HARRIET (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

HARRIET (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons

Produced by: Debra Martin Chase, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Gregory Allen Howard

Screenplay: Kasi Lemmons, Gregory Allen Howard

Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Janelle Monae, Clarke Peters, Zackary Momoh, Vondie Curtis-Hall etc.

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**



With $100 million being spent on the film Midway (2019), which I haven’t seen, and $160 million being spent on The Irishman (2019), which I have, it’s kind of shame that a way bigger story like that of Harriet Tubman is only afforded a mid-budget tribute adaptation. Because, even if this story is only 10% true, Harriet Tubman’s character deserves so much more. In fact, I am shocked that it has taken this long for her achievements to reach the cinema screen. Especially because we had to endure another rendition of Lincoln (2012), in Spielberg’s recent ponderous epic.

That isn’t to say that old Abraham isn’t deserving of praise. I’m just an ignorant Englander, but Harriet Tubman, as represented by Cynthia Erivo’s sterling performance and Kasi Lemmon’s and Gregory Allen Howard’s fizzing screenplay, is a tour-de-force encapsulation of empowerment. That isn’t to say that the film isn’t without flaws. Indeed, this is an amazing story which is professionally told. However, it seems to have been short-changed on budget and marketing possibilities here in the U.K. I mean Frozen 2 (2019) is on about a million screens, whereas I struggled to find one for this film.



Araminta “Minty” Ross was born in 1820 and into the slavery that blighted the “United” States. Eventually this humanitarian stain would lead to civil war in the U.S.A and the film charts Minty’s legacy from slavery to escape to freedom fighter, during the build up to this fierce conflict. Her character is one of guts, determination, fight and she also has the gift for second sight. Indeed, if the period setting wasn’t so well evoked, you could be mistaken for feeling like the film was using the beats of a superhero origins film.

But that is what Harriet Tubman becomes; a superhero and saviour to her family, friends, slaves and the abolitionist movement as a whole. A superhero needs a nemesis though and white slavers have now become the new Nazis. They are the bad guys and villains we boo and hiss and hate. Here they are represented by Joe Alwyn’s Gideon Brodess. While not as charismatically dastardly as Tarantino’s Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), he remains a benign, matter-of-fact vision of evil. Perhaps, the brutality could have been heightened, but this is more of an inspirational and empowering tale, rather than one that wallows in the misery and genius of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave (2013).

Overall, the film is a fine tribute to an incredible human being. There are some issues in the telling of the story. It feels rushed like a “greatest hits” package. I mean I just wish they could have developed a longer television series for this character or given it the running time Harriet’s plaudits deserved. Plus, some of the direction is a little flat in places. Where suspense and fear could have been ratcheted up a bit, in certain scenes Lemmons rushes through them. Nevertheless, I was thoroughly absorbed by the subject matter, themes and character throughout. Special praise goes to star-in-the-making Cynthia Erivo too. Via Harriet Tubman’s incredible actions Erivo has broken out in more ways than one.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



JUDY AND PUNCH (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

JUDY AND PUNCH (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Written and Directed by Mirrah Foulkes

Produced by: Michele Bennett, nash Edgerton, Danny Gabai

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Benedict Hardie, Gillian Jones, Virginia Gay etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



If you’re not aware of the good, old-fashioned Punch and Judy puppet show, then it was basically a seaside attraction that has its origins in 16th century Italian commedia dell’arte. Over the decades it thrived and would move from marionette stylings to a mobile glove puppet show. Punch would batter various characters including his wife, Judy, a crocodile, a police officer, a dog, a blind man and the Devil. He would be a very bad parent; often drunk and violent in charge of his own baby. Incredibly, this rather unsavoury character would become very popular with children, appearing at carnivals, fairs and coastal shows.

With Disney cornering the market adapting myths, fairy tales and Theme Park rides over the years, I’m surprised they did not have a go at Punch and Judy. How they would reconcile this brightly coloured, but despicable character would have been fascinating. Yet, it is Australian filmmaker Mirrah Foulkes, who has written and directed this arthouse drama starring Mia Wasikowska as the harassed Judy, and Damon Herriman as the drunken puppeteer. Set during the Dark Ages in the town of Seaside, the plot follows the traditional narrative of the original puppet show. Except, this time Judy is very pissed off and about to go medieval on Punch’s arse!



Part revenge thriller, part-black comedy and part mythical origins drama, Judy and Punch (2019) is full of fantastic and gritty detail. The reconstruction of the theatrical puppet shows are brilliant, and evocation of the era is very realistic. The film performs well as a savage denouncement of toxic masculinity in the #MeToo era. But, despite the excellent performances from Wasikowska and Herriman, the characters were a bit too one-dimensional to really grip me. Yet, Wasikowska is especially memorable as Judy, eliciting an inner strength to overcome the cruelty of her husband and the town she lives in.

Lastly, the story also felt a little flat and lacked surprise in places, but that may be because the trailer gave a lot of the narrative away. It’s also because I am very familiar with the original Punch and Judy show, as I watched loads of them as a kid. Having said that, Mirrah Foulkes has delivered a stylish film curiosity which is destined for cult status. Moreover, she deserves much praise for attempting to give a children’s puppet show story depth. The visual iconography is powerful, as is the exploration of themes relating to domestic violence, child neglect, witch hunts; and the exclusion of the outsider or other by petty townsfolk mentality.

Mark: 8 out of 11



THE GOOD LIAR (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

THE GOOD LIAR (2019): MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Bill Condon

Produced by: Bill Condon, Greg Yolen

Written by: Jeffrey Hatcher – Based on The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle

Cast: Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Russell Tovey, Jim Carter etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



Bill Condon is an interesting filmmaker. His movie choices oscillate between big budget Hollywood productions such as Beauty and the Beast (2017) and mid-budget, character-led productions like Mr Holmes (2015) and his latest film The Good Liar (2019). This is, by my reckoning, his fourth collaboration with the living legend that is Ian McKellen and casting him alongside Helen Mirren is a masterstroke. In this story we get a whole different kind of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ narrative.

McKellen portrays charismatic septuagenarian, Roy Courtnay. He meets Helen Mirren’s widow, Betty McLeish, and they begin a friendly courtship. As the romance blossoms, her grandson Steven (Russell Tovey), begins to suspect Roy is after more than companionship. I won’t spoil the twisting plot, but safe to say the story develops in a compelling fashion. Indeed, I love a good con-artist thriller and McKellen and Mirren’s chemistry on-screen was particularly impressive.

Overall, there’s much to enjoy about The Good Liar (2019). I love it when London is used as a main location, as I will see places I know and have been to. I have to say that the twists in the story, particularly one second act reveal are very well handled too. By the end you could see where the story was going, but not the why and how. My only gripes were some of the banking machinations were a tad sloppy and the final reveal did not necessarily connect all the dots successfully. Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable thriller with an excellent cast and solid direction. It does not have the scintillating scripts con-artist films such as The Sting (1973) and Nine Queens (2000) do, but not many do.

Mark: 8 out of 11



NETFLIX ORIGINAL DRAMA REVIEWS: UNBELIEVABLE (2019) & WHEN THEY SEE US (2019)

NETFLIX ORIGINAL DRAMA REVIEWS

Netflix produce a lot of original content, with the quality of the films sometimes a bit questionable. However, their limited series are usually really good. This is especially proved by two recent drama releases, both based on true events and questionable law enforcement procedures. In terms of production values, drama and power, they are of the highest quality. So, here are my reviews of Unbelievable (2019) and When They See Us (2019).

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



UNBELIEVABLE (2019)

Created & written by: Susannah Grant, Ayelet Waldman, Michael Chabon etc.

Directors: Lisa Cholodenko, Michael Dinner, Susannah Grant etc.

Main Cast: Toni Collette, Merritt Weaver, Kaitlyn Dever, Eric Lange, Elizabeth Marvel, Danielle Macdonald, Dale Dickey etc.



Based on a Pulitzer prize winning news article, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape”, this superb police procedural drama charts events which occurred in Washington and Colorado between 2008 and 2011. A brutal rapist is attacking women in their homes and leaving absolutely no trace of evidence. Police in Washington are so stumped they are not even sure one of their victims, Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever), is telling the truth.

