Big Little Lies – television at its very best

If you haven’t watched Big Little Lies already you probably should. No, seriously. Stop reading this now and watch it. Now. Do it right now.

Big Little Lies‘ perfection begins with Jean-Marc Vallée. The director, celebrated for Dallas Byers Club and Wild, creates moving pictures that are rich in emotional depth and thematically brave. This television mini-series, adapted from Liane Moriarty’s novel of the same name, boasts a phenomenal a-list ensemble and welcomes fresh young talent too. It’s a collaborative masterpiece that reads more as a feature-length film than usual series fare, a trait that works in its favour.

Essentially a series of conversations and betrayals amongst a group of women in the picturesque coastal town of Monterey, California, Big Little Lies seats us in a serene paradise that juxtaposes the actions of its people. The lives of five woman unfold over seven episodes as their first-grader children embark on their first year of school. Bullying, domestic abuse, marriage and friendship are all presented to us in brave and bold new ways with an explorative eye and level of intricacy perhaps unseen before.

Whether it’s in the knowing looks shared between two friends, or the layered and fragmented relationships seen between four married couples, writer David E. Kelley and his director Vallée explore the exasperation and tribulations these mothers feel and the secret brutality of their apparently perfect world as it crumbles around them. Much of the narrative focuses on Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Perry ( Alexander Skarsgård). At first this pair seem blissfully – and passionately – happy in their million-dollar home by the sea with two cute-as-a-button boys. This facade is quickly shattered by the realisation that they share a dark secret; Perry is a violent and psychotic husband who frequently beats Celeste, repenting with flowers and expensive jewellery. The abuse escalates as the series goes on and these scenes, directed with an uncomfortably intimate lens, depict domestic abuse in an unnerving and realistic plot-thread that works to remind us that this is a deadly serious (and often silent) issue in society.

The total isolation of Kidman’s Celeste is portrayed in aching moments of sadness in a doctor’s office and her inability to acknowledge the depth of her martial situation effectively points to the stigma surrounding physical abuse behind closed doors. Celeste isn’t weak, in fact she’s an accomplished lawyer, loving mother, and friend-to-all who is slowly losing sight of her self as her controlling husband tightens his psychological grip. Kidman and Skarsgård are both revelations here, particularly the latter, as he showcases what broad talent he really does have under his fluffy cinematic roles, while fearlessly embodying Perry and his brewing malevolence. The scenes shared between the two aren’t an easy watch but this serves a bruising, thought-provoking purpose.

Shailene Woodley, Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies.

While the series is an ensemble piece, Reese Witherspoon often takes lead. The Oscar-winning actress is a sensation as Madeleine; intelligent, cutting, sharp, self-aware and, actually, a champion of what it means to be a mother and a woman. She is flawed and imperfect, while from the outside perspective of fellow parents she appears to define what it is to be an upper class woman in contemporary America, she’s perhaps the most complex character in the story we see. Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern also star, each battling their own demons in the confines of Monterey. The location becomes a character too which, despite its aesthetic beauty, is rammed with ugly secrets.

The seven episodes are accompanied by an emotive soundtrack which includes Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young and Leon Bridges that serves the narrative so well, it’s a treat on the ears while the show itself is often tremendously tough on the eyes. Each episode escalates in its many engimas while questions are slowly answered and secrets unveiled, before the final You Get What You Need ties up loose ends. This cathartic episode represents the unbreakfable bond between women and their utterly inimitable strength too.

Big Littles Lies is an incredible landmark in contemporary television. I would say it’s a rare example of what the small screen can achieve, but I hope it will be one of many sharp, witty and significant pieces of art to come that shouldn’t – and surely won’t – be forgotten. This is flawless drama at its honest best.

Game of Thrones, season five

HBO, what have you done to us? Ten episodes. Ten weeks. Now another year to wait until the events of season five can be further explained. Will we see Jon again? Did Stannis really get his head lopped off? What of Sansa and Theon? And the biggest shocker of them all; will we continue to feel sorry for Cersai? Seriously, who saw that one coming? But, enough with the rhetorical – or, perhaps, not so rhetorical – questions. Time for reflection.

