Thursday, January 24, 2013

American Horror Story: Asylum--FINALE

2.13: Madness Ends

--And so it all ended. Endings, closures, climaxes, resolutions, justice and injustice. Phew. It was a long roller coaster ride, and with so much more ground to cover than Season One -- both in terms of plot and character -- can we help feeling a bit wrung out? Maybe it’s good that Asylum ended so leisurely, as opposed to the neck-snapping pace with which it opened. Ryan Murphy and the creative team made the decision to toss out the kookiest aspects of the story and focus on the human element, and you know? It worked. Mostly. I am happy with this ending. Mostly.

--So the framing device was the present day, as usual -- only now it was all about Lana. Well, except for the prologue that brought back poor Leo and Teresa, those doomed, randy souls who ventured into the ruins of Briarcliff an eternity ago. This time around, we learned who was watching them from the shadows: Johnny, full of drugs and hallucinations and rage. Yeah, it was he who hacked off Leo’s arm, which makes sense, though I was still hoping for it to be one of Arden’s nuke-proof monsters, still alive and kicking. Wouldn’t that have been a fantastic bit of irony, to learn that the Nazi doc’s inhumane experiments actually worked better than he could have hoped? But, eh, I’m glad they solved the mystery. Heh, at the time, I mistakenly thought that the Bloody Face who killed the wannabes was the same one Leo and Teresa stabbed, somehow returned to life. But, nope, Johnny is our man. More on him in a bit.

--Lana and her charmed life. In modern times, she’s aged quite well (cosmetic surgery didn’t hurt) and gotten herself a nice pad, a photogenic lover, and a plum role as a crusading TV journalist. During an in-home interview (with Johnny lurking in the background), Lana opened up on  things, giving us lots of exposition and lots of heartbreak. Rejoice, for she FINALLY stopped being a self-serving bitch long enough to re-enter the pitiful hole of Briarcliff and deliver the exposé that shut the damn place down. Those found-footage scenes, as Lana prowled amidst stinking blackness and shit-smeared, tortured patients, struggling to maintain her professionalism, were highly effective if a bit preachy. She was, of course, looking for one patient in particular. One lost soul named Judy Martin. And she found Jude...but not in Briarcliff.

--Kit Walker, ladies and gentlemen. During this episode, my appreciation of the man went up many notches. I’d always written him off as the least compelling of the main characters, kind of bland and rather dopey. More a catalyst for all the alien business than a person in his own right. But now we got to see how his fundamental good-guyness paid off -- because it was Kit who redeemed Sister Jude. With no wives left, he turned his attentions to fixing her. He got her out of Briarcliff, installed her in his cozy hippie home, and -- with plenty of help from his spooky alien children and their mystical powers -- restored her to herself. Judy Martin was allowed by the fates to have six months of peace and happiness, sound in mind even as her body gently failed her. Six months being loved. Six months in a family. And that was enough for her soul to heal, for her to gracefully accept the kiss of the kind-faced woman with the red lipstick and the fearful, comforting black wings. A standing ovation for Jessica Lange, hopefully accompanied by awards. Jesus, how can she top this in Season Three?

--So....why did the aliens have such an investment in Kit? Well, we never really found out, and I know some people must be pissed off. (It’s Lost all over again, amirite?) My theory: it was partly random chance on their part, but they must have seen something in Kit that appealed to them. I mean, they’re aliens; how can we tell what they think? His inherent goodness, was that it? His open-minded nature? Or maybe he was descended from John the Baptist, who knows. Seeing as how his spooky alien children grew up to be powerful, influential people....well, maybe the experiment continues, and maybe the aliens’ ultimate goal is to make us a better species, as Grace believed. Or maybe they’re just cruelly fucking around with us, as Alma believed. Maybe they were just Dr. Arden with tentacles. But when Kit’s own life was about to end -- from pancreatic cancer, after a new bride and a lifelong friendship with Lana -- the aliens took him for good. So maybe he’s strapped to a table being milked of semen for all eternity, but I’d rather believe he’s being shown the mysteries of the cosmos. Heh, can you tell I’m on Grace’s side? Overall, I freely admit that the alien subplot didn’ It was one gimmick too many. BUT, it was still pulled off well (I loved the dreamlike portrayal of the abduction scenes), and I’m alright with it remaining a bit mysterious.

--Sooooo, Cardinal Howard. Did he get the fate he deserved? Well, I was kind of hoping his death would involve, I dunno, battery acid and a cheese grater or something. But what we got was acceptable. The showrunners realized how much we all hated Howard and did NOT let that smug fucktard off the hook. Lana got him in her sights and tore him down with a fresh report on Dr. Arden and all those human experiments that took place with Howard’s implicit permission. Whether or not she proved his crimes, she did induce enough guilt in Howard that he killed himself. Frankly, I wish someone else had done him in; he shouldn’t get to choose his own fate. Also, I wish that as he’d died, he’d looked up to see Evil Eunice smirking down at him. Welcoming him to her realm. Another missed opportunity. But justice was done.

--Which brings us back to the present and to Johnny Thredson. He got his showdown with Lana, as we knew he would, only (of course) it didn’t go according to his script. This whole time, I’ve been rolling my eyes that Johnny could get away with his murder spree. Well, he didn’t, really; the FBI was one step behind him and he must’ve known that killing Lana would be his swansong. But when he came into her view, she was allllll ready for him. You see, she knew. She’d met him once, just once, when he was a boy. That was a turning point for them both: Lana realized that she’d always feel something for her rape baby, and Johnny understood who his mother was. Later in life, he found the fateful confession tape on eBay (lol), and thus was his fate sealed. He got what he wanted, held a gun to Lana’s forehead. Only she wasn’t scared. Just regretful. Poor Johnny really couldn’t be what his father was, and you know why? Because Oliver “Bloody Face” Thredson was brilliant, charming, and (until he met his equal in Lana) successful at what he did. Yes, he was a monster who succeeded (note his rise to cult-legend status à la Ed Gein), whereas Johnny was a monster who failed. And Lana knew it. Remember how last week, I said that people fundamentally can’t change? Lana will always be that ruthless, hard-hearted woman. She knew how to push Johnny’s buttons. She gave him the motherly bullshit, made him lower the gun and break down crying. And just when we thought we were in for a sappy ending, Lana took the gun and fucking blew her son’s motherfucking brains out. Two for two. Done. The end.

--And the coda? A flashback to Sister Jude at her villainous best, locking eyes with Lana during the glory days of Briarcliff and giving us the moral of the story: “You stare into the face of evil, evil stares right back.” Ahhh, words that could apply to so many things in this show. The insidious warblings of “Dominique” then heralded the final closing of the curtain. Briarcliff Manor becomes the spectre of bad, misguided ideas and bad, misguided people that never quite goes away.

--And that’s it for Asylum. What a time. I loved it. Was it stronger than Murder House? From a narrative perspective, probably not. Season One focused tightly on its core characters, always telling their story while allowing lots of other stuff to dance around the edges. Season Two had at least three big stories to tell at once, more main characters to keep track of, more stuff it wanted to say. So it was unwieldy. I loved its unpredictable nature, loved the character arcs, and the strong work of some players (Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe) made up for the inconsistency of others (James Cromwell, Joseph Fiennes, Chloë Sevigny). I’d say my biggest criticism is the over-reliance on Johnny Thredson toward the end; he just wasn’t as interesting a villain as Thredson Senior, Evil Eunice, or even early Sister Jude. Yeah, it was all about the Themes. Ryan Murphy loves his Themes. But I wish that Evil Eunice had stuck around longer, even though, when you think about it, she was a less relevant bad guy. My second-biggest criticism would be that the alien subplot didn’t quite slot in, and led to Grace’s character being sadly wasted in the end. My third-biggest would be that Monsignor Howard was allowed to exist. But I’d rather focus on what I enjoyed, which was almost everything else. I cannot WAIT for Season Three (is it witches? Looks like witches!) to take us on the next grisly, goofy ride.

--Dominique, nique, nique, s’en allait tout simplement...routier pauvre et chantaaaaannnnt....

Friday, January 18, 2013

American Horror Story: Asylum--Episode 12

2.12: Continuum

--What a sad episode this was. Good-sad, not bad-sad. Barely a trace of what you’d call “horror” elements; even an apparent appearance by the aliens was a fake-out. I’m rather impressed by the narrative path of the endgame, even if some fans aren’t: instead of building toward an explosive climax, things are slowly, regretfully winding down, as we see the painful consequences of what has come before. As the apparent happy endings crack and fall apart, and the sad endings are dragged on and on. The episode was divided into chapters, showing the fallout for each survivor over the years, and it was never easy to see. Never. I’m very happy this ep was as thoughtful as it was.

--Chapter One: Kit wants everything and loses most of it. After a misleading pre-credits scene in which Kit appeared to murder someone with an axe, we jumped back in time to jump ahead in time to show how Kit, Alma, and Grace decided to exist in a cozy little polygamous hippie arrangement, raising both babies as “theirs” while Kit occasionally switched beds. To absolutely no one’s surprise, it didn’t work, and the alien abductions were just the catalyst for a meltdown. Alma wanted to forget all about her ordeal, but Grace became blissfully convinced that the aliens were benevolent...and would return. Especially if she drew lots of charcoal pictures of their ugly vagina-faces. Poor Grace. Poor Alma. Each was standing in the way of the other one’s completion, and the tragic payoff was Alma, not Kit, murdering Grace with an axe, getting sent to Briarcliff, and dying there, while Kit looked on helplessly. Ah, Kit, you’ve never been the brightest bulb in the box. How sad that you thought you could reach a perfect compromise. At least he has his children...for now. You know, I’m not really happy with Grace’s ultimate fate. She began the story as a strong, compelling character, but after her alien trip, she was reduced to a plot device. Guess we can’t have everything.

--Chapter Two: Jude reigns over the fall of an empire. To my rage, Monsignor Howard did not die horribly as he deserved, but strolled off to become a Cardinal, after flat-out fucking LYING to Jude that he was going to release her. Briarcliff was given over to the state and became a slimy, fetid dumping hole for unwanted convicts and mental patients. Jude, with Pepper as her faithful vizier, tried to hold court over the increasingly loathsome asylum -- but her own sanity was deteriorating as well. Soon enough, Jude’s memories had become a confusing stew where certain events -- such as Pepper’s death -- were lost and time fragmented. For that matter, how do we know Howard really promised to free her? I liked this disorienting take on Jude’s madness, especially when a nasty alpha bitch showed up from a women’s prison and violently took charge. Only...the bitch was played by Frances Conroy, and when Jude looked upon that face, she (and we) saw the Angel of Death. Was that real? Can we trust a single thing we saw through Jude’s eyes? She was so pitiable; I always figured her character would go out in a blaze of glory, not slide into wretchedness with a whimper. But this show isn’t that kind.

