Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 08 “The Pointy End”

Okay, this is my third time to review an episode of Game of Thrones for this blog.  I previously reviewed episode 2 and then episode 6.  I always seem to end up reviewing episodes in which Drogo does something really brutal and makes me go, “Agck!”  And tonight was no different.

So, when we last left Game of Thrones, the king was dying and Nedd had been appointed protector of the realm.  Nedd was ordered to bow down to Joffrey Beiber but Nedd refused, saying that Joffrey was not the heir to the throne.  This led to the creepy little brat demanding blood and suddenly, Aiden Gillen was holding a knife to Nedd’s throat and saying — in this wonderfully evil way — “I did tell you not to trust me.”

Last week’s episode ended with the promise of violence and the beginning on tonight’s episode delivered on that promise as the Lannister guards came for Nedd’s two daughters — Arya and Sansa — and cut down anyone unfortunate enough to get in their way.  By this point, we expect the violence in this show to be brutal.  Indeed, I think we almost demand it because each drop of blood shed onscreen serves notice that Game of Thrones isn’t just a “sword-and-sorcery fantasy.”  Instead, it’s a show about real people, all of whom have their own motivations, personalities, and individual complexities.  This show is a fantasy that feels real and that was especially evident tonight.

The casual and needless brutality of the Lannisters was emphasized by the fact that they were clad in anonymous armor and carrying metal swords while the majority of their victims were both without weapon and armor.  If nothing else, this sequence left little doubt who the bad guys are and who the good guys are.

Speaking of good guys, I have to admit that I hadn’t given much thought to Syrio until tonight’s episode but I still had to hold back a tear as I watched him knowingly sacrified himself for Arya.  There was something so incredibly poignant about the sight of him standing there with his broken wooden sword, facing down that faceless, armor-clad giant.  For all the respect I give this show for not shying away from the brutality of violence, I was thankful that we didn’t see Syrio struck down.  It allowed the character to go out with the respect that he had definitely earned.

From the moment this show began, I’ve been aware that Arya and (to a much lesser extent) Sansa are two fan favorites and this episode — perhaps for the first time since we saw Arya dealing with Joffrey Bieber in episode 2 — gave me some clues why.  Though Arya was only in the first ten minutes of the episode, she also provided tonight’s most shocking moment when she killed a young boy with “the pointy end.”  It was a well-played scene and one that once established that this is a fantasy with a very human dimension.

Arya escaped the Lannisters but Sansa — not surprisingly — didn’t.  Instead, she was taken into custody.  I have to admit that it’s easy to dislike Sansa.  Previously, I’ve always thought of her as being the equivalent of those silly girls who go on twitter, change their last name to Beiber, and spend all of their time hating on Selena Gomez.  It didn’t help that every time we saw Sansa, she was chasing after that little creepy Joffrey.  However, at the end of tonight’s episode, Sansa partially redeemed herself by begging Joffrey to spare Nedd.  I say partially because she still felt the need to say that she understood that Nedd must have done something wrong.  Obviously, that was probably a diplomatic move on her part but I still found myself wishing that Arya had been there because she would have just ripped the little brat’s throat out.  Still, this final scene was very well-played by both Jack Gleeson (as Joffrey) and Sophie Turner (as Sansa).  Though it ended on a much quieter note than last week’s episode, the end of tonight’s episode carried a lot more emotional weight.

I think one reason that Arleigh wanted me to review this particular episode is because some much of it centered on the two sisters and the different methods they used to deal with the situation they found themselves in.  Just by coincidence, I ended up watching tonight’s episode with my own sister, Erin.  As usual, Erin and I both started to discuss which sister I was like and which sister she was like.  And, as usual, we both wanted to be Arya.

Erin’s argument for being the most like Arya comes down to the fact that, like Arya, she’s athletic, not given to vanity, and has little use for the silly and superficial.  My argument was that, like Arya, I’m the youngest.  Yes, I’m afraid that’s the only argument I could come up with.  As I watched tonight’s episode, I finally forced myself to admit that I’m not Arya.  No, I’m just silly little Sansa, constantly flirting with the wrong guy, getting my entire family into trouble but, if nothing else, always looking good while doing so.  That’s hard to admit because, ultimately, who wouldn’t rather be Arya?

