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AMAZON FILM REVIEW: THE MAURITANIAN (2021)

AMAZON FILM REVIEW: THE MAURITANIAN (2021)

Directed by: Kevin Macdonald

Produced by: Adam Ackland, Michael Bronner, Benedict Cumberbatch, Leah Clarke, Christine Holder, Mark Holder, Beatriz Levin, Lloyd Levin, Branwen Prestwood-Smith, etc.

Screenplay by: M.B. Traven, Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani

Based on: Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Cast: Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zachary Levi etc.

Music by: Tom Hodge

Cinematograph: Alwin H. Kuchler

***CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS***



“…a writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court, especially to secure the person’s release unless lawful grounds are shown for their detention.” — Basic definition of Habeus Corpus


Mohamedou Ould Slahi is a Mauritanian man who was held for fourteen years from 2002 to 2016 without charge in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. FOURTEEN YEARS without a trial. Let that sink in.

If ever there was a living embodiment of a Kafkaesque experience then this is that. Surely, whatever crime you have or haven’t committed you should be presented to a court of law and evidence be brought to try you for the alleged crimes. Clearly, the United States have, in this singular case against Mohamedou Ould Slahi, by denying him a trial — plus torturing him for years too — committed a heinous war crime. Yes, the 9/11 atrocities were abominable acts of violence, but that does not give anyone the right to wreak revenge against other human beings without concrete evidence to justify such acts. It’s a basic tenet of existence that separates us from the beasts in the jungle, every person deserves a fair trial! To be honest the U.S. administration who were responsible for this and and many other crimes are worse than animals.

The Mauritanian (2021) is an adaptation of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s best selling memoir, Guantanamo Diary. It opens with Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim) attending a wedding in his place of birth. He is then picked up by local Mauritanian police and after that is imprisoned indefinitely, unknown to him, by the American military. The structure of the film compellingly builds his experiences in jail and the brutal torture he endures as the Americans attempt to gather intelligence to prove that he is a key member of the terrorist cells who organised the 9/11 attacks. As the story reveals his horrendous ordeal, lawyers represented by Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) take up his case to, at the very least, enable Ould Slahi to get a fair trial.



As well as highlighting the horrors of how Ould Slahi was treated this film is a damning indictment of American foreign policy, notably under the George Bush administration. The fact that Ould Slahi and his lawyers were successful in achieving a win against his imprisonment was not the end of his entrapment. You honestly won’t believe what occurred even after he won his case. But what about the film you may be asking? Well, I am just staggered this and many other sitautions occur in the world so this is more of an emotional review than a cinematic appraisal.

Overall, The Mauritanian (2021) is an exceptional drama which is directed effectively by seasoned filmmaker, Kevin Macdonald. As Ould Slahi, Tahar Rahim is absolutely exceptional. He brings a humanity and humour to the character’s struggle. What I absorbed most from his portrayal, and this is reflected in a moving credits sequence excerpt, is how Ould Slahi retained his humour even in the most trying times. Furthermore, while their character’s smack of white saviour personalities, the legal team — based on the real people — are expertly represented by Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley. Foster especially shows her usual sterling gravitas in the role. Benedict Cumberbatch, arguably miscast as the military lawyer suffering a crisis of conscience, gives his usual excellent performance.

Lastly, The Mauritanian (2021), because of a slightly choppy screenplay, I felt the book deserved a longer telling via a television series. Yet, the film remains an important narrative about how bloodlust, greed and desire for revenge means humans commit horrific acts in the name of war. Mohamedou Ould Slahi was denied his freedom and human rights for crimes never proved. How he survived is an incredible feat of human endurance. Thus, whether he was innocent or guilty his freedom was earned and then some.

Mark: 9 out of 11


BBC FILM REVIEWS: SMALL AXE ANTHOLOGY (2020)

BBC FILM REVIEWS: ‘SMALL AXE’ ANTHOLOGY (2020)

Director by: Steve McQueen

Producers by: Anita Overland, Michael Elliot

Writers: Steve McQueen, Courtia Newland, Alastair Siddons

Composer: Mica Levi

Cinematographers: Shabier Kirchner

Original Network: BBC and available on Amazon Prime.

*** CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS ***



Small Axe could also be described in the vein of ‘Small Acts’. Dramatized and rich slices-of-life that reflect significant historical figures and events from black culture in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.  MANGROVE (2020) was the first in a set of five films devised, written and directed by Steve McQueen. It premiered at the London Film Festival in 2020, before being released on the BBC television network. I reviewed the film MANGROVE (2020) here. Such was its power, the searing drama would make my list of favourite films of 2020.

