A Crown for a King
Written by: Jane Espenson, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Daniel Minahan
I want to start this review by giving a special thank you to "The Wolf and the Lion" for helping Game of Thrones take the next step it needed to take and begin to lay on the violence and bloodshed after taking the time to establish its fantasy world and introduce to us the large variety of characters that are scattered basically everywhere across its two continents. With so much tension building between certain characters through the first four episodes and with some characters being thrust into situations that call for action, it was only a matter of time before the swords, knives, arrows, and whatever other fantasy-based weapons you can think of start to do the talking. The excitement on display from "The Wolf and the Lion" continues into "A Golden Crown", where there is much more bloody mayhem to be had, interwoven nicely with the continued political discussions and other not-as-violent matters that are currently happening.
The one place where no violent occurrences take place is King's Landing, and understandably so because we just got a sword fight here between freaking Ned Stark and freaking Jaime Lannister, so no need to try and top that right away. We find Ned recovering from his leg wound, with Robert at his side, telling him it will be impossible for him to rule the Seven Kingdoms if the Starks and the Lannisters keeping biting at each other's throats. Robert leaves to go out on a hunting trip, telling Ned that he will act as regent king while he is away. Fast forward to Ned sitting on the Iron Throne in Robert's place, hearing stories about Ser Gregor Clegane leading raids on villages, coming to understand that these raids are revenge for Tyrion's arrest. Ned orders for Ser Gregor to be arrested, stripped of all lands and titles, and for Tywin Lannister to come to King's Landing and answer for Gregor's crimes.
This scene of Ned announcing the arrest of Gregor and the summoning of Tywin Lannister to court is one of the most overlooked scenes of the first season, giving us a glimpse of what a noble king that Ned Stark would be, rooting this kingly decision of his in honor and rightful justice. Ned does go as far as to sentence Gregor to death, but I think we can all agree that raiding villages and killing tons of innocent people is heinous enough of a crime to call for the high fantasy equivalent of the death penalty. Also, at this point, Ned is extremely cautious of the Lannisters, but he's not going to let his personal feelings get in the way of him making wise political decisions, something Robert clearly didn't take to heart in his decision to send an assassin to kill the two Targaryen siblings, a decision fueled purely by his hatred of Targaryens. Ned's virtues shine through in this brief moment as the stand-in king, doing a lot for his character by assuring us that Ned won't change who he is, even in these increasingly chaotic times. It's the little things that can stick out sometimes.
Back in Winterfell, Bran gets his first taste of horseback action using the special saddle, but things go awry real quick when Bran is confronted by a group of wildlings (humans that live north of the Wall). Luckily, Robb and Theon arrive to rescue Bran, taking the surviving wildling woman Osha (Natalia Tena) as a prisoner. Not too much needs to be made of this scene, other than Robb berating Theon for almost shooting Bran with an arrow. You have to be paying real close attention to understand what this is contributing towards; everyone is expressing doubt towards Theon. First it was Tyrion telling Theon he is a hostage of the Stark family. Now it's Robb Stark lecturing Theon on how he nearly killed Bran. Do you think Theon is going to keep brushing off these comments and not really take them at all to heart?
The next major act of violence occurs at the Vale, where Tyrion is able to trick a prison guard into summoning a court in which he confesses his crimes, or, excuse me, his "crimes". I put crimes in quotation marks because Tyrion instead confesses to several naughty childhood acts he committed when he was younger, and this is our first real taste of Tyrion Lannister as one of the funniest characters in Game of Thrones. Peter Dinklage is terrific with saying his lines in this scene, speaking with a completely serious look as if he were confessing about the JFK assassination, despite nearly everything he says (including some euphemisms for masturbation - flogged the one-eyed snake, skinned my sausage) being completely ridiculous. What makes this scene even better is that some of the actors in the background are clearly trying to prevent themselves from laughing (some of them are unable to contain their laughter), yet Dinklage proceeds without any clear hesitation. A pissed off Lysa Arryn orders for Tyrion to be thrown into a smaller cell, but Tyrion calls out Lysa for unfair judicial practices, demanding for a trial by combat to determine his freedom. The mercenary Bronn (Jerome Flynn) agrees to fight for Tyrion, successfully defeating Lysa Arryn's champion (Brendan McCormack) by kicking him through the Moon Door and into the open air below. Lysa Arryn berates Bronn for not fighting with honor, with Bronn acknowledging that her champion did.
I love this little jab by Bronn right before he and newly free Tyrion walk out; the whole fight is a microcosm of what Game of Thrones is and how it treats its characters. In Game of Thrones, fighting with honor and living a virtuous lifestyle doesn't earn you titles and respect; it gets you harmed or even killed. Bronn did not fight with honor, and whether anyone chooses to accept it or not, that is why he won.
And finally, we come to the climactic moment of the episode, and yes that's taking into account the trial by combat and everything that happened in King's Landing. Viserys Targaryen has had enough of his sister being a popular figure among the Dothraki, and his patience for getting an army and taking the Iron Throne have run out. After he fails to steal the three dragon eggs, Viserys crashes a Dothraki party, drawing his sword (no weapons are allowed in Vaes Dothrak, by the way) and threatening to cut out Daenerys' child if Khal Drogo does not give him the army he wants. Khal Drogo agrees to give Viserys what he truly wants: a golden crown to wear. And that golden crown comes in the form of melted gold, which Drogo pours over Viserys' head, killing him. A cool, calm, and collected Daenerys ends the episode by stating, "He was no dragon. Fire cannot kill a dragon."
Boom. There it is. Our first major, surprise death of Game of Thrones. In all honesty though, Viserys' death shouldn't come as a total shock. With so much tension building between the two Targaryen siblings and with Viserys gradually losing his control over his sister over the course of the first five episodes, you figured he was going to get desperate and do something that would end up getting someone killed. The irony of the golden crown here is nothing short of terrific writing on the part of George R.R. Martin, which D&D do a fabulous job of translating on screen. Viserys spent a large chunk of his time bickering about reclaiming the Seven Kingdoms and ruling as the next king, so no better way for him to go out than to get the golden crown he truly deserves.
It's tough to say if "A Golden Crown" tops "The Wolf and the Lion" as an episode of television. While I think "A Golden Crown" has more individual moments worth remembering, I'm still going to give the slight edge to "The Wolf and the Lion" mainly for what that episode did in terms of launching Game of Thrones into what it was ready to become. Nonetheless, "A Golden Crown" is a worthy follow-up to "The Wolf and the Lion", giving us more bloodshed and setting up the primary plot lines for what will be a compelling final stretch to the first season. Whether it's in King's Landing, at the Wall, in Essos, or on some random road through the woods: right now, there's always something to look forward to and get excited about.
All the Money in the World is directed by Ridley Scott and is based on John Pearson's 1995 book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty. The film stars Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, and Romain Duris.
The elephant in the room while writing a review of Ridley Scott's All the Money in the World is the movie originally having Kevin Spacey in the cast, who was set to star as J. Paul Getty, until the emergence of multiple sexual misconduct allegations against Spacey got him booted from the project. Christopher Plummer was recast in the role, reshooting all of Spacey's scenes just a month before the film's theatrical release. How the film would have turned out had Spacey not been forced to drop off the face of the Earth is anyone's guess, but as it turns out, All the Money in the World turned out A-OK. In fact, Christopher Plummer turns out to be the best part of the whole movie.
