A Mind on Fire https://www.amindonfire.com Books, Movies, TV and Whatever Sat, 06 Jul 2019 20:25:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 https://www.amindonfire.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/favicon-150x150.png A Mind on Fire https://www.amindonfire.com 32 32 On The Road Trip Movies Again https://www.amindonfire.com/on-the-road-trip-movies-again/ Sat, 06 Jul 2019 20:25:14 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10057 It's our third annual road trip round up. Jump inside and see what we have in store for you.

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ROAD TRIP TRADITION

Summer is finally here. Temperatures are rising around the US of A. Road trips are a tradition for a lot of people and families. Some folks plan out their road trip to the “T” leaving no room for error. Others throw some bags in the back of their particular mode of transportation and head off into the unknown. In our third annual road trip movie round up we take a look at a few reasons why people will head out on the open road.

BADLANDS

Terrance Malick’s first feature film Badlands is loosely based on the real life events of Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend Caril Anne Fugate. Starkweather and Fugate were wanted for multiple murders in two different states. The couple were finally caught and sentenced in 1958.

Sissy Spacek on a road trip from Hell in Badlands

Badlands stars Martin Sheen as Kit, based on Starkweather, and Sissy Spacek, in her first feature film, as Holly. The duo start and end their road trip in the same state, but no one every said a road trip had to be out of state. There are no rules to the road trip.

Kit and Holly’s “road trip” starts after Kit kills Holly’s father, played by Warren Oates. After setting fire to Holly’s house the two take off across South Dakota leaving a few dead bodies behind them as they head into the Badlands. But for all the driving you never actually get the feeling law enforcement is hot on their trail or even aware they exist.

The Malick trademarks are all present in his first movie. Spacek’s Holly provides a voice over through out the movie. Unlike a lot of movies that use voice overs Holly’s voice over in Badlands doesn’t explain the movie. It’s not being used as a crutch for poor storytelling. Instead Holly’s voice over fill in the blanks and add more detail than what we see on screen. There’s plenty of close ups of nature and wide shots to make any Malick fan happy.

Making their way on a road trip from Hell in Badlands

The media making a celebrity out of someone for doing nothing or for doing bad is not a new advent. The ending scenes of Badlands finds Kit the center of everyone’s attention. Badlands predated the celebrity culture we think started with the rise of YouTube and social media by more than forty years.

THE LONG DUMB ROAD

Director Hannah Fidell’s The Long Dumb Road finds Nat on a cross country road trip from his home in Texas to an art school in Los Angeles. Along the way Richard, a down and out loser, cons his way into Nat’s car and on the road to L.A.

The Long Dumb Road trip can't get any duller

Once Richard enters the picture the movie starts down the road a thousand other road trip movies have covered. Nat is a sheltered well off kid while Richard’s been around the block. In order to keep his ride, Richard strings Nat along with wild antics, nights out drinking, and trying to get Nat laid. Eventually Nat has enough and makes a futile attempt to ditch Richard. By the end of the movie the two have learned to like each other and have become friends.

The Long Dumb Road is about as inspired as its name. There’s nothing new offered in the movie. For those who think it’s a road movie and how much can you do with a road movie need to check out John Hughes’s Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, David Lynch’s The Straight Story, or Wim Wender’s Kings of the Road. There are still original stories to tell from the road and different ways to tell a road trip movie, but Fidell’s movie is not that movie.

MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS 

After being dumped by her married boyfriend Elizabeth, played by Norah Jones in her only role not playing Norah Jones, heads out on the road to “find herself.” Elizabeth writes postcards to Jeremy, her new friend who runs a New York City diner, along her journey bouncing from job to job and city to city filling him on what’s going on in her trip. It’s through the postcards we realize Jeremy and Elizabeth were meant to be together. The point being is sometimes we have to go far away to realize what we needed was at home the whole time.

Norah Jones and Jude Law in My Bluberry Night, a road trip movie unlike any other

Director Kar Wai Wong’s (Chungking ExpressMy Blueberry Nights isn’t a traditional road trip movie. Besides the postcards Wong’s road trip movie is told in 2 major vignettes. The first finds Elizabeth befriending Arnie (David Strathairn, Good Night, And Good Luck), a police officer, who is handling the break up of his marriage with the help of the bottle. The second vignette Natalie Portman as Leslie. Leslie is a professional poker player. Elizabeth and Leslie go on a small road trip in Las Vegas before Elizabeth heads back to New York.

Unlike most of your traditional road trip movies My Blueberry Nights, named after the pie Jeremy and Elizabeth share, ends where it began. Wong leaves behind the usual trappings of road trip movie and concentrates on Elizabeth’s emotional journey. Through her travels Elizabeth’s heart is healed and Jeremy is still waiting for her. Will the couple stay together? All the clues say, “Yes.” It’s a satisfying ending to a slow character driven movie.

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Hardware Comes To Blu Ray https://www.amindonfire.com/hardware-comes-to-blu-ray/ Thu, 04 Jul 2019 22:12:07 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10475 Hardware is not a Terminator rip-off. Read our review of the Ronin Flix's new Blu-ray release and decide for yourself.

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There’s cult movies and then there’s Hardware.

The Movie

Hardware was released in 1990. Contrary to what some people in the included documentaries say about the success of the movie odds are you’ve never seen Hardware or you haven’t seen it in a long while. Hopefully, Ronin Flix’s new Blu-ray release will remedy both circumstances.

Hardware Blu-ray from Ronin Flix

On the genre scale Hardware is somewhere between post apocalyptic and dystopian. Areas of the United States have become a nuclear wasteland. There’s no pollution controls whatsoever. Radio DJ Angry Bob (voiced by the one and only Iggy Pop) announces to his listeners the pollution creates “colors nature never intended.” The news reports population control bills, sterilization centers, and wars. It’s apocalyptic and dystopian.

It’s in this setting Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermott, American Horror Story) scavenges out a living from the wastelands. Moses, recently discharged from the military, sells scrap to Alvy, the fence. He’s not the only who sells scraps and other things found in the wasteland.

The Nomad from Hardware now on Blu--ray

The Nomad, a serious Zoner as they call him in the movie, unknowingly sells Moses the skull and other parts to a M.A.R.K. 13 combat cyborg. We only see the Nomad for a moment in the movie. but his sale to Moses is what starts the movie on its bloody and gory way.

The M.A.R.K 13 is a combat cyborg who’s only mission is to kill. To make matters worse is it can rebuild itself with whatever material is laying around. This makes things seriously dangerous for Jill (Stacie Travis, Easy A) , Moses’s girlfriend and recipient of said M.A.R.K 13 parts, when the killer cyborg activates itself.

Although in later marketing McDermott’s name gets top billing because he’s the bigger name in the movie, McDermott is not the main character nor is he the star of the movie. The honor of star and main character goes to Travis. Moses for the most part is just as inept as a boyfriend as he is a protector.

Dylan McDermott as Moses in Hardware , now on Blu-ray

Jill is left to defend herself and defeat the M.A.R.K. 13 cyborg. Shades, Moses’s friend, is sidelined with fright. Meanwhile the apartment complex’s security team, made up of two people, are killed. One is torn in half when Jill’s front door slams shut on him. The other one is killed when the first guard discharges his gun on accident as his guts are sprayed on the floor.

There are some odd scenes in the movie that almost throw it off course. The movie introduces Jill’s neighbor Lincoln. Lincoln is a pervert and voyeur. He manipulates his way into her apartment under the pretense of fixing her apartment’s front door. While inside the apartment he starts to talk about her personal life. Jill never questions why or how he knows so much about her life. Lincoln does provide the cyborg with a rather vicious kill.

At times Hardware almost threatens to be a long form music video. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing  Public Image Limited’s Order of Death and The Ministry’s Stigmata give Hardware a punk edge it may not have had without the tracks. Simon Boswell’s score is a beautiful mix of synthesized symphonic sound with a Blues guitar layered on top. The score gives the movie an almost horror movie feel.

Jill fights the MARK 13 in Hardware, now on Blu-ray

 

4K

Ronin Flix’s Blu-ray is a 4K restoration from the original print. 4K restoration does not mean you can’t watch on your normal HD television or use your regular Blu-ray player. However, it doesn’t mean every single scene is going to be pristine, sharp, or clear. The original film is still thirty years old.

Some scenes remain as grainy and blurred as they were when the movie first premiered while other scenes, mostly the scenes where no action is occurring, are crystal clear. Having grainy scenes remain, for whatever reason, is not a bad thing. With the grainy scenes the audience feels like they’re seeing what the M.A.R.K 13 is seeing. Hardware would still be a good movie if every frame was cleaned up, but the charm and over all feel of the movie would not be the same.

EXTRAS

Ronin Flix has packed a lot of features on the two disc set. Most of these extras are the same as the extras on the out of print and over priced 2009 Blu-ray. The one new extra is a documentary with director Richard Stanley. Stanley goes over familiar territory on the making of Hardware.

Back of Hardware Blu-ray case

There are a few of major takeaways from the new documentary. The first is that due to legal wranglings between Miramax and Palace Productions Stanley has never seen a dime from anything Hardware. The second big takeaway is before Stanley started making Hardware he had joined a Muslim group in Afghanistan to fight the Russians during their invasion of the country. Finally, Stanley thinks the movie “still works well on psychedelic drugs.” Now that’s a revelation.

PACKAGING

Ronin Flix has done a great job packaging the Blu-ray. The slipcase shares the same art portraying the iconic M.A.R.K. 13 skull as the cover of the Blu-ray case. The inside of the case has the same art as the cover on one side and the original movie poster on the other side.

Hardware Blu-ray and slipcase

Overall, it’s packaging with some great art.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Hardware may not appeal to some new viewers who may find the movie dated. There are no CGI terminators or spandex clad superheroes to be found in the movie. The movie uses stop action motion to create the M.A.R.K. 13’s movement. There’s also a lot of practical effects in the movie. The computer simulations date the movie, but no less than any other science fiction made in the same time period.

Hardware will appeal to the die hard science fiction fan, but maybe not to the casual viewer.

Seller on Amazon trying to gouge buyers who want to buy Hardware on Blu-ray

Don’t pay $89.99 for a Hardware Blu-ray. Get the much cheaper Ronin Flix release.

 

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Welcome Fright Night To Blu-Ray, For Real https://www.amindonfire.com/fright-night-blu-ray/ Sun, 23 Jun 2019 01:55:49 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10438 "Welcome to Fright Night...For real." Sony has finally released Fright Night domestically on Blu-ray. We're looking at the movie and the disc.

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THE MOVIE

Thirty four years after its original release every horror and vampire fan should know Fright Night. For those who aren’t familiar with Fright Night the story is simple. Teenager Charley Brewster witnesses his new neighbor murder an escort. He also thinks his neighbor is a vampire.

Convinced his next door neighbor is a vampire Charley sets out to kill him with the help of a has been horror actor and TV host Peter Vincent, The Great Vampire Killer. Out of concern for their friend Charley’s girlfriend Amy and his friend Ed become involved in Charley’s obsession.

Charley protecting himself with a cross in Fright Night

With a group of dedicated friends and a television horror host by his side ending the vampire’s life should be easy for Charlie.Except Peter is a coward and his friends don’t believe him. All that changes when the vampire, Jerry, kidnaps Amy and turns her into a vampire. Charley and Peter, with new bravado, face down Jerry to save Amy from spending eternity as un-dead vampire.

Fright Night was released in 1985. In some ways it’s very much a product of the early 80’s. A post-Peter Wolf J. Geils Band wrote and performed the movie’s theme song,”Fright Night.” In some scenes Amy wears the required 80’s scrunchy and Jerry wears a scarf wrapped around his sweater. The music in the dance club scene is typical synthesized early 80’s dance music.

Ed as a vampire in Fright Night

Unlike other movies that came out during the same time Fright Night doesn’t play up the 80’s elements. There are no neon colors flashing, no one is sporting the latest Walkman, no one is saying “gnarly” or “rad,” or wearing spandex tights. Fright Night may have come out in the 80’s but director Tom Holland avoided the trappings of the 80’s. The movie doesn’t feel dated. It’s a horror movie that’s just as relevant today as it was then.

THE CAST

Rowdy McDowall’s career spanned decades. Perhaps his most famous role is Cornelius in the Planet of the Apes movies. Horror fans know him better as Peter Vincent, the Great Vampire Killer. It seemed every local channel in the 80’s had a Peter Vincent hosting a late night or Saturday morning horror show on a public access network. Coincidentally, Cassandra Peterson, a.k. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, got her start in the early 80’s hosting a horror show in Los Angeles called Fright Night.

Roddy McDowall as the fearful vampire hunter in Fright Night

The TV version of Peter Vincent is not the Peter Vincent who shows up to help Charley. Vincent is no fearless vampire killer. He crumbles moments after his first encounter with vampire Jerry. McDowall plays Vincent as a character in a constant fight or flight mode, but the character has heart. Watching McDowall struggle between helping a dying werewolf Ed and leaving him to die is heartbreaking.

In the history of actors who have played vampires Chris Sarandon’s name is rarely brought up. Maybe it’s the character’s name, Jerry. Jerry doesn’t sound intimidating or frightening as Count Orlok or Dracula or Santanico or Barnabas. Jerry is pretty a plain name.

Chris Sarandon goes vampire in Fright Night

Sarandon plays Jerry as anything but plain. Jerry is suave, sophisticated, and charming. He charms his way into the Brewster house and even charms Vincent and Charley’s friends into believing nothing is wrong. Jerry may be a plain name, but between the name and his charm Dandrige is possibly more frightening than other vampires with more insidious names.

Fright Night was William Ragsdale’s first starring role. Amanda Bearse and Stephen Geoffreys had starred in lighter movies before landing roles in Fright Night. Although none of the actors were teenagers when they made the movie they made us believe they were teenagers.

