ALL 4 TV REVIEW – DERRY GIRLS (2018 – 2019) – SEASONS 1 & 2
Created and written by: Lisa McGee
Directed by: Michael Lennox
Cast: Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Louisa Harland, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Dylan Llewellyn, Nicola Coughlan, Tara Lynne O’Neill, Siobhan McSweeney, Tommy Tiernan, Ian McElhinney, Kathy Keira Clarke etc.
Original Network: CHANNEL 4 – (Available on ALL 4 and Netflix)
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
There have been many dramas over the years on the stage and screen about the “Troubles” in Ireland. For decades, civil war had divided the Catholic and Protestant people of Ireland, precipitated by the English occupation of Northern Ireland. Many lives were lost in the fighting and the tragedies. It unsurprisingly drew attention from writers, artists and dramatists. Recently though Lisa McGee created and wrote a comedy called Derry Girls, which was also set during this era; and very funny it is too.
Set in Derry (also known as Londonderry) in the 1990’s, Derry Girls introduces us to four teenage girls, their families and friends during these difficult times. The main characters are: the vocal and passionate Erin (Saoirse-Monica-Jackson); the voice of reason Clare (Nicola Coughlan), often crude, anti-authoritarian, Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell); and detached eccentric Orla (Louise Harland). Joining them is James (Dylan Llewellyn), an English kid who has to join the girls’ school for fear of what the Irish boys may do.
As well as the British army’s occupation of Derry and the divide between Protestants and Catholics providing a backdrop to the girls’ everyday lives, they also manage to find themselves in loads of other trouble too. Episodes centred around: family squabbles, romance, sex, music, drugs, school projects, religious artefacts and holidays create a relatable familiarity to many episodes. The events and energy evoking the girls’ school days reminded me especially of another Channel Four hit comedy, The Inbetweeners.
While the performances by our lead protagonists are very good, scenes are often stolen by the older supporting cast. Siobhan McSweeney as the deadpan and jaded Sister Michael is really funny. As is one of my favourite stand-up comedians, Tommy Tiernan. His downtrodden Dad tries to keep the peace, but often finds himself at the butt of abuse from Ian McElhinney’s contemptuous remarks. Nonetheless, the humour is always good-natured and not nasty, especially toward faith or authority figures.
Overall, Derry Girls is a fast-paced and very funny situation comedy. It’s well written, acted and directed comedy, with loads of fun and eccentric characters to enjoy. While not overtly political in its representation of the “Troubles”, it uses that situation intelligently as part of the narrative and wider social context. Above all else, however, it shows through many fine comedic episodes, that despite the ongoing divide within the country, humans will strive to overcome adversity through friendship, family, community and humour.
Produced by: Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper, Emma Tillinger Koskoff
Written by Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Based on : DC Comics’ Joker created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Bill Camp, Zazie Beetz, Francis Conroy, Glen Fleshler, Brian Tyree Henry, Marc Maron etc.
Music: Hildur Guðnadóttir
Cinematography: Lawrence Sher
**** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****
“Is it just me – or is it getting crazier out there?”
There’s no let up for poor coulrophobes. You wait so long for an evil clown and two come along in quick succession! First Pennywise hits the big screen twice. Now, Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix deliver an incendiary cinematic masterpiece, based on DC’s uber-villain, Joker.
With Marvel’s cinematic universe heroically saving the world and making Disney a lot of money in the process, everything was looking a bit bright in the comic book film world. Not anymore, because Joker (2019) brings darkness, chaos, delusions and insanity to the screen. This film doesn’t reflect a safe world full of heroes, but instead illustrates one without them or a shred of hope.
The year is 1981. The place is Gotham. The symbol of this urban disintegration will be downtrodden clown, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). Crime and garbage ravage the city and social services budgets are being cut. Arthur struggles with his mental health, his clown work and his unwell mother (Francis Conroy). He attempts to find solace in stand-up comedy, but his psychological problems stretch to uncontrollable laughing fits, making people laugh AT him, as opposed to WITH him. He seeks potential romance with a neighbour, Sophie (Zasie Beetz), but his world begins to collapse when he loses his job and his medication is cut off. Attacked by kids on the street and bankers on the tube, Arthur is forced to fight back. But, violence begets violence, as a new, more dominant persona comes to the fore.
