“L to the OG” Grammy Acceptance Speech by Kendall Roy [Succession]

Snoop Dog: And now the winner of the Grammy for Best Rap Single… Shiiit, how do I get this mother open? Oh here we go. I got it dawg…. Kendall Roy and his boy Squiggle! …“L to the OG”!

*raucous applause*

*Kendall Roy rises and kisses Naomi, before stoically walking onto the stage*

Kendall, leaning into the mic: Uhhhh, thank you. Thanks. This, uhhh, this means a lot. Truly. It means the world. You know, rap has been my lifeline from the very beginning. Through business deals and drug use, walking the streets of New York and family fights, workouts and luxury cruises, rap has been the, the, the soundtrack… of my life. When Rhea came to me and wanted to brainstorm how to celebrate my dad’s 50th year in business, the only idea that made sense to me… was to rap. To bring my dad into the soundtrack of my life. To try and get him to hear the music that my heart beats to. So Squiggle and I got together and laid down some beats, and I knew it had to be something special. And the fact that you all here are recognizing that uhhh… there’s nothing quite like it. 

So I’d like to thank Squiggle and the hours of work we put in on the beat and the rhymes. I brought him nothing but a few lyrics and a lot of passion and he turned it in to an award winning single. 

I want to thank Naomi, who has been through some shit with me and is still by my side.

*Kendall raises the Grammy in solidarity*

I want to thank my family, even though they might not want to hear it right now…

*audience laughs awkwardly*

Roman, Shiv and her husband Tom, Conner, and especially my dad. The OG himself. Who taught me how to be a killer on the mic and in life. I hope he’s proud of me for what I’ve done. I didn’t do anything he wouldn’t do. 

I’d also like to tell my kids to go to bed. It’s way too late for you to be up. Iverson, you’re going to be a nightmare in the morning, get some sleep buddy. 

And I guess finally, fuck… the music, okay… real quick. I guess finally I just want to say, no matter who you are or what you do, whether you’re… you’re a garbage man, or, or, or on a construction crew working on summer homes, or a business man in a suit, everyone has a rapper inside of them just waiting to.. let out their particular…. flavor. 

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Three Tiers Of Will Ferrell Movies

With the recent release of a solid Ferrell film in Eurovision, Ferrell filmography became worth reviewing. He has been making good to great films for quite some time with bad ones peppered in for seasoning. His films seem (as easily as anyone’s) to consists of three quality tiers. So here they are with the film’s release date.

Disclaimer: We are not talking all movies Ferrell appeared in, but those that he was a main actor in that has his special brand of improv comedy. They seem to make themselves pretty clear. 

Tier 1: Could be your favorite comedy of all time…

Anchorman (2004)

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

Stepbrothers (2008)

The Other Guys (2010)

Tier 2: This probably made you laugh, and you may have even watched it more than once…

Kicking and Screaming (2005)

Blades of Glory (2007)

Semi-Pro (2008)

Anchorman 2 (2013)

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020)

Tier 3: You might not have even seen it AKA The Price of Greatness

Land of the Lost (2009)

The Campaign (2012)

Casa de mi Padre (2012)

Get Hard (2015)

Daddy’s Home (2015)

The House (2017)

Daddy’s Home 2 (2017)

Holmes & Watson (2018)

A few things stand out to me. 

  • Ferrell, as much as I love him, in the movies that are uniquely his, may be the best example of a slow decline in the quality of his films. His first movie, Anchorman, is probably considered his best, and from there it is almost a linear downhill, with a few exceptions. This is especially clear if you look at his films from Tier to Tier rather than a movie to movie basis. There is overlap, nothing is perfect, but each Tier seems to accumulate tranches of years in which he was making film.
  • I didn’t include Elf because it didn’t fit the type of comedy that people most closely associate with a Ferrell film, i.e. it is too scripted. However, if you do include it, it would easily slide into Tier 1 and was released in 2003. It would only add to the trends already displayed.
  • The Other Guys may not belong in Tier 1, and would be up for debate. However, it seems like all of the other films fit easily into place. Let me know if/how you’d move them around in the comments.
  • His good movies have great bones. The plot in movies like The Other Guys and Talladega Nights are solid, and if taken seriously and rewritten, could become an actual drama. Maybe that is true for any comedy, but it feels worth saying because of the degree of absurdity that Ferrell takes them. 
  • There is such a large floor to ceiling differential in the quality of a Ferrell film. I will admit that I haven’t even seen some of the movies in the Third Tier, but I don’t need to in order to know how bad they are. Compare that to the brilliance of the four in Tier 1 that are all must-see comedies that could potentially be your all-time favorite. And they age so well. The ridiculous quotes that may have only made you smile upon initial viewing, will make you double over as you find ways to quote them with friends and this phenomena only grows over time. 

    Amongst many directors, actors, and writers who have a large differential in good to bad films they have made, Ferrell’s filmography seems noteworthy because it clearly highlights the pitfalls of brilliance and the chances it needs to flourish. Ferrell is not everyone’s cup of humor, but I think most would recognize he is an important contributor to the field. And even he, of legendary comedy fame, would go out on some very thin branches for the sake of his movies. When anyone does that (comedy or otherwise), some of them hold, and greatness is achieved, but some snap, and we get Holmes & Watson.

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Looking Into The Lens [Fleabag] (Season 2)

That’s it??? Fleabag’s done??? But it was only two seasons! And there were only six episodes a season! And they only gave each episode a half hour! How can they be done??

That should probably be all I say to recap my feelings on season two of Fleabag, since I had no clue that there weren’t plans for a third season until I watched Fleabag, at the end of the last episode, walk away from the camera, the audience, and the window into her world and thought, “Wait…. Nooooo… no way…It can’t be…” With a quick Google search, all of my thoughts on the inner complexities and subtleties of a brilliant season two were washed away by bereavement for a lack of another. I’ve never mistaken a series finale for a seasonfinale before, but I guess that can happen when you arrive late to the party (Waller-Bridge didn’t even want to do a second season, my Google search also informed me…much after the fact).

