Writer(s): Bruce Miller, Dorothy Fortenberry, Yahlin Chang, Kira Snyder, Eric Tuchmann
Director(s): Mike Barker, Kari Skogland, Jeremy Podeswa, Daina Reid etc.
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovski, Alexis Bledel, Madeline Brewer, Ann Dowd, Max Minghella, Samira Wiley
Release: Hulu (USA), Channel 4 (UK)
** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS **
Misery, fascism and oppression have never been so stylish as in the Margaret Atwood televisual adaptation of her famous novel The Handmaid’s Tale. If you haven’t seen it then the story finds a major part of the U.S.A in the grip of a new, militarized and hierarchical regime following a brutal civil war. This new totalitarian state is called Gilead and is led by power-mad men who utilise religion, torture and weaponry to invoke their barbaric laws. Hang on, that sounds quite familiar!! Could the show be quite close to real life? From a certain perspective there is indeed more reality here than allegory.
At the centre of the drama are the Handmaids. Due to falling fertility rates only certain women can give birth. Those that still can and considered to be dangerous to the Gilead hierarchy are imprisoned to the leaders’ houses and raped in a ritualistic monthly ordeal. The narrative focusses on the plight of June Osborne – now known as Offred / “Of Fred” – as she deals with having everything stripped away from her. She has no name, no identity, no freedom and above all else has been ripped away from her husband and child; only to be treated no better than a battery hen.
Elisabeth Moss gives an incredible performance as June / Offred. A versatile performer she imbues the complex pathos, strength and fragility required to convey the emotion of events within the story. The second season begins with a now pregnant June escaping from her captors. However, as the series progresses we know that she is not going to get away that easily. Because, this is a harsh drama. It doesn’t just smash home the viciousness of a society which oppresses women, it also illustrates the dangers of allowing fundamentalists to take total control. Executions by hanging and drowning are commonplace; and if you perpetually rebel an individual can be sent to The Colonies for a fate worse than death.
While the themes and events are sometimes difficult to stomach The Handmaid’s Tale is compelling viewing. Be warned though when one is close to a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel, that light is extinguished as darkness pervades. With a brilliant cast that includes Yvonne Strahovski, Joseph Fiennes and the always-excellent Ann Dowd, this is not just powerful storytelling, it’s incredibly interesting to look at too. The maroons, greens, greys, blacks and whites in the colour scheme create a poetic sense of beauty and doom. The direction, editing, lighting and soundtrack serve the narrative expertly as Margaret Atwood’s dystopic future is illustrated skilfully. Ultimately, in Elizabeth Moss’ portrayal of June Osborne we have a heroic and resilient character; one who, amidst all the suffering, is determined to survive and save those she loves. Praise be!
Executive producer(s): Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Robert B. Weide, Larry Charles, Erin O’Malley, Alec Berg etc.
Production company(s): HBO Entertainment, Warner Bros.
Starring: Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman, J. B. Smoove etc.
There’s absolutely no reason why a situation comedy about an aging, wealthy, neurotic and narcissistic Hollywood writer should be one of the most consistently funny comedy shows of the last twenty years. There’s no real substance or depth in Curb Your Enthusiasm; in fact not much really happens of great value as it occurs in a “Larry David / Hollywood” bubble. Moreover, in anti-hero Larry David you more often than not find his behaviour abhorrent as he goes about upsetting friends, family members, celebrities, and strangers on a daily basis. However, due to the writing, cast and situations the humour is always pretty, pretty good!
After a six-year hiatus Larry David is back and nothing really has changed. The formula remains the same inasmuch as he gets himself in ridiculous situations upsetting everyone around him, resulting in the most farcical of comedic pay-offs. However, while many of the narrative reveals can be seen a long way off it doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. Special highlights during Season 9 are JB Smoove’s scene-stealing turns as Larry’s “house-guest” Leon Black; who over the course of the last few seasons has inveigled his way into Larry’s life. The two have become an unlikely double act as uncool Jewish bald guy buddies up with his cooler, streetwise and “player” pal. With Leon and Larry you get a relationship which both reflects and satirizes racial stereotypes to funny effect.
While most of the Season 9 episodes work as stand-alone stories the integral over-riding arc involves Larry David writing a new Broadway show. Inspired by events which occurred to novelist Salman Rushdie, Larry has written a musical called, incredibly, Fatwa! At first everyone loves the idea and rushes to invest. However, when Larry mocks the Ayatollah on the Jimmy Kimmel show he himself is, you’ve guessed it, hit with a Fatwa!! The running gags throughout created by this comedic narrative are very broad, un-PC, stereotypically offensive; but also bloody hilarious. I wondered why there wasn’t more controversy; however, Larry David himself is the butt of many of these jokes as he fails to lift the Fatwa.
The season is crammed with celebrity appearances and particular standouts are: Salman Rushdie, Elizabeth Banks, F. Murray Abraham; and Hamilton creator Lin Manuel-Miranda. The latter hilariously clashes with Larry during the production of the Fatwa: The Musical. There are also some great gags relating to everyday observations including: Uber ratings; pickle jars; tipping; disturbances in kitchens; Asperger’s; plus many more. The episode, Running with the Bulls, with Bryan Cranston portraying Larry’s harangued therapist, was probably my favourite. It was also great to see The Mighty Boosh comedy nut-case Rich Fulcher make an appearance as an evasive Restaurant Manager. Overall, the season was pretty scatter-gun in it’s target humour but it certainly hit the mark throughout. I’m just amazed, in these liberal-PC-social-media-offence-driven times there wasn’t more controversy. Having said that Larry David probably wouldn’t care as in his own words, “I have reservations about everything I do.”
Over the past few months I’ve focussed my extra-curricular viewing on BBC produced dramas via the BBC channels and catch-up on Netflix. The British Broadcasting Corporation, being the public-service-tax-payer-funded-beast that it is has a commitment to produce quality programming for national viewing and also overseas sales too. I then got to thinking; why not check out where some of my £12.12 per month money goes. So, here are some bitesize reviews of recent BBC dramas with marks out of the usual eleven.