Joker (2019) is a bravura and risk-taking character study charting the downward spiral of both a city on the edge; and an individual losing touch with the real world. Rather than being cared for by the system, Arthur is thrown to the gutter, only to rise up with fire, violence, colour, costume and maniacal chuckling. From the mean streets of Gotham comes not calm, but social unrest and protests; not a hero but a painted villain, dancing and plotting bloody murder.
I have read that there have been complaints that the film trivialises mental health. Well, having experienced a close family member suffer mental breakdown and have a friend commit suicide due to extreme anxiety, I actually think Joker (2019) presents madness in a very truthful way. Mental health is scary, unpredictable, difficult to treat and prone to startling bursts of uncontrollable energy. It’s hard to comprehend what happens in people’s brains to make them act a certain way and this film captures that. The reason the film is scary is because mental health is scary. If it is not treated, then people can harm themselves and others. Therein lies the truth and tragedy of mental illness.
Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely incredible as Arthur Fleck/Joker. Hysterical laughter echoes and haunts the screen. Every cigarette he smokes drags nicotine anxiety into his ravaged lungs. As violent outbursts jolt and as his skinny body dances, I felt a gamut of emotions including: fear, humour, shock and sadness. Fleck’s transformation into Joker is a slow-burn trajectory and masterful acting performance. He tries to avoid violence and confrontation, but it’s drawn to him like a moth to a flame. He tries to make people laugh, but sadly only ends up hurting them. Joker is an outsider desperate to step inside and be part of society, but, even down to his unknown parentage, he is rejected at every turn.
As well as Phoenix, Todd Phillips deserves much kudos for creating an incredibly dark, but impressive cinematic experience. He is ably assisted by the startling cinematography of Lawrence Sher, who captures that gritty, paranoiac and urban look perfectly. Much praise also to Hildur Guðnadóttir, who, for me, has orchestrated the musical score of the year. Lastly, the genius of marrying cinematic classics like Taxi Driver (1976) and The King of Comedy (1983), with a DC comic-book super-villain is an absolute masterstroke. Indeed,Joker (2019), is one of the most memorable and compelling films of 2019. Why so serious? Watch it and discover for yourself.
A TEST OF CHARACTER: BRIEFLY EXPLORING CINEMATIC PERSONAS
“Just because you are a character, doesn’t mean you HAVE character.”
Winston Wolf – Pulp Fiction (1994)
What makes one film character more interesting than others? Obviously, the actor who plays them brings much to the role, but the writing, their story and personality are what draws us specifically to them. While film studios have utilised the star system and cast well regarded actors to sell their movies, the actual personas of the characters are just as, if not, more important.
Having strong characters to support the genre, concept and plot of their works is integral to writers, directors and actors. Thus, I’d like to explore some general character traits which help define a strong film character. I would like to consider the following: LIKEABILITY, EMPATHY, EXPERTISE, RESILIENCE, HUMOUR, COOLNESS and COMPLEXITY. There are obviously many other aspects to a character we could consider but I’ll stick to these for now.
To support this, I will list five film characters in each category. If I have missed anything glaring, then please feel free to shout out and comment.
*******CONTAINS FILM SPOILERS*******
Does a character have to be likeable for you to root for them? Not at all! However, if they are a positive character it does help you to warm to their stories and emotions. That isn’t to say you cannot appreciate unlikeable characters, however, they are more complicated and I will come to those later.
FIVE LIKEABLE FILM CHARACTERS
GEORGE BAILEY – IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
WOODY – TOY STORY (1995)
SAMWISE GAMJEE – LORD OF THE RINGS (2001)
MARGE GUNDERSON – FARGO (1996)
ATTICUS FINCH – TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)
Empathy and sympathy are two sides of the same coin, but can also contain variants. You can sympathise with a character but not necessarily empathise with their actions; and vice versa. For me, empathetic aspects are what I look for most in a character. They could still be pretty unlikeable, but if I feel drawn to their plight I will still connect with their story. Nonetheless, the characters I list here are both empathetic and mostly sympathetic too.
FIVE EMPATHETIC FILM CHARACTERS
ROCKY BALBOA – ROCKY (1976)
MARTY PILETTI – MARTY (1955)
FORREST GUMP – FORREST GUMP (1994)
CARRIE WHITE – CARRIE (1976)
KING KONG – KING KONG (1933)
I have read a lot of screenwriting books and many of them say if you cannot make a character likeable or sympathetic, make them excel at something. Their expertise in their chosen field will draw you into their world, empathise and even admire their actions. If they are on the right side of the law that will obviously increase identification with such a character. Having said that there are many experts who are villains and I, like many, love a good nemesis too.
