THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE (2018) – TV SHOW REVIEW

THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE (2018) – TV SHOW REVIEW

Executive Producer: Ryan Murphy

Writer: Tom Robb Smith

Based on: Vulgar Favours: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History by Maureen Orth

Original Network: FX / FOX

Starring: Edgar Ramírez, Darren Criss, Ricky Martin, Penelope Cruz, Finn Wittrock

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I watch a lot of telly but don’t always review stuff because I don’t have time. The Assassination of Gianni Versace was one of those shows which I enjoyed when on the BBC but did not feel like reviewing. But then it kind of stuck with me; it nagged at my psyche as a chilling, violent and intense work of television drama. Hence I thought it was worth recommending it for those who are interested in excellent crime stories.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story is the second season of the FX true crime anthology series American Crime Story. It explores, over nine compelling episodes, the murder of designer Gianni Versace by spree killer Andrew Cunanan. Those coming to the show looking for an in depth story about Gianni Versace – as a man or designer – may be slightly disappointed.  Save for three or four episodes the lion’s share of the drama is about his killer, Cunanan.  What we do see of Versace and his sister Donatella, as expertly portrayed by Edgar Ramirez and Penelope Cruz, is a man who grew up from humble beginnings to become one of the finest fashion designers of all time. Personally, fashion does not interest me so I was pleased that world did not dominate the focus of the story.

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The main focus, however, was the spree killer Andrew Cunanan. Writer Tom Robb Smith, adapting from Maureen Orth’s book takes many risks, notably telling Cunanan’s story in reverse chronological order. I’m not always a fan of non-linear storytelling for the sake of it, however, beginning with Versace’s murder and then flashing backwards revealing, episode by episode, the sad demise of each of his victims made for absorbing viewing. Darren Criss as Cunanan is absolutely brilliant. His performance of the fantasist murderer is equally scary, embarrassing and darkly funny at times.

Evoking the characterisation of Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman, Criss nails the confidence and desperation of a very conflicted person. His Cunanan is not just a straightforward psycho but a rather complex loner with delusions of grandeur. The reveal in the later episodes that go some way to explain Cunanan’s psychosis are especially chilling. The show is also very honest about Cunanan’s sexuality. Via Cunanan’s, and other characters’ experience, the representation of gay men in America is illustrated in a fascinating way. Finn Wittrock, Mike Farrell, and Cody Fern, who portray three of Cunanan’s victims, are very empathetic as they battle the prejudices and expectations of gay men in society. It is a tragedy their lives, and others including Versace, were so violently ended at Cunanan’s hands.

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Overall, I was extremely absorbed by The Assassination of Gianni Versace. While not as grandstanding as The People Versus O.J. Simpson (2016), this character drama both shocked and stunned in equal measure; thanks to an excellent script and Criss’ haunting acting performance. Also, kudos goes to show-runner Ryan Murphy. This uber-producer is best known for creating/co-creating/producing a number of successful television series, including the FX medical drama Nip/Tuck (2003–10), the Fox musical comedy-drama Glee (2009–15), the FX anthology series American Horror Story (2011–present); Feud (2017–present); and with this latest season of American Crime Story (2016–present) he has overseen another memorable televisual experience.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

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DETECTORISTS  (2014 –      ) –SEASONS 1 and 2 – BBC TV SHOW REVIEW

DETECTORISTS  (2014 –      ) – SEASONS 1 and 2 – TV COMEDY REVIEW

Written by: Mackenzie Crook

Directed by: Mackenzie Crook

Cast: Mackenzie Crook, Toby Jones, Rachael Stirling, Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Gerard Horan, Sophie Thompson, Pearce Quigley, Divian Ladwa

Opening theme: “Detectorists” by Johnny Flynn

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Picture the scene: a bird’s eye view of two men pacing slowly across a lush, rural landscape. The green grass shines and ploughed dirt sits proud flanked by golden wheat fields. As an acoustic guitar chimes and lilting mellifluous vocals of Johnny Flynn drift across the countryside vista, we are serenely introduced to our “heroes”, Andy and Lance, the Detectorists. Serene is probably the perfect word to describe this character comedy. Gentle too. It moves at its own perfect pace and gives us something of a break from faster-paced, heightened, rude and farcical nature of other more urban-based comedies. There are obviously jokes but never at the expense of well developed character moments and empathy.

