Category Archives: Television

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



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



NETFLIX DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: DIRTY MONEY (SEASONS 1 & 2)

NETFLIX REVIEW: DIRTY MONEY (S1 – S2)

Directors: Alex Gibney, Jesse Moss, Erin Lee Carr, Kristi Jacobson, Brian McGinn, Fisher Stevens, Dan Krauss, Zachary Heinzerling, Daniel DiMauro, Morgan Pehme, Stephen Maing, Kyoko Miyake, Margaret Brown

Executive producer(s): Adam Del Deo, Yon Motskin, Lisa Nishimura, Stacey Offman, Jason Spingarn-Koff, Alex Gibney

Production company(s)  Jigsaw Productions

Distributor: Netflix



Do you remember that scene in The Matrix (1999)? Not the famous one where Neo (Keanu Reeves) is given the choice of taking the red pill or blue pill. Not the scene where he is told the blue pill will allow him to remain in the fabricated reality of the ‘Matrix’; whereas the red pill will let him locate his body in the real world to be “unplugged” from the ‘Matrix.’ No, I’m talking about the scene where Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) asks specifically to be sent back into the ‘Matrix’, so he can forget about the horrific nature of his reality. He’s so sick of feeling powerless and fighting against a system he cannot beat, he is prepared to sell out his comrades and go back to blissful ignorance of the alien control machine. I call this unenviable and traitorous decision, “Cypher’s Choice.” I mean, he’d taken the red pill, but the truth was so unpalatable he wanted to reverse it and live in an artifical fiction.

‘Cypher’s Choice’ is one that can face many of us who have a modicum of thought, sensitivity and understanding of the world we live in. It’s also something which struck me when watching both seasons of the superior Netflix documentary, Dirty Money (2019 – 2020). Here is a very well produced, researched and edited set of films which really make one question the very core of human behaviour. This capitalist system which we live in just continues to produce unbelievable greed, corruption and questionable, almost psychopathic, acts of abuse. More often than not the individuals, corporations and governments perpetrating these morally repugnant acts are even acting within the law, or some twisted version of it. So, does one just accept that we are living in a cesspool of greed, hypocrisy and sociopathic moneymen? Further, does one accept one is powerless to stop it? Does one take ‘Cypher’s Choice’ and head back into the ‘Matrix’? Or fight the machine? It’s an incredibly difficult decision to make.



One way of fighting back or, at the very least holding a mirror up to the corruption in the world, is a trial by media. Conversely, Dirty Money (2019 – 2020), presents a frightening, but compelling series of documentaries featuring some illuminating exposes into negative, and illegal, corporate and government practices. Netflix, to their credit, have banded together a whole host of determined documentary filmmakers including: Alex Gibney, Jesse Moss, Dan Krauss, Fisher Stevens, Erin Lee Carr, and Margaret Brown, to name a few. These twelve documentary films are carefully presented and are hugely serious programmes. While they posit a certain journalistic objectivity, and lack the personal style of say Michael Moore, Nick Broomfield and Louis Theroux, they certainly cut their targets down to size from a left-of-centre standpoint.

Personally, I believe we need to transcend agendas and opposing political viewpoints and move toward a collective humanist goal where everyone treats everyone equally. That is clearly an ideological non-starter though. However, whatever your political standpoint may be, whether you’re a gun-carrying right-winger or Marxist pinkie or libertarian Darwinist, you have to agree that the current financial systems we have are busted. They must be or we would not get documentaries alleging: criminal pay-day loan scams; the Volkswagen emission scam; a Malaysian President siphoning off tax-payer money to fund an extravagant lifestyle; HSBC money-laundering for Mexican drug cartels; nefarious landlords screwing tenants for all the money they have; price-gouging Pharmaceutical firms; and the likes of Wells Fargo Bank aggressively cross-selling and inventing customers to boost their share price.