Ultra-talented McQueen was not satisfied with one amazing work. He, his incredible cast and production team also delivered four more high quality dramas called LOVERS ROCK (2020), RED WHITE & BLUE (2020), ALEX WHEATLE (2020) and EDUCATION (2020). I had the privilege of viewing these films via the BBC over the New Year period and provide short reviews here.


LOVERS ROCK (2020)

Main Cast: Micheal Ward, Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Shaniqua Okwok, Ellis George, etc.

As well as alluding to the main love story within the narrative, Lovers Rock also makes specific reference to a style of reggae music with a romantic sound and content. Set over one night during a London-based birthday party, the film opens with the setting up of a sound system, making of food and preparation of the large house. While mostly an ensemble piece, the story narrows its focus on prospective lovers, Franklyn and Martha, who fall for each other amidst the thumping bass and hearty vocals of the music. Surely, Lovers Rock is a testament to the power of harmony and community and love. There are brief moments of drama to spike the party mood, but ultimately this is about the joy of being alive and drunk on song and romance. Lastly, it’s arguably as close to feelgood as McQueen’s intense filmmaking style gets in this amazing anthology.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


LOVERS ROCK (2020)

RED, WHITE AND BLUE (2020)

Main Cast: John Boyega, Steve Toussaint, Neil Maskell, Joy Richardson, etc.

As well as evoking the socio-political landscape of the era so well, the costumes, hair, make-up and location work feel so authentic in all of the Small Axe films. Such authenticity serves the stories well, as does the virtually perfect casting too. Fresh from his energetic portrayals of Finn in the Star Wars trilogy, John Boyega’s performance as Leroy Logan in Red, White and Blue (2020), brings his character into conflict with a whole different kind of dark side. Logan was one of the first prominent black police officers in the Metropolitan police. He subsequently founded the Black Police Association and attempt to reform the police from within. No two ways around it, based on the early part of his police career, Logan is represented as a trailblazing hero. He is intelligent and tough and ready to face up to the barbaric language and violence from both white police officers and members of the black community who saw him as a traitor. Boyega is spellbinding as Logan, navigating his way up the ranks facing rancour and rejection from within the police and his own father too, who was understandably unhappy at Leroy’s controversial choice of career.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


RED, WHITE & BLUE (2020)

ALEX WHEATLE (2020)

Main Cast: Sheyi Cole, Robbie Gee, Johann Myers, Johnathan Jules, etc.

What Steve McQueen deserves praise for with Small Axe, among many other things, is bringing to the fore individuals one may not have heard of, or reminding us of important events from within recent British history. In Alex Wheatle (2020), McQueen weaves the early years of now famous author, Alex Wheatle, with circumstances relating to the Brixton riots and the New Cross fire tragedy of 1981. The latter took the lives of fourteen young black people and fuelled much anger at the time in regard to racist attacks on the black community. Alex himself was brought up in care and grows up an angry young man. He finds solace in music and expressing lyrics in a political and combative style. We first meet him in a prison cell sharing with Rastafarian, Simeon (Robbie Gee). The fractious scenes between the two, with both Gee and Sheyi Cole giving fine performances, are full of anger and humour. Far from being a comedy, there remains both witty banter and pathos fizzing around this profile of Wheatle’s formative years. This fine profile finds a young rebel discovering his voice and identity amidst the urban decay, racism and police brutality of the mean streets of London.

Mark: 10 out of 11


ALEX WHEATLE (2020)

EDUCATION (2020)

Main Cast: Kenyah Shandy, Sharlene White, Josette Simon, Tamara Lawrence, Daniel Francis, etc.

