REVIEW: ONE CHANCE

CAST

James Corden (Into The Woods)
Julie Walters (Paddington)
Colm Meaney (Intermission)
Alexandra Roach (The Huntsman)
Mackenzie Crook (Game of Thrones)
Jemima Rooper (Hex)
Valeria Bilello (Miele)
Trystan Gravelle (Mr. Selfridge)
Stanley Townsend (Killing Bono)

A great underdog story The underdog in this story is the real life Paul Potts, the cell phone salesman turned Pavarotti-esque opera singer who won Britain’s Got Talent and became an instant sensation. The film is endearing and tough to dislike as so many. It’s constructed in such a by-the-numbers fashion that it makes Potts’ story seem like a work of fiction.

Comic James Corden, does a surprisingly good job as the South Wales chap who overcame bullying, a less-than-supportive father (Colm Meaney), and a severe lack of confidence to embrace his love of opera, despite being bullied mercilessly for it. The film breezes much too quickly through pretty much every aspect of his life, as if producer Simon Cowell had designed it to be a fill-in episode of one of his many talent-based shows. Potts works in the Carphone Warehouse alongside his RPG-loving best friend Bradden (Mackenzie Crook), but despite his rapturous voice that everyone loves, his lack of self-confidence prevents him taking it any further. He finds that extra boost in Julie-Ann (the lovely and genuine Alexandra Roach), the online girlfriend he’d been too scared to meet in the flesh. Nicknaming one another ‘Brad Pitt’ and ‘Cameron Diaz’, their relationship becomes a guide post for Potts, even as his journey takes him to Venice and a performance in front of his idol, Luciano Pavarotti.

The film takes full advantage of every opportunity to tug at your heartstrings and feel for Potts, who it seems can’t stay out of the hospital bed for any manner of physical ailment. Dressing like a sad clown to perform Pagliacci in front of a rowdy hometown crowd, Potts floors them with his unlikely voice; an early achievement that helped set him on his path. But every time he’s about to take the next step something awful occurs, like a terminal bout of stage fright, or a burst appendix before a major show, or getting hit by a car. These are only given enough emotional weight to earn our sympathy and pity, but even if you’ve never heard of Potts ( how this story turns out won’t come as a surprise.

Directed with workmanlike efficiency by David Frankel, who will perhaps always be known as the guy who helmed The Devil Wears Prada, the film finds a winning formula in the combination of Corden and Roach. The Tony award-winning actor acquits himself well as Potts, lip-syncing to his powerful voice and capturing his warm-hearted spirit. Some may recognize Roach as the teenaged Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, and she shows a different sort of strength and sturdiness here. In a film that doesn’t stretch much beyond formula, their relationship is one that we want to get that storybook happy ending.

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REVIEW: THE BLACK DAHLIA

CAST

Josh Hartnett (Halloween: H20)
Scarlett Johannson (Lucy)
Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight)
Hilary Swank (The Reaping)
Mia Kirshner (The Vampire Diaries)
Mike Starr (Funny Farm)
Rose McGowam (Jawbreaker)
Rachel Miner (The Butterfly Effect 3)
Gregg Henry (Star Trek: Insurrection)
Jemima Rooper (Hex)
Ian McNeice (Dune)

