Tag Archives: GOD

AMAZON PRIME REVIEW -PREACHER (2016 – 2019) – S1-S4

AMAZON PRIME REVIEW – PREACHER (2016 – 2019) – S1-S4

Based on: Preacher by Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon

Developed by: Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg

Writer(s): Sam Catlin, Steve Dillon, Garth Ennis, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, Mary Laws, Olivia Dufault, Carolyn Townsend.  Sara Goodman, Craig Rosenberg, Mark Stegemann, Gary Tieche, Rachel Wagner, Kevin Rosen, Jim McDermott, and many more.

Director(s): Michael Slovis, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, Wayne Yip, Sam Catlin, Michael Morris, John Grillo, Kevin Hooks, Laura Belsey, Iain B. MacDonald, Jonathan Watson, and many more. 

Cast: Dominic Cooper, Joseph Gilgun, Ruth Negga, Lucy Griffiths, W. Earl Brown, Derek Wilson, Ian Colletti, Tom Brooke, Anatol Yusef, Graham McTavish, Pip Torrens, Noah Taylor, Julie Ann Emery, Betty Buckley, Mark Harelik, Tyson Ritter, and many more.

Cinematography: Bill Pope, John Grillo

Composer: Dave Porter

No. of seasons: 4

***CONTAINS TRACE SPOILERS***



Ever wanted to know who would win in a fight between Hitler and Jesus? Well, if you desire the answer then watch all four seasons of AMC’s graphic novel series adaptation, PREACHER. Because that is just one of the insane scenarios which ultimately rewards viewers who love controversial, violent and irreverent representations of holy, historical and fantastical characters.

Developed by Hollywood players Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, along with BREAKING BAD screenwriter, Sam Catlin, this darkly comedic post-modern vision of heaven, Earth and hell is based on the devilishly imaginative work of Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. Starring the charismatic Dominic Cooper as hard drinking and former career criminal-turned Preacher, Jesse Custer, the first season finds him losing faith in a small Texan town and a dwindling set of hopeless parishioners. That is until one day he is struck by some twisted divine interpretation. Then, literally, all hell breaks loose as Custer battles his inner demons and the local slaughterhouse baron portrayed with callous joy by Jackie Earle Haley.

Like another Amazon Prime release, THE BOYSI initially found PREACHER a little bit slow in terms of setting up the story and characters. But I think that was deliberate as there are so many crazy concepts relating to religion, angels, demons and the afterlife in here, a balance had to be given to combining the fantastic and more realistic elements. I’m not sure they’re wholly successful but there’s enough riotous and bloody anarchy to keep horror and comic book fans happy. Cooper is great as the anti-heroic holy man. Moreover, he is ably supported by the effervescent Ruth Negga as his tough-talking, fist-fighting and gun-toting ex-girlfriend, Tulip. English actor Joseph Gilgun arguably steals the show as Cassidy, the Irish sidekick with a dark secret. While the narrative moves slowly in the first season, the bloody gore levels during the fight scenes are absolutely spectacular. It was this and the litany of fascinating concepts relating to religious icons which kept my interest piqued.



Season 2 picks up the pace when Custer, Tulip and Cassidy go to New Orleans and literally try to find God. Here they encounter their major nemeses for the remainder of the series in, the damned Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish), and a nefarious group of Catholic fascists called The Grail. Further, Season 3 is arguably the strongest of the series as Jesse goes back home to fight the demons of the past, notably his grandmother, Madame L’ Angelle (Betty Buckley). She has done deals with Satan and happens to have put a deathly spell on Custer’s soul. This season is particularly hilarious because Cassidy meets a fellow creature of the night in New Orleans with bloody hilarious results. Lastly, in season 4, all of heaven and hell implodes as The Grail attempt to precipitate God’s planned apocalypse and only Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy can stop them. These series summations cannot begin to even touch the surface at the insanity of ideas and action on show. If you like your television safe and inoffensive, then DO NOT WATCH IT!

