Tag Archives: Tragedy

FLEABAG – SEASONS 1 & 2 – BBC TV REVIEW

FLEABAG – SEASONS 1 & 2 – BBC TV REVIEW

Created and Written by: Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Directed by: Harry Bradbeer

Producers: Lydia Hampson, Sarah Hammond

Starring: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Sian Clifford, Olivia Colman, Brett Gelman, Hugh Skinner, Bill Paterson, Jamie Demetriou, Jenny Rainsford, Hugh Dennis etc.

Composer: Isobel Waller-Bridge

Cinematography: Tony Miller, Laurie Rose

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

This melancholic, painful and chaotic home for middle-class grotesques and excruciatingly awkward comedy situations involving, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s barely-surviving-human being-the-titular-‘Fleabag’, shouldn’t really work as entertainment. Yet, it does because of: brilliant writing, dark, honest humour, existential depth, almost-cinematic production values; genuine star quality from Waller-Bridge; and a cast on top of their game.

First-world-very-white yet universal human problems are legion in two seasons of twelve breathless episodes. We join our nameless anti-hero scraping through life in the midst of doubling grief, following the recent deaths of her mother and close friend/business partner. No doubt the chattering twenty-something classes are full with “I’m just like Fleabag!” recognition. Nonetheless, there’s something to enjoy for those who love to experience raw, human frailty on screen too.

‘Fleabag’ fights flailing moods, business and family issues in contemporary status-symbol London. Using sex to block out her pain in the first season, ‘Arsehole Guy’ and ‘Bus Rodent’ are two such crutch-like paramours who, along with on-off-ex-boyfriend, Harry, are given the physical and emotional run-around. In the less bawdy second season she falls for an uber-cool Catholic Priest (Andrew Scott). Thus, the lashings of sex from the first season gives way to more interesting abstinence and romantic torture for ‘Fleabag’.

With her best mate dead from a tragic accident ‘Fleabag’s’ sword and shield against life is gone and attempts at bridge-building with her family are fraught with strained agony. Her sister Claire (Sian Clifford), is tighter than a snare drum, existing solely on neurosis and a never-ending workaholic mission drive. The scenes between ‘Fleabag’ and her sister range from touching to hilarious to fractious dread. Meanwhile, their beta-male Father (Bill Paterson), is also grieving and a full-on emotional trainwreck. He finds himself a rabbit-in-the-headlights of Olivia Colman’s ‘Godmother’; a genius at passive aggressivity and unlikely arch-villain, quietly stealing the father away from his daughters.

Many hilarious and painful scenes play out around dinner tables, art exhibitions, parties, funerals, seminars, retreats and weddings. ‘Fleabag’ vainly attempts normality but understandbly fails. In addition to her family she also conflicts with other characters, notably Claire’s horrendous-alcoholic-overgrown-man-child-husband, Martin. I was genuinely shouting bile at the TV screen every time I saw him. Thankfully, Fleabag also features fine supporting roles from more likeable characters portrayed by the ultra-talented Fiona Shaw, Kristin Scott-Thomas and aforementioned Andrew Scott.

From Hancock to Steptoe and Son to Fawlty Towers to Blackadder to The Office to Spaced and to the most recent Gervais show After Life, British comedy has been replete with idiosyncratic and anti-heroic characters we root for. Indeed, it takes special writing and performances to get such shades of grey to work on stage and screen. Overall, Waller-Bridge takes familiar themes and situations and spins comedy and dramatic gold from them. Formally, she smashes the fourth wall with Brechtian direct address, welcoming us into her tumultuous reality, speaking to us and asking us to laugh and cry and love and hate and do what humans do: somehow just get through the day.

Season 1 – Mark: 9 out of 11

Season 2 – Mark: 9.5 out of 11

THE NETFLIX MEMORANDUM – INCLUDING REVIEWS OF: AFTERLIFE, THE SINNER (S2), RUSSIAN DOLL, DAREDEVIL (s3) ETC.

