On Sunday the 30th June 2019 I did two of my favourite things. I took a long walk through the city of London and watched loads of short films.
London is obviously a very busy city and hive of activity during the week. However, on a Sunday it, despite there still being traffic, is way more peaceful. Well, especially from eight in the morning until around lunchtime. Indeed, until I got to the tourist trap that is Westminster it had been a pleasure to walk down the Thames Embankment and through the city of London.
I set out to walk from Clapham to Hackney and my destination was the Yard Theatre, Hackney. I made the walk of around ten miles in good time and the event was The Shortest Nights 2019 – Short Film Festival.
The Shortest Nights is an annual celebration of British short film. They bring you five cutting-edge programmes across a range of themes and genres featuring new works from emerging British filmmakers.
The people running the event are so enthusiastic and put on a great array of different British short film productions. Overall, there were thirty-nine short films and I watched all of them. It was a great day and I was especially impressed by the: comedies, horrors, documentaries, dramas, animation and art-house films on show.
There were low-to-high budget short films of brilliant quality and the programmes were broken down into five categories. So, if you ever get a chance to go to their film events I recommend it to all filmmakers and film fans alike.
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner, Gregory Alan Williams etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
What if Superman was evil? As concepts go Brightburn (2019) has a simple but highly impressive one. The trailer too was brilliant and it was only when I saw a few negative reviews did I baulk at going to see the brisk B-movie-super-hero-horror-film. So, does a great pitch, and cool trailer lead to a great movie? In part yes; and in part no!
With the indie-turned-blockbuster director, James Gunn, in the wings producing the film, Brightburn clearly has a pedigree in superhero, comedy and horror film-making. I loved his low budget gem Super (2010) and his work helming the Guardians of the Galaxy films is also impressive. One wonders if Brightburn may have worked better with James Gunn directing but we will never know.
Set, unsurprisingly in Brightburn, Kansas, the story completely steals the Superman origin narrative and twists it in a fun and gory way. Farming couple Tori and Kyle Breyer are desperate for a kid and have failed to conceive naturally. Fortunately, or so it seems at first, a child falls from the skies, and rather than tell the authorities they adopt the kid as their own.
Flash-forward and Brandon is now twelve years old and puberty is fast approaching; cue bodily changes but not the kind his parents were expecting. As Brandon deals with school bullies and his first crush he suddenly begins going into trances and attempting to unlock that red glowy thing in the barn. What could it all mean? Mayhem! Bloody mayhem is what it means!
I really enjoyed Brightburn. It’s script is a bit dumb and some of the character choices are pretty ridiculous, especially when Brandon starts behaving violently at school and around the house. However, I loved the fast-pace, the concept, the dark horror, the red-masked image system, and the gore. Moreover, while many were given away in the trailer, there are some brilliant set-pieces and scares throughout.
Some of the negative reviews I have seen may have come from the wrong angle on Brightburn. Its not really meant to be taken seriously despite the compelling and dramatic performance from Elizabeth Banks. For me it’s to be watched as an imaginative low-budget B-movie feature, somewhat reminiscent of those “kids-go-bad” 1980’s horrors I used to rent from local video store.
There’s an element of depth as it touches on themes relating to puberty, adoption and the trials of parenthood; ultimately though it’s about the rise of an evil anti-hero in a gas mask with glowing red eyes!! In a nutshell, Brightburn is one for B-movie horror fans everywhere and I definitely want them to expand the universe.
TO BOLDLY REVIEW #6 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION – SEASON 1
Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry
Season 1 writers (selected): John F. Black, Diane Duane, D.C. Fontana, Maurice Hurley, Robert Lewin, Richard Manning, Kathryn Powers, Gene Roddenberry, Joseph Stefano, Tracy Torme etc.
Season 1 directors (selected): Colin Bucksey, Rob Bowman, Cliff Bole, Les Landau, Kim Manners, Win Phelps, Mike Vejar etc.
Main Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Denise Crosby, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton etc.
Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway
Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television
**THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS**
“MAKE IT SO. . .”
So, my cultural journey beyond the stars continues with a review of the first season of Star Trek: Next Generation. It took some serious time for what was originally known as Phase II to take off. Indeed, they finally hit warp speed during the late 1980’s. Roddenberry, the original Enterprise crew, plus swarms of Paramount employees had kept themselves busy with the ‘Original Series’ cinema releases, but, in 1986, a new TV series was announced.
Then, almost a year later in September 1987, Star Trek: Next Generation was released. TNG featured: a new crew, a more advanced class of Enterprise, and a variety of new aliens, planets and galaxies to boldly explore. While there was an initial decree to avoid all the old enemies from the original series, the Klingons, Romulans and more, slowly bled into the show as it was further developed.
Much has been written about Star Trek in general and the internet is brimming with articles, features, interviews, podcasts, fan films and documentaries which would take an immortal’s lifetime to read. So, my approach to this piece is to concentrate on the characters, narratives, themes and concepts which leapt out while watching it.
Overall, I really enjoyed most of Star Trek: Next Generation – Season 1. I have read that die-hard fans were resistant to the idea their favourite show from the 1960’s was getting a makeover. However, Paramount/CBS Studios chucked $1.3 million at each episode and shot on 35MM film, thus demonstrating a commitment to a quality product.
Even watching it now I am impressed by the production values, cast, direction and science fiction concepts. Obviously some of the effects are a bit dated compared to what we experience today but I always prefer in-camera effects and prosthesis, anyway. Having said that Star Trek has always been about strong ideas and themes for me.
In terms of story and character there are some very strong episodes and some pretty weak ones. Gene Roddenberry, his producers and raft of writers were, reported to be consistently at loggerheads throughout the production. So much so very few of the original TNG writing team remained by the end. It’s a testament to the rock-solid formula of the show that such issues did not hinder the ultimate consistency of entertainment while I was watching.
My main criticism is that some episodes felt like first drafts. Plus, there was, on occasions, a few episodes which were top heavy in set-up and rushed toward the end. Nonetheless, Roddenberry’s original format is always fascinating and you could certainly feel that when they successfully married: the science fiction concepts, characters, tone and dialogue you got many great episodes.
THE FAMILY UNIT
Holding the narratives and show together was an exceptionally brilliant set of actors. I mean, in the cold light of space, Star Trek: Next Generation could be deemed just men, women and aliens in silly outfits. Of course, we know it’s much more intelligent than that. So with acting heavyweight Patrick Stewart leading the way, all the cast were committed to their roles formidably. They had to be for it to work so well.
To me TNG was structured around a quasi-family unit, as opposed to the naval/military hierarchy of the ‘Original Series’. Captain Jean-Luc Picard majestically leads from the front with authority and a keen sense of fair play. Dr Beverly Crusher is the pseudo-matriarch, both professional and caring. Further, the other main members of the crew are, very loosely speaking, the children.
Riker I’d suggest is the first son and heir apparent, closely followed in the hierarchy by Geordi. The likes of data and Wesley are the younger, gifted children, full of intelligence and enquiry. The sensitive, Troi and tougher Yasha represent the older daughters, while I’m not quite sure how the Klingon, Worf, fits in. Perhaps, he’s a bastard son or long lost cousin seeking affirmation of the family unit. Thus, these characters as a ‘family’ support the spine of the show, all combining with varying strength and characteristics to form a whole that propels both drama and emotion.
THE REST IS HISTORY. . .
Star Trek: Next Generation consisted of TWENTY-SIX episodes!! While no doubt well paid, this remains an incredible workload for the cast and crew. Initially, the season got off to a difficult start in terms of ratings and reviews. Nonetheless, by the end of the season , the class of the production and format shone through. Furthermore, it would be nominated for seven Emmy TV awards. Ratings would also improve and it became the highest rated syndication series by the end of the run. To conclude, I would like to look at six episodes from season 1 which I felt stood out while I watched them.
