Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Pop Culture Picnic: Volume 1, Number 4


Hello all,
A bit of a light edition of Pop Culture Picnic this week. I blame Jane The Virgin's 22 episode season, but it was well worth it, as you'll see below. Also, I have to apologise but the second half of my Harry Potter retrospective has been delayed until next week. I just ran out of time this week, sorry! Anyway, hope you enjoy.

Second Hand News

While a bit of a slow week in regards to entertainment news (somewhat thankfully after the last two weeks), Doctor Who fans were given a shock when it was announced that Steven Moffat will be leaving the series to be replaced by Chris Chibnall. I must admit that I'm concerned. When Moffat took over, he had a proven track record, having written such classics as Blink and The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, and I knew the series was in good hands. While some people may argue this, I do believe that he's done pretty well during his five years. While some of the later Matt Smith stories were terrible (the whole of season seven, for example), he did a pretty good course correction by casting Peter Capaldi as the Doctor allowing for fresh storytelling (although, we did have the plainest person in the world in the form of Clara). However, I've often thought the series needed a new creator, save becoming stale, so I was happy that Moffat was leaving. The news of his successor, though, does not inspire confidence. Chris Chibnall is a good writer (having created the superlative murder mystery tragedy Broadchurch) but his Doctor Who track record is less inspiring, having been the writer of 42 and The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. It's not that these were bad episodes, but they were plain. I am excited to see the new direction, but if those episodes are indicative of the quality, I am once again concerned about the series' future. Also, what has been less widely reported, is that we aren't getting any new Doctor Who in 2016 until Christmas, which is deeply frustrating. When a series is as popular as this one, why would you wait?

Silver Screen

Room review
2015, Canada/Ireland, directed by Lenny Abrahamson. In Cinemas Now.
Moving and powerful, Room is a difficult film to watch.  A woman, Ma, and her 5 year old son, Jack, are held captive in a tiny  room. As their captor becomes increasingly dangerous, the two must escape from the room, something made even more difficult by the fact that room is the only world Jack knows. Even if they do escape, will Jack and Ma ever adjust to the outside world again? The film is by turns suspenseful and emotionally damaging, but it succeeds by grounding the viewer in the lives of these two characters. It's a deeply intimate experience, becoming more than just a film but something that we too struggle with. Writing about this film is proving to be an immense challenge as I struggle to sum up how I felt about it, and I believe this would be true for anyone who goes to see it. It's such an individual film. In the cinema I watched it in, I was sat with a woman on one side and an elderly man on the other. As the film went along, it was interesting to note our reactions to it. In the deeply suspenseful escape scene, I felt bad because I instinctually reached out for the screen, gesturing Jack to get down, but no-one seemed to notice. In fact, the elderly man whisper-screamed Jack! and had his hands to his face. The fact that it could provoke such responses from the viewer is to its credit, but this works as more than a kidnap/captivity drama. Room takes up only about a third of the film, with the rest of the runtime dedicated to examining how Ma and Jack are coping with real life after being so isolated. It is in these moments that the film really sings, becoming even more emotional and intimate. The tiniest scenes prove the most significant, with the appearance of a dog bringing several people in film club to tears. This film's story is so powerful that it's easy to forget just how strong the performances are. Brie Larson (one of my favourite actresses ever since her astounding performance in Short Term 12) is finally getting the recognition she deserves for what is a very challenging role as Ma, seeing how she struggles to deal with the constant abuse and the inability to accept what happened to her. As Jack, the young Jacob Tremblay is exceptional, showing a wisdom and emotional range far beyond his years. Even the supporting actors do brilliantly here, with Joan Allen (as Jack's grandmother) and Tom McManus (as the grandmother's boyfriend) show a world of emotional empathy. This a deeply empathetic, life-affirming and hopeful film. It's never easy to watch and I'm not entirely sure I'd want to sit through it again, but I can say that I am far richer because of it.
Grade: A

The Danish Girl review
2015, UK, directed by Tom Hooper. In Cinemas Now.
I had high hopes for The Danish Girl. It's a biopic of one of the first people ever to receive a sex-change operation, the Danish artist Einar/Lili, and her relationship with her (ex) wife, Gerda. Unfortunately, it didn't really do anything for me. Visually, this is a stunning film. Eddie Redmayne makes a gorgeous woman and the costumes and locations are jaw-droppingly beautiful. The problem is that I didn't find it emotionally resonant. This is the story of a love that goes beyond traditional ideas of sex and gender, and yet it never engages the audience in that. It tells rather than shows us. One of the most successful scenes in the film shows Einar hiring a prostitute to imitate her actions. As she runs her hand over her body, it shows the difficulty Einar has existing in this body. It's a concrete and powerful moment that works wonderfully. The film itself doesn't, falling into tired tropes and going on far too long, coming to a natural ending then continuing until it gets to something more inevitable. Worse, are the liberties the film takes in regards to showing what really happened. Reading into the true story of events proves to be a difficult experience, considering that the reality would perhaps have made a film that is more interesting, as would more of a focus on Einar/Lili than Gerda. Alicia Vikander does good work, but she's done better elsewhere over the past 12 months (she was in Testament of Youth and Ex Machina) and Eddie Redmayne just sort of stares into the distance most of the time, as though yearning for a better life. Or it could be he's just bored, it's hard to tell. Finn, whom I saw it with, liked it, so it could just be me. But for whatever reason, this keeps the viewer at an emotional distance. Pretty to look at, but not much else sadly.
Grade: C+

On The Tube

Season One observations:
Jane The Virgin has no right being as good as it is. It's premise, that a virgin, Jane, is accidentally artificially inseminated with her former crush's (Rafael) sperm (by her former crush's sister), quickly becomes the least silly thing about it, as all manner of ridiculous soap opera complications barrel the plot forward. Complications that are so mind-bogglingly complex that it's surprising that it's as easy to follow as it is with each new episode bringing new twists and turns, making it supremely addictive. Add to this, the fact that it's all narrated by a very charming Latin Lover narrator who is basically another character on the show, acting as not only a provider of exposition (in fun text that appears onscreen ensuring that the viewer never loses track of what's going on), but as another viewer of the series, cheering on key relationships and encouraging characters to speak their minds. It's whimsical and silly, but it also works really well at tugging at the heartstrings. All of the characters on this show, as ridiculous as they may be, feel like real people reacting to increasingly absurd situations in a way that feels realistic. By the end of this 22 episode season, I grew to care for each and every one of these people as the show refuses to paint them as heroes or villains, but in shades of bright, vibrant colours. I haven't had this much fun or been as addicted to a TV series since Grey's Anatomy or Ugly Betty. It features a brilliantly diverse cast of Latina characters whose passions inform the series, as well as their love for telenovelas (a sort of serial drama popular in Latin America, defined by their over the top plots and character developments). To me, the sign of a really great TV series is how much you miss it when you complete the season. I'm going to miss Jane The Virgin a lot. It brought me to tears, made me laugh and was gripping and enjoyable. It truly has something for everyone and I can't wait for the next season.
Best Episodes - s1e1: Chapter One. s1e4: Chapter Four. s1e6: Chapter Six. s1e8: Chapter Eight. s1e9: Chapter Nine. s1e12: Chapter Twelve. s1e13: Chapter Thirteen. s1e16: Chapter Sixteen. s1e18: Chapter Eighteen. s1e19: Chapter Nineteen. s1e20: Chapter Twenty. s1e21: Chapter Twenty-One. s1e22: Chapter Twenty-Two.
Season Grade: A

