Produced by: Ridley Scott, Kenneth Branagh, Judy Hofflund, Kevin J. Walsh
Cast: Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Kenneth Branagh, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, Letitia Wright etc.
Cinematography: Haris Zambarloukos
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Following the box office success of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017), it comes as no surprise there is a sequel to the classy Hercule Poirot train-set murder mystery. Once again Kenneth Branagh directs and stars as the Belgian detective and he has also assembled a wonderful cast of A-listers and solid character actors within the ensemble. I was especially pleased to see Annette Bening lend some gravitas to the glamour and whether the ultra-talented Rose Leslie could break out into bigger film roles. Gal Gadot and Letitia Wright also leave behind recent comic book films for an altogether more period setting. Lastly, who doesn’t want to see French and Saunders reunited on screen.
I have always loved Agatha Christie’s work be it in literary, radio, television or film mediums. DEATH ON THE NILE (1978), while a bit of a guilty romp, is a favourite of mine, especially as it was the first Christie adaptation I saw at the cinema. I must have seen that particular film about twenty times over the years. So much so I know the plot backwards. I guess the nostalgia for watching a film as a child and familiarity with the story create a kind of comfort film. Thus, another positive reason why I was looking forward to the new adaptation.
Agatha Christie truly knows how to create a masterful detective plot. In fact, she was a genius. What we now consider to be a cliched genre, the “whodunnit”, was practically invented and reinvented by Christie and this story has a devious plot and surprising ending. While the genre is familiar, I enjoy watching all the players in one location conflicting with each other. Of course, Poirot is an eccentric and brilliant detective, so even though I know he will solve the crime and how, paradoxically I still love the journey of it all. But what of this latest iteration? Well, all throughout I kept channelling the fury of Annie Wilkes! If it’s not broken, why are they howdy-doody trying to fix it!
If you have never read Death of the Nile, it truly is a wonderful detective story, tightly plotted and full of biting wit and observations from Christie. There is subtle critique of English types abroad and the negative impact money, lust and envy have on the human condition. But having said that there is an exotic location, crafty humour, witty dialogue and bright sunshine illuminating the bloody murder in the novel. This is where Branagh and his screenwriter get Death of the Nile utterly wrong for me. From very off they gloom the mood and tone, lose much of the fun and introduce too many different subplots which do nothing to enhance Christie’s original work. Her novel did not need changing!
Perhaps I was just too familiar with the material or Branagh’s confident/arrogance got the better of him. Aside from some highly suspect CGI with Bouc (Tom Bateman) on the pyramids, Death of the Nile (2022), looked fantastic. But it felt hollow and drained of joy. I mean, does it matter why Poirot grew a moustache and moreover why has he suddenly become so existential and sad? Gal Gadot felt too modern as the rich victim of the story and Armie Hammer is handsome yet bland. I enjoyed Sophie Okonedo’s performance, but her character was enjoyable comic relief in the 1978 version. Otterbourne is now given unnecessary depth and musical filler as a sultry blues singer. Lastly, Emma Mackey has some fine moments as the vengeful Jackie, but I thought overall the script served the actors badly. My advice is to watch the David Suchet or 1978 version instead of this sinking cinematic vessel.
Based on: The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed by Sara Gay Forden
Produced by: Ridley Scott, Giannina Scott, Kevin J. Walsh, Mark Huffam
Cast: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek, Al Pacino etc.
Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
I’m not a fan of fashion. I wear clothes obviously and like to be smart and clean. Yet, the idea of believing one’s garments, shoes and accessories mean you are important, superior or worthy of adulation sickens me to be honest. However, fashion is a multi-billionaire industry and I get that people of variant social standing love it as a cultural phenomena. People either own or aspire to own over-valued garments and objects to inflate their ego or sense of importance is beyond me. Then again, I passionately enjoy watching human beings kick a ball into a net, so everyone has irrational passions. C’est la vie!
I didn’t go to see House of Gucci (2021) to look at the clothes though. My interest in this star-studded, big budget crime drama directed by the legend, Ridley Scott, was more because I did not know anything about the lives and personalities within the Gucci empire. Who would have thought that a wealthy family unit could have turned out so poisoned by greed and envy?
Covering a period of twenty or so years from the late 1970s into the 1990s, the story is structured around the relationship between Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) and Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). They fall passionately is lust, much to the chagrin of his spiteful father (Jeremy Irons) and marry against his will. Patrizia genuinely loves the sensitive Maurizio, but also has green eyes for the Gucci empire and the power that can bring. As her desire for influence in the family business grows, then so does cracks in their marriage. Crumbling relationships, business chicanery and family treachery dominate the narrative, all coming to a head with tragic results.