THE BIG GOODBYE – EPISODE 12
The ‘Holodeck‘ plays a huge part in the series as a whole. It’s a fantastic way to marry the past and future together. In this clever episode Picard attempts to escape into one of his favourite film noir simulations but gets more than he bargained for. Then when the holodeck malfunctions, Picard and his crew find themselves in the midst of a simulated “real-life” and perilous gangster mystery.
DATALORE – EPISODE 13
I love a good Jekyll and Hyde story and this one explores the origin of much respected android, Data. Brett Spiner is such a good television actor and he nails both roles as Data and his “brother” Lore, who, as genre conventions require, is basically bad Data and hell-bent on taking control of the Enterprise.
HEART OF GLORY – EPISODE 20
Obviously the stories involving the Federation are always interesting but often I really enjoy the more personal narratives. In this episode Michael Dorn as Worf finds his allegiances between the Enterprise and fellow Klingons tested. It’s a fine character exploration as we get to see Worf’s warrior persona versus the more reasoned Starfleet side.
THE ARSENAL OF FREEDOM – EPISODE 21
War, or threat of war has always been at the heart of many great episodes. The concept that a planet of arms dealers who are killed by their own hi-tech product was a great idea. It also gave the crew and Enterprise major threats on the planet they visit and in space. The action, character development and suspense make this a very thrilling episode all-round.
SYMBIOSIS – EPISODE 22
Social commentary was a key component of the ‘Original Series’. Many episodes tapped into the zeitgeist of the 1960’s issues relating to war, race, religion and gender etc. TNG continued this tradition with Symbiosis which expertly explores the nature of narcotic addiction and how it can be exploited to negative effect by an alien race. I especially enjoyed the grey ending where the ‘Prime Directive‘ comes into play.
CONSPIRACY – EPISODE 25
A major rule throughout Star Trek is that the Federation is not to be shown as corrupt. There have been exceptions to this in certain feature films and they get around this in Conspiracy with the Federation top brass invaded by parasitic aliens. The narrative was very strong and felt like a feature film story in scale. I also loved the David Cronenberg-style monsters appearance in the gory finale.
2018-2019 – TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR F.C. – SEASON REVIEW
This year I have really tested my discipline by embarking on a sober year of not drinking alcohol. This is a personal challenge for health, financial and for-the-hell-of-it reasons. One thing I have noticed from this experiment is that drinking alcohol and the level of enjoyment when watching football are inextricably linked.
High or drunk on booze can heighten the enjoyment of football to riotous levels. Although, it can also create lows of soul-crushing despondency in the face of my teams’ defeat. Ultimately, while sober a football game becomes more a cerebral dissection rather than an emotional rollercoaster.
Thus, being a Tottenham Hotspur F.C. fan I have found that since being sober my support has been more logical and Mr Spock-like. That isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed a fantastic season of giddy high and the occasional lows. Here’s a little review of how Spurs season went for 2018/2019.
SCORES ON THE DOORS – 2018/2019
Premier League finishing position: 4th
Premier League total points: 71
Premier League goals: 67
Champions League: THE FINAL – IT WASN’T A DREAM!
FA CUP: 4th round
Carabao Cup: Semi-final
Top Scorer: HARRY KANE – 24 goals in all competitions.
Most Assists: CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN – 16 assists in all competitions.
Highest Attendance: 81,332 v. Arsenal – Premier League – Wembley, March 2019.
SEASON HIGHLIGHTS – 2018/2019
Where do I start? The Champions League, of course! While we would ultimately lose in an underwhelming game to Liverpool in Madrid, Spurs had a charmed and gutsy run to the final. I mean who could ever forget needing three goals in the second half to beat Ajax away and coming back to win. LUCAS MOURA’s last minute goal in injury time is one I WILL NEVER FORGET! Allied to that incredible night, Spurs almost got beaten by Manchester City in the previous round, when a last-minute offside goal was correctly ruled out by VAR. Lastly, we almost went out against Inter Milan and Barcelona in the group stages too, but last ditch goals saw us through.
