Peaky Blinders | How Anachronistic Soundtrack Enhances Story

 

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Have you ever wondered why this scene has this particular song playing in the background?

The presence of music in films has become so integral part of art form that we as audience demand it. Music helps to highlight the realism of the visuals.

Filmmakers chose their soundtrack very carefully to evoke certain emotional response as different style of music can completely change the mood of the scene.

A film soundtrack basically refers to music that is created independently from the film itself and is not only associated with it.

Today I want to talk to you about the importance of soundtrack in the acclaimed BBC period drama Peaky Blinders.

Despite being set in the 1920s, the show has a blisteringly cool modern soundtrack. The show runner Steven Knight uses the roaring guitars to depict the rebellious twenties in Birmingham.

This kind of anachronistic use of music is not something new.

Several filmmakers have previously used this trick.

Buz Luhrmann scored his period drama The Great Gatsby (2013) based on F. Scott Fitzgerald 1925 novel with almost every anachronistic pop tunes he can secure the rights to. The soundtrack was co-produced by rap god Jay Z.

But perhaps among all the filmmaker who masterfully executed this trick has to be Quentin Tarantino. Has there ever been a director quite so liberal with his soundtrack choices?

When QT threw a Southern rap track by Rick Ross into the middle of his period blaxploitation Western Django Unchained (2012), the unsuited choice of tune surprised exactly no one.

After all, this is the same guy, who used David Bowie’s “Cat People” in the lead-up to the climax of his revisionist World War II epic Inglorious Bastards (2009).

Peaky Blinders brought a handful of great tunes as a part of its beautifully anachronistic soundtrack. It seems to fit into an interesting sub-genre, a period drama with a post-modern sensibility.

The period details appears to be accurate in most part, the clothes, contemporary historical references, set designing but the script has a self-awareness & a sense of swagger that is strictly 21st century.

This once again demonstrates the extent of Tarantion’s influence on the art form.

The show creates a fascinating world of post World War 1 Birmingham and its people who are trying to coup up with the horrors of the Great War. 

So why does Steven Knight chose modern music to portray the 20th century?

Let’s take a look at Peaky Blinders season 1 and how the anachronistic soundtrack plays its part in intensifying the story.

Each episode of this melodramatic tale of Brummie criminals is set up by the seedy, doom-laden tone of Art rock band Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand”.

The series opens up with its theme song – “The red right Hand”, accompanied by stylishly choreographed visuals. Each introduction sequence is different from the other while referring to various historical, cultural and social references of post World War 1, England.  

The gothic, inherently dangerous melody has a looming, bluesy gait that opens up the show to a vast ocean of possibilities despite its post-World War I setting.

There is lawlessness and to all of the music which echoes the mood of the show beautifully.

The song has a sinister essence to it and is matched by visuals of introducing the mean streets of Birmingham’s industrial heartlands. The mysterious sound of the Aussie band and Cave’s dark poetry comes together as a chilling introduction to the upcoming thrill-ride.

Moving on from an Australian rock band to the Alternative rock melody of American rock duo The White Stripes’ “I Smell a Cat” appears as Inspector Campbell flips through the record of suspected robbers Freddie and Thomas.

This Indie tune elevates the conflict of interest between Thomas, Freddie and Campbell.  It also serves as a prologue of Thomas and Freddie’s relationship, once best mates, but now divided by political consciousness.

The BBC drama focuses around the actions of a gangster family and its consequences. With each episode the level of tension and drama increases. Like the narrative, music also gets intensified.

After Inspector Campbell carries a ruthless raid looking for communists in the absence of the Shelby brothers, Tommy responds by burning pictures of the king. This sequence opens up the power game on which the entire story is based on.

This anarchic sequence is supported by another The White Stripes track “The hardest button to button.

The drum beats and the guitar grunge of this alternative track creates a perfect blend of tension and anticipation which sets up the anarchic reaction by the crooks.

The actual song is about a little boy being ignored by his family and Jack Whites resentful whine mirrors Tommy’s childish response.

As time goes on the issue of the stolen machine guns becomes more important with interest of several parties.

Inspector Campbell arranges another raid after getting information from his undercover agent. In a quest to find the stolen guns he only finds Whisky & cigarettes.

This raid is also backed by another Jack White song.

Like the nature of the raid, the music has also become more aggressive. The grunge-tinged power-pop rock ‘n’ roll sound fit the struggle between the antagonist and the protagonist of the story. The age-old cat & mouse chase is reaching its peak.

“The boy never gets older”

Right at the end of the series finale, Tommy writes to his love, the undercover Irish secret agent gone rough Grace, saying he’ll decide whether to come to New York with her in three days while sipping the champagne she bought.

Tommy is broken, after his unexpected battle with William Kimber and his eventual triumph made his company the third largest legal racetrack operation in the country but at an expense of one of his good friends.

While Tommy wants to be with Grace his family and empire become obstacles.

Meanwhile, Inspector Campbell arrives at the rail station pointing a gun at her.

These explosive moments are backed by Jack White’s equally explosive cover of U2’s classic. White turns the piano-flecked original into a scorched blues rock howl accompanied by fierce guitar frenzy.

