Produced by: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin
Screenplay by: Eleanor Catton
Based on: Emma by Jane Austen
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Josh O’Connor, Callum Turner, Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, Bill Nighy, etc.
Music by: Isobel Waller-Bridge, David Schweitzer
Cinematography: Christopher Blauvelt
**** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****
With society and humanity constantly battered by recessions, pandemics, stock market crashes, famine, war, greed, prejudice, hatred, social media conflict, computer hacking, crime, exploitation, depression, addiction and any other number of apocalyptic threats, you can always rely on a good old-fashioned Jane Austen adaptation to create an escape from such woes. While I’m not a huge fan of Ms. Austen’s literary works, due mainly to ignorance on my part, I certainly recognise her genius as a storyteller. Indeed, she virtually single-handedly created, way back in the early 19th century, her own genre of romantic comedy in the Georgian-Regency period.
Emma was her fourth completed novel and released in 1815. It concerns the titular heroine, Emma Woodhouse. She is well-off, clever and someone who enjoys matchmaking and manipulating affairs of the heart. There have been many adaptations of the book on TV and film and aside from the loose Hollywood remake, Clueless (1995), I had not seen any of them. I only got roped into watching the latest version of, Emma (2020), directed by Autumn De Wilde, with Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn in the leads, because my wife insisted on it. In marriage one must make sacrifices and compromises, so as it was our anniversary, I agreed to watch the film at home under “Cinema Rules.” I’m most glad I did too as I found it an extremely light but frothy work of entertainment.
As I had little knowledge of the book I went into the narrative of Emma (2020) unburdened by scanning the differences between novel and film. At two hours in length one expects there to be some omissions, however, I would not have noticed. What I did gather was that this was a bright and very attractive looking production. The costumes, props, landscapes and interior locations were all deftly presented with vibrant colour design. Likewise, the cinematography, camera movement and editing are also delivered very sharply. This lends the literary adaptation a cinematic pace, splendour and verve which I wholly enjoyed. Furthermore, the appealing cast are wrangled impressively too. Anya Taylor-Joy, as the energetic schemer Emma, is technically very gifted. She brings a metronomic pulse to the screen and her chemistry with Johnny Flynn really resonates. Flynn, who I really rate as an actor, imbued his character, Knightly, with both warmth and likeable fortitude. In supporting roles Bill Nighy brings his usual class to proceedings, while Josh O’Connor steals the early scenes with his hilarious turn as an eccentric young vicar.
Let’s be honest though, the story and characters are a bit of a lightweight soufflé that could collapse under close scrutiny. I mean we are really in first world problems throughout as Emma attempts to pair her young ward, portrayed by the lovely Mia Goth, with the vicar, only to find such attempts backfire, ultimately spiralling out of her control. As such one could find Emma quite annoying, immature and emotionally stunted. That, though, is where Austen’s strength of writing memorable characters really shines through. Because Emma is someone who, while potentially unlikeable, eventually learns her lesson and changes her controlling ways. Lastly, with a tremendously attractive cast and production, some mild complexity of character and finally Jane Austen’s singing wit and dialogue, Emma (2020), overall, offers a delectable frisson of escapist cinema.
Produced by: Jon Kilik, Spike Lee, Beatriz Levin, Lloyd Levin
Written by: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Spike Lee, Kevin Willmott
Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Chadwick Boseman etc.
Music by: Terence Blanchard, Marvin Gaye
Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee has been a prolific actor, director, producer and polemicist for some time now. An ultra-talented and outspoken cinematic artist, he has directed thirty fiction and documentary films since his debut feature film She’s Gotta Have It (1986). Plus, all manner of promos, commercials, music videos, short films and television series. An energetic firebrand of a director he has made films in many genres and is a risk-taker in subject, theme and style. Whether you agree with what he has to say he is a filmmaker who is always creating situations and characters who must be heard.
His latest film, Da 5 Bloods (2020), is a timely Netflix film release which encapsulates crime, heist, political, war, drama, Blaxploitation, comedy, documentary, love and experimental film genres. Lee has never been afraid of taking risks and sometimes his films have not worked because of it. However, with BlacKKKlansman (2018) he succeeded in making one of the best films of 2018 and should have won Best Film Oscar in my view. Da 5 Bloods (2020) grabs the power baton of Lee’s prior film and runs with it, delivering an entertaining, funny, thought-provoking, stylish and brilliant genre-blending story full of sustainable socio-political arguments in the era of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The narrative begins by establishing four aging Vietnam veterans, portrayed by the magnetic ensemble of Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr. They meet in Ho Chi Minh City in order to venture into the jungle and locate the remains of their squad leader. During some very stylised, richly colour-saturated and impactful flashbacks, it is revealed their friend, “Stormin Norman” (the charismatic, Chadwick Boseman), was killed in combat. Furthermore, and this is the money reason they are back in ‘Nam – there is army gold in those hills. Thus, the comrades set out to locate their friend’s body, and the gold, in order to find reparation and hopefully some form of redemption.
The film begins warmly as we enjoy the company of these great actors portraying reunited friends on an old boys outing. However, the film, as it introduces further subplots involving Jean Reno’s suspicious businessmen, Desroche and Delroy Lindo’s Paul crumbling mental state, moves into far darker territory the further the men get into the jungle. Lindo himself gives arguably the best performance of his career as a soldier grieving for his lost friend and desperate to get compensation for the unjust loss of so many lives in Vietnam. His character’s downward mental trajectory is one of the most powerful elements of Da 5 Bloods (2020). No doubt Lindo will be nominated come awards time and so he should be.
