Category Archives: Amazon Prime

HORROR OBSCURA FILM REVIEWS – HALLOWEEN 2021 SPECIAL!

HORROR OBSCURA FILM REVIEWS

Halloween is slowly creeping out of the fog and shadows. It’s a time of the year where horror films come to the fore. Personally, I watch horror all the year round, but it’s always fun when the genre pulls focus on the cultural calendar.

Rather than concentrate on current horror film releases, I thought it would be interesting to seek out chillers that are a tad less known. So, I had a scan through Amazon and Shudder screening platforms and unearthed several cult horror gems worth catching.

Some of these films come from the 1980’s period which encompassed the “video-nasty” era in the United Kingdom. With the advent of home video technology, the government suddenly got frightened about bloody and exploitational films and desired control. Censoring seventy-two titles and banning a flurry of films actually made people want to watch them more. This caused the government’s policy to backfire as people clamoured to watch “pirate” video versions of such films. In fact, it was in the living room watching forbidden films and the old Universal black-and-white classics where my true love of horror cinema began.

The following films may not have been banned at the time, but I was intrigued by how many of the titles I missed seeing on first release. Aside from Ben (1972), When A Stranger Calls (1979) and Phantasm (1979), I hadn’t seen the other titles. Therefore, if you’re looking for obscure horror films to watch then delve deep into the Amazon library. They have a fine feast of 1970’s and 1980’s fear inducing fare, many of them which were on the infamous “video-nasty” list. Dare you watch them!?



THE CAT OF NINE TAILS (1971)

An early Dario Argento giallo finds a blind puzzle-maker (Karl Malden) and dogged reporter (James Franciscus) investigating murders at a genetics lab. Aside from a couple of scary set-pieces, notably in a graveyard, it neither works as a detective nor horror story. It is however beautifully filmed with a vibrant restoration. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

CHUD (1984)

As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission track down missing toxic waste the New York homeless population are becoming victims to something monstrous in the sewers. An energetic sci-fi-horror hybrid combining a schlocky plot with socio-environmental themes. It’s not bad and actually quite funny, with early roles for John Heard and Daniel Stern whose acting raises the overall quality. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

CLASS OF 1984 (1982)

I remember school kids raving about this film when I was twelve. I really wanted to see it, but could never find it in the video shop or from the “pirate” video guy. The plot merges The Blackboard Jungle (1955) with Death Wish (1974), as Perry King’s music teacher attempts to soothe the savage beast of a gang of nasty punk students. He fails and the final act revenge-driven rampage is fantastically inventive and gory. Latterly famous director, a young Tim Van Patten, portrays the psychotic, Peter Stegman, with vicious zeal. A true exploitational classic. (Mark: 8 out of 11).

HELL NIGHT (1981)

This is one of those films I had never even heard of. With a sizeable budget of $1.4 million dollars for a slasher film, it concerns four college students, including a grown-up Linda Blair, spending the night in a creepy house as part of an initiation ritual. Unfortunately, there’s a psychotic killer about hellbent on hunting them down. We’ve seen it all before, but it was nicely filmed and had decent humour. Overlong but way better than I thought it would be. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

PHANTASM II (1988)

I reviewed the remastered version of Don Coscarelli’s low-budget masterpiece here, but only just got round to watching the sequel. Phantasm II (1988) had a bigger budget and suffers from some stodgy plotting. The re-casting of Mike with James Le Gros in the role throws you. Yet, once Mike and Reggie fight with the Tall Man (inimitable Angus Scrimm), the razor-sharp spheres and the hooded monsters, the film finds real pace. Coscarelli blows-up a lot of stuff and ramps up the weaponry, but the sequel lacks the twisted magic of the original must-watch horror fantasy, Phantasm (1979). (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)



TERROR TRAIN (1980)

Another unknown mini-gem I found on Amazon. This Canadian slasher film is, you guessed it, set on a train and finds, yes you guessed it again, college students getting picked off one-by-one by a vengeful psycho. Notable for a really good plot which gives the killer empathy and understandable motivation, it also stars everyone’s favourite final girl, Jamie Lee Curtis. With disguise and magic prevalent in the themes, David Copperfield also appears in a neat role. Highly entertaining with a killer twist. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979)

Inspired by a famous urban legend, Fred Walton’s chilling suspense thriller has one of the most nail-biting opening twenty minutes in horror cinema. Carol Kane is the babysitter terrorized by a series of tense phone calls from a mystery ringer. From that terrifying start the story falters slightly as it focusses on Charles Durning’s obsessive search for the unhinged man. Only when Kane rejoins the film some years later does the horror rise up again in a truly frightening denouement. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

WILLARD (1971) / BEN (1972)

