American Vandal is yet another piece of quality original programming on Netflix. It spoofs such real-crime docs such as Serial, Making of a Murderer, & The Keepers. After watching the trailer, the immediate thought was, how can this concept hold up over an 8-episode season? Well, fortunately, it does, and in a pretty creative way.
The story opens up with Senior misfit Jimmy Tatro being accused of vandalizing several cars in the faculty parking lot by spray painting dicks on them. A couple of student documentarians, thinking Tatro to be innocent, decide to research the crime, and hence the hashtag: #whodrewthedicks?
This is not a one-joke story. What unfolds is a fascinating mystery (you really start trying to put the pieces together), which is filled with humor, not much of it laugh-out-loud, but certainly in moments. Weaved into that mystery, however, is the true genius: American Vandal isn't primarily about spoofing crime docs. It's true purpose, which it does brilliantly, is to show us what modern social-media-driven high school life is all about. It's fascinating.
This is a show about modern high school culture. You get to see how students of today have to function, and it's absolutely intriguing. Putting together clues is putting together people's Instagram posts in a timeline, or seeing what they posted on Youtube or Facebook at a particular moment. You see how social media drives almost every aspect of their life. But you relate to your own high school experience, but wonder what it would be like if it happened today.
I recommend American Vandal, not only for its humor, of which there is plenty, but even more-so for it's peek into what students have to go through today. Along the way, you'll be trying to figure out the crime, and if you're observant, and pick up on all the clues, you'll have a great idea of who did it, relatively early on. I did not.
I hope there's a Season 2 of American Vandal. It's yet another binge-worthy Netflix show.
Benioff & Weiss went off on their own plot path for Season 7, and decided to cut it down to just 7 episodes. That had me fearful. So much could go wrong, at such an important time in the overall arc. We've waited years for Daenerys to arrive on Westeros to lay to battle on the continent. How would such an important event, especially the long-waited meeting of the Mother of Dragons and Jon Snow, unfold?
After episode 1, Dragonstone, I knew we were in good hands. Benioff & Weiss took the characters, crafted so well by George R.R. Martin, and did what was necessary: further develop the story at a satisfying pace (with one big exception). There was not one weak episode in all of Season 7, and it could be argued that episode 4 (Spoils of War) was one the best episodes, not only in the series history, but of any series.
What Season 7 did exceptionally well was grand scale epic combat, whether is was battles in the south of Westeros or north of the Wall—the scale was truly awesome. It was some of the best combat we've seen in the entire history of television.
The long awaited character interactions were handled well too. I didn't feel let down by any of it. The tension was further built through tremendous writing and acting. We finally truly fear the Night King.
Yes, there was one huge problem: the writers took exceptional liberty with keeping travel times believable. Apparently, the only two things that can travel faster than the speed of light are ravens and dragons. It was truly an awful mechanical cheat used far too often, but it didn't ruin anything for me.
Season 7, for its spectacle alone, was the best season yet of Game of Thrones, and that's saying a lot. Now they just have one more season to go, and I have no idea how Benioff and Weiss are going to top what they did this season.
The critics were pretty brutal towards the second season of Netflix's Wet Hot American Summer, a series based off a ridiculously funny 2001 indie film. Though those same critics loved the first season (which I did too), for some reason the whole concept seems to be wearing thin with many of them.
I can see why people who are high-brow film lovers don't dig this kind of stuff. The plot meanders. The characters are over-the-top. It often feels like a first or second draft of a cheap comedy. It's absolute ridiculousness. But this is what Wet Hot is all about. It's different, it's goofy, it's only about the moment, and when the jokes land, it's some of the funniest stuff you've ever seen.
Yes, Season 2 isn't as funny as Season 1, which wasn't as funny as the movie. That being said, it's eight half-hour episodes that fly by, and you get more than enough laughs to make it worth your while. Season 2 actually has more heart than the first, Through the goofy plot of Ronald Reagan and George Bush trying to blow up Camp Firewood with a nuke, and our returning campers trying to save the day during their reunion, we actually get to see them grow through the absurdity of it all, and laugh all the way.
I hope to hell there's a Season 3. The problem with having a TV series based off an indie film from so long ago, is many of the actors are now huge stars, and even when they want to do the series, it's a scheduling nightmare. Fortunately Wet Hot has such a strong following that it's able to attract other stars as well.
I recommend all of Wet Hot American Summer. It's one of my favorite comedy films/TV series. And though the ending of Season 2 was something to behold, I sure do hope we haven't seen the end of Camp Firewood.
Unfortunately, after a short three years, Netflix's Bloodline has come to an end, a victim of the termination of Florida's film incentives program. Obviously, shooting in the Florida Keys isn't a cheap proposition, and given the nature of the show, there was no way to shoot it elsewhere.
The first season of Bloodline got widespread critical praise. The next two seasons were much more mixed. Netflix doesn't release ratings, but the rumors are that the show was not widely watched.
This kills me. I loved all three seasons. Bloodline is simply one the best-acted shows I've ever seen. I cannot praise it enough.
'We're not bad people, but we did a bad thing' is the show's tagline. The details of what that bad thing is, goes to the heart of the entire arc of the show. The revelations that are squeezed out over the show's entire run floored me, right up to the very end. (The last two episodes are rated very low on IMDB, yet they were an incredible finish to me).
Kyle Chandler and Ben Mendelsohn have gotten much deserved praise for their acting in the series. However, all the leads, including Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz, & Sissy Spacek excelled throughout the show.
Bloodline was too slow for many. It didn't have the big action sequences or special effects of some of the more popular shows of our time. But for a pure adult drama, Bloodline is about as good as it gets. It clearly deserves to be in the same elite category as GOT, Breaking Bad, & The Wire.
