Tag Archives: Tragedy

CINEMA REVIEW – SAINT MAUD (2019)

CINEMA REVIEW – SAINT MAUD (2019)

Directed by: Rose Glass

Produced by: Andrea Cornwell, Oliver Kassman

Written by: Rose Glass

Cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight, Lily Frazer, Turlough Convery, Rosie Sansom, Marcus Hutton  

Music by: Adam Janota Bzowski

Cinematography: Ben Fordesman

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. . .” – Matthew 7:15


Also, beware of false praise from film reviewers! Because over the years I’ve often seen hyperbolic notices about films that after seeing them I wonder if I’ve been watching the same thing. Of course, any kind of review is subjective, and we cannot all like the same thing, but sometimes so-called critics rave about a cinema release for reasons I just don’t get. It could be that they genuinely like the film or are attempting to promote it on a personal or corporate level for some incestuous allegiance to the filmmaker or studio. They could even have been paid for the positive words. The latter is unlikely, but possible. Anyhow, everyone’s entitled to their opinion.

So, when I saw the glowing notices for Rose Glass’ psychological character study, Saint Maud (2019), I was initially sceptical. Thankfully after watching it at the Curzon cinema at the weekend, I concur with many of the raving critics. The film is a thoroughly absorbing and compelling exploration of religious mania, alienation, and mental breakdown. Moreover, Rose Glass, on her directorial feature debut deserves much praise for crafting a stunningly disturbing journey of one individual’s search for the Lord Almighty and rapturous redemption. Only to reveal, in Maud, a troubled outsider and lost soul, completely at odds with the people around her and society as a whole.


Saint Maud (2019) – directed by Rose Glass

Morfydd Clark is absolutely spellbinding as the lead character. In fact, she inhabits both elements of protagonist and antagonist in this jagged narrative. Sadly, Maud becomes her own worst enemy as the film progresses. Her job as a nurse has connotations of angels and heroines, but eventually travels an alternative path. The film opens with flashes of a tragedy which has occurred at the hospital where Maud works. These events will haunt Maud like a psychological millstone; dragging her toward darkness while she seeks enlightenment. Rapidly quickening forward we then find Maud in private medical employment caring for former famed choreographer portrayed by Jennifer Ehle.

Ehle, as Amanda, gives an impressive rendition of a dying bitter woman; full of spite, bravado and fear as she nears the end of her life. Not that that stops Amanda from smoking, drinking and partying, much to the pious Maud’s displeasure. The two divergent personalities clash constantly as Maud takes it upon herself to be Amanda’s saviour. This ultimately becomes an obsessive crusade by Maud, no doubt in an attempt to find peace and redemption following the tragedy in her prior job. Such is the power of Maud and Amanda’s complex relationship of warring opposites, Saint Maud (2019) suffers minor dramatic inertia when Maud goes off the rails toward the end of the second act. Nonetheless, Glass is cleverly building Maud’s turmoil before bringing Ehle’s character back in the shocking and memorable final scenes.

Saint Maud (2019), overall, is an exceptionally well-crafted low budget work of British cinema. It is more than just a calling card for the extremely talented director, Rose Glass. Her grasp of the material is superb and the cinematography and shot composition support her dark vision brilliantly. The film may disappoint those who prefer conventional supernatural films, as it is more arthouse than classic horror. Moreover, it has much in common with searing character studies by Paul Schrader, such as Taxi Driver (1976), and the more recent, First Reformed (2017). Indeed, Maud’s voiceover permeates like a prayer to an empty sky bleeding into the powerful imagery to compelling effect. The true horror of Saint Maud (2019) is not in jump scares or one-dimensional monsters, but rather the slow descent into hell by a character who strives to be a saviour. Tragically though, Maud is a self-appointed Angel, whose mental fragility disintegrates under the weight of holy desire and biblical fervour.

Mark: 9 out of 11


CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: DANCER IN THE DARK (2000)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: DANCER IN THE DARK (2000)

Directed by: Lars von Trier

Produced by: Peter Aalbæk Jensen, Vibeke Windeløv

Written by: Lars von Trier

Cast: Björk, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare, Joel Grey

Music by: Björk

Cinematography: Robby Müller

Edited by: François Gédigier, Molly Marlene Stensgård

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



Rather incredibly, until very recently, I had never seen DANCER IN THE DARK (2000). However, it has quickly gone up the ranks in my mind as one of the best musical films I have ever seen. Having given it a lot of thought, it was difficult to place my review of Lars Von Trier’s eccentric, magical and moving tragedy. I could have reviewed it as a cult or under-rated classic film, but it was too high profile really; AND it won the Palm D’Or at Cannes. Thus, I decided, because it is such a compelling story and told in a magnetically creative style it definitely qualifies as a classic film.

