Category Archives: Television

SCREENWASH REVIEWS- APRIL 2016

SCREENWASH REVIEWS – APRIL 2016

April was a mixed bag of viewings on the various platforms this month, with a couple of stunning films, decent stand-up comedy and my new favourite TV show witnessed. So, with marks-of-eleven, here are my latest reviews. Enjoy.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

ANOMALISA (2015) – CINEMA

I love Charlie Kaufman’s work as he offers one of the most original minds to writing and directing films. Anomalisa is a stop-motion animation character study which is breath-taking in style and thought-provoking in content. David Thewlis voices a writer who, while in a small American town to deliver a key motivational speech, he finds his personality and mind dismantling before him. The film is at times a challenging experience but Kaufman’s conceptual genius, splashes of droll humour and spicy sex scenes make it a worthy arthouse hit. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

BLOODY SUNDAY (2002) – NETFLIX

Director Paul Greengrass’ excellent docu-drama depicts the tragic deaths of the infamous bloody massacre which took place Sunday on January 30, 1972 when 27 civilians were gunned down by the British Army in the streets of Northern Ireland. It’s heartbreaking and powerful drama as the day unfolds in real time and chilling authenticity. The cover-up by the British Government was a disgrace and this stands as a testament to those who tragically lost their lives. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

CHILD 44 (2015) – AMAZON PRIME

This Soviet set thriller was a box office bomb and was mauled by some critics, however, I found it very absorbing thanks to a fine lead performance from Tom Hardy. He plays an orphan who becomes a war-hero and then police officer who, goes against his superior’s orders, and investigates the brutal crimes of a serial-killer. It gets bogged down in a number of subplots but thematically it was strong; as the crimes of the child-killer are compared to that of the Soviet State under Stalin’s brutal regime. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

COP CAR (2015) – NOW TV

Kevin Bacon and his fake moustache are sensationally funny in this story of two runaway kids who “accidentally” ruin Bacon’s nefarious doings by stealing his cop car. Overall, it’s lower-budget gem which, despite the stupidity of the moronic children, has a lot of Coen-style humour and bloody violence to make it worth ninety minutes of your time. Bacon of course takes the er… biscuit honours with a rip-roaring, scenery-chewing and smoking performance as the baddie. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

GOMORRAH (2009) – BLU RAY

Having watched the terrific Sky Italia show I went back and found the original film based on the book of the same name. It is another brutal indictment against humanity and life on the mean streets of Naples as gangs old and young shoot and cull each other to death.  It’s structured around four separate stories involving the Casalesi clan and is a violent drama with a gritty documentary style that keeps you gripped from beginning to end. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

INSIDE OUT (2015) – NOW TV

Brilliant Pixar movie with the wonderful vocal talents of Amy Poehler, Richard Kind, Phyllis Smith and Bill Hader; plus of course the incredibly imaginative minds of Pete Docter and his army of animators. The story shows us two worlds simultaneously: young girl Riley Anderson and the various emotions inside her actual mind.  The superb script shows the variety of changes this troubled girl is going through – moving home to a big city for one – as chirpy Poehler as Joy and depressive Smith as Sadness, initially clash, then join forces to stabilize the crumbling psyche of Riley’s mind. It sound really heavy in themes and it is, but it’s done with an incredible light touch and contains some incredible visuals, drama and zinging one-liners.  (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

JESSICA JONES (2015) – NETFLIX

Jessica Jones was a very enjoyable wall-smashing-sex-splashed-bloody-violent-noir-X-rated comic book show. Tough-as-hell Nemi-lookalike Krysten Ritter kicks ass and David Tennant has a ball as the mentalist villain. Arguably the “purple man” storyline didn’t hold for thirteen episodes and perhaps there were too many mad subplots (the bonkers brother and sisters upstairs); but you could see the makers were establishing loads of future characters notably Luke Cage. Entertaining watch and I loved the dark humour and twisted brutality which stands as an alternative to the glossier cinema Marvel adaptations. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

MARTYRS (2008) – AMAZON PRIME

DO NOT WATCH THIS FILM IF YOU HAVE A WEAK HEART OR DISPOSITION!

Not since I Saw the Devil (2010) have I seen such a violent and mental film such as this. It concerns Lucie, who having been trapped by unknown captors as a child, grows up with delusional and violent tendencies desiring to wreak revenge on the people who savaged her. Her friend Anna attempts to support the crazy actions of Lucie but gets dragged into a hellish nightmare that I just cannot begin to explain. It’s insane, shocking, violent and has gore galore. Impressive horror! (Mark: 8 out of 11)

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (2016) – CINEMA

Jeff Nichols prior films have been quietly brilliant notably Shotgun Stories (2007) and the biblical Take Shelter (2011). Thus, I was looking forward to Midnight Special very much. Indeed, I enjoyed this film mostly as it had some intriguing themes of: “special” children, family, religious cults and the notion of what is on “the other side”?  Excellent actor Michael Shannon plays father to his young son Alton, who has mysterious gifts which has everyone agog and the Government hunting him; so we get an impressive race against time pursuit and some fine dramatic moments. However, the film fell flat at the end for me and not enough was done at the beginning to set-up the story. Nichols shows though he is a fine filmmaker producing alternative viewing to the often anaemic Hollywood machine. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

NARCOS (2015) – NETFLIX

Narcos is a brutal and rightly unglamorous recount of Columbia’s and the DEA/CIA battle with Pablo Escobar. Hard-to-watch at times because it shows the insanity of society and human beings; but the acting and production values are very high quality. Like Italian TV film and series Gomorrah (2014) it’s not for the faint-hearted as Escobar rises through the ranks drug-trafficking; murdering rivals; kidnapping and slaying politicians, all for the power and wealth. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

PEAKY BLINDERS (2013 –) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX

Season 2 is a terrific post First World War story with a grand lead performance from Cillian Murphy plus awesome supporting cast including Sam Neill, Helen McCrory and Paul Anderson. Murphy portrays the leader of a Birmingham gang and Steven Knight, writer/director of the superb film Locke (2014), carves out a cracking tale involving coppers, whores, gypsies, bookies and ex-soldiers fighting against a backdrop of political revolution and class warfare. In this season Tommy Shelby has new enemies including Jewish ‘baker’ played by Tom Hardy and mad Italian portrayed Noah Taylor. Safe to say plans and plots and crosses and double crosses occur with bloody violence and twists to boot! (Mark: 8 out of 11)

PENNY DREADFUL (2014 – 2015) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – NOW TV

I caught up with the grandiose, gothic and monstrous Grand Guignol TV horror show that was Penny Dreadful and thought both seasons were great entertainment. Loved the Victorian setting and the smoke and mirrors and dead coming back to life! Faux-literary dialogue was floridly written and delivered. Genuinely scary and gory in places too! John Logan’s scripts are a thing of beauty and horror and the cast are just perfection, notably, Eva Green, Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett and Rory Kinnear.  I grew up watching Frankenstein, Dracula, Hammer House and The Exorcist films when I was a kid and this show just takes all manner of horror tropes and monsters and left me breathless in style and content. (Mark: 10 out of 11)

STEWART LEE’S COMEDY VEHICLE (2016) – BBC IPLAYER

I doubled up watching this and the recent DVD Carpet Remnant World and what can I say. Lee is a human anti-depressant lifting my spirits while at the same time making me think about the very nature of the subjects he tackles. In his fourth comedy vehicle he picks over the bones of: Wealth, Islamophobia, Patriotism, Death, Migrants and Childhood and the routines themselves are funny and challenging. Once again he veers toward Brechtian anti-comedy and potential career suicide with patience testing routines about a cat called Jeremy Corbyn and journalist Rod Liddle. However, I loved such routines and like great art his work gets better on further views. Exceptional comedy! (Mark: 10 out of 11)

STILL ALICE (2014) – NETFLIX

Julianne Moore deservedly won an Oscar for her portrayal of Alice Howland, a college professor, who suffers the tragedy of early onset Alzheimers. Her performance, in a relatively low-budget film, is an incredibly nuanced and emotional rendition, as a once brilliant mind disintegrates in front of our very eyes. A sterling cast including Alec Baldwin as the workaholic husband and Alice’s offspring played by Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart are uniformly excellent in support. Overall, it’s a small film with a massive heart and one which reminds us of the fragility of life and the mind. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007) – NETFLIX

