SONS OF ANARCHY SEASON 6 EPISODE 11: AON RUD PERSANTA
Yeah. So…that happened. We can’t say as we’re entirely surprised, given Clay’s ominous words to Gemma last week, or Clay’s repeated, bordering-on-absurd escapes from the reaper over the years, but especially in light of FX’s rare decision to withhold a screener of tonight’s installment until hours before airing. Suffice to say, the writing was on the wall for either Clay or Tara, and only one of them would be in the line of fire for a dangerous prison transport, 11 episodes into the season.
Shock value not withstanding, we’re almost at a loss to consider Clay’s ultimate end, given that series creator Kurt Sutter deliberately kept the character alive to at least earn some sense of redemption and peace over the course of the season, far removed from any of Jax’s justifiable rage about his father. The name of the game for ‘Sons of Anarchy’ season 6 had arguably been a desensitization of violence, and the effect on all involved, but the story simply hasn’t needed Clay for some time now. Through his death, we have at least a temporary peace with the Irish (trigger-happy Connor wasn’t too thrilled), but little fanfare, or registered reaction from any of the characters we’re still invested in.
So we’ll say an expected goodbye to Ron Perlman’s presence on the series as Clay Morrow, but not one that carries with it the shock of grief. Clay earned his brief bit of peace, but had done far too much in the grander scale to lament his loss. Jax barely bat an eye. Gemma shed her tears, wishing not to feel as much sentiment as she had. We’ll have fewer complaints about Sutter’s last-minute reprieves. We’ll move on.
Going forward, we’ll surely have Tyne’s vengeance to look forward to, as well as the wrath of the Chinese that Jax spurned across his multi-level play, while Tara seemed a bit conflicted about her final opportunity to take the boys and run. Much as we were surprised by Jax’s muted reaction to Tara’s plots, so too were we impressed that the character could gain as much clarity to own up to his role in pushing her to it. There’s still a faint spark of hope that the relationship won’t end in such bitter blood, though with two more episodes to go, and Clay out of the picture, it does seem as if the hardest axe has yet to fall.
Certainly, we’ll have more to process in the coming days, though we have little fault with “Aon Rud Persanta” for crafting a dignified, and elaborate end for such a pivotal character. The only difficulty in execution lies with its overdue turn, and a struggle to reconcile what effect Clay’s end can have on the immediate story at hand. Hey, remember when Donal Logue was crazy? It’s been a fun season.
What say you? Did you get your fill of road-rashing ‘Sons of Anarchy’ action? What did you think about the big shockers of tonight’s “Aon Rud Persanta”? Join us next week for another all-new ‘Sons of Anarchy’ recap of “You Are My Sunshine,” and stay tuned as we bring you additional coverage on tonight’s shocking developments with series creator Kurt Sutter!
RIP The Irish King, Galen O’Shay and Sons Of Anarchy The First 9, Clarence “Clay” Morrow. You’ll will be missed!
In Last Vegas, Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Kline play four childhood friends that reunite to celebrate the pending nuptials of the group’s long-term bachelor, Billy (Douglas). The sole marital hold-out among his boyhood companions, Billy has decided to tie the knot with Lisa (Bre Blair) a thirty-something woman who the group believes is little more than an attempt for their friend to avoid facing his actual age.
Undeterred by their concerns and complaints, Billy reunites the “Flatbush Four” for his bachelor party, one last night of debauchery on the Las Vegas strip. Eager to break free of their respective “prisons” (a stale marriage, overprotective son, and life-halting grief), Sam (Kline), Archie (Freeman), Paddy (De Niro), and Billy are unprepared when the scandal of Vegas, along with the complications of aging bodies, outdated cultural norms, and long-kept secrets, throw the pals into a series of absurd scenarios – that will test the strength of their near-70-year friendship.
Ever since Last Vegas was first announced, the project has been branded with the (understandable) notion that CBS Films, along with director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) and writer Dan Fogelman (Crazy. Stupid. Love), were merely trying to capitalize on the success of The Hangover series – by mixing aging protagonists into the Vegas group-comedy equation. While there’s no doubt that Last Vegas shares similarities with Todd Phillips’ iconic comedy franchise, trading the Wolfpack for the aged Flatbush Four, Turteltaub’s film is a much more sentimental and less over-the-top offering. Instead of outrageous and gross-out gags, Last Vegas is a harmless and humorous (but not particularly memorable) chance to watch fan-favorite veteran actors riff on their old age in an eccentric setting.
In fact, serving-up comedic opportunities for Douglas, De Niro, Freeman, and Kline is the primary function of the Last Vegas narrative – which includes a thin layer of heart-warming filler to help ground the hijinks. Few of the jokes deliver legitimate laugh-out-loud surprises and the rumination on growing old as well as true love aren’t particularly profound but, as a whole, the Last Vegas story and comedy beats combine into a competent and well-rounded experience – one that will be especially relatable for anyone who has begun to experience the challenges (mentally and physically) of aging.
Though, this is not to say that Last Vegas is only for moviegoers who hold an AARP card. The characters and the diverse situations they encounter could be entertaining for certain younger viewers – if for no other reason than satirical juxtaposition. Younger moviegoers who were entirely uninterested by the Last Vegas trailers aren’t likely to be won-over but the movie includes plenty of references to modern pop culture (references the characters often do not understand) to ensure that viewers who are much younger than the Flatbush Four protagonists can still be entertained.
The conflict between Billy (Douglas) and Paddy (De Niro) is at the center of Last Vegas and its attempt to explore love and companionship – they are the only two members of the group who no longer get along. To that end, Douglas is serviceable as Billy – a once “invincible” ladies man that is now struggling to face the reality of his age. However, the actor never presents Billy as a complete cliche and, despite somewhat naive views about love, he’s a sympathetic leading man – even if Douglas doesn’t get as many set piece laughs as the rest of the cast. De Niro, as usual, makes the most of what he’s given, and elevates the “emotional heart” of the story – while Paddy’s friends are busy dancing, drinking, and trying to get laid. It’s hardly the most evocative performance of De Niro’s extensive career but his expertise in providing humor and gravity to even the most absurd projects (see: The Big Wedding) successfully sell several scenes that, in the hands of a less capable actor, would have undercut key non-comedy beats.
Freeman and Kline, playing Archie and Sam, respectively, get their own character arcs, but their primary function is to explore that “Hangover with old people” setup at nearly every turn. As a result, it shouldn’t be too surprising to hear that the pair is easily the most enjoyable and, at times, endearing element of the movie. Paddy and Billy are sometimes mired by heavy-handed storylines but watching Archie and Sam explore the debauchery of Las Vegas, in an attempt to rediscover a youthful playfulness, presents a number of great encounters – even if the jokes (and certain plot outcomes) are easily predicted.
The cast is rounded-out by other recognizable faces in key, but minor, roles. Romany Malco (Weeds) and Jerry Ferrara (Entourage) get to poke-fun at the Flatbush Four but, as the film progresses, become likable counter-points to the veteran stars and each get a few laughs of their own. Mary Steenburgen (Back to the Future III), as lounge-singer Diana, has no trouble keeping up with Douglas, De Niro, and the rest of the gang – easily knocking each of the well-known stars (via their characters) down a peg.
Last Vegas is hardly the most creative, innovative, or fresh film concept that has come through the pipeline in recent memory. Without question, the movie borrows heavily from other Vegas-set buddy comedies, especially The Hangover series, resulting in a lot of familiar jokes and story ideas that are not as engaging this round – despite the “elderly” angle. Yet, the film’s star-studded cast of actors manage to make certain rehashed moments slightly more engaging – meaning that Last Vegas lands somewhere in the middle of the films that came before it: a mix of formulaic and inspired comedy that will entertain in the moment, even if it falls short of setting the bar any higher.
Viewers who were intrigued by the Last Vegas trailer should have a pretty good idea of what to expect: a film that allows fan-favorite actors the chance to poke fun at each other, aging, and Las Vegas culture, while including enough heart to make up for any especially worn-out jokes.
In Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, Johnny Knoxville returns to his hidden camera comedy hijinks – this time dressed as 86-year old grandpa, Irving Zisma. Following the death of his wife Ellie (modeled after Catherine Keener), Irving sets out on a two-fold mission: 1) get laid and 2) deliver his 8-year old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) to his father across the country – after the boy’s mother Kimmy (Georgina Cates) is forced to serve jail time.
In traditional Jackass brand fashion, the cross-country trip puts the unlikely pair in a series of awkward (and over-the-top) situations as Irving, a self-absorbed, reckless, and horny senior, attempts to honor Ellie’s memory, balance his newfound freedom as an eligible bachelor, and successfully care for Billy until he can dump him off in North Carolina. However, as the oddball pair journeys across the USA, hitting on women, offending strangers, and wreaking havoc on local store owners, Irving begins to ponder whether or not he should actually hand Billy over to his deadbeat dad.
Unlike prior Jackass films, Bad Grandpa is peppered with a scripted storyline that tethers all of the hidden comedy beats (and penis jokes) together. Yet, the main draw of the film is still the outrageous improvised interactions with regular people on the street – unaware of Knoxville and director Jeff Tremaine’s elaborate pranks. For this reason, moviegoers may be mixed on whether or not the straightforward narrative actually enhances or hinders the success of the film. Some viewers will likely find the story (which is pretty soulless and very predictable) to be a waste of runtime with no substance, wishing that more (of the far superior) hidden camera moments were included instead. Others will appreciate the added effort from Tremaine and Knoxville, who present a film that does slightly more than the Jackass standard – which jumped from one scandalous moment to the next.
Regardless of how filmgoers respond to the scripted bridge scenes, Bad Grandpa is still a Jackass movie in nearly every way imaginable – meaning that the film will, without question, satisfy fans of Jackass: The Movie, Jackass Number Two, and Jackass 3-D. Nevertheless, the narrative material is not enough to draw-in viewers who did not enjoy prior entries in the series. As mentioned, Bad Grandpa‘s barebones storyline only adds surface level plot – without taking time to earn any of its attempts at (tongue-in-cheek) emotion.
