Written by: Anna Winger, Alexa Karolinski, Daniel Hendler
Based on: Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman
Cast: Shira Haas, Amit Rahav, Jeff Wilbusch, Alex Reid, Aaron Altaras, Ronit Asheri, Dina Doron, Gera Sandler, and more.
Original Network: Netflix
**** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****
When one watches a memoir based on true events such as Netflix’s Unorthodox (2020), you realise how lucky you are in regard to the freedom you have. This isn’t about an individual going through social lockdown for good reason, but someone who is trapped by their strict religious and family traditions. Such traditions in themselves could be deemed acceptable as we must respect different ways of living. However, what if that person wants to leave their life and is not allowed? This is called incarceration of the soul and body. This is wrong. People must be allowed to choose their own way in life and not be tethered by dogma or ideology. I repeat, I respect people’s belief systems, but not if it has a negative effect on that person.
Based on Deborah Feldman’s bestselling autobiography, Unorthodox, is an impressive four-part drama which focusses on Esty Shapiro, portrayed with provocative emotion and vulnerability by Shira Haas. Esty is an unhappy Jewish woman, who finds herself trapped in a traditional ultra-Orthodox marriage in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She is denied many things such as a control, position, voice, personality, expression and her love of music. The compelling episodes go back and forth in time between the build up to her marriage to inexperienced, Yanky (Amit Rahav), and Esty’s escape to Berlin, where she explores the world outside her religion for the first time.
While Yanky is shown to be kindly, he is committed, some may say brainwashed, to his faith. Therefore, the marriage process is one of suppression and control. Every moment of Esty’s life is plotted, from the shaving of her hair prior to the wedding, and after, the days they are meant to have sex. The intercourse, however, proves anxious for the young couple. Rather embarrassingly though, this private matter becomes a huge issue with other family members. Privacy, it seems, is secondary as Esty is treated no better than a brood mare. Even after she escapes to Berlin, Esty is pursued by her husband and brutish cousin, Moishe (Jeff Wilbusch). Sadly, there seems to be more control in the Hasidic community than love. Of course, this is a representation of Deborah Feldman’s experience, thus, I cannot begin to understand the nature of the Hasidic Jewish community in full. For many it is probably a safe space and designed to protect individuals from the often rotten world outside. Faith and family can be great protectors, however, in this story, for one person, that life became a living hell.
In the character of Esty we are introduced to a fascinating world, and her riveting struggle to become an individual rather than follow patriarchal doctrine. While the narrative takes a slight left turn in the final episode, I can heartily recommend this mini-series. Lastly, I cannot judge if the representation of the Samtar movement is realistic, yet the setting, costumes and culture feels authentic. The actors speak, on the main, Yiddish, and in Shira Haas’s commanding performance Unorthodox we get a very realistic encapsulation of a desire to escape oppression. Haas may be diminutive in size, but her rendition of Esty Shapiro is mighty in heart and soul.
Main Cast: Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman, J. B. Smoove, Ted Danson, Richard Lewis, Vince Vaughan, Kaitlin Olson etc.
Guests: Mila Kunis, Clive Owen, Laverne Cox, Chris Martin, Sean Penn, Jonah Hill, Jon Hamm, Philip Rosenthaland many more.
Distribution Platform: HBO (USA) – SKY (UK)
**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**
“AH! INTERESTING. . . “
During a lengthy hiatus from 2011 to 2017, fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm were left bereft of their dose of Larry David’s inimitable and eccentric behaviour. The multi-millionaire writer of Seinfeld had carved out a wonderfully politically incorrect comedy series, full of misunderstanding, farce and hilariously embarrassing situations. Thankfully, he returned with season 9, and it was absolutely brilliant. Larry managed to get himself a death sentence, having written a musical called Fatwa, along with all manner of other comedic shenanigans. Season 10 has now followed and, once again, anti-heroic Larry delivers ten more fantastically offensive and funny episodes. More often than not we find his behaviour abhorrent as he goes about upsetting friends, family members, celebrities, and strangers on a daily basis. However, sometimes we are with Larry and his actions have merit and reason. Furthermore, due to the wonderful writing, improvising, cast and situations the humour is always more than pretty, pretty good!
NARRATIVE ARC (OF THE COVENANT)
Usually, Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes can stand alone due to the richness of the narrative strands Larry David and his writers create. But most seasons will have a very solid narrative arc running through it to provide looping rejoinders, a structural spine and a fitting conclusion. In season 10, there were echoes of storylines from prior seasons. Larry wanted to get back with Cheryl and they even committed divorced adultery, cuckolding Ted Danson in the process. However, the main arc revolved around the return of coffee store owner, Mocha Joe (Saverio Guerra). Larry pisses Mocha Joe off because he complains about “cold” coffee, wobbly tables and weak scones. Following Larry’s customary banishing he swears revenge on Mocha Joe. This takes the form of the wonderfully named ‘spite store’ he sets up next door. Thus, Latte Larry’s is born, and ten episodes of fast-paced, tit-for-tat, vengeful and hilarious scenes ensue.
