Tag Archives: The Cinema Fix

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #20 – KATHRYN BIGELOW

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #20 – KATHRYN BIGELOW

If there’s specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can’t change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies. It’s irrelevant who or what directed a movie, the important thing is that you either respond to it or you don’t. There should be more women directing; I think there’s just not the awareness that it’s really possible. It is.“— Kathryn Bigelow in 1990


Having most recently directed the searing period drama, Detroit (2017), Bigelow has been making feature films, since her debut, The Loveless (1981), for over thirty-nine years. With a strong academic background, having studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and Columbia University, it’s fascinating to review a career which has eschewed arthouse cinema and essentially been spent working mainly on big-budget genre films. However, one can see in her directorial canon that Bigelow, while striving for commercial success, is constantly testing the boundaries of genre storytelling.

Along with a powerful visual style that attains symbiosis with the core material, she intelligently explores themes relating to violence, individual freedom versus the system, masculinity in crisis, gender representations and socio-political corruption. Lastly, her characters are often outsiders, morally complex and dealing with deep personal trauma. In short: Bigelow’s worldview is one of both healthy scepticism and cynicism, but also an element of hope within the longing for control. So, here are five of Kathryn Bigelow’s most impactful cinematic releases.

***ARTICLE CONTAINS FILM SPOILERS***



NEAR DARK (1987)

While The Lost Boys (1987) is rightly regarded as a very entertaining 80’s vampire film, Near Dark (1987) is way, way superior. Despite not catching fire at the box office, this neo-horror-western contains a fantastic cast of James Cameron alumni, including: Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein. These great character actors inhabit this snarling gang of vampires perfectly as the film contains shockingly brutal violence and hard-bitten dialogue amidst a tender love story.



BLUE STEEL (1990)

While Jamie Lee Curtis is generally better known for her horror and comedy film performances, Kathryn Bigelow made excellent use of her dramatic acting ability as a rookie police officer caught up with Ron Silver’s psychotic commodities trader. Blue Steel (1990) is a variegated genre film which takes a standard police procedural narrative and twists it into something far more psychologically compelling. Lee Curtis excels, as does vicious bad-guy Silver, aptly named Eugene Hunt!



POINT BREAK (1991)

This classic heist meets surfing movie meets gay subtext bromance is jam-packed with classic action scenes and faux-deep philosophical musings. Keanu Reeves is the daftly named cop, Johnny Utah, who goes undercover, amidst the beach brigade to find a bunch of bank robbers. His suspicions fall on Patrick Swayze’s elemental surfer-dude-god and a dangerous “bromantic” game of cat-and-mouse ensues. Bigelow scored her first major hit with Point Break (1991), infusing it with some incredibly visceral stunt, surfing, robbery and chase sequences in an exhilarating film experience.



THE HURT LOCKER (2008)

After the box office failures of her previous three films, the under-rated sci-fi thriller, Strange Days (1995), enigmatic mystery, The Weight of Water (2000), and stodgy cold war film, K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), Bigelow’s seemingly took a career break. She would, however, come back with her most critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning film, The Hurt Locker (2008). From a brilliant script by Mark Boal and led by Jeremy Renner’s standout lead performance, The Hurt Locker (2008), put the audience right at the heart of a bomb disposal unit in Iraq. Putting aside the politics for a moment, the film is full of incredibly tense and superbly edited scenes which have your heart in your mouth. Simultaneously too, the film also shows the devastating emotional, physical and mental effect war has on the people of Iraq and the soldiers sent to fight this horrifically unjust conflict.



ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)

Whereas The Hurt Locker (2008) had highly emotional and empathetic protagonists, Bigelow and Boal’s next film Zero Dark Thirty (2012), is a much more clinical and technically efficient cinematic experience. In parts, both a war drama and espionage thriller, the story also has a feel of an old-fashioned Western as American military and CIA operatives, led by the excellent Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke, hunt down Osama Bin Laden. Politically speaking this is a film which makes me feel very uncomfortable for a number of reasons. It plays out like a revenge story. It also seems to both criticize and vindicate torture in the early scenes. This makes me uneasy as I understand the 9/11 attacks were just horrific, yet they seemed to get used as a motive for many more atrocities by the United States government. I guess that was what Bigelow and Boal were going for. They attempted to create a morally and emotionally complex war thriller that lets you interpret the events yourself and conclude one’s own judgements.



CULT FILM REVIEW – VIDEODROME (1983)

CULT FILM REVIEW – VIDEODROME (1983)

Written and directed by: David Cronenberg

Produced by: Claude Herroux, Pierre David, Victor Solnicki

Cast: James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry, Les Carlson, Jack Creley, Peter Divorsky etc.

Music: Howard Shore

***CONTAINS SPOILERS***



With the lack of cinema-going action, I am now looking at building other review ideas and articles into my blog. I have regular new release reviews, classic film reviews, great ensemble casts and under-rated film reviews. I suppose that’s enough really, but there are some films that don’t quite fit these categories and they are cult movies. How does one define a cult film? It could have been a box-office bomb or be a no-budget gem, be transgressive or have controversial subject matter. Conversely, it could be a video nasty or banned or even an ultra-arthouse film which defies classical filmmaking conventions. More importantly, I do not have to actually like the film for it to qualify as a cult film. It could be a difficult film I am evaluating or re-evaluating from a fan or academic perspective. Lastly, it could just simply be a film that is uncategorizable or so bad it’s bad or so bad it’s good.

My first review in this category is David Cronenberg’s body-horror film, Videodrome (1983). Now, it may fit the specific rules of an under-rated classic laid down in previous articles, however, Videodrome (1983) is not necessarily a film I love or believe is a classic. It is a remarkably original narrative descent into the hellish and surreal world of demented psychological snuff television. It contains amazing practical special effects by the legend Rick Baker, yet, having re-watched it last week I cannot say it’s a film one can enjoy from an entertainment perspective. Don’t get me wrong, David Cronenberg is a true auteur and genius filmmaker, it’s just Videodrome (1983) is a hallucinatory and disturbing nightmare of a film that works outside the boundaries of usual image systems and narrative conventions. Basically, it’s more a powerful set of concepts and scenarios rather than a simple and satisfying story.

The story opens with anti-heroic, Max Renn (James Woods) as president of CIVIC-TV, seeking new content for his Toronto-based TV channel. Despite Woods’ charisma as an actor he is an expert at playing dominant alpha male types who challenge the audiences’ empathy. He portrays Max with a sleazy charm hunting for, what one may consider, soft-pornographic shows for his station. He’s basically an addict looking to push the walls of taste for his sex-hungry viewers. Max then discovers a channel, via a grainy satellite feed, called Videodrome. It shows unfiltered torture and sexual aggression, and Max becomes determined to tap into that market. At the same time, he begins a sado-masochistic sexual relationship with a radio host, Nikki Brand (Deborah Harry). Soon, these two intense narrative strands entwine and threaten Max’s mind, body and very existence.



Videodrome (1983) is a highly intelligent shocker which explores the nature of television violence, notions of taste and censorship, fears of technological programming, and the mental damage caused by over-exposure to violent pornography. It is an extremely psychologically and physically graphic film to watch. Nevertheless, it is also full of incredible imagery involving on-screen murder, Renn being swallowed by his TV; and also literally transforming into a human video cassette player. While an audience may not like Max Renn as a person, his journey is one that grips with magnetic shock and disgust. As he gets ever closer to the Videodrome channel his downward spiral plays out like a demented morality story, with Max representing the journey of those audience members who lose themselves in the illusory realities of television product. As he begins to lose touch with reality, Max experiences a complete lack of control over his mind and desires, all seemingly controlled by a heinous corporation led by insidious suit, Barry Convex (Leslie Carlson).

