Previous month:
March 2015
Next month:
May 2015

justified reaches the end

I've long understood that it is pointless to use this blog to convince people to check out the stuff I like. It's been a curse of the blog for so long, I almost forget it exists, where people say "I don't watch television but I like reading what you say about it". Really, though, I do better when I just say what I think without worrying if I'll influence anyone.

Thus, it is more accurate for me to say that Justified is one of my favorite series of all time, than to say that Justified is a great series that you should watch, even though I do think you should watch it.

Season Six has been as good as any, perhaps even as good as the much-lauded Season Two. That's especially nice because Season Five was the least-good of the series, so there was always a chance the show had stuck around too long.

As you look at what I've written about the first five seasons, you'll see several continuing themes: the lead actors are great, the secondary actors are great, all of those actors benefit from interesting characters and some of the best dialogue ever on a TV show, and Justified has succeeded in creating a believable community, where you know it was there before the series started and you know it will be there when the series is over. (I haven't seen the finale, yet, but somehow I doubt Harlan will disappear the way Sunnydale did in the last Buffy episode.) Season Six has also done an excellent job bringing back characters from prior seasons, in a way that feels organic. This is partly because the representation of community is so strong ... when a character reappears, it's not strange, they've just been off-screen for a spell. Best of all in this regard is Loretta, the teenage marijuana queen ... we've watched Kaitlin Dever grow before our eyes since her first appearance in Season Two, and Loretta is crucial to the way the entire narrative is headed towards the final episode. Contrast this with Mad Men, which seems to be wasting its final episodes with insignificant new characters. (Matthew Weiner more than deserves the benefit of the doubt, and I feel certain it will all be right when the series ends, but right now, he is puzzling a lot of his fans.)

Here are links and excerpts from some of the things I've written about Justified over the past several years:

Series Premiere: "Justified has atmosphere, it has a charismatic pair of actors, it has nifty dialogue (if you're partial to the Elmore Leonard school of writing, that is). It looks to be one of the best new series of the year."

Season One Finale: "The acting on Justified is often the best thing about the show. Walton Goggins in particular is terrific. The series wavers between standalone episodes and 'story arc' episodes, and the transition isn't always smooth. But there haven't been any bad episodes, and there are plenty of good ones."

Season Two Premiere: "It’s not as easy as it looks, creating a believable community. What usually happens is, there’ll be the lead and co-lead, and then each week some person you've never seen before will show up, the stars will act like we've all known good old Joe since way back, Joe’s story will be told, and we’ll never see Joe again. There are no Joes in Justified. When we meet someone for the first time, time is taken to create a believable relationship between the new character and the ones we already know. In a small community like the one in Justified, everyone knows pretty much everyone else, and that adds a depth that works very well."

Season Two Finale: "Margo Martindale as Mags ... was marvelous in every scene she was in, deftly playing her complex character so that you believed both the ruthless crime boss and the maternal stand-in mom. ... The final scene between Raylan and Mags is one of the finest scenes I’ve come across. Both actors knock it out of the park."

Season Three Premiere: "Last season it grew enough for me to consider it one of the best shows around, and while the loss of Margo Martindale will hurt, there are plenty of other fascinating characters, and the dialogue is going to be great as usual. Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins are bringing it once again."

Season Three Finale: "Some of my favorite moments come when two characters just shoot the shit, always talking about something other than what they are talking about, always talking like they popped out of an Elmore Leonard novel, appropriate since Leonard created Raylan Givens in the first place."

Season Four Premiere: "The dialogue here is so wonderful, I would watch it if all they did was put two characters in a room for an hour and had them talk. Great acting, intricate plotting that doesn't make a big deal about itself, solid continuing arcs, and a real feel for the community it has created (Harlan County, Kentucky)."

Season Four Finale: "Justified is good enough, though, that it doesn’t let Raylan off that easy. Over the course of four seasons, Raylan has become more like Boyd (which is to say, more like his father). And he knows it. The message of Justified isn't that Raylan’s way is right because he’s a lawman. The message is that Raylan is being destroyed from the inside. He no longer believes that his actions are justified. But he can’t escape those actions."

Season Five Premiere: "We see these people trying to change, and we learn more about them with each season, but one of the underlying themes of Justified is that we can't escape the place from which we came. So Raylan Givens works hard, as a lawman, to escape the future left him by his scumbag crook of a father, but as time passes, we (and he) realize it’s a case of like father, like son. Raylan doesn’t step over the line into a life of crime, but his pent-up anger at the world can’t be suppressed forever. And always looking over his shoulder is Boyd Crowder, the son Raylan’s father always wanted."

