The latest from Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth, Election, Sideways) is a bit of a departure in that it takes a high concept sci-fi premise as its starting point. However, the film that follows from it, a social-issue satire featuring a midwestern white male’s mid-life crisis, will feel familiar to fans of his previous movies. The premise, an eponymous procedure that shrinks people to 5 inches tall, in an effort to save the environment, gives aforementioned white male Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) the opportunity to start again as a rich person – as everything costs less when it’s tiny, people are “downsizing” and then retiring early to bubble communities of like-sized people. But things go wrong, as they do in movies. The procedure works, but Paul doesn’t wind up rich – instead he winds up cleaning houses with ex-activist Ngoc Lan (Hong Chau), befriending grey-market importer-exporter Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz), and generally discovering how the world really works, and his place in it.
The visual irony of the film is that once Paul is shrunk down and living in Leisureland Estates, it is optically indistinguishable from being big. Payne uses this to deploy sight gags when large objects show up in a scene – he just lets you forget about it, and then there’s another one. That and the sharp yet compassionate satire make for a relentlessly funny film. The consequences of the “downsizing” premise are well thought out, and the world presented recalls societal shifts of years past (colonization, growth of US suburbs) while considering many perennial topics (inequality, the environment). Ultimately it imagines a choice for affluent developed-world people: cash out and retreat from the world, or engage with it, even if it is doomed.
Francois Girard (32 Short Films About Glenn Gould) directs this historical epic whose main character, he said before the film, is a mountain.
The mountain in question is Mont Réal (can you guess which modern-day city it lives in?), and its story is told through human characters who encounter it over a span of 800 years. In the 1200s, after a tragic battle, the Great Peacemaker (Raoul Max Trujillo) of the Haudenosaunee expresses his vision of peace to his follower Hiawatha. In the modern day, after a sinkhole opens during a football game in Molson Stadium, archaeologist Baptiste Asigny (Samian) uncovers evidence that the stadium sits above the ancient Iroquois village Hochelaga, where Jacques Cartier arrived in 1535. And we visit several stories at times in between.
Like 32 Short Films, Girard here weaves a mosaic narrative out of smaller independent ones. Some stories (Asigny and the Peacemaker) are crosscut throughout the film, while others are told in one piece and then barely returned to. This film has a powerful affect, blending visceral, emotional storytelling with intellectual significance that follows you for days after. The words used by the Great Peacemaker character in the film are taken from The Great Law of Peace, which is the oral constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy. They express ideas taken up in theory by the US constitution and in practice, in imperfect form, by the country of Canada. So this history of a mountain is really the story of our country, and that its spirit could be so clearly captured by people who lived hundreds of years before European contact should make us reflect. The film is worth seeing for that reason alone, disregarding the expert storytelling, fine performances and the miraculous way Girard’s mosaic form exactly reflects the principles of confederation it articulates.
Yep, that’s an accurate title. Engage plot summary subroutine! When a rich douchebag (Kevin Janssens) takes his mistress Jen (Matilda Lutz) along for an annual rich douchebag hunting trip with his two boorish, rapey friends, things go… wrong. Quite wrong.
I wouldn’t blame you for not being a fan of rape-revenge movies. In fact, I’d be concerned if you were a fan. But a few things elevate this picture. For one, it’s written and directed by a woman (Coralie Fargeat). At first, Jen is objectified in all the flashiest, music-video ways. When things go wrong the men band together in a manner that expresses the ubiquity of rape culture without seeming completely paranoid. And later, when the hunters become the hunted, it is the men who are turned into pieces of meat. Literally.
That’s the other distinctive feature here: stylish violence. Now, “stylish violence” in and of itself is far from a force for good. Yet Fargeat uses various elements – the majestic Moroccan desert, the beautiful modernist vacation house, the peyote, and blood, so much blood – as fuel for a striking, hallucinatory, messy and fun romp that expresses a point of view much different from that behind the usual slasher and/or revenge pic.
Let me go back to the violence once more because this movie is VIOLENT. I had to marvel at just how much blood and gore had been generated by only four main characters. It is frequently played for laughs – a scene in which glass is extracted from a foot has brilliant comic editing – but I’m mentioning it as a sort of public service as well as a sign of my cinematic respect. Apparently someone fainted during one of the screenings, and if you’re at all squeamish, avoid this flick like the plague. If you’re not, you’re probably already adding it to your list, and good on ya.
This is not the sort of festival flick I normally see. It’s a middlebrow awards-bait survival drama whose by-the-numbers thrills, yuks and manipulations are in theory redeemed by the triumph-of-the-human-spirit message. That said, it didn’t lose me until well into its second hour, but when it did, it lost me HARD.
Ben (Idris Elba) is a controlling, cerebral brain surgeon. Alex (Kate Winslet) is a risk-taking photographer. When their flight is cancelled, rather than miss a wedding and/or fail to perform life-saving surgery, the two strangers charter a tiny plane flown by an aging fellow with a heart condition so they can crash onto a remote mountain in the middle of winter, splint broken limbs, fend off animal attack and … maybe fall in love?
Spoilers. I don’t know if it was when Ben reveals his wife died OF A BRAIN TUMOUR and he literally says “she became my patient.. but I couldn’t save her.” Or was it when at the last minute – and rescue is within walking distance – he steps into a bear trap. Or was it cutting to the dog’s “reaction” to “comic” effect for the 75th time. Whatever it was, this movie transformed in my mind from passable time-passer to eyerolling time-waster with the speed of a … flying thing that crashes into a fucking mountain. And it’s still getting worse the more I think about it.
Yorgos Lanthimos movies sure are distinctive. This film could be categorized as a horror movie in the creepy house guest or obsessive fan mold. It has its share of sudden violence and disturbing scenes, and the 20th century modernist score (Ligeti!) evokes The Shining at times. But Lanthimos’ awkward, monotone, comically unlikely dialogue pairs with the absurd premise in a formula that is uniquely his.
Steven (Colin Farrell) is a bourgeois heart surgeon with an ophthalmologist wife (Nicole Kidman) and two kids (Sunny Suljic and Raffey Cassidy). He also has a bizarre friendship with strange teen Martin (Barry Keoghan), and when his family is struck by a mysterious hardship, the nature of that friendship becomes a crucial issue.
That’s about all I’ll say about the plot. It’s premise is indeed absurd – or follows the logic of a past era – and as usual he uses it to skewer the neuroses of society in a hilariously grim fashion. It’s a little more focused than The Lobster, not quite as ingeniously pared down as Dogtooth but certainly a great film by any measure.
Louis CK’s first feature since Pootie Tang is an impressive piece of work. It uses Louis’ idolization of Woody Allen as fuel for an exploration of the problems of parenthood. It’s funny, thoughtful, sad yet exhilarating, and like his best stuff, willing to engage with uncomfortable issues using any tools available, chief among them great honesty.
Glen (Louis C.K.) is a successful TV writer/director with a 17-year-old daughter, China (Chloë Grace Moretz). When he meets his idol, iconic film director and rumoured pedophile Leslie (John Malkovich), Leslie takes a perhaps unsuitable interest in China – and Glen struggles to determine the right course of action – or inaction.
Malkovich gives a legendary performance, turning what could be a cardboard creep into a unique, nuanced creature, and the supporting cast includes great turns by Edie Falco, Pamela Alon, Rose Byrne and Charlie Day. Louis self-funded the film and made all sorts of retro, out-of-fashion creative choices, like shooting on film in black & white, and commissioning a full orchestral score. But the greatest thing here is the writing. Every character is full of contradictions and imbued with their own agency, and the unfolding of events is both true to life and completely unpredictable.
