After a season that has seen the death of a king, the gruesome head-smashing of our newest hero, heartbreak, betrayal, and giants, it's somewhat surprising that "The Children" ends on such a hopeful note, with Arya Stark staring out over the sea, on her way to a new life in Braavos.
It's a fitting and satisfying ending for a season that has seen power shift so drastically, one that has taken the status quo, or whatever comes closest in Westeros, torn it apart, and scattered the pieces to the wind. It's an ending full of possibility, change and even some excitement, one that firmly places both the children and the Children in the spotlight for next year, by focusing firmly on the future. And it's the capper to what is perhaps Game of Thrones' best season finale yet, an episode that managed to have thematic coherence and shocking twists and turns, and to have put the pieces for upcoming seasons in place while still being an entertaining hour of television. Even if Lady Stoneheart never showed up.
Normally, Game of Thrones packs the biggest shocks of the season into its penultimate episode, leaving the finale open as the time when characters can react and recover from whatever tragic and gruesome death (because it is always a tragic and gruesome death) just shook everything up. It would be easy for "The Children" to be nothing but a reaction episode showing the way the Battle for Castle Black and Tyrion's trial by combat has caused shock waves through the Seven Kingdoms, and saved all of the big shocks for next season. But the fourth season of Game of Thrones subverted its expected formula early, killing off Joffrey in the second episode and packing at least one major twist or death in every episode since, some more successfully than others. Joffrey's death has had the biggest, most expansive impact on the series since Ned Stark was beheaded. Like that original shock it has the biggest impact not on the old guard who used to hold the power in the Seven Kingdoms, but on the next generation, and "The Children" saw that generation inherit their legacy, their future, and in the case of Tyrion, their fathers' worst characteristics.
If the final shot of Arya on the boat is a perfect summation of the episode's themes and of the possibility that awaits these characters in seasons to come, the shot of Tyrion threatening his father with a crossbow while the latter is on the toilet is also fitting, a physical representation of the circle of abuse, desire for power, and hatred coming to a close. Though Tyrion has never been the most noble center, he had a goodness to him that Jaime and certainly Cersei were lacking, and that separated him from the father who never wanted to claim him as his son. However, killing Shae, the only woman he has ever loved, by strangling her in his father's bed is such a characteristically Tywin act that it connects the two in a way that Tyrion has never anticipated or wanted. Peter Dinklage gives a great performance here, exhibiting all of the horror and heartbreak he feels at her second betrayal and his reaction to it, as well as the shock at what he's capable of. Even Tyrion seems to know that he wasn't justified in his actions, that they were cruel and unforgivable and exactly what Tywin would do in that situation.
So when he holds that crossbow up to his father, and declares with a cold sincerity "I am your son. I have always been your son," he's not just making sure that Tywin faces up to his legacy before he dies, he's also admitting the harshness and cruelty that was always there, under the surface. Despicable though he was, Tywin was a wonderful character to watch, always capable of shaking things up without warning, and he will be missed. Charles Dance gives his last lines a dry wit, bantering easily with Dinklage before taking a stake to the chest, and it's hard not to regret the death of someone who can make sitting on the toilet an act of dignity and grace. But Tyrion shows no mercy, leaving his father there to die in humiliation before being spirited away on a ship with Varys in tow.
His last moments of the season aren't the only parallel to Arya's storyline. She too is forced to choose between mercy and cruelty when faced with a dying Hound, who has been brutally beaten and fatally wounded by Brienne. In a way, she chooses both, ignoring his taunts and pleas for her to kill him and simply walking away, leaving him to the long, agonizing process of dying. Though Arya doesn't put him out of his misery, she can't bring herself to murder the man who, admittedly in a dangerous and unconventional fashion, protected her on her journey. Arya has another parallel in Brienne: they are two strong, self-sufficient women who were more interested in learning to sword fight than in adhering to the way society expects them to behave. Both have seen cruelty and abuse, both have pulled themselves up by the bootstraps and continued on through everything, and both need to go their own ways and set out on their own journeys. Brienne is offering protection and shelter, but Arya knows that she can only rely on herself now. She never fully trusted the Hound, and she certainly doesn't trust Brienne; as these two surrogate parents battle over custody of her, Arya makes the decision to protect herself, and in that moment she grows up more than she ever did by stabbing a man with Needle.
Just as one of Arya's journeys has thankfully come to an end, so has her brother's. Both Arya and Bran had some exciting moments this season, but the vast majority of their screentime was spent wandering around in the wilderness, and frankly, it was one of the less interesting plots of the year. But watching Arya set sail for a new life and Bran-as-Hodor beat up skeleton zombies makes everything worth it, if only because it sets up some truly exciting arcs for next year. Bran comes into his own on a trek to see The Children, the ancient people who have inhabited Westeros since the beginning of time, and who will exist until the end. Still, in order to gain anything in Game of Thrones, you must first lose something of value, and in order to grow into his Warging abilities and his future, Bran must watch Jojen get killed by a skeleton, although the sadness was somewhat undercut by the hilariously awkward CGI the moment involved.
It's a price that Jon Snow knows all too well, having watched the love of his life die last week. Now in command of Castle Black (in action, if not in name) he sets out on a suicide mission to establish a peace treaty with Mance Rayder, only to have the moment interrupted when Stannis Baratheon rides in with an army to rescue Castle Black. Despite Stannis having the army, it's Jon who has the power here, finally getting to embrace his legacy as Ned Stark's son, rather than being shunted aside as his bastard. Like Ned, Jon is one of the few truly noble men in Westeros, but he's seen more than his father did, and he understands that the world and the people who inhabit it aren't black and white, so he has a chance at making it further in the game than Ned did. For Jon, it's not only about right and wrong, but about what's smart, what's merciful, and what's best for each individual situation.