Having addressed social and cultural issues relating to civil liberties, law, music, work and identity, Steve McQueen focussed specifically on educational themes within the black community in the aptly named, Education (2020). The highest praise I can give Education (2020) and all the films in the Small Axe anthology is that I felt genuine emotion for all of the characters and the situations they were in. They may not have been perfect and had their flaws, but ultimately all five of these narratives made me feel and care about the characters. Because they were up against an unfair system which demanded to be challenged and changed to stop the systematic prejudice of the time. Education (2020) feels extremely personal to Steve McQueen as one senses the lead character, twelve-year-old Kingsley Smith (Kenyah Sandy) experiences much of the grief he may have when younger. Considered disruptive at the local Comprehensive, Kingsley is dumped into a “Special School” where he becomes lost and ill-educated. One absurd scene simply shows a teacher playing House of the Rising Sun as part of a lesson. Kingsley’s formidable mother, with help from political forces within the black community, strive to right these educational wrongs in a powerful and moving final chapter to the Small Axe anthology.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: JUNGLE (2017)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: JUNGLE (2017)

Directed by: Greg McLean

Produced by: Todd Fellman, Mike Gabrawy, Gary Hamilton, Mark Lazarus, Dana Lustig, Greg McLean

Screenplay by: Justin Monjo

Based on: Jungle by Yossi Ghinsberg

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Alex Russell, Thomas Kretschmann, Yasmin Kassim, Joel Jackson, Jacek Koman etc.

Music by: Johnny Klimek

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



It’s one of my least favourite sub-genres of cinema and literature: the survivalist story. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against an individual striving to find themselves or seek out adventure. I don’t wish them ill or death and am glad they somehow survived, or alternatively, not glad they perished. However, I do have problem when it all goes wrong and they end up gaining fame or money or praise for poor life choices. They are not heroes or heroines but narcissistic thrill seekers, generally from a privileged standing who get films made about them as apparently their stories are inherently cinematic.

Begrudgingly, I admit, in many circumstances such as: 127 Hours (2010), Into the Wild (2007) and Touching the Void (2003), survivival stories create compelling film narratives. Alas, the film Jungle (2017) is nowhere near as good as those films I mention, but it provides a means to escape to the dark corners of the Amazon from the comfort of one’s own living room.  The moronic characters we follow into said jungle are led by Daniel Radcliffe’s, Yossi. He and two friends decide, against the advice every audience member screaming at the screen, to broaden their selfish adventurous spirits by going native with Thomas Kretschmann’s shady German guide. Safe to say, after experiencing the unforgiving terrain, torrential rain and strange creatures in the jungle, this middle-class trio find they are well out of their depth. Thus, very slowly the film crawls like a giant slug toward further catastrophe.

Jungle (2017) is not a bad film, but it isn’t a particularly good one. The direction and cinematography are excellent and Daniel Radcliffe proves he is an exceptionally honest actor. Radcliffe works his guts out with a shell of a character we rarely care about or empathise with. Perhaps that’s the point? Maybe it’s a cautionary tale about how Yossi stops being such an arsehole and learns to appreciate life and the environment. My main issue was the screenplay, which rushes to get us in the jungle and then takes an age to get to the real drama. What was great about a film like Into the Wild (2007), also based on a true story, was Christopher McCandless was a character who rejected society to find his own place in the world. He wasn’t just a tourist on a holiday that went a bit wrong. I mean, in Jungle (2017), people lost their lives, but the greatest tragedy was the film doesn’t make us care about them at all.

Mark: 6 out of 11


AMAZON PRIME FILM REVIEW: 7500 (2020)

AMAZON PRIME FILM REVIEW – 7500 (2020)

AMAZON PRIME REVIEW – 7500 (2019)

Directed by: Patrick Vollrath

Produced by: Maximilian Leo, Jonas Katzenstein

Screenplay by: Patrick Vollrath

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Aylin Tezel, Carlo Kitzlinger, Murathan Muslu, Paul Wollin etc.

Cinematography: Sebastian Thaler

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



I am bona fide confirmed aviophobe. Even the merest sight of a plane in the sky gives me the shivers. I imagine it’s a mixture of not being in control, lacking consistent flight experience and the pure fact that when one is that high up there is little chance of escape if anything goes wrong. Personally speaking, I think it’s an extremely rational fear. While I have flown on a plane a few times, if it means never flying again, I am genuinely happy to holiday in my own country for the rest of my life. Bearing this is mind, films that are set on a plane have a head start in increasing the tension I feel watching them. Indeed, good examples of cinema releases with heavy doses of airborne drama include: United 93 (2006), Flight (2012), Sully (2016), Passenger 57 (1992) and Red Eye (2005) etc. Just the mere thought of these, and the spectacular plane crash in Knowing (2006), are enough to have me reaching for the vodka and Valium.