As a morality tale about how greed corrupts and drives human beings toward unnecessary tragedy, The House of Gucci (2021) is certainly worth a watch. Is there a sense the Gucci family were cursed by there wealth. Perhaps? But the film and screenplay as a whole present this theme without really drawing them out to full dramatic effect. However, the cast are absolutely fantastic throughout with Al Pacino, Adam Driver, and Lady Gaga on particularly exceptional form. Jared Leto dominates many scenes with his bald head, extra weight and screechy voice. While entertaining, the director could have reigned Leto in slightly to extract more pathos from the sad clown that is represented in Paulo Gucci.
I had a few issues with The House of Gucci (2021) inasmuch as it felt incomplete. At times it was as though I was watching a test screening version. The transitions between years were often confusing. What year is it, Ridley? Adam Driver’s arc from likeable young academic to selfish adulterer was rushed and unearned. I got the evocation of a Fredo and Michael Corleone dynamic between Maurizio and Paulo, but this really could have been developed further. The cinematography was grey and dull with the natural lighting style working against the expected colour and vibrancy of the 1980s era. I also wondered if the film had been graded?
While watching The House of Gucci (2021) I just kept thinking of more superior crime and gangster films. It is also mildly disrespectful to a genius like Ridley Scott to say Martin Scorsese would have knocked this story out of the park. I truly felt, while Lady Gaga was excellent in her role, her character could have been written and given a voice-over up there with that of Henry Hill’s. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed the film but wonder if there is a director’s cut out there which doesn’t feel rush released. Or even the possibility HBO or Showtime may adapt it into a longer drama series in time. Yet, does one want to spend more time with such avaricious and vain characters? Depends who is telling the story I guess.
Created and written by: Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith
Directors (Season 6): Matt Lipsey, Guillem Morales
Original Network: BBC (available on BBC Iplayer)
No. of Episodes: 6
I have written exhaustively about how brilliant this television programme is, so much so I don’t think I can add any further other than I believe it deserves regaling as TV national treasure. Just when you think Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton could be running out of creative steam they prove you wrong with another superb series of Inside No. 9. If you are interested, here are prior articles I have written about it.
However, to recap, if you have never seen Inside No. 9 I urge you to do so. It is an exceptional anthology series with six stand-alone episodes per series. Individual episodes feature a whole host of different characters and amazing actors each time led by the multi-talented Pemberton and Shearsmith. As per the prior seasons, the latest one is absolutely unforgettable. It again privileges tightly woven thirty-minute short narratives, which more often than not, feature a twist in the tale. Moreover, the events usually unfold in one location with rarely more than a handful of characters. This makes the narratives feel more focussed, intense and intimate. In series 6, there is even more growth within the anthology genre and much risk-taking where style and form are concerned.
So, here are my mini-reviews of each episode from Season 6 with marks out of nine (obviously).
*** BEWARE: POTENTIAL SPOILERS ***
EPISODE 1: WUTHERING HEIST
Main cast: Paterson Joseph, Gemma Whelan, Kevin Bishop, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Rosa Robson, Dino Kelly etc.
Not only are Pemberton and Shearsmith accomplished actors, writers and directors, they are also acutely aware how fans revel in their incredible work, devilishly mocking their own mythology and playing with audience expectations. They do this to dizzying impact in the puntastic opening episode, Wuthering Heist. Marrying elements from farce, crime, Commedia dell’arte and the plot of Reservoir Dogs (1992), the players wear masks, prat about and bleed over each other while attempting to pull off a diamond heist. Set in one location, a disused warehouse, Gemma Whelan is superb as the fourth-wall breaking narrator attempting to hold all the story innards together. Pretty soon though one realises that the flurry of puns, sight gags, plot contrivances and comical misunderstandings are intended as wondrous and silly fun. The lack of emotional depth is the joke here and the writers know this. Because Shearsmith and Pemberton’s script has a gag every four seconds, be it a sight jape or involve some sparky verbal dexterity. Lastly, not only do they know they are jumping the shark, but they revel in doing so during this hilarious meta-work.
