Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell, etc.
Cinematography: Greig Fraser
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Three hours of darkness, shadows, fireworks, distorted sound and vision, dull emo-bluster, explosions, fist-to-fist combat, choppy chases, limp dialogue, sparse suspense, blaring sirens, mumbling delivery and humdrum sexual chemistry combine to an incredibly stylish yet boring experience. It may be the biggest box office hit of the year, but The Batman (2022) was interminable filmic disappointment for me. Bruce Wayne/The Batman is a miserable cipher here for the action on show. He is also arguably one of the worst detectives I have witnessed on the screen. Yet, be aware it is NOT the filmmaker’s fault. It is mine. I am a bad cinemagoer.
I am as jaded, and world weary as Robert Pattinson’s noir gumshoe in a costume on screen. Except I have earned it. I have lived through dead-end jobs, despair and disappointment. This film starts by asking us to follow Bruce Wayne’s Caped Crusader into the mean streets of Gotham to battle nefarious gangsters and a crazed, riddle-driven terrorist. But why do we care about him? Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale breathed vibrancy and commitment into the DC comic hero. His trilogy, though not faultless, made us root for the rich kid scared of flying rats. Going on a journey of discovery and finding himself an identity in the process, Bale’s Batman was a three-dimensional hero. Matt Reeves eschews all that with The Batman (2022), presenting familiar characters searching for some semblance of plot and characterisation in the dark.
The story is a breadcrumb plot as Pattinson’s suited vermin plods through scene after scene trying to work out who is killing the corrupt officials of Gotham City. There are fireworks and expertly designed action sequences although many of them are difficult to see amidst the cinematographic murk. Moreover, there isn’t really any empathetic characters here. I love a good cinematic anti-hero, but that requires personality and energy. This Batman has neither of those. Although the screen work of Jeffrey Wright, Paul Dano, John Turturro, Colin Farrell, Andy Serkis and Zoe Kravitz does breathe light and heat into the dull script. Farrell is The Penguin but essentially an Al Capone substitute. His excellent caricature gets buried and almost lost in obsidian and prosthetics.
But as I say, I am to blame. I am a bad superhero cinema person. I am saturated and fatigued by comic book film adaptations and TV shows from Marvel to DC to Vertigo and Image and Icon (yes I know this is Marvel too). I mean the best I can say is The Batman (2022) blasts away the rot that Affleck and Snyder implanted into the Batman franchise. Although that isn’t saying much. Because an obscene $200 million dollars was spent on this hollow vision of a wealthy emo-brat in a dark suit kicking the crap out of shadows. But remember this is my fault. I am old. I am cynical. I applaud Matt Reeves and his talented production team for delivering an impressive visual feast. It’s just a shame that in the bloated running time (15 minutes of that being end credits), they didn’t write any characters worth spending three hours with.
As an emerging filmmaker for the last twenty years (and counting), I am always looking out for fresh presentations and potential collaboration in regard to film production. Most of all I love watching quality short films. Thus, I was thrilled to attend the ‘Best of EFN’ Screening and Networking Event on Friday 11th March 2022. Find out more about them here:
The event took place at The Garden Cinema in Covent Garden – a new fully independent art-house cinema in the heart of London. If you ever want a break from the standard multiplexes, then check out this stylish art-deco delight.
Not only was it an incredible venue, but the night had an selection of some the best short films around. The line-up offered fine drinks, decent networking, a quality audience, a fun raffle, plus the finest shorts screened over the many great Emerging Film and Festival Nights.
SHORT FILM LINE UP
Films of Fury – Dir: Mila Araoz Ellis (2020) 12’57
The Sappho Project: fragment 147 Dir: Sari Katharyn (2021) 7’40
Moth Dir: Wai Ying Tiffany Tong (2020) 3′
Staying (Aros Mae) Dir: Zillah Bowes (2020) 19’23
Friends Online Dir: Samantha White (2019) 5’21
Vincent before Noon Dir: Guillaume Mainguet (2019) 17’
Crashing Waves Dir: Emma Gilbertson (2018) 3’39
Stationary Dir: Louis Chan (2019) 12’38
Single Dir: Ashley Eakin (2020) 14’09
All Stretched Out Dir: Alastair Train (2019) 3’33
— EFN International Short Film Festival
Emerging Filmmakers Night (EFN) is a quarterly International Short Film Festival that showcases work by emerging talent.
EFN is a BIFA (British Independent Film Awards) Qualifying Short Film Festival
Big thanks to TREKLANTA.ORG for organising the 2020 BJO Star Trek Fan Film awards. Delayed due to COVID-19 the awards took place late in 2021 and I am so pleased that The Holy Core (2019) was nominated for a number of awards and won two.
