Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Season 2

OK, this is just spooky. I have reviewed 5 TV series on the blog so far – Pan Am, Bomb Girls, Black Mirror, The Hour, and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. None of them has made it past the second season. Bomb Girls is getting a TV movie to wrap up the cliffhanger, Black Mirror is possibly coming back for a third season but even the creator doesn’t know when, and now it looks like Miss Fisher is not coming back either, because apparently it costs too much. But perhaps it is not so surprising after all. Four out of five of those series are period shows and Black Mirror is a sci-fi anthology, so they all cost a lot to make and the audience is not big. I mean, just take a look at Miss Fisher – they probably blow most of their budget on those fabulous costumes.

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This post is, in fact, just an excuse to look at those costumes, because yeah, the second season is just as fun as the first, but let’s be honest here: I don’t watch it for the murder cases. I watch it for the costumes (mostly the hats. I love all of the hats.)

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Just to be safe though, if I do want to review shows from now on, I should probably just stick to those that already got a few seasons under their belts – like Call the Midwife, which is on my to-watch list, but with Games of Throne and Mad Men coming back, it’ll have to wait.

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Death Comes To Pemberley

I don’t have a book review this month because even though I did read two books, they’re by two of my go-to authors, Terry Pratchett and Bill Bryson (after A Children’s Book, I needed something more fun), so I don’t think my reviews would be interesting. Other than that I’ve been reading mostly short stories and Sandman comics, and none of those can provide an interesting review either, so here’s a review of a mini-series instead – “Death Comes to Pemberley”, based on the novel by P.D. James, which is a murder mystery sequel to Pride and Prejudice.

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First, the story: it’s six years after Elizabeth and Darcy are married, and they are preparing for their annual ball when Lydia, who was not invited, arrives in hysterics, claiming Wickham has been murdered. The body they find, however, is that of Wickham’s friend Captain Denny, and Wickham himself is immediately arrested. What follows is an investigation that uncovers all sorts of secrets and threatens to tear Elizabeth and Darcy apart.

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I really enjoyed this. It’s beautifully shot, the sets are gorgeous, the costumes pretty (it actually has some of the prettiest Regency costumes I’ve seen in post-2000 period dramas. I don’t understand how some of these recent adaptations can’t seem to get the Regency silhouette right. And don’t get me started on the costumes in the 2005 P&P, ugh.) I would like to see more of the “murder mystery” part, because it would’ve been super fun to watch Elizabeth and Darcy playing detective to save the reputation of Pemberley and ultimately, their marriage, but here the series mostly focuses on the drama part. I guess it’s a good choice though, because when the murder itself is resolved, it feels kind of anticlimactic.

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Hard as it is to me to let go of my mental images of Elizabeth and Darcy from the 1995 P&P, I have to admit the cast is good too.  Anna Maxwell Martin and Matthew Rhys are no Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, obviously, but then again they don’t have to be – they are portraying these characters in a different period in their lives, and their Elizabeth/Darcy relationship is believable. Matthew Goode has a great balance between being charming and creepy, so he’s perfect as Wickham. Jenna Coleman (yep, Clara of Doctor Who) has a face that is too modern to be in a period piece, I think, but she brings some vulnerability to the character that makes Lydia a lot less annoying.

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I haven’t read the book, though a quick glance at the reviews says it’s apparently not that great. Which is a shame, because I would totally recommend the mini-series, whether you’re a fan of Pride and Prejudice or not.

