Why so series? – Penny Dreadful

Yay, I’m not dead.

So, about that show I most recently watched.

Penny Dreadful is a good series.

To start, Penny Dreadful is grotesque, haunting and very slow-paced. If you’re looking for a fast-paced series with many twists and turns, you should back away.

Penny Dreadful chronicles the misadventures of Vanessa Ives and company, mostly made up of sad souls that find themselves on the wrong side of the supernatural and often fighting for their lives. The main story-lines revolve mostly around Miss Ives, but the rest of the cast are well fleshed-out.

The main cast of season one, with a notable exclusion. (From left, Ethan Chandler, Brona Croft, Victor Frankenstein, Vanessa Ives, Dorian Gray, Sir Malcolm Murray, Sembene)

Miss Vanessa Ives (brilliantly played by Eva Green, but we’ll get back to her) is a woman that is haunted by many demons, both personal and literal. She forms a team with an old friend of the family, and a rag-tag group of broken men as she seeks to save not only her father-figure’s real daughter and herself from unfathomable evils.

Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) is a famous explorer, having mapped big parts of Africa and intends to return for more (especially to look for the elusive source of the Nile). He’s a close ally of Vannessa, as their families were very close, and acts as her father-figure. He searches for his lost daughter Mina, and is haunted by his dead son Peter, who he left in a shallow grave in Africa.

Ethan Chandler (played by Josh Hartnett) is an American gun-show performer and former soldier recruited to the not-quite-merry band by Ives. He initiates a relationship with Brona Croft  in his personal time and during “work hours”, he finds out about a world few know exist in the shadows. He also harbours quite the dark secret.

Brona Croft (played by Billie Piper) is a prostitute that enters a relationship with Ethan. She’s suffering from tuberculosis, and also crosses path with a certain local handsome lad.

Sembene (Danny Sapani) is a servant of Malcolm’s he acquired somehow in Africa. Sembene’s past is a mystery, but his loyalty to the cause is unquestionable.

Dorian Gray (yeah, him – played by Reeve Carney) is a beautiful young man, indulging in sensuality for the most-part of the show. Has his classic painting to keep him young.

Doctor Victor Frankenstein (yes, that one too – played here by Harry Treadwell) is a local arrogant doctor, obsessed with the pursuit of the essence of life. He wants to create an immortal being. He’s extremely socially inept and rather dismissive of the group’s intentions, but finds himself drawn to the action anyway. Now you can probably figure out the last cast member.

Frankenstein’s Monster (Rory Kinnear) is just that. He returns to haunt his creator and demands that Frankenstein creates a wife for him. He has some interesting interactions with the rest of the cast that are of stark contrast to his antagonistic relationship with Frankenstein.

The story these characters are drawn into is very good and simple. It’s a bit predictable at times, but it works well. It lacks direction for long stretches of each season, but I find it works for the show in general.

About the quality of the acting; Eva Green absolutely owns the screen as Vanessa Ives. If anybody doubts her capabilities as an actress, I really don’t know how. She gives you nearly every facet of Miss Ives, from happiness to absolute rock bottom. Her mannerisms, her voice, fucking everything. She’s the best actress on TV by far.

Also great is Harry Treadwell as Victor Frankenstein. His performance is absolutely stellar, and it makes it a treat to watch Frankenstein grow into a man on screen. I’ll be keeping an eye out for him in other projects.

pennydreadful-frank

One of my negatives is Dorian Gray. I’m not very fond of the show’s take on the character – Or the character in general. He’s just rather boring and has little impact. He does however improve in season two, and has probably the best side-story. Much better when he’s being played straight, instead of having him strut around and recite poems like a love-sick philosopher. It looks as if he’ll have a big part in season 3, where he might end up being the main villain.

pennydreadful-dorian

The villains are also rather uninteresting, even if the ones of the second season are far better. Still, the show plays it off well and instead puts more focus on how the “heroes” deal with the situations at hand.

