Saturday, 30 April 2016

Trailer Check: Warcraft: The Beginning (2016)



© Legendary Pictures | Source: stage3


I think I already mentioned it but, again, 2016 will be THE year for gamers.

I mean, first of all, we have SquareEnix expressing their love for their fans by adding an animated series and a movie to the already highly anticipated release of Final Fantasy XV. Then on May 20, Angry Birds: The Movie will be released, featuring the voices of some of our favourite actors like Peter Dinklage and Sean Penn. But that’s still not everything! Far more exciting will be the movie adaptations of the two fan favourites Assassin’s Creed and World of Warcraft, the latter of which I will focus on in this Trailer Check. 

© Buena Vista Pictures | Source: Guardian
So far, video game adaptations turned out poorly, more often than not. Just think about Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), Super Mario Bros (1993) and Bloodrayne (2006), or better, don’t think about them. Granted, there were also some reasonably good ones, like Prince of Persia (2010), the first two Resident Evil movies (2002+2004) or Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005) – although calling them good seems to be a rather subjective evaluation; general ratings seem to differ slightly, but a fan’s heart loves what it wants to love. However, it would be nice for a change if a video-game-to-movie adaptation could do without rose-coloured glasses and a viewer’s determination to excuse and tolerate just about everything, just as long as it means they get to see their favourite characters on the big screen. 

And here’s where World of Warcraft comes in, because the trailer does seem extremely promising. Critics speak about the possibility of a new, golden era of video game movies, heralded by Warcraft: The Beginning, which will be released on June 10, and Assassin’s Creed, which is scheduled for December 21. The fantasy world created for Warcraft impresses with a love for details and a vastness reminiscent of Middle Earth from The Lord of the Rings saga. But just have a look yourself:




Calling this first impression of Azeroth anything less than beautiful would be a blatant lie. Like I said, the style of Warcraft reminds highly of Middle Earth and just maybe we really are looking at what is to become the next big fantasy epos.

© Legendary Pictures | Source: screenrant
Enemies will unite – Worlds will collide

Azeroth, the peaceful realm of humans, is on the brink of destruction. A whole tribe of Orc warriors, fleeing their destroyed world of Dreanor in search of a new home, have set their eyes on human territory, determined to take it by force if necessary in order to sustain their own survival. As the Dark Portal, the gateway between the two worlds, opens, Orcs and humans clash in a CGI-gestating battle that will determine their fates. But what neither of them reckons with is the approach of another threat that might exterminate both nations.

© Legendary Pictures | Source: aceshowbiz
The trailer promises, next to an amazing rendition of the fantasy realms, a wide array of fantastic beasts: massive wolves, gryphons, strange green babies – you name it. Another positive feature is that the Orcs aren’t depicted as mere enemies, but have their own motivations and a cast of heroes as well, giving them more depths as characters. All in all, the trailer certainly looks promising and let’s all cross our fingers that Warcraft: The Beginning won’t line up with the rest of all these mediocre (euphemistically speaking) game-to-movie adaptations, but will indeed ring the bell for a new, golden age of video game movies to come.


Thursday, 28 April 2016

TV Show Review: The Night Manager (2016)


© BBC | Source: gstatic.com/images

UK, USA; 6 episodes; crime, drama, mystery, spy thriller
Channel: BBC1, AMC
Screenplay: David Farr, based on a novel by John le Carré
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman, Tom Hollander, Elizabeth Debicki, Alistair Petrie, Natasha Little, Douglas Hodge, David Harewood, Tobias Menzies, Antonio de la Torre, Adeel Akhtar, Michael Nardone

"Children grow up thinking the adult world is ordered, rational, fit for purpose. It’s crap. Becoming a man is realising that it’s all rotten. Realising how to celebrate that rottenness, that’s freedom." - Richard Roper

When putting together the schedule for this month, I was looking for a new and exciting TV show to dig my teeth into. My eyes fell on The Night Manager, a BBC miniseries based on the 1993 John le Carré novel of the same name. Both are centered on Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston), a hotel night manager who signs up for an undercover operation of a joint British-American taskforce to bring down ruthless business man and arms dealer Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie). During its 6-episode lifespan, we see Pine assume multiple identities, become the lover of two beautiful women, befriend and defeat said arms dealer, and travel all over Europe and the Arab world. First broadcast in the UK on BBC1 in February to raving reviews, I figured The Night Manager must really keep what it promises. I mean an 8.4 score on imdb.com and critics gushing over the reinvention of the spy thriller don’t lie, right? Well, in this case they might have… or at least exaggerated quite a bit. Don’t get me wrong, The Night Manager isn’t terrible. It isn’t even a bad show per se. But in my opinion the miniseries just fails to live up to the hype. Yet, since it started in the U.S. last week, all I have seen are stellar reviews all over again. How can that be?
© BBC | Source: serieslyawesome.tv

As a fan of intros, this usually is my first clue as to whether a show is going to make a good first impression and set the right mood. Here we have a beautifully designed opening montage that in style, visuals, and music right on made me think: Downton Abbey – but with guns… It’s Downton Abbey meets James Bond! Awesome – love Downton, love James! So far so good.

What really is brilliant about this show is its international setting. Taking place in an affluent environment in Egypt, Switzerland, Spain, Turkey, and London you get to enjoy secluded beaches, snow-clad mountains, as well as oriental 5 star hotels. The scenery is truly beautiful and (except for the Swiss mountainside and rainy London) might as well be a travel ad for the Mediterranean. To those of us, who don’t immediately associate Mallorca with drunk and raging Brits and Germans, Richard Roper’s island home might be somewhat out of a dream world. Kudos to the location scouts none-the-less. In fact, all the sets were absolutely breathtaking and detailed. Even if they weren’t postcard-worthy (i.e. supposed to be pretty) in a particular scene, the props and coloring were always to the point of what they needed to be. So well done set design and props departments. 

