“Do You Know Why I Admire You, Newt? You Do Not Seek Power. You Simply Ask, “Is A Thing… Right..?”
Not being the biggest fan of the first Fantastic Beasts film back in 2015, the three year wait for the second entry in the ever-expanding “Wizarding World” franchise to focus on Eddie Redmayne’s (The Theory of Everything) Newt Scamander was undoubtedly filled with notions on how exactly they could make a film with such talented performers become something I could actually enjoy. Directed by the steady hand of David Yates, a filmmaker who has helmed everything linked to the words of J. K. Rowling since Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Crimes of Grindelwald reunites Scamander with both friends and foes whilst introducing the likes of Jude Law (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) as a younger, trimmer Albus Dumbledore and Johnny Depp as the central and titular antagonist after Colin Farrell (Widows) was seen in the previous movie to simply be a jaw-dropping falsehood. Whilst swapping the likes of Farrell for Depp feels similar to trading your beautiful Aston Martin for a raggedy, temperamental French coupe with a penchant for stalling, such a trade feels only like a faint blip in the spectrum of issues prevalent in The Crimes of Grindelwald, a convoluted and needlessly tedious second wind which suffers from the simple fact of being a franchise entry which is all filler, no killer, and whilst there are particular elements which bring forth memories of what makes Rowling’s world so magical and delightful, Yates’ latest is unfortunately a wizarding tale of woe which fails to recreate the best the franchise has offered in the past.
Central to the film’s maddening issues is undoubtedly Rowling’s script, a convoluted, messy and particularly confusing work of madness which features zero threat, makes zero sense and is bogged down by a range of two dimensional, underdeveloped characters who come and go without clearly laying down their individual intentions or overall purpose to the story. With Depp ironically the best thing in the entire movie, his Billy Idol inspired look and Bono-esque sanctimonious villainous speeches failed to prevent me from cheering inside every time he came on screen, particularly when alternative company elsewhere became more and more boring with every passing minute, and even with the inclusion of the wonderful Zoë Kravitz as a conflicted, troublesome auror adding to list of powerful female actors carried over from the first film, her performance is let down by wonky character development and a overarching sense of her talent’s being well and truly wasted. With awful camera work which featured a mix between jaded, snapshot editing and invasive facial shots which looked like the work of a drunk and drugged up Sergio Leone, one of the more obvious issues is cinematographer Philippe Rousselot’s decision to mask the film in a bland, murky colour pallette, which although managed to echo the bland and lifeless feel of the film to a tee, also felt like a DC Universe interpretation of the Harry Potter franchise by failing to handle the darker aspects of the narrative and instead becoming a painful slog into unrepenting murkiness. Whilst the likes of Jude Law and even Eddie Redmayne, an actor who I still can’t fully get on board with, try their absolute best to bring some sense of dramatic pull to the action, an impressive musical score and wardrobe aside can’t paint over the fact that for a film which lasts nearly 140 minutes, nothing memorable actually seems to happen, and with gargantuan, bewildering plot twists crammed into a indecipherable final ten minutes, The Crimes of Grindelwald is somehow less fantastic than its’ mediocre predecessor.
Overall Score: 4/10
“There’s A Clock In The Walls. We Don’t Know What It Does, Except… Something Horrible…”
Primarily known for being best buds with Quentin Tarantino which has helped establish a directing back catalogue which is seeped in R-rated nastiness, with Hostel and Cabin Fever being the ugliest standout releases thus far, Eli Roth returns for a second cinematic swing this year after Death Wish with The House with a Clock in Its Walls, a 12A rated adaptation of the 1973 novel of the same name from American author John Bellairs which sees Owen Vaccaro’s (Daddy’s Home 2) Lewis move to Michigan in order to live with Jack Black’s (School of Rock) flamboyant uncle type, Jonathan Barnavelt, in the confines of the titular creaky, gothic inspired mansion after the sudden death of his loving parents. Mixing Spielberg-esque moments of fantasy adventure with elements of witchcraft and wizardry in the ilk of the Christopher Columbus directed entries in the Harry Potter series, Roth’s latest is a rather awkward cinematic piece, a movie which although slapped with a 12A rating seems too childish for adults but similarly too freaky for the youngest of audiences, and even with Jack Black giving his most School of Rock performance since, well, School of Rock, Eli Roth’s trip into family friendly escapism just isn’t worth shouting about.
