A Summer of Sex.

We’re in mid-July, the height of summer. In most places the weather is hot and sticky and people find themselves in various states of undress to beat the heat. It is, therefore, very fitting that Showtimes’ Masters of Sex has just returned for its sophomore season.

Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and his colleague Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) are back…sort of. A couple of episodes in, and the emotional ramifications of Bill’s front door confession to Virginia, the confession that closed season one, are still rippling through the the community. Neither Bill nor Virginia are willing to own up to the fact that the relationship that they are having is one of emotion and desire. Both pay lip service to the fact that it is clinical. It’s for the study. And yet, as they discuss their rendezvous in the hotel lobby, each registers disappointment when the other readily agrees that it’s “all about the work.”

At the start of episode two, Bill has been hired by Gateway Memorial, a competing hospital with an absolute boor as a chief of staff (the delightfully smarmy Danny Huston). Dr. Greathouse is not only thrilled to have Dr. Masters on staff, but he enthusiastically supports the sex study—perhaps TOO enthusiastically…asking Masters slimy questions about the details.

With his professional life returning to normal, Bill is able to regain some focus, which is good, because his personal life is a mess. In addition to being in love with Virginia, a fact he is unable to openly admit to her, he is also dealing with a crisis at home. His infant son is a constant reminder of the oppressive fear he battles every day. Fear of being abusive like his father, neglectful like his mother, and fearful of attaching himself in any way to this little creature who has invaded his home. Bill’s reactions to his son are some of the most heartbreaking scenes so far this season. In the premiere, Libby dares to leave him alone with the baby for just an hour or two. When it begins to cry, Bill treads slowly down the hall toward the nursery, looking more paralyzed with each step. Finally, just outside the door, he stops. It might as well be Rosemary’s baby in that crib. He turns around, walks away as the baby’s crying continues, goes to the hi-fi, puts on a record, and turns the music all the way up to drown out the screams of his own child. It’s both chilling and so, so sad.

The other major story threads of season two are Virginia’s continued harassment at the hands of the male doctors, and the shunning by many of the female staff, and Dr. Scully’s wrestling with his sexuality. First Virginia—her involvement with Dr. Masters’ study has damaged her reputation to a degree that even the self-assured Virginia has trouble shaking off. She continues to look for fulfillment on the professional plain, trying to help Dr. DePaul with her pap smear project and casting about for additional ways to pad her income using her intellect.

Sadly, Barton Scully (Beau Bridges), as brilliant as he is, does NOT have the self-assurance that Virginia has. As a homosexual, he is taught to self-hate. He’s an aberration. What he feels, what he desires…he thinks it’s inherently wrong. He gets electroshock therapy, and although it’s not nearly as graphic as the kinds of things that get shown on other cable series, I actually found it incredibly disturbing. And afterward, believing he might be “cured,” he tries to bed his wife, and he and Allison Janney give beautifully nuanced performances playing a moment that is humiliating and emotionally fraught for both.

The show has always been a grand mix of big moments and small ones…of the sexy and the sad, the highbrow and the low. The second season seems to be unspooling much in the same way, and it’s good to rejoin these characters, their study, and the world of half a century ago—a world that people like Masters and Johnson hoped to change.

An Open Letter to True Blood.

Dear True Blood:

Hi. How are you? You know that I have always considered myself a friend. I defended you to people because I said that even when you got crazy and nonsensical, you were still a lot of fun. Sort of like that drunk guy at a party who may be sloppy and a bit too loud, and he jumps from topic to topic so you can’t always follow him, but he says such ridiculously crazy shit sometimes that you still want to sit near him, because man, won’t it be fun to talk to your friends tomorrow about what he did at the party last night? (“Did you see Jim resting his hand in the spinach dip for like five minutes straight while he tried to hit on that girl by telling her how he outran a bear on the Appalachian Trail?”)

In other words…often he’s barely coherent, but there’s something incredibly entertaining about the lunacy. You, True Blood, are that guy. And for a long time I insisted it was worth it. You weren’t bad-bad, you were bad-good. You were cheez wiz, not artisanal Gouda. But goddammit, sometimes you want cheez wiz. But now even the wiz has expired. At some point, I just hit a wall. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. You have had a few good-good moments. Russell Edgington, for one. He was a great character. Pam and Eric are always about five times more interesting than everybody else combined. But for every one arc involving a Russell Edgington or a Pam and Eric, there were five involving were-panthers, fairy nightclubs, Middle Eastern fire demons and wolf-pack politics. (To name a few of your many acid-trip plot twists.)