**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**
THE CHILD IN TIME (2017)
Based on Ian McEwan’s prize-winning novel this was an interesting drama which worked in many respects but did not quite connect in others. Benedict Cumberbatch and Kelly McDonald are parents whose child goes missing while out shopping. The drama and grief of this was very well evoked but the supporting story of a publisher’s regression and mental collapse did not quite thematically meld for me. No doubt McEwan’s original source is a master work and I enjoyed many of the emotional moments provided by the excellent acting. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
DOCTOR FOSTER – SEASON 1 (2015) + SEASON 2 (2017)
Suranne Jones is absolutely stunning in this domestic drama written by Mike Bartlett. She acts her heart and soul out as the eponymous GP, who in the face of her husband’s suspected infidelity, attempts to find both the truth and maintain her family unit and sanity. It’s a brilliantly written TV series which creates great drama from the “whodunnit” aspect of the potential spousal treachery. Plus, in addition to the Hitchcockian elements Dr Foster herself is very unpredictable in her actions; making for some nail-biting scenes. Bertie Carvel also excels as the charismatic husband and the second season, while not reaching the emotional heights of the first, and feeling more contrived, had some decent dramatic twists too.
(Season 1 – Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
(Season 2 – Mark: 8 out of 11)
LONDON SPY (2015)
The always-impactful actor Ben Whishaw is superbly supported by thespian giants Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling in this obtuse spy thriller. Playing a troubled warehouse worker called Danny, Whishaw falls for the enigmatic genius, Alex (Edward Holcroft); and is thrown into a murky and murderous world of spymasters and upper-class family feuds. Beautifully acted and designed the story moved too slowly for me. Over five episodes the slow-bleed plot of character despair, double-crosses and cover-ups did not sustain the suspense and tension throughout. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
THE SECRET OF CRICKLEY HALL (2012)
Suranne Jones (again!) leads the acting line in an earlier post-Coronation Street role. She portrays a mother who, along with her family, seeks the solace of the countryside after their young child has gone missing. However, the house they reside in is haunted by ghosts from the past and as the family attempt to overcome their grief, evil spirits threaten their present. The contemporary narrative works well with the wartime scenes in a decent haunted house scenario that was adapted from the book by horror legend James Herbert; also featuring an early role for Maisie Williams. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
SMALL ISLAND (2009)
Notable for its excellent ensemble cast and featuring before-they-were-famous roles for: Ruth Wilson, David Oyelowo, Naomi Harris, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ashley Walters, this excellent drama focussed on the war and post-war lives of several disparate characters whose lives become intertwined by fate. Based on Andrea Levy’s novel it is especially rich in regard to the diasporic characterizations and experiences of Jamaican immigrants in war-torn England. The writing is solid and there’s some fine acting and emotional moments to keep one enthralled and I enjoyed how the stories dovetailed dramatically at the end. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
TOP OF THE LAKE (2013)
Hey, what if Jane Campion wrote and directed a cop drama? Well, the answer is Top of the Lake! This is a slow-burn, who-why-how-dunnit with a superb cast, beautiful New Zealand vistas and eccentric, dark characters. Some may find it too slow and artsy, while certain decisions by the characters and plot turns were intriguingly weird. However, Elizabeth Moss excels as the burnt-out cop (is there any other kind?) searching for a missing pregnant teenager, while Peter Mullan is suitably vicious as the rural patriarch; and Holly Hunter is fantastic too as the leader of a women’s commune. Overall, Campion’s barbed world-view satirizes humanity and cop show clichés in a compelling crime drama. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
TOP OF THE LAKE 2: CHINA GIRL (2017)
Screened earlier this year on the BBC, the follow-up finds Elizabeth Moss, now back in Sydney, tracking down the killer of an Asian prostitute while battling illegal adoption rings and all manner of sexist-pig-men. Like the original it pulls you in with its richly drawn characters and brilliant cast all committing to the lurid and quirky plotlines. Moss is always reliable and does the brooding, melancholic and troubled cop perfectly, while Nicole Kidman is brilliant as the middle-class academic out of her depth with the emotions of her adopted daughter. The sinister beta-male-nemesis Puss portrayed by David Dencik was a great rendition of spurious masculinity while it was great to see Gwendoline Christie out of her Game of Thrones armour, as a naïve rookie cop assisting Moss’ detective. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
TRUST ME (2017)
Jodie “New Doctor Who” Whittaker leads the cast as a downtrodden nurse and single-mum struggling with an NHS cover-up over poor service delivery. Faced with the sack she decides to engage in a cover-up herself by taking on the identity of a Doctor; and then the real drama kicks in. Whittaker is very empathetic and natural, while the suspense was very thrilling at times as her character gets deeper and deeper into the mire. Overall, it was a very tense and fun medical drama which made some very good social points in regards to a Doctors’ life and the NHS in general. Ultimately, it made me appreciate what the NHS does for us but also want to avoid getting ill in the future too!
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
WAR AND PEACE (2016)
Well, the BBC certainly pushed the budget boat out on this one with a who’s who of new and experienced acting talent including: Jim Broadbent, Paul Dano, Lily James, Tuppence Middleton, Aneurin Barnard, Adrian Edmondson, Jessie Buckley, Tom Burke, Rebecca Front, Greta Scacchi, Brian Cox, Stephen Rea, Gillian Anderson and many more. Adapting Tolstoy’s gigantic and classic doorstop novel must have been some feat and it is indeed and sumptuous and incredible production. As a drama it drew me in with its’ stories of over-privileged Russian lives set during the Napoleonic wars as they live, love, cheat, duel, war and die. Yet, while I did not feel too much empathy for the characters, the acting, design and directing is a joy to behold and I garnered a certain hypnotic pleasure bathing in the high quality of the whole shebang. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
2017 EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL – CULTURAL ROUND-UP
You may or may not know this but the comedy you see on television via the sitcoms, panel shows, live performances etc. plus the Netflix or Amazon specials which are streamed online are just the tip of the iceberg in regard to stand-up, sketch and narrative comedy shows. Because, underneath is a huge population of individuals writing, rehearsing, directing, editing and performing their works live across the clubs, theatres, pubs, basements and attics of the world.