These and many more legal and moral crimes are represented in Dirty Money (2019 – 2020) and they shock one to the core. How can people be so greedy? How can companies lie so much? Why isn’t enough ever enough? Are they sadists or even psychopaths? Why can’t they share or redistribute their wealth? Why are they hellbent on destroying the Earth we live in? Why do some people constantly lie and steal from others? Why do they deny they have done anything wrong? And am I part of the problem living in this world and doing nothing to change it? Finally, these documentaries truly make you question whether you want to be part of this world. Does one look away though; swallow that blue pill again and take ‘Cypher’s Choice’? It’s probably way easier to do exactly that. Thankfully, though there are many out their battling the system and seeking justice for the wrongs that have been done. Long may the fight continue. It’s not ending anytime soon.


NETFLIX REVIEW – THE SPY (2019)

NETFLIX REVIEW – THE SPY (2019)

Directed by: Gideon Raff

Executive producer(s): Gideon Raff, Sacha Baron Cohen

Producer(s): Alain Goldman

Screenplay by: Gideon Raff & Max Perry based on the book L’espion qui venait d’Israël – written by Uri Dan and Yeshayahu Ben Porat.

Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Noah Emmerich, Hadar Ratzon-Rotem, Yael Eitan, Nassim Si Ahmed, Moni Moshonov, Alona Tal, Mourad Zaoui, Alexander Siddig, Marc Maurille, Waleed Zuaiter, Arié Elmaleh, Hassam Ghancy, Uri Gavriel etc.

Distribution: Netflix



There’s a wonderful scene in a later episode of The Spy (2019) where Sacha Baron Cohen’s undercover Israeli agent laments his split identity. Taking on a Syrian alter ego in order to infiltrate their military and government infrastructure has meant Eli Cohen has sacrificed his safety and family life to become businessmen, Kamal Amin Thaabet. After years of successfully inveigling his way into the Syrian system, these battling personalities have created a psychological rift. As Eli spills his guts to handler, Dan Peleg (Noah Emmerich), he is so conflicted he feels Eli is lost and Kamal has taken over. He no longer knows who he is from one moment to the next. It’s a great scene and, like he does throughout this compelling drama, Baron Cohen excels. Indeed, given he has portrayed different comedic creations over the years, there is startling truth here.

Of course, portraying larger than life, and hilariously offensive characters, such as Borat, Ali G and Bruno marks Sacha Baron Cohen as a provocative comedic genius. His risk-taking-celebrity-baiting-devil’s-advocate-controversial television shows and films have been very successful commercially. Moreover, he has also won many awards in the process. While he was mooted to portray Freddie Mercury at one point, other than Les Miserables (2012) and perhaps Hugo (2011), Baron Cohen is obviously best known for his comedic work. However, the deft and nuanced performance presented here in The Spy (2019), I hope, leads to more dramatic roles for Baron Cohen. Because, he is absolutely outstanding in this split role.


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Following the beats of espionage and undercover police narratives, Gideon Raff, who created the original Israeli drama which would become big TV hit, Homeland, has delivered a gripping and stylish period drama. The 1960’s set era is evoked expertly from the washed-out hues of the scenes set in Israel, to the more colour-drenched sequences set in Syria. Recruited by Mossad, Cohen trains, adopts his new identity as Kamal, and is transplanted to Buenos Aires. There he uses Israel-backed wealth, chutzpah and business acumen to further cement his Syrian cover. Eventually moving to Syria raises the stakes for Cohen/Kamal and the danger levels increase as his contacts become more dangerous and powerful within the Syrian government.

Overall, The Spy (2019), buoyed by Baron Cohen magnetic performance, is highly recommended. Further, I was constantly on edge for Cohen/Kamal’s safety as he transmits messages to Israel via Morse code and photographs exported in furniture out of Syria. Conversely, the process of being a spy is brilliantly developed and presented. While it is based on a true story, I’m sure many liberties have been taken by the writers to condense the years of espionage work Cohen/Kamal achieved for Israel. Similarly, the political complexity of Syria and Israel’s conflict is arguably glossed over in favour of more generic thriller leanings. Having said that, the Syrians are not shown in a negative light, but rather with much believability and humanity. In fact, it’s Cohen’s actions who I questioned more. He seemed to take too many risks and his obsessive nature, while working well for the Israeli cause, ultimately costs him, his identity and his family dearly.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



FX /BBC TV REVIEW – DEVS (2020) – ONE OF THE BEST TV EXPERIENCES OF 2020!

FX / BBC TV REVIEW – DEVS (2020)

Created, written and directed by Alex Garland

Executive producers: Alex Garland, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin, Garrett Basch

Cast: Sonoya Mizuno, Nick Offerman, Jin Ha, Zach Grenier, Alison Pill, Stephen McKinlay Henderson, Cailee Spaeny, Karl Glusman, Jefferson Hall, Liz Carr, Janet Mock, Aimee Mullins, Linnea Berthelsen etc.

Cinematography: Rob Hardy

Composers: Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow, The Insects

Distribution / Screening Platform: FX / Hulu / BBC


*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



“I read more about science than anything else, and it started with two things. One was getting my head around this principle of determinism, which basically says that everything that happens in the world is based on cause and effect. . . One is that it takes away free will, but the other is that if you are at a computer powerful enough, you could use determinism to predict the future and understand the past.” Alex Garland – Creator of Devs


Alex Garland has an impressive literary, cinema and now televisual curriculum vitae. He gained acclaim as the writer of the novel, The Beach, before moving onto screenwriting duties with fine films such as: 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2007), Never Let Me Go (2010), and Dredd (2012).  He made his directorial debut with Ex Machina (2014), which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. His second film, Annihilation (2018), garnered further acclaim, so much so, FX bypassed a pilot and went straight to series for his latest science fiction narrative, Devs (2020).

While I am a massive fan of Garland’s work, I wasn’t too enamoured of Annihilation (2018). I found it brilliantly made with some fantastic concepts and incredible moments, yet overall it was too slowly paced. With the eight superlative episodes of Devs (2020), Garland has kept the meditative pace of Annihilation (2018), but also delivered a story which really connected with me this time. With Devs (2020) he has successfully merged a compelling technological espionage plot to an intelligent exploration of philosophical thought and behaviour. Moreover, Garland presents a complex group of themes and characters relating to Silicon Valley tech firms and how their work could control individuals, companies, governments, society as a whole, and actual time itself.



Set now in San Francisco, the narrative opens with two employees of the Amaya Corporation, Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno) and Sergei Pavlov (Karl Glusman), attending work. Sergei has a big presentation to pitch to Amaya CEO, Forest (Nick Offerman) and chief designer, Katie (Alison Pill). It goes well and Sergei is invited to work on the mysterious DEVS project. At DEVS he finds wondrous halo-style lighting in the woods and an incredibly expensive set of buildings, capsules, platforms, workstations and screens. Dominating the landscape also is a gigantic model of a young girl (Forest’s daughter, Amaya) who looms over the company and the San Franciscan horizon. These spectacular props, sets and locations are complimented by impressive cinematography from Rob Hardy throughout the eight episodes.

Sergei’s tenure at DEVS does not last long though as he goes missing. Lily, who was in a loving relationship with Sergei, is distraught and, with the help of ex-CIA head of security, Kenton (Zach Grenier), attempts to locate him. When Sergei turns up dead from an apparent suicide, Lily is convinced there is a conspiracy occurring in the Amaya company so begins a dangerous investigation. Even more intriguing, however, is the work that is occurring at DEVS itself. Led by Forest’s desire to “resurrect” his deceased daughter, this complex computer programme can somehow view events from the past, recreated via particle-driven software and projected on huge screens. Using this application the developers and programmers are attempting to determine the future from what has occurred in the past. If they can determine the future they may be able to control it. Mind blown yet? Safe to say, Lily’s investigation into Sergei’s death and the DEVS system become inextricably linked as the drama unfolds. As such, the drama works well as a conspiracy thriller as well as thoughtful sci-fi as Garland punctuates the brooding pace with some crushing stunts and brutal murder set-pieces.

I’ll be honest, the technological side of Devs (2020) was outside my knowledge repertoire as I do not comprehend coding or programming jargon. Nonetheless, I did understand what was occurring in the narrative as it was presented in a clear and digestible fashion. Unlike say the most recent seasons of HBO’s Westworld, which tied itself in knots with looping and over-lapping timelines, Alex Garland’s deft script, excellent direction and fantastic cast make Devs‘ (2020) complex science and tech theories comprehensible throughout. While Garland is dealing with theories relating to free will and deterministic cause and effect, the elegant structure, both linear and with flashbacks, builds a gripping narrative which maintains emotional impact for the characters and the choices they must make. Indeed, Lily Chan is a very empathetic leading protagonist and Sonoya Mizuno gives a compellingly magnetic acting portrayal. It was also fascinating to see Nick Offerman outside of his Parks and Recreation ‘Ron Swanson’ persona playing a highly driven and grieving father. Thus, to conclude, if you enjoy clever, meditative and Kubrickian style television in the science-fiction genre, then you should definitely use your free will and be determined to watch Devs (2020).

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


TO BOLDLY REVIEW #9 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION (1990 – 1991)– SEASON 4

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #9 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION (1990 – 1991)– SEASON 4

Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry

Season 4 writers (selected): Michael Piller, Michael Wagner, Rick Berman, Jeri Taylor, Lee Sheldon, Melinda Snodgrass, Richard Manning, Ronald D. Moore, David Bischoff, , Joe Menosky, Drew Deighan, Brannon Braga, J. Larry Carroll, Hilary J. Bader, Harold Apter, Stuart Charno, Sara Charno, Maurice Hurley, Shari Goodhartz, Timothy DeHaas, Randee Russell, Ira Steven Behr, Rene Echevarria etc.

Season 4 directors (selected): Jonathan Frakes, Winrich Kolbe, Rob Bowman, Robert Weimer, Les Landau, Robert Scheerer, Cliff Bole, Robert Legato, Tom Benko, Chip Chalmers, Timothy Bond, David Carson, Gabrielle Beaumont, Patrick Stewart, David Livingston, Marvin V. Rush, Chip Chalmers etc.

Main Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Whoopi Goldberg, Colm Meaney, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Gates McFadden, John De Lancie, Dwight Schultz, Majel Barrett, Rosalind Chao etc.

Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway

Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television

**** CONTAINS SPOILERS ****



My simultaneous retrospective and futuristic journey into space and time continues, and I have finally finished watching Season 4 of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s commonly admitted to being one of the most consistently excellent seasons of TNG. I very much enjoyed the mixture of sci-fi concepts, drama, humour and tragedy within the well established formula of the Starship Enterprise boldly exploring various galaxies.

Major themes of the season related to family, honour, love, espionage, war and divided loyalties. While the Wesley Crusher character left for the Starfleet Academy (Wil Wheaton left the show), the majority of our favourite characters remained. Indeed, Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney) was given more airtime and a marriage subplot. More dramatically the Klingons and Romulans featured heavily as pillars of conflict, with many of the best episodes featuring Romulan deceptions and Klingon brutalism.

Star Trek: The Next Generation continues to be a compelling show to watch and look back on with respect and nostalgia. While I continually enjoyed pretty much all the episodes, here are six of the best ones featuring Picard and his devoted crew.


THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS – PART II – EPISODE 1

A continuation of Season 3’s cliff-hanger episode found Picard in the grips of the Borg. Even more thrilling was Riker, Data, La Forge and the rest of the crew have to stop the evil machines from launching a deadly assault on Earth. With dual battles of the mind and in space occurring simultaneously, this episode is memorable in so many ways. Patrick Stewart as Picard gives a fantastically intense performance as he battles the evil within.



FAMILY – EPISODE 2

Gentler in approach than the opening episode, Family, has a brilliantly written script with three very emotionally charged storylines. Wesley Crusher must decide whether to watch a video recorded by his deceased father. Worf is met by his adoptive human parents who seek to console him following his Klingon discommendation. Lastly, a still shaken Picard returns to Earth and reconnects with his brother. The trio of narratives combine to forge a highly satisfying and emotionally charged episode.



REUNION – EPISODE 7

While Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard often garners the acting acclaim with his fine performances, I think Michael Dorn as Lt. Worf always gives great portrayals too. Worf’s conflicted cultural identity – between Klingon and Starfleet – always provides constant moments of explosive and introspective drama. In this episode his former love, K’Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson) returns to oversee, with Picard, the fight for the Klingon leadership. It is revealed that Worf also has a son by K’Ehleyr as the episode delivers excitement, intrigue and tragedy.



