Saturday, 30 January 2016

Philosopher's Corner: Creed (2015) [Spoilers]

© Warner Bros. | Source: ZekeFilm
USA; 133 min.; drama, sports movie
Director: Ryan Coogler
Writing: Ryan Googler, Aaron Covington; based on characters by Sylvester Stallone
Cinematography: Maryse Alberti
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad

Rocky's back and he's got a new protégé to lead to sportive success and, most importantly, self-respect. In the newest edition of our Philosopher's Corner, we discuss how Ryan Coogler's spin-off of the popular boxing franchise treads new paths while handling nostalgia, how Michael B. Jordan further proves his leading man status, how Sylvester Stallone is an underrated actor and how Adrian is dearly missed. Prop up your feet, BSPeeps, and press play!



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Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Film Review: Brooklyn (2015)

© Fox Searchlight Pictures | Source: FilmSchoolRejects
Ireland, UK, Canada; 111 min.; drama, romance, coming-of-age
Director: John Crowley
Writing: Nick Hornby; based on the novel of the same name by Colm Tóibín
Cinematography: Yves Bélanger
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson,  Fiona Glascott, Jane Brennan, Brid Brennan, Eileen O'Higgins, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters

“I wish that I could stop feeling that I want to be an Irish girl in Ireland.” – Eilis Lacey

Financial crises, Cold War politics, a Mars expedition gone wrong, child molestation, sex slaves and the animalistic side of human nature – this year’s Oscars Best Picture contenders deal with a rather grim subject matter. Amidst all this dark and heavy fare (oh, I forgot, The Martian is actually a comedy...), one film might appear like the odd one out. But don’t get me wrong. John Crowley’s filmic adaptation of the critically acclaimed novel Brooklyn by Irish author Colm Tóibín may come across as a more light-hearted, small-scale entry, but it’s every bit as engaging and important as the ‘big’ pictures crowding last year’s Top 10 lists.

In 1952, Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), a young girl from a small town in Ireland, migrates to Brooklyn, New York, to find a better job and better educational opportunities. She leaves behind her mother (Jane Brennan) and her beloved sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), feeling terribly homesick for the first weeks of her new life abroad. When she meets young Italian plumber Tony (Emory Cohen) and the two fall in love, Eilis finally begins to feel as if she has arrived in the USA. However, a sad stroke of fate requires her to travel back to Ireland where she finds that her prospects have changed. Will a promising job opportunity and the attentions of handsome fellow Irishman Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) draw Eilis back into her old life, or will she follow the call of the American dream?

In Brooklyn, there aren’t any big explosions à la Mad Max: Fury Road, no CGI fests like in The Revenant, no grand political themes or crimes to uncover. Brooklyn is the tale of a young woman trying to find her way in the world. While doing so, she’s facing all kinds of relatable struggles and emotions: there’s grief for home and the ones she holds dear, love, temptation and the striving for self-reliance and empowerment. What makes it so easy to follow this journey is, firstly, that Eilis is an instantly likeable character. She’s decent and reserved, yet incredibly witty and, once she knows what she wants, determined to follow her goals. Secondly, actress Saoirse Ronan plays her with tremendous dedication, embracing all the complex aspects of the character, from sadness to humour, vulnerability to inner strength and foolishness to smartness.

As a period piece, Brooklyn shines with its beautiful set and costume design. Not only do the locations and clothes bring to life an era gone by, they also help to characterise the difference between urban New York and rural small-town Ireland. Additionally, they bring out Eilis’ different ways of life in either of those spots. While, in the beginning, her wardrobe features mostly muted colours and simple cuts, her life in the US has her embrace the latest fashion, with her sporting playful blouses and sunglasses.

What is also refreshing to see is that, despite the 1950s setting, for once, gender isn’t too much of a focus. There are occasional allusions to how pre-marital sex should be prevented and how marrying rich would be a spiffy thing to do, but, despite these things, Eilis’ journey isn’t a mere fight against gender bias. Her independence feels natural. Men and women alike respect her for her efforts and intelligence, and find her to be a talented book keeper. While many period dramas with a female lead tend to focus on the women’s struggle against patriarchal structures, in Brooklyn, Eilis’ status is a given. The film endows her with more complex layers regarding fears and motivations than the usual aim to break the glass ceiling.

One of the most appealing aspects of the film is to watch the relationship between Eilis and Tony form and deepen. Actor Emory Cohen brings a wonderfully Brando-esque quality with a good squeeze of James Dean to his Tony. There’s a classic charm to him, a dreaminess and innocence that’s rare in today’s romantic genre. His character could have easily been a mere plot device, but his performance and chemistry with Ronan contribute to establishing one of the sweetest on-screen romances of the past year. It’s also nice to have their romantic dynamics evade stereotypes, with him being the head-over-heels, in looooove guy and her the reasonable, reserved other half.

The second part of the film, Eilis’ return to Ireland, is not as engaging as the first in which she has to deal with homesickness and her newfound love. If I should find a fault in Brooklyn, even if it’s just a minor one, it’s that Eilis’ coming-of-age moment near the end appears rather suddenly. Her stay in Ireland is meant to show how her home attachment could eventually overthrow her life in Brooklyn after all, but, from a narrative perspective, I find her experiences in the US to be much more vibrant and engaging. While Domhnall Gleeson gives a lovely performance as Eilis’ shy and quiet Irish love interest, I never really believed that going back to Ireland could actually have been a plausible option for Eilis. I guess a bit more time and effort could have gone into fleshing out her affection for Ireland in order to make her conflict of choosing between Brooklyn and Ireland more apparent.

