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

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“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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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

Game of Thrones: Season Seven, Episode 2 – “Stormborn”

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via alluremedia.com.au

“Stormborn” picked up where the season premiere left off; at Dragonstone. The weather had taken a turn for the worse as a storm raged all around, which was fitting given the title of the episode. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) immediately brought up the fact that Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) was born at Dragonstone on a night like this, and from here we segued into a discussion about whether or not Varys (Conleth Hill) could be trusted given his past discretions.

Varys’ speech about how he serves the realm above all else harkened back to the kind of conversations he would have with Ned (Sean Bean) in season one. I liked the fact that the writers let Varys come across as honest and noble here despite the fact that he’s done horrible things, because at the end of the day that’s exactly what “Game of Thrones” is about. The characters are supposed to be morally grey and the more entertaining ones are able to talk themselves out of difficult spots, so this scene really worked for me. These kinds of interactions are what make the show great and the fact that they’re coming thick and fast excites me.

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via vanityfair.com

However, the next scene didn’t work quite as well. In this scene Melisandre (Carice van Houten) arrived at Dragonstone with an offer of loyalty to Daenerys. She said that Dany was the prince who was promised and this led to a conversation about her past which included some incredibly transparent exposition. Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) explained that the translation of ‘the prince who was promised’ was flawed because this person could be either male or female, thus adding weight to what Melisandre was saying and boosting Dany’s ego.

This scene was similar to the first one except not as good, and in my view it was the low point of the episode. Nevertheless, I’m happy that Melisandre is back because I think Carice van Houten is awesome and for me the character is one of the most intriguing people left on the show; it’s just a shame that in this episode she was used as a plot device. She was there simply to facilitate a storyline in which Jon Snow (Kit Harington) would come to Dragonstone and ask for dragonglass – which is fine – but forced dialogue and unnatural behaviour made it feel ridiculously cheap.

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I found it very disappointing that on a show as smart as “Thrones” we had characters vouching for people that they hadn’t seen for years, because although it’s true that Tyrion and Jon Snow grew to like one another in season one I doubt that one would champion the other without a hint of caution.

This kind of disregard for pragmatism happened twice in “Stormborn” as Sansa (Sophie Turner) surprisingly spoke highly of Tyrion when in conversation with Jon. Again she’s right in what she’s saying, and having been with both Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) she probably would think fondly of Tyrion, but this kind of support coming from such a hardened character didn’t feel real. It felt like another scene designed to move the plot forward rather than enhance the characters involved in it, thus coming across as contrived and manipulative.

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Thankfully the next scene was much more entertaining as Cersei (Lena Headey) tried to use Dany’s arrival in Westeros to her own advantage. The fun thing about this scene was that although Cersei was exaggerating the truth she wasn’t entirely wrong; the things that she was saying made sense because although Dany has a right to the Iron Throne she aims to conquer rather than liberate. She would’ve wanted to be queen regardless of whether or not Cersei was a monster, so it’s fair to question whether or not her mission is righteous at all.

A later scene involving Cersei in this episode was also pretty good as Qyburn (Anton Lesser) took her to see the skull of Balerion the Black Dread, the dragon ridden by Aegon the Conqueror during the War of Conquest. Ever since the series began people have wondered how anyone could fight back against a fully-grown dragon, so the fact that the show is addressing this head on gives me hope that what transpires won’t feel like a foregone conclusion. Moreover, the fact that the writers have bothered to introduce an equaliser, (in the form of a ballista), leads me to think that at least one of the dragons could be killed during Daenerys’ siege on King’s Landing.

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I’m also happy to say that Sam’s (John Bradley) scenes in this episode were far better than his scenes in the premiere. He still felt like a plot device but at least this week he achieved something tangible!

After formally meeting Jorah (Iain Glen) and discovering that he was a Mormont Sam felt a sense of duty towards him, (given that Joer Mormont (James Cosmo) was Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch during Sam’s time at The Wall), deciding to try to cure him of his greyscale against the advice of Archmaester Ebrose (Jim Broadbent). This was a brilliant scene because it showed that when you want to live on a show like “Game of Thrones” you really have to suffer. Jorah wasn’t getting a free pass here – he didn’t get to drink a potion or have his disease healed by magic – he had his affliction scraped off piece by piece with puss pouring from his wounds. It was a gritty moment which did a lot for both characters, making them seem stronger than they did before the episode started.

