Logan Lucky

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“Logan Lucky” is an American crime comedy directed by Steven Soderbergh (“Ocean’s Eleven”); starring Channing Tatum (“Foxcatcher”), Adam Driver (“Frances Ha”), and Daniel Craig (“Layer Cake”). I would describe “Logan Lucky” as a heist movie with moments of comedy rather than a comedy which depicts a heist, because although it’s funny in places it doesn’t constantly throw jokes at the audience.

The heist itself is well thought out and you can tell that Soderbergh knows how to craft a film of this ilk, but the twists and turns in the movie aren’t particularly compelling because there’s no persuasive reason to care about the characters.

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In order to make Jimmy Logan – this film’s protagonist played by Channing Tatum – likeable Soderbergh does the typical Hollywood thing of giving him a child. Usually this is designed to artificially make the lead character relatable because almost everyone has/had a family and therefore can relate to the parent-child dynamic. Unfortunately this doesn’t work in “Logan Lucky” because the relationship between Jimmy and his child isn’t carefully explored and it doesn’t feel as though he’s doing the heist to make his daughter’s life better.

There’s a suggestion that Jimmy plans the heist because his ex-wife (played by Katie Holmes) wants to move across state lines with his daughter, but it isn’t clear whether or not this would be a bad thing for the child. Essentially Jimmy has a conversation with his ex-wife which ends in the revelation that she plans to leave town. Jimmy isn’t happy about this and so he threatens to get a lawyer, presumably to fight for custody. The implication is that he needs money to do this which leads to the heist, but because Bobbie Jo (Jimmy’s ex-wife) isn’t particularly dislikeable or antagonistic you don’t feel as though the child would be any worse off without her father; therefore the heist feels selfish rather than necessary.

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Of course, Jimmy doesn’t have to be likeable for this movie to work. “Logan Lucky” would’ve been fine if it had been a witty and action-packed heist movie but slow pacing and a lack of conflict means that it falls flat. There are moments of comedy such as when a group of prison inmates take hostages and demand a copy of George R. R. Martin’s unwritten “Winds of Winter” before agreeing to release them, but a couple of good jokes don’t make up for a largely uneventful film.

Almost all the performances in “Logan Lucky” are acceptable and the cast is excellent on the whole: Adam Driver and Daniel Craig are great, Channing Tatum and Riley Keough (“It Comes at Night”) are perfectly serviceable, and Brian Gleeson (“Snow White and the Huntsman”) and Jack Quaid (“The Hunger Games”) play likeable side characters. However, the actors’ efforts don’t translate to an entertaining movie because nothing brings individual elements such as the script and the cinematography together in an exciting way.

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It’s clear that Soderbergh cares about the presentation of “Logan Lucky” and by all accounts it’s a visually interesting film, but he doesn’t do enough to bring clarity to the narrative. The film has three clearly defined acts; the set-up, the heist, and the aftermath. The first two acts work well and although the pacing is slightly arduous my perception of the movie would’ve been positive if I’d left the cinema once the heist was complete, but sadly the third act lacks direction, is predictable, and bafflingly introduces new characters!

From the moment the heist finishes to the time the credits roll “Logan Lucky” is a pain to watch. Soderbergh comprehensively destroys the rest of the movie in the space of 30 minutes and makes you wish you hadn’t bothered buying a ticket in the first place, so it’s hard to say that the overall product is good.

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I feel that the best way to describe “Logan Lucky” is confused. The performances, dialogue, and cinematography are great but it doesn’t entertain and nothing about it is special. The third act is completely forgettable and audience members would be forgiven for falling asleep before the end which makes it a difficult movie to praise. “Logan Lucky” certainly isn’t awful and parts of it are done well, but nothing about it is exceptional so I would advise that you give it a miss.

5/10

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Game of Thrones: Season Seven, Episode 6 – “Beyond the Wall”

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“Beyond the Wall” is the penultimate episode of the penultimate season of “Game of Thrones”. After a season of middling quality it was important to move the plot forward and make a step-up in quality prior to next week’s finale, so I’m pleased to say that this episode was my favourite of the season so far.

However, the fact that I preferred it to the rest of the episodes in season seven doesn’t mean that I think it was perfect, and in fact there are numerous issues with it that are only mollified by the episode’s climax.

“Beyond the Wall” began in the eponymous location, with our band of misfit heroes venturing into the snow on a mission to capture a wight. Several conversations took place between the likes of Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), Jon (Kit Harington) and The Hound (Rory McCann), and although most of them were used as exposition I still appreciated them for what they were. Tormund advised Jon to bend the knee to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), using Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds) as an example of where an over reliance on pride can leave you, and he also had an interaction with The Hound later on which I particularly enjoyed.

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The episode then turned its attention to Winterfell. Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams) continued to bicker despite the fact that not long ago they were laughing together in the crypts, and once again their presence brought the episode down in quality. Maisie Williams’ acting in this scene was atrocious – I don’t think I’ve ever singled her out for criticism before in a “Thrones” review because I think she’s good at her job and also quite likeable, but her delivery here was artificial and she wasn’t believable at all.

The thing that’s so jarring about the scenes between Arya and Sansa at this point is that in every conversation they have I come out on Sansa’s side, which is laughable because Arya is trying to protect Jon whereas Sansa is being influenced by Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen). We should find Arya entertaining and enjoy the fact that she’s being so ruthless, especially given that she’s doing things for the right reasons, but she’s always wrong and she doesn’t give Sansa a chance to explain herself! I couldn’t care less about this storyline at this point and the constant tease that Arya might kill Sansa makes it abundantly clear that by the time the season is over they’ll be friends again and Littlefinger will be dead.

With that scene out of the way the episode focused once again on its main attraction, with Tormund and The Hound having the conversation which I previously praised. Tormund expressed his infatuation with Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), with The Hound picking up on who exactly he was talking about and thus looking mildly annoyed. I thought this was a funny moment and the dialogue worked because somehow Tormund has become one of the most endearing characters on the show.

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Next we were also treated to a conversation between Beric (Richard Dormer) and Jon in which they bonded over being brought back from the dead and explained that there is only one real enemy; death itself. Again I thought this was a decent interaction and I had a fun time watching it play out. I’m a fan of Richard Dormer in this role and I think that Beric is an interesting character who I’d like to see more of. For me the only issue here was that conversations continued to take place between pairs of characters rather than the whole group, because generally this is a cheap and easy way of developing characters in isolation. It’s something that “The Walking Dead” did a lot of in its early seasons and I was annoyed by it then so it would be inconsistent not to complain about it now.

Following this scene, Daenerys and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) appeared for the first time in the episode and spoke about what it means to be a hero. Dany said that the thing she liked about Tyrion was that he wasn’t one, but she also said that he wasn’t a coward because she wouldn’t have chosen a coward as her Hand. These two work well together on screen so this was another moment that I enjoyed, but I’m not sure whether or not I can fully buy into the idea of Jon and Dany being in love after such a short period of time.

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Nevertheless, Tyrion’s logic when it came to how Daenerys should empathise with her enemies in order to defeat them was sound and I thought it was interesting that he brought up succession in an episode so close to the series’ end. What exactly this means going forward is up for debate, but it seems to me that either the showrunners were teasing the idea that Dany will die before the series finishes or more likely that she will have a child with Jon Snow. Either way this conversation was well written and it generated interest from me about where Daenerys’ character is headed in season eight.

Back beyond the Wall things quickly became perilous as the weather took a turn for the worse. In the distance a bear could be seen wandering the winter wilderness when suddenly it turned to look at Jon and his men with bright blue eyes. Whether or not they would’ve actually been able to make out the colour of the bear’s eyes in the middle of a snow storm is certainly questionable, but the idea of starting the action off with this kind of mini boss battle was a good one and I thought it was a cool scene. I was slightly confused by the fact that people ended up getting killed randomly, because prior to this scene I didn’t realise that there were nameless characters within the group. When people started dying I thought that important characters were being discarded which was made worse by a lack of visibility.

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My biggest complaint about this scene was that Thoros (Paul Kaye) survived the bear attack because it clearly took a major bite out of his chest. If the bear had swiped at Thoros with its claws rather than biting him then I could’ve accepted his survival, but given the nature of the attack I thought it was particularly stupid that he managed to live when the plan was to have him die later in the episode anyway.

When this was over the showrunners once again tried to fool gullible members of the audience into believing that the Arya/Sansa conflict might go somewhere. Littlefinger tried to turn Sansa against Arya and suggested that Brienne could intercede on Sansa’s behalf if Arya became volatile. This in itself was an intriguing idea, but for people paying attention it was quashed later in the episode when Sansa sent Brienne to King’s Landing in her stead.

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Cersei (Lena Headey) had requested that Sansa return to the capital, presumably to hear about the threat of the White Walkers from Jon and Dany, but being the suspicious person that she is Sansa decided to send someone else in her place. By sending Brienne the writers effectively told the audience that Sansa didn’t believe that she needed to be protected from Arya, and thus wasn’t listening to Littlefinger. This destroyed any tension that audience members may have been feeling after the earlier scenes at Winterfell and also made the last scene that took place there (which I’ll get onto later) feel incredibly contrived.

The episode continued to shine during scenes which took place beyond the Wall, as the group finally made their move to kidnap a soldier from the Army of the Dead. The cinematography leading up to this moment was quite nice and the music was also good, ramping up the tension when the time came for Jon and his men to attack a White Walker and his minions. The main takeaway from this scene was that when you kill a White Walker you also kill every wight that they’ve brought back from the dead. This was a major reveal and explained how it will be possible to defeat the Night King (Richard Brake) in the long run, but what wasn’t explained was why this didn’t happen back at Hardhome in season five.

The scene only got more exciting from this point as Jon and the others tried to tie a wight up and take it back to Eastwatch. The wight didn’t seem to appreciate being manhandled and thus proceeded to screech, alerting masses of his friends to charge on the group and leave them exposed in the middle of a frozen lake. This was a tense moment which got my blood pumping and left me ready for more from the episode, and I thought that the special effects were superb.

