Category Archives: Reviews

SHUDDER HORROR REVIEWS – KILLERS

SHUDDER HORROR REVIEWS – KILLERS

For my final slew of Shudder horror film reviews (with one television series write-up to come), I have combined a series of films which contain murder and killers central to the plot. I mean, most horror films feature these types of terrible situations, but the following movies are grounded very much in reality. Ghosts and ghouls and zombies and monsters are to the fore of the horror genre, however, for me, the shocking violence of human beings can often be far more scary on screen. Thus, these films feature assassins, revengers and serial killers which reflect the blackest part of the human soul. Marks out of eleven, with best rated first. You know the drill.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



KILLER JOE (2011) – DIRECTED BY WILLIAM FREIDKIN

Tracy Letts’ incendiary, critically acclaimed dark comedy play was adapted by himself and directed brilliantly by genre auteur, William Friedkin. Matthew McConaughey arguably relaunched his serious acting career as the eponymous and corrupt lawman, Joe Cooper, who takes a fancy to Juno Temple’s southern Lolita-type. Killer Joe (2011) is full of bleakly biting noir dialogue and some amazing performances, especially from McConaughey and Temple. Playing out like the Coen Brothers doing a horror film, the memorably disturbing ending almost put me off chicken for life. This is a true cult classic from a director, screenwriter and cast, all at the top of their game.

Mark: 9 out of 11


A PERFECT GETAWAY (2009) – DIRECTED BY: DAVID TWOHY

Kind of like Agatha Christie meets holiday show Wish You Were Here, I had a lot of fun with David Twohy’s clever-clever-meta-thriller. Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich are the honeymooners in Hawaii who find death in paradise, as a pair of serial killers are murdering holidaymakers. Having helped Vin Diesel to stardom in Pitch Black (2000), Twohy tries again with the laconic and likeable Timothy Olyphant as Macgyver-type island tourist. I’m a big Olyphant fan and he steals the show here in this nifty, twisting cat-and-mouse plot, however, the actor who would go onto massive things in the film world in none other than Chris Hemsworth. Thor pops up here portraying a tattooed-beefcake-with-an-attitude. Anyway, loads of actions, twists, pace and lovely locations make this film worth a visit.

Mark: 8 out of 11



WILDERNESS (2006) – DIRECTED BY: M.J. BASSETT

An efficient low-budget British thriller with a youngish cast led by charismatic actor, Toby Kebbell. Here, Sean Pertwee, takes his gang of youth offenders into the woods for a team-building exercise, only to find the team being destroyed by an unknown assailant. There are some decent thrills and kills throughout, but Christopher Smith’s film Severance (2006) did this idea much better. Still, it rattles along at a fine pace and Kebbell again demonstrates why Hollywood came knocking for his acting talent.

Mark: 7 out of 11


SMALLTOWN KILLERS (2017) – DIRECTED BY OLE BORNEDAL

Two Danish builders are having marital difficulties and one night when drunk, accidentally hire a Russian hitman on the ‘Dark Web’ to kill their wives. Mildly amusing, this comedic thriller is predictable with some haphazard plotting. Lastly, while the warring couples are pretty unlikeable characters, Marcin Dorocinski and Gwen Taylor, as the two hired assassins, provide some belly laughs with their hilarious performances.

Mark: 6.5 out of 11


WHITE OF THE EYE (1987) – DIRECTED BY DONALD CAMMELL

David Keith and Cathy Moriarty star in this serial-killer tale adapted from Margaret Tracy’s novel, Mrs White. Their relationship is put to the test when he becomes prime suspect in a series of murders. Cammell gets compelling performances from the leads but mishandles the plotting as the sudden twist near the end felt mildly ridiculous and contrived.

Mark: 6 out of 11


SHUDDER HORROR CLASSIC REVIEW – THE CHANGELING (1980)

SHUDDER HORROR CLASSIC REVIEW – THE CHANGELING (1980)

Directed by: Peter Medak

Produced by: Joel B. Michaels, Garth H. Drabinsky

Screenplay by: William Gray, Diana Maddox

Story by: Russell Hunter

Cast: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, John Colicos, Jean Marsh, Helen Burns, Madeleine Sherwood,

Cinematography: John Coquillon

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



If, teenagers being stalked and slashed by a crazed non-speaking maniac are your preference, then you probably would not enjoy the classic ghost story, The Changeling (1980). However, if you are rivetted and chilled by expertly crafted cinematic horror, built on a compelling screenplay, excellent performances and fine cinematography, then this is a film for you.

Not to be confused with the kidnapping thriller, Changeling (2008). The Changeling (1980) feels like one of those older films which created the mould for many other contemporary ghost narratives. A few examples include: The Woman in Black (2012), Candyman (1992), the Ring series and more recently, Hereditary (2018). Such films often feature genre tropes like:

  1. Grieving or vulnerable lead protagonist(s).
  2. A vengeful ghost or spirits who were murdered or done wrong when alive.
  3. A creepy house or location which holds a dark secret and becomes a character in it’s own right.
  4. A detective plot structure which finds said protagonist attempting to solve the mystery of the ghost’s past.
  5. Lots of creepy supernatural comings and goings that ultimately lead to the ghost’s redemption or a successfully chilling retribution.