THE NETFLIX MEMORANDUM – INCLUDING REVIEWS OF: AFTERLIFE, THE DIRT, RUSSIAN DOLL, DAREDEVIL ETC.

For some insane reason I have given up alcohol for the year and the weight of reality and time burdens my everyday existence. First world problems abide. Anyway, while my liver breathes a huge sigh of relief, my mind still desires stimulus. Thus, I have, in my constant sobriety, had even more time to stream and watch even more films and television. These bitesize reviews look at the latest stuff I’ve seen on the behemoth streamer Netflix; with the usual marks out of eleven.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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AFTERLIFE (2019)

Ricky Gervais’ latest fictional piece is a really enjoyable tragi-comedy. His everyman, Tony, is suffering severe grief following the passing of his wife. Sadly he allows misanthropy and suicidal thoughts to overcome his daily existence in the fictional town of Tambury. The comedy is founded on dark materials but filled with deep humanity as we watch Tony wrestle with his demons.

I especially loved the eccentric characters and jokes concerning Tony’s job as a reporter with the local newspaper. The supporting cast are a joy too and include brilliant comedians like: David Earl, Kerry Godliman, Joe Wilkinson, Tom Basden and Diane Morgan. The ensemble cast and fine writing combine to create a simple, funny and emotional journey through one’s man’s fight with depression and grief. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT (2019)

I keep telling myself not to watch such true crime documentaries as they make me feel really sad about the state of human behaviour. This story from the United States was in documentary film form so I got pulled back in by not having to sit through ten episodes of horror. Also, I’d heard it was a pretty incredible story too so my interest was piqued by that.

Safe to say this grim tale of grooming, paedophilia and abduction that one family suffered at the hands of a human monster in the 1970s, is something you wish you could un-see. As a documentary film it is very well made but it does make you lament the gullibility of some people and sickness of others. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

DAREDEVIL (2018) – SEASON 3

I’d say Matt Murdoch’s Daredevil is my favourite of the Marvel/Netflix streamed offerings. Charlie Cox is a fine actor and the drama, fighting and villainous rendition of Wilson Fisk by Vincent D’Onofrio, make it essential viewing. While it takes a huge gulp to believe that a blind guy could be that great at fighting criminals with sight, once you buy into that premise the show offers a lot of fun.

While not scaling the heights of Season 1, and lacking the brutal Punisher (John Bernthal) side-plot of Season 2, this latest Season 3 finds Murdoch up against Fisk again and a new psychopath in rogue FBI agent, Ben Poindexter. Like other Marvel adaptations on Netflix it’s still five episodes too long and bogged down with plodding angst and lengthy dialogue scenes, so doesn’t quite hit the bulls-eye throughout. Nonetheless, it’s still compelling drama and the hand-to-hand fight scenes are an absolute sensation. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

THE DIRT (2019)

Crazed rock stars take drugs, smash up hotel rooms, screw groupies and almost die due to their excess is the unsurprising narrative ups and downs of this Motley Crue biopic. It’s not a bad watch but is essentially like a poorer version of This is Spinal Tap, without the incredible gag-rate. The film fleshes out the caricature members of the band showing their human side; Douglas Booth and Iwan Rheon bringing depth to their paper-thin roles. Moreover, while the era and stadium shows are really well emulated the direction lacks alot of imagination.

I mean, there was an intense film about addiction and human excess in here, and while we do get some moving scenes, notably with singer Vince Neil’s life struggles and Nikki Sixx’s heroin dependancy; ultimately the film did not dig deep enough into their characters. Still, fans of the band and their energetic rock music will love it no doubt. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

JESSICA JONES (2018) – SEASON 2

Kristen Ritter is back as Marvel’s hard-drinking, misanthropic and super-powered private investigator; and she remains very pissed off. Season 1 of Jessica Jones was absolutely brilliant due to David Tennant’s incredible villain, Kilgrave, and Jones’ character arc reflecting the damaging nature of controlling relationships.

