The Dance of Dragons
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is directed and written by Dean DeBlois and stars the voices of Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson, and F. Murray Abraham.
After having re-watched the first two How to Train Your Dragon films and then watching The Hidden World recently, I feel confident in finally sharing what has been my long-standing belief about the How to Train Your Dragon films and what they're really about underneath the surface: the relationship between humans and non-human animals. If we wanted to go even deeper, the argument can be made that the How to Train Your Dragon films are more specifically about the relationship between humans and dogs. Evidence for the dragons mirroring dogs is there in all three films: the dragons love to get their necks scratched the way dogs do, they love to eat "people food", and Toothless fetches Hiccup's prosthetic leg and growls when another dragon tries to take it away. It would be a lot of fun to talk about how much the dragons have always acted like dogs, but I think the argument would be more open-minded if we consider the fact that other animals, not just dogs, are capable of bonding with humans and doing goofy, adorable things.
In addition, the How to Train Your Dragon films take us through the most pivotal stages when it comes to having a non-human animal in your life, most typically as a pet. The first movie was about meeting the animal and learning how human and said animal can work together. The second movie was about growing up and going through some of life's toughest challenges with the animal at your side. The Hidden World takes on what is easily the hardest stage of all: letting go. It's sad that DreamWorks' beloved animated world of Vikings and dragons must come to an end, but with the mature and powerful way that The Hidden World closes out the trilogy, it's better that years down the road, we look back and be thankful that we ever got this magical trilogy in the first place.
One year after defeating Drago Bludvist and saving Berk, Hiccup, Toothless, and their friends continue to live in harmony, spending their days rescuing captured dragons and bringing them back to Berk. Despite these good intentions, Berk has become overstuffed with dragons. Realizing this issue, Hiccup announces that he will set out to find the "Hidden World", a place where dragons can live free from harm. Meanwhile, dragon hunter Grimmel the Grisly (Murray Abraham) teams up with a group of warlords, the latter of which have captured a white-colored, female Night Fury. Upon learning that Toothless is another living Night Fury, Grimmel decides to use the female Night Fury (dubbed as a "Light Fury") as bait in order to capture Toothless and give to the warlords.
Toothless later meets the Light Fury in the woods outside of Berk and instantly falls in love. However, the female dragon flees upon noticing Hiccup and Astrid. Hiccup and Toothless then discover dragon traps that Grimmel had laid around Berk, and after Grimmel pays a visit to Hiccup, threatening to capture Toothless, Hiccup rallies all of Berk to set out and find the Hidden World.
- The animation is superb in each of the first two How to Train Your Dragon films, but The Hidden World's animation is on a whole other level. At times, the animations is simply drop-dead gorgeous to look at, particularly the scenes in the rainbow-esque Hidden World and scenes that occur on an island that the Berkians start to settle on. The Hidden World is an explosion of colors, never distracting from the parade of dragons that are flying around. The lush-green landscapes on the new Berkian island are lovely to look at too, like a reminder of those beautiful views you'd get while going on a mountain hike. Along with being so visually attractive, The Hidden World's animation looks at times incredibly realistic. The scene that stuck out to me the most was Toothless flirting with the Light Fury on the sandy island shore. The attention to detail as Toothless is drawing lines in the sand is simply exquisite; the sand is crumbly and flies around in a way that wouldn't be feasible with any standard animation software on a normal computer. It's the best of both worlds when it comes to the animation: a standard that all animated films of 2019 should strive for.
- There's also no denying the power of the film's ending, one that ensures this is the end and that there will never be a How to Train Your Dragon 4. While I won't give away direct spoilers of how the movie ends, it is important to mention that one of the most important things about the movie is not merely that it's the end of the journey for Hiccup, Toothless, and the rest of Berk, but that there is a lesson that can only be learned when it is indeed the end: with love comes loss. The How to Train Your Dragon films have mostly been focused on the friendship between Hiccup and Toothless: how they come to know one another and how they overcome some of life's greatest challenges together. It might have been all fine and dandy had the trilogy concluded with a happily ever after in which Berk hits cloud nine: living forever in harmony with their dragons, entirely free from danger. Dean DeBlois does not settle for such a joyous ending, however, because that would not give the full timeline of the human-animal friendship. DeBlois creates a sense of completeness by having the movie end with Hiccup and his friends coming to grips that their time with the dragons is finite, and that the day will come when in which they must learn how to let go. This is getting dangerously close to direct spoilers, but it's vital to mention this all-important final step to the story, because showing that loving someone or something means having to say goodbye one day helps the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy transcend beyond being just charming animated children's films (which, let's be honest, that's what they are). Understanding the way the movie addresses letting go creates a complete picture of the commentary this trilogy has been giving on loving another, particularly a living being like a dog or cat. You can't have love without experiencing loss, and as much as it hurts when it ends, one of the bets things is looking back and knowing you were able to have that love.
- I apologize for gooping so much over the meaning of the film's ending. As mature and praiseworthy as The Hidden World's ending is, the movie is not without its flaws. For one, Grimmel is a tad disappointing as the film's human villain. A part of it is that he has to follow up on the great villain that was Drago Bludvist. Bludvist was intimidating and merciless. Grimmel, on the other hand, walks and talks like a snobby English man who thinks he's a lot more frightening than he actually is. The script doesn't seem to care a whole lot about Grimmel's desire to kill all the Night Fury's, because it gets tuned out by the budding romance between Toothless and the Light Fury, leaving poor Grimmel with hardly anything to do during the film's second act. The movie also makes the bizarre decision to have Snotlout Jorgenson (Jonah Hill) constantly propose ideas and try to sound all high and mighty among the larger group. The way I see it, it's comic relief that doesn't work.
So thus, we come to the very end of my own reviewing of the How to Train Your Dragon films. Hard to believe that this trilogy has been spaced out over the course of nearly a full decade: more than enough time to fall in love with Hiccup and Toothless' friendship, as well as enjoy the other charming characters that this trilogy has had to offer. The Hidden World says farewell to its world of Vikings and dragons with a gorgeously animated and emotionally moving final installment that signifies the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy as one of the best and most mature animated trilogies of all time. It's a trilogy where the beginning, the middle, and the end are all executed at an incredibly high level, detailing all the highs and lows of a friendship between a human and a non-human, something that everyone, not just children, can gravitate towards. Saying goodbye is never an easy thing, but twenty, thirty years down the road when we look back and continue to marvel at how wonderful the How to Train Your Dragon movies are, instead of feeling sad that this is the last time we get to see Hiccup and Toothless go on adventures together, let's be happy that DreamWorks blessed us with these amazing films, and we never have to think about how different recent animation history would be, had these films never been made.
Recommend? Yes. Be sure to have seen the previous two films.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 is directed and written by Dean DeBlois and stars the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, and Kristen Wiig, all of whom reprise their roles from How to Train Your Dragon. Cate Blanchett, Djimon Hounsou, and Kit Harington join the voice cast.