The series is carefully structured between Marie’s ordeals in 2008 and the subsequent 2011 police investigation led by Detective Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) and Detective Karen Duvall (Merritt Weaver). Marie is so appallingly treated by the Washington police that you cannot help but sympathise with her. Her character is one of neglect and tragedy.

The Colorado investigation occurring in 2011 is the total opposite of the Washington one. Rasmussen and Duvall may be different in personality, yet they are both determined and fierce in their pursuit of this heinous perpetrator. Collette and Weaver make a formidable team on screen and there is much sensitivity toward the victims of these crimes within an excellent script.

Ultimately, this is a thoughtful, suspenseful and, at times, heartfelt drama. It both highlights the shocking nature of sexual crimes against women and the very different ways different police departments handle such situations. I myself was continually moved emotionally by the events and feel there is no place in this world for people who commit such wicked crimes.

Mark: 9 out of 11



WHEN THEY SEE US (2019)

Directed by: Ava Duvernay

Written by: Ava Duvernay, Julian Breece, Robin Swicord, Attica Locke, Michael Starrbury

Cast: Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Ethan Herisse, Jharrel Jerome, Marquis Rodriguez, Jovan Adepo, Chris Chalk, Justin Cunningham, Freddy Miyares, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, Michael K. Williams



If Unbelievable (2019) illustrates both the positive and negative results of police investigations, When They See Us (2019), paints an even more incredulous series of events with regard to the law. The drama series concerns a vicious sexual attack in 1989 on Trisha Meili, a jogger in Central Park. The police acted swiftly to arrest the alleged perpetrators. Satisfied that the five black male suspects they had in custody committed the crimes, the police, urged on by New York prosecutor, Linda Fairstein use unscrupulous tactics to gain their “confessions.”

The way these characters — Kevin Richardson, Anton McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise and Raymond Santana — are treated by the New York Police Department is only the beginning of the cruel injustice they face. From the initial crime, to the arrests, to the court case and subsequent aftermath, the drama puts you at the heart of one of the biggest travesties ever committed. The series expertly shows how the legal system fails these individuals, their families and the victim too.

Beautifully written, acted and directed, this is an incredible work of television. It combines both a fascinating style and a brutal vision of the struggle of these characters experience. The performances from the younger and older actors is excellent, although special mention must go to Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise. In ‘Part Four’, which shows his incarceration, Jerome’s portrayal oozes tragedy and solitary pathos. Indeed, the acting is so good Jerome would deservedly win an Emmy award.

Ava DuVernay, having taken a break from hard-hitting drama by directing fantasy film A Wrinkle in Time (2018), has produced another powerful and socially relevant work. These events may have occurred in 1989, but their impact echoes across the decades. The treatment by the New York Police of these black youths is also a microcosm of how minorities are treated in general by the U.S. justice system. By highlighting the tragedy of this case, DuVernay and her production team have created a landmark work of TV drama. One which is both incredibly vital and emotionally unforgettable. Be warned: there will be tears.

Mark: 10 out of 11


ALL 4 TV REVIEW – DERRY GIRLS (2018 – 2019) – SEASONS 1 & 2

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – DERRY GIRLS (2018 – 2019) – SEASONS 1 & 2

Created and written by: Lisa McGee

Directed by: Michael Lennox

Cast: Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Louisa Harland, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Dylan Llewellyn, Nicola Coughlan, Tara Lynne O’Neill, Siobhan McSweeney, Tommy Tiernan, Ian McElhinney, Kathy Keira Clarke etc.

Original Network: CHANNEL 4 – (Available on ALL 4 and Netflix)

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



There have been many dramas over the years on the stage and screen about the “Troubles” in Ireland. For decades, civil war had divided the Catholic and Protestant people of Ireland, precipitated by the English occupation of Northern Ireland. Many lives were lost in the fighting and the tragedies. It unsurprisingly drew attention from writers, artists and dramatists. Recently though Lisa McGee created and wrote a comedy called Derry Girls, which was also set during this era; and very funny it is too.