After watching tonight’s episode, I can say that even though I would still rather be an Arya, I can at least be a little less embarrassed about actually being Sansa.

Though this episode was pretty much dominated, for me, by the two sisters, there was actually a good deal else going on.  A few quick highlights:

1) In reaction to the imprisonment of his father, Robb Stark is gathering an army to lead a counter attack against the Lannisters.  I have to admit that Robb hadn’t previously made much of an impression on me but tonight, he came into his own a bit.  I’m still not really sold on him but he did show that he’s not quite as much of a cipher as I originally suspected.  As well, Robb Jon Snow had a great fight scene with a truly creepy assailant.  (Yes,turns out that wasn’t Robb fighting with the assailant, that was Jon.  Sorry, to be honest, neither Robb nor Jon have made a huge impression on me up to this point in the show. — LMB)

2) It was nice to the see the surviving dire wolves pop up on tonight’s episode and actually get to do something.  I’m still angry about that wolf that was put down in episode 2.  Hopefully, one of them will get another chance to bite Joffrey before the season ends.

3) Sometimes, when I think about Peter Dinklage and Game of Thrones, I’m reminded of how I originally assumed that Lost would be the Dominic Monaghan show.  Once the show actually started, it quickly became apparent that Monaghan was just a distinctive member of an ensemble and one reason that I knew Lost was special was because this didn’t bother me.  Monaghan, himself, was so good in his role and such a charismatic presence that you often times found yourself assuming that he had been in more episodes than he actually was.  I often feel the same way about Dinklage.  Even when he only has a few minutes of screen time, Dinklage’s performance dominates.  Dinklage had some strong moments in tonight’s episode and I hope that Emmy voters will take note of how effortlessly he went from providing comic relief to showing some very real and genuine emotion when he heard that Robert was dead. Week after week, Dinklage is such a compelling presence that he almost gives the Lannisters an appeal that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

4) Okay, I’ve said in the past that Drogo is sexy and I’ve had a lot of people give me a hard time about that.  Here’s my argument — yes, he’s a brute and yes, he does occasionally look like he should be sacking Rome in a 1960s biblical epice but he’s also a strong, powerful man who sees what he wants and takes it.  And, sorry, that’s sexy.  Add to that, his clear devotion to Danys and…oh my God, where to begin?  But anyway, the fact that he’s hot doesn’t make it any more appealing to watch him rip someone’s tongue out of their mouth.  Then again, how many men do you know who are capable of actually doing that?  So, tonight’s episode left me conflicted on Drogo but, in the end, he and Danys remain two of the most unpredictable and complex characters that have ever appeared on a television screen.  I don’t know that I’d trade places with Danys but … well, I probably would.  Maybe just for a night…

5) Speaking of disturbingly sexy, Aiden Gillen (playing Littlefinger) may just be one of the great villianous character actors of the 2010s.  He has the wonderfully perverse glint in his eye and he delivers every line with just the right amount of arch contempt.

6) Ironically, the original and interesting and compelling Game of Thrones is followed every Sunday night by its exact opposite, an aggressively hyped and overrated show called Treme.  If I ever have to explain why Game of Thrones is one of the best shows on television, I’ll start by comparing just how real the people of fictional King’s Landing feel when compared to Treme‘s portrayal of the people of the very real city of New Orleans.

Now, as I’ve admitted in the past, I was a Game of Thrones virgin when this series began.  I haven’t read George R. R. Martin’s original novel — though I plan to this summer — and what I know about the eventual direction of the series is pretty much limited to what I’ve read on Wikipedia.  (If some total stranger put it in Wikipedia, it’s got to be accurate, right?)  As such, I know — in the vaguest sense — some of what is going to happen if this series stays true to Martin’s source material.  As such, watching these last few episodes have been a bit like watching a cryptic prophecy steadily start to make sense before your eyes.  I’m now eagerly waiting for the final 2 episodes to see if the prophecies come true.

