Tag Archives: TV

THE CINEMA FIX: 12 FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2018

12 FAVOURITE TV SHOWS OF 2018

I love television and watched a lot of it last year on most terrestrial and streaming services; especially the BBC, ITV, SKY and NETFLIX channels.  I must admit I am way behind on many AMAZON and ALL 4/CHANNEL 4 programmes so will be rectifying that this year. Indeed, there are probably some glaring omissions because of this.

For comparison I include last year’s favourite TV shows. This year I have not included South Park (Season 22) as it was not as good as prior years, despite clearly being one of the funniest shows around. Also, Doctor Who does not make my list as there were too many average episodes. Lastly, a special mention to The Walking Dead (Season 9), which at the mid-season break had somehow pulled itself out of the torpid decline that occurred around Season 6. It may make my 2019 list once the latest season has finished screening this year.

FAVOURITE 12 TV SHOWS OF 2017

BIG LITTLE LIES (2017) – HBO
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM – SEASON 9 (2017) – HBO
FARGO (2017) – SEASON 3 – FOX / CHANNEL 4
GAME OF THRONES
(2017) – SEASON 7 – HBO
THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2017) – HULU/CHANNEL 4
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2017) – SEASON 12 – NETFLIX
LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN – 20TH YEAR ANNIVERSARY (2017) – BBC
LEGION (2017) – FOX
MINDHUNTER (2017) – NETFLIX
SOUTH PARK – SEASON 21 – SOUTH PARK STUDIOS
STRANGER THINGS 2 (2017) – NETFLIX
THE YOUNG POPE (2016) – HBO

FAVOURITE 12 TV SHOWS OF 2018

ATLANTA (2018) – SEASON 2 – FOX

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BILLIONS (2018) – S3 – SKY

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BLACK MIRROR (2017)NETFLIX

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BODYGUARD (2018) – BBC1

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THE DEUCE (2018) – S2 – HBO / SKY

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HANDMAID’S TALE (2018) – S2 –C4

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HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) – NETFLIX

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INSIDE NO. 9 (2018) – S4 – BBC

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KILLING EVE (2018) – S1 – BBC

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PATRICK MELROSE (2018) – SKY

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VANITY FAIR (2018) – ITV

A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL (2018) – BBC

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VANITY FAIR (2018) – ITV DRAMA REVIEW

VANITY FAIR (2018) – ITV DRAMA REVIEW

Created and written by: Gwyneth Hughes

Based on: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Executive producer(s): Damien Timmer, Tom Mullens, Gwyneth Hughes, James Strong

Directed by: James Strong

Starring: Olivia Cooke, Claudia Jessie, Tom Bateman, Johnny Flynn, Charlie Rowe, Simon Russell Beale, Anthony Head, Martin Clunes, Frances de la Tour, Michael Palin

Composer(s): Isobel Waller-Bridge

Distributor: ITV, Amazon Studios

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

It’s an interesting anomaly in my later years that having previously boycotted period dramas which illustrate the lives of the wealthy and privileged, I now find myself being less partisan and actually watching more. This change doesn’t derive from a mellowing of my socialist working class roots but more an intelligent inquisitiveness as ignorant dismissal of the genre, be they on television or film, means one is possibly missing out on some fine drama or comedy. Indeed, many historical periods’ works of literature or theatre are in fact satirising or damning the upper classes.

Dickens for example dealt with the lower, middle and upper classes, shining a critical light at the many degradations of the era. Likewise, William Makepeace Thackeray also critiqued the folly of war, greed and narcissistic pursuits of the privileged. Stanley Kubrick demonstrated this brilliantly in his classic adaptation of Barry Lyndon (1975); while in ITV’s most recent adaptation Vanity Fair (2018), Thackeray’s adroit study of ambition and upward mobility shows the strengths, weaknesses and foibles of the women and men at the time of the Napoleonic wars.

