Having watched Alien: Covenant (2017) and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017) in the last few weeks at the cinema, it’s been a bit of an alien-monster-sci-fi month so far. Both of those films were very entertaining genre/franchise movies with loads of action, suspense and decent enough performances and set-pieces to make them well worth the admission fee. Of course, they also used established formulas and known properties to propel their narratives and the movie Colossal (2016) too draws upon Japanese movies or ‘Kaiju’ subgenre; which in itself was influenced by the atomic age and Hollywood monster movies of yesteryear. Colossal, however, transcends the monster genre to become something surprisingly more human altogether.
The filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo wrote and directed one of my favourite time-travel films ever called TimeCrimes (2007). In that an ordinary guy gets caught in a paradoxical nightmarish loop of murder and temporal intrigue, delivering a film rich in devious plotting, mind-bending structure and also strong thematic subtext. Similarly, Colossal is equally ambitious employing intelligence and powerful concepts as Anne Hathaway’s lost-in-life-thirty-something finds her consciousness somehow connected to a Godzilla like beast wreaking havoc in South Korea. If you’re thinking that’s a bit weird isn’t it – then you are correct! However, Vigalondo has crafted one of the most original cinema experiences I have had all year.
Safe to say this has one of those fantastical-let’s-go-with-it plot turns in the first act which establishes the films’ quirkiness very quickly and runs with it superbly. Anne Hathaway provides the films’ emotional heart with a terrific performance as an alcoholic-unemployed-party-girl who seeks to escape the hedonistic night and day life which is slowly destroying her. On top of her addictions she is kicked out by her cloying and controlling boyfriend, portrayed with overloaded smug by Dan Stevens.
Heading back home to the place she grew up in is seen as a way of escaping and gaining control. Indeed the move from the city to a small town is a staple of many lo-fi indie comedies and dramas but when a monster attacks Seoul, the film suddenly mashes up the genres to fascinating dramatic and comedic impact.
Admitting defeat in life, Gloria has nothing but an empty place to reside and very little to cling onto emotionally. That is until Jason Sudeikis’ Oscar, a childhood friend, gives her a job and furniture and most importantly, an ear to listen to. Sudeikis is amazing in his role as the complex Oscar as he sees, in Gloria, a chance to rekindle a past unrequited love. However, while the two connect the story goes in an unexpected direction and his motivation really pushes the narrative to surprising places. But what about the monsters I hear you ask? Well, without giving too much away the human story of Gloria and Oscar is cleverly reflected by the destruction in Seoul as Vigalondo pushes both emotional and cerebral buttons very successfully.
Lastly, thematically speaking this film is a very rich. The subtext is all about human beings gaining control over the external forces, internal weaknesses and those people who bully you and try to mould your existence. While it may be tonally uneven in the latter half of the film, as it veers from comedy to high drama, this merely adds to the overall charm and unconventionality. In a summer which will bring us blockbusters galore they will have to go some way to match Vigalondo’s lower-budgeted Colossal for originality, humour, heart and Seoul (sorry!) (Mark: 9 out of 11)
12 REASONS WHY IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA IS ONE OF THE FUNNIEST SITCOMS EVER!
With the new season now up on Netflix I thought it advisable to revisit my awe and admiration for the clever, crazy and scurrilous comedy show that is: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I have reviewed it in the past here, but rather than simply do another glowing evaluation of Season 12 – which I loved by the way – I thought why not consider its disgusting genius as a whole. So, here you go! 12 reasons why the crazy gang from Paddy’s Pub completely rock!
**CONTAINS SPOILERS BITCHES**
Any successful comedy and drama show lives and dies by the characters who inhabit the storylines and world. In the show we have a rich differentiation of people collectively known as ‘The Gang’; who all work collectively within the comedy as a highly dysfunctional family. Charlie is the idiot youngest child; Dennis and Mac are the insane older brothers; Dee is the incompetent and much maligned sister; while Frank is the wayward father and the mother is, well, there is no precise mother but a random set of insane surrogates. What they have in common is that they are all deluded-self-serving-narcissistic-insane-lunatics all seeking to undermine each other in turn. Thus resulting in some incredibly hilarious episodes and seasons.
