Short Film Review: When Cary Grant Introduced Timothy Leary to LSD (dir by Geoffrey Sax)


The year in 1959 and Cary Grant (Ben Chaplin) is filming North by Northwest.  From what we see of him, he’s the Cary Grant that we’ve all read about — the handsome, charming, witty, but very guarded movie star who never seems to truly trust anyone.

On set, Grant is visited by a pushy Harvard professor named Timothy Leary (Aidan Gillen).  Leary explains that he’s recently read an interview in which Grant discussed using a new drug called LSD for therapeutic purposes.  Leary believes that the drug could possible be used to help humanity evolve into something better.  He says that he wants to take LSD and he wants Grant to guide him through his trip.  Grant rather stiffly explains that LSD should only be taken under medical supervision.  Leary, however, doesn’t have time for that.

Eventually, Leary and Grant do end up dropping acid together and, as you might have guessed, that’s where things start to get strange.  First off, Leary and Grant find themselves sharing the same trip.  While Grant tries to escape from Leary, they travel through Grant’s poverty-stricken childhood and they even find themselves being chased by the famous North By Northwest cropduster.  They also take a trip to Leary’s future, where he will someday be just as famous as Grant.  Leary proclaims that LSD will be the start of the counter culture while the far more conservative Grant grumbles that Leary is a charlatan and that most people won’t be able to handle the drug.  Along the way, we go through the usual innuendos about both men.  Even under the influence of LSD, Grant remains guarded about his sexuality while Leary struggles to convince Grant that he actually is prophet and not just a con artist looking to get rich through revolution.

Clocking in at just 20 minutes, When Cary Grant Introduced Timothy Leary to LSD is an enjoyably weird little film that makes sense once you realize that Chaplin and Gillen are not actually meant to be playing the real-life Grant and Leary but instead are playing fictionalized versions who both understand that, along with being historical figures, they’re also characters in a film.  By the end of the film, they’re less concerned with dealing with each other and more concerned with convincing those of us in the audience that one of them is right and the other one is wrong.  Ben Chaplin may not look like Cary Grant but he has the right brooding quality to be convincing as a troubled man who often feels trapped by his own persona.  Aiden Gillen, meanwhile, is far more cheerful as Timothy Leary, who he plays as being a bit of a trouble-making sprite.

Interestingly enough, the film is loosely based on fact.  Cary Grant did take LSD for therapeutic reasons and Timothy Leary did later go on to become a public figure as a result of his pro-acid advocacy.  It has been rumored that Leary and Grant actually did meet, though not necessarily during the filming of North by Northwest.  In the end, When Cary Grant Introduced Timothy Leary to LSD is an enjoyably weird short film that shows up occasionally on Showtime so keep an eye out for it.

Film Review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure (dir by Wes Ball)


Here are a few good things about Maze Runner: The Death Cure.

First off, and most importantly, Dylan O’Brien is still alive.  When The Death Cure first went into production way back in 2016, O’Brien was seriously injured on the set.  While it’s never really been disclosed just how serious the injuries were, they were bad enough that it took O’Brien several months to recover.  There was even some speculation that his career might be over.  Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.  Last year, O’Brien returned to the screen and gave a superior performance as the lead in American Assassin.  In The Death Cure, O’Brien returns as Thomas and even if the character is still a bit of cipher, O’Brien does a good job playing him.

Secondly, Gally lives!  In the first Maze Runner, Gally was a villain but, because he was played by Will Poulter, he was also strangely likable.  Maze Runner was the first film in which I ever noticed Will Poulter and I have to admit that I’ve always felt that both the actor and the character deserved better than to be casually killed off at the end of the first movie.  Since Maze Runner, Poulter has given great performances in both The Revenant and Detroit.  (He was also briefly cast as Pennywise in It, though the role was ultimately played by Bill Skarsgard.)  In The Death Cure, it is not only revealed that Gally is still alive but he also finally gets to be one of the good guys.

Third, the Death Cure confirms what I felt when I first saw The Maze Runner.  Wes Ball is a talented director.  Despite whatever narrative flaws that the Maze Runner films may have, they’re always watchable.  Death Cure opens with a genuinely exciting action sequence and there are more than a few visually striking shots.

Fourth, Death Cure actually ends the Maze Runner saga.  That may sound like a strange or back-handed compliment but it’s not.  Death Cure resists the temptation to try to milk more money out of the franchise by unnecessarily splitting the finale in two.  I’ve always felt that The Hunger Games made a huge mistake with its two-part finale.  (The first part was good but the second part dragged.)  Divergent appears to be destined to be forever unfinished because the first part of it’s two-part finale bombed at the box office.  Death Cure refuses to indulge in any of that nonsense.  Unfortunately, this also means that Death Cure ends up lasting an unwieldy 142 minutes but still, that’s better than forcing the film into two parts.  With the current YA dysptopia cycle winding down, now is the right time to end things.

Finally, I appreciated the fact that the bad guys in Death Cure were named WCKD.  There’s nothing subtle about that but this isn’t a movie the demands subtlety.  As opposed to many other films based on dystopian YA fiction, The Maze Runner films have always been aware of just how ludicrous they often are.  Unlike the Divergent films or The Fifth Wave, the Maze Runner films have always been smart enough not to take themselves too seriously.

Anyway, as for Death Cure itself, it’s big and noisy and your enjoyment will largely depend on how much you remember about the first two films.  It’s been nearly three years since The Scorch Trials came out, which is an eternity when it comes to a franchise like Maze Runner.  Death Cure pretty much jumps right into the action and if you don’t remember all of the details from the first two films … well, good luck getting caught up!  (Unfortunately, it doesn’t help that, while the first movie was fun, Scorch Trials was a lot easier to forget.)  It’s pretty much a typical tale of YA dystopia, complete with tragic deaths, shocking betrayal, and a chosen one.  If you’re a fan of the previous two films or the books, you’ll probably enjoy Death Cure.  For the rest of us, it’s a bit of a confusing ride but at least there’s a lot of up-and-coming talent on display.