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Set in the fictitious town of Danebury, in the county of Essex, this wonderfully dry comedic delight was created by Mackenzie Crook. Probably best known for playing David Brent’s bowl-haired “yes-man” Gareth, from seminal sitcom The Office, plus many other film and television roles, Crook has fashioned a brilliant show that exudes a quiet confidence in both writing and direction. He himself plays a budding archaeologist Andy, a non-careerist beta male who pays the rent via a series of agency jobs; while his school teacher partner, Becky, (Rachael Stirling) provides the ambition and drive in the relationship. His best mate, Lance, is portrayed with nuanced comedic timing by character actor, Toby Jones. Lance drives a forklift and hankers after his ex-wife who runs a local holistic shop. Plus, these two ordinary blokes happen to be part of the DMDC – ‘Danebury Metal Detecting Club.’

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One may think that the whole premise of a rural metal detecting club is slightly underwhelming and parochial; and to be honest you would be right. But herein lays the strength of the show because the peace and quiet between the narrative and comedy is very hypnotic. The plot in Season 1 finds the DMDC in direct competition with stupidly named “Antiqui-Searchers” over a big historical find; while Season 2 has them searching for crash-landed WW2 German bomber. Amidst these strands the loves and lives of our protagonists and club-members intertwine carefully; as a brilliant supporting cast breathe life into an array of oddball and eccentric characters.

Overall, I found Detectorists very funny throughout creating real inner warmth.  I mean, as Andy and Lance softly walk across the landscape, discussing last night’s University Challenge, scanning for that possible jackpot of medieval gold, nothing very much happens. But there’s The Detectorists’ main strength, nothing much happens with characters you really love spending time with.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

The Detectorists — Seasons 1 – 3 are available on DVD/BLU RAY

Seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream on NETFLIX.           

THE ORVILLE (2017) – SEASON 1 – TV SHOW REVIEW

THE ORVILLE (2017) – SEASON 1 – TV SHOW REVIEW

Created by: Seth MacFarlane

Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, Halston Sage, J. Lee, Mark Jackson

Executive producer(s): Seth MacFarlane, Brannon Braga, David A. Goodman, Jason Clark, Jon Favreau (pilot), Liz Heldens, Lili Fuller

Production company(s): Fuzzy Door Productions; 20th Century Fox Television

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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If you search YouTube for Star Trek fan films you will find hundreds of them. In fact, I myself have written and produced one myself called Chance Encounter (2016). However, you will not find a shiny and more expensive Star Trek homage and fan film – in all but name – than Fox’s big budget science fiction series, The Orville. It was written and created by uber-talented Seth MacFarlane and joins the stable of shows and films he has been involved in, including: Family Guy, American Dad, Ted (2012) and A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014).

The Orville is set on the titular U.S.S. Orville (ECV-197), a mid-level exploratory space vessel in the Planetary Union, a 25th-century interstellar alliance of Earth and many other planets. Seth McFarlane portrays Ed Mercer, a journeyman officer who is depressed due to his wife’s infidelity, and constantly turning up to work hungover and uninterested. A chance at redemption comes when he offered the captaincy of The Orville.  He is then joined by his first officer, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), who so happens to be his ex-wife. This slightly clichéd dramatic turn does actually become a positive fulcrum for the twelve episode run, providing many jokes and bitter asides between the two. Their dedicated crew is a mix of aliens, humans and a genius robot called Isaac; who may as well be called Data to be honest.

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The Orville is an interesting show to review because I could understand someone watching it randomly because of say, liking Family Guy or Ted, and then not enjoying this at all. Because aside from the odd sight gag or wicked one-liner, this is not all out comedy. The Orville is instead a really solid science fiction show which mixes satire, action, comedy and drama. Indeed, while there is much to smile at, many episodes feature contemporary moral dilemmas involving: relationships, religion, social media, race, gender issues and sex. Most of all this is Seth Mcfarlane’s tribute to Star Trek. He even goes as far to enlist Trek producer Brannon Braga to executive produce and helm several episodes; while Jonathan Frakes also directs episode 6 – Pria.

Overall, I really enjoyed the show because of its similarity to Star Trek and because the characters drew me in tooSeth Macfarlane is not the greatest actor but he is a very likeable everyman. He is also ably assisted by a very committed supporting cast and the slick production. Many episodes whizz along at a decent pace and it doesn’t take itself too seriously either. There’s some excellent supporting characters along the way portrayed by Charlize Theron and Rob Lowe. There’s also some brilliant science fiction stuff which I loved including: space weapons; space ships; time travel; worm holes; ion storms; alien creatures; special powers; cannibal monsters; and hologram devices. Basically everything that Star Trek had The Orville has and that’s why I enjoyed it.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

SKY CINEMA SPECIAL including film reviews of: ATOMIC BLONDE (2017), FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017), MAUDIE (2017), SHOT CALLER and more.

