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SCREENWASH – SUMMER 2017 – TV DRAMA REVIEWS including: THE NIGHT OF, HANDMAID’S TALE, FARGO (S3) etc.

SCREENWASH – SUMMER 2017 – TV DRAMA REVIEW ROUND-UP

I’ve been watching some excellent dramas over the last few months so here’s a few bitesize reviews with the usual marks out of eleven!

BROADCHURCH (2017) – SEASON 3 – ITV

Chris Chibnall’s compelling investigative-crime-coastal-set drama continues as Police Officers Hardy (David Tennant) and Miller (Olivia Coleman) get to grips with a horrific sexual attack. The chemistry between the two leads is, as usual, the glue that holds the show together as does the suspenseful narrative. It’s a very well-crafted human drama too with many well-rounded characters driving the story. The excellent supporting cast including: Jodie Whittaker, Andrew Buchan, Lenny Henry, Julie Hesmondhalgh etc. make this another very watchable drama. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

BROADCHURCH

FARGO (2017) – SEASON 3 – MGM / FX

Noah Hawley continues to emulate the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre with pitch perfect expertise. This story of stoic cops, dumb criminals, ultra-violence and random acts of fate amidst the snowy landscapes of Minnesota is highly recommended. Ewan McGregor brilliantly plays TWO warring brothers whose feud escalates out of control while corporate crime also gets a poke as McGregor’s Emmet Stussy car-lot business gets swooped on by shysters. Slyly satirising the police procedural drama with off-centre plot twists and dark humour, David Thewlis’s scumbag businessman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead crafty femme fatale steal the show in ten brilliant-could’ve-watched-it-all-day-violent-but-hilarious episodes. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

GENIUS (2017) – SEASON 1 – NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Genius-1.1-2

This beautifully shot and well-written educational drama is based on Walter Isaacson’s book Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007). It examines Einstein’s early life as a struggling clerk and events which saw him become one of the most famous scientists. Johnny Flynn portrays young Einstein with a fine energy while Geoffrey Rush excels as the mad-haired genius we have come to recognise. I’m definitely not a science buff, however there was much to be engrossed by in Einstein’s story, not least his dysfunctional family and marital issues. Both informative and enlightening in regard to science and history it’s fascinating throughout. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2017) – SEASON 1 – HULU / C4

Based on Margaret Attwood’s novel, it is set in a dystopian (is there any other kind) near future where the United States has now become split following a societal breakdown and coup. Having moved to more religious-based dictatorial rule, women on the main are now barren and unable to have children; there are however a select few who can still get pregnant. Rather than herald these individuals they are herded up and given to the ruling elite as brood slaves. Elisabeth Moss is mesmerizing as the lead “Handmaid” Offred/June who must survive oppression following her husband and daughter’s apparent death. This hard-hitting drama is definitely one of the best I have seen during 2017. It moves slowly and is very bleak but, like Children of Men (2006), it contains suggestions of hope, light, rebellion and solidarity in a grim, patriarchal world which crushes life and colour. Impressively directed, acted and shot it had me transfixed and disturbed and I very much look forward to a 2nd season. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

HOMELAND (2014) – SEASON 4 – SHOWTIME / C4

Claire Danes deserves so much praise for her role as Carrie Mathison. She owns the screen with her single-handed determination to fight against both bi-polar and “enemies” of the USA. Set in Kabul this season eschews the more romantic intensity of the previous seasons for some thrilling spy twists. Rupert Friend excels too as the burnt out CIA Operative as the story moves more toward 24esque territory. It’s sad that the political landscape gives rise to shows such as this but it remains compelling if slightly generic viewing compared to the other seasons. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

