Analyzing Films and their directors: Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER

In this series, I analyze a film and the filmmaker behind it, from how the film is reflection of their style, to how it relates to the rest of their filmography, and finally just talking about why the film is awesome.

Ridley Scott – Blade Runner (1982)

When you talk about Ridley Scott, you can go in many directions; the action-drama of Gladiator, the science fiction of Alien, his thwarted attempt at Dune, the friendship and drama of Thelma & Louise, his attempt at Robin Hood (2010), Kingdom of Heaven, the list goes on. However, the film whose story, both on and behind the camera, best captures the essence of Ridley Scott, and all he seeks to do in a picture is Blade Runner. When you boil it down, he had a star that wasn’t happy, executives breathing down his neck, and a theatrical release he was not proud of. The issues that plagued Blade Runner from beginning to end, culminating in the 2006 Final Cut release, have shaped Scott’s career.

Blade Runner is a magnificent tale of a man investigating replicants (androids) running amok on Earth; except that we find out they are not running amok, they have a purpose, a mission; Harrison Ford is a blade runner named Deckard, a special detective whose job it is to find and “retire” any replicants who land on Earth, having been banned for some time prior to the start of the series. The film is set up in such a way that you can actually justify why some scenes, mainly exposition explaining simple concepts that the main character should already know, are in there, but that is fan theory and I’d get lost going into that. However, Ridley Scott does not blink. So many of the tropes that underlay Scott’s work are in Blade Runner; there is an excessive attention to detail, the special effects are magnificently handled, and he worked hard to balance cerebral concepts with making sure the audience could understand them, to the point of bringing in a second screenwriter.

Scott also gives us enough to generate conversations about basic topics that are hinted at the film; a great example is that in the film’s opening crawl, it is said that replicants are used mostly as slave labor, but because they were originally designed by the Tyrell Corporation to replicate humans in as many ways as possible, they discovered they did not like being slaves; in essence, humanity created robots to serve without thinking about their feelings, which humans had voluntarily given them. Later one of the replicants, seeing a human truly afraid for his life, says “terrible thing to live in fear; that’s what it’s like to be a slave,” indicating how much he disliked much of his own existence. The film alludes to many issues in this manner; environmentalism and the need for artificial animals are hinted at, overpopulation in cities, with much of Earth’s land being inhabitable, is shown to be a serious problem, and we get the impression we are in something close to a police state.

Unlike Scott’s Prometheus (2012), which went a little heavy handed on philosophy and world-building at the expense of the human element, even when the human element was the focus, Blade Runner is all about the humanity in our character, human and replicant alike, which is reflected not only in the undying debates over Harrison Ford’s character’s status, but in the time spent showing the replicants and their expressions of love, anger, and sorrow; perhaps the greatest display is Rachel, a replicant who was never told she was one, and is in many ways the result of a cruel experiment to determine if replicants can be made more stable with memory implants that will balance their emotions with something to base their reactions off of. (Fan speculation held by many, including me, is that Deckard is also a product of this experimentation but I digress.)

In many ways, most of Ridley Scott’s more successful films have a balance of humanity with whatever other elements he is working with. Thelma & Louise is about the humanity of two women as they watch their lives unravel; Alien is people struggling with a horrific situation that comes at them literally out of nowhere; Gladiator’s hero wants vengeance, but is made to see the bigger picture; I haven’t seen it personally, but Scott’s A Good Year is about a man finding himself in a vineyard, realizing his better parts are ignored as he works in an office; Robin Hood is about heroes, , good men, and outlaws, and realizing one can be all of them at the same time in the face of tyranny. Even Prometheus, when it allows character to shine above all else, hits these same notes, and this is reflected in the deleted scenes as well, with Charlize Theron’s icy character breaking down, giving her a moment where the façade falls and she is shown to be a human under terrible stress.

Kingdom of Heaven, in many ways, gives us a hero who is honorable to a fault, and a kingdom itself falls because of it, with our hero struggling to save as many people as he can. That is actually a good example, because Scott gives us honorable men on both sides, and horrific men on both sides, with the real battle being about maintaining one’s humanity in the face of certain defeat or victory, and not letting the horrible parts of oneself take over. Kingdom of Heaven was also severely cut for theatrical release, although unlike Blade Runner, the cuts were explicitly for time and “pacing”. In both cases, the parts cut out of the film take away from the film, removing parts which aid us in understanding the film, and getting inside the mindsets of our protagonists. Blade Runner also had a narration forced on top, which detracts from the film as a whole, and dumbed it down more than it needed to be. Scott’s films are accessible, and Blade Runner works so much better without it, with the 2006 Final Cut being a great example of Ridley Scott finally completing his vision and getting it to the masses, it only took 24 years to get it done.

Scott’s filmography is about exploring the human condition in different circumstances, and until recently, he didn’t seem too interested in building a franchise; although also at this point, he can do whatever he wants, I really don’t care. Trying to figure out who we are, why we’re here, and how we can be better people no matter what the circumstances. Blade Runner, as an early outing, is a great example of him pushing the boundaries of that discussion.

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Analyzing Films and their directors: Michael Mann’s HEAT

In this series, I analyze a film and the filmmaker behind it, from how the film is reflection of their style, to how it relates to the rest of their filmography, and finally just talking about why the film is awesome.

Michael Mann – Heat (1995)

For those of you who have never heard of Heat, let this be your introduction. Heat is about two a crew of professional and criminal thieves, headed by Robert De Nero’s Neil McCauley, who are investigated and hunted by police headed by Al Pacino’s Detective Hanna; it also has one of the greatest supporting casts ever assembled, with Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, and Dennis Haysbert, just to say a few.

