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TV show review: Penny Dreadful

I have no idea why I haven’t reviewed this show before now, but better late than never, right?

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Let me first preface this review by saying I’m not usually a fan of horror. I’m such a wimp, I don’t end up lasting very long in horror movies, I rarely choose to read horror, and I prefer to avoid horror shows because I like being able to sleep at night. Penny Dreadful is the one major exception, for which I arm myself with pillow and endure because it’s too good to wuss-out on.

As the name implies, this series is inspired by the macabre story genre from the 19th Century featuring characters like Sweeney Todd. This series sees a cast of characters cobbled together from 19th Century literature, as well as several new characters, set against a world of Victorian nasties. In the first season, the Penny Dreadful team battled against vampires and in the second season, they’re gearing up for a fight against witches. Like Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful is a mini-series of sorts with only 6-8 hour-long episodes per season. The story unfolds in various arcs throughout the season and you definitely need to start from the very beginning if you want to follow all the various threads of the tale. The threads seem a little frayed at the moment, even though we’re halfway through season 2, and I have no idea how they’ll pull together the tapestry but I’m sure they will.

While the plot is exciting and ghoulish and horror-tastic with a fair amount of gore, and even more psychological terror, what drew me to Penny Dreadful at the start and what keeps me coming back to this series week after frightening week is the cast of characters and the richness of the writing. Every character operates in a moral grey. Some are trying to be better people than others, but circumstances force every single one of them to make dubious moral decisions and I love that! Despite being 19th C literary inventions, these characters feel so real, so utterly human – sometimes pathetic, sometimes awesome, always fallible – that I can’t help but feel for each and every single one. In most shows, I find myself attached to one or two characters and rooting for them (like Jon Snow and Daenerys) to the point where I almost don’t care what happens to the others, but Penny Dreadful has its claws in me, making me feel for every single character dammit!

Here’s the cast…

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Vanessa Ives – a series original creation – is the tortured protagonist of the show who adds a much needed dose of girl power in an era dominated by men. Eva Green is a force of nature in this series and deserves every TV show award there is for her portrayal of a woman who is as vulnerable as she is powerful. The show doesn’t shy away from feminism, nascent it may have been in the Victorian era, and the relatively few female leads (significantly more now in season 2) are very well written and are given a voice, sometimes directly questioning the status quo of the patriarchy.

murraySir Malcom Murray as in the Murray family of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This guy is leader of the group and a father figure to Vanessa. Despite looking ever so noble in that promo poster, this guy is hiding some seriously dark history.

chandlerEthan Chandler – another series original and the only American in the group. Sadly I can’t say much about this character without giving away some pretty huge spoilers. Suffice it to say he’s the heart of this show, kind and gentle and extremely dangerous.

dorianDorian Gray – the immortal beauty from Oscar Wilde’s novel. Dorian is one of the most enigmatic characters on the show because we don’t really know what’s going on with him yet. Suffice it to say, there seems to be very little he won’t do. Also, Dorian is responsible for almost all of the show’s sex scenes. It’s also pretty awesome to see his bisexuality so unashamedly and positively portrayed in a TV show. Bear in mine this is still 19th Century London so it’s not like Dorian can be totally out and proud.

frankVictor Frankenstein – this character needs little introduction. He is the voice of reason in the show, arguing science over theology, an open atheist butting heads with the others who are either overtly religious, like Vanessa, or apathetic agnostics, like Dorian.

There are quite a few other supporting characters who are all an important part of the story and of what makes this ensemble cast so dynamic. Of all these secondary characters, however, the one that has truly stolen my heart is Frankenstein’s creature. In this creature, the writers have created the perfect dichotomy of brutality and tenderness, horror and romance, beauty and ugliness. If nothing else about this show entices you, I urge you to give this show a try so you can meet the Creature. He and Frankenstein share some of the most exquisite, poetic, and profound dialogue I’ve ever heard on the small screen.

