Game of Thrones: Season 7, Episode 1 (“Dragonstone”)

SPOILERS: Don’t read this review if you haven’t seen or don’t want to know details from the season premiere of Game of Thrones.

The Riverlands (House Frey)

Tell them, the North remembers. 

Arya (Maisie Williams), who killed Lord Walder Frey (David Bradley) at the end of S6, impersonates him during a feast in order to murder ALL the Frey men (his heirs) w/ poisoned wine. She leaves his young wife alive, so she can tell the story. 

The North (beyond The Wall somewhere)

Slowly, a HUGE bunch creatures (The Army of the Dead) are marching; they are led by The Night King. Winter IS indeed here, BUT it looks like he has the power to create a storm cloud w/in which they are moving. 

The Wall (Castle Black)

Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and Meera (Ellie Kendrick) arrive at The Wall, where they are questioned by a rather skeptical Edd (Ben Crompton), who is now Lord Commander. Meera introduces herself, then Brandon Stark (his full name, as well as that of great men before him). Bran explains that he knows what Edd has been through, so he and his only companion are let inside. 

The North (Winterfell)

Dragonglass kills White Walkers. It’s more valuable now to us than gold. -Jon explains to a gathering of Northern lords and ladies and Wilding leaders

When Jon (Kit Harington), now King of the North, commands that everyone over the age of 10, incl, women and girls, will be needed to mine for dragonglass, Lord Glover is a BIT shocked. Lady Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsay) quickly stands up and claims that though she is little and a girl, she is “every bit a Northerner” as he is; no wonder this character is a fan fave. She declares that everyone on Bear Island will get to work. 

Give the castles to the families of the men who died fighting for you. -Sansa contradicts Jon when he is deciding on what will be done w/ the Umber and Karstark lands

Some of the leaders agree w/ Sansa (Sophie Turner); they can be heard saying “aye” and making a bit of noise. Did you see Littlefinger’s (Aiden Gillen) little smirk of approval when Sansa did that? Lord Davos (Liam Cunningham) looks a bit concerned; he is sitting to one side of Jon, while Sansa sits on the other. (This scene reminded me of that tense moment in Crimson Tide when Denzel’s character- the executive officer- contradicted Gene Hackman- the captain of a nuclear sub- in front of some of the crew.)

I will not punish a son for his father’s sins. And I will not take a family home away from a family that has held it for centuries. That is my decision, and my decision is final. -Jon says to the leaders

A little boy, Ned Umber, and a teen girl, Alice Karstark, come forward from the group w/ their swords and pledge loyalty to House Stark. Some viewers asked why Alice (a female) could be head of her house, BUT Sansa couldn’t be leading hers. Well, Alice is the only living heir of Lord Karstark, whereas House Stark has BOTH Jon (though a bastard) and Sansa. 

You have to be smarter that father. You need to be smarter than Robb. I loved them. I miss them. But they made stupid mistakes and lost their heads for it. -Sansa explains to Jon 

I LOVE all the convo between Jon and Sansa (on the ramparts of Winterfell)! We learn a bit more re: how Ned treated his daughters vs. his sons. Their personalities and concerns come out also. Sansa wants to be an advisor to Jon, since she can’t be in charge, BUT Jon seems reluctant to hear her. It’s true that Sansa learned a LOT from her time at court as Joffrey’s fiancee. Did you think Sansa became TOO paranoid re: Cersei (after the raven came from King’s Landing w/ her note)? After all, Cersei is thousands of miles away, BUT the White Walkers are getting closer every day (as Jon said). 

King’s Landing

Wow, what a cool map! Cersei (Lena Headey) is having a large and VERY detailed map painted of the Seven Kingdoms. She tells her brother, commander of the Lannister army, that Tyrion has been made Hand of the Queen; he sails w/ Dany, the Dothraki, and the Unsullied to Westeros. Jaime (Nicolas Coster-Waldau) says that Dany will land in Dragonstone (where Stannis used to have his base of operations). Cersei then goes over who the Lannister enemies are one-by-one. We know that Highgarden has the most grain, so will be esp. crucial now that Winter is here. (I can’t wait to see Lady Olenna again! She is the ONLY one left of House Tyrell, sadly.)