However, the film is Michael Mann’s masterpiece because all the parts move together, like clockwork. No character is extraneous, even the civilians who have nothing to do with any of the heists or plotting are still relevant to the plot, merely because they are relevant to the other characters in the film. Furthermore, one thing that really makes the film hit home emotionally is that with only a few exceptions, every speaking role has an arc; for example, Dennis Haysbert is seemingly unrelated to De Nero’s crew until you realize they did time together in prison, Haysbert’s character is being crushed by his corrupt boss and the system, so he joins them for their next job. Those two arcs don’t meet up until midway through the second act, and it suddenly makes sense why Mann has been devoting time to Haysbert’s character; he is setting up the risks, rewards, and motivations for him joining McCauley’s crew.

Michael Mann is a meticulous filmmaker; he is a clock maker, and a perfectionist, always trying to get everything just right. Heat is really the only time that it completely works, without coming off like he didn’t expend a ton of effort in the process. Maybe it’s because of the all-star, well-trained, and brilliantly directed cast, but the fact that this was Mann’s labor of love for several years may have something to do with it as well. The opening sequence of shots, from the joint on-screen credit for Pacino and De Nero onwards, all drives us to a moment. You realize that De Nero, Kilmer, Sizemore, and Kevin Gage’s characters are all going to the same place; Mann also introduces us to people at a comfortable, yet moving pace, which ensures that we are not lost. Arguably one of my favorite aspects of this is that he doesn’t play around, nor does he dumb it all down for the audience; you need to keep up with him, which means that the moving pace, especially as it begins to accelerate, is not ruined by De Nero calling out every character over the radio to ensure we know who they are.

Heat is the culmination of years of work for Michael Mann. His early films were acclaimed, and his first one, Thief, has been an influence on heist films since. Mann has also explored the criminal mind a lot; Thief gives us a hardened, career criminal who nonetheless tries to have some semblance of a normal life; Manhunter hints at the “what could have been” for a serial killer, to show that even he can love, and be loved; although not about criminals, Mann’s Last of the Mohicans (1992) does explore the lovable rogue, and reactions of other around him. Of course, Mann explored the cop’s mindset when he ran Miami Vice, and the jaded mentality of Sonny and Crockett, i.e. the “whack a mole” reality behind criminal behavior, is found in Vincent Hanna.

Mann would revisit Miami Vice with a 2006 film; however, 2004’s Collateral, in which Tom Cruise’s serene yet nihilistic hit man has a battle of wills with an innocent cabbie, played by Jaime Fox, hits a lot of the points made in Heat, albeit with a different perspective; a cold-blooded killer versus a civilian stuck in his seat, rather than seasoned cops and robbers. I recommend Collateral, and actually think you should watch that first before watching Heat, since it opens the door into Michael Mann’s style a little more gracefully. Mann’s cop and robbers trend has continued, and although 2009’s Public Enemies has polarized the general public, ignore the pacing, and you’ve got a fascinating look into the mirror image that was law enforcement in 1930’s with the thieves who were honored and idolized by the general public.

Michael Mann, in many ways, wants us to look at criminals in a different way, to not sympathize with them, but to understand them. McCauley, after stealing bonds from an “investment advisor”, says rather coldly, “he’s got insurance”; Hanna later in the film plays fast and loose with jurisdiction to entangle, but not entrap, a member of McCauley’s crew, which raises eyebrows and leads the audience to question how far he will go. Multiple viewings, thus, establish that they are mirror images; neither knows how to do anything else, both go to extremes on get the job done, but neither thinks twice or loses sleep over their jobs. As we recognize that the cops and criminals are actually pretty similar, it does open the door to ask which crew you’d rather be with, since McCauley and his crew, in contrast to the “no honor among thieves” axiom, are very close and he risks his life to save his friend’s later on. The cops are also close, and equally dedicated, and Mann shows us how much all this means in the context of their impact on the people around them.

Michael Mann has been more hit or miss in recent years, but no matter what, he is a brilliant filmmaker, and Heat is his greatest work, at least to this point. It never goes too far in any direction, but instead takes us to where he wants us to go, and just leaves us to think about it, which is what a brilliant filmmaker does.

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Game of Thrones: where is it going?

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead

A Song of Ice and Fire and its television adaptation Game of Thrones have transcended pop culture in a way that few premium channel shows do. For their legitimate successes, The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Dexter, The Wire, and others never hit quite the heights that Game of Thrones has over the past six years. The Red Wedding sent shivers across social media, the Purple Wedding a response based on how much you honestly hated Joffrey, and few other shows have such a following. Of course, the previously mentioned shows would probably have had a much wider following in today’s world as well, which is a point I will willingly concede.

IN any case, the question on the minds of fans is how will this saga end? The series and books have totally diverged now, there is very little left of the source material to adapt, and the show has progressed much further ahead in most areas. Now, I feel that it is as important to look back into the history of Westeros and Essos as it is to look at the future before trying to make a prediction. I say this because the show’s writers, while they have a tendency to simplify things, nevertheless are fans of the books and consequently seem intent on making sure that such things are usually respected. Although not openly discussed, Valryia, its rise and doom, descendants, and Valyrian steel, are all real topics, even on the show, and its legacy is something that influences events even now. The great migrations of the First Men, Andals, and the Rhoyner onto Westeros from Essos are all relevant, especially when you consider that the separation of blood remains a point of pride in some families. Finally, you have things like the Long Night, which is about to repeat itself if our heroes, anti-heroes, and probably a few villains cannot repel the Others / White Walkers.