"The Children" also sees Cersei and Daenerys making difficult choices in order to protect their children. Cersei, desperate not to be separated from her last child, reveals to Tywin the truth about her relationship with Jaime. Lena Headey's performance has gone mostly underappreciated as Cersei slides further and further into despair, and her wild-eyed delivery as Cersei plays the final card she has up her sleeve in a bid to hold onto what little power is left to her is pitch perfect. Dany, meanwhile, is forced to choose between her dragons and her people, and must lock her "children" away for everyone's protection. It's a sad, ironic moment for the woman who prides herself on being the "Breaker of Chains," but it's a crucial part of Dany learning to be a great leader, an ancestral legacy left for her by her own family.
In the process of establishing the significant changes that these characters have gone through and the new futures that await them on the other side of the hiatus, "The Children" also drives home how loose the show's structure has become. It still struggles to find a way to balance the numerous storylines so that the important moments have the right amount of impact and weight, but with every character at a different point in the journey that was laid out for them in the books, it's difficult to predict what the show is going to cover in the upcoming seasons, and just how well it will be able to keep a hold on everything. Just like Arya's future is laid out ahead of her in endless possibilities, the show's future is just as uncertain, and there are endless ways that events can play out, and endless changes that can be made.
Episode grade: A-, or Two flame-throwing child fairies that live in the woods. Here's hoping things get even more otherworldly and fantastic in the episodes left to come.
Zach Braff's Wish I Was Here has been rife with controversy ever since it was announced. After a troubled Kickstarter campaign that marred the project before it even started filming, Braff's latest has been receiving a lashing from critics (the film currently holds a meager 36% on Rotten Tomatoes), with film writers throwing out words like "phony" and "self-indulgent" to describe the movie. If you're not up for a Garden State reprise, complete with sounds of crooning indie rockers, purple wigs, and random space adventures, Wish I Was Here might be a bitter pill to swallow. Well, except for one little thing...
JD and Turk are back together. Donald Faison, Braff's real life bestie and former Sacred Heart colleague, pops into the trailer as a charming Aston Martin salesman who takes Braff's family out for a L.A. joy ride. The two actors memorably played best friends on the NBC sitcom Scrubs, which perfectly captured the intricacies of "guy love between two guys," as the song goes. Even in the tiny scene from the trailer, it's all right there: the knowing looks, the banter, all of the electric chemistry from Scrubs is back in full force. But is it worth paying full ticket price for what probably amounts to only a short reprise of the JD and Turk bromance, or would you be better off giving your old Scrubs DVDs another spin in your home theater?
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As grand as the themes of good and evil, needs and deservings, power and responsibility and such forth are, superhero movies are generally pretty straightforward in premise: hero stops villain from wreaking havoc. As off-putting as this kind of simplicity might sound, it's usually the right way to go. If you pack enough substance into your characters and adhere your plot to these linear margins, you can actually wind up saying a healthy amount (and having a lot of fun). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets half of this formula down pat. Although Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is still a moreover undistinguished identity, his emotional magnitude (re: his relationship with Gwen Stacy) is enough to keep him valid through the storm of lunacy that is his second feature. And it's not even that lunacy that holds him back. The problem isn't how wild his conquests are, how silly some of the action sequences feel, or how absolutely bonkers his villains turn out to be. It's all the other stuff (and yes, if you can believe it, there's a ton more going on in this movie than what I've already mentioned — that's the issue). All the plot twists, tertiary mysteries, ominous flashbacks, abject reveals, and weightlessly sinister pawns in this brooding game that, save for its fun with the baddies, takes itself way too seriously. All that stuff that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 thinks is necessary to make Peter Parker matter? It actually does just the opposite.
Peter is at his best when he's playing Tracy and Hepburn with the girlfriend he's perpetually disappointing (the eternally charming Emma Stone), or trying to win back the favor of the only remaining parental figure from whom he's rapidly slipping away (Sally Field, reminding us why she's a household name), or angling to connect with the mentally unstable engineer who just wants people to notice him (Jamie Foxx working his comic shtick with a frightening zest). We have the most fun with Peter when he's playing the simplest games, and we connect best with him on similar ground. But Peter and company, at the behest of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise's Sandman-sized aspirations, spend so much time exploring new avenues: the secrets surrounding the death and work of Richard Parker, the behind-the-curtains operations of OsCorp, the nefarious goings on in the waterside penitentiary Ravencroft.
Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
As a result of the grand stab at world building, there is just so much stuff that Peter has to wade through in this movie, dragging the likes of Gwen and his boyhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, mastering angst, menace, and upper-class privilege all at once) into the dark crevasses of narrative waste. With so many diversions into the emotionally vacant, deliberately joyless explorations of Parker family origin stories, secret brief cases, and underground subways — The Amazing Spider-Man 2 rivals Captain America: The Winter Soldier in complexity, but forgets the necessary ingredient of fun — we barely have enough energy left when the good stuff hits.
And in truth, the good stuff isn't really good enough to sustain us through all the duller periods. Garfield and Stone do have laudable chemistry. Foxx is a hoot as Peter's maniacal new foe, especially when paired with the grimacing DeHaan. And the action, while often straying from any aesthetic authenticity, is nothing shy of neat-o. It's all passable, occasionally worthy of a hearty smile, but rarely anything you'll be definitively pleased you took the time to see.
