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Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 2: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms

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

There’s one thing you should know up front about episode two of Game of Thrones season eight, and it’s this: the big battle they hint at will not occur in the following 50-odd minutes. The reason we mention this is because, viewed as an episode that’s building to something big, it might feel like something of an anticlimax, or at the very least a delayed climax. However, delaying a climax, in dramatic terms, can leave the eventual payoff feel all the more satisfying, and “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” has some wonderful moments. But first, let’s recap.

The episode begins, and in fact exclusively takes part, in Winterfell. Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is facing Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) in the main hall and boy, tough crowd! Dany talks about how uncool it was of Jaime to murder her father, and Jaime takes it on the chin and informs the group that Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) will, in fact, not be helping out against the walking dea- erm, white walkers. This doesn’t exactly endear anyone to Jaime’s side, and it makes Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) look like a bit of a dickhead for believing Cersei in the first place. However, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) vouches for Jaime as a man of honour, which causes Sansa to do the same.

“I trust you with my life,” Sansa tells Brienne, “if you trust him with yours… we should let him stay.”

Post meeting, Dany is seriously pissed off at Tyrion for his lapse in judgement. Tyrion reckons his long term employment potential is starting to look a little dicey.

Elsewhere, Gendry (Joe Dempsie) is knocking out some lovely weapons using Dragonglass. Arya (Maisie Williams) pops by to say g’day, have a perv and ask where her bloody weapon is. Gendry seems to think Arya is still the same innocent little girl he first met back in the day. Arya showcases her blade-chucking skills to prove, pretty convincingly, that she’s very much not. Gendry is a little bit scared, a little bit horny.

In the Godswood, Jaime wants to know why Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) never dobbed him in about the whole ‘pushing him out the window, breaking his spine’ caper. Bran talks somewhat cryptically about the nature of fate and free will, and suggests in a subtle way, that these things happen for a reason. Bloody hell, Bran, you’re turning into a creepy InspiroBot quote machine these days.

Jaime then heads off for a chinwag with Tyrion and the pair reflect on life, death and the cruelly ironic nature of things. Jaime leaves Tyrion mid-monologue and pops down to the training grounds to chat with Brienne, telling her he’d be honoured to fight under her.

Meanwhile, Dany gets a visit from Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) who suggests that maybe Tyrion is a good resource to be used and not cast aside because of one mistake. He further suggests perhaps there is one other who should be kept close, which leads us into a lovely scene with Dany and Sansa. The pair really seem to connect, particularly while lightly mocking Jon, and they almost become besties… but it comes down to the issue of power yet again. Sansa wants the North to be free and Dany wants to rule over all the Seven Kingdoms. Neither seems willing to budge an inch, and though the conversation is interrupted, we get the sense this particular argument is far from over.

Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) arrives to much jubilation and hugging from Sansa, and much awkward shrugging from Dany. He pledges his allegiance to Sansa and the Starks.

Outdoors, Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) is feeding the troops, although many of them are far from ready for battle. A small child, scarred in a way that reminds him of Shireen Baratheon (Kerry Ingram) bravely offers to fight. Davos is touched but unsure how to respond when Gilly (Hannah Murray) saves the day, by asking the cute kid to defend the crypt where she and the children will be hiding.

With the announcement that the dead are near, thanks to Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), final battle plans are made. Bran will be used as bait in the Godswood, because the Night King (Vladimir Furdik) is super horny to maggot him. Theon offers to be Bran’s bodyguard and Tyrion offers to fight with Davos. Dany tells Tyrion she needs his big brain and he should probably keep it safe, showing that she forgives him and still needs him around. Awww bless. The rest of the plan is nutted out and can basically be summarised as “try not to die”.

We get short, but very well executed, character moments next. Firstly, Tyrion wants Bran to tell him his whole story, which Bran obliges. Gray Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) make travel plans for a post battle life, virtually guaranteeing one or both of them will die. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) gives Jon a bit of shit for not telling Dany his big secret, but then Edd (Ben Crompton) rocks up and the trio have a little Night’s Watch reunion. It’s quite funny, and very human, and a nice look back at the show’s twisty history.

In the episode’s funniest scene, we begin with Tyrion and Jaime drinking by the fire. They are soon joined by Brienne and Podrick (Daniel Portman). And then Tormund, who has clearly lost none of his passion for Brienne, pops in also, and then Davos. Tormund tells an alarming, and unlikely, tale about suckling on a giant’s tit and then drinks a hornful of grog, pouring a good third of the contents on himself. After that Davos decides to sink some piss too.

