As Breaking Bad approached conclusion in September 2013 someone asked me if I sympathized with Walt. I danced around the question because that’s the whole point, in a way, isn’t it? You see where Walt’s coming from, and yet he’s doing some bad shit, and yet it’s for a good reason, and yet maybe it’s also for a bad reason, and yet who’s to say what’s good or bad anyway, and yet how could you not think this is bad? And on and on. The morality of that series — shifting, malleable, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes trivial — isn’t intended to be “solved” by the end of Walt’s arc.
And in much the same manner the warring positions of Jimmy McGill and his older brother Chuck are both simultaneously completely understandable, at least at this point in Better Call Saul. “Nailed” continued to make this disagreement more and more explicit, a fact which itself follows an interesting trajectory over the course of the first two seasons. It was only in “Pimento“, last season’s penultimate episode, that we really discovered the animosity Chuck had for his younger brother.
Continue reading Better Call Saul 2.9 – “Nailed”
Part of me viewed Black Mass as a critic. I took into consideration the actors, the script, the staging, pacing, etc. What about character arcs? What about historical accuracy? You know: the usual. I considered some of the things that usually pop up on the imaginary checklist (like how many trailer-worthy zingers will we endure?) and a few that were more specific to this film (like will Johnny Depp’s makeup look as bad as it did in the set photos?); I considered that I’d have to play the game where you try to compress and bury all of those checklistable points so that you can actually watch the movie. I considered Out of the Furnace, the last film by Black Mass director Scott Cooper, and the frustrating way in which that film tried and nearly succeeded in being an epic like The Deer Hunter. Somehow, one of Furnace‘s major flaws seemed to be that it was only almost that kind of movie, something that attempted an ambitious feat but failed to stick the landing.
But despite a sneaking suspicion regarding that last point Black Mass is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than Out of the Furnace or even Crazy Heart, Cooper’s first two films which both touted incredible performances but misplaced directorial style, and that’s probably because the other part of me viewed it as a Bostonian. The Globe‘s Ty Burr says it best in his review: “For worse and for worser, James “Whitey” Bulger is a son of Boston, and moviegoers here will react differently to Scott Cooper’s film than they will in Seattle, Dallas, or Dubuque.” That was inescapably true for last night’s Boston Common screening, wherein the feeling was that everyone in the theater was already familiar with what was unfolding up on the screen.
Continue reading Black Mass (2015)
“There are two wolves,” says Casey of Tomorrowland. “One represents darkness and despair, the other light and hope. Which one survives?” To be sure, the philosophizing throughout Brad Bird’s latest film is never any more subtle than this (or less). Casey, optimist to such a ridiculous degree that we learn that about her before we even learn her name, disregards any need for subtext and instead just states the thing itself: “I’m an optimist”. She answers the wolves question in a similarly matter-of-fact manner. Which one survives? “The one you feed.”
Happily, we put this very quote to work in our review of an episode of The Red Road called “The Wolf and the Dog“. It’s much less of a stretch here in Tomorrowland, and again, you don’t really have to stretch at all. It’s plainly clear that the vast majority of today’s storytelling is geared towards the grim, towards the harrowing action-filled future, towards the Cormac McCarthy-style doom and gloom. This is true of almost every medium and almost every target audience, but since Tomorrowland is so much in line with the present Young Adult craze (and because Casey is a teenager) we’ll deal in that genre. The examples should leap readily to mind: Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, The Giver, Divergent, The Mortal Instruments and Ender’s Game are all youthful dystopias with damn similar plots and damn similar everything else. Even Harry Potter, while not dystopian in any way, was a kid’s story turned dark and brooding on screen (see: everything after Daniel Radcliffe grew up).
Continue reading Tomorrowland (2015)
Aaron Guzikowski said he was going to break Jason Momoa in the second season of The Red Road, and in the finale “Shadow Walker” we get a glimpse at what the writer might have meant by that. Momoa’s Kopus spent much of the first season manipulating the people around him in such a way that Walter White would have been proud, but season two showed a few cracks in the otherwise stoic armor. The final hour blew those cracks open and ended up being a solid end to a shaky and uneven season.
