“We Either Serve And Die Or Fight And Die. I’ve Made My Choice…”
Beginning with perhaps the most obvious rescue in Thrones history, “Eastwatch” was a curiously intriguing episode, one which swapped action set pieces for cleverly maneuvered interactions, resulting in a swiftly paced hour of television which saw the return of long lost characters, the reunion of old friends and enemies and a game-changing couple of narrative tweaks which had fans screaming at the television with frustration the one minute and then applauding with joy the next. With Bronn inevitably the saving grace behind the cliffhanger of last week’s episode, allegiances seem to be at some sort of an end between the two after the latter understandably quipped, “dragons is where our partnership ends”, and whilst Bronn may have lost a selection of fans for his attack on Drogon last week, the comedic chemistry between himself and Jamie is still rife and effective as ever, even after witnessing an abundance of soldiers being shot up in flames. Furthermore, the death of both Tarly father and son raised an interesting predicament for Daenerys’ characterisation, with her villainous streak seeping out once again and arguably becoming more jarring by the second, yet with the vessel of Jon Snow by her side, you would expect each to learn from each other and ultimately level each other out, particularly after Dany’s shocked reaction to Drogon’s response to Jon.
Fitting in as many storyline developments as humanly possible within the second half, “Eastwatch” managed to swing in a glossed over historical game-changer, the long-awaited return of Gendry and the forming of Thrones’ own magnificent seven who ventured out beyond the wall in an attempt to begin preparations for the battle with the dead. Whilst this week’s episode was indeed low on blockbuster action, the low-key smuggling attempts and shadowy meetings in the dark made the episode feel almost Season One-esque, particularly with Littlefinger having the screen time to return to his more dastardly means at Winterfell, and whilst the travelling times for particular characters in Westeros has somewhat been subsided, “Eastwatch” was a thoroughly enjoyable episode, one which crammed in as much information as possible with a sole purpose of setting the ground for the remaining two episodes which are guaranteed to be explosive entertainment. We are ready.
Overall Score: 9/10
“Catelyn Stark Would Be Proud. You Kept Your Vow…”
Holy of all moly’s. In an almost prophetic fashion, my outspoken quandry’s with last week’s episode in regards to the fast-paced dissecting of particularly important battle sequences were well and truly rectified this week by a fifty minute episode of Game of Thrones which featured undoubtedly a collection of the most fist-pumping, crowd-pleasing moments in the entire history of the show so far, with the standout concluding act having all the ingredients to emphasise what makes HBO’s television King so darn addictive. Beginning where the episode kicks off however, the ever-graceful fan-appointed ambassador of all things Doctor Who, Mark Gatiss, once again emphasised the ever-increasing debt to the Iron Bank from Queen Cersei, and whilst the raid of Highgarden seemed to put an end to such a predicament, the roundabout narrative of who seems to be winning the war for the Iron Throne ultimately made such a solution non-existent come the end of the episode, and whilst King’s Landing was undoubtedly not the star of the show this week, Season Seven so far has impressively handled the ever-shifting power struggle in such a way that you can never surely say where the overall narrative is heading.
Within the far reaches of the North, the return of all remaining Stark children to Winterfell was a real sight to behold, particularly when admiring how far each has come since their introduction in “Winter Is Coming”, a level of admiration which is effectively shown to be shared by the children themselves towards each other, with Arya particularly showcasing the skills and tricks she has developed during the battle with Brienne which emphasised the notion that size really doesn’t matter. The return of Arya to Winterfell will undoubtedly bring with it it’s own spate of surprises, and after the nervous infliction of Littlefinger’s stare into the eyes of the Stark youngling, you would be safe to assume Lord Baelish might have to start getting used to a timid disposition in the halls of Winterfell, with the Valyrian steel dagger used in Brann’s attempted murder somehow at the heart of such danger. After the concluding battles of last week’s episode, the Dragon Queen turned to Jon Snow for guidance in the art of war after being treated to a step back in time in the undergrounds of Dragonstone, and whilst the inevitable endgame is for both fire and ice to join hands in both battle and in marriage of some sort, it does seem we are quite a while off from the all-sparks chemistry of the show’s leading power couple to be.