Also, what could be greater for an exciting spy thriller than an international setting? Well, nothing really, but still The Night Manager tries a bit too hard here. You don’t have to include all the super spy drama hotspots except Moscow here. It is a Europa or even worldwide operation, we get it, but every single place they went to gave me an immediate association with and feeling of another movie or show: Spectre in the Swiss Alps, NCIS in the Middle East, and Ocean’s Twelve at the Mallorquian villa just to name a few.

Another job well done by the creative minds behind The Night Manager is that they stray a bit from the novel the show is based on. Admittedly, I haven’t actually read it, but I read enough about it to know that they changed the setting to the Arab Spring (the novel was published in 1993, so this uprising hadn’t taken place yet). Changing the setting to events everyone can distinctly remember and which deeply influenced the current global refugee crisis, gives The Night Manager an acute relevance. In the context of recent world affairs, the show’s storyline more or less asks for critical thinking regarding the topic of illegal arms trade and governments’ involvement in furthering the current plight of millions. In addition to the change in time, the writers changed the sex of the lead
© BBC | Source: cimg.tvgcdn.net
investigator from male Leonard Burr to the female intelligence operative Angela Burr (Olivia Colman). While law enforcement is still mostly (portrayed as) a boy’s club, this gives nice credit to current discussions in film and society about equity at the work place. In quite a statement Angela Burr is not only a woman holding down the fort of truth and justice, but a pregnant yet still strong and career-driven woman with a stay-at-home husband. 

Where it feels like the show strayed too far from the original is in plot and pacing. Again, I haven’t read the novel, but a lot of times, especially in the first two episodes, where the scene is set for the whole series, scene changes are perceived as jumps in plot. You get the distinct feeling of many pages having been axed in editing. What suffers most from this predicament are interpersonal relationships. Though you’d think that a six-hour series gives you more room for character development and interaction than a 90-minute movie, a lot of the encounters between strangers seem to come out of nowhere and then you jump to a deep and devoted relationship between characters two scenes later. This is especially the case for the first episode in which Jonathan Pine is approached by Sophie Alekan (Aure Atika), a woman-kept by shady business man Freddie Hamid (David Avery), to copy some incriminating papers. Suddenly there seems to be this immense attraction between the two of them and Pine gives up everything to get her to safety. When Sophie is murdered about 5 minutes later, it becomes the reason for Pine’s involvement in the Richard Roper case. The whole plot of The Night Manager and the main motivation of its protagonist stems from a brief encounter with a lady that, a few days before, Jonathan Pine didn’t even know. Now he’ll spend years trying to avenge her death – yeah, right. Storytelling elements like dreams, foreshadowing, and déjà vu are pretty conventional, too.

An admirable skill (yeah, right), when regarding the previous findings, is that even though a lot of plot elements and developments were rushed in the making of this series, the story is very slow to get going. It feels like nothing significant or plot-furthering happens in the first two episodes. For a spy thriller, there never really is much suspense to make you nervous and get your heart pumping. I am a bit of a fraidy-cat when it comes to crime and horror (even though I love it) and really there were only two occasions when I got slightly jumpy. One occurred in the middle of episode three when Jonathan Pine breaks into Richard Roper’s secret vault, the Citadel. That lasted about four minutes… The other occasion was in the middle of episode six, when Angela Burr sneaks into Roper’s hotel room to steal some papers from his safe. I really hoped the badass pregnant lady wouldn’t get snuffed by the enforcer Roper sent to secure his room. But really, not a lot of writers are that cruel and the whole endeavor was over in a flash. Kind of disappointing that the supposed re-inventor of the spy thriller genre turned out to not be such a thrill after all… That the grand finale basically played out as a neat 25-minute ride into the sunset for the good guys – Tom Hiddleston even got the pretty girl in the end, I mean come oooon – by then really surprised no one.

Performance wise The Night Manager has nothing to be ashamed of. Even though I still can’t really
© BBC | Source: gannett-cdn.com
decide if Tom Hiddleston got his poker face on for the entire series to save his character or if his acting is just that impassive, I choose to believe he does pull off Jonathan Pine. Although there doesn’t seem to be real depth to his performance, it is nice to see Hiddleston’s face for once. Hugh Laurie plays Richard Roper (what a brilliant sounding character name, come on!), ruthless arms dealer, lover, and father. As per usual, I was amazed that Laurie’s seemingly stiff Britishness allows him to play all range of emotions from gentle and loving to ruthless and scary, even if there is always a certain reserved-ness in his portrayal. Plus, whoever can pull off lines like “War’s a spectator sport,” or “Nothing is quite as pretty as napalm at night,” deserves some recognition. 

The two female leads, however, are the ones who really know how to use the stage they are given. Olivia Colman portrays pregnant operative Angela Burr in a remarkably hands-on way. She isn’t overly dramatic. She doesn’t have to constantly stress her status as being pregnant, in fact she seems to ignore it most of the time or uses it as a “perfect disguise”. The only time Burr reverts from her “let’s just get the job done” attitude, is when she is almost caught in Roper’s room by his bodyguard. She breaks down in the elevator and we get to see, that Coleman really has a feeling for the character she is portraying. In this instance, her performance is positively rattled. Yet, her character is stone cold and determined, no matter the cost, when pressured by corrupt higher-ups. Elizabeth Debicki plays Jed Marshall, the young and beautiful lover of Richard Roper. She brings a woman to life that is very free in showing her body, while closing off her mind and heart. Debicki endows her character with an air of mystery that leaves the viewer wondering who Jed really is. When we find out she is keeping secrets and possibly even spying on her lover, Jed just gets all the more intriguing. Seemingly frail and emotional, there is still an inner strength and determination to her, that makes her risk her life for a good cause and withstand torture.

