Is George R.R. Martin Rewriting The Winds of Winter?

HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Panel And Q&A - Comic-Con International 2014

By Jake Sweltz

Waiting for George R.R. Martin to finish writing The Winds of Winter has begun to feel a bit like waiting for Tiger Woods to return to pro golf dominance.  At first we assumed it was only a matter of time, but time has a way of eating away at inspiration.

Confession: I’ve never met GRRM IRL.  I’ve never even read any of his books.  But I have a depressing theory about why he’s taking so long with The Winds of Winter.

I’m worried that since everyone sniffed out the whole “R + L = J” thing*, Martin might have been tempted to change the direction of the narrative.  I’m worried that he’s decided to tamper with his vision in order to stay ahead of his fans.

*For the uninitiated, “R + L = J” is a widely accepted theory explaining and predicting a number of important plot points relating to A Song of Ice and Fire.

This might partly explain the long delay.  Maybe he scrapped certain portions of the story and started from scratch after realizing that hordes of voracious readers had not only solved the mystery of Jon’s parentage, but had actually projected his endgame for the entire series.

With its upcoming season, HBO’s Game of Thrones will finally eclipse A Song of Ice and Fire as the primary medium through which Martin’s story is unfolding.  That is remarkable.  Think about it: this is a saga that started in one century as a fringe-genre book series and will finish in another as a mega-popular television phenomenon.  As far as cultural events go, that’s total solar eclipse-level.  We’ve never seen anything like it.

Part of the show’s success has been its fans’ unwavering trust in the storytellers’ ability to tell the story.  I don’t want to see that beautifully constructed story mangled just because we kind-of-sort-of already figured it out.  As a writer, GRRM has always had an inclination toward devastating plot twists.  Compromising his original vision in the name of surprise would be the most tragic of all.

A Well Respected Man: How Randy Wittman Got Fired and Still Won

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By Jake Sweltz

Once upon a time, Randy Wittman was an NBA punchline.  A year and a half ago, before he unleashed Paul Pierce at power forward and won a playoff series, Wittman had come to symbolize Washington’s stubborn commitment to goodness over greatness.  Man, that backcourt is something special, but they need a real coach! 

Fast forward to April 14, 2016.  The Wizards finally announce they’ve dismissed head coach Randy Wittman.  The move was expected for weeks; Beal’s been hurt, the team has looked disinterested, and in any case, management wants to hire Scotty Brooks in a feeble attempt to lure KD to D.C.  Everyone agrees Wittman is basically a scape goat for a lost season rather than a mediocre coach who probably should have been canned two years earlier.  In the meantime, Randy racked up enough wins to become (statistically) one of the “most successful coaches in Wizards history.”

I’d say that’s a pretty favorable development for the Wittman narrative.  And he deserves it!  Sure, he was never going to be Phil Jackson, but he established a coherent (if somewhat conservative) culture and style of play in Wizard world.  As Wall developed and Beal struggled with injuries, Wittman dutifully steered the ship.  He whipped the team into good enough shape for the media to start complaining that he wasn’t “elite” enough to lead them in the playoffs, and pretty soon he was popping up on Vine (which, unless you’re Jay Wright, is never a good look for a basketball coach).

Beating Toronto last year helped a bit, but the rap on Wittman had always been that he was out of his depth.  That’s probably as true today as it ever was, but this listless Wizards season has shifted the blame for Washington’s dysfunction way beyond Wittman.

Go figure that after his worst season in three years, Randy’s rep might actually be in better shape than ever.

Robin Williams: Icon of 90’s Kids’ Cinema

By Jake Sweltz

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For a guy with one of the most distinctive comedic shticks in recent memory, Robin Williams built a body of work that, in retrospect, looks pretty fucking dynamic.  Most people old enough to have witnessed his entire career might best remember him for his zany, coke-sweat soaked breakout role on Mork & Mindy.  Or perhaps they might think of his soulful turns in Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting.  A few might even reflect on the surreality of his darkest work, where his unique persona was either mined for misanthropy (Death to Smoochy, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn) or folded inward to create a kind of ominous calm (Insomnia, One Hour Photo).