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Back in Dragonstone Daenerys and Tyrion explained their strategy for taking King’s Landing in detail, with an emphasis on causing as little collateral damage as possible. Personally, I was pleased that the narrative took this route because although it was obvious that it wouldn’t work out, (given the fact that this was only the second episode of the penultimate season), it made sense when considering how Daenerys’ character has been built in the past. She’s someone who will get her hands dirty when the time is right, but for the most part she wants to help the helpless and promotes freedom. Killing civilians isn’t her style and the fact that this was taken into account made her feel like a hero rather than just another character.

This was another scene which offered a lot of fan service as characters like Daenerys and Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) interacted for the first time and we even got to see Tyrion and Ellaria (Indira Varma) discuss Oberyn’s (Pedro Pascal) death. Seeing these characters come together as allies is genuinely satisfying after such a long time, and even though this scene wasn’t perfect it was hard not to feel excited for the future of the series when watching it.

Still, I didn’t appreciate Olenna’s attempt to turn Dany against Tyrion. This storyline could’ve been interesting at one point in time, perhaps when Dany and Tyrion first met, but right now it doesn’t feel believable. A degree of trust has been built between the two at this point and frankly I have no interest whatsoever in seeing them disagree. We don’t have enough time for this kind of side plot so late in the game and it doesn’t feel necessary when Jon and Sansa have already teased the fact that their relationship may become fractured by the end of the season. Perhaps the point of Olenna’s advice was to make Jon’s visit to Dragonstone less simple given that it will be Tyrion who tries to support him while he’s there, but for me this scene felt superfluous and wasted valuable time.

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Next there was a scene which I’m still unsure about; the Missandei/Grey Worm (Raleigh Ritchie) sex scene. To me this relationship has always felt like filler on a show which is hurtling towards a bloody conclusion, so although it was executed well I can’t say that I enjoyed it. The problem for me is that this moment only serves a purpose if the relationship ends in tragedy, so the fact that it was included makes me think that either Missandei or Grey Worm will die at some point during this season.

Prior to this scene it was clear that the pair had feelings for one another so we didn’t need to see them have sex on screen, and if anything the fact that they weren’t having sex made their relationship more special. In my opinion, seeing them have sex didn’t enhance their relationship or their characters individually, and the inclusion of this scene felt like yet more fan service in an episode which was already full of it.

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After the Jorah scene which I already mentioned the episode turned its attention to Arya (Maisie Williams) in the North. Again this was a scene which I didn’t really care for but for different reasons. In this episode Arya had two reunions; one with Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey) and one with Nymeria. During the first of these reunions Arya sat and ate with Hot Pie whilst he apologised for thinking that she was a boy when he first met her. This was okay because it reminded the audience that Arya has changed monumentally since the series began; something which was worth mentioning given that she’s currently on her way home.

My issue with this scene was that, similarly to the Melisandre scene, it was included for expository purposes. Hot Pie told Arya that the Boltons no longer had Winterfell and that it was under the control of Jon Snow, thus leading Arya to change course and make her way back to her family’s ancestral home. This was a necessary piece of information for Arya to discover and I understand why the writers chose to hide it in this scene, but surely they could’ve found a more discreet way of putting the information across? It was a scene which should’ve been sweet and heart-warming but instead it felt forced. I know that Arya isn’t the girl that she was when the pair were friends so it makes sense that she should be a little cold, but having her treat Hot Pie like a stranger whilst he spat out exposition really wasn’t the way to make this scene work.

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via collider.com

It feels like the writers are trying to re-humanise Arya after crippling her character over the last couple of seasons, but the problem is that she wasn’t actually de-humanised! Arya’s arc has made the audience believe that she’s a killer but it hasn’t made us believe that she’d treat good people badly. Her interactions with characters like Lady Crane (Essie Davis) last season and even the soldiers in the previous episode made her seem like a friendly, warm, gentle person, so it doesn’t feel earned when she treats people like Hot Pie with such a palpable level of indifference.