To me political correctness is a fair way to behave and make judgements within everyday life, but sometimes it can go too far and is used as a weapon to demonize behaviour meant as humour. Moreover, in life the unwritten and written laws of society deem it necessary – for upstanding citizens that is – to abide by a certain set of rules. Those same rules don’t apply to the characters in this show. Indeed, behaviour such as: doing drugs, blacking up, stalking, pretending to be gay, arson, selling fake cola, luring women into bed under false pretences, black market surrogacy, faking own deaths, blowing up cars and generally attacking and verbally abusing people around them, should get them locked up. However, the punkish and illegal shenanigans allow the viewer to both live out vicariously such bad behaviour; not so much shock for shock sake but as an attempt to drive the humour down very dark avenues for comedic impact.
The characters inhabit a world where it’s dog-eats-man-eats-woman-eats-dog; and in some ways this reflects the darker aspects of society. I mean we have become a selfie-taking-blogging-wait-until-you-finish-talking-culture only interested in getting one-up on each other. While of course there is much humanity and charity too in life, It’s Always Sunny is not a cosy or safe world where everything ends up great at the end. No! Dead dogs fall out of children’s coffins; tramps have anal sex under the New Jersey boardwalk; Frank exploits Vietnamese people in sweatshops; people pretend to have cancer; the long-suffering Cricket had his face and existence burnt off; characters laugh when others fall flat on their face or try to kill themselves etc. Today, and quite rightly, we should strive to respect each other so the show is a terrible role model for life and lurks in a world far away from and the warm hearts of other benign TV shows.
4. FORMAL BRILLIANCE
Throughout every season of It’s Always Sunny there is always an attempt to present episodes in an imaginative form and structure. For example, in Who Pooped The Bed we get a Rashomon-style-split-perspective murder investigation into who crapped in Charlie’s bed. While in The Gang Go On Family Fight, the humour is structured around the gang appearing on a classic gameshow. In addition to the hilarious historically anachronistic flashbacks in The Gang Cracks the Liberty Bell, in Season 11’s Being Frank the whole episode was shot from Frank’s POV. In the current superb 12th season one episode is presented from a supporting characters dream perspective; while the most impressively detailed form presentation is in Old Lady House: A Situation Comedy. In this Dennis sets up a series of CCTV cameras in Mac and Charlie’s Mum’s abode and becomes a god-like TV director; editing their everyday lives into a bizarre but hilarious reality show/situation comedy. This intelligence and thought keeps the show fresh and funny in presentation and delivery.
As well as the impressive formal structuring all twelve seasons of It’s Always Sunny the plots are always pretty tight and logical in a twisted way. Of course some of the storylines can become quite convoluted for humorous purposes but the writers use pace and a plethora of plot twists to great impact. I especially loved the episode The Gang Breaks Dee which finds Dee finally hitting it big as a stand-up comedian only to find it was the Gang who set her up with a massively elaborate practical joke. Dee again was at the centre of a big mystery in Season 6 where she gets pregnant and tries to make money out of surrogacy. This plot became a classic arc for the season and the episode Who Got Dee Pregnant is brilliant twisted as each of the Gang debate as to whether it was them or not; including even Frank and Dennis! So essentially rather than being just a litany of abusive characters being horrible many of the narratives are tighter than a wrestler’s nut-sack in Speedos.
6. RUNNING GAGS
Throughout all the episodes there are a plethora of running gags such as:
Charlie is a perpetual glue or paint sniffer.
Charlie ‘loves’ and stalks the Waitress.
Frank and Charlie are garbage scavengers.
Frank always tries some underhanded money-making scheme.
Dee is a terrible stand-up comedian.
Dee has terrible taste in men who all suffer at her hands.
Dee is mocked for being a bird.
Cricket’s life and body is destroyed by the Gang.
The McPoyle family are the Gang’s sworn enemies.
Dennis thinks he’s the most intelligent but is just as dumb as the rest.
