Thursday, 31 March 2016

Film Review & Theme Park: Amy (2015)


© A24 | Source: knightfoundation.org/
UK; 128 min.; documentary, biography, music
Director: Asif Kapadia
Cinematography: Matt Curtis
Starring/ Interviewees: Amy Winehouse, Mitchell Winehouse, Janis Winehouse, Raye Cosbert, Nick Shymanksy, Blake Fielder-Civil, Yasiin Bey, Tyler James, Juliette Ashby, Lauren Gilbert, Pete Doherty, Blake Wood, Tony Bennet, Mark Ronson, Salaam Remi, Andrew Morris, Sam Beste, Dale Davis, Cristina Romete, Chip Somers, Shomari Dilon, 'Spiky' Phil Meynell, Monte Lipman, Lucian Grainge, Guy Moot, Darcus Beese, Nick Gatfield

I don't think I'm going to be at all famous. I don't think I could handle it. I'd probably go mad, do you know what I mean? I would go mad. – Amy Winehouse

My contribution to Women’s History Month is a little less historic and the impact of the subject will only be determined in the future. I chose to take a look at Amy, the Academy Award winning documentary about troubled soul and Soul singer Amy Winehouse. I was neither a particular fan of her music (although I can certainly appreciate her talent) nor is there any particular historical or societal significance (in the sense of activism, charity, ...) to her that would justify a citation in this category. Still, the award recognition of the documentary as well as the recognition of the quality of Amy Winehouse’s music motivated me to take a closer look.

And Amy sure deserves checking out. The Asif Kapadia documentary roughly recaps Amy’s life story from when she first got into the business at around 16 years old to her premature death in 2011. Amid background-serving childhood flashbacks the documentary takes the viewers into closed quarters of first record- and manager deals, the recording studio, and even Amy Winehouse’s vacations and escapes from reality. The audience is taken on an emotional journey that starts with the discovery of a young and headstrong talent and follows the unravelling of a depressed and overwhelmed twenty-something.

What we can take away from the portrait of this woman is that passion and talent are admirable features that are appreciated by people – no matter how troubled or young and inexperienced you are. You are also able to overcome your own demons (even if only temporarily in this case) to create something amazing. And maybe you can also draw strength from the life of Amy Winehouse, who did a lot in her 27 years of life despite continuously facing new setbacks and struggles. But most of all the inclusion of Amy in our Women’s History Month feature may serve as an eye-opener to be equally headstrong and cautious, and that asking for help doesn’t necessarily signify weakness.

Technically Amy largely uses home videos and press/ paparazzi footage as well as a large number of interviews presented as voice-overs. Friends and family must have all pitched in to provide material that really shows the woman behind the music. The interviewees are chosen in large number and with very different perspectives on Amy’s life, ranging from parents, to close friends, producers, and famous collaborators, providing a seemingly rounded picture. All too often documentaries can be manipulated by a very one-sided choice of information, but here it doesn’t seem overtly so. Kapadia created an extensive documentary (I mean two hours is really bordering on too long) that works without any artificial and plot furthering elements to provide a raw and close to honest image. Hand-held camera footage, interviews, and Amy Winehouse’s songs are enough to tell a chronological and revealing story. To me it was especially moving and slightly horrifying how deeply personal and reflecting of her current situation the lyrics of Winehouse’s popular songs really were. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to mindlessly blab along to the radio and her overplayed singles such as Rehab ever again. And that is a testament to this film. I honestly couldn’t care less about Amy Winehouse before, but now I can appreciate how much she gave to her music.

Surprisingly enough Amy holds the promise it sets out to: To provide an up close and personal look at the Amy Winehouse behind the music. As it turns out her music already is an open window to her soul, but raw and uncut footage really brings home the message. While a little too long for my taste, the length gives the movie depth and room to really track the different behind-the-scenes stages of her career. There is no overt guiding of opinion. Still you cannot help but feel for this woman and be moved by her fate – self-inflicted or not. By the end of Amy, I was feeling raw and emotional and a good bit creeped out (by her demons, I guess). In any case a well-made documentary and “a portrait of the artist as a young [wo]man”.


Rating: 

Film Review & Theme Park: Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)


© Columbia Pictures | Source: tokyofox

USA; 145 min.; drama, history, romance
Director: Rob Marshall
Writing: Robin Swicord
Cinematography: Dion Beebe
Cast:  Zhang Ziyi, Ken Watanabe, Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh, Youki Kudoh, Suzuka Ohgo

A story like mine should never be told. For my world is as forbidden as it is fragile. Without its mysteries it cannot survive. I certainly wasn't born to the life of a geisha. Like so much in my strange life, I was carried there by the current. -- Sayuri (Narration)

March is almost over and Women’s History Month is coming to a close. The movie I chose is Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) about Sayuri Nitta, a small town child who managed to rise on the social ladder thanks to her unusual eye-colour, her diligence and some help by fate. 