Characters and writing aside, this show is aesthetically pleasing too. The cinematography is breathtaking, the costumes and settings lavish with no expense spared in recreating Victorian London. Despite a few wobbles with the CGI in season 1, the majority of special effects have been good to excellent, and have only improved so far in season 2.

While season 1 introduced the characters and era to the audience by using the vampire-hunting trope, season 2 has come into its own, creating a far richer tapestry of personal character history while delving into ever darker subject material that often pits science against religion. The creep factor has been upped significantly this season – in fact, everything about this show has been stepped up in season 2 and I cannot wait to see where the writers will go next especially considering they have the existing penny dreadful stories from which to draw inspiration.

Penny Dreadful scores 5/5 ink splats from me and I strongly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys Gothic horror, eloquent dialogue, and conflicted characters.

5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2015 in Reviews, Uncategorized

 

Book Review: Love is the Drug

I thoroughly enjoyed The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson and have been eagerly anticipating her latest book, Love is the Drug. I am delighted to say, it did not disappoint!

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Emily Bird was raised not to ask questions. She has perfect hair, the perfect boyfriend, and a perfect Ivy-League future. But a chance meeting with Roosevelt David, a homeland security agent, at a party for Washington DC’s elite leads to Bird waking up in a hospital, days later, with no memory of the end of the night.

Meanwhile, the world has fallen apart: A deadly flu virus is sweeping the nation, forcing quarantines, curfews, even martial law. And Roosevelt is certain that Bird knows something. Something about the virus–something about her parents’ top secret scientific work–something she shouldn’t know.

The only one Bird can trust is Coffee, a quiet, outsider genius who deals drugs to their classmates and is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. And he believes in Bird. But as Bird and Coffee dig deeper into what really happened that night, Bird finds that she might know more than she remembers. And what she knows could unleash the biggest government scandal in US history.

Sigh. Ignore the blurb. Here’s what you need to know: Johnson has once again crafted an intelligent YA novel that swirls a toe in sci-fi waters while the other foot remains firmly planted in the realm of conspiracy theory thriller. This hasn’t got a lot of love from YA reviewers and I think I know why. While the characters are teenagers and there is a lot of teenage stuff happening on the pages, this book doesn’t pander to its audience and the plot is a slow-burn more common to adult reads than a frenetic rush from one moment of life-threatening excitement to another as in many YA novels. That’s not to say this book isn’t exciting. It is, but the realistic timeline means the reader needs patience.

While there is the deadly flu virus thing going on in this story, that almost becomes backdrop to what is truly a coming of age story and a wonderfully real and raw romance between two teenagers who don’t quite fit in at their elite prep school. For me, it’s this part of the story that is truly awesome, original, and page turning. At some point I realized I couldn’t care less if the flu was an act of bioterrorism or not, so long as the protagonists could find a way to sort out their lives and be together despite the odds stacked against them.

While the blurb makes this book seem like a plot-driven thriller, it’s not. This novel is all about the characters and they’re wonderful. Emily Bird is Black. Yes, Black with a capital B as written and emphasized in the story. This book addresses issues of race without the story becoming about race or racism and that’s fantastic. This novel really opened my eyes to what life is like for a black teenage girl in the upper echelons of American society. I had no idea, which is why books like Love is the Drug are so important. Emily Bird also has a diverse group of friends at her preppy school. Some black, some white, some Latino/a, some mixed, some international, some straight, some gay. If you’re looking for a diverse read, this book has diversity in spades! The other lead character in this book – Coffee – is a white Brazilian diplomat’s kid and is a middle finger, not only to the establishment in the novel, but to several YA tropes, which demand hunky heroics from the love interest. Coffee is smart and uses his brain rather than brawn to get things done.