Quick Review: King Arthur – Legend of the Sword (dir. by Guy Ritchie)


KingArthur-LegendoftheSwordUsually, when I go to the movies, I either eat before I get there, or after the movie is done. This way, I don’t have to get up at all and miss anything. If it’s a film I’ve seen before, I’ll take the weakest part to use as a bathroom / food break, if I have to go. It’s one way I can tell if I like what I’m watching.

I got up twice for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Once to go downstairs and get a popcorn and drink, and a second time for a free refill. I even left my stuff behind in my chair for anyone to take on the second trip out. That’s how low my interest in this film fell after about 30 minutes in. I trusted the fates not to have someone steal my motorcycle jacket (keys, gear and all) to take a break from this film.

This may not be the best review to read about King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

The Arthurian Legend has been captured in film a number of times. The Last Legion, First Knight, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Excalibur (my personal favorite), and most recently, Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur starring Clive Owen. There’s nothing wrong with a retelling of the story, but Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is all over the place and feels like it has nothing to do with the legends. This isn’t anything against Ritchie. I own Rock-N-Rolla and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and I loved Snatch. King Arthur was just off to me. Even the Sherlock Holmes films seemed more grounded than this one does. None of the actors are truly able to save this film, and a few people actually left in the middle of my showing. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever watched, but Ritchie’s made better films than this.

Granted, I didn’t really walk in with a lot of expectations. The film had it’s release date changed, being sandwiched right between Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 the week before and Alien: Covenant the week after. It really didn’t have a chance, though I thought maybe it could at least hold the weekend. On the other hand, the movie did feel like a lot of the sword and sorcery films I grew up with in the ‘80s, such as Hawk The Slayer, Beastmaster, Ridley Scott’s Legend, The Sword & the Sorcerer, hell, even Barbarian Queen. In that sense, I might say that the film holds up. If you’re not trying to compare it with anything Arthur/Camelot related, you may actually enjoy it.

Legend of the Sword is the story of Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), who needs to save his land from the evil King Vortigern (Jude Law) after reclaiming the great sword Excalibur. I could say more, but I’d give too much away. He’s aided by his friends, Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and Goosefat Bill (Aidan Gillen), along with a Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) that takes the place of Merlin, who’s absent here. Everyone’s performances are okay, particularly Law and Gillen, who chew up any scene they’re in. Hunnam does just as good with what he’s given, but his Arthur is a bit of an ass at the start. Everyone seems to enjoy what they’re doing here. Even David Beckham gets a moment as a henchman. Of them, the only character I really cared about was Goosefat Bill. Aiden Gillen can play the hero, and play one well.

To his credit, Guy Ritchie’s direction is as quick and sharp as it ever was. When there’s action, it’s fast and fluid. You’ve got great running sequences, and giant CGI animals. Even the swordplay is fun, particularly when Excalibur is involved (those are really the best parts). It’s stylish, and looks awesome in some scenes. The dialogue is rapid, with quick cuts along whole segments. It’s what we’ve come to know and expect from Guy Ritchie. Though it worked well for his modern crime films, it come across as being a little disjointed here. I was hoping for King Arthur, not Underworld Boss Arthur who could be Robin Hood, along with his would be Merry Men of Sherwood Forest.

While I’m not saying that every element of the Arthur tale needed to be expanded upon, Legend of the Sword suffers from a few jump cuts that say “Don’t worry about all of this info, just know we reached point B from point A.” It’s efficient, but also turns the entire tale into a Cliffs Notes / Wikipedia summary. The film moves that quick. The film is peppered with these abbreviations that’s supposed to move the narrative along, but does this so fast that you almost have a tough time believing this movie was actually 2 hours long. I’m not asking for Hamlet, but at least allow your characters to flourish or grow or gain something about them that’s endearing. I’ll also admit to having a short attention span, it’s not that short that it requires quick-cut bursts to keep me enthralled.

Overall, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was a miss for me. If you have to catch it, you may want to wait for the VOD edition.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #122: Calvary (dir by John Michael McDonagh)


Calvary_movieposterCalvary was probably the best movie of 2014 that you did not see in a theater.  I missed seeing it during its brief theatrical run in the States.  If I had seen it when it was originally released, my list of the best films of 2014 would have been far different.  Calvary is an amazing film that takes a serious and intelligent look at issues of faith, morality, guilt, and absolution.  It is one of the best films about Catholicism that I’ve ever seen.

The film, which was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh (who previously gave us The Guard), tells the story of an Irish priest, Father James (Brendan Gleeson).  During confession, an unseen parishoner tells James about the horrific sexual abuse that he suffered as a child.  The parishoner explains that the priest who abused him has since died so the parishoner plans to get his revenge on the Catholic Church by killing James.  He tells James to meet him on the beach next Sunday.  He also informs James that his death will mean more because James is a “good man.”

The rest of the film follows James over the course of what could be the last week of his life and we watch as James struggles to fulfill his priestly duties in a world that seems to be moving further and further away from the Church.  While everyone seems to come to him with their problems and their questions, few people seem to share James’s faith and James is often left to wonder whether he’s doing any good at all.

For instance, when he confronts the local butcher (Chris O’Dowd) for beating his wife, the butcher refuses to admit that he did anything wrong.  When he goes to prison and talks to a serial killer (Freddie Joyce) who wants forgiveness, James replies that he can’t be forgiven because he feels no guilt.  The local millionaire (Dylan Moran) offers to donate money to the church but also confesses that he made his money through illegal means.  A local doctor, a hedonistic, cocaine-snorting atheist played by Aiden Gillen, takes perverse pleasure in taunting James for caring about death.  When James attempts to talk to a local girl, the girl’s father accuses him of being a pedophile.  When the local church catches on fire, nobody in the village seems to care.  And finally, one night, James returns home to discover that someone has murdered his beloved dog.

