Wednesday, June 17, 2015

#GoT Season 5 Finale Shows Again: "If you think this has a happy ending you haven't been paying attention."

Season 5, Episode 10 -- "Mother's Mercy"


My favorite part was all the shaming.
SPOILERS AHEAD!!!!!

The quote from the headline has been sort of the basest theme of the Game of Thrones universe, especially in the TV series where, due to the compact schedule, the unhappy endings seem to come at the audience much faster and a lot more furiously than they do in the books.

And so it definitely was in this episode, as the following characters all seemingly met their unhappy endings (read: demise):
  • Stannis Baratheon:

    Arrogance, fanaticism and pure, unadulterated stubborness finally caught up with the man who, at least legally speaking, has the best claim as successor to King Robert's. Turns out the way to inspire confidence and loyalty in hundreds of sellswords is NOT to burn your only daughter at the stake in front of them. While the "sacrifice" might have worked in that some of the snow and ice has thawed, the whole enterprise backfired mightily as half his army deserted him in the night, taking all the horses with them. But mutiny wasn't the only bad news to reach Stannis that morning. This also caused Stannis' biggest cheerleader, Lady Melisandre herself, to hightail it out of there, abandoning her King at the worst possible time. No more smoke babies for you Stannis!
    "I've made a huge mistake. Several actually."
  • Selyse Baratheon:

    After seemingly being an even bigger fanatic in service to the "Lord of Light" than her husband - and talking him into the burning of Shireen - while the burning was actually going on, Queen Selyse finally had her maternal instincts kick in. That she was unable to stop her daughter's murder did her in and led to her hanging herself in the forest. Great mothering!
  • ALL of Stannis' Remaining Troops:

    So losing half his troops, all of his horses, his daughter, his wife and his champion (Melisandre) was not enough to stop Stannis from his mission so on to Winterfell he still trudged. Once they got there he ordered his remaining troops to dig trenches, in anticipation of starting a siege. But there was to be no siege. Instead, the forces of the Flayed Man (the Boltons), led by the Bastard Ramsey, and all of the mounted calvary variety, quickly decimated all - yes ALL - of Stannis' forces. This leads to the actual scene of Stannis' death. His dead soldiers all around him, he's struggling to walk when two of Ramsey's soldiers engage him. They strike/stab him a few times but, ultimately, he gets the better of them and kills them. However, this leaves him (probably) mortally wounded and sitting up against a tree trunk when Brienne (having left her post watching Winterfell Castle for the lighting of Sansa's candle) arrives to exact a little Renley Revenge on Stannis.

    She introduces herself and lays out the case against him, solely with respect to his role in the assassination of Renly. He's too tired, and likely, finally ashamed to put up any fight. When she asks if he has any last words he says, simply, "Go on. Do your duty." She swings and, because the camera cuts away, we don't see the deed, leading to some Internet speculation that she spared him. I think not. He's dead until proven otherwise.
  • Meryn Trant:

    Oh, Sir Meryn. He of the first-person-on-Arya's-death-list. Well, he's dead now and in particularly brutal fashion. Remember, Meryn was the weasel who killed Arya's sword teacher, Syrio Forel, back in King's Landing all the way back in Season 1. As I mentioned in the last week's recap, as if the audience needed any other reason to root for this guy's murder at the hands of Arya, he's also proven to be a pedophile, who not only like little girls, but likes to beat them a little too. Anyway, Arya pulls a clever ruse on him, using one of the masks from the House of Black and White and absolutely mutilates him on her way to crossing him off her list. The consequences of this with Jacquen will be further discussed below.
This is Ser Meryn Trant: You Won't See Him Again.
  • Myranda:

    Ah yes, Psycho Ramsey's psycho little, jealous mistress. Well, while Ramsey is off decimating what remains of Stannis' army, Sansa finally gets the courage and opportunity to light the candle (which, as mentioned above, she lights JUST as Brienne has left her post. Typical). Anyway, as she's on her way back, she runs into Myranda and Threek. Myranda starts threatening her and the threats escalate and escalate. Sansa, a shell of herself, essentially asks to be killed while she still has *some* soul left. Myranda is just about to shoot her with an arrow when THREEK grabs her and throws her off the balcony, instantly killing her as she smashes on to the stone probably 40-50 feet below. Rest in Peace Myranda, you were bat-shit crazy and had the boniest hips ever but I'd still hit that!
  • Myrcella:

    Poor, sweet Myrcella. She's survived an actress change but couldn't survive Obara Sand's misguided sense of justice and revenge. Because even though Oberan VOLUNTEERED to be Tyrion's champion last season, and even though Myrcella had nothing to do with anything that Obara has beef about (and likely never even knew about any of it), Obara still thinks that killing Myrcella is appropriate revenge/justice for Oberan's death.

    But, as far as last week was concerned, the viewer probably thought the danger had past. Prince Doran had swiftly put down the Sand Snakes' rebellion and Obara kissed the ring. She had a nice chat with Jaime wherein it appeared she realized taking everything out on Myrcella was probably the wrong way to go. PSYCHE!

    Instead, at the dockside send-off, Obara apologizes to her an gives her a nice, long kiss on the mouth making everyone's "Danger Alert" start up. Surely she couldn't have poisoned lipstick on, could she? Of course she could!!!
  • JON MOTHERFUCKING SNOW

    Okay, okay. So book readers knew that Jon Snow "dies" (albeit it is still quite ambiguous in the books). Viewers can't have been too surprised either as they've been foreshadowing the hell out of this with creepy Olly being creepy all the time. Then, in this episode, we had a nice little Jon-and-Sam one-on-one, heartfelt goodbye time, which, in the moment totally felt like Jon was saying goodbye to Sam for good. Then Sam and Gilly leave for Oldtown, leaving Jon completely alone. Add to this that visually, he remains completely isolated for the entire episode and put it all together and things don't look good for him.