So, I wanted to let you know that I am watching this final season under protest. And I will watch it. I am many things, but a quitter is not one of them. But for someone who plays so fast and loose with character deaths, you yourself seem to be expiring in an especially slow and painful fashion. And I think I can give you some insight into the principal reason why you continue to limp over the finish line, rather than go for broke and try for a strong finish…why your potential blaze of glory is being smothered.

Her name is Sookie.

You might know her. Some would argue she is your reason for being. (Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries, anyone?) Unfortunately, she is also, almost universally, the most disliked, annoying and weakest character on the show. Other difficult or boring characters (Bill, Tara, Sam, Alcide) often reflect their worst qualities in direct proportion to their storyline’s involvement with her. The characters that stand out do so in spite of her (Eric), or because they hate her (Pam) or because they share minimal screen time with her (Lafayette, Jessica). 

I do not mean this to reflect poorly on Anna Paquin. I actually like Paquin. I think she is, typically, a fine actress. But when a character is written so as to consistently make illogical, selfish decisions…when a character so consistently contradicts herself (“I don’t want anyone else dying for me!” …someone promptly dies for Sookie), when a female character is made out to be the most desirable, be-all, end-all to pretty much every male character in her orbit (with the exception of her brother and the gay fellows) primarily because she has a tight bod and magical pixie blood, that character deserves only one fate.

Sookie must die. 

Seriously, True Blood. I am telling you this for your own good. If you really want to do your fans (er…well, maybe let’s just call them regular viewers) a service as you end the series, you need to kill Sookie. It will right so many wrongs…it will appease the television gods, to whom you have sacrificed so many others, often on Sookie’s behalf. It will send a collective cheer throughout the audience as we see everyone left in Bon Temps attempt to start over without the insidious presence of that little blonde Jessica Fletcher. (Where Sookie goes, death inevitably follows.)

I realize this is ultimately moot. You’ve already shot the end of the series. You can’t change it now. But for my own well-being, and for that of my fellow viewers, I felt I needed to speak up. Honesty is always the best policy. And honestly? Sookie sucks (vampire pun not intended).

So yeah…here’s hoping that she bites the big one by series’ end. (Again with the vampire puns! Apologies.)

Oh, and you should totally let Pam be the one to take her out.



The Best Television Has to Offer?

The Primetime Emmy nominations were recently announced by Mindy Kaling and Carson Daly. You can see a list of all of the essential categories here. Let’s go through them and catalog some thoughts on the Emmy voters’ choices, shall we?

1. Outstanding Comedy. I think OITNB straddles an odd line. Clearly the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences has decided it shall be a comedy. That’s not necessarily what I would say, but whatever. Still a great show. A bit surprised to see Silicon Valley, simply because although it ended strong, it was a bit bumpy at the beginning. Would love to see a win for Louie or Veep, but it would be nice for OITNB to get recognition.

2. Outstanding Drama. Love this category. I wouldn’t have included Downton Abbey, though. Sorry folks. I really enjoy the show, but it’s a glorified period soap. And House of Cards is a political soap. But those are minor quibbles. I think True Detective will take this, given its buzz, as one of those trendy first year winners.

3. Outstanding Miniseries. Interesting that they’re classifying Treme as a mini-series. I haven’t seen most of these. I really enjoyed The White Queen, but I don’t think it will win. I’m calling it for Fargo or American Horror Story.

4. Lead Actor Drama. Love this list too, with the exception of Jeff Daniels. And I like Jeff Daniels, and I freely admit that he is one of the few things that makes The Newsroom watchable. That being said, his performance is not on par with these other fellows. Jon Hamm should finally get this, but he won’t. They’ll give it to McConaughey…who, to be fair, is not undeserving.

5. Lead Actress Drama. I’m lukewarm on this category. Michelle Dockery is great, but sorry, I’m not feeling it. I do really enjoy Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson. Interestingly though, I think my personal pick would have to be Robin Wright. Claire Underwood is one of the more fascinating female characters I’ve come across recently, and Wright manages to ground Spacey’s histrionics.

6. Supporting Actor Drama. If Aaron Paul or Peter Dinklage don’t win this, I will be very sad. Not because I’m hating on the other nominees (hi, Carson!) but because I just really love both the actors and the characters that they play. But this will probably be that wildcard category. There’s always one. And Jon fucking Voigt will probably win for his role in Ray Donovan or something.