And yet, there are good moments as well.  James prays with a woman (Marie-Josee Croze) who has just lost her husband.  James gets chance to bond with his emotionally unstable daughter, Fiona (Kelly Reilly).  James successfully counsels a troubled young man (Killian Scott) and befriends an American writer (M. Emmett Walsh).

And, as Sunday approaches, James is forced to decide whether to leave his parish or to go to the beach.

Calvary is a great film, one that consistently takes you by surprise and forces you to think.  In many ways, James serves as a stand-in for the entire Catholic Church.  He’s made mistakes, he’s been battered, and he struggles with doubt.  And yet, at the same time, he is still capable of doing so much good.  Calvary is one of the best Catholic films ever made.

And it also features Brendan Gleeson’s best performance to date.  That is truly saying something because Brendan Gleeson is one of our greatest actors.  Gleeson is onscreen for every minute of Calvary and his emotional and, at times, warmly humorous performance is an amazing thing to behold.  When we first see James, he’s a weary and burned-out man.  Over the course of the week (and the film), he goes from being frightened to angry to sad to eventually achieving a state of grace.

It’s a great performance in a great film.

You may have missed Calvary in 2014.

Don’t miss it again.

Game of Thrones Season 4 “Foreshadowing”


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April 6, 2014 is when we return to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. We will see a continuation of the war and the storm of swords which troubles the lands. The Red Wedding will pose consequences for those who participated and across the Narrow Sea the Mother of Dragons begins her conquest and plans her inevitable return to reclaim the Iron Throne that is her birthright.

Here is a 14-minute sneak peek that foreshadows the events foretold for the upcoming season where Winter is still coming.

Trailer: Game of Thrones – Season 3 (2nd Trailer)


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It’s less than two weeks before we get to the premiere of HBO’s third season of Game of Thrones.

This latest trailer marketing the premium cable channel’s latest epic hit series brings everyone back who survived Season 2 and introduces a couple more people (Mance Rayder being one of them). We also get to see just how much the baby dragons of Daenerys Stormborn’s have gotten not to mention the army she has acquired since the end of Season 2 (I’m guessing these are the Unsullied).

This third season looks to lean heavily on the third novel in the series, A Storm of Swords, and for those who have read that massive tome will await this third season with both anticipation and trepidation. One thing the show has taught viewers has been to not get so fixated on characters. George R.R. Martin is more than willing to kill off beloved character and it looks like showrunners of the show have learned to do the same.

Game of Thrones Season 3 is set to premiere on March 31, 2013.

Review: Game of Thrones S2E10 “Valar Morghulis”


“We are the watchers on the Wall.” — Qhorin Halfhand

[spoilers within]

With last week’s explosive ninth episode, “Blackwater”, it was going to take much to make tonight’s season finale to really stand out. Just like the first season’s finale we get an episode that deals with the aftermath of the previous episode and also goes a long way into setting up events for the upcoming third season.

“Valar Morghulis” is the title of tonight’s episode and it’s spoken by Jaqen H’ghar to Arya as the two part ways. It’s a saying in Essos from ancient High Valyrian (a Roman Epire-like civilization which perished centuries before the series’ timeline) that translated means “All men must die”. Jaqen sees potential in Arya in becoming like him, a Faceless Man, assassins who follow the teaching of the so-called Many-Faced Gods. While Arya seems intrigued by the offer her need to re-connect with her family takes precedence over everything else. As the two part ways Jaqen imparts to Arya a coin that should she ever need passage to Braavos to start her journey into becoming a Faceless Man. In another instance that this series still has magic in it’s DNA we finally see why Jaqen is a Faceless Man as he walks away from Arya and her group wearing a new face.

Tonight’s episode lays the foundation that next season magic and sorcery may become more common place than the first two season of the series. We see Daenerys finally make her way into the House of the Undying to retrieve her dragonlings from the warlocks of Qarth. It’s a sequence that’s akin to spirit journey for the Targaryen Queen-to-be and Mother of Dragons as she walks the darkened halls and corridors of the House of Undying until an egress suddenly takes her North of the Wall to find a Dothraki tent where she discovers the two most precious things she has lost since coming to Essos. In what I could only see as a surprise that was kept by showrunners Benioff and Weiss from the press and bloggers (a feat nowadays) Daenerys sees her husband Khal Drogo and who could only be their son both alive and waiting for her.

Her reaction to this event was both poignant and tragic in that she finally has a chance to be with those she loves most but must give up the quest to retake Westeros with her dragons. Her decision to leave the tent and leave behind those she loves comes as her character finally realizing that sentimentality and the needs of her heart must take a back seat and wait. Daenerys comes out the other side a more confident ruler and one whose magic really is stronger than those warlocks who scheme to keep her and her dragons captive for themselves. It really sets up the Daenerys character on a much stronger footing for next season just like last season’s finale did. For all the moping around Daenerys did for most of season 2 the pay off in the end goes a long way into forgiving the show’s writers in their inability to write her character’s motivations consistently. Most likely the naive young girl being used by others for their own agendas and ends would be seen less and less next season while the Mother of Dragons reasserts her authority.

The same can’t be said for one of the five kings vying for control of Westeros. For those who have read the third novel the scenes with King Robb Stark were full of sentimentality but lacking in the cold-hearted logic that rulers must use in order to play the game of thrones successfully. Even his mother, Catelyn Stark, sees danger in Robb’s actions with the Volanti healer Talisa Maegyr. Catelyn knows well enough that Robb could destroy everything he has won and worked for since war begun because he has thought with his heart and not with his head. In what could almost be seen as more doom coming for the House of Stark, Robb cements his relationship with Talisa in secret even though we’ve come to learn through two season of this show that nothing ever remains secret for long.