“THE GOLDEN RULE” – STYLE AND THEMES
Curb Your Enthusiasm is not just funny because of the situations, dialogue, observations, guest stars and acting performances. It is also very sophisticated and stupid, combining a variety of comedy styles to fuel the humour. Earlier seasons could be argued to be more based in reality per se. The interactions between the characters felt more natural, in keeping with the pilot episode which was shot as a mockumentary about Larry returning to stand-up. Later seasons, especially seasons 9 and 10, upped the gag rate and one could even say felt slicker. Don’t get me wrong, the jokes have always come thick and fast in Curb Your Enthusiasm, but in the last two seasons there is not only a reliance on the usual comedy of embarrassment, observations and satire, but farce, slapstick and gross-out humour too have been added to the palette. Lastly, the show has always skated close to the edge in regard to non-PC humour and causing offence. Evidently, Larry David has now fully thrown himself over that edge and is happy to offend everyone in a two-fingered salute to so-called snowflakes or liberals out there.
In regard to thematics, Larry David clearly has his finger on the pulse relating to contemporary society, politics and human behaviour. Much of the humour and funny scenarios derive from what is acceptable behaviour and certain “rules” within everyday living. In season 10, Larry finds himself questioning, among other things: the behaviour of a pregnant woman; the merits of artificial fruit; what is and what isn’t’ sufficient praise; usage of disable parking badges; whether he should be in a restaurant’s ‘ugly section’; whether sex with Cheryl’s sister is post-relationship cheating; and the overall benefits of running a spite store. These elements, the running feuds with Ted Danson, Mocha Joe and Larry’s assistant, Alice, and themes relating to the Harvey Weinstein scandal and #MeToo movement; Larry and Leon’s continued chats about the nature of being black/white; Donald Trump’s presidency; fat shaming; suicide; Susie’s alleged plot to murder Jeff; nationalist ridicule; egotistic actor types; and transgender issues, all connectedly make this season a very rich product, full of ideas and challenging storylines.
“PRETTY GOOD. . . ” – EPISODE RATINGS
Episode 1 – Happy New Year – (8.5 out of 10)
Larry goes to war with Mocha Joe and reignites his romance with Cheryl. His relationship with his assistant also descends into accusations of sexual harassment.
Highlight: Larry wearing his Donald Trump, “Make America Great Again!”and ensuring no one wants to be seen with him.
Episode 2 – Side Sitting – (8.5 out of 10)
Larry’s relationship with his assistant, Alice, is possibly going to court unless he settles and makes amends. His attempts to get back with Cheryl are rebuked, so he dates his lawyer’s assistant.
Highlight: Larry gives Susie a portrait of herself as a birthday present. She loves it – but Jeff doesn’t.
Episode 3 – Artificial Fruit – (9 out of 10)
Larry’s donation to a charity fails to bring forward redemption when he refuses to hug Laverne Cox at an event, because she has a cold. Meanwhile, Richard and Larry argue over who is paying a lunch bill, leading to a very embarrassing escapade at a Spanish funeral.
Highlights: Larry is unsure if the Heimlich manoeuvre is appropriate when his assistant is choking. Plus, Larry’s doodle debate with Christine Lahti blows up into a serious disagreement.
Episode 4 – You’re not going to get me to say anything bad About! – (9 out of 10)
Larry, Donna (his new girlfriend), Cheryl, Jeff, Susie and Leon go to Cabo San Lucas for a friend’s wedding. Larry becomes fixated with Donna’s yo-yo dieting, but he and Leon do find some incredible coffee beans for Latte Larry’s.
Highlight: Larry’s determination to locate a toothbrush descends into a farcical conclusion. Later, at the wedding, Ted discovers Larry and Cheryl’s infidelity in a hilarious fashion.
Episode 5 – Insufficient Praise! – (9 out of 10)
Preparations for Latte Larry’s gather pace as Larry asks for a specific urinal type. Larry also gets a new housekeeper and is given a sex doll by Freddy Funkhouser. Meanwhile, Larry clashes with actor Clive Owen and Richard Lewis’ new girlfriend; a professional “crier”.
Highlights: Larry’s frantic battle with the sex doll resulting in his housekeeper and Cheryl catching him. Also, Clive Owen’s brilliantly pretentious send-up of narcissistic acting types.
Episode 6 – The Surprise Party! – (8.5 out of 10)
Larry meets a German inventor who has an anti-Semitic Alsatian called Adolf, and he gains joy from the use of a disabled parking badge. He also clashes with Susie over the surprise party she intends to throw for Jeff.
Highlight: Despite not having an appointment, Larry uses his cardiologist’s reception area to wait, because it’s a “waiting room”.
Episode 7 – The Ugly Section! – (9.5 out of 10)
Larry consistently keeps getting placed in the “ugly section” at the back of a restaurant. Simultaneously, he attempts to woo the widow of his friend who recently committed suicide.
Highlights: Larry asking Jane Krakowski’s character where she got the handles for her husband’s coffin. Later, Larry ruins a possible sexual liaison with her by arguing about the New York Jets. Lastly, Larry insults Susie as she should be in the restaurant “ugly section”.
Episode 8 – Elizabeth, Margaret and Larry! – (10 out of 10)
Actor, Jon Hamm, shadows Larry as he prepares to play a character like him in a film. Larry and Leon start a new business venture which initially proves profitable. Cheryl is angered when Larry spontaneously begins a relationship with her sister, Becky.
Highlights: Jon Hamm slowly turning into Larry throughout the episode, culminating in them both being ejected from a dinner party. Also, Kaitlin Olson returning as Becky and the surprising sex with Larry.
Episode 9 – Beep Panic! – (9 out of 10)
Larry strikes up a friendship with a waitress that dripped sweat into his soup. He also becomes obsessed with the liqorice at his car showroom. Meanwhile, Mocha Joe plots his own revenge using DVD film screeners.
