Ken, Patrick and Tyler’s Schlockmas Spectacular Episode IV: A New Moon Eclipses the Breaking Dawn

Little late this year, but our annual time of remembrance of all the shitty movies we willingly subjected ourselves to over the past year is at hand once again.

-sniff, sniff-

What’s that I smell?

Could it be?

It is!

It’s shameless self-promotion for past works that I (and my associates) have put out for your “enjoyment.” Below you can find 3 years of bad movies we’ve watched. The format has shifted (and improved in my opinion) each year, and these serve as a nice little catalogue anyone could pull from for planning their own bad movie night…if you’re into that sort of thing.

2014.

2015.

2016. 

This very well may be the last time I do this. Given I’m going to be kind of a regular ghost when it comes to this blog from now on, I did my best to make the best of the 4 in terms of formatting and overall access to content.

Whereas last year’s theme was CRAZY STALKER MOVIES (we had a couple of those this year), this year we did a deep dive into ANGST-RIDDEN MAGIC TEENAGER MOVIES. This meant covering all of the Twilight films as well as some rip-offs and predecessors.

Let’s set the stage…for the final time(?)…

Here’s how the two rating system’s will go:

As always, Ken’s more traditional rating system is as follows:
A+ = I wouldn’t mind owning
A = I would watch again
B = Had multiple memorable fun moments
C = It was bad, but didn’t regret my time
F = It was bad
F- = I hated it.  I hated it so much.

Pretty simple to understand, right? Sometimes Ken will add a note to the movie randomly, which I have included sporadically here.

Patrick’s is…well, potato-based? I mean, sometimes it is. Other times he strays off his own system into something a bit more experimental but it’s if this is how he wants to rate movies, who am I to stop him?

Typically, I don’t add a review but seeing as how this is the (probably) the last time I’m going to do this, I thought what the hell? I’m only doing ones for movies I feel could use a bit more description, I disagree with the other two guys or I just have something to add. My “reviews” will be more less whether I thought the film was worth watching or not akin to Ken’s but with a bit more description.

One last thing: instead of going movie-by-movie for descriptions, I’ve included hyperlinks to the trailer for each on the title. All you have to do is click on it. Ain’t that nice?

The Fateful 54 (as rated by Ken, Patrick and sometimes Tyler): 

1. XXX: Return of Xander Cage

Ken: A 

Patrick: Some good ol’ French fries. Enjoyable, but not the cream of the crop.

2. Fifty Shades Darker

Ken: F

Patrick: Moldy potato. Yuck.

Tyler: They’re terrible movies with terrible, terrible, TERRIBLE relationship lessons to impart on potentially impressionable viewers, but I have fun with the Grey franchise. It’s cheesy, nonsense garbage produced on a grand scale that you don’t see too often anymore. Would I recommend them? Meh.

3. The Fate of the Furious

Ken: A+

Patrick: Poutine, please. Insanity ensues with the craziest of stunts. Good, good muscle boys.

4. Death Note

Ken: F

Patrick: Potato peels at the bottom of a trash can. I haven’t seen the anime, but I hope it’s not like this garbage movie.

Tyler: Yeah, this was pretty bad. Not to much of a surprise but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least hoping for something redeemable out of it and there are some noteworthy things here and there. We have a proven talent in Adam Wingard directing. We have Willem Dafoe as Ryuk, a part he was basically born to play. Lakeith Stanfield is a pretty outstanding choice for L, elevating otherwise meandering material. We even have a score from Atticus Ross (frequent Trent Reznor collaborator) and Leopold Ross that is heavy on the synth. It always sucks when a movie has this much going right for it ultimately winds up a dud. An admirable dud to be sure, but a dud none the less.

5. Deck the Halls

Ken: B

Patrick: Baked potato with toppings! Danny DeVito! I can always enjoy a DeVito movie!

Tyler: A cynical Christmas cash grab that is entirely at odds with who its target demographic is supposed to be. Skip. Skip at all costs.

6. The Last Dragon

Ken: A+

Best villain of the year.  Insane plot.  Magic kung fu powers.  This one is a winner.

Patrick: Fun kung fu movie. Possibly one of my favorites of the year. Awesome villain, Sho’ Nuff: The Shogun of Harlem.

7. Hack-o-Lantern (NSFW)

Ken: B

Halloween murder movies are usually pretty crazy.  This one brought it to the next level.

Patrick: Cheesy fries! A strange horror movie with a hilarious evil cult-leading grandpa!

8. Showdown in Little Tokyo

Ken: B

Pretty funny back and forth between the two cop buddies throughout.

Patrick: Baked potato, no toppings. Not a bad action movie with not so good lead actor (Dolph Lundgren).

9. Blind Fury

Ken: A++

BLIND GUY DOES KUNG FU.  This one is fun.

Patrick: Super cheese tots! Bacon included. Another really enjoyable. A crazy, blind, kung fu man drives a van blind!

10. Collateral Beauty

Ken: F

It was as insane as I thought.  Overall really boring though.

Patrick: Nasty potato salad.

Tyler: A well-intentioned yet misguided movie that is indicative of Will Smith’s movie choices as of late. It aims to uplift you while continually devolving into unintentional hilarity while also straying into distasteful territory more times than I doubt it meant to.

11. Vampire Academy

Ken: F

Patrick: Dud. A lame Twilight-ish film. Same as above. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Patrick neglected to include an actual potato comparison here, so let’s assume this is another “nasty potato salad” in his book.]

Tyler: More self-aware than Twilight (a small plus), but no less contrived or obnoxious.

12. Cool as Ice

Ken: A

Patrick: Mashed potatoes, forgettable.

Tyler: An absolute stunner in the bad film canon. I have no idea what Patrick means when he says, “Forgettable.” I can name 6 or 7 scenes off the top of my head right now, but I’ll save that for later.

13. Junior

Ken: A+

ARNOLD.  DANNY.  CRAZY PREGNANCY SCIENCE.  ITS GOOD.

Patrick: Oh man! Fully loaded baked potato! Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito have a baby!

Tyler: Why in the name of all that is good is this nightmare 109 minutes?!

14. The Back Up Plan

Ken: C

Patrick: Potato casserole. An romance with a twist ending.

15. Fist of the North Star

Ken: C

Patrick: Deviled egg! Mostly enjoyable. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Patrick seems to have broken away from the pattern here and selected something non-potato related?]

Tyler: Another live-action anime adaptation that’s largely been forgotten, I’d say Fist of the North Star is mostly boring and you could basically skip it but the action scenes are pretty goddamn spectacular in their attempt to recapture the utter insanity of the anime. So maybe seek out those via YouTube…(points at the clip linked above).

16. Mr. Nanny

Ken: A

A father decides that since his kids keep on making their nannies quit, the best plan is definitely to hire HULK HOGAN as a replacement.

Patrick: Hash browns! Hulk Hogan as a nanny! Funnnny!

17. Ice Cream Man

Ken: C

Crazier than I expected.  And I was expecting crazy

Patrick: Just some tater tots.Not a bad cheesy, horror movie featuring an evil ice cream man.

18. Santa’s Little Helper

Ken: B

Patrick: Another potato salad. A not-so-good WWE-made Christmas movie.

Tyler: I’m not sure what it is about terrible Christmas movies but I strongly dislike them, even more than your run-of-the-mill terrible movie. So yeah, didn’t care for this and would recommend you stay away because it sucks even with the inclusion of WWE Superstar (and best wrestling heel of the past decade) The Miz as its leading man.

19. Future Wars

Ken: C

Ever wanted a movie with everything in it?  This one tries to give you just that.

Patrick: Garlic potatoes. A pretty strange science fiction movie with dinosaurs alive again! Not bad.

20. Blind Witness

Ken: A

A blind lady “witnesses” a murder.  Now its time for some crazy antics to solve it!

Patrick: Cheesy scalloped potatoes. A blind lady “witnesses” a murder. Will she solve the murder mystery?

[EDITOR’S NOTE: I don’t think Ken and Patrick intended to make the same joke here, but it’s completely plausible they coordinated.]

Tyler: I’ll go on record and say I thought this one was pretty boring. Outside of it’s kind of clever (stupid) premise and Z-level acting, I’m struggling to remember anything that happened in it.

21. Dark Dungeons

Ken: B

A warning tale about how dangerous RPG playing can be.  I didn’t know that we were the coolest kids on campus the whole time!  Also it didn’t work in teaching me my lesson.  Pretty hilarious.

Patrick: French fries. A movie about how dangerous it is to play Dungeon & Dragons.

Tyler: Worth noting this is a parody of some very real chick tracts (short evangelical gospel tracts/comics) portraying the evils of role-playing games, i.e. it’s intentionally bad/stupid which is something we typically try to avoid here. I gave it a watch though because it sounded choice and was not disappointed by its entertainment value.

22. Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror

Ken: B

Snoop Dogg accidentally commits murder, sacrifices himself to make up for it and then is employed by the Devil to bring in bad souls and these are three of those bad souls’ stories.  It would have scored much higher, but it has quite a slow part in the middle.

Patrick: Three short horror movies made by Snoop Dog. Pretty much what you would expect. It’s mediocre, like a baked potato.

23. The Legend of Titanic

Ken: F

WHY DID YOU MAKE THIS?!  An animated version of the Titanic with talking animals and an octopus with a mouse face in which no one dies.

Patrick: Terrible animated re-telling of the Titanic with talking animals. No potato.

24. The Ugly Truth

Ken: F 

Patrick: A “meh” romanic comedy. Reheated french fries.

Tyler: Insert just about every single cliche you can think of in relation to a romantic comedy and the end result would be The Ugly Truth.

25. The Craft

Ken: C

Patrick: High school witchcraft ladies. Bleh. Potato skins.

Tyler: I had actually never seen this movie until this year after hearing about for quite a while. I really enjoyed it in relation to its campiness. It also serves as funny precursor to a lot of the angst-ridden magic movies that would become super popular more than a decade later.

26. The Circle

Ken: C

Overall, kinda boring but it does have DRONES AND TOM HANKS

Patrick: The drone movie with Tom Hanks. I don’t remember much of the movie. Mashed potatoes, no gravy. [EDITOR’S NOTE: By “drone movie,” Patrick is referring to several instances in which drones are used in the film. See clip above for an example.]

Tyler: Like Death Note, we have an example of a movie with everything going right for it going oh so terribly wrong. We have director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now, The End of the Tour) the best-selling Dave Eggers novel of the same name with a wholly impressive cast (Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Karen Gillan and Patton Oswalt to name just a few). Instead of a modern science fiction classic though, the end result is something akin to a lazy episode of Black Mirror. It’s every troupe you’ve seen regarding social media and the end of privacy you’ve ever seen presented with no imagination or spark.

27. Nothing but Trouble

Ken: A

Pretty fun movie.  You NEVER know where it’s going next.

Patrick: A bizarre movie. There’s a roller coaster trap that turns people into bones and a bunch of other strange stuff. It’s good though.  Mashed potatoes with brown gravy.

Tyler: No. Just…no. Abandon hope all ye who enter.

28. Steel

Ken: C

Patrick: A Shaq super hero movie! Not bad. Enjoyable, like waffle fries. Not my favorite kind of fry though.

29. To Catch a Yeti

Ken: C

Patrick: Scalloped potato with no seasoning. Bizarre take on a yeti. Not scary, but instead a creepy small puppet thing.

30. Twilight

Ken: F

Patrick: Poisoned potato

Tyler: Yes, these are universally bad but I had a fun time with a couple of them. As with Fifty Shades, terrible lessons to impart but it’s just so laughable at just how seriously these movies (particularly the first one) take themselves. Also terrible showcases for Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, who have both gone on to show their pretty substantial acting chops.

31. The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Ken: F

Ken, on why he thought this was the best of the 5 films:

This one had the most parts that made me laugh from what I can remember.  It had ghost vampire boy which was funny.  It had Bella screaming a lot which was funny.  It had the weaker wolf boy who only wanted a sandwich, which was hilarious.  Crazy motorcycle ghost boy scenes.  Vampire freak outs.  Michael Sheen showing up in another crazy vampire series.  Lutz’s cousin being in it still.  These were all garbage movies, but this one did make me laugh a few times.

Patrick: Poisoned potato

Tyler: Easily the worst of the series, and I can’t even hammer down as to why. Maybe it’s the newfound focus on the werewolves, which look so bad that it’s hard to believe this movie came out less than 10 years ago.

32. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Ken: F

Patrick: Poisoned potato

33. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1

Ken: F

Patrick: Half of a poisoned potato.

Tyler: I hope this greedy, greedy trend that the Harry Potter movies began by splitting its final chapter into two separate films is finally past us. -knocks on wood- It results in listless, filler filled movies like this and the subsequent Part 2. I honestly don’t remember what happened in which movie beyond a final jump in interest in this one during a vampire birth scene (which really begged for an R-rating).

34. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2

Ken: F

Patrick: Other half a poisoned potato

35. The Last Vampire on Earth

Ken: B 

Bad, but in a good way.  It was really funny how the vampire boy just bought a bunch of blood from a blood drive guy.

Patrick: A movie up to the quality of a homemade movie. Potato burger. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Unsure what a potato burger is.]

Tyler: The funniest (and overt) Twilight rip-off we watch and head and shoulders above any of the Twilight movies in terms of entertainment value.

36. The Perfect Guy

Ken: B 

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In his notes, Ken just wrote “BETRAYAL.” I am unsure as to what this is in reference to.]

Patrick: I think I missed out on this betrayal movie? [EDITOR’S NOTE: Patrick did see this movie, but neglected to look up the trailer or ask what it was about. He seemed to enjoy it at the time.]

37. Day of the Warrior

Ken: A

An Andy Sidaris movie that’s still not Hard Ticket to Hawaii good.  Still pretty hilarious though.

Patrick: Super loaded potato bowl. Andy Sidaris movie. Always fun, always action.

Tyler: The first we’ve watched in the Sidaris canon that’d I’d qualify as good as Hard Ticket to Hawaii (which set the bar so high to be fair). This one has a lot of what you’d expect (drug rings, government agents, awkward comedy, unnecessary nudity), with a ton of surprises I don’t want to spoil here. There are some unsavory elements to be sure. We’re talking about an Andy Sidaris film after all, but it’s largely harmless and endlessly entertaining.

38. Wired to Kill

Ken: C

Poorly made robots fighting on the side of good.

Patrick: I think I saw this movie? It may have been really bad quality on YouTube. Don’t remember it so won’t rate.

Tyler: Something that needs to be noted is there is a moment in this film that is wholly unique and completely insane. To surmise, the filmmakers clearly ran out of money at one point and were unable to film some scenes. How do I know this? Well, near the third act we’re on a slow, dialogue scene when suddenly we jump right into an action scene with no preparation or any substantial explanation. It was completely bonkers.

39. Can’t Stop the Music

Ken: C

Patrick: Y.M.C.A. movie with a gym of naked dudes. Not pleasant on my eyes. Um. Potato, potato. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Okay, this is where Patrick stopped trying.]

Tyler: A nearly two-hour movie musical staring the Village People, Steve Guttenberg and Caitlyn Jenner (back when she went by “Bruce). If that’s not one hell of a hook, I don’t know what is. The above clip is one of the most insane things I think I saw in any movie last year and is also NFSW in any capacity so please keep that in mind before you watch. It equates to a music video for the iconic “Y.M.C.A.” while also serving as the single gayest thing in cinematic history…possibly ever? Well, at least up until the Dwayne Johnson/Vin Diesel fight in Fast Five. It’s absolutely glorious and worthy of your attention.

