Produced by: Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Keith Calder, Jessica Calder
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, Kat Stewart, Diesel La Torraca, Josh Gad etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
While I’m not a massive fan of awards ceremonies, I do check out the nominations for the big ones. The Academy Awards or ‘Oscars’ are obviously the most esteemed annual celebration of commercial filmmaking. But, they often get their nominations, from an artistic and diversity perspective, horrifically wrong. Of course, it’s a matter of opinion, but this year I do not know how Lupita Nyong’o was not nominated for her performances in Jordan Peele’s brilliant horror satire, Us (2019). She is now proving herself to be one of the best actresses around and definitely should have been nominated in the ‘Best Actress in a Leading Role’ category.
As well as Us (2019), Nyong’o also appeared in another horror film released last year called Little Monsters (2019). This one got away from me though because for some reason it did not get a major cinema release in the UK. Little Monsters (2019) is nowhere as imaginative, dark or intelligent as Jordan Peele’s searing exploration of duality, class, race and identity. However, as zombie-romance-comedies go it’s a lot of fun. Nyong’o portrays a likeable, professional and positive school teacher who, along with Alexander England’s failed musician loser, Dave, must protect a group of children from hordes of zombies on a school trip.
It’s an unpretentious, funny and gory comedy romp that owes a massive debt in tone and delivery to Shaun of the Dead (2004). Furthermore, stock genre conventions such as the slow zombies, ubiquitous military nuke ticking time bomb ending, loser character redemption and cute children who “think it’s all a game”, are all relied upon heavily. Nonetheless, the script is fast-paced, witty and has a lot of heart. The direction is effective, although there were probably too many songs in there as filler. Overall, this is a fun film with a brilliant turn by Josh Gad as foul-mouthed children’s TV presenter, and of course, the starry effervescence of ultra-talented, Lupita Nyong’o.
THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS – TWELVE FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2019!
Bit late with this one, but following on from my twelve favourite films of 2019, here are the twelve favourite television shows I watched. I must admit I am still way behind on many AMAZON shows and don’t have APPLE TV+ or DISNEY +, so there’s probably loads of good TV stuff I have missed. For comparison I include last year’s favourites here:
FAVOURITE TWELVE TV SHOWS OF 2018
Atlanta (2018) – Season 2 – Fox
Billions (2018) – Season 4 – Showtime / Sky Atlantic
Black Mirror (2017) – Season 4 – Netflix
Bodyguard (2018) – BBC
The Deuce (2018) – Season 2 – HBO – Sky Atlantic
The Handmaid’s Tale (2018) – Season 2 – Hulu / Channel 4
Inside No. 9 (2018) – Season 4 – BBC
Killing Eve (2018) – Season 1 – BBC
Patrick Melrose (2018) – Showtime / Sky Atlantic
Vanity Fair (2018) – ITV
A Very English Scandal (2018) – BBC
FAVOURITE TWELVE TV SHOWS OF 2019
Now, this was TOUGH! Television productions just got better and better! I cannot believe I had to leave the following off the list. Yet, here are the honourable mentions: Afterlife (Season 1), Billions (Season 4), Black Mirror (Season 5), Euphoria (2019), Ghosts (2019), The Handmaid’s Tale (Season 3), Line of Duty (Season 5), The Loudest Voice (2019), My Brilliant Friend (2018), Ozark (Season 2), Stranger Things (Season 3); and the baffling genius of Watchmen (2019). But I decided to limit myself to twelve favourite shows and here they are:
CHERNOBYL (2019) – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC
“… an incredible TV drama. This tragic event teaches us to never take anything for granted. We have built our own gallows.”
DARK (2019) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX
“… confused in a good way and totally immersed in the Tenebrae. You will be lost — searching for the light — yet you will be astounded too .”
ESCAPE AT DANNEMORA (2018) – SHOWTIME / SKY ATLANTIC
“… These are not likeable characters, but the Showtime production delivers as compelling a character drama as you’re likely to see all year.”
FLEABAG (2019) – SEASON 2 – BBC
“… Waller-Bridge takes familiar themes and situations and spins comedic and dramatic gold from them. Deserves all the praise and awards going.”
FOSSE / VERDON (2019) – FX / BBC
“… If you’re interested in the life and work of Fosse and Verdon then you will absolutely love this warts and all biopic. Rockwell and Williams are incredible.”
GAME OF THRONES (2019) – SEASON 8 – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC
“… despite the incredibly disappointing final episode, it was all about the journey rather the final destination. Winter has come and winter has gone and it’s one I will never forget!”
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2019) – SEASON 13 – FX / NETFLIX
“… The season takes joy in referencing the #MeToo and Time’s Up and Inception. The latter becoming a hilarious meta-textual delight. By the thirteenth episode,I had thoroughly enjoyed the scatter-gun chaos!”