While the relationship between Irving and Billy is little more than a formula for laughs, the characters succeed in moving the comedy formula away from staged Jackass pranks to more nuanced situations – raised by a pair of likable leading men. Awkward moments, dangerous stunts, and gross-out gags are still the priority, but certain trailers sought to present the film as a somewhat traditional character story (in the interest of pulling-in a wider viewership) and certain audience members who were expecting a more balanced mix between scripted drama and improv could feel slightly cheated by the final Bad Grandpa film.
Despite the reality that some jokes work better than others, Knoxville (with a team ofJackass alums producing) is in top-improv form as Irving. Aside from the obvious necessity of hiding the actor’s now-familiar face from the public, his geriatric routine presents plenty of room for unique hidden camera jokes. Between staged prop sequences and entirely improvised interactions with random strangers on the street, Knoxville is sharp and brash – once again putting his body in harms way for the sake of making filmgoers laugh. Some ideas get repetitive over time, especially those involving Irving’s clumsy quest for sexual gratification, but even when Knoxville is retreading familiar ground, the reactions from his unknowing victims are still priceless.
Easily the most remarkable aspect of Bad Grandpa is the inclusion of 9-year old Jackson Nicoll (Fun Size) who absolutely nails his improv and dramatic scenes – especially considering the outright crazy things that Knoxville and Tremaine asked of the young actor. Nicoll delivers in scripted moments but his interactions with concerned adults on the street provide solid payoff – oftentimes stealing the spotlight from Knoxville. It’s hard to imagine anyone, much less a pre-teen kid, being able to keep a straight face while shooting Bad Grandpa but Nicoll never shows signs of cracking – providing a hilarious new twist on otherwise straightforward Jackass comedy beats.
Of course, the supporting “cast” of victims left in the wake of Knoxville and Nicoll impart some of the biggest laughs. As Jackass and other hidden camera features have taught us, it’s impossible to predict how everyday people will react to extraordinary situations. Whether capturing anger, shock, incompetence, fear, compassion, determination, aggression, or relief, among countless others, the Jackass brand still reveals interesting (and flat out riotous) insight into modern culture – as people respond to Irving and Billy’s shenanigans.
Longterm fans of the Jackass franchise will find plenty to like in Bad Grandpa. The film successfully freshens up the format and elevates the hidden camera comedy series away from mindless stunts and eye-rolling gags to a series of diverse and laugh-out-loud setups carried out by a fun set of protagonists. That said, viewers who were hoping for a full-on overhaul of the formula with a heavy emphasis on the overarchingBad Grandpa story might be underwhelmed by the narrative through lines – which possess little substance and are nothing more than filler to keep the movie flowing from one improv scene to the next. Whether or not the story is a boon or a bane, Bad Grandpa successfully freshens the Jackass format and will, without question, keep fans of the series laughing (and cringing) the entire time.
The 2013 Carrie remake once again follows the titular Carrie White (Chloë Grace Moretz) a shy and awkward teenage girl who is routinely bullied and ostracized by classmates. Sheltered by her overbearing, and extremely religious, mother Margaret (Julianne Moore), Carrie longs for the “normal life” of the other kids at Thomas Ewen Consolidated High School.
But Carrie isn’t normal, and after discovering that she possesses telekinetic powers, she begins to develop a new-found confidence that causes tension between her and a popular clique of girls led by Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday) and Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde). Rebelling against her mother’s control, and extreme Christian beliefs, Carrie decides to attend the school prom with cool kid Tommy Ross (Ansel Elgort), setting the stage for a memorable night of dancing and violent revenge.
Given the success of Brian De Palma’s adaptation, starring Sissy Spacek (and featuring a pre-Saturday Night Fever John Travolta), a lot of moviegoers have been skeptical about Carrie (2013) – especially considering the latest iteration follows closer to that 1976 original instead of the actual novel source material. As a result, it’s fair to say that Carrie is a true remake, not an extensive reimagining that seeks to be more faithful to Stephen King’s version of fictional events. Still, director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) manages to present a worthwhile, albeit arguably unneeded, retelling of the Carrie White story – strengthened by modern visual effects and a great performance from Chloë Grace Moretz in the titular role. The latest Carrie film isn’t going to win the same accolades as the first one (which led to Oscar nominations for both Spacek and Piper Laurie) but it’s an entertaining and oftentimes competent update for anyone who isn’t already, on principle, off put by remakes – particularly ones that hew so close to the celebrated original.
Peirce’s iteration once again skips some of the more complicated (and convenient) elements of the novel material, most notably in the third act, in favor of telling a straightforward narrative about a girl that is constantly oppressed and ridiculed – until she discovers the (malevolent) power to fight back. Beyond updating the setting for contemporary moviegoers with YouTube and video phones, Peirce along with screenwriters Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa as well as Lawrence D. Cohen attempt to inject fresh subtext into the mix. Some of the additions succeed but, at the same time, leave less of the runtime for elements that were instrumental in De Palma’s movie. Therefore, the Carrie (2013) story presents the same effective and heart-breaking character arc, with some new angles for returning viewers to ponder, but without major deviations to raise the remake into the number one spot.
Moretz is a solid Carrie, balancing reverence to the role while also injecting subtleties that make her version of the horror movie icon distinct (and slightly more intimidating). Moretz effortlessly sells all three sides of the Carrie character – transition in and out of a terrified victim, cautiously empowered young woman, and iconic (not to mention blood-soaked) killer. Certain viewers will prefer one version over another, but Moretz delivers in several key moments – successfully capturing the genuine hopefulness and raw terror that make the fundamental Carrie story so powerful. Of course, the actress is aided in this undertaking by contemporary special effects and, even though some of the visuals come across as “budgeted” in certain shots (with a few slightly awkward disconnects between practical and CGI images) the character, as well as Moretz, comes across as even more menacing than before.
Peirce also digs a bit deeper into the relationship between Carrie and her mother Margaret, played by Moore, which is both a strength and sometimes a setback for the film. Unsurprisingly, Moore embraces the character wholeheartedly with a capable and disturbing performance that pairs well with Moretz (and the larger character story). Still, despite positioning Margaret as a delusional relic from a by-gone era, Peirce’s take on the christian fundamentalist character often slides dangerously close to caricature territory.
Much like in De Palma’s film, and the source book, the majority of supporting characters are relegated to one-note plot points that merely serve as touchstones for Carrie’s development – and fall into very familiar high school cliches. Gabriella Wilde and Portia Doubleday are both adequate at the extremes, as the remorseful Sue Snell and conniving Chris Hargensen, respectively. Judy Greer is a smart fit for Carrie’s confidant and gym teacher Miss Desjardin – a character that gets a more prominent role this round and is smartly juxtaposed with the clueless Principle Morton (portrayed by Barry Shabaka Henley).
Finally, despite a likable turn from Ansel Elgort, the script somewhat muddles the Tommy Ross character – as, in an effort to make the character estimable while also playing off his interest in Carrie at the dance, the writers subsequently convolute his arc. Given that most of the characters rely heavily on thin teenage tropes, side stories are mostly included for the purpose of advancing the narrative but a few, like Tommy, get saddled with too many layers and become a distraction rather than inspired reimagining.
Filmgoers who are not interested in seeing a modern remake of Carrie are equally unlikely to be won-over by Peirce’s effort – since it tells (mostly) the same story without dramatically improving anything but the onscreen visuals. Nevertheless, for viewers who are open to the remake, the assembled cast and crew manage to accomplish their goal of updating the still timely Carrie storyline with a more intense (and gory) retelling of events for the contemporary movie market. While it might not have been necessary, the Carrie remake is still an adept, entertaining, and at times downright haunting, piece of filmmaking.
Machete Kills picks up with ex-Mexican Federale Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) and his partner/lover Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba), who are now working together by patrolling the U.S./Mexico border. The pair stumble upon a plot that involves members of the U.S. military selling a dangerous missile to a former Mexican drug cartel head-turned self-declared revolutionary, by the name of Mendez (Demian Bichir).
Machete, after suffering a tragic turn of events that almost results in his death, is then called to Washington, D.C. Once there, he is recruited by President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen, credited under his real name, Carlos Estevez) on a mission to stop Mendez, who threatens to destroy the White House with his newfound missile. Assisted by the undercover agent/beauty pageant contestant known as Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard), Machete returns to his home country in order to do what he does best: kill.
Machete Kills is the latest movie from one-man-band filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, who co-wrote the screen story for the Machete sequel (with his brother, Marcel), in addition to serving as director, cinematographer, co-editor and co-composer. That said: if you thought that the original Machete feature – based on the three-minute faux-trailer from R. Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse double-feature – was an example of what happens when a simple concept is stretched beyond its breaking point, then Machete Kills will test your patience even more.
Robert Rodriguez decided to embrace the inherent ridiculousness of the Macheteuniverse in the sequel, which (on paper) reads as a better decision than continuing to emphasize the social/political commentary in his original “Mexploitation” film (a la the self-empowerment messages and political subversiveness of Blaxploitation). Problem is, Machete Kills isn’t smart in the way that it goes about parodying itself, nor is it really joyful in the way that it riffs on trashy cinema conventions. In short: this is easily among the silliest movies released this year, but unfortunately that doesn’t end up meaning it’s also one of the most fun.
Part of the problem is screenwriter Kyle Ward, whose script features surprisingly little in the way of cleverly violent gags, exciting action scenes, enjoyable character moments and ingenious satire/humor (note: Ward’s output here doesn’t bode well for his work on the postponed Kane & Lynch movie). The other guilty party is Rodriguez, whose shot composition and editing choices (the latter in collaboration with his sister, Rebecca Rodriguez) tend to be sloppy enough that it becomes a distraction. Not to mention, he skips on being playful with the many cheap-looking green screen backdrops and settings in the film, which begs the question as to how much the low-budget look (sometimes on a par with a Youtube video) was not intentional.
