“Stranger Things” Provides Lingering Confusion and Mystery

Stranger Things an original Netflix series has sparked a lot of hype across the web during the summer.

The show marks the return of Winona Ryder and brings back the 80s esthetic and mystery genre. Those are all important factors that help to propel the show into an actual cultural phenomenon. I bet many will disguise themselves as some of the characters this Halloween.

If it may seem dark and scary on the outside looking in, I would say the suspense is greater. There is a real eerie and confused feeling that follows throughout the storyline.

The show centers on the search for a missing young boy named Will (Noah Schnapp) in the small town of Hawkins. There is great mystery surrounding Will’s strange (to say the least) captor, a monster in the Upside Down which happens to be in another dimension…Sherriff Hopper (David Harbour) leads the investigation with the help of the boy’s mother played by Winona Ryder.

One of the unexpected core to the story is friendships between childhood friends and Eleven, a young girl with telepathic powers that holds the key to finding the missing Will Byers. The bond between the characters is very strong. They are in this peculiar journey together until the end, no matter what happens.

It is also refreshing to see that a large part of the cast are children, resourceful and smart characters who infuse comedy and bravery in this compelling series. Millie Bobby Brown who plays Eleven is a standout in Stranger Things. She manages to convincingly add many nuances to her portrayal of a young girl who has been experimented on by a group of governmental scientists while maintaining innocence.

Stranger Things is an experience and a worthwhile experience that can draw in even people like myself who aren’t big fans of the horror genre. The intrigue and the mystery is what keeps the viewer wanting more. The show blends investigative drama with science fiction and a side of disturbing (Dr. Brenner and The Monster notably).

With only 8 episodes it is easy to binge-watch and definitely worth it. I give the first season of Stranger Things 4.5 out of 5 stars.

A second season of Stranger Things has been confirmed with a trailer including the episode titles. It should be released in early summer 2017.

 

 

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This Is The Start Of A Promising Dramedy

This Is Us is part of this fall’s new lineup and premiered on Tuesday. It centers on the celebration of the 36th birthday of different characters that are connected to each other somehow. The show explores the lives of strangers as they intertwine at a transitional time.

For instance, there is Kate (Chrissy Metz) who hits rock-bottom and decides to join a group to help her lose weight and her brother Kevin (Justin Hartley) a handsome up and coming actor who dramatically quits his job. Small screen sweethearts Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia also star in this comedy/ drama. They play a loving couple expecting triplets.

Sterling K. Brown portrays a well-established man who looks like he has it all. It is revealed that he is looking to reconnect with his father who abandoned him at a fire station when he was a baby. He finds his dad after receiving his information from a detective and impulsively invites him to meet his grandchildren at his home.

One thing this pilot does great is to leave you intrigued as to how it is possible that these seemingly very different people are linked together. A certain air of mystery remains at the last few minutes of the episode.

Indeed, it will be interesting to see how This Is Us grapples with a dual timeline, as it is shown that Moore and Ventimiglia’s characters are living in the 1980’s. They represent the birth and the upbringing of the main characters. It also seems that Kate, Kevin and Randall (Sterling K. Brown) are siblings, a dynamic that is yet to be explored.

I think it will grow to become a family drama, a show were the relationships are front and center in the likes of Parenthood or Gilmore Girls with a (not comparable but still there) Sense 8 level of intrigue and mystery. Maybe these characters are linked in a supernatural manner, it’s doutbful but for now it could be a possibility.

This Is Us is promising, I bet there will be more than one season with a lot of drama and heartwarming moments ahead.

Suicide Squad Hits and Misses

At last, I give you a review of one of this summer’s most anticipated blockbusters: Suicide Squad. I was a little apprehensive before watching because it seems that everyone who has seen this movie has a definite opinion it. Either people love it or loathe it. An element that can explain this is all the hype that surrounds the film and of course its sacred universe, DC.

Suicide Squad tells the reluctant band together of the world’s most dangerous villains and criminals including Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Dead Shot (Will Smith), Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). One of the main reason of their imprisonment is their unique and inhuman abilities such as Deadshot’s perfect aim and Diablo’s power to yield fire.

Before they actually become an ensemble, each character is broken down with their abilities, facts and backstories by a visual file.I found it advantageous to viewers- like myself- that aren’t that familiar with the comics.

This gang of not so merry fellow is called upon by a secret government agency lead by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis)to prevent the impending apocalypse. Indeed, under mysterious circumstances, the Enchantress (Cara Delavigne) takes over anthropologist  June Moone’s body to exact revenge on all human kind. This witch brings back to life her more imposing brother and creates and army of guards thanks to her power.

All in all, it’s worth watching if you don’t have many expectations. Because of the iconic stature of characters like the Joker and Harley Quinn and the fact that the members of the Suicide Squad have lived through (and have inflicted) a lot of pain, their mental state should be deranged. Although in the movie, the portrayal of delusion and craziness especially from the Joker was subdued and disappointing to me. The psychological torture is explored especially when Harley Quinn’s backstory is presented but the backlash on her emotional state felt understated as well.

I would rate Suicide Squad 3 out of 5 stars. It has all the ingredients of a superhero movie, albeit in this case the protagonists are villains. Knowing that there were pressures to release the film early August and that scenes were re-shot to please the studios, in the end it shows. The DVD release will probably include more pieces that could of made this film more cohesive and frankly more badass. It is also undeniable that sequels will come as it is hinted by a brief scene after the credits.

High Strung (2016)

High Strung (2016) is one of Netflix’s new movie releases. The plot is very simple: it’s rich girl meets poor boy but both are artists. She is a ballerina at a posh conservatory while he is a violinist peddling in subway stations of New York City. High Strung is another one of those movies where an unlikely group of teens band together to win a contest with a big cash prize. The main characters are Ruby and Johnnie who start a romance and share passion for their art. Ultimately, they merge their styles to win the contest.

The thing is the premise of the storyline is unbelievable from the start which can be off-putting. The struggle of Johnnie is unrealistic and unapparent. He is a British immigrant who doesn’t have a visa but lives in a lavish loft. His neighbors who form a struggling dance crew also do not seem like they lack riches as they also live in a studio.

It is important to consider that the leads are relatively newcomers Keenan Kampa (Ruby) and Nicholas Galitzine (Johnnie). Jane Seymour makes cameos as a dance instructor, she is the only recognizable actor in the movie.

One of the most irritating appearances is the snotty Queen B ballerina that comes here and there throughout the movie for no legitimate reason. This falls into the stereotypical formula in movies where there is often a character whose sole purpose is to undermine the good protagonist. It also reinforces the catfight trope where females are pitted against one another. These scenes feel totally out of place and do not serve the plot at all. It looks like the snotty ballerina appears only to try to add drama or angst to Ruby.

High Strung is a predictable teen flick that lacks coherence especially in terms of the protagonists socioeconomic background. Additionally, it doesn’t stray from the genre’s general formula, there isn’t much to look forward to except maybe the final performance.

I give it 2 out of 5 stars.

Get down with “The Get Down”

Last Friday, August 12th Netflix dropped part 1 of The Get Down of the anticipated series co-created by Baz Luhrmann and Stephen Adly Guirgis. Set in the late 1970s in the South Bronx, the storyline centers on a teenage boy named Ezekiel (Justice Smith) with raw talent for poetry and a desire to pursue music. He and his friends band together to chase their musical dream and create an innovative sound. As they jam together, they discover and combine each of their talents. With practice new music emerges incorporating raping, singing and writing as well as a DJ which create the groups unique style.

An ode to New York the show never the less explores political and social issues including racial profiling, discrimination, sexism and power. The show explores the explosion of disco music and the tensions that arise with the Church notably. This issue is shown through Mylene (Herizen F. Guardiola) a young girl with big disco dreams and an amazing voice who is fiercely discouraged to pursue her passion by her father Pastor Ramon Cruz (Giancarlo Esposito). On the other hand, her uncle Francisco ‘Papa Fuerte’ Cruz brilliantly played by Jimmy Smits cherishes his niece’s dream and helps her become a recording artist. He also plays an important role in the community and believes that South Bronx can become a proud city and that poverty will be addressed.

As soon as you start watching the show you can recognize Baz Luhrmann’s signature, there is great attention to detail and esthetic, especially for the settings and colors used for the lighting and the wardrobe. The visuals feature sometimes grainy film and clips from that period such as news reports. I also found it interesting that street art was explored and showcased mainly through Jayden Smith’s character “Dizzee”.

The Get Down is for music lovers especially of soul, disco and hip-hop. It feels true to the 1970s, the costumes and the music are groovy and fitting of the times. The show is a drama and a musical.  It’s music history with an uplifting as well as at times harsh plotlines. This demonstrates how New York grows and how the Bronx is changing drastically at that time. The last two episodes are particularly good as the drama builds and Ezekiel and the boys get ready for a DJ battle and Mylene gets her first on-stage performance.

The soundtrack alone makes The Get Down worth watching as it is incredible featuring both classic and contemporary artists from Donna Summers to Christina Aguilera. Herizen Guardiola’s vocals are also exceptional, a great discovery higlighted by the song “Set Me Free”.

If you haven’t checked it out yet, get a glimpse by watching the main trailer.

 

 

Comfort television, a thing of the past?

There is no denying the craze for shows such as Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. These shows reach people (myself included!) all over the world who share the bloodshed, the killing off of characters and the violence that are common occurrences. Plot twists in the like, although they keep us on the edges of our seats, file under one common tread: instant gratification. Violence becomes a commodity when all you see is the slaughtering of the king and his family or repeated fights through hordes of zombies by slashing them open. We get used to these portrayals of brutal and senseless murders, ‘biter’ guts exposed and the not so occasional revenge-driven blood baths (cue the Red Wedding or almost anything Ramsey Bolton related). Of course these instances arguably serve the story and intensify the drama but sometimes it’s overkill.

There is a case to be said about watching shows where you are not worried that your favorite character might die after every episode. Shows where you grow fond of the characters and get to see them evolve through each season.

A few weeks ago it was officially announced that the Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix would be available for streaming on November 25th. The news of the return of this series drew me back to it, I immediately started re-watching. It’s as relatable nay more relatable than when I first watched it when I was younger. The show is really character driven focusing on the mother and daughter relationship between Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel). When watching it’s as if you are reconnecting with old friends who talk fast and LOVE coffee. Gilmore Girls equals getting cozy and eating comfort food.

About at the same time, I started watching The Walking Dead which are from two completely different universes. I wondered if watching these shows simultaneously has an objective such as procuring an appeasing cycle: zombie attack and slaughter followed by Lorelai and Rory’s witty repartee then repeat. Maybe I’m just an avid watcher of a plethora of different genres but it feels like I am subconsciously trying to balance out the gore to heartwarming ratio. This got me wondering if the top watched shows of the hour still are able to bring an innocence or center on modern relationships? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy both genres of entertainment but has one gained the upper hand? Apart from some long standing sitcoms such as Friends, How I Met Your Mother or The Office, in the last decade, it feels like the coming of age or character centered shows have become less mainstream on the networks. A genre that maybe has become more easily accessible on streaming like Grace & Frankie and The Mindy Project. It seems like once you’re up to date with your sitcoms you have to wait until the next season airs to get that comfort vibe, but if you’re looking for crime or suspenseful shows you have plenty of choices…

Do you have trouble finding shows that aren’t on the gory or murderous spectrum? Or rather, do you go through the counter violence balancing act?

You’ve Got “Nerve”

 

I saw “Nerve” with no expectations. Meaning I hadn’t heard anything about the movie prior to seeing it in theaters. Needless to say, this is a rare occasion since I always am a well-documented watcher; checking reviews, the cast, hell even trivia… IMDB is my go-to on a regular basis. But for some reason I didn’t come across any of the publicity promoting the film except for the trailer, a few moments before watching it on the big screen.

In this movie, Emma Roberts plays the titular character Vee, an ordinary high school student who could be perceived as a cookie-cutter with a cautious perspective on life. She has a close-knit group of friends and a good relationship with her mother played by Juliette Lewis.

After being confronted for her lack of risk taking by her best friend Sydney (Emily Meade) following a humiliating incident, Vee decides to join Nerve as a player. She rapidly gets caught up in this secret online game where completing dares in real time equals cash rewards.

The game is explained in the movie as “truth or dare without the truth”. Which at first may seem as contradictory but the statement actually might reveal the darkness lying beneath the surface.  If innocent at the beginning, the dares build to a suspenseful ending. Vee’s first dare “kiss a stranger” leads her to meet Ian (Dave Franco), a fellow player of the game in a diner. With their increasing popularity online, they decide to become partners.

In the beginning, when Vee creates her Nerve profile, it collected all of her digital footprint from her Facebook profile to her shared bank account with her mother. While she and Ian team up and accomplish dares (created by their followers), her gains are directly deposited in her account, and when she wants to back out, every penny is withdrawn…

Rather than an other brainless teen flick, “Nerve” offers a crucial message about Internet privacy, security and virtual identity. It depicts the contemporary reality of mass social media usage as well as trolling and cyberbullying and the effects of peer pressure. A depiction that rings true to the world 2.0 of today showcasing a lesser known side of the web (notably Big Data). It raises important questions about Internet usage without adopting a preachy attitude. These interrogations include: How is personal information stored? Who has access to that information? When I say “I agree”, what I’m I signing up to?

This movie criticizes the strive to becoming insta famous and seeking glory at all costs. This mainstream idea of success proves to be unideal, even dangerous. “Nerve” effectively demonstrates the downfall of the quest to become viral. It shows that the notions of privacy and security can easily be skewed.

The film also pokes at the concept of anonymity online where users feel free to express anything on social media without any second thought. Anonymity makes some feel empowered to call to hate and violence; they do not think that another person is actually at the end of the screen.

The exposé is done whilst including traditional landmarks of the teen movie such as the crush, the romance, the friendships and the catfight which serve the intrigue. In the midst of the Pokemon Go craze, where accidents as well as lack of judgement happen when entrenched in the game, “Nerve” couldn’t come out at a better time.

All in all, I was surprisingly pleased by Emma Roberts portrayal of Vee, a character that strays from the frequent “Queen B” roles she had in the past. She transposed onto the screen a teenager that has a strong sense of justice and is still figuring out who she wants to be. Even if she makes mistakes she isn’t afraid to get back at the game and denounce it as morally corrupt.

‘Quantico’, A Melodramatic Battlefield

This drama and crime series is frontlined by Indian actress Priyanka Chopra. ‘Quantico’ comes from the mind of  former ‘Gossip Girl’ writer and ‘Smash’ executive-producer Joshua Safran. Although themes such as crime and mystery might seem left-field for him, the show succeeds. The network even added more episodes to its first season, now totaling to 19 episodes. Some things are evidently done right.This show has undoubtedly Shonda Rhimes qualities and characteristics. It presents strong female characters who are non apologetically bad-ass. It has universal appeal, with a wide range of diverse characters coming from different walks of life. As recruits for the FBI, each trainee has to prove themselves and show their strengths to impress officers O’Connor (Josh Hopkins) and Shaw (Aunjanue Ellis).  They also have to make strides to preserve their spot in the famous institute.

‘Quantico’ is a who dunnit with a twist, as each episode operates in a two-time narrative. First, there is the present day where Parrish (Chopra) is accused of leading a terrorist attack from inside the FBI during her training. Second, are flashbacks which give insights on the other trainees: their personal histories and their relationships. These provide background and complementary information aiding the viewer to try to figure out who was the mastermind behind the devastating attack. In that sense, everyone is a suspect and may have a motive that prompted them to orchestrate this devilish plan.

Indeed, after each episode, another recruit appears to be incriminating. I have to admit that the first episode which premiered last September hadn’t completely convinced me to stick around. Although it had good moments,it hadn’t made me long for more. Upon recommendation and because of Chopra’s charm on screen, I decided to give the show a second chance. ‘Quantico’ grows better as each episode unfolds, more drama, twists and turns make light of day and nourishes the storytelling. If at first it seemed predictable and unauthentic (law enforcement proceedings-wise, the last moments of the first episode come to mind…). What I mean to say is that in ‘Quantico‘ dramatic sometimes prevails over realistic. In that first episode were jammed-back hints of every recruit’s backstory to instill in the viewers the notion that, once again, every single one of them could of done it. On the other hand, this also makes place for a lot of character development and many layers to one’s story. Gradually, the series does get breezier. It focuses on a number of story lines, without becoming overwhelming.

Overall, the FBI Academy in ‘Quantico’, as a whole is aesthetically appealing. Beautiful people and up to date facilities and exotic locations are set in order for each recruit to try to better themselves. Every episode brings an exercise to be completed and an ability to be learned. It’s a race against time as well as competing against their colleagues; knowing their strengths and exploiting their weaknesses. Some of the missions include: safely freeing hostages, finding evidence and creating a persona to go undercover. Knowing how to  play nice and work under pressure becomes essential. There is also glamour and flings behind the though job they are preparing to enter.  The show sometimes seem soap opera-esque, especially the lust and the banter between characters in certain scenes. An important redeeming quality of ‘Quantico’ are supporting roles namely Simon Asher (Tate Ellington)whose intentions are never clear and has many layers to his personality. Chopra as the leading lady is also refreshing as she brings a certain sincerity. Both of their portrayal are complex and multifaceted which is one good reason you might find yourself coming back to the show.

Are you looking for something entertaining but not too intricate and a likable and fierce heroine? Then, ‘Quantico’ might be your next favorite show of this fall’s lineup. It currently airs on Sunday nights on ABC.

My rating of ‘Quantico’ five episodes-in: 3.5/5

Adele says ‘Hello’ Again After 4 Years Off

Thursday, it was announced that Adele would be releasing soon a new single for her upcoming album ’25’. As her last album ’21’ had acclaimed success back in 2011, it is to be expected that her latest project receives a lot of love as well. Adele still has a solid fan base notably on social media. Her return certainly does not come unnoticed. Her new tune brings growth and consistency in her vocal talents and image. Her new song ‘Hello’ is a gut-wrenching power ballad about trying to reconnect and possibly making amends with lost love. These are themes that will be central and thoroughly explored on her upcoming album. As the songstress teased on Twitter in an open-letter addressed to her 23.5 million followers, the idea of making up will be important on ’25’.

As for the music video for ‘Hello’, it plays on a very neutral palette, as the entire video is in a sepia color calling to the past. It was directed by acclaimed Canadian director Xavier Dolan. It is simple, minimalist but not to be underestimated. Starting out with Adele talking briefly on the phone,  with sunglasses and her back to the camera; there are many cinematic elements. The atmosphere established is lightly reminiscent of those of film noir . There is confusion as to the state of the relationship she is singing about. For instance, there are hints indicating that the lover has passed to the other side. The styling also evokes another period. ‘Hello’ has an aerie vibe bringing as well melancholy, as Adele mulls over and tries to reconcile with a lost love.

’25’ can now be pre-ordered and will be available on November 20th.

Featured image: @adele

What’s Going On?

This post could as easily been titled “Consistency:The Struggle Is Real”…

This is the last year of my Bachelor’s degree. It has started roughly a month ago and I can already foresee and picture the infinite work , lectures and checklist ahead (basically any University student’s life). Hence I haven’t posted as much as previous months (for the time being). I am however meeting my minimum goal which is to post at least once a week. Additionally, I am on Twitter daily, I find it is an easier way to share insightful articles and interact, so feel free to join me! @_Artisticviews_

I have also taken the Blogging 201 course here on WordPress. I have hopes that it will help me develop my competences and skills. Having taken a cinema class this semester called ‘Cinema, gender and sexuality’, I am entertaining the idea of posting thoughts about the class’ filmography.  This could be an easy way to ensure consistency of content. Does this sound like an interesting concept? I would like feedback, as to know if this sounds like a good and potentially interesting idea!