This was an odd one because I knew and seen the sequel Ben (1972) when I was a younger. Little did I realise the original Willard (1971) had been released the year before and became a sleeper box-office hit. Bruce Davison is excellent as the introvert, Willard, who is bullied at work by his aggressive boss, Ernest Borgnine. Only when, and take a deep breath here, Willard trains an army of rats does he gain confidence to take on the world. It’s a weird film that actually works because of Willard’s fascinating character arc and Davison’s nuanced performance. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

The follow-up Ben (1972) focusses on Willard’s alpha rat, Ben, and his friendship with lonely kid, Danny. The sequel really raises the rat count and there appears to be thousands of them in their dirty lair. Danny is a likeable kid who suffers from a serious illness that prevents him from going out. Why he would make friends with a killer rat though is still frankly nuts! A lack of thrills and goofy premise make it difficult to recommend, and is more famous for the classic Michael Jackson hit called, surprisingly enough, Ben. (Mark: 6 out of 11)


CINEMA REVIEW: THE GREEN KNIGHT (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE GREEN KNIGHT (2021)

Directed by: David Lowery

Screenplay by: David Lowery

Based on: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Anonymous

Produced by: Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, David Lowery, Tim Headington, Theresa Steele Page

Cast: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Ralph Ineson, etc.

Cinematography: Andrew Droz Palermo

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***


The quest to see The Green Knight (2021) has seemingly taken longer than Gawain’s mythical journey to meet his ultimate fate. Was it worth the wade through COVID determined lockdowns and distribution delays to the cinema to finally watch it on Amazon? Yes and no I would say as the filmmaking on show is of a visually magical standard. Yet, somewhere in the character’s bones is an emotional brittleness. I will expand.

Written and directed by the formidable filmmaker David Lowery, The Green Knight (2021), is based on the rites-of-passage trials of Gawain (Dev Patel), a young subject within the court of King Arthur’s (Sean Harris) Camelot. Happy getting drunk and flirting with apparently loose women, one of which is Essel (Alicia Vikander), he is then faced with a challenge from the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson). Meeting the gamble from this stunningly created craggy work of metaphor head on sets in motion a fight for his life on the road to symbolic discovery. Throw in some exquisite montages of ominous religious and magical subtext and Gawain must face his fears, fate and foes on a dangerous quest.



Once Gawain hits the dirt tracks, bloody battlefields and ghostly houses of this cursed land the The Green Knight (2021) really finds narrative impetus. Gawain’s confrontation with the Green Knight at Arthur’s court is certainly thrilling, but Lowery spends too much time creating poetic juxtaposition and magical image systems, which while beautiful, really slow the pace of the story. King Arthur’s kingdom and Sean Harris’ performance is somewhat downbeat and drab as less time is spent establishing Gawain’s characterisation.

Dev Patel is phenomenal in the role. He brings both strength and vulnerability. But what was Gawain? Was he a fool to be taught a lesson? Was he a determined individual desiring to prove himself? Was he out for revenge? Was he doing it for love? Who is he saving? What did he want? I was never sure. Thus, The Green Knight (2021) was in danger of collapsing under its own stunning visual pretension. That is until Barry Keoghan’s effervescent thief came along and raised the stakes and energy of the story. After that Gawain’s drive was one of survival as Lowery’s screenplay gave him a succession of devilish, deadly and seductive obstacles to overcome.

David Lowery is an original thinking talent, and someone I categorise as an alternative genre filmmaker. Like Quentin Tarantino, the Coens, Bong Joon-Ho and dare I say it, Stanley Kubrick, he takes familiar content and filters it through his own inimitable style and vision. His masterpiece thus far is the truly remarkable romance, A Ghost Story (2017), a low-budget indie gem. The bigger-budgeted The Green Knight (2021) certainly has scale and magic and astounding cinematic power. But such adventure stories, for my taste and preference, need a hero with a clearer goal. Lowery gives the audience sorcery and existentialism and some nightmarishly beautiful sequences, while overall lacking clarity for Gawain’s personation. I imagine this is actually deliberate to counter genre expectations and make the viewer raise their game and apply meaning. I felt the same about Kubrick’s fatalistic, Barry Lyndon (1975), when I first saw that. Indeed, I have no doubt that on future watches The Green Knight (2021) is likely to be similarly revered as cinematic gold.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


THE RENTAL (2020) – HIDDEN FILM GEM ON AMAZON!