The season ends with an episode that contains tension, drama, great one-on-one character scenes, and a number of plot threads tied up or at least significantly advanced, yet feels somehow hollow. It had no major surprises and only one (long overdue) character death.
The summit of the various remaining forces occurs, in the dragonpits in King’s Landing. (If I were working for Danaerys I would have picked a more neutral spot.) A long trek to this location allows for a few great character interactions: Tyrion with Podrick and Bronn; The Hound with Brienne. Dany is not with them, but arrives via dragon-based transit. The Hound gets a scene with his zombie brother where he basically guarantees Cleganebowl will happen next season sometime(!). Team Dany releases their prize wight, and Cersei seems convinced and open to the proposed truce – until she insists that “the King in the North” stay in the north and not fight against her alongside Dany. To his allies’ dismay, Jon is unable to lie and says uh sorry, I already bent the knee, no can do. Cersei storms off, no truce.
Tyrion decides that only he can change her mind. Whatever the logic of that decision, it makes for a good scene. (The preceding sentence could be the tagline of this season.) Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage always have good scenes together, and it’s been a while, and a lot has happened. And a lot does happen in this scene. Among other things, Tyrion learns Cersei is in fact pregnant – and I didn’t believe it myself! There is a curious lacuna, after which Tyrion and his sister emerge in the dragonpit; she announces she will not only agree to the truce, she will march her forces north to help fight what is now being called “The Great War”. Hope it has 80% fewer trenches and despair than its real life namesake.
If Cersei doing what’s right seems like a stretch, good, because a couple scenes later, she’s calling Jaime an idiot for actually believing she’d go through with it. In fact, Euron, who pretended to run off to the Iron Islands earlier, is actually going to Essos to pick up The Golden Company and ferry them back with his fleet. Jaime doesn’t like the idea of Cersei and Euron scheming without him; things go south, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought Jaime was going to get cut down by the Mountain. But he finally leaves her side and heads north alone.
In Winterfell, we get some buildup between Sansa and Littlefinger in which it seems she is finally succumbing to his manipulations and preparing to kill her sister. Then, we get a fakeout: Sansa summons Arya to the hall and starts talking about murder and treason – BUT she accuses Littlefinger instead. Clearly Bran is good for something, as he’s used his near omniscience to fill his sisters in on the full extent of Petyr’s shenanigans. Now let me just point out that Littlefinger doesn’t get a fair trial here… in fact he gets his throat slit with his own fancy dagger, courtesy Arya. The sisters get a wonderful scene later in which they recall their father, and his lesson to them, which is something like: “when winter comes, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives”. Ned Stark glows Obi-Wan like in the background of many of the scenes in this episode, as his children and other characters deal with the challenges of doing what’s right in a world that too often rewards what’s wrong.
Speaking of which, back on Dragonstone, Theon more or less apologizes to Jon, who more or less forgives him. Theon sees that Jon finds it easy to do what’s right, whereas Theon never knew if he was a Stark or a Greyjoy. Jon responds with a line whose full significance will only be understood later: “you have to be both”. Fired up with righteous resolve, Theon murders his second in command so as to win back the allegiance of his men for a mission to save his sister Yara… or something? It was very rushed.
Jon and Dany sail for the North, and their story reaches its…. climax [puts on shades]. At the same time, Sam gets to Winterfell and has an info dump with Bran. By which I mean, while Jon and Dany are getting it on, Bran is narrating how Jon’s real name is Aegon Targaryen and he’s the true heir to the throne and yeah that means Dany is his aunt. Yuck! But not really a surprise: all these “revelations” have been in the works since last season.
The episode ends with a scene that is grand yet inevitable and predictable: the Army of the Dead shows up at Eastwatch and the Night King uses his un-dragon to blow a hole in the wall. They had to bust through at some point, or what a lame Great War this is, and once they picked up the dragon last ep it became clear how they’d do it. So that happened.
Despite the occasional glimpses of epic scale, this episode again relied on one-on-one scenes that were gripping, well-wrought and satisfying, and further explored themes that feel central to the show. If Game of Thrones often deals with models of leadership, it just came heavily down on the side of Ned Stark. We all know he was good and all – in fact he was the stereotypical fantasy hero knight – but his surprise death in the first season expressed the point that this is a world in which heroes die. We have had seven seasons of the biggest payouts going to the liars, cheats, backstabbers and schemers. And yet in one hour, one of the most successful at such dark arts, Petyr “Chaos is a Ladder” Baelish, gets killed. Another, Cersei “Fuck You, I’m Cersei Lannister” Lannister is abandoned by her only remaining family and also only remaining sane ally, Jaime. Meanwhile the good guys follow Ned’s wisdom, band together, and…. [shudders] I mean, what is next season, just one long battle scene? Surely there are some backs left to be stabbed, right? I mean, this is Game of Thrones.
The season’s rushed pace continued to strain credulity. Really? Tyrion had to walk in undefended to talk to the sister who wanted him dead? And did all those heroes of presumably average or better intelligence really think Cersei’s word could be trusted in any shape or fashion? At the same time, maybe I’m bloodthirsty, but I expected at least one major surprise death. Jaime was a likely candidate, but Beric and Tormund surviving the wall’s collapse doesn’t make sense to me. I’m going to try to do a post about the season as a whole if I get the time and explore some of this stuff in more detail. I still felt on balance this was a good episode, but not without substantial flaws that perhaps belong more to the season as a whole.
A collection of unrelated points, you say? That calls for Unordered Liiiist Maaaaannn! The least dangerous, least sexy superhero.
The Sansa/Arya conflict was a season-long fakeout to keep a couple beloved characters busy. I called it last time, and it’s one of the few things I’ve correctly predicted, but I get no joy in it, as I thought… I thought it would get more interesting. But it’s better than the sisters killing each other, I suppose.
I also predicted Jon would knock Dany up: still looking good! Sex would be necessary for that to happen, and Jon even questioned her barrenness himself. I think that was Jon’s way of flirting?
Speaking of: why was Tyrion skulking around Dany’s bedroom when she and Jon were sexifying?
How did Tyrion get Cersei to agree to the truce? We don’t see the whole action. Did he assent to her lie about sending her forces north? Did he promise her unborn child the crown, thinking Dany barren? Explaining the skulking? Or did he propose some sort of rotating rule, or a democracy? Or did they just play tiddlywinks with the wizard guy and the brainless zombie?
Speaking of the wizard guy (ok I know his name, he’s Qyburn, Necromancer to the Stars): loved his rapt fascination with the wight. Time for some more evil science? Upgrades for Mountain-bot?
“You have to be both.” Jon has to be both Stark and Targaryen, then. Aka both wolf and dragon of the episode’s title.
There are so many heroes heading up north for A Good Cause I’m hoping Bob Geldof shows up and they record a chart-topping charity single. “Sending My Love Past the Wall.” “(Starting to Feel a Lot Like) Winterfell.” “All the Wight Weasons.”
(Sorry this is so late: I’m at a cottage with no internet.)
So here’s the action extravaganza I was expecting last episode. The bulk of this one is the Strike Team on its mission to range “North of the Wall” and kidnap a wight, with a few flicks back to goings on south of the wall, at Winterfell and Dragonstone. If you can stop worrying about travel times and distances and such (how far are they from the wall? How long would it take a raven to get to Dragonstone? Etc.), and I think you should, you’ll find this to be among the top action episodes of the show. A lot of shit happens, that’s for sure.
