Thursday, April 16, 2015

EX MACHINA Is a Riveting Robot Frankenstein Story


- If you're into dark, psychological, head-trip-inducing sci-fi (and who isn't?), then EX MACHINA is a must-see. This is the movie Chappie wishes it could have been - a clever, ultra-intense Frankenstein-inspired fable about sentient robots, man vs. machine, and about what it means to be human. Written and directed by Alex Garland - the man who wrote the scripts for genre-film fan favorites like 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go, and Dredd - EX MACHINA firmly establishes Garland as one of the canonical voices doing sci-fi films today. The guy is the real deal, and he brings the same sort of visionary skill to directing that he does to writing. Tension-packed and mind-expanding - while still focusing on character - EX MACHINA is a first-rate mind-%$#& that I can't recommend enough.

In many ways, the film has the trappings of a stage play. It takes place in a single location, and focuses almost entirely on three main characters (though a fourth eventually becomes a significant factor in the story). The plot sees a brilliant, slightly geeky young coder for a huge, Google-like corporation whisked away to its CEO's remote, top-secret underground compound - after being chosen in a company-wide lottery granting its winner rare access. The coder, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), is unclear of what his purpose is as the guest of his enigmatic tech icon boss. But when he meets Nathan (Oscar Isaac) - the man behind the curtain - he soon finds out. Hidden away from prying eyes, Nathan has been conducting groundbreaking research into AI and robotics - and in doing so he's created the remarkable - and remarkably human-like - artificial being known as Ava. Nathan wants Caleb to test Ava - to spend sessions with her determining just how high-functioning her AI really is. Is there still an uncanny valley between Ava and a real human woman? Or has Nathan successfully erased the line between natural and artificial life?

The movie takes plenty of time to just let Caleb and Nathan bounce off of each other, ruminating on all manner of philosophical issues. But with actors the caliber of Gleeson and Issac, it works. Both are fantastic in the film, but what adds an extra layer to every scene of the film is the obvious tension that underlines their dynamic. Isaac's Nathan is clearly a bit off his rocker, but we're never quite sure just *how* far. Is he a well-meaning, brilliant inventor, or a dangerous Doctor Frankenstein? Whatever the case may be, he's clearly a wild-card, and his unpredictability - and Caleb's nervousness around him - keeps you on your toes. But the movie's most mesmerizing aspect is most definitely Ava. Played by newcomer Alicia Vikander, Ava is as fascinating for us to observe as she is for Caleb. Vikander plays her to perfection. Ava's movements are measured and deliberate - robotic at times. But there's also a spark of life in her eyes that is undeniably more-than-mechanical.

I've got to give a ton of credit to the movie's f/x team. In a decidedly non-flashy, stripped-down movie, Ava is nonetheless a next-level revelation, and a miracle of art/costume/character design. A mix of human flesh, mechanical limbs, and exposed mid-section wiring, Ava's artifice is on full display, yet so is her all-too-human face and expressiveness. That odd, can't-take-your-eyes-off-her allure is on full display in her scenes with Caleb. At first, the two engage in standard sorts of AI limit-tests. But soon, their relationship becomes less about AI patterns and more about much more human concerns. Is the developing friendship between them genuine? An AI-aided illusion? Or is it, in fact, a manipulation by Ava in order to create an ally for herself? The same sort of psychological tension that's present in the Noah/Caleb scenes is also there in the Ava/Caleb scenes. And that sets up a gripping cat-and-mouse game between the three leads. Who can trust who? What's real, and what's illusion and/or deception?

At times - with its atmospheric lighting, pulsing synth score, and constant sense of bird-on-a-wire tension - EX MACHINA almost feels like a horror movie. And sometimes, in its most genuinely disturbing moments, it straight-up is one. The film doesn't skimp on science or science-fiction trappings, but it is above all else a dark, Frankenstein-esque parable about humans playing God and Creator vs. Creation.

