Orange is the New Black – Season One

o-ORANGE-IS-THE-NEW-BLACK-facebookAfter the disappointing Hemlock Grove, that I couldn’t get into at all, Netflix bring us their third original drama in the form of Orange is the New Black. A prison drama that follows lead character, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), embarks on a 15 month sentence. It looks at how she copes inside as well as fleshing out a number of characters around her including prison inmates and those she’s left on the outside. Shortly after she arrives in prison her past catches up with her.

The show is a lot more hopeful and cheerful than most other prison dramas but that doesn’t mean it’s without it’s share of darkness. While at times the lives these women are allowed to live seems rather too pleasant for prisoners serving time there are plenty of moments that show how brutal their reality can be at times. What Orange… does best is showing the light and dark of the characters lifestyles and at the same time creates fully realised back stories and personalities for a large number of the characters without detracting from plot development or the lead characters personal journey. As the series progresses, in fact, I began to stop really routing for Piper and found that the other prisoners turned out to be much more well-rounded characters than her but that adds to the shows overall message and meaning that no ones better than anyone else. Put in this situation and stripped of all your worldly stuff we all end up acting in the same ways. It’s most interesting factor is this way in which it portrays every character in a very realistic manner and manages to pull it off with great writing and performances. That’s not to say, however, that it’s completely without fault there are elements of the show that don’t work so well, particularly with Jason Biggs’ character, Piper’s fiance, Larry I felt really didn’t add a huge amount to the show the sections that kept us up to date on his life seemed rather unnecessary. Also at times episodes felt over-long and in particular when they were comedic bits they were given far too much screen time and were rarely ever very funny.

Overall, though, Orange is the New Black is entertaining and at times gripping new TV show that brings a new look at prison life. Having been commissioned for its second season by Netflix before the first one was even released it’s clear that it’s creators must have more things up there sleeves and with the shocking and exciting ending of it’s first run will mean I’ll be ready and waiting for when that second season arrives.

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Machina/The Machines of God

breaking-bad-cartoon-wallpaper-hd-wallpapersAfter the unusual, and much less successful Adore Jimmy Chamberlain returned to the Pumpkins and they obviously began to dream big again. The Machina project was originally envisioned by the band as a double-album heavy on concept. However due to the poor reception of Adore the label only allowed it to be released as single-album. There was a whole concept crafted around the record which saw the band made into cartoon characters but the whole story was never fully completed and there are only bits and bobs floating around as to what this was all about.

Musically Machina marks a further departure in style from the music that brought them mainstream success and the sound is more electronic based than even Adore. There is, however, heavier music to be found here than on it’s predecessor. The opening track, The Everlasting Gaze, is one of the bands heaviest songs with a great guitar riff but it also shows how production has become the main focus of Corgan’s vision as the sound is much less raw and in a way less real than their old style and while still a good track it lacks a personal feel that they always used to have. There is nothing inherently wrong with Machina, it’s still an album that deserves to be heard but its clear that the record was made without a clear aim, as the band was falling apart during recording and the concept was never fully realised people were reluctant to buy into it.

While you could not call Machina a poor record it was made during troubled times for the band and is probably the groups weakest effort overall. However it was never given the chance to be released as Corgan had intended it to be and perhaps it loses out because of this, as Corgan is working on remastering all the old Pumpkins albums and promises that this Machina package will be re-released in its complete form we may have something much more interesting on our hands.

Hannibal – Season One

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Dr. Hannibal Lecter is a strong contender for being the greatest villain of all time. Having first been portrayed by Brian Cox in the often overlooked but great Manhunter, the character came into his own in the indisputable classic The Silence of the Lambs, which he was masterfully played by Anthony Hopkins. Since then there have been a string of less successful movie incarnations of the evil genius but NBC’s new drama brings him to the small screen. The first season of the hit show mainly follows the story of detective Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) who performs his work, of hunting killers, in an unusual and dangerous way that sees him finding his way into the killers mind. As Graham is a fragile and unstable character his boss Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) sees to it that he is dealt with by the best psychiatrist around. This psychiatrist happens to be, of course, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) who is also the serial killer that Crawford and Graham are trying to apprehend.

Perhaps the series’ strongest point is the acting, its superbly cast and all the main parts are played excellently. Fishburne does well as police chief Crawford and Dancy is made for his role as the investigator who has so much empathy he can recreate a murderers though pattern at a crime scene. But it’s Mikkelsen who is the most impressive filling the shoes of Hopkins Oscar winning portrayal and still giving the character a unique feel and pulling it off successfully. For me though the show as a whole doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts, for the mid-part of the season the meanders along with very few major plot points ever happening. This first season really charts the decay of Graham’s mind as he is constantly manipulated by Lecter who is sending him more and more insane, and while the plot as a whole is an intriguing one the show fails to deliver it as well as it could. It spends too much time doing the same thing repeatedly and it’s not until the last two or three episodes that things actually start getting exciting. The conclusion of the season was very good and was enough to keep me interested in what the second season will have to offer but what it needs is better writing with a more clear cut story that progresses in every episode.

While there is a lot of good stuff about this new show it’s lacking ingenuity of the best shows that are out today and that’s mainly due to the quality of writing. Despite this season one manages to get by on the merits of it’s acting and the last few episodes meaning it does have potential to become one of the greats, so let’s hope it’s return will see a more well-rounded series.

Kick-Ass 2

Film Title: Kick-Ass 2The first Kick-Ass was somewhat of a surprise hit. What could have easily been a camp, unfunny parody of the biggest blockbuster genre of today turned out to be an original, hilarious, action-packed movie of it’s own. It broke boundaries, raised controversy and overall was just a great movie. So with this follow-up things looked set to get bigger and better bringing back the old cast as well as throwing in the likes of Jim Carrey and Donald Faison. The result however, is a muddled, over-the-top flop.

It was always going to be hard to follow Kick Ass because you can simply never retain that level of originality again, but Kick Ass 2 doesn’t even attempt to bring anything new to the table. It just takes the conventions and of the originals and redoes them, not as well. The plot follows Kick Ass as he attempts to assemble a superhero crew as there are now copy cats popping up all over the place. Hit Girl is trying to leave her superhero past behind and trying to integrate herself into a high school clique in a sub plot that pretty much directly steals its idea from Mean Girls. While it would be hard to argue that this movie isn’t entertaining it just doesn’t live up to it’s predecessor in any sense. The jokes are cheap, one in particular involving something called a SIC stick really highlights a drop in the quality of writing. The action scenes while still cool lack that tongue-in-cheek fanboy element that the first was littered with. It really gets to the point where Kick ass 2 becomes the very thing it sets out to parody reverting to cliche after cliche and ridiculously cheesy heartfelt moments.

While Chloe Moretz still stands out as the fantastic Hit Girl, not even Jim Carrey can save this sinking ship of a sequel that will hold your attention for its run time but fail to do anything more than that. A real disappointment that could have done without happening.

 

The Last of Us

The-Last-Of-Us-Wallpaper-HD-Screenshot-GameI’m slightly behind the rest of the gaming world in writing my review for Last of Us and I spent a while deciding whether it was worth reviewing as so much has already been said about it. But as I work through my second play through of the campaign I don’t how I couldn’t write something up about this game and why it completely deserves all the praise that it’s had. Set in a post-apocalyptic environment you play as Joel, whose own daughter was killed in the initial chaos, the main story begins 20 years on from this and Joel and his partner Tess are asked to smuggle a young girl, Ellie, across the state and get here to the elusive Firefly group as she is believed to be immune to the zombie infection and could therefore be the key to finding a cure.

The Last of Us marks the biggest step up in game story-telling since the likes of Heavy Rain, its plot unfolds like a film and the fact that you play through only adds to emotional impact. Where in the past games have failed to find a healthy balance between story and gameplay The Last of Us gets it pitch perfect. While the aforementioned Heavy Rain delivered an immersive, well-told story I would argue that it was more an interactive motion picture whereas TLOU is without doubt a video game. It takes well-known elements and conventions from games and does them better than ever before, with innovative level types which require a range of different methods to work your way through and offer a difficult challenge without being painfully hard. It perfectly brings you a familiar feel of gaming that you will have been used to for a long time, meaning it’s easy to pick up, great fun to play, and doesn’t take anything away from the games excellent story. The graphics are absolutely stunning as well, with vibrant colours bursting out when you walk through deserted cities, ridiculously detailed human features and smooth well-designed action animations that really prove how good the PS3 can be while leaving you wondering how the hell the PS4 is going to top this! The multiplayer mode is fairly basic but offers an additional way to play the game and explore the expertly designed environments with enough challenges and unlocks to keep you entertained enough to play through its own campaign-type quests.

What TLOU marks is the beginning of gaming on a large scale being an art form. It shows the world how video games can tell a story effectively and emotively in the same way films and tv shows do and still contains the features that got you into gaming in the first place. When the critics say this is the best game of all time they’re not wrong and with the PS4 and Xbox One Just around the corner this a fine way to say farewell to a fantastic console. (With GTA V yet to come as well the farewell celebrations to this generation of consoles is only going to get bigger).

 

Only God Forgives

OnlyGodForgivesGoslingFightbig5993It was right in the middle of my Freshers fortnight when Drive came out here in the UK and as I was attempting to make some new friends at uni I organised a little trip with some mates, persuading them to come to this instead Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Drive starts off very slow, you’ll know if you’ve seen it, which had me worried having talked my new buddies out of TTSS. But little did we know what it was all building up to; a gripping summary packed with stylish violence, gorgeous cinematography and Ryan Gosling in the form of his life. Two years down the line and the guys I went to see Drive with are now my best mates, and the film is one of my all time favourites. But more importantly, Nicholas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling have returned with Only God Forgives. An epic, yet abstract crime opus set in Hong Kong. We follow Julian (Gosling) a drug dealer who hides his business by hosting boxing matches. In a twisted tale of revenge his brother is killed and his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), a stubborn bitch to say the least, turns up and forces Julian to avenge his death.

It’s a much more artistic movie than Drive using visual metaphors and dream like scenes with characters you’re never sure are real or not as Julian battles both inner demons and outer in a a bloodthirsty thriller. It’s not completely unlike Drive, there is very little dialogue as Refn lets his actors and his cinematography do most of the talking with artistic expression and flourishes of brutal violence are to be found throughout. There are major differences though, Only God Forgives is not a film that’s going to please mainstream audiences. It’s not an easy film, it demands thought and time invested in it and most audiences, even a large number critics it seems, haven’t been willing to give this movie the time it deserves. While Drive was really an extremely well executed action movie Only God Forgives is an arthouse movie which takes as much from Lynch movies than it does from the action greats. It’s a dark, bitter film that may leave you with a bad taste in the mouth but it’s done so well that I can’t understand why it hasn’t got the deserved reception.

Nicholas Winding Refn can never be accused of being boring and now with a sizeable filmography behind him he has made himself one of the most interesting auteurs out there, with the minor blip of Valhalla Rising all his movies are great watches and manage to be vastly different from each other while still holding the same themes but looked at in different ways. He knows how to make a completely intriguing lead character and base a whole movie around them with very little dialogue and his cinematography just keeps getting better. For me I might slightly prefer Drive but Only God Forgives is not far off, don’t listen to the critics this is a great movie brings Refn’s name even greater clout.