The Holy Core (2019) won BEST ORIGINAL STORY OR SCREENPLAY and BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM!
Here are some photos of Paul Laight (me/writer), Gary O’Brien (Director, Editor/Production) and Philip Wolff (lead cast member) with our awards.
And if you have never seen the film you can watch it here:
Produced by: Sara Murphy, Adam Somner, Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie etc.
Cinematography: Michael Bauman and Paul Thomas Anderson
Edited by Andy Jurgensen
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Any film from Paul Thomas Anderson will certainly receive high critical praise and Licorice Pizza (2021) is certainly no different. Not only do I think this is his most over-rated film. I don’t even think it is a good one. Not for any technical reasons. Because as usual Anderson’s filmic skills as a director, the scintillating cinematographic style, the evocative rendition of early 1970’s Californian suburbs, plus two star-making turns within a formidable cast, ensure Licorice Pizza (2021) is deservedly going to win many plaudits. But I just did not get the story about pretty much nothing and did not connect with the lead romance.
Set in 1973, Licorice Pizza (2021), is part slice-of-life period drama and part character comedy, with a spine consisting of an odd romance between entrepreneurial fifteen-year-old, Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and twenty-five-year-old, Alana Kane (Alana Haim). While containing many brilliantly directed scenes, the film is a hot mess of indulgent rooting through Paul Thomas Anderson’s historical research and anecdotal events inspired by real-life film producer, Gary Goetzman.
Being asked to root for a relationship which is dubious on the surface and extremely complex to say the least is not beyond me. But Licorice Pizza (2021) doesn’t address the age difference, aside from a couple of moments in the script. I know Cooper Valentine is an old head on young shoulders, but why Alana doesn’t hang out with people her own age was weird for me. I’m not being politically correct or a prude, but is Anderson asking for us to root for what could end up being statutory rape. Am I over-thinking this? Well, all I can say is it impacted my emotions of a major aspect of the story.
Licorice Pizza‘s (2021) worst crime is it’s virtually plotless and I could not identify with the characters. I liked Gary to a certain extent as he ducks and dives to make a living, but what was at stake? Nothing really. Yeah, I get it is art but I found Anderson’s vision boring. Sure, the actors are great, especially the effervescent Alana Haim. Virtual cameos from Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper and Tom Waits failed for me though, with Cooper’s coke-addled and womanising impression of Jon Peters about as funny as an enema. Of course, the cinematography, period design, soundtrack and costumes are exquisitely presented, but they exist in an emotional vacuum. Finally, Licorice Pizza (2021) made me want to watch Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous 1970s masterpiece, Boogie Nights (1997). Now, that film deserved all the critical praise that came its way.
THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS: 10 FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2021!
Following on from the extremely tricky global issues of 2020, the cinema saw further transitions amidst lockdowns and the rise of even more streaming platforms. Traditional timetables for film releases remain all over the place due to the effects of the pandemic on our culture. Plus, big budget productions are now going straight to the living room more often than not. Especially if the proposed cinema release date is postponed on several occasions. What studios lose in terms of cinema release profits, they are now looking to claw back with reduced marketing budgets and subscriptions to their own respective channels.
In the past my favourite film of the year lists were all films I saw at the cinema. Now they are a mixture of cinema and online releases. There is some overlap too in the given year when I watched such films due to the scheduling changes. I’m really not a fan of this as I don’t like change to routine as a rule. But if it means I still get to see my favourite films online or at the cinema then it’s hardly a trial or major issue to adjust.
There are LOADS of films I have NOT SEEN! Please comment below MUST-SEE films not on the list.
The Bond film is not on here. It was fantastic entertainment, but NOT a good Bond movie.
There are no MARVEL/DC films on the list as I have not watched them all. Plus, I have superhero film formula fatigue.
Nomadland (2020), while good, was completely over-rated.
White Tiger (2021) would be on this list, but I only watched it yesterday. So, it qualifies for assessment in 2022.
For comparison here is my list of favourite films in 2020. A starter if you will, before the main cinematic course.
Happy New Year – have a great 2022!
TWELVE FAVOURITE FILMS of 2020!
1917 (2019) DARK WATERS (2019) DA 5 BLOODS (2020) I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020) THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020) MANGROVE (2020) PARASITE (2019) PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (2019) SAINT MAUD (2019) TENET (2020) THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO SEVEN (2020) UNCUT GEMS (2019)
“… with Thomas Vinterberg’s expert direction, evocative natural cinematography, and Mads Mikkelsen giving yet another acting masterclass, the humorous narrative soon leaves the laughs behind to become a bittersweet, yet still uplifting, work of Nordic cinema.”