If, like me, you enjoy irreverent bible-black comedy which offends mainly Christian religions and contains lashings of ultra-violence, then PREACHER is definitely one to venture to the church of television for. There is not a lot of internal logic as the narrative chucks in the proverbial theological kitchen sink. Representations of angels, God, Jesus, Hell, Heaven, Satan, devils, vampires, and various other religious figures are all par for the course for the show. While the iconography, action and visual power of the series is a major strength, the core story of Jesse Custer searching for God was essentially a very loose structure with which to hang the many spectacularly crazy, violent and bad taste ideas on. However, I am glad I had the faith to witness such events because I was very entertained and ironically it made me believe more in God than any visit to a church has ever done. Because in PREACHER, this vision of God was extremely human and flawed and somehow more believable.

Mark: 9 out of 11


CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: SCARFACE (1983)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: SCARFACE (1983)

Directed by: Brian DePalma

Produced by: Martin Bregman

Screenplay by: Oliver Stone

Cast: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Loggia, F. Murry Abraham, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Paul Shenar etc.

Music: Giorgio Moroder

Cinematography: John A. Alonzo


*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***


“I always tell the truth, even when I lie! so, say good night to the bad guy!” Tony Montana


While Al Pacino is rightly lauded in the critically acclaimed Godfather Trilogy, as quietly menacing Michael Corleone, I think his spectacular performance as Tony Montana in Scarface (1983), is nothing short of cinematic gold. Tony Montana is a monstrous symbol of 1980’s excess and neo-capitalism. A product of social deprivation and cold war division. In this world, greed is not just good, but a driving force behind an evil empire which believes the extreme is only halfway. Tony Montana is small in size but big on gesture, colour and voice, both an anti-hero and villain for the eighties era. Moreover, for me, Tony Montana is the most iconic gangster ever committed to celluloid.

With a combustible screenplay written by Oliver Stone, Scarface (1983), is a cocaine driven and incendiary viewing experience. Stone himself is reported to have been battling cocaine addiction while writing it and this shows in the over-the-top world on screen. Everything is ramped up to eleven, including: the violence, shouting, swearing, shooting, politicking, drug-taking, sex, killing, avarice, money-making and corruption. There isn’t one redeemable character in the whole film. Everyone is corrupt. Actually, Tony’s mother tries her best to stay away from the darkness that follows Tony. His sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) seems pure, but is ultimately drawn into Tony’s incestuous glue, precipitated by her dangerous liaison with Manny (Steven Bauer).


“In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.” – Tony Montana


How 'Scarface' Transformed the Way Cubans Were Perceived in the US

Directed with operatic and kinetic power by Brian DePalma, I have to say that Scarface (1983) is probably my favourite gangster film of all time. That isn’t to say it’s the best. That is Scorsese’s masterpiece Goodfellas (1990). But I just love this film because DePalma and Stone and Pacino revel in excess, violence and tragedy. It also contains some very dark humour too. Tony Montana is horrific, but also very funny. Georgio Moroder’s brooding synthesised score pocks the Miami streets, clubs, beaches, Bolivian boltholes, and in the final hour, Tony’s fortified mansion. I love the artificial backdrops featuring palm trees and sun because their fakeness symbolises the delusory world of the characters. Indeed, even the back-projection shots used when driving add to the illusion. The characters business foundations are built on white sand, a powder which ultimately blows away in the wind.

DePalma is the best director of a cinematic set-piece since Hitchcock. That isn’t to say he’s the best director ever per se, but rather someone who just creates so many well-conceived and memorable scenes. The infamous chainsaw scene, the killing of Frank (Robert Loggia), Tony’s bitter monologue in the restaurant, and the explosive “say hello to my little friend” ending, are just a few of the jaw-dropping moments in this epic crime drama. DePalma also gets incredible performances from all the cast. Pacino obviously blows the doors off as the tough, paranoiac, angry, greedy and hyperbolic Montana. The then, mostly unknown, Michelle Pfeiffer is equally impressive as the coke-fuelled ice-queen, Elvira, who becomes Tony’s vampiric and soulless wife.