Mac thinks he’s a brilliant bodyguard with great fighting moves but isn’t.
Everyone thinks Mac is gay but he doesn’t know or admit it!
The Gang ALWAYS destroy Dee’s cars.
Dennis is a committed “lady-killer” with sociopathic tendencies.
Charlie does all the dirty work!
The Gang will promote ridiculous products such as: Kitten Mittens, Wolf Cola and Fight-Milk!
The Gang ALWAYS dumbfound and conflict with figures of authority including: Police; Lawyers; Health & Safety; Doctors; Therapists etc.
These and many more provide the spine for the show and give it a depth and wealth of humour throughout.
Similar to South Park many people who haven’t seen the show may think that It’s Always Sunny is just a gross and base comedy show. However, many of the episodes show the Gang attempting to resolve a national or international capitalist crisis. Usually led by Frank’s desire to screw someone over or simply because they prefer ill thought out and hair-brained schemes to actual proper work these episodes successfully satirise the world today. My particular favourites include: The Gang Runs for Office, The Gang Solve the Gas Crisis, The Great Recession and The Gang Recycles Their Trash all demonstrate a finger-on-the-pulse of political and social satire; albeit from a completely ridiculous angle.
In some respect the dialogue is some of the most disgusting words ever committed to TV. In fact I’m amazed there isn’t more controversy for some of the episodes. However, like the characters it remains on the fringe of the TV schedules remaining cult viewing. Here are just a few of their classic quotes:
“Hey-o! What’s up, bitches!” Mac
“Wildcard, bitches! Yee-haw!” Charlie
“I browned out that evening.” Mac
“You keep using this word “jabroni. It’s awesome!”Charlie
“If you’re in my room, you’re always being filmed.” Dennis
“I’m not fat. I’m cultivating mass.”Fat Mac
“Your mom doesn’t know dick! She’s a dumb, fat cow!” Sweet Dee
“Fight Milk! The first alcoholic protein drink for bodyguards!” Mac
In the latest season there is a wonderful cameo from Scott Bakula where his 1980s character Sam Beckett is shown to have jumped into the body of an old black man. Bakula features throughout with a wonderful hang-dog desperation as to how he ended up in such a crazy situation. Other cameos include: filmmaker Guillermo Del Doro and Games of Thrones writers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss who have actually written the Flowers for Charlie episode and guest-starred in one two. Other guest stars include: Josh Groban, Sinbad, Puff Daddy, Dax Shephard, Tom Sizemore and my personal favourite Sean William Scott as Country Mac. I think the appearance of said celebrities is not enough to get the laughs, but the writers often use them parodically and the actors really get into the craziness of the show.
Like many great contemporary comedies including South Park, Father Ted and The Simpsons many of the shows episodes are clearly influenced by the makers love of music, movies, TV and radio. Episodes parodying musicals, 1980s ski/sex comedies, gangsters, Reality makeover shows, animated kids programmes, horror films, detective and cop shows and many more. In Season 11 they parodied Oscar winning Birdman (2014) by filming the show in one-take to a jazz score and in Season 12 But the show doesn’t just mention or take plots from certain genres it mocks but it pays tributes to specific films too. For example in Season 9 they even made Lethal Weapon 6 with hilarious results.
Believe it or not the rag-tag-weirdo-idiot-boy Charlie (Charlie Day) is a songwriter of some ill-repute. The best examples of his music can be found in the legendary episode The Nightman Cometh where he gets the Gang to stage a musical for no apparent reason. It is complete and utter insanity but somehow actually works and the songs are pretty catchy too. Season 12 also finds the Gang stuck in The Wiz and having to sing their lines involuntarily. This is absolutely hilarious too as they attempt to find the rules of the parallel world they are trapped in.
12. LOW BUDGET
Incredibly the very first pilot episode was shot for $200 and ever since that the Gang and creators have stuck to the lower budget ideals of the debut season. In fact that is the strength of the show as they must use their writing and acting abilities to come up with ideas which do not need massive budgets or special effects. Indeed, the lo-fi charm of the show remains as it is from the first season. Okay, the Gang have got older and Mac got fatter and gayer but the same theme tune and credits play out in the current season as they did in the first; and that is very comforting to me, BITCHES!