These unsung creative heroes and the occasional lunatic are, on the whole, slogging their guts out following a dream to hit the big time in their chosen stage craft. Either that or they simply revel in performing and delivering their stories, jokes or narratives to the public live. It’s a cathartic experience to release their heart and soul to the world in comedic, theatrical or musical form and most of these people should be saluted for their creativity.
One of the best places to find these purveyors of dance, comedy, performance, mime, acting, music and sometimes science is at the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This year I went, with my wife, on holiday there for a week to check out some shows and sites and lovely restaurants and pubs! Here’s a uncritical round-up of some of the things we caught up with. Amazing fun it was too!
Like many cities Edinburgh has many great places to spend the night including hotels and other bed and breakfast digs. Many of the acts performing at the Fringe have budgets so will use rented accommodation, hostels, vehicles and ditches too to sleep in. My wife likes some comfort when we stay places whereas I have been happy in the past with the gutter; well, a cheap B & B. So she chose Millers 64 on Pilrig Street and what a lovely place it was too. Run by Louise and Shona Clelland, we experienced some of the best hospitality we have ever had so they are highly recommended. Check out their website here.
Scotland and the North in general has been the focus of stereotypical gags at the expense of unhealthy living including: bad diet, alcoholism and drug abuse. I guess characters such as Rab C. Nesbitt and novels/films like Trainspotting only serve to strengthen such ideas. Of course, if you search it out you will find junk food and drink in any place the world over but I actually ate pretty healthily during my week in Scotland.
Of the places we visited I can definitely recommend La Favoritapizza place on Leith Walk. Moreover, the tasting menu at the Gardiners Cottagewas beautifully presented and I very much enjoyed the Indian cuisine at Mother India. There are also hundreds of pubs, cafes and burger restaurants all over Edinburgh.
I enjoyed watching Tottenham Hotspur FC defeat Newcastle FC in the Kilted Pigon the Sunday but my favourite pub was probably The Pear Tree Houseon West Nicolson Street. It had great beer, food, a massive garden and a constant stream of lively entertainment and music.
Having said that the greatest epicurean treat I had was on my birthday at The Kitchin. The food was absolutely exquisite and what made it all the more amazing was my wife treated me to the meal just for getting a year older. I imagine it was very expensive but the whole experience was fantastic as we also visited the kitchen and met the aptly named owner/chef Tom Kitchin.
As I only had a week and there is SO much going on at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival I did not see any theatrical presentations, which, if I’d been there for another week would certainly have been on my cultural agenda. Similarly with musical performances I chose the more comedic acts over others but enjoyed an excellent set by jazz guitarist Graeme Mearns despite this. However, the real humdinger of a show I could not miss was the one by gothic chanteuse Camille O’Sullivan. She is a dark storm of a performer who hails from Ireland and sings haunting and very dramatic versions of tunes written by Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Arcade Fire and Nick Cave. In the elegant tent where I saw her show I was bewitched by the spine-tingling performance borne of fire, shadow, light and ice.
I love comedy. It is a noble craft which on occasions can be propelled to the heights of art and was to the fore of my cultural menu in Edinburgh. In fact, on Monday 14th August I watched SEVEN shows beginning at 11am with the last one finished at 10.30pm. It was a brilliant day and encapsulated all that is great about the Fringe Festival. This is NOT a review of the comedians I saw during the week as all the shows I witnessed were BRILLIANT! I don’t believe in comedy competitions or star ratings as comedy is too subjective for that. But rather, it’s a round-up of and a shout out to a very talented bunch of individuals I saw; and there were thousands I missed too but there was just not enough time alas.
Musical comedy is something I have been really getting into and the alternative genius Robert White presented an exhilarating off-kiltered-joke-a-second-Gershwin-inspired operetta of his life in a show called Instru-mental. Equally energetic was the wonderful Pippa Evans in Joy Division; while the very talented Harriet Braine delivered some excellent cover songs which also educated us about the history of Art!
I also saw some excellent club and storytelling comedians such as: free-wheeling Russell Hicks; Irish mirth-maker Rory O’Hanlon; Cheetah Adam Greene; intelligent Scot Stephen Carlin; conspiracy theorist Don Biswas; witty and frantic Nathan Cassidy; the brilliant comedy-swap laughs of Sketch Thieves; the crafty humour of Ben Clover; plus the ferocious, clever and frantic comedy of Fringe stalwart Richard Herring.
Of the shows that arguably had longevity in terms of their narratives then Darius Davies’ Road to Wrestlemania was really funny. It’s a fast-paced narrative of how, when a naïve teenager, he tried to become a World Wrestling star. Successfully employing multi-media, costumes and music to tell the story it made me laugh (and almost cry) throughout. I also really enjoyed Dominic Holland’s very funny and touching Eclipsed. Holland, who has been a very successful author and comedian found his career eclipsed by his son Tom Holland who last year became the new Spiderman! It’s a brilliant story about success and family togetherness amidst some excellent comedic observations of everyday life.
Of all the comedians I saw I was transfixed by the mercurial delivery and off-centre ideas of Tommy Tiernan. A comedy veteran and Grandmaster of the comedic dark arts, he flits around the stage nimbly while his rich Irish brogue delivers a stream of jokes, observations, non-sequiturs and the occasional barmy rant. He covers many subjects such as: life, death, religion, sex, family, immigrants, football, age and so on. An hour in his company is not enough as I could have listened to him for hours.