SO, where is this going? My predictions for the series are a little different, given that events are far more streamlined there; they also ignored elements like the magical horns, whilst giving the Children of the Forest a darker side with their creation of the White Walkers. I also feel like the ending to the books can be more passive, whereas on television that might be viewed as anti-climactic, so I’m going to honor the more profitable gods first and discuss my predictions and thoughts for the TV series. My predictions for the books will come in my next blog entry.

GAME of Thrones: how it could all end. I’m not saying that all of this will come to pass, as a matter of fact, many things contradict themselves. I’m just throwing out different scenarios and how they would play out if the show runners went that direction.
Daenerys on the Iron Throne OR Seven Kingdoms ruling themselves again; I feel like the show has been driving two separate political forces down our collective throat during the series. The first is Dany’s claim, her right, and her acquisition of manpower. The second, as best seen in the North, is the parting of the ways of so many kingdoms from control of King’s Landing. Although Dany’s reign would make sense, and would be satisfying, I almost feel like her death (possibly at the hands of White Walkers?) would work, if it were properly handled. Now, I’m not discounting Dany’s triumph, her being raised above as a messianic figure, and the people celebrating her coronation, but if she pulls together a grand alliance of kings and queens (Jon, King in the North; Yara, Queen of the Iron Islands; Dorne; and Highgarden), and decides to rule a United Kingdom of Westeros instead, they might decide to abolish the unified monarchy all-together and return to the old ways. What about her dragons? After serving against the White Walkers, and serving their purpose, they are let go to fly around the world, and repopulate the world with dragons for later generations. Amongst other things, that would be perfectly fitting and ironic for Jon Snow, who would begin the series a bastard, served at the Night’s Watch, and lives out most of his life as a true King in the North, wielding more power than his father or grandfather ever imagined. Unless…
Daenerys and Jon marry; this would be appropriate given the Valryian tradition of in-breeding to “keep bloodlines pure”; also, in the show, Jon is the only blood relative of Dany. It would, theoretically, unite Dany’s alliance with the North and the Reach, and they would destroy any who opposed them. It also makes sense as he is ice and she is fire, and would revive the Targaryen dynasty; he might also provide a temperament to her hot-headed nature. His friendship with Tyrion is always a plus here, and in the process of becoming co-monarch, he would designate Sansa as Queen in the North. If Dany were to pass, though, he would also have the authority to abolish the monarchy, as I mentioned above. For all I know, though, it could be Jon who persuaded Daenerys to build a new monarchy, one in which they are a King and Queen of Kings and Queens, in the style of Agamemnon from Greek mythology, and that is where our story on Westeros would end.
The White Walkers are defeated; I feel like this goes without saying, but the real question of how the White Walkers are defeated seems to be more important than if they will be. The easy answer is dragons, the harder answer is Valryian steel and Obsidian, and there’s probably something hiding in a book in Oldtown Sam will discover.
Jaime as Lord of Casterly Rock; not unlike Jon being King in the North, Jaime is a character who would be a better ruler now than earlier in the series. He seeks to be honorable and a good man; now released from his vows to the Kingsguard, he would make a good husband to a lady (something inconceivable at the start of the series), and a wonderful father. Perhaps his greatest trait, though, is that Jaime has begun being honest with himself about who he is and what he’s done. He’s forgiven himself for killing the Mad King, not because of his ego, but because he realizes he was right to do it, since the alternative was the destruction of King’s Landing and the deaths of 500,000 people. Of all the characters, he deserves, even more than Jon or Tyrion, to end the series riding off into the sunset, and I hope the show does that for him.
Cersei’s death; Pretty obvious this one, but the self-appointed Queen has crossed several lines, but mass murder, including her daughter-in-law and her family, her cousin, her uncle, and the man she appointed to be High Septon, but couldn’t control, all points to certain death. Although it would be satisfying to see Arya take her out, I feel like it will be Tyrion and/or Jaime. They know her better than most other people, and it would make for great drama. I actually think that her death should come sooner rather than later, as it would fulfill Vary’s goal of chaos in the Seven Kingdoms (albeit from the books, but you know that’s why he went to Dorne in the first place). Perhaps Qyburn is a plant from Varys, designed to get close to her for when the magic moment happens, and Varys and Dany decide to let Tyrion take his revenge, only to find that Jaime beat him to it.
Tyrion finds a home; with Jaime restored to the lordship of Casterly Rock, Tyrion will need to find himself a home. If Dany, and maybe Jon beside her, win out, he would undoubtedly be the Hand. Maybe that’s his end. Or he reunites with Sansa, and based on their separate experiences, decide to give their marriage a second chance (after all, he treated her a lot better than Ramsey did). Maybe Tyrion sails off with a ship, never to be seen again, but is content in the journey to come. I feel like he’s such a fan favorite that the show runners need to give him some happiness in his ending, and the character deserves it. He finally found a cause and purpose for his life, and once he’s fulfilled that will deserve some form of peace. I also feel like Theon, who is continually atoning for his sins, should have something similar
Arya, who knows? Maybe she’s a member of a Kingsguard, or just a court enforcer of laws, but Arya never wanted to be a lady. Her time with the Faceless Men prepped her for greater adventures as she takes names off her list. However, that can only go on for so long. She tells Lady Crane of her interest in exploring west of Westeros. I theorize that what the Faceless Men saw in Arya is her greater destiny to do something amazing, and that the whole purpose of her training was to make her ready for it. They never wanted her to join their ranks, but just to be ready. Somehow, she will accomplish this, but I won’t guess what form that takes, nor even if we, the audience, will be told what it is.
The Night’s Watch is dissolved; one of my theories about the Wall, not mine originally, I just adopted it admittedly, is that it was built by the White Walkers to keep humans from intruding on their territory following the Long Night (and that whole war started from the First Men invading the Land of Always Winter). However, since the show probably won’t go into too much detail about the White Walkers, and since they’ll probably be wiped out, I also surmise that the Wall will fall in the process. With the White Walkers gone, it wouldn’t be needed anyway, and ultimately would end with the Night’s Watch being dissolved and the brothers returning home.
Bran truly becomes the Three-Eyed Raven; Coldhands (who is a revived Benjen Stark in the show) delivers Bran to the Wall for his protection, but Bran cannot remain that far south forever. He must go someplace remote to fulfill his life’s work of being the three-eyed Raven until the next one comes along.
Thank you for reading. See you next time.

