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The Essex Serpent’ Review: Claire Danes, the Disrupter

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وقت القراءة المقدر: 6 دقيقة (دقائق)

Claire Danes has come in from the cold. Two years after we left her snooping around Moscow in “Homeland,” she has re-emerged in Victorian England, pottering about the coast in “The Essex Serpent” on Apple TV+. Things are still pretty chilly for her, though.
Danes plays the wealthy widow Cora Seaborne in this six-episode mini-series, an adaptation of the award-winning novel by Sarah Perry, which premiered Friday. Cora has a lot in common with Carrie Mathison in “Homeland”: She’s headstrong, charming, a little narcissistic, coping with trauma and always the smartest person in the parlor.
The show begins with the disappearance of a young girl in the gloomy marshes of Essex, which is blamed on a mysterious sea creature, and the death of Cora’s husband in their London mansion after a long illness. There are hints that Cora suffered abuse at his hands, and his death liberates her; she can do what she wants, and she follows her passion for natural history to the fishing village where the creِature was supposedly seen, thinking that it might be a plesiosaur, a dinosaur that has evaded evolution. Freed from one monster, she sets off in search of another.
There’s a lot going on inside “The Essex Serpent,” not all of it successful, though the mini-series is generally handsome, literate and quite well acted. The most pedestrian aspect is the social-change drama, in which Cora and her politically minded lady’s maid and best friend, Martha (Hayley Squires), try to empower women and help the poor. Better, though never as creepy or as evocative as you’d like, is the Gothic horror story, which sees the isolated and superstitious villagers grabbing their crucifixes and sharpening stakes as more disappearances are attributed to the serpent.
More successful still is the Victorian drama of ideas, in which Cora and a brilliant, buoyantly conceited young surgeon, Luke (an excellent Frank Dillane), stand in for Darwin and Freud, and God is represented by Will (Tom Hiddleston), a learned and rational local vicar who insists that the serpent is a product of the villagers’ imaginations but begins to have doubts.
And then there’s the associated love story, which is what you’ll take away from “The Essex Serpent,” not necessarily because it’s so sexy or interesting but because the actors involved are so hard to take your eyes off. The single Luke and the married Will (whose wife, played by Clémence Poésy, is unusually accommodating) are both besotted with Cora, while she, still scarred by her marriage, struggles to find a way to respond. The passions play out in the village and in posh London environs with entertaining displays of jealousy, tragic forbearance and smashed crockery.
As always with Danes, there is no question why the men in the story are so drawn to her character — Cora’s intelligence and vibrancy and depth of emotion leap out at you, present in every movement and change of expression. When she arrives at the coast, she is a force of nature, her powerful curiosity finally free to follow its lead, a condition the show captures when she rushes into the mud without hesitation to help a stranger — who happens to be Will — free a trapped sheep.
Dillane, who played the heroic heroin addict Nick Clark in “Fear the Walking Dead,” is Danes’s match as the callow but sensitive Luke, hitting the right mix of irritating and endearing. Hiddleston, taking a break from his duties in the Marvel universe, is perfectly fine but a little stiff and bland; that’s probably because Will has been contrived as a stick figure who mediates between Cora and the suspicious, resentful villagers.
The director, Clio Barnard, and her cinematographer, David Raedeker, make good use of the tortured, waterlogged topography of the Essex coast; the show’s opening shots, floating above the otherworldly landscape, turn it into a living thing as monstrous as the creature thought to be haunting it. And the story, under the lead writer Anna Symon, holds your interest as Claire’s determined but blithe attempt to bring “a voice of reason” to the villagers turns her, in their minds and perhaps ours, into the monster.
“The Essex Serpent” never quite takes off in the way it should, though. In common with a lot of contemporary prestige-TV productions, it seems to have worked so hard and so carefully to achieve the right surface patina that it forgot about being exciting — there are surprises in the plot, but you rarely feel the shock of real surprise, or of vision, in the filmmaking. It’s a tasteful and static enterprise that deserves attention because it comes to life whenever Danes is onscreen.

