Game of Thrones has nothing to say about rape, continues to say it very badly & loudly

There are many choices that need to be made when adapting a book into a TV show or movie. Some things work on the page but not on the screen, and some things simply need to be cut for time. This goes quadruple for a series of books as massive as Game of Thrones – the sheer volume of characters and subplots would render any adaptation a confusing mess. For the most part, HBO’s Game of Thrones has made a lot of smart choices, paring down the cast of characters and streamlining some of the stories. We can quibble about what has or hasn’t worked – someone like Shae gets more character development, while poor Melisandre is stripped of her complexity – but we can agree that some changes are necessary.

Having said all that, it’s hard to imagine that someone would read George R.R. Martins’ books and come to the conclusion that the audience needs to see even more rape and cruelty.

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Walter White and the No-Good, Very Bad Nazis

Beware: Spoilers for everything up until the final episode of Breaking Bad.

Todd VanDerWerff wrote a great piece at Grantland comparing the trajectories of Dexter and Breaking Bad. The main point is that Dexter has always avoided making its protagonist the bad guy. Yes, he’s a serial killer, but a) he only kills bad people, and b) he’s a lovable, cuddly guy when he’s not murdering people.

VanDerWerff cites the end of season 2 as the defining moment: After pitting Dexter against the suspicious and driven Sgt. Doakes, the show had two choices: Dexter would be exposed as a murderer and caught, or Doakes – who was essentially a decent guy, despite being a tremendous asshole – had to die. Doakes died, but not at the hands of Dexter, handily absolving the protagonist of breaking his code and killing someone who wasn’t a horrible murderer and/or rapist.

For the first two seasons, Dexter had a real sense of danger: This was a man who needed to kill, who enjoyed killing, even if he tried to abide by a code. While the series has had a few high points since then, the tone has been markedly different: Dexter is the good guy. The audience will always be on Dexter’s side.

This is in stark contrast to Breaking Bad, where Walter White has done some truly fucking terrible things. There’s always an element of justification for his crimes – protecting his family, or simple self-preservation – but they’ve consistently been diluted by greed, entitlement, and anger. No one could fault Walt for killing Crazy 8, who certainly would have killed him if the tables were turned. But what about Jane? Or Mike?

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Parks & Recreation 4-11: The Comeback Kid

Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) and his claymation.

One of the things I love about Parks & Recreation is its sense of continuity. The writers have created a mythology for Pawnee and its citizens that makes everything just a little bit more real, albeit also more ridiculous. Running gags like the terrible history of Pawnee, often depicted in its murals, absurd media personalities like Perd Hapley, and the utter horribleness of the library show up in bits and pieces; while any given bit may or may not be a winner, they have a cumulative benefit to the show.

For instance, when you watched Season 3’s Ron & Tammy Part Two, you probably noted Ben Wyatt’s preference of calzone instead of pizza, and how absolutely everyone thought that was a terrible idea. Maybe you didn’t come away from the episode thinking “Hey, I hope Parks & Rec explains more about Ben’s attitude toward Italian fast food,” but then, BAM, this week comes along and gives you even more about Ben’s attitude toward Italian fast food and how it’ll lead to financial and personal success, and it is awesome.

Blue Valentine: Happily Ever After

Blue Valentine movie poster“If you want a happy ending,” Orson Welles said, “that depends on where you stop your story.”

Blue Valentine has a sweet story with a happy ending: It’s about a smart girl with an awful family and asshole boyfriend who meets a nice, caring guy who just wants to fall in love and make someone happy.

“Opposites Attract” is a standard theme in romance stories, from Romeo and Juliet to whatever movie Kate Hudson is starring in this month, and it’s at the centre of Blue Valentine: Cindy (Michelle Williams) is a smart, scholarly girl aiming for med school. Dean (Ryan Gosling) works for a moving company, and isn’t particularly career-minded. But he’s sweet and considerate – they meet when he’s helping an old man settle into his new home –  and given that almost everyone Cindy knows is a horrible human being – her father is Major Rawls (John Doman), for god’s sake – he’s a calm harbour in her otherwise stormy life. She’s reluctant to open up to his advances, but eventually accepts that he has no ulterior motives: He only wants to make her happy. They overcome the obstacles in their way and live happily ever after.