Overall, throughout the season we mainly battled and scrambled to many results in the Premier and Champions League. We rarely hit the performance heights on the pitched compared to previous seasons, in my view. While we were very solid, it was only in games against: Everton (6-2 away win), Bournemouth (5-0 home win), Chelsea (3-1 home win) and Borussia Dortmund (last 16 Champions League win), where we really demonstrated total dominance throughout games.
Sadly, our indifferent performance standards, were not helped by key injuries to: HARRY KANE, DELE ALLI, HARRY WINKS and JAN VERTONGHEN, led to THIRTEEN DEFEATS in the Premier League. Thankfully, we held onto fourth place due to our rivals being a bit rubbish too.
The other major highlight of the season was the new stadium was FINALLY completed at White Hart Lane. I have not been yet as tickets have always sold out, but I look forward to going next season! Wembley was great and I went to some amazing games, but there’s no place like home – and what a home it is!
MANAGER, PLAYERS AND TEAM
Firstly, MAURICIO POCHETTINO and his coaching staff, in my view, are incredible. For whatever reason, by choice or Chairman Daniel Levy’s decree, we did not SIGN ANY NEW PLAYERS! I think this was a mistake. Our squad, while of high quality, became very stretched due to injuries and a fixture list pile-up. This meant Pochettino was forever juggling the players at his disposal; so it is full credit to his management that we had the season we did.
There were many fine players for Spurs. Some were not as sharp due to injuries and those jaded by England’s almost glorious World Cup campaign. HEUNG-MIN SON was voted our PLAYER OF THE YEAR for his buccaneering attacking play. He was brilliant throughout, scoring goals and scorching defences with his wicked pace.
MOUSSA SISSOKO was very close to winning best player of the season with a series of revelatory performances in midfield. TOBY ALDERWEIRELD was outstanding in defence, while HUGO LLORIS was so solid too; even saving a couple of crucial penalties during the season. Despite some terrible ankle injuries HARRY KANE was our top goal scorer and CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN, despite his form deserting him at the end of the season, remained our most creative midfielder.
Special mention must go to LUCAS MOURA who scored vital goals throughout the year. He was SO unlucky not to start the Champions League Final, especially after his heroics in Amsterdam. I mean, he was the player that SCORED A HAT-TRICK IN THE SEMI-FINAL. He definitely should have started in the final.
THE FUTURE AND BEYOND. . .
I have come to accept that Tottenham Hotspur F.C. is a proud and high quality team to support. It is a shame we are very much a nearly team though on the pitch, finding opponents with that bit more quality or luck when it matters most. But, we are a very well run business with an incredible new stadium. Indeed, the T.H.F.C. brand has never been shinier and the future hasn’t been brighter.
I would expect rather than hope we can purchase three or four top class players to add to our squad because the manager cannot fire us to glory without the ammunition on the pitch. There is only so much magic MAURICIO POCHETTINO can perform year after year.
Having recently caught the underwhelming B-movie crime movie, Hotel Artemis (2018), on Sky Movies, I was suddenly reminded what a brilliant actor Jodie Foster is. She has been around for years so it’s easy to take for granted what a consummate performer and on-screen creator she is. Indeed, her sterling work held Hotel Artemis‘ weak narrative together; as she gave a nuanced and clever portrayal of a morally ambiguous medical professional.
Foster is an actor, director and producer who has received two Academy Awards, three BAFTAs, two Golden Globes and countless other nominations recognizing her screen skills and brilliance. She is one of those rare actors, like Ethan Hawke, who has transcended child stardom and become a prolific performer in adulthood too. Here are, in keeping with the rules of this feature, FIVE stand-out Jodie Foster roles that I can highly recommend you watch.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
TAXI DRIVER (1976)
Already boasting acting heavyweights such as Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro, this existential classic finds Foster as a teenage prostitute, Iris. It was a very risky role for all concerned, especially as Foster was only twelve at the time. However, it is one of the greatest child performances of all time, with Foster bringing vulnerability, toughness, smarts and pathos to girl lost on the mean streets of New York seeking salvation.