There Will Be Blood is a thing of beauty and ugliness and stands up to viewing after viewing. This is a phenomenal classic American story about greed, madness, religious fervor, parenthood and the pursuit of the black gold which has cursed humanity for donkey’s years. Oil sucks! Daniel Day Lewis is incredible in Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece which moves slowly but moves with grandiose style as it examines one man’s obsession with the capture of land and oil; all the while failing to find favour with humans and humanity around him. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

VICTORIA (2015) – SKY MOVIES

This is an unbelievably brilliant German film shot in one-take!  Yes! One-take!  There are literally NO joins. It runs at over two hours and unfolds in real-time as the thriller takes in Victoria, a Spanish clubber working in Germany, and her involvement with a bunch of charismatic criminals including the handsome talents of Sonne (Frederick Lau). While the story contrivances were slightly difficult to swallow on brief occasions, this ultimately is a superb technical feat and very suspenseful and even touching at times. Plus, it’s not all one-hundred-miles-an-hour-action as Sebastian Schipper, the director, allows the characters to build so you feel emotion for them throughout.(Mark: 8.5 out of  11)

SCREENWASH REVIEWS– MARCH 2016

SCREENWASH – MARCH 2016

March is a looonnngggg old month and I have watched a shedload of shows and films; so it’s a quick wash and go through my monthly review round up. As usual marks are out of 11 – do enjoy!

**DEFINITELY MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS** 


FILMS OF THE MONTH!

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) – CINEMA

If you’d like a cinema alternative from the current superhero hype then try out neat suspense thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane. It was lean, mean, well-acted and full of fun twists; proving good writing will often be more entertaining than big-budgeted blockbusters. Trapped heroine Mary Elizabeth Winstead is both imprisoned in a bunker by sinister John Goodman and freakish occurrences going on outside and must use her wits to escape. It’s edge-of-the-seat stuff throughout in a thrilling sidequel to over-rated “found footage” monster movie Cloverfield (2008). (Mark: 8 out of 11)

BONE TOMAHAWK (2015) – CINEMA

A tremendous genre-blend of horror and Western, this debut feature from S. Craig Zahler is destined to be a cult classic. We’re in The Searchers meets Hills Have Eyes territory as Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson. Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins track down townsfolk kidnapped by savage cannibal natives. Not for the faint-hearted, I loved the witty dialogue exchanges, sunburnt vistas and sudden smashes of bloody violence. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

HAIL CAESAR (2016) – CINEMA

If you love the Coen Brothers and also like films that are about people making and watching movies, then Hail Caesar is a delight. It’s a feel-good nostalgic tribute to Hollywood, both funny and charming. It was like watching a cinema soufflé with extra icing sugar on top as the wonderful cast and Hollywood pastiches are faultless. Alden Ehrenreich is superb as the singing cowboy turned unlikely thespian and Josh Brolin knits the “day in the life” structure perfectly as workaholic studio boss. It’s pretty flimsy in terms of a plot but works wonderfully as a series of vignettes from the era, along with mild religious and political satire too. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

SUPER (2010) – NETFLIX

“Shut up Crime!” yells Frank Darbo: Rainn Wilson’s on-the-verge-of-a-breakdown loser, as he is visited by God and told he is the “chosen one”. Thus, begins his transformation into the Crimson Bolt; a human superhero/vigilante with no powers, charging to take down Kevin Bacon’s slimy drug dealing scumbag who has also stolen Frank’s wife. This is a hilariously dark and comedic anti-super-hero film very much in the Kick-Ass territory but somehow grittier and more bizarre. Wilson channels his Dwight Shrute persona perfectly and Ellen Page offers spunky support as his sidekick Boltie. James Gunn writes and directs with off-kilter joy and who’d believe he’d go onto direct the far more commercially successful Guardians of the Galaxy (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

THEY LIVE (1989) – AMAZON PRIME

They Live is a classic underrated film from the late 80s and still retains its power as a social sci-fi satire. Hard-done-by drifter Roddy Piper finds himself amidst aliens who have infiltrated Earth and now subliminally control human population through the media and advertising. NOT LIKE REAL LIFE THEN! John Carpenter’s film is both clever and dumb as Piper and a band of rebels fight back against the extra-terrestrial horde. Some plot blips aside this is cracking entertainment and contains some great one-liners and fight scenes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

WORTH A WATCH OR RE-WATCH

AGE OF ADALINE (2015) – NOW TV

Kind of a female Benjamin Button movie as Blake Lively shines as Adaline in a heart-warming romantic drama with the excellent Harrison Ford providing fine support.
(Mark: 7 out of 11)

ALAN PARTRIDGE’S MIDMORNING MATTERS (2016) – NOW TV

Steve Coogan is back on the airwaves with his usual verbal and physical buffoonery. A succession of hilarious guest cameos from the likes of Reece Shearsmith and Julian Barrett make this comedy gold. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

CROOKED MAN: TOMMY TIERNAN (2010) – NETFLIX

This is incredible stand-up comedy from the Irish cyclone that is Tommy Tiernan. The controversial comedian rips through 90 minutes of stunning observations and routines which are replete with lyrical and bestial beauty. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

DOWNFALL (2004) – NETFLIX

I’ve seen this wonderful rendition of Hitler’s final days before but it retains its incredible power and tragedy. Bruno Ganz is monstrously brilliant as the Fuhrer whose murderous empire crumbles around him. The Germans are shown to be dirty rats leaving a sinking ship and there are so many sad scenes throughout; a tough yet enriching experience. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014) – NETFLIX

This brainless action film shows Stallone, Snipes, Statham, Schwarzenegger etc. taking on Mel Gibson’s nefarious arms dealer; and while it’s ridiculous and over-the-top – as cinematic lobotomies go – it’s not too bad. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS (2014) – NOW TV

Ridley Scott remakes Gladiator (2000) again but this time in Egypt as Christian Bale’s Moses goes up against Joel Edgerton’s nefarious Pharaoh. Plagues, pestilence, visions of God and the parting of the seas are all present and correct in a pretty entertaining Biblical epic. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

GOOD KILL (2014) – NETFLIX

Excellent character drama focussing on a falling-apart Drone pilot portrayed with burnt-out aplomb by Ethan Hawke. It’s a compelling analysis of U.S. foreign policy as they attack various targets in the Middle East and while sympathising with the dehumanisation of the “pilots” it also critiques the almost cowardly destruction of life from a distance.
(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

THE GRANDMASTER (2013) – NETFLIX

Exquisitely shot martial art-house film from Wong Kar-Wai, which pays tribute to Chinese cultural icon Ip Man portrayed with much class by Tony Leung. The Donnie Yen Ip Man films are more accessible than the poetic storytelling offered here but this still packs a delectable punch. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

I AM LOVE (2009) – NETFLIX

Tilda Swinton owns the screen in this melodrama which follows the trials and tribulations of a rich Italian family. Not much occurs but the Italian scenery is breath-taking and while narratively slow, Swinton’s performance and the final act tragedies make it worth the journey. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

THE JINX (2015) – NOW TV

Now, this documentary was something else. A filmmaker named Andrew Jareki made an okay feature film called All Good Things (2010) starring Ryan Gosling. It charted events concerning eccentric multi-millionaire Robert Durst and the disappearance of his wife. Flash forward a few years and Durst asked Jarieki if he’d like to interview him about his situation and what he perceived was a “witch-hunt”. What follows is an amazing documentary featuring Durst and the events around his wife and TWO other people he is suspected of murdering. There’s something not quite right about Durst as the chilling denouement to the compelling docu-series reveals. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

LIFE ON MARS – SEASON 2 (2007) – NETFLIX

Second season of the “time-travel” 70s cop show picks where the first left off with John Simms’ Sam Tyler battling baddies and once again clashing with his boss, the mud-mouthed-maverick Gene Hunt (Philip Glennister). Once again this drama has great humour and plot twists amidst the mind-bending theatrics and Northern seventies era.(Mark: 8 out of 11)

