Cast: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jonathan Bailey, Julie Dray, Louise Ford, Damien Moloney, Amit Shah, Susan Wokoma, Adrian Scarborough etc.
Original Network: Channel 4 Television (UK)
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
While Netflix, Sky, Fox, Disney and Amazon dominate much of the digital television output across the English-speaking world, Britain has, in the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 a lot to offer in regard to TV entertainment. I watch a lot of the main drama and comedy from the BBC, but I thought perhaps I needed a little catch-up on some Channel 4 shows I may have missed.
Thus, I set up an account at ALL 4 – https://www.channel4.com/ – and had a little look about. There are hundreds of films, comedies and dramas on their channel produced in the UK, Europe and the globe in general. So, I will be writing some reviews of stuff I’ve been catching up on that I can recommend. I have to state ALL 4 is great value because it is ad-driven and there is NO monthly subscription.
Crashing (2016), is a comedy centred around property guardians. Such people rent disused properties at a discounted rate but have to “protect” the property and leave virtually immediately when the landlord demands. It’s a great set-up for a television format as it allows for a mixture of various characters to connect in comedic, dramatic, romantic and hysterical ways. The setting, a disused hospital, is also great with the abandoned building providing a strong visual theme throughout.
Written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, prior to her Fleabagand Killing Eve fame, the script pulls focus on six such property guardians. Waller-Bridge is Lulu, a twenty-something party girl drifting into London town looking for childhood friend Anthony. You can obviously see elements of her Fleabag persona in Lulu notably the way she uses alcohol, flirting and chaotic sexuality to hide her true feelings. Other characters are: said friend, Anthony; his girlfriend, neurotic Kate; middle-aged depressive Colin; French artist, Melody; awkward professional, Fred; and grieving, but charismatic estate agent, Sam. Kate, especially, is a progenitor for Fleabag’s hyper-stressed sister, Claire.
Waller-Bridge has created an interesting chorus of variant personalities who laugh and conflict and romance and sex in a very entertaining six episodes. I would say the show is more comedic than dramatic and there are some really funny moments which tend toward the slapstick, bodily functions, comedic misunderstanding or are just simply sex-driven. Who-fancies-who-or-who-is-fucking-who is a believable running theme through the show but there is some pathos there, especially with Colin, Fred and Sam’s characters. Overall, this is an under-rated comedy gem which, while it only ran for just one season, is definitely worth watching for the fast-paced writing and excellent ensemble acting.
On Sunday the 30th June 2019 I did two of my favourite things. I took a long walk through the city of London and watched loads of short films.
London is obviously a very busy city and hive of activity during the week. However, on a Sunday it, despite there still being traffic, is way more peaceful. Well, especially from eight in the morning until around lunchtime. Indeed, until I got to the tourist trap that is Westminster it had been a pleasure to walk down the Thames Embankment and through the city of London.
I set out to walk from Clapham to Hackney and my destination was the Yard Theatre, Hackney. I made the walk of around ten miles in good time and the event was The Shortest Nights 2019 – Short Film Festival.
The Shortest Nights is an annual celebration of British short film. They bring you five cutting-edge programmes across a range of themes and genres featuring new works from emerging British filmmakers.
The people running the event are so enthusiastic and put on a great array of different British short film productions. Overall, there were thirty-nine short films and I watched all of them. It was a great day and I was especially impressed by the: comedies, horrors, documentaries, dramas, animation and art-house films on show.
There were low-to-high budget short films of brilliant quality and the programmes were broken down into five categories. So, if you ever get a chance to go to their film events I recommend it to all filmmakers and film fans alike.
Story by: John Lasseter, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Martin Hynes, Stephany Folsom, Andrew Stanton
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hales, Keegan Michael-Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Joan Cusack, John Ratzenberger, Timothy Dalton etc.
Production company(s): Walt Disney, Pixar Animation
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I almost don’t feel qualified any more to review a sequel that was neither expected or necessary. After all, it’s a sequel to a film trilogy which was almost perfect in its’ delivery and execution. But, having paid big bucks for Pixar in 2006, I doubt Toy Story 4 will be the last unnecessary sequel of their products. After all, Disney are in show BUSINESS!!
I also don’t feel qualified as I am so cynical and jaded that the characters of Toy Story do not interest me anymore. In my mind their story is done. Plus, it’s really for kids, isn’t it? However, that isn’t to say that Pixar/Disney have not, once again, created an incredible technical tapestry of some genius. The colour, texture and attention to detail on show are incredible as usual. Similarly, the ultra-talented voice acting of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts etc. are joined by the brilliant Key and Peele, Christina Hendricks and Tony Hales for the latest release.
Hales offers the voice of potentially one of the worst characters Pixar have ever created: Forky. In fact I think they set out to invent one of the worst characters as a challenge to see if they could make it work. You know what? I think they did make it work. Forky is something the toys’ owner, Bonnie, creates on her first day of kindergarten and with the magic of make-believe he becomes, unknown to her, sentient. We then get the experience of watching a fictitious plastic spork suffering an existential crisis and attempting suicide-by-trash. That’s when good old Woody then tries to teach him his worth.
The sheer goofiness of all this strange plotting works for and against the film. It’s so surreal I thought David Lynch had a hand in the story. Having said that the writer and story credits almost number a football team, so the Frankensteinesque patchwork nature of the screenplay is unsurprisingly. The stitching that holds it all together is Woody’s character. Many of the other toys, including Buzz, are almost sidelined for Woody’s hysterical attempts to control everything around him.
There were a myriad of plots strangling the narrative of Toy Story 4 but the character of Gabby Gabby, voiced by Christina Hendricks was arguably the most interesting. Echoing the villainy and bitterness of Lotso from the previous sequel, her ventriloquist dummy hench-toys were very creepy and her character added a dark heart amidst the kaleidoscope of wondrous colours. I could take or leave Bo Peep’s, Bonnie’s and Forky’s escapades, but Woody’s encounter with Gabby Gabby was my favourite. Oh, not to forget, Keanu Reeves hilarious little cameo as stunt-toy, Duke Caboom.
Overall, Pixar and Disney do this kind of film amazingly well. Once again one marvels at the technical quality of the animation on show. The story, themes and characters, however, felt a bit recycled and if they do more of these films I think they probably need to jump the shark and allow the toys to finally be seen and heard. How many times can the same joke work? I’m not sure. What is certain though, as long as it makes money Disney will have no issues selling it to the kids. I’m just so old and jaded I’m ready for the attic with all the other discarded and tired toys.
Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Dayton Callie, Kim Dickens, Brad Dourif, John Hawkes, Paula Malcolmson, and Robin Weigert, Keone Young, William Sanderson, Gerald McCraney etc.
Cinematography: David Klein
Original Network: HBO
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
David Milch’s formidable Western TV classic was a show I’d never ever seen. So, I took great pleasure drinking in its’ flavours and palette at the end of 2017. I was so glad I did because Deadwoodis one of the most brilliantly written shows I’ve seen; and while the dialogue is clearly anachronistic it feels paradoxically authentic. Throughout the thirty-six episodes the monologues sing from the screen as a litany of character actors drawl and deliver words of filth, comedy and great tragedy. At times the dialogue is so dense it reaches sonorous Shakespearean heights.
After three brilliant seasons of Wild West slice-of-life the show was cancelled and the various narrative strands were left loose. But Deadwood (2019) returns one final time with a movie that further elucidates desperate times brimming with whores, bandits, con-artists, killers and a twisted and violent rendition of the American dream. With most of the original cast returning and the action set some ten years after the final season ended in 1889, here we find scores to be settled, relationships to be consolidated and revenging to be done.
The main thrust of the film shows nefarious Senator George Hearst at constant loggerheads with the townsfolk, especially the noble but angry Marshall Bullock; Trixie the prostitute who tried to kill Hearst; and Ian McShane’s gutter-mouthed bar owner, Al Swearengen. Al’s body and health are crumbling due to his heavy drinking and he becomes more a liver-failed spectator amidst the dirty narrative twists and turns.
