Fall Movie Preview: September 2012

I have faithfully kept up my subscription to Entertainment Weekly, even though the quality has dropped off precipitously, and even though it's continuing its slow morph into Us Weekly. "Oooh! Check out this totes hot pic of RPatz and KStew! Will her playing smoochie face with a married old dude spell doom for the Twilight movie we're breathlessly awaiting?" Barf.

Part of the reason I've kept up my subscription is to get the preview issues, which let me know what movies and television shows I might want to keep an eye out for in the upcoming season. So now that the Fall 2012 Movie Preview issue is out, it's time to dissect it and see what may be worth my time, what should be tossed in the memory hole, and what I'll misjudge and have to circle back around to later.

Some decisions are always altered by what the rest of pop culture society has to say about a project - people whose opinions I trust will deride something I thought looked good or convince me that something seemingly crappy is actually underrated. So, let's parcel these movies out into some flexible categories: Must-See, Pass, Rental, and TBD. August is almost behind us, so September... Whatcha got?

September 5:

For Ellen: The only description given is that this is about Paul Dano in a custody fight with his ex-wife. That's not really enough to form an opinion on, but it doesn't sound terribly interesting. (TBD, but likely Pass)

September 7:

Bachelorette: From the description (a group of rowdy friends living it up before a wedding), it sounds like the illegitimate love child of Bridesmaids and The Hangover. That could bode well or ill. The fact that it stars Lizzy Caplan, Isla Fisher, and Rebel Wilson is a good sign. Kirsten Dunst is less reliable, but is not enough of a detraction to avoid the movie. (Must-See, but possibly in Rental form)

Branded: From IMDb - "Set in a dystopian future where corporate brands have created a disillusioned population, one man's effort to unlock the truth behind the conspiracy will lead to an epic battle with hidden forces that control the world." And the biggest star under fifty is Leelee Sobieski. (Pass)

The Cold Light of Day: "After his family is kidnapped during their sailing trip in Spain, a young Wall Street trader is confronted by the people responsible: intelligence agents looking to recover a mysterious briefcase." So, a generic thriller. This movie features people who I either like or have nothing against (Henry Cavill, Bruce Willis, Sigourney Weaver), but I have no great interest in seeing it. If everyone loves it, I'll pop it on the Netflix queue. (Rental or Pass)

Hello I Must Be Going: This apparently made a splash at Sundance. It's about a 35-year-old divorcee (Melanie Lynskey), who moves back in with her parents, then unexpectedly falls for a 19-year-old (Christopher Abbott). That plot has the potential to be incredibly entertaining or incredibly annoying, so I'll have to see how the reviews look. (TBD)

The Inbetweeners Movie: I've never seen the TV show. (Pass)

The Words: Bradley Cooper is a struggling writer who finds a manuscript and publishes it as his own, which does not sit well with the original author (Jeremy Irons). That's an interesting concept, but the inclusion of flashbacks to post-WWII Paris so that we can see how the manuscript originally came to be sounds bloated, and does not fill me with glee. (TBD)

September 14:

Arbitrage: Richard Gere as a Bernie Madoff type of character. There's already festival and Oscar buzz surrounding his performance, but it doesn't sound like anything I have to rush to theaters to see. (Rental)

Finding Nemo 3D: A money grab. If I want to watch this movie again, the original is fine by me. (Pass)

Liberal Arts: Josh Radnor is a likeable guy, but as with the other affable dorky sitcom star (Zach Braff), the movies he directs are twee and uninteresting to me. Unless this gets terrific word-of-mouth, I'm out. (Pass)

The Master: The Scientology-but-not-really movie. Paul Thomas Anderson movies tend to be extremely interesting - if overly long - and I'd love to see what he does with Philip Seymour Hoffman and the idea of a 1950's spiritual movement. I may wait for the DVD, but wouldn't pass up a chance to catch it in theaters, either. (Must-See)

Resident Evil: Retribution: Ew. No. (Pass)

Stolen: Also known as Nicolas Cage attempting to steal the wind out of Liam Neeson's sails. If I wanted to see a low-rent Taken, I'd see Taken 2. (Pass)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Perhaps wisely, this is being marketed as Emma Watson's big entry into "real" movies after her Harry Potter run.