40. Case 39

Ken: C

Patrick: Creepy girl killer. Feels like the usual horror movie. Potato sandwich.

41. Body Parts

Ken: C

Patrick: This was a fun one. The dude received an arm transplant from a murderer and then he became evil.  How about creamy potato soup?

42. Safe Haven

Ken: A+

This scored so much better than I thought it was going to at the start of the movie.  A series of plot twists upon plot twists!  It won’t be as fun the second time just cause I know what happens now, but the first ride was very, very entertaining.

Patrick: Enjoyable enough with some plot twists. Duchess potato

Ken: I agree with Ken 100% here. I’ve seen two Nicholas Sparks novels-turned-movies in my life (outside of this one) which I at first considered two too many. I think this one may have turned me around just in terms of how gosh darn entertainingly bad it was, not to mention some of the insane twists it sets before you; one of which should go down as one of the most outlandish left-field turns in cinematic history. I put this one down as a must see and welcome addition to the “so bad, it’s good” library.

43. Unforgettable

Ken: B

I sometimes forget about this movie so it’s kind of forgettable.

Patrick: [No rating from Patrick as he also forgot about this one, but he did go see it. We all went on a field trip to see it in at a movie theater actually.]

44. Battleship

Ken: B 

Good on you, Hasbro.  You pulled it off.  I did like that the aliens’ bombs were [game] pegs.

Patrick: Someone spent a lot of money to make a movie about the board game, Battleship. Aliens vs humans on the ocean. Pegs were fired like in the game. Old men save the world to AC/DC song, “Thunderstruck,” on an antique boat. A not-so-fully cooked baked potato.

Tyler: Sometimes the only thing worse than Michael Bay is a Michael Day knock-off. I’m fully fine with this unruly attempt at a franchise failed so spectacularly to warn other Hasbro properties from making the jump to live-action.

45. Black Knight

Ken: C 

Patrick: Seen it before. It was ok. Somewhat fun. Waffle fries.

46. Slaughter High

Ken: B

Patrick: It was alright. Potato cakes

47. Killpoint

Ken: A+

Patrick: Fun, fun movie. Gimme that sweeeeeeet, sweet baked potato, baby!

48. Torque

Ken: A+

A surprisingly fun ride throughout.  You can tell that they are going for that Fast and the Furious money.  They don’t quite succeed, but man is it entertaining getting there.  I’d say every other scene had something surprising and over-the-top happen that kept us excited.  The last third of the movie was non-stop fun.  Watching Adam Scott scream throughout it was hilarious.

Patrick: Fun, fun, fun! Thrilling from start to finish. Sweet potato fries!

49. Manos: The Hands of Fate

Ken: A

BEST CLOAK EVER

Patrick: Villain had the best outfit! Shepard’s pie!

50. I Know Who Killed Me

Ken: C

Patrick: Not a bad one. Going with tater tots.

51. Chain Letter

Ken: C

Patrick: Lame horror. Nasty potatoes. [EDITOR’S NOTE: one of the broader ratings we’ve gotten. I guess place here any form of potato you find particularly “nasty” as Patrick did not specify.]

52. New Year’s Eve

Ken: C

Patrick: How many celebrities can be put into this one? Potato skins.

53. Assassin’s Creed

Ken: F-

The most boring movie of the year

Patrick: [N/A as Patrick once again called in sick this day.]

Tyler: A very tired adaptation of a very tired video game franchise, it’s a movie that seemed destined to fail from the get-go.

54. The Bye Bye Man

Ken: F-

The second most boring, but most generic movie of the year

Patrick: Terrrrrible horror movie. No potato for you.

Tyler: I actually had a lot of fun with this, akin to how one would have fun watching The Room.  Honestly think the guys are being a tad to harsh on it. Sure, it’s a garbage movie but it’s an earnestly garbage movie. It’s like a masterclass in everything done wrong in a horror flick to the degree that it’s almost impressive.

—————————————————————————————————————————

The Best of the Worst of 2017

“Best” Movie

Ken: Torque

See above.  I think that this was the most fun movie of the year start to finish.  There were better “moments” throughout the year for sure, but I think Torque delivered the best time overall.  It also had some pretty amazing moments including a soda pop motorcycle fight.

Patrick: The Last Dragon

Probably going with The Last Dragon here. Sho’ Nuff was a great villain. Torque is a close second! [EDITOR’S NOTE: If you think Patrick is being vague here, get ready.]

Tyler: Cool as Ice 

I want to keep this short, but…there’s just so much I want to bring to your attention. We have Vanilla Ice within the very small window of his relevancy if not near the very tail-end of it. It’s not so much a movie as it is a fever dream with some new insanity to overtake you with each passing moment. There are moments in which you believe you can no longer be shocked and then the movie one ups itself.

Worst Movie

Ken: Assassin’s Creed

As I’ve said before: I can get through bad acting, I can get through silly action scenes and I can handle a plot that makes no sense.  Most of the time, these are the things that I most end up loving about bad movies.  Just don’t be boring. This one was extremely boring, long, made no sense, and is a reminder of how far what was once a beloved game series has fallen.  Not a fan.

Patrick: The Twilight series [EDITOR’S NOTE: This is all Patrick wrote.]

Tyler: Nothing But Trouble 

On the plus side, this movie serves as the cinematic debut of Tupac and the production design is pretty big in scope which is kind of admirable…that’s where the buck stops and I kind of just despised everything else out this. I didn’t have a lot of fun watching it. I wanted it to end by the time we hit 15 or 20 minutes in, but it just kept going. To even begin to get into the whys would be more attention than this movie really deserves. Just skip it. That morbidly fascinated part of your brain may be telling you otherwise right now, but shut it up and keep moving.

Best Actor

Ken: Cameron Mitchell as Jo Marks, Killpoint

YA BOY IS BACK AND AT IT AGAIN!  I was gonna give this to someone else, but then saw the dog scene again while looking through the movies.  He is just a master of his craft.  You really really believe that he was just a man who wanted to have his dog in a scene and then made it where there wasn’t a take with out the dog in it.  A true legend.

Patrick: Rutger Hauer as Nick Parker, Blind Fury 

Tyler: Lakeith Stanfield as L, Death Note

I’m trying to approach the two acting categories as best I can with some level of “Hey, this person tried and they deserve recognition.” So I’ll be frank and say Lakeith Stanfield is a pretty good choice for the character of L (the only reason I really watched the original anime of the same name upon which this turd of a movie is a based). That carries over to a point in the live-action movie as well. He’s awkward, intelligent to a fault, collected, confident and much more all rolled into one bag and he gives a performance worthy of a better movie. Unfortunately, it’s stuck in this one.

Best Actress

Ken: Cobie Smulders as Jo, Safe Haven

This movie was filled with people acting crazy but Smulders’ role was the craziest.  She did a perfect job of not going too crazy though, and the true insane level of what her role actually was at the end.  You were suspicious, but not committed.  Perfect work.

Patrick: Justina Machado as Henderson, Torque

An FBI agent that blows up but doesn’t die.

Tyler: Emily Longstreth as Rebecca or “Becky”, Wired to Kill 

There’s something that should be said about an actor’s ability to make you sympathize and/or empathize with the entirely fictional character they are portraying. It isn’t easy in many cases, particularly when you are in an overtly terrible movie like Wired to Kill.

The “diamond in the rough” is without a doubt Longstreth’s Becky, if only for the sheer amount of shit she is forced to go through from every angle throughout this movie. Her main “ally” and love interest sees fit to send her on missions he himself is incapable, repeatedly endangering her life in new and insane ways. Infiltrating a gang of murdering marauders under the pretense of being a hooker on moment and almost allowing her to shoot herself in the head another, he’s just as much a danger to her as an psychopath. It’s in Longstreth’s grounded and completely sympathetic performance this film finds any semblance of redemption.

Best Hero

Ken and Patrick: Nick Parker (Rutger Hauer) Blind Fury

BLIND KUNG FU MAN.  NEXT.

Tyler: Aurelius (Michael Bole), The Last Vampire on Earth

I mean, you have to give to the vampire who is just trying to find curses for diseases, right? Diseases like AIDS, as specifically noted in the movie. Edward Cullen was never out to do anything of that scope and he was also a not-so-secret stalker. Aurelius is simply the total package without all the baggage.

Best Villain

Ken and Patrick: Sho’nuff, The Shogon of Harlem (Julius Carry), The Last Dragon

[Ken] Sho’nuff is amazing.  He is one of the kind of villains that just needs his own movie.  Great style.  Sure of himself.  He’s willing to threaten anyone and everyone.  I didn’t like that he is introduced as interrupting a movie theater by yelling a lot and having his people yell his name in a call and response type hype game.  By the end of the scene, much less the movie, I knew I was wrong and would be honored to have Sho’nuff interrupt any movie I’m watching.

Tyler: Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), Fifty Shades Darker 

Not the intent of the movie, but this guy is straight up garbage. This franchise tries time and time to forgive his crimes via a tragic and troubled past, but I’m not buying it. It’s one to have a terrible childhood. It’s another to be possessive, controlling douchebag under the guise of “caring” about your girlfriend. Said “caring” includes, but isn’t limited to: taking control of your lover’s back account (without their permission, also you’re no longer dating), keeping an entire filing cabinet of info on past lovers collected via private investigators, buy the publishing company your girlfriend works for so you may therefore control her paycheck and potentially elevate her status within said company….I want to keep going but I hope you get the point.

Best Line

Ken: “I know you all like to drink, and dance and cavort!  But thats not why you came tonight!  Are you ready for the main event?!? ARE YOU READY TO RPG!?!?!” from Darkest Dungeon

This scene was bonkers.  This line just sums it all up.  The crazy college party stops.  They all turn to the guy on the table.  He gives this line.  Then the entire room starts to scream RPG RPG RPG at the top of their lungs.  Just hilarious.

Tyler: “You’re not putting those in my butt.” Fifty Shades Darker (NSFW)

For the second freaking year in a row, Dakota Johnson’s delivery is EVERYTHING here. I’m at least a little bit confident this is supposed to be a funny line but it would fall flat without an actress to sell it and Johnson, to her credit, commits. Stupidly wonderful moment in a terrible, terrible movie.

Best Scene

Ken: Final Race, Torque

You ever watch something and they don’t give you a second to fully finish reacting to the first thing that happened?  This is a whole scene of that after a whole third act of that.  They seem to go supersonic.  There is a gun fight.  There is an explosion.  There are ramps and kicks and fights.  This scene is just amazingly stupid and fun to watch in an amazingly stupid and fun to watch movie.

Tyler: The reveal, Safe Haven

No spoilers to be had here, but my favorite scene of the entire year has to be the final twist at the end of Safe Haven. It’s just so stu…brave. Yeah, actually brave is a pretty good word for it. Oh, it’s stupid. It’s so, so stupid but it’s such a jump that you really kind of have to admire it.

Funniest Thing Someone Said

Ken: “This isn’t stupid!  This is cool… [3 seconds later and in a defeated tone] This is so stupid…” Patrick during the gernade hot potato scene, XXX: Return of Xander Cage

This was hilarious to me just because of how quickly it became SO STUPID that Patrick couldn’t hold it together for more than three seconds before it overwhelming him.  They roll live grenades across the table towards each other and Tyler says “This is dumb” and Patrick jokingly responds “No it isn’t its cool!” Then three seconds later they do the same thing again and in an angry and dejected voice all Patrick can say is “This is so stupid…”.

Patrick: Myself in Torque, “Mountain Dew vs Pepsi, baby!”

One motorcycle lady fighting another motorcycle lady. Both representing their respective soda. They aren’t fighting with their fists, but with motorcycles! [EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s some better explanation (just to clarify) in that Patrick screamed his favorite line of the year in the sequence above when he saw the two soda logos in one of the more blatant product placement examples I personally have ever seen in a movie. Said billboards are the most prominent things in some of the shots.]

Tyler: “IT’S HIM,” myself during one of the love scenes in Day of the Warrior

I didn’t really want to pick something I myself said given it just seems tacky but Patrick did it, so fuck it. Some context: as mentioned before this is an Andy Sidaris film, meaning there is a lot of gratuitous and rather unnecessary nudity throughout.  This, in turn, means a lot of boring sex scenes. So we course eventually landed on one, this particular one not being the first in the movie (or the last). We have two naked, in-shape, nearly hairless people making out, with the cameras focusing on their bodies and their heads out of frame. It was around this time, we were getting a little bored given these scenes tend to go on for a bit. I eventually vocalized with a simple, “I wonder which one is which?” Literally either one of these could be the man or the woman. It was within 3 seconds the movie answered and I could only scream, “IT’S HIM” as I pointed to the lead actor as if I was Abigail Williams accusing John Proctor of witchcraft. It was as stunning a revelation I’ve ever seen in left me and my compatriots laughing for a good few minutes. I believe this is the first time Patrick excused himself from the viewing room due to laughing so much too. I credit the scene more than my comment for the hilarity. I just cannot recall a movie eliciting such a vocal reaction out of me this year.

Best Kill

Ken and Patrick: Roller Coaster Bone Grinder, Nothing but Trouble

[Ken] This was the moment when I kind of got an idea of what the movie was going to end up being.  The roller coaster was crazy.  There was lots of yelling.  Lots of noises.  And then BAM!  Straight through the bone grinder and their bones shoot out into a giant bone pile and the characters are never seen again.  This is some A+ style bad movie kills.

Tyler: “WHOOOOOO!” in Steel

Not really inventive by any means, the death of this henchman is marked by one of the funniest reactions to impending death. Essentially a grenade lands in front of him and he gives a scream that could be described as a combination of Michael Jackson’s and Will Smith’s “Whooo” screams. Short and sweet, it may not win this guy any awards but it sure as hell made me laugh.

Best “This is stupid” Moment

Ken: The veterans loading up and manning the U.S.S. Missouri the righteous tune of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” – Battleship

We joke about silly things happening in these movies all the time.  Everyone and a while, we end up getting it right.  Thunderstruck is one of our go to “it would be hilarious if this was the background music for this scene”.  But Battleship went and did it.  For like 5 minutes, we got to bask in the stupid stupid glory of a scene that didn’t make any sense with Thunderstruck blasting in the background.

Tyler: The proof is in…the cemetery? – Hack-o-Lantern 

A very odd moment in a movie that is basically just a series of very odd moments strung-a-long for 90 or so minutes. The set-up is basically as follows: there is a Satanic cult in town (isn’t there always), and they’re causing mischief and murder. One murder sees one of our lead’s best friend’s boyfriend killed quickly and buried in a shallow grave in the local cemetery. Lead girl then brings said best friend’s brother to that exact spot to hook up (unknowingly) on the grave of her dead boyfriend. There’s a moment where the woman grabs the hand of the corpse thinking its the hand of her partner (of course) but is somehow unable to differentiate between a living person’s hand and a dead person’s hand. That’s all insane of course but then the movie OUT-FREAKING-DOES itself by cutting to the lead discussing hooking up with her best friend’s brother with her best friend….AND THEN said best friend is like, “Prove it.” And the two take a freaking field trip out to the cemetery to go look at the spot where lead girl and brother of the best friend did the horizontal tango for the satisfaction of the best friend, the purpose being so they can discover the body. The question is: why in the holly hell have all those weird, unsavory steps in-between?!??!