 40 اجمالى المشاهدات,  6 اليوم

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‘American Horror Stories’: Ryan Murphy Unveils New Chapters Of Fear & Frights In ‘AHS’ Spinoff Teaser

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Ryan Murphy ushers in new chapters of the American Horror Story franchise in a teaser for the upcoming Hulu anthology series, American Horror Stories.

“Every episode brings you a different nightmare,” Murphy tweeted on Wednesday.

Murphy, who has been teasing American Horror Stories with posters on his social media accounts, dropped the teaser on Twitter. The brief snippet follows a rubber woman on a journey that revisits some of the most memorable locations in the AHS franchise.

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American Horror Stories is a weekly hourlong anthology series that will feature a different horror story in each contained episode. The spinoff will premiere exclusively on Hulu July 15. Earlier this month Murphy revealed that Kevin McHale, Dyllón Burnside, Charles Melton and Nico Greetham will star in the series.

During a panel for Ratched in August 2020, AHS and American Crime Story star Sarah Paulson said that she will direct some of the series.

The tenth installment of the flagship series, American Horror Story: Double Feature, will debut on FX Wednesday, August 25.

During the May Upfront presentations, FX Chairman John Landgraf said that American Horror Stories will commence in July and conclude on Halloween. The series is executive produced by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Alexis Martin Woodall, John J. Gray and Manny Coto.

New horrors and fears await viewers in the American Horror Stories teaser – watch it below.

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 265 اجمالى المشاهدات,  9 اليوم

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‘Captive Audience: An American Horror Story’ Review: More Shocking Than Fiction

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وقت القراءة المقدر: 2 دقيقة (دقائق)

Too smart for “true crime” and far more artfully constructed than standard-issue nonfiction, “Captive Audience” revisits the case of Steven Stayner, who in 1972 disappeared without a trace and then resurfaced seven years later, with a fellow kidnap victim in tow. Those with long memories will know right off where else the Stayner family saga is going, but others will be utterly shocked—which is supportive evidence in the case being made by director Jessica Dimmock. “If you have an experience and it doesn’t become a story,” says Steven’s mother, Kay, “it dies.” Which, coming as it does near the end of episode 3, is a statement as startling as any other in this three-part series.
The word “story” is repeated at least a dozen times in the opening moments of “Captive Audience,” mostly by TV anchors and correspondents, framing the Stayner case as it led the news circa Dec. 4, 1972: a 7-year-old boy, vanishing on his way home from school in humble Merced, Calif., stoking the worst fears of parents, inspiring exhaustive searches and then, as all such stories do when they aren’t solved, going cold. The very sympathetic Kay Stayner, who says she never stopped believing her son would return, concedes that when the police contacted her in March 1980, she immediately expected the worst. “I had all this hope for all these years, and at the end I thought it was going to be bad news.”

 224 اجمالى المشاهدات,  7 اليوم

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‘Choose or Die’: The Netflix Original Horror Film is Kind of Underwhelming

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وقت القراءة المقدر: 14 دقيقة (دقائق)

Austin Oguri is a screenwriter and has deep appreciation for the art of film in general, he aims to offer unique perspectives through his film reviews and feature articles. He also has a soft spot for lesser-known works, and enjoys spotlighting them whenever he can. Austin has always found it necessary for people to encourage and bring out the best in each other, and as a writer at The Hollywood Insider, he can combine that ideology with his ability to think outside the box and truly express his love for the arts in the best ways possible.
Apr 20, 2022
Table of Contents
Photo: ‘Choose or Die’
When it comes to horror films, there are a lot of factors that must be balanced in order to create an end product that’s satisfying for its potential audience. On top of the engaging story and likable characters vital to any movie’s success, a proper unsettling atmosphere must be established without being forced. Real horror doesn’t come merely from jumpscares or extreme violence, it comes from suspense, high stakes, and characters the audience cares about trying to escape nightmarish situations. This is something that classic horror films like ‘Child’s Play’ and ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ nailed.
In a post-‘Saw’ world, however, a common complaint regarding many modern horror movies is that they rely more on shock and gore than actual tension. It was for this reason that the trailer for the latest Netflix horror film, ‘Choose or Die’, concerned me a bit. Some of the moments teased in the trailer made the film look like it was leaning more towards a “make-the-viewers-feel-sick” angle rather than a proper sense of fear or dread. But does the actual film confirm those concerns of mine? Is this movie little more than shock value for the sake of shock value?

