Sunday Night Out

Last night Kish and I went out to dinner and then hoofed it over to the nearby Southern Theater for a ProMusica Chamber Orchestra program called “The Romantic Piano.”  It was an excellent show that featured pieces by Bizet, Saint-Saens, and Schubert.  (The Schubert selection was his rollicking Symphony No. 1, which was a pretty impressive piece of work by a 16-year-old.)

IMG_0840It was a great end to a wonderful weekend that (finally) let us enjoy some terrific weather, and it was intentional, too.  Lately we’ve been making a conscious effort to get out of the house and do something fun on Sunday nights.  We’ve gone to dinners and musical performances and nightclubs, and when some of the spring and summer shows start, like the summer movie series at the Ohio Theater, I’m sure we’ll add those to the mix, too.  We’ve found that stodgy old Columbus has a lot to offer on Sunday nights.

The theory behind this effort is simple:  let’s end the weekend with a bang, not a whimper.  Sure, you can ease in to Sunday night, plop down on the sofa, put your feet up on the coffee table, and watch whatever HBO or your cable channel of choice is showing, and it’s a perfectly acceptable capstone to the weekend.  Unfortunately, I usually end up nodding off if I watch too much TV, and I always think, uncomfortably, of how Angela Lansbury racked up huge ratings with the blue-haired set on Sunday night with Murder, She Wrote.  It seems like camping out in front of the flat screen and watching TV on Sunday night is something old people do.  I’m not quite ready to go there, yet.

That doesn’t mean we won’t be watching the first installment of the new Game of Thrones next week — we’re not being puritanical about it, and I’m as interested in learning whether Jon Snow survives as the next person.  We are realizing, though, that there’s real value in getting off your duff, off the couch, and out into the community on the last night of the weekend.

Bad News For A Song Of Ice And Fire Readers

If you are a fan of George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series of books, upon which the fine HBO series Game of Thrones is based, you’ve learned to be patient.

776466_510_promo_frames_16_00170187[1].jpgLike me, you’ve read the existing books in the series, reached their end with the epic tale still completely midstream and tantalizing plot threads dangling, did some reading about the pace of Martin’s writing, and realized that the next volume wouldn’t be coming out for years — but the books were so good that you were willing to wait, and wait, and wait, in hopes of seeing where the plot line goes and finding out, at some indeterminate date far, far, far into the future, how the story finally ends.

So when we all heard that the next book in the series, The Winds of Winter, was planned to be released in conjunction with the airing of the next year of Game of Thrones, this coming April, we rejoiced — but many of us also maintained a healthy bit of skepticism and an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude.

Now we learn that that skepticism is justified, as Martin has announced that the book isn’t done, it won’t be released by April, and he doesn’t know, in fact, when it will be finished because the writing is going slower than he anticipated — and this is from a writer who took six years to produce A Dance With Dragons, the last book in the series.  It’s disappointing, but I can’t say it’s really surprising.

So this leads to a quandary:  should the fans of the books and the TV series watch the next season of Game of Thrones, when the storyline moves past the end point of the last book?  I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m going to watch, because the TV show has diverged from the book plotting, anyway.  In my view, the world created by Martin’s fertile imagination is sufficiently rich that it can support two alternative approaches to a great story, and I just can’t wait much longer before I learn about what happens to Jon Snow — in the TV universe, at least.

In the meantime, I’ll wish George R.R. Martin a long, long, long (and productive) life.

A Song Of Fight And Ire

As a fan of the Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin, I view the HBO series Game of Thrones as both a blessing and a curse.

The TV show is a blessing because it helps to fill the Westeros void as we wait . . . and wait . . . and wait for Martin to finish the next installment in the series of epic books.  It’s a curse because the course of the TV show is, increasingly, veering away from the established plot lines of the books.  The variances are both large and small.  Unless you have a complete recall of what happened in A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons — something I cannot claim — you can’t even identify all of them.