Now, on to that concluding battle. As previously mentioned, the quickfire conclusion of both the battle for Casterly Rock and the overthrow of the Tyrell’s at Highgarden last week was disappointing to say the least, yet after watching arguably the most enjoyable, redemptive, action-packed battle sequence of the show to date this week, I can understand completely why the money and the effort was saved for a concluding ten minute sequence which featured everything from a long-awaited Dragon massacre, the Lannister army turning to Ash and a deep sense of conflicted allegiances when seeing both Jamie and Bronn at the heart of the action. With myself mirroring the thoughts of Tyrion when witnessing Jamie ride head-first up to Daenerys and the wounded Drogon, the sight of watching everyone’s favourite one-handed Lannister sink into the depths of the sea was interesting to say the least. On the one hand, (No pun intended) the weight of both his armour and the lack of effective co-ordination when it comes to a swimming ability should in theory result in certain death, but with a character as important as Jamie to be cast off so easily and so anti-climactic would be major false step, particularly when everyone is so eager to see Cersei’s reaction to finding out who the real instigator of Joffrey’s death truly was. “The Spoils of War” is the type of definitive Thrones episode which showcases everything brilliant about the show, and with a effects ridden spectacle to top it off, this season finally has found its’ first masterpiece.
Overall Score: 10/10
“Stark Men Don’t Fare Well When They Travel South…”
It’s almost as if Game of Thrones can’t win at this very moment in time, with my own personal complaint of perhaps the first two episodes taking a while to really get going being completely sucker punched this week with the release of an episode in which arguably too much happens in such a short space of time, and whilst I’m up for the narrative zooming forward when it can, particularly with the remaining episodes decreasing down in number to almost single digits, it was strange to see an episode in which not one, but two dreadfully important battle scenes were skipped over in a heartbeat when in previous seasons, it would have taken each an episode to tell the tale. Of the many positives of the episode however, the long-awaited meeting of Ice and Fire at Dragonstone was impressively handled, with both Daenerys and Jon Snow immediately hitting it off on the charisma scale, with conversations regarding sins of the father and the future of the war for the Seven Kingdoms adding a juicy level of suspense to the interactions between the guiding lights of one possible, optimistic future. As Dany correctly quips;”you better get to work Jon Snow”.
Elsewhere in Westeros, Euron finally manages to convince that he is indeed one of the most comedic villains in the GoT repertoire to date, with his woeful sweet talk managing to effectively offend and delight at the same time depending on whether you are indeed Jamie Lannister or every other human being who can’t help but laugh at the discussion of a particularly private query regarding Cersei’s favourite erm, pastime. Whilst murder and bloodshed has never been minimal in a show like GoT, the death, both rapid and slow, of particular major characters this week almost felt surprisingly second-hand, portraying a concoction of character cast-offs in a manner which felt as if the writers seemingly view murder as the only fitting conclusion for particular plot threads, and whilst the show is miles off from the shockingly awful final seasons of particular time-consuming shows (Dexter, I’m looking at you), the fear of closing every narrative line with the finality of death is really just a cop-out, particularly when considering the time spent absorbing yourself into the lives of particular individuals on-screen. Another effectively entertaining episode which once again suffers from middling issues, Season Seven ain’t half consistent so far.
Overall Score: 8/10
“We Must Stand Together, All Of Us, If We Hope To Stop Her…”
If last week’s opening episode of Game of Thrones Season Seven was efficiently catalogued as “much filler, little killer”, this week’s episode, “Stormborn”, is the first real sign of the current season that time is not exactly of the essence when it comes to the concluding strands of the show’s main interwinding narratives, with the episode cramming in character returns, gory medical examinations, a long-awaited romance scene and an epic sea battle all over the course of a swifty edited sixty minutes. Within the midst of an abundance of action, Daenerys and her merry band of Cersei-hating avengers seemed to take centre stage after their middling appearance in the season opener last week, and with treachery being forgiven, the return of Melisandre and the notion of the Dragon Queen finally meeting up with the King in the North, tasty doesn’t exactly cover the ground which was effectively covered within the cold halls of Dragonstone, cold halls which set the battleground alight with Tyrion’s masterplan on how to finally overthrow the rule of his much maligned estranged family.
