The Case For Tyrion and Varys

(Welcome to Debate of Thrones, where a panel of Citadel-trained experts explain why someone deserves, or doesn’t deserve, to sit on the Iron Throne. In this edition: forget kings and queens – bring on the Imp and the Spider!)

It’s time to do away with the very concept of the autocratic monarch, and embrace a co-leadership arrangement. An arrangement more about the good of the many than the power of the few. We needn’t shift to full democracy – to suggest as much would be both political suicide and actual suicide – but for once, it’d be nice to have leaders who serve the Realm, rather than their egos. That’s why the dynamic duo of Tyrion Lannister and Lord Varys is what we need in the Red Keep.

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Welcome to Marwen and Marwencol

Adapting true stories into feature films is a tricky task. It’s even more difficult when audiences have already seen the actual subject – in documentaries, for example. More difficult again is the process of adapting a story that does not conform to conventional story structure. Robert Zemeckis’ Welcome to Marwen, which arrives on Blu-ray and DVD today, is a prime example: a film with admirable intent and concept, but devastatingly clumsy execution that does a disservice to its subject material.

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The Case for a Stunts and Choreography Oscar

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: it’s time for the Academy to create a Stunts and Choreography award.)

It’s Oscar season, which means all the annual traditions and reheated previously-hot takes are in full effect. The Academy as an institution has many faults, and it’s worth criticising them even as it attempts to improve (with mixed success).

One of the most popular criticisms, amongst popular and genre audiences in particular, is the ongoing absence of an Academy Award for stunts. The need for a stunt Oscar has been expounded upon at length elsewhere, but it doesn’t take much to see that stunt teams put an enormous amount of work into entertaining us. They literally risk their lives, at times, and many of cinema’s greatest films wouldn’t be what they are without those highly-skilled craftspeople.

The Academy, though, is seemingly unwilling to dedicate a statue to stunts, but I’ve got another idea. I assume, given the Academy’s desire to award individuals rather than teams, that any hypothetical stunt Oscar would go to the winning films’ stunt coordinator(s) – and there’s another, related craft whose own coordinators have long needed recognition. Here’s a proposal that might be a little bit more palatable for the Academy:

Why not institute an Oscar for Best Dance & Stunt Choreography?

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A Star is Born Suicide

Content warning: this article contains forthright descriptions of suicide and suicidal thoughts. It also contains spoilers for A Star is Born.

I was hospitalised recently, due to a risk of committing suicide.

I’d been fighting depression and anxiety for years, but things truly got bad this past year. I’d recently uprooted to a different country, and uncertainty, isolation, and self-loathing had become major issues. As things got worse, I thought more and more about death, then about me specifically dying, and ultimately about suicide. Eventually I believed there was no future in which my death would be caused by anything other than my own hand.

It was with these thoughts lurking my brain that I went to see A Star is Born. Having not seen any previous version, I only knew the rudimentary basics of the story, so I went in knowing only that it was highly-regarded and a likely awards-season contender. I had no idea the film would conclude with Bradley Cooper’s character committing suicide – and didn’t think for a moment that it would ignite a chain reaction in my mind. Without getting into too much detail about the specific incident that sent me there, a little while later I was in an emergency psychiatric ward, being asked if I was carrying any sharp objects on my person.

A Star is Born is cited in my medical records.

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Bandersnatch Criticism

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: “Bandersnatch” is the worst episode of Black Mirror and does nothing video games haven’t been doing better for years.)

Netflix’s latest bit of interactive entertainment has certainly lit the internet on fire. The first piece of such content for grown-ups (following Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale for kids and Minecraft: Story Mode for families), it’s a typically well-produced episode of Black Mirror entitled “Bandersnatch,” and it uses interactivity in a number of ways. Through a series of binary choices, the viewer guides its young game-developer character through the process of making their game – meeting game-design legends, facing family trauma, and possibly dealing with a cosmic conspiracy along the way.

Just as “Bandersnatch” splits into multiple paths and endings, so too has its audience split with regards to their opinions on it. From my observations, those opinions tend to split down two particular lines, both of which offer intriguing insights into the piece.

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2018 is a major anniversary for The Lord of the Rings on screen. It’s been 40 years since the release of Ralph Bakshi’s animated version, and 15 years since the completion of Peter Jackson’s live-action trilogy. This dual anniversary – in addition to an imminent new adaptation on Amazon – makes for a fine opportunity to look at the two versions that exist so far. How do they differ? How do they align? Looking back at both from a distance, the answers surprised even me.

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bumblebee early screenings

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: they finally made a Transformers movie that doesn’t suck.)

Bumblebee is good. There is now a Transformers movie that doesn’t suck.

That would have seemed shocking a couple of years ago, when the five-film series boasted not a single legitimately decent entry, but did have multiple compelling candidates for Worst Blockbuster Ever. But Paramount made some great decisions, coming out of the Michael Bay years. Bumblebee is a testament to the power of hiring good talent – in this case, talent who turned in a movie 180 degrees removed from Bay’s quintet of incoherent, sociopathic disasters.

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Flesh and Ink: A Century of Live-Action/Animation Hybrids

Mary Poppins Returns isn’t just the return of a beloved character. The film is a throwback to filmmaking styles of yesteryear, where films could be frothy and whimsical excuses to simply have a nice time. But it’s also notable for its inclusion of a technique rarely seen today, and indeed across cinema: the blending of live-action footage with traditional animation.

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The Evolution of Peter Jackson Part 2

(This is part two of a two-part series. You can read part one right here.)

In the wake of The Lord of the Rings and King Kong, Peter Jackson suddenly found himself in the position of being an in-demand effects-studio head for cutting-edge Hollywood productions. Weta’s Oscar-winning work on those films brought heaping attention on the company, which was forced to rapidly expand to accommodate the demand of multiple studios. Everything from Avatar to Planet of the Apes to the Marvel and DC Universes have had at least some work done by Weta Digital, whether as lead studio or as support for others. The effects house has routinely turned out groundbreaking and astonishing work, building on the foundations built for Rings, and justifiably won accolades for it. Among the films Weta helped to reality, too, was Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, which Jackson produced after his and Blomkamp’s Halo adaptation fell through.

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The Evolution of Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson has two new movies out this December, and each represents a vastly different side of the New Zealand cinema titan. Mortal Engines, which Jackson produced and co-wrote, is the kind of giant fantasy blockbuster he has become known for, while They Shall Not Grow Old, his (non-faux) documentary debut, stems from an entirely different part of his sensibilities.

Thus, it’s worth taking a look at how we got here – and how Jackson’s career has changed him as a filmmaker.

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