Overall BBC’s The Night Manager is a decent enough spy drama that, if you don’t have to watch it in one sitting, can be an almost pleasant pastime. Still, I believe a movie (or different writers) might have been the better option to ensure a fast-paced thriller. The basic idea of the story is intriguing and the show does a good job of relating back to our reality with its real problems, yet the spark of excitement never really catches on. The cast, on the other hand, is great and, if it wasn’t for the lack of developed personal relationships, I am sure they’d have been able to benefit from and play with each other nicely. The star of the show, however, is by far the scenery. The beautiful travelling shots over snow-capped mountains and blue Mediterranean lagoons are almost enough to justify sitting through six hours of spy blabbing – or at least enough inspiration to make you pick up your phone and look up travel destinations for your next vacation.

Rating:

Monday, 25 April 2016

Manic Monday: Game of Thrones - The Musical


Source: TV Guide
  ... Red wedding, red wedding, lots of stabbing and a bit of beheading...  

It's Manic Monday once more; and where I'm at, it's not only manic but also cold, grey and rainy. Boo-hoo. Time for a little cheering up, is what I say. So here we go.

I guess most of you are still feeling sky high from yesterday's season 6 premiere of Game of Thrones, right? I won't pretend that I know anything about it because I haven't watched it. However, there's one thing about the show - besides the dragons, obviously - that has always intrigued me.

Remember when Coldplay planed to turn GoT into a musical and tried to convince the original cast to join in on the endeavour? Well, I was about to buy an opening night ticket when I realised that the whole thing actually sounded to good to be true. And right I was. One of the best ideas ever apparently was a mere Red Nose Day sketch - but a good one.

So, to celebrate the start of the new GoT season and to rid yourself of unnecessary Monday mubble fubbles, check out the video below and enjoy. 

And good luck getting that Red Wedding song out of your heads.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Feature: Talk Like Shakespeare Day



 Source: tumblr


Hear ye! Hear ye! 
On the 23rd of the fourth month, we celebrate the birthday of the Bard.
The Bard? Thou asketh? Whoever is t’is old fart?
My tongue will tell the anger of my heart
How dare thou mock the magnificent Bard?
Thou crusty batch of nature. Hide thy shame!
Me talketh of the greatest poet that ever liveth – William Shakespeare's the name.


I’ll stop now before it gets any more pathetic. Please don’t pay any mind to the odd rhymes and the absence of iambic pentameter, or any proper meter for that matter. Recreating Shakespearean language is just as hard as it sounds, but it’s also a lot of fun. So please feel free to rise to the challenge and leave comments in a perfect Shakespearean style. 

Very many of us have reservations when it comes to Shakespeare, remembering having to labour through his plays back in school, when it took a dictionary, a patient teacher and a set of annotations to even understand what we were reading. But let me assure you, even without ever having read a single word out of Shakespeare’s quill, you probably know more about his plays than you are aware of. After all, his themes and ideas are timeless and his exploration of the human psyche is just as relevant and above all interesting today as it was in the Elizabethan Age. That’s why Shakespeare’s plays are a well of inspiration for contemporary filmmakers. Can you believe that more than 500 movies have been influenced by the Bard?

Check out this table to see which of Shakespeare’s plays are the most popular as movie material.

© stephenfollows | Source: stephenfollows


So let’s do a little game now. Can you guess which of Shakespeare’s plays influenced these famous movies? 


The Lion King (1994)

© Disney | Source: tumblr


This one is pretty easy. Let’s sum up the major plot elements. We have a young prince, Simba, whose wise and just father, King Mufasa, is killed by his own brother Scar. The dead king appears to his son in an apparition. The Prince is banished, then comes back, fights his uncle and restores the kingdom. Not to forget the slogan “To be or not to be”… err… I mean “Hakuna Matata.”

It’s quite obvious, isn’t it? Exchange the animals with humans, move the story to Denmark and make sure there’s no one left alive in the end and you have – Hamlet!


10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

© Buena Vista Pictures | Source: tumblr

I can practically hear 90s kids all over the world heave a nostalgic sigh and melt at the mere mention of this movie classic. This is another fairly obvious one. We have two sisters. Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) is popular, outgoing and a little naïve, while her older sister Katherina (Julia Styles) is sarcastic, rebellious and a feminist at heart. Bianca isn’t allowed to have dates unless her sister does, too – something that seems very unlikely to ever happen. So she and her crush Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Lewitt) set Katherina up with bad boy Patrick (Heath Ledger), hoping that love might tame her bitter heart. And there you have it already – 10 Things I hate About You was based on The Taming of the Shrew.


Warm Bodies (2013)

© Summit Entertainment | Source: pinterest

Shakespeare and Zombies? Oh yes, Shakespeare and Zombies! We have a tragic, star-crossed love between a zombie and a human. The names are already rather telling. We have Zombie R (Nicholas Hoult) and the human love lead Julie (Teresa Palmer) but, to throw even the last bit of subtlety out of the window, there is - lo and behold - a balcony scene. This is Romeo and Juliet all the way – just with brain-eating zombies and stuff,  but wouldn't a rose by any other name smell as sweet?

