Category Archives: Reviews

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – TRAITORS (2019)

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – TRAITORS (2019)

Created and written by: Bathsheba “Bash” Doran

Writers: Bash Doran, Emily Ballou, Tracey Scott Wilson

Directors: Alex Winckler, Dearbhla Walsh

Cast: Emma Appleton, Luke Treadaway, Michael Stuhlbarg, Keeley Hawes, Brandon P. Bell, Greg McHugh etc.

Original Network: Channel 4 – available on All 4

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



War brings out the worst of humanity; difficult choices must be made as lies, fiction and manipulations become the order of the day. This is especially true where the shadowy world of the spy is concerned. The Channel 4 drama, Traitors (2019), was released last year and presents six intelligently written episodes exploring matters of politics and espionage in post-war 1945-set London. Pitting American, British and Russian spies against each other, it also delves into the history behind the creation of the Israeli state by the British. Indeed, the reverberations of future political conflicts, between Israel and Palestine, coalesce alongside echoes of the recently demised World War II.

This is an ensemble driven piece, but the lead protagonist is Emma Appleton’s portrayal of Feef Symonds. She is a young upper-class civil servant looking to serve her country in more exciting ways than mere typing. Thus, she finds herself becoming a secret agent for Michael Stuhlbarg’s obsessive Office of Strategic Services operative, Rowe. Stuhlbarg gives his usual excellent performance as the shady American spy. His paranoid fixation with all things Soviet, becomes a reflective precursor to the infamous “Red Scare” that plagued American socio-politics in the 1950’s.


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Rowe determines that the British Government must have a Soviet spy in its’ midst and charges Feef with tracking them and reporting back. As Feef delves deeper within the corridors of Whitehall she begins a cat-and-mouse game with many potential suspects, notably Keeley Hawes’ suspicious civil servant. Feef’s romance with an earnest Labour MP, portrayed by Luke Treadaway, also complicates matters. Hawes, as expected, is impressive in her role and is the most memorably complex of the characters. Hawes is especially adept at burying twisted anguish within this subtle performance. Her character battles both personal and political conflicts and is the most empathetic within a gallery of untrustworthy archetypes.

Overall, I enjoyed Traitors (2019) for it’s well-researched historical aspects and some very fine acting. My main reservations though were that the drama never quite caught fire, despite some decent suspense amidst the espionage. Moreover, there was, no doubt deliberate, an arrogant air about most of the characters. Conversely, I did not really warm to any of the personalities due to their wintry natures. That’s the problem with the representation of spies here; they’re nothing like the fantasy action heroes of Ethan Hunt and James Bond. Here they are all shown all to be liars and traitors of a kind and therefore difficult to like or trust. My feeling is that is precisely is the point. The programme reflects a world today where we are consistently fed government lies, fictions and manipulations.

Mark: 8 out of 11


1917 (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

1917 (2020) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Sam Mendes

Produced by: Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jaybe-Ann Tenggren, Callum McDougall, Brian Oliver

Written by: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns

Cast: George McKay, Dean Charles-Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Colin Firth, Claire Duburcq, Benedict Cumberbatch etc.

Cinematography: Roger Deakins

Music by: Thomas Newman

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**


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If Roger Deakins doesn’t win every single award for best cinematography in the world, I will be completely shocked! Together with Sam Mendes’ and their respective creative and production teams they have delivered a barnstorming, aggressive and beautiful work of pulsating cinema with 1917 (2019). In fact, the whole project is such a feat of technical brilliance, I think Sam Mendes will probably win best direction and the film will most likely win best film at the 2020 Academy Awards.

The form and style of the film are dictated by Mendes and Deakins audacious decision to film in one long continuous take. Set, as the title states in 1917 during World War I, we open with a long tracking shot and from there the shot never ends. Establishing the main protagonists Lance Corporal Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), the camera glides along as they make small-talk, creating humour, warmth and calm before the storm to come. That storm derives from their mission to carry a message through perilous territory and prevent 1,600 British soldiers falling into a German trap. Immediately the stakes are high and these two brave men set out to achieve this dangerous task.



The choice to film in one continuous shot is a fascinating one and here it is executed brilliantly. Of course, there are occasions where a cut has occurred, but this is masked by darkness, water, camera movement or CGI. I personally am not a massive fan of longer takes though. They can be seen as a stylish, but empty process and usually work best in opening scenes. Moreover, by not cutting or using montage techniques I feel you can lose suspense, impact and pace from a film. However, that is certainly not the case with 1917 (2019). Here it works perfectly with the camera following, tracking, running, falling and stalking the characters, so much so, the audience becomes the camera. We are right in this war with them!

As we track Blake and Schofield through bunkers, trenches, fields, farmhouses, derelict buildings and villages, the stench of death and destruction surrounds them. Mendes and his writing partner, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, also create some heart-sweating and explosive set-pieces for the soldiers to overcome. Indeed, the pace with which they regularly find themselves under attack, married with the filmmaking style, puts you in the heart of the action and fight. The final battle where Schofield valiantly strives to reach his final destination and relay the message is utterly exhilarating and spellbinding cinema.



As the two everyman soldiers, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman give convincing performances. MacKay is especially memorable as his tall frame, hollowed cheekbones and haunted eyes dominate the screen. Furthermore, the two leads are supported ably by a “who’s-who” of British actors. The likes of: Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Andrew Scott puncture the action throughout with their quality. Scott is especially excellent as a cynical officer, drunk and bereft of hope. The two heroes ignore his jaded battle worn persona, but soon find themselves surrounded by corpses, quickly coming to understand this character’s despairing heart.

Like Dunkirk (2017), the film is arguably thin on characterisation and character development, but stylistically impressive in it’s rendition of the horrors of war. Indeed, when the events switch to night, Deakin’s lighting skills dominate as he paints images with darkness, moonlight and fire with majestic results. Thus, overall, one could argue this is just one long chase film; an extended version of the climax of another World War I classic, Gallipoli (1981). However, the cinematic marvel that is, 1917 (2019), overcomes it’s narrative and thematic familiarity with an amazing technical achievement in both form and style. Awards glory beckons for all involved; and more importantly the film pays fine tribute to the gallant soldiers who served in an ultimately senseless war.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


BBC TV REVIEW – DRACULA (2020)

BBC TV REVIEW – DRACULA (2020)

Created and Written by: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat

Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Producer: Sue Vertue

Directors: Jonny Campbell, Paul McGuigan, Damon Thomas

Cast: Claes Bang, Dolly Wells, John Heffernan, Morfydd Clark, Joanna Scanlan, Lujza Richter, Jonathan Aris, Sacha Dhawan, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Clive Russell, Mark Gatiss, Catherine Schell etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat are uber-television scriptwriters of vast experience and expertise. Solo and together they have been involved with fine TV programmes including: Sherlock, Doctor Who, Coupling, The League of Gentlemen, Press Gang, Jekyll and many other films, comedies and dramas. Their latest BBC project found them combining forces again and breathing new life into Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel. Screened over three dark nights on BBC1 from January 1st, 2020 onwards, this horror adaptation mixed Stoker’s traditional vampiric tropes with fresh and bloody ingredients infused by Moffat and Gatiss’ typically iconoclastic approach to genre.

The structure of the first episode, Rules of the Beast, finds a gravely ill Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan), recounting his misadventures having travelled to Count Dracula’s (Claes Bang) castle in Transylvania. A haunted shell of a man, his stories of doomed employment, entrapment and the “children of the night” are delivered to Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells). Somewhat incisive, intelligent and irreverent for a nun, Sister Agatha becomes both our hero and main foe to Dracula’s nefarious uber-villain. Having said that, the fantastically witty script and Claes Bang’s charismatic representation of Dracula almost succeed in making him the hero. Indeed, other than being a life-sucking, murderous, blood-addicted, shape-shifting, immortal and homicidal maniac he’s actually quite charming and likeable.


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The first episode, apart from certain structural alterations and differences in characterisation, stays kind of faithful to the spirit of Stoker’s gothic vision. The second episode especially is one of the best examples of horror television I have seen in a long time. Cleverly called Blood Vessel, the action merges suspense and terror with an Agatha Christie style of plot. Here the crew and passengers of the ship Demeter find they are at the mercy of a vicious killer. It doesn’t take a genius to work out who is picking them off one-by-one. The episode also contains an ingenious reference to the BBC anthology series Inside No. 9. Thus, overall, this was my favourite episode of the series.