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The 17 best films of 2017…that I actually saw in 2017

Do I begin with some cliche sentiment about how 2017 sucked? Because I can.

I don’t really want to though, so instead of that how about we just jump in?

Wait.

Crap.

I almost forgot.

I didn’t see EVERY movie this year, partly due to my location in the country (limited releases are not kind to Midwest audiences) and mostly due to my limited time. I sure did see a lot over the course of 2017. Just not everything.

Movies I still need to see but didn’t before the end of the year:

Call Me By Your Name

The Florida Project

The Killing A Sacred Deer

Mudbound

The Post

Coco

Good Time

Paddington 2

The Blackcoat’s Daughter 

Probably like 100,000 more I’m forgetting. 

So yeah, hopefully I get to all of those in the near future. I’m oh so sorry I could not get to them before now. Speaking of, here are some movies that I DID see and really liked HOWEVER I lack the time, resources, inclination, etc. to write about them all. I do wholly recommend you check them out though because they’re all great (in my opinion).

Some honorable mentions:

Brigsby Bear

Free Fire

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Wonder Woman

American Made

It

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Lego Batman Movie

John Wick: Chapter 2

Personal Shopper

Colossal

1922

It Comes At Night

War for the Planet of the Apes

Detroit

Wind River

Ingrid Goes West

So see those movies as well, please.

Now can we start?

Oh yeah.

I excluded documentaries from this year’s contenders just because it was hard enough ranking all of the movies I did write about. I saw a lot of great docs this year (Icarus, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press, Casting JonBenet, to name just a few) but…well, my time.

So…

Some movies I really liked in 2017…

Some may even say they were my favorite…

Some…

Including me…

MY 17 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2017 (that I actually saw in 2017)

17. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. II

Full review here.

It seems like there’s a lot of shade out there directed towards the second volume of James Gunn’s Guardians saga. I, for one, loved the hell out of it. (It also made me ugly cry but that’s neither here nor there really.) I’d stake my claim that the first is a stronger movie it doesn’t really matter whether Vol. 2 a better movie than the first film; it’s a hell of a lot of fun all while being much more mature, opting not to rest solely on the past accomplishments of its predecessor to make it great. It builds on them. Think of this as the Paul’s Boutique to the first film’s License To Ill. Sure, it lacks the populace appeal of the first outing as well as its conciseness, but it’s deceptively simple as it hides layers of complexity to be discussed and examined beyond its initial release. The first was a mission statement; the second is the fulfillment of a promise.

16. Logan Lucky

As much as I loved all the new treats 2017 offered, sometimes you can’t argue with the classics. Logan Lucky not only represents Steven Soderbergh’s return to feature filmmaking (after a remarkable 4 year retirement) but also his return to a genre he helped revitalize with his rebooted Oceans franchise in the first decade of the 2000s. Like any heist flick worth its weight in salt, the movie sports a memorable cast of enduring, memorable characters (matched by some of our best and brightest acting talent to boot) and its script is more concerned in the “why” than the “how” in why they need the money. We have Channing Tatum and Adam Driver as a pair of smart, soulful country bumpkins at the heart of it all, Riley Keough as their plucky sister/wing woman, Daniel Craig in a career high as a batshit criminal mastermind (who necessity to the plan is somewhat complicated by his current incarceration) and many, many more.

15. The Big Sick

I’m a big fan of a movies with perspective, and The Big Sick is about as personal perspective you’re going to find in an outright comedy this past year. A large part of that probably has to do with the script coming from real-life couple Emily Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (the latter also stars), and is loosely based around their real-life experiences during the first year of their relationship. Now interesting anecdotes don’t always universally translate into interesting movies to be sure, the film makes use of some dramatic licenses with its characters and throwing obstacles larger than the typical ones the dating scene tends to produce. A common theme throughout this list is a fresh take on a borderline-stagnant formula; in this instance, the romcom.  From the offset, this may seem like a standard romantic comedy. The main conflict being Kumail’s fear of upsetting his traditional Pakistani family by bringing home Emily (played here by the ever-charming Zoe Kazan), a white woman, rather than finding love with a Pakistani woman through an arranged marriage. While the two hit it off, the split as Kumail doesn’t want to risk losing his family. One may expect something like that to hit near the tail end of the second act; here, it occurs in the first as this movie spins into something much more. No spoilers to be found here. This is a movie that’s best enjoyed as a blank slate (i.e. skip the trailer I’ve included below…).

14. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore

There sure were a lot of actors-turned-directors in 2017. To be fair, many of those that made the jump also at least had some pretty successful turns as screenwriters as well meaning they at least have a firm grasp on what constitutes a structurally sound movie. Macon Blair, a mainstay of writer/director Jeremy Saulnier, steps into the chair for the first time with I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, a movie that is very much “of the moment.” A woman’s deep dive into an existential crisis, the inciting action of this wildly unpredictable romp is a simple theft. From there, we touch on everything from modern day gender dynamics to the very foundation of societal norms. Featuring standout performances from the likes of two former Peter Jackson collaborators, Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood, it’s a movie defined by drastically different tones, something that is often attempted but rarely executed as well as it is here. Think of it as the Three Stooges by way of the Coen Brothers. Much like a Reese’s, it’s two great tastes that inexplicably taste great together.

13. Raw

Raw’s thesis statement is as follows: “An animal that’s tasted human flesh isn’t safe.” It comes midway through, from a father who has yet to discover the dark craving that has utterly upended both of his daughters’ lives. Julia Ducournau’s French horror film gained a weird reputation as a gross-out cannibal gore fest. While not TECHNICALLY correct (the best kind of correct), it detracts from the often striking yet beautiful story at its center. We have Justine (Garance Marillier), a first-year veterinary student. She’s a classic overachiever, vegetarian and virgin. All three come to play in a big bad way as the movie proceedings in which she goes from demure, self-righteous innocent to feral, sex-craving beast. (Did I mention the movie’s French?) This is only complicated by her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumf), who suffers from the same cannibalistic  urges. For Justine’s struggle is whether to succumb to these primitive urges that overtake her after her fateful first bite (easily the most insanely uncomfortably horrific scene in the film), or whether to follow her ingrained moral code in the face of unholy temptation. It’s a struggle we all go through at one point or another, just hopefully not to these extremes. Raw only cements my opinion that horror may just be the best genre for all up-and-coming directors to cut their teeth. Here’s hoping this isn’t Ducournau’s last contribution. 

12. mother!

It’s a giant biblical allegory. It’s a cautionary tale on the threat of global warming. It’s a creative type’s manifesto on the process of being creative. Darren Aronofsky’s mother! wears a lot of hats, and clearly that’s not everyone’s cup of tea as reflected by its 69% RT score. It’s a movie designed top-to-bottom to provoke its audience, encompassing all of recorded history and beyond within the confines of a single house. Our perspective is contained exclusively to our titular young, unnamed mother (a career high for Jennifer Lawrence), either by keeping her in frame or shaky first-person POV shots. There’s an unspoken tension from frame one that only grows and grows as the film continues. Arguing what it all means is part of the fun, but it’s a movie best experienced as pure sensation as everything ebbs and flows, a roller coaster plummeting you at 500 miles per hour, culminating in the most insane third act you’re likely to see in a major release for quite some time.

11. Dunkirk 

Recounting Operation Dynamo – the evacuation of over 300,000 British, French Allied solders from northern France off the beaches of (you guessed it, Dunkirk) – Dunkirk gives us three interwoven sections (air, land, sea) that all unfold over different lengths of time. I’d compare watching it to reading three chapters of a novel simultaneously, all of which eventually converge on a single, solitary word. Unlike most war movies which are about winning, Dunkirk is all about survival. (Never before I have I seen a movie capture quite so distinctly the terror of an air assault before as the stranded soldiers can only can fall to the sand, all in the small hope of not being torn to shred by the enemy planes.) I may not have cared for his last couple of flicks (largely in regards to their plots), but Christopher Nolan still stands nearly peerless in his cinematic craft and technique. He’s a style all unto himself, as all the best directors are. He and his team are the rare few in big budget studio movie-making still allowed to work and innovate in environment defined by micromanagement.

10. Gerald’s Game

Dark Tower aside, 2017 was really strong year of Stephen King adaptations. Within a two month time period, we got 1922, Gerald’s Game and It; all of which could have been contenders for my year-end “Best Of” list. Gets the edge if only for being A) topical and B) a more impressive feat given the limitations of its source material. Give the original novel a read and one discovers very quickly that it would be one hell of nut to crack onscreen as much of it takes place inside the mind of our main character, who is handcuffed to one location for a majority of the proceedings as her husband lays dead on the floor. Thankfully, co-writer/director Mike Flanagan is up to the challenge, thanks in large part to Carla Gugino and her compelling performance, which effortlessly pivots from panic to grief to despair to rage, sometimes all at once. I’d go so far as to say she delivers her first Oscar-worthy performance here, a shame given the Academy’s penchant for over-looking strong performances in genre fodder. The same goes for Flanagan, who in any other race would be up for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. It’s a movie that really benefits from his signature directing style. If he opts to tackle more King in the future, I wouldn’t protest. 

9. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

There’s a lot of split positions on Martin McDonagh’s latest pitch-black dramedy. I guess I found it perfectly in line with a lot of his other work. However I get the criticism without altogether agreeing with it. I favored the unpredictability of everything to be quite honest, along with an emphasis on portraying ever single character as its center with dimension. The movie goes out of its way to muddy our allegiance at multiple turns. Do we root for the grieving, angry Mildred (Frances McDormand) who has purchased three billboards…outside Ebbing…Missouri, in the interest of finding her daughter’s killer while also shaming the local sheriff’s department for what she feels is a lack of effort? The movie definitely positions us to initially. Her grief now calcified into a single-minded, nothing-left-to-lose mission, bulldozing anyone who gets in her way.  Do we emphasize with said sheriff’s department, headed up by Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson)? It’s revealed early on that Ebbing’s police department, while populated with knuckleheads and racists, didn’t so much bungle the investigation as run into dead ends due to a lack of evidence. Also Willoughby is a pretty decent guy, sympathetic to Mildred’s plight. Oh, and he also happens to be dying of cancer, something Mildred knew about before putting up her signs. Has grief pushed Mildred past reason? There are no easy answers to be found here and no real resolution either. Given closure is out of reach for its characters, it seems only fair it should be for us as well.

8. A Ghost Story

A musician (Casey Affleck) dies, returns to haunt his wife/lover (Rooney Mara) and their shared house as a stereotypically bed-sheet garbed specter (only visible to us, the audience). He travels the range of space and time, speaking no audible dialogue throughout. That’s pretty much the gist  of David Lowery’s A Ghost Story. It’s deceptively simple on paper, but in many ways it is quite possibly the most thematically dense cinematic outings I witnessed in 2017. As our titular ghost is bound to the house, the world begins to move on without him going beyond a simple examination of a relationship beset by grief. It is that, but a lot more. It is a movie that is at once epic and sweeping and still incredibly intimate, touching on fears, thoughts and anxieties that keep many awake late at night. As with any good ghost story, it’s one that haunts the back of your mind long after it’s finished.

7. The Shape of Water 

It’s no secret that Guillermo Del Toro is quite the fan of cinema. The Shape of Water works as almost like a love letter to a life-long affair with the medium from the Mexican maestro. Now his movies have always generally felt like bubbling cauldrons of superfandom to be fair but here it’s as if Del Toro has dropped all pretense, transmitting his obsession by concocting a story that is entirely old-fashioned (with some twists here and there) but aided by modern day movie magic. A riff on the Beauty and the Beast tale, we have a mute cleaning woman (Sally Hawkins) falling in love with a towering fishman (Doug Jones, obviously).  She doesn’t mind the scales; he doesn’t speak the language she can’t. You could almost consider this an Abe Sapien spin-off feature given we’ve got Jones playing yet another lovable creature that may or may not stem descend from a Black Lagoon. For those fearing Del Toro’s gone soft, fret not. As with any of his best films, this is a fairy tale meant for adults and there’s plenty of gore and darkness to go around. For my money, Sally Hawkins gives THE performance of the year here, conveying a cornucopia of emotion without uttering a line of dialogue.

6. Logan

It’s about time the X-Men series’ “fluid” continuity was a source of inspiration rather than outright frustration. Cut free from franchise mandates, Logan serves as a poignant, proper cap to Hugh Jackman’s tenure as the cigar-smokin’, claw-poppin’ Ol’ Canucklehead we’ve grown to know and love over the past 17 years. The same goes for Patrick Steward’s Charles Xavier, with both men turning in franchise-high performances and placing their respective definitive stamps on the characters. I pity anyone who attempts to feel their shows, particularly after this (hopefully) last outing. Director James Mangold opts to create an emotional continuity between the two’s long-shared pain. It’d be shallow to say something as simplistic as, “It was better because it was rated R…‘cause blood n’ guts are cool…and swear words.” Sure, seeing Wolverine deliver the severed limbs and viscera after all this time is pretty goddamn satisfying but it’s even more satisfying to see the consequences of a life defined by violence laid bare. It’s spared from the dredge of nihilistic abyss by a combination of new takes on well-worn characters and tender relation shared between Logan and his kind-of daughter Laura (Dafne Keen).

5. Okja 

In many ways, the online direct-to-consumer model is perfect for Bong Joon-ho. The risk being that his movies may get lost in the shuffle of Netflix’s “MORE, MORE, MORE” release mentality is valid, but it’s here that his movies stand less of a chance of getting cut down or mired in the web of studio politics much like his last film (Snowpiercer) did. The man’s chaotic sensibilities are all over this thing and admittedly not everything sticks; however, I can’t help but marvel at the attempt none-the-less. Part E.T., part Fast Food Nation, part Wes Anderson, part Pixar, part….countless other things, Okja is the cinematic equivalent to a pot luck dinner; everyone brings something unique to the table, and as is the case with good pot lucks, the end result is ultimately delicious. That isn’t to say this movie is free of some heavy handed messages. The social commentary is laid on so thick this time out you may just feel your cholesterol rise at one point or another. When we advance to the more metropolitan area of the film, things start to become all at once more wacky and incredibly dour. And it’s when those two key elements (the whimsy of the country side and the wacky yet bleak, over-the-top metropolis) where things don’t really click all the way for me. Perhaps Joon-Ho meshes these two, from the offset, incompatible sides intentionally. The down home values of rural living don’t often sit well with the cynical crassness of the corporate circus. It might be more than a little blunt, but that could also be the point.

4. Baby Driver 

I really am beginning to doubt Edgar Wright has a bad movie in him, or at the very least, a non-entertaining movie. As with Nolan, Wright GETS cinema in way so few seem to these days, thereby making his movies actual events, an experience worth actually venturing out to the theater to see. Baby Driver is his latest event, and well-worth the price of admission. The level of technique on full display here is next level for Wright as he crafts what equates to mix-tape with a movie happening around it, scored from everything to alt-rock to classic R&B and everything in-between. Literally nothing is superfluous as Wright makes use of every shot, cut, effect and music cue to tie seamlessly in the visual composition as a whole. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve seen before outside of a musical, which you may very well consider this. Against all odds, Baby Driver keeps this near-breathless momentum throughout its near two hour runtime. Much like the work of his buddy Quentin Tarantino (a clear influence here, along with George Miller and Walter Hill), Baby Driver is one of those singular movies that will inspire countless others that follow in its footsteps.