Garland proves himself here as a director - making the most of a confined location, but still giving the film a big, sweeping feel. The exotic locale in which Nathan's compound is hidden feels suitably epic - it's surrounded by waterfalls and soaring mountain ranges. The inside of the compound feels eerily claustrophobic and mysterious - a corridor-filled maze of locked rooms and real and metaphorical skeletons-in-the-closets. But to me, Garland still truly shines as a writer. There are obviously some familiar elements in the story of EX MACHINA, but Garland does a great job of keeping things unpredictable. There are certainly nods to the likes of Blade Runner and other genre classics, but the movie never copies those stalwarts. The film is filled with jaw-dropping twists, but Garland wisely eschews some of the more overdone tropes of this sort of film, while still acknowledging them as possibilities and having some fun with audience expectations. This is the rare twisty movie where the big revelations feel appropriately huge, yet never forced. And Garland brilliantly continues to escalate things throughout the film. By the end, the movie is just gloriously, giddily insane - but, again, in a way that makes sense given what's come before.

EX MACHINA is an instant contender for the sci-fi movie cannon. It's one of the best films about AI and robots and man vs. machine that I've seen. It's thought-provoking, scary, cool, and even darkly funny at times (actually, surprisingly often). Ava is an instantly-iconic robot, and Vikander kills it in the role. Isaac and Gleeson nail their parts as well - a good sign for Star Wars given that both star in future installments. But this ain't Star Wars. EX MACHINA is a does of real-deal, old-school, Twilight Zone-esque sci-fi. A dark parable that deserves to be seen by many.

My Grade: A-

IT FOLLOWS Is a Retro Horror Gem


- The recent indie-horror renaissance continues - and IT FOLLOWS is the new standard-bearer. Paying homage to the classic John Carpenter-style horror movies of the 80's, IT FOLLOWS feels like a spiritual successor to recent cult-favorites like House of the Devil and The Guest. And it joins those films - plus The Babadook, You're Next, etc. as proof that we are in a new golden age of thoughtful, genre-bending thrillers. But this isn't just a me-too horror flick. On the contrary, this is a film that genuinely blew me away with its ingenuity and cleverness. In a world that still feels a bit too saturated with cheap jump-scare horror, this is one that more about creeping-dread atmosphere than stuff jumping out at you and loud noises. That's the kind of horror I love. And if you like old-school creep-fest horror, then you absolutely have got to check out IT FOLLOWS. It's the sort of movie that effortlessly sticks it to the more slickly-produced, bigger-budgeted blockbusters and says "actually, *this* is how it's done."

IT FOLLOWS establishes the rules of its nightmarish premise with elegant simplicity. A spectral force is out there, haunting its chosen victim. It's invisible to all except its target, and it can appear to that person in any form it chooses. It could look like a random person, or like a friend or family member. But it follows its target with methodical precision. It walks, and walks slowly. But it never stops. And if it reaches you, it will kill you. The other wrinkle is that one becomes the creature's prey when it is passed on via sexual intercourse. In turn, the only way to stop being stalked by the creature is to pass it on to someone else. It's the ultimate STD. Sleep with the wrong person, and you become the target of an unwavering, unstoppable invisible killer.

After an absolutely harrowing opening, the movie shifts focus to its protagonist, Jay - a nineteen year old girl who becomes the creature's latest target. Jay is played by Maika Monroe, who is quickly becoming the new queen of indie thrillers, after starring in both this and the seminal The Guest. Monroe is fantastic here. She is the perfect actor for these throwback films, as she's got a knack for capturing just the right left-of-center, subdued (but, eventually, wide-eyed and creeped-out) tone that gives her performances that vintage 80's feel. She's the kind of actress that you'll willingly follow into any sort of down-the-rabbit-hole weirdness. But she's also someone who has an inner spirit that makes you believe she just might be able to turn the tables on whoever or whatever is after her.

And that's part of what makes IT FOLLOWS so fun. Jay and her friends aren't just passive victims. In grand 80's fashion, the kids band together and try to come up with ways to outsmart and outmaneuver their invisible stalker. It all culminates in an insanely fun climax that sees Jay and her friends making a ballsy last-stand against her tormentor.

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell is clearly one to watch. He shoots IT FOLLOWS in a vintage, evocative style that is an incredibly refreshing change of pace from most of what's out there today. Rather than quick cuts and lots of sound-and-fury, this film is all about creating an ominous atmosphere. Mitchell seems to inherently get how to do creepy right - and he fills IT FOLLOWS with a number of memorably disturbing shots - often lingering rather than cutting away from the object of dread. The dread and intensity becomes even more heightened thanks to the awesomely moody synth score, which only adds to the overall Carpenter-ness of the film. It's funny, the movie seems to be set in the modern day, but if not for the presence of a few modern touches, the overall setting (think 80's-style suburbia) and set-design would make you think we'd traveled back to 1985. So if, like me, that sort of thing floats your boat, get ready for a film that - aside from just being awesomely atmospheric and creepy and intense - is also a bonafide bit of retro goodness.