My favourite part of this novel was the unlikely romance between Bird and Coffee. They are so different from such different backgrounds with such different families and family values and yet somehow they manage to see and bring out the best in each other. It was an absolute pleasure reading about a young couple who challenged each other to be better people, to think for themselves and make smart choices – if not always the right ones – these are teens of course and they’re going to mess up. Given how many near-abusive relationships are touted as the epitome of romance (I’m looking at you Twilight and Hush,Hush) it was a wonderful surprise to see the girl choose to be with the nice guy who treated her as an equal on all fronts. It’s this sort of positive reinforcement I’d like to see in more teen reads.

If I have anything to gripe about with the story, it’s that once again the parents are reduced to absentee monsters. Since the story is told from Bird’s perspective perhaps they aren’t as bad as she perceives them to be, but I still found the parental roles in this book slipping into the YA cliches of absent and/or awful. Granted, there are probably parents like this in the world, but everything else felt so fresh in this novel that this one aspect stood out as being a little stale.

The writing in this novel, as with The Summer Prince, is excellent, although there were a few passages I thought might’ve been a little over done. There were also one or two stylistic POV switches I wasn’t convinced were necessary, but these minor blips in no way reduced my enjoyment of the book as a whole. 5 glorious ink splats for this intelligent, thought-provoking, authentic, and diverse YA novel.

5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Book Review: Fledgling

I’m a little ashamed to admit that this is the first novel I’ve read by Octavia Butler. I had heard very good things about this writer and had been meaning to read her work for ages. Finally I have…

*Minor spoilers ahead – you’ve been warned*

Fledgling

Fledgling, Octavia Butler’s new novel after a seven year break, is the story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly inhuman needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: She is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. Forced to discover what she can about her stolen former life, she must at the same time learn who wanted–and still wants–to destroy her and those she cares for and how she can save herself. Fledgling is a captivating novel that tests the limits of “otherness” and questions what it means to be truly human.

As I’ve said before, I’m a fan of vampires, so I thought I’d kick off my foray into Butler with her vampire novel. I’ll admit I expected a little Rice-ish flair and a lot more vampiric romanticism than this book delivered. Once I got over my expectations for the novel and started reading the book for what it was, I found it extremely enjoyable and thought-provoking.

The book uses an old trick allowing the main character, Shori, to introduce the reader to Butler’s vampire world. Shori has amnesia and can remember nothing about her life as ‘Ina’ – Butler’s word for vampire. Using this memory-lapse device, the book gets away with a fair amount of exposition and info-dumping because it is actually relevant to the character and not only inserted for the reader’s benefit. This, while fascinating, did make for some slow reading at times. This book is not plot driven but rather a character study as Shori discovers her past and who she is now minus her memories. The story examines the idea that we are the sum of our experiences and what might happen when we can no longer remember those experiences, who do we become and who are we to those who remember us from before?

As the cover shows, Shori isn’t white and the story examines issues of race and racism through the lens of the vampire mindset, which made for some interesting discussions among the ethnically diverse characters, human and Ina alike. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this story was the structure of Ina society and the symbiotic relationship the vampires form with humans, and how various vampire families feel about their necessary relationship with humans. This was the main theme of the book, the juxtaposition of otherness with humanness and what it meant for those like Shori caught somewhere in between the two extremes.

What I absolutely adored about this book was the exploration of sexuality and polyamory both within Ina society, and between Ina and human. The relationships in this story are complicated and challenge certain sexual norms. For example, within Ina culture, matings are arranged by families where bands of brothers will mate with groups of sisters. Mates share each other within this familial union and children are raised as the children of all the sisters and brothers regardless of who actually fathered or birthed the child in question. I found this arrangement fascinating especially considering that Ina would continue sexual relationships with their symbionts (specific humans chosen as companions and for nourishment) at the same time. Of course, being Ina means viewing the world a little differently and responding differently to emotions which, while still identifiable as human, are quite different from human experience. While this book explores sexuality, the view of gender remains extremely binary, with Ina society split into male and female groups except when mating is involved. How such a society would handle or accept an intersex or trans individual never came up for discussion.