Following on from my recent reviews of ITV drama shows I have also recently watched, many U.S. programmes over the last few months. So, here are some more bite-size reviews with marks out of eleven. Hope you enjoy.
BATES MOTEL (2014) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX
So, Norman Bates gets a paradoxical contemporary prequel which while chronologically set before Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho (1960), exists in the now of mobile phones, crooked cops, Chinese sex slaves, cystic fibrosis and huge cannabis forests that drive the towns’ industry. Freddie Highmore as young psycho Norman and Vera Farmiga as his domineering, yet sexy, mother are absolutely brilliant in this absurdly plotted but nifty little horror-crime-thriller-mish-mash. I especially enjoyed Highmore’s subtle delivery as he fights with the demons in his head, amidst hormonal teenage desires. Plus, more often than not he echoes Anthony Perkins classic performance as the original Master Bates. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
BIG LITTLE LIES (2017) – SEASON 1 – SKY ATLANTIC
One of the most difficult things a screenwriter and director have to do, in my view, is to make rootable those wealthy, spoilt and first-world characters that drive your story. One way to do it is to make their conflict human and relatable, plus casting brilliant actors in the lead roles helps greatly too. Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Alexander Skarsgard and Shailene Woodley are all on top acting form portraying various personas within the affluent Monterey upper middle classes. Jean-Marc Vallee directs David Kelley’s superb script with aplomb and the editing is some of the best you will see in a television show all year. The interweaving stories concerning an unknown murder victim; school bullying; warring parents; extra-marital affairs; and the abusive relationships, is expertly played out over seven compelling episodes. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
BILLIONS (2017) – SEASON 2 – SKY ATLANTIC
Again, how do you make rich people empathetic and rootable? Well in Billions the writers don’t! They have created a superbly written series around some of the most selfish, self-centred, vicious and vindictive characters in hedge-fund shark Bobby Axelrod and unscrupulous Attorney General Chuck Rhodes; and pitted them against each other over ten compelling episodes. Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti are on fantastic form as “Masters of the Universe” leads that will stop at nothing to destroy each other’s lives. Maggie Siff and Malin Akerman as their respective wives also at the sharp end of the legal, financial and psychological one-upmanship drama, along with a terrific ensemble cast including: David Constable, David Strathairn, Eric Bogosian, Toby Leonard Moore and the very gifted Asia Kate Dillon. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
HOMELAND (2014) – SEASON 3 – NETFLIX
After the explosive end to Season 2, which wiped out many of the major supporting players, Season 3 found Carrie Matheson and Nicholas Brody find themselves separated and in deep trouble. Matheson is cast as the scapegoat for the destruction of the CIA and failure in protocols while Brody is in Columbia lurching from one violent episode to another. The strength of the first two seasons came from the dynamic plotting, heart-racing suspense and the chemistry between Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. Season 3 suffers from the two’s separation slightly but there was enough dramatic moments throughout to make it well worth a watch. Danes was especially impressive as Matheson who is forever taking chances because of her determination to protect her country, plus her love for Brody. The show doesn’t present easy answers and the ending was particularly bleak as we come to realise that no one wins in these political and international wars. Have to say that Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson and Rupert Friend gave great support and the show ultimately remains compelling, even if at times it slightly tested believability. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
SONS OF ANARCHY (2015) – SEASONS 6 & 7 – NETFLIX
My lord this show is SO brutal; in fact I think it is arguably the most violent TV show I have ever seen because many of the deaths are cold and hot-blooded savagery. In Seasons 6 and 7, Jax (Charlie Hunnam) desperately tried to become a better person and take the club down a more legitimate route, however, once an outlaw – always an outlaw. Thus battles with cops, IRA, gang-bangers, Mayans, Aryan Brotherhood, and more culminated in two seasons of the usual carnage and bloodshed. Also, Jax had the horror of dealing with the death of loved ones borne out of terrible lies and decisions by those close to him. The main strength of the show is the terrific ensemble cast of which Jimmy Smits, Charlie Hunnam, Tommy Flanagan and Katey Sagal really stood out. Also, the action and serpentine plot twists kept the dramatic irony and suspense at pulsating levels. Only the indulgent montages, over-the-top “I love you, brother” dialogue and overlong episodes wrenched a little but overall an exciting end to a gruesome but entertaining TV show. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
