NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020)
Directed by: Antonio Campos
Produced by: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker, Randall Poster, Max Born
Screenplay by: Antonio Campos, Paulo Campos
Based on: The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
Cast: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, Harry Melling, etc.
Narrated by: Donald Ray Pollock
Music by: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
Cinematography: Lol Crawley
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
Netflix’s latest major film release is a literary adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s psychological thriller, The Devil All the Time (2020). One has to believe it is a pretty faithful adaptation because the novelist himself narrates the tale to us via voiceover. Set in the years after World War II, the grim events unfold in the states of Ohio and West Virginia, respectively. While the action is not located in the deep South, the story has many of the tropes synonymous with the Southern Gothic genre, notably: religious fanaticism, explicit sexuality, flawed characters, sickening violence, poverty and human alienation.
The film, directed by Antonio Campos — who helmed the under-rated character study, Christine (2016) — starts extremely purposefully. Returning soldier, Miller Jones (Bill Skarsgard), meets a waitress on his bus journey home and eventually marries her. Both Skarsgard and Hayley Bennett, portraying his wife, inhabit empathetic characters working hard to bring up their son and saving for their own place. Jones, however, is haunted by a traumatic incident in the Pacific, and strives for solace in God and family. Indeed, the corrupt force of religious mania spreads like a cancer throughout The Devil All the Time (2020), becoming a constant threat and reason for many of the characters downfall.
Just as I was connecting with Jones’ life and becoming absorbed by Bill Skarsgard’s commanding performance, tragedy strikes and the narrative takes one of several jarring switches between characters. As such the film does not really have a strong plot, meandering from one character to another witnessing all manner of horrific events fate throws at them. Because, let’s be honest, The Devil All the Time (2020), is no way close to being a feelgood film. In fact, it revels in representing the evil acts of so-called human beings. Thus, throughout I felt a constant sense of dread and anxiety. Barely had Skarsgard misery ended and we are then introduced to the tragedies of characters portrayed by Harry Melling and Mia Wasikowska. Simultaneously, Jason Clarke and Riley Keough join the fray as two violent and sex-driven thrill-seekers. Yet, they are weakly written characters who again drive the mood of the film into pitch blackness.
The film gathers some strength and momentum n the middle act when Tom Holland’s son of Miller Jones comes of age. By focussing on his story we get more drama and emotion, especially where his relationship with his step-sister (Eliza Scanlan) is concerned. Holland gives an excellent performance as the young man attempting to make his way in this filthy and ungodly world. Similarly, Robert Pattinson’s oily Preacher oozes repugnant charm in another sterling piece of acting work. Alas, Sebastian Stan’s Sheriff and Douglas Hodge’s rural gangster are given short shrift in another crime subplot which goes nowhere.
Overall, Antonio Campos delivers an extremely solid thriller from an acting and thematic standpoint. Unfortunately, the fragmented screenplay should arguably have been given a more committed plotline. Of course, it has most likely shadowed the structure of the source novel so therein lies the rub. Having said that, despite the structural shortcomings, there are many shocking and violent set-pieces to satisfy horror fans. Ultimately though, The Devil All the Time (2020) lacks redemption, catharsis and even some decent suspense. By the end we are given few characters to care about and delivered the pessimistic vision that life is a belt of misery. Even a suggestion of sugar helps the poison go down and this film offers very little in the way of sweetness or light.
Written by: Sally Rooney, Alice Birch, Mark O’Rowe
Based on: Normal People by Sally Rooney
Executive producer(s): Ed Guiney, Andrew Lowe, Emma Norton, Anna Ferguson, Sally Rooney, Lenny Abrahamson
Producer: Catherine Magee
Cast: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Paul Mescal, Sarah Greene, Aislin McGuckin, India Mullen, Fionn O’Shea, Eanna Hardwicke, Leah McNamara, Frank Blake, Niamh Lynch, Kwaku Fortune, Desmond Eastwood, etc.
Cinematography: Suzie Lavelle, Kate McCullough
Original Network: BBC Studios, Hulu
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
“The course of true love never did run smooth. . .” – William Shakespeare
Love is a multi-faceted concept open to a myriad of philosophical, medical, emotional and intellectual interpretations. Conversely, an eternal question in our society still remains: what is love? Is it the joining together of two people forever committed to a relationship built on respect and trust? Or is it the emotion you feel for a family member or person you have bonded with over time? Is it nature’s way of tricking us into the act of pro-creation? Perhaps it’s an abstract and emotional concept created by a higher power to ensure we act positively? For some it could be a dark force which enlivens obsession and stalking and violence or maybe it’s a marketing delusion forced upon us by greedy advertisers, florists and chocolate vendors? Is it all of the above?
Studies by Helen Fisher of Rutgers University propose that we fall in love in three stages involving a different set of chemicals. They are: lust, attraction and attachment. Indeed, the events occurring in our mind when we fall in love are akin to mental illness. Chemicals such as: testosterone, oestrogen, dopamine, serotonin all conflict and combine to change our emotions when we’re attracted to someone. Further studies show that when choosing a partner we are at the mercy of our subconscious and inner sexual desires as proffered in psychoanalytical studies.
Love, lust and sexual desire are a big part of everybody’s lives whether they are positive or negative; indeed, the continuance of the species is very much reliant on them. Moreover, love or the lack of love has provided the springboard for millions of stories, films, plays, songs, poems, slogans, TV shows, comedies and adverts! The latest excellent love story I watched was the BBC/Hulu production calledNormal People (2020). Over twelve episodes we were introduced and lured into the sweet and dark hearts of two Irish teenagers called Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones). They meet, fall in lust, have loads of sex, fall in love, generally fall out with each, fight further, go to University, go abroad, grow up, fall down and then fall back in love with each with other, and so on.
Based on Sally Rooney’s extremely successful novel of the same name, the story events begin at a Sligo Secondary school. Connell is quietly spoken and from a single parent upbringing. But he is very popular with his peers, close to the top of his class and exhibits much sporting prowess. Marianne’s family is wealthier than Connell’s. In fact, the latter’s mum, Lorraine (Sarah Greene) cleans house for Marianne’s mother. The Sheridan household is not a happy one though due to a tragedy which occurred to the father. This causes Marianne to be very angry, self-loathing and outspoken. Because of this she is somewhat of an outsider at home and school. For some unknown reason Marianne’s brother and mother are very cold toward her. Yet, despite the turmoil and class difference, Connell and Marianne share a mutual attraction, which soon becomes a sexual relationship.
As aforementioned, the path of love is not smooth as the first obstacle to the relationship comes from Connell’s paralysing fear of what his school friends think. He is a complex soul and does not have the bravery to share his true feelings to the world. Marianne becomes a secret, and this angers her, causing a major rift between the two young lovers. I won’t give any further plot details away, but it is safe to say that this is not your average romantic comedy or drama. The story beats of the romance genre are present, yet delivered in a sombre, delicate and under-the-surface style. This is not surprising given the first six episodes are subtly directed by Lenny Abrahamson, a filmmaker who has a number of wonderful character-driven films to his credit.
With confident direction, acting and a serene soundtrack, Normal People (2020) is a consistently absorbing and emotional rollercoaster. What I would say it though it often feels as if you’re watching events unfold in extreme slow motion. This isn’t a criticism though, because in the stillness of the performances, the dwelling of the camera on the character’s faces and length of shots, we’re allowed the time to breathe in the joy and pain of this complicated romance. The two lead actors Phil Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones are both incredibly well cast. They have exquisite chemistry together in both their passionate sex scenes and when they just simply exist and talk and look and love and hurt together. One may gripe that the drama could have been achieved with a tad more pace and just a few less episodes. However, if you are looking for a truthful representation of young love, with all its angst, kinks, self-loathing, insecurities and exasperating undulations, then Normal People (2020) is definitely a worthwhile experience.
Main Cast: Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman, J. B. Smoove, Ted Danson, Richard Lewis, Vince Vaughan, Kaitlin Olson etc.
Guests: Mila Kunis, Clive Owen, Laverne Cox, Chris Martin, Sean Penn, Jonah Hill, Jon Hamm, Philip Rosenthaland many more.
Distribution Platform: HBO (USA) – SKY (UK)
**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**
“AH! INTERESTING. . . “
During a lengthy hiatus from 2011 to 2017, fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm were left bereft of their dose of Larry David’s inimitable and eccentric behaviour. The multi-millionaire writer of Seinfeld had carved out a wonderfully politically incorrect comedy series, full of misunderstanding, farce and hilariously embarrassing situations. Thankfully, he returned with season 9, and it was absolutely brilliant. Larry managed to get himself a death sentence, having written a musical called Fatwa, along with all manner of other comedic shenanigans. Season 10 has now followed and, once again, anti-heroic Larry delivers ten more fantastically offensive and funny episodes. More often than not we find his behaviour abhorrent as he goes about upsetting friends, family members, celebrities, and strangers on a daily basis. However, sometimes we are with Larry and his actions have merit and reason. Furthermore, due to the wonderful writing, improvising, cast and situations the humour is always more than pretty, pretty good!
NARRATIVE ARC (OF THE COVENANT)
Usually, Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes can stand alone due to the richness of the narrative strands Larry David and his writers create. But most seasons will have a very solid narrative arc running through it to provide looping rejoinders, a structural spine and a fitting conclusion. In season 10, there were echoes of storylines from prior seasons. Larry wanted to get back with Cheryl and they even committed divorced adultery, cuckolding Ted Danson in the process. However, the main arc revolved around the return of coffee store owner, Mocha Joe (Saverio Guerra). Larry pisses Mocha Joe off because he complains about “cold” coffee, wobbly tables and weak scones. Following Larry’s customary banishing he swears revenge on Mocha Joe. This takes the form of the wonderfully named ‘spite store’ he sets up next door. Thus, Latte Larry’s is born, and ten episodes of fast-paced, tit-for-tat, vengeful and hilarious scenes ensue.
“THE GOLDEN RULE” – STYLE AND THEMES
Curb Your Enthusiasm is not just funny because of the situations, dialogue, observations, guest stars and acting performances. It is also very sophisticated and stupid, combining a variety of comedy styles to fuel the humour. Earlier seasons could be argued to be more based in reality per se. The interactions between the characters felt more natural, in keeping with the pilot episode which was shot as a mockumentary about Larry returning to stand-up. Later seasons, especially seasons 9 and 10, upped the gag rate and one could even say felt slicker. Don’t get me wrong, the jokes have always come thick and fast in Curb Your Enthusiasm, but in the last two seasons there is not only a reliance on the usual comedy of embarrassment, observations and satire, but farce, slapstick and gross-out humour too have been added to the palette. Lastly, the show has always skated close to the edge in regard to non-PC humour and causing offence. Evidently, Larry David has now fully thrown himself over that edge and is happy to offend everyone in a two-fingered salute to so-called snowflakes or liberals out there.
In regard to thematics, Larry David clearly has his finger on the pulse relating to contemporary society, politics and human behaviour. Much of the humour and funny scenarios derive from what is acceptable behaviour and certain “rules” within everyday living. In season 10, Larry finds himself questioning, among other things: the behaviour of a pregnant woman; the merits of artificial fruit; what is and what isn’t’ sufficient praise; usage of disable parking badges; whether he should be in a restaurant’s ‘ugly section’; whether sex with Cheryl’s sister is post-relationship cheating; and the overall benefits of running a spite store. These elements, the running feuds with Ted Danson, Mocha Joe and Larry’s assistant, Alice, and themes relating to the Harvey Weinstein scandal and #MeToo movement; Larry and Leon’s continued chats about the nature of being black/white; Donald Trump’s presidency; fat shaming; suicide; Susie’s alleged plot to murder Jeff; nationalist ridicule; egotistic actor types; and transgender issues, all connectedly make this season a very rich product, full of ideas and challenging storylines.
“PRETTY GOOD. . . ” – EPISODE RATINGS
Episode 1 – Happy New Year – (8.5 out of 10)
Larry goes to war with Mocha Joe and reignites his romance with Cheryl. His relationship with his assistant also descends into accusations of sexual harassment.
Highlight: Larry wearing his Donald Trump, “Make America Great Again!”and ensuring no one wants to be seen with him.
Episode 2 – Side Sitting – (8.5 out of 10)
Larry’s relationship with his assistant, Alice, is possibly going to court unless he settles and makes amends. His attempts to get back with Cheryl are rebuked, so he dates his lawyer’s assistant.
Highlight: Larry gives Susie a portrait of herself as a birthday present. She loves it – but Jeff doesn’t.
Episode 3 – Artificial Fruit – (9 out of 10)
Larry’s donation to a charity fails to bring forward redemption when he refuses to hug Laverne Cox at an event, because she has a cold. Meanwhile, Richard and Larry argue over who is paying a lunch bill, leading to a very embarrassing escapade at a Spanish funeral.
Highlights: Larry is unsure if the Heimlich manoeuvre is appropriate when his assistant is choking. Plus, Larry’s doodle debate with Christine Lahti blows up into a serious disagreement.
Episode 4 – You’re not going to get me to say anything bad About! – (9 out of 10)
Larry, Donna (his new girlfriend), Cheryl, Jeff, Susie and Leon go to Cabo San Lucas for a friend’s wedding. Larry becomes fixated with Donna’s yo-yo dieting, but he and Leon do find some incredible coffee beans for Latte Larry’s.
Highlight: Larry’s determination to locate a toothbrush descends into a farcical conclusion. Later, at the wedding, Ted discovers Larry and Cheryl’s infidelity in a hilarious fashion.
Episode 5 – Insufficient Praise! – (9 out of 10)
Preparations for Latte Larry’s gather pace as Larry asks for a specific urinal type. Larry also gets a new housekeeper and is given a sex doll by Freddy Funkhouser. Meanwhile, Larry clashes with actor Clive Owen and Richard Lewis’ new girlfriend; a professional “crier”.
Highlights: Larry’s frantic battle with the sex doll resulting in his housekeeper and Cheryl catching him. Also, Clive Owen’s brilliantly pretentious send-up of narcissistic acting types.
Episode 6 – The Surprise Party! – (8.5 out of 10)
Larry meets a German inventor who has an anti-Semitic Alsatian called Adolf, and he gains joy from the use of a disabled parking badge. He also clashes with Susie over the surprise party she intends to throw for Jeff.
Highlight: Despite not having an appointment, Larry uses his cardiologist’s reception area to wait, because it’s a “waiting room”.
Episode 7 – The Ugly Section! – (9.5 out of 10)
Larry consistently keeps getting placed in the “ugly section” at the back of a restaurant. Simultaneously, he attempts to woo the widow of his friend who recently committed suicide.
Highlights: Larry asking Jane Krakowski’s character where she got the handles for her husband’s coffin. Later, Larry ruins a possible sexual liaison with her by arguing about the New York Jets. Lastly, Larry insults Susie as she should be in the restaurant “ugly section”.
Episode 8 – Elizabeth, Margaret and Larry! – (10 out of 10)
Actor, Jon Hamm, shadows Larry as he prepares to play a character like him in a film. Larry and Leon start a new business venture which initially proves profitable. Cheryl is angered when Larry spontaneously begins a relationship with her sister, Becky.
Highlights: Jon Hamm slowly turning into Larry throughout the episode, culminating in them both being ejected from a dinner party. Also, Kaitlin Olson returning as Becky and the surprising sex with Larry.
Episode 9 – Beep Panic! – (9 out of 10)
Larry strikes up a friendship with a waitress that dripped sweat into his soup. He also becomes obsessed with the liqorice at his car showroom. Meanwhile, Mocha Joe plots his own revenge using DVD film screeners.
Highlights: Leon and Larry succumb to the severe laxative effect of the liqorice in a silly bit of toilet humour.
Episode 10 – The Spite Store! – (10 out of 10)
Latte Larry’s is well and truly open, and it inspires other celebrities to open similar spite stores. Larry is irked by siren abusers and gives a job to Joey Funkhouser, but his big penis causes the store no end of issues.
Highlights: Sean Penn’s opening a spite-driven pet store. All Larry’s innovations at the coffee store ultimately lead to a very explosive downfall.