Highlights: Leon and Larry succumb to the severe laxative effect of the liqorice in a silly bit of toilet humour.
Episode 10 – The Spite Store! – (10 out of 10)
Latte Larry’s is well and truly open, and it inspires other celebrities to open similar spite stores. Larry is irked by siren abusers and gives a job to Joey Funkhouser, but his big penis causes the store no end of issues.
Highlights: Sean Penn’s opening a spite-driven pet store. All Larry’s innovations at the coffee store ultimately lead to a very explosive downfall.
“NO GOOD?” – CONCLUSION
In preparing for this review I rewatched season 9 and watched season 10 twice. So, it’s obvious to say that I love, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Overall, I found the latest season to be a wonderful mix of old-fashioned slapstick and farce, combined with Larry David’s original and skewed vision of humanity. What was also impressive was the structural coherence of juggling so many comedy plots and situations. Plus, Larry behaves appallingly, and this is very appealing in an ever-increasingly politically correct world. Many times, throughout the season Larry is shown to be a provocative arsehole, but on occasions he very much has a valid point. Larry’s issues are very much first world problems, but because of the skilled writing and consistently high joke rate I related greatly to this season. Plus, Larry doesn’t win. His spiteful plotting and perpetual disagreements with those around him mostly fail. Indeed, ultimately, the joke is always on him.
ALL 4 TV REVIEW – DERRY GIRLS (2018 – 2019) – SEASONS 1 & 2
Created and written by: Lisa McGee
Directed by: Michael Lennox
Cast: Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Louisa Harland, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Dylan Llewellyn, Nicola Coughlan, Tara Lynne O’Neill, Siobhan McSweeney, Tommy Tiernan, Ian McElhinney, Kathy Keira Clarke etc.
Original Network: CHANNEL 4 – (Available on ALL 4 and Netflix)
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
There have been many dramas over the years on the stage and screen about the “Troubles” in Ireland. For decades, civil war had divided the Catholic and Protestant people of Ireland, precipitated by the English occupation of Northern Ireland. Many lives were lost in the fighting and the tragedies. It unsurprisingly drew attention from writers, artists and dramatists. Recently though Lisa McGee created and wrote a comedy called Derry Girls, which was also set during this era; and very funny it is too.
Set in Derry (also known as Londonderry) in the 1990’s, Derry Girls introduces us to four teenage girls, their families and friends during these difficult times. The main characters are: the vocal and passionate Erin (Saoirse-Monica-Jackson); the voice of reason Clare (Nicola Coughlan), often crude, anti-authoritarian, Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell); and detached eccentric Orla (Louise Harland). Joining them is James (Dylan Llewellyn), an English kid who has to join the girls’ school for fear of what the Irish boys may do.
As well as the British army’s occupation of Derry and the divide between Protestants and Catholics providing a backdrop to the girls’ everyday lives, they also manage to find themselves in loads of other trouble too. Episodes centred around: family squabbles, romance, sex, music, drugs, school projects, religious artefacts and holidays create a relatable familiarity to many episodes. The events and energy evoking the girls’ school days reminded me especially of another Channel Four hit comedy, The Inbetweeners.
While the performances by our lead protagonists are very good, scenes are often stolen by the older supporting cast. Siobhan McSweeney as the deadpan and jaded Sister Michael is really funny. As is one of my favourite stand-up comedians, Tommy Tiernan. His downtrodden Dad tries to keep the peace, but often finds himself at the butt of abuse from Ian McElhinney’s contemptuous remarks. Nonetheless, the humour is always good-natured and not nasty, especially toward faith or authority figures.
Overall, Derry Girls is a fast-paced and very funny situation comedy. It’s well written, acted and directed comedy, with loads of fun and eccentric characters to enjoy. While not overtly political in its representation of the “Troubles”, it uses that situation intelligently as part of the narrative and wider social context. Above all else, however, it shows through many fine comedic episodes, that despite the ongoing divide within the country, humans will strive to overcome adversity through friendship, family, community and humour.
Executive Producers: Michael Schur, David Miner, Morgan Sackett, Drew Goddard
Producers: David Hyman, Joe Mande, Megan Amram
Starring: Kristen Bell, Wiliam Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, D’Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto and Ted Danson
US Network: NBC / UK Platform: Netflix
**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**
“Hell is other people.” Jean Paul Sartre
So I started watching The Good Place with expectations of it being another slickly written and performed, shiny, sparkly and goofy American sitcom. I figured I would check it out, give it a season, enjoy and then allow it to slide into viewing obscurity. However, little did I realise it was going to be one of the funniest, intelligent, imaginative, philosophical, slick, shiny, goofy and densely plotted television shows I had seen in years.
Created by uber-comedy-producer Michael Schur, The Good Place, has an immediately fascinating high-concept premise. Set in the ‘after-life’, it deals with the lives and deaths of four disparate characters, namely: Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto). They have all died and gone to a version of heaven, but there’s been a mistake. Eleanor is the snag. Due to a cosmic confusion she should not be there. Her behaviour ratings on Earth are so low she should have gone to ‘The Bad Place’ instead.
