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.

Monday, August 14, 2017

It's GOTten Real

The somewhat deceptively named "Eastwatch," the fifth episode of the seventh season of Game Of Thrones, offered a lot.  It didn't have a big fight at the end, so some may have been disappointed, but that's not why I watch the show.

We start with the aftermath of the big battle--now featuring a dragon-y goodness--from last week.  If there was any doubt as to Jaime and Bronn's fate, fear not.  Bronn comes up out the water--surprisingly far from where he went in--and pulls out Jaime.  Bronn won't let his meal ticket die, and neither will the show, just yet.

The Kingslayer just wanted to end the war by attacking Dany--it's what he does.  But that's a no-go with dragons.  Now, however, they've both seen warfare with dragons, and realize something has to change.  Dany's the one with the atom bomb.  Jaime will tell his sister, but how will that go?

Tyrion looks at the brutal aftermath.  Dany address the Lannister troops still alive.  She doesn't want this, she wants a better world.  So bend the knee or die.  One who won't bend is Randyll Tarly.  Enjoy your honor for another minute, Tarl.  His son Dickon agrees, and off they go--no one will ever confuse his name again.  Tyrion advises mercy, but that's not how Dany works it.

There's been some dispute over whether Dany would save Westeros, or be just another cruel dictator.  It's hard to say, but she certainly knows how to be brutal when people don't do what she says.  She has Drogon barbecue the Tarly men.  It's pretty horrifying (though is it worse than any death in a war?)--not quite as bad as burning Shireen at the stake, but it gives you pause.

At King's Landing, Jaime explains to sis the disastrous battle and how they can't buy their way out of it with mercenaries.  But what to do then?  Submit and die? Also, some other news (so much going on this season they've got a lot to get through).  Jaime explains Olenna was behind Joffrey's death, not Tyrion, though Cersei has trouble believing it.

At a bluff back in Dragonstone, with the help of some bad CGI, Dany lands Drogon right in front of Jon Snow.  Snow takes off his glove and has the dragon sniff.  Does Drogon recognize Targaryen blood?  Dany gets off and the two talk...about dragons, battles and oh yeah, what was that Davos said about a knife to your heart?

But before he can answer (guess we'll get that later, just like his true parentage), the Dothraki bring in Jorah.  It's a better reunion than the ones we've been getting a Winterfell--it happens fast, but you don't see it coming. Jon knew Mormont's dad, of course, because in Westeros it's who you know.

Speaking of Winterfell, Bran is hanging out with ravens, who fly beyond the wall to see the army of the dead.  They spot the Night King and scatter.  Have we forgotten, by the way, it's Bran's fault the Night King got to the last Three-Eyed Raven?  Anyway, Bran needs to send out ravens to warn everyone. (Why didn't he do it earlier?)

Way down at the Citadel, the archmaesters are discussing Bran's claims of dead men marching.  They mock him a bit, but Samwell, who's hanging around, says he know Bran, and maybe more important, he knows the dead, and they're no joke.  He advises them (like they'll listen) to warn everyone about this threat, so people will send their armies up North.  Ebrose says they'll look into it, now back to work.  He also knows Sam's dad and brother have died, but hasn't told him yet. (I wonder how Sam'll take it--being head Tarly doesn't sound so bad.)

At Dragonstone, Varys and Tyrion fret about the Dragon Queen.  Varys served the  Mad King, and knows what it feels like to give advice and then watch people burn.

Meanwhile, Jon has gotten the news that Arya and Bran are alive.  You think he'd be happy, but downer Bran also lets him know the dead are on the march.  Snow needs to return.  The brain trust at Dragonstone come up with what sounds to me like an unnecessarily complicated and unlikely to work plan--go beyond the Wall, get a wight, bring him back, show him to Cersei and convince her to have a truce while they defeat the dead.  Why not just burn Cersei, have them surrender and then turn their attention to the Wall?

So Tyrion has to meet Jaime to tell him the plan and let Cersei know.  Davos will smuggle him in.  It'll be good to have the Onion Knight do what he does best.