“… Edgar Wright has delivered one of the most thrilling and spectacularly energetic films of the year. The nostalgic and heavenly soundtrack is to die for, with so many songs I recall growing up listening to. Likewise, the cinematography and lighting design sparkle in hues of black, fluorescence, shadow and neon.”
“… Levee Green does not see the bigger picture and is sucked in by the promise of money, women and fame. He is blinded by the bright city lights and the closer he gets to them the easier it is for the record producers to pick his pocket. In such a tragic character August Wilson has created a memorably complex persona, perfectly rendered by the acting genius, Chadwick Boseman. R.I.P.”
“… the scenes where David antagonises his unconventional grandmother are hilarious. Youn Yuh-jung as the elderly matriarch is fantastic, deservedly winning a best supporting actress role at the Oscars. Moreover, Lee Isaac Chung gets a miraculous performance from child actor, Alan Kim.”
“… The loss of a child is never going to be an easy experience and it is something an individual will never get over. As I followed Martha’s journey intensely the smallest incremental shift in her personality is felt massively. Vanessa Kirby, in particular, is stunning as a woman cut-off from the world by this devastating grief.”
“… I’m not always a fan of poetic cinema, especially within a narrative presented as a quasi-Western. Mostly I like to be punched in the gut, not branded slowly from the inside out. Yet Jane Campion’s expert adaptation of Thomas Savage’s novel, The Power of the Dog (2021), contains some bite. You just don’t see when and how it happens.”
“… I’ve seen some so-so reviews for The Rental (2020), but it’s the kind of tightly plotted suspense thriller I really thrive on. What starts as an idyllic getaway for two relatively wealthy couples is carefully unravelled by Dave Franco’s well-paced direction, complimented by Brie and Steven’s committed performances, has wonderful locations and a seriously proper killer ending.”
“… Sound of Metal (2019) beats along steadily but with incredible purpose and rhythm. It teaches us that losing a major sense need not be the end of one’s life, but rather the beginning of an altogether different one.”
“… Everything about the film screams colour, energy and movement. The dancing and editing and swinging beats take you on a breathless journey through the romance and street war. West Side Story (2021) keeps all the memorably catchy songs… and if there is a better directed, choreographed and edited set-piece all year in the Gee, Officer Krupke number then I haven’t seen it.“
Based on: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Anonymous
Produced by: Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, David Lowery, Tim Headington, Theresa Steele Page
Cast: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Ralph Ineson, etc.
Cinematography: Andrew Droz Palermo
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
The quest to see The Green Knight (2021) has seemingly taken longer than Gawain’s mythical journey to meet his ultimate fate. Was it worth the wade through COVID determined lockdowns and distribution delays to the cinema to finally watch it on Amazon? Yes and no I would say as the filmmaking on show is of a visually magical standard. Yet, somewhere in the character’s bones is an emotional brittleness. I will expand.
Written and directed by the formidable filmmaker David Lowery, The Green Knight (2021), is based on the rites-of-passage trials of Gawain (Dev Patel), a young subject within the court of King Arthur’s (Sean Harris) Camelot. Happy getting drunk and flirting with apparently loose women, one of which is Essel (Alicia Vikander), he is then faced with a challenge from the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson). Meeting the gamble from this stunningly created craggy work of metaphor head on sets in motion a fight for his life on the road to symbolic discovery. Throw in some exquisite montages of ominous religious and magical subtext and Gawain must face his fears, fate and foes on a dangerous quest.
Once Gawain hits the dirt tracks, bloody battlefields and ghostly houses of this cursed land the The Green Knight (2021) really finds narrative impetus. Gawain’s confrontation with the Green Knight at Arthur’s court is certainly thrilling, but Lowery spends too much time creating poetic juxtaposition and magical image systems, which while beautiful, really slow the pace of the story. King Arthur’s kingdom and Sean Harris’ performance is somewhat downbeat and drab as less time is spent establishing Gawain’s characterisation.
Dev Patel is phenomenal in the role. He brings both strength and vulnerability. But what was Gawain? Was he a fool to be taught a lesson? Was he a determined individual desiring to prove himself? Was he out for revenge? Was he doing it for love? Who is he saving? What did he want? I was never sure. Thus, The Green Knight (2021) was in danger of collapsing under its own stunning visual pretension. That is until Barry Keoghan’s effervescent thief came along and raised the stakes and energy of the story. After that Gawain’s drive was one of survival as Lowery’s screenplay gave him a succession of devilish, deadly and seductive obstacles to overcome.