The 2019 action-thriller, 7500 is a worthy addition to such aeronautic movies. Written and directed by Patrick Vollrath, in his directorial feature-length film debut, 7500 stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as pilot, Tobias Ellis. He joins the Captain on a standard city flight from Berlin to Paris and soon after take-off the crew and passengers on the plane find themselves attacked by hijackers. What follows is a claustrophobic, suspenseful and deadly set of events which push Tobias, and passengers, to the brink of death and back again. Aside from a few establishing CCTV shots of Berlin, virtually all of the action takes place inside the cockpit of the plane. The camera therefore is right up in the face of Joseph Gordon-Levitt throughout the film. Thankfully, he is a seasoned actor and gives a fine performance that runs the gamut of emotions.

One-location thrillers can be hard to pull off, however, the director Patrick Vollrath manages to build the suspense expertly through a good pace and many suspenseful moments. Indeed, when the hijackers were trying to smash their way into the cockpit, my heart was firmly in my mouth. To be honest, my heart began beating loudly even on take-off. Keeping the action to mainly the cockpit allows a real sense of claustrophobia and anxiety to build. We are right in the perilous mix with Tobias and Gordon-Levitt plays the everyman-in-danger to perfection. My main criticisms of the script really lay in the characterisation of remaining characters, especially the villains. It’s a shame the script did not explore their motivations above the cardboard terrorist personalities represented. However, as a singularly committed one-location-individual-in-crisis genre story, 7500 takes off and rarely threatens to crash.

Mark: 8 out of 11


SHUDDER HORROR CLASSIC REVIEW – THE CHANGELING (1980)

SHUDDER HORROR CLASSIC REVIEW – THE CHANGELING (1980)

Directed by: Peter Medak

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

Screenplay by: William Gray, Diana Maddox

Story by: Russell Hunter

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

Cinematography: John Coquillon

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



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

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

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

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

Mark: 9 out of 11


CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984)

Directed by: Sergio Leone

Produced by: Arnon Milchan

Screenplay by: Sergio Leone, Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini

Based on: The Hoods by Harry Grey

Cast: Robert De Niro, James Woods, William Forsythe, Jennifer Connelly, Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci, Burt Young, Tuesday Weld, Treat Williams, William Forsythe, Richard Bright, James Hayden, Brian Bloom, William Forsythe, Adrian Curran, Darlanne Fluegel. Larry Rapp, Mike Monetti, Richard Foronji, Robert Harper, Dutch Miller, Gerard Murphy, Amy Ryder, Julie Cohen etc.  

Music: Ennio Morricone

Cinematography: Tonino Delli Colli


***CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS***



If you were, like me, thoroughly absorbed by Martin Scorsese’s recent directorial gangster epic, The Irishman (2019), you should definitely check out another incredible gangster drama, Once Upon A Time in America (1984). It is directed by acclaimed Italian filmmaker, Sergio Leone, he of “Spaghetti Western” fame. Indeed, Once Upon A Time in America (1984), was the first feature film he’d made since A Fistful of Dynamite (1971). Sadly, it was to be his final film.

With a director’s cut running at a behemoth 250 minutes and original theatrical release lasting 229 minutes, Once Upon A Time in America (1984), is certainly a marathon viewing experience and fitting epitaph to Leone’s cinematic craft. Yet, the film rarely feels over-long or slow because there are so many memorable scenes, fascinatingly complex characterisations, incredible intrigue and enough narrative density present to satisfy any audience member with the patience to let it absorb you. Structurally, the film is epic in nature too as it cross-cuts between three, arguably four, separate timelines in: 1918, the 1920’s, the 1930’s and 1968. Interestingly, I watched it via Amazon Prime in two sittings and is so long even the original ‘Intermission’ card remains.



Leone and his amazing production cast and crew took almost a year to film Once Upon A Time in America (1984). It’s reported to have had somewhere between eight to ten hours of footage on completion. He originally wanted to release it as a two-part epic, but the studio insisted it was distributed as one film. The almost-four hour theatrical release was received to great critical acclaim in Europe, however, a severely chopped down 139-minute version was put out in America. It was a critical and box office bomb. American critics however, lauded the European version, lamenting the non-release of Leone’s full cinematic vision.