--Chapter Three: Lana sells out. Honestly, this segment made me wince the most, because I’m an author myself and Lana’s chapter had some viciously cynical things to say about the art of writing and bookselling. Yup, Lana became the dreaded Celebrity Author, turning her real-life nightmare into a garish, inaccurate, lesbian-free piece of pulp called Maniac. She became a self-entitled pill, and even a visit from Kit didn’t help. Lana’s no monster -- she’ll never go that far -- but she gave up. She took the route she would’ve taken before her Briarcliff experience, and worse, she forgot about or marginalized the things she learned and the people who helped her. Maybe the worst thing this episode had to say was that we can’t change. Lana will always be a ruthless scavenger. Kit will always be a doofus who wants what society won’t let him have. Monsignor Howard will always be a smug little cunt. Jude will always flail impotently at forces beyond her control. Okay, yeah, there’s one episode left, so there’s still hope for some of these folks to make a turnaround (or for Howard to get fed into a wood chipper like I WANT HIM TO). But right now, it looks like our heroes are stuck in a rut. And that means they’ll die never knowing how they could have bettered themselves. And Lana’s death may be especially unpleasant, because...

--Epilogue: Johnny gets his gun. And in this case, his gun is an autographed copy of the book in which, according to Lana, he died in childbirth. Since his introduction, Johnny has been building himself into a volcano of rage and psychosexual energy, and he has one goal in mind before his murder spree comes to its explosive end: find Lana, tell her who he is, let her realize what she ultimately reaped, and then blow her head off -- just like she did to the original Bloody Face. JESUS, remember when hot newlyweds were poking around the ruins of Briarcliff and we were relishing their impending demise? How stories evolve.

--This whole episode, in a way, seemed like an extended epilogue -- but the epilogue continues next week, when everything comes to a head. Hopefully, we will see Lana realize her mistakes and act to put Briarcliff out of its misery. Hopefully, we will finally learn why the aliens are interested in Kit, and what’s planned for his children. Hopefully, Jude will achieve some scrap of peace before her light goes out. Hopefully, Monsignor Howard will be devoured by rabid jackals. And wasn’t Eric Stonestreet supposed to be in there somewhere? A lot of ground to cover in forty-five precious minutes. Fingers crossed for a great finale!

--Oh, yeah, and Leigh Emerson (the psycho Santa? Remember him?) went on a nun-killing spree after his escape. I figured something like that would happen. Why is it that, in a twisted way, he seems to have had the happiest ending?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

To Squee Or Not To Squee, vol. 3

Soooo....yeah. That whole 2012 Mayan Apocalypse thing? Not only did it not happen, but it’s the sort of thing that, in retrospect, makes us all go, “Wow, it was really fucking stupid to jabber on about the world ending, even if we were doing it ironically.” Now we can all stop talking about it. Forever. But look on the bright side: all the cool entertainment that’s coming out in the near future will still happen! We still get to enjoy it! Or, if it turns out to be lame and disappointing, we can whistle innocently and pretend we were never interested in the first place.

It’s my 100th post on this blog, yay! And here we go again...


The Abominable by Dan Simmons
WHAT IT IS: Dan Simmons is a very good writer who’s delivered strong work in a variety of genres, primarily science fiction (the Hyperion saga, Ilium) and horror (Summer of Night, Carrion Comfort). Basically, he’s written some of my favorite books ever. His next one is The Abominable, about George Mallory’s ill-fated Mt. Everest expedition in 1924. And yetis.
WHY I’M EXCITED: Favorite books ever, hello! I’m always excited about new reads from Simmons. Lately he’s gotten heavily into historical fiction with a supernatural twist, and it’s all been really solid. A survival horror story set on Everest that addresses both the abominable snowman myth and the mystery of Mallory’s lonely death? I’m there, man! I find Mt. Everest and the mythos that surround it fascinating. And I like being creeped out. I know Simmons’ll deliver.
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: Dan Simmons already wrote this book. It was called The Terror and it came out in 2007. And it too was about a famous, doomed expedition (John Franklin’s 1845 attempt to find a Northwest Passage) that met a mysterious fate in a remote, icy wasteland. And there was also a monster. This level of self-repetition concerns me; I’m wondering if Simmons’ idea bucket is down to the dregs. His last two novels were just revamps of older short stories. And now a full-blown copypaste of a not-that-old prior novel? I know it’ll be entertaining, but will it be distinctive? Fingers crossed.

UPDATE: I read it! Read my reaction here.

Cowboy Bebop, Death Note, & Wolf’s Rain
WHAT THEY ARE: Anime shows that have been out for awhile. Respectively, they represent the genres of Hipster Sci-Fi, Horror-With-Messiah-Complex, and Tragic Cerebral Fantasy.
WHY I’M EXCITED: The waters of anime run deep, and I’ve barely skimmed the surface. For awhile now, I’ve wanted to get more into anime; the problem is figuring out what interests me most. Any weeaboo can give you their faves, but I’m picky. Based on my personal observations, these three are shows that A) are pretty much universally respected, and B) look interesting to me. I’m really eager to sample them and hopefully become a fan.
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: As usual, it’s the drain on my time. When exactly am I supposed to watch these? For that matter, how do I acquire them? I don’t torrent, so you can shut the hell up about that. Do I want to spend a chunk of money on DVDs or instant video, when it might turn out that I don’t care for the show after all? Well, Netflix can help me, I suppose. That just leaves the time question. I think watching these shows is gonna have to be a “Project.”

UPDATE: My review of Death Note can be read here!