Back at Winterfell, the Lords are whining again. It's getting tiresome.  They've unhappy that Jon is gone and seem to prefer Lady Stark.  Sansa reassures them that Jon is doing what he thinks is best, as Arya watches.  Later, the two sisters talk, like old days--i.e., they're at odds.  Sansa has gotten used to being in charge, and wants to be better than everyone, including Jon, whom they were insulting.  Hey, these two just got back together and already they're fighting?

Davos and Tyrion get ashore at a secret spot at King's Landing.  Davos has business at Flea Bottom, but first we follow the Imp.  As Bronn has brokered the meeting, Jaime is surprised to see Tyrion.  He swore to kill him after his father's death.  Tyrion gets somewhat emotional, explaining dad was ready to execute him thought he was innocent.  But enough about that.  Here's the deal--a truce, which isn't bad coming from Dan.  Just give us some time to handle this threat up North.

Meanwhile, Davos (who apparently figure he won't be recognized--really?) goes into a smith shop and sure enough, there's Gendry.  Lots of reunions this year, and this episode has more than most.  There's been talk for a while of Gendry's return--he was last seen being saved and sent off by Seaworth.  To be honest, I don't care about Gendry, and if he never came back that would be fine with me.  But he's a hero, and can't wait to leave, so I guess he'll be part of the adventure.

Back at the shore, two guards chance upon Gendry and Davos at their boat.  The trip had been too easy, so something had to happen.  Davos knows the drill and pays them off.  It's going fine, but then Tyrion returns and you can't fool the guards about a dwarf with a scar.  It looks tense, till bang bang, Gendry's silver hammer comes down upon their heads.

Jaime tells Cersei about the armistice.  In a plot development I don't like, but can sort of understand, Cersei already knew about the meeting, but let it go on.  Really?  If she knew everything going on, how could she possibly let Tyrion go?  In any case, Cersei knows she doesn't have the power, so has to play Dany carefully, and this truce thing is a good start.

And oh yeah, Cersei is pregnant.  This time she won't be embarrassed to let everyone know that Jaime is the father. (How Targaryen of her.)

At Dragonstone, it's time for Jon to leave.  Davos introduces Gendry, who spills the beans about his parentage.  Why not?  Two royal bastards.  They've got plenty in common.  Anyway, Gendry plans to go up north with Jon to fight.

Though Tyrion has seen Mormont, they haven't spoken, and have a mini-reunion at the shore before Jorah leaves.  They talk about all the good times they had. (Jorah probably isn't too mad--the Imp got him back to the Queen, and he's been cured of greyscale). Jon takes his leave of Dany, without having bent the knee--though they seem to get along.

In Oldtown, Samwell and Gilly (back from Detroit) are reading the old scrolls.  Gilly has something interesting about Rhaegar's wife, but Sam doesn't care.  He's too angry that he's doing what he thinks is scut work while defeating the Night King is put on hold.  He decides he'll do something about it. He and Gilly take off.  Same, get your degree first.

At Winterfell, some action I'm not clear about.  Littlefinger seems to be conspiring about something, while Arya secretly watches.  He gets an old raven note (he seemed quite interested when he heard a couple episodes ago how all the raven notes had been stored at Winterfell).  Arya sneaks into his bedroom and finds the note. I'm sure there are screen grabs around that have it, but I couldn't make it out.  After she leaves, turns out Littlefinger is watching.

Hmm. I thought being a faceless woman (or girl, as they'd say), Arya is the one who pulls off ruses.  But it's good to see Littlefinger is doing something, and playing others again, after a season of everyone getting the best of him.  (Many fans want him to buy it, but I've always sort of liked him.  I'd at least like him to survive till the last season.)

Finally we get to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea.  Jon has his plan, though Tormund thinks returning to beyond the wall is stupid.  Also, they captured some guys who said they had business there--Thoros and the Hound!  Good to see them.  As I said, lots of reunions. (Jon hasn't seen the Hound since the start of the series.)

Lots of anger.  Tormund wants nothing to do with any Mormont.  And Gendry has no lost love with Thoros and the Brotherhood, who sold him to be killed by Melisandre.  But next thing you know, they're opening to gate, ready to march north.  What can I say?--Jon knows how to bring people together.