In Los Angeles, on January 15, 1947, LAPD Detectives Dwight ‘Bucky’ Bleichert and Lee Blanchard, investigate the murder and dismemberment of Elizabeth Short, soon dubbed ‘The Black Dahlia’ by the press. Bucky learns that Elizabeth was an aspiring actress who appeared in a pornographic film. Through his investigation, Bucky learns that Elizabeth liked to hang out with lesbians. He goes to a lesbian nightclub and meets Madeleine Linscott, who looks very much like Elizabeth. Madeleine, who comes from a prominent family, tells Bucky that she was ‘very close’ with Elizabeth but asks him to keep her name out of the papers. In exchange for his silence, she promises him sexual favors. Continuing his relationship with Madeleine, Bucky meets her wealthy parents, Emmett and Ramona.Bucky’s partner, Lee, also becomes obsessed with Elizabeth’s murder. Lee’s obsession leads him to become erratic and abusive towards his long-time girlfriend Kay Lake, who is also one of Bucky’s close friends. After Lee and Bucky have a nasty argument about a previous case, Bucky goes to Lee and Kay’s to apologize, only to learn from Kay that Lee was responding to a tip about a recently released convict, Bobby DeWitt. Bucky goes to the location and gets into an altercation with DeWitt in the atrium of the building. DeWitt is gunned down by Lee, standing on the stairs across the atrium. Bucky sees a man sneak up behind Lee, wrapping a rope around Lee’s neck. Lee fights back while Bucky, paralyzed with shock, watches from across the atrium as a second shadowy figure steps out and slits Lee’s throat. Lee and the man holding the rope fall over the railing to their deaths several floors below. It is then that Bucky is helped by Millard and Morrie Friedman; a friend of Lee’s whom Bucky saw with Lee at the New Year’s party in 1946.
Dealing with the grief of losing Lee propels Bucky and Kay into a sexual encounter. The next morning, Bucky finds money from a bank robbery hidden in Lee / Kay’s bathroom. Kay reveals that she had been DeWitt’s girlfriend, that DeWitt had mistreated her, and that DeWitt had done the bank robbery; stealing a large sum of money from one of Benny “Bugsy” Siegel’s nightclubs. Lee had rescued Kay and stolen DeWitt’s bank robbery money. Lee needed to kill DeWitt now that he was out of prison; leading to the encounter that resulted in Lee’s death. Bucky leaves, furious with Lee and Kay for their actions and lies. He returns to Madeleine’s family mansion and continues his intense relationship with her. Kay is furious when she discovers the relationship, especially with the fact that Madeleine bears a striking resemblance to the same girl Lee obsessed over before he was killed, and leaves the scene.
Watching an old movie one night, Bucky notices that a bedroom scene matches the set in Elizabeth’s pornographic film. The credits at the end of the film includes the statement “Special Thanks to Emmett Linscott”, Madeleine’s father. Bucky’s search for answers leads him to an incomplete housing project that Madeleine’s father had started just below the Hollywoodland sign. In one of the empty houses, Bucky recognizes the set that was used to film Elizabeth’s pornographic movie. In a barn on the property, Bucky finds where Elizabeth was killed and her body butchered, as well as a drawing of a man with a Glasgow smile. The drawing resembles a painting in Madeleine’s family home and matches the disfiguring smile carved into Elizabeth’s face during her murder.
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Bucky confronts Madeleine and her father in their home, accusing them of murdering Elizabeth. Madeleine’s mother Ramona reveals that she was the one to kill Elizabeth, who looked so much like Madeleine. She confesses first that Madeleine was not fathered by Emmett but rather by his best friend, George. She further reveals that George had been on set when Elizabeth’s pornographic film was made, becoming infatuated with her. Finally, she felt that Elizabeth looked too much like Madeleine, was bothered that George was going to have sex with someone who looked like his own daughter, and decided to kill Elizabeth first. Upon finishing her confession, Ramona kills herself.
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A few days later, remembering something Lee had said during the investigation, Bucky visits Madeleine’s sister Martha with some questions. He learns that Lee knew about the lesbian relationship between Madeleine and Elizabeth and was blackmailing Madeleine’s father to keep it secret. Bucky finds Madeleine at a seedy motel, and she admits to being the shadowy figure who slit Lee’s throat. Although she insists that Bucky wants to have sex with her rather than kill her, he tells her she is wrong and shoots her dead. Bucky later goes to Kay’s house. Kay tells him to come in and closes the door as the film ends.

Image result for the black dahlia FILMBrian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia is an adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel. Like the book it is a sprawling tableaux of interweaving stories involving femme fatales, boxing, thwarted ambition and most of all a wounded male desire to rescue doomed princesses even if that aim can only be achieved retrospectively. The tone is one of soured romance, futility and regret. This is a very stylish film full stunning scenes and haunting music, What it isn’t is a true life crime recreation. Most of its alleged faults, from not sticking to the known facts, offering no realistic suspects to an over the top finale are inherent to the novel, which is primarily about its author’s attempt to come to terms with his traumatised childhood fascination with the unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short brought about by the murder of his mother. The film draws heavily upon the LA noire of the Big Sleep but is also steeped in an older gothic tradition. DePalma’s love of wordless imagery is referenced through the silent classic The Man Who Laughed, based on a famous story by Victor Hugo. The Black Dahlia is one of DePalma’s better later films. Structurally complex, thematically rich and visually stunning.