3. Blade Runner 2049

Full review here. 

Wow. Not only do we live in a world were a Blade Runner sequel FINALLY happened, that same sequel is better than the original in just about every single way imaginable. Maybe that has something to do with Denis Villeneuve taking the reigns. Much like Rian Johnson did with The Last Jedi, Villeneuve and screenwriters Hampton Fancher (one of the co-writers of the original film) and Michael Green aren’t concerned with giving fans what they want and instead focus on giving them what they need, a delicate tightrope act to be sure. Whatever it is though it worked like gangbusters. 2049 is very much a story torn from the same cloth as its predecessor but this time the narrative actually matches the quality of its visuals. The world of 2049 feels very much like an expansion to the world we were first introduced to back in 1982 (albeit with a few cosmetic enhancements here and there obviously). The first movie gave us the blue-print whereas the second is here to give us the nuts and bolts. A critical factor in the original’s longevity dealt in its iconic visuals and score, something that’s carried over here exponentially; no surprise really given the astronomical leaps movie effects have taken in the intermedium. It doesn’t hurt that the greatest cinematographer working today (that’d be Roger Deakins) behind the lens, canvasing a future that is all at once sad and beautiful. 

2. Lady Bird 

Hyper-specific. Universally relatable. Lady Bird is a masterclass in the always seemingly-tired but still always proven “coming-of-age” genre. Writer-director Greta Gerwig’s first cinematic effort as a director (she won’t be the only freshman you’ll see on this list) takes place in Sacramento over the course of the 2002-03 school year and is centered around 17-year-old Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) but it feels like it could take place anywhere with anyone of us in the staring role. Gerwig treats Christine’s arc as delicately as a mother bird would, favoring natural tension to arise organically rather than hackneyed or melodramatic. Too rarely does a filmmaker dare to opt for ordinary. And while it’s frequently hilarious, there’s some pretty real tension at its heart too. It’s a movie so in-tune with what it is to be a teenager, you inadvertently feel the desire to pull Christine aside like a parent and tell her to stop rushing to adulthood.

1. Get Out

I, like many others I imagine, made the mistake of going into Jordan Peele’s directorial debut as if it were a one-joke Key and Peele sketch (kind of like Keanu), reimagining the “black guy meets his white girlfriend’s parents” as a horror movie. But execution is EVERYTHING, and the biggest, biggest, BIGGEST strength of Get Out is how seriously he treats the genre. It’s a genuinely unsettling, surreal experience in which Peele forgoes a lot of easy laughs (and there are laughs to be sure), instead favoring a mounting unease in his hero, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, one of the many on and offscreen involved in this masterpiece that should be under consideration come award season). It doesn’t hurt he’s packed his movie with oh-so subtle foreshadowing and easter eggs that not only rewards multiple viewings, but demands them. Gerwig may have given us a nostalgic teenage dream, but Peele gives us a modern day racial nightmare. Bravo sir. Bravo.

MAY THE FORCE BE WITH THESE HOT TAKES: A grocery list of things I liked (and didn’t) about ‘The Last Jedi’ [SPOILERS]

I’ve written really, REALLY long reviews for the latest crop of Star Wars movies. Partially out of these movies still (for the moment) feeling pretty, darn important and partially because there really is just a lot to say.

I’m not going to do that this time. Well, I’m going to try not to do that this time. I want to give you all something a bit more digestible due in part to my disinterest in hitting every, single beat as well as simply encouraging you all to go see if for yourselves (as if I needed to convince you any more to see a goddamn Star Wars movie). Also…I feel like the internet is already full of enough think pieces, hot takes, etc.

These are all sort of “mental notes” I took while watching the flick, which I’ve seen twice now. I wrote them as quickly as possible so be sure to tell me about all the mistakes and stuff I made. I really, REALLY love those.

Also if you’re not to good at the whole “reading the title” thing, I get it. I really do, but sometimes you’ll catch something like, I don’t know, there are spoilers ahead. So if you haven’t had a chance to see the movie yet and want to remain a clean slate, there’s this nifty little feature called the “X” up there in the lefthand corner of your screen if you’re using Google…I could walk you through the other outlets, but you know…I don’t want to.

The plot:

“Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.” – IMDb.com

The notes:

  • “Bury the past.” That’s the mantra going into The Last Jedi and that’s going to piss off a lot of people. And you know what I think? Good. The big complaint coming out of The Force Awakens was just by-the-numbers it felt. Rogue One did a (kind of) competent job at going for something outside of the Star Wars format but unfortunately equated to brain dead fan service without any substantial characters to keep the thing afloat. The Last Jedi feels like the first attempt, since Lucasfilm came into the Disney fold, at respecting what came before while acknowledging we have to step out of the shadow of that past to ultimately move forward. As a few critics have noted, the last two movies really focused on “moments,” many of which held little substance beyond giving us what we expected/wanted. A dreamer, cast aside on a desert planet. Light Side. Dark Side. The Millennium Falcon. The death of an old teacher.  The list of repeated imagery and moments goes on and on and on. There’s a reason this movie starts with Luke throwing a lightsaber off a cliff. Writer/Director Rian Johnson knows what we want, but instead favors giving us what we need instead and he repeats it time and time again throughout The Last Jedi‘s 2-and-half-hour runtime. So many seemingly important things fans (myself included) have speculated about over the past two years are thrown off a proverbial cliff (who is Snoke, Rey’s lineage, etc). Why did we think they were so important? Because destiny, that’s why! Because the Light Side! Because the Dark Side! Because the Skywalkers! Because mysteries! Because answers! Questions the internet has obsessed over are thrown aside; sometimes in a funny way and other times in an skeptical way but always in a purposeful way because we finally have a Star Wars movie (in my opinion) in this new batch with an actual purpose rather than an extended ride atop a fleeting wave of nostalgia. I’m a big fan of Johnson, dating back to his first feature, Brick, and how he actually plays with genre. To Disney’s credit, he was the ABSOLUTE perfect guy to man this movie and, in many ways, is the best captain to steer this behemoth forward with his own trilogy.

  • There’s one character I want to discuss a little at the top because I’m afraid she’s going to get lost in the shuffle and that’s Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo. It’s the conflict between her and Poe Dameron (played again by the ever-charming Oscar Isaac, who actually gets shit to do this time around as I requested) that really shines a light on this “Flipping expectations on their head” thing I’m really jazzed about. The way Johnson plays with our expectations with her so expertly. I’m not sure if it’s the purple hair, but we’re groomed for the classic “She’s wrong, Poe’s right” maneuver. Poe’s mutiny was always misguided, an example of him acting impulsively and repeating the mistakes of the past. (To those who are being harsh toward Holdo for not sharing her ultimate plan, please note that Poe actively avoided telling her his. Not to mention, he had been demoted for his massive fuck-up with the bombers. Why should she have to tell him anything?) And so the narrative flip of her quietly saving the day played right into his arc, like the singular perfect puzzle piece it was. (The same goes for Benicio Del Toro’s DJ, but I’ll get to him in a bit.) And holy actual hell, does she get a triumphant moment as a result. That silent cut of her sacrificial jump into the enemy fleet will go down as a franchise highlight. Also Dern and Carrie Fisher together in a Star Wars movie is everything I’ve ever wanted but didn’t know it until I actually saw it.

  • Speaking of Fisher, I’m seeing some complaints in regard to both her using the Force and how she used the Force i.e. pulling herself out of space. On the former, if you haven’t been pulling for Leia to use the Force at any point then you and I are just never going to see eye-to-eye ever and you can leave. The latter however has some wiggle room, I guess. I wasn’t bad, if anything I was so excited I didn’t even have time to consider if I thought it was good or bad honestly. Seeing Leia actively use the Force (something she did in the now non-cannon EU from time-to-time) is something I’ve been hoping for since I was a kid and having her use it to cheat death was appropriate in my opinion. Did it harken back to Superman, sure. I don’t think that was deterrent however. Now to the nerds that are citing plausibility grievances can kindly show themselves the door. “We’ve never seen a Force-user do that before so therefore it’s not plausible!” What the…? Like, what movie do you think you’re watching? Since we’re on Leia, I’m happy/devastated to say this is probably this a best for her. Happy because she wasn’t given all that much to do last time and it’s nice to see her given proper due with a lot of hefty story stuff and character moments (she FINALLY gets that hug from Chewie!). Devastated because this will be the last time we see her. Given her passing, it’s natural to feel as if she still wasn’t we still didn’t get enough of her. (The plan, made clear here, was that TFA was to be Han’s movie, TLJ is Luke’s and the closing chapter would be Leia’s, something that I’m sure has been no easy task for those behind the scenes to amend.) I think as a closer though, Fisher shines and the galaxy will be all the duller without her there.

  • Fisher isn’t the only returning cast member of course as Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is finally given his due in a performance he’s deserved to give for so, so, so long and that is Luke, Jedi Master. It’s a performance imbued with humor and love. Beyond just coming back for a paycheck, Hamill wants this to mean something. Harrison Ford was great in his return as Han, but Hamill recognizes the absolute significance of what his return means for a lot of people. He’s gone on record as saying he initially disagreed with Johnson’s direction for Luke here and having now seen the movie, I get it. I don’t want to picture Luke as a man, haunted by his past doomed to die alone on an island so far from all his friends. But this was the direction we needed him to go for this story. And good god, his scene with Yoda (Frank Oz). It’s basically everything it needed to be and such a stark reminder of how blatantly ham-fisted all of the fan service in Rogue One came off as. As a quick aside, it was so great to have OG funny while also sage Yoda back (in puppet form no less) and not super grim and pouting Yoda we got in the prequels. It all builds to what may equate to one of the best “last lessons” a Star Wars movie has imparted on us, the audience. And that’s the importance of failure and learning from that failure. We may need to bury the past, but we can’t do away with it altogether. Particularly when it comes to our mistakes because otherwise how do we learn anything? It’s a necessary lesson each and every one of us has to learn, and who better to get it from than Master Yoda himself. I ASSUME he’ll be back in some capacity as a Force ghost to impart some final words, but if he doesn’t I think this was one hell of a closer for the character.

  • The revelation of Rey’s parents being no one was exactly what I wanted, and adding the fact they were ultimately shitty people too (meaning Rey’s basically been in denial this entire time) is incredibly interesting. Sure, you could argue Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) was simply lying to get a rise out of her but I want to take this at face value particularly given it ties so beautifully well into the larger theme of the movie. Unlike Disney, the Skywalkers shouldn’t have a monopoly on the Force. It all sort of ties back into how I really, really, really dislike the “destiny” angle or at the very least think it’s utterly played out. It equates to the “DO YOU KNOW WHO MY FATHER IS” asshole we see/hear in nightclubs. Hell, we even have a nice self-aware version of this in the form of Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (the always great Adam Driver). I was dreading a “I’m your father” moment in that throne room sequence. Instead I got something shocking and altogether much more satisfying. The two have a number of great scenes throughout the movie thanks to a brilliant narrative device (that pays off with Luke’s appearance later as well), that all leads to that moment of temptation and the first time I can recall where the Dark Side actually seems seductive. Kylo wants to burn everything to the ground (the Jedi, the Sith, etc) with him standing high above the ash, and he wants Rey with him. She’s just a kid whose parents sold her away for booze, an unimportant girl who therefore needs to share her place among those destined to be great (quite like himself obviously), in order to be great. But Rey won’t do it, because of course not. There was really no doubt in my mind she’d stand firmly by the side of the Light, but also because she’s not just anything. She, like Finn or Rose or the kid with the broom near the end or any other number of character “filling in” the gaps, are everything important about TLJ. They aren’t born of legends. They don’t have ties to the canon. They are distinctly and singularly their own and coming from “nothing” makes them no less of hero than Luke, Han or Leia.

  • Much like Rey’s much-theorized linage, I’m also a pretty big fan of the outcome for Snoke as well…in that he fucking dies in movie two. I’ve read a lot of complaints in regard to the character just upfront dying before any substantial ground was covered in his part in the larger story. I argue however we got just about everything we really need to know about him and his motivations between these two movies. Snoke was just a very old, very powerful, very evil force-user. In the original trilogy we get about just as much information on the Emperor as we did on Snoke in this new set of films, and it works in the same exact fashion. I’m of the mindset that less can be more, particularly in relation to your BIG BAD. What exact kind of traction would we gain by the reveal of where Snoke came from and his precise motivations? How did that work out for Palpatine? Or better yet, how fucking happy were we with how that turned out with Darth Vader?

NOW, ONTO THE LIGHTING ROUND…

  • My favorite bit of acting comes from Driver as he screams at his subordinates to fire on the Millennium Falcon. It both speaks to how much he hates his dad and how the First Order/Empire really, really, hates that fucking ship.
  • I loved the exchange between Snoke and Kylo Ren that basically confirms the helmet was Kylo’s idea and Snoke just accepted as a parent would begrudgingly accept their adolescent, moody teenager to pierce their nose.
  • Big fan of the Kylo and General Hux a.k.a. the most British man in the galaxy (Domhnall Gleeson) rivalry. They came off as assistant managers, and I loved it. I reminded me of the Dwight/Andy feud on the Office and I can’t wait to see how it evolves with Ren now in charge.
  • Another example of fan service done well: R2’s use of the original Leia hologram. Served a narrative purpose in addition to being a sweet call back. Also a “subtle” jab at Rogue One is a plus in my book. “Cheap trick,” indeed.
  • So happy it was BB-8 in that AT-ST, saving the day and not DJ.
  • If we’re going to talk about the biggest weaknesses (for me), I’d just recognize that this sure was a long movie. Like really long. Scenes by themselves generally worked, but the structure felt…wonky at more than one point throughout. That isn’t to say I couldn’t watch a 48 hour Star Wars movie, but I’m thinking within the realms of plausibility and reasonability. If we’re cutting anything out, start with the Canto Bight stuff. You can rework some of that stuff with the kids and DJ (Benicio del Toro) as they’re actually pretty important but everything else falls under the movie wanting its cake and eating it too. A casino planet is a pretty cool idea but at really no point during Finn, Rose and BB-8’s time there did I feel any real sense of urgency. It’s not bad per se, but it felt more like a detour when it should have felt like an essential route.
  • For all the internet, fanboy buzz, the Porgs were ultimately fine. Yes, they’re cute but so is BB-8. We can have cute things in our FAMILY fantasy movies and they never evolve beyond funny little side-attraction. Had they been some sort of key to defeating the First Order (much like the Ewoks), I’d be singing a pretty different story but they didn’t so hopefully we can all take a breather on our Porg-centered anger? Now if you’ll excuse me, I have quite a bit of Porg merch to buy.