Set in Washington State, circa 1964, the story centres on the life of Selena Ježková (Bjork), a Czech immigrant, who works in a factory supporting herself and her teenage son, Jean. She is good friends with co-worker Kathy (Catherine Deneuve), and has a good relationship with her landlord, a police officer called Bill (David Morse), and his wife, Linda (Cara Seymour). Selena is also romantically pursued by Jeff (Peter Stormare). Yet despite him being a pleasant and easy-going guy she prefers to be just friends. Selena is an admirable character because she works round-the-clock with at least two jobs, striving to make ends meet. But she also hides a secret. She is, in fact, going blind. Kathy helps cover for her where she can at the factory, however, the condition is irreversible. Selena is extraordinarily brave, but foolhardy too. Her condition puts herself and factory productivity at risk. Yet, this is merely a suggestion of the drama and tragedy which later befalls her. Because someone close to her will betray a trust, setting in motion a series of extremely depressing eventualities.



In order to escape the trials of her everyday existence, Selena often daydreams in song and dance form. These fantasies are further contextualised by Selena and Kathy taking part in a town production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, plus their visits to the cinema to watch Hollywood musicals. Von Trier is careful though to establish verisimilitude and plausible reality prior to the first musical number. Even so, it is initially extremely jarring when the song begins. Nonetheless, the power of surprise provides an electrical surge to the narrative and Selena’s characterisation. The first number set in the factory finds the mechanical sounds of the machinery providing a metronomic rhythm to the song and dance routine. Furthermore, songs such as, I’ve Seen It All (with the sequence set on a locomotive), and Smith and Wesson link Selena’s character to metal, machines and American industrialisation. Essentially, Selena’s experiences as a working class immigrant find her attempting to escape via song, but being trapped by American machines and later on in the film, their justice system too.

Filmed on digital cameras the presentation is arguably inspired somewhat by Von Trier’s established Dogme 95 style. In terms of content, DANCER IN THE DARK (2000), combines elements of melodrama and film noir reminiscent of films by Douglas Sirk. Such thematic and visual cues are then filtered through a meta-textual inversion of the Hollywood musical. While the classical musical is all about joy, love, family, companionship, song and performance, Von Trier effectively represents these genre tropes, but twists them into calamitous trials and tribulations for Selena. I for one felt such pain, regret and sympathy for her character. Indeed, Bjork, who had never acted before and has rarely acted since, gives an incredibly moving and soulful performance as the dedicated mother only trying to do her best for her son. Similarly, the songs she co-wrote with Mark Bell, Sjón Sigurdsson and Lars von Trier, sparkle and spike and tug at the heartstrings passionately.

Lars Von Trier is a divisive filmmaker and personality. He has always sailed close to the wind in regard to his challenging filmmaking style and content, as well as causing dissension over the years with his perceived outrageous comments. Moreover, Bjork herself spoke openly about a “Danish filmmaker” who oppressed and harassed her persistently on set. One must deduce that this indeed was Von Trier, thus I must respect and sympathise with the anguish she felt while filming, DANCER IN THE DARK (2000). Lastly, reviews of the film at the time were equally dichotomous. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian dubbed it the: “most shallow and crudely manipulative film of 2000. . . and one of the worst films, one of the worst artworks and perhaps one of the worst things in the history of the world.” Yet, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times stated: “It smashes down the walls of habit that surround so many movies. It returns to the wellsprings. It is a bold, reckless gesture.” Personally, I am with Roger Ebert, as I found the film to be one of Lars Von Trier’s most emotionally moving, stylistically daring and human dramas.


SKY TV REVIEW – GANGS OF LONDON (2020)

SKY TV REVIEW – GANGS OF LONDON (2020)

Created by: Gareth Evans, Matt Flannery

Directors: Gareth Evans (2 episodes), Corin Hardy (4 episodes), Xavier Gens (3 episodes)

Executive producer(s): Thomas Benski, Lucas Ochoa, Jane Featherstone, Gabriel Silver

Producer(s): Hugh Warren

Writers: Claire Wilson, Peter Berry, Joe Murtagh, Gareth Evans, Matt Flannery, Lauren Sequeira, Carl Joos,

Cast: Joe Cole, Sope Dirisu, Lucian Msamati, Michelle Fairley, Mark Lewis Jones, Narges Rashidi, Parth Thakerar, Asif Raza Mir, Valene Kane, Brian Vernel, Jing Lusi, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Orli Shuka, Richard Harrington, Jude Akuwudike, Emmett J. Scanlan, Colm Meaney etc.

Production company(s): Pulse Films, Sister Pictures, Sky Studios

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**



The British, or more specifically, London-based gangster narrative is a well-trodden pathway for writers, directors and filmmakers. In fact, when Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) was a low-budget sleeper hit, agents and film companies were never more than a few feet away from a cheeky-chappie-laddish-gangster script. Ritchie obviously has made his name in the crime genre and his most recent film, The Gentlemen (2020), was another rollicking piece of entertainment. However, Ritchie’s stylish geezer model doesn’t always show the serious side of the British crime yarn. Films such as: Villain (1971), Get Carter (1971), The Long Good Friday (1980), Mona Lisa (1986), The Krays (1990), Sexy Beast (2000), Legend (2015), and many more, represent the dark and brutal face of hard-nut masculinity and the profession of violence. Enter the new Sky drama, Gangs of London (2020), which over nine episodes pitches itself as a similarly stern contemporary gangster fable, but with lashings of explosive action set-pieces, savage fisticuffs and a few severed hands thrown in for good measure.