Series five has probably been the best of a bunch that have all been pretty stand out. Never a show to follow the pace of a snail, we move from one narrative to another, one set of characters to the next, as the battle for the Iron Throne continues. Foul language, gratuitous violence, unexplained events that make our skin crawl and our hairs stand up on end – this is, and probably always will be, what Game of Thrones is all about. It’s a bit much, really. But who would have it any other way?

While season four was Peter Dinklage’s AKA Tyrion Lannister‘s show, season five has successfully focGame-of-Thrones-Season-4-Logoused on an array of pivotal characters in each episode. Emilia Clarke as Daenerys, Sophie Turner as Sansa, and of course Kit Harington as Jon are just three in a cast of many who have engulfed us in original – and compelling –  storytelling that never treads the line of samey.

From the dark, cold and atmospheric locales of Winterfell and The Night’s Watch to the sun-drenched planes of Marine and King’s Landing, these ferocious tales of war, honour and deceit have never been told so damn well. Which is rather odd, really, when we remember that source novelist George R. R. Martin didn’t partake in this season’s teleplay writing. While we move on from what that might suggest, we should quickly – but dutifully, and meaningfully – thank Mr Martin for creating A Song of Fire and Ice. So thank you, and thank you Westeros for being fantastical and not real.

Upon reflection, there are several reasons why series five stands out as the greatest yet. These are simple elements but when combined produce a basis for greatness. And GoT is now firmly in the realms of such a status. One; bad has never prevailed over good so often before now. We, as fans, don’t want that to be the case – we all miss and remember you Rob Stark – but it indicates a kind of scary realism despite the mythical themes of Martin’s world. Two; the CGI has come on leaps and bounds and the brief, but impressive, scenes which feature the Dragons are really rather triumphant. Dany riding one was pretty awe-inspiring (if a little over-the-top). Three; The Night’s Watch give us epic scenes of battle that can rival the best of the big-screen. The Crow/Wildling/White Walker conflict certainly won’t be forgotten any time soon.

The enjoyment of GoT is definitely not limited to the above things, but it certainly lends a hand. Bold and unafraid to scare its audience away with moments that really stay with you, D. B. Weiss and David Benioff have created something truly special. It’s hard to imagine how series five could be outdone, but of course we know the creators behind this masterpiece will manage it.

 

a television round up (of sorts)

Television dramas – of all kinds – are totally rocking my world right about now. I’m a broke ass student which means cinema trips are lacking. Who needs the cinema on the regular when you have film worthy T.V. on the small screen? Now, I say ’round up of sorts’ because this is going to be a brief (if you read regularly you’ll know I have no idea what the word brief means) review of three series’ that are all currently airing. It’s extra exciting because said shows couldn’t be further removed from one another which makes for diverse watching and some hella’ interesting reading for you guys too – hopefully. Let the television bashing (or reviewing as most call it) begin.

Nashville, season 3

First up: you don’t need to love country music to enjoy ABC’s smash hit musical drama. Full to the brim with catchy songs and original narratives, Callie Khouri’s stab at the basically unexplored world of American country is one of the best shows on T.V. right now (no, seriously). Nashville‘s ability to stand out as both an up-beat and mellow series, with a healthy mix of both seen in each episode makes it a satisfying watch. Its rare you’ll finish an episode feeling like you need a glass – or two – of wine to cheer your sorry self up.

Unlike most television series’ that revolve around a musical premise, Nashville escapes the cliches that often lead to many a cheesy scenario – ahem Glee. It has sass, and series three – currently on it’s mighty eighteenth episode – continues to promote the talent of cast members Connie Britton, Sam Palladio, Oliver Hudson and a host more. Britton has been a stellar force in previous cult shows such as Fright Night Lights and season one of American Horror Story and to see her embody a Faith Hill-esque character – and give an acting master class in the process – is always a treat.

A unique and refreshing drama which never takes itself too serious but successfully manages to lift the lid on the previously un-seen world of country music.