Early on we get a few scenes of dialogue between different members of the Strike Team: Tormund and The Hound, Jon and Jorah, etc. Certainly the Hound and Tormund were on fire. Jon offers Longclaw to Jorah (it was originally the Mormont ancestral sword), but Jorah says it belongs with Jon.
In Winterfell, Arya tells her sister she has the scroll Sansa sent to Robb (that could potentially be interpreted as evidence of her collaborating with the Lannisters). Sansa is concerned and turns to Littlefinger for advice; he suggests getting Brienne involved, as she is sworn to protect both Arya and Sansa. Rather than use Brienne to protect herself from her sister, when Sansa gets a summons to King’s Landing to meet with Cersei, she sends Brienne. Confident! Slightly menacing!
There’s a curious scene with Dany and Tyrion where they also mention the meeting with Cersei. Dany notes that Cersei will be setting a trap for them, and asks what trap they are setting for her. Tyrion doesn’t go as far as to deny they have a trap lined up, but he does urge Dany to rule via other means than deceit and war. Open to suggestions here, buddy! He brings up the problem of succession. Dany is (believed to be) infertile, but Tyrion mentions the Night’s Watch and the Ironborn, groups that select leaders via democratic systems.
Back to the main plot. After an undead bear mauls Thoros, the group finds a scouting party of a dozen wights led by a White Walker, and attack them. When Jon shatters the Walker, all of the wights drop except one, and they succeed in bagging it – but its heavily sound designed cries alert the main Army of the Dead, which comes knockin’. Jon sends Gendry running back to Eastwatch to send a raven to Dany for help, triggering a last-minute-rescue storyline, but before you know it, Jon and the gang are stuck on a minuscule island, completely surrounded by thousands of wights, with only a rapidly freezing-over lake to keep them from danger.
Time passes. Dany gets the message and leaves. Thoros dies in the night. Finally the lake freezes over, the wights charge, and things look bad for Strike Team Wight until – you guessed it – Dany and her dragons come to the rescue. But the White Walkers are ready for them: the Night King lets a huge ice lance fly and downs Viserion, while all except Jon escape on Drogon. Jon falls through the ice fighting off wights, but manages to get out and escapes with the help of Benjen “Coldhands” Stark.
In the aftermath, Jon and Dany don’t quite french, but they do hold hands(!). Dany swears to help with the fight against the Night King, and Jon bends the knee (figuratively). The coda shows wights hauling Viserion out of the water – and the Night King walker-ifies him.
Heroes last-standing it against an army of zombies, last-minute rescues, dragons torching shit: yeah, this season is in full action movie mode. As I mentioned last week, these episodes are packed so densely that clearly Dan & Dan are choosing to drop some of the more prosaic scenes – with the downside that certain barely-set-up plot events can strain credulity just a touch. In this ep, one can’t help try to make sense of the geography involved. How long would it take for Gendry to run back to the wall, for a raven to fly to Dragonstone, and for dragons to fly back? It’s a moot point; we don’t know how long our heroes were out on that rock, any more than we know how fast dragons can fly. Also, it’s more fun enjoying the ride than it is playing amateur fantasy geographer. This show is like nothing else on TV right now, or ever, in terms of scale, spectacle and budget, and if it seems different from previous seasons, remember we’re at hour 66: certainly we are in the climax of the 73-hour story, so a faster pace is warranted. But I suppose it feels a bit weird nonetheless, as if the final season of I Claudius turned into Hard Target.
First world problems.
I have this funny feeling that the battle of the ice lake is taken from the books. Or rather, from Martin’s notes.
So now we know how the Army of the Dead is getting over/through the wall, yeah? If that thing breathes fire, it can blow a hole in the wall. Or, the Night King could fly over it, and start a new army on the other side.
If Tyrion does have a plan other than “trust the sister he knows not to trust”, and I would hope he does: what is it? Did his conversation with Jaime have an off-screen component we have not yet been privy to?
That Winterfell storyline though. I think we all wanted Arya to be more hero and less anti-. Same goes for Sansa. My hunch is it doesn’t come to blows and this whole storyline has been a fake out, a way to keep a number of characters busy while more important plots were playing out, but I‘ve given up trying to guess how it gets to its end.
Dany & Jon are obvs gonna hook up… next ep perhaps? And she is so totally getting knocked up.
There was a lot going on in “Eastwatch”, it just wasn’t what I expected at all. The title seemed to point to a big battle at the eponymous Wall fort, which did not happen. Rather, we got a combination of intrigue and setup as the show lines up the final two episodes of the season.
The first big confounded expectation is that Jaime and Bronn were not captured after the cliffhanger (watersinker?) ending of last week’s episode, but washed downstream to safety. Jaime returns to King’s Landing to tell Cersei, “this isn’t a war we can win”, and to pass on the message that Oleanna killed Joffrey and not Tyrion.
Dany makes an offer to her remaining prisoners: serve her or die. Randyll and Dickon Tarly choose death, and are torched by Drogon, which upsets Tyrion, who was also visibly upset by the ashy horror of the post-conflict battlefield. Later, he commiserates with Varys over a… flagon of wine. Dany’s actions are either sadistic and mad kingish or perfectly understandable, or a bit of both.
Up in the Winterfell godswood, Bran wargs some ravens and spies upon the Army of the Dead, which is marching toward Eastwatch. He dispatches ravens to Dragonstone and Oldtown, where Sam overhears the Archmaesters’ waffling on the issue and urges them to somehow support the effort to fight the Night King. When their response is further waffling, he rage quits the Citadel, after raiding the library for some “forbidden” tomes, and narrowly missing a huge revelation: that Rhaegar annulled his marriage to Elia Martell before marrying Lyanna Stark, making Jon the true Targaryen heir.
When Jon gets Bran’s message, he wants to head north and fight. Dany won’t help because she can’t be sure Cersei won’t attack if she leaves. The Dragonstone war council (feat. Davos, Tyrion, Varys) arrives at an odd plan: if they can grab a wight and show Cersei that the threat in the north is real, perhaps they can cease hostilities for a spell and focus on the northern front.
To further this wacky scheme, Davos smuggles Tyrion into King’s Landing, where Davos recruits long lost rowing champ Gendry, and Bronn tricks Jaime into meeting his father-killing brother. Jaime brings the plan to Cersei, who seems surprisingly amenable. Also: she’s pregnant! So she says, anyway.
In Winterfell, it seems Littlefinger has found a Stark he can trick. Arya snoops on his apparently treacherous antics, culminating in her breaking into his room and stealing a scroll he had requested. But we see Littlefinger look on, stopping just short of twirling his moustache. The scroll contains the message Sansa sent ages ago, to brother Robb on Cersei’s behest claiming Ned betrayed Joffrey, and urging Robb to bend the knee. So Littlefinger’s plan is to turn Arya against Sansa, which is handy because Arya has already of her own accord accused Sansa of trying to usurp control of the north from Jon.
The final scenes of the episode see Team Wight Extraction (Jon, Davos, Jorah, and Gendry) travel to Eastwatch, explain the plan to Tormund, and meet up with his new prisoners Beric, Thoros, and the Hound. They all have various reasons to hate each other, but they decide they’re all on the same side because, as Jon says, “we’re all breathing.” So Strike Team Wight adds four members, and all but Davos head through the gate into the snowy hell beyond the wall.
This episode strained credulity in some ways. The way the previous episode ended, it didn’t seem possible that Jaime would escape capture. Furthermore the plan to steal a wight and bring it to Cersei is outlandish at best. After all, is Cersei really in a position to attack Dany, with her army having been just destroyed? Thrones does this from time to time, though, and I’ve learned to just grin and bear it, as what is really happening is the show is moving so quickly it’s not spending the time to lay plot infrastructure, as that can eat up screen time with less interesting scenes. We could have had more scenes of Jaime and Bronn evading the dothraki, stripping off armour, etc, until But they chose to skip ahead, possibly for good reasons? Who knows, yet.