If you have the patience to watch a slower-placed show, I highly recommend giving Bloodline a chance. It's terrifically crafted, from beginning to end. This disturbing look into the dark underside of the Rayburn family is as powerful as it is haunting. The show will stay with you long after you finish watching it.
And on a last note, Kyle Chandler is one hell of an actor. He's clearly on of the best in the entire game.
My final rating: 9.8/10.
The Hollywood Reporter states: 'The Keepers is fascinating and often gripping because it makes the argument that shining a light on enshrouded horrors takes many forms and doesn't have a statute of limitations, even if the law does.'
Variety calls it 'The best true-crime docuseries yet.'
Time accurately state why The Keepers is superior to another popular Netflix crime docuseries: '...that's the crucial difference between this show and, say, the 2015 Netflix sensation Making a Murderer, whose directors clomped heavily over a complicated story. Their aggressive point of view goaded viewers toward certitude. White, by contrast, isn't asking us to be the sleuths. He's depicting the process of discovery among mourners. The "detectives" we follow are Cesnik's former students who set out to solve the case. This isn't just more respectful to the victim than other true-crime stories, with their breathless delight at new clues. It's also more effective.'
The Keepers is a 7-episode Netflix documentary that explores the unsolved 1969 murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, who was a teacher at the all-girls Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore. I won't go into the story, other than it involves unbelievably heinous abuse and cover-up by the Catholic Church, Baltimore Police Department, & the city and state governments. What I will say is that this documentary is leagues above some of the prior crime docuseries that have been so popular of late.
What this documentary does well is it tells the story through recollections of the players involved. It doesn't purposely leave out evidence like Making of a Murderer did. It doesn't force a view down someone's throat. It just lets the story reveal itself, point by point, through people's spoken word. Because the story is so shocking, so horrific, and so engaging, this style works wonderfully.
This isn't a story for the faint of heart. It goes deeply into how purely evil human beings may be. But it's a well-crafted trip, and therefore I highly recommend it. Perhaps a few episodes drag at points, but within moments, they get right back on track.
This isn't a documentary that's going to make you feel good. Nonetheless, it's something I feel should be watched. Yes, you will cringe. But at the end of it, you'll understand a little more about what human beings are capable of doing than you knew before the ride. If you think you can handle it, please give The Keepers a try.
My rating: 9.3/10.
Last week it was announced that a new series is coming to Netflix; one based off of The Witcher novels—a fantasy series written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. The books are widely popular, having been translated into 19 languages. Perhaps most people are familiar with The Witcher, however, because of the video game series. The Witcher 3, which was released a little over two years ago, won many Game-of-the-Year awards. I recently finished the main quest (and have started the first expansion pack), and it's easily one of my favorite games of all time.
Everyone needs to become super excited about this Netflix series. I'm sure they're going to throw a ton of money at it. But right now, millions of people have to be anxious as hell over the casting.
What makes The Witcher special is the wonderfully crafted characters. The story is that of the no-nonsense Geralt of Rivia, the White Wolf, who is a Witcher. Witchers have special abilities they use as hired monster hunters. Though the monsters are varied, the real color comes from the humans. Yennefer, the strong-willed sorceress and sometime love of Geralt's. Ciri, the feisty and rebellious princess, who Geralt thinks of as a daughter. Triss, also a sorceress, who is madly in love with Geralt. Dandelion, the often clueless and coin-stricken bard. Zoltan, the much-too confident dwarf. It's an ultra wide-varied cast of characters that rarely fails to intrigue.
If done well, this could be Netflix's Game of Thrones. The characters are that good.
So get excited. The Witcher will relieve some of the pain of Bloodline ending too soon. It could become Netflix's signature show.
The setting is what attracted me to Frontier. A story about the 1700's Canadian fur trade, involving The Hudson Bay Company, and starring Jason Momoa of Dothraki fame—what could be better than that?
The reviews were mixed. I understand why. Parts of this project were done well, but others were clearly affected by what must have been a very limited budget. The characters, as written, are mostly engaging. Much of the casting is excellent, including Momoa, and especially Alun Armstrong who excels as Lord Benton, the antagonist.
However, the locations are very limited. What results is drama that seems forced and repetitive at times. The story lacks the expected grand XXL shots of the Canadian wilderness, and much of any sign of large amounts of money spent on sets and locations. This is unfortunate.
But there was enough there to intrigue me. I'm definitely going to tune into Season 2, and hopefully, there will be the expanse of locations that will allow the writers more latitude to play with the story. The six episodes of Season 1 effectively established the main characters and their goals/obstacles. The setting, though limited, felt authentic. And we got of glimpse of what will be the inevitable love stories. There was enough in the first season to hook me.
I have to wonder, though, if the budget was grander, how much better that first season would have been? I think much. I can only hope more money is put up on the screen for Season 2.
My rating: 7.0/10.
I'm sure that under normal circumstances, I would never have watched Gilmore Girls. I'm obviously not the targeted demo. However, in the early 2000's, I was working at Warner Bros. in the main network control room which aired The WB, so I saw every episode, several times.
I actually enjoyed the show. It was witty and had great characters. After the original show-runner, Amy Sherman-Palladino, was replaced after Season 6, it became obvious that Season 7 would be the last. I always felt like the show didn't get the chance it deserved to run its full course.
Fortunately, Netflix, like they often do, came in several years later to save the day. They brought back Sherman-Palladino and let her do her thing. The reviews for what resulted, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, were terrific, as was the estimated views, and after watching all four feature-length episodes, I can understand why.