In the case of John Snow, his out and out reluctance to act in accordance with tradition ultimately benefitted Sansa and the watchful eyes of Littlefinger, whilst Daenerys’ belief that Jon will simply bend the knee is an interesting development when surely the two are the leading lights in taking the Seven Kingdoms into a golden dynasty, particularly when remembering the true familial tree in which the King in the North derives from. The B-Movie, exploitation scene of the week belonged wholeheartedly in the hands of Samwell, whose amateur understandings of deep, deep medicine resulted in the slimy, oozy reduction of Jorah’s greyscale, a scene juxtaposed rather distastefully and suddenly with the image of food, putting the masses off hot, sloppy stews for the forthcoming weeks or so. Concluding with an action-packed, murderous slew which tips the balance in favour of King’s Landing rather too early to comment on its’ effectiveness, “Stormborn” does indeed push the plot threads forward more efficiently than its’ predecessor but with more battles and bloodshed coming next week, the masterpieces of the season still are awaiting to be admired.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Shall We Begin…?”
Welcome back ladies and gentlemen, the single greatest contemporary television show of our time finally returns to the small screen after an agonisingly stagnated wait after HBO decided it was best for the fans to hold out for over a year until we could return into the ways of all things Westeros and finally witness the beginning of the end, with the start of Season Seven counting down a tally of just 13 episodes until the resolution of who will ultimately get to sit on that awfully uncomfortable Iron Throne and rule the entirety of the Seven Kingdoms. Whilst previous season openers have tended to sway more on the recap of particular characters and story-lines instead of meaningfully furthering the overall plot, the seven episode structure of GoT’s latest season arguably offers less time for such meanderings but with the many wars ahead set to come, it comes at no surprise that “Dragonstone” does indeed conform to the usual series premiere standard, offering the chance to revisit the many lives of our leading characters whilst laying out the red carpet for the many stories which lie ahead for the next seven weeks.
With an opening sequence which is as joyous in its’ sense of redemption as it is ultimately violent in its’ devolution of an entire familial tree, Season Seven’s opening episode reminds us why the show is so damn watchable, with each of the many plot threads having the chance to push slowly forward, including the return of Daenerys to her homeland and Cersei’s acknowledgement that King’s Landing is the epicentre of danger from all sides of the Kingdom, with each having their own reasons for overthrowing the dastardly Lannister reign. Whilst Cersei has arguably now taken over the mantle for leading villain of the show, her superb characterisation over the history of the entire show results in a clash of conflicts regarding who will eventually end up on the Iron Throne, and with Jamie himself questioning why the battle continues after the dynasty of their rule has faltered with the death of their children, it is almost inevitable that the fall of the Lannister’s will be a conflicted mix of melancholia and long-awaited fate for a family who have caused so much bloodshed over the show’s entire run.
Whilst there are particular elements which don’t entirely work, including the cringe-inducing and grating inclusion of a particular famous songwriter and too many contemporary in-jokes which clash with the overall tone of the series, the premiere’s most effective scenes are still the secluded and dramatic conversations between characters who are destined to be at the centre of the overall narrative moving forward, with the conflict between John and Sansa at Winterfell being of particular interest considering the latter’s penchant for independence and authority even when the symbol of her half-brother (Or Not) is the leading figure of rule within the North. One of the more interesting developments too was the acknowledgement from Sansa of her subverted respect for Cersei, with those earlier season scenes of Cersei attempting to reason her villainous ways now catching up with the narrative, creating a sub-plot which will no doubt continue to be at the heart of the underlying conflict from the ruling command at the North. Suitably entertaining and fist-pumping in places, “Dragonstone” is a more than fulfilling opener for a series which is guaranteed to have an array of twist and turns in the coming weeks.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Who Is To Say That It Is Not Everything Else That Is The Dream…?”
Opening against the likes of Scorsese and Assassin’s Creed, A Monster Calls, the latest from impressive director J. A. Bayona, ultimately offers more of family-friendly adventure then perhaps others on show at the start of 2017, a family-friendly adventure boasting a CGI’d Liam Neeson-shaped tree, one which bears a striking resemblance to the Ents from The Lord of the Rings, who forms part of an impressive cast featuring the likes of Rogue One’s Felicity Jones and cult favourite, Sigourney Weaver. With Bayona’s career beginning in a solidly admirable manner with his directorial craft stamped on both the Guillermo Del Toro produced horror The Orphanage and the disaster drama The Impossible, A Monster Calls is a melancholic and poignant tale of one boy’s capacity to cope with the horrors which wait for him in the future, featuring a superb performance from young Lewis MacDougall and a screenplay which admirably attempts to be something much more mature and complex than your average fantasy romp.