Back in King’s Landing we see the balance of power shift once more as Tywin Lannister’s opportune arrival to take victory from the jaws of defeat at the end of last week’s episode sees him back as Hand of the King to Joffrey. Tyrion has lost all the advantages he had worked and gamed for all season as even Bronn has been removed as Commander of the Goldcloaks. We’ve not seen Tyrion laid so low as we have in this episode and the horrible scarring of his face looks to go deeper as he finally realizes that as much as he would enjoy running away with Shae and leave the politicla intrigues and backstabbing of the kingdom it’s something that he would miss terribly because it’s the one thing he’s best at. With Tywin now in charge of the kingdom and Petyr Baelish having earned himself the king’s good graces for manufacturing the alliance between the two most powerful houses in the kingdom with the Lannisters (Baratheon by name only) and the Tyrell’s of Highgarden. It’s going to be interesting to see how Tyrion readjusts to the new power dynamics in King’s Landing for season 3. If there’s one thing we’ve come to learn about Tyrion over two season’s worth of episodes it’s that he’s a survivor first and foremost.

Lastly, we come to Jon Snow and his dilemma North of the Wall. A captive of the wildlings and seen as someone very important for the still unseen Mance Rayder the so-called King-beyond-the-Wall, Jon must do the only logical thing (something Qhorin halfhand agrees as the only thing that could save Jon and maybe give him time to warn the Wall) and earn the trust of Ygritte, Rattleshirt and the rest of the wildlings even if it means killing one of his own to do so. In what would be one of several sweeping scenes that show the epic nature of this series lest we forget Ygritte shows Jon over the lip of a glacier the army of wildlings Mance Rayder has gathered.

Yet, it’s not that army that gives tonight’s episode that cliffhanger send-off that last season’s finale did with Daenerys coming out of the funeral pyre with her three dragonlings perched on her unharmed body. No, tonight’s episode gets a cliffhanger that is more ominous and reinforces the House Stark motto of “Winter Is Coming”. We see poor Samwell Tarly (having been abandoned by the two other Night’s Watch Brothers once they heard the three horn blasts in the distance) scared out of his wits as he realizes that the three horn blasts that hasn’t been heard for thousands of years could only mean one thing: the White Walkers are on the march towards the Wall. In a final acknowledgement that as realistically the show has tried to portray the series in terms of warfare and political intrigue there’s no getting away from the fact that magic is still alive in this world born out of George R.R. Martin’s fevered mind as a massive army of undead slouches south towards the Wall and the kingdoms beyond it.

This scene just ups the ante on what we could only imagine what would be season three of the show. Across the Narrow Sea we have Daenerys Stormborn gradually detaching sentimentality from how she operates and this could only mean more bad news for the warring kingdoms of Westeros. The power struggles against King Joffrey looks to be going the mad king’s way as Lannisters and Tyrells ally together to retake the rest of the rebelling kingdoms. Now we have two armies, one living and preparing to go south towards the Wall (most likely to get away from the gathering White Walker horde) and the other undead and also heading towards the only bastion (one that is ridiculously undermanned) protecting the southern kingdoms from a gathering darkness.

If there was a complaint about this season’s storytelling it was that so much of the novel this season was based on was condensed to make it fit in a ten-episode season. Despite lulls in character development with Jon Snow and Daenerys we get major pay-offs for these two with tonight’s season finale. It’s good news that showrunner Benioff and Weiss has decided to split book three, A Storm of Swords, into two with the first half comprising season three with the latter half set aside for season four. Even with missteps along the way tonight’s season finale goes a long way into proving that HBO’s Game of Thrones is currently the best genre show on tv and one of the best tv shows airing now.

Now we have ten months of waiting to see how Westeros and Essos will deal with the events that ended season two. One thing for sure is that we’ll see more people die before all questions get answered if ever.

Review: Game of Thrones S2E06 “The Old Gods and the New”


“Gods help you Theon Greyjoy. Now you’re truly lost.” — Ser Rodrik Cassel

Tonight we saw season 2 of HBO’s Game of Thrones series hit it’s second half running towards what could only be a climactic season ender of epic proportions. The show took a sort of misstep with an wheel’s turning previous episode that was mostly set-up. The show has been that way from the very start of the season, but last week’s entry was even moreso. Tonight’s sixth episode was titled “The Old Gods and the New” and it was a theme of faith that ran throughout the episode.

When I say faith I don’t mean of the religious kind but the faith one puts into the actions of others. Whether that faith is deserving or not is irrelevant. We see the youngest characters of the series with their faith tested from beginning to end. While it was mostly the Stark kids both legitimate and illegitimate who had to suffer in tonight’s episode we also got to see Daenerys Stormborn tested as her stay in the city-state of Qarth begins to turn for the worst and her inability to think with her mind instead of her heart has put her in a precarious situation.

The episode begins with Bran’s dream from last week finally coming into fruition as the seas has come to Winterfell and gone over the walls. It’s Theon Greyjoy and his merry band of Ironborn reavers who have taken advantage of a defenseless Winterfell. Any lingering doubts as to which house his loyalty lies now ends with his taking of Winterfell and imposing himself as it’s lord. Theon has bought into his biological father’s Ironborn way of life as he’s taken his own lordship through the “iron price” and not gold. Yet, this part of the episode also show’s that Theon has much to learn about being a ruler as some of his petty behavior comes to the forefront in his treatment of Rodrick Casell and being fooled by the wildling Osha. Just like Renly Baratheon before him, Theon likes to play at being a lord and someone who thinks they have power over the people when it’s all just in his head.

The same goes for King Joffrey over at King’s Landing who witness first-hand that his maniacal, iron-fisted rule of the realm has weakened what had been a strong realm and which is now ripe for all-out rebellion from within the city’s walls and not just from without. A riot of his own making doesn’t end even with his shouts to his Kingsguard and the Gold Cloaks to kill everyone when they’re outnumbered despite their armor and weapons. Joffrey begins to see what his Hand has seen and that’s the people of King’s Landing don’t see him as their rightful ruler and would rip the city and those who follow him apart (like the poor Maester who got the zombie feeding frenzy treatment) even if they die doing so.