Source: immortalgeisha
Arthur Golden, who’s eponymous novel the movie is based on, modelled Sayuri loosely on the retired geisha Mineko Iwasaki. However, after publishing the novel, Iwasaki sued Golden for breach of contract. During their interview, he had assured her that he would protect her anonymity, but then mentioned her in the book’s acknowledgements. Since secrecy is an integral part in the life of a geisha, Iwasaki feared for her good name and even received death threats. She distanced herself from the portrayal of Sayuri - not because it was untrue, but because Sayuri was too obviously based on her, though in a way that did not correspond to reality. For example, some events she considered positive were rendered in a negative way, to the point of even offending her and her profession. 

So Memoirs of a Geisha is not about an actual, historical character, but it still gives insight into the way women in Japan lived in the 20th Century (although from a slightly too western-ish point of view). Even knowing that a geisha is an artist and not a prostitute, the somewhat negative depictions of every male character, save for the Chairman, whom Sayuri is in love with, leave you with a bitter taste. Not thinking of geisha as prostitutes is especially hard, with the images of Sayuri’s mizuage in mind. In the movie, the mizuage is a rite of passage, during which an apprentice geisha, a maiko, sells her virginity to the highest bidder in order to become a real geisha. Sounds a lot like selling your body and not your art, doesn’t it? Yes, it does and no, this is not what happened. The mizuage is not about defloration but a new haircut and that’s just one of the movie’s many inaccuracies. So if you are looking for authentic information about the delicate role of a geisha, neither the book nor the movie should be a part of your primary sources. But they are both beautiful pieces of art and allow us a glance at a long lost world, shrouded in mystery and hard to understand with our cultural background, and that was enough for me to make the movie a part of our Women’s History Month. 

That said, let’s move on from the background to the actual movie. As children Chiyo Sakamoto (Suzuka Ohgo) and her older sister Satsu (Samantha Futerman) are taken away from their poor family and sold to geisha houses, so called okiyas, in Kyoto’s most famous geisha district Gion. Little Chiyo ends up in the Nitta okiya, while her less attractive sister is sold off to a brothel. The main geisha of the okiya, Hatsumomo (Gong Li), renowned for her beauty and wickedness, sees a potential future rival in Chiyo and goes out of her way to put obstacles in the little girl’s way, hindering her from becoming a geisha. After having missed her one chance at escaping with her sister, Chiyo realises that she will probably never see her again and will spend the rest of her life as a serving girl. Visibly downcast she walks through the streets, when a stranger she comes to know as the Chairman (Ken Watanabe), gives her money, wrapped in a handkerchief. He treats her to ice cream and offers words of encouragement to raise her spirits. Moved by so much kindness, Chiyo donates all the money to a local shrine, praying to one day become a geisha and have a chance to see the Chairman again.

© Columbia Pictures | Source: iwatchedthismovie
Time passes, and while Chiyo’s fellow maid Pumpkin (Youki Kudoh) becomes a geisha under Hatsumomo’s tutelage, there seems to be no hope for Chiyo of ever advancing from her role as a serving girl. That is until one day Gion’s most famous geisha and Hatsumomo’s rival Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) shows interest in Chiyo and decides to adopt her as her little sister. Chiyo becomes a geisha and receives a new name: Sayuri. And while her heart is sparked by new hope of seeing the Chairman again, Sayuri suffers greatly under the rivalry with Hatsumomo, who is determined to make her life a living hell.

There is a lot of drama, rivalry, intrigue and unrequited love going on, and we have a strong female heroine, who is unwilling to accept her lot in life and does whatever it takes to fulfil her dreams. This is especially remarkable if you consider that in old Japan women were clearly inferior to men in terms of social hierarchy. Yet the movie shows how geisha make use of the talents given to them by nature like their beauty, wits and female charm to manipulate the men around them. 
© Columbia Pictures | Source: artimagesfrom

While the plot as such is entertaining enough, what really makes this movie a special gem is the beautiful cinematography. It’s really not surprising that Memoirs of a Geisha received three Academy Awards (Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design). While watching the movie, you can just blind out the big city hullaballoo going on around you and dive straight into the mesmerising world of 20th-century Japan, with its foreign and thus all the more fascinating traditions and values, the beautiful leading ladies (who happen to be Chinese and not Japanese, which is definitely a reason for criticism), draped in lavish kimonos and not to forget the scenery (most of it filmed in California, though).
© Columbia Pictures | Source: hayochifabricfilms
Like I said at the beginning, this isn’t the kind of movie to watch for accurate information about life in Japan’s past, but if it’s just about fulfilling escapist fantasies, go right ahead and prepare to be enchanted.

