Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Tom Sturridge, John Malcovich, Zawe Ashton, Daveed Diggs, Billy Magnussen, Natalia Dyer etc.
Picture the scene: a starving child in Africa passively stares at a camera while a fly irritates their big sad eyes, and they do not know when their next meal is coming from. Meanwhile, in a New York auction house a painting by Cezanne or Gauguin or Picasso is selling for over $200 million dollars! What the fuck is wrong with the world?! I’m not saying these paintings aren’t great art it’s just that there is NO WAY that amount of money should be paid for a painting when there is starvation, disease, and poverty in the world. It’s just an indictment of the sickness of humanity, that we place such value on what effectively amounts to canvas and paint placed in a particular manner by some dead person. It’s utter madness!!
DON’T GET ME STARTED ON SO-CALLED MODERN ART!!
Yeah, sure, maybe I DON’T GET IT!! Maybe one should be allowed to express themselves from a creative and emotional perspective but THEY ALSO WANT PRAISE FOR IT!!! And MONEY! And adulation! Of course, certain painters, sculptors and creative types expressing themselves can become a transcendental experience but mostly it’s a bunch of pretentious wankers conning us into thinking what they are doing is important. Come the fictitious revolution occuring in my imagination, most modern artists will be on the hypothetical spikes adorning the made-up barricades.
Tony Gilroy’s third film Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) taps into some of the ire I feel for the art world. It’s full of fake plastic and unlikable characters who spend their days stabbing and fucking each other in the back, all trying to sell us the next big fat artistic lie. When a never-famous painter dies his work becomes a cause celebre and further in-fighting ensues in an attempt to monetize his apparent genius. Jake Gyllenhaal leads an impressive ensemble cast as arsehole critic, Morf Vandewalt; while Rene Russo, Toni Collette, Tom Sturridge, John Malcovich and Zawe Ashton revel in their narcissitic and parasitic roles as agents, artists and art-whores.
Ultimately, this is a very broad comedic satire with some decent horror deaths thrown in. At times I felt like it should have been shot with a cast of unknowns on 16mm film, rather than the A-list hi-definition gloss presented. Firmly in the B-movie territory of say Final Destination and Driller Killer, it’s neither scary or bloody enough to make a convincing horror or gorefest. Having said that there are some fantastic deaths, very witty dialogue and memorable images throughout. Lastly, Gilroy’s work has kind of gone backwards since his phenomenal debut Nightcrawler, and this, without wishing to sound like a pretentious critic, is certainly a very minor work. Overall, though I enjoyed the coruscating digs at the modern art-world and all the arseholes who inhabit it; so that made it well worth a watch.
Produced by: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Kelly Williams, Jonathan Duffy, Charles D. King, George Rush, Forest Whitaker
Written by: Boots Riley
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa
Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Danny Glover, Steven
Yeun, Armie Hammer
**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**
Just when you think the well was drying up somewhat in regard to favourite films of the year, Sorry To Bother You (2018) comes along and jumps straight into my top twelve. Written and directed by activist and musician Boots Riley, this really is a humdinger of an absurdist comedy and must surely be a contender for best original screenplay of the year.
Centring on Oakland-based Lakeith Stanfield’s downtrodden everyman, Cassius Green, we find him unemployed and desperate to find work. So much so he takes a soulless commission paid job at RegalView selling encyclopaedias. So far so normal but very quickly events take many left field turns and Cassius is catapulted into a world of corporate greed, worker rebellion, romantic difficulties and some very weird science.
I do not want to give too much away but I had a blast with this film. Indeed, it’s best watched when you know as little as possible about the story. All throughout writer and director Riley has managed a great balance between believable situations and ridiculously surreal humour. His screenplay manages to satirise both the greed of corporate America and racial profiling, while at the same time never preaching or getting heavy. The tone of the film reminded me of so many films and TV shows I love, including: Being John Malkovich (1999), Atlanta, TheMighty Boosh and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It’s also a thematic sibling to Jordan Peele’s massive horror hit Get Out (2017); which found white people exploiting Afro-Americans to nefarious ends.