The cinematic excellence on show too from Spike Lee and his production crew is to be applauded too. Lee’s box of magic tricks includes: jump cuts, aspect ratio switches, colour saturation, Shakespearean soliloquies, documentary footage, flashbacks, conveyor-belt camera tracks, stills photography, slow-motion, direct address and many other devices. The exceptional cinematography is drenched in an opulent score from Terence Blanchard and the incredible voice of Marvin Gaye. I guess my main reservations about the film would be the elongated running time, with some scenes indulgently over-running. Moreover, there were also a couple of convenient plot coincidences which could have been ironed out. Nonetheless, with Da 5 Bloods (2020), Spike Lee has delivered another bravura mix of genre and socio-political filmmaking which, like classics such as The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) and Apocalypse Now (1979), stare into the dark heart of humanity and find greed, war and death there. Unlike those two films though, Da 5 Bloods (2020), also contains hope, light in the tunnel, and the idea that togetherness brings strength in the face of adversity.
FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #10 – CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (2016)
Written and directed by Matt Ross
Produced by: Nimitt Mankad, Monica Levinson, Jamie Patricof, Shivani Rawat, Lynette Howell Taylor
Cinematography: Stephen Fontaine
Music: Alex Somers
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell, Trin Miller, Elijah Stevenson, Teddy Van Ee, Erin Moriarty, Missi Pyle, Ann Dowd,
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
Have you ever thought about living “off the grid?” Maybe you already do. It’s something I have considered from time to time. Get out of the rat race and stop punching the clock. I don’t think I have the abilities or desire to do so though ultimately. Moreover, I would probably miss my television and home comforts like baths and central heating. Having said that, it’s always fascinating to watch films or TV programmes about characters or people who have tried to live outside conventional societal rules. Films like: Together (2000), The Commune (2016), Leave No Trace (2018) and Into the Wild (2007) are all excellent narratives which represent characters who, to varying degrees of failure and success, have eschewed civilization. Matt Ross’ excellent recent release, Captain Fantastic (2016), is another darkly humorous and poignant movie to add to that list.
I’m not sure why I missed seeing Captain Fantastic (2016) first time round at the cinema, but I am so glad I caught up with it on Netflix. It stars the ever-brilliant Viggo Mortensen as Ben Cash, the father-of-six children, ages ranging from seven to late teens. Their mother, Leslie, alas, has suffered long bouts of depression linked to bipolar disorder and is currently in a mental health facility. Having established Ben and the children’s unorthodox living arrangements in a forest dwelling, the script throws them the tragic curveball of Leslie’s suicide. The family leave behind their strict hunting, education and exercise routine, as well as their self-built huts, shacks and wooden dens, to drive cross-country on their transformed mobile home, a bus called Steve, to attend Leslie’s funeral.
While grief and sadness hang heavy over the family unit, Matt Ross’ brilliant screenplay structures the film around that great American film genre — the road movie. As the bus, Steve, carries them away from the wilderness into civilisation, the clashing of the Cash’s alternative lifestyle and socially eccentric behaviour with society, provides a rich vein of comedic and dramatic moments. For example, Viggo Mortensen eating breakfast naked at a campsite while people pass by, and oldest son, Bodevan (George Mackay), romantically declaring his love to Claire (Erin Moriarty), who was just expecting a random hook-up, are both hilarious scenes. Similarly, Ben and Leslie, having tutored their kids at home quite impressively, have not factored in their apparent lack of socialisation in the outside world. Lastly, Ben’s candidness in matters of sex is shocking too and he conflicts with his sister, portrayed by Kathryn Hahn, who believes the children should have a more “normal” life.
Amidst the humour and hilarious culture clash punchlines, the director, Matt Ross, expertly weaves some heartfelt drama in their too. Ben fights with his father-in-law, Jack (Frank Langella) over Leslie’s funeral arrangements. Jack then attempts to take the children off him via legal means. Throughout all this Viggo Mortensen’s majestic acting performance anchors the film with searing emotional depth. His character must deal with the death of his wife and whether he has made the right decisions for his family. I mean, the kids have cuts and bruises from hunting exploits, possess strange invented names, wear unconventional clothes and do not celebrate Christmas at all. Furthermore, they eschew all organised religion in favour of celebrating academic philosopher, Noam Chomsky’s birthday. With the death of his wife and pressure from her family, it’s no surprise Ben feels cornered. However, Matt Ross’ film, Captain Fantastic (2016), lives up to the positive title and overall gives us a sense of warmth, community and love, proving that family unity is often an impossible bond to break.
Cast: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Ralph Brown, Richard Griffiths
“We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!” Withnail
I am not one to believe in fate, but there has to be something magical about the random moment, at the age of seventeen, I was perusing my local video shop looking for a film to rent, and the cover of low-budget, British independent character drama, Withnail and I (1987), shone amidst the variety of Hollywood produced fodder. I picked up the box and for some reason the story of two unemployed actors mooching about at the fag end of the 1960s called to me. Perhaps it was the front cover featuring the debauched and worse-for-wear looking character of Withnail which drew me in? Or was it the casting of Paul McGann as the eponymous ‘I’, an actor I recognised from excellent TV drama, The Monocled Mutineer. Whatever the reasons, I rented the film and a special bond was formed forthwith. It lasts to this day.