There is something very special about DreamWorks' How to Train Your Dragon 2, something that the likes of Disney, Pixar, Illumination, and Sony Animation would never even think about trying. How to Train Your Dragon 2 pushes the limits of its PG rating, and I mean pushes them to the very very edge of the top rail of the fence that divides PG and PG-13. The logical first guess of how so would be that the movie beefs up its violence by showing actual blood or have people getting burned alive. Okay, that burning alive guess might be more suited for R-rated territory, but hey, it's a movie that has fire-breathing dragons, so it has to be on the table. The correct answer as to how How to Train Your Dragon 2 tests the boundaries of PG is simply in its mature, unflinching story telling. This is not an animated movie that little kids can watch together during a Friday night sleep-over, and expect to be the adorable, visually spectacular experience that How to Train Your Dragon was. The visual spectacle is definitely there, but the newfound success that the characters enjoy in How to Train Your Dragon 2 doesn't come without some unforgettable heartache, a true kind of heartache that is quite rare among mainstream animated films nowadays.
Explaining exactly what that heartache is would mean giving away hefty spoilers, and for films as magical as the How to Train Your Dragon films, giving away spoilers to those who have yet to see them would be a crime against all of animation. If you've seen the first How to Train Your Dragon, then you can safely expect the strengths of that film to carry over into this one: gorgeous animation (with the benefit of four years of animation upgrades) and high-octane action that is as exciting to watch as it is pretty to look at. I don't need to spend more time lauding what from How to Train Your Dragon also works in How to Train Your Dragon 2; this second installment in the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy does just about everything you'd hope for in a sequel: extend upon the world established in the first installment, and at the same time, do something different.
It's definitely a different Berk since the first How to Train Your Dragon. Five years after befriending the Night Fury Toothless and helping dragons be welcomed into his home village, Hiccup is enjoying life, being with all his Viking and dragons friends, and spending time exploring uncharted lands. While on one such exploration trip with Astrid, the two discover an ice-covered fort, where they are attacked by a group of dragon-trappers. The group's leader, Eret (Harington), explains that they are capturing dragons and bringing them to a conqueror named Drago Bludvist (Hounsou), who is amassing a dragon army. Hiccup and Astrid escape the trappers and take the news of Drago back to Berk. Upon hearing the news, Stoick begins to prepare Berk for war. Hiccup, on the other hand, is convinced that he can talk Drago out of fighting a war, and so sets out with Toothless to find Drago.
- I'm actually glad to have seen How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World before doing my full review of this one, because I can say with more confidence that the darker, more serious tone is what sets this How to Train Your Dragon apart from the other two. Dean DeBlois is not afraid to show off the power of loss and death in his script, using them as driving forces behind certain characters' motivations and as a means to take the plot in a direction that isn't readily obvious at first. I don't want to say that young children should not be allowed anywhere near this film: it's that I have a hard time envisioning those same kids who all got amazed by the goofy dragons in the first film having the same kind of experience in a film that, while full of goofy dragons and goofy humor, still has room to tackle more mature themes that are more likely to strike an emotional cord in the older demographic. Honestly, I think How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the perfect movie for those who are about to enter or have already started their teenage years, because it's that point in their life where they start to see life in a more abstract way, and How to Train Your Dragon 2 very much so encourages abstract thinking. The first film thrived on humans and dragons learning to cope with one another. The second film addresses the new challenges awaiting its characters as they cross the bridge into adulthood, and for someone who is at a point in life where they themselves are learning those same sort of challenges, How to Train Your Dragon 2 is all the more appealing.
- Everyone in the voice cast is great, with a special shout-out going to Djimon Hounsou as Drago. Hounsou's booming, piercing voice does a wonderful job of injecting Drago with the life force that he needs to pass off as a villain worthy of the movie's darker tone. It's common in an animated movie for the villain to be slightly cartoonish, to have a veil of silliness to them as if it's the director's way of saying, "Hey, no worries. The villain wants to do bad things, but they're not really a bad guy." Drago is an exception to this; there is not a single drop of cartoonish buffoonery on him. He screams like a rabid animal and talks like a man that is seriously go to hurt you. The menacing aura surrounding Drago is unlike that of any other villain that DreamWorks has ever had in any of their animated features.
- The one place where How to Train Your Dragon 2 has some trouble is in its pacing, particularly near the end. The movie either doesn't give you enough time to fully soak in an emotional scene, or it keeps us in an emotional scene far longer than necessary. When it comes to the final climactic battle, the movie does next to nothing in terms of build-up, and it feels like we make a great, sudden jump from one emotional extreme to another.I get the movie wants to be fast-paced because dragons move at a fast pace, but it is a bit jarring to see characters get to where they need to go without any real idea about how much time has passed, as if the fictional world this movie takes place in is a lot smaller than it's letting on. Ah well, at least there's no way to criticize the movie for having too much "down time".
Since I typically end these sequel reviews by comparing said sequel to its predecessor, I suppose it's only fair to take on the question, "Is How to Train Your Dragon 2 better than the original?" I have no choice but to go with the cop-out answer here: it's neither better nor worse than How to Train Your Dragon, and that is a mighty achievement for a sequel, especially to one of a predecessor that is so highly regarded. How to Train Your Dragon 2 works splendidly because of its darker tone and Dean DeBlois' willingness to take mature risks with a premise that could so easily get away with being nothing more than adorable dragon entertainment. While there is still plenty here for children to enjoy, How to Train Your Dragon 2 intensifies the trilogy's more adult-oriented themes, and for a mainstream, family-oriented animation studio, that takes some dragon-sized guts right there.
Recommend? Yes. Be sure to have seen the first one.
I fight and die for your glory, oh glorious Queen
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: David Nutter
Following the ominous conclusion to "Hardhome", it would seem as if the rest of season five should dip in quality a little. That's been the trend: a particular Game of Thrones season hits its climax right around the penultimate episode, and then the season finale is...not as climactic. Season five bucks this trend a little, because there is still plenty more to get through in these final two episodes, and boy do D&D seem to be feeling extra ambitious, especially when it comes to running the risk of generating even more controversy. That's right: if you thought "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" was enough to turn people away from season five for good, then brother, you've got another thing coming in "The Dance of Dragons", an episode that, of course, isn't as good as "Hardhome" but nevertheless hurts your soul in the usual Game of Thrones fashion while continuing to bring on the awe-inspiring action.
One of "The Dance of Dragons"'s greatest strengths is also its greatest weakness: the characterization. More often than not, D&D excel at finding ways to flesh out a character's personality and put them in situations that challenge what they believe, which is why it's so fascinating to see where a character is in seasons four, five, and six versus where they were in seasons one and two. The series will always have a reputation for killing characters when you least expect them to be killed, but for those characters like Jon, Sansa, and the Lannister siblings, all of whom have been around since "Winter is Coming" they all have a clear character arc that justifies why they've been around for as long as they have. At this point, it should be pretty clear the direction that certain characters are going, and while the characterization for Arya and Jon continues to roll along nicely, things get a little bumpy here for the likes of Stannis and Ellaria.
For nearly all of season five, Arya has been training to basically shed herself completely of her identity as Arya Stark, in hopes of becoming "no one". Ever since her father was executed, Arya has had almost no sense of an identity, always travelling on the road and having nowhere to settle down and call home. She hasn't been in Winterfell for years, she hasn't participated in any of the wars involving House Stark, and she has had next to no contact with anyone who knows and serves her direct family. Having been away from her life as a Stark for so long, it makes all the sense in the world for Arya to want to embrace a whole new identity, and luckily for her, she had the House of Black and White to turn to. Everything appeared to be going swimmingly, until now, as Ser Meryn Trant surfaces in Braavos, and Arya's past comes back and whacks her square in the face. Amidst all her preparation to become "no one", Arya has still clung to one thing that still keeps her identity of Arya Stark alive: her kill list. Upon seeing Meryn Trant step out of a boat, the tug-of-war between "no one" and Arya Stark begins in her head, and, at least for now, Arya Stark is winning the war. This full-blown identity crisis is a terrific direction for D&D to take with Arya, and it will serve them well during most of season six.