Incredibly, David Cronenberg apparently turned down directing The Return of the Jedi (1983) to write and direct this more personal vision of cinema. Could there be two more different films? Nonetheless, while it may not be a film I can easily recommend to those of a sensitive disposition or those who like their horror to have tidy conclusions, Videodrome (1983), retains its relevance and power to this day as a shocking critique of modern media. Hence qualifying it as a cult horror film which pushes all the wrong buttons in the right way.



FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #9 – ONCE (2007)

FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #9 – ONCE (2007)

Written and directed by: John Carney

Produced by: Martina Niland

Cast: Glenn Hansard, Marketa Irglova

Original songs by: Glenn Hansard, Marketa Irglova and Interference.

Cinematography: Tim Fleming


**** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****



I am not sure why I missed this film first time around, however, it’s most likely due to prior prejudices against musical or music-based films. Yet, since I married in 2016, I have began to watch and enjoy more musicals. This is mainly due to my wife being a massive fan of musical cinema and theatre. While it’s still not necessarily my favourite genre, every now and then an utter gem of a musical will emerge. John Carney’s beautifully moving love story between a hoover repair guy and a flower-selling girl, Once (2007), is certainly one of those.

John Carney is an honest filmmaker who is attracted to outsiders and people with real emotional turmoil. They tend to be at crossroads in their lives and are struggling either with their dreams or their relationships. He also loves musicians, flaws and all. In Begin Again (2013), a washed-up musical executive, portrayed by Mark Ruffalo, meets unhappy singer-songwriter, Keira Knightley and their first-world romance is played out to bittersweet consequences. Similarly, in Sing Street (2016), a troubled teenager comes of age through his 1980’s pop band and bittersweet romance with a rebellious and equally-troubled schoolgirl. Notice a pattern? Well, this style of music, gritty city backdrops and salty romances were established in Carney’s breakout hit, Once (2007).

Made for a ridiculously low budget of around $150,000, this ultra-realistic musical contains songs that burst with love and pain from the characters of Guy (Glenn Hansard) and Girl (Marketa Irglova). The two meet and connect, but this is no conventional romance as they both have powerful emotional histories between them. It’s the beautiful music and their authentic dialogue exchanges which drive the story. Hansard’s singing and guitar playing are so powerful and moving. Their duet in the music shop of the song, Falling Slowly is a tour-de-force. I was not surprised when I saw it had won the Oscar for best original film. Overall, Once (2007) is a surprisingly brilliant no-budget feature, shot on the streets of Dublin, which deservedly became a big hit.

Mark: 9 out of 11


SIX OF THE BEST #25 – FILM PLOT-HOLES!

SIX OF THE BEST #25 – FILM PLOT-HOLES!

One of the main reasons I watch films is because I love a good story. I especially like working out the ins and outs of the plot lines too. So, it stands to reason that some films may have inconsistencies in their story or even plot holes. I would define a plot hole as a gap in the story which remains unexplained by the writer or writers. Sometimes these can spoil the film, but more often than not it can add to the enjoyment. They may in fact be known to the writers, however, they may have left it as an enigma for the audience to work out. Either that or the writers made a mistake or they could not be bothered to, or were unable to close the hole. In fact, they may be hoping we don’t notice or care.

There are so many films out there and I’m sure one could nitpick holes in most stories. Here I have picked out six of my favourites. I have chosen well known films so as to differentiate between good and just plain bad storytelling. Moreover, I have also omitted horror films where people just make stupid decisions. Likewise fantastical, surreal and dream logic narratives are avoided. Lastly, the major Marvel franchise plot hole is skimmed. You know the narrative hole that occurs in the stand alone entries. E.g. in Spiderman: Far From Home (2019), if the world is being threatened why don’t the other Avengers help poor Peter Parker? Oh, they’re conveniently busy. . . hmmm. Anyway, here are six of the best plot holes I like. If you can think of more please let me know.

***CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS***



KING KONG (1933 / 1978 / 2005) – how did they get King Kong back to New York?

This question is not always one that is brought up as an obvious plot hole. However, think about it. Kong is captured on Skull Island, but is suddenly revealed in New York. How did they manage to find a boat big enough to carry him to America? And what if he woke up? He would destroy any ship carrying him with a yawn and stretch. Plus, because we do not SEE him being transported a massive hole in the narrative occurs.


How King Kong quadrupled in size since 1933

HALLOWEEN (1978) – who taught Michael Myers how to drive?

It chills the bones when Donald Pleasance’s Dr Samuel Loomis finds on a dark evening on October 30th, the day before Halloween, his most feared patient, Michael Myers has escaped from a maximum security facility. Myers has stolen a car and sped off into the night. The big question is, given Michael was six when he committed the murder, how the hell did he learn to drive? Obviously given Myers is a manifestation of pure evil, he somehow mastered driving through psychic force.



STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) – the V’Ger probe would be coded as Voyager!

Talking of William Shatner masks, Star Trek is a wonderful science fiction television series and film franchise. It’s loved by many and given the numerous narratives involving time travel and alien species there are no doubt more plot holes in there. I mean the number of aliens who talk English and look human is quite something. However, in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), there is a major plot hole involving the “V-Ger” probe. Indeed, the entire twist of the plot centers around “V-Ger” actually being “Voyager,” as demonstrated by the corroded name plate on the probe. It seems weird though that nowhere in its programming (or anywhere else) did Voyager have its name recorded. It would be like if a label of a computer, say “Dell”, had the “D” covered up, the boot-up screen would not read, “ell” during post, it would still read, “Dell”! Thus, the plot hole is entirely illogical, Captain.



THE TERMINATOR (1984) – why not just destroy the time machine and stop Kyle Reese going back?

There are loads of plot queries in James Cameron’s classic sci-fi thriller. The one I like the most is more paradoxical than plot hole, but similarly this illustrates flaws in Skynet’s overall plan. Given Skynet and The Terminator have detailed files on everyone, why didn’t they know Kyle Reese was John Connor’s father? If so, just destroy the time machine to stop him going back. If killing Sarah Connor in the past stops John from ever being born, perhaps killing Kyle or stopping him time travelling would have the same effect.


SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) – when Andy escapes, how does he put the poster back so perfectly?

This is one plot hole I love and is in fact, given Andy Dufresne’s incredible struggle to escape, one you can certainly understand. I mean, thematically speaking, Andy is coded as a spiritual Christ-like figure throughout the film. It’s very subtle, but it is there. Thus, perhaps, he had some divine intervention during his escape. He definitely earned it. Lastly, I also love that it is literally a plot hole and Andy escaped right through it.



SIGNS (2002) – why did the Aliens raid a water-based planet when it hurt them?

While the director has had his fair share of critics, I generally enjoy most of his early films and some of the more recent ones. Signs (2002) is a fantastic sci-fi thriller with themes of faith, family and alien incursion. The major hole is the aliens have to be incredibly stupid to want to invade a planet that is 70% their biggest weakness. However, as some have pointed out, it wasn’t an invasion, but a raid to get some people. However, given people are made up of water and water is in Earth’s atmosphere, perhaps Shyamalan should have made their weakness alcohol or even actual acid. Still a very entertaining film though.



NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: EXTRACTION (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: EXTRACTION (2020)

Directed by Sam Hargrave

Produced: Antony Russo, Joe Russo, Mike Larocca, Chris Hemsworth, Eric Gitter, Peter Schwern

Screenplay by: Joe Russo – based on Ciudad by Ande Parks, Joe Russo, Fernando Leon Gonzalez

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Rudhraksh Jaiswal, Randeep Hooda, Golshifteh Farahani, Pankaj Tripathi, David Harbour, etc.

