Tag Archives: family

FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #11 – WAVES (2019)

FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #11 – WAVES (2019)

Directed by: Trey Edward Shults

Produced by: Kevin Turen, Jessica Row, Trey Edward Shults

Written by: Trey Edward Shults

Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr., Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sterling K. Brown, Alexa Demie, Clifton Collins Jr., Vivi Pineda, etc.

Music by: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

Cinematography: Drew Daniels

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



“First your parents, they give you your life, but then they try to give you their life.”

― Chuck Palahniuk


Being a parent is an extremely difficult job and mostly impossible to get right. It is a rewarding and joyous experience, but can also be a frustrating one. Raising another human being in this world is a fluid and ever-shifting set of tasks. Once you have got past a certain age and seemingly resolved the issues of that time, their next period of growth provides a whole different set of puzzles. Whatever books you read or advice you take, or help you get, you will never be prepared enough to meet the challenge of being a parent. Even those who have had more than one child can attest that what occurred with the first child will not be the same for the next or the next after that. Every individual being is different and will have a varied set of intricacies.

In the majestic family drama, Waves (2019), for example, Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) and Catherine Williams (Renee Elise Goldsbery), are middle-class parents with successful jobs who provide a fabulous Florida home and upbringing to their teenage children. Their son, Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jnr.), is smart, athletic and a popular student, while their younger daughter, Emily, is quieter but equally bright. Ronald pushes Tyler to excel in every way, in study, work and on the wrestling team. He’s doing it with best intentions, but it creates incredible pressure for the lad. So much so, when Tyler suffers a serious injury and a problematic romantic situation he mentally and emotionally breaks.



Waves (2019)

This is a tale of two children and their parents attempts to raise, guide and control them. Not control in a negative fashion, but out of love and desire to see they are on the correct path in life. But what the narrative illustrates is that even the most loving and comfortable families can have tragedy bestowed upon them via a mixture of spontaneously poor life choices, youthful emotional imbalance and the fickle finger of fate. Thus, some could argue that with subjects such as unwanted pregnancy, pushy parents and rebellious teenagers, the film is over-familiar and melodramatic in places. However, the acting, direction and cinematography render the film wholly cinematic. Special mention to the extremely talented cinematographer Drew Daniels, who also lit HBO’s stylish mini-series Euphoria (2019). The production’s choice of colour, lighting, lens differentiation and aspect ratio switches are another reason this fabulous film impacted me so much.

No disrespect intended to the films nominated for Best Picture at the last Academy Awards, but how Waves (2019) did not get on that list is beyond me. Maybe it didn’t qualify due to some technicality, but it was definitely one of the best films of last year. It’s a shame I missed it as Trey Edward Schults proves he is a formidable young director. Sterling K. Hayden is impressive as the father who thinks he knows best, but is ultimately as emotionally lost as his son. Taylor Russell as Emily is an absolute shining star in the role and Kelvin Harrison Jnr. is, following his mesmerising performance in Luce (2019), destined for great things. Lastly, I’m not sure how Waves (2019) got away from me on release, but I’m glad I finally caught up with this searing and complex drama.

Mark: 9 out of 11


SKY TV REVIEW – GANGS OF LONDON (2020)

SKY TV REVIEW – GANGS OF LONDON (2020)

Created by: Gareth Evans, Matt Flannery

Directors: Gareth Evans (2 episodes), Corin Hardy (4 episodes), Xavier Gens (3 episodes)

Executive producer(s): Thomas Benski, Lucas Ochoa, Jane Featherstone, Gabriel Silver

Producer(s): Hugh Warren

Writers: Claire Wilson, Peter Berry, Joe Murtagh, Gareth Evans, Matt Flannery, Lauren Sequeira, Carl Joos,

Cast: Joe Cole, Sope Dirisu, Lucian Msamati, Michelle Fairley, Mark Lewis Jones, Narges Rashidi, Parth Thakerar, Asif Raza Mir, Valene Kane, Brian Vernel, Jing Lusi, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Orli Shuka, Richard Harrington, Jude Akuwudike, Emmett J. Scanlan, Colm Meaney etc.

Production company(s): Pulse Films, Sister Pictures, Sky Studios

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**



The British, or more specifically, London-based gangster narrative is a well-trodden pathway for writers, directors and filmmakers. In fact, when Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) was a low-budget sleeper hit, agents and film companies were never more than a few feet away from a cheeky-chappie-laddish-gangster script. Ritchie obviously has made his name in the crime genre and his most recent film, The Gentlemen (2020), was another rollicking piece of entertainment. However, Ritchie’s stylish geezer model doesn’t always show the serious side of the British crime yarn. Films such as: Villain (1971), Get Carter (1971), The Long Good Friday (1980), Mona Lisa (1986), The Krays (1990), Sexy Beast (2000), Legend (2015), and many more, represent the dark and brutal face of hard-nut masculinity and the profession of violence. Enter the new Sky drama, Gangs of London (2020), which over nine episodes pitches itself as a similarly stern contemporary gangster fable, but with lashings of explosive action set-pieces, savage fisticuffs and a few severed hands thrown in for good measure.