But for late 80’s/early 90’s babies like myself, Robin Williams’ legacy is obvious.  He was Mrs. Doubtfire.  He was young Alan Parrish in Jumanji, Peter Pan in Hook, quirky Prof. Philip Brainard in Flubber.  He was the motherfucking GENIE IN ALADDIN.  Robin Williams had an extensive and versatile career, but for me and countless others my age, he’ll be remembered first and foremost as a goddamn HERO of classic 90’s kids’ cinema.

Whatever personal demons he struggled with throughout his life, Williams never seemed very interested in exploring them onscreen, and for that I’m thankful.  In many ways, he was the perfect kids’ movie star.  Generous and compassionate, goofy and animated, obviously adult-aged and yet equally-as-obviously a complete adolescent.  Underneath all that hair, he was unquestionably one of us, and that’s what made him a natural fit for kids’ flicks (not to mention roles where he played an adult who was actually a kid, or vice versa).

For how troubled a life Williams led and for all the darkness inside of him, it’s kind of a marvel that unlike so many other depressive comedians before him, his performances were never caustic.  On the contrary, he showered audiences with such joy, exuded so much warmth and positive energy, it’s as though he was physically incapable of keeping any for himself.

Anyway, here’s to Robin Williams, the Marlon Brando of Generation Y’s candy-fueled formative years.  Big ups to the Genie; REST IN PEACE, BIG BLUE.

R.I.P. Phoenix Suns (2013-2014) – Eulogizing the NBA’s Motliest Crew

By Jake Sweltz

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“It’s better to burn out than to fade away…”

It was Neil Young who wrote those words, and Kurt Cobain who infamously commandeered them, but neither figure could shred like the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns.

Alas, the Suns have finally set in the West.  Their playoff hopes were extinguished by the Memphis Grizzlies at US Airways Center on Monday, as the team lost 97-91 in a game that saw 15 fourth quarter lead changes.  Phoenix went down early; the Grizzlies had a 13-point advantage with three minutes to go in the first half.  Then, just as they had all year long, the Suns scrapped back, and by the final quarter, the score was tied at 67.

Phoenix’s resistance was glorious, but ultimately futile.  Just as in its previous two games (each almost equally as crucial), they were narrowly out-dueled in the final minute, capping their epic season-ending trilogy of tragedy.

But let’s not dwell on the sad times.  We’re not here to mourn how the Suns died.  We’re here to celebrate how they lived.

Two weeks ago, there were three bubble teams clawing for the last two playoff seeds in the most loaded conference in years:

(1) The Memphis Grizzlies.  A team that won 56 games and made the Western Conference Finals just last year and that has made no major roster changes except adding a bench guy who can actually shoot (Mike Miller).  A team with an elite defense that features one of the league’s most skilled two-way big men in Marc Gasol.  Not to mention the indomitable Zach Randolph, somehow averaging a double-double from deep under the Earth’s crust.  A franchise widely recognized and respected as a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future.

(2) The Dallas Mavericks.  A grizzled squad of battle-tested sharp shooters and savvy veterans.  Plus Monta Ellis, who actually posted great efficiency numbers and blossomed into a top two-guard.  A team with perennial All-Star and future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki still shooting the same percentages he did at 30, still climbing the all-time scoring ladder with the same frightening speed, and still sinking unguardable fadeaways in the grills of flummoxed forwards on a nightly basis.  A group helmed by long-time basketball guru and noted Carrey-lookalike Rick Carlisle.  A franchise with one of the strongest cultures in the NBA, a smart owner, and a history of success.

(3) The Phoenix Suns?  The team that traded its starting center a week before the season began?  The squad that lost its starting point guard and prize offseason acquisition for 40 games?  The franchise that hired a rookie coach and signed an arsenal of anonymous three-point bombing strangers?  The team that hasn’t made the playoffs since the days when Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire were more than just walking (painfully lurching?) contracts?  The team that Vegas projected to win 19 games and contend for nothing except the top draft pick?  Those Phoenix Suns?

If you asked any reasonable NBA fan before the season which of those three teams would get squeezed out, is there any doubt who they’d pick?  So sure, at the end of the day, the Suns did eventually set in the West.  Maybe that’s just nature taking its course, but honestly, what sounds natural about a roster consisting of the following characters:

Eric “the Bled-Show” Bledsoe

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The six foot ninja with speed like Sonic the Hedgehog and athleticism that has been compared to LeBron James.  Bledsoe turned heads last year as the backup point guard for the Clippers after Chris Paul went down, but there was widespread skepticism around the league that he could match the value of a real franchise player.  Over time, that might prove true, but as long as he keeps slicing up guards and blocking the shit out of 6’11” dudes, he’s worth every penny on highlight credit alone.

