A foreign invasion is underway
Directed by: Mark Mylod
Written by: Bryan Cogman
I am thankful for season seven saving me the trouble of having to frequently talk about scenes with a, "we'll have to find out next time" sort of tone. It does, admittedly, get a little repetitive writing about certain Game of Thrones episodes, knowing that they're focused on hyping and setting up events still to come, such as a grand-scale battle or someone's untimely death. That leaves me for small periods with only so much analysis to do, so I find myself reinforcing or extended upon ideas that I had brought up before. After "Dragonstone" gave season seven the build-up it needed to get off the ground running, "Stormborn" accelerates the season's central conflict, already giving us our first major battle of the war between Daenerys and Cersei, as well as bringing the somewhat isolated Jon Snow closer to the other Westerosi conflicts that are going on, which he has had no part of ever since he first left for the Night's Watch back in season one. The end result is a strong hour of Game of Thrones that moves several plot lines forward, as well as create even more exciting set-up for the episodes still to come.
The first thing I want to bring up is the one character I was not able to get to in my review of "Dragonstone". Good ol' Samwell Tarly has made it to Oldtown to train and become an Archmaester, although becoming an Archmaester will soon become the last thing on Sam's to-do list. Despite his unimpressive physical stature, Sam has always had a talent for making game-changing discoveries, the first being his discovery that dragonglass can kill White Walkers. Sam hits the dragonglass jackpot in "Dragonstone", as he discovers that Dragonstone is sitting on a heaping mountain of dragonglass: information that he is able to get over to Jon. Oh, but it doesn't stop there. Oldtown is going to continue to be very kind to Samwell. We also find out in "Dragonstone" that greyscale-ridden Jorah Mormont has made his way back to Westeros, and is now serving as a patient in the Citadel. It seemed like the greyscale infection was the beginning of the end for Jorah, but, in a surprising twist of fate, Samwell tries to help Jorah defy death by undergoing a dangerous procedure that could rid Jorah of the greyscale. I know we can talk all day about Jon Snow giving death the middle finger, but the greyscale seemed liked an absolute certainty in terms of the cause of Jorah's death. Game of Thrones has been most famous for the way it kills off characters at the most unexpected times, but I applaud that D&D sort of do the opposite with a character that seemed quite likely to die. The truly happy moments of this show are few and far in between, and when next episode shows us that Jorah will be healed of the greyscale, it will be good to know that the gods have more in store for Ser Jorah Mormont.
So then, elsewhere, Jon, Daenerys, and Cersei are all getting ready for war, and all three are doing the exact same thing: having large group meetings. It is exciting to see so many superstar characters all together in one room, especially in the case of Daenerys, who has Tyrion, Varys, Theon and Yara Greyjoy, Ellaria Sand, and Olena Tyrell all supporting her. The scene in the Dragonstone meeting room is highly enjoyable, as everyone talks about what their best course of action should be, how Daenerys should move her forces across Westeros and try to take an early edge over Cersei. There's no question that the scene ends with Daenerys still feeling a bit torn on what she believes is the right thing to do. Yara suggests launching a full-scale assault on King's Landing, but Daenerys elects to stick with Tyrion's plan, which involves her armies sieging King's Landing and the Unsullied heading out to take Casterly Rock. Olenna Tyrell ends up giving the best advice of all by telling Daenerys to be what she is: a dragon. The only time Daenerys has shown the ferocity of a dragon has been those times when there's no other option, most recently with the invasion of the slave masters in Meereen. Daenerys is fully aware she could storm King's Landing with her entire army, and the city would easily crumble beneath her feet. But Olenna is purposefully open-ended by telling Daenerys no more than to "be a dragon", knowing that Daenerys will take these words to mean something deeper than flying around and burning everything in sight.