Season One observations:
Oh, Sealab 2021. You silly, hilarious and clever piece of television, you! Created by Adam Reed (also creator of Archer, one of my TV favourites), it uses recycled animation from an old Hanna Barbera cartoon (Sealab 2020), dubs it and adds more explosions and weirdness. It's a highly quotable series ("There goes my nipples again!", "Does this photo make me look fat?" "No, but your ass does.") but is perhaps more notable for just how ingenious it is. The first episode is basically one long conversation between the crewmembers about the pros and cons of putting your brain in a robot  body, which grows increasingly complex, as they all ignore the fact that the base is in serious danger of exploding. Later episodes include a very silly (but hilarious) time travel paradox, a hallucinogenic piece of weirdness that boldly makes no sense, Captain Murphy (the inept leader of the base and the show's funniest character) trapped under a drink machine for a year (that one needs to be seen to be believed) and the entire crew stuck in a closet. At only ten minutes, the episodes pack a lot of plot and silliness in, but are never less than entertaining. A few episodes are a little less interesting and formally inventive, but each instalment has some great jokes and moments and I'm looking forward to continuing it over the coming months.
Best Episodes – s1e1: I, Robot. s1e4: Chickmate. s1e5: Lost In Time. s1e6: Predator. s1e8: Waking Quinn. s1e9: All That Jazz. s1e11: In The Closet.
Season Grade: A-

Soap Box
Episodes 22-28 observations:
The fall-out from the death of Catherine Harrington makes for another interesting week on Peyton Place.
   At a hearing, Dr. Rossi must defend his decision to operate on Catherine if he hopes to retain his licence to practice in the hospital and stay in Peyton Place. He believes he will be cleared as the autopsy on her body will reveal that he was justified as she had a perforated ulcer. Except it doesn't. The pathologist, Dr. Bradley, states that there was no ulcer and Rossi had no reason to operate. His licence is suspended, but he suspects Dr. Morton (head of the hospital whose had it in for Rossi since day one) may have been forced the pathologist to lie. He learned Bradley did the autopsy alone as well as disposed of the healthy tissue samples he supposedly recovered (both of which are far from standard procedure).
   Meanwhile, Catherine's will is read. Leslie Harrington (her widower, male form of widow, according to the internet) is hoping to inherit the Peyton Mills (which she had owned, being a former Peyton, but which he had been running). However, a last minute addendum to the will ensures that he still doesn't get it, as ownership is passed to her father. In related Harrington news, Betty is living the high-life and refuses to divorce Rod after Leslie tells her to. Rod (Leslie's son) offers her money to divorce him, but she angrily refuses. Later, he runs into Allison (Constance's daughter) and the two share a tender moment that is interrupted by a very drunk George (father of Betty and wife to Julie).
   Oh, George. He has a very big week. His business venture, an insurance company which he created after leaving Leslie's Mills, is failing. He begins to fear that he'll lose everything, so turns to drinking. Problem is that with alcohol, George is a very abusive and scary man. He abuses his wife Julie before realising that he may need help. He goes to Rossi who suggests that he see a psychiatrist, but George refuses, not wanting to be seen as crazy. Any scenes with these two are usually pretty great, and this is no exception. George compares himself to Rossi (both are being driven to desperation by small town madness and frustration) before getting some pills and going home. While looking through George's files, Rossi discovers that Dr. Bradley (the pathologist) used to be a surgeon and that his change of profession is very odd. He confronts him but gets nowhere. Bradley grows furious and calls Laura Brooks (former wife of surgeon Brooks, current secretary to Rossi and sister of Leslie) to arrange a lunch meeting. She learns that Bradley's final operation as a surgeon was supported by both Morton and Brooks. Her husband never mentioned it to her, which seems needlessly mysterious. The patient, Laura and Rossi discover, is Matthew Swain (friend to Constance and Allison, head of the local newspaper) who seems to be developing a grudge against Rossi's probing.
   Sometime later, George returns to the office and scares Julie out of the office. She runs to Leslie (her former fling) to ask him to beg for George's job back and nothing more. He agrees (in attempt to get Julie back) but George sees her leaving the mill. What follows is a scene of nail biting tension and absolute terror. A very, very drunk George returns home and explodes, throwing his glass at Julie before stating that he needs to teach her a lesson and holding up a bottle menacingly. She manages to knock him out with a phone (!), but it's the scariest we've ever seen George. He's such a great character, so self-destructive and complex, that it's horrific to see him spiral like this. She calls Rossi who rushes George to the hospital, but he is kicked out (no hospital licence remember). He grows furious and confronts Bradley again, suggesting that something happened in the operation on Matt, and he rigged the autopsy to thank Morton for saving his career. Once Rossi leaves, Bradley goes to Morton and tells him that he did lie about the autopsy. Catherine really did have a perforated ulcer. In a shocking twist, we learn that Morton didn't know, which makes him seem just a little less horrible. Then he goes back to being horrible by telling Bradley that he will cover it up, determined to make Rossi's suspension permanent. Upon learning of her father's attack on Julie, Betty goes to see her mother (who is staying with Constance). She goes from being incredibly sympathetic (telling Allison how difficult it was to live in a house with constant arguments) to an evil bitch (blaming her mother for George's breakdown as well as the disintegration of her marriage to Rod, which is just needlessly harsh.)
   If that wasn't enough, this week also saw the introduction of a significant new subplot. Matt tells Constance that Elliot Carson (killer of his wife whose serving time in jail) may soon be free, which concerns her. She wonders what effect this will have on Allison (her daughter). This is probably because Elliot is actually Allison's father which she doesn't know about, bringing Constance deep stress. Matt visits Elliot in the prison, to find out whether he should give a good recommendation to the parole board. He is intent on getting released and finding whoever is really responsible for his wife's murder (no! Please don't! I already have to deal with that on Dark Shadows!)
   This would all be far too complicated if it weren't for great acting and writing, which adds thematic constructs. This week alone we see another mention of the aftermath of the war (someone suggests it as a possible motive for Elliot's supposed actions), the idea that things were once better (they weren't), the oppressive nature of small towns, growing up (Allison states that real life is not like the movies, because there are no endings, happy or otherwise, while Constance suggests that we live our lives based on the decisions we made in our youth) and a new theme with Betty suggesting that relationships are strong until people get married. Then love and happiness die. She's not coping with Rod very well. Another pretty much perfect week of Peyton Place.
Episodes Grade: A