In Brooklyn, we find beautifully drawn out characters and especially a strong and likeable female lead. Then there’s also a motivated young cast (with memorable supporting stints by Jim Broadbent and especially Julie Walters, no less) and a gripping tale of finding one’s own way in life. The film evokes old-school Hollywood charm with ease, and allows for 111 minutes of delightful escapism. In a Best Picture race that is dominated by movies handling universal conflicts and grand themes, it’s good to know that there’s still room for smaller, more intimate stories to be told.


Monday, 25 January 2016

Manic Monday: Celebrity Nano-Impressions

Source: some entertainment 

And yet again it's Manic Monday. The most despicable day of the week, the most relentless and vile day there is, ripping us out of the snugly comfort of the past weekend and throwing us head first back into the grey routine of everyday life. 

But rest assured that there are ways and means to brighten this grim day. Today, I give to you two videos from the official Vanity Fair YouTube channel featuring Ross Marquand. Most of you might know him from his portrayal of Aaron on The Walking Dead. However, Marquand is not only an actor, he's also a masterful impersonator.

So, in order to relax a bit on this least favourite of days, lay back and enjoy watching Marquand do some spot-on nano-impressions of a whole bunch of popular movie stars. 

Happy Manic Monday, BSPeeps.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Film Review: Straight Outta Compton (2015)

© Universal Pictures | Source:
USA; 147 min.; biography, drama, history, music
Director: F. Gary Gray
Writing: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff
Cinematography: Matthew Libatique
Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti, Neil Brown Jr., Aldis Hodge, Marlon Yates Jr., R. Marcos Taylor

Ice Cube: Yo, Dre.
Dr. Dre: What up?
Ice Cube: I got something to say.

As usual at the beginning of a new year it’s time to look back on the previous 12 months in film and honor the past year’s stand-outs. This is the task today’s manifold award shows and juries have taken on and should do to their best abilities. But, not for the first time, the most prestigious Academy Awards have left doubt about their selection of honorees. Amidst the #OscarsSoWhite uproar, I am taking a look back at one of last summer’s strongest performers at the box office:

Straight Outta Compton is the (auto-) biographical enactment of the rise, fall, and legacy of Californian hip hop group N.W.A. In 1986 four young guys from Compton, California set out to turn the frustration about their lives and opportunities into something creative. As west-coast pioneers of gangsta-rap their rise to fame and fortune is glorious and disapproval by the stiff, bourgeois society only contributes to their notoriety. But when money gets involved things get tricky. Various people want to ride the money train and friendships are lost. Straight Outta Compton shows the estrangement of the group, their individual endeavors and ultimate reconciliation at the deathbed of founding member Eazy-E (this story’s real, guys, so no spoiler alert needed).

The F. Gary Gray pic does a good job of setting the scene and creating an atmosphere. Police radio calls and news reports recreate the atmosphere of civil unrest in Reagan-era America. As an important back note to the development of N.W.A, these state-of-the-union testimonies introduce the sharp reality of the protagonists’ lives. Drugs, unemployment, early fatherhood, guns, and unjustified police brutality are the norm here. Dark shots and sharp flashing lights are a means of establishing a gritty and authentic picture. Yet stereotypical shots of “ghetto life”, of cruising and posing are not omitted either… When things escalate, camera movement and cuts accelerate and frames get up close and personal. As the group rises to fame, shots become more and more total, summiting in shots of bright stages and packed concert halls reflecting the grandeur of N.W.A’s success. There are parties and excesses to no end, but these flashy enactments are always cut against small-scale, closed-off shots of conversations, hinting that there’s always something deeper going on behind the shiny façade. While the movie is not free of clichéd depictions of sex and violence (as there may well have been in these circles), in general it does a good job of pulling you into the action, so that by the end of the movie (yes, guys, you were in fact watching a movie) you feel like you have been on that journey with the group.

And the group is exactly what this movie is about and what makes it so special. The dynamics between Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), DJ Yella (Neill Brown Jr.), and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) coming up together from nothing to the top of the business are refreshing and uplifting. When difficulties arise, you feel like you have been cheated, too, and then you feel almost sappily happy when the group reconciles at last. But hold up! – not all is brilliant and authentic here… As this is a biography you know there are some real people involved. When you then look at the producers (Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and the widow of Eazy-E among them) you know that these people are trying to create, legitimize, and manifest their legacy here in unblemished form. Who the main protagonists are is then also a given, but the way they try to stylize themselves is a bit too much at times: Eazy-E as the entrepreneur, Ice Cube as the poet and independent thinker, who stood up for his rights, and Dr. Dre as the musical genius with nothing but the advancement of his arts on his mind. A bit too neat if you ask me… Taking their depicted fostering of Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur, as well as a montage of real-life achievements after the end of the events depicted in the movie into consideration, it’s all a bit too much. Yeah, they did great things for hip hop, but the movie also sugarcoats or omits other, more violent and controversial aspects of their way to the top. And while Ice Cube, Dre and Eazy-E probably were the most successful of the bunch, I wonder how the rest of their crew feels about Compton.

The movie does a great job of depicting the main players in the form of casting, though. First of all hats off to employing a group of young and relatively unknown actors that none the less do a great job of portraying their characters. Their performances and looks fit to a tee and stop just short of mimicry. O’Shea Jackson Jr. had the slightly unfair advantage of studying his character up close and personal, as well as sharing his genes. Hence he has the attitude and can do the facial expressions and line delivery of his father almost like the man himself. Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre can do both: portray the sensitive, exuberant creative genius and the ruthless, quick-tempered nature of a man determined to make his way up. Coming back to those Oscar nominations from the beginning, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E might have deserved a nod for best supporting actor. In his portrayal he shows the whole range from childish joy, when his friends forgive his past selfishness, to economic strategist, calculating thug, and a man sick and dying of an illness he saw as unmanly and humiliating. Mitchell gives a performance you can believe and that despite the extreme nature of events is never over the top. The group’s manager Jerry Heller is prominently portrayed by Paul Giamatti. As always he does a brilliant job of playing a cunning and egoistic psychopath that in its ruthlessness and scheming gives me the creeps. Neill Brown Jr. and Aldis Hodge give solid performances, but since their characters remain mere props for the story, so do they.

The strongest part of the movie is – who would have thought – the music. As the sole reason to why this motion picture was ever even made, N.W.A’s legacy looms over Compton. Yet, this isn’t a suffocating or strangling fact at all, but opens the door to a fresh way of storytelling. Events in the movie don’t have to be reflected or commented on in stifling monologues, but get put into rhymes that reflect the feelings of a whole generation. These extremely explicit, yet hauntingly honest lyrics and their passionate delivery serve to set the tone and ground the events in history like no other device. Elaborating on the genesis of staple tracks such as “Fuck tha Police” are some of the film’s most captivating moments. The movie features a mix of the actors’ own versions and N.W.A’s original recordings. Fans, as an added bonus, get remastered versions of once genre forming tracks. Songs that influenced the artists as well as an original score by Joseph Trapanese round off the soundtrack. Shame that this incorporation of “historic” tracks led to a snub in the original motion picture score category.

Straight Outta Compton was one of 2015’s smash hits – and no wonder: great shots, real emotions, and brilliantly true music left no movie-goer unmoved. This is no straight out street-life picture, nor is it your standard artsy music film, but it does have a good bit of both. Yet, it seems, this is not the kind of mix the Academy goes for. Although I haven’t watched all best picture contenders of this year yet, Straight Outta Compton would not have gotten my vote either. To me there is a little too much legacy building and glorifying of events at hand and not enough critical reflection on people’s extreme behavior and its consequences.  Nonetheless Compton is quality entertainment: its 147 minutes are diverting, you get to hang out with some cool dudes, and share their exciting journey. An amazing cast, that is nominated for a SAG award for best ensemble and should have received a nomination, if that category existed at the Oscars, delivers real performances. Compton recreates an era of societal problems and civic unrest that seems a little too close to our reality today. A widening gap between rich and poor and escalating police brutality make you feel like it’s not only the Compton guys that have been through all that, but that you could be a part of the story, too.


Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Film Review: Rocky I - VI (1976-2006)

Source: HD Wallpapers

With Creed now out in European cinemas, I thought it's the perfect time to go back to the roots and have a closer look at the movies that inspired Ryan Coogler's spin-off: the Rocky franchise. Six films, all starring Sylvester Stallone in the lead, were released somewhere between 1976 and 2006, and you can read my mini-reviews for them below.

Many people associate the Rocky cinematic universe with kitsch, pathos and, yes, quite a few implausibilities. However, it is also the franchise of uplifting, heartfelt emotions, fantastic boxing choreographies and masterfully crafted movie montages. Not to mention all the lovely characters that make you invest your own soul completely in their respective journeys. The Rocky movies, for me, are ones of great passion and deliver a powerful message: Never stop pursuing your dreams and standing up for yourself and the ones you love! So, despite some flaws here and there, Rocky is meant to win you over and knock you out with joy and underdog spirit.

I guess you already noticed, I'm a devoted fan. So, if you're looking for some Rocky bashing, you certainly won't find it here. But if you'd like to join me in my celebration of the franchise and my attempt to point out the pros and cons of each respective movie - hey, I'm a critic after all - you've definitely found the right article. Or maybe you'd just like to inform yourself before you hop over to the cinema to watch Creed. Whatever brought you here, let's get ready to rumble!

Rocky (1976)
© MGM Home Entertainment | Source: One Perfect Shot
USA; 120 min.; drama, sport movie | Director:  John G. Avildsen | Writing: Sylvester Stallone | Cinematography: James Crabe | Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Joe Spinell

 "Apollo Creed vs. the Italian Stallion. Sounds like a damn monster movie." -- Apollo Creed

The Gist: Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), a  small-time boxer and debt collector, feels like the world has turned its back on him. Living hard, without any success or reputation, his self-esteem is at a low point. When his crush, shy and silent Adrian (Talia Shire), finally warms up to him, things begin to have a better outlook - despite Adrian's good-for-nothing brother Paulie (Burt Young) disturbing the harmony. But it's only when Rocky gets the rare chance to fight heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) that he really sees an opportunity to prove to himself his self-worth and endurance.

Look Who's Talking: Or singing in this case. Sylvester Stallone's musician brother, Frank, features as one of the film's street corner singers, giving a rendition of the popular Rocky song "Take You Back".

The Verdict: The first part of the franchise became a surprise hit and won three Oscars for Best Editing, Best Director and Best Picture. From where I'm standing, the original Rocky really is the best film out of the six, uniting gritty visuals and an atmosphere of hopelessness with an understated, yet intriguing underdog narrative, an instantly likeable, good-natured lead character and a deliciously sweet romantic plot. Rocky's lack of prospects is skilfully visualised, and his final triumph an epic feel-good moment in cinematic history. What has this part stand out amongst its company certainly is the film's ability to make its characters look like everyday people with everyday struggles, and then have them find their happiness not in money or countable victories, but in self-respect and mutual affection. In Rocky, love is all you need, for yourself and your dear ones.

The Rating:

Rocky II (1979)
© MGM Home Entertainment | Source: Daily Snark
USA; 119 min.; drama, sport movie | Director:  Sylvester Stallone | Writing: Sylvester Stallone | Cinematography: Bill Butler | Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Joe Spinell

"I just got one thing to say to my wife at home: Yo, Adrian! I DID IT!" -- Rocky Balboa

The Gist: After going the distance against Apollo, Rocky enjoys life to the fullest. With the money he made from the fight, he buys a car and a house, and marries his beloved Adrian. But marital bliss is not meant to last long. The naive Rocky spends money too fast, forcing him and his wife, now pregnant, to go back to odd-jobbing. Fortunately, Apollo, still humiliated by the fact that Rocky managed to give him such a hard time in the ring, demands a rematch. Rocky accepts, without Adrian's approval. She fears for her husband's well-being. Can Rocky manage to reconcile his passion for boxing with his family life? 

Look Who's Talking: Frank Stallone is back at yet another street corner, singing a love tune for newlywed Rocky and Adrian. 

The Verdict: For part II, Sly Stallone took over the director's chair, a position he would maintain for all the following Rocky films except part V (and Creed). While I find the pace drags a bit and the individual plot elements are slightly redundant, the film still manages to convince by further fleshing out Rocky and Adrian's love and respect for each other, and by presenting a very noteworthy finale. Stallone pushes the training montage to new heights, has a knack for thrilling fight sequences and knows how to orchestrate a nail-biting climax. Rocky II might lack the overall atmospheric perfection and tight narrative of its predecessor but it's still an entertaining and rewarding sequel.

The Rating:

Rocky III (1982)
© MGM Home Entertainment | Source: Cool Ass Cinema
USA; 99 min.; drama, sport movie | Director:  Sylvester Stallone | Writing: Sylvester Stallone | Cinematography: Bill Butler | Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton, Mr. T

Adrian: You gotta want to do it for the right reasons. Not for the guilt over Mickey, not for the people, not for the title, not for money or me, but for you. Just you. Just you alone.
Rocky: And if I lose?
Adrian: Then you lose. But at least you lose with no excuses, no fear. And I know you can live with that.

The Gist: Rocky has become a little too comfortable in his skin. He enjoys his fame and reputation instead of taking his training seriously, not realising that a younger generation of boxers is waiting to take him down. When the up-and-coming talent Clubber Lang (Mr. T) defeats him in a title fight, Rocky's motivation is at a low point. Of all people it's former boxing rival Apollo Creed who makes it his mission to bring Rocky back on track and back to the championship title.

Look Who's Talking: Hulk Hogan is featured in a small role as 'Thunderlips', an arrogant wrestling star taking on Rocky in an exhibition fight.

The Verdict: I'll be honest with you. After the film started off with a very much over-the-top, perfectly terrible, atrocious, horrendous - did I mention terrible? - sequence in which Rocky has to protect a boxing audience from out-of-control wrestling maniac 'Thunderlips', I was perfectly sure that the franchise had jumped the shark and that the remaining minutes of the film would be pure torture. Girl, was I wrong! What started off as an exaggerated mess, quickly turned into my second favourite film of the franchise. I love to see Rocky and Apollo team up and form a bromance for the ages. It's not only a nice twist to the established lore, it's also a great opportunity for actor Carl Weathers to shine. He brings charisma and vigour to Apollo, and has wonderful chemistry with Stallone. Furthermore, watching Rocky struggle with his success and the sudden death of his trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith) is an intriguing storyline. Plus, last but not least, Adrian gets to act like the tough gal that she is by putting Rocky's head right. Throw in the usual fantastic fight sequences, a top-notch training sequence and a thrilling end fight and you're good to go. What's not to love? 

The Rating:       

Rocky IV (1985)
© MGM Home Entertainment | Source: Movieclips
USA; 91 min.; drama, sport movie | Director:  Sylvester Stallone | Writing: Sylvester Stallone | Cinematography: Bill Butler | Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Tony Burton, Dolph Lundgren, Brigitte Nielsen

"I guess what I'm trying to say is, if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change." -- Rocky Balboa

The Gist: When Apollo is killed in an exhibition fight against hard-hitting, ruthless Soviet boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), Rocky is willing to come out of retirement and seek revenge in the ring. With the Balboa vs. Drago fight to take place in the Soviet Union, Rocky must rely on the support of his family and training staff in order to stand tall in a hostile country miles away from home.

