Category Archives: Reviews

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.           

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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)

 

ON CHESIL BEACH (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

ON CHESIL BEACH (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Dominic Cooke

Produced by: Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley

Screenplay by: Ian McEwan (Based on: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan)

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Emily Watson, Anne-Marie Duff, Samuel West, Adrian Scarborough

Cinematography: Sean Bobbitt

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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I watch a lot of films. I also write screenplays. Indeed, over the last twenty-five years I have studied and read many “how to” write screenplay courses, books, and articles. One of the major rules of screenwriting, as opposed to radio and television writing is to SHOW and not tell. Deliver your story via the images, performance and shot composition rather than obvious dialogue which spells everything out. As a writer of incredible talent Ian McEwan has, along with director Dominic Cooke and their editor, created an intriguing story of lost love and romance. It flashes forward and back between the past and present beautifully and certainly shows rather than tells the story in a less than obvious fashion. In fact, for me it was ultimately TOO subtle in delivery and the emotional ramifications of certain events are lost in the subtext.

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The story begins in the 1960s as newlyweds, Florence and Edward, nervously entwine on their wedding day. As portrayed by the imperious Saoirse Ronan and compelling Billy Howle we are immediately empathetic of their situation and time. Because traditionally, unlike the more sexualised mores of today, religion and social convention would dictate that the couple were more likely to be virgins. Therefore the nervous glances and small-talk slowly build a sexual tension creating an incredibly awkward and embarrassing mid-point moment between the characters. McEwan’s script also flashes back to the past establishing how the characters met. Edward is a lower-middle class boy from a rural background while Florence’s family are more upper-middle class capitalists. As presented in other McEwan works class tensions also propel the drama as Florence’s family look down on Edward somewhat.

There is a lot of depth within the characterisations notably from Ann-Marie McDuff as Edward’s unfortunate mother. Although, at times I wasn’t sure how her mental condition was linked to the themes of the piece, the performance of the actor alone was fascinating throughout. Ultimately, it’s a film about love, loss and terrible secrets; notably how past events can haunt the present. However, in choosing to bury the big reveal within a blink-and-you-miss-it flashback, the poetic editing, in my opinion, took away from the dramatic power and potential catharsis in denouement. On occasions telling us as well as showing us can empower an audience to feel even more for the characters.

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Dominic Cooke marshals the film with an assured hand as befits an experienced theatre director. Ronan and Howle give brilliant performances. In fact, I don’t think there is a better and more consistent young actor than Saoirse Ronan. In films such as: Atonement (2007), Hanna (2011), Brooklyn (2015), Lady Bird (2017) and now On Chesil Beach (2017), she has proved herself capable of capturing depth and emotional power with her performances. Ronan and her romantic counterpart, Howle, make the film worthy of your attention even if I was left mildly bewildered, valiantly trying to work out why their characters’ relationship was doomed to fail.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Ron Howard

Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur. Simon Emanuel

Written by: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan

Based on Characters: by George Lucas

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Joonas Suotamo, Paul Bettany

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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Anyone for another round of Star Wars bingo?

In a particularly biting satirical swipe at George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, the South Park episodes Free Hat (Season 6) and the latter episode The China Probrem (Season 12), criticized the filmmakers for digitally altering their beloved Indiana Jones films on re-re-re-re-release. The China Probrem took the barbs even further (too far one could argue) by showing a lascivious Lucas/Spielberg raping Indiana Jones. I mean, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skulls (2008) wasn’t great but to suggest its sexual assault on one’s childhood memories and a beloved character did have me spewing out my metaphorical popcorn in shock.

Moreover, South Park further lambasted the avarice of corporate culture, specifically Disney, and their purchase of Lucasfilm in the excellent episode from Season 16 Obama Wins! All this proves is that controversial and offensive satire cannot and will not change the Panzer-like “progress” of the Mickey Mouse machine. They own many of the biggest film franchises and absolutely will not stop until they have our money. What can you do? Do you rebel against the Disney Death Star or do you join the dark side?  After all, it could be fun.

