ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’90 (2015)

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’90 (2015)

Created by: Shane Meadows

Director: Shane Meadows

Writers: Shane Meadows, Jack Thorne

Series Producers: Mark Herbert, Derrin Schlesinger, Rebekah Wray-Rogers

Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Stephen Graham, Andrew Shim, Stephen Graham, Andrew Ellis, Rosamund Hanson, Danielle James, Kriss Dosanjh, Chanel Cresswell, Johnny Harris, Michael Socha, George Newton, Jo Hartley, Katherine Dow Blyton, Stacey Sampson, Perry Fitzpatrick, Joe Dempsie etc.

Cinematography: Danny Cohen

Music by: Ludovico Einaudi

**CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM – THIS IS ENGLAND ’83, ’86 & ’88**

So, just to reiterate if you have NOT seen the previous film or TV series of This is England, I would advise you start with the film and watch them in order of release. Safe to say that this review also contains MASSIVE SPOILERS from the previous productions too.

As the title says we are now in the year 1990, some two years after the trauma of Lol’s (Vicky McClure) suicide attempt. Her and Woody are now thankfully back together and he, the gang and Milky have reconciled. Structured into a seasonal order of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter the show shifts focus to a more ensemble narrative presentation. Here more secondary characters such as Lol’s sister Kelly (Chanel Creswell) and Milky (Andrew Shim) are given meatier storylines over the four episodes.

As it’s the 1990’s we get some of my favourite music of all time presented. Indie, pop and rave tracks by the likes of The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, The Pixies, The La’s, James, Beats International and many more dominate the soundtrack. Thus, the Spring and Summer months begin in an upbeat mood for the characters on the main. Gadget, Harvey, Trev, Shaun and Kelly are into the rave and Madchester scene, popping pills with heady abandon. This is where Kelly’s story veers into dark drama as her grief for the loss of her father spills into drug addiction and self-destructive behaviour.

This reaches a head in the Summer episode. Beginning as a humorous drive to a field in the England becomes, for Harvey, Gadget, Trev and Shaun a narcotic escape out of Midlands mundanity. However, for Kelly it leads to a dark, drug-induced and sexualised nightmare. For the first time in the series though I felt the drama was slightly gratuitous and felt uncomfortable with Kelly’s ordeal. However, Chanel Cresswell gave a haunting performance of a character lost in a fog of addiction and despair.

With Kelly’s character adrift in the Autumn and Winter months, the narrative also brings back Combo (Stephen Graham) into the mix. As the racist thug in the original film, his character had ventured into some twisted redemption when taking the blame for Lol and Kelly’s Dad’s death. With Combo about to be released from prison the series examines whether people can change and most importantly be forgiven for prior crimes. It is hard hitting stuff and Stephen Graham is a superb actor who lives and breathes the mistakes of his characters’ past. His Winter scenes with Milky are particularly painful and ultimately shocking.

Indeed, during the Autumn and Winter episodes we get some of the most painful and dramatic scenes in the whole series. The scene around the dinner table when Lol decides to confess to her mum, Kelly and Milky the actual events regarding her Dad’s death are so compelling. Meadows directs this scene with simple and devastating effect. He allows the amazing performances from the cast to create emotion via long and tense takes. News of Combo being released impacts them all and the aftermath leads to a vengeful decision by Milky which haunts both him and the audience.

Meadows, co-writer Jack Thorne, the cast and the production team of This Is England ’90 deliver another nostalgic, humorous and hard-hitting drama series. It ends with the characters moving toward the light but with darkness not too far behind. Lol and Woody finally get married in as close to a feel-good ending you get with Shane Meadows. Overall, as slices of life go, these films and TV programmes are genuine British classics and a must watch if you are drawn to gritty, realistic dramas which chuck everything at you — including the kitchen sink.