Frantically attempting to cover up this hellish mistake, the immoral, selfish and petualnt Eleanor enlists the indecisive but very moral Chidi to teach her how to be good. Thus, begins one of the major themes of the show: what does it mean to be a good person? As a moral philosophy professor when alive, Chidi, reluctantly agrees to train Eleanor. However, she is so inherently selfish it proves a tough task, and much humour comes from Chidi and Eleanor’s life perspectives clashing. Overseeing the “guests'” everyday lives are the architect/angel (arch-angel geddit!), Michael, played with the usual comic brilliance by Ted Danson; and super enthusiastic, Janet (D’Arcy Carden), a personified, sentient, artificially-intelligent computer.
The Good Place starts strong with a brilliant premise and then cascades into a series of incredible events, flashbacks and character reveals, culminating in some hilarious and ingenious narrative twists. Michael Schur is a past master of ensemble comedy, having worked on the The Office (U.S.) and Parks and Recreation; and here his army of writers, actors, designers and effects team serve his fantastic vision superbly. Moreover, the cast zing out the screwball-comedy paced dialogue and gags with laser-sharp comedy timing, with Kristen Bell the pick of the lot. The flashback scenes which show Eleanor back on Earth illustrating why she should go to hell are particularly hilarious. Of course, she’s not precisely evil but very human; she’s just not very good at being human.
Thus, if you want a television show which is shiny on the outside but actually quite dark on the inside then this is for you. The Good Place makes you both laugh and think. It deals with death, religion, heaven, hell, human behaviour and also gives insight into basic philosophy. I mean, it’s educational too; you learn about Camus, Sartre, Kant, Mill and many more! Overall, all three seasons zip along full of zinging one-liners that had me breathless from start to finish and it has heart too. You get to love these characters, despite their faults, and the show certainly leaves you in a very good place.
Screenplay by: Joel Edgerton – Based on: Boy Erased: A Memoir by Garrad Conley
Produced by: Joel Edgerton, Steve Golin, Kerry Kochansky Roberts
Cast: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Joe Alwyn, Xavier Dolan, Cherry Jones, Flea etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
It never fails to sadden me the horror that other human beings inflict on each other out of ignorance, intolerance and misguided indoctrination. Boy Erased (2018), is a film that highlights such negative practices committed by parents on their actual children because they are perceived to be abnormal in their eyes and the rules of their faith. I’m not religious but respect those who have different beliefs to me, unless of course those beliefs are used to castigate and punish other human beings. Surely, the basic tenet of any religion, including Christianity, should be kindness, understanding and forgiveness. When such integral ideals are broken then such doctrine should be shunned and held up for criticism.
Boy Erased is based on Garrad Conley’s memoir of how his religious parents send him for gay conversion therapy, and the film is structured around the sad events which occurred to Garrad. Conley’s persona and emotional strife is evoked brilliantly in the character of Jared Eamons. Portrayed with sensitivity by the talented Lucas Hedges, the humanity and empathy he delivers is highly impactful. Jared is an innocent who is undeservedly thrust into an unnatural and bullying environment, forcing him to change his sexual identity through shame and persecution.
The main thrust of the film finds Jared at the assessment centre and this brings about some harrowing scenes where young men and women are effectivelly imprisoned and vilified in the name of God. While certain scenes are emotionally charged and disturbing the film could have gone even further, however, director Joel Edgerton wisely opts for more subtlety rather than “fire and brimstone” tabloid filmmaking. Indeed, Edgerton and his cinematographer opt for a drained colour scheme and natural lighting style to evoke realism within the action.
Edgerton not only directs and writes with purpose, but also casts himself as the main antagonist and lead “therapist”, Victor Sykes. Sykes is seen as dominating but ultimately weak-willed, deflective and controlling. As Jared’s parents, Nicole Kidman gives a solid performance in the role of his conflicted Mother, while Russell Crowe imbues his preacher with both religious fervour and a sense of torn loyalty. Jared’s parents, in the end, are not bad people. They have just been faced with a difficult situation and are advised badly by their faith and Church.
Ultimately, this is a quietly compelling character drama which highlights very important issues in regard to faith, sexuality and family. I’m not sure why it wasn’t acknowledged more by the Academy Awards, notably in Lucas Hedges fine performace. Nonetheless, it is an important story which is constructed with care. Rather than demonize families and religion, it seeks to highlight and campaign for education, tolerance and love. These things, for me, are what true faith should be about.
HEARING STORIES: SOME THOUGHTS AND REVIEWS ON AUDIO-BOOKS
Six months ago I was reading a physical book of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and I was just not feeling it. Not the actual book as it is a classic novel of our time but the actual activity of reading itself. I just did not want to read anymore. Of course, I can do it but my mind just didn’t have the desire or energy. What did this mean?
Had I been dumbed down and rendered attention deficient by virtue of the constant viewing of films, TV and the barrage of internet viewing. Perhaps my brain had been become punch-drunk and distorted my mind, like an over-the-hill boxer who’d just had one too many fights. It was confusing. I’ve always loved reading and did not want to stop.
So, I thought why not try out the Audio-book route? What’s the worst that could happen? I could LISTEN to someone reading the book to me and experience the literature from an aural perspective. I have to be honest – I’m glad I did! Because I have been listening to a number of audio-book productions and they have been very rewarding from all manner of dramatic, artistic, comical and emotional directions. Moreover, I listen to these books while walking and at the gym so my “reading” has become a very pleasing mobile pursuit.
Anyhow, here are some reviews of the books I have been listening to over the past months. If you also listen to audiobooks please feel free to suggest any good “reads” or narrations.
