Sunday, December 29, 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I enjoyed Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi for bringing new things to Star Wars, and for having something interesting to say about how to negotiate the relationship between present and past. While not everything in The Last Jedi worked (particularly the Poe and Finn plots), it excelled in paralleling Rey and Ben, and created an interesting conflict by allowing them to understand each other’s perspectives, which led them to feel a complicated mix of sympathy and antipathy for one another. I left The Last Jedi excited to see how the next film in the series would build off of their conflict.

J.J. Abrams’s The Rise of Skywalker capitalizes on some of this potential, but unfortunately, it does so through a hefty dose of retroactive continuity that often undermines what made The Last Jedi so compelling. It also repeats and magnifies some of The Last Jedi’s faults, along with some of the nagging annoyances of The Force Awakens, particularly that entry’s penchant for rehashing elements of the earlier films. There are still some good things in The Rise of Skywalker, and on the whole the good outweighs the bad, but by a much smaller margin than in the two preceding films. After the highs of The Last Jedi, the lows of The Rise of Skywalker are resoundingly disappointing.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Barry Season 2 Finale, "berkman>block"

Season one of Barry was very good: as a show about a former marine-turned-hit man who discovers acting, the series made some darkly funny parallels between acting and assassination, and the personalities and psychological hang-ups typically (and sometimes atypically) associated with each profession. Season two is even better: delving into Barry’s past, the show invites us to compare his behavior during his tour of Afghanistan with his behavior in the present, interrogating the extent to which people can change.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 6, “The Iron Throne”

“The Iron Throne” should have been a great series finale. It’s rife with callbacks to earlier parts of the series, and provides us with the satisfaction of seeing the Starks -- long the representatives of all that is just and fair in Westeros -- firmly in positions of power, settling the question of who will rule Westeros, and thus correcting the unconventional story turns of Ned’s beheading and the Red Wedding. However, most of what might be satisfying about these resolutions is thoroughly undermined by the path showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss took to arrive at them.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5, “The Bells”

“Let it be fear.” These are Daenerys’s words to Jon after Jon can’t bring himself to return Daenerys’s affections early in the episode, and they are supposed to signal a sea change in her rule of Westeros: if she can’t win their love, then she’ll rule by fear. Much later in “The Bells,” Dany acts on this threat, using Drogon to raze King’s Landing and destroy much of the Red Keep, slaughtering Lannister soldier and innocent Westerosi civilians indiscriminately, despite the Lannister forces and the citizens of King’s Landing ringing the city’s bells midway through the battle to signal their surrender. Dany spares no one, and in doing so, has seemingly become the exact kind of terrible tyrant she always claimed to be fighting to eliminate from the world.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 4, “The Last of the Starks”

After “The Long Night,” a lot of critics complained that the stakes of the battle seemed artificial, and the battle itself anti-climactic, partly because no major and/or beloved characters died. I disagreed, and instead found “The Long Night” quite stirring, but the first scene of “The Last of the Starks” made me question my contentment with the outcome of last week’s episode. Jon gives what is meant to be a powerful speech honoring those who died, but all I could think about was how much more powerful it would be if he were eulogizing Tyrion, Brienne, or Jaime, or if not them, then perhaps even more minor characters, like Sam, Gendry, or Tormund. Perhaps it might have been more powerful had Missandei been lighting Grey Worm’s pyre, or vice versa. As it is, however, I found the funeral scene underwhelming because we weren’t terribly attached to most of these characters.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Game of Thrones, Season 8, Episode 3, “The Long Night”

By taking place entirely in one location and focusing on one large-scale conflict, “The Long Night,” like season two’s “Blackwater” and season four’s “The Watchers on the Wall” before it, presents some interesting storytelling challenges: how do you pace what is essentially one long battle? How do you portray its many different dimensions – its epic scope, but also its quiet, intimate moments? How do you convey the mélange of emotions its characters experience – despair, terror, defiance, grief, rage, exhaustion, triumph – and make them all contribute to the overall arc of the episode (and without making the episode seem choppy or incoherent)? “The Long Night” presents a particular challenge in that it’s 82 minutes long, essentially the length of a short feature film. However, the episode turns this long runtime into an advantage, allowing different aspects of the battle room to breathe, and creating some absolutely stunning imagery and moments of high suspense in the process, all while resolving one of the series longest-running plotlines.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Game of Thrones, Season 8, Episode 2, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”

Last week I found the season premiere, “Winterfell,” underwhelming. Consisting almost entirely of reunions and introductions between characters that have spent a long time apart, the only substantial plot development involved Sam telling Jon about his true parentage. Other critics described it glowingly as an episode about the calm before the storm, but on the whole, I thought the episode seemed like an extended bout of fan service. So why, then, is “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” which also has its fair share of reunions and introductions, and which also features very few plot developments, a much more substantive and satisfying episode?

Monday, April 15, 2019

Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 1, “Winterfell”

For all the hype leading up to this final, abbreviated season of Game of Thrones, “Winterfell” is largely a subdued, piece-moving episode, consisting almost entirely of reunions and introductions between characters as they gather at Winterfell in preparation for the Night King’s invasion. These reunions and introductions are like an extension of the armistice summit from last season’s finale, extended to the characters who were absent from it, namely Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Sam. Now that all almost all of the major and minor characters are concentrated in Winterfell (aside from the handful remaining in King’s Landing), such reunions and introductions were inevitable, and it seems like showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss just decided to get almost all of them out of the way in "Winterfell" to pave the way for what will hopefully be more propulsive subsequent episodes.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Monday, January 21, 2019

Monday, January 14, 2019

You're the Worst Season 5, Episode 1, "The Intransigence of Love"

I wrote about the excellent ode to 1990s romantic comedies in the season five premiere of You're the Worst for Cultured Vultures. You can check it out here.