THE NETFLIX MEMORANDUM – INCLUDING REVIEWS OF: AFTERLIFE, THE SINNER (S2), RUSSIAN DOLL, DAREDEVIL (s3) ETC.

THE NETFLIX MEMORANDUM – INCLUDING REVIEWS OF: AFTERLIFE, THE DIRT, RUSSIAN DOLL, DAREDEVIL ETC.

For some insane reason I have given up alcohol for the year and the weight of reality and time burdens my everyday existence. First world problems abide. Anyway, while my liver breathes a huge sigh of relief, my mind still desires stimulus. Thus, I have, in my constant sobriety, had even more time to stream and watch even more films and television. These bitesize reviews look at the latest stuff I’ve seen on the behemoth streamer Netflix; with the usual marks out of eleven.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Image result for netflix

AFTERLIFE (2019)

Ricky Gervais’ latest fictional piece is a really enjoyable tragi-comedy. His everyman, Tony, is suffering severe grief following the passing of his wife. Sadly he allows misanthropy and suicidal thoughts to overcome his daily existence in the fictional town of Tambury. The comedy is founded on dark materials but filled with deep humanity as we watch Tony wrestle with his demons.

I especially loved the eccentric characters and jokes concerning Tony’s job as a reporter with the local newspaper. The supporting cast are a joy too and include brilliant comedians like: David Earl, Kerry Godliman, Joe Wilkinson, Tom Basden and Diane Morgan. The ensemble cast and fine writing combine to create a simple, funny and emotional journey through one’s man’s fight with depression and grief. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT (2019)

I keep telling myself not to watch such true crime documentaries as they make me feel really sad about the state of human behaviour. This story from the United States was in documentary film form so I got pulled back in by not having to sit through ten episodes of horror. Also, I’d heard it was a pretty incredible story too so my interest was piqued by that.

Safe to say this grim tale of grooming, paedophilia and abduction that one family suffered at the hands of a human monster in the 1970s, is something you wish you could un-see. As a documentary film it is very well made but it does make you lament the gullibility of some people and sickness of others. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

DAREDEVIL (2018) – SEASON 3

I’d say Matt Murdoch’s Daredevil is my favourite of the Marvel/Netflix streamed offerings. Charlie Cox is a fine actor and the drama, fighting and villainous rendition of Wilson Fisk by Vincent D’Onofrio, make it essential viewing. While it takes a huge gulp to believe that a blind guy could be that great at fighting criminals with sight, once you buy into that premise the show offers a lot of fun.

While not scaling the heights of Season 1, and lacking the brutal Punisher (John Bernthal) side-plot of Season 2, this latest Season 3 finds Murdoch up against Fisk again and a new psychopath in rogue FBI agent, Ben Poindexter. Like other Marvel adaptations on Netflix it’s still five episodes too long and bogged down with plodding angst and lengthy dialogue scenes, so doesn’t quite hit the bulls-eye throughout. Nonetheless, it’s still compelling drama and the hand-to-hand fight scenes are an absolute sensation. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

THE DIRT (2019)

Crazed rock stars take drugs, smash up hotel rooms, screw groupies and almost die due to their excess is the unsurprising narrative ups and downs of this Motley Crue biopic. It’s not a bad watch but is essentially like a poorer version of This is Spinal Tap, without the incredible gag-rate. The film fleshes out the caricature members of the band showing their human side; Douglas Booth and Iwan Rheon bringing depth to their paper-thin roles. Moreover, while the era and stadium shows are really well emulated the direction lacks alot of imagination.

I mean, there was an intense film about addiction and human excess in here, and while we do get some moving scenes, notably with singer Vince Neil’s life struggles and Nikki Sixx’s heroin dependancy; ultimately the film did not dig deep enough into their characters. Still, fans of the band and their energetic rock music will love it no doubt. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

JESSICA JONES (2018) – SEASON 2

Kristen Ritter is back as Marvel’s hard-drinking, misanthropic and super-powered private investigator; and she remains very pissed off. Season 1 of Jessica Jones was absolutely brilliant due to David Tennant’s incredible villain, Kilgrave, and Jones’ character arc reflecting the damaging nature of controlling relationships.