Similarly, a disappointingly small number of Machete Kills cast members do a good job either hamming it up or seeming like they’re having a blast in the movie. Trejo, whose age is more noticeable in this film, does his usual machismo act, but seems a bit tired in the eponymous role. The same is true to a lesser extent with Michelle Rodriguez back as Luz, while newcomers Bichir and Heard come off as trying too hard to feel like the sort of cartoonish people you’d expect to see in a schlocky B-movie (likewise, Sheen just lazily references his bad-boy public image in the film).
The standouts in Machete Kills include the La Camaleón character (played by Lady Gaga, among other actors) – who makes for a mildly amusing, if pointless, running joke – and Mel Gibson, laying on the cheese as eccentric technology manufacturer Luther Voz (who is in shockingly little of the movie) – and has fun while doing so. However, Sofia Vergara as Desdemona – the self-reliant brothel owner constantly flocked by her scantily-clad “girls” (including, former Spy Kids star Alexa Vega) – is pretty irritating, since her sole purpose is to screech and made unfunny jokes that involve weaponizing her cleavage (to word it delicately).
To sum it all up: yes, of course Machete Kills is supposed to be “bad,” but it’s also supposed to be entertainingly dumb and loony – which is where it falls short. The final movie result is harmless, yet mostly dull, rather than delightfully over the top or crass; even the promise of a more camp-tastic third Machete installment seems uninteresting by the time the second film reaches its conclusion (note: if you do choose to see the film in theaters, you might as well hang around until the credits are done rolling).
SONS OF ANARCHY SEASON 6 EPISODE 10: HUANG WU
With the reopening of the repair shop, Jax showing restraint but not attacking Tara, Nero being back in business, and Katey Segal’s angelic voice guiding us while we check in with the major players, Sons of Anarchy gives the impression that new beginnings are possible as well as the hope that things are finally looking up for everybody now that the truth is exposed. I am sure that most people were expecting a massive confrontation between Jax and Tara and I think it was wise not to jump right into that potential catastrophe. Once again though, remember moments of calm on Sons of Anarchy are pretty much always followed by complete and utter mayhem. How fitting that the opening segment ends with Clay trying to expedite his escape and narratively speaking set the spark in motion for the ensuing chaos to follow.
We also have a very poignant scene this week in which Tara realizes just how much she is now endangering the lives of the people around her. Poor Margaret Murphy, who has been Tara’s only real ally when you think about it, is now in legitimate fear for her life, as is her lawyer Ally Lowen. It appears that Mr. Mayhem now affects pretty much every player in Tara’s life and when she breaks down and cries in her office where she faked her miscarriage perhaps Tara realizes that her sons are next on the list, no matter what she does. More intrigue is added to Tara as she desperately confronts Wendy about being the weak link in her plan and the two share a painful exchange in which Tara realizes that the core difference between she and Wendy is that Tara is wiling to sacrifice her life in order to save her children, and Wendy never could. Tara’s Ophelia-like descent into madness seems to be just about complete as after confronting Jax in the brothel she completely loses it and realizes before driving off that she had basically lost her mind. Now the question is will Tara commit suicide, and if she does will that ‘weight’ on Jax destroy him? Also, how perfect was it that Jax leaves one women behind who has been physically battered, Colette, and then leaves another one behind who has been psychologically damaged beyond repair?
Gemma and Tara get to have yet another wonderful exchange that reveals so much about who these two women really are. Both are extremely powerful women who, under different circumstances, could have very easily been squaring off in a boxing ring or as political opponents. Yet their different ideas about ‘family’ is what puts these two at odds and it always boils down to who is going to control Jax. In case anyone who watches the show refused to believe that Jax has a complicated relationship with Gemma that borders on being Oedipal in its nature, how fitting was it that Gemma, upon meeting Colette for the first time, is immediately confrontational to her and then Nero tells her that “he is working out his mommy issues.” Lastly, with Tara what happens to a person who is willing to be a ‘Judas’ and then gets turned down? Kurt Sutter and his crew do a wonderful job of creating complicated story arcs for their characters and they have done a masterful job with Tara.
You have to hand it to Galen O’Shay as he takes command of every scene that he is in. As disturbing as his complete disregard for human life is - especially if the people he comes into contact with happen to be minorities - his ability to turn off any bit of human compassion that may reside in him and consistently prove to his adversaries that he and the Irish are always calling the shots makes him grow larger in stature as a villain, and a more-than worthy adversary for the club. It also shows us that in this violent criminal world, emotion is what will get you killed and it reminds us of Jax’s biggest achilles heel. Ironically Jax’s ability to be motivated almost solely by his emotional turmoil is exactly what makes us root for him. Although Gemma makes a really good point about her son when she says “my son loves deep, hates deeper.” This emotional turmoil may be the very thing that ruins Jax in the end and it is fitting that this character trait has been present in him ever since we first met the current king.
We had a few nice twists in this episode involving Galen insisting that SAMCRO be involved with Clay’s escape from prison. We have the reintroduction of Henry Lin and the Chinese to the narrative mix, with the Chinese insisting that they get SAMCRO’s gun business as opposed to the Irish. This complicates things for Jax because it will hurt him in being able to follow through on the deal that he concocted with the DA. Of course Galen’s rash action was actually not as bold a move as we had initially thought, because the Chinese wanted to cut the Irish out of the gun business. It is also worth discussing that the gun meet involved three distinct ethnic groups, Irish, Italian and Chinese, trying to get a piece of the ‘American Dream’ by destroying each other in the process. Is the show perhaps making a comment about ethnic and racial tensions that exist not only in America but worldwide? On top of that, the leader of the Italian connection has a great line to Galen about how his tactics undermined the “free market approach” they were tying to partake in. Is it not fitting that this business deal was sealed in blood and negotiated over dead bodies? This potential criticism of the most perverse aspects of capitalism make yet bother strong connection to the narrative themes present Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece The Godfather.
With the anticipation built up in last weeks episode I have to say that I left this episode not necessarily feeling disappointed but perhaps more eager to watch next week’s instalment because it is time for the mayhem to ensue. As we only have three episodes left, the time for the biggest emotional gut-punches to be thrown is upon us and I can no longer wait patiently to see how the Irish deal goes down and how Clay’s escape will undoubtedly be amongst the shows most memorable sequences. I would be willing to bet that at least one major character gets killed by the end of the season but who will it be is anyones guess because everyone seems to be at risk. The one prediction that I am going to be bold and make is that somehow Clay will make it to the next season. Somehow I just do not believe that Kurt Sutter is done with him yet. Bring on next week!
SONS OF ANARCHY SEASON 6 EPISODE 9: JOHN 8:32
Nero, Gemma, Jax and Tara are immediately brought to the forefront in this week’s episode to remind us that as the season is on its way to concluding, that ultimately these are the major players that deserve our undivided attention. Visually, Gemma and Nero were dressed in black to match not only each other but also to visually connect to the love birds in the cage as well. These two characters who clearly love each other are doomed. Either Gemma is going to go to jail for her “attack” on Tara or Nero is going to sell out the club, or some other unforeseen consequence is going to catch up with them, but the prominently displayed colour of black proves that death is lurking right behind these two characters. In contrast, Jax is presented in white and is attempting to find a way to reconnect with his wife. Although he is sincere in his efforts, he remains oblivious to Tara’s plan and as such, the lives of our main characters are going to once again become further entwined.
Tara, who remains the only character who clearly sees that association with the club leads to death, reminds Nero and us that Gemma has in some ways always been a harbinger of death. Arguably, this downward spiral started when she and Clay decided to kill JT. Tara even tells Nero “I suggest you get out now before you end up dead too.” The references to the circumstances surrounding JT’s death were coming fast and furious this week. One has to begin to strongly suspect that a major plot point is going to be revealed around JT’s death, which, in some ways has always remained a mystery despite the fact that we believe that we know that Gemma and Clay killed him.
Jax has always been haunted by ghosts. In particular the ghost of his dead dad JT still follows him wherever he goes. He even claims to want to make the club legitimate to honour his father’s legacy. So is it really Jax’s dream to bring the club into the “legitimate” world or is he a slave to a ghost in much the same way that Hamlet was? Additionally, will this path ultimately lead to his demise? His obsession with this idea of going legit is blinding him to the fact that his wife Tara has been plotting against him for quite some time now. Furthermore, while we are on the subject of having visions of spirits and ghosts there was a scene in season five when Jax sees a homeless women outside of a warehouse and he gives her a stare as if to admit in an almost uncanny way that he somehow knows this women. We get a similar scene in this week’s episode when this time he does the exact same thing when he is entering the club’s new headquarters and this time the young harbinger proceeds to break the storefront window of SAMCRO’s new clubhouse. This leads Jax to discovering that this girl ‘s mother was “killed” in an accident caused when JT’s bike went of control and led to him being killed. When the club tracks down the girl’s father and Jax enters the house he stares at the girl’s mother in a picture and cannot help but once again feel some sort of connection to this women whom we now suspect must be connected to JT in some other way.
This episode brought back Elliot Oswald to the mix, a character who played a crucial role in the development of the series. He has a great line in the episode that illuminates an underlying ideology in American culture in that the wealthy have no responsibility to help out their subordinates. When Jax makes it clear that he wants Oswald to help out Mr. Putnam and his daughter, Oswald says, “I’m his employer not his fairy godmother.” So is it a fantasy to think that employers might owe something to loyal and hardworking people? We also get an important revelation from Unser about his relationship with Gemma dating back to when they were kids and that they used to “dine and dash” together. This is important because Unser’s fascination with Gemma goes back to his formative years and this helps to further explain his deep connection to her.
