Produced by: Kevin Turen, Ashley Levinson, Aaron Ryder
Screenplay by: Kata Wéber
Based on the play: Pieces of a Woman by Kornél Mundruczó and Kata Wéber
Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Molly Parker, Sarah Snook, Iliza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie, Jimmie Fails etc.
***THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS***
Every human being has been present at one birth at least – namely their own. Not that one can remember or recall the experience, however, it is something all of us have in common. Many more people, either as parents, or life partners, or medical staff, or relatives and friends have also witnessed a child being born into the world. Birth is both a magnificent and tumultuous wonder of nature. Moreover, it can, while delivering a miracle into the world, be extremely painful for the person giving birth. The incredible progress of medical science means that it has never been safer. However, as my partner experienced when our son was born, it can be traumatic if the procedure has issues. Thankfully, our son was fine after the birth, but almost eighteen-hours in labour on an under-staffed and chaotic maternity ward was stressful. Thus, I was able to identify very much with the characters in the searing grief drama, PIECES OF A WOMAN (2020).
When I say identify, I mean I felt like I was really with the couple, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) as prospective parents. Martha is heavily pregnant and when Sean returns from work as an engineer she goes into labour. Sean works on building huge bridges. Yet, as events unfold within Pieces of a Woman (2020), bridges are the last thing built metaphorically and emotionally. The opening scene is a cinematic tour-de-force which portrays the couple’s home birth in one long moving and harrowing take. Brilliantly filmed and acted, by Kirby and LaBeouf, the one-take device is employed to devastating effect as it impacts emotional power rather being a filmic gimmick. When their first-choice midwife cannot attend, the replacement, Eva (Molly Parker) arrives. The birth is not without problems and the sequence is both intense and suspenseful. The filmmakers really put you in the heart of the trauma. Quickly concern for the new-born child becomes relief when it is born alive. Alas, Martha and Sean’s joy suddenly turns to misery when nature deals the couple a fateful blow.
After the relentless tension of the opening act, Pieces of a Woman (2020), along with Sean and Martha, enters a redoubtable period of grieving. Martha’s personality prior to the event seemed outgoing and confident. After the death of her child she, unsurprisingly, transitions into an insular and hollow shell. Sean, on the other hand, is more explosive. He openly cries and shouts and self-harms by relapsing back into drug and alcohol addiction. Sean, more than Martha, attempts to fix their broken relationship, but Martha’s pain is too great and the distance between them only increases. Martha’s mother, Elizabeth Weiss (Ellen Burstyn), attempts to get some control back by taking court action again the midwife, Eva. Further, she desperately attempts to thwart her daughter from allowing the child’s body to be donated to medical science. In such moments Ellen Burstyn’s performance is absolutely formidable. Indeed, the scenes she shares with Vanessa Kirby are some of the best in the film.
Based on the play of the same name, Pieces of a Woman (2020), is overall an utterly gruelling emotional experience. I must admit I found it difficult to reach Martha’s character as she was so isolated for much of the film. However, that is exactly what the writer, Kata Wéber, and director, Kornél Mundruczó want you to feel. The loss of a child is never going to be an easy experience and it is something an individual will never get over. As I followed Martha’s journey intensely the smallest incremental shift in her personality is felt massively. Personally, I would have preferred more focus on Molly Parker’s character during the second act and more outwardly emotional scenes. Because those within the film featuring LaBeouf, Kirby and Burstyn are so compelling. Vanessa Kirby, in particular, is stunning as a woman cut-off from the world by this devastating grief, making Pieces of a Woman (2020) a memorable human drama that makes you feel fortunate to be alive.
NETFLIX FILM REVIEW – I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020)
Directed by: Charlie Kaufman
Produced by: Anthony Bregman, Charlie Kaufman, Robert Salerno, Stephanie Azpiazu
Screenplay by: Charlie Kaufman (Based on: I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid)
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis
Music by: Jay Wadley
Cinematography: Łukasz Żal
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
I read some background information online about Charlie Kaufman’s latest film adaptation for Netflix, I’m Thinking of Ending Things(2020), and there is a leaning to describe it as a psychological horror. Of course, in order to market their films, studios write copy to entice an audience for their film. However, this adaptation of Iain Reid’s novel is far more than a psychological horror. It has elements from a whole plethora of genres including: surrealism, comedy, romance, thriller, arthouse, road movie, and even dance, animation and musical genres. Safe to say that once again Charlie Kaufman has delivered yet another ingenious cinematic smorgasbord that defies easy categorization. But is it any good?