Dragons: they certainly give Daenerys a heavy advantage in this war, but Cersei doesn't seem too worried, as Qyburn reveals to her the scorpion projectile weapon that is powerful enough to pierce dragon skin. Jon Snow is also paying close attention when he learns that Daenerys' army has three dragons. Dragons breathe fire, and fire kills wights. Where I'm going with this is that Jon has no other choice but to go to Dragonstone and meet with Daenerys, which will not stand with Sansa and the other Lords currently residing in Winterfell. Even in these perilous times, trust continues to be a gigantic issue among the good people of Westeros. The memories of the Mad King are all too vivid in the minds of those who were there to witness Aerys' descent into madness, and besides, who wouldn't be cynical when the series is this far along and so many important people have died? Game of Thrones loves to test the loyalty between characters like no other, to continuously reinforce the fact that Westeros (and the real world) is a dog-eat-dog world where one slip-up means your head. For the characters that have survived this long, the last thing they want is to fall prey to someone's devious scheme. All these characters wear their lengthy survival as a badge of honor, so it's no wonder they will always try to play it safe. To them, making new friends right now is almost like committing suicide, especially if that new friend's last name is Lannister or Targaryen.
If the last name happens to be Greyjoy, then they are definitely not friends at the moment. Euron Greyjoy's Iron Fleet attacks Yara's navy, and boy does it not end well for Yara's side: two of the Sand Snakes (Obara and Nymeria) are killed, the third Sand Snake (Tyene), along with Ellaria are captured, and poor Theon gets spooked, abandoning ship and leaving his sister to be taken by Euron. At the time season seven began, Game of Thrones was down to basically two villains: Cersei and the Night King. Granted, Euron was no kind of hero when we first met him, but it's good that he's stepping up his villainous prowess so as to keep this war from being a shallow, head-on confrontation between Daenerys and Cersei. I fondly remember before season seven first aired, that Pilou Asbaek boasted that Euron was going to make Ramsay Bolton, "look like a little kid." Euron Greyjoy being worse than Ramsay Bolton would not be possible thematically or even mathematically. We're down to almost ten episodes left in the series, and not one thing Euron could do in the final ten or so episodes could come even close to the long list of malevolent acts that Ramsay committed in the four-some seasons he was around.
So anyway, it's a fairly entertaining fight sequence, although it's a bit frustrating because there's basically no way to tell the fighters apart. Do Euron's followers have slightly darker clothing or do they have bigger squid sigils on their armor? I also think this fight implies that D&D were secretly listening to all those complaints people had about the Dornish story line ever since season five. They figured they should get rid of the Sand Snakes as quick as possible, and this was the perfect time to do it. The other thing this battle does is tease a future confrontation between Theon and Euron. Although he found some of his inner strength earlier, Theon still has a ways to go, and the best way he can earn back the respect of his own people is to defeat the man who not only rules as King of the Iron Islands, but the man who kidnapped his sister and mocked him for his physical deformities. It would just be so fitting if Theon is the one who gives his uncle the axe.
It's still early in the season, meaning there's plenty of set-up to be had, but "Stormborn" is also proof of what a shortened season is capable of, as we already get our first heated confrontation between members of Team Cersei and Team Daenerys. We also get the excitement of knowing that Jon Snow is about to become more involved in this war between the Queens, and you know what that means: the battle against The Army of the Dead won't be just Jon and the North's fight anymore. Soon enough, everyone will become involved. Nothing brings people together in Westeros like war.
All in the Family
The Godfather Part II is produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola and stars Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, Talia Shire, Morgana King, John Cazale, Mariana Hill, and Lee Strasberg. The film was the first sequel to ever win the Best Picture Oscar, while also winning Best Director (Coppola), Best Supporting Actor (De Niro), and Best Adapted Screenplay, going on to win a total of six Oscars out of eleven nominations.
The Godfather is considered to be one of the greatest films ever made in world cinema, so almost by default, any and all sequels could not possibly be as good. It just wouldn't seem humanly possible that someone, even the same people who worked on The Godfather, could extend upon the thought-provoking ideas and cultural influences that the first film introduced to world cinema and somehow make them even better. It would be like a professional athlete having the game of his life, and then to have the coach tell him/her to go out there again and have an even better game. To this day, there are many proud and accomplished movie lovers who won't hesitate to say The Godfather Part II is superior to the first film, and I have no quarrels with people who do believe as such. That is to say that I am not one of those people who will put The Godfather Part II above and beyond The Godfather. In fact, I won't hesitate to say that I do not find the film to be the all-time classic that almost everyone makes it out to be.