So, that was my first Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The whole experience was fantastic to me as I was around the things I love such as comedy, music, food and booze for an intensely concentrated week of pure culture. If you’re like me and hanging around watching shows and feeding off the energy of a cultural oasis then I highly recommend it. I would say a week is definitely not enough for what’s on offer in bonnie Scotland during the month of August!
Denzel Washington’s honest, down-to-earth and heart-cracking drama is a formidable character piece and acting tour-de-force. Adapted from August Wilson’s prize-winning play, the narrative bristles with authentic working class lives of 1950s Pittsburgh, and is littered with some wonderful stories and dialogue. At the heart of the drama are Denzel Washington’s complex character Troy Maxson and his long-suffering wife, Rose; portrayed with significant humility and pathos by Viola Davis. Great support comes also from Mykelti Williamson as Troy’s mentally impaired brother, Gabriel.
Troy’s character is very charismatic and he delivers some hearty yarns from his past, but he’s also bitter and a drinker and, while he has had a hard life, he bullies everyone around him. His sons and more importantly his wife Rose put up with it but eventually he grinds everyone down, pushing them away with his boorish “I-know-best” arrogance and aggression. With her quiet power Viola Davis more than matches Denzel Washington’s grandstanding and Rose’s heartfelt speech toward the end of the film is a stunning retort to her husband’s continual tirades and emotional neglect.
I’ve seen some criticisms of the film stating it is too “stagey”. Well, as it is based on a play that is understandable, yet, August Wilson’s words are a thing of beauty and therefore deserve focus. I think, while directing, Denzel Washington could quite easily have opened up the settings and had conversations on the street, but the decision was made to “fence” in the characters to create a sense of claustrophobia and intensity. By keeping the players mainly in the yard and the house we feel as trapped as they are by society, social status and their life decisions. It’s an intimate film about proper characters and real lives and overall the performances alone make the film feel cinematic. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
Barry Jenkins low-budget contemporary drama is another brilliantly acted character memoir; although when compared to Fences it benefits from a more complex structure and cinematic style. Split into a trio of linear timelines from the same characters’ lives we get three different actors representing the life and changes which occur in Chiron’s existence; with chapters named, Little, Chiron and Black.
Each section draws us into the characters’ world as Chiron searches for meaning, identity and direction as to who he really is as a person. With his father absent Little Chiron (Alex Hibbert) cannot find satisfaction via his mother, an angry and lost woman portrayed brilliantly by Naomi Harris. Small for his age he is also at the mercy of school bullies and while a random meeting with a local drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali) provides Little with a mentor to connect with it doesn’t sustain. Ali as Juan, like most of the performances, delivers a subtle realisation of a character trapped by his life choices and perhaps sees some redemption in ‘Little’. Alas, due to his lifestyle and ‘job’ he is clearly not the role model ‘Little’ needs.
In the second and third sections Chiron’s relationship with his best friend Kevin comes to the fore both in terms of some powerful drama and intimate sexual connections. Barry Jenkins framing, colour design, use of music and editing choices all commit to create a poetic and fragmented style, further drawing me into Chiron/Black’s story. Chiron’s continual search for identity and meaning in the world reflects the most essential of human needs: the search for identity and love. Overall, this is a film of harsh and beautiful moments and each segment was layered with so many emotions and so skilfully told that I wanted to see more of the characters. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
Split (2016) is an altogether different film about the search for identity. In fact the lead character portrayed devilishly well by James McAvoy has TWENTY-THREE different people battling around his mind and something is about to give. Let me say that a film like Split won’t be challenging the Oscars because in essence it is a terrifying B-movie thriller, however, McAvoy gives a performance of such quality it reminded me of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in his cannibal pomp. McAvoy’s twisted ability to switch between the many personalities was a real guilty pleasure as he earned his acting fee over and over and over again.
The story concerns three girls, Casey, Marcia and Claire (including an excellent Anya Taylor-Joy) who are kidnapped and imprisoned by the various personalities in Kevin Crumb’s head. Some – including OCD driven Dennis – are more dominant than others and attempt to wrestle total control, which is where McAvoy’s sly switches are a real joy to watch. As a cat-and-mouse plot bleeds out we also get some intriguing back-story flashbacks into Casey traumatic past. These events really add colour to the main narrative and ramp up the tension and suspense. The scenes between Kevin, his personalities and sympathetic Doctor Fletcher (Betty Buckley) also add some dark humour to the story. By the end though all humour is gone and we get a stunning and believable supernatural turn as Kevin’s mind unleashes an altogether different personality.
Writer/Director M. Night Shyamalan’s dalliance with big-budget-franchise-Hollywood-pictures – including: After Earth (2013) and The Last Airbender (2010) – did not do his career any favours. But with Split he is back on terrific form as he takes a simple abduction plot and renders it full of horror, twists and fantastical ideas. While I did not enjoy his previous film The Visit (2015) – mainly due to the stupid kid rapping throughout a decent horror story – this one is highly recommended for psycho horror fans and for McAvoy’s performance alone. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
– Is it the joining together of two people forever committed to a relationship built on respect and trust?
– Is it the emotion you feel for a family member or person you have bonded with over time?
– Is it nature’s way of tricking us into the act of pro-creation?
– Is it an abstract and emotional concept created by a higher power to ensure we act positively?
– Is it a form of madness which ensures we make crazy and stupid life decisions?
– Is it a dark force which enlivens obsession and stalking and violence?
– Or is it a marketing delusion forced upon us by greedy advertisers, florists and chocolate vendors?
Put simply it is: ALL OF THE ABOVE at some point in all our lives; although perhaps not the stalking!?!?
