All posts by D.G. McCabe

I'm a writer who loves movies. So I write a blog about movies. Pretty basic stuff.

Game of Thrones Power Rankings, Season 8, Episode 2

I will be treble-sinew’d, hearted, breathed,
And fight maliciously: for when mine hours
Were nice and lucky, men did ransom lives
Of me for jests; but now I’ll set my teeth,
And send to darkness all that stop me. Come,
Let’s have one other gaudy night: call to me
All my sad captains; fill our bowls once more;
Let’s mock the midnight bell.

Antony and Cleopatra, Act III, Scene XIII

With that – power rankings!

The Others

1. The White Walkers (Last Week, #1)

One of the things I love about the new opening credits is how it tracks the position of the Night King’s army.  In the books, Daenerys has a dream of the final-final battle being at the Trident, but she has a vision on the show of a decimated King’s Landing.  It will be interesting to see where the final-final showdown takes place (hint: it won’t be at Winterfell next week).

Lannister

2. House Lannister (Last Week, #2)

Away from the coming battle/dumpster fire?  That is still the best place to be.  Cersei continues to guzzle wine this week in the relative safety of King’s Landing.

Greyjoy

3. House Greyjoy (Last Week, #5)

For the sake of consistency, the groups farthest away from the undead army are doing better than the groups that are in harm’s way.  It’s safe to assume that Yara re-takes the Iron Islands off-screen, setting up a potential safe haven for the inevitable retreat next week.

Arryn

4. House Arryn (Last Week, #6)

The majority of the Vale forces are at Winterfell.  However, the Eyrie offers another potential safe-haven for retreating forces.  Sansa has been talking to Yohn Royce a lot the last two weeks. I can’t help but think that there is a backup plan in place involving what is supposedly the most impenetrable fortress in the world.

Stark-2

5. House Stark (Last Week, #3)

Has Sansa gotten smarter, or has she become merely Cersei-lite?  If it’s the former, she may end up being the most capable leader left.  If it’s the latter, disaster could ensue.  By the way, why on Earth does anyone have to tell Daenerys about Jon’s parents at this point?  Win the battle first, then sort it out!

Targaryen-2

6. House Targaryen (Last Week, #4)

Daenerys has always had a bit of an edge to her, but being in Westeros has emphasized her worst qualities.  She’s been using her dragons as the source of her power for a long time, but in some ways, they’ve become a crutch.  She’s lost all sense of nuance, and has been all fire and blood, all the time as of late.

Baratheon-3

7. House Baratheon (Last Week, NR)

Does this mean Arya gets Storm’s End now (whether or not Gendry makes it)?  Because that would be awesome!

Also receiving votes: The Night’s Watch, Florence + the Machine, the ghost of Ser Pounce, ridiculous stories about giants, pre-battle boozing, those “here’s a picture of my sweetheart” moments, that’s “Ser Brianne” to you, and the Crypts are definitely NOT safe!

(c) 2019 D.G. McCabe

Game of Thrones Power Rankings, Season 8, Episode 1

A cold wind comes from the north. That’s a bit of an understatement, right? The revised opening credits emphasize that the doom of this world approaches. Anyway, let’s get right into the power rankings.

1. The White Walkers (Pre-Season, #1)

Yeah, these guys aren’t going anywhere for a while on the Rankings. This being Game of Thrones, there’s a decent chance that everyone dies, and the Others win. There might be actual riots in the street, but it could happen.

2. House Lannister (Pre-Season, #4)

CGI money doesn’t grow on trees, so no elephants. Pachyderms or no, there’s a lot of space between the Dead and Cersei, and for that reason, she’s in better shape than her enemies. Good on her for “celebrating” with “eccentric” sea captains.

3. House Stark (Pre-Season, #2)

Lyanna Mormont: We made you king!

Jon: Um, there’s an army coming…

Sansa: Also, your new girlfriend is lame.

Jon: Um, I really don’t think…

Arya: Also, I like Sansa now.

Jon: Um, guys…

Sam: Also, you’re the one, true king!

Bran: THE DEAD ARE COMING! WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR ANY OF THIS SHIT!