From the opening scene — which finds heir apparent to the Wallace Corporation, Sean (Joe Cole), burning alive and dropping a low-level hoodie off a sky-scraping construction building — the brutal tone is set. Flashbacks then reveal the reason for Sean’s ire. His father, Finn (Colm Meaney), was murdered while on the Albanian mafia’s turf and thus he demands revenge. So far, so Hamlet! Yet, this is no singular character’s journey into the psychological depths of real or invented madness. Mostly, we find a sprawling, multicultural and international ensemble piece with the world of crime represented by aforementioned Albanians, Nigerians, Kurdish freedom fighters, Chinese gangs, Pakistani drug cartels, Welsh travellers and various other criminal elements.

While there is some soul searching for Sean as Finn Wallace’s buried secrets are latterly exposed within the drama, this is very much a symbolic and sadistic manifestation of Brexit. Moreover, it critiques the rise of gangster culture from the mean capital streets into the corporate boardroom. The Wallace’s billion-pound construction business acts as a front for money laundering, drugs deals, prostitution, people smuggling, gun-running and other nefarious crimes. Business has never been so good; that is until Finn Wallace is killed. Henceforth, all hell breaks loose on the streets of London and the police, who all seem to be in the pockets of the gangs, are unable or unwilling to control it.



The gangster genre can be a challenge for writers, directors and actors as they attempt to sidestep the cliches. Moreover, these stories predominantly show violent and amoral characters attacking or cheating or back-stabbing one another. Thus, it can be difficult to create empathy for such nasty people. Nonetheless, given the continued success of such narratives, the anti-heroic ensemble represented by the likes of the Wallace, Dumani, Afridi, Dushaj and Edwards’ families, among others, give the audience plenty to get our teeth into. There are so many different characters, motives, actions and desires on show that the sheer pace and twists in the narrative can leave one breathless. That isn’t to say the pace is rapid. There is a brooding suspense and grave depth to the overall direction. At times the drama, as well as the casting of Michelle Fairley (Lady Stark), reminded me of Game of Thrones in crime form. It gives us high-quality genre storytelling interspersed with some incredibly violent fight scenes and shoot-outs. It doesn’t quite have the heroes that Games of Thrones had though. The closest we get to a rootable character is Sope Dirisu’s low-level enforcer, Elliott Finch, who has a big secret to hold onto. Dirisu gives a powerful performance both emotionally and physically as he fights his way up the Wallace chain of command.

Gangs of London (2020) was created by Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery for Cinemax and Sky Studios. Evans, of course, is the talented Welsh filmmaker who had to go all the way to Indonesia and direct Merantau (2009), The Raid (2011) and The Raid 2 (2014), in order to make a name for himself in the film industry. He is a director with a special set of skills, especially when it comes to the knuckle-breaking and heart-stabbing fight sequences. Thus, the episodes he directs stand out among the best of the series. Notably Episodes 1 and 5, which feature an incredible bare-knuckled-table-leg-glass-in-the-face bar fracas and a bloody-mercenary-raid-on-a- country-farmhouse set-piece respectively. The remainder of the series arguably pales a little where the action is concerned, however, there remains some shockingly grotesque acts of violence as the corpses mount up the further the series proceeds. Indeed, as Sean Wallace attempts to locate his father’s killer and order from the chaos, he will find little in the way of salvation, redemption and satisfaction in the life of a London gangster. If only he’d watched more crime films, he’d know that already.

Mark: 9 out of 11



NETFLIX REVIEW – THE SPY (2019)

NETFLIX REVIEW – THE SPY (2019)

Directed by: Gideon Raff

Executive producer(s): Gideon Raff, Sacha Baron Cohen

Producer(s): Alain Goldman

Screenplay by: Gideon Raff & Max Perry based on the book L’espion qui venait d’Israël – written by Uri Dan and Yeshayahu Ben Porat.

Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Noah Emmerich, Hadar Ratzon-Rotem, Yael Eitan, Nassim Si Ahmed, Moni Moshonov, Alona Tal, Mourad Zaoui, Alexander Siddig, Marc Maurille, Waleed Zuaiter, Arié Elmaleh, Hassam Ghancy, Uri Gavriel etc.

