Catching Up With The Films of 2019: Late Night (dir by Nisha Ganatra)


Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling) has just gotten a new job.  A struggling comedienne who, up until now, has been forced to test out her best material on her coworkers at a chemical plant, Molly is hired to join the writing staff of late night talk show host, Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson).  Even though Molly knows that she was largely hired so that the show could claim to have a diverse writing staff (all of the other writers are white males), she is still thrilled to be working for Katherine.  Why wouldn’t she be?  Katherine is a notoriously difficult boss who can’t even be bothered to learn the names of most of the people working for her but Katherine is also a legend, one of the first women to ever host her own late night talk show.

Of course, all legends have to come to an end and Katherine’s career as a late night talk show host appears to be in its final days.  Katherine’s rating have been in a steep decline for several years and her nonthreatening monologues and habit of booking guests like Doris Kearns Goodwin are not doing much to reverse the trend.  Safely hidden away in her mansion and continually worried about the health of her Parkinson’s-stricken husband, Walter (John Lithgrow), Katherine has grown out of touch.  Making matters even worse, the president of the network (played by Mindy Kaling’s Office co-star, Amy Ryan) hates Katherine and is eager to replace her with an obnoxious, Dane Cook-style comedian named Daniel Tennant (Ike Barinholtz).

Molly’s new job is a struggle at first.  The other writers dismiss Molly as merely being a “diversity hire” while Katherine often seems to be put off by Molly’s cheerful earnestness.  Over time, Molly proves herself and soon, she’s inspiring Katherine to refuse to leave her show without a fight.  Gone are bland monologues and boring presidential historians, replaced by politically charged humor and YouTube stars.

Late Night, as you may remember, was a huge hit at Sundance back in January.  Amazon Studios paid 13 million for the distribution rights.  The film was released in June to generally positive reviews and …. well, it made very little money.  Despite an extensive advertising campaign and a deluge of think pieces that literally begged audiences to see the film, Late Night flopped at the box office and it is estimated that, taking into account the film’s ad campaign, Amazon lost about 40 million dollars on the film.

Why wasn’t Late Night a bigger success at the box office?  At the time, the popular answer was misogyny.  While one should never discount that, I think that the film’s failure had more to do with the fact that the ad campaign made Late Night look more like the latest Netflix series than an actual cinematic experience.  Like a lot of movies about TV, Late Night was a film that seemed like it could wait for television.  I mean, I am the film’s target audience and even I waited to watch the film on Prime.

As for the film itself, it’s flawed but likable.  Along with co-starring in the film, Mindy Kaling wrote the script and the dialogue is consistently witty, even if the plot occasionally struggles to keep up.  At its best, this is a fun movie to listen to.  Visually, the film’s a bit flat and there’s a big third act development that feels a bit forced but, for the most part, the film works.  Not surprisingly, Emma Thompson is perfectly cast as Katherine and she delivers her razor sharp lines with the right mix of scorn and pathos.  Mindy Kaling effortlessly holds her own opposite Thompson and even John Lithgow, who can usually be counted upon to chew every piece of scenery available to him, is effective in his small but important role.  In the end, it’s kind of a sweet film and there’s something touchingly naive about the film’s steadfast belief that a late night talk show can actually be worth all the trouble.

Late Night is available on Prime so check it out.

 

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #103: 21 Grams (dir by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)


21_grams_movieRemember how shocked a lot of us were when we first saw Birdman?  Well, it wasn’t just because Birdman featured an underwear-clad Michael Keaton levitating in his dressing room.  And it also wasn’t just because Birdman was edited to make it appear as if it had been filmed in one continuous take (though, to be honest, I would argue that the whole “one continuous shot” thing added little to the film’s narrative and was more distracting than anything else.)  No, the main reason we were shocked was that Birdman was directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and, when we thought of an Inarritu film, we thought of something like 2003’s 21 Grams.

It’s not easy to explain the plot of 21 Grams, despite the fact that 21 Grams does not tell a particularly complicated story.  In fact, if anything, the plot of 21 Grams feels like something that either Douglas Sirk or Nicholas Ray could have come up with in the 50s.  Indeed, the plot of 21 Grams is far less important than the way the Inarritu tells the story.  (In that, the dark and grim 21 Grams does have something in common with the arguably comedic Birdman.)

Inarritu tells his story out of chronological order.  That, in itself, is nothing spectacular.  Many directors use the same technique.  What distinguishes 21 Grams is the extreme to which Inarritu takes his non-chronological approach.  Scenes play out with deceptive randomness and it is left to the viewer to try to figure out how each individual scene fits into the film’s big picture.  As you watch 21 Grams, you find yourself thankful for little details like Sean Penn’s beard, the varying lengths of Naomi Watts’s hair, and the amount of sadness in Benicio Del Toro’s eyes because it’s only by paying attention to those little details can we piece together how once scene relates to another.

The film tells the story of three people whose lives are disrupted by the type of tragedies that the pre-Birdman Innaritu was best known for.

Sean Penn plays Paul Rivers, who is a sickly mathematician who desperately needs a new heart.  He’s married to a Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who devotes all of her time to taking care of him and is frustrated by Paul’s fatalistic attitude towards his condition.  When Paul does finally get a new heart, he gets a new existence but is haunted by the fact that it has come at the expense of another man’s life.