For a moment Sansa Stark doesn’t understand why the people hate her as much as Joffrey and season 1 Sansa petulantly peeks out after her close brush with rape and death at the hands of the mob. It takes some wise counsel from her handmaiden Shae to educate her as to why they hate her so. Whether Sansa will learn from tonight’s events or not will show whether her character has grown from the shallow, fashion plate and status obsessed young teen or season 1 to the more savvy and leery young lady who has been quite adept at steering through the maze that makes up the game of thrones within the castle walls. One thing for sure is that she seems to have gained herself a protector in The Hound.

Over and north of the Wall we find Jon Snow and the small band of Rangers led by Qhorin Halfhand doing a sort of long-range recon patrol deeper into wildling territory to find out just exactly what’s going on with the wildlings and their self-proclaimed king Mance Rayder. We see Jon get a lesson in the importance of being a Crow delivered not so delicately by the veteran Qhorin who also seem to see something important about Jon, but who also sees an idealist who may not survive the Wall if he continues to think like someone who lives South of the Wall instead of on and North of it. It’s easy to say that Jon learns his lesson, but as we see after a successful ambush of a wildling patrol Jon still hangs onto too much of the chivalry and nobility of the the southern realms instead of the reality of the Wall and the North. He’s been a frustrating character since the first season and his steadfast “Ned Stark-ness” almost gets him killed and has saddled him with a pretty, wild redhead who may just be the death of him before he reaches his potential.

We now come to the Arya and Daenaerys portion of tonight’s episode. These are two young girls who have been thrust into situations not of their making and trying to make the best of it.

At Harrenhal we see Arya continue her indentured servitude to Tywin Lannister who seem to treat her with more respect than he does his own commanders. Whether he suspects who Arya truly is he does seem to treat her less a servant and more like an unofficial sounding board. The conflict of emotions this treatment from Tywin was quite evident in Arya’s face as she smiles behind Tywin and his council’s back when he compliments her and berates one his generals. Her situation gets really precarious as one Littlefinger appears in Harrenhal to talk shop with Tywin. This scene was masterfully done by veteran tv director David Nutter who milks the tension Arya feels at the prospect of being found out by the duplicitous, but observant Littlefinger. Her faith in the enigmatic Jaqen H’ghar seems well-deserved as she gives him a second name and sees that name given over to Death as Jaqen has promised. With each day in Harrenhal it looks like Arya looks to be the one of the all the youngsters in Game of Thrones who has begun to see the reality of the world instead of the ideals she has been taught growing up.

Far across the Narrow Sea we come to Daenaerys who is still trying to fend off the advances of Xaro Xhoan Daxos and the other merchant lords of Qarth who wish to put their hooks into her if she ever wants their help in getting across to Westeros to take back the Iron Throne she sees as rightfully hers. Where Arya has learned to think with her head instead of her heart to put herself into situations to her advantage the same cannot be said about Daenerys who still believes that her rightful claim to the Iron Throne and being the Mother of Dragons would make everyone bow at her young feet and give her everything she needs to get what she wants. When diplomacy doesn’t get her what she wants she reverts back to threats and actually sounding more and more like her dead brother Viserys who also used too much empty threats to try and get what he thinks was due to him. The episode sees her with even less retainers than what she had going into Qarth and worst yet minus the three dragonlings.

While “The Old Gods and the New” was still a set-up episode it also contained much character growth for the young cast. We see them learn the hard way that being a ruler of a realm and of men doesn’t come easy or come across as a game without consequences. Idealism gets tested and for most of the episode comes off less a virtue and more of a near-fatal flaw that cannot survive in the war-torn lands of Westeros let alone the intrigues of the city-states of Essos across the Narrow Sea. Faith has been tested as Bran sees firsthand as he sees what he thought was a brother to him and his family turn against them in a fit of pettiness and need to prove himself to his biological sire.

With more pieces being moved across the board it’s getting much clearer now that the war for the Iron Throne is close to being decided, but it doesn’t mean peace will come to Westeros. While the elders fight the wars begun by a child and being won by another it looks like tonight’s episode also shows that no matter how things turn out this season it’s the children of the series who have been forced to grow up by the war who will have to pick up the pieces. Tonight we see that some look ready to do so while most still look ill-equipped to survive it.

Review: Game of Thrones S2E03 “What Is Dead May Never Die”


“For they are the Knights of Summer and Winter is coming.” — Catelyn Stark

Yes, they are the Knights of Summer and Winter is coming. It’s a foreboding observation made by Catelyn Stark as she visits Renly Baratheon who also happens to be one of the five kings jockeying for control of parts or all of the Kingdom of Westeros. It’s an observation that perfectly fits tonight’s episode (third of the new season) as we see characters who are either better prepared for the war coming or still just playing at war. It’s a war that doesn’t just fit North versus South or Ironborn versus Wolves, but a war that’s coming straight down from beyond the Wall to engulf everyone in the kingdom no matter one’s allegiances.

“What Is Dead May Never Die” is part of the religious ritual performed by those of House Greyjoy and those who live and die on the Iron Isles. We see Theon Greyjoy having to prove himself worthy of his father and family’s trust that he is still an Ironborn and not the throwaway son turned soft by the Wolves of the North. It doesn’t help Theon’s confidence that his own sister Yara (forever Asha in my opinion) has been put above him in both succession and power by the very father who gave him up and bent knee to the people who he grew up with. He’s a prodigal son whose return to his family is not just wanted but ridiculed. Whether his taking of the oaths to become Ironborn in the ceremony of the Drowned God will show his true allegiance or further show that his father was correct about him and how he has changed from one who “Doesn’t Sow” to someone who has turned soft through the teachings of the Wolves and the Westerosi.