The film opens gently with the lilting voice of Jessie Buckley’s voiceover. We hear her character deliver a set of poetic existential queries, and her mantra throughout the film: “I’m thinking of ending things. . .” over a set of seemingly unconnected images. She waits for her boyfriend of a couple of months, Jake (Jesse Plemons), as they plan to meet his parents, portrayed by David Thewlis and Toni Collette, for the first time at their farm. So far, so straightforward; kind of. However, as Jake and the young woman’s (whose name changes during the film) drive through picturesque and snowy landscapes, Kaufman intercuts to an elderly Janitor going about his cleaning duties at a high school. How these juxtaposed situations eventually marry together is open to many interpretations. While certainly obtuse and narratively impenetrable to many, I really connected with Kaufman’s surreal trip. Because I’m Thinking of Ending Things(2020) is certainly as much about the journey than the ultimate destination.
As he has demonstrated since his debut feature film screenplay, Being John Malkovich (1999), Kaufman has an urgent desire for original invention, sight gags, existential examination, exploration of mental health, relationship breakdowns, non-linear structure and intellectual discourse. The respective journeys of characters like Jake and the young woman are taken by road and in the mind. Whose mind the film is in and out of is also open to question. The car journey is treacherous both due to the weather and the anxious tension between the couple. This is brought about by the young woman desiring to end things. Is it her life or her relationship she wants to end? Or is it both? Things between the two aren’t made easier by the surreal visit to Jake’s parents’ farm. Thewlis and Collette inject much humour and pathos into their characters. Their performances, a succession of visual punchlines and the brilliant dialogue combine to really bring the film to life during the middle act.
After the couple leave the parents’ farm and head back home, events get even stranger as connections with the aforementioned Janitor intensify. An extremely anxious pitstop at an ice-cream parlour, an animated pig and a ballet dance sequence threatened to destabilize the narrative. But once I had suddenly interpreted my truth and understanding of Iain Reid’s and Kaufman’s vision, it all kind of almost made sense. Indeed, compared to Kaufman’s surreal meta-fictional masterpiece, Synecdoche, New York (2008), I’m Thinking of Ending Things(2020) is arguably more accessible, funnier and less bleak.
Having said that, given Kaufman’s predilection for characters on the edge of nervous, depressive and existential breakdowns, some may find this film’s journey tough to complete. But I loved the invention and constant ideas on show throughout. Kaufman’s takes risks structurally, visually and thematically and I congratulate him for challenging the audience. Lastly, I’m Thinking of Ending Things(2020) has a wondrously cinematic look, sound and dreamlike feel to it. Plus, in Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons, Kaufman has cast two exceptional acting talents, who are certainly worth going on the road with. However, bizarre and twisted that road may be.
Written by: Sally Rooney, Alice Birch, Mark O’Rowe
Based on: Normal People by Sally Rooney
Executive producer(s): Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe, Emma Norton, Anna Ferguson, Sally Rooney, Lenny Abrahamson
Producer: Catherine Magee
Cast: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Paul Mescal, Sarah Greene, Aislin McGuckin, India Mullen, Fionn O’Shea, Eanna Hardwicke, Leah McNamara, Frank Blake, Niamh Lynch, Kwaku Fortune, Desmond Eastwood, etc.
Cinematography: Suzie Lavelle, Kate McCullough
Original Network: BBC Studios, Hulu
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
“The course of true love never did run smooth. . .” – William Shakespeare
Love is a multi-faceted concept open to a myriad of philosophical, medical, emotional and intellectual interpretations. Conversely, an eternal question in our society still remains: what is love? Is it the joining together of two people forever committed to a relationship built on respect and trust? Or is it the emotion you feel for a family member or person you have bonded with over time? Is it nature’s way of tricking us into the act of pro-creation? Perhaps it’s an abstract and emotional concept created by a higher power to ensure we act positively? For some it could be a dark force which enlivens obsession and stalking and violence or maybe it’s a marketing delusion forced upon us by greedy advertisers, florists and chocolate vendors? Is it all of the above?
Studies by Helen Fisher of Rutgers University propose that we fall in love in three stages involving a different set of chemicals. They are: lust, attraction and attachment. Indeed, the events occurring in our mind when we fall in love are akin to mental illness. Chemicals such as: testosterone, oestrogen, dopamine, serotonin all conflict and combine to change our emotions when we’re attracted to someone. Further studies show that when choosing a partner we are at the mercy of our subconscious and inner sexual desires as proffered in psychoanalytical studies.
