“Escape from Babylon” (2013)

Escape From Babylon - Nick Attin, 2012 twit

 

Five months ago, I wrote a review on “Home Again”, a feature-length drama shot almost entirely in Trinidad (though I mistakenly assumed at the time that a large percentage of scenes was shot in Jamaica – since the story was set in Jamaica). Despite the movie’s flaws (particularly in its script and character development), I declared back then that it was: “a step in the right direction for Caribbean cinema”. As a Trinidadian myself, it’s not every day – or should I say every weekend – that I see feature-length films from Trinidad, Tobago, Jamaica, and other islands of the Caribbean showing in movie theaters. I actually felt a sense of pride seeing the poster for “Home Again” next to the more-recognizable posters of Hollywood films like “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”, for instance, which I actually reviewed with “Home Again” and gave a slightly lower rating to.

 

“Escape from Babylon”, released on August 21st in the Caribbean Cinemas 8 movie theater, is the second, and apparently final, Trinidadian feature film to be released this year.  Written, produced and directed by Nicholas Attin, it stars actor/recording artiste Kearn Samuel, Conrad Parris, Samara Lallo, Gregory Pollonais, Kerri Tucker and Joel Joseph (who handled the film’s fight choreography).  Labelled as an action/thriller on Nick’s own film production website (arunawaycolony.com), “Escape from Babylon” tells the story of Randolph Briggs (Kearn Samuel), an average ex-cop/lone wolf who, after being kicked out of the police force, works as a graveyard-shift taxi driver. But Randolph isn’t the only loner cruising the streets. There’s also a serial killer posing as a taxi driver who stalks young women and murders them.  While he still harbors the need to protect the innocent, he must first overcome his personal insecurities before he can take the law into his own hands.

 

Keep in mind that “Escape from Babylon” isn’t the first Trinidadian “action thriller” ever made. Director/producer/actor G. Anthony Joseph brought out the TV movie “Men of Gray” in 1990, its theatrical sequel “Men of Gray II: Flight of the Ibis” in 1996, the direct-to-DVD “Backlash” in 2006, and his second theatrical release “Contract Killers” in 2009. Personally, I wasn’t expecting Nick to re-invent the wheel or break new ground with his second feature length film (the first being 2012’s “Little Boy Blue”). But what I wanted, similar to my expectations of “Home Again”, was a Trinidadian film that can be appreciated locally, regionally and internationally. What really matters is whether or not Nick truly delivered the goods, relatively speaking. With this post, I plan to prove that ultimately, and unfortunately, he did not. (Fuck, I gave away the ending!)

 

RANDOM DISCLAIMER: Before I begin my review, please be aware that this is MY point-of-view, and should not be misinterpreted as a diss to the director or anyone else associated with the making of “Escape from Babylon”. I am not an official screenwriter or official film critic or legit film producer or established film director (as yet… AH HA!! ), and I’m not an all-seeing, all-knowing guru who knows EVERYTHING about great movies. Whenever I do a review on this blog, I do it from both the perspectives of someone who knows a great deal about movies and someone who truly enjoys watching movies. Also, I’m not writing from the perspective of an individual who stays clear of anything resembling “local cinema” (and believe me, I know people like that) but from someone who has supported Trinidadian film from the first day he saw “Calabash Alley” on television (You can Google search the title if my reference is unclear to you), and was inspired by a particular Trinidadian feature film (HINT: It has its own Wikipedia article) to pursue a career in local filmmaking.  Finally, if you’re aware of my writing style in this blog by now, then you should expect a brutally honest review of this movie. With that being said, let’s begin. 

