We Should Have Stayed in That Cave

[[very mild spoilers season 1 and season 4]]

After much procrastination I finally am watching Game of Thrones. I tried watching the first episode way back when. I thought it was stupid and boring. Too many plot lines, too many characters, the costumes silly. I couldn’t keep anyone straight. So many dark haired men in leather armor! So many women in bad wigs and sumptuous gowns! Borrring.

Then my husband announced we have a temporarily free subscription to HBO, and with it HBO GO via roku. HBO! They have a lot of good documentaries! And indeed I watched a few, including one about a veterans’ suicide prevention helpline. Did you know a US military veteran or active serviceman kills himself at the rate of roughly one man per hour, every day? That’s more fatalities than the recent wars put together. Anyway it was very well done, very sad, but too short. I hate short documentaries. They always make me feel cheated.

But there is no dearth of Game of Thrones. Since I never watched it before I theoretically had six seasons to plow through. It was so stupid last time you watched it (I said to myself)! But maybe you would like it this time around (I also said to myself). After much inner deliberation I pressed PLAY.

I still thought that first episode was stupid, however, Tyrion (the amazing Peter Dinklage) snagged me in his dialogue with Jon Snow. All dwarves are bastards in their father’s eyes. Such nuance, gravitas and wry humor in one man! Peter Dinklage, as they say in The Station Agent, is THE MAN! So I kept watching.

I still thought it was silly, perverted, way too violent. Could you please spare me yet another chopped off head? SO much sex. Gay sex, hooker sex, sadist sex, incest sex, underaged sex, interracial sex, rape after rape. I’m no feminist but I shudder to think how women would fare if George RR Martin ruled the world.

Yet… somewhere mid season one I was hooked. It wasn’t just about Dinklage anymore. I was asking my son (a rabid GOT fan) questions. How did Tyrion meet Ser Bronn? Why exactly did Daenyrus kill the black guy? I was in tears over the kidnapped baby dragons, and further along wept as Jon Snow cradled a dying Ygritte in his arms. We should have stayed in that cave Jon Snow

So would I recommend this series to my gentle readers? Uh, not sure. It ain’t exactly family programming, though apparently every family on the planet has watched it. It is a brilliant story, or rather a series of brilliant stories within other brilliant stories, the characters are beautifully villainous and multifaceted, but somehow I’m left with the same feeling as having eaten a sicky sweet, overly rich slice of cake when the credits roll. Gird yer stomachs men, and forward march!

Zootopia Looks Like Staten Island

After all the hype, after my mother raved about it, after my children raved about it– including my 19 year old nerd son with ice in the veins– after my daughter put the dvd on view for her psych ward– I watched Zootopia once it was on netflix. I’ll reserve my observations for a future post, but I could not help but notice that the city of Zootopia greatly resembles Staten Island.

zoo1

zoo2

staten-island

I’ll note this: if having a tiny bunny on the police force is novel, how does Zootopia police its rodent population? That doesn’t make sense.

The Terminator

Somehow I managed to reach the tender age of 42 never having viewed The Terminator. I’d seen one of the later iterations, and more recently my husband forced me so sit through Terminator Genisys (a painful experience). Since his company has put out some Terminator books, I decided to finally watch the original version to see what exactly has been paying the catholic school tuition.

  • There are a lot of car chases and gunfire. At least 80% of the movie contains either a car chase, or gunfire. It gave me a headache.
  • While Linda Hamilton is a decent actress, the Sarah Connor character utterly lacks gravitas. Her pet iguana has more depth. No way can I believe the savior of humanity issues from her loins.
  • Michael Beihn is very good as Kyle Reese, the hardened time-traveling soldier sent through time to rescue Sarah. The love story between them is kind of sweet, and in theory could occur in an infinite loop.
  • Arnold is brilliant as the terminator. What stage presence! And hardly any lines. I asked my husband how he was cast for the role, and he says James Cameron got the idea for a near-silent character from Conan the Barbarian, where Arnold likewise barely speaks.