David Lowery is an original thinking talent, and someone I categorise as an alternative genre filmmaker. Like Quentin Tarantino, the Coens, Bong Joon-Ho and dare I say it, Stanley Kubrick, he takes familiar content and filters it through his own inimitable style and vision. His masterpiece thus far is the truly remarkable romance, A Ghost Story (2017), a low-budget indie gem. The bigger-budgeted The Green Knight (2021) certainly has scale and magic and astounding cinematic power. But such adventure stories, for my taste and preference, need a hero with a clearer goal. Lowery gives the audience sorcery and existentialism and some nightmarishly beautiful sequences, while overall lacking clarity for Gawain’s personation. I imagine this is actually deliberate to counter genre expectations and make the viewer raise their game and apply meaning. I felt the same about Kubrick’s fatalistic, Barry Lyndon (1975), when I first saw that. Indeed, I have no doubt that on future watches The Green Knight (2021) is likely to be similarly revered as cinematic gold.
GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #6 – AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (2013)
Directed by: John Wells
Screenplay by: Tracy Letts
Based on: August: Osage County by Tracy Letts
Produced by: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Jean Doumanian, Steve Traxler
Cast: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Sam Shepard, Misty Upham, etc.
Cinematography: Adriano Goldman
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Unsurprisingly, the play, August: Osage County, from the typewriter of Tracey Letts – the formidable playwright behind Killer Joe and Bug – about a family suffering loss of a “loved” one was not going to be a feelgood and uplifting affair. Instead, over the period of a month we are introduced to a whole host of characters with a variety of anger, addiction and attitude issues. Brought together by apparent grief, when patriarch, Beverley Weston (Sam Shepard) drowns, the extended Weston family fight and vent spleen at each over current and past dramas, with many a secret soon to be revealed.
Winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2008, Letts play was subsequently adapted into the dark, feel-bad and tragi-comedy film in 2013. Directed by John Wells, August: Osage County (2013), brought together an unbelievable ensemble cast of actors who did spectacular work with Letts acerbic and razor-sharp dialogue. Given that many of the personalities in the narrative are dominant matriarchal characters, the casting of Meryl Streep and Margo Martindale in the roles of Violet Weston and Mattie Fae respectively, is certain to create sparks on the screen. So, it proves.
Streep has delivered so many memorable characterisations over the years, but as Violet Weston I’m not sure she’s been so bilious and cancerous, both literally and symbolically. Her daughters, portrayed by Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson, all have their own issues to deal with, but with such a vicious mother it’s a surprise they aren’t in a psychiatric ward. As harsh truths and bitter revelations unfold over the dinner and kitchen table conversations, Letts shows the complex nature of family existence; how it traps us with people we have nothing in common with. Women are seemingly in charge of the Weston family as the men, represented by Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Shephard and Chris Cooper, appear more passive and bullied.
Altogether, August: Osage County (2013), is a difficult to watch as there’s not a lot of love shown in the Weston household. Nonetheless, as an acting and writing tour-de-force there are few films that can best it. I guess we all have family problems and many ups and downs to deal with in life. What we can learn from this play and film is that this is definitely NOT the way to behave to people you’re meant to love and care for.
TO BOLDLY REVIEW #12 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION – SEASON 7 (1993 – 1994)
Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry
Season 7 writers (selected): Joe Menosky, Jeri Taylor, Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, René Echevarria, Michael Piller, Naren Shankar, Jean Louise Matthias, James E. Brooks, Michael A. Medlock, Christopher Hatton, Nick Sagan, Spike Steingasser, Dan Koeppel, etc.
Season 7 directors (selected): Les Landau, Cliff Bole, Winrich Kolbe, Alexander Singer, Robert Weimer, Robert Scheerer, Adam Nimoy, Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Gabrielle Beaumont, James L. Conway, LeVar Burton,Gates McFadden,etc.
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Whoopi Goldberg, Colm Meaney, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Gates McFadden, Michelle Forbes, Majel Barrett, Rosalind Chao, John De Lancie, Wil Wheaton, Kirsten Dunst, Paul Sorvino, Dwight Schultz, etc.
Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway
Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television
**** CONTAINS SPOILERS ****
My Star Trek journey started when I was a kid many moons ago. I used to watch the original series on my portable telly in the kitchen while eating dinner. I loved the adventures of Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhuru and the rest of these bold space heroes. Thus, it was surprising that the whole of the Next Generation era of shows, including DS9 and Voyager, passed me by. Nonetheless, I have, since writing and producing two Star Trek fan films, been on a dedicated mission to watch every episode and film of the franchise that has been released.