Stone’s scenery-crunching script obviously owes much to the original film version of Scarface (1932), co-written by, among others, W. R. Bennett and Ben Hecht and directed by Howard Hawks. The structure is remarkably similar charting the rise and fall of the “political refugee” from Cuba, Tony Montana. It’s a genius stroke by Stone to transplant the exodus of Cubans to America and at the same time, echo the rise of the gangster during the prohibition era of the original film. But, instead of booze, the drug of choice is cocaine. This war on drugs is bloody and unforgiving. As the money and narcotics mount up, so do the victims. Complicit with the criminals are law enforcement, South American dictators and U.S. Government officials. Stone makes many political barbs, but never preaches at the expense of the narrative. Capitalism, the law and American foreign policy has never been more ruthless than here in Scarface (1983). As the oft-seen slogan says, ‘The World is Yours’, but tragically these characters don’t live long enough to enjoy it.


“Every day above ground is a good day.” – Tony Montana



AMAZON PRIME REVIEWS FEATURING: THE BOYS (S1), THE EXPANSE (S1) and PREACHER (S1)

REVIEWS OF THE BOYS (2019), THE EXPANSE (2016) & PREACHER (2016)

So, we are now a few weeks into the lockdown scenario caused by the COVID-19 virus and I have been off work for around that amount of time too. Tragically people are dying, and we owe it to be responsible by continuing to follow the rules laid down that will prevent the spread of the infection. It’s tough for everyone including families, employees and businesses. The capitalist system has taken a massive hit, and some will not survive in terms of life and work. I am not a religious person, but I pray to everyone’s God, whoever that may be, society comes through this. We are digging tunnels, looking for light and an escape. It cannot come soon enough.

In terms of escape it has never been easier to find both the time and formats with which to fill the gap. Thankfully the internet is still up and running, thus I have been filling my time in — aside from some minor administrative work-from-home stuff — writing my film reviews, editing and posting short videos, exercising and watching quite a lot of television and film content. Anything to stop me from becoming a beer monster or functioning alcoholic – AGAIN! The latest focussed viewing has been of Amazon Prime, and the many boxsets they have. So, here are mini reviews of three shows I have seen recently. All with the usual marks out of eleven.

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



THE BOYS (2019) – SEASON 1 – PRIME VIDEO

Based on the comic book series created by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, this violent superhero comedy is the complete antithesis of the Marvel Universe. Taking savage satirical swipes at huge corporations and United States foreign policy, it features a group of vigilantes, led by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) called ‘The Boys.’ For a variety of reasons, including good old-fashioned revenge, they have targeted the most powerful business in the world, Vought International. Vought control and monetize ‘The Seven’, a group of all-powerful superheroes who happen to mostly be narcissistic, unstable and psychotic arseholes.

The initial episodes started slowly for me and I found it difficult to warm to any of the characters. This could simply be superhero fatigue or certain weaknesses in the writing throughout. However, the spikes of tremendous action, vicious humour and spectacular violence kept me on board. Elisabeth Shue and Antony Starr impress as the nefarious villains, while Erin Moriarty shone as the one decent superhero, Starlight. The least said about the shockingly bad English accent Karl Urban delivers the better. I mean his acting is impressive, but mate – come on!!

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



THE EXPANSE (2015) – SEASON 1 – SYFY/AMAZON PRIME

Usually when I see something is on the Syfy channel I baulk slightly. I mean the shows are pretty decent as a rule, but some right old fantasy schlock can get dumped there. So, with a saturated streaming market offering a plethora of U.S. cable shows, sometimes the Syfy channel shows get short shrift. It’s a shame because The Expanse is a really good science-fiction programme which began airing on Syfy, but is now on Amazon Prime. The sci-fi show hangs tonally between Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and the Philip K. Dick-style “Mars v Terra” stories I have read. Indeed, while it doesn’t contain actual aliens or Dick’s surreal explorations of the psyche, it is, in fact, a fantastically plotted and styled industrial, political and humanistic set of narratives.