It took about a couple of scenes for me to fall back into the show, but once I did, I was hooked. The writing was as sharp as it ever was. Palladino wisely chose to skip forward to Rory's early thirties, where she's struggling to find her way, not only in the competitive NYC journalism space, but in life in general. Lorelai has her crossroads ahead of her as well, both with the inn and with Luke. Emily, along with the rest of the Gilmore family, has to deal with the death of Richard, which is handled in tremendous dramatic fashion throughout the episodes.
There are some minor problems. There are timing issues which seem odd. Characters seemingly travel long distances instantly. Rory writes an inch thick part of a manuscript overnight. Some scenes are tied together in similar unfortunate, clunky ways. Although most of the humor is terrific, some of it falls flat, like when Lorelei fires one celebrity chef after another. It's one of the few sets of scenes that should have been left out.
Most of the scenes work tremendously well, however, At times, Sherman-Palladino even lets us dislike Lorelei and Rory, more so than had ever been the case in the show. Rory is having an affair with Logan, who is engaged. But it fits, now that she's in her thirties and her world is crashing down around her. It leads to the ultimate question, will her poor decisions lead her to repeat the life of her mother?
A Year in the Life does a stunningly good job of bringing back so many of the old characters, even if for a scene or two. The characters have for the most part moved on, but Stars Hollow stays stuck in its eternal time warp, The town was always a central character to the show, and now that Rory is at her inevitable what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life? phase, it is even more important. Could Stars Hollow be enough for her?
I think A Year in the Life is the finest season of Gilmore Girls to date. Sherman-Palladino deserves major credit for this accomplishment (and her husband as well). Some of the tense scenes where the Gilmore family fights to come to grips with the death of Richard are the best of the entire series. And in fitting fashion, it ends on a wallop of a note, so we must hope that Netflix allows for future seasons so that Sherman-Palladino can end the series in the way she feels it must.
My rating: 9.5/10
I finally finished the first season of Netflix's Stranger Things, the 1980's fantasy themed, Spielberg-esque drama.
I loved the retro feel of the show. It felt like every minute of it, from the Dungeons & Dragons basement stuff, to the cheap wood paneling in the houses, took me back to my teenage years. The production artists did a fantastic job. This is nostalgia done right and is a huge part of why so many people love the series.
The casting is great too—especially the kids, who are terrific throughout. There are some relatively dark, heavy scenes, and the child actors seemingly handle them with ease. The adult actors do a fine job as well, especially David Harbour who plays the local police chief trying to figure out the mystery.
I felt Stranger Things shined in tense moments of wonderment and confusion as to what exactly was going on. When the kids were looking at each other, and you could feel their minds churning, trying to figure stuff out—it was pure awesomeness. The more it tried to explain what was happening, especially from a scientific standpoint, the more trouble it got into. Believability issues extended to other areas as well, such as the police chief easily sneaking into a top secret government facility. The special effects were at times great, and at times mediocre. I'm guessing Netflix will pony up a higher budget for season two to address some of these issues.
The concept, sans the scientific explanation of it, was absolutely terrific for such a period piece. These kids are playing characters that were my age at that time. I could strongly relate to so much of what was going on, and I loved it.
Eight episodes was fitting for this first season. The tension was effectily built up over the season's arc. I'm glad Netflix is keeping Season 2 to nine episodes, so we won't get unnecessary lulls in the emotional buildup.
Overall, I give Stranger Things high marks, especially in terms of 1980's fantasy nostalgia. Except for a few, and sometimes major, believability issues, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Netflix did things right, yet again.
My rating: 8.6/10
I finally finished Season 2 of Bloodline, and like Season 1, it was excellent. This is one of the best written and acted series in TV history.
However, the same issue that made Season 1 a hard view for so many modern TV watchers afflicts Season 2 as well. It's something that I love about the series, but I'm pretty sure it causes the viewership to be low. It comes down to pace.
Bloodline is one of the slowest paced TV series that we've ever seen. It's a deep, painful, adult drama that is centered on the Rayburn family who lives in the Florida Keys. Their secrets sip out very slowly, but when they do, they set up the needed dramatic tension within which the highly talented actors can shine. The first few episodes can be a somewhat of a drag, but they're setting up heavy drama later on—drama that pays off in spades.
When Netflix announced that Season 3 would be the end of Bloodline, it felt like my heart was ripped out. It's strongly rumored that the reduction in Florida film credits caused the cancellation. I hope Sony finds another place to land the show, but I doubt it's going to happen. And that is awful, because Bloodline, although not for everyone, is a series that seems custom made for me.
If I have any complaints about Season 2, it's that the first episodes are a bit clunky. John Leguizamo takes a couple of episodes to completely fit into his role. Jacinda Barrett is fine, but has no chance while acting highly dramatic scenes against Kyle Chandler, who is absolutely superb.
Season 2 does something fantastic, which I think most people won't catch. It has no clear antagonist throughout, which is part of the reason why the early episodes play a little slow. By the end, it has multiple people who you love to hate, though it's still unclear which is the main antagonist. It's pure awesomeness. The writers pulled off something very special, and I don't think they're getting enough credit for it.
If you have an attention span greater than that of a puppy, I highly recommend Bloodline. It's such a pleasure to watch such a fine crafted, well-written, and well-acted drama. The cinematography and blocking are beautiful as well. I can't wait to see what they pull off in Season 3.
My rating: 9.6/10
I've been rather preoccupied throughout the summer with a move, one that has taken much longer than I'd anticipated. As a result, I've been suffering greatly from Netflix Anxiety.
Netflix has been such a game-changer in the world of television--it's not only redefining the way we absorb narratives, it's redefining our lives in other ways as well.