Goran “the Dragon” Dragic

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The skinny Slovenian with the ever-pubescent crustache and the on-court approach of a highly caffeinated coyote.  In a league chock full of talented point guards, Dragic has flown under the radar for several years, and now he’s getting national attention as an All-NBA candidate.  His always-effective, super-funky Euro slash and kick game reached a new level this season.  As Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry pointed out, Dragic is third in the league in creating corner three opportunities, behind only LeBron James and John Wall, two of the league’s biggest franchise cornerstones.  As ambiguous as the criteria for Most Improved Player is, it seems pretty obvious that Dragic should be a leading candidate to take home that hardware.

Miles “the Plum” Plumlee 

plumsThe overlooked big man who you don’t take seriously until you actually watch him play a couple games and realize he’s just busting his freaking ass out there.  He’s averaging eight points and eight boards, which is beyond good for guy who didn’t see a single significant minute off the bench in Indiana.  But in a way, stats are besides the point.  This piece of Luis Scola trade driftwood turned out solid as an oak tree, and that’s all his team needed.

Gerald “Lean, Mean” Green

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The buzzer-beating, gravity-defying, mean-mugging Super Mario of the NBA.  The player most likely to actually be an NBA Jam avatar magically wished to life.  A guy who bounced around in and out of the league for years, who was playing in Russia and seemed destined to wash out as an über athletic afterthought before finding a home in Phoenix.  He started out with the Celtics as a physical freak of nature who just couldn’t grasp the nuances of the pro game.  Over time, he honed his skills, but was still known mostly as a one-dimensional dunker until he started putting up scorching numbers for the Suns during Bledsoe’s injury.  He evens out as a reliable spark plug off the bench, but if you give him a lane, he’ll still swallow your soul.

The Morris Twins

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The butt of countless jokes before the season about symbolizing the arbitrary gimmickry of Phoenix’s roster, Marcus and Markieff both ended up having career years, with Markieff in the running for several NBA awards, including Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved.  (But, then again, you could make a case for virtually every player on this Suns squad for the latter.)

And that’s before even getting to guys like Channing Frye, PJ Tucker, and Ish Smith.  Seriously, right when you think this Phoenix team can’t get any more fun, you remember that they have dudes named Channing, PJ, and Ish.  Is it too late to add the Suns to my Coolest NBA Roll Call list?

But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the man behind the clipboard, first-year coach and cheek-rubbing enthusiast Jeff Hornacek.  The man took a roster of young unknowns, low-radar journeymen, underwhelming role players, and no starting center, and he turned it into literally the winningest regular season team ever to miss the playoffs.  It’s often hard to parse how much influence a coach truly has on the success of his team, but in this case there can be no doubt.  Virtually every player on this roster ended up outperforming their career averages by some significant measure.  Hornacek is, to me, the most obvious and deserving choice for Coach of the Year, and despite the number of worthy candidates this season (S/O to Thibodeau, Carlisle, Popovich, and Stotts) I suspect he’ll win it.  After all, Phoenix was the feel-good story of the season all year long; absolutely everybody loved this Suns team: fans, media, players, everybody.

And that’s really the thing I’ll miss the most about this year’s squad.  The damn near universal adoration for this unlikely team of lovable misfits that succeeded despite the odds.  Which is what delineates these gratifying underdog stories, right?  The odds?  Because once a long shot beats the odds, they’re not a long shot anymore.  They lose the very essence of what made them special in the first place.

Next year, the Suns won’t be the league’s goofy Slumdog Millionaire, plundering victories from established contenders.  They’ll be one of those established contenders, and that means they’ll have to deal with all the not-so-fun baggage that being an emergent competitor entails.  “Can Eric Bledsoe make the next leap?”  “Will Hornacek get fired if they don’t make the playoffs?”  “You know, Miles Plumlee isn’t the long-term answer at center.”  “Does this team need to trade for another superstar?”  And so on.

