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Game of Thrones S7 E2: Stormborn

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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]

Last week’s episode of Game of Thrones, “Dragonstone”, put all the pieces in place and today’s episode, “Stormborn”, is all about taking the first faltering steps on the march to war. So what happens? A shitload, so let’s recap.

We open with a storm lashing Dragonstone. There’s a war room meeting with Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill). There’s little love lost between Dany and Varys, the former believing the latter to be disingenuous and disloyal. Varys delivers a typically eloquent rebuttal and an uneasy alliance is formed between the pair, on the condition that if Varys betrays Dany she’ll burn him alive. Classic Targaryen.

Nek minute Melisandre (Carice van Houten) pops in to hitch her wagon to Dany’s team. Her prophecy has been amended from “the prince who was promised will bring the dawn” to “the prince or princess who was promised will bring the dawn”. Tyrion observes that it’s something of a mouthful but Dany approves. Melisandre suggests Dany forge an alliance with Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and Tyrion chimes in, saying he likes and trusts Snowy and “I am an excellent judge of character”. Dany agrees, on one condition: Jon has to bend the knee. Tyrion gets an uncomfortable look on his face. Always with the knee-bending, these people.

Meanwhile, at King’s Landing, Cersei (Lena Headey) is laying on the anti-Daenerys propaganda from atop the Iron Throne. Afterwards, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) impresses upon Randyll Tarly (James Faulkner) the wisdom of choosing to side with the Lannisters and the queen. More specifically Jaime reckons it’d be pretty great if Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) would meet with a messy end. Tarly is tempted by Jaime’s silver (or should that be golden?) tongue, so Olenna better watch her back.

Winner of ‘Westeros’ Most Creepy’ five years running, Qyburn (Anton Lesser) shows Cersei what he reckons is the perfect solution to their dragon problem. He unveils… a big, fuck-off crossbow and has Cersei fang a bolt into a massive dragon skull. Cersei approves.

Back in Dragonstone’s war room a plan is beginning to emerge. The Iron Fleet will take Ellaria Sand’s (Indira Varma) Dornish soldiers to King’s Landing to lay siege alongside Olenna Tyrell’s army. “Two great kingdoms united against Cersei” is how Tyrion pitches it. Olenna is salty and wants to know exactly what he and Dany bring to the table. Tyrion answers that they’re going to take out the Lannister’s seat of power: Casterly Rock. Everyone grudgingly admits that, yeah – that’s actually a pretty good plan – although Olenna doesn’t trust Tyrion or “clever men” in general.

Later Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) end their will they/won’t they arc by falling squarely on the former. Certainly Grey Worm may be lacking in the penis department (such is the price of being an Unsullied) but he can use his mouth quite well, judging from Missandei’s reaction, and we’re treated to an oddly tender sex scene that is consensual and no one dies. Which in GoT is a huge win.

Elsewhere Samwell (John Bradley-West) has decided he’s going to use a banned technique to cure Jorah Mormont’s (Iain Glen) greyscale. Archmaester and fantasy-version-of-a-climate-change-denier, Marwyn (Jim Broadbent) has specifically forbidden Sam from doing so but the big fella will not be stopped. Sam begins to pick Jorah’s scabs, politely asking him not to scream, and we’re treated to the grossest segue way in the show’s history as we juxtapose scab picking and pus to a close up of moist pie crust.

Speaking of pie, it’s Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey)! Remember him? Well Arya (Maisie Williams) does and the pair exchange pie-cooking tips in a tavern. Hot Pie express surprise at Arya’s destination being King’s Landing, after all Jon Snow is back at Winterfell. Arya is shocked and happy to hear this news and leaves the tavern, mounts her horse and has a moment of indecision. Does she head to King’s Landing to kill the queen, or see Jon? It’s a choice between revenge and family and – this time at least – Arya chooses family. It’s a sweet moment.

Speaking of Jon, Samwell’s message regarding the mountain of dragonglass at Dragonstone has arrived. This makes up Snowy’s mind, and despite the protestations of almost everyone at court, he’s off to see Dany. Sansa (Sophie Turner) is particularly adamant that Jon shouldn’t go, asking who the hell he’s going to leave in charge! “Until I return, the North is yours.” Jon replies, which does rather suit Sansa if we’re being completely honest.

