Tag Archives: drama

OZARK (2018) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX TV REVIEW

OZARK (2018) – SEASON 2 REVIEW

Created by: Bill Dubuque & Mark Williams

Producers: Jason Bateman, Chris Mundy, Bill Dubuque, Mark Williams

Director(s): Jason Bateman, Andrew Bernstein, Phil Abraham, Alik Sakharov, Ben Semanoff, Amanda Marsalis

Writers: Chris Mundy, David Manson, Alyson Feites, Ryan Farley, Paul Kolsby, Ning Zhou, Martin Zimmerman

Cast: Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner, Julia Garner, Jordana Spiro, Lisa Emery, Jason Butler Harmer, Harris Yulin, Peter Mullan etc.

Original Network: Netflix

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

The Byrde family are back for a second season trying to keep their heads above bitter Ozark lake water once again. If you haven’t seen the show Jason Bateman plays an accountant who has to go on the run with his family to Ozark, Missouri while working for a murderous Mexican drug cartel. Accompanying him is his wife, Wendy, portrayed by Laura Linney and their two teenage children, Jonah and Charlotte.

Without wishing to give away too many spoilers I can reveal the first season found the Byrde’s lives under threat from the Mexican Cartel and the FBI, while at the same time they made new local enemies in the Langmores and the Snells. The structure of the season one and two is to essentially place the American “nuclear family” at the heart of a crime noir thriller and watch them use their intelligence and wits to save their skins. What is even more apparent though in Season 2 is that, like with Breaking Bad, the ingenuity of the writing means we are rooting for the bad guys. I mean, the Byrdes are money-laundering criminals, but somehow the performances and screenwriting makes us root for them, mostly.

Having created some geographical and financial stability in the Ozarks by funnelling drug monies through various local business ventures, Marty and Wendy spend all of this season planning to get a casino up and running on the lake. Of course, this is met with resistance from many parties, notably the local crime family, the Snells; the FBI led by twisted obsessive, Roy Petty; Ruth Langmore’s jailbird father, Cade; and most significantly the State Senate which must pass the bill for a new casino. The latter is where Wendy’s character proves her worth as she has experience manipulating the political process following years working as campaign manager in Washington.

In the past I have criticised some Netflix shows for having too many episodes and being full of filler. Well, it’s safe to say there is little in the way of filler in these ten episodes. The suspense, pace and narrative zip along, fully committed to the substantial plots and compelling subplots. Of course, it feels very familiar, yet the “innocent family under threat” trope so often used by Hitchcock and other thriller filmmakers is cork-screwed here. Both Marty and Wendy fight back against their nemeses with cunning and threat. Wendy’s character arc is particularly enthralling, because as Marty begins to waver and his Borg-like cloak of non-emotion slips, she revels in the power-games, even as the body count begins to mount up.

If you love crime thrillers as I do you will love Ozark. While the elements are quite generic the acting, writing and directing are right out of the top draw. I also love the cinematographic style too. Some may say they find it literally too dark. However, the lack of white balance adds to the murky nature of the events in play. The crisp darkness and shadow paradoxically illuminate the inner machinations of some very dark souls. I mean, while the Byrde family are criminals, they are actually sane when compared to the likes of psychotic Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) and sewer rat, Cade Langmore (Trevor Long). Their characters are so unhinged I wouldn’t want to argue with them, even on the phone.

Ozark, also has at least three almost-perfect acting performances from Jason Bateman, Laura Linney and Julia Garner as the young Ruth Langmore. Garner for such a young actress steals every scene. I think she is destined for a great career. Garner gives her character a sparky, intelligent and tough-nut exterior, but vulnerable interior. Plus, a strong theme of the show is loyalty and survival of the family unit. As much as Ruth Langmore tries to stay loyal to her family, fate and her poor choices conspire against her. Oh, and I almost forgot the Season 2 acting cherry on the cake, with Janet McTeer’s crime lawyer kicking in our dramatic shins with wicked aplomb.

In short: Ozark is a treat for an audience hungry for plot driven crime dramas. It perpetually springs narrative traps as the themes throb darkly. The underlying theme seems to be you have to be bad to survive and anyone who isn’t ultimately pays the price. Because God and humanity have forsaken Ozark, Missouri, with only shadow in bloom. Blessed with incredible acting, fine writing and twists throughout, I for one cannot wait for Season 3 to be released next month on Netflix.

Mark: 9 out of 11

ALL 4 FILM REVIEW – LONGFORD (2006)

ALL 4 FILM REVIEW – LONGFORD (2006)

Directed by: Tom Hooper

Producer: Helen Flint

Written by: Peter Morgan

Cast: Jim Broadbent, Samantha Morton, Andy Serkis, Lindsay Duncan, Robert Pugh etc.