FIVE EXPERT FILM CHARACTERS
TONY STARK – IRON MAN (2008)
ETHAN HUNT – MISSION IMPOSSIBLE franchise.
INDIANA JONES – RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
HANNIBAL LECTER – SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
DETECTIVE WILLIAM SOMERSET – SEVEN (1995)
Resilience or the overcoming of insurmountable odds is a sure-fire way of getting an audience on side. The fact a character refuses to give in despite overwhelming odds creates all manner of means with which to identify with a character. When watching a film we also want to see characters who mirror our own personalities. So, to watch characters who never give in is very appealing to me.
FIVE RESILIENT FILM CHARACTERS
ELLEN RIPLEY – ALIEN (1979)
SOLOMON NORTHUP – TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE (2013)
CELIE JOHNSON – THE COLOR PURPLE (1985)
ANDY DUFRESNE – THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)
OH-DAE-SU – OLDBOY (2003)
Obviously making an audience laugh is a fine way of making the one like a character. It’s also a good way to mask a characters’ agendas or be employed as a defence mechanism or weapon too. Funny characters are not just limited to comedy films as humour can enhance action, romantic and drama genres too.
FIVE HUMOROUS FILM CHARACTERS
ACE VENTURA – ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE (1994)
PETER PARKER – SPIDERMAN (2002)
JUNO MACGUFF – JUNO (2007)
AXEL FOLEY – BEVERLEY HILLS COP (1984)
RANDALL P. MCMURPHY – ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975)
Arguably the most difficult one to quantify and even write, because it could be the actor who the one bringing the cool to the role. However, I think there are great examples of characters who are written that way too. Usually, a cool character will be someone of few words or a reserved demeanour or simply designated cool by their skills, actions and even what they wear.
FIVE COOL FILM CHARACTERS
VIRGIL HILTS – THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963)
CLIFF BOOTH – ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)
LEE – ENTER THE DRAGON (1973)
HOLLY GOLIGHTLY – BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961)
MAX ROCKATANSKY – MAD MAX (1979)
Complexity can be defined it many ways. It could be they are conflicted souls, searching for their place in the world. Or characters who are behaving badly while striving to be good. They could just be presenting a certain persona while hiding their real self. Or they could just be totally screwed and have mentally flipped. Complex characters are often unpredictable, but always compelling.
FIVE COMPLEX FILM CHARACTERS
HOWARD BEALE – NETWORK (1976)
MIRANDA PRIESTLY – THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006)
DARTH VADER – STAR WARS (1977)
TRAVIS BICKLE – TAXI DRIVER (1976)
JOHNNY FLETCHER – NAKED (1993)
TO BE CONTINUED. . .
There are so many wonderful characters in the world of cinema. Those mentioned above are just a few. The aspects I speak of too are just brief sketches really in such a fascinating area. Certain characters are more than simply likeable, empathetic, cool, complex and funny. Some of are a collision of all the facets I have noted above. Lastly, as well as different elements to their personas, characters can also be defined as an archetype or genre type. But, that is another story for another article.
ALL 4 CLASSIC TV REVIEW – “THE COMIC STRIP PRESENTS. . . “
I have been continuing my cultural trawl through the online streaming platform ALL 4, which, if you didn’t know, screens television films and programmes from Channel 4’s roster, past and present. My next port of call was re-watching the twenty-three comedy films – ranging from thirty to six minutes – written and directed by the anarchic comedy collective called The Comic Strip.
The Comic Strip were pioneers of the late 1970s and early 1980’s alternative comedy scene. Much like punk rock did for music, alternative comedy sought to satirise and lampoon the status quo, railing against the capitalist, sexist and homophobic right wing politics of the day. This energetic and crazy comedy troupe consisted of now established comedic and acting luminaries such as: Peter Richardson, Rik Mayall (R.I.P), Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Nigel Planer, Robbie Coltrane, Keith Allen, and Alexei Sayle etc.
Peter Richardson booked and opened the first The Comic Strip show at the Revuebar’s Boulevard Theatre on October 7th 1980. Soon the company had television executives clamouring for these anti-establishment comedic talents. The BBC would soon get Mayall, Planer, Edmondson and Richardson signed up for the anarchic student comedy The Young Ones, and the rest, they say, is comedy history. Richardson would drop out of the classic BBC comedy show, but signed a deal with Channel 4 to write, produce and direct a series of films called The Comic Strip Presents. . .