THE WALKING DEAD (2017) – SEASON 7 – FOX
The Walking Dead is very much like an elderly grandparent in as much as it has provided happy past memories; has a lot to offer in terms of historical experience; yet sits in their armchair only occasionally sparking into life for our entertainment. However, I must say, Season 7 was way more entertaining than Season 6, which overall really stalled in terms of storylines and fast-paced action. Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his Alexandrian crew and family came under pressure, not just from the zombie hordes but also Jeffery Dean Morgan’s delightful uber-villain, Negan. Massacring two of the leading characters at the beginning of the season created a real sense of suspense throughout and, aside from a few filler episodes; I thought the writing and the introduction of other clans gave the show some dramatic impetus. I still think sixteen episodes are too many but the war against the Saviours was gripping and overall there was enough bloody zombie deaths to entertain this horror fan. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
With a General Election coming up I thought I’d diversify my post and continue my Ten Things I Hate About You series which to date includes reasons why I hate: Zach Snyder, the Cinema, Found Footage films and Movie Hair!? So I thought why not write a slightly more serious one about politics.
I don’t propose to be an expert on these things so most of these thoughts are emotional and scattered blasts at the system. It’s just a rant more than anything so please don’t take it too seriously. What with another General Election coming up I feel saturated with all things political and the massive changes to come with the cluster-fuck of BREXIT! So this is just me letting off steam.
In the U.K. we have two main political parties – Labour and the Conservatives – who fight and bitch each other and switch places every four years or so and end up undoing the work the previous party had done. I realise it is a bloody tough thing to run a country but just wonder whether this the best system we have?
I mean why can’t we join together and work as a collective rather than in constant conflict. Can we not put aside our differences to work toward a common goal? The current system pits us AGAINST each other – left versus right and up versus down and black versus white and green versus blue! Divide and rule seems to be the favoured system to maintain the status quo! Could this change or am I just dreaming!?
Politicians are liars!
This isn’t a simple criticism – this is almost a necessity for survival. Imagine if you had to run the country you have to lie because if you told the truth then you’d probably create wholesale panic across the country. Politics seems to thrive on fear but not hysteria thus lies and manipulations are fed via the politicians and the media to arguably control the populace. What does drive me nuts though is the hypocrisy that ordinary people must live their lives to a certain standard while those in power lie and cheat and get away with it.
I mean, how many crimes and lies have been committed by politicians and either covered up or, aside from the odd scapegoat, avoided legal incarceration. How many campaign lies have been told in order to gain power? Perhaps they aren’t lies in the first place but naïve beliefs they can change things for the better? Maybe politicians are just all honest and never fiddle their taxes or expenses? Oh, hang on a fleet of pigs just flew by my desk as I type this?
Politics as a necessary evil!
The biggest anxiety I have quite often is that we may have to accept that this is the best system we have! I mean my life is very good. I have food, a roof over my head and my family are doing okay so I have little to complain about. However, political decisions the world over are doing severe damage to the environment, the poor and the society as a whole. However, there are many good things certain governments achieve such as in the UK. Over time we have achieved a general standard of living which, for the majority is good. Plus, while crime and corruption occur regularly we’re not in the Wild West or back in the Dark Ages. So, the scariest thing could be that politics and democracy do work to some extent. Even with the food banks, austerity, overseas conflicts and Brexit on the horizon maybe this is as good as it gets! Gulp!
Politics is Big Business!