SKY CINEMA SPECIAL REVIEWS

There are so many films released at the cinema each year that it’s impossible to catch them all. Unfortunately, for me, and billions across the world that damned thing called employment gets in the way. Nonetheless, there are many other avenues to catch up with movies and SKY CINEMA is one such route. So, here are some reviews of films I have caught up with recently on SKY, with the usual marks out of eleven.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

AFTER THE STORM (2016)

This Japanese family drama is slow moving but quietly unfolds in a compelling fashion. Former prize-winning novelist, Ryota (Hiroshi Abe), is a gambling addict “researching” his next book and making ends meet with private detective work. He tries to become a better son and father but his hereditary flaws and addiction haunt him. That’s about it for Hirokazu Kore-eda’s character drama which features some excellent dialogue and a wonderful acting performance from Ryota’s mother, portrayed by Kirin Kiki. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

ATOMIC BLONDE (2017)

Charlize Theron portrays a sullen yet kick-ass spy in this style-over-substance-action-thriller. Directed by David Leitch, who also helmed John Wick 2 (2016), rather amusingly doesn’t even have the depth of Keanu Reeves’ B-movie-assassin-classics. Adapted from the comic book novel The Coldest City (2012) and set in late 1980s Berlin, it uses the unstable politics of the time loosely as a means to hang a slender narrative on. This essentially is all rocking soundtrack, kinetic action, and sexy fighting with NO story. Theron and co-star James McAvoy do their best with the spy McGuffins but it’s main redeeming feature is a barnstorming “one-take” fight scene in the middle of the film. Now THAT rocks!  (Mark: 7 out of 11)

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (2017)

Charlize Theron pops up again in eighth film of the franchise, this time as cyber-baddie hell-bent on doing something bad for some heinous reason. Anyway, her fiendish plot is just an excuse to blow up cars, planes, jails, roads, buildings, and submarines in the usual explosive fashion. Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and the rest of the team (minus Paul Walker R.I.P) are all back trying to stop her. There’s something both obscene and incredibly satisfying witnessing stunts and action this over-the-top!  I mean the carnage present in the final-submarine-versus-vehicle-set-piece is absolutely breath-taking and its worth watching the film for that alone.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

MAUDIE (2016)

Since her striking performance in Mike Leigh’s excellent character piece Happy Go Lucky (2008), Sally Hawkins has been carving out quite the number of brilliant acting roles. Perhaps overshadowed by the success of the big budget monster/love story The Shape of Water (2017), the low-budget Maudie features another stunning Hawkins turn. She is quietly powerful in the role of Nova Scotia painter Maud Dowling. Maud came to mild prominence for her painting in the late 1960s and became somewhat of a cult treasure. Hawkins and Ethan Hawke steal the acting honours as the unlikely husband and wife, as Aisling Walsh directs a fine tribute to a small woman with a massive artistic talent. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

SHOT CALLER (2017)

This is a hard-boiled and brutal crime thriller which moves very slowly but with highly confident direction. Ric Roman Waugh has marshalled a very decent B-movie with Game of Thrones Nikolaj Coster-Waldaj excelling in the muscular lead role. He portrays a banker sent down for manslaughter who suddenly finds himself at the mercy of white supremacist gangs. Rather than lay down and get screwed he jumps straight in and sets in motion a gruesome set of events. Jon Bernthal pops up as a hard-piped criminal while Lake Bell is excellent as the anti-hero’s long-suffering wife. You need some patience but ultimately the ending pays off in an enjoyable, if incredibly contrived, finale. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

ROUGH NIGHT (2017)

This ridiculous over-the-top mixture of sex, crime and comedy rips off Very Bad Things (1998) and The Hangover (2009), with a smattering of Weekend at Bernie’s (1989). Having said that I really enjoyed it despite the incredibly broad comedy and implausible nature of the plot which takes five buddies on a Bachelorette party and throws a dead hooker into the mix. Zoe Kravitz, Scarlet Johannsson, Kate McKinnon, Illana Glazer and Jillian Bell, while slumming it in this often-filthy material, commit to their roles with ludicrous abandon. While very derivative I couldn’t help but laugh on several occasions, most notably at Ty Burrell and Demi Moore as the lascivious “sex-people” neighbours.  (Mark: 7 out of 11)