I’m the queen of the Seven Kingdoms. -Cersei declares

Three kingdoms at best. I’m not sure you understand how much danger we’re in. -Jaime corrects her

Cersei refuses to talk re: Tommen’s death, even when Jaime brings it up; he looks very sad for a moment. She says that she can’t dwell on the past, the losses she suffered, and that they are “the only Lannisters that matter now.” Jaime points out that they need “better, stronger allies,” esp. now that the Freys are dead. Where will these allies come from? It turns out- the Greyjoys (or at least Euron, the King of the Iron Islands). Well, Jaime is NOT impressed! 

Euron (Danish actor Pilou Asbaek), who has a VERY different haircut and outfit from S6, presents himself to Cersei in the throne room. He is NOT a humble man, as Cersei points out. Euron (at the head of the Iron Fleet) is NOT intimidated by Cersei or Jaime, BUT is stopped from stepping closer to Cersei by Sir Gregor Clegane. Did you see Jaime’s disgust at Euron’s cutting remarks? Quite fabulous! Even though Cersei refuses his marriage proposal, Euron says he’ll bring her “a priceless gift” to win her over. Hmmm… wonder what that could be! Some viewers are saying the head of a dragon; others think it could be Ellaria Sand from Dorne (who planned the murder of Cersei and Jaime’s daughter, Myrcella).    

The Citadel

Everyone doubts everything here- that’s their job. -Archmaester Ebrose explains to Sam (when he says that no one in The Citadel believes him re: the White Walkers).

Poor Sam! We see just how tedious his new life is in a gross/funny/repetitive montage (a first for GoT). He is in training to be a maester, BUT the types of books that he needs (in order to help Jon) are in a locked area. Sam asks Archmaester Ebrose (veteran Australian actor Jim Broadbent) during an autopsy if he could get access. The older/wiser man explains re: the importance of “memory” (history), the role of the maesters, and decides that he does believe Sam’s story. After all, there is evidence of what Sam detailed in various texts; however, he can’t have access to those yet. Sam decides to steal one of the key rings (while the old maesters are sleeping) and check out a few forbidden books. 

Winterfell

In the yard, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) is training her squire, Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman), while Tormund looks on w/ admiration and a goofy grin. Pod keeps getting defeated, BUT the Wildling leader calls him “a lucky man.” Yeah, Tormund still has a big crush on the woman warrior, though it’s NOT mutual!

Even Littlefinger has praise for Brienne’s fighing skills. Sansa wonders what he wants; he says he wants her to be “happy” and “safe.” She explains that here, in her childhood home, she is safe; friends are around and Brienne protects her. Then he asks re: the happy part, and she is quiet. Does anyone think Littlefinger could make Sansa happy!? I LOVED how Sansa dismissed him before he could get the last word! She has become emotionally strong; I don’t think Littlefinger will be able to manipulate her in the future. He is valuable b/c he commands the Lords of the Vale, Sansa explains to Brienne; those were the some of the most skilled knights who helped defeat Ramsay.

The Riverlands (on the path to King’s Landing)

This was a scene that I really liked! I was surprised when I read re: the hate for Ed Sheeran’s cameo and his (maybe too pop-like?) song. Well, it turns out that Maisie Williams is a big fan of this singer, so the GoT showrunners (David Benioff and Dan Weiss) worked to get him to appear on the show, despite his jam-packed schedule. Anyways, let’s try and stick to the scene, NOT the drama that came afterwards.

My mother always told me to be kind to strangers; strangers will be kind to you. -A young Lannister soldier explains to Arya (when she comes upon their camp)

Girls take care of their papas when their papas get old. Boys juts go off and fight in someone else’s wars. -Another soldier, a new father explains why he prefers a girl child (when Arya asks)

At first, I thought this scene would be bloody/violent, BUT it turned out to be quite the opposite. These are young men w/ humble roots (NOT too much older than Arya), who are (obviously) reluctant soldiers. They don’t have much to eat (a small rabbit), BUT share w/ Arya. They also give her a cask of wine to drink from, though she is young. (Some viewer joked re: what was the exact drinking age in Westeros.)

I’m going to kill the queen. -Arya says (before the soldiers burst into laughter)

On the Road

Why are you always in such a foul mood? -Thoros of Myr asks 

Experience. -The Hound (Ser Gregor Clegane) replies 

The Hound (Rory McCann) is still riding w/ The Brotherhood w/o Banners, led by Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer). The small band come upon an abandoned farmhouse; instantly, The Hound (as well as observant fans) recognized it as the same place from where he robbed a widower and his young daughter. He doesn’t want to go in (whoa, perhaps feeling some guilt?), BUT Thoros thinks he’s afraid. I LOVE how The Hound made fun of Thoros’ topknot- LOL! 

