“Game of Thrones” Season 5 Retrospect – Where Books 4 and 5 of “The Song of Ice and Fire” Were Met, Passed and Changed

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  Since the Season 5 ended I’ve been thinking about how to write about this season. When the show is over I will go back and do episodic review of the show, but when I started watching the show this Season, I was more interested to see where they would go given that Book 6, “The Winds of Winter” isn’t out yet and the show has already chosen to change some things that were not in the books. This season is truly where they break away, but also where they surprisingly true as well even going so far as to kill off an important young character because Martin says it will happen in the books. A warning ahead of time though, this review does contain spoilers. I can’t talk about the show without going into what happened in the show.

    For me this Season gave me a greater appreciation for the Books, which Book 4 I liked while 5 felt like a waste…the show made me see where they were going and helped me appreciate what they did, especially with the Ironborn who haven’t appeared yet and some other minor or major characters who have been cut from the Series.

   I’m going to tackle it by reviewing some of my favorite locations and from there the major events that drew me in and made this Season compelling. I’ll be reviewing individual episodes once the series is over and I do a lookback.

SPOILERS

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The Pros: King’s Landing – King’s Landing manages to stay interesting the entire time this season! From the High Sparrow slowly taking over, to Tommen and Margery and Cersei’s madness…each of these things make the character interactions strong and give purpose and stakes to what is going on.

The Queen of Thorns – The Queen of Thorns is awesome and has been one of my favorite characters since her introduction in the show. In the books we never got to know her because it is always from Cersei’s point of view. In this we see her get revenge on Cersei for the imprisonment of her grandson and grandaughter by the faith and uses Littlefinger to do so. I can’t wait to see where her arc goes. I want her to survive this series. Olenna Tyrell is fantastic as is her actress Diana Rigg.

Margaery Tyrell – Margery has Tommen’s ear and is pretty much ruling until Cersei uses the faith to imprison her. At that point she has no pretensions of pretending to owe Cersei anything and I really hope she gets out and has her chance at revenge. Her relationship with Tommen is great too. She isn’t given as much to do this season but Natalie Dormer makes her compelling and likable as in the books we only see her from Cersei’s perspective.

Cersei Lannister – Lena Headey really owns this role! From showing Cersei as the bully as she holds her weaponization of the faith over the Tyrells, to her being a victim of the High Sparrow and faith as well when she is forced to do the walk of shame. Throughout it all we see someone conniving and falling into the net that she is making for others as everyone has become her enemy except Qyburn. The show pretty much follows the book with her as it does with the Tyrells.

Littlefinger – Littlefinger is everywhere but the major events he does take place at Winterfell and King’s Landing. I don’t know what his game was giving Sansa to the Boltons and if he is really smart and plans to rescue her and own the North or if he is just a bastard wholly using the Vale as the center of control. At this point he is an unknown and it makes him fascinating. This is extremely different from the books as it is Jeyne Pool who is given to the Boltons as a fake Arya not the real Sansa. Though his agenda is still unknown in the books too.

The High Sparrow and the Faith – The events with the High Sparrow are accurate to the books as he pretty much takes control of King’s Landing and creates a theocracy where the faith judges all those they deem sinful and imprisons them. In this he is made a true idealist though as he see’s what he is doing as a revolution. Jonathan Pryce owns this role, this is a character in the books who I felt I never got to know who he humanized.

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Braavos – In Braavos there are two main focuses that make this area compelling. The Iron Bank and the brief appearance Mace Tyrell makes where he is singing to the bank and showing he is classy and Arya and the Faceless Men arc. These two arcs are enough to bring in, there isn’t too much changed here either as the show has not caught up to the books fully here.

Arya Stark – Arya’s arc is her seeking to become “No one” while still holding on her quest for revenge as that is her own personal purpose for the training. In the end she lacks patience though as she assassinates Trant and the Faceless God takes away her sight in the process. It is a good arc and Maisie Williams does a great job.

The Faceless Men – The Faceless Men are fascinating especially Jaqen H’ghar who is truly “No one.” As we see him “Die” but still be alive when he trades a life for a life for Arya killing the wrong man and not the one she was assigned to kill. The art of being a Faceless Man is balance and that is something Arya still seeks.

The Wall – The events at the Wall are mostly true to the books except Mance actually dies in this one and Jon never goes to Winterfell or plans too, instead he is the one who goes to Hardhome and faces the Night’s King, which didn’t happen in the books but because it happens in the show gives us a good idea of what to expect when winter comes as the Wildings are slaughtered and only some manage to escape with Jon.

Davos Seaworth – Davos is wonderful in this, he has a sweet moment with Shireen before her murder by her father and Melisandre and we see him always trying to do that right thing while staying true to Stannis. He doesn’t really do that much this season though besides working with the Night’s Watch.

Shireen Baratheon – R.I.P. She teaches Gilly and Davos how to read, is knowledgeable about everything but is hated by her mother and in the end her father sacrifices her in a battle he is set to lose anyway. Her death is one of the strongest so far in the series…and hasn’t happened in the books yet though Martin says it is going to happen.

Jon Snow – Jon’s arc is similar to the books as we see him seek peace between the Wildings and Night’s Watch to defend against Winter. He succeeds though it costs him his life, just like the books. He is also the only one of the characters to face the Night’s King so far so I hope Melisandre brings him back to life as we last see her back at the Wall. This season had Kit Harrington’s best acting so far.

The Wildings – In this we see the diversity of the Wildings at Hardhome and in the end Tormund and Jon being able to convince the majority to take Jon’s offer of safety behind the Wall when the Night’s King attacks and most of their leaders are killed. It is a powerful scene and the conflict of them choosing to work with the Night’s Watch if the End comes is really well done. Tormund is one of the best characters on the show and I hope he is around for the last battle. Guy killed the Lord of Bones in episode 8 of this season.

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The Night’s King –  This guy is a force of nature. He massacres the forces at Hardhome and even stands to gloat at Jon and the escaping Wildings. Winter is coming and I hope he kills the Boltons if one of our heroes doesn’t get the chance too.

Sam and Gilly – This romance is wonderful and largely follows the book except Aemon dies at the Wall here rather than on the way to Oldtown as he does in the books. Sam and Gilly care for one another and Sam is more comfortable breaking his vows than he is in the books. Gilly is also strong too and we see her stand her own against bad members of the Night’s Watch and is a big reason Sam stands up for himself and leaves the Wall with her so he can get training to become a Maester in Old Town.

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Meereen – This area follows the books and surpasses them as Daenerys still flies off and is captured by Dothraki but Tyrion is now one of the leaders of Meereen and Jorah is back in her good graces and working with Daario. I liked how this area was handled as there was loss and we get to see just how dangerous the Sons of the Harpy truly are.

Ser Barristan – Barristan dies early on this season to establish the threat of the Sons of the Harpy. It is a sad death and really well done as he is able to tell Dany about her brother the Prince Rhaeger and also warn her about her father and family legacy. His death is meaningful too as we have known this guy for 5 seasons. R.I.P.

Grey Worm – Grey Worm and the Unsullied are a bit out of their game this season as the Sons of the Harpy know Meereen. In the end they ambush them and in the process Grey Worm is mortally wounded and Barristan is killed. It doesn’t stop him from fighting again though or from growing with his lover Missandei. I really like this character and am looking forward to him leading the Unsullied in Westeros against the Night’s King.

Ser Jorah – Jorah is compelling but still a bastard. He gets greyscale at the Doom and hides it from everyone including Dany who he loves and is protecting. At this point he is wholly devoted to her though and enters the fighting pits to fight in her name. He later leaves with Daario to find her too, which is good, if he sticks around Meereen could end up greyscaled. He doesn’t have greyscale in the books and has not met Dany again nor has Tyrion.