Christina Peck (played by Naomi Watts) is a former drug addict who is now married with kids and who appears to have the perfect life.  That is until her husband and children are tragically killed and, in her grief, Christina falls back into her old lifestyle.  The formerly stable and happy Christina becomes obsessed with the idea of getting revenge for all that she has lost.  Naomi Watts was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for her work here.  Her vulnerable and emotionally raw performance holds your interest, even when you’re struggling to follow the film’s jumbled chronology.

And finally, there’s Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro).  Like Christina, Jack is a former drug addict.  Whereas Christina used the stability of family life to help her escape from her demons, Jack uses his new-found Christianity.  And just as Christina struggles after she loses her family, Jack struggles after tragedy causes him to lose his faith.  Like Paul, he struggles with why he’s been allowed to live while other have not.  Del Toro was nominated for an Oscar here and, like Watts, he more than deserved the nomination.

(While Sean Penn was not nominated for his performance in 21 Grams, he still won the Oscar for his role in Mystic River.)

21 Grams is a powerful and deeply sad film, one that will probably shock anyone who only knows Inarritu for his work on Birdman.  21 Grams is not always an easy film to watch.  Both emotionally and narratively, it’s challenging.  But everyone should accept the challenge.

 

 

Shattered Politics #83: Milk (dir by Gus Van Sant)


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For the past three weeks, I have been in the process of reviewing, in chronological order, 94 films about politics and politicians.  It’s a little something that we call Shattered Politics.

And while I’ve had a lot of fun doing it, it does worry me a bit that I may have made the Shattered Lens into a far more cynical site to visit.  That’s largely because I don’t trust politicians or the government in general and, despite the fact that we started off with Abraham Lincoln and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, the majority of the films that I’ve reviewed have reflected that fact.

So, in order to combat that cynicism, I’m going to recommend a film from 2008 that, despite being a biopic about a politician, is actually rather inspiring.  I am, of course, talking about the 2008 best picture nominee, Milk.

Milk tells the story of Harvey Milk who, in 1977, became the first openly gay man to be elected to a major public office.  Now, just consider that.  Up until 38 years ago, nobody who was openly gay had been elected to public office.  Nowadays, the idea of an out gay man or a lesbian running for public office is only shocking to a dwindling minority of homophobes.  Even down here Texas, which everyone up north always smugly assumes to be so intolerant, nobody is surprised when a gay or a lesbian not only runs for office but wins as well.  Sheriff Lupe Valdez has served as sheriff of Dallas Country for over ten years and, though she’s been controversial, none of that controversy has concerned her sexuality.  Meanwhile, Annise Parker has served three-terms as mayor of Houston, making Houston the biggest city in America to have an openly gay mayor.

However, before Lupe Valdez could be sheriff or Annise Parker could be mayor, Harvey Milk had to serve on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Milk follows Harvey (Sean Penn, who won an Oscar for his performance) and his much younger boyfriend, Scott (James Franco) from the moment they first meet in New York to when they moved to San Francisco in 1970.  We see how Harvey first found fame as a neighborhood activist and how he challenged both the political and gay establishment of San Francisco in his campaigns for political office.  When he finally wins a seat on the Board of Supervisors, he does so at the cost of his relationship with Scott.  He enters into another relationship with the self-destructive Jack (Diego Luna), which ends tragically.

By winning office, Harvey becomes a spokesman for gays everywhere.  When a sinister state senator (Denis O’Hare) attempts to pass a bill that would forbid gays from teaching school, Harvey leads to opposition.  And, while Harvey’s career continues to rise, the career of another supervisor — Dan White (Josh Brolin) — plummets.

Elected at the same time as Harvey, Dan is an uptight former cop.  Though he and Harvey originally strike a somewhat awkward friendship (Harvey is the only supervisor to come to the christening of Dan’s child), Dan soon comes to resent Harvey.  (At one point, Harvey suggests that Dan might be closeted and Brolin’s tightly coiled performance certainly implies that Dan is repressing something.)  Eventually, Dan shoots and kills both the mayor (Victor Garber) and Harvey.

Though the film ends in violence and anger, it also ends with hope.  Though Harvey may be dead, the activists that he inspired are there to carry on.

Because the film was directed by a gay man, written by a gay man, and tells the story of a gay man, Milk is often dismissed, even by critics who liked it, as just being a gay film.  But, actually, it is a film that should inspire anyone who has ever felt like they’ve been pushed into the margins of our national culture.  By the film’s end, Harvey Milk has emerged as not just a gay hero but as a hero to anyone who has ever been told that their voice does not matter.  When Harvey says, repeatedly, “You’ve got to give them hope,” it’s hope for all of us.

Shattered Politics #81: Charlie Wilson’s War (dir by Mike Nichols)


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I hate to say it but Charlie Wilson’s War did not do much for me.

I hate to say that because this 2007 film is fairly well-acted, well-directed, and well-written (by Aaron Sorkin, whose scripts usually get on my last nerve).  And it deals with an important subject.  Taking place in the 80s, the film details how a Texas congressman (Tom Hanks), working with a profane CIA agent (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and an eccentric socialite (Julia Roberts), managed to create popular and political support for giving weapons to the Afghan rebels who were fighting the Soviet invasion of their country.  By doing so, Wilson helps to weaken the Soviet Union but, when his efforts to provide humanitarian aide to Afghanistan are less successful, he also contributes to the subsequent rise of the Taliban.