Initiate random point-form note mode!
Is Cersei really pregnant? Or perhaps just worried Jaime will switch allegiance from her to Tyrion. Having an heir certainly helps her cause seem, oh, 20% less lost.
the Jon & Drogon scene. Seems he has some dragonriding in his future. Ghost will be jealous – although Ghost’s been absent all season, getting a passing mention from Sansa that he’s still patiently waiting for Jon.
Despite the bizarre objectives, you have got to love Strike Team Wight. Some of the shows baddest asses are all about to fight together. Unfortunately, some of them are going to die. And “die” almost certainly means “come back as an ice zombie”. Start placing your bets, I guess.
The literal spoils of war in this episode are the treasure and food supplies that Jaime is bringing from the just-defeated Highgarden to King’s Landing. But the episode spends much more time on things spoiled by war, like the Stark children and perhaps even Danaerys Targaryen’s soul. It ends with the biggest battle of the season so far: a Team Targ rout of the Lannisters so violent and furious that no character seemed safe.
The episode opens to some stage-setting: Jaime, Bronn and the Tarlys are supervising the transfer of Tyrell wealth from Highgarden to King’s Landing. Cersei has promised the Iron Bank payment in full of the Lannister debt with these spoils, and Iron Banker Tycho Nestoris is basically salivating at the prospect. He offers help, which may take the form of mercenary army The Golden Company. (Will they be deployed to the North?)
We decamp to Winterfell for a series of portentous scenes. Littlefinger offers his help, and a certain dagger, to Bran. By quoting Petyr’s signature line “chaos is a ladder” back to him, Bran puts Littlefinger on high alert. Arya returns, and outmaneuvers some Winterfell guards of below average intelligence and peripheral vision. She and Sansa have a rather morose reunion in the crypts, where both reflect on how their lives have been… Spoiled by War™. Arya meets Bran, who gives her the dagger. Sansa realizes that Arya’s “list” of people to kill is in fact real, which dismays her. And in a fabulous training scene between Arya and Brienne, Arya displays to the observing Littlefinger and Sansa that she’s now one of the deadliest people in Westeros. And she has an awesome cocky smirk the whole time.
Back on Dragonstone, Jon shows Danaerys the obsidian mines, in which children of the forest have carved a little pictorial about how the Children and First Men banded together to fight the White Walkers. This gives Jon – who like an earnest undergrad who’s Really Into The Environment Now, can’t stop going on about The Real Threat – an opportunity to go on about The Real Threat. Dany will help him, if he bends the knee; he doesn’t think northerners will accept a southern ruler. Dany asks: if he wants to save them, is his pride such a high price? (Guys, I have a solution to this problem that involves some knee bending and teaming up without any loss of face: ask me about Marriage!)
When Dany gets the bad news about how the war is going, she gets pissed at Tyrion and wants action. Jon gives lyrical advice about how the dragons are an inspiring symbol, of how she makes impossible things happen, but if she uses them to incinerate cities she’s just more of the same cruel rulers the people have always known. Offscreen, we can conclude, Dany arrives at a sort of compromise solution: inspire people by incinerating Lannister soldiers!
The episode closes with a 13 minute battle scene of epic scale. We learn from Randyll “Exposition” Tarly that the gold has made it through to King’s Landing but the army and the grain wagons are stretched thin. After a little scene about Dickon Tarly’s first impressions of war (back-stabby and stinky), a strange rumbling sound is sensed… the Dothraki horde. We get the build-up, the terrified anticipation, and then the horrifically violent clash. Dany and Drogon turn lines of soldiers to ash and obliterate the sitting duck supply train; the Dothraki whoop, leap and slash their way to a bloody victory. Bronn manages to get to the “scorpion” ballista and land a shot on Drogon, but it only wounds him. When Danaerys tries to take the bolt out, Jaime charges at her, but survives only when Bronn tackles him and the two plunge into the depths of the Blackwater.
It’s exciting, and it’s hard to know who to cheer for, and I thought first Bronn, then Drogon was for sure a goner – but perhaps most importantly the scene drives home the point of the episode. We had been seeing the damage war does in dialogue; now we see it in flame, ash and blood, seen through the eyes of Jaime, perhaps recalling the flame games of the Mad King he served; Bronn, running for his life yet more or less in his element, and Tyrion, watching from a safe distance but looking like he may regret the decision to turn on his family. Meanwhile Danaerys seems enraptured by fiery rage. Not a good look for her.
Bran. I said last time he went full wizard – perhaps it’s more like “on the spectrum”? I guess the idea is that Bran took over the Three Eyed Raven’s position and powers too early. It gave him theoretical omniscience, but also may have fried his brain a touch so that he says he’s not Bran, not anymore, fails to give the departing Meera an adequate goodbye, and fails to tell Arya to stab the scheming Littlefinger with the dagger he gives her.
Speaking of that dagger. When Bran asks Littlefinger if he knew whose it was, one possible answer could be Anton Checkov. I sense great things for you, little dagger, even if I don’t know what they are. Killing Littlefinger? Killing the Night King…?
Speaking of Littlefinger. He’s been trying to manipulate the Stark children, and failing. He hasn’t tried with Arya yet, but the look he gives her after seeing her fight means he surely will, and he may have more success.
After that royal torching, can we assume that all the Reach grain stores are now destroyed? What does that mean plot-wise? Certainly we would expect King’s Landing to be much less capable of withstanding a siege now. But will it have repercussions elsewhere? After seemingly-throwaway lines about food supply from Sansa (x2) and even Danaerys, my foreshadowing sense is tingling. Guess who had the foresight in the books (or rather, sample chapters) to buy up grain supply? Littlefinger.
I’m sure no one’s convinced by the cliffhanger ending that Jaime’s done for. But perhaps he will wind up a captive. It seems like a good opportunity for a Jaime/Tyrion scene.
Tealeaf-reading: next episode is titled “Eastwatch”. So the Army of the Dead will breach, or more likely bypass, the Wall next week. Dress warm!
Even more convoluted tealeaf-reading: from the preview for Eastwatch, Jon is back at Dragonstone. Yet recall that the second season 7 trailer, had scenes of Jon fighting White Walkers this season. So if he’s not fighting them at Eastwatch, my money’s on Winterfell at the end of the season, only three episodes away at this point. The only dramatic outcome of such a battle would be Winterfell… falling.
We start with Jonny Snow and Davos arriving at Dragonstone to meet Danaerys Targaryen, the first of our three queens in this episode. The big meet with Dany doesn’t go smoothly. Jon refuses to submit to her rule, Dany doesn’t believe about the White Walkers and it seems Jon will wind up a prisoner in the castle until Tyrion brokers a deal of sorts. Jon is allowed to mine Dragonstone and to leave freely, and Dany is allowed to catch a fleeting glance back at him as he leaves… looks like a Dany/Jon romance is officially in the cards, which would certainly be one way for Jon to submit to her without losing face. He’d wind up King of Westeros, not just the north!
In Greyjoy news, Theon gets taken aboard an anonymous Kraken ship. Euron parades the captive Yara, Ellaria and Tyene through the streets of King’s Landing to the delight of manifold background performers, and drops them off in the throne room, but Cersei won’t marry him until the war is over. Euron taunts Jaime some more in delightful fashion, and Cersei comes up with a suitably horrible punishment for Ellaria, who poisoned Cersei’s daughter Myrcella: she poisons Ellaria’s daughter Tyene with the same poison, leaving her to die in a cell with her mother, who will be kept alive – and so she gets to watch her child rot for the rest of her life. Lovely. So that’s Cersei’s form of justice.