The second season of Narcos was just released. I can't watch it yet, because I'm only about halfway through the current seasons of House of Cards & Bloodline. I've only started the second season of Daredevil. I have yet to start the current season of Orange is the New Black. And on top of it, Stranger Things came out of nowhere, and everyone seemingly loved it.
Netflix Anxiety comes from the fear that you'll start getting more than one season behind on the top shows. If that happens on broadcast TV, who cares? You're not missing much. But with Netflix, you'll start forgetting quality plot lines. Worse yet, you'll be out of the conversations everyone is having. There's legitimate pressure to keep up, and it's hard to do as they keep releasing new high-quality series.
This doesn't even take into account all the other quality shows on cable networks. Yes, Game of Thrones is the one show that you must watch as it airs, but there are other extremely good series as well. I have yet to even start the second season of Fargo.
I take a few months off to find a new place, buy a new place, do a move, and fix up the new place. Next thing you know, I'm dozens upon dozens of hours behind, with the next season of House of Cards is facing me down, only a few months away. How in the world does one keep up?
Having too much of a good thing is usually a wonderful problem to have. The issue, however, is that free time is finite. Netflix is eating up far too much of that time, and there's not one show that I'm watching that I'm willing to put on pause.
It's going to be a busy end of the year. I'm hoping to be in much better Netflix shape by 2017.
With the mountainous amount of quality TV available on Netflix, HBO, AMC, & FX, I keep putting off watching any Amazon original shows even though I've heard many good things about some of them. I had to watch the pilot for The Last Tycoon, however. I tend to dislike modern film industry-themed narratives, but make it a good period piece, and I'm in.
The Last Tycoon was the novel that F. Scott Fitzgerald was working on when he died. It was loosely based on the life of Irving G. Thalberg, the Universal & MGM wunderkind who defined what a Hollywood super-producer should be. The novel was unfinished and unpolished upon Fitzgerald's death, and I was not going to read something in a not-meant-to-be-read condition from such an iconic author. However, when it was announced that Sony was making it into a series to be aired on HBO, I was excited. It fell apart at HBO, like so many projects do, but Amazon swooped in to pick it up. I'm glad they did.
Amazon has pilot-offs, where pilots go against each other in competition, and then the winner gets picked up. The Last Tycoon pilot won the previous competition, so it's going into production now. They're leaving the pilot up for us to watch to get a taste of what's coming.
It's well-produced. The casting is solid. Kelsey Grammer and Lilly Collins might be the biggest named stars, but seasoned actor Matt Bomer more than holds his own. The sets are terrific and effectively put one back into 1930's Hollywood. Amazon is certainly spending some money on some of their shows.
Most of the ratings for the pilot were in the 8.5/B+ range. I think that's pretty accurate. Since I love that era so much, I'd probably even rate it a bit higher. It did what a pilot should do: efficiently set up the characters and setting, put up some obstacles, and leave us hanging so we want more.
I'm not sure when the full first season will be released. I'm guessing not for awhile. But if you're looking for a good, old school, 1930's Hollywood story, definitely check out the pilot on your Amazon Prime.
Season 6 ended with another big budget episode that wisely didn't outshine the epic nature of the previous two, but was well-sized cinematically for the season's conclusion. I liked the look and the feel of the entire episode, but I'm still a bit worried about where we're at.
We're running out of antagonists, and seem to have a bounty of protagonists. To me, this doesn't seem fitting at this point, right before the series's climax.
The way that Cersei gains power was very stunning. It was also shocking to see her son, the King, commit suicide. Now we've gotten rid of the High Sparrow, who was arguably the most powerful (and one true) antagonist south of the Wall. We've also ended Margaery's plot-line, which was another probable antagonist path. Yes, Cersei and her control of King's Landing is strong, and she now seems to be our chief antagonist. Yet, this feels somewhat underwhelming. What army does she have? What power does she wield that we've seen?
By comparison, Daenerys is coming across the Narrow Sea with a seemingly endless amount of ships, troops, and three dragons. It feels like the good guys have more power than the bad guys.
It's revealed what we've all known for years: who Jon Snow's real parents are. Since GOT is such a global phenomenon, it was bound to have been figured out, and as such, played extremely flat. What a great reveal it could have been if we had not known.
Jon being raised up as King of North was fitting, and a great scene.
Arya killing Walder Frey was satisfying vengeance, but also eliminates yet another bad guy.
I think what the episode could have used is a grand White Walker scene. We're left at the end of the season not feeling like our heroes are underdogs. That's not a good thing. Where's the tension?
But I did love the episode. This season started out so small while misfiring on so many cylinders, but it turned the corner a few episodes in and ended up being one of the best seasons (and certainly grandest) to date. I'm not liking where we're at, since the odds don't feel like they're long, but, hopefully, this will be rectified early on in season 7.
We're reaching the final stretch. With the two shorter seasons coming up, I hope they take the time to make them the best seasons we've ever seen. This series definitely deserves it.
I've been a little late with my recent Game of Throne reviews as I'm currently busy with a move. I'd like to give my thoughts regarding Episode 9, but first just a quick word about Episode 8: 'No One.'
It was pretty solid throughout. Though the Riverrun battle was underwhelming, there were some very good scenes. I especially liked Gregor's attack, and the goodbye between Varys and Tyrion. Though I loved the way that Arya defeated the Waif, I wasn't big on her acrobatics with her severed core muscles (believability has become a significant issue with the series).
Now onto the Battle of the Bastards.
This was clearly the largest, most cinematic episode of the series yet, and easily one of the grandest episodes in television history. I was so happy to see where the money was spent his season. Obviously, the bulk of it went towards the the two battles of episode 9.