Season 2, alas, is a plodding let-down full of filler episodes and weak sub-plots which quite frankly bored me. While Ritter holds the season together, the investigation into her past gets dragged down by soap operatics and a severe lack of pace and action. Mark: 6 out of 11

POLAR (2019)

Mads Mikkelsen is one of my favourite actors and he is on good form as a crack hit-man daubed ‘The Black Kaiser’. There’s a decent B-movie in here somewhere but the attention-deficient and showy direction detract from a potentially interesting story of regret and redemption. Moreover, while the action scenes are deftly realised the stupid characterisation, exploitative sex scenes and amoral violence drag the film into the unwatchable territory.

The least said about Matt Lucas’ performance as the amoral ‘Mr Big’ the better; here a usually excellent comic actor is given appalling direction that, like most of the film, lacks subtlety, tone and emotion. (Mark: 3 out of 11)

RUSSIAN DOLL (2019)

Another Groundhog Day copy gets a run out with Natasha Lyonne’s sassy computer programmer finding herself living out the same day over and over with various insane diversions along the way. It starts off really interestingly with lots of crazy deaths, character revelations and existential suffering. However, it soon runs out of steam, adding up to eight dramatically paper-thin episodes, more style than content.

Lyonne, is a fine actor who I like very much, delivers every line like New York comedian Andrew Dice Clay and this grated on me in the end as I felt I was watching a stand-up performance rather than a fully-rounded character searching for the meaning of life. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

THE SINNER (2018) – SEASON 2

After the surprisingly excellent Season 1 of The Sinner, I was really looking forward to the second season. The cop show format is twisted in a really interesting way as we see the accused commit the crime, yet find the cop, in this case the impressive Bill Pullman, empathising with the criminal. Pullman’s Harry Ambrose is a brilliant creation. He’s not flashy or loquacious but a determined and dogged cop with his own personal demons.

Drawn to the troubled or underdog Ambrose digs for justice and redemption. In this story he sees his own past in the crimes of a 13 year-old boy accused of murder and is determined to find answers. Here the boy in question is given a compelling performance by Elisha Henig; and his characters’ commune existence and family history had me gripped throughout. A supporting cast including Carrie Coon and Tracy Letts also add real quality to this stirring psychological drama with themes relating to: physical and psychological abuse; religious cults; family tragedy; mental illness; and the darkness of the human spirit. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – PETERLOO (2018)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – PETERLOO (2018)

Directed by: Mike Leigh

Produced by: Georgina Lowe

Written by: Mike Leigh

Starring: David Bamber, Alastair Mackenzie,  James Dangerfield, Eileen Davies, Liam Gerrard, Bronwyn James, Philip Jackson, Rory Kinnear, Nico Mirallegro, Maxine Peake, Pearce Quigley, Tim McInnerny plus many more.

Music by: Gary Yershon

Cinematography: Dick Pope

Production company: Film4 Productions, British Film Institute, Thin Man Films

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**

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Peterloo (2018) is a film of voices, of speech, of reform and of freedom. It is Mike Leigh’s thirteenth feature film production and clearly a labour of love for him, his production team and the army of actors who put their hearts and souls into this powerful work of cinema. Four years in the making, this historical document, as well as paying tribute to those who campaigned for the vote in the 1800s, is also a passionate love letter to Northern England and the proud working classes of the era.

The film begins in 1815 at the battle of Waterloo and then brings us into the factories and streets of Manchester and surrounding Northern areas. As with many Mike Leigh films you can feel the palpable authenticity in the settings, accents and places the characters live. Leigh also cuts to local magistrates who hold up the draconian laws designed to keep the poor in their place; handing out savage justice such as the death penalty to one man for stealing a coat. We also visit London and experience those ruling classes who inhabit the Houses of Parliament and Royal palaces, lording over the oppressed workers.

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The character strokes are broad at first before Leigh further develops their personalities. The dialogue is delivered formally initially as the characters educate the audience regarding various laws affecting them. This seems jarring but also serves the documentary and historical nature of the piece. As the narrative strands build steadily to the fateful march the editing throughout cross-cuts between the ruling, working and legal classes representing their differing perspectives. The march was intended to be a peaceful demonstration; a plea for Parliamentary reform and the desire to be heard. Surely, that’s the right of everyone in a civilised society?  Well, not in 1819.