If being based solely from the trailers, it would be obvious to assume that A Monster Calls primarily shouts out to the younger viewers out there, and whilst an element of fantasy is ripe throughout the movie, the true nature of A Monster Calls is so much more understated than one might expect, particularly with a gigantic digital tree at the heart of the film, with Bayona taking full effect of Patrick Ness’s adapted screenplay of his own novel in creating a film which will strangely appeal more to an adult audience than one might expect. Furthermore, the ominous and ambiguous nature of The Orphanage is relevant once again, with Bayona choosing to use the sensual appeal of silence to follow our hero to full effect and only using background music when absolutely necessary, creating that eerie atmosphere present within the director’s earlier works. What we have with A Monster Calls therefore is the creepy, cold nature of The Orphanage mixed together with the tough examination of humanity from The Impossible. Does it work? Yes, and although there are moments of slight wanderings, A Monster Calls is a poignant and overtly eye-watering success, only continuing the reputation of director Bayona many-fold.
Overall Score: 7/10
“You Don’t Have To Make Us Feel Safe, Because You’ve Made Us Feel Brave…”
Tim Burton is back with his latest project, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, based on the novel of the same name by author Ransom Riggs, and whilst Mr. Burton hasn’t exactly hit the high notes of what he can accomplish in recent years, a mediocre Burton film is at least better than most things released in the calendar year of film. With Miss Peregrine’s, the typical tropes and traits of what makes Burton’s films his own are unashamedly there to see from the offset and whilst we are treated to a two hour plus marathon of sub-gothic horror, all with a teenage friendly 12A rating, which includes invisible monsters, Alice In Wonderland type parallel time zones and the removal of a hell lot of eyes, Burton’s latest is an undeniable snooze-fest, one that has the baseline of a good idea but one that is orchestrated in a tedious and rather unconvincing fashion, concluding with a final act which can only be regarded as the physical definition of anticlimax.
As we follow Jacob (Asa Butterfield) into the titular home, ruled over by the strict, yet caring, Miss Peregrine, portrayed in an overtly scene-chewingly fashion by Eva Green, the film begins in a compelling air of mystery, particularly when we are introduced to the notion of the Hollows, their origins and the plans of the evil Dr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson). Unfortunately for the film, as soon as we are swayed away from the charming introductions to the residents of the titular home and into the bigger picture involving the Jack Skellington-esque Hollows, the film totally collapses under the weight of attempting to get as much plot in its’ two-hour runtime, resulting in a messy narrative which doesn’t allow the concluding act to have the impact and sense of closure it of course is meant to have. Although the film boasts some good performance from the likes of its’ younger cast, with Ella Purnell arguably being the standout, Miss Peregrine’s is a poor attempt for Burton to get back on form and therefore can only be regarded as a undeniable let down.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Never Go To The Window, Never Look Behind The Curtain…”
Who doesn’t love Roald Dahl? Not only have countless cinematic works been based upon his literary catalogue over the course of over half a century, but his presence is still continuing to this very day, with Hollywood understanding that re-imaginings and reboots of his works on the big screen will always guarantee to bring in the masses, whilst hardcore Bond fans will know his influence on the script for You Only Live Twice, the first Bond film in which we see the ominous presence of Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld and his evil looking Persian cat. Anyhow, this time around it’s The BFG which gets the reboot treatment, directed this time by Steven Spielberg and continuing the successful collaboration of Bridge of Spies by placing Oscar winner Mark Rylance in the lead role. Whilst the CGI and design of Rylance’s titular BFG is a fantastic achievement in itself, the film as a whole is one that is surprisingly mediocre, one in which suffers from a wide range of pacing issues, a yawn-inducing first half and a lacklustre plot thread based around the intent of our beloved heroine, Sophie.
Although Spielberg is a director whom I appreciate highly, The BFG is a surprisingly empty and rather shallow fantasy, one that focuses entirely on the structure and creation of Rylance’s BFG and seemingly forgets to include any real sense of direction whatsoever. Beginning with a first act in which we are taken to Giant Country, the film descends into a rather slow slew of tedious pacing issues, in which the introduction of Rylance’s character is overshadowed by such and subsequently becomes something you quickly get bored with. After a good drawn out 90 minutes, the film does improve when we are taken into the halls of Buckingham Palace, a final act which seemingly woke up the entirety of the audience in my particular screening, with the laughs and quickfire jokes swiftly erasing the pain of the film so far before it. With Spielberg at the reigns and Rylance in command of his beloved character, The BFG should have been something spectacular. Instead, Spielberg’s latest is surprisingly mediocre, a word rarely associated with talent of such a kind.