This escapade began with the original series and my first blog review can be read here:
Subsequently, and three engrossing years later, I have finally completed watching the last season of The Next Generation. I have to be honest that this marathon viewing project is certainly a big cultural task. Furthermore, I still cannot work out how the hell they managed to produce so many episodes per season for TNG. It truly beggars belief the amount of high quality TV that was produced. I mean, I was exhausted watching it, so how those making it felt I do not know. I guess the fan’s respect and money and joy of being part of the Star Trek legacy was more than compensation.
Season 7 was again a mammoth twenty-six episode tranche. One might think there would be a drop in quality and there was some element of this in certain episodes. However, that was more to do with attempting to crowbar in a satisfactory ending for certain characters, notably Wil Wheaton’s anaemic, Wesley Crusher. Family ties and dramas linked many of season 7’s narratives, yet there was also the usual high concepts and socio-political themes explored throughout. Thus, dearest Next Generation, I thank you for taking me on a bold ride to the final frontier of journey’s end. Here are six of my favourite episodes of season seven!
ATTACHED – EPISODE 9
One of the great pleasures of watching The Next Generation is that the show always gave us mature romantic relationships. The “will they-won’t they” romance of Dr Crusher and Captain Picard is directly addressed in Attached, as the two find themselves shackled physically and telepathically by a paranoid alien race. As they attempt to survive and escape capture the two explore their hidden feelings in a moving episode of some power.
THE PEGASUS – EPISODE 12
Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is portrayed as a dynamic action hero of strength and skill, so it is always interesting when his character is tested. In The Pegasushe is faced with both the sins of the “father” and of his own past. The surrogate father is this case is Captain Erik Pressman, portrayed brilliantly by Terry O’Quinn. Pressman is determined to track down the lost ship, ‘The Pegasus’ before the Romulans get to it. He places pressure on Riker to keep confidential the secrets the missing vessel has as the episode contains great drama and conflict.
HOMEWARD – EPISODE 13
When shows have been going for many seasons they often have to introduce previously unknown siblings, parents or love interests to manufacture storylines. I totally get this and often it creates fantastic episodes. In Inheritance we get to meet Data’s “mother”, but an even better episode is Homeward where Worf’s foster brother, Nikola (Paul Sorvino) rebels against the ‘Prime Directive’ to save the Boraalan people. It’s a great episode full of twists and some excellent scenes between Paul Sorvino (not playing a gangster for once) and the ever-excellent, Michael Dorn. The use of the holodeck as an integral part of the narrative is highly inventive too.
LOWER DECKS – EPISODE 15
Most episodes of Star Trek will focus on the core characters with a leaning to one or two of the main cast. But Lower Decks turns that around with the fantastic premise of profiling some of the younger crew members. It’s a well written narrative which focusses attention on a Starfleet promotion with Ensigns Sito Jaxa, Sam Lavelle and Taurik in “friendly” competition to achieve the goal. We immediately warm to their personalities as the witty dialogue adds much fizz, but the drama of the piece is heightened when Bajoran, Sito Jaxa, is sent on a dangerous mission, leading to a powerfully emotional denouement.
GENESIS – EPISODE 19
I loved this episode because it contained a fantastic melding of sci-fi and horror genres with some monstrous creatures on show. With Gates McFadden directing her only episode, the story finds the Enterprise crew falling ill and regressing to various animal states. Worf has reverted into an aggressive predator attempting to mate with Troi; Riker an Australopithecine (Caveman); Troi an amphibian; and Barclay a spider. Even Spot the cat has become an iguana. While it may sound weird and a bit silly I loved the imaginative animal transformations as the cast shed both their human skin and inhibitions.
ALL GOOD THINGS – EPISODES 25/26
As they say all good things come to an end. So, after boldly going for many seasons, The Next Generation finally concluded with a moving and inventive two-parter. I must admit that while it was clever to call back to the first episode, Encounter at Farpoint, I was never a massive fan of the character, Q. Even though John De Lancie’s performance always brought great energy to every episode, I just felt that this character with uber-God-like powers could always resolve the drama with a Deus ex Machina click of the fingers. Nonetheless, the idea that he was always testing humanity was a great theme, and once again in All Good Things, he puts Jean Luc Picard through a trio of trials in the past, present and future. It’s a superbly written, acted and directed finale and possibly one of the best final episodes of a long-running TV show of all time! The last scene with Picard finally joining his crew at the poker table is truly logical! Make it so – Number One!