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My only issue with this scene was that by sending Gendry (Joe Dempsie) back to Eastwatch the writers made it too obvious that Daenerys was going to rescue the group. I understand why this choice was made because somebody had to alert her to the situation for the climax to make sense, but it would’ve been more impactful if we knew that Gendry was on his way back but didn’t see him make it there safely.

With the group surrounded they began to wonder how they could possibly survive, particularly given the extreme weather conditions and lack of food, and to press this point home the writers decided that now was the time for Thoros to die. I know why this decision was made and I thought that it was smart to kill Thoros in order to make the rest of the characters more vulnerable – given that Thoros could’ve brought them back from the dead – but for me it would’ve been better if he’d died when the bear attacked him rather than when his death wasn’t the focal point of the scene.

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After a brief visit to Winterfell, (which I’ve already touched upon), the action continued as The Hound threw rocks at the wights in frustration. The first rock that The Hound threw hit a wight on the jaw and shattered the bottom half of its face, but the second rock ended up doing more damage to our heroes than it did to the wights. The Hound’s throw fell short and as it hit the ice it bounced forward and came to a stop. This was followed by a moment of silence in which both the audience and the characters came to the same realisation, which was that the ice was sturdy enough to walk on and therefore the wights could start to attack.

The problem that I had with this scene, and indeed with the rest of the scenes beyond the Wall, was that the wights didn’t attack with any kind of cohesion. They attacked the heroes separately, as though they wanted the fight to be fair, when what they should’ve done was swarm on Jon and his men as a group and overrun them. There were hundreds of wights in frame at one point and yet when it came to the battle it felt like the heroes were always in control, which from my perspective was nonsensical and destroyed my immersion.

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Eventually Daenerys made her grand entrance and began to even the odds, but by this point any sense of tension had evaporated because it was clear that the writers had no intention of killing off any of the human characters. Daenerys’ timing was incredibly convenient, and it seemed silly to me that she didn’t immediately fry the Night King because the blue man with the spear orchestrating the battle should’ve been her first target!

However, I will concede that the effects were amazing especially given that this is a television show and not a studio movie, and Dany’s outfit looked fantastic. Once my initial frustration at the convenience of Dany’s entrance dissipated I began to appreciate what I was watching again, and I was genuinely shocked when the Night King killed Viserion. For me this was easily the best moment of the season and the only moment so far that I believe has been truly exceptional. Emilia Clarke’s acting was awesome in this scene, as it has been all season, and I think that Daenerys is as likeable now as she was back in season one.

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The episode then devolved slightly as the writers tried to trick the audience into believing that Jon was going to be left behind, because although this could’ve been a frightening moment it never felt as though it was actually going to happen. The fact that Benjen (Joseph Mawle) appeared out of nowhere to save the day was irritating and just didn’t seem plausible, and I was waiting for the episode to move on at this point. I also thought that it was ridiculous that Benjen stayed behind to fight the wights because he only killed about three of them before being murdered mercilessly. He could’ve easily fit on the horse beside Jon and this wouldn’t have harmed the moment in any way whatsoever!

Once Jon reappeared at Eastwatch the episode took its final trip to Winterfell for what was undoubtedly the worst scene of “Beyond the Wall” and one of the worst the show has ever produced. Sansa searched Arya’s bag and found the faces of some of Arya’s victims, which lead to Arya explaining where she’s been and what she’s become. The faces looked awful and the scene was completely devoid of tension because if Arya had actually killed Sansa at this point the reaction from the audience would’ve been disgust rather than shock. Nothing about this scene was good and I can’t wait for the season to end so that we can be done with this storyline.

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Finally, Daenerys walked in on Jon as he was being treated at Eastwatch, seeing his scars for the first time and realising what he’s been through. Once he awoke the pair had a brief conversation about their intentions going forward and Jon agreed to bend the knee. He said that the rest of the North would ultimately see Daenerys for what she really is, leading to a momentary embrace between the two and the clear indication that they will eventually become intimate. I enjoyed this scene and I thought that Emilia Clarke was excellent, but for me Kit Harington gave an underwhelming performance.

The episode then concluded with a significant moment in the narrative as the Night King placed his hand on Viserion’s head and brought him back to life. This moment has a number of connotations, with the main one being that the White Walkers now have a one way ticket to Westeros. Viserion is capable of bringing down The Wall with fire or even carrying the wights over himself, making their invasion inevitable next season or even at the end of this one.

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Overall I thought that “Beyond the Wall” was a fun episode of “Thrones” but it was also a problematic one. The narrative was riddled with plot holes and the scenes at Winterfell were miserably bad, with Arya and Sansa both coming across as naïve and idiotic. Fortunately the episode came into its own when it ventured further North and big moments such as Viserion’s death elevated it substantially. I had a good time watching it, but people who claim that this episode was the best of the series so far either don’t understand what made “Thrones” great or they aren’t really paying attention.

8/10

The Dark Tower

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“The Dark Tower” is a film adaptation of Stephen King’s series of novels by the same name. It stars respected actors such as Idris Elba (“Luther”) and Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”), as well as English child actor Tom Taylor (“Doctor Foster”), and was intended to launch a film and television franchise.

“The Dark Tower” is an awkward film to review because although it gets almost everything wrong its inadequacy isn’t offensive. I wasn’t upset or angered by the mistakes that director and co-writer Nikolaj Arcel (“A Royal Affair”) made; I was merely disinterested because his inability to tell an interesting story was clear from the outset.

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This film had potential, but to get the most out of it there was always going to have to be a degree of invention on the part of the director. Unfortunately, this movie is completely devoid of anything resembling an original thought, and any potential that the narrative had was monumentally squandered from the moment the movie began. From the outset the presentation was immensely uninspired, lacking any kind of imagination or personality, and I didn’t feel as though Arcel had any love for the material that he was adapting.

Characters and concepts were thrust at the audience without so much as an inkling as to why we should care about them, and every aspect of the movie felt like a rehash of elements taken from better films. The characters are just there, much like everything else in the film, and there’s nothing special or interesting about them to create a feeling of investment.

The protagonist is an eleven-year-old boy, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), who for some unknown reason has the ability to see into another world (Mid-World) through his dreams. Due to nothing other than narcissism Jake comes to the conclusion that his dreams have significance, believing that the events taking place in his visions are causing earthquakes in the real world, and we as an audience are expected to believe this.

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Jake is immediately dislikeable because the writers don’t give us a reason to sympathise with him when people dismiss his warnings. There’s nothing exceptional about him which dictates that we should believe what he’s saying – other than the fact that we’ve read the film’s synopsis – and his ramblings are consistent with those of a child with an overactive imagination! When reading a book this isn’t overly jarring because you’re constantly confined to one characters’ perspective and you can identify with their situation because you’re explicitly told how they’re feeling, but in a movie you have to make a character likeable before expecting people to care about what’s happening to them.

Jake’s mother, Laurie (Katheryn Winnick), is a much more relatable character than her son because she responds to his hyperactive imaginings in a logical way… by trying to put him in an asylum. Jake is being irrational and he needs help, so when Laurie tries to get him the help that he needs we don’t feel sorry for him or hope that he can somehow make an escape!

The reason that I’m making this point is that the first act ends with Jake running from monsters pretending to be workers from a psychiatric facility, in a scene which should’ve been triumphant for the character. However, because we don’t like or care about Jake we don’t want him to run away; we want him to get caught so that we can enjoy some action in a movie which lacks any kind of emotion.

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Herein lies the main problem of “The Dark Tower”, which is that the plot consistently takes the most boring avenue towards its conclusion. The most exciting direction that the plot could’ve taken at this point would’ve been to have Jake wheeled off to the asylum by the monsters because this would’ve created tension and allowed us to get a proper look at the villains of the film, thus giving us a reason to root for the protagonist. Instead, Jake ran from the supposedly threatening monsters and found a way to Mid-World on his own, rather than simply being taken there by the monsters and then escaping their grasps.

These kinds of issues are present throughout the first act, with the set-up of the film asking questions which are never answered. The start of the film could’ve been extended by another 30 minutes and it wouldn’t have suffered as a whole, and I have to ask myself what the writers thought they were achieving by skipping character development in the first act in order to focus on lacklustre action during the second and third acts.

Another issue which arises right at the start of the movie pertains to the titular tower. The tower is nothing more than a McGuffin and it doesn’t feel significant because we have no idea where it is geographically or why it requires a child to destroy it. Who made it? Why is it the key to the universe? Why should I care about it? If I don’t know anything about it and also have no reason to empathise with the film’s protagonist then how am I supposed to become even minimally invested in the narrative?

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The Man in Black (the film’s main villain, played by Matthew McConaughey) is also underdeveloped and never feels like a threat because he’s always outside the main story. McConaughey’s performance is fine for what it is, but calling a performance fine in this film isn’t a compliment. I was constantly aware of the fact that I was watching McConaughey play a character, and at no point did I look at him and feel intimidated or enthralled.

The sad thing about “The Dark Tower” is that none of the performances from the main cast are actually awful. They’re definitely bland, but none of the actors are afforded the opportunity to be anything more than that because they’re stunted by a woefully ordinary script!

At the end of the day there’s nothing exceptional or even passable about “The Dark Tower”. It takes liberties with its story, the cinematography is uninspired, and the characters are underdeveloped. The material lends itself to an entertaining film – there’s a road-movie, a fantasy epic, and even a young adult film within this awfully tedious science-fiction western – and any one of those movies would’ve been infinitely better than this one. The only positive thing that I can say about “The Dark Tower” is that it wasn’t compelling enough to frustrate me with its inadequacy, which isn’t exactly a glowing recommendation. Do yourself a favour and don’t bother paying to see this movie – if you’re interested in the material then there are eight books written by a brilliant author that you can read at home.