There is no way that a TV show could possibly present all of the plot lines in Martin’s vast landscape of characters.  I can understand the Game of Thrones producers taking shortcuts in the storytelling and lopping out characters — like, apparently, the tale of the Iron Islands and Greyjoy clan and the post-death Cat Stark.  Even so, this year the TV show is treading on increasingly thin ice (and fire).  Sansa Stark back at Winterfell and betrothed to the sadistic Ramsay Bolton?  What the hell?  Jamie Lannister off to Dorne on a half-assed mission to retrieve his daughter?  Sir Barristan the Bold killed, and maybe Grey Worm, too?  And where is Bran Stark, anyway?

I still enjoy the TV show, because it is well done and the Martin-inspired tapestry is so rich.  But increasingly I view it as an alternative history of Westeros, the Wall, and the rest of the world, a tantalizing kind of “what if” approach to the characters we’ve come to enjoy while we all bide our time waiting for the release of the next book — which will tell the true story.  And when will that be?  Only George R.R. Martin knows for sure.

Censorship And Safety

Who is responsible for pulling the film The Interview from its planned Christmas Day release in the face of threats from terrorist hackers?  Was Sony craven, as many have suggested, or was it the theater chain owners who triggered the decision to pull The Interview because of liability concerns, as Sony responds?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know this:  Totally removing a movie, or any other form of expression, from widespread public distribution because of threats is censorship and sets a terrible precedent.  Does anyone really dispute the conclusion that somewhere in Pyongyang or some other rathole the terrorist hackers are high-fiving over their success in this instance, and that terrorist groups elsewhere haven’t taken note of the new weapon that has now been added their arsenal?  What movie, book, play, or TV show is going to be the next target of this technique?

The Interview isn’t the kind of movie I would ever go to a theater to see, but that’s obviously not the point.  The next time it might be  controversial biography I’ve been eagerly anticipating, or the next installment of the Game of Thrones series because the terrorists disagree with how religion is depicted by George R. R. Martin. Regardless of the subject, a free society cannot tolerate a world in which terrorists dictate who gets to see, read, or consider what.

One other point: if I were an author, actor, or historian, I would be thinking long and hard about who brings my work to market and whether they have the courage to do it in the face of threats.  I don’t think I’d want to entrust my creative work product to a company, or a theater chain, that crumbled and caved in the face of threats.  Are actors, directors, and producers going to shy away from Sony projects?

Game Of Thrones Coffee

Recently we got a new type of coffee at the office.  Now, when I get in in the morning and make a fresh pot of joe, I’m pouring “Joffrey’s” grounds into the brew basket.

IMG_3307It’s perfectly good coffee, but the name still bugs me.  When I pick up the coffee packet, I can’t help but think of the despicable Game of Thrones character.  Who wants to be reminded of a cowardly, sadistic, sniveling little wretch when you’re preparing that essential first cup of coffee in the morning?  Being at work is tough enough without having to deal with a mental image of that jerk — much less recalling that that appalling little twerp gets poisoned and is last seen clawing at his neck in terror.  I wonder if the Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Company regrets producing a “doughnut blend” that is associated with such an awful — and now exceptionally well-known — Joffrey.

You actually could have some good Game of Thrones coffee names and related descriptions, however.  House of Stark would be a noble blend of northern beans that creates a perfect cup to quaff when winter is coming.  White Walker would be a savage blend of iced java served with a snowy whipped topping.  And Tyrion would be a bold blend of underappreciated beans from the gold coast, served only in a demitasse cup.

Anything would be better than “Joffrey.”

Dads Above The Lannister Line

At first I thought it was very poor judgment for HBO to show the last episode of this season of Game of Thrones on Father’s Day.  (WARNING:  Spoiler Alert!)

After all, what Dad wants to see another Dad shot through the gut by a crossbow quarrel?  Especially when the shooter is the Dad’s angry dwarf son?  And, even worse, when the Dad is taking a dump in a privy, and his son doesn’t even afford his father the courtesy of allowing him to pull up his breeches and assume a more dignified appearance before firing the fatal bolts, and then leaves his ol’ Dad to die there in stinking vapor?

Then I realized that HBO is savvier than I am.  It obviously realized that, initially, Dads might be troubled by seeing Tywin the Terrible impaled by his offspring while answering the call of nature . . . but they ultimately would compare themselves to the ex-Hand of the King and realize that they were doing a pretty good job in the fathering department by comparison.  After all, most of us aren’t ruthlessly murdered by our children.  We also don’t have children who engage in incestuous relations, we don’t have sex with our children’s paramours, we don’t decide that our children should be sentenced to death by beheading, and we haven’t ruined our children’s lives by having their wives held out as whores to our personal army.

So yes, maybe there is a method of HBO’s madness in broadcasting last night’s episode of Game of Thrones on Father’s Day.  Even the most fretful Dad, wondering about whether they are doing a good job of parenting, has got to feel pretty confident that they’ve easily surpassed the Lannister Line.

O, To Be A Game Of Thrones Character, And To Name Your Death!

George R.R. Martin, the author of Game of Thrones and the other books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, is offering fans a unique opportunity:  in exchange for contributions to worthy charities Martin supports, they can get interesting items related to the books.

The best prize?  Two people — one male and one female — who contribute $20,000 will have a character named after them in an upcoming book in the Ice and Fire series, and can choose their character’s station in the world of Westeros and the method by which they go to meet the Seven.

I don’t have $20,000 lying around — more’s the pity! — but the notion is intriguing.  If you could be a Game of Thrones character, what would you be, and what would you want to be the cause of your untimely demise?  You wouldn’t want to duplicate some of the more gruesome deaths that already have occurred.  Ned Stark has locked in beheadings, for example, and the no one could possibly carry off having their head crushed by hand like the Red Viper of Dorne.  And we’ve seen people immolated by dragon fire and wildfire, killed by molten gold poured over the head, shot full of bolts from crossbows, poisoned, stabbed by a creature of smoke, crucified, pushed through the Moon Door, and stabbed through the back of the skull — among countless other causes of death.

So what’s left?  There are still some good choices, I think. A foolishly brave hedge knight who tries to protect a main character from a charging direwolf and is torn to bloody bits.  A gluttonous lord who is stabbed through the eye by a broken off chicken bone.  A turncoat meister who is tortured to confession and then fed, alive, to one of Daenerys’ dragons.  A rogue supporter of Roose Bolton who consumes a potion that causes his bowels to explode through his torso, mail, armor, and all.  A plucky young page who is impaled on one of the tusks of a wildling mammoth and then crushed against the Wall by the rampaging beast and the giant who spurs him on.

Yes, I’d say good choices remain.  Now, where’s that $20 K?

Unsteady Thrones

I’m struggling with this new season of Games of Thrones on HBO.  I’ve missed a few episodes due to travel, now I’m trying to catch up, and as I watch the episodes I’m seeing increasing divergence from the plot line of the books.

I’m not sure why it’s happening, either.  The first few seasons of the series were generally faithful to the books.  Now we are seeing all kinds of weirdness that seems, to me at least, to be completely inconsistent with the characters.  Brienne of Tarth, who really means it when she swears a vow, is present at Joffrey’s wedding with Sansa Stark — who she has promised to retrieve from King’s Landing — and she doesn’t do anything about it?  Bran ends up at Craster’s Keep, where the rogue Men of the Night’s Watch are brutalizing Craster’s former daughter-wives, keeping Ghost in a cage, and torturing Hodor?  Littlefinger and Lady Tyrell openly confess to conspiring to poison Joffrey?

I know TV series and movies often take liberties with the books on which they are based, but I’m not liking the direction in which Game of Thrones is heading.  I’ve loved the books, and I think their plot lines are great.  I just don’t get why we’ve suddenly taken a left turn.

Game Of Thrones: The Books And The Broadcast

Game of Thrones fans eagerly anticipated last night’s episode opening season four. To help put the story in context, and to remind myself of the characters and their back story, I’ve been re-reading the books. Season four begins in the second half of the third book, A Storm of Swords, just after Robb Stark and his forces have been slaughtered at the Red Wedding by the scheming and now-cursed Walder Frey.