But beyond coming up short in the micro, the film's regal downfall is its scope. With so much to do, both in accomplishing its own necessary plot points and setting up for those to come in future films, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't seem to take time to make sure it's having fun with its own premise. And if it isn't having fun, we won't be either.
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One of Tribeca Film Festival 2014's more lighthearted pieces is The Bachelor Weekend — titled The Stag in Ireland, its country of origin — a comedy about a collection of "modern men" who take to the countryside for the main character Finoon's (Hugh O'Conor) bachelor party, only to clash with an unwanted tag-along oozing alpha male bravado: Finoon's future brother-in-law, known only as "the Machine" (Peter McDonald, who also co-wrote the film).
Whereas many a comedy film in the "one last hoorah" genre would go for big, broad laughs and wacky antics at the expense of the plot and characters, director John Butler's Bachelor Weekend instead uses its fun premise to explore the nature of the folks at the center — a collection of guys that Butler and McDonald affirm are based on their friends. This kind of friendship is vivid from the way that they and O'Conor all riff on one another, managing to cover situations as grave as the evolution of masculinity over the course of the last 50 years and the national psyche of present day Ireland all the while cracking a few jokes about O'Conor jumping out a window.
My chat with Butler, McDonald, and O'Conor does contain a few major spoilers for The Bachelor Weekend, so be warned. But those who have seen the film, and who are hankering for a quick insight into the human ego, that breed of really bad bachlor parties, and director Butler's mid-morning hallucinations, enjoy.
We’ve got a whole line of bachelor party movies in America — I’m sure you guys have seen plenty of them. A lot of them are very funny, but I was pleasantly surprised by how different Bachelor Weekend is in a lot of ways. Were you trying to bring something new to the genre specifically?
John Butler: Definitely. We like those films. Some of them are fantastic. One of the things that we thought we might like to try with our film was to create a real investment in the heart of the story, so that you really care for the characters and the emotional arc wasn’t tacked on to serve the jokes. We wanted to write it inside out so that you really felt for these people, while also serving up to jokes that worked. So that was important to us, I think. A comedy film with heart. The films that we might have mentioned in relation to that in the course of writing it would be things like Sideways, or…
Peter McDonald: Diner.
JB: … Diner, or Swingers. You know, films that don’t shortchange you emotionally but still serve up good jokes. So that was part of the inspiration.
PM: It was kind of sitting there waiting for someone to make it. So many films around the event of the wedding have been made. If not the wedding itself, it’s the bridesmaids, or the guys, or whatever. And we love those films, they’re really funny. And they are bigger films. So in that marketplace, it’s a comedy film, [snaps] we need 20 gags, so that’s what they’re going to make. So that’s totally understandable. But so many people go on stags! This is something that they can relate to, so why not have a film that has the comedy but also has the investment in the characters?
JB: We don’t know any of those "bros" that go on and devour stag weekends. That’s not really a familiar type to us. It’s more interesting to write about real guys who go on stags for reasons out of their control. Pushed out of their comfort zones. Not the guys who really love it, the kind of spring breaky types.
PM: Lots of guys go on stags just because that’s what you do. It’s just a ritual that everyone engages in. So [we wanted] to have a look at what place that ritual has in relation to guys and masculinity. Because The Machine is so different from the other guys, that no-man’s-land there is an interesting area.
JB: You show up on those stags, you’re not going to want to be drinking Jäger bombs with 20 strange men in four hours’ time. It’s such a surreal…
Hugh O’Conor: When you go to the West of Ireland a bit, it’s always that kind of — which is lovely! — but you’re away from what you’re used to…
PM: You get up the morning after the first night, and you’re like, “I have to hang out with these guys again?”
JB: And I have to drink!
HO: Yeah, the drinking…
PM: Then you show up to the wedding, and you’re like, “You’re such a tool. I’ve experienced you, and you’re the worst person.”
You’ve seen their true colors.
JB: Have you been on many stags?
No, I’m going on my first one in a couple of weeks, actually.
JB: What’s the deal? What’s the setup?
It’s a high school friend of mine. These guys are probably more along the lines of the Machine than the other guys.
PM: Hookers and blow.
I’m more of a Finoon, so I’ll be reading in the back room.
JB: Team Finoon!
Yeah, we’re going down to the Dominican Republic.
JB: Oh nice!
PM: All right! DR! That sounds like fun.
Yeah. I’m sure it will be.
PM: That sounds a lot more fun.
HO: That actually sounds good!
PM: I’ve got to say, though, I’ve had some killer times on stags.
PM: Absolutely. I’ve had some really great times with my best friends on their stags.
HO: Not yours.
PM: So I think it’s also a celebration of that. And, if anything, [the movie] says stags are a good idea because they all get something out of the weekend. That’s the genre it’s in. It’s not going to have a downbeat ending, this story.
HO: There is that line you have in the scene with the campfire where you say, “You couldn’t put a price on this.” And you kind of go, “Wow, they did get there.”
PM: They did get there!
HO: It’s nice that they got there. Despite everything.
[“Yeah”s all around]
JB: Every experience, obviously, has value. It’s just that sometimes they’re set up the wrong way. You know what I mean? Sometimes the approach is wrong. Definitely it’s great going away with some friends. There can be great stuff in it. But the bad ones are bad…
I like that you bring up masculinity. It’s a very clear theme in this movie. You have the wedding planner in the movie challenging Finoon’s masculinity, then the idea of his father disapproving of Finoon’s brother Kevin and his boyfriend [played by Michael Legge and Andrew Bennett, respectively]. Did you approach this movie wanting to discuss masculinity, or did it come about organically?