Outside and Arya has a chat with the Hound (Rory McCann), in which it’s clear that they have both changed a lot over time, and all is forgiven. Well, for the most part. Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) arrives and starts banging on about the Lord of Light, and Arya decides she’s got better things to do than listen to old blokes have a sook. Point of fact, Arya decides it’s probably time she got a root, so as not to die a virgin. Gendry is her chosen target and she very bluntly seduces him and gets into it. Gendry doesn’t seem to mind, though, and it seems like a fine time is had by both.

Back to the drinking group and we get the episode’s best scene. Brienne talks about how women can’t be made knights and Tormund thinks this is insane. Jaime agrees and right then and there makes Brienne a knight. Gwendoline Christie absolutely nails this moment, her face portraying genuine emotion, and a fierce sense of pride, and you may find yourself misting up just a little. Brienne is now the titular Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.

We then quickly move through Jorah attempting, and failing, to get Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) to sit out the battle to come (as if, Jorah!) and then Sam hands over his sword to Jorah, in a gesture of trust and admiration. Also a gesture of ‘Sam would prefer not to fight because he’s a bit shit at it’, to be frank. Podrick sings a sweet tune and those who have loved ones hold them close as the night draws to an end.

Dany visits Jon in the crypt and he finally tells her the secret that has been eating away at him. Dany is shocked at the ramifications of Jon’s claim to the Iron Throne (but not the incest, strangely), but before anyone can get too worked up about it the army of the dead arrive.

Then a fantastic battle scene tak- wait, what?! No it doesn’t! The episode bloody ends! Argh, curse you weekly episode releases, how can you be so cruel?!

Taken on its own merits, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is a well written, well executed episode and another atmospheric hour from director David Nutter. Perhaps some of the character beats are a little more protracted than they need to be but it seems like next episode will probably dispatch at least a few cast members, so it’s essentially a little bit more calm before the storm. If you can get past the cliffhangery nature of the episode’s ending, it’s a grand session of character development, although the wait for the next ep will be dark and full of terrors.

Ser Pounce Watch: Still no sign of the furry legend, but that’s almost certainly because he’s just biding his time… see you next week!

 

 

 
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Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 1: Winterfell

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

As a Game of Thrones fan it’s impossible not to feel a frisson of excitement as we begin this eighth and final season. Everything has led to this. Every battle, every sneaky murder, every root – ill-advised and otherwise – is all culminating in this season. It’s a lot to get your head around and the first episode, “Winterfell”, does an admirable job of restating the various factions and loyalties, and reminding us of the stakes at play.

They’re big stakes. It doesn’t get much bigger than “the Wall has collapsed and the army of the dead are flooding in with a bloody zombie dragon”.

“Winterfell” begins with an updated credit sequence, one that reflects the very unwally state of The Wall, and opens in miserable, cold Winterfell. The grand army of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) has arrived and she and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) are taking in the sights, riding together in an obvious display of support for one another. However the hard, stubborn locals aren’t exactly stoked with the whole caper, and stare at Dany with their mouths puckered like cat clackers. This isn’t quite the hero’s welcome she might have hoped for.

Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) rides along with the procession in a covered wagon, busting Lord Varys’s (Conleth Hill) lack of balls. Honestly, it’s not his best material but we get the feeling the whole conversation is to mask Tyrion’s bone-deep nervousness at being in the home of a people with a fairly sensible grudge against his family.

Next minute the dragons, Drogon and Rhaegal, soar over the wintery district, scaring the absolute shit out of the locals and causing Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) to watch with a mixture of awe and foreboding.

The first of many reunions takes place, with Jon meeting up with Brandon Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright). Jon’s super happy to see Bran, but the wheelchair-bound mystic acts like that one mate of yours who’s just a little bit into his mushies, speaking all cryptic and portentously. Sansa and Dany give each other some vicious side eye, and share a few choice words, but Bran tells them to knock it off. “We don’t have time for this,” he says accurately yet somehow still very annoyingly, “the dead march south.”