    As he's reading raven messages, and looking nonplussed (presumably these are messages about Stannis' defeat at Winterfell), Olly rushes in with news! One of the Wildlings is copping to have seen his Uncle Brandon (who, viewers will recall, hasn't been seen since Season 1). Everyone should immediately thought of this:



    But, having not seen Return of the Jedi, Jon Snow is clueless and immediately runs outside, without his sword, to question this guy about someone who hasn't been seen in what, years now? He meets Alliser outside his quarters, who leads snow through a pack of Brothers and he runs into a grave with "Traitor" written on it. He turns around and gets stabbed in the gut by Alliser who says "For the Watch." Brother after brother takes their turn, leaving Olly for last. And then we're left with this:
Say it Ain't So, Snow!
*************************
Alright, that takes care of all the death. Let's dive into a few other major things that happened, setting up next season:

The Tyrion and Varys Show Returns to Meereen

So Dany is gone, hoisted from the Sons of Harpy danger last episode by Drogon and taken only the Gods know where. That leaves the tricky business of governing Meereen. Jorah and Dario decide it best for the two of them to leave the city in search of the Queen. That leaves Tyrion in charge to "carry out the Queen's wishes" backed by Greyworm and the Unsullied.

As Tyrion is settling in, taking the view of "his" new city, guess who just sidles in? That's right, Varys! How'd he get in?!?! Anyway, any return to the Tyrion/Varys Show next season is a welcome development!

Dany and the Dothraki, Together Again

Turns out Drogo took Daenerys a long way out indeed. Like middle of nowhere. She wants him to fly her back home but he's still pretty well wounded from all the spears the Harpy gave him. She goes for a walk and ends up surrounded by thousands of Dothraki riders (wow, HBO's increased budget really increased the CGI-created size of this Khalasar. Question will be: friendly or unfriendly Khalasar to Dany? Only Season 6 knows for sure!

Jaime Lannister Comes Out

Upon boarding their ship in Dorne to make way back to King's Landing, we get a very touching scene between Jaime and Myrcella. He sits her down and starts to confess about her true parents (i.e., him as her father, not her uncle) when she quiets him down because she already knows! Making her infinitely smarter than idiot Joffrey. She says she's proud/happy that he's her father and they hug. Of course, this being Game of Thrones, her nose immediately starts to bleed and she collapses from Obara's poison (see above). It's a broken record at this point but, again, NO HAPPY ENDINGS!

Cersei and the Worst (or BEST) Walk of Shame Ever

Book readers who also hate Cersei have been waiting for this, the famous/infamous walk of shame from A Dance with Dragons a/k/a "Cersei's Comeuppance".

First, she confesses to the High Sparrow of her incest with her cousin, Lancel, but denies all the other charges (conspiring to kill King Robert, incest with Jaime). She's crushed to learn that she'll still face trial on the charges she's denied but gets the good news that he'll allow her to return to the Red Keep until the trial. One catch: she still has to do her penance. What does that penance include? Having her lovely locks of hair cut roughly down to a pixie cut and walking, naked, from Baelor's Sept to the Red Keep, in front of seemingly all of King's Landing, being followed closely behind by a septa who keeps shouting "Shame! Shame! Shame!" and ringing a bell, and being yelled at, insulted, pelted with garbage and spit on by the residents. It's quite a show (only lessened, somewhat, by the fact that Lena Headey's head was CGI-imposed on a body double).

Some of the Internet actually felt sorry for Cersei after this. "Wasn't it just too much to make her suffer?" was the refrain. Umm, no. Think about what's she's done. Pretty much every single death incurred in the War of Seven Kings is a direct result of HER actions and mistakes. FUCK HER! She deserved every single second of that walk of shame!

Anyway, emotionally broken down, covered in spit and garbage and with bloodied feet, she finally makes it to the Red Keep.  Tommen isn't even there to greet here. The greeting party consists of her Uncle Kevan and Pycell, who look upon her with disdain, and good ol' Qyburn, who covers her up and let's her in on his secret, which is sure to brighten her day once she's had a chance to clean up from her ordeal.  That secret?  Well, it's .... 

ZOMBIE MOUNTAIN!!!

From the time The Mountain was poisoned in the Tyrion's trial by combat by Oberin, we know ol' Qyburn has been "experimenting" to bring him back from the dead. Looks like he's succeeded. He also tells Cersei that Zombie Mountain has taken a vow of silence until all of her enemies are brought to justice. Yikes! Watch out High Sparrow!


He's The Mountain. And a zombie. He's ZOMBIE MOUNTAIN and
he's coming for YOU, High Sparrow!!! (I think)
Final Thoughts/Questions on the Season, Primarily: Is Jon Snow Really Dead?

I cannot believe that Jon Snow is dead for all time. This season, more than any others, brought forward clues that the famous Internet rumor about Jon Snow's actual parentage is true. Why would the showrunners put those clues in the season if he's dead and gone from the show forever? My answer: they wouldn't. He either warged into Ghost or Melisandra is going to be able to resurrect him. That's not to say we'll see him in Season 6. But, I simply do not believe he's 100% dead and not coming back. 

As for the season overall, like working on an elevator, it had its ups and downs. 

Particularly disappointing was pretty much everything having to do with Dorne, save for a few Bronn quips here and there. It felt forced in and ended up being stupid. 

Arya in Braavos took awhile to get going but once it did in the last few episodes, it was pretty great and promises good things for the future. 

