6 Reviews To Help Lisa Get Caught Up: Ant-Man, Cinderella, Jurassic World, Magic Mike XXL, The Man From UNCLE, Terminator: Genisys


So, it’s that time of year!  2015 is nearly over and soon, it will be time for me to make out my best-of and worst-of lists.  That means that now is the time that I look over all the films that I have watched up to this point, I realize how many of those films I have yet to review ,and I think, “Oh my God, how did I get this far behind?”

So, here are 6 capsule reviews, designed to help me get caught up!

Marvel's Ant-Man

Ant-Man (dir by Peyton Reed)

Ant-Man has already been reviewed twice on this site, once by Leonard Wilson and once by Ryan The Trashfilm Guru.  Leonard liked it.  Ryan did not.  As for me, my reaction was somewhere in between.  I enjoyed Ant-Man, though not as much as I’ve enjoyed some of the previous Marvel films.  Ant-Man was better than the second Thor film but nowhere close to being as good as Captain America: Winter Soldier.

What I did like about Ant-Man were the performances of Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, and Michael Pena.  I even enjoyed Michael Douglas’s performance, which is saying something when you consider the fact that, as of late, Michael Douglas has really been making my skin crawl.  I also thought that the film did a good job creating Ant-Man’s microscopic world, even if I’m still not totally sold on the character as a dynamic hero.  I do wish that the film had a stronger villain.  Corey Stoll is such a good actor and capable of doing so much and it was hard not to regret that he was stuck playing such a generic bad guy.

Cinderella (dir by Kenneth Branagh)

Oh, how I loved Cinderella!  The film, a live-action retelling of the Cinderella story, was a gorgeous fairy tale and a wonderful reminder that a film doesn’t have to be dark and depressing to be good.  (In many ways, Cinderella serves as an antidote to not only Into The Woodsbut countless Tim Burton films as well.)  Lily James is beautiful in the title role, Richard Madden is wonderfully charming as the prince, and Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter are perfectly cast as the stepmother and the fairy godmother.

Jurassic World (dir by Colin Trevorrow)

Jurassic World was previously reviewed by Ryan the Trashfilm Guru.  I hate to admit it but I was, initially, one of those people who watched Jurassic World and got annoyed because the film was predictable and the script was a bit clunky.  Traditionally (and, if you doubt me, just read my review of Avatar), it bothers me when a film devotes so much time special effects that it can’t seem to be bothered with character development and clever dialogue.

But then I thought about it somewhat and I thought to myself, you know what?  This movie had Chris Pratt and it had some very convincing dinosaurs!  And, especially when it comes to a summer blockbuster, that is sometimes all you need.

(Why I enjoyed Jurassic World while disliking Avatar largely comes down to the difference between Chris Pratt and Sam Worthington.)

Magic Mike XXL (dir by Gregory Jacobs)

Oddly enough, I had the roughly the same reaction to Magic Mike XXL that I had to Jurassic World.  Yes, there are certain things — mostly concerning the film’s script — about which I could nitpick but what’s truly important is that Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello, and most of the original cast of Magic Mike is back and they’re stripping again.  Magic Mike XXL is a huge (heh heh) crowd pleaser, a film that delivers exactly what it promises.

Though Steven Soderbergh served as cinematographer for Magic Mike XXL, he did not return to serve as director and perhaps that’s why Magic Mike XXL feels like a far less pretentious film than the first Magic Mike.  Out of the original cast, both Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer both declined to appear in the sequel.  McConaughey is missed, Pettyfer less so.

The Man From UNCLE (dir by Guy Ritchie)

The Man From Uncle is one of the many stylish spy films to be released this year.  Henry Cavill is an American spy, Armie Hammer is a Russian spy, and Hugh Grant is the Englishman who tells them both what to do.  The Man From Uncle was entertaining.  It took place in the 60s, so there was a lot of wonderful retro fashion and the whole movie moved at a nice, breezy pace.  Ultimately — and I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t exactly fair — The Man From UNCLE suffered because it was released in the same year as Kingsman and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.  Man From UNCLE was entertaining but rather generic.  At no point did it reach the lunatic high of Kingsman’s Free Bird sequence.