Vanity Fair is widely considered a classic and considered the founder of the Victorian domestic drama. Originally serialised between 1847 and 1848 it was at the time a massive hit and one could argue the equivalent of what we would call a soap opera today. There have been, since the novel’s release, a plethora of screen, radio and television adaptations. Did we need another one? Probably not; but over seven compelling episodes Gwyneth Hughes’ screenplay does great justice to bring to life an army of: well-to-dos, country lords and ladies, soldiers, clergy, businessmen, plus the sparkling scheming of anti-heroine Rebecca or Becky Sharp.

Indeed, the effervescent, nuanced and outstanding performance of Olivia Cooke as Becky drives the narrative forward with absolute purpose. Cooke owns every scene as Becky attempts, from lowly beginnings, to rise through the ranks of society. It is both her strength of character and confidence which is her biggest asset and greatest enemy, because, always pushing for more, she doesn’t quit when she’s ahead. In stark reflection to Becky, Claudia Jessie as Amelia, is characterised as a romantic and desirous not of wealth or position, but rather love and romance. She is a pure spirit and her personality contrasts perfectly with Becky’s. While we admire Becky’s ambitious drive we remain suspicious of her motives, yet Amelia we warm to due to her big and gracious heart.

The men in the piece are a mixture of romantics, noble soldiers, treacherous or haphazard patriarchs, foppish fools, gamblers or all of the above. Tom Bateman gives a solid performance as Rawdon Crawley, Becky’s gambling military husband, as does Charlie Rowe as the more conflicted romantic, George Osborne. Furthermore, the adaptation contains sterling support from the cream of English character acting royalty including: Martin Clunes, Frances De La Tour, Claire Skinner, Anthony Head and Simon Russell Beale to name a few. However, the standout performance for me was Johnny Flynn as William Dobbin. This is such an empathetic and selfless character that, while holding a torch for Amelia, was prepared to sacrifice his love to make everyone happy. Potentially seen as a weakness, this for me was a real strength in a story which was full of selfish narcissists out for what they could get.

Aside from slightly dodgy green-screen CGI for the later scenes in India this was beautifully shot and lit, with the vistas of the English and French countryside wonderfully rendered. The interiors were eloquently designed as the stately and city homes of the characters, likewise the colourful costumes, were expertly brought to life.  James Strong is a prolific television director and he gets brilliant performances and marshals the pace and machinations of the narrative precisely. With Olivia Cooke and Johnny Flynn delivering star turns in their roles I was consistently surprised by this adaptation of Thackeray’s masterpiece. Ultimately, I’ve learned that whether something is a period drama or not one must give it a chance as it could have qualities which continue to stand the test of time.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

DOCTOR WHO –S11 – EP. 9 REVIEW – IT TAKES YOU AWAY (2018)

DOCTOR WHO REVIEW – IT TAKES YOU AWAY (2018)

Directed by: Jamie Childs

Written by: Ed Hime

Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Ellie Wallwork, Kevin Eldon, Christian Rubeck, Lisa Stokke 

Produced by: Nikki Wilson

Executive producer(s): Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle

Music composer: Segun Akinola

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

This episode, depending on your point of view, was either a strange, but moving science fantasy surrealist hybrid classic; or a collection of half-baked concepts that fell apart with an incredibly bizarre and silly ending.

Yet, It Takes You Away starts off very promisingly. For a start the title evokes suspense, mystery and an underlying sense of loss. The suspense builds when the Doctor and companions arrive in Scandinavia and are immediately faced with a mystery in the Norwegian wood. The beautiful landscape of blue fjords, green brush and scattered timber hide a dark secret within a boarded up cabin. The impressive cinematography also evokes an eerie atmosphere. Moreover, there’s a frightening monster hiding somewhere within nature. Or is there?

