What Separates a Guilty Pleasure From a Great Show? A Study in Sherlock

Short version: Sherlock – best show ever 🙂

The Fake Fangirl

I recently had a conversation with a friend about what kind of television show constitutes a “guilty pleasure.” At first glance, the concept seems paradoxical; if you’re the kind of person who views the consumption of television as a complete waste of time—that is, as an activity that is partly responsible for the intellectual degradation of our entire species—then you would feel guilty watching any TV show at all, and this feeling of guilt would necessarily cancel out any accompanying feelings of pleasure. How, then, can we categorize a show that constitutes a guilty pleasure?

I’d like to offer a suggestion: A guilty pleasure is a short-lived obsession, or a TV relationship of the one-night stand variety. It is a show that  piques your interest enough so that you rationalize away all of the elements of the show that would otherwise give you pause. In other words, a guilty…

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Size matters – or does it?

I’m a film science student and last semester, I had a seminar called “moviegoing experience”.

We talked about cinema vs. TV screen vs. laptop screen at one point, with several people saying you can only fully experience something in the cinema because of the screen size and the atmosphere.

For my essay (which focuses on YouTube and the Cinema of Attractions, just fyi) I’ve delved a bit into New Digital Cinema and so on. One author, Carol Vernallis, contends that certain videos that are solely created for YouTube take their eventual format into account and thus, they work on this platform but wouldn’t work in cinema.

Be that as it may, I still think the assumption that the cinema screen is the height of consumerist pleasure is flawed.

Sure, I would never watch Fast & Furious 7 on my laptop because I want to see the entire scope of brilliant cars and Vin Diesel and Jason Statham on as big a screen with the best sound system possible.

But everything other than action movies?

In short, the format isn’t important. Or as important as it is made out to be. What’s important is the story. 

When I consider that I live-streamed Sherlock season 3 on my laptop with crappy wifi, having to endure the stream breaking down every now and again, one would think that my moviegoing experience suffered tremendously. It didn’t, because I was so invested in the story and the characters, what’s happening on screen, that I could have cared less if I was watching the episode on a small screen or on a big flatscreen TV.

If a movie or a TV show manages to entice me, it will do so no matter the format, no matter the screen size.

Nymphomaniac – let’s go fishing

I saw the movie almost a week ago and I only now have the motivation to write up a review. Why? I was utterly underwhelmed. The film tried too hard to prove it is more than a movie, that it is art and shall be respected… it was condescending and basically interpreted itself, something that pissed me off to no end.

(The following review contains spoilers. Also, this is NOT a positive review. If you liked it, spare yourself the anger, okay?)

Best scene is at the beginning

We start with a black screen; only noises alert the viewer that the film has already begun. It is the sound of rain as it falls, trickles down walls and hits echoing surfaces that starts off “Nymphomaniac” in a way that enticed me after I ignored my boredom. In retrospect, it was pointless. The rain never features again in part I but then again, maybe the film will come full circle in its sequel…

After we see rain fall and trickle and elicit sounds from surfaces, we glimpse a hand in close up, slightly bloodied. The camera disappears into a shaft and we are introduced to Seligman, who is on a grocery run and sees the woman lying in a back alley.

That is when the soundtrack enters with a BANG, blasting Rammstein’s “Fühle mich” full force. Nice! Not really adding to the narrative or symbolic meaning or anything, but hey, if you want to start a movie with a music-video-like sequence, alright. (side-note: this actually is very en par with what I’ve read about New Digital Cinema and the audiovisual turn, in that audio plays a more dominant role now than ever before.)

Still, that scene is the only one that will truly stay with me.

Fishing metaphors, Seligman as the audience – YES WE FUCKING GOT IT

YES WE FUCKING GOT IT is probably the thought that passed through my head most often during this film. Seligman takes the woman home, asks her to tell him what happened, and after a little bit of whining (because that’s her superpower, really), she agrees.