The cast jump on board the many hyper-real and absurd concepts with abandon. Lakieth Stanfield, who is brilliantly deadpan in the show Atlanta, shows what a gifted actor he is. Again, Tessa Thompson proves what a brilliant actress she is as Cassius’ energetic artist and activist girlfriend; while Jermaine Fowler, Danny Glover and Steven Yeun provide really solid support. Special mention for Armie Hammer who really amps up the comedy with his representation of avaricious corporate megalomaniacs who care more for profits than they do for human life.
Incredibly, this is Boots Riley’s debut feature film and what a fantastic job he has done. Sorry to Bother You is brimming with hilarious comedic scenes, on-point parody, textured style and credible social commentary. Cassius’ journey throughout is believable too as he is tempted by the promise of money but at severe and Faustian cost. Riley, within the hyper-reality of the world he presents, never strays far from the idea that the collective must join forces to overcome the paymasters. Ultimately, the film may be messy and chaotic at times but this project-mayhem-gonzo-style, along with the colourful design and moody cinematography combine to deliver one of the most memorable films of the year.
Starring: Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz
Original network: FX
Donald Glover and his multi-talented cast and crew deserve all the praise and accolades they have or will receive for Atlanta. It is easily one of the best and most originally voiced television shows I have watched in the last decade. Set in the Atlanta, which is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Georgia; it centres on a collection of characters on the outside of the capitalist system just trying to make their way in life through: creativity, music, strange schemes, ducking, diving; and possibly a bit of drug dealing.
Atlanta has a rich political history. In the 1960s it became a major organizing centre of the civil rights with Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and many others playing serious roles in the movement’s leadership. Flash forward fifty years and, while we find the USA has moved beyond segregation from a legal perspective, inequality and social divide remain everyday from an economic perspective. The underclasses stay just that with the rich getting richer and the poorer communities unfortunately scrabbling around just trying to get by.
It is against this social milieu we meet our main protagonists in Atlanta. Donald Glover is Earnest “Earn” Marks, a young Princeton dropout turned manager; Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, Earn’s cousin and up-and-coming rapper; Lakeith Stanfield as Darius Epps, Alfred’s eccentric right-hand man and visionary; and Zazie Beetz as Vanessa “Van” Keefer, Earn’s on-again-off-again girlfriend and the mother of their daughter Lottie. These are presented as complex characters who, while at times, not following the law or rules are just trying to survive in these difficult economic times. A mixture of both society and their own poor decisions trap them, and from this comes much drama and comedy.
This is a very rich show, which over two seasons, is brilliantly acted, scored, filmed, written and directed. Thematically, it is very powerful while retaining a very honest humour. Episodes cover: stoner culture; crime; family relationships; the working class struggle; guns; violence; street gangs; drugs; children; social media; hip-hop; fashion; celebrity; as well as satirizing white people’s attitude to black culture and the music scene in general. It is confidently written with a loose episodic structure with events linked thematically and often looping back and re-joining much later in the season. Atlanta also experiments with form as well as style using a meshing of genres including: pop video, short film, chat-show, horror, comedy, internet and various dramatic devices to tell its story.
Overall, this is one of those shows which constantly surprises you and what appears to be a loose vibe is in fact a cleverly structured series of impactful vignettes full of rich moments. Indeed, episode 6 of Season 2 called Teddy Perkins is one of the most amazing pieces of television I have seen in a long while. Atlanta is not just a TV show but an experience not to forget and I certainly had Georgia on my mind long after I’d finished watching it.
