I love television and watched a lot of it last year on
most terrestrial and streaming services; especially the BBC, ITV, SKY and
NETFLIX channels. I must admit I am way
behind on many AMAZON and ALL 4/CHANNEL 4 programmes so will be rectifying that
this year. Indeed, there are probably some glaring omissions because of this.
For comparison I include last year’s favourite TV shows. This year I have not included South Park (Season 22) as it was not as good as prior years, despite clearly being one of the funniest shows around. Also, Doctor Who does not make my list as there were too many average episodes. Lastly, a special mention to The Walking Dead (Season 9), which at the mid-season break had somehow pulled itself out of the torpid decline that occurred around Season 6. It may make my 2019 list once the latest season has finished screening this year.
FAVOURITE 12 TV SHOWS OF 2017
BIG LITTLE LIES (2017) – HBO CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM – SEASON 9 (2017) – HBO FARGO (2017)– SEASON 3 – FOX / CHANNEL 4 GAME OF THRONES (2017) – SEASON 7 – HBO THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2017) – HULU/CHANNEL 4 IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2017) – SEASON 12 – NETFLIX LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN – 20TH YEAR ANNIVERSARY (2017) – BBC LEGION (2017) – FOX MINDHUNTER (2017) – NETFLIX SOUTH PARK – SEASON 21 – SOUTH PARK STUDIOS STRANGER THINGS 2 (2017) – NETFLIX THE YOUNG POPE (2016) – HBO
I watch a lot of stuff. It keeps me out of the pub and my liver safe from further harm. In between a July dominated by the World Cup in Russia, over the last few months I’ve been mainly re-watching Star Trek (OST) and catching up with the first two seasons of Mad Men in my downtime. But, in the last month, I decided to have a break from those fine shows and catch up with some movies via Netflix and Sky. I also include some quick reviews of a few films I saw at the cinema too. All reviews are, as usual marked out of eleven.
ALONE IN BERLIN (2016) – NETFLIX
Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson give subtle and compelling performances in this excellent WW2 drama. They portray a German couple who have lost their son in the fighting and retaliate by waging a ‘quiet’ war distributing anti-Hitler leaflets.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
ANON (2018) – SKY CINEMA
Clive Owen stands out in this under-cooked sci-fi drama inspired by Philip K. Dick and Black Mirror. He’s a future cop where crime is contained by point-of-view surveillance techniques. The idea is stronger than execution as it falls apart in the final act. (
Mark: 6 out of 11)
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017) – SKY CINEMA
Luca Guadagnino’s direction is exquisite, while Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet are exceptional in their portrayal of romance in 1980s Italy. A fantastic soundtrack and beautiful scenery cannot save the characters who I found narcissistic and tedious.
(Mark: 6 out of 11)
CARGO (2018) – NETFLIX
Martin Freeman leads the cast in this Australian horror film which finds his kind father at the mercy of outback zombies. It’s a slow moving film which offers characterization over gore, effective moments of tension and the always dependable Freeman.
(Mark: 7 out of 11)
DEEP WATER HORIZON (2016) – NETFLIX
This is an intelligent disaster movie about one of the biggest oil spills ever. BP’s drilling practices are criticized as the slow-build direction gives way to explosive action at the end. Overall, the excellent cast and script make this a very compelling drama.
(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
GIFTED (2017) – SKY CINEMA
Chris Evans takes a break from both battling Hydra with an altogether more everyday fight. He plays guardian and uncle to a gifted child (brilliant Mackenna Grace) who finds himself in a bitter custody battle for the child, in a very touching human drama.
(Mark: 7 out of 11)
GODS OF EGYPT (2017) – NETFLIX
This is a really bad attempt at creating a Star Wars like franchise in mythical Egypt. Gerard Butler shouts throughout as though he’d swallowed the Brian Blessed guide to acting! Terrible waste of $150 million and my precious time.
