The Man with the Golden Martini

You know, one of the reasons I even began to get interested in the James Bond movie franchise was Gladys Knight‘s ingenious Licence to Kill theme song. As a child of the former Eastern block we didn’t have much opportunity to get to hear and see any of that, but I vividly remember that we were on a family holiday near Berlin and of course for propagandistic reasons all those Western TV and radio stations were beaming their program with strong antennas into the territory of what was then known as the German Democratic Republic. We were more than happy to oblige and exploited this generously, watching stuff until late at night and having the radio run with those songs all the time. Lucky for us, it didn’t take too long for things to change with the reunification and big turnover, so bit by bit we got to see all those Bond movies, after all.

The ones with Roger Moore have always been a bit of a guilty pleasure in their slightly campy approach to the subject and really hamming things up. Amazingly enough this worked perfectly at the time – they served every cliché, but never took themselves too seriously. A lot of that is indeed owed to Mr. Moore himself and hard as I might try, it’s difficult of anyone else who could have played this British gentleman so tongue-in-cheek without turning it into a complete caricature. While at the advanced age of 93 89 you probably should expect the grim reaper to knock on your door everyday, it’s still sad news that he has now passed away. If I wasn’t a total “no alcohol” person, I’d probably toast to him with a Martini. May he rest in peace!

Eurovision Happiness

I love(d) Eurovision this year! It was funny, well-presented and even the worst acts had a certain quality despite dropping out. That includes the semifinals, which for the first time I actually managed to watch in their entirety on the day (and then again on YouTube).

That being the case, I had a gut feeling early on that the race would be between Salvador Sobral and that Bulgarian Justin Bieber (who surprisingly enough has one hell of a voice for his 17 years of age). I also liked several other songs a lot, including that Romanian yodel thingy, the Dutch “Dreamgirls” or Belarus‘ folk-pop song, but in the end I’m just as glad that Portugal won. It was really the best. It’s so evocative of those old movie songs from the 1940s to the 1960s. You know, “Moon River” and all that.

On the other hand I thought from the start that Italy, called the frontrunner by many beforehand was totally overrated. I’m also getting a bit tired of the “handsome hunk sings techno-pop” scheme employed by countries like Sweden, Norway or Cyprus. I don’t understand what they are hoping to achieve with that, since in the end they are only doing shitty run-off-the-mill stuff that isn’t even a tiny bit funny or quirky in the Eurovision sense. The whole point is to not take the whole competition too seriously, after all.

Of course politics loomed over everything with that fallout over the Russian singer, but they managed to push that aside and present a show that despite being full of Ukrainian traditions and their own celebrities managed to be balanced enough to appeal to everyone. That kind of lightness and levity is just nice to see.

What else? Not much. Of course Germany only came in at the bottom of the list only barely before Spain (which had a really terrible song and presentation), but that’s really nothing new. I’m not saying that the song was actually bad, but it just doesn’t fit the mold and didn’t generate any emotional response. More than anything else that’s what Eurovision is about – you have to get people enthused to a level they are willing to make that call, send their text message or hit the button in the app to vote for you.

Booze Finale

Writers’/ producers’ vanity can be a terrible thing and even more so on a series that you really want to like so badly. That’s exactly what happened to Boardwalk Empire. After having finished the cut short fifth season I’m more than ever convinced that the actual product crushed under everyone’s ambition.

I totally do get what they were trying to do on an idealistic level, yet it seems they never managed to infuse it with the necessary energy to pull through and obviously such a grand story arc could easily have required like 15 full seasons to do it justice (the initial two-year gap between each season’s story timelines clearly wasn’t totally unintentional) and at the end they simply ran out. I could of course repeat what I said for series one through four here as well – this feels all too much like being forced to watch all three parts of The Godfather, Goodfellas and other genre classics over and over again in an endless loop and at some point you eventually become so depressed and worn out that you just beg to be shot by one of the mobsters to be relieved of this pain.