…there’s nothing special about you. Then why does The Lord of Light keep bringing you back?  -The Hound asks Beric 

It seems like (from what critics/viewers have noted) that we will see a different side to The Hound this season; we will become a more developed/complicated character. So far, we know about his painful past (w/ his brother- Sir Gregor), his empathy w/ troubled females (EX: Sansa), and his view of ALL religions (agnostic; doesn’t like or trust religion). My fave line in of The Hound’s in this ep was re: “divine justice.” I was VERY surprised when he looked into the fire and saw the reason why the Brotherhood was preparing for battle. Probably the biggest surprise was the next scene, where The Hound was digging a grave for the farmer and his daughter in the snowy/windy/cold night.

I’m sorry you’re dead. You deserved better- both of you. -The Hound says this prayer over the grave 

The Citadel

Sam is staying up late, reading, though Gilly says he should sleep. (Wow, look how big Little Sam got! He is a toddler now, even saying a few words.) Sam comes upon a map of Dragonstone w/ a symbol denoting that dragonglass is underneath; Stannis had told him something about it before. Quickly, Sam begins writing a letter to Jon. 

The next day, Sam is collecting food bowls again, BUT in a different location than what we saw before. There could be criminals jailed behind the doors, or maybe patients (as some viewers guessed). As he reaches to retrieve one of the bowls, a hand suddenly reached out to try and grab him- OMG! Sam is freaked out, jumping back. It only takes a second to guess that it’s Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), though we only hear his voice and see his profile in the dark cell. His entire arm is covered by Dragonscale (awww). Jorah asks if The Dragon Queen has come yet.

Dragonstone

This segment of the ep of nearly wordless, yet SO well done! We see Dany (Emilia Clarke) (along w/ her friends and allies) sail ashore, walk across the beach, then enter the fortress (built thousands of years ago by her people, the Targaryens). The dragons fly above, BUT we don’t get close-up of them. Even the verbose Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is silent as they explore the castle. In the throne room, Dany pauses and looks at the throne, BUT decides NOT to sit upon it. Instead, she goes to the map/war room (which was where Stannis plotted his military strategies). This is the room MOST familiar to fans; we hadn’t seen ALL the other cool details of Dragonstore before. Some Jewish viewers noted that they esp. liked the part where Dany touched the sand on the beach; it reminded them of how Jews (from all over the world) sometimes touch the earth of their ancestral homeland upon coming to visit Israel.

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Rebecca (1940) starring Laurence Olivier & Joan Fontaine

INTRODUCTION

[1] The first thing that you notice is the outstanding cinematography. 

[2] …Joan Fontaine is just perfect as de Winter’s new bride. I can’t spot an unconvincing moment in her performance and can’t imagine any other actress in the role. 

[3] Her [Judith Anderson’s] presence is as dark and foreboding as that of the deceased Rebecca herself, and Fontaine is evidently cowed by her icy stare and unnervingly formal manner. The dynamics between the two actresses are wonderful. 

-Excerpts from various reviews on IMDB

Alfred Hitchcock often claimed that this film wasn’t his own. It belonged to Daphne Du Maurier because she had created such vivid characters and such a complex and exciting story. I disagree. You can’t deny his hallmark in all areas of this expertly crafted film. -Bette’s Classic Movie Blog

It is said that director Alfred Hitchcock encouraged the cast to shun Joan Fontaine (sister of Olivia de Havilland), even going as so far as to tell her “everyone here hates you” (in order to making her performance even more self-conscious and nervous in the lead role). Laurence Olivier was already upset w/ the fact that Vivien Leigh (his then-girlfriend) wasn’t chosen for the role. A gothic romance (inspired undoubtedly by Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights), Rebecca is a suspenseful study in guilt and anxiety, exploring themes of love, obsession, and power. This is a moody (atmospheric) film which draws in the viewer w/ its music (by Franz Waxman), superb use of light and shadow, and (most importantly)- characters. The Grapes of Wrath was a fine film (and a great contender), but Rebecca won the Oscar. 