conan-the-barbarian-arnold-schwarzenegger-movie-image
strong silent type

  • I find it impossible to believe a ragtag, starving army of humans would have any chance against robots and cyborgs. If the robot apocalypse ever does transpire, we’re toast.
  • On that note, the portrait of humanity portrayed in The Terminator is so grim (note how Sarah is mistreated as a waitress) one wonders why it’s worth saving.
  • Squishing the terminator works, but blowing him up multiple times with nitroglycerin doesn’t work. This doesn’t make sense.
  • Why does Sarah embark to Mexico to wait out the robot apocalypse? If anything life will be worse in post-apocalyptic Mexico than in the states, particularly for a single woman traveling alone. In fact, life is so dangerous for women along the border that female migrants go on birth control so they won’t get pregnant when (not if) they’re raped during the crossing.
  • Where did Sarah get the money for the new vehicle and german shepherd? My sister’s german shepherd cost nearly $2000.

So, would I recommend this film? I guess, if only because it has grown iconic to our society. For example, I never knew the precise context of “I’ll be back” until now. As my husband informed during the final credits: My dear, you’ve officially been inducted to geekdom.

Vikings Better than Vikings

When I wrote my review of BBC’s The Last Kingdom I had not yet finished the 8 episode season. Binge watching is difficult with so many kids nipping at my ankles, my four year old being the absolute worst in this regard. When she’s awake she asks for something or requests my audience at regular 1-3 minute intervals. Sometimes she just wants to stare at me like a creepy stalker, or press her face against my stomach. It may sound cute- and it is, for the first few hours- but after 14 straight hours of being followed, demanded upon, and clung to, I’m ready to lock myself in the bathroom with shaking hands. Then she crams her hands through the space under the door, like the clever velociraptors in Jurassic Park.

Anyway, while in the midst of trying to watch The Last Kingdom in three minute intervals I recommended it to my 14 year old daughter who is the one who clued me in to Vikings (which she watched while in Game of Thrones withdrawal). I warned her it wasn’t as good as Vikings and seemed much lower budget. However, like Vikings, it includes a wonderful bromance- between Uhtred and Leofric. She managed to burn through all 8 episodes in 24 hours and returned the next day with the pronouncement: Mom, it’s better than Vikings!

But what could be better than Vikings when it comes to vikings? Maybe I just wasn’t ready to be unfaithful to King Ragnar, but by the time I did finish The Last Kingdom I realized she was correct. The Last Kingdom is far more cerebral, nuanced, and sophisticated in terms of characterization than is Vikings. I’m going to assume this is because the book series it’s based on is well written- next time I place an order on amazon I’m going to buy it.

King Alfred (played by David Dawson) comes to the fore in brilliant manner as the season unfolds, both while in exile and in a decisive battle against the viking hordes. While my husband kept accusing me of watching yet another viking series to ogle the hunky danes, King Alfred is by far my favorite character in the series and is beautifully played by Dawson.

the-last-kingdom-alfred-david-dawson
world conquest in his eyes

A surprise close favorite to Alfred is his nephew Aetholwold. I won’t give anything away, but Aetholwold is faced with a moral crossroads that could have altered the course of human history. And the scene where Aethelwold deflects attention from Uhtred during their dual punishment is priceless and not to be missed.

The vikings are given less screen time in this series, though The Scariest Viking Award goes to Skorpa (played by Swedish actor Jonas Malmsjo). For some reason he always has blood on his mouth and a deranged look in his eyes.

skorpa
someone had a low carb breakfast

So, if I haven’t yet convinced you to watch Vikings, I better have convinced you to watch The Last Kingdom! On that note the four year old just woke up. Like Skorpa, I think she would eat me for breakfast if she could.

Uhtred Son of Uhtred

While in Vikings withdrawal I noticed a series on Netflix called The Last Kingdom. It had a lot of stars (viewer ratings, not actors) so I gave it a try.

It was quickly evident that The Last Kingdom is a BBC spinoff on Vikings, focusing on the same historical era but from the vantage point- more or less- of the Saxons. Uhtred of Bebbanburg is the true-to-history protagonist, a saxon lord by birth but adopted by vikings, raised as a firebrand, trinity denying warrior.