Before Jon departs, Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) tries to ingratiate himself to Jon by mentioning Catelyn and Sansa. It doesn’t go well. Jon gives Littlefinger a big choke, and tells him to stay away from his sister unless he wants a savage beatdown out the back of Macca’s carpark.

Finally, aboard the Iron Fleet, Theon (Alfie Allen) and Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) share a cabin with Ellaria. Yara and Ellaria get along like a house on fire – a sexy house, mind you – and try to enlist Theon in a threeway. As we’ve already seen this episode, lacking a todger doesn’t need to end the boudoir activities, but before anything can happen the whole caper is savagely cockblocked by Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) who smashes fair into the fleet.

We’re treated to the first large scale battle scene of season seven and it’s as bloody and visceral as you could hope for. The casualties of the battle include two of the Sand Snakes – Obara (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Nymeria (Jessica Henwick) – with Ellaria and Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers) captured by Euron’s men. Could this be his gift to Cersei? Euron also manages to best Yara in battle, holding her at knife point and goading Theon into action. This is Theon’s moment to prove his redemption arc is for real… but instead he turns craven and dives off the side of the boat.

Theon survives but the Iron Fleet is in tatters, proving that the best laid plans can go tits up when you’re up against a sexy pirate man.

All in all “Stormborn” is an effective and surprising hour of television. Everyone’s motivations feel faithful to the characters and the battle has genuinely changed the stakes, reminding us that everything is up for grabs and no one is safe in Westeros. Euron continues to feel like a fresh, vital character and his barnstorming battle scene is as exciting as it is dismaying.

Hopefully next week team Dany will have more luck with Casterly Rock, and we’ll be here to chat about it.

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I Am Not Your Negro (MIFF)

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The title of Raoul Peck’s fine documentary contains just the right note of provocation and of rebuttal to the patronising aspects of a racially-divided America. It centres upon the work of the novelist and writer James Baldwin who died in his sixties back in 1987. What is so shocking, and Peck knows this only too well, is that the film’s themes, and Baldwin’s stance, are still so relevant and contemporary. It reminds one a little of a recent much-discussed book, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo Lodge. Peck uses Baldwin’s unmistakable clarity of thought to have one last tilt at the racial antagonism that is still the stain on the whole American project.

Baldwin, who grew up in a very large family in Harlem in the 1930s was both gay and black and he was so disgusted by some aspects of his home country that he went to live in Paris. He remained connected to the black struggles and was a friend of three important black intellectuals and leaders. These were; Medgar Evers (who headed up the moderate National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), Dr Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

The film, which is based on Baldwin’s partially unpublished recollections, deals with the ideas and lives of these three men. He does not simply idolise these men but he gives them and their ideas the critical seriousness they deserve.

As noted, Peck doesn’t find it hard to intersperse footage from more recent times that illustrate the continuing racial problems. The Rodney King beating for example, used with deadly economy here, is still unwatchably brutal. And, as we know, from such recent events as those in Ferguson Missouri, the Black Lives Matter movement continues to resonate and motivate.

If all this sounds merely grim, or like a history lesson lecture that people would shy away from, then that would be to do the film a profound miscarriage of justice. Baldwin (who appears in sparkling form in 1960s televised debates at the Cambridge Union) is always an engaging voice and presence. The narration of his prose by Samuel L Jackson is also beautifully done. It is tragic that there hasn’t been more progress but this film is more than just a howl in the wilderness it is a finely constructed piece of filmmaking and a riveting watch in its own right.

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The Trip to Spain

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It has been seven years since Michael Winterbottom persuaded Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon that their off-the-cuff banter (originally seen on the set of Tristram Shandy) was so good that they could blarney their way through a whole film (The Trip, 2010). Then they made it to Italy in 2014. So, you can just imagine the genesis for this one. “Where shall we go this time? Spain’s nice this time of year. Spain’s nice any time of year…”

So, the boys, well, middle aged men (fifty is the new forty), are off again on the flimsiest of excuses, sampling the seafood and doing those killer impressions all over again. And why not?