Varys – Varys begins transporting Tyrion to Daenerys but after Tyrion is captured he doesn’t appear again until at the end in Meereen. He is good the whole time though as he truly does care about the realm and all he does is to train those who need training (Dany and Tyrion) and help them get the experience they need to bring peace to realm. He is one of my favorite characters and I can’t wait to see where the book and show take him.

Tyrion Lannister – Tyrion’s arc is learning how to feel again as he is drinking himself to death while he traveling with Varys and it is only after he is captured and goes through being a slave that he changes. He is wiser because of all he has lost and gives Dany good council and even advises her not returning to Westeros if she can rule as a just ruler in Meereen. He still is sympathetic to her breaking the Wheel of Noble Houses though.

Daenerys – Dany goes through a great arc in this as she realizes just how difficult it is to rule justly and keep peace between different groups. In the end her marrying a slave master cannot save her from the fanatical slave believing harpies as her free people continue to suffer from her attacks. She even loses Barristan from them when they ambush the Unsullied. She later leaves with Drogon her dragon when the Sons of the Harpy attack the Fighting Pits and her future is up in there as she is captured by Dothraki, who I hope she is able to turn to her side as she did in Season 1 and the first book. She is still the best hope for Westeros that doesn’t involve death from the Night’s King.

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Assassination of Jon – Jon getting killed is just as it happens in the books and it is done well as we see that it is the same idealism that killed Ned that kills Jon. I hope he gets a second chance and loses that idealism as Tyrion has so he can get some perspective and no longer serve with the Night’s Watch…but we’ll see. If this is his death, it was still very well done and powerful as his good intentions lead to his end…a running theme on this show.

Death of Shireen  and Aftermath – Shireen is killed by her father so that the Red God can bless him and bring him to victory and after her mother kills herself out of guilt and Stannis loses anyway when his men abandon him for what he did. He is also most likely killed by Brienne. Good riddance, no King kills his heirs if he expects his legacy to carry on, especially when they would be a better ruler than he.

Triumvirate of Meereen – Tyrion, Grey Worm and Missandei are the rulers who must bring peace to Meereen, Tyrion also has Varys too, which is a nice touch. I really like this group and am rooting for them as Grey Worm survived the slaughter that killed Barristen and all of them are now survivors and ex-slaves fighting for a true free city that is now in full civil war.

The Cons: Winterfell – Winterfell is depressing and no pressure is on the Boltons at anytime. Ramsey’s marriage to Sansa wasn’t in the books and I won’t mind this if it goes somewhere next season but her lack of agency was disturbing and a dislike and I hated how Stannis being at the gate meant nothing. In the books the Boltons were killing their horses to feed the starving lords trapped in the Wall. So far Winter has not truly come to the North, only to certain characters we are following.

Dorn – Dorn was wasted. I was left wondering what they were going to do with the Sand Snakes and the only thing that happened was what was most likely going to happen anyway with the death of Myrcella by the Sand Snakes. It was changed completely from the books as that hasn’t happened and Bronn and Jamie never went to Dorn in the books. It felt wasted really as even Doran Martell is not fully fleshed out…the Dorn story felt rushed both in writing and quality. Bronn is great the whole time here at least and Mycrella and Jaime and the last dinner in Dorn works but that is about it. So much missed potential in this area, just like in the books.

Sansa’s Agency – Sansa’s agency is the biggest issue I had with this season. She was set up as Darth Sansa last season being trained by Littlefinger to be a lead manipulator but instead she is thrown into the victim role again. First Joffrey, Second Littlefinger and now Ramsey….the worst of them all. It doesn’t go anywhere either except by helping Reek become Theon again and them making an escape like how Theon and Jeyne made the escape in the books.