Based on James S. A. Corey’s (a pseudonym I believe for two writers), The Expanse (Season 1), is set hundreds of years into the Earth’s future and space has been colonized. But it’s not a utopia. Mars, Earth and an outer-planetary system of space stations called ‘The Belt’ are all conflicted on the brink of civil or galactic war. The multiple narratives follow the likes of the always-excellent, Thomas Jane, as a grizzled cop investigating a missing person and a space freighter gang led by Stephen Strait. The latter’s crew go from episode to episode finding life-threatening situations throughout. It’s a space-rock solid production full of twists, action and conspiracies; retaining a cynical, noir and unglamorous edge which makes me want to watch further seasons.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



PREACHER (2016) – SEASON 1 – AMC/AMAZON PRIME

Developed by Hollywood players Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, along with Breaking Bad writer, Sam Catlin, this darkly comedic post-modern vision of heaven and hell is based on a comic book by Garth Ennis (that man again) and Steve Dillon. Starring the very reliable Dominic Cooper as hard drinking and former career criminal-turned Preacher, Jesse Custer, we find him losing faith in a small Texan town and a dwindling set of hopeless parishioners. That is until one day he is struck by some twisted divine interpretation. Then, literally, all hell breaks loose as Custer battles his inner demons and the local slaughterhouse baron portrayed with callous joy by Jackie Earle Haley.

Like The Boys, I initially found Preacher a little bit slow in terms of setting up the story and characters. But I think that was deliberate as there are so many crazy concepts relating to religion and the afterlife in here, a balance had to be given to combining the fantastic and more realistic elements. I’m not sure they’re wholly successful, however, Cooper is great, and he is ably supported by the effervescent Ruth Negga as his tough-talking ex-girlfriend, Tulip. Moreover, English actor Joseph Gilgun steals the show as the Irish sidekick with a dark secret. While the narrative moves steadily, with arguably too many secondary characters, the bloody gore levels during the fight scenes are absolutely spectacular. If, like me, you enjoy irreverent bible-black comedy which offends most religions and contains lashings of ultra-violence, then Preacher is definitely one to pray to the lords of television for.

Mark: 8 out of 11 (but 10 out of 11 for the gore)

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

APOCALYPSE CINEMA – VISIONS OF POSSIBLE FUTURES

“It’s the end of the World as we know it – and I feel fine!” Michael Stipe


With the world gripped by the COVID-19 virus threat one’s mind can run amok and look to possible futures. Thus, I thought it interesting to explore some visions of the Apocalypse as seen on the film. I mean you have to hand it to humanity; it’s able to distract itself from the possible end of the world by creating stories and entertainment ABOUT the end of the world!   Here’s TEN of the best I could think of.

***CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS***


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NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) – UNKNOWN CAUSE

George Romero’s seminal classic zombie film gave birth (and death) to a whole subgenre of horror films. The low budget is no barrier to an ingenious concept involving the dead rising up and attempting to wipe out the rest of humanity. Both powerful as a horror narrative and social commentary, it remains one of the most influential films of all time.


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PLANET OF THE APES (1969) – NUCLEAR WAR

Poor old Charlton Heston never had much luck with the future as his characters often ended up in dystopian visions of hell. Such films included: Soylent Green (1973)Omega Man (1971) and the classic Planet of the Apeswhere simian humanoids are running the planet and enslaving the savage natives. One of the great sci-fi epics with probably the greatest film ending of all time, the film remains a timeless vision of the future.


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MAD MAX: ROAD WARRIOR (1981) – NUCLEAR WAR

In between the road-raging original and this brilliant sequel there was some kind of global nuclear meltdown hitherto bringing about a dusty wasteland where fuel is God and humans will kill to get their hands on it!  Out of the dust rises a reluctant hero, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), who strives to survive while battling hordes of petrolheads, psychos and punks! Definitely one of the best sequels of all time, George Miller spectacularly remade it with the equally pulsating Fury Road (2015).



THE TERMINATOR (1984) – ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Bloody Internet, sorry Skynet!  We create these wonderful computers to help us with everyday life including our Missile Defence Systems and they turn on us!  Only a Mother and her child – who hasn’t been born yet – can save us from a life of death and slavery at the hands of the machines. Cameron’s seminal sci-fi action film delivers an unforgettable feast of story, concepts and emotion, containing in Sarah Connor’s, one of the best character arcs of all time.


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THE MATRIX (1999) – ALIEN MACHINES / ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Damned alien machines enslaving humanity and feasting on our fluids and organs for energy in some sick, twisted vision of a futuristic Harvest festival. Then again, compared to some of the shitty office jobs I’ve had I think I’d choose the “Matrix” over those; just don’t tell me I’m in the Matrix! Neo (Keanu Reeves) chose the other pill and it’s a good job he, Morpheus and Trinity did, because we get some kick-ass slow-motion action out of it.



WATERWORLD (1995) – GLOBAL WARMING

In this future we will basically live in the water and grow gills. Also, pure dirt and water will be our most priceless commodity. Well, that’s what will occur according to this apocalyptic-polar-ice-caps-melting-earth-swimming-pool-with-pirates movie. At the time it was one of the most expensive film flops in history, but IT actually wasn’t THAT bad. Kevin Costner plays a softer and more soaked version of Mad Max, while Dennis Hopper chews up the scenery as the over-the-top Napoleonic baddie at sea.

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TWELVE MONKEYS (1995) – DEADLY VIRUS

Seeing someone close to you die in front of your eyes as a child is not a future you really need is it?  But what if THAT person is. . . Following the opening of this brilliant film, the plot centres around future prisoners being sent back in time to find the cause of the deadly viral apocalypse. The awesome mind of Terry Gilliam filtering Chris Marker’s classic short La Jetée (1962), makes this an intelligent and exciting end-of-the-world blockbuster. Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt are on particularly good form too amidst Gilliam’s frightening visuals.


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28 DAYS LATER (2002) – RAGE VIRUS

Alex Garland and Danny Boyle’s blistering British horror classic springboards a Day of The Triffids style opening as Cillian Murphy wakes up in a seemingly empty London. Alas, he is not alone as he finds, along with a ragtag bunch of survivors, the world has been populated with raging and rapid zombies hellbent on feeding. Boyle directs with a low budget, yet prodigious inventive flair in a modern-day monstrous classic.


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THE WORLD’S END (2013) – ALIEN INVASION

The third in the Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ is often seen as the weakest of the three. That’s because the first two are so strong, The World’s End suffers slightly in their shadow. However, a stellar British cast all combine brilliantly as a group of friends reuniting to enact the same town pub crawl they had done year’s before. It’s just a shame a bunch of aliens have decided to take over the town at the same bloody time!


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THIS IS THE END (2013) – BIBLICAL APOCAPLYPSE

The end of days has never been so hilarious and dumb as in this Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg directed apocalyptic comedy. The stellar who’s-who cast of rising Hollywood actors including: Jonah Hill, Rogen, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride plus many more cameos turns, all find themselves battling monsters, fiery sinkholes and each other, in an irreverent and gleeful disaster movie.


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

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

Directed by Marielle Heller

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

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

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

Cinematography: Jodee Lee Lipes

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**


“Hello Neighbour!” – Fred Rogers


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

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



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

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

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


THE GOOD PLACE (S1 – S3) TV / NETFLIX REVIEW

THE GOOD PLACE (S1 – S3) TV / NETFLIX REVIEW

Created by: Michael Schur

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.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

HOW’S YOUR CATHOLIC GUILT? THE YOUNG POPE REVIEW (2016)

HOW’S YOUR CATHOLIC GUILT? REVIEWING THE YOUNG POPE (2016)

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Having recently reviewed Martin Scorcese’s Silence (2016) I thought it apt to follow it up by looking at a more contemporary vision of religion and faith with a review of Paulo Sorrentino’s HBO produced The Young Pope. Created, co-written and directed by uber-Italian-auteur Sorrentino it stars the impressive Jude Law as the eponymous lead protagonist. Law’s Lenny Belardo, rather than the crusty-almost-dead-looking-Popes we’re used to seeing behind bulletproof glass or delivering sermons from the Vatican, is in fact a younger, muscular and even sexy Pope.