Terminator: Genisys (dir by Alan Taylor)

You can read Ryan’s review of Terminator: Genisys here.  I have to admit that Terminator: Genisys confused the Hell out of me.  Not being a huge fan of the entire Terminator franchise (though, yes, I do know what Skynet is and I have seen the first two films), I do have to admit that I sometimes felt lost while watching Genisys.

But you know what?  If you just sit back and relax and try not to think about the film too much — if you just accept it as an action film and watch for the stunts and the explosions — Terminator: Genisys is not the disaster that many critics made it out to be.  I mean, let’s just be honest here.  Most critics would die before they gave a good review to any film featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  (Just check out all the negativity that greeted the brilliant zombie film, Maggie.)  After all, Schwarzenegger is an outspoken, confident, cheerfully arrogant Republican and most film critics can only relate to the arrogant part.  (And even then, they don’t ever seem to be very cheerful about it…)  Terminator: Genisys is a well-made and perfectly adequate action film, one that works as long as you don’t spend too much time dwelling on it.  It’s cinematic junk food and there’s nothing wrong with that.

terminator-genisys-super-bowl-ad-debuts

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Terminator Genisys”


11170313_922916591107808_3937476716611035439_o

Patrick Lussier just can’t catch a break.

Think about it : after toiling away in tinseltown as an editor for a couple of decades, he finally hits it semi-big as a director with the (go on, admit it) deliriously fun and sleazy 3-D remake of My Bloody Valentine in 2009. Since then? Well, shit — it’s all been downhill.

Apparently he was then considered Hollywood’s new “go-to guy” for 3-D flicks for all of about five minutes, but when his next one — the (again, go on and admit it) flat-out awesome Drive Angry tanked at the box office in spectacular fashion, it was back to the editing room (or, as is most likely the case, laptop) for poor ol’ Pat. And again, most of the movies he worked on — like the criminally-underappreciated Apollo 18  — were way better than their tepid reception among audiences and critics (but what do they know, anyway?) would indicate. Other projects his name was attached to, like Halloween 3 (and no, I’m not talking about Season Of The Witch), failed to materialize altogether.

Then comes another big break — hell, the biggest break of all — out of the blue. The long-shelved script he wrote (or co-wrote, as the final credits would indicate, since it was later tinkered with by Laeta Kalogridis) for yet another Terminator sequel/reboot was “back on” at Paramount, with Alan Taylor of Thor : The Dark World  “fame” slated to direct. It even had a name : Terminator Genisys. And Lussier would be getting an executive producer credit on this big-budget blockbuster as well.

So what happens? It absolutely tanks at the ticket windows. And so the hard-luck saga of Patrick Lussier continues. I predict we’ll next see him as an editor on Paranormal Activity 9 or Insidious Chapter 6.

All of which is one heck of a shame because, once again contrary to popular belief, Terminator Genisys is actually pretty damn good stuff.

terminator-genisys-super-bowl-ad-debuts

Damn good stupid stuff, to be sure, but so what? Apologies to all the James Cameron fans out there who don’t like to acknowledge this simple fact, but  1984’s original The Terminator had much more in common — both in budgetary and stylistic terms — with the Roger Corman fare that the future director of Titanic and Avatar cut his teeth on than it did with the billion-dollar bonanzas for which its auteur would eventually become famous. In point of fact, it’s essentially one of the last low-budget sci-fi exploitation pictures that didn’t go straight to video. And it’s absolutely awesome.

I’m not here to tell you that Terminator Genisys is as good as that was. Shit, it’s not even close. But it is much closer to the original in spirit than it is to the later, much-more-lavish sequels/prequels — the last two of which, Terminator 3 : Rise Of The Machines and Terminator Salvation, were positively atrocious. This, at least, feels like a “proper” Terminator flick again.

