R.I.P – HELEN MCCRORY (1968 – 2021) – SIX GREAT SCENES!
“I’m heartbroken to announce that after a heroic battle with cancer, the beautiful and mighty woman that is Helen McCrory has died peacefully at home, surrounded by a wave of love from friends and family. ‘She died as she lived. Fearlessly. God, we love her and know how lucky we are to have had her in our lives. ‘She blazed so brightly. Go now, Little One, into the air, and thank you.” — Damian Lewis
Sad news that one of my favourite actors, Helen McCrory, passed away on the 16th of April 2021 from cancer.
Helen McCrory had an amazing career on stage, television and in cinema. She began studying acting at the Drama Centre in King’s Cross, London. After which she rapidly gained fabulous onstage notices, appearing in theatrical productions at the Donmar Warehouse, National Theatre and Almeida Theatre. It didn’t take long before she was starring in prominent roles on television and cinema screens.
An actress of immense quality and charisma, McCrory would bring a sophistication and heart and magnificent class to every role she inhabited. Her characters were always strong, independent and a little bit dangerous. In tribute, I have chosen six scenes which showcase her incredible talents. No words can describe how big a loss Helen McCrory is to the world and my condolences go out to her family.
*** THE FOLLOWING SCENES CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
HESTER – THE DEEP BLUE SEA (2016 STAGE PRODUCTION)
I haven’t even seen this production, but this excerpt from the play immediately makes me feel so much for Helen McCrory’s character. She gives such a beautifully magnetic performance.
ROSANNA CALVIERRI – DOCTOR WHO (2010)
I personally would have loved to have seen Helen McCrory star as Doctor Who. But she made a wonderfully dark-hearted villain in this episode. This scene is so brilliant as it builds slowly with two fine actors bringing both humour and pathos and stirring drama to their characters.
NARCISSA MALFOY – HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (2009)
Originally cast in the role of Bellatrix Lestrange, McCrory had to leave the role out due to pregnancy. Eventually cast as the wonderfully name, Narcissa Malfoy, Helen McCrory’s evocative voice and elegance perfectly enlivened the character.
TABITHA – INSIDE NO. 9 (2014)
Many of Helen McCrory’s earlier roles found her portraying strong young women, however, as she matured she grew even more powerful and was also cast in darker more gothic roles. Once such character was the enigmatic Tabitha in the awesome anthology series, Inside No.9 episode, The Harrowing.
POLLY GRAY – PEAKY BLINDERS (2013 – 2019)
The BBC’s flagship drama is a muscular-bleeding-tattooed-up-parade-of-masculinity, but it also presents a set of powerful female characters too who are just as deadly. Helen McCrory as tough-talking, Polly Gray, more than holds her own as a leader within Cillian Murphy’s gang.
MRS POOLE – PENNY DREADFUL (2014 – 2015)
One of my favourite television dramas of recent years had a some incredibly beautiful writing, a wondrous cast and the most elegant of bloody horror. Helen McCrory revelled in the role of Evelyn Poole/Madam Kali, stealing every scene with an over-the-top performance as the immortal uber-witch casting spells and wreaking havoc throughout.
June was both a very special month of viewing and also sad because one of my favourite shows shuffled off into TV heaven after three scintillating seasons. I also watched some excellent genre films; the month being very much about quality of viewing rather than quantity. As usual, marks out of eleven and of course:
SCREENWASH FILM AND TV REVIEWS – JUNE 2016
**MASSIVE SPOILERS HERE**
THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON TWO – NOW TV
The first season of this “first world” sex-charged adult drama was compelling stuff with fine performances from Ruth Wilson, Dominic West and Maura Tierney respectively. The suspense was palpable, the writing sharp; and the characters – while not wholly likeable – had a humane quality that drew you in. The second season though just got on my nerves a bit and I just didn’t give a toss in the end despite some memorable scenes. Plus, the teenage daughter made me want to drown her in a ditch, such was her irritability factor. So, in the end I just gave up around episode eight. (Mark: 5 out of 11)
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT – SEASON 3 – (2005)
The final season in the first run before it was cancelled and subsequently rebirthed by Netflix was another tremendously hilarious comedy of errors; featuring a rogues gallery of vapid narcissistic characters all trying and failing to out-do each other. Aside from the wonderful performances from Jason Bateman, David Cross, Michael Cera, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett and so on, the law have George Bluth Snr under house arrest while Michael tries to keep the business going. He also falls in love with an English retard (played by Charlize Theron) while ultimately ending up in Iraq trying to resolve some shady shenanigans. The season is most memorable for a Godzilla parody with Tobias dressed in a massive mole costume smashing down “Tiny Town” in front of bemused Japanese investors. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAKSHOW (2015) – NETFLIX
I love this bleak, violent, bloody, over-the-top horror anthology from writers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. They truly are horror connoisseurs as they introduce us to a litany of gruesome characters, situations and narratives all set in a circus freakshow in 1950s USA. This is no apple-pie-white-picket-fence-Americana because we get: killer clowns, Siamese Twins, two-faced ghouls, midgets, Amazonian women, hermaphrodites, Nazi murderers and many, many more freaks and monsters on display. Once again, like the previous seasons, the ensemble cast are quality, notably Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and the majestic Jessica Lange. Arguably the most horrendous character though is the spoilt-rich-boy-millionaire-killer, Dandy, played with evil abandon by potential star Finn Wittrock. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
