Tag Archives: drama

NETFLIX TV SERIES REVIEW – THE STRANGER (2020)

NETFLIX TV SERIES REVIEW – THE STRANGER (2020)

Created by Harlan Coben – based on The Stranger by Harlan Coben

Writers: Harlan Coben, Danny Brocklehurst, Charlotte Coben, Karla Crome, Mick Ford etc.

Directors: Daniel O’Hara, Hannah Quinn

Cast: Richard Armitage, Siobhan Finneran, Jennifer Saunders, Shaun Dooley, Paul Kaye, Dervla Kirwan, Kadiff Kirwan, Jacob Dudman, Ella-Rae Smith, Brandon Fellows, Anthony Head, Stephen Rea, Hannah John-Kamen etc.

No. of Episodes 8

Network release: Netflix

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***


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Imagine sitting in a bar or restaurant or at the gym or in a coffee shop minding your own business. A stranger approaches you and tells you something that your spouse or partner or relative was hiding from you. This is a secret which rips apart your life and turns everything upside down in the process. This is the basic premise of Harlan Coben’s adaptation of his own novel, The Stranger. Over eight gripping episodes the drama hooks you in from this point forth. Secrets, lies, violence, corruption, blackmail, betrayal and murder drive the narrative in a compelling and serpentine plot.

In what is the TV equivalent of a right page-turner, the main protagonist, Adam Price (Richard Armitage), is the first person to be approached by the titular Stranger. He is given information regarding his wife (Dervla Kirwan) and this threatens to tear his whole family apart. This is just the tip of the iceberg though in regards to the plotting. Other individuals are being targeted too by the Stranger. At the same time a teenager has been comatosed following a woodland rave. It’s not long before Siobhan Finneran’s DS Johanna Griffin investigates this crime, the bizarre beheading of a llama, plus murder, extortion and abduction.

At first, I thought it may be a metaphysical figure revealing guilty secrets to the cast of characters in a Stephen King supernatural-style narrative. However, Harlan Coben’s contemporary crime thriller is firmly set in reality, as it privileges familial and police procedural drama compellingly. Over the eight episodes I was glued to what happens next, as we get so many cat-and-mouse chases and character surprises throughout. Richard Armitage is excellent as the lead protagonist, desperately trying to keep his family together. The teenage character subplots are not so successful as the some of their acting is pretty dire. However, the likes of Siobhan Finneran, Jennifer Saunders, Paul Kaye and Stephen Rea add real quality to what is a conventional, but always watchable genre production.

Mark: 8 out of 11



APOCALYPSE CINEMA – VISIONS OF POSSIBLE FUTURES (IRREVERENT AND PANIC-FREE POST)

APOCALYPSE CINEMA – VISIONS OF POSSIBLE FUTURES

“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***


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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.


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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 Apeswhere 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.


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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 pulsating Fury 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.


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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.

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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.


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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.


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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!


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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.


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DARK WATERS (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

DARK WATERS (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Todd Haynes

Produced by: Mark Ruffalo, Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler

Screenplay: Mario Correa, Matthew Michael Carnahan

Based on “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Bill Pullman, William Jackson Harper, Mare Winningham etc.

Cinematography: Edward Lachman

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



Every now and then one watches a film you kind of wish you hadn’t. Not because it is bad, quite the contrary with director’s Todd Haynes’ legal drama, Dark Waters (2019). No, you wish you hadn’t watched it because it unveils a tragic series of events relating to environmental, corporate, chemical, legal and human corruption. I prefer to possess hope that human beings can be trusted to do the right thing. However, based on this story that is definitely not the case. Moreover, given the information revealed about huge corporation, DuPont, and their environmental procedures, it’s a damning indictment against corporate greed and community murder.

A two-hour film is certainly not long enough to do justice to a story which has taken decades to unfold and cost the lives of many people and animals, while irreparably damaging the environment in the process. However, it effectively bullet points the crimes of the DuPont conglomeration in a riveting fashion. At the heart of it is corporate lawyer, Robert Bilott, here portrayed by the always excellent, Mark Ruffalo. Beginning circa 1998, Bilott, is approached by farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) whose livestock have died or been culled due to tumours and other cancerous illnesses. Bilott who is usually employed to act as a lawyer FOR the big companies, investigates further. Subsequently he uncovers something rotten in the state of West Virginia.



Mark Ruffalo as Bilott inhabits an intelligent, caring and dogged man, driven by his desire to see justice for Wilbur Tennant and the people of Parkersburg. It’s often remarked Ruffalo would make a great Columbo; and like that famous fictional TV detective, Bilott never ever gives up. This is even in the face of years and years of environmental tests, litigation, DuPont’s dirty legal tactics and hundreds of court appearances. Anne Hathaway as his wife Sarah Bilott is also good, although her role is slightly underwritten. Bill Camp impresses though in his turn as the exasperated farmer whose life and livestock has been destroyed by synthetic chemical waste dumped into adjacent land.

Like A Class Action (1991), A Civil Action (1998) and Erin Brockovich (2000), this film rarely transcends the genre conventions of the legal drama. There are moments where it leans toward the conspiracy thriller elements of say, The Insider (1999). Bilott’s family life almost crumbles and he becomes paranoid that their lives are in danger from chemicals and DuPont. Overall though, the film’s strength is in the conveyance of the legal proceedings and agony of a community impacted by corporate negligence. Moreover, I was seriously in awe at the diligence Bilott showed in wading through the reams of legal paperwork.

