Sunday, September 30, 2012

Arya Stark - Our Favourite Underdog

Arya Stark doesn't want to be a lady

Arya Stark, Even when she was living in Winterfell with the rest of her family, Arya Stark was never a regular little girl. In the books she's only 9, while in the series, where she's played by the adorable Maisie Williams, she is a bit older than that. In all of her life, as she can remember, she never enjoyed the girly activities - sewing, singing, and remembering romantic stories that the Old Nan used to tell her.

Sansa was the perfect girl, so it's no wonder the two of them don't really get along, even though later on, forced by the circumstances, Arya realizes she loves her sister in spite of the differences between them. What Arya does love is all the fierce activities, like fighting, and exploration, and horse riding. She doesn't mind getting her hands muddy if that means she will discover something new.

Like all of the Stark children, Arya has a direwolf named Nymeria. On the way to King's Landing, and mostly thanks to Sansa's being shallow, Arya has to make Nymeria leave. As the story unfolds, we realize that Arya sometimes connects to Nymeria in her sleep, like Bran Stark does with his direwolf Summer, and Jon Snow with his direwolf Ghost. It could be said that Arya Stark's favourite brother is Jon Snow, because the two of them are most alike - they are the only ones who look more like Stark than Tully, after Catelyn Stark's family.

Jon is a bastard son of Ned Stark, while Arya is not a typical little girl, and being different from anyone else is another thing that makes them connect to each other. So, it was Jon Snow who gave Arya a sword before she went to King's Landing. The little sword she named Needle is the only thing that connects her to her true identity. Ayra Stark

Arya Stark - a fierce little warrior

In the series, we see how even her father Ned Stark acknowledges her fierce side, making her have fencing lectures with Syrio Forel, a Braavosi swordsman. His lectures are the last happy memories Arya Stark will have. After Ned's execution, Arya is disguised as a boy and goes with the Night's Watch recruits, attempting to get back to Winterfell.

However, the destiny has something different in store for her. She starts losing her companions one by one. Yoren, a brother of the Night's Watch, who rescued her from King's Landing after Ned's execution, Gendry, Hot Pie, even her sword Needle... she loses friends and gains enemies. With all the hard life lessons Arya Stark is experiencing while wandering through Westeros, her only comfort becomes a lullaby of names of those she wishes dead - Jeffrey Baratheon, Cersei Lannister, Ser Amory Lorch, Ser Gregor Clegane, Ser Ilyn Payne, The Hound...

Yaqen H'ghar, a mysterious prisoner of the Night's Watch whom she helped to escape after the group's been attacked by Lannister soldiers, offers Arya three deaths for the three lives, including his, she saved. After the deal is done, Yaqen H'ghar proves to be a Faceless man, and he gives Arya an iron coin. This is pretty much how far the series has come, but in the books the story of Arya Stark continues. She is the only character who has at least one POV in each of the books after all. So, Arya continues to go all over the Westeros, trying to reach Winterfell, then Riverrun, then the Frey Towers, but she never manages to get to her destination.

Along the way, she manages to remove some of the names from her list, and even get her Needle back. She finds a way to use the iron coin, and goes over the Narrow Sea, to the city of Braavos. All this time, Arya Stark constantly changes her identity. While with Yoren, she was known as a boy Arry. Later she becomes Nymeria or Nan for short, then Weasel, then Salty, then the Cat of the Canals, then Beth... In Braavos, she comes to the House of Black and White, where, it seems, the Faceless Men are trained.

So, Arya starts her training there. The most important part of the training is to become no one, and that is the one thing Arya can't do. She is forced to leave all of her belongings so she could become no one, and she does so, with the exception of Needle, which she hides in a special place known only to her. So, at the end of the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons, Arya comes to the higher levels of her training, but she doesn't let go of her old self - Arya Stark of Winterfell. What will happen to her? We will have to wait and see, and we can bet it will be one of the most interesting stories of A Song of Ice and Fire.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Movie Review: The Other Dream Team

Rating: Unrated

Length: 89 minutes

Release date: Sept. 28, 2012

Directed by: Marius A. Markevičius

Genre: Documentary

"The Other Dream Team" documentary focuses on the significance of the Lithuanian basketball community to that country when it was going through turbulent times. After the collapse of communism, Lithuania was faced with serious socio-economic problems. Lithuania's basketball team debut in the 1992 Olympics proved to be a unifying and comforting factor that helped to hold the country together and boosted national morale and pride.