Mark: 8 out of 9
EPISODE 2: SIMON SAYS
Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Lindsay Duncan, Nick Mohammed
Among many of the recurring pleasures of watching Inside No. 9 is wondering what the number nine will refer to. It’s been a myriad of things including: a karaoke booth, a hotel room, a train sleeper car, a dressing room, a referee’s changing room, and even a shoe. In Simon Says it’s the name of a television epic called The Ninth Circle. This show is very similar to Game of Thrones in genre and scale, and likewise has a battalion of fans across the country who feel the final series undid the majesty of the prior seasons. The episode opens with immediate mystery as Steve Pemberton’s writer, Spencer, enters his flat with blood staining his clothes and conscience. Suddenly, Simon (Reece Shearsmith), is at the door saying he has evidence Spencer has committed a serious crime. Simon, a Ninth Circle uber-fan then blackmails Spencer into, among others things, rewriting the whole of the last season of The Ninth Circle into something more fan-friendly. Managing to be both funny and suspenseful in equal measures, Pemberton and Shearsmith’s characters play cat-and-mouse expertly, throwing in several big plot twists at the end of this compelling tale.
Mark: 8 out of 9
EPISODE 3: LIP SERVICE
Cast: Sian Clifford, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith
I watch some television series and films and am often struck at how much time is wasted in setting up the protagonists and story. Similarly, in unnecessarily long TV series you get either eight or ten episodes full of padding in the middle which destabilizes the momentum of the story. Nothing of the sort occurs in Inside No. 9. Stories are set-up with stylish economy and the situations immediately grab you by the throat and rarely let go. In Lip Service, Steve Pemberton’s downtrodden Felix is holed up in a hotel room waiting to liaise with a woman. But it’s not what you think. Sian Clifford’s Iris arrives and it turns out she is there to offer her services as a lip-reader. Felix suspects the woman he loves is having an affair and he requires Iris to read her and a possible lover’s lips at an adjacent hotel suite. I’ve now seen this episode three times and it truly is breathtaking. There’s empathy for Felix’s lost soul, some fine linguistic comedy, a potential romance, Clifford’s performance knocking it out of the park, Reece Shearsmith having great fun as an officious German hotel manager and THAT ending. The denouement, while totally believable, comes out of nowhere and leaves you genuinely speechless.
Mark: 8.5 out 9
EPISODE 4: HURRY UP AND WAIT
Cast: Adrian Dunbar, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Donna Preston, Bhavna Limbachia, and Pauline McGlynn
Quite possibly my favourite episode of the series, Hurry Up and Wait manages to achieve that difficult juxtaposition of being meta-textual and containing some real emotional power. Because it is one thing to be self-referential and satirise the creative process, in this case the making of a television police drama starring famous actor Adrian Dunbar, but it’s quite another to build in a murder mystery and empathetic characters who you root for. While Reece Shearsmith is always excellent playing angry characters, here he portrays James, a mild-mannered actor, who has got a break playing a scene with the precious talent, Dunbar. The TV drama they are in concerns a missing child and the “green room” happens to be a static caravan owned by a working-class family who may have important information about said grisly crime. Steve Pemberton and Pauline McGlynn play the parents of immature, Beverley – the brilliant Donna Preston – adding much comic relief, but all possibly hiding a dark secret. As James learns his lines he also plays detective seemingly discovering the truth until the truly chilling ending is revealed.
Mark: 9 out of 9
EPISODE 5: HOW DO YOU PLEAD?
Cast: Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Derek Jacobi
Arguably the darkest tale, both in terms of the noir lighting and foreboding themes, it is difficult to discuss this tale of soul-searching guilt and justice without giving away too much of the story. Thus, I’ll talk about the actors and characters more. Derek Jacobi gives a deeply moving performance of a dying barrister who prides himself of, after an upturn in his early legal career, never losing a case in court until retirement. As he lies dying in bed, lungs heavy around his heart, he feels guilt about one case where he defended the indefensible. As he confesses his regret to Shearsmith’s cheery carer, it is soon revealed both men have sins they buried in the past which will soon come back to bite them. Watching these two fine actors spark off one another is as compelling as television drama can get, but there’s also comedy there too as Shearsmith delivers some spirited one-liners in between Jacobi’s grand screen gravitas. But where’s Pemberton I hear you ask? He’s sitting there waiting patiently in the shadows of this evocatively lit and thrilling tale.
Mark: 8 out of 9
EPISODE 6: LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS!
Cast: Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Julian Glover, Debra Gillett, Bamshad Abedi-Amin, Sarah Parish etc.