Ultimately, this is a consistently solid narrative with Bilott’s resolute determination providing a sturdy spine throughout. It was slightly surprising to see the film was directed by American arthouse auteur, Todd Haynes. Nonetheless, it is not about making poetic cinema, but rather presenting a powerful environmental message that highlights the murderous avarice of DuPont. Haynes and his cinematographer inject some creative technique in the lighting style. Murky, shadowed and opaque, the cinematography match the dark recesses of the system Bilott fights against. Lastly, Ruffalo, as he did in Foxcatcher (2014) wrestles with the DuPont family, only this time with a wholly different conclusion.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #3 – THE BIG CHILL (1983)

THE BIG CHILL (1983)

Directed by: Lawrence Kasdan

Produced by: Michael Shamberg

Written by: Lawrence Kasdan and Barbara Benedek

Cast: Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, JoBeth Williams

***CONTAINS SPOILERS***



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).




SKY COMEDY REVIEW – SICK OF IT (2018 – ) S1 & S2

SKY COMEDY REVIEW – SICK OF IT (2018 -) S1 & S2

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**


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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.

Mark: 8 out of 11

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by Marielle Heller

Produced by: Youree Henley, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Leah Holzer

Written by: Micah Fitzman-Blue and Noah HarpsterBased on the article – “Can You Say Hero?” by Tom Junod

Cast: Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi-Watson, Chris Cooper, Christine Lahti

Cinematography: Jodee Lee Lipes

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**


“Hello Neighbour!” – Fred Rogers


I watch a lot of horror, thriller and drama films that you could say are “feel-bad” in nature. They may eventually have some form of happy or morally satisfying ending, but such cinema seeks to create a sense of danger, anxiety and emotional distress as entertainment. Now I enjoy watching films on the edge of my seat and having my nerves shredded, however, sometimes it’s great to watch something that is quite the opposite. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) is one such “feel-good” film, profiling an American icon and arguably one of the nicest people who ever lived: Fred Rogers.

Rogers (Tom Hanks) was the creator and host of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood which ran for decades on U.S. cable channel PBS. The programme, while aimed at children, dealt with serious subjects like illness, divorce and death via puppetry, songs and Rogers’ wise and simple homespun philosophies. Over the years he became a household name and a staple of American family life. Yet, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019), is not a standard biopic exploring Fred Rogers life from birth to death. In fact, he’s more of a magical mentor type of character for the lead protagonist, journalist Lloyd Vogel, portrayed by Matthew Rhys.



Opening with a meticulously presented simulacrum of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood TV show with Tom Hanks in the hosting chair, the film immediately welcomes us into a positive and safe place. The audience are the children and we are about to be told a story about Lloyd. Because Lloyd is lost and troubled and needs help. Cleverly combining the TV show with flashbacks to Lloyd’s difficult family life is just one of the wonderful devices the film presents. Another is the use of models to emulate the locations within the film. Given the job of interviewing Fred Rogers for an Esquire piece, there’s a sense that Lloyd could well be looking to do a hatchet job on Rogers. However, he finds himself drawn to Rogers’ soft, magnetic and calming charm. The relationship between Rogers and Vogel’s character is superbly teased and developed by an excellent script.

While the drama is relatively low-key, the film is not without emotional impact throughout. There are several stand-out scenes where Lloyd’s negative and cynical worldview is airbrushed away by Rogers’ incredible goodness. As Vogel’s attitude to Rogers changes, so does his feelings toward his estranged father, his wife and child and the world in general. At the same time, Tom Hanks exceptional performance completely captured my heart. I’d never seen any of Fred Rogers TV shows before, but Hanks conveyed the inner peace and wisdom of this man perfectly. Moreover, my wife, who is American, was crying her eyes out with joy and nostalgia all the way through. Ultimately, this is another fine character and human drama from director, Marielle Heller. So, if you want a break from all the nasty unpleasantness in the world, you should definitely knock on Mr Rogers’ door. Everyone is welcome.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


UNDER-RATED CLASSICS #5 – BLUE COLLAR (1978)

UNDER-RATED CLASSICS #5 – BLUE COLLAR (1978)

Directed by: Paul Schrader

Produced by: Don Guest

Written by: Leonard Schrader and Paul Schrader

Cast: Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto, Ed Begley Jnr.


I started this series a while ago and posted a few times on the subject with multiple entries; however, I have now decided to make it a feature, like ‘Classic Movie Scenes’, concentrating on singular films. My rules are simple – an under-rated classic can be a film I love, plus not be one of the following:

  • 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.


Blue Collar (1978) was Paul Schrader’s directorial debut. He had gained much critical and film industry kudos following the release of the exceptional psychological drama Taxi Driver (1976). His screenplay for that classic is one of the best I have ever read, such is the raw power and agony in the character of Travis Bickle. Blue Collar (1978) though is more of an ensemble drama, centring on the tribulations of a group of car workers in Detroit, rather than an individual’s slow descent into madness.

Blue Collar (1978) is rarely on television and is arguably a forgotten classic on Schrader’s impressive cinematic curriculum vitae. The plot revolves around workers on the poverty line deciding to get out of their predicament by robbing their local Union’s Office’s safe. This leads all manner of difficulties for the men as they face the anger of corrupt Union bosses who come for them. In a rare dramatic role, Richard Pryor brings an energetic rage and humour to the character of Zeke. At the same time Harvey Keitel is intensity itself as his friend, Jerry.

According to sources, the conflict in the film between management, Union and workers is reflected by the on-set troubles between the cast and director. It is alleged that working with Keitel and Pryor was so stressful Schrader had a nervous breakdown on set. How much this strife was down to drug use and abuse is open to conjecture, however, Blue Collar (1978) remains an under-rated classic today. It has many memorable scenes and remains a damning indictment of capitalism and socialism inasmuch as such ideologies ultimately turn human beings against each other.