Sam’s storyline advances promptly and predictably: Jorah is cured of his grayscale, and departs to rejoin his queen. Sam is neither punished nor rewarded for his efforts, but is assigned to transcribe a tableful of rotting scrolls and books. I’m guessing there are some juicy secrets up in them scrolls though to keep this plot going?
Up in Winterfell, Sansa is queening it up proper-style, preparing for a long winter. “Command suits you,” oozes Littlefinger, before he gets all metaphysical on her – “fight every battle, everywhere, always, in your mind. Everyone is your enemy, everyone is your friend, every possible series of events is happening all at once.” Such a worldview would predispose one to a mistrustful nature.
But Littlefinger’s musings are interrupted by the arrival of Bran, who has gone full wizard. He has trouble explaining his powers to Sansa, but his ability to see “everything that’s ever happened, to everyone, everything that’s happening right now” sounds a lot like someone else: Littlefinger.
We get the Unsullied assault on Casterly Rock and as expected, they exploit Tyrion’s knowledge of the sewer system to sneak in and take the castle from the inside. Surprise! Most of the Lannister forces are missing, and Euron shows up conveniently and trashes their fleet.
The Lannister forces show up outside Highgarden, allied with the Tarlys and led by Jaime. The battle takes place offscreen, but goes well for Jaime. He gets a poignant scene with Oleanna, in which she unsuccessfully attempts to convince him that Cersei is “a disease”. Before she dies from poisoned wine, she tells Jaime that she’s the one who poisoned Joffrey. This is significant because Jaime and Cersei blame Tyrion for this. Cersei may not believe Oleanna, but Jaime does and this could ultimately bring him closer to Tyrion.
Overall this was an impressive episode. It hurtled forward at alarming pace when it wanted to (Casterly Rock, Highgarden), and took its time elsewhere, namely on powerful, one-on-one scenes between most of the show’s key remaining players. The character count went down by two. Cersei is definitely the success story here: she’s gone from a terrible position at the start of the season to near dominance in a mere three hours of screen time. This will drive Dany to forego her cautious approach and get her hands dirty, making her less likely to help the northerners any time soon.
Various loose plot droppings, nuggets of interest, and questions:
Interesting scene with Varys and Melisandre, where we learn she is checking out and heading to Volantis, but will return to Westeros at some point because “I have to die in this strange country, just like you.” I’m surprised to see her go already; I thought she had a chance to convert Dany to her fire god. Dany likes fire, after all.
Jon stops Davos from mentioning his murder and resurrection, and Dany notices. What will come of this? Surely there is some significance to Jon’s undead status, or was it just a fakeout cliffhanger for the end of a season and/or book?
We have a super-expository scene between Cersei and a representative of the Iron Bank, in which she vows to pay her debt in full within a fortnight. Why have this scene? Perhaps if she secures fresh funds from the bank, she will seem all the more impossible to defeat.
What exactly is Littlefinger’s plan? Waiting around for Sansa to listen to him doesn’t seem good enough. Moreover, if Bran can get his wizard shit together he could expose Littlefinger’s shenanigans fairly quickly. My guess is that LF is still in communication with Cersei. He may have betrayed her by siding with Sansa against the Boltons, but he’s the most likely to help her in the north at this point. If I were Bran, I would be worried about Littlefinger.
things that are being telegraphed by repeated mention: dragons have weaknesses, the battle for King’s Landing will be bloody, the northerners should look out for Cersei
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if in the next episode or two we see the White Walkers attack Eastwatch and either breach or bypass the wall. Probably the latter, by going in the water. This could leave Winterfell as the climactic battle scene of the season. By that point the Lannisters could be marching north…
In episode two of the shortest season of Game of Thrones to date, things are moving along at a fair clip. The plans of Teams Lannister and Targaryen are elaborated and set in motion; the north squabbles some more, and the “X Episodes Without a Character Death” sign gets reset to zero again. It’s a lot more drama than a typical Thrones Episode 2, but then that makes sense.
Danaerys is getting stir-crazy in Dragonstone, and who can blame her with all the crappy weather. Her Hand Tyrion wants to take the seven kingdoms “without turning it into a slaughterhouse”. He wants to avoid using the Unsullied, Dothraki or the dragons to take the capitol, for fear of bad optics and/or fiery massacres. The plan is for Yara Greyjoy’s fleet to take the Dornish down to Dornville Central and pick up their army, and then bring them back to lay siege to King’s Landing along with the army of the Reach. Meanwhile the Unsullied will take Lannister HQ Casterly Rock. The other allies are less cautious, and Lady Oleanna counsels Dany, “you’re a dragon – BE a dragon.”
The Lannisters are still amassing allies. To a roomful of Tyrell bannermen, Cersei paints Danaerys as a crazy, cruel invader at the head of a bloodthirsty foreign army (do I detect some echoes of Trump-era nationalism?), and asks for them to betray their liege lords to serve the crown directly. Jamie makes a private plea to Randyll Tarly, offering him the Wardenship of the South, but Sam’s nasty dad doesn’t make a decision. Meanwhile, Cersei’s creepy maester Qyburn has a plan to take down dragons, and it involves a rather large ballista. Not very imaginative, really. Was hoping for a paper maché fake sexy dragon full of wildfire barrels, or something.
In the north, Jon gets ravens! Sam’s message about the supplies of obsidian on Dragonstone arrives, as does a message from Tyrion, asking Jon to head down to meet Dany, to strike up an alliance and/or “bend the knee”, as they say. Jon tells his unruly war council that he and Davos are going to accept the invitation, which is another unpopular choice, but everyone seems okay with it when he leaves Sansa in charge. Also, Littlefinger tries to befriend Jon but Jon throttles him.
In Oldtown, Archmaester Ebrose declares Jorah’s greyscale incurable, and shoots down Sam’s ideas from the texts his been digging up in the library. Sam, out of apparent loyalty to Jeor Mormont, Jorah’s late father and Sam’s old commander at the Night’s Watch, disobeys orders and attempts a rather painful treatment that involves tearing off all the stone skin piece by piece.
Arya meets some old friends. She finds Hot Pie at the inn we last saw him at, serving pie, as one does. He tells her that Jon is now King in the North. She decides to go north instead of south and on the way encounters Nymeria, her direwolf, who is leading a pack of wolves. But Nymeria no longer wants to be a pet, it seems.
We get a fiery nautical action scene to close out the episode. Euron intercepts Yara’s fleet, kills two of the Sand Snakes (no, I can’t remember their names) and takes Yara and Ellaria captive. Theon reverts to Reek-era wussiness (ok, PTSD) and escapes overboard.
I’m pretty sure this episode contains everything we have come to want from Game of Thrones: Sex! War! Scheming! Backstabbing! Character Deaths! Yet it’s hard to be too satisfied what this episode is giving us when it is clearly setting us up for even more dramatic payoff further into the season. We get the satisfaction of seeing characters like Varys and Dany, or Arya and Hot Pie meet up, but soon it will be Jon and Danaerys, or Cersei and her daughter’s killer Ellaria. We see the battle lines drawn, but not that much actual battle just yet. Nonetheless, these early-season episodes aren’t usually this compelling. The amped-up budget and shorter season are helping things along.
I didn’t mention the Missandei / Grey Worm sex scene, but yeah, it was there. A little surprised they didn’t go full frontal with our eunuch friend? Too Much 4 Thronez?