7. Supporting Actress Drama. Overall a decent category, but I gotta put in an endorsement for my girl Christina Hendricks, who gets nominated year after year, like Hamm, and never wins. And always deserves to. Joan is a fabulous and evolving character—she’s a goddam partner in an advertising agency, okay?! Give her a statue.

8. Lead Actor Comedy. Honestly, I’ve never watched Derek, but it looks cringe-worthy. But what do I know? And I don’t watch Episodes, but for some reason I enjoy Matt LeBlanc back on an Emmy ballot…sort of like, “Good for him!” Would love to see Louis C.K. win for acting, but it’ll probably be Jim Parsons.

9. Lead Actress Comedy. A great category. Poehler’s got the Golden Globe…let’s get her an Emmy! JLD kills it on Veep, so I certainly wouldn’t complain if she won again. I don’t find Taylor Schilling to be the most compelling part of OITNB, but again, any recognition for the show is good. I can’t hate on any of these ladies, really.

10. Supporting Actor Comedy. As long as someone besides the Modern Family actors wins, I will be satisfied. Bonus points if it’s Tony Hale or Andre Braugher.

11. Supporting Actress Comedy. Would love to see this go to Anna Chlumsky or Kate Mulgrew. Mulgrew especially is kicking ass on OITNB. I also adore Kate McKinnon. She’s been one of the best additions to the SNL cast in the past couple of years. (Sidenote: I didn’t even know Mom was that good of a show. Then again, Allison Janney tends to be one of those performers who can elevate mediocre material.)

12. Other Categories. Just to rattle off a few…Mark Ruffalo or Benedict Cumberbatch should win for Normal Heart or Sherlock. And Normal Heart or Sherlock should win for TV movie. That Kristen Wiig got nominated for Spoils of Babylon is both hilarious and kind of awesome. One woman in the drama writing category is, sadly, something of a consolation. If either OITNB, Louie, or Veep don’t win for writing, then…just…ugh. I honestly don’t have a prediction for Variety, but they might give it to Colbert since we know he’s on his way out now. I only watch two of the nominated reality shows (The Voice and Top Chef) so I don’t really have a horse in that race.

So there you have it. What are your thoughts? My only big snub is Tatiana Maslany for Orphan Black. I mean…fuck. What does that girl have to do to get a nomination?

Hug It Out.

Just a couple of quick thoughts on last night’s episode of The Leftovers—spoilers ahead if you’re not yet caught up.

So, last week on the premiere, we were introduced to all the main characters, and found out that Chief Garvey’s son, Tom, was in the thrall of some kind of cult figure who was staying on a commune out in the desert. This man, Wayne Gilchrest (Paterson Joseph) is introduced very briefly, but exactly what he does and why he’s important is never made clear.

Well. Last night’s episode cleared that up. Unfortunately.

I like The Leftovers so far. I think it’s refreshingly unorthodox and dark. But man…he HUGS the pain out of people? Right at the top of the episode, two government agent muckety-mucks are going through his file. They seem to be trying to pinpoint dangerous characters—people who’ve responded to the disappearances in ways that might pose a threat to law and order. One of them sums up Wayne’s little desert enterprise. He lost his son in the disappearance, and now believes he can take away the pain of other grieving souls…by HUGGING them. Oh, and he needs to have sex with Asian teenage girls to “recharge.”

Seriously…the hugging thing is really dumb, right? There was a scene in last night’s episode where Wayne approaches Tom, who has helped his favorite Asian teenager escape when the compound is raided (on the recommendation of the government agents from the opening scene). He takes Tom’s shirt off…and at first, because this is HBO, and clothing removal usually leads to sex, that’s where I thought this might be headed. But instead, he opens his arms to Tom. Apparently magic hugs require skin-to-skin contact. Okay. Tom declines and Wayne says something about him wanting to hold on to his suffering. Whatever.

Perhaps that scene is there to plant doubt. Does Tom REALLY believe in this guy, or did he just get caught up in the mystical feeling of doing something important and slightly illicit, shuttling politicians out into the desert for a restorative hug?

Anyway, I don’t buy it, and it was the one story line that has taken me out of the show so far. 