Eventually, I came to grips with the series being cut much shorter than normal series, because after all, the whole series was much different than normal series. Everything from the fourth wall breaks, to the overwhelming music, to the new approach to old themes was done with no regard to how things are ‘supposed’ to be done. There is real guts in the way Waller-Bridge approached the second season, and her decision to end Fleabag ‘before she should’ and maintain her story rather than her fame and fortune, grew on me quickly and will only age better with time.

And after my recovery I was able to confront the season like Fleabag confronting a camera lens. Fleabag is a show about relationships and their complexities, and season two adds a layer of complexity to the relationships established and broken during the first season of the show. During the first season the intimate look the audience was afforded into the narrator’s life was mostly a mirror reflection of what Fleabag was experiencing. So even though the glances into the camera and the dialogue that was ‘just between us’ gave the relationship power and meaning that is unlike other shows, the relationship between the audience and Fleabag remained in the realm of what other shows have done… the main character convincing the world (and by extension- the audience) that they are okay, the too intimate look into a hurting person, the main character withdrawing from the story and those watching it. Fleabag, in season one, communicated these ideas better than most other shows for sure, but season two’s approach to the audience’s relationship to Fleabag retroactively revealed the complexities inherent in the first season as well as adding its own.

For starters, choosing to start the second season almost a year after the first ended, with Waller-Bridge’s life in a much better place, displayed an ability to ‘cast-off’ her audience that we were unsure Fleabag had. 

But retrospectively, watching Fleabag interact with the bank worker at the end of season one showed us her withdrawing from the audience after her too intimate moment walking the streets, staring into the camera, unable to leave it, a broken woman. When we jump forward almost a year after not having seen her, the interaction with the banker becomes the beginning of her getting rid of the audience and figuring out her life as the camera pans out and their voices fade away.

And so what is this new relationship with the audience? Why are we allowed to re-enter her world for a front row seat into her special brand of hilarious disaster? The answer, quite unexpectedly, is ‘love.’

We start the first episode of the second season after the events of said episode have already transpired (a bit of narrative genius). Therefore, Fleabag’s decision to let the audience back into her life was made in hindsight after meeting someone (the hot priest) who she could possibly love, at a time in her life where she felt capable of loving and being loved. And she quickly catches us up on the previous events of the year and the day in some of her longest narration directed into the camera. This is something she needs to show us. She is no longer convincing us she is okay. She is sharing with us what might be what she had been looking for all along.

Once again, this new perspective, as established in just one half of one episode, adds complex layers to the season to come, while also making season one more complex. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is brilliant. I am just going to keep throwing that sentence in as often as possible.

However, the best is yet to come. When the hot priest notices Fleabag, ‘go to that place’ while sitting on the bus stop, in a powerful interaction, I thought my brain was going to melt. Someone sees through her façade, someone has entered into the world that Fleabag truly lived in, a world where she revealed her true self. Someone in her other reality had made it into ‘our reality’ with her. He was able to read her inner thoughts, or see her recede from the place they were, something no one else in the show could do. Hell, it was something we didn’t know was possible for anyone else to do. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is brilliant. This type of a relationship seemed like an impossibility for Fleabag, and the feelings she had for him were probably just as startling as that realization.

All great series are able to take a theme and offer unique takes on it season after season. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is brilliant. The Wire on the urban cycle, The Sopranos on family and responsibility, Breaking Bad on morality and The American Dream. And Fleabag did that with love and relationships, with subtle differences between the two seasons.

In season one, Fleabag convinced us her life was okay with a lack of real love, that she found the situations her harmful pursuit of love was putting her in funny, and the life she was living was fine. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is brilliant.  Season two shifted to a commentary on what love is to people, when it is bad and when it is good, and when you need to ‘buck up’ and deal with it. And those seasons blend together into one of the best series to stream in all of television.

And they didn’t have another commentary to make in season three. Viewed through that camera lens, she ended at the perfect time. But the thing with genius, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is brilliant, is that it’s easy to believe that the genius always has something else to conjure, that they could go to the well one more time and blow me away with their creation. But we’ve probably seen too many instances where one more season went awry to fault her for knowing when her character’s story was told.

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May You Live Forever [300]

300, on the surface, is a muscled up, no nonsense, punch you in the nose, energy filled, masculine head-trip. But the movie is based on Greek history and as such it borrows from the heart and learning that was so important in Greek oral storytelling. 

So there is real depth to a seemingly shallow and muscle-bound story. The fighting and killing are blended with heroism and sacrifice, the sex and politics teach us about desire and greed, the grotesque and evil mask lessons about isolation and power. 300 uses the story in the same way the Greeks did, the producers just told it with a high budget Hollywood film rather than a dude speaking to a large crowd. 

The depth in this action film can’t be embodied any better than in the hunchbacked frame of the goat farmer, Ephialtes of Trachis, who betrayed the Greek army to the Persians by showing the Persians a path that lead to the rear of the Spartan army. Ephialtes is cloaked in history and has changed over time and is now too poetic to be true. 300 adds to the mythology, making him a sympathetic hunchback, a throwaway child from Sparta who escaped infanticide only because his parents fled the city, unable to fulfill his dream of becoming a Spartan warrior because of his imperfections. 

The backstory works well and creates powerful contrasts between Leonidas and Ephialtes during their conversation on the mountainside. Leonidas is a specimen, the best of the best in physique and skill. Ephialtes is a grotesque monster, crippled and hideous in ability and form. Leonidas is compassionate and understanding of the hunchback who begs to become a part of the Spartan army. He feels no revulsion, unlike his captain, and does not belittle the clearly inferior farmer. As he asks Ephialtes to raise his shield and observes his pathetic attempt to lift it to proper height, he does not chastise or rub salt in the wound. He explains, kindly, how a phalanx works, and how a unit is only as strong as the individual member.  He even pats him on his back, breaking the separation his captain would like him to maintain, and apologizes that not all men could be soldiers.

