Monday, April 29, 2019

Game of Thrones - S08E03 Recap and Review

SPOILERS follow...

This episode on its own was breathtaking (literally). It was 82 minutes long, and I checked my watch a couple of times fearing that it would be over soon (and hoping it would last longer). The showrunners (in the video below) broke down the episode into three genres: suspense, horror, and action, each taking almost a third of the runtime.

Humans had four factions: Dothraki on their horses, the unsullied on foot, the Northeners within the walls of Winterfell, and Dany and Jon with their two dragons camping outside and waiting to ambush the Night King. Whoever came up with the attack strategy, decided to put the cavalry in the frontline (instead of flanks or behind the enemy) and placed the infantry behind them. Medieval historians consider this the worst strategy, which is why the Dothraki are decimated within seconds. Dany, seeing her Khalasar (Dothraki army) dead, decides to go against the initial plan and take her dragon to the offensive line. Jon of course follows her, and these two dragon riders spend almost the first hour of the episode in the air playing hide and seek with the Night King in the blizzard. Other characters are fighting to death to protect the living. Although, none of the A-list characters (whose names appear in the credits) is harmed except for Lord Friend-Zone himself - Sir Jorah Mormont. In the end, when all hope is almost lost, Arya (the ninja assassin) saves the day by stabbing the Night King in the chest with a Valyrian steel dagger.

The episode is full of heart pounding moments, and instead of recapping each plot thread in detail, I'd like to rank the players in the game:

Most Valuable Players (MVPs):
Arya Stark: Well, obviously! She is the one who tells god of death "not today". All those years of training in Bravos with the Faceless Men finally paid off. She took down many of the White Walkers, then hit her head on the ground and changed character (maybe she was concussed?) and became a scared little girl. Until Melisandre reminded her of their previous meeting and also Syrio Forell's teachings (her Bravosi swordmaster who taught her to say "not today" to the god of death in the first place). Arya snuck up on the Night King and delivered the killing blow.

Lady Melisandre of Asshai: She showed up just before the battle to light up Dothraki's swords (Arakhs as called in the books). Later she lit up the trenches, and most importantly, gave the pep talk to Arya; maybe it was Melisandre who cured Arya's concussion too. She also saluted Beric Dondarrion as he gave his seventh life to save Arya.

Most Heroic Deaths:
Jorah Mormont: He fought all night and gave his all to his Khaleesi. He first led the cavalry (the Dothraki army) and as one of two or three survivors of that attempt, managed to show up in the last second to save Daenerys from the undead (after she was pulled down from her dragon). He took a dozen stab wounds but kept on fighting until the death of the Night King to protect Khaleesi. His last words were "I'm hurt".

Theon Greyjoy: As I had predicted in the season premiere, Theon was on his redemption path and he killed tens of the undead protecting Bran Stark while Bran had warged into the ravens. He died attacking the Night King

Lyanna Mormont: The 12-year old lady of the Bear Islands fought a giant and stabbed him in the eye with dragon glass. She was a fan favourite since her first appearance, and she went out like a true warrior.

Least Valuable Players:
Daenerys Targaryen: She broke the strategy and flied her dragon cluelessly in the blizzard for 70% of the episode. Then, in her attempt to save Jon from the undead, she landed her dragon on the ground and got attacked by the undead. Jorah Mormont had to give his life to save Daenerys.

Jon Snow: He also spend 70% of the episode with Dany, and in the rest, he ran from cover to cover ducking ice dragon's fire. He was about to run to the dragon without any plans and get incinerated that Arya killed the Night King and all the undead went down with him. Jon was supposed to be the most heroic character of the show and probably the promised prince or Azor Ahai who ended the Night King. I don't mind that it was Arya who fulfilled that prophecy, but I wish Jon has been a little more useful in the battle. Maybe at least killed the ice dragon or one of the Wights.

This would've been a pretty good movie, let alone an episode of a tv show! I was on the edge of my seat for 80% of the episode (except for the second horror act, where Arya was hiding from the undead in the library reenacting Jurassic Park's kitchen scene). As a standalone episode, I give it a 10/10. But considering that only three episode remain, I'm worried about how they would end the whole series, and whether they'd manage to answer all the remaining questions (e.g., What about the Lord of Light? Are the Children of the Forest all dead? What was the significance of this whole zombie plot to the overarching political game of thrones?)

Friday, April 26, 2019

Avengers: Endgame - Review

Mini Review:
We finally get to see the one out of 14,000,605 scenarios that Dr. Strange saw in Infinity War! Endgame was pretty much a series finale of the Infinity Stones saga with fan-service galore. It drags out a little, but overall, it is a satisfying movie experience and a must see for all MCU fans.

Full Review (spoiler free):
The film picks up days after the events of Infinity War, and the remaining Avengers need to regroup and decide on possible courses of action. The tensions are high and the characters that we have spent the last 11 years (since 2008) following, need to make one last play to bring half the population back. What was shown in the trailers and the post credit scene of Captain Marvel only cover the first 30 minutes of the movie. The rest must be seen with as little background information or expectation as possible!