Theon is definitely not ready for the true war about to descend on Westeros.

In Winterfell, we get a brief interlude with Bran confessing to Maester Luwin about his peculiar dream where he sees himself running through the Godswood but not as himself but as an animal (most likely his direwolf Summer). This part of tonight’s episode once again shows that while the show hasn’t been focusing very much on the supernatural and magic which seem to still exist in Westeros and beyond it is definitely going to be part of the main narrative being spun since season one. Bran has begun to accept that he is more than just a young boy playing as lord of his House, but someone who has been tapping into something old and clearly forgotten (or dismissed as old supersitions by many). It’s a thing of the Children of the Forest and something that doesn’t frighten Bran. Even in this interlude we see Bran as someone more prepared for the true nature of the winter coming while those he looks to for counsel remain still a knight of summer.

While we’re up north, we finally get to see Jon Snow’s fate after last week’s episode. He’s definitely not dead, but he probably wishes he was as Craster evicts all the Night’s Watch from his home after Jon’s curiosity about what happens to boys born from Craster’s incestuous pairings with his daughter-wives. The reaction he was hoping to get from his Lord Commander wasn’t what he expected. Once again Jeor Mormont gives Jon a lesson in leadership and how with it comes the responsibility of having to make some very tough decisions for the greater good. A greater good that sometimes supersedes the evil next door as long as it that evil remains a convenient ally North of the Wall. It is a lesson that could go a long way into making Jon someone truly prepared for the Winter that is coming or fail to temper his idealism and put him on the path of failure.

But the true signs of power being wielded comes from characters in the South.

At The Reach we see Renly Baratheon and his queen, Margaery Tyrell (played by Natalie Dormer), holding court at a knight’s tournament where we also see the introduction of fan favorite (of the books, at least) Brienne of Tarth. A lady knight who seem to best even the talented Knight’s Flower, Loras Tyrell, and thus earn the right to become one of Renly’s Seven Kingsguard. It is not Brienne’s ability to fight the coming conflict that we see in this part of tonight’s episode but that of two powerful women trying to guide their respective king’s through the murky and dangerous waters of power. On one hand, we have Catelyn Stark who has arrived to offer terms of alliances with Renly for her son Robb Stark. On the other side we have Margaery Tyrell whose grasp of political intrigue surpasses that of her husband king and could be more than a match for both Catelyn and Cersei over at King’s Landing.

Catelyn doesn’t seem overly impressed by Renly’s show of power or his declaration that he has under his command over a hundred thousand men ready to march toward’s King’s Landing and take the Iron Throne and/or that of Joffrey’s head. What Catelyn sees around her are the Knight’s of Summer. Young men as bold and full of idealistic fire as their king, but wholly unprepared for the true nature and horrors that war brings. It doesn’t matter whether it’s war against the Lannisters or the true war that the gathering wildlings would give everyone south of the Wall. In the end, Catelyn Stark knows that for all the pomp and shows of strength that Renly has displayed at her arrival would count for nothing if their unpreparedness gets everyone butchered. To say that this doesn’t sit well with the young king would be an understatement.

Then there’s Margaery Tyrell who knows more about her husband’s personal proclivities in the bedroom than he thought she knew. She understands that despite the men rallying to Renly’s banner his hold on power remains tenuous if he’s unable to secure a line of succession by conceiving a son with her. This would be a difficult proposition considering how much Renly prefers Margaery’s brother Loras, but showing some iron strength as a queen she’s willing to do whatever it takes to give Renly that very son to secure their hold on the Iron Throne. She’s go to such lengths that she’ll invite Loras to their bedchamber if that would make Renly perform his kingly duties more comfortably.

Catelyn Stark and Margaery Tyrell may be two women who don’t wield weapons of war on the field, but they show that they’re two individuals who know the stark realities of the current state of the kingdom and more than willing to do the necessary steps to ensure success for their respective rulers. They’re definitely not knights of summer.

Finally, we return to King’s Landing where one Tyrion Lannister has begun to flex the very power that the Hand of the King wields in the kingdom. He may be sitting in the role because his father is off fighting Robb Stark, but Tyrion fully intends to do the job without interference from those inside the castle whose allegiance is more with his sister Cersei than with him. Tyrion has shown that while he detest having to play around in the circles of power in King’s Landing he has grown to be quite adept to it. His plan to root out Cersei’s spies amongst the Small Council was the highlight of tonight’s episode. His manipulation of Maester Pycelle, Varys and Littlefinger was some of the best performances Peter Dinklage has had in the role of Tyrion. With his plans and sting Tyrion has shown not just Cersei that he was someone not to be trifled with and at the same time show that he more than knows how the Game of Thrones works and as good playing such a dangerous game as Cersei, Varys or Littlefinger. He may have made enemies with those involved, but he’s also put them on notice that he is once again not Ned Stark and he may be better at this game than them.

The episode ends not with a character exercising their power over others or failing to do so, but of one of the youngest beginning to understand that in times of war even the young must begin to set aside childish things for hardship and violence. It is fitting that we see the episode end with Arya as she loses another valued mentor to violence, but shows her capacity to play those who think they have power over her. It’s another step that fans of the book will recognize that would lead this fan favorite (of both show and book) to places and sights, seen and unseen, that would make her one of the most important characters in George R.R. Martin’s medieval fantasy saga.

