paying gigs while Trish begrudgingly goes along with it because she has no skills to do anything else. It's all she's ever been taught. After two seasons of tragedy, however - for a moment - it seems like there might be a decent balance in all the drama. A little peace between ruthless parent and subjugated daughter...

But Trish has these powers now. And she made herself a costume. And she's going out looking for "bad guys" to beat up. She keeps it a secret as long as she can, but her inexperience makes her sloppy. Her recklessness leads to unintended injuries. Inevitably, Jessica is on her track, and once she unmasks Trish, she's faced with a real dilemma.

It's a great conflict. The connection between Trish and Jessica felt sincere since the beginning of Season 1. Their arguments, their reconciliations, even their final showdown deliver the kind of emotional impact that Zack tried to beat out of his audiences with Batman vs. Superman.

"But they had three seasons! And BvS only had, like, 3 hours," you may say, to which I reply:

1) Nothing could help fumigate the monolithic, pretentious, bombastic bullshit of that movie - it's as much the fault of DC as it is Zack and the people in charge of that entire franchise. However long that movie was, it was too freakin' long.

2) As Game of Thrones demonstrated in its Final Season Fiasco, it only takes one episode to collapse the House of Cards - and they gave us three! Out of Six! That's 50-50 on exasperating, unbelievable bullshit from the writers of the last episodes we'll ever see! I admit that I did try to sympathize at first, but the aftertaste is still so strong that I have been swayed by rational discourse. The last season of Game of Thrones wasn't just a train wreck, it was a train that had been abandoned and left to fly off the rails out of control. Weiss and Benioff didn't dare show their faces at Comic Con because they knew the Fans were ready to slow roast them for how lazily they wrapped up that last devastatingly disappointing season.

"Scheduling conflicts". Right. Let the Actors defend your decisions and what's left of that franchise. Well done indeed. Can't wait to see what you do to Star Wars.

Anyway...

The last Actor who needs recognition for his work over the three seasons of Jessica Jones is Eka Darville as Malcolm Ducasse. As an Actor as well as a character, watching Mr. Darville grow on camera, take on more challenging scenes and material, and develop into a fully realized character capable of headlining his own series by the end of Season 3 was truly a rewarding viewing experience.

Through most of Season 1, I felt he was probably the most expendable character. By the end of Season 3, he's right there alongside Jeri and Trish, slugging it out and dealing with his own moral issues. He's matured. He's in a relationship with a talented young Lawyer at Jeri's Law Firm - Zaya, played by Tiffany Mack - and as with most things in this series, it doesn't go so well for them.

It's really nice to see Tiffany Mack in a series that makes use of her abilities rather than squanders them, as happened in the disappointing second season of Hap and Leonard. She was a stand out from Season 1 of that series, and in Season 2, they literally throw her in a trunk and leave her there, only to "ironically" kill her in the last episode. Terrible ending and a complete waste of her talents.

Now, I'm not going to say that Eka and Tiffany are given material that's profound and earth shaking, but their love story does have a complexity that requires a certain amount of skill for it to feel authentic or it all falls flat into melodrama. Watching these two perform gives you a real sense that here are two Actors at the early stages of long and rewarding careers. I would not be surprised to see either of them headlining a feature or even a series franchise in the not-too-distant future.

And that's everything.

I don't think I could pile on more praise for what is the final original Marvel series to have lived briefly on Netflix. I have said before that I am much more of an action and explosions kind of guy, but when the writing and acting is this strong and consistent, I admit that I can get swallowed up in the drama. As much as I loved Daredevil, I have to say that in terms of overall presentation and performance, Jessica Jones is the best of the lot. Daredevil after that, then the Defenders, and Luke Cage.

The Punisher narrowly avoids sharing last place with Iron Fist as the least impressive franchise simply because the last episodes of Iron Fist not only completely went off the rails from the source material, they were a fundamental insult to everything these Hero stories are supposed to be about. If their goal was to "subvert expectations" - that popular excuse for shitty material people are throwing around these days - well, mission accomplished. Even the outstanding character of Mary Walker, played by the deceptively charming Alive Eve, wasn't enough to prevent those writers from killing their own franchise. At least the Punisher, for all of its pretenses, was mainly that: pretentious. People unfamiliar with the comics were more accepting of that soap opera nonsense than the absurd ending of Iron Fist, and understandably so.

Of all of these unique Netflix/Marvel collaborations, Jessica Jones stands alone - an impressive hybrid of adapted source material filtered through often clever reflections of contemporary society, presented in the genre deceptively classified as "Super Hero Fantasy". It's a complete package - the real deal. I could see it gain a cult following that grows over the years because it succeeds in another way that many of the other shows fail: It's timeless.

For the moment, it's still available on Netflix. After that, Disney takes it, and who knows when we'll ever see it again?

I'm gonna get the boxed set when it comes out.

Enjoy it while you can!

















Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Rocketman tantalizes like a Symphony experienced in 2-channel Stereo (SPOILERS)

The three greatest takeaways from Rocketman:

1) Had I the pleasure of a live experience, as in witnessing a staged musical performance of this work, I think I would have been far more seduced by the glitz & glam and passionate performances throughout this otherwise fairly common and occasionally perplexing Movie Musical. The Actors are committed and enjoyable to watch - Bryce Dallas Howard gives a particularly impressive turn as Elton's Mother while blending into the ensemble seamlessly.

The musical numbers are, for the most part, very well thought out, grandly executed, and sometimes genuinely affecting emotionally - "This Song's for You" is a particularly touching sequence as it is shown to be the first song that really cements the relationship between Elton (Taron Egerton) and Bernie (Jamie Bell), the first song that reveals how others begin to recognize that these two - but most especially, Elton - were something special, as well as the first song that launches Elton into the stratosphere of International Stardom.

Oddly, most of these musical numbers seem to lack the emotional depth to really create a connection with the audience in a way that allows them to sympathize with Elton, or his turbulent lifestyle and history. I think it has to do with the sometimes nullifying effect that movies can have over live theater - we examine images in a darkened room, without the sensation of feeling the performers or the musicians in the room with us. There is no sense of vitality depicted in cinema that can match the sensation of a live performance. It's a different medium and naturally affects the audience differently.

If I were seeing these musical numbers live, feeling the visceral power of these talented Performers in full regalia, I might have overlooked some of the unanswered questions provoked by this movie - or perhaps never thought of them at all. Without the power of performance from Live Theater, despite its best efforts, the movie lacks the emotional strength to carry an audience on any significant emotional experience for more than a song or two.

2) The reason for this lack of emotional depth may be a bit obvious, but it all falls directly on the story behind the music. The truth is that this movie treats its subject matter with kid gloves, emphasizing a disappointing childhood as justification for a multitude of events which are mainly alluded to, instead of allowing anything truly slanderous or embarrassing to be revealed, leaving the audience guessing about many significant moments in the rise and fall of this Mega Star. Why so much emphasis should be placed on Elton's childhood rather than the major events that propel him and ultimately condemn him was a creative choice that could only have been motivated by a keen sense of protecting Elton's real life - and apparently very fragile - personal dignity.

Perhaps there was an expectation that "real fans" of Elton John would already know his private history - or at the very least, the public scandals - and that there's no need to go into details. Or maybe just the opposite: a fear that revealing too much would cost him the loyalty of his fans. Either way, the end result is a confusing blend of demands for sympathy for a childhood full of neglect, and a call for celebration that this man, for all of his sins, has redeemed himself and found Love somehow - but what has he redeemed himself from?

We never really see him abuse anybody. We see many people take advantage of him and his talents, and there are a few scenes where he seems justifiably frustrated at the lack of appreciation for his accomplishments - but then again, we aren't really shown what he thinks of his own accomplishments either. Other than himself, he doesn't really abuse or do any significant damage to anything living or dead, according to this movie. He just gets drunk, takes drugs, has sex, and in one somewhat overlong and redundant monologue, he admits to the kind of hedonistic lifestyle one might expect from an individual who has repeatedly been told that the world was his to claim - he is free to demand anything and so he does and he gets it.

What's so bad about all of that?

If he truly became a madman from his indulgences, this movie depicts the most sane of any madness, the most banal of predictable indulgences, and expects us to condemn him all the same for simply being human. Nope. Something's missing in this fantastical madness, and that's any sense of harsh reality or genuine consequences.

For example, there's a sequence meant to happen about the middle of his career where he meets a woman with whom he seems to connect on some deeper emotional level. How do we know this? Two separate scenes where she says one somewhat insightful sentence to him that makes him stare at her. Then, that second time, they make eye contact - ooh! Something meaningful might be there! Then they're getting married. Then, they're (presumably) at breakfast and she pours herself a tea or something. He pours himself a huge glass of vodka and orange juice. They look at each other and start crying and apologizing to each other. After that, she's gone & the marriage is over. We never see her again.

