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.

Women’s rights activists in film oppose Hollywood boycotting Georgia abortion ban

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Protestors at the Georgia State Capitol when Governor Brian Kemp signed legislation outlawing almost all abortions. (Image Credit: The Los Angeles Times).

Female film workers in Georgia fear for their careers after Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed a law banning most abortions at six weeks and liberal celebrities like Alyssa Milano, David Simon, and George Takei called for Hollywood to pull out of the state, according to the Los Angeles Times. Many of these women were already activists who marched on the capitol to protest the bill before it became law, and they say the entertainment industry should instead fund local groups opposed to the legislation, rather than boycott the state altogether. With their tax incentives for filmmaking companies, Georgia is the top filming location in the United States.

Chinese film studios firing Americans, killing projects

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The cast of Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall attend the December premiere in Beijing. (Image Courtesy: Foreign Policy).

As part of the trade war between the United States and China, Chinese studios are terminating American-born actors and cancelling international-themed works, according to Foreign Policy. Sources say there is no official order banning Americans from the Chinese film industry, and these executives are writing their blacklist in case such an order is passed down in the future, since Beijing restricted the importation of South Korean soap stars and pop singers in 2016 after Seoul deployed an American-made missile defense system that July. Because China is one of Hollywood’s most lucrative markets, an outright ban could cost U.S. filmmakers billions.

Criterion Channel off to a strong start, reviewer says

After debuting last month, Criterion Channel offers over a thousand titles from the Criterion Collection as well as distributor Janus Films for eleven dollars a month, according to Fortune; the archive is relatively small, but there are more Golden Age movies than on Netflix, which largely limits itself to the last twenty-five years, and Amazon Prime, which charges members extra to watch older pictures. Reviewer Lance Whitney writes that Criterion includes a diversity of silent, sound, short, feature-length, international, and independent releases from Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, Paramount, MGM, Lionsgate, and IFC Films; while the likes of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941), Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942), or Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s American classics are not yet part of the selection, the library will grow if more studios sign licensing deals. Overall, Whitney’s review is positive, praising special features such as interviews, documentaries, and collections; however, while the fledgling streaming service is compatible with all browsers, some available texts are only searchable on the website.

New casting announcements for Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” (2020)

 

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Kenneth Branagh are set to make an appearance in Christopher Nolan’s next project. (Image Credit: Variety).

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Kenneth Branagh have been cast in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming international espionage epic, Tenet (2020), according to Variety. Their co-stars will include Clémence Poésy, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Pattinson, and leading man John David Washington. Shooting is taking place on location in seven countries, with director of photography Hoyte van Hoytema mixing together a cocktail of Imax and 70mm film for the big screen, and Warner Brothers will distribute the action movie worldwide July 17, 2020; Nolan is also serving as co-producer for his own original screenplay, alongside his wife, Emma Thomas, their follow-up to the critical and commercial triumph, Dunkirk (2017).