Cersei, just like the books, was monumentally STUPID in empowering the Faith Militant, just leading to her just desserts. 

Walder Frey is going to get his some time, right? RIGHT?!?

Same with Roose and Ramsey? Right??? RIGHT???!!!???

The Sansa-gets-raped didn't trouble me nearly as much as the Internet. As George Martin has explained numerous times, this is a medieval-ish story. And "marital rape" simply was not a recognized concept in Medieval Times -- husbands got sex from their wives, consent or no consent. Period. And so it was here. Not that I don't feel sorry for poor Sansa. I do. But what happened to her was also an accurate picture of the times/culture. The Internet needs to grow the fuck up.

Finally, Drogon's return is the runner-up for the "Best of the Season" while the Battle of Hardhome EASILY takes the top spot. Any 10-episode season of any television with those two set pieces (plus the SHAMING!) cannot be any lower than an A-Minus

Monday, June 8, 2015

Talking a Little #GoT to Break a Long Hiatus

Once again, I look back and it's been FOUR FUCKING MONTHS since I've done any posts. What a lazy asshole I am! Really? The last time I blogged was about the SuperBowl and Pete Carrol's awful last-minute brain fart? Yikes!

Well, what's happened since then that I've wanted to write some posts about but simply have not?

I suppose the series finale of #Justified could have warranted some recognition. As could have the series finale of #ParksAndRecreation. I could have done at least some light posts about the continued awesomeness of shows like #BobsBurgers, #BrooklynNineNine or #TheAmericans.



I also intended to do a whole long post about the entirety (Seasons 1 thru 3) of the super awesome, extremely violent and supremely underrated Cinemax series #Banshee but didn't.


For the record, Banshee also features a Yes and Please! girl, named Lili Simmons, who you might know as the T-Mobile salesgirl who banged Woody Harrelson in season 1 of True Detective:


  



As for movies, I've only seen a couple: Kingsman and Avengers 2, the latter of which I intended to review but failed again.

On the sports' front, we had mighty Kentucky getting beat in the Final Four of the NCAAs, and Duke and Coach K once again come through over Wisconsin and Frank-the-Tank Kaminsky. Jordan Spieth had a star-is-born dominant victory at #TheMasters in April. More recently, and closer to home for TGS, #DaBulls got bounced from the NBA Playoffs by a suddenly-looking-a-lot-more-formidable-than-they-did-then Cleveland Cavaliers (who last night won in OT to tie the Finals series 1-1 and steal home court away from league MVP Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors) and fired Coach Thibs. Meanwhile, the #Blackhawks survived a grueling, seven-game slug-fest with the Anaheim Ducks to again advance to the Stanley Cup Final (tied 1-1 heading into tonight's Game 3). And, not to mention the Cubs seeming to be ahead of schedule, sporting a sweet record of 30-25 thru June 7.

And much, much more.

In other words, my laziness has caused me to miss writing posts about a whole bunch of shit I should have been writing posts about.

And that brings me to a perfect subject on which to start anew: Game of Thrones Season 5.

Season 5 of the HBO mega-hit has been its most controversial yet, for a number or reasons. Most importantly, this is the first season in which the television show has radically departed from the source material books in a few key and dramatic ways. That the show has caught up to where George RR Martin is through the five existing books is part of this. Another part is that TV is just different, and requires different storytelling choices. Some have been loved while others have been ... well, let's just say "controversial" to say the least.

The biggest controversy arose from a narrative choice that is nowhere to be found in the books. Littlefinger convinces Sansa to marry Ramsey Bolton at Winterfell. Obviously this does not happen in the books and, just as obviously, things are not going to be all marital bliss for Sansa as the reader/viewer knows that Ramsey is a sadistic shit. Despite the fact that everyone should have known that this is how it would be, Ramsey basically rapes Sansa on their wedding night, all while forcing Reek/Theon to watch.

[Sidenote: I use "basically" because, though the Internet was outraged by this, as Martin later explained, Westeros is basically a stand-in for Medieval Europe and, in Medieval Europe, the concept of marital rape, which this would be, did not even exist. Thus making the post-episode outrage that much dumber.]

 Anyway, this led to all sorts of Internet outrage to include Senator Claire McCaskill declaring she'd no longer be watching (good riddance, idiot).

Since then (the rape scene closed out episode 6, I believe), there have been three episodes, the last two of which have been utterly INSANE, leading to this Sunday's season finale. A few notes on each below...

Episode 8 -- Hardhome

The last twenty minutes of Hardhome can probably be read as HBO and the showrunners throwing down at The Walking Dead and saying "We'll see everything you've ever done and raise you THIS!"

But before getting to that last twenty minutes, two other scenes were truly remarkable. First, Tyrion meeting Dany in her throne room, attempting to convince her not to have him executed on the spot and, later, the two of them, alone, going wit-for-wit attempting to feel each other out, talking their families' respective histories, etc., as they figure out if they are right for/destined for a Monarch/Advisor relationship (almost certainly yes). Peter Dinklage and Emelia Clarke both bring their best games to these scenes and no doubt audiences squealed with delight as the two fan favorites finally met and conversed, something that has not yet happened in the books.



Another thing we've all been waiting for that finally happened in this episode was the beginning of Cersei's long, tortured road to a place called "Comeuppance". At the end of episode 7 she was finally imprisoned for her numerous crimes, as told to the High Sparrow by her former-lover/now-sparrow Lancel (such crimes to include, of course, incest and regicide).

Finally, before getting to the big finale, a quick pop-in on the Stark girls. Sansa is still living in hell as Mrs. Ramsey Bolton but she at least gets Reek/Theon to confess to her that Brann and Rickon might still be alive as he did not kill them, but rather lowly peasant boys. Finally, a glimmer of hope for Sansa! Arya has begun her training in Braavos in earnest, becoming the oyster/cockle cart girl she does in the books, albeit on a much shorter timeline.