Her scene with Nymeria was much better, although the fact that the direwolf was shown on the teaser for the episode somewhat ruined the reveal. This scene was more emotional than I anticipated and again it served to show how much Arya has changed since the series began. Nymeria acted as a physical representation of Arya’s childhood leaving her behind, and although the audience has watched this happen over a prolonged period of time it was still powerful to see the character realise it for herself. Maisie Williams’ acting was perfect as she portrayed what Arya was feeling through her facial expressions without needing to cry or over-emote, and it was refreshing to see a scene play out which didn’t feel like it had to happen for the plot to progress.

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via vox-cdn.com

Elsewhere in the North, Jon decided that he would indeed travel to Dragonstone for an audience with Daenerys. Again it was interesting to see how the people of Westeros felt about Daenerys and her inevitable attack on King’s Landing, with many of them sharing Cersei’s view on the situation. This was a scene which had to happen and it was obvious that Jon would leave Sansa in charge during his absence, but I was surprised that Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) was so forthright in voicing his intentions to Jon. The fact that he was arrogant enough to enter the crypts of Winterfell and tell Jon that he was in love with Sansa was baffling but also very entertaining, and it’s about time that Littlefinger showed his true colours again. Part of me wanted Jon to strangle him to death right then and there, but it’s probably better that he be allowed to linger in Winterfell with Sansa for the foreseeable future.

The fact that Jon is going to be gone for a couple of episodes leaves Sansa vulnerable, and I’m looking forward to seeing Littlefinger try to isolate her from her allies as much as possible. However, all signs point towards a Stark reunion at Winterfell in which the lone wolf will die whilst the pack survives.

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via watchersonthewall.com

Finally, “Stormborn” ended with a brilliant sequence which undoubtedly elevated the rest of the episode. After last week it was clear that Euron (Pilou Asbæk) was going to disrupt Daenerys’ plans somehow, especially given that those plans relied heavily on travel by sea, but I didn’t expect him to be quite as aggressive as he ended up being. I think we all knew that he was going to make a nuisance of himself and perhaps kidnap one of Daenerys’ allies, but I personally didn’t expect him to deliver as much damage as he did.

Euron brutally murdered two of the Sand Snakes, captured Ellaria and Yara (Gemma Whelan), mentally scarred Theon (Alfie Allen), and set Daenerys’ fleet ablaze. The show is positioning him as a real threat this season and I appreciate that because we need someone to hate now that Ramsay is dead. Cersei could be that person but she’s a schemer and she doesn’t get her hands dirty as often as characters like Ramsay did, so it makes sense that someone crazy like Euron should take centre stage.

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This sequence was intense, brutal, and beautifully shot; it made an impression and left me wanting more, so although there were parts of the episode that I didn’t enjoy my overall feeling towards it was positive when the credits rolled. The fact that Theon basically reverted back into Reek made the scene all the more impactful and generated intrigue as to what will happen next with the character, and I’m also fascinated as to how Daenerys will react when she finds out what happened.

On the whole I did have a good time watching this episode and this final sequence enhanced my opinion of it greatly. There were parts of it that I didn’t like and for me there was too much exposition, but the best scenes of the episode were also the longest and the most memorable. There’s too much going on at the moment on the show and this makes it feel disjointed, but I’m excited to see where the story goes from here and I expect the standard to steadily improve each week.

7.5/10

Dunkirk

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“Dunkirk” is the latest film from acclaimed director Christopher Nolan; the man behind “The Dark Knight Trilogy”, “Memento”, “The Prestige”, “Inception”, and “Interstellar”. All of these films are visually and conceptually brilliant, so when I heard that Nolan was going to make a movie about a group of allied soldiers stranded in France I was surprised. War lends itself to film from a cinematography standpoint but to take on a true event in human history isn’t really Nolan’s style. His films, generally speaking, either belong to the sphere of science-fiction or have some kind of gimmick, whether it’s in their structure or their narrative.

As such, I went into “Dunkirk” with a degree of scepticism. Having seen the trailer I thought that it looked as though it could’ve been made by anyone, which was a problem for me because Nolan’s involvement was the only reason that I wanted to see the film. Fortunately, the final product oozes class as the cinematography and sound design create a tense and captivating experience which sensitively conveys the horror of war. It has its limits, in my opinion, because character development plays second fiddle to style, but it’s exceedingly well-made.