2/10

A Ghost Story

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“A Ghost Story” is a haunting supernatural drama film directed by David Lowery (director of 2016’s “Pete’s Dragon”). The film stars two exceptional actors in Rooney Mara (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) and Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”), with the latter wearing a bedsheet for the majority of the movie.

It’s very easy to explain the basic premise of “A Ghost Story” – a man, played by Casey Affleck, dies at the start of the film and we watch him live the lonely life of a ghost. It’s a simple idea but David Lowery gets the most out of it by capturing the implicit horror of such an isolated existence. The conditions of the man’s existence after death are never fully explained – we don’t see his face because he’s covered by a sheet, we don’t know if time moves at the same speed for him as it does for us, and we don’t know if by the end of the movie he even remembers who he is or why he’s still here – and that’s part of the film’s charm.

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“A Ghost Story” doesn’t pretend to know any more about the afterlife than we do – it doesn’t present a viable possibility, it simply explores what life as a ghost would be like. The existence that this film portrays is a miserable one, and although Casey Affleck doesn’t have much opportunity to emote under his sheet you feel the man’s pain throughout. If anything the fact that the man is covered by the sheet actually adds emotion to the film, because it highlights his inability to interact meaningfully with the world around him and accentuates the hopelessness of his situation. Every time the man slumps down or is on his knees the sheet crumples with him and his movements are deliberate as it sways behind him when he moves. It’s astoundingly effective despite its simplicity and it gives the film more gravitas than it would’ve had if the man had existed in the same physical state as he did before he died.

This film is visually fantastic throughout and this together with the score makes the whole experience quite emotional. The start of the movie was exceedingly smart because the way that the relationship between the man and the woman was depicted was much more honest than the norm. Throughout the film scenes are allowed to drag on – we don’t cut away when the point of a scene is revealed; instead we act as voyeurs, invading the private moments of people who are struggling to exist. The two most powerful scenes of the movie for me would be completely disregarded in a less intelligent film, but in this one they’re allowed to linger on screen and in the audience’s memory.

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The first of these scenes occurs before the man loses his life and it goes a long way to creating a degree of investment in the relationship that the film revolves around. The woman (Rooney Mara) and the man (Casey Affleck) wake in the middle of the night after they hear something bang on their piano. They get up but there’s nothing there – no one has broken in and nothing seems to have fallen to cause the noise. We as the audience suspect that the noise was made by a ghost because we know what the film is called, but the couple isn’t in the know so they go back to bed and embrace. They’re tired and shaken so they take comfort in one another, and we’re afforded the chance to watch them kiss for what seems like minutes. When watching this scene you really do feel invasive, but once it’s done you know all that you need to know about the couple to be invested.

The second scene comes shortly after the man’s death and focuses on the woman as she tries to cope with her grief. It’s not an eventful scene but it’s incredibly poignant – the woman sits on the floor of her kitchen eating a pie which a friend has made for her, clearly loathing every bite. She manages to eat most of it as she sniffles and sighs, before putting it down and running to the toilet to be sick. I think the effective thing about this scene is not merely that it occupies the screen for a very long time but also that it accurately depicts what it’s like to go on living when you lose someone you love. The woman doesn’t want to eat but at the same time she doesn’t know what else to do; she’s absent from the moment, going through the motions, but at the same time she’s trying to feel something other than sadness which for me rings true when it comes to coping with loss.

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The power that these scenes have wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for two outstanding performances from Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. Neither actor is actually present on screen for a great deal of time but their performances are sincere and without this the movie wouldn’t work. They bring emotion to a film which otherwise would’ve been pretentious and they become their characters almost immediately.

Before concluding this review I have to admit that one scene did disappoint me quite a bit, and although it didn’t ruin the experience it brought the film down in my estimation. This scene failed because it fell into the trap that the rest of the movie managed to avoid, which is that it turned to the audience and told them what they were supposed to feel. it was a hollow and unnecessary scene which felt completely out of place in such a thoughtful piece of cinema, and when watching it I couldn’t help but think that it was the director’s way of saying ‘look how clever I am’ to the audience.

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The scene that I’m talking about is the most dialogue heavy moment in the movie, as a nameless character essentially delivers exposition regarding the film’s message and sets up what’s to come in the third act. It frustrated me that this scene wasn’t cut during the editing process because it seemed so obviously superfluous, and the only way to explain its presence in the film is to say that the director didn’t trust all members of the audience to understand the point of the narrative. In telling the audience what they’re supposed to feel you devalue the experience because you’re expressing a lack of confidence in their intelligence and your ability to convey meaning, and in this case it’s impossible to disregard the purpose of the scene because it directly opposes everything that the movie did well up until that point.

This criticism may seem slightly excessive when talking about such a technically sound film but once the scene had finished I spent the next ten minutes questioning how it made it into the final product, and thus my immersion was broken. Thankfully the film quickly transitioned back to being brilliant again so I was able to continue enjoying it once I let my irritation dissipate, but if this scene had been omitted “A Ghost Story” would’ve been close to a perfect film.

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Nevertheless, one bad scene doesn’t extinguish everything that this movie does well. Of all the films that I’ve seen this year “A Ghost Story” is the most interesting and perhaps the most complex, not simply in concept but in how Lowery tackles that concept. The more I think about it the more infatuated I am with it, and I will definitely buy it on DVD when it’s released later this year/early next year.

8.5/10

The Big Sick

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“The Big Sick” is a romantic comedy produced by Judd Apatow (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) and co-written by Emily V. Gordon (writer for “The Carmichael Show”) and Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”). The film loosely tells the real-life story of how Gordon and Nanjiani met and fell in love – with Nanjiani playing a version of himself – and the title refers to an illness which left Emily (played by Zoe Kazan) in a coma after a rocky spell in the pair’s relationship.

“The Big Sick” could’ve easily been another average comedy destined for the bargain bin but honest performances and a strong script elevate it to a level which is rarely achieved in the genre. The fact that the story was close to the hearts of both Nanjiani and Gordon undoubtedly helped on this front as there’s a sincerity to Nanjiani’s performance and also to the script. In the film none of the characters are perfect but they’re all decidedly human and their mistakes stem from intentions that we can all relate to and understand which in turn makes them extremely likeable.

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Kumail and Emily are a couple that you can invest in and you can understand their motivations enough to route for them. The performances of Nanjiani and Kazan go a long way to achieving this because they seem to have genuine chemistry on screen and their relationship doesn’t feel forced or contrived. The first half of the film belongs to Kazan and you’re always on Emily’s side from the moment that she’s introduced, but she’s in a coma for most of the second half which allows Nanjiani to come into his own.

Narratively this film doesn’t shock or surprise you but you’re always worried that it will. You want the stars to align for Kumail and Emily and you’re concerned by every moment of adversity that they face. The likeability of both characters creates tension without the need to take the story to a place that feels unrealistic or manufactured which in itself makes the film better than most romantic comedies.

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What I enjoyed most about this film was that it didn’t overdo anything, because there are plenty of opportunities to focus too heavily on Nanjiani’s Pakistani roots or his stand-up comedy. We do get a flavour of both of these things and they’re important to the film’s narrative, but they’re there to service Nanjiani as a character and they aren’t overwhelming.

The only issue that I had with “The Big Sick” was that the ending was slightly predictable. I completely understand and accept this because at the end of the day the reality of the story has to shine through, but part of me would’ve preferred a “La La Land” style ending rather than the traditional one that the writers went for. The ending still worked but I left the theatre wondering what could’ve been if the film wasn’t beholden to what happened in the real world.

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It’s hard to talk excessively about “The Big Sick” because there’s nothing to focus on narratively that sets it apart from any other rom-com. However, the performances make the characters incredibly loveable and because of this you find yourself enjoying the experience and caring about what happens to them. The script is solid and the jokes hit most of the time which makes for an entertaining movie. I can’t fault any particular aspect of the film because for me there was nothing wrong with it that could’ve been fixed without ruining what made it great. I’ve mentioned that the story is predictable but it’s based on Nanjiani and Gordon’s real-life experiences and it’s the honesty that stems from this which makes the film exceptional, so to change it would be nonsensical. The fact that it’s a rom-com which doesn’t break the mould makes it difficult for me to give it a perfect score, and it isn’t my favourite film of the year, but it’s about as good as it possibly could’ve been.

9.5/10

Game of Thrones: Season Seven, Episode 5 – “Eastwatch”

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via highlighthollywood.com

“Eastwatch” picked up moments after the final scene of “The Spoils of War” as Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) emerged from the water that they dived into last week.

This was a fairly predictable way to open the episode but it was a well-acted scene, with Coster-Waldau and Flynn showcasing their chemistry and making it clear that their characters were processing what they had just witnessed. The pair were fully aware of the mess that they were in and as usual Jaime’s first thought was to warn Cersei (Lena Headey).

The only issue I had with this moment was that Drogon and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) had mysteriously wandered off so that they didn’t have to confront Jaime and Bronn. This didn’t make sense to me because Dany would likely have sought retribution against both men; the former because he killed her father and the latter because he shot Drogon with a ballista. Given what we know about Dany it wasn’t particularly believable that she immediately disregarded these indiscretions, and it was abundantly clear that the only reason she wasn’t around was so that the writers didn’t have to think of a way for her to civilly interact with Jaime.

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via highlighthollywood.com

The next scene was also problematic but similarly entertaining as Daenerys addressed the soldiers that were left on the battlefield after her attack and tried to convince them to fight by her side. Her way of doing this was pretty simple as she offered them two alternatives: 1) follow and live; 2) refuse and die. Most of the nameless men went with option one, as any sensible person would do, but two underdeveloped side characters decided that they’d rather die with honour than support a foreign invader.

These two characters were Randyll and Dickon Tarly, (played by James Faulkner and Tom Hopper), and although they didn’t have enough time to fully explain their reasoning the writing for this scene was pretty good. Daenerys showcased both sides of her character by talking to the men with respect but executing them mercilessly. Rather than a traditional beheading Dany used Drogon to perform the execution, brutally burning Sam’s (John Bradley) brother and father alive in front of the remaining Lannister forces. This was an interesting and visually exciting moment with great CGI and cinematography, and by piggybacking on the success of last week’s final sequence it capped off an entertaining start to “Eastwatch”.