  • It made me laugh out loud at how they hammer home just how pointless Captain Phasma was. I ASSUME she’s dead for real this time and if so at least she went out with a (brief) fight scene.
  • We really needed a guy to go, “Hmmm, salt,” did we?
  • I still don’t really get the whole power dynamic between the First Order and the Resistance, and this was a pretty big problem for me in TFA as well. Maybe it’s answered in a book some where but I can’t imagine it would be too hard to clarify this with a line a dialogue. So in the last movie, the First Order AND the Resistance were on the outs so to speak. Neither was in charge. The Republic had been reestablished since the end of Return of the Jedi and the Empire repackaged as “The First Order.” Then Leia went off to form the Resistance, which was like a subset of the Republic but different because Leia…didn’t trust the Republic…and still wanted to fight for freedom? I think? Anyway, the First Order blew up the Republic HQ in the last flick and now…they’re in charge? Why? When did that happen? Their HQ (Starkiller Base) was also destroyed? We’re led to believe they are in charge in TLJ or at least that is what it seems like given the Resistance (who are called rebels at multiple points in this movie, adding further confusion) are on the run. It just seems like a lot to get back to what equates to “Rebels V. Empire” again and I’m still lost on what exactly happened to the Republic. Is it gone? What happened to Coruscant? Did we leave that one behind because of the Imperial connection? I’ve never really liked this model of “read the books to understand this critical plot point” that’s been in-use since at least the prequels and it’s kind of troubling to see it carry over in the Disney exchange. 
  • Nice to see Star Wars ripping off Battlestar Galactica, which was (in its original incarnation) a ripoff of Star Wars. For those unaware, in the episode “33” of the BSG reboot the Colonies (last humans) are on the run from the Cylons (evil robots). Like in Star Wars, ships are able to “jump” from one location to another by way of hyperspace. The Colonies keep jumping to escape the Cylons. However the Cylons are able to track them wherever they jump, something not thought possible before. I’m not crying plagiarism or anything. It’s just a funny circular similarity. 
  • I’m all about Del Toro’s hacker character not getting a moment of redemption, another break from the norm as his is set up as the quasi-hybrid of Han and Lando. Instead we actually get a truly morally grey character. I absolutely love his bit about (and I’m paraphrasing here) one side blowing up the other for all time, repeatedly. It once again speaks to the normally, everyday people in this galaxy that don’t have single stock in these power plays. Maybe they’ve heard of the Rebellion or of this mythical figure named “Skywalker” but outside of that, it’s all just stories. The galaxy is a pretty big place after all. DJ takes a cynical, greedy look at the whole thing, opting for the “Hey, someone is going to win. I might as well make some money” approach. And his outlook isn’t wrong, per se, but it’s also not constructive (something he seems to fully admit to Finn before they part ways). It’s one thing to admit to yourself that life has no definable meaning. As Dan Harmon so famously said, “The knowledge that nothing matters, while accurate, gets you nowhere.” When you zoom in all the characters of Star Wars (and you know, real life) you see so many things that matter. It’s when you accept that and continue on (as Finn does) do you really find purpose. It’s echoed again by Rose as she states (paraphrasing again), “We’re not fighting to destroy the things we hate. We’re saving the things we love.”

‘Blade Runner 2049’ not only meets the quality of its predecessor, it surpasses it (SPOILERS)

Better late than never, right?

Last month, I dedicated a lot of words to It.

Some say too many words and I would not disagree with them.

There was just a lot personal context I felt needed to be expressed before getting into the nitty gritty of the movie because…well, because frankly I thought said context was important and possibly shaped how I view the final film.

You can bemoan that and I would not fault you. Typically, a film review should not consist of the reviewer inserting themselves into the movie they are writing about. Too frequently do I do that and just as frequently do I attempt to combat that.

Unfortunately, I kind of have to do the same thing with Blade Runner 2049. 

-BABBLING ABOUT THE ORIGINAL BEGINS HERE-

There’s been a lot said about Blade Runner. Like a whole lot. Like almost to the degree that the conversation around the film is almost more interesting than the film itself.

For those interested, there is a plethora of reading/documentaries on all the work that went into making the movie as well as multiple versions of the film itself, allowing for a unique compare and contrast opportunities. I highly recommend it as this movie has gone through quite a lot.

And if you haven’t seen the movie, I would most recommend the 2007 Final Cut (when I talk about the original, this will be the version I’m referring to) as it best cements everything director Ridley Scott intended, for better or worse.

To be blunt, I love just about every single technical aspect of Ridley Scott’s 1982 adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It’s only when we will look a little bit closer at the story do I really draw issues, particularly in the focus of Rick Deckard and the (added later) aspect that he may or may not be a replicant. I hate this addition because A) it really makes no sense, B) it has no real direct effect on the narrative and C) it’s a certainty now, according to Scott.

Far be it from me to tell Ridley fucking Scott how to direct a movie. I can only attest to my preferences. The overall appeal of Blade Runner to me, in relation to its story, is its ambiguity, favoring no one single interpretation. By retroactively adding a twist (that really amounts to nothing), Scott is in a sense straddling us with an unneeded practice in mental gymnastics.

That isn’t to say I think the story is bad. Not at all. It’s perfectly fine largely and even phenomenal in some areas, but in the years since I was first introduced to it I’ve noticed cracks in the armor of what equates to a technically perfect movie. If anything, I go back and forth on it on what feels like a regular basis.

On one hand, I love how (to a degree) how ambiguous and open to interpretation the whole movie is. Unlike Scott’s later works (coughPROETHEUScough), Blade Runner asks questions but they aren’t maddening questions that take pothole sized chunks out of the story; they’re maddening questions in that they linger in your head and leave room for healthy debate and interpretation. As one Leon says, “Nothing is worse than having an itch you can never scratch.”

It’s also a poignant story about loneliness, focusing on characters in search of meaning and identity in a  modern world.  The real fun is how it uploads old gumshoe troupes into a wholly new, futuristic setting, something that really hadn’t been put on display in a film beforehand.

Some detriments include the “love story,” if you can call it that. Harrison Ford and Sean Young share no chemistry, largely due to the fact the two hated each other behind the scenes. Ford and Scott also feuded so I’m sure that also didn’t lend a hand in making this movie any easier to make.

Once again, not to be harsh or anything. Both are…fine. I think Young may fare better given she’s suppose to act somewhat artificial. Ford has his moments in the film although sometimes his frustration is tangible.

The real stars of the show of the first film are the replicants however, particularly Roy Batty as played by Rutger Hauer.

It’s in these scenes the film flourishes. It’s here, in these moment, we get question of meaning. It is in Batty we see a being resign to his identity happily. His life having closed on a act of compassion and pity, Batty has seen the worth of not only his life, but all life: human and replicant.

So yeah, there are moments where the story gets pretty good and others where it isn’t. It’s only in the visuals, music and all technical aspects does the movie never falter. I’d go so far as to say these are the best effects of the pre-CGI era or at the very least the most influential and definitive. There had been future cityscapes before Blade Runner (in any number of things you are welcome to look up if you want to stick it to me), but I place my money on Blade Runner being the one that defined the look for just about every bit of media to utilize future cities that came afterwards.

TL;DR version: I’m much more in love with all of the technical aspects of Blade Runner than the actual story.

And I can’t be the only one that feels that way, can I? Surely not.

You hear this movie brought up a lot by movie nerds to the degree that I think it may be detrimental to those that come to it completely blind.

-BABBLING (LARGELY) OVER-

In almost every way, for me, this film surpasses the original. I was aghast and torn as the credits popped up. It was the exact same feeling I had at the end of Mad Max: Fury Road. Here we have a sequel to something commonly accepted as iconic. The even notion that a sequel could meet it (or even) surpass the original 30 or so years later is absolute lunacy on paper.

Equally surprising that it is a sequel I assumed would never happen/didn’t really want.

The original Blade Runner is such a seminal work, with influences felt to this day in science fiction and film. However it’s not a movie that initially made a lot of waves and watching the original theatrical version it’s easy to see why. The technical aspects are still masterful, but it’s largely hindered by an intentionally terrible V/O by a “couldn’t be bother” Harrison Ford really hinders it. It’s only after the tinkering I just spent a lot of time harping on did it become something truly special.

Therefore I kind of feared the same happenstance with this film. I fear we’d get something akin to a big budget fan film in the same vein as where it seems like Disney is taking Star Wars (something I’m going to be bringing up quite a bit below). I’m fine with a director and crew being head over heels for their source. If anything, that’s a huge positive. But there’s a line in which some directors/writers/studios can cross in which their fandom serves as a barrier, blocking them from doing anything truly interesting with a property.

There are going to be spoilers all throughout this review. I can’t really get into the nitty gritty of what I wanted to discuss without looking at some of the finer details of the plot. The reason I’m prefacing it here is A) common courtesy and B) I fully respect Blade Runner is a singular, definitive movie for a lot of people, myself included. Also I’m going to sound high/aloof at more than one point I’m sure given just how tired I am while I write this up. I wish I was in a better headspace given this review is going to be the last one for the year (if not ever on this site).

So as always…

I apologize for being kind of bad at this.

The plot:

“Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years.” – Warner Bros. Pictures

The review: 

As with the original film, there is a lot to unpack here.

The two or three of you that actually read this may be wondering why I feel this movie is, in almost every way, superior to its predecessor. Well, let’s break that one down first, shall we?

Denis Villeneuve.

I’m starting to think the man is a replicant himself given just how consistently good the man’s output has been in a relatively short time frame. He’s directed 5 films (including this one) since 2013, all of which have been either perfect or as near to perfect as a film can be. His next project is an adaptation of another seminal science fiction classic, Dune. I can’t think of a director today whose hands I want on that particularly property more than Villeneuve’s.

There was a moment pretty early on whether this movie was in great hands. Apparently this was common knowledge that I was not privy too, but 2049‘s opening is a homage or reference to the original opening to Blade Runner. There’s a shot Scott talked about in a making-of documentary that would have had a replicant (something we don’t know yet) returning home to a farm in the middle of nowhere. As he enters his kitchen, Deckard is already there waiting. It’s a sequence that’s mirrored beat-for-beat here with Ryan Gosling’s K and Dave  Bautista’s Sapper Morton.

Now it shouldn’t be a surprise given Scott’s producer credit, but this subtle nod (to a concept scene that wasn’t even filmed) told me this was going to be a treat in more ways than one. I’d like to think this can be credited to returning screenwriter Hampton Fancher (who was a credited screenwriter on the first film although he too had issues with a Scott). He, along with Michael Green, recapture a lot of the same malaise that defined the story Fancher helped bring to life all those years ago.

Much like the earlier movie, 2049 is a visual masterpiece. No ifs, ands or buts about it. As far as I’m concerned, it should be a clean sweep for every technical award next year. It builds upon the foundations of the future L.A. we were treated to in the earlier film without exceeding plausibility. Every visual feels like the natural next step to something we saw in Scott’s movie.

I’m not exactly sure if it’s fair to say the effects are better this time around given the astronomical leap movie effects have made since 1982. I will say the effects carry the baton rather nicely however, keeping to pace with the innovation of the earlier model. Some of the effects heavy sequences are just utterly jaw-dropping. The synchronization sequence by itself may just be the most beautiful effects sequence of the year, allowing for a since of play I don’t think I’ve seen in a effects-driven scene for a little while. It’s up to par with what we got last year in Doctor Strange.

There’s also nice little world-building treats sprinkled throughout. We get to see where replicants’ memories are made and who makes them for example, similar to how we visited where they get their eyes in the previous movie. We don’t go to the off-planet colonies (a visual that I’m personally glad our filmmakers decided to avoid), but we do travel beyond L.A. to get a better scope of this crestfallen world. As A.A. Dowd writes, “If Blade Runner gave us the world, Blade Runner 2049 has come to fill in the universe.”

And it doesn’t stop at what they did in the film either. Three shorts were released online prior to the film’s release with each serving as a piece in the puzzle in terms of linking the 1982 film to 2017’s. The best of these (directed by Cowboy Bebop director Shinichirō Watanabe) gives us some insight into the much discussed earlier black out in the film.

It’s not necessary per se but it allows for more stories in a world I’m very interested in seeing more of. The world of Blade Runner (as established in the 1982 film) is one of untapped potential. And I don’t mean exclusively cinematically either. Quite the opposite actually. Given just how wide this (now) series’ influence is entrenched in science fiction, you’d think it’d provide so many creators a massive sandbox in which to define and expand. For what it’s worth, these shorts (particularly the one above) are great and I wish more studios would implement similar marketing tools.

It’s all stuff like this that make this such a good sequel and sets itself apart from other nostalgia-mining outputs (Rouge One: A Star Wars Story, Jurassic World) as those movies prefer to play it say, feeding audiences what they know will get a cheap applause. Villeneuve opts to explore uncharted territory however all while recognizing the original has fans for a reason. Harrison Ford, Edward James Olmos and Sean Young (via some visual trickery) all return in some way, shape or form but their appearances aren’t to illicit applause. Reactions for sure, but not for the simple sake of a reaction. Unlike this bullshit…

And it goes beyond just involving older elements, like Ford. It’s about utilizing them to an effect that is at once meaningful without shamelessly pandering.

I fully anticipated/fear this movie was going to flat out give us an answer regarding the whole Deckard being a replicant situation in the same way Scott thinks we, as an audience, want.

Villeneuve however decides to do something infinitely more interesting (and my opinion better) and posits the question, adds new layers to it and rests it in our laps to decipher for ourselves.

Story wise, we also get much more of a detective story than the first film. Whereas our time is split between the fugitive replicants and Deckard in the first film, we largely remain with K in 2049 leaving an air of mystery the first film kind of lacked. We know the replicants plot in Blade Runner and we basically just watched Deckard try to play catch up. We’re largely on the mission with K here and it adds more suspense to the overall narrative.

Other technical aspects worth raving about:

Roger Deakins. Basically the star (for me) in any movie he has a hand in. As a cinematographer, I believe Deakins remains unparrelled. What the man does with light and shadow is nothing short of miraculous.

I may have been hesitant going into this one, but I was absolutely foaming at the mouth to see what Deakins was going to present this world and he did not disappoint one iota. It’s almost tempting to just fill this post with screen shots from the film accompanied with text reading “OOOOOOOOO” and “AAAAAHHHHH.’

The bigger task was meeting the music of the original. Vengelis’ score is, without a doubt, my favorite film score of all time to this point. It transcends beyond a perfect film score and relays into the realm of just great music. It’s the music of a dream made tangible, while also perfectly underscoring this exact futuristic world that is at once foreign yet recognizable, grim and ugly yet hopeful and beautiful.

It should then be considered no coincidence the music in Blade Runner has apparently been sampled in music more than any other film of the 20th century.

(NOTE: this video refers to original 2049 composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who is Villeneuve’s go-to-guy for a trio of his films. Since this video was released however, the two split as Villeneuve felt the”movie needed something different, and I needed to go back to something closer to Vangelis.”)

Whoever was going to take up that task had mighty big shoes to fill. Luckily, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch take the reigns almost effortlessly. There are echoes of that iconic score peppered throughout (and whenever it hit, I felt near tears every time) but they do such a spectacular job at making this score their own without betraying the masterwork Vengelis gave us all those years ago. There are times when Zimmer’s bombastic assault on the speakers threaten to cannibalize the more subtle ebbs and flows of the synth, but luckily those moments are few and far between.

As this is a sequel, we also get a plethora of new characters. Many are great while others kind of register more of exposition machines (heh, heh). But there is one major standout and thankful that is our lead. I think K may just be one of the best additions (character-wise) to science fiction we’ve gotten this year.

