Review Crimson Peak (2015): An ode to the Gothic novel brought to life by Del Toro’s visual poetry

Mia Wasikowska in Crimson Peak

‘Crimson Peak’ is a gothic horror movie set in the beginning of the 20th century in which the young writer Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) falls in love with the mysterious English ‘baronet’ Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Edith moves in with Thomas and his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) in their Victorian mansion. But she’s not alone in the house: she is haunted by ghosts from a dark past, something Edith is experiencing from a young age. With ‘Crimson Peak’ director Guillermo del Toro revives the forgotten gothic horror genre. Continue reading “Review Crimson Peak (2015): An ode to the Gothic novel brought to life by Del Toro’s visual poetry”

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Get Yer Kilt On – Outlander: Season 1 Review

Firstly I want to say, I haven’t read the books, so I will only write about the TV series Outlander in this review. My mother loves the books and was very enthousiastic when the series came out. She recommended me to watch and, well, I’m probably a chip off the old block, because soon I was hooked on Outlander. Warning: spoilers for season 1 of Outlander follow.

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Outlander: season 1 (2014-15)

  • Creator: Ronald D. Moore
  • Season 1 premiere date: Aug 9, 2014
  • Starring: Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies, Duncan Lacroix, Graham McTavish,
  • 16 episodes of 60 minutes

Outlander follows the story of Claire Beauchamp Randall (Caitriona Balfe), a combat nurse from 1945. When she is reunited with her husband Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies) after 5 years of war, they travel to Inverness in Scotland for a second honeymoon. While Frank researches his family history, Claire, interested in the old Scottish folklore, witnesses a Druid ritual among standing stones on the hill of Craigh na Dun. When she places her hands on the stones, she is swept back in time to 1743 in Scotland, in the middle of a skirmish between Redcoats and rebel Highlanders. She is threatened by Frank’s ancestor “Black Jack” Randall (also Tobias Menzies), but saved by a Scotsman and his fellows. Claire’s held captive at Castle Leoch and the MacKenzie clan and is labeled as ‘Sassenach’, an English person or outlander and is suspected to be an English spy. With her medical experience she is deployed as a healer while planning her escape back to Craigh na Dun. But after treating a dislocated shoulder of the romantic, red-haired Scottish warrior Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), a passionate relationship is ignited that tears Claire’s heart between two different men in two incompatible lives.

outlander jamie claireWhen you try to tell someone about the series, you probably say it’s a love story about an English woman who travels back in time and falls in love with a Scot. But the thing about Outlander is: it’s so much more than that! The series unexpectedly plays with genre: sometimes it feels like a historical drama, ten minutes later it’s an adventure or swash-buckle story, but also shocking horror, magical fantasy and science-fiction with it’s tagline: “What if your future was the past?” The fact that Claire travels back in time to the the fierce world of Scotland and knows history of these Highlanders and their failing cause is an interesting struggle.

Claire is above all a great, strong female character played by actress Caitrona Balfe. Her character’s traits of stubbornness and intelligence are engaging and sometimes very funny: she doesn’t let anyone tell her what to do, which is in violation with the traditions of Scotland in 1743. She is a strong woman, well-spoken, knows politics, has headstrong opinions, she drinks and she loves sex (which results in long, passionate sex scenes). As Caitrona Balfe says in an interview, Claire is even for her time in 1940’s very modern and very forward thinking.outlander leoch

The series are of course based on the Outlander book series by Diana Gabaldon. In the first episodes of the show, Claire’s voice-over was used very often, a filmic technique to adapt narrated monologue in books – but in screenwriting there’s the principle of ‘tell me nothing, show me everything.’ Since the script is beautifully written, Claire’s voice-over felt sometimes unnecessary because I already saw was she was thinking or feeling. But the voice-over was used less during the season and I got more comfortable with Claire’s character. It was a nice change, since there aren’t that much female protagonists I know of. As a viewer you step into this new world together with Claire. This is emphasized by not translating Gaelic for example, which excludes Claire and us from the conversation and information given. Also, instead of a ‘male gaze’, a ‘female gaze’ is often used, for example when Jamie jumpes naked into the river to fix the mill (if you know what I mean).

Speaking of Jamie Fraser, the charming Scottish warrior with lots of charisma, he is well played by Sam Heughan with his swooing blue eyes. He is well matched with Claire, who teaches him to have an open minded, equivalent relationship based on love and respect (for his time), but also remains to have his proud heritance of his clan and as laird and teaches Claire the Scottish ways in return. Then there is the ultimate antagonist, Jack Randall. Gods, Joffrey Baratheon of Game of Thrones would be afraid of this man! I think he is the most sadistic and horrifying character I’ve ever seen. A memorable performance by Tobias Menzies.

outlander randall claire

The storyline develops with a nice pace, you truly get to know the wonderful characters and setting, which allows you to understand well why Claire’s heart is torn between these two worlds. Sometimes I did find some conflict was resolved too easily: someone gets caught and rescued at the end of the day. For example, in episode 4 “The Gathering” when Claire tries to escape to Craigh na Dun during the clan gathering. She is caught by Jamie in the stables and tells him exactly what she is trying to do and just gives up. But after this, Claire goes along on a journey with Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish) and the hilarious Angus Mhor (Stephen Walters) to collect the rent for the laird Colum MacKenzie (Gary Lewis). From here on, the story builds up and Claire finds herself between constantly shifting alliances and a lot of clever intrigues.