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via screenrant.com

Nolan captures scenes from multiple angles, transitioning from stunning wide shots to claustrophobic close-ups in order to highlight the gravity of the situation both individually and collectively. The scale of the operation is clear as the camera pans over the beach and we see thousands of men awaiting their fate, and the fact that we don’t have one omnipotent protagonist means that we can appreciate the fact that everyone on that beach is vulnerable. They aren’t heroes who righteously fight an evil force as so many war films would have us believe; they’re frightened, tired, wounded men who simply want to go home.

One avenue for criticism in this film is its structure. I mentioned at the start of this review that Nolan’s films usually have a gimmick, so it was predictable that he took such an abstract approach to telling a human story. “Dunkirk” takes place on land (‘The Mole’), at sea (‘The Sea’), and in the air (‘The Air’), with different time periods being shown for each. Personally I was okay with this and I found it interesting to see Nolan return to a less linear narrative, but practically speaking it didn’t add to the tension in the film or provide as much clarity as a more standard structure would have.

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This leads to another problem with “Dunkirk”, which is that the characters aren’t fully developed. This isn’t a damning criticism of the film because it’s not about any one character; the point is that a collective effort was made to get the soldiers home. It’s a story of survival and it’s important that the scale of situation is clear in order to make that story worthwhile. However, I feel that it would’ve been more emotionally resonant had it given us a sense of who the characters being saved were, because at the end of the film I didn’t know them any better than I did after watching the trailer. I can’t remember any of their names and I didn’t care what happened to them when I was watching, which is obviously a problem when the film is about an important event in human history.

Still, in a way this parallels the relationships which are built in war, and I think it’s slightly unfair to condemn a film for failing to do something that it didn’t intend on doing. You can criticise the decision to focus on style over substance and suggest an alternative, but whether or not this movie would’ve been better if it had concentrated on character development rather than cinematography is debateable.

Personally I would have enjoyed the film more if there had been a better balance between the two approaches, but to criticise “Dunkirk” because it isn’t character-driven is a bit like criticising a footballer for not scoring enough goals. If the player is a striker then the criticism is valid, but if the player plays in defence then the criticism misunderstands his primary purpose. Would he be a better player if he scored more goals? Probably. Would “Dunkirk” be a better movie if it had more developed characters? Yes. But being imperfect isn’t the same as being bad.

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In “Dunkirk” there were only two sequences that I didn’t like; a sequence involving a grounded fishing trawler and the sequence which led up to the final scene. The reason that I didn’t like the fishing trawler sequence was that I thought it was less realistic than the rest of the film and also lacklustre in its execution, and the reason that I didn’t enjoy the sequence leading up to the final scene was that I thought it was overly emotional. Other than those two sequences I enjoyed the entire movie, even if it could’ve been better with a few careful tweaks.

So, as a study in filmmaking “Dunkirk” is superb. It’s hard to excessively praise the performances because it doesn’t focus on its characters, but at the same time no one stands out for the wrong reasons. Surprisingly, Harry Styles is fine and if you didn’t know that it was him you probably wouldn’t realise he was a pop star trying his hand at acting. The structure of the film was questionable and the characters weren’t fully developed, but the cinematography was gorgeous and Hans Zimmer’s score heightened the tension as the tempo built in the background. It’s technically strong, respects its audience, and for my money it’s one of the most assured movies of the summer so far. I highly recommend it.

7.5/10

The Beguiled (2017)

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“The Beguiled” is the second film adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s novel (originally titled “A Painted Devil”), following the 1971 film of the same name which starred Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page. In this film Colin Farrell plays John McBurney, an injured Union Corporal who finds shelter in a girls’ boarding school. Both the students and the teachers are drawn to the deserter, hiding his presence from Confederate soldiers and tending to his wounds. Sexual tension soon builds between McBurney and the residents, causing rifts between the women and leading to altercations which are far more amusing than they ought to be.

The main source of entertainment in this film comes from trying to decipher McBurney’s blurred motives. McBurney plays the women off one another constantly, letting each of them believe that they are in fact his favourite, but why he does this is never made completely clear. Is he trying to ensure that they don’t make him leave? Or does he just enjoy the thrill of the chase? We don’t know, and it’s this ambiguity which makes the film surprisingly watchable.

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via teaser-trailer.com

I didn’t know exactly what to expect going into this film because although I liked the cast I didn’t think that the plot sounded all that interesting. Still, Sofia Coppola directed “Lost in Translation” which is one of my favourite films, and she also won the award for Best Director at Cannes Film Festival this year for this movie, so I was willing to give it a chance.

