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.

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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.