Rating: 

Monday, 28 March 2016

Manic Monday: It's Easter! Bring Out Ben-Hur!


© MGM | Source: Variety

On today's Manic Monday, it happens to be Easter Monday. Obviously, the Monday Blues is not that present in this case because the only thing we could be manic from is excessive food consumption. And maybe the one or other relative that we really can't stand and always have to see on holidays...

Anyway, to cut things short, I'd like to wish you all a very happy Easter and clebrate the occasion by giving you the most exciting scene from my Easter go-to movie number one: William Wyler's Ben-Hur (1959). And now it's back to eating candy for me.



Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Top 3: Best Things About Daredevil Season 2 [Spoilers]


© Netflix | Source: ComicBookMovie

I know what you did last weekend. But don't fret, I won't hold you accountable for it. Why? Because I did exactly the same thing. The second season of Marvel's acclaimed Netflix series Daredevil is out for us to shamelessly binge-watch since 18 March and, by now, we should all be through with it. I mean, we're only human, right?

First reactions to the brandnew 13 episodes have been lukewarm at best, though. With the original showrunners Drew Goddard and Steven S. DeKnight gone and Vincent D'Onofrio's charismatic villain, the Kingpin, sidelined, many critics seem to have lost interest in the latest escapades of the vigilante in crimson spandex.

I, however, had a sheer blast watching the show, thinking that its few flaws and weaknesses simply cannot outdo the general thrill and excitement. So, what's to love? I tell you in my compilation of Top 3 Things About Daredevil Season 2.



3. The Karen-Matt-Elektra Love Triangle
© Netflix | Source: Crave Online & NewRockStars

Granted that this narrative device is as old as the hills, I still dig how it's put to use here. After having a brief romantic fling with nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson) in the first season, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) - lawyer by day, Daredevil by night - now finds himself between two love interests. Number one is his legal assistant Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll), a woman known for her kind nature and sense of justice. Their romance is sweet, pure and full of hearts and bubbles and candy cotton. Number two is his recently returned college darling Elektra Natchios (Eoldie Yung), a woman with sinister drives and a troubled past. Their romance is laden with sexual tension and profound shared experiences - not always of the good kind. What we have here is a beautifully Dorian Gray-ish set-up in which two opposite poles struggle for one man's soul. While Karen's (presumed) innocence gives Matt the chance to try and be his best version possible, Elektra allows him to embrace his vigilante nature and self-destructive tendencies. While for Matt it could be a fresh start with Karen, it's Elektra's acceptance that makes him feel good about his real self. 

Besides giving us some cute, lovey-dovey scenes on the one hand and some sizzlingly sexy ones on the other, this triangle opens up the possibility of digging deeper into the three characters involved. I love how Matt is incapable of choosing between the two ladies. Every time he feels closer to one of them, he simultaneously feels the loss of the other. He can never let one go completely. This has us witness Matt's struggle between the light and dark sides of his nature: his endorsement of the legal system and religious values vs. his need to roam the streets as a masked vigilante taking justice into his own hands, struggling with the question of how far he can go in punishing his enemies. I personally am of the persuasion that Elektra is the one for him. But since he now believes she's dead and we really don't know in which state of mind she'll return... Who knows.

Karen, as the embodiment of everything that's good in Matt's eyes, has her own struggle to deal with amidst all of this. We know from season 1 and a few hints here and there that she's not as pure as Matt would like her to be, having taken a man's life in self-defence and all. Now, she still struggles with her demons and finds herself not completely rejecting the Punisher's (Jon Bernthal) revengeful killing ways. I love the scene in which Karen speaks her mind to Matt and deconstructs the high pedestal he's put her on. 

Elektra, in the meantime, seeks to win Matt's love by abandoning her murderous desires - and barely succeeds. The show has done a marvellous job introducing her character as a perfectly complex woman who's not entirely evil and yet miles away from being good. Besides, Yung's performance endows Elektra with the necessary coolness and vulnerability to make her completely engaging.

To wrap this up, Matt's affection for the two women really isn't about them, it seems. It's much more about him. They appear like mere projects in which the goal is to keep the one pure and innocent, and to refine the other. The triangle gives us a close look into Matt's psyche and what we find there isn't always pleasant. There are quite a few moments in this season in which I just want to slap him in the face and tell him to get a grip. And that's what I love about this show and this narrative device in particular: it's not afraid to portray its characters as deeply flawed and, yes, unlikeable. And it raises questions without presenting easy answers. Human beings are complicated and not always proceeding on noble intentions. Or sometimes they can get lost following those good intents. Season 2 manages to show all this and still have me invested in the fate of its characters.