I loved the 'who is going to surrender' reversal, and the dragon destroying the fleet. The sf/x were darn good for television. I never buy Daenerys being able to hold onto a dragon, but it's a minor believability issue. The meeting between Daenerys and Yara & Theon was well written and acted, and did a fantastic job of setting up the inevitable conquest of Westeros.
The Battle at Winterfell was staged well, from the initial arrow shots at Rickon, to the phalanx with the pikes. The scale of the battle was well captured with grand, cinematic shots. Yes, the Littlefinger-cavalry-arriving-to-save-the-day was too much of a hand-of-God moment, but the post-battle stuff with Ramsay in the castle was oh, so satisfying.
So now I wonder--who is the main antagonist now that Ramsay is dead? I thought they would keep him around, and even let him gain power. It seems like for the first time there're more people we like that are left alive than those we don't like.
Obviously, the High Sparrow has to be overthrown. The new King of the Iron Islands too. Maybe Jamie & Cersei? I just don't know where they're going to go. It seemed like the whole buildup was for Jon and Daenerys to defeat massive armies in order to team up to take down the Night King and the White Walkers. But it seems like there's not a whole lot left for them to conquer.
Either way, I loved the episode. This season started out so poorly but really has become enthralling towards the end. These battles were exceptional for something shown on television. It's hard to imagine how they could top it with episode 10.
I won't say much about the episode in particular. Once again we have one effective scene after another. The middle part of this season has been fantastic. Jaime Lannister talking to the Black Fish on the drawbridge. Arya going through her stuff. Margaery confronting her grandmother. The Hound. These were all well-written, well-acted scenes. In particular, I thought the scene between Yara and Theon was exceptional, as she tries to convince her brother to return to his former self. The quality of the acting is absolutely wonderful.
The one problem that Game of Thrones has, and has had, just became amplified, to the detriment of the series as a whole.
When Jon Snow was shot up with arrows by Yigrette, and somehow survived, we lost a little bit of trust with the author. They played it off as if she's such a great archer, that she purposely shot Jon full of arrows at points in his body that wouldn't be fatal. Not a great answer, there.
The problem is that we have main characters that are clearly mortally wounded, and they somehow survive. Or, they die and then somehow survive. You do this once, you get away it. But every time you try it afterward, it's going to continue the damage between the viewer/reader and the author, because, in fact, we're being lied to.
It's particularly bad in this episode. It's revealed that the Hound has survived. There's no way he could have, given his wounds. They play it off as if it was the gods' will. Once again, not good.
Then in the same damn episode, Arya is wounded, clearly mortally, yet at this point we have absolutely no expectation that she could die. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if in the next episode it's revealed that Ned Stark survived, sans his head.
I hope that the story gets back to a more believable place, where mortal wounds actually end up being mortal. Our trust needs to be regained. If death isn't connected to finality, then it's really not death. It's some absurd fictional tool that causes us to lose faith in the story, and using such a device repeatedly is not something that should be done in a tale of such high quality as what Game of Thrones has proven to be.
If Arya died from her wounds, the trust would be regained. However, who really believes that could be possible at this point?
Another excellent episode.
The opening scene with Bran being saved in the woods--thank God they followed up on what happened at the door. And the reveal of Benjen Stark and his whole backstory was truly delightful.
The excellent establishment of Sam's father--awesome stuff. The dinner table scene was a masterclass in efficient and powerful character establishment.
The continuing of the wonderful royal play, and Arya's ultimate decision regarding her new line of work. This storyline, which often seemed astray, is now paying off in spades.
Walder Frey, berating his sons, and showing his only real concern, which is his reputation. Thank God we got to see him again.
The spectacle of the King Slayer riding up the steps and taking on the High Sparrow--finally some grand shots that were so badly needed. And the reveal, that the King has been brainwashed to stand with the Faith--much needed drama at King's Landing as well.
The closing scene with Daenerys sitting on her dragon giving the rousing speech dragged on a bit too long. The dragon looked good, and we could have done with less of it, and less of Daenerys cropped so we don't see the dragon beneath her. But, it was another much needed grand shot, and although the Dothraki are not my favorite part of GOT, I think we're finally getting somewhere more fascinating than wandering around the desert.
Overall, I loved the episode. Last week's was one of the best, not only in GOT history, but in all of television history. This week's episode was top notch as well, and I'm anxiously awaiting to see what happens Sunday night.
I've been highly critical of Season 6 of Game of Thrones because it's been so grossly disjointed and at times the direction feels off. However, Episode 5 is one of the very best episodes of the whole series.
Before we get to the pivotal ending moment, let me talk about a few other things. First and foremost, the direction is excellent in this episode. This is the first GOT episode directed by veteran TV director Jack Bender, and man does he do a fantastic job. From the small scenes, such as Sansa taking on Littlefinger, to the grand scenes, such as Bran walking through the army of the undead, the compositions, blocking, and cuts, all work well.
I won't get into every scene, but there were a lot of very strong emotional moments in this episode. Jorah revealing his greyscale and his love for Daenerys. Yara seeking claim to the throne of the Iron Islands. The Red Priestess messing with Varys. Sansa, with Brienne at her back, telling Littlefinger about her hurt. Arya, reacting to the play about her family, and then questioning why she must kill her target.
This is all very powerful stuff. One terrific scene after another. Strong emotional moment after moment. It doesn't get much better than this.
But, of course, this episode will always be remembered for what happened to Hodor. The reveal with Bran standing before a young Hodor, as the Three-Eyed Raven is turned to dust, and the chase that follows through the cave--it's one of the best scenes of one of the best shows ever made. The series so needed this moment, and it delivered beyond what we thought it could.