Notes

  • Great performance by James Cosmo as Lord Commander Jeor Mormont in the scene with Jon Snow after Craster kicks them out of his home. We see the weight of command of the Night’s Watch etched in every line on his weather-beaten face as he Jon’s news about what Craster does with newborn baby boys doesn’t come as a surprise. This is a man who pragmatism has become his new religion as he sees their true war against those North of the Wall has superseded what idealism he might have had when he first arrived on the Wall. This dawns on Jon Snow’s face during their conversation and it’ll be interesting if Jon sees what could happen to him when he looks at Jeor Mormont.
  • A sweet moment with Sam and Gilly, one of Craster’s young daughter-wives.
  • We have a Hodor sighting! HODOR! HODOR! HODOR!
  • We get the introduction of two new faces to the growing cast this second season: Natalie Dormer as Margaery of House Tyrell and Gwendoline Christie as the very imposing Brienne of Tarth.
  • Dormer definitely makes quite a first appearance as Margaery in something that Jennifer Lopez would consider quite the daring fashion. The fact that even with such a plunging neckline it doesn’t detract from the skill and power she wields to keep her peculiar husband from misstepping when it comes to prosecuting the war against King Joffrey (most likely against his older brother Stannis as well) and cementing their hold on the Iron Throne with a clear line of succession.
  • Christie’s first appearance as Brienne of Tarth was pitch perfect. This was a role that fans of the novels were going to scrutinize from the time it was announced who would play the Brienne the Beauty to how she would look in her knight’s armor. When I say she’s quite imposing it wasn’t being colored by hyperbole. She literally towers over Loras and Renly and probably most of the men in the scene she was in. She shows the same stance towards honor and duty tha Ned Stark showed during season 1. Time will tell whether this honor and duty-bound warrior would suffer the same fate as Ned Stark before the war sees it’s end.
  • We get a Sansa Stark sighting. Sophie Turner continues to play the role of Joffrey’s hesistant queen beautifully. People may hate her for how she acted during most of season 1, but this season has shown that Sansa has learned to navigate the dangerous corridors of King’s Landing in order to keep her true feelings about Joffrey, Cersei and the Lannisters from getting her killed. Like Theon, she becomes more and more sympathetic with each appearance this season.
  • Peter Dinklage is the man. The Emmy’s should just put his name on the best supporting actor in a drama series (or maybe on best lead actor) in the next awards show. His scenes with Pycelle, Varys, Littlefinger and Cersei wasn’t just fun to watch but a marvel as well.
  • Outmaneuvering the slippery Littlefinger made for quite the verbal joust between Dinklage and Aiden Gillen. It must be such a blow to Littlefinger’s ego to have not just one Lannister show where true power lies, but now a second has manipulated him not through violence but through intrigue.
  • Interesting to note how Tyrion treats the whores he comes across with more respect and care than those in power he finds himself surrounded with.
  • Tyrion and Varys may not like each other but tonight’s episode shows that they have come to respect each other’s abilities. Quite the odd couple the two make.
  • The show continues to show more than imply the relationship between Renly and Loras. Some fans of the books may howl at this, but it made the scene which comes after Loras leaves Renly’s bedchamber that much more powerful as Margaery literally throws Renly’s relationship with her brother back at her king and doesn’t see anything wrong with it as long as he performs his kingly duty with her. Loras may be the Knight’s Flower of Highgarden but Margaery is the true steel of this House.
  • Once again Gemma Whelan continues to impress in the role of Yara Greyjoy. She continues to be one of the stronger new faces this season. Her treatment of Theon in tonight’s episode has made who had been an annoying hanger-on to Robb Stark with a wide streak of misogyny to someone brought low by his family less than gracious welcome. We’re seeing in how Gemma Whelan plays Yara why Balon Greyjoy prefers her over his only son, but at the same time she has also made Theon a sympathetic figure.
  • While Theon continues to get browbeaten by both Yara and Balon he at least gets a shot in at Balon. He reminds the old man that for all his talk of the Greyjoy’s taking what they want he’s still somewhat of a hypocrite for bending knee to Robert Baratheon after his failed rebellion a decade’s past. Not just bending knee but giving up his remaining son to live amongst the very people who defeated him.
  • His decision in the end to take the oath and not warn Robb puts Theon on a collision course with the very person he calls brother and a House he’s known longer than his own birth.
  • “What is dead may never die but rises again.”
  • This Drowned God ritual takes on a more symbolic gesture than how it appears in the novels which literally involves
  • Yoren of the Night’s Watch, just like Syrio Forel of Braavos, you went out like a BOWSE. Arya may have lost another badass mentor, but she’s now been taught by them both how to survive and tell death not today.
  • Jaqen H’ghar appears briefly and I wouldn’t be surprised if he shows up more as the season continues.
  • Gendry is going to miss that bull’s helm.
  • Last and most important observation, the men may hold the power in Westeros but there seem to be a very powerful woman standing behind each and every throne and seat of power: Catelyn Stark with Robb, Melisandre with Stannis, Margaery with Renly and Cersei with Joffrey.

Review: Game of Thrones S2E02 “The Night Lands”


“You shouldn’t insult people bigger than you.” — Gendry

Tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones saw some major power plays from old stalwarts fans have grown to love since season 1 and from newly introduced character from this season’s premiere episode. The show has continued to go on its own pace with some episode bereft of action and heavy on character interactions and exposition. Tonight’s episode was one of them.

“The Night Lands” was tonight’s episode and it comes from the Dothraki term for death. It’s interesting to note that the title itself didn’t lead to much death with tonight’s episode. What it did was set-up plans that would lead to the death of hundreds, if not thousands, and also reveal that all the power plays all the self-proclaimed kings and queens south of the wall will be for naught if the true danger posed by the gathering wildlings north of the Wall doesn’t get it’s due focus. Then there’s the problem of a long winter arriving and with it the prospect of the Others (renamed White Walkers for the show) posing the greatest danger to everyone on Westeros, if not, the world itself.

Tonight’s episode gave quality time, some of it brief, to several characters. We got to see the continuing hardship being felt by Daenerys and her khalasar as they travel the Red Waste. Their very privations would get compounded by the dangers posed by rival khals led by the very commanders who once called Daenerys’ husband, Khal Drogo, their liege. She had the briefest time during tonight’s episode but we got to see some growth to her becoming a true leader as she refuses to run from the very people hunting her for just being a leader in a land where men have always held power.

