Monday, April 15, 2019

Game of Thrones - S08E01 Recap and Review

The wait is finally over and Game of Thrones is back on the air after a 20-month wait!

SPOILERS follow.

First, a recap:
Season 7 ended with a one-sided truce between team 'Daenerys, Jon Snow, and Tyrion' and Queen Cersei Lannister in the fight against White Walkers. After the negotiations, Daenerys and Jon Snow consummated their relationship (aunt and nephew) and set off to Winterfell where Sansa, Arya, and the rest of Stark banner-men were waiting for them begrudgingly. Perhaps more enthusiastically, Samwell Tarly and Bran Stark were there too and planning on informing Jon Snow of his true lineage. Sam had discovered in the Citadel records that Lyanna Stark was legally married to Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, and Bran had time-travelled to the moment of Lyanna giving birth where she asked Ned to protect her son, Aegon Targaryen VI, no matter what. Sam and Bran pieced together their information and deduced that Jon Snow was the true heir to the kingdom of Westeros... Last but not least, we also know that the Night King has broken the wall with the help of his ice dragon and is getting ever closer to Winterfell...

Okay, now off to the new season:
We witness the arrival of Daenerys and Jon Snow, along with Dothraki and the Unsullied, and two fully grown dragons to Winterfell. Many shots in this episode mirror the very first episode of Game of Thrones (S01E01), as the showrunners describe below, we see a royal army, reunion of old friends, excitement of young children, and uneasy alliances.

One of the things that this show does so magnificently is making the audience care about the characters (a perfect example of a post that I had written earlier). Of course, through prolonged exposure and experiencing thick and thin with these characters, some of them may feel like family. The embrace between Jon Snow and Bran, and his reunion with Arya later, made me feel I was seeing my own relatives! Jon's (or Prince Aegon the sixth) dragon ride date with (his aunt) Daenerys was very sweet and touching as well (no pun intended)! The fact that Jon was riding the dragon named after his father (Rhaegal after Rhaegar) was a nice touch too. In Jon's defence, he didn't know of his blood relationship with Daenerys at that point. He later meets up with Samwell Tarley in the Winterfell crypts, where Sam tells Jon that he is the true king of Westeros. Jon's first reaction is worrying about how Daeneyrs may perceive this new information as treason...

Farther north, we see Beric Dondarrion and Tormund Giantsbane running into one another at an  abandoned Night's Watch castles where they discover the body of Ned Umber spiked to the wall - courtesy of the Night King. They set the undead boy on fire and save him from the misery of becoming a White Walker.

The last thing we see in the north is Jamie Lannister's arrival. Bran Stark (the three-eyed raven, who lost the use of his legs after Jamie pushed him down the tower in the very first episode) had been waiting to welcome his "old friend" near the gate. Jamie's first reaction was a mix of shock, remorse, and fear. I can't wait to see them interact next week.

The show took a detour to King's Landing to catch up with Queen Cersei. She now has the Golden Army (without elephants though, damnit!) and Euron Greyjoy's ships. Euron demands to cash in on the favours that he has done for the Queen so far, and Cersei obliges reluctantly. While Euron was paying a visit to the Queen, Theon Greyjoy frees her sister, Yara, and they set sail to Iron Islands. Theon, however, wants to go to Winterfell and perhaps pay off the remainder of his debt to Starks and fully redeem himself.

That was it for this week... What a fantastic comeback! I had goosebumps for most of the 54-minute runtime of this episode. I know it's gonna get better from now on, with grander fights and more horrific deaths, but still, this was a 10/10 for me!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Shazam! (2019) - Review

Latest DC Extended Universe (DCEU) movie is an action-comedy that seemingly won over the critics (91% on Rotten Tomatoes) but is their least ambitious film yet.

The movie's main inspiration came from Geoff Johns' backup stories in the New 52 Justice League comics (i.e., a quarter of each volume) from 2012 - 2013. As a fan of DC comics and Geoff Johns' writing, I enjoyed reading Billy Batson's story. But perhaps that story was better served in small doses (similar to the backup entries in Justice League comics). 

The movie attempts to bring a lot of laughs and heart, and in my opinion, succeeds more in the latter than former. Billy as an orphan searching for his birth mother, goes through a self-discovery journey that has an emotional payoff in the end. But the comedy was underwhelming - as with most highly advertised comedies, all the funny parts had been shown a thousand times in trailers and tv spots before the movie went on screens. 

The other flaw was the dissonance between Zachary Levi's Shazam and Asher Angel's Billy Batson. These two actors are playing the same character as Billy is the alter ego of the Shazam. However, their personalities were completely different. Billy Batson is a cynical and serious 14 year old who's scarred by abandonment issues, while Zachary Levi's portrayal is a happy-go-lucky goofball who doesn't have a serious bone in his body... Both characters are likeable, but they are not the same! Shazam is a young boy in an adult man's body, while Billy is an adult in a young boy's body.

I should give props to other characters though, particularly Dr. Sivana (Mark Strong), as they were played by actors who were born to play those roles. 

Overall, the movie had heart but not much spectacle. In that regard, Aquaman was a better movie (funny and full of heroics). I'd give Shazam a 7.5/10.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Captain Marvel (2019) - Review

The 21st entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) works like a cog in a well-oiled machine. It doesn't add much the lore, but it's a connective tissue and gives you your fix until Avengers Endgame comes out.