The system we have seems to favour big business over the working person. But it’s always been like that I guess. This thing called capitalism is a survival-of-the-fittest-driven-by-greed ideology. Politics is fed by the banks and corporations and vice versa the banks and corporations feed the politicians at one massive trough! Moreover, politics itself is a big industry. Labour and Conservative Parties employ many people and elections create many employment opportunities. But they also receive hefty donations from corporations and Trade Unions. So, is it really an impartial and democratic system? Besides, even the most basic history books will show our society is grounded within a feudal system where peasants tend the land and keep of the Lords and Ladies in the high castles. Thus, politics essentially is global gangsterism and run by the big bosses.
Power corrupts absolutely!
Well, where do you start!? Okay, so mostly I think there are many politicians who try to do good but many do not go into it to represent the people. They go into it to represent their own best interests. Because, I believe, the edict that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely to be true! Hitler is probably the most horrific example of this. So, while I am far from being a fan of politicians I also feel that the system itself is flawed. Of course the democratic system we have has been in place for centuries and even when you change it as the Russians did circa 1919 the idealism and hope the change ultimately gave way to Stalin’s dictatorial regime. So, perhaps it is humanity which is flawed and not simply politics; power is an addiction and as such must be handled very carefully.
Politicians are Evil!
Whether they set out to be or became that way the likes of: Thatcher, Hitler, Stalin, Bush, Blair, Franco, Mao Zedong, Mugabe, Saddam Hussain, Mussolini, Gaddafi etc. have in their own way made decisions that have caused the death of many, many lives and communities over the years. How they have been able to live with themselves is beyond me as I feel bad if I accidentally step on a bug. My theory is that some politicians and leaders must have the psychopathic tendencies of serial killers, because how they sleep at night is beyond me.
Politics = War!
How many wars does politics cause? Well, along with religion, loads of them! Be it fighting the rise of fascism; attempting to defeat communism; conflict over territory and resources; and the current war against terror are just a fraction of the kind of conflicts we have had in the last century or so. The worst excuse we’ve had lately is when the powers-that-be argue that the war is necessary for humanitarian reasons. We’re constantly fed a diet of misinformation by the puppet-masters and even rallying against it gets ignored; as seen when Blair’s Labour government disregarded over one million protestors to take us into another war in Iraq. What a liberty! Oh, no – it wasn’t liberty but more death and destruction!
Oh my God what with Brexit and now the General Election hovering like a giant eagle about to lay a big brown rotten egg over the nation I’ve kind of already had my fill of politicians asking for my vote. Elections are just a big pantomime of lies and big clowns telling us how they’re going to make things better when really we know running a country is all about damage limitation. I guess we have to have the illusion of democracy as the alternative is anarchy and a possible ‘Mad Max’ future where everyone is fighting over oil and gasoline. Hold on that’s just like now!! Aaarrggghhh!! I just want the election to be over!
What really annoys me is when Politicians get defeated at elections or retire and then go on to become celebrities or reality TV stars!! Because a plethora of insipid excuses for human beings have used their once political power to carve out careers on the television e.g. Ed Balls, Anne Widdicombe, Michael Portillo to name a few have now humanized themselves as reality stars or travelogue celebrities and it sickens me. It actually worked the other way round with Donald Trump, the billionaire reality TV show businessman has, god help us, somehow become United States President. Stop the world I want to get off!
Douche and Turd Politics!
South Park has it right all along – all we have when we vote is a choice between a Douche and Turd – so why vote? Because I am stupid and human I am still optimistic on occasions and maybe I can actually make a difference?! So I will vote as people lost their lives for the vote and democratic change! But who will it be this year: the Giant Douche or the Turd Sandwich? What a choice?! I guess overall we’re lucky we still have a choice.
Of late I have been theming or focussing my viewing in certain directions. The last few months I decided to watch more ITV dramas. Historically ITV have arguably suffered in comparison to BBC dramas, and most certainly the big budget HBO, FOX and SHOWTIME programmes from the United States.
So, I thought I would check a few out and see if they are still the safe and formulaic ITV dramas I have seen in the past. Well, I would say, while adhering to certain genre conventions, notably in regard to cop stories and “true story” biopics, the writing, direction and acting is of an excellent standard. Here are some bitesize reviews.