Season 2, alas, is a plodding let-down full of filler episodes and weak sub-plots which quite frankly bored me. While Ritter holds the season together, the investigation into her past gets dragged down by soap operatics and a severe lack of pace and action. Mark: 6 out of 11

POLAR (2019)

Mads Mikkelsen is one of my favourite actors and he is on good form as a crack hit-man daubed ‘The Black Kaiser’. There’s a decent B-movie in here somewhere but the attention-deficient and showy direction detract from a potentially interesting story of regret and redemption. Moreover, while the action scenes are deftly realised the stupid characterisation, exploitative sex scenes and amoral violence drag the film into the unwatchable territory.

The least said about Matt Lucas’ performance as the amoral ‘Mr Big’ the better; here a usually excellent comic actor is given appalling direction that, like most of the film, lacks subtlety, tone and emotion. (Mark: 3 out of 11)

RUSSIAN DOLL (2019)

Another Groundhog Day copy gets a run out with Natasha Lyonne’s sassy computer programmer finding herself living out the same day over and over with various insane diversions along the way. It starts off really interestingly with lots of crazy deaths, character revelations and existential suffering. However, it soon runs out of steam, adding up to eight dramatically paper-thin episodes, more style than content.

Lyonne, is a fine actor who I like very much, delivers every line like New York comedian Andrew Dice Clay and this grated on me in the end as I felt I was watching a stand-up performance rather than a fully-rounded character searching for the meaning of life. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

THE SINNER (2018) – SEASON 2

After the surprisingly excellent Season 1 of The Sinner, I was really looking forward to the second season. The cop show format is twisted in a really interesting way as we see the accused commit the crime, yet find the cop, in this case the impressive Bill Pullman, empathising with the criminal. Pullman’s Harry Ambrose is a brilliant creation. He’s not flashy or loquacious but a determined and dogged cop with his own personal demons.

Drawn to the troubled or underdog Ambrose digs for justice and redemption. In this story he sees his own past in the crimes of a 13 year-old boy accused of murder and is determined to find answers. Here the boy in question is given a compelling performance by Elisha Henig; and his characters’ commune existence and family history had me gripped throughout. A supporting cast including Carrie Coon and Tracy Letts also add real quality to this stirring psychological drama with themes relating to: physical and psychological abuse; religious cults; family tragedy; mental illness; and the darkness of the human spirit. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

US (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

US (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Jordan Peele

Produced by: Jason Blum, Ian Cooper, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele

Written by: Jordan Peele

Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex etc.

Music: Michael Abels

Cinematography: Mike Gioulakis

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Orson Welles is reportedly quoted as saying, “A movie in production is the greatest train set a boy could ever have.” Thus, Jordan Peele proves this point with an unstoppable cinematic train ride in Us (2019); that while threatening to career off the rails on occasions, proves to be a thrilling work of horror-meets-social-satire entertainment.

The film centres on an everyday normal family of four — the Wilsons: Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), Gabe (Winston Duke), and their two children — as they visit their summer home by the beach. Haunted by a scary incident in a hall of mirrors when a child, Adelaide is afraid to return to the beach where it occurred, until her husband’s goofy enthusiasm wins her over.

Events begin to turn and twist askew when their son, Jason, seems to go missing for a while. Even though he returns, paranoia and fear sneaks into Adelaide’s psyche. Things become even stranger when a mysterious family of four appear in the Wilsons’ drive in the dead of night. This is when the true face of horror surfaces and a pulsating home invasion and prolonged chase sequence ensues.

Peele has clearly seen a lot of horror films. As such the early scenes build tension perfectly with: stormy weather; a strange drifter with biblical sign haunting the boardwalk; creepy hall of mirrors; the choral soundtrack reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby (1968); the son, Jason wearing a Jaws (1975) movie t-shirt; the flock of seagulls on the beach echoing Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963); and so it goes.

Such horror tropes build a huge wall of tension so effectively it’s almost a relief when released during the big doppelganger reveal. Subsequently, the blood-letting ensues in some meaty fights and exchanges involving weapons, such as: baseball bats, metal pokers, ornaments and golf clubs. The doppelgangers themselves are clearly a reflection of the self; twisted visions of humanity turning against the characters, as they literally become their own worst enemies.

The cast are expertly marshalled by Peele, as he gets doubly great performances from all the actors. The logistics of shooting doubles must have been tough, especially so many at a time. The featured cast are very good, notably Winston Duke as Gabe Wilson. He offers some light, comedic and physical humour amidst the gore. Meanwhile, Lupita Nyong’o steals the show in the dominant twin roles of Adelaide and the nefarious Red.

It’s Adelaide’s personal journey of double/split identity which provides the spine of the film. As she fights to save her family she must also literally battle the demon inside and outside herself. This thematic is the most powerful of the film for me, as Nyong’o’s acting is full of emotional resonance.

Perhaps, not as successful, when compared to Get Out, is the attempt to marry the personal conflict to the socio-political landscape. While Peele’s first film was an overt satire of slavery and white America oppression and exploitation, Us’ targets are intellectually more ambiguous and open to interpretation. I mean take your pick from: class, capitalism, consumerism, race, de-politicization, narcissism, over-population, split personalities, government conspiracies; and over-arching fear of ‘the other’.

These and many more themes are on Peele’s radar, as is his overall critique of the United States (U.S. = US – geddit!). That they don’t quite gel coherently is not a criticism but a positive indictment of his ambition. Conversely, while I felt the underlying power of Peele’s call-to-arms and desire for human unity in Us, one could argue the fire, smoke and mirrors of these ideas subtract from the power of the families’ personal struggle. Moreover, what is the solution to the government copying us or burying our doubles underground? Is it to kill the others and hold hands in unity? Who knows? What I can say is such naive idealism in horror has never been so entertaining.

After the success of the slavery-soul-swapping and genre bending thriller, Get Out, Jordan Peele has tasked himself with trying to top that fine movie. Well, if Get Out was the starter, Us is the main meal. In fact, one could argue the film is so full of ideas that it threatens to fail due to sensory overload. However, Peele is such a multi-talented storyteller he skilfully delivers, wholly thanks to great writing, masterful film production, an exceptional soundtrack and an incredible cast.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

EVERYBODY KNOWS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

EVERYBODY KNOWS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Asghar Farhadi

Produced by: Alexandre Mallet-Guy, Alvaro Longoria

Written by: Asghar Farhadi

Starring: Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Ricardo Darin, Barbara Lennie etc.

Cinematography: Jose Luis Alcaine

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Asghar Farhadi is one of those filmmakers whose work is always of the highest quality. For some reason I actually missed seeing his prior film The Salesman (2016), so definitely need to catch up with that. However, The Past (2013) and A Separation (2011) were both compelling human dramas. A Separation, in fact, was one of the best films I have seen in the last decade. It took everyday scenarios involving as divorce and class conflict and spun a heartfelt, intense and intelligent narrative which was emotionally very powerful. While Farhadi was born in Iran and his early works are based there, his oeuvre transcends geography; projecting visions of humanity which stay with you way after the film has ended.

Farhadi’s eighth feature as a director is arguably his most accessible and while not reaching the dramatic heights of his previous films, remains a very solid personal drama. Everybody Knows concerns a large family unit converging for a wedding celebration in Spain. The setting is a small town set amidst beautiful countryside just outside Madrid. It’s the kind of place where everybody knows each others’ business and the community, while seemingly convivial on the outside, carries class, family and business conflicts under the surface.