Now, on to the main event...

A few episodes ago, as Stannis was packing up to leave Castle Black to march on Winterfell, Jon Snow convinced Stannis to let him use Stannis' fleet of ships so that he and Tormund can travel to Hardhome, beyond the Wall, to try and convince the remaining Wildlings to ally with the Night's Watch and settle south of the Wall with the only condition being that they'd have to fight with the Crows against the coming war with the White Walkers.

When they get there let's just say they aren't given a warm welcome.  The Free Folk are still hung up on those thousands of years fighting the Night's Watch to just up and become allies. Nevertheless, upon their arrival, the King of Bones gets lippy with Tormund and gets beat to death for this trouble, thus putting a final nail in the "Mance-Raydar-is-Really-Still-Alive" coffin.

So, they have a pow-wow with a bunch of the Wildling elders. Jon Snow makes his case about the White Walkers being a far bigger deal than the long-standing dispute between the Free Folk and the Night's Watch. For his part, Tormund sufficiently talks up Snow's bona fides ("He might be prettier than both my daughters, but he can fight.")  Jon Snow offers up a bag of dragon glass as a peace offering. There's a giant there too. He's on board, as are most of the others. Predictably, the Thenn that is there is not and he leaves in a huff.

As Jon and the others begin to ferry Wildlings out to the ships something bad happens. Something very bad. The White Walkers and their army of wights have arrived and they're there to massacre everybody. Jon, the other Crows, Tormund, the Free Folk (even the Thenn) fight valiantly but it was always going to be a rout. 

As I said, this battle scene seemed like a giant finger in the eye of The Walking Dead, as the scale, production values and CG were light years beyond even TWD's best set pieces. The music was ominous as fuck. The giant swatting away at the wights was a thing to behold. The "second wave" attack, reminiscent of World War Z, was brilliant filmmaking. And, finally, we learned that Valyrian Steel can defeat the White Walkers, as Jon Snow dispatched with one of the White Walker warriors with his Valyrian sword.

Best of all, we've been conditioned to believe that the BIG reveals and/or battles always occur in the 9th episode (see, e.g., Season 1: Ned's beheading, Season 2: The Blackwater, Season 3: Red Wedding, Season 4: Battle at the Wall) so this really came out of nowhere, upending all expectations. This is also another departure from the books wherein this battle is hinted at but does not take the reader their directly.


The coup de grace, however, was the very end. Snow, Tormund and a few others just barely manage to escape onto the last canoe out to the fleet. As they're looking back at the shore, the Night King appears to stare Jon Snow down. He's a real smug bastard, that one. Then, he begins to slowly raise his hands and the true scope of this nightmare becomes apparent when all the dead Wildlings suddenly stir back to life, as wights, eyes a-gleaming blue. And with this battle, the Night King has increased his army by thousands. Suddenly, everything going on south of the Wall seems like, in Hyman Roth's words, "Small potatoes" and the Walkers vs. Dragons endgame seems more and more likely. Truly remarkable stuff.


Episode 9 -- The Dance of Dragons

How can anything top an army of snow zombies massacring thousands and thousands of wildings? Perhaps a dragon show?

The 9th episode of Season 5 had some ups and downs (the downs mostly occurring in Dorne) but not only contained the most shocking/brutal/intense scene/death to date, but also the return of DROGON.

Before getting to those two scenes, though, the catch-ups:

  • Braavos: Arya is still shilling her oysters and cockles. She's supposed to poison this corrupt insurance dude on Jacquen's orders but when she instead spots Maryne Trant arriving with Mace Tyrrel, she drops that plan to follow Trant around. Who can blame her? He is on The List after all. And, as if they needed to make Trant more of an evil cartoon character, he's a pedophile to boot, rejecting every prostitute offering to him at the brothel as "Too old!" before finally being presented with some 11, 12 or 13 year old, recruited from the kitchen and pressed into a different kind of service. The climax to this showdown awaits in the finale.
  • In Dorne, where it continues to appear as though about 20 total people live there, Prince Doran finally acts like a ruler, making peace with Jaime and sparing Bronn with nothing but an elbow to the face. The catch: Jaime has to bless the Trystan/Myrcella marriage AND take Trystan back to King's Landing to replace Oberyn on the Small Council. This, of course, is easily the proper course of action to take. Doran rightly doesn't want war coming to his lands and knows the only way to avoid that is to pledge fealty to King Tommen and make this peace.
  • This does not, however, sit well with Ellaria or the Sand Snakes. Doran lays down the law here, too, requiring Ellaria to either kiss the ring, thus ending her rebellion, or face execution. She tearfully does as told while Doran tells her he believes in second chances, but not third ones. Better check yourself honey!
  • At Castle Black, Jon Snow returns with what Wildlings he was able to escape with but feels like a failure nevertheless in that he blames himself for those he was not able to save. When they first arrive, Ser Alliser makes it seem like he's not going to let them in but then the chain-of-command gets the better of him and he orders the gate opened. He's still not a fan of Jon Snow's so-called "plan", though, telling Snow he's got a big heart that is going to get them all killed. Presumably they have a pow-wow off camera, wherein Jon Snow tells the rest of the Night's Watch what transpired at Hardhome but, if it does, we don't see it. Might take Alliser's temperature down a few degrees.
  • Olyvar continues to give Jon Snow the stink eye so the show continues to foreshadow him stabbing Snow in the back. I still think it's misdirection and won't happen. I hope I'm right. 