From Not to Hot Amy seduces in Fright Night

Fright Night, unlike today’s movies with or about teenagers, isn’t trying to make these teenagers any more sophisticated than teenagers actually are. These teenagers are caught up in something a little bigger than they are and trying to make sense of it all. They’re teenagers the way teenagers may really act if faced with a neighborhood vampire.

THE BLU-RAY

Finally, Sony has released Fright Night on Blu-ray. There are previous editions of Fright Night on the market. For years fans only had foreign releases and really expensive editions to choose between. $150.00 for a single Blu-ray may be a lot for even the biggest fan to swallow. The imported versions were the easiest way to go for fans if they wanted to add the extra cost of a region-free Blu-ray player to the cost of the Blu-ray. For the more cost conscience fan the DVD is still available at a very reasonable price. For a temporary fix fans could always stream the movie, but even then the quality of the picture was hit or miss.

Front Cover of Fright Night Blu-ray

Sony has done a great job restoring the picture. The colors pop off the screen. You won’t get the clarity this Blu-ray offers in a DVD or from any streaming video. Dozens of viewings on grainy VHS copies with lines traveling up the screen obscured a lot of details. The picture is so clear it was the first time I personally noticed the coffee mug Charley grabs a pencil from is a University of Iowa Hawkeyes mug.

An inflated price for a Fright Night Blu-ray

$150.00 for Blu-ray? Someone has more dollars than sense.

EXTRAS

The Blu-ray is packed with extras. There’s two audio commentaries with director Tom Holland, Jonathan Stark (Billy Cole), Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Stephen Geoffreys, and members of the special FX team. There’s also two featurettes “What is Fright Night” and “Tom Holland: Writing Horror” that basically rehash the same material. The Blu-ray also includes a panel with the cast from Fear Fest 2. Again, there’s nothing new here after watching the previous featurettes. However, fans of the movie will still devour these extras.

Back cover of Fright Night Blu-ray

Shock Til You Drop use to be the go to website and YouTube channel for horror fans. However, it’s no more. In its place is comingsoon.net. The website now covers most movie and entertainment news. One episode of Shock Til You Drop has made its way onto the Blu-ray. “Shock Til You Drop Presents Choice Cuts with Tom Holland and Ryan Turek” is a pretty informative and fun interview with Tom Holland.

The stand out feature of the Blu-ray is the documentary “You’re So Cool, Brewster.” The documentary covers everything any fan would want to know about the movie. Director Tom Holland, the entire cast, and crew share stories from the set and how the movie was made. You could watch the same documentary on Shudder or you can get the Blu-ray and watch when ever you want.

IN CLOSING

Yes, you could stream Fright Night from any one of the many available streaming services. However, you’re not going to get the picture quality the Blu-ray offers. You’re also not going to get the extras. More importantly, streaming services lose rights to movies all the time. How many times has a movie you wanted to watch stopped streaming on Amazon or Netflix? Blu-ray isn’t at the mercy of a licensing deal.  Watch whenever you want to watch.

Inside of Fright Night Blu-ray

No slipcase, no insert, no frills Blu-ray.

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The Cinema of Revenge Part II https://www.amindonfire.com/the-cinema-of-revenge-part-ii/ Thu, 20 Jun 2019 02:18:19 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10401 Jennifer Garner and Olivia Wilde deal with revenge in two different ways in two recent movies.

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It didn’t take the Me Too movement for some men to know women are just as tough and strong as men. It didn’t take the Me Too movement to inform a lot of men that certain things done to women are wrong. For some men it took the Me Too movement to make them realize there’s only so far you can push a woman until she pushes back and kicks some ass. Two recent movies deal with revenge in different ways.

Peppermint

Jennifer Garner isn’t a stranger to the action genre. Her first outing was in the role of Sydney Bristow in Alias. As successful as Alias was, Garner’s first outing for the big screen didn’t fare as well. Elektra was panned by critics and audiences alike. Peppermint finds Garner back in the action genre after a long break.

Peppermint is as close to a female Punisher as we’re likely to get on the big screen. Garner plays Riley North, a mother and a banker. She’s married to Chris and has a daughter, Carly (Cailey Flemming, Judith on The Walking Dead). Chris, may or may not, have a shady background. It’s never really developed how shady his background may have been, but it was shady enough he was asked to be the get away driver in a heist.

Jennifer Garner and movie family in the revenge movie Peppermint

Although Chris turns down the offer the Colombian or Mexican (take your pick) drug cartel kill him and their daughter at a carnival in front of Riley. After the murder, she is faced with testifying against the shooters. In true Punisher style the killers are freed because of a corrupt judge, a corrupt district attorney, and a corrupt police officer. Riley disappears after the trial only to resurface five years later hellbent on revenge.

Unlike Frank Castle, Riley wasn’t already a Vietnam veteran or an Iraq War veteran, depending on what origin story you like, who knew an insane amount of martial arts and was a master of every single weapon created by man. Instead, Riley steals $55,000 from the bank she worked at to travel the world learning different fighting styles and weapons training. It’s a stretch of the imagination, but in revenge movies you have to leave preconceived notions at the door.

Peppermint is as violent as most movies in the revenge genre. In the opening scene Riley puts a bullet in one of the killer’s head. After she has killed all three murders she hangs their dead bodies from a Ferris wheel. The corrupt judge she wraps in explosives and blows him up. For the epic finale, head bad guy Diego Garcia (an uninspired name if there ever was in a movie) faces Riley in one last showdown. Of course it ends exactly like you think it will end.

Jennifer Garner hides for an ambush in the revenge movie Peppermint

“I’m going to shoot you in your fucking face and figure it out from there.”

Even though Peppermint failed miserably at the box office it isn’t a bad movie. Is it the Lawrence of Arabia of revenge movies? No, it’s not. At best, Peppermint is average. It tries to be the Punisher so much so Riley’s base of operations is in a run down part of the city like Thomas Jane’s Punisher. Shoehorned into the movie are a group of children who help Riley in times of need. Actually, the kids help her once but we’re meant to believe they’re her lookouts and have formed some sort of relationship with Riley.

If you can get over the forced drama, the run of the mill drug dealers, the cliched bad cop, and focus on some of the better gun fights Peppermint is the way to go. If you’re looking for more than a cliched story and John Wick wannabe gun battles avoid Peppermint.

A Vigilante

Olivia Wilde made a splash recently with her directorial debut Booksmart. Wilde also makes a splash in another director’s first feature. Sarah Daggar-Nickson’s A Vigilante is unlike any other revenge film that’s come out in recent years. There are no explosions, no gun battles, no one is being hung from anything. It’s the complete opposite of Peppermint.

Wilde plays Sadie, a survivor of domestic violence. Sadie’s life is turned upside down after her abusive husband kills their young son. As we learn later he’s psychotic and he takes his anger out on Sadie. Once Sadie is freed from his abuse she turns to help other abused women. It’s a role stripped of any glamour or beauty we normally associate with Wilde.

Olivia Wilde in the revenge movie A Vigilante

Sadie lives by a code. The code is to not take lives if possible, but make abusers pay for what they’ve done. In the opening scene Sadie sends an abusive husband packing only after making him fork over most of his assets to his wife. Her departing words to the man is not to bother his wife ever again and if he does she will kill him. Is it a threat she’s willing to go through with if the situation were to arise? After the last scene of the movie it’s absolutely believable she would find the husband and kill him.

One woman, Charlene, Sadie helps tells her she may miss her boyfriend because she felt like she had to fight for his love so the abuse made it seem worth it. It’s the cycle of abuse Sadie is trying to break in her own way. It may be misguided because Sadie can’t be with the women she frees twenty-four hours a day. Unfortunately, the odds of these women returning to their abusers is high. However, Sadie won’t stop helping the abused.

Olivia Wilde's busted knuckles in the revenge movie A Vigilante

The movie is told in flashbacks. At times it becomes difficult to tell what is a flashback and what’s the present. It’s a confusing mess, but it’s an almost forgivable mess because of Wilde’s performance and the emotions in the movie. We witness the affects of the violence and the ramifications of the violence. Rarely in movies do we see what happens after the violence. A Vigilante does not shy away from showing the results of violence.

A Vigilante isn’t the revenge movie you’re looking for if you only want to see explosions, gun fights, and guts. It’s the movie you want to see if you’re looking for a revenge movie working on a deeper level than other movies in the genre. It’s perhaps Wilde’s best role to date. It’s a smaller, independent movie deserving people’s time and attention. You won’t regret it.

Olivia Wilde in the revenge movie A Vigilante

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Vincent D’Onofrio Goes Western With The Kid https://www.amindonfire.com/vincent-donofrio-goes-western-with-the-kid/ Tue, 11 Jun 2019 02:22:22 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10377 (SPOILER AHEAD, PARTNERS) Vincent D’Onofrio’s second outing as director is the western The Kid. This movie is a far cry from his first feature Don’t Go In The Woods. It’s obvious watching Don’t Go In The Woods that it’s D’Onofrio’s first film. He may have been in the acting business for more thirty years, but being a […]

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(SPOILER AHEAD, PARTNERS) Vincent D’Onofrio’s second outing as director is the western The Kid. This movie is a far cry from his first feature Don’t Go In The Woods. It’s obvious watching Don’t Go In The Woods that it’s D’Onofrio’s first film. He may have been in the acting business for more thirty years, but being a great actor doesn’t always translate into being a great or even good director. D’Onofrio’s skills as a director have improved a lot since 2o1o’s Don’t Go In The Woods. The Kid is a well directed, acted and scripted western more in the tradition of the older westerns than some of the grittier Westerns that have come out in the past few years.

HISTORICAL FACTS HOLLYWOOD TRUTHS

The Kid is a fictionalized account of Bill the Kid and Pat Garrett. Let’s be honest, to a certain extent most movies based on historical events are fictionalized. If we started tearing apart historical based movies for accuracy and whether or not the lack of accuracy makes a good movie Braveheart would be one of the worst movies ever made. The Kid keeps a kernel of the truth intact regarding Billy the Kid.

Dane DeHaan as Billy the Kid in The Kid

The movie starts after the Lincoln County War, but before Pat Garrett has caught Billy the Kid for the first time. It’s a historical fact Billy escaped from a prison holding cell in Lincoln, New Mexico. It was here he killed Deputy Bell and Bob Olinger, played to asshole perfection by Adam Baldwin (Serenity). It’s been debated how Billy died. Did Garrett shoot an unarmed Billy? Was it shoot out like Pat Garrett explains in his book? The truth may never be known.

THE KID

What’s almost certainly not true is Billy running with a kid, however briefly, during his final days. The kid in the title of the movie is not Billy. The kid is Rio Cutler (newcomer Jake Schur). Rio kills his father after he has beaten his mother to death. Rio and his sister Sara (Leila George, Mortal Engines) escape their Uncle Grant (Chris Pratt) and head off towards Santa Fe, New Mexico to find their aunt. It’s on the journey to Santa Fe they meet Billy the Kid (Dane DeHaan, A Cure for Wellness) and Pat Garrett (Ethan Hawke).

Ethan Hawke as Pat Garret ready to showdown in the Western The Kid

Rio is immediately captivated by Billy. Sara, on the other hand, is not. When Sara is kidnapped by their uncle it’s Billy Rio turns to for help. It becomes quite clear though Billy is not interested in helping Rio or saving Sara. After Billy is killed Rio gets help from Garrett to save his sister.

CHARACTERS MAKE THE MOVIE

Ethan Hawke is a busy actor. Hawke has been in seven movies since his award winning role in First Reformed. He can’t be accused of turning in a performance to move on to the next paycheck. His Pat Garrett, as opposed to other versions of the historical figure, is a man who knows what’s right and what’s wrong. He also knows when to bend the rules enough to help a kid who killed his father and help save his sister. The Kid may not be his best performance, but it definitely ranks high.

Chris Pratt usually plays the comedic role in the movie. Even his Peter Quill is sarcastic and wisecracking. What we don’t see is Pratt playing the villain. Although Pratt sounds like he’s doing an impersonation of Billy Bob Thorton’s Karl Childers from Sling Blade his Grant is vile who turns his own kin out as a prostitute.

Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke stare down in the Western The Kid

Billy the Kid has been portrayed as everything from serious killer (Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid) to joker (Young Guns). DeHaan plays Billy the Kid somewhere between the two extremes. He’s a viper who will bite you if you’re not paying attention. At the same time, he cares for his wife and shows a vulnerable side to Rio over whiskey. DeHaan may still be the actor who looks familiar to you but you can’t place his name, but movies like The Kid will have you remembering his name.

FINAL SHOWDOWN

At its core, The Kid follows your basic Western formula. There’s the villain, Grant, who’s kidnapped someone close to someone else. Characters are looking for a form of revenge. A showdown between two characters ends the movie. It’s a basic formula, but The Kid takes it to another level with good acting, directing, and a great score. At times it feels like a throwback to simpler Westerns from the Golden Age of the Hollywood Westerns. At times, like the final showdown, it feels like a more modern telling of a Western. Either way, The Kid should be viewed by any fan of Westerns. Remember, it’s the story that matters.

Dane DeHaan as Billy the Kid in the Western The Kid

D’Onofrio recreates the famous Billy the Kid pose

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Dragged Across Concrete S. Craig Zahler’s New Bank Heist Movie Hits and Misses https://www.amindonfire.com/dragged-across-concrete-s-craig-zahlers-new-bank-heist-movie-hits-and-misses/ Thu, 06 Jun 2019 03:04:09 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10347 DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE (as spoiler free as possible) Let’s just get it out of the way right now. Yes, Mel Gibson is in Dragged Across Concrete. With that being said, if you don’t like Mel Gibson you won’t be watching Dragged Across Concrete. To which I say, your loss because S. Craig Zahler’s new movie […]

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DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE

(as spoiler free as possible) Let’s just get it out of the way right now. Yes, Mel Gibson is in Dragged Across Concrete. With that being said, if you don’t like Mel Gibson you won’t be watching Dragged Across Concrete. To which I say, your loss because S. Craig Zahler’s new movie is one of the best movies to be released this year.