In the cabin, the Doctor finds a lone teenage girl, Hanne, blind and seemingly abandoned by her father. Of course, they all agree to help protect Hanne against the monster and find her father too. Up to this point the drama and mystery were intriguing and finely poised. Subsequent events descend to a strange place called the ‘Anti-Zone’. This is where it all begins to fall apart narratively speaking.

Emotionally the episode had some very powerful moments drawing on the breakdown of family relationships; Graham’s grief for the loss of his wife and whether it is better to live in or out of reality. However, within these fascinating themes were some stupid bloodsucking moths and the brilliant character actor Kevin Eldon was under-used as an underground demon-type creature. The less said about the ending the better, which I can only think was going for Twitter-like-clickbait trending rather than a coherent and believable pay-off.

The denouement, together with another massive exposition dump from the Doctor scrambling to convince us it all made sense, found the episode completely laughable.  It was a shame as it had some fine ideas and Bradley Walsh gave a moving performance as Graham. Ultimately though, this season of DoctorWho is flailing having started so promisingly and It Takes You Away plummeted to a new low.          

(Mark: 5 out of 11)

BODYGUARD (2018) – BBC TV REVIEW

BODYGUARD (2018) – BBC TV REVIEW

Producer(s): Priscilla Parish, Eric Coulter, BBC

Created and written by: Jed Mercurio

Director(s): Thomas Vincent, John Strickland

Starring: Richard Madden, Keeley Hawes, Gina McKee, Sophie Rundle, Paul Ready, Vincent Franklin, Stuart Bowman, Nina Toussaint-White,  Stephanie Hyam

Composer(s): Ruth Barrett, Ruskin Williamson

Cinematography:   John Lee

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Jed Mercurio has written and show-run some seriously good television over the years. I remember watching the acerbic medical comedy-drama Cardiac Arrest in the 1990s and enjoying greatly the honest, bleak and black humour of the show. So much so it made hospital soap Casualty look like a kids’ birthday party. Being from a medical background Mercurio would later revisit the NHS for the critically acclaimed programme Bodies (2004 – 2006); a show that contained graphic depictions of surgical operations amidst the cut-throat administrative and medical drama. Subsequently he would have, arguably, his biggest hit with the show Line of Duty. Gaining massive viewing figures Line of Duty concerns a crack team of police officers who investigate corruption within the force.

Mercurio created a solid genre premise with each officer under examination being played by a formidable lead actor. These included: Lennie James, Keeley Hawes, Daniel Mays and in Season 4, Thandie Newton. His strengths as a writer are to use realistic settings, scenarios and characters and twist them for every ounce of suspense possible. His work also contains brilliant narrative twists that often go against genre expectation. Indeed, he has no qualms casting a famous actor and killing them off when you least expect.

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With his latest show Bodyguard, Mercurio has again looked within the police force as a starting point. His main protagonist David Budd (Richard Madden) is part of the Royalty and Specialist Protection Branch tasked with protecting the ambitious Home Secretary, Julia Montague; portrayed by the always brilliant Keeley Hawes. Over six episodes Budd has dangerous encounters with: his own force, MI5, Counter Terrorism Command, terrorist cells, organised crime and in-fighting Government officials too.  Safe to say Montague becomes a target and very soon Budd is fighting not just for her life but his own.

Opening with an incredibly tense scene involving an Islamic suicide bomber on a train, the show raises the pulse with incredible consistency. Another stunning set-piece involving a terrorist attack on a school plus a vicious sniper assault on the Home Secretary in a later episode demonstrates that Mercurio wants us in the heart of the action. In terms of the politics of the series they are incredibly murky and confusing, in a good way. What I mean is we live in a confusing world of fake news, terrorism, racism, suspicion, paranoia, violence and corruption. It’s difficult to know what to believe and who to trust. Mercurio doesn’t offer any easy answers and everyone is a suspect. Even Richard Madden’s Budd is a tortured soul showing skill at his job but a heart and mind riddled with post-traumatic stress. He deals with the separation from his wife by drinking and burying his angst in his dangerous work.

