Film Review: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (dir by Mike Mitchell)


Sometimes, it’s hard not to feel that the Lego movies are their own worst enemy.

I mean, they’re just so cute and fun and likable and cheerfully dorky that it’s easy to overlook just clever they often are.  Everything is Awesome may have been a cute song but it was also a pitch perfect parody of mindless conformity.  And yes, The Lego Batman Movie got a lot of laughs out of Will Arnett’s guttural growl but it was also the best Batman film since The Dark Knight and it also had a lot to say about how lonely it can be when you’re an extremely paranoid super hero.  As for The Lego Ninjago Movie …. well, give me a minute and I’ll think of something.  Uhmmmm …. it had that cute kitty!  Woo hoo!

Beyond all that, all of the Lego movies — from the best to the less-than-the-best — celebrate imagination.  They celebrate being an individual and the joy of creating your own world as opposed to just conforming to someone else’s rules.  As much as I loved Chris Pratt as Emmett and Elizabeth Banks as Wyldstyle, the heart of the first Lego Movie is to be found in the scene where Will Ferrell essentially realizes that he’s being a jerk when he won’t let his son build what he wants to build.

That said, the main appeal of the Lego movies is that they’re incredibly cute.  Just take The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part for instance.  Especially when compared to the first Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, this sequel has its flaws.  Admittedly, some of those flaws are unavoidable.  Just the fact that we start the movie knowing that everyone is in Will Ferrell’s house means that the sequel can’t take us as much by surprise as the first Lego Movie did.  Though the film’s original directors, Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, wrote the script and contribute some genuinely witty dialogue, the sequel’s pacing occasionally seems a little bit off.  There’s a few slow spots, the majority of which are really only noticeable when you compare the sequel to the flawlessly paced first film.  And yet, in the end, it’s such a cute movie that it’s easy to overlook those flaws.

The sequel begins immediately where the first ended, with Will Ferrell decreeing that both his son and his daughter are now allowed to play with his Lego collection.  Jump forward five years and this has basically led to chaos.  The Lego Universe is now a Mad Max-style wasteland.  Not surprisingly, both Wylstyle and Batman have really gotten into their new dystopian lifestyle.  Meanwhile, Emmett remains just as blindly cheerful and optimistic as ever.  He still feels that everything is awesome.

Or, at least Emmet feels that way until all of his friends are kidnapped to the Systar System, where Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) wants to marry Batman.  Determined to rescue his friends, Emmett decides to travel to the Systar System himself.  Helping him out is Rex Dangervest, who seems like the type of adventurer that Emmett has always dreamed of becoming.  Chris Pratt voices both Rex and Emmett and the film has a lot of fun playing with Pratt’s post-Guardians of the Galaxy stardom.  Rex is not just an intergalactic explorer.  No, he’s also a cowboy, a dinosaur trainer, an archaeologist, a first baseman, and — we’re told — a script doctor.  (Those, of course, are references to Pratt’s roles in The Magnificent Seven, Jurassic World, and Moneyball.  Interestingly enough, his work in Passengers goes unmentioned.)  Rex pressures Emmett to become more cynical and ruthless in his efforts to save his friends and destroy the Systar System and Chris Pratt does a great job voicing both roles.  Indeed, if nothing else, this film will always stand as a tribute to the incredible and unending charm of Chris Pratt.

If Lego Movie 2 never reaches the glorious heights of the first film, that’s because the element of surprise has been lost.  There’s no moment  in the sequel that’s as memorable as when a live action Will Ferrell suddenly showed up in the first movie.  (In the second movie, Ferrell appears in a flashback and has a brief voice cameo as President Business.  Maya Rudolph does show up as his wife but the sequel’s live action scenes just don’t have the emotional impact of the first film’s.)  But, with all that in mind, it’s still an undeniably cute and entertaining movie.  All of your old favorites back — everyone from Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill as Superman and Green Lantern to Alison Brie as Unikitty to Charlie Day as the astronaut. (Sadly, Liam Neeson did not return as the Good Cop/Bad Cop and his absence is felt.)  The film is full of clever parodies, my favorite being the references to Mad Max: Fury Road.  There’s more than enough witty lines, visual gags, and sweet moments that Lego Movie 2 will hold your interest and bring a smile to your face.

At the box office, Lego Movie 2 fell victim to the same Lego fatigue that took down the Lego Ninjago film and it did not become quite the phenomenon that the first movie did.  Regardless, it’s still a worthy sequel.  I wouldn’t quite say it’s awesome but it’s definitely a lot of fun.

Courtesy of Zack Snyder’s Twitter Account, here’s some Aquaman Footage!