By the third episode though, Gatiss and Moffatt couldn’t stop themselves taking a bold leap away from the original text. The Dark Compass contains some fantastic twists and ideas, but arguably the writers strive too much for reinvention and originality. So much so, it lost some of the narrative impetus of the first two in the mini-series. Nonetheless, I would love to see more of Claes Bang’s Dracula in the future. His performance and chemistry with Dolly Well’s Sister Agatha were a bloody joy. Likewise, the script was brilliant; full of fangtastic one-liners, poetic turns of phrase and fascinating plot developments. Lastly, I was grateful they did not spare us the horror too. There were many memorably gory deaths throughout, as Dracula and his wolves wreaked devilish havoc across land, time and the television screen.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #7 – LITTLE MONSTERS (2019)

FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #7 – LITTLE MONSTERS (2019)

Written and directed by: Abe Forsythe

Produced by: Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Keith Calder, Jessica Calder

Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, Kat Stewart, Diesel La Torraca, Josh Gad etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



While I’m not a massive fan of awards ceremonies, I do check out the nominations for the big ones. The Academy Awards or ‘Oscars’ are obviously the most esteemed annual celebration of commercial filmmaking. But, they often get their nominations, from an artistic and diversity perspective, horrifically wrong. Of course, it’s a matter of opinion, but this year I do not know how Lupita Nyong’o was not nominated for her performances in Jordan Peele’s brilliant horror satire, Us (2019). She is now proving herself to be one of the best actresses around and definitely should have been nominated in the ‘Best Actress in a Leading Role’ category.

As well as Us (2019), Nyong’o also appeared in another horror film released last year called Little Monsters (2019). This one got away from me though because for some reason it did not get a major cinema release in the UK. Little Monsters (2019) is nowhere as imaginative, dark or intelligent as Jordan Peele’s searing exploration of duality, class, race and identity. However, as zombie-romance-comedies go it’s a lot of fun. Nyong’o portrays a likeable, professional and positive school teacher who, along with Alexander England’s failed musician loser, Dave, must protect a group of children from hordes of zombies on a school trip.

It’s an unpretentious, funny and gory comedy romp that owes a massive debt in tone and delivery to Shaun of the Dead (2004). Furthermore, stock genre conventions such as the slow zombies, ubiquitous military nuke ticking time bomb ending, loser character redemption and cute children who “think it’s all a game”, are all relied upon heavily. Nonetheless, the script is fast-paced, witty and has a lot of heart. The direction is effective, although there were probably too many songs in there as filler. Overall, this is a fun film with a brilliant turn by Josh Gad as foul-mouthed children’s TV presenter, and of course, the starry effervescence of ultra-talented, Lupita Nyong’o.

Mark: 8 out of 11



UNCUT GEMS (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

UNCUT GEMS (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directors: Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie

Produced by: Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Sebastian Bear-McClard

Written by: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie

Cast: Adam Sandler, Lakeith Stanfield, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsh etc.

Cinematography: Darius Khondji

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



This is a film about an arsehole. Aptly enough we are introduced to the main protagonist, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), as he has a rectal examination of his colon and other extremities. From here on we descend into the mired cesspool that is Howard’s dysfunctional business, family, love and extra-curricular activities. He is, on the surface, a successful businessman selling jewellery, watches and gems within New York’s Diamond district. Alas, he is also a degenerate gambler who is being chased by all manner of shark-like money lenders. Most hungry of all is Eric Bogosian’s Arno, who also happens to be Howard’s brother-in-law.

So, we find ourselves in the company of a thoroughly unedifying character such as Howard. Yet, in Adam Sandler’s brilliant performance and searing direction by the Safdie Brothers, you get caught up in his latest cynical money-making plan to sell an uncut opal rock from Ethiopia at auction. The rock itself becomes — reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s Snatch (2000) — a metaphorically blood-stained McGuffin that drags us into the underbelly of New York’s sports, pawnbroker, bookmaker, entertainment and loan shark territories. Aside from Howard’s wife and children everyone is looking for luck and a buck. Everyone’s a hustler. Everyone talks and shouts and swears over each other, creating a sense of panic throughout many scenes of deal-making and deal-breaking.