The other thing I wanted to mention was that we saw the opening credits sequence this week. Last week, for the pilot, I believe there may have been a brief title treatment, but no opening credits. HBO has a pretty amazing track record with this—Game of Thrones, True Blood, True Detective, Boardwalk Empire—all have memorable opens. They also have the run time to allot for that—something that most networks and cable channels have had to cut down or eliminate entirely. (I often think of New Girl, where Zooey Deschanel recorded a whole song, but usually barely gets time to sing, “It’s Jess!”)

The opening credits for The Leftovers are pretty lovely. They depict the rapture-like event as a series of painted frescoes on a domed ceiling. There are images of both nude and dressed figures (in contemporary clothing) being ripped apart. Bodies float to the apex of the dome, pulled away from their loved ones, who are are seen in despair and agony, their postures echoing the poses seen in classic paintings from which these credits clearly drew inspiration. It is yet another moving and well-crafted sequence for HBO to add to their list. 

Leftovers Are Good the First Time Around.

HBO’s new series, The Leftovers, premiered this past weekend. I just finished watching the pilot.

Jesus Christ.

Not exactly the feel good show of the year. Any premiere that features a disappearing baby and a dog getting shot in the first five minutes is setting you up for a pretty chilling ride.

The show is based on a novel by Tom Perrotta, and created partially by Damon Lindelof of Lost fame. It is set three years after a Rapture like event on the Earth, where two percent of the world’s population suddenly disappeared. Only, unlike the Rapture, there seems to be no rhyme or reason to who disappeared and who remained behind.

It’s a startling premise, because the show doesn’t even really offer any hint of an answer as to why the disappearances happened, nor does it seem to promise any answers to that question in the future. That doesn’t seem to be the point. The point seems to be, how do regular people in a regular town handle a catastrophic event that HAS no explanation. What sustains you? Who can you count on?

Mapleton, the suburban community that serves as the microcosm for these questions, is peopled with characters who are all struggling in their own unique ways. Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) is the police chief who is ostensibly preserving law and order, but white-knuckling his own anger and frustration over the breakdown of his family. His surly teenage daughter Jill (Margaret Qualley) is subject to moods and violent outbursts. His son Tom (Chris Zylka) has left town to act as a driver for a mysterious man who seems to have some sort of commune out in the desert. And his wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman) has joined the Remnant, an eerie cult that dresses in white, chain smokes, and does not speak aloud.

The cult is absolutely one of the creepiest parts of the show. We see a bit of Laurie’s life in their midst, and they manage to convey that these are real people with feelings, despite the fact that they don’t speak. But there are a series of scenes in the pilot where Laurie and another cult member stalk a woman named Meg Abbott (Liv Tyler). They appear outside her home, follow her and her fiancee to the restaurant where they’re eating, and their presence is unnerving. It had me tense, simply as a viewer. Their silence is frustrating and provoking. In a move that didn’t seem surprising after it happened, by the end of the pilot, Meg has showed up to their house to joint their ranks.

There are a few, very few, moments of gallows humor. A news report plays in the background at a bar on “Remembrance Day”—the three year anniversary of the disappearances. The report features celebrities that were lost, including the Pope, Anthony Bourdain and, comically, Gary Busey. At that bar, Garvey runs into the woman who opened the show. She had just put her crying baby in the car when the crying suddenly stops…because the baby is gone. She and Garvey have a slightly drunken and depressed chat, before he exits and sees a deer in the street. Before long, a pack of dogs come racing down the road, snarling and barking. They take down the deer quickly, tearing it to pieces. A strange man that Garvey encountered earlier pulls up in his truck. “They’re not our dogs any more,” he says.

The symbolism may be slightly heavyhanded, but the meaning is clear. Life may look and sound like it is much the same as it always has been. But it isn’t. Something deep inside the human race has changed, and this isn’t the world we think it is any more. The two-fold question of The Leftovers then becomes, what kind of world is it and how do we survive in it?

A Devilishly Good Performance.

So I had to write an entry after Sunday night’s Penny Dreadful and praise Eva Green. Green, who plays Vanessa Ives on the Showtime series, had a hell of an episode, if you’ll allow me the pun.

The Ives character has a mental and spiritual connection to the supernatural world, and there was a previous episode where we learned her backstory and her relationship to Mina and the Murray family. Her “ability” was hinted at early on in the series, when she’s overtaken by some kind of dark force during a seance at a party. That was just a hint of things to come. We saw more of her possession in the backstory episode…how it began as an unexplained illness, and eventually caused her mother’s death from shock.