CHARACTERS

Narrator/Mrs. de Winter (Joan Fontaine): A shy, self-deprecating young woman working as “a paid companion” (an assistant/friend). Her mother and father (who she said people didn’t understand) are deceased, so she (as a single woman) has to make a way for herself in the world. Sometimes you will relate to her; at other times, feel sorry for her predicament. 

It’s just that I, well I’m, not the person men marry.

Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier): A middle-aged, handsome, aristocratic widower from Cornwall, where he owns an estate- Manderley. He can be witty/charming one moment, then angry/brooding the next (like Mr. Rochester); he is trying to forget his past.

Happiness is something I know nothing about.

Mrs. Van Hopper (Florence Bates): Rebecca’s wealthy/widowed/high-maintenance employer. The two ladies are vacationing in Monte Carlo at the start of the story. She is shocked when she discovers that her companion and Maxim are engaged; she asks:

Have you been doing anything you shouldn’t?

Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson): She seems to be as much a nanny-figure and a controlling mother figure, as a sinister housekeeper. She is creepily devoted to the memory of her former mistress, Rebecca; we are left to wonder just what sort of relationship they had. In the pivotal bedroom scene, she asks the second Mrs. de Winter:

Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?

Beatrice Lacy (Gladys Cooper): Maxim’s older sister who is surprised to meet the new Mrs. de Winter, but eventually warms up to her as a family member. She lives nearby w/ her somewhat comedic husband, Major Lacy (Nigel Bruce). Cooper is perhaps best known as the domineering mother to Bette Davis’ character in Now Voyager (1942); she also played Rex Harrison’s mother in My Fair Lady (1964). It’s nice to see her in a more lighthearted role here.

Jack Favell (George Sanders): A clever, charming cousin of Rebecca’s who we sense has a shady side. He shares secrets w/ Mrs. Danvers and feels contempt for Maxim. Jack acts like he feels sorry for the new Mrs. de Winter when he meets her by chance. Sanders has a pivotal role in All About Eve (1950), where I first noticed him and became a big fan. He was in another (gothic-inspired) film- The Ghost and Mrs. Muir starring Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney. 

Frank Crawley (Reginald Denny): The manager of the Maderley estate; he is cordial to everyone in the household, including the new mistress. This is NOT the type of guy who makes (or likes) drama, unlike others in this tale.

Colonel Julyan (C. Aubrey Smith): He is a no-nonsense elderly aristocrat in charge of the court case (inquest). This actor played Mr. Laurence in Little Women (1949) starring Elizabeth Taylor and Janet Leigh (another of Hitch’s players).

Dr. Baker (Leo G. Carroll): He is a medical doctor in London. This prolific character actor appeared in several of Hitch’s films: Suspicion (1941), Spellbound (1945), Strangers on a Train (1951), and North by Northwest (1959).

THEMES

Food

Mrs. de Winter has trouble with eating. The long lonely dining room table separates her and her husband. Food is heaped up around characters: Jack tears into cold chicken, Mrs Van Hopper wolfs down chocolates, and “Oh! What a plateful!” exclaims Beatrice. 

Clothing & Hair

At the beginning, Fontaine’s character is dressed like she made terrible selections at a Macy’s basement sale. Later, as she tries to fill the role of the “great lady”… her clothes always appear too big and out of character. Note the black evening dress with the absurdly large flowers across the front and the overwhelming gown at the costume ball. -Excerpt from IMDB review

Mrs. de Winter is repeatedly subjected to adverse comments on her hair. When she tries for a new more sophisticated look, Maxim hates it. Hair (confined, unbound, luxurious, neglected) is mentioned several times in the film. We hear that Rebecca had long dark hair.  

Scent

Scent is as suspect and degenerate as all of Rebecca’s luxuries: a trap, a snare and a betrayal. -Les Senteurs blog

Mrs. de Winter talks of storing up her memories like perfume. Maxim comments that those little bottles “sometimes contain demons that have a way of popping out at you just as you’re trying most desperately to forget.” He prefers his new bride to smell natural. 

Innocence 

He had a theory that if you should find one perfect thing, or place or person, you should stick to it. Do you think that’s very silly? -The narrator says about her father to Maxim

The main thing that attracts Maxim to the narrator is her innocence (including her inexperience w/ men, unassuming manners, and youth). When she woefully wishes she were older and elegantly dressed, Maxim stops the car and solemnly replies: “Please promise me never to wear black satin or pearls… or to be 36 years old.” We can sense that Maxim has emotional baggage, but the second Mrs. de Winter doesn’t see the warning signs, or she overlooks them, being so much in love. 