Moreover, we had the glorious return of Clay who brought Gospel preaching to a whole new level this week. I do not think any conservative religious folks will be happy with Clay’s mockery of Christianity and his interpretation of delivering a meaningful sermon. The Priest makes some very valid philosophical points about how we cannot see beyond our own selfish desires and he reads a passage from the bible that comes from the episode’s titular John 8:32. Clay manages to put his own spin on the origins of Christianity by saying that “some Jew got nailed to a cross a thousand some years ago and he’s gonna be the magic pill that pulls all us scumbags to freedom?” Of course, this scene also served the narrative function of expediting Clay’s role in being able to become the point man for the gun business in California to continue for the Irish. After Clay makes his dramatic remarks as only the superbly great Ron Perlman can, he then does his best Hannibal Lecter impression by biting a guard’s nose off and then in another visual nod to The Silence of the Lambs Clay is forced to wear a mask around his face in the hospital room where he is awaiting treatment for his injuries. Never count Clay out, seems to be another lesson that we should all never forget.
The onscreen scene between Tyne Patterson and Jax was handled nicely as Jax does what he does best and attempts to make a deal to save the club. Once again, credit to Jax as he has just the type of offer that Mrs. Patterson would be keen to accept by offering up Galen a prominent member of the IRA for her to hold responsible for the school shooting. Now, exactly how Jax is going to go about making this happen and getting the Irish “Kings” to go along with this is an issue for another time. This deal to sell out an Irish man is eerily reminiscent of how he was able to manipulate Agent Stahl in season three of the show. Perhaps Mrs. Patterson better watch her back more closely. Of course, we once again see Jax trying to alleviate himself of any personal responsibility for the school shooting by making this deal. Jax even tries to come to terms with any guilt he may feel over the deaths of innocent youths by forcing Oswald to help out the family of the young girl who broke the new clubhouse window because she comes from a broken home.
As this episode was titled John 8:32, naturally the “truth”was going to come out. The conjugal visit that Gemma was forced to endure with Clay. Tara’s grand plan with her fake pregnancy and the “miscarriage.” Tara’s desire to file for divorce and take Jax’s children away from him. Gemma attempting to win her son back to her side by saying to him in regards to Tara that “I’m sorry I love her too but this is the truth and if she’s not gonna tell you you need to find someone who will.” Then we get the important revelation from Gemma who fills us in about JT’s death. “I didn’t kill him but I knew it had to be done. I gave my blessing for Clay to kill John Teller. I never told that to anyone including my son.” The powerful revelation from Gemma is a fact we were pretty sure was true but it was a very important moment in the story arc of the show because Gemma finally admits this truth for Nero and us to hear.
We end this episode with Jax sitting alone as I suppose he was always destined to be. Tara has a gun ready to deal with Jax upon his return home. This is why Sons of Anarchy is the most rewarding and brilliant show on television for those who watch carefully and pay attention. That same woman, who looked familiar in the picture to Jax was the homeless woman with whom he had the aforementioned encounter in season five. It seems pretty clear that she didn’t die in that accident, which is a very nice twist to end the episode on. Where this revelation is going has me both bewildered and delighted. I realisee that making predictions about Sons of Anarchy is a losing proposition because Kurt Sutter and his crew are always five steps ahead of us.
SONS OF ANARCHY SEASON 6 EPISODE 8: LOS FANTASMAS
"I’m the dirty biker whore with the record, she’s the good doctor. Does it really matter what I have to say?" Gemma makes a very strong point about how in American society oftentimes the truth is always relative and oftentimes it is the perception of what happened and more importantly who is telling the ‘truth’ that becomes reality. Once again, I think Kurt Sutter and the writers do a superb job of showing us that the ‘American Dream’ works if you have the means and come from the right social status. Quite honestly, there are a different set of rules that certain members of a perceived ‘lower class’ have to live with every day while the affluent members of this same society do not. Throughout the series, we have seen our beloved outlaws face countless amounts of stereotyping and they have undergone more then their fair share of abuse from organizations such as the police, the IRA, and now arguably their most lethal adversary, the overly ambitious American politician. Manipulating a national tragedy to further one’s own political agenda is something that District Attorney Tyne Patterson does all too easily and perhaps the club’s new arch-nemesis is proving to be more cunningly lethal then our old friend Lee Toric, who at least had the achilles heel of being a loose cannon. DA Patterson is completely rational, calm and calculating.
This week saw Nero sacrifice himself to save SAMCRO and to protect his son. “I’m responsible for the death of those children.” We should have known that Nero was no Judas and his constant association with Christian imagery pays off here. If we’ve been paying attention, this revelation from Nero is anything but shocking, it makes perfect sense. Additionally, as martyrdom is the entire basis for the Christian religion one can argue that on some conscious or subconscious level that this is in fact something that Nero has always longed for. I remain unbelievably impressed by Jimmy Smits’s portrayal of Nero, a character who constantly proves to be an intriguing ally for SAMCRO and fits perfectly into the role of club martyr. It is also worth giving Sons of Anarchycredit for allowing minority actors to actually develop emotionally complex and compelling characters which is certainly not the norm on mainstream American television. (In fact the quality of the acting on this show comes close to rivaling the absurdly outstanding acting on HBO’s The Wire, which remains the only drama in the history of American television to have a multitude of minority actors break every preconception about the scope of their roles.)
Jimmy Smits, CCH Pounder, and Rockmond Dunbar have been wonderful additions to the show and their story arcs have progressed in fascinating ways. CCH Pounder is the newcomer to this group but she has brought a previously unforeseen inner strength and determination to her role that none of SAMCRO’s other adversaries have quite been able to match thus far.
Ever since Eli was introduced during season four as the new head of the Sheriff’s department, we have seen him undergo a painful transition from moral tough guy, to a man completely on the edge of madness, and now to a world weary traveller who, despite the tragic circumstances that he has found himself in, still holds on to the absolute purest sense of morality. (He also had the funniest line of the night when he confronts Gemma at the police station and his words are “Black. Lots of sugar. The coffee”). He now finds himself at odds with cooperating with the district attorney’s perverse sense of justice or with siding with SAMCRO. In this regard the amount of screen time that our beloved Wayne Unser had this week was poignant for several reasons. One it helps to cement the fact that Roosevelt is heading down a similar path that Unser did when it came to getting into bed with SAMCRO. Wayne’s screen time also worked this week in that in an almost sage like way or fulfilling the role of an oracle from greek mythology he delvers the painful truth to both Gemma and Tara. He also offers both of them a way out of their predicaments. Of course, both women decide to shun his advice, which seems to be the story of Wayne’s tragic life. Unser also had an important line about how SAMCRO is forever linked to the prosperity and well being of Charming. That connection to the town is not something that should be easily glossed over or tossed aside. As is always the case with Sons of Anarchy the devil is in the details.
Gemma had a slight chance in this episode if she had taken Wayne’s advice of actually heading down an enlightened path toward redemption. Naturally, she decides that instead of redeeming herself she should do what she does best and that is manipulate every one around her into bending to her vengeful will. In particular, she will prey on the absolute weakest person that she can use. Poor, poor Adrianna (Sopranos reference). Wendy is at least smart enough to realize that she is completely doomed and when Gemma assures her that if she helps her destroy Tara that she will make sure Jax doesn’t kill her we can never again think that there is any hope for Gemma’s soul. In regards to Wendy, whether she has an overdose or not near the end of the episode is not the point. Symbolically she is already dead and has been ever since she crossed Gemma in the pilot episode of the show when Gemma gave her “a fix” to kill herself. Never underestimate Gemma Teller is the moral of this week’s episode. In regards to Tara, we see that her conscience is still there but as Wayne basically told her it is about to completely dissolve into the ether. Tara staring into the mirror and forcing herself to stop crying and toughen up was a powerful moment from this week’s episode because we get to see how much emotional pain Tara is truly in. Visually speaking, the iconography called to mind the wicked stepmother looking into the mirror in Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs but in a twist could Tara be becoming the very thing that she hates?
Clearly, the endgame is underway for SAMCRO and I would argue that this may be one of the last quiet episodes of the seasons. Yes only in the world of Sons of Anarchy can an episode in which a man gets run over by a car and then the man driving this car commits suicide by stabbing himself in the throat be considered quiet. In the opening moments of this week’s episode, Jax is shown shutting off a tea kettle. If that is not enough of a visual metaphor for all hell being about to break loose then I do not know what to tell you. This is the calm before the storm and one of the fascinating things about Sons of Anarchy is that it never goes exactly in the direction that you expect it to go. Nero was going to become a Judas then he was completely let off the hook and then he is immediately pulled back into the fact that he may have to turn on SAMCRO. There is still a possibility that he can become Judas number two. This week focused a lot on the relationships between the female characters on the show as well as on the lives of Nero, Wayne, Patterson Wendy, and Eli. The antics of the club pretty much took a back seat this week and this will serve the overall narrative of the show better for the rest of its run this season because the third act of this season is set up with enough intrigue to support most shows for an entire season.
Lastly, Jax who has been trying to come to terms with being the king as Bobby so nicely put it, is still oblivious to the fact that Tara has played him for a fool for the entire season and he thinks that by asking her to let him back in that everything will be alight. Jax is in for a rude awakening indeed. The end and the presence of death is always leering after these characters and As Tyne Patterson said,”We meet the end we deserve.”
In Escape Plan,Sylvester Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a man who specializes in a very specific talent: he infiltrates and then escapes from the nation’s most notorious prisons, in order to point out flaws in security. One day, Ray and his team are approached by a young CIA agent for a new type of job: breaking out of one the government’s shadow prisons, a place that doesn’t officially exist, used to house the worst threats to peace and order in the free world.
As soon as Ray arrives in the care of the fascistic warden Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), he knows that something has gone terribly wrong. No one seems aware of his identity, or his mission, leaving him stranded amongst the worst inmates on the planet. Needing help in order to do what he does best, Ray befriends cell block heavyweight Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and brings him into the escape plan. But getting out of the world’s most secure prison proves to be a task requiring a lot of brains, brawn and more than a few bullets.
