Tag Archives: Netflix Review

“CINEMA” REVIEW: THE NIGHTINGALE (2019)

“CINEMA” REVIEW: THE NIGHTINGALE (2019)

Directed by: Jennifer Kent

Produced by: Kristina Ceyton, Steve Hutensky, Jennifer Kent, Bruna Papandrea

Written by: Jennifer Kent

Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie, Charlie Shotwell, Michael Sheasby, etc.

Music by: Jed Kurzel

Cinematography: Radek Ladczuk

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



THE NIGHTINGALE (2019) is a brutal film about rape and murder. It’s about the rape of an individual. The rape of a nation. The murders of youth, race, nature, humanity and life itself. It is an extremely powerful and impactful viewing experience, but not for those of a faint heart or sensitive disposition. When released it caused much controversy with some audience members walking out during festival screenings. This is no doubt due to several scenes displaying sickening moments of violence against men, women and children. However, the director Jennifer Kent, has not written and helmed a mere exploitation revenge film here. Instead, she has fashioned a beautiful and ugly tragedy, which prevails damning indictment against masculine savagery, colonialism and British rule.

Set in 1825 in the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (presently Tasmania), THE NIGHTINGALE (2019), follows a young female convict seeking revenge for an unspeakable act of violence committed against her family. Clare Carroll, nicknamed “Nightingale” due to her lovely singing voice, is a young mother and wife looking to be given her freedom. It is held by Sam Claflin’s abusive British officer, Hawkins. Rather than free her he decides to thrust himself upon her sexually. Yet, when she rebuffs his drunken and lurid behaviour, he goes mob-handed to take her. Then when her husband intervenes, Hawkins and his soldiers act without honour or courage, leaving a family wrecked in their wake.



Hawkins and his men venture through the bush to Launceston the next day, to gain a promotion from the top brass he believes he deserves. Claire rallies and pursues them with bloody revenge in mind. She is assisted in her search by Aboriginal guide, “Billy” Mangana (Baykali Ganambarr). Billy is initially reluctant to chase British soldiers. Not surprising as the British have ravaged his people, land and culture, leaving the indigenous people outcasts in their own country. While Claire and Billy initially conflict they soon realise they have a common foe. Thus, while revenge supplies the bones for the narrative, the screenplay fleshes out their chase with intriguing cultural clashes and reconciliation. Indeed, the unlikely pair will eventually come to respect each other’s differences and find common ground over the course of the story.

Having received much critical acclaim with the low-budget horror film THE BABADOOK (2014), Jennifer Kent has moved from inner demonic possession to a more epic and external approach to horror. Because amidst the bucolic wonder of the Australian wilderness, the British brought death and chaos to the area. While one understands the need to have a place to house its prisoners (the barbarous treatment of the working classes is a whole different story), the rapacious desolation of the indigenous culture is a vital message within the film. Claire Carroll and Billy Mangana are symbols of a lost and damaged generation. They are emblems of people who deserve justice and reparation. Moreover, the message remains valid today, especially with the rise of the alternative-right and the continued sexual abuse faced by women everyday. Lastly, with a moving and tough leading portrayal by Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr providing a spiritual heart, and Sam Claflin giving a fearlessly repugnant representation of British aggression, THE NIGHTINGALE (2019), tells a horrific, disturbing, but righteously relevant tale.

Mark: 9 out of 11


NETFLIX REVIEW: DARK (2020) – SEASON 3 – AND SO CONCLUDES ONE OF THE BEST TV DRAMAS EVER MADE!

NETFLIX REVIEW: DARK (2020) – SEASON 3

Created by: Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese

Written by: Jantje Friese, Ronny Schalk, Marc O. Seng, Martin Behnke, Daphne Ferraro

Directed by: Baran bo Odar

Cast: Louis Hofmann, Karoline Eichhorn, Lisa Vicari, Maja Schöne, Stephan Kampwirth, Jördis Triebel, Andreas Pietschmann, Paul Lux, Moritz Jahn, Christian Hutcherson, Oliver Masucci, Peter Benedict, Gina Stiebitz, Deborah Kaufmann, Daan Lennard Liebrenz, Julika Jenkins, Carlotta von Falkenhayn, Tamar Pelzig, Dietrich Hollinderbäumer, Mark Waschke, Leopold Hornung, Christian Pätzold, Will Beinbrink, Hermann Beyer, Christian Steyer, Lisa Kreuzer, Anne Ratte-Polle, Walter Kreye, Lydia Maria Makrides, Tom Philipp, Nele Trebs, Tatja Seibt, Lea van Acken, Shani Atias, Max Schimmelpfennig, Ella Lee, Peter Schneider and many more.

