Category Archives: musical

The Devil’s Carnival (Darren Lynn Bousman, 2012)

The Devil’s Carnival is a horror musical by Darren Lynn Bousman and Terrance Zdunich. The story is that every guilty soul (or some of them) has to become a part of the performance in the devil’s carnival, which is like circus, but deadly. In this particular instance, there are 3 such souls – a man who lost his child and committed suicide, a girl who left her bad-boy boyfriend and was shot for it, and another girl, a thief who stole too much and resisted arrest. Each of them is assigned a permanent member of the repertory company and should undergo the performance which also serves as a sort of trial. Naturally, every item on the programme includes a singing act.

It is kinda fun – but I like unconventional musicals, so I’m a little biased. I watched a similar work of the same duo – Repo! The Genetic Opera – some time before, and was impressed by it (although I’m not sure that my judgement from that time would live up to my today’s standards). Of course, some items of the performance are better than the others, but all in all it’s a pretty even and consistent spectacle. The verses are very good, as well as the singing.

As for the story, I’m not entirely convinced that the choice of characters was appropriate – for example, it’s not clear at all why the girl (who’s not a thief) was sentenced to hell. The same goes to the father-who-lost-his-child storyline – maybe it’s just that the context is insufficient, I dunno.

The execution is superb, though. All that makeup, all the scenery, the images of the hell dwellers, and, most of all, the Devil himself – are done exquisitely fine. I enjoyed all them quite a lot.

There is a sequel to this film subtitled ‘Alleluia!’ – as far as I understand, it serves as a direct continuation to the story. I will definitely watch it as well.

Names and figures

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Dream in the Red Tower / Son v krasnom tereme (Andrei Abols and Kirill Kotelnikov, 1989)

Son v krasnom tereme is a documentary about rock music, specifically – about russian rock, even more specifically – about the Sverdlovsk offshoot of the genre. Sverdlovsk (present-day Ekaterinburg, aka Yoburg) is the city in former Soviet Union, and now Russia, that has for a long time been a cultural center, the largest after Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. In the 1970s-1980s a number of prominent music bands emerged there, including Nautilus Pompilius, Chaif and Agata Kristi. The film tells about those and others (most of which are now completely forgotten) by showing pieces of interviews with various figures of the music industry – musicians themselves, journalists, producers etc. – interlacing them with video recordings of live performances and even some semblance of video clips.

The authors designate the boundaries of the work from the beginning acknowledging that the subject is way to complex and abundant to be adequately described in a single film. And so they limit themselves to a particular region and a particular period, and try to illustrate the different sides of the subject. And I believe that they actually succeeded with this work, because in the end a certain idea of the era and of  the people who lived and worked in that era appears before the eyes of the viewer, who also gets to submerge into the long-gone environment and listen to the actual musical pieces of the genre that would go back to that particular state. It is as much an anthropological work as it is musical one.

Some of the ideas expressed by the people filmed seem rather odd by now, but others are pretty smart even by the changed standards – in that respect I should definitely distinguish Ilya Kormiltsev, the author of majority of songs of Nautilus. Particularly interesting was the story about the Butusov’s song I want to be with you – I’m not sure how realistic it is, but at least it’s impressive and powerful.

All in all, even though it’s not the most entertaining film in the world, it was educational and rather insightful.

Names and figures

Treme (s.04, 2013)

Final season of Treme is dedicated to following through the storylines that were established previously. DJ Davis still works on the radio station, and also tries to keep his band alive, but with little luck; he gets back with Janette, turns 40 and hits a midlife crisis, in the result of which he renounces his names and becomes mr. McAlary, but remains unable to say goodbye to his creative side. Nelson works in Texas as well as in New Orleans, making money, loving the culture and doing some good along the way; he even hooks up with Davis for some projects. Janette leaves her partner and opens up a new restaurant, which she cannot name after herself due to contractual obligations; having started from the beginning, she once again struggles for mere existence. Albert tries to treat his cancer, supported by his children and LaDonna, but all in vain. Delmond’s girlfriend becomes pregnant, which, along with his father’s illness, forces him to rethink his ways in life. LaDonna rebuilds her bar, while trying to figure out things with Larry, who still expects her to come back. Baptiste continues his career as educator, but when the music program gets cut, he starts gigging again, this time with better success. Tony works yet another civil rights violation case. Terry moves in with her; he still is waiting for the FBI to clean the house, which eventually happens; he testifies in court, leaves the ranks, and becomes a shirt salesman in a different state. Annie grows as a musician, leaves her band behind after lots of blandishments from her manager, and starts recording an album with professional musicians outside Louisiana.