On that note, IT FOLLOWS is indeed a horror movie, but it's also got a real coming-of-age film vibe as well. Geeky crushes, first loves, and sexual trauma are all in there. Sex in this movie is scary in more than just the usual adolescent ways. And you can debate what if any significance the nature of the movie's premise has. Regardless though, there is certainly an overall theme of creepy-suburbia - that staple of 80's teen flicks. The idea that behind a facade of bland normalcy lies untold, barely-contained terror. And there's also loss of innocence. These latch-key kids are at once not-quite-prepared for adulthood yet also forced to grow up fast. They have to come to terms with certain truths on their own, and all they really have is each other. I don't think it's an accident that there are no real adults in the movie. IT FOLLOWS is unabashedly a movie about teenage wasteland turned upside down.

IT FOLLOWS is the sort of creative, passion-filled movie that, as a writer, is downright inspirational. Seeing how much David Robert Mitchell does on a low budget makes you want to sit down and make a movie in a similar vein. This is one that gets the job done with a great premise, boatloads of atmosphere, and a clear and genuine affection for the genre and its tropes - but with a desire to have fun with convention and be innovative. This is also one of the flat-out best, creepiest, coolest horror movies of the last several years. It's quick cult-status is well-deserved. If you haven't seen it yet - get to it.

My Grade: A-


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

WHILE WE'RE YOUNG A Funny But Narrow Take on Gen X vs. Gen Y


- WHILE WE'RE YOUNG is the latest entry in Noah Baumbach's apparent quest to chronicle all the various phases of adulthood. I've been on sort of a Baumbach high ever since 2012's seminal Frances Ha, which to me is arguably the director's finest work to date. Co-written with GenY girlfriend Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha was a funny, moving, all-too-real-feeling ode to post-collegiate angst. But While We're Young takes Baumbach squarely back to documenting his own generation, the now-in-their-40's, increasingly crotchety members of Gen X. This one treads very similar ground to 2010's Greenberg - and not only because the two Baumbach films share a star in Ben Stiller. The two films both deal heavily with generational conflict, with once-cool Gen X'ers coming to terms with the fact that they've kinda-sorta become the actual adults they vowed they'd never be. Luckily, Baumbach still has a lot of comedy to mine from these types of stories, and he's got a great cast that really embodies the types that the director seeks to skewer. The problem, of course, is that the movie takes place in such a specific universe that it falters when trying to make broad statements about Gen X vs. Gen Y. But as a character study - and as an honest look into what's going through the mind of Baumbach these days - the film is funny and entertaining.

Ben Stiller is Josh - a mid-40's filmmaker in New York who has been stumbling around for ten years trying to complete an ambitious (and thematically vague) documentary project. After a promising early career start, Josh's perfectionism and fear of failure has led him into a certifiable rut. Additionally, stubborn pride has prevented him from asking for help or advice from his father-in-law (Charles Grodin), a revered documentarian. Josh's wife, Cornelia (Naomi Watts) seems to have her professional life more in order. But she shares Josh's seeming disconnect with their square-ish lifestyle. Both Josh and Cornelia (who tried to have kids, but couldn't) are weary of their friends' endless talk about their children. They see their friends' lives becoming boring and predictable, and they see that despite not having kids, they are being pulled into that by osmosis. It's why both become oddly intrigued by Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried) - a young twenty-something hipster couple who meet Josh at a college lecture. Jamie - an ambitious would-be filmmaker - claims to be an admirer of Josh's, and Josh is flattered to have someone who looks up to him rather than down on him. The new friendship leads Josh and Cornelia down a rabbit hole of weird, spontaneous, hipster activities - from sewer hikes to acid trips. And for a while, they feel better and more alive than they have in a long time. But are Josh and Cornelia just playing at being something they're not? Are Jamie and Darby really what they seem?