THE NIGHT MANAGER (2016) – BBC IPLAYER

Beautiful women, locations, undercover spies and nefarious bad guys feature in this James Bondesque John Le Carre literary adaptation. The cast including: Tom Hiddleston, Olivia Colman and Hugh Laurie are excellent and the story had me mesmerised right up until the explosive though generically unsatisfying ending. Still, it was overall great quality Sunday evening eye-candy though.(Mark: 8 out of 11)

THE PROGRAM (2015) – SKY MOVIES

This intriguing biopic about cyclist Lance Armstrong follows his battle against cancer to Tour de France winner to disgraced drug cheat. It’s a real eye-opener into the process of the win-at-all-costs Armstrong and his obsessive pursuit of victory. Ben Foster excels in the lead and while the dramatics could have been beefed up toward the conclusion it’s still a fascinating story. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

RED TAILS (2012) – NETFLIX

This is a worthy yet lightweight wartime drama focussing on the Tuskegee Airmen and their aerial dog-fighting prowess that was demonstrated so superbly in WWII. The battle scenes are impressive but the characters felt underwritten and the film lacked impact for such an interesting subject. (Mark: 5 out of 11)

SPRING (2014) – NETFLIX

Intriguing low-budget horror-romance film which moves VERY slowly but is punctuated with some fine gore and body horror effects. The characters I could take or leave as anaemic American tourist, Evan, meets a mysterious young woman, Louise, on the streets on Italy. However, the filmmakers deserve acclaim for attempting to create something original in the horror genre. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

STAR TREK: GENERATIONS/ FIRST CONTACT/INSURRECTION (1994/96/98) – NETFLIX

Given myself and my filmmaking partner Gary are making a Star Trek “fan-boy” short film as our next production I decided to immerse myself in some Trek movies; and very good human and science fiction films they are too. Generations sees Kirk (Shatner) and Picard (Patrick Stewart) meet across the time-streams in a giddy mix of philosophy and temporal variance. In First Contact, Picard and crew fight the formidable Borg with the former flexing his action man muscles. Lastly, despite the title Insurrection slows the pace down as Picard falls in love while protecting a peace-loving community called the Ba’ha. All the films are well crafted with First Contact offering the greatest peril as collectively they offer some fine sci-fi concepts, character turns, humour and drama throughout.(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

STILL LIFE (2013) – NETFLIX

Eddie Marsan is wonderful in this touchingly told story of a council worker who searches for family members of “clients” who’ve died alone. It moves slowly but with heart, purpose and pathos; offering an alternative to the overblown lobotomised big budget films at the multiplex. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)


STRETCH (2014) – NOW TV

This is a flashy, style-over-substance-day-in-the-life-movie about a burnt out actor/chauffeur who must avoid criminals, cops and crazed clients while trying to stay sober. Patrick Wilson is watchable but I’d only recommend this if you are pissed or unconscious on a Friday night. (Mark: 5 out of 11)

AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE

SEVENTH SON (2014) – NOW TV

Jeff Bridges and the exquisite Julianne Moore take a pay-check but offer little else in this nonsensical fantasy witch-hunter yarn. Awful beyond words. (Mark: 2 out of 11)

THE WITCH (2016) – CINEMA

Be wary of The Witch. Its trailer suggested a scare-fest but it is in essence an overly talky art-house horror; heavy on religious symbolism and folklore. It is very well directed, designed and acted and the broadsheet critics will love it. However, there’s not enough gore, scares or actual story for my liking and at times I was bored as hell. It’s a damned shame as I like horror films and art-house cinema but The Witch just doesn’t make us care about the characters or story at all. (Mark: 3 out of 11)

SCREENWASH REVIEWS– FEBRUARY 2016

SCREENWASH – FEBRUARY 2016

“After the Lord Mayor’s show comes the shit-cart”, is a phrase I heard a lot in my childhood and following the golden month of January, where I watched a plethora of incredible films, February has dropped off slightly in terms of quality. Indeed, I have watched some right rubbish but there have been some diamonds in the rough. So, as per last month I’ve reviewed in depth my favourite films, mentioned some other stuff worth watching and derided the rest I didn’t think much of. As usual all films and shows marked out of eleven.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

FILMS OF THE MONTH!

BARRY LYNDON (1975) – CINEMA

Due to his incredible filmic CV, this stunning Oscar-winning period film from Stanley Kubrik is often overlooked as a classic. However, it is a terrific romp through the life and times of our anti-hero portrayed by the bland yet watchable movie star Ryan O’Neal. Adapted from Thackeray’s 19th century novel it concerns Redmond Barry and his rather haphazard misadventures as he leaves his Irish village and falls both fair and foul to fate’s twisted plan.

Every single frame of this film is a joy to behold and the cinematography deservedly won an Oscar. Thematically the film is very strong too as Kubrik uses Barry as a cipher to highlight the horrors of war and to also critique the ostentatious behaviour of the upper classes. Structurally and tonally spilt in two the film begins as a set of humorous sketches before giving way to a darker and tragic feel in the second half. The film is a thing of beauty to watch as Kubrik once again raises filmmaking to the echelons of high art. (Mark: 10 out of 11)

DEADPOOL (2016) – CINEMA

DEADPOOL’s a funny, sexy, irreverent, violent, meta-textual Marvel adaptation which differentiates from the standard comic-book movies in many ways while reinforcing the usual hero-saves-damsel-in-distress-Phantom-of-the-Opera-origins-story. A witty script and Ryan Reynolds stand out amidst the carnage and finally we have a Marvel film with a bit of blood and guts. Reminded me slightly of a funnier DARK MAN; a film which remains one of my favourite anti/super-hero films.

I’d say the box office success is deserved while the hype is probably a bit over-the-top as the politically incorrect film does go out of its way to keep you on Wade Wilson’s side and not make him totally unlikeable. Moreover, the script, while traditional in structure and Reynolds delivery are just sparkling as we get gag after gag after gag at the expense of everyone and everything, most notably the Marvel universe itself. Like Netflix’s Daredevil it breathes new life into the saturated superhero market.(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

FARGO (1996) – NETFLIX

The Coen Brothers take on the kidnapping-police-procedural thriller film is memorable because it turns the genre on its head with a dark, funny and human story both stylish and gut-wrenching in equal measures. I mean, the killers are revealed immediately and Police Chief Marge Gunderson (wonderful Frances McDormand) solves the case quickly too. This allows the Coens to concentrate on off-beat characterisations and twist the narrative in any direction they so desire. It’s bloody, funny and moral with memorable characters that stick in the heart and mind. Seen this film so many times and it improves like a fine wine; a true classic.(Mark: 11 out of 11)

MAKING A MURDERER (2015) – NETFLIX

I watched Netflix’s Making a Murderer and throughout I was hoping it was a brilliantly written courtroom drama series directed in the documentary style. But IT’S actually REAL LIFE EVENTS! It’s a ten-part documentary which concerns a number of high-profile court cases which took place in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. The filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos deserve incredible praise for their painstaking work in bringing the cases of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey to the screen because based on their film an incredible miscarriage of justice may have occurred.

It is as thrilling and suspenseful as anything Hitchcock created as the trials and tribulations of these men and their families are thrust before us. The behaviour of law enforcement is called into question time and time again and the documentary stands as both an indictment on the United States legal system as well as being a gripping thriller. I won’t say anymore for fear of spoilers but WATCH THIS SHOW for an incredibly designed “TRUE” story. It has to be seen to be believed, and whether the defendants are guilty or not, this saga re-writes the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt!”(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

PREDESTINATION (2014) – NOW TV

One of my films of 2015 I have now seen it twice and it is like a snake-charmer; I just cannot help but fall for its twisted, hypnotic and serpentine narrative. In my original review a year ago I wrote:

“It may completely fall apart on subsequent viewings but for the running time it offered a lot more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. . .”

However, I can safely say this brilliant cult time-travel movie based on a classic Heinlein short story called All You Zombies gets better with further viewing and stands up on further inspection. I’m still scratching my head at how it all fits together, but that is part of the pleasure too.(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

WORTH A WATCH!

