Categories
Movies

A Decade in Review: The 2010’s

There are only three weeks left in this decade. It makes me think about the movies that will turn 100 during the “new 20’s” and the images from those films that still inhabit our popular imagination, like the vampire walking up the staircase in Nosferatu (1922), the birth of the machine-man in Metropolis (1927), or the tramp befriending a youngster in The Kid (1921). The 1920’s forever changed the art form of the motion picture with the invention of sound, and with due respect to Roger Ebert, it was the last decade that film could be described as an entirely visual medium.

What about the 2010’s? The decade’s most important picture from a commercial standpoint was certainly 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, which wrapped up a story told across almost two-dozen previous films, and made more money than any movie before it. Endgame will not win any Oscars in February, except maybe for Visual Effects. It won’t make many critics lists of “movie of the decade” either. And, if I’m perfectly honest, I didn’t love Endgame. However, it demonstrates a triumph of serialized filmmaking beyond the “trilogy” model pioneered by Star Wars.

And what about Star Wars? The Sequel Trilogy has made money hand over fist, and the films so far have certainly surpassed the…ahem…quality of the Prequel Trilogy. Overall, I cannot judge the Sequel Trilogy until next Friday. Stay tuned.

Speaking of Star Wars, I’m currently very much enjoying watching The Mandalorian and Rebels on Disney Plus. That brings me to television in the 2010’s. I cannot understate what television achieved this decade in terms of art and technology. In the 2010’s, shows like The Americans, Stranger Things, and Game of Thrones (for better or worse) demonstrated that television may be a better place to tell certain stories that the cinema.

Has the explosion of television options during this time of the “Streaming Wars” watered down the cultural impact of the medium? Yes, and no. A mere six months after the end of Game of Thrones was supposed to end appointment television, we can’t stop talking about Baby Yoda. It has become harder for television series to capture the attention of a distracted public, but certainly not impossible.

That brings me to lists. Top ten movies and television shows of the 2010’s:

Movies

1. Gravity (2013)

2. Black Panther (2018)

3. Get Out (2017)

4. Toy Story 3 (2010)

5. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

6. Lincoln (2012)

7. Nebraska (2013)

8. Twelve Years a Slave (2013)

9. Roma (2018)

10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Television

1. The Americans (FX)

2. Mad Men (AMC)

3. Breaking Bad (AMC)

4. Parks and Recreation (NBC)

5. Game of Thrones (HBO)

6. Fargo (FX)

7. Stranger Things (Netflix)

8. Better Call Saul (AMC)

9. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)

10. New Girl (Fox)

(C) 2019 D.G. McCabe

Categories
Complete Series Reviews

Game of Thrones: The Complete Series

 

What makes a “great” television drama?  “Great” is a largely meaningless term.  There are dramas that are well written, but not particularly influential.  There are dramas that are influential, but not particularly well written.  Then there is the cream of the crop, the dramas that are both well written and influential.  While it is impossible to assess how influential a show will be two days after its series finale, I’m confident that Game of Thrones will fit squarely in the category of influential, but not particularly well written.

Was it well-written at times?  Absolutely – especially when it stuck closely to its source material, George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire.”  There were many times the writing was bad during the last two seasons, and there were times that the writing was as bad, if not worse, throughout the series.  Examples include Daenerys’ visit to Qarth, anything involving Ramsey Snow, violence against women that did not happen in the source material, the mustache-twirling villains of Craster’s Keep, Arya’s layover in Braavos, and Jaime’s misadventures in Dorne.  Theon Greyjoy, for instance, spent most of the series in a poorly written subplot, so his demise in the final season does not deeply resonate despite the fact that Alfie Allen has been in the main credits since the very first episode.

The rushed and sloppily written final two seasons may be the show’s most obvious writing failure at the moment, but let’s not forget that the show constantly underwhelmed in its depiction of one of the most compelling characters in the source material, Jon Snow.  While Kit Harrington’s portrayal of Snow has proven popular, the book version of Jon Snow is one of the smartest and emotionally complex characters in the entire series.  The show, on the other hand, often portrayed Snow as well-meaning, but dull and not very bright.

So yeah, Game of Thrones is flawed.  But it is also pushed the technical boundaries of the medium of television drama further than any series that came before. Game of Thrones has given us hundreds of unforgettable images, from the birth of the dragons to the knighting of Brienne of Tarth.  When I think of Game of Thrones, I won’t always think about how Daenerys’ heel turn at the end was sloppily written, but I will remember images, such as the one of Jon and Ygritte looking out from the top of The Wall.