Original Network: Channel 4

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Continuing my look back on the films and shows on ALL 4, this drama is really Premier League television filmmaking of the highest quality. Written by esteemed screenwriter, Peter Morgan and directed by celebrated director of Oscar winner, The King’s Speech (2010), Tom Hooper, Longford (2006), features fine acting from Jim Broadbent, Samantha Morton, Andy Serkis and Lindsay Duncan.

A much respected but also much maligned character around the House of Lords and Parliament in Westminster, Lord Longford, or Frank as he preferred to be known, came from a very privileged background. However, in various post-war political positions he campaigned vehemently for the underclasses, especially where the prison system was concerned. A complex but kind man he had no issue switching allegiances of politics or faith during his lifetime if he felt it was the right thing to do.

The story begins in the late 1960s with Longford celebrating his programme for rehabilitating ex-convicts. When he receives a letter from infamous child killer Myra Hindley, he takes up her case. Now, I remember Lord Longford when I was growing up and the furore over his constant attempts to grant Hindley parole was often in the news. I’m still struck by what a massive naive and stubborn heart he had. The public outrage was constant, but Longford never gave up this campaign.

Myra Hindley and Ian Brady killed five children between 1963 and 1965 and were described as “two sadistic killers of the utmost depravity.” This character study shows Longford battling his doubts over Hindley and Jim Broadbent’s performance is so compelling. You feel empathy and horror at his decision to represent Hindley, portrayed with nervy guile by Samantha Morton. The scenes between the two are a masterclass in acting with Morton conveying pitiful vulnerability to draw the Longford in. I personally felt Hindley was manipulating Longford but due, in part to her religious conversion, he chooses to ignore such thoughts.

Andy Serkis’ performance as Ian Brady, on the other hand, is one of pure, unadulterated evil. He warns Longford he is being played for a fool, but this only confirms Longford’s belief that Brady controlled Hindley during the murders. Brady’s character is only in a couple of scenes but his cold Scottish brogue chills the heart like an Arctic wind. Obviously, Serkis has gone onto bigger things, but I don’t think he has ever given a more memorable performance.

Overall, this is an exceptional film about the sad aftermath of one of the most heinous crimes ever committed in Britain. Longford, while admirable in his philosophy, proves the adage, there’s no fool like an old fool. Peter Morgan’s script is just brilliant at catching the emotions of the characters, as Hooper’s direction draws formidable performances from a fine cast. The nation was right to be outraged at Longford’s actions, but this film illustrates his motivations in a highly compelling way.

Mark: 9 out of 11

MIDSOMMAR (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW – AMAZING FILMMAKING LET DOWN BY WEAK STORYTELLING!

MIDSOMMAR (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Written and directed by: Ari Aster

Produced by: Lars Knudsen, Patrik Andersson

Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter etc.

Music: The Haxen Cloak

Cinematography: Pawel Pogorzelski

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Midsommar (2019), is ultra-talented filmmaker Ari Aster’s second feature film. His first Hereditary (2018), was two-thirds domestic horror masterpiece and one-third insane, symbolic, nonsensical and demonic denouement. Both films have a lot in common. Both have communes or cults at the centre led by strong matriarchal figures. Both find seemingly innocent characters suffering from grief being lured to a fateful demise. Both have incredibly rich visual systems full of striking imagery, sudden violence and mythological folklore. Both, especially Midsommar (2019), are overlong, pretentious and indulgent B-movie stories masquerading as art.

I have to say, and I am not coming from simply a mainstream perspective, Ari Aster is a film artist. However, unlike many great film artists he has, in my opinion, not managed to marry his vision with coherent and emotionally powerful storytelling. Midsommar, for example, takes an age to kick its narrative into gear and when it finally gets started it drags and drags and drags. How many long, drifting tracking master shots can you abide? How many drawn-out-so-pleased-with-myself takes do you have the patience for? Well, get a strong coffee because when the story cries out for pace, Aster puts the brakes on, marvelling in his own indulgent genius. I might add that a plethora of characters screaming and crying does not make good drama either, unless there is sufficient context.

The narrative is very simple. In a nutshell, it’s Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) meets British horror classic The Wicker Man (1973). Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter are college students who take a summer break to experience a communal pageant in rural Sweden. While they are PHD students they are not particularly intelligent given the choices they make later in the film.