Later, in a staff meeting, the locals are becoming increasingly confused by who the hell is actually in charge. Is it Jon? Sansa? Dany? Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) best epitomises the confusion, saying to Jon, “you left Winterfell a king and came back a… I’m not sure what you are, now. A lord? Nothing at all?” Jon tries to explain that a zombie army is defo a bigger worry than local politics, but the crowd are unconvinced. Tyrion attempts to win them over by mentioning Cersei’s army is on the way. It goes down about as well as a lamb chop at a vegan dinner party.

Later, Tyrion and Sansa have a reunion of their own. They haven’t actually hung out since the Purple Wedding, where Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) died choking in front of everyone. “Miserable affair,” Tyrion recalls.

“It had its moments,” Sansa replies with a smile.

The two sort of bond, but there’s been a lot of history since those days. Sansa also doesn’t believe for a second that Cersei is going to help, which – to be fair – is 100% accurate.

Jon and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) reunite in the Godswood and it’s actually a delightfully sweet scene. They hug, compare weapons and chat about current events. In a nicely observed twist, Arya praises Sansa, calling her the “smartest person I’ve ever met”.

“You’re defending her? You?” Jon chortles.

“I’m defending our family. She is too,” Arya replies.

Meanwhile, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) glowers on the battlements at King’s Landing. When she’s told of the dead breaking through the Wall she smirks and says, “good.” Subtle stuff, guys, very nuanced. In the harbour nearby, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) swaggers about, crowing of his magnificence to still-alive-but-captured Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan). Then hops back onto dry land to impress Cersei with the brand spanking new army he has delivered. Euron makes it clear that he really feels Cersei should throw a quickie his way. At first Cersei doesn’t want a bar of it, but ever calculating seems to realise a well-rooted Euron is most likely a happy Euron, and gives him the nod.

Speaking of rooting, Bronn (Jerome Flynn) has a foursome interrupted by creepy Qyburn (Anton Lesser), which is enough to put a bloke off his stroke. Qyburn is offering riches beyond compare for one job: kill Cersei’s brothers. This is setting up a potentially tragic arc with Bronn possibly murdering his mate Tyrion, or dying in the attempt. In one scene we see that everything really is up for grabs this season and a lot of our favourites aren’t going to survive.

Next up, a bunch of people are killed and Yara freed by… Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen)?! Yes, it appears the dickless one grew some balls. Yara thanks him with a headbutt but then pulls him to his feet; he is forgiven. Later, she gives Theon permission to fight with the Starks, because she knows that’s where his true loyalty lies.

Back in Winterfell, Tyrion, Varys and Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) discuss what a handsome, Westeros-uniting couple Dany and Jon would make if they wed. Tyrion sees sense in the idea, but worries that love doesn’t last, particularly in political unions. Jon and Dany go to check on the dragons, who aren’t eating much, and the pair mount the scaly beasts and go for a ride. It’s an exhilarating sequence, with Jon barely staying upright during the trip and ends with some sexy times. Although Jon can’t quite get past the fact Dragon is staring at him. You know when your significant other’s cat won’t stop staring at you? Imagine that, but the cat is the size of Rooty Hill RSL. Yeesh.

Gendry (Joe Dempsie) impresses Sandor “The Hound” Glegane (Rory McCann) with his weapons-crafting skills but then Arya rocks up and a tense scene takes place between the latter pair. The Hound either forgives Arya for their last altercation, or can’t be bothered getting into it, and gruffly admires her ability to stay alive. Then Gendry and Arya have a scene together dripping with sexual tension and oh my, is this going to be a thing now?

Dany and Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) pay what should be a lovely visit to Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), to thank him for curing Jorah’s dragonscale. The problem? Well, when Sam responds to Dany’s generous offer of reward it comes out that she had both his father Randyll (James Sebastian Faulkner) and brother Dickon (Tom Hopper) burnt alive by her dragons. Sam mostly manages to keep it together, admirably, but we can see his mighty heart is broken. This is actually the episode’s best scene, because it hammers home that there often is not a right answer in politics and war, just a series of least worst options. This leads to the biggest moment of the night – the one we’ve all been waiting for – when Sam goes to see Jon and tells him he is the child of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. This makes Jon not only not a bastard, but the true heir to the Iron Throne! Jon is rocked by the revelation and oh man, this is going to be awkward with Dany!

The episode then delivers a wonderfully creepy scene where Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) find young Ned Umber (Harry Grasby) very much dead and nailed to the wall, with a spiral of limbs left as a message from the Night King. However, Ned’s not as dead as he first appears, and attacks our heroes. He is stopped, and dispatched with fire, but it’s clear the Night King, and his army of the dead, are not pissfarting about anymore.