What I definitely know is that love is a big part of everybody’s lives whether it’s the positive or negative type? Moreover, love or the lack of love has provided the springboard for millions of stories, films, plays, songs, poems, slogans, TV show and adverts! So for my latest article I will review some of the films and programmes I have watched recently which had love or some version of it echoing through its’ narrative heart.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
45 YEARS (2015) – NETFLIX
Charlotte Rampling just owns this wonderful bitter sweet drama as a woman “celebrating” forty-five years of marriage to curmudgeon Tom Courtenay. The story moves slowly but confidently as Rampling’s Kate Mercer is shook up by revelations from her husband’s past. Andrew Haigh directs with a haunting charm as love is rendered in wintry hues, while marriage is illustrated as a culmination of what-ifs-buts-and-what-could-have-beens. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
BLACK MIRROR (S3) – SAN JUNIPERO – NETFLIX
Charlie Brooker’s savage satire series cuts off your eyelids and forces one’s eyes to the see the nefarious side of technology. However, the episode San Junipero is an altogether more touching and heart-rending beast. Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis as a couple of young girls who fall in love in the 80s drenched coastal town of San Junipero it builds slowly to a majestic reveal in the final act and the themes of love, euthanasia and life after death inform the romance with tearful power. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
BLUE JAY (2016) – NETFLIX
Mark Duplass is an interesting actor-writer-director-improviser who produces small, naturalistic and improvisatory films that are often quietly impressive. Blue Jay is a sporadically brilliant two-hander starring Duplass and the effervescent Sarah Paulson as a former couple who reconnect after years apart and spend a day together revelling in the past, present and future love. Paulson is stunning and Duplass is just Duplass as we spend time with very human characters just trying to get by in love and life. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR (2013) – FILM FOUR
You know the story: girl-meets-girl-falls-in-love-has-lengthy-lesbian-sex-sessions-moves-in-with-girl-then-cheats-on-girl-but-not-before-there-are-more-lengthy-scissor-sister-sessions. Well, something like that. Jokes aside, this is a very honest and believable slice-of-life drama with incredible performances from Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos as the two lovers. The film was laden with awards at time of release and benefits from Abdellatif Kechiche’s frank and intriguing direction. Personally speaking I felt the soul-searching drama and love story were very powerful but the sex scenes were over-long and pornographic and lent nothing to the story overall. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
BROOKLYN (2015) – NETFLIX
This soapy-honey-sweet 1950s set love story contains a tremendous central performance from Saoirse Ronan, as an innocent Irish girl who goes to New York in search of a job and finds love with an Italian plumber. The film delivers a pot pourri of bright colours, national and migrant archetypes and resolves much of the drama very easily; in fact, the film was so nice I expected the cast to break out into song by the end. John Crowley directs the undemanding story deftly and while, I imagine, the plight of an immigrant in those days was much harder than demonstrated this is fine Sunday matinee fare and difficult to dislike. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
JACKIE (2016) – CINEMA
Does this fit into the love story genre? I think as a story about a woman who lost the husband she loved, his head blown completely off by a sniper’s bullet, it qualifies as a film about the departure of love. It’s a powerful portrait of Jackie Kennedy with Natalie Portman impressing as the wife of the President left devastated by his sudden murder. Portman as Jackie carries the weight of loss and sorrow on her petite shoulders, drawing on all her strength to carry on living for the sake of a nation and more importantly her children. Her life has been condemned as a void and Portman’s haunting visage betrays an unforgettable lament throughout. Pablo Larrain directs using documentary and dramatic stylings to powerful effect and the score by Mica Levi is to die for. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
LA LA LAND (2016) – CINEMA
As it sweeps the boards at the awards ceremonies La La Land can certainly be praised as a funny, energetic, imaginative spectacle with fantastic direction by Damian Chazelle. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are also on great form, delivering some wonderful songs throughout. As a love story it works but only on the surface as the boy-meets-girl-struggling-artists’ narrative lacks depth overall. Still, it’s a great musical in the classical Hollywood model – just not a Best Film Oscar winner. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
In an oppressive near-futuristic society individuals must yield to socio-political mores and be married with children or you get turned into an animal of your choice! Well, this certainly isn’t the pitch of a love story that Hollywood would make in a hurry. However, the misadventures of Colin Farrell’s hopeless love-life are explored to dark and comical effect in Yorgos Lanthimos’ startling comedy-drama. This is one of the best films I have seen a long time which is equally bizarre yet believable in its absurd honesty. We run around attempting to find love or force romance when we should just let nature take its course. Farrell has never been better and his weird romance with Rachel Weisz is so damned original in thought and delivery it left my heart stained with pathos and delirium. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
LOVE ACTUALLY (2003) – DVD
My wife “made” me watch this one at Christmas and as soon as it finished I was diagnosed with diabetes! It is such a sickly, sweet and sappy rom-dram-com that, while I think Richard Curtis deserves praise for some excellent writing, it is just too clichéd for me. I love ensemble portmanteau films and many of the overlapping stories here would make excellent short films; moreover, the cast including: Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Andrew Lincoln, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth and many more are very watchable. But the whole love pudding is over-sweetened, over-egged and over-cooked for my taste. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
PASSENGERS (2016) – CINEMA
You and your other passengers are in stasis on a many centuries long journey to another galaxy and you’re woken up early. You are alone. In space. Until you die. If you could wake up the other passengers, but would you? Given the fellow passenger is Jennifer Lawrence you have a bloody tough choice. And what if she finds out too: you’re a murderer in effect. That’s the moral dilemma which faces Chris Pratts’ character in this frothy space-rom-drama. I enjoyed the stylish science-fiction genre flick as it looks fantastic in design and cast. It doesn’t have much depth but I found it to be lots of fun especially as Pratt is charming and funny as ever and Lawrence is easy on the eye too. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
In my latest episode of actor, cinema artist or filmmaker profiles I have picked some favourite roles of Tom Hardy. This very talented British actor has made a name for himself with a series of intense, moody, muscular and at times psychotic performances. But he has depth too, and demonstrated on occasions, humour, vulnerability and sensitivity beneath the fierce masculine force he brings to the screen. Currently he can be seen lurking in the shadows of the BBC1 drama Taboo (2017), but here are eight other roles which showcase this actor’s depth of talent.