Look Who's Talking: Soul legend James Brown has a cameo appearance, singing "Living in America" for Apollo Creed right before his deadly fight against Drago. Apollo sure went out with a bang - in two different ways.

The Verdict: Released in the final years of the Cold War conflict, Rocky IV tries to function as a comment on the political situation of the time. On the one hand, US American values are celebrated and Soviet values broken down to a negative pile and frowned upon. On the other hand, Rocky, in his final speech, addresses both nations, asking for change and reconciliation. This approach is obviously pretty basic and cliché-ridden. The interpersonal undertones, however, are what makes the film so exciting. Losing Apollo to a conscienceless fight machine is a harsh blow for Rocky. Coming to terms with his death and realising that vengeance won't take away grief is a valuable lesson learnt for the ageing fighter. On a random note, the training montage is one of my favourites. It might not be set in Philadelphia, the usual place, and it might not feature the iconic Rocky song "Gonna fly now", but the snowy Soviet setting and the 80s pop anthem "Hearts on Fire" sure make up for it. Besides, I really like how Rocky's reputation as a strong-willed, spontaneous, hands-on fighter is visualised here in contrast to the clinical, isolated Drago. So, while Rocky IV certainly falls flat in its political ambitions, the story, characters and usual beloved Rocky 'elements' are in good shape, guaranteeing solid entertainment.

The Rating:

Rocky V (1990)
© MGM Home Entertainment | Source: Collider
USA; 104 min.; drama, sport movie | Director:  John G. Avildsen | Writing: Sylvester Stallone | Cinematography: Steven Poster | Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Sage Stallone, Tony Burton, Tommy Morrison, Richard Gant, Burgess Meredith

"Yo, Tommy! I didn't hear no bell..." -- Rocky Balboa

The Gist: After the Balboas have to declare their bankruptcy due to one of Paulie's (many) mistakes, the family moves back into Rocky's old neighbourhood. The ageing fighter turns to coaching and contributes to the success of newcomer Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison). Tommy, however, betrays Rocky's good nature and kindness by signing with greedy manager Duke (Richard Gant). The latter plans to have Balboa and Gunn face off in a fight. Can Rocky resist his sportive passion? And can he regain the respect and love of his estranged son Rocky Jr. (Sage Stallone)? 

Look Who's Talking: Kevin Connolly, famous for his role as Eric in the Entourage franchise, stars as Rocky Jr.'s school rival. He was 16 years old when Rocky V came out.

The Verdict: I have heard so many bad things about this film, and I really don't know what's wrong with people. I actually enjoy it. It counts on nostalgia, evoking memories from the original Rocky - and, in my opinion, does so much better than the 2006 sequel Rocky Balboa. Moving away from the established storyline that always has Rocky return from retirement to defend/win a title, this part is much more about Rocky's life after professional boxing: how he tries to stay in touch with his passion, how he navigates through family life, how he sets his priorities straight. The plot line allows the character to gain more depth and, frankly speaking, I think that Sly delivers one of his best performances as Rocky in this movie. His frustration and passion in boxing matters are just as touching and heartfelt as his sadness over losing his son's confidence as well as the ability to provide a high living standard for his family. I also like the conflict between him and Tommy, and how it brings out Rocky's inherently naive and vulnerable nature. The finale is a downer, though. I give you that. It lacks choreography and doesn't manage to evoke an uplifting feeling like all the previous showdowns, which is a pity, really. 

The Rating:

Rocky Balboa (2006)
© MGM Home Entertainment | Source: Quotes Gram
USA; 102 min.; drama, sport movie | Director:  Sylvester Stallone | Writing: Sylvester Stallone | Cinematography: Clark Mathis | Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Milo Ventimiglia, Tony Burton, Geraldine Hughes, Antonio Tarver, James Francis Kelly III

"But it ain't about how hard you hit, it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward." -- Rocky Balboa

The Gist: Still grieving over the death of his dear Adrian, Rocky is now a retired boxer and a successful restaurant owner - and yet merely a shadow of his old self. His son (Milo Ventimiglia) has a hard time living in his father's shadow and thus distances himself from him. When sports experts begin to fantasise about a fight between Rocky and the current heavyweight champion Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), Balboa sees a final chance to fight his inner demons and regain his self-respect.

Look Who's Talking: Boxer Mike Tyson makes a cameo appearance during the Balboa vs. Dixon fight, set in the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas. Famous ring announcer Michael Buffer and referee Joe Cortez are also featured. 

The Verdict: When Sly released this sequel 16 years after Rocky V, critics were abuzz with praise. For me, Rocky Balboa is an entertaining, yet so far the weakest addition to the franchise. The homages come across as force-fed here and there, and the plot feels slightly rushed. For this reason, Rocky's motivation to get back into the ring isn't explored thoroughly enough, and Rocky Jr.'s development from angry to loving son seems rather unbelievable. Besides this, Dixon really isn't a memorable antagonist, only a mere plot device. Visually, Sly gives a nod to Sin City (2005) in the final fight sequence, which is kind of irritating. However, having said all this, the blossoming friendship between Rocky and bartender Marie (Geraldine Hughes) is nice to watch, and Rocky's grief over Adrian's passing is heartfelt. And in the end, when he leaves the ring proud, confident and surrounded by his loved ones, I can't help but flash a happy, silly grin and shed a little tear of joy. So, yeah, Rocky Balboa might be a little out of breath and technique, but it sure still knows how to throw a punch.