MINDHUNTER (2019) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX
“… with gripping narratives, great direction, memorable performances and the production team’s accurate eye for period detail in mind, I just did not want the latest season ofto end.”
SUCCESSION (2019) – SEASON 2 – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC
“… Ultimately, this is Shakespearean television of the highest quality. Succession (2019), is what we would get if Billy Wilder did TV.”
UNBELIEVABLE (2019) – NETFLIX
“… thoughtful, suspenseful and, at times, heartfelt drama. It highlights the shocking nature of sexual crimes against women and the very different ways police departments handle such situations.”
THE VIRTUES (2019) – CHANNEL 4
“… a more individual focused, personal and painful character study. Stephen Graham is absolutely amazing as the character of Joseph.”
WHEN THEY SEE US (2019) – NETFLIX
“… Beautifully written, acted and directed, this is an incredible work of television. It combines both a fascinating style and a brutal vision of the struggle of these characters experience.”
Produced by: Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, Bill Block
Story by: Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson Marn Davies
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
THE GENTLEMEN (2020)
Having dipped a big foot in the Hollywood studio pool with franchise hits like Sherlock Holmes and most recently Disney’s live action version ofAladdin (2019), Guy Ritchie is back to the crime genre where he made his mark. His reboot of The Man From Uncle (2015) was very under-rated, and while his King Arthur: Legend of the Sword(2017) didn’t quite work as a swords and geezer epic, Ritchie remains an excellent genre director and almost always produces very entertaining movies.
With Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch (2000) and Rock N Rolla (2008), Ritchie excelled at carving himself a name in fast-paced-twisting-crime stories. They are full of hard nuts, femme fatales, dodgy geezers, businessmen, travellers, assassins, gamblers, plus working- and upper-class types all trying to outwit and out do each other in a variety of dodgy dealings. The films also feature fine ensemble casts, crunching violence, colourful language and cracking soundtracks. All of this combines to create fine entertainment all round. It may lack subtlety, suspense and emotion, but crime has never been so much fun.
The Gentlemen (2020) continues Guy Ritchie’s decent form in the gangster comedy genre. Matthew McConaughey is the “Kingpin”, Mickey Pearson, whose underground marijuana empire is about to come under threat from various rival gangs. The plot is essentially a story of a capitalistic hostile takeover with added bullets, punch-ups, YouTube viral videos, boxers, junkies and copious use of the C-word.
Ritchie may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he certainly knows how to put together a movie. Using lashings of music to compliment the freeze frames, voice-overs, whip-pans, flashbacks, flash-forwards, close-ups, canted frames, slow motion and anything else that smashes the story along is fine by me. Plus, don’t forget the over-the-top, but ever quotable zinging dialogue and the unreliable narrator that is Hugh Grant’s weasly tabloid newspaper investigator. Grant is the standout performer here along with Colin Farrell and Charlie Hunnam’s cool but deadly fixer and second-in-command. Able support also comes from Jeremy Strong, Michelle Dockery, Eddie Marsan and Henry Golding.
Overall, The Gentlemen (2020) is not a particularly subtle film. In fact, many may find the language rather offensive in this age of the woke generation. Don’t get me wrong I’m all for political correctness and equality, but sometimes it’s just great to have a laugh and Ritchie provides this in many hilarious scenes of action and dialogue. There’s an element of substance provided in regard to the destruction drugs can cause and very mild analysis of England’s class system. However, such themes only skim the surface in what is a wonderfully irreverent, over-the-top, violent, offensive and entertaining crime comedy.
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Azhy Robertson, Merrit Weaver etc.
Cinematography: Robbie Ryan
Distributed by: Netflix
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I think one of the trickiest things that can hinder a writer, is that doubt whether it is worth telling one’s story. This is especially true of privileged or first world narratives involving wealthy characters or those deemed not having to struggle daily. For me the way to beat such doubt is to write the hell out of your story. Moreover, you’ve got to make the story relevant to all audiences by concentrating on universal themes and creating empathetic characters. Noah Baumbach achieves this by writing and directing the hell out of Marriage Story (2019); a moving drama that focuses on something we can all relate to — a relationship break-up.
The film centres on a couple of creatives, Nicole and Charlie Barber, portrayed by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. Charlie is a New York theatre director; Nicole is a Los Angeles actress. They have both been committed to forging successful careers. The film opens brilliantly as they attend relationship mediation, attempting to divorce amicably without the use of lawyers. Baumbach’s superb script starts strongly with each character delivering bittersweet monologues that describe what attracts them most to each other. Sadly, for them and their young son, Henry (Azhy Robertson), mediation fails and it’s not long before they are drawn into the Kafkaesque, manipulative and financially draining American legal system.
