Category Archives: Amazon Prime

AMAZON FILM REVIEW – I CARE A LOT (2020)

AMAZON FILM REVIEW – I CARE A LOT (2020)

Directed by: J Blakeson

Produced by: Teddy Schwarzman, Ben Stillman, Michael Heimler, J Blakeson

Written by: J Blakeson

Cast: Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Chris Messina, Macon Blair, Alicia Witt, Damian Young, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Dianne Wiest, etc.

Music by: Marc Canham

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



Strange that this highly entertaining and acid-humoured thriller should be a Netflix release overseas, but in the U.K. released via Amazon Prime. Anyway, streaming platform aside was I Care A Lot (2020) any good? Firstly, let’s talk about genre. Do you enjoy watching films without any redeemable or essentially heroic characters? Do you enjoy spending time with criminals? Whether they are the charismatic kind like those in Goodfellas (1990) or Layercake (2004), or romantic kind in Drive (2011), or ultra-ambitious types such as Lou Bloom in neo-noir masterpiece, Nightcrawler (2014). If you do, then you will both love and hate Rosamund Pike’s confident sociopath, Marla Grayson!

J Blakeson’s razor-sharp and barb-cracking screenplay opens with Marla’s brutally honest statement of intent. She wants it all and doesn’t care who she crushes to get it. Unlike, Lou Bloom, who was on his knees broke when we meet him, Marla already has a successful, legal but morally repugnant business going on. Marla and her associate and partner, Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) run a successful ‘Guardian Angel’ corporation. Their modus operandi is to exploit the elderly and tie them up in legal knots to asset-strip their money, properties and belongings. Complicit Doctors and retirement home directors are also in on the con, while the most frightening thing is that the American justice system assists the process. If I had had a gun, I would have shot the television after forty minutes, such was my anger toward Marla and her sordid business practices. Then she inadvertently makes a fatal mistake in choosing her next mark, Dianne Wiest’s wealthy “cherry,” Jennifer Peterson. That is a rich retiree with NO relatives or children. Marla thinks it is Christmas come early – it has not!


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Without wishing to give away too much away, Peter Dinklage’s rich businessman, Roman, enters the narrative and Marla’s devious planning suddenly comes under threat. Here the film moves from spot-on satire into extremely generic territory losing the dynamism of the first half of the film. Indeed, the first hour of I Care A Lot (2020) was a fantastic critique of the care system in the USA, and no doubt across the world. In blood-boiling fashion the film tells us that getting old is extremely expensive. One can work all one’s life and then see your savings and properties ripped away by expensive health care, homes for the elderly, pharmaceutical companies jacking up their products, greedy carers and pernicious lawyers. Marla Grayson is a grinning symbol of this corrupt system and nothing will get in her way – not even Roman and his associates. This is perfectly encapsulated in a fine scene where Marla ruthlessly negotiates with Chris Messina’s slippery lawyer. But the suited shark is just the starter as Roman is now on the warpath.

Peter Dinklage again proves what a brilliant actor he is as Roman. He is extremely good at rage in many scenes. His and Marla’s ongoing battle comes to a head in the final act, and when he turns the tables on her I was so happy that she would get her comeuppance. I felt maybe the direction lost some focus in the second half of the film as J Blakeson arguably felt the audience should somehow side with Marla as she finds her life under threat. I can safely say that I wanted her to die in the most painful way possible. Because unlike the ‘Driver’ (Ryan Gosling) in Drive (2011), Marla Grayson is utterly beyond redemption. Not that she would care what anybody else thought! Overall, that’s why I found the film incredibly entertaining. It may have lost sharpness when it moved from socio-political tubthumping into more standard crime film territory, it continually made me feel proper emotion, anger mainly. Sure, it may be slightly overlong, but J Blakeson crams a lot of twists and shocks into into, I Care A Lot (2020).

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #12: THE DAY SHALL COME (2019) + SIX OF THE BEST #29 – CHRIS MORRIS THINGS YOU MUST WATCH!

THE DAY SHALL COME (2020) – FILM REVIEW

Directed by:  Chris Morris

Produced by: Iain Canning, Anne Carey, Emile Sherman

Written by: Chris Morris, Jesse Armstrong

Cast: Marchánt Davis, Anna Kendrick, Danielle Brooks, Kayvan Novak, Denis O’Hare, Jim Gaffigan etc.



Chris Morris is a bona fide genius. A natural prankster, a fearless satirist, writer, actor, producer, director and enfant terrible of radio, television and more recently cinema. He has been suspended by Greater London Radio and by the BBC and described by the Daily Mail as “the most loathed man on TV.” Which to me is a highly positive thing. Moreover, Morris is genuinely one of my cultural heroes and certainly one of the funniest artists to have graced the planet.