With an opening half hour in which the audience is slowly introduced to the sparkling wonder of Jack Black’s Jonathan, a mediocre warlock blessed with magical tricks and the current incumbent of a free-spirited, spooky and clock-filled household, the opening act of the movie is fairly entertaining as the narrative balances Lewis’ discovery of not only his new residence and family, but school-time friends and foes who are eager to pick on his strange existence and penchant for wearing over-sized ski goggles. As the movie slowly shows its’ hand however, the venture into the central plot involving Kyle MacLachlan’s (Twin Peaks) aptly named Issac Izard, a evil alternative to Jack Black’s good-natured father figure, results in Roth’s movie swiftly falling into the trap of becoming yet another generic and wildly predictable fantastical ride, emphasised by a concluding set piece featuring a complete absence of threat or engagement which makes you stare at your own ticking watch as you count down the minutes before the credits finally roll. Even with the added inclusion of the always reliable Cate Blanchett as Black’s well-spoken, neighbouring witch, one bound with a reluctance to utilise her powerful abilities, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is not original enough to stand the test the time or engaging enough to be a throwaway fun ride and ultimately fails to live up to the brilliance you would expect from such a wonderfully reliable leading cast.
Overall Score: 5/10
“There Is Only One War That Matters. The Great War. And It Is Here…”
When attempting to combat the weight of expectation from a series finale, showrunners and writers have to understand completely the balance between payoff and the mouthwatering expectation of the audience in regards to wanting more as quickly as possible. In the case of “The Dragon and the Wolf”, a feature length episode which included everything you have come to expect from a standardised GoT entry, Series Seven managed to craft together effectively enough a crowd-pleasing conclusion to a series which has ultimately been short on explanation and high on spectacle, and whilst ironically “The Dragon and the Wolf” was arguably the most talky episode of the series, it also showcased how smoothly the show manages to push particular plot lines ahead without ever feeling as if the mediocrity of exposition comes across truly as an issue. With death, dragons, sex and the falling of both key characters and prestigious Westerosi landmarks, Series Seven’s concluding chapter was the kind of episode which made the entirety of its’ core audience flock to Twitter in order to discuss the radical changes and future ills which are set to occur within a final season which might not even brace our screens for at least another two years. I know, the feels.
Beginning with the positive, the concluding image of an undead dragon, one controlled by the megalomaniacal bringer of death which is the Night King, cutting through the wall like knife through butter, was impressive to say the least, and whilst the show has sometimes come under fire for particular elements which don’t completely work due to a limited budget, the falling of arguably the show’s most iconic landmark was both terrifying in terms of what such destruction ultimately means as it was remarkable to behold, particularly on a strictly technical sense. Aside from the wall, the death of Littlefinger was also both grimly and poetically handled, and whilst the disposal of one of the show’s key, plot-threading characters was always inevitable, it is sad to see the slimey figure of Aidan Gillen leave the show after a remarkably long tenure as the most infamously loved crafty sod on television. Where the episode ultimately doesn’t completely fit together however is the core reveal at the centre of the narrative regarding the heritage of Jon Snow, a reveal which was so obviously expected that the conjecture of both the realisation of such and the inevitable scene of Ice and Fire combining was somewhat flat in its’ handling. Picky, I know, and whilst Series Seven has swayed away heavily from the slow moving, chess-esque positioning of characters and set pieces which encompassed previous series, the blockbuster action and iconic fantastical battles have made the latest series of Game of Thrones arguably the most crowd-pleasing one yet. Until next time.