THE CONJURING 2 (2016) – CINEMA
Great magicians astound you even when you know how a trick works. Therefore I heartily recommend this follow-up to, believe-it-or-not, The Conjuring (2013). Director James Wan is a master magician and uses every deception, distraction and reveal in the book to deliver a devilish and nail-biting horror story based once again on the work of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren. The springboard for the terror is the infamous Enfield haunting in which a gnarled dead pensioner terrorized a North London family. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson bring quiet quality to the ghoulish hysterics and James Wan once again proves he is arguably the best horror director around. The film is worthy of the admission for the invention of another great monster in the guise of a ghastly pale-faced nun. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 6 (2016) – NOW TV
If I had a sword to my throat I would have to say that this – in terms of pulsating storytelling, dramatic twists and bloodcurdling action – is one of the best seasons of television I have EVER SEEN! Book geeks are probably spitting crisps over their keyboards but now the writers are free of the shackles of the gigantic novels, these ten episodes were just a pacey, brutal, vicious, conniving, fiery, animalistic, blinding, cutting, resurrecting delight. I can’t speak of all the plot strands as there were too many but the wheels were really turning and new alliances forming notably: Daenerys and her flight toward Westeros; Arya becoming no one and then learning new deadly abilities; a violent “Dog” from the past returning to go on a kill-crazy rampage; formerly dead Jon Snow coming back to life and marching on Winterfell in order to defeat evil Ramsay Bolton; Sansa Stark also joined the Ramsay revenge queue, with Lord Baelish in the wings too; and the piece de resistance was Cersei Lannister battle of wills with the High Sparrow who was slowly clawing all she held dear away from her. Overall, it was a ballsy drama which gave us twists and violence galore and my viewing schedule will have a massive hole to fill over the next year! (Mark: 11 out of 11)
GOMORRAH – SEASON 2 (2016) – NOW TV
The first season of Gomorrah was gritty-Italian-kitchen-sink-gangster-drama at its finest. It followed the shadowy, mean Neapolitan street-hoodlums and their drug trafficking, double-crosses, political corruptions and murderous shootouts. The General lording over the territory was Don Pietro Savastano but his empire was undermined by foot-soldier Ciro Di Marzio and his crooked alliance with Salvatore Conte. Savastano’s raw and inexperienced son Genny also attempted to rise up the ladder but his bullish impatience became his undoing. In Season 2 the power struggle between these three characters continues, and over the ten episodes further brutality and skulduggery follows in a show which has a heart of pitch black darkness acted out like a contemporary reflection of the Roman Empire. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
HUSH (2016) – NETFLIX
Horror filmmaker Mike “Oculus” Flanagan is a pretty decent genre director and here he sets up another interesting premise while delivering some efficient scares in the process. Kate Siegel plays a mute-deaf writer who – in desiring solitude – lives in the woods to carve out her latest novel. Alas, her peace is invaded by a masked psycho – what are the chances! – and she must overcome her restrictions to fight them off. Contrived and cheap it may be, Flanagan shows he’s a confident helmer who deserves a bigger budget to work with. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
IRRATIONAL MAN (2015) – NOW TV
Woody Allen is one of the greatest writer-directors of all time and his curriculum vitae boasts an incredible array of amazing films. His latest cinematic efforts have on occasions hit great heights; films such as Whatever Works (2009), Midnight in Paris (2011), Blue Jasmine (2013) and Magic in the Moonlight (2014) all benefitted from Allen’s trademark wit and intriguing characterisation. Irrational Man stars Joaquin Phoenix as a misanthropic writer who hates the world but somehow finds meaning in a random act of violence. At the same time he has a love affair with his student, pretty Emma Stone; and the two narrative strands ultimately become entwined in a pleasing black comedy. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE NICE GUYS (2016) – CINEMA
Writer/director Shane Black created a winning cop-buddy formula with Lethal Weapon, continued it with the very under-rated Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (2005) and having hit behemoth-budget pay dirt with Iron Man 3 (2013) he once again nails the buddy-noir-comedy-action film. The Nice Guys stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a couple of private dicks and their haphazard pairing pings a shaggy-dog narrative along at a cracking pace. The script is filled with so many hilarious punchlines, sight gags, salty dialogue and a suggestion of occasional pathos too. It combines late 70s corruption with pornographers while presenting a sparkling nostalgia script filtering Chinatown(1974) via Starsky and Hutch. Overall one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen all year. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
PEAKY BLINDERS – SEASON 3 (2016) – BBC IPLAYER
The third season of the stylish period drama once again finds Thomas Shelby (brilliant Cillian Murphy) and his clan attempting to expand their business empire from the Birmingham backstreets across the Atlantic and further. This season has some fine villains including venal priest played by Paddy Considine and communist-fleeing Russian aristocrats. As well as the usual muscular-bleeding-tattooed-coked-up-masculinity on show, writer Steven Knight presents a set of powerful female characters too who are just as ruthless and deadly as the male counterparts. It’s a cracking drama all-told; a high-quality flagbearer for the BBC. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