Morris’ latest cinema release is called The Day Shall Come (2019), and given I am such a fan of his work it did not make any sense why I have only just seen the film. Perhaps I had seen some negative reviews or maybe it was released at the same time as the London Film Festival in 2019? Thus, it meant I could not find time to watch it. Anyway, the story is somewhat of a mixed bag and definitely not as focussed or blisteringly funny as Morris’ prior directorial masterwork, Four Lions (2010). Centring on the idiotic efforts of the F.B.I’s terrorist taskforce to bring down targets that threaten United States security, operative Kendra Glack (Anna Kendrick) and her boss, Andy Mudd (Denis O’Hare) pull focus on Marchánt Davis as Moses Al Shabaz, an impoverished preacher, running the hapless ‘Star of Six’ commune. Moses, who is possibly bi-polar, is a likeable fool with delusions of grandeur, however, the FBI decide he is a threat and try to fit him up in many farcical scenes of entrapment.

There are funny moments and some delightfully bizarre dialogue exchanges. Furthermore, Davis excels in his role as the eccentric Moses and the under-used Danielle Brooks brings much needed humanity to her role as his wife. However, the film is full of mostly unlikeable and unlikely characters, meaning Morris’ satirical bullets rarely hit their target. Kendrick is miscast and while there are a few laugh-out-loud moments throughout, I just felt like the script was continually trying to squeeze square blocks into round holes. I even watched it twice to see if maybe I had missed something first time round. Goes to show even for a creative magician such as Chris Morris, certain tricks don’t always come off.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11


SIX OF THE BEST #29 – CHRIS MORRIS THINGS YOU MUST WATCH!

NEWSREADER: The main stories so far: Jimmy Savile drops dead at the Stoke Mandeville Boxing Day bash—but the patients are far from mourning.

CORRESPONDENT: The majority, if not all of them, are extremely relieved that he’s now dead, although I suspect that some of them will be sorry that he didn’t suffer a great deal more.

— The Chris Morris Music Show, 16 December 1994


While The Day Shall Come (2019) does not reach the dizzy heights of Chris Morris’ best output, it is still a highly thought-provoking critique of American law enforcement practices. Arguably though it misses more marks than it hits. Here are six of the best things that Chris Morris has been involved in and I urge you to try and find them on a streaming platform or on DVD or online somewhere. If you love obsidian black and controversial comedy then Chris Morris is your man!

CHRIS MORRIS RADIO SHOWS!

Morris’ creative career really formed on radio. He worked at Radio Bristol, Greater London Radio and made the The Chris Morris Radio Show on BBC Radio 1. He gained notoriety and was suspended from the BBC for announcing Conservative politician Michael Heseltine was dead. In fact, fake obituaries were one of his early favourite pranks. Later, Morris joined forces with another comedy legend, Armando Iannucci, to help create the seminal spoof news show called, On the Hour. The rest they say is history.




THE DAY TODAY (1994)

The Day Today was a TV comedy show that parodied current affairs programmes. Broadcast in 1994 on BBC2, it was created by Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris and an adaptation of the radio programme On the Hour. The genius and surreal satire The Day Today found Morris winning the 1994 British Comedy Award for Best Newcomer. The rest of the cast including Steve Coogan, Rebecca Front, Doon Mackichan, Patrick Marber and David Schneider were incredibly good too. I wonder what happened to them?!


BRASS EYE (1997)

Chris Morris took the ferocious journalistic character he created on The Day Today (1994) into Brass Eye (1997), with one of the most scurrilous and controversial works of television ever. Once again, Morris was lampooning current affairs shows and the often hysterical way the media sensationalise issues such as drugs, sex and crime. Morris fooled many celebrities and politicians during the filming of Brass Eye (1997), getting them to commit to absurd, but fake media campaigns. A 2001 special was planned but cancelled due to fear of further controversy and litigation against Channel 4.


JAM (2000)

Ever pushing the boundaries of radio and television genre form and style, Morris’ cult sketch show Jam (2000), is a truly dark and twisted experience. Unsettling and bleak it presented unconnected and surreal sketches, unfolding over an ambient soundtrack. Buried late at night on the Channel 4 schedule it was incredibly striking in style and content with a superb cast including: Amelia Bullimore, Julia Davis, Mark Heap and Kevin Eldon.


NATHAN BARLEY (2005)

This absurdist comedy found Morris working with another comedy genius in Charlie Brooker. Here they took inspiration from Brooker’s TVGoHome – a 2001 E4 TV show parodying television – as the focus of a fly-on-the-wall documentary called Cunt. With energetic fool and influencer Nathan Barley as the lead idiot, the sitcom delivered six delicious episodes which skewered hipster characters and pretentious Shoreditch-based culture. The cast included: Julian Barratt, Ben Whishaw, Richard Ayoade, Nicholas Burns, Claire Keelan etc. and Nathan Barley is a highly recommended comedy that seems as vital now as it did in 2005.


FOUR LIONS (2010)

Oh my word! How the hell this film did NOT get banned is something that still shocks me. It is one of the the funniest and controversial films ever about the darkest subjects, namely terrorism and radicalised Jihadis. How Morris and his co-writers, Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, managed to successfully satirise, demonise and humanise Muslim fundamentalists is beyond belief. The wicked script and unbelievably good performances by Riz Ahmed, Nigel Lindsay and Kayvan Novak help make Four Lions (2010) one of the finest socio-political comedies of all time. It’s hilarious and actually moving at the end as I pitied, recoiled and felt for these poor misguided fools. Deservedly, Chris Morris won the award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer at the BAFTAS in 2011.


BBC FILM REVIEWS: SMALL AXE ANTHOLOGY (2020)

BBC FILM REVIEWS: ‘SMALL AXE’ ANTHOLOGY (2020)

Director by: Steve McQueen

Producers by: Anita Overland, Michael Elliot

Writers: Steve McQueen, Courtia Newland, Alastair Siddons

Composer: Mica Levi

Cinematographers: Shabier Kirchner

Original Network: BBC and available on Amazon Prime.

*** CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS ***



Small Axe could also be described in the vein of ‘Small Acts’. Dramatized and rich slices-of-life that reflect significant historical figures and events from black culture in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.  MANGROVE (2020) was the first in a set of five films devised, written and directed by Steve McQueen. It premiered at the London Film Festival in 2020, before being released on the BBC television network. I reviewed the film MANGROVE (2020) here. Such was its power, the searing drama would make my list of favourite films of 2020.

Ultra-talented McQueen was not satisfied with one amazing work. He, his incredible cast and production team also delivered four more high quality dramas called LOVERS ROCK (2020), RED WHITE & BLUE (2020), ALEX WHEATLE (2020) and EDUCATION (2020). I had the privilege of viewing these films via the BBC over the New Year period and provide short reviews here.


LOVERS ROCK (2020)

Main Cast: Micheal Ward, Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Shaniqua Okwok, Ellis George, etc.

As well as alluding to the main love story within the narrative, Lovers Rock also makes specific reference to a style of reggae music with a romantic sound and content. Set over one night during a London-based birthday party, the film opens with the setting up of a sound system, making of food and preparation of the large house. While mostly an ensemble piece, the story narrows its focus on prospective lovers, Franklyn and Martha, who fall for each other amidst the thumping bass and hearty vocals of the music. Surely, Lovers Rock is a testament to the power of harmony and community and love. There are brief moments of drama to spike the party mood, but ultimately this is about the joy of being alive and drunk on song and romance. Lastly, it’s arguably as close to feelgood as McQueen’s intense filmmaking style gets in this amazing anthology.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


LOVERS ROCK (2020)

RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2020)

Main Cast: John Boyega, Steve Toussaint, Neil Maskell, Joy Richardson, etc.

As well as evoking the socio-political landscape of the era so well, the costumes, hair, make-up and location work feel so authentic in all of the Small Axe films. Such authenticity serves the stories well, as does the virtually perfect casting too. Fresh from his energetic portrayals of Finn in the Star Wars trilogy, John Boyega’s performance as Leroy Logan in Red, White and Blue (2020), brings his character into conflict with a whole different kind of dark side. Logan was one of the first prominent black police officers in the Metropolitan police. He subsequently founded the Black Police Association and attempt to reform the police from within. No two ways around it, based on the early part of his police career, Logan is represented as a trailblazing hero. He is intelligent and tough and ready to face up to the barbaric language and violence from both white police officers and members of the black community who saw him as a traitor. Boyega is spellbinding as Logan, navigating his way up the ranks facing rancour and rejection from within the police and his own father too, who was understandably unhappy at Leroy’s controversial choice of career.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


RED, WHITE & BLUE (2020)

ALEX WHEATLE (2020)

Main Cast: Sheyi Cole, Robbie Gee, Johann Myers, Johnathan Jules, etc.

What Steve McQueen deserves praise for with Small Axe, among many other things, is bringing to the fore individuals one may not have heard of, or reminding us of important events from within recent British history. In Alex Wheatle (2020), McQueen weaves the early years of now famous author, Alex Wheatle, with circumstances relating to the Brixton riots and the New Cross fire tragedy of 1981. The latter took the lives of fourteen young black people and fuelled much anger at the time in regard to racist attacks on the black community. Alex himself was brought up in care and grows up an angry young man. He finds solace in music and expressing lyrics in a political and combative style. We first meet him in a prison cell sharing with Rastafarian, Simeon (Robbie Gee). The fractious scenes between the two, with both Gee and Sheyi Cole giving fine performances, are full of anger and humour. Far from being a comedy, there remains both witty banter and pathos fizzing around this profile of Wheatle’s formative years. This fine profile finds a young rebel discovering his voice and identity amidst the urban decay, racism and police brutality of the mean streets of London.

Mark: 10 out of 11


ALEX WHEATLE (2020)

EDUCATION (2020)

Main Cast: Kenyah Shandy, Sharlene White, Josette Simon, Tamara Lawrence, Daniel Francis, etc.

