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The Kleptocrats

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Did you know The Wolf of Wall Street was funded by Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund? The Kleptocrats wants to make sure you never forget. This documentary on the ongoing, messy saga of 1MDB, the scheme that brought down Malaysia’s government and was so corrupt it could have made Hun Sen blush, is cleverly structured like a heist: the yellow titles even mimic Wolf of Wall Street.

The film is the product of years of investigative reporting by a motley crew of journalists, US Department of Justice lawsuits and persistent discontent from the Malaysian population. It must be the first film to lasso together the seemingly disparate worlds of the Hollywood entertainment industry and Southeast Asian crony politics. On the style front, it’s tremendously entertaining, flitting between the Cannes Film Festival and million-dollar Vegas parties (“I thought he was like Malaysian royalty, whatever that means,” drawls one entertainment promoter), and dominated by giddy overhead shots of New York and Kuala Lumpur.

A glance at the careers of directors Sam Hobkinson and Havana Marking reveals much of their previous work has been on documenting white-collar crime, from jewellery theft to art fraud. The Kleptocrats glimmers on a surface level of personalities and intertextuality: it doesn’t have a lot of depth or thoroughness on a forensic level. An obvious drawback of that approach is that it privileges the voices of the investigative reporters who pursued and broke the story. The Malaysia material is touristy, with a few talking heads around the edges; virtually the only non-political voice comes from a student driven towards activism, and her presence is so fleeting as to feel like an afterthought. And who is Malaysia’s disgraced former Prime Minister, Najib Razak, and what drove him? The film doesn’t offer any answers, even though it scores an interview with his brother, who you’d expect to be able to provide at least a few pointers.

Still, this is a story amply worthy of cinematic treatment, the outrageousness of the conspiracy outdone only by the clichéd way in which it was perpetrated.

 
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Wanda Sykes For President

“It’s not normal that I know I’m smarter than the president!” says Wanda Sykes during the long rant against Trump that opens her stand up special Wanda Sykes: Not Normal.
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Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 6: The Iron Throne

Home, Review, Streaming, Television, This Week 1 Comment

[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

Saying goodbye is hard. It’s a trial both in real life and pop culture, and the difficulty level spikes even higher when it comes to saying goodbye to the most successful television show of all time, say. That’s the unenviable task that David Benioff and D. B. Weiss – showrunners of Game of Thrones and writer/directors of the final episode – have set themselves with “The Iron Throne”.

So, how’d they do? Well, naturally opinions will vary. Hell, after last week’s divisive episode “The Bells”, some one million (!) pissed off fans have signed an online petition for season eight to be remade “with competent writers”. And while that’s a bit funny in a slightly sad sort of way, it also demonstrates the range of passionate reactions floating around out there. That said, “The Iron Throne”, while flawed in the same ways seasons 6-8 have been, does a pretty solid job of putting a fork in this fantasy opus. But let’s recap, one final time.

The episode opens with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) wandering through the smoking ruins of King’s Landing. It’s a rough stroll, filled with weeping survivors, shell shocked wounded and many, many crispy skin corpses. He is joined by Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington), but the wee man isn’t in the mood for chatter. Jon wanders on and finds Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) about to slit the throats of some Lannister soldiers. Wormy reckons he’s doing it on the queen’s orders, but Jon disagrees that it is necessary. The pair almost come to blows, but Davos manages to calm them down, and Grey Worm starts killing the prisoners in bold defiance of whatever the Westeros equivalent of the Geneva Convention is.

Tyrion goes digging through the rubble and finds the corpses of Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). Their underwhelming, silly deaths from last episode are rendered even more underwhelming and silly by the fact that the rest of the room appears relatively intact and they could have easily survived. Tyrion, nonetheless, is moved by the sight of his dead siblings and cries, showcasing yet again how wonderful Peter Dinklage has been in this role.