My only issue with this sequence was that Daenerys said that she was ‘not here to murder’, yet moments later she executed two people when she could’ve easily spared their lives. I understand that in her mind she may not think that what she did was murder because she offered both men a choice which would’ve allowed them to live, but that logic isn’t particularly sound and the scene would’ve been much cleaner if Dany hadn’t said the line. It may well be that this contradiction in Dany’s speech was intentional and designed to show her villainous side, but I still feel that the dialogue was slightly clumsy and didn’t help the scene as a whole.

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via watchersonthewall.com

The episode then turned its attention from would-be queen to actual queen as Jaime abruptly returned to King’s Landing. Again I have to point out that the speed at which Jaime returned makes a mockery of the way that travel was depicted in earlier seasons of the show and breaks my immersion, but because I’ve made this criticism in every season seven review so far it would be excessive to go over it in detail again.

Jaime told Cersei what had happened and tried to make her realise that the Lannisters couldn’t win against the Dothraki and three fully grown dragons, and after doing this he explained that Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) played no part in Joffrey’s (Jack Gleeson) death. Upon this reveal Lena Headey portrayed Cersei’s anger perfectly; you could sense the internal rage that the character was feeling and it made you wonder whether or not she would take it out on someone else like Ellaria (Indira Varma).

I thought this was a good scene and there wasn’t a lot that I would change about it at all; the only thing that bothered me was that it came about a little too quickly and should’ve probably been saved for the next episode to compensate for the fact that Jaime had to travel back to King’s Landing.

Presumably it takes a certain amount of time to get from A to B so if you aren’t going to show the journey as it happens it’s quite difficult to know how long it took or how it relates to other moments happening on the show. This was less of an issue in “Eastwatch” because most of the characters involved in the battle for the Iron Throne ended up travelling around in a similar way to Jaime, but generally I think that this kind of disregard for the show’s timeline is a serious problem especially when you consider how often “Thrones” flits around geographically.

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via hips.hearstapps.com

After this scene the episode cut to Dragonstone for a less problematic depiction of travel. Here we saw Jon Snow (Kit Harington) standing on a clifftop looking into the distance, presumably awaiting Daenerys’ return. I’m not sure what to make of this scene personally because to me it felt quite cheap and almost manipulative, which is a common theme for season seven at least when Jon and Dany are together on screen. I watch their scenes and I enjoy them because I care about the characters and I want them to be allies, but the showrunners haven’t given the pair enough time this year to make their relationship feel earned or genuine. It’s almost like fan-fiction in a way because the scenarios that they find themselves in are specifically designed to make them like one another, thus making their relationship feel contrived and insincere.

Still, the scene itself was reasonably well executed. I thought the special effects were believable and to see Jon actually touch a dragon was a cool moment for book readers and casual fans alike, but it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Why would Jon put his hand out to a dragon? He had no way of knowing how it would react to him and the novelty of the gesture wasn’t worth the risk. If he’s so desperate to stop the Night King (Richard Brake) and save his people then why would he put himself in a situation that could’ve resulted in being burned alive?

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Nevertheless, I did appreciate some of the dialogue in this scene, particularly when Dany compared Jon’s situation with the Boltons to hers with the Lannisters. Daenerys’ point was a good one and it helped to remind the audience that executing two soldiers wasn’t exactly the worst thing in the world compared to what Cersei and Tywin (Charles Dance) have done in the past. Despite the complaints that I’ve made this scene wasn’t awful by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just that its flaws particularly annoyed me.

For many people the issues that I’m raising won’t seem very important at all and I don’t expect that many people would’ve consciously thought about them during the scene, but the reason that I’m bringing them up is that almost every problem in season seven so far has stemmed from the fact that the writers don’t have a lot of time left to tell their story. My complaints about travel on the show are the most obvious examples of this but I also feel that some of the season’s clumsy dialogue and more insulting plot devices have come from the same issue.

In trying to allow characters to explain their motivations the writers consistently have them saying one thing but doing another. Sometimes this is intentional because “Thrones” is as much a character study as it is an action drama, or at least it tries to be, but it’s clear that on other occasions the writers just get it wrong. Plot devices like the cave drawings and the dragon accepting Jon so that Daenerys sides with him are cheap and idiotic, and they’re most definitely the result of the fact that there aren’t enough episodes left for characters to naturally come to the conclusions that they have to reach for the plot to progress. I’m sure that in an ideal world the writers would’ve spent five or six episodes building towards Dany and Jon finally getting on the same page, but the fact that they only have seven episodes to play with this time around has really hampered them.

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via winteriscoming.net

Jorah’s (Iain Glen) late entry into this scene didn’t do anything to improve it, although I suppose that the writers had to get it out of the way for the sake of next week’s episode. Jorah returned to tell Dany that he had found a cure; Dany readily accepted this information without proof or corroborating evidence which some might think was noble and sweet, but personally I found it baffling. The moment would’ve had just as much impact if Jorah had shown Dany his arm when telling her that he had been cured, and this would’ve eliminated any suggestion of Dany being naïve or stupid. I’m all for characters getting along and trusting one another but, much like Jon treating a dragon like a domesticated cat with a wild streak, this level of disregard for personal safety doesn’t mesh with Daenerys’ intentions as a character.

Next we saw the Night King and his army moving towards Eastwatch as Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) used his powers to keep an eye on the enemy. This was an okay scene and was mainly a way of transitioning to Old Town, but personally I thought that this could’ve been more successfully achieved by Jorah if he’d mentioned that Sam cured his greyscale. If the writers had gone about the transition in this way and omitted Bran’s scene then they could’ve used the extra time to develop a relationship between Jon and Jorah which, given where the plot is going, might’ve been a more productive use of this episode’s runtime. Jon could’ve been happy for Sam because he’d have known that he was safe and this reveal would’ve also made Daenerys realise that her actions earlier in the episode were somewhat hasty.

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via highlighthollywood.com

When Sam did appear on our screens he was his usual know-it-all self. I don’t mean to be too critical of Sam as a character but for someone lacking self-confidence he really does value his own opinion doesn’t he? In this scene Sam’s warnings about the White Walkers once again fell on deaf ears, leaving him frustrated and jaded at the arrogance of the Maesters. This set-up another scene later in the episode in which Sam snapped at Gilly (Hannah Murray) for reading a book which just so happened to tell the story of Rhaegar’s secret marriage to Lyanna Stark. He then decided that it was time to leave The Citadel so that he could be more useful in the fight against the Night King and his army, thus making his time in Old Town feel utterly pointless. I’m glad that he’s going to do something different because his scenes at The Citadel have done nothing but stunt the pacing of season seven, but personally I wasn’t overly enamoured by either of these scenes.

Back at Dragonstone Tyrion and Varys (Conleth Hill) had a brief conversation about Daenerys, specifically her decision to execute Randyll and Dickon Tarly earlier in the episode. Jon then received word that Arya (Maisie Williams) and Bran were still alive, to which his reaction was disappointingly understated. The scene itself was intriguing because it was decided that Dany would forgo the fight for the Iron Throne for the time being in order to help Jon defeat the White Walkers, but Jon really should’ve been written to be more emotional when he found out that two of his siblings were still alive.

In order to give the realms of men the best chance against the Night King, Tyrion proposed that they should involve Cersei by bringing the dead to her as a way of proving the existence of the White Walkers. I didn’t expect this at all which made the scene a lot more enjoyable for me than perhaps it deserved to be, and I found the concept of bringing a wight to King’s Landing quite exciting.

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Unfortunately the next scene was, in my opinion, the least compelling of the episode. At Winterfell Sansa (Sophie Turner) was speaking with the Lords of the Northern Houses who were clearly tired of Jon’s absence. Their frustration was understandable but it’s perplexing to me that the show is so near to its conclusion and yet we have to endure such melodramatic nonsense. It still feels as though the end result of all of this will be Littlefinger’s (Aidan Gillen) demise, which will probably be very entertaining, but the build-up has been incredibly dull and frankly I’m just not interested in watching Arya and Sansa bicker.

A scene later in the episode at Winterfell was equally tedious as Arya followed Littlefinger to his chambers and found a note written by Sansa. Presumably this was the letter that Cersei forced Sansa to write in season one, with Littlefinger planting it in Arya’s path to cause a rift between the two Stark women. This might’ve been exciting if the storyline had been built over the course of a few episodes but at this point it feels rushed and I can’t take it seriously. If this storyline leads to anything other than Littlefinger’s death then I think that the build hasn’t been strong enough to justify the conclusion.

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via highlighthollywood.com

Back in King’s Landing Tyrion’s plan to convince Cersei to focus on the fight against the White Walkers was put into practice. Davos (Liam Cunningham) smuggled him into the city, (again I had an issue with how quickly he was able to do this), and somehow Bronn had managed to arrange a secret meeting for him with Jaime. This was a good scene, albeit brief, and it was fun to see the two brothers speaking to one another again. I would’ve preferred the scene if Jaime had been slightly more outraged at his brother – patricide is still patricide regardless of your motivation – but I understand that Olenna’s (Diana Rigg) reveal in episode three was designed to make this conversation possible.

Whilst this was going on Davos was in Flea Bottom, and to my surprise he had his own meeting with Gendry (Joe Dempsie). I’m glad that the character is back on the show because it’s been a very long time and it would’ve been annoying on a re-watch of the series if he disappeared after season three. The fact that his weapon of choice was a war hammer was a nice touch given the fact that Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) used the same weapon in battle, and it was cool that Gendry teamed up with Jon later in the episode because their fathers fought together. Obviously Ned (Sean Bean) isn’t actually Jon’s father, but Jon doesn’t know that so this connection still has significance for the time being.