Love, lust and sexual desire are a big part of everybody’s lives whether they are positive or negative; indeed, the continuance of the species is very much reliant on them. Moreover, love or the lack of love has provided the springboard for millions of stories, films, plays, songs, poems, slogans, TV shows, comedies and adverts! The latest excellent love story I watched was the BBC/Hulu production calledNormal People (2020). Over twelve episodes we were introduced and lured into the sweet and dark hearts of two Irish teenagers called Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones). They meet, fall in lust, have loads of sex, fall in love, generally fall out with each, fight further, go to University, go abroad, grow up, fall down and then fall back in love with each with other, and so on.
Based on Sally Rooney’s extremely successful novel of the same name, the story events begin at a Sligo Secondary school. Connell is quietly spoken and from a single parent upbringing. But he is very popular with his peers, close to the top of his class and exhibits much sporting prowess. Marianne’s family is wealthier than Connell’s. In fact, the latter’s mum, Lorraine (Sarah Greene) cleans house for Marianne’s mother. The Sheridan household is not a happy one though due to a tragedy which occurred to the father. This causes Marianne to be very angry, self-loathing and outspoken. Because of this she is somewhat of an outsider at home and school. For some unknown reason Marianne’s brother and mother are very cold toward her. Yet, despite the turmoil and class difference, Connell and Marianne share a mutual attraction, which soon becomes a sexual relationship.
As aforementioned, the path of love is not smooth as the first obstacle to the relationship comes from Connell’s paralysing fear of what his school friends think. He is a complex soul and does not have the bravery to share his true feelings to the world. Marianne becomes a secret, and this angers her, causing a major rift between the two young lovers. I won’t give any further plot details away, but it is safe to say that this is not your average romantic comedy or drama. The story beats of the romance genre are present, yet delivered in a sombre, delicate and under-the-surface style. This is not surprising given the first six episodes are subtly directed by Lenny Abrahamson, a filmmaker who has a number of wonderful character-driven films to his credit.
With confident direction, acting and a serene soundtrack, Normal People (2020) is a consistently absorbing and emotional rollercoaster. What I would say it though it often feels as if you’re watching events unfold in extreme slow motion. This isn’t a criticism though, because in the stillness of the performances, the dwelling of the camera on the character’s faces and length of shots, we’re allowed the time to breathe in the joy and pain of this complicated romance. The two lead actors Phil Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones are both incredibly well cast. They have exquisite chemistry together in both their passionate sex scenes and when they just simply exist and talk and look and love and hurt together. One may gripe that the drama could have been achieved with a tad more pace and just a few less episodes. However, if you are looking for a truthful representation of young love, with all its angst, kinks, self-loathing, insecurities and exasperating undulations, then Normal People (2020) is definitely a worthwhile experience.
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.
HORSE GIRL (2020) + THUNDER ROAD (2018) FILM REVIEWS
Having seen both these fascinating character studies, Horse Girl (2020) and Thunder Road (2018) recently, I was compelled to write a double bill review because similarly they feature: lower budgeted production values, a singularly powerful lead acting performance, characters who have recently lost their mothers, very uncomfortable emotionally charged scenes; as well as both exploring themes relating to mental illness. Thus, I thought it interesting to review the films with these elements in mind.
In regard to mental health, it is quite rightly being addressed more and more in society in a respectful manner. The barriers and prejudices of the past are being eroded and people are talking about it more openly. I have first-hand family experience of someone who has suffered with mental illness. Plus, I have experienced the loss of a close friend to suicide due to debilitating anxiety and have other friends on anti-depressants. I have tried to be of assistance to those people, but it is incredibly difficult to help anyone. Likewise, medical professionals seek various ways of attempting to assist, treat and counsel individuals with mental health problems.
Ultimately, it so tough to deal with such illnesses as they are powerful and invisible. I have utmost empathy for anyone suffering from anxiety, depression and serious mental health problems. It’s such a shame that I feel kind of helpless when it comes to helping people I am close to. It is not always enough to listen and understand, thus professional medical help should be sought and sometimes even that is not enough. It is not surprising therefore that cinema is also exploring such stories and themes.
