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HBO’s Chilling Westworld


No Spoilers


Even if you’re familiar with the 1973 film Westworld, written and directed by bestselling Michael Crichton, and starring Yul Brynner as the Man in Black, you’re in for a treat with HBO’s revamp of the Wild West theme park. Like Crichton’s subsequent novel, which was adapted into Spielberg’s classic film Jurassic Park, Westworld is a place where filthy rich tourists — newcomers, in this series — come to spend some time in the Old Wild West, where they can do whatever they want, to whomever they want (as long as they’re not other theme park guests), without any consequences to themselves. In the original film, as in last night’s premiere, something goes wrong. Unlike the 1973 film, however, the surprise is not discovering that most of the major characters are robots or beings with Artificial Intelligence. The message of Westworld, the series, is much more chilling.


The Premise

Westworld is a theme park, where wealthy guests, i.e., “newcomers,” pay mega-bucks to pretend they’re in the Wild, Wild West. They dress the part, have six-shooters, drink in a saloon, and can do whatever they want to the inhabitants, i.e., “hosts,”  of the theme park, including committing rape and murder. The theme park “hosts” have only one function, whether they know it or not: to make sure the guests have the time of their lives, tell all their friends and acquaintances about the great time they had, and return on a regular basis since each experience in the theme park is unique. The newcomers cannot be hurt, since that would be bad for business, but the newcomers can hurt, savage, and even kill the “hosts,”  but only in theory, since the hosts are rebooted each day to start again.


The Lovers

“The Original” opens with a reunion between Teddy (James Marsden), who arrives on the train coming into Westworld, and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), who lives with her parents on their ranch. The two obviously know each other; moreover they seem to care deeply for each other. Pretty quickly, viewers forget about who’s a guest and who’s a robot: instead, they become emotionally connected to the characters, especially to these two lovers.


The Man in Black

Of course, there has to be a bad guy in Westworld, and that means even in the theme park world. A cadaverous and threatening Ed Harris is the Man with No Name, The Man in Black, the Big Bad Wolf of the Wild Wild West in a place where he’s been coming for 30 years to act out his own sadistic fantasies.


The Westworld Management Team.

In a twist on the original Westworld, viewers are introduced to the theme park aspect of Westworld relatively quickly. After all, the series is about more than the shock of learning that your favorite character is not even human. It’s about the people who created the hosts, the people who take care of them, the people who write their scripts and manipulate the hosts’ lives.


Jeffrey Wright plays Bernard, a programmer at Westworld, who reveals that the new computer program for the hosts is allowing them to access “memories” from prior programming.

Yeppers, that means something is bound to go wrong.

And if you still doubt that all is not well in Westworld…


Enter the “mad scientist” who created it all: Dr Ford (Anthony Hopkins), who seems to like his creations even more than he likes his co-workers, and who tends to get philosophical about the human condition, insisting that humans have reached their apotheosis, which ain’t looking too good since there’s a lot of political maneuvering going on already.


Throw in one of the Administrators, Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), who is stressed to the max just anticipating something going wrong in the theme park, if only because nothing has gone wrong for at least 30 years, and who apparently has a lot of power to shut things down, even if all the other administrators do argue with her.

Just for good measure, throw in Sizemore (Simon Quarterman), who probably wanted to be a novelist but wasn’t good enough to get traditionally published: he ends up writing the scripts at Westworld, and some of them are pretty corny. But he has greater ambitions, and he wants to team up with Cullen if there’s a shake-up in management.


Back at The Theme Park

Throw in a few other characters, like Maeve (Thandie Newton, above), a whore at the local saloon;


Clementine (Angela Sarafyan), another whore at the saloon, with lips to rival those of Angelina Jolie. Clementine has been updated, so she’s already accessing “memories” of previous incarnations, resulting in more natural “movements” and gestures;


causing theme park employee Elsie (Shannon Woodward) to be sexually attracted to Clementine.