Despite being about vampires, this book is not the normal paranormal fare and quite quickly establishes itself as more of a political-come-legal drama with occasional blood-drinking. This latter aspect of the book was a little disturbing at times because Shori, despite being 53 years old, is considered a child by Ina standards and is described as looking no more than ten years old by human standards. And yet, this little girl seduces and has sex with various human adults. While considered normal by the Ina community, this did make me uncomfortable especially when the adult humans react sexually around her. I tried to forget Shori was physically ten and let myself imagine an older teenager instead. Again, this is an example of how Ina and human practices differ, but it was a little difficult to read.

Because of Shori’s amnesia and her Ina-ness, I found it quite difficult to relate to Shori and become truly emotionally invested in the character who was distanced from herself and thus from the reader too. What kept me turning pages wasn’t so much my love of or concern for the character but rather my fascination with the vampires on a more intellectual level. Their history, their politics, their social structures, their law – all very interesting even if it didn’t require much emotional engagement. Consequently, while I did enjoy this book I doubt I’ll ever reread it the way I have other vampire novels like Brite’s Lost Souls. This vampire novel didn’t offer much in the way of Gothic romanticism, but was an entertaining read none-the-less. It gets 4 ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: Predestination

Time travel – my least favourite science fiction trope, and yet I seem to find myself watching films like Looper, Source Code, The Butterfly Effect etc. Of all the films featuring time travel, the only one I really enjoyed was Donnie Darko. That said, Predestination blew my mind for all the wrong reasons.

*SPOILERS AHEAD – YOU’VE BEEN WARNED

predestination

The life of a time-traveling Temporal Agent. On his final assignment, he must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time.

Firstly, the temporal agent thing has been done. Looper – the movie to which many reviewers compare Predestination – already did this, and countless novels have used the same word, or slight variations thereof, to describe the shady characters governed by an even shadier organisation that sends people flitting through time to alter or influence events, which they inevitably end up messing up or unable to alter which the movie then presents as a mind-blowing twist. *yawn* The other thing almost every time travel film gets horribly wrong is the science. While real-world physics don’t technically have to apply considering time travel is fictional – and at best, a quantum theory – I’d like to think that basic logic still applies, and yet screen writers think they can create a logic loophole by getting philosophical and meta and spouting quantum mysticism. I’m all for quantum mysticism, but not when it’s used as justification for bad science.

So in Predestination – as if the title wasn’t clue enough – we have this guy who is supposedly the product of a predestination paradox who must go back in time to stop a criminal (yawn again) from killing lots of people only to discover 97 minutes later than he can’t actually change the course of his life because ‘predestination!’ Really?? This film didn’t even attempt to provide some more profound explanation or reasoning behind what was going on. Perhaps I’ve just seen too many of these sorts of films that the ‘twist’ seemed more like an excuse than a revelation.

Dodgy science aside, the film largely describes the life and transformation of a transgender or intersex character – I say ‘or’ here because the person never actually identifies themselves as either. This is where the film will likely be lauded for being progressive and LGBT friendly and diverse, but the story contained within is pretty damn horrific!

A child identified as female at birth is raised a girl while never truly fitting in and displaying certain tomboyish traits – this is set in the 1940-70s after all so a girl having a brain is seen as tomboyish. At some point, Jane is examined and the doctors discover she is intersex. They keep this information from her. In fact, they blatantly lie to her!

Later, Jane falls pregnant and doctors perform a C-section. When Jane wakes up the new doctor reveals to her that she was, in fact, internally both male and female and that during the C-section they had to perform a full hysterectomy. And, as if that isn’t traumatic enough, the good doctor took it upon himself to start the process of sex reassignment, because Jane – now devoid of uterus – can clearly no longer be considered a woman. Jane is then forced to endure several more surgeries to finish what was started and become a man although she has never identified as a man nor ever identified as anything other than a straight cis female – other than being physically strong and intelligent (traits not common in woman obviously). This woman is entirely stripped of agency and mutilated by medical professionals without her consent! The biggest crime in this film isn’t the bombings they’re trying to stop, but this unwanted sex reassignment that Jane neither wants nor agrees to. I almost stopped watching the film, but morbid fascination kept me going, hoping they would somehow redeem the storyline.