I'd actually like to hold off talking about where things currently stand for Jon, because I think given what happens with Jon in the season finale, it would make for a better discussion. The Dornish story line, meanwhile, keeps finding ways to shoot itself in the foot, even as it's about to come to an end. Doran agrees to let Myrcella return home to King's Landing with Jaime and Bronn, and Ellaria doesn't take the news very well. In fact, she storms out like an angry teenager stamping their feet and screaming, "It's not fair!" If we want to be especially cruel, we could say that Ellaria has acted like an angry, rebellious teenager for this entire season. I've never take into question the acting of anyone who has ever been on Game of Thrones. It seems like D&D and everyone else in the casting crew have always had a knack for finding the absolute best talent to fill in the roles, which is why top-notch acting has always been one of the best things about Game of Thrones. Indira Varma, however, really makes a run at worst actor/actress to ever have a prominent role in Game of Thrones, because time and time again, she has not quite been able to sell the fact that Ellaria Martell is vengeful, cunning, and a character worth caring about. Now, don't get me wrong, Varma's acting, overall, is good, but it has been a bit of a struggle for her this season, especially during scenes in which she expresses her hatred for the Lannisters. It does really take you out of a scene when one of the actors/actresses looks and sounds like they're about to have a temper tantrum.
Oh, but that's small potatoes compared to what D&D have Stannis do in this episode. Stannis finally lets his pride and his desire for true power get to him, agreeing to sacrifice his own daughter so that the path to Winterfell will clear up. This is an ugly, torturous scene to watch, and not because anything execution-wise is botched. Kerry Ingram, the actress who plays Shireen, is phenomenal with her acting: her fearful expressions and high-pitched screams look and sound completely genuine and really amp up this scene's soul-crushing mood. Let's first mention that we're watching a freaking child get burned alive here. I wouldn't blame you one bit if you decided you couldn't watch any more Game of Thrones after that. What I think is the most bothersome about this scene is that it feels like Stannis reaching out to an extreme we didn't have anywhere near enough build up to. Several past scenes were dedicated to Stannis expressing how much he loved and cared for his daughter, and that, even after she was stricken with greyscale, he refused to let her die a slow and premature death. Melisandre mentioned Stannis sacrificing his daughter before, but never did we see Stannis struggle with deciding if he should sacrifice his daughter in order to progress his journey as "the chosen one", or finally decide to put his family and the well-being of his army before one major victory in battle. I actually praise D&D for actually going to the extreme of having Stannis sacrifice his daughter; especially when it came shortly after the controversial rape scene in "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken". Where I think the main issue lies is in the fact that there was not enough build-up to Stannis committing such a heinous act. I think D&D could have led up to this scene even better had Melisandre mentioned earlier to Stannis about offering a sacrifice to the Lord of Light, and follow that up with several short moments of Stannis debating what he wants to do. That, dear readers, could have made one of the most disturbing moments in television in recent years, all the more effective.
Well then, let's not keep getting bogged down in all this doom and gloom. The episode is titled, "The Dance of Dragons", so you bet your ass that an actual dragon makes a sighting. After the Sons of the Harpy disrupt the fighting ceremony in the Daznak pit, Drogon arrives and finally gives us our first real dragon action of the whole series, and man, is it satisfying. The swift wide shots of the Sons of the Harpy getting burned to death and the semi-overhead views of Drogon breathing fire give us great perspective of the action and just how deadly this grown dragon can be. Daenerys' dragons are very close to becoming full-blown fantasy weapons of mass destruction, and while poor Rhaegal and Viserion have had to spend this entire season imprisoned in a catacomb, Drogon stops by to remind us, "Hey! You can't forget about me! I'm a motherf*cking dragon!" As we watch Daenerys fly away on Drogon's back, there's a radiant sense of triumph, as if Daenerys has finally found a way to bond with her dragon after having been separate from them for so long.
It's certainly an episode with some extreme highs as well as some striking lows, but for a penultimate episode that bears the burden of being sandwiched in between "Hardhome" and the season finale, "The Dance of Dragons" is still able to function as another solid hour of Game of Thrones, providing more jaw-dropping action as well as some pretty terrific characterization, albeit with some not-so-terrific characterization too. Watching Stannis sacrifice his daughter might be a little too much for some viewers to stomach, and Ellaria Martell continues to give the Dornish plot line a harder time from being labeled as one of the weakest parts of season five. On the plus side, Arya's quest to become "no one" takes an interesting turn, and dragons are just plain awesome. It's a dragon dance that trips and fall a few times, but hey, there's definitely some fire, and how can you have dragons without fire?
Enter the Dragon
How to Train Your Dragon is directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois and is loosely based on the 2003 book of the same name by Cressida Crowell. The film stars the voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller, and Kristen Wiig.
DreamWorks Animation has been largely hit or miss in their twenty one-something years of making animated feature films. Although Shrek may forever be their definitive film in regards to studio identification, the acclaim gathered by 2010's How to Train Your Dragon has completely wiped away any and all tag lines that say something to the effect of, "From the studio that brought you Shrek." If we can conclude anything given the next ten or so years of the studio's history after How to Train Your Dragon, we might as well say that the How To Train Your Dragon trilogy is the best thing DreamWorks Animation has ever produced. The Shrek films only got worse over time, and no one seemed to get all bent out of shape about the Kung Fu Panda trilogy. Is anyone still talking about the highly acclaimed Chicken Run or Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit?
I'm not sure if I can say it's a little easier or a little harder to review How to Train Your Dragon here in 2019, when two sequels have come out and you no longer have the capability of reviewing it upon initial release. Honestly, I don't think it matters in the slightest: a great animated film is, and always will be, a great animated film, and How to Train Your Dragon is a dazzling work of action, character, screen writing, and, well duh, animation.
Taking place in the Viking village of Berk, How to Train Your Dragon tells the story of the clumsy Viking teenager named Hiccup (Baruchel), who happens to be the son of the village chieftain, Stoick the Vast (Butler). The village is constantly under attack by a swarm of dragons, and Hiccup tries to contribute by inventing and using various mechanical devices, all of which end up only making things worse. During one of the dragon attacks, Hiccup manages to shoot down a dragon claimed to be one of the deadliest breeds of dragons ever: a Night Fury. Hiccup later ventures into the woods to find the Night Fury, but instead of killing it, he lets it go free. The dragon is unable to fly away however, due to an injury to its tail. Meanwhile, Stoick and the rest of Berk make preparations to find the dragons' nest and end the dragon threat once and for all. At the same time, Hiccup befriends the Night Fury, giving it the name Toothless and creating new inventions in order to help the dragon fly again. As he spends more and more time with Toothless, Hiccup uncovers something about the dragons that may change the way of life for Berk forever.
