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May 19, 2019

[SPOILER] If it’s really a game of thrones, here’s how Game of Thrones should end

SPOILER ALERT: I’m writing this hours before the final episode and will spoil prior episodes.

Based on the end of Episode 5 of Season 8 — the penultimate episode — it sure looks like Arya is on her way to kill Dany. But that’d be a cop out. I hope GoT goes all Red Weddingon us.

The GoT is a pacifist work intent on reminding us of the cost of war. War is unpredictable at both its micro level — even obvious heroes can be killed without warning — and macro level.

At the macro level, Dany certainly seems to have lost her claim to be a virtuous ruler. But so what? GoT should not end based on what will make its audience feel good.

Dany should become the ruler of Westeros. That will require killing Jon since he’s the legit heir to the throne. After that, the script writers will do the old Towering Infernothing of deciding who lives and who dies — for God’s sake, why did they have to kill Fred Astaire? — and who makes it. If I had to guess, I’d say Sansa dies, Tyrion survives in some humiliating role, and Arya lives on as an enemy. Because GoT should not fully resolve … which, given GRRM’s pace, it looks like it never will.

[Confidence level: 12%]

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September 30, 2013

[SPOILERS] A Breaking Bad plot flaw

Breaking Bad Finale SPOILERS

A number of plot weaknesses, if not exactly flaws, have been noticed by many people: It was too convenient that Walter found the car keys in the first scene, it was unlikely that he could have so casually evaded the police lookouts when visiting his wife, he couldn’t have counted on being allowed to position his car so perfectly for the last scene, it was lucky that all the bad guys (except one) were in just the right range for his bullet-sprinkler system.

But I haven’t seen one particular, and genuine, plot flaw mentioned anywhere. Probably because I’m wrong about it. Here goes:

Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz were next to each other facing forward when the red laser dots appeared on their chests. How did they see the dots? Did they see the laser sources and figure out that they were pointing at them? That’s probably it. Ok, so much for the plot flaw. Carry on.

Finally, yes, I know that picking plot flaws misses the point of the Breaking Bad finale. But I have to say that I was a little disappointed by episode. It wrapped up the plot points, but I didn’t think it advanced the series’ argument. And, no, I don’t claim to know exactly what that argument was; it was too wonderfully complex for that. Still, I didn’t think the finale deepened its themes.

I agree with how others have framed it: “Ozymandias” — the third-to-last episode — was the series’ climax. The rest was denouement.

Great, great series.


Freudian slip of the month. From E-Online’s coverage of the finale: “Walt (Bryan Cranston) got his revenge but succumbed to his wombs.”

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November 27, 2012

At the corner of Hollywood and Web

I greatly enjoyed last weeks’s Berkman Center event about some of the ways the Web is affecting the movie industry, which included a screening of an indie movie that has been released only on the Web.

First here was a panel discussion with Rob Burnett [twitter:robburnett1], Elaine McMillion, and me, moderated by Jonathan Zittrain. Rob is the executive producer of “The Late Show with David Letterman” and the director and co-creator of the new indie movie We Made This Movie. Elaine is a Berkman Fellow and is orchestrating a crowdsourced, interactive documentary called Hollow. Jonathan Zittrain is extremely Jonathan Zittrainy, which is a wonderful thing. We talked about what the Net is doing to movies, and you couldn’t ask for two more insightful commentators than Rob and Elaine, led by the Best Moderator in the Business.

Then we watched Rob’s movie, which I loved. [Disclosure: I did a little free consulting about the Web release.] The movie is hard to describe, which is a good thing, but it’s funny, engaging, touching, and deeply clever. In fact, it transcends its cleverness, but of this I can say no more. It’s also got an incredibly talented ensemble cast that made me think of Diner. Go to the movie’s site to find out how to see it online. (Hint: It’s on iTunes.)

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July 14, 2011

Predicting SYTYCD: Reading the judges

I have a prediction about who is going home tonight on So You Think You Can Dance.