There’s no doubt that after this season, the Phoenix Suns are in a better place.  And yet, I still can’t help but shed a tear for the loss of their childlike spirit.  Liberated from the burden of competitive expectations, the Suns were free to spread their wings and fly the way they wanted.  Because a team that’s not weighed down is a team that might soar highest.

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God bless the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns.

Shine on you crazy diamonds.

 

(all images courtesy of Google Search)

 

 

Notes on a Scandal: Reading QT’s The Hateful Eight

By Jake Sweltz

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The screenplay for Quentin Tarantino’s now-defunct project The Hateful Eight is 146 pages of cotton candy.  It reads like a sugar rush, gives you ulcers the size of gum balls, and finally leaves you feeling empty and rotten.  But confectionary greatness isn’t about nutrition; it’s about flavor.  And The Hateful Eight is admittedly pretty freaking delicious.

Note: the following contains major spoilers re: the setting, plot, and characters of The Hateful Eight.

THE STORY:

Set in post-Civil War Wyoming, the plot involves two bounty hunters who encounter one another en route to a small town called Red Rock.  They are each transporting recently captured bounties, including three dead outlaws and one live female prisoner named Daisy Domergue.  An approaching blizzard forces the group to shack up in a small, saloon-like haberdashery with an assortment of wily misfits who may or may not be in cahoots to free Daisy.

Most of the movie is devoted to the various games of verbal poker that take place amongst the motley crew as they wait out the blizzard.  Here are all the classical signposts of a typical of a QT feature: the colorful snatches of character backstory, the sudden bursts of brutal violence, the elaborate feigns and bluffs the characters make as they maneuver to conceal/reveal each other’s true identities and motivations.  Plus: a strangely affectionate attention paid to coffee as a crucial plot motif.

THE CAST:

Before the script leaked, Tarantino had reportedly sent copies to three actors: Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen.  The latter two are Tarantino regulars, and if the movie ever made it to the development stage, I expect we’d have seen plenty of faces familiar to long-time QT fans.  Luckily, since the film will never actually be committed to celluloid, we’re free to eternally indulge in every fanboy’s favorite pastime: throwing out a ton of hypothetical casting decisions and then drooling over how awesome they would be.

Now, this movie is called The Hateful Eight for a reason.  In the tradition of flicks like The Dirty Dozen and the myriad other hyper-masculine westerns from which QT draws inspiration, pretty much all these characters are rotten bastards.  Correspondingly, I’ve tried to fake-cast this non-picture with actors who can convincingly play villainy, actors who can wear the black hat.  Which, in this case, is especially appropriate since a few of the characters literally wear black hats.

Having said that, here’s my Hateful Eight Dream Cast (brought to you by Sega™):

Maj. Marquis Warren : Chiwetel Ejiofor (Understudy: Samuel L. Jackson)

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A few articles mentioned that Tarantino had written this part with Jackson in mind, but reading the script, I couldn’t help but visualize Chiwetel Ejiofor instead.  Fresh off his very somber work in 12 Years a Slave, it would have been an intriguing change of pace to see Ejiofor in a role as pulpy as Maj. Warren’s swashbuckling bounty hunter.  Plus, the stage veteran’s theatre bona fides would surely come in handy given that the entire movie mostly takes place in one small room.

John “The Hangman” Ruth : Matthew McConaughey (Understudy: Michael Madsen)

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Middle age has done something magical for McConaughey.  He’s still as charming and roguishly appealing as ever, but his rom-com prime is behind him.  The cracks in that stunning visage are starting to show, and his whole persona has been grown subtly darker.  Starting with 2011’s The Lincoln Lawyer, and continuing through his work in Killer Joe and True Detective, McConaughey’s performances have taken on a hint of menace.  Sure, his characters have always been mischievous, but it wasn’t until recently that they’ve actually felt dangerous.

At this point in McConaughey’s career, I can think of no director better equipped to bring out his glorious bastardry than Tarantino.  The idea of matching QT’s alternately playful and sinister dialogue with McConaughey’s famously slithery silver tongue is, to me, a no-brainer.