With Joker (2019), mental illness was examined in a comic book genre setting in a powerful way for me. Some critics felt it trivialised mental illness. I felt that it was, while stylised and theatrical, actually accurate in the disturbing disintegration of Arthur Fleck’s downward mental spiral. Horse Girl (2020) and Thunder Road (2018) are two very different films in terms of genre, but with similar thematic trajectories as Joker (2019). Indeed, while they are independently produced and smaller in scale, they feature two frightening renditions of characters on the verge of a mental breakdown.
***THESE REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS***
HORSE GIRL (2020)
Directed by: Jeff Baena
Written by: Jeff Baena and Alison Brie
Cast: Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, John Reynolds, John Ortiz etc.
Depicting mental illness accurately is a very tricky thing on film in my view. Obviously, we have over the years had all manner of psychotics and mad people chasing and killing others in horror films and thrillers. There have also been many films centred around characters in mental institutions. Some are respectful examinations, but many more could be seen as exploitation films. Horse Girl (2020) is not exploitational, but rather an oddity that falls somewhere between the gaps of arthouse drama and weird character study. Such films are difficult to assess as, however impressive the technical aspects of the production are, the strange events of the film could alienate an audience in terms of entertainment.
Despite Alison Brie’s exceptionally brave performance as Sarah, the narrative consistently disengages you emotionally, taking you to very dark and weird places. Sometimes you have to wonder whether the actor is holidaying in weirdness for the sake of it, or is genuinely drawn to characters who exist with mental issues. Given Brie is an intelligent and highly talented actor, plus she co-wrote the script, you cannot help but feel this is a very personal project. Her portrayal of a shy loner dealing with the suicide of her mother, sleepwalking, day delusions, fragmented time loss and nightmares makes Horse Girl (2020) a disorientating experience. However, in conveying the chaos and frightening nature of mental illness, the film is commendable but tough to recommend.
Mark: 7 out of 11
THUNDER ROAD (2018)
Written and directed by: Jim Cummings
Cast: Jim Cummings, Kendal Farr, Nican Robinson, Macon Blair etc.
Talking of films that are difficult to recommend, Jim Cummings self-produced, written, directed and acted film Thunder Road (2018) is another. Rather than giving us, like Horse Girl (2020), an unreliable narrator and escalating series of surreal events seemingly separated from reality, Cummings film deliver very real feelings of embarrassment and anxiety to the audience. Advertised on certain film sites as a comedy-drama, neither the comedy nor drama are conventionally enacted. The film is based around a series of hysterical monologues and stream of consciousness dialogues from Cummings grieving and soon-to-be-divorced troubled cop, Jim Arnaud.
Arnaud’s mental issue is not psychosis, but rather a circumstantial and emotional nervous breakdown precipitated by grief and a personality disorder. The opening scene at a funeral for Arnaud’s mother, is a case in point. Based on his original short film of the same name, Cummings produces a tour-de-force acting exercise in both awkward comedy and distanciation. Subsequently, the film’s narrative events find Arnaud attempting to be a good father, friend and police officer, however, he is constantly on the edge of an angry outburst or outpouring of emotional honesty. His character makes us empathise as he is in grief, but at the same time he’s very difficult to like due to his extreme reactions. Ultimately, as a low budget feature for Jim Cummings acting abilities, Thunder Road (2018) is a compelling character study. However, it’s tough to watch and the slightly misogynistic ending left a sour taste in what was a fascinating emotional exploration of grief and mental instability.
Created and Written by: Karl Pilkington and Richard Yee
Directed by: Richard Yee
Cast: Karl Pilkington, Sondra James, Marama Corlett, Cokey Falkow, Lou Sanders, Shola Adewusi, Cavan Clerkin, Finn Bennett and more.
Original Network: Sky One
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I’m a late developer when it comes to appreciating the Northern homespun charm and philosophies of one-time radio producer, but now TV presenter, writer and actor, Karl Pilkington. I only caught up with his melancholic and eccentric outpourings when I recently listened to recordings of The Ricky Gervais Guide To. . . podcast show, featuring Gervais, Pilkington and Steven Merchant. The two high status comedians basically take a subject and throw themes and shit at Karl Pilkington and he delights them with a mixture of odd, but also weirdly wise rants and musings. Subsequently, I watched the hilarious shows An Idiot Abroad and The Moaning of Life. Then, having decided he was not being bullied and was actually a real person, I firmly emerged a big Karl Pilkington fan.
