In the past six months, we've said goodbye to a king and hello to another, met some new clones, traveled the flat circle of time, and had an old friend for dinner. So far, it's been a stunning year for television. We've seen so many wonderful, gripping horrifying, funny, and poignant moments blaze across our television screens in 2014, so it's hard to fathom that we're only halfway through the year. Here's a list of some of our favorite moments in television this year... so far. (Beware spoilers!)
The Mountain Crushes the ViperShow: Game of ThronesEpisode: "The Mountain and the Viper"
It was all too easy for Oberyn, who was doing backflips and chanting accusations while easily besting the Mountain in combat. But style, grace, and most importantly, honor have no place in the world of Game of Thrones. A lesson the show has painfully reiterated time and time again. What really gets things done in Westeros is brutal efficiency. So when the Mountain grabs hold of Oberyn by the scruff of the neck, unlike his competitor he wastes no time in gouging the prince's eyes out and crushing his head in horribly graphic fashion. The scene was a disgusting display of SFX wizardry and we've been wincing for weeks.
Three Years Later...Show: Parks and RecreationEpisode: "Moving Up"
For the past six years, Leslie has served Pawnee with moxie and unbridled enthusiasm, but it soon became clear that the devoted public servant was becoming too big for her little Indiana town. Pawnee after all, is somehow simultaneously the greatest town in America and hell on earth for anyone with more than two brain cells rubbing together. We knew Leslie would have to move on eventually, we just didn't know it would be so soon. In a brave gambit, Parks and Recreation jumps ahead three whole years and catches up with Leslie working a new job in Chicago with three toddler-aged kids. Ben is also inexplicably wearing a tuxedo. We've sometimes criticized Parks and Rec for growing a little stagnant formula-wise, and this was a brilliant shake-up for the series.
Helena ReturnsShow: Orphan BlackEpisode: "Governed as it Were by Chance"
At the end of the first season, Sarah shot her “seestra” Helena and left her for dead, but in the second, she found out that it takes more than a gunshot to take out the most unpredictable clone of all. Their reunion in the bathroom is one of Tatiana Maslany’s finest performances, a tense, terrifying moment that highlights the differences between all of the clones. As Helena, she’s creepy and otherworldly and desperate to be loved and protected; as Sarah, she’s terrified and traumatized, shaking uncontrollably and unable to breathe. It’s everything that’s exhilarating and mesmerizing about Maslany’s work on the show condensed into a powerhouse of a scene.
The Dinner PartyShow: HannibalEpisode: "Mizumono"
Season 2 of Hannibal opened and closed with a deadly dinner that was nothing short of a game-changer. The season's slow burning tragedy ended with a shocking, bloody, and audacious final 10 minutes that leaves Will Graham and essentially the entire principal cast bleeding out, dead, or dying, while Hannibal escapes into the night. It's hard to think of a moment of television in 2014 that left us more gutted.
The Long TakeShow: True DetectiveEpisode: "Who Goes There"
These days, television is on a definite winning streak, with some even proclaiming that the lowly boob tube has even transcended film. TV has certainly come a long way in the past 10 years, and even in the last five, but one area where television has always felt lacking is in cinematography. Directing on television can sometimes feel largely perfunctory, a means to an end. But then we saw the fourth episode of True Detective. And then we forgot what movies even were for a couple days. When undercover cop Rust Cohle is caught up in a white supremacist robbery gone wrong, he escapes in a breathtaking six-minute long take that's not only absurdly complex and seamless but so unflinchingly thrilling. We can't even begin to comprehend how Cary Fukunaga put this one together.
The Coming Out PartyShow: ShamelessEpisode: "Emily"
Generally, when characters come out as gay on television, they do so through a heartfelt confession underscored to soft piano music. But Mickey Milkvoich is not a typical character and Shameless is not a typical show. So when Mickey came out, he did so by getting into a bar fight with his abusive, homophobic, alcoholic father. It’s a testament to Noel Fisher’s performance that he’s not only turned Mickey from a one-off bully into one of the most sympathetic – if not necessarily likeable – characters on the show, but he also created a scene that it simultaneously touching and triumphant.
Ding Dong, the King is DeadShow: Game of ThronesEpisode: "The Lion and the Rose"
With the Starks scattered in the winds, Stannis virtually army-less, and Daenerys still tying to be the Abe Lincoln of Essos, we expected Joffery, the cruel boy king of Westeros, to sit on the Iron Throne for decades. to come. Luckily, Game of Thrones doesn't give a crap what we expect, and in the midst of Joffery's garish wedding celebration, right when Joffery was being his Joffery-est, the king is murdered. And when the big moment finally happens, it isn't triumphant or cathartic like we had always imagined, but horrifying. Watching the life slip out of this child (a fact that's so easy to forget) as he clutches for his mother, and seeing his terrified face go blue then grey, with eyes wild and confused, struggling to understand what was happening, the scene is actually deeply sad. We even felt pity for the poor monster. But we felt even worse for the people caught in the blowback of his assassination.
Mind Your MannersShow: Orange Is the New BlackEpisode: "We Have Manners. We're Polite."
You know all that catharsis we were missing from the death of Joffery on Game of Thrones? Well, we sure felt it in spades here. Vee spent Season 2 of Orange Is the New Black terrorizing and manipulating the inmates of Litchfield. So when Rosa crunches into Vee with her stolen prison van, extinguishing the menace for good... Let's just say we've never felt better about seeing someone get hit with a car.
Ginsberg Looses His S**t... and NippleShow: Mad MenEpisode: "The Runaways"
Most of Mad Men's psychological traumas occur beneath the skin. But Michael Ginsberg, the least "polished" of the Sterling Cooper & Partners troupe, found a way to bring his issues to the surface in one of the weirdest scenes in the series' history: he removed the valve. He cut off his own nipple, exemplifying a bout with what can only be presumed to be paranoid schizophrenia at the behest of a mechanical interloper. Mad Men is all about metaphors... and we're still clawing at this one to figure out what it means.
Emmett and Leanne's KillerShow: The AmericansEpisode: "Echo"
On FX, there is a show that is every bit as good as Game of Thrones, Hannibal, or True Detective, but only a scant few are watching. The Americans wrapped up its sophomore season in brilliant fashion, letting loose a twist that shocked to the core. After spending the season searching for the killers of fellow undercover KGB agents, Emmet and Leanne, Philip and Elizabeth discover that the real killer was none other than their friends' own son, who was admitted into the KGB behind his parents' back. As the young man revealed his misdeeds between bloody gasps and blind soviet patriotism, everything about the second season was suddenly turned on its head. The most frightening revelation: Paige and Henry, Elizabeth and Phillip's own kids, are next in line to become operatives. Is it 2015 yet?
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.