THOSE ARE ALL OF HER SCENES! That's it! literally an entire relationship told in less than five minutes - and not in a heart tugging, sentimental way like in the movie UP, rather more like a nudging, bashful, "you get what we're saying here, right?" kind of timidity. Who the hell was this woman? What was so bad about their marriage other than the fact that he was gay? How could she not have known that before she agreed to marry him? How did they cope and try to manage before agreeing that it wouldn't work? How did she influence his life? His music? What happened to her? You could have built an entire production on this one story alone and learned volumes more about Elton, his life, and his influence on the world. Nope. There's not even a song about them. Who cares? Doesn't matter to this musical. Next scene!

It's this very shyness to portray Elton in a negative light that undercuts the audience's ability to connect with him. We never see a fully rounded character. He's never really depicted as being a bad guy, ever, yet the audience is told we should view him, at least occasionally, as such. We never see anything truly reprehensible from his actions, although we are constantly provided substantial hints that Elton was capable of some of the worst in human behavior. For all the high times in this movie, we never really see any sincere low points. There are scenes at the peak of his fame where he is clearly isolated and has pissed off most everybody. Don't know why, really. Sure, he's a self-indulgent drunk, but if anything, we can only guess that maybe his bad behavior and substance abuse was the result of a brutal work schedule and being surrounded by various indifferent people exploiting him - oh yeah, and his shitty childhood.

The movie starts with him going to rehab. He stays in rehab to the end, where he and the people in his life that were significant enough to make it into the movie gather together for a fantastical absolution scene which may have been gratifying for Elton and the people who made this movie, but for the audience, you could feel the collective down turn in energy as this Golden Boy gets another polish before heading out to make more hit records. Again.

So what? Why so much forgiveness for an outlandish but relatively harmless Drunk? Instead of any harsh truths, it's all hints and half measures, skipping through scenes of Elton either being taken advantage of in some way or indulging in his hedonistic celebrity lifestyle. We never see him earn his first gold record, his first million, etc., so we have no way of knowing what he thought of his own successes - we don't see him really decide anything for himself beyond his stage name and costume choices. There's an entertaining set of scenes when he first arrives in the United States and plays his first gig at the Troubador, but that success is spoiled because, for whatever reason - oh right, his childhood -  Elton can't lighten up and enjoy the after party like everyone else. Instead, he gets sulky and feels abandoned when Bernie actually does what most anybody else would do at a party, and this seems to be par for the course for his behavior throughout the rest of the movie: Poor Elton can't enjoy his fame because he had mean, indifferent parents and now he has mean, indifferent friends.

So what? He's still a Superstar who has lost nothing, really. He's fine. He does everything most anybody who survived a coke binge through the 80s did - and he was in the middle of the flood when it washed through Hollywood & the entire music scene - so I'm not sure what the message is here, or why we should care about any of it.

3) But then again, we should care because of the one thing that this movie does move forward, which is important to the World of Cinema as a whole, including creators and consumers alike: That is the positive depiction of a gay man as he navigates a career and a culture that outwardly condemns homosexuality, but otherwise is willing to ignore or even embrace such behavior if there's fame and fortune to be had. It's the greater story of how one individual with an amazing talent turned his ability into a global entertainment machine. A genuine rags to riches story of a man who ultimately came out publicly as gay and became a major supporter of the entire community as well as an example for others to follow. The story of a living Legend who turned his early exploitation and hypocrisy into a platform for self-empowerment, and still has more songs and more stories to tell.

Movies like this need to continue becoming more commonplace in mainstream distribution. Movies that depict the normalcy and dignity of people regardless of antiquated biases, without preaching or calling direct attention to the "diversity" of their cast or crew. In other words, a story that treats its characters with dignity regardless of sexual orientation, rather than a movie that takes every opportunity to point out that its characters are gay or gender biased. As long as any story is honest about the relationships of the characters, their sexual preferences outside of the narrative should be irrelevant. The higher calling is always toward embracing inclusion, progress, and Love. People who tell such stories are always elevated as their careers progress, and with good reason: Fans love an honest story.

That's the opportunity this Creative Team almost completely misses by glossing over the majority of Elton John's career and dwelling on his childhood. Rocketman gives us a glimpse of the need to hide sexual preferences in the 70s, but as with every other potentially dangerous or embarrassing topic, nothing further is done to explore the issue. On one hand, that's cool, for all the reasons above. On the other, some of the reviews regarding how "brave" this film is simply because it depicts a few moments of two men having sex demonstrates that more movies honestly depicting human relationships, regardless of overbearing prejudices, need to be in the mainstream affirming how common emotions are in every human being, and thus, how relatable we actually are to each other.

Instead, the movie is more of an observation regarding the hypocrisy and greed inherent in every individual tempted by extravagance. There's no significant resolution beyond rehab. It's as if we're watching a cinematic version of one of Elton's costumed performances - we never really see Elton the man beyond the movie makeover.  By the end of the movie it occurred to me that this probably would be adapted to a touring show, and it will probably do very well. Maybe get a stage in Vegas. Or London. Or Paris. Or all three, why not?

Anyway, maybe it's better that we don't delve into the nitty grit of Elton's worst moments. It seems to me, though, that the real story is what the entertainment machine we know of as "Fame" did to someone who literally came from nowhere and became a Rock God. Evidently, it drove him crazy, but not too crazy. He went to rehab and still returned to claim his throne as Legend.

Sure, all that's in Rocketman, but it still feels like something's missing.

The movie, The Greatest Showman, for example. Nobody is going to try and argue that the movie is historically accurate, or even remotely depicts PT Barnum as the brutally indifferent and exploitative man that he truly was, but here's the difference: that Musical didn't try. Instead, it created a theme about the man and his accomplishments, and it showed enough darkness to make the audience recognize him as someone we wanted to be redeemed. Moreover, it made the story about the larger goal of inclusion, acceptance, embracing individual gifts and Humanity as a whole. From start to finish, every musical number built on this theme and the end result was a climax that literally left the audience clapping. An audience clapped for a musical story about "there's a sucker born every minute" PT Barnum.

I was shocked when that happened. I saw it with a friend in a second run theater in North Hollywood - hardly the place where an audience is so appreciative of a movie - but they were swept away by the music, the performances, and most of all, the positive message of the overall theme of the Musical itself. It captivated the audience and they were exhilarated.

With Rocketman, his story is more of a retrospective, not a journey, and it's not meant to get too deep or be too revelatory, despite what the hype says. What it really is, more than anything else, is a promo piece for Elton John and whatever his next project may be. This movie makes it clear that, whatever he may have done, at his core he's still good old Elton. We are introduced to him dressed in full performance costume as some sort of Theatrical Devil and we're told he's not a nice man. He's done terrible things. But as much as we're told he's been an awful person, we're never given any reason to believe it. He's just a man. So then off we go with a disjointed examination of this man's life via a rollicking yet mostly predictable and pointless montage of dance numbers glossing over most of the achievements and meaningful events we might care most about. He doesn't even seem to be impressed by his own accomplishments. He's just a man. 

A gay man who changed the World by facing the worst that could be thrown at him, survived it all and still came out the better man for it - an example for anybody to aspire to and follow in their own ambitions. We may want the meat and potatoes of his story, but we get the bubble gum instead. Maybe he should have another movie made without the musical angle - you know, one that really gets into what it was like for a man like him to overcome so many obstacles and rise so high.

After sitting through a light and fluffy anecdotal Musical about one of the most influential Musicians to come out of the 70s and 80s, I still have questions and want to know more about him. Maybe that was the point.

So... Hmmm.

Well done, I guess...?
 
I probably should have seen this live. When it gets adapted and goes on tour, I'd be interested.




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Friday, June 7, 2019

It's not a movie, Jerry...

Man, times have changed. Or maybe it's just where I live. Or maybe it's me.

I mostly grew up in a small farming town and moved to L.A. like so many thousands who flock to this city every day. It is a different place, runs at a different speed, and the people have different attitudes and ambitions. I like it here because there's room for imagination and growth and exploration of things I am interested in pursuing - even in this advancing digital age there's not a lot of room for my kind of big ideas in such a small town, although I still look fondly on it as another home from another life. For a small apartment here, I pay enough in rent to buy a very nice house back where my family still maintains our roots. Just one example of the many perplexing decisions I have made in pursuit of my ambitions. If I wanted to be a plumber or a farmer I might never have left there, but I had to leave.

Over the years that I've lived here, there have been the obligatory traffic stops and occasional run-ins with police, but never anything that led to jail time or serious injury to anybody. I say this only to identify the playing field a little more clearly: I have rubbed elbows with a few Felons, but never been one myself. I consider myself fortunate to have grown out of those distractions before the urge towards self-destruction did some real long-term damage.