Man, I love the character of K (Gosling). His arc throughout the movie is so tragic yet uplifting. Right off the bat, we are told he is in fact a replicant. There’s no dancing around the issue here.

He also stands apart from Deckard. I was largely worried we’d be tasked with a relatively similar character and they certainly do mirror each other in a couple of ways, but K largely stands on his own and I’d say he’s even a more tragic character.

His relationship with hologram girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) is manufactured. He is tasked with hunting down his own kind for the sake of a populace that largely hates him. A highlight for him is getting an upgrade so said hologram can follow him around and unlike Her where the question of a program is called into question, 2049 all but confirms that Joi is in fact not much more than 1’s and 0’s in quietly devastating scene later in the movie.

Need more depression?

K’s arc is a complete subversion of the “chosen one” arc (character is plucked from obscurity to be the leader for a great wave of change), but in subverting it the movie elevates itself to something truly spectacular.

K is ultimately just another replicant, sharing some of the same memories as so many other replicants. In fact, he’s simply a decoy for the real hero this universe purportedly needs. That hero being the first child born to a replicant.

However…

In K’s role as a blade runner, he was the first replicant to end up in a respective memory i.e. the chance to actually test if their memory was legitimate. (This “test” being the sequence where he “returns” to the orphanage and finds the wooden horse.)

Much like Deckard, K is on a goal to find something that is not tangible. In Deckard’s case, we had a man (I’m retracting my earlier statements. I don’t give a fuck what you say, Ridley Scott. EVERYONE else in the production says he was not a replicant. HE’S NOT A REPLICANT.) looking to reclaim some semblance of his soul. With K, we have a replicant looking to see if he has a soul at all.

Once K witnesses the miracle he was told he had not witnessed earlier, he begins to rebel. While it may have been the wrong conclusion, a miracle does take place through his actions. We, as an audience, are with K. I don’t wish to speak for you, but if you’re like me you too bought into his supposed importance by this point. We sympathize with him, now believing him to be human.

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether K was just a decoy or the chosen one: the only thing separating K from having a soul, so to speak, was his and the audience’s shared belief that he was in fact naturally born. He broke the “wall” that was spoken about by Robin Wright’s character at the beginning, without even knowing it.

Questions of what it means to be a live, questions of what it means to be “important.” It’s all material that define all truly great pieces of science fiction. There’s so many fucking great little touches sprinkled throughout that nearly demands a second viewing right after the first.

The scene near the end of K watching snowflakes softly hit his hand, realizing what it’s like to be human only to smash cut to the Ana with fake snow at the end, a real being unable to feel those same things. Or how about the fact that sinister yet malevolent CEO Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has whited out eyes, fueling speculation he may in fact also be a replicant that has burnt out his eyes to remain undetected. It’s all makes for good after movie discussion and it’s the exact reason I still hold the original to such high regard even in the wake of script issues.

The main detriment for 2049 is, as you may have guessed, is its length. The movie runs at about 2 hours and 40 minutes. That’s quite a hefty runtime. It’s a movie so long you almost have to plan your day around it. It’s hard to argue given the depth of beauty we’re treated to, but I’d be lying if I said some scenes didn’t linger just a tad too long.

We have an extended sequence of K wandering around Las Vegas, now decimated by radiation. It’s jaw dropping but, man, it goes on for a bit without any sort of narrative action taking place.

There are moments where a huge revelation would occur and instead of proceeding the movie would loopback around to basically spoon feed us why the revelation was important. This is something that could make more sense if it were flashing back to an earlier movie but flashing back to events that occurred IN THE SAME MOVIE seems a bit gratuitous to me.

I’m not sure if I am in the minority in regards to thinking this movie is superior. Among my friends, I know I’m not. I don’t really get a common consensus for the world at-large however.

I’ve read a lot of trite regarding why this movie “failed” at the box office. Ranging from stupid and meaningless click-bait (Not enough women went to go see it apparently.) to pretty accurate (the marketing really did not have a handle on how to sell this one).

I really, really liked Blade Runner. Like I said, it’s everything I liked about the first movie amplified marginally and largely corrects many of the elements I didn’t.

So to me, it’s not a stretch to call this a great sequel. I think it’s a little hasty to be calling it one of the best of all-time however. I always am hesitant to say anything is the best of anything this close to release however. You kind of a need a year or two (in my opinion) to properly access something’s place in the canon.

2049 is a movie of the moment however, both personally and at-large. I see a future like this being all but plausible, (not so much in the flying cars) where things worsen before they get better. Where we drift further and further away from one another. Where meaning is reduced to lines of data in a computer. Where individuality is largely thought of as an illusion, progress defined by the backs of foundations to get us there.

Loneliness is already a known symptom of modernity. You see it in just about every daily aspect if you’re looking for it. At least I do and becomes more and more apparent everyday. It’s hard not to place yourself in K’s position, hoping you, as an individual, mean something more. To be special.

By what is special any more these days? How can one actually be considered special in such a crowded market place. I certainly don’t feel important or special all the time and it may be a mistake to think this but it’s true to a degree. I don’t matter and I’m not special. The list of people that’ll remember me when I’m gone will be short and effects of my web short-lived.

Think of it this way, in what way does this blog stand out? It’s written by me? But who am I? Why does my opinion matter in a sea of others that seem to have some value, whether intrinsic or carved out.

I guess all that matters is not whether we have meaning or not but whether we ourselves are meaningful. That’s really the best any of us can do, right? Do we let ourselves define who and what we mean or do we so ourselves? I don’t think there’s a right answer there. K finds himself at this crossroads and it’s this aspect I think I connected with most. Not many of us are very special and those that are face a similar gap in the sense what is that going to mean in millions of years?

It’s nihilistic yet also poignant, conflicting ideas that have all but defined what makes up the world of Blade Runner and now 2049.

“It” successfully floats above countless failed Stephen King adaptations by way of its core cast and behind-the-scenes vision

I’m 12 years old, it’s summer and I’m reading Stephen King’s 1986 novel, It.

It’s night time so I have to use my book light, a solitary beacon in an otherwise pitch black bedroom. As I lay the book aside to go to bed, one thing becomes immediately apparent: my closet door is open. Now as I’m sure more than a few of you are aware, you can’t really see into a closet at night.

As the titular monster can shape-shift, there’s a literally cornucopia of places it could be. You know if it was real…which it definitely isn’t…right?

By having me second guess myself before getting up to close the door, King won.

When was 12, It was probably the scariest thing I willingly put myself through. There’s just something much more cerebral about a really scary book than there is a really scary movie. A movie spoon feeds you scary imagery and nightmare; a book makes your brain work against itself in conjuring up moments that will have you second guess getting out of bed to go to the bathroom at night.

“So what makes It so scary,” an individual who may not have read the book before may ponder.

I haven’t read most of King’s work but out of the small portion I have indulged in, It was was the most consistently terrifying. In it, King gives us a pervasive and nightmarish vision of an archetypical small town that’s sold its soul to a monster that puts on masks and eats children. Those masks provide It (technically It is a “she”, but that is a discussion for another day) and Stephen King with a chance to dig into just about every archetypal boogeyman imaginable, ranging from werewolves and mummies and even a giant bird.

And don’t forget Pennywise The Dancing Clown.

While many of King’s antagonists are scary, there’s something that sets Pennywise apart. There’s an imaginative brutality to his kills, the way gore and nightmare fuel combine with mean-spirited humor to create an impression of some sadistic, cosmic, shape-shifting bully; something that takes as much, if not more, pleasure in mocking you and your suffering as it does in ripping you to shreds. There’s also the matter of who he preys on specifically.

Several adults die within the book’s pages, but a majority of It’s victims are kids as they have a special vitality that the monster craves; a vitality that serves as one of the book’s major themes. Basically, it craves your fear over your flesh.

And it wasn’t just about the scares either. Sure, that played a big part but what made It such a powerful experience where who those scary things were happening to.

I wasn’t alive in 1958 yet King captures a certain feeling so accurately and enthusiastically that it doesn’t matter if the specifics weren’t something I could relate to. Reading about outcasts my own age, isolated from the larger portions of their peers in a way I understood, playing games in the woods away from things like football or band felt more real than my actual life in a way that’s hard to put into words. As broken as the members of the Loser’s Club are, they were friends, and that friendship, and the unwavering faith in that friendship, mattered a great deal to me.

To me, the book is and always will be this section:

“Maybe there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends – maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for too, if that’s what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.”

I think it’d be fair to say I didn’t really read the book as much as I experienced it (although I never had to personally deal with an intergalactic, fear-consuming clown but that’s neither here nor there), something I think every one goes through with more than one piece of popular media or literature in their respective lifetimes.

It tapped into a direct mainline of my subconscious and drilled down so fucking deep that I’ve never been entirely rid of it. Randomly, aspects of the book will pop into my mind and at times I’ll recognize it and others I won’t.

And this is all (mostly) in regards to the portion of the novel dedicated to the Losers as kids. The other portion sees them return to Derry to finish the job they started back over 20 years beforehand. When I was a kid reading that section seemed, not bad, but less important. Adulthood seemed so far away back then. It wasn’t something tangible. In the 1958 portion, most of the adults are largely neglectful, if not outright abusive. In this world, the kids are largely on their own.

As King writes, “Eddie discovered one of his childhood’s great truths. Grownups are the real monsters, he thought.”

Flash forward more than 10 years later.

I still hesitate to call myself an adult, but I’m certainly not a kid anymore.

Last summer, I found myself thinking a lot about It. I knew there was a new movie coming out and I had really fond memories of reading it as a kid but couldn’t remember every aspect of it as I once could. I wanted to go back, although I was initially intimidated by the length, and see if the book stood the test of time.  Because that’s what books do: they’re always the same when you reread them, but you’re always different. Even when you don’t want to be.

Now a “grown-up” myself, I’ve come to realize that the loss of vitality between the kid chapters and the adult ones is not an incidental effect; it is, in fact, a core feature of the premise of the entire book. Without those adult chapters, It would still be scary but it wouldn’t be special. 

As one Loser observes, growing up means the “magic of childhood belief” goes away. It’s never really clear when and where it happens, but it inevitably does. Everything that was big, bold and capitalized turns out not to be a really big deal after all. An adult Bill Denbrough (the Losers’ de facto leader) takes a taxi through Derry, the book’s setting, and reflects on a town he hasn’t seen since his adolescence. He’s shocked at how strained the place looks to him: how things have changed, and how even the things that stayed the same seem blander somehow. Almost like a knock-off of something that used to matter. Every time I go back to my home town, I almost always have a similar feeling.

It’s also about regret. There’s a reason why “Youth is wasted on the young” is an an age-old sentiment. We sometimes fall prey to looking at our childhoods with proverbial rose-tinted glasses, maybe bypassing the unpleasantness.

I finally watched T2: Trainspotting, a movie that I assume the second half to this latest It adaptation may mirror at least thematically in is that it doesn’t cherry coat that the notion that our youth can be just as grimy as our present. It’s really only by recognizing these do we become somewhat adept at dealing with them. And even then, some trauma can never really be healed.

That isn’t to say It a perfect book by any means. King could have definitely used some toning back. It’s a story that really has no need to be as long as it is and there are more than a few sequences that could have been cut as they are either A) unnecessary or B) largely uncomfortable to the service of nothing. (The sewer gang bang fits under both categories.)

Re-reading It was a lot more fun than I was expecting but I found myself appreciating the book’s sense of melancholy for things lost and hope for those gained more than the scares this time around. King doesn’t pull a single punch when it comes to the realities of getting older, but suggests there may be just a little magic left for those willing to fight for it.

Suffice to say, It is a pretty important book to me and any form of adaptation was going to be met with strict scrutiny. Not in the sense that I am a stickler for a film that was 100% faithful to the book. It is a beast of a novel, coming in at well over 1,000 pages. There’s a lot there that can be cut or modified (some material I fully advocate for the removal of, but more on that in a bit) and the story would remain largely the same.

No, I’m speaking more to the “feel” of the book. There’s a misconception that the book is a pretty simple read as well which it is really anything but.

Even though it’s in no way a book for children, there’s a ton of adolescent touchstones included in It, both apparent and hidden between the lines. First love, “lazy” summers, goofing off with your friends, adulthood on the horizon, the final days between “kid problems” and “adult problems,” etc.

Director Andrés Muschietti was not a name I was familiar with before this movie. I skipped Mama if only because it seemed like it fit into every category of something I don’t really want in a horror movie…

Still, I was willing to give the man the benefit of the doubt. First off, splitting book into two parts (the first half dedicated to the kid, the other to them as adults) was a pretty smart movie. The book cross-sections these two portions rather than divide them which works in that medium but would have ultimately been to the disservice to both had they been smushed together. Unfortunately, this could also lead to a movie that doesn’t feel whole as a result as it has been intentionally halved, a move that rarely ever works with films.

So I’ve rambled enough.

Did this experiment work? Did I leave this movie even remotely satisfied? Do you care?

Answers to all (maybe) below…

The plot:

“In the Town of Derry, the local kids are disappearing one by one, leaving behind bloody remains. In a place known as ‘The Barrens’, a group of seven kids are united by their horrifying and strange encounters with an evil clown and their determination to kill It.” – IMDb.com

The review: 

-Cracks knuckles-

Get comfortable, folks. We may be here for a little bit.

Right off the bat, I should say I really, really enjoyed this one. It’s way too early to fully declare but this was probably the warmest reaction I’ve had to a King film adaptation in a good long while.

That said, I think it’ll be hard to fully gauge this one as it is very much a Part 1 of a 2 part story. I can only assume that Warner Bros/New Line were hesitant to fully commit to immediately funding two movies back-to-back. These aren’t guaranteed hits like a Star Wars or Marvel film after all.

So while I stand by it being a smart that this was a movie split in half in the interest of telling the story more effectively, it comes at the cost of a first half feeling a little hallow and without a proper climax. Much like Kill BillIt very much feels like a flashier half of a longer story; the second, I expect, will slow things down considerably. It’s by no accident that the film’s conclusion doesn’t particularly feel like a victory. There’s a lot more ground to cover.

With the recent announcement there will apparently “for sure” be a Part 2, I’m a little bit more relieved but I’m not a fan of having to wait around and see if I’ll actually get the end to a story I want to see. It’s not a great model outside of television.

So I’m going to talk a bit about the differences between the book and movie in this upcoming section. If that annoys you/don’t want spoilers for the book (as a whole), I’ve sectioned it off for your convenience.

-ANNOYING BOOK CHATTER-

There are quite a few changes and omissions Muschietti implements in his version, many of which (surprisingly enough) work and even, in some instances, could be considered improvements. I won’t touch base on every, single one but I would like to highlight a couple (both positive and negative).

The update from the 1950s to 1980s was a little suspect to me, just given the recent popularity of Stranger Things (a series that owes more than a little to King and It in particular).

Largely, the movie (thankfully) doesn’t shove the 80’s down our throats as I was fearing more nostalgia overload. Outside of a few song choices, the basic story remains as timeless as ever.

We lose some of the bigger concepts of the book, i.e. It’s origins and The Turtle. I’m largely fine with this material beginning omitted in the interest of digestibility for a standard audience but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping that they’d at least touch on it a little bit in the sequel. For now though, it doesn’t really matter where It came from or what It wants. As is the case with many movie monsters, there is enough horror to be mined from the mere existence of a shape-shifting monster that kills and eats kids.