AMAZON FILM REVIEW: THE RENTAL (2020)

Directed by: Dave Franco

Screenplay by: Dave Franco, Joe Swanberg

Story by: Dave Franco, Joe Swanberg, Mike Demski

Produced by: Dave Franco, Elizabeth Haggard, Teddy Schwarzman, Ben Stillman, Joe Swanberg, Christopher Storer

Cast: Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, Toby Huss

Cinematography: Christian Sprenger

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***


See the source image

If you’re old like me you will remember the golden era of video rental stores in the 1980’s and 1990’s. I used to love going to the video shop at the weekend and choosing which films to watch. For example, on a Saturday afternoon at Blockbuster I would choose three films usually. One would be a banker like a high quality release or made by an acclaimed filmmaker whose work I was certain to like. Another would be a more commercial choice like a high concept action film or comedy; something to take the brain out for. Lastly, I would take a gamble on either an arthouse or foreign or indie character-driven film; OR an even bigger gamble on a lower-budget or unheard horror film or thriller with a back-of-the-video-box pitch that grabbed me. Often the latter choice would end up being a terribly arty bore or a schlocky B-movie disaster. However, every now and then I would find a film gem which totally gripped me.

With streaming now there’s not so much of a gamble as you haven’t had to walk or drive to the video shop. Even better there’s no need to return the tapes on time and risk getting fined. You switch on your streaming device and choose your film. If you don’t like it you can turn it off, although I do tend to see things through to the end on most occasions. But hey Paul, enough about comparing the past with the present – WHAT’S YOUR POINT! Oh yes, the Dave Franco directed The Rental (2020) is one of those films which I took a chance on because of the cast and the back-of-video-box-pitch (i.e. the Amazon online trailer). I’m glad I did watch it, as it is a terrific thriller with a tension-filled script which leads and misleads you through a series of compelling twists. It’s a simple premise, involving two couples spending the weekend at a beautiful rural property where poor choices destabilise their harmony, only for all hell to break loose when a serious crime escalates the action.

The cast of Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Shiela Vand and Jeremy Allen White are arguably punching below their weight where the B-movie material is concerned. Yet, they bring quality to the proceedings as the initial peace between the characters descends into chaos when first infidelity and then murder rears its ugly head. One of my favourite character actors, Toby Huss, is excellent here too as the suspicious property manager. I’ve seen some so-so reviews for The Rental (2020), but it’s the kind of tightly plotted suspense thriller I really thrive on. What starts as an idyllic getaway for two relatively wealthy couples is carefully unravelled by Dave Franco’s well-paced direction, complimented by Brie and Steven’s committed performances, has wonderful locations and a seriously proper killer ending.

Mark: 8 out of 11


AMAZON FILM REVIEW: THE MAURITANIAN (2021)

AMAZON FILM REVIEW: THE MAURITANIAN (2021)

Directed by: Kevin Macdonald

Produced by: Adam Ackland, Michael Bronner, Benedict Cumberbatch, Leah Clarke, Christine Holder, Mark Holder, Beatriz Levin, Lloyd Levin, Branwen Prestwood-Smith, etc.

Screenplay by: M.B. Traven, Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani

Based on: Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Cast: Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zachary Levi etc.

Music by: Tom Hodge

Cinematograph: Alwin H. Kuchler

***CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS***



“…a writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court, especially to secure the person’s release unless lawful grounds are shown for their detention.” — Basic definition of Habeus Corpus


Mohamedou Ould Slahi is a Mauritanian man who was held for fourteen years from 2002 to 2016 without charge in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. FOURTEEN YEARS without a trial. Let that sink in.

If ever there was a living embodiment of a Kafkaesque experience then this is that. Surely, whatever crime you have or haven’t committed you should be presented to a court of law and evidence be brought to try you for the alleged crimes. Clearly, the United States have, in this singular case against Mohamedou Ould Slahi, by denying him a trial — plus torturing him for years too — committed a heinous war crime. Yes, the 9/11 atrocities were abominable acts of violence, but that does not give anyone the right to wreak revenge against other human beings without concrete evidence to justify such acts. It’s a basic tenet of existence that separates us from the beasts in the jungle, every person deserves a fair trial! To be honest the U.S. administration who were responsible for this and and many other crimes are worse than animals.

The Mauritanian (2021) is an adaptation of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s best selling memoir, Guantanamo Diary. It opens with Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim) attending a wedding in his place of birth. He is then picked up by local Mauritanian police and after that is imprisoned indefinitely, unknown to him, by the American military. The structure of the film compellingly builds his experiences in jail and the brutal torture he endures as the Americans attempt to gather intelligence to prove that he is a key member of the terrorist cells who organised the 9/11 attacks. As the story reveals his horrendous ordeal, lawyers represented by Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) take up his case to, at the very least, enable Ould Slahi to get a fair trial.



As well as highlighting the horrors of how Ould Slahi was treated this film is a damning indictment of American foreign policy, notably under the George Bush administration. The fact that Ould Slahi and his lawyers were successful in achieving a win against his imprisonment was not the end of his entrapment. You honestly won’t believe what occurred even after he won his case. But what about the film you may be asking? Well, I am just staggered this and many other sitautions occur in the world so this is more of an emotional review than a cinematic appraisal.