Helmed by first-time director Toby Meakins, ‘Choose or Die’ is a British horror-thriller film about a financially-struggling college student named Kayla (Iola Evans). She lives in an apartment building with her drug-addicted mother (Angela Griffin), who’s not only broken over the death of her son, but taken advantage of by the apartment’s abusive landlord. While learning to code from her friend Isaac (Asa Butterfield), she discovers a mysterious text-based interactive fiction game called CURS>R that offers a large amount of money to whoever can complete it. However, it turns out this isn’t any ordinary game, and it holds a power that puts her and anyone close to her in great danger.
Right off the bat, I’m glad to report that this is not a movie that’s over-reliant on nasty imagery in order to be creepy. Yes, there are a few scenes where the violence gets rather unpleasant, but those scenes are far and few between, and most of the horror here is established properly through atmospheric tension. There were a few scenes that actually were pretty suspenseful all things considered, and none of these scenes even featured any on-screen violence at all. There is an earnest attempt at making a creepy, suspenseful movie here, and I appreciate that. The acting is also pretty good, with the cast faking American accents so well I never even realized they were British until I looked it up later. Additionally, the musical score, composed by Liam Howlett of The Prodigy is fairly decent. It utilizes a lot of ominous retro-sounding electronic noises that fit perfectly, considering the subject matter of the film revolves around an old computer game.

However, despite ‘Choose or Die’ doing a good number of things right, I personally felt the movie fell short in a number of areas. While the direction was solid, most of the movie’s problems lie in the script; for starters, there’s a decent amount of less-than-stellar dialogue that just doesn’t feel natural. In particular, there are quite a few f-bombs dropped throughout the film, and oftentimes when the word is spoken, it sounds fairly forced. It’s no secret that in real life, some people have a tendency to swear left and right, but when it comes to movie dialogue, excessive swearing runs the risk of sounding unnaturally implemented, depending on how well the dialogue is written. Language aside, I personally felt that the biggest drawback of this film was the small scale.
The conflict in ‘Choose or Die’ feels like it’s building up to something grand and exciting, but without spoiling anything, the end result comes off as more anticlimactic than anything. The stakes are there, and they’re gradually raised throughout the film, but by the end of it, Kayla’s journey comes off as surprisingly small. There have been mid-budget movies that have benefited from smaller-scale stories, and films that would have benefitted from shorter runtimes, but in the case of ‘Choose or Die’, a slightly longer runtime in conjunction with a larger scale of the story could’ve made it a lot more engaging. As is, it feels more like an extended episode of a TV show than a proper movie.

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Prior to the release of ‘Choose or Die’, one piece of trivia that stood out was the fact that the film featured Robert Englund, the actor famous for playing the iconic Freddy Krueger in the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ films. Enough attention was drawn to the casting choice to make one believe that he played a large role in the movie, perhaps the villain. However, in the actual movie, Robert Englund’s role is merely a meta voice-only cameo. In what feels more like fanservice than anything, Englund plays a fictional version of himself, who is only briefly heard in a pre-recorded message over the phone introducing CURS>R players to the game.
While there’s a lot of attention brought to the fact that this is Robert Englund, with Isaac becoming super excited upon hearing his voice on the message, it doesn’t really add anything as far as the rest of the film goes. While this wasn’t any sort of problem for me – a cameo is just that: a cameo, after all – it’s worth pointing out for anyone who might’ve been interested in this film simply because Englund’s name is attached to it. 

When all is said and done, ‘Choose or Die’ has a decent handful of things going for it, such as the acting, the surprisingly effective tone, and some of the special effects, but even so, the film as a whole unfortunately came across as flat and underwhelming. As far as recommendations go, this is one I feel is fairly skippable for most. However, if you’re someone like me who enjoys browsing through lower-budget independent movies on streaming services and/or you’re a horror junkie, then there’s nothing stopping you from checking this movie out for yourself. If you want to settle down one night and check out something mildly spooky, this isn’t a bad choice, even if there are better films out there even in that regard. I’m not a die-hard horror fanatic, so I can’t speak on behalf of those who are, so if this movie sounds at all interesting to you, I’d say at the very least give it a chance.
Cast & Crew:
Directed by: Toby Meakins
Written by: Simon Allen
Starring: Iola Evans, Asa Butterfield, Angela Griffin, Ryan Gage, Robert Englund
By Austin Oguri
Click here to read The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Cinema, TV and Media. An excerpt from the love letter: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, We have the space and time for all your stories, no matter who/what/where you are. Media/Cinema/TV have a responsibility to better the world and The Hollywood Insider will continue to do so. Talent, diversity and authenticity matter in Cinema/TV, media and storytelling. In fact, I reckon that we should announce “talent-diversity-authenticity-storytelling-Cinema-Oscars-Academy-Awards” as synonyms of each other. We show respect to talent and stories regardless of their skin color, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, etc., thus allowing authenticity into this system just by something as simple as accepting and showing respect to the human species’ factual diversity. We become greater just by respecting and appreciating talent in all its shapes, sizes, and forms. Award winners, which includes nominees, must be chosen on the greatness of their talent ALONE.
I am sure I am speaking for a multitude of Cinema lovers all over the world when I speak of the following sentiments that this medium of art has blessed me with. Cinema taught me about our world, at times in English and at times through the beautiful one-inch bar of subtitles. I learned from the stories in the global movies that we are all alike across all borders. Remember that one of the best symbols of many great civilizations and their prosperity has been the art they have left behind. This art can be in the form of paintings, sculptures, architecture, writings, inventions, etc. For our modern society, Cinema happens to be one of them. Cinema is more than just a form of entertainment, it is an integral part of society. I love the world uniting, be it for Cinema, TV. media, art, fashion, sport, etc. Please keep this going full speed.
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Austin Oguri is a screenwriter and has deep appreciation for the art of film in general, he aims to offer unique perspectives through his film reviews and feature articles. He also has a soft spot for lesser-known works, and enjoys spotlighting them whenever he can. Austin has always found it necessary for people to encourage and bring out the best in each other, and as a writer at The Hollywood Insider, he can combine that ideology with his ability to think outside the box and truly express his love for the arts in the best ways possible.
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Austin Oguri is a screenwriter and has deep appreciation for the art of film in general, he aims to offer unique perspectives through his film reviews and feature articles. He also has a soft spot for lesser-known works, and enjoys spotlighting them whenever he can. Austin has always found it necessary for people to encourage and bring out the best in each other, and as a writer at The Hollywood Insider, he can combine that ideology with his ability to think outside the box and truly express his love for the arts in the best ways possible.
Austin Oguri is a screenwriter and has deep appreciation for the art of film in general, he aims to offer unique perspectives through his film reviews and feature articles. He also has a soft spot for lesser-known works, and enjoys spotlighting them whenever he can. Austin has always found it necessary for people to encourage and bring out the best in each other, and as a writer at The Hollywood Insider, he can combine that ideology with his ability to think outside the box and truly express his love for the arts in the best ways possible.

 209 اجمالى المشاهدات,  7 اليوم

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