Apparently, this is the first footage that we’ve seen of Aquaman and … uhmmmm …. yeah.  This doesn’t look incredibly silly at all.

Hey, Zack, would it be too much trouble to get a Sucker Punch sequel?

 

Zack Snyder tweets Justice League Teaser for Comic-Con


Zack Snyder’s thrown his hat into the Comic Con fray with a special teaser trailer for Justice League, by way of a recent tweet. The film focuses on Bruce Wayne/Batman(Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) as they gather a group of associates to defend against a great threat. So far, it looks interesting (if not a little rushed).

Also on board are Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Ezra Miller as The Flash / Barry Allen and Ray Fisher as Cyborg. The movie has a release date of November 17, 2017.

Batman v. Superman Latest Trailer Drops


BatmanvSuperman

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice has been gathering steam and buzz since it was first announced a couple years ago at San Diego Comic-Con. The film is now just a little over 4 months away from release. The fact that we’re even talking about latest trailers and clips about this film was an accomplishment all on its own.

This was a project that had been talked about for so many years, but never got on track. While some DC fans might decry what I’m about to say I do think they should thank the success of the Marvel Studios-produced films for getting this film on the fast track to being made. It made DC and Warner Bros. realize they weren’t the big bully in the blockbuster block anymore and needed something monumental to catch up.

With Man of Steel dividing comic book fans this film had to be made whether it made sense narrative-wise or not. Another so-so Superman film would not do. So, what better way to juice up the Son of Krypton franchise than by pitting him against DC’s other juggernaut property: Batman.

So, without further ado, here is the latest trailer for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Batman v. Superman Finally States It’s Case to the Public


 

BatmanvSuperman

A funny thing happened to the Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer that was set for a release at a special IMAX screening event next week. No one bothered to tell someone with a cellphone not to secretly record the trailer. A lo-res cam version of the first teaser trailer for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was leaked just hours after Disney released the second teaser trailer for the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Warner Brothers scrambled to take down the lo-res trailer and made sure to use their power to threaten with legal stuff if people continued to disseminate the illegal recording. During the 24 hours since the leak someone with a much more cooler head over at WB decided to just go the Avengers: Age of Ultron route (that film’s first teaser was also leaked ahead of a planned event) and release the hi-res version of the teaser trailer instead of waiting days for the planned screening event.

So, here’s the very first teaser trailer as Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment finally make their case that whatever Disney and Marvel can do they can do as well.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is set for a March 25, 2016 release date.

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: Conan the Barbarian (dir. by Marcus Nispel)


In 1982 the duo of John Milius (director) and Arnold Schwarzenneger (actor) brought to the big-screen the first film adaptation of the classic, pulp character of Conan the Cimmerian by Robert E. Howard. The Milius-Schwarzenneger Conan the Barbarian was an instant hit and classic. It also made Schwarzenneger into an A-list superstar who would rule the 80’s and 90’s. This film was followed up by a lesser quality, though fun in its own way, sequel in 1984 with Conan the Destroyer. Milius saw this franchise as a trilogy with the third and final film to be called Conan the Conqueror. But a sort of blacklisting of Milius as a filmmaker and Schwarzenneger moving onto other projects killed the planned third film. The start of the new millenium saw an interest in restarting the third film, but after countless delays and changes in filmmakers and stars the project was once again shelved.

In 2010, the franchise which launched an Austrian-bodybuilder into superstardom was finally greenlit, but this time around it would be a reboot of the series with the film hewing coser to Robert E. Howard’s creation and world-building than the Milius version of 1982. To bring Conan the Cimmerian to life would be Hawaiian-Irish Jason Momoa (of Stargate Atlantis and Game of Thrones fame) with German-filmmaker Marcus Nispel taking on the directing reins. The film’s trio of writers (Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood) would literally take the world of the Hyborian Age which Howard had meticulously created for his Conan character and use that as the basis for this reboot.

Conan the Barbarian begins with a surprising introductory narration of the world of the Hyborian Age by none other than Morgan Freeman. This narration was one clue that while this film wouldn’t and shouldn’t be seen as thought-provoking and award-season fare it looks to try anything and everything to make it fun and relevant. The film succeeds in this respect in its own way. As we see Conan come into the world as a baby born of battle in the most literal way. It’s not often we see on the big-screen a pregnant mother delivering her child by way of battlefield C-section. From this moment forward this film will wallow in the bloody carnage and machismo-fueled world of Robert E. Howard to the nth degree.