Having just read the book prior to last night’s broadcast, you can’t help but notice the differences. That’s not surprising, of course — the books are huge and sprawling, and if you were to faithfully recreate every fight scene, character, and vignette, the series would be impossibly expensive to film and last forever. In a nod to the realities of TV storytelling, some characters and incidents need to be cut. (And, it being HBO, the whorehouse settings, where some random nakedness can be displayed, tend to be accentuated.)

In addition, some of the more subtle aspects of the books and, particularly, the conversations of the characters are changed to direct statements in an effort to make clear, in an instant, a realization that books might convey to a reader after 50 pages of careful writing. Last night’s observation by Jaime Lannister that Cersei Baratheon is drinking more than she had been previously is a good example.

What are some of the other differences? Characters tend to be a bit more pointed on TV. For example, the writers of Game of Thrones never miss a chance to insert the execrable Joffrey Baratheon into a scene and have him say something that reconfirms what a miserable, bullying, craven little bastard he truly is. I don’t mind that, either, because anything that makes that sniveling character easier to hate is fine with me. And, because I read the books after I started to watch the show, I don’t have the disconnect that happens when you read a book first, fix a mental image of the characters in your head, then have to get used to a different person when the story hits the small screen.

I’m glad I re-read A Storm of Swords, which is packed with great scenes and shocking developments. I’m ready for season four, which should be a very wild ride.

Winterfell In Columbus

IMG_5983The vernal equinox occurred on March 20, which means the Sun has passed the celestial equator, periods of daylight are now longer than periods of darkness, and spring has officially arrived. Who cares about that, though, when you can look out the window of your study and see — as the photo above shows — snow pelting down and a few inches accumulating on a lawn that should be pushing up green shoots of new grass instead?

I feel like I should be one of the Starks of Winterfell, wrapped snugly in smelly furs, intoning grimly that “winter is coming” and warning of the perils of the White Walkers. This year in Columbus, winter has come . . . and stayed, and stayed, and stayed. It’s the Winter Without End. All we’re missing are a few direwolves and an 800-foot-high wall in the backyard.

Recently one of my friends mentioned that he had a picture on his cell phone of his kids playing in the snow that fell in October. Winter started about then, and it’s still here!

If I had the money, I’d buy every empty condo property in south Florida I could find. After this brutal midwestern winter, I think we’re going to see a fresh exodus of snowbirds who’ve had it up to here with snow and cold and ice and will pay through their frostbitten noses for a chance to feel the sun’s warmth.

An Unabashed Rave About The True Detective Finale

The finale of HBO’s True Detective was as awesome as any fan of the show could have hoped. It was an acting, storytelling, and philosophical tour de force that left us wishing this show and cast would go on forever.

We found out who The Yellow King was, and he was every bit as creepy and appalling and deeply, fundamentally disturbed as we anticipated. As is true with everything about this fabulous series, the finale gave us only a glimpse as the life of this terrible serial killer of children and left so many questions about him unanswered that you could write whole books providing the explanation. I liked that they left things unanswered and tantalizing — it suggests the creators of the show respect their audience rather than patronizing them. Like the rest of season 1, the finale really made you think.

Spolier alert: I’m also thrilled that Hart and Cohle survived. I thought they would be killed off, and in some sense that would have taken the easy way out. When characters survive, you have to think about what they will become, which is harder.

In this case, I think we can conclude that — as terrible as their long experience was, and the many points of anguish they suffered, and inflicted on each other and Marty’s family — they ended up as better people. Marty obviously learned that his family is what is really important and that he has deep feelings for the iconoclastic Rustin Cohle. Cohle, on the other hand, reconnected with his daughter and his father, and now is allowing a dash of optimism to enter into his unique and bleak view of the world. Marty and Rust would make a formidable team going forward, but of course we don’t know whether that will happen, just as we don’t know whether there’s a glimmer of hope that Marty and Maggie get together again — which Kish is hoping for.