   This wasn’t the best season of “Game of Thrones.” I think the fact that it ended in a Cliffhanger like Book 4 and 5 took away from that as the first few seasons felt more complete as we saw arcs come to a close. This season still has ongoing arcs that need to be resolved even though it resolved some that are still open in the books, which is a point in favor of the show. It’s not for everyone but if some of the characters you are rooting for are still around, I’d say the coming adventure is still very much worth it. For episodes that are a must see I’d recommend 8, 9 and 10 as they have the biggest events that happen that change our characters and the situations they are under.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

Gone Home – An Amazing Game of Love, Mystery and Relationships

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        I’ve never been one for games that are purely exploration. Often times I find them overly convoluted and confusing and the gameplay tiring. It’s one reason I could never get into the “Myst” series…Though I am willing to give that series another chance as one of my favorite games is an exploration game, “Journey.” “Gone Home” is also a favorite after playing it last night, though mostly because of how immerse the story is. Suffice to say, if you like a good mystery and powerful story, chances are you will like this game.

      The game was developed Fullbright, designed by Steve Gaynor and composed by Chris Remo. The game is in the style of a first person interactive story adventure game.

     The story involves Kaitlin Greenbriar who has returned home after being gone for a long time traveling and studying abroad in Europe. When she arrives to the home her family had recently moved into she finds that everyone in her family is missing and must piece together the mystery of what happened as well as the mystery surrounding her Uncle Oscar who owned the house before.

From here on there are spoilers.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Chris Remo did a great job on the soundtrack! There is the haunting sounds in the house combined with punk rock music and jazz when you put cassette tapes into tape players around the house. It gives the mansion a lived in feel beyond the graphics and items you interact with.

The Graphics – The graphics are fantastic! The house is beautifu/l and it is haunting as you are trapped inside with no way to contact the outside world as the phones are down because of the storm. There are also tons of rooms that are really detailed. From the bedroom of your little Sister Samantha who is the character who learn the most about and your father’s study as well as your mother’s sewing room. Each room has a distinct personality that the graphics portray really well. This also includes the hidden rooms that have a really scary feel to them and feel like they’re out of “Silent Hill” at times.

The House – As described above, the house is wonderful and has so much personality to it. From the hidden rooms with abandoned crosses and a safe, to Sam’s rockstar room, to the ornate bedroom and study of the parents. The house feels real and mysterious and is pretty much a character all on it’s own. Wanting to learn more about what it revealed was a big part of what kept me playing.

The Story – The story is amazing! There are a few stories that you get in the overacing narrative. Your Mom has a crush on one of the Ranger’s she works with and is having marriage problems with the father who was possibly molested by Uncle Oscar and lives in shame of his father’s expectations of him as an author as he largely rights pulp…and Oscar’s store going under and his seeking redemption from his Sister for what he did.

The Prime story is that of Sam and her girlfriend Lonnie. The story involves Sam accepting she loves Lonnie and expressing that through her story of Captain Allegro and the First Mate who go on adventures together and are lovers. Her parents are religious though and they don’t believe her when she comes out to them and put her under house arrest. Later when they go to work on their relationship at a retreat, Lonnie leaves the military and runs away with Sam and you find the Journal entries that describe all of Sam’s experiences of learning how much she loves Lonnie, her being an outcast at school and her past friendship with Danny and making peace with herself enough to the point that she can leave home and make a life with the woman she loves. Katie is the one who learns all of this and we see and hear it through her experiences of discovering the mystery of why the house is empty.

The Characters – Uncle Oscar – His ghost haunts the house but it isn’t literal. He probably molested Terry (the Father of Sam and Katie) as we see Terry’s height measured throughout the years but stops at age 12 in 1963, which relates directly to the stories Terry writes about JFK and the assassination of him. He is not a good person and though he seeks redemption and has regret, we have no reason to trust him. I put this character as a pro because he reveals Terry to us in regards to Terry’s drinking and trust issues and also we see how Lonnie and Sam are ghost hunters as well as they try and get rid of what they see as his ghost haunting the house.