Season Five Finale: "Season Five felt too much like it was standing in place. We didn’t learn much new about the main characters … It was too obvious, though, by the end of the finale, that everything was just setting up the final season we've always known was coming. Season Six will be Justified’s last, and that can only mean that Boyd Crowder will finally be the Big Bad, and he and Raylan will finally reach the conclusion of their long trip together."

opening day #36

To a certain extent, this streak of opening days is as much bookkeeping as baseball. One year I won't make it, the streak will end, and it really won't make any difference. It's like being married for a long time (almost 42 years in our case) ... people ask how we do it, or just find it amazing that we've lasted so long. But when you get married, you intend for it to last. When I went to Opening Day in 1980, I had no idea I'd still be at it in 2015.

I don't have many memories of that first opener, although as usual, the Internet helps jog my memory. The Giants weren't very good in those days, and when the home opener arrived, they had already posted a record of 1 win and 6 losses. Their opponent was the San Diego Padres, who weren't any good, either. 51,123 people were in attendance ... Candlestick held a lot more people than where the Giants play nowadays. My main memory is that I had broken my foot, and our seats were pretty high, so I had to stumble my way to our place in the stands. The Giants won, 7-3, with most of the damage coming in the 5th inning, when they strung together six consecutive singles, plating four runs in the process. (For nostalgia buffs, the six hitters were: Darrell Evans, Jack Clark, Willie McCovey, Larry Herndon, Rennie Stennett, and Milt May.) Vida Blue carried a shutout into the 9th, before allowing a 3-run homer to Gene Tenace. Vida got the complete game, though ... things were different in 1980. As was also the norm in 1980, the attendance the next two games was 12,241 and 11,024. They never did top that Opening Day attendance in '80 ... in fact, before the season was over, they had home "crowds" of 2,164, 2,151, and 2,740. Their total attendance for the year was 1,096,115, which they surpass by the end of May in the modern era.

The one thing that we never could have predicted back in the day, of course, was that in 2015 we'd witness our third raising of the World Series Championship flag. I figured I'd die before they ever won it all ... now it's like a regular thing.

Here is a video recapping the 1980 season, narrated by Al Michaels. It includes the last great moment of Willie McCovey's career, when he came in as a pinch-hitter in his last weekend game and doubled off the wall to win it for the Giants against the Dodgers. Yes, I was there.


what i watched last week

I'll stick these all in one post ... our cable was out for a couple of days, so we ended up watching discs that were lying around. I'd seen all of them before ... there is one Request, one Make My Wife Watch, and one Revisit.

Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992). As with so many requests, it's been a long time and I don't remember when this actually made the list. Tomás was the one who asked for it. I last watched it in 2008, and I don't see much reason to change my opinion now. As I noted then, the ear-slicing scene is unnecessary, but it's fun to see how many things we now recognize as Quentin-esque are there from the beginning. Actors must love to work with his dialogue, which remains the best thing about his art. The cultural riffs are excessive, but in this case, I'd argue the sheer number of references to the cinematic past makes his movies oddly unique. You can see the influences, but he throws them together with such joy that the result is Tarantino and no one else. (Others have tried to copy him, but it doesn't usually work, partly because they don't have him to write dialogue.) Reservoir Dogs is also a good example of working within a budget ... there are only a few sets, and not too many characters, and he brought the picture in at a reported $1.2 million. #316 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 8/10. I've seen seven of his movies, and never given a rating lower than 8. If you want to watch my idea of a 9/10, try Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown.

The Raid 2 (Gareth Evans, 2014). I'd seen this only six months ago, but during our no-cable weekend, I trotted it out for Robin to watch. I wrote about it when I first saw it, and don't have much to add. The first 2/3 of the movie are still too concerned with plot and character for my liking, and the last 45 minutes or so are still filled with lots of "WHOA!" moments. As the guy from Comcast was fixing things up, he saw the box for The Raid 2 and exclaimed, "I love that movie!" 8/10. Watch The Raid first, then this one, for a double-bill.

Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968). This is a bit of a request, as well ... back when we did our Top 50 lists, this was one of my last cuts, and a couple of people since then said they'd like to see what I had to say about those near-misses. I think if I made that list today, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly would rank above this one. OUATITW is more "arty", and you could say that here, Leone went for broke and did everything he could to define his vision. And there are some truly wonderful scenes. But it's a bit long and a bit boring. I don't mind the endless scenes that are 98% buildup and 2% resolution. But not all of the scenes are interesting, and since Leone seems largely uninterested in the "plot", you could cut scenes and the movie wouldn't be any less understandable than it already is. #61 on the TSPDT list. 7/10. It would be a butt-numbing exercise, but the best double-bill matchup would be The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It's just as long, but it's more fun. And if Henry Fonda is an interesting bad guy in Once Upon a Time, it's mostly because of the stunt casting ... Lee Van Cleef is just as good in The Good ..., but we expect him to be an effective bad guy. Meanwhile, Leone gets more out of Clint Eastwood than most people ... Leone helped make Eastwood a star ... Clint certainly has more screen presence than Charles Bronson, who plays a similar role in the later movie.

music friday: 1965

Inspired by Alex McNeil, who played music from 1965 last week, I give you music I remember at our house from that year (I turned 12 in June).