After seeing it I still feel unsure, because although I thought that some of the shots were nice and I had a fun time watching it I’m not sure I liked it for the right reasons. Coppola seemed to want this film to feel claustrophobic and tense, yet I watched it like I would a dark comedy. I was laughing almost all of the time and I’m not talking about laughing due to discomfort or nervousness; I’m talking about the kind of laughter where you’re desperately holding in giggles and tears are hanging from your eyelashes. I genuinely thought that the actors’ delivery in this movie was hilarious, especially when they were at their most volatile, and I found the situation absurdly comical.

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It’s unclear whether or not this was the response that Coppola was aiming for when she made this film – I’d have to ask her to find out and I don’t think that that’s going to happen anytime soon – but I can’t find anything online to suggest that my experience of the film aligned with her intentions.

I find it perplexing that actors like Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell were cast if Coppola didn’t want the audience to find this film amusing because they’ve both recently performed in roles where this kind of tone was desired. They both have large bodies of work of course, but Dunst’s performance in “Fargo” and Farrell’s turn in “The Lobster” show that they both know how to deliver comedic dialogue as characters who aren’t in on the joke.

It’s hard for me to know exactly what to say beyond this point because “The Beguiled” lives or dies depending on whether or not my reaction to its content was anticipated by the director, but I will say that Colin Farrell put in a good performance regardless of my response to the film. His character was very direct and forward throughout the movie and I think this suits Farrell as an actor; he’s at his best when he’s playing characters who aren’t particularly likeable because he’s still able to endear them to an audience and he certainly did that here.

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I also enjoyed how the writers didn’t directly tell the audience who they were supposed to route for, because although McBurney was a bit of an arse he wasn’t exactly evil. He could’ve easily been a one-dimensional character had the writers approached the subject matter in a more straightforward way, but they did their best to make his motives ambiguous and give him a degree of believability. I appreciate this kind of approach because it puts you in the same mind-set as the characters you’re watching on screen and lets you share their experiences. The women in the boarding school didn’t know anything about McBurney other than what he told them and what they could pick up from his actions, so I think it’s only natural that we as audience members should be put in the same situation and come to our own conclusions, especially in a film which is linear and set in one location.

Some audience members will want to know more about both McBurney and the women in the house, but personally I can respect a film which doesn’t hold the audience’s hand and respects their intelligence, particularly after sitting through “War for the Planet of the Apes” this week.

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via denofgeek.com

I would concede that the female characters in the film could’ve had more personality because most of them had one dominant trait which informed their actions, but I think that in order to develop their characters further Coppola would’ve had to include more scenes where they were all together and this would’ve hurt the overall experience. The characters needed to be isolated with McBurney in one-on-one situations and to be easily swayed in order to progress the plot, so it’s hard to think of a way to give them more depth without hurting the narrative. Of course, I’m sure that with time and effort this could’ve been done, but as I write this review I don’t have the perfect solution which makes it harder to criticise Coppola’s approach.

To summarise, “The Beguiled” is a film which boasts a talented cast (Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, etc.) and is helmed by an acclaimed director, but the pieces don’t come together to make a cohesive whole. I had a great time watching it at the cinema but I don’t believe that what I took from the experience meshed with Sofia Coppola’s intentions. From a filmmaking perspective this is a good looking movie with a couple of standout scenes and some decent performances, but it isn’t exceptional in any way. I enjoyed it and I will watch it again when it’s released on DVD, but I wouldn’t recommend it to casual moviegoers.

6.5/10

War for the Planet of the Apes

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“War for the Planet of the Apes” has received mixed to positive reviews since its release earlier this month, with the majority of reviewers calling it the best film of the series so far. I had high hopes having enjoyed both of the previous films and I genuinely believed that “War” would be a great movie.

Sadly, it just isn’t. It fell short of my expectations in almost every area and left me feeling more than a tinge of disappointment. The visual effects were amazing once again and both Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson gave decent performances, but that doesn’t save it from an awful script.

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From a storytelling perspective this film is incredibly clichéd and lazy, with every narrative string feeling contrived and uninspired. The writing was atrocious with almost every line of dialogue being used as exposition, and the subtitles that were used to explain the apes’ sign-language verged on ridiculous.