I am more certain about the boy who’s leaving: Jess. I believe the judges are setting us up for this. It seemed to me that he danced fantastically last night. His second dance in particular elicited “mehs” instead of what seemed to me to be the more obvious and more fair course: His movement is so precise. His rhythm is amazing. He stayed in character and exhibited joy. He excelled in a style not his own. But not a word about his “growth,” much less having “taken us on a journey.” Instead the judges praised the slightly less strong performance by Clarice. (Note that I know I am not a dance expert.) And Nigel gave away the game when he said that Jess is unsteady in his lifts. I.e., Jess is short. Very short.

So, I think the judges (= the producers) have decided that Jess can’t make it into the Top Ten because they will not be able to keep him from getting paired with a tall girl. So, he has to go. Thus, they’re setting it up so that tonight when he dances for his life, sending him home won’t be out of the blue. (The fact that a couple of weeks ago the judges told Ryan that her dance for her life wasn’t up to their standards but they kept her anyway pretty much confirmed that the decisions about who to cut are made before and regardless of the “dance for your life” segments.)

I’m pretty sure they’re also setting us up to send Ryan home. I personally think she’s the weakest of the girls, so I’m not as bothered. They even gave her a dance last night that featured what are supposed to be her “Hollywood” good looks and didn’t use that to boost her to us viewers. I believe her goose is finally cooked. The story will be that they gave her a chance when they rescued her a couple of weeks ago and she just hasn’t come through, although they’ll put it in more new agey language about being true to herself and being in the moment.

Overall, I think this season’s Top Twenty has been amazingly strong and even. But I’m not finding the same peaks as in many other years. (For me, Brandon and Will were two mighty peaks.) If I had to pick a favorite, it’d be Sasha Mallory.


June 8, 2011

E.T.: A very old trailer

Here’s the 1982 trailer for ET:

MovieLine posted the trailer to support the wisdom of Super 8’s decision not to give away too much ahead of time. But, wow, does the ET trailer seem dated! It feels like it has about half as many scenes as a typical modern trailer. Contemporary trailers are much more coherent, not in the sense of making sense (which they usually don’t), but in the sense of feeling like a whole experience, usually ending with an ear-ripping blast or, after you’ve thought it ended, a shocking image or wry remark. I hate contemporary trailers because they are assaultive and disrespect the movies they spoil, but the ET trailer seems excepionally poorly made.

Maybe they figured (correctly) that they really just had to tell us that it’s the next Spielberg film, and that ET was unlikely to bite children in half.

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April 17, 2011

Comedy or not?

At the risk of becoming just slightly obsessed with the awfulness of Airport 1975, here’s the honest-to-grid trailer for it, indistinguishable from parodies of it:

Simply for purposes of comparison (SPOILER: better cast, better acting, even funnier):

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February 6, 2011

The Eras of Late Night Memory Test

I’m fairly good at associating the U.S. presidents of my lifetime with the decades in which they were in office. But, I find myself unhinged in time when it comes to the late night talkshow hosts. I am constantly surprised upon hearing, say, how long Leno has been on.

You too? Let’s find out. Here’s a quiz. (All answers authenticated by the experts at Wikipedia.)

Year Steve Allen started The Tonight Show.

Year Jack Paar took over.

Start and end years of Johnny Carson’s hosting of The Tonight Show.

When did Carson move the show from NY to Hollywood?.

What year did the Tomorrow Show (which came on after the Tonight Show) start?

During what years did the Dick Cavett Show run on ABC as a late night show?

What year did Late Night with Letterman start?

Whom did Letterman replace? That is, who had been the host of the Tomorrow Show?

Who was host of The Tonight Show during most of the years that The Arsenio Hall Show was on?

Who was President during the year that Jay Leno first took over The Tonight Show?

When did Conan O’Brien take over Letterman’s Late Night?

What year did Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show begin?

Extra Credit

What road served as a bizarre euphemism for “penis,” expressing a ritualized fear of castration, on Carson’s Tonight Show ?

What object did Ed Ames accidentally turn into a surrogate penis, resulting in the longest laugh in Tonight Show history?

Do we sense a disturbingly Freudian pattern here?

