Boardwalk Empire – Season 4

Boardwalk-Empire-1Boardwalk entered its fourth season off the back of a superb third series as one of the most consistently entertaining shows around at the moment. Things were going to be different this time round though with Nucky (Steve Buscemi) and Margaret Schroeder’s (Kelly Macdoanld) relationship a thing of the past and his tyrannical reign of the criminal underworld not as secure as it once was.

Nucky’s storyline is no longer the main attraction come this fourth series and the stand-out plot this time round comes with the arrival of Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) causing Chalky White (Michael Kenneth Williams) numerous problems. Also Al Capone (Stephen Graham) continues his usual bully tactics this time becoming involved with Michael Shannon’s Nelson Van Alden character who seems a lot less crazy than he has in previous seasons. Season four saw the usual slow burn and tension building that we’ve come to expect of the show, with impending explosions constantly bubbling just below the surface ready to blow by the final few episodes and it doesn’t disappoint. In this series despite Nucky perhaps not being as central a character as he originally was his empire is under more threat than it has ever been and although the character will never show it it’s clear that soon things will come crumbling down around him. The strongest point as always with Boardwalk is its writing and that’s no different in season four but there is not a single element of the show that isn’t done superbly well.

It’s pleasing that a programme of this cost and intelligence can manage to keep going in a climate of television where studios want to make cheap, accessible shows but Boardwalk is one of a small flurry of shows marking a revolution that exemplifies how the format can be the best way to tell great stories. With Breaking Bad over it’s time Boardwalk deserves a place as the best running TV show on our screens and in my opinion, it is.

 

A Field in England

A-Field-in-England-2013-thumb-630xauto-39296A week and a half ago Ben Wheatley’s fourth feature was released across a range of platforms in a unique, holistic new approach. A Field in England was made available in cinemas, on DVD and Blu-Ray, on Video on Demand and broadcast on TV. Since I’m back in a hovel of Devon for the summer there was no nearby cinema where I could indulge in watching Wheatley’s latest so I settled for watching it on Film4. The film is very different from his past efforts being a period piece set in the English Civil War and fitting in to the experimental horror genre its a bit of a departure from his previous gritty, realistic movies but there is still his signature to be seen.

Following a small group of blokes who have broken off from their army we are taken on a horrifying journey as they find themselves lost amongst the fields with a foreboding presence lurking over them. Shot completely in black and white Wheatley makes full use of his surroundings with the crisp HD making the colours feel vivid without even being there. Throughout the films hazy plot he uses a variety of editing techniques which makes the whole movie a trippy and strange experience. And he does deliver a unique feeling of threat in an unorthodox way. A Field in England has the it’s odd flourishes of graphic violence but for the most part plays on feelings of tension and fear and works very effectively. It’s a film that demands repeat viewings to fully get your head round its aims and concepts but one that I would be very happy to watch multiple times.

While perhaps being a slightly more difficult watch than Wheatley’s first three films A Field in England adds another feather to the ever growing bow of one of the most exciting talents in film at the moment. As interesting as it is haunting this movie is fantastic.

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 Red Riding Trilogy

red-riding_625x352So during my recent Easter TV binge I finally got round to watching 2009 miniseries, The Red Riding Trilogy. It’s a three part series of films all based on murder cases in Yorkshire and the corrupt way in which the police department dealt with things. Each film is based in a different year starting with 1974 and continuing with 1980 and 1984. Each film features a different protagonist, plot and director but there a threads that run through all three of them. The cast is one of the most impressive ever assembled on British TV, with Andrew Garfield, Paddy Considine, David Morrissey and Sean Bean being just the tip of the iceberg.

It’s a very dark miniseries content on showing you a grimy side of history where corruption ruled the roost in the police force leading to these murder cases being kept going way longer than they should have. While it would be appear that this series should have everything going for it I must say overall I was disappointed. While stylistically the films are done incredibly well; they are superbly acted and the dense plotlines should be enough to make an outstanding TV drama I felt that the emotion never really got out there. The feel of the show ultimately just seemed too cold, making it very hard to get properly in to. The idea to have hour and a half long episodes, done so well on the more recent Sherlock, I think, hinders Red Riding making it over-long and somehow, strangely boring. Don’t get me wrong on some levels I enjoyed the show greatly, it had some fantastic moments but the overall sensation I got was not one of entertainment, more just of boredom.

My favourite of the three was the first one starring Andrew Garfield as a journalist who asks too many questions, I found this to be the most personal stroyline as we follow Garfield’s character as he digs deeper into a system that was rotten to the core. The second episode was my least favourite, despite me normally being a huge fan of Considine, while the plot was excellent I never felt much of a connection with any of the characters in the episode. By the third and final feature the coldness of the series is fully realised and for much of the episode I found myself caring very little, but the last twenty minutes or so give us the miniseries most entertaining moments of all making the episode so much better than it could have been. It’s overall a very interesting series but, unfortunately, one that did not fully meet my expectations.

 

The Lives of Others

Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) bei seiner Arbeit.So this is another review I’ve done for Tyson Carter’s Head in a Vice blog for his iMDB Top 250 challenge, you should swing by his blog and check out what he’s up to.

The Lives of Others sits quite high up the top 250 at a rather impressive 58th making it one one of only a very select handful of foreign language films that make it into the top 60. The film, set in communist East Germany in the 1980’s, tells the story of a playwrite who, like a huge number of people during the period, was put under surveillance by the government. During the era the goal of the East German governemnt, known as the GDR, was to ‘know everything’ a fact we are given at the very beginning of The Lives of Others and hence our protagonist, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch), has his apartment secretly wired and his every action recorded by a governemnt operative. However, Dreyman’s way of life somehow infulences the surveyor in charge of his case, Haputmann gerd Weisler (Ulrich Muhre), in such a way that his life and pereception is changed forever.

The film is written and directed by Florian Henckle von Donnersmarck a man who, apart from having a ridiculously strange name, made a number of shorts before directing The Lives of Others but has since only gone on to direct one other film which happens to be 2010’s The Tourist, a film which I have no real desire to watch. But this leaves me with little to compare The Lives of Others with in terms of any auteuristic qualities. On top of this my knowledge of German cinema is restricted to having only seen about five German films in my lifetime, at a push. But, I hope I am right in saying, that The Lives of Others is completely different from any film that has ever been made. It has a unique style of which I have not come across before. I’ll try to go some way as to explaining why.

There are a number of other films that have a similar plot, a similar setting and a similar style but The Lives of Others manages to separate itself from the crowd. The feeling that was apparent throughout was one of hope, a feeling that, as mentioned in the movie about the protagonist, holds the belief that anyone can change. And while the film has the look of a movie that tells a hard, depressing historical tale, The Lives of Others gives you something more human.

As I mentioned the feel of the film is reflected by the main character’s persona, there are a number of other moments that run as threads through the film creating a thick tapestry of plot elements, character traits and shots that all come together in some way and have much more signifcance than you realise, as a part of a masterfully written plot. Almost everything you see or hear turns out to have greater significance than you would think. It’s hard to give more examples without giving away spoilers but I will say, check for the irony to do with the facts about suicide. Another obvious one would be the siginifcance of the piece of music given to Dreyman near the beginning. There are a number of others to look out for, if you’ve seen the film you’ll know exactly what I mean, if you haven’t look out for them.

What stood out for me, above all, about The Lives of Others is that it never felt like it should be as powerful as it turned out to be. It was a humble film, unaware of its own genius. It calmly takes you through its storyline in a very matter-of-fact way and when it ends you suddenly realise how much you’ve been taken in by it. It really is an incredibly well made film and certainly deserves its place on the list, I strongly recommend anyone to go watch this movie.