From the opening scene — which finds heir apparent to the Wallace Corporation, Sean (Joe Cole), burning alive and dropping a low-level hoodie off a sky-scraping construction building — the brutal tone is set. Flashbacks then reveal the reason for Sean’s ire. His father, Finn (Colm Meaney), was murdered while on the Albanian mafia’s turf and thus he demands revenge. So far, so Hamlet! Yet, this is no singular character’s journey into the psychological depths of real or invented madness. Mostly, we find a sprawling, multicultural and international ensemble piece with the world of crime represented by aforementioned Albanians, Nigerians, Kurdish freedom fighters, Chinese gangs, Pakistani drug cartels, Welsh travellers and various other criminal elements.

While there is some soul searching for Sean as Finn Wallace’s buried secrets are latterly exposed within the drama, this is very much a symbolic and sadistic manifestation of Brexit. Moreover, it critiques the rise of gangster culture from the mean capital streets into the corporate boardroom. The Wallace’s billion-pound construction business acts as a front for money laundering, drugs deals, prostitution, people smuggling, gun-running and other nefarious crimes. Business has never been so good; that is until Finn Wallace is killed. Henceforth, all hell breaks loose on the streets of London and the police, who all seem to be in the pockets of the gangs, are unable or unwilling to control it.



The gangster genre can be a challenge for writers, directors and actors as they attempt to sidestep the cliches. Moreover, these stories predominantly show violent and amoral characters attacking or cheating or back-stabbing one another. Thus, it can be difficult to create empathy for such nasty people. Nonetheless, given the continued success of such narratives, the anti-heroic ensemble represented by the likes of the Wallace, Dumani, Afridi, Dushaj and Edwards’ families, among others, give the audience plenty to get our teeth into. There are so many different characters, motives, actions and desires on show that the sheer pace and twists in the narrative can leave one breathless. That isn’t to say the pace is rapid. There is a brooding suspense and grave depth to the overall direction. At times the drama, as well as the casting of Michelle Fairley (Lady Stark), reminded me of Game of Thrones in crime form. It gives us high-quality genre storytelling interspersed with some incredibly violent fight scenes and shoot-outs. It doesn’t quite have the heroes that Games of Thrones had though. The closest we get to a rootable character is Sope Dirisu’s low-level enforcer, Elliott Finch, who has a big secret to hold onto. Dirisu gives a powerful performance both emotionally and physically as he fights his way up the Wallace chain of command.

Gangs of London (2020) was created by Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery for Cinemax and Sky Studios. Evans, of course, is the talented Welsh filmmaker who had to go all the way to Indonesia and direct Merantau (2009), The Raid (2011) and The Raid 2 (2014), in order to make a name for himself in the film industry. He is a director with a special set of skills, especially when it comes to the knuckle-breaking and heart-stabbing fight sequences. Thus, the episodes he directs stand out among the best of the series. Notably Episodes 1 and 5, which feature an incredible bare-knuckled-table-leg-glass-in-the-face bar fracas and a bloody-mercenary-raid-on-a- country-farmhouse set-piece respectively. The remainder of the series arguably pales a little where the action is concerned, however, there remains some shockingly grotesque acts of violence as the corpses mount up the further the series proceeds. Indeed, as Sean Wallace attempts to locate his father’s killer and order from the chaos, he will find little in the way of salvation, redemption and satisfaction in the life of a London gangster. If only he’d watched more crime films, he’d know that already.

Mark: 9 out of 11



CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #12 – ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975) – "WORLD SERIES"

CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #12 – ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975) – “WORLD SERIES”

Directed by Milos Forman

Produced Saul Zaentz, Michael Douglas

Screenplay by: Lawrence Hauben & Bo Goldman – adapted from Ken Kesey’s novel.

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, William Redfield, Brad Dourif, Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito, Sydney Lassick etc.

Cinematography: Haskell Wexler

**** CONTAINS SPOILERS ****


Image result for one flew over the cuckoo's nest

Multi-award winning One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) is easily one of the most complex, intense and darkly funny cinematic explorations of mental health I have ever seen. It is also one of the best films I have ever seen too. Based on Ken Kesey’s novel, it charts the admission of Randall P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) to an Oregon mental institution as he attempts to avoid hard labour at a prison farm.

McMurphy is a charismatic, anti-heroic and anti-establishment criminal, but definitely not crazy in the clinical sense. Rather than lie low and serve his time though, he constantly clashes with the staff, notably Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). His unruly behaviour causes him to excite the other patients of the facility, becoming infectious. Thus, Nurse Ratched acts to quell such rebellion causing further conflict with McMurphy. Jack Nicholson is on absolutely incredible form in this film. He’s wild, funny, excitable, manipulative and very entertaining. On the other hand, Louise Fletcher is cool, calm, but equally devious. She loves to be in control and takes quiet joy in denying the inmates their wants.