Who played the non-endearing but frequent guest on the Tonight Show who went by the name “Aunt Blabby”?

What game show host had a late night talk show on a major network for a season?

What did Merv Griffin create that is probably known by the most people?

Name the funniest sidekick on any late night talk show?

Have you ever seen a complete episode of Jimmy Kimmel’s late night show?


January 15, 2011

1960’s bands vs. 1960’s bands’ names

The names of the top bands of the 1960s are so much a part of them that it’s almost impossible to think of the names simply as names. But let’s make the effort in order to evaluate how good their names were.

Of course, names can be good in many ways. They can be descriptive, ironic, memorably eccentric. But, it seems to me that some of the best bands had the worst names.

Here’s an unordered and, of course, utterly subjective list, graded on a scale of 1-10, where 10 is best:

  • Jefferson Airplane: Retro + modern + meaningless = psychedelic. 8

  • Supremes : Cocky, but lived up to it. 8

  • Rolling Stones: Great name for itinerant minstrels. Terrible name for a rock band. 4

  • Fairport Convention: Appropriately rustic and archaic. If it didn’t sound like the name of an obscure British peace treaty or forgotten dart rules, it’d be close to perfect. 8

  • Grateful Dead: Good hyperbolic name for a metal group. Totally inappropriate for a group as sunny as this. Points added because they were clearly tripping when they came up with it. 6

  • Mamas and Papas: Terrific name for a kiddy band. Meh name for a pop group of young, non-parental units. 5

  • Gladys Knight and the Pips: Pips? Really? Is this a British vaudeville group that comes out in boaters? All of this band’s points go to the first half of its name: 3

  • The Beach Boys: Beach music sung by boys. Sounds frivolous, but then they sing. Frivolously. And then they record Pet Sounds. 9

  • Four Tops: There are four of them. They are the tops. The naming convention flags their genre. Well done, lads! 9

  • The Doors: An incredibly prosaic name that works ironically for their druggy music. Plus, it’s an appropriate literary reference — which would be better if their worst songs weren’t the ones that opened the doors of perception the widest. They shouldn’t have asked The Lizard King’s opinion. 9

  • The Four Seasons: They have nothing to do with the seasons. They have nothing to do with Vivaldi. It’s a bland, generic, misleading, slightly pretentious, placeholder of a name. Point added for the correct counting of band members. 2

  • Gerry and the Pacemakers: You know immediately what sort of band they are, unless you hear “pacemaker” as a medical device and think that they’re going to show up in walkers and plaid pants buckled beneath their pot bellies. Gotta split the difference on this one: 4

  • Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention: The Mothers were men, plus you have the swear-word implication, plus they were actually inventive. All of which doesn’t even matter. You had me at “Zappa.” 10

  • The Byrds: Did they misspell it because “” was already taken? Oh, wait. They misspelled it to be cool.
    genericName + misspelling = genericName – 2. Final score: 1

  • Creem: Ironically refined food-based name. Sexual connotation. Bold statement that they were a super-group composed of the filtered extract of great other groups. The lack of a definite article makes it even cockier. 10

  • Sly and the Family Stone: You’ve got the slyness of “Sly” and the family-ness of “Family,” but together with a straight-on drug reference. A totally wtf name for a wtf group. 9

  • Steppenwolf: Sounds vaguely and appropriately threatening and aggressive, despite the totally inappropriate literary reference. 7

  • Credence Clearwater Revival: The length of the name has a throwback quality, and the three words each independently says that this is a group about something simple and pure. It would have been a terribly pretentious name for a folk group, but it works better for a rock group. 5

  • Led Zeppelin: The winner in a contentious argument about what to name a psychedelicious band, if the band members were all 14 years old. For an adult band, it’s just embarrassing. 3

  • The Beatles: See Led Zeppelin, but drop the band’s age to 12. “Oooh, and we can spell it B-E-AT instead of B-E-E-T.” Is it an accident that as far as I know, the Beatles never once used a beetle in their iconography? Terrible terrible name. Point added because they were the FREAKING BEATLES OMG OMG. 2


August 6, 2009

Go see Twelfth Night

My family has gone to Shakespeare & Co. productions every summer for almost 30 years. We have taken the kids since they were nursing. Over the years, I’ve blogged about various plays we’ve seen, usually very positively. Shakespeare & Co. do lively stagings, with clear diction and no desire to have us sit still while watching A Classic. They are always entertaining and frequently moving.

