Carnival Row – A Review

Carnival Row is a series now available to stream on Amazon. It’s a fascinating concept that, for the most part, kept me totally enthralled.

The idea is that a major city known as the Burgue has taken in war refugees from ravaged lands that are home to such fanciful creatures as fairies, centaurs, and fauns. However, the humans in the Burgue don’t accept these creatures in need and will only tolerate them as servants, laborers, or prostitutes. Furthermore, they must know their place and live on Carnival Row, away from civilized society.

Sensing a real-world correlation?

Orlando Bloom plays a police investigator trying to solve a series of grisly murders. Cara Delevinge plays a fairy newly arrived in the Burgue. Their paths cross, and we soon learn that they have a complicated past with one another.

Carnival Row explores their mutual history, but it also ventures deeply into political intrigue, social justice, interpersonal complexities, and, at its heart, the mysterious murders.

The show looks beautiful. Each episode feels like a miniature movie, and the site of fauns and fairies mixed in with humans did not strike me as jarring at all. In fact, for the most part, the practical effects and make-up are seamless. There are moments of CGI that I would say look very good overall–much like you would see in a film. However, when the CGI is bad, it’s very bad. For example, I don’t think they ever really depicted the fairies in flight all that well.

Everything in the Burgue is grimy, time-worn, and appears to have existed for centuries. In other words, this world feels fully realized. Perhaps too realized, in fact. There are small, passing comments that makes the viewer understand that this world has so much more to offer than just what is being shown. This is brilliant in regards to guaranteeing the show’s longevity, but frustrating to those of us who want to know everything about the world this very instant.

For example, they have churches and effigies devoted to “The Martyr.” This is a figure who looks an awfully lot like Jesus Christ. However, instead of hanging from a cross, The Martyr is depicted as being hung by the neck with his hands bound. This religious icon is not explained at all. It’s just there to whet our appetite for more story.

As you can see, with Carnival Row, you are quite literally coming in right in the middle of things, and you can’t trust your own conception of reality to inform your interpretation of this world.

Shall we talk about the acting? Orlando Bloom is wonderful. Truthfully, I’m not sure I’ve ever liked him as much as I do in Carnival Row. His character is the strong, silent type, yet Bloom conveys quite a bit of emotion through his eyes. I found myself very much invested in his surprisingly complicated backstory.

Cara Delevinge, unfortunately, did not quite win me over so handily. Starring opposite Bloom, Delevinge plays her character rather flatly. I did not connect with her whatsoever. To be fair, I found her character underwritten. Her character is certainly strong and capable, but just not that interesting. We’ll see if that changes over time.

Thankfully, many of the supporting actors are fantastic. Tamzin Merchant’s initially unlikable Imogen is quite an evolution to behold. David Gyasi simmers with restraint yet steals every scene even as he has horns glued to his head.  Karla Crome’s charisma leaps off the screen what few scenes she’s in. Honestly, I could go on and on. These may not be famous names, but these are extremely talented actors.

Be warned, Carnival Row is  little bit of a slow burn. I particularly groaned at a bad special effect in the first ten minutes and almost turned it off, but it got better and better and better with each episode. In all seriousness, the final episode had me on the edge of my seat.

Interestingly enough, Carnival Row also seems to be saying something. Though it takes place in an gritty, alternate reality, I think you’ll find many of its themes both timely and resonant.

As you can probably tell, I recommend you give Carnival Row a try.  Let me know what you think of it.

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Kingdom of Heaven – A Movie Review

Kingdom of Heaven had beautiful cinematography as well as beautiful sets and costumes, but the plot was so difficult to follow and, frankly, the movie was so boring that it was hard to appreciate the two positives mentioned.  This puppy was two hour long and I felt EVERY minute of those two hours.  Plus, sorry Orlando, but you’re not ready to be a leading man just yet.  Liked you in Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean, but you just don’t have the charisma, yet, to be the focus of a moving picture show.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest – A Movie Review

As you probably know, the critics have been making this movie walk the plank . . . bad joke, I know, it’s what I do.  Anyway, despite the critics’ best efforts, this thing has been a cash-making sea cow.  Again, bad.  I know.

Here’s the thing, this movie was fun.  Period.  It was fun!  The props were incredible, the special effects were out-of-this-world, the costumes were great, the pacing was quick, Johnny Depp was hilarious, and the cinematography was outstanding.  In other words, everything that worked in the first film worked for the second.

Consequently, just like with the first film, there were plot holes that could sink a ship, but hey, let’s employ our suspension of disbelief and have a nice time, shall we?  Orlando Bloom, of whom I am apparently a “hatah,” gave yet another wooden, stoic performance, but you just have to expect that sort of thing from him.  He would do well to follow in Depp’s eclectic footsteps or else he is in terminal danger of being typecast for the rest of his career.

Yes, this is a middle film.  Sometimes middle films leave you feeling satisfied, like The Empire Strikes Back, and sometimes they don’t, like The Matrix ReloadedDead Man’s Chest falls somewhere in the middle.  Luckily, we don’t have long to wait for the next Pirates film, so very soon we’ll simply think of them as one seamless saga. 

The movie moves very fast despite its 2.5 hours of running time and it really is very entertaining.  I particularly loved the fact that so much of the first film is brought back for the second, even things that were just mentioned in passing.  I’d tell you to go see it right away, but I have a feeling you already have if its box office earnings are any indication.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End – A Movie Review

So, as most of you know, for ten months of the year I am a high school English teacher.  This gives me great insight into many different aspects of life, including which movies are winning the admiration of youth culture.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End did not score well.  This initially confused me, because while I thought Dead Man’s Chest was entertaining, many high school students loved it with a passion I didn’t understand.  So when they came in, some literally the next day, after seeing At World’s End and lamented the demise of their favorite movie franchise, I thought to myself, “Netflix.”

Fortunately for me, my wife and I wanted to go see a movie and At World’s End was about the only thing that stuck out to us.  I’m glad it did.  In my opinion, the professional critics and the more astute high school students were wrong.  At World’s End was wonderful. 

I liked everything about this movie.  The special effects were the best yet, the acting was fun to watch (especially Depp’s, whose return to quirkiness with Captain Jack was much needed), and, most importantly, the story finally made sense and wrapped up many plotlines.

We finally get to see something relatively interesting done with Orlando Bloom’s character, Will Turner; Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones turns out to be far more complex than anyone imagined; Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa is a flat-out joy to watch; and the Keith Richards’ cameo was instant-classic.  The movie had action, humor, character development (finally!), and some dramatic gravitas (not so much to ruin the fun tone, though).  Really, for me, At World’s End captured everything I enjoyed about its two predecessors, and truly felt like a continuation and conclusion of those two other films.

One major complaint I heard from the critics was that there was simply too much going on, and yes, there were several plotlines being dealt with, but I never thought it was too convoluted to enjoy.  Be aware, however, that I wasn’t holding it accountable for much.  In my mind, this is a fun summer movie based on a Disney attraction, so I made sure simply to enjoy the ride.  Were there some aspects I didn’t totally understand?  Yeah, but I got the overall idea.  It certainly didn’t ruin my viewing experience.

All in all, I thought it had the fun of the first one with a far more complex treatment of storyline and character.  Best of all, it concluded all the plots that had been introduced in the other films, ended very symmetrically with the beginning of The Curse of the Black Pearl, and even left itself open to some interesting possible sequels.

Which reminds me-make sure you sit through the credits.