When McMurphy “loses” a vote to watch the World Series Baseball of 1963 on television, he’s determined to get his own way. So much so, in this classic scene, he enacts what he thinks is happening in a fake commentary. Nicholson is so realistic and excitable you feel like you’re actually at the game. It’s such a classic scene with the gentle music counterpointing Nicholson’s manic delivery. Moreover, the ensemble inmate’s celebrations, Nurse Ratched’s cold-hearted face and a blank television screen create a powerful set of images. Ultimately, McMurphy is a tragic character as he tries to bend the system, only to eventually break himself by the end.



NETFLIX ORIGINAL DRAMA REVIEWS: UNBELIEVABLE (2019) & WHEN THEY SEE US (2019)

NETFLIX ORIGINAL DRAMA REVIEWS

Netflix produce a lot of original content, with the quality of the films sometimes a bit questionable. However, their limited series are usually really good. This is especially proved by two recent drama releases, both based on true events and questionable law enforcement procedures. In terms of production values, drama and power, they are of the highest quality. So, here are my reviews of Unbelievable (2019) and When They See Us (2019).

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



UNBELIEVABLE (2019)

Created & written by: Susannah Grant, Ayelet Waldman, Michael Chabon etc.

Directors: Lisa Cholodenko, Michael Dinner, Susannah Grant etc.

Main Cast: Toni Collette, Merritt Weaver, Kaitlyn Dever, Eric Lange, Elizabeth Marvel, Danielle Macdonald, Dale Dickey etc.



Based on a Pulitzer prize winning news article, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape”, this superb police procedural drama charts events which occurred in Washington and Colorado between 2008 and 2011. A brutal rapist is attacking women in their homes and leaving absolutely no trace of evidence. Police in Washington are so stumped they are not even sure one of their victims, Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever), is telling the truth.

The series is carefully structured between Marie’s ordeals in 2008 and the subsequent 2011 police investigation led by Detective Grace Rasmussen (Toni Collette) and Detective Karen Duvall (Merritt Weaver). Marie is so appallingly treated by the Washington police that you cannot help but sympathise with her. Her character is one of neglect and tragedy.

The Colorado investigation occurring in 2011 is the total opposite of the Washington one. Rasmussen and Duvall may be different in personality, yet they are both determined and fierce in their pursuit of this heinous perpetrator. Collette and Weaver make a formidable team on screen and there is much sensitivity toward the victims of these crimes within an excellent script.

Ultimately, this is a thoughtful, suspenseful and, at times, heartfelt drama. It both highlights the shocking nature of sexual crimes against women and the very different ways different police departments handle such situations. I myself was continually moved emotionally by the events and feel there is no place in this world for people who commit such wicked crimes.

Mark: 9 out of 11



WHEN THEY SEE US (2019)

Directed by: Ava Duvernay

Written by: Ava Duvernay, Julian Breece, Robin Swicord, Attica Locke, Michael Starrbury

Cast: Asante Blackk, Caleel Harris, Ethan Herisse, Jharrel Jerome, Marquis Rodriguez, Jovan Adepo, Chris Chalk, Justin Cunningham, Freddy Miyares, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, Michael K. Williams



If Unbelievable (2019) illustrates both the positive and negative results of police investigations, When They See Us (2019), paints an even more incredulous series of events with regard to the law. The drama series concerns a vicious sexual attack in 1989 on Trisha Meili, a jogger in Central Park. The police acted swiftly to arrest the alleged perpetrators. Satisfied that the five black male suspects they had in custody committed the crimes, the police, urged on by New York prosecutor, Linda Fairstein use unscrupulous tactics to gain their “confessions.”

The way these characters — Kevin Richardson, Anton McCray, Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise and Raymond Santana — are treated by the New York Police Department is only the beginning of the cruel injustice they face. From the initial crime, to the arrests, to the court case and subsequent aftermath, the drama puts you at the heart of one of the biggest travesties ever committed. The series expertly shows how the legal system fails these individuals, their families and the victim too.

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. The performances from the younger and older actors is excellent, although special mention must go to Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise. In ‘Part Four’, which shows his incarceration, Jerome’s portrayal oozes tragedy and solitary pathos. Indeed, the acting is so good Jerome would deservedly win an Emmy award.

Ava DuVernay, having taken a break from hard-hitting drama by directing fantasy film A Wrinkle in Time (2018), has produced another powerful and socially relevant work. These events may have occurred in 1989, but their impact echoes across the decades. The treatment by the New York Police of these black youths is also a microcosm of how minorities are treated in general by the U.S. justice system. By highlighting the tragedy of this case, DuVernay and her production team have created a landmark work of TV drama. One which is both incredibly vital and emotionally unforgettable. Be warned: there will be tears.

Mark: 10 out of 11


HBO TV REVIEW SUCCESSION (2019) – S2 – EASILY ONE OF THE BEST TV SHOWS OF 2019!