JB: We wanted to write about people that we knew, so it started with the characters. And then, obviously, the themes start to emerge from that. In our case, if we started to write about the men that we know, and put them in the context of the story, those themes start to emerge. Because what the masculine ideal these days?
Certain traits that we might consider, traditionally, to be feminine — being in touch with your emotions, and crying — that’s a form of strength! And that’s something, maybe, that modern masculinity is supposed to embody. So yeah, it was fun to play around with that stuff, but we always approached it from the point of view of the characters.
[Peter receives a glass of milk]
JB: We need milk and cookies every half an hour.
PM: I’m a cookie monster! Milk, cookies…
JB: [Pointing to the corner of the room] Did you see something move there?
I don't think so.
JB: I saw something move there, I thought I saw something move there…
PM: John drinks a lot of alcohol.
PM: By this time of the morning, he will start to see things.
JB: I genuinely thought I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I just realized…
PM: He’s got the heebie-jeebies!
PM: … and an epic hangover.
JB: But no, we definitely don’t go, “What’s the theme?” and then try and write a film. It’s, “Who are the people?” And then we take it from there.
PM: Yeah. And there’s something about [the question], “What is it to be a man?” Any rational person knows — especially now, seeing the changes in the last 50 years for masculinity and men — that question has no meaning whatsoever. It’s always changing. But it’s interesting when you have such changes in masculinity over the last 50 years but, yet, our idea of what it meant to be a man in the ‘50s and ‘60s is still present to us in our generation
So when you have a bunch of modern men engaging in a ritual that they’re very halfhearted about, and on that ritual a guy turns up who is like, “I’m a f**kin’ man!” Like, “I know exactly that I’m…” It’s not even a question for him. He’s so the opposite to them. And he’s almost oblivious to how awkward he can be. He’s just one of those people. So it busts it open for the other guys in terms of their identity.
They’re guys who, in their initial exchange with The Machine, if they were to rewind and replay it, they’d just go, “Look… whatever your real name is. This isn’t gonna happen!” Do you know what I mean? But we know that when you’re with somebody that’s that intense you don’t say the things that you actually want to say. You’re kind of like, “I… I guess… yeah… okay, I’ll have another drink.” Do you know what I mean?
You’re ripped out of your element.
PM: You’re ripped out of your own thing! And the one thing he does immediately when he arrives on the scene, he totally splits them as a group. They’re immediately infighting and backstabbing each other, and saying, “I’m going to go home,” and blah blah blah. It’s the cat amongst the pigeons of masculinity. But we didn’t know that that’s what we were sitting down to write. It was only as we explored the characters…
HO: I suppose, as well, that you can still be a more modern man, like our characters are — me, [Andrew Scott's character] Davin — you can be more in touch with your feelings and be open and talk about things and still be really stupid about stuff.
JB: Oh God yes!
HO: It doesn’t mean that just because you’re in touch with your feelings that everything is okay. I think that was kind of fun to play. Me and Davin both have loads of issues, still. Even though we’re both comfortable, in touch with stuff, we’re still idiots about a lot of things. Which is exactly like real life.
PM: And that, really, is the arc of the story — that these two modern men are engaged in a locking of horns. The same as two old school guys would be doing, in a very different way. But their cultural competitiveness is playing out a deeper unspoken argument. Their words and irony are their weapons.
PM: And the deeper they go into the woods, the more they’re stripped of all their accoutrements. The more pared back the music gets, and the more naked they get, the less value their words have to them. They can’t protect themselves anymore.
HO: Your contact lens falls out!
PM: This guy needs to punch Davin. That’s what needs to happen in the story. That’s when he becomes connected to exactly how he feels.
JB: And Davin, most importantly, needs to tell him that he was so cut up at the time when [he and Ruth, Finoon’s fiancée, played by Amy Huberman] broke up, he felt so vulnerable that the last person he could turn to was his best friend.
PM: Sometimes you don’t turn to the people who are closest to you in those situations, because it reflects you so nakedly.
[Hugh feigns crying, the other two laugh]
JB: That window is shut!
HO: It can be opened!
JB: We just look over and Hugh’s gone.
JB: All we see is that lavenir jacket just kind of fluttering…
PM: Fluttering in the wind! And we hear from the street, very distantly, “Oh my God!”
JB: It’s Finoon!
PM: It’s Finoon!
JB: Can he fly? No.
That’s all in the sequel.
[“Yeah”s all around]
Arrow Film Distributors via Everett Collection
But that actually reminds me — even though there’s a lot of comedy in this movie, it doesn’t get as broad, even in its funnier moments, than a lot of other comedies in this genre. When you guys destroy the memorial, no policemen come and throw you in jail. Or when you take MDMA, you go for a little run, but nobody freaks out and jumps off a bridge or anything like that. I guess I was wondering if there was a specific drive to keep the comedy grounded, or if this is just the style of humor that you guys find funny?
JB: I think that’s a conscious instinct. Particularly in terms of direction, that’s a very conscious decision. At the writing stage, it’s very conscious, too — you have to root the story, and once you commit to that, you have to sacrifice the idea of a sufficiently bigger joke that might derail the tone of the film.
But then when you direct the film you have to police that tone, too. Make sure it’s rooted. There is a kind of world you have to create that’s consistent. I think when you try to write characters inside out in that way, that’s always what you’re going to end up with. The films that we love that we mentioned before, the comedy films that work best are the ones that have a consistent tone. Yeah, that’s definitely the approach.