Composer(s): Apparat, Ben Frost

Executive producer(s): Justyna Müsch, Jantje Friese, Quirin Berg, Max Wiedemann, Baran bo Odar,

Cinematography: Nikolaus Summerer

Original Network: Netflix

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



“Time is an illusion.” ― Albert Einstein


And so the end is nigh, and we reach the final season of uber-drama, DARK. If you have Netflix and you like to have your mind scrambled and heart moved, then I urge you to watch it. It is easily one of the best television dramas I have seen in a long time. It’s edgy, nightmarish, confusing, twisted and to be honest, virtually unreviewable. I say that because I don’t want to give away any spoilers but, trust me, if you like emotionally, structurally and artistically complex plots involving multiple characters, locations and timelines then this German thriller is for you. It had me confused in a good way and totally immersed in the plot and characters. You will be lost, searching for the light, yet you will be astounded too by the audacity of the writing, direction and looping insanity of the show.

Time, space and dimensional rifts are central to the drama. The cycles of life and death are also integral within the fabric of DARK. The action occurs in the German town of Winden as the narrative entwines the past, present and futures of four families: Kahnwald, Nielsen, Doppler, and Tiedemann.  One could argue that the state of Saṃsāra is invoked as a key theme. Saṃsāra is a fundamental concept in all Indian religions. It is linked to the karma theory, and refers to the belief that all living beings cyclically go through births and rebirths. The term is related to phrases such as the cycle of successive existence, including the karmic cycle or the wheel of life. What occurs within the twenty-six episodes of DARK is a cyclical lunar convergence of 33 years, taking place initially in 1987 and 2020. Well, that’s just in season one. From season two onwards things temporally twist beyond into other years on the cycle.

During season two and much of season three I was often lost with the various characters criss-crossing each other on different timelines and at various ages of their lives. I finally found some semblance of understanding in DARK, after much frustration and almost giving up, by distilling the events to the human strands of childhood, adulthood and old age. Like a moving vision of Titian’s painting, The Three Ages of Man, all the major characters, notably Jonas Kahnwald, Claudia Tiedemann and Ulrich Nielsen, feature in these three stages of existence. Interestingly, the programme events show they have different agendas and perspectives, with older versions either teaching their younger selves or acting as their own nemesis. Proving that existentially speaking life is ultimately a constant battle with oneself.



Temporal paradox is central also to DARK. More specifically, it features the Bootstrap Paradox. This refers is a theoretical paradox of time travel that occurs when an object or piece of information sent back in time becomes trapped within an infinite cause-effect loop in which the item no longer has a discernible point of origin. Indeed, closed causal loops, such as the Predestination Paradox or Bootstrap Paradox, find time running in a repeating circle. When such circles over-lap in DARK, conflict is derived in the story because certain characters are trying to keep the loops going and others are trying to destroy them.

Which brings us to another major theme of the drama, the death of the self and death of the world. With the spectre of Chernobyl hanging over the town of Winden, the nuclear power station becomes a central harbinger of catastrophe throughout the various cycles. In the early years it is a beacon of prosperity, energy and employment. In later years it is the precipitous location for the apocalypse. Lastly, philosophically the textual richness in DARK is endless. While temporally speaking the looping timelines can be confusing, the final season, while leaving many questions unanswered provides a satisfying closure to this extremely human story. Amidst the science fact and fiction and philosophical explorations of life and death this is ultimately a television series about family and community. Because as soon as the cracks begin to show in the family unit we are destined to fall through the fissures of destiny. Only together can we conquer fate; but only if time allows.

Mark: 10 out of 11


NETFLIX TV REVIEW – BETTER CALL SAUL (2020) – SEASON 5

NETFLIX TV REVIEW – BETTER CALL SAUL (2020) – SEASON 5

Created by: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould

Executive producer(s): Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Mark Johnson, Melissa Bernstein, Thomas Schnauz, Gennifer Hutchison,

Producer(s): Bob Odenkirk, Nina Jack, Diane Mercer, Robin Sweet, Gordon Smith, Jonathan Glatzer,

Directors: Bronwen Hughes, Norberto Barba, Michael Morris, Gordon Smith, Jim McKay, Melissa Bernstein, Vince Gilligan, Thomas Schnauz, Peter Gould,

Writers: Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, Thomas Schnauz, Gordon Smith, Alison Tatlock, Heather Marion, Ann Cherkis,

Cast: Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn, Patrick Fabian, Michael Mando, Tony Dalton, Giancarlo Esposito, etc.