(Mark: 4 out of 11)
HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017) – SKY CINEMA
Groundhog Day (1993) meets slasher film as College super-brat portrayed by Jessica Rothe finds herself dying again and again in various horrific ways. Turning detective she must solve her own murder in this derivative but well executed horror movie.
(Mark: 7 out of 11)
HITMAN’S BODYGUARD (2017) – NETFLIX
Ryan Reynolds’ cynical performance and Samuel L. Jackson’s sparky turn make this assassin-action-film very watchable. Reynolds has to get Jackson to The Hague to testify against a nasty dictator; cue bullets, car chases and one-liners galore!
In Fallen Kingdom Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt, once again pits their wits against mighty prehistoric creatures. J. A. Bayona brings a gothic style to the final act but ultimately, despite the incredible effects on show, the narrative feels tired.
(Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
LEAVE NO TRACE (2018) – CLAPHAM PICTUREHOUSE
The intense Ben Foster and brilliant newcomer Thomasin Mackenzie act their hearts out in this subtle family road movie. Opting out of society they play father and daughter attempting to stay ahead of the authorities in a very touching and heartfelt drama.
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM (2017) – NETFLIX
Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth are acting stand-outs in this watchable murder mystery set in Victorian London. The cinematography is impressively moody, however, the narrative runs out of steam by the time the twist kicks in.
(Mark: 7 out of 11)
OCEANS 8 (2018) – ODEON CINEMA
An excellent ensemble cast including: Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, Helena Bonham-Carter etc. cannot save this by-the-numbers heist film. It looks gorgeous but was low on jeopardy and ultimately, I didn’t care about the characters.
(Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
TESTAMENT OF YOUTH (2014) – NETFLIX
Alice Vikander is outstanding in this heart-breaking story of the impact of World War One on Vera Brittain and those she loves. Based on a seminal work of literature, it features themes relating to: war, death, pacifism, violence and the struggle of women combatting everyday prejudice. It’s very touching story, stellar cast and deeply empathetic characters which make it a highly recommended period drama.
(Mark: 9 out of 11)
WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY (2018) – NETFLIX
Always interesting Noomi Rapace stars as septuplets in hiding during a dystopic future that allows one child per family. The intriguing premise starts well but gives way to O.T.T violence which detracts a tad from an otherwise entertaining sci-fi film.
In my continued desire to avoid perpetual and dysfunctional alcoholism, while saving money and contemplating the meaning of existence, I often fill up my hours watching quality television dramas. Here are some reviews of shows I have caught up with over the last few months, with the usual Screenwash marks out of eleven.
THE ALIENIST (2018) – NETFLIX
Based on Caleb Carr’s best-selling novel of the same name, The Alienist, while feeling very familiar has enough style and acting quality to make it worth recommending. Set in the grimy streets of New York circa mid-1890s the period setting and production design exquisitely juxtaposes the filth and squalor of the underclasses with the opulence of the wealthy. Dakota Fanning, Luke Evans and Daniel Bruhl are uniformly excellent as an unlikely trio of “criminologists” who, on invite from the Chief of Police, investigate the ritualistic murders of young, poor kids in the ghettos. Adapted by, among others by the very talented Cary Joji Fukunaga, Eric Roth and Hossein Amini, this is overall a compelling, gruesome and hypnotic genre drama which entertains throughout its ten episode running time.