Tory Kittles in Dragged Across Concrete

Dragged Across Concrete stars the already mentioned Mel Gibson as Brett Ridgeman and Vince Vaughn as Anthony Lurasetti. The two are police officers in the fictional city of Bulwark (take that name for any number of meanings) who are suspended from the Bulwark PD after a video of their aggressive arrest of a suspect goes viral.

CHARACTERS MATTER

Meanwhile, Henry Johns (Tory Kittles, True Detective) is released from prison. He’s greeted by a mother who’s started turning tricks in the apartment she shares with Johns’s younger brother. His younger brother is in wheelchair. Half the movie is the audience wondering how Ridgeman, Lurasetti, Johns, and John’s childhood friend Biscuit are going to collide.

What brings them together is a bank robbery gone bad and then it goes to worse. These characters, minus the bank robbers, aren’t bad people. They’ve been drawn into a situation beyond their control. Ridgeman is a cop whose career has been sidelined by his own recklessness and is looking at a possible forced retirement. The neighborhood his family lives in has seen better days and is getting worse. His plan is to trail a criminal named Vogelmann. Although Ridgeman doesn’t know it at the time, Vogelman’s plan is to rob the Bulwark Bank of millions of dollars in gold bullion.

Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn ready to raid an apartment in Dragged Across Concrete

Lurasetti is dragged into Ridgeman’s scheme out of loyalty and the idea of being able to give his fiance a better life than what he could on his police salary. Even Johns and Biscuit aren’t bad people. Johns gets involved simply to help his brother and his mother. For the most part, these are good people caught up in something beyond their control.

Some critics are quick to point out perceived racism in Dragged Across Concrete. There’s little no overt racism in the movie. Johns and Biscuit say “nigger” just as much as Vogelmann and his group of bank robbers. Most of this criticism is mainly from the baggage any movie with Mel Gibson’s involvement. It wouldn’t be a stretch for these other critics to find racism in a movie like Hacksaw Ridge simply because the movie was directed by Gibson. A lot of that baggage though comes from Mel Gibson’s critics.

Don Johnson cameo in Dragged Across Concrete

Don Johnson was also in Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99.

These characters are products of their environment and the movie makes sure to hit on timely topics. Lurarsetti calls the news “entertainment” which is code for fake news. Ridgeman and Lurasetti are put on probation, accused of excessive force (code for Police Brutality) based on a video captured by a nearby citizen. Again, these aren’t crooked cops. Did they make a wrong choice? Yes. Did they pay for those bad choices? Yes.

THE NEW NOIR

Dragged Across Concrete is a border line neo-noir film. There’s no femme fatale, a hallmark of the noir movie, to speak of in the movie. But the movie is dark and cloaked in shadows. The dialog feels like Zahler lifted it from an Elmore Leonard or a Donald Westlake Parker novel. At times, lines meant to be humorous fall flat.

The ending is jarring. For almost two hours the viewer has been in the dark world with Ridgeman and Lurasetti. The new life Johns, his brother, and his mother find themselves in is the complete opposite of the world they left. Their new world is bright and white. It’s almost a fairy tale ending in a fairy tale world.

Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn ready for action in Dragged Across Concrete

Zahler uses a lot of wide shots in Dragged Across Concrete. Wide shots, of course, reveal more of the scene. The second benefit of using wide shots is that it’s not as inmate as a medium shot or even a close up. We view what’s occurring on screen from a distance.The viewer isn’t involved in what is occurring until  Zahler juxtaposes to medium and close up shots. The affect is to bring the viewer into the scene.

PROBLEMS IN A GOOD MOVIE

This is not to say Dragged Across Concrete is the perfect movie. It’s not. There’s plenty of scenes that could have been edited out and the movie would have been just as good if not better. Jennifer Carpenter, who was also in Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99, plays Kelly Summer. Summer is almost a throw away character. She’s a new mother who doesn’t want to leave her new born at home with her husband. As it happens, the bank she works at is the same bank Vogelmann and his crew are robbing. Carpenter is only in the movie for a few minutes until she’s shot.

Jennifer Carpenter’s talents are wasted in Dragged Across Concrete.

Some of the scenes are softball lobs. For example, one of Vogelmann’s crew knocks off a convenient store. While he’s  robbing the store footage of Ridgeman and Lurasetti’s excessive force video is being played on the news. The robber kills the man behind the counter, a customer, and then proceeds to shoot up the convenient store. We get it. It’s excessive force and it’s not subtle.

Overall, Dragged Across Concrete is a tense movie. You’ll be hooked the moment the opening credits end and the scene opens on Gibson and Vaughn. Set aside whatever you may think of Gibson or Vaughn’s political views for two hours. It’s worth your time.

B+

A killer in Dragged Across Concrete

Why are there too many scenes of this character randomly killing people? It serves little to no purpose in the overall narrative of the movie.

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Never Grow Old A Western of Violence and Beauty https://www.amindonfire.com/never-grow-old-western-review/ Sun, 02 Jun 2019 22:36:18 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10308 Westerns are being as made as often today as they once were. When a Western as good as Never Grow Old comes along we should watch and thank our lucky stars it was released. A review of Never Grow Old.

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The Western genre has taken a hit the past several years. Hollywood studios aren’t backing, making, or supporting the Western like they use to even in the 90s or the early 2000s. Antoine Fuqua’s bland remake of The Magnificent Seven (2016) did nothing to jump start the genre. The attempted old school feel of In the Valley of Violence (2016) fizzled. The western in Hollywood, for the most part, is dead.

However, the Western isn’t totally dead. Directors, screenwriters, and studios from outside the United States  are keeping the Western genre alive and have made some of the best Western films of the 21st Century. Irish filmmaker Ivan Kavanagh (The Canal) has added his name to the list of foreign directors, who for one reason or another, have tapped into a period of American history still ripe for stories.

John Cusack as Dutch Albert in the Western Never Grow Old

Dutch Albert may indeed be the devil.

Never Grow Old is a dirty, nasty Western. It’s set in the town of Garlow in 1849. The streets are bogged down in mud and water, even the boards used to walk across the main road are sinking in the mud. The movie starts with Patrick Tate (Emile Hirsch, Into The Wild) walking into a church, rifle in hand, as John Cusacks’ Dutch Albert reads from the book of Revelations. It’s the present, the rest of the movie is a flashback told up to the point when we first me Tate.

Tate is Garlow’s carpenter and undertaker. His occupation relies on the population of the town. Garlow’s population has dropped and in turn so have the deaths. His dwindling business is due to Preacher Pike, played to religious fervor perfection by Danny Webb, and his church outlawing booze and prostitution. As a result, Tate’s business suffers. But Aubrey, Pat’s wife, tells him business will pick up. Indeed it picks up with disastrous results.

Revolvers on display in the Western Never Grow Old

Live by the gun, die by the gun

Albert Dutch and his two partners, an Italian who speaks no English and a man with his tongue cut out, come into Garlow with death on their minds. One of Dutch’s first acts as Garlow’s newest resident is to reopen saloon. Booze flows, prostitution flourishes, and dead bodies start piling up.

There’s more going on under the surface of Never Grow Old than a man wrapped up in making money off of a killer who’s keeping the town’s cemetery full. Indeed it is about a man making money burying murdered townsfolk, however, it’s not that easy. Tate isn’t embarrassed by making money of his dead neighbors. He’s more scared of what the neighbors will think when they find out how he’s making his fortune. Tate keeps the money, literal blood money, in a box next to his rosary buried in the ground in his barn. Both are to be kept hidden away from the town and his wife.

Rosary and gold buried in a hole in the western Never Grow Old

Rosary and gold buried deep. A source of embarrassment or an allusion to money paid to Judas?

The first sermon we hear from Preacher Pike is how Garlow can be an example for the rest of America to follow. A shining example of what the new country can be like without the sins of booze and prostitution. In the back, Tate stands bored with a look on his face that says he would rather be anywhere but church listening to Pike.

We later learn Tate converted, leaving his Catholic faith, so his family would fit better in the Garlow community. It’s one of the first things Dutch picks on when talking to Tate. Dutch hits a chord. Pike and his followers never lifted a finger to help Mrs. Crabtree after Dutch killed her husband. Furthermore, Dutch argues they don’t like the Irish. Later, Dutch’s words come out of Tate’s mouth when he argues with his wife.

Preacher Pike burns down the saloon in the western Never Grow Old

Piers McGrail, director of photography, has stripped Never Grow Old of color leaving only earth tones.

The dueling themes of religion and America course through the entire movie. Dutch is at odds with the church not just because they are against his saloon, but for what they stand for. It’s almost as if Dutch’s goal is to not only destroy the town, but the church too. It should be pointed out that no church member other than Preacher Pike lift a finger to stop the saloon from opening. In fact, based on the empty pews, many of the church members are lured to the saloon and its prostitutes.

Is Dutch the devil? His manner is cold, but matter of fact. He tells Mrs. Crabtree how he’s going to kill her husband with no more emotion in his voice than if he were describing the weather. It’s Cusack like we’ve never seen him before in a movie. It’s this same matter of fact tone and manner that lures Tate into being his personal gravedigger. If it were fear at the beginning of their relationship the gold stacking up in his box goes along way to alleviate his fears.

Patrick Tate shoots Dutch Albert in the western Never Grow Old.

Like Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, Dutch Albert equates violence as American.

Tate may have been happy taking Dutch’s money if Emily, Mrs. Crabtree’s daughter, wasn’t hanged for killing a drunk in the saloon. Tate accepted the job of being at her handing over the objections of his wife. Something changed within Tate after the hanging. He wasn’t as eager to accept his role as Dutch’s gravedigger and stopped justifying the advances on his wife by Dutch’s henchman Dumb-Dumb.

The end begins with Preacher Pike burning down the saloon with people inside. He’s cleansing the sins of the town. Tate, for his part, is no longer afraid of Dutch. He’s changed, like the town, and the changing America both find themselves in. The last words Dutch says to Tate is “You’re American By Blood.” Tate then shoots him in the head.

Patrick Tate and his family on their way to church in the Western Never Grow Old

A once happy family torn apart by greed and fear.

It’s 1849, the country is only seventy three years old. There’s plenty more violence to come.

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Prospect Mines Science Fiction Gold https://www.amindonfire.com/prospect-mines-science-fiction-gold/ Fri, 24 May 2019 02:42:13 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10280 Prospect may not have a multi million dollar budget but it has a multi million dollar attitude and attitude goes a long way.

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Prospect is a small movie with a lot of ambition. It starts off in the confines of a small spacecraft with Cee (Sophie Thatcher) and her father Damon (Jay Duplass, of the Duplass Brothers fame). They’ve docked at a space station before heading to a planet where they plan to start mining for a mineral called orlac.

Think of orlac as gold and Damon and Cee as prospectors. It sounds like an attempt at making a western. There’s even a claim jumper, Ezra, played by Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martell on Game of Thrones and soon to be The Mandalorian). Damon and Ezra mention more than once the Queen’s Lair and the Rush. The Queen’s Lair is the mother lode of orlac and we are to assume the Rush was a time much like the Gold Rush on earth.

Cee and Damon mining for Orlac in the indie science fiction movie Prospect

Some other reviews may emphasize a more western feel to the movie. There may be something to that argument. Like Mattie Ross in True Grit Cee’s father is killed by someone who is more than likely an outlaw. Though Mattie doesn’t seek revenge Ezra, like Rooster Cogburn, becomes some what of a surrogate father figure to her. Ezra even speaks like a character out of Deadwood, but the other trappings of a western are no where to be found and any argument that Prospect is a western is probably a stretch at best.

Instead, Prospect is a tight little movie about a girl whose father is killed and she’s forced to go things on her own. It was already established early in the movie Cee had to grow up quick. We’re not given too much details on the outside world beyond Cee and Damon’s spacecraft, but we can assume Cee likes the same things other girls her age would like- music, young adult novels.

Sophie Thatcher as Cee in the indie science fiction movie Prospect

Cee may like things other girls like, but things aren’t easy for the father and daughter. They’re struggling to make money and they owe others a lot of money. Their surroundings are also old, beaten, and battered. You could easily imagine if this universe had duct tape things inside the craft would be held together by rolls of it. As it happens, a component in the spacecraft explodes leaving the duo stranded on the planet.

If there’s a feel to the movie its more of a science fiction vibe from early science fiction movies and comic books. The suits Damon, Cee, Ezra wear resemble something from pulp science fiction magazines and movies from the 50s and 60s. The guns used by the characters for the most part are simple single shot guns and rifles not unlike the space guns found in early Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials.

Pedro Pascal as Ezra in the indie science fiction movie Ezra

What separates Prospect from other science fiction movies of the past few years is what directors Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl (a name so cool I’m thinking of naming my first born after him) managed to do as first time directors and with a small budget.

Prospect didn’t have a big budget. Compared to other science fiction movies that have come out in the past couple of years the 820 thousand design budget the two directors scraped together through a Kickstarter campaign and other means is microscopic. One special effects shot in Avengers: Infinity War cost more than Prospect‘s entire budget.

It’s amazing what Caldwell, Earl, and their team put together on what seemed like pure will and tenacity. What the team has managed to do is create an alien world in their own backyard. It’s a convincing world too. Things floating in the air make the world toxic to breathe which require all the characters to remain in suits while outside. At times the helmets make it difficult to understand what the actors are saying. Sometimes it’s okay, but when we can’t hear Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night) it’s frustrating.

You may find the story average and it may not break new ground, but you’ll find yourself easily immersed in this word. That’s something not a lot of high budget science fiction movies. Movies like Passengers, Life, and Gravity (as great of a movie as it is) are sleak and shiny. It’s easy to remember your watching a movie. Prospect is more, pardon the pun, down to earth. You can imagine yourself more in the world of Prospect than a multi-million dollar blockbuster. Prospect is more familiar to us and because it is more familiar you’ll be in this world along with Cee, Damon, and Ezra. It’s a movie any science fiction fan will enjoy.