Outside Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) wanders about looking lost, when she spies Jon ascending the stairs, moving past the massed Dothraki Riders and Unsullied. Drogon arrives with Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and she hops off and gives a rousing speech, in which she talks about “freeing” the people of Westeros, just like she “freed” the people (aka piles of ash) of King’s Landing. Grey Worm gets a promotion, Jon looks pensive and Tyrion tells Dany he quits, which leads to his immediate arrest. Tyrion is going home in the back of a divvy van!

Jon visits Tyrion in his cell and over a rather bittersweet sequence, Tyrion talks about how he has been so very wrong and how it would be pretty great if Jon killed Dany. Jon looks pensive.

Jon heads over to visit Dany, whereupon he meets a snow-covered Drogon who gives him a quick once over but deems him okay to enter. Jon visits Dany who is dreamily fondling the Iron Throne. Sure, she’s massacred thousands of people, but she genuinely believes she’s doing the right thing. She’s not a full Mad Queen, but rather something more insidious, Dany is a true believer who genuinely thinks she can do only good. We understand this from a cracking little interaction between Dany and Jon, and the pair are both acting their little hearts out.

“Be with me, build the new world with me. This is our reason,” Dany says, “we do it together, we break the wheel together.”

“You are my queen,” Jon whispers, “now and always.”

The pair pash on like their pingers are kicking in but Jon takes the moment to slide his dagger into Dany’s heart. She’s too surprised to be angry and dies, her mouth leaking blood and her eyes wide in disbelief. Jon cries at what he’s done, and then Drogon pops in for a visit. It looks for all the world as if Drogon is going to fire Jonno, but instead the scaly champion turns his burning attentions to the Iron Throne itself, melting it down to a puddle of boiling slag. The concept of the throne being a symbol rather than a literal source of power is apparently lost on Drogon. Stupid dragon. Drogon then grabs Dany’s corpse and pisses off into the sky, to places unknown.

Some weeks later, Grey Worm grabs Tyrion from his cell and takes him to a staff meeting of pretty much everyone who is still alive. The important players are Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), Brandon Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), Arya, Davos, Ser Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) and Samwell Tarly (John Bradley). The question of what to do with Tyrion and Jon is raised, with Grey Worm falling very much on the side of Team Decapitate. The point is, a leader needs to be chosen and though Sam gamely tries to raise the idea of democracy (to much laughter and disdain) it is ultimately Bran who everyone wants. Wait, what?! Fucken BRAN?! Captain Uncomfortable Stare? Good lord. Everyone seems pretty down with the idea, except Sansa who wants the North to be an independent state. Bran accepts the role but insists that Tyrion be his hand, and will make up for his mistakes for the rest of his life. So begins the reign of “Bran the broken”. Which, guys, awkward name, hey?

Tyrion goes to tell Jon the good news. Said news being “you won’t be killed, but you’re back off to the Night’s Watch again”. Jon takes the news pensively.

Jon walks along in a fancy fur coat, with his fellow men of the Night’s Watch, and farewells his family. Sansa is going to be Queen in the North, Arya is going to explore the lands “west of Westeros” and Bran the Broken (ugh) will rule the Seven Kingdoms. Meanwhile, Brienne fills in Jaime Lannister’s Wikipedia entry, and manages to make him sound like not a complete fuckwit, which is pretty big of her, to be honest.

Next, we have the first meeting with the new king, with Tyrion, Davos, Samwell and Bronn (Jerome Flynn)! Yes, in a lovely moment for a character much ignored in this final season, Bronn gets a somewhat happy ending as the new “Master of Coin”. Tyrion is nonplussed to be left out of “A Song of Ice and Fire”, a rather meta tome that has the appealing feature of ACTUALLY BEING FINISHED, EH GEORGE? Bran enters, does very little, and buggers back off with Ser Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman) and the adults are left to talk about the best way to rebuild. It’s not a perfect system but it works.