Daisy Domergue : Reese Witherspoon (Understudy: Chloe Sevigny)

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While we’re talking McConaughey, we might as well make this a Mud reunion and cast good old Reese as John Ruth’s fiery prisoner, Daisy Domergue.  Daisy is handcuffed to Ruth for most of the script, and throughout the story the two develop an interesting “frenemy” type of chemistry.  It would be great to see Witherspoon in a role where she could tap into some of that Dukes of Hazzard outlaw craziness she unleashed in Atlanta last year.

Chris Mannix : James Franco (Understudy: Adam Driver)

In the text, Chris is introduced as an “early thirties, untrustworthy, rotten teeth hillbilly.”  Hmm.  Lots of options here, but I’m thinking we should probably call the dude who turned himself into this guy:

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I’m not the biggest Franco fanatic, but I think that he could bring just the right flavor of zany energy to this role.  Spraaaang breaaaaak foreeeeeeeeever.

Bob the Frenchman : Denis Menochet (Understudy: Jean Reno)

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It was rumored that had this movie actually been made, Christoph Waltz would have been tapped for this role.  But y’know what?  I kind of don’t want Christoph Waltz in a (hypothetical) third consecutive Tarantino movie.  Especially since the dude is not even French to begin with.  Besides, Bob is too terse a character for an actor like Waltz.  Perhaps future drafts would have expanded this part, but given Bob’s relatively thin dialogue, I was thinking the role would actually be perfect for Waltz’s sparring partner from the opening scene of Inglourious Basterds, French actor Denis Menochet.  As dairy farmer Perrier LaPadite, Menochet achieves a strong, quiet dignity, even as Waltz’s relentless Col. Hans Landa is slowly tearing it to pieces.  I’d be interested in seeing him bring that same element to this story’s mysterious Bob.

Oswaldo Mobray : Jude Law (Understudy: Tim Roth)

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Oswaldo is described in the script as “a blonde little man who wears a grey european cut business suit” and is “a bit of a Fop.  Not a gigantic Fop, just a bit of one” (sic).  This is ostensibly the role that Tim Roth would have read for, but my first choice would be Jude Law.  Another stage vet, Law exudes the kind of slimy smugness that’s perfect for Oswaldo, an eloquent British gent who claims to be a traveling hangman.  His recent work in Dom Hemingway proves he can play rough, plus Law can ham it up with the best of them.  I’d love to see him deliver Mobray’s juicy monologue about how his duty as the passionless executioner separates “real” justice from “frontier” justice.

Cowboy Joe Gage : Woody Harrelson (Understudy: Josh Brolin)

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This laconic “wise ass” of a character is a tough nut to crack, fake-casting wise.  He doesn’t have a ton of dialogue, but he’s still an important character and his scenes are compelling.  One of his exchanges with the extra-suspicious John Ruth is among the script’s funniest moments.  Ruth is interrogating Gage about who he is, where he’s headed, etc.:

Gage: I’m a cow puncher…I was coming up here to spend Christmas with my mother.

Ruth: Really?

Gage: Really.

Ruth: Funny, you don’t really look like the coming home for Christmas type.

Gage: Well then looks are deceiving.  Because I’m defiantly [sic] the coming home for Christmas to spend it with my mother, type.

Reading this, I was reminded of Josh Brolin’s less-is-more approach to playing Llewelyn Davis in No Country For Old Men, and the dry humor he displayed in his scenes with Woody Harrelson and Kelly McDonald. Eventually, I settled on Brolin as my first choice…

…until I realized that Harrelson is actually the real answer here.  He’s more suitably cartoonish than Brolin, his resume practically screams “laconic wise-ass,” plus casting him here nets bonus points for turning the above exchange into a revival of McConaughey and Harrelson’s crackling True Detective bromance.

Gen. Sanford Smithers : Bruce Dern (Understudy: Harrison Ford)

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This is most likely the role that Bruce Dern was supposed to read for, and honestly, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate actor to bring Gen. Smithers’ to life.  This proud old Confederate general is a cranky bastard, but he’s also wounded and vulnerable, sadly making his way to Red Rock to bury his son.  What he learns about that son’s death while holed up with the other bastards in the haberdashery I won’t spoil (at least not yet), but suffice it to say, it is…rather unpleasant.