Created and written by: Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith
Directors (Season 6): Matt Lipsey, Guillem Morales
Original Network: BBC (available on BBC Iplayer)
No. of Episodes: 6
I have written exhaustively about how brilliant this television programme is, so much so I don’t think I can add any further other than I believe it deserves regaling as TV national treasure. Just when you think Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton could be running out of creative steam they prove you wrong with another superb series of Inside No. 9. If you are interested, here are prior articles I have written about it.
However, to recap, if you have never seen Inside No. 9 I urge you to do so. It is an exceptional anthology series with six stand-alone episodes per series. Individual episodes feature a whole host of different characters and amazing actors each time led by the multi-talented Pemberton and Shearsmith. As per the prior seasons, the latest one is absolutely unforgettable. It again privileges tightly woven thirty-minute short narratives, which more often than not, feature a twist in the tale. Moreover, the events usually unfold in one location with rarely more than a handful of characters. This makes the narratives feel more focussed, intense and intimate. In series 6, there is even more growth within the anthology genre and much risk-taking where style and form are concerned.
So, here are my mini-reviews of each episode from Season 6 with marks out of nine (obviously).
*** BEWARE: POTENTIAL SPOILERS ***
EPISODE 1: WUTHERING HEIST
Main cast: Paterson Joseph, Gemma Whelan, Kevin Bishop, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Rosa Robson, Dino Kelly etc.
Not only are Pemberton and Shearsmith accomplished actors, writers and directors, they are also acutely aware how fans revel in their incredible work, devilishly mocking their own mythology and playing with audience expectations. They do this to dizzying impact in the puntastic opening episode, Wuthering Heist. Marrying elements from farce, crime, Commedia dell’arte and the plot of Reservoir Dogs (1992), the players wear masks, prat about and bleed over each other while attempting to pull off a diamond heist. Set in one location, a disused warehouse, Gemma Whelan is superb as the fourth-wall breaking narrator attempting to hold all the story innards together. Pretty soon though one realises that the flurry of puns, sight gags, plot contrivances and comical misunderstandings are intended as wondrous and silly fun. The lack of emotional depth is the joke here and the writers know this. Because Shearsmith and Pemberton’s script has a gag every four seconds, be it a sight jape or involve some sparky verbal dexterity. Lastly, not only do they know they are jumping the shark, but they revel in doing so during this hilarious meta-work.
Mark: 8 out of 9
EPISODE 2: SIMON SAYS
Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Lindsay Duncan, Nick Mohammed
Among many of the recurring pleasures of watching Inside No. 9 is wondering what the number nine will refer to. It’s been a myriad of things including: a karaoke booth, a hotel room, a train sleeper car, a dressing room, a referee’s changing room, and even a shoe. In Simon Says it’s the name of a television epic called The Ninth Circle. This show is very similar to Game of Thrones in genre and scale, and likewise has a battalion of fans across the country who feel the final series undid the majesty of the prior seasons. The episode opens with immediate mystery as Steve Pemberton’s writer, Spencer, enters his flat with blood staining his clothes and conscience. Suddenly, Simon (Reece Shearsmith), is at the door saying he has evidence Spencer has committed a serious crime. Simon, a Ninth Circle uber-fan then blackmails Spencer into, among others things, rewriting the whole of the last season of The Ninth Circle into something more fan-friendly. Managing to be both funny and suspenseful in equal measures, Pemberton and Shearsmith’s characters play cat-and-mouse expertly, throwing in several big plot twists at the end of this compelling tale.
Mark: 8 out of 9
EPISODE 3: LIP SERVICE
Cast: Sian Clifford, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith
I watch some television series and films and am often struck at how much time is wasted in setting up the protagonists and story. Similarly, in unnecessarily long TV series you get either eight or ten episodes full of padding in the middle which destabilizes the momentum of the story. Nothing of the sort occurs in Inside No. 9. Stories are set-up with stylish economy and the situations immediately grab you by the throat and rarely let go. In Lip Service, Steve Pemberton’s downtrodden Felix is holed up in a hotel room waiting to liaise with a woman. But it’s not what you think. Sian Clifford’s Iris arrives and it turns out she is there to offer her services as a lip-reader. Felix suspects the woman he loves is having an affair and he requires Iris to read her and a possible lover’s lips at an adjacent hotel suite. I’ve now seen this episode three times and it truly is breathtaking. There’s empathy for Felix’s lost soul, some fine linguistic comedy, a potential romance, Clifford’s performance knocking it out of the park, Reece Shearsmith having great fun as an officious German hotel manager and THAT ending. The denouement, while totally believable, comes out of nowhere and leaves you genuinely speechless.