I thought it was great that Marty showed that, for all of Cohle’s dismissal of his skills when they ended their partnership in 2002, Marty prove to be a damn good investigator whose hard work and insight led the pair to the Yellow King. I liked that Cohle remained judgmental and inflexible about Marty’s self-destructive philandering. I especially appreciated that, at the moment of death, Cohle thought of and sensed his daughter, who had been an important start of the back story at the beginning of the series but hadn’t been mentioned recently. Reintroducing Cohle’s devastating loss of a child made the powerful closing scene even more powerful.

And what about that gripping, stunning closing scene, when both Cohle and Marty bared their souls? It showed what an epically well-acted series this was, because both Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson absolutely nailed it. McConaughey gave a titanic performance as Cohle shaken and struggling and uplifted by his visions at the moment of death, and Harrelson was brilliant as he showed the layers, and changes, in a character who went from a cheating good old boy to a good man over the 17-year arc of the story.

I’ve long been a Woody Harrelson fan, and McConaughey matches him talent for talent and nuance for nuance. I loved the camaraderie of their two characters, the humor they brought to the roles, and the absolute credibility of their artistic creations. Harrelson and McOnaughey are simply two of the best actors around.

And if this posting isn’t enough of a rave already, let me end with a plug for HBO. For years, Kish and I have been saying that HBO has the best original programming on TV. From The Sopranos to Deadwood to Game of Thrones — and a bunch of other great shows in between — HBO has produced a huge collection of incredible TV programming. If you don’t subscribe to a network that produces a show like True Detective, you’re just cheating yourself.

In The Game Of Thrones Book-TV Confusion Zone

Kish and I have been happy to see the ads for the new season of Game of Thrones on HBO. We love the show and think that everyone could use a few more dragons in their lives.

My problem, however, is that I’ve read the books and watched the TV episodes. The books take you to events beyond the TV show, and now I’m having a hard time remembering where the HBO blockbuster left off. Seeing previews with Joffrey Baratheon — that miserable, sniveling little sadist — helps to place the show on the timeline of the overall story, but there are countless other characters that I need to place on the story arc. Let’s see . . . Robb’s been killed in a monumental act of betrayal at the Red Wedding, but where are Sansa and Arya? How about Brienne of Tarth? Where was the story of Jon Snow left off? How far has Cersei slid down the path to her own personal humiliation and madness?

With a tapestry as rich as that woven by George R.R. Martin in his books, with dozens of prominent characters and hundreds of weird-sounding names, it’s not hard to lose a plot thread or two. Fortunately, HBO has recognized that and has scheduled a catch-up program to allow us all to remember precisely where things stand.

Speaking of Martin, the release date for the next book in the series, The Winds of Winter, still has not been set. Martin continues to tantalize his fans, however, by periodically releasing parts of the book — including most recently a single paragraph about Tyrion Lannister. The internet buzz is that the book has been written in rough form, is more than 1,000 pages long, and is in the process of being edited, which probably means it won’t be hitting the bookstore shelves for some time. I hope we get plenty of advance notice, because I’ll need some lead time to reread the series and get back up to speed.

Season 4 of the HBO show, in the meantime, begins on April 6.

Starting A New Summer (Book) Series

Summers are made for reading, and summer vacations especially so.

I like to use the summer reading season to discover and dig into books that have already become a series featuring the same characters.  When you make such a discovery you can read the books in sequence, letting the characters and their lives unfold before you and become more familiar and, sometimes, beloved.  There is a particular joy in the initial discovery, too, because you know that you’ve just filled lots of your leisure time — often extending well into the autumn months — with what is sure to be very enjoyable activity.

IMG_4203Over the years I’ve read lots of literary series, and it always seems to happen in the summer — and usually at the recommendation of a friend or family member whose judgment I trust.  It was during the summer that I first enjoyed J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books (at Richard’s recommendation), Patrick O’Brian’s terrific Jack Aubrey-Stephen Maturin Master and Commander novels about the British Navy during the Napoleonic era, James Lee Burke’s two-fisted Dave Robicheaux crime fiction (suggested by the Wrestling Fan), George R.R. Martin’s fabulous Game of Thrones books, and Stuart Kaminsky’s wonderful (and unfortunately too-soon-ended) Inspector Rostnikov and Abe Lieberman series.  I loved them all and hated reaching the end.