Essentially, Vanessa is possessed by a demon. And Sunday night’s episode made it clear that it is quite possibly not just A demon, but THE demon…Lucifer himself. After a night of passion with Dorian Gray, her ability to suppress the evil inside of her is lost, and most of this recent episode was devoted to the other characters, Sir Malcolm, Ethan Chandler, Dr. Frankenstein and Sembene trying to help her in any way they can.

There’s no other way to describe Green’s performance than as a revelation. It must be difficult to act out such extreme behavior and make it not just frightening, but authentic, and not laughable. She’s physically well-suited to such a part—she is beautiful, but in an almost otherworldly kind of way—pale and thin, with huge blue eyes and an overly expressive mouth. She rocked and frothed and screamed and spit, attacked herself and others, bit the face of a priest and flew to the ceiling like an insect. She had a knack for sometimes dropping her voice and speaking calmly, only to zero in on and expose the dark secrets of her friends as they struggle to come to her aid.

The script gave her enough interludes of lucidity that you could see the real Vanessa occasionally…but growing progressively weaker and more broken every time she is able to connect with one of her colleagues. It was a fine episode all around, because Vanessa’s situation brought out stark differences in the way the men of the series look at life and death and the things they cannot understand. Chandler is seemingly the most sensitive, wanting to call a priest and alleviate as much of her suffering as possible. Frankenstein is confounded, dealing with a problem science can’t solve, but also looking at death as a mercy, though he is scornful of the priest. Sembene is watchful and quiet as always, but it is Sir Malcolm who shows his true colors, trying to exploit her condition to get her to connect mentally with Mina—something that angers Chandler and Frankenstein.

I still don’t totally understand the ending—a moment between Chandler and Vanessa where a talisman is used, but I have enough faith in Penny Dreadful now that we’ll get an explanation next week. I’ve grown to really enjoy this series, and I’m sorry it’s already ending its first season run, but I think, as a gothic horror drama, it’s been a great success.

A Whole New Woooooorrrrld!

I know it’s been a few days, so now that we’ve all seen the Game of Thrones season four finale (and we have ALL seen it, yes?), let’s talk Westeros, shall we?

I thought The Children, scattered as it had to be, was still a pretty fantastic wrap-up to the season. Here are some of my personal highlights, in my favorite list format. If you are are in the fraction of the population who watches Game of Thrones but hasn’t seen the finale yet, then hop on a ship and sail away…there are spoilers ahead.

1. Brienne and Arya meet. So, it seemed Brienne and Pod’s path was drawing them closer to Arya and the Hound, but as a book-reader I still wasn’t sure we were going to get this scene. Martin is notorious for near misses when it comes to character interactions, and Brienne and Arya never meet in the books. But it was great. You could see how, in another life, Brienne and Arya could have struck up a great friendship and mentor/protogee bond that both could have benefited from. As it was though…

2. Brienne fought the Hound. And she bit his motherfucking ear off like a motherfucking boss. She didn’t kill him. Not quite. But that fight was epic. And I really do love watching Brienne fight.

3. The Hound dies. The Hound dies? The Hound is dying? Bloodied and seemingly done in, he begs Arya to finish the job. After all, he’s on her list. But being the stone-cold badass that she is, for once Arya forgoes the list. She leaves him to die on his own…slowly and agonizingly. She’s not in the business of mercy killing.

4. Bran meets the Children! And the Three-Eyed Crow! Bran finally gets where he’s going, but not without cost. We lose Jojen…a sad surprise. Jojen is still alive in the books. But the Child of the Forest, the little fire bomb throwing pixie who pops out of the cave and saves their asses, she looks like she has promise. And the Three-Eyed Crow (the Old Man in the Tree)…well, he is going to teach Bran some crazy magic mojo.

5. The Wall is almost lost. And then suddenly it’s not! After last week’s harrowing battle, the depleted Night’s Watch really feels royally fucked. And then, ironically, they’re royally saved. Led by Melisandre and Davos’ advice, Stannis leads his troops on the wall and overtakes the less disciplined Wildling army in what seems like a matter of minutes. The Wall is safe, but now Stannis and Melisandre are settling in at Castle Black, and that’s going to lead to some interesting new developments in the bleak, cold world of Jon Snow. Lose one ginger (Ygritte), get another (Melisandre).