Opening with two visually very different internal examinations that involve “mining”, the Safdie brothers film Uncut Gems (2019), is a stylish and rampant anxiety inducing character study and thriller. The plot, which in itself, is quite straightforward, is wrapped in a series of heart-sweating gambles, twists and double-crosses. Supporting Sandler’s fine central performance, the Safdie Brothers find acting gold with Lakeith Stanfield’s memorable supporting turn, plus basketball legend, Kevin Garnett brilliantly playing himself! Allied to this, you also get a rogue’s gallery of personalities straight out of the local New York jewellery area itself. These characters add a further dirty authenticity to the already chaotic urban environment.

Like the Safdie Brothers previous film, the ironically titled, Good Time (2017), we are once again introduced to a set of morally repugnant characters who, rather than root for, you are dragged down into their disturbing lifestyle choices and increasingly poor decisions. Howard himself is an unrelenting addict, his own worst enemy and a whirlwind of broken promises. But, I must admit I was gripped throughout due to overwhelmingly brilliant style, cinematography, editing, direction, darkly funny script and acting performances. My only criticism is that for all the black humour, bone-breaking violence and heart-sweating suspense, the film could have easily been 15 minutes shorter. I like a lot of plot and action, but at times the narrative was over-loaded with characters and scenes that could have been chopped. Lastly, it’s great to witness Adam Sandler taking another risky role, even if Howard Ratner is fundamentally an arsehole from the probing start to the very bitter end.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


THE GENTLEMEN (2020) – MOVIE REVIEW

THE GENTLEMEN (2020) – MOVIE REVIEW

Written and directed by: Guy Ritchie

Produced by: Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, Bill Block

Story by: Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson Marn Davies

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



THE GENTLEMEN (2020)

Having dipped a big foot in the Hollywood studio pool with franchise hits like Sherlock Holmes and most recently Disney’s live action version of Aladdin (2019), Guy Ritchie is back to the crime genre where he made his mark. His reboot of The Man From Uncle (2015) was very under-rated, and while his King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) didn’t quite work as a swords and geezer epic, Ritchie remains an excellent genre director and almost always produces very entertaining movies.

With Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)Snatch (2000) and Rock N Rolla (2008), Ritchie excelled at carving himself a name in fast-paced-twisting-crime stories. They are full of hard nuts, femme fatales, dodgy geezers, businessmen, travellers, assassins, gamblers, plus working- and upper-class types all trying to outwit and out do each other in a variety of dodgy dealings. The films also feature fine ensemble casts, crunching violence, colourful language and cracking soundtracks. All of this combines to create fine entertainment all round. It may lack subtlety, suspense and emotion, but crime has never been so much fun.



The Gentlemen (2020) continues Guy Ritchie’s decent form in the gangster comedy genre. Matthew McConaughey is the “Kingpin”, Mickey Pearson, whose underground marijuana empire is about to come under threat from various rival gangs. The plot is essentially a story of a capitalistic hostile takeover with added bullets, punch-ups, YouTube viral videos, boxers, junkies and copious use of the C-word.

Ritchie may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he certainly knows how to put together a movie. Using lashings of music to compliment the freeze frames, voice-overs, whip-pans, flashbacks, flash-forwards, close-ups, canted frames, slow motion and anything else that smashes the story along is fine by me. Plus, don’t forget the over-the-top, but ever quotable zinging dialogue and the unreliable narrator that is Hugh Grant’s weasly tabloid newspaper investigator. Grant is the standout performer here along with Colin Farrell and Charlie Hunnam’s cool but deadly fixer and second-in-command. Able support also comes from Jeremy Strong, Michelle Dockery, Eddie Marsan and Henry Golding.

Overall, The Gentlemen (2020) is not a particularly subtle film. In fact, many may find the language rather offensive in this age of the woke generation. Don’t get me wrong I’m all for political correctness and equality, but sometimes it’s just great to have a laugh and Ritchie provides this in many hilarious scenes of action and dialogue. There’s an element of substance provided in regard to the destruction drugs can cause and very mild analysis of England’s class system. However, such themes only skim the surface in what is a wonderfully irreverent, over-the-top, violent, offensive and entertaining crime comedy.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, Michelle Rejwan

Screenplay/Story by: J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow – based on characters created by George Lucas

Cast: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Richard E. Grant etc.

