Here’s The Teaser for Season 3 of Westworld!


Tonight, right before the start of the Game of Thrones series finale, HBO aired the following teaser trailer for season 3 of Westworld and oh my God …. I can’t wait until 2020!

I know that some people hated season 2 of Westworld.  I thought it was great but, regardless, it looks like season 3 is going to be a lot different.  I guess that’s to be expected.  We’re out of the park now.  Welcome to Los Angeles.

Anyway, I can’t wait to see what season 3 has in store for us.  The teaser seems to promise either brilliance or disaster and there’s something exciting about not knowing which one we’re going to get.

We’ll find out next year!

Film Review: The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley (dir by Alex Gibney)


Oh my God, this was such a creepy documentary!

The Inventor tells the story of the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, who, at one point, Forbes named the wealthiest self-made female billionaire in America, and who is currently facing criminal charges of defrauding not only her investors but also a countless number of doctors and patients.  After dropping out of college, Elizabeth Holmes founded Theranos, a Silicon Valley-based company that claimed it had devised a method that would revolutionize how blood was tested and which would lead to people leading longer and healthier lives.  (“No one will have to say an early goodbye,” as Elizabeth put it.)  It all had to do with a blood-testing device called the Edison, a device that Holmes designed, patented, and made a fortune by licensing.  That the Edison didn’t actually do what Holmes claimed that it did put lives at risk and ultimately led to her downfall.

So, what makes The Inventor such a creepy documentary?  A lot of it has to do with the fact that Elizabeth Holmes herself comes across as being so creepy.  With her endless supply of black turtlenecks and her rather monotonous (not to mention notably deep) voice, she comes across as being a cult leader in the making.  When we see archival footage of her being interviewed or of her giving a speech to her worshipful employees, she has the type of demented gleam in her eye that one would normally associate with a particularly enthusiastic Bond villain.  When her former employees talk about her, they not only mention her drive and her dedication but they also mention the fact that she rarely blinked.  In fact, she so rarely blinked that other people also felt as if they shouldn’t blink in her presence.  Theranos was a company full of people with thousand-yard stares.

Despite the fact that, as many people point out, Elizabeth Holmes had no experience in the medical field and that the majority of her lies were easily exposed, she still had little trouble getting wealthy and powerful men to invest in her company.  Among those who invested in Theranos and sat on its board of directors: two former secretaries of state, one former and one future secretary of defense, and several prominent businessmen.  Though the documentary doesn’t explore this angle as perhaps it should have, it’s interesting to note that the majority of Holmes’s backers and defenders were 1) elderly and 2) male.  The one female investor that Holmes tried to bring in easily saw through Holmes’s lies.  On the other hand, former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz became enthusiastic backers of Holmes and her “vision.”  Meanwhile, attorney David Boies — who was best-known for being Al Gore’s personal attorney and who later was hired to head up Harvey Weinstein’s defense team — is on hand to intimidate any Theranos employees who might be on the verge of turning into a whistleblower.  Elizabeth Holmes may currently be an indicted pariah but, before that, she spent many years as a proud member of the American establishment.

In fact, several other members of the Establishment makes cameo appearances in The Inventor.  At one point, we see Holmes being interviewed by Bill Clinton.  At another point, Joe Biden stops by Theranos and praises the company.  We see pictures of Elizabeth Holmes in the Oval Office, visiting with Barack Obama.  Holmes is put on the covers of magazines.  Numerous publications declare her to be the next Steve Jobs.  She’s held up as the future of not just blood testing but also the future of business.  It’s only after one reporter has the courage to actually investigate her claims and two employees risk their futures to tell the truth about what they saw at Theranos that Elizabeth Holmes is revealed to be a fabulist and a con artist.  Was she ever sincere in her desire to make the world a better place or was that just another part of her carefully constructed persona?  The Inventor is full of people still struggling to answer that question for themselves.