While The Last Kingdom is not as “sexy” as Vikings, we get lots of battle scenes, Saxon-Dane historicity, quasi rape scenes and sparknotes on King Alfred the Great, albeit all on a seemingly lower budget. I also got the sense, while watching this, that this was all based on a book (why I don’t know). And sure enough it is. The Saxon Stories, by Bernard Cornwell is the inspiration for the series.

Alexander Dreymon (a german actor who speaks english without accent) is good, but not necessarily great, as the oft beleaguered Uhtred son of Uhtred; some Christ innuendos are not unintended, but you have to watch it to see! David Dawson is simply phenomenal as the seething yet intellectual King Alfred the Great- he even looks like the ancient portraits of the true king! However the king is given less screen time than the sword wielding Uhtred, but to no ill effect.

I have to say the series plays delicately and notably with the visceral conflicts young Uhtred experiences between cultures. This is something I can identify with personally, as someone who was raised Christian but received tremendous “cultural” influence from Judaism. Just as Uhtred is caught between two worlds, I often feel caught between two religions. At times his fictitious plight brought me to tears; I neither believe in Jesus as Christians do, nor do I disbelieve in him as Jews do. Perhaps I should just settle for Hinduism.

Either way The Last Kingdom is highly recommended to any fans of Vikings!

Vikings

[spoiler free]

Years ago when I read of History Channel’s concept for a dramatized series about vikings I thought: lame. And didn’t give it another thought until a few months ago, when my 14 year old, in between marathon study sessions, binge watched it on amazon prime. She raved over the addictive plot, and the amazing bromance between Ragnar and Athelstan. Intrigued, and because there was a huge hole in my life since finishing The Sopranos, I hid downstairs to watch episode 1.

Still lame! The pacing was choppy, dialogue stilted, and former underwear model Travis Fimmel (Ragnar) obviously didn’t go to Julliard. At times he seemed to struggle to remember his lines. I tossed the remote aside and went back to life.

The next day my daughter cornered me in the kitchen. So what did I think? Isn’t Athelstan cute? Had I caught Viking fever?

“Uh… it was ok.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Did you at least watch episode 2 where they invade the monastery at Northumbria?”

Wait what? Monastery invasion? My ears perked up, as years ago I read a beautiful book featuring precisely that- Beorn the Proud, about a young viking boy who befriends an Irish girl taken captive. (In fact, I believe the book’s Beorn is based on Ragnar’s son (spelled Bjorn in the television series.)) It’s a beautifully written book that I still reflect upon often.

At soonest opportunity I was hiding downstairs again, this time for episode 2, and sure enough I caught viking fever. The scene where Ragnar’s group of warriors invades the monastery is one of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever witnessed on screen. And somehow Fimmel’s not-so-great acting begins to work for the gruff yet thoughtful Ragnar- kind of like Keanu Reeves’ golden retriever stare worked in The Matrix. The cinematography is outstanding, the writing by and large excellent, the music hauntingly beautiful. While it’s obvious most of the vikings are played by actors better at stunts than soliloquizing, it manages to dovetail into a mesmerizing blend of history and theater. And even for the squeamish, such as myself, it gets addictive watching the vikings kick everyone’s ass.

Of course, the real question for any woman watching this show is: ROLLO OR RAGNAR? Choices, choices. Rollo is a brute force kind of guy, while Ragnar tends to scheme quietly before launching into shock and awe.

rollo
Rollo: I like fast women and violating slave girls

ragnar
Ragnar: I like conquering the world and impregnating women

Of course, for those who prefer white collar guys, there’s always Athelstan. He looks cute in viking clothes.

athelstan
speak latin to me

Here I’ll have to plead the fifth.

As an important blogger, I did exhaustive research into the historicity of the show, and it turns out it’s surprisingly true to history, though some historical figures are swapped, and timelines tweaked, for the sake of the plot. You’ll also learn a great deal of Norse theology in watching this show; any pregnant women out there might want to start praying to Freya.

So it’s a must watch! The first three seasons are available on Amazon Prime.