WHAT IT IS: An original sci-fi extravaganza! Tom Cruise plays a kind of high-tech repair guy doing cleanup on Earth, decades after it was wrecked all to shit by aliens (maybe). He soon discovers that there are still human survivors (maybe), his own space-dwelling people might be the bad guys (maybe), and he must shoot lots of things with guns (definitely).
WHY I’M EXCITED: Because of my unseemly love for any film that appears visually dynamic and unique. The first shots from the trailer pleased me, with their dreamlike depiction of a desolate planet where the crumbled remains of civilization have literally become part of the landscape. Also, while a lot of trailers give away the entire film, this was nicely mysterious. Who’s the girl in the cryo-pod? Why’s everyone know who Cruise’s character is? The plot seems headed into interesting terrain. Also, the last time Tom Cruise made futuristic sci-fi, we got the minor masterpiece that was Minority Report. Also, this has Morgan Freeman.
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: I was not nearly so taken with the second half of the trailer, which showcases Cruise galumphing around with a big gun and shooting at monsters and generic military dudes. Just once, just ONCE, I wanna see a modern science fiction film that does not devolve into generic firefights. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so. Couple that with my usual fear that the trailer shows all the coolest stuff, and I can’t help smelling a rat about Oblivion. It has the potential to be really good, but it could also be a con job from a studio trying to ride on the coattails of Prometheus. Besides, it has competition from After Earth (snicker), the similar upcoming sci-fi film starring (snort) Jaden Smith and his dad, Will, directed by....(guffaw)...M. Night ShyamalaAAHAHAHAHAAAA! Sorry, couldn’t keep a straight face. Yeah, Oblivion has no competition. But still.

UPDATE: I watched it! Read my reaction here.

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Prequel
WHAT IT IS: If you’ve heard of Neil Gaiman, you’ve surely heard of Sandman. His sprawling comic about Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, was beloved back in the 80s and 90s and helped define the “mature adult comic.” Now, along with artist J.H. Williams III, Gaiman is returning to craft a prequel comic that details what happened to Morpheus immediately prior to the original series.
WHY I’M EXCITED: Jesus, who wouldn’t be? I have a deep love of both Sandman and Gaiman, and it’s generally an awesome thing when an artist returns to that which put him on the map. Gaiman’s an amazing writer, Williams (based on what I’ve seen) is an evocative artist, and the question being addressed (what mysterious battle did Morpheus fight that left him weakened enough to be captured by occultists?) has long hung over the series. Final verdict: WOOHOO!
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: Well, you have to understand, it took Sandman a little while to get really, really good. Initially, it was just a somewhat interesting pulp horror/fantasy. So Gaiman might face the challenge of returning to a less compelling part of Morpheus’s saga. Maybe. Also, Gaiman’s surely a different man now than he was in 1980-whenever. Can he recall the same narrative voice? I’m fairly confident he can; I just hope he hasn’t put his signature work too far behind him.

UPDATE: I read it! Read my reaction here.

The Rest of the Priest Manhwa
WHAT IT IS: Speaking of comics, there’s this manhwa (that’s the Korean version of manga) by Hyung Min-woo, Priest, which follows the ultraviolent exploits of Ivan Isaacs, a tormented undead priest who battles malevolent fallen angels in a warped version of the Old West. Sixteen volumes have been released.
WHY I’M EXCITED: Some may scoff, but manga (like anime) can be a wonderful storytelling medium. Priest is driven by its jagged artwork, which infuses the characters with vivid intensity, and by its epic and unpredictable narrative. Ignore the 2011 film with Paul Bettany; that dumb “adaptation” took away absolutely nothing but the title and main character’s name. The original manhwa is a dazzling and often brutal experience. I want more!
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: It’s dead. I think. I’ve been frustrated about this for awhile now. The latest volume came out in 2007. All the volumes appear to be out of print. I haven’t heard a whisper of truth about whether Hyung has abandoned his comic or not...and believe me, I’ve been looking. Seeing as how the series kept adding new characters and forgetting about old subplots, it’s possible it mutated out of its author’s control and he shelved it. For good? I dunno. But after all this time, I can’t keep my hopes up, and that’s a damn shame. It was so cool.

Winter’s Tale (The Movie)
WHAT IT IS: Winter’s Tale, the 1983 novel by Mark Helprin, kinda has to be read to be believed. I can’t even call it a historical fantasy; it belongs in its own genre, possibly called “Mythpunk.” It’s set in a version of New York City that doesn’t entirely exist in any one time period, and it doesn’t have a plot so much as a series of grand themes. And it’s gonna be a movie! Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Will Smith, and Jennifer Connelly headline.
WHY I’M EXCITED: I know they can’t bring Winter’s Tale to life the way it exists in my head, but if they even come close, I’ll be delighted. The book is dreamlike, with the season of Winter emerging as a character in its own right. There’s also a bit about building a giant bridge of light to connect the city to the outside world and/or the modern age. Whatever the hell that means, doesn’t it sound like something you want realized on film? I see a potential for unsurpassed visual showmanship.
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: I recently wrote a post about how no book is truly unfilmable, but some of them are pretty fucking HARD to film. Nothing in Winter's Tale is straightforward. How the hell can the movie address this? Are they just gonna toss out the metaphorical elements and make a generic historical drama with maybe some magic realism? That would be lame as hell. I’m really hoping that this’ll follow in the footsteps of Life of Pi or Cloud Atlas,’s gonna be walking a tightrope where the slightest booboo will send it plummeting into the abyss of fuckery. Also, who exactly is Will Smith playing? I have no memory of a Will Smith-like character in the novel. Please, God, don’t let this be stunt casting.