Distribution: Netflix



There’s a wonderful scene in a later episode of The Spy (2019) where Sacha Baron Cohen’s undercover Israeli agent laments his split identity. Taking on a Syrian alter ego in order to infiltrate their military and government infrastructure has meant Eli Cohen has sacrificed his safety and family life to become businessmen, Kamal Amin Thaabet. After years of successfully inveigling his way into the Syrian system, these battling personalities have created a psychological rift. As Eli spills his guts to handler, Dan Peleg (Noah Emmerich), he is so conflicted he feels Eli is lost and Kamal has taken over. He no longer knows who he is from one moment to the next. It’s a great scene and, like he does throughout this compelling drama, Baron Cohen excels. Indeed, given he has portrayed different comedic creations over the years, there is startling truth here.

Of course, portraying larger than life, and hilariously offensive characters, such as Borat, Ali G and Bruno marks Sacha Baron Cohen as a provocative comedic genius. His risk-taking-celebrity-baiting-devil’s-advocate-controversial television shows and films have been very successful commercially. Moreover, he has also won many awards in the process. While he was mooted to portray Freddie Mercury at one point, other than Les Miserables (2012) and perhaps Hugo (2011), Baron Cohen is obviously best known for his comedic work. However, the deft and nuanced performance presented here in The Spy (2019), I hope, leads to more dramatic roles for Baron Cohen. Because, he is absolutely outstanding in this split role.


See the source image

Following the beats of espionage and undercover police narratives, Gideon Raff, who created the original Israeli drama which would become big TV hit, Homeland, has delivered a gripping and stylish period drama. The 1960’s set era is evoked expertly from the washed-out hues of the scenes set in Israel, to the more colour-drenched sequences set in Syria. Recruited by Mossad, Cohen trains, adopts his new identity as Kamal, and is transplanted to Buenos Aires. There he uses Israel-backed wealth, chutzpah and business acumen to further cement his Syrian cover. Eventually moving to Syria raises the stakes for Cohen/Kamal and the danger levels increase as his contacts become more dangerous and powerful within the Syrian government.

Overall, The Spy (2019), buoyed by Baron Cohen magnetic performance, is highly recommended. Further, I was constantly on edge for Cohen/Kamal’s safety as he transmits messages to Israel via Morse code and photographs exported in furniture out of Syria. Conversely, the process of being a spy is brilliantly developed and presented. While it is based on a true story, I’m sure many liberties have been taken by the writers to condense the years of espionage work Cohen/Kamal achieved for Israel. Similarly, the political complexity of Syria and Israel’s conflict is arguably glossed over in favour of more generic thriller leanings. Having said that, the Syrians are not shown in a negative light, but rather with much believability and humanity. In fact, it’s Cohen’s actions who I questioned more. He seemed to take too many risks and his obsessive nature, while working well for the Israeli cause, ultimately costs him, his identity and his family dearly.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



TO BOLDLY REVIEW #9 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION (1990 – 1991)– SEASON 4

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #9 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION (1990 – 1991)– SEASON 4

Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry

Season 4 writers (selected): Michael Piller, Michael Wagner, Rick Berman, Jeri Taylor, Lee Sheldon, Melinda Snodgrass, Richard Manning, Ronald D. Moore, David Bischoff, , Joe Menosky, Drew Deighan, Brannon Braga, J. Larry Carroll, Hilary J. Bader, Harold Apter, Stuart Charno, Sara Charno, Maurice Hurley, Shari Goodhartz, Timothy DeHaas, Randee Russell, Ira Steven Behr, Rene Echevarria etc.

Season 4 directors (selected): Jonathan Frakes, Winrich Kolbe, Rob Bowman, Robert Weimer, Les Landau, Robert Scheerer, Cliff Bole, Robert Legato, Tom Benko, Chip Chalmers, Timothy Bond, David Carson, Gabrielle Beaumont, Patrick Stewart, David Livingston, Marvin V. Rush, Chip Chalmers etc.

Main Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Whoopi Goldberg, Colm Meaney, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Gates McFadden, John De Lancie, Dwight Schultz, Majel Barrett, Rosalind Chao etc.

Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway

Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television

**** CONTAINS SPOILERS ****



My simultaneous retrospective and futuristic journey into space and time continues, and I have finally finished watching Season 4 of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s commonly admitted to being one of the most consistently excellent seasons of TNG. I very much enjoyed the mixture of sci-fi concepts, drama, humour and tragedy within the well established formula of the Starship Enterprise boldly exploring various galaxies.

Major themes of the season related to family, honour, love, espionage, war and divided loyalties. While the Wesley Crusher character left for the Starfleet Academy (Wil Wheaton left the show), the majority of our favourite characters remained. Indeed, Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney) was given more airtime and a marriage subplot. More dramatically the Klingons and Romulans featured heavily as pillars of conflict, with many of the best episodes featuring Romulan deceptions and Klingon brutalism.