Alex played "She Belongs to Me" from Bringing It All Back Home, which was the first Dylan album I personally owned (having an older brother meant I didn't have to buy too many records until he went off to college in 1964). The one single from the album that charted was the song that kicked it off, "Subterranean Homesick Blues":

Bob Dylan - Subterranean Homesick Blues - HQ from Noisefield on Vimeo.

 In 1965, we were still buying the U.S. versions of Beatles albums (although my brother had a German version of Help!). "It's Only Love" was on the U.K. Help! and the U.S. Rubber Soul:


B.B. King's Live at the Regal was long my favorite of all blues albums ...  maybe still is. I can remember one night when my parents were away for the weekend, and me and a couple of friends were staying up late, getting high and listening to music with the TV set on with no sound. At one point, B.B. laid down one of his most mind-boggling licks, and we all stopped whatever we were doing and just listened with our mouths open. This video is of "How Blue Can You Get", which was also on the album. This version is from 1972 ... I saw him once, in 1971:


Finally, Alex included this song, "There But for Fortune" ... I didn't own it, but it often turned up on the radio, and I loved the guitar so much. I've told the story before ... I always wondered who was playing that guitar. I knew Joan Baez was singing, but never found any credits for the track. Then a few years ago, I found this video, and realized it had been Joan all along:


what i watched last week

Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold, 2011). Arnold deserves credit for offering a Wuthering Heights that differs from all the others, and I'm guessing that the resulting film is pretty much exactly how Arnold wanted it. Gloom piled on gloom, with plenty of closeups of the actors, of which the main ones are neophytes with the exception of Kaya Scodelario as the grown-up Catherine. Some of Arnold's earlier work has been compared to Dogme 95, and I can see that, although that isn't necessarily a selling point for me. I guess everything is supposed to be smoldering here ... the characters' excesses of passion are rarely let out to play, but the actors' faces may be expressing inner turmoil. Mostly, they are pretty, no matter how dirty their clothes. And pretty doesn't make passion all on its own. Some find this masterful ... it's #483 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. Me, I'll give it 6/10. For a double-bill, go for overkill and watch the 1939 version with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon.

Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, 2011). I admit I struggle with the idea of Woody Allen these days. Not sure why ... if Roman Polanski made a great film tomorrow, I would have no trouble recognizing it. Midnight in Paris is both slight and complicated, and the combination works well to get "Woody Allen" the tabloid person out of my mind for an hour and a half. It helps that Owen Wilson plays the Woody stand-in ... it's a funny impersonation, more Wilson than Allen. There are a lot of impersonations going on in this fantasy-that-is-never-explained, some better than others, and all of them more rewarding to ex-literature students. Among my faves: Corey Stoll as Hemingway, who talks like Hemingway writes (wasn't the old line always that Hemingway's dialogue was hard to translate to the screen?), and Adrien Brody as Dali. The cameos run deep ... even Djuna Barnes turns up briefly. And so the film enthusiasts aren't left out, there's a funny little scene with Wilson's character and Luis Buñuel that is a bit like when Michael J. Fox plays "Johnny B. Goode" in Back to the Future. Not everything works ... maybe Rachel McAdams is just playing her character as Allen desired, but her rich bitch is annoying and demeaning. Luckily, Marion Cotillard is around for balance. (And a tip of the cap to whoever cast Audrey Fleurot.) #482 on the TSPDT 21st-century list. 8/10. The film reminded me at times of Linklater's "Before" movies ... it's not as good as those, but they might work well as a quadruple-bill.

