Anchorman 2 Teaser!
Jun 2012 03

Jun 2012 07

This looks like kid film heaven! Properly licensed video game characters in a Disney film.  I predicted a box office smash for this movie.  The pressure will be on to make a good game out of it as well though.

New film from Rober Zemeckis ‘Flight’
Jun 2012 07

This looks great! good cast and an interesting morale dilemma.

Game of Thrones Season 2 Thronedown: Episode 10 – Valar Morghulis
Jun 2012 16

*** First of all, I want to apologise for the extreme tardiness of the Thronedown. A pesky and ill-timed house move deprived me of TV and internet privileges for a week or so, prolonging my agony at not watching the finale. Without the internet, life feels every bit as dark, cynical and un-technologically advanced as Westeros… However, with my Sky and internet safely installed, all the whizz-bang magic happening in my new place rivals that of the House of the Undying… Annnnnnnyway, without further ado, here is the final Thronedown for this season… ***

So, GOT, it has come to this. We all knew the ending had to come some day, and now we have seen it. Endings are notoriously hard to get right, often the best films and works of literature’s weakest parts are cited as being their endings. TV series have a real balancing act to maintain in their finales, wanting to keep people watching, coming back for the next series, without resorting to the potentially alienating climax. In tying up most of the plot strands (although not tying them too tightly), we can safely feel that there was a satisfying story there, but with our first good look at the White Walkers, the dragons and the continuing war, there are plenty of reasons to tune your TV to Westorsi-vision, next series.

It was good to know that Tyrion survived, with only a nasty scar to show for his unappreciated heroics. Although it has to be said that his marginalisation during this episode is a slight worry. As the de facto star of the series, we don’t want him to be pushed to the sidelines, groaning in bed all series long next time around. I’m also very conscious of the Bran and Rickon story strand, as it will be fascinating to see how that relates to the main story. I was slightly disappointed that Theon didn’t die, because although I weirdly sympathise with him, for his betrayal, surely the writers can’t spare us his death? (God, what has this series done to me?). Seeing more of Jaquin H’Gar will be welcome, as he has retained an air of genuine mystery (and who doesn’t love a good assassin?).

Jaquin: Kickin' it third-person-style

Structurally, this series was interesting. Keeping up the intrigue as well as weaving all the story-lines together is tricky, and I think they just about managed it, even if they did drop the ball where maintaining tension was concerned. Making such a conscientious effort to visit more or less every key character in each episode was admirable, as it developed all the parts of the story at once. But it meant that valuable screen time was swallowed up by Jon Snow and Danaerys wandering around, when perhaps a more focused approach would have allowed the writers to maintain tension and prioritise more interesting plots a bit more. I would have gladly condensed the Jon and Dany stories into two or three episodes of detailed attention in order to spend more time with the brothers Baratheon, or the Tyrells (and it’s not just because Margaery refuses to wear much in the way of clothes, she’s a genuinely interesting character!). Put it this way (and it might be unfair to say this): but the penultimate episode at Blackwater was the highlight of the series, is it a coincidence that it is also the most narrow in terms of its focus?

Yet another example of Dany walking... *yawn*

I only criticise because I love. Hopefully the writers can learn from this, or improve upon this approach, because the flaws don’t detract from what is a rich, dark and fascinating story. The ruthless cynicism that is rapidly becoming this series’ calling card gives it a fresh feel (is there anything else out there that is more ruthless?).

One of the interesting things about the first series was the way that dragons and magic had near-mythic status within the world, with much doubt over their existence. I quite liked that, as it mirrored our own attitude towards such things. This series slightly disappointed some by turning that on its head. ‘Game of Thrones’ is fantasy though, and the impending emergence of the dragons and the increasingly more common magic should be seen as fully intentional and thought-out. It sure has changed the plot dynamic though. So far, I’m not wild on the magic (although the dragons will be one hell of a wildcard at some point). I think that, because magic is potentially so infinitely powerful, strongly-defined limits need to be emplaced, so as to stop it becoming a crutch for lazy writers who are stuck on a plot point (you know who you are).

Still, once again the writers have kept us guessing. Seeing where they take it from here will be fascinating, and I particularly want to see what will happen with the White Walkers. How will we fill our lives, now that GOT season 2 has finished? Well, we’ll have to find something else to amuse ourselves, and remember that it’s a big, wide world out there. Until season 3, Throners, goodbye.

TA

Thronedown Smackdown!
Jun 2012 20

As the dust continues to settle on the 2nd series of Game of Thrones, I’d like to congratulate my esteemed colleague in his commitment to providing critical updates and reviews of each episode. A balanced view is to his credit, but I might suggest that the focus and obvious adoration of this long and rambling fable is somewhat misplaced.

Why I hear you cry?

Because it’s not really that good. Okay – it is good. But just how good?

As an adolescent, fantasy literature was my read of choice, with Terry Brooks’ Shannara series and Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy being my favourites. But I left it all a long time ago. My frustration with the lack of cinematic reproduction of this genre was bordering on painful at the time. In the 80’s Fantasy highlights on the big screen came in the guise of the likes of Dragonslayer, Legend and Ladyhawke. Not exactly great fodder for those lapping up the epic tales on paper. In the 90’s the bar was lowered even further with Connery’s talking dragon in Dragonheart.