The Rating:

Monday, 18 January 2016

Manic Monday: Winnie the Pooh Day

Whoar BSPeeps, what a week it's been! 

So bad in fact that for once we gladly say: Thank God it's Monday and that horrific week is over! Two ingenious legends left us last week for the great beyond... For us, all there is left to say is 'Safe flight Major Tom!' and raise our wands and assure Alan Rickmann that we'll love him for all his greatness, not just Severus Snape - "Always!".

To get us out of the January funk on this Manic Monday we are celebrating life. Not only is today the birthday of movie greats Cary Grant, Kevin Costner, and Jason Segel, but it's also Winnie the Pooh Day and what could be more uplifting than that? On this day in 1882 British  author A. A. Milne was born and 44 years later gave birth to that legendary dummy bear with the big heart. Though he may not have been the brightest bear in the woods, Winnie the Pooh did share some valuable life lessons with us. And let's face it, after this week we could really use some perspective and #MondayMotivation:

We are very grateful for all of you and hope your week is much better than the last! Let's make this January fun and entertaining and anything but grey!

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Data Base: The Shannara Chronicles (2016 - )

 © MTV | Source: mtv

Series Premiere January 5th, 2016
Series Finale ---
Genre Fantasy, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Country of Origin United States
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 3+
Running Time42 minutes
Channel MTV
Developed by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Starring Ivana Baquero, Manu Bennett, Austin Butler, Poppy Drayton, Aaron Jakubenko


Based on the Shannara book series by Terry Brooks, The Shannara Chronicles is a fantasy TV show set in a post-apocalyptic world in which humanity has lost most of its medical and technological wisdom and now lives alongside elves and other mythical creatures. So much to the setting. At the beginning of the series, we get to know that the Ellcrys, an elvish tree, is dying. Every leaf stands for a demon and once the last leaf has fallen, there is nothing left that protects the Four Lands from the Demon World. The only one who can save the Ellcrys is the elvish princess Amberle Elessedil.

Yay or nay?

Fans of Terry Brooks’ books or the fantasy genre in general will definitely enjoy this series. The fast pace, fresh actors and beautiful visuals are a joy to behold.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Film Review: The Revenant (2015)

© 20th Century Fox | Source: The Hollywood News
USA; 156 min.; drama, adventure, biography
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Writing: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro G. Iñárritu; based on the novel The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke
Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Melaw Nakehk’o 

“As long as you can still grab a breath, you fight. You breathe. Keep breathing.” – Hugh Glass

The Revenant won three major awards at the Golden Globes last Sunday: Best Actor, Best Director and Best Motion Picture. And although we can almost safely say that Leonardo DiCaprio will also grab his first Oscar at the end of February – I repeat, Leonardo DiCaprio will most probably finally be given his first Oscar – the overall success at the Globes was kind of unexpected. Up against Spotlight and Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant came out on top of two critical darlings, and while I personally hold the other two films in higher regard than Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s survival drama, I still think that The Revenant is a masterly crafted, visceral movie experience worthy of praise and recognition.    

Loosely based on the real life of fur trapper Hugh Glass, here played by DiCaprio, the film is set somewhere in the US American wilderness during the cold, merciless winter of 1823. When Glass is severely wounded in a bear mauling, the rogue and spiteful John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) kills Glass’ son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), who is also part of the hunting party, and leaves the father behind to die in the wild. Glass, however, manages to survive and embarks on an arduous quest in order to seek revenge.

The Revenant is, first and foremost, a cinematographic masterpiece. DP Emmanuel Lubezki, who already shot the hell out of The New World (2005), The Tree of Life (2011) or last year’s Birdman, uses mostly gloomy natural light and long, lingering takes. He has the camera move freely among the characters, allowing the viewer to immerse in the activities of the trappers and, at the same time, creating a tense atmosphere of unease because one can never be sure what is about to approach from any angle of the screen. Paired with an impeccable use of sound, the visuals bring the breathtaking beauty as well as the uncertainties and dangers of nature to life.

Cleverly marketed as a gruesome spectacle of epic proportions before the film was even released, the bear mauling scene really is a highlight. It’s raw, brutal and appears frighteningly real. Without a doubt, a grand feat for the CGI department and, again, the cinematography. In general, ruthlessness and brutality are constant companions in The Revenant, with the film depicting human nature at its most visceral and savage, but without ever exploiting the fate of its characters. Here, brutality isn’t included for the mere thrill, the mere sensation of it. It’s much more an integral part of the story.

While the plot follows a sometimes all-too conventional pattern of a classic revenge tale and is occasionally slowed down by some redundant moments and, for my taste, overly artsy dream sequences, it’s the underlying themes that I thoroughly enjoy. Iñárritu has us question the difference between human and animal nature, and how humans, with all their drives, ambitions and flaws influence their environment. Instinct and reason, are under scrutiny here, and Iñárritu, despite telling a tale of survival and determination, presents a rather sinister, yet fascinating outlook on humanity.