Just for fun, let’s add some more baddies to the mix, like Wanted-Dead-Or-Alive-Poster-Boy Hector (Rodrigo Santoro),


and his tattooed sidekick Armistice (Ingrid Bols Berdal), who have already killed a Marshall and have no problem upping their violence-quotient “on demand.”

Add a few unnamed theme park guests, including a kid who’s downright cruel to the hosts, and you’re in for a thrill ride at Westworld.


The Themes

Westworld has all the classic themes that have concerned artists for centuries, all handled in a way that is sure to intrigue viewers, rather than have them feel like they’ve been hit over the head with “bigger issues.”

What is the nature of good and evil?
Who or what is God?
Does God have a moral responsibility toward his creations?
Can man become like God?
If man does become like God, in that he can “create” life, albeit artificial life, does man have a moral obligation to his own creations?
Are there then different levels of “god-ness”?
Is God good, evil, or indifferent?
What makes us “human”?
Are humans the top of the evolutionary pyramid?
Do other life forms, even if artificial ones, have moral rights?

And those were the themes I found in “The Original,” which was only the first episode. Whew.


Last, but not Least

Now throw in sex and violence and (alluded to) violent sexual acts, and what more could any guest at a Wild Wild West fantasy theme park hope for?


The acting by everyone involved is top-notch, and some of the actors, like Luis Hertham as Dolores’ father Peter Abernathy (below), are downright astounding.


Writing and pacing are beyond great, and, despite my noting some of the major themes, the symbolism is intricately woven into a fast-paced story. Westworld is chilling and fantastic, scary and fascinating. You’re going to like it, my Lovelies.

Westworld airs Sundays at 9:00p.m. ET on HBO and repeats throughout the week. HBO subscribers can watch the premiere free. Rated Mature for Graphic Violence, Nudity, and Sexual Situations. Even the official trailer is Mature, so be warned.

(all photos & video courtesty HBO)



Filed under Actors, Fantasy, Film Videos, Horror, Movies/Television, Review, Science Fiction, Violence, Westworld

Answers to Your Questions about HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE season 2


UnknownDespite the fact that True Detective season 1 quickly developed cult status and a large fan-base, season 2 is floundering in the ratings.

It’s also confusing fans.

Now, none of us who admired creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective season 1, starring Matthew McConaughey as nihilistic but doggedly efficient Rustin Cole, and Woody Harrelson as his “good ol’ boy” partner Martin Hart, will say that the initial season was perfect: there were too many plot-holes that were never answered and far too many “red herrings” for the show to be considered stellar.

Not even Pizzolatto’s post-Finale interviews satisfied viewers (in fact, in those interviews, Pizzolatto seemed disdainful of the questions and appeared to mock fans).

The acting of the two principals, as well as an edgy serial killer plot, seems to be what made True Detective so fascinating during its initial season. It would be a shame to lose all its fans during season 2.

In an effort to help viewers enjoy the final two episodes of True Detective season 2, I decided to find answers to some of the questions that seem to be troubling fans the most.

Why three detectives?

images-2Because 3 is one more than 2.

Don’t worry about the fact that none of them, technically, is really a detective anymore, and most of them don’t have jobs. Just enjoy the fact that there are three of them: Ray (Colin Farrell, above R), Ani (Rachel McAdams, above L), and Paul (Taylor Kitsch, below).images-5If two were good, then three is better.

Who is the mysteriously
scarred woman in the bar?

UnknownShe’s the daughter of the villainous pedophile and serial killer Scarred Errol (from True Detective season 1)

images-14and his biological sister, who “planted flowers” together.

imagesBetween the finale of season 1 and the premier of season 2, the mysteriously scarred woman was rescued from Carcosa.

Who did Rachel McAdams hair?

She did it herself.


You couldn’t tell?

Who is Pantsuit-Woman
and how did she get so powerful?

images-4I don’t know, but when she bosses people around, they listen.

Besides, she represents two minorities in one character, even if she’s not a major player in the show: an African-American, and a female, so just thank Affirmative Action.

Is Pudgy Ginger really Ray’s son?images-23

Eleven years ago, Ray and his wife were trying to have a baby but nothing was happening. Then she got raped and got pregnant.