6. Dany is confronted with one challenge that she, the mother of dragons, should have predicted but somehow failed to anticipate. Her children are growing fast, and they are hungry. After a string of farmers bringing in the bones of sheep or goats, one frightened farmer finally brings in the bones of something she can’t replace. His three-year-old daughter. For Dany, there is only one choice. She must protect her human children from her beastly ones. Drogon may still be at large, but she lures Viserion and Rhaegal into a solid walled chamber in her castle and chains them up, tears pouring down her cheeks as she locks them in.

7. Tyrion is freed by his brother! What a nice moment for them. But the good family feelings never last long for the Lannisters. Tyrion can’t quit the Red Keep just yet. Not before confronting his father. Only…who is that in his father’s bed? Why, it’s Shae! What do you know? In a fit of rage, Tyrion attacks her and they struggle, and he ends up strangling her to death with her own necklace. “I’m sorry,” he says weakly to her corpse as he sits by the bed.

8. Father’s Day! Now armed with this new betrayal (and a handy crossbow), Tyrion marches down the hall to face his father…while his father is, as they say in Westeros, “on the privy.” It is a strangely fitting moment for a man of Tywin Lannister’s dignity to be forced at arrow point to have this conversation with his son while his bare ass is on the can. To Tywin’s credit, he tries to stay calm and talk Tyrion down, but he drops the word “whore,” and whoops! There goes that crossbow! The leader of this Lion pride is dead.

9. Bye Tyrion! Tyrion is whisked away by Varys, who is looking more squirrelly than normal, and they board a boat headed…who knows where. Only season five can tell.

10. Bye Arya! Now in Arya’s case, we know exactly where she’s going. Arya is ready to shake Westeros off her boots for good. She catches a ride on the ship of a Braavosi captain, and with her handy coin and catch phrase from Jaqen H’ghar, she’s on the road to a new life…or, not to give TOO much away, she’s on the road to MANY new lives.

Until season 5, Game of Thrones.

Monster Smash.

Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, unlike the Roland Emmerich 1998 remake, took a classic, straightforward approach to the monster movie genre. In the tradition of the original Japanese films, Edwards’ movie is a simple formula. Man awakens monster, monster devastates man…the battle between nature and civilization, creation and destruction.

Godzilla is a tightly paced and serious film. Emmerich’s film tried to do too much, and while humor is often an appreciated addition to modern remakes, in this case, Edwards was wise to make his monsters the star of the show, and allow the fear and devastation they cause to have real emotional stakes. Those stakes come in the form of the Brody family, played by the movie’s human stars—Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen. The Brody family lost its matriarch (Juliette Binoche in a bittersweet cameo) to an early manifestation of the mutant monster awakening. The circumstances of her death have haunted her husband (Cranston) ever since, and negatively impacted his relationship with his son (Taylor-Johnson) who, fifteen years later, is a military bomb disposal officer, as well as a husband to Elle (Olsen) and father to a four-year-old son.

The other key players are Ken Watanabe, the doctor who provides the exposition on our monsters, and Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn, playing a scientist and military leader, respectively.

The details of the plot are important only in the sense that they introduce us to Godzilla in a mesmerizingly slow manner…a tease that has been much discussed in reviews of this movie. Indeed, the first monster we’re first introduced to is NOT, in fact, Godzilla, but Mothra. In a terrifying sequence, he hatches from an alien-like cocoon, a proto-reptilian winged nightmare, with long praying mantis appendages that emerge from the hole where he has been gestating. It’s gripping stuff.

And that is to say nothing of the titular monstrosity, whom we glimpse as a series of jutting, cruel looking spikes that are the only part of him to emerge from the water as he swims past. Then, in his first attack, there are passing shots of his feet, the swing of his tail, etc. It’s got to be almost halfway into the movie before Edwards finally rewards the audience with a slow pan, feet to head, of Godzilla in his entirety.

There may be a few who think that a little levity might have been called for. Watanabe’s character speaks of Godzilla with an almost religious like reverence that is just a step or two shy of being silly. But Cranston, Olsen and Taylor-Johnson acquit themselves well—making the panic on the ground feel real, and reacting to the insanity in a way that makes it seem as a logical as a movie about a giant, fire-breathing lizard can be. (Did I mention Godzilla breathes fire? Because he does. And it kicks ass.)

This movie managed to do the key things correctly…It managed a good balance of human moments and monster brawls. It invested time into developing the backstory of these creatures, prepping the audience for the reveal. Contrary to a lot of summer tentpole movies, it was not three fucking hours long, nor did it need to be. It entertained the whole time, and that’s the main job of any great summer movie.