Distribution: Netflix


***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



Do you remember when action heroes used to be larger than life, filling up the screens with muscles, charisma, and wise-cracking one-liners. I am old, so I certainly do. The likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, Jean Claude Van Damme and of course, Sylvester Stallone were just some of the leading men crunching and blowing up the cinema screens. Okay, they may have been reactionary 1980s and 1990s masculine archetypes, and arguably nationalistic, sexist, militarist and incredibly over-the-top characters, but I kind of miss them. Because today’s action heroes, while equally talented at killing and delivering mayhem, are somewhat less colourful.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the technically excellent and brutally realised fight scenes and stunts of today. However, John Wick, Bryan Mills of Taken (2008), Lorraine Broughton of Atomic Blonde (2017), Jason Bourne, and now Chris Hemsworth’s mercenary, Tyler Rake in Extraction (2020), are individuals of fewer words and even less humour. I guess Jason Statham isn’t too bad, but he’s still quite serious. Lastly, while one can certainly rely on the sanitized fun of the Marvel Universe for some humour and personality within the action, it’s still not the same as a good old Arnie action flick. The more adult oriented superhero, Deadpool (2016), can be relied on for X-rated violence and constant verbal quips. But, he wears a suit and it’s just not as good as the action heroes I grew up watching. Ah, but that’s nostalgia for you.

Why the trip down memory lane, Paul? What about the kinetic and explosive action of Extraction (2020)? Yes, the well-choreographed manoeuvres are extremely exciting. They are also bone-crushingly relentless from the moment Tyler Rake enters Bangladesh to extract an imprisoned Indian gangster’s teenage son, Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal). Hemsworth and director Sam Hargrave get you in and out of hand-to-hand fights, car chases, leaps and falls from buildings, and constant gun battles with stunning brilliance throughout. The camera and editing work present virtuoso work, capped by an almost seamless eleven minute long take involving all manner of mayhem. While Ovi and Tyler kind of bond later in the film, I found myself needing more emotional or political subtext to narrative. Even John Wick (2014) created its own mythology and universe, where this relies on fast-paced movement, military tropes and lazy stereotypes. Ultimately, Extraction (2020) was like an explosive fireworks display. Great to watch while it lasted, but ultimately forgettable. Man on Fire (2004) did this story way better and with way more feeling.

Mark 7 out of 11


MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #4 – WITHNAIL

MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #4 – WITHNAIL

Written and directed by: Bruce Robinson

Produced by: Paul Heller

Cast: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Ralph Brown, Richard Griffiths


***CONTAINS SPOILERS***



“We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!” Withnail


I am not one to believe in fate, but there has to be something magical about the random moment, at the age of seventeen, I was perusing my local video shop looking for a film to rent, and the cover of low-budget, British independent character drama, Withnail and I (1987), shone amidst the variety of Hollywood produced fodder. I picked up the box and for some reason the story of two unemployed actors mooching about at the fag end of the 1960s called to me. Perhaps it was the front cover featuring the debauched and worse-for-wear looking character of Withnail which drew me in? Or was it the casting of Paul McGann as the eponymous ‘I’, an actor I recognised from excellent TV drama, The Monocled Mutineer. Whatever the reasons, I rented the film and a special bond was formed forthwith. It lasts to this day.

Firmly in my top-ten-line-for-line-best-dialogue-ever-movies, Withnail and I (1987) simply bursts with memorable spats, insults, one-liners, and speeches. Another major strength of Bruce Robinson’s elegantly profane screenplay is the relationship between permanently inebriated and cowardly ‘thespian’, Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and his buddy, ‘I’ (McGann). It is a strange friendship full of mutual disrespect, petty bickering, and envy, but by the end of the film a kindly form of love is revealed. Withnail may seem an angry man, but ultimately, he’s using that ire to hide pain, sadness, and disappointment.




“I feel like a pig shat in my head.” Withnail


Richard E. Grant is incredible as the paralytic, pathetic and cowardly Withnail, who, along with ‘I’, laments a lack of career opportunities. Such bitterness, jealousy and ranting make him hugely obnoxious. However, Robinson’s exquisite writing and Grant’s subtly empathetic performance actually create an incredibly poignant character. Well, that and he’s absolutely hilarious, Indeed, it’s a hedonistic joy witnessing Withnail drinking every liquid known to humanity as he attempts to obliterate the now and tomorrow. Unbelievably, Richard E. Grant was teetotal, so director Bruce Robinson had to get him very, very drunk in preparation for a role he never bettered in his whole career.