Having known a few Cops from different parts of the country, I have much respect for what Police have to do on a daily basis - I definitely do not want that job - but I also know that individual Cops can be a bit dicey depending on time of day and where they scored on their psyche evaluation. The bigger the City, the more diversity in all things, right?

So anyway, where I live suits this perspective well because we don't have a lot of outrageous crime, but we do have a solid Police presence to assure us Civilians that help is truly just a phone call away. Generally speaking, though, nobody really wants to call the Cops because inevitably that just leads to more time and money being thrown away on more problems that they bring right along with them - You might find yourself being arrested for something you didn't even know you were doing! Then there's the paperwork, court dates - and the problem they got called in for still hasn't really gone away, they just know about it now, and it all becomes public record. Who wants that?

My apartment complex isn't huge, but it is a nice little microcosm reflecting the local diversity of the area. There are a few small families, but mostly young couples or individuals, and most everybody is courteous and friendly but mainly keeps to themselves. Some people have been here over a decade, and some of them are getting up there in age.

Like this one guy, Jerry.

I met Jerry a few months after I moved in. He made it a point to introduce himself, tell me of his military history, and that he was essentially a self-appointed watchdog for our complex, so I should be aware that no matter what happened, everything would be okay. He then gave me a cursory interview - who was I and what did I do kind of thing. He was tall and skinny and old and frail - 72years old & thin as a bag of sticks as of this writing - so I considered him about as much of a threat as an old hound dog barking at the crows he'll never catch. Let him watch over us. It gives him something to do, he obviously takes pride in it, and who knows? If something really got serious, at the very least he might be a useful witness later.

I did not want to insult the man, but I did take more of a bemused attitude toward him. The longer I lived here led to more encounters with him, and most of those times he was clearly drunk. A belligerent drunk. One who had no time for any bullshit, and no patience for pleasantries. At times, he would remind me of how shitty this world was and that he was ready to be done with it, but I never let that phase me. I'd always answer back with some sort of positive spin, whether he liked it or not. I wasn't going to agree with this lonely Old Soul's self-diagnosed world view.

Alcoholics.

When they're full blown drunk and their heads are spinning, you gotta keep feeding fresh ideas to do battle with the Demons they're already fighting inside themselves. Keep 'em distracted with positive images or a turn of phrase - hell, it doesn't even have to be positive as long as it keeps their mind distracted. Otherwise their thoughts always go dark and the Demons win. Jerry had a lot of Demons.

But he wasn't alone. There was another guy in the apartment complex that shared his protective sensibilities and fondness for drink. He was a much more positive influence on Jerry and they seemed pretty chummy. Eventually, he was the one who got through to Jerry when the old man needed help the most.

See, what happened was, Jerry started to show signs that maybe he wasn't doing so well. He gave his dog away. He started upbraiding kids for playing too loud - that was new, even for the self-appointed patrol hound. And then one day, while he was full blown drunk, he started patrolling the complex with his sidearm in a shoulder holster. I didn't see him, although, apparently at one point when I was outside he was just a few steps away, watching me.

I only know that because the neighbor lady who called the cops on him told me later. She saw him watching me and thought he might be mad at me for something from the way he was looking. And he had that pistol with him. Honestly, even if I had seen him, I still don't think I would've considered him a threat. As far as I know, that pistol never left the holster the entire time he was walking around, but seeing him like that was enough to get those nosy neighbor fingers dialing.

Since I hadn't seen him, and I had to work that night, I was looking forward to some sleep. The most I heard at first were some grumblings and the distant sound of police somewhere in our building. I tried to ignore it. I didn't want to know why police might be here, or what was going on. As long as it stayed on the other side of the complex I was happy to pretend I was deaf and focus on slumber.

But Jerry was a war vet, stuck in his ways, stubborn drunk, and ready to stand his ground. So, instead of a friendly chat with uniformed cops who might have arrested him, things escalated to a full-blown hostage situation, with Jerry as both terrorist and victim, barricading himself in his own apartment and threatening to shoot himself or one of them if they tried to take him.

Before the hour was up, I could hear a steady knocking on doors moving systematically through the building, approaching mine. By this time, while I still had no idea what was actually happening outside my apartment, I knew that I would have to deal with it. There is nothing more ego crushing than recognizing that this Big Old World can and will take you and affect you at any moment, regardless of what your preferences might be.

I don't own my life, I am a part of Life. That is all.

When I opened my door, I came face to face with two Policemen in full tactical gear, one with an automatic rifle - a proper automatic rifle, not the demonized semi-auto AR-15 so commonly vilified by Big Media - the other carried a tear gas gun and a shield. A shield! The man with the badge and the automatic told me that they were evacuating the building. The man with the badge and the shield indicated that I should leave through the narrow space between them and my front window. My nap was over.

My neighbor opened her door and almost immediately began to panic. While she flustered and stuffed her cat into a travel carrier, I threw some clothes on, grabbed my wallet and forgot my phone. I kicked myself over forgetting the phone because I missed a lot of potentially great footage I could have used later. We got escorted out of the building by two other uniformed Cops doing their thing. Turning left coming out of the building we faced a column of - no joke - about 20 SWAT in full gear, marching in a column heading right for us. Obviously, we had to get out of their way, they weren't going to move for us.

My neighbor panicked a little bit more, and seeing three armored vehicles rumbling down the street didn't help her disposition. Funny thing though, she immediately identified the military designation and type of vehicle like she was some sort of Savant. As distressed as she was, the panic had shifted to an analysis/resolution mode as we were shuffled along towards the "safety zone". You never really learn about a person until you see them under duress. She disappeared with her cat shortly thereafter, presumably to a local friend nearby.

The block was locked down. Cops were everywhere, all types of vehicles - LAFD even set up a base of operations in the gas station on the corner. They brought in a unit of Specialists ready to climb the roof and rappel down the side of the building to get their man. At its peak, we saw about 60 different Police, Fire & Emergency Personnel. And when I say Police, I mean pretty much every department you could think of from regular patrol all the way up to forensics & CSI types. The Negotiator was working the residents for information he could use to talk to Jerry, and the people that knew him best did what they could to make sure the SWAT didn't go in guns blazing on the Old Man.

Sure, all that gear was impressive, but nobody on that block thought that kind of show of force was necessary. You can bet that when Jerry saw the apartment complex fill up with a Sea of Blue, all geared up with guns out and heading for his front door, the last thing he was thinking was surrender. No. If anything, he was ready for a full dose of Death by Cop if that was how it had to be. Let 'em come.

Of course, in these days we live in, I can't really say I blame the Cops for wanting to squash any potential threat with the full weight of the military hardware our tax dollars paid for - the saying goes "God made man, but Colt made him equal." In other words, he may have just been a drunk old man, but he was a drunk old man with a gun who apparently had threatened Cops doing a wellness check on him after a neighbor expressed genuine safety concerns for herself and others in the complex. Who knows what Jerry had in his apartment? And if he really was willing to take his own life? What if he decided to take a few neighbors or Cops with him on his way to the sweet bye and bye...?

Nope. Jerry had sprung his own trap, and now there was nothing to be done but wait to see what he would do about it. Fortunately, the Cops really did seem to understand the situation and held off storming the apartment or trying to smoke him out with tear gas. None of that would have gone well for anybody, and Jerry certainly would be dead one way or another.

Instead, his friend showed up, calmly walking up to the scene while talking to Jerry on the phone. The Negotiator was happy to see him and tried to enlist his aid. He even brought equipment to connect to the phone so they could record the conversations. Jerry's friend was having none of that. I couldn't hear them talking, but I could see him shaking his head, disregarding the Negotiator's frustration. In a moment when the Negotiator had to deal with something else, Jerry's friend simply walked away.

He went around the block where he could call Jerry and talk to him in peace. And they did talk. For about a half hour they talked. Soon after, we could see the police starting to roll out. Some went quickly, while others had to dismantle all the gear and temporary command posts they had set up - they had brought a bunch of shit.

Word came down that Jerry had given up and was in custody. There was a light smattering of applause that almost felt sarcastic when it began, but by the time myself and others on the block joined in, it was an expression of genuine relief that Jerry was out safe and nobody got hurt.

I went over to Jerry's friend and thanked him for helping Jerry get out alive. He was more incensed by the police presence than anything I had to say, and soon started to call out to random SWAT and others about how what they did was unnecessary. He could have saved all of them all that trouble if only they let him talk to Jerry instead of bringing all of Burbank PD down on the Old Man. He tried to spot Jerry in all that business and ended up yelling encouraging words in the general direction we thought they took him. It was kind of touching to see one old dog barking for his friend, trying to hear if his friend could even howl back to him. He was gonna miss Jerry more than any of the rest of us.