This terrific police procedural drama begins with the death of a young boy and the subsequent police investigation, plus the impact this has on his family and coastal community of Broadchurch. The first season is first and foremost a terrific “whodunit” as various members of the town are all plausible suspects. Moreover, the brilliant acting duo of Olivia Colman and David Tennant spark off each other throughout the investigation. Writer Chris Chibnall deals expertly with the emotions too as the family – including Jodie Whitaker as the mother of the tragic child – are put through the wringer by the crime. The second season is almost as gripping as the child killer faces trial and Tennant’s character obsessively investigates a historical crime which blotted his career. Overall, it is an excellent drama with many twists and a superb ensemble cast of British actors. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
CHASING SHADOWS (2014) – Season 1 – ITV ENCORE
Reece Shearsmith is one of my favourite actors and I have loved his work ever since the grotesque comedy genius of The League of Gentlemen. Here he shows his range as a socially awkward but exceptionally determined Detective searching for long-lost missing people. Like Broadchurch it’s another Dr Who cast reunion as Noel Clarke and Alex Kingston also co-star in a decent by-the-numbers cop show. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
CILLA (2014) – Season 1 – ITV ENCORE
While there is an element of tragedy in regard to uber-manager Brian Epstein’s tragic death, this biopic of the early life of Priscilla White and her rise to stardom is pretty tame and fluffy. Still, Sheridan Smith is brilliant as the young songbird who would hit the top of charts with a series of late sixties ballads. The evocation of working class Liverpool and bands such as The Beatles is well played and the songs are belted out with a passion by the very likeable Smith. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
IN PLAIN SIGHT (2016) – Season 1 – ITV ENCORE
This is a very compelling 1950s set drama which tells the story of heinous Scottish serial-killer Peter Manuel. It benefits from an exceptionally good performance from Martin Compston as the devious killer; and also by Douglas Henshall as the Detective trying to catch him. Overall, a good drama which had me gripped throughout. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
JEKYLL & HYDE (2015) – Season 1 – ITV ENCORE
I really enjoyed this updating of the old Robert Louis Stevenson monster classic. Created by Charlie Higson it was over-the-top and frankly loopy at times with some occasional bad acting thrown in. In going for a 1930s-period-Bond-meets-Dr-Who-meets-Hammer-horror-mash-up it wasn’t always successful but overall it was fun entertainment. The cast all seemed like they were having fun and Amelia Bullimore, Enzo Cilenti, Natasha O’Keeffe, Richard E Grant were standouts while Tom Bateman was okay in the lead monster/man dual role. It’s just a damned shame the show got cancelled on a bloody suspenseful cliff-hanger. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
LUCAN (2013) – Season 1 – ITV ENCORE
ITV love a “true” story or crime stories based on real events and at the forefront of many of those are the excellent writer Jeff Pope. As Head of Factual Drama at ITV he has written and produced many fine TV programmes and this biopic of the infamous “Lucky” Lord Lucan case is also very good. Rory Kinnear is an impressive brooding presence as Lucan and Catherine McCormack also excels as his abused wife. We may never know what happened to Lucan but this drama attempts to shed some light on the ill-fated events from 1970s British society. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
MRS BIGGS (2012) – Season 1 – ITV ENCORE
Another narrative based on true events focusses on the 1960s Great Train Robbery and its aftermath from the perspective of Ronnie Biggs’ wife Charmian. Sheridan Smith is astounding as the long-suffering wife partner of Daniel Mays’ Ronnie. The acting all-round and writing are excellent as we find Charmian essentially falling big for the wrong guy. Her determination and commitment to Biggs was incredibly naïve yet admirable as she carried herself and her kids to Australia and Brazil in order to keep the family together. At no time does it glamorise the crimes as Smith and Mays prove an unlikely but testament to the power of love and the lengths one may go to because of it. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
SAFE HOUSE (2012) – Season 1 – NETFLIX
Christopher Eccleston, who is always reliable, stars as a retired cop who employs his Lake District property as a “safe house” for witness protection. The vistas are beautiful and the suspense is often palpable in this well written drama by Michael Crompton. Paterson Joseph provides excellent support as Eccleston’s former boss but the highlight of the show is under-rated British actor Peter Ferdinando, who portrays an obsessive criminal with sinister verve and pathos. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