Created by: Pat Bishop, Matt Ingebretson, Jake Weisman
Directed by: Pat Bishop
Starring: Matt Ingebretson, Jake Weisman, Anne Dudek, Adam Lustick, Aparna Nancherla, Baron Vaughan, Lance Reddick
Have you ever had a job where during your employment you literally just wanted to die? It could be for a number of reasons: you hate your job; you hate your boss; you hate your work colleagues; you hate yourself; you’re bored with the tasks; the endless meetings; a hangover from hell; your pen broke and leaked all over you; the girl from Accounts doesn’t fancy you; you hate the customers; or you feel so existentially empty and having realised the pointlessness of living in a cruel, heartless and soulless vacuum of a world you see no alternative but to commit suicide. Or is that just me?
Of course, many of the above are the irrational emotions of a spoilt Westerner and can be firmly filed under first world problems. Because in a thriving and greed-driven capitalist society which is destroying the environment and Earth, making the rich richer and the monetizing and exploiting the poor for the continual gathering of wealth, what alternative is there? We can protest and sometime things change but most of us have the fight kicked out of our guts or never had it to begin with. So we have no choice but to punch the clock, get our money, go out and get drunk or high and play Xbox, have miserable children, watch a movie, watch Netflix, buy crap we don’t need, over eat and drink; and then go back to work on Monday, deluding ourselves we are living valuable lives.
Comedy Central’s under-the-radar black comedy satire Corporate encapsulates much of what I’m talking about above. My attitude is nowhere near as bleak anymore as the opinions stated above and come from emotions of when I was much younger and cynical. However, there remains a truth to these feelings and Corporate– in ten very funny episodes – captures that negative truth very well. It also captures the existential dread of working in an office for a diabolical corporation, hell-bent on fucking the world while chasing the: Dollar, Pound, Yen, Rupee, Renminbi etc.
Indeed, Hampton DeVille are a massive global company and completely ruthless in their business as the show reflects practices by such conglomerates as: Amazon, Apple and Google etc. Their CEO is the megalomaniacal Christian Deville (Lance Reddick) but the show focusses on the trainee executives Matt (Matt Ingebretson) and Jake (Jake Weisman) as they face the horror of: long pointless meetings; ridiculous away days; dress down days; pedantic HR policies; general boredom and ennui; and dealing with patronising middle managers and petty colleagues. With episode titles such as: Powerpoint of Death, The Void and The Pain of Being Alive, the show is pitch black in its outlook and themes; while the visual style is drained of colour with browns, blacks and greys dominating.
Overall, I really enjoyed the absurd look at office life in Corporate. It takes risks because even the lead protagonists aren’t likable and the delivery is very deadpan. I especially enjoyed the skewering corporate business, as Hampton Deville is shown to be involved in: gun-running; starting civil wars; monetizing religion and art; over-the top technological releases; stupid jargon and sloganeering; plus it nails the horrific tedium of being trapped in a job you hate. But as I always say: there’s one thing worse that having a job you hate – having to look for a job you know you’re going to hate!!
Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, Halston Sage, J. Lee, Mark Jackson
Executive producer(s): Seth MacFarlane, Brannon Braga, David A. Goodman, Jason Clark, Jon Favreau (pilot), Liz Heldens, Lili Fuller
Production company(s): Fuzzy Door Productions; 20th Century Fox Television
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
If you search YouTube for Star Trek fan films you will find hundreds of them. In fact, I myself have written and produced one myself called Chance Encounter (2016). However, you will not find a shiny and more expensive Star Trek homage and fan film – in all but name – than Fox’s big budget science fiction series, The Orville. It was written and created by uber-talented Seth MacFarlane and joins the stable of shows and films he has been involved in, including: Family Guy, American Dad, Ted (2012) and A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014).
The Orville is set on the titular U.S.S. Orville (ECV-197), a mid-level exploratory space vessel in the Planetary Union, a 25th-century interstellar alliance of Earth and many other planets. Seth McFarlane portrays Ed Mercer, a journeyman officer who is depressed due to his wife’s infidelity, and constantly turning up to work hungover and uninterested. A chance at redemption comes when he offered the captaincy of The Orville. He is then joined by his first officer, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), who so happens to be his ex-wife. This slightly clichéd dramatic turn does actually become a positive fulcrum for the twelve episode run, providing many jokes and bitter asides between the two. Their dedicated crew is a mix of aliens, humans and a genius robot called Isaac; who may as well be called Data to be honest.