Moreover, aside from Pugh’s grief-stricken Dani, the script doesn’t particularly imbue them with much in the way of empathetic characterisation. Indeed, the film relies on Pugh’s dominant performance to create emotion for our protagonists. Aside from providing some comic relief there is no actual point to Will Poulter’s character at all. Lastly, there is some absolutely terrible dialogue throughout this film too.

As the film crawls along slowly, it’s reliant on the music to inform us we’re meant to be scared. Then when the gore does kick in during a particularly shocking ritual, I was almost falling asleep. Don’t get me wrong the production design is flawless with an amazing setting and incredible concepts from Aster. The death and torture scenes are particularly memorable. However, the overall pace and rhythm of the film is so bloody slow I just did not care about anyone by the end.

I don’t mind methodical films establishing dread and psychological fear, but I think Aster has been watching too many Kubrick films. Aster seems to believe slow equals art. What Kubrick did though was usually to have characters that were engaging. They may not have been likeable, but Kubrick’s characters hit you in the heart and mind. Not since The Blair Witch Project (1999) have I wanted such dumb characters (Pugh aside) to die so painfully in a horror film. Likewise, the characters in the Swedish commune are mere ciphers of Aster’s fantasy horror and two-dimensional at best.

Visually stunning Midsommar (2019), will no doubt impress critics and other reviewers. However, at nearly two-and-a-half hours it’s an indulgent-arty-collage-of-film-masquerading-as-therapy. The ending was so loopy that the audience I was with were laughing at how ridiculous it was. Perhaps that was the filmmakers’ aim, but I’m not so sure. Yes, I get that this is meant to be allegorical and symbolic about grief and guilt and religion and a relationship break-up and fate and cultural differences. Furthermore, I get the intellectual depth of the themes on show, but Aster tortures the audience as much as his characters. Mostly, it just doesn’t take so long to tell this kind of derivative narrative, however beautiful and artistic the film is presented.

Mark: 6 out of 11

ALL 4 TV REVIEW: CRASHING (2016)

ALL 4 TV REVIEW: CRASHING (2016)

Created and written by: Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Producer: Ben Wheeler

Directed by George Kane

Cast: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jonathan Bailey, Julie Dray, Louise Ford, Damien Moloney, Amit Shah, Susan Wokoma, Adrian Scarborough etc.

Original Network: Channel 4 Television (UK)

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

While Netflix, Sky, Fox, Disney and Amazon dominate much of the digital television output across the English-speaking world, Britain has, in the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 a lot to offer in regard to TV entertainment. I watch a lot of the main drama and comedy from the BBC, but I thought perhaps I needed a little catch-up on some Channel 4 shows I may have missed.

Thus, I set up an account at ALL 4https://www.channel4.com/ – and had a little look about. There are hundreds of films, comedies and dramas on their channel produced in the UK, Europe and the globe in general. So, I will be writing some reviews of stuff I’ve been catching up on that I can recommend. I have to state ALL 4 is great value because it is ad-driven and there is NO monthly subscription.

Crashing (2016), is a comedy centred around property guardians. Such people rent disused properties at a discounted rate but have to “protect” the property and leave virtually immediately when the landlord demands. It’s a great set-up for a television format as it allows for a mixture of various characters to connect in comedic, dramatic, romantic and hysterical ways. The setting, a disused hospital, is also great with the abandoned building providing a strong visual theme throughout.

Written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, prior to her Fleabag and Killing Eve fame, the script pulls focus on six such property guardians. Waller-Bridge is Lulu, a twenty-something party girl drifting into London town looking for childhood friend Anthony. You can obviously see elements of her Fleabag persona in Lulu notably the way she uses alcohol, flirting and chaotic sexuality to hide her true feelings. Other characters are: said friend, Anthony; his girlfriend, neurotic Kate; middle-aged depressive Colin; French artist, Melody; awkward professional, Fred; and grieving, but charismatic estate agent, Sam. Kate, especially, is a progenitor for Fleabag’s hyper-stressed sister, Claire.

Waller-Bridge has created an interesting chorus of variant personalities who laugh and conflict and romance and sex in a very entertaining six episodes. I would say the show is more comedic than dramatic and there are some really funny moments which tend toward the slapstick, bodily functions, comedic misunderstanding or are just simply sex-driven. Who-fancies-who-or-who-is-fucking-who is a believable running theme through the show but there is some pathos there, especially with Colin, Fred and Sam’s characters. Overall, this is an under-rated comedy gem which, while it only ran for just one season, is definitely worth watching for the fast-paced writing and excellent ensemble acting.