 

“ESCAPE FROM BABYLON” –  This is going to be long, so stay with me here. The film’s intro, which involved one of the serial killer’s victims (a woman with a bloodied face), gave me the indication that this was going to be a brutal film.  The opening credit sequence, which clearly alludes to the intro to Nicolas Winding Refn’s neo-noir thriller “Drive” (right down to the 80s-influenced synth-pop song playing in the background), which saw Kearn Samuel’s character Randolph Briggs driving his taxi through the streets of Port-of-Spain, gave me the idea that this was going to be a dark, brutal film.  The following scene – a flashback of a shootout between Randolph Briggs, his two partners (Conrad Parris and Joel Joseph) and a random thug gave me the indication that this was going to be an intense, dark, and brutal film. What I got however was a film that tried to tell a number of stories at once, tried too hard to be self-referential with its mimicking of visual and thematic elements from popular, and superior, HOLLYWOOD films, and was never quite clear of its overall tone and message (if any existed).

 

Allow me to elaborate: What I gathered from “Escape from Babylon” was that it tried to tell three stories centered on Randolph Briggs. The first deals with him trying to adjust to life outside the police force while he anticipates the moment or reason to get back into action. When he’s not cruising the streets at night, or spending valuable screen time thinking to himself in a hybrid of stream-of-consciousness and diary-like entries (he mentions a number of dates like August 31st and September 11th – Ooooookay then) rolled up into nuggets of voice-over narration, he hangs out with one of his police buddies (Conrad Parris), sits by his sick mother’s bedside at a hospital and converses with a particular woman whose name I honestly forgot (played by Kerri Tucker, who has REALLY nice eyes by the way. Wow. I forgot her name, but I remember those eyes. Fuck it, I’m a guy! Sue me!) who deals with insurance. Kearn’s conversations with Conrad and Kerri respectively, like his own voice-over narration, do little to reveal anything about the characters or move the story further.  Take this scene for example: Kearn and Kerri’s characters are having lunch together. For about five minutes, they talk on and on about random shit (in one scene, they talk about favourite types of movies – REALLY?!!). How does this scene advance the story? What did I learn about these characters? Not much, except that Randolph Briggs hates horror films, but he doesn’t mind watching one with Kerri’s character. Really?

 

The second story deals with Randolph and the serial killer. The similarities and differences between the two characters were admittedly quite interesting. They’re both loners, they both cruise the streets looking for “passengers” and they have a fixation with their weapons (Randolph with his firearm and the serial killer with his knife).  The killer converses more with his passengers than Randolph, who has to suffer through a number of unnecessary conversations. However, there’s an inconsiderable amount of time spent on the two characters in their respective vehicles. One scene, for example, which ran for no more than 10 minutes (or at least felt like it) focused on showing a woman entering the killer’s taxi, becoming fearful when she realizes she’s being taken somewhere she didn’t ask to be dropped at, waiting in the back seat (when she could’ve simply exited the fucking car and ran off! Slasher Movies 101, anyone?) while the killer exits the vehicle to “check something in the trunk”, being attacked in the back seat, and carried to a beach where she’s raped and murdered (in a non-surprising and non-disturbing manner).  This story finally comes full circle (way in the third act, mind you) when Randolph meets a young prostitute (played by Samara Lallo). When she becomes the killer’s latest abductee, Randolph springs to action and confronts the bad guy…. AT LONG LAST!  The outcome, like the aforementioned rape/murder, is also cliched and isn’t surprising to anyone over the age of five.  Groan.

 

The third, and probably not least, story deals with Randolph and his motivation to become a vigilante. Far into the midpoint of the film, Randolph meets Joel Joseph’s character, who tells our hero of his decision to take the law into his own hands. Afterwards, he walks up to a businessman and his bodyguards, beats them up and guns them down in cold blood. This is the inciting incident that motivates Randolph to fight crime on his own. You would assume that the guy would go on a “Punisher”-esque one-man crusade to eliminate all sorts of criminal activities in the city. What does he do? He beats up a small gang who robbed him of his money, set to a circa-90s fighting video game theme song (For some reason, “Killer Instinct”REMEMBER THAT SHIT?!!! – came to mind). Oh, and he stopped the serial killer. That’s it. That’s his one-man crusade. Nothing more, nothing less!  Seriously?!