As for Jerry, we still haven't seen or heard from him. I'm betting that he was brought straight to a suicide watch/observation/mental care facility and will probably be on their 30-day detox & evaluation program, and that's just for starters. I'd be surprised if he did any jail time because, at the end of the day, Jerry really just needed someone to talk to who would really listen. He needs this kind of professional help, whether he wants it or not.

In the end, one Friend with a cell phone accomplished what 60+ SWAT, LAPD, LAFD, EMT & god knows what else couldn't get done on their best day. They literally threw an Army at a 72year old Alcoholic who had the audacity to stand up to them and still failed to successfully negotiate the conclusion. They did scoop him up and carry him off somewhere though, so, now we'll see what's next.

As much as I can rationalize what happened, I still find myself wondering at how the times have changed. I like to believe that where I grew up, even these days, that situation would not have escalated the way it did. But then again, I'm not there now, and who knows? Maybe I'm romanticizing my past the way Jerry romanticized his, but the whole story seems sad in a way - a tragic decline in what we as U.S. Citizens think of ourselves and what it means to be an American.

We were once emboldened by the impassioned statement: "The only thing we have to fear is Fear itself!" Now, we live in an era where Fear rules our Nation. From our Leaders to our Neighbors, we would simply rather let the Cops deal with our problems - and honestly, that's not a very Independent attitude. This proud old Vet seemed to be clinging to his ideologies through the bottom of a bottle, and these frightful times have nowhere near the patience or understanding necessary to deal with such an individual. Times have changed. If Jerry felt unappreciated before, imagine how he must feel after facing down SWAT, being forced from his home and thrown in a drunk tank, all because - from his perspective - he was patrolling the neighborhood complex to keep everyone safe.

At his core, Jerry's a good man with a few Demons and mostly good intentions. His age and his alcoholism led him to some very poor decisions which, hopefully, can be turned into an opportunity for recovery. Hopefully, Jerry will get some real counseling and care, not just processed and a prescription regimen.

UPDATE: Well, I ran into Jerry's Friend this morning and discovered that Jerry went straight to jail, where he still resides, waiting for his preliminary court date. Bail was set at $85,000, and although the charges are not fully understood at the moment, the potential sentence could be up to 5 years. If he's getting any sort of help, it's through the state incarceration system, which means that 72year old man is fucked.

Jerry's Friend confirmed that he was just walking a self-made patrol, and that once the Cops arrived he knew he was done for, but none of that matters anymore, really. It's looking like Burbank/North Hollywood PD is gonna make their case and throw it at him just as hard as when they brought dozens of SWAT to roust him from his home. People may shrug and say it's the times we live in, but it still feels like a misguided bumble bee got squashed with a sledgehammer. I can't really call it Justice, but I can say it was educational. Poor Bastard.

Here's to you, Jerry. Feel better, Old Man.



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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Wheel is Broken, the Throne is Melted, there are no more Dragons - deal with it.

UPDATE: Upon further reflection, I have come back to this post to add a few very specific, and in retrospect, very obvious questions...

As was pointed out in a forum: If Jon Snow was already known as the true and rightful heir to the throne, why was he banished? He didn't need to be - he just killed the woman who murdered thousands of innocent civilians and he still had the entire North supporting him. Varys had already spread the word as to his true identity, so keeping it a secret - as the show already told us - was impossible. Others must have known and would have supported him. Sure, he said he didn't want it, but every leadership position he held was pushed on him, not something he demanded. Why should this be different for him?

Also, even if he doesn't take the throne, Bran could have pardoned him as easily as he made Tyrion his Hand. Why not? The only reason to ship him to the North is to deny his claim so Bran can have the throne. That, and reuniting with Ghost.

If Sansa could separate the North from the other Kingdoms, why didn't the Iron Islands and Dorne also demand their autonomy? Both Nations made it clear from the beginning that they were forced to submit their independence and wanted it back. Bran gave in to Sansa without a fuss, so their leaders would have spoken up just as she had and demanded the same freedom for their people. Why not?

At the last, Dany and her Armies of Unsullied & Dothraki are invading armies. Why are they given any political power at all once their Queen is dead? They came for war, and it only makes sense that they would go out in full combat mode - why not? The one person they came to put on the throne was assassinated. The Unsullied were literally created to conduct war. They swore to die for her, so it follows that they would fight and die in her name to the last soldier, even after she was killed. The Dothraki might eventually surrender to save their own People, but it would be bloody war before that ever happened. It's even more reasonable that at least some of them would return to the Sea of Grass they called home before they followed the Mad Queen to their graves.

So many ways to work around these events, and yet I can only conclude that in their haste they simply forgot the obvious, abandoned what had been established, and went into full Producer mode to wrap up and wrap out on time and on budget. When you're in that headspace, you're more of an accountant than a writer & story be damned.

So, without further interruption, here's what was said before...


Okay, I'm kind of flowing off the cuff here as I've let the Game of Thrones thing settle in, and weighed the controversy against other recent events, such as Endgame & the next Avengers team, or the ever present Star Wars/Luke Skywalker debates, along with the announcements of new original series for the Disney Channel - John Wick 3 just hit the theaters and Dark Phoenix is about to roll out for X-men Fans - there's a lot of stuff going on in popular Franchises, and almost all of it involves transitioning from the old to the new in one way or another.

Since the safe bet from the Studios seems to be milking franchises or remaking classics, Fans have become more sophisticated in their taste and expectations from their entertainment. Long time Fans who have carried Franchises through every form of Media and back are particularly devoted to their Heroes as they have literally grown up with their influences for most of their lives. Appeal to those Fans and you have massive success like Marvel's Endgame. Sure, you can't please everybody, but as a fan of the comics as much as the movies, I'd say they covered as many bases as they could with this one, and the box office seems to agree.

By that view, those Creators who deliberately chose to "subvert expectations" shouldn't have been surprised that the people paying the price of admission would take it personally. I'm talking about Rian Johnson's revisionist Luke Skywalker & Zack Snyder's murderous Batman here. Undermining long held beliefs about beloved characters simply to do something different with them? And then insisting that the Fans are wrong to object to new ideas that completely contradict the established world they've grown up with and loved as much as their own? Well, that's bad Fan Service, and your movies deserve to fail the test of time.

When Disney bought everything from George Lucas including Star Wars, there was a collective holding of the breath across the planet as speculation about what Star Wars might look like through Disney's filtered vision swirled across the Internet. They have some pretty strict rules in the Magic Kingdom, and those Star Wars stories can get pretty dark.

Turns out, the biggest issue wasn't the Kingdom, it was the Lunatics entrusted to run the Star Wars Franchise into the Future. They were given a map, a compass, a recipe book, all the parts and an Army at their disposal to do the job right; but like eager yet inexperienced children entrusted with assembling an Ikea cabinet, they threw all that wisdom away and what they built instead was a shabby shitbox with a bunch of necessary yet somehow unused nuts and bolts left lying around. And, like children, when the shoddiness of their work was pointed out to them, they threw a tantrum and sneered that we knew nothing about carpentry.

Now many of the long-time hardcore Fans have left that Franchise to whomever wants what's left over, either falling back on their collections or seeking other, more consistently well-written material from productions with lesser budgets and more creative invention. There's a third installment yet to come and talk of yet another trilogy, all of which is met with more and more skepticism as Fans are weary of having their affections taken for granted yet again. Can JJ save the Franchise? What will they do if this next installment flops? Have they learned to listen to the Fans, or will they dig in deeper, insisting that they know what's best? If they don't listen to the Fans, they'll hear about it when the Box Office returns come in, and then who will they blame? With all of the plans for future movies and series, where is the line between flop and failure for them on this latest installment?

The same basic thing happened with Zack, but DC looks like they're learning from Marvel and will recover from their darker days, even though they have to bring in a whole new Creative Team to get that job done. Fortunately, while we're waiting, there's still Wonder Woman to look forward to, and I hear Shazam isn't that bad, either.

But what happens when the source material has been abandoned by its own Author, leaving an entire Creative Team working in another Media to take on the mantle of "Author" and finish their story for that original Creator? That's ultimately the challenge that the team helmed by Weiss and Benioff took on when they schmoozed George R.R. Martin for the rights to produce Game of Thrones over a decade ago.

If I remember the story correctly, it was during their first meeting that the pair told George who they thought won the Iron Throne at the end, and he said they got it right. It was that, and the concept to do the books as a series rather than a single movie or another trilogy that convinced George to let them do it. They had plenty of source material to start with, they had figured out the ending, had a vision and George's blessing - what could possibly go wrong...?