That leads us to the two big stories of the night:

First, in Stannis' camp, apparently Ramsey's guerrilla campaign is off to a resounding success, as they are able to start numerous, simultaneous fires in the camp, burning supplies and killing scores. Stannis is stuck. He can't press forward and he can't make it back to Castle Black. 

And that's when the grim reality of what is going to happen begins to set in. First, Stannis sends Davos away back to Castle Black to demand fresh men and supplies. When Stannis rejects Davos' request to take Shireen with him, our collective stomachs drop a little. Then, when Davos says his goodbye to her, it's obvious he believes he's saying goodbye for good. Keep dropping stomach. Then Stannis and Shireen have their last father-daughter heart-to-heart. Shireen is reading the parable of "The Dance of Dragons" though the ultimate lesson is lost on Stannis. At the end she offers to do whatever is necessary - as a princess and his daughter - to help him as King. Oh no. And there's all the permission he needs.

Shireen is led through the camp, past all of the troops, to a stake. She's tied to it and Milesandra lights the pyre. That's right. They burn a fucking little kid alive. While Stannis just watches, stoically, and the Red Woman even smirks a bit! What the fuck, Game of Thrones? Think the Internet was pissed before? Shit, Sansa got off EASY!

[Update: I was wrong, the Internet remains much more pissed off about Sansa being raped, even by her husband, than by a little kid being burned alive in the service of rank fanaticism. Live and Learn!].
What's a palate cleanser for a little girl being burned alive? Dragons of course, leading us back to Meereen. 

Daenerys, much to her chagrin, has to oversee the reopening of the fighting pits. It's a very Gladiator-esque view that opens the scene. Suffice it to say, she finds the whole thing very, very distasteful.

The climax to the scene/episode begins when Jorah steps into the ring to fight in a small-ish battle royale (six total fighters I think). Dany thinks she kind of recognizes his voice but isn't sure. Jorah survives several close calls and ultimately wins/survives. He takes off his mask to show himself and he and Dany kind of stare each other down, the latter more in disbelief than anything, until Jorah wings a spear up into the royal box, startling all but in actuality slaying a Son of the Harpy who was sneaking up behind to assassinate the Mother of Dragons.

At this, all Hell literally breaks loose as seemingly hundreds of Sons of the Harpy start getting stabby throughout the colosseum and make way to kill the Queen. Jorah jumps up to protect her, and Daario and whatever Unsullied are around try to protect her as best as they can. Tyrion even gets in on the action, slaying a Son who was making a move to kill Missandei. Hizdahr, for his part, gets stabbed by the Sons so even though they made it look like he was a part of the plot, I guess not!

Anyway, our heroes have no escape and end up in the middle of the ring. Jorah, Daario and the Unsullied are doing their best but there are just too many Sons. Things look grim. Daenerys and Missandei realize their fate awaits, and hold hands for the end. Until...

Until...

Until...

Well we all knew there was only way out of this (and that they would, in fact, get out of it) and that would be if Drogon showed up. And show up he did.


Not much else to say from that! 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Super Bowl 49: Pete Carroll's #LEASTMODE

Patriots 28, Seahawks 24

And just like that, it was over. The Super Bowl and the 2014 NFL season. Over. And not all in the way expected mere seconds before...

A few days later and I'm still trying to understand what the hell happened!



First things first: this was probably the best Super Bowl since 2000 (when the Rams stopped the Titans' last, desperate lunge to the end zone) was over, ending in completely the opposite fashion of how it looked just one play before.



[Aside: That clip makes me <<sigh>> for poor Steve McNair. RIP]

After some shoddy first quarter play, the Seattle Seahawks had finally taken control of the game, 24-14, heading into the fourth quarter. At that point, I thought the game was over. Michael Bennett had completely taken over the line of scrimmage and the Patriots had no answer for him.

With 12:10 showing on the clock, the Patriots stepped up, 1st-and-10 and promptly gave up a sack. Fast forward two plays later, 3rd-and-14 at their own 28, and Brady comes up with the miracle first down to Julian Edelman for 21 yards. Six plays and a TD later, Brady and the Patriots had cut the lead to a mere three points, with Seattle getting the ball back with less than eight minutes to go.

One solid, long drive to pretty much put it away was all that Seattle needed. Instead, Seattle goes three-and-out. To be fair, on first down, on a throw to Ricardo Lockett, it appears as though the Patriots defender tripped and, from the ground, blatantly reached out and tripped Lockett, preventing him from making a catch (which would have been a first down) and definitely would have been better for stemming the Patriots growing momentum than the three-and-out did.

Patriots get the ball back and, for the second drive in a row, promptly drive down the field again, scoring another touchdown with a mere 2:01 to play.

[It should be noted that early in the game, Seattle CB Jeremy Lane intercepted Brady as the Patriots were driving but on the ensuing run-back was injured and lost for the game -- broke both bones in his wrist -- his absence was felt the entire game and Brady and the Patriots absolutely abused his replacement, Tharold Simon]

On the ensuing kickoff, the Patriots made their first mistake: kicking into the end zone for a touchback, therefore preserving the two minute warning for Seattle, who was down to one timeout.

First play, a beautiful 30-ish yard wheel route pass play from Wilson to #BeastMode. Then an incomplete pass and a four-yard run leaving 3-and-6. Then this:


I guess one question I have about this catch is: how was this any different than the Dez Bryant non-catch in Green Bay in the Divisional Round? I mean, no doubt Dez was bobbling control but the end result was the same as this one -- securely in Bryant's control/possession, having never touched the ground throughout the "process".

Anyway, so this catch set up the Seattle 1-and-goal from the 6, leading to a four-yard #BeastMode rush to inside the one yard line with a little over a minute left.