Some episodes are so memorable because there is more at stake than ever. Sometimes even really disturbing or horrifying: the excessive flogging of Jamie whereby the skin is hanging loose from his back in “The Garrison Commander” and when Geillis (played by the Dutch actress Lotte Verbeek) is getting arrested together with Claire for witchcraft and faces an inescapable fate in “The Devil’s Mark”. Especially the last two episodes “Wentworth Prison” and “To Ransom a Man’s Soul” were so hard and even uncomfortable to watch. Outlander doesn’t cut away, but shows you macabre torture scenes in real time, right in your face. I thought the sick flasbacks of the ‘relationship’ between Jamie and Randall, which left Jamie traumatized, are even more shocking than Game of Thrones without only showing sensationalized horror. “It isn’t violence simply for the sake of violence. It’s violence that’s intricately connected to the character, his arc, and even the narratives of other characters on a show,” as Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya writes in her article about the last episode. Really impressive.

Outlander Geillis Claire

Furthermore, there are plenty of historical references which I find really interesting. The rising of the Jacobite army, the wedding rituals of wrist cutting and hand-fasting. Also the opening titles song is adapted from the Scottish folk song “The Skye Boat Song”, by changing the text of the poem “Sing me a song of a lass that is gone” fitting right into the story. The costumes by designer Terry Dresbach, the settings and the music are absolutely brilliant. The scenery of Scotland is beautifully filmed, which gives the series it’s mysterious and sometimes dark atmosphere.

I find Outlander a really engaging show. The characters are intelligent, strong, charming or horrifying with lots of secrets. Although it felt like a love story at first, the story develops into a true epic adventure in the harsh world of Scotland in 1743 which is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Season 2 of Outlander will start in 2016.

Review Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Last weekend I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron in the cinemas. Here is a review about the movie from an aspirant screenwriter’s point of view. Warning: this article contains some spoilers.

poster avengers age ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Director: Joss Whedon
Writers: Joss Whedon, Stan Lee (comic book) & Jack Kirby (comic book)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner
Length: 2 hours 21 minutes

What can I say, another awesome Marvel comic book adaptation! You get pulled right into the story in the (a bit over the top) opening scene with a lot of action and fighting when the Avengers are infiltrating HYDRA. Although the plot isn’t that surprising: a new threat rises to destroy the world and the Avengers have to save everyone (like always). But I liked the fact that this threat is accidentally created by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) themselves: they want to create a peace program without consulting the other Avengers, and this goes terribly wrong. They create an artificial intelligence by the name of Ultron (voice by James Spader) who doesn’t want to save the world, but wants to destroy it and the Avengers with it. I thought Ultron could be more of a villain, but his first scene  where he stumbles across a room with oil leaking out of his wires is kind of creepy.

Right from the start you get lots of classic Avengers humor too. Iron Man and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), with his golden hair longer than ever, are bragging who’s got the better girfriend, Pepper or Jane. The scene when they are at a party and try to lift Thor his hammer is absolutely hilarious.

Also Captain America (Chris Evans) gets teased with his ’40s, old fashioned manners. In these details, these expressions of the character’s traits, I found the characters well written. They become more round characters than in the previous movie. We get to know them better and see their more ‘human’ sides, even though they’re super heroes. Also the relationships between the characters are key. The question rises who’s on who’s side. There is even a little love story going on between two Avengers.

Some new characters are introduced, including Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who were already in the mid-credits scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Scarlet Witch’s telekinesis and mind control powers aren’t just cool, they serve a higher purpose. Because of these powers, we get inside the character’s heads and see their greatest fears. I finally got some sympathy for Black Widow’s (Scarlett Johansson) character when you get to see her backstory/youth trauma. I believe the overall theme in the story is therefore defeating one’s own fears in order to function as a group.

You can feel that the movie is building up the story towards something bigger (another movie). Maybe they could have gotten more out of this story, but on the other hand… who doesn’t want another Avengers movie?

You will get all the action: Iron Man’s new suits, Thor’s hammer smashing robots, Captain America throwing motorcycles around, Hulk’s ripping pants rage, Black Widow ‘picking up after the boys’, and Hawkeye’s arrows blowing up things that will tremble your seat. But besides that, you will also get well written characters and developing relationships. Avengers: Age of Ultron is definitely worth seeing!