THE ACCUSED (1988)
Foster’s incredible performance as Sarah Tobias deservedly won her a first Academy Award. Tobias’ character is the victim of a brutal gang-rape and the film sets about to highlight the savagery of men and the injustices of the legal system. I have not seen this film in years but I will never forget Foster’s steely and emotional acting tour-de-force, plus the physical and mental bravery she committed to the stunning portrayal.
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
If I didn’t include her role of Clarice Starling then I would need my head examined. Obviously, NOT by Dr Hannibal Lecter, I must add. Indeed, while Anthony Hopkins gets much kudos for his startling turn as no one’s favourite chef, it’s Foster’s sterling work which glues the film together. All in all it’s almost a perfect genre film which owes much to Thomas Harris’ fine characterisations of Lecter and Starling and Jonathan Demme’s excellent direction. Nonetheless, Foster brings the tough, determined, yet vulnerable, FBI rookie to life brilliantly; and her scenes with Hopkins spark, scare and thrill especially.
I wasn’t a massive fan of this film when it was first released. That was because I was expecting something more action-based akin to Robert Zemeckis’ previous body of work. However, Contact, on subsequent views is an emotionally rich and intelligent look at religion, science and contact with extra-terrestrials. Foster is Dr Ellie Arroway, a scientist who utilises radio signals to chart potential alien signals in space. In a role which doesn’t exclusively find her life in danger, Foster is able to show her range as an intelligent, heartfelt and sensitive character. As such Dr Arroway is, amidst the vast expanse of space and time, ultimately searching for that all-encompassing and universal desire: love.
INSIDE MAN (2006)
I love this heist film because it has so many brilliant aspects; notably one of the cleverest twists in recent movie history. Spike Lee directs in confident style, with Denzel Washington and Clive Owen excellent as the lead cop and main criminal, respectively. Jodie Foster steals her scenes as a feisty and venal fixer brought in by Christopher Plummer’s bank owner, to handle a more “delicate” element of the robbery. I liked that Foster chose a less heroic character to portray, as she struts and sells her services to the highest bidder. Ultimately, her Madeleine White is anything but white; instead she’s a black-hearted vulture, dealing with the greedy capitalists and politicians of first-world Manhattan.
Writer(s): Alec Berg, Bill Hader, Emily Heller, Liz Sarnoff, Sarah Solemani, Ben Smith etc.
Director(s): Alec Berg, Maggie Carey, Bill Hader, Hiro Murai, Liza Johnson, Minkie Spiro etc.
Cast: Sarah Goldberg, Bill Hader, Stephen Root, Glenn Fleshler, Anthony Carrigan, Henry Winkler etc.
Original Network: HBO
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Critically acclaimed and Emmy award-winning dark comedy satire, Barry (2018) stars Bill Hader. He plays the eponymous lead, a hitman, who travels to Los Angeles for “work” and then finds himself joining an acting class by mistake. The comedy and drama of his finely written and directed HBO show derives from the dialectic juxtaposition of crime and war film tropes mixed with narcissistic and delusional Hollywood creative types. But is it any good? Yes and no!
Technically this is first rate and challenging entertainment; obsidian black in its’ humour and at times very compelling as drama. Stylistic influences are clearly the likes of: the Coens, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Altman and Elmore Leonard’s novel/film/TV series Get Shorty. However, I don’t think I liked it as much as those or as much as the panel of Emmy Award judges.
Personally, I don’t like, irrespective of their quality, shows or films titled after a single-name character. It’s just a personal thing. More importantly the show tries so hard to be cool. It has a knowing “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-cultural-melange” vibe. Plus, tonally it is all over the shop. One scene will be a hilarious situation involving bad acting from the class; and the next Barry will be blowing someone away. How am I meant to feel about such a lunge from comedy to drama involving so many unlikeable characters?