Joe relates her story, the tale of a Nymphomaniac who is set on casting herself in a bad light. Seligman, however, constantly questions her judgement, reflects on her statements and generally acts like a movie critic analysing a character for an essay.

After the fifth time, I was ready to shout at the screen: “The audience isn’t actually that stupid, Mr Trier! We understand that Seligman is a stand in for us and that you don’t want us to judge Joe. WE FUCKING GET IT!”

Seriously. Way to be condescending.

Also, there are a LOT of metaphors in this movie. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE metaphors, I love subtext! But… it’s called SUBtext for a reason. In Nymphomanic, there was no subtext, there was just text. 

For example: Joe relates the story of how she went on the prowl for men to fuck on a train and Seliman compares it to fishing. He doesn’t stop there – he explains everything I never wanted to know about fly fishing (which also features heavily in the now TV show “Hannibal”) and the audience even gets stills, diagrams, animated paths of swimming fish and what not.

Nice idea, maybe, but if used extensively, then it falls flat in my opinion. especially when they do the same thing again with Fibonacci numbers and the rule of thirds. Seriously, is this a movie or a power point presentation about the “hidden” meanings in the subtext of the movie?

You see, it still makes me really angry a week later.

The Sex 

But now a little about the plot. Jo is a nymphomaniac and tells her life story. Nymphomania is nothing more than an addiction and thus the sex scenes aren’t meant to arouse (not all of them, anyway). However, they were shot with body doubles as to appear real. So any genitalia you will see here is not that of the original actors, just so you know. It’s barely noticeable, though, so kudos to the special effects department!

Like I said, the sex isn’t meant to be erotic but instead adds to our understanding of Joe’s character.

During one sequence, when AGAIN Seligman lectures us, this time about Bach and Fibonacci and some organ music with three voices, Joe takes up the metaphor and applies it to her sex life. She had three main lovers (out of the ten daily sexual encounters) and all corresponded with the three voices found in the organ music referenced. While explaining how the men please her, they are compared with animals and with each other, also through split screen. Something you don’t really see often anymore (I wonder why^^) but it was a nice touch and called to mind Sergej Eistenstein’s montage of attraction, even in a rather abused form.

My very opinionated conclusion

You’d think that, with a story about a Nymphomaniac in our modern culture where sex is still a taboo, you can’t do anything wrong. Addicts make great characters because they are human, fallible and the epitome of struggle, so really, how can Lard von Trier take such a great premise and turn it into… that?

By trying too hard. By being condescending to the audience. By making the characters reflect on themselves. By having the protagonist constantly whine about how bad she is. By throwing subtlety out of the window. By setting the story in the 70s (80s? I think it was the 70s).

I mean, why not today??? Our over-sexualized culture would lend itself PERFECTLY to a story about Nymphomania that can be provocative as well as subversive and filled with social criticism.

I don’t get it.

The only problem is that, in the final moment of part I, Joe hit bottom and realised that she has a problem, making me actually want to see the sequel even if my rant just now is putting me off rather effectively.


Nymphomaniac Vol. I

D: Lars von Trier

Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Stacy Martin, Shia Labeouf, Uma Thurman, Christian Slater, a lot of very great body doubles

“Non-Stop” action with three-dimensional characters and a surprising ending

aka My Review of “Non-Stop” with Liam Neeson

(this review contains spoilers, so beware, but it’s nothing major)

Is Liam Neeson the new go-to action hero in Hollywood? Have the younger ones left? I’m not complaining, though. “Taken” was a thrilling ride, and its sequel was also decent, even if I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first part. Also, Neeson is a brilliant actor and I have yet to see a film with him I genuinely didn’t like.

The trailer for “Non-Stop” promises an action-filled adventure several thousand feet above the ground and it meets the expectations it evokes, seriously.

My Verdict

Visually very interesting. Great character and a brilliant way of showing rather than telling when it comes to the characters’ makeup. Great performances, especially from Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore. Surprising twists, fast-paced story telling.

Definitely worth the watch and I’ll surely watch it again when I’m in the mood for a good action thriller!