PM: And also, the overriding policy all the way through is character development. What’s going to happen to these guys? What is going to happen to their relationships? That’s what the audience should be invested in. If you invest the audience in the fact that they’re going to have a laugh every three minutes, like a big laugh, and then you stop doing that, they’re going, “You started off as one film, and then you’re becoming another.”
Whereas you have to do that slowly with a film like this. So you get into a place where there aren’t any laughs for like five minutes, 10 minutes, in this film at one stage. Well, maybe five minutes, whatever. For that to work, the audience has to be… you have to hook them in on the character development. If you put in gags that step outside of the character development, you might get a laugh out of them, but there’s no going back. You’ve already cheated the reality of the world that John is creating as a director.
JB: And it’s an American common tradition that we’re working in. That’s the thing that we totally respect and acknowledge as people who watch films. Since it’s an American tradition, the best comedy films come from that tradition.
PM: Yeah, yeah.
JB: Those are the rules of the genre. I think if there’s any little reinvention or anything that’s going on in our film, I think it’s subtle.
PM: I think there are English examples, like Withnail [and I], which is such a brilliant film. There are films like that in the British comedy tradition as well. And that is a shining example of British comedy at work, because it’s such a funny film but it’s about two guys going to a cottage in the middle of nowhere. Two actors who are broke, going to a cottage and having an encounter with the gay uncle. And it’s all dialogue-driven.
But the whole thing about that film is that you get so invested in their relationship and their friendship that the end of the film is actually a very downbeat ending because it’s so sad. [Bruce Robinson] is a great writer. It’s a pity he hasn’t made more films in the last few years. But you can just tell when there’s a gag there that’s there for getting a gag.
HO: We had some in there.
PM: We did. We got rid of them. And also, when you’re working with good actors, right off the bat they’ll go, “Why is he doing this?” if that’s happening. Do you know what I mean? If they’re being rigorous in how they’re approaching the part…
HO: I said that a lot. “Why is this happening?”
I did want to ask you, Hugh, about that. Finoon is a tricky character. He’s a very serious person, but he’s a funny character. I would like to hear about making this serious, straight-laced guy fun to watch.
HO: Obviously, the guys had thought about it a lot beforehand, so they knew what to do with it. Like I said before, I was pretty much just being myself. [Laughs] And let that ridiculousness come through. I could sort of see his points on all sides. I think you can never really judge… if you start judging the character you’re playing, it’s a really bad thing. You have to just go with what he’s experiencing.
I think he’s right about everything. If you don’t control the flowers… I can’t trust [the wedding planner]. What has she done before, exactly? Give me a list! This is important to me. This is how it works. I’m stupidly anal about things like that myself. In terms of what you’re interested, in you’re really controlling. So he needs to get out of that a bit.
PM: That’s so true. Finoon and all the characters are written from a place of absolute empathy. We’re on the ground floor with them. There’s no standing in judgment over them. They’re us.
Probably the only part where there’s any judgment cast is when Brian Gleeson’s character Simon admits he doesn’t like U2.
You get the feeling you’re saying, “Well, you should like U2!”
PM: But loads of Irish guys don’t like U2.
Oh of course.
JB: But he cries at the end [during “One Love”].
PM: So he’s a liar!
Speaking of that, there are a lot of specific references to Ireland and Irish pride, mostly from the Machine. Were those just sort of ways to play with the character, or does this movie say something specific about Irish culture?
JB: I think the idea in place, that’s the Machine’s expression of his national pride rather than our expression of our national pride. It all emerges through these characters. The Machine makes the decision to make that speech about the state of the nation, and to sing that song. He’s the kind of person who — Peter could probably say this better than me — if he’s given the mic at a wedding, he’s not going to not do that. And that’s a decision that the character makes. And you’re just holding the pen. That’s what he does.
PM: The thing about the Machine, and we said this very early on when we started writing the film, is that he has absolutely no ego. [The others] are all totally weighed down by their egos. And that’s why there has been such a problem in their friendship, because they haven’t been able to be honest with each other.
An ego in that... I’m saying something to you right now and I’ll be editing it. Sometimes you might edit: “Well, I can’t say that. He might think that I’m a bit of a dick if I say that.” Whatever. You’re protecting people’s perception of you. That’s ego. The Machine, he’s just one of those people where that doesn’t even enter into his head. He’s just raw product all the time. And it’s just coming out.
The thing about that character is, while he’s incredibly overbearing, and very funny to start with — actually, when he arrives in the film, he’s a total nightmare — but it’s so liberating to be like that as a person. Because you’re not going around going, “Did he think when I said that…” or “Maybe I shouldn’t have…” He’s just moving forward in life all the time. So at the end, when he expresses national pride, it’s totally uncomplicated for him.
And his view of Ireland is that the thing that matters in a country, which is probably what we all feel, is the people. And that’s obviously a very democratic notion, and all that. But because — and I can only speak for myself here — we had a lot of economic troubles recently, like a lot of the world. America is going through terrible problems at the moment. But for a small country like Ireland that doesn’t have great natural resources, our greatest product or resource is the people of the country. I think there’s a little bit of that in there, as well.
JB: A young country as well. A hundred years old.
PM: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s an ancient culture, but as a democratic state it’s a very young country. We’ve only had the reins for a hundred years. And I think because of all of our history being colonized, the power the church had — all those kinds of things — pride and shame are two of the strongest ingredients in our national psyche. But they can be very divisive.