4. House Targaryen (Pre-Season, #3)

Daenerys is usually pretty observant, so she should realize that only Targaryens can typically ride dragons, right? Or maybe she figures her idiot brother was lying about that.

5. House Greyjoy (Pre- Season, #6)

Yara is thinking ahead, and that’s good for her. But with the Dead bearing down on Winterfell, does Theon have time to get there? That part didn’t make much sense.

6. House Arryn (Pre-Season #5)

I guess they’re loyal to…Sansa? I might be done ranking these guys. Despite having one of the largest extant armies, they’ve become inconsequential to the story. Unless someone ends up retreating to the Eyrie, that is.

7. The Night’s Watch (Pre-Season, #7)

The White Walkers looked at what’s left of the Watch, considered adding them to the army of the dead, and concluded, “Nah, we’re good.”

Also receiving votes: grandson of Ser Pounce, Hot Pie, Sam’s library fines, pirate swagger, the continued embrace of pointless nudity, and creepy dragons who like to watch.

(C) 2019 D.G. McCabe

Game of Thrones Season 8 Pre-Season Power Rankings

And we’re back! Seven more power rankings articles ever, well unless the Long Night series is any good. In the meantime, our list of houses and orders to power rank grows thin. Let’s get started!

1. The White Walkers

Oh yeah, everyone is good and screwed now. I doubt the series ends with the ultimate big bad winning, but I also wouldn’t be surprised. On the opposite end of the spectrum, they could be quickly dispensed with, with the last few episodes re-focusing on Cersei as the main antagonist. Most likely, it takes all season to beat them, and only a handful of our heroes make it out alive.

2. House Stark

The Starks have gathered an impressive list of allies to their cause: Brianne of Tarth, The Hound, The Brotherhood Without Banners, the Night’s Watch, Jaime Lannister, the Vale, the Targaryens, and of course a reunified House Stark itself. It won’t be enough to win right away, if at all, but it’s impressive.

3. House Targaryen

For now, Team Daenerys is one and the same with team Jon. This particular alliance has cracks in it, however. We’ll see how the Mother of Titles handles it when she finds out her new beau is actually her nephew, and ahead of her in the line of succession for the Iron Throne.

4. House Lannister

Underestimate Cersei Lannister at your peril. She’s chugging away (flasky, glug, glug motion), behind her high walls, waiting for her mercenaries, and chuckling while the world burns around her. That doesn’t seem threatening, but Cersei is at her most dangerous when she has nothing to lose.

5. House Arryn

For simplicity of narrative, I could see the Vale remaining in the Stark fold. However, the Starks just whacked Lord Robin’s beloved uncle. That may cause problems going forward.

6. House Greyjoy

Reminder: Theon is currently on a quest to rescue his sister. That is all.

7. The Night’s Watch

YOU HAD ONE JOB!!!!!!!

Also receiving votes: a whole bunch of vanquished houses (Martell, Tyrell, Baratheon, Frey, Tully); a whole bunch of people in Essos who don’t matter to the story anymore; son of Ser Pounce; and HBO’s own white walker threat, that is, people cancelling en masse six weeks from Monday.

(C) 2019 D.G. McCabe

The Lion King, Star Wars, and Adaptation Fatigue

 

This teaser looks great right? I mean, it’s one of the most viewed movie trailers of all-time, and the film it promotes, this summer’s “live action” remake of The Lion King (1994) is going to make over a billion dollars.  Who wouldn’t be excited for it?

Me, for one.  It looks like a shot for shot remake of a perfectly good, existing film.  Check that, it looks like a shot for shot remake of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, animated films of all-time.  Disney says it isn’t, but they’re awfully cagey about it.

It’s one thing to re-imagine Dumbo (1941) or The Jungle Book (1967)  to better appeal to modern sensibilities.  I’m not 100% on board with that either, but at least there’s some redeeming artistic value in updating those stories.  Other than “Mickey needs money” (he doesn’t, by the way), I’m at a loss for the purpose of re-making a great movie just because there is new technology to play around with.

Yes, yes, perhaps I’m jumping to conclusions, and I shouldn’t be criticizing a movie that I haven’t seen.  Perhaps Jon Favreau has found a valuable new perspective on a classic film, and this summer’s remake will win multiple Oscars and be hailed as the second coming of Citizen Kane (1940).  I wouldn’t hold my breath, but it’s certainly possible.