The starting point

With a few, rare exceptions, we always follow Bill Marks, Federal Marhsal, from his car into the air port. We see him pour a lot of alcohol in his coffee, then caress the picture of a young girl. At the gate, the world is out of focus safe a few details Bill Marks notices about the people waiting there which will be important later on. Before that, a guy came up to him and asked for a light, trying to engage him in conversation but Marks ignores him.

He also notices a redhead complaining about her seat – she wanted a window seat but didn’t get one. Later, she will switch the window seat with Zach White, whom Marks passed at the security check, ending up next to our protagonist.

Then the texts start.

A stranger has hacked the secure network Air Marshalls use and is threatening to kill a person on this plane every 20 minutes until 150 Million Dollars are deposited into an account. Marks thinks it’s a joke his colleague Hammond is playing on him. He, of course, denies everything, having also fallen victim to the stranger who hacked their network.

A little more than 10 minutes later, Hammond acts suspicious, Marks confronts him, Hammond attacks, Marks defends himself. Shortly after Marks breaks Hammond’s neck, the timer on his clock goes off.

The 20 minutes are up. A passenger is dead.

We can’t trust anyone

Marks employs the help of Nancy, the head stewardess, and his neighbour Jen, the only two people in this plane he can trust.  They narrow down the list of suspects, Marks’ bosses have checked the passengers if there is a reason to suspect anyone but it comes back without anything helpful.

Marks wakes up the entire plane at two in the morning for a random search (which is in his rights to do as an Air Marshal).  This is when the fun really begins.

What follows is a thrilling play of cat and mouse, in which Marks is trying to catch up with the killer but fails. I was impressed how the camera mimicked Bill Marks’ gaze, how the viewer could understand his reasoning perfectly and develop new theories.

To the outside world, it looks like Bill Marks is behind the attacks on the plane – especially because the account for the 150 Million is in his name. Clever, dear terrorists. Clever. Also, some kid with a camera phone films Marks during his investigation – yes, Marks is pretty rough in his handling of the suspects and it does look like he is highjacking the plane.

Passengers team up against him, more people die and in the end, I was surprised by the revelation. Not by the “who is behind it“, but by the “why are they doing it“.

It is refreshing, to say the least, to not be able to predict the outcome of a blockbuster for a change.

Personal highlights

“Non-Stop” is a fast paced movie with great visual aesthetics. They displayed the text messages not by having the camera glance at the phone but by projecting them onto the screen, floating around. It reminded me a lot of BBC’s Sherlock. The villain was also very Sherlockian – always a step ahead, outsmarting the protagonist.

Oh yes, the protagonist. Bill Marks is an alcoholic, a bad father and psychologically not the most stable person around. And all his flaws make him incredibly believable as a character and, in my eyes, very likable. He isn’t the perfect hero but he is the hero.

Who stole everyone’s show, however, was Dr. Fahim Nasir, portrayed by Omar Metwally. Obviously Arabic in appearance and name, a lot of passengers are suspicious of him. Marks searches him, too, because he handled his phone while Marks was texting the stranger. He isn’t behind the attacks – surprise everyone, the bloke from Eastern Europe isn’t a terrorist – and helps Marks later in the movie.

I loved how they played with the preconception every passenger had about Dr. Nasir and how, in the end, this definitely wasn’t a terrorist attack – it was an inside job, inside meaning “Americans did it”.  So really, I bow to the filmmakers for actively showing that not every arabic looking person is automatically anti-American or a terrorist. This might be obvious to a lot of people but I still think it is important to stress it.



D: Jaume Collet-Serra

Script: John W. Richardson, Christopher Roach and Ryan Engle

Cast: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore

My incredibly biased and selective Oscar predictions

(some categories are missing since I either don’t care or haven’t seen the nominated films) 

Best picture  – Dallas Buyers Club

Close second: Captain Phillips

Why: “12 Years a Slave” was boring, “The Wolf of Wall Street” not funny and chauvinistic, “American Hustle” wasn’t as good as DBC and I haven’t seen “Her”, “Gravity”, “Nebraska” or


Best director – no idea. What criteria does the Academy use for this category anyway? Judging by the nominated film, I’d say “12 Years a Slave” because that topic is surely heavy on cast and crew.

