Game of Thrones: Season 8

DIGITAL REVIEW:

HBO;
Fantasy;
$19.99 SD; $26.99 HD;
Not Rated.
Stars Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Liam Cunningham, Nathalie Emmanuel, Alfie Allen, John Bradley, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Gwendoline Christie, Conleth Hill, Rory McCann, Jerome Flynn, Kristofer Hivju, Joe Dempsie, Jacob Anderson, Iain Glen.

The eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones” is certainly its most divisive, setting off a wave of Internet debates as to whether the final run of episodes was worthy of the extensive storytelling that had been laid out before.

Much of the ire seems to be focused on the creative decisions made by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss in mapping out the final story arcs of the various characters once they no longer draw from the “Song of Ice and Fire” novels by George R.R. Martin, which formed the basis of the first five seasons.

A noticeable shift in the show’s pacing occurred in season six, once it was clear they had to create their own after reportedly receiving outlines from Martin about how he envisioned the saga more or less ending up. After season six, it was announced the show would wrap up in 13 episodes split into two seasons, with seven in season seven and six in season eight.

In hindsight, the argument goes, this timeline was insufficient in setting up the character development needed for the plot twists of the final episodes, leaving the final storylines feeling rushed while retroactively weakening the earlier seasons by both devaluing their story development and making it clear (particularly to readers of the novels) where the show missed opportunities to lay the foundation for the plot points the writers eventually decided to pursue.

The series has spent seven seasons seemingly maneuvering every character into two factions. One is the army gathering at Winterfell to fight the Night King and the White Walkers. This is the faction commanded by Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, who joined forces last season. However, their truce may be complicated by the lingering truth of Jon’s true heritage, which could present an obstacle to Dany’s claim to the Iron Throne.

Meanwhile. Queen Cersei has fortified her hold on King’s Landing through an alliance with Euron Greyjoy’s fleet and a mercenary army.

The first two episodes deal largely with various characters reuniting, setting the stage for the battle against the Night King, which takes place in the third episode. The final episodes involve the battle for King’s Landing and its aftermath.

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So, is the final season as problematic as the darkest corners of the Internet would make it out to be? Well, mostly no, but a little bit yes.

The ire seems to fall into two categories. The first, as mentioned, is the show rushing to get to the end. The second is the specific outcomes for some of the characters, which may have differed a bit from what some of the more entitled fans envisioned in their heads.

As to the second point, such is often the refrain of toxic fandom, and seems misguided. The character arcs themselves are fine and completely understandable, particularly when it comes to the most divisive of the individual stories, that of Queen Daenerys and her quest to reclaim the Iron Throne on behalf of her family.

The show has always been an examination of the dangers of tyranny and absolutism, even when the results of such governance may seem beneficial. The cycle of inherited power is itself the problem, not the potential for harm a new ruler may bring.

That being said, it’s hard to disagree that the final march to the end was a bit rushed, and perhaps could have used a few episodes to show events for the characters to experience that might reinforce their motivations in the final battles.

The final season is fine as it is, as easy as it is for fans to pick it apart, and will likely come to be better regarded once absorbed into the bulk of the show as fodder for binge viewing. While the asinine suggestion of fan petitions to “remake the season with competent writers” is beyond the realm of credibility, it’s hard not to at least entertain the idea of filming a few more episodes of material to expand on the character development, then re-editing them into the final couple of seasons (though, realistically, that ain’t happening either).

The show’s critics are also quick to overlook the many strengths of the final season, which offers some of the most stunning visuals of the series. This includes the purposefully dark and moody third episode, which uses its nighttime setting to great effect give viewers the same sense of unseen dread the characters would experience in fighting off wave after wave of undead armies.

There was some concern about the cinematography being too dark upon its initial airing, but this isn’t much of a problem with the digital HD presentation.

The other aspect of concern in fan circles were all the memes pointing out Starbucks cups and plastic water bottles left on the set for key scenes. The prominent coffee cup was subsequently digitally erased from episode four, but a few water bottles spotted under the chairs in the “Council of Lords” scene in the finale were still visible in the digital copy of the episode, at least within the first few days of its digital release. It will certainly be something to keep an eye out for in the eventual Blu-ray release that should arrive in a few months.

The digital package of the final season also includes a four-minute production featurette, a 17-minute profile of a key season from the third-episode battle, and The Last Watch, the feature-length documentary chronicling the making of the show’s final season that provides an enlightening look at the filmmakers and craftsman who brought it all together.

Fighting With My Family

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 5/14/19;
Universal/MGM;
Comedy;
Box Office $22.96 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for crude and sexual material, language throughout, some violence and drug content.
Stars Florence Pugh, Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn, Dwayne Johnson, Stephen Merchant.

