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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