Taylor Gaines and a rotating cast of co-hosts talk "Survivor," Television, Movies, Podcasts, and the Latest in Pop Culture.

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Fireside Chats: ‘Maelstrom’

For each movie in the “Denis 2049” series, Taylor and Sam will sit down and bounce some thoughts off each other, off-mic. Their brilliant minds will unleash many words. Make of them what you will. This time: “Maelstrom.”

Taylor: Um, Sam? This movie was in French. I don’t speak French.

Sam: I speak French just fine, but remember, Taylor, this movie is French-Canadian. And in that field I can only speculate.

I believe this movie was obsessed with death, fish, dead fish, talking fish, the ocean and its relationship with cars, a fisherman and his relationship with cars, cars and their relationship with dead fish, and abortion. Really, though, only one of those thing spoke to me: the talking fish! Obviously! What is the talking fish telling us? What is he saying??

Taylor: The talking fish is the only thing I cared about, and possibly the only thing I’ve ever cared about. You know those movies where a guy or girl falls in love with someone who speaks another language or something? Where they find themselves inexplicably attracted to the other person, simply by their very nature? That’s how I felt about this fish.

Wait – I don’t mean I was in love with the fish. I just mean, I was obsessed with trying to figure out what he was saying. It was captivating! Look at this thing! (NSFW?)

I can only guess what the fish spoke to us about in his role as the Grand Narrator of our lives because French-Canadian is a dead language, but if I had to guess, I would have figured the movie was going in this direction:

Fish: Hello there. You at home. You sick voyeur. I have a story for you. One of tragedy, thoughtlessness and incessant violence against an entire race. A tale of a careless woman aimlessly wandering around murdering fish. I myself was torn from my underwater home to tell you this story. I have a son who I will probably never see again. In fact, I’m really struggling to breath on this table because fish are meant to be underwater. If you didn’t know. Before it’s too late, let me tell you some of the things you are going to see tonight. Fish will be killed. Some will be sliced up. Some will be skinned. Some will be run over by cars. Some will be slowly torn apart as people stand around drinking alcohol. Some will even suffer the worst, most unexpected fate for a fish – a car plunging into the water and killing you on impact as you go about your night. One of my good friends, Go, was out for the first time since his divorce, trying to get back into the world, when that car came falling into the water. Dozens of lives were lost. It’s not a story I want to tell, but it’s one that must be told. I call it —

[knife chops off head]

[title comes on screen]

“Maelstrom”

Sam: Taylor, you really painted Grand Narrator in a light that is both tragic and compelling. Fish have come a long way as storytellers.

I admit, I had a different translation of the fish’s narration:

Fish: AAHHHHHHHH AHHHH! AHHHHH HELP! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH AAAHHHH! MY GILLS ARE ON FIRE THIS IS MISERY!!! AHHHH!

[knife chops off head]

[title comes on screen]

“Maelstrom”

I will say that once I found out this movie was not in fact a documentary about the phasing-out of the Epcot ride, “Maelstrom: A High Seas Norwegian Adventure,” I checked out. Despite that, I do want to submit to you a potentially unique take I had about this movie: It was boring! It was super boring! It was slow and brooding in a way that took itself too seriously, and I just didn’t love it. I expected more from Dilleneuve, who by this point had made a name for himself in the ‘odd movies about women ditching their cars’ genre.

Disclaimer: Once again, I do not speak the language “Maelstrom” was presented in.

Villeneuve official power rankings after two movies:

  1. “August 32nd on Earth”
  2. “Maelstrom”

Taylor: And with that, I suppose Sam has also checked out of this conversation.

I guess that’s fair, given how indecipherable most of this movie was. I just want to say that this movie deserves a re-release in HD with English subtitles, so we can truly judge it on its own merits. The American people deserve everyone catering to our every desire.

Actually, scratch that. I want more. I want this movie remade entirely. I don’t care who the director is, either. I want an English version of this movie where the talking fish is replaced with a talking Big Mac. Instead of being about the endless, ongoing genocide of fish, it’s a commentary on what fast food has done to the world and how we interact with it without even knowing. The lead is Alicia Vikander (obviously).