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Film Review: Taxi Driver (1976)


© Columbia TriStar | Source: Cinema Jam

USA; 113 min.; drama, crime
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writing: Paul Schrader
Cinematography: Michael Chapman
Cast: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Cybill Shepherd, Albert Brooks, Peter Boyle, Leonard Harris

“I think someone should just take this city and just... just flush it down the fuckin' toilet.” – Travis Bickle

It’s time for the Tribeca Film Festival, y’all, and quite a few exciting new films and TV projects have been shown over the last days. Katie Holmes premiered her feature film debut All We Had last Friday, upcoming Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi showcased his New Zealand indie flick Hunt for the Wilderpeople yesterday, and Tom Hiddleston is there to talk both his work on the dystopian thriller High Rise and the BBC series The Night Manager. There are many more topical things going on at the New-York-based festival, of course. However, this post is all about nostalgia.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of Martin Scorsese’s cult classic Taxi Driver. Its star, Robert De Niro – one of the two founding members of the Tribeca Film Festival –, decided to hold a special screening of the film tonight. Afterwards, Scorsese, producer Michael Phillips, writer Paul Schrader, De Niro and his co-stars Jodie Foster and Cybill Shepherd will join in to discuss the film and pay tribute to its significant role in movie history.

Since, sadly, the BSP team cannot be in the Big Apple to witness this memorable occasion live and in colour, I still don’t want to miss out on letting you in on my own personal experiences with Taxi Driver: to be completely honest, until yesterday, I really didn’t have any. While I wait for you cinephiles out there to leave your state of shock, let me tell you that I actually took the movie’s anniversary celebration as an opportunity to close the glaring hole in my cinematic knowledge. After all these years of ignorance, I was finally ready to be blown away by a film that, in 1994, the Library of Congress selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. A film that won the Palme d’Or in Cannes and is among the one hundred best films of all time chosen by Time.

Suffice it to say that Taxi Driver is critically acclaimed, highly regarded, universally admired and, basically, the wet dream of anybody in love with moving pictures. Anything other than a full five-star rating is considered blasphemy, and every person who is brave enough to actually voice their criticism of the film simultaneously feels the need to apologise for doing so. Taxi Driver is one of those movies that has people believe that film criticism is utterly objective and that you either ‘get it’, thus demonstrating that you are a true and dignified film connoisseur of the highest order, or that you don’t ‘get it’, which has you end up with the reputation of a lowbrow simpleton with a thorough love for Michael Bay flicks. I, however, do not intend to apologise for saying that Taxi Driver left me underwhelmed in some respects.

Following the psychological breakdown of Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), Scorsese’s fifth feature film ambitiously tries to portray the deterioration of New York city life, interpersonal connections and, well, society as a whole. Trapped in a world that doesn’t understand and value him, Travis is looking to leave his mark. He wants to be acknowledged, respected and loved, but instead is judged, ignored and belittled – until his diseased mind and paranoia have him take drastic measures.

The premise is fascinating and, after 40 years, still resonates with our own reality in a frightening way and manner. Travis is a man without the ability to connect with others. He becomes emotionally numb and selfish, and is on the brink of vigilante violence. He finds empowerment in weapons and in the fear he induces in others. The fact that, in all his insanity, he seems to follow a certain moral code, a plan with which he intends to rid the city of its seedy underworld elements, gives him an endearing complexity. Back then, a society shaken by the effects of the Vietnam War could probably relate to his lack of empathy, his numbness in the face of brutality, his longing for heroic action. Today, in the world of Columbine, Norway, Aurora, Afghanistan, Paris or Brussels, we find ourselves confronted with self-righteous vigilance every day. 

Taxi Driver is solely about Travis’ mind. There is no conventional storyline to follow. The film much more explores his psyche and how he perceives his surroundings. Michael Chapman’s masterful cinematography captures a gritty, sinister picture of New York, with dark allies populated by prostitutes, pimps, punters and porn cinemas. Here, New York is a place of crime and exploitation, a place in which whoremongers such as Sport (Harvey Keitel) lure in young women such as Iris (Jodie Foster) to sell their every orifice for a few bucks. Hope seems to be long gone, and even the city’s presidential candidate Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris) appears to be more showmanship than substance. There’s a constant atmosphere of unease as well as a very postmodern juxtaposition of beautifully arranged cinematographic images and the rotten things they actually portray. Furthermore, the on-point editing and sound editing help to establish Travis’ incoherent mind.

De Niro – long before he agreed to do Dirty Grandpa and Meet the Fockers – shows why he is considered one of the greatest actors of all time. His Travis is upsetting, unsettling and utterly unlikeable. He is filled with self-loathing and self-destructive tendencies. He’s mad as hell and yet passes for an inconspicuous everyday person. It is this Average Joe quality, which De Niro brings to the role, that makes Travis truly creepy, reminding me of Anthony Perkins’ portrayal of Norman Bates in Psycho. It is under the surface where a person’s soul plunges into the darkest abysses.  

For a film, however, that is crafted so beautifully and acted so dedicatedly by its main actor, I can’t help but wonder why Taxi Driver left me so cold. Travis certainly is an intriguing psychological case study – but I guess there’s something about Scorsese’s approach that is just too clinical, too sterile for me to truly become invested. There are no relatable or likeable characters, everything and everybody is filtered through Travis’ unhinged mind. His crush Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) is first an angel and then a stuck-up bitch in his eyes. Palantine is first an ally and then a disappointment. Iris is a woman in need of salvation and remains so till the very end. All characters besides Travis are pretty dull and flat. Instead of enjoying this lack of an emotional, relatable anchor as a device to demonstrate Travis’ one-sided world view, I find it rather tedious after a while. In the end, Travis’ deterioration is well thought through in theory but, as an actual cinematic experience, doesn’t manage to hit me in the stomach and make me feel the frightening consequences of his fall into emotional coarseness.