This is a gem of a film which finds a seemingly suited couple learning that their differences have slowly been driving a wedge between them. Charlie is a controlled and respected director who has worked his way up from nothing. Nicole is a more privileged, but equally talented actress; however, her free-spirited nature is locked in his shadows. Geographically too they are very different. While he is originally from Indiana, he has made New York his home. Moreover, while his avant garde plays have gained him critical acclaim, she yearns for the sunlight of Los Angeles and the offer of TV work. Thus, through sheer brilliance of the writing we, in a short period of time, understand and empathise with both characters’ situations.
As the narrative develops Baumbach’s script is brought to life with two incredible central performances by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. They imbue Nicole and Charlie with a humanity and warmth, that even when we do not agree with their actions, we are still with them. As the story was inspired by his own divorce, Baumbach cares very much about these people. Indeed, he gives each actor the chance to shine during a number of fine monologues, bitter exchanges and heartfelt scenes of acceptance and potential reconciliation. Further, the supporting cast members are also really great too. Ray Liotta as a bitter shark of a lawyer and Laura Dern, as his legal adversary, have some wonderfully biting lines of dialogue. Meanwhile, Alan Alda, as Charlie’s other legal representative, is arguably too nice and avuncular for this cutthroat business. Together these collective legal minds, while shining a plausibly negative light on divorce proceedings, added strong energy to the comedy and drama of the film.
Ultimately, I have always respected Noah Baumbach’s films because he is a very solid independent writer and director. However, with Marriage Story (2019), he has matured beyond belief to create a compelling and funny relationship drama. It is full of standout scenes, with Adam Driver ever impressing and Scarlett Johansson delivering the best performance of her career. Lastly, as someone who has experienced a very difficult break-up involving a child, I felt every moment of grief, heartache, humour, love and relief on the screen. Yet, it’s worth reliving those moments because you know you survived; and so will Charlie, Nicole and their son, Henry.
Produced by: Debra Hayward, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Tom Hooper
Written by: Lee Hall and Tom Hooper – Based on the stage musical Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot.
Cast: Jennifer Hudson, Francesca Hayward, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Jason DeRulo, Laurie Davidson, Ray Winstone, Taylor Swift, etc.
Music by: Andrew Lloyd Webber
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS*
I think it’s easy to be overtly negative and nasty in reviews, and that is fine in general, as long as you can justify it. What I have found though is there seems to have been an unhealthy pile-on this Christmas by critics in regard to the film Cats (2019). One could even interpret some reactions to the film as hysterical and unfair bullying. I, in no way have any reason to defend wealthy people such as Andrew Lloyd Webber or the director Tom Hooper. But, this review asks the question: is Cats (2019) a really bad film? The answer in short is: no! It’s just not a particularly good one.
My wife loves musicals and was a fan of the original show. Personally, I don’t like cats, nor musicals generally (there are exceptions); and did not know the original stage production either. So, my expectations were pretty low for the film. What I did know is the original musical stage production was one of the longest running musicals in the West End. Plus, it made grossed over £32 billion in various productions across the world. Clearly a film production would make commercial sense and with acclaimed director, Tom Hooper, at the helm — what could go wrong?
Firstly, it’s an obvious thing to say that stage and screen productions generally work very differently. The original Cats was based on the poems of T.S. Eliot and was adapted organically in the 1970s by the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Richard Stilgoe and Trevor Nunn. It was released in 1981 and became a phenomenal success. The narrative on stage and screen concerns a tribe of cats, inhabiting the streets, shops, theatres and homes of London, called the ‘Jellicle Cats’. Each year there is a competition as to who will be given a new life and reach the Heaviside Layer. Imaginatively named characters such as: Rum Tum Tugger (Jason DeRulo), Bustopher Jones (James Corden), Mr Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), Grizabella (Jennifer Hudson), Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench), Bombalurina (Taylor Swift) and many more litter the screen. Several of these characters compete via song and dance routines, but obstacles are introduced by the nasty nemesis, Macavity (Idris Elba).
As I did not know the original adaptation, I have to say that given the lack of a proper narrative, I am surprised the show took off in the first place. This is clearly a testament to the love felt for the many powerful songs in the show, notably the brilliant ‘Memory’. The film itself is essentially a series of musical set-pieces with a very thin narrative and thematic thread throughout. The rules of the world and mythology are not very well established by Lee Hall and Tom Hooper’s screenplay. In fact, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of an opening introduction to the world. So, for me, the film fails to establish believable unbelievability and ease you into the fantasy elements properly. Basically, if you know the original production it is likely you will really enjoy the film. However, I felt it was creatively hamstrung from the start.