Episodes 22-28 observations:
The revelation that young David was responsible for Roger's car accident allows Dark Shadows to up its game.
   The town sheriff investigates Roger's car accident, trying to take into account all accounts, not just Roger's insistence that it was Burke Devlin. He visits Collinsport and finds the wrench. David, realising that his fingerprints are on the wrench, grabs hold of it while the others are talking. Victoria (his babysitter and the main character) scolds him, but he really is turning into a little criminal mastermind. Speaking of Victoria, Elizabeth (matriarch of Collinwood) tells Roger that she hired her for personal reasons. No idea what those personal reasons are. I wouldn't hold your breath either. The mystery of Victoria's background is destined to remain just that. After 1200 episodes, Dark Shadows never revealed the truth about her. Official spin-off material does provide the answer, but I'll wait until the time is right to drop that piece of information. It's easy to see how it got lost, especially with so much of a focus on Burke and Roger, but it's still annoying.
   Anyway, while looking for a letter that David stole, Victoria goes threw his drawers and discovers the bleeder valve (the removal of which caused Roger's accident) and realises that he is responsible. She confronts him with the revelation and he grows furious. He attacks her but she manages to fend him off. When Elizabeth enters (thought she came home, but seeing she hasn't left the house in 18 years, I must've missed something), she tells her but she refuses to believe it, especially when the valve and David disappear. Carolyn comes home and helps search for him, before discovering a mechanics magazine in Victoria's room. The issue contains a detailed breakdown of the operation of the brake mechanism. David gave it to her sometime last week, but I stupidly didn't pick up the clues. I'm sort of proud of Dark Shadows for actually seeding those clues in a way that is only obvious later. Meanwhile, Burke decides to fast track his plans (which seem to involve destroying the Collins financially, especially when we learn he ran an investment company back in New York). Acting on a warrant, the Sherriff searches Burke's room. He (naturally) doesn't find the valve, but does find David trying to break in. The young boy waits at the hotel, while Maggie (owner of the restaurant and daughter of Sam Evans, who did nothing this week, by the way) tries to distract him by making sundaes. It was a surprisingly tense and exciting scene, but as soon as Roger turns up, David disappears again. He doesn't care much about his son until he learns that he was trying to break into Burke Devlin's room.
   There's still not a lot happening on Dark Shadows, and it remains a vastly inferior show to Peyton Place, but this week saw the signs that this could progress into an exciting little show. However, for every David scene there was an interminable one with Burke Devlin making threats to destroy the Collins. Just do it already!
Episodes Grade: B-

In next week's Pop Culture Picnic, I'll be reviewing the new Tarantino The Hateful Eight, starting How To Get Away With Murder (Shonda Rhimes!), the seventh season of Seinfeld and meeting King Picoollo on Dragon Ball! Hope to see you all then!

Thanks,
David Gumball-Watson

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Pop Culture Picnic: Volume 1, Number 3


Hello all,
Sorry that this week's edition is so late, had a very busy week. That's not to say this is a lighter Pop Culture Picnic, as this features reviews of Carol, The Leftovers, Brooklyn Nine-Nine-Nine and The Legend Of Korra!

Second Hand News

Finally after months of speculation and debate, this week saw the release of theAcademy Award nominations. They were just as fascinating and frustrating as always, with surprising nominations for Mad Max: Fury Road (which I predicted would be too mainstream for the Academy's taste) and Bridge Of Spies (a patriotic movie that did very little to inspire confidence). However, for every wonderful inclusion (World of Tomorrow for best animated short feature!), there were a series of difficult exclusions. For the second year in a row, there was not a single actor of colour nominated (despite strong reviews for Creed and Straight Outta Compton. I didn't see either of these so will reserve judgement for the moment) while Carol was largely snubbed. A beautiful lesbian romance (which I watched this week and is reviewed below), it received nods for best actress and best supporting actress, but was looked for best picture and best director. This is incredibly frustrating, and while I don't necessarily agree with this article on possible reasons for the snub (in regards to it featuring a queer plot that doesn't end in tears), it raises a couple of interesting points, particularly around queer cinema's fondness for a sad ending. Over the next few weeks, I'll be watching and reviewing each of the films nominated, with a special edition of Pop Culture Picnic uploaded shortly before the ceremony.
   This week also saw the sad passing of Alan Rickman, mere days after David Bowie. He was a brilliant actor with a glorious voice and a powerful presence. While I know of him largely because of his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, he has a huge catalogue of great films which I'm looking forward to discovering. To pay tribute to him, I have reviewed the first four Harry Potter films in the 'Heroes' section further down, with a plan to review the remaining films next week.

Silver Screen

Carol review
2015, US, directed by Todd Haynes. In Cinemas Now.
Beautiful, powerful and simply stunning, Carol is a new landmark in queer cinema. In the 1950s, two women,  Therese and Carol, fall in love, but their happiness is threatened after Carol's ex-husband denies her access to her child. Early on in the film, one of the characters watches Sunset Blvd., stating that he is interested in the juxtaposition between what they say and how they feel. It acts as a sort of guide into this film, which at first glance could appear to be cold and dispassionate. This view couldn't be more wrong. Carol is a film of furtive glances and tiny gestures which carry a world of emotion. This also serves a duel meaning, serving to show the oppressive nature of 50s society towards queer people as well as serving to bring the viewer closer into the film. The love story absorbed me, filling my heart with passion, joy and deep sadness. It's story takes cues from other romantic classics such as Brief Encounter, but refuses to become too painful with a genuinely hopeful and moving conclusion, radical in its simplicity. It's also beautifully shot, with brilliant colour on gorgeously grainy film stock, movingly scored and powerfully acted by two of the best performers out there. Rooney Mara shows a world of pain and lust, but Cate Blanchett delivers a powerhouse performance. The scene where Carol's pent-up emotion explodes had me both cheering and in tears. It's a film of largely quiet moments, but serves to bring on a tidal wave of emotion. Brave and genuinely hopeful, Carol is an absolute masterpiece.
Grade: A