REVIEW: HEX – SEASON 1 & 2

MAIN CAST

Christina Cole (Jupiter Ascenmding)
Jemima Rooper (Urban Gothic)
Michael Fassbender (300)
Jamie Davis (Casulty)
Amber Sainsbury (Young Hercules)
Anna Wilson-Jones (Hotel Babylon)
Colin Salmon (Limitless TV)
Joseph Morgan (The Originals)
Zoe Tapper (Mr. Selfridge)
Laura Pyper (Reign of Fire)
Joseph Beattie (Brideshead Revisited)
Samuel Collings (Doctors)

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RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Geraldine James (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)
Jessica Oyelowo (Sleepy Hollow)
Stephen Wright (Highlander: The Source)
Sam Troughton (Robin Hood)
Ronan Vibert (The Panist)
Laura Donnelly (Sugar Rush)
Leon Ford (East West 101)
Anatole Taubman (Band of Brothers)
Jemuna Avey (Eastenders)
Katrine De Candole (X-Men: First Class)
Jemma Powell (The Hole)

Hex is set at a remote English school, Medenham Hall, which occupies the former manor house and grounds of the McBain estate. It was the site of an 18th-century witchcraft scandal in which the female members of the line, the Medenham Witches, were tried and executed. Cassie, who raised herself in a single-parent household caring for her mentally unstable mother, has latent telekinetic, pyrokinetic and clairvoyant abilities that are awakened when she touches an antique vase that had been used in Voodoo rituals by the Medenham Witches. Her roommate, Thelma (who harbors an ill-concealed crush on Cassie), discovers that Cassie is a descendant of the Medenham Witches. Cassie has startling visions and dreams that she strives to interpret, and also struggles with controlling her growing telekinetic and pyrokinetic powers, which she is only able to summon in times of stress.

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Cassie is stalked by a “dangerous looking” stranger who calls himself Azazeal. Initially glimpsed fleetingly, he becomes increasingly bold, even entering into the student’s rooms later in the series without warning or permission. Azazeal is revealed to be the leader of the biblical Nephilim, fallen angels, and he claims to be in love with Cassie. He has had previous relationships with schoolmistress Jo Watkins and Cassie’s own mother, which may have contributed to her mental illness.

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Frustrated by his inability to convince Cassie that his claims are sincere, Azazeal kills Thelma before Cassie’s eyes as a sacrifice to increase his power and prove that he is truly who he says he is. This act has two unintentional consequences: his power over Cassie is initially weakened by the shock, and Thelma thereafter continues to share Cassie’s room as a ghost that only Cassie, Azazeal and other ghosts can see. Thelma never forgives Azazeal for her own death, and is a strong voice against him to Cassie, who has grown to have feelings for him. Thelma is unable to touch the living, but she can touch other ghosts and presumably manipulate inanimate objects (including clothing, artifacts, books, doors, window sashes, and vending machines) and eat, which she does constantly (since ghosts cannot gain weight). Thelma works behind the scenes to spy on Azazeal and gather evidence from places where Cassie cannot enter. Cassie, while horrified by some of Azazeal’s behaviour, ultimately finds herself drawn into his power. Azazeal possesses Cassie, and while under his power, she gives herself to him and they conceive a child.

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Thelma learns from Peggy, the ghost of a woman who died in the 1918 influenza pandemic, that the gestation of Azazeal’s child is weakening the veil between worlds, allowing more ghosts to appear to the living. If the child is born, the veil will be torn, allowing the rest of the Nephilim to enter our world. If the pregnancy is terminated, the veil will heal, preventing the Nephilim from returning and leaving Azazeal the only one of his kind in our world. But there is a side effect: ghosts will also vanish from this world. Cassie, after much convincing from Thelma decides that her fetus must be aborted, although it is growing at an alarming rate. A week after conception, the doctors believe she is nearing the end of her second trimester. Thelma assists Cassie, without telling her that success means that she may never see Cassie again. Azazeal tries to interfere and save his son, but Cassie goes through with the abortion…or so she thinks. When Thelma realizes that Cassie can still see her, Thelma knows that something has not gone right. Cassie discovers weeks later that the doctor who performed her procedure has been influenced by Azazeal, and that the baby is alive and in Azazeal’s care.

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Hex is sometimes compared to Joss Whedon’s classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it’s easy to see why a surface connection can be made. Both shows focus on pretty young women with supernatural powers, who face all sorts of strange demons and creatures. There’s even some scenes set at a local club, where Cassie encounters some foes, that will evoke memories of The Bronze for Buffy fans.