So I'm happy. Game of Thrones is back, and oh is it good.
A disjointed mess.
The Tyrion scenes no longer have impact or interest.
The Daenerys scenes no longer have impact or interest.
The Cersei scenes only have interest because of the incredible acting. Same goes for Theon Greyjoy.
Even the Ramsay scene doesn't have great impact, because there's no dynamic range with his character. It's just absolute brutality all the time.
The fire scene was the cheesiest scene yet in the series. Horrible direction.
Overall, this has to be the weakest episode of the weakest season.
I wish I could come up with something positive to say about this season, but I can't. The greatest of all series is derailing so quickly it's blowing my mind.
I'm starting to have real concerns about the remaining seasons of Game of Thrones. Here's why:
As I've said in the past, George R.R. Martin brought a breath of fresh air to the high-medieval fantasy genre by doing a couple of things particularly well. First off, he better related it to real life than did many a writer. In Westeros, we see believable, wicked adult behavior. We learn long family histories. We learn about the region's economy. The characters are in another world, yet we could easily believe that they could exist in our world and time.
Secondly, to maintain this believability, Martin reigned in the scope of magic. We don't see grand wizards shooting lightning off of their staffs. We don't see teleportation spells or fireballs shooting around. There are dragons, but they're not all over the place. Martin brought a certain restraint to the genre, including a very slow, deliberate pace.
**** SPOILERS BELOW ****
What I don't like about Season 6 is the pace has picked up far too fast. Instead of learning about Jon Snow's past with little clues here and there, we're being bombarded with stuff that is just reinforcing the R+L=J theory in far too fast and blunt of a style. The way we're learning about it (with the Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven flashbacks) is just too convenient a mechanism to reveal this important stuff. The famous R.R. Martin subtlety is gone.
Having Jon Snow return from the dead is also breaking the believability factor, especially the way they did it. If Melisandre can just bring him back every time he's cut down, that weakens the tension considerably. It would have been better if he had been raised as a White Walker and then had to overcome his inherent undead evilness with his pure heart.
I didn't love the first episode of the current season. Episodes two and three were much better for me. But I just have to wonder how this would have turned out if Martin had finished writing the series first. We don't know what happens in The Winds of Winter and the other upcoming novels. I believe, however, that the pacing created by Martin in the future books will be much more deliberate than the pacing created by Benioff and Weiss.
All that being said, I can't wait for Sunday night to tune in and see what happens. I'm micro-picking, and Game of Thrones remains my favorite series on television. But damn, it's losing just a little bit of its charm.
First the non-spoiler stuff:
Very weird. This episode was directed by the same director (Jeremy Podeswa) as the previous one (The Red Woman), but it has much better direction throughout. It looked and felt fantastic from beginning to end. Game of Thrones is back!
Now onto the very heavy *****SPOILERS******, including how the series ends which we now know a big part of with relative certainty:
The R+L=J theory now seems to be the correct theory. In fact, not only is Jon Snow a Targaryen and the son of Ned's sister Lyanna (who died in childbirth, and who Bran sees in this episode in a flashback), it now appears that Meera Reed might be his twin sister. In fact, since Tyrion is so comfortable around dragons, he might be a Targaryen as well. I wouldn't be surprised.
I'm not happy with this even though it's been the most prevalent theory for some time. I really wanted Jon Snow to be resurrected as a White Walker, not by Melisandre. I wanted his mother to be someone north of the wall. But, I'm happy with the episode as a whole. I thought it was terrific. The tone was suspenseful throughout. The acting was brilliant. The effects (the giant slamming the man for example) were awesome (except for some of the dragon shots). The final Jon Snow shot was well done.
I'm just a little disappointed with how the long-term story arc is going, but then again I'm guessing I'm in the minority. I wanted Jon Snow to be the ice that extinguishes the fire which I thought was the blood that was spilled fighting over the Iron Throne. I guess as it turns out, the fire is the dragon fire, and Jon will ascend to the throne as a Targaryen/Stark.
Brilliant episode, and one that has given us more answers than any previous one up to this point.
Here're some brief thoughts on the first episode of Season 6:
First the bad.
I thought the direction during several scenes was less spectacular than what we've become accustomed to when watching Game of Thrones. Though the Castle Black stuff was exceptionally well composed, blocked, and cut, the Sansa/Theon scenes, the Tyrion/Varys scenes, and the Daenerys/Dothraki scene were off. Even the Arya scene was not well shot. The worst shot scene was clearly the sword fight (Brienne of Tarth) in the forest. It was inexcusably poorly executed. Did they not have a long enough production schedule to take the time to shoot this right?
The Tyrion/Varys scenes underwhelmed visually. These are supposed to be $10M episodes. There seemed to be about twenty extras in the whole village. It was too small.
Some of the actors looked different. They either aged or gained weight. It was noticeable in several scenes.
Now the good:
The Castle Black scenes were spectacular. Well written, acted, and shot. If John Snow somehow rises, they at least didn't blow that load too early.
Lena Headey did some phenomenal acting.
The special f/x of the ships burning in the harbor was good. If it had been at night, it would have looked more spectacular.
The last scene with the Red Woman twist was an intriguing reveal.
So far, though, this early on, the Showrunners have oversold this season. They claim it's the best one so far, without any weak episodes. After the first one, I'm a bit underwhelmed.
I'm a little late on this one, but about a week ago, I finally finished watching Narcos on Netflix. With all the great TV out there, I fit it into my schedule the best I could.