SUCCESSION (2019) – SEASON 2

Created by – Jesse Armstrong

Writers – Jesse Armstrong, Jon Brown, Jonathan Glatzer, Anna Jordan, Mary Laws, Georgia Pritchett, Tony Roche, Susan Soon He Stanton, Will Tracy

Directors: Kevin Bray, Becky Martin, Mark Mylod, Andrij Parekh, Robert Pulcini, Matt Shakman, Shari Springer Berman

Executive Producers: Ilene S. Landress, Kevin Messick, Frank Rich, Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Jesse Armstrong

Producers: Regina Heyman, Dara Schnapper

Cast: Hiam Abbass, Nicholas Braun, Brian Cox, Keiran Culkin, Peter Friedman, Natalie Gold, Holly Hunter, Danny Huston, Cherry Jones, Matthew MacFadyen, Alan Ruck, Parker Sawyers, Sarah Snook, Fisher Stevens, Jeremy Strong, Rob Yang etc.

Composer: Nicholas Britell

Original Network: HBO

**CONTAINS SEASON ONE SPOILERS**



“So, someone’s getting shit-canned. Let’s get the party started.” — Roman Roy


If you haven’t watched HBO’s Succession (2018-2019), then I urge you to do so. It is genuinely one of the best television shows of the year. You can read my review of the first season here, but it’s safe to say Season 2, now all the characters are established and plots thickened, is even nastier, funnier, scathing, backstabbing and emotionally charged.

Succession may not appeal to everyone. If you prefer your television to be safe and heart-warming, then this is the antithesis of cosy Sunday night viewing. It’s a sickening watch at times; embarrassing and cringeworthy too. These rich capitalists and media players have more money than some countries, but they are driven to crave more. They want more money and more power! This power corrupts absolutely and for them greed is not enough. They are bored gods who having destroyed lesser humans turn on each other for sport.



The second season follows directly after the events of Season One. Waystar Royco’s uber-owner, Logan Roy (Brian Cox), has withstood a power challenge from his son, Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong). He is under pressure now from external sources seeking to excavate a hostile takeover, plus he has to choose a successor to satisfy shareholders.

These situations, and Logan Roy’s attempts to buy one of his biggest media news rivals to bolster assets, initially drive the season forward. But, due to some brilliant writing, the series weaves many other story-lines into a web of twisted strands, all of which create humour, shock, grief, sadness and exhilaration. From Kendall’s attempts to recover from addiction to Siobhan’s (Sarah Snook) pursuit of power and Roman’s (Kieran Culkin) pseudo-Oedipal sexual dalliances, there’s all manner of turbulence for the Roy family. None more so than when — echoing the recent #MeToo scandals — historical sexual abuse in their Cruise Division comes to darken the company door.

HBO has spared no expense in this production, as we find ourselves in a variety of global venues including: New York, London, Dundee, Greece, Turkey and New Hampshire. Moreover, episodes structured around family get-togethers, business meetings, retreats, conferences, awards ceremonies and corporate away days are staged in beautiful and opulent locations. As the characters move from the boardroom to country houses to museums to super-yachts to beaches to trendy bars and off-Broadway theatres, you find yourself a tourist without having to leave the armchair.



Often you will get TV shows where a few characters will stand out as protagonists, but in Succession (2019), the writing, directing and acting is so good everyone stands out. It’s hard to pick whose acting is most impressive. But my favourites have to be Matthew McFadyen as Tom, the grovelling husband of Siobhan, and Jeremy Strong as Kendall. His ghostly performance, full of guilt and existential emptiness, is paralyzingly memorable. As well as the main cast, the production added a raft of incredible character actors such as Holly Hunter, Danny Huston, Fisher Stevens, Jeannie Berlin, Cherry Jones to name a few.

Ultimately, this is Shakespearean television of the highest quality. Succession (2019), is what we would get if Billy Wilder did TV. I haven’t even mentioned the incredible score by Nicholas Britell. The music soars and binds scenes of black comedy and blacker tragedy together with a searing complicity. As I said, the show may not contain the most likeable of characters, but, somehow, the writers, actors and production staff make you want to watch these monsters. Despite their wealth and venal ways, you’re compelled to rubberneck this coruscating humanity motorway pile-up presented as TV entertainment. The incredible dialogue alone makes it one of the best seasons of television I have seen in some time.

Mark: 10 out of 11



HBO TV REVIEW -SUCCESSION (2018) – SEASON 1 – BRILLIANT SATIRE ABOUT RICH AR$£HOL£$!

HBO TV REVIEW – SUCCESSION (2018)

Created by – Jesse Armstrong

Writers – Jesse Armstrong, Jon Brown, Jonathan Glatzer, Anna Jordan, Lucy Prebble, Georgia Pritchett, Tony Roche, Susan Soon He Stanton

Directors: Adam Arkin, Miguel Arteta, S.J. Clarkson, Adam McKay, Mark Mylod, Andrij Parekh

Executive Producers: Ilene S. Landress, Kevin Messick, Franch Rich, Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Jesse Armstrong

Producers: Regina Heyman, Dara Schnapper

Cast: Hiam Abbass, Nicholas Braun, Brian Cox, Keiran Culkin, Peter Friedman, Natalie Gold, Matthew MacFadyen, Alan Ruck, Parker Sawyers, Sarah Snook, Jeremy Strong, Rob Yang etc.