Just like in the previous film the apes make small hand gestures which are then inexplicably accompanied by complex sentences in bright yellow text at the bottom of the screen. The information that the apes are trying to convey isn’t as complicated as these subtitles would have us believe, and the subtitles themselves are distracting to the point that you really have to question what the director was thinking by including them. The first thirty minutes of the movie would’ve worked just as well without any subtitles because the gestures that the apes made combined with their facial expressions were enough to convey their emotions to the audience.

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via comingsoon.net

The fact that the choice was made to leave the subtitles in speaks to a larger issue, which is that the writers and director Matt Reeves simply don’t respect their audience. The emotional moments in “War” are manipulative and the filmmakers expect the audience to be invested in virtue of the fact that they’ve seen the characters before, and as such they forgo significant character development in service of portraying Caesar (Andy Serkis) as some sort of messiah.

The plot is completely idiotic and filled with holes that are absolutely unforgiveable if you’re paying proper attention. I won’t get into spoilers in this review – partly because I want people who haven’t seen the film to come to their own conclusions and partly because I don’t have the patience to go through each and every issue – but I will say that there are cages with no rooves and guards that may as well be blind.

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There are very few positives to be found within the excessive runtime of “War” and the value of said positives depends entirely on what you want going in. The best thing about the film is its stunning visuals. This film knows how to make the most of CGI and the apes look as close to real as they possibly can, given the limitations of modern technology. We aren’t at the point where they look real, but we’re pretty close. The environments are also beautiful and the barren landscape provides the sense that the world is on the edge of apocalypse. Still, how much this praise is worth is debateable and for me it doesn’t enhance the film anywhere near as much as it needs to.

At the end of the day I can’t say that I liked this movie; if anything I detested it. It wasn’t just the fact that it tarnished two films that I enjoyed or the fact that the writing was laughable; it was the fact that it felt like a film that didn’t believe in its audience. Every plot point was signposted from start to finish, with Reeves beating us over the head with information as though we’re too stupid to understand even the most basic of ideas. The sad thing is that most critics proved him right by praising “War” as ‘the best film in the franchise’ – a title which only serves to devalue “Rise” and “Dawn”. Don’t believe the hype; this film is utterly vacuous.

4/10

Game of Thrones: Season Seven Premiere – “Dragonstone”

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“Game of Thrones” has entered its penultimate season and time is running out for showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss to resolve the remaining story arcs. As such, “Dragonstone” was an episode which focused primarily on putting the pieces in place for the rest of the season and eliminating distractions.

This was most clear in the opening scene, in which Arya (Maisie Williams) poisoned the male members of House Frey as revenge for the Red Wedding. Benioff and Weiss wasted no time in eliminating these characters, starting the season with a cold open and telling the audience that only the main players in the story matter from this point onwards. This is an understandable approach and from a plot perspective it was fitting that Arya was the one to kill the Freys, given that she narrowly missed out on reuniting with her family because of them in season three.

However, whilst the scene made sense in the context of the narrative I didn’t appreciate its execution. I accept that Arya is able to swap faces with people that she has killed, (even though we were never explicitly told how this is possible), but it doesn’t make sense that by swapping faces with another person Arya also takes their voice, their physical dimensions (weight, height, etc.), and their other body parts.

When Arya removed Walder Frey’s (David Bradley) face and revealed her own she did so using his hand – this was clearly shown to the audience and for the life of me I can’t understand why. If you’re going to do something like this then at least make the rules consistent so that I understand what’s happening; don’t expect me to buy in simply because I know I’m watching a television show. The voice and height issues are annoying but I can ignore them because there probably isn’t a better way to film these kinds of scenes, but as a director you don’t have to show me another actor’s hands when they’re supposed to belong to Maisie Williams! Just don’t show the hands!

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I know this seems like a small issue but it took me straight out of the experience and immediately destroyed the excitement I was feeling about the show’s return. I get that most viewers will enjoy the story payoff and that’s completely fine, but personally I can’t separate the content of a television show from the fact that somebody made a decision to include that content when filming and editing, and these considerations are always on my mind while I’m watching.

I will say that the wider issue of how the Faceless Men take people’s faces is one that the series created for itself long before this episode, so at this point they’re stuck, but I think this scene could’ve been done better and it shouldn’t have opened season seven because all it did was remind me about how badly Arya’s arc was handled in season six.