Game of Thrones, season 5

It’s back. Unfortunately for HBO, it was back one day early and four episodes too soon. I felt sorry for them, for they are producers of some of the best small screen fare, and for that we must applaud. When someone swiftly reminded me the millions (probably billions lets be honest) of dollars they rake in each year, I felt less sorry and quickly ran home to watch all four episodes. Plus, Game of Thrones was the most pirated television series of 2014 so I’m not the only one. What followed was some face-clutching, deep in-depth plot analysis and then the thought of oh yeah…another four weeks to wait now’ (common sense has never been my strong suit).

natalie dormer and lena heady as margaery and cersei in game of thrones

natalie dormer and lena heady as margaery and cersei in game of thrones

Without giving too much away – as not everyone has rushed to download – so far, so good. With episodes all at an hour long (or just short of), fans are able to delve straight back into the lives of the Lannister’s and co’ as they await the winter Jon Snow keeps reminding us is coming. Slow and steady seems to be the general theme, while we wait for the warring houses to finally come to a head. Oh, and Sansa is suddenly so bad ass. Season five of HBO’s Game of Thrones is the first to feature episodes without a little help from source writer George R. R. Martin, as he pens his latest novel as part of A Song of Fire and Ice.

We waited a year for this fantasy drama to return, and now we have to wait as the remaining six episodes air. Its worth it.

Bates Motel, season 3

Bates Motel began as a contemporary homage to one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most beloved – and watched – films, Psycho. The classic film set the tone, and genre, for horror’s to come and has been referenced in popular culture many times. A&E brought the 1950’s to twenty-first century America and intelligently placed the Bates family in a realm of their own within their old-school motel, juxtaposing Vera Farmiga’s Norma and Freddie Highmore’s Norman against the locals of new home White Pine Bay.

The enigma and interest that came with the first two seasons of Bates Motel, as well as the sub-plot of a cannabis-related economy that engulfs the town, has been left behind. What dominates now are moody conversations and under-thought story-lines. Don’t get me wrong, Highmore in a woman’s dressing gown embodying the spirit of his mother and making waffles is certainly a sight to see – and for the first time we were able to see the real talent he possesses as an adult actor – but, beyond the presentation of great acting, there isn’t much else being explored.

Vera Farmiga as Norma has taken hold in season 3. With a back-story coming into play that has been building bit by bit since series one, Farmiga dominates the screen and the show is less about Norman‘s psychotic tendencies and more about his mother’s tragic past. The tables have turned and we now find ourselves defending her, despite her wrongdoings.

It will be interesting to see if A&E continue their foray into the lives of the Bates family pre-Psycho following the end of season three.

Television series of the year (2014)

We were overwhelmed by a number of fantastic television series’ last year. From cinematic values to production budgets and big screen actors taking on roles in T.V. drama; there were a selection of stand-out programmes that continue to entertain and impress audiences. My show of the year premiered with its fourth season in 2014, and it was by far it’s best. With a legion of fans and a plethora of critical acclaim, it wasn’t difficult in deciding what would take the title. It is, of course, HBO’s Game of Thrones.

With only ten episodes (and each outstandingly good) Game of Thrones sealed its title as show of the year. Upping the anti GOT reminded critics and audiences each week why this series remains firmly at the top. With a strong cast (the majority of whom were relatively unknown before season one) and a unique fantasy element that never treads into corny territory, series four gave audiences riveting entertainment on the small screen. And, it’s just damn cool.

Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey, Kit Harrington, Peter Dinklage, Charles Dance and co (the ensemble cast provide talent from all ends of the world) all returned to make the fourth season a masterclass in television greatness. With a narrative that follows George R. R. Martin’s beloved novels, we were able to indulge in episodes containing mythical creatures, sexy warriors and some head-twisting enigma that had us all ask ‘Seriously, whaaaat?’. Whether you sit down to follow Daenerys in her battle to free all slaves or you enjoy the British banter that Tyrion and Bronn (played by the wonderful Jerome Flynn) bring to it, or perhaps are secretly rooting for Jaime (don’t worry, we all understand) GOT seems to spark with a unique personality that has an element of entertainment for everyone. Oh, and its never afraid to offend – and that’s always something to be celebrated in television