Without spoiling much, the second season is a considerable improvement on the first one, with the stakes being raised and the characters being put in more interesting situations.

The series is gorgeous and the setting is very well presented.

The second season has a story arc about sexuality that was surprisingly effective, and proves that the Dorian Gray character can work with a bit of set-up and not just having him walk around being fabulous. Then it’s just thrown away rather abruptly, which made the whole thing feel like a waste.

The show is also very noir, in the way it treats it’s characters. They usually walk head-long into sadness or deny themselves happiness. Not a whole lot of sunshine and puppies around.

In closing, Penny Dreadful is an excellent ensemble drama with a variety of characters and personalities that usually work well together. It’s quite slow-paced, but is well-worth sticking with. Filled to the brim with spectacular performances – especially that of Green – it’s a constant treat to watch. Very highly recommended.

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Film-night: Would You Rather

NOTICE: Hi. What you’re reading is an old review from when I was using a different template. It was kind of ugly, so I switched. If I make a mention of spoilers going to be blacked out, they won’t be. Sorry. It’s just so long ago I wrote this and it’s a bother to go back and edit it extensively. Sorry if you get spoiled, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t put any major spoilers in anything without giving big warnings about it first. Cheers.

I’d rather slam my head into the wall five times, than watch this film again.

Would You Rather is a bad film.

To no-one’s surprise, I guess. I only saw it because i saw Enver Gjokaj was in it, and since I liked him in Dollhouse, I decided to give it a shot.

It’s just another in a line of unoriginal horror flicks nowadays that focus on shock, rather than horror. Even the visuals are pretty bad, but I guess that’s due to a low budget.

Anyhow, the story: Iris is in a bad place. Her brother is dying and she is almost broke. Adding to that, he needs an organ donation and is way down the list. So, Iris gets invited to a meeting with Shepard Lambrick, who claims his foundation can give her lots of money and put her brother on top of the donor list, if she joins him for a dinner party. At the end of this party will be a game. A contest. If she wins, she gets the money, and if she loses, she just “don’t win”. Sounds legit.

Being low on money, she accepts and goes to the dinner. There are seven other people there. She gets to know Cal and Lucas quickly. We find out that Dr. Barden, who was with Shepard at Iris’ meeting, disapproves of her inclusion to the game. We also find out that Shepard has a son, who of course is a sociopath. Dinner begins, and we hear that Iris is a vegetarian. Shepard asks if she will eat it. She respectfully declines. He puts ten thousand dollars on the table and asks her again, with the money as a reward if she does eat the steak in front of her. She does so, and gets the money. Conway, another guest, is a recovering alcoholic. He gets offered 10k for drinking a glass of wine, or 50k for an entire decanter of scotch. He downs the scotch and becomes 50k richer. Then they are given a choice. Stay and participate in a series of Would You Rather games, or leave. Nice. They all decide to stay, but when a machine connected to an electric headband is rolled in, Conway attempts to leave. He promptly gets shot in the head and finally the game begins. The first test is basically this: Would you rather shock yourself, or the person to your right. It’s here we find out who is a sympathetic character, and who’s a total jerk. So the cast left to play is:

  • Iris – Unemployed.
  • Lucas – appears to be a former doctor or at least someone with medical experience.
  • Travis – Former US Marine.
  • Linda – Very old woman.
  • Amy – Trashy young lady (who I found out later is played by a former porn star).
  • Peter – Gambler.
  • Cal – occupation unknown.

From here it’s just shock horror. Objects left involve whips, ice-picks, a barrel of water, a razor. You can’t even call it horror, really. It’s just torture porn. I guess the creators saw the later SAW flicks and went “Yeah, we can do that too.” There’s just a series of terrible events, sadness and grief. There’s no pay-off or anything slightly resembling morality, or logic for that matter.

If there’s anything good, it’s that the acting is actually pretty good and believable. Jeffrey Combs does well as the absolutely detestable main villain. Brittany Snow and Enver Gjokaj does well as the two sympathetic leads and Charlie Hofheimer is easily the best of the bunch, although in a horribly written character.