Jody Domergue : Jeremy Renner (Understudy: Brad Pitt)

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Jody, head of the infamous “Domergue Gang” isn’t introduced until later in the story, but his presence is instantly electrifying.  He’s a dangerous outlaw, but when we first meet him, he is posing as a kindly country preacher man, his demeanor that of a perfect gentleman.  Renner is one of the few actors I can see convincingly embodying the charisma, chivalry, and wickedness the part requires.  Besides, we need to get this guy some more work outside of the Avengers franchise.

 

THE THREE MOST TARANTINO MOTIFS OF THE SCRIPT:

1.) 70MM SUPER CINEMASCOPE.  In between scenes and/or long stretches of dialogue, Tarantino frequently inserts notes about how the rugged Wyoming landscape will be shot in “big super cinemascope 70mm filmed gloriousness.”  He mentions 70MM SUPER CINEMASCOPE repeatedly throughout the script, but always with slight variations on how gorgeous and amazing it will look.  His emphasis on big, outdoorsy exteriors is probably at least partly about contrasting the cramped, claustrophobic interiors of the story.  But you also get the feeling like the guy just really loves cinemascope.  His enthusiasm for the format is very palpable, and it lends a fun bit of continuity to the reading experience.

2.) HATS!  QT is one of the most unabashed stylists in Hollywood.  His characters are always distinctive, not only in their speech, but also in their dress. (Who could forget the iconic French gangster suits Jules and Vincent don in Pulp Fiction, or the Bruce Lee-inspired bumblebee jumpsuit Uma Thurman rocks in Kill Bill, Vol. 1?)  In The Hateful Eight, QT again indulges his sartorial fetishes, giving us at least half a dozen rich outfit descriptions to go along with his character intros.  Capping nearly every one of these descriptions?  A word about what sort of sweet hat is being worn.  There’s John Ruth’s “drop dead black hat” and Joe Gage’s “cool brown cow puncher hat” and Maj. Warren’s “supercool non regulation cowboy hat he picked up sometime after the war.”  You’d think the main reason QT wanted to write another Western was just so he could dream up some fresh head gear.

3.) Coffy.  As I mentioned earlier, coffee (or “coffy” as QT spells it throughout the text), plays an important role in The Hateful Eight.  Before John Ruth and company initially arrive at the haberdashery, he comments several times on the quality of the coffy there.  “Hot, strong, and good,” is the film’s running tagline for the stuff.  This setup provides a few good jokes and one huge plot point, which isn’t really worth spoiling here.  It’s been awhile, but this isn’t the first time Tarantino has made coffy a fulcrum of conversation in one of his movies.  Remember Jimmie from Pulp Fiction?  The suburban white dude that reluctantly plays host to Jules and Verne as they frantically try to dispose of poor Martin’s dead body?  If you recall, the passive-aggressive chat between Jules and Jimmie starts off with the former awkwardly complimenting the latter’s home brewed coffy.  It stands to reason that QT is something of a caf-fiend. (as in, a fiend for caffeine).  “No kidding,” responded everyone who has ever seen Tarantino give an interview.

THE THREE MOST BATSHIT INSANE PARTS OF THE STORY (NOTE: EXTRA SPOILER-Y)

1.) The part when Jody Domergue and his gang infiltrate a rest stop posing as a a contingent of devout Christian gentlemen before blowing everyone away in a hail of gunfire and burying them all in a shallow mass grave out back.

2.) The part when John Ruth is poisoned and responds by violently assaulting and then puking blood all over Daisy Domergue as she cackles maniacally.

3.) The part when Maj. Warren (a black Union Army Major) recounts to Gen. Smithers (an old white Confederate General) the story of how he captured, tortured, orally raped, and killed Smithers’ son in excruciating detail….just before setting the old man on fire and watching him burn to death.

THE VERDICT:

The script’s non-linear progression, confined setting, slowly ratcheting tension, and explosive finale recall several memorable scenes and tropes from Tarantino’s earlier work, specifically Reservoir Dogs and Inglorious Basterds.  In many ways, The Hateful Eight reads like an expanded variation on the “basement bar” scene from the latter film, with its deliberate build-up and guns-under-the-table climax.

Obviously, the script isn’t perfect.  There are a number of character-related odds and ends that don’t quite add up, and a few interesting story threads are introduced only to be left hanging loose and unformed for the rest of the film.  The dialogue, though sparkling in places, is clearly far less developed than it would have ultimately become had the movie been made.  And for all the salivating tension that Tarantino creates leading up to the end of the story, the conclusion is a bit of a letdown.  QT has come a long way since Reservoir Dogs, but he’s still a sucker for a good old Mexican stand-off.  Unfortunately, in this case the gimmick feels less like a natural culmination and more like regression.