The Orville is an interesting show to review because I could understand someone watching it randomly because of say, liking Family Guy or Ted, and then not enjoying this at all. Because aside from the odd sight gag or wicked one-liner, this is not all out comedy. The Orville is instead a really solid science fiction show which mixes satire, action, comedy and drama. Indeed, while there is much to smile at, many episodes feature contemporary moral dilemmas involving: relationships, religion, social media, race, gender issues and sex. Most of all this is Seth Mcfarlane’s tribute to Star Trek. He even goes as far to enlist Trek producer Brannon Braga to executive produce and helm several episodes; while Jonathan Frakes also directs episode 6 – Pria.
Overall, I really enjoyed the show because of its similarity to Star Trek and because the characters drew me in too. Seth Macfarlane is not the greatest actor but he is a very likeable everyman. He is also ably assisted by a very committed supporting cast and the slick production. Many episodes whizz along at a decent pace and it doesn’t take itself too seriously either. There’s some excellent supporting characters along the way portrayed by Charlize Theron and Rob Lowe. There’s also some brilliant science fiction stuff which I loved including: space weapons; space ships; time travel; worm holes; ion storms; alien creatures; special powers; cannibal monsters; and hologram devices. Basically everything that Star Trek had The Orville has and that’s why I enjoyed it.
Producer(s): Barney Reisz, Charlie Brooker, Annabel Jones
Distributors: Endemol UK – Netflix
Season 4: 6 Episodes
Writer(s): Charlie Brooker plus William Bridges (USS Callister)
Directors: Toby Haynes, Jodie Foster, John Hillcoat, Tim Van Patten, David Slade, Colm McCarthy
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Cristin Milioti, Jimmi Simpson, Michaela Coel, Billy Magnussen, Rosemarie DeWitt, Brenna Harding, Andrea Riseborough, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Andrew Gower, Georgina Campbell, Joe Cole, Maxine Peake, Douglas Hodge, Letitia Wright etc.
Technology: the final frontier; allowing humans to boldly go where no human has gone before. Indeed, one of the most incredible elements of our world is the technological breakthroughs we have made over the past century or so. We have: electricity, nuclear power, robots, driverless vehicles, television screens, computers, mobile phones, satellites, GPS tracking, drones, 3D printing, smart home air-conditioning, Hadron Colliders, huge space-ships which travel beyond the stars, WI-FI, the world-wide-web connecting everyone with anyone, holograms, the social media phenomenon, virtual reality head-sets, software algorithms, x-rays, gamma knifes, DNA, cloning, MRI scans, Hyperloop tube trains, Sat-Nav, Google, immersive video-games; plus many more medical, military and industrial inventions which make our lives so easy today.
But with such wonderful and fantastic discoveries there is always a dark side. While we may create a medical breakthrough which cures on the one hand we’ll ultimately invent some new weapon or means with which to kill ourselves. So while technology is mainstay of our existence it also can feed our obsessions and thus become an extension of our poor choices, violence and insanity. The scariest thing is we think technology is absolutely necessary and we cannot live without it. I mean, all we really need to survive is water, air, food, shelter and perhaps, as The Beatles sang, love. For all its’ positives, technology is an addiction and can be used to do wrong and cause harm.
Charlie Brooker’s sublime anthology series Black Mirror is now in its 4th Season (2nd on Netflix). It taps into the fear factor technology brings and presents nightmare scenarios that more often than not possess a prescient twist. Who can forget the very first episode of BM which had Rory Kinnear’s Prime Minister having to fuck a pig as a means to pay a hostage ransom? The subsequent tabloid news that our then former Prime Minister David Cameron had, allegedly, stuck his member in a pig’s mouth suddenly made BM incredibly prophetic. This season is another televisual triumph with an incredible array of acting, directing and production talent with each episode offering the feel and scope of a cinema release. I’ll be honest being a massive Charlie Brooker fan I would probably enjoy a video of him dancing in a tutu whilst juggling tomatoes; however, I can confirm these six episodes were beyond brilliant too.
