Monday, August 21, 2017

That Was Cold

"Beyond The Wall," was a very enjoyable episode of Game Of Thrones, though some of the plot points may not satisfy fans.

Of course, it starts out with the cockamamie plot carryover from last week.  A group of guys are going beyond the Wall to capture a wight so they can bring it back to convince everyone in King's Landing that the war with the Night King is what counts.  This is too dangerous a task for something that barely seems worth it.

But off they go. And we start with Jon, Jorah, Tormund, the Hound, Gendry, Thoros and Beric on their journey. (As always, for no good reason, they're men without hats.)  I thought it might be a bit dull--the action beyond the Wall has never been my favorite stuff (I prefer all the smart talk down south), but the dialogue was tremendously entertaining, often quite funny.  It helped that we had different combinations of people who had never spoken to each other before.

Now we cut to Winterfell, where Arya confronts Sansa about the message she sent asking her family to bend the knee to Joffrey.  This is another tricky plot issue.  It's necessary for Arya and Sansa to have problems, I guess, but do we really buy this? They haven 't seen each other for years, and now they're at each others' throats.  However, the writing is well done and the two make the best arguments they can to keep the fight going.  Sansa was a frightened young girl, but Arya doesn't think she'd betray her family under any circumstance (and, she asks, would Lyanna Mormont?).  And Sansa can't shake it off--if the message gets out, it could hurt her standing with the Northern families, whose loyalty is already shaky. (And she so wants to be queen.) In any case, it looks like Littlefinger's plan to split them apart is working.

At Dragonstone, Dany and Tyrion have a nice talk. At first, she seems to be complimenting him, even apologizing when she tangentially notes he's short. (That may be why she likes him.  He's the only one in Westeros she can look down on.)  But when he starts questioning how she acts--including his recent burning of the Tarlys--she turns on him, questioning his loyalty and ability.  Is the show setting her up as a potential tyrant.  Or even a termagant?

Beyond the Wall, the doughty band run into a giant zombie bear. (I'm not entirely clear on how it works, but I guess every living thing that dies now becomes part of the army of the dead?  Or just those touched by someone who can turn them?)  The blizzard is so thick you can't really tell who's fighting.  A few seem to be taken out, but if so I assume they're red shirts.

We also get to see the Brotherhood guys turn on their fire swords. (Let's call them what they really are--lightsabers.)  Cool.  Thoros gets into the fight and is bit by the bear.  Is he a goner?

Back at Winterfell, Littlefinger talks to Sansa, who now seems willing to listen (though it's a pretty fast turnaround for her).  He creates doubt in her mind about Arya and Brienne and Jon and whomever.  I'm not clear, actually, on what his plan is, but we know he's got something up his sleeve.  Just where does he want things to end up?

Now we're back in the North.  The North North.  Thoros is still around, but he's been better.  They run into a pack of wights--lucky it's a small group, and not thousands.  So here's where they'll pick up one of them in their pointless plan.  They attack, and when Jon swings his Valyrian sword at one of them, the whole gang (except one lucky guy) fall to pieces.  I thought they were zombies, but isn't this what vampires do?

So they pack up the one living-dead wight, ready to take him back.  But no mission is that easy.  Now they realize those thousands they thought they avoided are coming.  So they have Gendry run back to send a raven to Daenerys.

Let me get this straight.  They're worried about imminent death, and their plan is to have a guy run back to the Wall and tell the maester to send a message to Dany explaining that they've captured a wight but are surrounded by the dead army?  Then, after the raven gets there, Dany will quickly read it and...what?  Come save them?  Even assuming she won't be too late by several days, the whole point of their mission is to pick up a wight to prove to her she should help them.  Now a raven message will convince her to put herself and her dragons in danger to save them?

They're soon on a rock, surrounded by thousands of wights, who for some reason hold off. (Don't tell me the ice broke so there's water in some places--why would that stop them?  Last time we saw them they were jumping off cliffs to get into the fight).  The wight the good guys have got tied up is snarling like it's an episode of The Walking Dead. Thoros finally dies, so that's a major death.  No more priest around to save Beric.

At Wintefell, Sansa gets a message to attend the big powwow at King's Landing.  She decides to send Brienne instead.  Brienne protests, not for her safety, but Sansa's.  The Lady can't trust Littlefinger, and needs someone to look out for her.  I don't get at all what Sansa is doing.  Not personally going to King's Landing I understand, but why is she worried about Brienne? Even if Sansa wants to deal with Arya in some way, how is Brienne--sworn to protect them both, but easy to order around--a hindrance? (Though it'll be nice too see a reunion of Brienne and Jaime.)

