TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 1: Dragonstone

game-thrones-7x01-dragonstone

“Shall we begin?”

Daenerys Targaryen utters these words at the end of the Season 7 opener of Game of Thrones, Dragonstone, marking the start of what is the shows final act. Dragonstone acts as stage setting episode, and after over a year away it’s pretty welcome. The episode begins with what at first appears to be a flashback to a feast held by Walder Frey at The Twins. But, quickly the mood of the scene shifts and it is revealed to be Arya Stark using faceless man magic to impersonate Walder and poison the Freys. In one fell swoop she eliminates their whole house, just another part of the culling of characters and plot lines Game of Thrones has been undertaking as it nears its climax. As Arya leaves she tells one of the survivors to let people know “Winter came for House Frey”. It’s an exciting way to start an episode and a season, and hearing the theme music right after was a great way to get sucked back into the world of Game of Thrones.

From there the story slows down a lot, a necessity when we have to catch up with TV’s largest ensemble. We check in with Jon Snow and Sansa Stark as they hold court in the newly reconquered Winterfell. The seeds of disagreement between the two begin as they differ on how to handle the lands controlled by houses that had betrayed them and fought against them. In the Jon decides to make them swear fealty and allow them to retain their land, over the protests of Sansa who wants to give their land to people who had been loyal to the Starks. After Sansa and Jon talk about how they face trouble from both the north in the form of the army of the dead, and from the south from Cersei. Sansa and Jon reveal their differing views on ruling, with Jon having seen the example of Lord Commander Mormont and trying to model his leadership after him.  On the other hand we have Sansa who has had her worldview shaped by living in Kings Landing and seeing Varys, Cersei, and Littlefinger work their plans. I’m excited to see these two philosophies play out through out the rest of the season.

image

In Kings Landing Cersei begins to formulate her plan to take back the rebelling kingdoms now that she is queen. It’s a couple of very strong scenes, especially one where Jaime attempts to have a conversation with her about the suicide of Tommen and what her end game is. Cersei appears to be unraveling, declaring Tommen’s suicide to be a “betrayal” and telling Jaime she is attempting to create a long-lasting Lannister dynasty. That Jaime and her are the only Lannisters left, as Jaime reminds her, doesn’t really seem to cross her mind. In her quest to defeat her rivals she invites Euron Greyjoy to Kings Landing where he proposes marriage to her, she refuses but he promises to go and bring back a great treasure to prove his loyalty and importance. Euron is a lot of fun to watch in this scene, dressed like a pirate and completely bonkers. It’s nice when Game of Thrones leans into its occasional pseudo-soap opera atmosphere, and Euron as a megalomaniac over the top bad guy is perfect for what appears to be our last human antagonist of the show.

In the newly shown Oldtown we are treated to a montage of Sam going about his tasks in the Citadel as he learns to become a maester, this thing goes on way too long. The first time soup is match cut to a used bed pan it’s a little funny but by the third time its gotten a little tedious. In fact the entirety of Sams storyline seemed like a big journey to get to the knowledge that there is dragon glass under Dragonstone. Plus, it kinda wastes Jim Broadbent who shows up for one scene to deliver a great monologue about how the maesters are the institutional memory of Westeros and how they’ll still be here after everything. Hopefully he’ll continue to show up but this is the one part of the episode that really didn’t do much for me.

The-Hound

We then come to the Hound, in what is probably the best scene of the episode. The Hound along with the rest of the Brotherhood without Banners arrives at the cottage of the family he had previously robbed in a previous season. There he finds the corpse of the daughter and her father, bloodied and with a knife, Beric Dondarrion deduces that the father murder-suicided them rather than freeze or starve to death in the winter. As Thoros builds a fire in the hearth he asks the Hound to look into the fire where the Hound has a vision of the army of the dead marching on the wall. That night the Hound buries the dead while the snow falls in one of the striking visual moments of the episode. Rory McCann continues to be one of the best actors on the show, imbuing his character with little moments of humanity and continuing to build a complex and deep character.

In the other standout scene we humanize the Lannister soldiers as Arya comes across a group of them cooking dinner. Here we get the oft-mentioned Ed Sheeran cameo that to be perfectly honest wasn’t much of a big deal. After singing a song and getting a few lines he moves to the background. Instead it is the other soldiers who tell Arya how they miss home, want to see their wives and children, it may be a bit clichéd, but it’s an important reminder that even though we mostly follow nobles and people of privilege the fighting is done by regular people. It’s quiet moment that doesn’t end in a speech or violence but is content to just be that, quiet. It’s a moment in an episode that has to cram in a lot of information where the show just takes a breather.

Finally the show finishes on a wordless sequence that features Daenerys arriving to and entering Dragonstone. All told visually, and with stunning visuals at that, the sequence is stunning. At the end Daenerys walks past the carved map of Westeros in Dragonstone, mirroring the painted map that Cersei and Jaime Lannister look at in their scenes. At the end of a strong, albeit not perfect, season premiere Daenerys turns to Tyrion and says her only lines of the episode, kicking off what promises to be a great season of TV.