Calories in Squirrel Meat

[essentially spoiler free]

Early in season 5 of The Walking Dead we see Daryl enter stage left adorned with a mantle of dead squirrels. This made me wonder: exactly what caloric or other nutritional value does squirrel meat offer? Even a fat squirrel is a small creature, so how much nourishment could a single squirrel provide our band of survivalists?

Most meat has roughly the same caloric and protein content: about 50-70 calories, and 7ish grams of protein per ounce (interestingly, the same applies to a single chicken egg). Squirrel meat, according to the internet, is no different- clocking in at approximately 50 calories per ounce.

But how much meat does a squirrel yield? There are a surprising number of sites dedicated to the slaughter and preparation of squirrel. And eyeballing some of the pictures, like this one:

squirrel
(source)

…I’d guestimate it’s 4 ounces of meat, maybe closer to 3 when you pick out the bones. (I’ve been weighing everything I eat for two years now, I’m a good gauge of portion size.)

So poor Daryl expends all that effort, and all those arrows, for 150 calories per squirrel. I bet he uses more energy hunting those critters than he obtains from them. Also I’m fairly certain his manly crossbow would rip apart a squirrel on contact, but his squirrels are perfectly intact and bloodless

All this begs the obvious question: if squirrels can flourish in the zombie apocalypse, why not other animals like bears, boars, deer, rabbits, even cats and dogs! Hell, buffalo could make a comeback with their prairies no longer relegated to modern agriculture. Surely Daryl could utilize his epic crossbow skills to conquer larger, more practical game? One is reminded of Little House on the Prairie where a single bear sustained the family through winter.

The Well-Fed Zombie Apocalypse

[contains spoilers through early season 5 WD]

I was never much of a TV watcher, even as a kid. In fact I watched absolutely no TV for most of my teenage years, and in my young adulthood discovered only one show I bothered to tune into: The X-Files.

Then I met, and married, my husband. Because he works in the entertainment field he calls watching TV “work.” And he worked a lot. I more than once quipped I had married the back of someone’s head.

Since life is long and lonely I occasionally joined him. I grew fond of Voyager and completely obsessed with Enterprise. Then came a lot of breastfeeding babies, and Netflix. Instead of lying in bed like a mindless lactating cow, I could instead perch before Netflix like a mindless American. I watched all of Battlestar Galactica while nursing my now 4 year old. And once done with that I ventured into a land I never dared tread- the horror genre- and tried the much touted Walking Dead while my daughter gulped at my breast.

“Remember the zombies are just makeup…” my husband reassured, and sure enough I was hooked. I still maintain the first season is outstanding and a must-see, even if, like me, you’re averse to gore. It goes downhill from there and by season 4 I was done. It was just stupid.

Yet the siren’s call of Netflix persisted, and once season 5 was added I sat down for an episode. Herein follow my thoughts on the first few episodes of season 5.

gratuitous gore
Maybe the writers were desperate but there is simply too much gratuitous slime, violence, and blood in the opening episodes (I’m up to episode 4). Yeah, I know we’re dealing with cannibals. But do they really have to show it? I mean sometimes less is more, kwim?

Nor do I understand why people are resorting to cannibalism when in theory wildlife should be teeming against a decimated human population (zombies aren’t smart enough to hunt).

magic car batteries
As with previous seasons car batteries are miraculously up and at ’em after years sitting around untouched. If I don’t drive my 10 year old van for a couple weeks, the battery’s dead as a doornail and AAA charges (no pun intended) to the rescue.

normal to overweight BMI
The thinnest BMI amongst our survivors is in the 18-19 range, with most presenting in the 22ish range, plus a few corpulent survivors. That’s right, even in the most dire of survivalist settings people manage to maintain a high/normal BMI. Some are even steroid-buff (Tyreese and Abraham).

abraham
big muscles- and token white hispanic- apocalypse style

Yet we rarely see them obtain food, or even eat. Sure there are the occasional grocery runs for a cartful of canned food, and Daryl betimes rustles up squirrels, but there isn’t nearly enough food prep nor feasting for our motley crew to remain so plump and lively.