The notion that professional wrestling is “fake” is pervasive enough that most people don’t realize it’s a world just as competitive as any sport. It’s just the indicators of success aren’t strictly focused on the results in the ring.

As is made abundantly clear in the very entertaining Fighting With My Family, while the results of wrestling matches are more or less fixed as a means of storytelling and showmanship, the athleticism on display is just as genuine as any contest where the results aren’t predetermined.

The film tells the story of WWE superstar Paige, who emerged from a family of wrestlers in England to become one of the top female performers in the world’s biggest pro-wrestling promotion.

With her family’s small promotion struggling to get by, Paige (Florence Pugh) and her brother, Zak (Jack Lowden) are invited to a WWE tryout. But when Paige is the only one deemed worthy of potential superstardom, the siblings must come to terms with the notion that one’s dream and one’s destiny might lead to separate paths.

For Paige, that means leaving her family to train in America, and dealing with the hardships of trying to fit in when it seems she doesn’t quite fit in. For Zak, it means coming to terms with the idea that maybe his place isn’t in the spotlight, but quietly working behind the scenes to further the traditions of his family profession.

Fighting With My Family is based on a British TV documentary about Paige and her family and their passion for professional wrestling. Director Stephen Merchant has refocused the story into a rather typical sports movie underdog tale, playing fast-and-loose with the reality it for a more concise narrative.

Vince Vaughn’s character of Hutch Morgan, for example, is a composite of a variety of WWE authorities Paige would have encountered during her training in the NXT developmental program, essentially the minor leagues of wrestling.

The movie also skips over dealing with NXT’s own championship hierarchy, where using it might have giving a better sense of Paige’s progress within the company aside from her reactions to a few contentious exchanges with Hutch, and some encouraging words from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who pops in to play himself.

As such, the film’s climactic result seems a bit forced within the context of the story beats the movie itself has established, a development owing more to being a re-creation of the real event than something the film’s version of events has earned. Merchant’s comedic background serves the offbeat moments of the story well, but he admittedly wasn’t aware of the inner workings of professional wrestling before taking on the task of helming the film, and a few beats focused more on the mechanics of pro-wrestling storytelling might have been warranted.

Still, aided by some great performances by the main cast, the film offers plenty of heartfelt sentiment in celebrating the power of family to fuel the pursuit of a lifelong dream and find comfort and contentment when things don’t always go according to plan.

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Home video extras include nine minutes of deleted scenes, a three-minute gag reel, a nine-minute behind-the-scenes featurette and a three-minute video about training for the physicality in the film. Merchant also provides an audio commentary for the film.

The Blu-ray also features an “unrated director’s cut” of the film, but the alterations are so minor that its inclusion seems like more of a marketing gimmick than anything of consequential artistic value. That being said, based on the few identifiable differences, my preference tends to lean toward the unrated cut, which actually runs three seconds shorter than the theatrical version.

The changes don’t alter the story in any way and consist mostly of alternate takes featuring slightly cruder dialogue to get the same message across.

I’ve managed to identify five alterations:

1) A slightly faster edit for a key joke during the dinner scene of Zak’s girlfriend’s parents meeting his family;
2) The Rock having a slightly different reaction to Paige’s shock at meeting him for the first time;
3) A more grotesque line of dialogue from an audience member reacting to Paige’s first introduction to an NXT crowd;
4) A faster edit of Zak getting into a bar fight; and
5) An obscenity as Hutch is testing Paige’s comebacks to potential crowd insults.

Also note that while Universal is distributing the Blu-ray, the film is an MGM production and thus the digital copy is not compatible with Movies Anywhere, but redeemable only through iTunes.

‘Fighting With My Family’ Director’s Cut on Digital April 30, Disc May 14

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will release MGM’s Fighting With My Family digitally April 30, and on Blu-ray and DVD May 14.

Written and directed by Stephen Merchant, the comedy set in the world of professional wrestling is based on the true story of WWE Superstar Paige (Florence Pugh). Born into a tight-knit wrestling family, Page and her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) are invited to try out for the WWE. But when only Paige earns a spot in the competitive training program, she must dig deep to prove she can become a star. The cast includes Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Vince Vaughn and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who plays himself and also produced the film.

Fighting With My Family earned $22.5 million at the domestic box office.

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The Blu-ray combo pack will include a director’s cut of the film with new and extended scenes not seen in theaters.

The DVD and Blu-ray will include deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, a commentary with Merchant, the featurette “A Family’s Passion: A Making Of” and a “Learning the Moves” featurette about depicting the wrestling scenes in the film.