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Game of Thrones: Fan Theories, Analysis, and Everything In-between

Spoilers Ahead. This is your first, last, and only warning.
So, Game of Thrones ended its season about a month ago, and we are still absorbing the impact. In light of many of the stunning and explosive events, as well as the news that seasons seven and eight will be shortened, and seven won’t premiere until next summer, this is as good a time as any to analyze and look at what we have thus far. Now, I’m rifting from both the books and the series, as the first four seasons were pretty faithful to the first three books, and a lot of my theories are derived from book events, as they pertain to series-only events, i.e. unless the series contradicts the books, the books are valid.
So, I’m going to break down everything in bullet points, because it is easier for me write that way, and probably for you to digest it.
1. The women are taking charge
Game of Thrones is established as early as the pilot as a man’s world. Yes, Cersei has her machinations, but she is dependent on men to execute them for her. Her great contrast was Catelyn Stark, who acknowledged her limitations but worked from within them, and was ultimately granted more and more power as she proved herself useful to Robb.
However, starting with season two, we see more women assuming command; Daenerys begins building a kingdom for herself, culminating in her seizure of power in Meereen, and as we saw in “The Winds of Winter”, sailing for Westeros with a massive fleet. Margery Tyrell proves capable at influencing events, setting the stage in motion with her conversation with Littlefinger in season two when she states that she wants to be the Queen, which also favors her house greatly. In the big picture, the only truly dominant man in any major position right now is Jon, recently named King in the North. Most other plotlines are dominated by women, and in most cases they either made their positions or forced their way into them.
It is a nice change from the constant subjection of women on the show, and whilst I make no illusions about the plight of the common woman, the highborn ladies are finally seizing power for themselves. (Of note, I’ve thought for years that with common women, at least they have more free will and ability to survive on their own without being dependent on their families.) Having strong, powerful women in actual positions of power is not reflective of the medieval England that George R.R. Martin had in mind, but when you consider all the historical women who wielded power, usually as Regents for their young sons, it is not completely inaccurate either, and for the show, it demonstrates a wonderful change.

2. We are nearing the end
This season established, about halfway through, that the series was closer to its end than its beginning, and after the events of “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter” we know the end is truly near. For us fans of the books, the sight of the white ravens leaving the Citadel left us was a jaw-dropping realization, something Sansa confirmed later in the episode, “winter is here.” Jon’s response referencing the Stark words is both warm and sad, forcing us to reflect not only on Ned Stark, but the others who have fallen along the way.
Considering that winter has been the great fear, it’s what the books and series have been building to since season two announced that autumn had finally come, it makes sense that the show would take a moment to discuss it. Missing, of course, is the snow in King’s Landing, which in the books at least is closer to New York City in terms of latitude and consequently snow fall; the realization in the books is shown when snow has begun falling on the capital.
However, winter is only one element. The plotlines with the Faith were intriguing, but I could see the writers being bored of it; rather than let Margery win out, they have Cersei blow it all up, which seems representative of their desire to move on from that plot, but also removes nearly a dozen key characters from the story at once. The idea of “building a new world” for Cersei is one she can control; but she can’t. Cersei’s greatest fault is short-sightedness, as evidenced by most of her decisions as Regent. (Again, the books elaborate a lot more on this.) More significantly, by removing characters from the story all-together, i.e. the destruction of the Sept, or by shifting focus away from them, i.e. the story leaving the Wall and Night’s Watch behind, it allows us to simplify the story, to get on with the plots that we all want to come to fruition, which primarily are the war against the White Walkers and Daenery’s assault on Westeros.

3. Reunions
The show needs to give us reunions next season, and especially familial ones. The Starks need to have a collective moment together at some point; they were originally the drivers of the story, and to have the surviving Starks together would be a touching moment, although the moment when they all realize how dramatically they’ve changed could be equally as chilling. Jaime and Tyrion need to have one, and I love the idea of them taking down Cersei together; it’s been speculated Jaime may marry Dany and that would be lovely way of fulfilling the prophecy Cersei has always feared. I think the show has earned the right to do that after six seasons.
4. White Walkers
We really don’t know that much about the white walkers, but I think it’s high time we learn. I do want to see more of them; they are actual people, not humans obviously, but a people with culture, language, and probably good motivations for wanting to invade the South, which I cannot believe are just conquest, or doing evil because they can. I also theorize that they are responsible for the magically inconsistent seasons; maybe the children of the forest once held that ability, but it was stolen from them when they created the White Walkers. The Night King probably knew that in order to cause a brutal winter he would need to provide a long summer, i.e. the cost of magic, which would likewise lull the lords and ladies into a false sense of security.
However, Sam comes into play here, since he may learn more about the Long Night than anyone has bothered to try in thousands of years. He may discover something that would be a huge shock, that would change the game, and potentially the series; I only hope that this twist would not inherently result in an anti-climactic ending for the series and story arc.