It’s not just a random track playing in the background it’s a part of Tommy’s narrative.

So, the next time when you watch your favorite film or TV show, pay close attention to the songs playing in the background and how it elevates the story, maybe without you even noticing.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo | How to Construct Mystery

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Spoiler alert: The following content contains spoilers

I love watching thrillers, especially murder mysteries there is something about them I find very compelling. Every once in a while I watch a particular sequence of David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. The sequence where Henrik Vanger hires Mikael Blomkvist to solve an unsolved riddle, it serves as the introduction of the main plot devices of the film. This sequence is like a master-class in introducing the mystery to the audience. The tension and anticipation lead to one of the most suspenseful introductions of a riddle of recent memory. So, what makes the sequence so constructive? How does David Fincher turn two people chatting in a room into a charming introduction of a gruesome murder mystery?

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In a paper titled “Towards a general psychological model of tension and suspense” by Moritz Lehne and Stefan Koelsch, they discuss six key components of “tension experience”, today I want to examine some of them beginning with “expectation, prediction, anticipation”. In their paper, Lehne and Koelsch write, “A key component underlying tension and suspense experiences are future-directed processes of expectation, prediction, and anticipation. As events unfold in time (e.g., in real life, fictional worlds, or music), they are constantly evaluated against a background of predictions that is continuously updated during the temporal evolution of events. Emotional Significance of Anticipated Events can then generate experiences of tension or suspense.”

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Blomkvist comes to Hedestad to meet Mr. Vanger while the reason of his meeting with is still unknown to him. His expectation of the place gets a huge setback as soon as he reaches the train station. The weather condition is far from being generous. As Steven Zaillian describes in the screenplay, “Blomkvist disembarks to find Frode – who he can only assume is Frode – beyond a veil of snow, waving to him from outside a Mercedes. Unlike Blomkvist, he’s dressed for this God-awful weather in a fur-collared topcoat.” It embarks doubts in Blomkvist whose background of prediction is being disrupted by the temporal evolution of events. He wants to take the 4:30 train back to Stockholm while Frode jokes that the train tracks might get showed in. Zaillian’s usage of strong and short dialogues creates the sense of “uncertainty” in Blomkvist’s mind. As he comes out of the car to meet Mr. Vanger in front of the latter’s house a distant gunshot is heard which builds up the uncertainty even more. In just one page Zaillian has laid the foundation for suspense. But this alone is not enough to create the intensity of suspense that we feel by the end of the sequence.

It surely takes a great amount of screenwriting to set up the stage for the director but it also takes a good director to portray that vision into visuals and that’s where the brilliance of David Fincher comes in. He uses Zaillian’s extremely effective dialogues to create an “emotional investment” of the audience. In their paper, Lehne and Koelsch write, “The intensity of the suspense is proportional to our emotional investment in what is going on.” Fincher stages the scenes in a certain way to increase the emotional significance of the anticipated events.

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Let’s take the scene in Vanger’s study where Blomkvist and the old man indulge in conversation. In this scene, Vengar talks about the glorious history of his ancestors and how they built modern Sweden. Before turning serious and asking Blomkvist for his help. Fincher uses his camera movements and shot sizes to control the emotional flow of the scene. As Vanger calls out for help he cuts to a close-up. Blomkvist is asked by Mr. Vanger to investigate his family to solve an age old mystery.

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The master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock once said that the mystery that we see on films comes from how the scenes are staged in retrospect to what the character knows. Like Hitchcock, David Fincher also cares about information. In his cinematic world drama happens when a character learns a new piece of information and how does it fit with everything the already know. And how does the character reacts to discovering a little more of the truth? Some directors try to avoid expositions but not Fincher, it is a part of his method.

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The words “investigation” and “mystery” from the previous scene creates a whole new ground of instability which expands the material distance between the initiating event creating the tension and the moment in which tension resolves influences the tension experience. Vanger starts to introduce his family to Blomkvist through a family photo album before getting stuck with a photo of a young girl, Harriet, the granddaughter of his brother Richard. He then went on to say that someone in the family has murdered her.

As Vanger uttered the word “murder”, the circle of words starts to make sense, “investigation of a murder mystery”. But this only amplifies the suspense that’s waiting for the audience at the end of the sequence.

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As Vanger recalls the incidents of the day when Harriet disappeared, it insists another key element of suspense; “lack of control”. According to Lehne and Koelsch this element states, “An inability to influence the course of events, often contributes to experiences of tension. This lack of control is brought about by a temporal distance between the initiating event triggering the tension experience and the event that resolves the tension.” Vanger wasn’t aware of Harriet’s disappearance until he didn’t see her at the dinner table. Fincher showed that by a single take of an empty chair. He called the police and searched the island thoroughly but neither Harriet was found, nor her body.

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A girl is missing for 40 years that but does it necessarily mean that she is murdered? She could be dead, but what makes Vanger think that her granddaughter has been killed by someone in the family?

In their paper, Lehne and Koelsch said, “Temporal distance between the initiating event creating the tension and the moment in which tension resolves influences the tension experience. It has been proposed that delaying the resolution of the tension intensifies the tension experience.”

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The last part of the sequence is where the full intensity of the suspense comes alive. Fincher has stretched out the suspense as long as possible until finally the suspense successfully creates the mystery in front of Blomkvist and the audiences. Vanger reveals a wall with nine framed dried flowers those are Harriet’s birthday gift to Vanger. Similarly, on the other wall there are forty of them which are from Harriet’s killer.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Director: David Fincher

Screenplay: Steven Zaillian

Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright

Special thanks to – Lessons from the Screenplay for introducing me to the paper, “Towards a general psychological model of tension and suspense”

Whiplash – A study of artistic obsession

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NOTE: The following content contains spoilers.

Whiplash is a 2014 film written and director by Damien Chazelle. The Independent jazz drum drama basically follows the journey of a young ambitious jazz drummer Andrew Neiman who aspires to become one of the greatest musicians of the 21st century.

In 1936 on the stage of Kansas City’s Reno Club one night, so the story goes, Charlie Parker was brought down to earth with a crash. The ambitious young saxophonist, then only 16 years old, lost his way while improvising over I Got Rhythm, and the drummer, Jo Jones, lobbed a cymbal at him in frustration, which landed deafeningly at his feet.

The audience laughed and mocked, and Parker stormed out of the venue, defeated. He took a residency at a country resort and used the time to intensive practice. A year later, Parker returned to the same stage and performed – as a character in Whiplash puts it – “the best mother f—in’ solo anyone in the room ever heard.”

This shining, exhilarating film from the young American writer-director Damien Chazelle isn’t a story about the roles played by hardship and humiliation in forging a great artist. It’s a story about what happens when people believe that’s how great artists must be constructed – both the mentors raining down force and the students who are willing to go to the extreme.

In the opening sequence of the film we see Andrew in Shaffer conservatory in New York he is immersed in his craft. The drum rolls set us up as we are entered into the life of a tireless gritty musician. His drumming catches the ear of Terence Fletcher, the most important teacher at Shaffer and the conductor for its most important jazz band.

Andrew is clearly thrilled when he finds out that Fletcher is listening to drumming. The first introduction scene basically tells us the theme of the whole film- an encounter between a strict, scary teacher and a passionate young student. This will be replayed throughout the entire movie with various variations of the same theme. It’s about a student not living up to what the teacher demands of him and the sense of failing what the student want to achieve.

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That chance encounter with Fletcher in the opening sequence of the film is also the inciting incident of the story, the turning point of the narrative when Andrew can no longer maintain the status quo and embarks on his journey to seek greatness. This creates a potential desire in him which starts to change him as a human being.

As the desire grows deep into Andrew, we as audiences also come to know with his fears. Chazelle used very simple equations to show us Andrew’s fears. The film uses its protagonist’s family life to help establish those inherent fears. Andrew is only attached to his father in the family, who is a moderately successful high school teacher and an unsuccessful writer. Chazelle describes him as “average in every respect and has the eyes of a former dreamer“, in the screenplay.

It is the mediocrity of the person Andrew loves the most in the world, his father would become his fear. With time he would come to despise the average mentality of his father, which eventually fuels his desire.

From a very young age Andrew wanted to become a jazz drummer, he practiced drums every day and even admitted himself in the best music school in the country. He has absolutely no friends or a social life. As a 19-year-old Andrew shows us that he is different from any average teenager.  All he wants in life is to become a great musician.

The path to greatness is not that simple and in order to achieve what Andrew desires something must stand in his way. This is where Fletcher comes in as a mentor. Fletcher is reintroduced in the narrative as a dramatic question. Will Andrew be able to push himself to be the greatest?

Driven by desire and fear, Andrew started working harder and soon takes his first uncharacteristic action. He asks out the girl he had a crush on which singles that he is now ready to change.

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He is excited about the first jamming session with the studio band and Fletcher. It’s when we as audiences first come to know about the violent, abusive nature of Fletcher so do Andrew. He is emotionally drained and starts to question his desire. Fletcher’s harshness pushes Andrew and he sees his desires more clearly. He eventually turns himself into a core member of the band from an alternate.

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This resulted in his first victory and his desires expand. But the real challenges are yet to come. After getting recruited to the studio band Andrew faces various obstacles in his path, just when he thought that he has accomplished something he is reminded of his desire.

After becoming the core drummer of the studio band Andrew finds himself among his family members talking about regular things in life and their mundane ambitions at a family dinner table. All the members of the family are a bit intimidated by his attitude and pursuit, including his father. Again it’s his father who reminds him of failure ignites his desire to become great.

These obstacles forced him to change in a certain way that he wouldn’t otherwise. Andrew is being held back by his former self. In Andrew’s quest to greatness, there are some key motivating factors involved such as the threat of replacement. This threat comes to him as a surprise, Andrew was selected to the studio band ahead of his peer, Ryan. But Fletcher brings Ryan to the studio and makes it very clear that nothing is taken for granted in the music world. If Andrew wants the part he has to earn it.

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He eventually begins to change but takes it too far that we see the path of greatness is one of self-destruction. The threat of replacement adds pressure and drives his descent into madness.

Andrew breaks up with his girlfriend Nichole by telling her that what he wants to achieve needs more of his time and she is standing between him and his dream. This scene highlights his psyche, he is attracted to Nichole but is breaking up with her and it’s about the action it’s about in the manner he does it. Andrew’s desires have got the better of him and he is choosing a path of destruction, not greatness. He becomes obsessed with his dream of becoming a great jazz drummer and goes completely out of control.

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In Andrew’s slow descent into madness, the main force of antagonism is played by Fletcher. The violent and abusive nature of his mentor makes Andrew overwhelmed by pressure and torment. He begins to destroy his old self.

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As Andrew scrambles to get to the studio band’s second performance he is met with his pinnacle of self-destruction. He is met with a fatal accident. The descent to madness shows how the destruction of character’s old self.

The car crash, fortunately, stops Andrew’s self-destruction. He takes a break from drumming and is expelled from Shaffer. He then gives a testimony on Fletcher’s behavior as a teacher to students which resulted in Fletcher’s dismissal from the school. Then he meets Fletcher in a jazz bar and agrees to collaborate with him again. He starts to prepare for the big and climactic performance. But is he ready?

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He tries to get back to Nichole but finds out that she is dating someone else. As Andrew enters the stage, Fletcher tells him that it’s a trap set for him to fail miserably to destroy his dreams. Though tries but he fails to deliver as the first piece ends the pitiful claps of the audiences bring down the horror of defeat in him. He storms out of the stage and meets his father.

Faced with this ultimate failure, Andrew finally makes the most important choice of his journey. He walks back to the stage and launches into “Double time Latin”.

Now Andrew isn’t playing for Fletcher anymore, he is playing for himself and his dreams. He is confident and in control. He has not totally destroyed his old self as the narrative answers it’s dramatic question.

Haider – A Shakespearean disruption of Kashmir

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Haider is 2014 film by Indian director Vishal Bhardwaj is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s celebrated play Hamlet. The film has often seen as a political film in which it provides a visual commentary on the militant insurgency of 1995 in Kashmir. Haider shifts gears to incorporate the basic plot of Hamlet in the setting of the valley of Kashmir and its violent political turmoil.

It is also the third film of Bhardwaj’s Shakespeare trilogy, he had previously adapted Othello and Macbeth into feature films. Haider is a definitely a different film in terms of how the narrative is structured, the genre, the coloring of the film and the types of visuals it provides mostly counters that of mainstream Bollywood films. Haider consciously disrupts the common troops found within that of mainstream Hindi cinema.

For the last fifty years, mainstream Bollywood films have heavily relied on song and dance sequences as a major plot device. Traditionally these sequences appear dreamlike, break every code of continuity in space and time within the narrative and finally include the hero and heroine dancing together against extravagant backdrops with hundreds of extras. The sole purpose of these sequences is to serve purely as elements of spectacle.

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In Haider, there is three song and dance sequences that appear within the structure of the narrative. The original play within the play becomes a song and dance sequence (in Hamlet it’s a play lead by the title character after he encounters the ghost of his father and learns about his murder). In the film, Haider leads the song and dance at a wedding ceremony without a heroine but along with backup dancers. The sequence is not exactly extravagant in terms of mise-en-scene as compare to Bollywood but what is interesting is how this is shot.

The sequence is highly aware of itself, cutting to important characters as they watch the performance. The point of the sequence is much like its inspiration Hamlet, Haider and the viewing audiences know what Khurrum has done. Inserting reactionary close-up shots integrates not just the on-screen audience but the real viewing audience. The dance is also not the typical Bollywood dance we are used to seeing it is a mixture of martial arts and folk traditions which highlight the sense of anxiety of the sequence. This proves that the play within the play sequence not just serves as a spectacle but as an important segment of the narrative which actually pushes the story even further.

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Haider follows a tighter narrative than the average mainstream Bollywood films. Although it’s a revenge saga, the narrative of the film is driven by the characters and Kashmir. Almost the entire film was shot in real locations in the valley of Kashmir in between all the tension which gives the film a touch of realism. Bollywood films usually appear as a larger than live canvas.

In the last half of the film there is the cemetery sequence, this also becomes the song and dance sequence. It doesn’t even include any main characters. The sequence is led by the gravediggers who are not major characters in the narrative. The title character Haider arrives at the end of the sequence. This is something not that common in Bollywood, a song and dance sequence in absence of any major characters of the ongoing narrative.

There is also a montage between Haider and Arshia that does appear to have similarities to mainstream Bollywood. This montage, not a song and dance sequences however it becomes a non-dietetic entity. What’s interesting in this sequence is the depiction of sex. Sexual ideologies between leading characters in Bollywood films are often censored but Haider has no problem showing this to the audience. This is one of Bhardwaj’s ways of staying true to the Shakespearean text.

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Haider works within the context of Bollywood, Bhardwaj’s aim in the film was to challenge Bollywood’s depiction of the valley of Kashmir either as merely a picturesque Himalayan setting or as a site of anti-India militancy. Thousands of lives have been lost in the Kashmir conflicts since the violent partition of India in 1947, thousands of boys couldn’t come back home and generation after generation growing up in the terror of AFSPA. In an interview, Bhardwaj said that Kashmir is the Hamlet in his film. A Shakespearean tragedy set in Kashmir which tells the tragic tale of the northernmost geographical region of India.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – The Unreliable Narrator

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To describe a Wes Anderson film all we can say that it’s a Wes Anderson film such is the enigma of the man he single-handedly created a genre which is both whimsy and attractive. Distinct shot selection with the camera moving in almost every shot and an OCD-like obsession for centered frames are among his signature style. Every film of his is outlandishly stylish with superb production design but it has never been as good as “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. In the film, we can sense both a progression and summarizing of the entire Wes Anderson canon. Just plain fun, full of the filmmaker’s signature flourishes and curlicues, worked out with skill and finesse. Anderson sets new cinematic trends on the way as he creates something mesmerizingly stunning.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is written by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, it has a multi-laired narrative flow which is constructed through a frame within a frame narrative structure. This is a story about a young man finding love, is a lobby boy at a glorious landmark of a hotel is told by his older self to the younger version of a man who then writes a book that is ultimately remembered by a young girl. The continuous change of the narrators creates a sense of urgency in the story and a bit of mystery which is certainly a new element the Wes Anderson arsenal. These constant and uncanny changes of narrators make the case of the unreliable narrator.

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This film has a downright strange obsession with frames. Where there are narrative framing elements within the cinematic frames chasing literal frames throughout the film using narrative framing devices. The film shows framing people for crimes within the narrative, looking out over the vast story about to tell through a pair of speckled frames. Even the whole film has different frames around it all the time because of the different aspect ratios.

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The film is ultimately about pathos, the love story ends in tragedy the hotel ultimately goes to disrepair and is ultimately demolished. Gustave dies, Agatha dies, one of our narrator dies actually most of our narrator dies. Unlike other films of the director, this film doesn’t end on a happy note but such is Anderson’s understanding of his audiences that he sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace.

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It’s Zero Mustafa’s life seen through the eyes of different people. He has lived a life of pain and misery but for one feting moment of time he was happy especially in this particular story it’s not about the end in a lot of ways, it’s about reliving the ecstasy of the past over and over again. We are nothing if not for our memories locked in a constant state of reliving our past and editing it to suit our different needs as we tell our favorite stories from our lives over and over again.

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The bulk of the story takes place directly in between World War one and two when the power vacuum created by the First World War gave rise to the ever-expanding empires like Japan, Russia, and Germany. The motif of the film also talks about a power vacuum creating a power struggle between expanding empires. But in the end, it didn’t really matter which side own because every side lost something or the other like the wars. The film looks are those great wars with empathy and points out the pointlessness of the entire process.

Wes Anderson once said in an interview, “I have a way of filming things and staging them and designing sets. There were times when I thought I should change my approach, but in fact, this is what I like to do. It’s sort of like my handwriting as a movie director. And somewhere along the way, I think I’ve made the decision, I’m going to write in my own handwriting.”

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Anderson celebrates time, places, people, and relationships both old and new alike in this film. The structure of the narrative keeps going back in the timelines which elevate the importance of nostalgia. The hotel is the symbol of everlasting nostalgia which is why it’s an enchanting old ruin. Critics often say that Anderson’s films are superficial or vague but I beg to differ from these opinions, he creates a particular brand of films which are extremely pleasing to the eyes, relaxed but at the same time also is whimsy, it’s like striking the right balance of whimsy and brilliance. The way all the characters are portrayed in the film narrates their individual stories with their dialogues. The film starts in a cemetery and end with the news of one of the protagonist’s death.

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As a writer-director, Anderson had already made a name for himself as a visionary. The whole film is constructed in a way that it hides in plain sights. The unreliability of the narrators helps the story in a way because the entire story is so much removed from an actual reality that it is assuredly played up for effect passing through so many hands and no doubts increasing an absurdity with which is kind of a perfect way to construct a Wes Anderson film.

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The man to whom the film is dedicated to is Stefan Zweig, an Austria-Hungarian novelist, and playwright. He once said, “My life was still governed in some odd way by the idea that everything was only temporary.” It is the motif of the film. Nothing lasts forever but art is almost immortal because you can choose to experience it again and again, like in this case the film.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Why it’s the best film of the series

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In 2001 Warner Bros. took a chance on fantasy project adapted from a novel written by a Britt which was primarily meant for children. What they achieved was nothing short of any fairytale, the name Harry Potter went on to crave its charm into lives of millions. According to reports, nearly 60% of the audiences that saw the first Harry Potter movie were 17 of younger at that time. Then on for the whole generation of us, the Harry Potter series spanned our adolescence and imprinted into our lives. It would be a great injustice to take away the serious impact of the books but for the wider audiences, it was the film series that peacefully coexisted with J. k. Rowling’s macular creation.

“Which one is the best Harry Potter movie?”-  It has been a consistent topic of discussion among film buffs and Potter lovers for close to a decade now. For me, the Harry Potter film series had an immense impact on my filmic education. With every phase of discovering the world from my childhood to the penultimate stage of my teenage, I grew up with the layers of wizardry fantasies. Throughout this journey these films made me feel all the emotions of an immature human heart. Today, when I chose to discuss which one is the best Harry Potter movie I’m keeping my personal likings aside to write about a great movie.

Yes, I do think that Harry potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the best film of the series. The third film of the series marks Potter’s transition from playful adventure stories for children to an increasingly darker and grimmer shade of storyline, character, and plot. This film basically constructs the foreground of the upcoming ill-lit covertness of the final installments of the series but also blended smoothly with the lighter shades of the first two films. And for that the director Alfonso Cuaron deserves every bit of praise he got. It was the Mexican who managed the whole transition turmoil of a fantasy franchise and took it to new heights.

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Warner Bros. must be credited for taking a chance with a director whose last film was an explicit Mexican road trip drama about sexual discovery called “Y Tu Mamá También”. Cuaron’s visual style has been praised by the critics prior to Azkaban. He inflicted his visual methodologies in the film to establish the poly-thematic flow of the characters and plot. Cuaron has a peculiar liking for moving and often handheld camera movements and in this, he uses it almost as a plot device.

The first few scenes of the film make the audiences feel comfortable to some extent with the scenes of Harry blowing up his horrible aunt and that of with the ridiculous knight bus. The mood of these scenes serves as reminders of the lightheartedness of the previous two installments of the franchise. The tone of the movie remains radiant till Harry learns about Serious Black from Mr. Wisely at the dinner table in Leaky Cauldron. This scene is probably the most important scene in terms of the tonal shift of the movie as well as the entire series. The framing of the scene is extremely relevant with the existing drama surrounding Harry. Cuaron falls back to his signature long shot with the precise use of visual metaphor to construct the tension of the situation and also to uplift the central theme of the film – isolation. The shot was designed to inject the sense of isolation directly into the heart of the viewers with masterful use of visual metaphor.

Watch the scene carefully, as Mr. Wisely pulls Harry into an empty part of the dinner hall separating him from his friends while the specter of Sirius Black remains in the frame. When their conversation shifts towards Black his image is framed between and family and friends framed in the background. Then Mr. Wisely takes Harry to a tighter space and even farther from his friends to tell him not to go look for Black and the shot ends with a key dramatic question the camera only frames Harry in the same continuous shot to expand the theme of isolation.

Cuaron teamed up with cinematographer Michael Seresin for this fantasy endeavor as creates a hauntingly thorough experience for the audiences. Seresin repeatedly frames Harry alone to inflict the character’s feeling of being alone “the chosen one”. Harry’s gradual realization that the burden he must carry without help as he enters his teenage in a world of dark magic. The imagery of the film deepens, reflects and signals these emotions by its consistent framing pattern for the main character.

Seresin often framed Harry separated from his surroundings or else placing him apart from those who are around him. The director never misses falling back to this isolation theme as he shoots Harry in a wide frame where he is separated from his best friends or tracking him to a tight close-up for a dramatic shift. Cuaron also ends the film with a shot where harry flies away from a crowd on his Firebolt.

Cuaron’s vision to endow a specific brand of emotional attachment with stylish imagery makes the film compelling for the viewers. Motifs shoot back and forth across the runtime like magic spells and comment on each other tightening the web that Lisa’s meaning throughout. Cuaron uses on small things to make a big impact on the narrative flow. A little bird flies around the grounds of Hogwarts in the beginning of the film to places it will only later occur to the viewers that map the sites of significant scenes in the movie. He even uses some immediate foreshadows to give emphasis on some important things, like following empty footsteps in snow before introducing Marauder’s Map – a key object of the film that visualizes people moving through Hogwarts with footsteps.

The film is more tonally darker and a lot of the colours are darker, but I think what we’re really seeing here is contrast as there is so much colour through the darkness. The Knight Bus flooring it through central London at night, the bright orange pumpkins that the threesome hide behind near the dark forest walls, the glimmer of greens and reds through the torrential rain during the Quidditch match. Things may have gotten darker, but that’s allowed for the beautiful contrast.

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The misty and vast landscape that surrounds Hogwarts had almost served as a character in its own right in Prisoner of Azkaban. The moody, dark colours are a magic in itself and the perfect accompaniment for the darker narrative.

This film’s best bits are in small details. Cuaron not only translates the emotion of youth into a fantasy noir film with the help of some superb VFX but it’s his attention to small details that makes everything look so alive. His repetitive usage of visual metaphors to convey the mood of a scene or the character makes Prisoner of Azkaban so much special. He uses the camera as a plot device which directly interacts with the audiences.

His recurring motif of moving the camera through the glass makes the case about these small details that he used in the film. This technique pays off twice in professor Rumus Lupin’s “boggart” class. Students fight off a boggart, a creature that visualizes your worst fear. Twice in this scene two beautifully choreographed shots, the camera moves through the mirrors of the wardrobe suggesting that while it’s important to look through the windows to see the world you can also look through mirrors which are to say to look into yourself.

Music is a very important part of any movie as it makes a particular scene more compelling. Music adds its own language to the narrative and often it maps a vivid vibe of a character through its tune. The great John Williams composed the music for Prisoner of Azkaban which also sees a transition along with the visual narrative as the story drifts into a grimmer path. This film’s music is not as bright as that of the previous installments, with distinct medieval influences in the instrumentation. One of the new themes, “Double Trouble,” was written during production so that a children’s choir could perform it in Hogwarts’s Great Hall in one of the film’s earlier scenes. The lyrics of “Double Trouble” are from a ritual performed by the Weïrd Sisters in Act 4, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Macbeth which takes about the volume of its darkness.

Harry Potter is a mega franchise which millions and millions of children and adults watched over and over again and the third installment of the series makes the cut for me as a cinema lover to admire the art of films. The Prisoner of Azkaban is not just a great film it’s a learning experience.

ANd for all, mischief mannaged.

Sherlock – The Final problem – TV Review – An outlandish thrill ride but is the game still on?

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NOTE: The following review contains spoilers.

If The final problem marks the end of Sherlock, the last we’ll see of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson, this felt every inch a series finale of the high-functioning franchise.

The BBC phenomenal has never been a perfect show. There have been consistent portions, to be sure. It was from the beginning, and remains, a terrific showcase for a talented and hardworking ensemble. It’s a great place to turn for hallucinatory visuals and pithy dialogue, for twists and turns. For a better or worse, it’s a mystery series wrapped with unapologetic theatrics and query visuals. The final episode of season 4 was written by both the creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat. The co-creators have gone to great lengths to produce one of the most outlandish episodes the series has even seen.

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Last week it was discovered that Sherlock had a long-lost sister named Eurus, who he had blocked out from his memory to deal with some childhood trauma. But as the episode eventually confines that Eurus is much more than a dramatic apprehension intended to shake Sherlock of his sociopathic life narrative. As Mycroft eventually tells his brother, “The man you are today is your memory of Eurus,” which is intended to suggest that it was Eurus who resulted in his inability to form emotional connections and more importantly forged his obsession with solving crimes.

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Titled The Final Problem, this rollercoaster thrill-ride of an episode began with a literal bang, as a bomb blew 221B Baker Street to smithereens, propelling our beloved duo out of the windows with a huge fireball.  As “I want to break free” drives the tension to insanity our very own Jim Moriarty makes a comeback, despite having lost his life five years ago: alive and well and up to his old devilish tricks. And for some time the makers tricked the audiences in believing that TV’s most electrifying villain is alive.

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The episode is poured in with mysteries and deductions, even from Dr. John Watson. The final problem is not only about dysfunctional Holmes family, or Sherlock’s childhood trauma, or Mycroft’s devastating lie to his family, or John’s inability to coup up with his wife’s death. It is virtually imposable to talk about the episode in a linear narrative.

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Eurus (Greek God of the East Wind), an “era-defining genius”, kept captive in an Island, abandoned from civilian knowledge for their own safety. The increasingly volatile youngest Holmes was in Sherrinford, a special, secure and very secret installation to contain what we called the uncontainable. She was moved to this facility after she tried to burn her house as a child and was almost successful. But her biggest impact was on his brother Sherlock as she killed his pet dog Redbeard. The incident had a devastating impression on young Sherlock which led him to the path of emotional abundance.

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The episode also deals with a superficial case a young girl in an airplane where everyone is sleeping including the pilot and other aircraft staffs. Sherlock has to solve this mystery in a bid to save the girl by going through several cases and emotional layers of his high-functioning consciousness, all of this while he along with his big brother and best friend was held as captive by Eurus. The trio experienced a series of an extraordinary exercise of science from a point of view of lab rats.

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The metaphysical stimulation of Eurus was finally solved by his brother as he found that the young girl in the plane is not real, it’s just an extension of Eurus’ emotional state in a form of metaphor, alone in the sky with no one by her side.

As a finale, the episode makes every note hit the right tune as Sherlock becomes a soldier, Watson starts to deduce and Mycroft shows his emotional side in a bet to safe Sherlock and Watson.

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The biggest thematic procedure of the entire series had been emotions, from the first episode when Sherlock called himself a “high-functioning sociopath”, but it’s the virtue of human mind which is blessed or cursed emotions both good and bad. But the final montage of footage where John and Sherlock watch Mary’s DVD “miss you” everything comes to full circle as their relationship with each other and everyone else makes their life a less extraordinary.

Sherlock – The Six Thatchers – TV Review – Don’t be deceived by the tragedy, the episode was not worth the long wait

 

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NOTE: The following review contains spoilers.

Death is inevitable. All good things come to an end and more often than not we actually cherish the past with a teary-eyed abundance and unfeigned despair.  That’s the thing about tears, they make vision blurry. Everything seems secondary to that devastating feeling of loss that you were only consumed by it. Generally, we think if something had the power to move us to tears, it surely must have been really moving. But moving and good are not the same things or is it?

After a gap of nearly three years, BBC’s acclaimed TV drama Sherlock came back with its fourth season. The gripping drama had caused a serious buzz among the fans with its modern-day adaptation of the world’s most famous consulting detective. The first three seasons along with last year’s Christmas special episode gained huge commercial and critical acclamations.

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Unlike the previous episodes of the series this time around the creators banked on inexpensive simulations, after making fans wait for three long years. The only thing that the series never had became the center point. A sudden death of a fan favorite might have done wonders for Game of Thrones but the same strategy backfired heavily for the sleuth series as far as I’m concern.

Killing the strongest female character of the story also made little sense to me. Moreover, the death also didn’t come suddenly, it was pretty evident by the last few episodes that the series is slowly drifting towards dark allies. Mary Watson’s character in the series has gone through a series of changes from the original work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and still became a fan favorite. Mary’s mysterious past has drawn plenty of attention and just when she was getting recognized as the third wheel of the investigative trio the creators decided she must die.

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So what did they do with 90 minutes of screen time? Make Mary travel across continents in a long montage only to later reveal it was all for nothing? Take a weird, extremely off-character digression for Watson and having him cheat on his wife? Or have a long James Bond style fight scene between Sherlock and an assassin? Anything and everything as long as it doesn’t involve actual detective investigation. The only case that Sherlock takes up in the entire episode, he solves it in just a few minutes. And oh yes, the episode is full of text messages, this time Watson also joined Holmes’ ranks.

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So, why do I think the much-awaited episode is bad? You see, unlike Sia, I don’t love cheap thrills. Over time, my appreciation for Mary as a character grew into affection and it hurt to watch her go like that. It was the good construction of earlier episodes that her departure hurt the way it did. All this episode did is to steal her of a fitting death. Died from a misdirected bullet from an elderly secretary’s gun? You certainly deserved better Mary. We as audiences deserve better.

 

 

 

Sherlock- The Abominable Bride – Drug trip to the depths of the Reichenbach fall

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NOTE: The following review contains spoilers.

Though for the first time in human history the entire world (read except Donald Trump & members of ISIS) got united to term 2016 as a despicable year but it started with a bang. To the delight of fans across the globe BBC premiered a new episode of Sherlock but at the same time, the British network also got fans confused as most of them expected two more episodes.

The return of world’s most favorite shark-face as world’s most famous detective (consulting detective to be precise) and a hobbit with an exceptional reaction-face as his sidekick in this drug loaded superhero flick. The newest British Television adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s numero uno creation is set in current day London and the first three seasons of the TV series has gained huge commercial and critical success.

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The special episode is a continuation of the ongoing events but is also set in Victorian England simultaneously filled with cocaine, hallucinations, feminism and the depths of the Reichenbach fall. After reminding us all that happened in the show which revolves around the remarkable life of a “high functioning sociopath” who is also a drug addict. As Sherlock comes back from his minutes of exile due a situation, the story alternatively drives time back to the last half of the 19th century.

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In the backdrop of Victorian London Dr. John Watson meets a strange man who is beating up corpses with a cane to establish the principle of bruising after death invites him to share his flat at two hundred twenty-one one B Baker Street. As a quite shocked Dr. Watson gets an assurance of Holmes’ strangeness in the form of friend Stamford the title track hits. The opening monologue of this special episode is recreated from the first ever episode of the Series and established Holmes and Watson relationship in the alternative Victorian narrative.

In 19th Century internet and blogs would have been a serious work of science fiction hence the makers paid their respect to the Strand magazine on which world’s best known sleuth made his first ever appearance. It can be termed as a triumph for the production team for giving the period drama a tantalizing Victorian look. Every significance of the 19th Century were present be it steam engines or hansom cabs even Shelock’s oiled back brushed hair spreader Victorian vibes. These elements became to carry more significance as the two narratives started to jumble with spontaneous flow of mesmerizing imagery. Most of the regular character’s function remained the same within the alternative narrative both thematically and metaphorically. These Victorian plot devices blended with the fast moving unorthodox narrative structure allied with witty dialogues. Among some of the haze of narrative ambiguity of the Victorian part that of Mycroft’s immense presence is an out an out winner.

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Mrs. Hudson is the first female character to enter the screen in this episode and thus makes his presence known while discussing her function within the narrative with Watson. The feminist touch that has been drawn to the script has also historical significances, the voting rights for women stood as a monumental step in that era. Every female character in the episode has been shown agitated with this patriarchal society which doesn’t consider the half of human race as equal to the other. The utter unexpected treat of a righteously angry Molly Hooper in the Victorian part disguised as a man is a bright extension of visual metaphor.

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The Victorian setting was all a roller-costar drug trip in the mind of modern-day Sherlock, who’d deliberately overdosed and entered his hallucinogenic sphere of “mind palace” to desperately prove that Moriarty couldn’t have come back from the dead. It was also a metaphor for Sherlock’s addiction (though he kept on insisting that he is a user, not an addict) to puzzles, as much as that seven per cent solution of cocaine.

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The visual stylization is stellar as always with masterful writing combined with a collectively supreme performance of the cast made the New year a virtual drug inflicted trip to remember for the fans.