Overall, The Mauritanian (2021) is an exceptional drama which is directed effectively by seasoned filmmaker, Kevin Macdonald. As Ould Slahi, Tahar Rahim is absolutely exceptional. He brings a humanity and humour to the character’s struggle. What I absorbed most from his portrayal, and this is reflected in a moving credits sequence excerpt, is how Ould Slahi retained his humour even in the most trying times. Furthermore, while their character’s smack of white saviour personalities, the legal team — based on the real people — are expertly represented by Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley. Foster especially shows her usual sterling gravitas in the role. Benedict Cumberbatch, arguably miscast as the military lawyer suffering a crisis of conscience, gives his usual excellent performance.

Lastly, The Mauritanian (2021), because of a slightly choppy screenplay, I felt the book deserved a longer telling via a television series. Yet, the film remains an important narrative about how bloodlust, greed and desire for revenge means humans commit horrific acts in the name of war. Mohamedou Ould Slahi was denied his freedom and human rights for crimes never proved. How he survived is an incredible feat of human endurance. Thus, whether he was innocent or guilty his freedom was earned and then some.

Mark: 9 out of 11


“CINEMA” REVIEWS: NOMADLAND (2020) & SOUND OF METAL (2019)

“CINEMA” REVIEWS: NOMADLAND (2020) & SOUND OF METAL (2019)

Due to the being very busy at my day job I have fallen slightly behind with my film reviews. Thus, I am consolidating two quality dramas I have watched in a double bill review presentation. In fact, it is quite apt that these two films are critiqued together as they are both Oscar winners, both focus on an individual’s struggle against difficult personal trauma, both films represent an alternative vision of America and are told in a meditative and absorbing style.


NOMADLAND (2020)

Directed and written by: Chloé Zhao

Produced by: Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Chloé Zhao

Based on: Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder

Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Swankie etc.



Winning the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress in a leading role, perhaps upsold my expectations for Nomadland (2020). It is an example of amazing filmmaking without being a particular brilliant film. I get why it won Best Picture, but that was more to do with there not being one specifically superb standout film among the nominees. Frances McDormand isn’t even very memorable as the lead protagonist, Fern. Don’t get me wrong she is highly empathetic and admirable in her resilience to stick to the road, living in her van and scrapping by independently. However, the film is one-paced. It is all set-up and little pay-off, with the odd flat tyre, van breakdown and Fern having to shit in a bucket providing occasional spikes in the drama.

Much praise though goes to the incredible cinematography and Chloe Zhao’s intelligent and naturalistic direction. She really gets into the weeds of the flailing American dream, as well as providing insight into the lives of working-class people disenfranchised by American capitalism. Moreover, Zhao’s use of non-professional actors is quite astounding, as at times you feel like you are watching a pseudo-documentary. Ultimately, Nomadland (2020) though, is arguably too meditative and glacially paced. It remains a brave and quietly powerful film, but it’s just too quiet for my dramatic needs.

Mark: 8 out of 11



SOUND OF METAL (2019)

Directed by: Darius Marder

Produced by: Bill Benz, Kathy Benz, Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche

Screenplay by: Darius Marder, Abraham Marder

Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Mathieu Amalric etc.



Sound of Metal (2019) is another quiet drama, however, it really begins with a load of noise. It derives from Riz Ahmed’s drummer, Ruben, thrashing on stage with his girlfriend, Lou, as she fronts their heavy metal band giving an energetic performance to a lustful crowd. Ruben and Lou live out of their R.V. travelling and gigging around America, but he soon discovers his hearing has been severely damaged. Doctors offer hope in the form of an operation, but it’s extremely expensive. As Ruben is an addict, he also seeks spiritual help at a shelter for deaf people in recovery. There he meets, Joe (Paul Raci), the facilitator at the shelter and Ruben’s slow road to recuperation begins.

Riz Ahmed is outstanding as Ruben, a talented, bright and strong-willed individual who finds himself tested by a loss of hearing. His journey is a slow-moving but compelling one. I especially enjoyed the process where Ruben learns to cope, sign and believe that deafness should not be considered a disability. Indeed, the scenes Ruben shares with the wiser Joe are incredibly moving and thought provoking. Further, Darius Marder directs with a sure hand and really uses the sound effects powerfully, getting us into Ruben’s head both literally and figuratively. Overall, Sound of Metal (2019) beats along steadily but with incredible purpose and rhythm. It teaches us that losing a major sense need not be the end of one’s life, but rather the beginning of an altogether different one.

Mark: 9 out of 11


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