The movie begins at the 1988 Olympics, when the USSR triumphed over the United States to win the coveted gold medal in basketball. The USSR team was successful mainly because of its inclusion of four Lithuanian basketball players. These four talented players were Arvydas Sabonis, Rimas Kurtinaitis, ŠarÅ«nas Marčiulionis, and Valdemaras Chomičius. This was the first time the four basketball stars were playing at an international level, and they thoroughly enjoyed it. Still, they wanted to play and win for their own country and not for the USSR.

The four players joined the struggle for their country's independence, while at the same time endeavoring to be legitimate basketball players. Their life under communist rule was not easy, and although permitted to travel, they had to contend with doing so under the KGB's supervision. The players began trading, buying products in foreign countries and selling them at home for modest profits. This was the only way they could support their families during these hard times.

Sabonis, a talented center forward, was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers. His excitement was short-lived; he was soon notified by the USSR authorities that he was not allowed to sign the contract or to leave his country. The struggle was long and difficult but the Lithuanians did not relent, and in 1992 they were able to send a team to the Olympics in Barcelona. They won many supporters when the public heard about their struggle to play for their own country. One of their greatest fans was the rock band, Grateful Dead, who paid for their trip to Spain and had their artist design the Lithuanians' basketball team logo. The Lithuanian basketball team became a pop symbol for standing up to oppressive regimes. Their determination saw them reach the semi-finals where they played the American Dream Team before facing their longtime foe, USSR, to compete for the bronze medal.

On the surface, it is easy to label "The Other Dream Team" as a historical or sports documentary, but there is more to the movie than that. The resolve and hard work of the Lithuanian basketball players is inspirational. It is a movie about the value of national pride, and what a purposeful group of people can achieve.

The documentary's political undertones are strong, and the team's fight to break away from the yoke of the USSR totalitarian regime is well depicted. Markevičius cleverly interweaves the history of the Lithuanian basketball players and that of the USSR, and he clearly brings to the fore the latter's destruction of Lithuania.

The movie shows that although many people view sports only in the light of fun and games, this is not always the case. It is very common for sport to carry political undertones. Many fans take such pride in their teams that the success or failure of a national team can deflate or raise the hopes and morale of a country. Even so, the case of the Lithuanian basketball team is an extraordinary one.

Many movies have featured sport as their main topic. "Once Brothers," a 2010 project of Markevičius and Michael Tolajian, chronicles the separation of the Yugoslavian national team into Croatian and Serbian units. "Coach Carter" (2005) and "Remember the Titans" (2000) are films based on true events. However, the stranger than fiction fusion of sports, history, and politics depicted in "The Other Dream Team" is unique to this documentary.

The movie brings to the surface the importance of friendship in sports too, as is revealed by the lifelong friendship between Marčiulionis and Sabonis. It is clear that a few people can make a difference, whether in sports or politics, and self-belief is central in making a positive impact. "The Other Dream Team" can be summed up as a documentary on the rebirth of Lithuania through basketball.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Cast of Steven Spielberg's ( Lincoln )

In 2011, Stephen Spielberg teamed with Dreamworks and Twentieth Century Fox to film the war drama "Lincoln." Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States, is played by Daniel Day-Lewis, and Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, is portrayed by Sally Field. The movie is based on a biography of Lincoln, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, written by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The film examines the last four months of Lincoln's life when slavery was abolished, the Union won the Civil War, and Lincoln was locked in a political battle with his cabinet members.

The film "Lincoln" has been in the works for many years. It began in 1999 when Goodwin first told Spielberg about her plans to write the book. Spielberg immediately staked a claim on the film rights. Dreamworks finalized the deal in 2001, and later that year, John Logan wrote the script. Logan's script focused more on the president's relationship with statesman Frederick Douglass rather than on his work. Paul Webb was hired to rewrite the script. The film was scheduled to begin production in 2006, but Spielberg, unsatisfied with the Webb's script, delayed it. Tony Kushner wrote the final script.

The movie filmed for a very short two months between October 17 and December 19, 2011 in Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia. The film is scheduled to be released in U.S. theaters November 9, 2012 and worldwide November 16, 2012.