HOMELAND

IRON FIST (2017) – SEASON 1 – MARVEL / NETFLIX

Danny Rand (Finn Jones) – previously believed dead – comes back to claim his family business and takes on both corporate and mystical villains in this contemporary superhero drama. Jones is okay and David Wenham is excellent as one of the bad guys but I really struggled with this. I enjoyed Daredevil and Jessica Jones and thought Luke Cage, while a bit slow, had some excellent moments. Iron Fist, however, had a thin repetitive narrative and the fight scenes, characters and dialogue lacked the fizz of Marvel’s best TV work. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

finn-jones-iron-fist-netflix

THE NIGHT OF… (2016) – HBO/SKY

A shy young student Naz portrayed by Riz Ahmed makes several poor life decisions and finds himself in jail for the murder of a young woman. Ambulance-chasing-psoriasis-suffering lawyer John Stone (John Turturro) takes his case as all the evidence points to his guilt.  Created by Richard Price and Steve Zaillian and starring Riz Ahmed, John Turturro, Michael Kenneth Williams and Bill Camp this exquisite noir-crime drama carries the confidence and style of the very best cinematic offerings.  Moreover, the rich characterisation and performances raise it well above the usual police/lawyer procedural dramas on television. Award winning drama of the highest quality with a superlative cast. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

SCREENWASH – AMERICAN TV DRAMA REVIEWS, INCLUDING: BILLIONS, BIG LITTLE LIES & WALKING DEAD

SCREENWASH – AMERICAN TV DRAMA REVIEWS

Following on from my recent reviews of ITV drama shows I have also recently watched, many U.S. programmes over the last few months.  So, here are some more bite-size reviews with marks out of eleven. Hope you enjoy.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

BATES MOTEL (2014) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

So, Norman Bates gets a paradoxical contemporary prequel which while chronologically set before Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho (1960), exists in the now of mobile phones, crooked cops, Chinese sex slaves, cystic fibrosis and huge cannabis forests that drive the towns’ industry.  Freddie Highmore as young psycho Norman and Vera Farmiga as his domineering, yet sexy, mother are absolutely brilliant in this absurdly plotted but nifty little horror-crime-thriller-mish-mash. I especially enjoyed Highmore’s subtle delivery as he fights with the demons in his head, amidst hormonal teenage desires. Plus, more often than not he echoes Anthony Perkins classic performance as the original Master Bates. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

BIG LITTLE LIES (2017) – SEASON 1 – SKY ATLANTIC

One of the most difficult things a screenwriter and director have to do, in my view, is to make rootable those wealthy, spoilt and first-world characters that drive your story. One way to do it is to make their conflict human and relatable, plus casting brilliant actors in the lead roles helps greatly too. Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Alexander Skarsgard and Shailene Woodley are all on top acting form portraying various personas within the affluent Monterey upper middle classes. Jean-Marc Vallee directs David Kelley’s superb script with aplomb and the editing is some of the best you will see in a television show all year. The interweaving stories concerning an unknown murder victim; school bullying; warring parents; extra-marital affairs; and the abusive relationships, is expertly played out over seven compelling episodes. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

BILLIONS (2017) – SEASON 2 – SKY ATLANTIC

Again, how do you make rich people empathetic and rootable? Well in Billions the writers don’t!  They have created a superbly written series around some of the most selfish, self-centred, vicious and vindictive characters in hedge-fund shark Bobby Axelrod and unscrupulous Attorney General Chuck Rhodes; and pitted them against each other over ten compelling episodes. Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti are on fantastic form as “Masters of the Universe” leads that will stop at nothing to destroy each other’s lives. Maggie Siff and Malin Akerman as their respective wives also at the sharp end of the legal, financial and psychological one-upmanship drama, along with a terrific ensemble cast including: David Constable, David Strathairn, Eric Bogosian, Toby Leonard Moore and the very gifted Asia Kate Dillon. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

HOMELAND (2014) – SEASON 3 – NETFLIX

After the explosive end to Season 2, which wiped out many of the major supporting players, Season 3 found Carrie Matheson and Nicholas Brody find themselves separated and in deep trouble. Matheson is cast as the scapegoat for the destruction of the CIA and failure in protocols while Brody is in Columbia lurching from one violent episode to another. The strength of the first two seasons came from the dynamic plotting, heart-racing suspense and the chemistry between Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. Season 3 suffers from the two’s separation slightly but there was enough dramatic moments throughout to make it well worth a watch. Danes was especially impressive as Matheson who is forever taking chances because of her determination to protect her country, plus her love for Brody. The show doesn’t present easy answers and the ending was particularly bleak as we come to realise that no one wins in these political and international wars. Have to say that Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson and Rupert Friend gave great support and the show ultimately remains compelling, even if at times it slightly tested believability.  (Mark: 8 out of 11)