The film’s Conan as played by Leo Howard as the younger version then to Jason Momoa as the adult version looks to be different than the Schwarzenneger one. While Momoa was still quite the physical specimen on the screen he also exuded a sense of fluid, athleticism like that of a sleek jungle cat whereas Arnold’s Conan was more of the big cat of the savannah. The stand out performance in the film comes from both Leo Howard (quite ferocious as the young Conan) and Momoa. The film lives or dies on whether we believe these two actors as the characters they inhabit. Not once during the near 2-hour running time do we not believe these two as Conan.

Conan the Barbarian as a film does have several weaknesses which could derail it for me. For one, the story itself is quite cliched as we see the typical hero’s journey coinciding with the goal of saving the world from an almost cartoonish villain (Stephen Lang clearly having fun as the warlord Khalar Zym) with an equally cartoonish sidekick (Rose McGowan who seemed out of place as Zym’s witch-daughter Marique). The story’s plot seems more geared like a video game where each sequence was there to put Conan in the best way possible to do what he does best and that’s kill enemies by the score and do it with bloody panache.

While the film will definitely not score very well with many people I think they will do so as they compare it to the original Milius film. I think the mistake they also will use as an excuse to not like the film is that it’s dumb and loud. I, for one, thought I would feel the same, but as I watched the film I acknowledged those very same criticisms, saw the flaws, but in the end I still enjoyed the film for what it was: an almost gleeful, throwback to the 80’s sword-and-sorcery exploitation film that tried to cash in on the success of the original Conan the Barbarian.

Nispel’s film may not stand the test of time as the original, but in the end he made a film that actually stayed true to the pulpy origins of the character (Robert E. Howard was never known as a subtle writer and this film reveled in his blunt-way of writing). This Conan the Barbarian was several steps above the usual sword-and-sorcery stuff which the SyFy Channel seems to churn out by the dozen each year and it’s steps below that of the original. What it does share with the 1982 film is a sense of fun even if it’s at the expense of story and character and at times I’m fine with that. Not everything has to be Inception or Pride and Prejudice.

Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 10 “Fire and Blood”


[spoilers within!]

“You should get some sleep. It’s going to be a long war.” – Jaime “Kingslayer” Lannister

We’ve finally reached the season finale of what’s been an excellent first season of Game of Thrones. When news that HBO was adapting George R.R. Martin’s epic medieval fantasy (it’s a fantasy of the historical medieval event known as “The War of the Roses”) there was much rejoicing from fans of the Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire Saga” then once the news had settled came the trepidation. How would showrunners Weiss and Benioff be able to adapt the first book (titled A Game of Thrones) faithfully without trimming away so much to fit almost 1000-pages of story into a 10-episode first season.

When the season premiere came and went most of the book’s fans trepidation were assuaged and with each new episode only the most nitpicky and intractable hardcore fans of the book even complained about changes from book to screen. HBO’s Game of Thrones has been one excellent piece of long form TV storytelling with characters people have grown to love, accept and mourn over (really go through the 5 Stages of Grief after Episode 9). We last left the show with the show’s face having sold out his honor in an attempt to save his daughters. Ned Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, was a great soldier and a loyal friend to the departed King Robert Baratheon, but he was never fit to play “the game of thrones” as he wasn’t able to compromise his sense of duty and honor to win a game where such virtues were really more of detriments to winning. So, newly crowned Joffrey (Bieber) Baratheon decides to ignore his mother’s advice and goes to show he’s his own man and, a ruthless one at that, demands for Ned’s head and gets it. The scream of NOOOOO! and WTF?! from across the world once that final scene hit could be heard around the internet and beyond. I wouldn’t be surprised if alien races passing by the system picks up those tweets and blog posts reacting over Ned Stark’s death.

The season finale begins soon after that final scene of episode 9. Ned Stark’s head gets picked up by Ser Ilyn Payne (Joffrey’s executioner) as Arya gets taken away by Yoren of the Night’s Watch to try to save her from Joffrey and the Lannisters bound to continue searching for her. This scene showed just how much Arya seems to be one of the few Starks who has learned the need to survive when surrounded by enemies. Once again it’s been a joy to witness Maisie Williams in the role of Arya Stark. Child actors are usually hit or miss when given big roles in film or tv, but Maisie Williams seem to have taken to the role of the tomboy Arya with gusto which has made her a fan favorite of the show.