Overall Score: 5/10
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Have we possibly found the worst film of 2016? Even more so, the worst film of the decade? Gods of Egypt, the latest creation from the mind of Alex Proyas, director of cult classics such as The Crow and Dark City, is indeed a shocker of a movie, a film so inherently terrible, it makes last years’ Jupiter Ascending look like The Godfather, and begs the question how on earth such a flop ever managed to get past the cutting room. With a 140 million dollar treasure chest at his disposal, Alex Proyas has succeeded in presenting the biggest waste of a budget since Newcastle United in the January transfer window and in a time where big budget movies are the norm in gaining financial gain, Gods of Egypt may hopefully emphasise the notion that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Want to know how bad Gods of Egypt is? Gerard Butler is the best thing in it. That’s right. Gerard frickin’ Butler.
In regards to the plot, of which is somewhat ludicrous and inherently stupid, after murdering his brother and taking the reign of power across Egypt, Gerard Butler’s Set banishes nephew Horus, played in an awfully camp fashion by Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, whom is regarded as the rightful heir to the throne of power but is left blind and abandoned in the wastelands, unable to seek revenge and claim back his rightful title as king. After the intervention of a mortal however, Horus is given the opportunity he seeks and sets about reclaiming the throne of Egypt and to return his lands to peace, finally ending the reign of his power-hungry uncle. Think Exodus: Gods and Kings meets Barney the Dinosaur and that would be a telling review of Gods of Egypt, a film so flimsy, so ear-cripplingly awful when it comes to dialogue, and a film so woodenly acted it could be mistaken for a foreign ad on TV where its’ main star in the form of Coster-Waldau is so out of his depth it begs belief why on earth he doesn’t just stick to Game of Thrones, a series in which he is very good in yet when placed upon the big screen, gets acted out of the park by the one-man shouting army that is Gerard Butler. It just makes me cringe thinking about it.
If Coster-Waldau could be forgiven in any sense, then Chadwick Boseman most certainly cannot, with his performance so unintentionally both terrible and laughable at the same time, it would be hard not to see him be invited to the Razzies come awards season. It is perhaps the single worst performance I have ever seen in a movie, a performance so cringey, it gave me the shakes every time he spoke, particularly in one scene where there is not one, but thousands of Chadwick Boseman’s, all of whom are utterly, utterly terrible. Aside from the masterclass of shoddy acting, the effects are borderline offensive, something you could expect on a Nintendo 64 cartridge, the jokes fall flat on every occasion, and worst of all, everyone in my screening knew how bad it was. Looking around during the film’s unholy two-hour run-time, I began to take bets on who would leave first with myself being 11/10 on to leave before the credits rolled. Gods of Egypt isn’t just bad, it’s a monstrosity of blockbuster proportions and easily the worst film of the year so far. By. A. Mile.
Overall Score: 1/10
“Is War The Only Answer?”
When it comes to past live-action video game adaptations that have made it on to the big screen within the past, let’s say the record has not been the best so far. I mean look at Hitman: Agent 47 last year, what a load of rubbish that was and whilst others have trembled in the wake of mediocrity or downright awfulness, 2016 was tapped as the year for the reinvention of the genre with not only Assassins Creed hitting the big screen but Warcraft too, helmed by self-proclaimed fan Duncan Jones, director of sci-fi greats such as Moon and Source Code. Although I can admit to never playing a single second of Warcraft in the past, Jones’ behemoth of a summer blockbuster was a surprising popcorn romp, one that indeed has a wide range of flaws and weaknesses, but one that was never challenging or seemed to be verging on the edge of boredom throughout its’ questionable two-hour plus runtime. CGI galore and Flash Gordon esque costume design. What more does one want?
Amidst unpronounceable locations and names, Warcraft essentially focuses on the battle between Orcs and humans, coincided with some pretty funky CGI magic and featuring warlocks, wizards and flying eagle bird things within the realm of what is essentially a rip-off of Middle Earth. The Lord of the Rings comparisons do not stop there however, with similar themes and even similar characters resulting in a fundamental likeness on the surface but Warcraft falters on the scale of the latter’s depth where even though there were some characters worth caring about, others simply acted either as canon fodder for giant hammers or as a tent-pole for extraordinarily polished suits of armour. Warcraft is set to be the starter pistol for another heavy-hitter of a blockbuster series and although it is indeed not perfect, far off in fact, Warcraft does the job and does it solidly, smashing humans to pieces as it traverses the world of humans in the 21st century. Over to you Assassins Creed, let’s see if you can do better.