The Last Guardian
WHAT IT IS: The third game by Team Ico, whose previous releases were Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Keeping with their themes of vast, crumbling environments and ambiguous narratives, TLG revolves around a young boy and a large gryphon-like creature who forge a close bond and work together Escape, I guess.
WHY I’M EXCITED: If you’ve been paying attention to my blog, you may have noticed my planet-sized love affair with Team Ico; I bring it up here, here, and especially here. Ico is amazing, Shadow of the Colossus will be my favorite video game for the rest of my you can KINDA SEE HOW I’D BE ANXIOUS FOR THEIR SUCCESSOR. Especially when you factor in 7th-gen graphics that will add much to Team Ico’s already incredible visual vistas, and improved A.I. that will turn the big monster sidekick into one of the best characters in video game history. Or so I assume. How could Team Ico fail me?
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: Two words: Development Hell. To the chagrin of highbrow gamers everywhere, TLG’s status currently has a big fat question mark plastered across it. There had already been tons of delays when Team Ico bigshot Fumito Ueda parted ways with Sony, but supposedly he stayed to work on TLG on a freelance basis, and....something or other. Bottom line, no one knows when the almighty fuck this game will come out. I would like to think they’re just making sure the game will exceed all expectations; I’m willing to wait if it means a superior final product. But the words “Duke Nukem Forever” keep flashing in my head. I’m scared. You have no idea how excited this game makes me, and I fear for it.

Star Wars VII, VIII, and IX
WHAT IT IS: Oh, come on. I really need to explain this? Fine. For those of you living at the bottom of a mineshaft, Disney just bought Lucasfilm and are planning to make a brand-new Star Wars trilogy. Episode VII could be out as early as 2015.
WHY I’M EXCITED: It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that this is the biggest thing to happen in nerd culture since the new millennium began. I mean, holy shit. No one was even thinking about the possibility of more Star Wars films, especially after George Lucas squatted, shat out two smelly turds and one marginally inoffensive turd, and called them prequels. Guys, the new trilogy will be made WITHOUT GEORGE LUCAS (allegedly). He won’t be there to write putrid dialogue and ignore the characters in favor of technical bullshit (supposedly)! This has the potential to revitalize the entire Star Wars franchise! To reward the fans for waiting so long! Oh...wait...
WHY I’M SKEPTICAL: There is no way in heaven the fans will be satisfied. They won’t. These are the same people who sent death threats to the author who killed off Chewbacca in a novel (and he was only writing what Team Lucas had ordered him to write). How the fuck do you even make new Star Wars movies? Adapt some of the eight zillion spinoff books? Write brand-new adventures? Do you try and bring back the wrinkly-faced original cast? Do you find new youngsters to play Luke, Leia, and Han, and expect fans to accept them? No matter what, the acolytes of the cult of Star Wars are going to fold their flabby arms, look down their pimply noses, and declare that the new films do NOT do the original trilogy justice. Because that’s what nerd culture does: it puts things on pedestals so high that they asphyxiate from lack of oxygen. This momentous cinematic project will be the most hated thing in Hollywood, know, that’s gonna be hilarious to watch. So I’m still excited, just for all the wrong reasons.
DANGER LEVEL: 10,000,000,000

UPDATE: My review of The Force Awakens can be found here!

So these are the things with which I can ring in the Mayans’ brand-new cycle of rebirth. I promise to give you my final opinions on all this stuff, if and when it comes into being. Because this blog has miles to go before I sleep. Here’s to the next 100 posts!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

American Horror Story: Asylum--Episode 11

2.11: Spilt Milk

--Ugh, really? Monsignor Howard is the villain now? What a dumb move on the show’s part. Yeah, I guess you could call it unexpected; hell, I’ve been assuming from Episode One that the dude’s main function was to be a huge tool and then die early on. So we might not have seen his rise to heinousness coming, but that doesn’t make it okay. I don’t like his tremulous little weird-accented voice. I don’t like how he squinches his face up at people, like he’s trying and failing to talk to a smart toddler. Maybe it’s just the acting choices, in which case I ask, what happened to the dreamy, smoldering Joseph Fiennes from Shakespeare In Love? And what happened that made the AHS team decide to wipe out all the bad guys early and leave this doofus around? Eh, good episode anyway.

--Lana’s out! Yes, “Spilt Milk” was all about escaping your worst fate only to realize that Happily Ever After is an outdated and pitifully unfounded notion in the cruel real world. How comforting! The ep had barely settled in when Lana was sprung from Briarcliff by Mother Claudia, flipping Thredson the bird as she drove away with his confession tape. An admittedly awesome moment. Now our favorite Sapphic badass is ready to tear Briarcliff to the ground, but unfortunately, she’s got a new hangup: her baby. Her rape baby. Her rape baby by Thredson. She may have done in the daddy, but despite going to a Vera Drake-type for a professional abortion, Lana got cold feet. “No more death!” she insisted, and as the episode ended, she was reluctantly allowing the newly born Johnny to suckle. While staring at an upside-down cross. Because symbolism! I gotta admit, seeing Lana back in full-on ruthless reporter mode is great, especially now that she’s got a real cause to fight for. But there’re a feeewwww more smug male authority figures to knock down first.