The article in the magazine devotes several paragraphs to that fact, and only this to the plot: "Charlie (a painfully shy high school freshman) is taken under the wing of two charismatic older students, Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller)." That's it. Not much to go on, eh? There's little chance I'll feel the need to head to a movie theater for this, but wouldn't mind renting it if the reviews are decent. (TBD)

September 21:

10 Years: "The night before their high school reunion, a group of friends realize they still haven't quite grown up in some ways." Judging by the cast list (which includes Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Chris Pratt, and Aubrey Plaza), this could be the next Can't Hardly Wait or a giant mess. I don't have enough to go on yet. (TBD)

Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best: "Two bandmates play kazoos and xylophones while road-tripping." Um. OK, then. (Pass)

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel: I still haven't gotten around to watching The September Issue, which has been sitting in my Netflix Instant queue for forever. It's unlikely I'll work up the time or inclination for this. (Pass)

Dredd 3D: No, but thanks. (Pass)

End of Watch: Two cops (Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña) battle a Los Angeles drug cartel. It's from the same guy who wrote Training Day, but he promises this is more about the bond of friendship between partners than corrupting power. I like the inclusion of Anna Kendrick and America Ferrera, but the plot is well-worn territory. A definite wait-and-see. (TBD)

House at the End of the Street: I've seen the trailer for this one, which despite starring the always-wonderful Jennifer Lawrence, seems to be a standard-issue Diet Creepy movie, along the lines of Paranormal Activity. It's likely I'll skip it, though I suppose I'll give it a whirl if it's received well. (Pass)

Trouble With the Curve: Every fall is stocked with several prestige pictures that sound like Grand Acting Showcases, but dull as dishwater. Sometimes I'm wrong about that (like I was with Moneyball), but hey, previews are all about first impressions, right? This film, starring Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, and Justin Timberlake, is about a reluctant daughter helping her ailing father with his duties as a baseball scout. That sounds so fucking boring. (Pass)

War of the Buttons: Two gangs of children face off in occupied France. Hmm. We'll see what the reviews say. (TBD)

September 28:

Bringing Up Bobby: A comedy about a European con-artist and her son Bobby, who find themselves in Oklahoma in an effort to escape her past and build a better future. I have nothing against Milla Jovovich - Action Star, but Milla Jovovich - Comedy Star? I'm not optimistic. (Pass)

Hotel Transylvania: An animated children's flick about a vampire that runs a hotel for other monsters and attempting to raise a vampire teenage daughter. Pros: Good plot idea. Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky. Cons: Stars Adam Sandler. I'll probably wind up seeing this if my sister and I are looking for something to do with my nephew, but otherwise, I'm content to let this one slip by. (Pass)

Looper: After the amazing experience of watching Brick, there's no way I'll miss Rian Johnson's time travel movie that stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt. Both Gordon-Levitt and Blunt have been happily proclaiming that this is among the best things they've ever taken part in, and I'm excited to see if it lives up to my expectations. This easily takes the spot as my most anticipated movie for September. (Must-See)

Starbuck: An adolescent, irresponsible man gets his girlfriend pregnant. As he tries to work through his relationship issues, he learns that thanks to his frequent sperm donations in the past, he is the father of 533 children, several of whom have filed a class-action suit demanding to know who their biological father is. This is worth a rental if I hear good things about it, but I doubt that if it passes by, I'll someday be weeping on my deathbed, full of regret for not having seen it. (Pass)

Won't Back Down: As with Trouble With the Curve up there, this movie about has an impressive cast, but a plot that bores me to tears. It stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, and Holly Hunter, and involves concerned women taking over a broken, inner-city school. I just can't imagine working up the interest to ever seek this out. (Pass)

Swan Song

I always enjoy Darren Aronofsky movies... When I'm in the mood for them. There's no coming home after a busy Thursday and thinking "Damn, I'm beat. I'm gonna kick back and unwind with The Fountain tonight!" But when seen in the right frame of mind, his films can utterly stun me.