Arguably, this is Hardy’s proper breakthrough role as he covered himself in shit and acting glory in Nicolas Winding Refn’s unflinching representation of Britain’s most notorious prisoner. Hardy’s in pretty much every scene pulsing with rage and violence; fighting dogs, gypsies and the system like a bald, working class Bane.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
Talk of the devil and he shall appear! Hardy brought his bulking mass and searing eyes to Gotham to wreak havoc on its citizens as arch villain Bane. The film has some narratives issues but I thought Nolan and cast presented some great set-pieces and action in a pulsating end to the trilogy. With the mask and chilling voice plus hulking physical presence Hardy made a memorable foe for Batman and co.
THE DROP (2014)
Hardy offers another brilliant piece of character work as Bob Saginowski, a Boston barman, who works in a mob-owned pub. He finds himself threatened by local scumbag Matthias Schoenaerts over the disputed ownership of a dog. It’s a subtle performance in which he swallows and bottles his rage with a quiet, yet menacing confidence.
Christopher Nolan’s exquisite, mind-bending heist thriller has an fantastic ensemble cast with Hardy popping up as the forger Eames. Unburdened by masks or grunts or over-aggression, Eames is an urbane and sophisticated character who remains calm under fire; while in perfect ‘Received Pronunciation’ delivers some witty one-liners. Here Hardy demonstrates what an ideal James Bond he would make.
So, the story is about a bloke on his phone driving up the motorway? Not a pitch that would grab Hollywood in-a-hurry, but a film that is delivered with such hypnotic power it feels epic. Hardy’s Locke is portrayed as a determined man whose life decisions, family and work-life have triangulated simultaneously to crisis point. It is a performance of restraint and brooding anxiety making the one location-movie compelling throughout.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
George Miller’s bruising, muscular and jaw-dropping spectacular is an orgy of car-bombing action and deathly stunts with little dialogue. So, who better to take on a virtually mute yet physical role than Tom Hardy in this smash-and-burn epic. Max Rockantansky remains one of the iconic existential anti-heroes, with Hardy taking over the baton from Mel Gibson superbly.
THE REVENANT (2015)
Hardy was rightly Oscar nominated for his portrayal of greasy mercenary John Fitzgerald. While Hardy’s mumbling Fitzgerald certainly has my empathy early doors his decision to leave Glass for dead after killing his son is the act of a scumbag. Once again, Hardy commits to the role of the murderous trapper with dirty aplomb as he more than matches DiCaprio’s compelling performance.
STUART: A LIFE BACKWARDS (2007)
This is an excellent BBC film starring Tom Hardy as Stuart Shorter, a homeless alcoholic and petty criminal who was also a social justice activist. Shorter meets Benedict Cumberbatch’s writer and the two form an unlikely friendship. Hardy’s performance is full of heart-breaking pathos and physical distress because Stuart suffered from muscular dystrophy. Abused as a child and lost as an adult, Stuart’s is a tragic life and one where Hardy further demonstrates his excellent acting range.
APOCALYPSE TO ZOMBIES: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016) REVIEW
Being an avid cinema-goer I love the experience and have few complaints as a pastime generally. Of course there are great, good, mediocre and bad movies but that’s the nature of any business. However, one of the things that often gets on my nerves is the lack of promotion for really good low-budget films produced in the U.K. Quite often such films on a lower budget fall foul of the power of the Multiplex domination by Hollywood where Disney, Marvel and Star Wars franchise films saturate the cinema screens. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy such cinematic entertainment, but every now and then, a real gem of a film falls between the cracks and does not get the attention it should. One such film is the British zombie-horror drama The Girl With All The Gifts (2016).
Somewhere amidst the Hollywood marketing behemoth this film was released last year to very little fanfare and it deserved much more in my opinion. It has an excellent cast with Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and Glenn Close playing key characters. It also features an intriguing script – based on his novel – by M.R. Carey, succinct direction by Colm McCarthy; plus a standout performance from young actress Sennia Nanua. I must say that the score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer added to the overall dread, scares and brooding peril and I expect this composer to go to the top of his profession.
Thematically, the film is very strong dealing initially with a skewed educational situation as Ms Justineau (Arterton) teaches her pupils; who are mysteriously chained to their desks. The reason for this is revealed slowly allowing the tension to rise gradually as Justineau’s special relationship with “gifted one” Melanie develops. Their bond builds throughout and one may argue Justineau’s feelings and decisions are misplaced as the adults versus children dynamic heightens. Indeed, the landscape is filled with monstrous orphans and suspense is generated because Melanie’s allegiance could switch any time between the adults and the other zombie children.
Thus, compared to the very average rom-zom-com-mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016), which benefited from a £28 million budget, The Girl With All The Gifts (made for £4 million) contains a whole lot more suspense, imagination and atmosphere. The story itself treads the familiar mud and blood road of a post-apocalyptic world where children are the only hope to combat a deadly virus that has wiped out humanity. It’s a standard scientists-and-soldiers-on-the-road-type-plot which wears a jacket of influences including: Lord of the Flies, 28 Days Later, and various George Romero films very well. Overall, this psychological horror contains a number of tense, heart-racing and gory scenes making it an under-rated classic which deserved more success at the cinema in my humble opinion.
SCREENWASH – DECEMBER 2016 – FILM & TV REVIEW ROUND-UP
Merry Christmas to anyone reading this and a Happy New Year! So, as we wind down our employment and head home for the holiday season I offer my final cinema and TV screen round-up of the year.
From next year the Screenwash monthly round-up will mainly consist of the best stuff I saw each month rather than EVERYTHING! My blog will also feature the usual classic film features and reviews as usual. I’m off to the pub soon so a very quick run-through with marks, as usual, out of eleven!