Firmly in my top-ten-line-for-line-best-dialogue-ever-movies, Withnail and I (1987) simply bursts with memorable spats, insults, one-liners, and speeches. Another major strength of Bruce Robinson’s elegantly profane screenplay is the relationship between permanently inebriated and cowardly ‘thespian’, Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and his buddy, ‘I’ (McGann). It is a strange friendship full of mutual disrespect, petty bickering, and envy, but by the end of the film a kindly form of love is revealed. Withnail may seem an angry man, but ultimately, he’s using that ire to hide pain, sadness, and disappointment.
“I feel like a pig shat in my head.” Withnail
Richard E. Grant is incredible as the paralytic, pathetic and cowardly Withnail, who, along with ‘I’, laments a lack of career opportunities. Such bitterness, jealousy and ranting make him hugely obnoxious. However, Robinson’s exquisite writing and Grant’s subtly empathetic performance actually create an incredibly poignant character. Well, that and he’s absolutely hilarious, Indeed, it’s a hedonistic joy witnessing Withnail drinking every liquid known to humanity as he attempts to obliterate the now and tomorrow. Unbelievably, Richard E. Grant was teetotal, so director Bruce Robinson had to get him very, very drunk in preparation for a role he never bettered in his whole career.
Bruce Robinson, arguably, never reached the heights of Withnail and I (1987) again, although he does have other impressive writing credits. But this screenplay is one of the greatest ever written; conversely making it one of the funniest and tragic films of all time. Lastly, his often quoted but rarely bettered work is one of the greatest I have ever read, brimming with towering poetry, bilious insults, and drunken repartee. I mean there is little plot to the story of two actors getting drunk, going to the country, getting drunk and coming back. However, it remains one of my favourite films of all time, with one of the most memorable characters in Withnail.
GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #4 – HELL DRIVERS (1957)
Directed by: Cy Endfield
Produced by: Benjamin Fisz and Earl St John
Written by: Cy Endfield and John Kruse
Cast: Stanley Baker, Peggy Cummins, Patrick McGoohan, Herbert Lom, Sean Connery, William Hartnell, Alfie Bass, Sid James, David McCallum, Gordon Jackson, Jill Ireland etc.
**** CONTAINS SPOILERS ****
Often on this blog I will write about very well-known actors or films, however, sometimes it’s good to explore more forgotten cinematic gems. Hell Drivers (1957), is one such film from the past that certainly deserves revisiting. Not simply because it is an excellent action drama, but because it contains an incredible cast, with most of the players going on to have major parts in some iconic screen roles. I caught the film again on the cable channel, Talking Pictures, and it’s a really gripping low-budget British thriller.
The plot of Hell Drivers (1957) is quite simple. Tom Yateley (Stanley Baker), a drifter with an unknown past, turns up looking for work at Hawlett’s truck yard. Their group of drivers carry gravel/ballast from a quarry to site. The drama derives from the fact they must meet a certain quota per day, and this involves driving like maniacs to achieve this. Let’s just say that the Health and Safety executive would have a field day now. But that’s one of the strengths of the script. In post-war Britain men and women were desperate for work and money and therefore prepared to do anything to survive. Thus, the film, amidst the helter-skelter driving action, contains a strong social commentary in regard to the exploitation of the workers. There is of course camaraderie among the men, but fierce rivalries also develop. Such competitiveness drives the conflict within the film.
Cy Endfield, a solid American genre filmmaker, directs the ensemble cast brilliantly. What a cast it is too! It’s essentially a “who’s who?” of “before they were famous” actors, all combining to incredible effect. Stanley Baker as Tom carries the lead role. Baker would gain further success in Endfield’s war epic Zulu (1964), and become a renowned lead until his death at the age of 48. The supporting cast though, is something else. Patrick McGoohan, who plays the bruising antagonist, Red, would cement his fame in the incredible 1960’s cult classic, The Prisoner. Furthermore, we have the first Doctor Who in William Hartnell and of course, James Bond himself, Sean Connery. If that wasn’t all, The Man From Uncle star, David McCallum, features in an early role. So does the already established comedic actor Sid James. James would become synonymous with the quintessentially English, Carry On…, film series. Throw in great characters actors Herbert Lom, Gordon Jackson, Alfie Bass and a very young, Jill Ireland, and you have one hell of a cast; all starring in this excellent British film gem.
Main Cast: Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman, J. B. Smoove, Ted Danson, Richard Lewis, Vince Vaughan, Kaitlin Olson etc.
Guests: Mila Kunis, Clive Owen, Laverne Cox, Chris Martin, Sean Penn, Jonah Hill, Jon Hamm, Philip Rosenthaland many more.
Distribution Platform: HBO (USA) – SKY (UK)
**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**
“AH! INTERESTING. . . “
During a lengthy hiatus from 2011 to 2017, fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm were left bereft of their dose of Larry David’s inimitable and eccentric behaviour. The multi-millionaire writer of Seinfeld had carved out a wonderfully politically incorrect comedy series, full of misunderstanding, farce and hilariously embarrassing situations. Thankfully, he returned with season 9, and it was absolutely brilliant. Larry managed to get himself a death sentence, having written a musical called Fatwa, along with all manner of other comedic shenanigans. Season 10 has now followed and, once again, anti-heroic Larry delivers ten more fantastically offensive and funny episodes. More often than not we find his behaviour abhorrent as he goes about upsetting friends, family members, celebrities, and strangers on a daily basis. However, sometimes we are with Larry and his actions have merit and reason. Furthermore, due to the wonderful writing, improvising, cast and situations the humour is always more than pretty, pretty good!