A fun episode, with lots of good scenes. And quite a motley crew at the end.  Imagine if someone told you at the beginning of the season we're going to get to a point where this gang marches beyond the wall to find someone from the army of the dead.  Who?  Oh, just Jon, Davos, Tormund, Jorah, Gendry, Thoros and the Hound.  Now that's a gang.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Wool Hat

Mike Nesmith has a memoir out, Infinite Tuesday.  Why not?  Bandmates Mickey Dolenz (I'm A Believer) and Davy Jones (They Made A Monkee Out Of Me) have put out their autobiographies.  I've even read the Dolenz book and thought it was pretty good.

For that matter, Nesmith has done some interesting things, being a pioneer in music videos, producing movies like Repo Man and putting out a bunch of solo albums.  (And his mom invented Liquid Paper.)

But he's got the same problem that Dolenz, Jones and presumably Peter Tork have--what we care about most is the Monkees phenomenon, which burnt itself out in a two or three years.

I would guess any life story from a Monkee would concentrate on those years.  But would it concentrate enough.  Is giving a half the book to those year enough?  Three quarters?  I'm not sure.

Nevertheless, I'll check it out if I see it in the library.

In Plain Hearing

I was watching the James Caan movie Hide In Plain Sight on TV.  As I often do, it was with the CC on.  And once again, it reminded me that closed captions are done by humans, and humans can hear things incorrectly.  (Maybe some day they'll be done by computers, who can also hear things wrong.  Just ask Siri or Alexa.)

Early on, two mafia guys are talking about their driver.  One says "He's a fag" to which the other replies that he hasn't looked into the driver's sex life.

But the CC had the line as "he's a fed," which would not only be a very significant plot point, but also makes the response a delightful non sequitur.

Later, two guys are playing pool and listening to the hockey game on the radio.  It's a Chicago Blackhawks game because you can hear the announcer mention Stan Mikita.

Soon after, someone states, according to the CC "Pole just scored." Okay, maybe not a big deal if you get it wrong, but someone reading along may wonder who is this Pole and why should we care. But any hockey fan listening to the movie (or the game on the radio) would know that it was Bobby Hull who got the goal.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Down Time

I just saw Good Time, the well-reviewed action film starring Robert Pattinson.  I mention I saw it, because after reading April Wolfe's review in the LA Weekly, I'm not sure we saw the same thing.

She talks about how many gritty New York films have white males as their leads.  Also, "like so many other films of its ilk, revels in its ugly male characters." Okay, so what?

Then she notes the Safdie brothers, who made the film,

seem to have no awareness of how repulsive they’ve made their lead. We’re supposed to laugh when 30-something Connie kisses 15-year-old Crystal and tries to fuck her just to distract her from his mug shot on the TV — do I have to remind people that statutory rape is rape? That Crystal happens to be black and that the filmmakers chose to over-sexualize her was not lost on me [so Wolfe recognized Crystal was black--nothing get's past her]. We’re also supposed to laugh when Connie beats the shit out of a security guard (Barkhad Abdi), who is also black, before Connie’s partner in crime for the night (Buddy Duress) dumps a pop bottle of LSD in his mouth. Every punch and every dude yelling nonsensically just to be loud and disorienting tried my patience.

Connie is the most fascinating figure in the film, though that's almost be default. It's his story, and, while trying to help his mentally challenged brother, he comes up with one stratagem after another.  Movies generally make the protagonist (played by the best-looking person, usually) the most magnetic character.

But Connie as sympathetic?  I didn't quite see that. For all his canniness, he's hot-headed and readily willing to turn on anyone.  His criminal plans are what cause he and his brother's problems in the first place. We recognize, as he tries to figure his way out of a spot (through criminal means, of course), that while it may make for an absorbing story, it also leaves behind a path of destruction.  Even if we root for him to get away with it, he's not a conventionally sympathetic character.

You know who's sympathetic?  The black characters.  We feel bad for Crystal and hope she isn't too poorly treated by Connie.  And I didn't hear anyone laugh at the brutal beating the black security guard received.  In fact, that might have been the turning point in the audience's sympathy for Connie.

You know who wasn't sympathetic?  The white guy drug dealer.  You don't mind when Connie screws with him since he's such a jerk.

Wolfe doesn't have to like the film, but she might have tried to take it on its own terms.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Make Money

I just read John Waters' new book, Make Trouble.  It took all of ten minutes.  After all, it's just an illustrated version of a graduation speech he gave at the Rhode Island School of Design.