BANANAS (1971) – NETFLIX

Early Woody Allen film which pokes fun at his nebbish persona, failure with women, Marxist revolutions and United States foreign policy, all in a brisk eight-four minute machine-gun-sketch style. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

Moody amnesiac chamber thriller with Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong and Colin Firth delivering an initially intriguing suspense-filled piece but lacks a killer punch ultimately. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

CHEF (2014) – NETFLIX

This is a proper feel-good film about a shit-hot chef who attempts to reignite a once-hot career gone cold. Jon Favreau writes and directs and casts his mates like Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jnr and others in a fun, tasty, attractive, mouth-watering treat. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

DAWG FIGHT (2015) (NETFLIX)

Set in Perrine, Florida, this is a bloody slice-of-life documentary about backyard, bare-knuckle fighting between underclass males looking to get into the UFC big leagues. Featuring some brutal fights it’s a sad indictment of humanity and not for the faint-hearted. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

DEFIANCE (2008) – NETFLIX

Excellent wartime drama inspired by the true story of the Belarussian Jewish brothers called the Bieskis, who fought back against the Nazis while saving thousands of lives too. Gripping and suspenseful it’s anchored by the excellent Daniel Craig and well-orchestrated battle scenes. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

LIFE ON MARS – SEASON 1 (2006) – NETFLIX

I missed this cracking time-warped TV show the first time round as Sam Tyler (John Simm) is thrown back to the 1970s and faced with a battle to get back to “reality”. Temporal, cultural and socio-political clashes are abound between Tyler and his new boss Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) as Sam solves cases in the past while trying to stay alive in the present. Cracking cop show! (Mark: 9 out of 11)

MUNICH (2005) – NETFLIX

I appreciated this superlative Spielberg revenge thriller more the second time round as it really questions the nature of vengeance and the damaging impact on all those involved. The story focusses on Mossad’s hit squad and its mission to wipe out Palestinian “generals” responsible for planning the Munich Olympics massacre in 1972. Eric Bana, Ciaran Hinds and Daniel Craig are impressive in their respective roles and arguably this is Spielberg’s most complex and ambiguous directorial effort. It’s a must-see political thriller with many heart-pounding urban battle scenes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

ROME – SEASON 2 (2007) – NETFLIX

After the bloody denouement of Season 1, Rome provided once again some gripping and devious drama following the aftermath of Julius Caesar’s backstabbing murder. Fantastic cast including Kevin McKidd, Polly Walker and James Purefoy tear up the scenery in a most entertaining history lesson. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

TRUMBO (2015) – CINEMA

Bryan Cranston is brilliant as black-listed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who having served time for being a Communist found himself unable to work in Hollywood during the 50s and 60s. Ingeniously he worked under the radar gaining notoriety and secret acclaim and this film, while dramatically undercooked in places, stands as a fine tribute to a superb writer. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE!

EXIST (2014) – NOW TV

Dreadful “found footage” film about some American morons being tracked and killed by a sasquatch. The monsters are pretty decent when you finally see them but the script and direction are awful. (Mark: 2 out of 11)

THE LAST FLIGHT (2009) – NETFLIX

This jumbled period drama set in between the 1st and 2nd World Wars finds Marion Cotillard’s pilot searching the desert for her lost love.  Insipid and lacking focus, I was bored throughout in a film which pretty much crashes on take-off. (Mark: 2 out of 11)

LAST KNIGHTS (2015) – NOW TV

Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman cannot save this below average medieval jaunt which has some okay violence and dramatic moments but is far too serious and dull. (Mark: 3.5 out of 11)

LONG WAY DOWN (2014) – NETFLIX

So-so soapy suicide comedy-drama that is ultimately undemanding and under-nourished, but saved by an attractive cast including: Aaron Paul, Pierce Brosnan and Toni Collette. (Mark: 4 out of 11)

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

Ben Stiller stars in this insult to the original literary classic which reduces the fantasy elements to a mid-life-crisis-romance story involving the pursuit of a photograph and the meaning of life. It looks wonderful but is hollow and makes noises like a broken drum. (Mark: 4 out of 11)

REGRESSION (2015) – SKY MOVIES

Incredible to think Alejandro Amenabar directed this terrible horror/thriller which criminally wastes the talents of Ethan Hawke and David Thewlis in horribly under-baked occult story. (Mark: 3 out of 11)

WOMAN IN BLACK 2 (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

I thought the original was a nifty little horror film made with imagination, scares and respect for the horror genre. This WWII set film was a complete waste of time with weak story and scares. Avoid! (Mark: 3 out of 11)

SCREENWASH REVIEWS– JANUARY 2016

SCREENWASH REVIEWS– JANUARY 2016

Last year was a very good year for filmmaking but 2016 is shaping up even better already. You know the scene in Pulp Fiction (1994) where Bruce Willis’ character is moving from one weapon to a bigger/better one before he tortures Zed in the basement?  That’s what cinema going is like for me in January. I’ve seen so many brilliant films in succession either as good as or better than the last.  Moreover, the Oscar fodder is launched on the silver screen thus; I saw NOT one, but FOUR films which are already likely to be on my Best of 2016 list.

I’ve slightly tweaked my FILM/TV review format so instead of covering, in detail, EVERYTHING I saw, I’ve made it a bit punchier and reviewed in depth the best of the best. As usual – marks out of eleven!

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

CINEMA FILMS OF THE MONTH – ROOM (2015) + THE REVENANT (2015)


ROOM
(2015) – (MARK: 10.5 out of 11)

Room is an amazing film. Probably the best and most moving I will see ALL year. It concerns Joy (the incredible Brie Larson) and her young son Jack (stunning Jacob Tremblay) who have been abducted and trapped in a shed by a nefarious kidnapper referred only as “Old Nick”.

The film is presented from the innocent boy’s perspective and the pathos and empathy I felt throughout was both touching and heart breaking. What the writer’s premise does and filmmakers do is make you care about the characters immediately making every scene so suspenseful and soulful. If you are captured by stories about proper characters trying to survive dire events then it’s a must see.

The budget was low at $6 million yet director Lenny Abrahamson, his brilliant cast and writer Emma Donoghue have created a masterpiece in emotional storytelling.  Ultimately, it’s a film not just about isolation, abandonment and the horror of humanity; but also the unbridled love a mother has for their child and child for their mother. This is a truly stunning film which will linger in the memory for some time to come.

THE REVENANT (2015) – (MARK: 10 out of 11)

While Room is intimate and claustrophobic, The Revenant was the polar opposite. It’s a massive, heart pounding survival epic that must be seen on the biggest cinema screen you can find. Don’t stream it illegally online you cheap bastards; leave the house and GO TO THE CINEMA!

It concerns a Trappers’ expedition circa 1823 which is assaulted most violently by the indigenous Arikara Native Americans from the get go. The brutal attack set-piece kicks off the film in startling fashion with fire, blood and bone spilling and crunching and blasting death upon our characters. Our hero – Oscar-winner-elect – Leonardo DiCaprio is a tracker, Hugh Glass, whose expertise is required to get the survivors across the cold and brutal landscape in one piece.  But he is attacked by a bear in one of the most incredible feats of filmmaking I have seen in a long time. It just has to be seen to be believed as Glass is ripped to shreds by the bear leaving him at death’s step knocking on the door.

DiCaprio is then left with his Native American son and the greasy John Fitzgerald portrayed with dirty aplomb by brilliant Tom Hardy, as the rest head back to “civilization.” After which it’s safe to say that things don’t go too well for Glass as the money-grubbing Fitzgerald double-crosses him and leaves him for dead precipitating a series of deadly encounters that left me gasping for air and shaken to the heart of my dramatic core.

This is just superb, grueling, bloody and beautiful filmmaking! Inarritu adds some exquisite artistic touches and the cinematography and vistas are a thing of beauty. The filmmaking team spent nine months shooting the film and they have given birth to an epic masterpiece which, while a simple revenge story at heart, beats a powerful drum to the testament of the human spirit and against-the-odds survival. If you’re not watching this on a massive cinema screen then you haven’t seen it at all!

