Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Shetland Series 3, Episode 2

Shetland 3 DS Alison ‘Tosh’ Mcintosh (ALISON O’DONNELL), DI Jimmy Perez (DOUGLAS HENSHALL)

The second episode of series 3 cranked up the tension as the Robbie Monroe storyline gained speed, and Jimmy Perez's chasing of Michael Maguire continued apace. Albeit it ended with Maguire being shot and falling off a cliff to his death.

The show continues to create an atmosphere of eerieness and fear all while the majority of the action takes place in daylight. The script cleverly restricts information from us but does not keep us totally in the dark, such as the introduction of the mysterious man on the phone at the start of the episode who discarded a phone into the loch.  His reappearance at the conclusion chasing Maguire across cliff tops was done with great assurance.

The show showed Perez bend the rules to in part fear on Maguire, yet Maguire knows his rights as an ex-prisoner. And the reveal at the end of the episode showing us that Maguire is in fact a Macguffin was a bold show of storytelling confidence from the production.  

The rest of the review can be read here. Please follow the link

Thursday, 21 January 2016

The Assassin

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This new release from StudiocanalUK is from renowned auteur, Hou Hsiao-Hsien's, his first feature film released in UK for eight years. The Taiwanese director was awarded the Palme D'Or in Cannes last May for Best Director for this picture.

The Assassin is based on a 9th century legend about a woman who had to kill her cousin, a man she was promised to in order to bring peace to a warring region, Weibo, in medieval China. Does she sacrifice the man she loves or break from the ways of tradition synonymous with the righteous assassins.

The film stars Shu Qi as the eponymous Assassin, Yinniang, who is instructed by her master to kill the reigning ruler Tian Ji'an, played by the brooding Chang Chen.

The film is very much the work of a director working on his vision of cinema, embracing the changing tide of production and incorporating his influences heavily into the narrative.

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Shu Qi is Yinniang, the Assassin

The plot is explained in the film's black and white prologue a la Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol.1 setting up the vengeance mission between master and pupil, and showing her unique skill set which is a match for any man.

Following this the full colour spectrum is on display and at Hsiao-Hsien's disposal with pin point period detail incorporating exquisite costumes to the accurate production design bringing a sense of scale to proceedings.

The film evokes the heritage of Asian cinema and the rich tradition of the Wuxia (Martail arts) film, from Ang Lee's genre bending Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for the latter harking back to the work of Yasijurō Ozu (Tokyo Story) for the former, there is a stillness reminiscent of his Ozu's finest family dramas with not a wasted movement within the frame.

As the camera moves in landscapes, nature is very much at the forefront as we hear the whistle of the wind and the creak of the forest when our actors fall silent.  This at times feels very deliberate in tonal shift from a political revenge drama to a more meditative film that may have been a result of an edit - the plot becomes second to the lush photography on display.

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'Your skills are matchless. But your mind is hostage to human sentiments'
This does a disservice to the martial arts which at times is out of the blue, in stark contrast to the stillness before it, perhaps that is the point to wake us up suddenly and that the work of an assassin is both sudden and swift.

The evocative use of a repeating drumbeat helps build up moments of tension and is in keeping with the predominantly brilliant use of sound design in the film.

While the film may meander at times, there is nevertheless enough for the eyes to savour although perhaps the rapturous reception the film received in Cannes last year has waned since.

The Assassin is on limited release from Friday 22nd January from StudiocanalUK
Out on DVD/Blu-ray on Monday 23rd May from StudiocanalUK

My thanks to EmFoundation PR for my seat at the preview screening for an honest review.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Shetland Series 3, Episode 1

The return of DI Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall) in the adaptation of Ann Cleves' novels bodes well for a thrilling season of action for a BBC crime drama.

Taking on a new case following a few weeks break on the mainland, before he has even sat at his desk Jimmy finds himself in amongst it again. A missing young man on a ferry crossing from Aberdeen to Lerwick, draws attention with the combination of a young boy ending up in intensive care after taking Ecstasy laced with PMA, a new toxic concoction that washes up on the shore.