Nope.

It only gets worse. Language like ‘freak’ is used to describe the intersex person before and after surgery and as the film progresses it is shown more and more that Jane – now John – has never had any form of agency and is simply being manipulated by said shady temporal organisation for what purpose I have no freaking idea because the film basically undoes itself in the last 2 minutes. The film is all about Jane giving her life purpose and yet the film’s purpose flies right out the window in the final scene. Sigh. I’m not even surprised. I figured out the twist – twists, there were supposed to be a few – a mile away and kept hoping the film would do something other than what I expected. More sighs.

The biggest problem I have with this film is that they used an intersex person without any consideration for gender identity or sexuality to create the predestination paradox. Jane, a straight woman who believes she is cisgender, falls in love with a man and becomes pregnant. After the birth, Jane is forced to become John, who is then manipulated into going back in time to meet Jane (an earlier iteration of themselves). Jane, forced into becoming John, is now a straight guy who falls in love with his earlier female self and even gets her pregnant. My mind boggled – not with all the time travel nonsense – but with the flippant treatment of sexual identity. It gets worse.

The baby Jane and John conceive is then snatched and taken back in time to 1945 where said baby grows up to be Jane… welcome to the predestination paradox causal loop thingie the writers think is so clever but is so messed up I can’t even! This could not possibly have worked unless person A could become person B and then impregnate themselves, so let’s just use an intersex person! What could’ve been a really cool and progressive exploration of gender identity and sexuality against a sci-fi backdrop – rarely done on the silver screen – instead turned into an absolute farce that reiterates sexist and genderist ideaology.

The rest of the movie and the resolution of the bombing subplot isn’t even worth mentioning because it honestly does little for the story or characters other than to reiterate the predestination theme ad nauseam.

I think Sarah Snook did a pretty good job of acting the parts of Jane and John and breathing life into an abused character, but that’s about all I liked about this movie. Can I give a film no splats? I don’t want to give this movie any. Nope, not even half of one. I was appalled and disappointed by this film. No stars for Predestination.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Book review: Sea of Shadows

It’s been a while since I’ve read an epic fantasy novel, YA or not. This week’s review is of Sea of Shadows by Kelley Armstrong and marks my first foray into a work by this prolific author. Not knowing Armstrong or any other works, I think probably helped me approach Sea of Shadows without any preconceptions or expectations.

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In the Forest of the Dead, where the empire’s worst criminals are exiled, twin sisters Moria and Ashyn are charged with a dangerous task. For they are the Keeper and the Seeker, and each year they must quiet the enraged souls of the damned.

Only this year, the souls will not be quieted.

Ambushed and separated by an ancient evil, the sisters’ journey to find each other sends them far from the only home they’ve ever known. Accompanied by a stubborn imperial guard and a dashing condemned thief, the girls cross a once-empty wasteland, now filled with reawakened monsters of legend, as they travel to warn the emperor. But a terrible secret awaits them at court–one that will alter the balance of their world forever.

So this blurb just about gives away the entire story. Really. No spoiler warning required because it’s all in the blurb.

I enjoyed Sea of Shadows, although I often found myself wondering why. Most of the book is spent partly with Ashyn as she bumbles through the wastes with her thief turned protector confronting monsters, and partly with Moria as she bumbles through the wastes with her obdurate guard turned friend confronting different monsters. At times, I just wanted the girls to get to court, because that’s where the secret and intrigue awaits, but it’s literally only in the last couple of chapters that the girls make it to court. Granted the ‘secret’ – aka plot twist – is pretty clever and does throw quite the curveball, but the book ends where the blurb does and left me feeling cheated and rather disappointed. I knew this was a trilogy, but I did expect more story and less traipsing through the wastes in the first installment.