The film begins with Laura driving her children, notably teenage Irene, back to the town where she was born. The wedding celebrations ensue until terror strikes and Irene is stolen in the night by unknown assailants. Forbidden from contacting the police by the kidnappers, Laura, her family and former childhood boyfriend, Paco (Javier Bardem), desperately seek to find Irene before tragedy occurs. It isn’t long before history converges on the drama and past events involving stolen land and romantic affairs threaten to destabilise the whole town.

With Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem cast as your leading protagonists, and the brilliant Ricardo Darin in support, you’re always guaranteed an enthralling screen experience. Nonetheless, what is so impressive in the performances and direction is they feel like real people with proper emotions, not simply starry versions of themselves emulating reality. Moreover, Farhadi concentrates on the human aspects of the story rather than the crime, as the characters, relationships and town itself begin to unravel. Further, while the film may lack his usual socio-political subtext, Farhadi really pulls you into the drama, as secrets and revelations are unearthed throughout. Overall, this is a consistently watchable piece of cinema that keeps up Farhadi’s impressive hit-rate, while perhaps feeling more familiar and generic compared to the other films of his I have seen.

Mark: 8 out of 11

TRUE DETECTIVE (2019) – SEASON 3 – HBO TV REVIEW

TRUE DETECTIVE (2019) – SEASON 3 – HBO TV REVIEW

Created by: Nic Pizzolatto

Writers: Nic Pizzolatto, David Milch, Graham Gordy

Directors: Jeremy Saulnier, Daniel Sackheim, Nic Pizzolatto

Starring: Mahershala Ali, Carmen Egogo, Stephen Dorff, Scoot McNairy, Ray Fisher etc.

No. of episodes: 8

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Time is an unforgiving concept. It marches on and absolutely never stops until we are dust. While young we believe we have more time, but deep down we can see our own death. That fear will either drive us forward positively or send us insane. Old age is perhaps the bitterest turn in time we must suffer. If we live long enough to collect a litany of fine memories, the mind disintegrates them, cruelly disallowing us from recalling such happy moments. There is also regret. If you have a conscience you are likely to suffer regret. Regret of what you have done wrong, not done right and been simply incapable of doing. Lastly, it is said time and tide wait for no man or woman. But it is waiting; waiting for us to die.

Existential police procedural drama, True Detective, is back for a third season and very good it is too. Starring Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff as the, as usual, mismatched cops; it concerns the hunt for two missing children in the Ozarks, Arkansas. Further, the supporting cast include the impressive Carmen Egogo and always compelling Scoot McNairy. Set over eight compelling episodes we criss-cross three separate timelines that centre on the said case. Events unfold circa 1980 (when the crime occurred); circa 1990 (when the investigation is re-opened); and the present with the characters aged and withering from time’s unrelenting march. The complex structure really enhances the genre plot as the intriguing timelines over-lap and bleed into one another, thickening the mystery and heightening suspense.

While the criminal case is central to the conventions of the genre, writer Nic Pizzolatto is as much interested in the character development and themes pertaining to: love, time, regret, guilt, aging, memory and death. The character of lead detective, Wayne Hays (Ali) is fascinating. A former U.S. soldier who served in Vietnam, he is a complex soul striving for meaning and trying to do the righteous thing. Consistently, however, he finds his race and social standing a barrier to solving the crime. Through his trio of timelines we feel his sense of loss, love, isolation, anger, happiness and confusion. The confusion especially worsens when his older self is hit by Alzheimer’s. Indeed, it is incredibly heartfelt while he attempts to piece together events from memories past including: the crimes, his actions, violent events, and the romantic moments he had with his wife (Egogo.)

Once again, Mahershala Ali proves he is pound-for-pound one of the best actors around. He gives an incredibly nuanced and intelligent performance as Hays. To inhabit the same character in three different guises takes a particular skillset and the subtle differences in performance are a joy to behold. He is assisted by uniformly excellent direction and production design. Indeed, some of the editing is sublime as the images switch between the young Hays and older Hays brilliantly; dissolves, reflections and over-lapping montage effects used imaginatively throughout. Lastly, it’s was also great to see Stephen Dorff too in a prominent role as Hays’ no-nonsense partner, Roland West. Dorff provides ebullient support during the investigation and their friendship is a mainstay of the show.

After the scintillating first season which had Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson burning the plasma off the TV screen with their intense performances, the unfocussed second season contained star acting power but a confused narrative. However, Season 3 is a fine return to form and if you love your cop shows: dark, existential, meditative, violent and intelligent, then this is definitely worth your time.

MOUNTVIEW FILM ACADEMY SHORT FILM RETROSPECTIVE #2 – 2009!

MOUNTVIEW FILM ACADEMY SHORT FILM RETROSPECTIVE #2 – 2009!

Continuing my indulgent posts looking back at some of the writing I did for the Mountview Film Academy years ago.

The year is 2009. Matt Smith was made the new Doctor Who. Cristiano Ronaldo wrote off his new Ferrari. The UK had the worst snowfall for twenty years and Natasha Richardson tragically died in a skiing accident. Swine flu spread across the UK and Michael Jackson passed away too. Alistair Darling was taking a political battering as the Chancellor, while Rage Against the Machine surprisingly hit number one in the pop charts at Christmas.

While these were some of the most read stories of the year, I was doing a lowly-paid temp job in Canary Wharf while following my hollow dream of becoming a paid writer. I took a small step toward that by being shuttled into the Mountview Film Academy to provide two short scripts for their students to act in. These are the said films.

THE DAMASCUS ROAD (2009)

This drama concerns two car thieves out on a job with very different agendas.

Looking back I think this is one of the best scripts I wrote for them. The characters have very different personalities and clash both dramatically and comedically. The pay-off at the end is also very satisfying and the dialogue pings along nicely. It was written with two male leads in mind but switched to female protagonists and overall it works due to excellent acting and direction.

THE CUT (2009)

This short dramatic scene concerns a relationship breakdown and love triangle during a power cut.

Looking back this is one of the worst scripts I wrote for Mountview. The idea of a lover attempting to creep out during a power-cut when the husband returns is a solid premise. However, the writing is weak and ponderous throughout. In the end the scene fizzles out to nothing despite the best work of the actors and director.

CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Produced by: Kevin Feige

Screenplay by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet

Based on: Captain Marvel by Stan Lee, Gene Colan

Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Annette Bening, Gemma Chan etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Not only am I getting comic-book movie fatigue, but I’m also getting comic-book movie reviewing fatigue too. I mean, what else can be said about said collection of films mostly delivered by Marvel and DC over the last decade? Plus, don’t forget the cavalcade of Marvel TV adaptations too on Netflix and other channels.

On the whole I have enjoyed the journey into the Marvel universe and the studio does deliver mostly cracking entertainment within a very solid genre formula. Of course, I can choose NOT to watch them due to being jaded, but I feel invested enough to complete the superhero cycle, especially where the Marvel films are concerned. Thus, with one eye on the Avengers: Endgame (2019) epic that is due for release very soon, I approached Captain Marvel (2019) with relaxed expectations, just out for a bit of a blast before the final Avenger chess pieces all meet to save the world – AGAIN!

Captain Marvel is a 1990s set action-drama prequel which presents a fast-paced couple of hours set in space and on Earth. It comes at a weird release time in the franchise as this kind of origins story has been done ad infinitum, plus the time it is set means much of what occurs could be deemed dramatically redundant. Nonetheless, it begins with a galactic soldier named Vers (Brie Larson), training with Jude Law’s battle-hardened mentor, Yon Rogg. They are part of a crack team of Kree fighting a shape-shifting enemy called Skrulls. These terrorists threaten the Kree civilisation and must be stopped at all costs. Allied to the main conflict, Vers is suffering post-traumatic stress via flash memories which cause her to question her past and identity. Following a planetary raid which goes awry, Vers is conveniently stranded on Earth, with the villains in pursuit. Here she joins forces with, whom else, Agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and then her literal journey of discovery really gathers pace.