Having addressed social and cultural issues relating to civil liberties, law, music, work and identity, Steve McQueen focussed specifically on educational themes within the black community in the aptly named, Education (2020). The highest praise I can give Education (2020) and all the films in the Small Axe anthology is that I felt genuine emotion for all of the characters and the situations they were in. They may not have been perfect and had their flaws, but ultimately all five of these narratives made me feel and care about the characters. Because they were up against an unfair system which demanded to be challenged and changed to stop the systematic prejudice of the time. Education (2020) feels extremely personal to Steve McQueen as one senses the lead character, twelve-year-old Kingsley Smith (Kenyah Sandy) experiences much of the grief he may have when younger. Considered disruptive at the local Comprehensive, Kingsley is dumped into a “Special School” where he becomes lost and ill-educated. One absurd scene simply shows a teacher playing House of the Rising Sun as part of a lesson. Kingsley’s formidable mother, with help from political forces within the black community, strive to right these educational wrongs in a powerful and moving final chapter to the Small Axe anthology.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


AMAZON FILM REVIEW: THE LIE (2018)

AMAZON FILM REVIEW: THE LIE (2018)

Directed by: Veena Sud

Produced by: Jason Blum, Alix Madigan, Christopher Tricarico

Written by: Veena Sud

Based on: We Monsters by Marcus Seibert and Sebastian Ko

Cast: Mireille Enos, Peter Sarsgaard, Joey King, Cas Anvar, Devery Jacobs, etc.

Music by: Tamar-kali

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



It’s a difficult job writing a screenplay. There are a myriad of choices to be made and you can make good ones and also terrible ones. That’s why many film scripts go through many drafts and, in certain cases, many different writers. As a screenwriter myself I am always fascinated by the decisions that are made at script stage. More specifically, I often struggle with the choice of making characters empathetic or taking a risk and possibly making them unlikeable. I mean, why should the audience get involved in the story if the characters are loathsome or at the very least, there is little empathy for their situation? Sometimes the central premise is strong enough that the characters do not necessarily have to be likeable, as long as the conflict they face is compelling enough. But what if the characters make really bad decisions or the writer makes bad decisions for them? How long before the audience give up on the characters because they are just so stupid?

Centred on the Logan Family consisting of teenager Kayla (Joey King), her mother Rebecca (Mireille Enos) and estranged father, Jay (Peter Sarsgaard), The Lie (2018), poses the highly dramatic question: how far are you willing to go to protect your child? The film opens with Jay driving Kayla to a ballet retreat in the wintry Canadian woods. They pick up her friend Brittany (Devery Jacob), but during the trip a tragedy occurs and Kayla, after an argument, pushes Brittany off a bridge. Jay and Rebecca then decide, against all moral and legal judgement, to attempt to cover up Kayla’s crime. Clearly this decision is wrong, and their crimes are exacerbated by the fact that Kayla is either emotionally unhinged or socioopathic. Indeed, Joey King’s performance, while admirable, veers inconsistently from scene to scene. But I guess that’s the nature of her character. However, because of this and Kayla’s parents terrible life choices, I ultimately found the Logan’s very difficult to empathise with.

Based on a German film called We Monsters (2015), this Blumhouse production for Amazon takes a brilliant idea and kind of throws it away with a weak set-up and increasingly dumb decisions by the main characters. But, as I say, it’s a great premise that Hitchcock in his heyday would’ve had a ball with, such are the intriguing twists and turns present. But Hitchcock would have made you feel connected to the Logan family and given them even more powerful reasons to cover up the crime. Don’t get me wrong, I actually really enjoyed this B-movie thriller. I was able to shout at the television throughout with a high moral superiority over the characters. When the final act twist comes, and it’s a good one, I was genuinely laughing at the stupidity and tragedy of their actions. We are all prisoners of our own life choices and this entertaining but daft thriller certainly proves that.

Mark: 7 out of 11

AMAZON PRIME REVIEW -PREACHER (2016 – 2019) – S1-S4

AMAZON PRIME REVIEW – PREACHER (2016 – 2019) – S1-S4

Based on: Preacher by Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon

Developed by: Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

Writer(s): Sam Catlin, Steve Dillon, Garth Ennis, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, Mary Laws, Olivia Dufault, Carolyn Townsend.  Sara Goodman, Craig Rosenberg, Mark Stegemann, Gary Tieche, Rachel Wagner, Kevin Rosen, Jim McDermott, and many more.

Director(s): Michael Slovis, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, Wayne Yip, Sam Catlin, Michael Morris, John Grillo, Kevin Hooks, Laura Belsey, Iain B. MacDonald, Jonathan Watson, and many more. 

Cast: Dominic Cooper, Joseph Gilgun, Ruth Negga, Lucy Griffiths, W. Earl Brown, Derek Wilson, Ian Colletti, Tom Brooke, Anatol Yusef, Graham McTavish, Pip Torrens, Noah Taylor, Julie Ann Emery, Betty Buckley, Mark Harelik, Tyson Ritter, and many more.