The Inventor was directed by Alex Gibney.  Gibney previous directed the Going Clear, an expose of Scientology.  Watching The Inventor, it’s hard not to make comparisons between Scientology and the cults of Silicon Valley.  Watching Elizabeth Holmes give a speech to her employees is like watching that infamous video of Tom Cruise pay homage to L. Ron Hubbard.  And just as Scientology takes advantage of those with a need to believe in something bigger than them, Elizabeth Holmes did the same thing.  Everyone wanted the promises of Homes, Theranos, and the Edison machine to be true.  They wanted it to be true so much that they became blind to the reality that was right in front of them.

The Inventor is a fascinating documentary about power, wealth, fraud, and the prison of belief.  It can currently be seen on HBO.

 

 

Film Review: Leaving Neverland (dir by Dan Reed)


“Is it okay to still listen to the music of Michael Jackson?”

Over the past few days, I’ve seen many different variations of that headline.  The Guardian asked, “Can We Still Listen To Michael Jackson?” From Slate: “Will Michael Jackson songs still play at weddings?  We asked three DJs.”  And, of course, Entertainment Weekly chimed in with: “Can we still listen to Michael Jackson’s music after HBO doc Leaving Neverland?” As far as I know, the Guardian has yet to accuse Entertainment Weekly of headline plagiarism.  That’s how seriously this question is being considered.

Fortunately, for me, it’s not a question that I have to answer.  Michael Jackson’s music has never been an important part of my life.  All of the songs and albums that people rave about — Thriller, Bad, that song about the rat — were all pretty much before my time.  Usually, whenever I have heard any of those so-called classics, my usual reaction has been that 1) they’re ludicrously overproduced and 2) they tend to drag on forever.  (Seriously, there’s no reason to ask Annie if she’s okay that many times.)  Some people grew up with the idea of Michael Jackson being the King of Pop and a musical innovator.  I grew up with the idea of Michael Jackson being a rather frightening eccentric who didn’t appear to have a nose and who wrote songs about how unfair it was that the world wouldn’t accept that he just really, really enjoyed the company of children.  Since neither Jackson nor his music have ever been an important part of my life, it’s rather easy for me to shrug and say, “Sure, let us never hear his music again.”

Still, there are many people debating the question of whether or not it’s time to cancel the legacy of Michael Jackson.  That’s because of Leaving Neverland, a 4-hour documentary that premiered at Sundance and which recently aired on HBO.  Leaving Neverland deals with two men — choreographer Wade Robson and former actor Jimmy Safechuck — who claim that they were both sexually abused by Michael Jackson as children.  Interviewed separately, both Robson and Safechuck tell nearly identical stories about first meeting Jackson, being invited into the sanctuary of Jackson’s Neverland, and eventually being brainwashed, abused, and eventually abandoned by Jackson.  It’s not just that Robson and Safechuck both separately tell the same story.  It’s also that the details will be familiar to anyone who has ever been abused.  The grooming.  The manipulation.  The thrill of sharing a secret eventually giving way to the guilt of feeling that you’re somehow at fault.   And, of course, the combination of fear and denial that both Robson and Safechuck say initially caused them to lie and deny having been abused by Jackson.  Both men talk about how Jackson used their own broken families to control them, suggesting that only he understood what they were going through and that they were only truly safe when they were with him.  Jimmy Safechuck, in particular, speaks in the haunted manner and nervous cadences of a survivor.  Their stories are frequently harrowing and, watching the documentary, one can understand why counselors were on hand for the Sundance showing.

That said, those who have complained that Leaving Neverland is a very one-sided affair do have a point.  (To see what many of Michael Jackson’s supporters have to say about the men and their stories, check out #mjinnocent on twitter.Leaving Neverland is very much a product of our current cancel culture.  From the start it clearly chooses a side and, for four hours, it focuses only on that side.  Far more attention is paid to the civil suit that Jackson settled out of court than the criminal trial in which Jackson was acquitted.  Much has been made on twitter about inconsistencies in Safechuck and Robson’s stories.  Yet, are those inconsistencies the result of an intentional attempt to subvert the truth or are they the result of the trauma that the two men suffered at the hands of their abuser?  When I checked in on twitter during the documentary’s airing, it was fascinating to watch as the two camps debated who should be cancelled, Michael Jackson for being accused of pedophilia or Wade Robson for saying that Jackson’s hair felt like a brillo pad.