(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
HIT AND MISS (2012) – SKY ATLANTIC
I missed this gritty drama the first time round from Sky when released in 2012 and it certainly pushes boundaries of gender politics within a genre setting. Created by the prolific British writer Paul Abbott it stars Chloe Sevigny as a hit-woman with a secret. Sevigny’s complex character Mia is in fact, a pre-op trans-gender person, living a lone-wolf existence working for Peter Wight’s fixer character. Her anonymous contract-killing life is interrupted when she is thrown into a surrogate mother situation and that’s when the real drama begins. This is not a programme for the faint-hearted with lashings of physical and sexual violence but the excellent cast, notably the outstanding Sevigny, drive this edgy mix of family and thriller genres with compelling power.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
LIAR (2017) – ITV
This ITV drama is founded on the tantalisingly tricky premise of a “she said, he said” date rape case. It is to the testament of the writers, director and actors that the first three episodes provided absorbing suspense as to who is or who isn’t telling the truth. It begins with a primary school teacher, Laura, portrayed with nervy zeal by Joanne Froggatt, accepting a date with handsome surgeon, Andrew Earlham. They seem like a perfect couple but the following day Laura accuses him of rape. The drama comes very much from whether he is guilty and whether she has made it up. Star of Hollywood movies and US TV shows, Ioan Gruffudd, returns to British TV to play Earlham with a charming charisma which makes you question whether he could do such a thing. Halfway through the series though, the show becomes something altogether more sinister. Without wishing to give anything away I can recommend Liar for handling such a delicate subject well, while at the same time creating a powerful and suspenseful narrative throughout.
(Mark: 8 out of 11)
PATRICK MELROSE (2018) – SKY ATLANTIC
Oh, Benedict, Benedict! I love you so! Yet again I witnessed another masterclass in acting from Mr Cumberbatch as he shows all variants of emotional range in this high quality character study. The series is adapted from Edward St Aubyn’s semi-autobiographical books of the same name. Moreover, the structure is interesting in that each of the five episodes focus on different periods of Melrose’ privileged, yet tortuous, existence. We open with a drug-addled Patrick high on smack and then follow a frantic dash to New York to pick up his fathers’ ashes. Initially, Patrick is selfish, biting, wasted and full of fear and self-loathing. In fact he is not likeable at all. However, the first episode then delivers the gut-wrenching truth about the characters’ past and a truly harrowing event at the hands of his tyrannical father. The dramatic glue of the whole series is provided by Patrick’s memories of his fathers’ terrible behaviour – portrayed with rotten humanity by Hugo Weaving. Later episodes find Patrick battling addictions, his mothers’ negative do-gooding, starting a family and just trying to do what most of us do: hold it together emotionally in the face of the slings and arrows life throws at us. Full of complex emotional moments, brilliant acting and stinging one-liners, this is television of the highest order.
(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
SAVE ME (2017) – SKY ATLANTIC
Written by and starring the magnetic British actor Lenny James, this urban crime thriller boasts an exceptional cast and addictive narrative. James takes a performance risk casting himself and a low-life chancer called Nelly, who is suddenly the suspect in the kidnapping of a daughter he hardly knows. Nelly is an ex-con-alcoholic-love-rat who gets by on his charisma and street smarts but still manages to aggravate those around him. When his teenage daughter goes missing he becomes an unlikely amateur detective, attempting some form of redemption having just signed her over to his ex-wife years before. The familiar kidnapping storyline kind of runs out of steam over six episodes, however, James and his brilliant cast including: Stephen Graham, Suranne Jones, Susan Lynch, Kerry Godliman and Jason Flemyng all excel. I also loved the gritty council estate setting and the authentic nature of the characters really drove the story forward.
THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE (2018) – TV SHOW REVIEW
Executive Producer: Ryan Murphy
Writer: Tom Robb Smith
Based on: Vulgar Favours: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History by Maureen Orth
Original Network: FX / FOX
Starring: Edgar Ramírez, Darren Criss, Ricky Martin, Penelope Cruz, Finn Wittrock
I watch a lot of telly but don’t always review stuff because I don’t have time. The Assassination of Gianni Versace was one of those shows which I enjoyed when on the BBC but did not feel like reviewing. But then it kind of stuck with me; it nagged at my psyche as a chilling, violent and intense work of television drama. Hence I thought it was worth recommending it for those who are interested in excellent crime stories.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story is the second season of the FX true crime anthology series American Crime Story. It explores, over nine compelling episodes, the murder of designer Gianni Versace by spree killer Andrew Cunanan. Those coming to the show looking for an in depth story about Gianni Versace – as a man or designer – may be slightly disappointed. Save for three or four episodes the lion’s share of the drama is about his killer, Cunanan. What we do see of Versace and his sister Donatella, as expertly portrayed by Edgar Ramirez and Penelope Cruz, is a man who grew up from humble beginnings to become one of the finest fashion designers of all time. Personally, fashion does not interest me so I was pleased that world did not dominate the focus of the story.