- It's not every day that you can praise the action scenes of an animated film, but that's something I very much can do for How to Train Your Dragon. With dragons zipping through the air left and right, the action in How to Train Your Dragon is always fast and fiery, yet Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois make sure everything stays conceivable and in focus. Scenes with dragon action are executed in ways that never lose sight of how much space is involved and how characters are moving here and to. Something else that goes on in the story is that Stoick signs Hiccup up to participate in "dragon killing" classes, all of which take place in a fighting pit. The scenes of Hiccup and his peers doing their training with the dragons show off a nice mixture of POV shots and wide-scale shots to give us ideas of both what the characters are seeing through their eyes and what kind of environment that their training is taking place in.
The use of wide shots during the action is critical for making it all work. By keeping everything at a distance, it's much easier to discern the fast moving objects flying around the frame, as well obtain a clear picture of who is where. Every little thing, whether it's someone throwing an axe or a dragon spitting fire, nothing is left to chance with the shot composition during the action scenes. It's beautiful work, and the kind of execution that all action-based movies should strive to achieve.
- Being based on a series of children's books, Sanders and DeBlois must have thought it was in their best interest to make all the dragons look as cute and cuddly as possible. When you realize what the big secret about the dragons is, it makes sense to have them be designed the way they are. Unfortunately, I still found myself a tad disappointed that several of the dragons don't look at least a little bit intimidating, something that would especially benefit the early scenes of the Vikings fighting the dragons. Animated or not, a dragon is a dragon, and something that can be a destructive force of nature ought to at least look the part a little more. Basically, this is me criticizing the dragon designs. A lot of the designs look too similar in regards to the dragons' snouts, fangs, and horns, as if there are secretly only two dragon breeds: Night Fury and non-Night Fury. Toothless' design is perfect, given his relationship with Hiccup in the movie. The other dragon designs, however, leave a bit more to be desired.
So to conclude, I'm not sure how "original" my praise for How to Train Your Dragon can be, since it's been almost a full decade since this movie first hit theaters. Some of the praises are worth repeating: How to Train Your Dragon is full of heart and exciting action, and it flies to the top tier of DreamWorks' animated features. The action especially should be singled out, for the masterful way that Sanders and DeBlois put it all together. It's an animated film that offers something special to people of all ages, from kids loving the cute dragons, to older folks appreciating the true meaning of Hiccup and Toothless' budding relationship. Now with a full blown trilogy in existence, we can look back on How to Train Your Dragon and understand that a long, wonderful journey was in the works. Other animated films can have their toys, insects, mice, whatever. DreamWorks has freaking dragons. Hard to go too wrong with them.
If they get through, everyone dies
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
The Battle of Hardhome is merely mentioned in the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, with no pages dedicated to characters actually there, experiencing the battle for themselves. What no one could have imagined upon reading about that battle is that one day, it would be the backbone of one of the most thrilling and haunting episodes of television that HBO has ever produced. Since its very first scene way way back in "Winter is Coming", Game of Thrones has let it fly under the radar that The White Walkers are the ultimate threat to anyone and everyone that lives and breathes in Westeros. Not Joffrey Baratheon, not Cersei Lannister, not even Ramsay Bolton. All of them are harmless mosquitoes compared to the Night King and his ever-growing Army of the Dead. The White Walkers' appearances have been surprisingly minimal from season one up until the end of season five, but I think we can all agree Game of Thrones wouldn't stay interesting for very long if its episodes were nothing but zombie fight after zombie fight. In one incredible 20 minute action sequence, Game of Thrones delivers another large-scale battle that rivals that of "Blackwater", while also showing us just how real and just how scary the White Walker threat truly is.
It's a bit awkward trying to talk about everything that happens before Jon, Tormund, and company arrive in Hardhome, because it feels like material that came from an entirely different episode. It's not all time-wasting junk: Tyrion's two separate conversations with Daenerys give us great insight on how Daenerys intends to approach her return to Westeros: by "breaking the wheel". Daenerys has made sure to never repeat the crimes of her father, but we have seen through some other character's eyes that they realize Daenerys is fully capable of unleashing a fiery rage upon her foes, and if she somehow loses control of herself, well then, there's going to be a lot of fire and blood on their hands.
Not much can be said about Arya's story line and what's going on in King's Landing at the moment. All we see is Arya walking around as an oyster seller, while Cersei struggles to cope with her current situation. Just plot progression mostly. A lot will go down for these two in the final pair of episodes this season, so let's wait until then.
One thing left before I go full steam ahead on the Hardhome battle discussion: at long last, we can watch a scene with Sansa in it and feel somewhat happy. Her constant probing of Theon/Reek finally gets him to confess that he didn't kill Bran and Rickon back in season two. It's been a borderline hopeless journey for Sansa ever since her father was executed, and while she's become more astute after being a victim of so much verbal and physical harassment, she can finally go to sleep at night knowing someone in her family may still be alive. It may not seem like that big of a deal right now if this is your first time ever seeing "Hardhome", but knowing where the end of season five and the start of season six will take Sansa, this moment with Theon/Reek will look like a permanent change for the better.
Amazing how such optimism comes with a tidal wave of spooky despair. Once we see what unfolds at Hardhome, you might flat out stop caring about whatever else is going on in the world of Game of Thrones. The optimism from Sansa's scene actually carries over into the meeting between Jon and the wildling leaders, as Jon gives an impassioned speech about how, even if the Living can't defeat the Dead, they will at least go down fighting. The great thing about any and all Game of Thrones scenes in which a conversation involves the White Walkers is that all characters involved in said discussion put their differences aside and come to agree that, in this world where people are killing each other left and right, this is a war where they all have no choice but to fight on the same side. The White Walkers don't care if you're a wildling or a brother of the Night's Watch. If they find you, they'll kill you. Simple as that. It's a lot like how real-life people put aside their squabbles and come together in the face of a natural disaster. It' a good thing to bring up because George R.R. Martin has mentioned repeatedly that the real message behind Game of Thrones deals with climate change. People fight over politics, the economy, and other aspects of life, which all serves to distract people from something that can threaten to wipe them all out: the threat of climate change. In Game of Thrones, the people of Westeros can fight all they want over an Iron Throne, gold, territory, whatever. None of it matters. What truly matters is that when the ancient army of White Walkers has awakened, it's now all about survival.
Whew. I think I got a little carried away with that. So everything seems all well and good after Jon and the wildlings have their talk, but it all turns to shit when a giant cloud of ice begins to form over the Hardhome mountain range, and the wildlings begin to panic when they realize what's coming. I especially love the ticking clock sound that Ramin Djawadi plays over the music during this part. Time is certainly running out for the wildlings. From here is nearly twenty straight minutes of bone-chilling thrills, an absolute gem of both horror and action in any audio-visual medium. Even upon a third full viewing of this episode and the battle (okay, 'battle' is not the correct word. This is a massacre) in its entirety, I continue to marvel at how Miguel Sapochnik and company get everything right in this sequence: action, camera work, music, cinematography, editing. All of it comes together in a way that you just don't see in a normal hour of episodic television. As an added bonus, amidst all the madness that takes place in the driving snow, "Hardhome" doesn't lose sight of its story telling: Jon has a close encounter with a White Walker, managing to kill it with his Valyrian steel sword. Finally, the wights breach the main Hardhome gate, forcing Jon and company to flee back to the boats. It's heartbreaking to watch Jon look back at the wildlings who were left behind, falling one by one to the rampaging group of wights.
Oh, but it doesn't stay heartbreaking for too long, as all the screaming and fighting comes to an end, and the Night King slowly walks his way up to the front of the pier. The Night King raises his arms, and all the fallen wildlings stand back up, now as members of the Army of the Dead. No music plays, and no dialogue is spoken. All we hear is the sound of the wind, as Jon looks on and finally sees the type of threat the Living are up against. Miguel Sapochnik could not have ended the episode any better. The massacre left us battered and bruised, and with no music or dialogue to distract us, D&D finally show us why that very first scene way back in "Winter is Coming" was so important. It's not just the words of House Stark. There was some double entendre at work in the title of episode one, and now winter has finally come.
Everything that comes before the Hardhome scene in "Hardhome" really doesn't matter by the end when you see the Night King and watch him show off his powers. The conversations between Tyrion and Daenerys, Sansa's talk with Theon/Reek, and the scenes with the likes of Arya, Cersei, and Sam: I can't factor any of it into my rating of this episode. The final sequence in Hardhome is one of the most gripping and ominous sequences in recent years in television, finally exposing us to the threat of the White Walkers and why almost nothing else that happens in Game of Thrones truly matters in the long run. The series has been building up the invasion of the White Walkers since day one, and after several seasons of hiding in the shadows, they are finally here, and they're bringing one hell of a storm with them. Better get those Seven Kingdoms ready, Jon. The Long Night is coming.
1000 Ways to Die
Happy Death Day 2U is written and directed by Christopher Landon and stars Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Rachel Matthews, Ruby Modine, and Charles Aitken, all of whom return to reprise their roles from Happy Death Day. Newcomers to the cast include Suraj Sharma, Sarah Yarkin, and Steve Zissis.
There is an argument to be made for Happy Death Day not fully answering every basic question regarding its time loop concept and how the time loop ever got started. The film ended with Tree happily getting together with Carter, so had no sequel ever come out, I doubt anyone would lose sleep over how poor college girl Tree Gelbman came to be killed over and over again. Groundhog Day never fully explained how Bill Murray's character got trapped in a time loop, and, last I checked, that movie is still getting rave reviews. The point being: a sequel to Happy Death Day of course would have to give us more on how this whole time loop thing got started, and what we get turns out to be a much more involved, Back to the Future-style sci-fi story that transforms this straightforward, comedic slasher story into a bonkers, what-the-hell-is-happening journey into the unknown.
The story of Happy Death Day 2U begins on Tuesday, September 19: the day after Tree was stuck in the time loop. Carter's roommate Ryan (Phi Vu) awakens from his car and goes to work with fellow science students Samar (Sharma) and Dre (Yarkin) on his thesis project: a quantum reactor. The reactor has caused several power outages around the college, and the school dean, Bronson (Steve Zissis), will not stand for it any longer, so he has the reactor shut down and taken away. Shortly afterwards, Ryan is murdered by someone wearing the Babyface mask of the school mascot, and he awakens in his car to find the events of Tuesday the 19th repeating themselves. Ryan goes to Tree and Carter to explain his situation, and after Tree explains her experiences from Monday, September 18th, they come to the conclusion that the reactor created the time loop. Ryan tries to close the loop using the reactor, but it malfunctions and sends out an energy pulse that sends Tree back into the loop from Monday the 18th.
Tree finds out, however, that things are a little different this time around in the loop, different enough that she considers staying. Ryan proposes that Tree was not sent back in time to the previous day, but was sent to an alternate dimension. Despite some new perks in this dimension, the Babyface killer is still after Tree, and now Tree must find a way to keep the killer off her back and return home to the correct dimension.
- I suppose if there was any way to peel off the layers of a story that involved time looping, this is one way to do it. Happy Death Day 2U nearly strips itself completely of anything that can be labeled as "horror", in favor of a much more comedic tone and a moderate dosage of science fiction. Much like Happy Death Day, the extent of which the movie tries to frighten you is Tree or Ryan or whoever else walking through a dark hallway and slowly approaching a corner or another spot where Babyface might jump out. What Christopher Landon is more concerned with this time around is making things even sillier than they were before. He knows how ridiculous this alternative dimension concept can be, so instead of hammering you over the head with copious details on how it all works, he gives you just enough of an explanation on what is going on, while erasing any leftover confusion by having his characters go through the movie as if they're all thinking, "None of this makes any god damn sense, but we gotta roll with it." It's really one of the best directorial approaches that Landon can take with this concept: having fun by embracing the absurdity for what it is. Why bother trying to make the next Blade Runner or some other kind of trippy, mentally stimulating sci-fi classic when you can put your efforts towards generating some good laughs? Typically, the best science fiction movies are those that are either super smart or ludicrously funny. Landon goes for the latter, and that's what makes Happy Death Day 2U function at full capacity.
- I really hope Jessica Rothe's career takes off now that people have seen what she can do in these Happy Death Day movies. Once again, Landon challenges Rothe to display a wide range of emotions, and, like before, Rothe proves more than capable of being goofy and smiley or teary-eyed and sincere whenever the movie requires her to be. Oh yeah, and she continues to be unbelievably charming, but I don't think I need to go over that again.
- It's hard to deny that Happy Death Day 2U isn't a little derivative of the first film, mostly in how it has basically the same premise, except now we have a few extra characters, and the chain of events are shuffled around a little bit. It's also a bit disappointing that the Babyface killer now takes something of a backseat to Tree's search for getting back to her own dimension, taking away more chances the movie might have had at being gory, slasher fun. Not that the movie isn't fun with what it does. There's just not quite enough new material to make Happy Death Day 2U feel like a whole new experience that we could never get from Happy Death Day. Thankfully, it does do one thing that every sequel should do: extend upon the original film.
Putting it all together, I found Happy Death Day 2U to be just as good as Happy Death Day. The heightened comedic tone and the science fiction direction that the movie takes are welcome extensions upon the original film's concept, and Jessica Rothe is incredibly charming and fun to watch just as she was the first time around. The story doesn't do enough to fully distinguish itself from Happy Death Day's story, but that doesn't keep the film from being funny and enjoyable to watch. It's a perfectly suitable follow-up to one of the more memorable horror films in recent years, and if and when a third film is going to happen, Christopher Landon will surely make it worth our while.
Recommend? Yes. Be sure the first film's plot is fresh in your mind before you see it.
But piece by piece he unburdened himself. Let go of pride, vanity, sin.
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
It's kind of amazing just how much Game of Thrones can pack into one single episode. "The Gift" gives you a little bit of everything, and then some: action, drama, and meaningful plot developments to name a few. Not every ongoing story line is here, however: Arya takes this episode off, but we'll do some catching up with her the next time. As for everyone else that's present, it's a mad busy time of the season, as the penultimate episodes are right around the corner. "The Gift" does two things at once: deliver satisfying payoffs after build-up from previous episodes and set the stage for the events of the season finale. It's not a perfect episode, but damn those who say it isn't one of season five's best.
The weird thing about "The Gift" is that it's a very un-Game of Thrones like episode, in that one can watch what unfolds and walk away feeling...optimistic? Maybe 'optimistic' isn't the right word to use: Ramsay Bolton is still alive, and there's still an Army of the Dead waiting to invade Westeros and crush all our hopes and dreams. A better word to use would be 'cheerful', because some of our most beloved characters like Sam and Daenerys have good things happen to them, while some of the more despised characters like Cersei get some long-awaited punishment. I know how elated I felt the very first time I saw this episode some time back: Tyrion and Daenerys are two of my favorite characters, while Cersei has always been my most hated character. What more could I ask for in an episode where Tyrion and Daenerys meet, while Cersei gets locked in a dungeon?
There is far more to like than dislike in this episode, so I'll actually start off with what doesn't work so well in this episode. A nice, touching scene between Jaime and Myrcella is followed by a scene of Bronn and the Sand Snakes in the Dornish cells. Bronn nearly dies of poison, until Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers) gives him the antidote. This scene in the cells begs the question: what's the point? Why show us Bronn nearly getting killed if he just ends up surviving? There's nothing about this moment that moves anything along story-wise, other than to make us think for about half a second that a character we've come to know and love since the first season is going to die a slow and horrible death. The absolute best reason I can come up with as to why this scene matters at all is to let us know that the Sand Snakes are sneaky devils that can secretly hit you with poison. That's something we'll see again at the end of the season, so I guess Bronn secretly being poisoned counts as foreshadowing? It's not very good foreshadowing, and D&D take this as another opportunity to show off another pair of female breasts, as if Bronn dying slowly wasn't enough to hold a viewer's attention. D&D give in to some of their old habits here, and it only serves to fuel the hatred that people have towards the Dornish story line.
That's actually it in terms of not so good stuff in "The Gift". Everything else is rock solid television. The toughest thing this episode had going for itself was winning back viewers after many of them were left scarred by the ending to "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken". Sansa turns out to be doing pretty okay after her traumatizing wedding night: she even has the courage to question Ramsay on his claim to being the future Warden of the North. One of the best things about Sansa's character development has been simply how much smarter she gets over time about how things work in Westeros and why people are the way they are. Before, she was a frightened little girl who did anything and everything she had to to avoid getting hurt. Now, although she still gets tossed around like a rag doll by forces she can't control, she has become so much more adept at making the most of her current predicaments. She can't fight Ramsay or take his power away, but she can question him and find various ways to piss him off. For a child who has had to accept living without either of her parents around, she sure has found some unique ways to grow up and mature.
You would think the supposed heir to the Iron Throne Stannis Baratheon would know when a risky decision is not always a smart one. Marching towards Winterfell in the midst of an unforgiving snow-storm: anyone in their right mind would call it quits and turn back. Not Stannis, though: he will press onwards no matter how many supplies are lost nor how many horses die from the cold and snow. It may not cross your mind right away, but the truth is that this is Stannis' last chance to achieve any sort of meaningful victory and get at least one step closer to ruling the Iron Throne. No other character is grasping at straws more than him right now, and you just know there is something truly sinister afoot when Melisandre proposes that he sacrifice his own daughter in order to ensure his victory. D&D must have some steroid-induced guts if they don't mind continuing the disturbing trend that "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" started of doing horribly malevolent things to some of the series' younger characters.
Well anyway, "The Gift" wraps up with its two most significant plot happenings: Tyrion meets Daenerys, and Cersei Lannister finally getting her comeuppance. If you think about it, Daenerys Targaryen is the only person who is capable of giving Tyrion a reason to move on with his life and get back to doing what he truly loves. There's no doubt that Tyrion must have been feeling at least a little lousy after killing his father and fleeing his home country. How long would he stay happy if he tried to spend the rest of his days drinking, gambling, and visiting brothels? Tyrion has always had a knack for politics, and despite his King in Westeros being a sadistic child, he still proved he was capable of being a worthy adviser. Now here's another ruler, but this one is quite worthy of having his services. Tyrion can get back to the world he loves to be a part of, and finally, he can feel good about what he's doing. I also don't think people fully understand how important Tyrion is to Daenerys: he is the bridge that will connect her to allies in Westeros, the one that will truly motivate her to continue her quest of returning to Westeros and taking the Iron Throne. It's still a little while before we get to Daenerys sailing for Westeros, but these are very exciting times, as Daenerys now finally has one of the most famous persons from Westeros by her side. No offense to Ser Barristan Selmy: Tyrion just had the luxury of being right there, participating in the top link of Westeros' food chain.
So yeah, what better way to top two of Game of Thrones' most popular characters meeting up than to have Cersei finally have one of her own schemes work against her? Cersei has been best known for two things: her love for her children and her insatiable desire for power. She has taken every possible ploy imaginable in order to ensure that she is the one in power, and even when it seemed like the deaths of her eldest son and her father would knock her down a few pegs, she found a way to rise back up again, bringing the Faith Militant into power and stopping Margaery from influencing Tommen. What Cersei fails to take into account is that the Faith Militant is a double-edged sword: they won't tolerate the crimes that she's committed, and they'll give her the same treatment they've given everyone else that has been arrested. It seemed that sooner or later, one of Cersei's power schemes would eventually backfire on her, and, at long last, one of them goes horribly wrong. She has been one of the very few characters since the start of the series to completely avoid having something terrible happen to her, and it's so satisfying to finally watch her be rendered powerless. Knowing Cersei though, her imprisonment won't last very long.
It's worth repeating: "The Gift" is a fully loaded Game of Thrones episode that is all the more special for some truly memorable plot turns. With also enough action and character drama to spare, it's one of the most well-rounded episodes in recent memory, and the first of what is a fantastic second half stretch that will close out season five. I'm kind of bummed that the borderline pointless cell scene in Dorne keeps this episode from being a masterpiece. You would think Game of Thrones would become less and less capable of having masterpiece episodes as it gets farther and farther away from the A Song of Ice and Fire novels that are currently published. Episodes like "The Gift" should say a lot about what D&D are capable of on their own.
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee
The Sting is directed by George Roy Hill and is inspired by the real-life con brothers Fred and Charley Gondorff and a book by David Maurer titled: The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man. The film stars Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Robert Shaw.
There is hardly any variation in the types of films that have been blessed with the Academy Award for Best Picture over the decades, which is why it ought to have been a crime that a caper film like The Sting was able to snag the award in 1973. In a decade of film rampant with cynicism, the last thing on peoples' minds should have been enjoying a cheery, old-fashioned crime drama that never takes itself too seriously, one that scored big at the box office and was not only a Best Picture winner, it was an overall resounding success at the 46th Academy Awards, taking home the prizes for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay on top of winning the most coveted Oscar. Indeed, The Sting is a film that had everything going for it, despite looking like a divergent member of the 1970's greatest movie hits.
I shouldn't dismiss The Sting as an anomaly to the 70's, though. The only thing that The Sting is an anomaly to is the series of boring message pictures and sentimental romances that make up too much of the history of the Best Picture Award. In terms of the 70's, The Sting might as well be the perfect movie: it is an immensely rich blend of New Age cynicism and a dislike towards the changing of American societal values, evident through a story in which people are secretly having fun by showing how much they don't trust one another. And yet, it is a film that is constructed to look like something made during the early years of Golden Age Hollywood, with inter-title cards reminiscent of old Saturday Evening Post illustrations and a 1930's lighting style that is tweaked with just enough up-to-date mechanics in order to achieve the stylish visual look that Hill was hoping for. With so many nooks and crannies from so many different periods, it's hard not to think of The Sting as some kind of secret celebration of all these features that have come to shape the history of American cinema.
The story takes place in the late 1930's and follows a grifter named Johnny Hooker (Redford). In the opening scene, Hooker and his partner Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones) con $11,000 out of a victim. It's a haul big enough to make Luther announce his retirement and leave Hooker to continue on and learn how to pull off the "big con". Luther advises Hooker to go and meet with his old friend Henry Gondorff (Newman), who can teach him how to pull off the "big con". Unfortunately, it turns out that the victim that Hooker and Luther conned earlier secretly works for the ruthless crime boss Doyle Lonnegan (Shaw). Lonnegan has his men murder Luther, forcing Hooker to flee to Chicago. In Chicago, Hooker finds Gondorff and is able to convince him to take on the dangerous Lonnegan and help Hooker get revenge for Luther's death. The two team up with a larger crew of con artists and begin to put together a scheme so cunning, Lonnegan will never realize he's being tricked.
- A story like the one that screenwriter David S. Ward put together here would not be complete without an ongoing series of well-designed plot twists. The Sting has such radiant confidence in its twists and turns and is one of the few movies I can think of that so openly embraces the idea of the plot twist. When executed properly, a plot twist can be one of the most powerful narrative techniques imaginable, and Ward understands that he has to be the smartest person in the room in order to pull off whatever double crosses or swindles that will move the story forward. Almost none of the movie's twists are for shock value; they're about finding just the right way to slap a big silly smile on your face and make you wag your finger and say, "Oooooh, they got him there!" The Sting should also serve as an example of how a twist doesn't have to always be for intense dramatic effect; it can be for the sake of pure fun and to achieve a prestige that the likes of magicians and other artistic performers hope to achieve. As you can imagine, the film's ending is advertised as being one of the greatest double crosses in all of film history. Personally, I think of it as a perfectly fine ending that is mildly surprising. It's not the greatest twist ever, but it's definitely one you're not likely to guess on the first attempt.
- Ward's script also deserves praise for how well it tells the story, despite using extensive vocabulary from the field of confidence tricks. Assuming you don't ever start to feel bored, this is a movie that I am confident anyone without the slightest knowledge of confidence tricks can pick up on and easily follow, a lot like how anyone can watch and enjoy L.A. Confidential without any deep knowledge of law enforcement or the world of crime. The most essential parts of the plot are fleshed out extremely well, and it's never too hard to follow what characters are saying and what they're planning to do next. Although I'd say you'd feel better about watching The Sting after you sit down for a few minutes and study some terminology of confidence tricks, there is certainly no kind of prerequisite that would make or break how much you'd enjoy the movie the first time through.
- The Sting does fall short in the pacing department, as the movie sometimes grinds to a halt and elects to be as sluggish as possible. This is especially true in the second half, as we get several scenes of Hooker, Gondorff, and the rest of the con group basically practicing the big con, which gets repetitive pretty fast. There's also several scenes in which Hooker talks with a waitress named Loretta (Dimitra Arliss) from a restaurant, eventually getting romantically involved with her. The whole thing comes off like an unnecessary subplot, but the movie attempts to justify all the time we see Hooker and Loretta together by throwing in a twist involving Loretta right near the end. Overall though, The Sting likes to take its sweet ol' time to get from one important scene to the next scene, as if it's unable to maintain its attention span, getting distracted from time to time by something else that it thinks is fun and exciting.
Fun and exciting: I'll tell you what, that is a rarity of the highest order among older films that have been graced with at least a nomination for Best Picture. Bolstered by terrific performances, an even more terrific script, and a cheerful spirit, The Sting is a delightful caper film that has not lost any of its value in the forty five plus years that it has been a Best Picture winner. Despite coming out in a decade full of cynicism, the movie is a fascinating hybrid of Hollywood's Golden Age and that very cynicism that was growing in American society. It's almost as if The Sting was a last hurrah before Hollywood finally let go of their old way of life. Films were changing, but The Sting proved that they could still be fun. Not a bad way to earn the most coveted Oscar.
Dying for a Living
Happy Death Day is directed by Christopher Landon and stars Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, and Ruby Modine.
There's a joke made right at the end of Happy Death Day about the movie Groundhog Day. You don't need any better proof that Christopher Landon is totally aware his film is not at all original, borrowing the time loop concept from the 1993 Bill Murray fantasy comedy and molding it to be the premise of a slasher film. It's natural to be skeptical of a movie that clearly looks to be copying a concept/formula from an earlier, critically-acclaimed movie. How many actions films over the years have tried to imitate the success of Die Hard? But every now and then, there slides along a movie that adapts an older, well-known concept and actually adapts the concept pretty darn well. This goes back to one of the most essential aspects of film-making: it's not the concept that will make or break your film; it's the execution. As Roger Ebert put it, "It's not what a movie is about, but how it's about it."
Happy Death Day follows college student Theresa "Tree" Gelbman, who wakes up in the dorm room of her classmate Carter Davis (Broussard) after a long night of hardcore drinking and partying. It turns out that it's Tree's birthday, but she's in no mood for celebrating: she ignores phone calls from her Dad, she tosses a cupcake given to her by her roommate Lori (Modine), and she continues her ongoing affair with her married professor, Gregory Butler (Charles Aitken). That night, on her way to another party, Tree is ambushed and killed by a figure wearing a mask of the school mascot. Tree then wakes up to find herself again in Carter's bed, and is shocked when the previous day's events repeat themselves. After getting killed a few more times, Tree eventually realizes she is stuck in a time loop, and unless she can find a way to thwart her killer, she will have to keep living the same horrid day over and over again.
In terms of horror, Happy Death Day is kind of light with its jump scares and anything that can be appropriately deemed nightmare fuel. The extent of the movie trying to terrify you is Tree slowly walking down a dark hallway or approaching a corner where the killer might jump out from. With that said, I have a very hard time calling this movie 'scary', because anything and everything is done with a cheeky sense of humor, sort of like if Sam Raimi had made a horror film when he was still wearing diapers. Now, I'm not trying to bash Christopher Landon as childish or anything like that; it's simply that Happy Death Day goes pretty easy on the scares, which is perfectly acceptable, because the movie more than makes up for a lack of serious scares with an abundance of humor and charm.
- This movie would probably have been a catastrophic failure had it not been for a stand-out performance by Jessica Rothe. God damn it, it should be illegal how ridiculously charming that Rothe is as Tree. This is one of the few horror movie characters from the past few years that I can think of that brings the full package: they are charming, they are funny, and they are noticeably developed over the course of the film. Rothe gives it 110% in her performance, perfectly expressing every different emotional state that Landon requires her to be, whether it's being frightened while running from the killer, having a serious sit-down talk with her Dad, or even sport a big smile and act like she doesn't have a care in the world. It's a heavily demanding role that Rothe proves to be more than capable of taking on, and it's the main reason why I would recommend this movie. Whether we can declare Rothe to be the next great "scream queen" is to be determined, but judging from what we see from her here, I am confident that she can at least be one of the top candidates.
- Happy Death Day starts to break down a little in its later scenes, specifically those in which Tree does things that would call the attention of the local authorities, and when we learn who the true killer is. A minor spoiler: Tree kills someone that she believes is the killer, and in the very next scene, she is back in her sorority house celebrating. Don't you think that the police would want to take Tree down to the police station and ask her questions about what happened? Are we supposed to assume that the police questioning Tree already happened, and they decided to let her go? I should mention that we see Tree hold a knife to an officer's throat, but given this officer is never seen again after he runs to go get help, I guess threatening a police officer is a-okay in this movie;'s world. It's a bit of a nitpick, I know, but Tree never getting bogged down with the authorities is a bit lazy on Landon's part.
When we finally learn who the true killer is, the motivation behind why they're killing Tree is pretty weak. I can't go into too much detail because, y'know, hefty spoilers, but it is a bit anticlimactic to watch Tree get repeatedly killed and go through all this trouble, only to find out that her killer wants her dead because.....well, a reason that shouldn't motivate you to kill someone.
You know what though? The lack of logic in some places and the fragile true reasoning for why Tree is being killed hardly has any effect on how entertaining that Happy Death Day is a whole. It's a silly and self-aware slasher film that is best remembered for Jessica Rothe's unbelievably charming performance. It's also an example of how re-using a familiar premise can still equate to a perfectly enjoyable film. The execution is what really matters, and, for the most part, Happy Death Day executes its familiar premise right. One last thing: did I mention that Jessica Rothe is super charming in this movie?
Recommend? Yes. Even though the premise is borrowed from Groundhog Day, it's still worth seeing because of Jessica Rothe's performance.
Have you ever heard baby dragons singing? It's hard to be a cynic after that.
Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
I am willing to bet money that nearly every review of the Game of Thrones episode "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" starts off with a heated discussion of the episode's controversial rape scene. It is not at all a pleasant scene, but it shouldn't completely minimize the impact of everything that comes beforehand. If we're judging strictly off of Rotten Tomatoes percentage scores, this is, mathematically, the lowest rated episode of the entire series, which would translate, to some, as this being the worst episode of the whole series. In an effort to not be completely like other reviews, I am going to save my discussion for the rape scene until the end, so scroll down a bit further if that's all you came to read my thoughts on.
There is typically a theme to every Game of Thrones episode, and this time around, it's about various characters have things take a turn for the worst. The name of the episode is the motto of House Martell, and, in typical Game of Thrones fashion, the words are the complete opposite of what you'd expect. It's an episode designed to be as extremely unpleasant as possible, which is why - I'm going to mention it now- I believe there is justification for the rape scene. This is so far not saving talk of the rape scene until the very end, I get that.
Why don't I start off with what's happening in Dorne, since it's House Martell's motto given for this episode's title? Things really accelerate here with the Dornish story line, as Jaime and Bronn come into contact with Myrcella, followed by a fight with the Sand Snakes. After their encounter with the Dornish guards, there really wasn't anything left for Bryan Cogman and likewise D&D to do with Jaime and Bronn. What fun would that be if precious minutes were wasted on the two taking it slow through the Dornish landscape, having conversations that would likely repeat things we've heard before? We can criticize Game of Thrones for rushed pacing in certain areas, but I think they get it just right with the Dornish plot: Everything we see involving this story line doesn't feel either too quick or too slow, and it's exciting to see the two opposing sides in this ordeal square off. Unfortunately, this is not one of the better executed fight scenes in the show: the editing is pretty chaotic with not one frame lasting longer than approximately three seconds. Thankfully, Bronn continues to prove that he is one of the show's masters of one liners, providing some much needed humor in an episode that has seemingly no room for humor.
So I said this episode takes a turn for the worse for several characters. Well, Jorah Mormont is already ahead of the game, as the end of last episode revealed that he has been infected with greyscale. The highlight of this scene is not the Tyrion and Jorah being taken by slavers; it's the conversation that comes right beforehand as Tyrion raises several valid points about why Daenerys deserves to rule the Seven Kingdoms. I highly doubt that D&D ever take the time to seek out nitpick criticisms that people have about Game of Thrones, but given the kind of dialogue that Tyrion is given in this episode, you can't help but think that D&D, as well as Bryan Cogman, think a lot about why certain characters deserve to be in the positions they are in and what sort of objections someone else might have. What kind of good television could they make if no one dared to question why Daenerys deserves to pursue the Iron Throne, or why Jon Snow deserves to be Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, or why certain other characters believe they have the right to hold other positions of power? Strong dialogue has always been one of D&D's gifts as writers, and even with less and less of George R.R Martin's source material to rely on, they still know how to put the right words into character's mouths.
I'm glad I brought that up, because Olenna Tyrell is back! The Queen of savage insults goes right back to work, this time having some verbal jabs with Cersei. With Bronn's one liners, and now Olenna Tyrell's caustic dialogue, I might have to take back what I said about this being a very unpleasant episode. Turns out that Olenna's savage remarks have no effect on the Sparrows, as the High Sparrow interrogates both Loras and Margaery and ends up having them both arrested. Several characters, one being Loras Tyrell, have long held secrets that they know could get them into a heap of trouble. Since everyone on this show gets punished sooner or later, it only becomes a matter of time until those secrets are revealed, and now was the perfect time to do it for someone like Loras, as his House is currently at odds with the Crown. Knowing what's yet to come, this is the beginning of the end for House Tyrell.
Alright, I won't put it off any longer: what are my honest-to-God thoughts on that ending rape scene? First of all, let's get the facts straight: absolutely nothing graphic is shown to us, mostly because Sophie Turner has never agreed to a nude shoot and never will do one for as long as Sansa remains alive. The irony is that Turner herself has stated she kind of loved the scene when she first read it, praising how disturbing the nature of the scene was, particularly how Ramsay has Theon/Reek stay and watch. Anyway, the worst it gets is Ramsay ripping open the back of Sansa's dress, followed by the camera easing in on Sansa's distraught face as she's lying over on the bed. I don't care what harsh statement anyone has for this scene: the acting is spectacular from Turner, Iwan Rheon, and Alfie Allen. The way Allen's face shakes with terror is the kind of stuff they need to show people in film and theater schools. It looks as natural as any reaction an actor may be required to show in a movie or TV show, and it's the most appropriate final shot of the episode. It's as if Theon/Reek is acting like all the people watching the episode on their televisions at home or somewhere else like a bar, completely spooked and unable to do a thing about it.
Yes, I am one who will praise this scene. No, I do not think of it is as some kind of artistic porn or anything else like that. I praise this scene because I think it's an excellent coming together of three characters and what they've been known for in the time they've been a part of the series. Sansa has been a subject of constant mistreatment, Ramsay is basically the devil incarnate, and Theon/Reek has frequently been the character who gets shoved to the sideline and forced to watch others play the game. It's a coming together party that assures of our worst nightmares: Sansa can't feel safe anywhere, and Ramsay just loves to hurt people and get away with it. Here's another thing: this isn't the very first time that Game of Thrones has had a scene involving rape or some other form of sexual violence. Have we forgotten Theon getting his manhood stripped of him or the scene between Jaime and Cersei right after Joffrey died? The times when it's questionable for Game of Thrones to use sexual violence are those times when said violence doesn't seem to do anything to support the narrative. This is Ramsay revealing his true sadistic nature to Sansa, confirming the fear we had the moment that Sansa walked into Winterfell and greeted the Boltons. At the same time, Ramsay is continuing to assert his control over Theon/Reek, now subjecting him to some pure mental torture. Man, that guy is messed up.
Do not let the rape scene completely overshadow everything else that happens in the episode. Characters like the Tyrell siblings, Tyrion, Jorah, and all the lovely folks in Dorne all have their respective plans go awry, and what we get is another strong episode to season five, one that is intent on being as uncomfortable as possible. Despite that, the episode still boasts some nice humor, particularly in Bronn's one liners and the return of everyone's favorite grandma: Olenna Tyrell. "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" will most certainly leave you a little bit bowed, bent, and broken.
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