Are there plot holes big enough to plow an armored tank through? Absolutely. But that’s just part and parcel of the goings-on with a movie of this nature — and besides, they engage in this sort of “timey-wimey” gimmickry on Doctor Who all the time these days, and it’s praised as “quality” television rather than the cheap and obvious stunt it is (and speaking of Doctor Who, don’t blink — sorry, couldn’t resist! — or you’ll miss Matt Smith in this). I’ll take it served up as it is here without any pretense towards faux-intellectualism, thank you very much. And anyway, are people really complaining about getting to see present-day Old Arnold Schwarzenegger duking it out vs. CGI-reconstructed Young Arnold Schwarzenegger? Where’s your sense of fun, folks?

7trwihFwf5Ex

I guess it all just depends on who you ask. While Terminator Genisys currently “enjoys” a rather atrocious 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where the critics hold court, it’s faring much better on the IMDB scorecard, where the fans have their say, with a perfectly respectable 7.1 out of 10. In other words, real people like this movie.

And what’s not to like? We’ve got “liquid metal” T-1000s squaring off against Ah-nuld’s earlier T-800 model. We’ve got cheesy one-liners galore. We’ve got a new plot twist involving John Connor (here played by Jason Clarke) that’s actually interesting. We’ve got a reasonably dashing new hero in the form of Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney). We’ve got Oscar winner J.K. Simmons doing the “old man tilting at windmills who no one else will listen to” role that he’s perfected down to a science (when he’s not selling his soul to Farmers Insurance, that is). We’ve got explosions, aerial battles, and likable good guys vs. suitably despicable bad guys. We’ve got an amped-up version of the internet that’s out to destroy the world, with requisite Luddite authorial sympathies attached. And, oh yeah, we’ve got this grin —

epcjckx9aql6darbtjvv

 

My only gripe is that Emilia Clarke just plain can’t cut it as Sarah Connor. She tries her best, sure, but she’s no Linda Hamilton. Consequently, her love story with Courtney’s Kyle Reese ends up falling a little flat. But that’s small potatoes compared to everything Taylor and company (including, of course, Lussier) get right here — rather than trying to one-up the original, which never really worked anyway, they just set out to add a worthy celluloid appendage to it. When looked at that way, Terminator Genisys is — against all odds and the loud chorus of naysayers out there — a tremendous success indeed.

Terminator: Genisys (Official Trailer)


983792_828630217177092_2451992593817557827_n

I’m not sure if the 5th Terminator film is a prequel or a sequel. Time travel and paradoxes and all that jazz sure make it difficult to figure that out.

Now, what we do know is that Terminator: Genisys (whoever came up with that title should be shot) will take things even farther than the first film which is suppose to kickoff a divergent timeline that makes the first four films a moot point.

So, this means that Terminator: Genisys may be both prequel and sequel, but also a reset of the whole franchise. See what I mean about confusing.

Here’s to hoping that screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier have a better handle on all this jumbled time travel and resetting stuff.

Terminator: Genisys is set for July 1, 2015 release date.

A Steaming Pile Of Norseshit — “Thor : The Dark World”


thor-the-dark-world-poster1

The way I work, I generally try to avoid giving up too much by way of “spoilers” when it comes to reviewing movies that are still playing simply because I’m never sure how much anybody out there who might be reading this stuff wants to know about any given flick before they’ve actually seen it. Call it common courtesy, I guess, if you’re feeling generous, or weak-kneed fear of the always-on-the-alert hordes of internet “spoiler police” if you’re not, but nevertheless, it’s something I try to adhere to, however tough the going may get.

And Thor : The Dark World makes it very tough indeed. The simple fact is, you just can’t heap all the criticism on this film that it so richly deserves without giving away numerous  key plot points, so here’s what I’m gonna do instead : for those of you who want a meticulously-detailed, blow-by-blow analysis of how and why this big-budget boondoggle fails every single logic test known to humankind, I humbly suggest you follow this link to a lengthy review  by the ever-reliable Julian Darius over at  the Sequart website : http://sequart.org/magazine/32555/id-need-a-lobotomy-to-enjoy-thor-the-dark-world/ .  Julian’s one of the more articulate and intelligent writers the web has to offer on all things comic-related, and while his grammar and syntax are occasionally a bit uncharacteristically all over the map in this particular piece, I get it : he had a lot to vent about, and sometimes ya just gotta let off steam. In any case, his analysis is absolutely spot-on here and, if anything, he’s being too kind to this putrid mess of a movie.