A gorgeously directed final sequence shows where our Starks have ended up. Jon joins Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and Ghost (WHO FINALLY GETS THAT PAT) and heads North of the Wall with the Wildlings. Sansa gets the crown and becomes Queen of the North. Arya commands a ship heading out to lands unknown and we can only wonder what happens next, because that’s all she wrote, ladies and gentleman, Game of Thrones – at least in this incarnation – has ended.

There are endings great and terrible in television. Of the former, Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Shield are notable examples. Of the latter, Dexter, Lost and How I Met Your Mother wear the shame crown. So, where does Game of Thrones sit? Look, it’s subjective but in terms of these last three seasons, it’s pretty good. Dany’s execution isn’t particularly exciting, or tense, but the genuine emotion of the moment lands. And the episode actually improves in the second half, with a brief-but-tantalising look at what will happen next in Westeros.

Of course, “a brief look” is likely the biggest problem here, with these last two seasons being needlessly truncated. Two ten episode seasons would have served this narrative better, and yet what we got, while imperfect, still managed to feel emotionally resonant and satisfying on a level that admittedly has to ignore a lot of dangling plot threads, missing characters and various prophecies that were, apparently, just wrong.

Current internet punching bags, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss direct this series finale with a kind of somber style, bringing a solid conclusion to an increasingly inconsistent saga. And whether you loved, hated or were simply bemused by how it all wrapped up, let’s take a moment to appreciate the mammoth undertaking this entire series represents. This is an epic fantasy told over many hours, brimming with love and death, monsters and gore, characters and locations. There may be shows that equal, or even surpass, it in the future but this was the first one to sing the song of ice and fire.

The major missing piece was, of course, Ser Pounce’s paw bursting through the ashes and clawing its way to victory, but they probably just ran out of money before they could shoot that one. Thanks for reading, everyone, see you at the next wildly entertaining, if controversial, cultural landmark!

 
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Trailer: Always be my Baby

One crazy rich Asian (Ali Wong - hilarious in Netflix Special Baby Cobra) and one poor one (ubiquitous Randall Park - Fresh off the Boat, etc)  reunite after 15 years in the will-they-won't-they rom-com for Netflix.
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Trailer: Black Mirror Season 5

Here's your first glimpse of three new episodes dropping in early June, featuring Anthony Mackie, Miley Cyrus, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Topher Grace, Damson Idris, Andrew Scott, Nicole Beharie, Pom Klementieff, Angourie Rice, Madison Davenport and Ludi Lin.
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Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 5: The Bells

Home, Review, Streaming, Television, This Week 6 Comments

[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. Come on, you know how this works]

Game of Thrones’ penultimate episode ever, “The Bells”, is a perfect encapsulation of everything good and everything bad about the show. It manages to attain gripping, edge-of-your-seat tension and laughable, forehead-slapping stupidity in a propulsive 78-minute package. It’s the kind of episode people will remember for years, citing the pros and the cons, and will likely end up on numerous “best of” and “worst of” lists, with shouty people on the internet seemingly leaning towards the latter with frankly alarming zeal.

But before we dig deeper, let’s recap this bad boy and see what all the fuss is about.

We open in Dragonstone with Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) writing a note to send via Adorable Child Post. Said note is regarding Jon Snow’s rightful place on the Iron Throne. The sad music and somber tone of this scene suggests that this was not Varys’ smartest play. Continuing his stubborn resistance towards “smart things”, he then tries to convince Jon Snow that his missus may, in fact, be a little bit cray. Jon doesn’t want a bar of it and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) watches from afar, having a good old frown.

Tyrion then takes it upon himself to pay a mourning Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) a visit, informing her that she is being betrayed by Varys. This bit of dibber dobbing is a harsh pill to swallow and Tyrion tries to sweeten it by suggesting Varys’ heart, like all of their hearts, was in the right place. This goes down about as well as you might expect.