Are you aware of the work of Dennis Potter? He was one of the finest writers in British television from the 1960’s way into the early 1990’s. His scripts were always highly erotic, political and incredibly controversial. They skewered very British and human themes and burnt great sacred cows of the church, government, family, sex and marriage on the TV barbecue, leaving charcoal remains in their stead. Potter was a genius and with Last Night of the Proms, Pemberton and Shearsmith match him for bravado in deconstructing human nature and what it means to be British. Set in a well-to-do, middle-class household, a family of three generations sit down to watch the Last of the Proms on the BBC. It’s a big traditional classical music event and cultural celebration of what it means to be British. It makes me sick! Britain isn’t great. The British are racist, imperialistic and hardy murderers, who have a history and present (fucking Brexit!) they should be ashamed of. The thought-provoking screenplay here is heavy on compelling themes, memorable imagery and striking symbolism. This is a jarring and messy episode and what it lacks in precise plotting it more than makes up for in juxtaposing horror, satire, drama, surrealism, Jesus, social commentary and comedy to rather mesmerising effect. Potter’s ghost would have watched with glee and disgust and hate and love and pity and sadness; which is much how I felt witnessing Last Night of the Proms.
Produced by: Cathy Konrad, Ezra Swerdlow, Cary Woods
Written by: James Mangold
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo, Robert Patrick, Michael Rapaport, Annabella Sciorra, Noah Emmerich, Edie Falco, Deborah Harry etc.
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***
James Mangold is rarely mentioned as one of the best filmmakers around. Probably because he is not a flashy director or a household name. Yet, he has consistently delivered a series of extremely entertaining and inventive genre films over the past few decades. These include: Identity (2003), Girl, Interrupted (1999), Walk the Line (2005), 3:10 to Yuma (2007) and more recently, Logan (2017). His films always feature solid characterisation, compelling conflict and well-structured plots. Above all else, Mangold always attracts A-list actors to his film projects. None more so than in the urban neo-Western, Copland (1997).
Copland (1997) is a thriller which still resonates today with themes that focus on corrupt cops conspiring to control crime from the town of Garrison, New Jersey. Drug deals, racial profiling, murder, larceny and perverting the course of justice are all in a day’s work for the crew led by Harvey Keitel’s alpha cop, Ray Donlan. The Sherriff of Garrison is half-deaf and lumpy, Freddie Heflin (Sylvester Stallone). He is so in awe of Ray and his crew that he is prepared to turn a blind eye to their crimes. However, after a series of brutal incidents which bring heat and Internal Affairs onto Freddie’s patch, he must decide whether to take a stand against the bullies.
Copland (1997) is both a fine character study of a downtrodden man finally standing up against those keeping him down, and a searing damnation of the dishonest nature of American police enforcement. Moreover, Mangold has assembled a hell of a cast. Stallone has never been better in his role of Freddie Heflin. He is a sympathetic character, but frustrating as one wills him to fight back. Robert DeNiro attempts to help him as the Internal Affairs officer, Moe Tilden. While slightly over-the-top here, DeNiro’s scenes with Stallone really sizzle. DeNiro spikes with energy as Stallone offers silent awkwardness.
Ray Liotta almost steals the show as the coked-up-copper-on-the-edge, Figgis. While Robert Patrick, unrecognisable from his performance as the T-1000, shines too as nasty piece of work, Jack Rucker. Add Keitel, Michael Rapaport, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo and Cathy Moriarty into the mix and you have one cracking ensemble. Interestingly, Stallone said the film hurt his career. However, he received much critical praise and I wish he’d pursued more character-heavy roles like this rather than films like the forgettable Expendables trilogy.
Cast: Charlie Creed-Miles, Will Poulter, Liz White, Sammy Williams, Charlotte Spencer, Leo Gregory, Neil Maskell, Iwan Rheon, Olivia Williams, Andy Serkis etc.
Music by: Christian Henson
Cinematography: George Richmond
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
With so much British filmmaking talent behind and in front of the camera being absorbed by the big film and television studios in America, and the lack of cash within the British film industry too, it’s rare that a British film gets made and then distributed properly. Even if a film such as the earthy London-set crime drama, Wild Bill (2011), does find its way to British cinemas it can be cruelly enveloped by the Hollywood film behemoth, swallowed up at the multiplexes and seen by very few popcorn guzzlers. Which is a damn shame as Wild Bill (2011) is a tidy, low-budget, and extremely under-rated classic in my book. Made for just £700,000 and directed by the now in-demand actor-turned-filmmaker, Dexter Fletcher, the film marries family conflict, humour, violence, South London gangsters all in a moving tale of redemption.