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Now, while I respect an individual’s right to believe what they want to, be it the teachings of Christ or Mohammed or Obi Wan Kenobi for that matter, I’m not a great fan of ‘Organized Religion.’ Indeed, ‘Organized Religion’ must be up there, along with global governments, Hitler, Spanish flu, and bubonic plague, as the main cause of wars, death and the suffering of millions.  More specifically, Catholicism and its representatives have been at the forefront of negative events down the years including the Medieval Witch Hunts; Spanish Inquisitions; the tragedy of the ‘Fallen Women’ in 1920s-1950s Ireland; general acquiring of huge wealth while followers live in poverty; anti-gay and Pro-life ideologies; and as most recently seen in the film Spotlight (2015), a worldwide cover-up of paedophilia by Catholic priests. So how does Sorrentino approach such issues?

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Well, his creative team’s approach to the material is not one of demonization but rather playful satire, wistful respect and a formidable testing of the Vatican as an institution. His desire it not to bring down the Catholic Church but rather purge the old and modernize its way of thinking and how it represents itself. It’s a testament to the strength of the writing that it held my interest throughout and this was essentially down to the incredible characterisation and performances from Jude Law, Diane Keaton, James Cromwell and incomparable Sivio Orlando as the devious but ultimately soft-hearted-Napoli-fan Cardinal Voiello.

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Over ten episodes of high quality dramatic analysis Sorrentino presents many of the issues facing the Catholic church now including: the paedophilia cases charged; the sexual behaviour, addictions and sins of Priests; the financial and political machinations of the Vatican; the importance of public relations and marketing the Vatican; and of course the very nature of faith and what it means to be a Catholic.  These are indeed heavy subjects yet while serious like Scorcese’s Silence, The Young Pope contains some wry and delicate humour too. I mean ten episodes of a Vatican-based comedy it isn’t, but Paulo Sorrentino’s skewed look shows the priests and nuns, not as higher beings but rather flawed humans like the rest of us.

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None are presented as more human than the lead character Lenny Belardo.  Jude Law’s character is a surly, sarcastic and snappy dude from the start. He smokes and shows little respect for the elder priests, led by Cardinal Voiello and his prior mentor, Cardinal Spencer (James Cromwell) who are as surprised as him that he somehow won the Papacy due to an advantageous split in the votes. Belardo vows to break the “old boys” network and spends much of the season locking heads with Voiello and Spencer in a bitter series of power plays. This young Pope does not suffer fools and refuses to be seen in public and reneges on his public relations duties. He even at times “jokes” about not believing in God; while his first speech delivered in silhouette is an unmitigated PR disaster.

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Yet, at Belardo’s heart is a dark sadness due to his abandonment by his hippy parents, who while a young boy, dumped him at an orphanage run by Sister Mary (Keaton).  Keaton portrays the surrogate Mother to Lenny and his best pal, Cardinal Dussolier (Scott Shepherd) as she supports him admirably during his papal duties. We see Belardo battle his elders, his faith, his anger, loneliness and sexual temptations which are put before him; all as he finds his voice as the Pope. It is a fascinating journey which really pulls you into the Pope’s internal and external strife.

Overall, this was a heavy yet rewarding series to watch. The scenery and imagery on show dazzle as Sorrentino and his cinematographer conjure some startling holy visions and beautiful architectural compositions. The writing is also of the highest quality with some magnificently lofty, pious and poetic speeches throughout. Being very clever Sorrentino both pokes a teasing stick at the Vatican but also praises the Lord in his own inimitable way, creating several fascinating characters in the process. Jude Law has never ever been better in a show which while initially testing rewards those who keep the faith.