At this point, probably everyone in the world, including Tom Brady and the Grumble Lord himself, believed that the Patriots would once again fall victim to an insane, unbelievable catch to fall just short in yet another Super Bowl.

I mean in that situation, 2-and-goal, and needing only a few feet to win a second consecutive Super Bowl, you immediately pound #BeastMode, right? And if he doesn't make it, you take your last timeout and try it again, right?

[FWIW, Belichick also made a HUGE error by not calling one of his timeouts immediately after Lynch's first down run. Had he used that timeout, and Lynch scored on the next play, Brady would have had about 50 seconds to get them down to FG range for a tying FG attempt. Very doable for this offense. As it was, by not taking this timeout, Belichick was essentially conceding that Seattle would score and win or not.]

Well instead of #BeastMode leading them to victory in the most perfect way imaginable, we got this gem:



A slant, into the middle of an already condensed field? WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?!

Carroll's post-game explanation was basically this: we had a three-WR package in there and they had their goal line defense in so it wasn't a good package for running. We were going to throw the ball and if we scored, great, if not, it will be incomplete, stopping the clock, and we'll run on 3rd and 4th.

Okay, okay. I will say that passing in that situation isn't ipso facto bad but that PARTICULAR pass play was awful. Even if you are going to pass, how about some play action? Or a read option look? Or even a less risky fade to the very corner? The play they ran was already very risky from the beginning, compounded by Lockett not stepping to the ball and Wilson throwing too late and not hard enough = interception by previous no-name/undrafted-rookie-FA Malcolm Butler. 

Charm-Slinger = humbled. 

The legacies of Brady/Belichick as among the best ever -- if not THE best ever -- at their respective jobs = cemented. 




Other Super Bowl Notes:

  • Idina Manzel did perfectly fine singing the National Anthem and covered the OVER.
  • The double-shot of America the Beautiful followed by the Anthem continues to be unnecessary whenever employed.
  • John Legend and Chrissy Tiegan are officially #OVEREXPOSED though that won't prevent me from posting a Yes and Please! picture of the latter!
  • The commercials were completely underwhelming, with the general theme of the night's ads trending towards serious, dour, depressing even, instead of what they should be -- you know, funny and/or clever.
  • There's a new Carl's Jr. ad girl -- Charlotte McKinney -- and she is a future Yes and Please! Hall of Famer for sure! She's got the same great "assets" of Kate Upton but in a smaller overall package!




  • The MVP was, of course, Brady. He now owns all sorts of records for passing in Super Bowls, most of which likely to ever be broken.
  • Doug Baldwin scored Seattle's first TD and apparently, in celebration, he committed a DISGUSTING ACT! He spun the ball on the ground, waiting a second, then squatted over it as though pooping on the ball. NBC didn't even show it!!! Predictably, this led to a 15-yard penalty which IS stupid (though penalizing celebrations is even more so) but the type of people who are all up-in-arms about it -- the Peter Kings, and Mike and Mikes of the world come to mind most prominently -- leads me to believe that there was absolutely nothing wrong with it!
  • Gronk was pretty unstoppable.
  • As was Edelman, though that had to do more with game plan and some uncharacteristically below-average tackling by Seattle on some plays.
  • The NFL Honors awards show continues to be dumb and unnecessary in its 4th year, especially without the Super Bowl participants! That said, Seth Meyers did get off one really good zing at Goddell's expense during his opening monologue.
  • The halftime show -- headlined by Katy Perry and featuring about 20 seconds of Lenny Kravitz PLUS Missy Elliot (huh?) -- was pretty bland but did have the dancing sharks that have gone completely viral.
  • The five modern-era Hall of Famers are: Tim Brown, Jerome Bettis, Junior Seau (RIP), Charles Haley and Will Shields. Still means Marvin Harrison gets left out despite being (to me anyway) better than Tim Brown. I guess HOF voters get to be judge and jury regarding crimes that were never charged, right?


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

MOVIES! 2015 - Nos. 6 and 7

SPOILERS FOLLOW in these mini-reviews/blurbs of the two most recent movies I watched, The Equalizer and A Most Wanted Man.

Movie No. 6: The Equalizer

This was relatively well-reviewed (61% critics and 78% audience) and made quite a bit of money: $101,530,000 domestically, $90.8MM internationally, on a $55MM budget.

That it was a remake of a seemingly obscure television show (though it was apparently on for four seasons) and did so well seemed to once again demonstrate the box office power of Denzel, especially when he is being a general badass.

The movie opens by establishing Denzel's character, Robert McCall, living a quiet, solitary, orderly and extremely disciplined life in Boston.

He lives alone in a sparse apartment, times his routine of accomplishing the most mundane tasks (fixing his breakfast shake, eating dinner/clearing the dishes, etc.), all the while working as a clerk at a Home Depot knock-off. 

We know that something is going on beneath the surface, however, because we learn that he has trouble sleeping, such that he often spends his nights (like the middle of the night) at a local diner, bringing his own tea from home and reading books in the same booth, night after night. No one without some sort of PAST lives this monkishly and/or spends all his late nights in a diner.

Anyway, one of the late-night regulars at the diner is Aleena/Teri, a 17-year-old (supposedly) Russian prostitute (who can speak Russian with zero Russian accent when speaking English) who, of course, has "a heart of gold" and aspires to be a singer one day. She's played by Chloe Grace Moretz who is 17 in real life and thus, not eligible for Yes and Please! consideration.

So, obviously, McCall befriends her. And, obviously, her Russian mafia pimp beats the shit out of her, sending her to intensive care. And, obviously, this leads McCall to summon his past badass-ery for some good old fashioned REVENGE.