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Bodyguard had me hooked from the beginning and really turns the screw dramatically throughout. The ensemble cast are uniformly excellent but Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes are particularly memorable. One could argue the representation of the terrorists’ borders on the stereotypical, but it’s a tough call because Mercurio is effectively reflecting events which have occurred within the U.K. in recent years. Whether such violent situations should be turned into primetime entertainment is a question for a whole different essay, but the writer and creator has shown once again he can take serious issues and produce exhilarating genre television.

Mark: 9 out of 11

DARK (2017) – NETFLIX TV REVIEW

DARK (2017) – NETFLIX TV REVIEW

Created by: Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese

Director: Baran bo Odar

Writer(s): Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese, Martin Behnke, Ronny Schalk, Marc O. Seng

Starring: Oliver Masucci, Karoline Eichhorn, Jördis Triebel, Louis Hofmann, Maja Schöne, Stephan Kampwirth, Shani Atias, Daan Lennard Liebrenz, Mikkel Nielsen, Andreas Pietschmann, Deborah Kaufmann etc.

Cinematography    Nikolaus Summerer

Original network:    Netflix

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**SPOILER-FREE REVIEW**

Where do you start with this clever German science-fiction-family-drama-murder-mystery-serial-killer-historical-thriller-drama?  Because over ten fascinating episodes it is challenging, baffling and mind-blowing in equal measures. Does this mean it’s any good? Well, on the main, it is well worth a watch, especially if you like labyrinthine narratives concerning time-travel paradoxes, death, human corruption and familial conflict.

Set in the fictional German town of Winden, Dark begins in 2019 before later on moving around in time covering at least another two separate timelines. I will admit I do not want to give spoilers away on this but if you like on-screen jigsaws which span different years and various versions of characters as children, adults and the elderly then this is for you. Indeed, over the ten episodes the creatives behind the show take you on a gruesome, stylish and splintered journey into the characters’ past, present and future.

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Dark is grim, weird with loads of death. It opens with the suicide of a man and a teenager from the local school has also gone missing. Further disappearances occur which baffle the police while at the same time dead birds drop out of the sky. Yet, this is to all intents and purposes a normal town with regular families, school, police and oh, a Nuclear power station. So, if you’ve seen the recent Netflix show Stranger Things you’ll recognise we’re in similar Stephen King type horror territory. Having said that, Dark doesn’t actually worry about you liking these intense characters the way King and Stranger Things does. Although you do root for some of them they are a humourless bunch. But, who can blame them given what’s about to happen to their town and it’s the weirdness and mystery that keeps you watching.

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Centred around four families within Winden called: Nielsen, Kahnwald, Doppler and Tiedemann, who all have secrets to hide. As these secrets are revealed the intriguing writing gives us more and more mysteries and at times I felt lost. However, with a multitude of strands pulled together during the last couple of episodes I was fully on board this incredibly rich genre mix of horror, drama and science-fiction. The style is also very alluring with darkness, light, rain, stark landscapes and photography creating a thrilling mood, along with the haunting score. Finally, there were still loads of questions which remained at the end but I’ll certainly be back for Season 2 in the future.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2018) – SEASON 2 – TV REVIEW

THE HANDMAID’S TALE (S2) – TV REVIEW

Based On: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Writer(s): Bruce Miller, Dorothy Fortenberry, Yahlin Chang, Kira Snyder, Eric Tuchmann

Director(s): Mike Barker, Kari Skogland, Jeremy Podeswa, Daina Reid etc.

Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovski, Alexis Bledel, Madeline Brewer, Ann Dowd, Max Minghella, Samira Wiley

Release: Hulu (USA), Channel 4 (UK)

** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS **

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Misery, fascism and oppression have never been so stylish as in the Margaret Atwood televisual adaptation of her famous novel The Handmaid’s Tale. If you haven’t seen it then the story finds a major part of the U.S.A in the grip of a new, militarized and hierarchical regime following a brutal civil war. This new totalitarian state is called Gilead and is led by power-mad men who utilise religion, torture and weaponry to invoke their barbaric laws. Hang on, that sounds quite familiar!!  Could the show be quite close to real life? From a certain perspective there is indeed more reality here than allegory.