I’ve read that original director (and still credited co-screenwriter) Cary Fukunaga wanted to emphasize some of the darker sexual aspects of the book in his version of the film which I fully understand the studio hoping to, not avoid, but not exacerbate. Thank The Turtle the aforementioned sewer gang bang was mercifully left on the cutting room floor.

It’s important to remember this is meant to be a mass consumption version of the book. That isn’t to say a lot of that uncomfortableness doesn’t sprout up in different ways. A sexual-abuse subplot that largely remained subtext in the book is made much more apparent in the film, and a love triangle between three of the Losers is given outsized importance here.

I often find that page-to-screen adaptations either lose the subtly of their source material or the exact opposite and go for the obvious. Muschietti often goes for the latter, to mixed effect.

There are a couple of sequences and/or aspects I would have liked to see but am not all that disappointed by their exclusion such as Bev’s slingshot for example or Richie’s encounter with a teenage werewolf or more of Mike’s look into the town’s bloody past.

There’s been a lot said about the 1990 miniseries, an adaptation that I don’t think holds up very well with the exception of Tim Curry’s role as Pennywise. It does an okay job of telling a story about kids fighting a monster only to have to return as adults to finish the job. As an allegory for confronting childhood trauma, that’s fine but to me, the book was a lot more than just that.

For what it’s worth, I think this film does a much better job at compartmentalizing one half of the book while also delivering the tone/feel of its source material. It’s kind of disappointing to have what is not a conventional book crammed into a conventional three-act structure, the effort largely works here. Muschietti and the screenwriters made a clear effort at maintaining this tone, and show a clear affection that too often gets lost in translation. It is in this effort/affection, that I really appreciate what they’ve gone for. The only thing that worries me is that they’ll get lost in the shuffle when the studio gears up for the second round.

-ANNOYING BOOK CHATTER OVER (MOSTLY)-

Now let’s get on to the movie itself. Y’know, the reason why I assume most of you are here.

I don’t really want to deep dive into what I consider scary…I’ve done that waaaaaaaaay too much in the past. Suffice to say, I didn’t find this movie all that scary but there were some pretty effective scares in it. Muschietti has a pretty good eye for what dictates a good horror set piece. Rather than go for a slow build, he goes the alt route of big, bombast, making use some very effective nightmare imagery and creature effects. If anything, I’d say It is more intense than it is scary which I generally lean towards anyway.

Visually, the movie is straight dynamite. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung delivers a movie that looks better than a grand majority of what else is out in cinemas right now, let alone just horror movies. This is combined with top notch sound and production design that makes for a movie for award consideration, but will sadly most likely be ignored due largely to the unfair stigma attached to the horror genre.

We open with the murder of six-year-old Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), arguable the novel’s most iconic scene, adapted largely beat-for-beat. The notable difference between this and the previous adaptation however is there aren’t prime time standards to adhere to. Kids are murdered en masses by It and Muschietti pulls no punches.

Speaking of horror, let’s take some time to talk about Pennywise, played here by Bill Skarsgård. Skarsgård’s performance isn’t as immediately iconic as Tim Curry’s and almost leans too heavily into the “creepy clown” troupe but more often than not he is effectively used. Delivering dialogue in a Bugs Bunny meet Bane lisp, his physical performance hints at an entity too big to fit fully into its shell; his eyes almost perpetually off-center.

All this horror, gloom and doom would be irrelevant if we didn’t have a quality set of characters trapped therein for us to root and cheer for, and luckily this movie carries more than its fair share of likable characters.

It may be somewhat pertinent that casting director Rich Delia be given his due as, with the exception of two, each of these kids were complete unknowns to me and each of them fits their respective Loser P-E-R-F-E-C-T-L-Y. I’ll concede that pacing and writing does some of them a disservice but none of our young actors falters and does a pretty spectacular job at bringing characters ingrained in my mind since youth to life. These kids have almost an inherent chemistry with one another and interact in a way that is believable and comes off as almost improvised.

As with the book, Richie (Finn Wolfhard) and Bev (Sophia Lillis) are personal standouts. I’d go so far as to say Wolfhard walks away with the movie given just how much comedic heavy lifting placed upon his shoulders. Lillis similarly has a lot of heavy lifting on the dramatic front, and seems to effortlessly elevate her role beyond “token girl” although, like the book, is the center of a love triangle, much more obviously here.

While I’m never really into those story angles, I think what was brought to the table here was as good as it could be. Both Bill (Jaeden Lieberher)and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) are quick to fall in love with Bev, and the film is as sensitive to the sometimes tender, all-too-real awkwardness that occurs when puberty opts to rear its ugly head into the tight-rope of male-female friendships.

The group is rounded out by Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), a sheltered hypochondriac, Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), the skeptic and Mike (Chosen Jacobs), a home schooled kid from the other side of town. Like in the book, Mike tends to disappear in the group scenes. Hell, they give away his major task as “town historian” to another Loser so he’s often just there in many scenes. Some confusing edits suggest a longer version of the story in which more characters were allowed to develop.

There’s also some bullies led by Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) that play a role as secondary antagonists but kind of lose their edge as the movie bypasses a lot of their racism, misogyny and outright nastiness on full display in the book. They are, after all, Stephen King bullies. Given this movie only hints at the effect It has on Derry, all of the other antagonists feel…unnecessary.

A major complaint of mine is that there is a really odd rhythm to the pacing here. Like, it almost feels unnatural in the way it’s stacked together rather than organically building dread or building to its climax. I guess that can be chalked up to the transition. Where the book Losers get a whole summer to build their plan to fight back against Pennywise, their film counterparts get two hours.

And I think that largely sums up my thoughts on this end result and it’s sort of the cliche every review of an adaptation shares: it’s not the book, and that’s okay because it largely shares the heart of what made me like the original so much. The book will always be there as well my memories from reading the book.

The point is, it remains faithful without having to be 100% beholden to the book and that’s basically exactly what I wanted. There’s an ambition here that mainstream horror lacks these days and it’s exciting to see something like this with a little bit of cash behind it as well. If movie’s like this within the horror genre were the norm rather than the exception I feel like the stigma constantly holding it back would be lifted and richer cinematic landscape could prosper.

Now give me Chapter 2!

Jaime, get me off this crazy thing: A ‘Game of Thrones’ finale blog

….

….

…..

AGAIN?

LIKE, I ALREADY DID THIS LAST WEEK I THOUGHT? OR MAYBE THE WEEK BEFORE?

….

YEAH, I KNOW THIS IS THE LAST EPISODE FOR OVER A YEAR.

….

NO ONE GIVES A SHIT THOUGH, RIGHT?

….

NO. YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO AGREE WITH ME.

….

THEN WHY AM I…?

….

VIEWS?

BUT, LIKE DOES ANYONE…

….

AT LEAST 5, YOU SAY?

WELL, WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY SO EARLIER?

So, the Night’s Watch can totally buff that little scratch out, right?

As a side note, I’ve been taking part in a number of discussions regarding how the White Walkers were going to get across. What kind of strategy are they going to use? Will they target a specific point in the Wall? Will there be a big battle in which the Wall is overrun by ice zombies? Will Bran crossing over now that he’s been marked by the Night King?

Nope.

It just took a dragon to blow the fucking thing to Timbuktu.

28-got-ice-dragon.w710.h473.2x

I’d say it’s hard to believe we’re here again but that feels rather cliche at this point, no?

We’re in the home stretch now, folks. And with that just about all the “predictable” stuff has been neatly wrapped up with this penultimate season finale.

Looking back on Season 7 in its entirety, I find myself thinking one thing; one thought that keeps lingering in the back of mind: boy, this was one stupid season of television, right? Woah, woah, woah. Put the pitchforks away and let’s talk for a second.

Year 7 was fast-paced, wildly fun filled with huge battle sequences (by and large the biggest and most expensive of the show thus far), long-awaited reunions, thrilling and unexpected team-ups, and some of the most memorable deaths in the series’ history. I don’t think there is one among us that can contest that. For all of that, I am grateful. It’s long been evident that this is THE show that fully solidifies television’s grandiose, cinematic potential if even for how clear it is the level of funding it receives year-after-year.

That said, it was every bit as rushed, overflowing with gratuitous fan service, ludicrously implausible, pandering romances and some of the least surprising developments and ends for the most disposable characters we have left on the table. That all probably has something to do with the fact that it was three episodes shorter than the traditional 10 episode order to account for inflated budgets, but problems (whether within the control of the show or not) are still problems.

It is these two conflicting paragraphs that surmise my thoughts on this latest season. Yes, it was sloppy. Yes, it was stupid. But it was also a lot of fun. Like a shit ton of fun, if you will. Too often do we (myself included) forget to ask ourselves, Was it fun?” when it comes to TV probably due in part to the fact that we are collectively spoiled on the wide breadth of its collective quality across traditional, streaming mediums.

So yeah, it was a bit of fun when you get right down to it and I want to make that a pretty big point before I proceed to bitch for however many thousands of words I end up dedicating to this silly TV show.

I could probably write about how the books and show differ until my fingers turn to nubs so I won’t waste your time. That’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to either skim through this as a favor to me or you are in look for some grammatical errors to call out. Wait…that only accounts for you, the reader. What about me? What do I get out of all this?

Fame? No.

Glory? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAAHBAHABOBHAHBOBOBOBOOOHOOBOOHOOBHOOOBOOOOOHOOOOOHAHHBHAOBHBAOBHOABOHB

I guess it’s to make myself feel smart? No that can’t be it. I don’t even think that’s possible anymore.

I guess when you boil it down, as I said before, it’s just…fun.

Without a doubt the most fun and commendable fan-service sequence of the episode/season for me was the meeting at the Dragon’s Pit, the sequence I suspect to be the culprit behind the episode’s extended run time. It paid off on seasons-long separations, allowed for wholly new interactions and even let long standing arcs reach largely satisfactory conclusions while also setting up new ones.

They’re so proud of their weird murder daughter, you guys.

For me personally, GoT is at its absolute best when it’s constrained, i.e. when a good percentage of the show’s characters are in one space and thereby becomes far more interesting just your standard set piece. And this sequence was like a really, really large scale version of that.

It’s damn thrilling to me when we get two characters in a room together and just let them work through everything that’s happened to them. My two favorite sequences in the finale were Tyrion and Cersei meeting once again in her chambers (just like old times) and the resolution between Jon and Theon.

Hard to believe Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey haven’t shared a scene together since Season 4. It wasn’t until their reunion here that I fully realized how much I missed the energy these two actors pull from one another. That may play into the fact that neither have really been given a truly worthy successor (on the performance side of things) within their respective story lines since the parted ways.

What becomes clear in this scene is just how deep Cersei has used Tyrion as a defense/coping mechanism in the years between then and now.

It was her  who doomed Tommen, even if she traces the High Sparrow’s treachery and the Tyrell move to take power back to Tywin’s death at the hands of her brother.

How do this become evident you may ask? Why it does what it does best in going for the simplest route; putting two characters in a room, and testing them. The test for Tyrion was whether he’d enter the room at all; the test for Cersei is whether or not Tyrion leaves alive.

It’s matters that happen afterwards in which the epsidoe really starts to shoot itself in the foot again and again.

She ultimately does let Tyrion live and even pretends to side with him before pulling a Cersei. That begs the question of why she let him live if she just plans on him to die up North. AGAIN we have Tyrion made to be a strategic fool. Now I buy him being a bit high on himself as a military leader, but with face-to-face negotiation among those in King’s Landing? I assumed that was his bread and butter. Now we have him fuck up again for the purpose of what?

There’s a point to be made that what is the worst that could happen given there was no assurance Cersei would agree to the truce anyway. It just all comes at the cost of Tyrion’s biggest strength as a character and this late in the game that seems more to the fault of the necessary evil of stupid decisions equal higher drama. At least we got one more killer Cersei/Tyrion scene out of it before all is said and done.

As for Cersei, pretending to work with her enemies while secretly hatching some grander scheme was pretty much what I and EVERYONE ELSE expected for the truce going into it.

I guess with Jaime FINALLY coming to his senses and ditching her, we are “soon” to be presented with our first iteration of a flat out evil Cersei, a prospect that is at once intriguing yet boring. I’m all fine with flat characters. They obviously work given we’ve been using them in story-telling since the beginning of time, but GoT always made point to give us perspective on it’s evil. Now with Littlefinger gone and Darth Cersei on the horizon, we have very little in the way of just good guys and bad guys. In Season 8, there will really be no in-between. I guess that’s to be expected but it’s also kind of a letdown.

I’ve read quite a bit of positive feedback on the execution of Littlefinger, a sequence that plays more to the negatives of my “so stupid, so awesome” hypothesis.

On paper, everything about the sequence is pretty awesome.

However everything leading up to it is complete and utter bullshit or at the very least pretty flimsily constructed. From what I gather, we are meant to believe the Stark kids hatched up their plan to reveal and ultimately kill Littlefinger at the weirwood tree a couple of episodes back when Arya and Bran finally made their way back to Winterfell. But that’s not really satisfying and this apparent plan kind of falls apart at the slightest amount of scrutiny.

If Sansa knew most of Littlefinger’s evil deeds already (and I think it’s fair to say she knew enough), why was she ever working with him in the first place?

Why didn’t she immediately send him away or at the very least hold him accountable for murder after the Battle Of The Bastards once she obtained the help she needed from his army?

And if the show is arguing that she was waiting for Bran’s Three-Eyed Raven/Internet evidence, then why didn’t Bran give it to her immediately? Is he just an asshole or can he not be bothered? Also how in the shit is his “evidence” admissible? Is everyone onboard with the Three-Eyed Raven stuff? Does he have to prove it to everyone en masse?

When did he give Sansa this vital information to her case? How long has Arya been a part of this? What was her role exactly? To make certain that Littlefinger was in fact a conspiring asshole? I thought that was the most clear thing about his character up to this point.

I ask these questions because I am wholly unclear of what the show is saying happened here and I suspect few others may be as well. The show leaned waaaaaaaaay too heavily into an apparent sibling rivalry for the sake of its “twist” given I really have no clue as to what drove all of the characters involved given what may or may not have happened offscreen.  Leave it to Littlefinger to get killed off via a series of convoluted and altogether complicated plot holes.

It’s almost as if there was a whole section of events that took place offscreen that would have…

Oh.

While we’re on that issue of things that seem smart but actually aren’t: what even was Euron Greyjoy and Cersei’s plan? His little show and dance about leaving for the Iron Islands seemed suuuuuUUUuuuper specific to context of the scene at hand, i.e. the concrete confirmation there is in fact an undead army on its way or is he  just a really great improviser?

I think the question really boils down to: do you really care? Do you care if this season is perhaps the flimsiest structurally in the series history? Do you care that all of the big moments largely feel unearned? I bet a large majority of you don’t and that’s perfectly okay.

For what it’s worth, there are plenty moments in the finale I felt carried quite a bit of pathos and were so, so, so quietly satisfying on a narrative level. Take Jon forgiving Theon for example…

It’s a scene that’s been a long time coming for Theon, particularly since still he’s still very much beating himself up for his numerous crimes and Jon’s (or just about any Starks’) proximity encourages a strict self-assessment of where he fits into all of this as the show begins to enter the final leg of its tenure.

Jon says he’s done a lot of things he regrets, Theon tells him, “Not compared to me, you haven’t.” And Jon doesn’t simply let Theon of the hook as one may expect. He agrees with him, leaving Theon to turn to the ground both in shame and rejection. However, over the course of this conversation, Jon affirms and absolves Theon in as much as he can and encourages him to be a hero. It’s a wonderfully quiet and beautiful bonding moment between two characters that haven’t interacted since the earliest days of Season 1.

“It’s not my place to forgive you for all of it. But what I can forgive, I do,” Jon tells Theon, and it’s exactly what he needs to hear. There are few mines more ripe for cathartic dramatic potential than what may be found in a good ol’ fashioned redemption arc. So yeah, he basically has “noble sacrifice” written all over him but I’m so happy he’s back on track after spending so much time on the sidelines.

Speaking of Jon, while I liked the scene confirming his lineage it felt almost like pandering to those that didn’t get it for some reason last season. I assumed it was obvious but I guess not? Also why is Bran just now getting to this? I thought he knew everything? Or is it just most things? Or was he content to think Jon was a Sand instead of a Snow?

As to the aunt/nephew hook-up angle, I don’t like it. Yes, mainly because it’s icky but also (as I said before) it feels rushed. I wholly get why two ridicously good-looking people would want to smush. I just like a little bit more than, “You’re hot and a good person.” “Ditto, let’s fuck.”

Who knows if I’ll actually be around to see how this plays out. I do think this season served as a pretty decent tee off into a series finale in 2018 or ’19 however.

I suspect the final season will return Game of Thrones to the more deliberate pacing and thoughtful character development that once defined it. And I guess, in the end, that will have been to the credit of this season, with its  logic-defying race to get all the characters positioned it and skipping all the “nothing” in-between. I guess it’ll only be once everyone sees the final picture that a proper review of whether quick thrills were really worth it.

SIDEBAR

While I’m here, I think it’s time to address something that’s been annoying me all this season and it speaks to the social media landscape more than anything else.

I’m growing increasingly annoyed with “Am I the only one who doesn’t…..” statuses and posts. Obviously as it relates to this, that ellipse can be filled in with “watch Game of Thrones” but really just about anything popular will do.

There are cooler ways to rebel….I assume.

By making the effort to comment on something you don’t care

Like, I get the joke. We all do. You don’t watch something. I guess it’s cool that there’s something popular you don’t watch? Is that what you’re trying put out there?  Are you trying to insinuate that you are cool for not watching that popular thing?

I mean I know I’m lame for actually taking time to commit to talking about this show in a way that is in no way justified beyond I’m bored/depressed/lonely or any combination hereafter. But since when is it cool to be above watching a popular, nonpartisan thing.

It both baffles and annoys me.

I’m sure I did it too…y’know when I was in high school and it was fun to brag how I didn’t watch Twilight.

I don’t watch Big Bang Theory and I’ll shit talk it but I don’t ever feel superior because I don’t watch it nor do I attempt to belittle those that do.

-END OF SIDEBAR, BACK TO REGULAR BAR-

So there you have it. Potentially my final word on GoT. If I’m around when the 8th and final season finally rolls around, I’m sure I’ll have some thoughts. And who knows? I may want to share them somewhere if I am capable.

For now though, I hope you enjoyed or at least tolerated what I had to say. I know I didn’t cover everything but do you honestly remember everything? I know I don’t but that’s what the internet’s for, right?

WHAT IS DEAD…

MAY NEVER DIE…

Over the Wall and through the snow, to the White Walkers’ house we go (A Game of Thrones Spoiler Blog)

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ZZZZZZZ

ZZZZZZZ

😯 !!!!

HUH?!

WHAT DO YOU WANT?!

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WELL I HARDLY SEE HOW THAT’S A CONCERN OF MI-

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WUT?

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!

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THAT HAPPENED?!

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SHIT.

WELL, MAYBE I SHOULD COME BACK…

BUT, I’M GETTING TOO OLD FOR THIS, RIGHT? I MEAN WHO ACTUALLY CARES ABOUT MY OPINION ON SOME SHOW?

NOT TO MENTION THE SEASON’S ALREADY ALMOST OVER…

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-EXHALES-

FINE.

I’LL DO IT.

BUT YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS, RIGHT?

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SPOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOILERS ABOUND!

 

THAT MEANS, AS ALWAYS, IF YOU HAVEN’T ACTUALLY SEEN THE LATEST EPISODE OF GAME OF THRONES AND WISH TO REMAIN UNSPOILED…

ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER.

THAT’S YOUR WARNING.

YOU HEAR THAT, NICK.

YEAH, I’M TALKING TO YOU NICK.

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I THINK NICK MAY STILL BE HERE.

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is he gone?

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OK LET’S GET THROUGH THIS BEFORE HE COMES BACK!

It sure does feel like it’s been a cool minute since I talked about this show. Not there is a lack of my (unwarranted) opinions readily available on the Internet. Just check my Twitter. Or here. Or here. Or here. Maybe even here. Shit, I forgot about here. And maybe a couple of times here and here.

(Oh and here.)

So yeah, if you’re new here I’m no stranger to the show as you may be able to ascertain.

The reason I’ve held off writing about it this season comes in the form of two excuses…I mean valid reasons. One, my depression has been at what feels like an all time high i.e. there have been other things more pressing on my mind outside of a television show (regardless of how much I like said television show). Two, this season’s been moving so fucking fast I feel like it may give me whiplash. Seriously, characters move around at a frequency that would have been unheard of seven years ago when it began and definitely not a practice of use in the books from which it is based.

So why exactly have I come back now, one of the two people reading this may be asking themselves.

To be frank, as a fan, there’s just too much at play here to not talk about it a little bit. (Also I have a personal one-blog a month quota to fill, but that’s neither here nor there.)

This should be everything I wanted from Rogue One, (in terms of bringing a team together) but where that movie failed to make me even remotely care about a single character or their mission I am 100% on board and was on the edge of my seat from the set up to the actual execution of Jon’s little suicide squad™. (Even though their “plan” was almost unforgivably stupid, which I will explain momentarily. )

Now you may argue, “Tyler, that was a movie so it’s not a fair comparison. It didn’t have as much time to develop all its characters in a way television is afforded.”

To that I respond, “I don’t care.”

The thing about our motley crew is that it consists of, with the exception of Jon, narrative outliers. Sure, all of these guys have had a part to play but I’d never go so far as to say the Hound, Ser Jorah or (especially) Gendry were necessary up to this point. That isn’t to say they weren’t great characters. If anything, in terms of geography, basically all of my favorite characters were north of the Wall this episode.

That said, we KNOW all of these characters even though many (with the exception of Jon) were never at the forefront of the show.

Another beautiful aspect of this team’s assembly is that each member has a specific, established reason for hating another. There’s a lot of dramatic/comedic material to mine here.

If you had told me this exact team was going to form before series end for this exact purpose, I’d have passed it off as fan fiction. Yet here we are. This, in turn, provides another treat given we’ve never seen some of these guys interact at all before.

It properly harkens back to films like Seven Samurai or The Dirty Dozen  where we have a group of low lives and outcasts assembled for a greater good. Where movies have to dedicate a good portion of its run time to assembling the crew, setting up the mission, etc., Game of Thrones was able to jump right in because the past seven seasons have done the heavy lifting and therefore allowing us to reap the rewards now. It’s not better per se; just something I’ve never really experienced before and it was so, so, so fucking satisfying but it also comes at a price as I must emphasize.

See, we’re in the fan service slash blockbuster field goal position of this show, an era that is at once exciting yet wholly unfamiliar for someone who reads the books. This is both a plus and a negative in very keen and succinct ways. HOWEVER before I get too negative, let’s start with some positives.

I also want to speak to Jon’s role in all of this, given he has now officially been established as the most important character in the series.

My favorite thing about Jon’s (and to a more obvious extent, Dany’s) arc is how naturally he’s shifted into the center of everything. He was obviously meant for bigger, better things but by sending him to the Wall, George R.R. Martin effectively went about downplaying all of these. Like many in Westeros, we as an audience become distracted by the (seemingly) larger conflict of the War of the Five Kings whereas Jon (and Dany across the Narrow Sea) seemed to have an abstract problem with an enemy that seemed far away.

Now, as is often the case in real life, those “far away” problems are now at the character’s figurative and literal doorsteps. As many have already pointed out, this mirrors threats we often pass off as intangible and/or nonexistent when the contrary is often the case.

-COUGHwhitesupremacistsCOUGHglobalwarmingCOUGH-

This isn’t to say I’m wholly satisfied with every aspect of story-telling on display here. This one was pretty patchy, folks. And that’s saying something given we are in latter Game of Thrones territory.

As I said before, things are moving fast at this point in the…game. That’s both a positive and a negative. It’s a positive in that we get multiple big moments per episode given the ever shrinking about of time remaining (7 episodes after this one). It’s a negative in that after all these big moments we lose a lot of subtle and/or meaningful character beats this show won me over with in the first place.

Here’s a for instance, Benjen Stark and Jon reunite in this episode.

Well…that is to say they have a scene together. Reunite may be a generous term. We really get a quick “Benjen Ex Machina” as he saves Jon only to (seemingly) die again at the hands of the White Walkers. They don’t even really exchange anything meaningful between each other. THIS IS THE MAN WHO LED JON TO JOINING THE MOTHER FLIPPING NIGHTS’ WATCH NEED I REMIND YOU. These two meeting up again was (I assumed) supposed to be a big deal. It instead plays out like the writers wrote themselves into a corner and suddenly remembered Benjen was a thing. If he is dead, I will be pretty pissed. Bringing a character back only to have them die almost immediately is not a technique I’m overly fond of (see Osha from last season). However it must be noted that we don’t actually see Benjen die but that’s what it seemed like. I guess we’ll see but I’m still in the negative on the whole thing.

And that’s a problem showcased multiple times throughout this entire episode; an episode, I may remind you, that was longer than the normal average runtime. How is that a show that runs over an hour still feels rushed?

I praised this team-up earlier but let’s boil this down real quick: we don’t learn anything new about these characters through their interactions with one another, something I was really hoping for.

Jorah is a disappointment. Jon is heroic to his own detriment (because seriously why did he keep fighting the wrights as opposed to just getting on the goddamned dragon). The Hound likes to say “fuck” a lot and tends to give very little about any sort of larger picture. The fact that some red shirts were thrown in really only served to distract and kind of took away from Thoros’ death (I mean that and the fact that he was gone so long beforehand. Maybe dedicate more time to him before killing him just because he’s expendable?). If we had limited it to just these seven guys, I could see the tension being a little higher.

This sort relates back to the plan at the center of “Beyond the Wall,” one that is as shakey as the ice lake our heroes find themselves on. We need a wight as proof for everyone south of the Wall that these things are real and on their way.

This is an adventure that could’ve used a couple of more episodes worth of fine-tuning, mainly in the interest of defining this pretty important plan. It is in this manner that this episode mirrors Rogue One, and yes if you were not clear at this point, I mean that as a detriment.

As with the Battle of the Bastards (where Sansa’s decision-making continually makes zero sense to me), we have a situation where a series of events engineered for action and suspense effectively sells out basically all of the characters involved.

Why should we take Jon seriously as a military leader and “King in the North” when he devises a plan that falls apart at the nearest breeze? Did he  even ask Daenerys about the possibility of using the dragons? Was it supposed to be implied when she didn’t IMMEDIATELY offer him help with his plan that he seemed to just be making up as he went along? I’m honestly asking here because I remember no such scene.

And it would be one thing if we had seen a sequence of Daenerys offering the dragons as support in “Eastwatch” and Jon stubbornly refusing, or Jon asking for the dragons but Dany being like “I need them more,” but neither happened on camera (I think).

Instead, we the impression that Jon just barreled into the beyond the Wall without much in the way of a plan, bailed out by (insert any number of the plot conveniences that save the day here). I mean we’re able to have a raven off to Dany only to have Dany show up just in time with dragons in tow in what felt like less than an hour within the world of the show.

And this isn’t to knock the action. Not one bit. Returning director Alan Taylor knows how to handle spectacle. But all that spectacle, at times, comes at the expense of the character, who must be temporarily lobotomized because said spectacle requires it. The Hound’s little rock-throwing blunder makes absolute sense for that character, but we’re supposed to buy into Jon at this point. Particularly since we’re this close to the in-zone.

And I’m not even going to touch the nonsense going over on at Winterfell currently. Suffice to say, I’m basically over Sansa and Arya at this point because I’m not even positive the writers seem to know what’s going between them at this point.

The same goes for the Jon/Dany romance. Yes, we have a precedence for incest on this show. Yes, they are both Targaryens (a House built almost entirely on the back of incest). But I just cannot get behind it. Not one iota and yes the ickiness factor plays a huge role but so does the underdeveloped feel of it all.

We should also briefly talk about what, I assume, is the most “HOLY SHIT” inducing moment of the episode…

No, not that one.

There we go.

So yeah this was pretty shocking but not altogether surprising given this was a log-standing prediction/fear for many fans. It also effectively quells the theory (at least in regards to the show) that there will be three Targaryen dragon riders (the theory being those riders are Dany, Jon and Tyrion respectively). Although you could make the case that the Night King is technically going to be a dragon rider I guess.

I also said “briefly” earlier mainly just due to may hatred of playing the speculation game too much. More often than not, I’m wrong but when I’m right it feels like spoiled something for myself inadvertently.

Killing off a dragon so quickly (as one shot from a fucking ice spear) is also great because, once again, it sets the White Walkers as THE threat. It adds yet another air of mystery around the opposing team. Who knows what other aces they have up their icy sleeves…y’know outside of an undead ice dragon.

It’s a pretty dreadful ending, and I mean that in a positive sense. For all the moving pieces, this feels like the first MAJOR game-changer this season. And it’s effective in the sense that this is the motivator for all the pieces to attempt a parley now that the real enemy has the GoT-equivalent to a nuke.

So those were my thoughts. I pretty much love/hated this episode in way similar to the “Battle of the Bastards” last year. I can only assume that most fans aren’t going to care all that much that things are moving so quickly now. If anything, I bet most are digging it. For me though, it just doesn’t feel as fulfilling as many of the earlier set pieces that had whole seasons dedicated to them, moving all the pieces towards a set purpose. Now we have MAJOR plans being “planned” and executed within the span of 2 episodes.

I place this firmly at the fact that we’re off-book at this point which I will once again emphasize isn’t a wholly bad thing. I’m not going to sit in the position of some usurped fanboy that can no longer sit in a place of power as he knows what’s going to happen next because he read the books. For what it’s worth, I’m very much enjoying the ride here and plan to see this through until the bitter, cold end.

I just miss George R.R. Martin’s trademark knack for set-up and love for his characters to a degree, which is both a blessing and a curse. (I shudder to remember the trudge that was a Feast for Crows.)  I love the spectacle we’re getting week-to-week, but I’m starting to see cracks in the way it seems to be adversely effecting the characters I love and hate.

Except the Hound.

The Hound is still perfect and deserves the Iron Throne and all of the love because he is the best and should never die but of course he’s going to die oh no oh no I need to go to my happy place.  Give me a clip!

HURRY!