And that title — “Shadow Walker” — gets to the heart of Kopus’s character (and Harold’s character, too) and relates beautifully to the title of the show. In my limited understanding of Native American spirituality, the “red road” is the right path, the good path, the road to redemption. Whether we’re talking about the taut first season cat-and-mouse game between Kopus and Harold or the flagging, multifaceted plots of the second, it’s always been clear that this shifting morality is at the heart of the show. Both main characters walk the red road to varying degrees, as does Junior, as does Jean, as does every other character in the show. Kopus and Harold are the most interesting (in theory) because they’re foils: Harold is the police captain and family man who gets to where he is by lying, Kopus is the ex-convict who just might be starting to see the light.
Continue reading The Red Road 2.6 – “Shadow Walker”
I’m really surprised there are no movies called The Penultimate Hour. It’s a decent title in a James Patterson sort of way, or in a Van Damme sort of way. The closest thing might be Philip K. Dick’s novel The Penultimate Truth, or the 2007 documentary on the author called The Penultimate Truth About Philip K. Dick. Those are great titles. There are a few movies called The 11th Hour — and funnily enough, there is James Patterson book by that title — and I suppose that means the same thing. “Eleven” doesn’t carry the same force as “penultimate”, though, does it?
The only thing any of this has to do with The Red Road is that “The Hatching” is the penultimate episode of season two, the literal penultimate hour, and that’s generally the hour in which…well, what happens in the penultimate episode of a season? It used to be the case that season finales were tantamount to a bunch of awesome stuff, meaning the previous episode was usually spent getting everything set up for the fireworks. That’s changed recently. Game of Thrones made a casual tradition of having the ninth episode of each season (the penultimate of each in the case of Game‘s 10-episode seasons) be far more action-packed than the ensuing finales. Breaking Bad‘s “Ozymandias” delivered finale-level intensity with two episodes still to follow, and Better Call Saul‘s penultimate hour “Pimento” was likewise the season’s best.
Continue reading The Red Road 2.5 – “The Hatching”
While portions of “A Cure” provided promising angles on The Red Road‘s second season, the feeling persists that the direction and drive of the first season have largely evaporated. The set-up for this season was Mac’s death, with Kopus somewhat framed and thus determined to find the real killer. While threads of that are still hanging loose, “A Cure” tied off enough that Mac’s death no longer feels like the unifying catalyst for this six-episode arc.
On the plus side, Kopus and Harold find their worlds converging yet again after following disparate threads for the first three episodes of the season. The cat-and-mouse tensions of their collective past have given way to a strange kind of mutual respect that neither are comfortable with. In the season opener “Gifts“, Kopus remarks on their lying, cheating and stealing eventually resulting in a promotion for Harold and prison for Kopus. “A Cure” follows up on last week’s “Intruders” with an even more explicit version of this societal unbalance: Harold kills a suspect and gets made Captain of the force, while Kopus has as much of a hand in solving that same case and ends up with a bullet in his shoulder this week.
Continue reading The Red Road 2.4 – “A Cure”
At the end of last week’s episode of The Red Road, titled “Graves“, a supporting character from the first season shuffled off his mortal coil in a somewhat predictable fashion. He speaks in absolutes and says the things a fictional character in a fictional story says before electing to leave the world. There’s a cool shot of Jean getting into her car and backing out of the driveway that’s soon wasted by an inserted shot of the guy raising a gun to his head, and had the gunshot gone off in the background of that car shot it might have been a bit easier to swallow. But as “Graves” ended the whole episode felt a bit tired, and that sequence in particular felt a bit like a writer’s room getting rid of a character they had no idea what to do with.