Mark: 9 out of 11

ALL 4 TV REVIEW: THIS IS ENGLAND ’88 (2011)

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’88 (2011)

Created by: Shane Meadows

Directors: Shane Meadows

Writers: Shane Meadows, Jack Thorne

Series Producers: Mark Herbert, Derrin Schlesinger, Rebekah Wray-Rogers

Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Stephen Graham, Andrew Shim, Stephen Graham, Andrew Ellis, Rosamund Hanson, Danielle James, Kriss Dosanjh, Chanel Cresswell, Johnny Harris, Michael Socha, George Newton, Jo Hartley, Katherine Dow Blyton, Stacey Sampson etc.

Cinematography: Danny Cohen

Music by: Ludovico Einaudi

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Shane Meadows’ Midlands-based drama classic continued two-and-a-half years after the tragic events of its predecessor, This is England ’86 (2010). While obviously harking back to the late 1980’s and infused with nostalgia, it is arguably even darker and keenly focused than the previous series. Dealing mainly with the aftermath of Lol (Vicky McClure) and Woody’s (Joe Gilgun) relationship breakdown, it also explores Shaun’s (Thomas Turgoose) misadventures attending drama school.

While there is a lot of humorous situations in these three episodes, Meadows and co-writer Jack Thorne essentially structure around Lol’s heart of darkness descent into depression. They present a devastating character study as she struggles with single parenthood following her self-destructive affair with Milky (Andrew Shim) and subsequent split from Woody. Lol is crushed with guilt over this and her father’s death; an act she committed in self-defence and Combo (Stephen Graham) took the blame for.

Vicky McClure as Lol gives a devastating performance. She wears her grief as a second skin, with the weight of her world pushing her deeper and deeper into the mire. Moreover, as Lol confronts her difficult life choices head on, she is literally haunted by the ghost of her father. Meadows and McClure deserve such praise for presenting depression and the disintegration of a characters’ mind so convincingly and sensitively. Lol is a lost soul and her story felt so real to me when watching.

Woody, on the other hand, is living with a new girlfriend, Jennifer, at his parents. Things are going well for him on the surface but you feel he’s lost without Lol. Indeed, Lol and Woody are one of television’s iconic couples. It’s strange not seeing them together. Joe Gilgun’s performance as Woody is excellent too. It’s clear he’s putting on a brave face and using humour to direct his pain. However, heartache is never too far away from his crooked smile.

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Meanwhile, Shaun’s excursion into six-form acting provides some light relief but also personal trauma. It’s very funny when the gang, high on speed, almost ruin his opening night with constant laughter. To be honest the play is pretty awful so I don’t blame them. Furthermore, Shaun’s hormones are bouncing round like a squash ball, as he finds himself attracted to one of girls in the class. The scene where he’s caught with his trousers down by girlfriend Smell is both funny and sad. Quirky actress Rosamund Hanson, in her role as Smell/Michelle, impresses with a mix of punk and hysterical rage here.

Yet, the main theme of the narrative is one of overcoming loss through community and togetherness. While Woody eventually confronts the gang and more specifically Milky over perceived treachery, Lol sinks deeper into a downward spiral. Here Shane Meadows is able to present isolation and loneliness very powerfully. Indeed, the series captures raw and human emotions in a very convincing way. Through these characters we experience trauma and tragedy but through love and unity we also find hope.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #17 – SPIKE LEE

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #17 – SPIKE LEE

Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee has been a prolific actor, director, producer and polemicist for some time now. An ultra talented and outspoken cinematic artist, he has directed thirty fiction and documentary films since his debut feature film She’s Gotta Have It (1986). Plus, all manner of promos, commercials, music videos, short films and television series.