Anyway, Taxi Driver has undoubtedly influenced cinema. It still serves as a shining example of films that feature antagonists in the lead, that use the contradiction of aesthetic pictures vs. ugly subject matter, that rely on depicting psychological mechanisms through imagery rather than on telling a conventional, straightforward story. I applaud Taxi Driver for the mark it has left in movie history and I congratulate it wholeheartedly to its 40th anniversary today. However, I won’t shy away from saying that there is a subjective component to every movie experience. Whatever makes your emotions, your enthusiasm overflow can fail to move somebody else. Taxi Driver doesn’t move me. I find it wanting. I have no shame. You want to question me? Oh yeah? You talkin' to me?


Rating:  

Monday, 18 April 2016

Manic Monday: Stana's Out and TV Seasons are Ending


© ABC | Source: imfdb.org
So for today I planned a Manic Monday, that would nicely ring in TV season finale season and May sweeps. But then ABC decided to not renew Stana Katic's and Tamala Jones' contracts on Castle and, well, a nice and excited #MondayMotivation post went out the window... My current mood is perfectly summed up in the picture above. If that reaction is a bit too harsh for you, tough, but maybe this will capture your mood:

Source: celebzz.com
I know most of you could probably care less about this rant, but it's been a tough year for leading ladies on television and this just ain't right. Plus Castle was one of my favorite shows and Kate Beckett a character I love and admire dearly. The show's been dwindling and as I said last May that season finale would have been a nice and fitting ending, but no let's just mess with everything and everyone and keep a show on the air that is a mere mockery and shadow of what it once was - that is if Castle is renewed for a 9th season, which today is the first day I am hoping it won't be.

But enough. You came here for your usual Monday fix and your usual you shall have. Here's everything you need to know for the current and next TV season (courtesy of TVLine):





I hope your start to the week was better than mine and just know we appreciate you guys every day! Thanks for bearing with me and have a positive week BSPeeps!

© ABC | Source: Entertainment Weekly

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Film Review: The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016)


© Universal Pictures | Source: Collider
USA; 114 min.; fantasy, adventure, action
Director: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Writing: Evan Spiliotopoulos, Craig Mazin
Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Charlize Theron, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith, Alexandra Roach, Sam Claflin, Sope Dirisu, Colin Morgan, Sophie Cookson

“Hello, Huntsman. I have missed you.” – Ravenna 

Remember Rupert Sanders’ 2012 fantasy flick Snow White and the Huntsman? No? Well, no worries, nobody does. It’s the one in which Kristen Stewart’s fairy tale heroine Snow White flees from Ravenna, an evil queen played by Charlize Theron, and, in order to fight her, teams up with Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman. What was meant to be a feminist stance on the somewhat passive Snow White character became a film that was neither very innovative nor very entertaining. However, the whole thing managed to make a worldwide gross of almost $400 million, having Hollywood consider what it always considers when a film proves to be financially successful: a sequel.

With Stewart and Sanders out of the equation, Universal Pictures decided to give visual effects artist Cedric Nicolas-Troyan his first shot at directing a feature-length film and gathered a cast bound to outshine Stewart’s star power. Hemsworth and Theron are back to reprise their roles, and no other than Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain join in to spruce up the acting cred. Besides all this, a trashy, yet stylish and cool looking trailer raised my hopes that The Huntsman: Winter’s War could actually be fun.

Never get your hopes up, is what I tell you now. Sitting in the cinema a couple of days ago, I quickly realised that Winter’s War is every bit as dull, lame and uninspiring as its predecessor – if not more so. And what is worse is that it actually pains me to say this. I was fully prepared for a diverting adventure filled with deliciously silly CGI effects and a bunch of ladies kicking arse and taking names. What I got was a half-cooked story about love, jealousy, uncharismatic characters and... an evil mirror, I guess. There isn’t even unintended humour to laugh at. The whole thing’s just an almost two-hour long snoozefest.

To begin with, the plot is fairly unspectacular to say the least. In a pre-Snow White storyline, we see how Ravenna, out of jealousy, kills her sister Freya’s (Emily Blunt) newborn baby and has her believe that it was Freya’s beloved (Colin Morgan) who committed the despicable deed. Freya then turns into the Ice Queen and – naturally – is  determined to rule the world and punish all kinds of affectionate bonds. Cue for the Huntsman, who loses his one true love, warrior Sara (Jessica Chastain), to the Ice Queen’s rage. In a post-Snow White storyline, he is instructed to find Ravenna’s infamous mirror-gone-awol and destroy it. Or hide it. I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter. Accompanied by four annoying dwarves (Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith, Alexandra Roach), he begins his quest and soon finds out that – oh, surprise! – Sara is still alive and well. When they find the mirror, it’s the cue for Ravenna to make her ‘unexpected’ entrance and be evil.

The story is completely bare of any surprises, twists or turns. The arse kicking lacks coolness. The characters are shallow and not given enough room to develop comprehensible motives for their actions. They have no chemistry, which has the lovey-dovey undertones appear wildly constructed and utterly whatever. And while I could sit through all this completely unruffled, numbed by a state of trance-like boredom, it is the attempts at comic relief, which almost always fall flat, that had me cringe in my seat more than once. At least the CGI effects are indeed silly, but, once you’re stuck in this tedium of a film, you’re far from finding anything delicious.