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At the centre of the drama are the Handmaids.  Due to falling fertility rates only certain women can give birth. Those that still can and considered to be dangerous to the Gilead hierarchy are imprisoned to the leaders’ houses and raped in a ritualistic monthly ordeal. The narrative focusses on the plight of June Osborne – now known as Offred / “Of Fred” – as she deals with having everything stripped away from her. She has no name, no identity, no freedom and above all else has been ripped away from her husband and child; only to be treated no better than a battery hen.

Elisabeth Moss gives an incredible performance as June / Offred. A versatile performer she imbues the complex pathos, strength and fragility required to convey the emotion of events within the story. The second season begins with a now pregnant June escaping from her captors. However, as the series progresses we know that she is not going to get away that easily. Because, this is a harsh drama. It doesn’t just smash home the viciousness of a society which oppresses women, it also illustrates the dangers of allowing fundamentalists to take total control. Executions by hanging and drowning are commonplace; and if you perpetually rebel an individual can be sent to The Colonies for a fate worse than death.

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While the themes and events are sometimes difficult to stomach The Handmaid’s Tale is compelling viewing. Be warned though when one is close to a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel, that light is extinguished as darkness pervades. With a brilliant cast that includes Yvonne Strahovski, Joseph Fiennes and the always-excellent Ann Dowd, this is not just powerful storytelling, it’s incredibly interesting to look at too. The maroons, greens, greys, blacks and whites in the colour scheme create a poetic sense of beauty and doom. The direction, editing, lighting and soundtrack serve the narrative expertly as Margaret Atwood’s dystopic future is illustrated skilfully.  Ultimately, in Elizabeth Moss’ portrayal of June Osborne we have a heroic and resilient character; one who, amidst all the suffering, is determined to survive and save those she loves. Praise be!

                     Mark: 9 out of 11

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE BINGO incorporating: FALLOUT (2018) MOVIE REVIEW

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE BINGO incorporating: FALLOUT (2018) MOVIE REVIEW

I have found  it’s difficult to find an original angle when reviewing certain films i.e. franchise movies or sequels. Indeed, unless they are absolutely brilliant I tend not to review them. Therefore, I had no major intention of writing about the new Tom Cruise produced Mission Impossible release, as these films, despite their technical movie-making brilliance, follow a very strict and safe formula. I mean what can I really add critically other than say I enjoyed it or I didn’t. However, it really is such a fantastic blockbuster movie I accepted an impossible mission, of sorts, to create something interesting while reviewing it.

So, here we go: Mission Impossible BINGO! It’s both recognition of the formula but also praise for the latest instalment which had me on the edge of my seat, heart in my mouth and biting my nails throughout. In the context of story it’s very generic but in terms of action, thrills and stunts it gets a Mark of 9 out of 11!

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McQUARRIE directs Fallout which is essentially a direct sequel to Rogue Nation. We know his track record as a writer but he’s now proving himself a fantastic director too. I enjoyed Rogue Nation but Fallout raises the stakes with a witty, double-crossing, high octane and explosive movie, which actually improves the clichés of the formula in wonderful fashion.

INGENIOUS double-crossing is at the heart of the original Mission: Impossible television series and the film franchise. This is done through identification theft, impersonation, lies, deceit, scene-shifting, fake walls, and the famous face and voice changing technology.

STUNNING locations feature throughout the franchise. Changing the scenery is a means of tricking us into thinking we haven’t somehow seen this car-chase, foot chase or air chase before. Yet, what Mission: Impossible does brilliantly is take us into existing locations like the CIA Langley Headquarters, The Vatican City and even the Kremlin.