I shop for and prepare food for a household of ten people. Even with the modern conveniences of Costco and a functioning kitchen, it is essentially a full time job to ensure everyone is well fed and content. Yet somehow the cast of WD manages to maintain a normal weight while constantly fighting zombies, slaying enemy camps, indulging in profound dialogue over the nature of existence, all while unchained to the stove.

modest female zombies
Perhaps the zombie plague disproportionately impacted haredi jews and the FLDS. The majority of female zombies sport modest, ankle-covering skirts, long sleeved blouses, and long hair (I gues the FLDS braids came undone in the mayhem). Look out in your daily life and tell me how many women are sporting long hair and full-length skirts. Not a lot. Yet somehow in the zombie apocalypse, women are concerned about looking feminine.

***

That all being said season 5 isn’t nearly as bad as I anticipated. In fact it touches profoundly upon themes of religion, the human struggle, and choices we face when desperate. This is the backbone of the series and the main reason I continue to watch, even if apathetically.

Don’t tell me what happens in season 6, as I can’t stay up past 9pm.

The Sopranos

[spoiler free]

The Sopranos is one of those shows my husband watched but I didn’t, since he had access to HBO while spending lots of time in hotels for work. He would come home and relate divers tales from the series for me, but it didn’t sound like my cup of tea. With the exception of Lilyhammer I’ve never been a fan of mobster entertainment- The Godfather puts me to sleep faster than unisom.

Yet needing distraction, when I noticed Amazon Prime offers The Sopranos I tried it out. I had no idea the show was so good. It reminds me of Breaking Bad, so much so that I’d be surprised if The Sopranos didn’t serve as creative fodder for Vince Gilligan. Both shows possess rich character development, quirky glimpses into crime worlds, quick story pacing and goofy, brainy humor. In that respect The Sopranos was definitely cutting edge for its time, premiering in 1999. While we now expect strong character development and deft plots from TV, up to that point it was rare if unheard of for a televised series to de facto mimic feature films (interestingly, The Sopranos was originally going to be a movie).

I remained mesmerized through the first few seasons, but put the brakes on binge watching because 1) I’d like to savor it and 2) I’m worried it’s going to jump the shark as did Big Love– what a disappointment that show turned out to be! The last season of Big Love was so boring it was unwatchable.

So here are my thoughts on various and sundry characters.

TONY SOPRANO
I’m not sure why Tony is so likable. Is it James Gandolfini who is likable, or the character? Granted, I’m no mafia movie connoisseur but I don’t think there’s ever been a “boss” character like Tony. He’s kind of dorky, a bit of a mush, and overthinks things. You almost get the impression that, had he been born to a different life, he might have been an English professor. [The theme of being trapped by the world you’re born into- mob related or not- is an ongoing motif of the series.]

DR. MELFI
I know she’s supposed to be smart and highly educated, but she comes across as braindead during the therapy sessions with her slow, breathy comments. I’m not sure what Tony sees in her. However the psychiatric context allows a convenient narrative “in” for Tony to disclose his inner workings.

CARMELA SOPRANO
Carmela is an interesting character. I didn’t like her at first but found her ardent faith in the Catholic Church, and her never-ending patience with Tony, touching. A remarkable feature of Sopranos is that it offers likable and multidimensional characters that go against the grain of what is typically offered by Hollywood. Carmela is unabashedly a “homemaker” and she’s displayed as such in an endearing light.

TONY’S KIDS
I don’t know if it’s the casting or scripts but Tony’s kids were a bust for me. Both AJ and Meadow rub me the wrong way and I think they would have been better cast with different actors. I know it’s always touch and go with child actors, especially if they have to “grow up” over the series, but the scenes including the kids are the weakest points in the episodes.

TONY’S MOM
Livia Soprano is one of the more amazing characters I’ve seen on screen. As with the outlier of a positive housewife in Carmela, who expects to see an astounding old lady character on TV? Nancy Marchand plays the part beautifully as a dark, scheming, brutally pragmatic fury.

JUNIOR
Another Hollywood outlier as far as characters go. A scrawny old man with bad glasses is a dark but hilarious entity in the crime world.