SILENCE (2016): REVIEWED BY A RELIGIOUS OUTSIDER

SILENCE (2016): REVIEWED BY PAUL LAIGHT

Rather than review every single thing I have seen in one monthly instalment I have decided to theme my reviews concentrating on quality rather than quantity in 2017. So, here I go with a light essay on the nature of the existence of God, the relevance of religion in today’s world and at the same time give my humble opinions on Martin Scorcese’s passion project Silence (2016).

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In my mind I do not believe in God. I do not believe in a higher-power that created Earth and oversees our everyday lives. I believe Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed existed in some form or another in the past and their philosophies and teachings laid the groundwork for Christianity, Islam and Buddhism; plus many of the other religions that are followed today. Personally, I believe in all that I see and hear and experience in life and while I respect other people’s faith, commitment to an all-powerful being is not for me. Each to their own I reckon.

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A belief in Heaven and God certainly explains many things such as why are we here? And what happens when we die? Because let’s face it the threat of a never-ending abyss of no consciousness is a terrifying thought after all. I mean, I lived and studied in Stoke-on-Trent for three years so have seen the void and it is frightening. So, I get that people need some comfort and answers to difficult questions. It’s just a shame that religion, organized or otherwise, has been used historically for not only good but also something that has caused: torture, war, murder, inquisitions, control, heartache and division etc. But, hey, that’s more of a critique of humanity rather than faith.

Thus, while I respect individual’s choice of faith or politics or ideology, religion and prayers are not for me. Having said that, I’m not a fundamental atheist looking to attack those believers and when reputed filmmakers such as Martin Scorcese embark on personal journeys into their own faith it certainly makes one have a look and reconsider your own perspectives. Indeed, Silence features a lead character which clearly acts as Scorcese’s personal conduit as Rodrigues journeys into the heart of darkness and faces a horrific test of faith.

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Like The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Kundun (1997), Martin Scorcese is no stranger to broaching heavy and powerful subjects relating to religion. Of course, it’s easy to say I prefer his stylised, violent and darkly humorous gangster films as they are eminently watchable with kinetic camerawork, great soundtracks and brutal men taking each other out in all manner of bloody ways. Having said that these films still ring true to Scorcese as he grew up in a tough Italian neighbourhood where more often than not the choice was to become a gangster or a priest. What a choice!

Silence is set as far away from New York as you could get: in 17th century feudal Japan. It concerns two priests Rodrigues and Garupe (brilliant portrayed by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who venture into the heart of darkness to attempt to find their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). It is a long film which requires much stamina in both heart and mind and at times certainly tested my faith in the director. However, after it had ended it left me with so much to think about I knew it was worth the journey. It’s a story that you absorb through your psyche and physicality. It does not strike any easy notes as it discordantly pulls at your cerebral sinews.

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The first act quickly establishes the drama but I felt that the second thirty minutes was arguably too slow as I was very keen for the quest to find Ferreira gain some pace. Yet, when the film focusses on Andrew Garfield’s character and the testing of his faith Scorcese really got to the heart of the narrative. Moreover, there was much in the film which reflected today. The priests are captured, humiliated and tortured in a Japanese equivalent of Guantanamo Bay. But the Japanese were not stereotypical or evil for evil’s sake. Their motivations of protecting their culture and own religion were well argued. In fact, it’s an important theme in the film where, in testing Rodrigues’ faith, are they not perhaps right to protect their way of life? Especially given they may have some knowledge of the violence committed by Westerners and Christians in the name of God.

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Overall, Silence is a reflective and personal film about faith and culture clashes. Over the running time Scorcese, through the characters, questions his beliefs and how he should best go about praising the Lord. Scorcese’s soul is in many characters notably Rodrigues but also Neeson’s Ferreira. Most importantly he is also present in a fascinating sin-confess-repent-Judas character called Kichijiro (Yōsuke Kubozuka). While moving at a meditative pace Silence possesses some wonderful cinematography, sterling performances and a brooding score. Ultimately, faith is a personal choice and whether you believe in God or not an individual must choose their own path of faith even if it is silence.