Much has already been said about DiCaprio’s dedicated performance. Crawling through the freezing cold snow, eating raw animal organs, fighting bears and humans alike, growing a beard from his ever young baby face – he’s done it all. I’m glad to finally see him gain so much recognition for his work because, well, it’s about time, damn it! However, while there’s nothing wrong with his portrayal in The Revenant, I believe that this particular performance is more about crossing physical boundaries than good ol’ character acting. It’s in the nature of this story that Glass spends more time trying to stay alive than acting out a range of subtle emotions. This film doesn’t ask for moments in which DiCaprio transforms mentally (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, 1993), hits us with unexpected fragility (Blood Diamond, 2006) or has his character live in constant fear of detection (The Departed, 2006). This film is about physical survival under excruciating circumstances, and DiCaprio gives it his all.

Tom Hardy, as the antagonist, is allowed more room to subtly flesh out his character. And do you know why he succeeds? Because he’s Tom Hardy. Period. It’s quite a task to bring some humanity to a character that is, right from the start, set out to be an evil, intimidating, bullying, selfish little motherfucker. And while Hardy portrays all these qualities with ease, he’s also able to endow Fitzgerald with an emotional back story that’s intriguing to watch. Hardy can do intense like nobody else in this business at the moment, and together with DiCaprio’s restrained and brooding Glass the two create an onscreen dynamic that is a joy to behold.

The Revenant certainly is long. Its unspectacular story arch sometimes even feels long. But still the film succeeds in delivering ambitious themes and a gripping character dynamic in the most beautiful, grim and captivating visuals. I felt haunted by its impact days after I’ve seen it, and I actually can’t wait to go back to this icy, dim place and rewatch Glass’ struggle with nature and mankind. You know what I also can’t wait to see? DiCaprio winning an Oscar. But don’t fret, it won’t be long now, Leo. It won’t be long.


Monday, 11 January 2016

Manic Monday: Akinator the Web Genie

Have you ever heard of Akinator the Web Genie? Neither have I until last week, but since then the two of us had quite some fun together.

Akinator is some kind of mind-reading online game. It claims to determine any fictional character you’re thinking of by asking twenty questions or less. So far the Genie managed to beat me in nine out of ten attempts and is eerily accurate. 

So check out the following link to instantly fight boredom or the Monday blues. Have fun!


Sunday, 10 January 2016

Award Shows: 2016 Golden Globe Nominations & Winners

Source: Indiewire

Here are the nominees for the 72nd Golden Globe Awards. The ceremony will be held on 10 January 2016.

Who are you rooting for? Which of your favourite movies or TV shows didn't make the list? Whose performance do you like best? Whose is the worst? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comment section of this post.

* Winner

Best Motion Picture - Drama

Mad Max: Fury Road
* The Revenant

Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama
Bryan Cranston for Trumbo
* Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant

Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne for The Danish Girl 
Will Smith for Concussion

Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama
Cate Blanchett for Carol
* Brie Larson for Room
Rooney Mara Moore for Carol
Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn
Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl

Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
The Big Short

* The Martian


Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Christian Bale for The Big Short

Steve Carell for The Big Short
* Matt Damon for The Martian

Al Pacino for Danny Collins
Mark Ruffalo for Infinitely Polar Bear

Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
* Jennifer Lawrence for Joy
Melissa McCarthy for Spy
Amy Schumer for Trainwreck
Maggie Smith for The Lady in the Van
Lily Tomlin for Grandma

Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
Paul Dano for Love & Mercy
Idris Elba for Beasts of No Nation

Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies
Michael Shannon for 99 Homes

* Sylvester Stallone for Creed

Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
Jane Fonda for Youth
Jennifer Jason Leigh for The Hateful Eight
Helen Mirren for Trumbo
Alicia Vikander for Ex Machina
* Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs

Best Director - Motion Picture

Todd Haynes for Carol
* Alejandro G. Iñárritu for The Revenant
Tom McCarthy for Spotlight
George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road
Ridley Scott for The Martian


Best Screenplay - Motion Picture
Charles Randolph, Adam McKay for The Big Short
Quentin Tarantino for The Hateful Eight
Emma Donoghue for Room
Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer for Spotlight
* Aaron Sorkin for Steve Jobs 

Best Original Song - Motion Picture
"Love Me Like You Do" from Fifty Shades of Grey
"See You Again" from Furious Seven
"One Kind of Love" from Love & Mercy
* "Writing's On The Wall" from Spectre
"Simple Song #3" from Youth

Best Original Score - Motion Picture 

Carter Burwell for Carol
Alexandre Desplat for The Danish Girl
* Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight
Ryuichi Sakamoto, Carsten Nicolai for The Revenant
Daniel Pemberton for Steve Jobs

Best Animated Film
The Good Dinosaur
* Inside Out
The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep Movie

Best Foreign Language Film
El club (Chile)
Le tout nouveau testament
* Saul fia

Best Television Series - Drama 
Game of Thrones
* Mr. Robot

Best Actor in a Television Series - Drama 
* Jon Hamm for Mad Men
Rami Malek for Mr. Robot
Wagner Moura for Narcos
Bob Odenkirk for Better Call Saul
Liev Schreiber for Ray Donovan

Best Actress in a Television Series - Drama
Caitriona Balfe for Outlander 

Viola Davis for How to Get Away with Murder 
Eva Green for Penny Dreadful 
* Taraji P. Henson for Empire 
Robin Wright for House of Cards

Best Television Series - Musical or Comedy


* Mozart in the Jungle
Orange Is the New Black
Silicon Valley

Best Actor in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy
Aziz Ansari for Master of None 