Its controversial, it follows an almost uncountable amount of main characters and has been graced by some of the best British acting talent in its run so far. With a stand-out episode last year, simply titled The watchers on the wall, fans can relish in the fact that with Martin still writing source material, Game of Thrones will be around for some time to come. Below are three reasons why this fantasy drama pipped the post and received the title of television series of the year:

1) Peter Dinklage as Tyrion: From series one Tyrion has been a character on everyone’s minds – he’s the underdog that has viewers talking, and in the latter half of season four Dinklage firmly took centre stage in making Mr Lannister the main agenda. With Tyrion‘s season four story ending in brutal death and a swift escape, fans can’t wait to see what series five will bring. Dinklage brings witty humour (much appreciated in a programme dominated by death and heads lopping off) and a general humanity to Tyrion that appears to be missing in the rest of his family members (the main culprit being Cersei).

promotional still from game of thrones

promotional still from game of thrones

2) The show’s cinematography courtesy of Jonathan Freeman, David Franco, Anette Haellmigk, Rob McLachlan and Fabian Wagner. Five director’s of photography should ultimately lead to fantastic scenery and damn good looking locations – thankfully, it did. From season one, the cast have been supported by locales to work with that set the tone of this fantasy drama perfectly. Beyond the picturesque imagery GOT features it also gives viewers contrasting settings, from King’s Landing to Winterfell – from the low-key lighting and gritty atmosphere the latter brings to the exotic aura of Westeros’ capital. Each episode lends to a specific vibe, and the photography is central to that.

3) D.B Weiss and David Benioff’s writing abilities lend to quote worthy dialogue and some awe inspiring monologues (everyone has to love a bit of “Winter is coming”) . Season four gave audiences two stand-out scenes that were driven by the teleplay and owed to plenty of re-watching. Speech one was a pre-battle prep talk from series veteran Owen Teale as Allisser Thorne, while generally loathed, Thorne came up trumps with his echoing words that seemed so natural its easy to forget The Nights Watch is part of a fantasy world. Speech two was delivered by Tyrion and his slandering of the stuck-up inhabitants of King’s Landing was enough to make anyone clap their hands together like an excited seal (just me then…?). Slick and intelligent, together Benioff, Weiss (and a host more) give Martin’s novels a run for their money, and stand firmly as their own works.

Westeros, dragons, enough supporting characters to shake a stick at, and an original narrative that can easily rival any television series out there today –  Game of Thrones is a phenomenal fantasy drama that is unabashedly over-the-top (but wonderfully so), and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Entourage trailer finally graces our screens

The moment has finally come that the trailer for Doug Ellin’s eagerly anticipated Entourage has dropped online. Lets all say ‘YAY’ in unison now. Featuring season favourites Jeremy Piven, Adrien Grenier, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Connolly, and Kevin Dillon the trailer gives us a generous look into what audiences can expect from this filmic version of the beloved television series.

Entourage (if you are unfamiliar) ran for eight seasons and cemented itself as one of the best television drama/comedy series’ of recent years. Following Vincent Chase (Grenier) and his pals as they navigate the often tricky world of Hollywood, the show was overwhelmed with recognition and an Emmy (or six). Known for its mix of comedy and genuine drama, Entourage became a favourite amongst audiences around the world and often challenged the glitz and glamour lifestyle that L.A. has become famed for. The stand-out performance for many was Jeremy Piven as Ari, and to see his appearance in the majority of this first trailer is certainly something to be pleased about.

promotional still for entourage

promotional still for entourage

Beginning with a brief look at Vinnie‘s newest venture (futuristic sci-fi meets Project X if you like), which features an unexpected cameo from Calvin Harris, the trailer is dominated by scenes of partying, bikini-clad women and laugh-out loud humour (lets hope they haven’t used every comedic moment for the teaser). While this first offering gives little away concerning narrative, followers of the series will be a-buzz making educated guesses plot-wise; so, Ari did take that studio job – but what of his marriage? Are E and Sloan still going strong? What’s happened to Sophia and Vinnie?

With a tonne of questions and just over five months to go until the June 5th release date, audiences can gear up for the long-awaited return of Vince, E, Drama, Turtle and Ari. Expect profane language, egos galore and – hopefully – a lot of giggles.