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
A PERFECT DAY (2015) – NETFLIX
Well-meaning and intriguing comedy-drama set circa ‘90s Balkan conflict stars Benicio Del Toro as an Aid worker facing anything but a perfect day. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
BILLIONS (2016) – SKY ATLANTIC
Tremendous drama starring Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti, as a billionaire stockbroker and New York Attorney General respectively, who lock horns over insider trading. This has the lot: great acting, script and cat-and-mouse twists galore in a meaty twelve episodes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
BLUE VELVET (1986) – BFI CINEMA
“Why are there people like Frank?” asks Kyle Maclachlan’s Jeffery Beaumont in David Lynch’s dark journey into the underbelly of small town America. Hopper’s tour-de-force performance is chilling and funny in this eccentric, violent and memorable thriller. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
CASE 39 (2009) – NETFLIX
An alright chiller starring Renee Zellweger as a social worker investigating the abuse of a young girl. Of course, not all is what it seems. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING (2016) – NETFLIX
Paul Rudd is excellent as a depressed man seeking escape from life by helping muscular-dystrophy effected youth, Craig Roberts, in a touching and funny road movie. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
FUNNY GIRL (1968) – NETFLIX
The classic Broadway musical which I saw recently in London with Sheridan Smith (I wasn’t with her – she was in it) is a breezy blast through the songs and career of Fanny Brice. The kind-of-rags-to-riches-narrative is simple but the delivery is brilliant, with Barbara Streisand bursting with life, humour and song in an energetic Oscar-winning performance. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
JOY (2016) – SKY CINEMA
Hit-and-miss drama stars the amazing Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano; who battles family strife and corporate sexism to rise to the dizzy heights of TV shopping celebrity. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
IP MAN 3 (2015) – NETFLIX
Donnie Yen, again, excels in the further adventures of martial arts legend Ip Man. This time its 1959 and he’s up against Mike Tyson as a gangland boss and other rivals to his Wing Chun crown. Worth watching for the majestic fight scenes and the always awesome Donnie Yen (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
LES DOULOS (1963) – BFI CINEMA
Classic French Noir from Jean-Pierre Melville stars Jean Belmondo is a shadowy joy which thrills with its twisting plot following a robbery-gone-wrong. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
MASCOTS (2015) – NETFLIX
Christopher Guest’s comedy mockumentary about sports mascots has some big and silly belly laughs and even sillier costumes too. It’s very daft with some fun routines throughout. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
MATCHSTICK MEN (2003) – SKY CINEMA
Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell are brilliant in Ridley Scott’s smaller-in-scale-than-usual-con-artist film which contains a series of thrilling twists and Cage’s excellent OCD-afflicted performance. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
PUSH (2009) – NETFLIX
Captain America/Chris Evans stars in this not-bad action-thriller about telekinetics being hunted down by a nefarious agency somewhere in Hong Kong. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
REMAINS OF THE DAY (1993) – MOVIE MIX
Sensational period drama set just before WW2 features incredible acting from Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. They star as the Butler and Housekeeper who develop feelings for each other but professional commitments keep them at arms-length in a wonderfully touching human story. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016) – CINEMA
Disney’s Star Wars roadshow-behemoth moves onto the first of it’s’ anthology series with a rip roaring war movie set just before A New Hope (1977) – (Mark: 9 out of 11). My full review is here.
SATURDAY NIGHT & SUNDAY MORNING (1960) – DVD
Albert Finney is excellent in this ground-breaking-for-its-day-working-class-social-realist drama. He’s a hard-working-boozing-chauvinist who rebels against the bosses and law in a gritty, and at times humorous, slice of British life. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).
SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2015) – SKY CINEMA
Pointless and so-so remake of the classic Argentinian Oscar-winner which takes a great story and good cast and reduces it to a functional detective story. (Mark: 6 out of 11).
SELF/LESS (2015) – SKY CINEMA
Badly-reviewed-but-not-too-bad takes a great premise of Ben Kingsley having his consciousness transferred into Ryan Reynolds’ soldier and turns it into a decent action-chase thriller. (Mark: 7 out of 11).
THE SIEGE OF JADOTVILLE (2016) – NETFLIX
Decent based-on-a-true-story set in the Congo during a battle in the Katanga district circa 1961. Charismatic Jamie Dornan leads UN troops battling French mercenaries in some brutal and explosive battle scenes which echo the backs-to-the-wall heroics of Rourke’s Drift. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).
SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974) – FILM FOUR
Steven Spielberg’s debut cinema release is a lively road-pursuit-comedy-drama with a sparky lead performance from a very young Goldie Hawn. The characters strife didn’t grab me but the action barrels along sweetly with some funny scenes and beautiful cinematography. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).
SULLY (2016) – CINEMA
Tom Hanks excels as the experienced and noble pilot Chesley Sullenburger who somehow landed a plane on the Hudson after birds had ripped out its engines. Clint Eastwood directs with his usual steady hand as the film shows life experience is often more valuable than a computer simulation. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).
THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988) – NETFLIX
Errol Morris’ seminal documentary about a miscarriage of justice pretty much re-invented the crime documentary with its’ chilling re-enactments and interviews with the personae involved. The film would eventually prove the innocence of wrongly-accused drifter Randall Adams in the crime of a murdered police officer in 1976. Formidable, gripping and humane drama. (Mark: 9 out of 11).
THE THREE AMIGOS (1986) – SKY CINEMA
Chevy Chase, Martin Short and comedy genius Steve Martin star in this silly spoof of Westerns and silent-comedies as they are mistaken for hardened protectors of the weak. (Mark: 7 out of 11).
WESTWORLD (2016) – HBO – SKY ATLANTIC
Brilliant and exquisite Sci-fi-western-mash-up from Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy with an all-star cast is reviewed – (Mark: 9 out of 11) – in full here:
WHITE FANG (1991) – SKY CINEMA
Ethan Hawke is a young explorer looking to make a go of his dead father’s gold mine in the end of the 19th century Yukon. Lots of snow and action aplenty as Hawke’s boy becomes a man and befriends a young wolf in the process in fine family entertainment. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).