SONS OF ANARCHY (2015) – SEASONS 6 & 7 – NETFLIX

My lord this show is SO brutal; in fact I think it is arguably the most violent TV show I have ever seen because many of the deaths are cold and hot-blooded savagery. In Seasons 6 and 7, Jax (Charlie Hunnam) desperately tried to become a better person and take the club down a more legitimate route, however, once an outlaw – always an outlaw. Thus battles with cops, IRA, gang-bangers, Mayans, Aryan Brotherhood, and more culminated in two seasons of the usual carnage and bloodshed. Also, Jax had the horror of dealing with the death of loved ones borne out of terrible lies and decisions by those close to him. The main strength of the show is the terrific ensemble cast of which Jimmy Smits, Charlie Hunnam, Tommy Flanagan and Katey Sagal really stood out. Also, the action and serpentine plot twists kept the dramatic irony and suspense at pulsating levels. Only the indulgent montages, over-the-top “I love you, brother” dialogue and overlong episodes wrenched a little but overall an exciting end to a gruesome but entertaining TV show.  (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

THE WALKING DEAD (2017) – SEASON 7 – FOX

The Walking Dead is very much like an elderly grandparent in as much as it has provided happy past memories; has a lot to offer in terms of historical experience; yet sits in their armchair only occasionally sparking into life for our entertainment. However, I must say, Season 7 was way more entertaining than Season 6, which overall really stalled in terms of storylines and fast-paced action. Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his Alexandrian crew and family came under pressure, not just from the zombie hordes but also Jeffery Dean Morgan’s delightful uber-villain, Negan. Massacring two of the leading characters at the beginning of the season created a real sense of suspense throughout and, aside from a few filler episodes; I thought the writing and the introduction of other clans gave the show some dramatic impetus. I still think sixteen episodes are too many but the war against the Saviours was gripping and overall there was enough bloody zombie deaths to entertain this horror fan. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

SCREENWASH – October 2016 REVIEWS

SCREENWASH – OCTOBER 2016

Amidst the films I watched at the London Film Festival in October I also watched some very decent TV shows and other movies too. Here they with the usual marks out of eleven!

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

AS I LAY DYING (2013) – DVD

James Franco’s directorial debut is an interesting and authentic adaptation of William Faulkner’s much lauded novel. It follows a family and their toiled journey to bury the dead matriarch during 1930s depression-hit America. Great performances all-round are ruined by too much split-screen shenanigans.  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015) – SKY CINEMA

Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance and a deft script from the Coen Brothers are all faultless here in a beautifully shot spy thriller. Hanks portrays James B. Donovan, a top insurance salesman in 1957, who is called in to broker a spy exchange deal. Set during the politically charged cold war climate, this is an enthralling film which while subtle in delivery remains very satisfying due to great performances notably from Hanks and Rylance. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

DADDY’S HOME (2015) – SKY CINEMA

Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell are rival “Dads” in a conventional, yet sparky, comedy! It plays off their physical and comedic charms and great one-liners, crazy stunts and offbeat supporting roles which make it worth a rental. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

FILL THE VOID (2012) – DVD

This is a beautifully shot and acted cultural and character study of a Haredi Orthodox Jewish community in Tel Aviv.  The central story portrays Shira, an 18 year-old innocent, who is thrown into emotional flux when a ‘difficult’ marriage proposal is put her way. I was intrigued by the cultural differences presented and found the subtle drama an illuminating joy. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (2016) – CINEMA

Emily Blunt brilliantly portrays an alcoholic who may or may not have been the last person to see a missing woman. The story develops much suspense as we doubt her character and while the plot lurches toward melodrama at the end, the film works as a fine character study of substance and marital abuse. Some subtle thrills and decent performances with Blunt satisfactorily gluing this novel adaptation together.  (Mark: 8 out of 11)


GRANDMA (2015) – SKY CINEMA

Lily Tomlin is a wonderfully funny actress and in Grandma she plays an acerbic academic who assists her pregnant granddaughter when the father leaves her in the lurch. This is a gem of a character comedy and Tomlin excels as the matriarch who takes no prisoners in her no-nonsense-out-spoken-ways.  (Mark: 8 out of 11)