Yet this message is a cold one. It is the logic that begot infanticide, rigid and unfeeling. His words do not care for the person even if his tone does, and his lack of egalitarianism leaves Ephialtes in tears and in a rage. A mindset that eventually makes Ephialtes reveal the secret goat path to Xerxes which leads to the death of Leonidas and the 300 Spartans.

Greek poetry and their fascination with fate are deep at work in this story, but the lesson is not obvious. The movie’s heroes are mythic in their ability. The Spartans are history’s superheroes, unable to be killed by normal means. And the reason they are this way is through their elitist selection and training. Only the best are allowed to live and only those best are allowed to raise a spear and shield.

Yet this governing principle that draws us into these warriors’ world is also one that is untenable in modern culture, beyond disagreeable in its elitism and disregard for humanity. It hobbles Ephialtes, the embodiment of a ‘have not.’ And if the attempted murder of him while he was a defenseless infant wasn’t enough to show him how little he mattered in the Spartan world, Leonidas telling him he could not use him as he offered his life to the Spartan cause certainly hammered the point home. “Not all of us were meant to be soldiers,” he told him with genuine regret in his voice. 

At that point, I think most viewers would nod along and agree with Leonidas, our warrior king. The phalanx needs all men to be strong, Ephialtes cannot possibly be a soldier. And as Ephialtes takes his secret to Xerxes and tells him where the goat path is for the promise of women and gold and a uniform, he becomes the bad guy, despised for his weakness in form, desire, and morality. 

But that means we root for a philosophy that fundamentally disagrees with our views on equality and living out your dream. We don’t believe in telling a child what they can and cannot do, and we certainly don’t believe in appraising a child’s worth before deciding whether we should allow it to live. We hate the ‘haves,’ the one percent, that so greedily hold on to all which they believe is theres as the ninety-nine wonder how they can have so much and do so little, how they could possibly sit on their mountaintop and so coldly tell us that they are sorry, but not all were meant to have money. 

300 is deep in philosophy, but that philosophy is clearly from another age, where the individual was as good as their ability to contribute to the unit. And a life was determined before choices were made. And yet the movie is able to take us back to that time for a while. Where it was possible to have people like Spartans, who were the elite of the elite, better than everyone else at what they did because they were more committed to their craft than the other people who practiced it.  And it makes us hate the underdog who betrays the one percent, who brings them their comeuppance for their callous disregard for human life and one human life in particular. 

At the end of the film, as Leonidas stares down Xerxes and Ephialtes with the dome of shields and spears behind him, we feel sorrow for these bygone relics of Sparta. And as Leonidas points to Ephialtes with his spear and tells him, “May you live forever.” We hope he does, and that they are miserable years full of regret and shame. 

Ephialtes may have died, but his philosophy did not, and the Spartan philosophy may have been slaughtered with the 300 men who guarded the Heart Gates. 300 will always be an action-packed adrenaline ride of mythic heroes from antiquity, but it will also always be a strange jaunt through a world I do not understand that causes me to align with an unfamiliar ideology.

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The Not-so Repetitive, Repetitive Approach Of [Palm Springs]

Love stories and life have three things in common (sorry for the bullshit opener but I swear this will work)… 

  1. They get monotonous
  2. An amazing person can help get you through them
  3. Palm Springs provides a fresh take on them

The layers of commentary in Palm Springs leaves the movie open for so much significance and interpretation, but at its most obvious, the movie is a commentary on the way in which life can feel so pointless and repetitive and how love can often be the only escape.

To communicate this message, Palm Springs tells a love story (which can also feel pointless and repetitive) using time travel (an over-done and tired trope), and blows them both up with a completely new approach and C4 explosive vests.

Palm Springs’ new approach to the romantic comedy starts in the first fifteen minutes, with one of the most bizarre and incomprehensible opening sequences I have seen in film. The main character, Nyles (played by Andy Samberg) is completely disengaged from life, unable to have sex with his girlfriend, asked her to kill him, attended a wedding in a Hawaiian shirt, drank beers with carefree abandon, hijacked the wedding toast, and was hunted by an unnamed man with a compound bow before crawling into a cave emanating a bright red light. None of it is explained.

But those moments will all be explained when Sarah (played by Cristin Milioti) is caught in the time loop with Nyles. The story line doesn’t make sense until Nyles finds someone to share it with (getting the metaphor here?). As the movie goes on, Nyles’ life starts to matter again and he reengages with the day-to-day monotony. Meanwhile, the viewer is delightfully re-engaged with romantic comedies, something that has become as monotonous as the millionth time reliving a wedding. 

The movie’s new approach is solidified with their fresh take on the Groundhog’s Day storyline, by introducing us to Nyles after he has been in the time loop for a ridiculously long amount of time (seen through his ability to know not only everyone’s lines and reactions to every possibility of events at the wedding, but also stuff like the location of trashcans at out of the way food stops). Life has become a series of events that lack any surprise or meaning to him, until he goes through it with Sarah. It’s a clever approach. A simple shift in perspective that allows for a modern telling of an old tale.

This level of self-awareness is rare in films, and when it is on display it can often be self-aggrandizing and off-putting. But Palm Springs is warm and engaging. Bringing viewers into the story as slowly and surely as a first date. 

Palm Springs is a must see in a year of so few movies being released. And its hour and thirty-minute runtime is a breath of fresh air amidst so many magnum opuses taking anywhere from two to three hours to slog through. 