PENNY DREADFUL – SEASON 3 – (2016) – NOW TV
Alas, Showtime/Sky Atlantic’s Penny Dreadful is no more; gone forever into the misty poetic ether. Season 3 had been a blindingly beautiful and bloody wondrous season as various narrative threads unfolded but then suddenly it was deceased; gone; buried; over; a fog in the mists of time. I watched in wonder while Rory Kinnear as Frankenstein’s Monster/”John Clare” availed to reconcile with his long lost family; Ethan “Talbot” Chandler in the hands of US Marshals facing certain death; Dr Jekyll and Dr Frankenstein attempting to “cure” the insane; Lily raising a feminist army of whores to wreak havoc on man; plus the ever-beautiful-yet-haunted Vanessa Ives battling a whole host of new demons internally and externally. This is one of my favourite shows of recent years and alas the ending was somewhat abrupt. However, the vampiric London setting juxtaposed superbly with the violent Western arena where cowboys battled snakes and wolves. Despite the touching, yet mildly flat denouement, as gothic horror goes this drama possessed three seasons of monstrous wonder. (Mark: 10.5 out of 11)
April was a mixed bag of viewings on the various platforms this month, with a couple of stunning films, decent stand-up comedy and my new favourite TV show witnessed. So, with marks-of-eleven, here are my latest reviews. Enjoy.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
ANOMALISA (2015) – CINEMA
I love Charlie Kaufman’s work as he offers one of the most original minds to writing and directing films. Anomalisa is a stop-motion animation character study which is breath-taking in style and thought-provoking in content. David Thewlis voices a writer who, while in a small American town to deliver a key motivational speech, he finds his personality and mind dismantling before him. The film is at times a challenging experience but Kaufman’s conceptual genius, splashes of droll humour and spicy sex scenes make it a worthy arthouse hit. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
BLOODY SUNDAY (2002) – NETFLIX
Director Paul Greengrass’ excellent docu-drama depicts the tragic deaths of the infamous bloody massacre which took place Sunday on January 30, 1972 when 27 civilians were gunned down by the British Army in the streets of Northern Ireland. It’s heartbreaking and powerful drama as the day unfolds in real time and chilling authenticity. The cover-up by the British Government was a disgrace and this stands as a testament to those who tragically lost their lives. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
CHILD 44 (2015) – AMAZON PRIME
This Soviet set thriller was a box office bomb and was mauled by some critics, however, I found it very absorbing thanks to a fine lead performance from Tom Hardy. He plays an orphan who becomes a war-hero and then police officer who, goes against his superior’s orders, and investigates the brutal crimes of a serial-killer. It gets bogged down in a number of subplots but thematically it was strong; as the crimes of the child-killer are compared to that of the Soviet State under Stalin’s brutal regime. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
COP CAR (2015) – NOW TV
Kevin Bacon and his fake moustache are sensationally funny in this story of two runaway kids who “accidentally” ruin Bacon’s nefarious doings by stealing his cop car. Overall, it’s lower-budget gem which, despite the stupidity of the moronic children, has a lot of Coen-style humour and bloody violence to make it worth ninety minutes of your time. Bacon of course takes the er… biscuit honours with a rip-roaring, scenery-chewing and smoking performance as the baddie. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
GOMORRAH (2009) – BLU RAY
Having watched the terrific Sky Italia show I went back and found the original film based on the book of the same name. It is another brutal indictment against humanity and life on the mean streets of Naples as gangs old and young shoot and cull each other to death. It’s structured around four separate stories involving the Casalesi clan and is a violent drama with a gritty documentary style that keeps you gripped from beginning to end. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
INSIDE OUT (2015) – NOW TV
Brilliant Pixar movie with the wonderful vocal talents of Amy Poehler, Richard Kind, Phyllis Smith and Bill Hader; plus of course the incredibly imaginative minds of Pete Docter and his army of animators. The story shows us two worlds simultaneously: young girl Riley Anderson and the various emotions inside her actual mind. The superb script shows the variety of changes this troubled girl is going through – moving home to a big city for one – as chirpy Poehler as Joy and depressive Smith as Sadness, initially clash, then join forces to stabilize the crumbling psyche of Riley’s mind. It sound really heavy in themes and it is, but it’s done with an incredible light touch and contains some incredible visuals, drama and zinging one-liners. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
JESSICA JONES (2015) – NETFLIX
Jessica Jones was a very enjoyable wall-smashing-sex-splashed-bloody-violent-noir-X-rated comic book show. Tough-as-hell Nemi-lookalike Krysten Ritter kicks ass and David Tennant has a ball as the mentalist villain. Arguably the “purple man” storyline didn’t hold for thirteen episodes and perhaps there were too many mad subplots (the bonkers brother and sisters upstairs); but you could see the makers were establishing loads of future characters notably Luke Cage. Entertaining watch and I loved the dark humour and twisted brutality which stands as an alternative to the glossier cinema Marvel adaptations. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
MARTYRS (2008) – AMAZON PRIME
DO NOT WATCH THIS FILM IF YOU HAVE A WEAK HEART OR DISPOSITION!