* Gael García Bernal for Mozart in the Jungle 
Rob Lowe for The Grinder 
Patrick Stewart for Blunt Talk 
Jeffrey Tambor for Transparent

Best Actress in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy
* Rachel Bloom for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 

Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Veep 
Jamie Lee Curtis for Scream Queens 
Gina Rodriguez for Jane the Virgin 
Lily Tomlin for Grace and Frankie

Best Mini-Series or TV Movie
American Crime

American Horror Story
Flesh and Bone
* Wolf Hall

Best Actor in a Mini-Series or TV Movie
* Oscar Isaac for Show Me a Hero 

Idris Elba for Luther 
David Oyelowo for Nightingale 
Mark Rylance for Wolf Hall 
Patrick Wilson for Fargo

Best Actress in a Mini-Series or TV Movie 

Kirsten Dunst for Fargo 
* Lady Gaga for American Horror Story 
Sarah Hay for Flesh and Bone 
Felicity Huffman for American Crime 
Queen Latifah for Bessie

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or TV Movie 
Alan Cumming for The Good Wife
Damian Lewis for Wolf Hall
Ben Mendelsohn for Bloodline 
Tobias Menzies for Outlander 
* Christian Slater for Mr. Robot 

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Mini-Series or TV Movie 
Uzo Aduba for Orange Is the New Black 
Joanne Froggatt for Downton Abbey 
Regina King for American Crime 
Judith Light for Transparent 
* Maura Tierney for The Affair

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Film Review: The Danish Girl (2015)

© Universal Pictures | Source: Vogue
UK, Germany, USA; 119 min.; biography, drama
Director: Tom Hooper
Writing: Lucinda Coxon, based on the novel of the same name by David Ebershoff
Cinematography: Danny Cohen
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Whishaw, Matthias Schoenaerts, Amber Heard, Sebastian Koch

“I think Lili's thoughts, I dream her dreams. She was always there.” -- Einar Wegener

In his previous films, The King’s Speech (2010) and Les Misérables (2012), director Tom Hooper has already proven that he’s capable of portraying grand emotions. Now, his newest piece seems to gather all the right ingredients to also pull some heartstrings, but, surprisingly, The Danish Girl feels rather void of sincere and heartfelt sensations. It’s bloodless Oscar bait which can only slightly be mended by gorgeous visuals and the dedicated performance of its lead actress Alicia Vikander.

The film is set somewhere in the 1920s and tells the story of real-life Danish painter Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) who became the first recorded person to undergo sex reassignment surgery. As a woman trapped inside a man’s body, Einar relies on the support of his devoted wife Gerda (Vikander) and their very good friend Hans Axgil (Matthias Schoenaerts), while he’s emotionally as well as physically transforming into his alter ego Lili Elbe.

Instead of focusing on a more realistic and character-driven approach towards Lili’s transformational journey and her tense relationship with Gerda, Hooper offers a more stylised take. Told in beautifully composed and coloured images, Lili’s story comes across as one abstract, life-like painting in which the brush strokes of destiny turn her from a marvellous looking man into a marvellous looking woman. No matter how much Lili might suffer underneath her flawless exterior, never does Hooper sacrifice the beauty of his visuals to display raw and honest emotions. While in Duncan Tucker’s 2005 film Transamerica I felt every ounce of pain in the gender struggle depicted by Felicity Huffman, Hooper’s Lili always remains beautiful to look at. On the one hand, there certainly is pleasure to be found in such eye candy of the highest order. On the other hand, however, this abstract kind of portrayal makes it hard for me to feel Lili’s emotions and form an attachment to the character. Throughout the film, she’s nothing more than a pretty girl with a fabulous wardrobe.

Yet, Redmayne is definitely able to dig deeper than the surface. Unfortunately, he’s not only restricted by dominant visuals. The script rushes us through events and leaves no room for an in-depth exploration of Lili’s character. Her desire to abandon her manhood and live as a woman seems to come out of nowhere, even though we’re told that it “was always there”. And rather than to evoke sympathy for her ordeal and misunderstood sexuality, Redmayne’s portrayal remains very one-sided and bloated with contrived pieces of monologue. Eventually, Lili seems more whiney, artificial and self-centred than strong, revolutionary and – above all – real.

This is especially apparent in her relationship with Gerda. Hooper turns the latter into a martyr who’s willing to sacrifice her own dreams and aspirations for Lili’s transformation. Similar to all the other supporting characters, from Schoenaert’s Hans to Ben Whishaw’s Lili supporter Henrik, Gerda only exists in order to assist Lili in her self-fulfilment. There’s no room for real interaction between the individual characters which makes watching them quite tedious after a while. It is thanks to Vikander’s strong performance that Gerda is allowed to stand out as more than just a plot device. The Swedish actress gives us self-confidence and insecurity, defiance and pain, kindness and determination. In this heap of pretty pictures and one-dimensional characters, Gerda is the only one to come across as a person made of flesh and blood. Rather than the Danish girl, it is in fact the Danish girl’s wife that shines here.

Hooper had the potential to tell an inspiring, powerful tale of self-determination and love as well as make a case for tolerance and respect. Instead, he drowned his characters in a sloppy script and all-engrossing images. And while he has Lili sob and suffer through most of the two hours of the film, I was utterly unmoved. It seems as if Hooper was so distracted by fishing for an Academy Award, that he forgot to actually make a good movie.