A+

Cee sitting down in the indie science fiction movie Prospect

 

 

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Game Of Thrones Season Finale Finds No One On The Iron Throne Part I https://www.amindonfire.com/game-of-thrones-season-finale-finds-no-one-on-the-iron-throne-part-i/ Tue, 21 May 2019 01:02:41 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10264 Game of Thrones has come, gone, and will go down in television history as one of the best series to have a horrible ending. Read more to find out.

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A few hours have passed since the credits rolled on the last episode of Game of Thrones. The series had its ups and downs and its highs and lows. Fans laughed, fans cried, and fans rejoiced. One thing the series never lacked was a debate between fans. Social media was awash on a weekly basis with theories, debates, and arguments. The most divisive episode of the series is possibly the Game of Thrones season finale, “The Iron Throne.”

Of all the theories floating around the Internet the only one guaranteed to come to true is that not everyone was going to be happy with the finale. In this sense, the Game of Thrones season finale did not fail to deliver. On other things Game of Thrones it failed miserably, but at the same time Wiess and Benioff ended the series the only they knew how to end it.

A Rushed Series Ends in a Rushed Ending

If anything the Game of Thrones finale showed us the series needed another season to wrap things up. It also showed us the series was rushed. We could point to the now infamous coffee cup, which lead to Starbucks reaping the profits. A company couldn’t pay HBO for the advertising one little blunder provided Starbucks. We could point to the water bottle John Bradley (Sam Tarly) tried to hide behind his foot. We would have never seen these blunders in past seasons. These two blunders are just symptoms of the last season being rushed.

the Starbucks coffee in Winterfell on Game of Thrones

How much did companies pay for product placement in GoT? Don’t ask Starbucks, They didn’t pay a dime.

The series was running out of time in season five. It was around this time characters starting getting from place to place in the blink of an eye. It was also around this time characters’s story lines were being abbreviated ( Littlefinger’s death) and altered. However, we all held to the promise of a  final showdown between the dead and the living and between Jon Snow and the Night King. This face off never materialized. Instead it would be Arya who killed the Night King which pretty much ended Jon Snow’s story

A water bottle takes center stage on Game of Thrones

Which bottled water company is going to get the credit?

Jon Snow of the Freefolk

Technically, Jon’s story didn’t end until the last scene of the finale. But somehow he seemed to be forced into the background. Even as events unfolded all he could do was stand around and have others tell him what to do. It could be argued after Jon watched Daenerys burn Varys alive and after watching her kill innocent women and children convincing him to turn against Daenerys would be easy. It didn’t take Tyrion but a long speech to convince Jon. Yet it still felt forced and rushed.

Jon greets Ghost in Game of Thrones finale

The reunion we all wanted to see.

If there’s a bright side to Jon’s ending it’s where he ends up at end of the series. He may have been banished to a now useless Night’s Watch, but that’s not where Jon settles. If you recall when the armies were preparing to march on King’s Landing Tormund tried to convince Jon to stay in the North. It’s where he belonged Tormund told him. The smile on his face as the episode ends is all the confirmation we need that Jon is not going back. He was bastard, then a Stark, then a Targaryen. At the end of the finale Jon became Freefolk. It’s not important where he finally stops, just that he’s finally free of everything the last eight seasons dumped on him.

The Mad Queen Or Just Bad Character Writing

There’s been enough debate on Daenerys becoming the Mad Queen, going crazy, and burning King’s Landing. It’s not enough to point to two or three examples, many of which were committed against tyrants and slavers, to explain Daenerys sudden change. It’s also not enough for Tyrion to say one or two “wise words” to explain away seven and half seasons of Daenerys freeing slaves, destroying tyrants, and breaking the wheel. If there had been enough time the showrunners and writers could have fleshed out her descent into madness over the course of several episodes.

Drogon sniffs Daenerys in Game of Thrones finale

This is the part where fans assign human characteristics to a dragon

Let’s just say, for the sake or argument, the series did a great job of convincing us all Daenerys was indeed crazy. What made her crazy? Fans of the Mad Queen theory will point to her parentage. Others will point to the fact she couldn’t trust anyone. Others will say it was because she wasn’t the only heir to the throne. There lies the problem with the final scene between Daenerys and Jon.

If Daenerys was crazy and if she feared Jon could at any moment stake a claim to the throne why was she in a room by herself with him? Mad people,crazy people, have a tendency to be paranoid. A paranoid Queen would have guards with her at all times, even a touching moment as gazing on the Iron Throne. Yet, Daenerys has no guards. Even worse, when she plants a long passionate kiss on Jon he returns the kiss with as much passion. Jon hasn’t been too touchy feely with Daenerys since he learned they were related. But this doesn’t bother Daenerys in the least.

A meme about Daenerys in Game of Thrones finale

Yup

A Happy Ending For The Starks

The Game of Thrones season finale ultimately fell flat. Weiss and Beinoff said the finale wasn’t going to be a happy ending, but that’s exactly what was delivered. Tyrion became the Right Hand to the King (Again). Arya, who must have received some sailing training during her many years of learning to be an assassin (We’re still not sure where these many years of training came from), sailed off into the sunset. Sansa became ruler of the North and Bran, who did the least amount of any character on the series, became king.

Sansa becomes Queen of the North in the Game of Thrones finale

Does Jessica Chastain have a problem with Sansa’s ending?

If the series was called The Starks Game of Thrones it would have been a fitting ending. All of the remaining Starks ended up where they were meant to be. But it wasn’t a series only about the Starks. It was a series about everyone playing the game, a game which lost all meaning towards the end of the series.

We’re not done dissecting and looking at the Game of Thrones finale. There’s a lot more to mine in the episode. It’s not all bad, but it sure isn’t all good.

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Characters And Theories On Game of Thrones Comes To An End https://www.amindonfire.com/characters-theory-game-of-thrones/ Mon, 20 May 2019 00:40:07 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10252 All good things must come to an end and Game of Thrones is no exception. So here's one last theory to be squashed and a character who should have a better edning than he will get.

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Sunday’s Game of Thrones episode will be its last. Yes, fans, the series is coming to an end. It seems like only yesterday the vast majority of us were introduced the Starks and the Lannisters. It wasn’t long after their introduction the vast majority of us got real tired of people saying “In the book.” We got it, we understood. Those who had read the books were smarter than us non-readers and more in tune with the what was “really going on” in the series. Then something amazing happened. The series ran out of books and we were all on the same level of the playing field.

Fans of the books and series are without doubt some of the most rabid television fans one is likely to meet in person or on social media. As we’ve seen, speak against a beloved character and you’re speaking against the actor and the person who likes said character. But here we are with one episode left and there is still a lot of smack to talk.

Jon Snow leaves in a boat in Game of Thrones

Jon Snow looks back on seven season of a wasted story.

Season eight saw Jon Snow’s story arc come, mostly, to an end. Jon’s main goal in the series was to convince everyone the dead were coming and a giant wall wasn’t going to stop them. The Night King all but called Jon Snow on to the proverbial carpet at the end of “Hardhome,” Everyone expected an epic face off between the Night King and Jon Snow. Everyone was disappointed. Sorry, Arya fans, there was nothing to set the stage for her to kill the Night King.

The tragic consequences of Arya killing the Night King and, in a round about way, the Night King being killed to quick is Weiss and Benioff have relegated Jon to almost second tier status. Which is a shame. Jon has been a driving force in the series since the very first episode. Now we see him running and jumping from place to place and rock to rock without any real motivation. Perhaps Jon Snow, the character, can be redeemed and placed on a more coherent path. It’s a tall order with ninety minutes of the series left, but anything can happen. Right?

It would seem there is no real plan to end Jon Snow’s story. Unless we’re to believe a fan theory that has been spread around since the beginning of the season. The theory goes Jon Snow will kill Daenerys and take the Iron Thrones. Only problem with that is Jon has said time and time again he doesn’t want the throne. The other problem with this theory is the big, ticked off dragon who is never far away from Daenerys. This is the same dragon responsible for destroying pretty much all of King’s Landing. Any ending would almost be anticlimactic to a story arch that has been building for the past seven seasons.

Jon looks Cersei in Game of Thrones

Did Jon really think he could talk Cersei into a treaty to fight the Night King?

There aren’t a lot of main characters left in the series. Weiss and Benioff have taken care of Jamie and Cersei Lannister in the most uncharacteristic way possible. Jamie’s story was leading towards redemption. Cersei, on the other hand, deserved her fate. As much as fans hated her ending it was fitting the character. At her core, Cersei Lannister was a coward. She never dealt with things face to face. She always had someone else to do her dirty work for her. This may be the way things work in royalty circles, but not in the Game of Thrones.

The showrunners have also dispatched Gendry to Storm’s End. His story should be over unless Arya somehow teleports herself across the Westeros. Or Gendry shows up at the last minute to claim the throne as one theory has him doing in the series finale. Except he’s not the last royal who could take the throne. Robert Baratheon usurped the throne from Aerys Targaryen. A Targaryen would have more claim to the throne than one of Robert Baratheon’s many children.

Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

For all her bravado, Cersei was a coward at heart.

Here’s one theory not a lot of fans have embraced. This theory is as follows: Daenerys sits on the throne at the end of the series. No one can stop her or her pissed off dragon. She still has the Unsullied, lead by even more pissed off Greyworm, who seem to multiply after every battle. She also has the invincible Dothraki, who also seem to multiply after every battle.

Scenes for the series finale show a lot of surprised and, maybe, ticked off people. Who among them could stop her? Tyrion will be lucky to make it through the first half of the episode. Varys is gone. However, his birds may have spread the word far and wide about Jon’s true parentage. Another quick teleportation trick would have the armies of the North at King’s Landing in no time. Would the letters work on Dorne or the Iron Islands? Neither have an allegiance to the North but all have pledged to back Daenerys.

Only a few short hours and we will know the ending. The only theory that has any merit and will undoubtly come true is that not everyone is going to be happy how one of the best television series in the history of television ends.

Ned's last moments in Game of Thrones

None of this would have happened if Ned stayed in Winterfell

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Characters, Stories, and Failure in Game of Thrones Part II https://www.amindonfire.com/characters-stories-failure-game-of-thrones/ Fri, 17 May 2019 03:12:20 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10185 A quick look at a couple characters and we discredit one new fan theory.

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Characters. Stories. Some we don’t get invested in. Others we get so invested in so deep any word against them is considered sacrilege. A comment against a character is an insult against the actor. Call Arya Stark a Mary Sue (She’s not, it’s just really bad writing on the part of David Benioff and D. B. Weiss) and you’re going to be greeted with all sorts of call outs. If you explain death has no meaning in Marvel movies fans of the Marvel Comic’s cinematic universe are likely to give you the social media equivalent of a punch in the nose.

Regardless of the plot holes and inconsistencies running through Game of Thrones, and there are  a lot in the series (For example: how does Arya who is “trained” as an assassin become a soldier with skills to match? How did Euron manage to build a thousand ships in such a short amount of time?), the series has had some of the most dynamic characters in recent television history.

SANSA

Sansa in King's Landing in Game of Thrones

When Sansa Stark was first introduced she was the very definition of the spoiled brat. She wanted to be in King’s Landing more than she wanted to be in Winterfell. The glitz and riches of King’s Landing were more alluring than the cold of the North. She sided with Joffrey after a Nymeria bit him. She went to King’s Landing willingly only to find things in the capital weren’t all golden and after the death of Ned Stark things got even worse for poor Sansa. She suffered Joffrey’s torments, cruel intentions from Littlefinger, and was raped by Ramsay Bolton.

Now Sansa is the Lady of Winterfell. She’s not taking shit from anyone. She plotted with Arya, off screen we were told later, to eliminate Littlefinger. She helped unite the North to fight the Night King and his army of the dead. She also betrayed her brother’s confidence and told Tyrion his secret. Whether she knew it or not letting Tyrion in on the family secret made have lead King’s Landing being burnt to a crisp.

Lady Sansa of Winterfell in Game of Thrones

It seemed when Jon and the armies of the North left Winterfell Sansa wouldn’t be in the series anymore. However, her  position in the series may change after Sunday’s hit-or-miss episode, “The Bells.” Fans are doing a quick readjustment on all their other Game of Thrones theories. Now GoT theorists are predicting Sansa and Tyrion will rule the Seven Kingdoms together. Given Sansa’s past with King’s Landing and her new position in Winterfell this is one prediction that will probably not come to pass. There’s also not enough time to get Sansa to Winterfell, convince Tyrion and Sansa to rule together, hear Jon say he doesn’t want the throne (again), and kill Daenerys.

Recently, the actress Jessica Chastain made some social media waves with her comment’s regarding the Hound and Sansa. She took exception with Sansa telling the Hound her past experiences made her who she had become. Chastain claimed she was never a little bird and she didn’t need the experiences to become a phoenix.

A Tweet from Jessica Chastain about Game of Thrones

Except, Jessica doesn’t understand some basic fundamentals of storytelling. Characters are a lot like Newton’s First Law of Motion except replace object with character. A character is going to remain the same unless something acts upon the character to make a change. There was nothing in the story that would have changed the Sansa character from a weak timid girl more interested in shiny things into the commanding Lady of Winterfell. Chastain and many of her Twitter followers would have Sansa change overnight with no reasoning behind the change. Unfortunately that’s not how a good story works.

THEON GREYJOY

Notice how Chastain makes no mention of Theon Greyjoy’s treatment at the hands of Ramsay Bolton. Theon went from being Ned Starks’s ward and a supporter of Robb Stark’s secession to a pretty wicked ruler of Winterfell who killed children. Theon had a change of heart after his treatment at the hand’s of Ramsay Bolton. In the end, he gave his life protecting Bran from the Night King.

Theon Greyjoy as Reek in Game of Thrones

Did Theon have to be enslaved, tortured, humiliated, and then castrated in order to be called “a good man?” The easy answer is “no.” However, if we answer no then Theon has to come to the conclusion on his own that his past deeds were wrong and that he betrayed the Starks, a family who called him family in all but name. How was he to come to this conclusion on his own in a way that would feel authentic and not cheat the audience? Simply stated he could not come to this conclusion on his own. If we use Chastain’s logic having his manhood snipped was not the answer, but Chastain is not interested in violent actions against men.