For those of you who want a short, “spoiler”- free summation of why this film sucks so badly though, , here’s the bare essentials  — Thor : The Dark World is built on so many glaringly obvious logical inconsistencies, ten-trillion-to-one coincidences, rehashed story elements that worked much better in the first film, plot holes that are big enough for an  entire army of Asgardian warriors to charge though,  and problems brought on by the idiotic actions of the title character himself that it well and truly boggles the imagination. This is, in short, a complete and utter celluloid train wreck that requires such a heaping dose of suspension of disbelief that even people who can accept the most outlandish premises imaginable will have a hard time coming to grips with this one. It also doesn’t help that the characterization of most of the leading players seems to have taken a leap back toward the dark ages, the dialogue is hopelessly inane from start to finish, and that director Alan Taylor (a seasoned TV veteran, and it shows) brings exactly none of the Shakespearean-rooted vision of Kenneth Branagh to the proceedings and opts, instead, to film things in the rapidly-evolving (and hopelessly uniform) Marvel “house style” best exemplified by the likes of Jon Favreau and Joss Whedon. Sure, their Iron Man and Avengers films, respectively, have earned tons of fan accolades (not to mention box office dollars),  but let’s be honest — the directorial work on either of those properties is virtually (okay, who are we kidding, completely) indistinguishable from the other. So, hey, welcome to the lowest-common-denominator club, I guess, Alan.

thor-the-dark-world-releases-a-pair-of-new-images-132862-a-1366629848-470-75

On the plus side, the CGI is pretty cool here throughout, though, and since that’s probably what half the audience (at least) for these things is there for, said half (again, at least) of the audience should walk away feeling quite satisfied.

For those of us who like a movie that at least tries to make sense, though (or fails to so earnestly that watching it becomes a kind of sublime pleasure in its own right), there just ain’t much of offer here. Natalie Portman goes from intelligent astrophysicist to love-struck schoolgirl the minute Thor hits the scene (we later learn she’s only continued with her career at all in hopes of running into him again — there goes a few decades’ worth of tepid progress for female characters in genre cinema in about one second flat) and spends the rest of the film making puppy-dog eyes but not doing much else; Chris Hemsworth plays up the dull nobility  of his character with none of the  reckless humanity we saw in the first film (even though he organizes mass treason here — again); Tom Hiddleston wildly accentuates the effeminate qualities of Loki in a way that pretty much screams “you can’t trust this guy, he’s obviously queer“; Anthony Hopkins mails in his performance from behind a shining suit of armor; Rene Russo fulfills her one character requirement by d— whoops, that’s right, “spoliers”! ;  Kat Dennings essentially plays the same character she does on TV’s Two Broke Girls ; and Stellan Skarsgard does his best to make sure we all know nervous breakdowns are nothin’ but harmless fun, his character having gone mad due to the purportedly “traumatic” events he endured in The Avengers (a bit of a reach given that even its most fervent partisans would admit that’s essentially a big-budget “popcorn movie” with little to no actual thematic depth whatsoever — they just think it’s a particularly well done “popcorn movie”). In short, if you’re getting the idea that Thor : The Dark World is risible,  superficial nonsense with some deeply offensive takes on gender roles, (alluded to) homosexuality, and mental illness, then congratulations! You’re exactly correct.