SHETLAND (2013) – Season 1 – NETFLIX
Another detective show starring the impressive Scottish actor Douglas Henshall. This one feels old-fashioned but the stark contemporary Scottish settings work in its favour and interestingly enough it is an ITV produced show FOR the BBC. The characters are believable and Henshall’s police team are down-to-earth and likeable. Overall, the writing is pretty good with some gripping storylines while the slower pace adds to the drama and atmosphere. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
THE WIDOWER (2014) – Season 1 – NETFLIX
Reece Shearsmith stars again but as a weird sociopathic wife-murderer based on a real-life case. His modus operandi was to finagle himself deceitfully into women’s lives and then use their wealth to clear his debts. Sheridan Smith pops up in the first episode but Shearsmith’s Malcolm Webster later moves abroad to New Zealand to prey on other victims. Webster is an everyday monster and his actions defy belief that there would be someone so heinous; and Shearsmith gives a chilling performance. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
WRITER: Alice Birch, adapted from Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov
CAST: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Naomi Ackie, Paul Hilton
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Are there great films announced as classics or loved by critics which you do not like? That isn’t to say they aren’t great films but subjectively you just don’t enjoy them? I guess the biggest ones for me are probably Mulholland Drive (2001) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). I love the work of Spielberg and Lynch mostly but just do not enjoy these critically acclaimed films at all.
Similarly, a brilliantly made low-budget-period-horror from last year called The Witch (2016) got huge plaudits and the filmmaker Robert Eggers deserved much praise for his atmospheric direction. However, I found it a tremendous bore. As for the box office smash Blair Witch Project (1999); don’t get me started on that over-rated genius-marketing-over-quality-cinema-trash.
Anyway, how is this ranting connected to my viewing of the grim and pretentious Lady Macbeth (2016)? Well, it’s a film that critics are no doubt going to enjoy for its subversive genre skewering of the traditional period drama. Moreover, the direction by William Oldroyd is stark and impressive, while the fearless Florence Pugh in the lead is clearly going to be an actress to watch in the future. However, it is an intellectual film with little humanity and is ultimately nihilistic in terms of entertainment.
The story is set in 1865 rural England up North against the backdrop of patriarchal dominance where women must and shall know their place. Pugh’s character Katherine is essentially sold into a loveless marriage and rather than play the dutiful wife she rebels viciously. Firstly, she drinks the Master’s house dry of the booze and then enters into an extremely erotic affair with one of the servants, portrayed with muscular naivety by Cosmo Jarvis.
From then on the cycle of events descend to hellish depths. Murder and revenge are clearly hinted at in the film’s Shakespearean title as Katherine gives Lady Macbeth a run for her money in terms of evil plotting and fiendish acts. Indeed, this expertly made film is a pure exercise in passionate hysteria featuring a spoilt and lustful lead character. While I love challenging cinema — especially by the likes of Nicolas Winding Refn, Michael Haneke and Lynn Ramsay — there remains an emotional vacuum in this narrative because I found it hard to care about anyone.
The most sympathetic character in my view was the brutalized maid Anna and perhaps the story would’ve been more interesting for me if told from her perspective? So while the film was beautifully shot and framed, I was quite often stumped by the characters’ motivations; especially by Katharine’s decisions at the end. I mean is she the kind of heroine feminism longs for? I doubt that because ultimately she is an evil human being and not a standard bearer for woman kind. Or is she?
Lady Macbeth undoubtedly makes valuable points in regard to the racist and sexist oppression of the time but it is very difficult to have empathy for a lead character who has had a severe personality by-pass. A far better representation of female empowerment against dominant patriarchy is Park Chan-Wook’s brilliant film The Handmaiden (2016). So, while this film is likely to be on a lot of critics’ “Best films of 2017” lists, I found it overall a pretentious bore.
(Mark: 5.5 out of 11 for the film)
(Mark: 9 out of 11 for Florence Pugh)