THEORIES

Fans are full of theories. Since the series ran longer than George R.R. Martin’s novels the fans have been obsessing over theories and what theories will or will not come true. When their predictions come true (Daenerys burning King’s Landing) they’re all in an uproar. Now a new theory is making some minor waves. The new theory says Bran will do his Three-Eyed Raven trick to travel back in time and right the wrongs. This may make some fans happy if he changes some bad character development, but overall it’s one of the worst ideas to come along in quite some time.

Theon Greyjoy sailing to the Iron Islands on Game of Thrones

Time travel is one of the worst tropes and crimes a writer could make. Time travel is the solution to bad writing. When the writers on Heroes wrote the series into a corner they turned to Hiro to go back in time to change history.Ten years of Marvel movies, the big snap event that brought fans to tears, all discarded because of time travel. Contrary to the views of a lot of fans the time travel and now the introduction of a multi-verse serves one main goal for the MCU and Disney. The time travel trope and multi-verse allows Disney to keep the cash cow of Marvel movies churning for years to come.

Unless the movie or series starts with the premise of time travel at its core (Think Back to the Future, Primer, Time Lapse, Timecrimes) it can only lead to bad things. Time travel is a tricky element to add to any story. It often makes a story more confusing than it needs to be. Time travel eliminates any good will a story may have built up with its audience. Death means nothing when you can go back in time to undo the death so the character can have sequel after sequel (See: Spider-Man: Far From Home, Guardians of the Galaxy 3, Black Panther 2).

Tyrion-Game-of-Thrones

If some fan theories are correct Game of Thrones isn’t immune to the time travel trope either. This Mashable article about how Bran will travel back in time, save everyone, and in the process become the Night King is just one of many articles floating around the internet and posted tweets on Twitter. As theories go a Bran who travels back in time to become the Night King to save everyone is too ludicrous to imagine. However, we have to remember the only reason Weiss and Benioff had Arya kill the Night King and not Jon was because no one expected it.

Guardians of the Galaxy has nothing to do with the Game of Thrones

What’s dead cannot die…especially in Marvel movies,

If Weiss and Benioff do go down this road it will ruin what was once one of the best series ever to air or stream on a television. Which fan theory is correct and which ones are wrong will have to wait until Sunday. The final episode is not going to make everyone happy. If we get an ending fit for the series though it will make a lot more fans happy than angry. At the very least, don’t put Bran on the thrones.

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The Bells Are Rocked in Episode Five Of Game of Thrones https://www.amindonfire.com/the-bells-are-rocked-in-episode-five-of-game-of-thrones/ Tue, 14 May 2019 01:27:09 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10202 Fans are reacting to Game of Thrones giving them everything wanted in The Bells. We react to the fans not being happy with what they got in The Bells.

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The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones has come and gone. Some fans were happy. A lot more were upset. Mainly they were upset because everything they wanted to happen happened in “The Bells.” But what did we learn from “The Bells?”

ARYA

First, we learned Arya is immune to buildings falling on her and dragon fire. Maybe she’s a Targaryen (sarcasm intended). It may be sarcasm, but Arya managed to dodge a lot of falling rocks and one giant blast of dragon fire. We also learned Arya won’t complete her kill/revenge list anytime soon.

Arya stands in the rubble of King's Landing during The Bells episode 5 of Game of Thrones

Fan theories abounded about Melisandre’s eye prophecy meant Arya would kill Cersei next because she had green eyes. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have proved time and time again they can cast prophecies aside. Fans are now turning to the fact that Daenerys has green eyes. Of course, this means Arya is going to kill her in the last episode.

However, we should not forget The Hound’s last words to Arya:

“You think you wanted revenge for a long time? I’ve been after it all my life. It’s all I cared about. And look at me. Look at Me? You want to be like me? You come with me, you die here.”

The Hound warns Arya against revenge in The Bells Episode 5 of Game of Thrones

Arya’s last words to Sandor, a name she rarely called him, was “Thank you.” She wasn’t thanking him for talking her out of running up collapsing stairs to certain death. The thank you was after a stare in his eyes and moment of thought. His words were clear- If you keep at your list, if you keep seeking revenge you will end up being miserable and alone the rest of your life. Arya will not being killing Daenerys out of revenge in the last episode. Arya may kill Daenerys for other reasons (defending Jon), but not out of revenge.

VARYS

We also learned some fans are giving Varys a lot more credit than he deserves for trying to warn people about Daenerys. The entire time he was with Daenerys he was all behind her, the Mother of Dragons. It wasn’t until Tyrion told him Jon Snow was the rightful heir to the Iron Throne his tune changed. Unless, there was something happening off screen (Which is possible. This is the same series that killed Littlefinger based on off screen plans between Sansa and Arya) there was nothing saying Daenerys was going to go dragon mad.Varys before execution in The Bells episode 5 Game of Thrones

Varys has always been the Master of Whispers. It would only be natural for him to cultivate his little spy birds to gather information, but from the time Tyrion told him about Jon’s true nature to his last moments he didn’t have time to gather enough information to make a solid judgement. So, when he makes an attempt to warn Jon Daenerys is stark raving mad he had nothing to support his cause. What else was Jon to do but turn down his offer to claim the throne?

Jon Snow

A lot of fans were disappointed in Jon. After all, what did he do but run around King’s Landing not doing a lot of anything. It’s hard to argue Jon was doing much more than that or anything else. What else was there to do? Jon, by his own inaction, was put in a position he couldn’t do anything more. He tried to stop troops hell bent on murder and rape. He tried to get as many people to safety as could. Beyond helping the helpless and defending himself there wasn’t much he could do.

Jon Snow before invading King's Landing in The Bells Game of Thrones

What Jon can be criticized for is doing nothing when he could have done something. The look he gives Daenery’s after Drogon burns Varys alive tells us everything he’s thinking. Varys’s speech Jon cut short is is finished in the execution of Varys. He knows at that moment Daenerys is not the woman she has been portraying herself. At that moment Jon could have stopped her, but he didn’t. He even went on to attack King’s Landing with her. Jon was a bit player in “The Bells” because he made himself a bit player.

Daenerys The Mad Queen

The fan’s theory of Daenerys going mad and burning the city came true, but there were no clues or hints given that should would go crazy. Most of these theories were based on her father going mad and the books. For seven and half seasons Daenerys rejected everything her father stood for. She was the Breaker of Chains. She promised things would be different with her as queen. She even claimed she didn’t want to be queen of ashes.

Daenerys in mourning in The Bells episode five of Game of Thrones

“In the books” fans will say there was evidence, but in the books a lot of things happen. These aren’t the books and I shouldn’t have to read the books to pick up the clues that should have been in the series. Daenerys did burn Randyll and Dickon Tarly to death with other soldiers who would not accept her as queen. But what was she to do with them? Let them go? Put them in prison? Even Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt executed French soldiers who had surrendered to his army. Is killing a few soldiers enough proof to demonstrate she was going to go crazy? I think not.

There was a moment, however brief, it seemed Daenerys wasn’t going to burn the city to the ground. In that moment, Beinoff and Weiss could have done a hundred other things. A hundred better things than having Daenerys burn King’s Landing to the ground. Here’s the problem Beinoff and Weiss have created- How do you wrap up another story thread in 79 minutes at the same time wrapping up the entire Game of Thrones series?

Combat Not Needed

Daenerys ready to burn King's Landing in The Bells episode five Game of Thrones

“The Bells” also taught us combat and armies are unnecessary when you have one dragon. It doesn’t matter how the thousands Dothraki soldiers killed at the start of The Battle of Winterfell materialized out of thin air or how the Unsullied multiplied. It really doesn’t matter when you have one agile dragon and a Lannister/Greyjoy army that shoots anti-dragon cannons worse than Star Wars Stormtroopers.

One dragon was all Daenerys needed to defeat Cersei Lannister. The seasons of building up an army and forging alliances were a waste of time. We could argue the plan was for Drogon to be used in another capacity. Maybe he was going to be used to soften the Lannister army or just blow down the wall allowing Jon and Daenerys’s army to invade the city. We could make that argument, but there is nothing to support the argument.

Things To Come

For everything “The Bells” got wrong it got a lot more right. Fans are going to be fans. They got a mad queen they wanted until they got her. The graphics and effects were almost worth the series perhaps jumping the shark. Fans got the battle between the Clegane brothers they’d been clamoring for all series. The best thing about “The Bells” is you could see everything happening on screen.

We can assume Varys sent some of his letters to the North, Dorne, and maybe some other places who would be inclined to back Jon. Once the word is out it can’t be taken back. Daenerys will face that challenge in the final episode. She’s the only “villain” left in the series. But how do dethrone a queen to establishing a new king in 79 minute episode. It’s going to be difficult to wrap all the threads up. The only thing for sure is there are going to be a lot of unhappy fans come next Sunday.

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Humans and Humanity in Game of Thrones Part One https://www.amindonfire.com/humans-and-humanity-in-game-of-thrones-part-one/ Thu, 09 May 2019 02:18:37 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10138 Characters are either boring or their not.The characters in Game of Thrones are far from boring because they're multidimensional.

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FAN IS SHORT FOR FANATIC

We live  in a pop culture world where stars are made simply by appearing on reality shows or going viral in a YouTube video. It’s a world where fans no longer distinguish between the actor and the character played on television or in a movie. It is highly doubtful Mr. and Mrs. Downey named their son Tony Stark or Mr. and Mrs. Williams named their daughter Arya Stark. Now that most of fandom no longer separates the actor from the role a critique on the character is viewed as an insult against the person.

If we take fandom’s logic to its inevitable conclusion anyone who has ever played Adolf Hitler should be tried for war crimes and anyone who has played Jesus Christ should be canonized a saint. These may be extreme examples and we are in no way suggesting Jim Caviezel should join the ranks of sainthood. However, the examples illustrate the absurdity some fans will go to protect what they feel they have a claim to and to proclaim what they own as a heroic.

CHARACTERS ARE HUMAN TOO(?)

We have become accustom to a certain type of heroic characters who show neither fear nor doubt. Although challenges may be posed to these characters there is never any doubt their goals will be reached. Arya Stark has been set up from the moment we saw her landing bullseyes as the heroic character of Game of Thrones. There are some who will mention her time with the Faceless Men and her journey with the Hound as anything but easy. Though this may be true it was never in doubt she would regain her sight and survive the Hound. Now Arya has been set up as the character who will kill everything in her way.

Young Arya in Davos in Game of Thrones

We enjoy characters like Arya and many fans have embraced her as a fully realized human. “The Long Night” showed most of the characters in the series are indeed imbued with human qualities. They’re filled with doubts and fears. Like humans, very few of the characters have remained static over the past eight seasons. It’s an aspect of the series most people, even the fandom, don’t or won’t discuss.

THE HOUND

For most of the series The Hound has been portrayed as a character who is seriously lacking in morals. He would kill a man over chicken than let him speak another word.  His allegiance at the beginning of the series was to the Lannisters. It may have been an allegiance based on treaties and other political ballyhoo, but his involvement in Ned Stark’s death landed him on Arya’s kill list.

The Hound may have been completely written out the series after his battle with Brienne, but his interactions with Arya made a fan favorite. Even before he kidnapped Arya the harsh exterior he had spent a lifetime building up was being chiseled. More than once he protected Sansa from Joffrey’s vile whims. Perhaps what was left of the old Hound was gone after Brother Ray’s death and when he joined the Brotherhood without Banners.

The Hound faces Beric in Game of Thrones

By the time “The Long Night” aired no one wanted to see the Hound die. Fans who were use to see his hard exterior were treated to a side of the Hound they had never seen. As the hordes of the undead breached Winterfell’s walls the Hound was hiding; The Hound showed fear. It didn’t last and he would go on to save Arya, but for a brief moment the Hound was human.

MELISANDRE

Over the course of the series Melisandre has bounced from one allegiance to another. Mostly at the whim of the Lord of Light. First, she was convinced Stannis Baratheon was the one to get everything done. After he died she turned to Jon Snow. When Jon Snow died she…brought him back to life. Melisandre, to say the least, was a creepy witch women who many fans didn’t like.

In “The Long Night” Melisandre was still creepy with her prophecies and speech to Arya. She even foreshadows her won death to Davos Seaworth. But underneath all that creepiness and cryptic talk was someone who was very much human. When arrows couldn’t light the trench surrounding Winterfell Melisandre stepped up to work her magic fire. When it looked like the trench was going to catch fire it didn’t.

Melisandre feels fear and doubt in Game of Thrones

It wasn’t the ice encased pikes, shown to us in an extreme close up so we could see how much ice, preventing her from lighting the trench surrounding Winterfell. On a normal night she could have lighted the whole ditch without breaking a sweat. The Battle of Winterfell was not a normal night. Fear had crept into the woman who had killed a child and resurrected the dead. She looks to her left, to her right, and sees only the dead all around her. The woman who had killed a child and resurrected the dead was afraid.

SAM TARLY

Even timid and often afraid Sam Tarly stepped up during the Battle of Winterfell. As an audience, we expect heroes like Jamie or Brienne to jump into the fray. A character like Sam Tar on the other hand is expected to stay in the library or in the crypt uttering nonsense like Bran is the memory of man. We don’t expect a character like Sam to be a hero.

Sam in the library in Game of Thrones

During The Battle of Winterfell Sam became a hero. His initial fear may have cost Eddison Tollett his life, but afterwards he was fighting with the rest of the “heroes.” Last Sunday’s “The Last of the Starks” may be the last we see of Sam, but for one brief shining moment he was indeed a member of the Night’s Watch. For the record, we know Sam killed a White Walker but it wasn’t by design. It was basically an accident and he was mortal terror the whole time.