“NO GOOD?” – CONCLUSION
In preparing for this review I rewatched season 9 and watched season 10 twice. So, it’s obvious to say that I love, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Overall, I found the latest season to be a wonderful mix of old-fashioned slapstick and farce, combined with Larry David’s original and skewed vision of humanity. What was also impressive was the structural coherence of juggling so many comedy plots and situations. Plus, Larry behaves appallingly, and this is very appealing in an ever-increasingly politically correct world. Many times, throughout the season Larry is shown to be a provocative arsehole, but on occasions he very much has a valid point. Larry’s issues are very much first world problems, but because of the skilled writing and consistently high joke rate I related greatly to this season. Plus, Larry doesn’t win. His spiteful plotting and perpetual disagreements with those around him mostly fail. Indeed, ultimately, the joke is always on him.
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA – SEASON 14 REVIEW
Created by: Rob McElhenney
Developed by: Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton
Writers:Charlie Day, David Hornsby, Megan Ganz, John Howell Harris, Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, Dannah Phirman, Danielle Schneider, Conor Galvin, etc.
Directors: Glenn Howerton, Heath Cullens, Pete Chatmon, Tim Roche, Kimberly McCullough
Charlie Day as Charlie Kelly Glenn Howerton as Dennis Reynolds Rob McElhenny as Mac Kaitlin Olson as Dee Reynolds Danny DeVito as Frank Reynolds Mary Elizabeth Ellis as The Waitress David Hornsby as Cricket Dolph Lundgren as Thundergun
*****MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS, BITCHES!*****
I’ve written about the scurrilous comedy show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia at length here and here and reviewed Season 13 here. It is genuinely one of my favourite TV shows of all time. Moreover, it is always one of the cultural highlights of my year when a new season is released by FX/Netflix. This is the fourteenth season of the show, which now means it is one of the longest running live action comedy sitcoms in the U.S. It’s basically one of the main reasons I carry on living.
If you haven’t seen It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – THEN WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU! No, seriously, it is one of the darkest, funniest and absurd shows I ever seen. It is the Anti-Christ of sitcoms and a twisted anathema to the Friends template. It concerns five narcissistic individuals who run a bar in Philadelphia called Paddy’s, and each episode tracks their weird and wonderful antics. It may not sound like it, but it is comedy gold.
Further, it’s also pretty smart in satirising zeitgeist issues relating to race, gender, politics, friendships, sport, addiction, crime, feminism and sexuality. It is quite often shocking but not just for shock’s sake, because there is a streak of intelligence running throughout the show. Season 13 felt mildly broken because Glenn Howerton seemed to have left, it still had some classic episodes like The Gang Beats Boggs: Ladies Reboot, The Gang Escapes, Mac Finds His Pride and The Gang gets New Wheels. Having said that the Dennis-shaped hole was mostly filled with Glenn Howerton appearing as Dennis in many episodes during last season. This year Howerton is back with in every episode; and he even directed a couple too.
The season opens strongly with the episode The Gang gets Romantic, which essentially involves Dennis and Mac using the Air BNB model to trap an unsuspecting woman in their flat. Frank and Charlie do the same but in a way less sophisticated fashion. Safe to say their creepy plots go badly in very unromantic and different ways. Frank and Charlie at least find some bromance with some European male counterparts, having kicked out some junkie Euro skanks. Episode 2, Thundergun 4: Maximum Cool, then found the Gang in a focus group situation. Here they tore into what they perceived to be political correctness gone mad, diverse Hollywood reboots, a lack of male nudity and the expensiveness of the cinema experience. It’s always chaotic and hilarious when they come into contact with outside agencies; and so it proves to be!
The 3rd and 4th episodes, Dee Dayand The Gang Chokes were full of crazy situations. In both episodes Kaitlin Olsen is on particularly great form, as is Danny DeVito in The Gang Chokes. It’s hilarious when he chokes at the dinner table and no one jumps in to help him, forcing him to shun the group and pay back the person who saved his life. The next episode The Gang Texts is one of the highlights of the season. The Gang visit the zoo, but get a text group started to stay in touch. Mac and Dee struggle to retain control amidst the communication problems. While Dennis wants to see a lion feast on flesh, Frank tries to rile the Gorillas by teasing them with bananas. Ultimately, this episode contains the message that it’s best to live in the moment and not on your phone. That and Mac gets pissed on a lot by the others.
