Sunday, April 8, 2012

Game of Thrones S2E2 "The Night Lands"

Spoilers ahoy!

As the second episode of the second season of Game of Thrones begins, elements of full-blown dynastic wars come into view.  The hunt continues for the late King Robert's illegitimate sons.  Along the way one of them makes an alliance of sorts with Arya Stark.  The Queen Regent and King's Hand--a sister and brother who hate one another--fence with each other, using humiliation as a tool.  Stannis Barantheon, brother of the late King, struggles to find a way to press his claim without violating his sense of honor.  Refusing to make common cause with either Robb or his own younger brother, he makes a further commitment to the sorcerous priestess Melisandre.  She promises to give him a son, the fact their efforts to do precisely that take place on a map of Westeros, knocking models of soldiers and ships and castles off said map--well, let us just say it seems a pointed metaphor.

Meanwhile Theon Greyjoy returns to the land of his fathers, the Iron Islands.  He expects a welcome, an appreciative ear to the idea he put into Robb Stark's head--help free the North from the South, and the North helps the Iron Islands to its own independence.  But Lord Balon, Theon's father, sees a soft foreigner not one of his own men.  He has his own plans.

So, for anyone keeping score, there are now four people claiming a crown:  Robb Stark, Stannis Barantheon, Renly Barantheon and of course Joffrey Barantheon.  Looks like a four-sided civil war is in the offing, while a long winter approaches.

Tempers, understandably, show signs of fraying.  Littlefinger perhaps shows this most chillingly when the woman he's put in charge of his brothel show unhappy at having seen a baby slaughtered by the royal guards.  But then, he'd just been threatened--foolishly if with style--by Queen Cersei.  Very foolishly, it seems to me.  Surely we all see that by now, yes?  Of all the people in King's Landing, he's one of the tiny handful one should never, ever underestimate.  As Ned Stark learned to his loss.  I can almost feel sorry for her.  Almost.  If she hadn't twisted her own child into a psychopath, sanctioned quite so many murders, in fact demonstrated a petty cruelty sheathed in elegant beauty.  Joffrey is after his mother's child.  He is but a more distilled version of her.

And I think both of them are out of their depth.

So is Tyrion,  But he's learning to swim.  He even shows a talent for it.

Beyond the Wall more problems brew.  A former member of the Night's Watch is gathering wildlings to him.  Dubbed The King Beyond The Wall (oops, make that FIVE kings) he's making plans.  In the midst of all this Samwell does something kind and brave and stupid and dangerous.  Maybe even right.  He seeks to rescue a girl who fears her father/husband will kill her baby if it turns out to be a boy.  After all, that is what he always does.

Meanwhile, beyond the Narrow Sea and deep in the Red Waste, Danaerys Targaryan loses what she said was her last hope.  She is of course wrong.  Have you noticed almost everyone in this story is wrong?  Sooner or later?  More often than not, in fact?  Kinda like real life.

A small detail that bears mentioning.  Westeros is huge.  George R.R.Martin describes it as roughly the size of South America.  So travel between the different parts remains slow.  A disadvantage for storytelling?  I don't think so.  Rather, it gives each episode a chance to focus upon a certain set of circumstances -- which is why we saw nothing really of Catelyn or Renly this week.

Having read the books, I can tell you my favorite character of them all should appear next week!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

More Celluloid Anticipation

In upcoming months several movies are on their way to theaters.  Given my financial state, it is most likely I'll be seeing most of these on DVD.  But here are some that I'm looking forward to.

Dark Shadows.  Surely this comes as no surprise!  Apart from the fact this is indeed a vampire movie, its basis remains a t.v. show from my childhood I recall with great fondness.  Plus I enjoy the vast majority of Tim Burton films, as well as feeling great admiration for the entire cast!  This poster shows Chloe Grace Moretz, whom I became a fan of after seeing first Kick-Ass and then Let Me In.  She portrays Carolyn Stoddard, one of my favorite characters from the original series.  Danny Elfman composed the music, and samples of it indicates a nice homage to the score from the show.  Colleen Atwood did the costumes, and that is always a good thing.  Much controversy surround this flick among die-hard fans, but here is my take:  Tim Burton always makes the sad, often tragic stories he tells more palatable with humor.  I expected as much and have no objection to same.

The Hobbit.  Again, no surprise!  Each of Peter Jackson's previous Tolkien films came out near enough to my birthday I decided to treat them as gifts!  And I've hopes this one--which seems to have a stellar cast--will lack the ever-so-slightly rushed quality I felt eroded the second and third films of the trilogy.  Not that I didn't think they were good!  Far from it!  But methinks none of them were quite as good as the first, and frankly the third fell short of the second.  Got terribly excited to see who was cast as Bilbo (huge Sherlock fan here) and my only real disappointment remains that the wonderful Guillermo del Toro ended up not directing.  How I would have loved to see his take on this world, this story!  Here's a little secret--the Rankin Bass animated version seemed to me to have worked in many ways.  It captured some of the emotional resonance of the tale.  Now Jackson's trailer seemed to do the same.