WOLF HALL (2015) – NETFLIX
Mark Rylance owns this dark drama as Thomas Cromwell; a key figure in the court of Henry the VIII – here portrayed by the brilliant Damian Lewis. Based on Hilary Mantel’s astonishing novels it charts the political and religious back-stabbing of the day in a naturally shot and wonderfully acted period drama. Rylance’s performance is subtle and steely as the man from lower stock who rose to pull the strings in the King’s court. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11).
SCREENWASH – NOVEMBER 2016 – DVD & ON DEMAND REVIEW ROUND-UP
In addition to my cinema reviews I also watched an eclectic mix of TV shows, big movies and art and indie flicks this month. As usual I have packaged them into bitesize chunks for your perusal. As usual marks are out of eleven.
AMANDA KNOX (2016) – NETFLIX
The despicable murder of Meredith Kercher caused a media and legal storm in Italy over ten years ago now. Amanda Knox and her then-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito were charged and convicted before appealing against the crimes. This intriguing documentary lifts the lid on a case where the media and Italian legal system are on trial as much as Knox herself. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
CIRCLE (2015) – NETFLIX
Well-written-one-location-low-budget film finds many strangers in room fighting for their lives. Social, religious, gender and ethnic demographics become key to the choice of “who dies next”; in a nifty, intelligent thriller which critiques humanity in an entertaining fashion. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) – NETFLIX
Tarantino’s classic revisionist slave western gets better on every watch; and I would have to say that it is arguably, amidst the stylistic flourishes, his most satisfying narrative as a whole. The bone-crunching violence and bloody shootouts are a joy, yet Tarantino also draws emotional power from the love story between Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington’s enslaved couple. Meanwhile, Christophe Waltz and Leonard DiCaprio ride off into the sunset with the acting honours. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) – TCM
I loved this Bruce Lee Kung-fu classic when I was growing up. Now, it just seems like a slightly tired James Bond rip-off in terms of plot, however, Bruce Lee was a martial arts master and movie star; so it is his charisma and fighting skills which really shine through now. (Mark: 8 out of 11 – for Lee!)
GOOSEBUMPS (2015) – SKY CINEMA
This is a pretty decent meta-fictional comedy-action film with Jack Black hamming it up as a mysterious writer whose creations wreak havoc on a small town. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
GOTO – ISLAND OF LOVE (1969) – DVD
This is a very surreal drama from critically acclaimed Polish filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk. In the past I would have loved insane stuff like this but I couldn’t get my head around the weird inhabitants of a prison colony acting out warped love rituals while trapped on an island. (Mark: 5 out of 11)
THE GUEST (2014) – FILM FOUR
The Guest (2014) is a smart, funny and violent B-movie which makes merry hell of its’ “cuckoo in the nest” plot. Dan Stevens is brilliant and has all the charm and looks of a bona fide movie star in the making and a good shout for the next James Bond. I’ve seen this a few times now and it is a genuine under-rated classic. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
THE LAKE HOUSE (2006) – ITV2
Soppy time-travel love story which kind of does and doesn’t make sense stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. It’s a likable film with fun concept and pleasant moments. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
MATCH POINT (2005) – NETFLIX
Woody Allen’s excellent London-set thriller builds slowly and pays off wonderfully by the end. The characters are well drawn as Jonathan Rhys-Meyers young existential tennis pro darkens his soul through poor life decisions. Emily Mortimer, Scarlett Johannsson, Brian Cox and Matthew Goode complete an attractive cast in the excellent Dostoyevsky-laced crime drama. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
PEOPLE JUST DO NOTHING – SEASON 1 (2014) – NETFLIX
This is a funny Gervais-influenced-Office-style-mockumentary-comedy which follows the shenanigans of a West London pirate radio station. Satirizing youth culture and we get a peek into the lives of the likes of MC Grindah and feckless mates. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
SAW (2004) – SKY CINEMA
While it started a tortuous never-ending-cash-cow-franchise, never forget the original Saw is a genuine horror classic from James Wan and Leigh Whannell. You get two guys, one cell and a hell-of-a-dangerous serial killer on the loose that leads to some great twists and bloody murder. The ending alone is still a gob-smacking treat as you put together Jigsaw’s fiendish plan. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
SIN CITY 2: A DAME TO KILL FOR – SKY CINEMA
Roberto Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s sequel to the mind-blowing violent-noir-comic-book-digital-backlot-splatterfest Sin City (2005) was eagerly anticipated by me. This had the same hard-boiled dialogue, bone-crunching violence and some fantastic imagery, but aside from Eva Green’s terrific femme fatale it lacked the impact of the first film and fell a bit flat. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
SONS OF ANARCHY – SEASON 3 (2010) – NETFLIX
The third revving-crunching-porno-shooting-explosive season had Jax and the other gang members battling the Mayans, the FBI and going on “holiday” to Ireland to take on the “Real” Irish Republican Army. It’s a real soapy mix of violence, bullets and familial-led drama with enough plot turns and jaw-dropping set-pieces to keep you entertained throughout the fast-paced episodes. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
THE FINEST HOURS (2016) – SKY CINEMA
This Disney disaster movie set in the 1950s is a very watchable human drama sensitively directed by Craig Gillespie. It flopped at the box office, yet Chris Pine and Casey Affleck are on very good form in the leads and there are some great set-pieces too on the sea. The real star is Carter Burwell’s epic music but in my opinion the film deserved a bigger audience. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
TO THE WONDER (2012) – DVD
This is a beautifully shot yet overlong and pretentious love story with banal Olga Kurylenko and a depressive Ben Affleck sleep-walking through his role. Terence Malick is a fine auteur but despite the wondrous scenery and vaguely interesting structure this bored me overall. (Mark: 6 out of 11)