For the record, for me, an under-rated classic can be a film I love, plus satisfy the following criteria:
Must not have won an Oscar.
Must not have won a BAFTA.
Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.
Unfortunately, Wild Bill (2011), does not meet any of these criteria. In fact, not many people have even heard of the film, let alone seen it. But it’s on Netflix so do try and catch it. Read on for some reasons why.
The main character nicknamed, portrayed by the excellent character actor, Charlie Creed-Miles, is the titular “Wild Bill”. He has just been released from prison having been a dealer and fighter and general menace to society. There is immediately tension because you wonder if the man will return to his bad old ways. Surprised to find his wife has buggered off to Spain, Bill is hardly given a warm welcome by his older son, Dean, as Will Poulter give another very mature performance. Indeed, Dean hates Bill, and while he is only fifteen, he has been the breadwinner looking after his young brother, Jimmy (Sammy Williams). Forced to stay together by Social Services, much of the film finds the father and son resisting, then attempting to find some common ground. The attempts at family harmony are not aided by the career thugs, including Leo Gregory and Neil Maskell’s characters, attempting to get Bill back on their crack dealing crew. It’s during such struggles that Bill strives to be positive and not return to his violent ways. However, there is only so far a man can be pushed.
Wild Bill (2011) is beautifully filmed with some fantastic London vistas as well as some gritty, urban locations to savour. Sure, the film also has a familiar set of character archetypes and narrative tropes. These include the ex-con trying to go straight, the tart with a heart, the local drug dealers terrorizing the estate, a teenage mum, estate kids getting pulled into crime, the white dealer who thinks he’s black; and the “Mr Big” crime boss played with threatening glee by Andy Serkis. Yet, the characters never become stereotypes as the writing and narrative avoid most of the cliches usually present in plain bad cockney gangster films. Ultimately, the writers, director and actors really make us care about Bill and his boys. I mean, after many false starts he really tries to make a go of it as a father. Bill may not have always made the best decisions in life, but he has guts and heart; very much like Wild Bill (2011) as a whole.
Produced by: Jason Blum, Alix Madigan, Christopher Tricarico
Written by: Veena Sud
Based on: We Monsters by Marcus Seibert and Sebastian Ko
Cast: Mireille Enos, Peter Sarsgaard, Joey King, Cas Anvar, Devery Jacobs, etc.
Music by: Tamar-kali
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
It’s a difficult job writing a screenplay. There are a myriad of choices to be made and you can make good ones and also terrible ones. That’s why many film scripts go through many drafts and, in certain cases, many different writers. As a screenwriter myself I am always fascinated by the decisions that are made at script stage. More specifically, I often struggle with the choice of making characters empathetic or taking a risk and possibly making them unlikeable. I mean, why should the audience get involved in the story if the characters are loathsome or at the very least, there is little empathy for their situation? Sometimes the central premise is strong enough that the characters do not necessarily have to be likeable, as long as the conflict they face is compelling enough. But what if the characters make really bad decisions or the writer makes bad decisions for them? How long before the audience give up on the characters because they are just so stupid?
Centred on the Logan Family consisting of teenager Kayla (Joey King), her mother Rebecca (Mireille Enos) and estranged father, Jay (Peter Sarsgaard), The Lie (2018), poses the highly dramatic question: how far are you willing to go to protect your child? The film opens with Jay driving Kayla to a ballet retreat in the wintry Canadian woods. They pick up her friend Brittany (Devery Jacob), but during the trip a tragedy occurs and Kayla, after an argument, pushes Brittany off a bridge. Jay and Rebecca then decide, against all moral and legal judgement, to attempt to cover up Kayla’s crime. Clearly this decision is wrong, and their crimes are exacerbated by the fact that Kayla is either emotionally unhinged or socioopathic. Indeed, Joey King’s performance, while admirable, veers inconsistently from scene to scene. But I guess that’s the nature of her character. However, because of this and Kayla’s parents terrible life choices, I ultimately found the Logan’s very difficult to empathise with.
Based on a German film called We Monsters (2015), this Blumhouse production for Amazon takes a brilliant idea and kind of throws it away with a weak set-up and increasingly dumb decisions by the main characters. But, as I say, it’s a great premise that Hitchcock in his heyday would’ve had a ball with, such are the intriguing twists and turns present. But Hitchcock would have made you feel connected to the Logan family and given them even more powerful reasons to cover up the crime. Don’t get me wrong, I actually really enjoyed this B-movie thriller. I was able to shout at the television throughout with a high moral superiority over the characters. When the final act twist comes, and it’s a good one, I was genuinely laughing at the stupidity and tragedy of their actions. We are all prisoners of our own life choices and this entertaining but daft thriller certainly proves that.