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via watchersonthewall.com

I also enjoyed the next scene because it reminded us that Davos is more than just a lackey for Jon Snow. Davos used his knowhow to talk his way out of trouble with the Gold Cloaks, something which he likely had to do many times when he was a smuggler, and it was a good scene for the character. However, it wasn’t such a good scene for Tyrion who inexplicably walked right past the Gold Cloaks and inadvertently caused their deaths. The only way to explain this behaviour from Tyrion is to say that the writers wanted to showcase Gendry’s fighting ability, which I understand, but this didn’t feel like something that Tyrion would do and made him feel like a plot device in this scene.

Elsewhere in King’s Landing Cersei had a shock for Jaime and I suspect for the audience as well. She told Jaime that she was carrying his child, to his surprise and delight, and explained that she wasn’t going to hide the fact that he was the father. This was interesting as far as the plot goes but something felt off about Cersei’s reveal. I think it was intentional and I wonder whether or not Cersei is trying to use her pregnancy to manipulate Jaime, or if she’s even pregnant at all, but at this point the situation isn’t clear enough to speculate on.

Either way I don’t think that Cersei will live long enough to have the child because Maggy the Frog’s (Jodhi May) prophecy only mentioned three children and it has been right up until this point. I still expect Jaime to kill Cersei and become the Queenslayer before the series is finished so this pregnancy feels as though it could cause a shift in allegiance for one reason or another, particularly with Euron (Pilou Asbæk) lurking somewhere in the background.

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via highlighthollywood.com

When we visited Dragonstone for the final time in this episode we were treated to a series of interactions between characters such as Tyrion, Jorah, Jon, and Dany. I enjoyed seeing Tyrion and Jorah verbally joust again because I think that the actors play off one another quite well, and as I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion I think that Jon and Dany have a strong dynamic. My only issue with this scene was that the relationship between Jorah and Dany is now in a weird place to the extent that I don’t know what I’m supposed to take from their interactions. It seems like the narrative is progressing in such a way as to have Jon and Dany be involved romantically, so the intimacy of Jorah and Dany’s exchanges makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Finally, “Eastwatch” ended by setting up episode six as Jon, Jorah and Gendry left Dragonstone to head beyond the Wall. They ended up at Eastwatch, (as you’d expect given the title of this episode), where Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) was waiting for them and ready to fight by their side. He took them to see Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye) and the Hound (Rory McCann), all of whom had been locked in cells.

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This was an okay scene but for me there was too much exposition. Given that these characters have history with one another the writers felt the need to have them recap said history for the audience; Gendry expressed his disgust for the Brotherhood Without Banners for selling him to Melisandre (Carice van Houten), Tormund was unhappy at having to fight alongside a Mormont, and the Hound was just his usual surly self. I didn’t care for the dialogue in this scene at all because its purpose was too transparent, but at the same time it did make me interested to see what would happen next week so I can’t be too critical.

Overall, I thought this was a decent episode of “Thrones” but it was limited by the fact that there wasn’t a lot to get excited about. With the season already nearing its end this episode was less spectacular than its predecessors and was designed to set up the plot moving forward rather than be thrilling in its own right. This is fine by me and I was surprised by the direction of the narrative so I don’t feel the need to complain about a lack of action. I didn’t think that the dialogue was particularly inspired and because there was so much to get through some of the reveals lacked impact, but on the whole “Eastwatch” kept my attention and did its job by making me eager to tune in next week.

7/10

Atomic Blonde

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“Atomic Blonde” is set in November 1989, at a time when the Cold War was coming to an end and the fall of the Berlin Wall was imminent. This backdrop creates a tense atmosphere to complement the film’s espionage centric plot, but as the opening credits explain the political landscape isn’t essential to the narrative. The film is directed by David Leitch, co-director of “John Wick”, and is based on the 2012 graphic novel “The Coldest City”.

The McGuffin of the film is a microfilm containing the names of every active field agent in the Soviet Union; codenamed ‘the list’. This plot device is unfortunately generic and derivative, as you would expect given its insipid codename, and although the film is technically sound it is unquestionably held down by an uninspired premise. This is then compounded by the fact that the plot proceeds in a convoluted and unnecessarily obtuse fashion.

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With the plot framed as a battle between East and West you might expect there to be a strong Russian antagonist at the heart of the conflict, but curiously this isn’t the case. The film is, for the most part, devoid of a central villain; Lorraine (Charlize Theron), an MI6 spy and the film’s main character, gets into scuffles with a number of nameless henchmen working for KGB associate Comrade Bremovych (Roland Møller), but he’s nothing more than a background figure. The absence of a traditional antagonist could be forgiven if it felt as though there was a faceless threat behind the scenes, but this isn’t the case, and in fact the lack of a genuine villain does nothing but lessen the impact of an important twist late in the film.

Nevertheless, the narrative constraints of “Atomic Blonde” are not wholly damning. It’s not unheard of for a film in the action genre to lack substance and there are certainly ways to make a movie of this ilk entertaining despite an unconvincing story. Much like “John Wick” this film boasts a strong lead performance, good fight choreography and a distinct visual aesthetic, and these aspects go some way to compensating for a fairly dull story.

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Visually “Atomic Blonde” is engaging, flitting back-and-forth from a bleak colour palette of grey and black to flashes of neon, and this duplicity carries over to the movie’s tone which sways between pulpy action flick and serious spy drama. The fact that Leitch doesn’t commit to a singular approach admittedly creates a jarring experience, but this meshes adequately with the genre and doesn’t completely derail the experience.

The choice to use music frequently in the film gave it a playful feel and helped to create a cool factor which otherwise would’ve been lacking, but at the same time it didn’t feel as though enough effort had gone into choosing the tracks. The soundtrack was predominantly made up of songs from the 80’s which were either intact or covered. Some of these songs fit their scenes perfectly and complemented the tone of the movie, but others felt like they were present because they had to be rather than because they belonged. This made it difficult to overlook the fact that recent releases such as “Baby Driver” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” have used music in a similar but more successful way.

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via cnet4.cbsistatic.com

The best thing about “Atomic Blonde” was the acting of the two leads; Charlize Theron and James McAvoy. Theron plays leading lady Lorraine with confidence, showcasing vulnerability and physicality in equal measure. She holds the film together and delivers rudimentary dialogue with enthusiasm, elevating the material to a level that it has no right to reach. McAvoy is equally good as a detestable but charismatic British agent who has become jaded after serving 10 years in Berlin, and although his performance was slightly over-the-top he controlled the screen whenever he appeared.

All in all, “Atomic Blonde” was an entertaining but somewhat hollow action thriller. There’s a lot to be admired in the fight choreography, with one standout sequence on a staircase providing value for money in and of itself, but it’s impossible to ignore the limitations of the script. It’s a stylish and visually stimulating film with committed performances and competent direction, but the end product is undoubtedly style over substance.

6/10

Game of Thrones: Season Seven, Episode 4 – “The Spoils of War”

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“The Spoils of War” picked up where the previous episode left off; at Highgarden. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) was packing gold into the back of a cart whilst contemplating what Olenna (Diana Rigg) told him at the end of “The Queen’s Justice”, and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) was trying to claim the vacated castle as his own. As mentioned in previous reviews, I like it when there’s continuity on television because it makes a series easier to binge-watch at a later date, so it’s hard for me to complain about this opening scene.

However, in a way starting this episode with Jaime continuing his duties as head of the Lannister army lessened the impact of last week’s conclusion. Neither the opening scene nor “The Spoils of War” as a whole answered the question that was on my mind after last week’s episode; how will Olenna’s reveal effect Jaime’s relationship with Cersei (Lena Headey)? Jaime’s geographical separation from Cersei means that any payoff on this front has to be limited, but the fact that Jaime continued to stand up for Cersei’s leadership disappointed me greatly. It’s not that I expected him to immediately hate her – that would be ridiculous – but portraying the character as though nothing substantial has changed is a mistake.

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via slashfilm.com

The episode then logically cut to King’s Landing where Cersei was discussing her victory with Tycho Nestoris (Mark Gatiss), the representative from the Iron Bank who also appeared in “The Queen’s Justice”. I’m not going to say too much about this scene because it felt like filler when I was watching it, but given the fact that Cersei’s conversation with Tycho last week proved to be very significant it may end up that this one was as well – for now we just don’t know. Still, I thought that the information that was conveyed to the audience in this scene could’ve been put across in a more natural way because it felt quite forced to me.

The next scene was much more interesting as we were treated to an interaction that I wasn’t expecting. Given Littlefinger’s (Aidan Gillen) past discretions I expected him to stay as far away from Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) as possible, even though he’s sure to be dubious about Bran’s supposed powers, so to see the two have a face-to-face conversation was a welcome surprise. It’s well-established now that unfortunately I don’t like Hempstead-Wright’s acting on the show, but the scene itself was actually pretty good.

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One of the best things about this season of “Thrones” so far is that characters that we never thought would come together are becoming connected through either circumstance or narrative necessity. I personally didn’t consider the possibility of these two characters ever having a conversation, so seeing it happen was genuinely exciting even if the scene itself wasn’t anything to write home about. Littlefinger tried to manipulate Bran into thinking that he was an ally by giving him the dagger that the assassin tried to kill him with in season one, before using the word ‘chaos’. This led to Bran repeating the phrase that Littlefinger once said when speaking to Varys (Conleth Hill) back in season three – ‘chaos is a ladder’.

The conversation that was being referenced is a little bit obscure given the time that has passed since it happened on the show, but personally it’s one of my favourite lines from a time when “Thrones” was offering up some of the best dialogue on television. There was a nice blend of tension and comedy in this scene because it was clear that neither person was genuinely concerned about the other, and Bran revealing that he knew what Littlefinger was up to in the way that he did was clever writing because it was simple yet impactful.