Unlike season 3, where there was a lot of bullshit, here only the LaDonna + Albert development can be referred to as such – there’s too much of a gap between where the writers left off and with what the new season began. Also, there was not a word about LaDonna’s case. Besides that, it’s all okay. Barely more than that, though: the resolutions to all the storylines are logical and more or less consistent, but there is nothing fascinating about any of them. The music is fine, I guess, but not very interesting. The excitement of the 1st season is long gone, – of course, it was gone at the end of season 2 already, but the sad thing is that none of the attempts to bring it back worked. If season 3 was a rapid decline, in 4th they managed to level it and turn into a flat line, a plateau, but failed to provide a single peak on it.

I suppose, if you wish to remain in love with the show (and, consequently, with New Orleans), you shouldn’t go any further that season 2. It just wears off after that. And no amount of respect given to the prototypes of the characters (most of whom are real people, by the way) can make it better. All in all, it’s not worth it.

Names and figures

Vinyl (s.01*, 2016)

Vinyl is a period drama about the music industry in the 1970s (and a little bit 1960s). Richie Finestra, head of the American Century Records, one of the largest recording companies in the country, achieved a lot, but now everything is under threat of complete deterioration. Between financial scheming aimed at generating better looking numbers, and a long series of bad decisions caused by heavy abuse of cocaine, the company finds itself of the verge of ruin, and the only thing that can truly save the day is the deal with german company Polygram Records, who expressed a desire to purchase it. But before the deal is closed, Richie runs into a whole different set of trouble, when a radio host Buck Rogers invites him to his house to talk over ACR’s ban on the radio stations he controls. As a result of that meeting, Richie, who has been sober for some time (which was a little bit late for the company’s health), starts using again, and at increasing rate, too. He refuses to sell the company, thus letting down his partners, who already got their hopes really high, and decides to make a comeback instead, even though everything and everybody is against it. He dismisses most of the staff, and gets rid of majority of their clientage; he tries to attract some of the most significant artists of the period, while trying to find new, fresh talent at the same time. Because of his addiction he basically looses his family; he is under police investigation for connections with organized crime and more; and he tries to save the sinking ship of his company, unable to give up the addiction. Secondary storylines of the season include those of his partners, most important of whom is Zak, his wife’s, and several employees of ACR, who try to maneuver the desperate circumstances and not let their careers and lives be destroyed in that shitstorm.

Unfortunately, the show has been cancelled after the 1st season, even though it was renewed at first. The reason is probably some sort of creative differences – Terence Winter left the showrunner’s position before the season was completed, and then it was deemed not worth the production efforts. Whatever it was, it’s sad, because notwithstanding certain issues that grew stronger over the course of the initial season, the continuation could’ve been magnificent. Of course, it could’ve been a slow dying type of thing, too, but the chances for the 1st outcome were higher.

The execution is pretty much perfect: on the technical level, it’s a professional work of cinema, for which there is not a single second that can discredit this claim; there is a great deal of wonderful music, all of which is performed amazingly well; and the acting is totally mind-boggling, both for completely original parts and those that have basis in history.

Whatever questions that may exist have to do with the story. The main thing is: the narration is an interesting mixture of fiction and reality-based reconstruction. The list of characters includes people who really lived, like Elvis, John Lennon, David Bowie, Andy Warhol, Alice Cooper, and others, as well as made-up artists like Hannibal, Xavier, or Kip Stevens, leader of Nasty Bits. It’s not at all a bad thing in and of itself, – to a certain point it actually drove the story, allowing the writers a lot of creative freedom, which paid off significantly. But at the same time it’s a bit confusing, and what’s more important, the line between fiction and reflecting the period is so thin, it moved imperceptibly over the course of the season, with the fiction share growing more and more. It hasn’t become a problem when the season was over – in fact, it promised some interesting developments, but it also leaves open a possibility of exaggerating and abusing the story, which can ultimately lead to a disaster. Of course, we won’t have a chance to see what would’ve happened really.

All things considered, the cancellation is still a bad thing. The story is lively and interesting, and captivating; and chances are it would’ve stayed that way in the future. But at least we get to enjoy these 10 hours of excellent music and acute drama.