Christopher Eccleston stars as Malekith in Marvel's Thor: The Dark World

Christopher Eccleston does his best, I suppose, considering the mountain of makeup he’s buried beneath, as chief villain Malekith, but given the preposterous nature of the character he’s asked to portray (head of the evil “Dark Elves,” who alone has the power  to track down a mystical force powerful enough to unmake all of creation called the Aether — except for, ya know, that time  he lost sight of it for literally eons when it was purportedly “shielded”  from him  in a wide-open cave — and even if you buy that, you’d have a tough time explaining why he couldn’t trace it while it was being taken right there), I guess there’s only so much the poor guy can do. Still, I give him credit for at least appearing to want to do more than simply go through the motions here. It’s more than I can say for anybody else, apart from Idris Elba, who does inanimate stoicism better than anyone in his role as Heimdall. Not that he’s really got that much to do, mind you, but he stands around with a hell of a lot of conviction.

At the end of the day, though, I dunno — Thor : The Dark World is still a Marvel studios product, which means that it won’t get nearly the critical scrutiny it should and that legions of loyal followers will proclaim their undying love for it even though it is, by any standard of bias-free critical measure, an absolute clusterfuck of a movie. They, like the Asgardians in the film, will still see Thor himself as a heroic figure even though his decision to bring Portman’s Jane Foster character to his mythic home ensures its invasion by enemy hordes, and they’ll no doubtpraise the film for its forced moments of flat, shoehorned-in “humor” (although even I have to admit the cameo-of-sorts by Chris Evans as Captain America is fun) and equally-forced “dark and somber” tone. This will probably be proclaimed as a “mature” and  even “sophisticated” film in many quarters, and needless to say, those of us willing to call bullshit on it will be vilified  by Dinsey’s unpaid internet army.

Thor: The Dark World film still

No matter.  The simple truth is that Thor : The Dark World is a movie that insults it’s audience’s intelligence in ways that even Roger Corman would never dream of, and goes about its dull and tepid business with less interest and heart than Roger and his barely-compensated filmmakers, actors, and crew ever brought to the proceedings. It’s easily and unquestionably one of the absolute worst films of the year — hell, of the last several years —even if only a few of us have the guts to say so in public. Dis/Mar thinks you’e a sucker with no taste or intelligence who will blindly queue up for anything they churn out. They hold their audience in contempt and at this point are openly daring you to keep forking over your cash for their garbage. How long are you willing to prove them right, and keep playing along?

Trailer: Thor: The Dark World (Official)


1001383_551270781575795_85777536_n

The second film of Marvel’s Phase 2 for it’s Cinematic Universe comes in the form of Thor: The Dark World. I’m sure the title should give as to which of the Avengers character is front and center for this Phase 2 film.

Above is the official theatrical poster for the film which has a strong fantasy, Drew Struzan feel to it. That’s more than appropriate since Thor bridges the gap between the more grounded superheroics of Midgard’s (that’s Earth to the layman) heroes (Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Iron Man) and the more fantasy and scifi denizens of Asgard like Thor and the upcoming film, Guardians of the Galaxy.

While this latest trailer released by Marvel is not the footage that was shown to Hall H attendees during Marvel’s panel at this year’s Comic-Con, it still manages to show some new footage in addition to one’s already shown at the initial teaser earlier. For one, it has more Loki (which is smart of Marvel since Loki has become this Cinematic Universe’s resident bad boy everyone seems to love or hate to love.) and it also shows some hints at the darker, grittier look that Alan Taylor looks to bring from his time as director of episodes of Game of Thrones for HBO.

Natalie Portman’s character, Jane Foster still seems to come off as not belonging to this ensemble, but there’s still chance that the finished product will flesh her out and her relationship with Thor to everyone’s satisfaction.

Thor: The Dark World is set for a November 8, 2013 release date.

Trailer: Thor: The Dark World (Official)


Thor the Dark World

Iron Man 3 is already premiering in Europe and less than two weeks from premiering in North America. To help tie-over North American filmgoers until Iron Man 3 premieres on this side of the Atlantic Marvel Studios has released the first official trailer for the second film in Phase 2 of their Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Thor: The Dark World sees the Marvel action return to Asgard as Thor must now battle the return of an enemy older than the universe itself. Kenneth Branagh is out as director and in steps Alan Taylor of Game of Thrones as the filmmaker for this sequel. Most everyone returns for this second go-around in Asgard and the Nine Worlds with some new faces such as Chris Eccleston as Malekith the leader of the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim.