That’s it. It shouldn’t take anything more to sell the movie to a studio. Show them the talking Big Mac animation and Alicia Vikander in anything (except “Jason Bourne,” don’t ever let anyone see “Jason Bourne” for any reason), and you’ve got yourself at least a billion dollars in funding.

Get to it, Megan Ellison.

Next up: “Polytechnique.”

‘GLOW’ Is Downright Delightful

“The great thing about Netflix shows is you can always pretend like they just came out.” -Me

“Orange Is The New Black” debuted in 2013. As you may recall, it received tons of praise from critics and fans alike. A rare all-around hit – and rightfully so. It was an enjoyable show, in that Netflix kind of way where you would find yourself watching episode after episode without really thinking about it. It also allowed women to be characters in a way they have often been robbed of over the years. Full, colorful, complicated characters. It felt fresh.

The problem I always had with “OITNB” was that Piper Chapman, the main character, was never as interesting or complex as the other characters (at least in the show’s early-going). Things tended to drag when Piper showed up, particularly when the show briefly devolved into a story about her and her husband Larry or whoever. That sucked.

So now, imagine that delightful “OITNB” aesthetic, but instead of a frustrating lead, you have a perfect one. Now imagine that one is Alison Brie. Also, imagine the show takes place in a wrestling ring rather than a women’s prison. You’ve got “GLOW.”

“GLOW” tells the story of a struggling actress named Ruth Wilder (Brie) who is desperately trying to find work in Hollywood. And not stereotypical women’s work either. She wants to play big, compelling characters like any man would have the chance to do. (The show opens with her intentionally reading a man’s part during an audition and pretending it was an accident.) Her friend, Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), seems to have a perfect life after her time on a soap opera. Ruth is jealous. Then Ruth stumbles onto an opportunity to join some kind of wrestling show directed by a scumbag named Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron). Many other women come to try out as well. Story ensues.

Although many people have probably already finished the new Netflix series and I’ve only watched two episodes, I’ll leave the rest of the plot to the show for now. Suffice it to say that Jenji Kohan (the showrunner of “OITNB” and an executive producer on “GLOW”) and her crew have done it again. “GLOW” (created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch) is the most enjoyable show I’ve watched all year and easier to breeze through than an episode of “Parks and Recreation.”

The thing about the show is that it’s perfect. The characters unfold at just the right pace, identifying themselves to the viewer with entertaining quirks and developing into compelling characters as things progress. The writing functions like a series of perfectly interlocking gears, spinning comfortably in motion and bringing stories together in ways that are at all times surprising, sensible, entertaining and emotional. The aesthetic feels very distinct, in the way I suppose I would imagine a 1980s Los Angeles to feel (someone from there can tell me if I’m wrong, but basically: kind of gross and scummy but full of hope and cocaine?).

Brie (speaking of perfect*) is the show’s beating heart, as TV critics like to say. Rooting for her as she goes through her daily life is easy, despite everything she does that is contrary to her outwardly upbeat and proper personality. She is ambitious, nervous, hopeful, hopeless, broken, and confident. Her thoughts  and feelings are always written on her face.

*The only false note in the show so far is Maron’s character, Sam, telling Ruth that she is sometimes really ugly to look at, which is obviously an insane thing to say to and about Alison Brie.

I want to write more about “GLOW” when I finish it, but for now I kind of just want to hang out inside of it. It’s the kind show that envelops you, fully engaging your brain will simultaneously switching it completely off for a while. When it’s over, you just feel warmer. It makes you want to smile. I guess you could say … it makes you glow?

Jon Should Not Be King

[SPOILERS for the “Game of Thrones” Season Seven finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf”]

“It may seem that way from the outside.” – Jon Snow (or whoever)

There’s a scene in the Season Seven finale of “Game of Thrones” where Theon and Jon are talking about family. During this scene, Theon remarks that Jon always seems to do the right thing, that he always seems to make the right choice. In Theon’s eyes, Jon is the golden child. He can do no wrong. Then Jon says the above: “It may seem that way from the outside.”