Names and figures

Treme (s.03, 2012)

In 3rd season of Treme: Annie develops her career that gains more and more momentum over time eventually resulting in her getting a proper manager and going into a tour; Davis writes an RnB opera and gets a lot of loud names to participate in this new project, but then he falls through as usual; their relationship gets ran down by Annie’s career aspirations. LaDonna has troubles living with her in-laws, and with time move her family to her own house in New Orleans, while tending the bar all along; the case of her assault get to court, surviving through all the bureaucracy, but then she starts receiving threats from one of the rapist’s friend. Nelson gets into business with NOAH program, which is all confused and causes people to revolt against it, but Nelson genuinely tries to make people’s lives better, or at least pretends well enough for business purposes; when the Jazz Center project appears, he gets into it as well. Terry gets more and more heat at work, especially after his colleagues find out he’s been talking to the feds; over time it gets pretty brutal. Albert discovers he has cancer; Delmond and his sisters basically move back to the city to help him. Sonny gets deeper and deeper in his relationship with Lihn and her very traditional family; he slips, unable to withstand all the impending responsiblity, but then manages to clean up his act, and marries the girl in the season’s finale. Tony continues her investigation of the Abreu case, as well as couple of others that are connected; she then launches an attack against a police officer whom she believes to be a murderer. She also starts cooperating with an independent reporter, who came to investigate a similar case. In due time she finds out the truth about Terry, and hooks up with him. Janeatte continues working in the NY restaurant for some time, but then accepts one of the proposals that came her way, and opens a huge restaurant in New Orleans only to run in trouble with her managing partner almost immediately. Baptiste continues to train the school marching band

What’s going on with the police-related storylines is pretty good, even though is not nearly as magnificent as one would’ve hoped. But that maybe actually a good thing, because this way it looks much more realistic. The dynamics of Terry’s relationship with the homicide department and police forces in general is quite interesting; it adds some violence into the mix, which is a good attractor; plus, the development is rather consistent. The second thing I liked in this season is how LaDonna’s case moved through the justice system, as well as all the threats, especially in the light of them being eventually fulfilled. Subsequent mistrial, just as the absence of the bang in the dirty police case, is pretty frustrating, – but lifelike, so I consider this an advantage.

However, the rest of the show divides more or less equally into 2 parts, one of which can be characterized as lame, and the other one – as bullshit.

Davis and the opera; the whole Baptiste’s storyline; Janeatte getting a restaurant; the whole Sonny storyline; the whole Delmond storyline; the freelance reporter investigation (and his character); the fact that nothing interesting is happening with Sofia; Albert’s cancer case; Annie’s career development, – all these things are incredibly lame. Each of these lines taken separately from the others is weak at best; none are interesting to follow; all combined they create a story environment that has nothing exciting about it.

Forced dynamics of the Annie-Davis relationship; Janeatte’s rumblings with her partner and the way she behaves with her staff; Nelson’s good-natured business venture; Albert’s and LaDonna’s semblance of friendship; the fact that Mardi Gras in this season is not remarkable or even interesting at all, – all these solutions are complete bullshit. They are strained, they do not result from previous development of corresponding stories, or, in several cases, they are simply poorly written.

The music is not interesting anymore. It seems like a part of a general tendency, which is acute shortage of new beginnings. There were only a couple of new things this season (Albert’s cancer; and the reporter), while everything else is either continuation of previously conceived, or repetitions (like a Mardi Gras fuck between Davis and Janeatte, which is copy of Baptiste-LaDonna fuck from season 1). The motto of this season is: same old, same old. And it’s sad.

There are still things to see here, but the sparkle is gone. I do bear hope that season 4 would show some progress with the storylines that are still worth watching, but I’m not sure anymore. If you want to preserve good impression created by first 2 seasons, you might want to forget about this one.

Names and figures

Treme (s.02, 2011)

In the 2nd season Treme continues the story of New Orleans slowly recovering after the Katrina. Tony Burnett keeps on helping small people, even though her workload does not really allow it; she takes on a new investigation of a possible murder during the hurricane, which seems rather regular at first, but then police officers start lying about it. Sofia is trying to get over her father’s death by video blogging these angry rants about the state of the city; she soon finds out the truth, and it complicates her relationship with her mother even further. Antoine Baptiste organizes his own band, and also gets a day job as an assistant teacher at a school; he only manages to keep on of those things. Albert Lambreaux gets pretty depressed over things that don’t happen as they should, but his son Delmond helps his to fight it, among other things – through engaging him into a new project of merging modern jazz with old-timey music and Indian chants. Annie and Davis are in a happy relationship now; Annie decides that in order to evolve as a musician she needs to write (her friend Harley helps her with that), and Davis undertakes a recording label enterprise, also creating his own experimental band, however, his aunt, who provided the initial funding, happened to like the show biz more than he did, and so by the end of the season he went back pretty much to his default position. Sonny gets to play with Baptiste’s band for a while; one of musicians there takes a liking to him and helps him get clean by way of hard manual labour; he also meets a nice Vietnamese girl and works hard to secure her father’s approval.  LaDonna gets robbed and raped, and even though she goes through a stage of depression on account of that, eventually it only makes her stronger. Janette is trying to make it work in New York, and things go hard for her at first, but then she catches a real break; her sous-chef almost gets deported, and she helps him avoid that outcome. A lot of the story is dedicated to the police mischief, with Terry stepping forward as one of the main characters; he gets transferred to the homicide soon in the story, to either clean it up or get eaten; he upsets his relationship with Tony over this, but remains honest and clean. Texan guy, who came to town a year ago, keeps on doing real work; his cousin Nelson, however, comes for something very different: he starts making deals, serving as a liaison between the actual workers and the city officials, always trying to make right by everyone, but gets burned in the end.