Unfortunately, after missing Black Swan during its theatrical run, then sitting on the Netflix disc for three weeks, I finally decided that I had to stop wasting time and just watch the damn thing, even if I wasn't in an Aronofsky mood. The results were predictable: I could easily see why it was so acclaimed. I could easily see why the Academy gave Natalie Portman an Oscar. I could easily see why this took its place among the top of so many critics' lists. But I didn't really enjoy it.

I'm more than willing to lay the blame for that at my own feet rather than at the movie's. The stark portrayal of a ballet dancer unraveling as she strives for perfection was completely unnerving, and we're never quite sure whether we're seeing an event actually transpire or just a figment of the dancer's fraying psyche until it's pointed out to us. I felt the movie over-relied on shots of physical brutality in order to shock, but it would naturally be tempting to contrast the "perfect" body of a ballet dancer with the grisly aftermath of a broken toenail.

Someday, I'll probably rewatch this movie and be able to fully appreciate it. For now, I'm just satisfied that I've seen it for the sake of completion. It just wasn't an Aronofsky kind of night.

Black Swan: B-

Lifetime Pass: Bryan Fuller

Shall I compare Bryan Fuller to a summer's day? I don't think I will. Because summer is going to come out looking like a real chump. As with directors, writer/producer types don't usually stand out to me, and if they do, it's only to find them gloriously overrated. That would be J.J. Abrams' ears burning right about now.

There is only one writer/producer who has ever managed to capture my attention for good reasons, which would be notable even if he'd created a single show that entranced me. Bryan Fuller has not created that single show that bowled me over; he's created three.

He got his start after submitting a script to one of the newer Star Trek iterations, but what really caught my attention was a show that has firmly ensconced itself into my top five series of all time: Dead Like Me. By turns tragic, hilarious, and deeply thoughtful, it was an incredible show chronicling the afterlife of a young girl who dies and becomes a grim reaper, tasked with collecting souls of the dearly about-to-be-departed. It also kicked off the hallmark of a Bryan Fuller production - it was appallingly underrated and unceremoniously yanked off the air. If that had been the end, I would have been disappointed, but glad that I'd gotten one great show out of the deal.

But no! Next came Wonderfalls, a charming show about a slacker who works at a Niagara Falls gift shop, and when the tchotchkes begin to talk to her, she has to decide whether or not to listen to the ambiguous tasks they keep assigning her. I liked it, but it was the next show that really blew me away. Pushing Daisies was exactly suited to my tastes. It was funny, morbid, colorful, and a thousand other things besides, and I was totally in love with it.

Just like Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me before it, Pushing Daisies didn't last long enough. Bryan Fuller then went on to work on the first season of Heroes (aka the good one). At this point, his Hall of Fame status with me is sealed - it just seems like whatever he does, I'm sure to adore it.

He currently has two typically-strange projects in the making: A updated version of The Munsters and a show about Hannibal Lecter before he put all those nice ladies down the well. The topics don't even matter. From this point on, any show that Bryan Fuller puts on the air is one I'll be watching.

Shorties #3

It's time to tear through some more shorties! Vroom!