JB: We’re proud of ourselves and we’re ashamed of Hugh.
PM: Exactly. We’re proud of ourselves, but then we almost don’t want each other to succeed.
HO: [John] keeps staring at me.
PM: But it’s so liberating for a character like the Machine. That’s irrelevant to him. It’s just a positive message that comes out of him. And it’s not weighed down by those larger psychological chains that we wear in general. Over the last hundred years. So that was unconscious on our part, but I only say that looking back on the film. Does that make sense?
HO: You’re going to have an essay.
PM: Yeah! I’ve just given you a big hunk of bulls**t.
PM: And also, it’s the Machine. It’s a character talking.
Well, I got the wrap up signal…
JB: Did you? That s**t is subtle!
…so the final question I need to ask is: Do you guys have an idea of why he is called the Machine?
But you won’t tell me, I take it.
PM: It’s up to the viewer.
JB: It goes to the grave.
PM: Yeah, it goes to the grave. Absolutely.
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There are a lot of ideas floating around in Cheap Thrills. They're interesting, they're dense, and they're fruitful endeavors for the world of psychological horror. But they are relegated to floating, never quite anchoring into any real conclusions or statements about their desperate, depraved subjects.
We meet Craig (Pat Healy), a happily married father of one, on a particularly bad day: he loses his job, is slapped with an eviction notice, and — to top it all off — bumps into a pesky old chum (Ethan Embry) from his younger days. A fellow who Craig, a loser in his own right, judges for never having gone anywhere. As the high school buddies catch up, they are roped into the increasingly violent and grotesque high jinks of a pair of thrill-seeking strangers (David Koechner, giving an impressively haunting performance, and a nearly wordless Sara Paxton) with the promise of bright financial futures dangled in front of them. The men, each of thinning pride, gradually give way to monetary temptation as they play along in these treacherous mind games, the biggest mystery being if a limit to their desperation exists.
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Although it's an intriguing venture, the sociological study stops at its thesis question. In truth, the movie's philosophical makeup can be summed up with the Klondike Bar slogan. Still, there is meat to be found: the bubbling lava underneath the crust of Craig and Vince's (Embry) long dormant friendship comes with a few humanistic ditties about breaking free from your past, and the pangs inherent in facing off with someone who knows the you that you've been trying to escape. But these ideas, too, aren't milked to their full potential. The only element of the film that does hit its promised summit: the grossness.
Cheap Thrills does deliver, and then some, on the ick factor. It's not an abundance of gore or violence that does it, but the visceral, intimate nature with which the gore is handled. Everything is up close and personal, all pains really felt. If this is your bag, then Cheap Thrills will come through here. But psychologically, it does little more than present would-be interesting ideas. Fun in the set-up, occasionally thrilling in the delivery, but never particularly fulfilling in the conclusion.
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Here's a feat: taking what is likely the oldest, most well-known story in the world, and making a retelling feel inventive. Over the course of its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, Darren Aronofsky's Noah takes many forms — Tolkien-esque fantasy, trippy psychological thriller, merciless dissection of the dark points of abject faith — never feeling too rigidly confined to the parameters of the familiar tale that we've all experienced in the form of bedtime stories, religious education lessons, and vegetable-laden cartoons. As many forms as the parable has taken over the past few thousand years, Aronofsky manages to find a few new takes.
The director's thumbprint is branded boldly on Russell Crowe's Noah, a man who begins his journey as a simple pawn of God and evolves into a dimensional human as tortured as Natalie Portman's ballerina or Jared Leto's smack head. Noah's obsession and crisis: his faith. The peak of the righteous descendant of Seth (that's Adam and Eve's third son — the one who didn't die or bash his brother's head in with a rock), Noah is determined to carry out the heavenly mission imparted upon him via ambiguous, psychedelic visions. God wants him to do something — spoilers: build an ark — and he will do it. No matter what.
No matter what it means to his family, to his lineage, to his fellow man, to the world. He's going to do it. No matter what. The depths to which Aronofsky explores this simple concept — the nature of unmitigated devotion — makes what we all knew as a simplistic A-to-B children's story so gripping. While the throughline is not a far cry from the themes explored in his previous works, the application of his Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan ideas in this movie does not feel like a rehashing. Experiencing such modern, humane ideas in biblical epic is, in fact, a thrill-ride.
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Although Aronofsky accesses some highly guttural stuff inside of his title character, he lets whimsy and imagination take hold of the world outside of him. Jumping headfirst into the fantastical, the director lines his magical realm with rock monsters — "Watcher" angels encased in Earth-anchored prisons as punishment for their betrayal of God — and a variety of fauna that range in innovation from your traditional white dove to some kind of horned, scaled dog bastardization.
But the most winning elements of Noah, and easily the most surprising, come when Aronofsky goes cosmic. He jumps beyond the literal to send us coursing through eons to watch the creation of God's universe, matter exploding from oblivion, a line of creatures evolving (in earnest) into one another as the planet progresses to the point at which we meet our tortured seafarer. Aronofsky's imagination, his aptitude as a cinematic magician, peak (not just in terms of the film, but in terms of his career) in these scenes.
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With all this propped against the stark humanity of his story — not just in terms of Crowe's existential spiral, but in character beats like grandfather Methuselah's relationship with the youngsters, in little Ham's playful teasing of his new rock monster pet — Aronofsky manages something we never could have anticipated from Noah. It's scientific, cathartic, humane. Impressively, this age-old tale, here, is new. And beyond that feat, it's a pretty winning spin.
