Film Review – Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

*Possible Spoilers Ahead*

Denis Villeneuve has gone from strength to strength since he started making films regularly in the late 2000’s. He is a director who clearly has mastery over both story and imagery and I’m quite positive he has many more brilliant films to come. But when all is said and done, we might look back at Blade Runner 2049 as the best work he ever did. It’s that good. Not just as a sequel to an iconic film or as a sci-fi, this is an astonishing achievement all by itself.

Where to begin…

Let’s go with the visuals. Most praise for the film has been focused here and it is wholeheartedly deserved. Part gloomy neo-noir and part dazzling techno punk, it is very much in the same world as its similarly visually spectacular predecessor. I am as big a Roger Deakins fan boy as you get so I’ll just say that I agree with all the praise he has received for his work here. I don’t think he’ll ever top The Assassination of Jesse James, but he’s certainly tried his best to do so with this.

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But Deakins shouldn’t get all the praise here. Villeneuve has clearly set out to enrich the screen in true Blade Runner style, and the world building on display is a treat to behold. This is a gritty, broken world, filled with unsavory characters and very little hope, on the outside at least. But Villeneuve brings with him not only an understanding of what the world looks like and the ability to make it so, but a grasp on the humanity that is required to make the story worth following. Villeneuve has shown his gift for shining a light on the human emotion and empathy in his films, but it has never been more obvious than here, where it is forced to battle through the ominous doom and gloom that blankets the film.

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There is also the obvious irony of a film about replicants of humans displaying so much human emotion. Part of this is down to the writing. Besides Jared Leto’s villainous Wallace, all characters come across as three-dimensional and well-rounded. Throughout all the beats of what can be (far too simply) boiled down to as a detective caper, there is that question being asked that is so key to the Blade Runner world- what is it to be human? The humans want to maintain their hold on the world, the replicants want to more fully belong. The world was so cleanly established in Blade Runner, and so beautifully connected here, that the issue of replicants trying to find meaning and separate themselves from just being tools, becomes an area of surprising pathos.

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and the acting. Ryan Gosling’s K, the replicant “blade runner” who works for the LAPD hunting down older rogue replicants, is the protagonist and the film’s emotional core. Though he first comes across as robotic, gradually we see a child-like desire to love and be loved, to have actual memories and dreams and to come from somewhere. While the criticisms that he is revisiting his Drive character are not completely unfounded, there is far more going on here. His K goes through a range of emotions both imagined and real, and the restraint he shows not to take the character out of his foundation as a replicant is something only an actor as strong as Gosling can achieve.

That’s not at all to say this is a one-man show. Harrison Ford, returning as Deckard, aged and somewhat softened by time, has maybe never been better than he is he. He is Deckard through and through, but one that has clearly lived through a lot since we last saw him, and changes in his manner perfectly reflect this. As mentioned, Leto has the film’s weakest character to work with, but he still does an admirable job. His genius creator Wallace exudes a genuine menace and Leto does command the screen when involved. Robin Wright and Mackenzie Davis both get a good amount to do and while neither stand out, they make sure their characters aren’t just by-the-numbers in the background. Dave Bautista, in a role where his physique isn’t the focus, has a brilliant cameo at the beginning of the film as a replicant K needs to take down. With just a matter of minutes to make an impact, Bautista tells the story of a man with a hell of a story who knows he’s at the end of the line.

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But the two stand-outs are the two who were most at risk of being sidelined as token female characters. Joi, played by Cuban actress Ana de Armas, is K’s perfect virtual girlfriend, full of encouraging words and advice. Sensual yet vulnerable, de Armas plays Joi as if she is a recording of an actual person, someone with a long and real connection with K. It demands a strong faith in the technology from the audience, but considering K himself isn’t “real”, it’s not much of a stretch. Joi could even be seen as an extension of Blade Runner’s Rachel; she is not as advanced in terms of technology, but the bond that she and K have formed cannot be immediately dismissed as unearned. There is even a “syncing sex scene”, involving Joi, K and Davis’ escort Mariette, which while strange, doesn’t ring false due to the connection established between de Armas and Gosling.

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The other is Wallace’s henchwoman Luv, played by another little known actress Sylvia Hoeks. Ostensibly, Luv is the muscle, a physically enhanced replicant who does a lot of Wallace’s dirty work. But as portrayed by Hoeks, we get the sense she is so much more. There is something bubbling underneath the surface, perhaps a desire to live a real life as a real person, that is only barely contained. It’s a performance that works so well because of what isn’t spelled out, because of what Hoeks is forced to show with just subtle changes in her facial expression and voice. It is a good character for an actress to work with, but Hoeks’ nuance really take her to another level.

I watched the film with the Dolby Atmos sound system so it was basically impossible to avoid the impact of sound on 2049. Sound is a major part of the world Villeneuve has created, and it plays a major role in the immersion of the audience, particularly in my case. It is at times a little overpowering, but the sound is such a significant factor that even the absence of it serves as a hugely effective choice. After using Johann Johannsson for his previous 3 films, Villeneuve decided to bring in the partnership of Hans Zimmer and Benjamine Wallfisch, who were coming off working together on 2016’s Hidden Figures. This is a whole new ball-game here though, and their sort of Vangelis tribute as a mostly excellent piece of work.

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While completely outweighed by the positives in my eyes, the film does have a few negatives. The languid pace is undeniable, and will be the major reason the film doesn’t return a significant box office. The film is over two and a half hours long, and while I could have personally spent another hour in this world, it’s hard to argue it could’ve been trimmed down a little for a wider audience. There is a stretch of about an hour where very little action happens and if you aren’t already on board with the story and the film in general, it will probably lose you here. There is also a fair bit of expository dialogue from the Leto, Armas and Wright’s  characters that is completely unnecessary. The story is expertly told without it and it only serves to diminish their characters’ impact.

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Blade Runner 2049 is an immersive and awe-inspiring cinematic experience that not only does justice to its predecessor, but expands upon and enhances the original, with a little bit of embellishment on top. It is an all-round top-level production that introduces us to a couple of talented, mostly unknown cast members and does nothing but enhance the reputation of the likes of Roger Deakins and Ryan Gosling. But above all, it stamps Denis Villeneuve as possibly the preeminent film-maker working today and sets the bar very high for those trying to keep pace.

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The Deadliest Awards 2016 – Part Two

Part Two of my best of 2016 focuses on the more over-looked parts of films such as laughs, tears, music and specific scenes and moments.

*Spoilers*

Best Shot

3rd – Doctor Strange (DP- Ben Davis)

Doctor Strange

A year filled with visually outstanding films but in an effort to avoid Moonlight and La La Land separation, I’m going to think outside the box here. A solid but un-spectacular Marvel Cinematic entry, Doctor Strange is their first venture into the realm of mystic arts and subsequently, there is some pretty trippy visuals. The face-off with Dormammu is close, but this shot of Strange shadowed amongst the shimmering colours of the Dark Dimension is slightly more interesting.

2nd – Hell or High Water (DP- Giles Nuttgens)

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Despite just being a nice shot filmed during the magic hour, this is an important moment for the story. There is a hell of a lot of water under the bridge between these two brothers but at the end of the day, that’s just what they are, and the family element of the film is key to understanding motive and intent.

1st – Arrival (Bradford Young)

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There are several terrific shots of the communication area in Arrival, but this is the one I keep returning to. The humans at the far right with that vast space of dark emptiness with just a hint of light at the end- it sums up the uncertainty, the journey and the hope that Arrival is built on.

Best Musical Moment

3rd – Star Trek – Sabotage

A nice throwback to the first film and while I’m not a Beastie Boys fan, I can get on board with Sabotage.

2nd – Sing Street – The Riddle of the Model

The costumes, the makeup, the dancing, the storyline and the acting- a brilliantly endearing amateurish music video.

1st – La La Land – City of Stars

Yes, back to La La Land, but I didn’t have much choice on this one. The clear number one pick because really – who hasn’t been humming it for the past 10 months straight?