Of course, the model for such conventions lay in the pages of classic literary ghost stories, however, having not seen The Changeling (1980) for over thirty-years, I felt like I was watching a masterpiece of the supernatural film genre. It doesn’t hurt having Oscar winning actor, George C. Scott, subtly playing the lead as grieving John Russell, a musical professor trying to come to terms with the death of his wife and child. Moreover, the mature approach to pacing and direction by Peter Medak slowly builds the terror to a real crescendo. The horror within the plot, involving a murdered child, is ably imbued by the compelling score, elegant editing and John Coquillon’s exquisite camera movement and lighting composition. Ultimately, I enjoy a good slasher film, but give me a classy supernatural tale such as The Changeling (1980) any night of the week.

Mark: 9 out of 11


SHUDDER HORROR FILM REVIEWS – VIRAL

SHUDDER HORROR FILM REVIEWS – VIRAL

The horror genre is a fantastic medium with which to explore social, cultural and political events. Thus, with the COVID-19 pandemic still threatening the world’s health, wealth and societal structures, it will not surprise anyone when we get a raft of future films, songs, shorts and television programmes influenced by pandemics, viruses and lockdowns. Yet, there have already been, since the dawn of time, many horror, drama and science fiction films and series which have dealt with the end of the world due to some unknown or man-made virus.

For example, George A. Romero’s seminal low-budget masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead (1968), influenced an eruption of cannibalistic zombie movies after release. Indeed, the wave of undead genre films show no sign of stopping either. It makes sense therefore to focus my latest Shudder reviews on virus-based films and this category is obviously called Viral! Here I review four movies I watched on Shudder which all encompass some form of infection, disease or virus which impacts the living and the dead. As usual, all marks are out of eleven with the highest-rated film first.



ONE CUT OF THE DEAD (2017) – DIRECTED BY SHIN’ICHIRO UEDA

This film has both an amazing story on and off the screen. The budget of the One Cut of the Dead (2017) has been reported to be as low as $25,000. The film went on to be a massive hit in Japan, making over $25,000,000 at the box office there and abroad. Personally speaking, I am not a fan of indulgent one-take movies, but the sheer energy and invention of the initial thirty-seven minute take, followed by the hilarious scenes later, make this zombie-film-within-a-film-within-a-film a terrific watch. The lengthy set-up makes the furious splattering of punchlines in the film’s second half an absolute scream. To think it started out as part of an acting/filmmaking course makes the creative achievement all the more incredible. If you like zombie comedies and films about filmmaking too, this genuinely breathes new life into both sub-genres.

Mark: 9 out of 11


MAYHEM (2017) – DIRECTED BY JOE LYNCH

This office-based killer-thriller-horror-comedy resonated with me, as I myself have been trapped working in the corporate world. Steven Yuen is the jaded business attorney, Derek Cho, working for a law firm that regular screws over the less wealthy. When Derek is framed and fired, he plots revenge. However, his plans go sideways quickly when a nasty virus causes his office to be quarantined. The virus itself doesn’t kill, but it is capable of making people act out their wildest impulses – which tend to involve extreme sexual, verbal and violent behaviour. Mayhem (2017) uses a geographical structure similar to The Raid (2011) and Dredd (2012), where Derek must fight his way up from the ground floor to the corporate suits at the top. Steven Yuen is fantastic in the lead and he is ably supported by movie-star-in-waiting, Samara Weaving. The action, fighting and gore are well executed, and the script contains some great twists in this fast-paced horror gem.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



THE CRAZIES (1973) – DIRECTED BY GEORGE A. ROMERO

Arguably, one of George Romero’s lesser known films is called The Crazies (1973). The narrative finds residents of a small American town accidentally infected by a darned biological weapon. The subsequent lockdown, quarantine and heavy-handed military invasion causes a small band of townspeople to fight back and attempt escape. As the soldier’s net closes in on them their lives are threatened by both the military and the virus. Overall, watching The Crazies is a dramatic, but chaotic experience. The ideas are strong, but Romero’s story is hamstrung by the low budget, choppy editing and some bad acting. Having said that, The Crazies echoes a lot of the issues our world has been experiencing lately. Although the deaths are more gruesome in Romero’s film and his characters don’t stockpile as much toilet roll as we have.

Mark: 7 out of 11


BLOOD QUANTUM (2019) – DIRECTED BY JEFF BARNABY

As well as providing a portal with which to watch older horror films, Shudder is also producing and buying up its own exclusive productions for streaming. One such release is Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum (2019). Set in 1981, on the Red Crow Indian Reservation in Quebec, Canada, it’s an entertaining addition to the zombie genre, that perhaps would have been better served as a longer series. The story set-up is simple, as local sheriff, Traylor (Michael Greyeyes), is mystified when dead animals start to reanimate. Skip forward six months and a full-on viral assault has caused the dead to come back to life. The neat twist is that the indigenous American population is immune to the disease, but white people aren’t. Traylor and his community fight the dead (and living), attempting to keep safe from those that threaten their existence. Thematically, Blood Quantum (2019) is very powerful. The subtext of racial tension within the zombie genre is dramatically explored. Moreover, there are some explosively gory deaths and decent action. My main issue was with a script that laboured in places, as the film’s pace was slowed by overlong dialogues scenes.