The main focus, however, was the spree killer Andrew Cunanan. Writer Tom Robb Smith, adapting from Maureen Orth’s book takes many risks, notably telling Cunanan’s story in reverse chronological order. I’m not always a fan of non-linear storytelling for the sake of it, however, beginning with Versace’s murder and then flashing backwards revealing, episode by episode, the sad demise of each of his victims made for absorbing viewing. Darren Criss as Cunanan is absolutely brilliant. His performance of the fantasist murderer is equally scary, embarrassing and darkly funny at times.
Evoking the characterisation of Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman, Criss nails the confidence and desperation of a very conflicted person. His Cunanan is not just a straightforward psycho but a rather complex loner with delusions of grandeur. The reveal in the later episodes that go some way to explain Cunanan’s psychosis are especially chilling. The show is also very honest about Cunanan’s sexuality. Via Cunanan’s, and other characters’ experience, the representation of gay men in America is illustrated in a fascinating way. Finn Wittrock, Mike Farrell, and Cody Fern, who portray three of Cunanan’s victims, are very empathetic as they battle the prejudices and expectations of gay men in society. It is a tragedy their lives, and others including Versace, were so violently ended at Cunanan’s hands.
Overall, I was extremely absorbed by The Assassination of Gianni Versace. While not as grandstanding as The People Versus O.J. Simpson (2016), this character drama both shocked and stunned in equal measure; thanks to an excellent script and Criss’ haunting acting performance. Also, kudos goes to show-runner Ryan Murphy. This uber-producer is best known for creating/co-creating/producing a number of successful television series, including the FX medical drama Nip/Tuck (2003–10), the Fox musical comedy-drama Glee (2009–15), the FX anthology series American Horror Story (2011–present); Feud (2017–present); and with this latest season of American Crime Story (2016–present) he has overseen another memorable televisual experience.
There are so many films released at the cinema each year that it’s impossible to catch them all. Unfortunately, for me, and billions across the world that damned thing called employment gets in the way. Nonetheless, there are many other avenues to catch up with movies and SKY CINEMA is one such route. So, here are some reviews of films I have caught up with recently on SKY, with the usual marks out of eleven.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
AFTER THE STORM (2016)
This Japanese family drama is slow moving but quietly unfolds in a compelling fashion. Former prize-winning novelist, Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), is a gambling addict “researching” his next book and making ends meet with private detective work. He tries to become a better son and father but his hereditary flaws and addiction haunt him. That’s about it for Hirokazu Kore-eda’s character drama which features some excellent dialogue and a wonderful acting performance from Ryota’s mother, portrayed by Kirin Kiki. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
ATOMIC BLONDE (2017)
Charlize Theron portrays a sullen yet kick-ass spy in this style-over-substance-action-thriller. Directed by David Leitch, who also helmed John Wick 2 (2016), rather amusingly doesn’t even have the depth of Keanu Reeves’ B-movie-assassin-classics. Adapted from the comic book novel The Coldest City (2012) and set in late 1980s Berlin, it uses the unstable politics of the time loosely as a means to hang a slender narrative on. This essentially is all rocking soundtrack, kinetic action, and sexy fighting with NO story. Theron and co-star James McAvoy do their best with the spy McGuffins but it’s main redeeming feature is a barnstorming “one-take” fight scene in the middle of the film. Now THAT rocks! (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017)
Charlize Theron pops up again in eighth film of the franchise, this time as cyber-baddie hell-bent on doing something bad for some heinous reason. Anyway, her fiendish plot is just an excuse to blow up cars, planes, jails, roads, buildings, and submarines in the usual explosive fashion. Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and the rest of the team (minus Paul Walker R.I.P) are all back trying to stop her. There’s something both obscene and incredibly satisfying witnessing stunts and action this over-the-top! I mean the carnage present in the final-submarine-versus-vehicle-set-piece is absolutely breath-taking and its worth watching the film for that alone. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