We saw Twelfth Night this afternoon. It is the funniest production I think I’ve seen them do. If you are in or near western Massachusetts, I urge you to go. You will LYAO.

It was directed by Jonathan Croy, who we’ve enjoyed as an actor since seeing him as Bottom in A Midsummer’s Night Dream a few decades ago. He had us crying with laughter in the Pyramus and Thisbe play within a play, and we’ve seen him in just about everything he’s been in since. His direction of Twelfth Night is brilliant. Mainly it’s hilarious. But it was also at times quite moving. He finds every laugh, many bawdy, some hammy, and some perhaps not in the original — but Shakespeare would have approved, for, as always with Shakespeare & Co., this is not the broccoli Shakespeare you’re required to eat for your own good. This is delicious, hearty, deeply satisfying Shakespeare you can’t wait to get another helping of. This is Shakespeare after Shakespeare’s own heart.

Afterward, we went to a free lecture by Kevin Coleman, who heads the company’s educational program. His talk was informal, full of anecdotes. But by the end of the hour, he had made his point: Stop teaching Shakespeare in the schools. Instead, we should have students play Shakespeare. But not just put on performances after memorizing the lines.

He demonstrated one technique he uses. Students in pairs run up to a basketball hoop (he thinks Shakespeare should be taught on a playground, to convey the sense of play) dribbling an imaginary ball; one kid passes the ball and the other shoots a nothing-but-net shot, and then they high-five or otherwise exult. Next, he gives one kid in each pair a single line from a random Shakespeare play. They run up to the hoop. The one with the line speaks it loudly but flatly — “passing” it — and the other kid delivers the line to the audience. The combination of bodily movement and the fact that the line doesn’t have to be memorized gets the kids to find the heart of the line. This is way better than having kids read a play at home and then call on them to read a line from a page.

Kevin says that he then has them do entire scenes, each player being fed all the lines by a partner, without having read the play first. The players therefore can look at each other as they say the lines, rather than look at the script. They find the rhythm, the meaning, and the feeling. At Kevin’s lecture, we did the one line version, and the results were impressive. I could see it working for an entire play.

Kevin also argued against the “translation” process most teachers and Shakespeare books use, by which we ask students to re-express Shakespeare’s words in their own language. This seems like a way for students to appropriate the text, but it also strips out the beauty and resonance of the language. His example was the line when Romeo first sees Juliet: “What lady is that, which doth enrich the hand of yonder knight?” When, with good intentions, teachers ask students to re-express that line, it comes out something like “Who’s the girl?” or “What’s the name of the fox?” Sure, that’s what Romeo is asking, but the translation loses everything. Shakespeare’s language gets turned into “French fries,” Kevin says.

Anyway, go see Twelfth Night.

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August 1, 2009

has Shark Week jumped the shark?

The Discovery Channel thought I’d be interested enough in “Shark Week” to open an email from them about it. Apparently I was, but only in a meta way. Twenty-four years after Jaws, do we still find sharks so threatening that they get their own week of TV? Sure, they’re killing machines, but so are ant-eaters. Sure, they very very occasionally kill one of our own species, but so do woodpeckers, and death by woodpecker is way more grisly, not to mention time-consuming.

Besides, it’s Cold Cereal Week on Top Chef, so I’ll be otherwise engaged.

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On a more literary note, I just finished Richard Price’s Lush Life. Price is one of my favorites — great at characters, sentences, social worlds, and bruised moralities. Lush Life has the form of a police procedural, although in some ways it’s an anti-procedural. (I say no more, lest I venture into the spoilers realm.) My only disappointment with it is that Price he doesn’t go as deep into some of his characters as others; he often excels as a writer about race, but this novel the main white characters felt more surely drawn than the main black ones. Still, I really enjoyed it.


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