In other eunuch news, Varys gets a grilling from Dany. A lot of exposition gets laid down. They are throwing down some plot tickets, but for what? Easy guess is that Dany will go a bit nuts, and Varys will say something to her.
Similarly, Jon assaulting Littlefinger seems designed to give Petyr more motivation to betray Jon.
Theon: my take was he was reverting to Reek mode, but my wife thought he was actually making a pretty good move. In fact upon reflection it does seem like the smartest possible play. I’m curious to see where his story goes; certainly Theon solo is a lot more interesting than Theon as Yara & Ellaria’s butler.
I never mentioned Ed Sheeran last episode, but it’s an interesting issue. In brief: there’s a tradition of pop music interacting with the show, and it’s usually done in a clever fashion. I found this instance no exception. I felt a cute, popular singer was helping the scene demonstrate to Arya that perhaps some of the people she considered enemies were not deserving of death by vengeance. But I can see that for others, perhaps he’s just too well known a pop star and he takes them out of the scene. These are people who clearly did not recognize Sigur Ros during the Purple Wedding.
Perhaps I’m spoiled by the character development that good TV can produce by virtue of its ample running time, but I’m noticing a pattern of movies too eager to burn through their first act. They want to get to the jumps, scares and high-drama hijinx the second act will provide, so they plow through the exposition and character development. For the viewer, at first this seems good: hey, we’re getting right to the meat and potatoes! But the problems come home to roost well into the second act, where mid-explosion the viewer thinks, yeah who gives a shit, and checks her phone.
I wanted to like Life, really I did. I love horror; I love sci-fi. So by the same combinatory logic that drives public interest in peanut butter cups and sporks, I’m willing to give any horror sci-fi a watch, even if said enterprise is perhaps fatally indebted to a more famous predecessor in the genre. A diverse crew of space explorers retrieve alien life from an otherwise empty vessel; said alien life proceeds to massacre the crew one by one like they were teens at Camp Crystal Lake. Yep, that’s the plot of Life and Alien. There are differences: Life has a near-future, near Earth orbit setting, aboard the International Space Station, where the crew (that includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Renolds) is retrieving samples from a Mars probe. While Alien is really, really good.
As you’ve probably figured out from the first act of this review, Life hurtles through its opening scenes, eager for its alien creature to get busy. It does get busy, but the underdeveloped characters are little more than food. If that’s all you want from Life, great, but I’m looking for something more.
The way to a Thrones’ episode’s heart is through its title. The episode titles point directly to the themes being explored in that hour: most often, they mark a thread that weaves through the show’s various disparate plot lines, trying its best to make the ep seem less like a collection of unrelated scenes, and more like a standalone piece of storytelling that actually means something on its own. But, for the first episode in a season, this can be a challenge. The canonical unit of this sort of television is really the season, not the episode, and as such the first few episodes tend to function as the first act, setting up the board and moving pieces around in ways that, while they don’t seem that exciting right now, will be setting up for big moves later on. Fitting that the episode actually features two scenes with maps of the game board, the continent of Westeros, with the characters only getting started.
“Dragonstone” is the episode title and it represents the most significant dramatic action that occurs in this hour, right at the end: Danaerys Targaryen and her army finally land in Westeros. To her it represents her home, and the culmination of six seasons dicking around in the east. In King’s Landing, to Mad Queen Cersei and Ser Jaime the Exasperated, it signifies a huge new threat from the east, joining the others that surround them: Dorne and the Reach to the South and West, respectively, and the newly resurgent Starks in the North. Euron and his magnificent fleet arrive; he’s a potential, much-needed ally, but he wants to marry Cersei! The feeling is not mutual, so Euron leaves to bring her a “prize” of some sort (start your theories).
Down in Oldtown, we are treated to a surprise shit-and-gruel montage featuring Samwell Tarly and the restricted area in the library, which he finally breaks into and reads about…. Dragonstone. Which is indeed a repository of obsidian, one of the two things that can kill the White Walkers.
Up in Winterfell, Jon knows about obsidian but not Dragonstone, and orders a search for the rare material, before Sansa publicly and vociferously disagrees with the new King in the North about how best to use the castles of the Karstarks and Umbers, the Northern houses who sided with the Boltons against the Starks. Sansa thinks the castles (and titles) should be given to lords who didn’t betray them, while Jon points out the traitorous lords have already died on the battlefield, and he does not wish to punish the sons for the sins of their fathers. Jon gets his way, but the simmering Jon vs. Sansa feud bubbles on, starting to embody a particular thematic obsession of the show: different models of leadership. Jon is the noble hero who rules justly but is statistically a great deal likelier to lose his head; Sansa is the cold-hearted player of the game who “learned a great deal” from Cersei, the most cold-hearted of them all.
We also get two storylines that have not much to do with Dragonstone but do say something about those who pay the highest price for the games the nobles play. The Hound is now traveling with the Brotherhood without Banners, and they run across the property – and the long-dead corpses – of a farming family he last met when he was traveling with Arya. Then, he took their silver and left them for dead; now, he struggles with the results of that decision. He’s a rich character, well on his way toward the back half of the patented Thrones Villain-to-Hero Redemption Arc™, and the Brotherhood is helping him along. When Thoros gets him to gaze at the flames in the fireplace, The Hound sees the Army of the Dead passing through Eastwatch. Beric asks, “Do you believe me now, Clegane? Do you believe we’re here for a reason?”
The other storyline is Arya, and she provides a rare cold open. Wearing the face and voice of the always charming Walder Frey, she encourages his entire family to drink a toast… of poisoned wine. Boom. Later in the episode, she’s traveling to King’s Landing to continue her revenge quest when she runs into a small group of Lannister soldiers who have been sent to keep the peace in the Riverlands. Initially she wants to kill them, but they’re such friendly and kind-hearted lads she gives them a pass. From the cold open we’d deduce she’s of the Sansa/Cersei school of cold-hearted score-settling throne-gaming – literally killing the sons for the sins of the father – but from the other scene? It’s not so clear. She may have a heart left.
If I can sum up, which I can, it was an above average episode of graceful board-setting.
Look at that, I fucking forgot about the Bran scene. He arrives at the wall – that’s it. You know what, Bran? Get off your ass a little and maybe I’ll remember your scenes next time.
The costuming is excellent as usual. Euron looked like a Biker Lord.
That was maybe the most artful “previously on” recap I’ve ever seen. Did they do an original score for it?
The dagger that was used in the attempted murder of Bran Stark back in the first season shows up as an illustration in one of the restricted books Sam and Gilly look through. Interesting! I didn’t remember it, but here’s some stuff about it: it’s Valyrian steel, it was owned by Littlefinger, I can’t tell if it’s the same one he uses to betray Ned Stark in the first season, but it’s supposed to be in the book. I wonder what its future holds!
Sure enough, as I predicted in my preview, Jorah Mormont is in Oldtown and he’s already met Sam. Although Jorah is NOT looking good.
Eastwatch. Sounds like that’s where it’s going down. It’s the fort on the wall where the wildlings will be posted, plus one can surmise the Brotherhood will head there.
Bong Joon Ho’s latest is perhaps most similar to his 2006 picture The Host: it’s a genre-bending, CGI-heavy creature feature. But the similarities end there. In an attempt to rejuvenate her shady multinational agribusiness’ moribund image, CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) launches a heavily stage-managed contest in which 10 enormous “superpigs” are distributed to local farmers across the globe. Ten years later, South Korean entrant Okja is the clear winner – but Mijo (An Seo Hyun), the granddaughter of the local farmer in charge of the pig, isn’t willing to let her go just yet.