Star Trek: The Next Generation continues to be a compelling show to watch and look back on with respect and nostalgia. While I continually enjoyed pretty much all the episodes, here are six of the best ones featuring Picard and his devoted crew.


THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS – PART II – EPISODE 1

A continuation of Season 3’s cliff-hanger episode found Picard in the grips of the Borg. Even more thrilling was Riker, Data, La Forge and the rest of the crew have to stop the evil machines from launching a deadly assault on Earth. With dual battles of the mind and in space occurring simultaneously, this episode is memorable in so many ways. Patrick Stewart as Picard gives a fantastically intense performance as he battles the evil within.



FAMILY – EPISODE 2

Gentler in approach than the opening episode, Family, has a brilliantly written script with three very emotionally charged storylines. Wesley Crusher must decide whether to watch a video recorded by his deceased father. Worf is met by his adoptive human parents who seek to console him following his Klingon discommendation. Lastly, a still shaken Picard returns to Earth and reconnects with his brother. The trio of narratives combine to forge a highly satisfying and emotionally charged episode.



REUNION – EPISODE 7

While Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard often garners the acting acclaim with his fine performances, I think Michael Dorn as Lt. Worf always gives great portrayals too. Worf’s conflicted cultural identity – between Klingon and Starfleet – always provides constant moments of explosive and introspective drama. In this episode his former love, K’Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson) returns to oversee, with Picard, the fight for the Klingon leadership. It is revealed that Worf also has a son by K’Ehleyr as the episode delivers excitement, intrigue and tragedy.



THE DRUMHEAD – EPISODE 21

This brilliant episode is unlike many others as the Enterprise crew are not faced with a divisive alien enemy. Instead, Picard and his crew come under Starfleet suspicion from the formidable Admiral Satie. Jean Simmons as Satie gives a memorable acting masterclass, as her over-zealous paranoia causes a witch-hunt culture to poison the court proceedings. I’m a big fan of the courtroom drama and this expertly paced and written episode reminded me of a reverse-engineered version of, The Caine Mutiny (1954).



THE MIND’S EYE – EPISODE 24

Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge is a very under-rated character within the TNG crew. He’s a brilliant engineer with a likable personality, so when he is “brainwashed” by the Romulans to commit an assassination it was intriguing to see his character go over to the dark side as it were. I especially liked the suspense and plot twists of this episode which paid homage to films such as: A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962).



REDEMPTION – PART I – EPISODE 26

This brilliant season culminated with a superlative episode which brought together all of the plots and subplots involving the battles with the Romulans and Klingons. Lt. Worf has a particularly difficult choice between his Starfleet commission and family honour. Ultimately, he chooses to fight for honour and in a wonderful conclusion to the episode joins the Klingon fleet to fight alongside his brother, Kurn (Tony Todd), against the Duras hordes. Despite the out-of-the-box temporally strained twist involving, Sela (Denise Crosby), a Tasha Yar Romulan lookalike, the episode was full of dramatic moments and provided a compelling cliff-hanger for the next season.



HBO TV REVIEW – THE OUTSIDER (2020) – Stephen King's novel is given an impressive HBO going over!

HBO TV REVIEW – THE OUTSIDER (2020)

Developed by Richard Price – based on Stephen King’s novel

Writers: Dennis Lehane, Jessie Nickson-Lopez, Richard Price

Directors: Jason Bateman, Andrew Bernstein, Igor Martinovic, Karyn Kusama, Daina Reid, J.D. Dillard, Charlotte Brandstrom

Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Bill Camp, Cynthia Erivo, Jason Bateman, Jeremy Bobb, Julianne Nicholson, Mare Winningham, Paddy Considine, Marc Menchaca, Max Beesley, Derek Cecil, Yul Vazquez etc.

Original Network: HBO

No. of Episodes: 10

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***


Image result for HBOS THE OUTSIDER

When I first saw this advertised, I thought finally, someone has adapted Albert Camus’ classic existential novel, The Outsider. When I saw it was from HBO, I was even more stoked. However, I then realised it was actually a story developed from a recent novel by uber-writer, Stephen King. Nonetheless, my enthusiasm was not curbed or curtailed. Because lord does King certainly know his way around a crime and horror tale. Moreover, with character actors such as Ben Mendelsohn, Bill Camp, Paddy Considine, Mare Winningham and Jason Bateman in the cast, plus star-in-the-making Cynthia Erivo also in the mix, I knew this had to be good. Thus, it proved.