Cinematography: Arthur Albert, Marshall Adams

Production company(s): High Bridge Productions, Crystal Diner Productions, Gran Via Productions, Sony Pictures Television

Original network: AMC

UK Release: Netflix

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



“We all make our choices. And those choices, they put us on a road. Sometimes those choices seem small, but they put you on the road. You think about getting off. But eventually, you’re back on it.”
Mike Ermantraut – Better Call Saul (S5 – Episode 9)


One thought, of many, that I will take to my dying day is in regard to the business of the war on drugs. I get that people want to strive for intoxication in order to medicine themselves against the pain and struggle of everyday life. I get that humans love to get high and have a party. I get that people unfortunately get addicted to substances, so much so they turn into junkies existing only for their next fix. It may not make it right, but I get why people do drugs.

I also understand the business of making money selling drugs. The drug dealers and Cartels across the world earn a fortune farming, creating, distributing and selling narcotics. Moreover, Governments, across our civilisation, attempt yet fail, to stop them. I get all this. What I don’t understand though is when the Cartels make SO much money, and wall it up in safehouses, farms and apartments — why don’t they stop!! They have enough! Just retire. It’s a naive question, obviously. Because the money, drugs, lifestyle and power are also an addiction. It’s an insane game. It’s a bad road. It’s another indictment against the evil of humanity and our greed-driven society. Having said that the conflict with drugs and more specifically that of the Mexican drug Cartels is also providing the masses with some fine television drama.


Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill, Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler – Better Call Saul – Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Following hot on the heels of the gripping Season 3 of Cartel-driven thriller, Ozark (2020), comes Season 5 of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s crime prequel to Breaking Bad — the brilliant, Better Call Saul. Once again, it proves itself an incredibly well written character drama, containing some of the finest acting around. I mean, some shows you watch, and they can be a struggle. But Better Call Saul is like digital silk, so smooth in its presentation. The overall style, colour scheme, imaginative camera angles and framing make the show a joy to experience. The story isn’t too bad either.

Having worked through his conflicts with his brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), in the previous sterling seasons, Jimmy McGill finally embraces the ‘Saul Goodman’ legal name and persona. In this season though, in attempting to create a niche making a living helping the lower level criminal element, Jimmy/Saul, eventually finds his legal skills being employed by the Salamanca drug Cartel. Here Saul makes decisions which drag him, and his partner, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), into a series of dangerous drug-related situations in and out of court. Indeed, episode 8, Bagman, is as good as crime drama gets in terms of narrative, conflict, characterisation and dialogue.

While Bob Odenkirk again sparkles as the cheeky ducker-and-diver-lawyer, Saul Goodman, it’s Rhee Seehorn as Kim Wexler who steals the show. The development of her character from corporate legal player to something more than a money-driven suit is fascinating. In addition, her shifting attitudes also reflect a possible adrenaline addiction to the danger that Saul’s questionable choices bring. Meanwhile, Jonathan Banks as experienced fixer, Mike Ermantraut; Giancarlo Esposito as drug boss, Gustavo Fring; and new cast member, Tony Dalton as Lalo Salamanca, all add to sheer acting charisma and talent on screen. Ultimately, the war on drugs will never be won because there is an insatiable demand for narcotics, and a more fervent demand to supply them. I’m just so happy I am very far removed from the ‘Badlands’ of the Mexican drug Cartels. No doubt after the latest season of Better Call Saul, Saul Goodman, will be feeling very much the same. After all, we are all eventually a prisoner of our own bad choices.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11



NETFLIX DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: DIRTY MONEY (SEASONS 1 & 2)

NETFLIX REVIEW: DIRTY MONEY (S1 – S2)

Directors: Alex Gibney, Jesse Moss, Erin Lee Carr, Kristi Jacobson, Brian McGinn, Fisher Stevens, Dan Krauss, Zachary Heinzerling, Daniel DiMauro, Morgan Pehme, Stephen Maing, Kyoko Miyake, Margaret Brown