The only thing Winter’s War has going for it is that Blunt and Theron act their hearts out. Blunt is perfectly emotionless and – beware the pun – cold, and Theron is very wrapped up in playing a wicked, spiteful sorceress. They have nothing to go on, really, but still manage to tickle at least some passion out of their respective roles – some but not enough. They, like the audience, are drowned in an unimaginative, lacklustre story. And, in the end, Ravenna certainly is the only one who has missed the Huntsman.   



Rating: 

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Data Base: Into the Badlands (2015 -- )



© AMC | Source:AMC


Series Premiere    November 15, 2015
Genre   Drama, Dystopian, Martial Arts, Action, Adventure
Country of Origin             United States
No. of seasons   1
No. of episodes   6
Running Time    44 minutes
Channel   AMC
Website           http://www.amc.com/shows/into-the-badlands
Developed by                                                      Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Starring   Emily Beecham, Sarah Bolger, Orla Brady, Daniel Burford, Marton Csokas, Ally Ioannides, Aramis Knight, Madeleine Mantock, Oliver Stark, Daniel Wu


Synopsis

“The wars were so long ago nobody even remembers. Darkness and fear ruled until the time of the barons, seven men and women who forged order out of chaos. People flocked to them for protection. That protection became servitude. They banished guns and trained armies of lethal fighters they called Clippers. This world is built on blood. Nobody is innocent here. Welcome to the Badlands.”

Sunny (Daniel Wu), Head Clipper of the Badlands’ most powerful baron, rescues a boy from Nomades. The boy M.K. (Aramis Knight) turns out to have mysterious powers. While trying to unravel the secret behind M.K.'s dark gift and the connection between the two, a new baron, the Widow (Emily Beecham), provokes a war between the rivalling lands.


Yay or nay?

If you have any problems with seeing blood or breaking bones or severed limbs flying round and about, Into the Badlands is definitely not for you. For all those who couldn’t care less, prepare for a deeply-engaging, dark, gritty, martial arts-packed, post-apocalyptic action adventure series. A modern tribute to classic Samurai films. 


PS: A second season is scheduled for 2017

PPS: The intro was composed by no other than Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda

Monday, 11 April 2016

Manic Monday: Write like the Wind




Source: Thats-normal


Season 6 of George R.R. Martin’s famous Game of Thrones series will air on April 24, whereas book number six Winds of Winter will be released… well… I don’t think there is a single person on this planet who actually has an answer to that – Martin included. So as a fan of the whole series, what do you do? Watch the TV show or wait for the book, however long that might take? 

I guess everyone has to decide for themselves. In my opinion the book and the TV show don’t even play in the same league, so the answer is simple: I’ll definitely wait for the book. I’ll probably have to move into some lonely mountain cabin, because I don’t suppose there is any other way to avoid spoilers, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

But I have good news for all you book fans. George R.R. Martin has cancelled all his various side-projects in order to fully concentrate on finishing the last chapters of Winds of Winter and even called in fellow fantasy and comic book author Neil Gaiman for advice. So there’s definitely some light at the end of the tunnel. Check out how dedicated he is to his work:



Well, apparently all authors have different ways of finishing their novels, but hey, who is to say Winds of Winter won’t include any spectacular deaths caused by bongo drums or a naked trampoline jump session? Anyhow, I can’t wait for Winds of Winter to finally be released (hopefully in the course of this year. Haha.) So, please, oh brilliant George R.R. Martin, write like the wind!



By the way, the video above is already 4 years old!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Top 3: Favourite Things From Eddie the Eagle (2016)


© 20th Century Fox | Source: Montreal Gazette

Michael Edwards - better know as Eddie the Eagle - is one of those people whose life story makes for great movie material. As the first ski jumper to represent Britain in the Winter Olympics, he came in last in both the 70m and 90m competitions in Calgary in 1988, but managed to garner a whole bunch of fans and a reputation based on perseverance and sportive spirit. 

And, almost 30 years later, there finally is a movie about him out in cinemas. Starring Taron Egerton as the flying sportsman who hides his lack of skill behind a big heart and an unswerving determination, and Hugh Jackman as his washed-up trainer Bronson Peary, Eddie the Eagle is a sweet and uplifting underdog tale that is bound to warm the cockles of your heart.

Squuls and Rina watched the film last week. But instead of giving you a broad review, we'd like to get to the gist of things. So here are our respective Top 3s of our favourite things from Eddie the Eagle.


Squuls:


3. Eddie's Mom


We all know moms are the best. They give great hugs, tell you how to dress weather appropriately, and are there for you no matter what. But none more so than Eddie Edward's mom. From early on she is very supportive of her seemingly non-athletic son's dream of participating in the Olympics and, more importantly, she takes him seriously. The Olympic committee is embarrassed to be associated with Eddie in any way. Mr. Edwards is grumpy and trying to get Eddie to grow up and give up his dreams, but Eddie's mom is constantly finding new ways to circumvent her husband's disapproval and to finance each new shot Eddie takes at making it to the Olympics somehow. She cancels holidays, new cars, and even fends of the bailiff all so Eddie can see those five rings in person. When Eddie the Eagle finally gets to soar, she could not be more proud. Even though he doesn't bring home any medals, her son did what he set out to do and became a crowd favorite in the process. Mrs. Edwards' spirits are embodied in her "I am Eddie's Mom" sweater she proudly wears for anyone to see.