In a final scene, that appears to circle right back to the show’s very first episode, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) arrives in Winterfell, attempting to be incognito. However, Bran – who apparently never leaves his spot in the yard – recognises him. You know, the bloke who put in the damn wheelchair in the first place!

“Winterfell” is a cracker of a first episode back, that manages to successfully reintroduce everyone and remind us why we’ve missed these characters over the long break between seasons. In keeping with latter era Thrones, it’s not exactly subtle. The writing is fairly blunt, as all the plot strands hurtle towards their respective climaxes, but atmospheric direction by David Nutter and stellar performances from all, particularly John Bradley, anchor the proceedings and give a sense of gravitas.

Welcome back, Game of Thrones! Now, if you could please confirm that Ser Pounce is actually still alive, and doing fine, that would be grand.

 
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Rocking the Couch

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Rocking the Couch takes a rudimental approach in its coverage of #metoo that resultingly ends up scattershot and well-trodden. From interviews of actresses who have experienced sexual abuse to history lessons on misconduct in Hollywood, Rocking the Couch’s ambitious efforts to cover a broad spectrum of information within a sixty-minute runtime is admirable, however, sees it unable to effectively dissect important issues facing Hollywood and culture at large.

Where female interviewees share their traumatic experiences on screen, it is with the male respondents, often members of law enforcement or producers, and their dissociative responses on how female victims should behave that highlight something culturally problematic. It is unclear whether Rocking the Couch has something interesting to say about this male perspective – the bizarre manner in which interviews are conducted, involving green screen backgrounds and interviewees drinking wine, is distracting to the point that important themes come across as satirical.

Issues with editing are prevalent throughout Rocking the Couch, with director Minh Collins’ decision to embellish the film with cheap transition effects and stock-images that interrupt interviews being of high school PowerPoint presentation quality.

In title, Rocking the Couch makes a bold declaration that its timely subject matter will disrupt Hollywood, which despite its earnest attempts to do so doesn’t rock the couch as much as it brushes past it.

 
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Zero-Point

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Comprising of four episodes that are each approximately five minutes long, the political animated web-series Zero-Point wastes no time ostensibly exposing the injustices experienced by Indigenous Australians beneath the backdrop of a society policed by superheroes.

The series focuses on Indigenous Superhero Zero Point (Mark Coles Smith), who is part of a government superhero crime fighting syndicate, A.F.E.C.O (Australian Federal Extra-Normal Civil Operatives), that is determined to uncover and take down a mysterious villain, Samson (Steven Oliver), who is determined to reassert sovereignty.

Zero-Point is then embroiled in a mystery to discover what happened to his father, with the show able to touch on topical Indigenous issues including white-patriotism, the stolen generation, substance abuse, and racism experienced in the judicial system.

All the more impressive due to the short length of each episode, characters are fleshed out to the extent that the audience can rationalise and understand their motivations, with enough mystery left should there be a second season.

There is a distinctly rigid style to the animation that resembles an ‘80s cartoon, that when combined with the action scenes elevate the story to highlight Indigenous Australian struggles.

Zero-Point, as was the case for Black Panther, uses the confines of a superhero story to highlight the inequality felt by Indigenous Australians and is done so with a clear agenda that never feels overbearing.

https://zero-point.tv/

 
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The Cry

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Compelling four-part television drama mini-series The Cry will shock and enthral viewers.

Based on the novel by Australian author Helen FitzGerald, viewers will be on the edge of their seat watching this drama unfold. Over six-million people tuned into watch the show when it premiered on BBC One last year. The popular series also attracted 10 million plus plays via BBCs i-player.

The British-Australian co-production was filmed across the two continents (Glasgow and Melbourne) and features a strong cast – including Ewen Leslie (Top of the Lake, Safe Harbour), Asher Keddie, Alex Dimitriades and Jenna Coleman (Dr Who, Victoria) – each delivering powerful and convincingly-played emotive performances.