As you can see from the description above, the show remains pretty dense in terms of eventfullness; the quality of drama also stays high – there’s nothing cheap about it, everything is significant and sincere; all the storylines are interconnected and create a solid picture. The accent shifted somewhat from the people’s lives restoration to many things that are wrong with the police work (especially against the background of increased violent crime rate) and the political system: there’s obviously gonna be a bomb later on with that homicide department thing (I do not know for sure as I intentionally do not read about the real events). The portrayal of corruption from inside is quite fascinating: all those subtle processes, all those tiny deals amalgamating into a whole system of hidden relationships, is really interesting to watch unfold; by the way, politician Oliver Thomas (whom Sofia thinks can make a good mayor) is played by himself – the guy was sentenced and did his time, and later became an actor on the show.

But even though, it’s not as much about people as it used to be, a major part of the show is still dedicated to that subject, and everything related to it is rather great as well. The stories develop in orderly fashion, there is nothing unnatural happening, except maybe for Janette’s line – it all goes way too well for her, but I guess it’s not impossible. All in all, everything that is happening through-out the season is really interesting to follow.

As before, there’s a lot of great music, which basically fills every second of the narrative. Of course, it also makes it kind of habitual thing, but that’s probably one of the binge-watching method drawbacks and has nothing to do with the show itself.

Generally speaking, this 2nd season is a very worthy continuation to 1st one; hopefully, the rest of the show will preserve the level. But so far so good.

Names and figures

Treme (s.01, 2010)

Treme is a drama about New Orleans right after Katrina and attempts of its inhabitants to restore the city and their lives. It follows a number of vivid characters, whose storylines intertwine with each other all the time thus creating a complex and ramiform narrative canvas abundantly flavoured with music. Creighton, a university professor, tries really hard to make America care about the catastrophe for real and not just rhetorically, and even gains some sort of reputation for it, but eventually looses his spirit. His wife Tony is a public defence attorney working to help ordinary people in need, even if it means going against the authorities. She helps LaDonna to find her brother, who was taken by the police right before the storm and haven’t been heard since. LaDonna’s ex-husband Antoine Baptiste is a great and well-know musician who nevertheless cannot handle his finances or train to wear a condom. DJ Davis, a white boy born and raised in the Treme, becomes, basically, its heart and soul, and even almost gets elected to the city council to help restore the city, but deems his music more important. He has this amorphic relationship with Janette, a great chef, who has too much difficulties with running her restaurant. Chief Albert Lambreaux, of the Mardi Gras indians, comes back to town after month of absence and starts preparations for the parade, which becomes especially important first year after the flood. Annie from New York and Sonny from Amsterdam simply play their music on the streets, while trying to fix their decaying relationship. And, of course, the main character of them all is the Treme, a neighbourhood in New Orleans famous as a place of music and birth place of many amazing musicians.

So, this is one of those dramas with heavy, complex narrative, where there are a lot of significant characters, and the density of events is pretty high. The show is an hour-long format, with crucial episodes being even longer than that.

Notwithstanding the length (which can be tiresome in some cases) the show is incredibly interesting to watch due to the fact that everything in it is either perfect or close to it, starting with the scripts. How the writers manage to juggle all the elements, and keep them in such beautiful harmony at that, I can’t even imagine, but I’m pretty sure, it’s a lot of work, which they handle wonderfully. All the characters are three-dimensional, complex personalities; they act like people do, making mistakes and committing to decisions, or vice versa – avoiding them. Their relationships are never simple; their interactions with the environment are lifelike and multivalued.

The portrayal of the city is such that I fell in love with it by absentia; it has become one of my goals to visit New Orleans on Mardi Gras. There is so much music, it basically fills the atmosphere instead of air. And it’s a non-hit kind of music, which is an additional attraction; it simply exists without demanding attention, but receives it anyway because it’s good.