Naturally all this is compounded by this season being totally cobbled together to “tie up the knots” as they say. You see it everywhere that they barely managed to pry the funds from HBO‘s management let alone have any room left to do something really extraordinary. Lots of static shots on restricted locations to not have to deal with too much set dressing and set extensions. And even though a lot of characters reappear one last time, you see the actors “phoning it in” just as well. It’s like they were called in for only one or two days to shoot their lines and then be done. I would even dare to theorise that in quite a few scenes the actors weren’t mutually present to interact  with each other and only the different shots/ takes edited together to retain the illusion.

All of this is even sadder when you think how things could have turned out. Ironically I even rather like the idea with those flashbacks to the young Nucky (though I feel sorry for the twenty-something one having to wear those awful fake crooked Steve Buscemi teeth). It could have been something had they decided to introduce these elements earlier and stick with that sort of narrative structure for other protagonists as well (imagine seeing what drove Capone to be the way he was and all the others), but as it is, it’s just too obvious that they only used it as a means to plug (plot) holes or gaps. It’s also once again painful to see how people get “plugged” (shot and so on) because nobody had a better idea how to end their storylines.

Overall I have very mixed and conflicted feelings not only about season five but Boardwalk Empire as a whole. I appreciate the intentions, the production values, individual episodes or specific aspects of individual story strands, but ultimately it never really makes sense as a complete story. Too many things seem irrational and most importantly there aren’t many relatable characters that keep you interested. It’s like everyone goes out of their way to not like them and do really dumb and bad things. Of course I’m going to watch it again and may be then I’ll like things better, but for now this has been two months with some rather disappointing evenings popping in those DVDs…

Booze Failin’

Did you notice? It’s been three weeks now since I finished season three of Boardwalk Empire and only yesterday I managed to put a lid on season four. How’d that happen? Aside from me getting caught up un other things and then not feeling like it, this time I also found myself way too often consciously putting off watching episodes for another day or two. So instead of being a binge watch this ended up being more of a drizzle watch. The reasons for this are manifold.

First, I think the series totally lost it in this season. It’s always been a complicated narrative with many threads, but this time around stuff simply gets too convoluted and confusing. I’ll never understand the American system where even great series are produced on an “as needed” basis and each week’s script is written as they go, but it shows here. I’m no longer surprised that it was faltering with dwindling viewer numbers and ultimately collapsed in on itself. It’s like they thought “Let’s make it even grander.” with every new season, but all they did is lose focus.

It’s telling that in some episodes you barely get to see Nucky because everything happens elsewhere and involves other people and most of those are either just throwaway characters that get “clipped” at the earliest convenience (if you get my meaning) or unsympathetic dickheads like Narcisse. In doing so the series also managed to finally squeeze out every bit of humour and optimism, which makes for a very dreary experience. Isn’t it weird that you get more of a smile out of van Alden/ Mueller‘s dark turn than something else?

I know this is going to sound racist, but generally I also didn’t care much for the “colored” storyline. Seeing and hearing those negroes mumble in their slang is just extremely frustrating and as it is this particular strand of the story doesn’t do much to progress events. It’s like watching an episode of The Wire where at the end you’re wondering what actually happened and if you didn’t miss some secret keyword that explains the story.

With regards to concrete storylines only Richard‘s tragic ending sticks out. I so would have wished he’d live happily ever after and contrary to what they claim in the special features, that would have just as perfect an ending like letting him die. You know the whole family together on his sister’s farm, a fade and then he’s simply out of the story. Gillian getting her due is not unwelcome, though in a way it’s tragic how she gets played. Still, bitch deserves a spanking. ;-)

The rest is, as already hinted, barely of any consequence and doesn’t really tie in with the greater story arc, which makes you wonder why they even bothered. It feels all so made up just to fill the time, be that Will‘s murderous accident, Knox/ Tolliver‘s scheme unraveling and getting him killed or even the Onyx Club. So from where I’m sitting there isn’t really much motivation going into the hastily thrown together fifth season, as it will no doubt end up being a similarly frustrating exercise…

 