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“Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”, Season 1

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I’m waiting for Boardwalk Empire to come back (the premiere on HBO Asia is usually a month after the US premiere – gives them time to do subtitles), so in the meantime, I checked out another show set in the 1920’s – “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”. Based on a series of books, it revolves around Phryne Fisher, a lady detective in late 1920’s Melbourne. The pilot feels a little flat to me – despite the glamorous setting, it all feels a little too familiar, too reminiscent of other lady detectives like Miss Marple and Nancy Drew. But I keep watching anyway, and grew to like it. Most of the TV shows I watch now are serialized, and I’m happy to get back to an episodic show with just a simple seasonal arc that you can jump in at any moment. It’s light, and the characters are fun – the chemistry between Phryne and Inspector Robinson, her reluctant collaborator in many cases, is great, while Constable Collins (Inspector Robinson’s right-hand man) and Dot (Phryne’s right-hand woman) are so sweet together they give me a toothache every time they come on screen. Plus, the costumes are gorgeous (I want all of Phryne’s hats. I don’t care that I can’t wear them anywhere. I just want them.)

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The second season just started earlier this month, and I’m crossing my fingers that it gets more than 2 seasons, because none of the shows I reviewed has – I’m still holding out hope forBlack Mirror, but there’s no news so far.

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Cheerful Weather For The Wedding

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Before I watched this movie, I didn’t realize that besides the British “bonnet dramas” of Austen, Bronte, and Gaskell adaptations, there is another kind of very specific romantic dramas that I like: stories set in 1920’s and 1930’s and revolve around the eccentricity of the British gentility. The plot is intimate, the conflict is usually personal, the humor is dry, and the characters talk with such thick accent and rapid-fire delivery that you’ll need subtitles to understand them. I Capture the Castle, Cold Comfort Farm, and Love in a Cold Climate are all excellent examples of this, and now I can add “Cheerful Weather for the Wedding” to the list.

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The story can’t be simpler: it’s the wedding day of Dolly (Felicity Jones), but while her family and friends are gathered downstairs, Dolly prefers to sit in her room swigging rum and having flashbacks to her previous summer with Joseph (Luke Treadaway), who is also at the wedding.

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There are all the eccentric characters you’d expect in a story like this – an overbearing yet clueless mother, a pompous uncle, a world-weary best friend, annoying cousins, a boy-crazy but brutally honest sister, and the sensible, sympathetic servants. Though they are not as memorable as the ones in say, I Capture the Castle, the performances are all good (it is so easy for Elizabeth McGovern, who plays the mother, to play a British version of Lady Grantham, but she doesn’t.) The plot can be boring if it’s not your cup of tea, but I like it, until the ending. Not because it doesn’t end the way I want, but because I don’t feel the story has built itself up to it. The climax comes out of nowhere, basically.

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What I love the most about this movie though, is the look of it. The scenery is gorgeous, and the costumes are perfect. I’m a sucker for 1930’s style, and I love every single one of Dolly’s outfits – those lovely silk floral blouses worn with skirts and wide-legged pants, and that wedding gown! I think it’s the same thing that draws me to those others movies – they’re simple romantic dramas presented in insanely beautiful packages, perfect for you to get lost in for an hour or two.

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Hitchcock

“Hitchcock” is one of those movies I’d been looking forward to since I first heard about it (too bad it came out after I already moved home, so I couldn’t see it in the theater.) It’s not because I’m a big Hitchcock fan or anything (though I’m fairly familiar with his work, you can’t help it when you’re a film student), but simply because I like biopics, or at least movies about real people, especially people in the entertaining business – I wouldn’t call “Hitchcock” a biopic by any means, as it only focuses on Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife Alma Reville during the making of Psycho.

Well, the movie is as standard as you expect, but I quite enjoyed it. I was skeptical about Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock, but he did a pretty good job. Helen Mirren is flawless, as always. Scarlett Johansson looks nothing like Janet Leigh, but after a while I was sold, probably because the movie doesn’t rely on her. I’ve heard complaints that there is too much focus on the love story between Hitchcock and his wife, but without it, the movie would have no heart. You just have to go into it expecting some romance. Actually, my only quibble is the addition of Ed Gein, the real-life inspiration behind Psycho. I appreciate it, especially since Ed Gein is more Jeffrey Dahmer than Norman Bates, but I think it makes the tone a little wonky. There are some funny bits and all this love story going on, and then suddenly you have Hitchcock talking to an imaginary Ed Gein… I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be darkly comedic or dramatic or what.