“Fire and Blood” explores through much of it’s running time the reaction by the show’s many players and factions to the death of Ned Stark by the command of King Joffrey. It doesn’t matter which faction the episode focused on the reaction seemed universal: Joffrey was stupid to have executed Ned Stark. From the grief and anger by Robb Stark and his mother Catelyn who promised her grieving son that once the Stark girls have been retaken and safe then “they will kill all of them”. It’s not strictly implied if she meant just the Lannisters or everyone who has had a hand in the Stark travails or failed to help. It helps lay a seed for a new storyline for the upcoming second season as war truly breaks out in Westeros. We now have Robb Stark anointed by Lord Greatjon Umber as King of the North with the rest of the Stark bannermen following suit. Then we hear news from the Lannister war council that Renly and Stannis Baratheon have amassed their own armies to force their own individual claims to the Iron Throne.

The time spent in the Lannister camp shows Tyrion (and Peter Dinklage always at his best) not just gaining the trust and respect of his father Tywin, the Lion of Lannister, but being given the title of Hand of the King. His dumbstruck expression at becoming the second most powerful man in the Seven Kingdoms (after Tywin) was priceless as was his decision to bring Shae the prostitute along as the Hand’s Lady even though it meant disobeying his father’s explicit orders that he not do so. It’s been great to see Tyrion always unsure of his footing when dealing with his father, but never letting that keep him from still trying to rebel against the person who had shunned and ridiculed him all his life. This is another seed that should bear very interesting fruit for season 2 especially now that war will soon come for the Lions of Casterly Rock and King’s Landing.

But the episode is all about Jon Snow at The Wall and Daenerys Targaryen at Vaes Dothrak across the Narrow Sea. While the Starks, Lannisters and Baratheon houses with their respective bannermens and allies make their plans to either carve out their own nation or seize the Iron Throne at King’s Landing, from The Wall and across the Narrow Sea two groups make gamechanging decisions that will affect the Seven Kingdoms for season two and beyond as it has in the books.

Jon Snow still decides to leave Castle Black and break his oath to the Night’s Watch in order to rejoin his brother Robb and his army on their march south against the Lannister’s. This decision doesn’t sit well with Sam Gamg…I mean Samwell Tarly who continues to remind Jon of his oath and the consequences of breaking it. The first season really highlights one thing which fans of the book really never got to see. Jon Snow, as dreamy as might be to some, is really quite an immature young man who thinks his decision to run back to his family as they go off to war is not just his duty but honorable. Then when everyone around him, from rivals, mentors and friends, disagrees with him Jon begins to stamp his feet and pout like a little boy who has been told he can’t have his dessert before supper. It’s why I’m glad that Sam has been written in the show to be less a sidekick to Jon, but the logic and common sense voice always making sure Jon understands where his try duty lies.

The scene in the woods were Sam and the rest of the Night’s Watch brothers who forms Jon Snow’s little entourage catches up to Jon and recite the Night’s Watch oath one at a time then together to re-forge the bond they will all need. They will need to rely on each other as Lord Commander Jeor Mormont has decided to take the Night’s Watch north of the wall to find not just Jon’s uncle, Benjen Stark, but to find out once and for all why the wildling tribes have been fleeing south and if the White Walkers are truly back and on the move. The use of a military-variant of the show’s main title theme music score’s the men of the Night’s Watch moving out of Castle Black and into the wilderness north of the wall. It was an inspired scene that promises not just action, but hopefully more signs and encounters with the boogeymen north of the Wall.

Once we leave the snow confines of The Wall and the North we switch to the sunny plains of Vaes Dothrak where Daenerys finally learns the consequence of showing mercy to the people she saw as helpless and in need of her protection from the ravages of Khal Drogo and his khalasar. Dany learns the hard way through the stillborn birth of her son, Rhaego, and the mindless state Drogo has come to under the ministrations of her witch-woman, Mirri Maz Duur. To say that this latest life lesson continues to add to Dany’s growing sense of becoming the warrior queen she was meant to be would be an understatement.

She shares a final tender night’s moment with her husband, Khal Drogo, knowing that his mind has left his body. She reminisces the times they both shared in their short time together before finally releasing Drogo from his state through a mercy killing. If the final moments of this episode will say anything about Dany it’s that she has learned her lesson about mercy and the consequences of when not to give it.

Emilia Clarke has been great in the show as Daenerys. We’ve seen her grow from the meek younger sister of the deluded Viserys to being the wife and growing equal of Khal Drogo to the final moments of “Fire and Blood” where we finally learn the true meaning of her having the blood of the dragon. This was a scene that fans of the books were very wary of. HBO is one of the premiere cable channels, but they still operate under budgets that doesn’t match those of epic fantasy films like Lord of the Rings. Would the producers and the channel be able to pull off the reveal in the end. We see Dany walk into the blazing funeral pyre made for Drogo and where she has sentenced Mirri Maz Suur to burn, but will the morning after be able to satisfy not just the fans of the books but also new fans who have stayed with the show even after Ned Stark’s surprising death. I am happy to say that seeing Dany rising up from the ashes of Drogo’s pyre unharmed with three new additions to her own khalasar should satisfy everyone.