Mark: 7 out of 11



BBC TV REVIEW – NORMAL PEOPLE (2020)

BBC TV REVIEW – NORMAL PEOPLE (2020)

Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson, Hettie Macdonald

Written by: Sally Rooney, Alice Birch, Mark O’Rowe

Based on: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Executive producer(s): Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe, Emma Norton, Anna Ferguson, Sally Rooney, Lenny Abrahamson

Producer: Catherine Magee

Cast: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Paul Mescal, Sarah Greene, Aislin McGuckin, India Mullen, Fionn O’Shea, Eanna Hardwicke, Leah McNamara, Frank Blake, Niamh Lynch, Kwaku Fortune, Desmond Eastwood, etc.

Cinematography: Suzie Lavelle, Kate McCullough

Original Network: BBC Studios, Hulu

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



“The course of true love never did run smooth. . .” –
William Shakespeare

Love is a multi-faceted concept open to a myriad of philosophical, medical, emotional and intellectual interpretations. Conversely, an eternal question in our society still remains: what is love? Is it the joining together of two people forever committed to a relationship built on respect and trust?  Or is it the emotion you feel for a family member or person you have bonded with over time?  Is it nature’s way of tricking us into the act of pro-creation?  Perhaps it’s an abstract and emotional concept created by a higher power to ensure we act positively? For some it could be a dark force which enlivens obsession and stalking and violence or maybe it’s a marketing delusion forced upon us by greedy advertisers, florists and chocolate vendors?  Is it all of the above?

Studies by Helen Fisher of Rutgers University propose that we fall in love in three stages involving a different set of chemicals. They are: lust, attraction and attachment. Indeed, the events occurring in our mind when we fall in love are akin to mental illness. Chemicals such as: testosterone, oestrogen, dopamine, serotonin all conflict and combine to change our emotions when we’re attracted to someone. Further studies show that when choosing a partner we are at the mercy of our subconscious and inner sexual desires as proffered in psychoanalytical studies.

Love, lust and sexual desire are a big part of everybody’s lives whether they are positive or negative; indeed, the continuance of the species is very much reliant on them. Moreover, love or the lack of love has provided the springboard for millions of stories, films, plays, songs, poems, slogans, TV shows, comedies and adverts! The latest excellent love story I watched was the BBC/Hulu production called Normal People (2020). Over twelve episodes we were introduced and lured into the sweet and dark hearts of two Irish teenagers called Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones). They meet, fall in lust, have loads of sex, fall in love, generally fall out with each, fight further, go to University, go abroad, grow up, fall down and then fall back in love with each with other, and so on.



Based on Sally Rooney’s extremely successful novel of the same name, the story events begin at a Sligo Secondary school. Connell is quietly spoken and from a single parent upbringing. But he is very popular with his peers, close to the top of his class and exhibits much sporting prowess. Marianne’s family is wealthier than Connell’s. In fact, the latter’s mum, Lorraine (Sarah Greene) cleans house for Marianne’s mother. The Sheridan household is not a happy one though due to a tragedy which occurred to the father. This causes Marianne to be very angry, self-loathing and outspoken. Because of this she is somewhat of an outsider at home and school. For some unknown reason Marianne’s brother and mother are very cold toward her. Yet, despite the turmoil and class difference, Connell and Marianne share a mutual attraction, which soon becomes a sexual relationship.

As aforementioned, the path of love is not smooth as the first obstacle to the relationship comes from Connell’s paralysing fear of what his school friends think. He is a complex soul and does not have the bravery to share his true feelings to the world. Marianne becomes a secret, and this angers her, causing a major rift between the two young lovers. I won’t give any further plot details away, but it is safe to say that this is not your average romantic comedy or drama. The story beats of the romance genre are present, yet delivered in a sombre, delicate and under-the-surface style. This is not surprising given the first six episodes are subtly directed by Lenny Abrahamson, a filmmaker who has a number of wonderful character-driven films to his credit.

With confident direction, acting and a serene soundtrack, Normal People (2020) is a consistently absorbing and emotional rollercoaster. What I would say it though it often feels as if you’re watching events unfold in extreme slow motion. This isn’t a criticism though, because in the stillness of the performances, the dwelling of the camera on the character’s faces and length of shots, we’re allowed the time to breathe in the joy and pain of this complicated romance. The two lead actors Phil Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones are both incredibly well cast. They have exquisite chemistry together in both their passionate sex scenes and when they just simply exist and talk and look and love and hurt together. One may gripe that the drama could have been achieved with a tad more pace and just a few less episodes. However, if you are looking for a truthful representation of young love, with all its angst, kinks, self-loathing, insecurities and exasperating undulations, then Normal People (2020) is definitely a worthwhile experience.

Mark: 9 out of 11


ALL 4 TV REVIEW – FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER (2011 – 2020)

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER (2011 – 2020)

Created and written by: Robert Popper

Directors: Steve Bendelack, Martin Dennis

Cast: Tamsin Greig, Paul Ritter, Simon Bird, Tom Rosenthal, Mark Heap, Tracy Ann Oberman, etc.

Number of Seasons: 6 (37 episodes)

Original Network: Channel 4

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



I decided to take a break from watching the usual murder, drama, time-travel, fantasy and crime-based TV shows I gravitate toward, by bingeing all six seasons of the Channel 4 (also available on Netflix) family situation comedy, Friday Night Dinner. Created and written by Robert Popper, this hilarious, energetic and feelgood show is set within the Goodman family household in North London. While recent British comedies such as The Mighty Boosh, Spaced and Psychoville tended toward the meta-fictional and surreal genre of humour, Friday Night Dinner is very much a traditional family-based programme. The laughs come thick and fast from the characters and events that unfold during a traditional Jewish Friday night meal.

Friday Night Dinner establishes a very structured formula and sticks to it pretty much through all the six seasons. Each episode usually opens with the “bambinos” or “the boys”, Adam (Simon Bird) and his younger brother, Jonny (Tom Rosenthal), arriving at their parent’s home. There they are greeted by half-dressed father, Martin (Paul Ritter) — who often has his shirt off because he is “boiling” — and their doting mother, Jackie (Tamsin Greig). Several story strands then quickly unravel as dinner, more often than not, descends into chaos and farce. Dinner table conversation usually revolves around Mum and Dad asking if their sons have any “females” or romantic entanglements. Moreover, the parents often embarrass their kids by over-sharing details of their own sex life, or “nippy-nippy”, as they call it.



The humorous dialogue, family squabbles and constant banter is augmented by Jonny and Adam’s consistently hilarious prank pulling, plus the appearance of the Goodman’s very strange neighbour, Jim (Mark Heap) and his dog, Wilson. Where comedy series like Taxi had Latka and Seinfeld had Kramer, Jim is a similar oddball whose weird behaviour makes the rest of the family almost seem normal. I mean, the father Martin, while very eccentric in his ways, is positively sane when compared to Jim. Actually, I very much enjoyed Jim’s ridiculous attempts to “understand” the Jewish culture. His hapless ignorance often sees Jonny and Adam Goodman giving him false information about their traditions, leading to all manner of ridicule and misunderstanding. This is one of the many running gags the writer, Robert Popper, entwines throughout the six series. Such repeated jokes and funny catchphrases are the comedic fabric of a very well written and constructed show.

If you’re looking for a comedy that reinvents the wheel, then award-winning Friday Night Dinner is probably not for you. However, if you like traditional farcical comedy with fast-paced gags, physical slapstick and relatable everyday situations, then you should definitely check it out. The cast are absolutely brilliant, and all imbue their characters with likeability, empathy and just a touch of insanity. Tamsin Greig shines as the put-upon mother having to deal with her bickering sons, and hard-of-hearing husband, Martin, who is never far from causing a home disaster. I loved Paul Ritter as the in-his-own-world-hoarder, Martin, while Simon Bird and Tom Rosenthal add to the fun with their sharp comedy timing and physical hilarity. Above all else, the series works fantastically well as a comedy of errors about a warm-hearted, loving, if hopelessly dysfunctional family unit.


SIX OF THE BEST FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER EPISODES (ONE PER SERIES)

The Date – Series 1 – Episode 6 – Jackie invites a girl around for date with Adam. The only problem is Adam knows nothing about it, and he is mortified with embarrassment. At the same time, Jonny revels in Adam’s horror.

Mr Morris – Series 2 – Episode 2 – Jackie’s mother has a new gentleman friend and he has come to dinner. Mr Morris though, turns out to be very aggressive and ruins the night for everyone.

The Fox – Series 3 – Episode 3 – Martin has a dead fox in the freezer, which he intends to stuff. He asks the boys to help him extricate it to the shed without Jackie noticing. Safe to say things don’t go according to plan.

The Funeral – Series 4 – Episode 5 – Martin’s Uncle Saul has unfortunately passed away meaning they must spend the day at a funeral, and even worse, spend time with Martin’s mother AKA “Horrible Grandma.”

The Tin of MeatSeries 5 – Episode 2 – Aunty Val has been staying with the family as she is getting a divorce. Martin despairs as Val keeps throwing away all of his stuff. Finally, Martin and Val clash big time over a twenty-year old tin of meat.

The Caravan – Series 6 – Episode 1 – Martin purchases a crappy old caravan and, to Jackie’s dismay, parks it outside the house. Meanwhile, Jim has a new addition to his household, but becomes obsessed with the caravan toilet.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11



NETFLIX TV REVIEW – DIRTY JOHN (2018)

NETFLIX TV REVIEW – DIRTY JOHN (2018)

Created by: Alexandra Cunningham

Based on articles and podcast: Dirty John by Christopher Goffard

Directed by: Jeffrey Reiner

Writers: Alexandra Cunningham, Christopher Goffard, Sinead Daly, Lex Edness, Kevin J. Hynes, Evan Wright, Diana Son, etc.

Producer(s): Melinda Whitaker, Christopher Goffard, Nan Bernstein Freed, Jonathan Talbert, etc.

Cast: Connie Britton, Eric Bana, Juno Temple, Julia Garner, Jean Smart, Shea Whigham, Alan Ruck, Kevin Zegers, etc.

Composer: Mark Mothersbaugh

Original networks: Bravo (USA) and Netflix (UK)



Such is the veracious appetite journalists, writers, filmmakers, TV producers, podcasters and the audience have for true crime stories, it’s no surprise that the life of con-man, John Meehan, and his victims, was turned into a thrilling eight-part drama shown on Bravo and Netflix respectively. After decades of cons, fakery, impersonations, drug addiction, robberies, lawsuits, insurance scams, harassment, spying, stalking and consistent lying, Meehan’s criminal activities came to an end as recently as 2016. Meehan had been trained in the “art” of the con by his father from a young age. Alas, his nature could not, unlike his sister, overcome such spurious nurture and Meehan was destined for a life of crime. They say truth is stranger than fiction and that is very much the case here with some of his venomous antics quite unbelievable. However, Meehan must have had so much charm and confidence to trick the many women he deceived, his character sadly stands as a heinous example of toxic masculinity.

Eric Bana portrays John Meehan in Dirty John (2018). Bana is an excellent actor and arguably, based on his breakthrough performance in the film, Chopper (2000), one who I thought would achieve possibly more critical acclaim. His career is full of sterling work though and his handsome looks and rugged charisma are perfectly utilised as John Meehan. Indeed, when we first encounter him he is meeting Debra Newell (Connie Britton) for a date. After a sticky start the romance develops very quickly. Debra is a wealthy interior designer with her own business, and her character is exceptionally kind, but somewhat gullible. Even when her kids, Veronica (Juno Temple) and Terra (Julia Garner), warn her that something is rotten about John, her desire for John overcome any doubts she may harbour. As Debra, Connie Britton gives a brilliant representation of a woman who is desperate for love and companionship. Having said that, Juno Temple steals every scene as the mouthy daughter, Ronnie, someone who is certainly way more suspicious of John than her good-natured mother.



Structured around John and Debra’s developing romance are flashbacks to John’s prior relationships and crimes. While he is shown to be a really bad man, context is given during scenes from his youth. His father, portrayed by the excellent character actor, Shea Whigham, has young John eating a Taco with glass placed in it, so he can scam the restaurant. Such twisted examples of dire parenting give reason to John’s later behaviour, however, they should not excuse his actions in adulthood. They also explain John’s dependency on narcotics. This addiction to opiates, as well as a sociopathic desire to lie and cheat, drive the character and narrative powerfully. In the scenes where Debra, having incredibly given John another chance, helps him go cold turkey, Bana’s acting levels are most impressive.

As the drama proceeds and Debra and her daughters begin to discover the crimes of John’s past they themselves become targets of his malevolence. John is a beast Debra has alas invited into her life and one feels so much empathy for her and his other victims. Moreover, even when cornered and accused John Meehan is at his most dangerous. He often savagely attacked his accusers and their family members with severe vengeance. But, the scariest part for me was that he was “qualified” to be a Certified Registered Nurse Anaesthetist; a profession he exploited to rob and feed his drug addiction. Ultimately, I can recommend Dirty John (2018), to those who enjoy absorbing crime dramas. Some shows, with such “real life” narratives, can be exploitational in tone. However, this is a high quality production with excellent acting, writing and directing throughout. It really was edge-of-your-seat viewing, with Eric Bana’s multi-dimensional acting delivering a true monster for the millennium.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



BFI FILM REVIEW: BAIT (2019)

BFI FILM REVIEW: BAIT (2019)

Directed, written, shot and edited by: Mark Jenkin

Produced by: Kate Byers, Linn Waite

Cast: Edward Rowe, Mary Woodvine, Simon Shepherd, Giles King etc.

Production company: Early Day Films

Distributed by: BFI (UK)


**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



Not to be confused with the B-Movie shark movie, Bait (2015), Mark Jenkin’s tour-de-force arthouse classic, Bait (2019), is a whole together different kettle of fish. The story is set in Cornwall and centres around local fisherman, Martin Ward (Edward Rowe), and his various day-to-day struggles. Having had to sell the family cottage to middle-class city types, the Leigh family, Martin is fiercely determined to save up for a boat. In the meantime, he fishes with nets on the beach, as his brother, Steven (Giles King), uses their deceased father’s vessel for tourist cruises. Martin is resentful toward Steven and clashes with his brother and the Leigh’s throughout the film.

Bait (2019) is a low-budget and independent passion project. Mark Jenkin used a vintage hand-cranked Bolex camera, using 16mm monochrome film that he hand processed. He wrote, directed, lit, filmed and edited the film, but also used an army of local people to assist with the production. The story and themes of gentrification and city versus coastal types are explored very effectively in Bait (2019). Wherever you stand on the point of traditionalism versus upward mobility and financial appropriation, via the character of Martin and Edward Rowe’s bruising and hulking performance there are very powerful emotions of grief, loss and cultural absorption represented. The writing is initially quite simple in that the Leigh family are a negative force within the Cornish village. The son, Hugo, creates a lot of conflict by destroying Martin’s lobster traps and clashing with local hothead youth, Wenna (Chloe Endean). However, the Leigh’s are not mere stereotypes, but rather just shown as a family unit, like the Wards, who are trying to make a living.

Bait (2019) won’t be for everyone though as it is very experimental in nature. While the story and themes are clear, the editing, black-and-white-scratchy photography, dubbed dialogue and sound creates a self-consciously arty experience. Indeed, while some may proclaim the style as original, it is obviously influenced by cinematic formalists including Jean-Luc Godard, Ingmar Bergman and Sergei Eisenstein. The elliptical montage editing style, direct address (actors stare either at or just off camera) and overlapping dialogue will certainly appeal to film students and scholars alike. Overall, Bait (2019) treads a fine line between genius cinema and what could be classed as plain bad filmmaking. Thankfully, we have wonderful film critics, like Mark Kermode, to tell us it is one of the best and most important British films released in the last decade.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

NETFLIX TV REVIEW – BETTER CALL SAUL (2020) – SEASON 5

NETFLIX TV REVIEW – BETTER CALL SAUL (2020) – SEASON 5

Created by: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould

Executive producer(s): Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Mark Johnson, Melissa Bernstein, Thomas Schnauz, Gennifer Hutchison,

Producer(s): Bob Odenkirk, Nina Jack, Diane Mercer, Robin Sweet, Gordon Smith, Jonathan Glatzer,

Directors: Bronwen Hughes, Norberto Barba, Michael Morris, Gordon Smith, Jim McKay, Melissa Bernstein, Vince Gilligan, Thomas Schnauz, Peter Gould,

Writers: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Thomas Schnauz, Gordon Smith, Alison Tatlock, Heather Marion, Ann Cherkis,

Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn, Patrick Fabian, Michael Mando, Tony Dalton, Giancarlo Esposito, etc.

Cinematography: Arthur Albert, Marshall Adams

Production company(s): High Bridge Productions, Crystal Diner Productions, Gran Via Productions, Sony Pictures Television

Original network: AMC

UK Release: Netflix

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



“We all make our choices. And those choices, they put us on a road. Sometimes those choices seem small, but they put you on the road. You think about getting off. But eventually, you’re back on it.”
Mike Ermantraut – Better Call Saul (S5 – Episode 9)


One thought, of many, that I will take to my dying day is in regard to the business of the war on drugs. I get that people want to strive for intoxication in order to medicine themselves against the pain and struggle of everyday life. I get that humans love to get high and have a party. I get that people unfortunately get addicted to substances, so much so they turn into junkies existing only for their next fix. It may not make it right, but I get why people do drugs.

I also understand the business of making money selling drugs. The drug dealers and Cartels across the world earn a fortune farming, creating, distributing and selling narcotics. Moreover, Governments, across our civilisation, attempt yet fail, to stop them. I get all this. What I don’t understand though is when the Cartels make SO much money, and wall it up in safehouses, farms and apartments — why don’t they stop!! They have enough! Just retire. It’s a naive question, obviously. Because the money, drugs, lifestyle and power are also an addiction. It’s an insane game. It’s a bad road. It’s another indictment against the evil of humanity and our greed-driven society. Having said that the conflict with drugs and more specifically that of the Mexican drug Cartels is also providing the masses with some fine television drama.


Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill, Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler – Better Call Saul – Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Following hot on the heels of the gripping Season 3 of Cartel-driven thriller, Ozark (2020), comes Season 5 of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s crime prequel to Breaking Bad — the brilliant, Better Call Saul. Once again, it proves itself an incredibly well written character drama, containing some of the finest acting around. I mean, some shows you watch, and they can be a struggle. But Better Call Saul is like digital silk, so smooth in its presentation. The overall style, colour scheme, imaginative camera angles and framing make the show a joy to experience. The story isn’t too bad either.

Having worked through his conflicts with his brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), in the previous sterling seasons, Jimmy McGill finally embraces the ‘Saul Goodman’ legal name and persona. In this season though, in attempting to create a niche making a living helping the lower level criminal element, Jimmy/Saul, eventually finds his legal skills being employed by the Salamanca drug Cartel. Here Saul makes decisions which drag him, and his partner, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), into a series of dangerous drug-related situations in and out of court. Indeed, episode 8, Bagman, is as good as crime drama gets in terms of narrative, conflict, characterisation and dialogue.

While Bob Odenkirk again sparkles as the cheeky ducker-and-diver-lawyer, Saul Goodman, it’s Rhee Seehorn as Kim Wexler who steals the show. The development of her character from corporate legal player to something more than a money-driven suit is fascinating. In addition, her shifting attitudes also reflect a possible adrenaline addiction to the danger that Saul’s questionable choices bring. Meanwhile, Jonathan Banks as experienced fixer, Mike Ermantraut; Giancarlo Esposito as drug boss, Gustavo Fring; and new cast member, Tony Dalton as Lalo Salamanca, all add to sheer acting charisma and talent on screen. Ultimately, the war on drugs will never be won because there is an insatiable demand for narcotics, and a more fervent demand to supply them. I’m just so happy I am very far removed from the ‘Badlands’ of the Mexican drug Cartels. No doubt after the latest season of Better Call Saul, Saul Goodman, will be feeling very much the same. After all, we are all eventually a prisoner of our own bad choices.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11



SKY TV REVIEW – GANGS OF LONDON (2020)

SKY TV REVIEW – GANGS OF LONDON (2020)

Created by: Gareth Evans, Matt Flannery

Directors: Gareth Evans (2 episodes), Corin Hardy (4 episodes), Xavier Gens (3 episodes)

Executive producer(s): Thomas Benski, Lucas Ochoa, Jane Featherstone, Gabriel Silver

Producer(s): Hugh Warren

Writers: Claire Wilson, Peter Berry, Joe Murtagh, Gareth Evans, Matt Flannery, Lauren Sequeira, Carl Joos,

Cast: Joe Cole, Sope Dirisu, Lucian Msamati, Michelle Fairley, Mark Lewis Jones, Narges Rashidi, Parth Thakerar, Asif Raza Mir, Valene Kane, Brian Vernel, Jing Lusi, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Orli Shuka, Richard Harrington, Jude Akuwudike, Emmett J. Scanlan, Colm Meaney etc.

Production company(s): Pulse Films, Sister Pictures, Sky Studios

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**



The British, or more specifically, London-based gangster narrative is a well-trodden pathway for writers, directors and filmmakers. In fact, when Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) was a low-budget sleeper hit, agents and film companies were never more than a few feet away from a cheeky-chappie-laddish-gangster script. Ritchie obviously has made his name in the crime genre and his most recent film, The Gentlemen (2020), was another rollicking piece of entertainment. However, Ritchie’s stylish geezer model doesn’t always show the serious side of the British crime yarn. Films such as: Villain (1971), Get Carter (1971), The Long Good Friday (1980), Mona Lisa (1986), The Krays (1990), Sexy Beast (2000), Legend (2015), and many more, represent the dark and brutal face of hard-nut masculinity and the profession of violence. Enter the new Sky drama, Gangs of London (2020), which over nine episodes pitches itself as a similarly stern contemporary gangster fable, but with lashings of explosive action set-pieces, savage fisticuffs and a few severed hands thrown in for good measure.

From the opening scene — which finds heir apparent to the Wallace Corporation, Sean (Joe Cole), burning alive and dropping a low-level hoodie off a sky-scraping construction building — the brutal tone is set. Flashbacks then reveal the reason for Sean’s ire. His father, Finn (Colm Meaney), was murdered while on the Albanian mafia’s turf and thus he demands revenge. So far, so Hamlet! Yet, this is no singular character’s journey into the psychological depths of real or invented madness. Mostly, we find a sprawling, multicultural and international ensemble piece with the world of crime represented by aforementioned Albanians, Nigerians, Kurdish freedom fighters, Chinese gangs, Pakistani drug cartels, Welsh travellers and various other criminal elements.

While there is some soul searching for Sean as Finn Wallace’s buried secrets are latterly exposed within the drama, this is very much a symbolic and sadistic manifestation of Brexit. Moreover, it critiques the rise of gangster culture from the mean capital streets into the corporate boardroom. The Wallace’s billion-pound construction business acts as a front for money laundering, drugs deals, prostitution, people smuggling, gun-running and other nefarious crimes. Business has never been so good; that is until Finn Wallace is killed. Henceforth, all hell breaks loose on the streets of London and the police, who all seem to be in the pockets of the gangs, are unable or unwilling to control it.



The gangster genre can be a challenge for writers, directors and actors as they attempt to sidestep the cliches. Moreover, these stories predominantly show violent and amoral characters attacking or cheating or back-stabbing one another. Thus, it can be difficult to create empathy for such nasty people. Nonetheless, given the continued success of such narratives, the anti-heroic ensemble represented by the likes of the Wallace, Dumani, Afridi, Dushaj and Edwards’ families, among others, give the audience plenty to get our teeth into. There are so many different characters, motives, actions and desires on show that the sheer pace and twists in the narrative can leave one breathless. That isn’t to say the pace is rapid. There is a brooding suspense and grave depth to the overall direction. At times the drama, as well as the casting of Michelle Fairley (Lady Stark), reminded me of Game of Thrones in crime form. It gives us high-quality genre storytelling interspersed with some incredibly violent fight scenes and shoot-outs. It doesn’t quite have the heroes that Games of Thrones had though. The closest we get to a rootable character is Sope Dirisu’s low-level enforcer, Elliott Finch, who has a big secret to hold onto. Dirisu gives a powerful performance both emotionally and physically as he fights his way up the Wallace chain of command.