Wild speculation: fan theory time!
Before I continue, remember these are personal fan theories and yours may differ; please be respectful of that fact in the comments.
1. Littlefinger has a larger plan; a lot of people have interpreted the glances between Sansa and Littlefinger to be emblematic of tension between her and Jon when the other Northerners ignore her and proclaim him King in the North. I disagree: I think that was her plan all along, and she got Littlefinger on board with it. Littlefinger is largely unreliable, but the one believable characteristic is that he loved Catelyn and subsequently Sansa. Also, I feel that a large element of the books and series are all the conversations, or part of conversations, we do not see and hear, and when Littlefinger asks who the Northerners should rally behind, I can’t help but imagine Sansa asking “why not me?” to which Littlefinger would respond that they might not see her that way (after all, the North seems more conservative), and that he can ensure stability in the North through her. I have a feeling she may have taken him up on his marriage proposal to secure Jon’s place.
2. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that at least Littlefinger, Varys, and Howland Reed (if he’s still alive on the show), know or at least strongly suspect Jon’s parentage. This is based less on actual events as it is their interactions with Ned Stark, who was an extremely honorable man; Howland was at the Tower of Joy, whereas Littlefinger was fostered alongside Ned; both him and Varys got a really good look at him during his stint as the Hand of the King, and it does not take much to realize that a man like that would not be unfaithful to his wife. I have a feeling that Vary’s pro-Targaryen plotting actively involved sending Ned, once he was arrested, to the Wall to help facilitate Jon’s eventual rise. It is possible Littlefinger told Sansa of his suspicions, and that the moment when he and Sansa looked at the tomb of Lyanna Stark was a set up for that moment. In any event, it would also help them in eventually gaining traction on whatever plots they have moving, as Varys could use it to engineer an alliance between the King in the North and Mother of Dragons.
3. Although Dany’s alliance is formidable, she will need to control her forces. The Dothraki rampaging through King’s Landing is a scary image, and Dany is consistent, which is possible, than she will need to restrain them. She has shown distaste for raiding, reaving, and raping by the Ironborn, and it was her resistance to Dothraki slavery that indirectly led to the death of Khal Drogo. Although a little unwieldy, she will maintain control, but I have a feeling that she may unleash the Dothraki upon Casterly Rock, and eventually let Yara from that agreement in the name of friendship and cooperation, both of which would allow her people to keep fighting, and more importantly, fighting for her. Also, lots of Dragon carnage, because if they can toast a ship like that, the show runners are intent on roasting knights in armor too.
However, I do feel that we need to see more of Dany’s command. The one gripe with her over the course of the series is that she doesn’t always command all that well, and her rule in Meereen was not the smoothest of rides. We need to see her learn her lessons; she has done the fire and blood bit of her ancestry, now she needs to do the diplomatic bit.
4. Someone needs to die, and quickly. My money is on Cersei, who has lost her children, all hope, all humanity, and committed the worst mass murder in the history of Westeros, or at least King’s Landing. Since I’ve interpreted the two things that bound Jaime and Cersei together as being their children, and her humanity, I can easily see Jaime siding with Tyrion and somehow getting rid of her in a particularly ironic way. Of course, they could kill off Jaime, especially if he is trying to prevent her from killing more innocent people, which would bring his arc of finding his honor full circle. Maybe Littlefinger could eat it, with his influence on Sansa turning her into a villainous type figure on the show, as she assumes his mantle. The show has shown that characters who villainous acts are now vulnerable to pain and suffering, as seen with the deaths of Roose and Ramsey Bolton, and the painful existence Cersei has to endure now without her children.
So, everybody, thanks for reading. See you next time.

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: A spoiler-filled review

Captain America: Civil War is out, and, to be blunt, lives up to the hype. It thrives in the hyper-expectation that surrounded the superhero genre this winter/spring, with both Deadpool (20 Century Fox / Marvel) and Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Warner Bros. / DC) preceding it, and Deadpool blowing up all expectations, and Batman vs. Superman faltering with a weak story, it seemed like Civil War would wind up being one or the other: brilliant or bust; indeed, it is brilliant, but for reasons that people may not see coming. Since fighting against comparing Civil War with Batman vs. Superman would be futile, I’m capitulating and just going to admit that it will happen. Also, I’m assuming you know the background on the film, if you haven’t seen it already, so as to focus on commentary rather than rehashing plot points.

NOTICE: there will be spoilers. You’ve been warned. You’re sure? Okay, here we go.

Captain America: Civil War. One review I saw said that it could have just been called Civil War; I recognize the point, with so many characters in play, and several scenes that contain neither Captain America, Falcon, nor the Winter Soldier, it is as much a group adventure as a Captain America film, right? Wrong. The most identifiable Captain America characters are the three aforementioned characters, but this is about Team Cap and Team Iron Man, and even the scene between Vision and Scarlet Witch, and subsequently Hawkeye, are about the ripple effects of the schism dividing the Avengers, all of which ties back to Captain America’s choice to resist the Sokovia Accords. It speaks not only to Captain America’s, but also Chris Evans’s, charisma that he could divide the Avengers so quickly, with people joining him with little hesitation.