OTHER CINEMA FILMS

THE BIG SHORT (2015) – (MARK: 9 out of 11)

This is a very entertaining film satire about the global economic crash and the 2008 housing meltdown. It simplified everything in a very amusing fashion and felt like an extended American Office, both in style and humour. Steve Carell and Christian Bale are on particularly good form as are the rest of a very attractive case.  Bankers, Brokers, Regulators and the Government are presented as crooked, greedy, moronic or all of the above! I’m still shocked this actually happened as I have always held humanity in such high regard. NOT!

CREED (2015) – (MARK: 8 out of 11)

For a genre/franchise/boxing film CREED is a fantastic watch; full of emotional ups and downs. Stallone is terrific as ageing Rocky Balboa and this movie harked back to the raw quality of the first Rocky (1976). Ryan Coogler proved with Fruitvale Station (2013) he can direct real heartfelt drama and illustrates it once again here. The boxing scenes are impressive and Michael B. Jordan proves he is a very natural performer as the film delivers some proper knockout entertainment.

DANISH GIRL (2015) – (MARK: 7.5 out of 11)

Eddie Redmayne truly delivers in this story about Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe and their attempts to reassign gender. Alicia Vikander as Gerda Wegener is equally brilliant as Einar’s wife, who at first sees her husband’s flirtations with female impersonation as a game but realises it is much more than that. Overall, this is stunningly attractive filmmaking set in 1920s Copenhagen which could arguably have had a touch more dramatic bite. Yet, Tom Hooper is a formidable director of beautifully humane dramas and this is a touching testament to a person trapped and prepared to risk it all to escape.

 
THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015) – (MARK: 9.5 out of 11)

Any other month this would have been my film of the month.  I love Westerns. I love Tarantino films (mostly). I love brilliant dialogue. I love lots of blood and violence.  Here QT remakes Reservoir Dogs (1992) via Agatha Christie, setting it in the snowy West of America circa 1870s.  It concerns eight hard-bitten souls consisting of criminals, bounty hunters and soldiers and the mayhem that ensues as they cross paths.

Set pretty much in one location there is tension and bullets galore by the end. However, the main strength lies in the ensemble cast firing verbal stingers at each other as trust breaks down and the characters turn against each other as the plot thickens. Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins and Samuel L. Jackson are real standouts and Jennifer Jason Leigh holds her own amidst the sweat and testosterone.

Though not as epic in stature as Django Unchained (2012), and in need of a wee trim, this is a fine movie which will improve on subsequent views. Tarantino is a proper auteur and can always be relied on to deliver an impressive work of entertainment. Mustn’t forget Ennio Morricone’s awesome score either, which haunts the scenes like the Reaper on collection day.

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA (2015) – (MARK: 7.5 out of 11)

Ever dependable Ron Howard has crafted an excellent adventure and survival story. A well evoked period drama Chris “Thor” Hemsworth takes to the high seas on the hunt for whales, only to come up against the white “monster” which would inspire Herman Melville’s literary classic Moby Dick. Men against nature and the elements always play well on the big screen and overall, it’s very solid entertainment. While the bookended script is old-fashioned by design it has subtext too, indicating the importance oil has always played within our society.

SPOTLIGHT (2015) – (MARK: 9 out of 11)

This is yet another Oscar-runner with an incredible true story at its heart. The film “spotlights” the Boston Globe’s investigation into endemic paedophilia and subsequent cover up by the Catholic Church. It’s a riveting story with a fantastic ensemble cast including Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton on very fine form.

Screenwriters Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer have crafted a sterling script that gets into the minutiae of a press investigation and also reveals the corruption and hypocrisy in organised religion, public relations and the legal system.  Just when you think people couldn’t get any lower stories like this highlight the darkness at the heart of humanity.  Thankfully, the press gang at the Boston Globe has proved more than just celebrity-baiters and given the victims of horrific abuse both a voice and justice.

TV, DVD, BLU RAY, NETFLIX and other STREAMERS

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ADAM AND PAUL (2004) – YOUTUBE – (MARK: 9 out of 11)

Irish black comedy about two junkies trying to get a hit; manages to be both hilarious and sad simultaneously. Great feature debut from Lenny Abrahamson.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN (2013) NETFLIX – (MARK: 8 out of 11)

More bonkers horror as witchcraft, murder and voodoo mix to grisly and hilarious effect.


AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (2015) – BBC1 – (MARK: 8 out of 11)

Stylish drama with a stellar cast committing murder most foul in fine Agatha Christie adaptation.

BLUE RUIN (2014) – NETFLIX – (MARK: 6 out of 11)

Impressive low budget neo-noir let down by the bad plotting and unsympathetic lead protagonist. 

THE FALLING (2014) – AMAZON PRIME – (Mark: 6 out of 11)

Artful period drama about fainting young girls starts well but runs out of story by the end.

THE HUNTER (2011) – AMAZON PRIME – (Mark: 7 out of 11)

Intriguing Aussie drama as Willem Dafoe’s hired gun tracks down the last Tasmanian tiger.

ROME – SEASON 1 – (2005) – NETFLIX – (MARK – 8 out of 11)

Brilliant Caesarean drama with devilish plotting and bloodier battles plus a cracking cast.


SHERLOCK: THE ABOMINABLE BRIDE (2015) – BBC1 – (Mark: 8 out of 11)

Oh-so-clever-meta-drama featured Holmes & Watson on the trail of a ghostly murderess in a wedding dress. Stylish with little substance but entertaining nonetheless.

SLOW WEST (2014) – NOW TV – (Mark: 7 out of 11)

Idiosyncratic Western that is too pretentious in places, but saved by ever-excellent Michael Fassbender and a fine shoot-out at the end.

THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014) – NOW TV – (Mark: 7 out of 11)

Eddie Redmayne bagged the Oscar for his portrait of Stephen Hawking in this beautifully acted, lovely looking, yet, dramatically tepid romance-biopic.

WHAT RICHARD DID (2012) – DVD – (Mark: 8 out of 11)

Slow moving but impactful drama from Lenny Abrahamson, as a rich teenager’s actions causes massive reverberations amidst an Irish family and the wider community.

AVOID AT ALL COSTS!

THE VISIT (2015) – SKY STORE – (MARK: 2 out of 11)

Some said this was a return to form for M. Night Shyamalan – IT WASN’T! Dreadful supposed horror film with one of the most annoying child actors I’ve had the displeasure to witness.

SCREENWASH: DECEMBER 2015 FILM REVIEWS

SCREENWASH FILM REVIEWS: DECEMBER 2015

This will be my final Screenwash in this format. From next year I won’t review EVERYTHING I have seen but do a more qualitative review of something I really loved or hated with a little round-up of other stuff. I think it’s good to mix up the format in order to keep it fresh for 2016. Anyway, along with battling flu I managed to watch quite a lot of stuff in December at the cinema and via the usual channels. Marks as usual are out of eleven!