Mark: 8 out of 11

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: THIS IS ENGLAND (2006)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: THIS IS ENGLAND (2006)

Written and directed by: Shane Meadows

Produced by: Mark Herbert

Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Stephen Graham, Andrew Shim, Stephen Graham, Andrew Ellis, Jack O’Connell, Rosamund Hanson, Danielle James, Kriss Dosanjh, Chanel Cresswell etc.

Cinematography: Danny Cohen

Music by: Ludovico Einaudi

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

I remember the early 1980’s for: Thatcher, miners’ strikes, racism, teacher strikes, Shergar, penny sweets, Wham, bicycle tyres round lamp posts, white dog-shit, the IRA, hating school, riots, racism, heatwaves, Spitting Image, Duran Duran, caravan holidays in Canvey Island, Sergio Tacchini tracksuits, Bjorn Borg, bombs, the Falklands War, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), sherbet, cap-guns, Spurs winning the FA Cup, Fred Perry, glue-sniffing, school bullies and much, much more.

The early 1980’s were the primary years of awakening for me. I was ten when they started and grew into my teens as they drifted along. I was at a school I hated and was just becoming fully aware of what life and the world around me was about. It seemed to me, for various reasons, a place full of wonder but also injustice, fear and negativity. I grew up on a concrete Battersea council estate full of ruffians, stray dogs, sunshine, cold winters and family dysfunction.

Tapping into such emotions and memories is Shane Meadows’ gritty slice-of-life drama, This is England (2006). Set in the Midlands, it centres on twelve-year-old Shaun, portrayed by newcomer, Thomas Turgoose. Shaun and his mum are grieving the loss of his father; a soldier killed during the Falklands War. Shaun is angry, confused and an outsider at school. But he finds community when he meets Woody, Lol, Milky, Michelle, Gadget and other members of a group of skinheads. They are non-violent and into the music, fashion and generally fending off boredom together.

The first forty minutes of the show are politically infused but relatively light compared to the last hour. When Stephen Graham’s dominant alpha-male, Combo, is released from jail, the narrative dynamic changes and goes very dark. Combo is a bitter racist and angry at the world, blaming, like many ignorant people the influx of people from outside England of diluting the heritage of the nation. Meadows, through the character of Shaun, shows both sides of the impact of skinhead culture. Similar to the film, Platoon (1986), a younger, naive character becomes torn between two surrogate fathers. In this case the violent Combo and the passive, happy-go-lucky, Woody (Joseph Gilgun).

The film has no easy answers and what starts as a reasonably pleasant nostalgia trip backed by a superb soundtrack of punk, ska and reggae music, ends violently and in despair. The socio-political reflections of society through Shaun’s character arc finds a young boy even more lost in this forgotten Midland town by the end. The damning image of this lad chucking an English flag into the sea haunted me.

Shane Meadows, on a relatively low budget, has created a British film masterpiece worthy of the likes of Alan Clarke, Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. He captures the look, feel, sounds and even smell of the era so evocatively. As a rites of passage film it works as an antithesis to the shiny Hollywood films with tightly wrapped happy endings. It’s a brutal exploration of identity, politics and racism which lingers long in the heart and mind. In Turgoose’ debut acting performance we get echoes of Englands’ innocence lost forever.

Lastly, the cast are incredible. This film has some familiar faces, all who would become pretty famous. They include: Stephen Graham, Vicky McClure, Joe Gilgun, Jo Hartley and a very young Jack O’Connell. Such actors would go on to bigger things but, collectively, they are never better than in this amazing film. It’s a true and proper drama which spawned an equally memorable and dramatically impressive television series. But, more about that in the future.

BILLIONS (SEASON 4) – TV REVIEW – MORE MACHIAVELLIAN TV MAYHEM!

BILLIONS (SEASON 4) – SHOWTIME TV REVIEW

Created by: Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Andrew Ross Sorkin

Writers: Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Lenore Zion, Michael Russell Gunn, Adam R. Perlman, Alice O’Neill etc.

Directors: Colin Bucksey, Adam Bernstein, Neil Burger, Matthew McLoota, Jessica Yu, Laurie Collyer, Naomi Geraghty

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff, Malin Åkerman, Toby Leonard Moore, David Costabile, Condola Rashād, Asia Kate Dillon, Jeffrey DeMunn, John Malkovich, Kelly Aucoin, Stephen Kunken, Nina Arianda, Kevin Pollak, Clancy Brown etc.

Distributor: Showtime Network

**CONTAIN SPOILERS of BILLIONS – SEASONS 1 – 3**

One of the great sober pleasures in life and culture is finding a great television show and digging into it from the start. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing catch-up binges of programmes I missed first time. Indeed, I recently just finished imbibing seven mercurial seasons of the amazing Mad Men. Yet, having watched it from the outset, Billions, has now become a high priority watch for me every year.