Putting aside Marvel narrative fatigue I still managed to enjoy the movie immensely. Despite the story and plot weaknesses the final hour of action and battles sequences are very impressive. The first hour though finds the screenplay broken and confused. Indeed, like the character, the film is caught between two identities and also has tonal issues. It’s somehow trapped between the character driven, indie style of directors, Boden & Fleck, and the usual Marvel gags, pop music, alien artefacts and explosions shtick.

I loved that Danvers’ character and Brie Larson were given the chance to show depth of emotion; however, by presenting the story in a flashback-non-linear-amnesiac-plot-style, all emotional resonance was lost in the mix. Thus, the story became broken-backed trying to cover too many bases in the wrong order. For example, the empowerment montage, near the end, of Danvers’ character finding strength from overcoming past failures is terrifically planned and shot. It’s a shame though that it does not carry the dramatic weight it could have.

Having said that, there’s loads of stuff to enjoy, notably: some clever plot twists; a committed cast including the effervescent Larson and Jackson double-act; Ben Mendelsohn as the head shape-shifter, Talos; the Gwen Stefani-driven-pop-kick-ass-action in the final act; loads of great gags, especially the cat ones; plus, a bundle of Marvel in-jokes, call-backs and inter-textual references. Ultimately, Captain Marvel, is a very solid work of entertainment which, while opening up the whole “where was Captain Marvel until now?” plot hole, manages to fill the gap enjoyably before the whole game finally comes to an end.

Mark: 8 out of 11

CINEMA FIX MARCH ROUND-UP – INCLUDING REVIEWS OF: THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER (2018), ON THE BASIS OF SEX (2018) & CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME (2018)

CINEMA FIX REVIEWS – MARCH 2019 ROUND UP

Double busy recently with the cinema going, so here are a few reviews of the films I’ve watched this last month; all marked out of the usual eleven.

**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER (2018)

Maggie Gyllenhaal is brilliant once again as the titular lead protagonist who, in the midst of a mid-life crisis, discovers a young poetry prodigy and seeks to vicariously find meaning through the 5 year old boy. On the one hand an intelligent character drama, while on the other a tense, psychological arthouse thriller, The Kindergarten Teacher is a fascinating watch. Gyllenhaal radiates class in her performance, although her characters’ poor life choices toward the end made for some uncomfortable viewing. The narrative burns slowly but contains some great images and makes excellent observations about art, authorship and the sanctity of the teacher-pupil relationship. A remake of an Israeli film of the same name, Gyllenhaal is such an impressive actor, able to elicit empathy even when events turn dark at the denouement.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME (2018)

Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant are on excellent form in this “based on a true story” narrative concerning Lee Israel, a hard-up author and drunk, who forges a secondary career as a woman of letters. The only problem is they are not her letters. The smart script is full of fine dialogue exchanges, notably between Grant and McCarthy, however, the story left me cold as a whole. Indeed, I would say this is one of those over-rated independent features which gives time to an onerous human being who doesn’t deserve the time of day really. Despite the quality of the production I did not care for Israel, even from an anti-heroic perspective, and there just wasn’t enough drama for me throughout.

Mark: 7 out of 11

ON THE BASIS OF SEX (2018)

This is what I call a classic “Trailer Film.” Once you’ve seen the trailer – you’ve seen the film. The cast are uniformly decent in this biopic of the trailblazing lawyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg who fights, quite rightly, to break down the barriers between the sexes in society. Felicity Jones is impressive in the lead role and fine support comes from Armie Hammer and Justin Theroux. For all her incredible work I think Ruth Bader Ginsburg deserved a more interesting biopic because dramatically this is very much cinema-by-the-numbers. As a genre film it never really hits the heights of other more compelling courtroom dramas, with a soporific and tediously linear script, and a visual style more suited to an episode of Law and Order. Ultimately, it’s a credible tribute to a great legal mind who helped change society for the better, but dull as dishwater from a narrative and cinematic point-of-view.

Mark: 6 out of 11