Thor: The Dark World is set for a November 8, 2013 release date.

Source: Joblo Movie Network

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 S2E08 “The Prince of Winterfell”


“One game at a time my good friend.” — Tyrion Lannister

The second season of HBO’s Game of Thrones has been quite similar to the first season in that for every great episode we get one not so great, but still one that’s needed to help further the season’s narrative to it’s conclusion. This season it’s the effect that the War of the Five Kings has had one everyone from those vying for the Iron Throne to the lowly peasant who must endure the war that has engulfed Westeros. Even the lands of Essos across the Narrow Sea has felt the ripple effect of this war as we see Daenerys Targaryen struggle in her attempts to gain allies in a land content to see the kingdoms of Westeros fight each other into disunity.

Tonight’s eight episode of the season, “The Prince of Winterfell”, was not a great episode but it was crucial in further fleshing out some of the main characters who continues to have an effect on the war. The title itself as meaning one of the Stark sons, but in this episode this label could mean so many characters.

It could mean Theon Greyjoy who has made himself the new Lord of Winterfell as he and his score of Ironborn have forcibly taken the capital of the North a couple episodes back. We’ve seen him play the role of lord, or more like play-act the role, since taking Winterfell, but his decisions since then has made him even more petty than we’ve ever seen him through all of season 1. His behavior is a constant reminder that while he spent most of his life amongst the Starks — as part of his father’s punishment for rebelling against Robert Baratheon — he never picked up the concept of honor fom Ned Stark or through the actions of Ned’s boys. He’s like a spoiled young boy trying to please everyone and show them that he’s worthy of praise when what he’s done just makes him look more and more pathetic to those he’s trying to impress.

The scene between Theon and his sister Yara was quite illuminating in how the former went against his father’s orders and his people’s method of warfare because he envies the sort of respect and influence his sister has over the Ironborn men. Influence that goes against everything Theon thinks how a woman should be and that’s naked and subservient to him, or at least to men. Yara doesn’t resent her brother and actually cares for him in her own fashion. She even understands why he does what he does and how their shared experiences with their father, Balon Greyjoy, binds them closer than Theon would like to think.

Theon has been given chances and opportunities to think things more logically and with a keen mind, but he has squandered all these chances (one even coming from the sister he thinks doesn’t respect him) and just continues to dig the proverbial grave he might just find himself in. He may be the Lord and Prince of Winterfell now, but only he seems to believe that to be true.

On the other hand, we have Robb Stark down south, King of the North by his bannermen’s acclaim, but still just a Prince of Winterfell who would like nothing but to return to his birthplace and take up the duties now given onto him by the death of his father. He would rather return to guarding the North and supporting the Night’s Watch aat the Wall than continue to fight a war that he has lost much desire to fight. But he knows he must continue his campaign against King Joffrey and the Lannisters. Too much blood has been spilt by men under his banner and the honor and duty he learned from his father means he must set aside sentimental things (like running back North to retake Winterfell and free his younger brothers). The fact that he understands the damage Catelyn’s actions in regards to the Kingslayer and his orders to have her guarded like a prisoner means he has learned to set aside familial feelings for the greater good.

Robb Stark has learned much to be like his father and while much of it has been to his advantage in prosecuting the war and keeping his alliance of bannermen together he has also picked up his father’s flaw of allowing his heart to dictate an action that may just jeopardize everything he has gained since the war began. Even knowing that he’s arranged to marry one of the Frey daughters as price to move his army down south his feelings for Talisa (the camp chirurgeon and a lady of Volantis herself) finally overrides his reason and duty. For those who have read the book this scene was both touching and maddening. For those who have never read the book this scene will still be touching in that Robb followed his heart, but also maddening in that he puts in danger the alliances with the important House of Frey to satisfy his heart.