The Russo Brothers handle everything brilliantly: they do not pick sides in the conflict, and consequently neither does the film. The whole film is a balancing act: they need to balance the fact that it is a Captain America film with an unusually high amount of characters, each of which needs their own mini-arc to supplement the main story; they need to balance the massive scale of the choices the characters make with the need to keep things grounded; and finally, avoid damaging the characters’ relationships beyond repair whilst still having them really pissed at each other. I’ve already addressed the first point, so I’ll jump to the second.

Civil War is far more about the implications of the Sokovia Accords than the accords themselves, and both sides are shown to have legitimate reasons for why they believe the way they do, making the film a tragic tale of two sides, each noble and honorable, each coming from justified, and legitimate, perspectives, which cannot reach an agreement; the irony of which is that things turn out as best as they potentially can, given the circumstances. I say the implications of the accords because they’re never really implemented in the span of the movie, but rather towards the end as Stark and Secretary of State Ross are shown to have a strained relationship in the face of the conflict, although they are now forced to work together, an arrangement of their own making. The accords are not shown to a whiplash reaction, but rather something with forethought by world leaders, which Ross exploits to bring superheroes, who he despises, to heel. Of course, as most fans know, and Stark and Ross choose to ignore, the events in New York and Washington D.C. were not their fault, but rather defenses against hostile forces who initiated the events; it does amuse me that no one in the film mentions that, by the way, because if Captain America had said that, it would have reinforced his point that the Avengers are about defense and not aiding people. Maybe the Russos thought it was too strong an argument and would make Stark look the bad guy, when that wasn’t what they wanted. Of course, Captain America’s actions are not exactly clean either, and he violates numerous policies and implied agreements with the rest of the Avengers to save his friend, who is an admitted and known former Soviet/Hydra assassin; you can imagine that in another time, Stark would have backed Captain America, but in this context it was not to be. Both sides feel like the accords will have an impact on the world that will forever change them, and their choices reflect their attitudes and characters.

Probably the one thing I appreciated most was that the Russo brothers kept the overall scale of the movie small; it feels human, it feels real, as though it could have actually happened. The issue with Batman vs. Superman is the lack of humility; the only character who regards Superman as being human-like is Superman himself, and the major lines Lex Luthor has both in the trailer and the movie, “if man won’t kill God, the devil will do it!” reflects that issue perfectly; it seems like almost every character believes in their own infallibility at times, except Batman, who views the situation as a no-win scenario, rooted in humanity’s flaws. Instead, Civil War discusses the flaws in people, and their decision making, which drives both the Sokovia Accords and Cap’s resistance to them, whilst making it clear that those same flaws come to haunt all those characters.

So, I’ve been nice and dodging spoilers as much as I can, but here are spoilers indeed.

The film’s ending is about as perfect as it can be, especially when all factors are considered. Being the culmination of every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to this point, the story is a progression of all previous films, with particular emphasis on The Winter Soldier; as such, the Russos utilize plot elements they figure work best, such as the budding romance between Cap and Agent 13, who is (formally) revealed to be Peggy Carter’s niece, Sharon. They don’t overplay her, and instead set up a future storyline for her to step into; she is also the x-factor: not being in the Avengers, she can get Cap and Falcon their gear back and get them to safety. Ant-Man is likewise a nice element that works out, and he’s used perfectly; a great revelation (Giant Man), but not overdone. Beyond that, every other character, including Black Panther and Spider-Man, has a natural progression both into and out of the story. No one, even Hawkeye, feels out of place, which is really saying something given how many characters are in the film. This is the issue that Batman vs. Superman had: how to work the story with that many characters; indeed, it feels like BvS focused entirely on characters and not enough on story, whereas the Russos went out of their way to write the story first, then add the characters later; this ensures that the plot will work even facing character issues.

So, the villains; I got to say, one thing I really don’t like, both in this film and Avengers: Age of Ultron, was the easy and damningly quick ways the films dealt and eliminated Crossbones and Strucker. I really wanted them to carry on Hydra’s legacy; indeed, the scene in Ant-Man where Hydra operatives seize valuable cargo seemed to foreshadow a major plotline, and given that Captain America was the only Marvel superhero to have a repeat villain, I hoped that this film would see him topple the last remnants of the organization. Instead, all we see is a short fight with Crossbones and then he’s dead. I get that they feel like Cap needs to be victorious, but the film’s opening would have worked much better had Crossbones gotten away; a massive international incident on a failed mission would have pushed Cap and his principles to the brink, giving the film a better reason to support Stark. In any case, I think that Hydra’s been getting a raw deal in terms of its post-Winter Soldier portrayal.

So, Helmut Zemo, played by Inglourious Basterds’s Daniel Bruhl, is definitely the most underplayed villain yet in the MCU, and the film benefits from that. He does not have megalomaniacal intentions to conquer the world, nor does he have the hot-burning anger common in most vengeance seekers on film; instead, he has the dangerous mix of determination, patience, and cold, smoldering anger that a proper Bond villain has, but perhaps most dangerous of all is his brilliance to lure his prime targets to the same place together. Unlike Batman vs. Superman, where Lex Luthor’s plot is contingent on his ability to manipulate many very intelligent people in a seemingly dumb way (like I said, story first), Zemo is extremely subtle, manipulating events and people with the lightest touch possible; indeed, all he really does, during the events of the film anyway, is blow up the UN Summit in Vienna, interrogate Bucky Barnes, and ensure the hotel staff investigates his room at the hotel; this light touch leads me to wonder if perhaps he is how Cap and Company find Crossbones in the first place; or perhaps he is a driving force behind the accords, later counting on Ross to press the point home with the Avengers. In any event, he is a brilliant villain, in character, portrayal, and execution, and I’m very glad he survived the events of the film.