The movie smartly grapples with a lot of questions about authenticity. Josh sees himself as a perpetual struggling artist, but he lives a life of domestic comfort, and seems to have lost a lot of the artistic spark that once drove him. His never-to-be-finished movie seems more like a last connective thread to his younger days rather than a still-breathing project. It's only fitting that Josh's uber-domesticated, longtime friend Fletcher is played by the Beastie Boys' Adam Horowitz. Seeing the rebel-rap icon now graying and in cardigans is sort of emblematic of Josh's existential crisis. At the same time that he bemoans the state of his own generation, Baumbach also seems to take some satisfaction in sniping at the next one. He paints Jamie and Darby as outwardly carefree hipsters who are actually coldly and nakedly ambitious and cut-throat. Their interests seem quirky, but their goal is all about hitting it big and cashing in - and they get that in a way that Stiller's 40-something Josh still refuses to acknowledge to himself with regards to his own muddled ambitions.

Baumbach has some really fascinating observations. In a socially-networked world where anyone is just a click away, are there any more barriers between us? Josh has years of pent-up frustration that prevents him from sitting down for an honest chat with his father in law. But Jamie approaches him without a care, and pours out his hopes and dreams - networking disguised as earnest admiration. For Jamie and Darby, the world is one giant mash-up of Tumblr and LinkedIn, and the insincerity of that - the self-promotion of it all - slowly begins to turn Josh against them.

Still ... whereas Frances Ha felt like a spot-on depiction of post-college twentysomething-ness, the young hipsters of WHILE WE'RE YOUNG feel a little too much like a forty-something dude's idea of what those younger than him might be like. Again, none of this would be at issue if the movie was *only* about Jamie and Darby as specific characters. But Stiller's interactions with them are colored by numerous declarations involving the pair as emblematic of everything right and wrong about their entire generation. And that makes it feel like Baumbach can't see beyond a certain bubble of privileged white urban hipsters as being somehow representative of their entire generation (see also: Girls Season 1). A minor but telling example of that tunnel-vision: Josh's declaration that the younger generation fills their homes with all the stuff (i.e. records) that his generation tossed in the garbage. Sure, there is the odd music fanatic that collects records, but really, is an entire generation of Millennials embracing old-media? Um, no. Small example, to be sure. But a baby boomer checking this movie out would have a very skewed and not-very-accurate idea of what today's twenty-five year olds are into.

Stiller has long been the posterboy for Gen X, so it feels fitting that he is again Baumbach's star in a movie where generational themes are front and center. Stiller has the ability to pull off earnest observational comedy, but also to get broader and more physical laughs, so he excels here in a role that demands both. The good thing about Stiller - and the movie in general - is that despite Josh's high horse attitude, the joke is still almost always on him. He, ultimately, is the asshole. Watts is also really good as Cornelia. She's always really good. And sure, the effect of growing older and being uncool is somewhat diminished when you're Naomi Watts. But Watts nonetheless makes us believe in her as someone eager to reclaim her inner free-spirit. Meanwhile, Driver and Seyfried are very well cast. Driver is the quintessential hipster bro - but there's also something slightly sinister about him (which should serve him well in Star Wars) that makes you always a bit suspect of his true motives. Seyfried is a walking modern-day flower-child, a manic pixie dream girl of the highest order. She does a nice job of making Darby a character whose whimsy hides some legit pain. Oh, and Charles Grodin is fantastic as a Boomer who is altogether above the fray.

WHILE WE'RE YOUNG has some really interesting things to say - and it's a fascinating peak into Noah Baumbach's mind. It does go a bit off the rails at times, but what keeps it honest is the fact that for every moment that feels preachy, there's a counter-moment that shows how, really, we're all full of $&%# regardless of generation. And perhaps there are far worse concerns for Gen X than those pesky Millennials. There's an absurdist, hilarious coda to the movie that underlines the idea that as much as pundits and older generations malign those born in the 80's and 90's, we've yet to even really consider what kind of world those born today are arriving into - a world that their Gen X and Gen Y parents have created for them. We like to pick apart ultimately inconsequential differences between age-groups. But what if we are truly the last ones born before a seismic shift in the way people behave? Kids born in 2015 won't know a world before iPhones. That's pretty crazy. WHILE WE'RE YOUNG can laugh at itself for the relative smallness of its characters' neuroses. And that's a good thing, because at times it does seem like Baumbach can get too caught up in the minutiae of it all for his own good. But I remain curious to see where this train of thought takes him as he documents the trials of the young and the formerly young.

My Grade: B+

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The End Comes For JUSTIFIED


"In the deep, dark hills ... of eastern Kentucky ..."