But keep in mind, this is a first draft, and most of the problems are a result of there being too many ideas rather than not enough.  If you’re a QT enthusiast, you really couldn’t ask for a more entertaining read.

Overall, I’d give it 4 out of 5 cups of coffy.

 

(all images courtesy of Google search)

 

 

A Song of Ice and Fire: Some Scattered Thoughts on U.S. Curling

By Jake Sweltz

Skip Shuster of U.S. delivers a stone as lead Landsteiner and second Zezel sweeps ahead of it during their men's curling round robin game against Denmark at 2014 Sochi Olympics

In case you weren’t paying attention, the American curlers didn’t do so hot in Sochi this year.  The men and women went a combined 3-15 in Round Robin play, with each team finishing at the bottom of the standings for a second straight Olympics.  These results aren’t exactly shocking.  The United States has never been a curling superpower.  We’ve medaled only twice in Olympic history: men’s bronze in both Torino, 2006 and Albertville, 1992.  It’s not like anyone was expecting the Americans to set the ice on fire this year.

Still, I’m a little disappointed.

Curling is one of the few Olympic events in which the U.S. doesn’t field formidable-to-dominant competition.  Sure, It’s always fun to root for home team, but the Americans’ lowly reputation in this particular sport would have made a Cinderella run to the medal round all the more salivating.  After all, it’s not often that the U.S. gets a chance to be David instead of Goliath.

This year’s curling squad had the chance to be our generation’s 1984 Olympic Hockey team.  Or at least maybe our generation’s 2002 World Cup U.S. Soccer team, who defied the odds and made a miraculous run all the way to… the quarterfinals.  That was kind of inspiring, right?

The point I’m trying to make here is that every four years, our stone-throwing American brethren have the chance to capitalize on an increasingly rare opportunity: to be the United States’ next Great Olympic Underdogs.  And with every poor showing in the tournament round, that opportunity grows more and more ripe.

Unfortunately for American skips John Shuster and Erika Brown, the window might have already closed.  Shuster, 31, just completed his third consecutive Olympic appearance, but as a new father and successful restaurant manager, it’s still unclear whether the veteran will be able to commit to a fourth go-around in 2018.  Brown, meanwhile, is 41 years old and has already stated that Sochi is most likely her last Olympics.  With a new generation of American curlers on the rise, the United States’ Olympic prospects in this event seem as inconsequential as ever.  But I’m not giving up hope.

Like tons of other casual observers, I’ve grown very fond of Olympic curling over the past few Games.  It’s a marvelous spectator sport; tense and cerebral and goofy as hell.  Dozens of U.S. broadcasters have talked about the game’s idiosyncrasies as if they were obstacles to be overcome by the average American viewer.  The underlying implication is always something along the lines of, if you can just get past how bizarre this sport looks, we promise you’ll really enjoy it.  But I’ve never understood this tendency to preemptively defend the event.  To me, the eccentricity of curling is what makes it so charming in the first place.

The most hilarious thing I read during this year’s games in Sochi was this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, which detailed how Russia’s banning alcohol during sporting events was against “the Spirit of Curling.”  The way I see it, any sport that counts drunken revelry among its most essential cultural principles is a sport that Americans get behind.

Now let’s wrap this up with a quick collection of Sochi’s best curling faces:

muirhead sidorova jones jacobs Niklas Edin

 

 

 

 

 

The Perennial Favorite: Ruminating on Roger Federer

On the eve of his umpteenth late-round matchup with Rafael Nadal, does the 17-time Grand Slam Champion have enough in the tank to win another major?

By Jake Sweltz

federer

 

It’s easy to call Roger Federer ageless.  His picture-perfect mechanics, his textbook footwork, his exquisite touch, all of it has remained stunningly identical to the technique he demonstrated in 2003 (the year he first won Wimbledon, beginning a run of dominance unparalleled in the history of professional tennis).  But there’s something about Federer’s aesthetic continuity that goes beyond his game.  Even his face, with its features both sharp yet soft, is a constantly familiar canvas of boyish handsomeness.  The man seems perpetually frozen in time, as though he were some kind of athletically appareled immortal.  A bandanna’d Dorian Gray, all decked out in Nike sweat gear.  Peter Pan in stretch polyester.