Bruce Robinson, arguably, never reached the heights of Withnail and I (1987) again, although he does have other impressive writing credits. But this screenplay is one of the greatest ever written; conversely making it one of the funniest and tragic films of all time. Lastly, his often quoted but rarely bettered work is one of the greatest I have ever read, brimming with towering poetry, bilious insults, and drunken repartee. I mean there is little plot to the story of two actors getting drunk, going to the country, getting drunk and coming back. However, it remains one of my favourite films of all time, with one of the most memorable characters in Withnail.


MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #19 – DENZEL WASHINGTON

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #19 – DENZEL WASHINGTON

In all the excitement, I seemed to have forgotten about this feature, but will reignite it here. Essentially, I pick a favourite film actor or director or writer or composer or film craftsperson, who I have followed and admired for some time, and pick out five of their works which resonate with me. Usually it is difficult to stick to just five selections, however, I find writing with a rule or discipline sharpens the critical mind. Today’s choice is one of the greatest actors to have walked the boards, appeared on the box, and graced the silver screen. His name is of course, Denzel Washington.

Born in Mount Vernon, New York and having initially attended a military academy, Washington would later gain a BA in Drama and Journalism from Fordham University. He began by acting in Summer Stock theatre, but his first major break was in the television series, St Elsewhere. His performances as Dr Philip Chandler would lead to castings in prominent film roles, notably as Steve Biko in Cry Freedom (1987). In that film he would receive his first Academy award nomination. From then on Washington would go from strength to strength traversing stage and screen roles with incredible range and skill. As writer, director and actor he is an artist who can span genres and disciplines, equally brilliant in commercial projects and more arthouse productions. Here are just five roles which I very much think he excelled. But to be honest, there are many, many more I could have included.



GLORY (1989)

Glory (1989) was the first major Hollywood film to profile the fight of black soldiers to free themselves from slavery in the context of the U.S. Civil War. It is an excellent drama with some brutal battle scenes and memorable characters. None more so that Washington’s portrayal of Private Silas Trip. He is quite understandably an angry man determined to fight all the way against oppressors. Washington delivered a searing performance which would earn him a Best Actor in a Supporting role award. It is an outstanding portrayal full of power and strength.



MALCOLM X (1992)

Washington worked with Spike Lee on many film productions and Malcolm X (1992), is arguably their most significant and impressive film. It charts the life and death of a man born Malcolm Little who would grow to be anything but. After a troubled childhood he became a drug dealer and criminal in order to survive. Having converted to Islam he rejected his slave roots, going on to become one of the most outspoken voices against black oppression the world has ever known. Both Lee and Washington should have won Oscars for their work, and Washington’s intense performance stands as a fine cinematic tribute to a true spokesperson for a generation.



TRAINING DAY (2001)

Washington has played his fair share of heroic and complex anti-heroes trying to find their way in the world, but in David Ayer’s brilliant cop drama Training Day (2001), he revels in the role of bad-ass corrupt cop, Alonzo Harris. Washington and Ethan Hawke are both brilliant as the mentor and apprentice narcotics officers who are about to have a very intense day of plots and double-crosses. Washington spits and chews up Ayer’s meaty dialogue as Harris, who has a devilish plan up his dirty sleeves. Ultimately, the respect between the two erodes and a violent power game ensues with surprising twists ahead. Washington won the Best Actor award at the Academy Awards, and while it was well earned, it was arguably more for his body of incredible film performances overall.