As implied, this shouldn’t really be a series. Critics will fall over themselves to point out that the beats are all the same – the set up shot of gourmet food hitting the pan, the cut to the two comedians at the table with the wait-staff hovering, then there has to be a sequence in the car (Steve’s very new-looking Range Rover) where they cover a kitsch song amusingly, and of course, the vistas that are so wonderful they lift your spirits just panning across them. There’s a bit of an arc of a narrative too, for Steve at least, as his agent deserts him and his love life tanks. Rob, by comparison, has a loyal wife and two adoring kids so he can feign the desire to escape but be safe in the knowledge of what he can go back to. There is an implicit comparison of their life choices or destinies and that little touch of competitiveness, beyond just their ability to do impressions, which adds a note of piquancy.

The heart of the appeal is still the impressions though and their extraordinary ability to riff on these in character as it were. Some of these sequences are to die for. No spoilers here but just an antipasto. The bit where they do Sir Anthony Hopkins from The Bounty is touched with comic genius. There are many other really delicious exchanges too and you find yourself laughing out loud at quite a few points in the film.

So, it is a formula. Who cares, when you have these two in full flow? Frankly they could hop round a few more European countries as Winterbottom’s original insight into this unlikely conceit manages to still hold.

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A Monster Calls

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“How does the story begin?” Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) asks the titular Monster (Liam Neeson) in the opening of J. A. Bayona’s follow-up to his 2012 critical darling, The Impossible. “It begins as most do, with a boy too old to be a kid and too young to be a man,” the monster replies, and Conor’s circumstances seem so familiar to this kind of story. He is reclusive, prone to daydreaming, bullied relentlessly, and lives with his single mother (Felicity Jones) except, in addition to this, his mother is terminally ill and one night at 12:07 a monster calls.

There is a great yew tree on a nearby hill in the local graveyard. Conor witnesses the tree come to life one night and take the form of a mammoth monster, reminiscent of those from early 20th century Hollywood films such as King Kong; the misunderstood beast. The tree smashes through his window, steals him into the night, and tells him he will tell Conor three stories and then Conor will tell him the fourth and that fourth story will be Conor’s truth. But then Conor wakes up. His room is intact and any sign of the monster has vanished.

Conor goes about his life, receiving his daily torture from the school bully and generally lashing out as his mother’s condition worsens, but eventually the monster returns and tells the first story. Full credit should be given to the art team behind these magical sequences, as they are exactly what you would assume the bubbling imagination of a kid like Conor would conjure, full of intense colours and a dreamlike smoothness where one moment bleeds into the next. But the stories themselves are not what they seem.

Each story changes the black and white nature of old fairy tales for something more emotionally didactic and complex. “So, who’s the bad guy?” Conor asks the monster. “Sometimes, no one is the bad guy.” These tales act as a kind of koan for Conor, where it is not about finding an answer that is key, but understanding that the question itself elicits difficult interpretations. This introspection will come to inform Conor’s own struggles.

In these moments, the film strides confidently, self-assured in its complexity. But there are other moments where it stumbles. For a film that trades in the notion that nothing is black and white, the bully who terrorises Conor irks. He is at no point redeeming, makes fun of Conor’s dying mother, and is revealed as an all-out psychopath when he decides to no longer beat Conor, because that way Conor will become invisible, on par with death during those emotionally sensitive teenage years. He is waging psychological warfare that would leave even Freud blushing. In this story, it seems, the bully is indeed the bad guy.

Another moment that works, in and of itself, but highlights some issues with the rest of the film comes when Conor’s absent father is introduced and the levity he brings with a few tender moments of humour highlights how emotionally stark the rest of the film really is. This is a heavy film for a kids’ movie. More moments like this could have done the film wonders.

The resolution to Conor’s inner turmoil is itself satisfying and as complex as one could hope, especially for a kids’ movie. But, somehow, it all feels cheapened by the way the film trades in easy emotional triggers. Of course, we will feel bad for a kid with no friends. Of course, we will feel bad for a kid whose dad does not want him. Of course, we will feel bad for a kid who is beaten on a daily basis. Of course, we will feel bad for a kid whose mother is dying. And so on. However, these elements are woven into the very D.N.A. of A Monster Calls. It seems no matter how deftly J. A. Bayona ties this all together, and he does so with flair and grace, it was always going to feel cheapened by the very black and white tropes it warns its protagonist to avoid.