Future films to get excited for

One of the best thing’s about being a film fanatic is the fact that there is an endless supply of new material to get your teeth stuck into. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the films to come at the end of this year, and the new year and this inspired me to write this post about those films! I would also love to hear about what up-and-coming projects have got you excited, so drop a comment and let me know! I’ve selected four films to chat about, all completely different, some with a release date in the next few months, some not until later on in 2015, but all unique and hella-exciting.

gosling on the set of lost river

gosling on the set of lost river

First up, Lost River, a film that has already been screened (at the Cannes Film Festival), to both positive and negative reactions from the audience. Lost River is the first directorial effort from actor Ryan Gosling, and has technically been released (but is yet to hit UK cinemas, so for the sake of this post, we’ll make an exception and include it!). Gosling is said to take great influence from directors like David Lynch and pal Nicholas Winding Refn, but the word on the street after its Cannes debut was that Lost River looked and felt all too familiar, meaning Gosling’s abilities as a director were definitely questioned by critics and film-goers alike. Despite this 50/50 reaction from the film’s premier in May (its said that some of the audience even got up and walked out), the trailer, and plot, definitely gave me reason to be both excited, and intrigued, to see what Gosling has to offer here. Starring previous co-stars Ben Mendelsohn (one of my favorite actors of the past couple of years), Christina Hendricks and Eva Mendes Lost River follows several characters (que some strange names including Bones, Rat and Bully) as they navigate life both above, and below water. All this seems pretty perplexing, and the trailer didn’t clear things up much more, but with a cast like this, and a director with a vision like Gosling’s, Lost River could be one of the best commercial art films in a long while (if Gosling can bring in a crowd for Only God Forgives, there’s hope).

Next up, a change in direction, and a look at a film that there is little to no information about. But this next offering is something to certainly get excited about; its Jurassic World! So, what do we know? The initial release date was said to be May, but now it looks like June 2015 is when it’ll hit (hola Summer blockbuster), Colin Trevorrow is taking the helm as director (an interesting choice here, bring Spielberg back!) and there’s an array of up-and-comers starring (including The Kings of Summer Nick Robinson and Twilight‘s Bryce Dallas Howard). So, a different director, and a whole new cast, but what of the story? The title seems to be pretty self-explanatory so far – Jurassic World will be set on Isla Nublar, twenty years after Jurassic Park (I don’t think anyone needs to be reminded what went on there), now a theme park open to anyone who wishes to visit (did they learn nothing?), it looks as though the dinos are gonna team up and take back the island for themselves. Filming wrapped in August so a teaser trailer can be expected soon, hopefully with a feature trailer to follow early in the new year. If Trevorrow can bring back the intensity of the original, and if there’s a new spin to the story, Jurassic World could patch up the wrong-doings of Jurassic Park 3. Watch this space.

the first poster for jurassic world is released

the first poster for jurassic world is released

Third up, another franchise re-working. Terminator: Genysis, has been on the cards for a while, and is finally in the works. A release date of Summer 2015 is expected at the moment (a little competition between this and Jurassic World perhaps?) and the film will welcome back Arny as the beloved (and equally hated) Terminator. Again, we have a bunch of up and coming actors to get ourselves info-d up on before it hits screens and a whole new look at a world full of killer robots. Sounds fun, right? Right now, I’m not sure whether to be excited or weary about the thought of a new Terminator film considering the franchise took a dip somewhat after Judgement Day, but with not a lot to go on right now my hopes are high that we’ll see a return to form (that form being the days when the Terminator films had witty humor, awe-inspiring effects and an original and unique storyline). Alan Taylor, director of Thor: The Dark World is taking the lead here, and with the success, and size of that, Taylor taking the helm could be pretty promising. Get ready to expect a re-imagining of a robot-lead world, time-hopping and lots of snazzy one-liners.