#1: Why We Broke Up: I read this between Taft 2012 and the John Connelly books, but it somehow fell through the cracks. I don't know why, as I generally love Daniel Handler books. Though not my favorite of his, this one is certainly in the top three. It's a series of notes from a teenage girl to her ex-boyfriend, ruminating over the dissolution of their relationship as she returns all the items that remind her of them as a couple. Each item is also given an illustration, and the total package really encapsulates the diary-like remembrances of an adolescent protagonist, sure that the world is ending because her high school relationship fell apart. (Grade: B+)

#2: Stephen Fry in America: I love Stephen Fry, and I love programs that explore these United States of ours, so what's not to love about combining the two? Unfortunately, there's plenty. While there are glimmers of both the character of our country and the sparkling wit of Mr. Jeeves, they were too few and far between in this program.

The biggest problem was the pacing. With fifty states to get through, Fry often drops by a state, makes a couple of observations (often about the most obvious characteristic of that state - Maine is a short conversation with lobster fishermen, while Vermont is reduced to a Ben & Jerry's tasting) and leaves. If more time was given to a wry humorist's reactions to our often-crazy land, this would have been a gem. As it is, it felt forced and rushed. (Grade: B-)

#3: The Wire - Season 2: When I first dove into The Wire for the Pop Culture Homework Project, I was relieved to find that it more than lived up to its hype. It was a riveting dramatization of the intricacies of an inner city drug culture, and the ways society is ill-equipped to handle it. I had heard that each season tackles a different aspect of this doomed society, which intrigued me all over again. Season 2 was a much slower burn than Season 1. I mean that as a compliment sometimes, but it didn't quite work here. Season 2 focused on the dying port industry, corrupt unions, and organized crime, while still tying in the storylines of the drug kingpins from Season 1, and yet with all of these topics to explore, it somehow dragged a bit. It was still eminently watchable, and superbly acted, with one exception. James Ransone (Ziggy) sticks out as the sorest thumb ever bashed with a hammer. I'll definitely continue watching The Wire, but I'm hoping Season 3 amps this series up a bit. (Grade: B-)

#4: Big Babies: My sister has an extensive library, so when I visit, I sometimes like to select a book almost at random, and if it looks the least bit interesting, I'll borrow it for a while. Last time, I took home two of Sherwood Kiraly's books, and read this one first. It was so boring that I almost just skipped writing about it, because there's so little to say. The plot involves two brothers, each losers in their own way, trying to improve their lives in whatever small way they can, but attempting to expand on that has a soporific effect on me that I have no interest in shaking. After I finished this book off, I didn't even bother to crack the other one. (Grade: C)

#5: Michael Clayton: I was at a friend's house the other evening to watch a movie, and he rattled off a list of titles for me to choose from. I had seen all of the offerings previously, but of all of them, Michael Clayton was the one I remembered the least about. I knew I had liked it, and I knew that Tilda Swinton is awesome, and totally deserved the Oscar she won for it, but a lot of the film's details had faded. I'm glad I watched it again, because it reminded me of what a tightly-scripted thriller it is. George Clooney deftly straddles the line as a character who is equally admired and unappreciated. Tilda Swinton is perfect as a woman who can calmly handle the savagery of business, but becomes increasingly frantic at the thought of losing a modicum of respect or control. The conspiracy aspect of the plot never spirals out of control, and is chillingly realistic - particularly a clinical assassination that is nearly silent and swiftly carried out. It's a great movie, and will definitely stick in my brain this time around. (Grade: A-)

Save the Date: Call the Midwife

Event: Call the Midwife - American premiere
Date: Sunday, September 30

Stop me if you've heard this one. A British period drama series with some stalwart actors has a short episode run on BBC and becomes an immediate sensation, then gets shipped to America a few months later. Of course you've heard that one - it's called Downton Abbey, and it's one of the most amazing shows I've ever seen. How great would it be to get in on the ground floor of something like that?

Well, here's our chance! Call the Midwife is a British period drama series with some stalwart actors, and has had a short episode run on BBC, becoming an immediate sensation. And about a month from now, it'll be shipped to America.

I'll admit that the plot seems like kind of a hard sell: It follows a newly-qualified midwife working with the nuns of a nursing convent in a low-income section of London in the 1950s. But with the pedigree behind this show, you can bet I'll be tuning in on September 30, hoping to catch some more lightning in a bottle.