Lochley Shaddock is a novelist, essayist, film critic and screenwriter/director

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Kiki, Love to Love

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Kiki, Love to Love is a sex comedy that shows the fun and misadventure that accompanies uncovering the sexual aspect of relationships. It’s a passionate and romantic comedy about sex, not a raunchy tale of debauchery.

That being said, Kiki, Love to Love is definitely not for the prudish. The film starts with a visual comparison of animal and human intercourse, and immediately goes into a discussion of harpaxophilia, also known as arousal from robbery.

That’s just one of the colourful words that audiences can learn from Kiki, Love to Love, but despite the salacious nature of the film, it has real heart. At its core are five stories of love in a Madrid community, not tales of the depraved. This film treats sex as one of the fundamental parts of a relationship, even when that sex is uncommon.

Director Paco León also stars as one half of a couple looking to reignite the spark in their relationship. León plays Paco and Ana Katz plays his wife, also named Ana. Paco and Ana, with encouragement from their friend Belén (Belén Cuestra), adventure into the world of sex clubs. Some of the film’s funniest moments – and also some of the lewder – happen as Paco and Ana discover the fetish community.

León’s storylines invite us into the lives of these characters in a way that might start as uncomfortable for some, but is approachable, welcoming even.

Kiki, Love to Love is a comedy that takes the high ground and does not resort to mocking fetishes. The film takes them as very serious character traits that lead to some of the comedic moments, finding the humour and reality of the search to uncover a fetish, understand what turns someone on, or an effort to create an orgasm.

One of the particularly questionable relationships is between José Luis and Paloma, played by Luis Bermejo and Mari Paz Sayago, respectively. This couple’s story, about a plastic surgeon and his wife, approaches an uncomfortable and complicated border of assault that is not properly wrapped up.

The ensemble performances are all strong and ground some of the more heightened situations in the film. Despite moments that reach for an obvious laugh, the blend of physical, situational and smarter comedy brings even more life into the film.

Despite the risqué subject matter, Kiki, Love to Love is not pornographic or crude. It is romantic, sensual and funny, but definitely adult. It is a stereotypical Southern European way of thinking about love and making love, but with a fresh voice and modern situations.

If all of this sounds familiar… Kiki, Love to Love is a remake of Josh Lawson’s comedy The Little Death. Unlike that film, though, Kiki killed it in its native box office and will most likely do better in Australia than its source material did. Go figure.

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Tokyo Idols (MIFF)

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Japan often seems a strange country. It is similar enough to English-language cultures to feel familiar, yet different enough to seem a bewildering mess of contradictions and oddities. Take idol culture: teenage girls singing and dancing to cloyingly upbeat pop music, all the while developing frighteningly dedicated fan bases keen to pay regularly for photo opportunities and meet-and-greet sessions. They are the subject of Tokyo Idols, a fascinating but flawed new documentary by Kyoko Miyake.

The film primarily follows 20 year-old Rio Hiiragi, who is among more than 10,000 aspiring singers attempting to succeed as an idol. Rio sings and dances at small-scale concerts, holds Internet live chats with her fans, sells photographs of herself in various outfits, and regularly meets her most ardent fans at so-called ‘handshake’ sessions. Those fans are almost entirely middle-aged men. It is an immediately discomforting set-up that Miyake then explores over the course of her documentary.

It initially seems like some appalling sort of legalised paedophilia, with idols starting their careers as young as ten years old and with a seemingly endless array of nervously obsessive men following their every move and gesture. As the documentary unfolds, however, it begins to reveal a much more complex cultural phenomenon at work. Through a combination of fly-on-the-wall observations and interviews with idols, commentators and self-professed ‘otaku’ (the middle-aged obsessive fans), Miyake draws a picture of a generation of men failing to properly connect with the real world and electing to live a safe, non-confrontational fantasy instead. They find intimacy not in an adult relationship but in the momentary touch of a handshake and the security of worshipping attractive teenage girls who will never reject or argue with them.