He doesn't have anything deep to say, though he does marvel at how he's made a career as a purveyor of filth.  I can't blame a guy for trying to make a living, but if you read anything by Waters, I suggest it be Shock Value, his memoir from many years ago.

In the speech he claims he's not rich, though I have to wonder if he's talking poor.  His films (and books, and personal appearances) may not have made him tons of money, but what about the Broadway musical adaptation of Hairspray?

He didn't write it, but it was based on his movie so he must own a percentage.  It ran for over six years on Broadway, has since been performed around the world, and was turned into a major motion picture.

Perhaps his idea of rich is different, considering the types he hangs out with, but I would guess most people could happily retire on the money he's already made from that show.  (If not, I suggest he get a new financial advisor.)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

McHale's Gravy

Last year Joel McHale came out with Thanks For The Money: How To Use My Life Story to Become the Best Joel McHale You Can Be.  It's part memoir, part how to guide.

I recently saw this book in the library.  What interests me about McHale is his years as star of my favorite comedy, Community.  Unfortunately (or is this a case of a glass half full?) only part of one chapter deals with the show.  So I sat down and read those pages.  He spends about one paragraph per co-star, and then a few pages on his weird and troubled relationship with Chevy Chase.

This is what, he claims, the reader wants to know about.  In fact, he has a footnote to this section.  (Almost every page has humorous footnotes--it's that kind of book.)

I can't remember the exact wording, but it was something about how you're now reading this in the airport bookstore, looking up this particularly story, so why don't you break down and buy it?

I have to admit, he got me right.  Not about Chevy Chase, but about only wanting to read a certain section of the book.  So sorry I didn't buy it. But then, if he'd spent a few more chapters on Community, maybe I could have.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Cook's Tour

Barbara Cook has died, a few months short of her 90th birthday. In her day, she was one of the Broadway's top musical stars, originating leading roles in shows such as Plain And Fancy, Candide, The Music Man (Tony Award) and She Loves Me.

Campbell Loop

Glenn Campbell, the tremendously popular performer, has died.  His heyday was the 60s and 70s.  I'd call him a country artist, but there was enough pop, rock and a few other things thrown in to make that too limiting.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

How Much

TCM showed a whole bunch of Hitchcock films last month.  This gave me the change to catch both versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much--1934 and 1956--neither of which I'd seen in years.

When Hitchcock came to Hollywood from Britain, a lot of critics said he lost his spirit.  Later, though, auteurism took over film criticism, and Hitchcock was raised to the highest level, and critics now saw that most of his masterpieces were made in America.  Hitchcock himself said the different between his early work and his Hollywood movies was the difference between a talented amateur and a professional.

I've always considered him a great entertainer and true craftsman.  But his films tend to be artificial, with very obvious, if often delightful, effects.  And the truth is neither version of The Man Who Knew Too Much is great.

Part of it is the story.  I suppose a child being kidnaped while the couple can't talk to the police about it could work, but in both films, it's awkward.  The officials know what's going on, but nothing is being done.  And the parents go on weird adventures (I know Hitch regularly puts normal people in extraordinary situations, but it's just strange how he plays it here) which don't quite make sense.

Of the two, the first is more fun.  For one thing, it really moves--it's 75 minutes long.  The set-up, as mentioned, is awkward, but once it gets going--with the protagonist acts like a dentist to get information, and later pretends to be part of a cult--really pay off.  But after the (good but overpraised) Albert Hall sequence, the mystery is over and the film concludes with a lot of ungainly action.

The Hollywood film is two hours long.  I don't mind a film taking its time, but this takes too much time.  It also has lavish sets, is short in color, and features big Hollywood stars, Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day, who are charming, but I wouldn't say at their best.

It starts with a fair amount of domestic comedy and ominous foreboding, though neither work that well.  Finally there's some action, with a murder and then the kidnaping.

Once again, it doesn't really make too much sense how it's played.  Maybe if the story were moving better I wouldn't care so much.

Instead of the dentist scene, there's a taxidermy scene, which isn't that great (some Hitch fans love it, of course) and is a dead end.  Then you get the church scene, which isn't quite as good as in the first film.  Though the Albert Hall stuff is probably better than in the original, and the ending at the embassy, even though it's also awkward, works better than the violent ending of the original.