Channel 4 was a perfect platform for the The Comic Strip as they were a brand new channel whose remit was to provide an alternative creative output to the more traditional British TV channels. Thus, on the launch night of Channel 4 in November 1982, their very first comedy film was released called Five Go Mad in Dorset (1982). Immediately, it caused controversy as the show mercilessly satirised Enid Blyton’s wholesome “Famous Five” with a scurrilous deconstruction of middle-class values. The first series consisted of six short half-hour films and were so successful they would run for another five seasons, plus many comedy specials and feature films too.
The Comic Strip Presents. . . above all else is extremely funny and took many risks in its productions, even to the extent that some episodes verge on avant garde incomprehensibility. The following episodes, however, perfectly marry that punk and anarchic spirit with reasonable narrative and genre cohesion. Well, I say that because I grew up with watching these legendary and always quotable comedy programmes.
To an outsider watching the first time round they may find them, like comedy masterpieces such as Monty Python, Spike Milligan, The Young Ones, The League of Gentleman and The Mighty Boosh, too surreal for their taste. But compared to some of today’s television they can seem quite tame and even dated. Having said that, at the time many of these shows were considered cutting-edge and even “dangerous”, shaking up the conservative complacency with satirical swipes, slapstick parodies, nihilistic irony and genre pastiche.
ALL 4/Channel 4, currently hold twenty-three episodes and I re-watched them all before writing this article. Please be aware that I am aware that there are a number of episodes produced for the BBC before The Comic Strip Presents. . . went back to Channel 4. But it’s at its’ original channel that I am focusing on today. Overall, for me, The Comic Strip Presents. . . is part of my cultural DNA and something I shall always treasure. The opening intro-ident with the bomb falling into the countryside and “Quando, Quando, Quando” playing is as iconic as it comes. Anyway, enough of the talking bollocks, here are some of their programmes I recommend you watch immediately!
BAD NEWS TOUR (1983) / MORE BAD NEWS (1988)
Two riotously funny fly-on-the-wall mockumentaries about the infamous British rock band, Bad News!
DIRTY MOVIE (1984)
Rik Mayall features as a slimy cinema-owner who wants to watch a porno in his cinema, in this silly, post-modern slapstick classic.
EDDIE MONSOON – A LIFE? (1984)
Adrian Edmondson stars as suicidal TV producer Eddie Monsoon, facing both financial and mental ruin.
THE BULLSHITTERS (1984)
British TV action show The Professionals is mercilessly lampooned with Keith Allen and Peter Richardson as tough-guy cops, Bonehead and Foyle.
THE STRIKE (1988)
Brilliant comedy which satirises the Hollywood adaptation of the British Miner’s Strike; starring Al Pacino (Peter Richardson) as Arthur Scargill!
MR JOLLY LIVES NEXT DOOR (1988)
Genuinely one of the funniest comedy films ever made, with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson as Dreamytime Escorts! Together they have to “take out” Nicholas Parsons and cause mayhem in the process.
FOUR MEN IN A CAR (1998) / FOUR MEN IN A PLANE (2000)
Hilarious comedies about four salesmen out on the road who argue and conflict all the time. In each episode they manage to get themselves stranded on the motorway and in a barren desert.
Writers: Jed Mercurio, Rachel Anthony, Richard Zajdlic
Directors: Jed Mercurio, John Strickland, Richard Laxton, Jon East, Iain B. Macdonald, Douglas Mackinnon,
Cast: Max Beesley. Patrick Baladi, Neve McIntosh, Keith Allen, Susan Lynch, Tamzin Malleson, Preeya Kalidas, Simon Lowe, Hattie Morahan, Vicky Hall, Nicholas Palliser etc.
No. of Episodes – 17 (over two seasons and one-off special)
Original Network: BBC (can now be viewed on BBC IPlayer)
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Creator and writer Mercurio is a bulletproof show-runner; a genre writer with a proven hit rate whose work almost always brings commercial, critical and audience success. Having achieved early TV writing acclaim with dark medical comedy, Cardiac Arrest (1994-1996), Mercurio’s next drama Bodies (2004 – 2005) was another critical hit. Latterly, Bodyguard (2018) andLine of Duty (2012 – present) have also proved highly successful.
Undeniably,Line of Duty is a massive hit for the BBC. It has received awards and nominations from: the Royal TV Society, the Writers’ Guild and BAFTA. Moreover, it was also voted in the top BBC shows of all time. While I tend to avoid medical and police procedural dramas as a mild rule, due to the overly-saturation of such programmes on television, Mercurio’s work always draws me in. Thus, I decided to re-watch Bodies (2004 – 2005) on the BBC IPlayer and I’m both glad I did and didn’t to be honest.
I’m glad I watched it because it contains some of the most tense drama you can ever experience. I wish I hadn’t because it contains some of the most visceral medical operations and birthing situations you could ever witness. In fact, all Peckinpah, Carpenter and Tarantino films combined contain less blood than Bodies. Indeed, the ultra-realism of the gynaecological operations on show should contain a health warning of their own. No surprise the make-up and prosthetic effects team on the programme won many awards.
Based on Mercurio’s book of the same name, the narrative is inspired by his experiences working in the National Health Service. An ensemble cast impresses, but the lead protagonist is specialist registrar, Rob Lake (Max Beesley). He is a skilled Doctor who joins the Obstetrics and Gynaecology ward at fictional South Central Infirmary. Rob isn’t particularly likeable and Beesley is directed to portray him as a serious and surly Northern bloke. While still learning his trade he is an excellent surgeon though, with a keen sense of what is right.
The first series of six episodes is incredibly tightly wound and suspenseful because Lake finds himself in a number of medical and moral dilemmas. This is due to his clashes with his boss, Dr Roger Hurley (Patrick Baladi), who is prone to making severe errors during medical procedures. Consequently, during these pulsating scenes of medical trauma my heart was not so much in my mouth but on the floor. Having scooped and swallowed it back up, the fast pace of first season soon delivers further nerve shredding life and death situations.
Season Two is not quite as brilliant as Season One. While containing more incredibly vivid moments of birthing madness, it is over-stretched by an extended ten episode run. Plot-wise it carries on in a similar vein with Lake, Hurley and the toxic masculinity of Dr Tony Whitman (Keith Allen), all clashing within the hospital wings and operation rooms. Their conflicts endanger patients lives as they continually venture into dangerous games of one-upmanship. Added to the deadly apothecary are the politics on the ward, gender, sexual and class. Moreover, there’s the over-arching bureaucracy and target-led NHS managers poking their statistics in. These budget-scrabbling pen-pushers arguably kill more patients than the warring Doctors, mainly due to their incessant bean-counting, biscuit-eating and public relation drives.
Overall, while I have made this sound like a heavy drama or horror genre programme, it is in fact also darkly funny. Mercurio has a knack of taking the most grim circumstances and injecting doses of sardonic humour throughout. There is also gallons of blood and a lot of sex too; probably too much in the first season. But, I get that the theme of the human body was being explored very thoroughly, in more ways than one. Am I the only person who is not a fan of overt sex scenes in films or on television, even if they are in context?
Be warned, if you are scared of hospitals, or operations or about to have a child — DO NOT EVER WATCH THIS SHOW! It is brilliantly scripted and acted, but it will give you nightmares. I mean the Doctors, Nurses and medical staff of the NHS do an incredible job saving lives, so this show should not be a reflection of actual health care in the United Kingdom. If it is though, the phrase: “Trust me, I’m a Doctor” is never as scary as it is in Bodies.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019) – FILM REVIEW
Directed and Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Produced by: David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh, Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Margaret Qualley, Austin Butler, Al Pacino, Mike Moh, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Damien Lewis, Kurt Russell and many, many more.
Cinematography: Robert Richardson
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
From watching the trailers for Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019), I remember thinking: this looks so cool and I’m glad they haven’t given away much of the story here. Because, I hate those darned trailers which give away the story!
So, you watch Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film and then you realise, after the excessive running time, THERE ISN’T REALLY ANY STORY as such! Okay, DiCaprio’s character suffers an existential career crisis but that’s kind of it. Instead, you get mostly a nigh-on three-hour historical and cultural nostalgia trip down memory lane filtered through the artistic and fetishistic vision of one of cinemas great filmmaking iconoclasts.
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019), is essentially an arthouse character study where you get to hang out with two-and-a-half lead protagonists, plus a whole army of fictional and ‘real’ life supporting characters from the 1969 Hollywood era. Our two main “heroes” are neurotic, alcoholic B-movie actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and tough, handsome and laconic, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The two characters contrast and complement each other perfectly. Moreover, the star quality, chemistry and fine performances of the lead actors bind the movie together amazingly.
Brad Pitt is especially brilliant. His character is not, until the violent ending, given much to do story wise; however, he does it with such charm. He imbues a character who has accepted his place in the world with such easy-going humour and control, it is an absolute joy to watch. It’s an iceberg performance which seems shallow on the surface, but has hidden and unsaid depth. I really wanted to know more about his character, especially what appeared to be a very colourful backstory.
DiCaprio, on the other hand, has the showier performance. Edgy, hungover and insecure due to his characters’ fading Hollywood career, DiCaprio gives another fantastic movie performance. He commits to the Dalton character and features in some wonderful sketches which pay homage and parody B-movies, TV variety shows and old TV Westerns. What I loved was his ability to demonstrate different levels of acting skills. DiCaprio can fuck up Dalton’s acting on set one moment, but then deliver acting on a Shakespearean level the next.
Margot Robbie, who we know is a brilliant actor in her own right, alas, is not afforded the same level of care in regard to the characterisation of Sharon Tate. More of an ornamental character in the film, she looks great going to the cinema, packing a suitcase, driving and generally just being effervescent. Yet, it’s truly is one of the film’s major flaws that it doesn’t make more of Robbie’s acting talent. Even the fantastic ending, which Tarantino, takes incredible liberties with in regard to actual events, finds Tate’s character development unfortunately left bereft of emotion.
Similarly, the Hollywood cameos echoing throughout the films are pure style over substance. For example Steve McQueen, Roman Polanski and Bruce Lee feature but these are mostly inconsequential encounters. The Bruce Lee representation and scene is actually really funny as Cliff Booth and the martial arts star face off in a hilarious flashback. Typically, Tarantino has caused controversy with his Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) rendition. Personally, I respect that people may be offended, however, it’s more comedic and iconoclastic rather than overt racism. After all, this is a fairy-tale vision of Hollywood and not a documentary. Plus, Tarantino knows he’s going to piss people off so it’s obvious he’s playing with people here.
While Bruce Lee’s persona is playfully satirized or racist depending on your point-of-view, Tarantino’s representation of the Manson family is more damning. It’s clear he absolutely hates hippies, especially acid-looped killer hippies. Dalton and Booth represent the old-school, honest Hollywood working class, so are the antithesis of the drop-out youths. The culture clashes between this era and the new flower-power cults is something Tarantino explores. Charles Manson, who barely features, is a ghost-like figure though. Instead, it is the character of Tex (Austin Butler) and the females of the commune who are most prominent.
Margaret Qualley as Pussycat is especially hypnotic in her role. Exuding both sexuality and acid-drenched nihilism, Pussycat is a siren hitcher, luring drivers to symbolically crash against the cliffs. For me, Tarantino should have made way more of the old and new California culture clash themes, as they resonated powerfully when on screen. Plus, the scenes on the commune were actually quite creepy, so more should have been made of this threat from a dramatic perspective. Lastly, the irreverent and violent final act carnage exploits the clashing of these two different cultures, but more could have done throughout to enhance this dynamic.
Overall, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019) is a near three-hour arthouse classic. If you like films about film and TV making, driving, feet, ensemble casts, films within films, cinema-going, Los Angeles, more feet; and hanging with the marvellous DiCaprio and Pitt in a 1969 setting, then you will love this beautifully rendered and lovingly crafted film about Hollywood. Otherwise, you will probably find it a boring, indulgent and style-over-substance folly. Either way you have to admire Tarantino’s exquisitely controlled writing and direction. He certainly does!!
Safe to say though Tarantino will not care either way, because most of his filmic output has made a lot of money at the box office. This has now allowed him the luxury, like that of true cinema artists such as Kubrick, Altman and Antonioni, to make whatever films a studio is prepared to give him the money for. He’s basically making films for himself and doesn’t care if the audience likes it or not.
I personally found myself magnetically drawn to Tarantino’s vision and from a purely filmmaking and artistic perspective I was totally immersed throughout. Having said that, if the incessant driving and shots of dirty feet were cut and Dalton and Booth had been given a proper plot, rather than the thin stranded narrative within the impressive gallery of cameos and set-pieces, I would definitely expect to be writing about one of the best films ever made.
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 Indiewirearticle 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.