Music by: John Williams

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**



The J. J. Abrams directed Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) reboot broke not only the internet, but also box office records worldwide. It was a safe, entertaining and impressive spectacle which combined a mix of older characters we knew and loved, plus some bright young new things too. The action was breathtaking and brilliantly done, however, the story was a retread of A New Hope (1977) (with a female Luke), plus a series of glaring plot holes. Still, loads of action and great bad guys made this a fun blockbuster. 

Director Rian Johnson’s, sequel Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) was, of course, another massive hit across the galaxy too. However, having watched it again recently, I felt it was racked with inconsistencies in tone and suffered weak storytelling. Indeed, the whole trilogy ground to a virtual standstill with Rey’s central story standing still and Poe and Finn’s mission proving to be a redundant decoy and wild goose chase rolled into one. Furthermore, I was shocked that a meta-filmmaker like Rian Johnson was given the Star Wars gig. To me, his filmmaking choices are too genre subversive and so it proved. Because, while The Last Jedi (2019) had some memorable moments, (mostly Adam Driver) and Luke’s emotionally charged arc, yet overall it failed as a Star Wars story.


Thus, it was not surprising when genre specialist, J. J. Abrams, was brought back to save the trilogy with The Rise of Skywalker (2019). In returning to the safe, fast-paced, spectacular blockbuster style of The Force Awakens (2015), we may have lost idiosyncratic moments of character and humour, but at least this story has plot cohesion, punchy pay-offs and emotional impact. What The Rise of Skywalker (2019) also has is incredible visual set-pieces throughout. The J. J. Abrams led production army of special effects wizards have given us some memorable light-sabre and space battles. One in particular on the moon of Endor, that finds Kylo-Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) facing off, took my breath away.

Another major strength of this final episode is that Rey’s narrative arc is finally given the development it should have got in The Last Jedi (2017). Daisy Ridley’s performance too in this film is excellent. While she was a bit lightweight in the first two films, I felt she really came into her own here. This is helped by the revelation as to who her real parents were. Having said that, Abrams and his co-writers desperately scrabble around in the first hour of the film trying to set this up. At times the pace was too hectic. However, once it settled and all the flashbacks and back stories were in place, Rey’s character faces a very ominous choice. Conversely, her deadly psychic link with Kylo Ren continues to be a fascinating duel of mind, spirit and body. These developments are assisted by another compelling performance by Adam Driver. Kylo Ren’s internal struggle comes to the fore too, with a number of heart-pounding pay-offs at the end.



I’m also pleased to say that Poe (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca, and Finn (John Boyega) are given a real meaty mission to get their teeth into. One that in fact links to the main story and themes of the whole film too. The standard plot McGuffin here is a Sith “wayfinder”, which the rebel team and Rey set out to recover. Let’s be honest, it’s no more than a “Treasure Hunt” plot structure, however, at least it allows for the more emotionally charged aspects of the story to develop and leads us perfectly to the incredible battle sequences in the final act. Moreover, plot predictability aside, there are other weaknesses in the film. I didn’t mind the CGI-driven rendition of Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), however, by the ninth episode in the franchise I felt maybe they’d waited too late to introduce new aspects of the Jedi mind-trickery. But, hey it worked well in the story and was so cool that you just accept ‘the force’ as is.

Ultimately, The Rise of Skywalker (2019) is a return to genre form following the idiosyncratic subversion of The Last Jedi (2017). In fact, it was so entertaining it is the most enjoyable one (excluding the prequels) of the new trilogy. Despite a rapid start to the narrative, which tries to recoup the ground lost by the prior film, once it finds a rhythm there are some amazing action set-pieces, impressively cinematic visuals and thrilling emotional moments. While it may adhere to cookie-cutter, franchise genre expectations, overall, The Rise of Skywalker (2019) is delivered with incredible force and made for perfect holiday blockbuster entertainment.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11