Look at Ray (above).

Look at his wife (below).

BN-JD454_tdspen_G_20150629082903Next question.

Will Gangsta-Frank and his wife Jordan
ever be able to have a child of their own?

Just as soon as Gangsta-Frank (Vince Vaughn) can relax enough to do it in a cup for IVF since his lovely wife Jordan (Kelly Reilly) has admitted that she had 3 — not 1 — legal abortions, which everyone knows — except, apparently, writer Pizzolatto — do not affect your ability to get pregnant in the future.

Chubby Ginger will play gangsta-son, in a dual role.


What’s on the missing hard-drive
that everyone’s searching for?

Unknown-1All the deleted scenes from True Detective season 2 that were considered “too slow,” or “less interesting,” or which had “more senseless, meandering dialogue” than the others.

Who are these missing women
everyone’s mentioning?

imagesThey’re female crew-members who got left behind in the Louisiana bayous from True Detective s1.

They got walk-on roles — one dead at the dumpster, one stoned at the Kubick-Eyes Wide Shut-inspired orgy — as part of their settlements.

Is Gangsta-Frank ever going to go legit?

Yes, it’s already been revealed that Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell will play the detective partners in season 3.

Who the hell is Stan?

UnknownLast week, Gangsta-Frank and wife Jordan were seen comforting Joyce, who was weeping over the death of her husband Stan as Jordan handed her an envelope stuffed with mucho bundles of cash-o-la.

Twitter feeds lit up over the death of Stan.

stan-tweetsPajiba was nice enough to interview the always-in-the-background character actor who played Stan for a few minutes in a couple of early episodes: Ronnie Gene Blevins.

Who was Stan in True Detective?

One of Frank’s bad boys.

He dead.

What’s with all the aerial freeway shots?

images-24So viewers remember what California looks like before the San Andreas fault goes berserkers and Beach-Boy-Land falls into the Pacific Ocean.

What’s with Ani and the knives?

images-8Ask the boyfriend from episode 1 who “went limp” when she asked for something special while they were having sex.

Why is Lera Lynn always singing
those depressing songs in the bar
where Gangsta-Frank and Ray meet?

images-3Because the ratings keep going down.

What’s with all these tagged sticks in a field?

images-21That is a very good question.

How does a “town” the size of Vinci (pop. 94)
have both a Mayor and a City Manager?

images-19Excellent question.

What’s creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto’s
obsession with masks?

images-2Ask Nic.

What’s with creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto’s
gang-raped or mutilated Barbie doll fetish?

imagesAsk Nic.

Who shot Ray?

images-22The same guy who killed Casper.

Who killed Casper?

images-11Who cares?

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Why HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE is not Shallow


Boy, does Emily Nussbaum of the New Yorker dislike the female characters in the first season of HBO’s hit series True Detective. In her article “The Shallowness of True Detective,” (dated 3 March 2014 but already available online), she says the female characters are “paper-thin,” though she doesn’t insult the actors playing them, and that “none” has “any interior life.” She then compares them to female characters in shows we should like better, none of which I like at all. The problem with Ms. Nussbaum’s view of the show’s portrayal women seems to be her apparent lack of literary background — like classic noir-crime fiction and Southern Gothic — which is what the show (and its creator’s novel & stories) most resemble.

First of all, let me state most emphatically, that I am a feminist, though I’ve never been to see sexual harassment around every corner. That said, I adore classic and neo-noir-crime fiction, where the emphasis is virtually always on the male protagonists, usually narrated by them, and involves their getting involved with attractive women who are liars, whores, adulterers, predators, murderers, or all of the aforementioned, while said femme fatales maintain innocent exteriors. Don’t get me wrong: the males in noir-crime fiction aren’t angels, by any means, and that’s part of what I like about them: they’re interesting. But so are the women.