It seems an odd combination of insecurity, sexual desire, romance and an almost paternal affection all at the same time. It would be easy to ridicule or even demonise these otaku, but Miyake carefully allows them to express and explain their lives in their own terms. For some it reveals quite disturbing pathological obsessions. For other it shows a surprising self-awareness; one man, who broke up with his girlfriend and started spending all of his money buying merchandise and access to Rio, openly admits he has effectively ruined his own life.

The film is an imperfect one: Miyake focuses her camera carefully on the otaku, and sidelines the broader audience that exists in Japan for the teen idols. You can see the women in most of the concert scenes, carefully framed so at to effectively render them invisible. As presented Tokyo Idols would suggest that middle-aged otaku comprise the entire audience for idols, yet while the otaku are clearly widely prevalent the documentary itself notes that idol culture is a billion dollar business. The most popular idol band, the pop culture juggernaut AKB48, regularly sells new songs and albums in the hundreds of thousands. By focusing so tightly on the most negative aspect of idol culture, Miyake creates an incomplete and slightly dishonest film. This is a shame, because the debate at the core of the film remains a fascinating and provocative one.

Idols – both male and female – already have a growing fandom in the English-speaking world. Those fans may be attracted to Tokyo Idols by its subject matter, but may come away feeling a little confronted by some of the truths behind the phenomenon. For anyone new to idols it does provide a strong and engaging insight; it is simply a shame that it displays an incomplete picture.

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Paris Can Wait

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Despite being easy on the eye and relatively painless to endure, Paris Can Wait is also startling in its pointlessness. To bandy about an oft-used cliché, this really is a film about nothing, a paean to good food and good wine, and little more. The fact that the film marks the belated feature directorial debut of 81-year-old Eleanor Coppola (who famously crafted the behind the scenes footage for the doco, Hearts Of Darkness, which chronicled the making of Apocalypse Now, directed by her husband, Francis Ford Coppola) only makes it more frustrating. After all these years around the film industry, couldn’t Coppola have come up with something, well, more?

Paris Can Wait takes in the journey of Anne (the ever luminous and always watchable Diane Lane), who heads from the south of France to Paris by car while her movie producer husband, Michael (Alec Baldwin), is off on business. The hook? She’s being accompanied on the journey by Michael’s colleague, Jacques (Arnaud Viard), who instantly makes his intentions clear by informing Anne that in France, attitudes towards marriage and infidelity are different than they are in America. Unashamedly trying to seduce her, Jacques intentionally takes the long route to Paris, with the pair enjoying a host of restaurants and historical monuments along the way.

Instantly hobbled by its sleazily unsympathetic leading male character, Paris Can Wait is little more than a glossy travelogue, with Arnaud Viard offering tedious exposition on every historical site that the pair visits and Diane Lane doing her best to add new inflections to each restaurant-bound food-gasm that she’s required to perform. With the whole so light and inconsequential, the film’s very rare darker moments (with Anne and Jacques revealing some of the pain in their respective pasts) sadly hint at what could have been a far meatier and more engaging affair. Instead, Eleanor Coppola settles for a fluffy soufflé of a film sorely lacking in two essential cinematic ingredients: substance and meaning.

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You don’t actually hear too many character names in Dunkirk. The men remain formally anonymous, defined by their actions rather than their names. There’s Kenneth Branagh’s British naval commander, trying to get his head around the logistical nightmare of getting some 400,000 Allied troops off of a French beach near the eponymous town, while German artillery and bombers wreak terrible havoc on both the ships sent to evacuate them and the actual men desperate to get home. There’s Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden’s RAF pilots, flying sorties over the land and sea battle, trying to ping Luftwaffe planes before they drop their payloads. There’s Harry Styles and Fionn Whitehead’s British Army privates, part of that milling 400,000, all thoughts of heroism and adventure forgotten as they try to find some way, any way, to get the hell off the killing floor that the coastline has become.