2. Jon Bernthal as The Punisher
© Netflix | Source: ComicBookMovie & Flickering Myth

Frank Castle a.k.a. The Punisher is much more than just another character to embody Matt's psychological struggle. Having lost his wife and two children in a shootout involving the police and multiple criminal gangs, he takes vigilantism to homicidal heights. Unlike Daredevil, he is out for blood and, once face to face with the enemy, mercy is something that never crosses his mind.

While, on the one hand, his presence naturally serves to make Daredevil question his own moral/religious code, The Punisher, right from the start, develops his own dynamics. Castle is deeply flawed, out of his mind, blinded by hatred and pain - and still he's probably one of the most beloved characters of the new season. What could have been a mere brute with a murderous agenda becomes a man of compelling ambivalence and heartfelt humanity in Jon Bernthal's capable hands. The underrated actor evokes a kind of sympathy that goes beyond the clichéd stereotype of the father unable to protect his loved ones. He brings subtle and honest emotions to the table and pairs them with repulsiveness, violence and ruthlessness. Just like Daredevil, we, the audience, are forced to face our inner demons: what does our moral code say about The Punisher? Can we condemn him? Do we applaud him?

On a different note, Castle's military background, that is his skills as a sniper and in single combat, is handy when it comes to sprucing up the screen with badass action fare. But here the character also walks a fascinatingly thin line between oozing coolness and conveying a brutal, frightening intensity.

Perfectly complex, emotional, physical, intense - this Punisher has won me over.



1. The Stairwell Fight Scene


A while ago, I already celebrated the Hallway Fight Scene from season 1 in our A Scene to Remember section. Now, the makers of Daredevil went out trying to top that for season 2. 

And. They. Did. 

In what appears to be a five-minute one-take sequence in episode 3 the camera follows Daredevil down a dimly lit stairwell while he tries to fight off a bunch of thugs. The whole thing had me drop my jaw. It's just thrilling and mind-blowing mayhem, yet precisely orchestrated and artistically staged. 

While this scene probably is the masterful standout, I'd like to take it as a representative of all the fantastic stunt work showcased within the entire series. Daredevil refrains from wearing out CGI effects. It much more relies on well-choreographed fights and skillful cinematography. It lives from the fact that it is not about flashy heroes in flashy costumes performing flashy tricks. It's about down-to-Earth characters facing real danger. Their brawls are exhausting and demanding. They're adrenaline-fuelled and cool to look at, yet scary - and they leave scars.

Matt Murdock's reality is a grim and threatening one, and this reality is evoked not only by the wonderful set and costume design, the sound department or the motivated ensemble cast. No, it's also thanks to the camera people and the extraordinary stuntmen and -women that the show is able to convey such a unique, gritty atmosphere. Kudos to that!


That's it. Let us know what you like best about Daredevil season 2 in the comments below.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Film Review & Theme Park: What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)


© Netflix | Source: Indiewire

USA; 101 min.; documentary, biography, music
Director: Liz Garbus
Cinematography: Igor Martinovic
Interviewees: Lisa Simone Kelly, Al Shackman, Stanley Crouch, Gerrit De Bruin, Dick Gregory, Attallah Shabazz, Ilyasah Shabazz 

“It’s just a feeling. It’s just a feeling. It’s like how do you tell somebody how it feels to be in love? How are you going to tell anybody who has not been in love how it feels to be in love? You cannot do it to save your life. You can describe things but you can’t tell them. But you know it when it happens. That’s what I mean by free. I’ve had a couple of times onstage when I really felt free, and that’s something else. That’s really something else! Like, all... all... Like... like... I tell you what freedom is to me. No fear! I mean, really no fear. If I could have that half of my life... No fear.” – Nina Simone 

March is Women’s History Month, and we over here at BSP thought, why not discuss movies that celebrate the life and work of some strong, intelligent, creative and all around fascinating women. Of course, we always like to discuss these kind of movies because we simply love us some tough gals all year round. But since this special occasion deserves a shout-out, Squuls, Nata Lie and I have decided to each pick a movie dealing with a real-life woman and review it for you this month.

I chose the late musician and civil rights activist Nina Simone. Not only is she at the centre of a very recent Hollywood scandal – Zoe Saldana, the lead actress of the upcoming biopic Nina, came under fire for her performance in blackface – no, she’s also the star of this year’s Oscar-nominated documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?.

Speaking as a person who, beforehand, only knew Simone from some of her more popular songs such as “Feeling Good”, “I Put a Spell on You” or “My Baby Just Cares for Me”, it was interesting to be able to take a closer look at the woman with those enchanting, unconventional vocals and mad piano skills. I guess that, especially for a person who’s new to Simone’s biography, the documentary directed by Liz Garbus is going to be helpful in understanding what made the musician tick.