 

Like I mentioned earlier, “Escape from Babylon” references other movies. It’s okay for a filmmaker to reference a film that he/she is inspired by, but there’s a thin line between a clever reference (i.e. those that add something special and unique to a film, like the subtle references to classic zombie movies in the British horror comedy “Shaun of the Dead”) and a blatant rip-off (like the ones in this movie).  Now, I completely understand “Escape from Babylon’s” references to the aforementioned “Drive” and Martin Scorsese’s neo-noir masterpiece “Taxi Driver” (also about a taxi driver seeking to rid the city of injustice by any means necessary), but was it really necessary to rip off the iconic conversation scene between Robert DeNiro and Jodie Foster? There’s a scene in the movie where Randolph converses with the young prostitute while having breakfast in a restaurant, that totally resembles De Niro and Foster’s conversation in “Taxi Driver”. Like De Niro’s character, Randolph tries to persuade the girl to stop leading a life of prostitution. While it could be viewed as a loving homage to “Taxi Driver”, it came off as forced, unnecessary and a cheap attempt at paying tribute to such a great film.

 

The technical aspects of “Escape from Babylon” truly reflects the film’s obviously-low budget. But even with the film’s financial and technical disadvantages, there’s hardly any effort to utilize, innovate and improvise with what’s available. Exterior night shots look grainy, dull and out-of-focus, and the interior car scenes are poorly shot (in some shots, the actors sitting in the back seat are near-indistinguishable due to heavy shadowing, which can be blamed on the cameras used in these scenes). Hand-held camerawork is used to an unbearable degree, with lots of close-ups and medium-close-ups that aren’t properly framed in each shot.  Some scenes look brighter (due to possible colour correction) than others. There’s even a moment where the colour scheme changes from bright to dull in the SAME SHOT! Even by film screening standards, that is fucking UNACCEPTABLE! The sound design is far from perfect: the foley is unnaturally loud,  the dialogue is poorly recorded (with many decisions made to increase the volume of the voices in post-production, so we can actually hear the breeze blowing past the microphones used in recording said voices) and the music is blaring and badly mixed. Speaking of music, the soundtrack to the film isn’t the least bit cohesive. There’s a song that sounds like an African/Indian musical hybrid that sounds completely out of place in the introduction of Samara’s character, some minimalist “psycho music” where the serial killer is preparing to stalk a victim that doesn’t even sound like actual music (more like sound effects looped in a fucking Adobe Audition project) and the fighting video game music (that sounds scrapped together from Fruity Loops…..not, FL Studio, mind you….. FRUITY LOOPS beats) that I mentioned earlier. Ultimately, it doesn’t feel like an actual score or soundtrack that one expects from a feature film, but more like random beats thrown into the film for the sake of having music.

 

To make matters even worse, the script is POORLY-WRITTEN.  Improvisation of dialogue can be spotted easily in many scenes. Sometimes the improvisation works to add a sense of much-needed realism and humour, and sometimes they do nothing but slow the film to a molasses-like crawl. Yeah, I said molasses. The pacing is SLOW! There’s little tension, even in moments where there’s supposed to be tension (like the rape/murder scene that I mentioned earlier). The story is badly structured, with “important” plot points (like Kearn’s encounter with Joel Joseph’s character) spread apart unevenly.  And it’s not quite apparent what the story is really about or what the theme is. Is it about one man’s personal redemption? Is it about his mission to stop the killer? Is it about his transition from an ex-cop to a taxi-driving vigilante? Is it about isolation? Depression? Is it about fighting for truth, justice and the Trinbagonian way? Unfortunately, these questions remained unanswered, thus underwhelming my appreciation of the film even further.

 

THE LAST WORD: Here’s the thing: As a Trinidadian, I am proud to see local content (far and few as they come) on the big screen. And the intention of making this content is simple: Trinidadian filmmakers want to tell great stories through film in the same way other filmmakers from other countries did decades before.  And it’s easy to be influenced by the movies of Hollywood due to the big-name actors, top notch special effects, memorable music and so on. But when you separate those elements, the one thing that holds everything together is a great, or at least memorable, story. And time has to be spent to make sure that this is a story that viewers will remember and/or be entertained by.  I attended a screening of “Escape from Babylon” with a few friends of mine who aren’t knowledgeable in film theory or production, but are certainly aware of what constitutes an enjoyable movie. We didn’t roll our eyeballs at the on-screen cliches, squint at the poor video quality or cringe in pain at the terrible dialogue. But we did LAUGH! Yes, ladies and gents, we laughed our motherfucking asses off – not because the movie was a comedy, but that it was unintentionally hilarious! Did previous screenings of the film involve raucous laughter as well? I don’t know, but as a director, the last thing you want is to have your audience laugh unintentionally at your film. If “Escape from Babylon” was supposed to be an “action thriller”, it definitely didn’t feel like one – since it was neither thrilling or action-packed. But with a decent, well-written script, and more attention spent on characters and story than cliched genre conventions and blatant references to classic movies (title cards from Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2” and “Inglourious Basterds”, anyone?), then I would’ve even forgiven the technical flaws (jarring as they were). At the end of the day, no film is perfect. And there is a lot of hard work that goes into making a film. But honestly, an audience doesn’t give a rat’s ass how long it took and how hard it was for you as a director to make a film. They are investing their time and money into YOUR film, and they expect their time’s and money’s worth. Even if it’s not high-quality content, they should still leave the theater feeling entertained. Fortunately, I found myself entertained by “Escape from Babylon” but for all the wrong reasons. It could have been a breakthrough in Trinidadian cinema, and it could have gotten more “local film naysayers” involved in our growing industry.  But not even the great acting cast can save this film from buckling under the weight of its weak script and lackluster direction.  According to Nick Attin himself, this is intended to be the first film of a possible trilogy. Let’s hope that at least he learns from the mistakes made with “Escape from Babylon”. And by the way, the title is WAY misleading. Who’s escaping from Babylon? Is Babylon Port-of-Spain? What makes it Babylon? And why would you escape from Babylon? How about surviving in Babylon, or hustling in Babylon? I don’t know, and it doesn’t even matter. Anyways, I’ve written enough and I’m suddenly compelled to re-install FL Stuido onto my laptop (Hmmm… I wonder why). Take my criticism as you will, and feel free to discuss.

 

MY RATING:  2 out of 5 stars (“I want my money back”)

 

– Matthew

On the Tube – “Orphan Black” & “Orange is the New Black”

Since I had so much fun talking about the SyFy Channel’s “masterpiece” “Sharknado” in my last review, I figured it was about time to start writing about the high-quality shows that you can watch at home for the low price of nada. And so marks the launch of a brand spanking new (I’m still clueless as what that term really means) category to A Legally Black Blog: “ON THE TUBE”. And just so you know, when I say “tube”, I’m not talking about Red Tube. This is a family website! We will NOT endorse that fucking smut here! Just kidding, guys. Anyhoo, in this category, I’ll tackle some series that you may have seen before, may have heard of already, may have placed in your custom-made “things to do before the world ends for real this time since the Mayans set me up last year” list, are currently in the process of watching, or may have passed your radar while you eagerly anticipate the season finale of HBO’s “True Blood” this Sunday (hey, aren’t we all?).  In this pilot episode of “On The Tube”, we kick things off with two shows that have received unanimous praise since their individual releases: Space/BBC America’s “Orphan Black” and Netflix’s  “Orange is the New Black”.

 

 

Orpheline

 

“ORPHAN BLACK” – If if just so happens that you’re a walking encyclopedia when it comes to twins in TV shows like the Mowrys from “Sister, Sister” and the Style Network reality series “Tia & Tamera”, and the sexy Brie and Nikki Bella from “WWE Monday Night RAW” (two reasons why guys should watch professional wrestling – I’m just saying) and the E! Network reality series “Total Divas”), and the theme of twins in movies like Jean-Claude Van Damme’s “Double Impact” (REMEMBER THAT SHIT?!!), and Adam Sandler’s “Jack and Jill” (WHY DO I REMEMBER THAT SHIT?!!! WHYYYYYYYY?!!!), then you may realize that this particular poster for “Orphan Black” is similar to that of the 1988 film “Dead Ringers” from director David Cronenberg.