Ultimately, Leaving Neverland is a portrait of the power of fame.  One imagines that if a stranger had approached the mothers of Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck and said that he wanted to spend a weekend sleeping in the same bed as their sons, the mothers would have a very different response than they did when Michael Jackson did essentially just that.  For all the red flags to be found in Jackson’s public behavior, he was often dismissed as just being an eccentric artist, a harmless Peter Pan-like figure.  (You have to wonder if there was no one in his camp who was willing to say, “Y’know, Michael, maybe you should stop being photographed with little boys for a while.”)  One of the more interesting things about the documentary is to see how quickly Jackson recovered from the 1993 abuse allegations.  The same reporters who very gravely report the allegations about Jackson in ’93 are later seen glibly referring to Jackson as being the “king of pop,” just a few years later.

Leaving Neverland is a powerful documentary but I doubt it will change anyone’s mind.  That’s one of the dangers that comes from picking a side as deliberately and unapologetically as this documentary does.  Your argument may be great but only those who agree with you are going to listen.  Those who support Jackson will see it as being a hit piece.  Those who believe Jackson was guilty will see the documentary as being validation.  Ultimately, whether or not it’s still okay to listen to Michael Jackson’s music is a decision that only you can make for yourself.

Trailer: Game of Thrones Season 8


Got 8 Night King

Well, we are now at the home stretch of what has been 9 or so years following the events of a little place called the Seven Kingdoms. It’s been a very long wait since the Season 7 ended in the summer of 2017.

When it was announced that there would be over a year of waiting before the final season of Game of Thrones would air, there was a lot of grumbling and bemoaning the fact that such a wait was just too long. Especially since the ending of Season 7 saw the final pieces on the chessboard finally begin to move towards a final showdown between all the different factions.

On one side we have the consummation of the Alliance of House Targaryen and House Stark. On another side we have Queen Cersei in King’s Landing still scheming to try and get the upper hand on all comers. Yet, all must contend with the threat that has just passed through a broken Wall and heading south as the Night King finally invades the Seven Kingdoms.

The series began in 2010 with the tag line, ‘Winter Is Coming,” and Season 7’s finale made a great show of it as winter has even come as far south as King’s Landing. It looks like Season 8 will show everyone that Winter has arrived and fans cannot wait to get on that ride come hell or high water.

Season 8 of Game of Thrones arrives worldwide on April 14, 2019.

Here’s That Extremely Clever Game Of Thrones Commercial, the one that was disguised as a Bud Light Commercial!


Okay, I nearly missed this commercial because I don’t like beer.  In fact, if Leonard hadn’t said something on twitter, I totally would have missed it.  That would have been a shame because this might be the best commercial of this year’s Super Bowl.

Basically, it starts out like a Bud Light commercial.  But then suddenly …. well, just watch it:

Game of Thrones will be returning to HBO soon.  The Bud Knight, meanwhile, appears to be gone forever….

Here’s That Teaser for Season 8 of Game of Thrones!


Tonight, before the premier of the 3rd season of True Detective, HBO aired the teaser for eighth and final season of Game of Thrones.

Now, I’m not even going to try to pretend like I have some sort of special insight into what this teaser means.  To be honest, I always struggle a bit when it comes to keeping up with who is plotting against who on Game of Thrones.  Whenever I try to speculate about what’s happening on the show, I’m always proven wrong.  Back during the first season, I even used to get Robb Stark confused with Jon Snow.  Just try living that down….

Here’s what I will say.  The trailer has a lot of atmosphere and it’s all appropriately ominous.  If anyone’s still alive by the end of the show, I’ll be surprised.  And, really, that’s the way it should be.  The teaser takes place in a crypt and features a lot of death statues so even the teaser seems to be warning us that nobody’s going to get out of this season untouched.

Here’s the teaser:

In the past, HBO show have occasionally struggled during their final seasons.  I’m never going to get over what happened to True Blood during its final season.  Hopefully, Game of Thrones will be the exception to that rule.