The painfully obvious: how does this compare to Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice?

Well, the blunt, easy explanation is that Civil War achieves everything Dawn of Justice tried, and mostly failed, to achieve. Whereas Civil War has the ability to call upon the previous films, Dawn of Justice tried, painfully at times, to insert new characters, kick-start a franchise, as well as reboot the Batman franchise, which was coming off an all-time high under the leadership of Christopher Nolan. In short, Dawn of Justice is what Civil War would have been, had it been the second or third film in the MCU. There’s really no way around the fact that while Dawn of Justice had a massive amount of interest, Civil War had the audience already built-in. Civil War also had a lot more firm interest, by which I mean fans who were committed to seeing it multiple times, myself included, before it came out; the DCEU still has to build that audience, and from the money Warner Bros. invested into it, it’s a damn good thing the film recouped its losses to allow for Wonder Woman to go ahead without issues. Intriguing enough, Suicide Squad, the DCEU’s follow up to Dawn of Justice, looks like it will be better, and possibly the better comparison to Civil War.

Where is the story going? Warning: fan theories imminent

So, what exactly happens at the end is extremely open-ended: does Tony forgive Cap for not telling him about his parents? I got the distinct impression that Tony has no interest in pursuing Cap and his accomplices, which is really as it should be. It does two things in particular: it opens the door for new heroes, such as Dr. Strange, Captain Marvel, and potentially even the Guardians of the Galaxy to join the Avengers since there are open slots, as well as provide an interesting B story for the MCU with an “illegal” crew of Avengers resolving international problems the sanctioned ones can’t, or won’t be allowed to, handle; that is how I believe the true reconciliation will occur, when Cap realizes that a little government oversight might be useful, and Stark chafes at being limited by the same body he chose to sign with; somewhere in the middle lays the answer. Agent 13 is undoubtedly on the run, and the romantic part of me likes to think she met up with Captain America and joined his squad, alongside Black Widow potentially, although she may want to lay low for a while.

However, one key point to remember is that the same crew who made this film are making Avengers: Infinity War, the two-part film that will complete the first major saga, aka the first three phases, of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thus, it is not impossible that before they handed off the keys to the MCU to the people who came after them, they made sure to map out where the story was going, and thus this film is the first major step towards that goal.

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Why DC should scrap the solo Batman film

DC Entertainment announced its DC Cinematic Universe schedule a while back, and notably missing was a solo Batman film. The logic was obvious: after Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, a solo Batman film would not be a good idea, given the instant comparison between the previous films and the new one. The post-Man of Steel announcement of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice polarized Batman fans who loved the Nolan trilogy, especially in comparison with the debacle of the Joel Schumacher films. Perhaps even more polarizing was the announcement of Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman; some people remember him as the guy who appeared in a few Michael Bay movies and rocked the teen heartthrob mantle for a while; some other people, me included, see him as an actor who matured beyond those years and actually became a damn good director, in addition to a better actor. One of my buddies pointed out that few versions of Batman have focused more on Batman and less on Bruce Wayne; The Lego Movie made jokes about this too. While the initial trailer seems to depict Batman more traditionally, I like to think that Zach Synder will at least focus more on Bruce Wayne than the Nolan trilogy did.

Perhaps one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s assets is that they have a few characters who float in between movies, without having films on their own. Iron Man, for instance, only appears in Iron Man and Avengers films, the Incredible Hulk cameo notwithstanding.; obviously Captain America: Civil War will be an exception, but given that everyone and their mother will be appearing, it’s not that big a deal. On the other hand, Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Hawkeye link the various films they are in and provide continuity; Fury provided the SHIELD angle and command, and even in Age of Ultron provides a sense of authority that helps refocus the second and third acts of the film. Black Widow and Hawkeye both provide the boots on the ground feel of experienced soldiers, people who have been there, done that, and have the experience to advise others; namely Black Widow advising Steve Rogers in Winter Soldier, which allows the audience to buy that Cap can make it through the rough events despite his inexperience. For his part, Jeremy Renner has stated he doesn’t mind being a supporting actor within the MCU, which hints at the power Marvel brings to an actor’s resume.

Ben Affleck as Batman

Ben Affleck as Batman

Now, take the high air authority of Nick Fury, the brutal capabilities and expertise of Black Widow, and the ability to move quickly and lightly on one’s feet of Hawkeye, and merge all that together: you know what you have: Batman. Assuming Ben Affleck would be game for it, Batman would be the ideal character to tie together the various films DC wants to make. Given that Batman is implied to appear in Suicide Squad, and that most of the DC lineup will appear in some form in Dawn of Justice, it would make sense for him to come around and help out from time to time. It makes sense and develops the universe more; just like the MCU benefitted from crossovers and cross-pollination, the DC Cinematic Universe would benefit as well. Alas, things are not going this way, as it seems like DC is hellbent on getting a Batman film out there.