It should have been a film that I would normally rave about but … I don’t know.

I watched Charlie Wilson’s War.  I laughed at some of Tom Hanks’s facial reactions.  (Hanks is playing a womanizer here who may, or may not, have been high on cocaine when he first learned about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and it’s obvious that Hanks really enjoyed getting to play someone who wasn’t a traditionally upright hero.)  As I watched, I again considered what a loss we suffered when the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman died.  And, as I watched Julia Roberts, I again wonder why, despite the fact that she’s from Georgia, it is apparently impossible for Julia to sound authentically Southern.

(Of course, I’m sure some would argue that Julia wasn’t playing Southern here.  She was playing a Texan.  Well, I’m a Texan and I’ve never heard anyone down here sound like that.  Tom Hanks, meanwhile, actually managed to come up with a decent accent.  Wisely, he underplayed the accent, whereas I don’t think that Julia has ever underplayed anything in her life.)

And, at the end of Charlie Wilson’s War, I knew I had watched a good film but it was also a film that left me feeling curious detached.  To be honest, I almost think the film would have been better if Hoffman’s CIA agent had been the main character, as opposed to Hanks’s congressman.  Hoffman’s character, after all, is the one who nearly lost his job over his belief that the Afghan rebels should be armed.  All Hanks really has to worry about is whether or not he’s going to be indicted for using cocaine in Vegas.

However, I do think that Charlie Wilson’s War does deserve praise for one very specific reason.  Excluding the films made by native filmmakers like Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson, Charlie Wilson’s War is one of the few films that I’ve ever seen that actually portrays anyone from Texas in a positive light.  Even more shockingly, it’s a positive portrayal of a Texas politician!

(I know it must have been tempting to change history and pretend that Charlie Wilson was originally elected from somewhere up north…)

But, overall, Charlie Wilson’s War didn’t do much for me.  But, if you’re into military history and all that, you might enjoy the film more than I did.

(Plus, all you boys will probably enjoy Emily Blunt’s scenes….)

At the very least, you can watch it for Philip Seymour Hoffman.

 

Film Review: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (dir by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)


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The Town That Dreaded Sundown is the latest classic horror remake.  In this case, it’s a remake of a 1976 docudrama about a real-life serial killer who, shortly after World War II, haunted the streets of my former hometown of Texarkana, Texas.  (You can read my review here.)  The original was a low-budget but effectively creepy little film that was shot on the streets of Texarkana and was full of authentic Texas atmosphere.  (It helped that it was directed by Charles B. Pierce, a Texarkana native, as opposed to some jerk from up north.)  What made the film all the more haunting was the fact that — in both the movie and in real life — the Phantom Killer was never captured.

So, how does the remake compare?

*Sigh*

(For the record, I’m not only signing but I’m also massively rolling my mismatched,  heterochromatic eyes.)

Listen, I will give this film credit for attempting to be something more than just your usual horror remake.  It actually does have a fairly clever premise.  Instead of retelling the original story, the remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown begins with a bunch of people in present-day Texarkana sitting around and watching the original film.  There’s even an eccentric character named Charles B. Pierce, Jr. (Denis O’Hare) who we are told is the son of the original director.  It’s a clever idea, one that wisely acknowledges the effectiveness of the original film while also commenting on the continuing mystery surrounding both the identity and the fate of the Phantom Killer.

And, when someone dressed like the original Phantom Killer starts to murder young couples in Texarkana, we — just like the characters — are left to wonder whether it’s the spirit of the Phantom or if it’s someone imitating the murders from the original film or whether it’s something else altogether.

That’s certainly the question faced by Jami (Addison Timlin), who survives being attacked by this new Phantom but then grows obsessed with trying to discover who he is.  Addison Timlin gives a really good performance here.  She’s likable and sympathetic, the perfect “final girl.”

In fact, the entire film is well-cast.  Anthony Anderson is a lot of fun as a cocky Texas Ranger while Gary Cole and Joshua Leonard do good work as members of local law enforcement.  Denis O’Hare, who I will always think of as being Russell on True Blood, brings a certain dissipated nobility to his role.  The victims are all sympathetic and the killer is creepy.

But, with all that in mind, I was disappointed with the remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown.  The reason the original film worked is because it was made by a member of the Texarkana community.  Charles B. Pierce knew the town and he understood why the Phantom Killer continued to haunt the citizens.  What his movie lacked in technical polish, it made up for in authenticity.

Though the remake features a narrator and duplicates the original’s obsession with letting us know whether each scene is taking place on the Texas-side or the Arkansas-side of the town, there’s still absolutely nothing authentic about it.  Whereas the original was filmed entirely on location, the remake was mostly filmed in Shreveport with only three days devoted to getting some location footage of downtown Texarkana.  As someone who has lived in both Shreveport and Texarkana, allow me to assure you that you can totally tell the difference.

The remake was produced by Ryan Murphy (of Glee and American Horror Story fame) and the film really does feel like a lesser season of American Horror Story.  It’s a film that has so little use for subtlety (just check out Edward Herrmann going totally overboard as a hypocritical preacher) that its creepy moments are totally smothered by all the heavy-handed cartoonishness that surrounds them.

Ultimately, the remake fails because it has no feel for or understanding for my homestate.  It was made by people who obviously know nothing about Texas or Arkansas beyond what they’ve seen in other movies produced, directed, and written by other northerners.