CHARACTERS ARE HUMAN

There’s a disclaimer at the very end of credits stating the viewed work was a work of fiction and any similarity to actual persons living or dead is coincidental. The characters in Game of Thrones are fictitious. You shouldn’t get them confused with actual flesh and blood people living or dead, but a lot of these characters feel human so maybe it’s okay for some people to feel offended when their favorite character is criticized or called out for making a foolish move against another character.

Jamie and Brienne fight in Winterfell in Game of Thrones

An actual clear shot you can see from The Long Night

 

 

 

Come back for Part II (coming soon) as we discuss more characters in Game of Thrones

 

 

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Game Of Thrones Season Eight Episode Four The Last Of The Starks https://www.amindonfire.com/game-of-thrones-last-of-the-starks/ Tue, 07 May 2019 02:21:19 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10157 The Last of the Starks may have set up things to come but it took a long time to get there. Too much time.

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Wasted Time

Jorah, dead. Theon, dead (posthumously awarded the title of Right hand to the Lady Winterfell). Lyanna, dead. Eddison Tollett, dead. A lot of Unsullied, Dothraki, and North Men, all dead. Each one was sent off to the next life on a pyre lighted by a character associated with them. It was a touching moment in “The Last of the Starks” that tried to cram a lot of touching moments into a short period of time before setting the stage for the final battle to come.

Funeral pyres in the Last of the Starks

As I sit here, I’m trying to decide if I liked episode four, “The Last of the Stark” or not. Game of Thrones is notorious for following up a high adrenaline episode like “The Long Night” with a slower paced episode. “The Last of the Starks” was only half of an exception to this rule. Granted the episode clocked in at a respectable 78 minutes, but a lot of the extra time was wasted in order to dedicate time to the aftermath of the Battle of Winterfell.

The Funeral Reception

A funeral isn’t quite complete without the reception. What reception isn’t complete without a little drama? Daenerys recognized Gendry as a Baratheon and then named him lord of Storms’ End. Arya turned down Gendry’s marriage proposal. Jamie and Brienne finally bumped uglies only for Jamie to pull a Jamie and head back to Cersei. Finally, everyone knows Jon is a Taragaryn. Okay, not everyone but the secret will be out before the end of the series.

Varys plots treason in the Last of the Starks

There’s an old saying that goes something like this- The only way to keep a secret between three people is if two of them are dead. Now eight people know Jon Snow isn’t a Stark but a Targaryen. The fact already has Varys plotting treason against Daenerys. It’s a position Tyrion may be drawn into before the final credits roll and a position Daenerys is sure to learn about before it’s all over.

She’s Not Mad, She’s Pissed Off

Let’s say for a moment Varys is killed off before the end of the series. It would only work if it were learned shortly after Sunday’s episode. Fans are saying Daenerys is becoming mad like her father. Fans are using the term “mad” as in crazy or deranged. Daenerys is anything but crazy. She’s mad, but mad as in pissed off. Pissed off people tend not to make the best decisions.

Daenerys furious at Cersei in The Last of the Starks

A new story line of Daenerys learning of Varys treachery may have been something to explore a couple of seasons ago, but with two episodes remaining is there enough time to start new story threads? The series has shown it has no problem cutting out characters with little to no explanation or explaining it away by claiming everything happened off screen (See the very cheap death of Petyr Baelish).

Jamie Lannister Backpedals

Showrunners had plotted out a redemption of Jamie Lannister type story line for the past several seasons. “The Last of the Starks” saw this story line come to an end as Jamie left Winterfell to be with Cersei. How did Jamie learn Daenerys was outside the Red Keep ready to burn it and everything inside to a crisp? Weird things happen when you waste time. Time has no meaning when trying to keep the story moving forward.

Jamie returns to Cersei in The Last of the Starks

The Hound and Arya

By the time the next episode airs Jamie, Jon and company, The Hound, and Arya will all be at King’s Landing. There won’t be a Hound and Arya Road Show like there was in season three. There’s not enough time. The series is going to have to teleport them to King’s Landing in record time. Which also means other things have to happen to get the two characters where they need to be in the final two episodes.

Arya has already been set up to kill everything in her path or at least kill everyone on her list. Ilyn Payne, The Mountain, The Hound, and Cersei are still on Arya’s list. It’s going to take some maneuvering and cheap ploys to line up the four of them for Arya to kill. I don’t doubt showrunners would stoop to cheap tactics to make this happen. However, it would be bad story telling and not the natural course of things. For things to come to a natural conclusion The Hound must face The Mountain. Arya fans will have to settle for whatever kills Arya can manage.

The Hound and Arya ride to King's Landing in The Last of the Starks

The Beginning of the End

“The Last of the Starks” may not have been the worst episode in eight seasons, but given the length of the episode it ranks up there with the worst of them. The episode didn’t even manage to set the stage for the final battle. It’s a battle that has to happen if there is going to be any sort of resolution to the series.

It would have been nice to have seen more time dedicated to setting up things for the last two episodes. For the most part what happened could have been said and done in less than a half an hour. The good byes were touching and full of false sentimentality. We could have done with one or two fewer good byes. Did we need to see Daenerys even more mad at Cersei? And did anyone think Tyrion was going to talk Cersei into doing anything?

Two more episodes, even with an extended run time, isn’t going to be enough to wrap things up. It’s a given no matter the outcome not all the fans will be happy. The possibility of a Jon and Daenerys ruling together is still on the table.

Missandei moments before her death in The Last of the Starks

All men…and women…die

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Game of Thrones Heads Into The Long Night https://www.amindonfire.com/game-of-thrones-heads-into-the-long-night/ Mon, 29 Apr 2019 23:47:14 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10118 Games of Thrones episode three, The Long Night, saw the end of one story line, the deaths of some minor characters, and sets up the series for its final three episodes.

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THE LONG NIGHT

(STOP.SPOILERS AHEAD) Last week’s “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” set up this week’s Game of Thrones episode, “The Long Night,” of epic proportions. Showrunners confirmed Sunday’s Battle of Winterfell was the longest, most elaborate battle ever filmed for television. Director Miguel Sapochnick claimed he studied the Battle of Helm’s Deep (Lord of the Rings trilogy) in depth to create the battle. All those claims may have been true, but it would have been nice to have actually seen the battle.

The difference between The Lord of The Ring‘s Battle of Helm’s Deep and Game of Throne‘s Battle of Winterfell- We could actually see what was going on during the Battle of Helm’s Deep. The battle may have been at night, but that’s no excuse for not letting us actually see the battle. Modern technology has done marvels in regards to filming at night. Cameras don’t actually need real light sources today as they may have needed in the past. A wonderful thing called a computers and digital cameras have revolutionized the way we makes movies at night. If Sapochnick had done an in depth study we would have been able to see most of the battle.

Orcs in battle charge Helm's Deep in The Lord of the Rings

The Battle of Helm’s Deep filmed at night can been seen by the audience

THE BATTLE OF WINTERFELL

Fast moving cameras through a charging army isn’t too much of a battle. Things didn’t improve once the battle moved into Winterfell. There was a lot going on in almost every scene. Unfortunately, a lot of it we couldn’t see. Did Jamie die? Did Brienne? Did Tormund die? They were cornered on the walls of Winterfell surrounded by wights. We can only assume they survived because there wasn’t an isolated scene of their deaths like there were for the other characters who died. The point is we couldn’t see it if it did happen. We hardly saw Eddison Tollet die after saving Sam.

As it was the only time we could see anything if there were fires in the scene. The moments we were fortunate to see incredible. If it weren’t for Beric’s fire sword we wouldn’t have been able to see The Hound carrying Arya to relative safety behind a locked door. We also wouldn’t have been able to see Lyanna Mormont gouge a dead giant’s eye out of its skull. Nor would we have been able to see Jorah Mormont give his life defending Daenerys.

Lyanna dies in the Battle of Winterfell

If there is a medal of honor in the Game of Thrones world Lyanna Mormont deserves two of them.

THE END OF THE NIGHT KING

Thankfully Sapochnick saw fit to shoot the death of the Night King with moonlight flooding the area of surrounding Bran’s tree. Even this scene is problematic. Arya somehow knows the exact time when the Night King will be in the clearing. She also manages to make it there without being slowed down by wights or blocked hallways.

Winterfell was pretty much rubble by the time Arya left Melisandre and the Hound. Wights had overrun the castle and had even breached the crypt. Arya getting to the Night King in time to kill him was a cheat. It didn’t feel like a cheat at the time because it was an awesome sight to see the Night King and his minions crumble. However, it is a stretch of the imagination to have Arya cross the castle with enough time to save Bran and Winterfell.

The Night King is dead and his army of the undead is gone. What does this mean for the coming battle with Cersei? Jon and Daenerys armies are shattered. Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss weren’t lying when they said 96% of the characters wouldn’t survive the battle. They weren’t specific about the characters. 96% of the characters, give or take,were pulled from the armies- the Dothraki, the Unsullied, and the other armies who answered Jon’s call.

Theon Greyjoy defends Bran during the Battle of Winterfell

A good man

THE BATTLE AHEAD

For all of its cool, what the hell moments in the series, showrunners have kept things pretty much safe and somewhat predictable. Scenes for episode four show random survivors rebuilding Winterfell and Daenerys giving a speech about winning the last battle, but now it’s time to win the final battle. Odds are their army will be just fine heading into battle against Cersei.

Yara Greyjoy and some of her ships are still on their way to the North. Troops from others in the North who did not commit their forces will rally with Jon. It’s even possible some Dothraki and Unsullied make a quick journey to join up with the main army. Considering Varys did it in a few television minutes it’s not out of the realm of possibility for reinforcements to do the same.

Arya ready to go kill the Night King in the Battle of Winterfell

Not today.

Here’s what we are likely to see in the last three episodes. One episode is going to be about Cersei and events unfolding in King’s Landing. The last two episodes will be the battle and then the final crowning of whomever will sit on the throne. Who will be sitting on the throne after the Battle of Winterfell is anyone’s guess. We know it won’t be Sansa because she is comfortable in the North and it won’t Arya because she’ll want to keep killing things. It could very well end up being Daenerys after Jon convinces her he doesn’t want the throne. As mentioned, the show can be quite predictable. It would be quite a shock if any of the main characters other the Cersei, Jamie, and The Hound or The Mountain die in the final battle.

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The Walking Dead Has Made The Full Transition To The Walking Bored https://www.amindonfire.com/the-walking-dead-season-nine-review/ Sat, 27 Apr 2019 16:48:10 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10090 All good things come to an end. This is our last season wrap up, because The Walking Dead has become a chore to watch.

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THE STORY SO FAR:

When we last cared to watch The Walking Dead, Sensei Jesus with Kung Fu grip shuffled off this mortal coil with help of some creeps wearing the dead’s skin . Never Going to Die Negan broke out of jail and was reunited with a Lucille wannabe pipe and whistling his tune.

Flash forward to the second half of season nine, Jesus is still dead (Although there’s a confusing flashback involving a fair and a light bulb and mention of Jesus who Anna and the King of Siam just saw), Negan returns to Alexandria State Prison, and the gang captures a Skinwalker. Maggie is briefly mentioned in a flashback or a flash forward or a scene shoehorned into an already confusing layout (We’re going with the latter) there’s was still no mention of Maggie’s disappearance. I guess the showrunners couldn’t naturally write her off the series without explaining they didn’t want to Lauren Cohan more money.

Negan walks Sanctuary in The Walking Dead season nine

Escapes prison, finds the EXACT SAME jacket in the only store not ransacked during the zombie holocaust.

Some Things Never Change

What hasn’t changed is the same run from the bad guys because we’re too stupid to do anything else. How many times will Scooby and the Gang fall for the “We’re good people” and “Maybe we can talk to them” routine? After eight seasons kill first and ask questions later should have become their mantra. Please, come up with something different to lure characters into trusting obviously un-trustable characters. This series has become a chore to watch.

The last half or season nine was filled to the max with fluff. The New Kids on the Block sneak out of Alexandria to find Fantastic Beasts Luke only to sort of find the Skinwalkers. Mullet Man Eugene over hears Rosita’s speech about being pregnant which starts a whole new story line of who’s Rosita’s baby daddy (Until Negan drops the truth bomb). Henry, Carol and the King’s son but not son, immediately falls in love with Stranger Thing Eleven Look Alike which is the catalyst to start the boring half of season nine.

Carol and the King head to the fair in season nine of The Walking Dead

Anna and the King head to the fair to sing “Shall We Dance.”

IT’S NOT ALL BAD

At least Daryl reminded us during his fight with Beta Max Skinwalker why he’s everyone’s favorite redneck biker. Except a fall down an unfinished elevator shaft wasn’t enough to kill Beta Max. If you and I were to fall down an elevator shaft our days would be over and we’d be coming back as brain munchers. Beta Max, on the other hand, can shake off a knife to the chest and a neck breaking fall. Obvious character return to cause more chaos later is a worn out pattern the series goes to time and time again. Have I mentioned how much of a chore this series has become to watch?

The last half of season nine wasn’t a complete loss. Samantha Morton (Minority Report) is the best thing to happen to The Walking Dead in seasons. You’re missing some excellent performances if you missed her in In America with Paddy Considine or Elizabeth: The Golden Age. As Alpha, she’s crazier than anything Scooby and the Gang have seen in nine seasons.

Samantha Morton plays crazy as a shithouse rat Alpha in season nine of The Walking Dead

Scene cut from Mad Max: Fury Road somehow finds its way into The Walking Dead

YES, IT IS ALL BAD

Alpha may be crazy, but she’s just another version of the villains that have come and gone before. You can change the villain from season to season. You can have him wear an eye patch, carry a bat, or even change the gender but the result is the same- Scooby and the Gang have something the villain wants, the villain tells their people Alexandria is bad, and they should fight Alexandria and all the “bad people.”

We can’t even escape the worn out “everything falls apart” routine. How many seasons are we going to watch everything Scooby and the Gang have be destroyed? In the case of season nine there’s no explanation as to why both the Kingdom and Hilltop collapse. I’m not buying the leaky pipes excuse or death of wannabe Maggie (Tara) for the Hilltop collapsing.