STUNTS and extravagant set-pieces dominate the whole of this franchise. From the original 1996 film’s wire-from-the-ceiling-hanging set-piece downloading a CIA encrypted agent list to the current Fall Out nuke-ticking-time-bomb denouement, Tom Cruise’ has committed some of the most breath-taking and technically brilliant action stunts ever.

ICONIC soundtrack composed by Lalo Schifrin has been often imitated but never a bettered. Those simple but effective notes fire up and immediately you know the action is about to start.

OPPOSING government agents are rife in the original show and film series, as inspired by the devious nature of the East v West “Cold War” from the 1950s onwards. In M: I you’ve got good agents, rogue agents, double agents, triple agents and ghost agents pretending to be good, bad and all of the above.

NEFARIOUS villains, like the Bond films, are necessary to precipitate some evil doings and kick off the plot.  My personal favourite was Philip Seymour Hoffman in M:I 3 – as he really was evil. Solomon Lane as played by Sean Harris is cool too and is given some great speeches. His plan to blow up the world isn’t the most original but he has a blast trying it.

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IMPOSSIBLE missions are at the heart of the film franchise. I mean the characters are mainly paper thin and the narratives are mainly empty so the gadgets and all manner of ticking time bombs, impenetrable garrisons, bad guys shooting and blowing stuff up; plus the covert interrogations and switcheroos provide the substance to the cinema experience.

MACGUFFIN-LED plots are not the strength of the franchise and on occasions the narratives a threadbare with Ethan chasing something called a “rabbit foot” or stolen nuke heads being the target. But who cares as long as we get to see things blow up.

PLAYFUL humour and one-liners dominate the scripts as a means to punctuate the action. The first three arguably had less gags but with Simon Pegg joining the cast in M:I 4 the joke quota increased and it settled into the a more humour-led vein. Personally, I prefer the serious espionage stuff, but the gags punch up the entertainment value nonetheless.

OUTSTANDING casting always brings a raft of class to these movies. Indeed, despite the style-over-substance nature of the narratives casting heavyweight actors such as:  Jon Voight, Vanessa Redgrave, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Ferguson and many more raise the quality of the productions no doubt.

SUBTERFUGE and double-crosses are a major part of the plots. Often we never quite know whose side certain characters are on at any one time. In Rogue Nation and Fallout the troubled spy Ilsa Faust is simultaneously batting for three teams in order to keep herself alive. Such devilish plotting keeps the stories bouncing along, which is why they are never dull.

SPECIAL effects are a major part of M:I, however, what is incredible to that Tom Cruise will strive to make the stunts as real as possible by actually doing them himself. The opening of Rogue Nation and the end of Fallout are absolutely stupendous feats of daring which I would never contemplate. Similarly, bungee jumps, rock-climbing, free-jumping and many other effects-free actions give a very realistic feeling to proceedings.

INCREDIBLY talented directors who have worked on the franchise include: Brian DePalma, Brad Bird, John Woo, Christopher McQuarrie and JJ Abrams bringing their own inimitable styles to the various films and while Woo’s is pretty weak the franchise abides as each film has its own identity, look and feel.

BIG budgets are required to drive the Mission: Impossible film behemoth and while they continue to make the studio billions of revenue long will they continue. The first film cost a whopping $80 million dollars while the Fallout cost a mere $178 million. Although, given Fallout absolutely rocks it’s already made that back and much more besides.

LEAPING, running, driving, diving, swimming, crashing, disguising, fighting, flying, biking, parachuting, moving – you name it the IMF do it at incredible speeds and heights!

ETHAN HUNT as presented by Tom Cruise is a righteous dude fighting the good fight against the evil wrongdoers in the world. His commitment to the cause is unwavering and in defending the innocent against the corrupt goverments, villains and agents of evil. We all root for him as an aspirational action man of the people.