“Shall we begin?”

Rating: 8.5/10

Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 1: Dragonstone

Directed by  Jeremy Podeswa

Written by  David Benioff and D. B. Weiss

Film Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

spider-man-homecoming-video-peters-suit-tech

Spider-Man: Homecoming shouldn’t have worked. It has six(!) credited screenwriters, it has to tie into a greater established universe, it’s the child of two different major studios, and it’s the third time we’ve had a new Spider-Man franchise in fifteen years. This movie could have been a complete disaster but it’s not. In fact it’s the best Spider-Man movie since Sam Rami’s Spider-Man 2 and it’s one of the most fun you’ll have at the theater this summer.

Anchored by a star making performance by Tom Holland as Spider-Man/Peter Parker, probably the best performance in the lead role of any of the Spider-Man movies, Homecoming bursts on to the screen by eschewing the bombast of other Marvel films and choosing to tell a smaller more grounded story. The villain in the film, a pitch perfect Michael Keaton as the Vulture, isn’t trying to destroy the world or conquer the universe, he’s basically just an arms dealer. However, this smaller story enables us to spend more time with Peter and learn more about him. Fresh off of his stint fighting with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in Captain America: Civil War Peter is feeling neglected by Stark as he continues to attempt to juggle being a small-time neighborhood crime stopper and a high school student in Queens.

spider-man-homecoming-trailer-04

While this idea has been previously explored in Spider-Man movies, it’s never received as in-depth a look as it does here. Director Jon Watts pulls of the difficult feat of making Peter feel like a real teenager, in a real high school, with real teenager classmates. For long stretches the film feels more like a John Hughes movie, a coming of age tale, with Peter and his best friend Ned (a hilarious Jacob Batalon) navigating crushes, detention, cliques, and teachers. This is perhaps one of the funniest Marvel movies but it rarely feels forced, the humor from each character comes differently and each quip feels organic. It helps that the film brings in ringers for some comedy including Martin Starr and Hannibal Buress as teachers, and a woefully underutilized Donald Glover as a street level criminal.

At the end of the day this is a coming of age story in the vein of many an 80’s teen film with Peter as the teen protagonist who needs to learn a life lesson and Stark as the father figure mentor, a role usually reserved for Peter’s comic book father figure Uncle Ben. In a world where it seems like every superhero movie is an origin story for someone, it’s refreshing to have Spider-Man movie where Uncle Ben is mentioned once, to have movie trust it’s audience to understand why Peter acts the way he does due to what occurs on-screen and not because we are told that “with great power comes great responsibility”. It helps that the script coupled with Holland’s expert portrayal manage to create a compelling and complex character that develops and grows through out the film.

spider-man-homecoming-trailer-11

The few problems I have with the film come down to two things, story and direction. First off the direction by Jon Watts struggles to showcases the film’s action scenes, often making them less visually interesting than they should be.  Secondly as with most Marvel movies this film feels a bit too filled with ideas, and it’s need to touch on a variety of different point hurts it overall. It also leads to some characters getting used less than they deserve, the aforementioned Donald Glover as Aaron Davis and especially Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. Aging her down, the film imagines Aunt May as more of a single mother, an idea that sadly goes mostly unused. The romance between Peter and cool girl Liz (Laura Harrier) also could have used more time together, especially with the pivotal role it plays in the back half of the film.

What the story lacks at times in character ideas it more than makes up for with world building. We get small glimpses at the much larger Marvel world that make it seem so much richer. Vulture gets started on his life of crime due to a new government department that collects and disposes of waste and debris caused by superhero activity, we see small PSAs in Peter’s school starring Captain America, and in universe events are mentioned with one teacher referring to Cap as a “war criminal”. This real world feel also extends to Peter’s Queens, a place the film treats like a real place complete with bodegas, grumpy neighbors, trains, and people who argue about where to get the best sandwich. While the characters in the Marvel universe are great, the same can’t be said for the worlds the create, often feeling just like backdrops instead of real places. In contrast this Queens feels lived in, feels real, and unlike many a Marvel movie doesn’t feel like the background setting to an inevitable big fight.

spider-man-homecoming-trailer-header

In the end that’s what sets this movie apart from the rest of the Marvel canon. It feels smaller, more lived in, and in doing so provides a breath of fresh air. It’s funny without feeling forced. Holland in the main role creates a someone who feels equally believable as both Spider-Man and Peter Parker, and refreshingly just loves being a hero. The villain is compelling while also being genuinely threatening. The film manages its light-hearted tone while being able to deal with serious moments and never becoming a pure comedy. There are some problems but in the end the film gives you so much to enjoy that it becomes hard to care about the problems it has. In Spider-Man: Homecoming something truly unique in the Marvel universe has been created, characters and a world worth following and exploring.

Rating: 8.5/10

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Directed by Jon Watts

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei, and Robert Downey Jr.

Rated PG-13