CHRISTOPHER
Christopher is by far my favorite character. One of Tony’s goons, he initially comes across as simplistic but as the show unfolds you realize his motivations and allegiances are profoundly complex. In a way he represents the crux between “old school” mobsters and the modern world. This is another concept repeatedly brought forth in the scripts, and not only in relation to the criminal element: the decline of society from a traditional, conservative system to a politically correct quagmire lacking decency or boundaries.

FOOD
I know food isn’t a character, but it may as well be on Sopranos. In addition to constant product placement, sumptuous Italian meals seem to appear in every other scene, with characters wolfing it down in between dialogue. I had to wonder- if many takes of each scene were necessary, were the actors basically eating nonstop during filming? I know during food commercials actors will spit out food in between takes, so they don’t get sick (I knew a lady who did a banana commercial. She spat out an entire bucket of bananas over the course of a day) but these guys are actually eating. No wonder poor James Gandolfini gained a ton of weight! As good as Sopranos is theatrically, it also serves readily as food porn. There had to have been culinary consultants for the show.

Big Love

[spoiler free]

Some years ago my husband, who was spending a lot of time in hotels for business, told me about the series Big Love. We didn’t subscribe to HBO at home but he was free to enjoy an array of cable shows. I didn’t exactly feel deprived though, because a dramedy about polygamy sounded, well, stupid.

But when I noticed the series on amazon prime recently I decided to give it a try. I was quickly surprised by the brainy, dark humor and addictive intrigue that develops both in plot and characterization. In that respect it reminds me of AMC’s wonderful Breaking Bad. In fact the two shows share an actor- Aaron Paul, who in Breaking Bad plays the dopey Jesse Pinkman, and in Big Love plays ex-Mormon Scott Quittman.

This is a weird show. I’m up to season 4 and I still can’t figure out if the central message is anti-polygamy or pro-polygamy; moreover I can’t figure out if it’s even pro-christian or anti-christian. Most of the characters are deeply conflicted on some level and their motivations remain ambiguous. And while I’m sure some marriages, either monogamous or polygamous, can keep the pace, the constant passionate sex between Bill and his three wives seems implausible. On a similar note, why are Bill’s wives so beautiful and well dressed, while the other polygamists we encounter have frumpy, badly dressed wives?

For a large household with small children the three wives and Bill manage to find inordinate private time to have deep, lengthy conversations. There is occasional mention of “Ben and Sarah” (the two teenagers in the household) watching the kids, but these are magical hollywood teenagers. Having a wide age range of children myself, procuring even ten minutes of attention from one of the teens to watch the little ones is like squeezing blood from a turnip, and is usually accompanied by shouted complaints from the next room. However, the show does occasionally manage an accurate portrait of the struggles of running a huge household. Our family size here matches the Henrickson’s season 1 head count, though there’s just one of me, another facet that piqued my interest: you don’t often see huge families on television these days, unless it’s reality TV.

The Henrickson homes are immaculately clean though we never see anyone cleaning. Occasionally the wives carry laundry baskets or lackadaisically wipe an already clean surface with a rag. In one episode Margie works through emotional issues by vacuuming a lot. But otherwise the Henrickson clan is somehow impervious to mess and clutter.

There’s a lot of product placement in this series, which surprises me because I thought polygamy was generally frowned upon. The Henrickson wives spend a great deal of time grocery shopping, unpacking groceries, and there are ongoing references to how wonderful orange juice is (while pouring Minute Maid). Many of the food products “advertised” by the series are junk, yet the Henricksons remain slim and fit. Barb and Bill look heavier in Season 3, but appear to have lost it all by season 4.

A guess the million dollar question for any woman watching this series is, could I live in an polygamous arrangement? I can only tell you that around kid #5 I was just so exhausted all the time that another pair of motherly hands would have been a boon, though the long term psychological price of sharing one’s only sexual partner probably wouldn’t be worth it.

Strangely Big Love was created by two gay men, Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer. More than once corollaries are made between homosexuality and polygamy, including a hilarious scene where “prophet” Roman Grant lectures a group of reporters.

big_love
lots of kids, polygamy style

While Big Love isn’t nearly as good as Breaking Bad, it does have its moments of comedic brilliance and emotional poignancy, and for that is well worth watching if you’re in the mood to binge watch an entire series.