As clichéd as it sounds, it wasn’t until Peter Jackson’s mighty Lord of the Rings trilogy hit screens in 2001, with The Fellowship of the Ring that things took a turn for the better. Suddenly alien landscapes, cultures and languages were done justice, with the scale and budget they truly deserved. It’s only a pity I’d left my fantasy obsession behind me the best part of a decade before. Still, I watched and appreciated with interest. Jackson’s Tolkien trilogy was good, but, they weren’t perfect, and the same problems that Game of Thrones suffers from, were evident here. Narrative. It’s all down to the writing. And as hard as screenwriters may try, epic fantasy is never, ever going to suit the big or small screen. And it’s the small screen which causes Game of Thrones to frustrate even more. But more on that later.

Television drama (in the US) has been reinvented in the last 15 years, attracting stars previously only willing to grace Hollywood and the big screen. The reason? Writing. Some of the best screenwriting in any format has driven the success behind the likes of The Wire, The West Wing, The Sopranos, Californication and one of my own personal favourites, Huff. Each of these series framed their characters (and what characters) in unique, but earthly and recognisable situations, providing a backdrop to the individuals telling the stories, while allowing some ongoing (and sometimes incidental) stories to roll along. In some ways the locations are backdrops only – allowing the small scale and intimate details of the characters to play out. Mcnulty is the main draw, not the crimes he investigates – true dat. Okay, so the West Wing is a fantasy of sorts – but there are no goddamn dragons.

It’s the writing which lets Game of Thrones down. Not that it’s bad – in fact some of the one-liners given to Tyrion Lannister in particular, are gems. It’s just the characters are rendered bit parts in a fantasy world that looks good – but not great. Because despite budget and scale – this world is not entirely believable. Why? Because too much time is spent framing characters who, too often, are stereotypes of the genre. Joffrey and Jaime Lannister are nothing more than pantomime villains, Cersei a poor man’s Lady Macbeth and Littlefinger the archetypal scheming villain. Tyrion is the one true character that intrigues. And he is the talk of the town by fans of the show. And by the way, Eddard Stark was Boromir-lite.

As my honourable colleague fairly pointed out – the plots of Jon Snow and Daenerys in this second season were irritating distractions – pulling us from any plots we might care about. No doubt in the novels, they were major draws, but for them to work on the small screen, you’d be better off taking all their individual scenes and editing them together for an hour long episode each acting as an epilogue to the whole series and it would have been better. For this is the problem with epic fantasy, and why it works on the page but not on the screen. Too much is going on. It’s what made the multi Oscar-winning Return of the King the weakest of Jackson’s trilogy, and The Two Towers the strongest. More of the latter was based in reduced locations, before the characters split off on their own epic journeys, which stretched viewing patience beyond acceptable levels. Game of Thrones Series 2 suffered from fragmented stories that diluted their characters beyond anything of any substance.

Game of Thrones looks good on telly, and it’s well acted with some nice dialogue. But it’s too ‘big’ for the small screen, or for itself. It’s ‘wow factor’ is wearing thin. How many people will persevere with it, who knows?

But in the meantime let’s save our celebration for the writing of truly great drama, which needs no massive budget to distract us from what we care about when committing hours of our lives to television – and that’s the characters, for it is they who are the true draw on any TV series. We care about them and grow with them, and for the most part, want to see them based in some sort of reality, because it means more. Game of Thrones is all style, spectacle and shock value, but increasingly often rings hollow.

Having said all that, I suddenly feel massively protective of one of my all time favourites – the re-visited Battlestar Galactica.

Go figure.

NP

American Restoration
Jun 2012 21

The History Channel is now my go to channel, my latest addiction is American Restoration. It is like MTV’s Pimp My Ride but for Antiques. Well what Americans consider antiques anyway.

Rick’s Restoration is the setting for the show in question. Rick Dale our protaganist is a sleeveless denim shirt wearing biker character. In the title sequence he talks about working with objects built in a time when ‘made in America’ meant built to last forever. They can restore practically anything back to its former glory. They restore anything from 50’s Coca-Cola signs to petrol pumps and Cars.

Most shows will start with a customer bringing them an object to restore this is where their sister show Pawn Stars comes into play, The lads from pawn stars will buy something in the knowledge that restored they will get a far greater return on their investment. And that is the driver for the show really how much value can they add to what is essentially rusted but valuable antiques. Pawn Stars is about a family run pawn shop in Las Vegas (another good time killer of a show)

For me the pleasure comes from the craft and the techniques used to breath new life into the relics that are delivered to them. Like skilful surgeons they go about carful my researching the patients and deal with the issues one at a time and the put them back together again. They are truly skilled craftsmen, and the big reveal at the end of the show always impresses even though you know it they won’t have made a pigs ear of it.

Rick works with his son (most of the shows on the History Channel feature family business) and three other main craftsmen. There is good banter between the team with his son being a good guide for us as he learns the business we can learn with him. The son seems to be the butt of any pratical jokes, which he deals with in his ‘must be smoking a lot of pot to be that relaxed’ kind fo way.

It is probably my age but I really think the history channel is producing some very watchable television currently and deserve more viewers in the UK.

Catch American Restoration every day on the the History Channel.