The Parents – Terry is insecure and drinks a lot and has a powerful artistic mind. His niche market even catches on with Time Travel and the Assassination of JFK. We don’t really know his relationship to his wife though and sadly his rejection of his daughter (whether from his experience with Uncle Oscar (not realizing that Pedophilia and Homosexuality are two very different things) or his insecurity in his marriage lead him rejecting Lonnie and Sam (or his religious belief, “Bibles” are all over the house). The Mom is pretty driven too as she gets promoted in Oregon in the Forest Service is maybe having an affair with Ranger Rick and sews and is in contact writing letters with one of her old friends. She’s also an immigrant from Canada. We see she’s supportive of her husband even though she is exploring another option. The marriage is complicated but I get her doubts given the amount her husband drinks and his doubts and we don’t know if he ever shared what happened when he was 12. They are off at a Marriage Retreat when Katie returns home though.

Sam and Lonnie – Sam and Lonnie are pretty distinct and awesome characters. Sam is quite and an artist who finds her voice both in coming out to her folks and when she runs away with Lonnie. Lonnie is tough and independent and is a singer in a band and is all about self improvement via her nearly joining the military. They are pulled apart at one point as Sam is looking at Reed College since she has a scholarship and Lonnie is joining the military. After Sam comes out to her parents though they choose each other. They are reckless but committed and it makes them very human and my favorite characters in this.

The Message – The message is one of equality and love and it is powerful. We see two people who are willing to risk everything for one another since who they are has been rejected by their parents. It’s powerful and shows just how rejected they were. The time period is the 90’s but in some families in the United States an LBGTQ relationship would still be seen as wrong and be rejected and not seen as love even when love is there. This message speaks to the affect that has on people. If Lonnie’s or Sam’s parents had accepted their relationship, they would not have run away as they’d feel they had a safe space to be together and themselves.

Okay/Pro: The  Gameplay – The gameplay is good but not great. There were many times I wish I could have explored more objects or learned more of what each object meant. For example, your father’s novels about the “JFK Assisination” where a Time Traveler goes back in time to stop it and later on wants to save himself was a story I wanted to read. This story is a glimpse into your Father’s life just as “Captain Allegro and the First Mate” are glimpses into who your sister Sam is. I also wish you could go outside so there would be more than just the feel of danger as you explore the house.

Okay: Katie – Katie is a cipher and we don’t get much of her personality beyond her love of adventure and her family. I wish we could have got her thoughts about Sam and Lonnie running away and if she accepted them and loved them the way her parents never could. Still we get some characterization, I just wanted more.

   I played the game in full with my partner playing a few places in it. She had played it earlier and I am extremely grateful she introduced this game to me and that I got to play and discuss it with her. It was a story we could relate to in many ways and the characters were so real. When I started to play it was hard for me to put down, which is one reason I consider it a favorite game. The gameplay was good enough that it didn’t interfere with the story and it was still a puzzle and discovery game rather than an interactive movie. I highly recommend this game and not because of the story message, it is a great game and one of the beset I’ve finished in a while.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Birdman (2014): A Surreal Exploration of Meaning and Ego

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      I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of good and okay movies over Thanksgiving Week. Out of all those movies, “Birdman” wins hands down. It will probably be in my end of year Top 5 list, but we’ll see. December still lies ahead and there were some films that I saw before reviewing the blog that will be major competitors.

   “Birdman” or “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance” was directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu who also was one of the producers and writers. The other writers were Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Armando Bo and the other producers were John Lesher, Arnon Milchan and James W. Skotchdopole.

      The premise is Riggan (Michael Keaton) is an aging actor famous only for being Birdman trying to make it big on Broadway and be relevant again. From here the story unfolds as he wrestles with situations, his ego and characters and his possible magic powers as well as the character of Birdman who pressures him into actions. From here the story unfolds as things become undone. From here the story unfolds.

The review does contain SPOILERS.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Soundtrack –  The music for this movie has a life of it’s own. There is a snare drum (and you see the drummer) at different points during the film and it does a good job of giving New York City life and creating tension. It makes everything organic and tense and draws you into the scene at hand.

