Note: this aims to be a spoiler-free episode review…
Episode 2, “Stormborn”, was exciting stuff! A lot happened. Daenerys showed yet more of the steeliness she flashed in episodes 7.1 and 6.10. She even presumptuously demands that someone else “bend the knee”. Theon, known to his close friends as “Reek”, gets an opportunity to showcase his newfound confidence and courage. Happily, the show gets back to basics: by bringing us some hawt seks. Well, naked bods, boobies and all, and a bit of heavy petting. And we witness everyone’s favourite (read: nobody’s favourite) Samwise Gamgee rip-off, err, Sam, perform a rather disturbing Cronenbergesque operation. There’s also a shocking bit of carnage to finish the episode. In short, everything Game of Thrones fans love and crave.
Also notable was just how slow pre-broadband Westerosi communications technology was. We see different people get news about various developments at vastly different times. It’s something we don’t think about, but was a key factor back then… in the Middle Ages(??)
On the downside, the funny-cum-disgusting camerawork shtick from Episode 7.1, which saw canteen food and sloppy chamber pots quickly intercut, was repeated in a different context in this episode. I hope this isn’t the start of meta, distracting, drawing-attention-to-itself direction. You can have too much of a good thing.
Hmm, how to do a Game of Thrones episode review with no spoilers? Well, here we go.
Season 7 of the visual crack that is Game of Thrones kicked off yesterday. Unlike the last six seasons which had ten episodes apiece, this time we’ll get seven. But we’re promised they will be more epic than ever. I’m not disappointed, but actually really respect this decision: none of the old, ‘Well, we have to fill ten episodes, so let’s just stretch it all out a bit’. David Benioff and D. B. Weiss are clearly all about quality over quantity.
As for last night’s episode, it was no “Red Wedding”, but it was no “Lord Snow” either: it was solid, entertaining, and oh so tense. And it began with a truly arresting scene which was horrifying, brilliant, and delightful all at once. Let’s just say that revenge is a dish best served cold.
As for the rest of the episode, nothing much happened. But at the same time, a lot happened. Pieces got moved around the board, and the episode felt very much like the calm before the storm. Shit is about to go down, big time, and we were left in no doubt that this was the last moments before it all kicks off.
More than that, many possible future developments were hinted at: new alliances, old alliances fracturing. Very exciting.
On a weird side-note, one man band Ed Sheeran made a jarring cameo as a, erm, musician. And who was that beside him but Thomas “This Is England” Turngoose. I don’t know which was more distracting! Sheeran’s performance itself was actually alright and non-intrusive. But because the Twitterverse melted down beforehand, my attention was drawn to him: I couldn’t help but get tunnel vision and keep repeating in my own head “OMG! That’s ED SHEERAN!!!”. If no one had gone on about it beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it was him at all. Strangely, though, Sheeran got upset by the reactions to his cameo and has quit Twitter. I find it weird that a ridiculously talented, rich, adored singer would, at this stage, have such thin skin. But no worries: if you’re reading this, Ed, for I know you surely are, then chin up — you were no David “King Arthur” Beckham.
As everyone knows, probably even out-of-touch politicians who need to watch The Zeitgeist Tapes, the show that made swords and sorcery mainstream and thereby robbed nerds of our one defining in-group characteristic, Game of Thrones, is back! Season seven kicks off this Sunday.
What can I say about GoT that hasn’t already been said? Not a lot, really, as much has been made of how close to televisual crack it is. I cannot wait, and I’m starting to get the “spoiler sweats”; y’know, the terror that someone will tell me what happens before I get home and watch the latest episode myself. Indeed, GoT has got a little bit stressful the past couple of years; instead of catching up when I can (*damn life commitments!), as I used to, I feel like I have to drop everything and watch each episode ASAP lest it be ruined… which itself ruins it a tad.
Even though I loooooooooooooove the show, I’m not as addicted as I was before; I didn’t suffer this past twelve months with no GoT as I have in the past. I also do not see how the ending can possibly top the series itself; I feel like even the best series ender of all time wouldn’t top what has come. Also, I can’t see how they can please everybody when the series winds up with season 8. Why? Because some people want to see a “happy ending”, with Jon and Daenerys getting hitched, crushing the forces of darkness, and ushering in a Summer that never ends. Others, and this includes me, feel that this would be an unsatisfactory ending and totally not in keeping with the rest of the show. I feel that only an end of pure depressiveness would be in keeping with the overall show; perhaps the “good” guys do win, but in their turn get corrupted, perhaps with Daenerys becoming every bit as despotic as her forebears. There is also another risk posed to the finale we all hope for, and it’s what I call the “Pirates of the Carribean Effect”. This is where, in an attempt to become “EPIC!”, films and TV shows get so overbloated, so full of whizz-bangs, that they drown in a sea of their own CGI and pompous self-importance.
Well, whatever the future holds for GoT in seasons seven and eight, I would love to see some spin offs. Indeed, I almost can’t see this not happening. So many tales to delve into.
