Archive for February 2012

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There’s a lot of uncertainty, even now, whether Deadwood ranks as an excellent show or an alright show. Speaking for myself, a few years ago I was solidly in the latter camp, but after re-watching the show recently, I’m now committed to the excellent camp.

Deadwood centers around the people and events of an illegal prospecting camp in the middle of Sioux territory in the late 1800’s. The town is more or less completely lawless, as no official governing body recognizes its existence… which means that the old powers of Might Makes Right rule this mining camp. The show’s primary leader is Albert Schwarengen, a brutal brigand exquisitely played by Ian McShane. Al established himself in Deadwood very early, and operates the town’s primary saloon. Most of the early season works to establish him as a man losing his absolute grip on the camp — as the town becomes more prosperous, competing interests begin moving in, and he can no longer rule as absolutely as he did the day before. Indeed, in the camp’s early days, he need only find an opportunity to literally slit his competition’s throat in order to solve the problem, but as the town becomes more established, the risks of doing so become more hazardous. So he must resort to “doing business” with these “cocksuckers.” 

The other main character of the show is Seth Bullock, played by Timothy Olyphant. Bullock came to Deadwood after quitting his job as a sheriff in Montana, in order to open a hardware business. His hardware business does quite well (as you’d expect in a mining camp), and he moves to buy the lot of land in order to establish an actual store instead of selling his goods out of a tent. This brings him into contact with Al…

These two characters are the guts of the show. While the show literally has dozens of characters splitting the screen time, Seth and Al are invariably the axles that everything revolves around. At first they absolutely hate each other, as they tend to be more similar than they’d like to admit. However, as the show progresses, they needs of the camp force them to find a working relationship, which evolves into something approaching friendship. The evolution is one of the better arcs in the show, and it progresses in an authentic way.

I think one of the reasons Deadwood works so well is because it traces rise and fall of the Western. Most of the characters in Deadwood went to Deadwood for one of two reasons… they either wanted to strike it rich, or get the hell away from the law of the East (or both). So you get this diverse group of people living together, but once they have something up and running, their own needs prevent them from operating in the cutthroat manner that was the de facto rule of the beginning. Indeed, once the town realizes that the Sioux have surrendered their claim to Deadwood, the town “elders” hold a meeting to organize a municipal body in order to better pay bribes to territorial politicians to make sure that their land claims are found to be legitimate. As the show progresses, there are increasingly larger forces outside of any of their control which come into play, and all of people in camp have to figure out how to make the best of their situation when the bigger players come to town. 

The biggest criticism is that it doesn’t really end, because it was prematurely canceled by HBO before its ending was planned. This was the chief reason that I wasn’t a big fan on my first viewing. However, with that caveat being there, because it is something of a bitter pill, the show as a whole is still an excellent thing to see. There’s some excellent acting throughout the show. McShane and Olyphant deserve particular applause as absolute masters of their characters. Brian Cox is a late arrival, but might win the prize for Most Charming Character in Fiction, as his portrayal of Jack Langrishe is perhaps the most lighthearted influence on the show otherwise dark subject matter. There are many more characters who could get honorable mentions for compelling or humorous moments, but none that would make sense outside of their context. For now, all I can say is that, if you have the time to watch it, do yourself the favor and do it. It’s three seasons, and you’ll enjoy the ride.

5 stars

The Ricky Gervais Show 

If you had asked me what, if anything, was worth checking out during the summer of ’10, I’d have pushed you in the direction of the Ricky Gervais podcasts. These podcasts follow Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (of England’s Office fame) conducting a series of interviews with Karl Pilkington. Now, Karl Pilkington is hard to describe. To call him an idiot makes irrelevant his unintentional bursts of genius, yet to call him a genius is to ignore the fact that he’s an idiot. However you describe Karl, his views and theories have a subtle pull which makes you want to listen to more of what he has to say, and the show works best when Merchant and Gervais probe Karl’s head without resorting to calling him an idiot (which they can’t resist doing for too long, albeit for obvious reasons).

Myself, I find that the more you listen to Karl, the more you can sort of understand where he’s coming from. Make no mistake about, a lot of what he says is retarded and ridiculous, but every once in awhile he hits on something, oftentimes without even realizing it himself, that strikes you as being absolutely on point. It’s one of the more interesting facets of the entire series, that while Karl can opine (for example) about how difficult things would be if his doppelganger suddenly entered his life, he can’t answer the simple question of how old he is without a long pause to figure it out.