Executive producer(s): Adam Del Deo, Yon Motskin, Lisa Nishimura, Stacey Offman, Jason Spingarn-Koff, Alex Gibney

Production company(s)  Jigsaw Productions

Distributor: Netflix



Do you remember that scene in The Matrix (1999)? Not the famous one where Neo (Keanu Reeves) is given the choice of taking the red pill or blue pill. Not the scene where he is told the blue pill will allow him to remain in the fabricated reality of the ‘Matrix’; whereas the red pill will let him locate his body in the real world to be “unplugged” from the ‘Matrix.’ No, I’m talking about the scene where Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) asks specifically to be sent back into the ‘Matrix’, so he can forget about the horrific nature of his reality. He’s so sick of feeling powerless and fighting against a system he cannot beat, he is prepared to sell out his comrades and go back to blissful ignorance of the alien control machine. I call this unenviable and traitorous decision, “Cypher’s Choice.” I mean, he’d taken the red pill, but the truth was so unpalatable he wanted to reverse it and live in an artifical fiction.

‘Cypher’s Choice’ is one that can face many of us who have a modicum of thought, sensitivity and understanding of the world we live in. It’s also something which struck me when watching both seasons of the superior Netflix documentary, Dirty Money (2019 – 2020). Here is a very well produced, researched and edited set of films which really make one question the very core of human behaviour. This capitalist system which we live in just continues to produce unbelievable greed, corruption and questionable, almost psychopathic, acts of abuse. More often than not the individuals, corporations and governments perpetrating these morally repugnant acts are even acting within the law, or some twisted version of it. So, does one just accept that we are living in a cesspool of greed, hypocrisy and sociopathic moneymen? Further, does one accept one is powerless to stop it? Does one take ‘Cypher’s Choice’ and head back into the ‘Matrix’? Or fight the machine? It’s an incredibly difficult decision to make.



One way of fighting back or, at the very least holding a mirror up to the corruption in the world, is a trial by media. Conversely, Dirty Money (2019 – 2020), presents a frightening, but compelling series of documentaries featuring some illuminating exposes into negative, and illegal, corporate and government practices. Netflix, to their credit, have banded together a whole host of determined documentary filmmakers including: Alex Gibney, Jesse Moss, Dan Krauss, Fisher Stevens, Erin Lee Carr, and Margaret Brown, to name a few. These twelve documentary films are carefully presented and are hugely serious programmes. While they posit a certain journalistic objectivity, and lack the personal style of say Michael Moore, Nick Broomfield and Louis Theroux, they certainly cut their targets down to size from a left-of-centre standpoint.

Personally, I believe we need to transcend agendas and opposing political viewpoints and move toward a collective humanist goal where everyone treats everyone equally. That is clearly an ideological non-starter though. However, whatever your political standpoint may be, whether you’re a gun-carrying right-winger or Marxist pinkie or libertarian Darwinist, you have to agree that the current financial systems we have are busted. They must be or we would not get documentaries alleging: criminal pay-day loan scams; the Volkswagen emission scam; a Malaysian President siphoning off tax-payer money to fund an extravagant lifestyle; HSBC money-laundering for Mexican drug cartels; nefarious landlords screwing tenants for all the money they have; price-gouging Pharmaceutical firms; and the likes of Wells Fargo Bank aggressively cross-selling and inventing customers to boost their share price.

These and many more legal and moral crimes are represented in Dirty Money (2019 – 2020) and they shock one to the core. How can people be so greedy? How can companies lie so much? Why isn’t enough ever enough? Are they sadists or even psychopaths? Why can’t they share or redistribute their wealth? Why are they hellbent on destroying the Earth we live in? Why do some people constantly lie and steal from others? Why do they deny they have done anything wrong? And am I part of the problem living in this world and doing nothing to change it? Finally, these documentaries truly make you question whether you want to be part of this world. Does one look away though; swallow that blue pill again and take ‘Cypher’s Choice’? It’s probably way easier to do exactly that. Thankfully, though there are many out their battling the system and seeking justice for the wrongs that have been done. Long may the fight continue. It’s not ending anytime soon.


NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: EXTRACTION (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: EXTRACTION (2020)

Directed by Sam Hargrave

Produced: Antony Russo, Joe Russo, Mike Larocca, Chris Hemsworth, Eric Gitter, Peter Schwern

Screenplay by: Joe Russo – based on Ciudad by Ande Parks, Joe Russo, Fernando Leon Gonzalez

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Rudhraksh Jaiswal, Randeep Hooda, Golshifteh Farahani, Pankaj Tripathi, David Harbour, etc.