The Janitor Always Mops Twice was a hilarious pastiche of film noir genre films. Here Charlie is the private dick investigating a devious cherry racket. Once again Kaitlin Olsen is hilarious as Dee and Mary Elizabeth Ellis appears as a seductive femme fatale who suspiciously looks like the Waitress. The script zings along and there are many classic moments, notably when Charlie mixes cat food in his whisky. In The Gang Solves Global Warming, Paddy Has a Jumper and A Woman’s Right to Chop the series satirises some serious issues with the usual anarchic results. Climate change, suicide, streaming algorithms and abortion are important matters affecting society, but the Gang doesn’t get bogged down too much with the messages. Instead they explore and irreverently barb humanity. The Gang Solves Global Warming was particularly funny as the bar became a microcosm for Earth. A massive party ensues and as the heat rises no one wants to stop the partying even for a second.
The final episode called Waiting for Big Mo is set in a Laser Quest establishment as writer, David Hornsby, cleverly turns it into a curiously florescent parody of Beckett’s seminal play, Waiting for Godot. The Gang are essentially controlled by Dennis who is obsessively sticking to his plan of winning the game. Mac, Charlie, Dee and Frank just want to have fun and play like children. The show examines existential philosophies amidst some hilarious exchanges between the characters, including Charlie not knowing the difference between riddles and jokes. Ultimately, it was a fun, daft, and at times, intelligent end to a very satisfying season of one of the greatest comedy shows of all time.
Series Producers: Mark Herbert, Derrin Schlesinger, Rebekah Wray-Rogers
Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Stephen Graham, Andrew Shim, Stephen Graham, Andrew Ellis, Rosamund Hanson, Danielle James, Kriss Dosanjh, Chanel Cresswell, Johnny Harris, Michael Socha, George Newton, Jo Hartley, Katherine Dow Blyton, Stacey Sampson etc.
Cinematography: Danny Cohen
Music by: Ludovico Einaudi
Shane Meadows’ Midlands-based drama classic continued two-and-a-half years after the tragic events of its predecessor, This is England ’86 (2010). While obviously harking back to the late 1980’s and infused with nostalgia, it is arguably even darker and keenly focused than the previous series. Dealing mainly with the aftermath of Lol (Vicky McClure) and Woody’s (Joe Gilgun) relationship breakdown, it also explores Shaun’s (Thomas Turgoose) misadventures attending drama school.
While there is a lot of humorous situations in these three episodes, Meadows and co-writer Jack Thorne essentially structure around Lol’s heart of darkness descent into depression. They present a devastating character study as she struggles with single parenthood following her self-destructive affair with Milky (Andrew Shim) and subsequent split from Woody. Lol is crushed with guilt over this and her father’s death; an act she committed in self-defence and Combo (Stephen Graham) took the blame for.
Vicky McClure as Lol gives a devastating performance. She wears her grief as a second skin, with the weight of her world pushing her deeper and deeper into the mire. Moreover, as Lol confronts her difficult life choices head on, she is literally haunted by the ghost of her father. Meadows and McClure deserve such praise for presenting depression and the disintegration of a characters’ mind so convincingly and sensitively. Lol is a lost soul and her story felt so real to me when watching.
Woody, on the other hand, is living with a new girlfriend, Jennifer, at his parents. Things are going well for him on the surface but you feel he’s lost without Lol. Indeed, Lol and Woody are one of television’s iconic couples. It’s strange not seeing them together. Joe Gilgun’s performance as Woody is excellent too. It’s clear he’s putting on a brave face and using humour to direct his pain. However, heartache is never too far away from his crooked smile.
Meanwhile, Shaun’s excursion into six-form acting provides some light relief but also personal trauma. It’s very funny when the gang, high on speed, almost ruin his opening night with constant laughter. To be honest the play is pretty awful so I don’t blame them. Furthermore, Shaun’s hormones are bouncing round like a squash ball, as he finds himself attracted to one of girls in the class. The scene where he’s caught with his trousers down by girlfriend Smell is both funny and sad. Quirky actress Rosamund Hanson, in her role as Smell/Michelle, impresses with a mix of punk and hysterical rage here.