Carried by the momentum of a Schwarzenegger/Stallone team-up, Escape Plan is nothing less than a shoddy, silly, testosterone-fueled action film throwback, which teeters between clever self parody and an embarrassingly bad attempt to create an actual action blockbuster, using two lions of the genre who are well past their prime. Whatever the intention, the final result (herby dubbed “Grumpy Old Men With Guns”) is definitely something that is so bad it’s fun – which is the only reason it’s not a total failure.
Directed by Swedish helmer Mikael Håfström (1408), Escape Plan looks like someone’s home movie fan-film, with a third act that would be hard to distinguish from one of The Asylum’s mockumentary flicks. Most of the film is shot in bewildering close-up frames of the actors’ faces, with very little sense of environment or space orientation. Given that the body of the movie is mostly dialogue between Stallone and Schwarzenegger, Håfström’s style in shooting keeps us pressed so close to the aging action stars we can practically smell their breath and count their respective wrinkles. Whenever Håfström tries to open up into movement, the shot choices and sequences become even more bizarre and disorienting; in general, very poor work behind the camera.
Those expecting at least a decent action quotient may want to realign their expectations, because there’s very little actual action in the film. The movie could fairly be described as a heist-thriller – only with the “crooks” trying to “heist” themselves out of prison – ergo, most of the film involves talking and scheming rather than shootouts or fisticuffs. The price of admission is really paid to see Stallone and Schwarzenegger in a bunch of winking meta-minded riffs on their respective personas, in between busting each others’ chops. It’d almost be the same if the two actors sat on a stage in front of a crowd joking with each other for an hour and a half – but hey, there’s sort of a movie here, too.
I say “sort of” because the script by Jason Keller (Mirror, Mirror) and Miles Chapman (Road House 2) feels like half a skeleton of a story filled in with whatever meat and muscle Stallone and Schwarzenegger threw at it in their many, many wisecrack exchanges. We’re talking about a film that fell out of the cinema tree, crashed to the ground, and managed to hit every branch of action movie cliches on the way down. The macho bravado, obvious twists, barrage of bullets that never seem to hit the hero, the awful dialogue – and yes, those iconic cheesy one-liners – it’s all there, just the way you found it in the ’80s/’90s eras. Taken as a straightforward action movie, Escape Plan is something that never should’ve been more than a direct-to-DVD feature; as a kitschy satire of Schwarzenegger and Stallone’s action man personas, it may just be unintentional genius.
Out of the lead pair, Schwarzenegger steals the show, as he clearly knows to have tongue-and-cheek fun with the material. Escape Plan plays in a very episodic sequence of challenges and obstacles related to the… er, escape plan, and the “episodes” with Rottmayer almost always result in some good humor. Even when he picks up a huge gun and does that trademark slow-mo turn and scowl, Schwarzenegger seems to be more self-deprecating comedian than faded star trying to reclaim glory. Stallone, on the other hand, still seems think this is all serious and relevant work being done, which makes his attempts at gravitas just as humorous as Schwarzenegger’s winking antics – only humorous in the ‘laughingat him’ as opposed to ‘with him’ kind of way.
The supporting cast is filled with big names and recognizable faces, all them oddly out of place and turning in some bizarre performances. Jim Caviezel (Person of Interest) gives one of the more weirder villain performances I’ve seen in awhile (effeminate sociopath warden, anyone?); at one point Stallone’s character describes a foul-mouthed 50 Cent’s character as a “techno thug” (umm…. okay); Amy Ryan (The Wire) plays a sort of love interest the movie kind of forgets about; Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), Vincent D’Onofrio (Law & Order: CI), Vinnie Jones (Snatch), Faran Tahir (Elysium) – you’ll recognize pretty much every character you meet, and will likely wonder (as I did) how they ended up in this movie at all, giving the strange performance they did.
In the end, Escape Plan feels like one of those films that was made to be the next film immortalized as a drinking game with a cult following. Take a drink anytime that A) Someone says a line you’ve heard in EVERY action movie, B) When there’s a callback to a famous Stallone/Schwarzenegger flick, or C) Whenever the director puts the camera so close to an actor’s face you can see his/her nose hairs. Follow those three rules (if you choose to see this film) and you’ll be drunk in no time.
SONS OF ANARCHY SEASON 6 EPISODE 7: SWEET AND VADED
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, SAMCRO is on its way to hopefully rebuilding its clubhouse, its image and its identity. One of the core themes of Sons of Anarchy has always been about the importance of being initiated into a group. This initiation is supposed to give one’s life some sort of meaning and purpose. Ideally, membership in SAMCRO is special because with it comes the expectation that you have earned your place at the table, amongst your family, and in the world. This is the great hope of SAMCRO, and not only is it the ideal that Jax is always trying to get the club to live up to, it is also the ideal that despite everything, makes them at least in some way very admirable.
America is similarly idealised as the land of endless opportunity where, despite class differences, anyone who is willing to work hard can overcome obstacles and become a success. This beautiful ideal is played up so much in Hollywood and US programming that it’s almost accepted as a cultural fact over here. However, class mobility does not occur with anything close to this sort of frequency in America and this noble ideal is more often than not just a myth. In a society that values materialistic goods, what happens to the spiritual soul of its inhabitants? Arguably this is the very reason that a club like SAMCRO exists in the first place. When we combine this idea with the numerous references to Christianity that constantly pop up in the show, perhaps Kurt Sutter and his writers are making a comment about a spiritual emptiness that exists not only in the US but in all societies. Perhaps it is a lack of a meaningful religious or spiritual connections to each other that is the true tragedy of modern times.
The return of Mayor Jacob Hale this week further cements this idea into our minds as viewers. Hale is worn out and his Charming Heights project is still on hold. We see Charming in the midst of an economic decline and the beloved mayor who pretends to be helpless is called out by Bobby, the ultimate soothsayer, who says in regards to the empty storefronts that “This block is half empty because your buying them all out for fifty cents on the dollar. The economic destruction of Charming and the failure of politicians to pull us out from this because they were busy trying to line their own pockets is of course an indictment of the very worst aspects of any political system. This inability to act is also what make us continue to root for SAMCRO, especially under Jax’s leadership, because these men have convictions and will fight for them.
Sons of Anarchy has done an excellent job over the last three weeks of reestablishing our connection with these anti-heroes and like many of the classic heroes of so many western tales, these outlaws live by a moral code (albeit a distorted one) that is at the very least admirable. Furthermore, like the western heroes of yesterday, these men were almost always presented as being part of the very landscape that they were inhabiting and particularly in this week’s episode, our beloved bikers were pictured in the main strip of Charming for the first time in quite a while. This was an interesting connection that to me proves that good, bad or indifferent, SAMCRO will always be a part of Charming.
Additionally, with the biblical references I do not think it’s too much of a stretch to be reminded of The Last Supper this week when Jax was at the head of his new table. Could this again be a subtle clue that Jax is running out of time? Either way, we were given an answer to the question I posed last week as to who will fulfil the role of Judas. Everybody who had their money on Tara, congratulations, because you’ve won the Judas sweepstakes. The fact that Tara betrayed Jax is not the shock, but how she manipulated everybody and got Jax to sign his own restraining order is the stuff of legend. (Even Kay in The Godfather Part II was not this devious when she confronted Michael.)
I must admit that I was ready to cheer when Tara called Gemma “You old whore.” The showdown between Tara and Gemma, which has been brewing since the first episode of the series, has now been set along its final path. Apparently the way to outsmart Gemma is to fake an abortion. So Tara was not pregnant all along and it was all part of an elaborate ruse to make Gemma become the one thing that Jax cannot forgive and that is of course a person who would consciously hurt his children. Talk about knowing how to manipulate someone. In her supposed moment of need, Tara convinces Jax that he is signing a restraining order against Gemma when it is in fact against himself. Wow! Who knew that Tara had it in her to stoop to that level and be able to outsmart everybody with her plan. Give credit to the creative crew here because before this scene, we had just witnessed Jax confronted with the idea that his father abandoned him as well as with the fact that he could be a bad father. We see very clearly that Jax would rather kill someone then allow them to put these ideas into his head. Now how is going to react to his mother killing his unborn daughter? Tara really put together a truly brilliant and exceptionally heinous plan that can only shake Jax’s foundational core beyond a place that he can come back from when he finds out the truth. A descent into madness indeed by Tara, who is putting a new spin on the classic tale of Ophelia’s demise in Hamlet.
Naturally as this is Sons of Anarchy, we experience some truly reprehensible behavior from the family of the most interesting transgender character on television. Venus “The Southern Belle Who Does Not Tell” experienced sexual confusion as a child and as such her mother - played disturbingly well by the underrated and geek-favourite Adrienne Barbeau (Back To School, and the amazing Carnivale) - essentially raped Venus and then profited from these disturbing trysts by selling them to other degenerates. Venus was put into the child pornography business. Tragically, many people like Venus who were abused in their adolescence find their way into prostitution and other questionable business endeavors and this epidemic remains all too present in an otherwise civilized society.
This all ties in very strongly to the idea of the sublime. This is the idea of beauty and pain being linked together, with something horrible lurking underneath something beautiful. A Freudian theme that is usually on display in anything that the great David Lynch touches, the sublime has in some way always been a part of Sons of Anarchy, with SAMCRO representing the criminal underworld of the otherwise aptly named town of “Charming” California. However, rather then being a simple look into the seedy underbelly of American society, every concept or theme in Sons of Anarchy is carefully put there by the writers to connect to the larger story arc. Arguably, Venus’ mother has one of the most important monologues in the entire series because her hatred of her son allows her to release a flurry of awful words about how Venus’ son will hate the lies and the life he was forced into. Before she can finish ripping Venus apart with her awful tongue, we see a teary eyed Jax blow her away. Her last words are “The awful thing that turned out to be his fath…” This, besides being painfully disturbing, brings Jax’s issues with his dad’s abandonment back to the forefront and it also remind sue about his own conflicted relationship with his sons. In many ways Jax has always been searching for a father figure.