Best Tearjerkers Moments

3rd – Arrival – The “flashback” revelation

The apparent flashbacks throughout Arrival offer very little in way of advancing the story or our understanding of Amy Adam’s motives. Or so we thought. The twist that shows us they are actually flash forwards places the film in a whole new light and adds an emotional layer I for one didn’t expect.

2nd – Moonlight – “You’re the only man that’s ever touched me”

Once again, apologies for going back to one of the big guns. But this line, the lead in and the following long hug, are so powerfully moving that it had to feature.

1st – Manchester By the Sea – Lee and Randi run into each other

In a film teeming with moments that could make the darkest souls shed a tear, this one surely takes the cake. Years after tragedy tore them apart, Lee and Randi are two broken people trying to carry on with life as best they can. Seeing Lee stirs up all the old emotions in Randi where as he isn’t even close to repairing enough to even have lunch with her. It’s an absolute gut-punch of a scene and Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck knock it out of the park.

Best Terrible Performance

3rd – Jesse Eisenberg (Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice)

No one came out of this one looking particularly good, but Eisenberg’s misjudged Lex Luthor surely takes the cake.

2nd – Forest Whitaker (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)

He’s forged a pretty solid career out of overacting, but Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera, stupid voice and all, stands out like a sore thumb in Gareth Edwards pared down Star Wars entry.

1st – Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad)

Wonder Woman has gone some way to salvaging the DC film universe, but 2016 very nearly ruined them. Suicide Squad was enjoyable for all the wrong reasons, but Delevingne’s absolutely ridiculous Enchantress was just flat out bad.

Best Ending

3rd – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Whilst it still contains some of the eternal optimism so entrenched in Star Wars film history, the death of Jyn and Cassian is a somewhat unexpected and thus powerful moment. This is followed by Darth Vadar being absolutely awesome and Princess Leia appearing to tie the film into the originals. Great stuff.

2nd – La La Land

This sequence moves from sparkly fantasy through to stark realism, a reflection of the film as a whole, and the journey the two main characters have been through. A masterclass from Chazelle.

1st – Moonlight

As much as I’ve tried avoiding continually going back to Moonlight and La La Land, I’m just finding it too hard. They are the best two films of the year and fittingly, have the best two final scenes. Moonlight is a moving film all the way through, but the ending, with an adult Chiron revealing to Kevin that their childhood fling remains the only time he has ever been intimate with someone, is quietly devastating. This is followed by the two sitting down and Kevin simply holding Chiron. Finally, the youngest version of Chiron stands on the beach looking at the waves at night, then looks back directly into the camera. A brilliant end to a brilliant film.

 

Feel free to comment on these awards, your own or any more you’d like to hear my opinions on!

Review Round Up – September/October 2017

After a very quiet month, I got stuck into a number of recently released films (as well as a rematch of the masterpiece The Silence of the Lambs) and here are my short and sweet reviews.

The Founder (2016)

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Nothing remarkable here but with a strong performance from Michael Keaton this tale of how McDonalds became one of the world’s most well-known companies is satisfying enough.  The protagonist’s shift into the antagonist isn’t as natural as it could’ve been and the film doesn’t seem to know which one it wants him to be, but The Founder does a decent job of highlighting capitalism and one of the early ruthless types who currently rule our world.

Grade: C+

Sully

Sully

The story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger landing US Airlines Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in 2009 is not only widely known, but it has a happy ending. As a result, a film about these events faced an uphill battle to deliver anything with any semblance of suspense or thrill. Clint Eastwood manages to do just that by focusing his film on the man involved and issues of heroism and legacy. Just as it does in the plot, the “human factor” plays a major role in the film’s success. Tom Hanks is characteristically excellent, giving Sully the man not only dignity and strength but some real emotional depth. Even knowing the ending, being able to see Sully as a human being dealing with a major event in his life and all it means to him, gives the film a gravity I didn’t expect.

Grade: B

Hidden Figures

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Racial and gender inequality is not a new issue in film, but even so, seeing things like separate drinking fountains for black and white people still does, or should, shock a modern day audience. Hidden Figures adds an extra bit of spice to the issue by involving space exploration, seen by the majority of people as a wondrous and worthy area populated by our best and brightest. Set during the peak of the space race in the early 1960’s, Hidden Figures features three brilliant minds at NASA who just happen to be female and African-American. The way these women break through boundaries and achieve what few of any race or gender are capable of, is inspiring. The film knows what its audience is and plays to them, but that in no way diminishes how effective it ultimately is. The three women are played with sincerity and poignancy by Taraji P. Hensen, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, and amongst others, Kevin Costner relishes a role where he gets to show how progressive he is. Don’t go in expecting your world to change, but if you don’t come out moved and inspired, there’s something wrong with you.

Grade: A-

A Ghost Story (2017)

At first, I thought A Ghost Story was a painfully slow, highly unusual concept film. But by the time the film was over, I had completely changed my tune. This is a quite emotional look at universal themes of love, loss, grief, time and memory, through the very unique view of a ghost. Said ghost, played by Casey Affleck, is literally a man under a bed sheet. While jarring and silly at first, the ghost eventually conveys both power and vulnerability. This is really not a film that can be described in a few sentences (and so I shall do a full review down the track), nor is it for everyone, but if you’re in the mood for an emotive and spiritual slow burner, I highly recommend A Ghost Story.

Grade: A-

Game of Thrones Review – Season 7 Episode 7

Episode 7 – The Dragon and the Wolf

King’s Landing

As the big meeting draws near, Jaime and Bronn discuss penises on the walls of King’s Landing. On the way to the Dragonpit there are some more happy reunions. Bronn and Tyrion trade some barbs then some niceties, before Podrick gets his own nice moment with his former boss. Brienne and The Hound trump all the other reunions as they discuss their big fight and how far Arya has come.

At the Dragonpit, Daenerys leaves everyone awkwardly waiting before flying in on Drogon, because she is the star of the show. Another, not-so-nice, reunion takes place with the Clegane brothers facing off. It looks like the long-awaited Cleganebowl is about to kick off but Sandor tells his older brother that he “knows who’s coming for him, he’s always known”. We however, have absolutely no idea. Euron grabs the mic and says some really horrible stuff, challenging Theon, threatening Yara and bullying Tyrion about his dwarfism. Jaime tells him to pipe down but it takes Cersei to stop the wanker from running his mouth.

Getting down to business, Tyrion and Daenerys make their pitches before Jon steps up for the big closing argument. His involves props, Sandor dragging the captive wight out and letting him out of his box. It charges straight for Cersei but is yanked back by the Hound just before reaching her. Cersei does briefly look legitimately terrified. The Hound slices the wight in two but it keeps attacking. Jon burns its hand and uses a dragon glass dagger to finish it off, demonstrating the only two methods of stopping the undead. The show and tell seems to have worked quite well, with Jaime and Euron being terrified, the latter pissing off with his ships.

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Cersei then offers a deal; she will call a ceasefire until the Army of the Dead is finished, provided Jon agrees to the truce, calls her his queen and stays out of any fighting between her and Daenerys. Jon being Jon, can’t even pretend to agree to this, and Cersei storms off, ending the parlay. Brienne makes a desperate effort to get Jaime to convince Cersei to reconsider but he hasn’t really seen Brienne in a while and doesn’t give her much.

Both Tyrion and Daenerys chastise Jon for his inability to lie for the benefit of humankind. Jon retorts someone needs to tell the truth, using Ned Stark’s dying for his own honour as a reason to do so. Stark logic. Tyrion decides to take things into his own hands and meet with Cersei one on one. The two siblings are barely civil with each other, Cersei blaming Tyrion for not only her father’s death, but the deaths of her children. Tyrion challenges Cersei to end him right there and then. She doesn’t, so he gets on the piss. Tyrion realises that Cersei is pregnant and sees an in for negotiations.

