Bates Motel – Season 1

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I can’t even remember how I came across Bate’s Motel but somewhere on the web I spotted it and decided to give it a watch. As of yet there’s no date for when the series will air in the UK but I’m sure you’ll find ways to watch it as I did. It takes a rather unusual premise for a tv show as we already know what’s going to happen at the end. It follows mother and son Norma and Norman Bates as they take over a motel. You will know the Bates’ as the murdering duo from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the show tells the story of how they ended up one of the characters we know from the film. Despite it being a prequel it is still set in the modern day, however, which seems an attempt to attract a younger audience to the series.

The first episode of the show grabs you by the throat. It throws it all it has at you straight away with murder, rape and all round psychosis, once you watch that it’s hard not to get drawn into the series. The casting of the show is, perhaps, its greatest triumph Freddie Highmore is perfect for the young Norman Bates with an otherworldly innocence about his face that at once seems as sweet as pie and as nuts as, well, a bag of Nobby’s. He’s persistently on form through the season’s ten episode run and brings sympathy to a character which really shouldn’t have a huge amount. Also good is Olivia Cooke who plays Emma Decody, Norman’s best friend at school and Max Thieriot who plays Dylan, Norman’s brother. It’s Vera Farmiga as Norma, however, who completely steals the show in every episode. She is utterly compelling as the troubled yet completely psychotic mother who is completely over-protective of her son when she struggles greatly to keep herself together. As the series goes on she increasingly becomes the most interesting character and Farmiga has it down to a tee.

When it comes to the writing the show is a lot more simplistic than most of the drama series I’m into from America. It’s got much more of a singular narrative than, say, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk or even Breaking Bad as it focusses solely on the lives of the three central characters. For the most part this works well and makes the show a more relaxing show than many others but at times it does feel as though the story is over stretched. The momentum of the show drops off towards the end of the season and is only really rectified at the very end of episode 10. I also couldn’t get over how clunky the way Dylan comes into the show, it was just completely unbelievable and seemed rushed as a way to throw a bit more drama into the mix. Without him the show would be lacking a lot but they could have put a bit more thought into his reasons for suddenly moving back in with his mother who he hates.

As a whole though, I very much enjoyed the season and despite those few qualms I found myself wanting more. As I said, the momentum is picked back at the end of episode 10 and it certainly does end on a strong point meaning things are looking up for it’s second season. Definitely worth a watch.

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The Great Gatsby

FL01_010.jpgWhen I first read about Baz Luhrmann’s latest movie, The Great Gatsby, a few months ago it became something that I was quietly excited about. While Gatsby sees him return to adapting an old classic, something he did especially well with Romeo + Juliet, it also saw him reunite with DiCaprio for the first time since then. Also starring Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan I was expecting The Great Gatsby to be another hyper-stylish, clever retelling of a story. Going in to the film I didn’t know the story at all so I was looking forward to seeing it for the first time too.

As you may have gathered from the tone of my first paragraph what I was greeted with was not what I was expecting or wanting at all. For at least the first half of the film the plot is just a background element of the film. What Luhrmann is more interested is shoving CGI locations and lavish costumes in your face. One scene in particular that really got to me was when Nick Carraway (Maguire) first meets Gatsby (DiCaprio) and they go for a ride in the car, Gatsby is telling Carraway his story of how he got to be where he is but we can’t hear what he’s saying because we’re supposed to be more entertained by his stylish car zipping round the city streets with engine roaring so much so that the dialogue may as well not even be there. It’s moments like this that really make you not care at all about what’s going on. As you will probably know Jay-Z did the soundtrack, another thing I was quite excited about, but again for the majority it just did not work. We’ve previously seen Luhrmann use modern music in a period movie before in the fantastic Moulin Rouge and in that he manages to make it work, in the case of Gatsby it does not fit at all. When you’re seeing people partying 1920’s style it just seems odd to have Niggas in Paris playing in the background. It’s obvious as well that everyone involved think it’s the coolest thing anyone could come up with making it all the more excruciatingly annoying. The last massive thing that really got to me about the movie was our narrator/protagonist Carraway, played by Tobey Maguire, who is the most boring character I have ever seen in any movie. He has no personality, no traits, he just does as he’s told and somehow manages to be friends with people. I wouldn’t say it’s the fault of Maguire, although he is never much good, its more the writing that gives his character no time whatsoever to develop a personality. I haven’t read the book but I’m almost certain it’s main character can’t be a boring old sap.