Based on the 1995 book by author John Pearson about the heirs of British oil industrialist J. Paul Getty, All the Money in the World is the story of the kidnapping of Getty's 16 year old grandson John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, no relation to Christopher Plummer). The kidnappers demand a ransom of $17 million, but John Paul's mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Williams), is not able to pay the ransom. Gail travels to meet with J. Paul Getty, at the time the world's wealthiest private citizen, in hopes that he will help her pay the ransom. Unfortunately, J. Paul Getty turns out to be a cheapskate, refusing to cooperate with Gail and pay the ransom for her. The media quickly picks up on the story, and Gail enlists the help of Getty Oil negotiator and former CIA operative Fletcher Chace (Mark Wahlberg) to investigate the case and bring her son to freedom.
Of course J. Paul Getty is not going to just say yes and pay the ransom right away. The movie would be 20 minutes long if that was the case. Even though J. Paul Getty has his own reasons for not wanting to pay the ransom, on top of him acting frugal and unsympathetic, it would seem, at least on paper, that Ridley Scott would have to find a way to pad the movie, as there's only so many times that Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg can say, "Please?" or go into a spiel about how there are more important things in life than money. Padding is the absolute last thing thing you want in a kidnapping thriller, and, unfortunately, there is some padding here, which we'll get into a little bit later.
The question that I'm sure everyone is wondering is, "What makes All the Money in the World an Oscarbait film?" Well, to start with, the movie is inspired by true events, so check that box off right away. Secondly, but perhaps more importantly, the dismissal of Spacey from the project allowed the film to go right in line with the emergence of the #MeToo and the 'Time's Up' movements, both of which were an integral part of this year's Oscars ceremony. The Academy Awards figured they should give All the Money in the World a pat on the back for how quickly they filled the hole left by Spacey, as if the quick recasting and reshooting with Christopher Plummer was the film's way of standing up to sexual harassment and misconduct, not allowing itself to be scrapped because of the wrongdoings of one person. And I know that really sounds like a stretch, but in all honesty, how could it not be a factor in the movie getting at least a few nominations?
- I am going to flip-flop my high points and low points in this review, because I will feel much better addressing my highs for this movie after I discuss its lows. The main low in All the Money in the World is how dull the movie is during its first 40-45 minutes. Next to nothing happens outside of the physical act of the kidnapping, the only thing to get us by being Christopher Plummer acting as a slightly narcissistic J. Paul Getty who doesn't believe himself to be the cold-hearted money hoarder that he actually is. After we get our introductions of Gail and Fletcher, Scott struggles to find much of anything for the two of them to do outside of talking to Getty in n effort to create character development, which ends up being rather sleep-inducing. This brings me back to that padding thing I was talking about a bit earlier; the plot gets stuck in mud after John Paul Getty III is kidnapped and all of the characters get introduced. When it's clear that J. Paul Getty won't pay the ransom, at that point, only something drastic will be able to move the plot along, and Ridley Scott puts this drastic move off far longer than he should.
- Eventually, Ridley Scott unleashes his full directorial powers and transforms the movie into the exciting kidnapping thriller that the movie should have been from the get-go. In almost the blink of an eye, the plot becomes snappy and totally forward-thinking, so much so that by the time the end credits roll, you might want to forgive Scott completely for those boring, opening 45ish minutes. There's enough grisly violence to remind you that Ridley Scott has always had a talent for depicting grisly violence, and with the talented bunch that Scott gets to work with here, he is able to come through when he finally realizes he has a thriller on his hands.
- The great thing about Christopher Plummer's performance is how well he is able to show off the two extremes of J. Paul Getty's character in this movie: the stingy and frustrating money snob and the wise old grandpa who has lessons to teach to those younger than himself. The hardest part is going back and forth between this two-faced approach, but that's exactly what Plummer does, as he seamlessly goes from rich snob in one scene to wise grandpa in the next scene. In fact, Plummer is sometimes required to play both extremes in the exact same scene, such as a scene later on when Getty meets with Gail to discuss the possibility of taking out a loan to help pay for the ransom. Plummer is always amusing to watch throughout the film, and while I will never be able to say how good Kevin Spacey would have been in the role, Plummer proved to be a worthy substitute.
So thankfully, All the Money in the World is able to shake free of its dullness present in the first 40-45 minutes and quickly convert itself into a gritty thriller that shows off Ridley Scott's directing prowess, with a top-notch performance by Christopher Plummer serving as the one constant that holds everything together. And while the movie uses its last-minute changes as a slap in the face to Kevin Spacey, and thus, the movie thinking it has a say in the #MeToo and 'Time's Up' movement(s), there's not quite enough under the surface to justify this movie being anything more than a kidnapping thriller that;s rooted in historical events. That won't stop the movie from at least trying to be Oscarbait. Whether you want to think of All the Money in the World as Oscarbait or not, I have a hard time believing that anyone but the most die-hard of Ridley Scott fans will remember this movie a few years down the line. Who knows? Maybe I'll turn out to be wrong. Ridley Scott, even at the ripe age of 80, hasn't lost any if his touch for directing films, especially thrillers. All the Money in the World is at the end of the day a successful Ridley Scott thriller, even if it that success comes in the form of just three fourths of a thriller.
Recommend? Yes. Don't let the Kevin Spacey story deter you from watching this at all.
The night he keeps coming back home
Halloween is directed and co-written by David Gordon Green and is the eleventh film in the Halloween franchise. It ignores all previous installments besides the original, serving as a direct sequel to the first film. Jaime Lee Curtis reprises her role as Laurie Strode, with Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, and Virginia Gardner also starring.
The Halloween franchise, almost exactly like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, has become what the vast majority of horror franchises sadly turn into if people keep giving them money and granting them the privilege of rolling out new installments year after year: a franchise in which the first movie is good, or even great, but then everything else afterwards is either average or total trash. Following John Carpenter's Halloween, the Halloween franchise was off and running, the sequels creating an elaborate backstory for Michael Myers and getting to the point where almost nothing made any god damn sense anymore. So I suppose we should be thankful that the 2018 Halloween (I am going to assume that this film will go by Halloween 2018 in the future, in order to be distinguished from the 1978 Halloween), by serving as a direct sequel to the 1978 movie, basically says, "Alright, let's take the original film, and just screw all that crap that happened afterwards, because there's no point in trying to make sense of it all."
Thus, as it has been forty years since the release of John Carpenter's Halloween, this Halloween takes place forty years after the Halloween night that Michael Myers terrorized the town of Haddonfield, Illinois. A pair of true-crime podcasters, Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees), arrive at Smith's Grove Sanitarium to speak with Michael Myers. They are unsuccessful with getting Michael to speak, even when they show him the mask that he wore back in 1978. Aaron and Dana then travel to the home of Laurie Strode, who has loaded up on weapons and has had her home heavily secured, believing that Michael will one day return to terrorize Haddonfield again. That is exactly what happens when a bus carrying several patients (one of them of course being Michael) from the Sanitarium crashes into a ditch, allowing the patients to escape. Michael is able to retrieve his mask, and makes his return to Haddonfield to go on another killing spree.