Garbus mentions Simone’s youth in a Jim-Crow-dominated North Carolina, her first piano lessons and her desire to become the first black female classical pianist playing at Carnegie Hall. She covers her rejection from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia based on racial prejudice, her jobbing at bars in Atlantic City and her big break with her debut album Little Girl Blue in 1958.

But, most importantly, the documentary wonders what made a celebrated, gifted pop star such as Simone fall into oblivion after making it big. What happened, Miss Simone? is the initial question here, and Garbus finds possible answers in Simone’s dedication to the civil rights movement and her frequent calls for violent opposition, leading to her fall from grace with white audiences and the white music industry. Furthermore, if only marginally, Garbus explores Simone’s struggle with bipolar disorder, a condition that led to heavy mood swings and destructive behaviour, alienating her closest friends and, above all, her young daughter Lisa Simone Kelly.

The documentary mixes new interviews, for example with Lisa, Simone’s dear friends Al Shackman and Gerrit De Bruin or the two Malcolm X daughters Attallah and Ilyasah Shabazz, with rich archive footage from Simone’s abusive husband Andrew Stroud or civil rights activists such as Lorraine Hansberry, Martin Luther King Jr., Stokley Carmichael and Malcolm X. Last but not least, Simone’s presence in the film is created with the use of engaging concert scenes, photographs, insightful interview footage and personal notes from her diary. All the pieces taken together manage to create a beautifully complex image of Nina Simone as a strong, yet lost soul. A dedicated activist, an eruptive force. Smart and reflective, yet very emotional and physical. A masochistic woman in love with her violent husband. A sadistic mother, but also a good mother. A troubled mind shaken by disease. A misanthrope. A woman in touch with her heritage and in love with her people. Most importantly, a genius musician.

Just like this year’s Oscar-winning documentary feature Amy about the late British singer Amy Winehouse, What Happened, Miss Simone? draws a link between different stages in Simone’s life and her songs. The 1959 hit single "I Loves You, Porgy" is focused on when the film deals with Simone’s rise to fame. “I Put a Spell on You” is incorporated to describe her ambivalent relationship with her husband. “Mississippi, Goddam” accompanies her frustration with racial injustices and “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” celebrates her love of herself and her fellow African Americans. While this mode of narrative becomes slightly predictable after a while, it is still realised so skilfully that it never has an exhausting effect. It rather goes to show how much of Simone’s soul seems to be entangled in her songs and thus gives a possible reason why her performances always feel so real and true.

Partly produced by Lisa Simone Kelly, it is refreshing to see how openly this documentary deals with the musician’s more unpleasant aspects: her moodiness, her psychological cruelty, her illness. Still, Simone Kelly is also far from condemning her mother for her actions. Director Garbus is given the possibility to approach Nina Simone from different angles which turns What Happened, Miss Simone? into an intriguing viewing experience. Granted that there’s certainly room for a more in-depth exploration here and there, this documentary still does a beautiful job painting the portrait of a complex woman and the time she lived in.


Rating:

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Film Review: Midnight Special (2016)


© Warner Bros. | Source: Little White Lies

USA; 111 min.; drama, sci-fi, mystery
Director: Jeff Nichols
Writing: Jeff Nichols
Cinematography: Jim Denault
Cast: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Paul Sparks, Sam Shepard, Bill Camp, Scott Haze

“Dad. It’s okay.” – Alton Meyer 

Midnight Special is one of those films that really had me brimming with anticipation. Its writer and director Jeff Nichols, who has already given us a couple of cinematic gems, certainly is a talent to look out for in the future. He has a way with creating rich characters, atmospheric settings and beautiful homages to cultural greats. His second feature film, Take Shelter (2011), an intense, psychological piece about a family man haunted by visions and dreadful nightmares, put Nichols’ name on everybody’s lips back then. His follow-up Mud (2012), a Huckleberry-Finn-like coming-of-age adventure with a darker, more violent edge, manifested his status as an up-and-coming filmmaker indeed worthy of praise and, well, my anticipation.

Now, with Midnight Special, Nichols finds himself ready to take on the sci-fi genre and pay tribute to one of its pinnacle directors, Steven Spielberg. The film, it seems, sets the bar quite high and sadly, I have to admit, ends up being a small disappointment in my eyes. I know, I know, part of it is my own fault. As a huge fan of Nichol’s work, I probably got a bit overexcited, expecting genius and rainbows, cinematic ecstasy and unicorns all at once. What I got definitely wasn’t a bad film, don’t get me wrong. But knowing that Take Shelter is very well capable of delivering all those aforementioned things (minus the unicorns, maybe), I think that Midnight Special indeed could have been better.