While I’ve ranted a lot there were some elements of the movie that weren’t so bad. DiCaprio’s portrayal of Gatsby is spot on and he completely steals the show in the role. Carey Mulligan is another exemplary casting decision and she does well as Daisy Buchanan, a more devious character than I’m used to seeing her play. The third act of the film as a whole improves greatly. It stops caring about the style and starts caring about the story, when it gets down to the real drama of the plot it becomes a much more gripping and enjoyable watch. But unfortunately it just leaves you wishing it was like that from the start, and ultimately its bad points heavily outweigh the good ones, a huge disappointment.

 

The Ice Cream Girls

528173_450367825048618_1651344366_nSo a few weeks ago I somehow ended watching the first episode of ITV’s three-part miniseries The Ice Cream Girls. Based on a book of the same name the series tells the story of two girls. One has just been released from prison after serving a very long sentence for a murder that she maintains was not her. The other has built herself a family and lives to keep it together but when she moves back to her home town to look after her mother it brings back her dark past. It is gradually revealed that both girls got involved with an abusive older man, he was the teacher of one of them. This bloke plays them off against one another and forces them to do things against their will, their relationships become more and more volatile until this bloke ends up murdered. Then Poppy, one of the girls, takes the blame for the killing when it comes to court and is locked up while the other girl is left to roam free. The show holds the mystery as to who did the actual killing until the very last episode.

It’s a shame that they don’t manage to fully utilise the tension of the story. While the acting of the show was very well done and the final reveal is fittingly surprising for me the show didn’t work as a whole. The characters are to built up enough and, in particular, Poppy’s motivation and generally what makes her character tick is never touched upon, its left to you as the viewer to figure out which asks too much of you. The detestable male character is very well portrayed by Martin Compston with his sickly grin and well placed outbursts, it shows that Compston is a well-established actor to keep an eye on, but when it comes to his killing everything seems off key. That’s the whole thing about this miniseries, really, is that it just doesn’t feel quite right. It partly wants to be a mystery, it partly wants to be a tragedy but never delivers fully on either front and it loses its thrill as a result. Also while the twist is surprising it doesn’t make any real sense with the way you’ve got to know the characters.

While for ITV this was one of the better drama series I’ve seen when you compare it with the things that BBC and Channel 4 are bringing out its clear that ITV have got a fair bit of work to do before they can reach the standard. Having said that I still need to watch Broadchurch which could prove me completely wrong.

 

A Scholar, A Peasant and A King, part 2

The next day Dai washed himself as best he could and got dressed in his best clothes. He headed down to the accountancy company and arrived twenty minutes early for his appointment but was seen almost immediately after he had arrived. He was offered a seat by the CEO and asked why he had come to see him. After a short pause Dai told him that he felt he had what it took to be a top accountant. The CEO looked at him rather strangely but also picked up on a slightly otherworldly vibe from him and didn’t want to shoot him down like he would any other peasant that had approached him. After a short while of consideration he asked Dai to take another seat in the waiting room while he thought some things through. Once Dai left the room the CEO made a few phone calls and sent a few emails before asking him back in. He presented Dai with a set of account figures, four years worth, and asked him, ‘If you can sort these and figure out a way this client can save money I’ll give you a trial job. You have two days.’

Dai didn’t say a word but took the stack of papers gave a bow and left the office. The CEO did not expect to see him ever again but to his utter surprise there was a knock on his door 3 hours later. He rose from his desk and opened the door to see that Dai had returned with the stack of papers having covered them in scribbled notes. Dai didn’t know how he’d done it but he had managed to work out a way the client could decrease the amount of interest he was paying on all his loans and ultimately save 5,000 lei a year, which would ultimately up his profit by 10%. The CEO was absolutely shocked by the performance and it took him a while to control himself after Dai had presented his results. His thoughts eventually caught up with him and in one final attempt to get rid of Dai he decided he would ask him a riddle.

‘Okay, Dai, you’ve done very well with these figures,’ he paused just for a second as if he was planning exactly the right words to say, ‘but to work here you need to have good reasoning as well as good ability.’

‘I understand,’ Dai said, eagerly awaiting what was to come.

‘So I’m going to ask you an ancient riddle. If you answer this riddle correctly you have a job,’ he blinked and stroked his beard slowly before continuing. ‘It is greater than God and more evil than the devil. The poor have it, the rich need it and if you eat it you will die. What is it?’

Dai did not reply straight away and this gave the CEO the idea that he’d won. Dai looked slightly confused but this was more due to the fact that he was so shocked he knew the answer straight away. It just popped into his head as soon as the question had been asked. After a short while for the CEO to start spreading a smug grin across his face, Dai finally replied, ‘Nothing. The answer is nothing. Nothing is greater than God; nothing is more evil than the devil. The poor have nothing, the rich need nothing and if you eat nothing you will die. The answer is nothing.’