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I know, that headline is trouble. You're always treading dangerous ground when you insist on defining what makes a good this or the right kind of that, as if there is no room for change or improvement when it comes to classic properties. Of course there is — Jason Segel's 2011 Muppet film approached the concept from an entirely different direction. It didn't hit all of its marks, but it prevailed overall in its conceit: make a movie not about Muppets, but about Muppet fandom. But Muppets Most Wanted, in absence of a clear mission statement and fueled largely by the monetary glimmers of the sequel game (the film's opening number admits this outright), has fewer marks readily available to hit. Landing in the ambiguity between the classic Muppet adventure formula and Segel's post-modern Henson appreciation party, Most Wanted feels like a failure on both counts. It doesn't know which kind of movie it wants to, or should, be. So it doesn't really be anything.
On the one hand, there's the half-cocked "get-the-band-back-together" through line, mimicking but not quite accomplishing the spirit of the 2011 picture. None of the Muppets are particularly likable or charming in this turn, and even fewer of them actually given anything to do. Kermit loses his s**t in the first act after a spat with Piggy and a barrage of insubordination from his troupe (provoked by the nefarious Dominic Badguy, Ricky Gervais), storms off in a huff, and gets swept up in a case of mistaken identity when his criminal doppelganger Constantine pulls the old switcheroo, landing Kermit in a Russian gulag. You'd think this would be a good opportunity for the second tier of Muppet favorites — Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo, Scooter, Rowlf, et al — to go on a search and rescue... but save for a very brief sequence at the tail end of this achingly long film, none of the other Muppets are giving anything to do. They just hem and haw and perform the occasional "Indoor Running of the Bulls" while Dominic and Constantine scheme, rob banks, and bicker.
Meanwhile, Kermit has some fun in prison — a far more endearing plot that sees him befriending the merry convicts, organizing a penitentiary revue, and even winning the heart of the vicious warden Nadia (Tina Fey). If only we could spend more time with real Kermit and less time with fake Kermit and his second banana Gervais, an effectively boring pair.
On the other hand, though, there's the Muppet shtick that fans of The Great Muppet Caper and Muppet Treasure Island — and yes, The Muppet Show itself — will deem the movie's best material: CIA Agent Sam Eagle and Interpol Agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) hot on the trail of Constantine and Dominic. Here, we get a different type of Muppet movie entirely from what Segel and the A-plot in Most Wanted are opting: the old fashioned vaudeville act, with Sam standing as an independent entity from his googly-eyed brethren, on a goofy, musical prowl with Burrell that fuels the film with its best and most consistent chuckles. Their "Interrogation Song" number is outstanding, exemplifying the many talents of Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie, who wrote all the music for this and the previous film.
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Unfortunately, Muppets Most Wanted isn't sure that it wants to be The Great Muppet Caper, beheld so stubbornly to its Segelian roots. There's a palpable compulsion to stick with this agonizingly self-aware, nostalgia-crazy, brimming-beacons-of-the-past-in-a-callous-today theme that doesn't work a fraction as well as it did in the 2011 film. Without a legitimate celebration of any of our favorite characters, how could it? With so much going on in this movie, and such a lengthy runtime at just under two hours, it's a sure sign of failure that we walk away feeling like we spent barely any time with the Muppets.
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There's no doubt that Lena Dunham's HBO series Girls is one of the best shows on television. The performances are spot-on, the writing is witty and biting, and the overall direction is confident and assured. Season 3, in particular, highlights the show's ability to portray characters that are simultaneously endearing and despicable. Still, critical viewers are left wondering why a show about financially struggling twenty-somethings in New York City airs on HBO, one of the most expensive pay television services in the United States.
For the creators of the series, a partnership with HBO guarantees a level of respectability. HBO is known for its sophisticated programming, and any showrunner would dream to be associated with the established brand. Moreover, Dunham maintains creative and artistic freedom with HBO, as she can fill her show with nudity and profanity without fear of censorship. On the surface, HBO is a dream employer.
However, if we probe deeper, we start to realize that the audience who would benefit most from Girls most likely cannot afford to watch it. Although there are exceptions, young adults are more inclined to subscribe to Netflix than cable, and those who do have cable are not likely to have HBO. The exceptions, of course, are wealthier individuals who can spring for the monthly payments. Speaking from personal experience, I see more Facebook status updates from recent graduates about House of Cards than Girls, and these graduates live in the same neighborhoods as Hannah Horvath and company. Further, those who do watch the series typically use their parents' HBO GO passwords. In any event, there's clearly a disconnect here.
When critics debate the type of audience Girls is aimed at, and when Dunham herself stresses that she's developed the series to "illuminate what it feels like to be a young woman in America right now," one has to wonder if she's reaching her audience through HBO. Girls, like the recent film Frances Ha, portrays a specific kind of youth culture: the young city-dweller who is highly educated, incredibly narcissistic, and desperately unemployed. Unlike Frances Ha, which is available on Netflix streaming, Girls can only be viewed on HBO or DVD for a much higher price. Dunham acknowledges on Charlie Rose that her show isn't trying to speak to every woman, but how can it even speak to the struggling twenty-something when most struggling twenty-somethings in America don't subscribe to HBO?
Girls indeed has a loyal following of fans and critics, but as its ratings indicate, more people in popular culture talk about the show than actually watch it. Some may attribute this to Dunham's polarizing feminism, and others may suggest that the show's content and execution aren't mainstream enough. But neither is House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, or Breaking Bad.
The problem, ultimately, stems from the fact that the type of audience who would enjoy watching Girls the most can't afford to do so, and unlike Hannah Horvath, they're willing to sacrifice important artistic and cultural products for food and rent.