Put down your torches and pitchforks for a minute and hear me out:
Not by any stretch of the imagination do I find The Godfather Part II to be any sort of bad film. The acting, screenwriting, and direction are all top-notch and not even close to what you'd find in a bad movie. What I'm saying is that The Godfather Part II is a great film, but not a great great film. The first film was chock full of memorable moments: each and every one having a special meaning and moving the story forward in a powerful way. This film, however, only has a small handful of such memorable moments, although I will admit one of these moments (happening right near the end of the film) is more heartbreaking than anything the first film did. So what this is to say is that The Godfather Part II's mindset is on telling as much of its story as it can fit into its sprawling 200 minute run time, all the while giving us an even clearer picture on who exactly some of these characters are, and how they have evolved from the events that took place in The Godfather.
The Godfather Part II serves as both a sequel and a prequel to The Godfather. The sequel story follows Michael Corleone, who has become fully integrated into his role as Don of the Corleone crime family. After surviving an assassination attempt at his home, Michael travels to Miami to meet with a man he suspects to have planned the assassination: Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg). At the same time, Michael must tend to other matters concerning his family's business, such as a Senate committee that is investigating organized crime. Michael's increasingly ruthless behavior and his constant time on the road causes his wife Kay (Diane Keaton) to feel alienated, as well as to feel fearful that Michael is becoming more of an endangerment to their children's' well-being. Meanwhile, the prequel parts of the film tell the backstory of Vito Corleone (De Niro) and his rise to power in the world of organized crime.
Giving a detailed plot synopsis of a Godfather film is a very challenging thing to do, especially as you try to avoid giving away any major spoilers. If someone were to ever ask what is the story of one of The Godfather films, such an explanation would boil down to explaining not necessarily a sequence of specific events that make up the story, but rather a situation that surrounds a select group of characters. Normally, a situation is the last thing you want your plot to be, but The Godfather puts on the guise o a situation so well, that first-time viewers might be a tad stumped that the movie actually does have a long string of events that do make up something resembling a plot. For the first Godfather, that was the transition of Michael Corleone from reluctant family outsider to the unforgiving new head of the family business. In The Godfather Part II, the string of events involves Michael investigating the assassination attempt on his life, and how his investigation leads him to become even more consumed with power and corruption. This is the film that truly defines Michael Corleone as one of cinema's all-time famous villains, memorable not just for his cold-blooded demeanor as the Don of the Corleone crime family, but as a man who shows to still feel something in his heart, even when it seems like his entire world is falling apart around him.
- Al Pacino's performance as Michael Corleone across all three Godfather films deserves all the praise it can get as one of cinema's all-time greatest performances. Pacino's skill with method acting is what brings out the most of Michael Corleone's character, with not one single moment of screen time implying that Pacino is giving anything less than 100 percent. Even something as simple as Michael pacing back and forth in a dark room or sitting down on a couch convey body language to tell us that whenever Michael is in a room, he is the man in charge. I think what I like the most about Pacino's acting as Michael is the intimidating look in his eyes, as if he is staring straight into someone's soul, drawing out their weaknesses, and feasting on them. There is not one single moment during the film in which Michael appears weak or vulnerable, even during more intimate moments when he tries to set things straight with Kay and save their marriage.