The boy needs a new kidney, and so begins the search for the missing young man called Robbie, who started kissing a girl Leanne on the ferry.

To read the rest of the blog...follow this link

Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Danish Girl

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Tom Hooper directs Eddie Redmayne in his Golden Globe and most likely second Oscar nominated performance as Einar Wegener, a Danish painter who became the first person to undergo ground breaking sexual transformation surgery in the early 1930s to become Lily Elbe, whose life she documented in the renowned memoir Man into Woman published in 1936.

The film features a pair of captivating performances and while the film either fails or succeeds on Redmayne's compelling playing, the film is helped by having such a strong female lead as that portrayed by Alicia Vikander who could well be Oscar nominated herself and would be a fitting reward for such a prolific year as hers bookended by two standout roles in first Ex-Machina and this, a role that could easily have been thrown away or lost when out up against Redmayne, but Bikander more than holds her own in such a difficult role.

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However, for all the good work on paper in terms of visual sumptuousness with great credit especially going to the set and production design, location scouts and costume designer Paco Delgado. the film is somewhat let down by a script that takes liberties with historical fact and becomes too hypnotised by an albeit brilliant central performances.  Lili Elbe in truth survived four gender reconstruction surgeries, but here she succumbs after the second due to a lot of blood loss.

This discredits the work by Warnekros (Sebastian Koch) and the script even dismisses the basis for the entire film, by only having Lily mention her diary in passing as a throwaway comment during a discussion with Gerda, it makes us think she must have written quite a lot between two surgeries
when she should be regaining her strength before the next procedure.

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Also lost is the historical truth that Gerda herself was a lesbian, this is crucially omitted from the screenplay and yet had it been included would have made more sense for Einar to feel this yearn for her hidden gender sexuality if Gerda was having sexual relations in their home and inevitably their bed; whereas we are led to believe Lily was always there beneath the surface just needing to be eked out of Einar by putting on some tights and dresses.

The film nonetheless is another convincing showcase for Redmayne and the strong work of Vikander, who could so easily have been lost in the shadows but instead is rightfully his equal as the poster can attest to.

The Danish Girl is a Working Title production and is a Universal Pictures release and is out now.

99 Homes

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Rahim Bahrani, a prominent 21st century auteur in American independent cinema, returns with a post-economic meltdown thriller with 99 Homes starring Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon.

Garfield plays Dennis Nash, a young builder who is in need of work to pay back the loan to his bank before they foreclose and his family, mother (Laura Dern) and young son have to be evicted. Richard Carver, monstrously played by Michael Shannon, is the man who works for the banks to evict people. Carver then buys the house cheap from the bank fits it up by stealing appliances from other houses and then sells for profit by charging the government for his supposed community services.

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Upon confronting one of Carver's employees for a supposed theft, Carver offers Nash work on his labour force which quickly grows into a more substantial role becoming Carver's right hand man as they get close to landing a huge development deal. One that could make Nash rich beyond his wildest dreams.

The film has a lot to say about the tumultuous effect the economic crash had on many people, and with the film being set in 2010 gives it the feel of a historical artefact with America now on the mend.   However, the screenplay falls too quickly into cliche with Nash choosing to get in bed with the devil too quickly due to the allure of financial wealth, and his decision to hide his means of earning from his family is too obvious a plot point with inevitable consequences.

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Nash is heading for a fall, yet Bahrami chooses not to show the fall fully; there is no comeuppance for Carver per se, instead the film's conclusion is one lacking fulfilment having invested so much time in these characters.

This is a shame considering Shannon adds Carver to his cavalcade of criminals offering such nuggets of truth as, 'America does not bail out losers' to Nash. And whilst Garfield convincingly emotes and projects, notably in a car park showdown with someone he eras evicted, you get the sense that Nash should be closer to Carver's age than the late 20s age he appears to be.

The film could have been a real ear marker for the economic letdown of America but a combination of directorial decisions let down good work by the cast.