Within the fabric of each episode Brooker holds a mirror up to the future and invariably it will come back black. However, the touching love story of San Junipero (from Season 3) offered some light in the BM universe and similarly Hang the DJ (officially 3rd in the Season 4 list) contained a wonderful love story at its’ heart with Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole giving humorous and touching performances. It also contains a Truman Show (1998) style ending and a twist that I thought was absolutely fantastic. Indeed, what appears to reflect the dystopic controlling techno-world of romance apps becomes something entirely real and beautiful by the end.
While Hang the DJ offers hope, the remainder of the episodes are bittersweet, brutal and unforgiving in their rendering. Actually, I suppose the Star Trek pastiche USS Callister has a kind of optimistic ending and is bloody funny in its affectionate satire of Trek archetypes and monsters. However, Jesse Plemons downtrodden Silicon Valley programmer holds a dark secret during his immersive Virtual Reality gaming experiences. Full of Star Trek references and themes, the clever script merges ideas relating to gaming and DNA technology with fantastic sci-fi meta-textual moments.
Arkangel also has an element of brain implanted software which enables a neurotic mother (Rosemarie DeWitt) to track and view her daughter’s every move on a computer screen. Despite the revolutionary software used this story is based wholly in familial reality as the relationship between mother and daughter becomes strained as she enters her rebellious teenage years. The danger of “helicopter” or overbearing parenting becomes too apparent in satisfying soap operatic story.
Brooker relates many of his scripts in genre territory so the more outlandish or fantastic ideas are grounded with an identifiable cultural identity. The horrific murder plot of Crocodile unfolds in true Hitchockian fashion as an insurance adjuster tracks down the details relating to a vehicle accident but tragically stumbles on something altogether more deadly. The ending of this story is particularly far-fetched, as Andrea Riseborough’s architect gets deeper and deeper in the mire, however, Brooker must be praised for taking risks with his twists.
Rather simpler is the pursuit thriller Metalhead, presented in crisp black and white, as a woman (the brilliant Maxine Peake) attempts to survive in a dangerous land full of robotic guard-dogs. It’s mainly a tense one-hander and the future never looked so drained of hope and colour. The final episode Black Museum was even more grisly as Douglas Hodge shows Letitia Wright’s tourist around his grim parade of exhibits. Brooker’s writing is as strong as ever and the horrors of the entwining anthology stories are shocking and powerful. It’s a dark, dark episode which contains the fantastic idea of uploading one’s digital soul into a loved one’s to share their consciousness. This plays out with both horror and humour in a compelling end to the season.
Being a total Charlie Brooker and Black Mirror fan; a big lover anthology stories; plus a fanatic of horror and tales with a twist it’s obvious to say I loved this seasons offerings. They are clever, dark, funny, sickening, silly, romantic, scary, twisted stories full of satire and warnings about the dangers of technological progress. Ultimately, though it is not science or computers or mechanics which are the danger; but rather humans use and abuse of said technology. Because, for all our ingenuity and invention we more often than not use machines negatively and Black Mirror reflects that (im)perfectly.
In this stinking cesspool of a world run by greedy corporations, bringers-of-war and crazed megalomaniacs it’s important one finds some solace with which to hide from the slings and arrows of this venal society. Indeed, one has to keep an eye out from the barricades and parapets, holding out a shield to deflect, and mirror to reflect, the emotional barbs of every day existence. One such means of deflection is to laugh at the world and its leaders, gods, physicians, media outlets and political snake-oil salesmen, who twist and dance and continually sell us bullshit on a daily basis.