Telling the story of Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher), an eight-year-old boy with special powers, the film throws us right into the middle of the action. His biological father Roy (Michael Shannon) and the family friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) have abducted the wunderkind from his foster father, the leader of a religious cult, to save him from exploitation and restore him to a more secure place. So while the religious fanatics and the FBI are closing in, the trio unites with Alton’s mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) and takes flight.

There’s a mystery at the heart of Midnight Special. What are Alton’s powers? Why does he have them? What can he do with them? Is he dangerous? Nichols refrains from giving clear answers and, thus, is able to maintain an aura of enduring mystique and wonder. His film is slow-burning, tense, dark and brooding, beautifully atmospheric in all its vagueness and presentiments of possible threats. It is accentuated by a haunting piano score and engaging, dimly lit visuals. And while the finale might be spelling out things a bit too explicitly, taking away from the general mystery, there’s still something about this film that stayed with me long after I had left the theatre.

However, what Midnight Special lacks is truly intriguing characters. Nichols, as a man perfectly capable of writing deep, down-to-earth, multi-layered roles, here mostly presents us with one-dimensional stereotypes. There’s the strong, caring father and the emotional, caring mother. There’s the reliable best buddy throwing in a bit of comic relief here and there. There’s the freaky cult leader and the nerdy FBI specialist. In a film that heavily relies on presenting interpersonal bonds, I’d expect those bonds to feel heartfelt and sincere. Midnight Special, at its core, is about parents making sacrifices for their child, about friends leaving their own safe haven to help out pals, about rationalists abandoning their disbelief in order to serve something greater. While Nichols has gathered an impressive cast to play out his characters, his minimalist dialogues hinder them from becoming round and relatable. Their respective relationships never appear real or deeply felt. I simply don’t care about them.

When it comes to underlying themes, Midnight Special is ambitious. Nichols has stated that his main motivation for writing the script came from expressing his feelings as a new father. Naturally, the film is about the lengths to which parents go to protect their children. It is a tale about letting go off your offspring and allow it to explore its own ways. However, the movie also forays into different directions. With a constant focus on outside surveillance and governmental control, the film appears quite topical and manages, despite its lack of interesting characters, to build another layer of intrigue besides the atmospheric execution.

Midnight Special is a visually enthralling road movie, aiming at up-to-date social and political discourses as well as a more human, family-related approach. It pays tribute to established genre conventions and yet also tries to tread on unique paths. It is strangely powerful and yet so void of actual heartfelt human emotions. It simply fails to make me connect with its main players. So, while the atmosphere drew me in completely, the flat and aloof characters spit me out cold. Next time, try and put in a unicorn somewhere? Maybe? No?


Rating: 

Monday, 14 March 2016

Manic Monday: Honest Trailer Divergent-series



© Katherine Tegen Books | Source: nerdyshow


The first half of the last part of the Divergent-series is finally out, and now aren’t we excited to watch the movie? Well, no. We’re not.

And here’s why (prepare for some serious ranting): I read the Divergent-series by Veronica Roth long before the movies came out and I must say I really, really liked the first book and was really excited to find out how the saga would go on. Book 2 Insurgent couldn’t quite keep up with the first one, but it was still an okay read. The last book Allegiant, however, left me feeling personally offended as a reader. 

Allegiant is a prime example of bad writing. I mean if a writer decides to write a book with multiple POV's, (multiple being two in this case) then they should make sure that they have distinct voices. The parts of Tris and Four were pretty much indistinguishable in terms of tone and I sometimes had to flip back a few pages to see who was talking. Apart from style, the last instalment of the dystopian trilogy is riddled with plot-holes, the final revelation about the purpose of the faction experiment is simply illogical and don’t get me started on the ending. Those who did not read the books will be spared from that senseless conclusion for a little while longer, because, for some incomprehensible reason, the directors decided to split the movie in two parts.

I don't remember all that much about the plot in details (my subconsciousness probably didn't want to hold on to something that left me so angry), but apart from a lot of angsty moping I don't recall there happening all that much. Definitely not enough to necessitate this division into two movies, although it seems to be en vogue at the moment. But really, if the producers of the The Lord of the Rings series saw no need to split their final movie in two, then I see absolutely no reason why the Divergent-staff thought that that shallow piece of literary garbage would make for two movies. Which also means that the audience will have to suffer through two times as much screen time if they want to know how Tris's story ends. 

But enough ranting about the book now, we are a blog about TV and movies after all. So far, in my opinion, the movies were each lagging a bit behind their respective books. The first movie Divergent (2014) was okay, Insurgent (2015) was less than okay and after seeing the trailer for Allegiant (and knowing the book) I'm sure that I'm not going to watch it. But that's only my humble (and a little irate) opinion. There are more than enough people who feel differently about the series and that's okay. I don't understand it but to each their own, I guess. I do have to acknowledge that Shailene Woodley and Theo James do their best to save what's saveable, but in the case of Allegiant I fear that even their best efforts won't be enough.