Nek minute, Varys is arrested by Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and taken to the beach where Dany, Jon and Tyrion stand around with faces like smacked bums. Tyrion tells Varys that it was he who sold him out, and with a final moment of dignity, Varys tells Tyrion he “hopes [he’s] wrong… goodbye old friend.” Then Dany summons Drogon and fries one of the show’s best characters like a pork chop on a barbie. Goodbye, Varys, more characters should have listened to you, mate.

Dany has a bit of a debrief with Grey Worm, and she gives him Missandei’s (Nathalie Emmanuel) only possession, her old slave collar. Grey Worm burns the gift in the fire and leaves when Jon arrives. Dany grills Jon (verbally, unlike Varys) and wants to feel out his loyalty; she claims she wants more from Westeros than fear. She goes in for a pash but Jon is clearly not feeling frisky – on account of his ambivalence about aunty-fucking, no doubt – and Dany mutters, “alright then, let it be fear.”

Tyrion has one final crack at making Dany see reason, but she’s pretty intent on turning King’s Landing into a smouldering ruin. Tyrion makes one last play, begging her that if the city surrenders and rings its bells, will she then not kill everyone? Dany rather huffily agrees and as Tyrion goes to leave, offhandedly mentions that she has pinged Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) trying to sneak back home. That’s Tyrion’s final warning, she tells him.

Preparations for battle begin in earnest. At King’s Landing, we see scores of innocent people moving into the “safety” of the Red Keep. From there, we cut back to Tyrion asking a favour of Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), and it’s a biggie. Nearby, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and Sandor Clegane aka The Hound (Rory McCann) bullshit their way past some guards and head to where the action is. Tyrion springs Jaime from his makeshift jail and we have the episode’s most moving and well-observed tender moment between the pair. Tyrion thanks Jaime for never treating him like a monster and they embrace and it’s sweet and- oh shit, Jaime’s defo gunna die, isn’t he?

In the light of day, everyone prepares for battle. Including Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk), Tyrion, Jon, Cersei and everyone else. Cersei, in particular, smirks like the cat who got the cream and we have to wonder what her secret plan is. Downstairs, an adorable moppet and her mum are stuck outside the walls because Arya and The Hound pushed in. Yet again, the little people suffer because of the whims of the powerful, a classic recurring GoT theme.

The battle kicks off with Dany riding Drogon in a vertical attack pattern against Euron’s fleet. Apparently, Euron has run out of the magic arrows from last week because he gets absolutely fucked on, with Dany burning his boats and men from bonce to ballbag. Dany continues the wave of mutilation against the scorpions perched on the walls of King’s Landing with similar results. She’s the firestarter, twisted firestarter.

Outside the walls, the Golden Company led by Harry Strickland (Marc Rissmann) get ready to show off the moves we’ve been waiting to see since they were first introduced. Wow, this is going to be good, what sort of epic- wait, no, Dany just bursts through the city’s walls and the whole company get wrecked by the Dothraki riders. Huh, you uh… kinda sucked, Harry.

Cersei, still watching from on high, loses about 34% of her smirk and continues to do nothing.

Jon and Grey Worm and crew, head in to face a group of very dispirited looking Lannister forces. Tension rises as we’re about to see a nasty battle but, sensing the reversal of fortune, the Lannister troops drop their weapons and surrender. Sanity has prevailed and a new dawn will rise. The bells ring out, a sound of hope, which causes Cersei’s smirk to vanish completely and everyone else to be much happier. Everyone, that is, except Dany who apparently has not spilt enough blood yet, because she kickstarts Drogon and, in an effective albeit predictable sequence, starts to burn King’s Landing to ash, one screaming peasant at a time.

The battle resumes despite Jon’s attempt to calm everyone’s tits, and what follows is some of Game of Thrones’ most effective, albeit staggeringly bleak, sequences of innocent people caught up in the grisly machines of rich people’s wars.