Set in Derry (also known as Londonderry) in the 1990’s, Derry Girls introduces us to four teenage girls, their families and friends during these difficult times. The main characters are: the vocal and passionate Erin (Saoirse-Monica-Jackson); the voice of reason Clare (Nicola Coughlan), often crude, anti-authoritarian, Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell); and detached eccentric Orla (Louise Harland). Joining them is James (Dylan Llewellyn), an English kid who has to join the girls’ school for fear of what the Irish boys may do.



As well as the British army’s occupation of Derry and the divide between Protestants and Catholics providing a backdrop to the girls’ everyday lives, they also manage to find themselves in loads of other trouble too. Episodes centred around: family squabbles, romance, sex, music, drugs, school projects, religious artefacts and holidays create a relatable familiarity to many episodes. The events and energy evoking the girls’ school days reminded me especially of another Channel Four hit comedy, The Inbetweeners.

While the performances by our lead protagonists are very good, scenes are often stolen by the older supporting cast. Siobhan McSweeney as the deadpan and jaded Sister Michael is really funny. As is one of my favourite stand-up comedians, Tommy Tiernan. His downtrodden Dad tries to keep the peace, but often finds himself at the butt of abuse from Ian McElhinney’s contemptuous remarks. Nonetheless, the humour is always good-natured and not nasty, especially toward faith or authority figures.

Overall, Derry Girls is a fast-paced and very funny situation comedy. It’s well written, acted and directed comedy, with loads of fun and eccentric characters to enjoy. While not overtly political in its representation of the “Troubles”, it uses that situation intelligently as part of the narrative and wider social context. Above all else, however, it shows through many fine comedic episodes, that despite the ongoing divide within the country, humans will strive to overcome adversity through friendship, family, community and humour.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



SIX OF THE BEST #21 – MAURICIO POCHETTINO’S GREATEST SPURS’ GAMES!

SIX OF THE BEST #21 – MAURICIO POCHETTINO’S GREATEST GAMES!


Obviously, this blog is mainly a film and television review site, but from time to time I write about my support of Tottenham Hotspur FC. Usually, I do an annual review of the season, however, I am now writing this short piece because we have let our manager, Mauricio Pochettino, go.

Now, we have a new manager in the legendary serial-trophy winner, Jose Mourinho. To be honest, I am not surprised at Pochettino’s dismissal because, notwithstanding the incredible Champions League run, our Premier League form has been really bad since the beginning of 2019. Most recently we have been thrashed 7-2 by Bayern Munich in the CL, embarrassed 3-0 by Brighton in the League; and dumped out of the League Cup by Colchester. Something probably had to give.



Yet, Pochettino was one of our greatest managers and we played some exhilarating football during his five-year tenure. We finished second and third in the League, but alas, we did not win any trophies. It remains to be seen whether Mourinho will change that and redeem the miserable end he had at his last job with Manchester United. I certainly hope so. I would love it if we won something!

In tribute to Pochettino and his staff I would like to pick out SIX of the BEST games we had during their reign. We had many more highlights, but these are six which stand out for me. Thank you, Mauricio Pochettino, for all you did at Spurs and good luck in the future.



CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SEMI-FINAL v AJAX – 3-3 WIN ON AWAY GOALS – APRIL 2019

Dead and buried and facing a 3-0 aggregate defeat at half-time, Spurs were certainly out barring a miracle. That miracle occurred by way of Lucas Moura’s second half hat-trick and a last gasp injury time winner. Cue incredible scenes from Spurs players, coaching staff and fans. Unbelievable! Probably one of the best games I have ever seen Spurs involved in for sheer drama alone!



PREMIER LEAGUE v EVERTON – 6-2 AWAY WIN – DECEMBER 2018

Our luck laden run in the Champions League aside, this pulsating victory over Everton at Goodison Park was probably our best performance of last season. Indeed, goals from Son (2), Kane (2), Eriksen and Alli produced one of the last great away wins in the League for Pochettino’s team. Since then we have struggled badly away from home.



CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GROUP STAGE v REAL MADRID -3 -1 WIN – NOVEMBER 2017

I was at this game and Wembley was rocking that night. We played an absolute blinder against the legendary Real Madrid with Cristiano Ronaldo in their team. Dele Alli scored twice as we drew Real Madrid on, and then struck on the break for a 3-1 home win.