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However, the shows aren’t truly identical. Hex is a much more somber affair, playing almost everything very straight and without the knowing comic edge Buffy had. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but it does lead to the show sometimes straining to not become too campy, as some of the plot points are pretty out there, and more of an acknowledgement of that within the show would be nice. Also, in the early episodes, there are some redundant moments that nearly become comical – note how many times we cut to Fassbender ominously standing and watching from afar. Thankfully Rooper is present, as her character, who goes through some rather huge changes early on, adds some much needed sarcasm and humor, and the actress is a very quirky and appealing presence.

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Hex is a very attractive show, and not just because its stars are easy on the eyes – There’s a good deal of sex going on throughout the series, which never quote pins down just how old these kids are. The show is very well shot and cinematic, with the beautiful grounds of the school looking ominous and impressive. The soundtrack is also very cool.

Thelma discovers that Azazeal is raising the child, who is walking already, in an abandoned nearby church. She and Cassie decide that they must somehow get the child, whom Azazeal has named “Malachi”, but are clueless as to how to accomplish this. Azazeal becomes aware that they are watching him and tries to convince Cassie that he only wants her to join them so that they can be a “real family”. Cassie, still partially under his spell, is obviously attracted by the prospect but retains enough of herself to know that this is something she should not want.

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While Cassie and Thelma strategize, new characters are introduced at the school while old ones depart. Troy, convinced that Cassie’s child is his, left the school at the end of the first series. Jo Watkins, having “really let herself go,” is seldom seen at school as she has become Azazeal’s live-in nurse and nanny. The school gains a new chaplain, Jez Heriot, who doesn’t “wear the uniform” except when conducting services and also teaches Ethics. When Jo effectively disappears, David Tyrel asks Jez to take her classes as well. The students don’t initially realize that he is a priest, and Roxanne is quite taken with him, so much so that she can’t help but seduce him even after the truth is known. A new student arrives at Medenham: Ella Dee. Her wardrobe instantly wins her points with the boys, evokes jealousy in the girls, and makes the faculty uncomfortable. Thelma is mildly attracted until she realizes that Ella can see her. There are other anomalies: Ella’s tuition is paid by a corporation and her family background is unknown. She also seems to know entirely too much about Cassie… and Azazeal.

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Ella (Laura Pyper) drawing a magical Hexagram in order to protect Cassie (Christina Cole) in the episode “Death Takes the Mother.”  It is quickly revealed that Ella is definitely not what she seems. She is 445 years old and the daughter of John Dee. Ella is also a witch and has been hunting Azazeal for centuries. So far, she has been very successful in preventing Azazeal from begetting a son by a mortal witch. This time, however, Ella was too late. Her mission: kill Malachi.

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Ella instantly takes charge of both Cassie and Thelma, and formulates a plan to kidnap Malachi and sacrifice him in the school chapel. They are successful in grabbing the child, but Azazeal follows them and a series of alternately foolish and selfish decisions leads the girls inexorably to tragedy. With Azazeal present, Cassie loses her resolve and throws her body between Ella and Malachi. She dies instantly when Ella can’t stop her killing blow, and Azazeal regains Malachi and retreats.