THE DRUMHEAD – EPISODE 21

This brilliant episode is unlike many others as the Enterprise crew are not faced with a divisive alien enemy. Instead, Picard and his crew come under Starfleet suspicion from the formidable Admiral Satie. Jean Simmons as Satie gives a memorable acting masterclass, as her over-zealous paranoia causes a witch-hunt culture to poison the court proceedings. I’m a big fan of the courtroom drama and this expertly paced and written episode reminded me of a reverse-engineered version of, The Caine Mutiny (1954).



THE MIND’S EYE – EPISODE 24

Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge is a very under-rated character within the TNG crew. He’s a brilliant engineer with a likable personality, so when he is “brainwashed” by the Romulans to commit an assassination it was intriguing to see his character go over to the dark side as it were. I especially liked the suspense and plot twists of this episode which paid homage to films such as: A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962).



REDEMPTION – PART I – EPISODE 26

This brilliant season culminated with a superlative episode which brought together all of the plots and subplots involving the battles with the Romulans and Klingons. Lt. Worf has a particularly difficult choice between his Starfleet commission and family honour. Ultimately, he chooses to fight for honour and in a wonderful conclusion to the episode joins the Klingon fleet to fight alongside his brother, Kurn (Tony Todd), against the Duras hordes. Despite the out-of-the-box temporally strained twist involving, Sela (Denise Crosby), a Tasha Yar Romulan lookalike, the episode was full of dramatic moments and provided a compelling cliff-hanger for the next season.



NETFLIX TV REVIEW: INTO THE NIGHT (2020)

NETFLIX TV REVIEW: INTO THE NIGHT (2020)

Directed by: Inti Calfat and Dirk Verheye

Written by Jason George – based on the novel The Old Axolotl by Jacek Dukaj

Cast: Pauline Ettienne, Laurent Capulletto, Stefano Cassetti, Nabil Mallat, Jan Bijvoet, Vincent Londez, Babetida Sadjo, Mehmet Kurtulus, Alba Gaia Bellugi, Regina Bikkinina, etc.

Distribution: Netflix


****MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****



Netflix’s first Belgian original production series is an inspired adaptation of Jakub Dukaj’s electronic science fiction work, The Old Axolotl. While that work may be a digital release about a post-apocalyptic Earth, Into The Night (2020), is not a futuristic tale, but rather a very contemporary one set in the now. Opening in the Brussels airport the suspense is ratcheted up from the start when a NATO Officer, Terenzio Gallo, takes a Moscow bound plane hostage at gunpoint. Frantic and dangerous he orders the pilot and crew to take off immediately as they are all in danger. I won’t reveal what that danger is for fear of spoilers. What I can say is though these six episodes are one hell of a thrilling and panic-stricken plane journey.

Jason George’s excellent adaptation is written as a fast-paced disaster movie over six sharp episodes. Given the characters convene at an airport and the Brussels office of the United Nations is close by, the narrative establishes an ensemble of various nationalities including: Polish, Italian, Belgian, French, Turkish, Russian, Moroccan and in later episodes, English. Indeed, as well as the environmental threat and technological challenges the characters face, national identities and cultural clashes drive the drama of the series. The various personalities may be facing impending doom from an unknown source, while flying thousands of feet in the air, yet they cannot put their petty prejudices aside and this leads to much trouble. Amidst the in-fighting though some solidarity is found as the passengers and crew overcome a plethora of suspenseful moments and situations.

I personally cannot stand flying. Thus, my heart was literally in my mouth throughout this exciting series. The acting, action, direction and editing are all extremely well delivered, and I can safely say that this is one of Netflix’s winners. The threat the humans face is also very believable too. Furthermore, a classic disaster movie trope is to give the characters enough depth to bring you into their personal stories. Each episode is named after a character and is accompanied by a mini-flashback establishing their back story. We get one character seeking romance, one facing grief, another having an affair, a mother attempting to save her sick son, and so on. While these are very much standard types within the genre, the breathless pace of Into The Night (2020) leaves you dizzy from both the high altitude and anxiety.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11