So, to cool down a bit again, have a look at this Honest Trailer of Insurgent and have a good laugh.






Wednesday, 9 March 2016

TV Review: Downton Abbey Season 6 [Spoilers]


© ITV | Source: The Seattle Times

UK; 9 episodes; drama, romance, soap opera, period
Channel: ITV
Creators: Julian Fellowes
Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Joanne Froggatt, Rob James-Collier, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Sophie McShera, Lesley Nicol, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Kevin Doyle, Allen Leech, David Robb, Raquel Cassidy, Samantha Bond, Jeremy Swift, Douglas Reid, Paul Copley, Sue Johnston, Matthew Goode

"Sometimes it's good to rule by fear." -- Dowager Countess

It's time to get out your handkerchiefs and wave goodbye to Downton Abbey. The British TV show that charmed audiences around the world finally found its conclusion in the finale of its sixth season, and certainly had devoted fans shed some tears over the fact that, come autumn, there won't be any new stories to be told, no new Christmas specials to be had.

Centred on the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants living and working on the grand estate of Downton Abbey at the beginning of the twentieth century, the show has always served as a prominent means of escapism for those of us who like to dwell upon nostalgia and revel in the idea of a time gone by. The ridiculously romanticised glance at noble quirks and domestic toils allowed us to leave behind our own everyday troubles and, at least once a week, dive right into a life that seemed so much easier and more ordered on screen. In Downton, the blue bloods had us live vicariously through their fairytale-like experiences of grandeur and splendour, and the servants conveyed a sense of humbleness and bliss that, apparently, can be found in manual labour.

Realism, it became obvious, never played an integral part within the show. Downton was pretty much an expensive soap opera, boasting a spectacular, detailed set and costume design, a dedicated ensemble cast ready to make the most of their roles - even if the script wouldn't always let them -, and an invaluable amount of fun one-liners and precious witticisms certain to make your day. Especially when delivered by the impeccable Dame Maggie Smith. The show never took itself too seriously and embraced its melodramatic nature. Additionally, it always was what its die-hard fans needed it to be: a place of beauty and happily-ever-after endings, a place in which obstacles would always lead to something joyful and good. Bad luck, bitterness and intrigues, so it seemed, were temporarily invited in, only to be thrown out by the deus-ex-machina mechanisms of the Downton universe.

As sweet and lovely as such a setup may be, it is hardly enough to keep a show running for six entire seasons. Having lost most of its steam midway, Downton's season four and five already relied too heavily on repetitive plot patterns, an airy-fairy treatment of the rise of the working class and an aura of lovey-dovey feel-good moments. And while some kitsch and cheese are always enjoyable as a side order, they're bound to eventually bore your brains out when served as the main course.

This has never been more obvious than in the sixth and last season of the series in which any attempt at innovation, subtlety or suspenseful excitement is thrown overboard for uninspired, same-old-same-old storytelling. While, for example, Lady Sybil's sudden death in season three endowed the show with a well-needed sense of ill-fated consequence and heartfelt tragedy, season six is in desperate need of truly bone-shaking, sincerely felt moments of interpersonal drama. Every conflict arising from the individual storylines is solved within no time. Anna's (Joanne Froggatt) and Mr. Bates' (Brendan Coyle) struggle to have children, Lord Grantham's (Hugh Bonneville) health issues, Thomas' (Rob James-Collier) depression over the fact that nobody really cares about him - everything is rushed through, allowing no room to actually feel for the respective characters and their inner turmoil.

Add to this a whole bunch of redundant plot elements and your interest in the series is bound to fall below zero. Anna's conceiving issue is reminiscent of Lady Mary's (Michelle Dockery) same problem in season three. Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) and Molesley (Kevin Doyle) find themselves in a very poor man's version of the already sufficiently exhausted criminal plot surrounding the Bates family. Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) still struggles with the farmers who functioned as foster parents to her daughter born out of wedlock and, in another plot, tries to FINALLY get married. Meanwhile, Lady Mary, as usual, finds herself chasing and abandoning the man of her dreams, and Daisy (Sophie McShera) exercises her talent in pushing away a boy who has an interest in her, only to run after him once he's lost all hope of winning her heart. Oh, and then there's also cousin Isobel (Penelope Wilton) running after Lord Merten (Douglas Reith), and the Dowager Countess trying to have her way. But it's Maggie Smith, so I'll leave her be.