To celebrate his work and the fact he finally got recognised for his amazing filmmaking skills by the Oscars this year, I would like to highlight, five of his finest films that are worth watching and rewatching. An energetic firebrand of a director he has made films in many genres and is a risk-taker in subject, theme and style. Whether you agree with what he has to say he is a filmmaker who is always creating situations and characters who must be heard. Here are some great examples of his cinematic work.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

DO THE RIGHT THING (1986)

Spike Lee’s incendiary look at the day in the life of a Brooklyn neighbourhood finds a variety of characters coping with both rising temperatures and simmering racial tension. Lee’s brilliant script is fully of boldly written and brightly sketched characters presented via a succession of hilarious and dramatic vignettes. The formal excellence on show too from Lee is to be applauded as he uses devices from: music video and cinema to tell his rich stories. The day does not end well as the neighbourhood erupts into tragic violence with Lee proving himself adept at balancing humour, politics and tragedy in equal measure.

MALCOLM X (1992)

Arguably, Malcolm X (1992), is Spike Lee’s most significant and impressive film. It charts the life and death of a man born Malcolm Little who would grow to be anything but. After a troubled childhood he became a drug dealer and criminal in order to survive. Having converted to Islam he rejected his slave roots, going on to become one of the most outspoken voices against black oppression the world has ever seen. The project took decades to come to the screen and Lee and Washington both faced objections from many parties for their involvement. However, the finished film a masterful biography capturing the spirit of an intelligent, passionate and outspoken individual trying to right the wrongs within American society and history. Both Lee and Washington should have won Oscars for their work. The film stands ultimately as a fine cinematic tribute to a true spokesperson for a generation.

HE GOT GAME (1998)

From my basic research Spike Lee is revealed to be a New York Knicks fan. It’s no surprise then his love of basketball really shines through in this mix of sport, crime and personal drama. The story follows young hot-shot basketball prospect, Jesus Shuttlesworth, and the decision he has to make in regard to which college he goes to. On paper it’s Jesus’ choice but in reality he has all manner of people attempting to influence him. These include: his girlfriend, his coach, agents, local gangsters and most pressing of all, his jailed father portrayed by Denzel Washington. Ray Allen is excellent as Jesus and Lee invokes an empathetic character study with lashings of verve and style.

INSIDE MAN (2006)

Spike Lee directs in confident style, with Denzel Washington and Clive Owen both excellent as the lead cop and main criminal. Jodie Foster is brilliant too as a venal fixer brought in by Christopher Plummer’s bank owner. What makes Lee’s direction ping here is his deft handling of a complex structure within the heist genre. Moreover, Lee demonstrates he is able to convey a genre story with impeccable skill and deliver fine screen performances to boot. I especially loved the diversity of the supporting characters and the film oozes a pure New York atmosphere throughout.

BLACKKKLANSMAN (2018)

BlacKKKlansman (2018) is a complex film which expertly mixes many genres, infusing musical, thriller, Blaxploitation, comedy and documentary styles, making it a joy to experience. Spike Lee has never been afraid of experimenting and sometimes his films have not worked because of it. However, with this he succeeded in making one of the best films of 2018. It should have won Best Film Oscar in my view. It is thought-provoking but never preachy for the sake of it and uses humour most often as a weapon to undermine the senseless ideologies of the KKK. Indeed, in ridicule there is hope they may eventually be side-lined to the shadows of history.

HORROR DOUBLE BILL: THE DEAD DON’T DIE (2019) & ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019) REVIEWS

HORROR DOUBLE BILL REVIEWS

THE DEAD DON’T DIE (2019)

Written and directed by: Jim Jarmusch

Cast: Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Caleb Landry-Jones, Danny Glover, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits and many more.

As a big fan of Jim Jarmusch films and a big fan of zombie films I was really looking forward to the Dead Don’t Die (2019). Interestingly though, it neither works as an arthouse horror film or dramatic zombie film. There’s a lot to enjoy, especially with the deadpan wit, but overall the film felt underwhelming to me.