Adapted by Jacquelin Perske (Love My Way, Seven Types of Ambiguity), The Cry follows the lives of a young couple, Joanna (Jenna Coleman) and her husband Alistair (Ewen Leslie). Joanna and Alistair travel with their baby from Scotland to Australia to see Alistair’s mother, and to fight for custody of Alistair’s daughter against his Australian ex-wife Alexandra (Asher Keddie). Almost as soon as they arrive in rural Victoria, every parent’s worst nightmare is brought to life when their four-month old baby boy Noah goes missing. The already fragile relationship between the young couple quickly disintegrates as the public scrutiny intensifies and the mystery deepens.

There are echoes of little Madeleine McCann and Azaria Chamberlain disappearances and while the abduction of baby Noah is the catalyst and what drives this story, it’s the characters that provide the intrigue. The lines of truth and manipulation are blurred in this plot-twisting drama where everyone is a suspect.

Viewers will slowly despise Leslie’s character, who is smug, patronising and a completely unhelpful new father. “He earns the money; he wears the earplugs” Joanna justifies, explaining why Alistair never wakes to help with Noah’s night-time feedings.

Keddie is brilliant as the ex-wife to Leslie but it’s Coleman who excels, unravelling before our eyes. The English actress does not hide her feelings of loss, anger or confusion. She’s completely relatable as a struggling mother and viewers will feel her pain during the flight to Australia scene as she repetitively walks up and down the aisle trying to quieten her screaming baby and ignore the look of distain from fellow passengers. This intelligent drama provides a harsh view of motherhood at its most harrowing.

The Cry will not be relaxing Sunday night viewing, but audiences will find it grippingly addictive.

 
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Stay Human

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With the world regularly looking like it’s going down the toilet, how do we stay positive? That – though asked in far more eloquent words – is the question at the centre of this absorbing documentary.

Michael Franti, best known for his lyrical and musical work with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and Spearhead, fronts his own story, exploring what it means to be human, and how we can hold on to it in a complicated and unpredictable reality.

Franti takes the audience on a journey through his songs and creative processes and plays them alongside the inspiring tales of people he’s met throughout his career. These are people such as Robin Lim, a midwife who founded special birthing centres in the Philippines following the devastating effect of typhoons. She pinpoints the pain of living in the modern world as originating in how we are born, with the trauma of being surgically removed from the parent a hurt that takes many years to recover from.

The central fight for staying human is, in Franti’s view, the battle between cynicism and optimism. Steve and Hope Dezember are a couple with an integral role in the film, displaying this optimism and love of life, no matter what the circumstances. The pair’s enduring love is reflected in Hope’s commitment to her partner after he developed a diagnosis of the neurodegenrative disease ALS. The challenges faced by the couple, and their strength in enjoying every part of life, is captured beautifully, and served as a starting point for the film project itself.

A love for the whole world, and how humanity can help treat it better, is reflected in the story of Arief Rabik, a Balinese environmental scientist who has come up with an ingenious way of processing bamboo to reduce deforestation.

Franti also travels to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where he meets two young people, Busisiwwe Vazi and Sive Mazinyo, who have inspired their local community through the power of music and education.

Franti’s own difficulties, including troubles with depression and a complicated relationship with his father and history as an adopted child, are movingly addressed. His passion and constant search for inspiring vision is at the beating heart of this powerful documentary, that shows how and why humans can remain engaged with life.

 
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The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

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Pre-internet, for many people in Australia, Garry Shandling arrived on our shores in 1986 with It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. We hadn’t seen anything like it, as this postmodern take on the sitcom format broke every rule in the book, and the show developed a cult following, with its creator cementing it years later with The Larry Sanders Show between 1992 – 1998.

When Shandling passed away in 2016, there was an outcry from North America, where comedians – through podcasts and online followings – paid their respects to a comedy genius. One of his loudest champions was Judd Apatow, now a comedy industry in his own right, who was given plenty of breaks early on by Shandling, and has now directed this personal, grandiose documentary.

With AAA footage, journals and talent, Apatow has constructed an exhaustive and entertaining film, and unlike his later feature films (This is 40, Funny People), the extraordinary length of the enterprise is actually for the audience’s benefit. When after more than 4 hours, Apatow reveals the secret to Shandling’s being, you would be hard pressed not to tear up at a beautiful but complicated life that you have just had presented before you.

Divided into two eps, the first part charts Shandling’s childhood and family life, the journey to comedy, all the way up until the launch of The Larry Sanders Show. Part two ends with the comedian’s memorial service where anyone who is anyone was moved to laughter and tears in equal measure.