Composer: Nicholas Britell

Original Network: HBO

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

“Money, money, Money! Must be funny! In a rich man’s world!” ABBA

Is it funny? In a rich man’s world? Or woman’s? Or anyone’s?

From my perspective I’ve never understood the desire for incredible wealth and power. Of course, it is great to be comfortable and have the money to feed, clothe and house yourself. But, that need and want to have extravagant things is beyond my comprehension. Obviously, if you’re born into money, it could be deemed unavoidable. Some may say it’s a curse. However, we all have choice as to how we behave whether we have money or not.

Personally speaking, I have everything I need to live. I have enough nice things. I have a car, television, mobile phone, computer, food, clothes, shoes, people I love and, at time of writing, my health. I have enough. For some enough is never enough. The extreme is only halfway. Ambition and power and wealth and greed drive them forward. Their desire for more has no limit.

Succession (2018), is another television show about the darker actions of the filthy, selfish and narcissistic rich. Similar, but far more poisonous than Showtime’s hit Billions, the narratives are driven by power games from the Machiavellian playbook. Set within a behemoth media conglomerate, Waystar Royco, led by octogenarian, Logan Roy (Brian Cox). the plots and subplots focus on the various family members and fucked-up personalities within this permanently dysfunctional family. The characters are not so much ‘Masters of the Universe’ but masters and mistresses of their own calamitous downfalls.

Is it funny though? In a rich man’s world? Well, based on Jesse Armstrong’s creation Succession (2018), it is! Unsurprisingly, from a writer who has worked on such comedy masterpieces as Peep Show, The Thick of It, Four Lions (2010) and Veep, these ten episodes contain some of the most biting and sarcastic dialogue and situations you could experience. It’s black though. It’s tumour humour. These are cancerous laughs which eat you from the inside. You’re entertained watching the programme but simultaneously aware of how accurate its’ dark vision of humanity, greed, power and family life is. No one gets out of here alive, including the audience.

The show bleeds quality from cast to production values to direction and not forgetting Nicholas Britell’s incredible score. You have to have a strong stomach to watch so many irredeemable and unlikeable characters all inhabiting the same space. But the writing is an absolute marvel with all manner of slicing one-liners which cut with scalpel like precision. The main narrative strands involve the children challenging their father’s running of the company. Watching Brian Cox viciously curse and do battle with them is drama of the weightiest kind; almost Shakespearean at times.

Lastly, I must say the acting is of the highest order. Sarah Snook, as political campaigner daughter, Siobhan, is destined for big things. British actor Matthew MacFadyen gives a nuanced comedic rendition as Siobhan’s fiancé; both sycophantic to the Roy family and a bully to company underlings. Kieran Culkin is sleazy and the most unlikeable of all, while Alan Ruck’s passive aggressive older son waltzes in and out of scenes with consummate skill.

As Logan Roy Brian Cox is well, just so Brian Cox; sweary, growling and menacing. His character locks horns most of all with second son, Kendall Roy. Portrayed exceptionally by Jeremy Strong, Kendall is a sad figure, attempting recovery from drug addiction, but cursed to desire to lead his fathers’ company. This leads to him making some incredibly dubious decisions. Because enough is never enough and that is the tragedy. In Succession, it is far from funny in a rich man’s world. It is sick, twisted and ultimately very black.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’90 (2015)

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’90 (2015)

Created by: Shane Meadows

Director: Shane Meadows

Writers: Shane Meadows, Jack Thorne

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, Perry Fitzpatrick, Joe Dempsie etc.

Cinematography: Danny Cohen

Music by: Ludovico Einaudi

**CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM – THIS IS ENGLAND ’83, ’86 & ’88**

So, just to reiterate if you have NOT seen the previous film or TV series of This is England, I would advise you start with the film and watch them in order of release. Safe to say that this review also contains MASSIVE SPOILERS from the previous productions too.

As the title says we are now in the year 1990, some two years after the trauma of Lol’s (Vicky McClure) suicide attempt. Her and Woody are now thankfully back together and he, the gang and Milky have reconciled. Structured into a seasonal order of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter the show shifts focus to a more ensemble narrative presentation. Here more secondary characters such as Lol’s sister Kelly (Chanel Creswell) and Milky (Andrew Shim) are given meatier storylines over the four episodes.

As it’s the 1990’s we get some of my favourite music of all time presented. Indie, pop and rave tracks by the likes of The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, The Pixies, The La’s, James, Beats International and many more dominate the soundtrack. Thus, the Spring and Summer months begin in an upbeat mood for the characters on the main. Gadget, Harvey, Trev, Shaun and Kelly are into the rave and Madchester scene, popping pills with heady abandon. This is where Kelly’s story veers into dark drama as her grief for the loss of her father spills into drug addiction and self-destructive behaviour.