It’s a great way to end the first season which really plays out more like a prologue to the true story that season 2 will tackle. We see the dragon eggs have hatched overnight and bear witness to the most powerful things in the world of the Game of Thrones. Dany doesn’t need the Dothraki who have abandoned her when she now has Rhaegal, Drogon and Viserion to be her firepower to conquer a new army to take back to Westeros and reclaim the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. I love how the last thing we hear as the episode fades to black is the loud, defiant screech of one of her newly hatched dragons signalling the return of the true Targaryen’s to the story the show has told, so far.

Season 1 has done all it could to stay true to George R.R. Martin’s writing and has done so well even when the show’s writers saw it fit to change some minor things in the narrative to fit the tv format and also add in a couple new characters. “Fire and Blood” wasn’t as shocking as episode 9’s “Baelor”, but what it lacked in surprise it more than made up with a cliffhanger that should leave fans of the books and the show wanting for season 2 to arrive now instead of the Spring of 2012.

Game of Thrones has whetted the appetite of new and old fans alike and, barring any sudden change of heart at HBO, the show should only get better from here on out. All the main characters have been introduced with just a few more to make their arrival known in season 2. The game of thrones itself has now fully engulfed the Seven Kingdoms with Dany in the east and winter coming from the north waiting to sweep down to take everyone at any time. This season also ended with the show finally embracing the long-forgotten magic which characters in the show has mentioned but we’ve never really seen. Here’s to hoping that Spring 2012 arrives as soon as space-time continuum as possible. A ten month wait for the next season will be torture with only the first season dvd/blu-ray set to assuage that long wait.

A few highlights from “Fire and Blood”

  • Sansa finally seeing Joffrey for the little douchebag monster that he was when forced by him to looked at her father’s head on a spike and threats of having her older brother’s head on another one for his rebellion. Sansa still seems the weakest of the Stark children, but the realization of not just the real Joffrey, her fantasy life as queen and how much of a fool she has been was a strong sequence. Seeing Sandor “The Hound” Clegane stopping her from tossing Joffrey off the bridge and showing a semblance of compassion toward’s her should make for very interesting scenes between Sansa and The Hound in seasons to come.
  • Catelyn Stark confronting Jamie Lannister at the Stark camp really showed some new layers of complexity to the character of the Kingslayer. At once we see his usual cavalier attitude towards his rivals and the situation he finds himself in, but we also see a hint of regret for what he and his sister have begun. There’s a reason why the Kingslayer in the novels have become such a favorite amongst fans. He’s a character who also has a certain sense of honor and duty like Ned Stark, but  sees love of family (not just figuratively but literally) as first and foremost before honor. It will be interesting to see how the writers continue to develop Jaime for season 2 and how they’ll figure out to give him more scenes since Jaime wasn’t in A Clash of Kings as much as the initial novel.
  • The relationship between Tyrion and Shae continues to grow in a much more interesting way in the series than it had in the books. Whoever decided to cast Sibel Kekilli as Shae should be commended. The show could’ve easily went with an actress who was ridiculously hot, but instead went for exotic and added fire and brains to the character to better match wits with Tyrion who is growing to see Shae not just as a bed companion, but one who may be his equal. Here’s to hoping the writers continue on this path for the Tyrion/Shae pairing.
  • We finally see the final Stark direwolf. Shaggydog, Rickon Stark’s (youngest of the Stark brood) direwolf, shows up and scares the living daylights and shit out of Tonks…I mean Osha and Bran as they tour the Stark crypts. Even though it’s only for a brief moment we start to see how even the youngest Stark has begun to change in personality as winter is definitely coming and war ravages Westeros.
  • We get another great scene with just Varys and Littlefinger testing each other out in the throne room. Despite knowing that both have their own agendas and probably don’t ever see each other becoming fast friends they do respect each other’s abilities to stick to the roles they’ve learned to play in the “game of thrones”. These two just highlight how they will never see themselves as heroes, but do see themselves as the smartest people in the room, thus the ones who have the best chance of surviving the games these wanna-be kings hope to play and win. Even seeing Grand Maester Pycelle really being more than he appears to the many further shows that the principals of the game really do not know just how much they’re being manipulated by those they see as being weaker and cowardly. Varys and Littlefinger is like the Seven Kingdom’s version of Mad Magazine‘s Spy vs Spy.
  • Seeing for the first time that Cersei’s more than sisterly love and affection toward’s her twin brother Jaime may not be an accident of those two’s close bond as twins. It looks like Cersei has found a temporary replacement for Jaime in the form of her younger cousin Lancel Lannister. While Jaime is the image of martial beauty and confidence who probably didn’t fall for Cersei’s manipulative wiles as much as she’d want it looks like Lancel is going to be much more pliant in the living arms of Cersei. This scene just continues to build on just how screwed up House Lannister really seems to be and how Tywin and Tyrion seem to be the only ones who has kept the intellect in the family.
  • Finally, the addition of two new musical pieces by the show’s composer Ramin Djawadi. First, the version of the main title theme but with a martial tone to it as the Night’s Watch marches north of The Wall to sees exactly what’s going on with the wildlings and if the White Walkers are really on the move. The second being the rousing, but ominous version which scores the arrival of Daenerys as the true heir of the Targaryen and the birth of her three children in Rhaegal, Viserion and Drogon.