Anyway, there really is nothing new this season, and maybe this wouldn't be such a big problem if the characters weren't so annoying while performing their well-established routines. Daisy, in an attempt to save the livelihood of her father-in-law (Paul Copley), certainly climbs to new heights when it comes to performing silly actions and babbling on when really her mouth should be shut. The married life between Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) and Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) is another sore sight. The fact that it only focuses on breaking established gender perceptions, doesn't do the two characters any justice and makes them appear rather flat. Thomas' journey from mean-spirited villain to perfect Mr. Nice Guy really comes out of nowhere and lacks proper character development. Mary's to and fro with her sweetheart Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode) is downright unbearable and their chemistry really non-existent. Goode definitely knows how to play charming, but there's hardly a moment in which I actually believe that Mary and his character are destined to be together. The drama surrounding their relationship only exists to prolong the road to happiness for a little while longer.

Yet, happiness it is that awaits all the characters in the finale. The happily-ever-after ending really is the only redeeming feature of the season, in which all the characters find what they were looking for all along. No realism, no subtlety, no bitterness - just pure kitsch and cheese on the side. But if the entire main course is already made of kitsch and cheese, a kitschy and cheesy finish is less likely to stand out.

Sadly, the last season of Downton Abbey was everything I came to dislike about the show: predictable, endlessly repetitive, allowing precious characters to go to waste. In the end, what's left is grand costumes and beautiful sets. And Maggie Smith. Always Dame Maggie Smith. 


Rating:

Monday, 7 March 2016

Manic Monday: TV Renewal Scorecard 2016


Source: renewcanceltv.com
'Tis the season again. The TV year is slowly drawing to a close and the fate of our favorites is up in the air again. I for one have been chewing my nails awaiting for one or the other TV show to get renewed for weeks... 

Manic Monday is a time to motivate yourself for the coming week, but also a time to dread what's coming. The same rings true for TV show renewals. Every day another sucky TV show that should have ended years ago (all together now and scream it from the rooftops: G-R-E-Y'-S- A-N-A-T-O-M-Y!) is granted another season is another day of anxiety. Some shows have been prematurely renewed - does that mean the ax for my favorite show? With networks due to reveal their schedules for the 2016-2017 season soon, we once again share the neat little index TVLine creates every year. Keep checking back to learn about the fate of your shows in the


Fingers crossed your favorites get to live on and that you don't have to wait too long for the confirmation! Have a great week folks!

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Data Base: Revolution (2012 - 2014)




© NBC | Source: insidetv.ew.com



Series PremiereSeptember 17, 2012
Series FinaleMay 12, 2014
GenreScience-Fiction, Dystopia, Action, Adventure, Survival, Drama
Country of OriginUnited States
No. of seasons2
No. of episodes42
Running Time43 minutes
ChannelNBC
Websitehttp://www.nbc.com/revolution
Developed byEric Kripke, J.J. Abrams
StarringDanielle Alonso, Billy Burke, Stephen Collins, Giancarlo Esposito, Tim Guinee, Maria Howell, David Lyons, Elizabeth Mitchell,  Zak Orth, J.D. Pardo, Anna Lisa Phillips, Graham Rogers, Tracy Spiridakos

Synopsis

Revolution is set in a post-apocalyptic future; fifteen years after a global blackout set an end to the age of electricity. Warlords and militias have taken over and it’s all about survival of the fittest. Every episode opens with the following introduction:

“We lived in an electric world. We relied on it for everything. And then the power went out. Everything stopped working. We weren't prepared. Fear and confusion led to panic. The lucky ones made it out of the cities. The government collapsed. Militias took over, controlling the food supply and stockpiling weapons. We still don't know why the power went out. But we're hopeful someone will come and light the way.”

The main protagonists are the members of the Matheson family, who appear to have been involved in the collapse of electricity and following that logic, should be able to turn it on again. They are hunted down by mercenaries of the radical Monroe Republic, who want the electricity all for themselves to give them a military advantage over their enemies.


Yay or nay?

Revolution is a very intricate TV series that reveals bits and pieces of its world and mysteries one step at a time. It is by no means a horror show but plays with probably THE most horrifying scenario for our modern society – the total, inexplicable and irreversible loss of electricity. Fans of dramatic, action-packed cloak and dagger stories in a post-apocalytic setting should definitely tune in.


Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Top 3: Dr.Seuss Day


Source: gecko&fly
A special day for Dr. Seuss, 
many a kid's beloved muse. 
This man of words and books and fun
can be a guide to everyone.

So joining in in cheer and merry, 
we now give you a very very
special version of Top 3
that rhymes and sings and actually
is not really a Top 3.

Here's a Top 4 movie list
filled with wisdom not to miss.

Of brilliant books comes stellar screen time.
Now lean back, enjoy - everything will be just fine ;)


How the Grinch Stole Christmas


The Lorax


The Cat in the Hat


Horton Hears a Who