Episode Score: 9/10
Season Score: 8.7/10
“Smart People Don’t Come Up Here Looking For The Dead…”
With the penultimate episode of each Game of Thrones season renowned for being either filled with spectacle or rife with tear-inducing character deaths, “Beyond The Wall” was an hour of television which undoubtedly fit such a mould rather extravagantly, and whilst the long-awaited battle of fire and ice was finally presented on-screen after years and years of build-up, the epic fight sequence at the heart of the episode was only the beginning of the true fight which lies ahead for the battling forces within the realm of Westeros. Focusing primarily within both the North and the frozen grounds of death covered plains on the other side of the wall, our merry band of travellers led by the ever growing grisly figure of Jon Snow began the first half of the episode with the expletive laden banter the show’s audience has come to expect from characters such as The Hound and Tormund, yet within the midst of the sniggers and laughs, the touching sentiment between Jon’s conversation with Jorah was rather effectively done, with each living off the past sins of their own respective father’s but still forcing a way through to combat the even bigger threat which faces them together as a whole, with the snappy dialogue which GoT has been renowned for acting as the catalyst for the character development scenes to work efficiently enough to not seem just hammered in for the sake of it, even when the conversations switch from areas beyond the wall to Dragonstone and then back north again to Winterfell in lightning fashion.
With the concluding half of the episode fuelled with spectacle and mystical action, the crowd-pleasing set pieces which the show tends to get so damn right was once again on top form, with the shot of our brave heroes surrounded completely by an army of the dead staggeringly accomplished even when the audience is too savvy to think any of the truly key characters are set to meet their maker, with the murderous streak of previous important individuals inevitably halting for now with the show’s endgame in near sight. With undead beasts and the bone-crunching destruction of white walker after white walker in the spirit of The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, the real kicker of the story is of course the death and resurrection of a particular flying creature, and whilst it was hard to imagine the trio of Dragons surviving throughout the entirety of the series unscathed, the sight of the Night King coldly deciding to dispatch one of Dany’s scaly children was a rather extraordinary and iconic moment to witness. With action a go-go throughout, “Beyond the Wall” was a crowd-pleasing blockbuster of an episode, one which featured enough mind-bending set pieces and destruction to please even the most cynical of audiences, but in an almost uncanny vein to many contemporary summer, big budget movies, is too an episode which suffers from particular narrative flaws which prevent it from being the second masterpiece of the series so far.
Overall Score: 9/10
“You Can’t Stop What’s Coming. Death Always Wins…”
Growing up with Stephen King books going as far back as I can remember, the cinematic accessibility of the American’s many novels has resulted in a variety of classic movies over the course of nearly half a decade, and whilst The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me are arguably the standout examples, even when Kubrick’s famous horror barely resembles the source material, The Dark Tower series has seemingly been in production hell since the first whispers of a possible adaptation came to the floor at the turn of the 21st century. With previously attached filmmakers J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard both passing on the project, the task has fallen into the hands of Danish director Nikolaj Arcel, who along with King’s own blessings and Howard’s descent into a production role, has finally managed to create a live-action adaptation of King’s monstrous fantasy epic. Being an avid reader of all things King, The Dark Tower series is indeed a collection of novels which I have enjoyably devoured, and whilst King’s own notion of such a series being a cross between The Lord of the Rings and Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, the novels do have weaknesses, particularly within the concluding three releases, and whilst many have bulked at particular high profile changes which have occurred in the transition from paper to screen, Arcel’s adaptation is a release I have been eagerly awaiting since the first trailer was announced and with the fundamental and historical issues some stories have when making the jump to the big screen, the question on everyone’s lips is; was it worth the wait?
In a nutshell? Not quite, and whilst Arcel’s adaptation of King’s novels suffers from a wide range of basic filmmaking issues, The Dark Tower was a movie in which I was never bored, never lost in the rapid overlapping of plots and crucially, never bothered by the gargantuan and radical differences that have occurred between the process from paper to screen, and because of this, the movie was a rare case of a film which seemed to be rather enjoyable even when the weaknesses are so apparent on screen. In my own view, my ability to overlook such downfalls such as awful editing, ear-scraping dialogue and cheesy special effects, is ultimately down to my affinity to the source material and although the convoluted plot will undoubtedly seem incoherent and completely bonkers to an audience coming to the film with no previous knowledge of the characters or the setting, Arcel’s movie is so obviously an adaptation made solely for the readers of the series, and for that alone, I applaud the ballsy approach to create such. With obvious production problems at the heart of the finished article, The Dark Tower is a movie which worked more than it failed, and whilst the rafter of negative reviews and poor box office numbers will unfortunately class the film as a failure, Arcel’s adaptation will no doubt be the beginning of a series which is destined to be explored much, much more either on the big screen or the small.
Overall Score: 6/10
“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.