Pilkington’s first major venture into fictional storytelling, as opposed to crazy and hilarious travel programmes or stooge-like appearances with Gervais and Merchant, is called, appropriately enough, Sick of It. There have been two seasons and twelve entertaining episodes so far screened on Sky television. Karl portrays a downtrodden taxi driver called, wait for it, Karl, who having been dumped by his girlfriend is now living with his Aunt Norma (Sondra James) in Ladbroke Grove, West London. While he has featured in small roles previously, this is Pilkington’s first major acting gig. It’s interesting too as he also plays the part of his own “inner voice”, So, you get two Karl Pilkington’s for the price of one. While not having much range his acting is actually pretty good. Furthermore, he’s a likeable everyman character, both empathetic and droll.
The alter ego or inner voice character is essentially Karl’s self-doubt, insecurity and negativity personified. Only seen by Karl and the audience, he provides some very funny rants throughout the two seasons. Having said that, the writing and performances are strong enough that the show could definitely have worked without the “double” element. To conclude, Sick of It is a bittersweet slice-of-life character comedy, with some very funny episodes. I especially enjoyed the ones where he escapes London to go on holiday or returns to his hometown of Manchester. Lastly, I imagine the show will appeal to Karl Pilkington fans mainly, yet, those who identify with individuals dealing with loss, loneliness, depression, failed romances and the perils of everyday living will find something to enjoy in the show also.
In the month of August I themed my viewing down a couple of varied avenues. Firstly, watch a few more documentaries or non-fiction programmes. Secondly, get even MORE value out of my NETFLIX subscription!
There are some great shows on Netflix and if I had to recommend ONE then it would be It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia which is arguably one of the greatest comedies I have ever seen. Netflix UK is also full to the brim of docs, stand-up, films and drama series to watch. Here are some of the shows I caught up with during August.
COMMUNITY (2009 – ) – SEASON ONE
Featuring a diverse set of archetypes within a US Community College this is good quality character comedy. Great cast, witty scripts and lots of self-reflexive parodies for film and TV fans to take in. Clearly influenced by The Office I’m pleased it doesn’t have the direct address mockumentary style and while only nine episodes in but I’m really enjoying this sharp comedy.
DAREDEVIL (2015) – SEASON ONE
This is an absolutely brilliant TV show! It’s actually better than many of the Marvel films that have been knocking about recently; certainly some of the superhero sequels. It concerns Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) as blind lawyer by day and blind “super-hero” by night fighting to clean up Hell’s Kitchen in New York. It’s early in his crime-fighting career and is a brilliant origins story well written and developed.
It has a gritty noir feeling and style and is terrifically shot in the shadows, bouncing off the feel Nolan’s Dark Knight series established. The action, fighting and most importantly character development of both Murdoch and Wilson ‘Kingpin’ Fisk (played deliciously by Vincent D’Onofrio) is exceptional as we receive a slow bleed and blending of their stories until they meet near the end. You get the standard stereotypes often found in Superhero and Gangster films such as: the perky, plucky female assistant; cheeky, funny sidekick; Chinese, Japanese and Russian mobsters; uncompromising investigative journalist and more but it does it with such style that it transcends its generic components to become compelling viewing. Highly recommended!
HOUSE OF CARDS (2015) – SEASON THREE
The first two seasons of the US drama adapted from classic 80s TV programme were sensational as they used the backdrop of American political chicanery and conspiratorial ambition to propel Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) from Chief Whip to the Presidency itself. Ably abetted by Lady “Robin Wright” Macbeth his plotting of revenge and avaricious pursuit of power was fantastic to watch.
The 3rd season has not reached the dizzy heights of the earlier seasons in my view. That could be because I have been watching it on the “drip” week by week or there is more emphasis on political shenanigans and conflict arising from Underwood’s attempts to get America Works off the ground, plus his ongoing feud with Vladimir Putin. Not the real Putin obviously but the show’s thinly veiled version of him. Still, while I enjoyed the more noir and thriller aspects of the first two seasons this remains high quality drama with great direction, style and fine performances.
PEAKY BLINDERS (2013 – ) – SEASON ONE
I missed this gritty and violent period drama first time round on BBC but was grateful to catch up with it on Netflix. It’s a terrific post 1st World War story with a grand lead performance from Cillian Murphy plus awesome supporting cast including Sam Neill, Helen McCrory, Charlie Creed Miles and Paul Anderson. Murphy portrays the leader of a Birmingham gang who fight and scrap and slice their way from the dirty streets in an attempt to become legitimate bookmakers. Steven Knight, who wrote Eastern Promises (2007) and directed the superb Locke (2014), carves out a cracking tale involving coppers, whores, gypsies, bookies, the IRA, Communists and ex-soldiers fighting against a backdrop of political revolution and class warfare.
