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AMAZON FILM REVIEW: BEING THE RICARDOS (2021)

AMAZON FILM REVIEW: BEING THE RICARDOS (2021)

Directed and written by: Aaron Sorkin

Produced by: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J. K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, Clark Gregg, etc.

Cinematography: Jeff Cronenweth

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were entertainment, musical and business pioneers during the classic Hollywood television period. Lucille Ball alone was nominated for 13 Primetime Emmy Awards, winning five times, and the recipient of many other accolades, before being inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. Not only did the married couple produce and star in the seminal U.S. situation comedy, I Love Lucy, but their Desilu Studios production company would be the driving force behind creating famous TV series including Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. The couple broke viewing records and barriers in regard to race, gender and business practices. While they were not of my era, I recognise both Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as consummate professionals, business trailblazers and iconic stars.

Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos (2021), adapts a week-in-the-life of Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) as they prepare, audition and perform the episode ‘Fred and Ethel Fight’ of I Love Lucy. At the same time, Lucille faces shocking revelations about her alleged Communist past. Moreover, her marriage to Desi is also tested by suspicions he has slept with other women. Interspersed around these events Sorkin flashes back to reveal how the couple met, and Lucille’s flailing film career as a dramatic actress was re-ignited by a chance switch to radio comedy. As a consummate screenwriter Sorkin hops between these time periods with great aplomb and his customary whip-cracking dialogue fires zingers throughout. The production process of the TV episode is particularly brilliant, with crafty Nina Arianda and the awesome J. K. Simmons providing superb support as Lucille and Desi’s supporting couple, William Frawley and Vivian Vance, respectively.



Being the Ricardos (2021) spins a great many plates within the running time and it is rock solid entertainment. As he did with The Trial of the Chicago Seven (2020), Aaron Sorkin arguably takes liberties with the time of events to compress and finesse the truth for the sake of dramatic and comedic effect. But that’s fine as this is not a documentary. What we get instead is an authentic production design which expertly evokes the mood, look, glamour, costumes and sounds of the era. It also explores the business, sexual and ideological politics of age with Desi and Lucille facing and pushing back at sponsor and studio demands. Those who know I Love Lucy will be overjoyed at the recreation of some memorable comedy sketches.

At the heart of the film Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem combine formidably to breathe life into these legendary talents. Kidman is an actor who is extremely brave taking on the role of an icon. Sure, she gets paid millions of dollars, but her performance as Lucille Ball is energetic and intelligent and very funny. It could be easy to criticise her casting but Kidman does sterling work here. She gives Ball’s characterisation an effervescence, intelligence and perfectionist approach to her craft one cannot help but admire. Javier Bardem is a cinematic dream. With effortless panache he lights up the screen and just is so damned charming. Together they create fine on-screen chemistry as Sorkin’s bullet-paced dialogue is delivered superbly by the stars and terrific ensemble cast.

Ultimately, neither dramatic enough to tug the heartstrings or funny enough to be called an all-out comedy classic, Being the Ricardos (2021) remains another intelligent Aaron Sorkin rendition of real people and actual events. It’s a classy affair with a stunning cast and script, overall paying fine tribute to the genius of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020)

Directed by: Antonio Campos

Produced by: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker, Randall Poster, Max Born

Screenplay by: Antonio Campos, Paulo Campos

Based on: The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

Cast: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, Harry Melling, etc.

Narrated by: Donald Ray Pollock

Music by: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans

Cinematography: Lol Crawley

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



Netflix’s latest major film release is a literary adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s psychological thriller, The Devil All the Time (2020). One has to believe it is a pretty faithful adaptation because the novelist himself narrates the tale to us via voiceover. Set in the years after World War II, the grim events unfold in the states of Ohio and West Virginia, respectively. While the action is not located in the deep South, the story has many of the tropes synonymous with the Southern Gothic genre, notably: religious fanaticism, explicit sexuality, flawed characters, sickening violence, poverty and human alienation.

The film, directed by Antonio Campos — who helmed the under-rated character study, Christine (2016) — starts extremely purposefully. Returning soldier, Miller Jones (Bill Skarsgard), meets a waitress on his bus journey home and eventually marries her. Both Skarsgard and Hayley Bennett, portraying his wife, inhabit empathetic characters working hard to bring up their son and saving for their own place. Jones, however, is haunted by a traumatic incident in the Pacific, and strives for solace in God and family. Indeed, the corrupt force of religious mania spreads like a cancer throughout The Devil All the Time (2020), becoming a constant threat and reason for many of the characters downfall.



Just as I was connecting with Jones’ life and becoming absorbed by Bill Skarsgard’s commanding performance, tragedy strikes and the narrative takes one of several jarring switches between characters. As such the film does not really have a strong plot, meandering from one character to another witnessing all manner of horrific events fate throws at them. Because, let’s be honest, The Devil All the Time (2020), is no way close to being a feelgood film. In fact, it revels in representing the evil acts of so-called human beings. Thus, throughout I felt a constant sense of dread and anxiety. Barely had Skarsgard misery ended and we are then introduced to the tragedies of characters portrayed by Harry Melling and Mia Wasikowska. Simultaneously, Jason Clarke and Riley Keough join the fray as two violent and sex-driven thrill-seekers. Yet, they are weakly written characters who again drive the mood of the film into pitch blackness.