 

Dead_ringers_poster

 

Now I haven’t seen “Dead Ringers” yet, and even if I did, I wouldn’t begin to compare it to “Orphan Black”. But I do intend to watch that movie in the future since I am interested in David Cronenberg’s work – bizarre and controversial as it is.  Which reminds me: in an unrelated note, the “True Blood” season finale will be airing around the same time the WWE pay-per-view event “Summerslam” is on.  And on the subjects of wrestling and twins, Brie and Nikki Bella are dating WWE superstars Daniel Bryan and John Cena respectively. Daniel and John are scheduled to face each other at Summerslam for the WWE Championship title. I wonder how the Bella twins would feel on Sunday night, when they see their significant others getting their significant asses kicked in the ring. What if John severely damages Daniel during the fight, or vice versa? Will there be signs of resentment between Brie and Nikki if Daniel or John wins the title? Will their respective relationships fall apart because of a golden belt that some other fucking wrestler will win in the next three to four months (depending on the….ahem…..storyline)?

 

Wait….what was I talking about again?

 

Oh, right – “Orphan Black”.  So what is this “Orphan Black” I’ve mentioned four times so far in this review? Ah, let’s make it five. “Orphan Black”. There!  Anyhoo, what that title refers to is a Canadian/American sci-fi TV series from BBC America and the Space TV channel. Created and executive produced by Graeme Manson and John Fawcett, this series stars Tatiana Maslany, Jordan Gavaris, Dylan Bruce, Kevin Hanchard, Michael Mando, Skyler Wexler, Maria Doyle Kennedy (who played Queen Katherine in that Showtime TV series that I never bothered to watch, although in retrospect, I really should have, called “The Tudors”)  and Matt Frewer (best known for playing the artificial intelligence character “Max Headroom” in the cult 1980s sci-fi series of the same name). A 10-episode first season of  the series ran from March 30th to June 1st of this year.  Since then, “Orphan Black” was universally acclaimed, with websites like Complex.com (Say what you want about them. They make some REALLY great lists) and Time.com hailing it as one of the best TV shows of 2013 thus far. Tatiana Masley’s performance (which I’ll talk about later) was critically praised, and it helped earn the young actress a Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series, a Television Critics Association Award for Individual Achievement in Drama, and a Young Hollywood Award for Breakthrough Performance (Female).

 

Tatiana Masley plays Sarah Manning, a British-born con artist and thief. One night, at a Canadian train station, she notices a well-dressed woman standing by herself at the platform. Sarah, inexplicably drawn to this person for some reason, continues to look at her. As the woman finally turns around, Sarah is startled to see that she LOOKS JUST LIKE HER!  (DUM DUM DUMMMM!!!) . Look at how startled she is, goddammit!

 

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Just then, Sarah’s doppelgänger’s steps into the path of an oncoming train, killing her instantly (DUM DUM DAAAAAAAAAMN!!) . Of course, Sarah is shocked beyond belief over what happened. But her shock turns into curiosity as she looks into her late doppelgänger’s purse. After learning of the  woman’s name (Elizabeth Childs) via her driver’s license. Sarah leaves the train station with the purse. Her plan: since Elizabeth looks….or should I say looked… like her, all she has to do is assume the identity of “Beth” long enough to empty her bank account and flee before she’s found out. You see, Sarah wants to reconcile with her daughter Kira (Skyler Wexler), who’s being taken care of by Sarah’s foster mother Siobhan Sadler (Maria Doyle Kennedy). Also, she ended her rocky relationship with her asshole of a drug-dealing boyfriend named Victor (Michael Mando) by knocking him out and fleeing with his stash of cocaine. However, there are dangers aplenty for our anti-heroine to face. For starters, the deceased Beth found herself in the middle of a police investigation involving the shooting of a civilian. Now that Sarah is playing Beth, she too finds herself embroiled in this scandal. Secondly, Victor (you know, the asshole of a drug-dealing boyfriend) is looking for Sarah and the stolen coke. Thirdly, and most importantly, Sarah learns that there is something sinister and deadly (I won’t say what) that led to Beth’s suicide, and now Sarah is involved. But she’s not the only one. There are a few other women who’re involved in the same situation. And though they all live different lifestyles, they do share one commonality: THEY’RE CLONES!  (DUM DUM WHAAAAAAAT?!!)