**THIS CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

AMERICAN HORROR STORY – SEASONS 1 + 2 (NETFLIX)

This show is disgusting but I love it.  A true must for horror show addicts with all manner of death and mayhem in two seasons of sick, perverse and grim nastiness. Both Murder House and Asylum are the stuff nightmares are made of. Highly recommended. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

BLACKHAT (2015) – NOW TV

Thor stars in a Michael Mann cyber-thriller which was panned by critics but isn’t actually that bad. Hacker-action dramas never quite come off on the big screen but Chris Hemsworth and some okay twists make this worth watching I guess. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

CAROL (2015) – CINEMA

Todd Haynes beautifully shot and designed period love story has a standout performance from Cate Blanchett and great support from Rooney Mara. The majestic score and perfect direction make this filmmaking of the highest quality and Oscars beckon come award season. The story could have been slightly more dramatic in places but Haynes goes for mood and subtlety rather than soapy melodrama and is to be commended for such a stylish work of film art. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

DR ZHIVAGO (1965) – CINEMA

They don’t make them like this epic love story anymore. Beautiful Julie Christie and dashing Omar Sharif are red-star crossed lovers caught amidst the bullets and snow of revolutionary and war-torn Russia. This is stunning and epic filmmaking from David Lean with a haunting score and incredible cinematography. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

FOCUS (2015) – NOW TV

I like a good con film and this one starring attractive couple Will Smith and Margot Robbie is a fast-paced and fun double-twister with ups and downs and turns and burns throughout. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

FRANK (2014) – NETFLIX

This is a tremendously odd yet moving character study of Frank, the leader of an experimental rock band who happens to wear a papier-mache head to mask him from the world. Domnhall Gleeson excels as the keyboardist coerced into the mayhem as he attempts to apply order to a chaotic creative process. Yet, Michael Fassbender is phenomenal as the tragic and titular lead. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

FRUITVALE STATION (2013) – NETFLIX

Excellent naturalistic drama centred on the final day in the life of Oscar Grant who was shot by police at Fruitvale Station when out on New Year’s Eve. It’s a touching film about an ordinary guy in the wrong place at the wrong time with fine direction and performances. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

THE GIFT (2015)

Joel Edgerton’s creepy film was an excellent exercise in subtle and horrifying low-key thrills as his seemingly meek character unhinges Rachel Hall and Jason Bateman’s middle class world.  This was an excellent slowburner with a wonderful reveal at the end and relied on subtle twists rather than over-the-top action. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

INHERENT VICE (2014) – NOW TV

Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1970s stoner detective adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel is stylish and narratively obtuse and doesn’t really add up to much by the end really. However, Anderson is always an interesting director and throws himself at the material with gusto and Joaquin Phoenix’s spirited performance drags you through a pretty pointless exercise in style over content. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

INTO THE WOODS (2014) – NOW TV

Sondheim’s musical gets the Hollywood treatment and it’s big, loud and clever but not really my cup of tea. The meta-references were great as we get: Cinderella, Jack, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Prince Charming all thrown into a heady narrative mix which didn’t quite pay off on the big screen. While the direction is spirited and the musical numbers flawless, it all fell flat as a story for me despite the great cast. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

KRAMPUS (2015) – CINEMA

If you like alternative fairytale films then do check out this devilish Christmas film. It’s kind of like Evil Dead 2 meets Bad Santa with a bit of Jaws and Gremlins too. Both funny and scary throughout it’s full of nasty Christmas creatures and is a perfect anathema to those sickly feel-good Christmas stories clogging up the arteries of cinema and TV schedule. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

KUNG FURY (2015) – NETFLIX

This is a silly but impressive cop/martial arts 80s pastiche with pumping soundtrack and ultra-violence from Swedish filmmaker David Sandberg.  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

LUTHER (BBC) – IPLAYER

One off Christmas special found Luther “hiding” from the world waiting for contact from Alice. He’s in for a long wait though as it would appear she has been killed in Amsterdam – or has she?!  It was formulaic yet enjoyable cop-genre stuff with Idris Elba owning the screening as he hunts Alice’s killers plus a lunatic serial-murderer.  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

MACBETH (1971)

I’m studying Macbeth to help my son with his GCSE’s and Polanski’s version is a very decent stab at the Bard’s gloomy Scottish masterpiece.  Having seen Fassbender and Cotillard excel in an atmospheric version earlier in 2015, this one is equally bloody and venomous as the foolish Scottish laird falls foul of murder and ambition as his plotting backfires spectacularly. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) – CINEMA

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic nun musical is an opposites-attract-love-story tied up with a formidable musical presentation beautifully performed, choreographed, directed and lit. Julie Andrews is phenomenal in the lead opposite fussy but handsome Christopher Plummer. This is an old favourite with classic songs which definitely stand the test of time. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

SNOWPIERCER (2013) – BLU RAY

Bong Joon Ho’s impressive socialist Sci-fi actioner is highly original in concept and delivery as a disparate bunch of renegades – including: Jamie Bell, Chris Evans and John Hurt – attempt to gain control of a never-stopping train. Surprisingly never released in the UK I had to order my Blu Ray from New Zealand and it was worth the wait as the film constantly surprises with a decent mix of intelligent action and brutal violence. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) – CINEMA

JJ Abrams Star Wars reboot broke not only the internet but also box office records worldwide. It’s a safe and impressive spectacle with – aside from the young hipster Jedi bad guy – bland leads and the best actor jettisoned early (Oscar Isaac) for an uneasy mix of older characters and young ones. The action was breathtaking though and brilliantly done, however, the story was a retread of A New Hope (with female Luke) plus a series of glaring plot holes. Still, loads of action and great bad guys made this a fun blockbuster. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

THE ROVER (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

Dystopian, near-future Aussie Western boasts hard-bitten performances from Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson. It’s a simple story about a man hunting for his car and the power remains in the understated nihilistic drama and bleak, dusty landscapes. Not a lot happens but it does so with a quiet, memorable power. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

TAKEN 3 (2014) – NOW TV

Liam Neeson smashes up more bad guys in this not-too-bad B-movie thriller. This time the baddies have killed his wife and stitched him up as prime suspect – but will he get out of it!?  What do you think?  Silly, formulaic but watchable stuff!  (Mark: 6 out of 11)

WILDCARD (2015) – NETFLIX

Reliable hard man Jason Statham’s latest B-movie has a very good supporting cast and is passably entertaining but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Having said that Las Vegas always makes an interesting cinematic setting and as a character study of a destructive gambler it works okay. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

WOLFCOP (2014) – AMAZON PRIME

This is a gloriously over-the-top grindhouse feature with an alcoholic cop who turns into a vicious lycanthrope hell-bent on murdering those who break the law. It’s stupendously silly but very entertaining nonetheless with some funny blood-letting and howling gore. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

DOCTOR WHO: SEASON 9 REVIEW

DOCTOR WHO: SEASON 9 REVIEW

**MASSIVE SPOILERS DARLING**

If you go to the Doctor Who Facebook page or YouTube or Radio Times or other online forums, you will find a fanatical passion for the Timelord usually reserved for football teams or religions.  Much of it is high praise, constructive criticism and healthy debates involving: timey-wimey stuff; various plot explanations; merits of favourite Doctors or companions; and that “the old classics are better than the new ones” exclamations etc.  Moreover, there’s also a very negative faction who think they should play two up front, sack the manager, that God is a construct so people can control humanity and your mum’s a dick. Sorry, wrong forums.

Actually, the main negatives from the current Who detractor-fans are: the writing has gone downhill since Moffat took over as show-runner; Capaldi is too old as the Doctor; Clara is a rubbish companion and should die (they got their wish); Season 8 was diabolical and worse than cancer; plus other gripes.  Well, I don’t subscribe to hysteria and hyperbole; after all it’s just a TV show that I enjoy very much.  I do agree though that Season 8 was a bit off due to the Danny Pink/Clara romantic arc that dragged the show into Hollyoaks territory. Furthermore, Moffat was still finding Capaldi’s “voice” as the Doctor too so Season 8 was hit and miss indeed. Yet, there were still some great episodes such as: Listen, Dark Water, Flatline and the joyously dark Mummy on the Orient Express.

As a show-runner the negativity toward Moffat is boring.  He has an excellent imagination and eye for a concept and has written some incredible episodes over the years, many of which I covered in my epic Doctor Who blog tribute that can be revisited here:

Plus, as captain of the Doctor Who ship it is a big responsibility to avoid sinking such a revered national treasure. Indeed, while I don’t like some of Moffat’s tricksy ret-con leaps, at least he strives for originality within a genre formula and more often than not produces moments of brilliant television.

Basically, Doctor Who is a mainstream sci-fi, family TV drama with comedy sprinkled in and as such I watch for entertainment purposes. But it so often is more than that as it offers a grand look at history, space, end of worlds, universes and existence itself. Season 8’s narrative arc involved Missy/Master (splendid Michelle Gomez) wreaking havoc on the new Doctor, who with his new face, had to decide whether he “was a good man”. Well, he decided that he was and in Season 9 he found he had a mission statement too: “I’m the Doctor and I save people”.  The only problem was the Doctor’s actions created the Hybrid or did they? Well, it created the Hybrid arc which permeated a series of mainly two-parters which on the whole were just wonderful. Hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.