Lastly, there is no other show I’ve seen that consistently uses music as a storytelling device as well as Sons of Anarchy does. This week’s ending aided beautifully by Joshua James and his songCrash This Train, added a haunting touch to the shocking conclusion. Its lyrics are about people coming together in the face of a great adversity that the society that they live in places before them and clearly this episode had that theme at its core. The tragedy to me is that if we could work together then a lot of our problems could go away and a better life could await us. Yet betrayal lurks at every corner and the people that we sometimes love and trust the most are the very ones that have the most power to destroy us. Powerful themes, from a powerful show and another episode that proves that there are shows that may be as good as Sons of Anarchy, but none that are better. This was one of my all-time favorite Sons of Anarchy endings. Just exceptionally well done all around.
SONS OF ANARCHY SEASON 6 EPISODE 6: SALVAGE
It is absurdly poignant that this episode opens up with Jax examining the wreckage of the clubhouse with an instrumental version of John The Revelator being played. This song was used in the montage sequence of the season one finale. It was at that moment that Jax fully realized that his father ‘John’ was trying to warn him from beyond the grave that the club was heading down the wrong path. Additionally, it was Piney who handed Jax the manuscript and told him that it was time for a change. What a perfect way to start off this instalment after the attack by the IRA, setting up the fact that the club is once again in need of a serious change. We also have Jax finally accepting some personal responsibility and realizing that he needs his brothers.
Arguably, what he have here is Jax realizing that a dictatorship is not the way to successfully run any type of organization and him hopefully accepting the fact that through democracy the club can survive. This idea is made all the more apparent when we get to the Irish King’s explanation about the attempted murder of the Redwood charter. Galen, who seems to be getting almost all of the best lines lately says “I don’t give a shit about your democracy.” This is important coming from Galen because not only is he part of an organization that is undemocratic he is also connected to to the idea of European Aristocracy. I would also argue that it is possible that the IRA angle this season is at the forefront to help us begin to think about how a democracy can survive when confronted by external pressures from outside forces that it has never dealt with before. It is worth mentioning that in America after the horrific and tragic events of September 11th many Americans began to feel a sense of fear that they did not exactly know how to articulate. As such, many Americans wondered how our democracy could withstand such a catastrophic event. To me Kurt Sutter is at least able to capture part of the American psyche and portray these fears on screen in a very meaningful and impactful way that few other shows - The Walking Dead, which has such themes are at the forefront, excepted - have been able to do.
Over the course of the show, Jax has consistently believed that he can pull himself and his club out of any situation that they are confronted with. Moreover, Jax continues to buy into the myth that the club is some sort of larger-than-life entity that can literally withstand any attack whether it be internal or external. Now it seems that the biggest threat to SAMCRO may be an internal one as Tara has a chance to sell out Jax. With the abundant number of biblical references this season, it is not surprising that a Judas character was gong to emerge. Thankfully Bobby has been cleared of that role, and Tara may now be filling it, though the clip from next week’s episode makes it seem like Nero is going to ponder that idea. This would at the very least set up the showdown I am confident is coming between him and Jax. Then again, should anyone really ever let their guard down around Clay? This theme of internal betrayal would work well because Jax continues to miss the very simple fact that SAMCRO taints the lives of everyone around them. As such, Jax’s hubris and naive belief in the club is not allowing him to see the internal enemies that are conspiring against him.
On that note, Tara seems to be one of the only characters on the show who realizes just how dangerous an association with the club can be. She reminds me of one of the most fascinating aspects of the show, the conflict between the perceived ‘coolness’ of the biker lifestyle with the utter turmoil and destruction that SAMCRO causes on an almost daily basis. These men have chosen to participate in a violent life and Kurt Sutter has done a brilliant job of constantly reminding us that in the world of Sons of Anarchy, violence is everywhere. (It was interesting that the popular early nineties video game Lethal Enforcers was captured on camera this week, perhaps to once again remind us that the school shooting is still on everybody’s minds as well as the fact that perhaps a violent culture can breed violent behaviour.)
Tara has undergone the most dramatic character transformation thus far in season six because she is able to realize that there is no way out of this violent cycle. She is also smart enough to realize that selling out Jax to the District Attorney would not be an easy choice to make and although she may accept some sort of a deal it will not be one that she will make easily. She also has a great line in this week’s episode in which she questions whether the violence is getting worse or if her ability to take it in stride is getting better. When violence becomes commonplace what does that say about us? To make our weekly connection to Hamlet, it seems that Gemma may be descending into madness quicker then Queen Gertrude and Ophelia combined. Consider that last week alone she was forced to have sex with Clay, in front of two exceptionally disturbing prison guards, then has Nero ripped away from her and is then sent back into the prison by Jax to meet with Clay again. Even for Gemma that is a lot to deal with and one can only assume that when it is all said and done Gemma’s tough exterior will melt away into nothing.
This week also had the return of the southern belle who does not tell. At first this character’s appearance was meant to signal some comic relief however, after we find out that Venus was beaten, we get a back story about how Nero was the one person who was always willing to help. So we are once again reminded that Nero does have a strong, if at times misguided, sense of morality.
The most important moment of this episode for me was the extended monologue that Jax gives to his fellow brothers that is supposed to act as a wake up call for the club to move out of guns and to go back on the path that JT had originally laid out for them. Jax brings up how hurt he was by Opie’s death and how the club is at a crossroads. However, the seeming triumph of this scene to me is underpinned by Jax’s inability to see the irony in the idea of outlaws becoming “legitimate.” Whenever gangsters use the term “legitimate” in the world of fictional Hollywood cinema they are usually doomed and in American based television shows this trend also seems to be true more often then not. Like Michael Corleone tried and failed to do in The Godfather series, and like the great Stringer Bell tried to do in HBO’s utterly brilliant The Wire, successful gangsters who try to turn their operations into “legitimate” enterprises either fail or lose everything that they wanted to maintain in the first place. These gangsters seem to have a fascination with becoming legitimate business men and fail to realize that they will never be a part of that world no matter what they do. This move to “legitimacy” winds up destroying them, and ends up as the real fantasy.
To sum up this week’s episode, I feel that this was the calm before the storm. If we’ve learned anything from watching Sons of Anarchy it is that when things seem to be working out and everything seems to be calming down, there is usually trouble ahead.
Incidentally, this episode also featured a brand new Pearl Jam song called Mind Your Manners from their album Lightning Bolt, released this week, which is worth mentioning because Pearl Jam is usually a band who don’t become involved in cross-promotional antics like this and clearly Sons of Anarchy is becoming a great outlet for musicians to sell their music because the show does a great job of incorporating songs into the show’s overall structure.
SONS OF ANARCHY SEASON 6 EPISODE 5: THE MAD KING
For me, this week’s episode was very much about putting the Irish back into the forefront ofSons of Anarchy's story structure. For the first time since season three, we are once again in the presence of the Irish “Kings.” The theme of the past coming back to affect the present again appears when we are reminded by Galen that Teller is weak like his father JT, who also wanted to get out of the gun business. From a storytelling perspective, Jax's trajectory seems to be leading to a showdown with the IRA, meaning that he could be heading down the same tragic path as his father.
Several of the themes discussed in my previous reviews were very much present in this episode. There’s the aforementioned ‘past coming back to affect the present’ concept, cemented in the viewers’ minds by the fact that the school shooting will not go away. We also see the idea of personal responsibility being connected to how the actions of the characters impact the world around them. In a very poignant scene when Nero and Jax are together it is Nero who once again accepts the fact that the school shooting was at least in some way his fault. Of course, Jax is very quick to deflect any responsibility in relation to the school shooting; he simply does not see anything wrong with they way that he runs his life and conducts his daily business. Arguably this is one reason why Nero, played brilliantly by Jimmy Smits, has been such an important addition to the show. His character’s connection to the Catholic faith as well as his ability to act with some sense of morality has given us a chance to see just how far Jax has strayed from any moral centre he may have had.
Naturally, as this is Sons of Anarchy, you can once again add another scene into the most disturbing moments on the show list, though at least we were spared actually witnessing the act happening this time around. I am referring to the scene when Gemma visits Clay in the prison and the guards decide that they want to enjoy themselves a little too much during the lovemaking that they demand takes place between Clay and Gemma. It was one of the few scenes in recent cinema or television history that has reminded me of the infamous rape scene in Pulp Fiction in both its visual and psychological connection to the idea of sex being used as a way to both degrade and destroy a person’s psyche. Sons of Anarchy has never shied away from these types of scenes and it has done an excellent job of portraying just how brutal and absolutely horrifying prison can be. That being said, personally I could use a slight break from these types of moments on the show, though from a storytelling perspective, the downward spiral for these characters continues to twist in some very uncomfortable and disturbing ways.
Overall, this week’s episode slowed down the pacing of the storytelling and it really only came together in the last few minutes. After watching the ending, it makes sense that much of this episode was setting up for an explosive finish in the most literal sense of the word. Certainly, there are dire consequences to be paid for messing with the Irish, and Jax - usually the smartest man in the room - was completely duped and almost led his entire “flock” to the slaughter. His family as well as his club brothers were almost all killed by the Irish in an attempted hit that left their clubhouse burned to the ground. It now seems that the Irish as well as Roosevelt and District Attorney Patterson are going to be amongst the main villains of this sixth season.