GRIMSBY (2016) – SKY CINEMA

Mark Strong is one our finest actors and to see him inside an Elephant’s vagina is a sight to behold!  Sacha Baron Cohen plays Nobby – a Northern-ten-kid-benefits-cheat-tracksuited-Liam-Gallagher-lookalike – who gets reunited with his super-spy brother with gross and hilarious consequences. I’d had a few beers and laughed like a drain throughout; so do watch if you like bass gross-out comedies! (Mark: 7 out of 11)

HOMELAND (2012) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX

Damian Lewis and Claire Danes are once again on top form as the suspected terrorist spy and bi-polar CIA operative who cross swords during a terrorist plot on US soil. The writing, acting and direction are of the highest quality as the story jags from one white-knuckle set-piece to another without drawing breath. This is television drama of the highest order; like Hitchcock directed a cerebral version of 24 and then some.  (Mark: 9 out of 11)

LOVE & MERCY (2014) – SKY CINEMA

Paul Dano plays young Brian Wilson and John Cusack plays the older version in a look at different timelines of the Beach Boys genius’ life.  Wilson gave us so much music to enjoy, yet tragically he was struck down with debilitating mental illness. Older Wilson was left open to exploitation by “Doctor” Eugene Landy, who is portrayed with evil spit by Paul Giamatti. Dano as younger Wilson is just perfect; and this is an excellent music biopic and character study! (Mark: 8 out of 11)

MR ROBOT (2015) – SEASON 1 – UNIVERSAL

Moody, mysterious, enigmatic and bafflement were very much the stylistic bents of this excellent hacker drama. It concerns the expert cyber-spaceman Eliot Alderson (icily brilliant Rami Malek) and his attempts to reconcile himself with his father’s death while battling nefarious firm EvilCorp!  This is very well written and sparks fly when Malek and Christian Slater are on screen, but the big reveal you can see a mile off. Overall, it was too slow-paced and despite the quality I won’t go back for season 2. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

SON OF A GUN (2015) – SKY CINEMA

A pretty decent crime thriller stars Ewan McGregor as a badass bank robber who “mentors” young offender Brenton Thwaites. The ever-sparkling Alicia Vikander shines too as a young gangster’s moll trying to escape a life of violence. We’ve seen it all before but it has some good chases and fights so worth a watch on a hungover-Saturday night. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

SONS OF ANARCHY (2008 – 2009) – SEASON 1 & 2 – NETFLIX

Full of over-the-top gang fights, gun deals, porn stars, cock and roll soundtrack and muscular drama, it features sexy women, tough-as-nails men and dirty cops in a fast-paced, brutal and darkly funny show. While the biker anti-heroes include fine character actors: Ron Perlman, Maggie Siff, Charlie Hunnam, Kim Coates and Katey Sagal are on the wrong side of the law they are somehow on the righteous path compared to the enemies they face. Kurt Sutter’s quasi-Western is a tattoed-leather-biker-testosteronic-amoral-crime-fest guilty pleasure and very entertaining. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

WESTWORLD (1973) – NOW TV

Michael Crichton’s classic robots-gone-wrong formula was a state-of-the-art sci-fi classic of its’ day. Highlights are Yul Brynner’s terminator-cowboy going mental and the concept of an adult theme park which allows you to re-enact your every fantasy. The new rebooted HBO show is currently bemusing us with its tricky plotting and devious character work, however, this lean, mean fighting machine of a film remains a brilliant watch.  (Mark: 8 out of 11)

SCREENWASH REVIEWS– AUGUST 2016

SCREENWASH REVIEWS – AUGUST 2016

A quick smash through the stuff I’ve been watching on TV, Netflix, Sky and at the cinema for the month of August. I shall be keeping it brief as going on holiday to Maine tomorrow. Also, there are not as many reviews as usual as having been filming my own short film this month; all the details can be found here: http://startrekshortfilm.com/. Moreover, I am in the midst of slogging through the Danish original version of The Killing (2007), which is excellent but also very long and time-consuming.  As usual, in tribute to Spinal Tap, marks are out of eleven.

BETTER CALL SAUL (2016) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX

Are there any better character drama shows around than this one? The writing and acting in Season 2 was just brilliant. I also enjoyed the direction as the characters and situations are allowed to breathe and evolve as opposed to whizz-bang-smash-cut-resolution. Cast including: Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, Jonathan Banks and the exceptional Michael McKean make it a joy to watch. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

BAD MOMS (2016) – CINEMA

By-the-numbers-chick-flick which is actually funnier than I thought it would be thanks to fine comedic turns from Kathryn Hahn and Christina Applegate. Bush-baby lookalike Mila Kunis is decent enough too as the mother-of-two who decides she just cannot stand anymore of her turbulent family life!  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

COMPUTER CHESS (2013) – DVD

This film directed by Andrew Bujalski was shot on analogue video cameras in black and white and has mainly non-professional actors playing IT freaks and geeks who enter a computer chess programming competition. It’s frankly a barmy-indie-geeky-mumble-core-curio that is kind of unwatchable but must be praised for sheer originality and experimental style. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

CRIMSON PEAK (2015) – SKY CINEMA

Guillermo Del Toro’s beautifully shot gothic horror/romance stars Mia Wasikowska who is swept off her feet by handsome Tom Hiddleston.  It’s your basic haunted house story with a Murder She Wrote murder mystery thrown in; the star of the show is the cinematography and costume/set design. Jessica Chastain provides eerie glamour as Hiddleston’s enigmatic sister but the whole thing could’ve been mined for many more scares. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

HOMELAND (2011) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

This is an absolutely sensational contemporary drama starring the incredibly good Damian Lewis and Claire Danes as soldier and CIA agent dealing with the aftermath of his return from imprisonment by al-Qaeda. Throughout the story fear and suspense are so powerful as the plot twists and the dramatic noose tightens the story constantly wrong foots you. Brilliantly written and acted this is politically astute and one very intelligent thriller. Highly recommended. (Mark: 10 out of 11)

THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY (1979) – DVD

Classic gangster film starring the imperious Bob Hoskins as Harold Shand: an upwardly mobile cockney gangster who in seeking to legitimise his “corporation” finds himself having a VERY bad day. Amidst all the colourful language, violence and explosions we have an adroit examination of the politics of the day and a portent to fast-approaching “greed is good” mentality of the 1980s. Often copied but rarely bettered; it has some great British actors and spot-on working class dialogue throughout. (Mark: 10 out of 11)

OUTCAST (2016) – FOX

Intriguing horror fable from the creators of The Walking Dead combined family drama with a demonic possession storyline. Starring Patrick Fugit, Brett Spiner and Philip Glenister, it started really well with some great scares and interesting characters. However, my interest waned as the plodding pace and lack of narrative clarity made me NOT care. It’s well made and acted but I doubt I will go back to the second season. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)

PATHS OF GLORY (1957) – BFI CINEMA

Quite rightly Paths of Glory has been proclaimed a masterpiece and one of the greatest anti-war films of all time. It’s filled with the now-iconic tracking shots of bloody battle, plus many tremendous performances. Overall, I have watched this classic many times and having seen it on the big screen recently I can testify that it has lost NONE of its grandstanding power. . (Mark: 11 out of 11) For my full review see here:

RED SHIFT (1978) – DVD

Play for Today adaptation of Alan Garner’s pretentious novel which analyses various human relationship dynamics, cosmology and love in Roman, medieval and English Civil times. Artsy and impenetrable, it may be the work of genius yet I found it, on the whole, unwatchable to be honest. Sometimes I think people think things are clever because the writer has not defined meaning precisely thus leaving the themes open to interpretation. I just found it tedious. (Mark: 5 out of 11)

UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT (2015) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

Kidnapped by a charismatic cult leader and tricked into living in an underground bunker for fifteen years, naïve but tough Kimmy Schmidt is released into a very different world.  Ellie Kempner is brilliant as the indefatigable Kimmy who moves to New York to start a new life and meets a whole host of rich and poor narcissists and eccentrics.  The jokes come thick and fast throughout but the premise wore thin as the episodes went on but overall a very funny comedy.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

UPSTREAM COLOR (2013) – DVD

Shane Carruth’s mind-bending and pretentious film is both ambitious and brave and incredible for the budget it was shot on! Artsy and impenetrable, it may be the work of genius yet I found it, on the whole, unwatchable to be honest. Sometimes I think people think things are clever because the writer has not defined meaning precisely thus leaving the themes open to interpretation. I just found it tedious. A wonderful premise and intriguing themes give way to a lack of care for the characters. Sorry. (Mark: 6 out of 11)