Basically, McCall is some sort of former super-spy (like he's literally portrayed as maybe the best operative CIA has ever had, before faking his own death and dropping off the grid) and as soon as he's down the path of helping the little guy with his ex-CIA murder/death/kill skills, he's won't be stopped!

While the first "fight" scene is really cool -- taking out 4-5 Russian mafia thugs in their HQ and being pissed off that it took longer than the 16 second he had estimated -- the second half of the movie gets pretty cheesy. I mean, he takes down the entire Boston Russian mob by himself, including the main fixer brought in to take him out PLUS all of the different teams of mercenaries brought in to do the same. Then, when all is said and done, he STILL goes all the way to fucking Russia to kill the Boss. Seriously, I had that reaction out loud as watching it unfold: "He goes to fucking RUSSIA?!?!"

There are a couple of Hey, It's That Guys: (1) the first Russian pimp is played by David Meunier, who played Cousin Johnny on #Justified, (2) the lead Russian clean-up guy is played by Marton Csokas, who was Jarda in The Bourne Supremacy (kitchen fight scene) and (3) the Boston cop on the Russian payroll is played by David Harbour, who I just recently became familiar with in the excellent WGN America drama, Manhattan.



FINAL GRADE: C-minus 
(the "minus" is for him going to Russia which even two days later bugs the shit out of me)

Not even a Yes and Please! Oh wait, there's another Russian hooker bit character, played by Haley Bennett, a cute lass (not actually Russian, born in Florida) who is also quite the Yes and Please! (if a bit anonymous):




Movie No. 7: A Most Wanted Man


I've been wanting to see this for quite some time as it (1) is adapted from a John le Carre novel (specifically, this one, which I have not read) and I'm a HUGE LeCarre fan, and (2) it features one of the last performances of Philip Seymour Hoffman, prior to his untimely and tragic overdose death.

John LeCarre is most famously known, of course, for his Smiley/Karla trilogy, with his most famous novel being the first of those three books, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Tinker, Tailor, as it is abbreviated, was a much-celebrated BBC miniseries with Sir Alec Guinness starring as the incomparable George Smiley, the brilliant MI-6 analyst during the Cold War. I've only watched the mini-series once but now own it as I will try to fit a re-watch in sometime. From just the first viewing, however, I can tell you it's excellent.




Recently (2011 -- wow, doesn't seem nearly so long ago already!), Gary Oldman played the role of Smiley in a movie version of Tinker, Tailor, which was also excellent, especially after repeat viewings (I think repeat viewings are especially necessary for those unfamiliar with the plot from the books as it is just a wee bit complex).



I'm a le Carre fan because I like the genre but also because his writing demonstrates real literary skill. His books could be called "literary spy novels". Some who know this writing, and who also know me, might be surprised that I am such a fan as le Carre often travels in the world of moral relativism that I hate so much. Of his 23 novels, I've read about half and pretty much all of the ones that take place during the Cold War. 

This movie is adapted from one of the more recent novels (of which, I think I've only read one, Our Kind of Traitor, which is more or less about Russian organized crime and pretty good), and is basically about civil liberties/intelligence gathering in the post-9/11 world, as well as the tension between intelligence gathering and law enforcement in that same world.

It takes place post-9/11 in Hamburg, Germany, where you might recall, Mohammad Atta did a lot of is recruiting, training, etc.  Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Gunther Bachmann, the head of an off-the-books intelligence unit in Hamburg.  A known Chechnyan terrorist has come to Hamburg and put under surveillance, with Bachmann's plan being to use him and his ten million Euros (inherited from his Russian military father who raped his Chechnyan mother) to unwittingly ensnare a terrorist financier who looks and plays the part of honest, respectable, "moderate" Islamist businessman, Abdullah (played by the same guy who played Hassan Ghul in Zero Dark Thirty).  As Bachmann explains, "You need a minnow to catch a barracuda, and you need a barracuda to catch a shark."  Contrary to this viewpoint, collecting intelligence, following the path onwards and upwards, is the viewpoint of the polizei, who just want to arrest anyone who is a threat the second their whereabouts are known. This tug-of-war plays throughout the whole movie and, of course, mirrors a debate raging in every Western nation dealing with the threat of Islamic terrorism.

To be perfectly honest, there's a lot in this movie that didn't work for me. Rachel McAdams is simply NOT BELIEVABLE as a competent human rights attorney. Not only that, but she sports absolutely impeccable movie star hair for the entirety of the movie, even when she's been detained and interrogated for at least 24 hours straight. So, human rights lawyer, not so much, Yes and Please? Absolutely!



I'm also not sure what the CIA character (played by Robin Wright Penn) was doing. As mentioned above, a huge amount of the conflict comes out of the tension between Bachmann's intelligence unit wanting to make this an intelligence operation, and the federal police, who simply want to arrest everyone as soon as they can. In the end, the CIA sides with the police, which makes no sense whatsoever. Bachmann gets Abdullah on the hook and the CIA would not doubt want to see where that development led. By not doing so, it makes absolutely no fucking sense.

All of this said, however, Hoffman is fantastic. I would give this a much lower grade without his skills, but even so...

FINAL GRADE: C-plus

Monday, January 19, 2015

2015 Movies! Nos. 1 thru 5

A little something different for 2015 w/r/t to coverage of movies. In 2011 (maybe?), I stole an idea from a Facebook friend (someone I went to BGHS with and was friends with, but didn't hang out with) and that was to document every single movie I watched in that year, on Facebook, with a little blurb about each.

Obviously that lasted only a few months.