It is also not surprising that Jax’s hubris almost lead to his death and that of his family. Earlier in the episode, Jax was smart enough to say that if the Irish really wanted to come after him that they would go after his family and that is exactly what was coming but he was not able to see it because of his pride. The show has spent a great deal of time trying to get the viewers to distance themselves from Jax and this episode seemed to make us want to root for him again. For the first time in what seems like forever, we see Jax actually put the needs of another person above his own. This happened when he realized that the clubhouse was about to be blown up and he ran to save his son. It was nice to get a moment to connect to our main character again. Considering just how vengeful Galen has been, as well as seeing how Jax’s mother Gemma was essentially raped coupled with the two prison guards who are portrayed as the absolute worse types of human beings, we’re asked to take a step back and realize that in this violent world perhaps we need to root for Jax because even though he has committed acts of violence, he is certainly not one of the cruel sociopaths his family continues to suffer at the hands of.
It was a nice touch by the writers to have Clay get contacted by the Irish in prison by using a book called The Mad King, a reference to the fact that Clay is fulfilling the role of King Claudius fromHamlet (even down to sharing the first three letters of his name). To further the connection, Unser refers to Gemma - who also shares an initial with her Hamlet predecessor Gertrude - as the Queen.
I love this show and although I did think that this episode was a bit too slow at times, there was a big payoff at the end and it seems that every week the stakes get raised for every major character. That type of writing has to be respected and applauded. I would however like to get a slight reprieve from the onslaught of psychological and physical beatings that these characters seem to be taken on a weekly basis and if next week’s episode does not involve a psychological torture scene I would be more then grateful.
SONS OF ANARCHY SEASON 6 EPISODE 4: WOLFSANGEL
Never underestimate Sons of Anarchy's ability to throw in a scene to make you cringe within the first ten minutes of the show. You knew that Unser was in trouble when he opened his trailer door and was greeted by three hooded men but I'm pretty sure that not many people were expecting them to carve a swastika into his flesh. Unser also being positioned in a Christ-like pose helps to symbolize just how much this man has suffered for the sins of Samcro. Arguably Unser has sold the most of his metaphorical soul to help the club survive throughout the years and it was fitting that this broken man continues to get kicked when he's down, but there is something extra brutal about carving this symbol of pure hate into a character who, despite being flawed, is ultimately a sympathetic and tragic figure.
Now, I’ve long suspected that the endgame for Samcro was going to involve the neo-nazis from season two. In particular AJ Weston, played brilliantly and disturbingly well by Henry Rollins, had a son whom he instructed to follow in his footsteps right before Jax killed him. This would tie in nicely to the theme of fathers and sons that has been so central to the show since its first episode. Wouldn’t it be fitting for the son that Weston left behind to come back and be the one who destroys Jax’s family? Again this is pure speculation, but why else are the nazis back all of a sudden? In Hamlet the young prince Fortinbras despises Hamlet for killing his father, King Fortinbras, and as such, this would make a great tie-in for the series if they go down this route. I may be wrong, but I think that we may see something developing with this possible angle.
We learned this week that Jax’s continual transformation into Clay is moving forward at an alarming rate. We know that Jax sold out Tig and then we’re given the revelation that August was using the idea of killing Tig to avenge Mr. Pope’s death as a ploy to test out Jax’s loyalty to him. It’s a great move by August, who continues to prove that he needs to never be underestimated and always respected as a potential adversary for the club. The best news in all of this is that Tig is alive and got to become involved in probably his funniest moment on the show in which he and Rat pretend to be white supremacists who are trying to join the new neo-nazi group that has set up shop in town. His hillbilly accent was hilarious, and then the scene took a turn from comedy to utter sadness when Tig used a method acting technique to help get the neo-nazis to trust him by recanting the details of his daughter’s death. It was a brilliant bit of acting by Kim Coates, and Tig is a character I’m ecstatic to see alive!
Catholic symbolism was abundant in this episode and deserves a moment of our time. The episode starts off with Unser’s beating and we see him shortly afterwards in the aforementioned Christ-like pose on a makeshift crucifix. Nero mentions in his alibi to Roosevelt that he went to an early mass on the night he was supposed to have killed the prostitute who was actually killed by Lee Toric. Jax tells Galen that people like him and Jimmy O are “killing people with Catholic bullets to line your own pockets.” Of course, we are reminded of the IRA’s connection to Catholicism. We also have a more indirect reference to one of the founding principles of Christianity about the idea of turning the other cheek. Chibs wisely advises Jax not to follow through with what he perceives as needless retribution and as we’d expect, Jax won’t even hear him out. Then we also see Clay through a sort of metaphorical divine intervention attempting to redeem himself by becoming Otto and sacrificing his own well-being to save the club. The very Catholic theme of redemption plays heavily into this episode and to me it reached its climax in the brilliant scene between Otto and Clay in which Clay, for once, helps his brother out. That was an exceptionally emotional moment in the Sons of Anarchy series for me and it was just beautifully done.
I have to admit I was shocked that Otto was able to get his revenge on Lee Toric as I thought Otto was going to end his life and finally be free of his unrelenting misery. As strange as it sounds, the fact that he was able to accomplish both of those things actually gives his character a sort of happy ending in a bizarrely disturbing way. Lee Toric in many ways can be seen as being a false prophet because his lust for revenge has lead him to commit criminal acts and as such he continually lies to everyone around him by making false promises about what he can do for them. Give the writing staff on this show kudos for once again proving that any character can be taken out at any time. Clealry Lee Toric was being set up as a major adversary for the group and to take him out in episode four is a surprise but it felt right and in my opinion this was the best episode of the season the far.
Also in keeping with the theme of personal responsibility, I think it is important that Nero realizes how much of a mistake it was for him to get involved with Samcro, but rather than pass the blame on to someone else, he accepts the fact that he was responsible for his involvement with the group. To me, this is the show’s way of telling us that Nero is a man who is grounded in some sort of morality while Jax is not. It also sets up an interesting situation in which perhaps the show is foreshadowing the idea that Gemma will probably have to choose between Jax and Nero at some point in the not too distant future and that Nero would be the wise choice to make but probably not the one she will make.
Lastly, because one death on Sons of Anarchy is hardly enough, we have Phil, who was probably the most lovable prospect-turned-Samcro member, murdered with his brother by Galen and the Irish. Galen certainly demonstrates a flair for the dramatic by following Jax’s advice of taking a “hands off” approach to the group to its only logical conclusion according to him. This infuriates Jax to no end and acting recklessly, Jax seeks revenge against the neo-nazis and with his fellow members, blows these guys to pieces. It was interesting that the camera manages to show us the corpse of the younger neo-nazi whom Jax slaughtered in this scene to once again make the connection between the death of children at the hands of illegal guns.Of course, Jax is always smarter then we give him credit for and his plan is to plant the Irish guns at the neo-nazis’ place and then put forth his plan into action. We also have the not so shocking revelation that Tara is behind Wendy’s lie about having a stalker, and we learn that Roosevelt is going to probably resume his role as the main law enforcement adversary that the group has to face.
Overall, this was a fantastic episode that continues to move the narrative forward while at the same time completely turning the show on its head with some major surprises. This is why this show is a cut above the rest.
SONS OF ANARCHY SEASON 6 EPISODE 3: POENITENTIA
Lee Toric: drug addict, probable psychotic, and oh yeah, murderer. I’ll give “Poenitentia” credit for making the scene in which Lee first accidentally, and then intentionally, shoots a prostitute unexpected and funny in a deeply creepy kind of way. The whole thing plays out as farce: Lee standing by the window in his black bikini briefs, scared there’s a threat lurking outside (there isn’t; it’s just Tyne Patterson looking for a team-up); then the hooker, not sure what’s going on, comes toward him, and he jumps, shooting her in the stomach. She is understandably upset. Lee tries apologizing, and then, once he realizes the spot he’s in, covers her face with a pillow and finishes the job with another bullet. The few seconds before that final shot—the hasty sorries, the prostitute’s shock—are all queasily, unsettlingly believable. Out of context, there’s a nightmarish reality to the whole thing. Lee had no intention of killing her. Things just got out of hand, like they so often do in Charming.
And there’s the rub. While the scene isn’t bad out of context, it’s immensely stupid when you put it back into the episode. It’s just too fucking much. It wasn’t bad enough that Lee is manipulating the legal system in order to get revenge on people, most of whom were not directly responsible for his sister’s death. It wasn’t bad enough that he’s lied, falsified court documents (and, by the end of the hour, evidence), and is clearly unstable. No: He has to clumsily shoot someone who barely existed, just so we can understand that Lee Toric is a Bad Guy. There’s no buildup to the shot, no sense that Lee’s behavior was headed toward this ugly little catastrophe.
Despite Donal Logue’s presence and raspy, I’m-not-joking voice, Lee isn’t really a character. He’s just a collection of tics in the form of a threat. Even though Lee uses the dead woman’s body as the next piece in his play to destroy the Sons, there’s no sense that this was a plan. And even if it was, it’s still ridiculous. (I watched the scene again on the off chance this was all some kind of scheme from the beginning, but the way it plays out doesn’t look plotted, just idiot luck.) This is sloppy writing. We’ve seen that Lee was on edge before, and that he was an addict, but there was no sense of the kind of behavior that would really justify this. It’s just random, and even Lee’s attempts to make her death somehow “worthwhile” can’t redeem the moment.
Maybe it’s part of this season’s commentary on the culture of haphazard violence, but if so, it’s going to need to start being something different than just more of the same. Another week, another lack of follow-through on the school shootings; hell, given that Primo and the mom are dead, it’s hardly even acknowledged. Which is bizarre. The gun is giving Lee a way to go after the club; his difficulty in pinning any dirt on Nero is what drives him to plant evidence of the dead woman in Nero’s truck. But that’s it, really. Wouldn’t this be all over the news? Wouldn’t it have been useful to show us characters reacting? Surely we could’ve shaved off a few more “Let me tell you what just happened” scenes to make room. Or maybe that bit where Jax decides to play peeping tom on Colette and Barosky screwing. What the hell was that? It can’t be a shock to him that they’re having sex; it doesn’t change what we know about Barosky’s character; and it doesn’t provide Dax with any leverage to use against him should the situation turn sour. I guess it’s a way to get Kim Dickens naked in another episode.