Why did I like it then? The characters, or more specifically, the character interactions. The girls are superbly teemed up with boys who act often as foils and sometimes as mirrors. Ronan is a thief who challenges Ashyn’s rather black and white perspective on the world. He’s also been around the block, which makes for some funny and blush-worthy banter between him and the ever so innocent girl. Moria is the antithesis of her sister: brash, opinionated, argumentative and far more open if no less experienced in the ways of the world. Her guard is an equally opinionated warrior, and their scathing repartee (which of course develops from animosity into affection) makes for entertaining reading. I read this book for the characters and I will probably return to finish this trilogy because I have come to care deeply about this foursome.

The weak point in this book is the world-building. We have a forest of restless souls, which come back as the walking undead called shadow stalkers, and these shadow stalkers are only kept at bay by warriors of the North. If it sounds familiar, I guess that’s because GRR Martin called dibs on anything undead strolling around the North. The world also seems to be somewhat influenced by Asian culture with character names like Kitsune and Tatsu and a scene that hinted at the use of chopsticks rather than knives and forks. I really liked the Asian aspects but they seemed few and far between, with the girls – the main heroines – being described as pale, red-headed northerners. There are other characters, however, with darker skin and ’tilted’ eyes. The description of the architecture also seemed odd to me – going from pretty standard Castle Black-like villages to something that called to mind the white-washed abodes of Greece and then perhaps something resembling the Forbidden City. I’m all for a non-Western, non-European fantasy, but this felt like it couldn’t quite make up it’s mind about whether the influences were Western or Eastern. Perhaps the rest of the series will flesh out the world-building a bit more. I hope so, although I’m not sure that will save it from feeling a little derivative.

Come to think of it though, can any epic fantasy these days survive being compared to Martin or Tolkien? Some of the most cliched elements of fantasy are the reasons I love the genre!

Sea of Shadows is a highly enjoyable YA fantasy read with characters you can really care about even if the plot isn’t terribly exciting in this first book. I’m definitely going to read book 2 so Sea of Shadows scores 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Reviews, Uncategorized

 

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Film Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

Another vampire movie! I actually forgot all about this one and how desperately I’d been wanting to watch it until a friend’s Pin on Pinterest reminded me and what a stunning little indie film it is! I haven’t enjoyed a vampire film this much since… since… maybe ever in fact. only_lovers_left_alive_ver5 I don’t even know where to begin with this film. It was a slow-burning, intoxicating journey into the lives of two immortals, one who is clearly on the verge of yet another existential crisis. The plot is simple in an almost streaming-consciousness type style showing how two people so old, yet still so in love with each other, come to grips with the changing human world. There’s a scene in another vampire movie (Queen of the Damned) at the end where Lestat and Jessica are walking in slow motion while all the humans are rushing past them in fast forward. That was one of the best scenes of that movie, and it was this concept that felt so visceral in Only Lovers Left Alive. It’s rare that a vampire movie manages to capture just how immortality might feel across changing ages and what kind of toll that might take on a psyche that was once very human. This movie is an absolute festival of all things delightfully Gothic. Adam, played by the exquisite Tom Hiddleston, instantly reminded me of 1980s Wayne Hussey replete with untamed black hair and ever-present sunglasses. The all black attire, including leather pants and combat boots, completed the look that paid obvious homage to the Goth rock era. Adam is a reclusive musician, creating brilliant but tortured tracks on vintage guitars and synthesizers – a wet dream for any music tech fundis. The soundtrack for this film is dark and ethereal and pained and perfect, and it’s on youtube over here! Go listen, I’ll wait… (I’m actually writing this review to the soundtrack!) But, as if Adam wasn’t the epitome of awesome already, he also has several ‘heroes’ upon his wall, the portraits of heroes like Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe, Einstein and Tesla. The geek factor here is so nuanced and understated you don’t even realize how nerdy this film gets, even when Adam goes on about quantum entanglement, a theory aptly referred to by Einstein as ‘spooky action at a distance.’ It is this principle of quantum mechanics that is deftly woven into the narrative in a very subtle way, and which left me smiling right up until the final credits rolled. One of the vampires, played superbly by John Hurt, is also Kit Marlowe and the characters poke fun at the Bard and quote Shakespeare in ways that only add to the nerdgasmic effects of this film. And of course, this movie stars the incredible Tilda Swinton as Adam’s wife, Eve. This is a couple that has clearly been through a lot together, that has lived for centuries sometimes enduring, mostly celebrating, all that the world lays before them. There is some ineffable quality about this couple that makes them come across cozy and comfortable while also been electric and passionate. Despite having been together for centuries, they are still very much in love and the chemistry between Tom and Tilda is palpable (interesting, considering the twenty year age gap between them in real life). My only minor criticism of this film is that I would’ve loved to see even more sensuality between these two. What we get, instead, are moments of quiet passion, and some exquisite cinematography hinting at what took place behind closed doors.