Salesman (Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin, 1968). In my formative years as a film major in the early 70s, I read and reread a book (I've forgotten the title) that was about film theory. A good portion, as I recall, was given over to cinéma vérité. I was fascinated by the concept, although I'm not sure I'd seen anything that qualified other than Gimme Shelter and Don't Look Back. (Wait, I saw Titicut Follies, too.) I wanted to make cinéma vérité movies myself, and my first short film was indeed a "real life" representation of one woman's life. For those brief moments, I was a real believer in cinéma vérité, and I didn't spend much time questioning the "reality" of what was on the screen. More than 40 years later, I've seen a lot of cinéma vérité, and I no longer trust it in quite the same way. I'm more aware of the artist's manipulations than I was in my more naive years. If I had seen Salesman when I was 19, I would have loved it. Now, the "vérité" seems, not false exactly, but concocted. Its truths are the ones the filmmakers want to put forward, just like with every movie. And if I take away the aura of reality, Salesman is a documentary that takes a little too long to makes its points. The more reflective salesmen have insights into their own lives, but those insights feel casually slipped it, as if they weren't any more important than the other scenes in the movie. That's part of the trick, of course, to make it seem like the camera just happened to be there to record the men. And the artistry of the film is hidden behind the theory of its execution. #432 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10. For a companion, try anything by Frederick Wiseman.

The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940). So smooth, you might not notice how well it all works. The primary reason for this is the interplay between James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. The plot is a hokey bit of nonsense, but it makes a perfectly fine frame for the two stars to work their way through the romance at the center of the movie. It is hard to imagine someone not liking The Shop Around the Corner, which if nothing else is finely appealing. Ten films were nominated for Best Picture Oscars; none of them was The Shop Around the Corner (the winner was Rebecca). There were 20 performers nominated in the acting categories; none of them came from The Shop Around the Corner. Is it the greatest movie ever made? No. But it ranks with the best of its kind, and it's hard to know why it didn't get any Oscar love. In fact, the film won no awards until it was added to the National Film Registry in 1999. Its reputation has increased over the years, and it is now #270 on the TSPDT list of the top films of all time. 8/10. For a double-bill, try one of the other Sullavan-Stewart films: Next Time We LoveThe Shopworn Angel, or The Mortal Storm.

lon simmons

Every baseball fan understands how Giants and A's fans are feeling today. Because every team has announcers that not only become part of the team, but become our companions over the long six months of a season. 162 games a year, we hear the announcers, and they are as familiar to us as our next-door neighbor ... probably more so. So if you are a baseball fan, you have a special relationship with an announcer or two or three, and if you live long enough, some of those special people will pass away.

Lon Simmons died today at 91. He was a long-time announcer for the Giants ... he was a long-time announcer for the A's. Hell, he was a long-time announcer for the 49ers, and some of his most famous calls came with them, but you don't have the same relationship with football announcers, who are only with us once a week for fewer months than baseball.

Lon didn't just disappear when he retired. He came back and did some games for the Giants in his 80s, and if he wasn't quite as good at following the action, he always had his jokes. The Giants make a big deal of honoring their past, and Lon was always welcome at the park. He won the Hall of Fame's Ford Frick Award for broadcasters, and there is a marker commemorating this at China Basin, alongside ones for Russ Hodges and Jon Miller. Lon looked older as the years progressed, although he never looked as old as he really was. And his mind never quit working, so it was a pleasure when he'd stop into the booth for an inning or two.

The Bay Area has long been blessed with great announcers. Bill King was tops in three different sports. Hank Greenwald was a favorite of Giants' fans. The current baseball announcers are all wonderful, with the unnoticed Ken Korach, and the Giants' well-known team of Kruk and Kuip, along with Jon Miller, possibly the best of his era. Kruk and Kuip are truly loved. Yet I don't think even Bill King's biggest fans would argue with my claim that Lon Simmons was the most-beloved sports announcer in the history of Bay Area sports.


better living through chemistry, ten-year marker

Today marks the 10th anniversary of my going on drugs for anxiety and depression. I remember when I asked the doctor how long I'd have to take them, she said "for the rest of your life". (Kinda like Ian in Shameless.) As I've said before, the most notable difference to me is the lack of anxiety ... it's probably not an exaggeration to say I'd been anxious every day of my life up until that point, such that I didn't know I was anxious because I had nothing with which to compare it.

Sometimes I wonder if the placebo effect is involved here. Whatever ... I'm not going to stop taking them now.

For reference: I take valproic acid for anxiety, and bupropion (antidepressant).

music friday: james brown, "lost someone"

I could say a few words, but they would pale next to the sound of JB pleading, "I'm so weak". If you want to read about Live at the Apollo instead of listening to it, Douglas Wolk wrote about it for the 33 1/3 series, and it is definitely worth checking out.

The album was recorded in 1962, and released the following year. Back in 1963, it wasn't easy to get a near-eleven-minute song on an LP. "Lost Someone" was cut in half, with the first part ending Side One and the second part kicking off Side Two. We all got used to flipping the record in mid-song, but in the CD era, that is no longer necessary. Here is one of the all-time greatest artists is popular music history, with what I think is his greatest performance (and probably the band's greatest performance, as well):