At Dragonstone, Dany, against Tyrion's advice, is flying away.  At first I thought she was going to the conference, but no, she's going beyond the Wall. (Maybe she got a taste for battle after destroying the Lannister forces.)

Speaking of beyond the Wall, the group is still surrounded, with the Night King watching. (Is this his entire army, or just a branch where he happened to be?)  The guys throw some rocks at the zombies.  This is enough to finally get them to attack. It must be no fun the hang out with Jon, since he's always getting involved in battles that seem hopeless.

The small band falls back (to where?) and fights as well as they can, but they're overwhelmed.  For a while it looks like Tormund is a goner, but they pull him back. (He earlier announced Brienne was his lady love, so he could die now if they choose.) I thought one of the guys died, but by the end I wasn't sure.

Then, sure enough, comes Dany and her dragons. She wipes out most of the wights pretty easily.  She calls on the guys to climb aboard, though Jon seems too busy fighting.  (Or is he just afraid of appearing like a wimp.) Now the Night King, quite calmly, throws a spear at one of the secondary dragons and brings him down.  It's that simple?  I know he's the Night King, but I didn't know he was ready for dragons.  I should add a dragon death is a big deal--certainly bigger than, say, the death of Thoros.  In fact, very few characters rate as high as a dragon.

Most of the band climb on Drogon (is it that easy to fly on a dragon--certainly no one has any experience flying on a dragon, or flying at all) and as the Night King seems to be winding up, Jon tells Dany to go without him.  They fly away and the spear narrowly misses them.  Dany can see Jon dragged into the frozen water by some wights.

Unlike a couple weeks ago, they're not going to leave us hanging.  Jon gets out of the water, but is still surrounded by thousands of zombies.  Then Uncle Benjen, whom he hasn't seen since the start of the show, comes riding in, warding off the wights and giving Jon his horse to ride to the gate.  Benjen has saved the day like this before, but as Jon rides away, it looks like it was Benjen's last round-up.

Back on the safe side of the Wall, the Hound carries the wight back to their ship and says goodbye to Tormund and Beric.  So let me get this straight.  After Dany flies over the wall, seeing the dead army and fighting them, there'll still going through with their plan to bring back one measly zombie.  Who will this impress?  Certainly Dany, with her armies and dragons, has seen all she needs to see.

Meanwhile, Dany waits at the Wall. I thought she was mourning her dragon, but actually she's hoping against hope Jon will return.  The two seem pretty lovey-dovey--will that work, now that we know they're related?

Sure enough, Jon returns, and Davos (who stayed back--smart man) helps Jon get on the ship, and Dany watches over him. She also sees he did get stabbed in the heart.

At Winterfell, Sansa snoops around in Arya's room.  (For this she sent away Brienne?  Why not tell Brienne to go fight with Arya in the courtyard to get them both out of the way?)  She's presumably looking for the message, so she can burn it or something. Instead, she finds...faces. Wasn't expecting that. Arya has been watching and the two exchange some bitter words.  Arya picks up her dagger and explains she could take Sansa's face and live her life if she chose.  No one could possibly think Arya is so far gone she'd do that, and sure enough, she offers Sansa the hilt and then walks out.

Jon wakes up on the ship and sees Dany. Not a bad face to see. (He even calls her "Dany," which no one does any more except people like me who get tired of spelling Daenerys.) He apologizes to her for what happened.  She explains her dragons are like her children, but no need to apologize.  She had to see what was going on and now pledges to fight with him to destroy this army.  And he bends the knee.  Could have saved a lot of trouble if he'd done that earlier, perhaps.

One final scene.  The army of the dead pull the dragon left behind out of the freezing water.  The Night King comes over and wakes him up.  So now the Night King has his own zombie dragon.  Didn't quite see that coming, but it sure changes the equations. Was that the plan all along?

Hard to believe, but only one more episode left this season. It went way too fast.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Joseph Levitch

Sooner or later, all the greats have to go.  Earlier this year, it was Chuck Berry.  And now Jerry Lewis is gone.

He was a mainstay in comedy for decades, and maybe the last great clown in film.  There have been other funny people since, but no one who created such a deathless character.

He had one of the most meteoric rises in show business history.  He was born in a trunk and, as a teenager, had an act where he pantomimed to records.  He was always good at making funny faces.  He was working at a club in Atlantic City when the singer dropped out of the program.  A friend, Dean Martin, was called in with Jerry promising they had a dynamite double act.