Dream Come True

As I've already mentioned, I have higher standards for documentaries than I might have for other types of movies. I freely admit I can be pretty picky about the non-fictional subject matter I want to consume. There's no guarantee that I'll enjoy a movie, even if I enjoy the subject matter, but starting with a topic that intrigues me is always a good start.

There was never any question about whether I'd watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi or not. The second I heard of this movie's existence, it went on my list. Sushi happens to be an obsession of mine, and so of course I was immediately interested in hearing about an eighty-five year old sushi chef who has become a national treasure in Japan, akin to what Julia Child is to us Americans. Naturally, the movie delves into Sukiyabashi Jiro's background, his work ethic, and his restaurant's perfect, three-star Michelin rating, all of which was absolutely fascinating.

That kind of information would go into any biographical documentary, though. What makes this movie special are the additional stories it develops. Sourcing good fish is an essential part of top-quality sushi, and I heartily enjoyed seeing the visits to the local fish markets, where vendors are often insanely knowledgeable, but only about one particular type of fish. The background info on the underchefs in the kitchen, and the amount of work and dedication they have to put into their careers was also amazing to watch; some of them are made to work for a decade before they're allowed anywhere near certain menu items.

What really makes this film extraordinary, though, is the familial relationships of Jiro and his two sons. He trained both of them in a very strict, traditional Japanese manner. The eldest patiently serves at his father's side, ready to accept the mantle of responsibility once Jiro retires (or dies - one gets the sense that the sweet embrace of the grave is the only thing that will keep him from his kitchen). He accepts this role without question; it's the only thing he's ever been groomed for. And yet, he also knows that his father is the one that carries the reputation. He readily admits that he'll have to be twice as skilled as his father ever was to keep the customers once he's in charge. The younger son opened a sushi restaurant of his own, and purposely makes it a much more laid-back experience than his father's location. He's more than willing to make less money in order to avoid having to live up to an impossible standard.

This almost monarchical story, combined with seemingly endless beauty shots of the sushi itself, kept me totally enraptured. Even those who do not like sushi would find much to enjoy in this as purely a movie, but for those of us who would sell our plasma for some tasty unagi, this film is pitch perfect.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: A-

The Thrill of Victory, The Agony of NBC

I can't claim to be anything more than a casual sports fan. I like going to games more for the society than the competition. I like watching football games with friends more for the snacks than the gridiron. I educate myself enough to avoid sounding like an idiot when discussing certain sports, but that's about the extent of my fandom. The Olympics, however, are an entirely different animal. I love the Olympics. That is to say, I love the idea of the Olympics. The execution can certainly be less than stellar, but as an overall concept and experience, I always look forward to them.

The London 2012 summer games have just come to an end, and I already miss them. Not that watching them was a perfect entertainment experience - far from it - but when the Olympics are on, I always have a fuzzy feeling of warmth and goodwill. But enough of all this cheeriness! Let's coldly dissect how these particular games went!

Opening Ceremonies

London had a lot to prove after the jaw-dropping spectacle of Beijing in 2008. And frankly? They blew it. Filmmaker Danny Boyle has done some great work, but this was not amongst his finest. The Beijing ceremonies embraced all that can be done with masses of people and cutting-edge technology. The London ceremony started with... Peasant women leading cows around and and men in top hats gravely stroking their chins. Ostensibly, Boyle wanted to paint a living picture of Britain's history, but that's not what we got. Here's what we got:

33% devoted to boring, old-timey playacting - This would be the aforementioned peasants and industrialists.

33% devoted to a salute to texting - No, really. A retrospective of music to accompany the fascinating story of two modern kids trying to hook up, all presented via low-rent So You Think You Can Dance choreography.