Given it was more about the characters, performance and dialogue I actually didn’t mind the open-ending provided by the cancellation of the show. I liked that their lives just went on off-screen until they became the proverbial quintessence of dust. However, there is much to enjoy in getting a belly full of these hard-bitten, drunken characters again. As send-offs go the film is a filthy joy. I especially enjoyed seeing Timothy Olyphant as Bullock, Paula Malcolmson as Trixie, Ian McShane as Al; and the marvellous Robin Weigert as Calamity Jane. They all enrich the proceedings with incredible acting performances.
Deadwood may represent a series of distant Wild West memories but its’ grizzled and bloody vision of humanity is just as valid today. The streets of society now may have pavement and tarmac and skyscrapers but they are still besmirched with blood and greed and revenge of the Wild West. While arguably unnecessary this final film is an ebullient and entertaining drift back to the past with enough spittle, blood, anger, justice, love, profanity and mud to please the die-hard Deadwood fans.
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner, Gregory Alan Williams etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
What if Superman was evil? As concepts go Brightburn (2019) has a simple but highly impressive one. The trailer too was brilliant and it was only when I saw a few negative reviews did I baulk at going to see the brisk B-movie-super-hero-horror-film. So, does a great pitch, and cool trailer lead to a great movie? In part yes; and in part no!
With the indie-turned-blockbuster director, James Gunn, in the wings producing the film, Brightburn clearly has a pedigree in superhero, comedy and horror film-making. I loved his low budget gem Super (2010) and his work helming the Guardians of the Galaxy films is also impressive. One wonders if Brightburn may have worked better with James Gunn directing but we will never know.
Set, unsurprisingly in Brightburn, Kansas, the story completely steals the Superman origin narrative and twists it in a fun and gory way. Farming couple Tori and Kyle Breyer are desperate for a kid and have failed to conceive naturally. Fortunately, or so it seems at first, a child falls from the skies, and rather than tell the authorities they adopt the kid as their own.
Flash-forward and Brandon is now twelve years old and puberty is fast approaching; cue bodily changes but not the kind his parents were expecting. As Brandon deals with school bullies and his first crush he suddenly begins going into trances and attempting to unlock that red glowy thing in the barn. What could it all mean? Mayhem! Bloody mayhem is what it means!
I really enjoyed Brightburn. It’s script is a bit dumb and some of the character choices are pretty ridiculous, especially when Brandon starts behaving violently at school and around the house. However, I loved the fast-pace, the concept, the dark horror, the red-masked image system, and the gore. Moreover, while many were given away in the trailer, there are some brilliant set-pieces and scares throughout.
Some of the negative reviews I have seen may have come from the wrong angle on Brightburn. Its not really meant to be taken seriously despite the compelling and dramatic performance from Elizabeth Banks. For me it’s to be watched as an imaginative low-budget B-movie feature, somewhat reminiscent of those “kids-go-bad” 1980’s horrors I used to rent from local video store.
There’s an element of depth as it touches on themes relating to puberty, adoption and the trials of parenthood; ultimately though it’s about the rise of an evil anti-hero in a gas mask with glowing red eyes!! In a nutshell, Brightburn is one for B-movie horror fans everywhere and I definitely want them to expand the universe.
TO BOLDLY REVIEW #6 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION – SEASON 1
Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry
Season 1 writers (selected): John F. Black, Diane Duane, D.C. Fontana, Maurice Hurley, Robert Lewin, Richard Manning, Kathryn Powers, Gene Roddenberry, Joseph Stefano, Tracy Torme etc.
Season 1 directors (selected): Colin Bucksey, Rob Bowman, Cliff Bole, Les Landau, Kim Manners, Win Phelps, Mike Vejar etc.
Main Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Denise Crosby, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton etc.
Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway
Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television
**THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS**
“MAKE IT SO. . .”
So, my cultural journey beyond the stars continues with a review of the first season of Star Trek: Next Generation. It took some serious time for what was originally known as Phase II to take off. Indeed, they finally hit warp speed during the late 1980’s. Roddenberry, the original Enterprise crew, plus swarms of Paramount employees had kept themselves busy with the ‘Original Series’ cinema releases, but, in 1986, a new TV series was announced.
Then, almost a year later in September 1987, Star Trek: Next Generation was released. TNG featured: a new crew, a more advanced class of Enterprise, and a variety of new aliens, planets and galaxies to boldly explore. While there was an initial decree to avoid all the old enemies from the original series, the Klingons, Romulans and more, slowly bled into the show as it was further developed.
Much has been written about Star Trek in general and the internet is brimming with articles, features, interviews, podcasts, fan films and documentaries which would take an immortal’s lifetime to read. So, my approach to this piece is to concentrate on the characters, narratives, themes and concepts which leapt out while watching it.
Overall, I really enjoyed most of Star Trek: Next Generation – Season 1. I have read that die-hard fans were resistant to the idea their favourite show from the 1960’s was getting a makeover. However, Paramount/CBS Studios chucked $1.3 million at each episode and shot on 35MM film, thus demonstrating a commitment to a quality product.
Even watching it now I am impressed by the production values, cast, direction and science fiction concepts. Obviously some of the effects are a bit dated compared to what we experience today but I always prefer in-camera effects and prosthesis, anyway. Having said that Star Trek has always been about strong ideas and themes for me.
In terms of story and character there are some very strong episodes and some pretty weak ones. Gene Roddenberry, his producers and raft of writers were, reported to be consistently at loggerheads throughout the production. So much so very few of the original TNG writing team remained by the end. It’s a testament to the rock-solid formula of the show that such issues did not hinder the ultimate consistency of entertainment while I was watching.
My main criticism is that some episodes felt like first drafts. Plus, there was, on occasions, a few episodes which were top heavy in set-up and rushed toward the end. Nonetheless, Roddenberry’s original format is always fascinating and you could certainly feel that when they successfully married: the science fiction concepts, characters, tone and dialogue you got many great episodes.
THE FAMILY UNIT
Holding the narratives and show together was an exceptionally brilliant set of actors. I mean, in the cold light of space, Star Trek: Next Generation could be deemed just men, women and aliens in silly outfits. Of course, we know it’s much more intelligent than that. So with acting heavyweight Patrick Stewart leading the way, all the cast were committed to their roles formidably. They had to be for it to work so well.
To me TNG was structured around a quasi-family unit, as opposed to the naval/military hierarchy of the ‘Original Series’. Captain Jean-Luc Picard majestically leads from the front with authority and a keen sense of fair play. Dr Beverly Crusher is the pseudo-matriarch, both professional and caring. Further, the other main members of the crew are, very loosely speaking, the children.
Riker I’d suggest is the first son and heir apparent, closely followed in the hierarchy by Geordi. The likes of data and Wesley are the younger, gifted children, full of intelligence and enquiry. The sensitive, Troi and tougher Yasha represent the older daughters, while I’m not quite sure how the Klingon, Worf, fits in. Perhaps, he’s a bastard son or long lost cousin seeking affirmation of the family unit. Thus, these characters as a ‘family’ support the spine of the show, all combining with varying strength and characteristics to form a whole that propels both drama and emotion.
THE REST IS HISTORY. . .
Star Trek: Next Generation consisted of TWENTY-SIX episodes!! While no doubt well paid, this remains an incredible workload for the cast and crew. Initially, the season got off to a difficult start in terms of ratings and reviews. Nonetheless, by the end of the season , the class of the production and format shone through. Furthermore, it would be nominated for seven Emmy TV awards. Ratings would also improve and it became the highest rated syndication series by the end of the run. To conclude, I would like to look at six episodes from season 1 which I felt stood out while I watched them.
THE BIG GOODBYE – EPISODE 12
The ‘Holodeck‘ plays a huge part in the series as a whole. It’s a fantastic way to marry the past and future together. In this clever episode Picard attempts to escape into one of his favourite film noir simulations but gets more than he bargained for. Then when the holodeck malfunctions, Picard and his crew find themselves in the midst of a simulated “real-life” and perilous gangster mystery.
DATALORE – EPISODE 13
I love a good Jekyll and Hyde story and this one explores the origin of much respected android, Data. Brett Spiner is such a good television actor and he nails both roles as Data and his “brother” Lore, who, as genre conventions require, is basically bad Data and hell-bent on taking control of the Enterprise.