2. Hugh Jackman's Jump from 90 Meters


© 20th Century Fox | Source: thewrap.com | Unfortunately there are no clips or stills available, yet, but we'll add them asap 
The most over the top, ridiculous scene of Eddie The Eagle just had to make it into my Top 3. There was no other option. Hugh Jackman plays drunken snow groomer and failed ski jumping talent Bronson Peary. One night after having one too many at the pub and being ridiculed by the Norwegian coach, he decides to take the plunge from that big-ass 90m ski jumping hill - in jeans and a shirt with rolled up sleeves, without protection or helmet. On top of the hill, Peary gets in position and gets a serious look on his face, like it's high noon and he's getting ready for a duel. And what self respecting cowboy would go into that without a lit cigarette tugged into the corner of his mouth? Cue the cheesy 80s motivational music and we are good to go. A close-up of Hugh Jackman's face that feels like dangerous Wolverine and steam emitting cho-cho train all in one takes us down that hill. On the way he casually spits out the cigarette and finally lands perfectly. The spectators in party mode stare in wonderment at the all too suave drunk that they thought they'd seen the last of. You know, just your regular kitsch spectacle intermission you didn't really know you needed until you saw it.



1. The Norwegian Ski Jumping Team


© 20th Century Fox | Source: twimg.com
Truly, these Scandinavian guys are the highlight of the movie! When Eddie travels to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany to start his training as a ski jumper, he first encounters the Norwegian ski jumping team. Immediately they start to make fun of that slightly chubby British dude, who thinks he can learn how to jump just like that. I mean, they are arrogant as fuck and walk around like they own the place when really... What the hell are they even doing there?! The setting is the Garmisch ski jumping hill, yet all you see is Norwegians: Intimidating Eddie on the hill, naked in the sauna (not that I objected to seeing that), beating up a drunk Hugh Jackman at the local pub - they're everywhere and they're hilarious! Their accents, overconfidence, and perfect athlete physiques are so over the top you cannot not love them. And really, when it counts, their hearts are in the right place. The Norwegian team and coach are actually impressed that Eddie made it to the Olympics (even more so when they learn he only started jumping a year ago) and are happy for the way Eddie the Eagle shows bravery and true Olympic spirit in Calgary.


Rina:

3.  A Jumper in Jumpers
© 20th Century Fox
Throughout the film, Eddie sports quite a large number of diverse woolly jumpers. Not only does this evoke 80s fashion in all its (often) questionable glory, no, it also makes me happy. I've always had a thing for these kind of pullovers, with their colourful patterns and cozy-cuddly texture. There's just something about them that screams nostalgia, snow and winter holidays just as much as "Hey! I'm here, and I'm taking pride in my granny's knitting needle skills." And Eddie does, indeed, wear those clothes with pride and grace. But - as you can see from the picture above - he's learnt from the best since Mama Edwards certainly knows how to rock a sweater in her own right. If you feel like designing your very own personal virtual Eddie Edwards spirit sweater, just hop over here and let your creativity run wild.

 
2.  The Groovy Training Montage


Back in 2009, (500) Days of Summer showed us that every great scene can become even greater by adding the Hall & Oats song "You Make My Dreams" to it. Now, Eddie the Eagle put this universal wisdom to good use and endowed its training montage with the tune. Everyone who's read my review of the Rocky franchise already knows that I'm a sucker for good training montages. They're uplifting, full of underdog spirit and, often times, groovy as hell. As a sports movie, Eddie the Eagle needed one of those sequences, of course. And while watching Eddie master his balance and train his telemark landing is great, it's even greater when Hall & Oats is playing in the background.


1.  That Welshman in the Lead


I know, I know, I'm going for the obvious choice here by gushing over the lead actor. But as someone who wasn't entirely sold on Taron Egerton's charisma in Kingsman: The Secret Service, I'm happy to say that he completely won me over in Eddie the Eagle. His transformation into Edwards is strong on a visual level, but succeeds especially when it comes to delivering sincere emotions. He makes you laugh with and cheer for Eddie, and turns him into a man full of heart and dedication. He endows him with quirks, cuteness and an endearing naivete, but also with a winsome inner strength and an unshakable drive to fulfill his dreams. In a film about the power of the underdog spirit, Egerton's portrayal is key - and he delivers perfectly.


Have you watched Eddie the Eagle? What did you like best about the film?

Saturday, 9 April 2016

TV Show Review: American Crime Story - The People v. O.J. Simpson (2016)


© FX | Source: moviepilot.com
On Tuesday American Crime: The People v. O.J. Simpson went out with a bang. The series penned by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and produced by the minds behind American Horror Story is set to cover a major American criminal case per season, similar to how AHS tells a differently themed story each year. The ten-part first season, as the subtitle suggest, aims to recreate what Wikipedia calls “the most publicized criminal trial in American history”. As a person too young and also not American to have experienced the enormous fuss surrounding the Simpson case the first time around, I am surely missing some background info to understand every side mark and reference, but I am still going to put my two cents in and review the hell out of this miniseries.

L.A., Summer 1994, only a few years after some of the most severe race riots and police clashes of American history: Meet O.J. Simpson, all-American hero, former NFL star and actor, African-American. And now he could also add main suspect for the brutal murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and waiter Ronald Lyle Goldman to his résumé. Overwhelming evidence against a seemingly well-known model public persona guaranteed a high interest in the case from the start. But the actual media circus surrounding the case no one could have expected. O.J. Simpson was handled with celebrity gloves, which lead to special treatment and the ridiculing of the L.A. prosecution apparatus on more than one occasion (a widely televised low-speed car chase, that interrupted the broadcasting of game 5 of the NBA finals, is only one example). This spectacular case was to become a trial like no one had seen before. The prosecution, with evidence on their side, tried to tackle it straight forward like any other, while Simpson hired a team of high profile defense attorneys, who would do anything to get him off. With live media coverage allowed in court, the murder trial quickly became not about factual evidence, but about who could spin the better story to persuade the jury. Cheap shots on both sides, critical misjudgments, and attention-hungry protagonists set the tone for The People v. O.J. Simpson, which ended in the highly controversial acquittal of the defendant.