I don’t remember the last time I so quickly fell in love with a story. It didn’t vault its way to the top of my favorite movies list, but it was so understandable and relatable and new that I didn’t need to sift through my feelings on its complexities. Palm Springs’ complexities were mine, and it told a new story to help make sense of them. Seems like it did exactly what movies are here for, to break us out of the monotony of the day-to-day cycle.

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[Old Guard] New Action

I grew up on action films. They are, when I think about going to see a movie, the genre I imagine myself watching. And yet it feels like right now we are in the midst of an action movie lull. Or maybe it is just an action movie shift.

No doubt there is a lot of action in films these days. All the biggest blockbusters from the past decade are filled with lightsaber duels or more pervasively, superhuman feats. And, based on someone’s view on what makes a movie an action movie, it could be argued that the classic action flick has migrated into superhero multi-verses (more specifically Marvel, DC seems to think they are making dramas). 

But I tend not to see it that way, not because I find the argument invalid, but because I am still rooting for a revival of the old types of action films. Bring me your Die Hards and Con Airs, your Terminators and Rambos. Bring me those unique stories full of heroes in every shape and size imbued with no power but their own force of will. Bring me that action and inject that adrenaline straight into my veins. 

I have nothing against superhero films, but they just don’t do the same thing for me. They keep layering and adding and getting bigger and more complex, which is awesome for the multi-verse and for movies in general but lacks the simplicity and straightforwardness I have come to equate with action films. Also, as each new hero is added, I can’t help but feel like we’ve been there before, especially now that the ultimate payoff of Endgame has happened. What are we re-building towards? What could be next?

Maybe this is the phenomena that ended the action flicks of the 80’s and 90’s. Everyone probably got tired of the Die Hard template after we saw Die Hard on a plane, and Die Hard in the White House, and Die Hard in a mall. Maybe superhero films were the necessary spark that brought in a new wave and style to tired tropes. Replace the ordinary with extraordinary, the feasible with the impossible, the simple with the mind boggling, a building with a universe and we have fresh action the world is dying to see.

I respect that. And I am convincing myself that this evolution of old action movies into superhero films is true. And if that is true, then I hope the pendulum eventually swings back in the opposite direction. Old Guard may be a taste of that return swing, both literally and metaphorically. 

Literally, this film fits the action category of old…. kind of. More accurately, it seems to be the evolutionary missing link between superhero films and classic action movies (third from the right on the monkey-to-man evolution chart). Old Guard’s storyline is all action film of old with rich corporate bad guys and abductions and double crosses and guns and guns and guns shedding bullet casings everywhere.

But the vestiges of the superhero films have not been completely unselected from Old Guard’s storyline. The story is based on graphic novels which feels very ‘superhero’ film. The heroes have superhuman powers and the film ends with a cliffhanger and a continuation of the story that seems like the building of a bigger universe. Attributes that make it seem like the missing link in the evolutionary return to classic action films more than a complete throwback to a previous era.

Metaphorically, Old Guard is about heroes who have been fighting for a long time, old school heroes in a modern world if you will. Said like that, it seems like a subtle nod to the origins of action and bringing them back in front of the cozy seats of theaters everywhere. Also, Andy (played by Charlize Theron) loses her superpowers throughout the film (see what they’re doing here?). She also spends a large portion of the movie interacting and training with a new hero in her army, effectively preparing for a future she will not be a part of.

THE OLD GUARD – Charlize Theron as ÓAndy” Photo credit: Aimee Spinks/NETFLIX ©2020

Now is as good a time as any to address the fact, that for the first time ever, a woman is the number one action hero in movies. Charlize Theron is incredible in Old Guard and all anyone needs to do is also watch Mad Max: Fury Road to know she can and will carry any action movie she is in.

However, she is ‘old guard,’ and the torch is being passed down to Niles (played by Kiki Layne) in preparation for a future of up and coming action stars in a future bright with the lights illuminating theaters all across America as they play new action films. 

So Old Guard is a good film. I enjoyed it. But I was much more interested in the type of film it was and what it may portend for the new guard of filmmaking. Because I read some signals that this film is taking us into an old direction in a new way. I look forward to that possibility. 

Or it could just be a way to have bullets and explosions and gory injuries. I will wait to find out.

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Why We Need Season 3 Of [Mindhunter]

Am I doing this? Am I actually doing this? Am I going to write an entire post about something that doesn’t need saying? This post will be the appendix of the blog world… nobody knows why it exists, but it’s here, and it might even be doing something, although we can’t say what.

Right now, it doesn’t seem like we’ll get another season of Mindhunter. Which is like telling a room full of second graders that there will not be Christmas…. for the next decade. It results in denial, a lot of screaming, and some tears (okay, a lot of tears).

Imagine no more Mindhunter. Imagine Tench forever sitting on the edge of his bed, Brian and his wife gone from the house, his last relationship being with his insufferable business partner Holden. Imagine BTK, forever remaining in that hotel room, noose around his neck, trophies of conquest displayed on the bed before him, never caught, always prowling. Imagine not seeing Holden fully realize his journey to better identify and capture serial killers, imagine not getting the catharsis of him using his profiling methods to catch BTK. Imagine not getting to see the dance, the duel, the cat and mouse game between BTK and Wendy as they circle around each other and she eventually closes in to capture him.

I have imagined that world, and it sucks giant donkey genitalia. 

There are interesting relationships formed when a woman or man commits to telling a story. There is a relationship between the storyteller and the story… its characters, plot, and execution. There is a relationship formed between the audience and the story… what happens next, how it occurs, love and hate for the characters. And there is a relationship formed between the audience and the storyteller… one of admiration and accolades, money and success, but also one of duty. 

A while back I saw Neil Gaiman respond to criticisms of GRRM and his inability to release books in a timely manner (I wrote about that annoying GRRM trait here). Gaiman said that the story was Martin’s and he had no responsibility to his audience to write anything for them or provide them with the next book in any time frame (and I guess by extension, at all). I love Gaiman and his views on writing, but in this case, I disagree.

A storyteller takes on a certain responsibility when they create a story. There is magic and power in creating characters in other people’s minds, in getting them emotionally invested in that which has not happened or that which is not a part of their experience. Storytellers expand minds, alter opinions, and change people through the stories they tell and the characters they create. We, as viewers, open ourselves up to these stories and allow the storyteller to invade us and alter us, we make ourselves vulnerable to the storyteller.

So to callously say that the storyteller does not owe something to the audience, seems to deny the relationship, to make storytelling a solo activity. Which is fair only if the storyteller is not presenting their story to an audience, and certainly not if they are making money off of the exchange. Storytellers, when they widely distribute a story, are looking to engage in the relationship in one way (entertainment and/or money), they should not be able to deny the relationship in another (a duty to finish the story based on the listener opening up to them).

And when stories are left untold, when GRRM does not write the last books of ASOIAF, when the producers of Mindhunter let the cast out of their contracts and vaguely reference revisiting the story at a later date, they devalue those who committed themselves to the story. It is better not to have told the story at all, to never have invaded our minds in the first place, better to not have given us the ability to imagine something we could not have on our own, then to do so and deny us the rest of the tale.

I know this point is not addressing the actual situation that led to Mindhunter letting the cast out of their contract and possibly ending the series. It also is not taking into account that the show may come back at a later date (in connection with the timeline of the story) and finish the series.  But to me the issue is not what happened, but that it happened. Viewers deserve a third season of Mindhunter because viewers didn’t need one until they watched their series, and part of the reason they watched their series was because they expected it to be finished. That vulnerable step into another world should be valued by the storyteller, and they should show that they value it by finishing what they started. Not doing so is akin to malpractice.

So I hope to see the story finished. I would like my cathartic release from the horrible place Mindhunter left off, I would like to see Tench reunited with his wife and son, Holden realize the responsibility his role requires, Wendy find love and acceptance, and BTK go to jail. I wasn’t even capable of wanting these things until I watched the show, it’s now up to the storytellers to provide them.

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The Glare Of The [Friday Night Lights]

My first exposure to Friday Night Lights (movie, book, and TV show) was through the responses from others who had seen the film or show (not many, if any, had read the book) and were heavily involved in football (some in Texas). Unexpectedly, this offered me a unique vantage point on the impact of the story, which I finally got around to reading and watching (still haven’t seen the TV show) this month.

Based on public opinion alone, over the long time this movie was out and this story was around, I thought Friday Night Lights was about the power of football to help youth overcome challenges in life, an ode to the toughness instilled under the blare of those halogen lamps, and the forging of boys into young men on the gridiron and through sheer force of will. You know… the standard mantra of any ex-football player or coach. A narrative I hear often as an avid football fan in a football-crazy town. 

I watch high school football under the lights on Fridays. The sounds of college bands blares from my TV on Saturdays, and I watch NFL football (and only NFL Football) all day Sunday and on Monday night (cue the damn music!). However, I have always been disillusioned with the bull-ish tactics of old school coaches who train athletes by figuring out the most brutal ways to torture them, the misnomers of ‘hell’ week, constant metaphors of players as soldiers going to war, and the emphasis on motivation over learning, hype over growth, toughness and desire over intelligence and application. Not all football programs are this way, and yet there are certainly some coaches who would read my words as the soft musings of a snowflake and go back to spitting their chew and telling high school kids that they ‘don’t want it enough,’ that they have to ‘find a way,’ that ‘this is war,’ and then send them out to do some gassers with no water break until someone vomits.

And even if those types of football nuts are getting fewer and farther between, the story of Friday Night Lights,which is about a football team from a high school in Odessa Texas in the ‘80s, is definitely going to be about this type of football mentality. So when my football friends gave me the impression that the film was a positive portrayal of football, a representation of its positive attributes and its ability to help high school boys rise above the troubles inherent in living in a town like Odessa, *switches to Billy Bob Thorton twang* well I didn’t know if I much wanted to see that.

So register my surprise when I read the book a couple weeks ago, to find it a scathing rebuke of the impact of high school football on small town living. How it divided races, ruined school systems, broke families, and sidetracked young men from a more attainable and livable future. It didn’t dawn on me at first, the implications of my misunderstanding of the point of Friday Night Lights. I chalked it up to a false assumption. Yet about halfway through the book I realized that my understanding of what this story was about, before having read it, didn’t come from nowhere. I had received it from those who had experienced it first. Which meant that my football friends who ingested the story of Friday Night Lights were so enamored with their sport they were unable to see the criticism the story told. 

I laughed with delight. How so very… football of them. But I had to be fair, most of them had seen the movie, not read the book. And if there is something everyone in this divided nation can agree on, a movie and book are rarely the same. So, I went to HBO Max and hit play to see if their interpretation of the story was warranted based on the movies portrayal of it.

I was more understanding… but not by much. I hate to break it to you football fans. But Friday Night Lights is not about football helping high schoolers rise above the problems in their small town lives, it’s about the problems football creates in small town lives.

Take Don Billingsly for example. A troubled party animal who got all the girls and skated through school as a member of the Permian Panther football team. However, behind the scenes, he was tormented by a haunted relationship with his father (played by Tim McGraw…no shit…). The end of the movie has Don and his father hugging on the football field followed by a post-script that states they still have a close relationship to this day, hinting that their resolution was because of the toughness Don showed at the end of the movie by running the football (and holding onto it… dude usually held the ball like a loaf of bread) with a dislocated shoulder late in the state championship game. The message could easily be taken as, football brought these two together. But rewind the tape for me please.

The reason for the troubled and abusive relationship of father and son? Football. Don’s dad was an ex-football player trying to relieve his glory days through Don, never having recovered from the high that football gave him during his state title run because of the town’s totally unhealthy obsession for the sport and complete lack of desire to support people outside of its purview. Don’s father’s life sucked, and football was the escape that he kept going back to to avoid the reality of his life. That’s not a statement that portrays football positively. It’s a problem caused by football. And Don needed to figure out how to play the game in a way that didn’t damage his relationship to his father, and he couldn’t even think about not playing the game at all. Football was the obstacle in his life from which he needed saving, not the salvation.

This is the narrative of each of the young men on which the book and movie focus. 

Boobie Miles was heralded as the next great running back in Texas football and was only as good to the town as his ability to run the ball. Racism and a lack of caring about schooling left him totally ill-equipped to deal with life after a career-altering knee injury. He was not a celebration of what football gave him, but a criticism of the structures that made him dependent on the game and the racism of a town that only saw minorities as useful as their benefit to the team.

Ivory Christian, Mike Winchell, Brian Chavez, Jerrod McDougal, all had demons they fought because of football, everyone in the town did. But the fact that these were ignored for a come together moment at the end of the season seems like a perfect representation of how a place like Odessa becomes so dependent on the sport in the first place. 

The conclusion of the season also appears to be why (in my world at least) people were unable to decipher between criticism of their sport, and an endorsement of it. In the last game of the movie, where they fought so hard as one family, where Billy Bob Thorton tells his players that his heart is full before they mount a furious underdog comeback in the second half, when he tells them to think of Boobie who would kill to be on that field, when these rough and tough high school boys get on their knees and recite the Lord’s Prayer as one, it is so easy to see these moments as the opportunities for growth that football provides rather than the culmination of a thousand hits the players took, on and off the field, playing the game. But if you watch closely (and read the book) that halftime moment is a casting off of the terrible impact football had on them and a decision to play their last half as an act of self-indulgence. Football kicked their ass in the first half, they were going to get theirs in the second.

I love football. I really do. But let’s never forget, it’s not perfect. Friday Night Lights shows us the conflict in the pageantry and those who get left behind in the midst of being raised so high. The Friday night lights burn bright. So bright…

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Simply Bullshit [Fleabag] (Season 1)

Fleabag is the latest installment in the dark comedies the world finds more relatable than the sitcoms of the 90s to the early 2000s or the non-laugh track series of the 2010s. We have entered an era where deconstructing our own pain and laughing at the absurdity of our mortal selves bashing into each other in an attempt to feel, becomes therapeutic and entertaining.

Enter Fleabag. The premise would portray the show as the darkest of dramas. Fleabag is about a single woman in Britain whose guinea-pig themed café is now failing after her best friend and business partner committed suicide. She searches for love only to find meaningless sex that makes her feel worthless outside the pleasure her body derives from sex and gives to the men who use her. Her relationships with her family are strained by a father who is sleeping with their overbearing witch of a godmother after his wife (Fleabag’s mother) dies, and Fleabag’s sister is married to a needy, lying, sleezebag of a husband who Claire feels a need to protect at all times, feeding Fleabag’s inability to find a meaningful relationship.

Hahahahahahaha. Man what levity!

But comedy makes its bones off its ability to make a person relate to the absurdity of a situation, and dark comedy is taking off by finding ways to show the absurdity in our worst moments, amidst suicides, dead relatives, and failing marriages.

Where Fleabag succeeds is in how simply they build and deconstruct these dark moments. The efficiency in which they develop each character and their relationships is staggering. The season is only six, half hour episodes and yet, with no wasted time, the season is able to create a connection with the characters in the same way a ten, hour long episode drama does.

Take for example, our first-time meeting Claire and Fleabag. They are at feminist lectures that their father sends them to in order to atone for his inability to parent. In five minutes, we witness their relationship to each other (they are opposites who love and frustrate each other) and understand their relationship with their father (distant but wants to feel like he has done his part). The efficiency is refreshing when so many other shows might take three episodes to flesh these concepts out through less impactful means. Fleabag didn’t waste the viewer’s time. It tells its story and allows us to figure out the rest.

And as we journey through the story with these characters, nothing is held sacredMuch is built merely to be torn down. These relationships and gatherings are flimsy props in the eyes of Fleabag. It’s all bullshit. Simply bullshit. And she breaks the fourth wall with glances and narration (literally leaving the social construct) that exposes the ridiculousness of her sexual encounters, the predictability of her friendships, the disingenuousness of her godmother, and the awkwardness of her interactions with her father. 

A drama tells the story of complicated relationships, Fleabag finds the absurdity in them. Poking fun at men who take themselves too seriously or gatherings that expect a measure of decorum that is undeserved and Fleabag is unwilling to grant it.

This is where Phoebe Waller-Bridge shines, in the moments where she breaks character and becomes the real Fleabag. In those moments, we see the depth of her character bubble to the surface in a glance, or a quick word or two, just between us. The tactic is not only effective in developing Fleabag and the plot, but an astounding feat of comedic timing, acting, and facial and vocal control. In half a second Fleabag breaks character, communicates her inner feelings, and then resumes character, all while the people around her continue the scene. I’ve embarrassingly tried a Fleabag-glance while in the shower or by myself while looking in a mirror, and I can’t do it even without a specific intent for my communication. The efficiency with which Waller-Bridge navigates her scenes and her two characters, the external and the internal, is one of the greatest television feats I’ve witnessed, and places her amidst my list of comedic geniuses.

But amidst the brilliance of the acting is a real heart to the show that darkly pokes fun at all the bullshit we experience, that defends the claim that sometimes, when life get really bad, all you can do is laugh. When you and your sister visit their relationship-stunted father on the anniversary of their mother’s death, only to have their wicked godmother continually hijack the day to assert her power and dominance over the household and belittle their mother’s memory in the process, sometimes all you can do is let the cat out the window and glance at the camera, as your very good looking boyfriend drives you off on his motorcycle, with a look that says, I may still have a mark on my cheek from where she slapped me, but I got that bitch, and smile.

That’s the brilliance of Fleabag, as close as can be estimated. That an entire relationship, episode, and emotional arc can be efficiently conveyed with one look at the camera. And that one look can take all the dark bullshit and simply laugh it away. 

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Dream Heist Team [Inception]

Inception is a very particular type of heist movie, but it is a heist movie, and as with all heist movies, Inception has a clear designation of roles on the heist team. The characters are designated like so…

Extractor: Cobb
In charge of the overall plans for the job.

Point Man: Arthur
In charge of research and details in the execution of the plan.

Architect: Ariadne
Designs the dream-space in which the extraction (or inception) will take place.

Forger: Eames
Creates documents or imitates people so that the dreamer will not know when ideas or interactions are planted.

Chemist: Yusuf
Creates a compound suitable for inducing the type of sleep needed to complete the extraction in the dream-space.

And not necessary but an added role in Inception

Tourist: Saito
Who funds the operation and went along to ensure completion of the inception. 

I will include him because he becomes necessary for the team’s success (No room for tourists in this operation?)

Because of the uniqueness of the world in which this team operates, the roles that they play are much better than a normal heist film, would you rather have a ‘lock specialist’ or a ‘chemist’? A getaway ‘driver’ or a goddamn ‘architect.’ It’s a no brainer.

But I was wondering which people from other action and heist movies would do well in an Inception-type heist with Inception-heist roles. Which great action heroes and heisters could shed their mundane roles on mediocre teams that do boring bullshit like, I don’t know…rob banks for millions… and instead take on extracting important information from people’s minds for cash?

Let’s look at each role in Inception and decide which characters from other heist films are in the running for that role, and ultimately let’s make the greatest Inception heist team possible.

Extractor

The extractor is in charge. S/He decides what jobs to do, s/he creates the team, s/he invents the plan and process for extraction. This is an important choice. The team needs someone capable, discerning, and level-headed. Cobb showed us what can happen if the extractor is not balanced and focused. 

The first person that came to mind who could do this role was President James Marshall (Air Force One). He has the leadership skills, he is thoughtful, commanding, discerning, and he has a military-background, so he is capable. There is no problem with his leadership or credentials, however, this is a job that involves leading heists in ethically gray (at best) spheres. The Great American may take issue with some of the tasks required of him as the head of this heist team. 

So let’s make our options those who are ethically flexible. Let’s consider Neil McCauley from Heat, Doug MacRay from The Town, Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill, Dom from The Fast and the Furious series, and Joh Wick from the John Wick series. They all seem capable of the intellectual needs of an Extractor, and they won’t have any trouble with some of the ethically questionable areas they will need to inhabit. 

However, two of those candidates have never assembled a team. John Wick worked, and clearly prefers to work solo, so he is out. And Beatrix Kiddo worked with an elite task force, a huge boon in her favor, however, it was created by Bill, and when the chips were down and Beatrix had to enact a plan of her own, she chose to do it by herself. I cannot choose an Extractor that has not shown an ability to compile a team. Kiddo is out as well. 

That leaves us with McCauley, MacRay, and Dom.  These are three phenomenal choices, so we need to nitpick. McCauley is an old school worker, and I think the idea of invading people’s minds would be a bit much for him. I can’t imagine him working in a dream-space, nor do I think he would, he is out. 

Dom seems like a good fit, he is okay with doing illegal activity, he created and led a terrific team, he is prone to do incredible things even inside the limits of physics, so we can only imagine what he would do in a dream. But he is a bit too formulaic right? How often can you try and accomplish a task with cars? If we choose him we gotta horseshoe cars into everything. Climbing a mountain? Let’s use cars. Jumping out of a plane? Let’s use cars. He dreams big but only in one area. Not a great skill for an Extractor. 

Doug MacRay, on the other hand, seems just about perfect. He plays his cards close to the chest, level-headed, comfortable with illegal activity, but also has a heart, makes big time decisions, puts together and protects an awesome team, creates elaborate plans (that stadium robbery was legit), and is fully capable. We can easily imagine him shooting subconscious projections to extract sensitive data and bringing together a crack-squad team to do it.

Doug MacRay is our Extractor.

The Point Man

The Extractor plans the picture, and The Point Man paints. They provide the details and research necessary to make the extraction successful. In some ways they need to be more capable than the extractor but okay with following someone else’s vision and leadership. If we think of some great number twos in action and heist films, we have to consider Brian O’Conner from The Fast and the Furious and James Coughlin from The Town(who gets a boost for working with our Extractor in the past), and Chris Shiherlis from Heat. I also want to add one of the most capable men in film, and someone with experience as an elite member of an organization, Jason Bourne. Also add Beatrix Kiddo (who was already in the running for Extractor but seems capable of filling this role too). I also think Ryan Gosling’s character in Drive, who I’ll just refer to as Driver, should be considered. He is capable, and he would work well with MacRay.

Once again, the list is strong, and any one of them (or others who I didn’t add) would work well. So let’s look at the finer details to decide who would make the team most successful. I think it is wise to delete James Coughlin right away considering how The Town ended. He pressured our Extractor into one more job that eventually ended terribly. So even though his willingness (‘who’s car are we taking?’ is maybe THE great question in all of film) would be a great addition, we can’t afford our team to have that kind of volatility. I also am getting rid of Chris Shiherlis because he just gives me the heeby jeebies. I don’t trust him on the team like I should. The point man is the glue guy. He makes it happen. I want to know what I’m getting. 

Brian O’Conner and Driver are interesting choices. They fill similar roles (both being expert drivers) but they are very different. Brian seems like a team guy, but Driver seems like he would be more capable. Brian seems like he would be better in a pinch, but that is mainly the Extractor’s role anyway (except for the rare instances where he may need to ad lib by himself). I like Driver a bit better as The Point Man than Brian. And yet when we compare him to someone like Beatrix Kiddo, he seems to be lacking. Beatrix has been the number two in an elite organization before (behind Bill), she has devised her own plan with her own details, she is very teachable (she learned well from Pai Mei), and she seems way more capable of handling herself against projections than everyone else on the list besides maybe Jason Bourne. 

Which leads the ultimate decision of who is The Point Man between Beatrix Kiddo and Jason Bourne. Jason Bourne seems more suited to the work (and Matt Damon and Ben Affleck reunited would be incredible) but the guy seems set on getting out of this line of work. If we could get Bourne to embrace the business, I think he is the choice, but since I am not confident anyone could do that.

I think we go with Beatrix Kiddo.

Architect

Finding the Architect is a different sort of ordeal. The Extractor and The Point Man were roles that many women and men could fill, but the Architect only has a select few who could do the job. We are looking for great minds that are also functioning at a high level (a surprisingly hard mix to find in movies, goodbye A Beautiful Mind and Rain Man), who is also creative and can think outside the box, not just a numbers guy (sorry Will Hunting). So that leaves us Danny Ocean from the Ocean movies, who is intelligent at planning heists and thinking outside the box, Nathan from Ex Machina, who maybe is the most intelligent person we can find who also has the necessary subversive thought processes, and also Louise Banks from Arrival who, as a linguist, brings a unique intelligence that I find appealing. 

Nathan is highly qualified but also a train wreck of a human being. The world’s he would create would be impassable to all but him. He is too isolated and narcissistic to help anyone. Danny Ocean could do it, but he doesn’t seem to be the behind the scenes guy that the Architect is asked to be. He may have been a better Extractor (but we needed him for this list since it was smaller). And then we have Louise Banks, who seems the least qualified as a linguist but would probably adopt her role in the group better than the others.

So for this selection we need to find a reason to pick the person. I lean towards Louise Banks. Yeah, she’s a linguist, and that probably translates to world-builder the worst. But let’s be honest, this is an intelligence that anyone would need to learn (like the alien’s language), so I want a quick study, a team player, and someone who will go about their work in a way that helps others succeed. She showed all of that when she worked with the government to communicate with the aliens.

So Louise Banks is our Architect.

Forger

The forger may be the most technically difficult job in the heist, and I say this because of a serious lack of qualified candidates. I can think of two that could probably do the job, Frank Abagnale Jr. (Catch Me If You Can) and Verbal Kint (The Usual Suspects). These are the only two that indicate that they can both do the impressions and fake the documents in a convincing enough way. Admittedly, we don’t see Verbal Kint forging any documents, but he was at least able to get his hands on some or else he couldn’t have multiple identities that fool the police. 

We see Abagnale do everything we need. He does great impressions, he understands people, and he fakes out people in the real world the way we need him to fool people in dreams. We also get to watch him make documents and forge checks in a way that would be beneficial to the team. He makes a strong case. The problem is that he is a man with an identity crisis, and we’ve already seen how poorly that works in the dream world (Cobb kept putting a wrench in all of his own plans), the dream world could easily become the opiate Abagnale leans on to overcome his issues, and I cannot be responsible for creating that addiction.

Plus, Verbal seems like the guy for a heist group. We see him work well with a group of people thrown together (besides killing them one by one that is), and he pulled off the greatest identity fake out in the history of film. When his leg starts straightening out as he walks down the sidewalk…that’s the type of genius forgery we need on our heist team.

Chemist

Another list that is small and selective: Doc Brown from Back to the Future (even though we are just kind of assuming he can do chemistry; he seemed to know what he was doing with the fuel for the DeLorean), Robert Neville from I Am Legend, and I am going to bend genres here a bit in order to add Walter White from Breaking Bad even though it is a TV Show (no list of Chemists is complete without him).  

This actually feels pretty easy to me. Doc Brown is too scattered to make it through levels of dreams (Could you imagine?), and I am not sure there is enough money in it for Walter White. On the other hand, Neville is a chemist who shows a capacity for invention (much like Yusef Of The Many Compounds), tenacity, commitment, and he will be better in the dream-space than Yusef was. Those subconscious projections chasing the van wouldn’t stand a chase with Neville fighting back, which would allow the group more time in their dreams, which would prevent Ariadne from having to tell Cobb the shortcut, which stops Mal from shooting Fischer and sending Cobb into Limbo. Yeah… Robert Neville is our Chemist.

Tourist

This last role is optional, but let’s imagine we had a big money backer, like Saito in Inception, who eventually ended up on the job with the rest of the crew, who would we want? Saito was unnaturally suited for the job, the dream tourist (pun intended), so his standard makes finding a replacement a difficult task. 

My mind first went to Pacino in his roles as Tony Montana and Michael Corleone. But they seemed a bit too street to adopt and succeed in this ethereal world. I also, like Walter White, went to a big money television character in Logan Roy, but his health is a big deterrent from him ever being able to go on the job like Saito did, plus, once again, he just didn’t feel right in this fantastical world of Inception. But who would be at home in the world of the impossible? Who doesn’t have any trouble adopting new technology and profiting from it? Who spares no expense on a job? Give me John Hammond (Jurassic Park) as my tourist. 











So my team is set.

Extractor- Doug MacRay (The Town)

The Point Woman- Beatrix Kiddo (Kill Bill)

Architect- Louise Banks (Arrival)

Chemist- Robert Neville (I Am Legend)

Tourist- John Hammond (Jurassic Park)

Is it better than the original? Maybe…

Did you like this post? Click here for Did You blank It? homepage.

For more posts like this, like, comment, or follow, or check us out on Twitter @BlankDid.

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