Last, but most certainly not least (this is actually the film I am most excited for), is Entourage, yes that’s right, there is going to be a film version of one of the funniest (and personally my most beloved) television shows to grace our screens. HBO, we love you. Not a lot needs to be said story-wise if you’re clued up on the series (if you’re not, you have until June 2015 to catch up, and trust me, it’ll be worth your time), as the film is going to take off exactly where things were wrapped up (in short, the boys all achieved what they had been after all along, and Ari discovered he didn’t need the business to be happy – or did he?). Dillon, Grenier, Piven, Ferrara, Connolly (plus more) are all to return, and expect some well-known celebs playing alter-egos of themselves, for your humorous effect of course. Whether you are already a fan, or completely oblivious of Entourage, you wont watch to miss what will be one of the funniest films of 2015. Never afraid to be controversial, and wonderfully adult, Entourage is a project to be excited for. Go and get that box-set, to either discover (or re-discover) the boys as they find their feet in Hollywood and become a permanent fixture on your T.V screen (and soon to be cinema screen).

These are just four of hundreds of films that will grace mine, and your, screens in the next year. There are so many more to research, mark in your calender, love/hate and discover from war drama Unbroken to the Bards Macbeth and adaptations like Tulip Fever. Enjoy!

 

True Blood season 7; the series so far

The final season of what, at times, has felt like an over-long, drawn-out television series has arrived. I often defend True Blood, classing it as one of my favourite T.V shows, but what started as a quite compelling show, with thrilling and original story lines came crashing down in season six with a just too out there plot line. If you are up-to-date with the show like me, then you’ll be aware of the Nazi-esque prison camp which was the main setting for season six, with experiments on both vampires and humans taking place. Bill (or Billith as he became referred too), became some kind of malevolent Vampire God, and the trailer trash government of the South put in place plans to exterminate all Vampires. Putting all the weirdness aside, it was at times an entertaining ride (courtesy of Alexander Skarsgard’s Eric, as is often the case), and came to an end which put viewers firmly on the edge of theirs seats eagerly awaiting the arrival of the seventh and final season. Season seven is now in its fifth week (apologies for such a late post), and it took until last weeks Death is not the End for True Blood to finally return to its shining form of seasons one and two. The death toll is high in this final season, cutting loose ends (and characters who have been long disliked by audiences’). New Vampires have arrived, both normal and crazed (True Blood likes a heavy dose of both), and one in particular has quickly become a firm favourite of mine. Jessica’s new boyfriend James (Nathan Parsons), who was introduced in the camp in season six but replaced by a different actor for this final showdown is quite simply, one hell of a cool dude. He’s sexy, humane, and his friendship (perhaps relationship come the end) with the outrageous Lafayette is one of the most interesting elements of the season.

Opening with a super stylish battle between a  group of crazed Hep-V infected Vamps and the humans and healthy vampires of Bon Temps, season seven promised good things to come. Tara, a veteran of the show was killed off in the first moments of episode one, but that doesn’t mean shes gone forever in a show which celebrates all things supernatural. Starting so superbly, I was left disappointed as the rest of the opening fell short, with little happening apart from conversations between various couples about the state of the South, who have all been but neglected by the the rest of America. Episodes two and three were nothing special, with a long-winded display of how bad things have got for the small towns of red-neck America, and little screen time for firm favourite’s Eric and Pam. Finally episodes four and five came and saved the day. Death is not the End saw some rather hilarious flashbacks to how Fangtasia came to be, and Erics reunion with Bill, Sookie and the rest of the gang was a sweet reminder of the glory days of True Blood. Lost Cause, the shows latest offering saw the apparently now recovered town partying away their woes, with goodbyes to relationships and loved ones, and a shock relating to the deadly Hep-V. I wont say too much more, as I’ve gone pretty spoiler crazy but  lets hope the rest of the season is of similar taste.

Putting aside the violence, sex and hill-billy motifs, True Blood has pretty much always been focused on the love story between Bill and Sookie, whether that was lingering in the background or shoved in our faces. The final promises to draw to a close unfinished business for both the characters and the audience, who if are still hanging on in season seven deserve a rather fantastical ending. Known for its frantic energy, and at times bizarre plot lines, True Blood is showing no signs of giving up on delivering a scorcher of a final, returning to its former glory days and perhaps giving us all closure on who, if anyone, Sookie will chose.