--Thredson’s out! Out of time, out of luck, out of not having bullets in his skull. Our heroes finally got the permanent drop on him (I love how Kit seemed to give in to Thredson while secretly allowing Lana to slip past), and the mad shrink soon returned home to find Lana the Femme Fatale waiting with a pistol and a sexy blue dress. Great scene; no matter what you say, the chemistry between Sarah Paulson and Zach Quinto (who are pals in real life) has never been less than stellar. Seemingly complacent, Thredson drove one last knife into Lana by describing his horrific treatment of her late lover, Wendy, then smugly pointing out that, as a certified nutcase, he was headed for an institution rather than the chair. And the whole time, he was just stalling for time until he could grab his own hidden gun. Lana, realizing what he was up to, realizing that if she showed even a hint of compassion, the whole awful cycle would continue, blew his fucking brains out. HELL, yeah! Only, because of the whole baby she really the victor? I’m sure that question will be addressed in the final two episodes. Speaking of which...

--The Wacky Adventures of Johnny Morgan-Thredson-Winters! See Johnny cry! See Johnny rave! See Johnny hire an overly enthusiastic prostitute and suckle milk from her plus-size motherly bosom! See Johnny get bogged down with his mommy issues! Yeah....Lana’s happily-ever-after won’t come, will it? Between losing Wendy, birthing Johnny, and still being a woman in a penis-centric world, she’s going to have a haunted life, and we just know she’ll have to come back and deal with the sad monster her grown-up son has become.

--Kit’s out! And Grace! And baby makes three! Yes, all was more or less well in Walkerville, despite Thredson’s evil plot to stick baby Thomas in an orphanage so he could gain further leverage over Kit (again: what the hell happened to Pepper’s super alien powers?!). Grace, all moist-eyed and poignant, revealed that poor, poor Alma died in the aliens’ care. Kit sniffled and gulped and asked Grace to marry him, because “that’s what Alma would’ve wanted,” and the whole time, I’m thinking: something stinks here. With Thredson exposed and dead, Kit was freed from Briarcliff, and proceeded to coerce/blackmail the squinchy-faced Monsignor into letting Grace go too. After all, she’s legally deceased. And her last name is Bertrand! One mystery cleared up at least! So Kit and Grace and the baby headed home to Kit’s cozy little abode, only to find someone inside, waiting for them. And it was Alma. And she was holding a caramel-skinned baby. HAH! Best twist ever! I KNEW that the old, ruthless Grace was in there somewhere! I mean, I’m assuming she lied her pants off to Kit, because that makes for way better drama. Seriously can’t wait for the continuation of that subplot, in part because maybe we’ll FINALLY learn why Kit’s man-milk is so precious to aliens.

--Who’s not out yet? Jude. Yes, one lost soul still needs saving, but that’s gonna be hard. Because stupid, dipshit Monsignor Howard still has his stupid, dipshit ambitions, and now that Jude’s seen the light and started speaking all the painful truths, Howard’s decided she’s a huge liability. With his stupid, dipshit noble intentions, he’s keeping Briarcliff open...and keeping Jude locked away in some slimy hole while faking her death for the benefit of Lana and any other nosy parkers. What I’m trying to say here is that Howard is a stupid dipshit and I hate part because he pales so much as a bad guy when compared to glorious Evil Eunice, creepy Thredson, or even the excessively pissy Dr. Arden. WORST VILLAIN EVER. Stupid dipshit stupid stupid dipshitty stupid....

--Fine. Whatever. Two more episodes to go. Lot of stuff I’m looking forward to, but more of “bad guy” Monsignor Howard is not one of them. You could have killed him like six episodes ago, show! Is this really necessary?

--“So, Clea, how’s the old acting career going?” “Oh, not bad. Today I pretended to be a naked corpse while Spock from Star Trek violated me doggie-style. Par for the course, right?”

Thursday, January 3, 2013

American Horror Story: Asylum--Episode 10

2.10: The Name Game

--The Devil is dead, long live the Pinhead! Seriously, now that we’ve bid farewell to Evil Eunice, I need a new favorite character, and it is, obviously, Pepper. She fucking OWNED the opening scenes, obliterating Dr. Arden with a deadpan tongue-lashing that pretty much summed up all the unfair shit we do to “handicapped” people. Like, for instance, assuming they killed a baby just because they look weird. Oops! Nope, Pepper’s less interested in drowning infants than in playing goodwife to them, and anything that gives her more screen time is fine by me. She also demonstrated this episode’s theme, which was that all the smug male authority figures are finally getting taken down a notch by resourceful women. Boo yah! Welcome back, AHS!

--Welcome back also to Monsignor Howard, who took some major steps toward redeeming himself. I always figured that his role in the story was to do one big, important deed. The Angel of Death wasn’t there to take his soul, but to warn him of the Devil in Eunice. (By the way, when you’re crucified, you basically drown in your own bodily fluid, so it’s a good thing he was rescued in time.) Of course, he’s still a gigantic tool, but tools do their jobs when you point them at the thing they need to whack, nail, or slice. Howard’s initial attempts to banish Evil Eunice only got him devil-raped, but after a desperate entreaty from Judy (notice now he managed to twist his apology to her so it was all about him...tool), he finally, finally, finally got the freaking upper hand. Therein lies the Devil’s one weakness: though it can predict what others will do, it doesn’t always bother considering the consequences of what it will do. To taunt Howard, Evil Eunice let Actual Eunice free one last time, and Howard seized the moment to toss the beleaguered nun off the third-floor balcony. Kersplat! Guess we’ll never know if Evil Eunice had a master plan beyond “Fuck everyone up as much as humanly and inhumanly possible.” But, hey, one villain down!