Despite countless jokes about various sex organs in the season finale, I can safely say that this was the hardest I laughed the whole episode. Nope. Sorry, Jon. It does not seem that way at all from the outside. In fact, from the outside, you look like an idiot.

Pretty much every character did call him out for announcing his allegiance to Daenerys at the exact wrong time, so people are aware that he’s stupid. But this man is still the “King of the North.” And apparently, based on what we were told at the end of the episode, he may be much more than that, too. The same guy who led the dumbest expedition north of all-time could be the heir to the Iron Throne.

I apologize for harping on this, but we need to talk more about that expedition north. The events of the finale demand it. Two big things happened in this episode:

1) The Night King broke through The Wall using a dragon that died saving Jon and Co. from dying while they tried to get a White Walker to bring to Cersei.

2) Cersei is not interested in fighting in the North. She would like to continue plotting to kill her enemies instead.

I doubt the show will return to this, but this means the plan was a failure in literally every way. They brought the White Walker to Cersei. She didn’t care. (They might still think she did, but really, she didn’t.) This means they lost a dragon for nothing. Not only that, they lost a dragon that just one episode later helped burn down a wall that I’m pretty sure everyone was banking on keeping the living and the dead separated. So the plan didn’t work, and in fact, it made things much, much worse for the entire Westerosi race. I know the last two episodes have been cool and breathtaking and pretty entertaining, but I really don’t think this is something to gloss over as the show positions Jon as the rightful heir to the throne. The man is an idiot, and I don’t know if he could rule over a ham sandwich.

Some thoughts (because there was way too much going on in this episode to possibly process it all): 

  • The wall came down: I heard some whispers online in the last week that this might happen, so it wasn’t a total surprise (I really should stop reading the internet). But boy, did it look good. The visual effects on this show have become so good that you almost forget it’s TV. It’s almost like it’s not TV, it’s … just kidding.
  • No one died: Remember when “Game of Thrones” felt like a show where anybody could die? After this season, it’s starting to feel like that was a lie. Pretty much everyone of note survived this season. The ground has certainly become shakier beneath them, but it’s a bummer to have to wait years to make any significant plot movement with the way this show used to surprise.
  • Jon is King: Congrats, book readers. I’m sure this was a super fun moment for you.
  • Cersei + Tyrion 4ever: One thing “Thrones” can do like no other show is play on the deep, complex history of the characters when they share the screen together after years apart. This episode, we had Tyrion/Bronn, Hound/Brienne, Brienne/Jamie, Tyrion/Jamie, Jon/Theon, and I’m sure many more that I can’t remember. But putting Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage back in the same room might have been the best thing they’ve done all year. That scene was electric.
  • Cersei is not pregnant, right? This seems obvious. If she actually had a forthcoming heir, she might have honestly considered the truce. She certainly would have killed Jamie when he announced his intentions. She’s got plans, and I’m looking forward to seeing them end in her fiery death next season. (You can’t be wrong on a prediction if you just keep making it, right?) In all honesty, I’m glad she’s still on the board.
  • Theon back: [Insert joke about him not having balls here]
  • Littlefinger dead: The Winterfell stuff all kind of fell flat for me in the back half of this season. The Arya-Sansa stuff was tough to get through, even though (I guess?) most of it was intentionally contrived, and Littlefinger’s death seemed obvious a mile away. Also, the moment when Sansa called him out instead of Arya made me groan, which was probably not the desired reaction.
  • George R.R. Martin Up Arrow: This season was kind of a jumbled mess plot-wise, with a lot of things seeming to happen too quickly just so the writers could get to certain benchmarks. This gives the books a bright future if Martin ever finishes them, because he has a lot more room to explore (and possibly change) the events that led to this point. He can make the characters’ decisions sensible and consistent and make their plans much smarter.
  • Dany is Jon’s aunt: Ew. What is it with grand science fiction/fantasy epics and incest?
  • We are stupid: I mean … I’m still so in on this journey, you guys.

Fireside Chats: “August 32nd On Earth”

For each movie in the “Denis 2049” series, Taylor and Sam will sit down and bounce some thoughts off each other, off-mic. Their brilliant minds will unleash many words. Make of them what you will. First up: “August 32nd On Earth.” 