The 1976 Town That Dreaded Sundown worked because it was authentic.  Despite a few good ideas, the remake is just too generic to do justice to the original.

 

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: The Judge (dir by David Dobkin)


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Hey, everyone!

Remember how, earlier this year, a whole lot of people (like me) figured that The Judge would be a surefire Oscar contender and that Robert Duvall would probably receive an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor?

At the time, it made perfect sense.  After all, in the past, courtroom dramas have occasionally been popular with the Academy and, while we all knew that The Judge probably wouldn’t be a modern-day Anatomy of a Murder, there was still reason to hope that the film would turn out to be a watchable melodrama.  Add to that, the movie starred Robert Downey, Jr, an actor who is eventually going to win an Academy Award.  Perhaps most importantly, the title character was played by Robert Duvall, one of the best American actors of all time and an actor who, having recently turned 83, might not get many more opportunities to win one final career-honoring Oscar.

It only made sense to assume that The Judge would be a contender.

And then the trailer came out and those of us who know our film history were left a little bit confused.  It wasn’t that the trailer was necessarily bad.  It was just that it made the film seem rather old-fashioned.  It didn’t feel like a trailer for a film that was set to be released in 2014.  If anything, it almost felt like a parody, as if it was one of those fake, overly Hollywood trailers that appeared at the beginning of Tropic Thunder.  (The fact that the trailer featured Robert Downey, Jr. looking haunted only contributed to this feeling.)

And then the film opened and received reviews that were, at best, respectful and, at worst, scathing.  And I quickly revised my Oscar predictions.

Despite the bad reviews and my own suspicion that the film would not be very good, I still wanted to see The Judge.  I love melodrama.  I love courtroom dramas.  Even more importantly, the Roberts are two of my favorite actors.  Robert Downey, Jr. is always a lot of fun to watch.  Robert Duvall began his career playing Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird and, 52 years later, he’s still a great and uniquely American actor.

So, I saw The Judge this weekend and … well, it’s just a weird movie and not in a good way.  Instead, it’s one of those movies where almost everything seems to be so strangely miscalculated that you really can’t imagine how it could have possibly happened.  The film runs for nearly two and a half hours, despite only having enough plot for maybe an hour-long pilot for a potential mid-season replacement.  The script is amazingly overwritten, full of portentous speeches and clichéd characters.  It’s not enough that Robert Downey, Jr. has two brothers that he has to reconnect with while defending their father on a murder charge.  Instead, one of the brothers also has to be vaguely developmentally challenged so that he can deliver cute lines that are full of “accidental wisdom.”  It’s not enough that Downey reunites with his ex-high school girlfriend (Vera Farmiga, who deserves a better role) but she also has to have a daughter who might be his but could be someone else’s.  It’s not enough that Billy Bob Thornton’s prosecuting attorney is slick and cunning but he also has to be a self-righteous crusader who has rather silly personal reasons for wanting to defeat Downey in court.  It’s not enough that Downey and Duvall eventually end up yelling their personal grievances each other.  Instead, they have to do it while a tornado literally tears through the front yard, the type of directorial choice that is so obvious and heavy-handed that it indicates that director David Dobkin (best known for directing comedies like Wedding Crashers) was desperate to prove that he could be dramatic.

Much like the similarly bad Love and Other Drugs, The Judge is one of those films that tries so hard to be all things to all viewers that it’s ultimately just a huge mess.  Is it a murder mystery?  If so, you have to wonder why we learn so little about the case against Duvall’s judge.  Is it a romantic comedy about Robert Downey, Jr. returning to his small hometown and rediscovering what’s important in life?  If so, you have to wish that the town had a little bit more character beyond just being a standard Hollywood version of what middle America is like.  Is it a family drama?  Well, then it would be nice to know more about the family dynamic beyond the fact that Duvall was stern, Downey was rebellious, and Vincent D’Onofrio is stuck playing the brother who never got to leave home.  It’s a comedy with few laughs and a drama with few tears and ultimately, The Judge just does not work.

However, both of the Roberts give pretty good performances.  That’s what makes The Judge truly frustrating.  Duvall and Downey both do such good work but the material ultimately not only lets them down but lets the audiences down as well.

Oh well.

Duvall

Review: True Blood S5E12 “Save Yourself”


(BE WARNED!  SPOILERS AND PROFANITY AHEAD)

As I sit here writing this, it’s been about an hour since the 5th season finale of True Blood and I’m still trying to figure out how to start my review of the episode.  Foolishly, I’ve got the finale of that terrible Aaron Sorkin male egofest, The Newsroom, on for background noise and I’m hoping that it ends with the entire cast getting staked and exploding into red goo.  It’s only a distraction though from confronting the issue of what happened during the final five minutes of True Blood tonight.

Seriously — what the fuck was that?

Up until Bill drank what remained of Lilith’s blood, the season finale was playing out in a rather predictable fashion.  Don’t get me wrong.  It was exciting and there were plenty of good scenes but it all felt somewhat familiar and I was fairly sure that Eric and Sookie would confront Bill and Sookie would be able to talk some sense into him.  I knew there would be some sort of macabre twist at the end because it is True Blood and all.  I thought maybe Lafayette’s demon would pop up or maybe Roman would suddenly materialize out of thin air.  What I was not expecting was that Bill would dissolve into a red puddle just to then suddenly rise out of the pool of blood as some sort of male Lilith.  As Sookie so correctly put it, “Fuuuuuuuuuck….”