Following this scene we saw the White Walkers for the first time this year, bringing winter quite literally with them. This was a visually brilliant scene and it helped to bring home the fact that they are the real threat as we come towards the series’ end. The only issue I had here was that it wasn’t clear if the giant that the camera focused on was supposed to be Wun Wun (Ian Whyte).

The giant had an eye missing which would make sense because Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) took Wun Wun’s eye out with an arrow in season six, and the fact that the scene was one of Bran’s (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) visions means that it could have taken place in a future where the Walkers have gone past The Wall and taken Winterfell (presuming that for some reason Wun Wun’s body hasn’t been burned). However, if the giant was supposed to be Wun Wun then a stupid error was made, because the eye that the giant was missing was the opposite one to the one that Ramsay shot out with his arrow. It’s a small issue because as I said there’s no confirmation that the giant is Wun Wun, but it did look an awful lot like him and it seems coincidental that the giant that was shown was missing one of its eyes.

Bran then woke from his vision to find that Meera (Ellie Kendrick) had dragged him all the way to The Wall. There’s not a lot to say about this scene other than the fact that Hempstead-Wright’s acting is still woefully bad and the character remains as annoying as ever.

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We then cut from The Wall to Winterfell where Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) disagreed on what should be done with the ancestral homes of the houses that sided with Ramsay in the Battle of the Bastards. Jon didn’t want to punish the children for the crimes of their fathers so he had the new lords of houses Umber and Karstark make oaths of loyalty to him rather than giving the castles to houses that were already loyal to him. I enjoyed this scene because both sides of the argument made sense and they reflected the experiences of the characters making them. Sansa has been influenced by pragmatic thinkers like Cersei (Lena Headey) and Tywin (Charles Dance) so it makes sense that she should have a ruthless edge about her when it comes to politics, whereas Jon has been trained in battle and knows that he must try to keep as many allies as possible in order to win the war to come.

It was a decent scene and I like that Jon and Sansa are challenging one another because they both have a lot to learn, I just think that the tension the showrunners want us to feel isn’t really there as of yet. If we’re supposed to believe that Sansa would side with Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) over Jon simply because Jon doesn’t respect her opinion then I’m sorry but that’s not going to happen. Sansa’s arc could definitely lead her to villainy by the time the series ends but I think it’s much more likely that she would side with someone she loves rather than the man who killed her aunt and abandoned her with a rapist. I know this is “Game of Thrones” but Sansa siding with Littlefinger doesn’t seem like a twist that would feel earned and therefore it shouldn’t happen.

I also think there’s a bigger issue that this scene presents which is that Littlefinger as a character is completely lost right now. In the past he’s been one of the best schemers on the show and he effectively started the conflict that set the series into motion, so it’s a shame to see him pining over Sansa. There’s still plenty of time for him to come into his own again, but with the War for the Dawn on its way he feels like a character that has run his course on the show at this point.

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In the South, Cersei explained that without the Freys the Lannisters are devoid of allies and in fact have enemies in every direction. There was a lot of exposition in this scene and it was mainly an exercise in reminding the audience about supporting characters and their intentions, but I did appreciate it for what it was. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei talked for the first time since Tommen’s (Dean-Charles Chapman) suicide and it was good to see them address the fact that all of their children are now dead.

Then came one of my favourite scenes of the episode in which Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) made his claim for Cersei’s hand in marriage. This scene worked for many reasons, the main one being that the character seems to have been given a reset. I wasn’t one of the people who disliked the character in season six, but I was aware that many book readers thought that he was handled poorly and should’ve felt more important on the show. This scene went some way to acknowledging this as Euron came across as a much more charismatic and playful antagonist, delivering the best lines of dialogue in the episode.

This scene also served a purpose from a narrative perspective as Euron promised to deliver a gift to Cersei in order to prove his usefulness. This gift could be any number of things, but the main theories flying around on the internet right now are that Euron will bring either Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), Gendry (Joe Dempsie), or Dragonbinder to Cersei.