Mark: 8.5 out 9
EPISODE 4: HURRY UP AND WAIT
Cast: Adrian Dunbar, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Donna Preston, Bhavna Limbachia, and Pauline McGlynn
Quite possibly my favourite episode of the series, Hurry Up and Wait manages to achieve that difficult juxtaposition of being meta-textual and containing some real emotional power. Because it is one thing to be self-referential and satirise the creative process, in this case the making of a television police drama starring famous actor Adrian Dunbar, but it’s quite another to build in a murder mystery and empathetic characters who you root for. While Reece Shearsmith is always excellent playing angry characters, here he portrays James, a mild-mannered actor, who has got a break playing a scene with the precious talent, Dunbar. The TV drama they are in concerns a missing child and the “green room” happens to be a static caravan owned by a working-class family who may have important information about said grisly crime. Steve Pemberton and Pauline McGlynn play the parents of immature, Beverley – the brilliant Donna Preston – adding much comic relief, but all possibly hiding a dark secret. As James learns his lines he also plays detective seemingly discovering the truth until the truly chilling ending is revealed.
Mark: 9 out of 9
EPISODE 5: HOW DO YOU PLEAD?
Cast: Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Derek Jacobi
Arguably the darkest tale, both in terms of the noir lighting and foreboding themes, it is difficult to discuss this tale of soul-searching guilt and justice without giving away too much of the story. Thus, I’ll talk about the actors and characters more. Derek Jacobi gives a deeply moving performance of a dying barrister who prides himself of, after an upturn in his early legal career, never losing a case in court until retirement. As he lies dying in bed, lungs heavy around his heart, he feels guilt about one case where he defended the indefensible. As he confesses his regret to Shearsmith’s cheery carer, it is soon revealed both men have sins they buried in the past which will soon come back to bite them. Watching these two fine actors spark off one another is as compelling as television drama can get, but there’s also comedy there too as Shearsmith delivers some spirited one-liners in between Jacobi’s grand screen gravitas. But where’s Pemberton I hear you ask? He’s sitting there waiting patiently in the shadows of this evocatively lit and thrilling tale.
Mark: 8 out of 9
EPISODE 6: LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS!
Cast: Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Julian Glover, Debra Gillett, Bamshad Abedi-Amin, Sarah Parish etc.
Are you aware of the work of Dennis Potter? He was one of the finest writers in British television from the 1960’s way into the early 1990’s. His scripts were always highly erotic, political and incredibly controversial. They skewered very British and human themes and burnt great sacred cows of the church, government, family, sex and marriage on the TV barbecue, leaving charcoal remains in their stead. Potter was a genius and with Last Night of the Proms, Pemberton and Shearsmith match him for bravado in deconstructing human nature and what it means to be British. Set in a well-to-do, middle-class household, a family of three generations sit down to watch the Last of the Proms on the BBC. It’s a big traditional classical music event and cultural celebration of what it means to be British. It makes me sick! Britain isn’t great. The British are racist, imperialistic and hardy murderers, who have a history and present (fucking Brexit!) they should be ashamed of. The thought-provoking screenplay here is heavy on compelling themes, memorable imagery and striking symbolism. This is a jarring and messy episode and what it lacks in precise plotting it more than makes up for in juxtaposing horror, satire, drama, surrealism, Jesus, social commentary and comedy to rather mesmerising effect. Potter’s ghost would have watched with glee and disgust and hate and love and pity and sadness; which is much how I felt witnessing Last Night of the Proms.
THE HORROR OF IDENTITY: DOUBLE BILL FILM REVIEWS – DEERSKIN (2019) & POSSESSOR (2020)
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”-Oscar Wilde
We’ve all wanted to exist outside our own skin. Or perhaps inhabit someone else’s? Or, maybe even change our own identity, both literally and psychologically. Or is that just me? At the least we have all thought about it. Even losing weight and going down the gym or giving up alcohol or changing our hairstyle is a means of basic transformation. We may make a more defiant change and leave that job we hate or break out from a negative relationship. Arguably though, personality, attitude and mental changes in one’s life are the most difficult. After all, it is incredibly difficult to change the very fabric of one’s personality or character.