NARRATIVE ARC (OF THE COVENANT)
Usually, Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes can stand alone due to the richness of the narrative strands Larry David and his writers create. But most seasons will have a very solid narrative arc running through it to provide looping rejoinders, a structural spine and a fitting conclusion. In season 10, there were echoes of storylines from prior seasons. Larry wanted to get back with Cheryl and they even committed divorced adultery, cuckolding Ted Danson in the process. However, the main arc revolved around the return of coffee store owner, Mocha Joe (Saverio Guerra). Larry pisses Mocha Joe off because he complains about “cold” coffee, wobbly tables and weak scones. Following Larry’s customary banishing he swears revenge on Mocha Joe. This takes the form of the wonderfully named ‘spite store’ he sets up next door. Thus, Latte Larry’s is born, and ten episodes of fast-paced, tit-for-tat, vengeful and hilarious scenes ensue.
“THE GOLDEN RULE” – STYLE AND THEMES
Curb Your Enthusiasm is not just funny because of the situations, dialogue, observations, guest stars and acting performances. It is also very sophisticated and stupid, combining a variety of comedy styles to fuel the humour. Earlier seasons could be argued to be more based in reality per se. The interactions between the characters felt more natural, in keeping with the pilot episode which was shot as a mockumentary about Larry returning to stand-up. Later seasons, especially seasons 9 and 10, upped the gag rate and one could even say felt slicker. Don’t get me wrong, the jokes have always come thick and fast in Curb Your Enthusiasm, but in the last two seasons there is not only a reliance on the usual comedy of embarrassment, observations and satire, but farce, slapstick and gross-out humour too have been added to the palette. Lastly, the show has always skated close to the edge in regard to non-PC humour and causing offence. Evidently, Larry David has now fully thrown himself over that edge and is happy to offend everyone in a two-fingered salute to so-called snowflakes or liberals out there.
In regard to thematics, Larry David clearly has his finger on the pulse relating to contemporary society, politics and human behaviour. Much of the humour and funny scenarios derive from what is acceptable behaviour and certain “rules” within everyday living. In season 10, Larry finds himself questioning, among other things: the behaviour of a pregnant woman; the merits of artificial fruit; what is and what isn’t’ sufficient praise; usage of disable parking badges; whether he should be in a restaurant’s ‘ugly section’; whether sex with Cheryl’s sister is post-relationship cheating; and the overall benefits of running a spite store. These elements, the running feuds with Ted Danson, Mocha Joe and Larry’s assistant, Alice, and themes relating to the Harvey Weinstein scandal and #MeToo movement; Larry and Leon’s continued chats about the nature of being black/white; Donald Trump’s presidency; fat shaming; suicide; Susie’s alleged plot to murder Jeff; nationalist ridicule; egotistic actor types; and transgender issues, all connectedly make this season a very rich product, full of ideas and challenging storylines.
“PRETTY GOOD. . . ” – EPISODE RATINGS
Episode 1 – Happy New Year – (8.5 out of 10)
Larry goes to war with Mocha Joe and reignites his romance with Cheryl. His relationship with his assistant also descends into accusations of sexual harassment.
Highlight: Larry wearing his Donald Trump, “Make America Great Again!”and ensuring no one wants to be seen with him.
Episode 2 – Side Sitting – (8.5 out of 10)
Larry’s relationship with his assistant, Alice, is possibly going to court unless he settles and makes amends. His attempts to get back with Cheryl are rebuked, so he dates his lawyer’s assistant.
Highlight: Larry gives Susie a portrait of herself as a birthday present. She loves it – but Jeff doesn’t.
Episode 3 – Artificial Fruit – (9 out of 10)
Larry’s donation to a charity fails to bring forward redemption when he refuses to hug Laverne Cox at an event, because she has a cold. Meanwhile, Richard and Larry argue over who is paying a lunch bill, leading to a very embarrassing escapade at a Spanish funeral.
Highlights: Larry is unsure if the Heimlich manoeuvre is appropriate when his assistant is choking. Plus, Larry’s doodle debate with Christine Lahti blows up into a serious disagreement.
Episode 4 – You’re not going to get me to say anything bad About! – (9 out of 10)
Larry, Donna (his new girlfriend), Cheryl, Jeff, Susie and Leon go to Cabo San Lucas for a friend’s wedding. Larry becomes fixated with Donna’s yo-yo dieting, but he and Leon do find some incredible coffee beans for Latte Larry’s.
Highlight: Larry’s determination to locate a toothbrush descends into a farcical conclusion. Later, at the wedding, Ted discovers Larry and Cheryl’s infidelity in a hilarious fashion.
Episode 5 – Insufficient Praise! – (9 out of 10)
Preparations for Latte Larry’s gather pace as Larry asks for a specific urinal type. Larry also gets a new housekeeper and is given a sex doll by Freddy Funkhouser. Meanwhile, Larry clashes with actor Clive Owen and Richard Lewis’ new girlfriend; a professional “crier”.
Highlights: Larry’s frantic battle with the sex doll resulting in his housekeeper and Cheryl catching him. Also, Clive Owen’s brilliantly pretentious send-up of narcissistic acting types.
Episode 6 – The Surprise Party! – (8.5 out of 10)
Larry meets a German inventor who has an anti-Semitic Alsatian called Adolf, and he gains joy from the use of a disabled parking badge. He also clashes with Susie over the surprise party she intends to throw for Jeff.