Gangs of London (2020) was created by Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery for Cinemax and Sky Studios. Evans, of course, is the talented Welsh filmmaker who had to go all the way to Indonesia and direct Merantau (2009), The Raid (2011) and The Raid 2 (2014), in order to make a name for himself in the film industry. He is a director with a special set of skills, especially when it comes to the knuckle-breaking and heart-stabbing fight sequences. Thus, the episodes he directs stand out among the best of the series. Notably Episodes 1 and 5, which feature an incredible bare-knuckled-table-leg-glass-in-the-face bar fracas and a bloody-mercenary-raid-on-a- country-farmhouse set-piece respectively. The remainder of the series arguably pales a little where the action is concerned, however, there remains some shockingly grotesque acts of violence as the corpses mount up the further the series proceeds. Indeed, as Sean Wallace attempts to locate his father’s killer and order from the chaos, he will find little in the way of salvation, redemption and satisfaction in the life of a London gangster. If only he’d watched more crime films, he’d know that already.

Mark: 9 out of 11



FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #11 – HOUNDS OF LOVE (2016)

FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #11 – HOUNDS OF LOVE (2016)

Written and Directed by: Ben Young

Produced by: Melissa Kelly

Cast: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry, Harris Gilbertson, Susie Porter, Damian De Montemas, etc.

Music by: Dan Luscombe

Cinematography: Michael McDermott

Edited by: Merlin Eden

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Where narratives relating to rape, abduction, and serial killers are concerned, a filmmaker can tread a fine line between lurid exploitation and absorbing suspense and drama. Low budget B-movies are replete with stories of death, sexual assault and crazed murderers. Some overstep the mark becoming notorious beacons of bad taste. Many horror fans love the exploitational nature of “video nasties”, seeking out films like: Cannibal Holocaust (1980), A Serbian Film (2010), I Spit on Your Grave (1978), Driller Killer (1979), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and The Last House on the Left (1972), to name but a few. The latter two films directed by horror maestros Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven are arguably exceptional visions of terror which transcend their horror genre subject matter. Similarly, Ben Young’s The Hounds of Love (2016), in my view, represents the evil of human beings without exploiting the actors or audience.

While it may not be as gory on-screen as the films mentioned above, The Hounds of Love (2016), does offer a shattering and sickening set of images and sounds within these savage set of events. Set in Perth, Australia during 1987, this is a disturbing and all too realistic horror story. It opens with a majestic set of slow-motion shots from the point-of-view of suburban couple, Evelyn White (Emma Booth) and John White (Stephen Curry). They sit in their vehicle as the sun hazes and watch teenage girls playing netball in the school yard. They are stalking their next victim; patiently waiting to lure another unsuspecting soul into their nefariously sadistic crimes. Stylistically impressive, but at the same time incredibly unnerving, Ben Young skilfully establishes the canvas on which he will paint further horrors.



Having fed their violent and sexual lust with the opening victim, we are then introduced to their next. Vicki Moloney (Ashleigh Cummings) is a rebellious teenager who is smarting from her parents recent split. Acting with both charisma and defiance, Vicki is slightly annoying, yet empathetic. Obviously, she does not deserve the ordeal she is about to experience at the hands of the Whites. The sequence which finds them cajoling her into their clutches is so tense and had me screaming at the screen, “No!!!! Get out!!!” What follows then, as Vicki becomes a prisoner, is a series of heart-pounding and distressing scenes which raise the stakes to unbearable tension. Ashleigh Cummings performance is absolutely compelling as “final girl”, Vicki. She takes a potentially one-dimensional casualty and imbues her with fight, guile, pain, distress, intelligence and determination. No surprise therefore that she won a Best acting debut award at the Venice Film Festival.

Cummings performance is not the only one which impacts the story greatly. Emma Booth’s complex portrayal of Evelyn is quite startling. This is a character who is permanently on-the-edge and desperate to please her evil partner, John. Systematically controlled and bullied, there is no excuse for Evelyn’s part in the kidnappings and torture of these young girls. But, it is clear to see that toxic masculinity has, over the years contributed to her mental and emotional collapse. Booth’s persistently fraught acting is all bag-of-bones and shredded nerves. It is via Evelyn’s imploding emotional state that Vicki is able to attempt to turn her against John’s venal influence.

Ultimately, one could say this is an exploitation film in terms of theme and story. However, it feels different than the many B-movie serial killer films I have seen. I felt like I was in the hands of a filmmaker who was determined to explore the nature of sadistic relationships in a risky, but intelligent manner. The acting, cinematography, direction and haunting soundtrack all contribute to make this a highly effective psychological thriller. Of course, there are many which may feel differently and that the film has its cake and eats it in term of violence and sexual perversion. Yet, we never actually see much of the cake. Unlike many of the films I mention in the opening paragraph, the audience only see the build-up and aftermath of the crimes. Indeed, what we don’t see on screen is more frightening than what we do. That, overall, is what sets The Hounds of Love (2016) apart from many other films dealing with these unpalatable themes and subjects.

Mark: 9 out of 11