I really enjoyed it. I have no idea what the budget was for the show, but I'm guessing it's probably in line with the $4M/episode that Netflix tends to throw at the showrunners. It doesn't show large as something like Game of Thrones, or Marco Polo, but for a first season drug lord tale, it played pretty damn big.
The series does a good job of using historical photos and footage to intermix within the somewhat fictional narrative as it follows the life of Pablo Escobar. The biggest criticism that the show has gotten has been the accent of Wagner Moura, who plays Pablo, as he is a native Portuguese speaker. From what I've been told, his Spanish does improve through the series, but is very shaky in the first few episodes. For those who don't speak Español, it's not a concern, as Moura is exceptional in playing the role if the accent isn't taken into account.
The whole show is very well cast. The tension is kept high. The characters are interesting, even some of the smaller roles, like Pablo's mother. Pablo's arc is satisfying, but the best part of Season 1 is the arc of Steve Murphy, DEA Agent, played well by Boyd Holbrook. A Fed Agent can only put up with so much when dealing with the corrupt Columbian government before changing for the worse.
I'm looking forward to Season 2. If Netflix throws a bit more money at the show, and as Pablo's life gets more chaotic, I think Narcos is going to get really good.
My Rating: 8.5/10
Since there was so much buzz surrounding Netflix's Making a Murderer, I decided to watch it. The ten part documentary, covering the trials of Steven Avery and his cousin Brendan Dassey, was filmed over ten years and garnered numerous strong critical reviews after its release a month ago.
This seemed like something right up my alley. I was a fan of the original Court TV because it covered high profile trials from beginning to end, which for me was intriguing, unlike the numerous court tv shows of today which are either ten minute segments of small claims court knock-offs or quick summaries of major cases—both of which leave me entirely unfulfilled.
When the Serial podcast came out, I gave it a shot, but gave up after a couple of episodes because without the visual aid, I had trouble keeping focused on it. HBO's The Jinx was something I loved, however. Long-form, real life crime dramas, if done well, are something special, and Making a Murderer, in terms of crafting, fits this bill.
I don't want to focus this post on the quality of the docu-series's production. It's great. If you love drama, you'll probably enjoy Making a Murderer. It's full of twists and turns. It's clear that there are real lives at stake in these trials and that the effect on the community of Manitowoc was deep.
What I'd like to talk about is the ethics of the filmmakers. So from this point forward, there will be...
It was clear to me early on that the filmmakers were slanting the skew to make Steven Avery look innocent. Regardless of that, after watching the series I thought conclusively that Steven was in fact guilty, but I had questions about Brendan's guilty verdict. Then I decided to look up what key evidence the filmmakers left out of the documentary.
The filmmakers conveniently left out the following facts:
1. A nurse claimed that the hole in the blood vial is common, and that she put it there.
2. Steven Avery and Teresa Halbach knew each other. He had called Auto Trader several times and specifically requested that she come out to take photos. She complained to her boss that she didn't want to go to his property anymore because he was inappropriate.
3. Avery made 3 phone calls to Halbach the day she was murdered, twice from a *67 number to hide his identity.
4. Avery's DNA was found on the underside of the hood of Halbach's car.
5. Jodi Stachowski, Avery's former fiance, now calls Avery a 'monster' who used to beat her and threaten to kill her.
6. Halbach's camera and phone were found on Avery's property.
7. While the documentary briefly mentioned that Avery's criminal past had included animal cruelty, it didn't state that he doused a cat in oil and threw it into a bonfire.
8. The bullet with Halbach's DNA on it, came from Avery's gun.
9. Avery purchased handcuffs and leg irons only 3 weeks before the murder.
10. Brendan admitted to being guilty to his mother on a phone call. He also admitted that Avery had inappropriately touched him and others in the past.
11. Brendan also confessed, in graphic detail, to the whole ordeal, while at the Sheriff's office.
This was all left out of the documentary.
So while Making of a Murderer was fascinating to watch, it was done by two grossly unethical filmmakers that were hell-bent on pushing an agenda and gaining buzz. This is the worst type of filmmaking because it's made on something that's far less than the truth.
Should you still watch Making of a Murderer? Yeah. Because it's well crafted and a shining piece of how biased documentary filmmakers can be when trying to push an agenda instead of trying to tell the truth.
One of the moves I made in 2015 was to finally dump Charter cable. I paid their ridiculous rates for a few years and the high Directv rates for many years before that. The prices got so out of control, and realistic alternatives finally came to fruition, so I, like many Americans, cut the cord.
I still use Charter as my internet service provider because I can't get fast internet from anyone else in the area (and I live in Burbank/Glendale, fifteen minutes from downtown Los Angeles). We desperately need more ISP competition in this country, and it's slowly coming.
So I thought I'd take a minute and explain my setup. I run my services through my Amazon Fire Box. They're $100, but you can get one for $50 if you sign up for SlingTV. It connects to your wi-fi and your tv, and you download apps onto it. Here are the ones I use most:
SlingTV: $20/a month for 20 channels, plus I pay an extra $15 to get the HBO library.
Netflix: the best deal in all of media. I still pay for the Blu-rays as well because I like a lot of obscure movies.
TuneIn Radio: this is the most underappreciated app out there. You listen to radio stations from anywhere around the world, for free. I often listen to one that's broadcast from Palmer, MI, and another from the Ukraine.
Pandora: I have multiple Pandora channels set up so I can listen to various music genres depending on my mood. Another terrific free app.
CBS News: They have their own app that you can use to watch clips from there various news shows. Plus they have their own 24/7 online news channel on it.
Amazon Prime: I pay for Amazon Prime for the shipping, and don't use their mini-Netflix clone often enough, but I do occasionally watch something on it.