HEART OF GLORY – EPISODE 20
Obviously the stories involving the Federation are always interesting but often I really enjoy the more personal narratives. In this episode Michael Dorn as Worf finds his allegiances between the Enterprise and fellow Klingons tested. It’s a fine character exploration as we get to see Worf’s warrior persona versus the more reasoned Starfleet side.
THE ARSENAL OF FREEDOM – EPISODE 21
War, or threat of war has always been at the heart of many great episodes. The concept that a planet of arms dealers who are killed by their own hi-tech product was a great idea. It also gave the crew and Enterprise major threats on the planet they visit and in space. The action, character development and suspense make this a very thrilling episode all-round.
SYMBIOSIS – EPISODE 22
Social commentary was a key component of the ‘Original Series’. Many episodes tapped into the zeitgeist of the 1960’s issues relating to war, race, religion and gender etc. TNG continued this tradition with Symbiosis which expertly explores the nature of narcotic addiction and how it can be exploited to negative effect by an alien race. I especially enjoyed the grey ending where the ‘Prime Directive‘ comes into play.
CONSPIRACY – EPISODE 25
A major rule throughout Star Trek is that the Federation is not to be shown as corrupt. There have been exceptions to this in certain feature films and they get around this in Conspiracy with the Federation top brass invaded by parasitic aliens. The narrative was very strong and felt like a feature film story in scale. I also loved the David Cronenberg-style monsters appearance in the gory finale.
Created by: Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Andrew Ross Sorkin
Writers: Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Lenore Zion, Michael Russell Gunn, Adam R. Perlman, Alice O’Neill etc.
Directors: Colin Bucksey, Adam Bernstein, Neil Burger, Matthew McLoota, Jessica Yu, Laurie Collyer, Naomi Geraghty
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff, Malin Åkerman, Toby Leonard Moore, David Costabile, Condola Rashād, Asia Kate Dillon, Jeffrey DeMunn, John Malkovich, Kelly Aucoin, Stephen Kunken, Nina Arianda, Kevin Pollak, Clancy Brown etc.
Distributor: Showtime Network
**CONTAIN SPOILERS of BILLIONS – SEASONS 1 – 3**
One of the great sober pleasures in life and culture is finding a great television show and digging into it from the start. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing catch-up binges of programmes I missed first time. Indeed, I recently just finished imbibing seven mercurial seasons of the amazing Mad Men. Yet, having watched it from the outset, Billions, has now become a high priority watch for me every year.
Season 4 once again delivers all that I want from my Billionsfixation. If you haven’t seen it then it is essentially about spoilt, rich narcissists at the higher echelons of American justice and business trying to destroy each other. The first three seasons found Paul Giamatti’s legal demon battling Damian Lewis’ financial titan. It’s good old fashioned revenge drama, with a reliance on proper plotting, sharp dialogue and an amazing ensemble cast.
The latest season begins with amazingly, Chuck and Bobby, enjoying a kind of peace, assisting each other against various foes. All the same themes are in place with greed and power destroying love and trust, except, if I’m not mistaken, the narrative beats are even faster-paced and brutal. Amidst the back-stabbing dramatics though the writers do find some time for wicked humour; especially in the very funny episodes,Chickentownand American Champion.
But the main reason for watching is to experience these corporate and legal vipers bite each others faces off. Indeed, the devious plots that are set in motion are quite breath-taking. The writing is as twisted as a corkscrew plunged into the forehead. Moreover, the cast just relish playing these characters with Lewis, Giamatti, Maggie Siff and David “Wags” Constabile regularly stealing scenes from each other.
As Bobby’s 4 nemesis, Taylor Mason, Asia Kate Dillon was also brilliant. The sub-plot involving her fathers’ (Kevin Pollak) start-up technology firm was especially strong, proving that mixing family and business relationships are doomed in this world. I’d also say Chuck’s battle with Attorney General Jock Jeffcoate (Clancy Brown), was arguably a major highlight of a very strong season. Perhaps John Malkovich’s Russian Oligarch could have been given more to do, but overall, the Machiavellian machinations of Billionshad me gripped from start to finish. It was, literally, the absolute business!