Basically, the premise could have been interesting, but the execution is bad on almost all levels. This film is recommended to sad people, who like to see other sad people suffer. Apparently it’s a thing.

There are spoilers ahead, so stop reading at this point if you intend on seeing the film and don’t want spoilers.

Firstly: The thing that puts the whole film off-balance from the beginning is that we’re only introduced to Iris. While this is a thing they do in many horror films, it doesn’t belong in a film like this. Usually we’re given background and intentions so that we can cheer for a character, but Would You Rather is a film that is supposed to keep you guessing. Or at least, it should be. When you put eight characters in a murder game together, the audience wants to guess who makes it, and see why they do so. Battle Royale does this to great effect. We follow several groups of people in a shitty situation and can guess at how they’re going to do. It’s entertaining and we can pick our favourites, helping us root for them. Also in BR, we’re not told “THIS IS THE GOOD GUY”, even if there is a clear antagonist. We can pick our guy/girl for the reasons we want. Not to mention it’s a far better film. WYR just tells us who’s going to win before the game even starts. This is bad, because the story isn’t about Iris, it’s about the game. When it’s clear that the film-makers missed the point of the entire film themselves, it’s hard to enjoy it.

Secondly: There’s no incentive. As the game is started, the contestants are faced with do or die. It’s not a winning premise, for the characters or the viewers. Sure, it’s good for building sympathy, but where’s the choice? They’re literally forced to comply at gunpoint. There’s no moral compromise, because the blame is taken away from them and pushed onto the eccentric arse-hole host. Some of the dares, or whatever you want to call them are just straight-up murder. Adding to that, the challenges are extremely uneven in their cruelty and damage dealt, making the entire thing feel rigged. The “Well played” comment before the final round is just absolutely absurd. They’re basically just hamsters running through straight corridors into one punishment after another. It’s not a game. It’s just torture. Then the applause at the end, when the last round completely broke the entire game. Adding to that, they take away any good-will Iris may have gained through the film, as she straight-up murders Lucas in order to get the money for her brother’s transplant, get herself some money and move him up the transplant list. It falls into the parameters of her characters, but I just thought it was absurd, when she had the choice of walking out alive with Lucas. Then again, organ donation is apparently absurdly expensive. She had no guarantee that she’d be able to leave alive (it’s bewildering that it’s even an option) and surely there are other options as to getting the money needed? She’s clearly a talented woman, but maybe she ran out of time. I guess in the end, the question was rather “what would you do for your family?” and she chose “everything”. I just thought it was a film that could have a moral victory that wouldn’t feel cheap. Hell, they could even go after the god damn sickos that orchestrated the game by calling the fucking cops. It’s a small crew, so it’d take some time cleaning up, and even then they’re bound to leave traces. They’re sadists, not clandestine experts.

Finally: The ending. Iris comes home to find her brother dead. I guess from a drug overdose. No closure. No “Well, at least she got something out of this mess” moment. Just more depression. She was in the shit when the film began. She was still in the shit when in the games. She was also still in the shit, even more so one can argue, after the games. She went through all that, and there’s no pay-off? Absolute bullshit.

Oh well, maybe this was more of a rant than a review, but that’s how it goes when you find yourself discussing absolute drek.

How I’d save this film? Change it to a big manor, and have the contestants have to complete challenges to advance. Every one has to do the same challenges, or maybe have two diverging paths with slow pain and quick pain, for example. Put the characters’ will to help themselves or their loved ones in focus and make it clear that they have a choice to walk away. Have the host be less of a sadist and more like a dude that’s charitable in his own sick, twisted mind. The Would You Rather part could have been a choice every round, but with the added choice of being able to walk away with your earnings (and obviously signing a NDA). We get a clear winner that everyone can agree on deserved to win. Boom. Ching-chang. Bye.