This reaches a head in the Summer episode. Beginning as a humorous drive to a field in the England becomes, for Harvey, Gadget, Trev and Shaun a narcotic escape out of Midlands mundanity. However, for Kelly it leads to a dark, drug-induced and sexualised nightmare. For the first time in the series though I felt the drama was slightly gratuitous and felt uncomfortable with Kelly’s ordeal. However, Chanel Cresswell gave a haunting performance of a character lost in a fog of addiction and despair.

With Kelly’s character adrift in the Autumn and Winter months, the narrative also brings back Combo (Stephen Graham) into the mix. As the racist thug in the original film, his character had ventured into some twisted redemption when taking the blame for Lol and Kelly’s Dad’s death. With Combo about to be released from prison the series examines whether people can change and most importantly be forgiven for prior crimes. It is hard hitting stuff and Stephen Graham is a superb actor who lives and breathes the mistakes of his characters’ past. His Winter scenes with Milky are particularly painful and ultimately shocking.

Indeed, during the Autumn and Winter episodes we get some of the most painful and dramatic scenes in the whole series. The scene around the dinner table when Lol decides to confess to her mum, Kelly and Milky the actual events regarding her Dad’s death are so compelling. Meadows directs this scene with simple and devastating effect. He allows the amazing performances from the cast to create emotion via long and tense takes. News of Combo being released impacts them all and the aftermath leads to a vengeful decision by Milky which haunts both him and the audience.

Meadows, co-writer Jack Thorne, the cast and the production team of This Is England ’90 deliver another nostalgic, humorous and hard-hitting drama series. It ends with the characters moving toward the light but with darkness not too far behind. Lol and Woody finally get married in as close to a feel-good ending you get with Shane Meadows. Overall, as slices of life go, these films and TV programmes are genuine British classics and a must watch if you are drawn to gritty, realistic dramas which chuck everything at you — including the kitchen sink.

Mark: 9 out of 11

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’86 (2010)

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’86 (2010)

Created by: Shane Meadows

Directors: Tom Harper, Shane Meadows

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 etc.

Cinematography: Danny Cohen

Music by: Ludovico Einaudi

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Having watched Shane Meadows classic British film, This is England (2006), again of late – review can be found here – I thought it would be fascinating to catch up with the subsequent television series via ALL 4. Thus, Meadows and co-writer, Jack Thorne re-introduce the gritty lives of beloved and some not-so-beloved working-class characters, within the satanic Midland mills of England.

I would strongly advise, if interested in watching this drama, you begin with the film first. That way you can familiarise and experience the events and characters of the show in the correct order. Indeed, this classic series works best when you watch the film and subsequent series, This is England ’88 (2011) and This is England ’90 (2014) as a continuous whole. That way you get the full power of Shane Meadow’s vision for the characters and the period it is set.

The series for me is an engrossing mix of nostalgia, comedy, drama and socio-political exploration. Opening some three years after the original film, we re-join the “gang” going about their lives attempting to breach the difficult gap between youth and adulthood. After the tragic events of 1983, Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) has lost contact with the group but over the course of the four episodes he integrates back in. The others are either unemployed or in Woody’s (Joe Gilgun) case employed and attempting some form of upward mobility. Moreover, Lol/Lorraine (Vicky McClure) and Woody are planning to get married. However, the return of Lol’s father (Johnny Harris) brings back painful memories for her and his presence gives the series the villain of the piece.

The structure of the series echoes that of the film. We start with mostly lighter episodes containing a comedic flavour. The seeds of drama, such as Woody backing out of the wedding at the altar, are planted early on. Nonetheless, the early episodes contain some really funny scenes. These include Shaun’s run-in with the local bullies and a party which gets completely out of hand too. There’s much in the way of bawdy and sexual humour, especially when Gadget is used as a sex toy by local divorcee, Trudy. These scenes make us feel safe and warm, yet we know that trouble isn’t far away for the characters.

Once again, the soundtrack is a fantastic mix of eras with a classic collection of 1960s, 1970s and 1980s rock, ska, punk and pop music. Similarly, the fashion of the characters is a postmodern melange of punk, mod and new wave looks. Politics and sport are also thrown into the mix with the 1986 “Hand of God” World Cup dominating the backdrop of the series.

As the characters and era are established and some laughs have been mined, the drama really kicks in. Lol and Woody’s relationship breakdown causes her to make some poor decisions, as she capitulates in the stress of her father’s return. Vicky McClure is fantastic as Lol. You can feel the trauma in her whole being during the scenes with Johnny Harris’ evil patriarch. The culmination of their conflict is one of the most harrowing scenes I have ever witnessed on a television screen.