MAN ON FIRE (2004)

While not necessarily the best film on Denzel Washington’s amazing acting C.V., Man on Fire (2004) is one of the more memorable films he made with uber-Hollywood genre filmmaker, Tony Scott. Washington clearly respected Scott as a man and director, and while Scott’s flashy and bombastic style could drown his actors, Washington’s talent always shone through. As John Creasy, Washington’s characterisation is that of a broken ex-military man who has killed for his country, and now realised it was all for nothing as he lost and alone. Alcoholic and suicidal, Creasy finds redemption in the guise of a young girl, portrayed brilliantly by Dakota Fanning, who following her kidnapping, goes on a vengeful kill-crazy-rampage-search-for-justice. Washington’s acting is both muscular and tender in equal measure as Scott delivers an explosive genre film of the highest quality.



FENCES (2016)

Denzel Washington’s honest, down-to-earth and heart-cracking drama is a formidable character piece and acting tour-de-force. Adapted from August Wilson’s prize-winning play, the narrative bristles with authentic working-class lives of 1950s Pittsburgh, and is littered with some wonderful stories and dialogue. At the heart of the drama are Denzel Washington’s complex character, Troy Maxson, and his long-suffering wife, Rose; portrayed with significant humility by Viola Davis. Troy’s character is charismatic, and he delivers some hearty yarns from his past, but he’s also bullies everyone around him. Moreover, Washington directs brilliantly, “fencing” in the characters to create a sense of claustrophobia and intensity. By keeping the players mainly in the yard and the house we feel as trapped as they are by society, social status and their life decisions. It’s an intimate film about proper characters and real lives and overall, the performances alone make the film feel cinematic.


fences

NETFLIX TV REVIEW – UNORTHODOX (2020)

NETFLIX TV REVIEW – UNORTHODOX (2020)

Directed by Maria Schrader

Written by: Anna Winger, Alexa Karolinski, Daniel Hendler

Based on: Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots
by Deborah Feldman

Cast: Shira Haas, Amit Rahav, Jeff Wilbusch, Alex Reid, Aaron Altaras, Ronit Asheri, Dina Doron, Gera Sandler, and more.

Original Network: Netflix

**** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****



When one watches a memoir based on true events such as Netflix’s Unorthodox (2020), you realise how lucky you are in regard to the freedom you have. This isn’t about an individual going through social lockdown for good reason, but someone who is trapped by their strict religious and family traditions. Such traditions in themselves could be deemed acceptable as we must respect different ways of living. However, what if that person wants to leave their life and is not allowed? This is called incarceration of the soul and body. This is wrong. People must be allowed to choose their own way in life and not be tethered by dogma or ideology. I repeat, I respect people’s belief systems, but not if it has a negative effect on that person.

Based on Deborah Feldman’s bestselling autobiography, Unorthodox, is an impressive four-part drama which focusses on Esty Shapiro, portrayed with provocative emotion and vulnerability by Shira Haas. Esty is an unhappy Jewish woman, who finds herself trapped in a traditional ultra-Orthodox marriage in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She is denied many things such as a control, position, voice, personality, expression and her love of music. The compelling episodes go back and forth in time between the build up to her marriage to inexperienced, Yanky (Amit Rahav), and Esty’s escape to Berlin, where she explores the world outside her religion for the first time.

While Yanky is shown to be kindly, he is committed, some may say brainwashed, to his faith. Therefore, the marriage process is one of suppression and control. Every moment of Esty’s life is plotted, from the shaving of her hair prior to the wedding, and after, the days they are meant to have sex. The intercourse, however, proves anxious for the young couple. Rather embarrassingly though, this private matter becomes a huge issue with other family members. Privacy, it seems, is secondary as Esty is treated no better than a brood mare. Even after she escapes to Berlin, Esty is pursued by her husband and brutish cousin, Moishe (Jeff Wilbusch). Sadly, there seems to be more control in the Hasidic community than love. Of course, this is a representation of Deborah Feldman’s experience, thus, I cannot begin to understand the nature of the Hasidic Jewish community in full. For many it is probably a safe space and designed to protect individuals from the often rotten world outside. Faith and family can be great protectors, however, in this story, for one person, that life became a living hell.