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Indeed, after all the apparent production shenanigans reported on the set of Solo (2018) – notably the “sacking” of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – I can advise that this latest Star Wars prequel is a lot of fun. That darned elephant in the room still haunts the film though and that is the nature of prequels. Whatever danger you put your protagonists in you know they are going to survive; thus, tension is very often lost within the action and drama. Having said that Star Wars fans will have a lot of joy ticking off HOW Han Solo’s early life began and how he originated into one of the best characters of the whole science-fantasy series.

Characterisation is in fact one of the strengths of the film in my view. Solo comes from sewers of a guttural world and chances and gambles his way through the story but with strong motivation. His devotion to Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) is a powerful spine with which to hang the excellent action set-pieces on. Their romance and the chemistry between Clarke and Ehrenreich is palpable throughout and drives the story into interesting areas. Alden Ehrenreich, I think, is a bona fide movie star. He shone in Hail Caesar (2016) and does so as Han Solo. Whatever the difficulties were on-set I think his likeability and acting style brings handsome energy and humour to the role. I especially loved the gambling-fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants nature of Solo’s character which owes much to Lucas’ original scripts.

Overall, Solo is a very entertaining join-the-dots prequel that ticks off all the by-the-numbers Star Wars scenes, tropes and characters including: the Millennium Falcon, Chewbacca, the Empire, Lando, the Kessel Run, plus many more to keep the fans happy. Lastly, Solo works very well as both an origins story and a fantastic fusion of heist and Western films. The supporting cast all deliver in a positive way, notably the charismatic Donald Glover and always reliable Woody Harrelson. While you can often see an element of chaos in certain scenes I think the steady directing hand of Ron Howard has delivered a franchise film which will safely keep Disney’s gravy train on track. In fact, both prequels have been, in my humble opinion, better than The Force Awakens (2015) and The Last Jedi (2017), because Solo (2018) and Rogue One (2016), actually have narratives which made some emotional sense.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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)

 

LEAN ON PETE (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

LEAN ON PETE (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Andrew Haigh

Produced by: Tristan Goligher

Screenplay by: Andrew Haigh

Based on: Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin

Starring: Charlie Plummer, Chloë Sevigny, Travis Fimmel, Steve Buscemi

Music by: James Edward Barker

Cinematography: Magnus Joenck

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More times than not I go to the cinema to escape the nagging existential doubt I have in respect of life. I watch movies, even the movies based in some believable reality to escape MY reality, my work, my everyday life. Sometimes, though you find a film which will not allow you to escape. It is so relentlessly realistic in its representation of the human spirit that it does not allow you to get away. You are stuck; imprisoned by the misery and hopelessness one can feel with life. Lean on Pete (2017) is such a film.

Adapted and directed by Andrew Haigh, Lean on Pete is a tunnel-focussed character drama based in the dustbowl plains of Portland, Oregon. The lead protagonist is Charlie Thompson who is portrayed with an incredible maturity by Charlie Plummer. The director Haigh and Plummer deserve much praise for creating such an empathetic and troubled character. I mean he’s a good kid who works hard. He jogs everyday in order to keep his fitness up so he can return to playing football at school. Yet, his life suffers from ennui, poverty and family discord. Put simply: Charlie was born with no luck. His mother left when he was a baby and he’s brought up by a father (Travis Kimmel), who loves him, but is somewhat of a nomad; moving from a different job to a different location to a different women every few years.

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Movement defines Charlie. He’s either running down roads or walking or driving or leading the horses out. He gets a job working with irascible horse race trainer portrayed by the excellent Steve Buscemi and befriends a rundown racehorse called ‘Lean on Pete’. Charlie becomes, against the advice of everyone, attached to the horse and this affection will drive his actions in the tragic latter half of the film. This is no Disney-kid-befriends-animal-rites-of-passage-fairy-tale but rather a depressing and harsh neo-Western where the American dream is a distant memory.

Overall, it’s a strange thing to say that, while brilliantly filmed by cinematographer Magnus Joenck and directed by Andrew Haigh, Lean on Pete, is a tough film to recommend due to the relentless existential misery on screen. However, there is hope there in Charlie’s character as he won’t give in and just keeps moving trying to find some light at the end of that tunnel we call life.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)