Still, I can’t stay positive for too long and I have to say that the next scene left a lot to be desired. Meera (Ellie Kendrick) isn’t a well-developed character on the show and in fact we don’t know a lot about her at all, but she was likeable and it was frustrating to see her treated poorly. It wasn’t exactly clear what she wanted from Bran after essentially dragging him to safety, and I suppose most people don’t care about her anyway, but personally I find it difficult to justify Bran treating people badly just because he’s omniscient.

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via wetpaint.com

This is a writing tool that you see a lot in comics, particularly within the superhero genre when characters like Brainiac and Doctor Manhattan treat emotion as secondary to logic and reason. It seems like there’s the same kind of implicit suggestion going on here which is that because Bran knows so much he deems it necessary to shut out all of his emotions and desires. This doesn’t really add up to me because although being omniscient might lead you to favour a more external perspective on your life and your future, it doesn’t logically follow that you should be numb to things which occur naturally and are caused by your physiology, unless you’re sociopathic.

Maybe Bran has come to the realisation that human emotion is meaningless and without useful application, but he’s still human and sometimes the chemicals in our body make us react to stimuli in surprising ways. Bran (as he’s written on the show) might think that emotions are destructive, corrosive, or perhaps just pointless, but I don’t see how this knowledge would stop him feeling or expressing said emotions at certain points. I’m probably thinking too deep into this because the real issue with the scene was that the writers didn’t respect their audiences’ intelligence, using Meera’s exit to force-feed us obvious information and to emphasise the fact that Bran isn’t the same as he was before, but I think it’s important to note that the characterisation of Bran is too simplistic and reductive.

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via watchersonthewall.com

The episode continued at Winterfell as Arya (Maisie Williams) made her long awaited return to her family’s ancestral home. Once again I was frustrated by the speed at which she managed to reach her destination, but at least this time the character was absent for an episode whilst presumably travelling. The notes I made on this moment will not translate well to this review because they are very aggressive, but to put it mildly I hated this scene.

I’m as pleased as anyone to see Arya return to Winterfell and it gets the narrative moving in the right direction, but the execution was idiotic, offensive, and devalued the moment completely. Arya’s presence at Winterfell should’ve been greeted with optimism and cheers from the audience, yet before we got to see her meet Sansa and Bran we had to endure an interaction between her and two condescending guards. We just didn’t need this! It didn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know about the character and it wasn’t fun to watch; it was just pointless! It was by far the worst scene of the episode; it wasn’t poignant, wasn’t clever, and grossly mishandled a major moment in the narrative.

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via ign.com

Nevertheless, when Arya did finally meet up with Sansa (Sophie Turner) it made for good television. Having the pair talk in front of a statue of Ned (Sean Bean) was a nice touch and both Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams did what they needed to do. I tried to enjoy watching the moment play out rather than overanalysing it which I think improved my perception of it, but it was a decent scene.

It’s a shame that Arya’s character arc has been botched ever since she left The Hound (Rory McCann) in season four because now it’s hard to know how to feel about her when she’s letting her guard down. The writing for the character hasn’t been strong enough to make it feel as though she’s fundamentally changed since the series began; she’s not the same as she was and she’s certainly more ruthless, but she’s wanted to be a warrior since the start of the show and all that’s changed is that now she is one. There was a time when she felt hardened and vicious, but since then the show hasn’t done enough to cement this; she basically does whatever the narrative demands and it’s very difficult to route for her as a result.

I’m conflicted about the next scene as well for the same reason because although it was fun to see Bran, Arya, and Sansa plotting together, the scene as a whole felt hollow. This wasn’t helped by the fact that Bran brought up Arya’s list, something which was brought up in the previous scene as well, because it felt as though the writers only chose this aspect of Arya’s story to reference because Sansa already knew about it. Bran could’ve talked about blindness, The Hound, or even something vague about the Faceless Men, and going with any one of these choices would’ve been more entertaining for the audience. It was intriguing that Bran gave Arya the Valyrian steel dagger because given what he knows this might be significant further down the line, but overall this was a safe, middle-of-the-road scene.

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via timeinc.net

A moment I did enjoy in the North was when Arya and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) reunited, because although they’ve only been on screen together once there was a sense in which this marked the completion of Brienne’s story arc. Ever since Renly (Gethin Anthony) died it’s been Brienne’s mission to rescue the Stark girls for Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), so the fact that she’s now inadvertently achieved this could be of real consequence for her character. Whether or not this means that Brienne faces a heroic death later this season or in season eight is debateable – she could make it right to the end of the series – but just the fact that she’s done exactly what she set out to do is quite rewarding to watch on a show which oftentimes is devoid of happy endings.

The sparring between the pair was also entertaining as their styles collided, and although this scene was a bit over-the-top I liked how it was shot. It was simple but we could clearly see what was happening which is rare for fight scenes on television. Arya’s explanation that ‘no one’ taught her how to fight was also a fun nod to the last couple of seasons; it was a bit on the nose but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate it.

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via wikiofthrones.com

Elsewhere, Jon (Kit Harington) and Dany’s (Emilia Clarke) relationship seems to have become more positive as the pair are now speaking to one another with honesty and less hostility. Jon took Daenerys into the mines to see the dragonglass, with dramatic music played over the top of the scene just in case we didn’t realise that this substance was going to be significant in the future.

I liked this sequence but I don’t think it was executed brilliantly. Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke are likeable on screen together and they have chemistry, and as mentioned in my previous “Thrones” review their characters mesh well together because they’ve gone through similar experiences, but there was a glaring issue with what we were shown. The issue I’m referring to is that the cave drawings that Jon used to give weight to the existence of White Walkers were unbelievably convenient, to the point that it’s almost insulting to the audience to use this as a plot device.

It’s not just that they happen to be in the ideal location to keep the plot moving forward, it’s also the fact that Daenerys didn’t question them at all. Jon could be an expert stone carver for all she knows and he could’ve snuck into the cave overnight to etch the drawings himself; after all, the timeline has been completely abused so we have no idea how long Jon has been at Dragonstone at this point! I’m not going to drag this criticism out because it’s a problem which explains itself, but surely the showrunners need to take more care with how they present their narrative if they want the audience to take it seriously?

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via theverge.com

When the pair left the cave they were greeted by Tyrion and Varys who unfortunately brought some bad news about Highgarden. This scene was fine and I don’t have much to say about it in terms of positives or negatives; it was quick and it did what it needed to do in setting up the climax of the episode.

Later at Dragonstone Jon and Davos (Liam Cunningham) discussed the size of Daenerys’ heart… among other things. Again I have to be honest and say that I didn’t like the direction that this scene took because although having characters come together and build relationships can make for good television it doesn’t work when the motivation is so transparent. Jon and Davos bumped into Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) who was stood waiting for them; they talked about Missandei’s past and eventually came to the topic of Daenerys and her character, with Missandei giving her a glowing reference.

This scene was clearly designed to fast-track a stable relationship between Dany and Jon, which I understand, but I take issue with the fact that the writers pretended that the scene was about developing Missandei. I didn’t have a massive issue with it but it was cheap and didn’t actually achieve anything when it was over.

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via screenrant.com

Following this scene we were treated to another interaction that I didn’t expect to see again on “Thrones”, as Theon (Alfie Allen) washed up on the shores of Dragonstone to be greeted by his former rival, Jon Snow. The pair stood quietly for a moment before Theon broke the silence with a simple greeting and began to walk towards Jon. Jon then grabbed Theon and threatened him, explaining that the only reason that he wasn’t dead already was because of what he did to Sansa.

This was an incredibly weird turn of phrase because Jon was referencing the fact that Theon saved Sansa from Ramsay (Iwan Rheon), an act which was noble enough for Jon to spare Theon’s life. This was something that Theon did for Sansa rather than to her. The implication of doing something to someone is usually that you’ve wronged them in one way or another, so using this phrase confused the scene quite noticeably. I don’t know whether or not this was a mistake by Kit Harington that the director chose to overlook or whether this phrasing was actually in the script, but either way it was wrong.

Much like in the previous episode this scene with Theon was used to transition into a more important one, as Theon explained that he needed Dany’s help to rescue Yara (Gemma Whelan) before being told; ‘the queen is gone’.

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via ign.com

From here the episode sparked into life and skyrocketed in quality, culminating in a beautifully shot sequence in which Daenerys used the Dothraki and Drogon to decimate Jaime’s forces and destroy the supplies he’d taken from Highgarden. I loved this sequence from start to finish, with my only issue relating once again to the fact that travel on “Thrones” has become superfluous.

The scene started slowly before a rumbling in the background could be heard. The Lannister forces got in formation and awaited their enemy who then appeared on the horizon screaming and ready to kill. The Dothraki on their own are scary enough, but to top it off Jaime, Bronn, and the rest of the Lannister army saw a dragon flying straight for them. The score and the cinematography were sublime during this sequence and you really have to applaud “Thrones” for doing things on a scale that you normally don’t see on television.

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via ign.com

It was another visceral battle sequence in the vein of the Battle of the Bastards and the Battle of Blackwater, although admittedly it didn’t have a whole episode dedicated to it like those battles did. The tracking shot of Bronn making his way to the ballista was awesome and the fact that he actually managed to hit Drogon with one of the arrows was a genuine shock.

Whether or not somebody significant like Bronn should’ve died during the battle is a point worthy of discussion, but personally I was glad that everyone important ended up surviving the sequence.

Overall, “The Spoils of War” was an episode of varying levels of quality, but the extended 10-15 minutes sequence at the end was spectacular and left me more than satisfied. I can’t wait to see where the story goes next week as Daenerys addresses the Lannister army, and with things getting a little too close for comfort for Littlefinger in Winterfell the season is wonderfully poised.

7.5/10

Game of Thrones: Season Seven, Episode 3 – “The Queen’s Justice”

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via nerdist.com

Once again this episode started at Dragonstone. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) appeared on the shore with Davos (Liam Cunningham) by his side, having travelled across Westeros with ease. This immediately bothered me as a fan of the earlier seasons because although a faster pace means that plot twists happen more often, this also means that the show’s timeline and its personality suffer.