So, without covering the plot, all I can say is that each Avenger grows and copes with the situation differently over the course of the movie, but at the same time, stays consistent with the characterizations developed over the last decade. You root for all the players in the Endgame, and everybody - literally every body - gets a money shot with the spotlight shining right over them! As a comic book movie, you need to leave realism at the door, but having said that, the plot makes sense! The only issue that I had was with certain moments that dragged a little. For example, knowing what is at stake and how easily things can get undone in a matter of seconds, some of the characters still procrastinated and delayed making the last push after 99% of their individual assignment was done. What's the point of lingering on and contemplating about a trivial issue when all you need to do is just push a button??? Those questions don't go anywhere, and you can muse about life after you pushed the button too!!!

That frustration aside, which could have reduced the three-hour run time by at least 20 minutes, the rest of the movie flies by and you find yourself next to those characters right in the midst of the mission. There are many moments where I pumped my fists with joy and excitement. Fewer instances of heavy-handed virtue signalling exist, but they are not distracting.

All in all, I don't think the ending would be polarizing, as I expect most audience to come out happy. Considering that it was like a series finale, many may hypothesize about more satisfying conclusions, but it was Kevin Feige and Russo brothers' story, and I have the utmost respect for their creativity!
I'd give Avengers: Endgame a 9.5/10

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Game of Thrones - S08E02 Recap and Review

SPOILERS follow...

The episode picked up with Jamie Lannister's trial at the great hall of Winterfell. Daenerys stated how much she had been anticipating to come face to face with the King Slayer (her father's killer) and how she had fantasized about retribution. Jamie, however, did not defend his actions nor did he apologize. Tyrion's plea for his brother's life was immediately shut down (considering his previous record of showing blind spots towards his family). But it was Brienne of Tarth's turn to come to the rescue. Brienne might actually harbour some romantic feelings toward Jamie considering their rather long history: Jamie once saved Brienne's honour and paid a rather hefty sum for his chivalry by losing his right hand (which was his greatest strength as a swordsman). Jamie also once opened up to Brienne about his concept of honour and why he killed the mad king even though he was under oath to protect him as a member of his KingsGuard.

Sansa Stark, due to her complete trust in Brienne, voted in favour of Jamie. Other than Brienne's testimony, perhaps Sansa's actions were fuelled by her power struggle with Daenerys in trying to establish who the alpha was in Winterfell. Daenerys treated Sansa's ruling as just a vote on her council, and then turned to Jon Snow for his opinion. Jon said they could use any additional soldier that they could get.

Daenerys, clearly shaken by Sansa's power play, went to have a private conversation with her and extended an olive branch. After dissecting the issue, Sansa disclosed he skepticism regarding Daenerys and how she might be manipulating Jon. But Daenerys claimed the contrary and confessed that it was she who was blinded by her love for Jon! Sansa and Daenerys seemed to have reconciled for a second, but their disagreement over the North being independent or a part of the seven kingdoms put their peace on hold.

Speaking of putting things on hold, Jon avoided Daenerys for much of the episode. He was clearly shaken by the news that he, Aegon Targaryen VI, was the rightful heir to the seven kingdoms... Daenerys finally caught up with him in the Winterfell crypts, next to Lyanna Stark's statue, where Jon told his lover and aunt of his recent findings. Daenerys' first impression was of mistrust for another pretender to the throne, but it seemed that their feelings for one another was deep enough to get over this hurdle. This conversation was caught short by a call to the wall...

The other characters also tried to celebrate their potentially last night of life in style. Arya consummated her relationship with Gendry, and on another front, Tyrion, Jamie, Brienne, Podrick Payne, Tormund, and Davos drank wine next to the fireplace. Besides Arya becoming a woman, the other "empowering" moment was when Jamie granted Brienne's wish of becoming a knight of the seven kingdoms (which was also the title of this episode). As for ranks of chivalry and knighthood, "Dame" is the appropriate title for a female knight, but the writers decided to use "Sir" instead. If Brienne identified as male, then Sir would be the right rank, but she doesn't... If virtue signalling was any higher in Westeros, they might have called Daenerys and Cersei kings!

Wrap up:
Similar to the season premiere, we got another "calm before the storm" episode. The show tried to position all the secondary characters in the right place before the big war. We witnessed some dramatic conversations (a la earlier seasons), but no action. Considering the fewer number of episodes in the final season, audience may expect more progression after watching on third of the season (2 out of 6 episodes), but I actually didn't mind it. Even the slower episodes of Game of Thrones are still much better than anything else that is, or has ever been on TV. I'd give it an 8.5/10.

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) as well as Drogon (named after Khal Drogo) flaring his nostrils at Jon were nice touches! In Jon's defence though, 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.