I think the chief charm to this show is that, the more you listen to their banter, the more interesting it becomes. This project never comes off as a job by any of participants, and instead seems to be a very fun way for them to pick Karl’s brain. Gervais, in particular, seems to gain a healthy respect for Karl as the podcasts progress. You do have to give Karl credit, I think most Americans would probably just shut up when you have two people calling you an idiot, but I suppose the dickishness of the British immunizes one’s ego to the ridicule and he soldiers on with his outlandish theories and “true” stories of internet bullshit which he buys hook-line-and-sinker.

The animation of the HBO show can be entertaining, and I don’t think it does too much to distract from the meat of the conversation it’s replicating, but that being said I don’t think you miss much by simply checking out the podcasts themselves if you’re interested in listening in on, “the ramblings of a maniac.”

4 stars


Posted February 14, 2012 by fatmoron in Uncategorized

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Movie Reviews   Leave a comment

I’ve been laid up due to various ailments, the likes of which affect us all from time to time. As a result, I’ve been doing less reading and more lounging, which has brought me to watching movies while I play games of online Dominion, the newish Colonization, or an occasional foray upon the Oregon Trail.

My movie ratings system (essentially the same as the book system):

1 star = non-redeemable schlock
2 star = only worth it if you’ve got nothing better
3 star = acceptable, worth checking out
4 star = go out of your way to see this, it’s exceptional
5 star = a masterpiece of film

So, without further ado…

The A-Team 

I have to admit, this movie surprised me. I was expecting something thrown together in ten minutes to inspire yet another Hollywood cash-out based on an existing name. Instead, I found myself treated to an entertaining action movie.

The movie starts with Liam Neeson being beaten by some underlings for a drug lord. He’s about to be executed when the gun inexplicably misfires, and the mooks decide to let their dogs eat him while they go to meet up with their boss. As they shut their door on their prisoner, we find out that Liam held the gun’s firing pin in his mouth, which he uses to pick the lock on his handcuffs before the dogs can get to him. They don’t stand a chance, and we get our introduction to Hannibal. 

We next see a man in a mohawk racing through the streets in a tricked-out sports car. He does some gratuitous drifting and leads some cops on a chase they can’t hope to keep up with. After a narrow escape, he brings his car to a chop-shop, where he’s looking to get back his original ride. He finds the car, and the chop-shop crew try to take him out to keep their prize, but the guy kicks so much ass that they’re all left crying for momma. After a lot of ass-kicking, he rides his black SUV off into the sunset. 

Meanwhile, Hannibal is wandering through the wilderness hoping for find a vehicle to catch up with the thugs who left him for dead. He manages to cross paths with a black SUV, who stops find out what’s going on. After shooting the driver in the shoulder to complete his car-jacking, he discovers the man-with-the-mohawk to be an Army Ranger. Insisting his mission is one of life or death for a fellow ranger, the driver agrees to help Hannibal, and we get our intro to B.A. Baracus.

Next, we see a head poking through a totem of stacked tires. The corrupt chief of police is ranting about how he’s above it all and that no foolish American’s are ever going to shut him down. He’s about to order his men to shoot the prisoner when all hell breaks loose, with a black SUV now screeching around their encampment with guns ablazin’. The prisoner gets knocked over, which allows him to quickly roll out of danger while a small bloodbath rages around him.

After a successful pickup, we’re introduced to the A-Team, and learn that was the mission that brought them all together. They’ve since gone on over 100 missions together, and are one of the most effective units in all Special-Op services throughout the military. The ensuing plot has them searching for missing Mint plates, which allow its seedy possessors to make genuine U.S. currency.

Without giving anymore away (the intro took maybe ten minutes or so), I was pleased with the movie. The action was entertaining, and it had enough of a story to keep you interested while they went about their mission. A pleasantly surprising movie worthy of 3 stars. 


It’s more or less impossible to summarize Charlie Kaufman movies without them sounding ridiculous. “Oh, it’s a movie about a portal that lets people who enter co-exist in the head of the actor John Malcovich!” This movie is no different. All I’ll say by means of fleshing out its edges are that it’s a movie about writing a screenplay for The Orchid Thief Charlie Kaufman writes about his attempt to write a screenplay about a book he likes but can’t figure out how to make acceptable to a broad audience. So the movie ends up following him while he’s fighting to overcome writer’s block and his own colossal inadequacies, as he strives to meet the deadline for turning in the script.