Feel free to comment and discuss what you thought of this season finale episode and the season as whole below….

….Season 2 in ten months and Winter is still coming….

Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 07 “You Win Or You Die”


HBO was kind enough to allow people who registered for their HBOGO.COM service to watch this seventh episode of Game of Thrones a full week before it aired. I wasn’t planning on watching it ahead of time, but since I already was signed up I decided to just go ahead and watch it. I must say that this latest episode continues to build on what has been a very strong first season for the tv adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s popular and critically-acclaimed medieval fantasy novel series of “A Song of Ice and Fire”.

The last episode was a major turning point for some of the characters in this series. “A Golden Crown” saw Daenerys Targaryen finally become her own woman in the face of her older siblings buffonery and childish tantrums. Behavior which finally got him the “golden crown” he deserved from Khal Drogo (and one which Daenerys seems to approve of). Tyrion Lannister using his wit and cunning mind to get himself extricated from the craziness that was Lysa Arryn and her court in the Eyrie of the Vale. The episode also brings together all the clues and evidence Ned Stark had been gathering about the death of the previous Hand of the King.

One would think that nothing could top all the pivotal events of episode six’s “A Golden Crown”, but this seventh episode surely tops that one with some building on the revelations of the previous episode. It’s really a major testament to showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss at how they’re able to not just stay true to the source material but also condense some of the minor threads of subplots and backstory into an hour episode that’s thrilling, engaging and not pandering to it’s audience.

This episode was aptly titled, “You Win Or You Die” as the fight for the throne of the Seven Kingdoms finally begins. We see the introduction of the Lannister patriarch who has loomed over the series as some unseen Sword of Damocles who holds King Robert’s tenuous hold on his kingdom. It was a treat to see veteran British actor Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister and see him playing the character as a no-nonsense, pragmatic but ruthless leader of his House. His brief time in this episode told us all we needed to know about Tywin. He’s so unlike his three children and this fact has become such a burden to him that he’s willing to take whatever virtue from the one child he sees as his most capable heir in Jamie that he’s willing to forgo all the faults. The scene of him butchering and dressing the stag while talking down (and propping up) Jamie for his foolishness with challenging Ned in episode five was very prophetic.

The episode also sees the return of Jon Snow and his part of the series’ story as he finally gets formally inducted into the Night’s Watch with Sam and the rest of the new recruits. What should’ve been a momentous occasion has been tempered by the sudden news of his uncle Benjen’s disappearance north of the Wall. It also shows Jon at his most petulant. What he saw as punishment from the Night’s Watch trainer and resident asshole in Ser Allister when he gets assigned as the Commander’s squire and steward was seen by his friend Sam as Jon being groomed for future command. For those who have been quite tough on chubby and cowardly Samwell should really have second thoughts about just how useless he is. He is surely becoming the voice of reason and logic to Jon’s more impetuous and “act now, think later” mentality. We also see the return of one of the direwolves as Jon’s (aptly named Ghost) brings him a gruesome gift once he has taken his vows.

The third major event in this episode before we get to it’s climactic finish brings us back to Vaes Dothrak and to Daenerys and Khal Drogo. With Viserys now out of the picture we see Daenerys begin to assert herself on Khal Drogo. While her brother’s dreams of becoming the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms have been dashed with a golden, metallic clang her own ambitions have not. She now sees herself as the true Dragon and still wishes to have the Iron Throne for her unborn son, Rhaego. While Khal Drogo still doesn’t see such things as important for him and his people an event in a marketplace which puts his khaleesi and son in danger finally convinces him of the danger the Seven Kingdoms poses.