BACK STORY – DAVID MITCHELL (narrated by David Mitchell)
Comedian, actor, panel-show humourist and writer David Mitchell takes us on a literal walk of London landmarks and streets, while also wandering down his own personal memory lanes and avenues. Pedantic, neurotic, angry and insightful in equal measures this is an entertaining and intelligent journey full of hilarious rants and stories relating to Mitchell’s life; one which is blighted, not by personal tragedy, but rather a very painful bad back. His narration too is very funny and listening to him speak is like having your very own personal version of the brilliant comedy show Peep Show in your head. I especially, from a creative point-of-view, enjoyed his analysis of comedy past, present and the actualities of writing sketches, jokes and performing too.
CATCH 22 – JOSEPH HELLER (narrated by Trevor White)
The novel which began my whole diversification into the audiobook territories is a startling anti-war character drama full of tragedy and black comedy, highlighting the folly of humanity during conflict. I was both laughing out loud and crying inside as Heller’s seminal work crashes us into the heart of madness during World War II. Featuring any number of crazed pilots either being killed or trying not to be killed while flying over Italy, this novel expertly takes you up and down and up and down. Heller does this with a meticulously acute writing style and via characters such as the wonderfully named: Yossarian, Milo Minderbinder, Doc Daneeka, Snowden, Nately, Nurse Cramer, Captain Aardvark, Colonel Cathcart and many more lunatics. This is a sprawling insane war-set epic which satirizes and laments the folly and destructive behaviour of mankind, and is all the more relevant today because we still can’t fucking learn to stop killing each other over ridiculous things like money, land, God and love.
DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP – PHILIP K. DICK (narrated by Scott Brick)
Dick’s classic science-fiction novel is better known now as Blade Runner and the film versions are incredibly stylish and powerful genre works. Yet, Scott Brick’s narration of Dick’s source novel is absolutely perfect in its rendition, creating a haunting pathos beyond that featured in the film. The story covers one day in the life of Rick Deckard – an “Andy” or android bounty hunter who must track down a series of superior robots of the Nexus Six variety. The original Blade Runner (1982) film did well to distil and simplify the narrative but it only touched the sides where the complex themes are concerned. The novel is far more involved with subtext relating to: simulations; animal husbandry; Artificial Intelligence; Virtual-reality religious fervour; and the existential pain or humans and robots, being explored within the rotting dystopic, Earth setting.
GAME OF THRONES – GEORGE R.R. MARTIN (narrated by Roy Dotrice)
George R. R. Martin’s North-versus-South-Westerosian fantasy epic has provided hours of entertainment via HBO’s massive hit TV adaptation. The original source novel is a literary monster of a book with an over 33 hours running time, so kudos to the talented, yet ageing actor, Roy Dotrice for staying alive during the recording and finding the energy to narrate it. If you don’t know the Game of Thrones TV show, it has become an iconic narrative of Starks versus Lannister’s versus Targaryen’s versus zombies versus dragons and all manner of: lords, ladies, monsters, whores, hordes, henchmen, sorcerers, warriors, Kings, Queens and peasant scum; all fighting and spitting hate at each other for a baying public’s bloodthirsty satisfaction.
The book, of which Game of Thrones is based, is an intricately plotted, brilliantly characterised and action-packed joy. Not for the faint-hearted it is explicit from a violence and erotic perspective and Martin’s writing is believable unbelievability of the highest order. While it may be fantastic in regard to many of the concepts it is grounded in a raw and human reality as the flawed characters conflict with each other in all manner of familial jousting, hearty battling and political chicanery. The book has all the greatest qualities of the television show and much more besides and well worth the many hours it took me to “read”.
HOW NOT TO BE A BOY – ROBERT WEBB (narrated by Robert Webb)
The other half of the Mitchell and Webb double-act, Robert, narrates his own story with an adept sarcasm, intelligence and over-riding sense of grief throughout. As a big fan of Peepshow, his brilliance as an actor is playing unlikeable-selfish-man-boys with devilish charisma. He’s obviously very funny too and his anecdotes and memories of growing up in a Lincolnshire town and overcoming family heartache before joining the so-called Cambridge academic elite are very honest and personable. I would have liked a bit more detail about his creative process but reading between the lines I felt that it all came very naturally and unpretentiously to Webb. Overall, this is a terrific listen, full of funny and tragic moments; plus given I’m the same age as Webb, his references to televisual, pop, film and comedy culture were immediately recognisable to me, only adding to the book’s enjoyment.
I, PARTRIDGE: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT ALAN – ALAN PARTRIDGE (read by Alan Partridge)
Steve Coogan’s genius comedy creation Alan Partridge has been part of my life since the 1990s when I first saw him on the brilliant satire show The Day Today. There he presented the sports and would subsequently go on to a kind of greatness as a chat show host on Knowing Me, Knowing You and starring in one of the best sitcoms of all time, I’m Alan Partridge. It is a testament to the acting ability, quality of writing and sheer stamina of Coogan that he continues to mine comedy gold from the hills of Partridge, as it were. Coogan narrates (in the glorious character of Partridge) a fictional autobiography from actual cradle to career grave. It also hilariously covers how he bounced back from the precipice of a chocolate-driven-frenzied-nervous-breakdown-suicide-attempt in Dundee. I have never laughed so much as six hours of comedic gold entered my brain and left me in stitches throughout. This is one of the funniest things I have had the pleasure to listen too; full of bitter rants, vengeful asides, over-elaborate similes and a litany of what I can only call Partridgeisms! Is that a word: well it is now!
