Amazon Prime review: HBO’s “Game of Thrones” (2011-2019)

When you play the game of thrones, you win…

…Or you die.

If you don’t know what to watch next, HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011-2019) is available on Amazon Prime.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s series of novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, is the most-nominated drama in the history of the Primetime Emmy Awards. It won Outstanding Drama Series in 2015, 2016, and 2018.

The fantasy epic takes place in the feudal Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, united under the Iron Throne. Multiple storylines weave around three central arcs. One is the dynastic civil war between noble Westerosi families for control over the Iron Throne.

Another involves a warrior named Jon Snow (Kit Harington), and his own war against the undead White Walkers in the frozen northern wilderness of the continent.

Meanwhile, east of the Narrow Sea in Essos, the exile princess, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), whose ancestors first sat the Iron Throne, hatches three dragons and leads an armada to conquer the Seven Kingdoms.

The production value of Game of Thrones rivals big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, forging its place in the Golden Age of Television with dragon fire.

But it’s not just the ambitious small-screen spectacle that makes for already classic TV.

At its best, Game of Thrones comes across as more of a political thriller than it does, say, a knockoff of Peter Jackson’s godawful The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), even though such comparison is inevitable.

Its commitment to medieval realism, despite the dragons, witches, and ice zombies populating the mise-en-scene, casts the fantastical setting in a more accessible light for all audiences, not just fans of the genre.

The key to this detailed world-building lies in the show’s character development, with the ensemble fighting to survive in a world where power too often falls into the hands of those who deserve it least.

But that’s Game of Thrones at its best.

The fifth season is the first to adapt material not yet published in A Song of Ice and Fire, and that is where the showrunners’ writing begins to collapse under the weight of Martin’s mythos.

The dialogue in the sixth season is a far cry from the more quotable lines in earlier episodes (“Winter is coming,” “All men must die,” “For the night is dark and full of terrors”), but the storytelling is still consistent with the source material.

After all, Martin himself is a stronger storyteller than he is a wordsmith, and, in their prime, the books and the show complement and improve upon each other spellbindingly.

The final two seasons, though, shorter than the first six ten-episode installments (the seventh season is seven episodes, and the eighth season is six), rush to their subverted expectations at an incoherent pace.

They are almost caricatures of the twists defining the series at its finest. These narrative turns are meant to be the climactic payoffs to the slow-burn, character-driven, chess-piece setups arranging themselves throughout the drama.

Otherwise, it’s all style and no substance.

Still, Game of Thrones is worth your time, if for no other reason than to see what Benioff and Weiss are trying to do (whether they succeed or not), and the first four seasons are more than worth the price of admission. The fourth season alone is some of the greatest TV ever aired.

Valar morghulis.

Guests and screenings at the American Black Film Festival

The American Black Film Festival will screen Reginald Hudlin’s documentary, The Black Godfather (2019), host a dialogue with Spike Lee and Stefon Bristol, as well as feature the top finalists for the twenty-second HBO Short Film Competition, according to Deadline. In addition, Tim Story’s Shaft (2019), the New Line Cinema reboot of the quintessential blaxploitation hero, will premiere ahead of its June 14 release, and Netflix will have a showing for Chris Robinson’s coming-of-age drama, Beats (2019), set in the hip hop scene on the South Side of Chicago and starring Anthony Anderson. The festival takes place from June 12 through June 16 in Miami.

New Brian De Palma film debuts today

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HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011-2019) alumni Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Carice van Houten co-star as Copenhagen police officers in Brian De Palma’s Domino (2019). (Image Credit: The Globe and Mail).

Brian De Palma’s Domino (2019) was digitally released today, and it brings out all the worst traits in its extravagant auteur, according to The Globe and Mail. Film critic Barry Hertz goes so far as to write that the film is De Palma’s worst ever, dismissing it for its convoluted writing as well as its aestheticization of violence. However, Hertz goes on to celebrate the director’s stylistic signatures as featured in Domino (his profusion of split-screen shots, his long-distance camera dollies, and his slow-burn set-pieces), and cites an interview with De Palma where the filmmaker says studio interference played a prominent part in the final product.

Hulu review: Craig Gillespie’s “I, Tonya” (2017)

She was loved for a minute. Then, she was hated. Now, she’s just a punchline.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya (2017) is available to stream on Hulu.

The biographical black comedy was nominated for three Academy Awards, and Allison Janney won Best Supporting Actress for her performance as LaVona Golden, the abusive stage mother of infamous Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding (Best Actress nominee Margot Robbie).

The film details Harding’s life and career, centering around her connection to the 1994 attack on rival athlete Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver).

It is framed as a mockumentary, with contradictory interviews from Harding and her abusive ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), casting them both as unreliable narrators. Footage plays over the end credits of the historical interviews these are transcripted from.

Such ambiguity opens up Harding’s tale to popular interpretation arguably for the first time since her self-proclaimed “bodyguard,” Shawn Eckardt (Paul Walter Hauser), hired Shane Stant (Ricky Russert) to bludgeon Kerrigan’s kneecap with a police baton.

As a result, this narrative condemns the court of public opinion that was already looking for a reason to convict Harding, the champion representing the United States at the international games with a “white trash” reputation.

Rightfully, Tatiana S. Riegel was nominated alongside Robbie and Janney for her editing. Her work is reminiscent of Thelma Schoonmaker’s Oscar-nominated cut of Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas (1990).

The energetically stylized composition is replete with fourth-wall breaks, hysterically juxtaposed cuts, and computer-imaged tracking-shot montages dollying through time with the same flow as one of Harding’s skating routines.

When paired with music supervisor Susan Jacobs’s classic rock soundtrack, the electricity between sight and sound sparks in us the forgotten inspiration audiences felt watching Harding skate, back when she was known for her talent and not for Nancy Kerrigan.

As darkly humorous as the picture’s voice is, it is sensitive with its themes of poverty and domestic abuse.

Harding is a tragic, sympathetic figure whose onscreen persona subscribes to the age-old psyche of the unloved child who grows up to marry an equally brutal spouse because it’s all she’s ever known about love, and so seeks the adoration and devotion of strangers across the globe.

The cast of characters deny accusations against themselves while lobbing new ones at each other, and the conflicting voiceover narrations and exaggerated editing make it clear what we see is not an objective story, but the subjective telling of it.

All that being said, the movie begs the question: is Harding so desperately addicted to her own fame that she’ll mastermind a violent criminal conspiracy to protect it?

As with the rumors and biases surrounding the media coverage of the Kerrigan incident, it is a mystery everyone solves differently.

But knowing what contemporary viewers perceive of its titular antihero, I, Tonya introduces us first not to the woman who was loved, but to the woman who’s “just a punchline,” before she tells us her side of the moment she became “hated.”

And by the end, you may find yourself “loving” her more than you thought possible.

New James Bond scriptwriter promises to modernize franchise for women

The filmmakers behind the twenty-fifth James Bond film have hired Fleabag creator and star (as well as co-creator of Killing Eve) Phoebe Waller-Bridge to edit the screenplay and write the female characters more three-dimensionally, according to BuzzFeed. With the “#MeToo” and “Time’s Up” movements taking the industry by storm, the womanizing MI6 secret agent’s relevance has been called into question, but Waller-Bridge believes 007 can be evolved to reflect the gender politics of today. This outing will be Daniel Craig’s last, and Waller-Bridge says she looks forward to writing his lines because of the “wryness” he brings to Bond.

James Cameron says new “Terminator” will be “direct sequel” to second film

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(Image Credit: ShortList).

Producer James Cameron promises Tim Miller’s Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) will be a followup to his The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), according to ShortList. Jonathan Mostow’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), McG’s Terminator Salvation (2009), and Alan Taylor’s Terminator Genisys (2015) earned sixty-nine percent, thirty-three percent, and twenty-five percent aggregated critical review scores on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively, whereas Cameron’s original sits at a hundred percent. In his interview, Cameron says the tone is what makes Dark Fate something of a third installment in a trilogy after T1 and T2, abandoning the more convoluted elements of the other films and instead focusing on a simpler storyline of one character chasing another.

Netflix review: AMC’s “Mad Men” (2007-2015)

Tony Soprano… Walter White… Frank Underwood…

All three of these characters would be loathsome human beings, but, in the Golden Age of Television, they make for our favorite antiheroes. They are sociopaths with a body count between them that makes us ask ourselves why we root for them (or at least it should).

Don Draper ranks as one of the greatest among them, and he did it without killing anyone.

If you don’t know what to watch next, AMC’s Mad Men (2007-2015) is available to stream on Netflix.

No stranger to the antihero, series creator Matthew Weiner saw HBO’s The Sopranos (1999-2007) win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama in 2004 and 2007, when he served as their executive producer.

Mad Men itself earned the same award four years in a row, from 2008 to 2011.

Set in 1960s Manhattan, the period drama focuses on the hard-drinking Don Draper (Jon Hamm), the self-made creative director at a Madison Avenue advertising agency. Again, Don isn’t a violent criminal – his failure as a husband, father, and professional are what characterize him.

Meanwhile, all around him, the countercultural revolutions of the decade change life at work and at home.

An episode of Mad Men can go by without much happening, and its commitment to historical realism includes deadpan representations of the sexism, racism, homophobia, child abuse, alcoholism, and smoking of the era, which may be off-putting to modern audiences.

Though not for everyone, Mad Men’s slice-of-life experimentation with TV storytelling is complex with subtext. The setting itself is the star of the show, striking an unpredictable tone of crippling lawnmower accidents and nipples in gift boxes between the more mundane moments.

The aesthetic is a snapshot of the American Dream imperial capitalists at the time were propagandizing for the rest of the world in an effort to combat the global influence of communism during the Cold War.

Indeed, the 1960s may look glamorous on Mad Men, like one of Don Draper’s cigarette ads, but once you realize it’s only to sell a product that slowly kills the consumer, the glamour fades like the passing of time to reveal the social inequality and decadent consumerism lying underneath.

The fourth and fifth seasons are the crown jewels of the series, when the drama comes into its own, finds its voice, and develops its cast into their most dynamic.

One wishes, however, that Weiner were as ethical in his approach to Don Draper as he was with Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini).

In the final season of The Sopranos, Tony’s psychiatrist, Doctor Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco), comes to accept what an irredeemable monster he is and condemns him in a scene that’s cathartic for anybody who’s ever had to “break up” with an antisocial personality.

Mad Men, on the other hand, features no such reckoning for Don. The closest we get is a phone call in the series finale with leading lady Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), who he manipulates out of chastising him for his selfishness, to talking him down off the ledge.

As a result, Don’s actions could come across as romanticized for the less-than-critical viewer. In spite of everything else, he is a successful, talented, attractive businessman with a tragic backstory that, for those who long to identify with him, could make him too sympathetic.

The ambiguous ending does not clarify whether Don is a changed man or not after his conversation with Peggy, which could mean he gets away with his narcissistic behavior one last time…

…Or not.

While Mad Men is not known for lending itself to easy interpretation, that’s what lends it well to re-watches – you can binge it over and over again and find something new every time. It is a powerfully honest character study of a man on the run, not from the law, but from himself.