In the early seasons of “Thrones” travel was integral to the plot and important in establishing the characters. They wouldn’t just go from point A to point B; they’d learn things about themselves and they’d develop so that by the time they reached their destination we understood them that little bit better. The work that the writers did on this front is why “Thrones” is a relevant show today, so to ignore what made it great is not only shortsighted but also serves to devalue previous seasons.

Still, in isolation the opening scene was okay. It captured the tension of the moment because although the audience knows that Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) can be trusted (sometimes), Jon certainly does not. Stark men don’t do well historically when they venture South, something which this episode referenced on various occasions, and Jon’s apprehension in giving over his weapons and method of transport made that clear.

Luckily, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) was on the beach to calm Jon’s nerves, although the Dothraki were also present and did the exact opposite by taking his boat. The pair had a quick interaction in which they exchanged pleasantries and referenced the scars that they’ve picked up since they last spoke, both physically and emotionally. It was fun to see the two men talk to one another after such a long time, and although there wasn’t a lot to this scene it did its job in getting “The Queen’s Justice” off to a strong start and paying off the set-up from the previous episode.

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via watchersonthewall.com

From here we followed Tyrion, Jon, Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), Davos, etc., towards the castle. Jon said that he wasn’t a Stark, which I’m sure was designed to remind the audience that he’s actually a Targaryen, and this tied in nicely to the fact that he was going to see Daenerys. A dragon then flew over Jon’s head and he was visibly shocked by both its existence and its appearance. This was another fine scene capped off by Tyrion telling Jon that he’ll never get used to seeing dragons roam the sky, but it annoyed me slightly that Jon was so shaken by the fact that he’d seen a dragon when he’s seen ice monsters and giants beyond The Wall.

We then followed Jon into Dany’s throne room. The latter was sat waiting for him and was introduced with a barrage of titles by Missandei, prompting Davos to try to do the same by simply saying ‘this is Jon Snow… he’s King of the North’. Regardless of whether or not this attempt at comedy worked for you as an audience member I think that this scene was a resounding success once the formalities were out of the way because, although it would’ve been nice to see Dany and Jon embrace instantly, it made complete sense that they were standoffish.

Both Dany and Jon have endured pain and misery every since “Thrones” began and both have been stabbed in the back at one point in time. As such, having the pair come to blows over petty politics and clashing goals was both refreshing and surprising, making them seem much more real than they would’ve done if they’d acted amicably. Neither Jon nor Dany acted villainous in this scene, although Emilia Clarke did do her best to make Dany seem slightly crazy, and at the end of the episode the alliance that they formed felt much more rewarding as a result.

The only issue I had with this scene was that in my opinion it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for Dany to believe in White Walkers given that she’s already given birth to dragons, but I think that this problem was addressed somewhat by the fact that the writers framed her cynicism in a distrust of Jon Snow rather than in the specific information he was presenting.

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via winteriscoming.net

After addressing the war in the North the episode turned its attention to King’s Landing, (after a transitional Theon (Alfie Allen) scene), where Euron (Pilou Asbæk) was greeted like a hero after bravely capturing Ellaria (Indira Virma), Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers), and Yara (Gemma Whelan). Euron came across as a little too sure of himself here, feeling more like a caricature than a character, particularly when asking Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) if Cersei (Lena Headey) liked a ‘finger up the bum’. I’m all for crazy characters on “Thrones” because experience tells us that they work on the show, but Euron going full Russell Brand really didn’t work for me.

The sequence itself was decent overall, with Lena Headey pulling off multiple emotions with just a glance at Ellaria, but I could’ve done with a bit of restraint regarding the characterisation of Euron.

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via slashfilm.com

Next came my favourite scene of the episode, in which Cersei flaunted the power that she now has over Ellaria and attempted to crush her spirit before most likely destroying her body. This scene had moments where it was obvious that the writers were recapping important information for the audience but it also had awesome acting and clever misdirection. Lena Headey did a fantastic job of coming across as almost justified in her actions whilst simultaneously seeming completely out of her mind, and the presence of The Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) meant that Cersei’s plan for Tyene was surprisingly well hidden.

I should also mention that Indira Varma was really good in this scene which is both a positive and a negative. On the positive side of things it’s always nice to see actors giving strong performances, especially when they haven’t been showcased on a show up until the point where they give said performance, but looking at things from a negative perspective this only further highlights how poorly the showrunners have handled the Dorne storyline.

Personally, I think that the Dorne storyline started a little too far down the line for the audience to take it seriously, because by the time the Sand Snakes were introduced we really didn’t care about Oberyn’s (Pedro Pascal) death anymore. This might sound silly because barely any time passed from the point when Oberyn died to the point when the Sand Snakes first appeared on the show, but in my opinion we would’ve cared about them much more if they’d been introduced prior to Oberyn’s death – that way we could’ve at least seen them have a relationship with him.

In any case, the Cersei/Ellaria dynamic in this episode made for good television and I think that it will make the Dorne storyline more palatable on a re-watch of the series further down the line.

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via metro.co.uk

Sadly, I didn’t enjoy the next scene with Cersei quite as much, mainly because it didn’t feel completely necessary. Cersei went from psychologically torturing Ellaria to initiating sex with Jaime, which is fine, but feels a little below “Thrones” to me. By this point the audience is fully aware that Cersei uses Jaime and probably doesn’t love him, even if she tells herself that this isn’t true. Whether or not Jaime thought that this act was real and meant something really isn’t that relevant at this point because he knows what Cersei is like and sex is just sex between them – it doesn’t feel like it matters anymore. Cersei allowing one of her servants to see Jaime in her bed the next morning was funny and showed that she’s past the point of no return, but in the grand scheme of things this was a scene which didn’t need to happen and stunted the pace of the episode.

We then watched on as Cersei explained to a representative from the Iron Bank of Braavos that ‘the Lannisters always pay their debts’, and that they would be better off funding her attempts to maintain power than Daenerys’ efforts to take it. This was another scene which was perfectly serviceable in isolation – it was one of those scenes where you find your hands drifting towards your phone to check for any notifications you might’ve missed since the episode began, but it wasn’t bad. However, after watching the episode in its entirety the scene became much more significant and on my second watch I liked it a lot more. It’s definitely a good scene and was well written; it’s just hard to care when you don’t know what’s coming next.

When Cersei was done being Cersei the episode turned its attention back to Dragonstone where Tyrion and Jon had a conversation about how to convince people, (like Daenerys), that the White Walkers are real. This was okay and some of the dialogue was good, but at times I find it hard to watch Kit Harington act. He’s not awful but he can be quite bland when his material isn’t brilliant, particularly because the character he’s portraying is quite one-dimensional. I don’t know if it’s Harington’s fault or if Jon Snow has become a stale character since he was brought back from the dead, but either way I’m not enjoying the show as much as I used to when he’s on screen.

The Daenerys/Tyrion interaction which followed was much less jarring, partly because their relationship is now well-established and partly because they’re two of the best talkers on the show, and it was nice that Dany didn’t take Olenna’s (Diana Rigg) advice from the previous episode to heart. Tyrion convinced Dany to extend a show of trust to Jon in the form of the dragonglass that he needed to fight the White Walkers, rightly pointing out that Dany doesn’t have any use for the dragonglass herself anyway so it makes more sense to use it to her advantage, (by offering it as a show of good faith), rather than to horde it away out of spite.

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via winteriscoming.net

This facilitated a conversation between Dany and Jon where this decision was revealed, set in front of the beautiful backdrop that is Dragonstone. This was a gorgeous scene which brought two of the show’s heroes together, and the subtle mentioning of Rhaegar (who is Jon’s real father) by Daenerys was smart on the part of the writers. I enjoyed this scene because the parallels between the characters made their interaction seem natural, and although Jon ended up getting what he asked for it didn’t make Dany look weak in my opinion; rather, it made her seem like she was willing to compromise when required.

A sequence I didn’t enjoy nearly as much involved Sansa (Sophie Turner) and her long-lost brother, Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright). The sequence started with Sansa wandering around Winterfell whilst trying to seem like she was in charge. I didn’t have a problem with this per se because it made sense to show the everyday workings of Winterfell without the input of Jon Snow, but I have to say that it annoys me that Sansa allows Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) to follow her around when he clearly isn’t on her side.

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via ign.com

Littlefinger gave Sansa a small but clever speech about fighting every battle in her mind at once so that she can never be caught off guard, which was acceptable and fits his character, but you have to question this kind of rationale from a man who right now seems to have one plan and one plan only… to sleep with Sansa. Don’t get me wrong, Littlefinger wants this for a multitude of connected reasons, but he’s still a man trying to escape the friendzone rather than a political genius – at least for the time being.

This speech led to Bran’s return to Winterfell, something which ironically Sansa had not planned for, and once again we were treated to some of the most tiresome acting on television today. I don’t personally feel the need to justify my hatred of Bran as a character or Hempstead-Wright’s increasingly clichéd approach to playing him, but given that one commenter last week decided to stick up for the “Thrones” equivalent of a “Bad Robots” Reception Bot I think it’s best that I explain in detail.

Bran in this episode is supposed to come off as passive. He isn’t written to be emotive or invested in the interpersonal relationships that he built before the series began because he’s processing all the information there ever was in his brain at once – I know this. However, Hempstead-Wright’s problem isn’t a lack of emotion or even a lack of understanding of the character that he’s playing, it’s a lack of understanding of how to play it convincingly. He plays his role as though he’s watched someone else play it earlier in the day and thought; ‘I’ll do that’. Bran doesn’t feel like a real character, he’s just there and you can’t help but wish he wasn’t. Hempstead-Wright doesn’t feel like a star in any shape or form and he brings the quality of an episode down simply by appearing in it. If you don’t like that opinion then please explain to me what he does that 100,000 aspiring actors can’t do when they leave college/university; other than get the role, turn up on set, and follow simple direction. I mean, come on, he doesn’t even sound Northern.

