GAME OF THRONES 7×05 – ‘Eastwatch’

“I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger initiative.”

Before you call me out on it, no that’s not a quote from ‘Eastwatch’, the sixth episode of Game of Thrones gleefully satisfying seventh season, but rather the post-credits scene of Marvel’s 2008 franchise kick-starter Iron Man, in which S.H.I.E.L.D boss Nick Fury approaches Tony Stark about becoming involved in a world-saving squad. After watching this latest episode of Thrones, you may appreciate the sentiment, as forces conspire to throw behind Jon Snow the badass equivalent of an Avengers team he’ll need to achieve near-impossible odds.

‘Eastwatch’ dials down after the air-punching climactic escapades of ‘The Spoils of War’, which will go down in Thrones history as one of the most fan-pleasing episodes of the entire series no doubt, given we first saw Daenerys Targaryen ride her dragon into army-burning battle for the first time, certainly against her ultimate Lannister enemy. Dave Hill’s script now asks us to consider the consequences, both literally and morally, with an episode very much continuing the pragmatic sense of reality which has carried through the surviving main characters as more of the deluded, pompous or just plain ignorant characters have died across the previous few seasons.

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GAME OF THRONES 7×04 – ‘The Spoils of War’

“No more clever plans.”

‘The Spoils of War’ is an apt title for the fourth episode of Game of Thrones‘ seventh season because its an hour (or just under at 47 minutes, the shortest episode of the season) all about battles. Battles on horseback between armies and savages and dragons, battles between the old ways and new, battles between young and old, and battles of the mind. Wars are not just the province of empires and vast legions but rather the ongoing struggle between the myriad, disparate elements that make up the world of Westeros and beyond.

What becomes clear in the most straightforward of ways by the end of ‘The Spoils of War’ is that the end game in Game of Thrones is going to come down, in no small part, to money. Gold becomes the investment hedge fund of George R.R. Martin’s feudal construct, a literal grounding of financial capital the all-powerful, monolithic Iron Bank will use to pick the side they believe has the best chance of winning. Last week it became clear that capitalism was going to play a major role in how the landscape of Westeros will look beyond the ultimate wars to come, and here that point is hammered home: if the numbers line up, the game will be won.

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GAME OF THRONES 7×03 – ‘The Queen’s Justice’

“She’s a monster. And she will be the end of you.”

A great many prophetic words cast their way through ‘The Queen’s Justice’, the third episode of Game of Thrones’ truncated Season 7, spoken both by seers, machiavelli’s and plain old noble lords and ladies coming to understand the swift revolution surging its way through Westeros as the ‘great war’ for the Seven Kingdoms truly begins. Olenna Tyrell’s final proclamation may turn out to be the most pointed, as on the face of it the Queen’s primary justice is no justice at all.

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The Big Sick (2017)

Kumail Nanjiani is a comedian and writer much better known in the United States than in the UK, but he was familiar to me due to his association with my favourite TV series, The X-Files. Nanjiani famously hosted a successful podcast on the subject, The X-Files Files, which partly led him to gaining a guest starring role on a recent episode of the show’s revival. Nanjiani’s love of The X-Files is lightly referenced in The Big Sick, his debut feature as star and co-writer, in which he plays an extension of himself.

To an extent, Nanjiani playing Kumail is akin to Larry David’s extreme persona in Curb Your Enthusiasm or even Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s extensions in The Trip and its sequels, but the difference with The Big Sick is the tone. It’s one of the funniest comedies of the year, without question, but it’s also much sweeter, filled with charm and touching on a multitude of themes about relationships, societal barriers, religion and loss. How it manages to balance these disparate elements is the most impressive factor.

A major reason why perhaps comes down to the naturalism employed by Nanjiani and director Michael Showalter. The production stable of Judd Apatow lies behind the script which Nanjiani wrote with his wife Emily V. Gordon, and the story is theirs. Kumail and Emily (Zoe Kazan) in the movie are the narrative version of the story of Nanjiani and the real-life Emily, which allows for a deeper sense of autobiographical honesty, fused with the kind of laid-back Americana comedy Apatow (when on form) does so well with his movies. The Big Sick, even before making you laugh, makes you feel.