THE MAGICIAN’S APPRENTICE/WITCH’S FAMILIAR

The episode opening was a bit of a minefield; literally a minefield of actual “hand” grenades threatening a young boy who happened to be Dalek creator Davros.  We were in Genesis of the Daleks territory where imperious Tom Baker was sent back in time to kill the Daleks at birth.  It was a showstopper and the episode was full of fine moments as Missy popped up again (thought she was dead) with The Doctor’s “confession dial” in hand and having nabbed Clara she went on the hunting for the Doctor.  They found him playing guitar, wearing some neat, gimmicky sonic-sunglasses before he came face-to-face with a dying Davros keen on revitalising himself.


The hybrid theme popped up here with the Doctor using Timelord regenerative energy to reignite the Dalek’s and foster Davros’ wicked plan, which off course backfires on him. Plus, Clara was abused by Missy and made to inhabit an evil Dalek during their escape echoing Oswald’s first appearance from Asylum of the Daleks.  Overall, it was a cracking opening and Capaldi’s little chats with Davros were full of tension and irony.  I especially loved the Dalek sewers full of horrible monsters out for revenge on their Master.  Michelle Gomez shone as the bullying spinster while Capaldi begins with an authority and confidence that became a feature of the season.

UNDER THE LAKE/BEFORE THE FLOOD

Toby Whithouse has created some entertaining Doctor Who episodes including: School Reunion and Vampires of Venice and this two-parter was equally so.  I mean who doesn’t love a ghost story set on an Underwater Base in the future.  Indeed, it’s temporally very tricky and has some wonderful moments and brilliant end-of-episode cliff-hanger where the Doctor himself must die to solve the mystery.

I’m a sucker for paradoxes and these episodes are full of them as the Doctor travels back from 2119 to 1980, crossing his own timeline in order to foil the future ghosts of which he is one. Before the flood he ultimately faces the nefarious Fisher King who is intent on an awakening and having his wicked way with the Earth.  Some wonderful moments include: the scary hollow-eyed ghosts; the deaf character Cass lip-reading the ghosts; some heart-stopping cat-and-mouse chases around the base; the Doctor “cue” cards which prompt more tactful responses; plus the perplexing yet sparkling puzzle box narrative which wraps up an overall fast-paced and fun episode.    

THE GIRL WHO DIED/THE WOMAN WHO LIVED

This loose double-header began with a standard Dr Who set-up as he and Clara met with the Vikings and then entered into a war with the space-race, the Mire.  Cue a Seven Samurai style “defending the village” story which featured the wonderful actress Maisie Williams as young Viking storyteller, Ashildr.  There were some great one-liners and humour to be had as well as some soul searching by the Doctor as he conversed with a baby.  The end battle was a bit farcical as the Doctor turns the Mire’s technology against them involving, believe it or not, the Benny Hill theme tune.


The episode then went from okay to amazing when tragedy struck as the Doctor had an incredible epiphany following Ashildr’s death. Using the Mire tech he brings her back to life and there’s the rub because she is now immortal. We then get an incredible montage which finds Ashildr pass through the years unchanged by time. Indeed, the Hybrid theme rears itself again and in The Girl Who Died, the Doctor met Ashildr again and she was now known as ‘Me’.  Williams was brilliant in this episode and her ‘Me’ was an entirely different character: a bitter, world-weary person ravaged by time, experience and loss.  Plot wise the second-part was kind of weak but in terms of character it was very powerful. Now, the Doctor had created a new foe that like him was an ‘immortal’ time-traveller. However, ‘Me’ wasn’t necessarily on the side of good as we would discover later in the series.

THE ZYGON INVASION/THE ZYGON INVERSION

In this two-parter the writers showed that primetime television doesn’t have to just be whimsical as the Doctor took on Zygon extremists determined to destroy all humans.  The episode, picking up the plot from Day of the Doctor, was political, allegorical and powerful, with the Doctor acting ultimately as peacekeeper in an attempt to prevent human and Zygon armies from destroying the world. With clear parallels to the current refugee crisis, rise of ISIS and the gung-ho nature of Western Governments the Doctor weaves between the factions as “President of the World” and tricksy Zygons who are body-snatching humans.  There’s some great action and suspense in this two-parter with suspicion falling on friends and neighbours.

The Zygon episodes were full of memorable moments, notably the performances of Ingrid Oliver as Osgood and Jenna Coleman as Evil Clara AKA Bonnie.  Both gave nuanced characterisations in their respective roles and of course both were human/Zygon hybrids.  Coleman especially was excellent and she ultimately revelled in playing a bad girl.  The denouement, however, belonged to Capaldi as he attempts to broker peace amidst the warmongering. He delivers an incredible speech about “Truth or Consequences” of going to war and echoes his pain of feeling following the destructive Time War.

SLEEP NO MORE

This Mark Gatiss written episode was kind of hung out to dry and thrown away following the previously brilliant two-parters.  While I’m not a fan of found footage horror films this was an interesting experiment which really could have done with another part to wrap up the loose ends.  Stand-out elements included:  a wonderfully unhinged and unreliable narrator in Reece Shearsmith; some witty repartee between Clara and the Doctor; some lovely Macbeth quotes, plus some silly but fun Sandmen monsters which were created from the sleep in our eyes.  Pilloried online by fans I enjoyed the silliness but it felt unfinished as an episode and I hope we get to see Shearsmith’s Dr Rassmussen and his Morpheus monsters again next season.

FACE THE RAVEN

In a rather interesting spoiler, prior to the start of the season, it was announced that Jenna Coleman would be leaving the show to pursue other acting challenges.  Thus, the episodes were filled with the drama of wondering when Clara’s end would come.   Well, this rather brilliant episode is when it occurred as Rigsy (from Season 8 episode Flatline) popped up with a weird tattoo on his neck. Now this wasn’t a Croydon tramp stamp but rather a countdown to death – Rigsy’s death!  Of course, the Doctor and Clara set about tracking down the people responsible and found themselves in a secret street which housed all sorts of space migrants; like a galactic version of Casablanca. The “mayor” of the street was Ashildr/”Me” who was back doing the bidding of a hidden enemy. Jenna Coleman is brilliant as Clara. As her arrogance causes her demise she begs the Doctor NOT to seek revenge. Yet her death is so dramatic and touching and the Doctor can do nothing to save her, although you sense he will try and bring her back somehow. He won’t give up on Clara: he has a “duty of care” after all.

HEAVEN SENT/HELL BENT

Peter Capaldi is a triumph in Season 9.  He owns every scene, episode, speech and every furrow of his crinkled brow and sparkle in his eye betrays an actor making the character his own.  I wouldn’t have reignited my love of the Tardis had Capaldi not been cast.  So, after the apparently up-and-down Season 8, which I actually enjoyed mostly, Capaldi, show-runner Steven Moffat, writers, cast and production team  gave us a season full of highs, some dips but overall some stunning and brave television. This was none more so witnessed in the Heaven Sent episode where the Doctor was trapped in his own version of hell.  In an Escheresque prison in which the walls and cells moved the Timelord had to face his demons and death over and over again. It was an episode full of scares and haunting images as the Doctor dies again and again to escape the “confession” trap laid by the Timelords.  In fact, Moffat probably over-eggs the pudding by having the Doctor “live” for over 4 billion years within the parallel hell, but you have to admire the Doctor’s desire for retribution.

Having escaped to, of all places, Gallifrey the Doctor discovers head honcho Timelord, Rassilon, is behind his torture as they were desperate to know about the whereabouts of the “Hybrid”. Quickly dispatching him and the Gallifreyan Council off into exile the Doctor then sets about retrieving Clara from beyond the “Raven”. Here Moffat then does his favourite thing of retroactively rewriting the past by bringing her back in between heartbeats. So, technically she is dead but physically functioning.  Clara and the Doctor then go on the run until the end of time and find immortal “Me” as the only person left alive. The Doctor and “Me” debate the nature of the hybrid before the Doctor decides it is wise, as he has gone “too far”, to blank his mind of Clara thus saving her and ending their partnership.  Overall, it was a heady mix of emotion and science fantasy which didn’t quite gel for me, plus the Hybrid arc was ultimately and classic Macguffin device overall. But Moffat knows how to ratchet up the pace and the concepts and by the end I felt quite giddy.  Clara and “Me” headed off back to Gallifrey, the long way round, and the Doctor headed off alone. Had he forgotten the “impossible girl” – I doubt it somehow!