Even if you’re not a fan of football, you cannot fail to have to heard of the Argentinian player that is Diego Maradona. If you don’t know him then he rose from the shantytowns of Buenos Aires to become one of the greatest footballers of all time. A wunderkind prodigy as a teenager, he became the most expensive footballer ever when he moved to Napoli from Barcelona. In Naples he would transform a club, normally in the shadows of giants from Milan and Rome, into a title winning team. Moreover, he famously led Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986, with one of the most scintillating individual footballing performances ever witnessed. I missed Asif Kapadia’s absorbing documentary when released at the cinema, however, with Maradona sadly passing away last week, I took the opportunity to watch it on Channel 4’s streaming platform.
Kapadia has shown himself as a master filmmaker in constructing narratives from archival footage. This engrossing style and expertly edited form is brilliantly demonstrated in Senna (2010) and Amy (2015), both winning several major awards. Once again Kapadia uses the same process. He combines interviews via voiceover with Maradona, his ex-wife Claudia, his trainer and many other people, with hundreds of hours of found film footage shot by Argentine cameramen in the 1980s. Moreover, further archival footage was discovered in the home of Maradona’s ex-wife in a trunk untouched for 30 years.
Kapadia and his editors weave such sources to create an absorbing portrait of an extremely complex personality. Indeed, many interviews comment on the football star having two distinct sides. One called Diego, a sweet-natured lad who became a phenomenon on the pitch and the other Maradona, a notorious, larger than life mega-star pursued by the media, football fans, women, gangsters and money people. Whether this schism contributed to Maradona’s battles with drug addiction and other controversies, it is difficult to say. What is clear though is, despite his flaws, love for partying, fiery temperament and questionable associations, the press in Italy and the rest of the world, were permanently in Maradona’s face, creating a pressure cooker atmosphere for him and his family.
Overall, I was totally transfixed by the documentary, Diego Maradona (2019). Having grown up as a teenager watching Maradona on the television, notably the infamous ‘Hand of God’ game against England at the 1986 World Cup, I was struck by huge waves of nostalgia. Even though Maradona’s Argentina defeated England, one could never fail to be in awe at his magical skills as a player. I love football and enjoyed many scenes showing the brutal and beautiful nature of the game. Lastly, Kapadia’s main narrative thrust involves Maradona’s rise and fall from grace during Napoli’s spectacular rise to the top of the Italian league. Yet, having scored the penalty that knocked Italy out of the 1990 World Cup, his once beloved Naples would turn on Maradona, leaving him friendless and without protection from the Italian law. Ultimately, the film stands as not only a complex tribute to a footballing genius, but also a cautionary tale of the trials and tribulations of worldwide fame and notoriety.
Based on: Memories of Murder (play) by Kim Kwang-rim
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Roi-ha, Park Hae-il, Byun Hee-bong etc.
Music by: Tarō Iwashiro
Cinematography: Kim Hyung-koo
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
In this current COVID-19 climate it’s going to take a big film release or an extremely excellent film to get me to go to the cinema. Not only because of the underlying health risks, but also because I think social distancing is a societal duty to be respected. Moreover, it is better to be safe than sorry where health and wealth are concerned. If I was to come in contact with an individual or group who possibly had the virus then having to self-isolate would leave me in a tricky place where work is concerned. Of course, the number of new releases have been stymied too. Yet, despite these factors and armed with our face coverings and hand sanitizers, myself and my wife, ventured to Clapham Picturehouse to watch a re-released genre classic, namely Bong-Joon-ho’s, MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003).
Interestingly, it made me long for the days of the proper independent repertory films that I frequented in the late 1980’s and 1990’s like the Scala, Prince Charles and Everyman. There you could catch old, forgotten and classic movies on re-release, often on double bills or late- night line-ups. To be fair some of these cinemas are still around, but unfortunately not as many as twenty years ago. Unsurprisingly, because of the commercial and critical success of PARASITE (2019), Bong Joon-ho’s back catalogue has been plundered, hence the re-release of MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003). This truly brilliant police procedural thriller is loosely based on the true story of Korea’s first serial murders which took place between 1986 and 1991 in the Gyeonggi Province. The story follows the police department as they pursue a number of leads and suspects over a number of years. However, the killer proves incredibly cunning and, as in the David Fincher helmed crime classic, ZODIAC (2007), it becomes an almost impossible case to crack.