American Crime Story’s first season convincingly captures the uproar, chaos, and craziness of the
© FX | Source: tvgcdn.net
O.J. Simpson trial. From the beginning you have a number of different story lines and perspectives crossing, overlapping, and contradicting each other. Each protagonist is presented from a seemingly neutral point of view, but also by interactions with other players in the story as well as their reaction to them. In almost every scene the audience gets to experience the full on force of the media presence – be it through pushing masses of reporters and flashing lights or key witnesses selling out to the tabloids. Therefore, the well-known “highlights” of the trial are also recreated. Authenticity is one thing the show aims for and can rely on real old media coverage to bring home that message.

There is also a manifold of themes addressed in this miniseries, which back in the day ensured that this trial would remain anything but ordinary and charged with emotions and strong opinions. Intentionally staged against the L.A. Riots of the early nineties in the pilot episode, it becomes clear that race and police brutality would be strong factors in the trial as well as the series. Not only are these themes relevant to the everyday lives of many people involved and interested, but they become clear strategies to guide and influence the case. The series also draws attention to the questionable, yet undeniable, privileged status of celebrities and people sacrificing their integrity for 5 minutes of fame. On the other hand, loyalty, false loyalty, and their cost are also main motifs. 

If you binge-watch all 10 episodes in one sitting like I did, you cannot help but be drawn into this circle of convincing chaos that American Crime Story recreates, even if it may have been dramatized a little here and there to strengthen the effect. To me the clean and clichéd division into black and white (both literally and metaphorically) was a bit too much at times, especially considering the murky waters we are treading in the O. J. Simpson case. Still, for viewers, who experienced this surreal spectacle back in the nineties, this must be a bizarre reliving of a guilty pleasure. After all, there are no real spoilers around and suspense comes solely from human interaction and clever writing rather than from actual tension of what’s to come.

The look and feel of the show is very retro, even if the nineties don’t seem like that long ago to most of us still, and even though this is the most hyped decade at the moment (fashion, remakes, …). Even if filmed in HD the coloring and style of what’s on screen reminds me a little of watching an old
© FX | Source: rollingstone.com
FRIENDS episode. The costume designers and hair and make-up artists did an excellent job of catching the essence and that way-back-when look of the protagonists and also the stark differences between the old, conservative glamour and the nitty-gritty world of the common people – be it the people from O.J.’s old neighborhood, the protesters in the streets or the lawyers employed by the state. The visual separation of sides is not only reflected in the looks of rich vs. poor, but in the style of unfolding and cutting a scene. Private happenings are presented in wide-angle and long-held shots, while the public appearances and hysteria are reflected by quick cuts and close-ups.

A strong plus American Crime Story has going for it is its all-star cast. With ten people scoring starring credits it is obvious that the cast is bigger than in most shows, but every one of these people gets the screen time to shine while developing their respective character during the show as well. Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. Simpson is able to equally draw suspicion and sympathy. Rob Kardashian, his friend turned lawyer, is portrayed by David Schwimmer, who conveys desperate, emotional loyalty towards his friend, while still giving the impression of a certain doubtfulness convincingly. John Travolta’s brilliantly egocentric and arrogant Robert Shapiro is a star attorney, who is seemingly more concerned with his image than the success of the trial and subsequently gets debunked from lead defense attorney to mere team member. New leader of the defense team is Johnnie Cochran, portrayed by Courtney B. Vance, who is able to deliver honest and morally upright hostility towards white cops and the legal system, while at the same time revealing an ambivalent attitude towards hard facts in the O. J. case. He turns out to be media hungry and focused on winning no matter the price. 

On the prosecution side Sarah Paulson excels as lead attorney Marcia Clark, showing both her emotional and personal side as well as the determined and fact-driven lawyer who has to deal with a
© FX | Source: tvgcdn.net
bunch of low blows and set-backs during the trial. She is criticized as being too hard for a woman, for not having a good rapport with black people, and for nude photos in the tabloids leaked by an ex-husband. Christopher Darden (Sterling K. Brown) is the second attorney of the prosecution and seemingly the only African American working in the District Attorney’s office. Brown in his performance highlights Darden’s status of someone between the chairs trying to prove himself: as an attorney, to the sceptic black community, as well as to the higher ups in the system. Kenneth Choi portrays Judge Lance Ito convincingly as a star-struck and attention loving player in the Simpson case. Christian Clemenson as William Hodgman, Bruce Greenwood as Gil Garcetti, and Nathan Lane as F. Lee Bailey complete the main cast. All performances show a willingness to understand and reflect the protagonists in The People v. O.J. Simpson as individuals with distinct personalities, convictions, and motivations outside of the characterizations given to them by the media decades ago.

With American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski have created a phenomenon that not only the American nation is talking about. Walking the lines between true crime drama, 90s nostalgia, and celebrity scandal it certainly gives you plenty to talk about: You can compare the TV show to the real show that happened almost a quarter century ago, reflect once again on whodunit and discuss the performances of the actors. And in a vortex of mimicry and pop culture American Crime Story does not have to hide behind the real deal, which really was as much fabricated as a TV show could ever be. There are outstanding character performances and compelling and dynamic writing. While sometimes oversimplifying and over dramatizing situations, the show stays true to the actual trial and I for one can’t wait to see what case will be tackled in American Crime Story: Season 2.


Rating: