Hack Bait

Not that I want to be hacked, but I just made a post on my newly revitalized home page discussing the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, High Sparrow, and why the execution Jon Snow performed wasn’t murder. The reason I might get hacked or attacked has to do with Kit Harington’s comparison of the execution his character performed to the beheading murders that ISIS has been performing. If I disappear off the web, at least you know why…

A Good Weekend for Television

No, I didn’t watch The Walking Dead. Frankly, I was impressed with the one or two episodes I saw, but it isn’t my show. I more or less gave up on the undead when they started twinkling in the sunlight… Not that I even want to hint that TWD zombies do, but I stopped caring about the whole genre or movement at that point.

What I am talking about are the other two major players, a couple of other [dark] dra-medies, and one hell of a twist in a favorite of mine, that blew me the hell away.

Lets start with the obvious: two shows this weekend hard their season¬†premieres… In chronological order, no pun intended, Doctor Who and Game of Thrones. Lets not kid ourselves, these were probably the two most anticipated shows on television this weekend, and frankly I don’t think either one disappointed. Mind you, I don’t think either one impressed me or made my jaw drop, but they were pretty damned good. I won’t talk about either show because I probably would literally receive death threats over the lack of spoiler warnings for either or both, even though my average readership is about 5 people per month, and I personally know 4 of them… Still, I’m pleased with the Doctor & Oswin, and she’s gotten hotter since her previous two appearances. On Thrones, I barely recognized some of the key characters I love (and one I despise though it’s not the actress’ fault) because they gained weight since last season, and I was pleased that a character survived a seemingly imminent death though it wasn’t explained how… I could have stood to have seen my favorite characters a bit more in the episode (one of which I don’t think was seen at all) but I have nothing negative to say at all about it.

Don Cheadle and House of Lies continue to impress me, though I really do miss the fourth wall breeches from the first season!! There have been some, and more importantly, there have been some looks that Don has given the camera that have been priceless, but I admit that I’m feeling a little disappointed that the lightheartedness in the face of the serious situations the characters were going through last season isn’t quite there… There are some serious issues going on with them, and it’s undoubtedly going to come to a head in the season finale, which I believe is next week, but that spark has been missing this season… I believe I heard it got picked up for another season, and I’d hate to see it go, but if that spark doesn’t return I’m not sure viewers like myself will…

Californication… Well, needless to say I continue to wish I was Hank Moody… That’s all I’m going to say about the show.

So that brings me to the show that most impressed me this weekend. Strictly speaking, it’s out of chronological order in terms of air time, but I did watch it last, so my timing counts. When I realized that this weekend was going to be the season premieres of Doctor Who and Game of Thrones, I immediately decided that there was no way in hell I was going to miss the first run of the new episode of Thrones, and I set this surprising show aside, deciding I’d either watch it at its encore time or later in the week. While I’m not sorry I watched Thrones, I really wish I had been able to watch both it and Shameless at the exact same time, so that I could’ve watch Shameless again during the encore presentation.

Ever since I watched Shameless when it debuted on Showtime a couple years ago, I enjoyed it. I thought it showed a beautiful little cross section of the fucked up realities of this world and a family doing what was necessary to survive. I’ve loved the cast since minute one episode one, and while I concede that the second season didn’t feel as good as the first, and this third season at times has been as much a struggle for me as it has been for the characters, I still watched it regularly, and pulled for the characters.

I said no spoiler warnings on this site, and I’m keeping to it, but I will tell you honestly, watch this fucking episode if you can, even if you don’t regularly watch.

To give you a quick series summary and briefer, Fiona Gallagher takes care of her younger siblings because her alcoholic drug addict father neglects and steals from them and her equally fucked up mother is mostly absent from the series. The family has a knack for petty crime and theft, selling drugs, and doing other crimes more or less to survive, and they have a knack for not getting caught and avoiding serious punishment when they do. The second oldest child is Lip a brilliant high school student resigned to play the role of a streetwise criminal and following mostly in Fiona’s footsteps, making his family his priority in his life over all other things, though he is caught between his love for a pain in the ass slut that recently returned to Chicago that he thought he was over and a psychotic girl that literally tried to kill the rival for Lip’s affections by running her over. Just a little younger than Lip is Ian, who is in love with Lip’s psycho girlfriend’s brother and the idea of being in the military. Ian is just as focused on the family as Lip and Fiona, but takes a more practical approach to most things except the men he cares about, in which case he chooses the hopeless romantic routes. Carl and Debbie are the comic relief pre-teens and exact opposites of one another: Carl isn’t very bright and is constantly getting into trouble, Debbie is smart, a little mischievous but otherwise a good kid if a bit naive. Then there’s Liam, the baby brother that proves that the Gallagher bloodline is a little more colorful than people would expect… Fiona has a boyfriend Jimmy that used to go by the name of Steve while he was being a car thief. His secret problem this season is that he’s married to a druglord’s daughter and was trying to help her get her green card. I’ll discuss this situation more in a moment. The family’s best friends are Kevin and Veronica, neighbors from a couple houses down the street. They may as well be blood relatives, because they couldn’t be any more family otherwise.

