Movie review: Move On (2012)

Is it a movie? Is it an advertisement? No, it’s a… movertisement! Move On (2012) is a strange beast. Funded by a phone company, a car company, and that corporation that locked a poor girl in a shipping container after she was gang-raped, its (non-existent) storyline has seemingly been crowd-sourced. Like any movie-by-committee, the result is a camel. A camel that’s trying to flog you a car.

That said, it is by no means an unpleasant way to spend 90 minutes. (You can watch the entire thing for free at the official website.) Move On follows a jaded everyman spy as he travels across Europe on a non-specific covert-ops job. The resulting movie blends together indiscriminately all the classic action movie clichés. There’s beautiful scenery (from the grit of Alexanderplatz in Berlin to the sweeping coastline of Montenegro); fraught car chases; hand-to-hand combat; and of course a sexy love affair that goes wrong.

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Music review: Matt Nathanson – Last of the Great Pretenders

Matt Nathanson’s musical love letter to San Francisco proves that radio-ready rock doesn’t have to be soulless.

After more than a decade of producing DIY rock music that mostly stayed beneath the radar, Matt Nathanson has taken a slow swerve towards the mainstream in recent years. Unfortunately, the carefully-calculated polish of his recent work (Some Mad Hope, Modern Love) has too often resulted in songs that are weaker than his early, indie efforts. New album Last of the Great Pretenders is yet another attempt to redress this balance and produce pop-rock for the masses that also retains the grit that made Nathanson’s early songs so likeable.

Paying your dues pays off

What’s immediately obvious is that Great Pretenders displays a veteran’s command of song-writing and performance. This is unsurprising, since when I think of musicians who have paid their dues, I inevitably think of Matt Nathanson.

The idea of spending your formative years playing poky music venues and releasing indie records for an audience of dozens may be outdated, it may be problematic. But, in the case of Nathanson, this process of ‘paying your dues’ has given him a deft musical touch. (If you ever have the chance to see Nathanson play live, take it. His live shows invariably bring energy, wit and feel-good rock music.)

Sunshine and fog

In Great Pretenders, Nathanson plays up his fifteen years of living in San Francisco by creating an album that not only name-checks the landmarks of the city (Alcatraz, the pretty boys in the Castro, the “Earthquake weather”), but also evokes its sunshine and fog, its shrugging joie de vivre.

In writing a musical love letter to San Francisco, Nathanson succeeds in producing perhaps his most cohesive album to date. And, for anyone who loves San Francisco, the plethora of great songs about SF make for a genuine treat.

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TV review: The Fosters and choosing who to be

In the most recent episode of ABC Family’s The Fosters, Stef sits down beside her adoptive daughter, Mariana, who is busy self-immolating in toxic teen angst, and asks her:

“Is this really who you want to be?”

This deceptively-simple question cuts right to the heart of The Fosters. In a TV landscape filled with anti-heroes, it’s downright refreshing to encounter a show that adamantly rejects bad faith.

In The Fosters – which follows a makeshift family consisting of lesbian moms, Stef and Lena, Stef’s son from a previous marriage, adopted twins, and two new foster siblings – life is all about choosing your family; choosing who you want to be.

In an earlier episode, the show deftly dodged the question of “are people born gay, or is it a choice?” when Stef once again emphasised agency and free will. When challenged about leaving her husband for a woman, Stef comments to her homophobic father, “Yeah, I made a choice – I made a choice to be happy.”

As The Fosters nears the end of its initial 10-episode run, it seems to be hitting its stride. The Pilot felt, to me, more like a Hallmark movie of the week than the set-up for an interesting TV show. But, since then, The Fosters has found a better balance between sweetness and grit.

The show is still a little more ISSUE-driven than I would like (every character has been assigned an ISSUE, whether it’s ADHD or undocumented immigrant status, and it all gets a bit tiring), but there’s no denying that The Fosters is taking on more challenging subjects (with more thoughtfulness and more candour) than any other teen show currently airing. It’s proving to be a worthy successor to classy WB dramas of old, like Everwood.

Here’s hoping the show gets a second season and its characters get further opportunities to choose what to do, how to act and who to be.

The secret of Hannibal’s failure

Getting upset because Your Fave™ didn’t get an Emmy nomination is a fool’s game, yet it’s something I do every year. (Outrage is good for the skin! … Maybe.) Mainly, however, the reveal of this year’s Emmy noms, featuring narry a one for Hannibal or its extraordinarily able stars, has opened up an old wound for me:

I mourn the critical success that Hannibal never was.

A combination of internal and external factors mean that ‘Hannibal’ may have wooed a hardcore army of fans, but it never wooed the critics or the general public.

Premiere in May April, rue the day

There’s little doubt in my mind that ‘Hannibal’ would have been better received if it had premiered in January. Its April air date cut it off at the knees, making it not quite a midseason show, not quite a summer show. Unfortunately, many people (me included) were reluctant to pick up a show that was warming up just as a number of other shows were reaching their boiling points during May Sweeps.

(In short: who cares about subtle, mid-season manoeuvrings when there’s crazy finale drama going down on the other channel?)

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Movie review: The Hunt (Jagten)

The Hunt (Jagten, 2012) is a deftly-constructed portrait of small-town hysteria. When nice-guy Lucas, a nursery worker who has an easy rapport with his young charges, is accused of paedophilia, the resulting fall-out is queasily compelling and acted to perfection by Mads Mikkelsen (because, yes, this is another one of my “this summer, I’ll watch Mads Mikkelsen’s entire filmography!” movies).

Taken purely as a piece of film-making, The Hunt is undeniably well put together. Seemingly throwaway scenes, such as Lucas being charged with taking a young boy to “do number two”, are cleverly revisited – the same scene later being used as evidence that Lucas had means and opportunity to abuse children in his care.

There’s enough detail to give texture and realism to the film. I loved the dog who barks every time someone says the name of Lucas’s ex-wife. And young Klara’s OCD fear of stepping on lines is a thread that deftly pulls the movie’s beginning and end together. The Hunt also makes masterful use of Chekhov’s gun in a truly thrilling ending.

Taken purely as a piece of film-making and out of any cultural context, The Hunt is great. Unfortunately, it was very hard for me to watch and not think about Operation Yewtree. Because, the fact is, the chances of a good man being wrongly accused of paedophilia are utterly dwarfed by the chances of a paedophile getting away scot-free with abuse because no one believes his victim(s).

Yes, mass hysteria about paedophilia happens (even in the face of no evidence). But, ultimately, I didn’t feel The Hunt made much of an effort to unpack the white male privilege at the heart of its premise. As a result, it’s difficult not to view The Hunt as a paranoid fantasy fuelled by the white male expectation that everyone should believe everything you say, always.