Though tonight’s finale was dominated by the fall of the Vampire Authority, there were a few other things going on.

First off, dumbass Andy is now a father as Maurella, the faerie he impregnated earlier this season, gave birth to four girls.  Somewhat inconveniently for Andy, she did so at the exact same time that he was trying to explain the situation to Holly.  Even more inconveniently, Maurella then promptly vanished, leaving Andy to raise the four babies.  To be honest, I wasn’t really a huge fan of this plotline when it was introduced last week and I’m still not.  That said, it could be interesting to see, in season 6, how all the show’s vampires react to having four new sources of faerie blood in Bon Temps.  Especially since it now appears that humans, vampires, and practically everyone else is going to be very much at war with each other.

Speaking of war, the war for control the wolfpack was finally resolved during tonight’s episode and, not surprisingly, it was won by Alcide who not only defeated J.D. but killed him as well.  A friend of mine e-mailed me during the show to say, “I know you ladies love this Alcide guy but the werewolves bore me shitless…” I have to say that my friend is right on both counts.  We do love Alcide and yes, the werewolf storylines are never as interesting as whatever’s going on with the vampires.

And, believe me, a lot was going on with the vampires tonight.

Last week ended with Russell, having just feasted on a faerie, now approaching the faerie night club while Sookie and friends vainly tried to hold him back.  Tonight’s episode began with Eric and Nora conveniently showing up and promptly saving the day by killing Russell.  That’s right — Russell exploded into red goo.  He’s dead and you know what?  I’m going to miss him.  Denis O’Hare brought such a wonderfully decadent sense of evil to the show and, to be honest, it was hard not to feel that he (and the character) deserved a better send off than just being killed during the pre-credits sequence.

I was probably not alone in hoping that the Rev. Newlin would be killed right alongside Russell but instead, the sleazy little toadsucker managed to scurry off and was missing for the rest of the episode.  This, however, did prove convenient for Sam and Luna because, with Newlin nowhere to be found, that allowed Luna to shift into Newlin’s form and then try to walk out of the Authority HQ with Emma (who was still in adorable wolf puppy form).  In the past, I’ve often felt that Michael McMillan has gone a bit overboard with his performance as the Rev. Newlin but he deserves all the credit in the world for his performance in tonight’s episode.  Luna-as-Newlin was a wonder to behold.

Unfortunately, right when Luna/Newlin is on the verge of escaping on wolf puppy, she’s grabbed by a very angry Rosalyn.  Apparently, the video tape of Newlin and Russell attacking that frat house has been released by the U.S. Government and Rosalyn drags Luna/Newlin downstairs to the media room so that she can do an interview and practice a little damage control.  However, during the interview, Luna/Newlin starts to have convulsions and shifts back into Luna form.  Before she apparently faints, Luna manages to tell the world that humans are being held captive at the Authority HQ.  I’m not really sure what was happening to Luna, if it was a lingering effect of her having been shot earlier this season or something even worse.  Fortunately, for Luna, she was saved from Rosalyn’s wrath by Sam who, having shifted into a fly earlier, flew into Rosalyn’s mouth and then apparently shifted back to human form inside of her, causing Rosalyn to explode into one big mess.

While this was going on, the Authority HQ was being attacked by Eric, Nora, Sookie, Tara, and Jason (who, oddly enough, is now having hallucinations where his dead, and surprisingly bigoted, parents talk to him).  After killing every vampire that they come across and freeing Jessica and Pam (which leads to a Pam/Tara makeout session), Eric and Sookie go to confront Bill, who has just finished staking the final member of the authority, Salome.

And that, of course, led us to this season’s final scene — Bill being reborn as some sort of blood God.

So, is Bill now truly evil?  Are Pam and Tara a couple?  Is Jason going crazy?  Is Luna dying?  Can a war between humans and vampires be prevented?  And who, in their right mind, would trust dumbass Andy with one baby, let alone four?

For answers to all of those questions, we’re going to have to wait until season 6…

Random Observations

  • Tonight’s unofficial scene count: 60.
  • I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed with tonight’s finale.  It’s not that it was a bad episode as much as it just really annoyed me that, after taking so long to reach this point, tonight’s finale still didn’t resolve or explain much of anything.  Nor did it even really attempt to.  That said, I’ll still return to watch season 6 so, obviously, tonight’s episode must have done something right.
  • Again, I was disappointed with how easily Russell was finally dispatched.  I also wish that Rosalyn and Salome hadn’t been killed off as they were both interesting characters and I think the series could have done more with them.
  • I also felt bad for Chelsea, the receptionist.  My sympathy is always with the receptionists.
  • Does Lafayette still have that demon inside of him?
  • Is Emma going to be in Wolf Puppy form forever?
  • I have mixed feelings about season 5 on True Blood.  It definitely was not a season to use to introduce someone to True Blood for the first time.  That said, I also think that this season featured a lot of really good moments and I’m looking forward to Season 6.
  • Hopefully, Season 6 will not feature any Iraqi fire demons.
  • I also had a lot of fun recapping each episode here on the Shattered Lens and thank you to everyone who read them!  It was fun!
  • By the way, The Newsroom did not end with Jeff Daniels getting a stake driven through his heart and that’s a shame.