With the film driven by a whole host of wonderfully written speeches, it could be argued, Peterloo, lacks the warmth and humour of Leigh’s other more personal films. However, there are some formidable performances amidst the huge cast. Maxine Peake is earthy and convincing in her representation of a mother struggling to make ends meet. Rory Kinnear brings an intelligence and pride to the confident character of Henry Hunt; a wealthy landowner committed to reform and repeal of the onerous ‘Corn Laws’. As is the case with Leigh’s other films the acting is uniformly impressive because you know months of planning and rehearsal would have been committed to the production.

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The film is also shot beautifully by cinematographer Dick Pope. There is a strong leaning toward a naturalistic lighting palette. Interiors are often bathed in sunlight shining through windows onto the shadowed faces of the characters. His camera is placed ideally to capture the rural and industrial locations of the era. There’s also some wonderful framing within arches and factories. Lastly, Leigh’s meticulous approach to authenticity reveals the machinery from the time, such as the looms and printing presses. Similarly, you can almost feel the reality of the epoch through the excellent costume design.

The final act brings us to the fateful day itself. Mike Leigh handles the massive crowd scenes expertly and shows the injustice and barbarism brought about by the cavalry and law enforcements attacking up to 80,000 people who are protesting for change. Having spent a few hours establishing the characters and their relevant causes the emotional impact of the attacks by the ruling classes is palpable. This is ultimately very powerful cinema which resonated with me because it reminded of the historical events down the ages where people have been murdered or injured while trying to make their voices heard.

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Peterloo may not be for everyone as it is a long epic with a plethora of dialogue heavy scenes. Yet, I was enthralled as the language and passion of such discourse is very eloquent and heartfelt. The sheer scale of the filmmaking itself is also impressive even if the narrative lacks a specific personal focus throughout. Mike Leigh’s approach is very clear as it represents the working class as victims to an oppressive regime which has no regard for human suffering. Indeed, it should be every person’s basic right to have a voice and given past and current social and political events Peterloo contains a message that remains very valid today.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

PETERLOO (2018) will be released in the UK on 2nd November 2018

THE LEVELLING (2016) – SKY CINEMA REVIEW

THE LEVELLING (2016) – SKY CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Hope Dickson Leach

Written by: Hope Dickson Leach

Starring: Ellie Kendrick, David Troughton, Jack Holden

Music by: Hutch Demouilpied

Cinematography: Nanu Segal

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I grew up watching visions of the English countryside as represented by television shows such as H.E. Bates’ The Darling Buds of May and James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. With such rural narratives you were never far from a beautiful landscapes, wonderfully sunny skies and country folk working together, on the main, as a community. Hope Dickson Leach’s independent British drama is an altogether different beast. It’s a muddy, grieving, bloody and filth-ridden exploration of how tough family and farming existence is.

Featuring some fantastic performances from Ellie Kendrick and David Troughton the story is very simple. Clover (Kendrick) returns from Veterinary College following the sudden death of her brother. While her father is steadily drinking himself to death, she tries to make sense of her sibling’s apparent suicide. Her father, an army man and farmer is living in a caravan next to the battered family home. The farm business is sliding to bankruptcy and their home has been rotting since the Somerset floods a couple of years before. All round their property and livestock are threatened by damp, disease and death.  In short: this is NOT The Darling Buds of May.

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Ellie Kendrick, who I recognised from several TV shows including Game of Thrones, absolutely owns the character of Clover. She is seen as weak and unreliable by her father but is in fact an intelligent and resilient character who is prepared to work hard and dig deep for some respect. The plot itself reminded me a lot of the Michael Caine gangster classic Get Carter (1971); accept with a female lead and more cows. As Clover attempts to steady the fortune of the farm, caused in part to mis-management by her father and brother, she also turns detective, stealthily delving into circumstances relating to her brother’s death.