Heroes:
The Harry Potter Series - Part I

Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone review
2001, UK/US, directed by Chris Columbus. On DVD.
As the beginning to one of the most successful film franchises ever, Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone very much feels like an opening chapter. It takes over an hour for the plot to kick in, with a lot of set-up. There's nothing particularly wrong with this, but it does serve to make it less interesting than it perhaps could've been (the same thing happened with the books). The characters are all introduced here, setting up the age old good and evil plot that will serve the franchise well, and Hogwarts is just as wonderful as it always was. There are several great moments here, but in general, this film just feels a little more forgettable than some of the series' highlights.
Grade: B+

Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets review
2002, UK/US/Germany, directed by Chris Columbus. On DVD.
For a long time, Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets was my favourite film in the series. It remains one of the most memorable, with a number of genuinely creepy moments (the opening of the Chamber, the Spiders), but the plot again fails to come together in ways to be truly satisfying (Voldemort is defeated in a way that seems surprisingly easy). Overall, though, this is a deeply entertaining, creepy and funny film with some truly exceptional moments.
Grade: A-

Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban review
2004, UK/US, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. On DVD.
My personal favourite of the series, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban is stunningly cinematic and satisfying on every level. The plot is complex and emotionally involving and it works even better on a second viewing to appreciate just how cleverly all the pieces have been moved into place. The visuals are absolutely gorgeous, particularly the scene of the climax with beautiful full-moon lighting, and this manages to be one of the scariest films in the series, due to the appearance of the skeletal Dementors. While there is some weirdness in regards to Hogwarts' location (it seems to have moved, especially Hagrid's hut which is at the bottom of a hill but which was on flat land) and Dumbledore has changed (I actually prefer Michael Gambon's performance as he seems less stern and imbues the role with a lot of heart), this is a glorious piece of cinema. Wonderful.
Grade: A

Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire review
2005, UK/US, directed by Mike Newell. On DVD.
Menacing, dark and surprisingly entertaining, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire is an another fantastic entry into the series. The three main set-pieces are wonderful, especially the creepy maze which will be the site of one of the saga's greatest tragedies. That moment, combined with the resurrection of Voldemort, puts in place a new order of things going into the latter years. This feeling is added to by the side focus on romance, as Harry, Ron, Hermoine and the rest of the gang enter puberty and the dating years via a school dance (Hermoine looks glorious in that pink dress), but it is the darkness, horror and sadness of this film's climax that lingers. The only reason this isn't getting the highest marks is because Ron and Hermoine have such a tiny role in this film.
Grade: A-

On The Tube

Season One Observations:
The Leftovers is the hardest show I've ever sat down to watch. Now, I live on dark and depressing TV shows. Of last year's top 20 series' over half of them I'd say I found difficult to watch at some point or another, simply because the emotion became overwhelming. But nothing is as emotionally exhausting and exceptional as The Leftovers. One day, 2% of the world's population just disappears. The show follows those left behind as they struggle to cope with not only the loss of their loved ones, but why they left and they're still here. This is a show that challenges the viewer, not only through a refusal to offer any explanation as to what happened to those 2%, but through being almost unbearably bleak and depressing. It's a show that's both deeply personal and profoundly complex, with each and every person having a very different reaction to it. Some I've spoken to find it addictive as they grow desperate to work out the mystery, others find it too hard and give up after a handful of episodes. It can be read as a meditation on trauma, depression, PTSD, faith, hope and organised religion, largely because it's so deeply symbolic and ambiguous. While that could be a problem, it is what makes The Leftovers such an incredibly brilliant show, but also such a difficult one. Usually, I can bash through a complete disc (about four episodes) in one sitting, but not with this series. I never did more than two episodes at once as it was simply too exhausting. However, this is one of the best shows I've ever seen simply because it refuses to let the viewer off the hook, allowing us to engage with a set of characters, asking us which ones resonate with us and why. It's profound, difficult and revolutionary television, and a true must-see series.
Best Episodes - s1e3: Two Boats And A Helicopter. s1e5: Gladys. s1e6: Guest. s1e8: Cairo. s1e10: The Prodigal Son Returns.
Grade: A

Season Two Observations:
One of television's most consistently funny and enjoyable comedies, Brooklyn Nine-Nine works because of the strength of its ensemble cast. There's no weak link and watching the characters interact in new and interesting ways is often the highlight of an episode (also the incredibly quotable dialogue and silly games). The show's second season expands upon the first by adding a romantic subplot between Jake and Amy, which acts as an undercurrent to the other action. Put simply, once Parks And Recreation comes to an end (still waiting for them to release it on DVD), I can take solace that another workplace comedy centred around funny people making light of situations has taken its place.
Best Episodes – s2e2: Chocolate Milk. s2e3: The Jimmy Jab Games. s2e5: The Mole. s2e8: USPIS. s2e9: The Road Trip. s2e12: Beach House. s2e15: Windbreaker City. s2e17: Boyle-Linetti Wedding. s2e18: Captain Peralta. s2e22: The Chopper. s2e23: Johnny And Dora.
Grade: A-

Book One - Air Observations:
After the glorious heights of Avatar: The Last Airbender's final season, I had high hopes for The Legend Of Korra. With the promise of a strong female lead and a time jump, it seemed primed to be better than it's prequel. Sadly, the first season did not live up to these expectations. The series itself looks gorgeous, with beautiful background painting, and the characters are wonderful (love Tenzin). It also has a nice sense of legacy in regards to connections to the original. The problem with the first season is that the central conflict, that of Amon vs. Korra, doesn't feel strong enough, and the motivations behind his attacks are flimsy (but are thematically connected to the rest of the show). The ending is a frustrating, but necessary, cop-out but ultimately Korra feels less like the sum of its parts. Then again, so did Avatar's first season, so my hopes remain high.
Best Episodes – s1e3: The Revelation. s1e6: And The Winner Is... s1e9: Out Of The Past. s1e10: Turning The Tides. s1e12: Endgame.
Grade: B