There's good reason to be a little frustrated while watching Halloween, as the skeletal structure of its plot is highly imitative of the original Halloween, the only real differences being that the deaths are bloodier and more graphic, and Laurie Strode is now a hot-tempered mother whose PTSD appears to have her on the verge of insanity. Then again, almost all slasher movies have a similar structure, so it wouldn't do much good to go on complaining about the plot, as you know Michael Myers is going to get loose, kill a bunch of people, and eventually come face-to-face with Laurie. In the wrong hands, this could all add up to more disposable slasher trash, but thankfully, this material was not placed in the wrong hands, as David Gordon Green is able to deliver a mostly satisfying follow-up to John Carpenter's horror classic.
- Jaime Lee Curtis gives a spirited effort in what is now her fifth appearance as Laurie Strode, delivering the best performance in the film by a mile. Here, Curtis nicely handles the heavy load that her character carries: being Michael Myers' most wanted target, a protective mother, a caring grandmother, and a gun-slinging badass all at once. It is obvious that this is not a "paycheck collection" kind of movie for Curtis, proving through her performance that she found this film capable of recapturing some of the terror and suspense from John Carpenter's film, thus. Curtis herself has stated that she immediately hit it off with David Gordon Green, further stating that he reminded her of John Carpenter. So in short, Halloween 2018 has the support of the actress that helped spawn the franchise in the first place, a truly invaluable luxury for this franchise that just recently hit its 40th birthday.
- Halloween 2018 decides to play it a little too safe with its kills and its story, settling for all of the slasher basics while also rolling out several of the most annoying horror cliches (Gosh I can't stand the "girl getting chased inexplicably falls down and gets killed"). None of Michael Myers' kills are too creative, nor do they utilize any kind of neat camera work to make the kills look more frightening. The best that the camera-work does in terms of doing something special is a long, continuous take of Michael walking from the sidewalk towards the back of a person's house. It's nothing too exciting, unfortunately. Meanwhile, the plot doesn't take any sort of twist or turn, meaning real, genuine suspense is heavily lacking. True, this is very much the best Halloween film since the original. Doesn't mean it can hold a candle to John Carpenter's classic.
It should have been painfully obvious from the get-go that Halloween 2018 was going to be inferior to the 1978 original. No one should hesitate to bet money that no future Halloween film will come close to matching what John Carpenter did so well on a limited budget back then. But for a film that is attempting to revitalize the franchise and start it anew, this Halloween movie works just fine: as a slasher film full of bloody kills, and as a serviceable follow-up to Carpenter's film. Jamie Lee Curtis gives one of her more memorable performances in recent memory, and it will be interesting to see if she decides to come back for future installments (come on, you know they're not going to stop making these, not as long as they keep raking in massive profits). I took a liking to what happens during the opening credits: a smashed pumpkin slowly reverses to a normal state. That's David Gordon Green's way of telling us he knows his film is going to work and save the franchise from total mediocrity. And you know what? He turned out to be right.
Recommend? Yes. It's worth a watch around Halloween time.
Threaten? As in, I'm going to open your lord from balls to brains and see what Starks are made of?
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Brian Kirk
Believe it or not, but we are already at the halfway mark of season 1 of Game of Thrones, and oh boy, is this the episode that I think will truly get you hooked on the show, if you haven't lost interest but aren't quite won over yet. After four episodes that were heavy with world-building and set-up, we get an episode that shows flashes of just how intense and exciting that this show can (and will) be. "The Wolf and the Lion" contains, what I like to call, the first true action/fight sequence of the show while ramping up the pacing and dialing back a bit on the Westerosi politics. The Wall and Essos story lines take a break in this episode, so no Jon Snow, Samwell Tarly, or Targaryens to be found here.
Instead, we get an episode that is entirely focused on the matters at hand in King's Landing, as well as what's next for Tyrion Lannister after he was taken prisoner by Catelyn Stark at the end of last episode. Catelyn, Tyrion, and their entourage begin a trip east to the Vale, where Catelyn's sister Lysa Arryn (Kate Dickie) lives. On their way, the entourage is attacked by a group of barbarians, a fight that ends with Tyrion saving Catelyn's life by killing a barbarian with a shield (I never knew medieval shields could be so deadly). Poor Tyrion tries to plead his case to Catelyn and later to Lysa Arryn about how he was not at all responsible for the attempt on Bran's life. But nope; no one wants to listen to him, only this time it's because he's a Lannister and not because he's a dwarf. When we do meet Lysa Arryn, D&D show us instantly what a vile and mentally unstable woman that she is, sitting on her throne and breast-feeding her eight-year old son (Lino Facioli), which is indeed as disgusting as it sounds. Tyrion ends up being locked away in a "sky-cell", a dungeon where, instead of bars to keep the prisoner from escaping, there is an open wall and slanted floors that lead right down to the cliffs below.
I know I will start to sound like a broken record when I keep saying that Tyrion gets no love from anybody in Westeros. George R.R. Martin and D&D continue to find new and clever ways to emphasize the prejudice that Tyrion faces, no matter where he goes, even at the hands of a "good" character like Catelyn Stark. Normally, Tyrion's status as a Lannister is what saves his ass from being harmed or even killed, but this time around, his status as a Lannister is useless to him. In fact, it could very much mark the end of him. The change-up of prejudice here is a neat way to contribute to Tyrion's character arc, as well as keep the plotline of Bran's attempted murder moving along.
By the way, how is Bran doing? Well, not surprisingly, he's feeling mopey about knowing he will never walk again, but he is feeling especially upset about his mother left him while he was still in a coma. Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter) tries to encourage Bran by telling him of how he can still try to learn archery on horseback, though Bran doesn't get too worked up about that idea. Right now, it's tough to guess what exactly Bran is going to contribute going forward, but this leads me to something that happened in "Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things" that I feel bad about not bringing up in my review of that episode. Bran has a dream in which he is walking through Winterfell and encounters a raven. He follows the raven down into the crypts, and upon closer inspection, Bran sees that the raven has three eyes. I won't get into any more details, but if something as bizarre as a three-eyed raven shows up in a dream, it is planting the seeds for something bigger and better down the road for Bran.
So everything happening in the Vale and in Winterfell are sort of on the back burner for this episode, but it's all good stuff nonetheless. Now we get to the real juicy meat of this episode: Ned Stark's continued investigation of Jon Arryn's death. We first see the last of the jousting tournament, with the "Knight of Flowers", Ser Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) , face off against Ser Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane (Conan Stevens). Tyrell wins the joust, but things get even more bloody in a hurry, as an enraged Gregor Clegane decapitates his horse, and then comes charging after Ser Loras. This leads to Ser Gregor's brother, Sandor "The Hound" Clegane (Rory McCann), intervening and swinging swords with his brother for a bit, until King Robert demands for everyone to stop. Though the jousting tournament has next to nothing that affects what happens throughout the rest of this episode, the little bit of action that we see drives the episode's quicker pacing and shows a stronger dedication to being more violent, because someone's blood is going to eventually spill.