Highlight: Despite not having an appointment, Larry uses his cardiologist’s reception area to wait, because it’s a “waiting room”.
Episode 7 – The Ugly Section! – (9.5 out of 10)
Larry consistently keeps getting placed in the “ugly section” at the back of a restaurant. Simultaneously, he attempts to woo the widow of his friend who recently committed suicide.
Highlights: Larry asking Jane Krakowski’s character where she got the handles for her husband’s coffin. Later, Larry ruins a possible sexual liaison with her by arguing about the New York Jets. Lastly, Larry insults Susie as she should be in the restaurant “ugly section”.
Episode 8 – Elizabeth, Margaret and Larry! – (10 out of 10)
Actor, Jon Hamm, shadows Larry as he prepares to play a character like him in a film. Larry and Leon start a new business venture which initially proves profitable. Cheryl is angered when Larry spontaneously begins a relationship with her sister, Becky.
Highlights: Jon Hamm slowly turning into Larry throughout the episode, culminating in them both being ejected from a dinner party. Also, Kaitlin Olson returning as Becky and the surprising sex with Larry.
Episode 9 – Beep Panic! – (9 out of 10)
Larry strikes up a friendship with a waitress that dripped sweat into his soup. He also becomes obsessed with the liqorice at his car showroom. Meanwhile, Mocha Joe plots his own revenge using DVD film screeners.
Highlights: Leon and Larry succumb to the severe laxative effect of the liqorice in a silly bit of toilet humour.
Episode 10 – The Spite Store! – (10 out of 10)
Latte Larry’s is well and truly open, and it inspires other celebrities to open similar spite stores. Larry is irked by siren abusers and gives a job to Joey Funkhouser, but his big penis causes the store no end of issues.
Highlights: Sean Penn’s opening a spite-driven pet store. All Larry’s innovations at the coffee store ultimately lead to a very explosive downfall.
“NO GOOD?” – CONCLUSION
In preparing for this review I rewatched season 9 and watched season 10 twice. So, it’s obvious to say that I love, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Overall, I found the latest season to be a wonderful mix of old-fashioned slapstick and farce, combined with Larry David’s original and skewed vision of humanity. What was also impressive was the structural coherence of juggling so many comedy plots and situations. Plus, Larry behaves appallingly, and this is very appealing in an ever-increasingly politically correct world. Many times, throughout the season Larry is shown to be a provocative arsehole, but on occasions he very much has a valid point. Larry’s issues are very much first world problems, but because of the skilled writing and consistently high joke rate I related greatly to this season. Plus, Larry doesn’t win. His spiteful plotting and perpetual disagreements with those around him mostly fail. Indeed, ultimately, the joke is always on him.
REVIEWS OF THE BOYS (2019), THE EXPANSE (2016) & PREACHER (2016)
So, we are now a few weeks into the lockdown scenario caused by the COVID-19 virus and I have been off work for around that amount of time too. Tragically people are dying, and we owe it to be responsible by continuing to follow the rules laid down that will prevent the spread of the infection. It’s tough for everyone including families, employees and businesses. The capitalist system has taken a massive hit, and some will not survive in terms of life and work. I am not a religious person, but I pray to everyone’s God, whoever that may be, society comes through this. We are digging tunnels, looking for light and an escape. It cannot come soon enough.
In terms of escape it has never been easier to find both the time and formats with which to fill the gap. Thankfully the internet is still up and running, thus I have been filling my time in — aside from some minor administrative work-from-home stuff — writing my film reviews, editing and posting short videos, exercising and watching quite a lot of television and film content. Anything to stop me from becoming a beer monster or functioning alcoholic – AGAIN! The latest focussed viewing has been of Amazon Prime, and the many boxsets they have. So, here are mini reviews of three shows I have seen recently. All with the usual marks out of eleven.
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
THE BOYS (2019) – SEASON 1 – PRIME VIDEO
Based on the comic book series created by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, this violent superhero comedy is the complete antithesis of the Marvel Universe. Taking savage satirical swipes at huge corporations and United States foreign policy, it features a group of vigilantes, led by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) called ‘The Boys.’ For a variety of reasons, including good old-fashioned revenge, they have targeted the most powerful business in the world, Vought International. Vought control and monetize ‘The Seven’, a group of all-powerful superheroes who happen to mostly be narcissistic, unstable and psychotic arseholes.
The initial episodes started slowly for me and I found it difficult to warm to any of the characters. This could simply be superhero fatigue or certain weaknesses in the writing throughout. However, the spikes of tremendous action, vicious humour and spectacular violence kept me on board. Elisabeth Shue and Antony Starr impress as the nefarious villains, while Erin Moriarty shone as the one decent superhero, Starlight. The least said about the shockingly bad English accent Karl Urban delivers the better. I mean his acting is impressive, but mate – come on!!
Mark: 8.5 out of 11
THE EXPANSE (2015) – SEASON 1 – SYFY/AMAZON PRIME
Usually when I see something is on the Syfy channel I baulk slightly. I mean the shows are pretty decent as a rule, but some right old fantasy schlock can get dumped there. So, with a saturated streaming market offering a plethora of U.S. cable shows, sometimes the Syfy channel shows get short shrift. It’s a shame because The Expanse is a really good science-fiction programme which began airing on Syfy, but is now on Amazon Prime. The sci-fi show hangs tonally betweenAlien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and the Philip K. Dick-style “Mars v Terra” stories I have read. Indeed, while it doesn’t contain actual aliens or Dick’s surreal explorations of the psyche, it is, in fact, a fantastically plotted and styled industrial, political and humanistic set of narratives.
Based on James S. A. Corey’s (a pseudonym I believe for two writers), The Expanse(Season 1), is set hundreds of years into the Earth’s future and space has been colonized. But it’s not a utopia. Mars, Earth and an outer-planetary system of space stations called ‘The Belt’ are all conflicted on the brink of civil or galactic war. The multiple narratives follow the likes of the always-excellent, Thomas Jane, as a grizzled cop investigating a missing person and a space freighter gang led by Stephen Strait. The latter’s crew go from episode to episode finding life-threatening situations throughout. It’s a space-rock solid production full of twists, action and conspiracies; retaining a cynical, noir and unglamorous edge which makes me want to watch further seasons.
Mark: 8.5 out of 11
PREACHER (2016) – SEASON 1 – AMC/AMAZON PRIME
Developed by Hollywood players Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, along with Breaking Bad writer, Sam Catlin, this darkly comedic post-modern vision of heaven and hell is based on a comic book by Garth Ennis (that man again) and Steve Dillon. Starring the very reliable Dominic Cooper as hard drinking and former career criminal-turned Preacher, Jesse Custer, we find him losing faith in a small Texan town and a dwindling set of hopeless parishioners. That is until one day he is struck by some twisted divine interpretation. Then, literally, all hell breaks loose as Custer battles his inner demons and the local slaughterhouse baron portrayed with callous joy by Jackie Earle Haley.
Like The Boys, I initially found Preacher a little bit slow in terms of setting up the story and characters. But I think that was deliberate as there are so many crazy concepts relating to religion and the afterlife in here, a balance had to be given to combining the fantastic and more realistic elements. I’m not sure they’re wholly successful, however, Cooper is great, and he is ably supported by the effervescent Ruth Negga as his tough-talking ex-girlfriend, Tulip. Moreover, English actor Joseph Gilgun steals the show as the Irish sidekick with a dark secret. While the narrative moves steadily, with arguably too many secondary characters, the bloody gore levels during the fight scenes are absolutely spectacular. If, like me, you enjoy irreverent bible-black comedy which offends most religions and contains lashings of ultra-violence, then Preacher is definitely one to pray to the lords of television for.
Created and written by: Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith
Directors (Season5): Matt Lipsey, Guillem Morales, Steve Pemberton
Original Network: BBC (available on BBC Iplayer and Netflix)
No. of Episodes: 6
***CONTAINS PROPER SPOILERS***
Inside No. 9is written by and stars Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. Both are brilliant comedic and dramatic actors, having appeared in many TV shows and films down the years. They are arguably most famous for beginning their careers in amazing comedic troupe The League of Gentlemen; however, their work on Inside No. 9 surpasses the ‘League’ in my view.
If you have never seen Inside No. 9 before, I urge you to do so. It is an exceptional anthology series with six standalone episodes per season. Individual episodes feature a whole host of different characters and actors each time. As per the prior seasons, the latest one is absolutely brilliant. It privileges tightly woven thirty-minute short narratives, which more often than not, feature a twist in the tale. Moroever the events usually unfold in one location with never more than a handful of characters. This makes the narratives feel more focussed, intense and intimate.
Inside No. 9 is also a surprising delight because you never know what kind of genre you will get. One week you could get comedy, horror, drama, crime, romance or musical; and sometimes a combination of all of them. They also take chances with their use of form and structure, with many episodes either paying homage or parodying different genre styles. So, here are some short reviews of each episode from Season 5. Usually, I mark my reviews out of eleven (in homage to This is Spinal Tap (1984)), however, for obvious reasons, I will be marking these reviews out of NINE.
EPISODE 1 – THE REFEREE’S A W**NKER
Cast: David Morrissey, Ralph Little, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith
The number 9 of this episode occurs in a football referees’ changing room before, during and after a critical final game of the season. Tensions rise between players, mascots and officials in what is the referee’s last game before retirement. David Morrissey is brilliant as the ultra-professional ref attempting to keep control amidst the chaos. Ralf Little also excels as the vain referee’s assistant, with Shearsmith and Pemberton offering fine comedic support. On the main this plays out as a comedy, but there are also serious moments. Indeed, The Referee’s a Wanker explores themes of corruption, gay footballers, and the obsessive win-at-all-costs nature of football fanatics. Fast-paced, funny and containing a great twist, this episode kicked off the season very positively.
Mark: 8 out of 9
EPISODE 2 – DEATH BE NOT PROUD
Cast: Jenna Coleman, Kadiff Kirwan, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Sarah Solemani
This episode was a joy on many levels. Firstly, it was a fantastic mixture of dark comedy and bloody horror. Most significantly, it contained a wonderful series of meta-cultural call backs to Shearsmith’s and Pemberton’s prior work called Psychoville. A grotesque and demented sitcom, Psychoville contained a gallery of crazed characters with many portrayed by Pemberton and Shearsmith. In Death Be Not Proud the opening is quite conventional. Young couple (Jenna Coleman and Kadiff Kirwan) get what they think is a property bargain. However, the flat was host to a grisly murder and something from beyond the grave is tormenting the new tenants. When the previous owner, David Sowerbutts returns things get even weirder. Only then do we learn about the horrific history of this murder home, to sick and hilarious effect.