Crash is about racism in America today and the different forms and faces it takes. Institutional, white-on-black, black-on-white, conscious, unconscious bias, rich, poor, and all between: the film was awarded three Oscars for its in-your-face message. It confronted racial tensions in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Various story strands are interwoven in what I can only call a Love Actually ensemble stylee — although the film seems to think itself more Pulp Fiction. Yes, a whiff of self-satisfaction, self-righteousness, and self-congratulation emanate from this flick. And that’s why I gave it 2/5 when it came out. But a friend kept begging me to give it a second look. So finally I did.
It’s true, there are some great moments. The sweet story of the protective cloak that a father tells his daughter stands out as genuinely touching and believable. The film is well directed and the plot well structured. You can’t fault writer-director Paul Haggis for his mastery over the craft. And despite the large cast, there is good character development, and the film is well paced and zips along nicely. Despite this, some characters are completely extraneous and should have been cut. Particularly, the roles played by Sandra Bullock and her on-screen husband.
The film is also very funny in places. Although I strongly suspect that was unintentional. Either way, it’s certainly odd. The two African American car-jackers provide much of this unintentional comic relief. They drive around procrastinating on race and racism, like a crap Travolta-Jackson Pulp Fiction rip-off duo, whilst their actions confirm the negative stereotypes that they rail against.
This is the worst thing is that nobody reacts normally. Everybody is ready to fly off the handle over the slightest thing. It’s this constant hysteria that jarred so badly thirteen years ago and jars so badly now. And in these sobre days, where 9/11 is now history, we can see this film for what it is. Over-the-top characters and cartoonish racism are par for the course. Everyone constantly make shouty outbursts laced with racial slurs that seem shoe-horned in and never genuine. Example: “So tell me, who gathered these remarkably different cultures together and taught them all to park their cars on their lawns” says a black man whilst hanging out of the back of a Hispanic woman…. Another example: a moronic, obnoxious Iranian shopkeeper — driven to rudeness by post-9/11 hysteria and racism, we are meant to think — does not do what his locksmith told him to, consequently gets robbed, and then does what anyone would: get a gun and go shoot a child… I mean, seriously, we never see him get pushed to that breaking point. By opting for pure melodrama at every turn, the message that racism comes in many forms, not just the obvious KKK lynch ’em kind, is completely undermined.
IN CONCLUSION: OVER-HYPED
I still think the hype and the three Oscars were overboard. Right after watching this again, Midnight Express came on the telly. So I watched that — also, for the first time in ten years or so. Wow, that is what a multiple Oscar winner is all about (despite an equally dubious portrayal of race), not this melodramatic, unrealistic portrayal of racism designed to exorcise middle class white America’s racial and 9/11 demons. Crash was the kind of film America needed in 2004, but that doesn’t mean it lived up to the hype. Crash‘s ideology and surreal histrionic racism are just as jarring as ever. But I have a renewed appreciation for the craft of this film and the moments when it is believable. For that, it earns an improved mark: 3/5.
The Blind Side is the true story of a wealthy WASP family, headed by Mater Familias Sandra Bullock, who take in a seventeen year old homeless black kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Battling social prejudice, lavishing him with clothes and an education, this is altruism at its best — or is there an ulterior motive? A prestigious football scholarship is at stake.
This fish-out-of-water tale has plenty of heart. Success is never a foregone conclusion. Tight scripting earnt this flick an Oscar nom for best screenplay, Bullock herself won Best Actress for her subtle, humane, and convincing portrayal.
P.S. I Love You is a rom-com based on a quirky and compelling idea. A terminally ill husband arranges ten surprise packages to be delivered to his wife in the months after his death. Think: posthumous and vicarious Bucket List.
Great idea, some genuinely moving sequences — all utterly undermined by the fundamental unbelievability of the acting and set-pieces. The husband’s better-than-Ed-Sheeran serenade is a stand-out moment of absurdity. And the kooky humour’s far less charming and funny than it thinks.
An odd film: I cried, and reached for the zapper. Coulda been great, but unbelievability and misplaced zaniness ruin it.
Fire in the Sky is the 1993 screen depiction of the 1975 alleged alien abduction of lumberjack Travis Walton while out working with his crew. A slowburn, the film is notable for its focus. Rather than gratuitious shots of ETs, the drama revolves around how the disappearance of a local man affects a small town. His crew are villified as murderers, and mob tyranny ruins their lives as the towns tears itself apart.
This film seared itself into my memory as a kid. The petrol station scene (I won’t ruin it) genuinely disturbed me. And the tension throughout builds to that sequence: the single most believable portrayal of an alien abduction I have ever seen. As utterly convincing, visually impressive, and skin-crawlingly disturbing as it was when I saw it some twenty-odd years ago.
But was he abducted? Some have criticised the ambiguity of the film: it never gives us a clear yes-no answer. But I think this is the feature’s strength. The picture’s concern is how people cope with traumatic situations.
Still so fresh. Please give it a watch on Netflix.
Under the Shadow (2016) depicts a mother and daughter struggling to maintain a normal life in war-torn 1980s Tehran. After their father and husband is conscripted, Iraqi bombs start raining down. In a visually striking moment, one bomb lodges in the building’s roof: it doesn’t explode, but it seems to bring a mysterious evil with it that begins to tear the family apart.