Lesley – Naomi Watts plays Lesley, a character who has been working all her life to get on Broadway and is roommates with the selfish method actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), when he attempts to rape her on stage she fights back and has her dreams come crashing down as the one who had helped her get to where she was betrayed her and didn’t own up to it. After she connects with Laura (Riggin’s girlfriend) and they share a kiss and appreciate each other as Laura reaches out on how Riggin had never showed the appreciation for her performances the way he did for Lesley. After she sets the boundaries with Mike she is a rock throughout the rest of the film and is able to comfort Riggin when he loses it after another bad Preview before opening night.

Jake – This is the best role I have seen Zach Galifianakis play. His character is driven and does all he can to pull the play together…from hiring Mike and doing what Mike wants no matter how outrageous and finding the money for different things the play needs…no matter how tight it gets. He comes through and his darker side is only revealed when he lies to Riggan to keep him afloat telling him they were sold out and that famous people showed up tonight to cast for movies and when he is celebrating the show’s success even though his best friend just shot off his nose and he hasn’t checked into his friend’s mental state. He was compelling to watch though.

Sylvia – Amy Ryan plays Sylvia…Riggan’s ex-Wife who he cheated on. Post divorce she is the only person he is honest with and opens up about Birdman being in his head pressuring him to do certain things. She listens to him but keeps him grounded and it looks like they are able to resolve things as he shows he cares and has learned and it happens organically too as she’s the adult in the room and he’s the one growing past his ego.

Sam – Sam is Riggan’ daughter and is played by Emma Stone. She plays a young woman out of rehab and she plays the part well. From the apathy and skeletalness, to using what she learned there (marking a napkin with dashes to represent time) she is there for her dad and admits he wasn’t a bad father after she talks to Mike about he was never there and realizes he wasn’t bad. She makes him relevant again and uses the popularity he receives on youtube after he gets caught outside the theatre in his underwear to boost him to relevant again as at the end she’s the one running his social media sites. They are friends at the end and she knows he found freedom as when she goes into the empty room and looks outside, she smiles.

Mike – Edward Norton plays a prick who is only real when he’s on stage and being someone else. We see this in how he plays a critic talking poetry and meaning…but than bashes everyone and during Truth or Dare has Sam spit on a bald guy’s head…as well as when he tries to rape his friend. I didn’t like this character. He was complex but he doesn’t even compare to Riggan in regards to how good he is. He is driven by ego, jealousy and want above all else. He only really cares about people after Riggan calls him out and fights him and after he loses Lesley. That is when he begins to learn and see beyond himself. He is devoted to the craft and that is part of what makes him interesting. If the script says his character is drunk, he was real liquor on stage, etc. I’m glad he grows but because of the scene with Lesley I could never like the guy.

Birdman – Birdman is Riggan’s ego and desire to matter. He is core Id and at one point during Birdman’s monologue near the end that gets Riggan to imagine he’s flying he’s describing that people want action, special affects and most of all him as Birdman taking the screen and soaring. He describes how they’ll make billions and outdo to “The Avengers.” It’s a messed up scene and you see just how twisted that part of Riggan is as it is the part where he believes he can move objects with his mind and where the show is just about him…not all those apart of it. Birdman is defeated though after Riggan faces death on the stage and shoots off his own nose leaving him in a Birdman mask of bandages that he takes off to reveal is bedraggled face but who is finally free of Birdman’s voice as Birdman sits silently on the toilet.

Riggan – Riggan drives the plot as he wrestling with his own self worth which gets shot down multiple times as the press only wants to talk about a possible “Birdman 4” or shoot him down for entering into their world (the critic who hates him for bringing Hollywood to Broadway). He is a flawed character and we see how his ego drives him as he dismisses those who try and help him like his girlfriend and how he isn’t able to connect to his daughter and ex-wife until he is at the bottom. Everything is about his popularity and power until he loses it all. It’s only after getting through losing it that he comes out flying and free from the voice of his ego and the outside pressures around him. It’s a powerful arc.