Distribution: Netflix


***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



Do you remember when action heroes used to be larger than life, filling up the screens with muscles, charisma, and wise-cracking one-liners. I am old, so I certainly do. The likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, Jean Claude Van Damme and of course, Sylvester Stallone were just some of the leading men crunching and blowing up the cinema screens. Okay, they may have been reactionary 1980s and 1990s masculine archetypes, and arguably nationalistic, sexist, militarist and incredibly over-the-top characters, but I kind of miss them. Because today’s action heroes, while equally talented at killing and delivering mayhem, are somewhat less colourful.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the technically excellent and brutally realised fight scenes and stunts of today. However, John Wick, Bryan Mills of Taken (2008), Lorraine Broughton of Atomic Blonde (2017), Jason Bourne, and now Chris Hemsworth’s mercenary, Tyler Rake in Extraction (2020), are individuals of fewer words and even less humour. I guess Jason Statham isn’t too bad, but he’s still quite serious. Lastly, while one can certainly rely on the sanitized fun of the Marvel Universe for some humour and personality within the action, it’s still not the same as a good old Arnie action flick. The more adult oriented superhero, Deadpool (2016), can be relied on for X-rated violence and constant verbal quips. But, he wears a suit and it’s just not as good as the action heroes I grew up watching. Ah, but that’s nostalgia for you.

Why the trip down memory lane, Paul? What about the kinetic and explosive action of Extraction (2020)? Yes, the well-choreographed manoeuvres are extremely exciting. They are also bone-crushingly relentless from the moment Tyler Rake enters Bangladesh to extract an imprisoned Indian gangster’s teenage son, Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal). Hemsworth and director Sam Hargrave get you in and out of hand-to-hand fights, car chases, leaps and falls from buildings, and constant gun battles with stunning brilliance throughout. The camera and editing work present virtuoso work, capped by an almost seamless eleven minute long take involving all manner of mayhem. While Ovi and Tyler kind of bond later in the film, I found myself needing more emotional or political subtext to narrative. Even John Wick (2014) created its own mythology and universe, where this relies on fast-paced movement, military tropes and lazy stereotypes. Ultimately, Extraction (2020) was like an explosive fireworks display. Great to watch while it lasted, but ultimately forgettable. Man on Fire (2004) did this story way better and with way more feeling.

Mark 7 out of 11


NETFLIX TV REVIEW – UNORTHODOX (2020)

NETFLIX TV REVIEW – UNORTHODOX (2020)

Directed by Maria Schrader

Written by: Anna Winger, Alexa Karolinski, Daniel Hendler

Based on: Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots
by Deborah Feldman

Cast: Shira Haas, Amit Rahav, Jeff Wilbusch, Alex Reid, Aaron Altaras, Ronit Asheri, Dina Doron, Gera Sandler, and more.

Original Network: Netflix

**** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****



When one watches a memoir based on true events such as Netflix’s Unorthodox (2020), you realise how lucky you are in regard to the freedom you have. This isn’t about an individual going through social lockdown for good reason, but someone who is trapped by their strict religious and family traditions. Such traditions in themselves could be deemed acceptable as we must respect different ways of living. However, what if that person wants to leave their life and is not allowed? This is called incarceration of the soul and body. This is wrong. People must be allowed to choose their own way in life and not be tethered by dogma or ideology. I repeat, I respect people’s belief systems, but not if it has a negative effect on that person.

Based on Deborah Feldman’s bestselling autobiography, Unorthodox, is an impressive four-part drama which focusses on Esty Shapiro, portrayed with provocative emotion and vulnerability by Shira Haas. Esty is an unhappy Jewish woman, who finds herself trapped in a traditional ultra-Orthodox marriage in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She is denied many things such as a control, position, voice, personality, expression and her love of music. The compelling episodes go back and forth in time between the build up to her marriage to inexperienced, Yanky (Amit Rahav), and Esty’s escape to Berlin, where she explores the world outside her religion for the first time.