Finally, from the standpoint of technical execution, there is not a single drawback here: the camera, the light, the direction – it’s all superior. The cast is totally surpassing, and every single member of it is doing great, – for the common good as well as each taken on their own.

All in all, it’s been a real pleasure – watching this first season for the 2nd time. I haven’t yet seen the rest of them, and I expect them to be just as good.

Names and figures

Short Anthology

Yellow

Yellow is a short futuristic sketch about an artificial intelligence who got away and managed to live among humans for 18 years. It is rather lame for 2 reason: first of all, the story is told via the offscreen voiceover against the background of random modern-looking shots; second, that story is not actually a story, but rather a tall tale without any characters or even twists. As such it’s not very interesting.

Time: ~4m
Released in: 2006
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Written by: Terri Tatchell, Neill Blomkamp
Performed by: Julien Phipps, Gideon Karmel, Jason Bell, Jaeson Lee, Bob Dong, Hamish Cameron, Irene Astle, Dusan Marusák
Entertaining quality4- out of 5
Art quality:  3 out of 5

IMDB page: link


HAIM: Valentine

I’m not really sure why I even watched this – of course I know, it’s because of the director’s name. But really, for me there is nothing interesting here. It’s just a bunch of songs performed by the band HAIM in their recording studio. That’s all, – just music, nothing else. Which is great – the video is simple enough not to steal music’s thunder, and good enough for the viewer not to notice it very much. But it’s not very interesting.

Time: ~14m
Released in: 2017
Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Performed by: Alana Haim, Danielle Haim, Este Haim
Entertaining quality4 out of 5
IMDB page: link


In Deep Shit

In Deep Shit is a film about a roll of toilet paper getting delivered. It has upset me very much. It saddens me a great deal to watch this kind of resources being wasted on something this ridiculous (and not in a good way). The short is presented as an absurd comedy, but it’s not even remotely funny. It’s unpleasant and nasty, it’s full of stretches, stupidities and highly questionable solutions. It’s almost a half-hour long, and it’s completely worthless.

Time: ~29m
Released in: 2015 (2016)
Directed by: Richard Mazallon
Written by: Richard Mazallon, Stéphane Penaranda, Nina Dub, Bertrand Carrot
Performed by: Rack Framboise, Damien Boutte, Julie Brune, Nina Dub, Stéphane Penaranda, Bertrand Carrot, Mala, Harley Pouk, Eric Thorlames, Annelie Bellule
Entertaining quality2- out of 5
Art quality:  1- out of 5
Facebook page: (link)

(v. 4.8)
®shoomow, 2017

Scary B.O.O.M. Underground / Scary B.O.O.M. v andegraunde (s.02, 2012)

In 2nd season of Scary B.O.O.M. v andegraunde Kirill Ermichev and Co continue telling about the Scary B.O.O.M rockabilly band, as well as some stuff that they think has everything to do with the rock music situation in Russia.

As it usually happens, the more you do something, the better you do it. Technical quality of the execution has improved quite obviously – the editing and the special effects became more subtle and better refined. Everything else, however, either remained on the same level or degraded. It’s still impossible to gain understanding about the music itself – it usually goes as a background to whatever is happening on the screen, and can be perceived by the viewer only as such; on rare occasions they did in fact show some performances, but there were too few of those, and none of them lasted for longer than a couple of minutes. The narrative has broadened in all the wrong directions: Ermichev found enough time to tell even about things that happen to the music performance industry during the summer, but not about what’s going on with the band. Apparently, somewhere in the gap between the seasons its lineup underwent significant changes: from the context of the story we can tell that the double-bass player left the bad due to personal reasons and general disappointment with music, but this topic is never address directly; disappearance of the drummer (who was frequently interviewed during season 1) is not even mentioned. The band leader, Ermichev, seems to be the only consistent thing about it, and he is a pretty boring guy.

Of the 15 episodes available online, only 12 were aired; the remaining 3 can be found on YouTube only. View count suggests that no one is really interested. Moreover, Ermichev himself lost any interest soon after, or even during, the filming of the 2nd season, – the band doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Contrary to Ermichev’s belief, it didn’t leave any significant imprint on the history of music.

The series claimed to cover the state of the art of rock music in Russia at the time, but failed to create a systematic picture; it also failed to provide the audience with a consistent narrative about the band’s history, development, features. It may still be useful to small bands as it tells about certain sides of a band activity that are not evident, but this usefulness is rather conditional, because these things change with time passing by, and this kind of experience tends to come naturally to musicians. All in all, this show seems to convey a viewpoint of those who never made it, those show were unable to break away from the everyday squabbles and gain a perspective. Not worth the time.

