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Game of Thrones shocker

Spoiler Alert – Don’t read more if you don’t want to know what happened on Game of Thrones!

If you haven’t been watching “Game of Thrones” on HBO, you should be watching it (get caught up with On Demand). With Episode 9, viewers were jolted with a plot twist that nobody saw coming, and Jeff Morgan thinks that’s a good thing:

That’s not to say his death was not sad. It was. It still is. There is a small pit in the part of my heart that loves a righteous character, but the shows that have given me such a visceral response are few and far between. I’m actually grateful to HBO for committing to a world that I can both love and fear and characters that I can both love and fear for. Ned Stark isn’t the only one to whom I would be sad to say goodbye. Arya, Jon, Robb, Drogo (despite his few lines), and even Jaime are all compelling enough that I want to keep them around. People are already calling down an Emmy for Peter Dinklage and his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister.

If I can take anything away from last week’s episode of “Game of Thrones,” it’s that more of television should be so gripping. If you were shocked, keep watching. If the death bummed you out, keep watching. If you’re upset, keep watching. Enjoy those feelings. Let them tie you to the rest of the characters. You won’t get the chance to experience a story like this very often.

I was shocked by the death of Ned Stark. He’s the kind of character you can build an entire series around, let alone one season. The series is loaded with great characters and performances, but you have to wonder as to who will emerge as the face of the series. The season finale is this Sunday night on HBO.

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This Weekend at the Movies: The Big Green Penguin Machine

Another summer weekend, another round of superheroes and kid flicks. And a quirky indie teen movie for good measure. Somehow, not a single one of them is getting good reviews.

Green Lantern

I tell ya, in this stacked summer, someone’s going to take the hit, and although the midnight box office was huge, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see this be the first real bomb. Oh, sure, they’ll find a way to spin a $40-$50 million opening into a success, but if the reported $300 million figure is right (including advertising), Warner Brothers will have a long journey ahead of them to make this profitable. Certainly not helping matters is the film’s current Rotten Tomatoes score, which while certainly representative of the reviews I’ve been reading, seems almost absurd. At a mere 23%, it’s the worst-reviewed major superhero film in years. I have a hard time believing it could be worse than Thor, but I’ll see for myself tomorrow (yes, I am absolutely the reason they keep making superhero films).

Hit the jump for more…

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It’s your pre-Father’s Day Blu-Ray/DVD Round-Up

The DVDs and Blu-Rays have been piling up. So, it’s time to go through a bunch of them, with a bit of extra attention paid to movies that might appeal to dads, though I suppose moms might like some of these as well.

* Playwright George Kaufmann famously defined satire as “what closes on Saturday night” and these days you might as well define political thrillers as “what doesn’t get greenlit unless a bunch of big stars really want to do it, and then bombs.”  “The Manchurian Candidate” is both political thriller and a satire and it didn’t fail at the box office, though it was kept out of circulation for nearly twenty years after its initial release for reasons that remain somewhat mysterious to this day.

I’m hardly alone in feeling this is probably the best political thriller ever made and possibly the second best political satire after “Dr. Strangelove.” Long after the end of the Cold War which spawned it, it’s continues to resonate with our political culture and it’s title still gives peoples the willies. Just ask John McCain.

Directed by John Frankenheimer and based on a novel by the mordantly comic suspense novelist Richard Condon of “Prizzi’s Honor” and “Winter Kills,”, you might know that it’s the story of what happens when a Soviet/Red Chinese brainwashing unit gets its hands on a group of captured soldiers, including Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey, who makes aloof bitterness very cool), the highly estranged step-son of a Joe McCarthy-like senator. Frank Sinatra does maybe his best acting work as a traumatized fellow soldier who realizes something might be up because of some very strange and very bad dreams he’s having — and the fact that he keeps calling the unpleasant Shaw “the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”

It’s a brave blend of politics, off-the-wall black comedy (what was called “sick humor” back then), suspense, and borderline Jacobean classical tragedy. Frankenheimer had a knack for making political material work dramatically, and also for drawing out strong performances. Janet Leigh (“Psycho“) was perfect as the female love interest, who was written so oddly by Richard Condon and screenwriter/playwright George Axelrod that many have theorized she’s actually an operative of some sort — an idea capitalized on in Jonathan Demmes’ disappointingly morose 2004 remake. The greatest casting coup here, however, is Angela Lansbury’s absolutely chilling turn as Raymond Shaw’s hated extremist Washington-hostess mother. She wasn’t the only less-than-pleasant character Lansbury ever played, but there’s something about what happens when actors who make a career largely playing nice people play extremely not-nice people that can be electrifying.

I also can’t resist mentioning the fight scene between Sinatra and Henry Silva as a North Korean spy, which Frankenheimer was often proud to mention was the first use of martial arts fighting styles in an American film. Seeing it again, it’s not only more brutally effective than I remembered as Sinatra and Silva all but destroy Laurence Harvey’s Washington apartment, but — especially in the initial moments when Sinatra instinctively begins fighting the Silva character without even knowing who he is — it’s pretty obvious to me now that it had to be one of the main inspirations for the terrific first fight scene in “Kill Bill, Volume I,” in which Uma Thurman and Vivica A. Fox lay waste to a Pasadena living room.

The Blu-Ray is, by the way, not a deluxe restoration, but it includes all of the excellent features that earlier DVDs have included and the print has been kept in excellent enough shape that a new restoration isn’t really necessary. It looks great. Super highly recommended, though pricey.

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This Weekend at the Movies: Still Not a Bummer Summer

Whether you’ve got kids, you still feel like a kid inside, or some combination of the two, this weekend has you covered.

Super 8

Super 8 is undoubtedly the big movie of the weekend, though many have called into question its ability to draw in audiences. With word still going strong on X-Men: First Class, and no classic selling points to attach to Super 8, the mutants may take another weekend at the #1 spot. Word has been pretty strong in Super 8‘s favor, and the fact that it’s already seeing a backlash in critical circles is a good sign that it’ll register with audiences. Plus, awareness is out there, even if it’s not as high as Paramount would like – people camped out for as long as eleven hours to see the film at a sneak peak in Hollywood last night. Will the film’s obvious bid for early 80s nostalgia be enough? Hey, it worked for Transformers

Hit the jump for more.

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This Weekend at the Movies: Mutants, Mutants, Mutants

I’d be inclined to declare this whole weekend a massive multiplex fail if it weren’t for the fact that the only major release is actually getting really great reviews. And if you’re looking for something a little more low-key, this weekend is absolutely booming with opportunities provided you live in New York or Los Angeles. So onward we press into summer!

X-Men: First Class


Aside from its surprising ability to draw in very talented actors (its cast includes James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt, and January Jones), my hopes for this film were unfathomably low until a couple of weeks ago, when word got out that Matthew Vaughn’s fourth feature (he previously directed Layer Cake, Stardust, and Kick-Ass) was actually really, really good. I don’t know why it surprised me so; after all, I liked all of his films to varying degrees, but it seems like, at least this once, a film slipped through the famously rigorous Fox development process. Currently boasting an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is better than any superhero movie has faired since the 2008 one-two-three punch of Iron Man, Hellboy II, and The Dark Knight, X-Men: First Class is poised to make a big dent this weekend both culturally and financially. I’ll be wading through the masses tomorrow to find out for myself how it holds up. Join me!

Hit the jump to see what else is coming out this weekend in limited release, including one of my favorite films of the year thus far.

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