The script veers from pastoral contentedness to slapstick to full-tilt effects-heavy action, but at heart this is a grand social satire in the tradition of Network, Dr. Strangelove or The Bonfire of the Vanities. Bong tries to get a few jabs in at the animal activists led by Jay (Paul Dano), and asshole celebrities get a punching bag in the figure of Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), but the largest target by far is the Mirando Corporation and its attempts to gussy up its cold-blooded greed via the sundry tools of modern PR. The comedy is broad and occasionally falls flat: some scenes feel like failed improv. And the social satire isn’t the most ingenious ever put on screen. But the action is first-rate, and – crucially – the creature is exceptionally well executed; so much so that the scenes between Mijo and Okja are completely believable, and form the healthy emotional heart of a wide-ranging, ambitious, and risk-taking film.
An action-musical-romance this time instead of an action-comedy, Edgar Wright’s first solo writing credit is a fun, hyperactive pastiche that falls down in the romancy bits but excels almost everywhere else. Music-obsessed driving savant Baby (Angel Elgort) lends his virtuoso wheelman talents to a series of increasingly dangerous heists planned by Doc (Kevin Spacey), to whom he owes money. After Baby meets Debora (Lily James), the proverbial waitress with the heart of gold, he wants to get out – but crime keeps pulling him back in.
The plot sounds a little weak, and it is. But that’s not the draw here. Rather, Wright brings his montage game to new heights. The car chase scenes have bullet-fast editing timed perfectly to the music, and the music selections are all tight and form a soundtrack even greater than its parts. It’s the non-moving parts that need an upgrade. The macho criminal posturing dialogue is kept more or less entertaining by a deep selection of supporting cast, including Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, Jamie Foxx and of course Spacey. But the boy-meets-girl stuff is not up to code. The movie takes itself increasingly seriously as it goes on (common with most Edgar Wright films), and the dullness of the romance is an increasing drag that the action bits struggle to carry. (Indeed, the film is weak on female roles in general.) However, the driving scenes and the soundtrack are powerful enough to make this film worth seeing – even if it seems like it is doomed to be the B picture to Drive when the inevitable double bills of “Soundtrack-Heavy Driving Movies Featuring a Brooding Near-Mute Hunk” start showing up.
From the writer-director of The Loved Ones, Sean Byrne, The Devil’s Candy is a lean, nimble and nasty take on the haunted house genre.
Hip metalhead couple Jesse and Astrid (Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby) and their metalhead teen daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco) get a nice house for cheap – because the previous owners met a violent, metalhead end. Jesse is an artist, and the new house gives him lots of studio space to become ensorcelled by Satan and paint inverted crosses and horrific beast faces and suffering children – including his own daughter.
If you think you know where this plot is going, you probably don’t. The Devil’s Candy is much less beholden to stale conventions than the typical entry in this genre. Even better, the characters are real, non-generic people, brought to life by a talented cast, and the craft – including the direction but also notably the sound design – is top-notch. A must-watch for those with the stomach for it, and if you have to ask if you do, you probably don’t.
Certainly the most depressing, possibly the most emotionally powerful superhero movie ever made, Logan recasts two signature X-Men in a bleak future western about familial bonds in an uncaring world. This is the superhero movie Cormac McCarthy would make.
It’s 2029, mutants are near-extinct, and The Mutant Formerly Known as Wolverine, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is driving a limo to pay the medical bills of self-described nonagenarian and Alzheimer’s victim Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). When a nurse seeks Logan’s help taking the lab-raised mute mutant child Laura (Dafne Keen) to the Canadian border (bonus points for casting Canada as Utopia again, American filmmakers!), he must decide what he’s going to do with the rest of his life, which may not be that long.
If that sounds grim, it’s because it is, although the despair is leavened by four setpiece action sequences that – by virtue of this film’s R rating, a first for the franchise – are more skull-stabbingly true to the Wolverine character than anything he’s done before. Part Western runaway slave story, part poignant family road trip, the film explores the parent-child relationships between several sets of characters, and shows the anger produced by our families, both biological and non-, may be overpowered only by the rage that comes when they are threatened, the rage born out of love. The film is both a reminder of the versatility of the men-in-tights genre and a moving swan song for one of its most beloved and perfectly cast characters.
I tried to describe this film to a friend. “It’s set in the 70s, about a arms deal gone wrong. A bunch of crooks are in a shootout in a big warehouse for basically the entire movie. Hey, I’m making it sound pretty great.” It’s the latest film from director Ben Wheatley (Kill List, High Rise). It’s a decent film best understood as a black comedy in the Tarantino vein, and it does manage some deliciously dark laughs, but it falls short of the significance of most Tony Scott films, let alone QT. (Tony Scott directing a reboot of The Hateful Eight might be the closest analogue.)
The film’s biggest flaw is that it moves into action mode a good 15 minutes too early, not having had enough time to fill out any of the largish number of characters, which wastes a capable cast (Brie Larson, Cilian Murphy, Armie Hammer). One finds oneself not caring which ones lived or died, which one could describe as suboptimal from a dramatic perspective. It’s definitely watchable with some great, funny moments, but life’s too short.
My post today is an endorsement of The Dirties, the first film by Matt Johnson, the dude from the interview I posted yesterday. I liked what I read, and I respect the opinion of Radheyan Simonpillai, so the missus and I checked it out last night. It’s the best Canadian film I’ve seen in a while (since Incendies maybe? Room and Brooklyn don’t count), one of the best found-footage movies I’ve seen, and the most refreshing directorial debut I’ve seen since Primer. It approaches a tough topic (school shootings) with a unique tone. It’s on iTunes and YouTube. Here’s the trailer.
There is a Patton Oswalt joke about the Star Wars prequels – go ahead, give it a listen – in which Oswalt berates Lucas for making the dull origin stories of exciting characters. “Hey, do you like ice cream? Well here’s a big bag of rock salt.” It concludes with Oswalt ranting “I DON’T GIVE A SHITWHERETHESTUFF I LOVECOMESFROM, I JUSTLOVETHESTUFF I LOVE.”
It’s not that the new NBC show, which recently concluded its first season, is better than Manhunter, Silence of The Lambs, Hannibal (The Movie), or Red Dragon, although it may indeed be better than some of those. It’s that show runner Bryan Fuller realized that a three-page bit of back story from the Thomas Harris novels was actually more dramatic than the front story. Hannibal was, at one time, a psychiatrist consulting for the FBI with his arch-nemesis Will Graham. He was also an active cannibal. It’s almost funny to realize that before this show, the character had spent most of his fictional time in jail.
Hannibal in this series is a different creature from the increasingly hammy Anthony Hopkins. At first, I found Mads Mikkelsen wooden. Gradually, I realized he was actually extremely subtle. The moments that Hannibal expresses emotion are notable for their extreme rarity and telling context.
Hannibal isn’t the main character, though. That honour goes to Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), who is as I mentioned a consultant; in the pilot, he’s lured from his teaching job by Larry Fishburne because he has an uncanny ability to empathize with serial killers. Hannibal becomes his analyst. Those two points – Graham’s empathy and his psychopathic shrink – become this series’ greatest strengths. When he struts onto a crime scene, Graham enters a kind of Empathy Mode where he gets into the killer’s mind. This allows the show some great liberties with visualization that it exploits adroitly. Furthermore, Graham’s empathy with horrible minds makes him increasingly fragile as the show goes on, an arc that propels a lot of drama, and keeps visual interest even away from the crime scenes.
But if Graham’s visions lend the show its visual flair, it is grounded in riveting dialogue, thanks to the emphasis on talk therapy. The Graham-Lecter discussions are captivating, but many other shrinks are in play: Graham has a crush on a co-worker who is also a shrink (Caroline Dhavernas), and many amazing scenes are of Lecter visiting his own therapist, played by Gillian Anderson. The dialogue is generally very strong; it reminded me of the late, great In Treatment.
I suppose I shouldn’t conclude without mentioning dramatic irony. It’s interesting to see a whole show powered by it. We know going in, by the name, that this show features one of fiction’s most renowned killers. How frustrating, then, to see so many lawmen completely unaware of it. It makes you want to yell at the screen at times.
You might assume, like I had, that a show with this name on NBC had to be a G-rated candy-ass cynical cash-in. It is not. It will surprise you. Watch it.
If Elephant Man is about spectacle, Blue Velvet is about mystery. It’s essentially a film noir narrative, deviating from the norm by putting a young college student in the detective role, allowing a coming-of-age story to shine through now and then. Needless to say, as the opening foreshadows, the world our youth discovers beneath the surface is a dark one.
I’ve seen this film so many times already there’s very little for me to say about it, but what I noticed this time was how good the dialogue is. There’s a part where McLaughlan and Dern are having their first conversation, McLaughlan looks at a house they’re passing and says, “I used to know a kid who lived there, he had the biggest tongue in the world.”
The film is not without its spectacle, of course. The images in the opening alone would overpower a weaker film, to say nothing of the severed ear in a field, the frequent song breaks, using a lamp for a microphone. But it’s all hung over this mystery plot, which is eventually brought together in a somewhat conventional way. (Not that it makes a ton of sense; I can’t figure out why Frank is dressed as “The Well Dressed Man”.) If there is an epic battle throughout Lynch’s career between spectacle and narrative, narrative won this one – but will eventually lose the war.
Incidentally, Lynch says the ending came to him in a dream. “The dream gave me the police radio; the dream gave me Frank’s disguise; the dream gave me the gun in the yellow man’s jacket; the dream gave me the scene where Jeffrey was in the back of Dorothy’s apartment, sending the wrong message, knowing Frank would hear it. I don’t know how it happened, but I just had to plug and change a few things to bring it all together.” (pulled from here, originally from the interview book Lynch on Lynch)
Also from that page is the Pauline Kael quote: “This is American darkness – darkness in color, darkness with a happy ending. Lynch might turn out to be the first populist surrealist – a Frank Capra of dream logic.” But American darkness was going to get a whole lot darker.
This was fascinating for various reasons. It’s a classical narrative, but it still features a few dream-logic sections. It was nominated for eight Oscars, rare for Lynch films, and you can see why, as it features an outsider hero who gains a place in society. At the same time, it is about spectacle. Lynch compares two modes of spectacular presentation, with Merrick put on display in both the freak show and scientific contexts. Later, he is put on display to society, and while he is given a voice in this context, the question of exploitation still lingers. Viewers of the film are, of course, implicated in this exploitation.
There are three major surrealist passages in the film, at the beginning, climax and end (excluding the Fellini-esque return to the freak show in the second act). The beginning expresses Merrick’s birth trauma through slow dissolves of slow motion elephants and closeups of his mother screaming, with expressive and disturbing sound design of course. The climax occurs when Merrick watches a play: his ultimate triumph in the film is to assume the position of spectator rather than spectacle. Rather than show the staging of the play in detail, Lynch again shifts to slow dissolves, semi-abstract closeups of stage action details, and slips in a shot of Merrick’s “owner” in a cage. It’s a beautiful idea; Merrick’s victory over the antagonist is purely imaginary, through the art of spectacle. The final passage is right at the end of the film and represents Merrick’s death, which visually mirrors his birth as it returns to the closeup image of his mother. Instead of elephants, we have the night sky and a long dissolve to white.
So in the most intense moments, Lynch turns to surrealism, but leaves the rest of the plot to a more conventional telling.
The Social Network does what it does to perfection – it makes a thriller out of a heap of code. It pays attention to the details. It treats the characters even-handedly.
But it fails at one big thing. The big topic is of course Facebook, and the site is far from a main character in this story. We catch glimpses only; the odd screenful. The blue glow on Zuckerberg’s face as he writes code.
Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask.
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it.
Zuck: I don’t know why.
Zuck: They “trust me”
Zuck: Dumb fucks.
Zuck: So you know how I’m making that dating site
Zuck: I wonder how similar that is to the Facebook thing
Zuck: Because they’re probably going to be released around the same time
Zuck: Unless I fuck the dating site people over and quit on them right before I told them I’d have it done.
These show how restrained Sorkin and Fincher actually were in their depiction of the man. I mean, it’s just the kind of black humour all of us practise in private with our friends. But it’s the sort of thing that can become public all too easily nowadays, thanks to this brave new world we live in, thanks to services like Facebook.
Facebook and its ilk have changed how we communicate, what we mean by friendship, what we consider public and private, what we know about each other. They have changed our society fundamentally.
The film does not explore this at all. It does present the simple irony of a friendless man creating the world’s largest social networking site, but that’s it.
So it’s a real missed opportunity. The direction they did take this project – a docu-drama thriller, along the lines of All the President’s Men – also steers the ample public discussion of the film almost exclusively towards the issue of its veracity. Is that what the characters were like, is that the correct sequence of events, etc. There is some consideration of morals and ethics, but the techology’s impact on society gets next to no attention.
Does that make it a bad film? I’m not sure. On the one hand, I don’t believe you can criticize a film for not being something it didn’t try to be. On the other hand, if the significance of the subject matter is lost on the creators, how good a job did they do?
I thought King Kong was amazing in the theatres. When I watched it at home on DVD, I lost interest halfway through. It felt sagging, bloated. Dark Knight blew my mind on Imax, but when I got it home the dialogue felt wooden and speechy, the structure confused.
You see where I’m going with this.
Avatar, in the theatre, in 3D, is an experience I’d recommend to anyone, even though it may well result in headaches and exhaustion. Your optic nerve gets a real workout. The visual richness of every frame is heightened by the 3D in a way that makes my other 3D experiences – Final Destination, Up, Ice Age 3, Dr. Tongue’s 3D House of Slave Chicks) – seem like cheap parlour tricks. It wasn’t just action (although there was plenty of that), there was beauty, wonder. My Avatar-mates and I all admitted to tearing up at some point during the proceedings.
The sheer CGI-ness of the thing is also overwhelming. This film is essentially set in the Uncanny Valley, yet as a tale of exotic adventurism, of failed conquest of the irrational, of getting outside your body and putting on a new skin, it certainly works. By the end of it, the humans were the ones that looked weird. Avatar will be a legendary drug movie for some time to come. (And no, I’m not saying I was high seeing it, although I kind of felt like it after.)
But will it be celebrated as much as some of the more gushing reviews would have you believe?
In order to answer that, we’d have to answer my opening question: which is the true experience, the 3D Imax blowout or watching it at home on DVD or even Blu-Ray? The practical answer is the latter experience, as ever since VHS took root, home theatre revenues have dwarfed theatrical box office. If a movie is the sum of all its viewings, Avatar’s cracks will show up. Its stock, underdeveloped characters, its all-too-angelic indigenous peoples, its blunt allegory, its “Unobtanium”. I’d say it’s the worst Cameron script, which isn’t really much of an insult, but still.
But if we are allowed to be idealists, optimists, to judge a movie in the best possible light in which it can be seen – which for Avatar involves kooky glasses – we might well see it as a glowing blue planetful of awesomeness.