Taylor: As we embark upon our journey through the many worlds of Denis Villeneuve, full of aliens and drug wars and kidnappings and many other large, scary things, I want to take the time to appreciate the simple humanity of his first feature film, “August 32nd on Earth.” It’s a small, straightforward and heartwarming movie. It makes me want to roll around in my bed going, “BOOP… BOOP… BOOP…”

Speaking of rolling around in bed, this is a movie about a woman who – after a close brush with death – tries to enlist her friend to help her conceive a child in the middle of the desert. I’ve never seen a premise quite like this before. Does this happen often? Have any of your friends ever approached you asking to help them conceive a child in the desert? Would you do this for any of your friends?

Sam: The short answer is yes, of course I would take my friend to the desert to impregnate her. But only if we were married. And only if she made a convincing argument that babies conceived in an arid climate are more physically inclined to survive a nuclear war that leaves the entire world in a perpetual, Mad Max post-apocalyptic Earth desert. Because that would be the place to do it. Google tells me those salt flats are so barren that life does not exist there and that the military uses it for “test areas” and bombing ranges. If my kids were conceived in a place like that, they could survive anything.

Here’s the thing, Taylor, this was a pretty well-made movie. It was about a woman trying to get pregnant (or something), but it looked a lot like Denis flexing. There were signs even then of how good he is. The cuts were airtight — clean and quick to an almost Edgar Wright level — in a movie that seemed like it should go a tenth the speed. His shots slowly went from grand in scope (the desert) to constricting and claustrophobic (the spaceship room), visually forcing these two friends uncomfortably closer together as the plot did the same.

It was really well-crafted, but the writing is what intrigues me the most, not just because he forgot to write it in English, but because it raises some poignant questions.

If I go to Canada, is there a real chance I’ll get run down by the Montreal chapter of the Tokyo Drifters? Did Simone just leave her car on the side of the road in the beginning of the movie? Is it still there? Is her peeing in the desert and seeing the charred remains of a runaway convict a top ten “Holy crap that’s a dead body” moment in movies?

Taylor: I don’t have nearly enough reference points to rank where the dead body moment would fall on the dead body rankings, but I can unequivocally say that is the only time I have ever seen someone find a dead body while squat-peeing in the middle of the desert. Well, in the movies, at least.

As to her car, everyone knows that if no one comes to the scene of an accident for three days, the car itself descends into hell.

What I’m interested in is the aforementioned Tokyo Drifters that seem to have taken up residence in Montreal. I can talk forever about this scene. What were they doing exactly? Where was everyone else who lives in Montreal? Why did Phillipe walk into the middle of the road to smell (?) their tire tracks? Why did they come back? Most importantly, why did they beat the s*** out of him?

My theory: The Drifters were put to the task by Simone. She finally realized that she had led on Phillipe too much, but she didn’t have a change of heart. So, knowing things had gone too far, she realized something had to be done. She had to remove him from the friend zone, and coincidentally, the earth zone. So she hired some hooligans that she met at the hospital after her car accident (cut scene where they had great banter and exchanged numbers for later) and waited for Phillipe to call. After he called (Phillipe always called from the same payphone), she told them where to go. “This whole plan depends on him sniffing the tire tracks,” she tells them. “He can’t resist. He might even lick them. That’s how you’ll be able to get a hold of him. Then take him out, and get back to Tokyo. Kill him.” Of course, when he didn’t die, she went to the hospital to smother him. That happens right after the film cuts to black.

Sam: Taylor, if I may, I’d like to tackle the task you so stupidly recused yourself from. Nothing would bring me greater joy than to provide the best “Holy crap that’s a dead body” scenes in movies for you. (I cut it to five for the sake of this not being five million words long.)

*The following list contains spoilers for Samuel L. Jackson’s fate in “Jurassic Park.”