--Wait, no, TWO, villains down! This ep saw the swansong of Dr. Arden, too. Everything he thought he could control was taken from him. His scientific knowledge is nothing in the face of aliens, demonic possession, and flat-out resurrection. Worse, he’s lost his pious little masturbatory trinket, Eunice, for good. He has nothing left but all the memories of the bad shit he did. In a twisted way, Arden really did care for Eunice, and so her final descent into evil caused his shell to crack, and we got a glimpse of the unhappy man under the smug Nazi veneer. Despairing, Arden euthanized his forest-dwelling nuke-proof mutants, and let me just say that I was very let down by that subplot. It was introduced as a big thing, and then they just sort of forgot about it. This season felt a bit crowded with ideas, and in the end, I really feel they could have pruned the forest monsters without losing much. Anyway, Arden was too cowardly to kill himself with Evil Eunice leering at him, but after her death, he climbed astride her lovely, innocent body and cremated himself along with her. RIP, you utter shithead of a human being.

--ONCE AGAIN, Jude sinks farther than I thought she could sink! This ep’s Jude-bashing took the form of electroshock therapy, because there hasn’t been quite enough irony on this show yet. Evil Eunice, almost cumming with glee, turned the juice up to eleven and liquified Jude’s brain -- although Jude still has just enough of her wits to want to set things right. Good luck with that. The best part was that Jude’s now having delusions, which took the form of a full-on musical number in the common room. Love it! I think AHS may be the only show that’s actually more enjoyable when it jumps the shark. I also liked Kit’s and Lana’s expressions during the fantasy: “WTF is happening here? Oh, well, let’s roll with it.” Can this happen in every ep from now on? No?

--One major villain left, of course. Thredson, we learned, was freed by Evil Eunice (one last shitty deed!) and is now back in nerdy, passive-aggressive doctor mode. He, Lana, and Kit are locked in a tense game; each has something to lose, and none can fully concede to their opponent. Thredson seemed to claim victory when he stumbled upon Grace, hidden away in Arden’s operating theater, giving birth to a rather turnip-headed baby. The baby is apparently Kit’s, and Thredson used it as a sweet bargaining chip. I’m wondering...if Pepper was all threatening to Arden when he tried to do bad things to Grace, then why the fuck is she okay with Grace being in the clutches of fucking Bloody Face? Maybe she knows Thredson can’t really do anything. Especially since Lana realized: “Hey. He’s acting like he can control me because I’m carrying his child. But who the fuck has the fucking womb here, anyway?!” So Lana has the upper hand for now, as she’s re-hidden Thredson’s confession tape and knows he won’t hurt her. Ball’s in your court, Thredson!

--I’m guessing that the final three episodes will deal with the downfall of Briarcliff (perhaps set in motion by Howard and the Mother Superior), the redemption of Judy Martin, the unveiling of the aliens’ plan, and the payoff of the Lana/Thredson business, which will segue into the future subplot. Sounds good to me! I have faith that AHS will not disappoint me after we’ve come this far.

--Can I have Grace back, though? Not just back physically, but back as in having a personality again. All she’s done so far is sit around with a beatific look on her face, saying nothing. What happened to “Screw you, Judas bitch!”? What happened to axe-murdering your parents out of desperation? I liked the old Grace better!

--Is it wrong that I’m picturing Kit, Grace, and Alma going on to live in some sort of alien-assisted three-way relationship? It’s probably just because I’ve been reading a lot of Octavia E. Butler.

--Oh, one more thing. Ryan Murphy teased that this ep would contain a clue about Season Three. The most obvious clue location was the jukebox. Maybe it was one of the song titles we glimpsed, or the word “CONGRESS” printed on a record. I’m sure there’ll be tons of speculation! Of course, the jukebox could be a huge red herring; remember that the Season Two clue was in dialogue delivered by Sarah Paulson’s Season One character. Who knows. Anyway, here’s a picture of Pepper, because she’s so awesome.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Favorite Music of 2012

Out of the Big Five (movies, books, games, TV, music), guess which one I tend to neglect on this blog. Maybe it’s because I’m not a band geek and have no clue how to talk about music (are something called “arpeggios” involved?), or maybe it’s that I’m ashamed of my weird, unclassifiable musical taste. I shouldn’t be ashamed. I should be defiant. So here’s a glimpse into the tuneful part of my brain. It’s scary.


6. Adam Lambert, Trespassing
To anyone new to this blog who’s a bit slow on the uptake, allow me to inform you of something: I am a gay man. Sorry to startle you. And while I would not consider myself stereotypical when it comes to music (I really think Liza and Babs are kind of fucking terrible), I’d totally hang out with Glammy. His sophomore album shows his continued love of musical fabulosity, and although he’s definitely a guilty pleasure, I find him ever so sweet on the ears. Honestly, I’m more interested in Lambert’s sampling of olden pop flavors than his standard-issue singles; “Never Close Our Eyes” is so-so, but I much prefer “Kickin’ In,” which was grown in a petri dish from the genetic material of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” And, yeah, I also appreciate his frank shout-outs to gay rights and Being Yourself, because maybe they help. You never know. I can be austere at times, but there’s always a side of me that wants to hang lots of sparkly shit on my body and go clubbing. And this is how I feed it.
My Favorite Song:Cuckoo.” It’s yet another song about dancing your cares away, but Adam infuses the track with the most delightful sugarcoated vibe. Suck it, Ke$ha!