Review: ‘The Tree of Life’

Once again after a while of not posting anything I’m pocking my head back in with a review for a film that I’m more interested in hearing what others think rather than telling them what I thought. That film being Terrence Malick’s fifth feature film “The Tree of Life”, which received the Palme d’Or at Cannes and has been receiving quite a lot of praise from critics. But is it all warranted? Well of course that is up to the viewer to decide, but here are my thoughts…

“The Tree of Life” is a mystifying and contemplative cinematic experience with a focus on the nature of good and evil, grace versus nature, god and his absence, love, grief, innocence, reconciliation and human existence all observed at times at a cosmic scale but mostly with intimate detail. Though far from containing a conventional narrative, the story within the enigmatic pondering of “The Tree of Life” revolves around Jack O’Brien, first seen as a wary middle aged man in modern times. He awakes one morning after he apparently dreams of his parents on the anniversary of the death of his brother who he loved deeply, a death that still troubles him. As he goes about his day working his corporate job the death of his brother weighs heavily on him. Jack then begins, as he has probably done countless times before, to search for answers to that overburdening question ‘Why? Why do we die and what is the purpose of life’. Questions asked in hopes to better understand his loss and reconcile his grief.

The search for the answer, which inevitably questions god’s existence, starts where one tends to look for something, the beginning. We are quickly transported to the very first moments of the creation of the universe and travel forward through time to the formation of earth, the dawn of living organisms at a microscopic level and eventually complex life forms. Next we get to the real center of the story as we witness the birth and childhood of Jack. All of this story is observed through Jacks memories of living in a small town in Texas during the 50’s. I believe it is very important to consider that these scenes are told through his memory and so contain a dreamlike and visceral atmosphere. We are not watching it play out as a narrative would in any other film, instead we get fragments of his childhood, each an individual memory strung together as they flow through Jack’s mind. The fact that these are memories also helps in understanding the view of his parents and the way in which they represent the sides of grace and nature to such extremes; as in Malick’s “Days of Heaven” one questions whether they are a true representation of the characters or just how Jack remembers them so many years later.

Jessica Chastain plays ‘Mother’, the way of grace, as a free spirited, caring and nurturing guide who teaches love, forgiveness and the enjoyment of life. The dueling force is nature, played incredibly well by Brad Pitt, as the disciplinarian father figure who runs his family with an iron fist in an attempt to instill toughness and a yearning for achieving greatness through any means. Together they reflect the inner workings of the cosmos and have a profound influence on Jack and at times he struggles to find a balance. As he grows he witnesses the harshness of the world around him, experiencing jealousy, lust, death and is often tempted by evil and sinful thoughts. At the same time however these struggles help him to grow and understand life and he comes to express a deep love and fondness for his family, especially his brother, though his mind still questions many things as it does for us all.

As expected with any Malick film the events in Jack’s life are not a direct depiction of reality, and Malick really doesn’t care much about their outcomes or how the story unfolds in a literal sense; instead what matters is making the audience experience these events through the inner mind and consciousness of the characters. As with his other work he relies heavily on voice over narration to convey the intimate thoughts of these characters , but this time they seem to be speaking for us and not just for themselves. All of this is constructed within a very visual backdrop with breathtakingly beautiful imagery utilizing lights, shadows, sounds, CGI, nature and settings with such perfection only a true artist like Malick could achieve giving even the most simple images complex meaning.

Together it is all truly poetry in motion and though it is a term I have used many times before it has never been more fitting. The entire film is unlike any other I have seen, one that will rattle your perspective on the world. Personally, the entire experience challenged me emotionally, mentally and spirituality; I’m not a religious man and I understand the examination of Christian values and Gods part in the story but the spiritualism at play I believe transcended religion or faith and although it looks to god for answers and at times tries to explain his actions, the thematic outcomes are open to so much interpretation that to claim you know the answer would undermine the films intentions. In the end there are no definitive answers; in the bigger picture of things we live but a small moment in time. One of the final scenes depicts what is seen to be ‘heaven’ but not in a literal sense. God does not show his presence, and it isn’t located among the clouds. One does not encounter angels and no answers are given, instead there are only the ones we love as we remember them. Heaven is merely the place within out hearts where we cherish the memories of the past and it is in those memories and through those people we live them with that we find a meaning and a reason to love and live. It is there where one finds true reconciliation, understanding and peace and by films end that is what Jack and the audience get.

“The Tree of Life” will undoubtedly divide the general film going audience. In the showing I attended I saw one couple walk out while at the same time as the final scenes began to play a woman in front of me was in tears. No one will be affected in the same way as others; those with no previous experience with Malick’s work might find the whole thing pretentious, difficult to understand and hard to sit through which is very understandable. Those with a bit of patience and an open mind will bear witness to what might possibly be one of the most ambitious, beautiful and best films in a very long time that will stick with you long after you leave the theater and will be discussed and analyzed for years to come.

For those of you who have seen the film, what were your thoughts and have you seen Malick’s previous work? For those that haven’t see it, do you plan to or did the trailer and whole idea of its structure turn you off?

Review: Kung Fu Panda 2 (dir. by Jennifer Yuh Nelson)

In 2008, Dreamworks Animation released what many had thought was one of their animated films. Some even went so far as to consider it on the same level as many of the Pixar animated offerings. This was high praise indeed and the praises from critics was awarded by public acclaim as Kung Fu Panda became an instant classic for Dreamworks Animation. It wasn’t a huge surprise that a sequel was quickly greenlit by the studio and now three years has passed and that sequel has finally come out. Kung Fu Panda 2 does one of those rare feats in film-making where it surpasses it’s original predecessor in all things. This was a sequel that was able to take what made the first one so fun and thrilling and build on it without losing the charm that made it so beloved in the first place.

Kung Fu Panda 2 brings back the Dragon Warrior Po (Jack Black returning in the role of the big fat panda) as he continues to live his dream of having become the Dragon Warrior and fighting evil, bandits and criminals with his fellow kung fu masters, the Furious Five. Instead of the film highlighting Po’s size as a detriment and keeping him a buffoonish character like in the beginning of the first film this sequel actually makes him an equal of his heroes, if not, surpassing them. This is a refreshing change since the writers could’ve easily banked on Po as a character who bungled and stumbled his way through most of the film.

This film was a continuation of Po’s journey as a hero which the first film was just the first step. Despite being a kung fu master in his own right his culture becomes threatened by a villain even more devious than the first film’s Tai Lung. Lord Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman) is the mad peacock heir to Gongmen City who has found an ultimate weapon through fireworks that he plans to defeat kung fu and conquer all of China. Kung fu is everything to Po and he journeys with the Furious Five to confront Lord Shen and stop his plans before it’s too late.

It’s during this journey that Po learns more about his true past and where he truly comes from. The sequences where Po’s adopted goose father tells of Po’s past was some of the best animations Dreamworks has done and I’d say surpasses some of Pixar’s own work. After seeing this film I’m sure many kids and some adults would want themselves their very own baby panda. Who would’ve thought that baby pandas sounded like human babies when they cried. It’s knowing his past that Po must now learn to find his inner peace if he’s to ever go beyond just being a kung fu master.

Kung Fu Panda 2 was actually quite a dark film in places as themes of genocide, destructive march of technology against nature, difficulties of adopted children finding their true origins and many others. That’s not to say that this sequel wasn’t fun to watch. The action took the kung fu fight scenes from the first film to a whole new level, but without turning it into all flash and no substance. It’s during some of the thrilling fight sequences that we see Po truly become part of the Furious Five and even affection from some of it’s members. It would be interesting to see how a third film would explore the growing relationship between Po and certain striped-feline.

The story gets a much needed infusion of creative help from one Guillermo Del Toro who served as creative producer. His inclusion in the film’s development was probably why the film had a much darker and serious tone in addition to the charm it continued from the first film. If there was anyone in Hollywood who knows how to further develop a character through a Campbellian hero’s journey then it’s Del Toro. If Dreamworks Animation is able to keep Del Toro on hand to further treat their other projects then it will be quite a coup for the studio.