Messages – Riggan’s arc is growing past his ego and realizing it doesn’t matter. That he can be free if he chooses to be and what everyone wants to see is himself not the character as when he is truly himself on stage (he describes the play as a twisted version of himself but in the end accepts that darkness into himself) that he is able to survive and grow from it. He dies and is reborn without the beard and without Birdman’s voice in his head. We also see that art transcends all mediums as this film is a film and not a play so the critic’s point about Hollywood not being art is countered as the film represents the use of both mediums. Mike is also revealed to be a selfish hypocrite who can talk deep things but can’t live it in any meaningful way until the ones who have been through Hell (Sam and Riggan) pull him out of it. There are more as well, but these were the major ones.

Symbolism – Birdman is a dark bird representing the darker side of the ego I got from the film and the flight is only true flight when he lets go of that part of himself and is free. We also see the symbolism of the city which is loud, large and confining. Riggan and other character care trapped unless they are above it all from Sam, Mike to Riggan himself. These were some of major symbolic moments I caught.

Okay: Ambiguous Ending – The Ending is pretty ambiguous so I have mixed feelings about it. It implies he flies or is free after he blows off his nose based on his daughter’s reaction and the fact that Birdman is present but is not longer pressuring him to become Birdman again…but I would have liked it to be a little clearer. I get the symbolism of freedom and rebirth but when he had an imagination sequence where he was flying it was just that as the taxi driver is angry at not getting paid when he returns after getting drunk for opening night. This is my only issue, but it isn’t a con. It’s just not a pro.

     This film gets so much right that I can’t help but recommend it. It explores the ego, meaning and the different identity of individuals and groups and how they relate to each other…as well as that in relation to the art of the stage and life as a whole. It is powerful and one of the best movies of the year I’ve seen. If you have the chance to watch it, check it out. It is worth the money and time as it tells a story with a point and with amazingly compelling characters.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. The only thing keeping it from a perfect score is that ambiguous ending. I would have liked to get what Riggin was thinking but his silence may have lended for good acting…but no answers on what actually happened.

Casablanca (1942): An Amazing Story of Love in a Time of War

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       “Casablanca,” is a film I always caught at the wrong time, every time it was on, so much was going on already so the movie was always in the background and usually remained unfinished by the time I would leave. “Casablanca,” is a fascinating film, considering it was completed when World War 2 was still going on. The Nazis still occupied a lot of Europe and it was unknown who would be victorious in the end. The screenplay itself is based off a play called “Everybody Comes to Rick’s,” by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. The fact that they were writing from a time where history remained unwritten gives the present of the story so much life. 

   “Casablanca,” was directed by Michael Curtiz and is the story of Rick (Humphrey Bogart) who owns a saloon in Nazi occupied Casablanca in the French Morocco. He is a pretty selfish guy whose perspective changes when a former lover named Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) re-enters his life with her fascist resisting husband Victor Laszlo…from here the story unfolds as politics between factions arise as the drama unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Music – God I love the music in this. From “As Time Goes By,” to the orchestra pieces and the jazz…you feel like you are in Casablanca and the music always fits what is going on. I could listen to this soundtrack for days and plan on using it to inspire my own writing. Max Steiner is fantastic.

The Cinematography – The cinematography captures the cramped feel of the bazaar, the open feel of Rick’s saloon and the noir feel of the ending in the escape sequence intermixed with the backstabbing and double dealing.

Rick Blaine – Humphrey Bogart owns this role and creates a compelling character who we never know if he is selfish and all about the money…or still the idealist at heart that brought him to Europe in the first place to fight the fascist governments as a mercenary. We see his complexity through his relationships, from Sam who is his piano player at the saloon to the French Captain Louis Renalt and Isla and her husband Laszlo (as well as smaller smuggler characters too), they  each reveal parts of his selfish and selfless side as the story goes on.