In “Intruders” that death takes on a bit more meaning, as does the concept of a grave. But the episode offered little in the way of real intensity or development, continuing what’s becoming a disappointing trend in Red Road‘s second season. Kopus is still on lockdown, Junior is still roaming the wilderness and shooting squirrels, and Harold is still just strutting around being boring. Here’s to hoping that there’s something lurking behind this veneer of relative tedium that we just can’t see yet, because otherwise “Intruders” is a letdown at the halfway point of season two.
Continue reading The Red Road 2.3 – “Intruders”
A relatively quiet second episode of The Red Road‘s sophomore year provided a little more clarity with regards to the direction the show might take after a cracking first season. The impetus for much of the going-ons here is the murder of Mac, elder chief of the Lenape chapter of the Ramapo Mountains, which we saw at the end of the the second season opener “Gifts“. As suspected, Phillip Kopus is now the front-and-center suspect in Mac’s demise.
A recent interview with Jason Momoa touched on the “breaking” of the Kopus from the first season; Aaron Guzikowski, creator of Red Road and scribe behind Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, certainly seems to be heading in that direction with “Graves”. It’s interesting that Kopus more or less shuns the traditional trappings of his Lenape ancestry and yet seems to find himself cornered by it throughout the opening episodes of the second season. That disregard for the tribe led to Mac’s abandonment of him, which in turn presents a motive for people to attach to Kopus when Mac turns up dead. Even though the mountains have their own tribal police force, the method of attack on Kopus is the same as it has ever been, with a “half-assed lynch mob” (in Kopus’s disdainful estimation) beating him and covering him with tar.
Continue reading The Red Road 2.2 – “Graves”
There was no small degree of uncertainty with regards to the direction The Red Road could take after a successful first season. Jason Momoa’s Phillip Kopus, the heart and soul of the show, seemed headed for prison; Martin Henderson’s Harold Jensen somehow came out in front of both Kopus and the ongoing familial strife that had plagued his wife Jean and their household for the past few months. But with a few major storylines seemingly reaching their conclusions — particularly one about the years-ago death of Jean’s twin brother and one about Kopus’s manipulation of Harold —where would season two go? “Gifts” starts by picking up right where the first season finale “Snaring of the Sun” left off, with Kopus being his usual menacing self and Harold showing he’s learned how to lie pretty damn effectively.
But that first scene is more of a coda to season one than it is a prelude to season two, as we’re soon treated to the ONE YEAR LATER tag that introduces the world of season two. And calling it a “world” is intentional, because although many of the same players are here the second season of The Red Road is already very different than the first (there are some new faces too [Wes Studi!]). We spoke a little about the setting of Road and the way in which it relates to the characters in our review of “Snaring”, so it was nice to see “Gifts” really run with that idea.
Continue reading The Red Road 2.1 – “Gifts”
The first season of The Red Road ends with a whole lot of action, but the finale also manages to depict some important moments of character development as well. Junior takes a decisive step toward the dark side, Jean comes to terms (sort of) with the long-ago death of her twin brother, and Harold and Kopus find themselves in new positions as well. “Snaring of the Sun” isn’t as well-written as the penultimate episode “The Great Snake Battle“, but it makes up for that with some fantastic direction by Terry McDonough. McDonough has a solid body of work in television that includes three episodes of Breaking Bad and the Better Call Saul episode “Nacho“, so here’s to hoping he returns to The Red Road in future seasons.
It’s very possible that two of my story-based qualms with Road will have evaporated following “Snaring of the Sun”. First is the unevenness of Jean’s character — she’s necessarily all over the place, emotionally dragged around by Harold and, indirectly, by Kopus. But her smooch with the latter midway through “Sun” is cringeworthy, not just because of the usual kisses-are-cringeworthy reason but because this is the guy she’s pinned her brother’s death on for decades. Sure, she’s just discovered he had nothing to do with it. So she’s suddenly attracted to him? Anyway, the second qualm is the convenience of the taped recordings of Jean’s brother Brian (I called him “Scotty” in a previous review — refuse to change it) and “Sun” actually wrapped up that storyline well. I’d be surprised if those tapes pop up again.
Continue reading The Red Road 1.6 – “Snaring of the Sun”