The Avengers.  Joss Whedon does superheroes!  Woo hoo!  Like many, I'm generally enjoying very much the films Marvel Comics decided to do of their own major characters.  Methinks there's something more realistic, more cinematic about their superheroes--which is one reason methinks their film adaptations tend to be a bit better, simply because they are easier to translate.  When it became clear this film loomed on the horizon (way back when the first Iron Man came out) I very much hoped a female hero would end up on the roster.  Honestly, the Wasp seemed difficult to realize.  The Scarlet Witch had this elaborate back story.  Yet they went with Black Widow!  Which excites me for among other reasons she's a hero in the same way Batman is--by skill and willpower rather than accident of raw power.  Besides, this is Joss Whedon folks!  JOSS WHEDON!  'Nuff said.

Styria.  You probably haven't heard of this one.  An independent film version of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's vampire classic Carmilla, it is currently in post-production.  I was honored to have interviewed one of the writer-directors for, which left me tremendously excited about this flick.  Set in Hungary in the late 1980s (still in the Cold War, before the internet took off, etc.) this is the first serious cinematic attempt to do Le Fanu's tale justice in over twenty years!  The images he showed me and some of the details he shared (some of which I remain not-at-liberty-to-reveal) excited me very much!  Frankly, I feel most versions err on the side of trying to make this story something it is not--a thriller akin to Bram Stoker's more famous vampire novel, instead of the almost surreal erotic nightmare of the book.  Not this time!

Snow White and the Huntsman.  We seem to live in the midst of a renaissance of our fairy stories!  We now have three (count'em!...THREE) versions of Snow White to check out, re-imagined along different lines.  Me, I love television's Once Upon A Time.  But this new film with Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart offers promise of being another fascinating interpretation.  Good to see these old folktales taken away from Disney and given more life!  Little Red Riding Hood didn't fare quite so well, but I look forward to seeing what happens next with this trend.  A live action, dreamy and even disturbing version of Beauty and the Beast is my hope (and there are some fascinating versions of that tale if you read the right sources).  In particular, I like the tendency by some to treat these stories as something much more than parables. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Game of Thrones S2E1 "The North Remembers"

Spoilers ahoy!

It is here.  Season two of the HBO miniseries based on George R.R.Martin's epic fantasy.  The series retains the title of the first book, The Game of Thrones.  A wonderfully evocative one, yes?  In more ways than one.

The very first image gives us at least clear way to take that title.  King Joffrey the First (or Caligula Malfoy as I like to call him) celebrates his naming by having grown men kill each other for his amusement.  He wears a crown and enjoys his sadistic little games--for to him that is what power is.  Alas, he all too clearly embodies exactly how so many in this mythical realm of Westoros look upon their powers and privileges.  Not even as a means to an end, but an end.  The end.  The reason for every word, action, glance.  Whether the rest of his family realize it or not, their young King shows all the signs of the perfect Lannister--ruthless, greedy, cunning but rarely wise, earning enemies as easily as they breathe.  Presently those under his malign control include his mother Cersei (who increasingly cannot control him), his still-betrothed Sansa Stark, and now his new Hand (Prime Minister) the magnificent Tyrion Lannister aka "The Imp."

Meanwhile, we meet three of the series new characters.  Remember these.  They'll become more important as time goes by.  Stannis is the late King's brother, who regards himself as the rightful heir.  Given that all three of Cersei's children have as their father her own brother, Ser Jaime, the man has a point.  We heard about him last season, and now we get a glimpse of this dour, unbending person.  Honorable, though.  And honest.  He sends a note to all the Lords of the Seven Kingdoms, proclaiming himself King.  Yet he refuses to call his brother "beloved" or to omit the title of a man he loathes. 
But Stannis has more than a claim.  He has a Cause.  Melisandre, priestess of a foreign religion, the worship of a God of Light, insists he fulfills a prophecy.  In token of this, he has even changed his sigil.  The Barantheons had used the golden stag.  Now the stag on his armor and banners is within a heart and wrapped in flames.  We see statues of the Seven, the gods of Westeros, aflame.  And we see Melisandre share a cup of deadly poison with a rival, who promptly dies.  This one has power, she does.  And unlike the ones playing the game in capital, King's Landing, she at least realizes there's more at stake than any mere throne.  For the night is indeed full of terrors.

Listening to her and remaining loyal to Stannis, Ser Davos Seaworth makes the third of the important new characters.  For now let us note him as a knight.  Having read the books, I know there's a lot more to him than that.  As we shall see.

But for now, various men vie for the crown.  Stannis, his brother Renly, evil child Joffrey, and of course Robb Stark, the proclaimed King of the North who holds Jaime captive (and who, apart from winning a series of battles, also has a frelling HUGE dire wolf at his side).  Robb sends out two missions--Theon Grayjoy to the Iron Islands to win allies, and his mother Lady Catelyn to Renly.  Hardly anyone notices the red comet in the sky, or how the wildling woman says it means Dragons.

Danaerys Stormborn and her dragons are half a world away, struggling through the Red Wastes  Jon Snow and members of the Nightwatch struggle in dealing with a powerful wildling patriarch.  And it is here the real problems are rising.  For white ravens have been sent out.  The longest summer in living memory comes to an end.  Winter is coming.  Folklore says after a long summer comes an even longer winter.  But no one, alas, pays much attention.  Instead, on Joffrey's orders all of the late King's bastards are sought out and slaughtered.  One has escaped, with the missing Arya Stark.  Soldiers head after him.

And the game of thrones spills more blood every day.