The problem with turning on an episode early is that its hard to watch later scenes with anything approaching sympathy. Once Lee shot a woman, I was basically out. So I have no idea if Gemma being Gemma all over the place was even more irritating than usual, or if I was just turning on her like I was turning on everything else. (Although her conversation with Nero outside the church, when she makes fun of his religion—can’t stand to have a man put anything else ahead of you, huh—and questions him on what he told his priest, was obnoxious, and that came before the shooting.) She and Tara spar for a bit, which isn’t terrible, and then Wendy shows up with a bruise on her neck, because she’s decided to turn to the man who forced drugs into her for protection. But wait, it’s a ruse! Because… honestly, I don’t know. Is this yet another complicated scheme for revenge? Wendy did say she missed the club last time she visited, even as she said the whole situation was so complicated that she wanted out. Maybe this is her way to trick everyone into liking her again. Which could potentially be interesting if we knew her at all at this point. For a character who’s been with the show (off and on) since season 1, Wendy has always been more obstacle than person; Drea De Matteo makes it work, but the shot of her wiping the bruise off her neck makes it hard not to think of her as one more crazy enemy to burn through.
But like I said: I turned on this episode early on, so sympathy is in short supply. The writers found yet another way to keep Clay alive for a few hours longer, although really they’re just resorting to a trick they’ve already used: Once again, Jax needs Clay in order to make peace with the Irish, who apparently worship Ron Perlman like a god. (Which, to be fair, isn’t an illogical position to take.) So Jax asks Pope’s former second-in-command, August, to use his connections in the prison to protect Clay, which means Clay gets to stab some White Power guys. It’s fine that Clay’s still on the show at this point, and having him stabbed in the gut in jail isn’t going to be the most satisfying conclusion to his arc, but as is so often the case, this seems contrived. Each step of it makes sense—Jax wants to get out of the club’s deal with the IRA, the contact man has a history with Clay, trust is an important thing in criminal organizations (rare commodities are always valuable, even if they’re constantly breaking), and August wants to maintain his relationship with the Sons for, I dunno, money and power based reasons. It’s possible to follow that chain of logic. But the end result still plays like a stall. Once a narrative is stretched past a certain point, logic doesn’t really enter into it. We’ve seen these tricks before, and they’re always going to look suspicious.
Really, though, Clay’s survival is the least of the problems right now. This season has all the pieces that Sons usually puts into play. There’s a crazy threat who will keep tightening the noose around the club’s neck each week until he gets busted, or a bullet in the back of his head. (Maybe he’ll commit suicide in a way that frames Jax.) Jax and Tara will stare soulfully at each other while each maintains a private, and increasingly disparate, agenda. (Tara’s pregnant. That’s fun.) Gemma will do her “I’m the only one who really knows what’s going on around here” shtick. There will be half naked ladies and dudes with greasy beards, and fucking and violence and so on. There will be exciting set-pieces—tonight, we had Jax and Barosky taking on the Iranians, which gave the crooked cop a chance to slit a dude’s throat, and it was pretty bad-ass. There will be betrayals, like Jax finally giving Tig up to August, after realizing that Tig almost certainly killed a guy he wasn’t supposed to back in the premiere. But since Tig realizes he’s been betrayed at the end of the hour and we don’t see him get shot, there’s every chance he’ll find some way to wiggle out of it.
Most of all, and this is what’s been dragging me down lately, there will be the endless self-aggrandizement of all that world-weary-warrior-biker bullshit. The guys in SAMCRO are often likable guys. They are capable of caring for each other, they can act heroically, they have big emotions and they do understandably stupid things; they aren’t monsters. But they also aren’t noble knights, forced into violence by the far greater evil that surrounds them. They’re criminals, and their behavior has hurt others since the start; their refusal to recognize the consequences of their actions as anything more than an excuse to stare soulfully out a window while yet another montage kicks in has made it that much more difficult to root for them. Jax’s angst isn’t built on a tragic spiritual crisis. He’s a pretty boy in a leather jacket pretending to be a king, and the longer the show goes on, the more it seems like the writers have lost sight of that. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying these characters, or even rooting for them—it’s all a made up story anyway. But the lack of perspective is telling. Lee has to be a great evil, because if he isn’t, somebody might stop and notice that yeah, selling machine guns is a pretty shitty business. Just like using women as a commodity, or indulging in the desire to beat the shit out of anyone who irritates you. These guys are charming, charismatic, and often goofy. They’re also assholes. The contrast between those states is one of the things that gives an anti-hero drama its power, and once you lose that, it’s just a lot of near misses, screams of “NOOO!”, and back-clapping hugs until the end.
At least Tara’s still around. At least she has the good sense to be horrified. The question is, will she be a hero, or just another obstacle?
Gravitytells the harrowing account of specialist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a scientist-turned-fledgling astronaut working on a space station that is suddenly obliterated by an onslaught of space debris. In the midst of the calamity Ryan is thrown “off structure” and into vastness of space, with only veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) still able to hear her cries for help.
What follows next is a step-by-meticulous-step bid for survival in the harsh realm of the cosmos, as Ryan must not only best physical obstacles, but also the mental/spiritual obstacles standing between her and the will to survive.
The brainchild of acclaimed Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón (Harry Potter 3, Children of Men), Gravity is nothing less than a stunning visual achievement wrapped around a solid storyline and yet another surprisingly good performance from Sandra Bullock. In short: it is one of the top cinematic experiences of the year (so far) – arguably one of the top cinematic achievements of the last few years.
From the very first segment – a one-take tracking shot that clocks in at approximately 10 – 15 minutes – it is clear that, visually speaking, Curaón has created an experience unlike anything previously seen in cinema. It’s likely that film school essays will be written on this film for years to come, so to keep things in simple perspective: Cuarón is already hailed as one of the few true auteurs in modern cinema, and this is definitely his masterpiece. From the breathtaking cinematography and photography, to the impossible (but astounding) camera movements – to the visual concepts and set pieces that make genius use of outer space physics – this is directorial talent and imagination on a whole other scale.
Even when the technology hits a wall (some moments in the film fall into that CGI “valley of the uncanny”), the ambition of what’s being done, at the level it’s being done, fills in for the deficiencies in F/X. 3D viewing is a must, IMAX if you can.Gravity is prime example of what so many film fans want: new filmmaking formats (like 3D IMAX) actually being used to further expand and push the boundaries of cinematic art and storytelling. And thanks to Cuarón, it’s all masterfully handled in this film.
Usually I ‘m not one to address a film’s sound design in a review – but with Gravity it is a must. The filmmakers’ understanding of their unique setting (space) allows them to play with the relativity between sound and visuals in a way that few other films get the opportunity to. Immense danger flies in on silent wings; the only rhythm to a scene of blockbuster-style destruction is the breath and whimpers of the lead actress, etc. This is a movie that commands the ear’s attention as much as it does the eye’s, and the interplay between the sound effects and composer Steven Price’s (The World’s End, Attack the Block) grandiose score - think Kubrick meets Hans Zimmer – elevates everything that Cuarón is doing visually, resulting in a complete feast of sensory experience.
Gravity is a landmark in filmmaking, sure, but on paper the story it tells is (slightly) less remarkable. The script was co-written by Cuarón and his son Jonás; it is, admittedly, a very lean and efficient piece of thrilling dramatic storytelling, with the writers also managing to inject some larger themes and deeper emotions into the proceedings. However, when one pulls back and examines it, Gravity is also a somewhat standard point-A-to-B survival thriller, which relies and many familiar - at times cliche – sub-genre tropes.
When the chase is on, things are great; when we stop for those inevitable moments of breath-catching (pun intended), the movie is still good, just not great. And because we are watching a chain of A-B-C disasters and challenges unfold into one another, moments of breath-catching in the film (a.k.a., clearly marked moments of character and thematic development) tend feel even more extraneous and melodramatic – especially when there is just one character onscreen to juggle them. Still, a film does require narrative development and the Cuaróns find a pretty strong emotional through-line to follow; however, when the action and visuals take a back seat, Gravity definitely loses some of its gravitas, and could arguably be criticized as watching Sandra Bullock float around space for an hour and a half (though such reductive thinking would be highly specious, given the revolutionary design and execution of the film).
Thankfully, the cost of those developmental moments is tapered by another good performance from Bullock. The actress proves to be a smart choice, in that she is able to find the pitch-perfect balance required to play a character who is normally highly-intelligent, resourceful, witty (and deeply damaged), but has been thrown into a situation of unimaginable panic and fear. The role requires everything from multi-layered and subtle emoting (often in close-up camera frame) to some dizzying “wire-fu” acrobatics, and Bullock delivers on all fronts in highly convincing and impressive fashion. (NOTE: Sigourney Weaver never had worry about a three-dimensional scene in nothing but her space skivvies, but Bullock manages own that moment, too!)
As the only other actor we really see onscreen, Clooney is definitely going to be the more divisive element of the film. The character of Matt Kowalski is a smart and suave foil to Stone’s inexperienced and panic-stricken character; however, what is going to distract some people is the fact that they are ostensibly watching George Clooney riffing on his own suave-guy persona, down to mid-crisis flirtations with his leading lady. Depending on how you feel about Clooney, the acting choice could irk you; then again, Kowalski does bringing the only real levity and relief from a lot of well-staged tension, and Clooney does gallows humor pretty well, so take all that for what it’s worth.
(NOTE: Yes, that voice from Mission Control you hear in the film is actor Ed Harris, in case it was bugging you.)
In the end, Gravity is one of those movie events that comes around once in a great while to remind us why theatrical viewing still holds potential for a unique and unequaled cinematic experience. As a story and character vehicle for Bullock, it would still rate as a four-star movie – but given what Cuarón has done here for film as a medium, Gravity is nothing less than a five-star 2001 space odyssey for a whole new generation of movie lovers. Take the ride.