Here I’m just saying that this is for fun and not a cry for help, as my life is pretty good I have a job, a roof-over-my-head, good family and I have my health. Compared to those in war-torn countries and those hit by horrific tsunamis and hurricanes I CANNOT COMPLAIN!! Still, there’s no harm in having a little bit of a moan now and then. So, here are ten things that really get on my nerves most days whilst living and breathing on Earth.
#1 – ONLINE HATERS OR TROLLS!
Why are people so over-the-top with their reactions online I ask myself? Maybe they are channelling their life disappointments or existential anger by way of dissociative behaviour. Criticizing things is one thing but venturing into petty online spite could be a way of distancing themselves from the pain of life or just a means to attack others in an offensive way. Moreover, sport, politics, novels, schools, pop videos and even cakes give rise to the most ridiculous hate-filled crap online. Even worse is that many people are cowards and use anonymity too. Why can’t we all just get along?
#2 – GU: GLASS POTS
This is a bit of a niche pet-hate! But I once shared a flat with a very decent person but they kept, every day, purchasing GU Pot desserts. They would eat them, clean the glass pots and place them in the cupboard. Soon we were infested with GU Pots! I thought maybe he was to recycle them at the glass bank but he left the tenancy and I was the one who had to get rid of these damned pesky pots. I’d given up smoking so couldn’t even use them as an ashtray!
#3 – PEOPLE WHO DON’T INDICATE WHEN DRIVING
Come on drivers please let me know which way you’re going?!? It’s the lever on the steering wheel; just flick it and THEN I KNOW!! Also, if you’re changing lanes don’t just lurch left or right without warning you bastards!! Please use the indicator!! I’m a bit anal when it comes to this but just have a bit of decency please? Oh, and while you’re at it stop driving so close to my back bumper! THAT’S HOW CRASHES OCCUR YOU MUPPETS!
#4 – ADULTS ON SCOOTERS
What is it with this most recent of irritating phenomena!? If it isn’t bad enough pedestrians having to battle regular traffic and hate-filled cyclists failing to stop at red lights while riding on pavements; we now have morons over the age of 18 riding kid’s scooters too. It may get you from A to Z in an environmentally safe fashion but you are dangerous and look like a dick! Just stop it please!
#5 – PEOPLE WHO SAY, “YOU KNOW WHAT I’M LIKE!
I do this all the time and it is bloody annoying. For example, I am very pedantic and annoy people with this – especially my wife. But when I do it I often utter the above words: “Well, you know what I’m like – it’s what I’m like!” No, it doesn’t work as a catchall defence mechanism so must be rejected. You wouldn’t get jury’s in court finding you innocent of murder because it’s “what I’m like!” Just don’t do it to start off with!
#6 – PROFESSIONAL CRITICS
Everyone’s a critic! Everyone has an opinion or a view and the Internet has caused a mass proliferation and gaping spew of words and views and brain-thoughts in extremis. I am just part of that continued global globule of opinionated ephemera which litters the clouds or servers or wherever the hell it is online. However, I do it for fun and to stop me thinking about death. If you earn a living as a critic then you are Satan! Would I do it for a living, well, yes I would but I’d rather create than dictate. I’d rather be the failed artist trying than the trying failed artist.
#7 – WHITE MIDDLE-CLASS KIDS WHO TRY AND RAP!!
Again, it’s a freedom of choice to dress to behave the way you choose, however, the absorption of urban culture by middle-class white kids to me is very grating. I’m not saying don’t appreciate the music, style and fashion styles but dreadlocks, urban-speak and bad rapping should not be tolerated. Most annoying is appropriating other people’s look or behaviour when much has been borne out from a certain social standing. But most of all it’s the terrible rapping. Look at this c**t from M. Night Shymalan’s The Visit (2015)!
#8 – OVER-INFLATED PRICES PAID FOR ART!
Picture the scene: a starving child in Africa passively stares at a camera while a fly irritates their big sad eyes, and they do not know when their next meal is coming from. Meanwhile, in a New York auction house a painting by Cezanne or Gauguin or Picasso is selling for over $200 million dollars! What the f**k is wrong with the world?! I’m not saying these paintings aren’t great art it’s just that there is NO WAY that amount of money should be paid for a painting when there is starvation, disease, and poverty in the world. It’s just an indictment of the sickness of humanity that we place such value on what effectively amounts to canvas and paint placed in a particular manner by some dead guy. It’s utter madness!!
#9 – PEOPLE WHO DON’T LET YOU GET OFF THE TRAIN FIRST!
Honestly, it’s bad enough being crammed like sardines in a space not fit for cattle going to market. However, when you try and get off a stacked tube and the passengers on the platform block your way then you can seriously lose your cool. There should be a bigger space and line to allow more room to get off. I mean: what’s the hurry though? We’re just too much in a hurry I guess to have some empathy and feelings for others’. Damned shame!
#10 – TALKING AT THE MOVIES!
I mean why are you talking during a movie? There’s a FILM on!! People who chat during the film SHOULD BE banned forever! In fact a law should be introduced that there’s NO talking from the trailers onwards. If you do you are forcibly removed from the screening room. I go to the cinema to escape reality; YOU or YOUR MATE’S voice-words are reality so SHUT THE HELL UP! If you want to have a conversation piss-off to a pub or a shop or a busy road and PLAY IN THE TRAFFIC. Anywhere but the cinema!