Set in the fictional American town of Centerville, we find out fracking or some similar stupid human being industrial act has caused a global disaster. Suddenly we get a disparate set of townsfolk including hermits, Republican farmers, waitresses, cops, morticians, College kids, all fighting the living dead. The acting led by Adam Driver, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton is the best thing about the film. Yet, while I was chuckling at many of the dry lines of dialogue, the film falls flat with a plodding and disappointing ending. Jarmusch, in his inimitable style essentially undermines the raft of intriguing archetypes he has established with a deconstructive and knowing final act.

I think the main problem is Jarmusch, while paying lip service to the likes of George A. Romero, did not commit fully to making a proper zombie film. This is a comedic parody and satire which lost me when Adam Driver’s character become overly self-reflexive. Jarmusch sets up some great characters to fight the dead but throws them away for clever-clever-Godardian-oh-we’re-in-a-movie references which undermine the comedy, drama and horror. I love Jarmusch’s style and he has made some cult cinema classics. This, alas, is not one of them.

Mark: 6.5 out of 11

ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

Directed and written by: Gary Dauberman

Cast: McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga etc.

Having watched the Dead Don’t Die (2019), I decided to make the most of my Odeon Limitless card and watch the next instalment in a franchise which shows absolutely no sign of dying. I really liked The Conjuring and Insidious franchises, which involved horror experts including James Wan and Leigh Whannell. However, the monstrous creations such as Annabelle and The Nun are pretty thin in terms of credible horror threat and cinematic quality. Having said that this latest film Annabelle 3 film already made $200 million at the box office, so what do I know!?

The story is pretty threadbare, but it concerns Ed and Lorraine Warren’s demonic spirit room which, for some bizarre reason they entrust a teenage babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and their daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace), NOT to open while they’re away. Guess what happens? A friend of Mary Ellen, Daniela (Katie Sarife), opens the spirit room and all hell breaks loose due to Annabelle the evil doll causing all the devilish spirits to rise up and frighten the characters half to death.

I actually liked the cast of young actors here, most notably McKenna Grace, who is very talented. Daniela’s character also had some decent motivation for her ridiculous actions as she sought closure with her dead father. At times I was quite fearful due to some decent jump scares, deadly creatures and creepy use of lighting tricks. However, the whole thing seemed like a cash-in with new monsters being introduced to expand the franchise further. Even fine actors such as Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga seemed happy, laughing all the way to the bank with their book-ended cameos.

Mark: 5.5 out of 11

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)

Directed by: Nicolas Roeg

Produced by: Peter Katz

Screenplay by: Allan Scott and Chris Bryant

Based on the story: Don’t Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier

Cast: Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Renato Scarpa, Massimo Serato, Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania, Sharon Williams etc.

Cinematography: Anthony B. Richmond

Music: Pino Donaggio

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

I watched this classic film again on the big screen at the British Film Institute in a 4K restoration recently. It has not lost any of its cinematic power. Don’t Look Now (1973), indeed, remains one of the greatest films in the horror and thriller genre of all time.

The story is a powerful study of grief and how a couple vainly attempt to overcome the tragic death of their young daughter, Christine. The opening scene is a masterclass in image system building, cinematography, performance and editing. It is an incredible example of pure cinema, establishing the dread and suspense representative throughout the film. It truly is an iconic sequence and a rarely bettered opening cinematic salvo.

A few months later, the bereaved parents, John and Laura Baxter, are in Venice for his architectural work on an ornate church. He seems to be handling Christine’s death by throwing himself into this project. Laura is more sensitive and wears her emotions close to her skin. An encounter with two mature women causes her grief to explode as one, a psychic, states she can see Christine on the “other side.” The girl is passed but happy and smiling in the spirit world. John is sceptical, but Laura is overjoyed there is a chance to make contact with Christine.

After this encounter Christine seems to appear within the Venice tunnels, her footsteps and laughs echoing in the darkness. With a murderer also on the loose in Venice, the creeping fear within the story heightens and the suspense intensifies. With Laura keen to contact Christine again, themes and symbols relating to religion, the afterlife and occult all combine to add to the terror. Moreover, religious iconography, water, the red mac, children, tunnels, mistaken identity, death, past, present and future also add to the rich tapestry of images.

Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland are so natural in their roles. They give beautiful and haunted acting performances as the bereaved couple. The memorable love scene contained within the second act was very controversial at the time. However, the editing, loving tenderness in performance and sumptuous score illuminate a brief moment of reprieve from the prior horror and terror to come.

The ending of the film contains two big reveals which will shake even the most experienced horror genre viewer. Interestingly, when released the film was double-billed with The Wicker Man (1973), so lord knows what audiences were feeling when they left the cinema. Lastly, Nicolas Roeg and Anthony B. Richmond shoot and direct the film with precise and spectacular style. Shadows threaten, water forebodes, and the masque of the red death hangs heavy over proceedings.

With young filmmakers such as Ari Aster causing a stir with contemporary horror films about grief, death and rituals, I would certainly advise you to catch Don’t Look Now (1973) on the biggest screen you can find. It was a masterpiece of cinema when released and remains so today.

Mark: 10.5 out of 11

BBC3 COMEDY REVIEW – THIS COUNTRY (2017 – 2019)

BBC3 COMEDY REVIEW – THIS COUNTRY (2017 – 2019)

Created by: Daisy May Cooper & Charlie Cooper

Written by: Daisy May Cooper & Charlie Cooper

Directed by: Tom George

Producer: Simon Mayhew-Archer

Cast: Daisy May Cooper, Charlie Cooper, Paul Cooper, Paul Chahidi

Original Network: BBC Three

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

“I am Jack’s bitter, failed arsehole!”

In Chuck Palahniuk’s contemporary literary classic Fight Club – and the movie version – the narrator often refers to a third person called, ‘Jack’, to describe inner rage. It’s a nifty narrative device and kind of a foot-in-the-door to explain my feelings when watching BBC3 mockumentary series This Country. Because having watched the two series and extended one-off special I have to say I didn’t get the joke and I’m thinking it must be me and not the show.

Perhaps it’s my ongoing sobriety? I mean, while the acting is sublime, I could not work out why this comedy series has received so much critical praise. Moreover, I could not work out how it has won several Royal Television Society and BAFTA awards. I will perhaps have to accept I am wrong and know nothing about comedy and the television industry. I am just a bitter, failed arsehole.

This Country is a rural sitcom in the mockumentary style. Thus, first and foremost, while it’s nearly impossible to achieve originality in TV and film, the show is derivative of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s classic comedy, The Office. While Gervais was influenced by the Christopher Guest-led ensemble genius of, This is Spinal Tap (1984), one cannot escape the fact This Country is a weaker clone of The Office.

Episodes revolve around an accurate rendition of rural life; somewhere not too far from Swindon, Wiltshire. Comedy and drama derives from issues relating to: boredom, crime, unemployment, failed romances, general village idiot-types and very dysfunctional families. The main protagonists are Kerry and Lee ‘Kurtan’ Mucklowe; cousins in the show but portrayed incisively by siblings, Daisy and Charlie Cooper. In fact, the actors are way more likeable than the characters they portray. Kerry and Kurtan are so moronic and obnoxious at times it was difficult to empathise with them.

It is a testament to the precise conveyance of village life that the programme felt believable as an actual documentary. Unfortunately, for me, the pace was quite slow and, while I guess that was the point, there are only so many dry pauses-for-comedic-effect you can experience without getting bored. Similarly, with the “realistic” pace, punchlines often felt very spaced out, with a reliance on the accents to get the laughs.

There are a number of strong episodes including, Kurtan’s attempts to win a scarecrow contest and also when he worked on a building site. Yet, certain episodes never really went anywhere as character development also suffered inertia in the narrative. Having said that, there is some excellent writing. Daisy’s doomed relationship with her bastard of a father, Martin, does lend a depth and pathos to the narrative. But this is more dramatic than funny overall. Then again, I accept that this is just the opinion of a bitter, sober and over-analytical arsehole and some may find this the funniest show on television.