We get quite a lot of Lord Varys in this episode, first when we see him tell Ned that Jon Arryn was killed because he started asking questions. Then we see Varys have a long conversation with Petyr Baelish about...eh, things. I want to say that the conversation between Varys and Littlefinger is the best "talking" moment of the whole episode, but there just doesn't seem to be a whole lot of structure to their conversation, so it doesn't build to much of anything right then and there and it grows kind of boring rather quickly. Normally, these two are quite interesting to listen to, but D&D just don't make them work all that well together here.
Don't worry, if Varys and Littlefinger left you bored, the episode gives you a heavy jolt of excitement with everything else that goes on. While chasing cats, Arya overhears a conversation about someone trying to plot against the throne, which she shares with Ned later on. Ned also learns of his wife taking Tyrion as her prisoner, but Ned gets sidetracked when he is summoned by King Robert to talk with the Small Council about the news that Daenerys Targaryen is pregnant. Robert orders for Daenerys, her brother, and the unborn child to be assassinated, but Ned refuses to obey the order, believing Robert's personal hatred for Targaryens is clouding his judgement and that such an assassination would make Robert no better than the Mad King. An enraged Robert refuses to change his mind, making Ned resign his position as Hand of the King.
How unfortunate. The one true, no-doubt-about-it friendship that we've seen thus far in Game of Thrones between Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon has been cracked. Not for one second did we believe that Ned or Robert would turn their backs on one another, as we have come to learn that these two truly trust one another with their lives, through all of the wars and conflicts that they had faced before. But one way or another, Game of Thrones finds a way to create a ridge between them, because that's what happens to everyone and everything good in Westeros.
So Ned Stark starts packing up to leave King's Landing and head home for Winterfell with his daughters, but not before Petyr Baelish comes and tells Ned that if he waits long enough, he can come and speak to the last person that spoke with Jon Arryn before his untimely death. The person turns out to be a prostitute, who is the mother to one of Robert's illegitimate children. But just when Ned and his men try to leave, they are ambushed by Jaime Lannister who is demanding answers for his brother's imprisonment. We then get ourselves a showdown (albeit, a brief one) between the head of House Stark and the Kingslayer from House Lannister, and what a wonderful display of editing, choreography, and physical acting it is. Sean Bean clearly shows his experience from playing Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau looks like a natural using a sword. Neither Ned nor Jaime can gain a clear advantage, the fight only ending when one of Jaime's guards stabs Ned in the leg with a spear. Jaime demands for his brother's return, fleeing the scene and leaving the injured Ned to fall over and pass out.
The wolf and the lion are now at each other's throats, and you can bet that things are only going to get worse between House Stark and House Lannister. Game of Thrones elevates things to the next level with "The Wolf and the Lion", cranking up the action and making an almost complete transition out of its set-up stage. It is easily the best episode so far, with the final fight scene between Ned and Jaime bound to leave you wanting more. The overall story is now moving at a faster pace, and more exciting moments are soon to follow. We'll still get our monologues and drawn-out conversations here and there, but now with the various conflicts escalating, rest assured that there will be more swords swinging and less words spoken.
I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples, bastards, and broken things
Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by: Brian Kirk
"Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things" is a Game of Thrones episode dedicated to the, shall we say, special characters of Westeros: people who are undeniably looked down upon by the higher-ups in the Seven Kingdoms, believed to never be able to earn the titles and honors that have been bestowed on the likes of Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark. So far, that means the likes of Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, and now Bran Stark, the last of which is now paralyzed and unable to use his legs. Now, a new character comes along that fits quite snugly into the group of cripples, bastards, and broken things, and he looks to be Jon Snow's new best friend.
That character being Samwell Tarly, (John Bradley), the fat and clumsy new recruit to the Night's Watch. Poor Samwell is forced to try and fight against the other boys at Castle Black, only to get his ass handed to him time and time again. We later learn that Samwell was forced to "take the black" by his father, believing Samwell to be unworthy of his inheritance, going as far as to threaten to kill him. Yeesh. Now we've got parents threatening to murder their own children? Are there no bounds to your cruel, cruel ways, Game of Thrones (the answer is no; no there are not)? The early conversations we saw between Jon Snow and Tyrion were easily some of the best moments of the first handful of episodes, and I like to think that Samwell, in a way, replaces the presence of Tyrion for Jon Snow. Jon Snow easily sees that Samwell is getting the same kind of verbal harassment that he himself has been getting for being a bastard, so it makes sense for the two to immediately develop a friendship. There will definitely be more to talk about between these two as they get to know each other better down the road.
Meanwhile, tensions are starting to boil between Daenerys and Viserys. Daenerys invites Viserys to dinner, but Viserys misinterprets the invitation as an order, thus, he strikes Daenerys and begins to "unleash the dragon." However, we no longer have the timid Daenerys from "Winter is Coming"; her confidence is sky-high, and she feels a sense of purpose as we learned from last episode that Daenerys is pregnant with Khal Drogo's son. Daenerys strikes back at Viserys, threatening to cut off his hands if he tries to strike her again. My, how the tables have turned; Viserys is now the one who is the weak, broken thing, having little to no control over what Khal Drogo, the Dothraki, and now his own sister decide to do. This certainly won't end well for both of the Targaryens. I know I'm reaching a bit when I call Viserys a "broken thing", but now with Daenerys having the courage to strike back at her brother, Viserys' power over her is truly broken.
One thing that does not exactly fit the criteria of cripples, bastards, and broken things is the detective work taken on by Ned Stark in King's Landing, as he further investigates about the death of Jon Arryn. Ned learns that Arryn was reading a book on the lineages and histories of the Great House of the Seven Kingdoms, and with some help from Petyr Baelish, Ned finds a smith's apprentice that he deduces is a bastard son of King Robert. This discovery of a bastard son does not remedy the fact that the sequences in King's Landing in this episode are forcibly latched on and a bit unsuited for what this episode is trying to be. Granted, watching Ned ask about Jon Arryn continues to fuel the suspense of how everything is going to go down in King's Landing, but even if the happenings in King's Landing is arguably the main plotline of season 1, this is the one episode of the entire season that could afford to omit King's Landing, because there aren't many cripples or bastards to be in the royal capital of Westeros.
So, last but not least, we get to Tyrion, who really gets moving in just a 56 minute span. Tyrion makes a brief stop back in Winterfell before heading out onto the Kingsroad. At Winterfell, Tyrion encourages Bran that even if he is now a cripple, he can still try to ride a horse. Tyrion gives Bran the blueprints for a saddle that will allow him to ride again, and this earns Tyrion the approval of Robb Stark, who doesn't give Tyrion a warm welcome prior. Let's be clear on one thing: Tyrion Lannister has a heart of gold, despite the rest of Westeros constantly treating him like scum. Peter Dinklage's effortless charm is truly able to bring the character to life, because, as cheesy as this sounds, this was the role that Dinklage was born to play. The Lannisters have so far been built up as the primary villains of the show, yet Tyrion has displayed none of the malevolent cunning shown by his siblings. And though I said that "Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things" is dedicated to the "special" characters in Game of Thrones, that doesn't mean this episode is going to treat them with love and adoration. It's been quite the opposite, actually, as you can probably guess based on what happens to Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly for a portion of the episode. After Tyrion leaves Winterfell, he stops at an Inn that Catelyn Stark just happens to be at as well. Although Tyrion is able to easily see through Catelyn's disguise, she is able to earn the support of several bannermen at the inn after she requests that Tyrion be taken prisoner for the attempted murder on Bran. The episode ends with Tyrion getting a bunch of swords pointed at him, and it's pretty much the perfect way for the episode to end, a maligned dwarf being arrested and threatened by the swords of men he knows he can't fight against.
Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, Bran Stark, and now Samwell Tarly: Westeros is full of divergent characters that end up being the subjects of intense mockery and prejudice, which is why an early episode almost entirely dedicated to these characters is a wonderful thing for Game of Thrones to have early on. "Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things" brings us further development with these characters, all the while delivering some heated moments, most notably Daenerys striking back at her brother, to assure us that tensions are still on the rise and due to reach a fever pitch very soon. The episode could have probably done without its sequences in King's Landing, though watching Ned Stark play detective admittedly fuels more suspense. It's a good thing that we love the cripples, bastards, and broken things (well, maybe at least some of them); Westeros isn't going to give them any love.
Here, a man gets what he earns, when he earns it.
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Brian Kirk
Three episodes in, and almost every major character in season 1 of Game of Thrones is firmly in the place they need to be, most notably Jon Snow at Castle Black. Respect and admiration have already been hard to come by for the bastard son of Ned Stark, and it's not going to get any easier, as we quickly see that Castle Black is a place full of cheap, dirty, low-lifes that makes the Night Watch's recruiting system look like the laughingstock of Westeros. We watch Jon Snow prove himself to be the "least useless person here", as said by the sharp-tongued Ser Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale). Jon tries training with the other boys, but none of them have so much as picked up a sword, making it extremely easy for Jon to beat every single one of them. Jon's only sources of comfort at the Wall are his uncle Benjen Stark and Tyrion Lannister, but come on now. Nobody that is inherently good in the continent of Westeros is allowed to be happy and comfortable, so it's only natural that Uncle Benjen announces that he is leaving on a several-month ranging trip north of the Wall, and Tyrion, after taking his piss off the top of the Wall, departs to begin his trip back to King's Landing.
With our first look into the characters at the Wall, D&D are still making it very difficult for us to keep up with who is who and what is what. By now, we're pretty comfortable with the King, the Starks, the Lannisters, and the Targaryens that are all the way on the other side of the world. But now, we've got a whole new lovely lot of faces to keep track of, so heads are still spinning with mass confusion (this is a time when book readers have a humongous advantage). And yes, there are still a lot more characters that have yet to be introduced, but as Game of Thrones rolls along and really starts to pick up steam, it should become quite clear that there are honestly just four places we need to keep track of, regardless of how many characters are actually there:
1.) King's Landing
2.) The Wall
Granted, there will be several more locations, but what I just listed I would call the Big 4 of Game of Thrones locations. For those of us who haven't completely lost interest at this point, let's just remain optimistic, because with enough time and patience, we'll get to know Westeros and Essos like the back of our hand.
We'll have plenty more opportunities later on to talk about Jon Snow and his new digs, so let's not get too bogged down with him in this episode. We now transition to Ned Stark's arrival in King's Landing, where he is called upon to attend a meeting of the King's Small Council. The Council members are the king's brother Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony), the eunuch Lord Varys (Conleth Hill), Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover), and the Master of Coin Lord Peter 'Littlefinger' Baelish (Aidan Gillen). Ned and the council discuss the heavy debt that the crown currently faces, with Ned dismissing the idea of a tourney being held to honor his appointment as Hand of the King.
Early scenes taking place in King's Landing in this episode are our first chance to see the more political side of Game of Thrones, as the conversation between Ned and the Small Council is followed up by a conversation between Cersei and Joffrey, in which Joffrey expresses discontent over having to one day marry Sansa, followed by how he would impose taxation laws on the North and appoint someone who is truly loyal to the crown as Warden of the North. Cersei assures Joffrey that anyone who isn't them is their enemy, which is a clear indication to us that no one is going to get the best of the Lannisters and get away with it.
Speaking of the Lannisters, I've said next to nothing so far about the other Lannister sibling, Jaime. We get quite a bit of him in this episode, primarily in two separate conversations he has, first with Ned and then later with King Robert. This is when we learn why Jaime is referred to as the Kingslayer: Jaime killed the previous King before Robert, the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, who was also the father of Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen. These conversations with Jaime are easily some of the best moments of the entire episode, as we get our first real taste of something that George R.R. Martin likes to do with his more villainous characters: make their motivations entirely clear and have the character explain their side of the story. Only two episodes in, and Jaime has established himself as a no-good son of a bitch, yet despite his unforgivable acts, he is not a man without morals (though pushing a ten-year old boy out a window would suggest otherwise), which is why it's best for us to keep a close eye on him and understand that there may be some humanity buried underneath his dashing good looks and desire to be close with Cersei.
Going back to Ned Stark, he discovers Needle when he goes to visit Arya in her room. Arya exclaims her desire to become a swordsman, and Ned secretly helps Arya carry out this desire by enlisting the help of the "water dancer" Syrio Forel (Miltos Yerolemou) to teach Arya lessons in swordsmanship. It's a classic example of Ned being the loving father that he is, though the episode doesn't necessarily end on a happy note. As Ned watches Arya practice with Syrio, his smile quickly turns into a look of concern, as we hear the sound of clattering swords right as the screen goes black. Game of Thrones is usually very subtle with its foreshadowing, but I find this foreshadowing to be a test of how much the viewer is really paying attention. If you're not listening hard enough, you'll miss the sound of the swords and assume the episode ends on a happy note. But if you do catch it, then you can make an educated guess that not only is bloodshed coming, but Arya is bound to take part in it, one way or another.
Ned also gets an unexpected surprise when Catelyn makes a secret visit to King's Landing, meeting with Petyr Baelish to discuss the attempted murder on Bran. When Catelyn gets ready to depart, she and Ned have a heartfelt goodbye, and you know that this will mean one of two things: either this is the last time that the two will ever see each other, or when Ned and Catelyn do meet up again, it will be a very long time from now. Savor all of these precious moments during the show; you never know when another one will come by.
Lastly, in Essos, we see that Daenerys has gained quite a bit of confidence, now feeling much more comfortable with her husband and knowing that she has the full support of Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) and others in the Dothraki tribe. Daenerys is even starting to feel like she can give commands, but this will not stand with her brother, who assaults her and threatens to unleash the dragon. Daenerys' bloodrider Rakharo (Elyes Gabel) intervenes and nearly chokes Viserys to death, but Daenerys begs for her brother to be spared. There is a major role reversal going on now between the Targaryen siblings; the impatient, controlling Viserys is losing his grip on his sister and the Dothraki tribe, while Daenerys has found herself a brand new support system, coming to fully embrace her new role as a Khaleesi (the wife of a Khal). If things continue like this between the Targaryens, something's gotta give.
So we're not quite there yet, but season 1 of Game of Thrones is almost completely out of its set-up stage, getting more and more characters into their rightful locations, while developing a few new plot lines that will continue to grow as the episodes roll along. Further character development takes a bit of a backseat in this episode, the only thing that I would say is clearly missing. Nonetheless, "Lord Snow" is filled with some intriguing conversations and some charming moments, as well as starting to give us a further look into some of the themes and ideas that makes Game of Thrones as compelling as it is. It only gets more intense from here on out. Enjoy these semi-peaceful times while you still can.
There's a war coming, Ned. Don't know when. Don't know who will be fighting. But it's coming.
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Tim Van Patten
If there is one lesson to be learned by watching Game of Thrones, it's that we should never ever latch too tightly onto a set character or a set group of characters. Just after we were introduced to the lovely Stark family in "Winter is Coming", the Starks have to go their separate ways. Ned begins his journey to King's Landing to serve as the new Hand of the King to Robert Baratheon, being accompanied by his daughters Sansa and Arya. Catelyn begins a secret journey to King's Landing after finding a long strand of blonde hair in the tower where Jaime and Cersei Lannister had sex, intensifying her suspicions that the Lannisters may be involved with what happened to Bran. Speaking of Bran, turns out he will survive his nasty fall from the tower, but unfortunately, he's been stuck in a coma for over a month. Meanwhile, Jon Snow prepares for his journey to the Wall, where he will become a sworn brother of the Night's Watch.
This is an episode filled with goodbyes, yet it's hard to feel sad if you're watching the show for the first time ever, because we haven't spent a lot of time with these characters and have no clue that "Winter is Coming" is the one and only time in the entire series that the whole Stark family will be together in one place. Still though, D&D give us a good enough glimpse into the relationships between several characters, as well as progressing the relationships between characters that will be spending much more time together throughout the rest of the first season.
Here is my chance to have my first real, in-depth discussion of Jon Snow, the bastard son of Ned Stark. Jon has a wide range of conversations in this episode, beginning with giving Arya a sword as a present. Jon smiles as Arya complains about having to fold her clothes and that she does not care for the thread and needles that the other girls use to make clothes. This leads to Arya naming the sword "Needle" with Jon instructing Arya to, "stick them with the pointy end." Clearly, Jon finds Arya's tomboy-ish personality to be charming, trusting that she will use the sword wisely. But this sugar-sweet farewell between Jon and Arya is followed up by a caustic encounter between Jon and Catelyn, when Jon comes to say goodbye to Bran. Catelyn, always having felt resentment towards Jon, orders him to leave. Then comes a conversation that falls somewhere in the middle of sweet and caustic, though it leans more towards sweet. Tyrion Lannister accompanies Jon on his journey to the Wall, hoping to see "the edge of the world." The conversation in the woods between Tyrion and Jon is a continuation of what the two discuss in "Winter is Coming": the two are abnormal in the eyes of their families, with Tyrion explaining that he must read a lot of books in order to strengthen his mind, knowing his brain must be his weapon, as he will never be a miraculous swordsman on the battlefield. There is a true dynamic between Tyrion and Jon that we, unfortunately, don't get to see very much of. These two have already been met with a lot of resentment, and it makes all the sense in the world for the two to be friends, not enemies. So in summary, over the span of just 56 minutes, The Kingsroad shows us a neat mixture of reactions towards Jon Snow, and how he begins to learn to embrace his bastard identity and never let anyone use it against him. It works much the same way for Tyrion, whose identity as a dwarf highly affects how others look at him.
Over in Essos, not too much is going on in at the moment with the Targaryen siblings and the Dothraki tribe. The most significant thing we can take away is that Daenerys' confidence begins to grow, as she consults the help of one of her handmaidens, who teaches her how to do better in bed with Khal Drogo. Daenerys got thrown right into the fire last time, being sold off by her brother and looking as if she is in agony while being intimate with Drogo, so this is pretty special to see her start to make the most of her current predicament. Growing closer with her new husband is the beginning of Daenerys shedding her meek skin.
The other major development in The Kingsroad is the scuffle that happens between the Stark girls and Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), which serves to further divide House Stark and House Lannister. Sansa expresses her desire to be with Joffrey, in the hopes that the two will one day get married and have a family together. Unfortunately, no one else in Westeros has the courage to tell Sansa that Joffrey is a spoiled little brat who takes sadistic pleasure in hurting others. That's exactly what he shows us when Sansa and Joffrey run into Arya sparring with a butcher's boy out by a river. Joffrey challenges the boy to a duel and starts to cut his cheek, leading to Arya knocking Joffrey's sword away and Arya's direwolf Nymeria making a snack out of Joffrey's wrist. Any and all moments of Joffrey getting hurt should be savored slowly and delicately, and The Kingsroad actually gives us a double dosage of Joffrey pain when Tyrion slaps him several times when he refuses to go pay respects to the Starks for Bran's injury. A meeting is held later on to discuss the incident and who, if anyone, should be punished. Joffrey lies to everyone, claiming that Sansa and Arya ganged up on him. Joffrey can't get the last laugh in this incident, can he? Oh yes he can, says Game of Thrones. Joffrey's mother Cersei goes along with her son's lie, and requests that Sansa's direwolf Lady be killed, as Arya forced Nymeria to run away. Ned Stark takes it upon himself to execute the direwolf, and oh, does it hurt my ears to hear the cry of pain from an innocent, dog-like animal getting killed, especially because it was not at fault with anything that just happened.
It's a bit much at this point to say that there is a "rivalry" between House Stark and House Lannister, but through two episodes, House Stark has been dealt major blows at the hands of House Lannister. First, you've got Jaime Lannister pushing Bran out of the window, and now the Lannisters force Ned Stark to kill the animal that is the sigil of House Stark. Right now, this is shaping up to be a simple battle of good versus evil, but George R.R. Martin wants to show us, in one way or another, that good and evil does not accurately depict how things are in the real world, so it should not be expected for this to shape up to be a mere triumph of good versus evil. The world of Westeros has its heroes and its villains, but Westeros is a world where no one will hold your hand and comfort you, no matter if you're the noblest man or the most demented sadist.
In conclusion, The Kingsroad is a satisfying episode of television that continues to set up some hefty events to come later on in the series, most evident in Robert Baratheon suggesting that a war is coming. The episode also gives us more meaty character development that will carry over into the episodes yet to come, particularly with Jon Snow, Tyrion, Daenerys, and the relationship between Sansa and Joffrey. This early in the game, a "progression" episode is something of a necessity, even if we're still getting used to the continents of Westeros and Essos and all of the crazy people in them.
Winter is Coming
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Tim Van Patten
Welcome, friends! Today, we begin what will be a long and agonizing journey through HBO's mega-popular fantasy series, Game of Thrones. Whoever said I would only do movie reviews in my time on this blog? As the torturous wait for the final season of Game of Thrones is still at hand, I figured I would spice things up a little more by starting a brand new review series, one that I hope to have complete by the time the final season of Game of Thrones airs (sometime in the first half of 2019; official premiere date TBA). Now, as this is a television series, I figured it would make sense to structure my reviews a little differently than my normal movie reviews: There will be no high points or low points given for each episode, as there is obviously not as much content to discuss (we're only talking 50-60 minutes for an episode as opposed to the range of 90-120 minutes for a movie). In addition, I won't give a specific letter grade for each episode, but I'll talk more about that at the end of this review.
The other important thing to mention is that reviews will always give spoilers for that particular episode, and some reviews may hint at future events that will happen in the series (if necessary). So for those of you who have never seen Game of Thrones, you have been warned.
Alright then! Let's get started! I'm not going to go scene by scene, but rather discuss the most important events of the episode and how they make the episode add up as a whole. So "Winter is Coming" opens with three rangers from the Night's Watch traveling beyond the Wall. One of the rangers, Will (Bronson Webb), comes across a bunch of mutilated corpses, and the men eventually encounter demonic creatures known as White Walkers. The White Walkers leave Will alive, but kill the other two men. Will flees the scene and heads South.
The White Walker from the opening scene
The importance of this opening scene is not readily obvious from the get-go. In fact, the reason why this scene matters so much won't become clear until much much later in the show. What we should take away from this one scene, however, is that it is George R.R. Martin in the prologue of the first A Song of Ice and Fire novel, A Game of Thrones, and D&D (D&D is short for David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the creators of the show) telling us that the White Walkers are a threat to the people of Westeros. In fact, the White Walkers are the ultimate threat, greater than every terrible human being we will come to meet. But I'm getting too far ahead of myself. We'll revisit this scene much later down the line.
We then move on to Winterfell, a location deep in the North of Westeros and the home of the Stark family. There is Eddard "Ned" Stark (Sean Bean), his wife Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), and their five children: eldest son Robb (Richard Madden), daughters Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams), and two young boys Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and Rickon (Art Parkinson). Living with the Stark family are Ned's illegitimate son Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and ward Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen). We get brief insights into the personalities of each Stark family member: Ned is a father who models himself through honor and respect, Catelyn is a protective mother who is fearful of what could happen to her children if they leave Winterfell, Robb strives to be a great warrior, Sansa loves to act as lady-like as possible, Arya scoffs at being lady-like, and Bran has a habit of climbing up tall structures.
The Starks are as loving and caring of a family as you'll ever find in Westeros, which is heartbreaking because the world of Game of Thrones is bloody and ruthless, and this show will tell us time and time again that we can have no nice things. It's no wonder Ned gets bummed when his friend, the King of Westeros, Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) arrives in Winterfell with his wife, Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) of House Lannister, and her two brothers: Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). Robert asks Ned to become the new Hand of the King, as the previous Hand Jon Arryn had died, presumably of a fever. I promise I'm almost done with stating plot points.
The other bit of set-up done in this episode is what's going on on the other side of the world in the continent of Essos, a major story arc throughout the first six seasons. Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd), plots to make a return to Westeros and overthrow King Robert and reclaim his father's throne. Viserys plans to acquire an army by selling off his sister, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), to Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), the leader of the savage Dothraki tribe. Viserys is an arrogant, impatient, and bratty individual who threatens to "unleash the dragon" on his meek sister if she does not help him get what he wants.
There are a lot of names and faces to keep up with, and trying to understand who is who and what is what is not entirely clear after this one episode. The main thing to take away from "Winter is Coming" is that it is D&D simply setting up the fictional fantasy world from George R.R. Martin's series of A Song of Ice and Fire novels and setting up the later events of the first season, something this episode does a fine job of by giving us hints of how danger is afoot and that there will be no happilyy ever after for everybody involved. The real muscle of this first episode, however, is the examples it gives of just how violent and unforgiving that this fantasy world is. Let's start with Daenerys. Her brother forces her into a marriage to a man that leads a tribe whose only way of life is fighting and war. The timid Daenerys gets it even worse when Khal Drogo forces her to strip naked and have rough sex with him. How wicked is that? A girl we have just been introduced to, being portrayed as shy and innocent, and right away, she basically gets raped. Drogo forces her on her knees, and Daenerys, with tears in her eyes, has no choice but to let her new husband have his way with her. Game of Thrones is especially famous for its frequent depictions of sex and nudity, and I do not believe this is going to be the one and only time I will bring this topic up.
Was my depiction of Daenerys not enough for you? Then how about the final scene of the episode, in which Bran climbs to the top of a tower, where he finds Jaime and Cersei having incestuous sex with each other. Bran is caught, and Jaime stating, "the things I do for love", pushes Bran out the tower window, presumably to fall to his death. That's right. The very first episode takes a ten-year old boy and pushes him out of a several story window. Not even children are safe from Game of Thrones' barbarous ways.
There are several other characters needing discussion like Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister, but don't worry, there will be plenty of opportunities to talk about those two and others later on. What we've got in "Winter is Coming" is a busy and engrossing opener that doesn't get too bogged down in pure set-up, taking the time to develop future plot lines, explore its central characters and their personalities, and, most of all, give us memorable examples of why the world of Game of Thrones will never cease to shock us and break our hearts. While I can't say the episode will get you "hooked", it will have you wanting to come back for more, and that's the most you could ask for out of a series opener. Ice zombies, political squabbling, incest, and children being pushed out of windows? It's a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad world.
Episodes will be rated 0-5 out of a possible 5. 5/5 meaning the episode is a masterful episode of television and 0/5 meaning the episode is a total disaster with no redeeming qualities. Ratings in between are pretty self-explanatory.
The King of Queens
Battle of the Sexes is directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris and stars Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, and Natalie Morales. It is loosely based on the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
The 90th Academy Awards back in March 2018 will be best remembered for its tackling of Time's Up, #MeToo, and the seemingly endless series of sexual misconduct allegations in Hollywood. The Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations back in October 2017 kicked this movement against sexual harassment/assault into high gear, so it would make all the sense in the world for a film or two to come out and get caught up in the wildfire that was happening between the rise of the Me Too movement and the deadline for the 2018 Oscar nominations. Really, a film that had any sort of story dealing with a woman or a group of women fighting back against male chauvinism would seem like an absolute shoe-in for the 2018 Oscar nominations, and that is exactly why Battle of the Sexes, which actually came out a month before #MeToo went viral, is as Oscarbait-y as they come.
Which is why it should come as a total shock that not only did the movie not win any Oscars, it didn't even get nominated for any Oscars. So does that mean that the film should be considered something of a failure? To that question, I would honestly say, yes, the movie is a little bit of a failure. Battle of the Sexes bombed at the box office and hardly anything about it is memorable in any way, despite having charismatic leads in Emma Stone and Steve Carell. If the movie was never able to pick up steam after the emergence of #MeToo, then there is clearly something wrong at its core.
The story revolves around the famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, at a time when women's tennis was seen as inferior. The film dramatizes the events leading up to the match. Billie Jean and her fellow tennis players begin their own women's tour, where Billie Jean starts an affair with her hairdresser, Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough). Meanwhile, Bobby Riggs struggles with a gambling addiction, threatening his marriage to his wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue). After getting thrown out of his own house, Riggs has an idea to challenge the top woman player in the world, believing, even at age 55, he can beat any woman in the world.
- The one thing you think would be deserving of praise in Battle of the Sexes are its two lead performers. Unfortunately, Carell is the only one deserving of praise here, successfully portraying a goofy Bobby Riggs that is full of arrogance and looks down upon his female competition. Emma Stone is...eh, I mean, she's not bad. Stone just doesn't do much to convince you that she's playing a professional athlete, because, no offense to her, but she just doesn't have the look of someone who can play a professional athlete. She plays things way too safe here, relying on simply her normal acting charm to get by. Stone's acting charm will work in some roles like in La La Land, but not here. Meanwhile, Carell is a lot more in his comfort zone in his role, and that's a letdown because he's not in the movie anywhere near as much as he should be.
- I don't know why, but Battle of the Sexes insists on being a story about Billie Jean King as much as humanly possible, while sneaking in a few scenes of Bobby Riggs here and there just to make sure you don't forget that this movie is titled Battle of the Sexes and not, 1970s Tennis, as told by Billie Jean King. King dominates so much of the story that Bobby Riggs is basically a supporting character, which is why the match at the end doesn't feel anywhere near as exciting as the movie desperately tries making it out to be, evidenced by a flurry of scenes in which we see commentators talking about the match and all the pre-game hype pumping up the match like it was the Super Bowl. The movie having such a deep love for its female lead is the only way the movie believes it can get across its radically feminist agenda, without a care in the world for exploring what makes its selfish, chauvinist male characters so condescending towards women.
- Probably the worst thing about Battle of the Sexes though is how completely artificial it is. Characters are one-note throughout, falling into the category of strong woman or sexist man. The dialogue is incredibly tacky in how much it's trying to sound feminist, with hardly any of it sounding natural. And worst of all, the movie is straight up boring, giving us little to no "cinematic" tennis (directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris decided to shoot the Battle fo the Sexes as much like an actual tennis match as possible), and going basically nowhere with any of its subplots. The whole movie is constructed to be as message-like as possible, but with hardly any serious care towards working the message into the story-telling and towards making the sport that serves as the backdrop behind the movie's real-life inspiration look fun and exciting (as several sports movies do). It's all meant to be as pro-women as possible, but does so by being as shove-it-down-your-throat as it can be, relying on characters and dialogue that are as plastic and as forced as they come.
Honestly, there is no reason for Battle of the Sexes to be as joyless as it is. Steve Carell is the only bright spot in a movie that should be full of bright spots. The artificial "female empowerment" approach completely detracts from any and all interest to be had in the real-life story of Billie Jean King versus Bobby Riggs, and nothing about the characters, dialogue, or tennis scenes will have you wanting to come back and watch this movie again. Battle of the Sexes is one of the more recent examples of, "see it once then quickly forget about it" kind of movies, which is a shame because with the rise of #MeToo and Time's Up, this movie should have been absolute dynamite at the box office. But nope, it's just another boring, forgettable biopic. Gosh, did I not want to say all that for this movie.
I live for the applause, applause, applause
A Star is Born is directed, co-written, and produced by Bradley Cooper and stars Cooper alongside Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chapelle, and Sam Elliott. It is the third remake of the 1937 film of the same name, following the 1954 musical starring Judy Garland and the 1976 rock musical with Barbara Streisand.
For both Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, A Star is Born represents a beginning: the directorial debut for Cooper and the acting debut for Gaga. There should be a set level of tolerance for actors and directors in their respective debuts (though here, Cooper is doubling down as an actor); there are no high and mighty expectations, meaning we as the audience won't demand too much. But if the success that A Star is Born has already achieved signifies anything, it's that Cooper has now set meaningful expectations as a director and that Lady Gaga has what it takes to branch her career into the world of acting. Between the two, Cooper being a good director is less surprising. I would think that Cooper, having worked in front of the camera enough times as an actor over the years, has learned a thing or two about how directors operate. Lady Gaga, on the other hand, surprises in a way that will certainly have her name now thrown into the hat of promising future actresses.
The story involves a famous musician named Jackson Maine (Cooper) who regularly sells out concerts but privately struggles with an intense drinking problem. Jackson stops at a bar one night and witnesses the young singer-songwriter Ally (Gaga) perform in front of a crowd. Impressed by her talent, Jackson takes Ally out for the night, finding out that she gave up on pursuing a professional music career. The two develop a friendship, and Jackson invites Ally to come backstage to one of his shows. When Ally goes to the show, Jackson invites her to sing on-stage, turning Ally into a social media sensation. The two begin to perform together during more shows and soon become a romantic couple. Ally's music career soon takes off, but as she grows more and more popular, Jackson's excessive drinking becomes more and more of a challenge for their relationship.
I am unaware of any and all acting background that Lady Gaga might have had before she starred in this film, but given the kind of musical style that she has embraced thus far into her career, there is utterly no reason to think that Gaga would be apprehensive while acting on camera. Gaga has embraced eccentricity and bizarre visuals in her music videos, so if she has no problem with wearing funky make-up and dancing around while half-naked, then acting in a musical romance couldn't have possibly been that much more intimidating to her. Bradley Cooper isn't letting Gaga off easy here though. He throws her right into the fire with a role that demands for Gaga to show a wide range of emotions and keep up with a story that isn't all that sugary-sweet.
- Cooper and Gaga show a lot of vigor in their roles and have a chemistry together that makes you want to follow these two on their love tour through all the highs and all the lows. There are plenty of good vibes to be had watching Jackson and Ally sing on stage together and as the two grow closer in their love for one another, even though in the back of our minds, we know that this is a bittersweet love story that will absolutely not have a Disney-esque ending. The two are charming and funny and don't have to try too hard to show us how, which to me is the greatest strength of the film.
- Just from the trailers, you're likely to guess that A Star is Born has great music. If you did make that guess, you are correct. All of the songs are super lovely to listen to, and there is not one weak link in the film's soundtrack. Cooper and Gaga belt out lyrics with an undeniable love for the words being spoken, while also doing a nice job with annunciations and not sounding like a drunk man's attempt at Wednesday night karaoke. And though the movie is not filled to the brim with songs, it does do the one thing with its songs that I claim every musical film/show should strive for: have the songs fuel the plot and/or character development. I've seen too many musicals who have song numbers just for the sake of being show-y, but that is not at all the case here. All of the songs serve a concrete purpose in regards to the story and its characters, so the music in A Star is Born deserves a huge thumbs up, for what it is, in and of itself, and what purpose it serves in the movie.
- I had to take a few days to fully process this movie after I saw it, and no matter how much I thunk it through, there was next to nothing about A Star is Born that I found disappointing or troublesome. Now, I didn't find the movie to be a masterpiece or anything of that nature; it's not ambitious enough so as to make that great leap into potential for masterpiece status. There is a tad bit of an Oscarbait feeling at work here, but winning Academy Awards is certainly not at the top of this film's to-do list. But given how much this film succeeds at, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga will definitely be in the midst of the 2019 Oscars winners conversation.
For the vast majority of 2018, I've admittedly gone the superhero, blockbusters, and pure entertainment routes in regards to new releases, passing up on basically every good new drama, rom-com, or biographical film. And since I've made myself out to be so predictable with which new releases I will go see and review, I'm sure anyone who has read enough reviews on this blog assumed that I would go see Venom instead of A Star is Born. I decided, however, to switch things up a bit and go with what was considerably the second most popular pick for "new release to go see" this past week. I do not regret the switch-up one bit. A Star is Born has practically everything you could ask for from a musical film: great lead performances, an intriguing and touching love story, and, of course, terrific music. The film marks one of the best directing debuts of 2018 for Bradley Cooper and the birth of what may be a promising acting career for Lady Gaga. If Cooper didn't have directing expectations and Gaga didn't have any acting expectations going in, well, they do now. If A Star is Born is the kind of work that the two are capable of creating, I can't wait to see what other projects the two do down the line, whether together or individually.
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