The exception, notably, is Mark Rylance’s Mr Dawson, a civilian boatsman and one of countless who were hastily assembled to help evacuate the troops once it became clear that a more conventional approach was going to leave corpses piled head high. It’s he in his little boat, along with his son (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his friend (Barry Keoghan), who acts as Dunkirk‘s soft spoken, implacable moral compass. “We’ve a job to do,” he gently tells Cillian Murphy’s shell-shocked soldier as he steers them into the hell of battle. “There’s no hiding from this.”

That’s the attitude that permeates the entire exercise. Dunkirk is a film about quiet, pragmatic heroism in the face of certain doom, of small choices and moments of courage contrasted against horror and conflict of almost debilitating scale. It’s an attitude that suits director Christopher Nolan – doing the best work of his career here, make no mistake. Nolan has often been criticised for being a cold and distant director, but in truth he’s not an unemotional filmmaker, simply one who disdains unearned sentimentality. That’s a stereotypically British trait, in a way – think the Old Blitz Spirit, or the Keep Calm & Carry On variation of your choice. His remit here is to lionise the British experience of World War II – something we’re seeing a fair bit of lately, between Churchill and Darkest Hour – but to do it in an appropriately stiff upper lip manner. He does so dexterously, balancing horror and, yes, heroism, with self-effacement and humility.

Crucially, Nolan does not mistake gore for suspense, and while the body count here is massive, the film deals out its deaths in a surprisingly discrete way; it’s interesting to ponder what Spielberg, who littered the screen with limbs and intestines in Saving Private Ryan, or, God help us, Michael Bay, might have done with the material. Nolan even keeps his antagonists at a distance, the Germans making their presence known with bombing and strafing runs, or bullet holes suddenly appearing in the hull of a foundering ship. The enemy is treated like an oncoming storm, a thing not to be fought but to be avoided. In a way, Dunkirk has more in common with a natural disaster movie than a war film, and it’s far more interested in celebrating the valour of simple survival than any kind of martial prowess.

Which certainly doesn’t mean the film is bereft of tension – indeed, this is one of of the most gut-tightening, engrossing, downright suspenseful films of the year. Nolan brings all his considerable technical acumen to mounting the film’s stunningly impressive action sequences, intercutting with incredible precision between different elements, driven along by Hans Zimmer’s nerve-jangling, propulsive, clipped score. Giant ships sink while men scramble for the surface, bombs slam into dunes as men cower beneath ludicrously flimsy pie-plate helmets, fighters jockey for position in blue skies in some of the best dogfighting seen on film. It’s simply masterful stuff, all captured by the nigh-brutal clarity of Hoyte von Hoytema’s cinematography. Nolan and his editor, Lee Smith, zip between incidents with mathematical exactness, building the tempo to an almost unbearable pitch before allowing even a hint of catharsis, then barely pausing for breath before beginning the build up again. Anyone studying parallel action in a film school classroom in the next 20 years is going to be watching Dunkirk – it’s masterful stuff.

Masterful? It just might be a masterpiece. It’s leagues ahead of Nolan’s last effort, the ungainly Interstellar, and in his previous oeuvre only The Prestige is comparable in terms of sheer, breathtaking, cinematic skill. What really strikes home is what a work of artistic discipline Dunkirk is, eschewing almost all unnecessary exposition, dialogue and backstory, delivering up a stirring, satisfying epic war story in only 106 minutes (!). It’s easily one of the best films of the year, and might even be the best – at the very least, it’s hard to imagine another 2017 release more certain of a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

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An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

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Al Gore’s 2006 Oscar-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, had been considered ground breaking within the discourse surrounding climate change and climate awareness, and the critical mass it gained played a monumental role in cementing climate change as one of the pivotal issues facing humanity in the 21st century. 11 years later, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power attempts to reignite that flame, as there is still much to be done.

The documentary opens with the dripping of glaciers, melting under the sweltering sun, as soundbites from various climate deniers play over these tragic and dooming images. “You don’t watch a film by Joseph Goebbels for the truth on Nazism and you don’t watch a documentary by Al Gore for the truth on climate change,” says one commentator. Great ice caps begin to literally explode from the heat, falling in great avalanches into the ocean. It is clear that apathy towards climate change simply isn’t good enough.