Best actor – Leonardo DiCaprio, “Wolf of Wallstreet”

Close second: Matthew Mcconaughey “DBC”

Why: I haven’t seen Bruce Dern in “Nebraska”. Chiwetel Ejiofor was good but not “wow!”, and ditto with Christian Bale.


Best actress – Amy Adams, “American Hustle”

Close Second: Cate Blanchett – “Blue Jasmine”
Why: I haven’t seen the other actresses’ movies. Amy Adams was brilliant and according to a psychiatrist I know, Blanchett’s portrayal was psychologically accurate.


Best supporting actor – Jared Leto, “DBC”

Why: If you’ve seen DBC, the answer is self-evident. Every other nominee was great, but none of them were extraordinary. (Barkhad Abdi, Bradley Cooper, Jonah Hill, Michael Fassbender)


Best supporting actress – Jennifer Lawrence,  “American Hustle”
Why: Her performance was stellar! I only saw Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave” and neither June Squibb, Julia Roberts, nor Sally Hawkins but I’m sure JenLaw beats all of them.


Best original screenplay – American Hustle

Close second: DBC

Why: I was actively thinking “Wow, what a great script” during American Hustle. Every other argument is invalid^^


Best adapted screenplay – Captain Phillips

Why: It’s a thrilling movie with great characterisations. Simply brilliant storytelling whereas “12 Years a Slave” was lengthy and “Wolf of Wall Street” just not my thing.


Best animated feature – No idea. Only saw Frozen and as a movie it didn’t excite me much.

Best music (original song) – “Let it go” from “Frozen

Why: It’s catchy, it’s profound, it has a popular tag on tumblr… I can go on!

Best cinematography – unfortunately I have seen neither of the nominated pictures… Shame on me!

Best costume design – American Hustle

Why: The costumes complemented the characters and were both hideous as well as beautiful!


Best film editing – Captain Phillips

Why: Because editing a thrilling movie brilliantly is hard and Christopher Rouse managed it perfectly. “12 Years a Slave”, “American Hustle” and “Dallas Buyers Club” had their moments of Cinematography Porn, but “Captain Phillips” is still better in my opinion.


Best makeup and hairstyling – Dallas Buyers Club

Why: Whoever managed to make Jared Leto the most sensual woman I’ve seen in years and make Matthew Mcconaughey unattractive deserves an Oscar!


Best visual effects – Star Trek Into Darkness

Close second: Iron Man 3

Why: Personal bias. Pure personal bias. I don’t care about the actual technical know-how.


Best sound mixing / Best sound editing (what’s the difference anyway?) – Captain Phillips

Why: only movie I’ve seen of the nominees

Racism, critical whiteness, political correctness and trying too hard


So why do I have qualms about openly stating “I didn’t like this movie”? [12 Years a Slave] I figure because there is an air of lacking political correctness about this statement. I don’t have a problem saying that I think The Wolf Of Wall Street sucked, big time. Yet when it comes to films about slavery, I pause.
Isn’t that exactly what’s still wrong in this world? Beside the open racism and misogyny, homophobia and other kinds of hate? I’m referring to the fact that, when it comes to the oppressed, the former oppressed, the minorities, we aka Those Not Oppressed, are too worried about political correctness to actually say anything?

I’m a white European woman and sometimes I hate myself for it because apparently, white Europeans are the arseholes of history. And I believe that every person is the same, just perfect as they are and that hate/discrimination/intolerance for whatever reason is just wrong – but sometimes when I talk about people of colour, minorities, etc (things I can empathize with but never truly understand), I spend a lot of time worrying about what I say for fear of sounding racist/intolerant/too white that I might just say nothing at all.

– nowreallifehasnoappeal.wordpress.com