That said, the problem I’m pointing out isn’t a new one – it’s a feature of all adaptations.  I mean, the Lion King is an adaptation of Hamlet, which itself is mash-up of Scandinavian and Roman legendary histories and perhaps even a lost play known to scholars as “Ur-Hamlet.”  Successful adaptations tell a stories from new perspectives, comment on previous versions, or re-imagine the stories to appeal to modern audiences.

That’s the difference between Maleficent (2014) and Beauty and the Beast (2017).  While Maleficent is not a great film, it at least tells the story of Sleeping Beauty (1959) from a new perspective.  Beauty and the Beast made a ton of money, but at the end of the day it’s little more than an inferior remake of the 1991 animated version.

While less true than it used to be, motion pictures are expensive to make.  Movies, to some extent, remain our most commercial art-form.  There are no university presses, community theater labs, or hobbyists – film studios have to make money in order to create more films.  One can’t blame Disney, therefore, for mining its existing catalogue for old material that can be repackaged using new technology in an ultimately lucrative endeavor.  Disney doesn’t exist to maintain the artistic integrity of the motion picture, it exists to make profit.  Beauty and the Beast (2017) made $1.2 billion, after all.

I’m picking on Disney, but re-boots, remakes, prequels, are way too abundant in modern Hollywood.  The commercial proposition is an easy one to understand – it’s lower risk to take an existing property and do something slightly different with it than it is to make something new popular.  At the same time, pumping out the same material over and over again has to have diminishing returns at some point for the audience.

Maybe this could be a “problem” that solves itself.  Take Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), for example.  Ron Howard may have performed a minor miracle turning a dumpster fire of a production into a fine movie, but a fine movie it remains.  Other than the Clone Wars animated movie and the Ewok movies, it’s also the lowest grossing Star Wars film by a wide margin.  After decades of Extended Universe stories and the Sequel Trilogy, there just wasn’t an appetite for yet another tale about Han Solo, even a competently crafted one.

On the other hand, the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy also serves as the best example of why creating something new from an existing story is playing with fire.  The Force Awakens (2015) and The Last Jedi (2017) both made a ton of money and were lauded by critics and fans alike – well, most fans.  There was an extremely vocal group that absolutely hated one film, the other, or both for very different reasons.  The merits of Episodes 7 and 8 (of which there are many, by the way) aside, the Sequel Trilogy’s biggest flaw so far is that it is trying to continue the story from Return of the Jedi (1983) AND tell and entirely new story at the same time, which leaves both stories somewhat watered down.

I’m going all over the place in this article, but my central point remains that certain stories can’t really bear the weight of being adapted in a repetitive or overstretched manner.  What is there to do?  I would recommend telling new stories within the framework of the old stories, rather than overstretching existing plots and characters.  The Star Wars Sequel Trilogy partially succeeds at this so far, but Episode 9 has some heavy lifting to do in order to really stick the landing.

For the Lion King (2019)?  The success of the animated children’s series “The Lion Guard,” shows that there is interest in using the framework of the Lion King to tell new stories, so there are promising directions for Disney to go.  After all, Disney can only do a “live action” shot for shot remake once, right?

(c) 2019 D.G. McCabe

 

Us (2019)

Us (USA, 2019)

Directed by Jordan Peele

After I saw Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In” (2008), I would joke that the message of the film was that the real vampire was the vampire within.  That particular joke played not only upon the movie’s content, but on the type of Scandavian existential dread often found in the films of Ingmar Bergman.  Due respect to Mr. Bergman’s vision of God as a hideous spider in “Through a Glass Darkly” (1961) or Mr. Alfredson’s star crossed vampire, there is a new existential nightmare in the cinema canon, the “tethered” in Jordan Peele’s “Us.”

Many great horror movies lull the audience into a sense of comfort.  Peele certainly did that in 2017’s “Get Out.”  Us isn’t one of those films.  From the first frame, Peele brings the audience into a nightmare that doesn’t let up.  There are lulls in the action, but nothing long enough to give anyone the type of familiarity or comfort that one might feel when watching Psycho (1960) for the first time.  The viewer is allowed to catch their breath, but can never let go of that awful feeling that nothing is ever quite right.