But Federer doesn’t live in Neverland, and that’s become increasingly obvious over the past few seasons.  He hasn’t reached a Slam final since winning Wimbledon in July 2012, the same year he last held the ATP’s no. 1 ranking.  Last summer, after suffering his worst major defeat in nearly a decade (losing in Wimbledon’s 2nd round to Sergiy Stakhovsky, ranked no. 116 at the time), a question once unthinkable suddenly became all too reasonable: “Is this the end of Roger Federer?”

Of course, in the realm of international tennis, “the end” is a tremendously relative term.  Federer finished 2013 as the world no. 6, a ranking countless players would die to achieve even once in their entire career.  But for a player like Federer, a player the sport has largely embraced as no less than the Greatest of All Time, falling to no. 6 is roughly equivalent to Zeus falling off Mount Olympus.

Roger Federer might be immortal, but he’s not eternal.  And now, with yet another shot at yet another title on the line, he’s finally playing like he knows it.

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This Friday will mark Federer’s eleventh consecutive Australian Open semifinals appearance, his longest remaining streak of sustained success among the four major tournaments.  Still, it feels like ages since he’s been a real factor in Melbourne, partially because this is where Novak Djokovic has so frequently dominated the narrative (he’s won the last three).  But more than that, the past three Aussie Open semifinals have proven symbolically tragic for Federer.  A year after winning the title in 2010, he was beaten in straight sets by the ascendent Djokovic.  The following year, he was defeated by Rafael Nadal in four sets.  A year later, he lost a five-setter to Andy Murray.  By now, the Rivalry had been firmly displaced by the “Big Four,” and each encroaching player could claim a signature win over Federer in Rod Laver Arena.

It was within this ominous context that Federer faced off against Andy Murray in the quarterfinals Wednesday morning.  Three years ago, this matchup would barely have warranted a passing glance.  Now, it’s a different story.  These days, a significant Federer victory is far from assured, and maybe even unlikely.  Murray was not to be taken lightly.

And yet, for the first two sets, you could have sworn it really was three years ago.  The first set lasted all of thirty minutes, with Federer capturing an early break and breezing through his own service games with little effort.  Murray, on the other hand, had reverted to the kind of clumsiness and frustration that made him a punchline among pundits not long ago.  He looked helpless trying to deal with Federer’s efficient serve-and-volley approach, and his body language was telling the story every bit as well as the score.

By the middle of the second set, Federer had made a cozy home at the net, but Murray was finally starting to come around.  Federer’s age betrays him when it comes to arduous baseline-to-baseline rallies, and after going down a break, Murray began initiating those more and more.  By the time Federer closed out the set, it was clear Murray had found a groove.

Despite ultimately winning the match, seeing Federer fade a bit down the stretch against a more assertive Murray leaves me wondering if he will ever again possess the pure physicality to hang with Nadal.  When the Spaniard starts launching those late-set baseline body blows, will Federer still have enough in the tank to respond?

He seems to think so.  “I am back physically,” he commented after the match.  “I’m explosive out there.  I can get to balls.  I’m not afraid to go for balls.”  But who is he really trying to convince?

It’s true that Federer looked strong and agile throughout much of the match, but what stood out even more than his movements during the run of play were his reactions after the points had ended.  Since his maturation around 2004, Federer hasn’t often let his emotions rise to the surface during matches, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t look like he actually cared about the outcome on Wednesday.  He was fist-pumping after half-volleys, drooping his head after backhands sent just wide, shouting in triumph after forehand winners.  You could read the tension on his face with every big opportunity, and that was something that we simply hadn’t seen from Federer during his run of dominance.

This Friday, he and Nadal will be going head-to-head yet again in a major late-round showdown, and for that we should all be grateful.  Part of what makes athletic greatness so inspiring to witness is our knowledge that it can’t last forever.  Transcendence is transient.  Time marches on, our idols grow old, retire and sell underwear.  But none of that matters when the ball is in play.  How can mortality possibly be real as we watch these heroic specimens perform feats beyond all physical comprehension and believe, for a moment in time, that we live among gods?