While Yanky is shown to be kindly, he is committed, some may say brainwashed, to his faith. Therefore, the marriage process is one of suppression and control. Every moment of Esty’s life is plotted, from the shaving of her hair prior to the wedding, and after, the days they are meant to have sex. The intercourse, however, proves anxious for the young couple. Rather embarrassingly though, this private matter becomes a huge issue with other family members. Privacy, it seems, is secondary as Esty is treated no better than a brood mare. Even after she escapes to Berlin, Esty is pursued by her husband and brutish cousin, Moishe (Jeff Wilbusch). Sadly, there seems to be more control in the Hasidic community than love. Of course, this is a representation of Deborah Feldman’s experience, thus, I cannot begin to understand the nature of the Hasidic Jewish community in full. For many it is probably a safe space and designed to protect individuals from the often rotten world outside. Faith and family can be great protectors, however, in this story, for one person, that life became a living hell.

In the character of Esty we are introduced to a fascinating world, and her riveting struggle to become an individual rather than follow patriarchal doctrine. While the narrative takes a slight left turn in the final episode, I can heartily recommend this mini-series. Lastly, I cannot judge if the representation of the Samtar movement is realistic, yet the setting, costumes and culture feels authentic. The actors speak, on the main, Yiddish, and in Shira Haas’s commanding performance Unorthodox we get a very realistic encapsulation of a desire to escape oppression. Haas may be diminutive in size, but her rendition of Esty Shapiro is mighty in heart and soul.

Mark: 9 out of 11


NETFLIX REVIEW – OZARK (2020) – SEASON 3

NETFLIX REVIEW – OZARK (2020) – SEASON 3

Created by: Bill Dubuque & Mark Williams

Producers: Jason Bateman, Chris Mundy, Bill Dubuque, Mark Williams

Director(s): Jason Bateman, Alik Sakharov, Ben Semanoff, Amanda Marsalis, Cherien Dabis

Writers: Chris Mundy, Paul Kolsby, Ning Zhou, Martin Zimmerman, Miki Johnson, John Shiban, Laura Deeley

Cast: Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, Sofia Hublitz, Skylar Gaertner, Julia Garner, Lisa Emery, Janet McTeer, Charlie Tahan, Tom Pelphrey, Joseph Bedford Lloyd, Joseph Sikora, Felix Solis, Jessica Frances Dukes etc.

Original Network: Netflix

**CONTAINS SEASON 1 & 2 SPOILERS**



So, the third season of the Netflix crime drama, Ozark, confirms its status as one of my must-watch TV programmes. It joins the likes of Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful, It’s Always Sunning in Philadelphia, Breaking Bad, Doctor Who, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Inside No. 9 and many more, which became essential viewing. If you haven’t seen the show, Jason Bateman plays an accountant who has to go on the run with his family to Ozark, Missouri, while working for a murderous Mexican drug cartel. Accompanying him are his wife, Wendy, portrayed by Laura Linney and their two teenage children, Jonah and Charlotte. The structure of the season one and two is to essentially place the American “nuclear family” at the heart of a noir thriller and watch them use their wits to survive. What is even more apparent though is that the ingenuity of the writing means we are rooting for the bad guys. Of course, there is always a bigger fish or predator, but slowly and surely the Byrdes are climbing a slippery ladder up the crime food chain.

Season 3 begins not long after season 2 ended. The explosive and brutal Mexican drug wars, involving the Navarro Cartel and bitter rivals, provides a violent back drop for the drama. It heightens the tension and danger for Marty and Wendy, who are now running a casino literally on the Ozark lakes. With the Cartel wars raging, the Byrdes also have major problems closer to home. They are attending marriage therapy, the FBI are about to audit their casino, Navarro himself is breathing down their necks about the flailing money-laundering operation, Janet McTeer’s devious lawyer, Helen Pierce, wants more control, and Frank Cosgrove Junior, from the Kansas City mob, is being a spoilt arsehole. His character and Julia Garner’s foul-mouthed Ruth Langmore face off many times during the season. In addition, Wendy’s erratic wanderer of a brother, Ben (Tom Pelphrey) is thrown into the heady mix, while always lurking is devilish Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery). The stakes are high, and the players are set for one almightily gripping game of life and death.



All the ingredients of what I loved in the first two seasons of Ozark are still present in the latest season. This is good old-fashioned crime and noir drama, with ultra-violence and shocking plot twists, presented via a stylish set of production values. The cinematography alone is just so stylish with natural lighting, shadows and silhouettes used to cloak the characters. Furthermore, many of the narrative twists and turns could be deemed as over-the-top, but the scriptwriting and lead performances are of such high quality you cannot fail to be drawn into this shady world of drug dealers, gangsters, assassins and liars. Indeed, pretty much every character is a liar and there are very few innocent or righteous characters in Ozark. Even the kids are in on the lies and have some of their own too.