A bunch of talent – Jim Carrey, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jay Leno, etc – is interviewed sitting down in conversation with Apatow, who appears often and makes for a sensational, knowing moderator; whilst others – Seinfeld, Alec Baldwin, Tom Petty, Chris Rock, etc, etc – are captured in intimate behind the scenes footage during Garry’s often filmed career.

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling fills in a lot of gaps about Shandling’s life and career, especially for Australian audiences, and does it in a dramatic, often hilarious, ultimately profound and highly emotional way. It’s a highly fitting tribute to a comedy genius who touched millions of lives on a macro level, but here we discover the hundreds that he affected daily, and how.

At a minimum, you will be hunting down a DVD copy of The Larry Sanders Show to check out the special features, which this documentary poses was Garry’s final masterpiece.

 
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Minding the Gap

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In the opening of Minding the Gap, we meet Keire and Zack, two young men living in Rockford, Illinois. Along with the film’s director, Bing Liu – who also happens to be their best friend of over a decade – they trespass into a building looking for a cool place to skate. When Zack admits that he has lost his bottle, the other friends agree that their pursuit for a new place to skate is foolhardy and they all merrily skate away. This opening scene provides a succinct introduction to the friendship these three men have. Zack is never berated for his ‘cowardice’ or seen to be less ‘masculine’ than his cohorts. They’re either in this together, tackling what life has in store for them, or they’re out.

Liu’s documentary follows Keire and Zack as they reconcile who they are, with who they want to be, and where they’ve come from. Zack is expecting his first child and appears to be completely unprepared. Still in his early 20s, his main pursuits appear to be beer and setting up an indoor skate park. Keire, meanwhile, is a fiercely talented skater, who doesn’t appear to have the motivation to do much else. From the get-go, skateboarding is seen as an escape from their broken homes and life commitments, but there is so much more to it than that.

Minding the Gap is an astonishingly emotional documentary that works not only as a portrait of rustbelt America, but one which also places friendship and masculinity under the microscope. Both Zack and Keire make covert references to being hit by their parents, where not even the close relationship they share with the director allows them to be too open. This is brought into sharp relief when Liu decides to interview his mother about the domestic violence they’ve lived with, and Zack’s own abusive tendencies rise to the surface after a particularly brutal fight with his girlfriend.

In both instances, we see the director becoming part of the narrative and, as a result, discovering new parts about himself along the way. As Liu interviews his mother, the camera switches to him as he tries to comprehend why someone he loves so much would stay with someone so violent for so long. It’s a heartbreaking sequence which makes Liu’s confrontation with Zack all the more potent. Interestingly, Zack is never portrayed as the documentary’s villain, but neither is he shown to be wholly innocent. His actions and beliefs are shaped by the abuse that he shrugs off consistently. These sequences will likely not settle well with some and that’s understandable; Liu doesn’t appear to want them to.

For Keire, the time spent with him sees the young skater having his eyes opened about race in America, and how he identifies as a black man. Initially portrayed as the wide-eyed innocent of the group, where his need to be liked by everyone means he’ll stay quiet rather than cause a fuss. A particular toe-curling sequence sees Keire looking increasingly uncomfortable as his friends laugh at a comedy routine peppered with racial expletives.

In both men, Liu dismantles who they are without it ever feeling intrusive. Perhaps, this is down to the close proximity they share, and Liu wouldn’t have got the same result without the trust his two subjects have in him.

Regardless, Minding the Gap is a stunning debut that manages to be clinical and frank in its approach to domestic violence, whilst maintaining the feel of a heart-warming coming of age film. It’s going to be really fascinating to see what Liu goes on to do.

Now available on DocPlay

 
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Bird Box

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The first time that we see Sandra Bullock in the terrifying dystopian thriller, Bird Box, she’s flatly and brutally laying down the law to two sweet faced little children who she refers to plainly as “Boy” and “Girl”, providing them with a bone-shaking guide for survival free of sugar coating. It’s tough stuff, and an instant signpost that this is not the Sandra Bullock that we know and love. Harsh, desperate, and no-nonsense, this is a call-back to her stunningly abrasive turn in the Oscar winning Crash, and she’s just as good here, if not better. Superbly directed with a wonderfully grim sense of economy by Danish filmmaker, Susanne Bier (Brothers, Open Hearts, In A Better World Bird Box), Bird Box punches hard and offers no emotional quarter, and neither does Sandra Bullock.