Well, Season 8 had its run, and if one thing was made crystal clear, it's that Weiss and Benioff aren't novelists. They didn't do the years of research to maintain a certain sense of historical accuracy or authenticity to their stories. They didn't invest the many years necessary to build a multi-themed, multi-generational story rooted in fantasy and legend out of nothing more than imagination. That's what George did.

But what George didn't do was finish his story. He began something that felt rich, deep, mysterious yet sensual and attractive. It was alluring. For fans of the genre, it was agonizing that he took years to finish a new book. To this day, we are still waiting for the next book! So, when Weiss and Benioff pitched George, they did so only guessing at what might be in George's mind. They had to fill in the rest on their own, using even more and more sketchy guesswork as seasons went on. Sooner or later, like it or not, they would lose George altogether, and it would be their responsibility to mimic a voice that was beyond their training and experience to emulate.

Because they're not Novelists. They're Showrunners. It's a completely different medium to work in, primarily because their responsibility is to write something for others to translate into a visual presentation. But what these guys were doing was translating George's books into something that these others would then be able to translate into the series we've come to know. Once the source material from the books was depleted, they had to make it up on their own. A serious examination of the battle tactics portrayed in episode 3 and episode 5 of this latest season reveals as much. The stilted dialogue and clumsy love scenes add to this conclusion. Weiss and Benioff, for their many gifts, simply are not George. What inspired them to create something that affected the World for a decade was also a story left for them to finish on their own - something they were incapable of accomplishing to anyone's satisfaction.

I can't think of a more difficult responsibility for Fans of a particular story to have: to finish the story that first inspired them. It's like having Michaelangelo sculpt David, but leave his apprentices to finish sculpting the head and torso - no matter their skill, the sculpture would be flawed because, at the last, they did not have the same deft hand as the Creator that inspired them.

How could they? They were more Painters than they were Sculptors to begin with, and the differences in technique showed through almost every episode of this last season.

I haven't even begun to look at all the negative press for this last episode, I just see the rumblings in social media, and this is my little coffee cup sized contribution to that flood of vitriol. But I don't want to sound all negative about this last season of Game of Thrones, especially this last episode.

I look at it this way - these two guys were given six episodes to tie up a massive, multi-character story. They did their best. Sure, the middle episodes got a bit muddy and convoluted, but it all wrapped up pretty evenly. Sure, there's plenty of stuff I would have done differently, but I'm not the Showrunner, and given the circumstances, I'm not going to take any of their decisions personally. For example, while I would argue that the final scene between Jon and Dany was probably what people were expecting for Cersei and Jamie, those last moments where Drogon discovers his Mother and carries her off to Valeria (or wherever) were freaking heartbreaking.

Heartbreaking!

Hearing Drogon cry out. Seeing him discover Dany, recognize her fate and then fly off with her...

That scene will be legendary in Cinema forever. That was all Weiss & Benioff creating that scene, not George, so give credit where it's due.

Then again, Jon Snow should be dead. We all know it. Would the Unsullied really just take him and hold him prisoner? Would the Dothraki? Hell no! He admits to murdering their Queen! He'd have been executed immediately, no question. Let the North bring more war, it's what the Unsullied have trained for their entire lives! They would welcome it. Grey Worm alone would have gutted him from stem to stern for murdering the Woman that freed him, gave him new purpose, etc. etc. You could have still wrapped up most of Game of Thrones as they did while fulfilling Grey Worm's sense of Justice in executing Jon Snow.

Although I'm glad he reunited with Ghost at the end.

It was Weiss and Benioff that showed Jon Snow mercy, not George or any other reasonably written character we would recognize in the established Game of Thrones we all came to know. But really, for all the death and killing to that point, can you blame them? Besides, it's their Game of Thrones now. If George wants it back, he better get to publishing more of those chapters he says are getting sorted or edited or whatever.

You know what I think would've been cool? Last episode only here, because a full list is too long, but hypothetically, say we take everything up to the point where Grey Worm tells Tyrion that if he speaks he'll kill him. The Council gives him the nod, he starts his speech anyway, and Grey Worm guts him as promised. Then he tells them the only reason Jon Snow is alive is because Grey Worm heard the rumors about his lineage and is holding him hostage, demanding proof. Tarly and Bran break it down for him and they negotiate some exchange, but instead of honoring the trade, Grey Worm publicly executes him the same we Ned Stark went out, declaring "A King for a Queen!" and then the real War breaks out as the Unsullied and Dothraki trap them inside the walls and attack. The only way they survive is because of Bran's abilities, which he uses to ruthlessly destroy the Unsullied and Dothraki, wiping them into legends told to scare children. Then he demands the Kingdom as recompense for all the blood and bad treatment his family has suffered and sacrificed to save the Seven Kingdoms - and it stays the Seven Kingdoms because there's simply not enough Armies left to squabble over it before Bran can have individual opponents dealt with and secure his Throne.

That could've been cool. Lots of different things could've been cool.

Whether the Fans like it or not, Jon has his happy ending, senseless as it may be - and let's face it, most would rather not see him executed after all this time and commitment to the show. He'll go be with the Free Folk and have little children that won't grow up without their father. Good for him. Honestly, I was adamant that if Jon Snow lived, they better reunite him with Ghost, and they did! So, he killed that crazy blonde girl, didn't get eaten or killed for it, and gets to live in the woods with his Dire Wolf and his Buddies instead. Whattaya gonna do? Show's over. Forget about it.

Sansa is Queen of the North - what's wrong with that? After being bought and sold and surviving Littlefinger and the Boltons, do you want me to believe she learned nothing about diplomacy and ruling with mercy? Please. She carries the Stark name and that's enough for most of those miserable banners. The others are relatives or share a long history with her family anyway, so she'll be fine.

Where else is Arya going to go? Her whole life, like it or not, was travel and adventure. I would have been shocked to see her say something like: "You know what, Gendry? I've been thinking about it and yes! Let's go live on a desolate stone island and raise a bunch of kids! I'll be the Lady of the House and you can go drinking and whoring and tell me what to do whenever you drag your drunk carcass back home. Tra-la-la!" I don't think anybody would have bought anything like that from her. The Big War is settled, what's left of her family came out on top, time for new adventures!

So, it's to be Bran the Broken, is it? First of his name, huh? Mr. "I wouldn't have come all this way.." is going to rule over the Six Kingdoms now? Well, why not? Look at that shabby lot to choose from. Why wouldn't you want the one guy capable of seeing the future? Full access to memories of Time? A guy who can enter the consciousness of animals and see through their eyes? Great for spying on enemy plans, that trick.

When you consider all of the political advantages that come just from that one ability to see the future... Well, why shouldn't he be King? If you think about it, with Jon going North of the Wall, Sansa in Winterfell, and Bran in the Six Kingdoms, the Starks clean up the map and still have one going exploring, so their Family did all right by the end of it all. Is that what I wanted for the end of this series? I don't know, but I'm not angry about it, either.

My only real issue with this last episode - other than Jon not being immediately killed for his crime - is the long drawn out speech that Tyrion gives to make the case for Bran. First, like Jon, he should be dead. He'd have been caught up in the Fury upon discovering the death of the Queen and he would have been executed right alongside or shortly after Jon. The only real question would be method.

Instead, he's there in chains, contrary to any established sensibilities, with a long soliloquy about life and death and justice and blah blah blah - all this after being threatened to remain silent or lose his life by someone we all know would happily kill him. Should have killed him already. Why is he alive at all? Tyrion served the murderous Queen. He betrayed her. He's the last Lannister, rendered completely powerless. So many reasons to kill him! His speech doesn't feel anything close to eloquent or appropriate to the moment. There's an assumption of dignity and grace, but there is no real authenticity to it. And yet, here it is. Fortunate for all of us that this lugubrious monologue was performed by a highly trained and skilled Actor, or we'd all have died from boredom. It's terrible nonsense.

Instead of being executed, Tyrion names the new King, and the others vote "aye". How does Tyrion become this powerful while still in chains? Some might call that ironic, but I call it a forced device to prop up a rushed production. Not pretty, but it will have to do for the moment because Weiss and Benioff were on a timer & out of options. So, he becomes Hand to the new King, with the assurance that he will be making amends for his past misdeeds. But will he? With all the bickering at the table in the last scene, we can see that life as we humans know it is returning to normal, so who cares, really...?

And at the end of the day, that's the conclusion of Game of Thrones. The War is over. Everyone did their best, and now life can go back to getting on. George hooked us. Weiss and Benioff reeled us in. But, instead of capturing us for a larger aquarium or a frying pan, we were simply tagged and released back into the wild. The Fisherman showed his Boys how to fish, and they caught what they could. Now, as much as some Fish might refuse to acknowledge it, that stream has dried up and it's time to move on, both for the Fishermen and the Fish.

The People will forget and Life will go on.