Recently the Philosopher King of the Fifth Floor recommended Michael Connelly’s books about Detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch.  I’ve begun with the first book, The Black Echo, and it’s excellent.  I can tell I’m going to like following the exploits of the (in the first book, at least) chain-smoking Harry as he struggles with his personal demons and deftly solves crimes along the way — even if it means skirting the edges of the law and breaking a few departmental rules to bring the wrongdoer to justice.  Having made the discovery, I’m especially pleased to learn that the series currently includes 19 books, which probably means number 20 will come out as I am happily working my way through Harry’s story.

Don’t expect much from me this summer:  I’ll be reading.

A New Game To Enjoy

The Buckeyes’ loss to Wichita State still stings, but at least we’ve got a new Game to command our attention and analysis:  HBO’s Game of Thrones returns tonight.  You can see the extended trailer for Season Three here.

I’ve written before about Game of Thrones — both the HBO series and the epic-length books.  It’s a fantastic show, rich in themes and plots and production values, one that convincingly captures the curious medieval world where seasons can last for decades, dragons fly, and magic is real.  I’m looking forward to the return of characters that I love, and even more to the return of the awful characters that I love to hate.

I’ll relish reigniting my intense loathing for the detestable Joffrey Baratheon, the sadistic, cowardly punk who sits uneasily on the Iron Throne, and his duplicitous, manipulative mother Cersei.  I’ll be interested to see what happens to Jon Snow and the tiny yet hardy band of misfits and castoffs manning The Wall in the far north, working to meet the challenge of the wildlings and the White Walkers.   I’ll root for the honest, loyal Brienne of Tarth, the gigantic female knight who displays more knightly virtues than the men who ridicule her.  And I’ll enjoy becoming reacquainted with Arya, and Bran, and Tyrion, and the complex, interwoven storylines that characterize this series and meeting the new characters that will be introduced this season.

Having read the books, I suppose I could announce “spoilers,” but that’s not fair Game.  I’ll say only that big things, and terrible things, will be happening to the characters we’ve come to know.  Of course, loyal watchers of the show knew that already.  Any show that kills off its main character by public beheading before Season One even ends is not afraid to spin the world of Westeros on its axis.

The Return Of Falling Skies

You can argue about what period was the Golden Age of Television — depending upon your age, you might argue that just about any decade since the 1950s should take that honor — but one undeniably great thing about modern TV is that new shows begin at all times of the year.  It’s not like the old days, when we were wedded to fall premiere week and the summer was a vast wasteland of reruns.

Tonight Falling Skies begins its second season.  The timing is great because Game of Thrones is over for the year and we need something to watch during the 9 p.m. Sunday time slot.  Falling Skies isn’t in the same ballpark as Game of Thrones (what is?) but last year it was an entertaining ride.

For those who didn’t catch the show last year, aliens have invaded and a small band of humans is desperately fighting back.  They are led by uber-heroic Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), the gruff Captain Weaver, who is wrestling with some serious inner demons, and outlaw John Pope — my favorite character, well played by Colin Cunningham — who isn’t above theft and other criminal acts, is a surprisingly good cook, and also is a deft hand at killing the aliens.  Tom Mason has an older son who is helping to fight the alien invaders, a middle son who was “harnessed” by the aliens and is still dealing with that experience, and a young son to whom Tom is trying to give a somewhat normal childhood, which isn’t easy under the circumstances.  Tom, who lost his wife in the invasion, also is dealing with a budding romance with Dr. Glass.

Last season ended with Tom deciding to go with the aliens into their ship (implausibly, in my view, yet heroically, because that’s just the way Tom is).  We’ll see if he comes out with a harness of his own, and we’ll also be watching for Pope’s latest brainstorm and his inevitable confrontations with Captain Weaver and other authority figures.  It’s time to kick some alien butt!