All this being said, it looks like DC is trying to rein things in and prevent a disaster on their huge gamble. Whereas Marvel took their sweet time with their building, DC wants to build quickly, and they cannot afford a slip up in the first major outing. They recently scrapped Man of Steel 2, which made sense, given that Superman is damn near impossible to get right, and they don’t want to push their luck; it makes sense for a Batman film from that perspective, but there is something special about the two towers of DC looming over all the other heroes, with the possibility of their arrival. If DC wishes to pursue this course, then they need to make sure that they handle all the films, not just the Batman one, properly. Considering that Marvel’s biggest lapse in its films has been The Incredible Hulk, which is more mediocre than horrific (I mean, I’d watch it if it were on cable, but not actively seek it out), DC cannot afford a horrific film, especially with its biggest and most famous entity.

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THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER: a retrospective

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The Hunt for Red October (1990) has an amusing backstory: originally a Cold War story, then seemingly out of date, until it was re-positioned as an historical piece, even if only set ten years prior. The original actor for the part of Ramius broke his leg and had to be replaced. The film was aided by the United States Navy, who viewed as the naval version of Top Gun. The John Clancy novel, although altered in minor ways, served as a strong starting point, which bolstered by good casting, naval cooperation, and John McTiernan’s direction, resulted in a damn good movie. Now, the reason I like the film so much is that it presents a thriller without overdoing it on menace, cliché, or other elements that tend to slow films like this down. This, coupled with an usual hero’s arc for the main character, allows for a relaxing thrill of an afternoon.

To begin, the character of Jack Ryan, played here by Alec Baldwin, is shown as a CIA analyst who has never been in the field, but is brilliant at military analysis. He puts together the plot to defect of Marcko Ramius, played by Sean Connery, as well as the necessary corollary ideas, and eventually succeeds in winning over the various military and intelligence officers to eventually aid Ramius in his defection. The flip side of the plot, the USSR’s attempts to stop Ramius, are shown through political maneuvers, as well as a dedicated submarine commander (a pre-Thor and Pirates of the Caribbean Stellan Skarsgard) fanatically trying to stop him. Jack Ryan is very green, inexperienced, and is shown as being scared of going into the field; more than once, he is heard saying to himself, “next time, Jack, write a goddamn memo!” The film ends with him killing an undercover GRU (Soviet intelligence) agent who is hell bent on self-destroying the ship, in what is effectively cold blood; it is something that is unimaginable at the start of the film, but that the film works towards; he goes from being naïve to more of the James Bond-type, albeit in a more realistic sense. It is this idea, not of the trained spy, nor battle-hardened solider, but a young analyst, that transforms the Cold War thriller into a Jack Ryan origin story; every other character is experienced, and as Ryan earns his stripes, culminating in his success aboard the Red October, both diplomatically and militarily, the film builds momentum which pays off with two quiet scenes at the end that show the humanity of the two lead characters.

The plot is well written, something that always seems to be an issue in military thrillers. The set up is taken care of pretty early, with the American and Soviet plotlines hinting at what is really going on before we realize that Ryan is correct in the beginning of act two. Act two is about Ryan proving his theories as he gets into position to work out what he can. Act three is about survival and completing the mission. Never once is the larger context forgotten, nor are the stakes ever lowered. The pacing is good, with moments of tension played out just long enough that you appreciate the moment, before moving on and letting the story progress.

Despite the fact that there are at least 18 major and substantial supporting parts, it is not hard to keep track of who is who, largely because characters, with the exception of Ryan and Admiral Greer, are compartmentalized so that they stay in one place. McTiernan, whose other notable works include the first and third Die Hard entries, is not one to waste time; every character serves a purpose, every scene, every action, every line all has a reason for being there; great example: the engineer aboard the Red October smokes, Ryan doesn’t, and both are shown with those attitudes repeatedly; Ryan asks for a cigarette and a light from the engineer as part of the aforementioned diplomatic touch, which also endears him a little to the Soviets when he starts coughing, and they realize he’s trying to establish a friendly relationship. This action contrasts with the look of Capt. Mancuso (Scott Glenn), who is rough and unsure of Soviet intentions. In the end, it sets off a chain of events that leads to the Red October, USS Dallas (Mancuso’s submarine), and Admiral Greer destroying the Alfa-class sub captained by Skarsgard’s character, and fooling the Soviets into believing the Red October was destroyed.

The cast is brilliant, and if you consumed pop culture in the 90’s and 2000’s, you will recognize a lot of actors. The three key actors are Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, and Scott Glenn, with Richard Jordan, Courtney B. Vance, Stellan Skarsgard, and Sam Neil all playing primary secondary parts; the rest of the cast is impressive, and you can tell that McTiernan let them play the characters naturally, thus resulting in performances which are relaxed and not forced, even during moments of high tension. Tim Curry’s role as Red October’s chief medical officer is a great example; he has some of the more unpleasant sounding dialogue (largely because there is no way of saying it any other way, and you need those lines in the film no matter what), but it works because he is in the scene, not playing the scene. The ability of the cast to present the story so well actually makes the story easier to follow; it proves how well multiple intertwining plotlines can work when the screenplay is solid and the acting is well-done.

The film succeeds for many reasons, but maybe the fact that it does demonstrate, even in a post-Cold War, post-9/11 climate that enemies can become allies in the most unlikely of circumstances is why I like it best. You see fanaticism versus logic and reason; blind ideology versus careful thought; and it presents us with the idea that wars can and will happen, but we should always investigate to see if there is another way.

Thanks for reading. See you next time.

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