It goes without saying that being a HBO production this is a high quality rendition of Stephen King’s novel. The director of the first two episodes, Jason Bateman, brings the dark finish, tone and experience garnered from his superlative work on Netflix’s brilliant series, Ozark. Bateman is also cast as the main murder suspect, Terry Maitland, and he so metronomically good in the role. In a gripping opening episode Maitland is arrested for the murder of a local boy, Frank Peterson. The investigation is lead by Cherokee City detective, Ralph Anderson; an emotionally hollowed cop superbly portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn. Maitland protests his innocence, and when his ebullient attorney — the ever-impressive Bill Camp — shows he has a cast iron alibi, the narrative takes a decidedly strange turn.


Image result for HBOS THE OUTSIDER

Firstly, as I have alluded to, this must be one of the best casts assembled in a television show since, well, the last HBO series produced. Further, grandmaster screenwriter, Richard Price — who also co-adapted the superb The Night Of (2016) for HBO — has spring boarded King’s original brilliantly. Price and his co-writers fully flesh out a series of fascinating characters and a community ripped apart by a black monster lurking in the shadows. Indeed, grief and heartache stain the eye of this drama as death hangs heavy over the humans of this closeknit town.

The Outsider (2020) is so confident, we are not even introduced to another of the major assets of the series in Cynthia Erivo’s investigator, Holly Gibney, until the third episode. While the ‘Outsider’ of the title could be referring to the killer, Gibney’s character is very much an idiosyncratic loner too. Whether she is on the spectrum, it is not revealed. However, irrespective of her lack of social skills, she has an incredible memory, powerful determination and prodigious logic. Erivo, as Gibney, gives a masterclass of a performance radiating empathy, heart and fierce intelligence throughout.

Finally, some may feel the HBO series moves too slowly in the middle episodes, following the thrilling opening ones. However, I was engrossed in the methodical unravelling of the exposition to the audience. As Gibney discovers the true horror of the mystery then so do we. Stephen King has always been a genius at creating eerie suspense and this story is no different. I was pleased that this vision avoided the more hysterical supernatural elements which have blighted lesser King adaptations. Yet, while it is subtle in delivery, the show isn’t without a number of explosive moments, especially during a bullet-fest of a shootout in the final episode. Overall though it’s the creeping dread I felt while watching The Outsider (2020), that I’ll remember most. It’s the stuff of nightmares you see; and at times I was seeing more than double.

Mark: 9 out of 11


TELL ME WHO I AM (2019) – NETFLIX REVIEW

TELL ME WHO I AM (2019) – NETFLIX REVIEW

Directed by: Ed Perkins

Produced by: Simon Chinn

Based on: Tell Me Who I Am by Joanna Hodgkin, Alex Lewis and Marcus Lewis

Cinematography: Erik Alexander Wilson

***SPOILER FREE***



I recently reviewed a number of documentaries here, but it was only during a catch-up of Netflix films did I watch the harrowing family drama, Tell Me Who I Am (2019). Now, in my younger days I was naive enough to think documentaries were a representation of the whole truth and not a mediated version of events. There was fiction on one side and documentaries on the other. It’s a documentary so it must be true and must not be questioned.

That isn’t to say that the events of this incredible story are not true. No, my point is that Tell Me Who I Am (2019) is, while based on a true story, structured like a classic Hollywood thriller akin to something Hitchcock may have produced. Conversely, I was gripped throughout by the mystery, suspense and a gut-kicking reveal halfway through. Do not read anything about this moving family story beforehand, as going in with NO knowledge will make it all the more powerful.



The film is structured in the classic three act fashion. Firstly, we find Alex Lewis describing events of an accident he had when 18. The incident led to him totally losing his memory. The only thing he remembered was he had a twin brother, Marcus. His mother, father, friends, their farmhouse, the privileged background and their dogs were all forgotten. Like a film noir protagonist he was left in the dark as to his whole history. With the help of Marcus, he slowly begins to learn about his past and rehabilitate for the future. Thus, at first one feels this is a story of an individual overcoming near-tragedy and rebuilding their life moment by moment. However, it becomes something much more than that. I shall say no more.

Shot through talking heads, photo montage and reconstruction, this is an exquisitely edited and filmed documentary. The twins, Alex and Marcus are framed in close-ups, with pale backgrounds and shadowed foregrounds. As we move back and forth between their respective sides of the story, one is slowly pulled into the incredible events that confirm truth is more horrifying than fiction. By the resolution I was shook and deeply affected by the film, with still some questions left unanswered. Ultimately though, Tell Me Who I Am (2019) is a satisfying and very emotionally charged story about searching for truth amidst familial conflict, betrayal and a longing for redemption.


IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA – SEASON 14 REVIEW

IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA – SEASON 14 REVIEW

Created by: Rob McElhenney

Developed by: Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton

Writers: Charlie Day, David Hornsby, Megan Ganz, John Howell Harris, Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, Dannah Phirman, Danielle Schneider, Conor Galvin, etc.