I’m a bit of an Anthony Perkins fan too, so it’s good thing I didn’t expect to see a whole lot of him, because his role in “Hitchcock” is tiny. James D’Arcy is a good choice physically, though his performance seems to be based solely on Perkins as Norman Bates, and not Perkins himself. I get that they want to address Perkins’ closeted homosexuality, but James D’Arcy played him too quiet and awkward. My friend Katie, who is a huge Anthony Perkins fan, pointed out a scene in which Hitchcock says to Perkins “You may call me Hitch. Hold the Cock,” and Perkins looks visibly uncomfortable. According to Katie, whom I view as the authority on this matter, Tony himself was more likely to make such a joke! Still, like I said, he was in it for a whopping amount of five minutes, so it doesn’t matter. Now… if they’d do an Anthony Perkins biopic with Andrew Garfield, I’d be a happy panda.

Photos courtesy of OutNow.ch


“Bomb Girls”, Season 2

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I spent the long Labor Day break last week catching up on season 2 of “Bomb Girls”. My verdict: I enjoyed it, though not as much as season 1. I think it’s more suitable for a 6-episode season instead of 12, because there are episodes in this season where I can definitely sense the writers scrambling for a storyline, while the continuity in other storylines is not carried through at all. Not to spoil it for anyone, but suffice to say there are a couple of big events at the beginning and the middle of this season, but by the end it’s like they’ve never happened at all.

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Same with season 1, I still find Betty’s and Kate’s storylines much more interesting and think that they should be developed more, while rolling my eyes so hard at Gladys’ storyline. Not to mention that the guy playing her new love interest has the worst fake British accent I have ever heard. He sounds so annoying that I turned the sound off whenever he appears in a scene – it’s not like I’m that interested in Gladys to begin with. Still, it’s fun to watch in a nighttime soap opera kind of way, and the costumes are pretty.

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The show won’t be renewed for a third season, which I would be OK with had it not ended on a cliffhanger (just like The Hours – crap, maybe I should stop reviewing all these new shows. Both new shows I reviewed didn’t make it past the second season!) Well, I’d live. But if you want to save the show, you can go here.

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Blancanieves

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I’m not a big fan of The Artist. I was glad it won Best Picture, but I got overhyped on it (the same happens with Inception: everybody was gushing about how amazing it was, so I went to see it and left with a shrug. Good, but not great.) I don’t think The Artist is a bad movie, and Jean Dujardin is a dream, but I find its homage to the Silent Era too transparent from the story to the acting, that it takes me out of the movie a little bit.

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So when I found out about Blancanieves“, Spain’s response to The Artist (and their submission to the Best Foreign Language category at the 2013 Oscars, but it didn’t get nominated), I decided to check it out. It’s a twist on Snow White, set in 1920’s Spain, where Snow White’s mother is a flamenco dancer, her father is a legendary bullfighter who suffers a terrible accident, and the stepmother (Maribel Verdú of Pan’s Labyrinth and Y Tu Mama Tambien, the only actor I recognized) is the nurse who takes care of him. There are also nods to Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Freaks, as Snow White is rescued from her stepmother’s murder attempt by a band of dwarf bullfighters, and becomes a bullfighter herself.

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A retelling of Snow White? Female bullfighter? A silent film taking its inspiration from the European silent melodrama? Count me in! In my opinion, if you want to make a silent movie in 2012, it should pass for a silent movie made in 1929 without feeling dated, and this certainly does. The acting is great but not exaggerated, the music is excellent, and the stark visual reminiscent of German Expressionism is so perfect for the dark, sad, and slightly surreal story. The ending does feel a little abrupt (I was like “Wait, that’s it? That’s how it ends?!”) but now that I think back about it, it really suits the twisted feel of the whole movie as well as the original Snow White.

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