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Ella tries to devise a new strategy while Thelma tries to deal with her deep sense of loss, but Ella loses her edge as she feels herself falling for Leon. Azazeal appeals to Thelma’s own selfish desires and convinces her to steal and give him the Stone of Belial, one of Ella’s objects of power, in exchange for a last meeting with Cassie. Jez is revealed to be Ramiel, another Nephilim and Azazeal’s “right-hand entity”. With the Stone in their possession, Azazeal and Ramiel conspire to drive Ella insane by forcing her to relive the 17th century witch trial in which she was found guilty and nearly executed. Azazeal uses the Stone of Belial on Thelma, who travels back to Ella’s witch trial and rescues her from execution in the past. Ramiel’s scheming and manipulation leads to Ella’s commitment in an insane asylum, where a triumphant Azazeal seemingly abandons her.
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Ella rapidly ages as she is stripped of her powers, but after Leon is brought in on her secret and is granted the power to see Thelma, he helps to revive her using the Volta. A friend of Leon’s who helped him get Ella out of the hospital (where she was cared for by Azazeal’s lover Perie the Faerie) is tortured by Azazeal and the now teenaged Malachi, who kills him out of pity. Azazeal is asked to leave by “higher powers” and enlists Malachi at Medenham Hall. He and Ella say their goodbyes; with Malachi born, Ella has no desire to kill him, and Azazeal leaves the Stone of Belial in Malachi’s possession. Ella kills Jez and makes it look like suicide, precipitated by the revelation that he was having an affair with a student, which deeply affects Roxanne, who felt responsible because she had seduced him.
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Ella and Malachi romance one another magically and otherwise, and their respective mentors, the Archangel Raphael and the demon Mephistopheles, both use psychological tactics to get them to do as they wish. Ella and Malachi eventually have sex, as the evil side had wanted, and by fulfilling Ella’s true desire (to be normal), she is made a slave to Malachi – his succubus. Malachi kills a lesbian girl named Maya so that her ghost can consort with Thelma and give him leverage. Ella’s enslavement to Malachi is ended by Thelma, who invaded her dreams and invoked her greatest fear: fire. Leon attempts to kill Malachi, but is betrayed by Thelma (in hopes of keeping her and Maya together in the living world) and saved by Ella after Malachi sends a fallen Archangel, Sariel, to attack him. Mephistopheles betrays the cause of evil by helping Ella save Leon, who he feels did not need to die, and is subsequently punished and has his eyes removed. Raphael falls from grace by trying to rape Ella, who announces at this point that she no longer works for Raphael’s master, God, and is a freelance agent at last.

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Ella loses all her feelings for Malachi, who quickly moves on to romancing Alex and other girls in the school. He eventually seduces the entire student body, creating an army of succubi and incubi that makes him too powerful for Ella to kill. The only students who are not converted are Roxanne (who becomes a “pure soul” in her quest for forgiveness from God for seducing Jez and causing his apparent suicide), Tom (who is secretly gay, in love with Leon, and impossible to convert because Malachi cannot make Leon love him back), Thelma (because after Ella later kills Maya, he has no hold over her), and Ella herself, who had already been freed from Malachi’s spell. Ella digs up Maya’s corpse and beheads it, which destroys Maya’s lingering presence on Earth. Leon tries to kill Alex but cannot go through with it, leaving him feeling inferior to Ella. Jo Watkins, Cassie’s former teacher and Azazeal’s former lover, returns as Malachi’s new emissary from the “higher powers” and restores her position as headmistress by framing David Tyrel for embezzlement of school funds. Malachi cannot convert Tom, so he fakes the “mark of Malachi” on his neck and ensures that Leon will see it. Fooled by the false mark, Leon kills Tom, but by doing so, he achieves his greatest desire (not being inferior to Ella) and becomes an incubus of Malachi’s.

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Leon almost kills Ella with knowledge gained from the Book of Orokiah, but Thelma helps to save her. He is locked in a cage and sedated, at which point Thelma saves him from Malachi by invoking his greatest fear (having his penis amputated). Returned to normal, he still ends his relationship with Ella and leaves the school. Roxanne is given the ability to see ghosts, and Thelma pretends to be an angel to get her to steal the Stone of Belial back from Malachi. Ella uses the Stone to travel back in time and attempts to kill Malachi while he is still a baby (at the end of Series 1), but she is attacked by Perie the Faerie and receives a mortal wound to the chest. Ella returns to Medenham Hall where she confesses her love for Leon as she lies dying under the watchful eyes of Thelma. Rejected by Hell, Mephistopheles convinces Leon to return, where he saves Ella by cauterizing her wound. Malachi sacrifices the pure-of-heart Roxanne to “enrage God” by killing one of “His creatures.” The school is set ablaze and Thelma, Ella, and Leon escape from it to a field somewhere. As Malachi has started the “End of Days,” described by Mephistopheles as the final battle between good and evil, the series ends with blood pouring from a rock bearing the mark of Azazeal, similar to Malachi’s.

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The pacing of these episodes are much quicker compared with the first season, New character  Ella is dark, interesting, unpredictable and can fight like the best of them! Leon is also brought to the forefront and undergoes a great deal of character development; which was nice to see. Thelma is as always a joy to watch, and manages to get herself into some considerably grey moral areas. Over the course of the season a lot changes and we see these characters attempt to deal with the events that take place with varying degrees of success. This leads to a lot of character growth and dark subject matter. Hex as a show is very dark, not just in the way its lit, but in its tone and ambiance. Which is partly what I enjoy the most, that while its a very dark almost adult show, it retains a great deal of realism at the same time.