Season 4 once again delivers all that I want from my Billions fixation. If you haven’t seen it then it is essentially about spoilt, rich narcissists at the higher echelons of American justice and business trying to destroy each other. The first three seasons found Paul Giamatti’s legal demon battling Damian Lewis’ financial titan. It’s good old fashioned revenge drama, with a reliance on proper plotting, sharp dialogue and an amazing ensemble cast.

The latest season begins with amazingly, Chuck and Bobby, enjoying a kind of peace, assisting each other against various foes. All the same themes are in place with greed and power destroying love and trust, except, if I’m not mistaken, the narrative beats are even faster-paced and brutal. Amidst the back-stabbing dramatics though the writers do find some time for wicked humour; especially in the very funny episodes, Chickentown and American Champion.

But the main reason for watching is to experience these corporate and legal vipers bite each others faces off. Indeed, the devious plots that are set in motion are quite breath-taking. The writing is as twisted as a corkscrew plunged into the forehead. Moreover, the cast just relish playing these characters with Lewis, Giamatti, Maggie Siff and David “Wags” Constabile regularly stealing scenes from each other.

As Bobby’s 4 nemesis, Taylor Mason, Asia Kate Dillon was also brilliant. The sub-plot involving her fathers’ (Kevin Pollak) start-up technology firm was especially strong, proving that mixing family and business relationships are doomed in this world. I’d also say Chuck’s battle with Attorney General Jock Jeffcoate (Clancy Brown), was arguably a major highlight of a very strong season. Perhaps John Malkovich’s Russian Oligarch could have been given more to do, but overall, the Machiavellian machinations of Billions had me gripped from start to finish. It was, literally, the absolute business!

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

CHERNOBYL (2019) – HBO TV REVIEW

CHERNOBYL (2019) – HBO TV REVIEW

Created and written by: Craig Mazin

Executive Producers: Craig Mazin, Carolyn Strauss, Jane Featherstone

Producer: Sanne Wohlenberg

Directed by: Johann Renck

Starring: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, Paul Ritter, Jessie Buckley, Emily Watson, Con O’Neill, Adrian Rawlins, Sam Troughton, Robert Emms, David Dencik, Ralph Ineson, Barry Keoghan etc.

Composer: Hildure Guonadottir

Cinematography: Jakob Ihre

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

The horror. The human error. The inhumane error. The terror. Meltdown during a safety test. Flaws in the system as ghosts envelop the machine. Science in a brave new world invents progress with which we venture into, only to find we are murdering ourselves.

The terrifying events which took place are chartered with grey, brutalist accuracy. Regular Soviet families live in proximity to a ticking time bomb; believing they are protected by the State. The State trusts the science. The science trusts men to follow nuclear procedures to the letter. But what of pride? What of targets? What price the desire to obsess and force a flawed system?

On that fateful day on 26th April 1986, the nuclear time-bomb exploded. Initially, it was believed it could be contained. The Soviet machine could handle the fallout. Heat. Water. Steam. Graphite. Fire. All conspire to create one of the biggest disasters ever perpetrated against nature.

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster is well documented but for years the alleged truth was covered up. Death toll rose but official statistics stayed low. Naked miners, radiation sickness, blood, pus and falling hair. Style and look was natural and under-stated. Verisimilitude only heightening the horror.

Johann Renck directs with steely commitment from an incredible Craig Mazin screenplay. Jared Harris, Stellen Stensgaard, Jessie Buckley and Emily Watson lead a stirling cast of formidable character actors. The attention to detail in the HBO production is second-to-none. Thankfully the vicarious fear is palpable and I am able to view such events in the comfort of my own home.

We did this to ourselves but it could have been worse. When will humanity learn that we will bring about our own judgement on Earth. The Scientists led by Valery Legazov and composite character, Ulana Khomyuk, fought at length to contain and prevent this ever happening again. Who really believes it won’t? There are approximately four hundred and fifty nuclear power plants in the world. The threat hangs over humanity like a cancer.

I was at school in April 1986. Just sixteen years old. I saw events on the news. Historical dramas such as Chernobyl make real the fear that was there at the time. The site is still poisoned. The exclusion zone remains two-thousand and six-hundred square metres; uninhabitable for twenty thousand year, according to an online source. This event teaches us to never take anything for granted. We have built our own gallows.

1986. Former Soviet Union. Ukraine. Pripyat. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Disaster. Recovery. Suppression. Lies. Liquidation. Death. Suicide. Exclusion.

The horror. The horror.

Mark: 10 out of 11