Denzel Washington’s honest, down-to-earth and heart-cracking drama is a formidable character piece and acting tour-de-force. Adapted from August Wilson’s prize-winning play, the narrative bristles with authentic working class lives of 1950s Pittsburgh, and is littered with some wonderful stories and dialogue. At the heart of the drama are Denzel Washington’s complex character Troy Maxson and his long-suffering wife, Rose; portrayed with significant humility and pathos by Viola Davis. Great support comes also from Mykelti Williamson as Troy’s mentally impaired brother, Gabriel.
Troy’s character is very charismatic and he delivers some hearty yarns from his past, but he’s also bitter and a drinker and, while he has had a hard life, he bullies everyone around him. His sons and more importantly his wife Rose put up with it but eventually he grinds everyone down, pushing them away with his boorish “I-know-best” arrogance and aggression. With her quiet power Viola Davis more than matches Denzel Washington’s grandstanding and Rose’s heartfelt speech toward the end of the film is a stunning retort to her husband’s continual tirades and emotional neglect.
I’ve seen some criticisms of the film stating it is too “stagey”. Well, as it is based on a play that is understandable, yet, August Wilson’s words are a thing of beauty and therefore deserve focus. I think, while directing, Denzel Washington could quite easily have opened up the settings and had conversations on the street, but the decision was made to “fence” in the characters to create a sense of claustrophobia and intensity. By keeping the players mainly in the yard and the house we feel as trapped as they are by society, social status and their life decisions. It’s an intimate film about proper characters and real lives and overall the performances alone make the film feel cinematic. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
Barry Jenkins low-budget contemporary drama is another brilliantly acted character memoir; although when compared to Fences it benefits from a more complex structure and cinematic style. Split into a trio of linear timelines from the same characters’ lives we get three different actors representing the life and changes which occur in Chiron’s existence; with chapters named, Little, Chiron and Black.
Each section draws us into the characters’ world as Chiron searches for meaning, identity and direction as to who he really is as a person. With his father absent Little Chiron (Alex Hibbert) cannot find satisfaction via his mother, an angry and lost woman portrayed brilliantly by Naomi Harris. Small for his age he is also at the mercy of school bullies and while a random meeting with a local drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali) provides Little with a mentor to connect with it doesn’t sustain. Ali as Juan, like most of the performances, delivers a subtle realisation of a character trapped by his life choices and perhaps sees some redemption in ‘Little’. Alas, due to his lifestyle and ‘job’ he is clearly not the role model ‘Little’ needs.
In the second and third sections Chiron’s relationship with his best friend Kevin comes to the fore both in terms of some powerful drama and intimate sexual connections. Barry Jenkins framing, colour design, use of music and editing choices all commit to create a poetic and fragmented style, further drawing me into Chiron/Black’s story. Chiron’s continual search for identity and meaning in the world reflects the most essential of human needs: the search for identity and love. Overall, this is a film of harsh and beautiful moments and each segment was layered with so many emotions and so skilfully told that I wanted to see more of the characters. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
Split (2016) is an altogether different film about the search for identity. In fact the lead character portrayed devilishly well by James McAvoy has TWENTY-THREE different people battling around his mind and something is about to give. Let me say that a film like Split won’t be challenging the Oscars because in essence it is a terrifying B-movie thriller, however, McAvoy gives a performance of such quality it reminded me of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in his cannibal pomp. McAvoy’s twisted ability to switch between the many personalities was a real guilty pleasure as he earned his acting fee over and over and over again.
The story concerns three girls, Casey, Marcia and Claire (including an excellent Anya Taylor-Joy) who are kidnapped and imprisoned by the various personalities in Kevin Crumb’s head. Some – including OCD driven Dennis – are more dominant than others and attempt to wrestle total control, which is where McAvoy’s sly switches are a real joy to watch. As a cat-and-mouse plot bleeds out we also get some intriguing back-story flashbacks into Casey traumatic past. These events really add colour to the main narrative and ramp up the tension and suspense. The scenes between Kevin, his personalities and sympathetic Doctor Fletcher (Betty Buckley) also add some dark humour to the story. By the end though all humour is gone and we get a stunning and believable supernatural turn as Kevin’s mind unleashes an altogether different personality.
Writer/Director M. Night Shyamalan’s dalliance with big-budget-franchise-Hollywood-pictures – including: After Earth (2013) and The Last Airbender (2010) – did not do his career any favours. But with Split he is back on terrific form as he takes a simple abduction plot and renders it full of horror, twists and fantastical ideas. While I did not enjoy his previous film The Visit (2015) – mainly due to the stupid kid rapping throughout a decent horror story – this one is highly recommended for psycho horror fans and for McAvoy’s performance alone. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
In my latest episode of actor, cinema artist or filmmaker profiles I have picked some favourite roles of Tom Hardy. This very talented British actor has made a name for himself with a series of intense, moody, muscular and at times psychotic performances. But he has depth too, and demonstrated on occasions, humour, vulnerability and sensitivity beneath the fierce masculine force he brings to the screen. Currently he can be seen lurking in the shadows of the BBC1 drama Taboo (2017), but here are eight other roles which showcase this actor’s depth of talent.
Arguably, this is Hardy’s proper breakthrough role as he covered himself in shit and acting glory in Nicolas Winding Refn’s unflinching representation of Britain’s most notorious prisoner. Hardy’s in pretty much every scene pulsing with rage and violence; fighting dogs, gypsies and the system like a bald, working class Bane.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
Talk of the devil and he shall appear! Hardy brought his bulking mass and searing eyes to Gotham to wreak havoc on its citizens as arch villain Bane. The film has some narratives issues but I thought Nolan and cast presented some great set-pieces and action in a pulsating end to the trilogy. With the mask and chilling voice plus hulking physical presence Hardy made a memorable foe for Batman and co.