99 Homes is out on DVD and Blu-ray from Monday 18th January -

I was given a review disc by Think Jam in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

NFL Regular Seaon Review 2015

This might be a different review. As I will look back on the division predictions I made previously on my blog for both the AFC and NFC, and give my thoughts on each division, leading into an overview of the Wildcard playoffs

AFC East
Prediction: New England – Miami – Buffalo – NY Jets
Actual: NE – NYJ – BUF – MIA

The winner of the division was never in doubt post Deflategate, but the dominance of the Patriots as the best team in the AFC was put in jeopardy by their constant injury struggles. The loss of Dion Lewis was a big negative as with LaGarrette Blount also sidelined, New England have no pure running back although Steven Jackson can hopefully alleviate some concerns. The return of Julian Edelman will give added security on third down where the Patriots have been woeful of late.
As for the rest of the division, you felt this was the year a wildcard team could materialise, yet the Jets did what they do best and came up short at the end, albeit versus their former coach Rex Ryan who suffered with injuries and consistency in Buffalo. As for Miami, they fork out bundles of cash to free agents and get nothing back; Tannehill put into doubt his viability for a big contract and Suh did not beef up a defence that demanded improvement.

AFC North
Prediction: Baltimore – Cincinnati – Pittsburgh – Cleveland
Actual: CIN – PIT – BAL – CLE

This is my egg on face call as I picked the Ravens to go all the way, but the loss of Terrell Suggs in the first week depleted their defence which had a novice secondary, then Joe Flacco,  Justin Forsett and Steve Smith all ended up on IR, prompting a salvage mission of a season. At least they did not succumb to the wooden spoon behind the mess that is still the Browns. Either Johnny Manziel wants out or he is just bad, he might well be shipped or traded now.
Andy Dalton remains the new king of regular season by being pretty much regular and steady until a featured thumb led to AJ McCarron taking over. The Bengals defence was much touted but that fell away as the season went on. Great job by the Steelers to make the playoffs with a high octane offence with Antonio Brown to the fore. They are a team to avoid but the two rivals go head to head in Cincy in the playoffs.

AFC West
Prediction: Denver – Kansas City – San Diego – Oakland
Actual: DEN – KC – OAK – SD

Despite Peyton Manning having the worst statistical year of his life, more interceptions than touchdowns, the Broncos led by a stellar defence to take blame away from Manning before his injury and then the impressive Brock Osweilier meant the Broncos kept the Chiefs at bay and thanks to an OT victory over New England at home got the No.1 seed although the possibility of either the Chiefs or even the Steelers could give Denver fits. And does Manning start?
As for the Chiefs they won 11 straight to face Houston in the playoffs, rich reward to get the weakest AFC division winner. Andy Reid and Alex Smith have marshalled the team after the awful 1-4 start and the loss of Jamaal Charles to give KC an edge and toughness. The return of Justin Houston for the Houston match up is key perhaps.
San Diego were woeful, no potency on offence and with one eye on a move to Los Angeles, the team played home games to virtually away crowds. And it was pleasing to see the Oakland Raiders improve significantly to 7-9 thanks to a leap by Derek Carr and the rookie Amari Cooper. Although they lost steam, there is something brewing in Oakland. And thank Charles Woodson for an incredible career.

AFC South
Prediction : Houston – Indianapolis – Jacksonville – Tennessee
Actual: HOU – IND – JAX – TEN

The only division I predicted correctly as my punt on the Texans overpowering Andrew Lick came true. Well not really. In the worst division in the NFL, the Texans survived longest as the Colts could not do much without Luck and the Texans got enough from Brian Hoyer and then Brandon Weeden to advance, all without Arian Foster for most of the season, thank God they had DeAndre Hopkins have a great season.
Jacksonville showed significant improvement from Blake Bortles and their receiving core and a fully fit TJ Yeldon at running back next year will be interesting.
Tennessee had moments with Marcus Mariota but the lack of talent across the roster meant they have the number 1 pick in the draft and are in a position to get a host of picks as Mariota did look the part, but will he be reunited with Chip Kelly, who departed the Eagles.

NFC East
Prediction: NY Giants – Dallas – Philadelphia – Washington
Actual: WAS – PHI – NYG – DAL

The toughest division to call provided the biggest surprise as the Washington franchise won the NFC East and ask Do you like that? Yes, Kirk Cousins we do. A 6-2 record at home and a formidable fortitude lead to the 10 win season, they could well spring one more surprise versus the Green Bay Packers this weekend. Washington are red hot at home and Green Bay have had their issues on the road.
The division was a cluster stuff of sub par football. The New York Giants should have been 9-7 instead of 6-10 and sending Tom Coughlin to his next job of haunting Bill Belichick and Tom Brady permanently. The Giants had no run game to take some pressure off of Odell Beckham Jr.
The Eagles were a mess in terms of personnel and the contract to DeMarco Murray was a mistake in light that Ryan Mathews was the better back, Chip Kelly’s exit in Week 17 was. It surprising though he does deserve another crack somewhere be it San Francisco or Tennessee, the most likely destinations.
Dallas suffered as their best players Tony Romo and Dez Bryant missed significant periods of the season, if fully fit they can hit certain heights next year and the Number 5 pick in the draft is a blessing without forking out in free agency again.

NFC North
Prediction: Green Bay – Minnesota – Chicago – Detroit
Actual: MIN – GB – DET – CHI

I correctly called the Vikings a playoff team yet they get the Seattle Seahawks visiting having won the division by winning in Lambeau in Week 17. Minnesota have shown just enough edge in their play and the returning Adrian Peterson has given them a winning edge. Can they go all the way is hard to say. Green Bay started off great but have looked anything but convincing with solid performances meeting woeful ones especially the road shocker at Arizona.
Detroit ended 7-9 and but for some rub of the green and defending Hail Marys better they could have nipped the Packers to the playoff berth yet they have big question in the offseason concerning free agent Calvin Johnson. And Chicago go from bad to worse, a boat of injuries denied them momentum but they need some leadership and free agent finds you feel to inject life into them.

NFC West
Prediction: Seattle – Arizona – St. Louis – San Francisco
Actual: ARI – SEA – STL – SF

Credit to the Arizona Cardinals who were the better team in the division although when the Seahawks woke up - or removed Jimmy Graham from their offence – they reminded why they are a force to be
reckoned with. Seattle much like Pittsburgh are the team you want to avoid.
St. Louis flattered to deceive despite a great defence, Nick Foles did not do enough to get plays out of their star players although Todd Gurley is the perennial silver lining for the Rams.  San Francisco sank you felt but still had five wins with Blaine Gabbert after Colin Kaepernick was disposed of, they sacked Jim Tomsula and are now flirting with the idea of Chip Kelly, who might give them a shot of adrenaline but in this division you need muscle and composure exemplified by the Cardinals and Seahawks.

NFC South
Prediction: Carolina – Atlanta – Tampa Bay – New Orleans
Actual: CAR – ATL – NO – TB

Carolina have the best record in football, 15-1, and they deserve immense credit due to the great balance of a lock down defence led by Josh Norman and Luke Kuechly, but certain MVP Cam Newton has done wonders considering his receiving core is not on par with other teams, Ted Ginn Jr?!? but Greg Olsen is probably the second best tight end now behind Gronkowski.
Atlanta started 5-0 and did not make the playoffs. Who is to blame? They remained competitive but the play of Matt Ryan with countless turnovers in the red zone did a disservice to a teams record but overall did not deserve a playoff berth.
The party is over in New Orleans as Sean Payton is likely departing, poor Rob Ryan defence led to terrible losses from which no team can recover. And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got some great momentum for themselves in Jameis Winston’s rookie year – a lot of the team return next year and they could well grow into a viable play off threat much like the Vikings did this year.

Play off Predictions
Washington over Green Bay
Kansas City over Houston
Pittsburgh over Cincinnati
Seattle over Minnesota

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