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Inception: A Smart Movie for Dumb People

Like most of the rest of the planet, I enjoyed The Dark Knight. It was slick, had some great action sequences, a splendid cast, a story with some nice twists and turns, and a slight hint of moral ambiguity. It wasn’t a perfect film, and I’m not among those who thought it was snubbed at the Oscars, but as far as big-budget superhero spectacles go, it stood tall above its competition.

And yet, as the film went on, one got a nagging sense that Christopher Nolan felt he was getting too subtle. By the final act, every other line of dialogue was about what a hero should be, how to fight evil without becoming evil, and how even the most noble soul is only a bad day away from becoming a raving lunatic.

It was relatively easy to look past the clumsy commentary, since a movie about Batman fighting the Joker didn’t call for a whole lot of subtlety in the first place. But it was a worrying sign from Nolan, who got everyone’s attention with Memento, a challenging film that didn’t hold the audience’s hand through its twists and turns.

Unfortunately, Nolan’s magnum opus, the film he’d been wanting to make for several years, brings out all his worst qualities as a writer and director. Inception wants so badly to be an elegant, intelligent, and emotional film, but Nolan buried it under crushingly clumsy exposition, meaningless big-budget action sequences, and an egomaniacal desire to make sure everyone understands how elegant, intelligent, and emotional his film is.

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Vanity Fair to Twitter: Get Off My Lawn!

During Christmas Dinner, I had to explain Twitter to my girlfriend’s father.

I don’t remember how it came up. It’s possible I did something bad and this was Lizz’s way of punishing me. I explained things slowly, tried to come up analogies that were accessible to a man in his sixties, but I don’t think he understood. He was okay with the technical process – he knows how to use a computer and a cellphone, he knows what a text message is – but I’m not sure he really got his mind around why people would actually do that sort of thing for fun, or how it would be useful for anyone.

I think he still could have written a better article about Twitter than the one Vanessa Grigoriadis wrote for Vanity Fair.

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The Longer Scott Pilgrim 5 Review

Scott Pilgrim vol 5 - RamonaThere’s a scene at the beginning of Scott Pilgrim vol. 4 where Ramona Flowers tells Scott Pilgrim that he’s the nicest guy she’s ever dated. Scott’s response is that this is kind of sad.

Scott is, on this rare occasion, quite right. He may be the hero of our story, but Scott Pilgrim is kind of a dick.

When we first met him in volume one, he was dating Knives Chau. A cute, sweet, non-threatening high school girl who in no way reminded him of his last disastrous relationship.

Then he cheated on her, so he could be with Ramona Flowers. Who he didn’t tell about Knives, so he was cheating on Ramona, too. His first big act of personal heroism is when he finally breaks up with one of the women he was dating. It takes him until halfway through the second volume

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Milligan Mania: Shade the Changing Man

If you’re going to talk about Peter Milligan, it’s best to start with Shade The Changing Man. It’s not his first work, but it’s probably his best known, and certainly the book that put him on the map with North American readers.

Milligan’s series shares the name and basic concept of a short-lived Steve Ditko series from the late seventies. I’ve never read the original book, and am only familiar with the character through a few appearances in Suicide Squad (Has he appeared anywhere else?) It’s about, basically, a guy from another dimension who comes to earth to fight a madness monster.

But that’s not really the point. The point is that he needs to occupy a body in Earth’s dimension. The body he ends up in is that of a serial killer who’s just been executed. And the first person he meets upon escaping is the woman whose parents were murdered by that serial killer (which also resulted in the death of her boyfriend). And then they go on a road trip.

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