Overall, This is England ’86 is full of complex emotions, humour and drama. There’s a real honesty to the characters who are just trying to live their lives in the Midlands, despite all the disadvantages it brings. Ultimately, they are striving to be decent but find their loyalties tested by friends, family and their lack of opportunities. Amidst the humour and camaraderie of the series we get some brutal and unforgettable moments of drama which remain long after the credits have rolled. The politicians of Westminster may not care and want to forget about such lives, but Shane Meadows won’t let us forget, delivering a powerful character chorus of laughter, tears and togetherness.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

THE ROMANOFFS (2018) – AMAZON TV REVIEW

THE ROMANOFFS (2018) – AMAZON TV REVIEW

Created and directed by: Matthew Weiner

Writer(s): Matthew Weiner, Michael Goldbach, Mary Sweeney, Semi Challas, Andre Jacquemetton, Maria Jacquemetton, Donald Joh, Kris Turner Towner etc.

Composers: Anton Sanko, David Carbonara, Giona Ostinelli, Sonya Belousova, Marcelo Zarvos etc.

Cinematography: Christopher Manley

Original Network: Amazon Studios

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Matthew Weiner and his production team were behind one of the most brilliant television series of recent years in Mad Men. The quality of writing, directing, acting, art direction and attention to period detail on that show was incredibly rich. Overall, Mad Men wasn’t about big surprises and massive plot twists, but rather strong characterisation, evocation of an era and dense analysis of existential moments within romantic, family and industrial relationships.

Weiner’s next project The Romanoffs, finds him in a similar character driven mode. It’s a contemporary anthology series about people who are descendants of the Russian Royal family. The eight stories loosely connect but mainly stand alone, dealing with the lives, loves, turmoil and deaths of privileged people. As such mostly first world and high class problems abide. Altogether, the productions are expertly presented with Amazon clearly throwing a lot of money at them.

As they are self-contained narratives I have decided to order them in personal preference, rather than Amazon’s air order. Thus, here are said mini-reviews with usual marks out of eleven.

THE ONE THAT HOLDS EVERYTHING (EPISODE 8)

Main cast: Hugh Skinner, Hera Hilmar, Ben Miles, JJ Feild

This is the final story in the series and they saved the best until last. It is an incredibly dark exploration of family conflict that traverses the life of Hugh Skinner’s tragic Simon Romanov. Flash-backs entwine with flash-backs as his story unfolds from various perspectives. The script is incredible and certainly one of the best stories I have seen all year.

Mark: 10 out of 11

HOUSE OF SPECIAL PURPOSE (EPISODE 3)

Main cast: Christina Hendricks, Isabelle Huppert, Jack Huston, Paul Reiser

This is an absolutely brilliant satire about the filmmaking process. It finds Hendricks’ movie star on the crazy set of Isabelle Huppert’s eccentric director. The narrative channels horror, surrealist, comedy, drama and romance genres with a complex screenplay. Huppert and Hendricks are superb; as is the jaw-dropping ending!

Mark: 9 out of 11

BRIGHT AND HIGH CIRCLE (EPISODE 5)

Main cast: Diane Lane, Ron Livingston, David Patton

Thematically very strong, the story finds Diane Lane and Ron Livingston as wealthy parents whose children may or may not have been abused by their piano teacher. It’s a subtle exploration of middle class paranoia and universal fear glued together by a superlative performance from Lane.

Mark: 8 out of 11

END OF THE LINE (EPISODE 7)

Main Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Jay R. Ferguson, Annet Mahendru

Like the very watchable Netflix film Private LIves (2018), this story finds Kathryn Hahn portraying another parent desperate for a child. Hahn and her husband, Ferguson, travel to Vladivostock to adopt a Russian child and face all manner of cultural, geographical, health and language barriers. It’s an absorbing piece which really drags you in but ultimately the drama felt protracted by the end.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11

PANORAMA (EPISODE 6)

Main cast: Radha Mitchell, Juan Pable Castaneda, Griffin Dunne

More travelogue and history lesson with a mild romantic drama added, this story promises much but peters out by the end. Castaneda’s journalist investigates medical malpractice but it’s left to Radha Mitchell and the wonderful setting of Mexico City to provide the emotional depth.

Mark: 7 out of 11

THE VIOLET HOUR (EPISODE 1)

Main cast: Aaron Eckhart, Marthe Keller, Louise Bourgoin, Ines Melab

What starts off as a fascinating culture clash dramedy between an elderly racist and her Muslim carer, strangely left-turns into an tacked-on romance story. The cast are excellent and there’s some fine dialogue but it felt unbelievable toward the end for me.

Mark: 6.5 out of 11

THE ROYAL WE (EPISODE 2)

Main cast: Kerry Bishe, Corey Stoll, Janet Montgomery

Mid-life crises and male “seven-year itches” drive the narrative as a bunch of selfish and adulterous actions made me hate Stoll’s character. The Jury Service scenes are interesting but aside from Kerry Bishe’s decent character, I found this a painful way to spend eighty-or-so minutes.

Mark: 6 out of 11

EXPECTATION (EPISODE 4)

Main cast: Amanda Peet, Emily Rudd, John Slattery

Amanda Peet’s character has a bad day – THE END! Even the appearance of the mercurial John Slattery cannot save this disappointingly empty story.

Mark: 4 out of 11