Tom Hiddleston as Adam the vampire

Despite the somber setting of this film (in the run-down and abandoned part of Detroit), even more somber color palette, and complete lack of melodrama, Adam and Eve sparkle as a couple because of their dry sense of humor. Further comic relief arrives in the form of Eve’s dysfunctional little sister, Ava. Anton Yelchin also makes an appearance as Adam’s manager-come-lackey and the ribbing of the music industry had me chuckling more than a few times. It’s all very nuanced and sly, and I loved it. While the majority of the film is set in Detroit, there are also scenes set in Tangier, Morocco, which add an exotic flavor contrasting superbly with the grit and grime of the US setting. Did I mention the cinematography was awesome? Well, it is – juxtaposing the nihilism of the characters with exceptionally beautiful scenery! Damn, this director is an artist. My feelings toward this film are no doubt incredibly personal, and other viewers may have an entirely different experience of this slow-moving character study, which eschews all histrionics in favor of introspection, but this movie hit all the right notes for me. Music as a theme – check! Awesome soundtrack – check! References to Goth culture – check! References to quantum mechanics – check! Snide, black humor – check! Tom Hiddleston in leather pants and nothing else – check! It was almost like this movie was made just for me, containing almost all of my favorite things. So, this film gets ALL the ink splats! All of them! I strongly recommend this film to fans of weird indie movies that rely on subtext as much as onscreen action. This film is sumptuously romantic yet raw and understated – really, it’s kind of perfect, and I can’t wait to watch it again, and again! 5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: Into the Woods

Who knew Chris Pine could sing? Certainly not me when I started watching the film version of Into the Woods knowing only that it starred the Cup Song girl, Meryl Streep as a witch, and Johnny Depp as an insane wonderland creature as per usual. Those were the reasons I sat down to watch, and those were the least of the reasons why I loved it!

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Musicals. You either love them or hate them. I’ve met few people who are indifferent toward movies where actors spontaneously burst into song, and Into the Woods is a musical. Unlike many of my peers, I spent my childhood watching musicals. The old-fashioned kind like My Fair Lady and Showboat, Oklahoma and Camelot. While other kids were singing along to Spice Girls, I was singing full renditions of songs from Oliver and Annie! I was also part of a stage arts academy, frequently performing in musicals and Broadway-style shows, particularly all the Andrew Lloyd Webber stuff. Point is, I grew up on musicals and still have a passion for them to this day with one of my all time favorite films being Across the Universe. When my favourite SFF genre and music combine, I am truly in heaven! (I really should write a review of Repo, the Genetic Opera *makes a note*).

So, Into the Woods scored points just for being a musical, then it scored additional points for presenting a dark and sometimes off-color twist on beloved Disney characters. If you’re unfamiliar with the original Sondheim stage production, do take note that despite the innocuous looking poster and the fact that this is technically a Disney movie, this is in no way a children’s movie. Well, kids could probably watch it but they wouldn’t (hopefully) catch some of the darker and more subtle things going on in this story.