Series Observations:
Combining silliness with incredible action sequences, One Punch Man is one of those animes that is just indescribably awesome. Saitama is a hero who has a problem; he has become so powerful that he can decimate any enemy with a single punch, leaving him very, very bored. It's a silly premise, but the show works because his boredom and deadpan style when facing any enemy contrasts with how massive and seemingly impenetrable said enemy is, giving the series a lot of humour. As the series goes along, we learn more about the world Saitama lives in and he gets a student in Genos, making for something that is not just action-packed, but addictive. It's also spectacularly made, with smooth beautiful, yet kinetic animation and a fantastic theme song (ONE PUNCH!!!!), all adding up to something that is just brilliant. Words fail when describing something as jaw-droppingly cool as this series, other than to say watch it.
Grade: A

Series Observations:
I delayed watching One Week Friends for many months, simply because I knew it was going to be an emotional and sad experience. A female student, Kaori, has a condition which causes memories of her friends to disappear every Monday, so she has isolated herself to save any potential friends from being hurt. However, when fellow student, Yuuki, tries to get close to her, she opens up beautiful and moving ways. The sadness of her condition is contrasted with a series that can occasionally be so sweet it borders on saccharine. Also, for the first half of the series very little happens apart from Yuuki and Kaori getting steadily closer, but then the second half reveals a gut punch of a twist, turning this into something on par with Clannad's level of emotional devestation. This tonal shift is a little jarring, but the series is best seen as a meditation on what it means to be a friend and opening yourself up to people, with all the happiness and pain that can bring. This makes for a sweet and emotional experience that is well worth the watch.
Grade: B+

Soap Box

Episodes 15-21 Observations:
Another massive week on Peyton Place, with the introduction of new plots and the death of a fairly major character.
   Rod Harrington and Betty Anderson's marriage acts as a catalyst to many of the events this week. His family disapproves of the marriage, particularly his father, Lesley Harrington (who we learn has a long-standing feud with the Andersons, after he and Betty's father, George, were school friends were school friends but drifted apart after Lesley refused to join the war effort). This is particularly frustrating considering that Lesley was also middle-class but married rich in Catherine Harrington (nee Peyton). Meanwhile, a sickly Catherine asks her doctor, Morton (also head of the local hospital) to look into the circumstances of their marriage. He discovers that Betty lost the baby and confronts her doctor, Rossi, asking why he didn't feel the need to tell Rod or the Harringtons. Rossi tells him that it was because confidentiality is a thing and accuses Morton of being too emotionally invested in the Harringtons, something which pisses off the doctor. Rossi leaves to go on a date with Constance Mackenzie (Allison's isolated mother who was friends with Rossi many years ago), but his house, the old Carson place, where Elliot Carson murdered his wife many years ago (and was jailed for but he is now appealing), freaks her out for no apparent reason. He manages to calm her down and they kiss, before he is called to Catherine, whose condition has worsened. Realising that her life hangs in the balance (and that Morton misdiagnosed her), he rushes her to the hospital, and asks Lesley if he can have his permission to perform surgery. He denies it, having put his full trust in Morton (who has two hours away). Eventually, he gives in and Rossi operates. Morton enters halfway through and complications ensue. Suddenly, and without any fanfare, Catherine Harrington dies. It's a scene of devastating jaw-dropping silence which promises to have epic repercussions for Rossi and Morton. As all this is happening, Betty and Rod have a massive argument and she contemplates moving away, but Allison (Rod's ex) stops her in a surprisingly moving scene. After the death of his mother, Betty asks Allison to be her friend, but grows jealous when Rod drives her home (she had reason to be, seeing Rod admitted he still held feelings for her). She and Rod have another massive argument, which leads to her finally, finally revealing that she lost the baby, which was just as sad, juicy and awesome as I had hoped. A spectacular end to what was a very big week.
   Peyton Place continues to up the ante, and many of the big scenes this week were exceptionally well-filmed. I still can't get the moment where Catherine dies out of my mind. It was just so disturbingly simple and realistic. Her death could have dire consequences for everyone in the community and I personally can't wait to see where it all goes.
Episodes Grade: A

Episodes 15-21 Observations:
This week, Dark Shadows flirts with being a good show but then decides against it.
   The story begins on a bang as Roger Collins has a car accident placing his life in jeopardy. He survived with only minor wounds but his thirst for vengeance against Burke Devlin grows, especially when he learns that Victoria saw Burke standing over Roger's car holding a wrench. The cause of his accident was the removal of a bleeder valve, causing his brakes to fail. However, in a genuinely shocking twist, we learn that it wasn't Burke who removed the valve, but Roger's troubled young son, David. This had been set-up ever since we first met the little boy, and was actually revealed when we saw him holding a bolt sometime last week, but it worked well, simply by refusing to go down the safe and expected route. It also sets up further anger for Burke who is now being accused of something he didn't actually do. When Roger and Victoria confront him, he unsurprisingly denies responsibility, but she believes him. In regards to information about the past events, we did get some small clues. The circumstances surrounding the manslaughter were that Roger and Burke were in a car that killed a man. We also learn that Burke Devlin was a model for Sam (whose a painter) which explains more about how he's connected to the whole thing.
   This isn't much and it's frustrating that it moves so slowly, especially when the David plotline could actually make for interesting television. I can hope.
Episodes Grade: C+

Next week's edition of Pop Culture Picnic will be on time and will feature reviews of Room, The Danish Girl, the first seasons of Sealab 2021 and Jane The Virgin as well as featuring the conclusion of the Harry Potter retrospective. Hope to see you all then!

Thanks,
David Gumball-Watson

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Pop Culture Picnic: Volume 1, Number 2

Hello all,
Welcome to the second edition of Pop Culture Picnic! It's a bit of a sad issue this week as NSV pays tribute to the late, great David Bowie. You'll also note two new sections, one Second Hand News which will be devoted to any pop culture news that broke in the past week, while the second Heroes will be a semi-regular feature devoted to classic movies all centred around a single theme.