This all leads us to the beginning of the “game of thrones”. Ned now fully knows why his predecessor was killed as the secret of Joffrey “Bieber” Baratheon’s lineage becomes quite clear. While more crafty and politically adept individuals would keep the secret from Cersei this is Ned Stark we’re talking about and he confronts his Queen with the news. To say that Cersei wasn’t flustered would be an understatement. This episode showed Lena Headey in full control of the Cersei character as we see her play the role with more iron and spine than what was shown in the novel.

“You Win Or You Die” finally sees an ignominious end to King Robert and his whoring and drinking. What was suppose to be a boar-hunt to help alleviate the stress he has been getting from both the Lannisters and the Starks finally gets him gored by the very boar he’s trying to hunt (though there’s suspicion that his inattentiveness during the hunt may have had some help). Mark Addy does a great job as Robert on his deathbed as he confesses his failings not just as a ruler but as a husband and as a father to the Seven Kingdoms, Cersei and Joffrey respectively. He appoints Ned to become the Regent of the Kingdoms until Joffrey is of age and does so officially with a sealed document.

One would think this final and dying declaration from a dying ruler would be enough to give Ned the power he requires to put the kingdom into order from the coming chaos but that would be selling all the characters with something to gain short. Robert’s not even cold when his younger brother Renly approaches Ned about plans to seize the throne from Cersei, but Ned being the honorable type refuses. Whatever ally he might’ve had to help him leaves the city as he confronts Cersei and Joffrey about the plans of succession. This is where the episode finally explodes into the conflict that’s been building since the very episode.

Some might say that this episode seems quite full of subplots and story threads and might not devote enough time for each. In fact, I was surprised at how much the writers were able to cram into this episode and still make each storyline have the time to make their events important to the series as a whole. While the episode ends with the the “game of thrones” in full swing in King’s Landing, the episode could also mean that things in the Wall and north of it has finally sunk into Jon and his fellow recruits as being truly serious. He and his new brothers must win or die. It’s as simple as that. Even Daenerys’ situation across the Narrow Sea fits the episode title well. With her now the bearer of the Targaryen line and her husband the leader of a powerful army she must also win or die.

Everyone in this episode seems to know the rules of the game their playing except the one person who seemed to be the one who had the most to win or lose. This episode showed Ned at his most intractable and honorable self, but it also showed just how much ill-prepared he is to fight in a battlefield where he doesn’t know who to trust and the very people who he shouldn’t trust might be his only allies. The final scene of the episode really highlight’s this dilemma for Ned and was such a great cliffhanger for the final three episodes to come before the series end’s it’s first season.

For fans of the books this episode shouldn’t disappoint and for new fans it should excite and really pull them in deeper into the world of Martin’s creation. Next week should continue the events we’re left to process as this latest episode ended. Will war finally break out between the two major houses of Lannister and Stark? Will Drogo finally bring his Dothraki horde into the Seven Kingdoms to gift his wife the Iron Throne she covets? What agenda does Littlefinger have and will it be the downfall of one of the houses?

There’s so much to be answered but seeing how this series just seems to get better with each successive episode I don’t doubt that episode eight will drop the ball and disappoint us with the answer (or will more questions arise) to those very questions.

Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 04 “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things”


We’ve now come to the fourth episode of HBO’s very ambitious and expensive medieval fantasy series based on author George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” saga of which the first  book make’s up the first season. The first three episodes have done a great job at not just setting up the rules which govern this fantasy world of Martin’s but has deftly handled the many characters both main and supporting. It’s always been one of the many trepidations by fans of the books that the show may dumb down and simplify all these personalities both big and small for the tv screen. Luckily, for both fans and non-fans of the book the writers of the show have kept much of these characters intact.

“Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” is quite an apt title for this latest episode as it deals with exactly just that. The show explores those three subjects. We begin with both cripple and bastard finding a common ground as Tyrion (Peter Dinklage in what could only be an Emmy-winning performance as the Lannister Imp) shows compassion instead of pity to the crippled Bran Stark despite his very own suspicion as to the cause of Bran’s fall. It’s also in these scene where we see the appearance of fan favorite Hodor (Kristian Nairn). Hodor’s introduction is one of several instances which has allayed my concerns that such minor characters would be trimmed from the book as it makes its way onto the show. While I’m sure the show will not introduce every name from the book at least they’ve taken a deep understanding as to which of the supporting cast in the book must remain even if they are quite minor.