- There are those TV shows that dominate the pop-cultural discussion, and there are those that live just outside the mainstream, somewhere on the fringes. Each week, my social media feeds are dominated with discussion about the Game of Thrones of the world - but for several years now, the TV drama that's been at or near the top of my personal must-see, must-discuss, can't-wait-for-more list has been JUSTIFIED. Each season of the F/X neo-Western has upped the stakes, pitting our trigger-happy hero Raylan Givens against all manner of would-be crime-bosses, kingpins, and outlaws who mean to stir up trouble in Harlan County. The show began to hit its stride midway through its first season, and has never looked back. The show became increasingly serialized, and increasingly fleshed out its universe so as to populate it with the greatest, most eclectic, most memorable cast of characters of any series I've seen. JUSTIFIED is plain and simply the most badass show on TV - and with tonight's final episode, I can't help but feel that there's going to be a void in the TV landscape that's hard to fill. Even in the middle of a TV renaissance that has flooded our screens with great content, few series can match JUSTIFIED pound for pound. The writing, acting, direction is second to none. And the pulpy, Elmore Leonard-inspired tone is unlike anything else currently airing, and unlike anything we're likely to see again anytime soon.

There was a time where the highest of high art in TV seemed to be artlessness. Endless procedural series and would-be gritty dramas in the 00's subscribed to the idea that dialogue had to be short and terse, that characters had to be ill-formed, that direction had to have a you-are-there immediacy in order to resonate with the modern audience. We went from Bond to Bourne, from The X-Files to CSI, from David Mamet to Damon Lindeloff. But a decade later, shows like Breaking Bad and JUSTIFIED helped to usher in a new pulp renaissance - an era when pop-culture again felt free to get moody, stylized, and evocative rather than immediate. JUSTIFIED - based on a series of novels by Elmore Leonard - quickly distinguished itself as existing in a pulp-fiction world of modern-day gunslingers and outlaws. Sure, there are elements of the show that count as recognizable to us. In particular, whenever the action shifts to the more modern world of Lexington, Justified takes on the trappings of a more straightforward brand of crime drama. But when we enter Harlan, we enter a twisted world where, for all intents and purposes, the Old West yet lives.

The two diametrically-opposed forces in Harlan - Raylan and his nemesis/frenemy Boyd Crowder - are, like many great foes, two sides of the same coin. Both see themselves as of another era. Raylan the pistol-packing cowboy, Boyd the rules-don't-apply outlaw. It's fitting that the show's final season finally re-focused the plot on their rivalry, as the two have been circling each other for the series' entire run. There was a great line said about Raylan early on in the show's run: "you're the angriest man I've ever met." To me, that succinct description colored my perspective on the entirety of JUSTIFIED. At first, I couldn't understand the sentiment. As played by Timothy Olyphant, Raylan seemed downright jovial at times. His default mode was to be wearing a sly grin, with a twinkle in his eye. And yet ... beneath that smile there was, indeed, rage. And it revealed itself in small ways - as when Raylan's grin soured into a scowl - and in larger, more disturbing ways - as when, so often, Raylan would seem to take a strange joy in facing down death and in inflicting it. The kind of comfort that a man content with his lot in life likely wouldn't enjoy. Time and again, Raylan has seemed to welcome life-or-death stand-offs. Time and again, he's been drawn back into lonely and dogged pursuits of vengeance masked as justice - when he could have taken refuge with his family. In this final season, we are left wondering if Raylan really can find peace if he were to finally take down Boyd, or whether all that can really satiate him is the dance of death. Hard to believe that a character like Raylan can ever really settle down. And that's the film-noir of it all - the sense of being trapped by existential forces, unable to escape a doomed, repetitious fate. "You'll never leave Harlan County alive," says the song - a mournful ballad that's played in more than one of the show's season finales. And that may very well be true for Raylan. Certainly, it's proven true for any number of the show's less lucky characters. It may well be a prophetic statement for Boyd as well. Boyd has narrowly escaped death numerous times - but he's never escaped Harlan. This season has seen Boyd's pride and outlaw spirit keep him from making an easy exit and cashing out when he had the chance. Now, he's headed for a collision with Raylan that likely won't end well. But Boyd trapped in a corner has proven resourceful. Still ... he's never been this much in a corner - with even his steadfast best-gal Ava having turned against him.