Cinematography: Bill Pope, John Grillo

Composer: Dave Porter

No. of seasons: 4

***CONTAINS TRACE SPOILERS***



Ever wanted to know who would win in a fight between Hitler and Jesus? Well, if you desire the answer then watch all four seasons of AMC’s graphic novel series adaptation, PREACHER. Because that is just one of the insane scenarios which ultimately rewards viewers who love controversial, violent and irreverent representations of holy, historical and fantastical characters.

Developed by Hollywood players Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, along with BREAKING BAD screenwriter, Sam Catlin, this darkly comedic post-modern vision of heaven, Earth and hell is based on the devilishly imaginative work of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. Starring the charismatic Dominic Cooper as hard drinking and former career criminal-turned Preacher, Jesse Custer, the first season finds him losing faith in a small Texan town and a dwindling set of hopeless parishioners. That is until one day he is struck by some twisted divine interpretation. Then, literally, all hell breaks loose as Custer battles his inner demons and the local slaughterhouse baron portrayed with callous joy by Jackie Earle Haley.

Like another Amazon Prime release, THE BOYSI initially found PREACHER a little bit slow in terms of setting up the story and characters. But I think that was deliberate as there are so many crazy concepts relating to religion, angels, demons and the afterlife in here, a balance had to be given to combining the fantastic and more realistic elements. I’m not sure they’re wholly successful but there’s enough riotous and bloody anarchy to keep horror and comic book fans happy. Cooper is great as the anti-heroic holy man. Moreover, he is ably supported by the effervescent Ruth Negga as his tough-talking, fist-fighting and gun-toting ex-girlfriend, Tulip. English actor Joseph Gilgun arguably steals the show as Cassidy, the Irish sidekick with a dark secret. While the narrative moves slowly in the first season, the bloody gore levels during the fight scenes are absolutely spectacular. It was this and the litany of fascinating concepts relating to religious icons which kept my interest piqued.



Season 2 picks up the pace when Custer, Tulip and Cassidy go to New Orleans and literally try to find God. Here they encounter their major nemeses for the remainder of the series in, the damned Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish), and a nefarious group of Catholic fascists called The Grail. Further, Season 3 is arguably the strongest of the series as Jesse goes back home to fight the demons of the past, notably his grandmother, Madame L’ Angelle (Betty Buckley). She has done deals with Satan and happens to have put a deathly spell on Custer’s soul. This season is particularly hilarious because Cassidy meets a fellow creature of the night in New Orleans with bloody hilarious results. Lastly, in season 4, all of heaven and hell implodes as The Grail attempt to precipitate God’s planned apocalypse and only Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy can stop them. These series summations cannot begin to even touch the surface at the insanity of ideas and action on show. If you like your television safe and inoffensive, then DO NOT WATCH IT!

If, like me, you enjoy irreverent bible-black comedy which offends mainly Christian religions and contains lashings of ultra-violence, then PREACHER is definitely one to venture to the church of television for. There is not a lot of internal logic as the narrative chucks in the proverbial theological kitchen sink. Representations of angels, God, Jesus, Hell, Heaven, Satan, devils, vampires, and various other religious figures are all par for the course for the show. While the iconography, action and visual power of the series is a major strength, the core story of Jesse Custer searching for God was essentially a very loose structure with which to hang the many spectacularly crazy, violent and bad taste ideas on. However, I am glad I had the faith to witness such events because I was very entertained and ironically it made me believe more in God than any visit to a church has ever done. Because in PREACHER, this vision of God was extremely human and flawed and somehow more believable.

Mark: 9 out of 11


AMAZON PRIME FILM REVIEW: 7500 (2020)

AMAZON PRIME FILM REVIEW – 7500 (2020)

AMAZON PRIME REVIEW – 7500 (2019)

Directed by: Patrick Vollrath

Produced by: Maximilian Leo, Jonas Katzenstein

Screenplay by: Patrick Vollrath

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Aylin Tezel, Carlo Kitzlinger, Murathan Muslu, Paul Wollin etc.

Cinematography: Sebastian Thaler

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



I am bona fide confirmed aviophobe. Even the merest sight of a plane in the sky gives me the shivers. I imagine it’s a mixture of not being in control, lacking consistent flight experience and the pure fact that when one is that high up there is little chance of escape if anything goes wrong. Personally speaking, I think it’s an extremely rational fear. While I have flown on a plane a few times, if it means never flying again, I am genuinely happy to holiday in my own country for the rest of my life. Bearing this is mind, films that are set on a plane have a head start in increasing the tension I feel watching them. Indeed, good examples of cinema releases with heavy doses of airborne drama include: United 93 (2006), Flight (2012), Sully (2016), Passenger 57 (1992) and Red Eye (2005) etc. Just the mere thought of these, and the spectacular plane crash in Knowing (2006), are enough to have me reaching for the vodka and Valium.