The rest of this episode really deals with the “Broke Things” of the title. We see just how broken the situation has become not just in Castle Black with the Night’s Watch but all across the Seven Realms of Westeros. The king’s insistence in holding a tourney for his newest Hand has led to more debt as more people flood into King’s Landing to witness this event. We see the broken relationships between family members in the houses of Stark, Lannister and Targaryen. It’s these cracks which has led to corruption and intrigue which could only lead to tragedy for the current holder of the Iron Throne and for all of the Westeros.

Even some of the characters themselves show signs of being broken things with the most visible being Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) whose cocky and self-absorbed personality shows hints of humanity. He sees what his king has been doing to hurt not just the kingdom he serves but to his sister Cersei whom he loves. There’s a brief hint in his expression as he stands guard outside Robert’s bedroom as whores attend his brother-in-law knowing he cannot do anything to fix it without living up once more to his infamous moniker of Kingslayer.

This episode introduces several new characters that should have some impact in the coming weeks as the show leads to it’s climactic season finale. One character which should please fans and make non-fans of the book lean with interest is the “Mountain”. Gregor Clegane is aptly named and comes in as Sandor “The Hound” Clegane’s (Joffrey Bieber’s personal guard with the half0burned face) older and much more brutal brother. We don’t hear him speak, but his entrance and what he does during the jousting tournament looms large in that sequence. It helps that Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen great in the role) gives Sansa a brief tale concerning the “Mountain” and the “Hound” which adds some mystery to the two siblings which the writers will hopefully explore further as the series moves along this season and the next.

The other new character that gets some major time in this episode was one of the stronger ones in terms of portrayal. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-West sticking the role almost perfectly) is the latest recruit to don the black of the Night’s Watch and he’s as far from the ideal candidate for the black as any this show has shown. He’s fat, cowardly and almost effeminate in his behavior, but the character comes in as a broken thing. He’s forced to join the only thing he knows would accept him despite his shortcomings and the only haven from the suffering he has endured from his own family. At first it seems like pity that forces Jon Snow to take Sam under his wing for protection, but as he learns more of Sam’s background from Sam himself the more he sees similarities between the two of them. Only the turn of the fate having put Jon in the compassionate care of Eddard Stark has made him into the young man he is and becoming. It’s this growing rapport between Jon and Sam which really governs the Night’s Watch part of Game of Thrones.

But the show is not all about cripples, bastards and broken things. We see the beginning of the inner fires in both Daenerys Targaryen and Catelyn Stark in this episode. With the former we see how much she continues to grown into the role of Khaleesi of the Dothraki Horde. The confrontation between her and her older brother Viserys should begin to allay fears fans have had about how the writers have been handling the Daenerys character. Yes, the first three episodes haven’t really shown Daenerys being strong and kickass, but even in the book she wasn’t written to be such a character right from the onset. In both book and show her growing confidence still takes time. It just happens that the show just made her quite pliable and weak to start off with. I think that by the time this season ends Daenerys will grow into the confident character fans have been waiting to see.

With Catelyn Stark the situation has been a bit more complex as her character has been given several more layers of complexities with her book counterpart didn’t have. In the book she’s almost Ned Stark’s equal in almost everything, but lost in that was an emotional core which the show has given her. It’s this emotional layer which has added a loving motherly aspect to the character. It sometimes came off as helplessness in the previous episodes, but what mother wouldn’t feel so frozen with worry and inaction for the tragedy to have struck one of her sons. The fire that fans have been waiting for begins to fan as Catelyn sees herself confronting one of the very Lannister’s who she believes had a hand in the assassination attempt on her crippled son, Bran. Her reciting the many different bannermen who are loyal to her house and to her husband’s house was very inspiring and just a hint of what will come next as a storm of swords and a clash of kings loom over the horizon of Westeros.

Overall, “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” continues a streak of excellent episodes in the premiere season for Game of Thrones. We see more intrigue and machiavellian machinations than action, but it’s entertaining and thrilling nonetheless. This show has shown that fantasy, especially on TV, doesn’t have to be always about battles and bloodshed (though the spearing of the knight at the joust was done bloody well enough). It’s the political maneuverings and intrigues which will ultimately drive this show towards the very battles and bloodshed fans of these type of shows end up craving for.

Next week’s episode will be “The Wolf and The Lion”.


PS: It was great to see Jon Snow’s direwolf finally appear in its grown form. We’ve already it as an albino pop, but not grown like we’ve already seen with Summer, Nymeria and Lady. Ghost will soon become a favorite with the show’s fans the more he appears. The only one’s we haven’t seen are Robb Stark’s Grey Wind and Rickon Stark’s Shaggydog.