Isla Lund – What would you do if you believed your husband to be dead and fell in love with another? This is Isla’s dilemma as her romance with Rich in Paris occurs when she has believed for some time that Laszlo is dead. Also Laszlo loves the cause more than he loves her and Rick loves her. This is an interesting choice and she only gives up her agency to Rick at the end when he tells her he’ll need her to to help her and Laszlo escape. Ingrid Bergman is amazing in the role and gives us a complex character who makes her own path in a situation where it is difficult to do just that.

Sam – Dooley Wilson is the connection to Rick and Isla and is a character with a lot of awareness. He tries to talk Rick out of dredging up the past and tries to help him and Isla move on even as they use him as a tool to express their feelings of love lost in the song he plays, “As Time Goes By,” he is a great singer and the only downside is I wish he’d played more of a part after the First Act. After his attempts fail, he just kind of exists as the piano player.

Louis Renalt – I love this character. He is the kind of character I love watching in television shows…characters who are a shade of grey but when they sell themselves as truly selfish it is believable because of how charming they are and how they do what is asked of them…though with always an added twist. Claude Rains is my favorite minor character and I’d have watched the movie it was just about him and how the events of the story change him or force him to reveal where his true loyalties are.

The Dialogue – Reveals the distinct personalities of the characters and helps show events rather than tell events. The best example of this is when we see Isla and Rick’s time and Paris and how the romance happens. It is subtle and the lines show how each of them are hiding their past but want to be together with what they can give…as well as Isla’s leaving where you know there is more going on, but until Laszlo’s reveal…we don’t know what that thing is.

The Reveal – Renault sets up a Nazi officer being sent to the airplane where Isla and Laszlo will be escaping but the Nazi Officer is killed by Rick who is fighting for them. His choosing to fight for Isla and a higher cause of the resistance is the big reveal as well as Renault being sympathetic and joining with Rick to go and fight the Nazis.

The Message – Love is greater than romance, there are ideals greater than the individual and the theme of solidarity in resistance. Love is greater than romance in that Rick gets over his wish to be with Isla and lets her leave with her husband telling her “We’ll always have Paris.” He has finally gotten past himself and sees that if they were together it would involve hurting her (letting Laszlo get caught) in the process. The other part is when he kills the Nazi officer and re-devotes himself to fighting the fascists. Renault joins him in this and they decide to join the French Resistance. There are also the themes of solidarity in the singing of “Viva la France,” against the Nazi’s nationalist anthem and Rick helping a Bulgarian couple escape by letting the husband win in his gambling so they’ll have the funds to travel to America. There are others as well, but this theme is pervasive and makes the film even stronger.

Okay: The Nazi Officers – They are just kind of there, but exist mostly as a threat. I never felt like they were fully fleshed out in regards to their motivations. Sure they get lines, but there aren’t any characters like the S.S. Officer in “Inglorious Bastards.” They serve their role, but are pretty replaceable.

Victor Laszlo – I really wanted to like this character. He is a resistance fighter with a compelling backstory (fought for the Czech and other resistances in Europe against the Nazis) is put in a concentration camp and escapes, and he forgives Isla for cheating on him. The actor just doesn’t make his character greater than his role though. He is there to be the face of the resistance and love of a cause (he’d leave if he got the chance and leave Isla if it meant continuing the fight), but he just isn’t as compelling as Isla and Rick. I wish we’d heard more about what he went through, we can really only guess based off what we know.

The Length – This movie at times feels long. This is good for building tension, but sometimes can drag. This isn’t a con though since I love all the time with the characters…it just needs to be addressed since it isn’t a pro. It would have been a pro if it didn’t feel long.

     This is one of my all time favorite films after tonight and one I intend to watch again in the future. There is a reason it won 3 Academy Awards and why it is recognized as one of the classics. It’s themes are timeless, it’s characters are great and the music is some of the best from any movie. It is a near perfect film and reminds us of the things worth living and dying for. I can’t recommend this film enough.

My final Score for the film is 9.8 / 10.