Soon, we’re in familiar territory, for those who have seen the original documentary, as Al Gore stands before an audience of “climate trainees,” people who are undertaking his classes so they can have the knowledge and research to back up their subsequent spread of climate awareness. Damning statistics are shown in layman’s terms, highlighting the continual heating of the planet due to carbon house gas emissions. But soon, the documentary becomes biographical. We’re treated to some insights into the personal life of Al Gore; the successes and failures of his attempts to rectify climate awareness.

From here, the documentary switches between personal biography and investigation into the contemporary effects of climate change. What works within the latter passages is that the documentary acts as a powerful synthesis for what we all know, but sometimes lack the ability to truly “see.” Having one colossal environmental disaster after another played in rapid succession drives home the most obvious contemporary effects of global warming and the dangers it can cause right now. Sometimes, as a society, particularly in our fast-paced, social-media-heavy present, we struggle to see the bigger picture. Other powerful sequences depict the power of renewable energies, as some cities in America have already gone 100% renewable to great effect.

One of the longest biographical passages in the documentary comes in the second half of the film, depicting Al Gore’s instrumental role in ratifying the Paris Accords that President Donald Trump has since swiftly thwarted in America. The point of this sequence could be assumed that Al Gore means to highlight our need to strive forth, despite whatever obstacles stand in our way, to combat climate change. It is not international governments’ sole responsibility, but very much ours as a society, at a grassroots level, to address this burgeoning issue.

However, those who Al Gore references at the beginning of his documentary, those that believe his documentaries to be egocentric propaganda to build up his own importance, will likely roll their eyes through the sequences where Al Gore saves the day at the Paris Accords (if they see it at all). Nor does this documentary spend the time its predecessor did on the actual science, framing climate change, many times, as being self-evidently true. And it probably should be self-evident, but the fact that someone such as the President of America can still consider it a hoax compounds the dangers of this thought process.

For those who understand the threat of climate change, this will be a timely reminder of its ever important place in contemporary society, as it depicts plentiful powerful examples of its chaotic power that will linger with you after the film ends. But for those who do not believe, this documentary may further push the divide, as perhaps too much time is spent on the man behind the campaign and not the campaign itself.

Lochley Shaddock is a novelist, essayist, film critic and screenwriter/director

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Ronny Chieng: International Student

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Ronny Chieng, known for his work in local stand up and on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show in the United States, takes inspiration from his time at Uni to create the contemporary and funny collegiate comedy Ronny Chieng: International Student. The series follows the fictional Ronny and his friends, all but one of whom (Ronny’s Australian love interest Asher, played by Molly Daniels) are roommates in the International House, as they attend Law School in Australia.

Ronny Chieng: International Student lampoons students of all types and mocks the everyday quirks of a campus and its bureaucracy. For example, when Asher’s laptop gets a virus, it constantly repeats the phrase, “You have been impregnated by the sperm virus.” As Chieng runs across campus to fix Asher’s computer, he must deal with impossible administrative officials, unhelpful IT support, and a team of bullying computer nerds.

The development between characters is more present in the friendships that develop than between Ronny and Asher through their romantic storyline. Chieng spends much of the season in the “friend zone”; despite a few plot points revolving around Ronny trying to impress or help, these usually fall to the side as funnier and stronger moments arise.

This speaks to the strength of the ensemble, which bring it to virtually every scene. The entire supporting cast is funny and willing to take their performances to the next level, playing with stereotypes and then breaking them down. Even guest actors deliver exaggerated performances that make this collegiate world absurd, yet still grounded in reality.

In one particularly funny episode, Ronny joins an improv team to impress Asher. But, the main storyline of Ronny’s unrequited love ends up being a distraction to the insane performances from some of the actors (look out for a Shia LaBeouf impression) and the witty writing.

The ensemble has plenty of gifted comedians, including Hoa Xuande as Elvin and Patch May as Craig, two foils who produce some of the best scenes in the series when they are at odds and when they are working together.

If you are familiar with Ronny Chieng, he brings a similar comedic style to this show as he does The Daily Show, a passionate, narcissistic, and angrily quizzical viewpoint on the world. His voice is clear, but leveled out by the other characters with their own unique styles.