In this semi-sci-fi shocker’s very, very near future, a cruel, unforgiving – and unseen – presence has decimated the world’s population, with all who make the mistake of glimpsing it prompted into a suicidal frenzy. With pockets of humanity staking out their own claims, and other groups not jumped to suicide but instead taking on a kind of zealot’s fury in forcing others to embrace the horror, the world has become a truly horrifying place. With these death-bringing creatures swooping out of the sky at any moment, Bullock is Malorie, a mother desperately trying to protect her children from the nightmare around them. All blindfolded to prevent them from inadvertently looking at the thing that will instantly make them lose their minds, this vulnerable trio embarks on a journey toward hoped-for safety.

While the world created by Bier and screenwriter, Eric Heisserer (adapting Josh Malerman’s novel), is a singularly frightening one, Bullock’s Malorie is equally fascinating. As we learn in flashback scenes (including an extraordinary set-piece introducing the unseen horrors), she is a cynical, deeply reluctant mother, and her actions throughout the film are never quite what we expect. Whether in her relationship with fellow survivor, Tom (the charismatic Trevante Rhodes in a sweetly sympathetic turn), or her harsh interactions with the kids in her care, Malorie constantly switch-foots audience expectations.

She is, however, a real anchor in this very scary film, as her glacial exterior slowly melts to reveal the humanity beneath. It’s a fine performance from Bullock, and an equally impressive one from director, Susanne Bier. While her decision not show the film’s threat (except in a few briefly glimpsed drawings) is a bold and daring one that will infuriate many viewers, her expert handling of the material is undeniable. There are a number of sequences that will literally have you on the edge of your seat, and Bier’s mastery of suspense and emotion is near remarkable. Packing an intense emotional wallop and a truly nail-grinding sense of suspense, Bird Box is a surprise stunner.

 
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The American Meme

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Like some visitation of a harbinger of a coming apocalypse that is starting to seem more-and-more like something we deserve, the documentary The American Meme explores the rise of the Instagram celebrity, the ‘influencer’ and in particular, a cross-section of Insta-celebs who’ve gained an insane amount of notoriety through shameless self-promotion in social media.

Musician and producer DJ Khaled, an affable personality who documents his daily rituals and combines self-promotion of himself as a brand.

Kirill Bichutsky, known to his 1.1 million Instagram followers as @slutwhisperer. He lives the kind of Girls Gone Wild, party-every-night lifestyle that would be the daily routine of a cashed-up, feckless, misogynist douchebag. Curiously though, at his core, Kirill seems tormented by the utter emptiness of his fame and ultimately sees the party-boy reputation he’s constructed as being an impediment to moving on to a different career and phase in his life, mainly because of the gargantuan legacy of his digital footprint. If you search his name online, all that appears are reaction-baiting boorishly sexist memes, such as selfie shots of Bichutsky wedging his head between hundreds of different women’s naked backsides and breasts or numerous images of the Russian American bon vivant spraying champagne in the faces of a plethora of glazed-eyed women. By celebrating this debauched lifestyle, he’s become a social media celebrity though even he himself seems innately aware that it will dry up sometime soon, faster than you can say ‘vine’.

Brittany Furlan is an actress and comedian who built a huge following on Vine with little mini comedy clips and character skits, only problem was Vine closed its doors. Furlan’s self-promotion has seen her gain small movie roles and development deals for TV comedy shows.

Josh Ostrovsky goes by the twitter name @thefatjew and has likewise established himself as a personality unattached to any kind of comedy or acting career, though he will most likely move into those areas.

Capping off all of these personalities is the one who really started this: Paris Hilton. Having established perfume and fashion accessory lines, she has built her own huge pile of cash on which to cry herself to sleep at night. These days, Paris exploits her fanbase on social media as something of a rent-an-acolyte as she visits international cities and DJs at various parties and events. Paris Hilton is nothing if not a businesswoman, seemingly possessing an almost Warhol-esque sense of the pop culturally relevant (Warhol is something of a touchstone for her), she rides a self-obsessed wave of narcissistic branding which no doubt rubbed-off on her former assistant, Kim Kardashian West.

Frankly, we are not entirely sure if this documentary is genuinely informative and interesting or, in its depiction of the weapons-grade vacuity of its subjects is actually just terrifying and galactically disheartening.