The Big Sick (2017) starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, & Ray Romano

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the movie (now in wide release).

the-big-sick-poster-2.jpg

The amazing part of this movie is that it deals with deeply serious complex issues, but does so with humor and grace. The screenplay is remarkable and nuanced…

The screenplay for this quirky, clever, and (sometimes) emotional rom com was written by its Pakistani immigrant lead actor (Kumail Nanjiani from Silicon Valley) and his American-born wife (Emily V. Gordon); it is based (partly) on their real-life love story. Emily is played by Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of the famed director, Elia Kazan); her character falls into a coma mid-way through the movie. Kumail’s love of video games and admiration of Hugh Grant (esp. his hairstyle) are noted; he mentioned these points in various interviews. This is NOT the typical rom com (thank goodness!)- it’s a LOT more realistic (“awkward” is a term used in promos), it includes people of color (POC), and is easy to relate to (esp. for second-generation desis and/or Muslims). 

Veteran actors, Holly Hunter (who I really enjoy watching) and Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond) play Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry. Kumail’s father is played by a veteran Bollywood comedian, Anupam Kher, who also played the patriarch on the British film Bend it Like Beckham; he acts in both Hindi and English. Kumail’s friends from the comedy world get rather meaty roles for this genre; they are Aidy Bryant (SNL), Bo Burnham, and Kurt Braunholer. Fans of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore may recognize Indian-born model-turned-actress, Shenaz Treasury, who plays Fatima, Kumail’s sister-in-law. 

One may be tempted to say Kumail’s family are the antagonists of the story. This might be true if one is trying to parse out this or that or the other with the characters, but this is over-simplification. They are an obstacle for Kumail, but really his biggest enemy is himself, how he views what his family has put on him, what his own culture has done to his mind, and at the same time reconciling with being a modern American given all the relative opportunities everyone else has. 

In the break-up scene, Kumail declares: “I’m fighting over 1,400 years of tradition! You were just ugly in high school!” after Emily finds the cigar box filled w/ pics of eligible women. Yes, indeed he is fighting something (baggage, anyone?)- he doesn’t believe in Islam (pretends to pray in his parents’ basement), drinks alcohol (a no-no for devout Muslims), and is hiding his relationship from his family (NOT healthy). I think that ALL of us in the desi diaspora have family, friends, or everyday acquaintances who have gone through something like this! Jhumpa Lahiri (who is an Indian-American/Hindu) wrote about some of the same themes in The Namesake; the film (which contains some Bengali language- cool) was quite good also. 

The tonal shifts might seem extreme at first, but they gradually cement a powerful narrative that makes for a lot of laughs, but also becomes bittersweet and endearing without resorting to a hint of sentimentality.

Now, a few of you may have read the criticism re: how “brown women” are portrayed in this film; I scanned over 3 opinion pieces so far. I was worried about this (before I saw it), however, a desi woman could NOT be the lead of this story b/c it was re: Kumail’s life. It’s obvious that Fatima and Naveed, Kumail’s older brother, have a loving relationship (which was arranged). Also, the single women who come to dinner are ALL of different looks and personalities, from a curvy Pakistani sci fi nerd, an American-raised waif (who speaks Urdu), and Khadija (Vela Lovell- who is Caucasian and Indian in reality). This American actress is part of the ensemble cast on CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a quirky comedy where she plays the slacker neighbor of Rebecca, the lead character. In an alternate world, Khadija and Kumail could have worked (as they have some chemistry), BUT he was already deeply in love w/ Emily. Are there stereotypes in this film? Yes, there are some present, BUT there are also subtle touches (where MOST of the characters are humanized).

Sure, there needs to be stories of desis/Muslims getting together, BUT we need artists to write those tales, funds to produce, and an audience which will be receptive to such stories. Remember that NOT all American desis (yes, even those here for decades) approve of dating and “love marriage.” Sometimes the singles (as adults, of course) need to find the inner strength to go after the type of relationship that they want and maintain it, even in times of adversity. Arranged marriage is NOT guaranteed to be a succes, BUT love doesn’t always last forever either. Let’s write our own stories OR support creative types from communities of color (NOT just our own)! Dwelling solely on negativity gets us nowhere.