Jaime, while attempting to sneak upstairs to see Cersei, is interrupted by Euron and the pair have a rather silly sword fight. At the same time Qyburn (Anton Lesser), accompanied by The Mountain (Ian Whyte), tells Cersei they should really head off somewhere safer than the large building a dragon is currently burning. Cersei cries and agrees. This is literally the first thing she has done for this entire episode and… wow, okay.

The silly sword fights conclude with Jaime mortally wounded and Euron bleeding out, proud of the fact that he’s “the man who killed Jaime Lannister”. Which apparently means a lot to him, despite his guts hanging out. Weird flex, Euron, weird flex.

In the Red Keep, The Hound tells Arya she should probably leave because he’s about to die, one way or the other. Arya actually listens, realising revenge is no way to live, and scarpers. The Hound, meanwhile, finally confronts his brother on the stairs, killing all the adds and ready to fight the main boss. Qyburn tells the Mountain to protect the Queen and do as he’s told, so the big fella smashes his skull open and throws his body away like a sack of spuds. Cersei awkwardly scampers past the pair of them and Clegane Fight Night is about to begin!

Jaime finds Cersei and she cries a lot, and hugs Jaime. The pair of them will attempt to flee. Hound vs Mountain is a brutal battle, with The Mountain being super OP because no sword wound seems to hurt him particularly. This brutal blue is juxtaposed with an equally brutal sequence of Arya trying to escape King’s Landing, as the place literally falls to pieces. In the final moments of the brother battle, Sandor seems to realise that there’s only one way to win and tackles Gregor off the side of the building and the pair fall into a sea of seething fire. Farewell the brothers Clegane, you were both wonderful and horrible.

Jon rallies the troops to leave King’s Landing, and elsewhere Arya tries to help the mum and daughter we met earlier. It does not go well. Meanwhile, Jaime and Cersei’s escape plan is similarly stymied by the fact that the secret tunnel has been filled in. Cersei starts sobbing desperately (seriously, what’s happening with her this episode?!) and Jaime holds her close… as the pair of them are crushed by falling rubble. And… that’s a wrap on Cersei and Jaime, apparently. This is probably the episode’s weakest moment, sadly.

Arya has survived, the young mum and daughter have not. Arya mounts a friendly horse (a pale horse, in fact) and rides off into the distance and cue the end credits.

What a ride. A lot of extremely noisy people on the internet have decried Dany’s arc with this episode, but honestly that’s been on the boil for ages. While it might be sad and tragic, it was also inevitable, if a bit ham-fisted in its delivery. What really rankles about this episode is Cersei’s astonishingly passive reaction to everything. We’ve been building her up as the big bad for ages and she goes out like a scared child? It just seems like a waste. Sorry, Night King, you’ve just been surpassed as Most Underwhelming Villain Ending in GoT.

Having said that, the destruction of King’s Landing from a ground level perspective is the perfect Game of Thrones sequence, and shows how effective this program can be when it’s focusing on the right perspective. So now the tables are set for a final Starks vs Dany battle next week and while that will no doubt be entertaining it does feel a little rote and predictable.

It’s probably a little much to hope for a big surprise after eight seasons, but here’s hoping the GoT crew can deliver a few shocks. Like, say, THE RETURN OF SER POUNCE?! Okay, probably not. We’ll find out for sure in seven. See ya then.

 
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Trailer: The Loudest Voice

Big Russ as Roger Ailes, Naomi Watts as former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, Sienna Miller as Ailes’ wife Elizabeth, Seth MacFarlane as former Fox News PR chief Brian Lewis, Simon McBurney as Rupert Murdoch, Annabelle Wallis as former Fox News booker Laurie Luhn and Aleksa Palladino as Ailes’ longtime assistant Judy Laterza, Josh Charles as Casey Close, Gretchen Carlson’s husband, and Josh Stamberg as former Fox executive, Bill Shine.