As Barry Block/Berman, Bill Hader is absolutely brilliant. He wants out of the murder business and is haunted by events from the military. Because of this I have much sympathy for him. However, this empathy is tested by some of his more heinous actions. Hader nonetheless delivers an iceberg cool performance with a searing internal pain. In the second season especially, his post-traumatic stress is explored intensely; and when he explodes with anger it resonates powerfully. Conversely, I wanted more of this than the parodic Chechen and Bolivian gangsters, who just aren’t funny.
In support, Stephen Root is brilliant as Barry’s exploitative handler and so-called friend. Sarah Goldberg as the neurotic actress, Sally Reed is a revelation. This is especially the case in the second season when her character gets some interesting storylines and great monologues. Likewise, Henry Winkler steals many scenes as the acting coach, Gene Cousineau; forever name-dropping and shilling for a quick buck.
Overall, Barry can be recommended for the excellent cast and mostly complex characters. While I would have preferred the dumb comedy to be reduced, there are indeed some great episodes throughout the two seasons. So, if you are looking for an intense exploration of human existence you get an element of that within the mix of: humour, satire, violence, shoot-outs and plot twists. But maybe, like the lead character, Barry tries to do too much all at once; however, at least it tries.
Screenplay by: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Ian McShane, Anjelica Huston etc.
Cinematography: Dan Laustsen
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Have you ever thought: what’s the point in carrying on? We know we’re going to die someday so why bother trying to live? Dead French bloke Albert Camus wrote an existential essay called The Myth of Sisyphus and deemed life an exercise in the absurd. He offered mythological character Sisyphus as an example. Sisyphus was condemned to immortality for deceiving the Gods and his penance was to push a massive rock up a hill over and over. Camus wasn’t all doom and gloom, because he opined Sisyphus’s struggle ultimately gave his life meaning.
Why am I skirting around such philosophical musings? Well, John Wick is a classic “Sisyphean” character; destined to a repetitive cycle of life and death with very slim reasons for carrying on. In the first film it was revenge. In the second film it was paying back a marker; and then revenge. In the current, and third film of the franchise, it’s because he broke the rules of the assassin’s world and must pay the $14 million price. Plus, more revenge.
Yet, plot and reason are not the main purpose for watching this franchise. I watch it for the non-stop-Asian-infused-rainy-New-York-noir-flavoured-non-stop-balletic-violence-and-stunts. Here the incredible death toll and bloody killing is differentiated somewhat with: animals, vehicles and assorted sharp ojects joining the array of guns and fists used to hurt the two-dimensional bad people sent by the mysterious High Table gangsters. It doesn’t pay to analyse the film with logic, so just enjoy the immaculate: set design, art direction, cinematography, choreography, editing, visuals; and all-encompassing sound and fury.
Keanu Reeves, once again ignores the limits of his emotional range to deliver a formidable physical performance. Just his face, actions and movement alone are enough to convey his desires. Meanwhile, the writers open out John Wick’s back-story; shading in his past relationships and historical beginnings. This allows us to escape New York and venture to the Middle East, for a bit of sun and much needed change of scenery.
The film also welcomes a slew of fine character actors in support roles including: Halle Berry, Jerome Flynn, Asia Kate Dillon and Angelica Huston. They join the ever reliable Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne and Lance Reddick from the first two chapters. Although, someone may have asked Fishburne to “rain” in his more bombastic moments, it’s still fun to see Neo and Morpheus on screen together. Oh, but the stunt dogs and 1990s B-movie action hero, Mark Dacascos, steal the show in their featured moments.
Overall, while showing signs of formula fatigue, John Wick: Chapter 3, remains a simple but wonderfully entertaining guilty pleasure. The choreography within the fight scenes and car/horse/motorcycle chases just transcend the action genre. Using: humour, pace, shock and sheer kinetic power they consistently startle and astound. Lastly, one could look at Wick’s character in mythical terms, perpetually fighting the Gods and forever pushing the rock up that hill. Indeed, I guess, like Sisyphus, Wick will carry on ad infinitum as long as there is someone to kill; and an audience wanting to watch such exquisite carnage on a big screen.