Hitchcock was capable of superior entertainment, as long as everything was working right. For instance, of his British films, there's The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes, and in Hollywood, Strangers On A Train and North By Northwest.  But when it comes to TMWKTM, he missed the boat twice.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Recombinant Game Of Thrones

This season of Game Of Thrones, as the latest episode "The Spoils Of War" demonstrates, is a lot about seeing different combinations of characters from what we're used to.  The hour looks to be a lot of talking (some of it fun), but explodes into major action at the end.

We start in the aftermath of the battle of Highgarden. The victorious Lannister army is marching home.  Jaime stops the wagon full of gold to get Bronn a big bag's worth.  Ah Bronn, it's nice to have him back.

Jaime isn't happy, presumably because he found out how his son Joffrey died (and will have to tell his sister).  Bronn, by the way, wants a castle, like the Tyrell's had.  But nothing doing till the war is over.  Bronn first appeared out of nowhere to save Tyrion for money, so he's always been this way.  But first, the Iron Bank has to be paid off.

Jaime isn't just taking the gold, but all the food from the Reach.  The spoils of war.  Back at King's Landing, Cersei is talking with the Iron Bank rep about paying their debt (like a good Lannister).  Considering they've owed since the beginning of the series, this is a big moment.

But no sooner is the promise of payment than there's an understanding they'll need more backing to continue Cersei gaining control of Westeros.  Ain't that how it goes--no sooner have you paid off your debt than you've got something else to worry about.

At Winterfell, Littlefinger returns the dagger to Bran--the one meant to kill him.  It's been so long I forgot whose dagger it originally was, or did we ever know?  Anyway, from the way Bran reacts--otherworldly, as always, but accusatory--it seems to be Littlefinger who was behind the whole thing.  Always possible for the man who believes in chaos.  Littlefinger may see a lot, but he doesn't see all the things Bran does--Bran knows if you've been bad or good so be good for goodness sake.

Or actually, who cares, since Bran seems to be above human reactions, as he shows when he says goodbye without much feeling to Meera--one of many people who sacrificed everything for him.  And now she's going (to be with her family during the war to come) without a gold watch or even a hug.  (I like Meera.  I hope we see her again.)

Meanwhile, Arya finally returns to Winterfell.  The only character with a journey--personal and physical--as great as hers would be Dany.  Arya only knows, as far as I can recall, that Jon Snow is there, but is that so?  She seems to take it in stride when she discovers sister Sansa runs the place.

Arya doesn't have too much trouble getting past the dolts who guard the gate. (They're like characters out of Monty Python And The Hold Grail.  Arya herself has had trouble at gates before, though now she could kill to get through if she wants, but these guys aren't on the list.) Sansa goes to meet her in the crypt, where they have a nice reunion, though not as strong as might be expected--because it's too expected.  This has been a long time coming, but scenes that give you what you didn't quite expect are more powerful.  The two exchange useful information, though we know it, and a whole lot more.

Next they go to see Bran (who doesn't really consider himself Bran) so a lot of the OG stark kids are back together. (All three are outside with no protection.  They really need better security at Winterfell).  Bran gives Arya the Valyrian dagger since he doesn't need it (and oh yeah, Littlefinger is there--a lot of people you wouldn't expect are at Winterfell).  He also mentions visions he had of her--he even knows about her list.  Kinda creepy, whether or not it's your brother.

Brienne and Pod watch the three Stark kids in Winterfell.  She's quietly proud, and softening a bit.  Littlefinger also watches--he doesn't have a lot of lines this episode, but lots of sly looks.

At Dragonstone, Dany and Missy talk about Grey Worm (no word from the Unsullied yet), and before we can have too much girl talk, the Queen goes to meet Jon Snow.  He leads her (alone--once again, where are the guards?) on a tour of a cave where there's tons of dragonglass--looks like load-bearing dragonglass to me, I wouldn't let him touch it.  I hope they don't make googly eyes at each other--we don't need another Luke and Leia problem.

He also shows her cave drawings from the Children of the Forest--which also show them with humans, fighting White Walkers. Okay, we get it, Jon, this is your deal.  How do we know Snow didn't just draw them himself?  Dany promises to help him fight, if he'll bend the knee.  He still won't do it, though you have to start to wonder why?  Is it pride? His Crow training kicking in?