The film gathers some strength and momentum n the middle act when Tom Holland’s son of Miller Jones comes of age. By focussing on his story we get more drama and emotion, especially where his relationship with his step-sister (Eliza Scanlan) is concerned. Holland gives an excellent performance as the young man attempting to make his way in this filthy and ungodly world. Similarly, Robert Pattinson’s oily Preacher oozes repugnant charm in another sterling piece of acting work. Alas, Sebastian Stan’s Sheriff and Douglas Hodge’s rural gangster are given short shrift in another crime subplot which goes nowhere.

Overall, Antonio Campos delivers an extremely solid thriller from an acting and thematic standpoint. Unfortunately, the fragmented screenplay should arguably have been given a more committed plotline. Of course, it has most likely shadowed the structure of the source novel so therein lies the rub. Having said that, despite the structural shortcomings, there are many shocking and violent set-pieces to satisfy horror fans. Ultimately though, The Devil All the Time (2020) lacks redemption, catharsis and even some decent suspense. By the end we are given few characters to care about and delivered the pessimistic vision that life is a belt of misery. Even a suggestion of sugar helps the poison go down and this film offers very little in the way of sweetness or light.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11


SIX OF THE BEST #16 – TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED EPISODES (1979 – 1988)

SIX OF THE BEST #16 – TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED EPISODES

Created by:     Roald Dahl

No. of series: 9 – No. of episodes: 112

Producer(s)    Anglia Television / ITV

Original release: 24 March 1979 – 13 May 1988

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

With its eerie opening theme tune and iconic dancing silhouette title sequence, Tales of the Unexpected, holds much nostalgia for me. In fact, it was one of my favourite shows I watched as a kid. Every Sunday evening I couldn’t wait for these short, sharp and sometimes shocking tales of: murder, revenge, adultery, gambling, addiction, blackmail, liars, con-artists; and generally twisted visions of humanity. Of course, the amusing consideration remains that the twist in the tales were generally always expected, making them paradoxically, not unexpected at all. However, trying to guess the twist was also part of the fun in watching.

The series was inspired by similar anthology narrative shows such as: Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone and Way Out; with initial stories adapted from the work of genius writer, Roald Dahl. The early seasons were also introduced by Dahl and while produced mainly in the UK, latter seasons had U.S. produced episodes too.

Other writers’ work would be adapted and the series became a staple haven for many famous actors too. These included: Susan George, Sian Philips, Jose Ferrer, Joseph Cotten, Peter Cushing, Janet Leigh, John Gielgud, Brian Blessed, Ian Holm, Joan Collins, Denholm Elliott, Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Anna Neagle, Joan Greenwood, Harry H. Corbett, Timothy West and many more.

Over most of 2018, I re-watched pretty much every episode on SKY ARTS and so for this article I would like to choose six of my favourite ones. I’d say the latter seasons were probably not as strong as the earlier classics. Yet, I still loved most of them; even some of the more comedic and goofy ones. Finally, picking a favourite six was an impossible job, and I have limited the Dahl classics to just one. Here they are!

LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER (1979) – SEASON 1

A murdered husband, baffled police, distraught wife and a leg of lamb are the ingredients of one of the finest short stories I have ever experienced. Originally adapted for Hitchcock Presents, Susan George is excellent as the pregnant wife cooking up a special meal and murderous alibi twist.

THE FLYPAPER (1980) – SEASON 3

I was always told as a kid don’t talk to strangers for fear of abduction or harm and this episode deals with that theme expertly. The chilling tale from the pen of Elizabeth Taylor (not that one), finds an young girl drawn into danger from a seemingly unlikely source. The slow build-up of suspense, creepy performances and frightening end make it genuinely unforgettable piece of television drama.

THE BEST OF EVERYTHING (1981) – SEASON 4

Michael Kitchen is brilliant in this sharp, twisted drama as put-upon clerk, Arthur. His lowly beta male seeks the love of the boss’ daughter but is too broke to get her attention. Enter society-playboy Charlie Prince and Arthur finds confidence from his tutelage and connections. As the plot turns one way then another morality and fate catch out Arthur’s lofty aspirations and his dreams soon turn to dust.

HIJACK (1981) – SEASON 4

This brilliant story deals with a genre staple of an airline hijack. Very economical and full of suspense, it’s mostly shot in the interior of the cockpit as Simon Cadell’s Captain and crew are subject to a fear-inducing robbery. Cleverly plotted, this one even had me fooled with an audacious twist which really flies high at the end.

WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO LATELY (1982) – SEASON 5

I loved this episode because of the performance from Benjamin Whitrow. He is a bitter, unlikable, alchol-driven, misanthropic actor who verbally abuses his wife. When he bumps into an old acting friend the two share past memories and it’s soon revealed both are unhappy with their lives. Whitrow imbues, in a short time, a life of disappointment and human weakness, and his startling comeuppance is certainly deserving by the end.

SCRIMSHAW (1985) – SEASON 8

The U.S. produced episodes did not stand the test of the time very well, mainly due to the aged and fading 16mm film. Anyway, many of them could be classed as average but there was the odd gem. Scrimshaw was one such diamond in the rough, containing a haunting performance from Joan Hackett as an alcoholic barfly. One day she thinks her luck has changed when meeting an old wealthy artist friend, but that is far from the case.

Hackett’s performance stayed with me, especially the incredible shot at the end. When I researched Hackett’s name online wondering what she was up to now, I discovered she died in 1983 from cancer, aged only forty-nine. Released in 1985, Scrimshaw finds the audience literally watching a ghost, something I found completely unexpected.