Yet, the main theme of the narrative is one of overcoming loss through community and togetherness. While Woody eventually confronts the gang and more specifically Milky over perceived treachery, Lol sinks deeper into a downward spiral. Here Shane Meadows is able to present isolation and loneliness very powerfully. Indeed, the series captures raw and human emotions in a very convincing way. Through these characters we experience trauma and tragedy but through love and unity we also find hope.
Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter etc.
Music: The Haxen Cloak
Cinematography: Pawel Pogorzelski
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Midsommar (2019), is ultra-talented filmmaker Ari Aster’s second feature film. His first Hereditary (2018), was two-thirds domestic horror masterpiece and one-third insane, symbolic, nonsensical and demonic denouement. Both films have a lot in common. Both have communes or cults at the centre led by strong matriarchal figures. Both find seemingly innocent characters suffering from grief being lured to a fateful demise. Both have incredibly rich visual systems full of striking imagery, sudden violence and mythological folklore. Both, especially Midsommar (2019), are overlong, pretentious and indulgent B-movie stories masquerading as art.
I have to say, and I am not coming from simply a mainstream perspective, Ari Aster is a film artist. However, unlike many great film artists he has, in my opinion, not managed to marry his vision with coherent and emotionally powerful storytelling. Midsommar, for example, takes an age to kick its narrative into gear and when it finally gets started it drags and drags and drags. How many long, drifting tracking master shots can you abide? How many drawn-out-so-pleased-with-myself takes do you have the patience for? Well, get a strong coffee because when the story cries out for pace, Aster puts the brakes on, marvelling in his own indulgent genius. I might add that a plethora of characters screaming and crying does not make good drama either, unless there is sufficient context.
The narrative is very simple. In a nutshell, it’s Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) meets British horror classic The Wicker Man (1973). Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter are college students who take a summer break to experience a communal pageant in rural Sweden. While they are PHD students they are not particularly intelligent given the choices they make later in the film.
Moreover, aside from Pugh’s grief-stricken Dani, the script doesn’t particularly imbue them with much in the way of empathetic characterisation. Indeed, the film relies on Pugh’s dominant performance to create emotion for our protagonists. Aside from providing some comic relief there is no actual point to Will Poulter’s character at all. Lastly, there is some absolutely terrible dialogue throughout this film too.
As the film crawls along slowly, it’s reliant on the music to inform us we’re meant to be scared. Then when the gore does kick in during a particularly shocking ritual, I was almost falling asleep. Don’t get me wrong the production design is flawless with an amazing setting and incredible concepts from Aster. The death and torture scenes are particularly memorable. However, the overall pace and rhythm of the film is so bloody slow I just did not care about anyone by the end.
I don’t mind methodical films establishing dread and psychological fear, but I think Aster has been watching too many Kubrick films. Aster seems to believe slow equals art. What Kubrick did though was usually to have characters that were engaging. They may not have been likeable, but Kubrick’s characters hit you in the heart and mind. Not since The Blair Witch Project (1999) have I wanted such dumb characters (Pugh aside) to die so painfully in a horror film. Likewise, the characters in the Swedish commune are mere ciphers of Aster’s fantasy horror and two-dimensional at best.
Visually stunning Midsommar (2019), will no doubt impress critics and other reviewers. However, at nearly two-and-a-half hours it’s an indulgent-arty-collage-of-film-masquerading-as-therapy. The ending was so loopy that the audience I was with were laughing at how ridiculous it was. Perhaps that was the filmmakers’ aim, but I’m not so sure. Yes, I get that this is meant to be allegorical and symbolic about grief and guilt and religion and a relationship break-up and fate and cultural differences. Furthermore, I get the intellectual depth of the themes on show, but Aster tortures the audience as much as his characters. Mostly, it just doesn’t take so long to tell this kind of derivative narrative, however beautiful and artistic the film is presented.
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!!
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!
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.