Television is a valuable tool with which to cocoon one’s heart and mind against the stream of negativity and injustice brought down up on us within the oppressive capitalist system. It gives us a chance to laugh and cry at the world through comedy and drama. One such longstanding shield against the tide of money and war is the always-relevant South Park. For twenty-one seasons it has now poked, prodded, electrified, boiled and defecated on the sacred cows of civilisation such as: religious figures, moronic yet dangerous politicians, gluttonous fats cats, media whores and narcissistic plastic celebrities.
After the incredible satirical and narrative success of Season 19 (review here), where showrunner Trey Parker committed to a superlative serialization structure the bar was raised very high. Thus, Season 20 (review here), suffered in comparison as it over-egged the pudding somewhat with a convoluted multi-stranded plot dominated by internet cyber-trolling. Nonetheless, South Park, even firing at three-quarter’ capacity is funnier, on-point, and more scathing than any show out there.
As South Park is a phenomenal staple of my televisual calendar I was very happy when: Cartman, Stan, Randy, Cartman’s mum, Wendy, Butters, PC Principal, Kyle, President Garrison et al were back in Season 21 with satire of the highest order! Moreover, gone was the complex interlinking plots and in this run we experienced some wonderful stand-alone episodes which ran a zeitgeist hyper-link to many of the cultural, political and social events of 2017.
The one thematic web which was woven through the ten shows was Cartman’s dysfunctional and destructive relationship with his girlfriend Heidi. This narrative found Heidi actually becoming a female Cartman much to the other kids’ horror. Here, the writing mined some familiar, almost soap-operatic, but mature story lines to much satisfaction overall; especially in episode 7, Doubling Down, and episode 8, Moss Piglets.
Season 21 was, in keeping with the previous 20 seasons, crammed to the brim with references to media and socio-political culture, while also being fucking hilarious. The opening episode White People Renovating Houses poked humour at the latest Alexa culture and the hailstorm of “flipping” property shows. While Randy, the hare-brained addict, became obsessed with genetically re-correcting his heritage in the hilarious 3rd episode: Holiday Special.
Of course the kids took centre stage in many of the shows, notably Franchise Prequel, where their superhero alter egos – scurrilously led by Cartman’s ‘Coon’ – attempt to get their own Netflix and movie franchise off the ground to rival Marvel and DC. Mark Zuckerberg makes an appearance as a goofy, geeky Scott Pilgrim-type-video-game-end-boss too. Here the seeming bottomless pit of money that is called Netflix is also amusingly slated; mainly due to apparently green-lighting any project irrespective of its’ quality.
Trey Parker and his team took many swipes at the egregious political and, arguably hysterical social media “movements”. In episode 6, Sons of Witches the Harvey Weinstein “situation” was skewed, with all parties involved: men, women and social media keyboard warriors critiqued with much humour. Of course, based on the evidence presented in the media, Weinstein is a stain on humanity, a sexual animal exploiting his powerful position and money-balls! But Sons of Witches was keen to point out that while many men are dicks, they are not ALL bad witches so perhaps some calm and perspective is also required.
While the final two episodes Super Hard PCness and Splatty Tomato ended with President Garrison gone into hiding due to the bombing of Canada, the episodes also had some fine gags on recent horror adaptations It (2017) and Stranger Things (2017). But my favourite episodes of the series were Put It Down, which put the boot into that moron in the White House and his inexplicably dumb twitter feed that spews out an inordinate amount of bile and idiocy. Finally, episode 5, Hummels & Heroin, brilliantly satirised prison movies by transplanting the genre tropes to an old people’s home; advocating ire for pharmaceutical companies pushing drugs on old people and damning poor medical practices.
What makes South Park great and still valid is it does not takes sides. The liberal left and fascistic right are all shown to be, in certain circumstances, controlling and hysterical. Trey Parker and his team do not respect authority or celebrity or media fads or political correctness or social bandwagons; so long may their intelligent, crass, scurrilous, scatological, offensive, all-singing, all dancing satire continue! With Trump in the White House some may say satire is dead but we need the South Park team alive to protect us from this slew of never-ending societal insanity and above all else: MAKE US LAUGH!