Second Hand News

Undoubtedly the biggest pop culture news this week was the unexpected and sad passing ofthe iconic David Bowie. More than just a great singer, he was an artist committed to art and media in its many forms, being an actor, fashion icon and androgynous performer who changed the way we perceive singers. With his piercing eyes, glorious voice and incredible appearance, it was like he was an alien that fell to Earth. The news of his passing came as a huge shock, partially because he'd only just released an album, Blackstar, on Friday, but also because I think many people, myself included, were convinced he was an immortal chameleon. However, he was all too human, as we learnt that he had passed away at the age of 69 after an 18 month battle with cancer. He will be sorely missed and ever since the news, I've had "Heroes" and Starman playing on a loop. As a special tribute to Bowie, I've reviewed three of the films I most associate with him further down this post. They, and his music, act as a lasting tribute to one of the greatest performers' who ever lived.
   This was a week defined by endings, though, with the news that not one, but two, of my favourite TV shows will soon be coming to end. Rectify, which came in at number 2 in this year's NSV awards, was renewed by Sundance for a fourth and final season. While I am happy that the show's creators have been given an extra season to wrap up loose ends (which seems to be the norm following a similar move with The Leftovers), its cancellation is incredibly sad. It was such a unique, beautiful and challenging show, that I'm amazed it lasted as long as it did. Also, Lena Dunham's critically acclaimed and beloved Girls has been confirmed to be ending after season six in 2017. While some people fell out of love with the series, I was, and continue to be, obsessed with it. It was such a rude but heartfelt and influential show that I was sad to hear that it will soon be coming to an end. Still, all things must end in time and I'm happy that Dunham chose to end the show when the time felt right rather than just keeping it going on and on.
   Also, while it may have been significantly overshadowed by the passing of David Bowie, the Golden Globes were this week. While not traditionally a very strong indicator of success at the (more important) Academy Awards, the choices for winners was an interesting mix of deserved and surprising winners. The Revenant's win for best drama and di Caprio's performance were well-deserved (particularly di Caprio who deserves to finally win an Oscar for such a physically demanding role), The Martian's win for best comedy and Jennifer Lawrence's win for Joy are odd. The Martian was an interesting film, but I think comedy's the wrong category for it, while Joy was such a terrible film that I'm amazed it won anything. Worse was the win for Spectre's song 'Writing's On The Wall' which was easily one of the worst Bond themes ever and won over more deserving songs 'See You Again' and 'Love Me Like You Do'. In regards to the television categories, I am still yet to see Mr. Robot (which won for best drama) or Mozart In The Jungle (best comedy) but Jon Hamm's win for Mad Men and Taraji P. Henson's gong for Empire (an uneven show, but her performance made it worth the watch) were both deserved winners. With Academy Award nominations released this Thursday, it really feels like awards season is heating up.
   Also, in personal news, some of you may know that I finished my Professional and Creative Writing course late last year. While I was iffy about my direction for this year, I applied to do another course, Film and Television, and waited to see what I would be doing with my life. I found out this week that it has been approved, meaning that I will (probably) be going back to University this year. So that's quite exciting for me!

Silver Screen

The Revenant review:
2015, US, directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu. In Cinemas Now.
At nearly three hours with a difficult, exhausting story and insanely brutal violence, The Revenant is not an easy film to sit through. Telling the story of a man, Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo di Caprio) who, after a series of horrifying incidents, is left to fend for himself in the middle of some of America's most difficult terrain in the early 1800s, this is like Bear Grylls on speed. It's a dark film, filled with horrible and intense violence (watch out for a bear attack) and uncomfortable racism against the Native Americans, but it's better seen as a survival story against terrible odds. Left crippled and in pain, Glass' journey is fraught with pain and sheer, grim determination to get revenge. It's one of the most physically demanding roles I've ever seen, as di Caprio wades through icy water, crawls across rocks and falls from incredible heights, but more than that he gives Glass a rich internal life with what, for large amounts of time, is basically a performance of grunts and body movements. As some people from film club argued, if this role doesn't give Leo the Academy Award, he might as well give up acting. Also, for a film of such brutal intensity, it frequently looks gorgeous, with beautiful cinematography playing up the richly scenic nature of this area of America. From a directorial stand point, this is filled with quiet moments of intense stillness, quite unlike the fast and frenetic nature of director Alejandro G. Inarritu's previous film, Birdman. One of the best films I've seen in a while, this is a disturbing, visceral and horrifying film, as exhausting as it is visually beautiful. An absolute must-see film.
Grade: A

Birdman review:
2014, US, directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu. On DVD.
After hearing a lot about this film and about to watch Inarritu's next film, The Revenant, I finally sat down to watch Birdman. I'm still not sure I've truly made up my mind about this film. It's something that stays with you for days afterwards as you try to knot out it's complicated plotline, kinetic filmmaking and symbolic images, frequently changing your mind about what it might all mean. Ostensibly about an actor (more well-known for having once played a cinematic superhero) who tries to do a serious play which is met with one chaotic mishap after another, it can be said to be more about identity, acting and the nature of film itself. Casting Michael Keaton (more well-known for playing Batman in the Tim Burton versions) in the lead adds a metatextual quality to what is already a postmodern film about the blurring of the lines between fact and fiction. He acts brilliantly in a complex role, and is ably supported by co-stars Emma Stone, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts. There's also the small matter of how it's filmed. Cleverly made to look as though it were one long shot, it condenses the weeks-long narrative (taking the play from early rehearsals all the way to opening night) to look like one hellish night. On a first viewing, Birdman is an exceedingly complex but fascinating film, but I think I'd need at least one or two more viewings to really understand what it's trying to say. At the moment though, this remains an interesting and brilliant piece of filmmaking.
Grade: A-

Descendants review:
2015, US, directed by Kenny Ortega. On DVD.
The children of some of Disney's most infamous villains, such as Maleficent (Kristin Chenoweth) and the Evil Queen (Kathy Najimy), try to live up to their parent's legacies after joining a school made up of children descended from the heroes. With a premise like that, how could you lose? By being a TV movie on the Disney channel, that's how. There's nothing exactly wrong with this film, and it does have good moments, such as the songs and the scenes where the villain parents meet are actually funny, but it never really comes together. If you go in with expectations low, this is a relatively entertaining but forgettable slice of TV movie silliness, with a cast of attractive people. However, the moment the film stops dead to make way for a three minute music video with flashbacks to scenes from five minutes ago, makes it impossible to take things seriously. Unintentionally hilarious doesn't begin to cover it.
Grade: C
 
Heroes:
The Films Of David Bowie
 
The Man Who Fell To Earth review:
1976, UK, directed by Nicolas Roeg, adapted from a review completed in July 2015. On DVD.
Strange and confusing, Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth frequently gives one the sensation of a daydream. Spectacular imagery collides and decades pass as David Bowie’s lead character, an alien, falls prey to earthly temptations such as alcohol, sex and money. Somehow it’s both very clear and as thick as fog, meaning that any number of interpretations can be read into it. It can be read as an examination of contemporary culture, an attack on the American dream, a cautionary tale about greed or an epic and tragic science fiction story. It manages to be possibly all of these things and none of them. The most memorable scene to me features Bowie using a gun firing blanks while having sex with the female lead character. The scene features the use of a classic song from the 60s to demonstrate the pervasive links between sex and violence in modern day society to stunning effect. The film, like his more well-known film Labyrinth, drew on Bowie’s alien quality to produce an odd, complex and immersive viewing experience. He is involving and commands the attention in a demanding role, proving that not only was he an excellent singer, a musical legend and a true pop culture icon, Bowie really could act. While I think the two main power players, Bowie and Roeg, made better, more accessible films (Labyrinth and Don't Look Now, respectively), The Man Who Fell To Earth remains a difficult, thought-provoking and challenging film well-worth seeking out.
Grade: A-
 
