“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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“Bomb Girls”, Season 1

Here’s something different for me: a period drama series that I like that is not British or Mad Men. “Bomb Girls” is a Canadian TV series telling the stories of four women working in a munition factory during World War II, starting in 1941 – Gladys, an heiress looking to be taken seriously; Betty, who hides a painful secret under her tough exterior; Kate, who’s escaped her abusive preacher father to find a new life; and Lorna, the traditional (and some would say repressed) shift matron with two sons oversea and a wheelchair-bound husband.

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The closest comparison that I can think of is Pan Am – it is a workplace drama with female leads – but Pan Am is too slick and glamorous to be a good reference for “Bomb Girls”. And unlike Pan Am, romance isn’t the focus here. It’s not about who these girls hook up with (there are romantic subplots, but that’s all they are – subplots), it’s about how they navigate through their tough, sometimes life-threatening work environment, the casual sexism of the time, with the threat of war hanging over it all. The characters, including the men, are surprisingly more well-rounded too. It’s actually much closer to A League of Their Own than Pan Am. Also, kudos to the writers for having a lesbian (closeted, but that can’t be helped) as one of the main characters. That’s better than even Mad Men, which has only one homosexual character with a storyline, and that was about three seasons ago.

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I have a few complaints, though. Although it is an ensemble show, Gladys gets the most attention in any given episode, and I get kinda bored with her, maybe because a big part of her storyline deals with her relationship with her fiance, which I don’t really buy. I would much rather see Betty or Kate as the lead. Another subplot that deals with Vera, another girl in the factory who has a bad accident that leaves her deformed and suicidal, also feels too heavy and soap opera-y. Still, those are minor, and only about this specific season.

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It’s really rare for me to watch a show where I only recognize one of the actors (Meg Tilly, as Lorna), but I have no complaints about the performance. As for the costumes and sets, I would say they’re the same compared to Pan Am as The Hour compared to Mad Men – “Bomb Girls” is not a glossy Technicolor magazine cover of the 1940’s, but it looks fairly accurate and pretty.

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Originally planned as a mini series, it’s been turned into a full series, with the second season just starting. Given the premise, I’m not sure how long it will last, but I’m excited to find out what happens next.


“The Hour”, Season 2

Since I’m still recovering from food poisoning, here are some pretty screencaps from the second season of The Hour (well, there goes my resolution about posting “quality over quantity”.) This season ramps up both the mystery and the romantic tension in the story, resulting in something I find a little all over the place. Last season focuses solely on the Suez Crisis, but this season introduces us to a convoluted plot that deals with the nuclear scare, organized crime, police corruption, and even touches on prejudice against immigrants and homosexuals. Yes, all these things are relevant to the era, but putting them in one single season like this feels a bit much.

I like all the personal subplots though. Freddie returns from a 9-month soul-searching trip with some surprises; Bel is turning into Freddie with her relentless pursuit of a story; Hector’s perfect anchorman veneer begins to show some cracks, while his wife Marnie proves that she’s no Betty Draper; and Lix finally gets the attention she deserves with a heart-wrenching backstory with new head of news Randall Brown (I would watch a show about those two alone). Overall, I enjoy this season enough to hope that the show gets renewed.

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Check out that 1958’s party fare… Gross

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“The Hour”, Season 1

I’m already a total geek about BBC’s “bonnet dramas”, so when they came out with their mid-century drama “The Hour”, of course I was excited to check it out. Mad Men meets The Newsroom (yes I know The Newsroom came out after, but it’s a fitting reference), “The Hour” centers around a 1950’s news show run by a dynamic team including young producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai), charismatic anchorman Hector Madden (Dominic West), ambitious reporter and Bel’s best friend Freddie Lyons (Ben Whishaw), and experienced war correspondence Lix Storm (Anna Chancellor.)

Comparisons to Mad Men is inevitable, and you can certainly find some similarities in the two shows’ characters: there’s something of Don’s womanizing way in Hector, some of Joan’s no-nonsense attitude in Bel, some of Peggy’s drive and ambition in Freddie, and some of Betty’s housewife ennui in Hector’s wife Marnie (Oona Chaplin, who apparently was having a fantastic year – I mean, she was in Sherlock, Game of Thrones, and this!) To me, though, the period and some broad strokes of characters are where the resemblance ends. “The Hour” is part workplace drama, part Cold War thriller – the first season is set against the Suez Crisis as the production team constantly run into attempts to sanitize their reports, and there’s an entire subplot about Freddie’s investigation of a debutante’s apparent suicide, which leads him to a bigger conspiracy. So it may not be the character study that Mad Men is, and the story can be a little slow at first, but it is still greatly enjoyable – the characters of Mad Men are so fucked up that sometimes I find it hard to watch.

The acting is excellent across the board, but my favorite performance has to be from Anna Chancellor as the acid-tongued Lix Storm (that’s a great name, isn’t it? Sounds like she should be one of the X-Men) – plus I’m just happy to see her in a role where she’s not chasing after Colin Firth. The sets and costumes are not as glamorous as Mad Men, but they’re still impeccable and more realistic that way.

So no, “The Hour” is not Mad Men, and it’s not trying to be either, but that doesn’t mean that fans of Mad Men should dismiss it. It’s got its own story to tell, so if you’re interested in the period, go watch it! (Season 2 just started about a month ago, and I can’t wait to find out what follows last season’s tense finale.)