Names and figures

Scary B.O.O.M. Underground / Scary B.O.O.M. v andegraunde (s.01, 2011)

Scary B.O.O.M. v andegraunde is a documentary series about a russian psychobilly band Scary B.O.O.M., which was one of the few to gain relative popularity in Europe. The show tells about history of the bad, its everyday activities of all kinds, from designing clothing for performance, to controlling production of merchandise, to actually doing music.

I can’t believe this bullshit has been sitting on my self for 5 years; I’ve been a little intimidated because documentaries about music are usually not an easy viewing, and so I only got to it now, and what do I see? First of all, this is not a series about current rock-music scene, like it claims to be; rather, it is a chronicle of a band’s life – excruciatingly circumstantial, – until it suddenly pivots and starts telling about producing merch – again, in way too much detail; and then it pivots again, this time into the view on European music, which actually boils down to a short sequence of interviews with a leader of some band and also with some officials of a Finnish music / film festival. Obviously, the guys didn’t have an uber plan, and as a result we have this loose, incoherent narrative about so many things, it amounts to being about nothing at all.

What’s even worse is that this so-called rock band doesn’t have any temper at all, there isn’t even a hint of charisma in any of the participants, including Ermichev. They surely like to talk about themselves, – well, who doesn’t? and this whole thing would’ve probably looked very different if they’d made it, but they didn’t, and so it all seemed pretty pitiful to me. As far as I’m concerned, the band is long gone, and there’s nothing sad about it, it’s only natural, – it didn’t have a chance in the first place.

As for the music, I can honestly say that after watching this whole season, I would never, not even under a death threat, be able to distinguish songs of Scary B.O.O.M. from songs of any other band that was mentioned in the series. They all sound alike to me; probably, it’s because music plays pretty much all the time in the show, – so much in fact, it effectively becomes a part of the background, and stops to register at all. From those pieces that I can actually attribute to the band, none produces any significant impression, – I didn’t feel there was anything special about that music. I believe, the ideal result of any film about a real music band would be an overwhelming desire in the viewer to go and listen to more of that music; however, after I’ve watched this show, all I wanted to listen to was Eminem. Of all people.

Ultimately, it’s a poorly executed story about music that is not really worth it. I’m not sure, why would I watch the 2nd season of this, but I will. Stay tuned.

Names and figures

Country Strong (Shana Feste, 2010)

Country Strong is a story about a successuful country singer, Kelly Canter, who just had enough of it. Having just recovered after her infamous breakdown, she goes on a new tour, along with rising stars Beau Hatton and Chiles Stanton, in a hope to repair her crumbling career and find some stability in life. These three and Kelly’s husband James, who is also her manager, are engaged in a complicated emotional relationship, and sometimes let the feelings get the best of them, which eventually leads to a painful resolution.

This film surpassed my expactations by turning out quite unsimple. The story is not at all stereotypical: all the primary characters are interesting, complex personalities, and relationship between them is far from being a banal love quadrangle as one would expect from a movie almost entirely dedicated to country music. The story of Kelly, who got lost after achieving fame and success, and failed to find a proper way out, is not only touching, but truthful and completely unhackneyed; it is designed and implemented in the most sutle manner. The affection that grows eventually between Beau and Chiles (where do they get those names, by the way?) looks natural to me; there are no signes of any forcing, it just blooms like, it seems, would’ve in life.

The finale is a little predictable, that might be true, but all in all, it’s a decent and powerful story implemented on a very high professional level, with lots of great music, and healthy emotional charge. It was enjoyable experience; the kind I would gladly recommend to anyone.

Names and figures

Music of the Heart (Wes Craven, 1999)

Music of the Heart is a rather typical inspirational film. As usual, it tells a story of a challenge and successful overcoming of it; in this case twice: first instance was about a woman newly freed from an unfortunate marriage starting a brand new career in antagonistic circumstances, and the second is her fighting the jeopardy of her program being shut down for good. Suffice it to say, both cases ended with her triumphant.

This story is based on real events that took place somewhere in the 1980s-1990s assuring the plausibility, and it does look pretty good from all perspectives except one – it’s a case of survivorship bias. Movies like this, deliberately or not, introduce into the audience’s minds a simple yet alluring idea that if you are talented enough and work really hard, you will eventually win no matter what difficulties stand in your way. But the thing is, a story with similar beginning but one that ended up with failure has no chances to make it to the screen in the first place; only the successful ones would be adapted, which creates a significant disbalance. Of course, this matters only from the standpoint of realism, because makes the universe of discourse discrepant from the real universe.