Then there’s Frank, the patriarch. Frank, honestly, is the asshole that has somehow wormed his way into my heart as a viewer and time and again, as evidenced by the pained expressions on everyone’s faces on the show, found a way to abuse just about every major and minor character on the show in some way, shape, or form, and yet remains popular and likable enough that no one has killed him yet, but no one is ever happy to see him. He’s played masterfully by William H. Macy. If I ever write a movie about my dad, I want Macy playing him, even though there is a slight racial difference… Frank has done many, many, many terrible things to his family in the course of this show, including calling child protective services on them to get back at Fiona for kicking him out of the house. There are many reasons to completely hate him, but you find yourself drawn to him, and I think that’s a testament to Macy’s performances. And because Frank was the most surprising element of tonight’s episode, I’ll come back to him…

Back to Jimmy… Jimmy is from a well to do Chicago family, had gone to the University of Michigan Medical School, and somehow became a car thief in Chicago when we meet him in the first season. Fiona had the opportunity to run away with him at the end of the first season, but chose her family over him, and he left. When he returns in the second season, we discover that he’s married to a woman but we don’t know much about her or why, we just know that while she likes him and in particular to have sex with him, that neither one is particularly interested in their marriage. This year, we find out that it was arranged by the druglord to allow his daughter to have an education in the United States and get a green card. All season, we’ve felt bad for Jimmy because he’s caught in this terrible situation: he can’t dump his wife and be with Fiona, the woman he loves, because his father-in-law would have no qualms in killing him. He loves Fiona and wants to be with her, but he can’t tell her about his wife. He struggles to help make ends meet, but at just about every turn he’s essentially getting kicked in the balls by life. And now, it looks like Jimmy is about to go away permanently, because his wife got deported and her father was none too pleased.

That was big enough on its own.

That could have made this episode all by itself.

But it’s not the highlight of tonight’s episode. Hell, it’s barely a side show by comparison.

Tonight, we got to see that Frank actually does give a damn about his kids, at least to some extent. Although it was purely selfish, he caught up with Carl on his way to school and asked to see if he could stay the night at the house, and Carl said yes. Mind you that Frank convinced Carl earlier in the season that he had terminal cancer so that he could somehow score money and possibly a signed basketball from the Chicago Bulls, though none of that panned out. Carl, not being the brightest of the Gallagher children, still hasn’t figured out that it was a scam that Frank pulled. But Frank and Carl got to talking later that night about how Frank’s father had pulled a heist with him when he was Carl’s age, and Carl liked the idea enough that he proposed that they rob the couple that had taken him in for a few days or weeks as foster parents. (Let’s just say that Carl wasn’t happy to be there.) They go and do the heist, and appear to have gotten away scott-free, and Carl is very pleased with himself and his budding relationship with his father.

That is, until, the police show up in the final minutes and are carting him off to jail. Lip and Ian try to defend their little brother and get the police to leave him alone, but it’s Frank that wakes up and willingly and happily takes the blame for the theft, swearing that Carl didn’t have the brains to tie his shoes, that gets the kid freed and yells encouragement to the boy as the police drive off down the street.

Needless to say, Lip and Ian were just about as stunned and shocked as I was over it. To quote Lip, “hell just froze over.”

I love Doctor Who. I love Game of Thrones. I enjoy the hell out of House of Lies and Californication. But tonight, maybe even this weekend, belonged to Shameless! A great fucking weekend for television, but Shameless made me write this post.

Conan the Barbarian

If you’re anything like me, you might have seen the old Schwarzenegger Conan movies and enjoyed them immensely. But in all honesty, did you know that Conan existed before those films? I had no idea until this past week that there was more to Conan than what Schwarzenegger portrayed and that had been developed into comics since then! No idea at all that Conan stretched back to the 1930s!

So, as you might guess, I was afraid of this new Conan film. I was afraid that it would be a parody or an attempt to continue in the tradition of the Schwarzenegger films, but I made up my mind to see it when I discovered Jason Momoa was playing the title role. I’m something of a late comer; I didn’t know Momoa existed before his portrayal of Ronon Dex on Stargate: Atlantis. I loved that character! I loved Momoa’s performance so much that I only started watching Game of Thrones (which I now love) to see him as Khal Drogo. (Thanks to Jewel Staite for mentioning that on Twitter at just the right time!)

Earlier this week I read a preview article on some site that made me more comfortable about the film, and especially when I saw the preview clip that was attached to the article. That convinced me that this was no attempt to recreate what Schwarzenegger did, and that this was no re-imagining or reboot of the franchise. In fact, the article pointed out that this, if anything, is a re-adaptation of the original stories. “Original stories?” I thought, and did some digging. Yes. Conan goes back to 1932 to Robert E. Howard’s original stories. Perhaps even older still when you factor in that the first Conan story was a retelling of one of Howard’s Kull the Conqueror stories. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is more to Conan than most of us ever knew!

So I was prepared to accept this alternate Conan, even though friends of mine were complaining that he speaks too much. (When did that become a bad thing?!?!) After watching this film today, what do I think? In all honesty, I like this vision of Conan better than Schwarzenegger’s! I love the intelligent, calculating brutality of Momoa’s Conan better than the brute strength of Schwarzenegger’s. In my opinion it fits the character better, and even makes better sense of the endings of Schwarzenegger’s where the voice over proclaims that this is but one of the stories of how Conan got to be king, then implying that there were others. This “new” Conan was proclaimed as being kingly by another character in the film, and I think it was completely accurate and that it felt better.

Of course, that brings me to the only two things I think were flaws in this film. First and foremost, this Conan was far too likable. He had no bad habits per se, and was likable from the first moments of the film. At no point did I feel that he had any character flaws or issues that needed to be resolved in order to triumph in the end. As much as we might want perfect characters in our stories, it’s these flaws that bond the audience to them. Did I dislike Conan? No. I just think he was too perfect, too heroic through out the film. Give him some self-doubt, or perhaps make him too reckless resulting in the death of a friend, or make him a drunkard… Give him something significant to overcome to make me want to root for him rather than making him perfect because he’s the hero we always knew him to be! Throughout the film, I kept seeing Conan as a middle ground between Momoa’s Ronon and Drogo; he had the apparent moral code of Ronon yet was able to get down and dirty like Drogo when it came to combat and sex. While there were definitely some things that were clearly Conan, I kept seeing these other characters, and it wasn’t because of Momoa’s acting. It was the script, which I think was tailored to capture fans of those other performances. I didn’t dislike the script and story, mind you, I just think that Conan was written too much like Momoa’s other characters.

Unfortunately, that ties into my second point: there isn’t a single enemy in this film that really compares to or challenges Conan. Yes, the chief antagonist does pose some trivial challenge to him, but in truth I felt like it was just a matter of time before and a question of how Conan killed him. Throughout the story, it was obvious that Conan was superior to every opponent in the film. There was no obstacle Conan couldn’t surmount, and so, again, another character development and audience bonding opportunity was passed up. It’s like watching the favored team steamroll an up and coming challenger: you know who’s going to win and there’s not much in the way of thrills as a result.

The movie was good, and I liked it, but it wasn’t epic like it should have been. Much as I despise Schwarzenegger these days, his version of Conan felt epic. Momoa’s was far more realistic, brutal, bloody, and intelligent, but it lacked that epic feel despite the fact that the overarching story takes place over decades if not centuries. I would love to see that corrected in a sequel but I seriously doubt there will be one. Part of the reason is that despite the presence of Momoa, Rose McGowan, Ron Perlman, and narration by Morgan Freeman, there weren’t very many stars or even recognizable faces in this film. It seems to me that the studio committed to the film only as far as honoring a contract rather than being really invested in the success of this film. I may be wrong, there may be a dozen sequels planned for all I know, but felt that the studio really wasn’t interested in this film.

So, what do I have to say about this film…? I’m not sure. If you’re a Conan fan, give it a shot; I think you’ll be surprised at how much you like it even if you don’t like the fact that he talks more in this film. If you want to watch an entertaining film, you have one here, and I can think of far worse ways to spend $10-12 than on this film. If you are critical of films, expecting to have certain emotional triggers set off, then I’d recommend you pass on this. I found it enjoyable, but it wasn’t exciting. I liked this interpretation of Conan, but I didn’t establish an emotional bond with him like I normally would with a film’s hero. There’s nothing technically wrong with the film, it’s just not what it should have been.