THE DROP (2014)
Hardy offers another brilliant piece of character work as Bob Saginowski, a Boston barman, who works in a mob-owned pub. He finds himself threatened by local scumbag Matthias Schoenaerts over the disputed ownership of a dog. It’s a subtle performance in which he swallows and bottles his rage with a quiet, yet menacing confidence.
Christopher Nolan’s exquisite, mind-bending heist thriller has an fantastic ensemble cast with Hardy popping up as the forger Eames. Unburdened by masks or grunts or over-aggression, Eames is an urbane and sophisticated character who remains calm under fire; while in perfect ‘Received Pronunciation’ delivers some witty one-liners. Here Hardy demonstrates what an ideal James Bond he would make.
So, the story is about a bloke on his phone driving up the motorway? Not a pitch that would grab Hollywood in-a-hurry, but a film that is delivered with such hypnotic power it feels epic. Hardy’s Locke is portrayed as a determined man whose life decisions, family and work-life have triangulated simultaneously to crisis point. It is a performance of restraint and brooding anxiety making the one location-movie compelling throughout.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
George Miller’s bruising, muscular and jaw-dropping spectacular is an orgy of car-bombing action and deathly stunts with little dialogue. So, who better to take on a virtually mute yet physical role than Tom Hardy in this smash-and-burn epic. Max Rockantansky remains one of the iconic existential anti-heroes, with Hardy taking over the baton from Mel Gibson superbly.
THE REVENANT (2015)
Hardy was rightly Oscar nominated for his portrayal of greasy mercenary John Fitzgerald. While Hardy’s mumbling Fitzgerald certainly has my empathy early doors his decision to leave Glass for dead after killing his son is the act of a scumbag. Once again, Hardy commits to the role of the murderous trapper with dirty aplomb as he more than matches DiCaprio’s compelling performance.
STUART: A LIFE BACKWARDS (2007)
This is an excellent BBC film starring Tom Hardy as Stuart Shorter, a homeless alcoholic and petty criminal who was also a social justice activist. Shorter meets Benedict Cumberbatch’s writer and the two form an unlikely friendship. Hardy’s performance is full of heart-breaking pathos and physical distress because Stuart suffered from muscular dystrophy. Abused as a child and lost as an adult, Stuart’s is a tragic life and one where Hardy further demonstrates his excellent acting range.
WAR AS HEAVEN AND HELL! HACKSAW RIDGE (2016) REVIEW
What is it with Andrew Garfield and his battles with the Japanese, armed only with his faith? In a thematic replica of the compelling drama, Silence (2016), Garfield leads the cast of Hacksaw Ridge (2016) by portraying 7th Day Adventist, Desmond Doss, who while compelled to serve his country during World War II, declines, on principle to pick up a rifle and kill. He wants to save lives not end them. Now, I, as a screenwriter feel this is a fantastic base for drama and suspense; and so it turns out to be, in a rip-roaring, inspirational, bloody and heroic war film.
Hacksaw Ridge is classic Hollywood filmmaking par excellence. Andrew Garfield’s Doss is a humble everyman we can all root for as he contends with a drunken father, and then with army training as colleagues and superiors fail to recognise his religious stance. In the final lengthy battle scenes he then faces the Japanese, along with his unit, as they clamber the eponymous Hacksaw Ridge in an attempt to gain control of Okinawa. This is where the action really takes off as the gruesome war scenes create an astounding flurry of bombs, shots, bullets-on-tin-and-bone and whooshing flame-throwers searing the skin of men. All produced by both sides apart from Doss who, incredibly without a rifle, saves many, many lives.
Mel Gibson the storyteller doesn’t do grey areas in his narratives. Black is black; white is white; good is good and the Japanese are just plain bad. Indeed, this film reminded me of the good old-fashioned war epics of yesteryear such as Howard Hawks’ Sergeant York (1941) starring Gary Cooper. Moreover, the brilliant constructed action sequences echoed the kinetic majesty and orgiastic bloodbaths of Saving Private Ryan (1998); as well as the director’s own work in Braveheart (1995).
Andrew Garfield inhabits the character of Doss perfectly exuding a homespun goodness and religious core which at no time feels sappy. He is ably supported by an excellent cast including: Hugo Weaving, Sam Worthington, Rachel Griffiths, Luke Bracey and scene-stealer Vince Vaughan. While the characters are essentially binary archetypes, the film stands ultimately as a formidable war film with suspense elements. Because we care so much about Doss, the tension is incredible during many nerve-jangling moments; and especially when he’s in the rat-infested Japanese tunnels.
Given Mel Gibson’s controversial history especially when it comes to alcohol-related domestic fights, rants and convictions, he is no doubt looked at suspiciously by the public and filmmaking community. Thus, it meant he would have to produce something special to redeem his reputation in Hollywood; so a Best Oscar Director nomination aids his comeback. Yet, while this film does not represent total redemption for Gibson personally, he once again proves his value as a worthy movie-maker. Overall, via Doss’ heroics, Gibson, his writers, cast and crew demonstrate that war is hell but with such acts of compassion for humanity, Doss showed, it can represent a fragment of heaven too.