However, the purpose of such films is different: they are meant to inspire the spirit and elevate the mood. And Music of the Hearth does so quite perfectly. Not in the least thanks to high quality implementation, which includes acting, as well as all the technical aspects, and, of course, the music. The music is pretty great.

I have to say, this film is not what one would expect from Wes Craven; he may have been trying to prove to himself that he’s capable of more than making just the horrors, and if that’s the case, he did bring it out quite clearly, – allowing for the fact, of course, that he simply moved into a different, but no less confined genre. But all in all, it is enjoyable and really nice movie, so who cares.

Names and figures

Galavant (s.02)

During the whole 2nd season Galavant chases whatever made the 1st season so great and fails miserably. External attributes may seem unchanged, but the spirit, the elusive substance that made the show so light and fascinating – it’s gone. And that is the reason why it got cancelled – inderectly, through the drop of ratings.

The humor is questionable most of the time; there are some funny jokes, but they are so rare, it actually becomes a curious phenomenon – how it could have happenned so fast and so definitively? The ideas, the boons writers come up with are often weird instead of interesting, and sometimes are plain stupid. It’s understandable that contradictions and paradoxes are one of the major components of the show’s narrative’s fabric, but in season 2 the overall quantity of those goes off the charts and that’s a little depressing, because nothing makes sense, and nothing is the key word here.

One of the first episodes seems like taken from an alternative universe; it’s about the democracy and the castle which is gone, and it makes even less sense than everything else: during the very same episode some scenes from the castle were shown, and no explanation was offered, not even via a clever remark, like they usually do. That was highly frustrating; it prevented me from enjoying the series, – well, along with all the other stuff.

Because of lack of humor the majority of singing numbers feel like an ordinary bullshit hollywood musical, which only adds to all the negative impressions.

All in all it seems like the writers were stretching the story as hard as they could by adding more and more storyturns, none of which were plausible; basically, it’s a hot mess – terribly unfunny and uninteresting. Decision to prolong the show into 2nd season might be one of the worst ever: they not only failed, they also spoiled the 1st season, maybe hopelessly.

Names and figures

Galavant (s.01)

Galavant is a parody on all the noble-knight-figth-to-the-death-evil-king cliches, and there’s nothing much to say about it, except that it’s a musical, and it’s an absolute pleasure. It’s perfect from every angle: energetic, funny, smarty, witty, brilliantly played and sung, very bright, totally fascinating. At that, extremely powerful implementation is characteristic of all the episodes, from first to last, – and though it’s not very long, the ability to maintain this kind of quality on pretty much the same level through-out is still impressive. The music, the dancing, – every gag is staged and directed on a completely mindblowing level. The only unpleasant thing about it is that it ends so soon.

Hopefully, 2nd season will be fun as well, but expectations are not very high, – after all, there should be a reason for show’s cancellation after just 2 seasons. But there may be other things at play, so we’ll see.

Names and figures

Le bal (Ettore Scola, 1983)

Le bal is a film without words and a lot of dancing. It shows a Paris dancing joint, and the people who come there, who are apparently all frequent visitors, from the times of German occupation during WWII until decades later. There are a lot of characters, each uniquely designed, and correspondingly – a great number of interactions, every single one of which is shown and processed without using any words at all.

There is an acting excersise called “organic silence”, when the participants have to co-exist within some space (usually, a stage) without resorting to voice communication. Usually it looks kinda weird, because speech is natural, and its absence is not; but this set of restrictions is very easily defined and sometimes can produce interesting results, which is why the students often like to expand this excersise into their next level works, – but then again, because it’s pretty simple to construct, but not that simple to enliven, the vast majority of such works are bound to stay experimental, i.e. not interesting.

Sometimes, though, an already developed cinema master adverts to a ambigious method like this, and then – well, then magic happens, although not without flaws. Like, in Le bal, for example, the story is told absolutely brilliantly, because all that is going on is very much clear with minimal amount of attention (which is still required – after all, there are almost no sound clues), but sometimes the characters’ behaviour deviates slightly from the realistic model – not to the bullshit level, nowhere near it, but enough to evoke a barely perceptible sensation of discrepancy. Another thing – at times the movie becomes a bit too allegoric, which is, probably, not a bad thing for this storytelling format, but I’m still inclined to make note of it.

And yet, this movie still feels like a light and wonderful adventure, and though it’s won’t make it to my very-best list, I do find it extremely interesting and entertaining.