Since her striking performance in Mike Leigh’s excellent character piece Happy Go Lucky (2008), Sally Hawkins has been carving out quite the number of brilliant acting roles. Perhaps overshadowed by the success of the big budget monster/love story The Shape of Water (2017), the low-budget Maudie features another stunning Hawkins turn. She is quietly powerful in the role of Nova Scotia painter Maud Dowling. Maud came to mild prominence for her painting in the late 1960s and became somewhat of a cult treasure. Hawkins and Ethan Hawke steal the acting honours as the unlikely husband and wife, as Aisling Walsh directs a fine tribute to a small woman with a massive artistic talent. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
SHOT CALLER (2017)
This is a hard-boiled and brutal crime thriller which moves very slowly but with highly confident direction. Ric Roman Waugh has marshalled a very decent B-movie with Game of Thrones Nikolaj Coster-Waldaj excelling in the muscular lead role. He portrays a banker sent down for manslaughter who suddenly finds himself at the mercy of white supremacist gangs. Rather than lay down and get screwed he jumps straight in and sets in motion a gruesome set of events. Jon Bernthal pops up as a hard-piped criminal while Lake Bell is excellent as the anti-hero’s long-suffering wife. You need some patience but ultimately the ending pays off in an enjoyable, if incredibly contrived, finale. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
ROUGH NIGHT (2017)
This ridiculous over-the-top mixture of sex, crime and comedy rips off Very Bad Things (1998) and The Hangover (2009), with a smattering of Weekend at Bernie’s (1989). Having said that I really enjoyed it despite the incredibly broad comedy and implausible nature of the plot which takes five buddies on a Bachelorette party and throws a dead hooker into the mix. Zoe Kravitz, Scarlet Johannsson, Kate McKinnon, Illana Glazer and Jillian Bell, while slumming it in this often-filthy material, commit to their roles with ludicrous abandon. While very derivative I couldn’t help but laugh on several occasions, most notably at Ty Burrell and Demi Moore as the lascivious “sex-people” neighbours. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
Starring: Ellie Kendrick, David Troughton, Jack Holden
Music by: Hutch Demouilpied
Cinematography: Nanu Segal
I grew up watching visions of the English countryside as represented by television shows such as H.E. Bates’ The Darling Buds of May and James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. With such rural narratives you were never far from a beautiful landscapes, wonderfully sunny skies and country folk working together, on the main, as a community. Hope Dickson Leach’s independent British drama is an altogether different beast. It’s a muddy, grieving, bloody and filth-ridden exploration of how tough family and farming existence is.
Featuring some fantastic performances from Ellie Kendrick and David Troughton the story is very simple. Clover (Kendrick) returns from Veterinary College following the sudden death of her brother. While her father is steadily drinking himself to death, she tries to make sense of her sibling’s apparent suicide. Her father, an army man and farmer is living in a caravan next to the battered family home. The farm business is sliding to bankruptcy and their home has been rotting since the Somerset floods a couple of years before. All round their property and livestock are threatened by damp, disease and death. In short: this is NOT The Darling Buds of May.
Ellie Kendrick, who I recognised from several TV shows including Game of Thrones, absolutely owns the character of Clover. She is seen as weak and unreliable by her father but is in fact an intelligent and resilient character who is prepared to work hard and dig deep for some respect. The plot itself reminded me a lot of the Michael Caine gangster classic Get Carter (1971); accept with a female lead and more cows. As Clover attempts to steady the fortune of the farm, caused in part to mis-management by her father and brother, she also turns detective, stealthily delving into circumstances relating to her brother’s death.