Think James Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity. Think Cornell Woolrich’s I Married a Dead Man, where the heroine is a liar, a murderer, a conspirator in a murder, and an unreliable narrator, to boot. Think anything by Jim Thompson, from The Killer Inside Me to The Grifters, from Pop. 1280 to A Hell of a Woman. Creator and writer Nic Pizzolatto’s novel Galveston has the same kind of characters, though they’re more mature in True Detective. So do his short stories. Pizzolatto doesn’t seem interested in women unless they’re classic noir-crime fiction women, and that means they’re going to be badder than they initially seem.

So, calling Marty’s wife, Maggie — played well by Michelle Monaghan, “the only prominent female character on the show … an utter nothing-burger, all fuming prettiness with zero insides” and “an outline” is ignoring the fact that no other character in the entire show, besides Detectives Martin Hart and Rustin Cohle (Harrelson and McConaughey, respectively) is developed (though Nussbaum does say that the show is only about those two characters, and I agree wholeheartedly with her on that, and she praises the actors’ performances). I didn’t even realize that the two black detectives interrogating/interviewing Hart & Cohle 17 years after their first investigation of the murdered Dora Lang even had names until my boyfriend, reading the credits one night, said, “Who are X and Y?” I had to look them up. They’re those detectives.  Tuttle, Ledoux, Charlie Lange, the other detectives — all male characters — are so cardboard, most of them don’t have names.

In fact, however, Maggie is developed, and not just a cardboard outline. She’s developed along the lines of the females in classic noir-crime fiction. And along the lines of Southern Gothic fiction, like William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, where sister Caddie, who’s not actually in the novel, has her story told by everyone but her: her retarded brother Benji who views her as a  mother figure, her older brother Quentin who views her as a love-worship object, and her younger brother Jason who views her as a whore (even while he wants to sleep with her himself). In True Detective — no spoilers here — what Maggie did to Rust Cohle in episode 6, and what she did to her husband Marty in the same episode, was calculated, cruel, and vicious. It’s also exactly what a noir-crime fiction femme fatale would do. Then she’d maintain her innocent façade. Ditto Maggie and other women in that genre of fiction.

Hart and Cohle are homicide detectives. They constantly see the bodies of dead victims, investigate the DBs (Dead Bodies), as they’re referred to in the show, and so the women and children in the show are objects to these detectives.  It’s a short step from seeing their victims and DBs as objects, to seeing all the women in their lives as objects. That includes Marty’s daughters, who, as teenagers, are clearly separated into the age-old, mutually exclusive Madonna/Whore categories. In classic noir-crime fiction, the woman is usually something to be won or possessed: she, too, is an object, even if she plays the villainous game better than most of the male protagonists in this genre do.

I love the show. Except for the convoluted Ginger-Cohle-Hart combo kidnappping & shoot-em-up scene in episode 4, which detracted from the show’s main forward drive, I think it’s some of the finest writing and acting since the first season of Damages or of American Horror Story. I gotta admit, though, that I also love FX’s Justified, where the women also take a backseat to the male protagonists. (Actually, this season, the female characters of Justified don’t even seem to be in the same car as most of the male characters, but that’s another post for another day.) I like intellectually and artistically challenging drama, and True Detective seems to be delivering that so far (except for the above-mentioned shoot-em-up, which bored me silly, but excited quite a few of the male fans, I hear).

Maggie’s not a “nothing-burger… with zero insides.” She’s just as calculating, deceptive, predatory, vicious, and morally shallow as Harrelson’s Martin Hart and McConaughey’s Rustin Cohle characters are. Maggie, her daughters, and the dead Dora Lange are also a lot more developed than the two African-American detectives re-investigating the original 1975 fetish-murder of Dora Lange, though every female except Maggie is quite a bit less well-developed, even if we’re comparing them to the females in classic noir-crime fiction.

And, I admit it, after all the bare behinds of the women in the show, I did appreciate the chance to get a good look at Matthew McConaughey’s well-developed glutes.

I’ll leave you with the opening credits of True Detective, about which Ms. Nussbaum claims this:

On the other hand, you might take a close look at the show’s opening credits, which suggest a simpler tale: one about heroic male outlines and closeups of female asses. The more episodes that go by, the more I’m starting to suspect that those asses tell the real story.