I can reasonably predict that Game of Thrones will be more influential as a technical achievement than anything else.  The way it handled a sprawling story that took place over a decade, over two massive continents, with hundreds of characters will be a text that creators will look at when designing their own equally ambitious television series.  Game of Thrones proved that no series is “unfilmable,” and that may be its most important legacy.

I can’t quite “rank” Game of Thrones yet, but as of right now I would not put it in the same league as The Wire or Mad Men because of its inconsistent, and sometimes outright bad, writing.  A better comparison would be The West Wing.  The West Wing pushed the boundaries of technical achievement in television, not with dragons and white walkers, but by demonstrating a cinematic, “lived-in” feel that still resonates in the industry.  Like Game of Thrones, The West Wing is a rewarding show on the second or third viewing.  Also, like Game of Thrones, The West Wing suffered from poor writing, especially during its final seasons, which resulted in an ending that felt disappointing and failed to resonate as deeply as it could have.

In conclusion, Game of Thrones gets an A+ for technical achievement, but a C+ for writing.  That said, here are some of my favorite moments from Game of Thrones:

  • The Battle of Hardhome: A scene loaded with unforgettable images, not just the iconic “Night King raises the dead” scene.
  • Jon and Ygritte climb The Wall: One of the few times the show did justice to a Jon Snow plotline from the books.
  • Daenerys burns Astapor: This reads differently in retrospect – not so much a moment of triumph as an ominous harbinger of things to come.
  • The Hound eats your chicken: Game of Thrones could be really funny at times, especially when it partnered interesting characters together, like Arya and the Hound.
  • Arya reunites with Nymeria: the last two seasons were flawed, but Arya’s moment of clarity when reuniting with her lost direwolf was a highlight.
  • Tyrion’s “trial by combat” at the Vale: with great dialogue and our introduction to the Bronn/Tyrion friendship, this was an early highlight.
  • Oberyn Martell’s introduction: sometimes Game of Thrones brought in new characters slowly, sometimes it introduced them by showing you exactly who they were and what they were about.
  • “No true king ever needs to say, I am the king:” man, Charles Dance was great as Tywin Lannister, wasn’t he?
  • Battle at the Wall tracking shot: you know which one I’m talking about.
  • “And you will know the debt is paid:” anytime Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey shared a scene it was pure gold.

That’s a wrap on the final season of Game of Thrones!  Thanks for reading!

© 2019 D.G. McCabe

Categories
Movies

Us (2019)

Us (USA, 2019)

Directed by Jordan Peele

After I saw Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In” (2008), I would joke that the message of the film was that the real vampire was the vampire within.  That particular joke played not only upon the movie’s content, but on the type of Scandavian existential dread often found in the films of Ingmar Bergman.  Due respect to Mr. Bergman’s vision of God as a hideous spider in “Through a Glass Darkly” (1961) or Mr. Alfredson’s star crossed vampire, there is a new existential nightmare in the cinema canon, the “tethered” in Jordan Peele’s “Us.”

Many great horror movies lull the audience into a sense of comfort.  Peele certainly did that in 2017’s “Get Out.”  Us isn’t one of those films.  From the first frame, Peele brings the audience into a nightmare that doesn’t let up.  There are lulls in the action, but nothing long enough to give anyone the type of familiarity or comfort that one might feel when watching Psycho (1960) for the first time.  The viewer is allowed to catch their breath, but can never let go of that awful feeling that nothing is ever quite right.

To give away too many plot details of a suspense/thriller/horror film can inadvertently ruin the film.  I won’t do that in a short, initial review.  I can tell you that the cast is perfect, particularly, if Lupita Nyong’o isn’t a shoe-in for a Best Actress nod they should just cancel the Oscars next year.  The score is one of the best I’ve heard, up there with Metropolis (1927), Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), and Fargo (1996).  Michael Abels creates the perfect complimentary sound to Mike Gioulakis’ cinematography – eerie when it needs to be and epic when it needs to be.  

After “Get Out” and its biting commentary on race relations in America, it wouldn’t be surprising if Peele created a companion piece.  “Get Out” is a great film in its own right, but in some ways the two films couldn’t be more different.   There are certain stylistic similarities, but “Get Out” satires monstrous elements of society, and overall, is a much funnier movie.  “Us” has its moments of humor, but it is a nightmarish meditation on the nature of evil in general.  In short, the monsters in”Get Out” were concrete, the monsters in “Us” are the wind.  

Which one is more horrifying?  It depends on your fears, and to some extent on your experience.  I’m going to watch “Get Out” again this weekend and think about how to answer that myself.

(C) 2019 D.G. McCabe