Then, when I started this blog, I instead did full-on reviews for some of the big blockbusters that I would see (read: NERD movies). As my blogging went from pretty prolific in its early days, to non-existent more recently and now, onto, "I'm giving it my best shot" it has become apparent that full-blown movie reviews (like this, or this, or this, or this) take WAY too much time to write.

[Side Note: Each and every blog post that I've written is very time-consuming. Never would have thought this to be the case and not an excuse for how much I cut down in the past but just the truth]

Anyway, so I figured I'd start a hybrid, where I capture all the movies that I see this year, whether new or a repeat, on whatever medium (theater, Blu, TV, etc.) and write a very brief blog about each.

At least that will be the thought...We shall see... Mild SPOILERS may be ahead...

(1) Guardians of the Galaxy

This was my Blu-Ray re-watch from when I saw it in the theaters the first time.

Don't know what to tell you. If you missed this -- only the highest grossing movie of 2014 [Note: Hunger Games 3 is likely to ultimately surpass it] -- you simply don't watch movies (or, alternatively, only watch snobby indie bullshit).

This is the movie that made Marvel Studios the King of the Motherfucking Mountain, if you will.



Take an absolutely unheard of Marvel comic properties (well, at least unheard of to all but a handful of diehard NERDS) that features a talking raccoon, a blue-skinned Bautista in the main cast and a talking tree that only says three words ("I. Am. Groot."), and it doesn't look like that's a recipe for success.

Yet, that's exactly what happened. A smart script tied just enough to the rest of the Marvel universe + tight, fun direction + a great soundtrack + an a-star-is-born performance from leading man Chris Pratt = Huge Box Office Success (not to mention a belief that Marvel can do no wrong, to be put to the test this Summer with Ant Man).

Oh, and a Yes and Please!

Zoe Saldana, Yes and Please!
(2) Godzilla

Also a re-watch from seeing it in the theaters this summer. This was a surprise hit as it the first trailer led to near-universal derision coupled with "We need another Godzilla?" sentiment.

Probably a lot of it was due to bad feelings from the last time someone tried to make a Godzilla movie...

Starring Matthew Broderick = WHAT THE FUCK?!?!
That steaming pile of shit Godzilla just about broke even at $130MM domestically (but was also pretty huge internationally, adding another $242MM) but is also considered a laughingstock.

THIS new Godzilla grossed $200MM domestically (good for 12th in 2014) // $528MM total worldwide. In other words, a HUGE American AND International hit. 

But it's also a GREAT Godzilla/action movie. 


The direction, F/X, score are all amazing. Plus, Godzilla is unequivocally the GOOD GUY, fighting two other giant monsters to put "nature back in balance." In the process, Manila, Honolulu, Vegas and San Francisco all get absolutely obliterated and it's all good stuff. The acting is "Meh" (even Bryan Cranston for the 15 minutes he's in the movie) but that's not why you're watching a Godzilla movie in the first place. Finally, unlike most Hollywood movies, this one is relentlessly pro-military, showing how members of the US armed forces are selfless and courageous to a fault, even against an "enemy" that simply cannot be defeated by military means...they keep following orders and going after it anyway.

(3) Inside Man

Have seen this a bunch of times. Late one night, saw it starting on one of the movie channels and ended up watching the whole thing.


Of all of Spike Lee's movies, I think (total guess) that this was his biggest commercial success and also my favorite. As a critical endeavor, it's merely a bank heist movie, but an exceedingly smart one at that, with prime-level acting talent. 

It's got Denzel, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, and Chiwetel Ejiofor before he was anything. And, as Denzel says "This ain't no bank robbery!" -- it's much more than meets the eye than that! Plus it's got Nazis. Nazis getting their comeuppance is always a good time!

(4)  The Grand Budapest Hotel

This is the talk of Hollywood with its surprise nine Oscar nominations (tied with Birdman for most).

Basically, if you like Wes Anderson movies, you'll like this. If you don't, it's best to skip this one. Almost all of his standard actors are in this, including Bill Fucking Murray. But most of all, it might be the most Wes Anderson of Wes Anderson movies possible (to date).

The plethora of Oscar noms might be a little surprising because he has not been all that successful with the Academy. Nevertheless, I'd say that this is probably his most "complete" movie, with the most complete plot and overall characterization. 


It has all the tricks that the Academy likes, in this case a story-within-the-story-within-the-story structure, well-loved actors, a girl with a tattoo in the shape of Mexico on her right cheek and a heavy dose of inter-war Europe nostalgia (this period of time, if done well with set design, costuming, etc. always fares well with Academy members). It also has perhaps the most ludicrous prison escape scene ever on any TV show or movie.

It's supremely well-acted, as any Anderson movie is, especially Ralph Fiennes (though its rare that he's not great). Best picture quality? Eh, not for me. And I even put a few of his other works (Life Aquatic, Mr. Fox, even Moonrise Kingdom) ahead of this one.

(5) Neighbors

FINALLY got around to seeing this on Blu. You all probably know the basic premise as one of the we're-bringing-back-the-R-rated-comedy genre movies that have come out lately.


Long story short: Seth Rogan and Rose Byrne are married (pardon my editorial laugh at that ludicrous coupling, HA-HA!) with a small baby yet still not ready to accept that the baby has changed everything about their former lives.

Fraternity, led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco, moves in next door. Rogan/Byrne try to be cool while still requesting that the Fraternity "keep it down" a bit. Parties/noise/pranks/fights/hilarity ensues. Great soundtrack. Epic parties. Rose Byrne is a Yes and Please! Hall of Famer. Efron's GF in the movie, played by someone called Halston Sage is a Yes and Please! newcomer. 

First, the newcomer:


And now the Hall of Famer (and with her Australian accent, just that much HOTTER) ...