In the character of Esty we are introduced to a fascinating world, and her riveting struggle to become an individual rather than follow patriarchal doctrine. While the narrative takes a slight left turn in the final episode, I can heartily recommend this mini-series. Lastly, I cannot judge if the representation of the Samtar movement is realistic, yet the setting, costumes and culture feels authentic. The actors speak, on the main, Yiddish, and in Shira Haas’s commanding performance Unorthodox we get a very realistic encapsulation of a desire to escape oppression. Haas may be diminutive in size, but her rendition of Esty Shapiro is mighty in heart and soul.

Mark: 9 out of 11


HBO REVIEW – CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM – SEASON 10 – another stream of comedic offence, farce and genius!

HBO REVIEW – CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM – SEASON 10

Created by: Larry David

Executive producer(s): Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Robert B. Weide, Larry Charles, Erin O’Malley, Alec Berg etc.

Writers: Larry David, Jeff Schaffer, Justin Hurwitz, Steve Leff, Carol Leifer

Directors: Jeff Schaffer, Cheryl Hines, Erin O’Malley

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 Rosenthal and 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.

Overall Mark: 9 out of 10


AMAZON FILM REVIEW – THE AERONAUTS (2019)

AMAZON FILM REVIEW – THE AERONAUTS (2019)

Directed by: Tom Harper

Produced by: Todd Liebermann, David Hoberman, Tom Harper

Written by: Jack Thorne – based on the book Falling Upwards: How We Took To The Air by Richard Holmes

Cast: Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel, Tom Courtenay, Tim McInnerny, Anne Reid, Phoebe Fox, Robert Glenister etc.

Cinematography: George Steel

***CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS***



Obviously, with all the cinemas quite rightly shut, one now has to look about the streaming platforms for films missed when first released. While not a massive cinema release, The Aeronauts (2019) was a big budget Amazon original production, thus fits the bill perfectly. Based on true events set in London, circa 1860’s, this period adventure drama focusses on intrepid pilot, Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) and budding meteorologist, James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne), as they attempt to conquer the sky and elements in a hot air balloon. Their overall aim is to fly a balloon higher than it ever has, while Glaisher attempts to make scientific progress in regard to predicting the weather. It doesn’t sound that interesting when you put it like that, but how wrong was I?

Now, I am not a fan of adventurers or flying or heights. Therefore, The Aeronauts (2019), did not really interest me as a film narrative. However, I am glad I watched it, as it proved one’s prejudices against themes or subject matter can be short-sighted. Indeed, Jack Thorne’s intelligent script and Tom Harper’s cute direction really pull you into this high-flying and breath-taking drama. While the special effects are amazing, as you are given all manner of exciting and dangerous moments for the lead characters, the real power lies in the empathetic and heartening characterisations. Moreover, Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne give tremendously warm and energetic performances. Both their protagonists not only battle against the dangers in the balloon, but also against fierce patriarchal and scientific hierarchal rivals on the land. Lastly, in Amelia Wren’s case, she fights against deeply painful emotions relating to grief and sacrifice too.

Jack Thorne’s script frames events from the spectacular launch of the giant balloon, and the air journey itself provides the spine of the story. Throughout though, the film flashes back and forth between the voyage and Amelia and James’ past. At times I felt the flashbacks hindered the momentum of the adventure, but I recognised they were essential in order provide history and texture. Nonetheless, the amazing skyline vistas and horizons are impressively rendered by the special effects’ personnel. Also, the suspense is palpable as Amelia and James’s lives are threatened constantly by the unpredictable weather conditions. Jones and Redmayne’s on-screen chemistry is especially good as they initially argue, before finding common ground and mutual respect. Jones herself gives a very magnetic performance full of vulnerability and strength. While Amelia Wren is a fictional character compared with James Glaisher, she remains a powerful one. Ultimately, The Aeronauts (2019), is a classic adventure story with a grounding in scientific discovery, but above all else, contains exciting spectacle and a very moving emotional core.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11