The opening credits are accompanied by the show’s theme song, “Far from Any Road” by The Handsome Family.

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HBO’s True Detective is the Best MiniSeries on TV


Wow. If you aren’t watching HBO’s new miniseries True Detective, you’re not living. This anthology miniseries — which means each year will feature new actors, characters, and story lines, though all will undoubtedly be written by the series creator and award-winning writer Nic Pizzolatto — is a riveting and fascinating neo-noir crime thriller. Its unusual style, flashing back and forth between 2012 and 1995, combined with its other fine qualities make it more than worth watching. More than the  drop everything right now because True Detective is on watching.

It makes True Detective worth talking about.

True Detective is, without a doubt, the most amazing miniseries HBO has aired since Deadwood, and the most stunning storytelling since ShowTime’s miniseries about Henry VIII and his family: The Tudors. These are the things that make True Detective worth watching — over and over — and worth talking about:

  • its flashing back and forth between two time periods
  • the chemistry between the main protagonists, brilliantly acted by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey
  • it’s about life, religion, choices, and the meaning of it all
  • it’s about a whole lot more than mowing the lawn
  • it’s got a kick-ass neo-noir theme song

I won’t spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but this week, starting Saturday night before the Super Bowl, HBO is airing the first three episodes again, so now is your chance to catch up. Because if you don’t watch True Detective from the first scene, you will never be able to follow anything.

The Story Is Set in 2 Time Periods
The premise of this first season of True Detective is that two homicide detectives, Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) are being questioned, in 2012, by two other detectives about the bizarre, ritualistic murder that took place in 1995, which Hart and Cohle supposedly solved. The show moves flawlessly between 2012, during the interviews, and 1995, when the detectives are working on the crime. Not only is the setting changed, but the characters dress differently and have completely different hairstyles, so the viewer always knows exactly which of the two time periods is being shown.

And it’s these two different time periods that make the show so fascinating because, while we know they’re discussing a murder that they supposedly solved almost 20 years previously, we don’t know why they’re being interviewed about it in 2012, and what’s happened between the two characters since then. That’s the first thing that makes this show intriguing.

The Chemistry Between the Protagonists
The chemistry between the protagonists, Cohle and Hart, goes far beyond the writing: McConaughey as Cohle, and Harrelson as Hart, also have incredible energy and chemistry that makes the characters come alive on a deeper level than some people ever attain in real relationships. In one of their many car scenes, while they’re investigating the murder in 1995, while they’re discussing life demonstrates this. Warning: Language

It’s About Life, Religion, and the Meaning of it All
Many of the scenes taking place in 2012 allow the individual protagonists to convey their opinions on life, religion, family, and the meaning of it all. But when the detectives Hart and Cohle are actually investigating the homicide in 1995, they get to interact in a way that reveals their individual flaws, which seem to be exacerbated yet simultaneously calmed by their professional pairing. When the two investigate an old-time-religion tent revival, their fascinating flaws and the bigger meaning of True Detective and what its writer is exploring is revealed. Warning: Language

It’s About More than Mowing the Lawn
So many books and movies and TV shows just slam you in the head with what they want you to know that it’s intellectually and artistically refreshing to find a show where mowing the lawn is about way more than mowing the lawn. Warning: Language

So, beyond the brilliant writing and story telling, the chemistry between the actors and protagonists, its exploration of life and its ultimate meaning, and the fact that even mowing the lawn is about way more than mowing the lawn — as if all that weren’t enough to make True Detective worth watching, it has a kick-ass theme song by The Handsome Family: “Far From Any Road,” that fits the show perfectly.

As I said earlier, there’s no new episode on this week since the show’s regular slot is Sundays at 9 EST, and this Sunday is the Super Bowl. Rather than competing for the audience, HBO is showing the first 3 episodes again, in a row, starting Saturday 1 Feb at 8 EST.

If I were you, I’d watch.

If you don’t, you’ll regret it.

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