The movie starts with Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) as an elite warrior among the Kree - an alien race - with no recollection of her past. The first act (out of the traditional three-act structure) establishes the relationships and dynamics that the titular character has with the rest of the Kree (fellow soldiers and their leader: the Supreme Intelligence). A mission gone slightly wrong brings Carol Danvers to earth in the year 1995. In this second act, she meets Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and somewhat figures out her backstory. The movie concludes with Carol Danvers' transition into Captain Marvel and winning the climactic battle.

The whole movie is an easy-watch, and time flies by (i.e., excellent pacing, which was the third pillar in my taxonomy). The second act is the strongest as it has some heart and humour, and hits the nostalgia factor (Nick Fury in the mid 90's!). But the rest is a generic cookie-cutter comic book hero introduction (with all the doubts and hero's acceptance of their power and responsibilities).

The biggest flaw of the movie is within the main character. Carol Danvers or Captain Marvel is supposedly suffering from amnesia, and she doesn't remember who she was before joining the kree. In the beginning, she is this stoic, no-nonsense soldier that acts a lot like the Terminator (i.e., a robot). As the movie goes on, she pieces the puzzle together and figures out how she got there, but she still remains the robotic soldier. Frankly, the T800  (Arnold Schwarzenegger's character) in Terminator 2 had more character development (started as a robot, and almost became human by the end). But she is still likeable, and the rest of the cast (protagonists and antagonists) work well too.

If it was the first movie in a new cinematic universe, it probably would havee failed to attract much attention. But as the 21st entry, it certainly entertains fans of the MCU (myself included). I'd give it a 7/10.

After Life (2019) - Season One - Review

Ricky Gervais starred in, wrote, and directed a show about himself, but not the globally successful comedian, but as if he was a small town journalist who had picked love over career.

Fans of Gervais (a group that also includes yours truly) will enjoy After Life, since it is very much like an extended interview with Gervais himself. His character, Tony, has recently lost his beloved wife to cancer, and now has nothing else to live for. He works for the local newspaper and has to cover trivial affairs of a small town (e.g., water stain on a wall that resembles a celebrity). Tony is too smart for his own good and could have been a big shot journalist, but picked this life to have the freedom to enjoy more time with the love of his life. Now that his wife has passed on, he has lost the will to live.

Of course, the show is not this dark and nihilistic till the end. The journey that Tony (Gervais' character) goes on to find a new meaning of his life (manifested through his interactions with the social circle around him), is truly beautiful!

If you're a fan of Gervais' comedy and world-view, then After Life is a must watch and a 10/10.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Polar (2019) - Netflix Original - Review

A comic book movie with hyper stylized violence that brings to mind Kill Bill (2003-4) and Shoot 'Em Up (2007)... What's not to like?

Mads Mikkelsen stars as Black Kaiser, an aging assassin who is two weeks from retirement. His agency owes him $8 million, but instead of paying up their debt, they make the grave mistake of trying to eliminate him. What ensues is a two hour non-stop battle. The film is well made, and the pacing is just right. Again, viewers need to set their expectations to a comic book movie, not an artistic film.

The cast were great, except for Vanessa Hudgens who over-acted her scenes. It was like watching a highschool play where the lead is trying way too hard to impress.

As a genre movie, Polar easily earns a 9/10!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Red Dead Redemption II (2018) - Video Game Review

The best video game of all time! Nuff said!

A prequel to the original game from 2010, excels in every regard on top of an already perfect game. Acting, storytelling, and computer effects don't get any better than this. I acknowledge that it is a slow burn. It took me 70 hours to finish the game and some of the more fun side activities. The first 20-25 hours were at a slower pace. I have heard from some gaming personalities that they felt the game was pushing them away with a friction force. Again, I concede that it is a slow burn. Also, for fans of the original game, accepting Arthur Morgan as the protagonist may take some time.

I, however, had complete trust in Rockstar games and the Houser brothers to offer another masterpiece. Red Dead Redemption II is their magnum opus (up to this point at least). I am also a fan of the Western genre, so I admit that I was biased.

The game has received countless perfect 10 scores from the game media and 97% score on metacritic. I also echo their opinion and give it a 10/10. Red Dead Redemption II is a game that I will revisit and relive again and again.

Black Panther (2018) - Review

Black Panther is a significant cultural breakthrough in the comic book genre, but besides that, the characters and effects are seriously lacking!

It is yet another superhero origin movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; so, you can expect the tried and true formula to be replicated again: the hero is recovering from a tragedy (loss of his father in this case), finds his stride and puts on his costume, but then is challenged by an antagonist that is a carbon copy of our hero. This is the same plot that we have seen in Iron Man, Ant Man, and Dr. Strange. Seems Marvel is going with the old adage of if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And, well... it works!

What doesn't work is the character of T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), or the Black Panther himself. He is depressed by the weight of the world on his shoulders, seems to be constantly constipated, and is simply boring. The movie also ignores the development of the character in Captain America: Civil War. T'Challa is hundred times more interesting in Civil War or in Avengers: Infinity War. The antagonist, Killmonger (played by Michael B. Jordan), has somewhat genocidal goals, however, his character arc is better developed, and he captured the attention better whenever he was on the screen.

Besides the character development issues, the computer effects were another weak point of the movie. Particularly, the last fight scene between Black Panther and Killmonger next to the underground trains was as primitive as a PlayStation 2 game circa early 2000s.

Going back to an earlier post that I had about the three pillars of a good movie, Black Panther fails in the first dimension, but story logic and pacing are done well. Bottom line, the film left me desire for more, and for that I give it 4.5/10.