On the first show, they just did their individual acts and the owner told them they better make with the funny of they'd be through.  They got together and figured out a few basic bits and found they had a natural rhythm that left the audience in stitches.  Word got around and before the week was out, there were lines round the block and a phenomenon had been born.

Martin and Lewis conquered every aspect of show biz--night clubs, records, TV, movies.  And you have to realize it started when Lewis was 20.  He was essentially a superstar his entire adult life.  People who saw them at the time say they never topped their live act.  Occasionally, they'd do bits of their act on TV, and you can get a glimpse of what these people mean, though it's not quite the same as being there, I'm sure.

The team lasted from 1946 to 1956.  Martin was getting tired of Lewis getting all the credit.  Jerry, by all accounts (mostly his) loved Dean, but also seemed to be an egomaniac who needed the limelight.  In any case, they split up and both remained huge stars.

Jerry loved filmmaking and started writing and directing some of his own features.  (While he and Dean were together, Jerry had made a lot of amateur movies featuring his Hollywood friends.)  He put out two films a year, and at least up until the mid-60s remained a top movie star.

People often mock Lewis's popularity in Europe, especially France, where they awarded him the Legion d'Honneur, their highest order of merit.. How could they take seriously this slapstick clown who usually played some version of an idiot child?  But the people who find him a witless farceur are being unfair.

Yes, Lewis had problems with his comic persona.  He could have used an editor.  He didn't know that enough was enough, and had questionable taste, not to mention was weak on plot.  But then, it's rare that a great clown operates at top level for long periods.  If we only get flashes of greatness, that can be enough.

And the truth is he created a persona that was original and, and his best, quite funny.  He was also a surprisingly creative director. And I don't mean because he did things like create video-assist.  I mean if you look at the films he directed like The Bellboy,  The Ladies Man, The Errand Boy, The Nutty Professor and The Patsy, you'll see the work of someone with a style and an eye unlike any other.

By the late 60s, Lewis was a star on the wane.  It's hard playing a child when you hit your 40s.  He also had problems with painkillers, which he started taking after he hurt himself in a fall.  (I suppose I should mention he devoted himself to fighting muscular dystrophy--this is in the headlines of many Jerry Lewis obits, but if he's remembered in the future, it'll be for his comedy.)

In later years, he starred in a couple comeback films, and played supporting roles--often in straight drama--that showed he could act.  But it was the comic persona he created--wild, childlike, almost unhinged--that made him great.  There's a line of classic movie clowns that goes from Chaplin to Keaton to Field to Groucho to Jerry Lewis.  Time will sort of his standing, but for now we can say he was a phenomenon the likes of which we may never see again.

PS  I once saw him live, performing at the Devil in Damn Yankees.  The character has his big Vaudeville number in the second act.  He stopped it to tell some jokes, and cracked up at a certain point.  I had a friend in the show and I asked her if he cracked up at that moment every night.  Yep, she said.

He was an old school show biz guy who'd do whatever necessary to get his effect.  He once told Sammy Davis Jr. to try to make it look hard to jump up on the piano. If it looks too easy, the audience doesn't appreciate it.  I'm not putting him down for this.  He came up the hard way, when you had to do whatever you could to get the audience's attention.  And that he certainly did.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Halt Continues

Season four of Halt And Catch Fire starts tonight. It's odd there's a season four--or that there was a season three or two. The show has never been particularly popular, or even that critically admired.  And the ratings have gone down each season.  I guess someone at AMC likes it.

It's the story of the computer revolution in the 1980s, though each season skips ahead so by the end of season three we were into the 1990s.  It's also changed locations, moving from Dallas to Silicon Valley.

What has stayed the same is the subject, and the leads: Lee Pace, Scott McNairy, MacKenzie Davis, Kerry Bishe and Toby Huss.  The show is a combination of computer wizardry and high emotions.  The characters are fictional, so they respond to the latest developments, sometime seeing what the future holds--easy enough to do when a show is set in the past, but useful for dramatic purposes. (Because they're fictional characters, though they can innovate, but not create something specific we've heard of.)

This is guaranteed to be the last season.  Looks like the World Wide Web is going to be a big thing.  Might as well stop there. Once blogs start everything falls apart.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Do You Hear What I Hear?