The rest of “The Prince of Winterfell” was more about moving the pieces on the board closer to that inevitable clash between the armies of Joffrey at King’s Landing and Stannis Baratheon with his fleet bearing down on the capital. All these build-up scenes added to subplots that has grown since the beginning of the season. If there was one sequence that seemed very out of place and felt like just spinning wheels in place it would be with Daenerys at Qarth as she once again agonizes about her kidnapped “babies” and how she must get them back. Now that she knows that the warocks of Qarth have the dragonlings sequestered in the Tower of the Undying one would think she would have tried to get them back, but instead we get more scenes of her and Jorah debating on the need to have the dragon’s back. While this part of the season doesn’t come close to being the “Sophia in the Barn” frustrating it’s getting close.

We now have two more episodes left in the season and it looks like the Battle of Blackwater Pass from the novels may just arrive with the next episode. Will Tyrion be able to beat back Stannis’ siege of King’s Landing? Will Theon survive the season as Lord of Winterfell? Will Robb’s actions with Talisa destroy everything he has built since the war began? There’s so much questions and with two episodes left it will be quite the juggling act for the show’s writers to answer them all without having them seemed rushed.

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.

Review: Game of Thrones S2E01 “The North Remembers”


“The night is dark and full of terrors old man, but the fire burns them all away.” — Melisandre

George R.R. Martin’s medieval fantasy epic novel series, A Song of Ice and Fire, made a triumphant debut on HBO with Game of Thrones in the Spring of 2010. The show was headed to be a big success due to the huge fan-base that have read and re-read the novels, but the show was able to attract those who wouldn’t know George R.R. Martin or his books. This was the show that further cemented the notion that genre has become the ruling king of quality tv.

A new season of Game of Thrones now arrives with the premiere episode titled “The North Remembers” and while it shows Robb Stark (now proclaimed King of the North by his bannerman and liegelords) flush with success against the forces of House Lannisters and thus King Joffrey at King’s Landing the episode also weaves in an ominous tone that looks to dominate this second season. It’s a season based mostly on the second novel in the series titled A Clash of Kings and tonight’s episode has set-up not just King Robb Stark of the North against King Joffrey Baratheon at King’s Landing, but the old king’s two surviving brothers (elder brother Stannis Baratheon at the Isle of Dragonstone and younger brother Renly Baratheon at Storm’s End) as these four kings begin their path into a clash for the Iron Throne.

One thing to be said about tonight’s episode is just how much happens throughout it’s running time. We see how life since the execution of Ned Stark has changed the kingdom of Westeros for the worst as refugees fleeing the war between Lannister and Stark has made things near-untenable in King’s Landing. While the peasants and commoners of the kingdom suffer we’re quickly re-introduced to the author of the war in King Joffrey (played with an almost psychotic glee by Jack Gleeson) who hold’s knightly games to commemorate his naming day and plays at being a conquering monarch by redecorating the throne room. Trying to manage this petulant boy king is both his manipulative mother, Cersei Lannister, and his dwarf uncle Tyrion Lannister who also has been appointed the latest Hand of the King to help advise.

While we see the North with Robb sending peace offerings and terms to the Lannisters in the hope of getting his sisters (Sansa and Arya) back we also see him in a nice scene confronting Jaime Lannister still his prisoner and still trying to gain an upper-hand on the young king. It’s a huge difference winning battles can do to a young man’s confidence as Jaime’s veiled insults about his age only amuses Robb. It helps that his direwolf looks to have grown double in size since we last saw Greywind. The episode went a long way to showing Robb not just becoming King of the North in name, but also in manner and deeds.

Tonight’s episode might have been called “The North Remembers” but it’s the arrival of Melisandre of Asshai (Carice van Houten), the priestess of R’hllor (Lord of the Light) and her sway over Stannis Baratheon that adds a sense of the magical to what had been a series steeped heavily in medieval realism. It’s the addition of Melisandre and her seeming real gift for magic plus a glimpse of Daenerys’ dragons that offers glimpses to a world of magic and shadows behind the reality of war and the suffering it puts a kingdom’s people through.