As always, we’ll see what happens!

Film Review: Fahrenheit 451 (dir by Ramin Bahrani)


(Before reading this review, make sure that you’ve read my review of Ray Bradbury’s novel!)

(And then make you sure that you’ve read my review of the 1966 Truffaut film!)

The latest HBO original film, Fahrenheit 451, is bad.

For all the talent involved, for all the hype, and for all the hope that many of us had for it, it is extremely bad.  It sets up its targets and then fires at them with all the aim and success of a myopic archer.  By almost any standard, it’s a misfire of almost Vinyl proportions.

The film, of course, is based on Ray Bradbury’s novel about a future dystopia where the population is kept in line through pharmaceuticals and mind-numbing television and where firemen burn books.  Michael B. Jordan plays Montag, the fireman who develops doubts.  Michael Shannon plays Beatty, Montag’s boss. Sofia Boutella is Clarisse, who inspires Montag to question why.  And no one plays Montag’s wife because that character was apparently cut from the film.

From the minute this version starts, it’s obvious that this film was inspired less by Bradbury and more by Black Mirror, Blade Runner, and the Purge franchise.  The entire world is defined by neon and dark shadows.  Gone is Bradbury’s suggestion that a world without books would be a bland one.  Instead, a world without books is now one that looks like every single recent sci-fi film.  People may have stopped reading but apparently, they’re still watching old Ridley Scott movies.

Gone too is the idea of Montag as a middle-aged man struggling with an existential crisis.  Now, he’s Michael B. Jordan, who comes across as if he’s never had a moment of doubt in his entire life.  He’s less Montag and more Creed in an authoritarian future.  Also gone is the weary relationship with Captain Beatty.  Now, Beatty is almost a father figure to Montag.  Of course, Montag’s real father died mysteriously years ago.  Nothing indicates a lazy screenwriter quicker than a character with daddy issues.

As I mentioned earlier, in this version, Montag is not married.  Instead, he lives a bachelor lifestyle in a glitzy apartment and he spends most of his time asking questions to the future’s version of Alexa, Yuxie.  (“Yuxie, was Benjamin Franklin the first fireman?”)  Of course, in the novel, Montag’s wife stood in for every citizen who never questioned why books were being burned.  It was Montag’s dissatisfaction with his bland home life that led to him getting to know Clarisse and eventually questioning his job as a fireman.  Now, Montag starts to doubt after a random rebel says that Benjamin Franklin didn’t support burning books.  But why, if Montag has spent a lifetime refusing to question anything, would some rando rebel suddenly make him reconsider?

The Book People are still around but now they’re kind of a pain.  I love books but I wouldn’t want to hang out with any of them.  They’re a humorless group of people who live in a farm and apparently being a book person means you can’t wash your hair or something because seriously, everyone looked a bit grimy.  I mean, it’s important to rebel again authoritarianism but that doesn’t meant you can’t look good while doing it.  Each Book Person has memorized a book and you have to wonder how they decide who gets to memorize which book.  We’re told that one Book Person has memorized Chairman Mao but if you’re battling censorship, would you really want to hang out with a person who has devoted her life to the guy behind the Cultural Revolution?  Another Book Person claims to have memorized all of Proust but I think he’s a damn liar.  I mean, how is anyone going to check that?  I’m guessing he probably only memorized the first 20 pages or so of Swann’s Way.  What I want to know is who got to memorize the Twilight books?

This version of Fahrenheit 451 is a bit of a mess.  I’m not one to demand that literary adaptations stick exactly to their source material.  (For instance, the film version of The Godfather was greatly improved by ignoring 60% of what happened in Mario Puzo’s novel.  For that matter, we can all be thankful that It didn’t end with the Losers Club solidifying their bond by having group sex with Beverly.)  But, in this case, the changes don’t improve on the original.  Instead, they just turn Fahrenheit 451 into yet another shadowy dystopian film.

When it comes to Fahrenheit 451, my advice is just to read the book.