The animation in this film is a step above the first film and anything Dreamworks Animation has ever done. With each passing year and release it looks like Dreamworks Animation has been able to come to the same level of animated work Pixar has set with their own projects. While I’m sure there’s no animosity between animators fo the two houses there probably is some sort of friendly rivalry which helps push both studios to improve on their animation work. All this means is that the public wins out in the end as we’re treated to better animated features from both Dreamworks and Pixar. It’s a good thing that Dreamworks Animation has also improved their storytelling with each new film that they’re not being called the weaker films when compared to Pixar’s latest.

In the end, Kung Fu Panda 2 more than lives up to it’s predecessor and actually surpasses it in every way. This sequel’s animation and use of stereoscopic 3D was some of the best in CG animation to date. It had a story that continued to explore and build the characters from the first film that they’ve gone beyond simple, basic animated characters but fully realized and complex individuals. Even the ending scene in the film which definitely sets-up a third film doesn’t seem tacked on but looks like something that would further continue Po’s hero’s journey. Sequels and milking of a franchise usually don’t sit well with serious film fans, but this franchise seems to be doing it correctly and using each new film to further an epic tale. Here’s to hoping we see Po and his Furious Five friends back for more in the coming years.

Scenes I Love: Superman Spins the Planet

“Fezzik, do you hear that? That is the sound of ultimate suffering.” – Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride.

Granted, this is one of the most strangest ways to resolve an issue (rewind everything back so it didn’t happen to begin with, without any paradoxes whatsoever), but it’s the reaction to Lois’ death that I like about this. As a kid, that scream made me jump, because it sounded like Superman lost just about everything. I honestly would have liked to know what Reeve thought of to get that scream out. I recently showed this to my cousin who liked it too. The spinning around the planet was cool (though a little much), and is something I come back to once in a while.

Song of the Day: Don’t You Forget About Me (by Simple Minds)

While I was trying to get myself to sleep I was finishing up watching the Emma Stone film Easy A on cable when the song at the end brought back some major high school memories. This effect made me choose this song as the latest “Song of the Day”.

Simple Minds was one of the big new wave, pop rock bands of the 1980’s. They were especially big with the junior high and high school kids of the day. It’s not a big surprise really since one of their biggest hit became the unofficial anthems for many junior high and high school graduation classes. This song I speak of is “Don’t You Forget About Me” and it became really popular when John Hughes picked it to be the signature song for his teen drama, The Breakfast Club. I really got into this song in my senior year of high school which was six years after the song came out. It definitely fit my mental state at that time as it was the end of a phase in my life as my high school days gradually came to an end.

This is the song which always brings back both fond memories and even the ones which brought heartache, but in the end they were still things I would look back fondly on. Friends were made and some stayed with me even to this date while others have faded to just memories. I don’t know anyone who has grown up listening to this song who do not feel the same in some fashion. It’s a timeless tune which probably has made fans with teens of this generation and probably the next. All thanks must go to both Simple Minds and John Hughes for making this a timeless teen classic anthem.

Don’t You Forget About Me

Hey, hey, hey ,hey

Won’t you come see about me?
I’ll be alone, dancing you know it baby

Tell me your troubles and doubts
Giving me everything inside and out and
Love’s strange so real in the dark
Think of the tender things that we were working on

Slow change may pull us apart
When the light gets into your heart, baby

Don’t You Forget About Me
Don’t Don’t Don’t Don’t
Don’t You Forget About Me

Will you stand above me?
Look my way, never love me
Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling
Down, down, down

Will you recognise me?
Call my name or walk on by
Rain keeps falling, rain keeps falling
Down, down, down, down

Hey, hey, hey, hey

Don’t you try to pretend
It’s my feeling we’ll win in the end
I won’t harm you or touch your defenses
Vanity and security

Don’t you forget about me
I’ll be alone, dancing you know it baby
Going to take you apart
I’ll put us back together at heart, baby

Don’t You Forget About Me
Don’t Don’t Don’t Don’t
Don’t You Forget About Me

As you walk on by
Will you call my name?
As you walk on by
Will you call my name?
When you walk away

Or will you walk away?
Will you walk on by?
Come on – call my name
Will you all my name?

I say :
La la la…