Overall, much of Tom Hooper’s rendition of Cats (2019) feels rushed in terms of the CGI, the editing, pacing and general flow of the action and events. The first forty minutes sees a flurry of songs from various characters and this left me dizzy. However, there are some excellent set-pieces, rousing compositions, flashy choreography and impactful singing performances in here. Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson and Idris Elba I felt were excellent. The rest of the cast, performers and production team also commit wholeheartedly to the project too. They cannot be faulted for certain creative decisions made at studio level. Indeed, whose idea was it to even release the film at Christmas when the Star Wars franchise is likely to defeat all cinema competition.
Maybe the film could have worked better as a lower budgeted, intimate and more stripped-down production. Moreover, while they attempted to include narrative exposition via the character of Francesca Hayward’s innocent stray, Victoria, the film still felt bereft of story. But, as it’s based on a set of poems, this is case with the original show too. Lastly, while Cats (2019) valiantly attempts to deliver a fun, humorous, emotional, energetic and fresh take on thestage show, it does fall short in many places. However, given the catastrophic reviews online and in the media in general, I have to say that it is genuinely enjoyable in places and not as bad as it’s being made out to be. It is still shocking though that such experienced producers and filmmakers would release what appears to be a dog rough work-in-progress product. It just goes to show that however talented you may be, no one is purr-fect!
FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #6 – THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964)
Written and Directed by: Jacques Demy
Produced by: Mag Bodard
Music by: Michel Legrand
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Anne Vernon, Nino Castelnuovo, Marc Michel, Ellen Farmer, Mirielle Perrey etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I knew there were good reasons to get married. The obvious one is the positive nature of a caring relationship and not becoming a lonely, bitter old man. The other is that given my wife loves films too, she will introduce me to the occasional classic film I may have missed. Thus, we went to the BFI and watched the classic musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). While she is a massive fan of the musical genre, I can take or leave it generally. Every now and then though I will really love a musical film. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) is now one of them.
Starting in 1957 and structured over three acts that end in 1963, we follow the lives and loves of two main protagonists, Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo). The ups and downs of their romance drives the narrative. The two struggle to keep their love alive amidst the obstacles of military conflict, social convention and family pressure. While the story is relatively simple, Jacques Demy’s wonderful script and direction warms you to the two young lovers. So much so, by the emotionally gut-wrenching ending, even a grizzled cynic like myself felt like crying.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) is not your classic all-singing-all-dancing musical. It is more an opera of everyday life and love. The actors sing the dialogue all the way through and once I got used to this, the device really worked well for the story. Of course, Michel Legrand’s incredible score literally drenches the colourful sets and mise-en-scene with wonder. Moreover, Demy’s cinematographer, Jean Rabier, works miracles; his camera gliding around the actors in small spaces such as shops, garages, apartments and French cafes. Lastly, Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo are such an attractive, but beautifully tragic screen couple. Clearly their touching story, amazing music and Jacques Demy’s cinematic brilliance had a massive influence of Damian Chazelle’s splendidLa La Land (2016).
Once again the festive season is upon us. Thus, the over-privileged first world will buy stuff they don’t need, drink and eat more than humanly possible, and perhaps even celebrate the birth of the son of God. As you may gather, being a miserable cynic, I’m not a massive fan of Christmas, but it is a lovely time to try and be nice to people, take time off from the day job and watch even more films and television.
Watching films and not being at work is definitely my favourite thing about Christmas, so I thought it fun to have a look at what I consider six of the best Christmas films. How do you define a Christmas film? I would say the film should not only be set at Christmas, but also invoke a sense of the Christmas spirit, evil or otherwise. It should also contain Christmas themes or even some kind of moral within the narrative. Therefore, Die Hard (1988) is NOT a Christmas film. Here, in my humble opinion, are six that most definitely are! Happy holidays!
A CHRISTMAS CAROL / SCROOGE (1951)
“Well, then, I’ll just swallow this and be tortured by a legion of hobgoblins, all of my own creation! It’s all HUMBUG, I tell you, HUMBUG!”
BAD SANTA (2003)
“I beat the shit out of some kids today. But it was for a purpose. It made me feel good about myself. It was like I did something constructive with my life or something, I dunno, like I accomplished something.”
“We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup.”
“First of all, keep him out of the light, he hates bright light, especially sunlight, it’ll kill him. Second, don’t give him any water, not even to drink. But the most important rule, the rule you can never forget, no matter how much he cries, no matter how much he begs, never feed him after midnight.”
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
“You see, George, you’ve really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?”
“Saint Nicholas is not coming this year. Instead, a much darker, ancient spirit. His name is Krampus. He and his helpers did not come to give, but to take. He is the shadow of Saint Nicholas.”