To give away too many plot details of a suspense/thriller/horror film can inadvertently ruin the film.  I won’t do that in a short, initial review.  I can tell you that the cast is perfect, particularly, if Lupita Nyong’o isn’t a shoe-in for a Best Actress nod they should just cancel the Oscars next year.  The score is one of the best I’ve heard, up there with Metropolis (1927), Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), and Fargo (1996).  Michael Abels creates the perfect complimentary sound to Mike Gioulakis’ cinematography – eerie when it needs to be and epic when it needs to be.  

After “Get Out” and its biting commentary on race relations in America, it wouldn’t be surprising if Peele created a companion piece.  “Get Out” is a great film in its own right, but in some ways the two films couldn’t be more different.   There are certain stylistic similarities, but “Get Out” satires monstrous elements of society, and overall, is a much funnier movie.  “Us” has its moments of humor, but it is a nightmarish meditation on the nature of evil in general.  In short, the monsters in”Get Out” were concrete, the monsters in “Us” are the wind.  

Which one is more horrifying?  It depends on your fears, and to some extent on your experience.  I’m going to watch “Get Out” again this weekend and think about how to answer that myself.

(C) 2019 D.G. McCabe  

2019 Oscar Preview: Everything Else

I’m glad I previewed Best Picture first, yikes. The time I have to write movie articles grows short. Anyway, here’s the rest of the categories that I typically preview.

Best Actor

It depends which biopic transformation that the Academy likes better – Christian Bale’s or Rami Malek’s. I’m leaning towards Malek. Vice got savaged by critics, failed to connect with audiences, and Bale already has an Oscar. I think Bohemian Rhapsody’s box office success will compel the Academy to honor it in some way, and honoring Malek is the most reasonable way to do so.

Best Actress

The other nominees did great work, but Glenn Close has been a fixture for a long time without an Oscar. The Academy loves nothing more than to give legendary performers awards late in their careers, and Close will be the latest beneficiary of this sentiment.

Supporting Actor

I’m torn on this one. Green Book is losing all momentum, so I don’t see Mahershala Ali winning. Otherwise, I’ll pick Adam Driver, but I wouldn’t put money on it.

Supporting Actress

Emma Stone and Rachel Weiss will cancel each other out here, so I’m going to go with Regina King. If Beale Street Could Talk was a great film that got snubbed in too many categories. It should win at least one Oscar.

Animated Feature

I think this one goes to Spider-Man. I think the Disney movies cancel each other out, and the other two nominees just aren’t getting enough buzz.

Best Director

I really, really hope Spike Lee wins, but pragmatically speaking, I think it goes to Alfonso Cuarón. Roma is probably Cuarón’s best film, and that’s saying something. Plus I don’t think Roma wins Best Picture, so the Academy might split the difference.

Visual Effects

The Avengers will win this. Hollywood is getting nervous about awarding popular movies, and giving at least one Oscar to the biggest movie of the year globally (along with Best Picture to the biggest movie of the year domestically) should quiet things down.

Oscars on Sunday!

(c) 2019 D.G. McCabe

2019 Oscar Preview: Best Picture

Award season is almost at a close, and we’re only two weeks out from the 2019 Oscars.

Let’s start our preview with Best Picture.

Black Panther (Directed by Ryan Coogler)

The conventional wisdom was that Black Panther would get a nomination, but nothing else.  Hollywood would pat itself on the back for honoring a tentpole superhero flick, and then promptly return to awarding films about fish “love.”  That was, of course, before Black Panther took top honors at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.  The SAG awards are the best predictive award show for the Oscars for a reason – the actors are by far the largest voting block in the Academy.  Additionally, the abandoned proposal for a “popular film” category means that the Academy is getting nervous about the lack of awards for true blockbusters over the last few years (Best Picture hasn’t gone to a move that’s made over $100 million domestically since 2012).  Conclusion: Black Panther is a contender.