 

Now, I’ve never binge-watched an entire season of a TV series (I know at least one of you readers may have done that already), or an entire series for that matter. Normally, I’ll watch a TV show, and if I like it, I’ll watch another episode….and another…. and maybe another until I stop and get to some other shit. But in accordance with my custom-made “things to do before the world ends for real this time since the Mayans set me up last year” list,  I decided last weekend to binge-watch a TV show for the first time in my life.  So I picked “Orphan Black” and (thanks to some incessantly rainy weather) sat through the entire season – and I must say: IT WAS TIME WELL SPENT! 

 

From its opening scene, “Orphan Black” grabs you and takes you on an entertaining, exciting, engrossing and emotional roller coaster ride of a story.  At its core, this is a sci-fi series, but its story includes nail-biting suspense, heart-pounding drama and an overall sense of humanity into a neat package that will keep fans and non-fans of science fiction on their toes. Despite its dark premise, “Orphan Black” isn’t all about gloom and doom. It’s funny, witty, satiric and even sexy – but only when it needs to be.  Each episode moves at a swift pace, and there’s little that seems out of place or critically unimportant.  The writing is excellent, and so are the performances.  From Jordan Gavaris, who plays Sarah’s gay foster brother Felix “Fee” Dawkins, to Kevin Hanchard who plays Detective Arthur “Art” Bell, the acting is always on-point.  But what’s the best thing about “Orphan Black”? You guessed it – Tatiana Masley. Unlike the rest of the cast, she doesn’t just play an individual character – she plays individual CHARACTERS!  Each of her clones is distinct, personality-wise, from one another, and Tatiana plays them PERFECTLY! By the time you complete this season, you’ll have at least one favourite clone. Trust me on this! My favourite is the “soccer mom” Alison Hendrix – in case you were wondering. Tatiana juggles different personalities in this show, and her character of Sarah reflects her own chameleon-like acting skills in terms of changing her mannerisms, personality and voice (she switches from a British to an American accent numerous times) with ease.  I won’t reveal the twists and turns in the series, as knowing beforehand what’ll happen next will ruin your enjoyment and appreciation of the show.  But you can believe the hype. “Orphan Black” is well-acted, well-written, well-directed and well….. one of the best TV series I’ve seen this year. Warning: this shit is quite addictive, so expect to find yourself binge-watching your eyeballs off it. Besides, each episode clocks in at 45 minutes anyway, so you might as well take the chance and watch all 10 episodes in one sitting like I did. You’ll feel so glad you did. Trust me.

 

 

orange-is-the-new-black-poster

 

 

“ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK” –  Just when you thought black was the colour after you just read my review on “Orphan Black”, here comes “Orange is the New Black”. Created by Jenji Kohan (the creator of that other Showtime TV series that I never bothered to watch, although in retrospect, I really should have, called “Weeds”) , this is a 13-episode comedy-drama series produced by Lionsgate Television and aired on Netflix on July 11th 2013. Based on the best-selling memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman, it stars Taylor Schilling (a name that you Nicholas Sparks fans may remember from last year’s The Lucky One” which I have absolutely no intention of watching), Laura Prepon, Michael J. Harney, Michelle Hurst, Kate Mulgrew (who played Captain Kathryn Janeway in the “Star Trek: Voyager” TV series) and Jason Biggs (who everyone should know from the “American Pie” movies.  The direct-to-DVD sequels DO NOT COUNT!).  Of course, “Orange is the New Black” received positive reviews from critics and audiences, and it even generated more viewers and hours viewed on Netflix in its first week than both “House of Cards” (starring Kevin Spacey) and the fourth season of the BRILLIANT sitcom “Arrested Development”

 