33% devoted to recognizing cliched things that are British - Hey! Did you know that Voldemort is British? Here he is! And... Let's see... Ooh! Mary Poppins is British! And Mr. Bean is British! And we have a queen! She's pretty British! I'm surprised they didn't drop figgy pudding on the crowd.

1% devoted to adoration of the British health care system - I mean, yay and everything. I wish America had a similar health care system, but really? You want part your grand pageant to be presented across the entire world to sing the praises of the bureaucratic methods of keeping people healthy? You couldn't get the ode to efficient train scheduling done on time?

The one thing about the Opening Ceremonies that worked was the apparent liquid formation of the Olympic rings, which then ascended into the air. That was pretty cool.

The Events

Ah, the meat of the Olympics. So how did they stack up? Well, from the limited amount of events I was able to witness (which we'll get to in a bit), they were pretty damned awesome. Some of the synchronized diving made me gasp with delight. I cringed in anticipation and anxiety every time a gymnast looked like she was about to crack her skull open on the balance beam. And some routines out-and-out made my jaw drop to the floor.

And sure, there are always events that fail to get a single droplet of my blood pumping (that would be beach volleyball's anthropomorphic ears burning right about now), but for the most part, it's always thrilling to see athleticism at its finest.

The Coverage

How to put this delicately? NBC fucking sucks a metric ton of donkey balls. There isn't much they weren't able to screw up. Curiously, one of the most widespread complaints is something I had no problem with at all - the time delay. Great Britain is several hours ahead of us. If Americans wanted to watch events live, we'd have to be in front of our televisions in the middle of a weekday afternoon, which many of us cannot swing. To my mind, there's nothing wrong with airing event footage during primetime.

Of course, that assumes that they're actually showing events. You'd be forgiven for thinking that the Olympics should just change its name to Swimnastics after the coverage that we got. I like the swimming and gymnastics events, but I would have liked to have seen some other things as well. Archery. Wrestling. Table tennis. Some kind of variety. But no, it was swim, swim, dive, swim, gymnastics, beach volleyball, gymnastics, swim, gymnastics, beach volleyball, and then maybe some gymnastics.

That laser-like focus was bad enough, but then they had to narrow it even further, and only deigned to discuss certain athletes. And I'm not even just talking about focusing on Americans, with barely a thought given to, you know, the other countries that are competing in this international event. They pre-judged who would be the stars of the games, and then concentrated on those people, even when their performances did not justify the attention. Ryan Lochte is the new Michael Phelps! Except for the winning-all-the-medals part! Jordyn Wieber came into these games with a world championship under her belt, so let's talk all about her, even when it becomes clear that she contributes no more to the gymnastics team than any other member. I realize that Americans are keen to know how Americans are doing at the games, but I really wish NBC would have spread the wealth a little.

If they had, though, I suppose we would have been treated to more commentary and interviews, both of which were blood-curdlingly awful this year. A sampling:

-Talking about the Arctic Monkeys' cover of a Beatles song...during the song. Shut up so we can hear it for ourselves!

-Cutting away from the Opening Ceremonies (during a memorial tribute to terrorism victims, no less) for a canned Ryan Seacrest interview with Michael Phelps.

-Meredith Viera and Matt Lauer laughingly admitting that they'd never heard of Tim Berners-Lee during his tribute. If only they worked at a news organization and had access to facts!

-Referring to Madagascar in the Parade of Nations by saying there are kids' movies named that, too. Ugh.

-Asking a girl who just won a gold medal in the most intense athletic competition in the world how she feels about Justin Bieber.

-"What was your strategy in giving Michael the lead?" "Um. To give him a lead."

-"She's building to a difficult dismount, which will come at the end of her routine."

-"[This diver] is facing the water, which is where he'll end up."