Dany and Jon have a quiet moment at the pit, Jon challenging Dany’s alleged infertility. They are interrupted by the Lannisters returning, Tyrion seemingly successful in changing Cersei’s mind. She declares her army will not only not attack Dany’s while they are taking on the undead, she will join hers to their and take on the wights together. You beauty.

In the map room Jaime, pleased with being able to fight the good fight, starts getting to work. Cersei interrupts Jaimes, calls him stupid and informs him she was lying about joining forces. She intends for Daenerys and the others to fight the undead herself, before swooping in with her own army to clean up afterwards. She also tells him Euron was also lying, and he is sailing to Essos to bring the Golden Company over to Westeros to fight for her. Jaime is pissed, and makes one final attempt at reasoning with Cersei. She is completely dismissive and Jaime finally sees her for what she is. He goes to storm off, to fight with Daenerys, Jon and Tyrion, against the real enemy, but The Mountain blocks his way. After a few tense moments, Jaime calls his sister’s bluff and leaves. As he rides off, snow begins to fall all through King’s Landing.

Winterfell

Sansa discusses the potential threat of Arya with Littlefinger. He is licking his lips as he continues to manipulate Sansa against her sister. Sansa decides she has to do something about it, much to Littlefinger’s delight. They gather in the Hall, Sansa and Bran seated and surrounded by Northerners and the might of the Vale. They bring Arya in and Sansa begins to question her and talk about justice. She mentions all the crimes committed against her and her family before turning to Littlefinger and asks how he answers these charges. Oh shit! Sansa reveals all, including the murder of Lysa Arryn and responsibility for the execution of Ned Stark. Shout out to Bran for the inside info. Littlefinger falls to his knees and begs for his life, professing his love for Catelyn and Sansa. It’s really quite sweet and pathetic, but Arya ends the good times with a slice to his grovelling throat.

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Sam and Gilly arrive at Winterfell and Bran, glad to have a fellow nerd around, invites Sam for a chat. Bran, not done with revealing all Baelish’s secrets, blabs to Sam about Jon’s parentage. Sam, proving he can whinge and listen at the same time, recalls the information Gilly uncovered at the Citadel about Rhaegar annulling his marriage to Elia Martell. With this info, Bran is able to see the very moment this happens, with the very Viserysy Rhaegar legitimately marrying Lyanna Stark. He then sees more of the Tower of Joy, with Lyanna telling young Ned to look after her son, who she calls Aegon Targaryen. Yes that’s right, Rhaegar named both his sons Aegon. Bran realises the entire Rebellion and reign of Robert Baratheon, plus Jon’s life so far, have been entirely built on a lie.

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Narrow Sea

At the team meeting following the supposedly successful parlay, Daenerys and the gang discuss how they are to Winterfell. Jorah suggests flying there on her dragons to avoid any potential Northerners wishing her ill-will. Jon counters that she must sail with him so they can see her as his Queen and ally. She goes with Jon’s advice and Jorah makes jealous faces.

Back on land, Theon confronts the Ironborn who rescued him. He says they must go rescue Yara but Brendan Cowell (not Euron) shuts him down. Theon shows a bit of fight, gets beat up a fair bit, but finally finds a use for lack of genitalia and puts Cowell down. Theon bathes in the salty sea, embracing his heritage, then takes control of the Ironborn and sets off to rescue his sister.

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Back on the boat, Jon knocks on Daenerys’ door. Tyrion watches as she lets him inside, looking none too pleased with what’s about to happen, for what reason it is not clear. Inside, Jon and Dany get to it, and as is to be expected with two boring people, they have some boring sex. This scene is intercut with Bran and Sam’s discussion about Jon’s parentage, making sure we are all very clear that Jon and Dany are related.

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The Wall

Tormund and Beric are on top of the Wall when a White Walker emerges followed by the entire Undead Army. The Night’s Watch horns sound three times and when the Night’s King emerges, riding a wight-Viserion, they know they are truly stuffed. Viserion, breathing blue fire, slowly but surely scorches a hole into the Wall and after thousands of years it comes down. The Army march through the breach and into the Seven Kingdoms.

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Highlights

The last few seasons have been building to this very moment; the Undead Army have arrived in the Seven Kingdoms and the real war has begun. The visual of Viserion, with the Night King atop, burning down the Wall was pretty spectacular. A lot of the parlay negotiations were quality, with The Hound and The Mountain’s confrontation being strangely satisfying. Cersei reacting and behaving exactly as we’ve all come to expect was good, as I was hoping there wouldn’t be a cop out. All the reunions were a nice touch. Theon finally getting a bit of pride back as well. Probably my biggest highlight was the resolution of the Stark sisters storyline. After over 6 seasons of highly successfully manipulating all around him, it was a little sad to see Littlefinger be fooled by a pair of Starks, but boy was I glad Arya and Sansa weren’t just being incredibly stupid in the last two episodes. The way it played was terrific too, keeping both Littlefinger and the audience guessing until the last moment.

Lowlights

Cersei reacting like Cersei highlights how stupid the capture-a-wight mission was. Jon and Dany getting together was as predictable as it gets, but there was some part of me holding out hope that it wouldn’t happen. Not sure how I feel about Jon’s real name being Aegon. Seems a bit forced, and Rhaegar had already named a son Aegon so it’s a little odd.

Overall

A strong finale filled with character moments and reveals with not too many lowlights to detract from the positives. The final scene with the Wall coming down obviously has huge implications and means season 8 is almost certainly going to get straight down to business. What Jon and Dany getting together, and Tyrion’s react to them, means for the show I don’t know, but I desperately hope we aren’t force fed a great romance story, as that is not what this is all about. Jon sacrificing himself to save Daenerys and the realm I can handle, but if they end up together ruling the Seven Kingdoms against all odds, I won’t be happy.

The Deadliest Awards – Films of 2016

With the 2017 film season about to hot up, I think it’s about time I put together my awards for 2016. There are still a few films I need to see, so there may be some changes down the track. Unfortunately The Deadlys is already taken, so we’ll make do with what’s available. With a 1st-2nd-3rd or Gold-Silver-Bronze system, I award the films of 2016 with some standard awards and some of my own. In two parts, first up are the standard awards. Without further ado:

Films of 2016

Best Film of 2016

3rd – Manchester by the Sea

Possibly the worst score of 2016, but everything else in Kenneth Lonergan’s achingly sad portrait of loss, regret and family is as good as it gets. Casey Affleck reaches a new career peak and his chemistry with impressive newcomer Lucas Hedges brings it all together. Michelle Williams does what she always does, which is never less than exceptional. Not an easy watch, forcing you to confront your own truths, but Lonergan’s writing and story-telling is of such a high level that he is able to steer clear of it just being an exercise in sadness.

2nd – Moonlight

Barry Jenkins, little known before Moonlight, delivers a film filled with such control, confidence and talent that it’s hard to believe he hasn’t been making films for decades. Jenkins is able to make a relatable story of Chiron, a young black man in Miami dealing with his own sexuality amongst a myriad of other hurdles life has dealt him. With the aid of three extraordinary performances from actors playing Chiron at different stages of his life, as well as an amazing supporting cast, Jenkins gives us one of the most quietly powerful films of recent times.

1st – La La Land

Damien Chazelle’s magical modern day musical benefits from my previous lack of appreciation for musicals and the low expectations I had. But it didn’t just exceed expectations, it blew them and me away. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are luminous and bounce off each other perfectly. The Los Angeles depicted is full of life, day and night, and perfectly heightens the films themes. These themes- ambition, nostalgia, identity- make La La Land more than just a pretty film. There is heart here, a transition from dreams and goals to adulthood that haunts almost all millennials. Moonlight get the golden statue but La La Land gets the nod for me, just.

Best Director

3rd – Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)

Working off his own script, Lonergan manages to make a story filled with sadness into a film filled with life. Through tragedy life does go on, and Lonergan’s film does an excellent job of demonstrating this.