For a filmmaker who was drawn to stories set in the America, Leone would generally film in European studios and locations. While some exteriors for Once Upon A Time in America (1984) were shot on location in Florida and New York, many of the interiors were recreated in Rome’s Cinecitta. Furthermore, a Manhattan restaurant was built in Venice, and incredibly, Grand Central Station was rendered at part of the Gare du Nord in Paris. Having said that, Once Upon A Time in America (1984), is so carefully and exquisitely designed and filmed, you would not notice. While possessing more than an air of European arthouse sensibilities, the film, based on a novel called The Hoods, represents Leone’s and his co-screenwriter’s tarnished vision of the American dream. Most significantly is the theme of a loss of innocence. 1920’s New York is presented through the eyes of these Jewish working-class children, many of them sons and daughter of migrants from Europe. These are tough times and the story explores the collision between young innocence and adult corruption by society and humanity. Once Upon A Time in America (1984) is also a story about friendship, loyalty, passion and crime.



The narrative revolves around the lives of young gang of Jewish friends growing up in Brooklyn called: Noodles, Max, Patsy, Cockeye and little Dominic. It’s majestic storytelling of the highest quality as we flit between past, present, now and future. Robert DeNiro’s older Noodles reminisces both from 1930 and 1968. There is a sense that he may be projecting from the hazy and drug-addled glow of an opium den. That is open to interpretation though. Thematically, the framework hangs a history of childhood friendships, juxtaposing it with the same people as adults and their victories, losses and betrayals. Further themes include: love, lust, greed, crime, broken relationships, Prohibition, union corruption; as well as focusing on the rise of mobsters in American society.

Noodles as portrayed by an imperious Robert DeNiro is calm on the outside, however, his often-rash actions show him as impetuous, emotional and wild on the inside. James Woods’ Max is much more careful, calculating and ice-cold in his business. But the two forge a friendship as teenagers which continues in adulthood. Their childhood gang subsequently becomes a renowned bootlegging and criminal outfit. Leone does not ask us to like or find sympathy for the characters, but rather respect that they are a product of a ruthless era. Sure, they could have got day jobs, but they decide to become criminals and very successful they are too. Even after Noodles gets out of jail for killing a rival, Max has saved a place for him in their illegal liquor trades. Only later does the true deception occur. Ultimately, while their stories are incredibly compelling, these men are violent lawbreakers who spill blood, bribe, threaten, kill and rape, all in an attempt to rise up the ladder of the American capitalist system.

I don’t want to spoil any more of the story, but safe to say the cast in this classic film are amazing. Along with DeNiro and Woods’ brutally convincing performances a whole host of young and older actors are directed beautifully by Leone’s careful hand. The standouts for me are Jennifer Connelly in a very early role. She portrays the younger Deborah, while Elizabeth McGovern is the older version of the same character. Connelly is a picture of angelic innocence and Noodles is smitten with her from the beginning. It’s sad therefore that when the adult Noodles’ is rejected by Deborah, his reaction is both toxic and unforgiveable.



Undeniably, sex and violence are powerful features in Once Upon A Time in America (1984). Sex especially is rarely, if at all, romantic or part of loving relationship. There are two brutal rape scenes in the adult years. Even when they are kids the character of younger Peggy is shown to use her promiscuity as a weapon to blackmail a police officer. There are some tender moments though, notably during the scene where young Patsy seeks to lose his virginity with Peggy. Her payment would be a cream cake, but Brian eats the cake and saves his innocence. Yet such scenes are fleeting as mob rule, violent robberies, fiery death and murder ultimately dominate the character’s bloody existences.

As I say, the actors all give memorable performances and the supporting cast including the likes of Treat Williams, Danny Aiello, Tuesday Weld and Joe Pesci are extremely strong too. A special mention to James Hayden who portrays the older Patsy. He doesn’t have the most dialogue compared to the characters of Max and Noodles; however, he has a quiet power which steals many scenes via strength of personality. The fact that Hayden died of a heroin overdose, in 1983, after completing filming only adds to the cult of tragedy. Dead at 30 years of age, James Hayden never got to see any completed version of Once Upon A Time in America (1984).

Given this review is getting near epic proportions itself I will begin to wrap up by heaping praise on the incredible production design. The costumes, locations, vehicles, props and era are slavishly and beautifully recreated. So much so you can almost smell the smoke as it drifts up from the Brooklyn streets. Moreover, the film is superbly photographed by Tonino Delli Colli. The music! I haven’t even mentioned the sumptuous score by the legendary Ennio Morricone. His score is a masterful symphony of haunting laments for loss of love, friendship, loyalty and life. Much indeed like Once Upon A Time in America (1984) itself, as a whole. In conclusion, if you haven’t seen it, I urge you to do so in the knowledge that Sergio Leone has transplanted that same brutally elegant vision of the Wild West to the American gangster genre with unforgettable emotional resonance and power.


THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS – TWELVE FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2019!

THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS – TWELVE FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2019!

Bit late with this one, but following on from my twelve favourite films of 2019, here are the twelve favourite television shows I watched. I must admit I am still way behind on many AMAZON shows and don’t have APPLE TV+ or DISNEY +, so there’s probably loads of good TV stuff I have missed. For comparison I include last year’s favourites here:

FAVOURITE TWELVE TV SHOWS OF 2018

  • Atlanta (2018) – Season 2 – Fox
  • Billions (2018) – Season 4 – Showtime / Sky Atlantic
  • Black Mirror (2017) – Season 4 – Netflix
  • Bodyguard (2018) – BBC
  • The Deuce (2018) – Season 2 – HBO – Sky Atlantic
  • The Handmaid’s Tale (2018) – Season 2 – Hulu / Channel 4
  • Inside No. 9 (2018) – Season 4 – BBC
  • Killing Eve (2018) – Season 1 – BBC
  • Patrick Melrose (2018) – Showtime / Sky Atlantic
  • Vanity Fair (2018) – ITV
  • A Very English Scandal (2018) – BBC

Image result for patrick melrose

FAVOURITE TWELVE TV SHOWS OF 2019

Now, this was TOUGH! Television productions just got better and better! I cannot believe I had to leave the following off the list. Yet, here are the honourable mentions: Afterlife (Season 1), Billions (Season 4), Black Mirror (Season 5), Euphoria (2019), Ghosts (2019), The Handmaid’s Tale (Season 3), Line of Duty (Season 5), The Loudest Voice (2019), My Brilliant Friend (2018), Ozark (Season 2), Stranger Things (Season 3); and the baffling genius of Watchmen (2019). But I decided to limit myself to twelve favourite shows and here they are:


CHERNOBYL (2019) – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC

“… an incredible TV drama. This tragic event teaches us to never take anything for granted. We have built our own gallows.”


DARK (2019) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX

“… confused in a good way and totally immersed in the Tenebrae. You will be lost — searching for the light — yet you will be astounded too .”


ESCAPE AT DANNEMORA (2018) – SHOWTIME / SKY ATLANTIC

“… These are not likeable characters, but the Showtime production delivers as compelling a character drama as you’re likely to see all year.” 


FLEABAG (2019) – SEASON 2 – BBC

“… Waller-Bridge takes familiar themes and situations and spins comedic and dramatic gold from them. Deserves all the praise and awards going.”


FOSSE / VERDON (2019) – FX / BBC

“… If you’re interested in the life and work of Fosse and Verdon then you will absolutely love this warts and all biopic. Rockwell and Williams are incredible.”


GAME OF THRONES (2019) – SEASON 8 – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC

“… despite the incredibly disappointing final episode, it was all about the journey rather the final destination. Winter has come and winter has gone and it’s one I will never forget!”


IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2019) – SEASON 13 – FX / NETFLIX

“… The season takes joy in referencing the #MeToo and Time’s Up and Inception. The latter becoming a hilarious meta-textual delight. By the thirteenth episode, I had thoroughly enjoyed the scatter-gun chaos!”


MINDHUNTER (2019) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX

“… with gripping narratives, great direction, memorable performances and the production team’s accurate eye for period detail in mind, I just did not want the latest season of to end.”


SUCCESSION (2019) – SEASON 2 – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC

“… Ultimately, this is Shakespearean television of the highest quality. Succession (2019), is what we would get if Billy Wilder did TV.”


UNBELIEVABLE (2019) – NETFLIX

“… thoughtful, suspenseful and, at times, heartfelt drama. It highlights the shocking nature of sexual crimes against women and the very different ways police departments handle such situations.”


THE VIRTUES (2019) – CHANNEL 4

“… a more individual focused, personal and painful character study. Stephen Graham is absolutely amazing as the character of Joseph.”


WHEN THEY SEE US (2019) – NETFLIX

“… Beautifully written, acted and directed, this is an incredible work of television. It combines both a fascinating style and a brutal vision of the struggle of these characters experience.” 


THE REPORT (2019) – AMAZON FILM REVIEW

THE REPORT (2019) – FILM REVIEW

Written and directed by: Scott Z. Burns

Produced by: Scott Z. Burns, Jennifer Fox, Danny Gabai, Eddy Moretti, Kerry Orent, Steven Soderburgh, Michael Sugar

Cast: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Ted Levine, Michael C. Hall, Tim Blake Nelson, Maura Tierney, John Hamm, Douglas Hodge etc.

**CONTAINS REAL EVENT SPOILERS**



The Report (2019) is in the vein of recent films such as, Kill The Messenger (2014), The Post (2017), and Oscar winner, Spotlight (2015). It is based on true events and forensically documents a period of U.S. history which is both illuminating and engrossing. Adam Driver is cast as U.S. Senate staffer, Daniel J. Jones and given the task by Senator Feinstein (Annette Bening) to lead a team to investigate the 2005 destruction of interrogation videotapes. He begins the work in 2009 and is faced with six million pages of CIA materials to work through. It soon, unsurprisingly, becomes an obsessive and ordered job for Jones and it takes him years to ultimately finish the report.

I won’t give anymore away about the narrative events, but first and foremost this is a film about torture and admin. Writer and director, Scott Z. Burns cleverly structures the story between Jones’ researching the CIA materials and the actions of the Counter-Terrorist Centre staff led by the likes of Maura Tierney and George Fumusa’s characters. As the story proceeds, and details of extreme torture of terrorist subjects is revealed, Burns takes us further up the CIA food chain. Here we get a very damning critique of the horrifying lengths CIA operatives went to in order to secure information from suspects.

The Report (2019) is an engrossing film which I thought was going to go down the conspiracy thriller route or even the obsessive character breakdown study. There are elements of this, but essentially it is an extensively researched drama set in enclosed offices, in meetings, in Senate hearings, at desks and computer screens; all with flashes of interspersing violence. I’m not acutely educated in regard to American foreign policy and politics in general, but a potentially dry subject is made so engrossing by a fine script and brilliant cast. Adam Driver essentially goes to Washington, proving once again that he is one of the best actors around at the moment. Above all else though, the film stands as an impressive visual document and precis of the original seven thousand-page report by Daniel J. Jones.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #5 – REMEMBER (2015)

FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #5 – REMEMBER (2015)

Directed by: Atom Egoyan

Produced by: Robert Lantos, Ari Lantos

Written by: Benjamin August

Cast: Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Bruno Ganz, Henry Czerny, Dean Norris etc.

UK Release Platform: Amazon

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



There are many reasons to have missed a film at the cinema. Life can get in the way or you’re not really feeling drawn to a movie or there are just too many films out you want to see, so some slip through the net. But, Remember (2015), was NOT even released by A24 in the United Kingdom, for some unknown reason. I only found it by accident on Amazon Prime Video. It’s a shame because the Atom Egoyan directed revenge thriller is an under-rated gem, with a slow-burning and hypnotically compelling script.

The narrative concerns Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer), an 89-year-old Auschwitz survivor living in a New York nursing home. He forms a bond with fellow camp survivor, Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau). On Max’s behest, Zev sets out on a mission to track down the concentration camp Nazis who killed their respective families. Suffering from dementia, however, means Zev’s memory comes and goes. So, Zev must follow Max’s written instructions to the letter.


Noir and crime thrillers are littered with revenge and pursuit narratives. The amnesiac protagonist too is an often-used character trope. While it is a familiar path and the beats of Remember (2015) will remind you of a recent low budget crime classic (I won’t say for fear of spoilers), the pace is more akin to David Lynch’s The Straight Story (1999). Zev’s journey across country via train and bus finds him methodically tracking various potential Nazis all hiding under the same fake name. As his memory comes and goes, Zev has to keep reading the letter to remind him what he’s doing. Despite such narrative repetition I found this just as suspenseful and thrilling as faster-paced films.

Atom Egoyan directs with significant subtlety and skill. He’s an experienced filmmaker whose films can be left field character studies; often playing with linearity and structure. Moreover, they usually win festival prizes and are lauded by critics. I think though that this is his most accessible film to date. Christopher Plummer is, unsurprisingly, quite brilliant. He inhabits his character with both steel and sympathy. Benjamin August’s script is respective of Auschwitz survivors and those suffering from dementia. The fact he has managed to loop these themes into a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in a Liam Neeson, Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Cruise, Willis et al action flick, makes Remember (2015) a film I won’t forget in a hurry.

Mark: 9 out of 11



FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #1 – REVIEW – SUSPIRIA (2018)

SUSPIRIA (2018) – FILM REVIEW

Directed by: Luca Guadagnino

Produced by: Marco Morabito, Brad Fischer, Luca Guadagnino, Silvia Venturini, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, William Sherak, Gabriele Moratti

Screenplay by: David Kajganich – Based on Suspiria (1977) by Dario Argento and Dari Nicolodi

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina, Chloe Grace Moretz, Malgosia Bela, Lutz Ebersdorf, Jessica Harper etc.

Music by: Thom Yorke

Cinematography: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

There are so many films released that it is virtually impossible to see them all. Plus, even if you didn’t have to work to earn a damned wage or physically need sleep you still wouldn’t be able to watch everything at the cinema. More specifically though, we may choose NOT to go to see a film on the big screen for certain reasons. Collectively, I consider these movies to be “one’s that got away!”

Thus, in a new section called, unsurprisingly, FILMS THAT GOT AWAY, I will be reviewing films which I missed first time round at the cinema and have subsequently caught up with on Sky, Amazon, Netflix, Blu-Ray or even good old-fashioned terrestrial television. I will consider the film critically as entertainment and why I missed it first time round. As usual the film will be marked out of eleven.

When the UK release of Suspiria (2018) was announced there were many reasons I was immediately put off from wanting to see it. Firstly, despite having watched it three times, I genuinely could not stand the original Dario Argento film. I know people consider it a horror classic; however, I think story wise, it’s a bad film. It’s neither scary from an emotional point-of-view or actually makes any sense logically. I know it’s meant to be based on surreal and nightmarish imagery, montage and performance, but the story or characters did not connect with me. The colour design, gore and soundtrack are outstanding but, overall, I felt I was trapped watching the manic outpourings of an Italian psychopath.

The second reason I did not want to watch it is I haven’t always got on with Luca Guadagnino’s cinematic works. Don’t get me wrong, he is a brilliant filmmaker. However, I find him an indulgent artist whose tone, pace and direction seems haphazard. Of the films I have seen, I Am Love (2009) was a brilliant character study, anchored by a stunning Tilda Swinton performance. But A Bigger Splash (2011) and Call Me By Your Name (2017), were expertly constructed but indulgent and over-rated travelogues littered with narcissistic bores. Nonetheless, I really liked Suspiria (2018). It is almost, but for Guadagnino’s typical excesses, a horror masterpiece.

Set in 1977 (when the original was released), at the height of the Cold War in divided Germany, Suspiria, is a heady mix of rites of passage, cold war and horror genres. There are many narrative strands with which the screenplay, by David Kajganich, attempts to balance. Further, we also have personal, political, religious, artistic, gender and communal themes prevalent through the story. While it’s an ensemble cast the focus is Dakota Johnson’s Susie. She is a young aspiring dancer, from an Amish background, who joins the world-famous Markos dance company. In the process she is determined to impress Tilda Swinton’s commanding mentor. The parallel narrative involves psychiatrist Dr Josef Klemperer and his investigation into a missing patient (Chloe Grace Moretz); who also happens to be a dancer from the troupe.

As the story unfolds Susie proves herself an incredibly powerful dancer. At the same time, it is revealed that the elders and teachers of the dance group are hiding a sinister secret with darkness and ritual to the bloody fore. Memorable dance sequences full of beauty, energy and gore dominate, with Dakota Johnson giving an impressively physical acting portrayal. I also liked the nuanced control within her character as she grows stronger with each dance. Meanwhile, further dark events occur as Dr Klemperer’s investigations draw him closer to the troupe’s shadowy doors.

As I said, Suspiria is almost a horror masterpiece. The filmmaking, cinematography, art direction, choreography and score by Thom Yorke all collide to create an incredibly tense and terrifying experience. Moreover, while I was fully committed to the characters in the dance troupe and Susie’s movement up the ranks, the choice to juxtapose the socio-political events seemed to belong in another film. The religious context and notions of family and matriarchal dominance were incredibly powerful too and served the horror well. However, Guadagnino, in my humble view should have shaved some scenes from the running time. While I much prefer this film to the Argento original, a further edit for pace would have made this even better. Nonetheless, it had me riveted throughout through the sheer quality of filmmaking. I was incredibly impressed by the melding of dance and death. Indeed, the final orgiastic ritual with buckets of blood, decapitations and gnarled monsters was supernaturally unforgettable.

Mark: 9 out of 11