PREMIER LEAGUE v MANCHESTER UNITED – 2-1 WIN – MAY 2017

Not only did we secure second place in the Premier League with this win against Manchester United, it was also our final game at White Hart Lane. A party atmosphere ensued in the ground and a fine performance was a fitting finale to life in the old stadium.



PREMIER LEAGUE v MANCHESTER CITY – 4-1 WIN – SEPTEMBER 2015

During Pochettino’s managerial reign one of the joys came from our aggressive pressing game. At times we were hungry and virtually unplayable. Overwhelming Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City side 4-1 was one such game. Finding ourselves 1-0 down and being outplayed, we showed great energy and resilience to batter City in the end.



PREMIER LEAGUE v CHELSEA – 5-3 WIN – JANUARY 2015

This was the game that made me sit up and notice the change Pochettino had brought to the Spurs team. We feverishly pressed and tore Chelsea apart, scoring five goals and creating even more chances too. Harry Kane was outstanding and won man of the match. After which Kane never looked back and is now one of the world’s greatest strikers.




LE MANS ’66 (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

LE MANS ’66 (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: James Mangold

Produced by: Peter Chermin, Jenno Topping, James Mangold

Written by: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller

Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, John Bernthal, Catriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe etc.

Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



Le Mans ’66 (2019) — AKA Ford versus Ferrari (2019) — is a historical sports biopic centred on the desire by Ford Motors to take on and beat Ferrari during the legendary Le Mans 24-hour race. Now, I’m not a massive fan of motor racing itself. I mean I admire the sports men and women who compete, but it’s not one of my favourite sports. Having said that, due to the speed, visuals, action and rivalry involved, car racing lends itself to tremendous cinematic possibilities. Films such as Senna (2010), Rush (2013) and the hilarious comedy, Talladega Nights (2006), are testament to that.

Arguably the best sports films, e.g. Rocky (1976), Raging Bull (1980), The Wrestler (2008), A League of Their Own (1992), Remember the Titans (2000), Field of Dreams (1992), Moneyball (2011) to name a few, are not just about the sport, but the heroes, flawed characters or underdogs seeking to achieve victory or overcome adversity. Le Mans ’66 (2019) follows a similar pattern, but here the cars and racing scenes are very much to the fore. This is where the film really hits the mark with incredible direction, cinematography, visuals and editing style on the road and racetrack. Moreover, the costumes, locations, cars and rendition of the 1960’s era are all perfectly captured.



Off the track, the characters and emotional aspects are pretty strong too. They are led by the tremendous casting of Christian Bale as the driver, Ken Miles, and Matt Damon as salesman and car designer, Carroll Shelby. Bale is one of my favourite actors, and here he eschews masks and flashy prosthetics from previous roles, to present a volatile eccentric who is also an incredible mechanic and driver. Further, the ever-reliable ‘everyman’ actor, Matt Damon, produces another likeable and energetic performance as Shelby. The double act repartee between the obsessive Brummie, Miles, and smooth-talking Shelby, allows the narrative to cruise along splendidly.

One of the films’ weakness is that arguably the stakes aren’t particularly high. Of course, racing drivers are at risk of crashing, burning and losing their lives, so there is drama there. But, in essence, the filmmakers are asking for us to root for a billion-dollar company in Ford, against another big company in Ferrari. The excellent script however, by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth cleverly positions Miles and Shelby as outsiders attempting to overcome the obstacles put in their way by Ford’s corporate suits. These money-men are ably represented by Josh Lucas, Tracy Letts and the more sympathetic, John Bernthal. Ultimately, Miles and Shelby are car purists and technicians interested in the drive for perfection, rather than marketing, image and profits.

Overall, the film could have been trimmed for pace, ironically, in terms of running time. However, Le Mans ’66 (2019) works as a fine tribute to both Miles and Shelby’s talents and as a cinematic extravaganza. Indeed, James Mangold and his production team have produced some of the best driving scenes I have ever seen on the screen. What the film lacks in deep emotional impact is more than made up for by the kinetic velocity throughout, putting the film firmly in the leading pack of sports films.


Mark: 8.5 out of 11