I don't even know why I'm writing this, because at this point, it doesn't seem like people are listening, and will misunderstand whoever doesn't follow the official line.  But it's weird how some people who were first angry at President Trump for not condemning white supremacists with sufficient vigor are now claiming he actually supports them.

I could give many examples, because they keep popping up even in places where there's no reason to discuss politics.  For instance, in this discussion of the film Detroit at Deadline Hollywood:

It is too bad the film hasn't succeeded enough to become part of the conversation on race in this country, particularly after the events in Charlottesville, and President Trump's shocking support for white supremacists.

Is this conventional wisdom already?  The controversial claims he made were that those opposing the marchers started some of the violence, and that some of the marchers weren't white supremacists, but were there because they believed the statue of Robert E. Lee shouldn't be torn down (which Trump considered a defensible position, though he claimed it was a local decision when asked if he agreed).

But whenever he mentioned white supremacists or neo-Nazis, he explicitly condemned them.  Here's an example of the (intentional?) miscomprehension in real time.

Trump: You're changing history. You're changing culture and you had people, and I'm not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists because they should be condemned, totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people, but you also had troublemakers and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. You got a lot of bad people in the other group, too.

Reporter: Who was treated unfairly? Sir, I'm sorry I don't understand what you were saying. You were saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly? I just don't understand what you were saying.
Trump: No. No. There were people in that rally — and I looked the night before. If you look, there were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I'm sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day it looked like they had some rough, bad people: neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest — and very legally protest, because you know- I don't know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn't have a permit. So, I only tell you this. There are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country, a horrible moment. But there are two sides to the country. Does anybody have a final- does anybody- you have an infrastructure question.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Guilding The Silly

The Writers Guild has officially condemned President Trump.  Why?  Because he hasn't officially condemned white nationalists their satisfaction (according to their interpretation of his statements).

The Guild is not a political group and, even though its members appear to be mostly Democrats, it shouldn't be taking sides in political issues not directly related to their profession.  If the individual members wish to make statements, they can.  And if they wish to write scripts that support these views, they can try that to.

But as an organization, taking this stand is little more than cheap moral grandstanding.  It's unfortunate that they believe they're doing something noble and brave, rather than cowardly. (Not that I'm saying they should take political stances that would be truly controversial, but at least that would require some guts.)

Now that they've spoken, there will be consequences.  Not any real life consequences (except getting patted on the back by each other), or they wouldn't have done it--I mean logical consequences.  From now on, we'll have to assume when they don't take a stance that they agree with whatever Trump does.

P.S.  In their rather pompous letter, they note Dante has a place in the Inferno for people who don't take sides.

1)  I don't think they want to take Dante seriously as a moral arbiter.  If they read The Divine Comedy, they'd find that very few people in Hollywood are going to escape the Inferno.

2)  The whole idea of forcing people to take a side is bullying.  On a lot of issues--most, actually--you're allowed to reserve opinion, or at least say it isn't worth making a big stink about.

3)  This is the second time this week I heard someone refer to Dante having a place in hell for people who don't take sides. (The other reference was from a conservative.) Dante did have a place for them, but it's just as you enter--it's actually ante-Hell.  The punishments are no picnic, but, if you follow the structure, this is the lightest of sins.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


The King died forty years ago. Can you believe it?  Elvis Presley, maybe still the biggest rock star ever, has been gone for two generations.

He was only 42 when his body gave out, but he'd lived several lifetimes by that point.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Bully For You, Children For Me

I've been reading up on two playwrights, Oscar Wilde and Eugene O'Neill.  In most ways they couldn't have been more different, but they had one similarity--both were children of fairly well-known fathers.

Actually, both Wilde's parents were famous in their day.  Sir William Wilde was a surgeon, but also a notable archaeologist and author.  Jane Wilde was a poet and political activist.

James O'Neill was a popular actor, best known in his time for his many performances of The Count Of Monte Cristo

It can be tough for children to grow up in the shadow of eminent parents.  But both Oscar and Eugene far outstripped them, so much so that today William and Jane and James are almost solely known as the parents of their famed children

William Wilde died before his son truly started his literary career, while Jane Wilde lived long enough to see her son's reputation fall into disrepute.  I wonder how they'd feel if they knew they'd be remembered, but only because their son would be so famous (and completely rehabilitated in the public eye).

And what would James O'Neill, a celebrity, feel about being best known today as the original version of the father in what is probably his son's greatest work, Long Day's Journey Into Night?  Perhaps he's feel better about it if the portrait he inspired wasn't so lacerating.

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