Actress Kristen Bell and her husband Dax Shepard have confronted an owner of a paparazzi photo agency and one of his snappers during a heated debate on U.S. television, in an effort to stop photographers from taking pictures of celebrities' kids. For the past couple months, the Frozen star and her new husband have been on a crusade to urge fans and other celebrities to boycott tabloids which feature unapproved pictures of stars and their children, in a bid to protect the youngsters from the aggressive paparazzi.
Many celebrity parents like Alyssa Milano and Minnie Driver have joined the cause, and some media outlets including People magazine, Entertainment Tonight and JustJared.com have agreed not to buy snaps from agencies that take pictures of kids. But the couple have yet to strike at the heart of the problem and convince a leading agency to join their fight.
Bell and Shepard, who are parents to 11-month-old daughter Lincoln, confronted AKM-GSI photo agency boss Steve Ginsburg and reporter Christian Zimmerman during a taped showdown on U.S. entertainment news programme Access Hollywood, and the two sides butted heads, with neither backing down.
Bell stated, "I'm telling you as a mom, when I'm holding my baby, your foot soldiers are nasty. What they might be doing is 'legal'. But when I get off an airplane and I'm walking to my car and it's dark, and I'm with my baby by myself, it's terrifying."
Shepard added, "If you don't have an ethical issue with that, then you don't have ethics."
But Ginsburg was quick to defend himself, calling Bell 'hysterical'. He insisted, "It is our constitutional right to take the picture!"
When asked if they would ever stop taking kids' photos, Zimmerman replied, "To be frank about business, no."
Later Bell explained why they decided to begin the fight against the snappers in the first place, admitting, "I don't think under any circumstance a child should have a price on their head. I think it should be a sacred time when you grow up and if you don’t choose to be in this business, like the children don't, we've got to leave them out of it.
"And I feel like I just wanted to start a conversation with other people who care about the welfare of children and let them know the bad behavior that actually goes into getting the shots."
The celebrities did win a huge battle over the paparazzi last year (13), when Hollywood mums Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner joined forces to fight for new legislation to protect the kids of stars. Their successful campaign led to new laws that restrict what photographers can do around children.
It's that time of year again, a time when celebrities from the worlds of sport, music, and '90s TV shows come together to create the sparkliest night on television. We are, of course, talking about Dancing with the Stars, which revealed the lineup for its 18th season on Tuesday morning, and the celebrities who will be joining the illustrious ranks of two former members of NSYNC, a handful of reality stars, and more retired football players than the ESPN commentary team. But it wouldn't be Dancing with the Stars if your '90s nostalgia didn't come with a side helping of tween stars and athletes you've never heard of, and that's why we've ranked the new dancers from least to most relevant, so that you can tell them all apart when it comes time for them to cha cha. First up...
Cody SimpsonRemember when Justin Bieber first burst onto the scene, bright-eyed and innocent, with the kind of flippy hair that looks great on the walls of tween girls' lockers? Well, if that version of Bieber were blonde and Australian, you'd have Cody Simpson. Ask your cousin in middle school, she knows who he is.
James Maslow One fourth of the boy band Big Time Rush and one of the stars of their Nickelodeon show that you probably watched in reruns the last time you were sick. He's a big deal amongst the teenagers of the world, trust us.
Drew CareyOnce the star of several popular comedies, he's now best known for being the host of The Price Is Right, which means the majority of his votes are going to come from people who are either over 60 or unemployed.
Diana NyadShe's the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida, but other than that, does anyone actually know anything about her? Call us when she's on The Real Housewives of Miami.
Sean AveryA former professional hockey player, which apparently makes his presence on DWTS "historic." Also, he's friends with Andy Cohen, which bumps him up a spot or two.
Candace Cameron Bure'90s nostalgia gives DJ Tanner a pretty good spot on this list, but let's be real: she wasn't even the best character on her show. Of course, the second she dances to the Full House theme (you know it's going to happen!) she'll become everyone's favorite contestant. Bonus points if her partner, Mark Ballas, dresses up like Uncle Jesse.
Amy Purdy A snowboarding champ and a double amputee, her spot on DWTS actually is historic. Whether she wins or not, Amy Purdy will end up becoming the biggest star in this cast, and we're genuinely rooting for her.
Meryl Davis and Charlie WhitePartners on the ice and partners on this list, Meryl Davis and Charlie White just won a gold medal for pairs ice dancing at the Winter Olympics, like, a whole three weeks ago. They're also featured on boxes of Corn Flakes, which everyone knows is the second most important breakfast cereal there is.
Danica McKellarThere is an entire generation that refuses to let go of their first crush, Winnie Cooper, which is why she ranks higher than DJ Tanner. Plus, she's a mathematician, which makes her the coolest former child star around.
NeNe LeakesBy far the biggest star of the biggest reality television franchise on the air, NeNe Leakes is, whether we like it or not, a pretty big deal. If you like your dancing with a side of drama, this is the contestant for you. She's already got your mom's vote, so you might as well give in.
But all of the teenage fans, Olympic gold medals and reality television viewers pale in comparison with the man who is, by far, the biggest get of the season:
Billy Dee WilliamsLook, Lando Calrissian is a cinematic icon. He cannot be measured by the same standards of relevance as everyone else on this list; he transcends relevance. He leaves relevance in his dust. Lando Calrissian is the coolest cat on every planet in galaxies both near and far, and soon, he will be smoothest dancer in the universe.