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Overall, Hope Dickson Leach has made a really touching personal story of grief. This is a very emotional story about a family torn apart by death on personal and financial levels. I don’t know much about farming life, but while it may be idealized in certain books and films the reality is much tougher. Animals, while commodities are often culled because of disease and farmers are at the mercy of the weather. Moreover, it would appear to be much tougher for women too progress in a male-dominated world which favours sons over daughters.  What the film ultimately shows too, in many brilliantly acted and directed scenes, is we must transcend our differences and work together as one – as family – in order to survive.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #3 – ATONEMENT— “On Dunkirk Beach!”

ATONEMENT— “On Dunkirk Beach!”

Directed by: Joe Wright

Produced by: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Paul Webster

Screenplay by: Christopher Hampton – Based on: Atonement by Ian McEwan

Starring: James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave

Music by: Dario Marianelli

Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey

Release date: 7 September 2007 (United Kingdom)

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

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Joe Wright’s majestic directorial adaptation of Ian McEwan’s tragic romantic war story is a poignant study of petty revenge and class conflict. The scene on Dunkirk beach is the standout cinematic moment of the film as James McEvoy’s weakened soldier, Robbie Turner, flanked by compatriots portrayed by Daniel Mays and Nonso Anonzie, vainly attempts to find a way off the beach.

The scene is shown in one long five minute take and involves a certain beautiful, poetic and brutal chaos. Dario Marianelli’s soaring score and a male choir on the beach accompany images of: naked men skinny-dipping, horses being shot, crushed boats, blazing fires, spinning carousels and big wheels; as trapped soldiers remain in peril from bombs overhead.

Aside from the cinematic and technical achievement on display the emotional impact is surreal, heartfelt and haunting. The power from the film’s denouement when we discover much of the episode has been filtered through Saoirse Ronan’s unreliable narration makes the scene all the more heart-breaking.

HBO’S DEADWOOD (2004 – 2006) – CLASSIC TV REVIEW

HBO’S DEADWOOD (2004 – 2006) – CLASSIC TV REVIEW

ORIGINAL NETWORK: HBO – CURRENT NETWORK: SKY ATLANTIC

CREATED BY: David Milch

STARRING: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Powers Boothe, Dayton Callie, Kim Dickens, Brad Dourif, John Hawkes, and Robin Weigert etc.

SEASONS: 3 – EPISODES: 36

ORIGINAL RELEASE: March 21, 2004 – August 27, 2006

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The blood and sweat and liquor seep into muddy earth as wood creaks, leather cracks and barrels roll within the midst of morning in Deadwood town. Horses cry readying themselves for the work ahead as the hangover of alcohol, greed and necessity fill men, women and children’s hearts not knowing how the day will end. They could be destitute, broke or worse; six feet under from a gunshot or plague or had their throat cut during a game of poker. Or they could be richer than a King or Queen having struck lucky in the goldmines of Montana. These are desperate times brimming with whores, bandits, con-artists, killers and unbelievably twisted optimism. There’s hope that striking gold will change lives forever and bring about fortune and prosperity. More often than not though it simply brings about death.

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David Milch’s formidably researched Western TV classic was a show I’d never ever seen so I took great pleasure drinking in its’ flavours and palette at the end of 2017. I recall when released the tabloid newspapers were forever reporting the controversy of the colourful industrial language. While the language is indeed profane and sometimes enough to make a football referee blush it is the stand-out element of the scripts. Because Deadwood is one of the most brilliantly written shows I’ve seen; and while the dialogue is clearly anachronistic it feels paradoxically authentic. Throughout the thirty-six episodes the monologues sing from the screen as a litany of character actors drawl and deliver words of filth, comedy and great tragedy. At times the dialogue is so dense it reaches sonorous Shakespearean heights.