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GAME OF THRONES 7×02 – ‘Stormborn’

“You’re not a sheep. You’re a dragon.”

If you’ve been following the pre-release trailers of Game of Thrones from HBO, chances are you’ll already have pieced together much of ‘Stormborn’. Decoding the series has now become a regular task of detection for fans across the globe and it’s pretty clear that the first three episodes of Season 7’s seven constitute most of what we’ve seen in advance thus far. The very fact Game of Thrones is now in a position to construct multiple, packed trailers from less than half its season shows the depth and breadth of what lies in its arsenal.

‘Stormborn’ in many senses is an example of how Game of Thrones now exists firmly inside the final act of its storytelling. Devoted ‘watchers on the wall’ aka long-term fans and Westerosi obsessives are probably in a position to guess the majority of the narrative beats Bryan Cogman’s script delivers, not simply because of the aforementioned trailers but because the series is now immediately starting to pay off long-term foreshadowing and structural establishment. The fact it’s doing more in two episodes than it may well have done in previous seasons in five or six is a testament to how David Benioff & D.B. Weiss’ show is in the home stretch. There is no time to waste.

That does mean, to the initiated, there’s a level of predictability to ‘Stormborn’. It doesn’t detract from some solid and rewarding storytelling in the process but at the same time it lacks the element of shock and surprise. Pieces aren’t just moving on the chess board now, they’re literally kicking over the pieces and upending the construct, but they are chess pieces which logically make sense to be moving in the direction you may have already prefigured. A lot of ‘Stormborn’ consists of nodding along to characters decisions and choices, given a wonderful sweep of pragmatism has found its way into Westeros as intelligent, sensible rulers start making logical decisions.

There is one exception to that rule, however, and his name is Theon Greyjoy.

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The Netflix Watchlist Number Game #1

Partly because I’m horrendous at picking what movie to watch, and because my UK Netflix watchlist continues exponentially growing, I occasionally have started a game called the ‘Netflix Watchlist Number Game’ to thin the nerd and deal with my indecisiveness in one fell swoop.

Below you’ll find my thoughts on a group of movies I watched in this round of the game, thanks to people who were invited on Twitter to pick a number between 1 and 190. On my Apple TV Netflix app, each film on the list is numbered so thanks to this randomised system, it becomes easier to watch something on the list I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen to view.

So my thanks to those I mention below for throwing me a number – maybe the rest of you will find a Netflix movie to check out you wouldn’t previously have considered.

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Dunkirk (2017)

Audiences are quite understandably going to consider Dunkirk a war film, quite possibly one of the great war films of our age. Christopher Nolan’s tenth picture is possibly an even better survival horror movie, given it takes a well-known piece of 20th century history and pitches the story as a desperate battle for survival against a powerful, largely unseen and intractable foe.

From the very first frame, of isolated and beaten British troops walking down a deserted Dunkirk street as flyers depicting the German advance on their position rain down on them in almost endless supply, a terrifying pallor of dread and ominous doom casts its shadow over Nolan’s picture. This is a war the ‘good guys’ are losing, in terms of France one they have already lost, and all they can do now is run from the darkness that is pursuing and engulfing them. Nolan’s film, on the whole, couldn’t be less jingoistic; the British and their allies are terrified, broken and in a desperate situation.

Though far from being a film which wears any kind of political or social polemic on its sleeve, you’d be hard-pressed to not consider Nolan a pacifist after watching Dunkirk. Not perhaps since Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan in 1998, and rarely in all of cinema with its legion and entire sub-genre of war movies, has any director portrayed the senseless horror and brutality of World War Two with such visceral, haunting power. Nolan’s world here isn’t one without hope but it’s absolutely a war where good guys are complicated, and heroes don’t necessarily carry guns.

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