Spielberg has assembled some of the best acting talent in Hollywood for his film. The role of Honest Abe was originally given to Liam Neeson in early 2005. After his extensive study of Lincoln's life, Neeson, who had received an Oscar nomination for his acting in Spielberg's "Schindler's List," felt he was too old for the part and left the role. Day-Lewis, who won Oscars for "My Left Foot" and "There Will Be Blood," was cast in the role in late 2010. Field, who claimed Oscars for "Norma Rae" and "Places in the Heart," was named to the role of Mary Todd in early 2011.

"Looper" star Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the part of Robert Todd Lincoln, the eldest son of Abraham and Mary. Robert Todd, who had enlisted in the Union Army, came home to visit his family the night his father was assassinated. Tad Lincoln, the twelve-year-old son of Abraham and Mary, is played by Australian child actor Gulliver McGrath.

David Strathairn, nominated for an Oscar for his role in "Good Night and Good Luck," plays Lincoln's secretary of state and dear friend, William Seward. Nine days before Lincoln was killed, Seward was attacked in his carriage by Lewis Powell, one of the conspirators in the assassination of Lincoln.

Tommy Lee Jones, who won a best supporting actor Oscar for "The Fugitive," stars as Thaddeus Stevens, the radical Republican congressional leader who denounced Lincoln on the House floor after he met with a Confederate peace delegation.

Bruce McGill stars as Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. McGill played Jack Dalton on the hit television series "MacGyver." Stanton investigated the assassination plot against President Lincoln.

James Spader, best known for his roles in "Pretty in Pink" and "The Practice," stars as William N. Bilboe, Democratic operative who was imprisoned and then later freed by President Lincoln.

ABC's "Pushing Daisies" actor Lee Pace stars as former New York City Mayor Fernando Wood.

FX's "Justified" actor Walton Goggins takes on the role of Democratic Congressman Wells A. Hutchins.

Gloria Reuben, best known for her role as Jeanie Boulet on the medical drama "ER," plays Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave who was Mary Todd Lincoln's dressmaker and close friend.

Best known for his role as Moocher in "Breaking Away," Jackie Early Haley portrays Alexander H. Stephens, vice president of the Confederate States of America.

Ulysses S. Grant, Union Army lieutenant general and future United States president, is brought to the big screen by Jared Harris, a British actor who starred in "Mad Men" and "Fringe."

Gregory Itzin, who plays United States President Charles Logan in the television drama "24," plays former Supreme Court Justice John Archibald Campbell.

The actor who depicts Preacher Green in "The Help," David Oyelowo, stars as Ira Clark.

Joseph Cross portrays President Lincoln's secretary and assistant, John Hay.

The founder of Lincoln College, Colonel Robert Latham, is played by "Deadwood" star John Hawkes.

Hal Holbrook, nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for "Into the Wild," won an Emmy for his role as Abraham Lincoln in a 1976 TV miniseries. In this film, he plays Francis Preston Blair, a Republican politician who attempted to arrange a peace agreement between the Confederacy and the Union during the Civil War.

"O Brother Where Art Thou" actor Wayne Duvall plays radical Republican Senator Bluff Wade. Tim Blake Nelson, who starred in the same movie with Duvall, depicts politician Richard Schell.

Other cast members include David Costabile, David Warshofsky, Jeremy Strong, Dakin Matthews, Boris McGiver, Byron Jennings, Richard Topol, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Julie White.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hardcore Halloween: Ghost Watch

On Halloween 1992, the BBC aired a programme called 'Ghost-watch', and it's place in television folklore is unsurpassed. Any child who stayed at home that fateful night may have given up the ghost on having a scary night, but unbeknown to everyone, this stay-at-home Halloween turned into an almighty shit-storm.

The show was years before 'The Blair Witch Project', a feature film which based its terror on creating a web-site documenting the discovery of film footage in woodland. The answer to the problem of making a horror film without any budget? - pretend the film is true camcorder footage. Can't afford decent actors? - film amateur actors without telling them what the plot is, thereby having their panic real and believable.

'Ghost watch' was so daring and controversial that the only possible explanation for this being shown on prime-time television was that they were completely oblivious as to how many people would take this show at face value. This show was billed in every TV magazine and newspaper as being in the vein of a lighthearted Halloween themed ghost investigation. One glance at the roster of presenters and guest appearances which included Michael Parkinson, Mike Smith, kids TV presenter Sarah Greene and cheeky chappy Craig Charles, suggested that this was suitable for children and teenagers, with a touch of spooky 'bed-sheet-over-a-person-with-eyeholes' fun.

Instead, many of the general public tuned in that night and all hell broke loose.

The first trick to be pulled on the unsuspecting family viewers was that this show was going out 'live', when it was in fact pre-recorded weeks in advance. Sarah Greene in particular was known for her handling of live television, as the mock documentary focused on a family who were claiming to be terrorized by a poltergeist. Strange noises are caught on film, yet each time this happens the young girls are upstairs in their bedroom, and so the viewer begins to deduce that the family are being hoaxed by the mischievous children.

The presenters soon suspect that they are being tricked, and so they decide to position camera's in the girls bedroom. The programme cuts back to the studio, and they discuss the footage and take emails and calls from viewers. Many ask to see the bedroom scene again as they all swear a figure of a man can be seen next to the curtain in the children's room. The footage is re-played and sure enough, a silhouette of a man can be seen for a split second standing behind the curtain, silently watching the children.

If this was a horror movie shown on Halloween it would not have raised an eyebrow, but given the set-up for this show this sent a shiver down the spine to all those watching, and so began the panic and bedlam that followed. Several scenes were played back in the studio, each revealing a previously unseen horrific image, the only people who were spared were deaf or hard of hearing viewers as a spoil-sport at the BBC had the ceefax subtitles ruin the illusion by showing it was far from live.

The last section of the show began to get silly, VERY silly, with Michael Parkinson being thrown from his chair by a poltergeist, and this is maybe one of the reasons that it was allowed to be broadcast. The prime-time schedulers may have realized this was edgy but then imagined the silly ending would make everyone lighten-up and laugh at themselves for being caught up in their trick or treat.

30,000 calls to the BBC switchboard later, and even Anne Robinson was shocked at the response in her 'Points of View' show.

The show was never repeated, and I highly doubt the BBC will have the testicular fortitude to try anything this brave again, but we can live in hope.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Reaper - Movie Review

"Whatsoever a man soweth, that he shall also reap" is a popular English idiom originally from Epistles to the Galatians of the Bible. The central theme and the very message of the movie was centered on the Biblical story found in Exodus. This is when the Pharaoh of Egypt was made obdurate by God Himself by not letting the Israelites be freed from slavery. The ten plagues presented in the Bible that were brought down to Egypt by Moses are the same plagues depicted in the movie, i.e. from the first plague of the river turning to blood to the death of the first born sons and daughters of the locals. But it is worthy to note that the last plague was not brought about by the unseen supernatural force as all the others. Instead, the group members of the cult of the land were the ones killing their own. Also, unlike in the Bible, the second born children were the ones sacrificed instead of the first born. This is clearly so as to put an element of a Hollywood tinge on the movie and not be a copy cat of what's in the Bible (which admittedly would have made the movie less exciting or plain boring). Effectively, the tenth plague was made the climax of the movie. Tension was built up little by little with each plague unfolding and peaked at the last plague holding the viewers momentarily confused by deviating from what was expected (death of second born instead of first born). And then here comes the vision shared by the child Loren to Katherine where she was about to be killed for being a second born but miraculously survived after being stabbed by her brother. At the time of being momentarily dazed, the viewers are fired with explanations as to why was Katherine chosen to be in that town at such crucial time. She was, in the past, an ordained minister. She turned away from her God when the locals of the town she was serving sacrificed her family in exchange for the long drought. The cult members in the place where the child Loren lived believed that Katherine would help them kill Loren since she was after all like them, backsliders in faith. But of course, as the protagonist in the movie, she did not succumb to their wishes but instead saved the girl from them.

Since we've started interpreting the movie in Biblical terms, we might as well finish it on the same tone. In the Old Testament, God is presented as a jealous God, an angry God and all other similar actuations. The message of the movie was effectively delivered in the light of such interpretation, i.e. it was made a horror film with events lifted from the Bible. In the Old Testament, God came with thunder and lightning. But rest assured that in the New Testament, it was promised that He will come again with love and justice. So then after all the 'scary moments' depicted in the movie, we go back to that promise, then sit back, relax and enjoy. After all, it's a beautiful world (Amen).