We also get an exercise in personal power from Littlefinger who was rudely disabused by Queen Regent Cersei that for all his talk about knowledge being the source of power in the end he held no more than what’s allowed him by those who are of higher station and of noble birth. Littlefinger gets back a semblance of his personal power by telling quite a horrific tale to his favorite whore in Ros. One who has earned his disfavor by not doing well what he has trained and paid her to do. The quiet way Littlefinger tells the story of another whore of his in the past who failed to do her job and thus forced him to have her used and abused was chilling and definitely gave Ros the hint that she better shape up or the same would befall her.

A power play of another sort involved the plans and machinations of Ser Davos Seaworth has he successfully gets the pirate captain Salladhor Saan to commit his fleet of 30 ships to fight for Stannis Baratheon when they make for King’s Landing. While his loyalty towards Stannis is borne out of gratitude and one well-earned his son looks to be more loyal towards the new religion sweeping Dragonstone and Stannis followers. Even Stannis has begun to tire of Melisandre’s talk of faith in the Lord of Light to grant him the victory he so wants, but knows he cannot achieve unless he pries the 100,000 or so men who have pledge loyalty to Renly into his own army. Melisandre’s own move to cementing her influence and power over the elder brother plays upon Stannis’ longing to have a son his sickly wife hasn’t been able to give him. For all his talk of black-and-white when it comes to the realities of the world Stannis is still more than willing to deal with cutthroats and pirates. He’s even willing to forgo his marriage vow if it means Melisandre will give him the son he wants.

But tonight’s episode was about two men whose attempts to tip the balance of power in the kingdom and in the war was met with success for one and abject humiliation and defeat for another.

We finally get to see the Iron Islands from whence Theon Greyjoy’s family holds power and where he is returning home to offer King Robb Stark’s terms for an alliance against the Lannisters. Theon (played by Alfie Allen) has always come off as the wanna-be hanger on who thinks the leftover crumbs left by the Stark boys meant he has power and influence. He’s disabused of this notion when he gets a less than ostentatious welcome when he arrives on his land of birth. His penchant for bragging about his self-importance has made him into a lecherous joke when his initial encounter with his younger sister Yara (who he doesn’t recognize as such and thus his lame attempt at seduction makes for a very funny and uncomfortable scene) shows him to be soft, no iron in his make-up and a fool as well. His father, Balon Greyjoy, further insults his western ways and attire and parades Yara as his new heir and one worthy to lead the Greyjoy fleets. A fleet Theon had hoped would fight with Robb against the Lannister, but instead strike at a much more inviting and less defended target (not said but implied that Winterfell will soon get a visit from the men of the Iron Isles).

Farther south, we see Tyrion further cementing his power in the role his father has appointed him. While Tyrion has always seemed the one person in the whole series who sees the joke kings, queens and lords have made of themselves and the kingdom, he seem to be perfect in the role of the new Hand of the King. As he proclaims to Varys during their brief weighing of each other at his room in the castle, Tyrion is not Ned Stark. He knows how to play the game of thrones and he’s not honorable to fall for whatever plans Varys and others may have for and against him. He even exercises his new found power by banishing the Lord Commander of the City Watch (the Goldcloaks) Janos Slynt for his role in the massacre of King Robert’s bastard sons. Tyrion may be an imp who no one takes seriously and, who himself, doesn’t take his role as seriously as he thinks he should, but he draws the line when it comes to the slaughter of innocent babes and children. The fact that he has correctly guessed the pulse of the people has made him Cersei’s biggest ally in the Royal Court in reining in the power-mad King Joffrey, but familial resentment between sister and younger brother means Tyrion will forever by trying to clean up after his family and it’s a job that he knows he cannot hope to win.

Tonight’s episode was once again helmed by Alan Taylor who also directed the season premiere. Like that episode, tonight had the show moving from different points on the map. We go from North of the Wall to King’s Landing then to the Iron Isles, the Red Waste and Dragonstone. Taylor seems able to juggle these different threads that could easily have made tonight’s episode hard to follow. It’s a testament to Benioff and Weiss as writers to have been able to cram all these scenes together and make them easy to follow.

Next week’s episode sees a new director at the help and a new writer. It’d be interesting to see if the show can continue such a high level of execution without Taylor, Weiss and Benioff manning the till.

Notes

  • Tonight’s opening title sequence gets a new location added to it’s clockwork mechanism with the inclusion of Pyke on the Iron Isles.
  • It was great to see Arya getting some screen time as she deals with hiding as a boy with the rest of the caravan being led by Yoren to the Wall.
  • We get our first introduction to someone who will have a major impact in Arya’s future with the mysterious prisoner Jaqen H’ghar play by Tom Wlaschiha.
  • The elder brother-little sister dynamic growing between Arya and Gendry was also good to see especially with Arya’s whole world being turned upside down and her not knowing if her own brothers still live.
  • Bronn appear briefly to take over as the new Lord Commander of the City Watch and his brief dialogue between himself and Tyrion was a welcome sight. If they ever made a spin-off series about the adventures of Tyrion and Bronn it would be well-watched.
  • North of the Wall, Jon’s direwolf Ghost makes an appearance that looks better executed than the CGI used to enlarge Robb’s Greywind.
  • The introduction of one of Caster’s young daughter-wives (a piece of detail that’s sure to make many viewers disturbed for even knowing) and Sam as her potential savior is another brick laid down for the show’s future.
  • Interesting to note that Salladhor Saan is played by a black man instead of the fair-skinned man of Lys as originally described by Martin in the novels. I’m all for the change, but I’m sure the less-educated fans of the books would find the change none to their liking. I call it the “Hunger Games Rant”.
  • Great turn by Gemma Whelan as Yara Greyjoy (Asha Greyjoy in the books). Her manipulation of Theon was pitch-perfect especially during their disturbingly inappropriate horse ride to Castle Pyke.