It's fascinating to think about that, at various times throughout the film, Michael hopes and prays that he does not have to rely on the immense power he holds, that he can resolve matters with the likes of Kay, Fredo, and Hyman Roth without having to resort to violence and other types of force. I think this is where Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo maintain a bit of Michael's humanity, in that Michael attempts to be fully conscious about who he is ruthless towards, while making sure that the violent and corrupt nature of his business stays as far away from his family as possible. Unfortunately, life doesn't go the way Michael hopes it goes, and it's as scary as it is heartbreaking to see the anger and sadness wash over Michael when he realizes that he has to make some difficult decisions. I'm purposefully being vague about this, because, y'know, giant-sized spoilers. So anyway, the monster that Michael wants to be only when he is conducting business, eventually overtakes him completely, leaving both his business partners and his own family in the crossfires. We only got a glimpse of this in the first film, so it was essential for The Godfather Part II to expand upon Michael's evolution, or should I say, descent, into the all-powerful crime boss he never thought he would become, and the film expands upon it beautifully.
- The editing as the movie goes back and forth between the past and present is as seamless as can be. While the overall plot spends more time on Michael's present-day story than on Vito's backstory, Coppola and Puzo's script make the perfect stopping points when one story pauses and the other continues, like the end of each chapter of a book that is told from several different points of view. Every segment spent with Vito, then Michael, and then Vito again gives us more insight into what drives these men and how the world of organized crime comes to affect their daily lives. It's fascinating to see the juxtaposition of one man having almost everything go to hell while another takes on a rags to riches style of life. One line of business can both tear a man's life apart and bring a man to a position of power he would never have dreamed of obtaining. It's another fine example of how essential editing is to a film production. The 70's is a goldmine of examples of masterclass editing.
- When it comes to those memorable moments that I was talking about earlier, The Godfather Part II can't help but fall short of what the first film did so well, especially in the way The Gdofather used violence to fuel its story telling and create the bridges that allowed the story to go from one point to another. It's not that The Godfather Part II has no memorable moments at all; it's just that, with the exception of one right near the end, they aren't anywhere near as hard-hitting as they should be, mostly because Coppola doesn't allow the creative juices to flow as much as he did with the first film. The kills, this time around, are a lot simpler and more straightforward, not ever transcending beyond anything but simple gun shots or lethal stabbing maneuvers, which sort of detracts from how cunning and unexpected these corrupt people can be. I suppose that's to say that it sort of ruins the organized part of "organized crime", as this time around, the Corleone family and their enemies act more like above-average criminals who know how to at least plan ahead. Unfortunately, they don't take that next step that The Godfather took on several different occasions: catch your enemy at their most vulnerable and strike with absolute precision. You won't find any horse heads or toll-booth massacres here. Just a lot of bloody, old-fashioned killing.
It certainly sounds like a chore to sit through the film's length 200 minutes, but with the seamless editing between the past and the present, as well as another awe-inspiring performance from Al Pacino, The Godfather Part II shouldn't feel anywhere near as long as it is. Trying to extend upon the film that ended up being one of the finest examples of film-making in history certainly sounded like an impossible task. Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo rose up to the challenge though, and they delivered a great sequel that gets it right in all the places it needed to, one being the next chapter in the story of Michael Corleone, and the second being the backstory of how Michael's father, Vito, rose to power. What we get this time from Michael is a character that evolves into one of the all-time greatest villains in cinema, one who, despite his unforgiving nature as the Corleone crime boss, never loses complete sight of his humanity. The violence that ensues isn't as hard-hitting and creative as before, which is what I think keeps The Godfather Part II from being on the same level as The Godfather. Still though, there's too much else to applaud, and for that, I have no hesitation to call The Godfather Part II not just one of the best Best Picture winners in history, but also one of the best sequels in cinematic history.
Recommend? Absolutely, and obviously, see The Godfather first.
Shall we begin?