Blackkklansman (Directed by Spike Lee)

The late career makeup award is a time-honored Oscar tradition.  Just think about Al Pacino winning Best Actor for 1992’s lackluster Scent of Woman instead of any role he had in the 1970’s.  Great directors are more likely to be snubbed than great actors, with heavyweights like Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa, and Stanley Kubrick never winning Best Director honors.  Blackkklansman is Spike Lee’s most commercially successful movie in a few years, and it has the added bonus of being some of his best work.  It feels like Lee could finally get that Best Director Oscar, but given the competition, Best Picture might be a stretch.  Conclusion: Blackkklansman is a borderline contender.

Bohemian Rhapsody (Directed by Bryan Singer, so says the credit)

An entertaining, yet ultimately paint-by-numbers rock and roll biopic, I’m surprised this one got nominated. The Golden Globes were overly generous to it, but the Globes mean exactly squat when predicting the Oscars. It’s simply not an Oscar caliber movie, and this is coming from someone who gave it a positive write up. Conclusion: Bohemian Rhapsody is a pretender.

The Favourite (Directed by Yorgos Lathimos)

This feels like the “actor’s movie” of the Best Picture selections. I mostly say that because it’s a period piece, and because it’s been winning a lot of individual acting hardware. That said, it didn’t win best ensemble at the SAG Awards, so I question whether it has enough umph to win the top prize. Besides, the Academy is rarely kind to comedies.  In the last fifty years, only six comedies have taken top honors (The Sting (1973), Annie Hall (1977), Forrest Gump (1994), Shakespeare in Love (1998), The Artist (2011), and Birdman (2014)).  Conclusion: The Favourite is a borderline contender.

Green Book (Directed by Peter Farrelly)

Green Book was an early favorite and checks most of the Oscar boxes. It’s a period piece, it has a strong cast, and it contains themes dealing with race relations in America. It’s also been a lightning rod for controversy. That, and it didn’t really resonate with critics or audiences. I think the voters end up putting the green book back on the shelf. Conclusion: Green Book is a pretender.

Roma (Directed by Alfonso Cuarón)

Roma is a heavyweight. Cuarón has created a neo-realist film that is comparable to the films of Vittorio de Sica, Roberto Rossellini, and Fredrico Fellini.  It’s beautifully shot, achingly sad, and not entirely without humor. Cuarón has been honored by the Academy for Best Director for Gravity (2013), a film that would have won Best Picture in almost any other year it was nominated.   All that being said, the Academy has never, not once, given Best Picture to a foreign language film.  Then again, there’s a first time for everything.  Conclusion: Roma is a contender.

A Star is Born (Directed by Bradley Cooper)

A Star is Born got a lot of early buzz, but that buzz has faded.  For award show purposes, A Star is Born is Bradley Cooper’s character.  The other nominees are Lady Gaga’s character.  I just don’t see this movie turning things around, and it’s telling that Cooper wasn’t nominated for Best Director.  A Star is Born was well received by critics and audiences, but not by award show voters.  Conclusion: A Star is Born is a pretender.

Vice (Directed by Adam McKay)

Critics didn’t like Vice, and neither did audiences.  That said, the movie is getting some love for Christian Bale’s transformation into Dick Cheney.  However, every year there’s a movie nominated for Best Picture on the strength of the lead actor’s performance and not much else.  A good example of this phenomenon is Phantom Thread (2017), from last year’s show.  Daniel Day-Lewis was great in it, but the movie was kind of dumb.  Vice is this year’s Phantom Thread.  Conclusion: Vice is a pretender.

Conclusion & Prediction

There you have it.  If this were back when only five movies could be nominated for Best Picture, you would have Black Panther, Blackkklansman, the Favourite, Roma, and probably A Star is Born.  I think it’s going to come down to Roma or Black Panther.

So, what is Hollywood more nervous about?  The Oscars losing value because of too many fish “love” movies winning, or not giving foreign language films enough support over the years?  All the gold in Fort Knox couldn’t rectify decades of awards for Hollywood movies over superior foreign films, especially during the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s when the some of the greatest masterpieces of world cinema were coming out of France, Italy, Japan, and Sweden.  I don’t think this is a big concern for the folks in Hollywood.  Remember, with the exception of a dozen or so British movies and The Artist (2011), the Best Picture Oscar is best understood as the award for best American film as viewed with a short term evaluation.

Therefore, I predict that Black Panther will win Best Picture.  Wakanda Forever!

(c) 2019 D.G. McCabe