5. Kimbra, Vows
Her name may sound vaguely familiar. It’s because she’s the female voice on “Somebody That I Used To Know,” which is now stuck in your head. You’re welcome. Ah, but Kimbra is far more than Gotye’s Pissed-Off Fake Ex. She has her own debut album out, and it is freaking cool. She’s an old-school pop siren, cooing and roaring like a torch singer who knows you don’t really want to go home tonight. Her music is boingy, upbeat, and very versatile, and her voice is the real thing. Beware: some people look at Kimbra’s perky, cherry-lipsticked visage and immediately call her a Katy Perry knockoff. That is like comparing Welch’s to pinot because they both tenuously involve grapes. And when you actually take the time to listen, you realize that Kimbra’s the one you want to sit back and savor for richness.
My Favorite Song:Good Intent,” a slinky, sexy lounge number that plays kind of like a dangerous, yet desired, seduction. Femme fatale-tastic.

4. Tears for Fears, Elemental & Raoul and the Kings of Spain
Taken together, these two albums represent the second evolutionary stage of Tears for Fears. See, after surfing the New Wave wave for awhile, Curt Smith left the band and it basically became Roland Orzabal’s one-man act. But all drama aside, Orzabal’s two “solo” albums, both released in the 90s, are really damn good. He moved the sound of Tears for Fears away from New Wave and into...I guess you could call it Indie Rock? A lot of strong guitar work and deeply personal lyrics that get more interesting the more you listen. If the band’s early work dealt with soul-baring, then Phase II was all about Orzabal’s take on faith and identity, and he poured himself into his songs very well. This may not be what people remember when they think of Tears for Fears (how could it ever match “Shout” and “Everybody Wants To Rule the World”?), but it shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s powerful stuff.
My Favorite Song: From Elemental, my fave is hit single “Break It Down Again,” a song that will make you jump around the room, even if you can’t quite tell what the lyrics are about. From Raoul and the Kings of Spain, I must go with the eponymous track, which mixes icy-cool guitar grooves with a howling chorus that takes flight.

3. Gotye, Making Mirrors
Oh, I’m sorry, had you just gotten “Somebody That I Used To Know” out of your head? You might be interested to know that, unlike most people, I’ve listened to Gotye’s other work, and it’s amazing. It’s also very unlike his one gigahit; this Belgian pop oddball is not content to confine himself to a single genre. Every track on Making Mirrors speaks a different musical language: sometimes he sounds like Beck, sometimes like Sting, sometimes like he’s from another planet. I absolutely love musical artists who experiment, provided they don’t pull a Yoko Ono and decide that actual music is unnecessary. Fear not, Gotye is grounded in a rich layer of pliant vocals and inspired instrumentals, and the one thing that never changes is the deep empathy he works into his songs. Even a bitter ballad like “Somebody blah blah” is sympathetic to the human condition (both forlorn ex-lovers get to sing, after all). You get the sense that Gotye loves us for listening and hopes we’ll become slightly better people. I can roll with that, as long as he keeps making such haunting, evocative soundscapes.
My Favorite Song: “Somebody blah blah etc.” is really good, don’t get me wrong. But I will never stop listening to “Save Me,” an incredibly uplifting song about the redemptive power of love that acknowledges human frailty while insisting that happy endings are possible. I’m a believer.

2. Nightwish, Imaginaerum
Ahh, the spectacle. The orchestral kookiness. The hair. Nightwish continue to entertain me with their particular blend of epic/fantasy/symphonic/not-really-metal metal, and their latest release is their most colorful yet. I know they’re drifting farther from their roots (and they just lost another female vocalist; what the fuck, guys), but while I’ll always treasure the operatic gravitas of Old Nightwish, I can’t deny that the high-concept genre-hopping of New Nightwish makes me all warm and tingly inside. Remember what I said about loving experimentation? Whether they’re screaming on their guitars, turning it down a notch for some folksy crooning, or paying blatant homage to Tim Burton, I’m a whopping great fan who’s salivating to see what they do next.
My Favorite Song:I Want My Tears Back.” It might be my favorite song of the year. It has bagpipes and references to Alice In Wonderland; it swoops and snarls and blazes like a technicolor inferno. I want to be cast in its music video.

1. Dead Can Dance, Anastasis
Oh, my sweet baby Jesus, music lovers who don’t know about Dead Can Dance...ENLIGHTEN YOURSELVES. They existed back in the 80s and 90s: a pair of songsters (Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry) who took everything they could get their hands on -- rock, new age, worldbeat, a capella, fusion -- and wove it into a tapestry of sound, anchored by Gerrard’s spooky, throaty, wordless ululations. They parted ways in 1998. Now, a whopping 14 years later, their new album arrives to make love to our ears. And it’s like no time has passed. Anastasis is glorious to Dead Can Dance fans and a good intro for newbies. Their musical arrangements are grand; each one promenades past, unfolding to reveal its color and texture. They’ve always been multicultural in their approach, and so Anastasis often feels like it was written to entertain a god-king in some distant, exotic kingdom that was lost to history. It’s a tad emotionally remote, I admit...but then, I often feel like good songs get bogged down by their own lyrics. Dead Can Dance just makes MUSIC. They distill it to its concentrated richness. I’ve never gotten sick of listening to their older albums, and now a brand new one? The music gods smile on us.
My Favorite Song:Opium,” in which anxious strings and horns swirl like a flock of birds around Perry’s calm baritone, giving the listener wonderful jitters. Appropriate, since listening to Dead Can Dance is like taking a drug with only positive side effects.

What musical stylings will 2013 bring? Is anything going to catch my ear in the same way? Will Peter Gabriel finally release a brand-new goddamn album already? Much is possible.