If it sounds ridiculous, it is, but as his movies often do, it works. There’s some fine acting involved (which isn’t ruined by Nicolas Cage playing two parts, a miracle in and of itself), as well as some genuinely funny moments… one of my all-time favorite scenes in all cinema is in this movie. Nicolas Cage (playing Charlie Kaufman), is dropping off a friend of his after something very much resembling a date. She’s doing some very playful flirting, and he’s completely oblivious, saying that he hasn’t been sleeping well, so he should probably go right home as soon as he’s done seeing her. She leaves the car disappointed, and Nicolas Cage says to himself how easy it would be to just walk right back to her door and kiss her as soon as she opens it. “It would be romantic, it would be something we could tell our kids about… That’s it, that’s exactly what I’m going to do…” And then he drives away.

While scenes like that do wonders to warm the soul, the movie has enough “humiliation porn” that I was uncomfortable at different points. It’s a tough thing to explain, but the older I get the less I like watching scenes where a character is exposed to ridicule. The easiest examples would probably be in The Office where Michael Scott constantly puts himself or someone else in a position where they have no graceful out, and are left like a fish on line to dangle before everyone’s eyes. Or course, having written this I can’t think of any specific one, but I’m sure you can recall instances where you almost can’t bear to see a scene because of it. 

So, before further digression claims my attention, I’ll say that I found this to be on a whole an entertaining movie. There are some scenes which cause a dangerous backslide which make things tough to watch, but the ending does a nice job to justify it all being worthwhile. Still, I have to hold my rating to 3 stars.

The Picture of Dorian Gray 

I caught this on TCM a few days ago, and was glad I decided to record it to the DVR.

Dorian Gray is a relatively innocent and easy-going man who decides to have his portrait painted by one of the finest painters in England. By coincidence, while he goes to pick up the painting he’s introduced to one Henry Wotten, a hugely smug and self-indulgent man who numerous flaws can’t help but make him imminently charming. Young Dorian is rather entranced by Wotten’s easy morality and vice, and is somewhat swept away by his desire to try things Wotten’s way instead of his own. 

Dorian finds a young woman on the cheap side of town whom he becomes immediately entranced with (a young Angela Lansbury). Having spent some time together, he decides to marry her. He introduces her to both the painter and Wotten, and the painter couldn’t be more pleased for Dorian. Wotten, on the other hand, is sad and bored with Dorian. Out of curiosity, Dorian asks what Wotten would do, and Wotten explains how he’d seduce her and be done with her. Dorian laughs the advice away, but finds himself following it to the hilt when he’s with her later in the evening. After following Wotten’s advice, Dorian unceremoniously dumps her, and writes her out of his life forever. 

He later learns that she’s killed herself, and he can’t believe the news. Wotten, of course, is envious of Dorian, because he’s never had anyone go to the trouble of killing themselves over him, but goes on to tell Dorian that there’s nothing he should be ashamed of… life goes on. He insist Dorian go to the opera with him that night to forget about her, which he does.

As the movie continues, we see Dorian becoming more and more of a pariah in the community. No one has anything definitive on him, but there exist all sorts of rumors about his deceits and betrayals. However, we discover that, as the years go by, Dorian isn’t aging. Instead, he is a picture of perfect youth, decade after decade. However, his portrait changes constantly. First, it had some worry-lines around the eyes, and some tension wrinkles in the face, but as time goes on his portrait becomes increasingly hideous, magically revealing the depths of his horrid soul…

This movie was pretty damn good. While I want to stress that Wotten is a horrible, horrible person, you can’t help but love every time he’s on screen. He has such a nonchalant detachment from the morals and morays of society that he completely steals every scene he’s in. His easy demeanor while casually dismissing any objection to his methods or his perspective is intoxicating, and his entire character is probably best summed up in his quote:

“I love persons better than principles, and persons with no principles better than anything at all.” 

Otherwise, the rest of the cast does their job admirably. I was surprised that Angela Lansbury got herself an Oscar nomination for her role, which I thought was excessively brief. The movie has some slow points, such as the song-and-dance numbers, but I wager that’s more a flaw of contemporary convention than a fuck-up on the director’s part. Also, the movie does have one major special effect, where the otherwise black and white movie segues into color while viewing the portrait of Dorian Gray. It’s not much by today’s standards, but I bet at the time it was jaw-dropping.

So while Dorian Gray isn’t the most amazing movie ever, I still have to give it high marks because of its great characters and story. I’ll give it four stars and call it a night!

Posted February 14, 2012 by fatmoron in Uncategorized

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