It’s NAB, it’s AE, it’s ridiculous

By now I guess we should have gotten used to it, but regardless of my declared half-retreat from all this stuff it still pains me every time Adobe keep churning out these unmotivated updates for After Effects. Predictably the latest one is coinciding with NAB like every year and well, it’s just the same mess. Pretty much every “new” feature revolves around making the program “the best fix-it plug-in for Premiere Pro“, which many people cynically have been saying for years, and now that assessment seems more true than ever. The Essential Graphics panel really comes across as another title generator and it’s not even particularly stylish. ironically it just looks like what we expression people had wanted for years – a simple UI to concatenate our expression controls and perhaps store its settings reliably without resorting to flaky pseudo-effect hacks, but as far as I’m concerned it comes now for all the wrong reasons and looks ugly. Same for the marker colors. Adobe just has no taste. I’m also not particularly fond of the continued trend of “You have no skills with the camera and your footage looks like shit, but we’ll save your bacon.” tools. Mushing up your footage with the Warp Stabilizer in the first place and then throw another effect on top to fix the blur? Holy crap! Back in the better days my boss would have given me scathing looks for even trying (though of course we used other atrocious hacks all the time to fix “drunk camera” issues *lol*). Oh my… Well, again a “move on, nothing to see here” release, sadly.

Dear Evan Hansen

Folks, I really need to find a wealthy man and move to New York! *lol* When it comes to musicals, Germany is such a wasteland. All they ever play here are those godawful cheesy Disney movie-based things, provincial low-budget versions of Cats and Phantom or similar or last not least Hello Dolly! and other stuff from 50 years ago because they have to pay no royalties for them anymore. If that wasn’t bad enough, of course we all have to suffer poorly translated German versions. *eek*

How miserably dire the situation actually is dawned on me once me now that I’m run Dear Evan Hansen in an infinite loop. What a revelation! Someone give them some Tonys already! I’m not saying that everything is rosy on Broadway, but even some more mediocre outings there would easily top your average German production and then every two or three years there comes some real smash like If/Then or the subject of this post. Oh my! The best I probably can hope for is to get to see a re-run of Wicked one of these days. Now I’m depressed…

Edit: There’s some good info on this musical on Cuny TV.

Booze Singin’

As the great Eric Clapton, himself not a stranger to the addictive powers of alcoholic drinks, so wonderfully sang once: “Nobody knows you when you’re down and out.”. That is a more than fitting metaphor for the third season of Boardwalk Empire. Interrupted by a few days where I was so exhausted that I went to bed at 6 P.M. and fell asleep literally 1.5 hours later, I finished the last episode of this season only yesterday after a two-week run instead of the usual one week I had breezed through with the previous seasons.

Thankfully my hopes after the rather confusing second season were realized and this one is much more relatable. Of course in the cruel and terrible sense that you can better understand the motivations of the gangsters and why they shoot someone or blow shit up, but nonetheless more enjoyable for the simple reason that it feels dirty and simplistic, doing away with the all too heady plot twists of the previous series. A lot of that just came across as pretentious and more serving the writers’ vanity in proving that they could do a Hitchcock on you rather than really serving the story.

The body count is growing as exponentially as ever. In an odd way the heavily choreographed, over-the top shootings are much better to swallow than some of the more gruesome bashing and skull smashing, though. I really wish they had left out some of this stuff. It’s also nice to see that Nucky‘s criminal past is resurfacing and he isn’t as innocent as he had everyone believe. Still, one can’t help but be enthralled by his understanding of loyalty and protecting his “assets” (which includes the people closest to him) even when he’s down in the dumps, twisted as it may be.

The women in the series remain to be a source of frustration and aggravation. Somehow I always find myself thinking “If this were real, I’d slap her in the face” (and worse). Worst of the lot is of course Gillian, trying to manipulate everyone while barely being able to hide her obsession about her dead son and projecting everything on Thommy as a substitute. She’s a total basket case ready for the asylum. Margaret doesn’t fare much better, though for completely different reasons. She just doesn’t seem to be able or willing to settle on what she has and always changes her mind as it suits her whims.

Richard is my hero in this season. Not only is the sequence where he singlehandedly storms the brothel pure cheesy screen gold, but at last he gets a little bit of much-deserved luck and love. It will turn sour again, of course, and he’ll end up with a bullet in his head just like many of his victims, but for the time it’s a nice uplifting touch after his almost suicide last season. It shall be interesting to see where season four will take us…

 

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