For the many mistakes that had shown through the cracks in the armor of Season 8 - did any other Season have a Starbucks cup or water bottle in it? - there was still enough substance to deliver something to the Fans. There's no doubt that Weiss and Benioff began as Fans and tried to remain Fans even after they became the Creators. Unlike others who displayed a willful disdain for beloved source material, these two tried their best to provide the Fans with as many surprises and as satisfying a conclusion as they could, given that this was already a story designed to be sparse on happy endings from the start.

For that one truth alone, these guys and the series they created will survive this initial backlash and maintain a strong following.

In the end, Weiss and Benioff proved that they may not be Novelists, but they are damn good Showrunners. For all of the loose ends established from the previous 7 Seasons, they did their best to tie up and bring home the best Season that they could muster, on schedule and within budget. I'm sure that time will forgive them for this last Season, when, in consideration of the whole body of work, what these two Super Fans accomplished truly gripped the World.

And how many people can honestly say they did that? Especially with all these Fans like me generating content on whatever social media outlet, bitching about how they would have done things, Weiss and Benioff actually did do something that they loved for a little while. They acted based on passion more than ruthless self-interest, and whether I agree with every choice or not is irrelevant when framed in that bigger picture.

They started as Fans, and made something they loved into something they could share with the World. For all the vitriol and spite, none of those critics can say they've even come close to such an accomplishment.

Much Respect.



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Saturday, May 4, 2019

Ash vs. Evil Dead finally hit binge status on Netflix... (SPOILERS, ya primates)

For the record, Army of Darkness remains in my ever-changing list of Top Five Favorite Movies of All Time. It is flawless, with no dull moment, no unnecessary dialogue or characters, no time wasted. You can jump into that movie at any point and be swept away by the fast paced fun weirdness of it all. It's not even that gory in comparison to other Evil Dead installments, including this most recent series.

For those unfamiliar, the basic premise of every one of these stories comes down to the same thing: Demons fight for control over an evil Spell Book called the Necronomicon, and their main opponent is this buffoon named Ash, with a chainsaw for a right hand and a sawed off double-barrel shotgun made in Grand Rapids, Michigan - his Boomstick. He's crass, he's got sass, and he kicks demon ass.

He's been doing it for thirty years, and with this latest Starz original series, we've been blessed with three seasons of mayhem, now available complete and ready for binging on Netflix.

First couple of things to say about the series is that it revels in bringing humor to the profane, and it keeps up the extreme splashy Gore Fest of the first two movies, so if you're weak of stomach or spirit, you may want to consider how you invest your time. If the idea of those things make you hesitant, then go watch Army of Darkness - is that too much for you? No...? Okay, try the first two movies & see how you feel - don't worry about a messed up timeline, if you go in that order, you'll be okay.

Or binge all three in a row, up to you.

Still good?

Then saddle up, because Bruce Campbell and the Raimi Brothers are gonna take you on an irreverent, unrepentant joy ride through various perversions of demon spawn & the twisted worlds they make out of our otherwise boring existence. We've got manifestations & possessions, prophesies & exploding bodies - car crashes, blood splashes, and a stubborn sonofabitch stomping through it all saying "come get some" as his Boomstick goes BOOM! - sending demon pieces flying across the room. And if they get too close, that chainsaw makes sure that every drop of blood inside them gets splashed all over the walls, floors, ceiling, and anybody dumb enough to stand stupefied staring at the carnage.

Want to know what an "Asshat" actually looks like? That's waiting for you in season 2. Curious what it's like to see a toddler crawl back inside a woman and possess her body like a rag doll? That's in Season 3. Oh, and she's already been decapitated, so as part of the fun, the demon toddler sticks his tiny head up through that hole, too, making a small boy's head on an adult woman's body that they can play "whack a mole" with - and the mayhem continues as Ash subdues that Demon and rushes off to another bloody adventure.

I know, it sounds shocking and terrible, but it's actually ridiculous and sometimes even hilariously absurd. Without Bruce Campbell, none of this would be nearly so fun. Somehow, he's learned to take suffering abuse to legendary levels, carving out a niche in Cinema that stands alone, uniquely untouchable as an action hero/comedic actor/horror franchise Superstar. And he deserves to be called Legend after thirty years in the Demon killing game.

Not to diminish the Raimi Brothers for their part as Architects of this entire franchise, but Bruce Campell as Ash Williams is the face that carries them along. These guys grew up together. So whenever I think of these Evil Dead movies, I imagine these brothers gleefully devising the many ways to torture and abuse their good friend Bruce, who gets the joke and gleefully dances as much for their entertainment as his own. You can tell these guys love working with each other - and I'm guessing the money isn't too bad either, right?

Anyway, there's three seasons of Ash vs. Evil Dead streaming now on Netflix. The first season brings us all back into this world, and what Ash has been doing all this time - basically nothing but rabble rousing around his old home town. After one particularly intoxicating night of carousing, Ash tries to impress a girl and accidentally unleashes Demonic Evil back unto the Earth.

Oh shit.

Ash has to dust off his chainsaw and get back into the fight, trying to put the demons back in the book or kill them, whichever works best. Along the way, he picks up two sidekicks: Pablo, an endearing & kind-hearted Soul played with perfect timing by Ray Santiago, and Kelly, the sarcastic & sexy tough girl whose smarter than either of those guys on their best day. All three of them have their own good reasons for wanting to stand up and fight against Evil, and they make a pretty good team.

There's no let up from the very beginning of the very first episode - the mayhem starts and carries all the way through to the last frame of season 3 episode 10. Just like it should be.

Lee Majors plays Ash's Dad in the series - you know that had to be a lifelong dream for these guys, to get to work with the Six Million Dollar Man one day! Dream fulfilled - he's looking like he's having fun, and it's wonderful.

Lucy Lawless gets involved. Has there ever been such a legendary, consistently ass-kickingly Awesome Lady in movies? Maybe Sigourney Weaver, because, y'know, Ripley kicks so much ass, but Lucy has Xena, Spartacus, this show - and the many appearances in things like Galactica & Agents of SHIELD, etc. You have to look to International Stars like Michelle Yeoh - HUGE Legend - for a career of creating a variety of badass characters, but that's a whole different class and style of cinema. I'm probably talking out of my ass here, forgetting tons of badass women - Pam Grier! - and no disrespect to those Legendary Ladies of Cinema, but Lucy Lawless is a force all her own.

Anyway, Lucy Lawless anchors the Bad Demon storyline, and she rocks it, committing random atrocities with a straight-faced nonchalance that can shift a scene from funny to scary with a flicker of expression - she is fantastic, a perfect complement to Bruce's physical style, making the outrageous believable, making us laugh or scream right on cue because she is just that damn good.

Did you know Ash had a kid? Neither did he!

Arielle Carver-O'Neill plays Brandy & we meet her in Season 3. The best thing about this story line is how authentic it is given all of the horribly absurd & nightmarish things happening around them. Arielle is great, giving a grounded, sensible performance as she grows to accept that what she is seeing is real, her father is not (completely) insane, and that she better learn how to fight, or she might get turned into one of these demonic monsters as well.

Such well written material performed by a solid cast of Actors, and we have a result that may sound crazy but works: A fairly authentic reunion between an estranged Father & Daughter surrounded by Evil - a family-oriented Love Story in the middle of a Demon Apocalypse Horror Show. Weird, but it works. Despite the demons & blood splashes & craziness, you actually get sentimental for Ash & Brandy as they come to accept their new lives together as Father & Daughter Demon Slayers.

Funny enough & true to form, the series ending gives us a set up for another storyline which looks like it has the potential to be awesome all over again. Will Netflix pick up the franchise and run with it for another 3 seasons? Maybe if the Fans get vocal about it. Obviously the Boys behind the Book have enough juice to keep the game going, so it's up to the Bean Counters to decide now.

Spend that Money!

If not, can I put in a pitch for Dana DeLorenzo to be the lead in pretty much anything? She rocks. She has the ability. Give her a series! How about this: team Dana DeLorenzo with Julia Garner (from Ozark) for an updated Cagney & Lacey! They kick ass, they've got badges & ambitions - they're like Mulder & Scully, riding that rift between Earth & the Demon Realm, busting Baddies & sending Monsters back to Hell - please, someone make that show.

Or, give me a budget and I'll put it together, how about that?

In the meantime, all three seasons of Ash vs. Evil Dead are binge-ready on Netflix. Otherwise, Army of Darkness is always a good time.


Enjoy!




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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Endgame of Winterfell - Super Sunday for Global Geekdom (SPOILERS!)

Favorite Fantasy Franchises weren't the only thing climaxing this weekend as Geek Culture got a double dose of satisfaction when plot-driven warfare & mayhem that has literally been building for more than a decade was finally released upon the Masses, setting records and putting rival franchises to shame.

It was a glorious Sunday. One that won't soon be forgotten.

Forget about your sports or your politics or any of those other mundane things "normal" people worry about. This past Sunday, April 28th, 2019, will mark the conception of a whole new generation of Heroes to be welcomed to their new homes in about nine months from now. Will they be named Natasha or Daenerys? Arya or Okoye? Jorah? Steve? Tony? Tyrion...?

Millions will speak with fond remembrance of the day when, like myself, they awoke to an early screening of Avengers Endgame, basking in all the glory that could be crammed into 3 hours of pure Cinematic Poetry. Having barely enough time to absorb and consider all that was seen - re-hash and dissect events - and then! Yes! Then have to put all of that aside because the Night King was coming to Winterfell. Man the Walls! Man the Gates!

Hailed as the longest episode of this final season - the great battle before the War for the Iron Throne - the Battle of Winterfell started gloomy and stayed grim, leaving everyone who bore witness to wonder if Cersei was going to have anybody left to conquer. Until the playing field was leveled - literally leveled - as all the Bad Guys turned into snow and dust with one masterful stroke of Valerian Steel.

Awesome.

While it is true that Avengers Endgame actually opened earlier in the week and was already setting records & sending overzealous fans to the hospital, the timing of HBO's Game of Thrones put one of their most anticipated episodes on that same opening weekend Sunday - Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

The opportunity for Super Geek Overload was ripe for the plucking - and the plucking was done with much enthusiasm from all involved. Take note, rival Franchise Directors! Those who would deconstruct and "re-imagine" long beloved characters and their stories to the point of crippling once great Heroes and Empires - this is how to milk Billions from the Masses! Give the Fans what they want. Give them the Fantasy. The righteous Fight for Good against Evil - don't mess with classic characters and stories and then tell the Fans to grow up! That kind of arrogance can kill a Billion-Dollar Franchise real quick.

Give them a Good Fight where the Good Guys win! Then they'll buy every damn action figure, t-shirt and key fob you could throw at them. How hard is that to understand? My wallet can't get re-filled fast enough before I'm emptying it for more Avengers/G.o.T. gear!

For those who saw Captain Marvel and may have been curious how this new Hero may influence the team - don't worry! Everything she did before she does here - flies through ships, shoots energy beams - BUT, even she is not enough to take on Thanos alone. And she really doesn't have much input on tactics, strategy, etc - it's pretty much a full-on Avengers movie like we all hoped it would be, which is good because there are so many Heroes who deserve their screen time it would be kind of a shame if one character (other than Thanos) drew the focus of the entire movie.

I won't go into everything, but I will say that for three hours it is a tight script and moves along with very little fluff. It keeps its sense of humor and delivers on all of the action we could hope for as Fans. Or, at least, that I could hope for, since I really did not want to guess all the different things that could happen, good and bad, in three hours of screen time. It went quick, and I didn't have to go to the bathroom, which I almost always have to do these days. I was so into it, my whole body said, "nope, we can wait, something new is about to happen." And I loved every minute of it.

Except the no coda after credits - Cheat! I know it was three hours, but give me the short bit after the credits! In the theater I was in, the entire crowd let out a collective sigh at the last, realizing we were robbed of a final glimpse of our beloved Heroes. No shawarma this time. The Endgame was truly the end of everything.

Dang...

Side note: I did see an article where someone called a particularly awesome spectacle "pandering", because it featured all of the Female Heroes teaming up to take on Thanos together.

I was like, wait, what...? This is war, yo! You really think Thanos gives a shit about the gender of the Heroes coming to put a beat down on him? Doubt it. So why should it matter to anybody else?

Real quick, I'd like to say that having a moment like this, where Fans can see all (or most) of the Female Heroes from the MCU come together and take their shot at the Big Bad Guy is no more pandering than any "Hero Walk", or whatever stylish posing you would find in any other Hero movie - they are rallying for another charge! The fact that these are all women is only as significant as recognizing that, say, here are the Guardians of the Galaxy uniting to do their thing, or whatever. Is that pandering to the G.o.t.G. Fans? Of course it is! Who cares!? What's wrong with giving some young girls, or anybody else, a vision of what an All-Female Team of Heroes might look like?

I actually loved seeing that tableau of Female Heroes, and I know that I'm not the reason they did that - there's a whole generation of impressionable kids who need to see Heroes in all shapes sizes and colors - why not do something like that for the Fans who would really appreciate it? Pander away, yeah? In this day and age, let's have more movies with Female Heroes to whoop some Justice into some Bad Guys. I'll buy that ticket.

That someone might see this as negative is really missing the point of what Hero movies are all about, so nobody should pay any attention to that shit. Instead, revel in the fact that for the first time in Cinematic History, we have finally had our first real live action throw down on Earth, with nearly all of our favorite Heroes battling for the Fate of the Galaxy. Never have we had such a massive cinematic spectacle featuring so many Heroes uniting to defend Earth. It was truly an awesome accomplishment, and the Filmmakers did their best to honor the Fans throughout the ride.

Oh yeah, and while I'm thinking about it, there is a character in Captain Marvel, who, when you think about it, represents the real target audience for that movie. I'm talking about 11-year old Monica Rambeau (played by Akira Akbar), the daughter to Captain Marvel's Best Friend on Earth. If you think about the script, it's pretty easy to tear it apart, sure. But that's because it wasn't written for the average adult MCU Fan - like the fat Joe Schmo writing this thing you're reading - it was written for that next generation of Fans who are at that age where they don't really care about development or story arcs, they simply see a Hero - or some Friend of the Hero - that they might relate to, that might make them want to be a part of that story. Same thing with Avengers Endgame & the many moments of pandering to so many diverse groups of people - including that guy threatened by Female Heroes gathering in a group - who all happen to be Fans of the genre.

Crazy that it needs to be said, but there it is.

Along those lines, one of the most thrilling duels in Endgame (for me) was when Scarlett Witch faced off with Thanos, who, in typical arrogance says: "I don't even know who you are!" to which she replies in an oh-so-scary-calm voice "You will." and proceeds to deliver the worst beat down Thanos gets from any single opponent. It's so awesome to behold. How he gets out of it actually infers that maybe Thanos wouldn't last too long against Scarlett Witch in a clean one-on-one throw down. Hell, even Captain Marvel didn't give as good as Scarlett Witch before Thanos was able to get help and turn the tables for a few more minutes on the battlefield.

Speaking of awesome duels so well done - Arya proves once again to be one of the most dangerous characters in the World of Game of Thrones. Best part is, she delivers the winning blow using a technique we've seen her use before - just once, last season - a well-remembered bit of flash and flair that hits its mark and literally saves all of Winterfell from a horrific end. Also fitting that she should use the blade that was meant for Bran against the Night King. So cool the way they did it.

Almost anti-climactic, really - especially since so much time was spent in slow motion, cutting from one area of the battlefield to another, making sure we got the point that this is the last, desperate, all or nothing moment where the entire fate of every - Zip! There's Arya! Oh shit! Shank - BOOM! It's all over but the clean up.

Arya Stark is the Baddest Badass in all of Westeros. No discussion needed. Done.

It's a bit harder to say just who may be the Baddest of all Badasses in Endgame - it certainly was a group effort, with several stand out contributions towards getting the job done. But there's no doubt that after this shake-up, new Heroes will be coming soon.

We know Captain Marvel will return, and then... who knows what the new roll out for the next series of Marvel Heroes has in store? Now that Disney is launching their streaming service, they've announced a whole batch of episodics - guaranteed to have surprises! -  and those are supposed to complement the new movies moreso than the Netflix Heroes did in this last go round.

Now that they've proved it can be done, they'll do it again. And, presumably, Disney will apply this formula to Star Wars moving forward as well, so maybe they can save that franchise from all of the abuse suffered at the hands of its inept Shepherds. Time will tell.

And time is what we have to give Game of Thrones - three more weeks to the end of a show that has kept us guessing for nearly a decade. This Battle for Winterfell was a taste, but the real War looms on the Horizon.

So exciting!

I wonder if, in about a year or two from now, Statisticians will be able to look back upon this time, examine the birth rates, the number of boys & girls conceived on this Greatest of all Sundays, and the names that they were given. I wonder if these Statisticians will be able to determine from the various percentages of given names accumulated from these children - if these given names for the Children of the Greatest Sunday for Global Geekdom - could determine if the Winner for Greatest Fans in the World went to the Avengers or to Game of Thrones...?

By the names of their children, will the Avengers, or Game of Thrones claim the Ultimate Throne - Domination of Global Geekdom!?

Do you suppose they've already got odds in Vegas...?


Harry Potter Fans are screwed...