Of the new characters introduced, FBI Agent Maya Miller (Jessica Frances Dukes) is a welcome addition to the machinations. Yet, her attempts to follow the rules leads her directly into dark water, as Marty attempts to manipulate her to his own ends. Not as innocent is Wendy’s brother, Ben. While he is lively and a bit of a maverick, he still has a good heart though. However, he has a secret which will come to the fore later in the season. This allows Wendy to face one of the most difficult life choices she ever has to make. In such scenes the acting from Tom Pelphrey and Laura Linney is incredibly powerful. Some may say that these episodes trivilize mental illness, but Ozark is not attempting to explore major issues. Instead, it uses them to serve the darker plot developments and continued tragedy within this savage world. Afterall, this is a show which literally had a character suffer a Caesarean section with a hunting knife.

Overall, season 3 of Ozark is a brutal and exciting wade through a swamp of vicious and calculating set of characters. There is also much dark humour, especially in the industrial language and biting delivery of the amazing Julia Garner. Even Jason Bateman as Marty Byrde, a cool and calm individual, continues to prove he will stop at nothing to keep him and his family alive. I think also that Marty enjoys the games and the gambles. He wants to win at all costs as demonstrated in flashbacks to his childhood experiences with a particular arcade game. Likewise, Wendy, whose character really came to the fore in season 2, is just as ruthless. To both of them death has become part of their everyday lives. As Bateman and Linney continue to give incredible performances, I’m hooked on where Ozark is leading us. Given season 4 promises old and new rivals to threaten the Byrde family, I bet it’s going to get darker and even more shocking.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


NETFLIX TV SERIES REVIEW – THE STRANGER (2020)

NETFLIX TV SERIES REVIEW – THE STRANGER (2020)

Created by Harlan Coben – based on The Stranger by Harlan Coben

Writers: Harlan Coben, Danny Brocklehurst, Charlotte Coben, Karla Crome, Mick Ford etc.

Directors: Daniel O’Hara, Hannah Quinn

Cast: Richard Armitage, Siobhan Finneran, Jennifer Saunders, Shaun Dooley, Paul Kaye, Dervla Kirwan, Kadiff Kirwan, Jacob Dudman, Ella-Rae Smith, Brandon Fellows, Anthony Head, Stephen Rea, Hannah John-Kamen etc.

No. of Episodes 8

Network release: Netflix

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***


Image result for the stranger netflix poster

Imagine sitting in a bar or restaurant or at the gym or in a coffee shop minding your own business. A stranger approaches you and tells you something that your spouse or partner or relative was hiding from you. This is a secret which rips apart your life and turns everything upside down in the process. This is the basic premise of Harlan Coben’s adaptation of his own novel, The Stranger. Over eight gripping episodes the drama hooks you in from this point forth. Secrets, lies, violence, corruption, blackmail, betrayal and murder drive the narrative in a compelling and serpentine plot.

In what is the TV equivalent of a right page-turner, the main protagonist, Adam Price (Richard Armitage), is the first person to be approached by the titular Stranger. He is given information regarding his wife (Dervla Kirwan) and this threatens to tear his whole family apart. This is just the tip of the iceberg though in regards to the plotting. Other individuals are being targeted too by the Stranger. At the same time a teenager has been comatosed following a woodland rave. It’s not long before Siobhan Finneran’s DS Johanna Griffin investigates this crime, the bizarre beheading of a llama, plus murder, extortion and abduction.

At first, I thought it may be a metaphysical figure revealing guilty secrets to the cast of characters in a Stephen King supernatural-style narrative. However, Harlan Coben’s contemporary crime thriller is firmly set in reality, as it privileges familial and police procedural drama compellingly. Over the eight episodes I was glued to what happens next, as we get so many cat-and-mouse chases and character surprises throughout. Richard Armitage is excellent as the lead protagonist, desperately trying to keep his family together. The teenage character subplots are not so successful as the some of their acting is pretty dire. However, the likes of Siobhan Finneran, Jennifer Saunders, Paul Kaye and Stephen Rea add real quality to what is a conventional, but always watchable genre production.

