Archive for February, 2011

In a nutshell: Soulful and original, Treme brings you into the heart of a city like no other.

Popcorn rating: 4.5/5

Set in the sizzling heat of New Orleans just three months after Hurricane Katrina, US drama Treme was one of the headline shows for new channel Sky Atlantic when it launched earlier this year, sharing advertising space with the likes of Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones and the stylised hit Mad Men.

From the creators of  The Wire (and starring Clarke Peters and Wendell Pierce), there was a lot riding on Treme – not least in New Orleans itself, where residents awaited the series with trepidation. Fortunately, Treme has not disappointed, winning award nominations, critical acclaim and general (although not universal) acquiesence from the city itself.

Named after the New Orleans neighbourhood in which it is set, Treme follows the intertwining lives of several locals, each coming to terms with life post-Katrina. Leading the ensemble cast is Wendell (a worthy star) as charismatic trombonist Antoine Batiste, living from gig to gig and struggling through a shambolic personal life.  Other characters include a Mardis Gras Indian Chief, a chef, a DJ, a trumpet player, two buskers – see where we’re going with this? It is no coincidence that so many of Treme‘s residents are cut from a musical cloth. This is the famed party capital of the south and it is music, languid and soulful like a beating pulse beneath the skin, which takes a deserved place at the heart of Treme, drawing everything together from moments of joy to moments of despair.

Of course, with such a large central cast and so many interlinking storylines, it can be difficult to keep up – like so many of the best US dramas (Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy), it can take a while to get a hook on who is who, what is what. The sheer complexity of the plot(s) meriting repeat viewings before you can fully get into the swing of things. Treme will never be a drama you can pop off to make a cup of tea halfway through. No piece of dialogue is throwaway in this unfolding behemoth.

Given its subject matter – it would be easy for the story to slide into over sentimentality and yet, while it does not flinch from the devastation Katrina left in its wake,  Treme never feels sycophantic, instead allowing the richness of its characters combined with an honest and compelling story to draw you in. Like that famous  joie de vivre of New Orleans, there is just something infectious about Treme.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley

In a nutshell: Just another blah blah blah teenage movie

Popcorn rating: 2/5

*spoiler alert*

Unashamedly aimed at the Twilight generation, I Am Number Four is filled to the brim with teen flick stereotypes:

*Ugly, sociopathic baddies in big boots and long black overcoats chasing a…

*tall, dark and handsome hero, freshly arrived in Middle of Nowhere America complete with chiselled biceps, sexily dishevelled locks and a BIG secret, which makes him REALLY moody. He develops a healthy interest in the…

*beautiful, artistic, loner love interest who is ..

*adored to obsession by the local, slightly psychotic jock who gets his kicks bullying…

*the school nerd, who is befriended by the tall, dark and handsome hero…etc

And that’s the plot really. Except to give it a BIG TWIST, in I Am Number Four the hero schoolboy (who looks about 24) is actually an ALIEN. And not just any old alien – a “special” alien, one of nine super fighters who are destined to save his planet or mankind or whatever.

Throw into the mix a few obvious plot devices (your dad? The one who knew all about aliens and stuff, is missing? Wow) and lurch from scene to scene with no rhyme nor reason (your guardian just died and we’re being chased by crazed aliens? Time, methinks, to nip into the darkroom so we can share a “very safe romantic moment looking at some arty photos with no mention whatsoever of sex or anything icky like that). What’s not to love?

Plenty. And it’s a shame really, because even with the stereotypes, I Am Number Four could have been so much better, if it had had the nerve to stray from the beaten path of teenage movie cliche. As it stands, not only is it predictable and fairly patronising to its target audience but it’s boring – spending too much time focussing on a yawnsome romance and following the non-exploits of beautiful, well off people who are about as engaging as a dead salmon.

In fact the only plus points are the action scenes. The opening of I Am Number Four is wonderfully riveting, belying the boredom to come with a thrilling and explosive chase through a forest with suitably shocking results. Unfortunately, we have to sit through the rest of the emo dross before we get to the second high point, a strong action climax, complete with monsters, baddies, big guns and even a hot bird on a motorcycle.  Then, its quickly back downhill with our hero saying his “sad” goodbyes to Nowhere USA and leaving the story wide open for a whole new franchise. Sigh.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley

In a nutshell: An intriguingly dark fairy tale, which is more Brothers Grimm than Disney.

Popcorn rating: 4/5

Director Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s debut feature Innocence (an adaptation of the Frank Wedekind novella) is a bittersweet tale of young girls living in an isolated school in France. It is rumoured Wedekind’s tale was inspired by Enid Blyton’s English boardng school series Mallory Towers. But, with new pupils arriving semi naked in coffins and the eerie control displayed by the primary school age schoolgirls in their burningly white uniforms – jolly hockey sticks and midnight feasts this isn’t.

In one sense, Innocence offers its pupils freedom and fun, with little supervision and a forest parkland to explore and play in. Yet it is also a prison lacking in human warmth, an eerie, pensive undertone creeping underneath this childish idyll. There is no contact with the outside world and, other than two young female teachers and two elderly servants (also women), barely any contact with adults. There are strict rules, things are “forbidden” with an unknown punishment for transgressors – when one girl, distracted by grief at losing her dreams, climbs the wall in a bid to escape, she is never to be mentioned again. We find out no more than that. Innocence is rife with secrets, dank, underground tunnels, and unexplained rituals. Each happy, playful scene is underpinned with a feeling of dread, similar to the subtle and impending doom of a good horror film – and which is all the more unsettling for being packaged up within a quiet, apple pie sweet setting.

Visually, Innocence is stunning. The girls’ technicolour ribbons and their austere white uniforms against the natural background of the forest is like a series of beautiful paintings. Colours are strong and bright while the natural lighting, be it shards of sunlight streaming through the aged trees or the glow of lamps blinking on in the shadowy night time forest, create scenes so endearing you might easily see them on a tin of shortbread.

However, while it is doubtless an aesthetically beautiful piece, as a film Innocence, at times, suffers from trying just a little too hard. Its child actors give very natural performances yet  there is a feeling that, rather than encouraging the actors to chatter on as children might, dialogue is, at times, cut back to retain that odd, dreamlike tone. Similarly, the symbolic – and repeated – scenes of bubbling water go on just a little long, hammering the point home and turning the pace from leisurely to too slow.

Similarly, for those who prefer the usual beginning, middle and end story arc, all the ends neatly tied up, be warned that Innocence lacks a  central narrative, instead viewers get a chance to dip their toes into a haunting, surreal world. What is this place? Why are the girls there? Where do the older pupils go? Questions hang in the air; all we are offered is suggestions and yet more mysteries, building suspense until it is so taut it may well snap – only to end with an equally odd sense of childish happiness and hope.

An evocative, original tale which at times intrigues, at times frustrates, Innocence may not appeal to the action junkies out there, but is well worth watching if you are looking for a change from the usual run of the mill.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley

In a nutshell: Beautiful, surreal and worryingly possible.

Popcorn rating: 4.5/5

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimo, Greek film Dogtooth is slow, unsettling and (especially when you consider the Ftrizl case) all too real. Yet it is utterly, disarmingly compelling. It’s easy to see why it won the Prix Un Certain Regard at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, has been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the forthcoming Oscars, and garnered a top rating of 93% on movie review site, Rotten Tomatoes.

*spoiler alert*

Imagine the scene. You live with your siblings and your parents in an isolated compound. You never set foot outside the high fence which surrounds the house. You believe everything your parents tell you. That a zombie is a small yellow flower, a phone is a salt shaker, a pussy is a big light, the sea is a leather chair, that overhead planes are toys, which sometimes fall from the sky. You believe killer cats stalk the world outside the fence and that they already attacked your father and killed your brother, the one who lived on the other side of the fence. You believe you can’t ever leave your home until you have lost a dogtooth. You believe this because you don’t know any different. Your family and this secluded house with its high trees and swimming pool and sterile, white walls is all you have ever known. This is Dogtooth.

Upsetting the balance in this tightly wound autocracy comes Christina, a security guard regularly brought in by dad to relieve the son of his sexual frustrations.

Christina’s arrival heralds the simmering tensions of the young adults moving to boiling point. The eldest daughter slashes her brother with a knife for playing with her toy plane. The youngest hits him with a hammer, explaining: “I didn’t do it. A cat did it, a cat with a hammer.” Christina offers the eldest daughter presents (a headband, video tapes of Hollywood movies) in return for sexual favours. There is a visiting cuckoo in the nest, the result of which must be suppressed.

Other than a passing reference to badly behaved children, no full explanation is ever given as to why the family live their life as they do. The ending is purposefully ambiguous. There is no history given. All we are offered, all we get, is a glimpse into a dystopian microcosm – stilted dialogue, lighting that is is bright, gauzy, harsh, like an overexposed photograph; images that are evocative, dreamlike, slightly off kilter. The overall feel is of a sterile, oddly perturbing, utterly compelling home movie.

Dogtooth won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – it is too unsettling for that – but it is a muted and original nightmare that will lead to questions, for which there is no answer. Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley

In a nutshell: Coulda been a contender

Popcorn rating: 3/5

Two main things make me wary of a new film (well three, if you count Katherine Heigl). 1 The studio refusing to have any press or pre screenings, denying reviewers a chance to rate it before any bums have paid to be on seats to see it. 2. Way too much pre-release hype; nothing is ever that great. So, considering how ubiquitous Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, writers and stars of Paul have been of late, could their alien comedy live up to expectations?

The answer is no.

See, Paul is ok. It’s not great. It’s not terrible. Anyone I know who has seen it, couldn’t be bothered talking about it that much afterwards. It’s a bit like death by disinterest, which is surely harsh after previous outings by the duo (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) have proven to be just so damn quotable – “Who died and made you f*cking king of the zombies?”, for example.

Sure, Paul’s got a few chuckles and even a decent action scene. Jason Bateman is funny as the man in black (though sidekicks  Bill Haggard and Joe Lo Truglio get the best laughs), Seth Rogen as the ‘I’m so f*cking cool it hurts’  Paul is amusing, for the most part , Kristen Wiig is quirkily sweet as the love interest.  And, for the geeks, there are more movie references (in jokes) than you can shake a light sabre – or samurai sword – at.

Paul should tick all the right boxes. So why doesn’t it?

Pegg and Frost’s talents lie in quintessentially British humour, that affable, self deprecating comedy centring around ordinary people in mundane settings, facing the extraordinary. And that’s what’s missing here. Paul is an American film and it is playing (somewhat patronisingly) to an American  audience, serving up the same old, cloying sentimentality,  predictable story arc and obvious jokes (oh look at the old lady lamenting the loss of her weed – oh ha ha ha, cos she’s like an old person and like, she’s into weed, man, ha ha ha).

Paul may have the Pegg and the Frost, writer and stars of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, doing their geeky everyman thing but the one missing ingredient this time is old comrade in arms, writer and director Edgar Wright. And it shows.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley

In a nutshell: History boiled down to the best bits in a blood-and-guts stew

Popcorn rating: 3/5

Horrible Histories was the surprise winner of Best Sketch Show at the British Comedy Awards this year. Yes. A children’s show, winning a comedy award. Isn’t that a bit like Dogtanian winning a Bafta for Best Drama? So, Horrible Histories has got to be brilliant, surely?

Well, kind of. Horrible Histories, a TV spin-off of a book series, aims to teach kids about history by emphasising the gross, the gory and the gruesome. Because let’s face it, those are the best bits. I, for instance, can remember nothing from my lessons on the Ancient Egyptians except that they used to prepare bodies for mummification by hooking the brains out through the nose, and that’s the kind of thing you’ll learn from Horrible Histories.

Arms are chopped off, disfiguring plagues are spread, monarchs are beheaded and barely an episode seems to pass without someone finding an excuse to do something weird with wee, all to great comic effect. There are moments when you’d have to be an eight year-old boy to really get it – I found the macabre sketches much funnier than the ones about snot and poo – but the scripts are sharp and the performers can’t be faulted.

The actual facts are sound, but presented, for the sake of comic effect, wildly out of context. So much so that the makers, unfortunately, feel the need to flash up cheery captions to remind us that “The Romans really did this!” and “This actually happened in the Middle Ages!”, the primary effect of which was to make me want to hold up my own sign saying “Stop patronising your audience!”

Which brings me to my only other niggle. You’ll get a couple of sketches on the Stone Age one minute, a song about the Tudors the next, and a talking rat popping up to tell a few gags the next, as TV producers like to imagine that kids today have the attention spans of gnats. But we’re doing children a disservice by not trusting them to stick with half an hour of sketches about a single era. Since we all know children can concentrate for long enough to clear eight levels of Call Of Duty, can’t we credit them not to get bored because the full 30 minutes of dismembering and puking happens to be about, say, the 1600s? There’s enough material in the Plague alone to keep most kids entranced with tales of rats, fleas and exploding groin-swellings for a week.

All in all, though, Horrible Histories is great fun. I’m not sure it quite warrants a Comedy Award, but having said that, it’s about forty times funnier than Miranda, and that won three. With that as the benchmark, the Horrible Histories team probably ought to expect an Emmy.

Reviewer: josheppard

Take Me Out

Posted: February 13, 2011 by curlyshirley in Telly
Tags: , , , , , , ,

In a nutshell: Cilla Black has a lot to answer for.

Popcorn rating: 2/5

Of all the ways for someone to meet the love of their life, I can think of no better method than having 30 women indiscriminately judging the mating potential of a lone male, on TV, in front of the nation. I am, of course, talking about the method as chosen by Saturday night game show “extravaganza” Take Me Out.

Take Me Out opens  with some harmless banter (lol) courtesy of Northern wit and show host Paddy Maguinness (oh, I’m right funny, me) before the show gets down to the nitty gritty (and as far as I am aware, entirely heterosexual) business of pairing folk off. It’s a bit like a wildlife documentary really – except with Mr Attenborough’s soothingly intellectual narration replaced with hilarities like “Let the crown see the jewels” from Paddy.

How it works is simple. The girls are assembled onstage in a semi circle and the lone male, blinking and grinning, is lowered on stage in front of the chuckling audience by lift – a bit like Frank n Furter in The Rock Horror Picture Show. Then, having arrived like a deity from above, this smiling bachelor must prove his worthiness to the girls by laying out his life to be sniffed and sneered at until he can never go out to the pub or the office or even the corner shop ever again without being faced with a sea of sniggers and nudges. Lol.

After this ritual humiliation, the ladeez who fancy a bit of the chosen one leave their “lights on” to show willing while the rest switch their “lights off”, thus saying a very public “Bog off mate” to the victim, ahem, man. It’s not sexist though because- in a final fun filled twist – the victim, ahem, man gets to choose one of the offered babes and publicly reject/humiliate the others. Woohoo! Lol. Then the “happy” couple head off to Fernandos island of love to spend some quality time together and the next man is lowered onstage. So it continues. In an endless, chirpy, brightly lit stream.

Why would anyone put themselves through this modern meat market hell? Simples! (lol) The contestants (each as similar as you can be when cherry picked from Top Shop on a Saturday afternoon) wants to get on prime time telly, ahem, sorry I mean they all want a date.  And hopefully at least some of them will get a date too. After all, no one wants to see someone‘s heart actually crack open and dissolve, leaving a weeping mess of a human puddled at Paddy’s feet.  Not on television. Where’s the fun in that?

And, following that renowned story arch of reality telly, each “happy” couple also gets to come back later and verbally pick over the bones of their time together, for the viewers to snort with laughter at. After all, if a tree falls in the wood, does anyone hear it if it’s not filmed and blasted onto our telly screens so we can smirk knowingly from the comfort of our snuggies on our DHS sofa while eating and drinking our £10-meal deal? Exactly. Everyone’s a winner really. Lol. Lol.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley