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.
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:
Grieving or vulnerable lead protagonist(s).
A vengeful ghost or spirits who were murdered or done wrong when alive.
A creepy house or location which holds a dark secret and becomes a character in it’s own right.
A detective plot structure which finds said protagonist attempting to solve the mystery of the ghost’s past.
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.
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!
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
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 ofto 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.”
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.
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.
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.
Writer(s): Matthew Weiner, Michael Goldbach, Mary Sweeney, Semi Challas, Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, Donald Joh, Kris Turner Towner etc.
Composers: Anton Sanko, David Carbonara, Giona Ostinelli, Sonya Belousova, Marcelo Zarvos etc.
Cinematography: Christopher Manley
Original Network: Amazon Studios
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Matthew Weiner and his production team were behind one of the most brilliant television series of recent years in Mad Men. The quality of writing, directing, acting, art direction and attention to period detail on that show was incredibly rich. Overall, Mad Men wasn’t about big surprises and massive plot twists, but rather strong characterisation, evocation of an era and dense analysis of existential moments within romantic, family and industrial relationships.
Weiner’s next project The Romanoffs, finds him in a similar character driven mode. It’s a contemporary anthology series about people who are descendants of the Russian Royal family. The eight stories loosely connect but mainly stand alone, dealing with the lives, loves, turmoil and deaths of privileged people. As such mostly first world and high class problems abide. Altogether, the productions are expertly presented with Amazon clearly throwing a lot of money at them.
As they are self-contained narratives I have decided to order them in personal preference, rather than Amazon’s air order. Thus, here are said mini-reviews with usual marks out of eleven.
THE ONE THAT HOLDS EVERYTHING (EPISODE 8)
Main cast: Hugh Skinner, Hera Hilmar, Ben Miles, JJ Feild
This is the final story in the series and they saved the best until last. It is an incredibly dark exploration of family conflict that traverses the life of Hugh Skinner’s tragic Simon Romanov. Flash-backs entwine with flash-backs as his story unfolds from various perspectives. The script is incredible and certainly one of the best stories I have seen all year.
Mark: 10 out of 11
HOUSE OF SPECIAL PURPOSE (EPISODE 3)
Main cast: Christina Hendricks, Isabelle Huppert, Jack Huston, Paul Reiser
This is an absolutely brilliant satire about the filmmaking process. It finds Hendricks’ movie star on the crazy set of Isabelle Huppert’s eccentric director. The narrative channels horror, surrealist, comedy, drama and romance genres with a complex screenplay. Huppert and Hendricks are superb; as is the jaw-dropping ending!
Mark: 9 out of 11
BRIGHT AND HIGH CIRCLE (EPISODE 5)
Main cast: Diane Lane, Ron Livingston, David Patton
Thematically very strong, the story finds Diane Lane and Ron Livingston as wealthy parents whose children may or may not have been abused by their piano teacher. It’s a subtle exploration of middle class paranoia and universal fear glued together by a superlative performance from Lane.
Mark: 8 out of 11
END OF THE LINE (EPISODE 7)
Main Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Jay R. Ferguson, Annet Mahendru
Like the very watchable Netflix film Private LIves (2018), this story finds Kathryn Hahn portraying another parent desperate for a child. Hahn and her husband, Ferguson, travel to Vladivostock to adopt a Russian child and face all manner of cultural, geographical, health and language barriers. It’s an absorbing piece which really drags you in but ultimately the drama felt protracted by the end.
Mark: 7.5 out of 11
PANORAMA (EPISODE 6)
Main cast: Radha Mitchell, Juan Pable Castaneda, Griffin Dunne
More travelogue and history lesson with a mild romantic drama added, this story promises much but peters out by the end. Castaneda’s journalist investigates medical malpractice but it’s left to Radha Mitchell and the wonderful setting of Mexico City to provide the emotional depth.
Mark: 7 out of 11
THE VIOLET HOUR (EPISODE 1)
Main cast: Aaron Eckhart, Marthe Keller, Louise Bourgoin, Ines Melab
What starts off as a fascinating culture clash dramedy between an elderly racist and her Muslim carer, strangely left-turns into an tacked-on romance story. The cast are excellent and there’s some fine dialogue but it felt unbelievable toward the end for me.
Mark: 6.5 out of 11
THE ROYAL WE (EPISODE 2)
Main cast: Kerry Bishe, Corey Stoll, Janet Montgomery
Mid-life crises and male “seven-year itches” drive the narrative as a bunch of selfish and adulterous actions made me hate Stoll’s character. The Jury Service scenes are interesting but aside from Kerry Bishe’s decent character, I found this a painful way to spend eighty-or-so minutes.
Mark: 6 out of 11
EXPECTATION (EPISODE 4)
Main cast: Amanda Peet, Emily Rudd, John Slattery
Amanda Peet’s character has a bad day – THE END! Even the appearance of the mercurial John Slattery cannot save this disappointingly empty story.
Directed by: Trey Parker Produced by: South Park Studios Written by: Trey Parker No. of episodes: 10 Release Date: September 22 2018 – December 12 2018 UK Release: Comedy Central
scandalous and scatological satire South
Park shows no sign of slowing down in its mission of targeting the various sacred
cows, media, celebrities, politicians and fads of society. The shenanigans of
the small Colorado town reach their 22nd season, as the likes of:
Cartman, Sharon, Randy, Kyle, Mr Mackey, PC Principal, Stan, Mr Hankey, Butters,
Mrs Cartman etc. continue to be used as Parker’s conduits for comedy and social
started slowly but ultimately proved a hit for me. Nonetheless the show is
arguably a victim of its own formula and success. There are few surprises left
as the show bases most episodes on satirising current events and the cultural zeitgeist.
Plus, the characters are so well formed that we are rarely shocked by what they
do. However, the writing, gag-rate and thought-provoking narratives prove the
show is as strong as ever.
Arguably not as memorable as the incredible Season 19 (review here); there is a lot to recommend in Season 22! Below, I will now look at each episode in turn and consider their various merits.
EPISODE 1 – DEAD KIDS – Mark: 8 out of 11.
School shootings and the lack of reaction to them force Sharon Marsh to become apoplectic in her outrage. A solid episode which didn’t quite catch fire but had its moments; as Sharon’s PMT is ridiculed by Randy unfairly with Parker clearly stating gun crime something must be done about this horrendous stain on United States society.
EPISODE 2 – A BOY AND A PRIEST – Mark 8 out of 11.
“befriends” Father Maxi as the Catholic Church once again try and cover up
historical paedophilia. I was shocked but how unshocked I was by the episode
yet it contains many great gags. Parker ensures we do not forget the horrific
crimes committed by priests down the age; highlighting the hypocrisy that
continues to be presented by the Catholic hierarchy.
EPISODE 3 – THE PROBLEM WITH A POO – Mark 8.5 out of 11.
Talking turd Mr Hankey was never my favourite character, but the show literally gets loads of “shit” jokes out of him. Here, Parker satirises celebrity Twitter scandals but more interestingly focusses on Vice Principal Strong Woman giving birth to five PC Babies! This precipitates a fantastic running joke throughout the series involving PC Babies crying persistently at mention of something that does not fit their progressive agenda.
EPISODE 4 – TEGRIDY FARM – Mark: 9 out of 11
really started hitting its stride as Parker snipes at the vaping craze and the
legalisation of marijuana in Colorado. Typically, Randy Marsh driven episodes
are almost often classics and here he becomes a hemp farmer. Similarly, Cartman
has become a vape dealer and the two narrative strands combine to delightful
EPISODE 5 – THE SCOOTS – Mark: 9 out of 11
This was another brilliant and funny episode. It combines elements of Hitchcock’s The Birds, with satirising of human beings’ obsession with smartphones and Halloween. I loved the way the episode built from Mr Mackey’s panic with the E-Scooters as they threaten to take over the town. As this is South Park it all soon descends into disaster and brilliant anarchic humour.
EPISODES 6 & 7 – TIME TO GET CEREAL / NO ONE GOT CEREAL – Mark: 9 out of 11
In this hilarious two-parter the kids’ old “friend” Al Gore comes out of retirement due to a monster killing citizens of South Park. It turns out it’s the analogous beast ‘ManBearPig’; a demonic animal part-pig-part-man-part-bear. If you didn’t know ‘ManBearPig’ is an absurd symbol for the Environment, and here Parker depicts Gore as not just a figure of fun but actually smugly correct in his global predictions. Meanwhile, the authorities – including the police – reject the existence of ‘ManBearPig’ and blame the kids for the murders. Satan makes an appearance too as the two-parter amusingly critiques: Climate Change deniers, inept policing and addiction to video-games such as Red Dead Redemption 2.
EPISODE 8 – BUDDHA BOX – Mark: 8 out of 11
anxiety leads him to wear a cardboard ‘Buddha Box’ over his head to isolate
himself from society. Sending up further our obsession with mobile phones by
eschewing meaningful human contact is always going to get laughs and Parker
achieves that here. However, the PC Babies gags win the episode as taking the
piss out of snowflake millennials continues to be hilarious.
EPISODES 9 & 10 – UNFULFILLED / BIKE PARADE – Mark: 10 out of 11
The highlight of the season was undoubtedly the episode called Unfulfilled. Here South Park pokes its parodic tentacles at Amazon, never losing its grasp. Amazon open a warehouse in South Park, and after an accident, the employees go on strike. This industrial action leads to Jeff Bezos himself coming to South Park; with Parker depicting him as a cold telekinetic alien. The episode and the follow-up Bike Parade show the various ways the people of South Park deal with the lack of fulfilment from the Amazon non-deliveries. Here Parker combines Marxist doctrine and consumer culture satire with absurd comedy and horror parody to amazing effect. These episodes once again show that South Park retains the balls and strength to make us laugh and think in equal measures.
Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Lee Mack, Callum Dixon, Claudia Jessie etc.
Produced by: Nikki Wilson
Executive producer(s): Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle
Composer: Segun Akinola
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
After the moving emotion and historical power of last week’s episode, this week the Doctor was back to the future and in outer space. Following a delivery from the Kerblam shopping emporium the Tardis crew receive a message pleading for help. Quicker than you can say Amazon, the team are soon undercover at the space factory trying to find out what’s going on at Kerblam.
It’s a pacey episode with some excellent one-liners and a pretty involving plot. The writer Peter Tighe manages to cram in some corporate sabotage, a romance plot and creepy androids – called TeamMates – reminiscent of the electric cab drivers from Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990). It also features some excellent guest appearances from comedian Lee Mack and Julie Hesmondhalgh who stand-out in their under-written roles. Aside from a couple of wonky narrative moments and dodgy CGI conveyor belt chase the episode was very enjoyable.
In terms of subtext there were some interesting points to be made about online shopping empires and the idea that machines are making human beings redundant. However, this wasn’t laboured but successfully integrated into the humorous and, at times, suspenseful story. Indeed, this felt more like one of the lighter Matt Smith or David Tennant episodes in terms of wit, action and theme. My main issue now with the series is that the Doctor’s characterisation is not as interesting as previous ones.
It is now the seventh week for Jodie Whittaker’s tenure and in each episode I have really wanted her to stamp her acting authority on the role. She is a great actor but perhaps some of the directing is failing to make the most of her ability. The show is entertaining enough but it does feel too dramatically lightweight in terms of Whittaker’s performance at times. Of course, I am still really enjoying the show but at present the Doctor is more of a cypher rather than a rounded character. Jodie Whittaker is carrying the episodes brilliantly but there’s got to be more weight and intensity for me.