This BAFTA award-winning horror has long been on my “must watch” list. Sadly, I’m no longer a freeloading undergraduate with cash and time to spare, so I couldn’t catch it at the cinema. Luckily, Netflix bought it — a surefire sign that the film was gold — and I got to watch it this weekend.
Called an “Iranian Babadook” due to its slow build and psychological horror element, this film holds a 7.0 on IMDB and 98% fresh on RottenTomatoes — rarely heard of scores for a horror. Foreign language? Check. Original setting? Check. Social commentary? Check. Mark Kermode approved? Check. It’s everything that a latte-supping cosmopolitan liberal like myself should love. And how I wanted to love it. But this was the single-handed most disappointing film experience I have had in years.
Where The Babadook was a nerve-shredding slowburn, Under the Shadow was just a patience-shredding slow. 82 minutes never felt so long. The film wasn’t awful: jaunts to the basement bomb shelter were creepy, the sound design was at times deeply unsettling, and the evil presence was original and truly scary. But unlike The Babadook which nigh-on perfectly balanced psychological terror, monster scares, and possible mental breakdown in a is-it-isn’t-it-real stylee, Under the Shadow just felt like a going-nowhere social commentary on the state of women in post-revolutionary Iran with a bit of bump-in-the-night thrown in. Tension wasn’t maintained, the film didn’t feel like it was headed anywhere, and our mother and daughter, strangely, never truly seem imperilled by the menacing presence. The picture juggles several themes, yet never delivers on any of them. Smaller productions often suffer from fewer rewrites, Under the Shadow is no exception: this is a screenplay crying out for another round or two of redrafting. It never fulfills the ample potential it hints at.
However, the acting, direction, clever construction, and originality save the film somewhat. Memorable, note-worthy, but sadly Under the Shadow just doesn’t hang together.
Under the Shadow (2016) sees a mother struggle to maintain a normal family life in war-torn 1980s Tehran amidst Iraqi bombs and a mysterious evil presence.
BAFTA award-winning, foreign language, original setting, social commentary, Mark Kermode-approved: everything a latte-supping cosmopolitan liberal like myself loves. Yet this Iranian The Babadook doesn’t quite work.
Where Babadook was a nerve-shredding slowburn, Under the Shadow was just a patience-shredding slow. Babbadook‘s is-it-isn’t-it-real psychological terror has been replaced with going-nowhere social commentary on feminism in post-revolutionary Iran. A truly scary “monster” and creepy apartment building can’t hide the lack of focus or peril. Disappointing.
In this post, I wanna share how I became a dedicated Star Trek fan.
Ever since I heard that a new Star Trek series (Star Trek: Discovery) was definitely for real actually happening, to be released this year, I’ve been super hyped and also a bit scared — what if it doesn’t live up to my hopes?
As you can tell, I’m a massive Trekkie… Or Trekker… whatever, I don’t care, but that’s for another post. In this post, I wanna share how I became a dedicated Star Trek fan.
I was born in 1984. When I was a kid, back in the dark days when the UK only had four channels and we heard mythical stories about how in America they had FORTY, the replays of the original Trekwere always on the telly at weekends. But I never paid attention. It was just another rubbishy show from the ’60s. It barely registered in my consciousness. I much preferred Land of the Giants(!)
Fast forward to age nine-ish. Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Trek reboot, had been running for several years and still I didn’t notice. And then one day, a season five episode came on: Cause and Effect. It involves the Starship Enterprise being stuck in a timeloop; the same catastrophe-tainted day keeps repeating itself. Think sci-fi horror version of Groundhog Day, or the film Triangle, but in space, and with dodgier make-up and production values.
I won’t ruin the episode for you. Check it out on Netflix! But it marks the sort of intelligent, mind-bending stories that were par for the course in Trek. Every time a new mindbender or time-travel flick comes out, like Looper, I love it. But I always refer people to Trek.
If you’re new to Star Trek, here’s a few more episodes you might want to take a look at (all currently available on Netflix):
The Visitor (Deep Space Nine, series 4 episode 2): another great time-travel episode.
Hard Time (Deep Space Nine, series 4 episode 18): the psychology of guilt and suffering.
In The Pale Moonlight (Deep Space Nine, series 6 episode 19): the hardship of keeping your principles in war.
Trials and Tribble-ations (Deep Space Nine, series 5 episode 6): a good example of the lighter-hearted side of Trek, which pays homage to the original series with some neat special effects.
Sadly, no matter how I wax lyrical about the virtues of Trek, nobody’s buying it. The rubber ears, the dodgy acting, the huge number of episodes where, yes, nothing really happens. Sadly, TV has moved on. There is no Trek that fits modern conventions. For example, series are now limited to around ten episodes a season, there are no “one-off” episodes, and it’s all about moving the plot forward. The closest Trek came to this, and arguably it was instrumental in pre-empting the current trend, was the Dominion War story arc from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (my favourite incarnation of Trek, for what it’s worth).
But now with Star Trek: Discovery, I hope a new Trek for a new televisual era will be born, a Trek that captures the imagination of the young as much as the new Star Wars films have, as much as that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation captured mine some twenty plus years ago.