The Hunger review:
1983, UK, directed by Tony Scott. On DVD.
The Hunger really should be a lot more entertaining than it is. With a cast such as David Bowie, Catherine Denueve and Susan Sarandon, and featuring some weird blood-sucking vampires, it should be a piece of camp gloriousness. Instead, what we get from this horror film is 92 minutes of largely dull storyline. There are occasional good moments, such as a visually stunning opening scene and a fantastic climax, but it's not enough to make up for a film that quite frequently looks like a music video and has a thin plot to match. Worse, the cast is wasted. After less than half-an-hour, Bowie is caked in make-up making him unrecognisable before exiting shortly after. The regal Catherine Deneueve crawls around on the floor and has a weird, unsexy and tedious lesbian sex scene with Susan Sarandon. Reading this review, this film actually sounds interesting which is why I was so desperate to watch it for such a long time. But this is a curiosity that doesn't live up to it's premise. A truly terrible, forgettable and boring film. Skip this one.
Grade: D-
 
Labyrinth review:
1986, UK, directed by Jim Henson. On DVD.
Easily David Bowie's most well-known film, Labyrinth is the true definition of a cult classic. After a young woman's (Jennifer Connelly) wish for goblins to take her brother away is granted, she must find her way through a massive labyrinth filled with strange creatures to get him back. Along the way, though, there's weird diversions galore. A brilliantly entertaining film that, like all good fairytales, has a hidden darkness at it's core. By taking influence from classic stories such as The Wizard of Oz, Alice In Wonderland, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Labyrinth bends them all to tell its own tale, making for an existential, terrifying and excellent film. The supporting cast is unforgettable and it has a unique visual palette. However, the main attraction here is Bowie. As the Goblin King, he exudes menace, eroticism and ambiguity. He's the reason the Ballroom scene works as well as it does, becoming the most weirdly sexy/menacing scene since the original Fright Night. His music ensures that it sounds like nothing else, giving it both a very 80s feel and making it timeless. Combined with the mastery of Jim Henson, Bowie was able to become something iconic with Labyrinth. It's one of the weirdest films you'll ever see but it's entertaining and unforgettable. When the news filtered through that Bowie had passed, watching this was how my family paid tribute. Now, as well as being a glorious fantasy film, this is a stunning tribute to an artist unlike anyone else.
Grade: A
 
On The Tube
 
Season Three Observations:
Like Teen Wolf, Vikings is not really one of those shows I look forward to. It's entertaining enough, an engaging and brutal look at a fascinating period of history, but after an awesome first season, it followed it up with a second that seemed safe (despite a couple of huge plot developments). The third season continues this trend. There's nothing exactly wrong with Vikings, it just never really seems to come together. These 10 episodes saw the shocking death of two major characters, as well as an attack on Paris, but for all its posturing towards being good TV, it frequently stumbles into its own traps. In its second year, Vikings took lead character, Ragnar's, power as read; that no matter what the problem, he would get past it because he was just better than the others. It was a problem that House Of Cards also had in its second year, but while Cards made big steps towards making Frank Underwood more fallible, Vikings just continued to show Ragnar as undeniably powerful. While there's nothing wrong with this, it does make for a less compelling series. If we know he's gonna win all the time, what's the point of watching? A development towards the end of the season should've been jaw-dropping but because of what we already know, it was just predictable and safe. This was even more frustrating seeing the series had gone some way to making him a flawed character before lazily reinforcing how great he is. The supporting characters, such as Lagertha, ensure that I'll keep watching but unless we start making bigger problems for the ambitious Ragnar, this could fast become Teen Wolf levels of frustrating.
Best Episodes - s3e3: Warrior's Fate. s3e4: Scarred. s3e6: Born Again. s3e8: To The Gates!
Season Grade: C+
 
One Foot In The Grave Season Four Observations:
For a sitcom about one grumpy pensioner and his exasperated wife, One Foot In The Grave really shouldn't be as good as it is. However, I would go so far as to say that this British sitcom is one of the funniest shows ever made. Key to its success is the chaotic and larger-than-life situations that Victor Meldrew gets dragged into and his epic frustration at every little thing. His catchphrase "I don't believe it" perfectly sums up just how epically weird some of the situations that he finds himself in are. However, while it's frequently eccentric and bonkers, Grave is grounded in a darkness and tragic reality. Some of the best episodes are those which are not just hilarious but which feature an absolutely devastating twist, a real punch-to-the-gut to end the story. In the very first episode of the season, we've got a hilarious moment where Meldrew is buried up to his neck in his backyard after he insults the gardener followed by this absolutely shattering moment where his wife, Margaret, tells him her mother has passed away. The moment isn't played for laughs, ensuring that the sitcom remains realistic and tinged with a touch of sadness. Other highlights of this season include perhaps the series' most memorable episode, 'Hearts Of Darkness', in which a nice country trip becomes an epic odyssey, featuring two character's feet stuck in cement, a silly game of trivial pursuit and a demented nursing home. It's easily one of the funniest episodes the series ever did.
   However, the series was also formally inventive, with each season included a bottle episode. For those of you not up-to-date on TV lingo, a bottle episode is one with only the main cast members and a handful of sets. They're also generally told in real time and are done to save budget, but can often lead to some of the most intriguing episodes of a show, due to forcing the creators to be more inventive. Notable examples include Doctor Who's 'Midnight' and 'Heaven Sent' and Seinfeld's 'The Chinese Restaurant' and 'The Parking Garage' among others. One Foot In The Grave's bottle episodes, however, were some of the most inventive. Last season saw one set entirely in a car, while this year sees Victor home alone, talking to himself about life, the universe and everything for 25 minutes in 'The Trial'. It's a brave piece of television and brilliantly acted from Richard Wilson, showing the sitcom's stunning versatility, by being simultaneously hilarious and packing a huge emotional impact.
Best Episodes – s4e1: The Pit And The Pendulum. s4e2: Descent Into The Maelstrom. s4e3: Hearts Of Darkness. s4e5: The Trial.
Season Grade: A
 