1) “Jurassic Park”So Laura Dern is pinned in a cage, being attacked by velociraptors, when she backs into a wall, where Samuel L. Jackson’s comforting arm rests on her shoulder as if to say “Don’t worry, I got you, everything’s ok.” And she’s startled at first but realizes it’s her friend. Wait a sec —

This is easily the best “Holy crap that’s a dead body” moment in movie history because it takes Laura an absurd amount of time (roughly 12 seconds) to realize that the arm of her friend is not attached to her friend. Also, it’s the only instance on this list of finding a dead body while the killers (velociraptors) are watching you and admiring their handy work. Handy work.

2) Con Air – A guy just got his car washed and is driving in traffic when this happens. It’s the ultimate way to come across a dead body. And most expensive.

3) “Goonies” – “I smell ice cream!”  Chunk does not get enough credit for being able to smell ice cream from outside a closed freezer.

4) “Dumb and Dumber” – “Our pets’ heads are falling off!”

Finding a dead body still counts even if it died from natural causes.

5) The Scary Episode of “Boy Meets World” – “We’ll always remember he was that tall.”   There’s an episode where Shaun has this dream that there’s a killer at the school murdering all his friends. This to me is the scariest of the body finds because six-year-old Sam did not understand that this episode was supposed to be funny.

As to your analysis of the Montreal Drift Gang (MDG), it is very important, and it gets me super excited. I did not realize that this movie was really only the beginning. That scene and subsequent coma is the “It’s not what you did son, it’s who you did it to, of foreign romance dramas. If “Atomic Blonde” is Jane Wick, then this French-Canadian bloodbath is Jean Wic.

The next chapter will be a $100 million budget sequel, “August 33: Awakening,” a revenge-action movie where Phillipe wakes up from his coma after surviving Simone’s attempted smothering. But here’s the thing about Simone: she’s dead. The MDG pushed her off a Montreal skyscraper when the check for the murder she ordered bounced. MDG wants their due, so they come to Phillipe to collect. Should be an easy job, but they get cocky and kill his dog in front of him. Now, not only is Simone dead and their unborn, un-conceived, child (she didn’t have time to get pregnant, did she?). So is his dog. Should’ve killed Phillipe when they had the chance, because he’s about to battle his way to the top of the street gang — one drift race, one shot to the groin, one kick to the throat at a time — and he’s looking for blood. They have no idea what Phillipe can do, they think he’s just a coma nobody. They forgot one thing. That F****n nobody is Jean Wic.

 The problem, Taylor, is that this movie came out 20 years ago. Who plays Phillipe in the sequel? Who plays the leader of the Montreal Drifters Gang? Steve Buscemi? Who plays the corpse of Simone as she flies off the top of a building?

Taylor: These are questions I think we should leave to the one … and only … Noah Hawley, when he signs on to direct this movie in 2021. Villeneuve will be on such a hot streak from “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049” and “Dune” and “Departure” (a sequel to “Arrival” where Amy Adams teaches heptapods how to reproduce with humans through a series of complicated underwater lessons) and his remake of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “2049: A Space Odyssey” (which everyone agrees is far better and more innovative than the original) that literally ever piece of his history becomes super-hot IP that studios want a piece of. Hawley, the casting master, will release the sequel to this movie in ten parts, shown at a different theater each night over the course of 20 nights, and people will rave about his innovation and creativity.

Am I getting too far ahead of myself? We still have like eight movies to go.

Sam: You are getting too far ahead of yourself. I’m tired of talking about “August 32nd.” Let’s move on.

Current Denis 2049 rankings:

1. “August 32nd on Earth”

Next up: “Maelstrom.”

Does “Game of Thrones” Think We’re Stupid?

“We were thinking, how could you possibly survive that situation?” – D.B. Weiss (executive producer, “Game of Thrones”)

Stories can be written in different ways. You can improvise and come up with the plot as you go along, hoping to keep your characters tethered to the reality you’ve created. You can set up a track and know exactly where it’s heading and try to fit the plot points in like puzzle pieces. I’ve heard people say they can’t start writing a story without knowing how it ends, and I’ve heard people say they want to let their story unfold naturally. Ideally, the story creation process will involve a bit of each approach. Because as with many things in life, the right way to go about things often lies in the gray, blurry area in between the two extremes. If the story is going in a direction that doesn’t make sense, you have to be prepared to change direction. If it’s too loosey-goosey, it might never come together. There needs to be some sort of plan.

“Game of Thrones” is like the Titanic. It’s clearly heading toward a battle between the living and the dead, and the ship is much too large to change direction. Turning the ship and changing things would be exceedingly difficult and take far more time than the writers have left. Because of that, it’s become a show where solutions are looking for problems rather than the other way around. In this week’s episode, “Beyond The Wall,” that became incredibly distracting.

D.B. Weiss and co-showrunner David Benioff have a much shorter order of episodes to work with than usual as things wrap up on TV’s most-watched show. When this season comes to an end Sunday, there will have been seven episodes in 2017. There are expected to be six in the show’s final season. Given this compressed time frame, they seem to have given themselves markers to reach. Two stand out for this year: 1) Get Dany north of the wall so she can lose a dragon to the Army of the Dead and realize how real the threat is, and 2) Get all our main characters together in one place for the season finale.

They’ve accomplished those things now, but boy was it clumsy.

The quote at the top of this piece is referring to Jon Snow and Co.’s stupid plan to go north of the wall and bring back a living White Walker. Weiss is talking about an issue the writers apparently faced once they got there, face-to-face with the Army of the Dead: How do you get your important characters to survive an un-survivable situation so they can fight another day? Here’s what they came up with: The main characters will be surrounded by thousands of White Walkers, but they will find a spot in the frozen tundra perfectly surrounded by unstable ice so they can engage in a stand-off long enough for Dany to travel northward the distance of all of Westeros and save the day.

Cool.

Putting aside the fact that there are literally no limits to how quickly people can travel places in “Game of Thrones” now, this wasn’t the only stupid contrivance that helped get the writers where they needed to go. The episode was full of them. The Actually Interesting Suicide Squad conveniently stumbles onto a group of White Walkers made up of like seven soldiers, enabling them to capture one. They are nearly eviscerated by a single evil polar bear thing but then somehow manage to fight off an insane number of White Walkers without anyone important dying. They are close enough to Eastwatch that Gendry can just run all the way back and hit up Danaerys real quick. Jon pretty much jumps on a grenade for everyone and doesn’t die. Benjen suuuuuper conveniently shows up to save the day. Did I mention Dany travels the length of the world in like five seconds? Also, think of the number of contrivances it took just to get us to this deus ex dragon. The plan to travel north of the wall to capture a White Walker was colossally stupid from the start. Dany and Jon could have taken out the Lannisters in a day, but because the writers were so tied to turning a dragon evil and having Dany see the Army of the Dead and having Jon and his aunt fall a little more in love and keeping Cersei on the board, they had to go through with it despite all logic and sense.

And that’s just north of the wall. Arya, consistently one of the most interesting and complex characters on the show, has rapidly devolved into a cartoonish villain over the course of like two episodes. And the drama manufactured between her and Sansa is just as transparently set up as the plan to go north. The writers want some friction so it will be interesting when things turn back around and they kill off Littlefinger. Unfortunately, they’re sacrificing character to get there. One of the great things about “Game of Thrones” was that it was always possible to empathize with, or at least understand, the show’s complicated characters. Now, for the sake of plot, they all seem to have become simple and stupid.

So now what? The writers wanted to get us to this point, and however ungraceful the execution, we’re here now. Perhaps with a longer season, the decisions of the characters could have been made to make a bit more sense, or at least seem a bit more justified. But with one week to go, we’re here. Everyone is coming together next week.

It’s frustrating that it took so much stupidity to get here, but there’s a chance it could be fine. They got through the BS and (here’s hoping) have set us up for the story they are prepared to tell. It was obvious what would happen when everyone went beyond the wall, but now things are a bit more unpredictable. I truly don’t know what will happen when all the great houses get together next week. Given the deep, complex history of this show, it’s going to be exciting. The thought of simply seeing Jon and Cersei and Daenerys and Tyrion and everyone in one place makes my heart jump. But thanks to the creaky bridge the show built to get us here, the expectations are higher than ever. They can still pull this off in a satisfying way, but the fireworks might have to be so bright that they blot out the past. Do Benioff and Weiss have it in them?

We shall see.

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