Mark: 8 out of 11



IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA – SEASON 14 REVIEW

IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA – SEASON 14 REVIEW

Created by: Rob McElhenney

Developed by: Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton

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

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


CAST

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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



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

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

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


NETFLIX REVIEW – CRIMINAL (2019) – UK/FR/GER/SPAIN

NETFLIX REVIEW – CRIMINAL (2019) – UK/FR/GER/SPAIN

Created by: George Kay and Jim Field Smith

Writers: George Kay, Alejandro Hernandez, Manuel Cuenca, Frederic Mermoud, Mathieu Missoffe, Antonin Martin-Hilbert, Bernd Lange, Sebastian Heeg.

Directors: Frederic Mermoud, Oliver Hirschbiegel, Mariano Barroso, Jim Field Smith

Cast (various): David Tennant, Hayley Atwell, Youssef Kerkour, Nicholas Pinnock, Mark Stanley, Katherine Kelly, Sara Giradeau, Nathalie Baye, Margot Bancilon, Stephane Jobert, Laurent Lucas, Peter Kurth, Deniz Arora, Nina Hoss, Sylvester Groth, Florence Kasumba, Carmen Macha, Inma Cuesta, Eduard Fernandez, Jose Angel Egido, Emma Suarez, Jorge Bosch etc.

Original Network: Netflix

******* MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS *******



I’m a massive fan of anthology shows and also television which adheres to a clear format. Of course, it can be argued to be generic and formulaic, however, there’s something very pleasing in watching a television drama with fixed location, rules and concepts in place. Netflix’s crime procedural drama, Criminal (2019) is one such programme. Each episode is based around the interrogation of a prime suspect, as the police attempt to extract the truth or confession relating to a serious crime.

The enclosed space and the battle of wills in each episode between the police and suspect finds the drama unfold in a similar way to a theatrical play. Thus, the script, characters, dialogue and performances need to be of a high quality. Using the same exquisitely geometrically designed set (shot in Madrid) Criminal has been produced in England, Spain, Germany and France, I watched all four, consisting of twelve episodes, and very entertaining it was too. Here are some quick reviews of each series with usual marks out of eleven.


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CRIMINAL: FRANCE (2019)

Arguably, along with the UK episodes, the most consistent of the four series. The three stories were expertly scripted and acted, tapping into relevant issues of the day relating to terror attacks (Emilie), homophobic violence (Jerome) and industrial murder (Caroline). Veteran actor Nathalie Baye excelled in the latter, while Sara Giradeau was very moving as Emilie, an individual accused of being a fake “victim” in a terrorist bombing. The issue of gender politics in the crimes and between the police hierarchy adds further depth to this excellent drama.

Mark: 9 out of 11


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CRIMINAL: GERMANY (2019)

Set in the same claustrophobic location but this time based in Germany, these episodes are directed by seasoned helmer, Oliver Hirschbiegel. While very thrilling, they had a cooler and more detached feel compared to the other countries. The lead detective Karl Schultz is portrayed by the exceptional actor Sylvester Groth. His obsessive cat-and-mouse interrogation of the accused (Nina Hoss) in the last episode, Claudia, was the highlight of the three compelling dramas. The other two episodes are well written and intriguing, with decent twists too.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


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CRIMINAL: SPAIN (2019)

Probably my least favourite of the quartet within the franchise, there was still a lot to like about the three episodes. While the segment entitled Carmen was both moving and suspenseful in its’ depiction of a family torn apart following the death of their autistic daughter, the other two stories lacked depth for me. Lastly, the officer leading the interrogations, Chief Inspector Toranzo Puig (Emma Suarez) was highly suspect in her adherence to procedure and while this added to the drama, it made her character cold and hard to like.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11


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CRIMINAL: UK (2019)

My favourite, along with the French series, the UK one starts with a fantastic episode, Edgar, owed mostly due to appearance of David Tennant. He is such a commanding presence on screen, you’re really drawn into the case of whether his Doctor (not that one) had killed his stepdaughter. The second episode, Stacey, features an almost unrecognisable Hayley Atwell. Looking thin, hair-dyed, and speaking with a strong South London accent, it found the classy actor really delving deep into her character. The final episode was very tense too as Youssef Kerkour’s truck driver, Jay, is accused of being involved in people trafficking for a dangerous gang. Ultimately, the series was very solid drama, well-acted and directed. I thought Mark Stanley stood out as the cop battling a hidden secret.

Mark: 9 out of 11