Not since I Saw the Devil (2010) have I seen such a violent and mental film such as this. It concerns Lucie, who having been trapped by unknown captors as a child, grows up with delusional and violent tendencies desiring to wreak revenge on the people who savaged her. Her friend Anna attempts to support the crazy actions of Lucie but gets dragged into a hellish nightmare that I just cannot begin to explain. It’s insane, shocking, violent and has gore galore. Impressive horror! (Mark: 8 out of 11)
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (2016) – CINEMA
Jeff Nichols prior films have been quietly brilliant notably Shotgun Stories (2007) and the biblical Take Shelter (2011). Thus, I was looking forward to Midnight Special very much. Indeed, I enjoyed this film mostly as it had some intriguing themes of: “special” children, family, religious cults and the notion of what is on “the other side”? Excellent actor Michael Shannon plays father to his young son Alton, who has mysterious gifts which has everyone agog and the Government hunting him; so we get an impressive race against time pursuit and some fine dramatic moments. However, the film fell flat at the end for me and not enough was done at the beginning to set-up the story. Nichols shows though he is a fine filmmaker producing alternative viewing to the often anaemic Hollywood machine. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
NARCOS (2015) – NETFLIX
Narcos is a brutal and rightly unglamorous recount of Columbia’s and the DEA/CIA battle with Pablo Escobar. Hard-to-watch at times because it shows the insanity of society and human beings; but the acting and production values are very high quality. Like Italian TV film and series Gomorrah (2014) it’s not for the faint-hearted as Escobar rises through the ranks drug-trafficking; murdering rivals; kidnapping and slaying politicians, all for the power and wealth. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
PEAKY BLINDERS (2013 –) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX
Season 2 is a terrific post First World War story with a grand lead performance from Cillian Murphy plus awesome supporting cast including Sam Neill, Helen McCrory and Paul Anderson. Murphy portrays the leader of a Birmingham gang and Steven Knight, writer/director of the superb film Locke (2014), carves out a cracking tale involving coppers, whores, gypsies, bookies and ex-soldiers fighting against a backdrop of political revolution and class warfare. In this season Tommy Shelby has new enemies including Jewish ‘baker’ played by Tom Hardy and mad Italian portrayed Noah Taylor. Safe to say plans and plots and crosses and double crosses occur with bloody violence and twists to boot! (Mark: 8 out of 11)
PENNY DREADFUL (2014 – 2015) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – NOW TV
I caught up with the grandiose, gothic and monstrous Grand Guignol TV horror show that was Penny Dreadful and thought both seasons were great entertainment. Loved the Victorian setting and the smoke and mirrors and dead coming back to life! Faux-literary dialogue was floridly written and delivered. Genuinely scary and gory in places too! John Logan’s scripts are a thing of beauty and horror and the cast are just perfection, notably, Eva Green, Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett and Rory Kinnear. I grew up watching Frankenstein, Dracula, Hammer House and The Exorcist films when I was a kid and this show just takes all manner of horror tropes and monsters and left me breathless in style and content. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
STEWART LEE’S COMEDY VEHICLE (2016) – BBC IPLAYER
I doubled up watching this and the recent DVD Carpet Remnant World and what can I say. Lee is a human anti-depressant lifting my spirits while at the same time making me think about the very nature of the subjects he tackles. In his fourth comedy vehicle he picks over the bones of: Wealth, Islamophobia, Patriotism, Death, Migrants and Childhood and the routines themselves are funny and challenging. Once again he veers toward Brechtian anti-comedy and potential career suicide with patience testing routines about a cat called Jeremy Corbyn and journalist Rod Liddle. However, I loved such routines and like great art his work gets better on further views. Exceptional comedy! (Mark: 10 out of 11)
STILL ALICE (2014) – NETFLIX
Julianne Moore deservedly won an Oscar for her portrayal of Alice Howland, a college professor, who suffers the tragedy of early onset Alzheimers. Her performance, in a relatively low-budget film, is an incredibly nuanced and emotional rendition, as a once brilliant mind disintegrates in front of our very eyes. A sterling cast including Alec Baldwin as the workaholic husband and Alice’s offspring played by Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart are uniformly excellent in support. Overall, it’s a small film with a massive heart and one which reminds us of the fragility of life and the mind. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007) – NETFLIX
There Will Be Blood is a thing of beauty and ugliness and stands up to viewing after viewing. This is a phenomenal classic American story about greed, madness, religious fervor, parenthood and the pursuit of the black gold which has cursed humanity for donkey’s years. Oil sucks! Daniel Day Lewis is incredible in Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece which moves slowly but moves with grandiose style as it examines one man’s obsession with the capture of land and oil; all the while failing to find favour with humans and humanity around him. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
VICTORIA (2015) – SKY MOVIES
This is an unbelievably brilliant German film shot in one-take! Yes! One-take! There are literally NO joins. It runs at over two hours and unfolds in real-time as the thriller takes in Victoria, a Spanish clubber working in Germany, and her involvement with a bunch of charismatic criminals including the handsome talents of Sonne (Frederick Lau). While the story contrivances were slightly difficult to swallow on brief occasions, this ultimately is a superb technical feat and very suspenseful and even touching at times. Plus, it’s not all one-hundred-miles-an-hour-action as Sebastian Schipper, the director, allows the characters to build so you feel emotion for them throughout.(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
Not sure why I did this as it’s not like Netflix needs any marketing assistance from me, but I was bored so I did it anyway! Of course there are loads of programmes and films that could make this list but here are fifteen things that are essential viewing in my opinion! Obviously if there’s something that should be on this list then let me know.
** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS **
AMERICAN HORROR STORY(2011 – ) SEASONS 1 – 3
The first three seasons of this insanely delightful horror show have had me hooked from the start. Featuring a recurring ensemble cast including: Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Evan Peters and many more it mixes: ghosts, witches, serial killers, torture, sexual deviants and voodoo to grisly and hilarious effect. I can recommend it wholly to any fans of period, gothic and murder porn horror as it rips through a splattering of sick deaths, gripping drama and black comedy.
BEASTS OF NO NATION (2015)
This stunning drama leaves you battered and burnt emotionally. It’s about a civil war in Africa and the child soldiers whom are ripped from their families and made to fight for despotic mad men. Don’t watch if you are easily upset because Cary Fukanaga’s film is a terrifying journey into the heart of darkness. A career-best performance from Idris Elba and phenomenal acting debut from Abraham Attah, as Agu, make this a stunning film. This is heart-cracking drama of the highest quality.
BETTER CALL SAUL (2015) – SEASON 1
I don’t usually like prequels as the drama is generally undercut by knowledge of what has gone before but – pre-Breaking Bad – Jimmy McGill’s story (and Mike’s) was funny, dramatic and actually quite touching. It’s a really compelling plot that takes some unexpected twists throughout and contains some damn fine acting. Bob Odenkirk as our charismatic and occasionally heroic anti-hero is a joy and I look forward to watching Season 2 which has just begun streaming on Netflix now.
BREAKING BAD (2008 – 2013)
This show deserves all the hype and accolades as a contemporary crime thriller, family drama and character study par excellence. It’s the story of a “good” man and teacher, Walter White, who having sadly been diagnosed with cancer sets about funding a nest egg for his family in the future. This involves, rather incredibly, using his chemistry know-how to make the most powerful methamphetamine in the United States. With his streetwise sidekick Jesse Pinkman (the bitchin’ Aaron Paul) Walter begins a dramatic, murderous and dark journey; becoming a tour de force criminal going by the nom de plume of Heisenberg. Vince Gilligan and his team write and produce a modern classic which has so many great characters that are good, ugly and breaking bad!