When I watched this scene I thought it was supposed to be obvious that Euron was talking about Tyrion because the episode entitled “The Gift” in season six referred specifically to everyone’s favourite Lannister. This would make sense because in the teaser for episode two there are fight scenes which seem to be taking place at sea, presumably between the Greyjoy fleet and Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) fleet. Still, with that said Ellaria also appears in the teaser with Daenerys and was responsible for the death of Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) so she would be an equally pleasant gift for Cersei. I think either of these options would be interesting, but personally I hope that the gift isn’t Dragonbinder as I don’t think the show needs to introduce any more objects or characters into the story at this point.

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Speaking of introducing unnecessary characters, we then cut to Sam (John Bradley-West) in Old Town. These scenes felt very alien on a show like “Game of Thrones” but I will admit that they were fun in their own way, even if they did go on for far too long (a bit like this review). It’s good to see some world-building on the show even though we don’t really have time for it, and Jim Broadbent is a great addition to an already stellar British cast.

Nevertheless, at this point Sam is more of a plot device than he is a character and having him act as comic relief doesn’t hide that fact. He’s on the show to read books and find out information rather than having other characters discover things naturally, cheapening reveals which should feel important. The fact that he’s sending Jon a raven telling him about Dragonstone is cool because it means that we’re going to see Jon and Dany interact, but it still feels incredibly forced.

When these scenes were finally over the focus was once again on Arya. I’m very conflicted about this scene because I think it might have been my favourite of the episode but I also think that Ed Sheeran’s appearance considerably devalued it. The thing I liked about this scene was that it felt like it was there to develop Arya as a character and to build on the opening scene, allowing us as audience members to question whether or not Arya was right to do what she did to the Freys. Arya was allowed to let her guard down and enjoy herself because the Lannister soldiers welcomed her and were genuinely friendly, which is rare on “Thrones”, but this also played into the fact that many of the people that she killed earlier might have acted in the same way in a similar situation. It reminded us that soldiers fight wars that they didn’t start and that many of them just want to live normal lives, even the ones who kill good people. In this sense I thought it was a clever scene and it was fun to watch because it wasn’t clear what was going to happen.

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On the other hand, Ed Sheeran’s appearance in the scene made me question whether or not it was written for Arya at all. The fact that the scene started with him singing and proceeded to do a close up on his face made me feel very uneasy, and I think it was a very badly executed cameo. He was an unnecessary distraction in an otherwise awesome scene and I don’t understand why he had to be there. The fan base and the audience are already established so the showrunners didn’t need to go out of their way to tarnish their credibility. If Sheeran wanted to appear that’s fine – he’s a big name and a cameo doesn’t hurt – but he shouldn’t have been centre stage in the way that he was. Again, I want to make it clear that I liked the scene, but Sheeran definitely made it worse.

After the break we saw the team-up of The Hound (Rory McCann), Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), and Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye) make their way north. This was one of the better sequences of the episode and it was smart of the writers to show how far The Hound has come by having him revisit an event from his past. A lot of character development happened in this scene as Sandor overcame his fear of fire, looking into the flames and having a vision of a battle involving the White Walkers which was seemingly taking place at Eastwatch (where the Wildlings are headed). He also showed remorse for leaving the man and his daughter to die in season four and by burying them paid homage to the Gravedigger character in the books. This was a well written scene and although the character went from A to B pretty quickly I think this is something we’ll have to accept from the show going forward.

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Finally, the episode culminated by turning its attention to Daenerys, first by having Jorah (Iain Glen) ask about her at the Citadel and then by showing her arrival on the shores of Dragonstone. This final sequence was excellent, with the decision to omit any dialogue until the final seconds enhancing it as a whole and giving the moment a distinctly epic fantasy feel. It’s a big moment in “Game of Thrones” because we’ve been waiting for Daenerys to arrive in Westeros since the very first episode, and it was one which was worth the wait in my opinion. I think this is one of Emilia Clarke’s best performances in a “Thrones” episode because she takes her time to let the character breathe; to take in the scenery and convey the significance of the scene to the audience. I can take or leave the dialogue at the end – ‘shall we begin’ is a bit on the nose for me – but I loved the sequence and it concluded the episode on a high note which is always important for a weekly television show.

So, overall I enjoyed “Dragonstone” for what it was. Season premieres are always difficult to get right, so whilst I had issues with its execution I appreciate that a lot of work was done to advance the plot and entice the audience back into the world of Westeros. It was a disjointed episode because we had a lot to get through and key characters are still geographically separated for now, but I expect that as the season progresses people will either die or come together to make for an easier viewing experience.

7/10