2nd – Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

A change of order here, but it’s really a toss of the coin. In just his second film, Chazelle is able to produce not only a wonderful spectacle, but an adult and engaging story as well. The juxtaposition of fantasy and realism is pulled off perfectly.

1st – Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

To make such a specific issue in such a specific place not only accessible but relatable to a wider audience takes a great deal of skill. Combine that with the performances he is able to get out of child actors and the magnificent visual spectacle that Moonlight is, and Jenkins is my deserved winner.

Best Actress

3rd – Kate Beckinsale (Love & Friendship)

A charismatic and witty performance with comedic timing that I didn’t know she was capable of. It’s a minor film and the quirky humour isn’t typically awards-bait, but the Deadliest Awards are a little different.

2nd – Emma Stone (La La Land)

She was almost home but caught on the line. Full of life and light, her aspiring actor Mia is easy to root for due to Stone’s charming performance.

1st – Natalie Portman (Jackie)

Forget about the accent and the styling, Portman nails this role through sheer acting ability. She is able to add layers to one of history’s most well-known figures and completely dominates the film.

Best Actor

3rd – Ryan Gosling (La La Land)

Is sometimes pushed into the shadow next to Emma Stone, but overall he is able to shine through. Nostalgic to the point of pretension, his Sebastian is ultimately an endearing figure and his face at the bittersweet end is the image of the film

2nd – Ryan Gosling (The Nice Guys)

In a big year for Gosling, this was the most enjoyable performance of the year and in my view, his best. Showing spot on timing and a talent for physical comedy that we have previously only seen glimpses of, he plays against type and helps make The Nice Guys one of the films of the year.

1st – Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)

The clear and obvious choice. It’s the kind of lived-in, melancholy performance that Affleck specializes in, but he’s never done it better than this. He gets aided by a terrific script and supporting cast, but it really doesn’t get better than this.

Best Supporting Actress

3rd – Angourie Rice (The Nice Guys)

A star-making turn from the young Aussie as Ryan Gosling’s precocious and put-upon daughter. Rice shows naturalism and a talent for comedy in her first major film role, and surely just a sign of things to come.

2nd – Kirin Kiki (After the Storm)

Speaking of naturalism, Kiki, an actress I have only ever seen in Koreeda films, is as natural on screen as it gets. Not as meaty a role as she gets in Still Walking, Kiki is none the less effective as the mother well aware of her changing place in the world.

1st – Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea)

In a highly emotional role, an actress was required who could pull off material far beyond what most people are capable of. Williams was the obvious and perfect choice, an actress of ability and maturity who also happens to have faced her own personal tragedies. She sweeps into the film, leaves us all emotionally wrecked, then off she goes.

Best Supporting Actor

3rd – Jack Reynor  (Sing Street)

In what could’ve been a throwaway part as the big brother, Reynor manages to stand out as the most memorable performance in the film. It is the work of an actor with plenty more to come.

2nd – Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)

Speaking of, Hedges, at just 19 years old, clearly has a huge career ahead of him. His Patrick, dealing with the death of his father, but also having to navigate adolescence and all that comes with it, is as fully formed a character as you see in films. He moves between feelings of loss, love, rejection, ambition and horniness and Hedges pulls them all off.

1st – Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

Ali, as drug-dealer Juan, sweeps through Moonlight like some sort of Jesus figure. He takes young Chiron under his wing and shows a warmth and caring completely at odds with his character’s status in the community. It’s an effortlessly commanding performance that is the clear choice as my winner.

Best Screenplay

3rd – Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

A confidently written tale of two young people trying to find their way in the world, with more depth than is first apparent. The highlight is the interplay between Sebastian and Mia, helped by the actors’ chemistry and talent.

2nd – Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water)

Stripping back the story to the very basics in order to highlight the characters involved, Sheridan manages to deliver a screenplay full of great moments and dialogue for the excellent cast.

1st – Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)

In 2000 Lonergan showed he could write about normal people in normal situations in an interesting way with You Can Count On Me. With Manchester by the Sea, the situations are a little less normal, but Lonergan still has a way of bringing it all back to Earth, and showing how real people react when faced with tragedy. Not only the strongest script of the year, but one of the best of the decade.

Best Cinematography

3rd – Giles Nuttgens (Hell of High Water)

Beautiful use of the New Mexico landscapes as well as some slick movement during chases sees the previously unknown to me Nuttgens win a prestigious Deadlies Award.

2nd – Linus Sandgren (La La Land)

Possibly the showiest of the work I considered, but Sandgren captures the dancing well and also makes excellent use of light and dark to enhance the story-telling. The open sequence also didn’t hurt.

1st – James Laxton (Moonlight)

Just a mesmerising use of colour and shade to give an already brilliant film that extra layer. I haven’t seen much of Laxton but if this is any indication, he should be going places.

Best Score

3rd – Nicholas Britell (Moonlight)

Once again, Britell’s music elevates a film that would’ve stood out on story alone, working perfectly in tandem with what Barry Jenkins is trying to show the audience.

2nd – Johan Johannsson (Arrival)

Helps give the film a sense of menace that is inevitable when dealing with extra-terrestrial life, but also the hope that the film is selling.

1st – Mica Levi (Jackie)

Besides Natalie Portman’s performance, Levi’s score is the most successful element of Jackie. Much like Arrival, there is the dwelling feeling of unease, this time due to tragedy, but it is evened out by a dignity that perfectly reflects the woman whose story we are being told.

Some additional awards will follow shortly. Feel free to comment or do your own awards in the comments section!

 

 

Game of Thrones – Season 7 – Episode 6

Things heat up big time, as the suicide mission to capture a wight kicks off.

Episode 6 – Beyond the Wall

Winterfell

Arya and Sansa are doing some reminiscing of their childhood in Winterfell, remembering some of the now all too rare nice moments. Arya then slaughters the good vibes by accusing Sansa of being responsible for their father’s death as well as a traitor to their brother Robb. Sansa runs to uncle Petyr who takes the opportunity to remind Sansa that she controls 20,000 men, loyal to her and not Jon.

Sansa receives a raven from Cersei, who requests her presence in Winterfell. Sansa decides to send Brienne, the one person truly capable and willing to defend her. Brienna even tries to leave the ever-faithful Podrick behind, but Sansa is determined to be left alone. Sansa then sneaks into Arya’s quarters where she finds her bag of faces, including Walder Frey’s. Arya threatens, intimidates and toys with her sister but ultimately, ends the show by handing her dagger to Sansa. This better end with either Littlefinger or both Stark girls dying…

Dragonstone

Daenerys and Tyrion are having a chat, with Daenerys complimenting Tyrion for not being a hero, as he doesn’t do stupid things as heroes do. She is of course forgetting his pattern of failures and poor advice throughout the entire season. But she then makes the comparisons of Khal Drogo, Jorah Mormont and Jon Snow, and Tyrion no longer seems too stupid. Tyrion then does some teasing of his own, telling Daenerys Jon has a big crush on her. Exposition wins out in favour of capable acting ability.

Things turn a bit nasty as Tyrion once again questions Daenery’s pyromaniacy. She then brings up Tyrion’s stupid plans from earlier in the season and the conversation has come full circle. Tyrion suggests Daenerys consider a succession plan but she has had a gutful of his jabbering and instead insults him a little more.

North of the Wall

The supergroup range through the snow and Gendry isn’t too happy with the cold. Tormund addresses the 300 tonne mammoth in the room- this mission isn’t too smart an idea. He then advises Jon to bend the knee to Daenerys, despite the Wildlings being pretty heavily against such acts.

There is a fair bit of banter between the gang. Jon and Jorah bond over their fathers both being good blokes and both being dead. Tormund and The Hound discuss dicks/cocks and Tormund’s infatuation with Brienne. Jon and Beric discuss resurrections. Gendry isn’t happy with Beric and Thoros because of the whole Melisandre rape incident. The good times are interrupted by an undead snow bear. Beric and Thoros are able to set the bear alight with their fire swords but it still manages to kill three randoms before mauling the crap out of Thoros. Jorah finally kills the bear with dragon glass daggers. Lucky someone thought to bring some along.

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The group come across a group of wights and one White Walker. They are seemingly outmatched by the few wights but Jon is able to kill the White Walker with Longclaw and most of the wights drop dead with his demise. One wight doesn’t die, presumably because the Walker didn’t make him, and the group are able to capture and bind him.

Predictably, as the first group of wights were obviously a ranging party, the rest of the undead army soon appear. Jon sends Gendry back to Eastwatch to call for Daenerys. The rest of the team retreat to a pile of rocks at the centre of a frozen lake, completely surrounded by thousands of wights and White Walkers. Gendry reaches Eastwatch and collapses from exhaustion, but does manage to let Davos know that they need Daenerys’ help. At Dragonstone, Daenerys has received the raven and is already donning some fierce winter fashion. Tyrion tries to convince her to leave all our heroes to die but she is having none of it.

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Back on the frozen lake, after an undeterminable time, The Hound gets a little bored and starts throwing rocks. The ice has obviously hardened enough as the rocks don’t crack it. The wights, seemingly now capable of learning and thought, now know they are able to walk on the ice and attack. Attack they do. Our supergroup are all but overwhelmed when who should arrive, mere minutes after leaving the other side of the country, but Dany to save the day. Daenerys and Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal set about scorching the masses of undead and save the day. The Night King, continually trying to top himself in badassery, grabs an ice spear and lets fly at Viserion. To his brothers’ and Daenerys’ horror, Viserion is hit and killed.

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A distraught Daenerys composes herself and tries to rescue the gang. All but Jon are now on Drogon and ready to escape, but Jon, having dragged himself out of the water, needs to show off his killer fighting skills before escaping. Instead, he is dragged underwater by some wights. The rest manage to get away, Drogon dodging The Night King’s second attempt in the javelin throw.

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Despite all the saturated fur, Jon is able to climb back out of the water. He tries pretending to be a wight to prevent another attack, but Kit Harrington can’t even pull off being Jon Snow, let alone Jon Snow being someone else, so they quickly find him out. All looks gone when boom, Deus Ex Machine Number Two aka Uncle Benjen Stark arrives to sacrifice himself to let Jon escape on his horse. Jon does make it back to the Wall and eventually the set off back to Dragonstone. Jon apologises to Daenerys for the idiotic mission causing her dragon’s death but she says she is at least glad she was able to see the Army of the Dead and now knows what needs to be done. Jon decides she will be his Queen and they share some more forced chemistry.

We end back at the scene of the battle, where the wights have managed to conjure massive chains out of thin air, go to the bottom of the lake and drag Viserion back onto land. The Night King walks up to the dead dragon, places his hand on its face and oh shit, he now has his own dragon!

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Highlights

It was a stupid, poorly conceived idea with next to no real benefit possibly coming from it, but the mission to get the wight was undoubtedly great viewing. From simple moments like Tormund and Sandor bantering to the fight on the lake and the Night King taking out Viserion, it was the kind of excitement and intensity few TV shows have ever been able to deliver. The Night King getting control of a dragon is huge for the story and we can expect the Wall to be breached next episode and the Army of the Dead finally making it into Westeros.

Lowlights

The Arya/Sansa storyline is grating and I’m not sure which outcome is even going to make me happy about it. The ignoring of established travel times, distances etc, and the predictability of the battles stink of lazy writing and are not what viewers have become accustomed to.

Overall

Gone are the days when main characters could die at any moment. Instead, we get 6 or so no-name Watchmen on the mission North, just enough for a couple to die every time a new attack happens. The show is still amazing, but the quality of the writing and the ability to surprise, since passing Martin’s writing, has gone drastically downhill. This episode was strong as it remained exciting and kept the audiences’ adrenalin pumping. Analysing it isn’t as fun, as the holes and stretches are glaring and simply not the work of a top-quality show. No one is going to stop watching at this point, but I certainly hope they tighten things up for the final season, as dragons and zombies can over paper over so many cracks.

 

 

Game of Thrones – Season 7 Review – Episode 5

Another slow episode, but still plenty to discuss…

Episode 5 – Eastwatch

The Reach

Well Jaime and Bronn are completely fine, and somehow miles away from where they entered the Blackwater. Similarly inexplicably, they are in no rush to get away, as Daenerys has seemingly no interest in hunting down and capturing the man who would be in Cersei’s eyes, the greatest prize there is. Back in the aftermath of the battle, Daenerys calls for the beaten men to join her or be burnt alive. Weirdly, it takes Drogon roaring to fully convince the majority of the men. The resisters are of course, Randyll and Dickon Tarly, who, as promised, get burnt alive. Tyrion is troubled by all the burning alive of men but what is the Queen of dragons without fire? Not to mention- Samwell Taryly, Lord of Horn Hill.

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Winterfell

Bran wargs into ravens and sees the Night King and his army marching towards Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. The Night King looks directly at Bran’s ravens and wakes him up, as the Night King has no time for such games. In the council chamber, a couple of Lords admonish Jon and try to get Sansa to take over. She finally stands up for her brother, though not enough for Arya’s liking. Arya pushes some psychopathic stuff on Sansa who is having none of it. Arya then follows Littlefinger to his chambers where she finds the scroll Sansa wrote in Season 1, asking Robb to bend the knee to Joffers. Even renowned morons Catelyn and Robb Stark had little trouble discerning Cersei’s forceful hand in Sansa’s letter, but Arya isn’t quite able to grasp this. Littlefinger, in his customary mode of shadow lurking, smiles like a pervert with a plan.

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Oldtown

Sam is having a hard time trying to convince any of the maesters at the Citadel that the Army of the Dead are anything more than a fable. He continues with his job of copying all the scrolls as Gilly casually reads aloud the game-changing piece of information that Prince Rhaegar annulled his marriage with Princess Elia of Dorne in order to marry Lyanna Stark, making Jon legitimate and the rightful heir to the throne. Stroppy Sam is too busy bitching about the mean maesters to take in the enormity of this news. He then gathers all his favourites books and with Gilly and little Sam, hotfoots it out of there.

Dragonstone and King’s Landing

Despite the above revelation, we are force-fed some more Jon-is-Targaryen foreshadowing, as Drogon allows Jon to pat him, as surely only a Targaryen would be able to. His mother is pretty excited about potentially finding a new daddy for her dragons. Jorah shows up and gets very excited himself following a hug from his Khaleesi. Jon tries to give Jorah his family’s sword back, but even Jorah knows this is dumb and refuses.

0503

They all meet after receiving Bran’s news about the Night King, and Tyrion comes up with the Stark-level stupid plan of capturing a wight and showing it to Cersei. Tyrion acknowledges that Cersei probably won’t give a toss, but Jaime will and might be able to convince her to turn her sights to the real fight. A pissing contest ensues, with Jon, Jorah and Davos all keen to go on the suicide mission.

Another bright idea sees Davos smuggle Tyrion into King’s Landing to meet with Jaime. The meeting is mostly uneventful, but a peace meeting is proposed. Davos manages to find Gendry, grown and beefy from years of rowing, and ready and willing to join the suicide squad. Gendry displays an innate high-level of skill with a war-hammer, allowing the trio’s escape. When back at Dragonstone, Jon and Gendry chide each other like smaller and lamer versions of their fathers in Season One.

Jaime puts forth the proposed alliance with Daenerys to Cersei, who is strangely responsive. She reveals to Jaime that she is pregnant with his child and doesn’t care who knows it. They hug and she threatens his life. One of history’s great romances.

Eastwatch-by-the-Sea

Davos, Jon and Jorah arrive at Eastwatch where Davos does the first sensible thing any of them have done in a while and volunteers to stay at Eastwatch. The group find another group, Tormund, Beric and The Hound, already captive there, and they form a super group. We end with the Suicide Squad heading north for their ridiculous mission.

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Highlights

The casual manner of dropping the bombshell that Jon is a legitimate Targayen was cool. Jorah getting back to Daenerys a healthy man was nice, as was the long-delayed return of Gendry. The forming of the Magnificent Seven, while unbelievably poorly conceived, is going to make for some great banter and fighting scenes.

Lowlights

After the highs of the Fields of Fire, Episode 5 just came across as really tame. I wouldn’t call it uneventful, but the numerous happenings didn’t do a whole lot to advance the story. The plot holes and complete ignorance of logistics such as travel time are beginning to become a big issue for me.

Overall

It all seems to be gearing up to a big finale next season with Jon and Daenerys being the heroes, so hopefully something comes up that disrupts the inevitability of that, even if only briefly. The upcoming Arya/Sansa feud does nothing for me, and while I am hoping it is just a ploy by the girls to trick Littlefinger, I would also be disappointed if his demise were to come at their hands after all he has done. The capture-a-wight mission is undoubtedly ridiculous, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pumped at seeing the likes of Tormund and The Hound taking on the undead. Plenty to look forward to.

Game Of Thrones – Season 7 Review – Episodes 3 and 4

The season continues its slow start with Episode 3, but does start to hit its marks towards the end. Episode 4 is top shelf Game of Thrones, with the solid story-telling back and some of the series’ best action set pieces.

Episode 3 – The Queen’s Justice

King’s Landing

Euron brings Cersei her gift and whilst grateful, she isn’t willing to reward Euron with marriage until the war is won. Euron takes out his frustrations on Jaime, saying the sort of lovely things that Euron has quickly become known for. Cersei then heads down into the dungeons and tells Ellaria and whichever remaining Sand Snake it is how they will die. It is, predictably, not particularly nice. Torture and death gets Cersei going and she forces herself onto Jaime. This good run continues for Cersei as the Iron Bank of Braavos agrees to fund her, provided she can pay back all debts within a fortnight.

Winterfell

Sansa displays some impressive leadership skills and gets Winterfell into order and prepared for the fast coming winter. Bran shows up and after 6 long years, couldn’t really give a toss about seeing Sansa again. She however, is delighted. They go to the Godswood where Bran struggles to explain the whole three-eyed raven thing. He eventually makes his point by making Sansa re-live the night Ramsey raped her. Good times.

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Oldtown

Sam is scolded for going against orders when he cured Jorah. He is “punished” by being made to make copies of old manuscripts and scrolls. I wonder if any crucial information will be revealed through this task?

Dragonstone

Jon and Davos arrive at Dragonstone for their meeting with Daenerys. Tyrion and Jon reacquaint themselves with each other. Tyrion makes it clear he and Sansa never consummated their marriage whilst Jon makes it clear he is no Stark. Laying it on thick. The dragons fly by and Jon and Davos shit themselves, much to Dany’s amusement.

Davos is pretty impressed with Missandei, the cheeky old rascal. Davos continues to impress when, following Missandei’s grand introduction for Dany and all her titles, he introduces Jon with “this is Jon Snow”.  Jon and Dany both refuse to do any bending of their knees, Jon being typically stubborn and Danaerys typically tyrannical. After this great start to negotiations, Varys arrives with the news that Yara and Ellaria have been taken captive and their fleet destroyed. The two leaders continue to go nowhere towards an agreement, until Tyrion manages to convince Dany to let Jon mine for dragonglass. Tyrion then comes up with a great plan for taking over his family home, Casterly Rock.

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Casterly Rock

The plan does in fact work perfectly, as the Unsullied easily storm Casterly Rock and quickly take control. Unfortunately, Jaime, in a nice throwback to season 1 where Robb Stark did the very same to him, has taken the bulk of the Lannister forces over to Highgarden. Also, Euron’s Ironborn sneak through and start destroying all the ships the Unsullied arrived on.

Highgarden

The Queen of Thorns Olenna Tyrell watches on as the Tyrell forces are swiftly wiped out by the Lannisters. Jaime enters her room and Olenna enquires as to how he will kill her. He pours some poison into her wine. She quickly drinks it down and with her final few moments, lets Jaime know that it was her that killed Joffrey, not Tyrion.

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Highlights

Sad to see Olenna Tyrell go, but she went out like a boss and her influence on Daenerys should be on-going. Jaime out-smarting Tyrion in strategy was a nice surprise, as was Jaime using a lesson learnt from Robb Stark. Davos owned the Dragonstone scenes, as everyone else around him threatened to put me to sleep.

Lowlights

Whilst a horrible way to go, Cersei’s slow murder of the Sands was a little tame in terms of audience impact. As did Daenerys and Jon’s first meeting, though it wasn’t without its high points. Bran’s transformation into an apathetic tree looks like it’s going to be a gruelling one for the audience, as his lack of human emotion makes it very difficult to get on board with him.

Overall

A vast improvement on the previous two episodes. Not a whole lot of action, but strong story progression and plenty of wheels really set into motion. Daenerys badly needs a win as Cersei’s team of Jaime, Euron and Randyll Tarly are proving themselves more than capable foes. The Bran plot in Winterfell is interesting, but he himself is difficult to watch. It looks like Sam might be the one to reveal to Jon his true identity, which would be fitting. No more Queen of Thorns is hardly a positive, but she was never going to make it to the end and she got a more than satisfactory final scene.

 

Episode Four – The Spoils of War

Winterfell

Littlefinger meets with Bran and tries his Littlefinger shit on him but Bran is having none of it. He quotes Littlefinger’s “Chaos is a ladder” line from season 3, which visibly unnerves Baelish, as he realises the extent of Bran’s abilities and the fact that everything he has done now has a witness. He scuttles off as Meera enters the room to inform Bran she is leaving. Bran, after his brief moment of being cool, reverts back to apathetic tree and gives Meera donuts.

Arya arrives back at Winterfell after seven long years and in another nice little throwback, is refused entry by the guards, mirroring the same problem she had back in Season 1 at King’s Landing. She finally gets through and heads for the crypts. Sansa greets her there and they have a cutesy, awkward reunion. They then meet with Bran in the Godswood. Bran says some more weird stuff then gives Arya the Valyrian dagger, which I am confident she can put to good use.

The three remaining Stark children then stroll through Winterfell and come across Brienne and Podrick sparring. Arya decides to show off her psychopath skills, impressing Brienna, concerning Sansa and making Littlefinger weaselly. Brienne asks who taught Arya these skills to which she replies “no one”, completely ignoring the existence of Syrio Forel, who taught her how to fight and influenced her path for at least 3 seasons.

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King’s Landing

Cersei learns the masses of gold from Highgarden has almost reached King’s Landing, which gets Mycroft Tycho Nestoris of the Iron Bank giddy with excitement. He promises her all the support she needs and specifically, the aid of the Essos’ largest Sellsword force, the Golden Company.

Dragonstone

Jon shows Daenerys the scores of dragonglass in the mines of Dragonstone, followed by images of the Children of the Forest, the First Men and the White Walkers carved on the walls. Daenerys accepts this very quickly, though we’re all pretty sure Jon and Davos scribbled them on there moments before. But they still can’t agree who should bend the knee to whom. Tyrion is forced to deliver more bad news to Dany after another of his crappy plans fails. Dany belittles Tyrion and accuses him of helping his family. She has had enough of the clever plans and now is the time to bring her dragons into play. Finally. Boring Jon advises against it but tyrannical, pyro Queen of Dragons is the best kind and we all know it.

Davos does a bit of teasing about Daenerys to Jon, making some more pervy-yet-endearing old man jokes. Jon’s name and parentage is brought up for the thousandth time, and they’re really just taking the piss at this point. Theon rocks up with his tail between his legs, his default mode, and Jon bullies him a little. Theon sweetly asks if Sansa is alright and Jon tells him the only reason he allows Theon to live is because of what he did for Sansa.

The Reach

The Lannister forces are moving through the Reach, and Jaime sends the shipments of gold ahead to King’s Landing. He and Bronn banter a little as they move north, securing grain supplies as they move along. They meet up with Randyll Tarly who suggest they hurry over the Blackwater river otherwise they will be vulnerable to an attack. Bronn teases Dickon a little, but no one pays much attention as we’re all distracted by how tiny his head looks in all his armour.

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They are all interrupted by a sudden rumbling vibrating through the ground. A massive army of Dothraki screamers pour over the hill, all set to cripple Jaime’s men. Jaime refuses Bronn’s suggestion that he flee, futilely saying they have a chance. His hopes are dashed when Drogon and Daenerys soar over the Dothraki and rain fire down on the Lannister Army. The Dothraki follow up the destruction with their own brutal methods of warfare and it is quickly a very one-sided battle. Lannister and Tarly archers manage to do sweet stuff all to Drogon and end up roasted. Jaime manages to do quite well with Widow’s Wail, despite his left hand clearly still not suiting him. He nearly meets his end but is saved by Dickon.

Jaime then commands Bronn to get to the giant cross-bow and take out Drogon. Easier said than done, but Bronn does get there and after unloading a giant arrow into a Dothraki he reloads and fires at the dragon. After a near miss, he tries again and manages to nail Drogon in the shoulder. Drogon is hurt but Dany manages to keep him airborne and they fire back at the cross-bow, destroying it and nearly Bronn in the process. Drogon is grounded because of his wound but the Lannisters are already well and truly stuffed. Jaime decides grabbing a spear and charging at Daenerys, who is standing RIGHT NEXT TO DROGON is the best course of action. Despite Tyrion’s pleas for his brother to pull out, he continues with his charge and of course, Drogon notices. He turns towards Jaime and opens his mouth. Just before he roars fire, Bronn leaps across and tackles Jaime into the river. We end watching Jaime as he sinks under the weight of his armour.

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Highlights

As much as I love the machinations of the politics and all the scheming and colluding that goes on for the Game of Thrones, there really is nothing cooler than a dragon unleashing streams of fire all over the “bad guys”. After three pretty tame episodes, Daenerys taking Olenna’s advice and finally using her dragons against the Lannisters was just what the series needed, even if her petulant behaviour and treatment of her advisers is off-putting.

Bran punking out Littlefinger was a great moment, and possibly the last human moment we’ll get from him. The potential involvement of the Golden Company makes things interesting for Cersei, and unfortunately for those who want to see the back of her, probably keeps her going well into the final season.

Lowlights

The sexual tension between Jon and Daenerys is boring; inevitable when you put two boring, weak actors together. I don’t mind them in terms of story, but would it kill them to show a bit of spark in the eye? Ignoring the role Syrio Forel played in shaping Arya for the sake of a one-liner was disappointing.

Overall

This was a really strong episode, with some real and meaningful character and plot development. Olenna Tyrell was built up as a great mind and someone to listen to and be careful around, and her advice to Daenerys resulted in her first significant victory in Westeros. She and Jon are quite clearly going to end up together and while I am intrigued in seeing how this plays out, the two actors make it hard. The Bran and Littlefinger scene made it clear to me that Bran will be the one to reveal Jon’s parentage and is one of many more things to look forward to.

The actual Fields of Fire was spectacularly done. Much like season 6 and the Battle of the Bastards, you can clearly see here why the first few episodes were so tame, as the expense of something like this would be extraordinary. Besides Daenerys on Drogon, there were great moments for everyone from Bronn and Jaime to Dickon, who showed why his father favours him over Sam.

Game Of Thrones – Season 7 Review – Episodes 1 & 2

With Season 7 now done and dusted, I thought I’d publish my thoughts on each episode, using notes taken as they aired. I will post a couple of episodes at a time, periodically, followed by my overall thoughts on the series and my predictions for the finale season.

Episode 1 – Dragonstone

The Riverlands

Arya starts the season off with some good old fashioned psychopathy, wearing Walder Frey’s face and eliminating his entire family in one foul swoop. She then rides South and shares some rabbit and a laugh with Ed Sheeran. Despite this being a perfect opportunity for cold-blooded killing, she leaves he and his band of Lannister soldiers alive.

The Hound is travelling with The Brotherhood Without Banners and comes across the house where he stole from and left for dead a man and his daughter in season 4. A top-knot gag is slipped in. After being coaxed by Thoros he looks into the fire and is able to see images of the Wall, Eastwatch by the Sea and an arrowhead mountain. They then bury the father and daughter and Sandor’s conscience weighs heavy on him.

Winterfell

Jon is attempting to put together an army and a collection of dragon glass. Sansa questions just about everything he says in front of everyone, mostly for good reason. Jon is too worried about the Night King to care, but Sansa is still concerned about the Cersei threat. Littlefinger is loving it and continues trying to turn everyone against everyone. Brienne does some sparring with Pod and Tormund absolutely loves it.

The Wall

The Undead Army has giants and is marching menacingly south. Bran and Meera reach the Wall and are greeted by Edd. Bran creeps Edd out a little with some insider information, in a sign of things to come with Bran and his personality disorder.

King’s Landing

Cersei and Jaime have a bit of banter. Jaime is mostly stroppy about Tommen but Cersei is all business. Euron Greyjoy and his impossibly large Iron Fleet arrive and he displays all the disgusting attributes we’ve come to love him for. Euron promises to bring Cersei a prize so great she won’t be able to resist his proposal of marriage.

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Oldtown

Sam cleans up a lot of shit, argues White Walkers with Jim Broadbent and breaks into forbidden areas of the library. He discovers that not only is there dragon glass at Dragonstone, there is absolutely shitloads of it. He quickly sends a raven to Jon with the good news before discovering the rock-armed Jorah, in the Citadel looking for a cure.

Dragonstone

Dany and her gang land on Dragonstone and she is ready to get to work.

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Highlights

In terms of plot seeing Sam make a meaningful discovery about Dragonstone was a solid start, as was The Hound seeing images beyond the Wall in the flames. It was nice to see losing her third and last child hasn’t dampened Cersei’s spirit for world domination. I don’t care for sociopath Arya much, but seeing the Freys eliminated was an essential and satisfying event. In a very slow start for the season, that was about it.

Lowlights

The Jon and Sansa exchanges are clumsy and paint neither in a great light. I don’t care that Ed Sheeran was in the show, all power to him, but the scene he was in was garbage. With just 13 episodes left in total, hearing pointless characters go on about missing their wives simply isn’t needed. Euron is the villain and the spark that is necessary to keep a few plot threads going, but boy are they trying hard to make him as bad as Joffrey and Ramsey.

Overall

Not a memorable episode but plenty to get the theorists going. The writing has really been lacking since the show well and truly passed the source material, and this episode was no exception. Too much pointless plotting by characters and poo montages, they really need to focus on the major story-lines at this point.

Episode 2 – Stormborn

Dragonstone

Daenerys meets with Tyrion and Varys and proceeds to ignore their advice, question their allegiances and threaten to burn Varys alive if he betrays her. Inspiring stuff. Melisandre arrives and tells Dany she now believes she is the “Prince who was promised”, as her Stannis prediction didn’t work out so well. Melisandre and Tyrion talk up Jon Snow and Dany agrees to invite him to Dragonstone to bend the knee.

The meeting expands to include Yara Greyjoy, Ellaria Sand and Olenna Tyrell. Lots of mixed messages and diversions of previous opinions are thrown around but in the end, Dany dismisses all but the Queen of Thorns, who advices Dany to “be a dragon”.

We then get an extended sequence of Grey Worm and Missandei expressing their fondness for each other and then having sex the only way castrated men can. Urgh.

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King’s Landing

Cersei attempts to get some noblemen including Lord Randyll Tarly to join her cause. Tarly doesn’t think Cersei can beat Daenerys’ dragons but Qyburn says he’s got a plan. Sounds exciting. Turns out to be a giant crossbow. Tarly continues to play hard to get with Jaime, citing his loyalty to the Tyrells and dislike of the Lannisters’ tactics, but we all know he will relent.

Winterfell

Jon receives the letter from Daenerys but decides the timing is not right for visits. The next letter he receives is from Sam, advising Jon of the mountains of dragon glass on Dragonstone. He is now ready for a visit. Sansa of course talks Jon down in front of all his lords until she is informed she will be in charge while he is gone. Sansa pipes down.

Littlefinger sneaks up on Jon in the crypts, and this is surely the moment Jon’s true parentage is revealed to him. Nope, Littlefinger just wants to say some creepy stuff about Catelyn and Sansa. Jon leaves Winterfell with a look at Sansa. Littlefinger weasels up and gives her his own, weasely look. Nothing could possibly go wrong here right?

Riverlands

The one and only Hot Pie makes a barnstorming return to the series, giving Arya the important breaking news that Jon Snow now holds Winterfell. After smashing her pie, Arya turns tail and heads back north, back home to Winterfell.

Arya is then surrounded by a pack of wolves. An enormous direwolf emerges from the pack and approaches Arya. Arya recognises her as Nymeria and tries to get her former wolf to return home with her. Nymeria has better things to do but Arya has a nice throwback to season 1, when Ned told her she’d marry a great lord and Arya replies “That’s not me”.

0202

Oldtown

Sam decides to take the notoriously impossible task of curing Greyscale into his own hands. Turns out he just rips all the dead skin off. It’s horrible for Jorah and not much better for the audience.

Narrow Sea

The Greyjoy fleet and their Dornish companions are travelling on the Narrow Sea aiming to lay siege to King’s Landing, as was the plan laid out in the aforementioned team meeting. Yara and Ellaria flirt and The Sand Snakes talk a fair bit of shit. Euron arrives to save or ruin the day, depending on your perspective, destroying Daenerys’ forces, killing 2 of the 3 Sand Snakes and taking Yara and Elleria prisoner. Theon goes full Reek and jumps ship, abandoning his sister. Euron lets out a big insane laugh. He’s a villain this guy, I’m pretty sure.

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Highlights

Nymeria’s return was cool, though I felt in the end it lacked the impact it should’ve had, 6 years in the making. The Queen of Thorns is always a welcome addition to an episode, and her advice for Dany to be a dragon really does seem the wisest. Littlefinger just keeps delivering with the weaselness, and his plans continue to be intriguing. Hot Pie is a ripper and thank Christ we’re all but done with the Dornish.

Lowlights

Daenerys continues to head down the Arya psychopath path and her war council seems all over the place. Qyburn’s dragon-killing device was a let-down. The giant cross-bow may very well work, but it seems more like something Joffrey would’ve come up with. The greyscale scene is fine story-wise, but it mostly came across as a cheap grab at being gross, much like the shit montage in Episode One.

Overall

A slight improvement on Episode One but still lazily written and poorly focussed. Euron’s Iron Fleet taking out Yara’s Fleet elevated the Episode, if only just to see the end of the terribly managed Dornish storylines. All in all, it’s very weak stuff by GoT standards, but with Jon on his way to Dany, Arya to Winterfell and Daenerys copping a big loss on the Narrow Sea, there is plenty to look forward to.

 

My Favourite Films of All Time

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Sometimes a film creeps up on you, where, as you’re watching it, you slowly begin to realise how much you love it. Then when it’s over, you can’t stop thinking about and just want to watch it all over again. For me, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is one such film. At around 2 and a half hours and with little rush in telling its tale, the film doesn’t seem like great re-watch material, but the story is so deeply complex and the talent on display is off the top shelf.

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It isn’t difficult to work out what the film is about- the title is every bit the spoiler it seems. It is about Jesse James and Robert Ford, and yes, Robert does “assassinate” Jesse, but that is far from the point. This is a story of idolization, heroes and the cult of celebrity; of perception versus reality; and of the consequences of one’s actions. It is an times mournful, meditative, tender and mythical look at a commanding and polarizing figure and the massive impact he had on those around him and specifically, on Robert Ford. It is a Western through and through in a visual sense- full of vast, empty landscapes and isolated, violent men- but it is a story that can very easily be transferred into the modern day where someone barely has to tell a joke on YouTube before they become a star and have people both deifying them and baying for their blood.

With just his second film (after the terrific Chopper (2000)), Aussie Andrew Dominik is in full control of what is a quietly expansive production. He has enlisted the talents of the world’s best talent- big names in their respective areas such as Brad Pitt, Roger Deakins and Nick Cave. He’s got everyone in line with the film he is making, which is more comparable with an extended version of one of Cave’s sorrowful ballads than any other film. He even employs a narrator (an excellent Hugh Ross), usually seen as a cop-out in films, a device used by lost directors who don’t know how to tell their story. Here it is just the opposite- the narration enhances an already perfectly clear vision, by adding another witness to the proceedings which results in even more melancholy. He doesn’t even seem to care that many scenes could be trimmed down to make for a more viewer-friendly run-time. It’s a quite masterful piece of work and a shame that Dominik has so scarcely worked since.

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Jesse James, beautifully described early in the piece by Ross, is played by Brad Pitt. Always a character actor in the body of a leading man, Pitt is at times completely magnetic as the infamous outlaw. He makes it extremely easy for us to see why his men follow him and why the public have a weird sense of adoration for him. The menace Pitt creates in some of his scenes is incredible, whilst his resignation to his coming fate is played to perfection. It is far from a perfect performance- when Jesse loses his temper Pitt seems to wander from the foundations he has built- but when it works, it is the best work Pitt has ever done.

The man who idolises Jesse, and ultimately takes his life, is played by Casey Affleck in a career-defining role. His performance is perfect, one of the best examples of an actor completely understanding his character and having his entire nature, his body language and the changes in his voice to suit particular moments, absolutely spot on. The character of Bob Ford is no doubt a rich one, an awkward and unusual young man, he has high hopes for himself and sees Jesse James as someone he may one day become. Affleck takes the character on quite a journey, and the moral questions posed to the audience as a result of the assassination are made all the more difficult to answer due to us getting such an intimate look into proceedings by way of Bob and Affleck.

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There are some nice little supporting performances throughout the film from the likes of the late Sam Shephard, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, Paul Schneider, Garret Dillahunt and Mary-Louise Parker. Rockwell probably gets the most to do; as Bob’s brother Charley, he is implicated in the assassination and must battle through his own moral demons. But ultimately, the film is quite clearly a duet between Bob and Jesse. It is one of the great couplings in cinema history, two enormously different men who are destined to impact each other’s lives.

The film is a visual masterpiece; in the top 3 or 4 best looking films I have ever seen. The inimitable Roger Deakins, cinematographer of films such as Fargo, No Country For Old Men and Skyfall, delivers a likely career best. The “golden hour”, just before sunset, is heavily used, as are ominous contrasts between light and dark. There are also time-lapses and an interesting use of blurred frames, as if the images of the film are moving directly off photos of the time. The famous train sequence- train tracks running through a forest are lit by lanterns as a train slowly pulls in- is unbelievable and an absolute wet dream for film photography enthusiasts.

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Nick Cave, working with frequent collaborator and Bad Seed Warren Ellis, puts his mark all over the film. The music is almost completely mournful, even funereal, yet somehow manages to not be a wet blanket over the film. Instead, it adds to the conflicting emotions and questioning of feelings that the story constantly throws up. Any time I listen to a piece for the film I am instantly taken to the scene I remember it from, a sure sign of a successful score.

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It’s a strange and wonderful film, one whose power took me by surprise. The level of film-making is simply astounding and the story-telling is not far behind. If you’re able to set your mind to a long and slow process, and absorb all the delights the film has to offer, you will be richly rewarded.