Overall, Hope Dickson Leach has made a really touching personal story of grief. This is a very emotional story about a family torn apart by death on personal and financial levels. I don’t know much about farming life, but while it may be idealized in certain books and films the reality is much tougher. Animals, while commodities are often culled because of disease and farmers are at the mercy of the weather. Moreover, it would appear to be much tougher for women too progress in a male-dominated world which favours sons over daughters. What the film ultimately shows too, in many brilliantly acted and directed scenes, is we must transcend our differences and work together as one – as family – in order to survive.
I’M DYING UP HERE (2017) – S1 – SHOWTIME TV REVIEW
Created by: David Flebotte
Based on: I’m Dying Up Here by William Knoedelseder
Starring: Melissa Leo, Ari Graynor, Clark Duke, Michael Angarano, Andrew Santino, Stephen Guarino, Erik Griffin, RJ Cyler, Al Madrigal, Jake Lacy
Network: Showtime US / Sky Atlantic UK
As well viewing loads of films I also block out the horrors of the world by watching lots of television too. With cable, digital, internet and terrestrial channels to choose from you will find some gems to stop you thinking about the end of the world; UNLESS, of course, it’s a show about the end of the world. Anyway, as the war-mongering governments plot and false flag and generate fear and murder innocents all around the world, comedy, as they say, can sometimes provide the best medicine.
Showtime’s1970s based comedy-drama is set in Los Angeles. It features an ensemble cast of wannabe comedians at various stages of their careers, which congregate at Goldie’s Comedy Club. Melissa Leo plays the tough-edged business woman running the show who can make a comic’s career by getting them on the Johnny Carson show. Because of economics and the desperate comedians’ desire for fame the acts will work as open spots until they get a break. Leo anchors the show with a ballsy performance, yet beneath her hard exterior there is much pain and vulnerability in her character. She fights and scratches and bites to stay ahead of her rivals as she’s consistently undermined by the sexist and patriarchy dominated show business ‘system.’
The rest of the cast consists of an assortment of character actors, actual stand-up comedians and up-and-coming actors including: Ari Graynor, Jake Lucy, Andrew Santino, Al Madrigal, Clark Duke, Michael Angarano and RJ Cyler. Ari Graynor, as the Texan comedian fighting her way up in a male-dominated world; and, young, black comedian RJ Cyler especially stood out. I have seen Cyler in a number of shows and films now and I think he is a bona fide star in the making. The double act sparring of Clark Duke and Michael Angarano are also hilarious too as the lively, aspiring acts from out of town, so broke they have to rent a closet to live in.
The era, costumes and smoky settings of comedy clubs are fantastically evoked as is the characterisation of the comedians’ struggle. I mean these are intrinsically narcissistic individuals striving for fortune and fame yet many of them are self-hating, low-esteemed and bitter people just searching for a moment of adoration through the audiences’ laughter. Many of the characters are also deeply flawed and actually unlikeable, notably Andrew Santino’s Bill Hobbs. Moreover, while creating a sense of community with each other the comedians are also fiercely competitive and much humour is driven by their cutting barbs and scathing comments toward each other. Childish tit-for-tat battles rage too when things heat over between the acts; either because they have bombed or because they have been stitched up by another act. Lastly, the socio-politics of the era provide excellent subtext and much of the drama derives from: sexual politics; alcohol and drug addiction; comedy club rivalry; joke-theft; heckler-battles; career and actual suicide; race relations; the Vietnam War; and every day existential crises.
Overall, I’m Dying Up Here may not be for everyone but it was brilliant viewing for me. I love stand-up comedy and I love television drama. I also thought the writing, direction, acting, performances, soundtrack and production design were excellent. The show’s strength is in the ability to balance drama and adult-based humour over ten fascinating episodes. It reminded me, most of all, of an extended series of the film Boogie Nights (1997) and the work of Robert Altman. Finally, I myself have written and performed stand-up comedy and, while there’s been little financial or cultural success, I have absolutely loved my time on stage. As a creative pursuit it can be both exhilarating when it goes well and completely devastating when you ‘die’ and NO ONE laughs. But hey, death on stage is far more palatable than the apocalypse! Indeed, it’s NOT THE END OF THE WORLD!