We can find an alternative source of transformation in a vicarious sense through storytelling mediums such as literature, television and cinema. The horror genre especially is replete with monstrous visions of identity switches, psychotic breakdowns and physical transmogrification. I personally take great pleasure in seeing altered identities occur on the screen and am especially drawn to characters who experience mental and corporeal metamorphosis. That simply isn’t because I cannot change who I am or what I do on a daily basis, but it’s quite scary to attempt to reshape one’s existence and identity. It’s bloody hard work without much guarantee of success. Horror films, while also frightening when done well, are far more satisfying and give a more immediate hit than the grind of reality.
Two films I have seen recently both relate to mid-life crises and exhibit themes that illustrate two characters changing their appearance to bring about a shift in identity, behaviour and personality. They also show characters spiralling out of control in incredibly violent, bizarre and entertaining ways. Those films are Deerskin (2019) and Possessor (2020) and here are my reviews.
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Directed and written by Quentin Dupieux
Main Cast: Jean Dujardin, Adele Haenel
Have you ever seen the film Rubber (2010)? It is a gonzo horror-comedy about a murderous-tyre called Robert killing birds and people with telekinetic powers. Beneath the insanity of the pitch there is in fact a subtextual satire on the nature of Hollywood filmmaking and an audience starved of originality; I think!It came from the mind of Quentin Dupieux, so I was intrigued that he had nabbed for a subsequent production the grand talents of Jean Dujardin and Adele Haenel for the obsidian killer comedy, Deerskin (2019).
Dujardin is Georges, a middle-aged loner, recently dumped by his wife whose only aim now it appears is to purchase a deerskin jacket. Buoyed by the confidence the jacket has given him, and armed with a video camera thrown in with the deal, George plots up at a rural hotel and befriends Adele Haenel’s bar server and enthusiastic film editor. Their budding friendship threatens to turn this into a relatively conventional love story, however, a series of twisted turns tip the story into a hilarious series of murderous set-pieces, with Georges determined to get money to make a movie, but most importantly buy deerskin trousers, hat and gloves.
The story of a middle-aged man altering his outer look in order to transform his life and fortune is a staple of Hollywood comedies and romance films. Deerskin (2019) is that kind of film on the surface. Yet when filtered through Dupieux’s iconoclastic imagination the premise is an altogether different kind of demented animal. Ultimately, it is a low-budget gem of a black comedy with some fantastic ideas and fascinating character study of a man attempting to shift skin, but falling deeper and deeper into psychopathy. It’s a wacky journey with committed performances, yet, it felt like the ending was just too sudden, as if the filmmaker either ran our of money or just wanted to screw with audience expectations right up until the final sudden frame.
MARK: 7.5 out of 11
Directed and written by Brandon Cronenberg
Main Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Sean Bean, Tuppence Middleton etc.
Whereas Deerskin (2019) finds a literal and figurative metamorphosis when a character buys a jacket, Brandon Cronenberg’s vicious horror film, Possessor (2020), is an altogether more cerebral, violent and psychologically stunning journey. Andrea Riseborough is as intense as ever portraying an assassin named, Tasya Vox, who through some incredible technology is able to inhabit the mind and body of another individual and use them as a human puppet to commit murder. It’s a perfect set-up for the assassination agency led by Jennifer Jason Leigh’s handler, Girder. Yet such murder by scientific proxy comes at a cost to Vox’s family life and mental stability.
After a glorious opening scene featuring an astoundingly brutal stabbing, Vox attempts to reconnect with her partner and son, but finds herself becoming ever more disconnected. The pressure of taking over another individual’s identity is causing Vox to discombobulate as her mind begins to fracture. Despite this she takes the next job, a contract to kill John Parse (Sean Bean), using Christopher Abbott’s Colin Tate as a conduit. As Vox struggles with her splitting psyche, Tate himself is having personal issues also and this leads to some mind-bending and psychedelic montage scenes as the two battle within Tate’s brain. If this all sounds a bit weird, it is and it isn’t because the filmmaking is of such a high quality one believes the process. Further, the director never loses his grip on the narrative and Cronenberg gets a compelling performance from Abbott as his character confronts the invasion into his soul.
Overall, Possessor (2020) has a stunning concept at its heart but I just kept wondering how a genre filmmaker like Leigh Whannell may have handled the idea. He certainly would have made the characters more empathetic because it is so tough to warm to either Vox or Tate. Indeed, Tate’s character should have been developed more at the beginning in my view as he would have made an ideal “innocent/wrong man” type character so often used by Hitchcock. Nonetheless, Brandon Cronenberg has crafted one of the most visually impressive and shocking psychological horror films I have seen in a long time. Like Whannell’s Upgrade (2018), it contains some memorable gore and violence. It is also very intelligent as the fantastic ideas explore what it means to not only inhabit another person’s skin, but rip through their very soul.