As one could see this is quite a lot for one episode to juggle, but series director Alan Taylor has done a great job of keeping things from becoming too confusing to follow. Even the dark turn into infanticide and bloody purge in the end of the episode was a consequence born out of one of the king’s advisors in Petyr Belish (aka Littlefinger) who thought himself witty and clever by telling the Queen Regent Cersei that he knew exactly what had gone on between her and Jaime and the true parentage of King Joffrey. Taylor kept the episode from being bogged down in one area but at the same time still gives each character in the episode some character growth. Everyone looks to have aged and grown since last season and some for the better (Tyrion enjoying the fruits of being Hand of the King but also reveling in the fact that of all his father’s children it is he who is now trusted and not the disappointment) while others for the worst (Joffrey continuing his path towards Caligula-level mania).

One thing tonight’s busy episode has done is re-introduce the show’s audience to the world of the Seven Kingdoms and it’s many interesting characters and stories that came out of season one. It’s a world that continues to be a complex web of intrigue, moral greyness and ambiguity. While we see certain character on the extreme spectrum of right and wrong (Stannis and Joffrey respectively) we’re truly shown by tonight’s season premiere that everyone has their own agenda. Even characters we might have been led to believe as good show signs of cruelty while those we’re to see as amoral show signs of benevolence.

“The North Remembers” was a great start to what looks to be a season that will blow the first season out of the water (I don’t just mean because of the epic Battle of Blackwater that would highlight the season), but it also showed that despite being a show that had a legion’s worth of characters and subplots it still remained must-see and captivating to watch. Let the clash of kings commence.

Notes

  • It was great to see the opening title sequence once more and this time with the addition of Dragonstone to the stable of clockwork strongholds that has become famous.
  • We see Sansa Stark still pretty much a hostage of King Joffrey and trying to keep her head by parroting what he wants to hear. She did redeem herself somewhat by keeping a drunkard looking to become a knight from being drowned to death in wine and instead becoming Joffrey’s latest court fool.
  • Tyrion’s entrance in the same scene may not have had him slapping Joffrey (a meme that grew out of a slapping scene early in season 1), but his veiled insults at Joffrey’s ability to rule as king shows us why Peter Dinklage was deserving of winning that Emmy for his role as Tyrion Lannister.
  • The scene with Tyrion visiting his mistress Shae in the manor he had set her up in King’s Landing was brief but showed just how much Tyrion seemed happiest when close to her. Though it still doesn’t stop him from keeping her secret from everyone especially his father.
  • Once again I like to point out just how huge the direwolf looked as it growled menacingly at Jaime Lannister while Robb Stark held onto it. It’s almost as if Robb had to keep Greywind from lunging forward to rip the Kingslayer’s throat out. Maybe Greywind thinks Jaime was partly responsible for the death of Sansa’s direwolf Lady in the first season.
  • Speaking of direwolves…we get more clues that the Stark boys may be closer to their direwolves more than we thought as Bran Stark back in Winterfell dreams of roaming the forest near the God’s Wood and seeing it all through the eyes of his direwolf Summer.
  • HODOR! HODOR! HODOR!
  • Great sequence between Littlefinger and Cersei in the castle courtyard. Littlefinger may think of himself as the smartest and cleverest man in King’s Landing, but he still finds himself outmaneuvered, manipulated and laid low by Cersei. Those who doubted that Lena Headey would make for a great Cersei shouldn’t be having any more doubts about that casting choice with tonight’s episode.
  • We get a hint at the future introduction of what could be another self-proclaimed king in what looks to be quite a busy batch already with Theon Greyjoy asking to be sent back to the Iron Isle to speak with his father, Balon Greyjoy, on behalf of Robb who will need those hundred of Greyjoy ships to take on King’s Landing.
  • Was surprised to see Robert Pugh as Craster. I thought he looked like Shipmaster Mr. Allen from Master and Commander.
  • Also great to see Liam Cunningham as Ser Davos the Onion Knight who looks to be the clear-headed counsel to Stannis Baratheon.
  • Was disappointed there was very little of one of the show’s more interesting players in Varys the Spider, but it looks like he gets to have a juicy little scene in next week’s episode, “The Night Lands”.