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The narratives of each season feature characters based on real people from history (Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok, Al Swearengen, Seth Bullock et al); all presented via a daily slice of mining camp life through an incredible ensemble cast. There are no heroes to hang our desires on but rather a rag-tag clan of flawed human beings presented as: killers, cowards, thugs, addicts, prostitutes, card sharks, immigrants, gold-diggers, crooked politicians and morally dubious law representatives. The amazing cast, led with frightening acting acumen by: Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Molly Parker, John Hawkes, Robin Weigert, Brian Cox and Powers Boothe spit words as weapons, while the glint of gold drives humanity, creating a hard-bitten early representation of the American dream.

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Here the early realms of civilization and society are shown to be full of issues relating to: race, capitalism, prostitution, misogyny, violence, politics, and immigration. Thankfully, things have changed now and we live in a near-perfect society with no problems today. NOT! Deadwood may represent a series of distant Wild West memories but its’ grizzled and bloody vision of humanity is just as valid today. The streets of society now may have pavement and tarmac and skyscrapers but they are still besmirched with blood and greed and alas that will never change.

Mark: 10 out of 11

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2017 – REVIEW

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER – LFF 2017 – REVIEW

I started writing film reviews a few years ago and the main reason was because I wanted to try and understand why I liked or disliked a film. I also wanted to improve my creative writing by understanding the thought process of others.  Living filmmakers whose work I have consistently enjoyed, save for the odd one here or there, are: Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, The Coen Brothers, Lynn Ramsay, Jonathan Glazer, Woody Allen (even some of the later ones), Park Chan Wook, David Fincher, Edgar Wright, Jacques Audiard, Darren Aronofsky, Kathryn Bigelow; and many others no doubt!

Such directors capture the quintessence of what cinema is for me. Not simply just in style and form but also powerful themes, imaginative concepts and sheer bloody entertainment. Filmmakers, of late, you can add to that list are: Denis Villeneuve, S. Craig ZAHLER and Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. I have now seen three of his films, namely: Dogtooth (2009), The Lobster (2015) and his next release The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), and they all defy conventional film conventions to deliver absurd, surreal, funny, dark, thought-provoking and imaginative visions of human nature. Also, let’s not forget the writer too; so kudos to his writing partner Efthymis Filippou, who combines with Lanthimos to create such memorable cinematic offerings.

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The story itself begins in a reasonably conventional fashion. Colin Farrell’s successful surgeon, Steven Murphy, is happily married to his wife, Anna, portrayed with glacial precision by Nicole Kidman. They have two healthy and intelligent children, a boy and a girl, and their lives are a picture of upper middle class contentment. Steven and Anna’s family equilibrium is skewed when a teenage boy, Martin, brilliantly portrayed by Barry Keoghan, inveigles his way into their lives through a combination of innocent charm and surreptitious pathos. Martin is a dark angel representative of the cloud of sickness and guilt and remorse and his actions force Steven and Anna to have to face up to a parents’ worst nightmares.

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Lanthimos and Filippou, in Godardian fashion, constantly calls attention to cinema form; especially with a strangely effective form of anti-acting where, Farrell notably, dryly delivers dialogue as unconnected non-sequiturs. The words also constantly surprise us as the characters speak at each other with phrases that create humour and emotional disassociation. Nonetheless, such artifice only adds to the off-centre and sinister nature of the piece. The film is also beautifully shot with a wonderful symmetry to the composition of many shots. I also liked the choice of wide-angle lenses and the flowing Steadicam shots. Many were pitched at just over head-height, and provided an eerie floating sensation throughout the drama.

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Colin Farrell (as he did in The Lobster (2015), Nicole Kidman and the rest of the cast buy completely into Lanthimos and Filippou’s striking vision which takes its’ influence from l Greek tragedy. But while Farrell excels in another praiseworthy under-stated deadpan performance, Barry Keoghan steals the show. The young actor follows up his impactful supporting appearance in Dunkirk (2017), with a compelling character study and eerily mature portrayal. Overall, this is a gripping, absurd thriller-turned-horror film which constantly wrong-footed me with its plot turns. It is a truly chilling, yet darkly comical and surreal genre film that manages to be somehow extremely accessible too.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)