Mark: 8.5 out of 9
EPISODE 3 – LOVE’S GREAT ADVENTURE
Cast: Steve Pemberton, Debbie Rush, Gaby French, Bobby Schofield, Reece Shearsmith.
Once again displaying fine writing and actorly versatility, Love’s Great Adventure plays out as a straight family drama. It’s of such high quality and hits such emotional and dramatic peaks, TV writers like Paul Abbott, Jimmy McGovern and Jed Mercurio would have been proud to have written it. Cleverly structured around an advent calendar, the Christmas setting adds texture to the financial struggles of one working class family. Trevor (Pemberton) and Julia (Debbie Rush) are devoted to each other, their teenage daughter and grandson who lives with them. They are even prepared to forgive their self-destructive addict son. Set mainly in the kitchen on various days leading up to Christmas day, the events unfold in a subtle, but powerfully realistic manner. These are ordinary, but compelling characters, who prove there is nothing stronger than family love.
Mark: 8.5 out of 9
EPISODE 4 – MISDIRECTION
Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Jill Halfpenny, Fionn Whitehead
One of my favourite ever TV shows is Tales Of The Unexpected and Inside No. 9 certainly owes a debt to that series of twisted genre narratives. Misdirection is a case in point. It is up there with the best Pemberton and Shearsmith plots, as a young student journalist, Fionn Whitehead, interviews Reece Shearsmith’s famous magician. Safe to say that as this is about magic there is much in the way of tricksy turns, bluffs and diversionary tactics. Shearsmith is on brilliant form as the arrogant traditionalist with a dark secret. He criticizes the inelegance of street magicians while a battle of wits ensues with Whitehead’s seemingly naive novice. Echoing the structural and stylish dexterity of Peter Schaffer’s brilliant Sleuth (1972), Misdirection holds all the cards when it comes to being a deviously clever and totally unexpected tale.
Mark: 9 out of 9
EPISODE 5 – THINKING OUT LOUD
Cast: Maxine Peake, Phil Davis, Ionna Kimbrook, Sandra Gayer, Sara Kestelman, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton
Before reviewing this season, I watched every episode twice. I’m glad I did because Inside No. 9 can be complex and pack a lot in thirty minutes. So, it proves in Thinking Out Loud, as we get seven seemingly disparate characters all unconnected. Or so we are led to believe. The episode uses the video diary format, which was something of a popular phenomenon in the 1990s, plus it echoes the “talking heads” style of Alan Bennett. Thus, we get a character in therapy, her therapist, a criminal on death row, a singer, a man suffering from cancer, a man looking for love and an Instagram influencer. All directly address the camera and as we cut between them, their connection slowly filters through until the incredible reveal. Owing much to films like Identity (2003) and Split (2017), this psychological thriller is very crafty with many chilling moments that bear up to multiple viewings.
Mark: 8 out of 9
EPISODE 6 – THE STAKEOUT
Cast: Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith
This virtual two-hander concentrates all of the action within the confines of a police car. Steve Pemberton portrays the jaded and experienced police officer obsessed with finding out who killed his partner. Joining him in the vehicle is new partner, played by Shearsmith. The latter’s character is a Special Constable who seeks to follow the book causing tension on a stakeout during a literal graveyard shift. The two clash over diet, riddles, word-games and police procedure, but over three nights they eventually find mutual respect. The bulk of the episode’s enjoyment comes from Pemberton and Shearsmith’s sparring and their performances are exemplary. The writing is also impressive as it plays with the tropes of the police procedural genre. Finally, it also sets up a suspenseful opening only to confound us by the bloody fiendish denouement.
“It’s the end of the World as we know it – and I feel fine!” Michael Stipe
With the world gripped by the COVID-19 virus threat one’s mind can run amok and look to possible futures. Thus, I thought it interesting to explore some visions of the Apocalypse as seen on the film. I mean you have to hand it to humanity; it’s able to distract itself from the possible end of the world by creating stories and entertainment ABOUT the end of the world! Here’s TEN of the best I could think of.
***CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS***
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) – UNKNOWN CAUSE
George Romero’s seminal classic zombie film gave birth (and death) to a whole subgenre of horror films. The low budget is no barrier to an ingenious concept involving the dead rising up and attempting to wipe out the rest of humanity. Both powerful as a horror narrative and social commentary, it remains one of the most influential films of all time.
PLANET OF THE APES (1969) – NUCLEAR WAR
Poor old Charlton Heston never had much luck with the future as his characters often ended up in dystopian visions of hell. Such films included: Soylent Green (1973), Omega Man (1971) and the classic Planet of the Apes, where simian humanoids are running the planet and enslaving the savage natives. One of the great sci-fi epics with probably the greatest film ending of all time, the film remains a timeless vision of the future.
MAD MAX: ROAD WARRIOR (1981) – NUCLEAR WAR
In between the road-raging original and this brilliant sequel there was some kind of global nuclear meltdown hitherto bringing about a dusty wasteland where fuel is God and humans will kill to get their hands on it! Out of the dust rises a reluctant hero, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), who strives to survive while battling hordes of petrolheads, psychos and punks! Definitely one of the best sequels of all time, George Miller spectacularly remade it with the equally pulsatingFury Road (2015).
THE TERMINATOR (1984) – ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Bloody Internet, sorry Skynet! We create these wonderful computers to help us with everyday life including our Missile Defence Systems and they turn on us! Only a Mother and her child – who hasn’t been born yet – can save us from a life of death and slavery at the hands of the machines. Cameron’s seminal sci-fi action film delivers an unforgettable feast of story, concepts and emotion, containing in Sarah Connor’s, one of the best character arcs of all time.
THE MATRIX (1999) – ALIEN MACHINES / ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Damned alien machines enslaving humanity and feasting on our fluids and organs for energy in some sick, twisted vision of a futuristic Harvest festival. Then again, compared to some of the shitty office jobs I’ve had I think I’d choose the “Matrix” over those; just don’t tell me I’m in the Matrix! Neo (Keanu Reeves) chose the other pill and it’s a good job he, Morpheus and Trinity did, because we get some kick-ass slow-motion action out of it.
WATERWORLD (1995) – GLOBAL WARMING
In this future we will basically live in the water and grow gills. Also, pure dirt and water will be our most priceless commodity. Well, that’s what will occur according to this apocalyptic-polar-ice-caps-melting-earth-swimming-pool-with-pirates movie. At the time it was one of the most expensive film flops in history, but IT actually wasn’t THAT bad. Kevin Costner plays a softer and more soaked version of Mad Max, while Dennis Hopper chews up the scenery as the over-the-top Napoleonic baddie at sea.
TWELVE MONKEYS (1995) – DEADLY VIRUS
Seeing someone close to you die in front of your eyes as a child is not a future you really need is it? But what if THAT person is. . . Following the opening of this brilliant film, the plot centres around future prisoners being sent back in time to find the cause of the deadly viral apocalypse. The awesome mind of Terry Gilliam filtering Chris Marker’s classic short La Jetée (1962), makes this an intelligent and exciting end-of-the-world blockbuster. Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt are on particularly good form too amidst Gilliam’s frightening visuals.
28 DAYS LATER (2002) – RAGE VIRUS
Alex Garland and Danny Boyle’s blistering British horror classic springboards a Day of The Triffids style opening as Cillian Murphy wakes up in a seemingly empty London. Alas, he is not alone as he finds, along with a ragtag bunch of survivors, the world has been populated with raging and rapid zombies hellbent on feeding. Boyle directs with a low budget, yet prodigious inventive flair in a modern-day monstrous classic.
THE WORLD’S END (2013) – ALIEN INVASION
The third in the Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ is often seen as the weakest of the three. That’s because the first two are so strong, The World’s End suffers slightly in their shadow. However, a stellar British cast all combine brilliantly as a group of friends reuniting to enact the same town pub crawl they had done year’s before. It’s just a shame a bunch of aliens have decided to take over the town at the same bloody time!
THIS IS THE END (2013) – BIBLICAL APOCAPLYPSE
The end of days has never been so hilarious and dumb as in this Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg directed apocalyptic comedy. The stellar who’s-who cast of rising Hollywood actors including: Jonah Hill, Rogen, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride plus many more cameos turns, all find themselves battling monsters, fiery sinkholes and each other, in an irreverent and gleeful disaster movie.
Cast: Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, JoBeth Williams
I started this particular series a while ago and posted a few times here and here with multiple entries. However, I have now decided to make it a feature, like Classic Movie Scenes and Under-Rated Film Classics. Like those I will now that concentrate on singular films rather than a group. This enables me to be more focused and detailed with the articles.
The Big Chill (1983) was co-written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan. It concerns a group of seven former college students who gather for a weekend reunion after the funeral of one of their friends. Joining them is their friend’s girlfriend, who also mourns the loss. Having moved to different areas of the country and taken different roles in society, the friends catch up, reminisce, regret, plan, argue, laugh, cry, make love, get high, and try and work out why Alex took his own life.
Kasdan had directed neo noir thriller Body Heat (1981) and co-written screenplays for The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). He also got industry notice for writing the original screenplay of The Bodyguard (1992); eventually made years later. Thus, his stock was very high. But rather than go for a big budget production he wrote and directed The Big Chill (1983). It’s a more intimate story of grief and nostalgia with an ensemble cast, character led script and incredible soundtrack. It was a big hit on a lowish budget and the terrific mix of songs from the 1960’s and 1970’s became one of the best-selling soundtracks ever. It’s funny, smart, sad and brilliantly acted film with an amazing cast!
Glenn Close and Kevin Kline were relatively well known for their stage endeavours and William Hurt had established himself as a prominent film actor, so they, along with TV Emmy winner Mary Kay Place, were probably the most well known of the ensemble. Having said that, along with Tom Berenger, Meg Tilly, JoBeth Williams and Jeff Goldblum they were very much more toward the start of their respective careers. If you take a look back now over the last thirty-seven years since the film was made, you will now see a whole host of Oscar, Emmy and Tony award winners. Plus, they are a group of actors who have been in some of the biggest grossing films of all time. Not forgetting that Hollywood cinema giant Kevin Costner, in a very early role as the deceased friend, was edited out of the final cut. Thus, it truly is an incredible work of casting.
Having watched the film again recently I have to say that while it is definitely in the “first world problems” territory, the universal themes of grief, love, relationships and existential reflection resonated with me. Also, having lost a friend to suicide I very much connected with the group’s emotions. On reflection, through millennial eyes, the film also severely lacks diversity. However, Kasdan and his amazing cast are witty, warm, annoying, joyful and intelligent company. Moreover, that soundtrack is an absolute blast, with many memorable musical montages to counter the heavier moments of soul searching. Oh, interesting note, the house used in the film is apparently the same one used in Forrest Gump (1994).