Peace out!

Minimum Security, Maximum Entertainment.

Okay, that title is a little cheesy, even for me. But you know what’s NOT cheesy? Season 2 of Orange Is The New Black. The second season just became available today, and I’ve already watched the first half. That’s right…I marathoned that shit. How can you not?

So, if you’re a normal human being with other things in your life besides TV, then just know there will be some spoilers ahead.

And if you’re not watching OITNB at all? Well, pull your head out of your ass. It’s a great fucking show.

All of the ladies of Litchfield are back, in some degree. Laura Prepon has had a greatly diminished role in the first half of the season, but Alex did appear in episode 1, in a few tense and emotional scenes with Piper. The whole first episode is devoted to a journey Piper makes to Chicago, courtesy of the correctional system, in order to testify at the trial of Alex’s drug-lord boss. I won’t reveal the outcome of Alex and Piper’s respective testimonies, but suffice it to say that it has a HUGE impact on their relationship. As if that wasn’t tumultuous enough.

The backstories are, once again, absolutely fascinating. Getting a glimpse at what put these women in the uncomfortable grip of the American justice system is as riveting as the scenes in the prison. The stand-outs so far: Taystee, far more intellectually gifted than the circumstances she grew up in would allow her to be, Poussey, whose passion (and ability to speak fluent German) led to a series of heartbreaking scenes with a German lover, Morello, whose specific crime is much more disturbing than I would have expected, and Suzanne (formerly known as Crazy Eyes), whose unusual upbringing as the adopted daughter of an upper middle class white family created her debilitating need for love and approval. In fact, that’s the common thread of these stories—loneliness, and the need for love and home.

There’s a few new faces around the prison, but the most notable is Vee, played by the incredibly talented Lorraine Toussaint. Vee is a frightening force of nature. She does not yell, or hit, or lose her temper, but she is ruthless, calculating and Machiavellian in her dealings with the other inmates. Vee has been in prison before. She knows the system, and what’s more, she seems to be able to locate everyone else’s weaknesses with pinpoint accuracy, exploiting the other women’s secret fears and desires. It is a vivisection of performance, and Toussaint is tearing shit up.

I will PROBABLY watch the rest of the season tomorrow. I don’t think I’ll be able to help myself. As Nicky says, “I have to feed my addictive personality.”

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged.

Silicon Valley had a pretty short run on HBO…just eight episodes for its freshman season. But it has been picked up, and while it took me a little while to get into it, I’m glad to hear the boys of Pied Piper will be back, because I ended up thoroughly enjoying the show. 

Mike Judge is a pretty reliable creative voice. His most identifiable work, Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill, Office Space, Idiocracy, exists to poke holes in the institutions that are part of America, and make us laugh at the most ridiculous aspects of those institutions. Silicon Valley is no exception.

At first I was a bit worried that the actual technical aspects of the work and the culture would go over my head. But the show managed to walk a fine line of sounding like it knew what it was talking about (I’m assuming it did—I wouldn’t know the difference) and making the issues of a struggling start-up the same issues any one working for self-made success in America would endure.

In the end, the writing and an incredibly strong ensemble cast are what sold the show. Thomas Middleditch anchors the group as Richard, the twitchy but talented creator of Pied Piper, the product they’re peddling. Working with him are Erlich Bachmann (TJ Miller), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Jared (Zach Woods). Bachman is the bombastic and overly-confident foil to Richard, and Starr and Nanjiani bring great rhythm to the hilarious bickering of Pied Piper’s two ‘non-management’ employees. As for Zach Woods—well, that guy is truly having a moment. He’s been popping up on several different series in recent years, and for good reason. With his skeletal frame and translucent skin, he’s a walking cartoon, a sad and overly gentle doormat of a character, and he sells that persona for all its worth, to very effective comedic results.

I wanted to write about the finale because (SPOILER ALERT) it had me cheering aloud for Richard, who had been unsuccessful most of the season, in trying to transform a great idea into a great company. The boys of Pied Piper present at Tech Crunch Disrupt (a real industry event) and a last minute burst of inspiration, combined with the technical skills that put Richard on this path to start with, yield sudden and incredible success for our ragtag band of misfits. And I was truly happy for these characters. Failure is funny, but if this show has shown us nothing else, it’s shown us that success has the potential to be even funnier. I can’t wait to see what new challenges make Richard puke next season. So, Jared, do I have your support with my review of Silicon Valley?