BBC News: Just to get some international news every now and then. There's some good stuff on there.
NBC: It's something to hop on to watch an episode of Meet the Press or Jimmy Fallon. I'm not big on most NBC shows.
MLB.tv: I pay the $130/year to watch my Tiger's play.
I'm also planning on getting HULU as a test-trial. I need it to watch season 2 of Fargo. If I like it, I'll keep it.
There's a bunch of other apps out there that focus on everything from documentaries to kung-fu movies. Once you start using apps for TV and music, instead of cable, you quickly realize that apps are the future of media delivery.
I can watch CNN on my SlingTV or whatever Netflix show I'm into at the moment at home on my TV via my Firebox, or on my tablet or phone wherever I happen to be. Best of all, many of the apps are free, and the ones you do pay for, you don't have to bundle in a bunch of nonsense channels that you don't want. The demise of cable is real, and it's only going to accelerate.
2015 was the year that I cut the cord. I have a feeling many of you will be cutting it soon too. Apps are where it's at. Take my word for it.
During my recent trip to MI, I talked about GOT with some friends and got their take on how the series will end. I've talked to many people here in Los Angeles about it, and I think there's a consistency in people's thoughts. It goes something like this:
A mix of characters, including perhaps Daenerys, Tyrion, Arya, Bran, and maybe Jon Snow somehow, will band together and defeat the White Walkers.
I don't buy this ending. Not with George RR Martin writing this thing.
This is how I think that RR will end, and must end, his fantasy tale:
First of all, I think people are confused by a major piece of the puzzle: who is the protagonist and the antagonist of this story? Once you understand who they really are, the story falls into place.
Is the protagonist Daenerys? No. Tyrion? No. Any of the kings, or those vying for the Iron Throne? No.
The protagonist is Jon Snow.
So what is his goal? Is it to take the Iron Throne? No. Save his family? No. Find love? No.
His goal is to free the people north of the Wall. That is the big revelation. The Wall was built not just to keep the White Walkers away, but to keep unwanted people out of the fertile lands of Westeros. Westeros cannot be fully united (Jon finds out the hard way) until that wall comes down.
So who is the antagonist? It's virtually every person of power who lives south of the Wall who has been partaking in this ridiculous and mindless Game of Thrones, which has lasted centuries. This is why Jon Snow had to die and will have to be reanimated as part of the White Walker army—it's how he gets out of his Night Watch oath so that he can join the side he has to, in order to become the true savior of Westeros.
The biggest speculation that people like to talk about is in regards to who birthed Jon Snow. Some people claim that Ned isn't even his father. They might be right, but I think that Ned impregnated someone north of the Wall. Jon Snow himself, and in particular, his life, is literally the Song of Ice and Fire.
So how does it all end? Here we go:
Jon Snow becomes part of the White Walker army, defeats its King, and leads the army, along with the Free Folk, down into the warmer lands of Westeros, to battle the royal families. Daenerys, the Lannisters, the Starks, the Baratheons, the Greyjoys, even the dragons—all dead at the end (almost all of them).
In the end, we see Jon Snow destroy the Iron Throne (my guess is with ice and sword), thereby liberating the continent, and we see the free people burn down The Wall. Jon Snow and the White Walkers return to the North (Jon had to sacrifice his former life for this victory), while the people of Westeros stay, free at last, in the South, and begin anew. (Ah, but there's one more scene).
Who lives? Probably Tyrion. Maybe Sansa, but I'd guess not. Brienne of Tarth? I'm guessing she goes down while taking the side of the North. Bran? Definitely lives. He'll play a large role in the new free land of Westeros. Ayra Stark? Yes, but will ultimately choose a life of her dangerous desire in the Free Cities (though she will probably play an important part in the downfall of the royal families).
The last scene has to be a reveal of Varys, seeing and acknowledging that this whole tale was a plan, conceived and set forth by him—and that it worked to perfection. In the closing moments, he reveals that he now has to see what he can do with Essos (which may be the complete opposite—he might try to put one person in power, just to see if he can manipulate another whole continent). Varys's clever mind wasn't blinded by rage, desire, and the need for revenge. Tyrion's clever mind, of course, was sidetracked.
RR cleverly tricked us. He led us to believe that the Ice was the White Walkers and not the people of the North. He led us to believe that the Fire was the dragons, and not the evil royal families that fought endlessly for a ridiculous throne and who built a Wall to keep out people who they thought were inferior to them. RR told us that winter is coming, but led us to believe that it was an actual weather event and not the rise of the Northern people. He even killed his protagonist. That takes guts. But the biggest secret that was in front of our faces the whole time, is that the Ice and the Fire together, by birth, is Jon Snow. Cool, huh?
I don't know how HBO will end the series. Since the last book won't be written, they might go for an uplifting ending. I hope not. Benioff and Weiss are talented, and obviously not afraid at this point to chart their own course. But, they have bosses to answer to. That's what worries me.
RR though has a spine of steel. He won't be afraid to kill off much of the crooked world and many of the people who tried to better it. We learned that with the beheading of Ned Stark, early on.
If I'm wrong, I hope I'm wrong because the ending is superior to the one that I think it is. But I don't believe that is the case. I might not have gotten everything right, but I think I've got the correct base path to home plate.
In case you haven't figured it out, George RR Martin is a genius. Thank God we're alive in the era where we get to read his books. This tale was not easy to think out. I'm convinced he knew the ending at the start, and deceived us like only a rockstar author could. Great job, RR, and thanks for taking the time to create this wonderful tale.
So now, do you finally understand why Jon's last name is Snow?
Jon David Rosten, author of
Order "The Wicked Trees" off of Amazon, today!