Back on the beach, Dany is met by Tyrion and Varys. We've got some good news and some bad news.  We've taken Casterly Rock--because it was abandoned and our enemies have taken all the food and gold the Tyrell's had.  Dany is getting fed up--time to call out the dragons.  Tyrion explains yet again you can't incinerate King's Landing (still a problem with many fans).  She asks Jon Snow and he agrees with the Imp--if she wants to lead the people, she can't do the same crap they've been seeing for centuries.

Back at Winterfell, Brienne is "training" Pod, mostly be kicking the crap out of him.  Arya watches.  This is the same woman who took out the Hound.  Those were the days.  Arya wants to train with her.  She and Brienne have a go, and Arya gets the best of her, managing to get her sword, Needle, and her new dagger, at Brienne's throat.  We can accept this due to Arya's training, but really, Brienne has so much more reach, it's still sort of hard to buy Arya can get in that close.  Meanwhile, Sansa and Littlefinger watch. More looks, no dialogue.  The two sisters were this way from the first episode, where Sansa showed she could sew, while Arya was good at bow and arrow.  (What Littlefinger thinks I can't say, though I doubt he's switching allegiance to a new Stark girl.)

At Dragonstone, Snow and Davos have a nice talk with Missandei.  Where's the Queen?  We'll find out soon enough.  (Davos knows Dragonstone the best, actually, though he's in an odd place, following a new king and importuning a new queen.)  They discuss bastards and marriage and their backgrounds.  Missy explain that Dany's followers are volunteers--the implication being that Snow should bend the knee, I suppose.  It's not like you're gonna get a better queen.

Now they see the surviving Greyjoy ship coming in.  They go down to meet it and there's Theon.  Not a happy homecoming--this is (so long ago you almost forget) the main who betrayed Robb, took Winterfell and was ready to kill Bran and Rickon.  Snow says, quite sensibly, he'd kill him if Theon hadn't saved Sansa.  Jon is always a good guy, but Theon almost never is.  Almost in passing, Jon mentions the Queen is gone.

And we move to the final scene, the one everyone is talking about.  The Lannister forces are near King's Landing on the Rose Road, the gold is in, and they need to get the stragglers moving.  Randall Tarly wants to flog them, though Jaime feels they can take it a bit easy since they just won a resounding battle.  Tarly's annoyed look is the best look of many this episode.

As Bronn and Jaime talk to Dickon about the battle, they hear something in the background.  It's the Dothraki on the warpath. Finally! These guys had to make a long sea voyage when they don't travel over water, then had to huddle for months on a beach waiting to do what they're born to do.

Jaime and the others get the troops lined up to prepare, but one thing they don't expect is Drogon, ridden by Dany.  Bronn mentioned earlier to Dickon men befoul themselves in battle. I'm guessing a lot of that was happening at this point.

They try to hold the line, but when a dragon blasts through it with fire, there's a pretty clear opening that the Dothraki can ride though.  (Though once Dany's men and the Lannister army get mixed together, Dany better watch where she aims Drogon..) Bronn wants Jaime to get to King's Landing, but he won't abandon his men.  (He was captured in battle early in the series, and spent a whole season imprisoned--that's not going to happen again.)

The fight is exciting not just because it's the first real big battle we've had with dragons, but because there are a bunch of major character who might just die.  Not Dany, who's got a lot left to do, I suppose.  And not Tyrion, who watches from a hilltop nearby (guess he had to come to make sure the Queen was okay).

But Bronn could certainly buy it--would make sense, since he seems to have served his purpose.  And Drogon could die, once they pull out Qyburn's scorpion (who knew they had it with them?), since Dany has two other dragons. And Jaime could die--we're in season seven, and really big deaths are possible.

The Dothraki seem to be routing the Lannister forces. (Jaime seems to fight okay, though hand-to-hand combat is no longer his specialty.)  But Bronn gets out the big gun and hits Drogon, who lands.  The big guy is wounded, and Dany gets off to pull out the huge bolt.