The 2019 action-thriller, 7500 is a worthy addition to such aeronautic movies. Written and directed by Patrick Vollrath, in his directorial feature-length film debut, 7500 stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as pilot, Tobias Ellis. He joins the Captain on a standard city flight from Berlin to Paris and soon after take-off the crew and passengers on the plane find themselves attacked by hijackers. What follows is a claustrophobic, suspenseful and deadly set of events which push Tobias, and passengers, to the brink of death and back again. Aside from a few establishing CCTV shots of Berlin, virtually all of the action takes place inside the cockpit of the plane. The camera therefore is right up in the face of Joseph Gordon-Levitt throughout the film. Thankfully, he is a seasoned actor and gives a fine performance that runs the gamut of emotions.

One-location thrillers can be hard to pull off, however, the director Patrick Vollrath manages to build the suspense expertly through a good pace and many suspenseful moments. Indeed, when the hijackers were trying to smash their way into the cockpit, my heart was firmly in my mouth. To be honest, my heart began beating loudly even on take-off. Keeping the action to mainly the cockpit allows a real sense of claustrophobia and anxiety to build. We are right in the perilous mix with Tobias and Gordon-Levitt plays the everyman-in-danger to perfection. My main criticisms of the script really lay in the characterisation of remaining characters, especially the villains. It’s a shame the script did not explore their motivations above the cardboard terrorist personalities represented. However, as a singularly committed one-location-individual-in-crisis genre story, 7500 takes off and rarely threatens to crash.

Mark: 8 out of 11


AMAZON FILM REVIEW – THE AERONAUTS (2019)

AMAZON FILM REVIEW – THE AERONAUTS (2019)

Directed by: Tom Harper

Produced by: Todd Liebermann, David Hoberman, Tom Harper

Written by: Jack Thorne – based on the book Falling Upwards: How We Took To The Air by Richard Holmes

Cast: Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel, Tom Courtenay, Tim McInnerny, Anne Reid, Phoebe Fox, Robert Glenister etc.

Cinematography: George Steel

***CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS***



Obviously, with all the cinemas quite rightly shut, one now has to look about the streaming platforms for films missed when first released. While not a massive cinema release, The Aeronauts (2019) was a big budget Amazon original production, thus fits the bill perfectly. Based on true events set in London, circa 1860’s, this period adventure drama focusses on intrepid pilot, Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) and budding meteorologist, James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne), as they attempt to conquer the sky and elements in a hot air balloon. Their overall aim is to fly a balloon higher than it ever has, while Glaisher attempts to make scientific progress in regard to predicting the weather. It doesn’t sound that interesting when you put it like that, but how wrong was I?

Now, I am not a fan of adventurers or flying or heights. Therefore, The Aeronauts (2019), did not really interest me as a film narrative. However, I am glad I watched it, as it proved one’s prejudices against themes or subject matter can be short-sighted. Indeed, Jack Thorne’s intelligent script and Tom Harper’s cute direction really pull you into this high-flying and breath-taking drama. While the special effects are amazing, as you are given all manner of exciting and dangerous moments for the lead characters, the real power lies in the empathetic and heartening characterisations. Moreover, Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne give tremendously warm and energetic performances. Both their protagonists not only battle against the dangers in the balloon, but also against fierce patriarchal and scientific hierarchal rivals on the land. Lastly, in Amelia Wren’s case, she fights against deeply painful emotions relating to grief and sacrifice too.

Jack Thorne’s script frames events from the spectacular launch of the giant balloon, and the air journey itself provides the spine of the story. Throughout though, the film flashes back and forth between the voyage and Amelia and James’ past. At times I felt the flashbacks hindered the momentum of the adventure, but I recognised they were essential in order provide history and texture. Nonetheless, the amazing skyline vistas and horizons are impressively rendered by the special effects’ personnel. Also, the suspense is palpable as Amelia and James’s lives are threatened constantly by the unpredictable weather conditions. Jones and Redmayne’s on-screen chemistry is especially good as they initially argue, before finding common ground and mutual respect. Jones herself gives a very magnetic performance full of vulnerability and strength. While Amelia Wren is a fictional character compared with James Glaisher, she remains a powerful one. Ultimately, The Aeronauts (2019), is a classic adventure story with a grounding in scientific discovery, but above all else, contains exciting spectacle and a very moving emotional core.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



AMAZON PRIME REVIEWS FEATURING: THE BOYS (S1), THE EXPANSE (S1) and PREACHER (S1)

REVIEWS OF THE BOYS (2019), THE EXPANSE (2016) & PREACHER (2016)

So, we are now a few weeks into the lockdown scenario caused by the COVID-19 virus and I have been off work for around that amount of time too. Tragically people are dying, and we owe it to be responsible by continuing to follow the rules laid down that will prevent the spread of the infection. It’s tough for everyone including families, employees and businesses. The capitalist system has taken a massive hit, and some will not survive in terms of life and work. I am not a religious person, but I pray to everyone’s God, whoever that may be, society comes through this. We are digging tunnels, looking for light and an escape. It cannot come soon enough.

In terms of escape it has never been easier to find both the time and formats with which to fill the gap. Thankfully the internet is still up and running, thus I have been filling my time in — aside from some minor administrative work-from-home stuff — writing my film reviews, editing and posting short videos, exercising and watching quite a lot of television and film content. Anything to stop me from becoming a beer monster or functioning alcoholic – AGAIN! The latest focussed viewing has been of Amazon Prime, and the many boxsets they have. So, here are mini reviews of three shows I have seen recently. All with the usual marks out of eleven.

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



THE BOYS (2019) – SEASON 1 – PRIME VIDEO

Based on the comic book series created by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, this violent superhero comedy is the complete antithesis of the Marvel Universe. Taking savage satirical swipes at huge corporations and United States foreign policy, it features a group of vigilantes, led by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) called ‘The Boys.’ For a variety of reasons, including good old-fashioned revenge, they have targeted the most powerful business in the world, Vought International. Vought control and monetize ‘The Seven’, a group of all-powerful superheroes who happen to mostly be narcissistic, unstable and psychotic arseholes.

The initial episodes started slowly for me and I found it difficult to warm to any of the characters. This could simply be superhero fatigue or certain weaknesses in the writing throughout. However, the spikes of tremendous action, vicious humour and spectacular violence kept me on board. Elisabeth Shue and Antony Starr impress as the nefarious villains, while Erin Moriarty shone as the one decent superhero, Starlight. The least said about the shockingly bad English accent Karl Urban delivers the better. I mean his acting is impressive, but mate – come on!!

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



THE EXPANSE (2015) – SEASON 1 – SYFY/AMAZON PRIME

Usually when I see something is on the Syfy channel I baulk slightly. I mean the shows are pretty decent as a rule, but some right old fantasy schlock can get dumped there. So, with a saturated streaming market offering a plethora of U.S. cable shows, sometimes the Syfy channel shows get short shrift. It’s a shame because The Expanse is a really good science-fiction programme which began airing on Syfy, but is now on Amazon Prime. The sci-fi show hangs tonally between Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and the Philip K. Dick-style “Mars v Terra” stories I have read. Indeed, while it doesn’t contain actual aliens or Dick’s surreal explorations of the psyche, it is, in fact, a fantastically plotted and styled industrial, political and humanistic set of narratives.

Based on James S. A. Corey’s (a pseudonym I believe for two writers), The Expanse (Season 1), is set hundreds of years into the Earth’s future and space has been colonized. But it’s not a utopia. Mars, Earth and an outer-planetary system of space stations called ‘The Belt’ are all conflicted on the brink of civil or galactic war. The multiple narratives follow the likes of the always-excellent, Thomas Jane, as a grizzled cop investigating a missing person and a space freighter gang led by Stephen Strait. The latter’s crew go from episode to episode finding life-threatening situations throughout. It’s a space-rock solid production full of twists, action and conspiracies; retaining a cynical, noir and unglamorous edge which makes me want to watch further seasons.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



PREACHER (2016) – SEASON 1 – AMC/AMAZON PRIME

Developed by Hollywood players Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, along with Breaking Bad writer, Sam Catlin, this darkly comedic post-modern vision of heaven and hell is based on a comic book by Garth Ennis (that man again) and Steve Dillon. Starring the very reliable Dominic Cooper as hard drinking and former career criminal-turned Preacher, Jesse Custer, we find him losing faith in a small Texan town and a dwindling set of hopeless parishioners. That is until one day he is struck by some twisted divine interpretation. Then, literally, all hell breaks loose as Custer battles his inner demons and the local slaughterhouse baron portrayed with callous joy by Jackie Earle Haley.

Like The Boys, I initially found Preacher a little bit slow in terms of setting up the story and characters. But I think that was deliberate as there are so many crazy concepts relating to religion and the afterlife in here, a balance had to be given to combining the fantastic and more realistic elements. I’m not sure they’re wholly successful, however, Cooper is great, and he is ably supported by the effervescent Ruth Negga as his tough-talking ex-girlfriend, Tulip. Moreover, English actor Joseph Gilgun steals the show as the Irish sidekick with a dark secret. While the narrative moves steadily, with arguably too many secondary characters, the bloody gore levels during the fight scenes are absolutely spectacular. If, like me, you enjoy irreverent bible-black comedy which offends most religions and contains lashings of ultra-violence, then Preacher is definitely one to pray to the lords of television for.

Mark: 8 out of 11 (but 10 out of 11 for the gore)

AMAZON TV REVIEW – THE ACT (2019) – another shocking American drama based on true events!

AMAZON TV REVIEW – THE ACT (2019)

Created by: Nick Antosca & Michelle Dean

Writers: Nick Antosca & Michelle Dean, Dan Dietz, Robin Veitch, Lisa Long, Heather Marion

Directors: Laure DeClermont-Tonnerre, Adam Arkin, Christina Choe, Steven Piet, Hannah Fidell, etc.

Cast: Joey King, Patricia Arquette, Chloe Sevigny, AnnaSophia Robb, Calum Worthy, Dean Norris, Denitra Isler, Margo Martindale etc.

Original Network: Hulu (US) – Starz/Amazon (UK)

*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***


Film & Television Photographer Brownie Harris

The capacity for human beings to lie and fake and forge simply knows no bounds. Clearly lying is bad, as it disintegrates trust in families, relationships and society in general. We should all strive for truth. But before one judges and jumps to conclusions there can be mitigating circumstances for lies. It could be a good lie. A lie that protects someone from the horrors of reality or a bad situation. It could be a falsehood which is worth denying in order to circumnavigate a tricky moment. This last example is a subjective decision though. But what if you’re not in your right mind? What if you have a mental illness? Does this forgive the darkest lies you tell or present? No, but it does explain why you’ve told such untruths.

Hulu’s exceptional true-life drama, The Act (2019), centres on a character who is both a liar and mentally disturbed. You would not know from the outside but Dee Dee Blanchard (Patricia Arquette) was a very troubled person. A seemingly loving single mother to a teenage daughter, Gypsy Blanchard (Joey King), Dee Dee unfortunately has to cope with Gypsy’s myriad of medical issues which leave her in a wheelchair and unable to feed herself. But Gypsy is actually incredibly healthy. Her mother has in fact been drugging and faking and benefiting financially from harming her daughter for years. Clingy, controlling and manipulative of her daughter’s every movement, routine and personal interactions, Dee Dee never wants her daughter to grow up. She wants a permanently powerless child and vicariously feeds off all the sympathy this brings. Yet Gypsy is growing up and she wants to do her own thing. Her body is changing and so are her desires. Something had to give.

Over eight brilliantly written and directed episodes, The Act (2019), unfolds as a powerful human tragedy. The story begins in 2015 with a serious crime; someone has been hurt. It then flashes back to when Dee Dee and Gypsy moved from hurricane hit New Orleans to Springfield, Missouri in 2008. Moving consummately back and forth in time the structure builds the drama very well. I genuinely couldn’t believe that someone would do that to their own child. Then, just when you think the story cannot twist any further the events take an even stranger and darker fall. Unsurprisingly, Patricia Arquette won an Emmy for her performance as the tragic faker, Dee Dee. Arquette inhabits the skin of this unhinged mother chillingly. But she’s not a scary monster, more one that subtly gets right under the skin. Joey King as Gypsy is equally brilliant as the co-dependent daughter, ultimately driven to extreme and shocking behaviour by her mother’s lies and twisted vision of love.

Mark: 9 out of 11


FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #8 – DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE (2018)

FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #8 – DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE (2018)

Written and directed by: S. Craig Zahler

Produced by: Sefton Fincham, Jack Heller, Tyler Jackson, Keith Kjarval, Dallas Sonnier

Cast: Vince Vaughn, Mel Gibson, Tory Kittles, Michael Jai White, Jennifer Carpenter, Laurie Holden, Don Johnson, Thomas Kretschmann etc.

Cinematography: Benji Bakshi

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



As a major fan of S. Craig Zahler’s first two film releases, namely Bone Tomahawk (2015) and Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017), I was really looking forward to another example of pulpy, slow burn and hard-bitten genre filmmaking with Dragged Across Concrete (2018). Thus, I was very upset when I found out the Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn starring cop drama was not released in UK cinemas. I finally caught up with it on Amazon Prime and, while it was probably too long, it was a hypnotically powerful crime thriller.

Set in the city of Bulwark, the film opens with a lengthy preamble which introduces disparate characters whose paths are destined to cross later in the film. These include recent parolee, Henry Johns (Tory Kittles), grizzled-long-in-the-tooth-cop, Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and his younger, but equally cynical partner, Anthony Lusaretti (Vince Vaughn). Later, Zahler throws professional criminal, Lorentz Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann), and his dressed-in-black crew into the dark city soup. After a glacial set-up, the plot kicks in when Ridgeman and Lusaretti are suspended for what is perceived as a racially motivated attack on a suspect. Desiring a way out of the neo-noir and industrial decay, Ridgeman sets up a plan to steal from Vogelmann’s gang. Safe to say that given this is a Zahler film, we do not end up with a soft toy and candy apple ending.

Throwing a succession of anti-heroes at the audience and a litany of cursing and politically incorrect language makes Dragged Across Concrete (2018) a morally questionable film to experience. Do not watch if you are easily offended. Nonetheless, my feeling is Zahler, like Tarantino, is reflecting the world as it is rather than how it should be. Humanity is in the gutter and the only way out of it, in his mind, is to swear and fight and steal and kill. That isn’t to say that the characters are not empathetic. As Zahler’s hard-boiled dialogue is very poetic in places it draws you to them in a way Raymond Chandler used to do. Similarly, the performances from Gibson and Vaughn are brilliant. The scenes where they just sit in the car and eat sandwiches while staking out their quarry, are both hilarious and absorbing. Ultimately, it’s the lengthy second half robbery and final act ultra-violence which makes the film a pulsating and brutally rewarding experience.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11