Series Observations:
Created, written by and starring one of the most recognisable Australian comedians in Shaun Micallef, The Ex-PM is an entertaining if largely forgettable piece of local comedy. Micallef is good in the lead role as hapless ex-prime minister, Andrew Dugdale, who is determined to ensure a legacy for himself, while Lucy Honigman plays his determined and likable biographer. The two share a nice chemistry and some of the show's best moments come from their interactions. However, the supporting cast is too broad (something the show acknowledges early on) and silly and it's deeply political bent makes for something so uniquely Australian that even I got lost. Despite all of this, the best bits come from Dugdale's frustrations with the ABC. For a show that was broadcast there, it shows a whole lot of balls to attack it. One can't imagine any other channel allowing something like that to air, so kudos. Overall, a disarming but average series good for a laugh but not much more.
Best Episodes - e3: Immortality. e5: Legacy. 
Series Grade: C
 
Season One Observations:
Rude, crude and very, very funny, Broad City is one of the most purely entertaining and addictive shows I've seen in a while. Over the ten episode first season, we follow Abbi and Ilana, two New Yorkers, in what could be called a slacker comedy, but that would be pointlessly reductive. It's better to say that this is like a funnier, sillier and more entertaining version of Girls, but even that's ignoring just how likable the two leads are. They aren't so consciously self-destructive as Hannah, which makes it more enjoyable to spend the time with them. It's brilliantly written, gloriously surreal (watch out for Garol) and downright hilarious, and with a likable supporting cast. However, the real joy of the series is to watch the chemistry between Abbi and Ilana. Despite being very different people (Abbi's more responsible, Ilana not so much), they remain good friends, supporting one another despite their differences. It's a great portrayal of what it means to be in a friendship. They share a complicated relationship but love one another all the same. Then there's the sometimes strange, frequently crude situations they find themselves in, from getting locked out of Ilana's apartment to having seafood in a fancy restaurant then having a huge allergic reaction. It's chaotically funny and I love it despite its frequent crudeness. Very entertaining, there's not a single dud episode, making this not only one of TV's best comedies, but a very early frontrunner for the NSV awards. Watch it, y'all!
Best Episodes – s1e2: Pussy Weed. s1e3: Working Girls. s1e4: The Lockout. s1e7: Hurricane Wanda. s1e8: Destination: Wedding. s1e10: The Last Supper.
Season Grade: A
 
Soap Box
 
Episodes 8-14 Observations:
A very, very big week for Peyton Place ensures that it remains a brilliant and fast-paced series. The main event was the Founder's Day Festival, which took place over four days, which saw intrigue aplenty.
   Developments for this week include learning that Dr. Rossi left New York for Peyton Place because he was frustrated by how impersonal it was. He has taken to seeing his receptionist Miss Brooks who is the sister of Leslie Harrington, father to Rod and Norman, much to the jealousy of Allison's mother, Constance. Betty, Rod's ex, Leslie, leading her to work out what happened between him and her mother, Julie. She tells her mother, leading her to break things off with Leslie (finally! That plot was going nowhere and, as she admits, has only caused people pain). Meanwhile, Rod tells Allison that he loves her, before he is interrupted by Betty. They share an achingly real conversation, before she drops the bombshell; she's pregnant. Distracted, Rod drives out and doesn't see the oncoming truck, leading to a collision. Thankfully, both are okay, but Betty has lost the baby and probably Rod. That is, until her father, George, comes in. At the moment, George is ostensibly the biggest villain in the show, but he has depth piled onto him. This week, he gets one of the best scenes of the show so far where he talks to Rossi about his anger management issues, which takes a surreal and sad turn when he imagines being a baseball hero. He's understandably devastated about Betty's accident (seeing they used to be close, she was his 'princess'), but is more intent on revenge on Leslie and Rod. When he learns that Leslie offered Betty to move out of town, he puts the idea in his daughter's head about not telling Rod that she lost the baby, meaning he is forced to marry her. After a time jump of a month, we find out she followed his advice and married Rod. Which, OMG. The bigger shock is the moment he punches Leslie in the face.
   However, while this sounds very soapy, it's grounded in an emotional reality. The events of Founder's Day Festival became about the loss of childhood innocence. Catherine Harrington, wife of Leslie, gets a moving scene with her son, Norman, where she laments his growing distance. Constance and Julie share a similar scene, debating about how much they leeway they should give their children to grow up, while George also talks about his 'little girl' but Julie tells him she's not his little girl anymore. Even Allison gets in on the act, as the car accident really seems to get to her in a personal way. It's this thematic resonance and beautiful acting that ensures a focus on humanity and character even as the show gives in to its more soapier (and addictive) tendencies.
Episodes Grade: A
Episodes 8-14 Observations:
While a largely very slow week for Dark Shadows, things do pick up and we're finally given some answers.
    Developments for this week include the revelation that Caroline Stoddard's boyfriend, Joe Haskell, has asked her to marry him many times, but she doesn't want to leave the house. Elizabeth, her mother, tries to persuade her otherwise, but Caroline doesn't listen and instead sticks her nose in, meeting with the mysterious Burke Devlin. Seeing that he seems to be leaving in a few days and with seemingly no ill-will towards the Collins' family, she invites him to the house. He and Elizabeth meet but the real fireworks come when he meets Roger. Then, in one episode, we get a massive infodump about the past which goes as follows: Years ago, Burke was on trial for the manslaughter of a man. It was Roger's testimony that convicted him, which was especially suspicious given that Roger married Burke's sweetheart the day after he was sent to prison. After so many episodes of beating around the bush to get some concrete information towards the mystery is helpful. Also helpful is Maggie Evans talking to her father, Sam, and wondering how he's connected, meaning we're not supposed to know yet (that's good seeing I thought I'd missed something). Roger, however, was threatening Sam so we know something's up. He also hates his young son, David and left the city about a month ago to move to Collinsport for unknown reasons. There's still a lot of questions to be answered here (who was the man? Did Burke really do it? Is he really not going to exact revenge? How is Sam involved? And Roger? Who his wife and why did he leave?) but the presence of some answers is a good sign.
   The problem is this is still devastatingly slow, and the lack of focus on main character Victoria Winters this week, puts her own mystery (where did she come from?) to the back burner for the moment. Will next week give more answers, and will it be better structured (a lot of that information comes from one episode which is frustrating. Drip feed the audience, it helps)? Join Pop Culture Picnic next week to find out...
Episodes Grade: C
 
Next week's edition of Pop Culture Picnic will feature reviews of the hotly anticipated Carol, the first season of The Leftovers, the second season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the excellent anime One Punch Man and others. See you all then!
 
Thanks,
David Gumball-Watson