Directors: Glenn Howerton, Heath Cullens, Pete Chatmon, Tim Roche, Kimberly McCullough


CAST

Charlie Day as Charlie Kelly
Glenn Howerton as Dennis Reynolds
Rob McElhenny as Mac
Kaitlin Olson as Dee Reynolds
Danny DeVito as Frank Reynolds

Mary Elizabeth Ellis as The Waitress
David Hornsby as Cricket
Dolph Lundgren as Thundergun

*****MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS, BITCHES!*****



I’ve written about the scurrilous comedy show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia at length here and here and reviewed Season 13 here. It is genuinely one of my favourite TV shows of all time. Moreover, it is always one of the cultural highlights of my year when a new season is released by FX/Netflix. This is the fourteenth season of the show, which now means it is one of the longest running live action comedy sitcoms in the U.S. It’s basically one of the main reasons I carry on living.

If you haven’t seen It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – THEN WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU! No, seriously, it is one of the darkest, funniest and absurd shows I ever seen. It is the Anti-Christ of sitcoms and a twisted anathema to the Friends template. It concerns five narcissistic individuals who run a bar in Philadelphia called Paddy’s, and each episode tracks their weird and wonderful antics. It may not sound like it, but it is comedy gold.

Further, it’s also pretty smart in satirising zeitgeist issues relating to race, gender, politics, friendships, sport, addiction, crime, feminism and sexuality. It is quite often shocking but not just for shock’s sake, because there is a streak of intelligence running throughout the show. Season 13 felt mildly broken because Glenn Howerton seemed to have left, it still had some classic episodes like The Gang Beats Boggs: Ladies Reboot, The Gang Escapes, Mac Finds His Pride and The Gang gets New Wheels. Having said that the Dennis-shaped hole was mostly filled with Glenn Howerton appearing as Dennis in many episodes during last season. This year Howerton is back with in every episode; and he even directed a couple too.



The season opens strongly with the episode The Gang gets Romantic, which essentially involves Dennis and Mac using the Air BNB model to trap an unsuspecting woman in their flat. Frank and Charlie do the same but in a way less sophisticated fashion. Safe to say their creepy plots go badly in very unromantic and different ways. Frank and Charlie at least find some bromance with some European male counterparts, having kicked out some junkie Euro skanks. Episode 2, Thundergun 4: Maximum Cool, then found the Gang in a focus group situation. Here they tore into what they perceived to be political correctness gone mad, diverse Hollywood reboots, a lack of male nudity and the expensiveness of the cinema experience. It’s always chaotic and hilarious when they come into contact with outside agencies; and so it proves to be!

The 3rd and 4th episodes, Dee Day and The Gang Chokes were full of crazy situations. In both episodes Kaitlin Olsen is on particularly great form, as is Danny DeVito in The Gang Chokes. It’s hilarious when he chokes at the dinner table and no one jumps in to help him, forcing him to shun the group and pay back the person who saved his life. The next episode The Gang Texts is one of the highlights of the season. The Gang visit the zoo, but get a text group started to stay in touch. Mac and Dee struggle to retain control amidst the communication problems. While Dennis wants to see a lion feast on flesh, Frank tries to rile the Gorillas by teasing them with bananas. Ultimately, this episode contains the message that it’s best to live in the moment and not on your phone. That and Mac gets pissed on a lot by the others.



The Janitor Always Mops Twice was a hilarious pastiche of film noir genre films. Here Charlie is the private dick investigating a devious cherry racket. Once again Kaitlin Olsen is hilarious as Dee and Mary Elizabeth Ellis appears as a seductive femme fatale who suspiciously looks like the Waitress. The script zings along and there are many classic moments, notably when Charlie mixes cat food in his whisky. In The Gang Solves Global Warming, Paddy Has a Jumper and A Woman’s Right to Chop the series satirises some serious issues with the usual anarchic results. Climate change, suicide, streaming algorithms and abortion are important matters affecting society, but the Gang doesn’t get bogged down too much with the messages. Instead they explore and irreverently barb humanity. The Gang Solves Global Warming was particularly funny as the bar became a microcosm for Earth. A massive party ensues and as the heat rises no one wants to stop the partying even for a second.