At first a feeling of anger overcame the CEO upon realising that he had been beaten by this unsightly young peasant man, but he was then taken aback by the feeling that had first hit him when Dai had entered his office. It felt to him like a kind of overwhelming sympathy and he had automatically, deep down, taken a liking to Dai. Without saying another word he turned to his computer screen. He started clicking away and shortly afterwards a document began to print. He handed the paper to Dai who looked down to read the heading, ‘CONTRACT OF EMPLOYMENT.’

‘You seem to have proved yourself Dai; my name is Mr. Chi you will now be working for me. Your office is on the third floor, you begin on Monday where you will be greeted by your secretary who will give you your tasks for the week. This is of course if you accept my offer.’ Mr. Chi had actually begun to feel pleased at having met Dai and he had started to smile warmly without really meaning to. Dai retrieved a pen from the desk and signed his name at the bottom. With that Mr. Chi rose from his chair gave Dai a bow and led him out of his office.

Star Trek Into Darkness

76251355166072-hh-27766r-2 (1)J.J. Abrams follows up his hugely successful re-imaging of the Star Trek franchise with Star Trek Into Darkness. Following the further exploits of Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew Into Darkness sees them face their biggest threat, Khan. Not being an old Star Trek fan at all I had no idea who Khan is but in Into Darkness he is revealed to be the greatest threat to the Enterprise ever. Where the first film was a bit slower paced and spent more time setting the scene, this sequel is relentlessly fast paced stuff with huge action set pieces every five minutes.

In my opinion Into Darkness takes all the good elements from the first film and multiplies them. Then the worst parts of its predecessors are either scrapped and cut down significantly. There are still the odd nerdy jokes, some absolutely awful lines from Bones (Karl Urban) there’s another Leonard Nimoy cameo all of which keeps the old Trekkies happy but is not as present as it was in the first so, for me, I preferred that stuff cut down. Then in terms of everything else everything is on such an epic scale that it would be impossible to get bored. The casting of Benedict Cumberbatch is the most inspired choice, he sizzles and snaps in the role bringing a similar but much more evil character than in Sherlock. Zachary Quinto really shines through here as well, although Chris Pine at times seemed melodramatic or a tiny bit hammy. It’s two hour ten minute run time flies by with probably the best CG I have ever seen, every shot looks as close to perfect as it could get and when you’re treated to one of the many, many action scenes it’s impossible not to be completely consumed in the movie.

The plots slightly simpler than the first one and there’s less character development but its counteracted with stunning action sequences and one of the greatest movie villains of recent years. It may not please the Trekkies quite as much but for a new fan like myself Into Darkness could not be better. If this is what Abrams can do with Star Trek I can not wait to see how he revives Star Wars in 2015. A far better movie than Iron Man 3 let’s hope the rest of the summer blockcbuster’s are up to this standard.

 

Iron Man 3

iron-man-3-tony-stark-robert-downey-jrThe first big blockbuster of the summer arrives in the form of Iron Man 3. Fresh off the back of Avengers Assemble Marvel had quite a challenge following on from their biggest success ever. It was an obvious decision for them to follow up their big team-up with their strongest solo franchise, Iron Man. The first Iron Man movie was a great introduction to the character and one of the better superhero origin films of the last decade or so. It’s sequel, however, didn’t quite reach the same enjoyment, it had a muddled plot and the final battle was extremely anti-climactic. There was every reason to believe that the third instalment would bring things back on track for Stark Industries. It’s the first in the franchise without Jon Favreau directing, instead it’s the turn of Shane Black, it was said that Iron Man 3 would be a much more personal adventure for our hero to contrast with the Avengers and as with all sequels, expect it to be darker than its predecessors.

Iron Man 3 is a very personal adventure for Tony Stark, he spends a large part of the movie without his iron suit and is left to save himself without his gadgetry. It’s an attempt to strip things down and give Downey Jr’s billionaire superhero a chance to make us feel for him again. Unfortunately, it’s only partly successful. While the movie is a good few steps above Iron Man 2 it still lacks the spark that can be fond in the first one. The action is well handled and fun to watch, as are the jokes – Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin is especially funny – but the overall feeling from the movie is one of mediocrity. One that’s happy to skate by without trying too hard. It works, just about, but is ultimately a disappointment and something that Marvel Studios can’t afford to be doing if they want to keep the momentum going. There’s plenty to be enjoyed here but, ultimately, this feels more mass produced than most superhero movies and ends up having less heart than it should do.

While Iron Man 3 is an enjoyable watch, I think, if the franchise carries on in this vain it won’t have too much more time. The box office obviously disagrees with me at the moment but let’s hope that when a fourth instalment gets planned they do something really special.