The sad thing is that the scene in which Sansa and Bran talked beneath the weirwood tree wasn’t a bad one on paper. Bran’s indifference could’ve been creepy and his bringing up Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) was interesting in its own way, but it came across as forced and silly because of the acting. At this point I’m so done with Bran that his affiliation to a storyline makes that storyline feel unimportant regardless of its ramifications to the overarching plot, and frankly I’m dreading his next appearance on the show.

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via metro.co.uk

Moving swiftly on… Jorah (Iain Glen) and Sam (John Bradley) picked up where they left off at the Citadel, with the main difference being that Jorah is now officially cured of greyscale. This scene was good for what it was and all the actors did what they needed to do, with Jorah’s line about the cure coming from ‘rest’ genuinely making me chuckle. The only issue for me here is that Jorah has been cured too quickly, and although it’s clear that the procedure would hurt it doesn’t make sense that no one has done it before. If you can cut off the infected area and treat the wound then surely that’s worth the pain if it means that you can live out the rest of your days in peace, so why hasn’t anyone tried it in the past?

Where Jorah goes from here (narratively speaking) is anyone’s guess, but personally I’m worried that now that he’s healthy he’ll revert back to the character we saw early on in the series. It seems like he’s gone back to square one at this point which is a shame because he’s actually grown on me quite a bit over time, but right now I suppose that the right thing to do would be to hope for the best whilst preparing for the worst.

From here we slowly worked towards the episode’s climax, as Tyrion explained how The Unsullied would enter Casterly Rock without taking unnecessary damage whilst the audience watched the scenario(s) unfold. I enjoyed these sequences although they were quite short, and the reveal that Jamie had taken a page from Robb Stark’s (Richard Madden) playbook by accepting defeat in order to win a greater prize was very satisfying. Satisfying might seem like a strange choice of word, but at this point the battle for the Iron Throne feels secondary to the fight for survival in the North, so seeing the bad guys win is still rewarding when done well.

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via winteriscoming.net

The twist in the tale was that Jaime had given up Casterly Rock in order to take Highgarden from the Tyrells, which in turn solved the issue presented by the Iron Bank earlier in the episode as the Tyrells have vast amounts of gold. By defeating the Tyrells, Jaime was able to take their gold and use it to repay the Iron Bank whilst also destroying a powerful enemy, effectively killing two birds with one stone.

This would’ve been exciting enough on its own, but to top the episode off we were then treated to a dying monologue by Olenna after she drank poison that Jaime gave her as a mercy. This was a noble gesture from Jaime, so it was a shock that Olenna repaid his kindness by telling him that she killed his son.

Of course, in reality there was a lot more to the scene than that, as Olenna revealed this information to Jaime in order to hurt Cersei rather than to seem ungrateful. Olenna went out in disgrace but she had the final word, which was fitting for her character, and she achieved what she wanted to achieve by pushing Jaime closer to the conclusion that Cersei really is a monster.

Jamie now knows that Tyrion didn’t kill Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and that in fact Cersei caused Tywin’s (Charles Dance) death, something which he’s likely blamed himself for ever since given that he set Tyrion free. Because of Cersei’s vindictive nature Jaime lost not only his father but also his brother, and if Daenerys takes the Iron Throne he will know that it was Cersei who destroyed House Lannister. Whether or not this realistation alone is enough to turn Jaime against his sister is debatable, but with Euron causing trouble as well it’s easy to see Jaime finally getting the redemption he deserves and ridding himself of Cersei once and for all.

So, overall I enjoyed this episode but it wasn’t amazing. I appreciated that it gave significant moments the time to breathe, and I’m glad we spent more time with Dany and Cersei because they’re the most interesting characters on the show right now, but certain scenes fell flat. Thankfully the episode ended strongly once again and the season is now well poised to get better as it goes on, so my outlook remains positive and I’m looking forward to next week’s episode.

7.5/10

Hounds of Love

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via downrightcreepy.com

“Hounds of Love” is an Australian crime-drama which stars Ashleigh Cummings as a schoolgirl, Vicki, who is kidnapped and subsequently abused by a serial killer couple.

The first thing that I will say about this film is that it isn’t for the feint-hearted. The majority of “Hounds of Love” takes place in the house where Vicki is being restrained; depicting psychological torture, implied physical torture, and Vicki’s various attempts to escape. However, in all fairness the worst of what happens isn’t shown on screen. Director Ben Young does his best to lock the audience into Vicki’s perspective to make the experience as uncomfortable as possible, but he doesn’t force you to watch every second of anguish that Vicki endures. The meat of the film revolves around the aftermath of horrible moments rather than the moments themselves, and it’s deliberate pacing rather than brutal on-screen violence which makes this movie incredibly hard to watch.

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via cdn1.thr.com

My favourite thing about “Hounds of Love” is that it isn’t a manipulative film. At no point does it seem like the purpose of the movie is to shock the audience, despite the fact that the material lends itself to this approach. It feels as though Ben Young’s goal was to convey the futility of the situation and try to give the audience a glimpse of how such an ordeal would feel for the person experiencing it, rather than to make people squirm in their seats. I appreciate this because unfortunately there are people in real life who are kidnapped, beaten, and then raped on a daily basis for unfathomable periods of time – in my opinion, if you’re going to make a movie which portrays this then you should do so with honesty. There’s no need to be excessive in what you show but there’s also no need to shy away from the subject matter; after all, real people who are trapped in these situations don’t get to look away.

There are a number of sequences in this film which Young gets the absolute most out of by allowing them to develop naturally. Nothing that happens in this movie feels contrived or cheap which means that immersion is never broken and you’re able to fully appreciate the gravity of the situation. The best example of this is the scene in which Vicki is actually kidnapped. In a worse film Vicki would come across as overly trusting or naïve and Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John (Stephen Curry) would come across as one-dimensional monsters, but that’s not the case in “Hounds of Love”. Vicki is suspicious from the moment she gets in her captor’s car and although the pair don’t come across as completely innocent they also don’t immediately seem evil. They feel like actual people, which might sound idiotic, but this isn’t always the case with antagonists in horror movies/psychological thrillers.

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via wixstatic.com

The kidnapping sequence is riveting from start to finish because although we know that the situation is going to go wrong fast the moment itself is still surprising. When Vicki realises what’s about to happen it’s truly devastating – she isn’t knocked out or too groggy to understand her fate, she’s fully aware of what’s going on and has no way of combating it. She’s helpless and it really is horrific to watch, much more so than any cliché horror monster could ever be. She screams and struggles and cries, but ultimately she’s tied to a bed by her wrists and no one even knows that she’s there. It’s one of the scariest scenes I’ve seen this year and captures exactly what this sort of situation would feel like; it doesn’t happen quickly and Vicki can’t escape – she’s trapped, bound, and at the mercy of a couple that begin having sex in front of her straight after tying her to a bed. That’s about as terrifying as it gets.

Of course none of the tension that this film elicits would be possible if it wasn’t for the superb acting of the three leads. Ashleigh Cummings is brilliant as Vicki, giving a truly believable performance by conveying the desperation that the character would be feeling. Stephen Curry is also great in his role despite the fact that he’s playing the most one-dimensional of the three main characters. He’s genuinely detestable and as frightening as he needs to be even though he’s diminutive in stature.

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via battleroyalewithcheese.com

However, it’s Emma Booth who really steals the show by playing the surprisingly well-developed Evelyn. Evelyn is John’s partner and she does the bulk of the work in luring Vicki into a false sense of security, persuading her to enter both the car and the house in which she’s eventually imprisoned. Her role in the film is essentially to give Vicki an opportunity to escape, because although she’s complicit in both the kidnapping and the torture she doesn’t do it because she wants to. It’s clear throughout that Evelyn is trying to appease John and facilitate his needs so she never feels like she’s fully on-board with what’s happening, and the general animosity between the pair is only enhanced by Vicki’s presence in the house.

It isn’t exactly clear what makes Vicki special compared to the girls that Evelyn and John have abused in the past, which is a slight issue, but the tension between the couple still feels believable because there are outside factors putting pressure on their relationship. Throughout the film it’s referenced that Evelyn can’t have children in the house because of John’s behaviour; this causes friction between the couple because in the back of Evelyn’s mind there’s a choice to be made between John and her child, and it’s clear that although Evelyn loves her partner she’s having second thoughts about their relationship.

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via frightday.com

For the most part the writers did a good job of explaining character motivations in this way, but I must admit that there were a couple of moments when I was screaming at the screen internally, pleading with both the lead character and Evelyn to do something about their situations. I think that the main reason for this was that the writers wanted to make the final scene as compelling as possible and thus created a few nearly moments to keep the audience guessing, but whether or not the behaviour of either character was completely plausible is questionable.

I do think that the writers did enough to reference the psychological damage of being in captivity in order to alleviate frustration on the part of Vicki, and they also conveyed the fact that on some level Evelyn was stuck in a psychologically abusive relationship which made her subservient to John’s desires, but I think that in certain moments the characters should’ve reacted differently than they did. This isn’t a big issue for me at all because the character development was excellent on the whole, and my annoyance may just be a reflection of my general frustration when it comes to human behaviour rather than a failure to accurately depict said behaviour, but I was left irritated on a couple of occasions in the movie.

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via variety.com

My biggest issue with “Hounds of Love” was definitely its ending. I think that this might be a surprise for some people because again there’s nothing obviously wrong with it – it isn’t terrible by any means – but it simply wasn’t as powerful as I expected it to be given how hooked I was for the majority of the film’s runtime. To me the ending felt a little too basic for what had happened up to that point, and personally I would’ve preferred a less predictable approach. The writers built towards a specific conclusion so it made sense that they committed to it, but at the same time I thought that a more inventive approach could’ve been taken to fit with the film’s overall quality.

Nonetheless, on the whole “Hounds of Love” was an assured and brutal piece of cinema with fantastic performances and confident direction. How you feel about it will ultimately depend on whether or not you can cope with a narrative which is utterly devoid of joy, but personally I thought this was a smart and poignant film.

8.5/10