The final episode called Waiting for Big Mo is set in a Laser Quest establishment as writer, David Hornsby, cleverly turns it into a curiously florescent parody of Beckett’s seminal play, Waiting for Godot. The Gang are essentially controlled by Dennis who is obsessively sticking to his plan of winning the game. Mac, Charlie, Dee and Frank just want to have fun and play like children. The show examines existential philosophies amidst some hilarious exchanges between the characters, including Charlie not knowing the difference between riddles and jokes. Ultimately, it was a fun, daft, and at times, intelligent end to a very satisfying season of one of the greatest comedy shows of all time.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


LFF REVIEW – THE LODGE (2019) – SPOILER FREE

LFF REVIEW – THE LODGE (2019)

Directed by: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala

Written by: Sergio Casci, Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala

Produced by: Simon Oakes, Aliza James, Aaron Ryder

Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Alicia Silverstone, Richard Armitage

Music by: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans

******* SPOILER FREE *******



If you haven’t seen the Austrian horror film Goodnight Mommy (2014), then I urge you to do so. It is genuinely one of the most startling and creepy films of recent years. It psychologically gets under the skin with the story of a mother and her two children, isolated, as she recovers from reconstructive surgery. The directors, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, proved themselves adept at creating memorable imagery, tense dread and a shocking ending up there with the horror classics.

With their latest film The Lodge (2019), they have once again ventured into the horror genre. Working with a fascinating screenplay from Silvio Casci, the film is full of intriguing themes relating to religious cults, grief, isolation, post-traumatic stress and family dysfunction. However, despite stellar work from the cast and compelling direction, the film never quite filled me with fear, nor shocked me enough to satisfy my horror needs. It works well as a slow turning of the screw type story, but at times it was too slow for me.



In essence the narrative is similar to Goodnight Mommy (2019); two kids and a maternal character are trapped together in one location and things get weird. Richard Armitage portrays Richard, a father to Aidan (Jaden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), who is desperate for them to connect with his new girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough). To precipitate this they spend Christmas at their remote holiday lodge, as you do. When Richard is called back to the city for work, Grace and the kids’ relationship begins to get cold. Thus, amidst the isolation and snowy landscape, a frozen atmosphere exists inside and outside the cabin.

Overall, the film is worth watching for Riley Keough’s committed performance as Grace; a victim of childhood trauma trying to be part of a caring family. Her character is striving for sanity, however, she gets something else altogether. The directors also do sterling work and create a compelling image system, notably around dolls, snow and religious iconography. The lodge itself is rendered creepy with sharp angles, overhead shots, skin-crawling music and darkness all used to sinister effect. But, despite the quality of the production, the central premise, slow pace and confusing plot developments drained any fear I felt by the end. Nonetheless, fans of The Shining (1980), The Thing (1982) and any number of cabin-in-the woods-horror films will find something to chill them here.

Mark: 7 out of 11


THE FAREWELL (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

THE FAREWELL (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Written and directed by: Lulu Wang

Produced by: Daniele Melia, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Andrew Miano, Chris Weitz, Jane Zheng, Lulu Wang, Anita Gou

Main Cast: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Jiang Yongbo, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Chen Han, Aoi Mizuhara etc.

Cinematography: Anna Franquesca Solano

Music: Alex Weston

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**


High concept film pitches usually take a tremendously marketable idea that can hook you in seconds, but also cost tens of millions of dollars to make. Sometimes though you’ll get a lower budget, more art-house character film, which will have an equally alluring premise for a fraction of the price. Lulu Wang’s second directorial release, The Farewell (2019), is one such film.

Based on a true story or “actual lie” as the prologue text reveals, the narrative revolves around a Chinese family and their decision not to reveal to their paternal Grandmother, or Nai-Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), that she has terminal cancer. This leads to a bittersweet series of scenes, full of comedy and pathos, as the whole family must keep the secret while arranging a fake family wedding in China.



While it is an ensemble cast generally, the audience conduit is Awkwafina’s Billi Wang. As her character, along with her mother and father, have lived in America for several years she believes that the Grandmother she loves has a right to know about her illness. As the scenes unfold, she clashes with various family members creating a palpable suspense as to whether Billi will reveal the truth. Moreover, we get many scenes where the family debate the various cultural and philosophical reasons why Nai-Nai should or should not be told. These I found very thoughtful and engaged both my heart and mind in equal measure.



Overall, it’s a low-key character study but nonetheless gripping, funny and sad throughout. I was especially drawn in because I wondered what I would have done in that situation. Personally, I think it is best to tell the person they are ill, but as the film wore on, I could see the other side of the argument too. In other hands this could have been turned into a poorly conceived farcical comedy, but as this is based on the writer and director’s Lulu Wang’s real-life experiences, we ultimately get a very touching film about life, death, family, love, culture and truth.