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
It was the late summer of 2017 when Game of Thrones' seventh season first aired. How ironic, because summer is the absolute last thing that Game of Thrones is concerned about, as we are now down to the final two seasons, and winter has finally arrived. Shortened to just seven episodes as opposed to having the usual ten, season seven sees all of the series' remaining plot lines converge into one complete whole, as now all major remaining characters currently hold some position of power in Westeros. Jon Snow reigns as King in the North, Cersei Lannister holds the Iron Throne, and Daenerys Targaryen, despite not having an exact title in Westeros, has an army unlike any other in Westeros, as well as three dragons: the fantasy equivalent of weapons of mass destruction. I still am a bit unsure as to the exact reasoning for why seasons seven and eight are shortened from the usual ten episode length. My best guess is that D&D realize that there isn't a whole lot of plot left to tell, and with so much grand-scale action on the horizon, they figured they didn't need to waste time having characters talk about political affairs that, at this point, don't really amount to anything anymore. Daenerys Targaryen is about to wage war with Cersei and the Lannisters. Does anyone really care who is Master of Coin or what is going on with the good folks of Qarth right now? As there are fewer episodes to get through, that means that the pacing is about to ramp up big time. No longer is it going to take characters about half a season to get from Location A to Location B.
I bring this up because breakneck pacing is the biggest criticism of season seven, as many fans and critics felt that the characters zipping across Westeros in the blink of an eye was a betrayal of how characters traveled at a more realistic pace during the earlier seasons. I personally did not find the pacing to be as big of an issue as others have made it out to be (one episode definitely has issues with rushed pacing, but we'll get to that when the time comes). I actually kind of enjoyed not having as long to wait for certain events to unfold. It pretty much ensures that we will get few to no "build-up" episodes that are purely concerned with setting up events yet to happen.
And yet, "Dragonstone" is very much a build-up episode, with basically nothing actually happening. It's all good, though: D&D give us time to see more of Jon and Cersei in their new positions of power, as the two create new alliances and gear up for when their respective enemies finally strike. I'm sorry: that's a bad choice of words. Jon doesn't give a crap about whatever remaining enemies Cersei thinks she has. His sole priority now is to gather as many forces as he can to prepare for the invasion of the Army of the Dead. After a cold opener in which Arya cleverly murders the rest of House Frey, D&D give us the most perfect opening shot they could have come up with to start the season: a simple wide shot of the the Night King and his army marching south. I've alluded before to the importance of the series' very first scene, in which the men of the Night's Watch encounter the White Walker. To reiterate, Game of Thrones wanted to show us, before anything else, who the real threat of the series would be. It was never Joffrey Baratheon or Ramsay Bolton or Cersei Lannister. It has always been the White Walkers, and despite going long stretches without ever acknowledging them, George R.R. Martin and D&D wanted to make sure that The White Walkers were the very first thing everyone reads/sees, because people tend to remember the first thing they see in a movie or television series. I've always found the title of the first episode, "Winter is Coming" to be not just the words of House Stark: I've found them to be a subtle hint that the White Walkers are coming, and as season seven gets underway, now that winter is here, so are the White Walkers. Okay, they're not here here, but their lengthy absences are no more. We will be seeing plenty of these guys throughout season seven, and it won't be long until they are here here.
"Dragonstone" quickly turns a character that has been around since day one into a believer of the Army of the Dead: Sandor Clegane. One of the most exciting things that season seven does is make believers out of characters that have been around since the series' early days. For Sandor Clegane, he has been as disconnected as anybody from anything concerning the White Walkers, which is why it's a bit unexpected that he would be the one to speak of a vision of the White Walkers reaching a point where the Wall meets the sea. If you don't count all of his close encounters with fire, we have never seen The Hound be straight-up terrified of anything, so it's quite bone-chilling to hear him speak of the vision he sees, becoming a bit washed over with fear when he gets a glimpse of what Beric Dondarrion and the Brotherhood Without Banners are going to fight. It's going to be a fight the Hound will not enjoy at all: the living will need fire to combat the ice-cold Army of the Dead, and we all know how the Hound feels about fire.