DAREDEVIL(2015) – SEASON 1
This brilliant TV show concerns Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) as blind lawyer by day and “super-hero” by night fighting to clean up Hell’s Kitchen in New York. It’s early in his crime-fighting career and as an origins story it’s very well written; with a gritty noir shot-in-the-shadows style. The action, fighting and most importantly character development of both Murdock and Wilson ‘Kingpin’ Fisk (played deliciously by Vincent D’Onofrio) is exceptional as we receive a slow bleed and blending of their stories until they meet at the end. You get the standard stereotypes often found in superhero films but overall it transcends the generic components to become compelling viewing.
DOCTOR STRANGELOVE (1964)
Stanley Kubrik is the greatest filmmaker of ALL time; and it’s my humble opinion that every single one of his films is a masterpiece. His darkly comical satire about the threat of nuclear war is not only a damning indictment of the stupidity of man and his lust for war; but also an ingenious series of sketches that creates humour from the most darkest of threats. A stellar story and cast, including the unique talents of Peter Sellers (playing three characters), finds paranoid Sterling Hayden’s Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper inducing a nuclear attack on Russia and his superiors blustered attempts to stop World War III. Funny, unsettling and unflinching in its satirical critique of the military and those in government, this is a comical tour-de-force from a genius director.
DOCTOR WHO (2005 – )
If you love fantastical programmes about intrepid time travellers who battle with vicious alien foes across space and time then do check out the rebooted jewel in the BBC’s crown which recently hit a 50th year anniversary. The Doctor is the original Guardian of the Galaxy who travels into our homes via the TARDIS like a sci-fi James Bond but without the misogyny and faint whiff of STDs. Eight seasons exist on Netflix starring the Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi incarnations of the Doctor. My favourite episodes can be found here at this link. Hours of dynamic, silly, scary, sci-fi action and drama are to be found; in the show, not my article, that is!
I used to listen to Frank Sidebottom (AKA Chris Sievey) on the John Peel sessions when I was a teenager and while baffled by this strange entertainer, I always enjoyed the alternative humour of his music. I was also intrigued by the fact this eccentric Northerner was pictured in the NME wearing a papier mache head. I was concerned this could be a weird for weird sake story, however, Lenny Abrahamson, has crafted – from a script by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan – a tremendously odd yet moving character study. The story focusses on Jon (Domnhall Gleeson) and his encounters with Frank’s experimental rock band as scene after scene of weird and wonderful events occur throughout, leading to a very poignant reveal when Frank’s (majestic Michael Fassbender) mask finally comes off.
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2005 – )
This riotous comedy has the most unlikeable, unattractive, insane, narcissistic characters that do all manner of god-awful things to themselves, each other and total strangers. It is frantic, sick, irreverent, disgusting, manic, hyper-real, cartoon-like, politically-incorrect, satirical and incredibly hilarious. Indeed, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the closest you would get to a live-action version of South Park. Set in the dismal Paddy’s pub in Philadelphia it initially concerned four (in Season 1) then five (when Danny DeVito joined) individuals who are complete fuck-ups and whose main existence generally aims to scheme and out-do the others. This is now one of my favourite comedies EVER! If you haven’t ever seen this show then you should. Check out my favourite episodes here:
LOST SOUL: RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR MOREAU(2014)
I love films about filmmaking and I also love films about filmmaking which go spectacularly wrong. This documentary charts the journey of director Richard Stanley and his attempts to bring classic novel The Island of Dr Moreauto the silver screen. With a massive budget and filming taking place in Australia it all starts to go wrong for Stanley as tropical storms hit the set and the money men at the studio lose confidence. Add the crazy Marlon Brando, difficult Val Kilmer and hedonistic extras to the mix and you get a box office turkey burning in front of your eyes. Both funny and tragic it reveals the folly of filmmaking yet sadly also seemed to finish Stanley’s promising directorial career.
MAKING A MURDERER (2015)
Making a Murderer is a ten-part documentary which concerns a number of high-profile court cases which took place in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. The filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos deserve incredible praise for their painstaking work in bringing the cases of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey to the screen because based on their film an incredible miscarriage of justice may have occurred. It is as thrilling and suspenseful as the behaviour of law enforcement is called into question time and time again and the documentary stands as both an indictment on the United States legal system as well as being a gripping thriller. I won’t say anymore for fear of spoilers but WATCH THIS SHOW for an incredibly designed “TRUE” story. It has to be seen to be believed, and whether the defendants are guilty or not, this saga re-writes the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
THE MIGHTY BOOSH (2003 – 2007)
“Come with us now through a journey of time and space!” so uttered Julian Barratt as he welcomed us to the weird and wonderfully surreal world of the Boosh. I still love this ingenious comedy which over a mere twenty episodes introduced us to: Howard Moon, Vince Noir, Naboo, Bollo the Ape, the Ape of Death, Charlie the Bubble Gum monster, Dixon Bainbridge, Old Gregg with the mangina, Tommy Nookah, the Cockney Hitcher, irrepressible Bob Fossil and all manner of other crazy nut-jobs. Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding created and performed one of the most imaginative shows I have ever seen with a rocking soundtrack too. It’s wild, funky, mind-bending, melodious, colourful and just downright ruddy marvellous.