Review: True Blood S5E11 “Sunset”


For better or worse, the fifth season of True Blood is rapidly drawing to a close.  Tonight’s episode (the last before next week’s season finale) featured a lot blood and it answered at least one big question that True Blood fans have been debating since about halfway through this season.

That question: does Bill actually believe all of this Lilith stuff or is he just pretending in order to manipulate the situation to his own advantage?  A lot of people — myself included — assumed the Bill had to have some sort of secret plan.  Bill, we all assumed, has always been too much of a politician to become a true believer in anything.

Well, it turns out that we were all wrong.  As tonight’s episode proved, Bill is indeed a true believer.  He has drunk from the proverbial kool-aid (or Lilith’s blood, as the case may be).  As Pam explains in one of tonight’s better moments, Bill and the rest of the Authority are nesting.  Essentially, it’s what happens when vampires spend too much time hanging out with each other.

Bill, in fact, has become such a true believer that he’s now having visions of a blood-drenched Lilith telling him that he is the one (and the only one) that she has chosen to lead vampires to their rightful future.  When another chancellor (the bald, black guy whose name I can never remember) confesses to having had the same vision, Bill responds with, “NO, I AM THE CHOSEN ONE!” and then chops off his head. Of course, even before Bill has finished cleaning his hands, Lilith is appearing to Salome and telling her that she’s the chosen one.

In a nice bit of irony, even as former skeptic Bill becomes even more devoted to Lilith, former true believer Nora has lost her faith in Lilith.  After Nora makes up with her “brother” Eric (and thank you, True Blood, for indulging us Alexander Skarsgard fans with that little scene), the two of them start to search for an oppurtunity to escape the bunker.  That opportunity presents itself when a human general shows up, demands to speak to Roman, and then reveals that he has video evidence of Russell and the Rev. Newlin slaughtering a frat house.  Eric responds by killing the general and then volunteering to go (with Nora, of course) to Washington D.C. and take care of the video.  The rightfully suspicious Bill orders a security detail to accompany Eric and Nora but, as soon as they’re out of the bunker, Eric kills both of the guards and he and Nora fly off into the night.  Needless to say, it was nice to see Eric acting like Eric again.

Bill also decided to send a security detail with Jessica after he ordered her to return to Bon Temps and turn Jason into a vampire.  However, Jessica only pretends to turn Jason which gives Jason a chance to kill Jessica’s two guards.  Seriously, the Authority might want to take a look at the training program for the members of their Security Detail because it doesn’t appear to be that effective.

Anyway, Jessica tells Jason what’s going on and then, after Jason runs back to the Faerie nightclub so he can warn Sookie, Jessica ends up hiding out with Pam and Tara.  At first, Pam isn’t all that happy to see Jessica show up because, after all, Pam’s already got her hands full trying to clean up after Tara’s murder of Sheriff Elijah.  Unfortunately, it turns out that Elijah was made by Chancellor Rosalyn and when Rosalyn shows up searching for him, she immediately accuses Tara of killing him.  Pam, who has been incorrectly informed by Jessica that Eric is still at the Authority HQ, confesses and, along with Jessica, is promptly arrested and taken to the bunker.

And you know who else is in the bunker?  Sam and Luna, who are still running around as field mice until they finally manage to track down Emma, who is still in her adorable wolf puppy form.  Unfortunately,  Sam and Luna shift back into human form when they find Emma and are then promptly found by Authority security guards who assume that they’re simply humans who have been imprisoned in order to serve as a food source.  When Sam hears one of the guards mention that it’s time for “Chancellor Compton’s breakfast,” he volunteers to be that meal and, as the episode comes to an end, he is being led out of the jail while Pam’s being led into it.

But that’s not all!

Tara might be falling in love with Pam, or at least that’s the way it seems to Jessica.

Alcide is staying with his dad and apparently spends most of his time chopping wood without a shirt on and that’s perfectly alright with me.  However, when a group of baby vamps show up and start attacking the trailer park, Alcide (and, eventually, his dad) fight them off.

Finally, Sookie is hiding out at the Faerie nightclub and, as part of her efforts to learn why she has been promised to the mysterious Warlow, she talks to the Elder, the oldest faerie in existence.  Unfortunately, the Elder turns out to be a bit of a flake whose mind has been permanently scrambled by the amount of times that she’s jumped through all the various realities.  The Elder assures Sookie that “A dark time is coming,” and it turns out that she’s right as, at the end of tonight’s episode, Russell and the Rev. Newlin manage to track down the fearie night club.  As the terrified faeries watch, Russell drains the Elder dry and then, fangs bared, lunges forward to attack…

This was a bloody episode and, to judge from the previews, next week’s finale is going to be even more bloody.  Will Bill come to his senses?  Will Warlow make an appearance?  And will someone please just go ahead and stake the Rev. Newlin?

Hopefully, we’ll find out next week.

Random Observations:

  1. This episode’s unofficial scene count: 44.
  2. This was an uneven episode but overall, I liked it.  There was a lot about this episode that felt like filler but, at the same time, the idea of the vampires having religious visions as a result of “nesting” is an intriguing one and I hope that it’s one that next week’s finale explores.
  3. Of all the episodes so far this season, this one was probably the most explicit in making the connection between organized religion and the Authority.  It wasn’t subtle but then again, True Blood rarely is.
  4. “Don’t play game with me, you little ginger bitch!”  If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard those exact same words…
  5. Pam is like the Lauren Bacall of vampires.