Jaime sees her (and Tyrion sees Jaime going for Dany) and races at her with a spear.  At the last second, Drogon sees him, turns his head and spews fire.  At the some time, someone (I assume it's Bronn--whose lost his bag of gold, by the way--the spoils of war being spoiled), pulls him off his horse and into the water, where both sink.

Is Jaime, with his heavy armor, down for the count?  Is Bronn any better off?  Will Dany be able to fly away?  Tune in next week for another exciting instalment.

Actually, there are only three more episodes to go this season.  The battle of the queens, if nothing else, seems to be coming to a head.  And how far behind will the Night King be?  For that matter, when is Bran finally going to tell Jon who his real parents are?

Sunday, August 06, 2017

What's In A Name?

I was watching Orson Welles' Chimes At Midnight (1965) on TV.  It was not well-regarded originally, but is now considered a classic.  Indeed, some critics call it his best film.

I'm not quite so enamored. In general, I find his cinematic style to often clash with Shakespeare.  Welles tends to be a better job raising modern (and sometimes pulpy) material than trying to live up to the greatest playwright.

Anyway, I hit the "info" button to see how the film was described, and it said that the movie was based on "Falstaff and other Shakespearean plays..."

Ah yes, that great play by Shakespeare, Falstaff.  I remember seeing it at a Shakespeare festival, right after Shylock and just before Prospero.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Getting To The Fireworks Factory

We're essentially at the halfway point of this season's Game Of Thrones.  Even the long seasons were too short, so the short seasons are ridiculous.

The shape of things is getting clearer.  Though the show is moving through the plot lickety-split, it seems to be concentrating on some points at the expense of others.

Thus it seems that the Army of the Dead won't be the big thing this season, but the next.  I'm not saying they won't make an appearance--in fact, something big is almost bound to happen (eventually the Wall must fall) before we're done--but the main concentration is on Cersei versus Daenerys.

Thus, so far, we've been getting allies wiped out and regulars getting killed while the two sides maneuver.  So I guess it's time to throw the Dothraki into the battle, presumably against the (Jaime-led?) Lannister troops.  That'll be fun right there.

But also, it's time to unleash the dragons.  They're not going to be held back just to kill wights, they've got to take part.  We've never really seen them in a full-out fight, so that could be the biggest moment of the season.  And, perhaps, due to Qyburn, some may even be harmed or die.

And there are a lot of people aiding one side or another. In addition to Qyburn, there's Bronn (speaking of reunions, will he ever meet Tyrion again?), Jorah, Theon, Varys, Brienne, Davos, Grey Worm and quite a few others.  Most will survive this season, but you'd think a few will have to go out in a burst of glory.

Friday, August 04, 2017


I saw the latest Michael Lewis bestseller, The Undoing Project, in my library, so I checked it out.  Lewis has got a huge audience because he can take modern issues of interest and put them in digestible story form. (Such writers often make things too simple, but that's popularization for you.)

The book is about Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two psychologists whose insights into biases in human decision-making revolutionized thinking on how we reason.  Their work was still new and radical when I was in college (they actually gave a big lecture at Michigan when I was an undergraduate there), but have so suffused our culture that it seems almost everyone is aware of their ideas now, and generally accept them.

But that's not what this post is about.

I just wanted to write about the odd phenomenon of reading a book and then knowing one of the characters in it.  I've never met Kahneman or Tversky, but the book also tells stories of those who have been affected by them.

One of them is my old law school professor and friend, Cass Sunstein.  He appears in the book because reading their material changed his thinking, and greatly influenced his book Nudge (written with economist Richard Thaler, who's also in Lewis's book).

Kahneman and Tversky also influenced national policy when Sunstein served at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for the Obama White House.

But whereas reading about other people who knew, or knew of, these psychologists, it feels like a story.  You know it's based on reality, but it feels not that different from fiction.  But then someone you personally know drops in and somehow it becomes more real.

I guess this wouldn't surprise the two, since they demonstrated in their research how you frame the facts greatly influences how you think about something.

PS  Another person I know at Chicago, Gerhard Casper, also pops up for a sentence.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

End Of The Middle

It's just been announced The Middle's upcoming season, its ninth, will be its last

It was a good run.  Very few shows that debuted in 2009 are still around.  Here are some contemporaries of The Middle that made a splash: Glee, Parks And Recreation, Community, Cougar Town.  All gone.  The Middle 's neighbor, Modern Family, is still very much with us, though.