THE OFFICE (2001 – 2003)
I would’ve included the US version of the Office too must that mysteriously disappeared a year or so ago from Netflix. Still, the UK version remains one of the funniest sitcoms ever and fully launched the careers of creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant; as well as the acting talents of Martin Freeman, Lucy Davis, Mackenzie Crook and Ralph Ineson. Centred on the mockumentary stylings of a day-to-day Slough office we find deluded fool David Brent (perfect Gervais) and his woeful attempts to motivate and manage his staff. Rich in ridiculous, awkward and embarrassing comedic situations it also contains some wonderful moments of pathos and romance. The Office remains a genuine comedy classic and twelve episodes and two specials are always worth revisiting.
PEAKY BLINDERS(2013 – )
I missed two seasons of this gritty and violent period drama first time round on BBC but was grateful to catch up with it on Netflix. It’s a terrific post first World War story with a grand lead performance from Cillian Murphy plus awesome supporting cast including Sam Neill, Helen McCrory, Tom Hardy, and Paul Anderson. Murphy portrays the leader of a Birmingham gang who fight and scrap and slice in an attempt to become legitimate bookmakers. Steven Knight, who wrote and directed the superb Locke(2014), carves out a cracking tale involving coppers, whores, gypsies, bookies, the IRA, Communists and ex-soldiers fighting against a backdrop of political revolution and class warfare.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2014)
DiCaprio is amazing in this memoir of disgraced human scum Jordan Belfort – a drug-addicted-sex-addicted-thieving-stockbroker-hedonist. The Wolf of Wall Street follows the same rise-and-fall structure of mafia classic Goodfellas (1990) as DiCaprio’s Belfort sells his soul to power up through the snakes and ladders of Wall Street. This is NOT a heavy analysis of socio-economic morality and values but rather a bullet-paced black comedy filled with cracking scenes and razor-sharp one-liners delivered by a stellar cast. I felt DiCaprio deserved an Oscar but the Belfort character has already had enough success in his lifetime and threw it all away because of greed. Surely awarding an Oscar to such a heinous character would be TOO MUCH wouldn’t it? But as this film demonstrates TOO MUCH is never enough!
In the month of August I themed my viewing down a couple of varied avenues. Firstly, watch a few more documentaries or non-fiction programmes. Secondly, get even MORE value out of my NETFLIX subscription!
There are some great shows on Netflix and if I had to recommend ONE then it would be It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia which is arguably one of the greatest comedies I have ever seen. Netflix UK is also full to the brim of docs, stand-up, films and drama series to watch. Here are some of the shows I caught up with during August.
COMMUNITY (2009 – ) – SEASON ONE
Featuring a diverse set of archetypes within a US Community College this is good quality character comedy. Great cast, witty scripts and lots of self-reflexive parodies for film and TV fans to take in. Clearly influenced by The Office I’m pleased it doesn’t have the direct address mockumentary style and while only nine episodes in but I’m really enjoying this sharp comedy.
DAREDEVIL (2015) – SEASON ONE
This is an absolutely brilliant TV show! It’s actually better than many of the Marvel films that have been knocking about recently; certainly some of the superhero sequels. It concerns Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) as blind lawyer by day and blind “super-hero” by night fighting to clean up Hell’s Kitchen in New York. It’s early in his crime-fighting career and is a brilliant origins story well written and developed.
It has a gritty noir feeling and style and is terrifically shot in the shadows, bouncing off the feel Nolan’s Dark Knight series established. The action, fighting and most importantly character development of both Murdoch and Wilson ‘Kingpin’ Fisk (played deliciously by Vincent D’Onofrio) is exceptional as we receive a slow bleed and blending of their stories until they meet near the end. You get the standard stereotypes often found in Superhero and Gangster films such as: the perky, plucky female assistant; cheeky, funny sidekick; Chinese, Japanese and Russian mobsters; uncompromising investigative journalist and more but it does it with such style that it transcends its generic components to become compelling viewing. Highly recommended!
HOUSE OF CARDS (2015) – SEASON THREE
The first two seasons of the US drama adapted from classic 80s TV programme were sensational as they used the backdrop of American political chicanery and conspiratorial ambition to propel Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) from Chief Whip to the Presidency itself. Ably abetted by Lady “Robin Wright” Macbeth his plotting of revenge and avaricious pursuit of power was fantastic to watch.
The 3rd season has not reached the dizzy heights of the earlier seasons in my view. That could be because I have been watching it on the “drip” week by week or there is more emphasis on political shenanigans and conflict arising from Underwood’s attempts to get America Works off the ground, plus his ongoing feud with Vladimir Putin. Not the real Putin obviously but the show’s thinly veiled version of him. Still, while I enjoyed the more noir and thriller aspects of the first two seasons this remains high quality drama with great direction, style and fine performances.
PEAKY BLINDERS (2013 – ) – SEASON ONE
I missed this gritty and violent period drama first time round on BBC but was grateful to catch up with it on Netflix. It’s a terrific post 1st World War story with a grand lead performance from Cillian Murphy plus awesome supporting cast including Sam Neill, Helen McCrory, Charlie Creed Miles and Paul Anderson. Murphy portrays the leader of a Birmingham gang who fight and scrap and slice their way from the dirty streets in an attempt to become legitimate bookmakers. Steven Knight, who wrote Eastern Promises (2007) and directed the superb Locke (2014), carves out a cracking tale involving coppers, whores, gypsies, bookies, the IRA, Communists and ex-soldiers fighting against a backdrop of political revolution and class warfare.
BIGGIE AND TUPAC (2002)
While the theories on the deaths of Biggie and Tupac presented within this documentary may no longer hold up it’s still a fascinating film from unassuming master of the passive aggressive: Nick Broomfield. His persistence in tracking down and interviewing various elements potentially involved in the murder of these hip-hop legends really drew me in. Plus, the final interview with shadowy rap boss/gangster Suge Knight was both chilling and illuminating.