Mark: 7 out of 11

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’86 (2010)

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’86 (2010)

Created by: Shane Meadows

Directors: Tom Harper, Shane Meadows

Series Producers: Mark Herbert, Derrin Schlesinger, Rebekah Wray-Rogers

Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Stephen Graham, Andrew Shim, Stephen Graham, Andrew Ellis, Rosamund Hanson, Danielle James, Kriss Dosanjh, Chanel Cresswell, Johnny Harris, Michael Socha, George Newton, Jo Hartley etc.

Cinematography: Danny Cohen

Music by: Ludovico Einaudi

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Having watched Shane Meadows classic British film, This is England (2006), again of late – review can be found here – I thought it would be fascinating to catch up with the subsequent television series via ALL 4. Thus, Meadows and co-writer, Jack Thorne re-introduce the gritty lives of beloved and some not-so-beloved working-class characters, within the satanic Midland mills of England.

I would strongly advise, if interested in watching this drama, you begin with the film first. That way you can familiarise and experience the events and characters of the show in the correct order. Indeed, this classic series works best when you watch the film and subsequent series, This is England ’88 (2011) and This is England ’90 (2014) as a continuous whole. That way you get the full power of Shane Meadow’s vision for the characters and the period it is set.

The series for me is an engrossing mix of nostalgia, comedy, drama and socio-political exploration. Opening some three years after the original film, we re-join the “gang” going about their lives attempting to breach the difficult gap between youth and adulthood. After the tragic events of 1983, Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) has lost contact with the group but over the course of the four episodes he integrates back in. The others are either unemployed or in Woody’s (Joe Gilgun) case employed and attempting some form of upward mobility. Moreover, Lol/Lorraine (Vicky McClure) and Woody are planning to get married. However, the return of Lol’s father (Johnny Harris) brings back painful memories for her and his presence gives the series the villain of the piece.

The structure of the series echoes that of the film. We start with mostly lighter episodes containing a comedic flavour. The seeds of drama, such as Woody backing out of the wedding at the altar, are planted early on. Nonetheless, the early episodes contain some really funny scenes. These include Shaun’s run-in with the local bullies and a party which gets completely out of hand too. There’s much in the way of bawdy and sexual humour, especially when Gadget is used as a sex toy by local divorcee, Trudy. These scenes make us feel safe and warm, yet we know that trouble isn’t far away for the characters.

Once again, the soundtrack is a fantastic mix of eras with a classic collection of 1960s, 1970s and 1980s rock, ska, punk and pop music. Similarly, the fashion of the characters is a postmodern melange of punk, mod and new wave looks. Politics and sport are also thrown into the mix with the 1986 “Hand of God” World Cup dominating the backdrop of the series.

As the characters and era are established and some laughs have been mined, the drama really kicks in. Lol and Woody’s relationship breakdown causes her to make some poor decisions, as she capitulates in the stress of her father’s return. Vicky McClure is fantastic as Lol. You can feel the trauma in her whole being during the scenes with Johnny Harris’ evil patriarch. The culmination of their conflict is one of the most harrowing scenes I have ever witnessed on a television screen.

Overall, This is England ’86 is full of complex emotions, humour and drama. There’s a real honesty to the characters who are just trying to live their lives in the Midlands, despite all the disadvantages it brings. Ultimately, they are striving to be decent but find their loyalties tested by friends, family and their lack of opportunities. Amidst the humour and camaraderie of the series we get some brutal and unforgettable moments of drama which remain long after the credits have rolled. The politicians of Westminster may not care and want to forget about such lives, but Shane Meadows won’t let us forget, delivering a powerful character chorus of laughter, tears and togetherness.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11