The film, like the play, is an unapologetic play on fairytale tropes, frequently teetering into parody. The premise boils down to an old adage: be careful what you wish for. In this case, the whole ensemble cast should’ve heeded that warning but of course they don’t and so we get this fantastical romp featuring Little Red (the Riding Hood part implied), Anna Kendrick as Cinderella and McKenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel. Emily Blunt plays the role of a baker’s wife who inadvertently kicks off the entire story, Meryl Streep plays the witch, and Johnny Depp has a brief but super creepy cameo as the Big Bad Wolf. Also, Chris Pine plays Prince Eyebrows, er… Charming, and did I mention this guy can actually sing?

While the plot is delightfully silly in a typical fairytale kind of way, what really pulls this whole story together is the music. The songs are fantastic! If you are unfamiliar with musicals and the musical motifs they often employ, some of the finer points of humor might escape you, but for any musical aficionados or musos in the know, the score is rife with snark and tongue-in-cheek moments poking fun at the ‘serious’ musicals. The lyrics are also incredibly clever and liberally sprinkled with innuendo. I’m a little sad they cut out some of the more violent and sexy content from the stage original, but I guess they really wanted that PG rating for the film.

This brings me to Depp’s cameo, and what has got to be the most bizarre and uncomfortable few minutes of the film. Depp is brilliant, of course, and is perfectly creepy as the wolf who hungers for more than a literal nibble on the young Little Red. I’m surprised the less-than-subtle innuendo in the relationship between Wolf and Little Red even made it into this film, but I’m glad it did because the entire story is all about re-imagining these fairytales in dark and twisted ways. No, the word I’m looking for is sinister and Into the Woods has sinister in spades even when it’s cleverly disguised with humor.

I loved this film and spent a good portion of it in stitches. The problems arose when the movie actually wanted you take it seriously and tried to throw some emotional punches. Around the 1.20 minute mark, I checked to see how much was left of the film – never a good sign. It was around about here when the story tried to take itself seriously that I wanted things to wrap-up in the unhappily ever after direction the story seemed to be headed. Nope, we got another forty minutes of story that wasn’t really necessary and the Rapunzel storyline kind of got brushed aside, which did not please me because McKenzie Mauzy was lovely and deserved more screen time. So did her prince – Charming’s little brother!

Up until the 1.20 mark this film would’ve got 10 ink splats from me, but that last half hour dragged. I actually paused to walk the dog, read email and make tea, before finally finishing the thing, and while I did enjoy the rest of the songs, the same sense of black humor and tongue-in-cheek quipping seemed to disappear, leaving the ending feel a lot more traditional considering the rest of the film. That said, this was still a fun – if a little nutty – movie that I would be happy to sit through the first 90 minutes of again. The cast sings incredibly welland the music was suitably cheesy, adding to the parody vibe.

The other glaring problem I had with the film was the lack of diversity. Is there a rule somewhere that says when re-imagining Disney stories, all main characters must be white? One might argue the setting is a pseudo-Germanic Grimm-esque world and therefore PoC are an unlikely find, but that argument holds no water considering this is a ‘re-imagining’. How about conjuring up some PoC there Disney? The lack of color is made even more conspicuous by its absence when Cinderella walks into the castle past the one and only black person in the entire film. Including the profile of a black man for all of 2 seconds in a 2-hour long movie otherwise peopled by whites, is not diversity. It’s not even tokenism. It’s… bizarre. How refreshing it would’ve been to have a pair of black princes instead of Chris ‘Captain Kirk’ Pine and his blond-haired, blue-eyed little brother, but alas, I fear I ask too much from Hollywood.

Overall, I recommend this movie to fans of musicals who don’t mind off-color humor and are looking for something a little unusual and purely for fun. This gets 4/5 ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2015 in Reviews

 

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