Let's assume for a quick moment that the White Walkers will invade Westeros and kill everyone. As sad as we would all be if that happens (and chances are quite likely that a White Walker victory will not happen), I think most of us can agree that one character we would not miss at all is the Lannister soldier played by Ed Sheeran. My gosh, what a forced and unnecessary cameo by a celebrity who has basically no business being in Game of Thrones. Ed Sheeran is put front and center of the camera when the scene begins, because we all know getting ot see Ed Sheeran in a Lannister soldier costume is the only reason this scene exists. This whole scene is basically a waste, not just because it's a lame excuse for Ed Sheeran to sing a song, but also because the entire conversation between Arya and the Lannister soldiers is incredibly dull. It's all a bunch of uninteresting small talk that only slightly gets interesting when Arya mentions she is travelling to King's Landing to kill Cersei.
Thankfully, none of the other conversations are uninteresting, especially the talks between Cersei and Jaime, as they welcome Euron Greyjoy to King's Landing. Jaime is in a very peculiar spot right now: he is preparing to fight enemies that oppose his House, and yet, he is not at all on the same page with his own House. Seeing the pile of rubble that was the Sept of Baelor and watching Cersei be crowned Queen of the Seven Kingdoms was the beginning of Jaime losing trust in his sister. As Jaime has gone down a path of regaining his honor and becoming more sympathetic, Cersei has gone down a path that has caused her to develop an insatiable desire for power: a desire that is looking like it is driving her towards insanity. Nevertheless, Jaime is a Lannister, as is Cersei, and that is why the two are fighting on the same side. Euron Greyjoy promises he will earn Cersei's approval, but if I were Cersei, I would not trust a man who looks like he just came from having drinks at a bar populated by motorbike punks. Who the hell decided that was the costume Pilou Asbaek should wear? It's perhaps the most un-fantasy like costume I have ever seen in Game of Thrones. You might as well give Euron a leather jacket and a pair of jeans, because that's basically what he's wearing.
Euron would be dead in a fortnite if that was his choice of clothing in the North, where, despite being back in control of Winterfell, the Starks are still fighting among themselves. Jon and Sansa continue to have difficulty seeing things eye to eye, especially because they now have the attention of Cersei, who wants Jon to ride south to King's Landing and bend the knee. Although they've experienced vastly different journeys, Jon and Sansa have both come to learn what it takes to be a leader in Westeros, but the fact that the two have been on different journeys I think is the reason they are having several disagreements. Jon is currently the only one in Winterfell who has actually seen the Army of the Dead, and having seen the power of the Night King first hand, Jon is willing to take whatever risks he needs in order to accumulate as many forces as possible. Sansa, however, has been through more torment than anyone could know, and although she believes the Army of the Dead exists, her time spent in captivity at the hands of the Lannisters and later the Boltons has made her cynical about anyone that she either knows nothing about and/or isn't closely related to her family. She fears that Jon's near-desperation about preparing to face the Army of the Dead will somehow come back to hurt either her or someone else she loves.
So then, to wrap things up, I figure I should talk about Daenerys' official return home to Westeros, as her and her army arrive at the abandoned Dragonstone. I applaud that this scene has no dialogue, except for Daenerys saying, "Shall we begin?" right as the episode comes to a close. This scene should be all about the atmosphere: we've been waiting for this moment for a full six seasons, so no need to ruin it with pointless dialogue as Daenerys climbs the steps and heads up to her new chambers. I also love how no other characters really follow Daenerys as she tours through Dragonstone, save for Tyrion when the two head to the big meeting/planning room at the very end. They all understand how big of a moment this is for her. The likes of Missandei and the Dothraki have never been to Westeros before, but for Daenerys, this is her home, and this is a moment she should take in by herself as much as possible.
It's good to finally see our Dragon Queen in the same country as everyone else we've followed for the past six seasons, and it won't be long until she puts the rest of Westeros on high alert. Although devoid of any actual happenings, "Dragonstone" is the necessary set-up episode to get season seven rolling along, giving us a glimpse into the growing divides between certain groups of characters, as well as ramping up the fear we all should have of the incoming Army of the Dead. There are some minor annoyances: Euron Greyjoy's anachronistic outfit and Ed Sheeran's lame cameo, but that's all they are: minor annoyances. There will soon be war, and lots of it. Shortened seasons do have their advantages.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: