ABC Films: On “Beauty and the Briefcase” and “Cyberbully”

You can find the strangest movies on YouTube. From black and white love stories to straight to DVD films (Mary Kate and Ashley, I’m looking at you), YouTube has an oddball (yet surprisingly enjoyable) bunch of films which happen to be surprisingly… bearable to watch.

Yesterday evening, I had the ‘pleasure’ of watching two films I found on the popular video sharing site. Both films had two things in common: one, they were movies made by ABC Family, and two, they featured former Disney stars. Below is a review of both films.

“Beauty and the Briefcase” 

Hilary Duff takes on a ‘less geeky’ version of Anne Hathaway’s character in the Devil Wears Prada for Beauty and the Briefcase, a film about an up and coming writer who gets an undercover assignment for Cosmpolitan magazine that involves finding her perfect man in the business world.

Frankly, there isn’t much to like about Lane Daniels, save for a strong sense of ambition and an obvious talent for aesthetics. She may be a college graduate, but the compulsive lying and the hyper promiscuity make us wonder. Luckily, photographer best friend Joanne (or was it Joan or something), does the sidekick job particularly well, reminding us that there’s some sense of sanity in this seemingly utopian depiction of the New Yorker life. Her impulsive assumptions are another red flag.

One would think that an ABC Family film like this would present some realistic life lessons to the young adult viewer, which it does. The problem is these lessons are couched in stupid, unrealistic decisions– take for example, Lane’s obsession with her ‘perfect British man’. The lying lesson suffices, I suppose. But it doesn’t give this film enough substance.

The audience is pushed to forget with the stereotypical ‘happy ending’, something right out of a movie. A perfect reminder that none of this could ever happen in real life.

“Cyberbully”

Emily Osment takes on the role of a seemingly normal high school girl who suddenly turns suicidal after she becomes the victim of harsh online bullying on a website that is pretty much Facebook circa 2006.

Unlike the previously reviewed movie, Cyberbully deals with a more realistic issue: yet it still isn’t free of a number of unrealistic factors. Firstly, the singular incidents that push Taylor (Emily)’s friends to abandon her. If they really were her friends, how could they leave her so easily? I mean, wouldn’t they be aware that the things being posted about their friend were untrue? Or were they that scared to stand up to the four mean girls who seem to be the main culprits behind all the bullying?? [For the record, they didn’t even look mean enough]. Secondly, the confrontation scene (another ‘something-out-of-a-film’ scene).

On the other hand, the film makes up for minor questionable plot points with realistic positive messages that can clearly resonate to their late teen/ young adult market. The scenes with the teen support group give genuine ways to cope with online bullying, and the several interactions with individuals that support the lead provide firm reinforcement that help is there for those who are being bullied online. Cyberbully also presents the reality that in some states in the US, cyberbullying is still considered legal, thus leaving the audience with the mission of spreading the word against it.

Farewell, Potential: The ‘Borgias’ could have been better… but, it’s over.

Nobody likes it when something with extreme potential to become something better, ends up ending instead. Such was the case with the ‘Borgias’. It may not have been the most brilliant show to come out of Showtime, but it did have it’s moments, and it could have had more… yet fate was not kind to Rodrigo and company. In memory of the show that was, I present to you a brief review of the show in the context of plot, character portrayal and theme.

On The Plot: Brilliant Beginning, Exciting End

The Borgias begins just as Rodrigo buys his way to the papacy: introducing us to the scruples that we will come to know and love in the course of the show. Season three, Episode ten wraps up in the completed siege of Forli and an ending that is particularly symbolic: Cesare claims his sister Lucretia as his, and his alone. Much can be said about the content in between, but I must point these two seminal moments out because they present us with two things, a brilliant beginning and a positive end, an end that we will come to embrace once we have come to love the show (just as I have). We come to root for Cesare and Lucretia, and applaud the prospect of them finally being able to be with one another at the right place, and at the right time.

It makes one come to the conclusion that the Borgias ended at the right time (with no loose ends): Alexander was victorious, Catarina was imprisoned, and Cesare got his girl. On the other hand, one cannot help but wonder about the possible plot points that could have lengthened the show… interesting historical stories that could have made for interesting television.

On Acting: Able, but Not Awards-Worthy 

Jeremy Irons did a brilliant job of keeping the show on it’s feet. He delivers a memorable performance as the naughty pope, a feat attributed solely to his shear talent as a thespian. Yet despite such, Irons has done better. Irons’ co-stars are as able as the lead: Francois Arnaud is both romantic and tough as the clever Cesare, Holliday Grainger brings balance to Lucretia, and David Oakes plays a brilliant fool as Juan, mixing shear immaturity with the mischievous attitude of a six year old boy. Stunning actress Lotte Verbeek does not let her seemingly timid tone take her performance down as the smart and sensual Giulia Farnesse, Rodrigo’s mistress. British actress Joanne Whalley holds her own as the mother of the Borgia children, a woman whose maternal instincts make her the glue that holds the family together.

On the Theme: Family, in the Context of the 16th Century

Methods aside, the Borgias is a powerful advocate of the love for family. Yet, it does take such to an extreme (case in point: Cesare’s murder of Juan due to his ‘shaming’ of the Borgia name). But can we blame them? If we were to grasp the story from a historical perspective, perhaps such methodology would make extremely perfect sense. We’re looking at a powerful family, eager to keep the power, and the reputation that comes with such power. To them (or at least to Cesare), Juan was the weak link: an out of control black sheep whose continued existence would prove to be detrimental to the family name. Yet, at the end of the day, it’s about family, family, family, and that’s something you can’t go wrong about– a positive theme presented in a not-so positive manner.

Asterisk Meter:

On Acting: ***.5

On Plot: ****

On Production Design: ****.5

On Feel: *****

“Truth or Die” is Horrific, Homophobic and Horny All in One

If you’re looking for a film that mixes ‘decent gore’ with tempered horniness, but are too scared to explore the American horror movie library, than perhaps “Truth or Die” is the film for you.

“Truth or Die” tells the story of five friends who travel to the home of their affluent loser schoolmate hoping for an excuse to party. Instead, they’re faced with their loser classmate’s homophobic older brother and a game of Truth or Dare that turns deadly.

That’s about all I can say: if I write further, I might end up spoiling the whole thing. Instead, let’s get to talking about the acting.

1. What’s there to expect with British actors forced to play privileged douchebags…? They don’t exactly have much to work with. There were scene stealers though– the brunette lady (who also happens to be quite the sl*t) may’ve been the horniest girl in the whole movie, but she did have her standout moments. Her blonde best friend, on the other hand (?)- one dimensional, monotonous, boring– that’s about it. The male young actors gave decent performances (they seem to be smarter than the males I’ve seen in American horror– or is it just the accent?). Either way, they were okay.

The deranged older brother (played by David Oakes), was a character that resembled an unexplored island off the Pacific Ocean. All we know is that he was a soldier, and that he is (was) homophobic. That’s about it… that’s all we get. And yet here he is, playing the role of deranged host to a game of Truth or Dare gone horribly wrong. The big question on my mind: SO… WHAT?

Without going into further detail, I can reveal that the film deals with homophobia, and deals with it in a way so… disappointing that it made everything else seem a hundred times better.

2. One wonders whether or not the writers of the movie did sufficient research when it came to incorporating a theme that is hardly used in horror movies, because the way that it showed up just… sucked.

I’ve got to hand it to them, though: the idea behind the film is shear creativity at it’s finest. I’ll definitely never look at Truth or Dare the same way again after this film. Brownie points for that!

And that’s about it.

A Severe Case of Shear Annoyance: A “Review” of the White Queen

Just like anyone eager to get to know a new television series, I approached the White Queen with nothing but high hopes. I did my research (also known as reading the Wikipedia synopsis), searched up the file, and waited. Little did I know my innocent quest to watch more of David Oakes would end up being so disappointing. Instead of watching all seven (or was it nine?) episodes of the miniseries, I ended up watching only three. After that, I gave up and decided to move on to ‘greener’ pastures: also known as Game of Thrones.

In case you’re wondering why (and at this point, I’m sure you are)… I had a valid reason. But it wasn’t the plot that did it in for me– nor was it Max Irons. To be honest, it was all because of Elizabeth Woodville (played by Rebecca Ferguson), the titular character of the White Queen.

Believe me, I tried my best to find something positive about her– the problem was, I just couldn’t. Believe me, I wanted to root for her (she is, after all, the protagonist, is she not?), but I just couldn’t. Unlike the other period females I came to know last semestral break (namely Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones, and Lucretia Borgia from the Borgias), Elizabeth Woodville was simply… blah. On the one hand, I saw a devoted mother figure, but that was it. Dear readers of The Cousins’ War, tell me, is she really meant to be this way? Should I have waited until the end just to see her develop into a character of substance? Should I have been patient? Or should I have just read the book?

I really don’t know– I just couldn’t bear to watch another episode because of her. To think, she isn’t even one of the more villainous female characters in television and yet she wasn’t even magnetic enough. Other television villains do worse things, and yet they manage to keep viewers hooked! It makes me wonder what was up with the White Queen.

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe I just made a mistake with this show– maybe I should’ve read the book and then went back to the show afterwards. Maybe that will help me appreciate the show better, maybe that’s when I’ll better understand Rebecca Ferguson’s character. Maybe…

I’d love to comment about the other aspects of the show, but I feel like I didn’t manage to get a firm hold on the White Queen from the three episodes I watched. Perhaps I could say more after I’ve read the book and (hopefully!) gone back to the show in a matter of months.