Song Kang-ho and Kim Sang-kyung star as Detective Park and Detective Seo, respectively. They are two very different cops striving to solve the murders of young women who usually wear red. Esteemed Korean actor Song Kang-ho portrays the more instinctive and emotional detective, while Kim Sang-kyung’s cop relies on thorough investigation and deduction. Kang-ho especially proves what a wonderfully natural talent he is and his character’s marital relationship provides warmth amidst the bloody horror of the serial killings. Indeed, it made a change to see a police officer who wasn’t an alcoholic, divorced or utterly cynical.
Allied to a plot that over many narrative years is full of twists and turns, the themes and characters within MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003) are what makes it a cut above the standard police drama. While the lead detectives are mostly empathetic, the screenplay finds time to critique their unscrupulous interviewing techniques of suspects. It is only when Detective Seo applies proper forensics and logic do they begin to make headway in the case. Seo especially becomes obsessed with catching this venal murderer of young women. So much so it pushes him to breaking point.
MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003) also presents an early example of the intelligent and precise directorial style of Bong Joon-ho. His framing of multiple actors in the same shot, overlapping dialogue and the exquisite cinematographic representations of both rural and urban landscapes make this an aesthetically pleasing film to experience. Joon-ho loves scenes in the rain too and these add to the film’s atmosphere. Lastly, while it deals with crimes that are dark and shocking, there is also much quirky humour within the excellent screenplay. The bickering between the exasperated police Captain his team provides laughs that spike the grim mood the murders bring. Thus, overall this is very much a film worth leaving the house and going to the cinema for.
Produced by: Kristina Ceyton, Steve Hutensky, Jennifer Kent, Bruna Papandrea
Written by: Jennifer Kent
Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie, Charlie Shotwell, Michael Sheasby, etc.
Music by: Jed Kurzel
Cinematography: Radek Ladczuk
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
THE NIGHTINGALE (2019) is a brutal film about rape and murder. It’s about the rape of an individual. The rape of a nation. The murders of youth, race, nature, humanity and life itself. It is an extremely powerful and impactful viewing experience, but not for those of a faint heart or sensitive disposition. When released it caused much controversy with some audience members walking out during festival screenings. This is no doubt due to several scenes displaying sickening moments of violence against men, women and children. However, the director Jennifer Kent, has not written and helmed a mere exploitation revenge film here. Instead, she has fashioned a beautiful and ugly tragedy, which prevails damning indictment against masculine savagery, colonialism and British rule.
Set in 1825 in the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (presently Tasmania), THE NIGHTINGALE (2019), follows a young female convict seeking revenge for an unspeakable act of violence committed against her family. Clare Carroll, nicknamed “Nightingale” due to her lovely singing voice, is a young mother and wife looking to be given her freedom. It is held by Sam Claflin’s abusive British officer, Hawkins. Rather than free her he decides to thrust himself upon her sexually. Yet, when she rebuffs his drunken and lurid behaviour, he goes mob-handed to take her. Then when her husband intervenes, Hawkins and his soldiers act without honour or courage, leaving a family wrecked in their wake.
Hawkins and his men venture through the bush to Launceston the next day, to gain a promotion from the top brass he believes he deserves. Claire rallies and pursues them with bloody revenge in mind. She is assisted in her search by Aboriginal guide, “Billy” Mangana (Baykali Ganambarr). Billy is initially reluctant to chase British soldiers. Not surprising as the British have ravaged his people, land and culture, leaving the indigenous people outcasts in their own country. While Claire and Billy initially conflict they soon realise they have a common foe. Thus, while revenge supplies the bones for the narrative, the screenplay fleshes out their chase with intriguing cultural clashes and reconciliation. Indeed, the unlikely pair will eventually come to respect each other’s differences and find common ground over the course of the story.
Having received much critical acclaim with the low-budget horror film THE BABADOOK (2014), Jennifer Kent has moved from inner demonic possession to a more epic and external approach to horror. Because amidst the bucolic wonder of the Australian wilderness, the British brought death and chaos to the area. While one understands the need to have a place to house its prisoners (the barbarous treatment of the working classes is a whole different story), the rapacious desolation of the indigenous culture is a vital message within the film. Claire Carroll and Billy Mangana are symbols of a lost and damaged generation. They are emblems of people who deserve justice and reparation. Moreover, the message remains valid today, especially with the rise of the alternative-right and the continued sexual abuse faced by women everyday. Lastly, with a moving and tough leading portrayal by Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr providing a spiritual heart, and Sam Claflin giving a fearlessly repugnant representation of British aggression, THE NIGHTINGALE (2019), tells a horrific, disturbing, but righteously relevant tale.