THE BRIDGE (2006)
You need a strong stomach to watch this documentary film. During 2004 the filmmaking team shot the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and captured many suicide attempts; some where people succeeded in killing themselves and the occasional one who was saved. It’s a dark and upsetting look at depression and those who it affects plus reveals some of the reasons why people choose the Bridge as their intended final departure point. It’s an elegant film: poignant but a tough watch.
What begins as a dig around the history of “the bogeyman” and other mythical baddies soon becomes a feature on Staten Island and the children that went missing from there in the 1970s and ‘80s. The film looks mainly at the prime suspect Andre Rand and whether he was guilty or not of murdering the kids and the media’s response to his case. It’s a bit slow overall without much in the way of revelation. Plus, there’s some dark matter which felt under-examined such as the abuse at the mental institution for kids where Rand worked. Overall though a slow yet thoughtful watch.
DARK DAYS (2000)
Marc Singer’s fascinating documentary from the late 1990s was an incredible look at the people who lived under the subway system of New York City and how they survived. Shot in grainy black and white it captures the hopelessness yet camaraderie amongst the homeless souls. It also demonstrates their desire to survive and build a home despite the grim conditions. The film would become a useful tool to put before City Hall in order to re-house the unfortunates, addicts and lost down there in the recesses of the underground.
MIND OF A RAMPAGE KILLER (2013)
Is a human being born evil or turned deadly by life events? The perennial nature versus nurture debate is looked at scientifically and psychologically in this pretty unsensational analysis of rampage killers. Of course there is no hard answers as there are a myriad of varying reasons why people go on killing sprees. While the psychology is murky as depression and bullying can play a part in equal measures, the main reason these individuals murder is because they have guns. Take away the access to weapons and you may at least prevent some of the senseless murders which occur Stateside.
LOST SOUL: DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR MOREAU (2014)
This was probably the best documentary I saw; mainly because I love films about filmmaking and I also love films about filmmaking which go spectacularly wrong. It charts the journey of director Richard Stanley and his attempts to bring classic novel The Island of Dr Moreau to the silver screen. With a massive budget and filming taking place in Australia it all starts to go wrong for Stanley as tropical storms hit the set and the money men at the studio lose confidence. Add the crazy Marlon Brando, difficult Val Kilmer, hedonistic extras and tropical storms to the mix and you get a box office turkey blowing up in front of your eyes. Both funny and tragic it reveals the folly of filmmaking yet sadly also seemed to finish Stanley’s promising directorial career.
Top documentary filmmaker Errol Morris points his camera at Southern Belle and crackpot Joyce McKinney and her various run-ins with the press over the years. Aside from cloning her dog in Korea in the noughties, McKinney was infamous for the “Manacled Mormon” story which delighted the lurid British red-tops in the ‘70s. McKinney is a lively interviewee as she recounts the tale of how she “rescued” the love of her life from the Mormon cult and attempted to turn him back in love with her through sexual programming. Yeah, chaining a bloke to a bed and screwing him will make him turn his back on God. Well, so SHE thought. McKinney did all that she did for love and cannot be faulted for that but came off as a delusional woman who just has to be heard to be believed.
VIDEOGAMES: THE MOVIE (2014)
Dry run through of the Video Games industry from its humble beginnings to the multi-billionaire cultural behemoth it’s become today. I love video-games but this was pretty boring and although there was certainly some nostalgia to be had from looking back to my youth I wanted more controversy and dirt rather than the bland run-through of the history and uninteresting “talking heads” we got here.
WHEN JEWS WERE FUNNY (2013)
Some great comedians from the now and yesteryear discuss the nature of Jewish comedy and whether it is an actual “thing” and whether it still exists today. I enjoyed watching the old clips of greats such as Lenny Bruce, Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield and many of the contributors are funny too. However, the filmmaker himself seemed to be working through some angst and guilt which at times detracted from the loose but amusing documentary nonetheless.
I have a confession to make. I am a love cheat. I love the cinema but, of late, I have been cheating on it with Television. I couldn’t help myself. TV used to be cinema’s bastard child but now it’s all grown up and wow, has it matured! Gone are the past memories of four channels with some programmes of high quality yet limited choice. Now we have four thousand channels to choose from and while much of it is light bum-fluffery there has been some great product, notably dramas such as: Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 24, The Sopranos, Hannibal, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, The Fall, Daredevil, Peaky Blinders, Doctor Who, True Detective, Band of Brothers and many more I have forgotten or just haven’t had time to watch. But never fear cinema I still love you.
The moment I purchase a cinema ticket, in fact even before I leave the front door knowing I am about to leave for the cinema I get the charge, the buzz and the anticipation of getting a movie fix. Because for me going to the cinema does what television cannot: it takes me out of my home. It takes me off the street. It takes me out of THIS world. It takes me to a dark secluded spot sat staring at a gigantic silver screen waiting for the moment the projectionist feeds celluloid through light, well digital files though a computer and then a lens or something; anyway, you get the picture. Then the movie starts and for the next few hours I’m transported to another world featuring: places, times, characters, sounds, images, events etc. that are beyond my imagination. And when the movie ends there’s a rush of excitement, a reaction to the cinematic assault on the senses. But, alas, the fix cannot last. Reality is soon knocking on my door.
Cinema offers a wide-screen visual delight. Indeed, when television first came into people’s homes film producers were frightened that this new-fangled ‘radio with pictures’ would steal away audiences so Hollywood made bigger, though not necessarily better, movies; epics such as: The Robe (1953), The TenCommandments (1956), Ben Hur (1959) and Cleopatra (1963). Obviously, the epics just keep coming notably in the raft of summer blockbusters which infest the screen. This year has been no different with films such as: Ant-Man (2015), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Jurassic World (2015), Fast and Furious 7 (2015), Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation etc. delivering with spectacular monsters, crashes and stunts.