The story: Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is sentenced to 15 months in a women’s prison in Litchfield, New York. The crime: transporting a suitcase of drug money 10 years ago in Brussels for drug smuggler and former lover Alex Vause (Laura Prepon). Yes, you pervs, Alex is a woman.  During the 10 years leading to her conviction, Piper ended her lesbian relationship with Alex, returned to America, met Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs), moved to New York with him and got engaged. Unfortunately, the wedding is put on hold thanks to Piper’s imprisonment. On her first day, a frightened Piper is informed by correctional officer/social worker Sam Healy (Michael J. Harney) that “No one will mess with you here, unless you let them”. Among the other things Sam informs Piper concerning her stay in prision, he tells her that “there are lesbians” and “You do not have to have lesbian sex”. And yes, there are lesbians. And lesbian sex. Thought you should know that. Like “The Shawshank Redemption”  and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, there exists a villain.  Piper meets her fair share of antagonists in “OITNB”, but the main one is George Mendez (Pablo Schreiber), a mean, menacing, misogynistic bully of a correctional officer. And yeah, he’s a fucking asshole.

 

However, Piper meets a number of inmates who change her new life in jail in different ways, like the yoga instructor Yoga Jones (Constance Shulman); the head of the prison kitchen and unofficial “queen bee” Galina “Red” Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew); the bubbly Tasha  “Taystee” Jefferson (Danielle Brooks); the somewhat mentally-imbalanced Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (Uzo Aduba) who I honestly swear looks like a female version of Chris Rock…….

 

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But hey, that’s just me! Moving along….

 

…… the erratic, drug-addicted, gospel-preaching (weird, I know) Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett (Taryn Manning), the transgender hairdresser Sophia (Laverne Cox), the strict, no-nonsense Miss Claudette (Michelle Hurst) and, you guessed it, Alex Vause herself. I don’t know why, but her deep voice somehow reminds me  of Tina Belcher from Fox’s animated sitcom “Bob’s Burgers”.  Come to think of it – imagine if Tina grew up to be Alex?

 

Bob's Burgers - Tina Belcher

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Matter of fact, don’t think about that. Perish the thought. Pretend you didn’t read that last question. Moving along….. 

 

But enough about characters looking like older versions of unrelated cartoon characters. Let’s get the obvious out of the way. “Orange is the New Black” is a VERY PROVOCATIVE series. It challenges your perception of prison life in ways that you never thought were possible in a series. The dialogue is raw and realistic, the characters flawed and complex, and the story darkly comedic and deeply emotional. The acting is superb throughout. Taylor Schilling is fantastic as the fish-out-of-water Piper, Laura Prepon is gleefully bitchy as the manipulative Alex, Kate Mulgrew is strong (and quite convincing with her Russian accent) as the mother figure “Red”, Uzo Aduba is crazy as “Crazy Eyes”, Jason Biggs is sympathetic yet naive as Larry and Pablo Schreiber plays his Officer Mendez role as a guy you love to hate, but can’t help but be amazed by him. If I had to pick a top favourite character in “OITNB”, it would be Danielle Brooks’ “Taystee”.  She’s lively, outspoken and fucking hilarious! And she has the best lines (“This ain’t the fucking “Help‘”).  But what truly makes this series special is the character development.  While these characters undergo some sort of change in the series, flashbacks identified with certain characters (the main one being Piper) are used to show how these characters became what they were when they entered prison, and justify their changes in their individual moral final acts.  The show’s title sequence, set to the excellent song “You’ve got Time” by Regina Spektor, is quite fascinating as extreme close-ups of women’s (without make-up, mind you) eyes and lips fill the screen. This reflects the heart of OINTB, as it paints a brutally realistic and unglamourous portrait of life behind bars.  Ultimately, I truly enjoyed this series. It isn’t as addictive as “Orphan Black” as the episode length is longer (51 to 59 minutes) and the subject matter is way heavier. But like “Orphan Black”, it is one of the best series I’ve seen this year so far. It’s cynical, shocking, thought-provoking, challenging, witty, darkly comedic, heartbreaking and unforgettable.  Highly recommended.

 

MY RATING:

“ORPHAN BLACK” – 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Definitely watch this series”)

“ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK” – 4 out of 5 stars (“Watch this series”)

– Matthew