BIGGIE AND TUPAC (2002)
While the theories on the deaths of Biggie and Tupac presented within this documentary may no longer hold up it’s still a fascinating film from unassuming master of the passive aggressive: Nick Broomfield. His persistence in tracking down and interviewing various elements potentially involved in the murder of these hip-hop legends really drew me in. Plus, the final interview with shadowy rap boss/gangster Suge Knight was both chilling and illuminating.
THE BRIDGE (2006)
You need a strong stomach to watch this documentary film. During 2004 the filmmaking team shot the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and captured many suicide attempts; some where people succeeded in killing themselves and the occasional one who was saved. It’s a dark and upsetting look at depression and those who it affects plus reveals some of the reasons why people choose the Bridge as their intended final departure point. It’s an elegant film: poignant but a tough watch.
What begins as a dig around the history of “the bogeyman” and other mythical baddies soon becomes a feature on Staten Island and the children that went missing from there in the 1970s and ‘80s. The film looks mainly at the prime suspect Andre Rand and whether he was guilty or not of murdering the kids and the media’s response to his case. It’s a bit slow overall without much in the way of revelation. Plus, there’s some dark matter which felt under-examined such as the abuse at the mental institution for kids where Rand worked. Overall though a slow yet thoughtful watch.
DARK DAYS (2000)
Marc Singer’s fascinating documentary from the late 1990s was an incredible look at the people who lived under the subway system of New York City and how they survived. Shot in grainy black and white it captures the hopelessness yet camaraderie amongst the homeless souls. It also demonstrates their desire to survive and build a home despite the grim conditions. The film would become a useful tool to put before City Hall in order to re-house the unfortunates, addicts and lost down there in the recesses of the underground.
MIND OF A RAMPAGE KILLER (2013)
Is a human being born evil or turned deadly by life events? The perennial nature versus nurture debate is looked at scientifically and psychologically in this pretty unsensational analysis of rampage killers. Of course there is no hard answers as there are a myriad of varying reasons why people go on killing sprees. While the psychology is murky as depression and bullying can play a part in equal measures, the main reason these individuals murder is because they have guns. Take away the access to weapons and you may at least prevent some of the senseless murders which occur Stateside.
LOST SOUL: DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR MOREAU (2014)
This was probably the best documentary I saw; mainly because I love films about filmmaking and I also love films about filmmaking which go spectacularly wrong. It charts the journey of director Richard Stanley and his attempts to bring classic novel The Island of Dr Moreau to the silver screen. With a massive budget and filming taking place in Australia it all starts to go wrong for Stanley as tropical storms hit the set and the money men at the studio lose confidence. Add the crazy Marlon Brando, difficult Val Kilmer, hedonistic extras and tropical storms to the mix and you get a box office turkey blowing up in front of your eyes. Both funny and tragic it reveals the folly of filmmaking yet sadly also seemed to finish Stanley’s promising directorial career.
Top documentary filmmaker Errol Morris points his camera at Southern Belle and crackpot Joyce McKinney and her various run-ins with the press over the years. Aside from cloning her dog in Korea in the noughties, McKinney was infamous for the “Manacled Mormon” story which delighted the lurid British red-tops in the ‘70s. McKinney is a lively interviewee as she recounts the tale of how she “rescued” the love of her life from the Mormon cult and attempted to turn him back in love with her through sexual programming. Yeah, chaining a bloke to a bed and screwing him will make him turn his back on God. Well, so SHE thought. McKinney did all that she did for love and cannot be faulted for that but came off as a delusional woman who just has to be heard to be believed.
VIDEOGAMES: THE MOVIE (2014)
Dry run through of the Video Games industry from its humble beginnings to the multi-billionaire cultural behemoth it’s become today. I love video-games but this was pretty boring and although there was certainly some nostalgia to be had from looking back to my youth I wanted more controversy and dirt rather than the bland run-through of the history and uninteresting “talking heads” we got here.
WHEN JEWS WERE FUNNY (2013)
Some great comedians from the now and yesteryear discuss the nature of Jewish comedy and whether it is an actual “thing” and whether it still exists today. I enjoyed watching the old clips of greats such as Lenny Bruce, Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield and many of the contributors are funny too. However, the filmmaker himself seemed to be working through some angst and guilt which at times detracted from the loose but amusing documentary nonetheless.