Crap like that, in addition to the sappy, pre-packaged hometown hero stories, made the Olympics a much more frustrating enterprise than it needed to be. I want to see lots of events, lots of countries, and intelligent commentary. I got none of that. NBC will point to their ratings and claim that they must be doing something right, ignoring the fact that people who wanted any access to the games were forced to accept their shitty coverage. It's not like viewers flocked to their network because it was doing such an awesome job.

The Overall Experience

Still, if it's a choice between disappointing coverage and no coverage, I'll begrudgingly accept the former. I'd change a lot of things about how the Olympics are presented, but I still had grand fun watching some of these events, and am already looking forward to the next games. The piss poor coverage may have dampened my enthusiasm a bit, but the Olympics will always have an iron grip on my heart.

Brick Rolled

While spending the evening over at a friend's apartment recently, he suggested watching something from his collection that I hadn't seen, and stopped short with an "Ooh!" when he ran across the 2005 movie Brick. It had been on my radar for a long while, but I'd never gotten around to it, and here was the perfect opportunity. Now I'm mad, because if it was crappy, I had a ready-made post title in mind: "Brick Shithouse". But then it had the nerve to be all good, so I'm stuck with a dumb pun about a dumb internet meme.

Brick is essentially a hard-boiled noir detective story, except all of the characters are modern-era high school students. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Brendan, who attempts to solve the mystery of what has embroiled his ex-girlfriend in a mess of trouble, and her subsequent murder. His investigations lead him to tangles with the star of the drama department, the local stoner gang, and a crime boss who lives with his mom. As with any good noir, as Brendan gets closer to solving the mystery, his life is increasingly imperiled.

Everything is done well in this film, from locations to script to acting. The plot is twisty, but never spirals out of control. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is really becoming one of this generation's most thoughtful actors, and I'm continually impressed by his range. Brick was the directorial debut of Rian Johnson, and after such an impressive first-showing, I'm excited to check out his other work. American society is often too caught up in blockbusters and franchises and remakes and Oscar bait and incestuous comedy teams, so I feel like when a quietly remarkable movie comes along and just exists as its own entity, attention must be paid.

Brick: B+

Game of Groans

It's times like these that I'm glad this blog is just my little file cabinet in the corner of the internet, and not some kind of ultra-linked phenomenon. Who knows what hellstorm of nerd rage I would bring upon myself after this?

After finishing the first Game of Thrones book for the Pop Culture Homework Project, I was confused as to why it was so popular. I gave it a B, thinking that while the sprawling story wasn't great as a standalone property, I could envision it laying some promising groundwork for the books ahead. I went ahead and dove into the second book of the series, A Clash of Kings, hoping for some better story development instead of all that exposition.


Instead of focusing the story down onto the important characters of the first book, this one sprawls even wider. Character after character is introduced, then abandoned so we can move on to the next one. What to do with all these new faces? Kill them, of course! I've read several comments intimating that Martin is a fearless writer for having the guts to kill off so many characters, but I can't agree. In order to make death have any kind of resonance with the reader, be it to horrify them or provide a vicarious thrill from seeing a bad guy get his comeuppance, you have to develop a character first. People are constantly getting gutted in this story, but since Martin hasn't bothered to give them any personality, I never care one way or the other; it's hard to get worked up over someone abusing a paper doll. When Joss Whedon killed off a character in the Buffyverse, it had weight, because he put in the time to make them an actual character with feelings and motivation. Here, so many people are killed so offhandedly, the deaths don't earn any emotional response, either positive or negative.

Add to this some almost laughable flaws in the writing itself. In one scene, two characters at odds with one another reluctantly trade information. It's played up as a tense confrontation, like a super-villain and James Bond feeling each other out. Except that since chapters have followed both of these characters' stories, we the reader already know all the information being traded.

When I first began this book, I was looking forward to seeing how a struggle for power among several factions would play out. By the time I was halfway through, slogging through this story became more homework than Homework Project. At some point, I may pick up the third book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, but for now, I need a break from Westeros. A long one.

A Clash of Kings: C-
Copyright © Slice of Lime