While such blockbusters may lack depth of character than many TV dramas it’s the spectacle I crave at the cinema. That moment where you go giddy because you haven’t breathed for a minute until all the air rushes from your mouth as one simultaneously pushes your jaw back shut. Good old TV cannot do this though. The television set traditionally occupies a foremost place in the ‘living room’; it’s small compared to the cinema screen and has kind of replaced the hearth that used to provide heat and light. The TV glows and is reminiscent of the old-fashioned campsite fire where families or scouts swap ghost stories while capturing the heat from the flames.
Cinema offer a short, sharp hit compared to TV. Often, a longer running drama series on TV will require a six, ten, thirteen or even longer week commitment. Of course, the introduction of streaming or binge-watching has hacked this idea down to size but movies are still economical and quicker-paced, affording little in the way of fat to the storytelling. Cinema characteristically adopts a tight narrative organised around a particular problem or disruption that is resolved at the denouement where some TV shows, while resolving some plots, will hook us in with shocks to keep us watching and sometimes this can be frustrating as the two-hour or so closure and resolution that cinema offers is very satisfying to me. One of my favourite films Jaws (1975) is a great case in point. Here a shark terrorizes a local community in the United States and the cause-effect narrative takes us through a series of conflicts involving: shark attacks, pursuit of the shark and ultimately the killing of the shark. Thus, film is able to offer a satisfying conclusion to a thrilling story. Ultimately, film offers catharsis and the endings of films such as: Fight Club (1999), Chinatown (1974), The Godfather (1970) and Planet of the Apes (1968) all build to unforgettable climaxes.
Yet, the major concern I have with committing to a new TV drama is the length of time required to get in AND out of the story. I think long and hard about such a commitment but with film one knows it’s not going to be as such. Indeed, one of the reasons I have not watched Mad Men yet is the amount of seasons ahead of me. I’ve been married and I know how much hard work it is. I just don’t feel ready to commit just yet to Don Draper and his “crew”. Plus, with TV shows designed with advertisers in mind adverts can get on the nerves when in the midst of the narrative although the set-top box and Netflix revolution has put that issue aside as has the DVD box-set. Despite this though Cinema is still the preferred mode of voyeuristic, narcissistic and vicarious pleasure though as you sit in a comfy seat eating over-priced confectionery and have a non-stop viewing experience with all adverts before the main presentation. Of course, most films do have multiple examples of product placement, especially Tom “Dorian Gray” Cruise’s M:I franchise but that’s subliminally secreted within the narrative and action and thus not an issue for me. Overall, TV’s episodic form lends itself perfectly to advertisers yet once the movie has started it remains a satisfying whole and is never interrupted with a word from the sponsor.
While I admit that TV stories are gaining more and more complexity notably in regard to depth of characterisation and emotional power they are intrinsically “talking heads” and dialogue lead. TV is still anchored by a lack of screen-size and scope. Rarely does the action on a TV show reach the heights of the cinema although in recent times 24 and Daredevil have featured some spectacular set-pieces and fight scenes. Moreover, Hannibal has to be the most exquisitely edited TV show I have ever seen. But is it better than the cinema? Boardwalk Empire showed flashes of narrative genius with its parallel storytelling from past and present but does it reach the stunning narrative expertise of say Memento (2000);the story of Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) – a man with no short-term memory – which presents the complex plot BACKWARDS! Moreover cinema, unlike TV, is also able to breach huge temporal and spatial differences through editing. Perhaps the most famous single cut in cinema history appears in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Opening with the “Dawn of man”, apelike hominids learn how to use tools. As the ape/man smashes down the bone he then launches it into the air. One cut later and the audience are thrown thousands of years into the future and thousands of miles into space. Such vision demonstrates the power of cinema and takes the breath away.
The arch edict screenwriters should follow when writing for the screen is one should: “Show don’t tell.” Dialogue is also a vital tool in the screenwriter’s box as filmmaker’s such as Quentin Tarantino and The Coen Brothers have demonstrated in movies such as: Reservoir Dogs (1991), Pulp Fiction (1994), The Big Lebowski (1997) and Fargo (1996). Nonetheless they have married quirky, stylish dialogue with strong visual flair. Indeed, the screenwriter must be aware that cinema represents a marriage of sound and vision. While TV traditionally favours dialogue to further the story and action, cinema uses a whole host of devices to tell the story including: cuts, dissolves, wipes, flash-cuts, voice-over, overlapping dialogue, close-ups, point-of-view shots, shot-reverse-shot, Steadicam shots, crane shots, moving shots, dolly shots, wide-screen panoramic views, black-and-white film, colour film, and use of diegetic and non-diegetic music. Indeed, for me there is nothing more cinematic than great music being placed over fantastic images. Filmmakers such as Tarantino, the Coens, and Martin Scorcese are all aware of this. Tarantino uses non-diegetic music expertly in the infamous ear-slicing scene in Reservoir Dogs (1991).
And so I conclude with a mild apology to cinema. I have been seeing a lot of Television these days I DO STILL LOVE YOU! I love your form, style and content and the way they combine to move me emotionally and physically in a way television cannot. Movies will always reach the parts Television cannot. Something magical occurs when watching a film. A whole new world develops before my very eyes; heroes and heroines are thrown into adventure and conflict with events changing their lives forever. Be it falling in love, falling out of love, fighting for their lives or the lives of the ones they love, struggling against the odds to achieve their greatest desires or, tragically failing at the last obstacle. That for me is cinema. It’s an escape from reality the moment one leaves the house. Saying goodbye to the box, not only knowing it will be there when one comes back home but also knowing that it will rarely change my life. While its heat may keep the living room warm at night it cannot compete with film. I have seen the light. Je t’aime cinema!