CHRISTMAS SPECIAL AND CONCLUSION

So with a tremendous raft of episodes in the bank for Season 9 the Husbands of River Song Christmas special was a fluffy addendum to the season.  It was a kind of heist/romance involving stolen heads and villainous space-ships full of mercenaries. It passed the time amusingly save for a wonderfully soppy ending when the Doctor bid fond farewell to his wife, River.  But it was no more than a tasty cherry on the season as a whole, which was a big triumphant and brilliant time cake full of memorable and outstanding ingredients delivered by the awesome Peter Capaldi as the Doctor.

“CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE”: SOUTH PARK – SEASON 19 REVIEW

“CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE”: SOUTH PARK – SEASON 19 REVIEW

**This contains massive spoilers and offensive language**

Up until 2013 I had only watched a handful of episodes of the irreverent and scurrilous animated show South Park. But since then I have caught up with a hell of a lot of episodes and it has become one of my favourite ever TV programmes and a new season of Trey Parker’s vicious satire is always a highlight of my cultural year. Moreover, one of my most efficient and extensive blog articles was Respect My Authoritah which listed my favouritest seventeen episodes up to Season 16.  Which if you can be arsed can be read here:

Seasons 17 and 18 have come and gone since I wrote that and they had some terrific episodes including my own personal favourites: Informative Murder Porn, Goth Kids 3: Dawn of the Posers, Game of Thrones parodies Black Friday/Song of Ass and Fire, Freemium Isn’t Free, Grounded Vindaloop and #Happy Holograms.  What these and many other previous episodes contained was a keen knowledge of cultural, social and political issues with two parodic fingers on the pulse of the zeitgeist, ripping into many media and political targets. This of course was done while continuing the misadventures of Kenny, Cartman, Stan, Kyle, Randy, Sharon, Mr Garrison and other inhabitants of South Park.

What Season 18 did especially well was to link the episodes with call backs to previous events forming a narrative continuum as opposed to just funny stand alone episodes. This allowed for much joy to be had through individual and connected gags as well more satisfying storytelling. Trey Parker obviously felt this worked so he continued this trend with the whole of Season 19. In fact I felt that this season was the most complete and satisfactory in regard to the humour, themes, continuity and narrative. My teenage son says the earlier ones were much funnier and ruder and less political and perhaps he is right, but I defy anyone to find a more scathing and funny satirical show on TV at the moment.

Season 19 began with Stunning and Brave; and we got a brand NEW character in PC Principal.  It’s risky to bring in new elements to an established show but this character hit the ground running with his muscular Jock-look, frat-boy speech and aggressive politically-correct motivations. The writing illustrated the apparent rise of left-leaning-liberal-movements in society and social media which while having decent motives, have become as fascistic in their application of their ideologies as much as right wingers. Indeed it could be argued people have become scared of saying anything in case it’s racist or sexist or offensive and positive discrimination has become so prominent to blind us to character deficiencies.  Indeed, the episode parodies transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner who has been proclaimed a societal heroine. However, one may argue she is essentially just another media whore seeking attention in any way they can.

Caitlyn Jenner would pop us a running gag and mate of Garrison in the next episode, Where has My Country Gone. The disgraced teacher Garrison is in despair at the Canadian immigrants spoiling his country, so he politicizes himself vowing to fuck all immigrants to death. Eventually he ends up in Canada where it has been revealed that Canadians have fled their country because a Donald Trump like “joke” politician actually won the Presidency.  Garrison fucks fake-Trump to death and this “policy” propels him forward as a Presidential candidate with Jenner alongside him.

What Trey Parker does so well is highlight the ridiculous but dangerous nature of soapbox politics and so-called immigration perspectives. Of course, freedom of speech is important but when a wealthy man shouts loudest we must be wary that apathy and inaction by the majority are his weapons too. The use of the Canadians as the whipping boys of South Park is a recurring theme and of course they are merely symbols for attitudes toward all non-Americans.  There’s also a touching “Romeo and Juliet” subplot involving the ever-innocent Butters and his Canadian love.

Having Garrison run on an anti-immigration ticket causes South Park to be ridiculed on television. The shamed residents led by Randy and the Mayor then attempt upward mobility and get a Whole Foods opened in the town. Such social snobbery satirizes the preposterous idea that where you shop makes you a better person.  As such within the episodes City Part of Town and You’re Not Yelping we get some brutal satire at the expense of gentrification and narcissistic individualist behaviour in which people attempt to give their life meaning by elevating their social shopping status or writing pretentious restaurant reviews. As someone who writes reviews for their own enjoyment I did find it particularly hilarious when Gerald Broflovski (Kyle’s Dad) disappears up his own arsehole while writing his Yelp review.

I personally loved the scathing critique of apparent “hipster” culture and gentrification which invaded this season.  I don’t think it’s because I am old and the hipster is supposedly new and cool. No, it’s because they seem to try too hard to be right on plus why should SOMEONE else’s idea of style be all pervasive. Indeed, the episode Safe Space also rabidly attacks charity and the guilt-induced tactics used on Randy; can it not be free choice rather than a system of control over who one gives money to. Meanwhile, poor Butters suffers once again as he hallucinates via sleep deprivation having had to edit the social media accounts of Cartman, Vin Diesel, Steven Seagal and many more celebrities because of fat shaming. Of course, bullying of any kind is a wicked thing but what Safe Space says is that it’s part of reality and we must change our reality rather than simply edit out all that is negative about our lives.

The next episode Tweek x Craig (which calls back to the 3rd season episode Tweek vs. Craig) finds Trey Parker innovatively incorporating satire of Japanese yaoi art while examining the different parental perspectives when an offspring is thought to be gay.  The episode is hilarious in the stereotypical portrayals of the Chinese but more importantly the ridiculous lengths people will go to appear non-homophobic. Cartman also ends up in “love” too as he finally falls in love with himself; not a pretty sight in the bathroom.

What the season arguably lacked was a great ensemble episode of the boys and their particularly brutally honest and funny interactions; however, we got that with Naughty Ninjas.  Here Kenny and Token then Stan, Kyle, Butters etc. and then Cartman (and then not Cartman) become Ninjas but get mistaken for ISIS by typically idiotic and ignorant South Park residents. The subplot involving police brutality is hilarious as police methods are seen as barbaric and over-the-top in these times of tolerance. Yet, when a tough job has to be done such as clear junkies and homeless away from the Whole Foods, understanding will always needs a baton and jackboot to do its dirty work.

The final triptych of episodes — Sponsored Content, Truth & Advertising and PC Principal: Final Justice — dovetailed all the characters and themes of the previous seven into a wholly satisfying end to the season. Trey Parker’s main target was the oppressive and aggressive nature of advertising which, while a necessary industrial evil has become so sneaky it brainwashes us subliminally reading our search engines and attacking us at every window. The episodes had satirical digs at social-justice warriors and gun control, with a plot that revolved around Leslie a “human” advert that has gone sentient and was attempting to control South Park and the world.  Full of fun surprises and nods to sci-fi classics like Bladerunner (1982) and The Terminator (1984), PC Principal ultimately ends up being a kind of action hero. Overall, the message seems to be that in controlled bursts political correctness is appropriate but we must be wary to avoid following trends and always retain an individual perspective.

Season 19 was a triumph of savage satire, cogent narrative, zeitgeist references, brilliant songs and of course, some gloriously offensive humour. It poses many questions in relation to political correctness and trendsetting progressivism. I personally feel that with the amount of morons and ignoramuses in the world who like nothing more than to oppress people due to their race, country of birth or colour of their skin, political correctness is necessary. However, it is important that such ideologies are not used to make everything homogenized and bland and that freedom of speech is permitted. Ultimately, we can check our privilege but definitely not check our humour because what’s life without it?  Indeed what’s life without South Park:  no life at all?