Review: True Blood S5E10 “Gone Gone Gone”


Before I talk about tonight’s episode of True Blood, I have to offer up an apology to you, my wonderful readers.  I’m running a bit behind on writing this review because, as a result of bad weather in my area of the world, I did not get to see tonight’s episode when it was first broadcast.  Instead, I had to wait for the second showing and now, I find myself rushing a bit as I attempt to write up my thoughts on “Gone Gone Gone”

My initial response to “Gone Gone Gone” was one of very genuine surprise.  As a character, Hoyt’s been pretty annoying as of late.  Over the course of this season, he’s managed to establish himself as such an irredeemable dumbass that even Andy has started to look better by comparison.  I mean, seriously — how much sympathy can you have for someone who nearly gets everyone killed just because he somehow managed to accidentally join up with a bunch of murderous rednecks?

And yet, the best moments of tonight’s episode all centered around Hoyt.  Having finally figured out that there’s nothing left for him in Bon Temps (which, incidentally, mirrors the fact that showrunner Alan Ball has probably figured out that there wasn’t really anything left to do with Hoyt as a character), Hoyt announced his intention to move to Alaska and get a job working with a drilling crew.  However, before he left, he had a final meeting with Jessica and Ryan and, in a scene that was surprisingly moving, Jessica erased Hoyt’s memory and finally granted him the peace that he’s spent this season so desperately searching for.

As powerful as that scene was, it was nothing compared to Hoyt’s final appearance in the episode (and, I assume, the series as a whole).  When Jason pulled the oblivious Hoyt over for speeding, Hoyt greeted him by asking if he was related to Sookie.  Despite the fact that Hoyt no longer remembered him or their friendship, Jason still got a chance to say goodbye to his former best friend before going back to his cruiser and sobbing as Hoyt drove off.  This scene was especially well-played by Ryan Kwanten, who has really come into his own as an actor this season.  More and more, it’s hard not to feel that Jason has become the show’s moral center and who would have guessed that when season 5 first started?

In other Jason news, he and Sookie discovered a parchment that was hidden under the floorboards in Sookie’s bedroom.  After several attempts to get the odd writing on the parchment translated, they took it to the faeries who informed them that the parchment was a contract that essentially promised the first-born Stackhouse of fairy origin to someone named Warlow (who, I’m assuming, is the same vampire who killed Sookie’s parents).

The rest of tonight’s episode was pretty much centered around the vampires.  Because of the “terrorist” bombings of the True Blood factories, vampires are starting to feed on human beings.  (Among the unfortunate human victims is the county coroner who, after he turns into a vampire, ends up attacking Sookie and, in a funny if implausible twist, gets staked by a pair of chopsticks.)  Elijah, the greasy-haired sheriff who showed up at the end of last week’s episode, made the mistake of attempting to bully both Tara and Pam.  Tara reacted by killing him and for that, I say, “Yay, Tara!” because Elijah was seriously not a character that I was looking forward to spending too much more time with.  

Meanwhile, Rev. Newlin and Russell are continuing their creepy little courtship and Newlin is still keeping wolf puppy Emma as his personal pet.  Fortunately, Sam and Luna shifted into two of the most adorable white mice that I’ve ever seen and, as tonight’s episode concluded, they had managed to infiltrate the Authority’s underground bunker.

Bill, meanwhile, appears to have truly gone over to the other side as, during tonight’s episode, he continued to drink Lillith’s blood and even “arranged” for Eric to have a vision of Lillith killing Godric, a vision that apparently convinced Eric to come over to the Authority’s side.  As I’ve stated before, I’m not a huge fan of born again Bill and I’m still holding on to my ever dwindling hope that all of this is just some elaborate scheme of his.  On the plus side, Eric didn’t seem all that sincere about his conversion.

If there is something that might keep Bill from totally going over to the “dark side,” it’s that Russell is obsessed with drinking faerie blood and being able to walk around in daylight.  Russell is so obsessed with this idea that he gets into a violent brawl with Salome when Salome says that it’s not Lillith’s plan for them to walk in the daylight.  Denis O’Hare has always been so wonderfully decadent and evil as Russell but tonight featured some of his best moments since the third season.

After a few episodes the bordered on almost being frantic with activity and intrigue, “Gone Gone Gone” was nice change of pace with scenes (and characters) being allowed to naturally develop and the show’s signature melodrama a bit muted to make room for reflection.  The result was a surprisingly moving episode that will be remembered as one of the best of season 5.

Random Thoughts and Observation:

  • Tonight’s unofficial scene count: 32
  • They killed off my favorite minor supporting character tonight.  Molly, the wonderfully sarcastic techie vampire, was staked and wow, didn’t Rev. Newlin just go so excited by it all?  I really hope somebody stakes Rev. Newlin before the end of this season.  He’s a putzhead.
  • How neat was it when Lafayette and Sam were both taking care of those rednecks in the bar?  I like it when Sam gets to be all manly and stuff.  Not as much as I like it when Alcide does it but, unfortunately, Alcide is apparently still hanging out in that trailer with his drunk dad.
  • There’s an art to acting confused and Ryan Kwanten has mastered it.  Seriously, his performance of Jason has been one of the season’s highlights.
  • Only two (count ’em) more episode left this season!

Review: True Blood S5E9 “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”


(SPOILERS)

Tonight’s episode of True Blood saw the apparent conclusion of two storylines.