Names and figures

Empire (s.02)

Empire’s second season is 1.5 times longer than the first one, and this might be exactly the thing that’s killed the show.

It is divided into two parts, first being dedicated mostly to the hostile takeover intrigue – it ends with the 12th episode. Except for the structure and characters’ motivation it’s pretty much fine: the dialogs are rather good; the music is almost as great as before, although word “hot” in reference to it is hugely overused and starts to sound more and more like bullshit with time; the acting is okay too. Unfortunately, the whole thing with Camilla standing behind the takeover is terrible and undermines all the good stuff – it just doesn’t add up from the standpoint of logic, and when something like this happens, it becomes really hard to trust the integrity of the narrative. Other things do not help as well: storylines are being initiated only to be killed at birth (whatever happened to Valentina after Lucious stole her, for example? what about the christian rap thing?), and the motivation of some primary personages (like Andre, or Hakeem) feels strong, but is questionable as there seem to be not enough grounds for the adopted lines of development.

But however weak this first part may be, it was still quite entertaining – at least, there’s a purposeful story at play. Real trouble started after the double death tragedy. The show completely lost its focus – the writers, unable to come up with a single storyline, started to rush about, taking this route and that, but concentrating almost exclusively on the internal family problems. They brough back the FBI investingation, which was completely out of the blue (and contradictory to the previous events), but the most sickening part is that they tried to fill the void by bringing into the story more and more family members from the past, constructing wierd and unfeasible relationships between the old ones and the new ones along the way. Because of this the show started to look like a fucking Santa Barbara – especially thanks to the finale of the season, where the concentration of bullshit exceeded any reasonable limits. Against this awfully hollow background the vulgarity and triteness of the RnB\hip-hop culture became exceptionally evident – it was always there, but was more or less compensated by the strength of the drama before.

And if before I was totally willing to forgive all the small logical lapses, all the crude and unelegant solutions, as well as talentless discharge of very promising storylines (just take Anika clearing the way for her baby alone), now it’s quite impossible to ignore. The show turned into a cheap melodrama, and I have no idea how would they climb out of this pit. Frankly speaking, I’m not that interested in finding out, at least right now disgust in me is stronger than curiosity.

I think, increasing number of episodes was a serious mistake on the part of Daniels and Strong. If they wouldn’t have done it, the structure of the season would’ve been different, probably more gathered, but for sure there would have been no need in going soap.

Names and figures

Empire (s.01)

Empire is a show about music; it’s filled with music to the top; music is basically oozing out of its every pore. And it’s not just any music: the series takes a very deep look into the history and development of RnB and hip-hop. Well, not so much history – after all, it’s all a fictional story, but it surely conveys the atmosphere, the inescapable connection between music and criminal activity that has been forming this cloud of genres from the start.

The musical company that the show is named after is one of the top competitors in the field, but its path has always been a struggle for survival, and that struggle becomes much more intense when one of the original founders finally comes out of the prison: external and internal conflicts start to aggravate accelerating each other on every round. In order to stay on top of things, key people make decision, some of which turn out to be quite bad; this amplifies the jeopardy, and ultimatelly puts all the achievements at risk. In short, it’s quite a mess – but only in terms of life and human relationships; as for the drama, it’s very well-structured; almost all the events are well-grounded and built into the inevitable movement of the preconditions’ logical development. Some exceptions might include: Cookie forgetting about the hit she ordered by mistake almost immediately after it happened; not using Elle’s mishap to bring down Anika; and, of course, the thing that triggered the final swirl – Lucious’ confession when under the sleeping pill. These thing might have been written and implemented better, but in the end they don’t really ruin anything.

The music is pretty great, and one thing you need to understand here is that I’m not really into it. My sound of choice would be rock, metal and other related genres – that’s what really resonates with me; so when I’m saying that the music on this show is good, it’s because I try to look on things objectively – to the best of my ability. I rather often witness a contradiction between claims and reality (when some work of art being a part of the narrative is declared outstanding with no evidence to corroborate it whatsoever), – well, this is definetely not the case. Songs performed for the series are really hot, as the characters keep calling it; I totally believe that people would love it. Combined with a pretty high level of drama it produces a rather strong impression.

The acting is good, although younger members of the cast were more interesting than the older ones, even though it’s all built around Lucious and Cookie. Technical implementation is great as well – or, at least, I haven’t noticed any fuckups. All in all, the show is pleasant to watch, and it captivates quite strongly. Can’t wait to see what they’ve done with the 2nd season.

Names and figures

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