A lot can be said about the performances of Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins on JUSTIFIED. Both have consistently killed it for years now. The lack of Emmy recognition is shameful. Olyphant was a guy I knew from a few movies, pre-Justified (don't worry, I later saw Deadwood). But he was the perfect Raylan - absolutely embodying the character and making him into a full-fledged TV icon. Walton Goggins has, over the years, become one of my favorite actors. You can't take your eyes off of him as Boyd. He's snake-like, unpredictable, cold-blooded, and yet oddly likable. When Boyd rallies the people of Harlan to whatever his pet cause of the day is, you get why they side with him. The man may be a criminal and a liar, but by god, he's Harlan through-and-through, and the Crowder roots run deep.

And roots have long been a pet theme of this show. Raylan has long been tormented by the Givens name. His father, Arlo, was a scheming, rotten bottom-feeder. And when Raylan wasn't actively dealing with his still-up-to-no-good dad, he was dealing with the long shadow that his family's bad reputation cast. But good or bad, family roots are like currency in Harlan. It's why its people are apt to trust a Crowder over an outsider. And indeed, a recurring theme of Justified has been the battles among Harlan's clan-like factions for power, as well as those clans' unlikely alliances when faced with a common, alien threat. This season gives us a classic example of the outsider entering Harlan and unwittingly biting off more than he can chew. Sam Elliott's Avery Markham is a big fish in a small pond - he should be able carry out his land-grabbing schemes relatively unopposed. But the rules work a little differently in Harlan County. If you don't have the homefield advantage, well ... like the song says. As is happening to all of America's hidden hideaways and enclaves, the forces of modernity are indeed closing in on Harlan. But that encroachment only seems to make the natives restless and feisty. They ain't going down without a fight.

This season has been a who's-who of badass character actors coming in as recurring villains. Sam Elliott - so often the noble elder statesman, is here the serpent-like, devilish Big Bad. And as Avery Markham, he's absolutely killin' it. Garrett Dillahunt and Jeff Fahey have been fantastic. And that's just the guest cast. So much can be said for the regulars. Aside from Goggins and Olyphant, special mention has to be given to Joelle Carter as Ava Crowder, the tough-as-nails, shotgun-toting antihero of the show. Carter's work this season has been phenomenal, and JUSTIFIED has become as much Ava's story as it has Raylan and Boyd's. Then there's the show's cult-favorite Wynn Duffy, played with smarmy, shady perfection by Jere Burns. Wynn is the show's human cockroach - a pervy, seedy, RV-dwelling slimeball who seems to be the show's single character immune to death. Burns has won fans by making Wynn the ultimate survivor in a ruthless world - a man who crawls away from scrapes by the skin of his teeth, but who never fails to get right back to the business of being a scuzz-bucket. Nick Searcy as Raylan's U.S. Marshall mentor Art has been one of the show's secret weapons, and delivered some of its greatest moments. Same goes for the uber-badass Tim, played by Jacob Pitts. He, Raylan, and Erica Tazel's Rachel have long formed a U.S. Marshall trifecta-of-awesome, cleaning up Harlan one lowlife at a time. Kaitlyn Dever is a real scene-stealer as young crime-boss-in-training Loretta McCready. Introduced in the standout season in which the Emmy-winning Margo Martindale played the Big Bad, Loretta has blossomed into a fan-favorite, gaining more gumption as she's aged, and becoming a surprisingly important player in the show's final season. 

For years now, JUSTIFIED has taken us to a heightened, pulp-noir, neo-Western world where modern-day cowboys and outlaws wage a neverending battle for the soul of Harlan County, Kentucky. The show has served as an ongoing tribute to the great Elmore Leonard - never shying away from bringing his pop-snap dialogue, outlandish characters, and grim morality plays to television in a way that always seemed to honor the spirit of the writer and his source material. In a world of written-by-committee scripts, JUSTIFIED had a singular voice, a singular style, that few shows ever have. That voice was Leonard's. And we saw it embodied every week in the darkly-humorous witticisms, soliloquies, and whip-sharp banter of Raylan, Boyd, and the rest of the show's larger-than-life denizens. The series took us to ramshackle hillbilly enclaves, Noble's Holler, Boyd's seedy bar hideaway, and any number of other distinctly unsavory locations. But most of all, it took us to Harlan. It took us down a road fraught with death and gunpowder, with backstabbing and feuding and square-dancing and booze and drugs and the ghosts of days gone by. These characters may never leave Harlan alive. But we'll have left Harlan the better for having visited.