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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

When Arya beds Gendry... G.o.T. s8 e2 (You probably heard these spoilers already, but, yeah SPOILERS!)

If you're not a Game of Thrones fan, this probably won't matter to you. Although, if you have an interest in writing, scene structure, and consistency with characters and how they are portrayed, you might find this a bit interesting.

Here's the set up:

In the series Game of Thrones, we've watched Arya grow into a strong willed teenage girl, around 18years old. She's trained to be a Warrior, Assassin, and generally fearless Badass. Her friend Gendry is a skilled Blacksmith that she met on her adventures, and while they had a strong camaraderie, they were separated, not seeing each other for years before re-connecting at Winterfell for this last season.

A big deal was made about this latest episode, where Arya basically goes to Gendry and tells him she wants to know what it's like to have sex before the Big Battle with the Night King, and she wants Gendry to be the guy to show her. Gendry acts all unsure at first, and then they get into it without too much foreplay.

So here's the thing. Right up to this moment, everything seemed fairly well according to character. However, I didn't see this episode when it first aired. I knew this was gonna happen beforehand from the reactions on Social Media. So when the scene came on, there was no real surprise for me. Instead, almost immediately, I was out of it as a fan and analyzing the scene structure and writing. The only real question I had was why this scene might need to exist at all.

Honestly, when I first heard about this "surprising turn of events", my initial reaction was: Well, Arya is a recurring character & the only girl the Producers haven't gotten naked on screen yet, so I guess they wanted to get to her before the series was over. It's a reasonable excuse too - according to the books and the series so far, Arya was a virgin, so why wouldn't she want this experience, or at least be curious enough to try? Especially with such a handsome hunk of man like Gendry, whom she already knew to be a decent & likable person?

In the press, Maisie Williams (who plays Arya) is quoted as saying that the first time she read the scene she thought it was a joke, like the Producers were pranking her or something. But no, she's a young woman now, let's have her doing some young woman things. On camera. And after some consideration, she could see how this scene was significant to Arya's story, so she went along with it.

She mentions talking to the Producers about it, and their assurance that she would have full control of how much she showed of herself - what an odd conversation for any professional Actor to have! But, certainly not an unusual conversation for women to have with Producers & Directors on pretty much any project they consider auditioning for these days. Unless you're a soccer mom selling toothpaste, or some other banal, functionary, insignificant role, it seems you're gonna have to discuss and/or negotiate exactly what scenes like these are supposed to be about, and how comfortable you are doing these things. Even those "insignificant" roles may be for some kind of sex workers in the background, so women can expect to be asked to perform sexual acts in various states of undress for pretty much anything on TV or in the movies. That's Show Biz!

As an example, once she had enough clout, Emilia Clarke famously put a stop to any unnecessary exposure, taking the position that she'd already done enough for her character and the show - you may recall, most of her first season was depicting her in one intimate scene or another, including taking instruction on how to please a man in bed, and in the end, the ratings did not suffer for her newfound fashion sense.

Along this line of thinking, even without nudity, an Actor may find herself on a set or soundstage with full cast & crew, performing intimate scenes with another Actor they've only met once or twice before, or in some cases, just that day! Imagine the discomfort of getting groped by someone you've just met and possibly don't even care for - and then having to do take after take from different angles, over and over again. Imagine not being attracted to your co-star at all - repulsed even - and yet you still have to make love with a passion that seems genuine. That's your job as an Actor.

Ugh.

Fortunately for Maisie - according to the PR Machine, I wasn't there - she was in a comfortable as could be environment with familiar people and a considerate scene partner to get everything right.

But did they...?

The last line before cutting away is Arya telling Gendry he'll have to take his own pants off. Then, she moves closer, they kiss & camera cuts to a bunch of guys getting drunk.

Wait a minute now. I thought this scene was supposed to be about Arya making a new discovery about being a woman? She's never had sex before, right? Why is she acting like she's bedding a whore for the thousandth time? Sure, she's probably seen plenty of penises before - she cleaned up who knows how many dead bodies for the Faceless Men, been around whorehouses - but this is the first one that's all for her, right? It is her very first time, right? Why is she so comfortably confident?

And why does what happens building up to the cut away stray from our characters usual behavior, making their role reversals so complete that they no longer seem friendly or familiar to themselves or each other...? The gender role reversals worked in other scenes - Jaime seeks acceptance from Brienne, Theon vows to serve Sansa - these are both very much love stories in their own right - and let's not insult Maisie Williams by suggesting she lacks the ability to portray such depth and emotion.

If these desires were motivating Arya to begin with, shouldn't Maisie be allowed to perform them with the same depth she has brought to other emotionally complex scenes? Or are we simply to take it that Arya went full on predator and mauled him...?

And why is Gendry (played by Joe Dempsie) just flopping back like an innocent waif? He did the same thing with the Red Witch, and she had him tied down! Hasn't he learned anything since then? Wouldn't he want to be a bit more attentive to his friend? Maybe even just make sure that she grips him with the same delicate skill she wields that rapier she's so fond of...? Or, are they both just so naturally good at everything that there's nothing to worry about and their first time together is "perfect"...?

This is not to say that we need a full on hardcore scene of Arya being deflowered - none of the moments I suggest require nudity - but the point of this whole scene is for Arya to let down her guard and feel some tenderness, some intimate passion from a man of her choosing, right? And she's never done this before - trust someone enough to be this vulnerable, even if only for a moment - unless I'm missing something here. So, why do they cut away before any of that happens? Hell, even Jon Snow lost his virginity on camera - although, admittedly, it was Rose Leslie who did the full frontal nude scene there, so...

The point is - this moment is supposed to mean something, right? So why do they cut to a different scene before it gets a chance to do so? Are they afraid of each other or does Arya remain confident while Gendry lays back and takes it? At what point do they truly give in and trust each other? Do they ever? Is Gendry considerate, or is he too quick to the finish line? Does Arya really get what she wants from this experience? How does she feel towards Gendry afterwards? Him towards her?

The next time we see these two is well after the act. Gendry is asleep, as men usually are depicted in shallow scenes like this - he's not spooning with her, no romance, he's not even laying in her direction, so it could be a completely different person for all we know. The man is done, he's useless afterwards, no more insight about relationships from this lump. Arya is wide awake, staring off, not moving - is she thinking of the impending war? Or was the sex just not that great? Either way, she's expressionless, so who knows if this intimate moment, this thing she wanted to know before facing their deaths, was actually learned? There's not a hint of frustration or satisfaction on her face - no indication to give the audience an idea if anything Arya did was worth it to her. In a sense, she's more reminiscent of Tywin after he beds Shae - it makes no difference whatsoever.

Why isn't the audience allowed insight into these moments as we have been with other couples on this show? If we aren't going to explore these moments - presumably the reason for all of this in the first place - then why does this scene need to exist at all? Who knows for sure?

The most important question, the very thing that motivated this entire scene, remains unanswered. How are we as an audience supposed to feel sympathy towards our favorite characters when we are denied those details that reveal them to us? Teasing that something happened is just not good enough. Not when these questions have been much more explicitly dealt with before. Certainly, for this scene you could have kept the Actor's dignity while providing more details for the Audience.

From her expression, she could love Gendry or resent him, and now we're going to war so we'll probably never get a straight answer.

What happened to Arya!?

It is the Hero at their most vulnerable that attracts the eye and creates the legend. How they overcome and gain strength is what we want to see. We want to share these stories. We have seen it before with Game of Thrones, which makes this moment (or lack thereof) so much more disappointing. An otherwise inept presentation of a missed opportunity to reveal these characters in a genuinely honest, intimate fashion.

That's the real surprise in these scenes between Arya and Gendry.

Unless, of course, the Producers really just wanted to get Maisie Williams naked on camera as best they could before the series was over. Then all of this nonsense and lack of attention to detail makes perfect sense.

Maisie Williams and Joe Dempsie - as well as long time fans of Game of Thrones - got robbed of a scene that could have been reminiscent of the early years, when intimate scenes offered insight to characters, revealed plot points, drew Audiences in with their unusual sincerity. This scene could have been an emotional weight that made future events more tragic or more uplifting, but instead, we have more evidence that George R.R. Martin is no longer behind the wheel, providing clear characters, dialogue and text to inform the HBO series.

The Producers are doing the best they can, shepherding this massive franchise through its last season, and we're only just getting to the first major war, so, that spectacle alone should make up for any of these moments that leave long time Fans like me wanting a little more for these characters we're so fond of.

Of course, I'm all in to the end.


P.S. - Really nice to see Ghost with Jon & the Black Watch Reunion. I was wondering if we'd see him again. I hoped he'd be a bigger Dire Wolf, but I'm just glad he didn't meet some horrible fate as of yet. I hope he survives through to the end, but with these guys...?




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