The lead, Patricia Heaton, got the show a few years after starring in Everybody Loves Raymond, which also lasted nine seasons.  She's done well for herself--though she knows shows can tank, such as her 2007 Back To You, with Kelsey Grammer and Josh Gad, which left the air after one season.  (The creators of that show, Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, did okay as well, bouncing back with Modern Family.)  

I've been watching The Middle regularly almost from the start, but I can see that it's time to go.  They've done just about everything they can--the kids are grown up and mostly out of the house.  The only thing left would be for the kids to have their own kids, and I'd just as soon not see that.

So it's goodbye to a well-done show.  Never my favorite, but it was reliable.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

How Long Has This Been Going On?

The A.V. Club review of the latest Game Of Thrones episode asks a question:

For all of its mysteries and prophecies and fan-theory-inspiring teases, my central question for the show is less "who is the Prince Who Was Promised" and more "how are the events being depicted mapped onto linear time?"

This is a question many fans are asking.  Too bad it's a stupid question.

Years ago I was in a bookstore (remember those?) and looked at one of the books in the series.  The first (actually only) thing I read was a note from George R. R. Martin admitting that the timelines of various chapters can't be expected to match up, so don't worry about it.

So there it is.  Even in the books it's admitted that some things happen quickly while others take months or years.  So stop worrying--it's how the story works.  What matters are characters, their motivations and a clear plotline.

GOT isn't the only program with this problem.  Any show with numerous characters spread out over a large area (Lost comes to mind) will have timeline problems if you look too closely.

But even accepting this, some people are too picky.  They'll ask where's Arya while all this is happening?  How do armies march hither and yon while Samwell Tarly cures one guy?  How did Euron get a thousand ships?

Well, it's not that hard to explain.  Arya has magical powers, but not of locomotion.  It took her months, presumably, to get to the Frey's.  She was there for a while--though perhaps not that long.  Then she took to the road.  She was traveling in one direction but then changed her mind.  Now we don't know where she is, but she could be spending months and months on these travels, even assuming she's not having any adventures along the way. (Same with the lengthy travels of Jon Snow and Davos, by the way--while they were going over land then taking a glorified rowboat to Dragonstone, the Unsullied were sailing around the continent.)

As for Sam, we don't know how long he spent at the Citadel cleaning bedpans before he met Jorah.  It could have been months and months. (I'm going to keep using that phrase.) And then the cure didn't happen immediately. Cutting off the greyscale might have taken up on painful night, but that could have been followed by months and months of applying unguents until there was a complete cure.

Euron's acquisition of a huge fleet is the trickiest to explain, perhaps, but not impossible.  The main Iron Island fleet was stolen, but did Yara take everything?  These are a seafaring people, so I can imagine there were still a hundred or so merchant or martial ships still around which Euron commandeered. And then, specializing in shipbuilding, they could have built hundreds more (they had little else to do) over a period of time--maybe months and months, maybe a couple years (the time it took for Yara to sail to Slavers Bay, get in good with Dany, and sail back to Westeros).

Also, once he has a few hundred ships, Euron and his men, already well-trained on the seas, could sail around and take hundreds of other ships in raids.  So what's the big deal?

As they sing in the MST3K theme song:

If you're wondering how he eats and breathes
And other science facts,
Just repeat to yourself "It's just a show,
I should really just relax."*

*I can relax about plot timelines, but not about lyrics.  Too many uses of "just."

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Sam Et Jeanne

Two big deaths recently, Sam Shepard and Jeanne Moreau.

I would expect Shepard is better known as an actor than writer to most people--he was in some high profile projects. But I've always thought of him as a playwright who happens to act.

I remember seeing his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Buried Child, and later, True West.  He captured something dark but true about the American character.  And he could write poetically but still make it sound natural.  (I think True West will be the play of his that lives on because it's so much fun for the two leads.)

Jeanne Moreau was a force of nature, the leading lady of French cinema.  She was memorable, even iconic, in so many roles, such as Elevator To The Gallows, The Lovers, and Diary Of A Chambermaid.

But if you had to pick one, it's Catherine in Jules And Jim.  She stands for so many women in that part, but is always herself.

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