NETFLIX TV REVIEW – BETTER CALL SAUL (2020) – SEASON 5
Created by: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould
Executive producer(s): Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Mark Johnson, Melissa Bernstein, Thomas Schnauz, Gennifer Hutchison,
Producer(s): Bob Odenkirk, Nina Jack, Diane Mercer, Robin Sweet, Gordon Smith, Jonathan Glatzer,
Directors: Bronwen Hughes, Norberto Barba, Michael Morris, Gordon Smith, Jim McKay, Melissa Bernstein, Vince Gilligan, Thomas Schnauz, Peter Gould,
Writers: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Thomas Schnauz, Gordon Smith, Alison Tatlock, Heather Marion, Ann Cherkis,
Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn, Patrick Fabian, Michael Mando, Tony Dalton, Giancarlo Esposito, etc.
Cinematography: Arthur Albert, Marshall Adams
Production company(s): High Bridge Productions, Crystal Diner Productions, Gran Via Productions, Sony Pictures Television
Original network: AMC
UK Release: Netflix
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
“We all make our choices. And those choices, they put us on a road. Sometimes those choices seem small, but they put you on the road. You think about getting off. But eventually, you’re back on it.” Mike Ermantraut – Better Call Saul (S5 – Episode 9)
One thought, of many, that I will take to my dying day is in regard to the business of the war on drugs. I get that people want to strive for intoxication in order to medicine themselves against the pain and struggle of everyday life. I get that humans love to get high and have a party. I get that people unfortunately get addicted to substances, so much so they turn into junkies existing only for their next fix. It may not make it right, but I get why people do drugs.
I also understand the business of making money selling drugs. The drug dealers and Cartels across the world earn a fortune farming, creating, distributing and selling narcotics. Moreover, Governments, across our civilisation, attempt yet fail, to stop them. I get all this. What I don’t understand though is when the Cartels make SO much money, and wall it up in safehouses, farms and apartments — why don’t they stop!! They have enough! Just retire. It’s a naive question, obviously. Because the money, drugs, lifestyle and power are also an addiction. It’s an insane game. It’s a bad road. It’s another indictment against the evil of humanity and our greed-driven society. Having said that the conflict with drugs and more specifically that of the Mexican drug Cartels is also providing the masses with some fine television drama.
Following hot on the heels of the gripping Season 3 of Cartel-driven thriller, Ozark (2020), comes Season 5 of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s crime prequel to Breaking Bad — the brilliant, Better Call Saul. Once again, it proves itself an incredibly well written character drama, containing some of the finest acting around. I mean, some shows you watch, and they can be a struggle. But Better Call Saul is like digital silk, so smooth in its presentation. The overall style, colour scheme, imaginative camera angles and framing make the show a joy to experience. The story isn’t too bad either.
Having worked through his conflicts with his brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), in the previous sterling seasons, Jimmy McGill finally embraces the ‘Saul Goodman’ legal name and persona. In this season though, in attempting to create a niche making a living helping the lower level criminal element, Jimmy/Saul, eventually finds his legal skills being employed by the Salamanca drug Cartel. Here Saul makes decisions which drag him, and his partner, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), into a series of dangerous drug-related situations in and out of court. Indeed, episode 8, Bagman, is as good as crime drama gets in terms of narrative, conflict, characterisation and dialogue.
While Bob Odenkirk again sparkles as the cheeky ducker-and-diver-lawyer, Saul Goodman, it’s Rhee Seehorn as Kim Wexler who steals the show. The development of her character from corporate legal player to something more than a money-driven suit is fascinating. In addition, her shifting attitudes also reflect a possible adrenaline addiction to the danger that Saul’s questionable choices bring. Meanwhile, Jonathan Banks as experienced fixer, Mike Ermantraut; Giancarlo Esposito as drug boss, Gustavo Fring; and new cast member, Tony Dalton as Lalo Salamanca, all add to sheer acting charisma and talent on screen. Ultimately, the war on drugs will never be won because there is an insatiable demand for narcotics, and a more fervent demand to supply them. I’m just so happy I am very far removed from the ‘Badlands’ of the Mexican drug Cartels. No doubt after the latest season of Better Call Saul, Saul Goodman, will be feeling very much the same. After all, we are all eventually a prisoner of our own bad choices.