Henry kisses a girl in season nine of The Walking Dead

Henry and Stranger Things Clone Eleven swap spit.

For a brief moment during the last couple episodes of the season it seemed like The Walking Dead turned a corner. It seemed like the series would get back to telling a good story. Except all the flashbacks, flash forwards, characters jumping from one place to another (How did Alpha and the Bets get all their captives in one place at the same time when they all left the Hilltop at different times? Some of the heads on the stake didn’t even leave the Hilltop) bog the series down even deeper into the proverbial mud. This isn’t Lost. Showrunners need to tell a linear story. Leave the flash forwards and backs for other shows.

There were some standout moments in season nine. In the most notable scene Daryl, Michonne, and some other members of the gang fight ice zombies while looking for Judith in a snow storm. A brief flashback to the early days of the Zombie Holocaust showed how some people survived by hiding in a basement. Machine gun fire and screaming can be heard outside with a scream or two added in for good measure.

OLD IS NEW AND WE’RE STUCK WITH IT

By the end of the season we’re back where we started season ago. Scooby and the Gang have nowhere to go. The bad guys are coming to destroy everything and kill everyone. It’s the same cycle we have seen and will continue to see until the series is cancelled.

The problem with a series having no definitive story line or a planned ending is the series tends to wander and repeat a lot of the same story lines. Showrunners for the Game of Thrones, for example, had a story and plotted it out into eight seasons. The Walking Dead seems like it’s going to ramble on until the few remaining fans move onto something else.

AMC  doesn’t seem to mind the falling ratings. The network is all  in and betting sagging ratings won’t keep people from tuning in for more zombies, angst, and recycled plots. Not only has AMC already announced a series of Rick Grimes movies, the network canceled fan favorite Into The Badlands to add yet another spin off series to The Walking Dead universe.

Heads on stakes in a nice even line in season nine of The Walking Dead

Oh, Henry. We hardly knew you. Seriously, we hardly knew you as a character. Why should we care your head landed on a spike?

Can the flagship series survive falling ratings, more zombie spin offs, and more cast members leaving the series? Danai Gurira has already announced she’s leaving the series for the much greener pastures of Disney’s ever expanding cash cow Marvel Universe movies. Gurira’s Billy Badass got old and got old quick. With that being said, most of the remaining cast doesn’t have the talent to keep this show alive and the writers have shown seasons ago they’re out of ideas. Will season ten be carried on the shoulders of Norman Reedus and Jeffrey Dean Morgan?

Pregnant Michonne ready to dish out some capital punishment in season nine of The Walking Dead

In an attempt to explain the change in Michonne the series inserts a flashback of forced proportions.

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Netflix’s Wades Into Quicksand With Its New Drama From Sweden https://www.amindonfire.com/netflix-quicksand-review/ Thu, 25 Apr 2019 02:18:45 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10075 Netflix heads to the land of ABBA for a series about a school shooting and its aftermath. A quick review with very few spoilers.

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Netflix has released a lot of new content in the past few months. Some may see it as a bulwark against Disney Plus ready to be rolled out later this year. A lot of the new content on Netflix comes from other countries besides the USA. Quicksand (Störst av allt) is a recent Netflix original from Sweden. (Almost spoiler free)

Quicksand tries to bring an event all too common to American viewers to a country known more for wooden clogs and ABBA than gun violence. In county that had less than 50 gun related deaths in 2017 and school shootings are almost unheard of the events depicted would be nothing more than shocking.

Sebastian and Maja from Netflix Drama head to class

Quicksand starts immediately after the school shooting. The camera, with a tight focus, scans the classroom floor pooled in blood. Maja, the main character at the center of the story, is sitting on the floor clearly in shock and covered in blood. From there Maja is whisked away to jail where the series really starts. Quicksand tries to be slick, but it doesn’t have the shock or the punch of a movie like We Need to Talk About Kevin, a movie also about a school shooting.

The actual trial in Quicksand is softball lob of a case on par with trials seen on more basic American TV fare like Bull or any of the many Law and Order series. You don’t need to know much, if anything, about Swedish law to know the outcome of the verdict. It’s a foregone conclusion from the very first scenes of Maja in jail. However, this may have been the intent of Malin Persson Giolito who wrote the book.

Maja in court in the Netflix drama Quicksand

If we already know the outcome of the trial before the trial actually occurs than the directors Per-Olav Sorensen and Lisa Farzeneh, can concentrate on the build up to the crime leading to the trial. Right? Well not exactly. Much of the story is told in flashbacks while Maja is in jail awaiting trial. Some American viewers may find the prison system in Sweden quite odd, but it provides ample opportunity for Maja to reflect on what occurred at the school and events leading up to the shooting.

However, the flashbacks don’t reveal as much as we would like or even deserve as a viewer. What is made clear is how Maja is lured into the world of the rich and elite when she starts to date Sebastian. Sebastian’s father is rich, very rich, which is made painfully clear by the super yacht he owns, the large mansion, and the amounts of money he tosses Sebastian to do pretty much whatever he wants to do while ignoring him for much of the series.

Maja and friend head to a party in the Netflix drama Quicksand

The series also does a good job of showing how Maja goes from being a straight A student before meeting Sebastian to skipping school and not caring if she attends classes. We also see Sebastian’s slide into drug and alcohol abuse and his change in behavior. Felix Sandman who plays Sebastian may be the nicest person you would ever care to meet. On screen, he pulls off being a self-centered rich kid to absolute perfection.

The intent of these flashbacks is to try and show if Maja was responsible for the crime she is accused of committing. On this account, the series fails miserably. We’re never really sure how a girl, who for all intents and purposes, seems to be a good person is drawn into committing a violent crime. The one moment of redemption for the series is during the trial. At this point everything Maja said could have been called into question. It could have been a moment of “was she lying or was she telling the truth?” This moment never materialized and we were left with the expected conclusion.

Maja in better times during the new Netflix drama Quicjsand

Quicksand isn’t a total loss. The acting and cinematic quality of the show is its saving grace. If you were wanting to be shocked and awed you’ll have to try something else or watch until the final scene of the series. It’s a moment not expected, but it does little to save a series that doesn’t feel original or fresh.

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Game of Thrones Season Eight Episode 2 A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms https://www.amindonfire.com/game-of-thrones-season-eight-episode-2-a-knight-of-the-seven-kingdoms/ Mon, 22 Apr 2019 03:58:58 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=10060 Let the debate continue: Who will sit on the Iron Throne? We may never know after last week’s premiere episode and the slow pacing of the episode. Like so many episodes before it “Winterfell” dragged along at a snail’s pace. Jon rode a dragon, Euron had sex with Cersei, and Bran stared down Jamie. Jon […]

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Let the debate continue: Who will sit on the Iron Throne? We may never know after last week’s premiere episode and the slow pacing of the episode. Like so many episodes before it “Winterfell” dragged along at a snail’s pace. Jon rode a dragon, Euron had sex with Cersei, and Bran stared down Jamie. Jon learned he was related to the woman he’s currently having sex with whenever they can slip between the animal skins. A lot happened with nothing happening at all, but we could have had all that in five minutes. The clock is running down for anyone to be able to claim the Iron Throne.

“A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” may not have given us any more clues who would be sitting on the Iron Throne when the dust, or in this case snow, settles. In fact, like many episodes that have come before, it was slow and didn’t offer anything new to the question. However, this episode was a little different than those other episodes.

Tormund won't survive to the final episode let alone be anywhere near the Iron Throne

The first feminist of the Seven Kingdoms?

“A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” was homecoming week part two on Game of Thrones. Jamie stands in front of Jon, Sansa, and Daenerys as they judge what should happen to him. Theon Greyjoy returns to fight for Winterfell and is embraced by Sansa. Tormund Giantsbane, Beric, and Eddison Tollet make their way to Winterfell where they’re hugged and greeted by Jon. It was a bittersweet homecoming because each of them knows very well their days may be numbered.

All the battle preparations aside, Sunday’s episode felt like the scene in the war movie where the characters reminiscence about their lives before the final battle scene where they’re all going to die. No one, with one notable exception, was concerned with who was going to sit on the Iron Throne.

 

Podrick may survive to see who sits on the Iron Throne

Who knew Podrick had some voval chops on him

In one single episode we learn more about the characters than we learned in the past seven seasons. Jamie, Tyrion, Brienne, Davos Seaworth, Podrick, and Tormund contemplate their possible deaths over drinks. There are some funny elements to the scenes with a dark cloud hanging over all them. We also learn Podrick has some vocal chops on him. However, we also learn more about Tormund than we probably ever wanted to know. How long is it going to take you to get the image of Tormund suckling on a giant’s teat?

Game of Thrones has flaunted incest for seven seasons. The series can now add under age sex to its resume. When we first meet Arya she’s a child who’s trying to prove she’s just as good as her brother with the bow. It may be difficult to say how much time has passed since the first episode, and without knowing the age of consent in the Seven Kingdoms, its a safe bet Gendry committed statutory rape.

Arya's not concerned with sitting on the Iron Throne

What’s the age of consent in Winterfell?

But for all the feel good moments in the episode the final scene calls everything into question. Jon drops a truth bomb on Danerys. Of course she takes this as Jon wanting the Iron Throne. Jon is saved by the bell before he can say anything one way or the other.

Here’s the sticky issue showrunners can get themselves into: Do they go the sitcom route and have Danerys answer her own question? If this is the case, then there will be a war on three fronts. As Sansa told her in Sunday’s episode the North wants to be ruled by the North. Do the screenwriters come up with a sappy solution and have Jon and Danerys rule the Seven Kingdoms together? Sure, this could happen. It would be cheesy to say the least, but it’s a possibility. The other possibility is nothing happens between Jon and Danerys and they go on to fight both the Night King and Cersei. I’m not even considering the possibility either one of them dying before the final credits role.

Jorah's one goal is to see Daenerys sit on the Iron Throne

Will Jorah Mormont and some Valyrian steel cut through the undead?

We may have to wait for the fourth episode to see the battle against the Night King and his undead army. The end credits make it seem like the battle will be next week, but Game of Thrones has never aired in set pattern. Next Sunday’s episode will be, has to be, centered on Cersei and her new man Euron. Episode five can’t air soon enough.

She doesn't care who sits on the Iron Throne she just wants to protect her home.

The toughest fighter this side of Arya and Lady Mormont.

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Shout Factory Releases The Animated Classic The Plague Dogs https://www.amindonfire.com/shout-factory-releases-the-animated-classic-the-plague-dogs/ Sat, 13 Apr 2019 22:19:36 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=9908 Shout Factory recently released the animated classic The Plague Dogs so we watched it, reviewed it, and put some words together for you to read and enjoy.

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We hear it all the time: Blu-ray and DVD are on their way out. In the past people would ask, “You still own a VCR?” Now we hear people asking, “You still own a Blu-ray player?” Is the DVD/Blu-ray going the way of the VHS tape? Will Blu-ray players start collecting dust in closets? Will Blu-rays find themselves ranked among curiosities like beta max and laser discs? Personally, I think the death of the Blu-ray player and Blu-rays/DVDs in general are a little premature. There’s a vast community out there who still consume physical media. Who can blame us with releases like Shout Factory’s The Plague Dogs?

THE PLAGUE DOGS

THE MOVIE: Martin Rosen produced two classic animated movies. Criterion Collection released a great edition of Watership Down some years ago. Rosen’s second classic was The Plague Dogs. After too long of a wait a new edition of The Plague Dogs has been released by Shout Factory.

The Plague Dogs is not a kids movie. It’s a dark movie dealing with dark subject matter. Snitter, voiced by the late, great John Hurt, and Rowf are dogs who escape from an animal testing facility. Our first introduction to Rowf is the sounds him drowning so scientists can study the results. Snitter’s  brain was scrambled in the scientist’s tests.

The two dogs escape the testing facility and make their way to the nearby town. Snitter and Rowf do their best living on their own outside the testing facility, but have to turn to killing the local farmers’ livestock for survival. The killings bring them unwanted attention and certain doom until the pair meet a fox named the Tod. The Tod is wise in the ways of the humans.

Scientists perform experiments on Rowf in The Plague Dogs

There are a few human characters represented in The Plague Dogs. The scientists are seen only from an above shot. The friendly man with the shotgun trying to get Snitter to come to him is accidentally shot in the face. The Tod causes bounty hunter who’s hunting the dogs to fall to his death. Hungry with no source of food on the horizon, Snitter and Rowf eat the bounty hunter. It’s not a kids movie.

It’s mainly through the human voice overs we learn the extent of the experiments conducted on the dogs. When the scientists and media aren’t telling us what occurred at the lab we see Snitter and Rowf’s flashbacks to their experiments and previous lives. The dogs are damaged mentally and physically. For an animated movie the scenes of Rowf being tested on and the affects of the brain surgery on Snitter are disturbing to watch. The cut scenes to monkey test subjects don’t help. We also learn the dogs may have the plague hence the title of the movie.

Snitter, Rowf, and the Tod in the animated classic The Plague Dogs

SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical cut or extended cut? Such questions can’t be asked of a digital download. More often than not you buy one or the other. Sometimes, for more money of course,you can get both. This is usually not the case. Whether an extended cut or a director’s cut is superior to the theatrical release of a movie is a question for another time. What’s not in question is Shout Factory’s issue of The Plague Dogs has both the theatrical and extended cuts of the movie.

The extended cut was scanned in 2K from original film. You can tell the difference between the Shout Factory edition and previous releases. The picture in other editions have been grainy. The copy you can stream through Amazon Prime is passable at best. The animation in the new 2K scan is as crisp and clear as a forty year old film can be. The sound quality has also been greatly improved.

Inside The Plague Dogs an animation classic

The only other special feature on the disc is a new interview with producer Martin Rosen. It’s a short interview, but we get to learn a little background on the production, success, and failure of The Plague Dogs. We also learn Rosen fired Brad Bird (The Incredible, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) from the animation team.

PACKAGING: There’s not too much to say about the packaging. It’s your basic Blu-ray package with art from the movie poster on the cover.

Snitter and Rowf swim for a non existent island

FINAL VERDICT: The Plague Dogs may not have been successful when it was originally released. However, it has gone on to become an animation classic. Animation fans and fans of classic movies will love this new edition. It’s worth every penny.

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Best of the Western in 2018 https://www.amindonfire.com/best-of-the-western-in-2018/ Thu, 04 Apr 2019 02:26:00 +0000 https://www.amindonfire.com/?p=9945 The Western Past It wasn’t long after Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope and the Lumiere Brothers’s Cinemtographe projected the first moving images onto a screen audiences were being entertained by the Western. The Western genre took off during the Classic Hollywood era (1915-1935). Roughly 1800 feature Western films were made. John Ford’s 1939 classic Stagecoach, and Raoul Walsh’s […]

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The Western Past

It wasn’t long after Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope and the Lumiere Brothers’s Cinemtographe projected the first moving images onto a screen audiences were being entertained by the Western.

The Great Train Robbery (1903) was an early Western, but the theme would be carried all the way to the 21st Century.

Edwin S. Porter’s silent Western The Great Train Robbery (1903) was one of the first movies to use editing to piece a movie together to tell a story.

The Western genre took off during the Classic Hollywood era (1915-1935). Roughly 1800 feature Western films were made. John Ford’s 1939 classic Stagecoach, and Raoul Walsh’s The Big Trail (1930) Cecil B. DeMille’s The Plainsman (1936), and The Arizonian (1935) thrilled audiences with their straight good guys wear white hats, bad guys wear black hats stories.

The Dark Command, a fictionalized Western retelling the Lawrence, KS massacre.

Raoul Walsh’s The Dark Command was a fictionalized retelling of the Lawrence, Kansas massacre. It’s a much lighter version than actual events.

The number of Westerns decreased in the coming years and decades. However, during the years of 1940 to 1970 the Western genre was in full bloom. These years I refer to as the Golden Age of the Hollywood Western because the decades saw the release of a multitude of classic Western movies.

The 1940’s saw the releases of classics like My Darling Clementine and Angel and the Badman. The 1950’s saw the release of classic Westerns like High Noon (1952), Shane (1953), John Ford’s epic The Searchers (1956) and Howard Hawk’s Rio Bravo (1959). The 1960’s gave us the violent The Wild Bunch and the Paul Newman/Robert Redford team of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The 1970s had classics like The Outlaw Josey Wales and McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

Seven Samurai got the Western treatment in 1960 with the release of The Magnificent Seven.

Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai got the Western treatment in 1960.

The 1980’s saw a serious decline in the number of Westerns released, but the quality of good Western movies was still present. The world discovered Kevin Costner in Silverado. Some members of the Brat Pack turned the Western into pop culture with Young Guns and Clint Eastwood was back in the role of shadowy figure with no past in Pale Rider.

Tom Horn Steve McQueen's last Western

Steve McQueen was dying while filming Tom Horn. It would be one his last movies made.

When it seemed Hollywood had stopped making Westerns two Westerns in the 90’s, Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves (1990) and Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992), won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars. Dances with Wolves won seven Academy Awards. Gene Hackman won his second Oscar for the role of Little Bill Daggett.

Tombstone helped keep the Western movie alive during the 90's.

Two movies about Wyatt Earp were released months apart. Both excellent movies, but Tombstone was the flashier of the two.

The past twenty plus years has seen a serious decline in the number of Westerns made. Audiences don’t turn out for the Western like they once did. However, this does not mean the Western is no longer made. Quality has replaced quantity. The Western hasn’t disappeared in the 21st Century its been transformed. In 2018, directors and screenwriters showed there was still life in the Western.

WOMAN WALKS AHEAD

Woman Walks Ahead is the story of Catherine Weldon who travels to the Standing Rock Reservation to paint a portrait of Sitting Bull. While on her mission to paint Sitting Bull she runs afoul of Silas Groves and James McLaughlin. Groves has been dispatched by the US Army to facilitate a treaty between the Army and the Sioux. Basically, Groves and the military want to seize more of the Sioux’s land.

Woman Walks Ahead a Western without the traditional gunfights and show downs,

Sam Rockwell delivers a powerful performance in Woman Walks Ahead. But Jessica Chastain gives as good as she gets.

It’s a beautifully shot film. In Woman Walks Ahead, Cinematographer Mike Eley has captured the West not what it looks like now, but what it may have looked like at the time the movie is set. At times, the mountains and the plains seem to almost crowd scenes and become characters themselves. Although not nominated for an Oscar Eley’s shots were some of the best in 2018.

As usual, Sam Rockwell as Silas Groves turns in another great performance. If he’s not careful though he may become typecast as the go to actor when a movie calls for a racist or bigot. Jessica Chastain, for her part, does well as the character of Catherine Weldon. Most actors would be tempted to play Weldon as over the top and to highlight pro-feminist aspects of the character. Chastain does neither. Instead, she lets the character speak for herself.

Woman Walks Ahead A Western without the gun smoke

For a moment Woman Walks Ahead could have been a movie about Native Americans and Catherine Weldon. Instead, Native Americans take a backseat in their own movie.

Unfortunately, Women Walks Ahead gets caught up in its own beauty and becomes basically another white people, or in this case a white woman, save a people of color. It’s The Help of the 19th Century. The movie could have been more and said more than to promote the fallacy that white people are the only people who can save the oppressed. It’s a notion that hearkens back to the old Westerns where Native Americans were only seen as scalp hunters.

HOSTILES

Hostiles came out in early 2o18, January 26th to be precise, to much critical acclaim and Oscar buzz. Critics couldn’t help but to compare it with another movie about a soldier who heads out west, Dances with Wolves. One reviewer said it was “A landmark experience not soon forgotten.” To say audiences forgot about Hostiles would mean audiences knew about the film to forget. The Academy, whose memory only goes back a few months before the Oscar ceremony, never gave it a second glance.

Wes Studi, Christian Bale, and Rosamund Pike star in Hostiles

The character of Rosalee Quaid could have easily been a stock character hating Chief Yellow Hawk. However, she’s dynamic character who goes through many changes in the movie never showing hatred toward Yellow Hawk of his family.

Hostiles, however, is no Dances with Wolves nor does it try. Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) is ordered to escort Chief Yellow Hawk and his family Valley of the Bears, Montana. A veteran of the US/Indian Wars, Blocker wants nothing to do with the assignment. However, he’s given the choice between escorting the family back to their home or losing his pension. It’s not much of a choice.

Wes Studi, Adam Beach, and Q'orianka Kilcher in Hostiles.

Native American actors still haven’t “broken through” in Hollywood. Many are still only cast as chiefs and warriors. Hostiles, at least, discarded the scalp hunter and noble savage Hollywood forced upon American audiences.

Hostile is defined by Webster Dictionary as “of or relating to an enemy” and “having an intimidating, antagonistic, or offensive nature.” Everything in Hostiles is hostile. From the moment Blocker, Thomas Mertz (an excellent performace by Rory Chochrane) and a select few soldiers leave on their journey they are met by all kinds of hostility.Always in the background is Blocker’s own hostile past.

Ultimately, Hostiles asks “Who is the hostile?”

A RECKONING/ANY BULLET WILL DO

Indie director Justin Lee had a good 2018. The director released not one but two Westerns in 2018. An independent director releasing one movie in a year is an accomplishment, but releasing two is almost a miracle. Lee’s two Westerns range from good to best left unwatched.

A Reckoning, set in Oregon, and Any Bullet Will Do, set in Montana, are two movies asking the same question with different results. In A Reckoning, Mary O’Malley goes after the man who killed her husband. In Any Bullet Will Do, bounty hunter Hollis Ransom hunts down his brother who killed his wife.

A Reckoning takes place as far West as a Western could

A Reckoning takes the Western to it the furthest limits of the West- The Pacific Coast.

Both movies ask “Are you capable of killing a man?” and “what will revenge do to a person?” A Reckoning answers the question quite nicely. The answer is given the right circumstance most people are capable of killing someone, but not with the feel good afterglow you thought it would give. Along the way there are some great shots caught on film and a few performances worth watching and some that are cringe worthy at best. In Any Bullet Will Do the question is asked but the answer comes from out of left field and isn’t supported with anything that happens in the movie.

Between Lee’s two movies A Reckoning is the better one to watch. Even some of the bad performances (The award goes to Todd Robinson as Jebediah Thorne) don’t detract from the overall movie as it does in Any Bullet Will Do. Any Bullet Will Do is riddled with cardboard performances. Adding insult to injury, screenwriter Justin Lee has his characters saying things he thinks people may have said in the 1800’s. “Slow as molasses,” “Sam Hell,” “dimly lit lanter,” “balls bigger than eagle’s eggs,” and “done cheated the Grim Reaper” are only a few cringe worthy lines throughout the movie.

Watch A Reckoning and leave Any Bullet Will Do alone.

THE SISTERS BROTHERS

The Sisters Brothers is one of the best Westerns to come out in the 21st Century. You may think that’s not saying much because there haven’t been many Westerns released since 2000. Let me remind you John Hillcoat’s The Proposition, Andrew Dominik’s  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward James Ford, The Coen Brothers’s True Grit, John Maclean’s Slow West, S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk, and Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff, to name a few, have all come out this century. Yes, The Sisters Brothers is in good company.

The Sisters Brothers Western The Searchers for the 21st Century

Joaquin Phoenix never fails to deliver. As Charlie Sister he turns in one of his best performances to date.
John C. Reilly’s Ely is a character under pressure. Reilly keeps it simmering until the end when it’s time for him to explode.

Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly play Charlie and Eli Sisters, the Sisters Brothers. They’re hired killers for the Commodore, played by Rutger Hauer in a blink and you’ve missed him role. Their reputation as cold-blooded killers precedes them wherever they go. It’s a reputation Charlie likes because it usually means free booze and women. Eli, on the other hand, has become dissatisfied with the life of a hired killer.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed round out the phenomenal cast. John Morris, Gyllenhaal, is a scout for the Commodore. He finds the men who the Commodore feels have slighted him in some way. Morris finds these people and the Sisters Brothers do the killing. Herman Warm, Ahmed, is one such man who the Commodore thinks has done him wrong. The wrong in this case is not sharing Warm’s formula for detecting gold in rivers.

The Sisters Brothers A Western about more than searching for gold

The West was a hodgepodge of nationalities seeking their fortune. Riz Ahmed’s Warm is a natural fit in the story,

This time Morris doesn’t turn the hunted man over to the Sisters Brothers. Morris and Warm become friends who bond over the lure of gold and Warm’s talk of a Utopian, almost communist, community in Texas. Warm also wins the brothers over. Against their better judgement the brothers don’t kill either Warm or Morris. Instead, they join them on finding gold and wanting a better place to exist.

The ending isn’t your typical Western ending. There are no shootouts or last stands being made. It’s more of an ending one would see in The Searchers than Unforgiven. Through0ut the movie Charlie and Ely were at odds with each other. The ending, a seamless edit showing the passage of time from room to room in their mother’s small farm house, says everything will be okay with the brothers.

DAMSEL

Damsel, directed by David and Nathan Zellner, is a Western by way of Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers (Yes, we know they’re on this list with another movie). It’s a quirky movie that starts out with Robert Forester stripping himself of his pastor clothes and throwing them to Henry (played by director David Zellner) who goes on to impersonate a parson. Things get weird from the moment Robert Forester disappears wearing nothing but his union suit.

Damsel the anti-Western

Where did Alabster come from in his rowboat? Where did he get Butterscotch?

Parson Henry, the fake parson, is hired by Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson) to officiate his marriage to his one true love, Penelope. Penelope (Mia Wasikowska, Crimson Peak), Alabaster would have Henry believe, was kidnapped by Anton Cornell. To say Alabaster is deluded is putting things mildly, but love can do that to a person.

Damsel is a far departure from David Zellner’s incredible Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (It’s a must see for fans of the Coen Brother’s Fargo). Kumiko moves from Japan to North Dakota. While on her road trip Kumiko meets a variety of people who aid her on her quest. Damsel is much tighter movie. There are few location changes and even fewer characters than Kumiko.

Damsel a Western about more than a miniature pony.

Where is Penelope going in her rowboat? What will she do with Butterscotch?

The movie’s success depends on the characters and the actors. Pattinson, Wasikowska, and Zellner deliver characters that could have stepped out of a Wes Anderson movie. They’re unusual characters, but are fitting for a Western not cut from the same cloth as most Westerns.

THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS

The Coen Brothers have managed to encapsulate every Hollywood notion of the West we’ve become to believe is true. The singing cowboy, the lynching, the traveling show, the gold seeker, the wagon train, and the bounty hunter are all represented in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Of course they put the Coen Brothers mark on every vignette.

Clancy Brown in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

In what would be a serious moment in any other movie is played for laughs. Maybe it’s the song, maybe it’s how he dies.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs could have easily been called Death in Six Installments. From the comedic (“Buster Scruggs,” “Near Algodones”) to the tragic (“The Gal Who Got Rattled,” “Meal Ticket”) to the supernatural (“The Mortal Remains”) death is the connecting theme between all of the stories.

The stagecoach never stops in The Mortal Remains from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

It may be named after the dead body strapped to the top of the stagecoach, but the real reason is everyone in the stagecoach is dead being driven to the afterlife.

The temptation with any anthology is to rank and/or review every vignette in the movie. To do so with BoBS would be to diminish each installment because each installment is a small masterpiece of its own. How do you argue Tim Blake Nelson causing Clancy Brown’s suicide is better than Liam Neeson’s role in “Meal Ticket?” You honestly can’t.

Tom Waits pans for gold in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Tom Waits is a character. It’s amazing The Coen Brothers had never cast him in role before now.

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