First off, do you remember how, two weeks ago, I predicted that the Dragon would turn out to be Bud Dearborn (William Sanderson)? 

Well, I was kinda right.  The Dragon wasn’t Bud Dearborn.  Instead, the Dragon was Sweetie, the plump woman who Bud had taken up with since leaving his wife.  We really didn’t find out too much about the Dragon, beyond the fact that she’s a bit on the heavy-side and she enjoys square dancing and, quite frankly, I felt a little bit let down by the revelation that, after all the build up and mystery, the Dragon was just a broadly drawn stereotype.  It is true that, in the past, True Blood has effectively used stereotypical characters to make a bigger point but tonight, the revelation that Sweetie was the Dragon just fell flat.

I have mixed feelings about how the whole “Obamas” plotline was wrapped up during tonight’s episode.  At its best, the storyline managed to show how prejudice is often the product of people feeling as if they have no power over their lives, no hope for the future, and that they need a scapegoat to hold responsible for their own failures.  As well, I also appreciated that the show actually had them wearing Obama masks because, quite frankly, it’s the closest any show has come to poking fun at the President since the South Park election episode way back in 2008.  It has nothing to do with the Obama’s politics or my own beliefs.  I just happen to believe that all leaders, regardless of who they are or what they represent, should be frequently ridiculed. 

(Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom may get more critical acclaim but trust me — Aaron Sorkin will never have the guts to write an episode featuring a murderer in a Barack Obama mask.)

After a nice build up, however, it was hard not to be disappointed with how conventional and predictable the conclusion to the whole Obamas subplot eventually turned out to be.  Sookie, with the aid of helpful spirits that happened to be hanging out in her bedroom, figured out that Bud Dearborn might know who killed her parents.  She went to see him about it and ended up getting knocked out by a frying pan-weilding Sweetie.  

When she came to, Sookie discovered that she was tied up and trapped in a pig pin with Hoyt (and I have to say that I cringed a little at this because I grew up near enough farms that I have first hand experience with just how disgusting pigs really are).  Luckily, it turned out that Dearborn and Sweetie were the type of villains who can’t ever just kill anyone without delivering a lengthy monologue beforehand.  This, fortunately, gave Sam, Luna, Andy, and Jason time to show up at the barn and save the day.  It also gave Andy a chance to prove his worth as a lawman by gunning down Bud Dearborn.

Meanwhile, in this episode’s other major plotline, True Blood factories across the world are being bombed and both vampires and humans are in a panic.  Tara, at first, suggests to Pam that they should stock up on their supply of True Blood but Pam informs Tara that they will keep selling True Blood and, once they run out, they will discreetly feed on humans.  Meanwhile, the Rev. Newlin is condemning the bombings, despite the fact that the Authority is secretly responsible.

That’s right.  The new Salome-led Authority has figured out that the easiest way to provoke a war between humans and vampires is to cause a True Blood shortage.  When Eric asks Bill if he truly thinks this is a good idea, Bill replies that he’s not sure but that he does know that he saw Lillith  earlier.  When Eric and Molly, the cool techie vampire who is my favorite new character this season because she just seems so annoyed with everything in general, attempt to escape from Authority Headquarters, they are apparently betrayed by Bill.  So, is Bill now a true believer or does he have a plan of his own?  I’m betting on the latter.

Speaking of manipulative vampires, Russell and the Rev. Newlin paid a visit on the wolf pack where, after putting J.D. in his place, Russell proceeded to take Emma (in wolf puppy form) out of Martha’s hands and gave her to the Rev. Newlin.  While I’m always happy to see wolf puppy, this development made me go, “Agck!”  Seriously, Rev. Newlin’s perpetual smile is so creepy!

Along with the Obamas, another subplot concluded with tonight’s episode but it was a subplot that nobody ever really cared that much about so I’ll just say that Terry finally killed Patrick and the fire demon appeared to be satisfied.  So, good for Terry and Arlene.

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • I have to admit that tonight’s episode was not one of my favorites.  Part of the show’s appeal has always been its willingness to go to extremes but tonight’s episode felt over the top even for True Blood.
  • I also felt a bit cheated that the scene that popped up in all the previews for this episode — Bill apparently biting Sookie — turned out to just be an elaborate hallucination on Bill’s part.  It’s hard not to feel that the show didn’t play fair as far as that was concerned.
  • Tonight’s unofficial scene count: 45.
  • Performance-wise, this episode really belonged to Chris Bauer.  Andy may not be the smartest character on the show but Bauer brought some much needed depth to the role on tonight’s show.
  • Though she only had about a minute of screen time, Dale Dickey continues to make a strong impression in the role of Martha.
  • I would have to go back and rewatch the previous seasons to know for sure but some people online are complaining that Bud Dearborn’s villainy seemed to come out of nowhere.  Simply going by my own faulty memory (and please remember, I do not claim to be a True Blood expert, merely a fan of the show), I can see their point.  The episode seemed to suggest that Sweetie was the one who brought out his evil side but still…
  • William Sanderson, incidentally, is one of my favorite character actors.  He has a special talent for creating Southern eccentrics (which may be because he apparently is a Southern eccentric himself) and I have to admit that I was a little sad to see his character so casually killed off tonight.
  • “I ain’t gmail for dead bitches!”
  • “I may be like a week old but I ain’t an idiot.”
  • Only 3 more episode left in the season!