Personally, I would have liked Billi’s character to have been a bit more fleshed out at the start. Mainly because I was unsure of her personality and she just seemed a bit depressed. I mean was she a writer or a pianist and what was her job? Having said that, Awkwafina provides subtle brilliance in her role as Billi, yet, Zhao Shuzhen steals the show as the effervescent Nai-Nai, whose character shows an unabated lust for life throughout this fine film.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


HBO TV REVIEW – BIG LITTLE LIES (2019) – SEASON 2

HBO TV REVIEW – BIG LITTLE LIES (2019) – SEASON 2

Created by: David E. Kelley and Liane Moriaty

Producers: Barbara Hall, David Auge

Executive Producers: David E. Kelley, Jean-Marc Vallee, Reese Wetherspoon, Bruna Papandrea, Nicole Kidman, Liane Moriarty etc.

Based on: Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriarty

Teleplays written by: David E. Kelley

Directed by Andrea Arnold

Main Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Zoe Kravitz, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, Adam Scott, James Tupper, Jeffrey Nordling, Kathryn Newton etc.

Cinematography: Yves Belanger, Jim Frohna

Original Network: HBO

**CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON ONE**

I hate Social Media and Twitter especially, sometimes. I also hate myself for getting dragged into the bullshit it sometimes brings. I’m referring specifically to the distorted prejudice the mind can take on when reading a few negative posts about a programme, film or personality. Such reports can obviously be accurate. However, they can mislead and stain your expectations of a show or film or actor or artist. In this case the second season production of HBO’s, Big Little Lies, came under fire from a few people on my Twitter feed. They said it was an awful and an ultimately disappointing series. Were they right? I mean, how bad could it be?

Then there was the Indiewire article which highlighted an issue during production. They asserted in a well written piece of click-bait that director Andrea Arnold was unceremoniously disregarded in the editing process and first season director, Jean-Marc Vallee, brought in to oversee re-shoots and final cut. If you believe the Indiewire article, this was the act of a heinous media corporation cutting down a beloved artist and robbing her of her vision. Arnold’s auteur status remains untainted for me. She is a fine director who carried out her contract and did not have final cut anyway. This belonged to HBO and they had say on who they hired during the production.

Thus, in a short period of time, a couple of tweets and one article had seriously affected my expectations of the second season of Big Little Lies. I was expecting a mess of a show. One which did not make sense and was robbed of all artistic and dramatic impetus by the HBO hierarchy. However, I can safely say I was wrong and, while not as good as the brilliant first season, it was still a really intriguing eight episodes worth of entertainment.

After the exceptional first season which found a stellar cast including: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Zoe Kravitz, Alexander Skarsgård and Shailene Woodley on top acting form, the second season follows on with the aftermath of prior events. The first season expertly inter-weaved stories concerning an unknown “murder” victim; school bullying; warring parents; extra-marital affairs; and abusive relationships, expertly played out over seven compelling episodes. With the “murder” victim revealed in the final episode, we now get an exploration of suspicion, guilt, conspiracy and a test of loyalty and friendship.

Without wishing to give too much away the newest and strongest addition to the series is Meryl Streep. She plays the mother ***SPOILER ALERT*** of the dead guy from the first season, Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgård). His death occurred when he was pushed “accidentally” down some stairs at a party. But, the friend’s, including his wife, Celeste (Nicole Kidman), collude to say he fell instead. With the police still suspicious the main investigator is actually Streep as the dogged Mary Louise. She is passive-aggressive and subtle in her enquiries as to how her son died. It’s a delight watching her deviously pull apart each of the lead suspects. It is also an absolute masterclass in acting as Streep’s crafty characterisation makes this series a must-watch. Her scenes with Nicole Kidman’s crumbling personality are especially compelling.

Allied to the investigation into Perry’s death, the show gives some interesting narrative strands to Laura Dern’s energetic power-mum, Renata. Her world is about to disintegrate around her in the face of her husband’s financial wrong-doings. Equally powerful is Bonnie’s (Zoe Kravitz) attempt to heal the rift between herself and her mother. Bonnie suffers the most guilt as ***SPOILER ALERT*** she was the one who pushed Perry down the stairs. As she battles with the emotional repercussions of her actions, she experiences a painful re-emergence of historical parental abuse. Perhaps, not as intriguing are Madeline (Reese Wetherspoon) and Jane’s (Shailene Woodley) narrative strands. Nonetheless, they do support the series’ themes of family, trust and love that add depth and subtext.

To finish, I learnt once again that social media and Twitter surfing can have a negative impact on one’s critical expectation of a programme or film. You have to basically make your own mind up and not be swayed by the pitchforks and torch-bearers baying for blood online. Big Little Lies (2019), Season 2, therefore, while not reaching the dramatic heights of the first season is an excellent follow-up. It explores the privileged lives of the rich Monterey set instilling a sense of humanity and frailty to their lives. The more improvisational direction of Andrea Arnold works well with the fragmented impressionism of the editing style to bring this out. Mainly though, it’s the impressive cast and script which glued me to the screen while experiencing this very watchable drama.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11