Tag Archives: Comedy

SCREENWASH – WORLD CINEMA SPECIAL including reviews of: THE SQUARE (2017), ISLE OF DOGS (2018), JULIETA (2016) etc.

SCREENWASH – WORLD CINEMA REVIEW SPECIAL!

Technically speaking all films made can be labelled World Cinema because all films made were made on this Earth or World. As yet we know of no movies from other planets, so World Cinema has come to refer to films made in a foreign language or language other than English. I mean what do people from other countries call films made in English?  And does it matter. All this fluffing is really a means to introduce a selection of films from various countries other than the United Kingdom (another debatable term these days), that I have watched at the cinema, on DVD or streamed off the box. As usual I accompany my reviews with marks out of eleven.

**A SUGGESTION OF SPOILERS**

 

THE INNOCENTS (2016) – FRANCE / POLAND

Brace yourself for a truly heart-breaking and tragic WW2 narrative. This film inspired by true events finds a young French doctor assisting a nunnery and the various occupants who became victim to vicious rapist Soviet soldiers. This is a grim story that is shot and directed with great pathos and compassion. It brought a heavy heart and a tear to the eye as the heroic women battle against the dogs of war, while bringing new life into this retched world.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

ISLE OF DOGS (2018) – JAPAN / USA

Put aside ridiculous millennial online accusations of cultural appropriation and submerge yourself within Wes Anderson’s rich narrative and stop-motion tapestry. I’m not always a fan of his story subjects but he is a master of style and form. Isle of Dogs is no different and was a wonderful cinematic experience. Set, obviously, in Japan we concentrate on, hence the title, a bunch of stray dogs dumped on a wasteland left to die. This is much darker than prior Anderson films but full of the imagination, wit, colour and brilliant technique, containing funny gags and twisting drama throughout.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

JULIETA (2016) – SPAIN

I only really got into Pedro Almodovar’s cinema in the last few years and Julieta, while not as complex in terms of structure as other films, is just as emotionally effective.  It concerns our eponymous protagonist who on chancing an encounter with her estranged daughter’s former school mate finds her past colliding disastrously with her future. Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte portray the older and younger versions of Julieta as she reflects on the events which tore her life apart. Containing some beautiful filmmaking and one incredible cut halfway through, this is mournful, meditative and mature storytelling of the highest order.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)


L’AVVENTURA
(1960) – ITALY

Michelangelo Antonioni is rightly lauded as one of the great Italian auteurs. He has directed some incredible films including: Blow Up (1966), The Passenger (1975) and the film L’Notte (1961). I watched L’Avventura on a Sunday morning and perhaps I wasn’t in the mood but it did not connect with me. I found it slow and pretentious and while the mystery of a missing socialite had some element of suspense the rich, narcissistic characters bored me. The acting from Monica Vitti was especially impactful and the scenery was beautiful, however, Antonioni’s existential narrative was a let-down. It was especially surprising to find that historically the film had been voted one of the best films ever made.

Mark: 7 out of 11)

THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1967) – HONG KONG

I recorded this one on Film Four on a whim having been drawn in by the fact it was directed by the Shaw Brothers Studio. Their films were of course a massive influence on Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003/4) duo of kung-Fu revenge films. The One-Armed Swordsman I found to be slightly cheesy due to the dubbing but overall an excellent wuxia epic with loads of great sword fights and a very effective narrative. Ultimately this is Great Expectations with weapons as a young servant child is adopted by a rich family only to grow up disrespected by his adopted siblings. Gang warfare rages in the rural territories and the young man grows up to be a fighter of some repute; even with only one arm. Both a tremendous action film and effective socialist critique of the ruling classes I found this an entertaining, funny and emotional wuxia classic.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)


THE SQUARE
(2017) – SWEDEN / FRANCE / GERMANY

The 2017 Cannes Palm D’Or winner is half brilliantly funny arthouse satire and half sub-Haneke allegorical mid-life crisis thriller. Written and directed by Ruben Ostlund this is bravura cinema of the highest order as we find Claes Bang’s museum curator bumbling through various work, romance and private disasters.  Throughout there are some wonderful digs at the nature of modern art and how essentially people will believe any old crap to be art if it is put in a gallery. There are a number of hilarious satirical set-pieces including the “Tourette’s” scene and the “performance ape-ist” scene. While a tad overlong and bogged down slightly in the lead protagonist’s personal life this is a wonderfully, funny film with some great commentary on modern art, mocking of the bourgeoisie and a warning re: the rise of social media.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)


SHIN GODZILLA
(2016) – JAPAN

Having seen Hollywood appropriate their Gojira creation for two films in 1998 and 2014, the Japanese released their own resurgent version in 2016. Part-disaster-part-monster-part-social-commentary this creature feature is actually pretty good. It is driven structurally at first by a flurry of government meetings where hundreds of officials spend their time in meetings rather than actually solve anything. Clearly, this is a critique of Japanese government bureaucracy and the movie works well on that level. The characters who later come to the fore are left behind somewhat and the romantic subplot is poorly done.  Yet, when the Godzilla monster brings Tokyo to the edge of destruction the effects, while a bit wonky in places, are a riotous mix of laser CGI and man-in-suit-green-screen shots.

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

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TV SHOW REVIEW – I’M DYING UP HERE (2017) – SEASON ONE

SCREENWASH TELEVISION SHOW REVIEW – I’M DYING UP HERE (2017) – SEASON 1

Genre: Comedy-drama

Created by: David Flebotte

Based on: I’m Dying Up Here by William Knoedelseder

Starring: Melissa Leo, Ari Graynor, Clark Duke, Michael Angarano, Andrew Santino, Stephen Guarino, Erik Griffin, RJ Cyler, Al Madrigal, Jake Lacy

Network: Showtime US / Sky Atlantic UK

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As well viewing loads of films I also block out the horrors of the world by watching lots of television too. With cable, digital, internet and terrestrial channels to choose from you will find some gems to stop you thinking about the end of the world; UNLESS, of course, it’s a show about the end of the world. Anyway, as the war-mongering governments plot and false flag and generate fear and murder innocents all around the world, comedy, as they say, can sometimes provide the best medicine.

Showtime’s1970s based comedy-drama is set in Los Angeles. It features an ensemble cast of wannabe comedians at various stages of their careers, which congregate at Goldie’s Comedy Club. Melissa Leo plays the tough-edged business woman running the show who can make a comic’s career by getting them on the Johnny Carson show. Because of economics and the desperate comedians’ desire for fame the acts will work as open spots until they get a break. Leo anchors the show with a ballsy performance, yet beneath her hard exterior there is much pain and vulnerability in her character. She fights and scratches and bites to stay ahead of her rivals as she’s consistently undermined by the sexist and patriarchy dominated show business ‘system.’

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The rest of the cast consists of an assortment of character actors, actual stand-up comedians and up-and-coming actors including: Ari Graynor, Jake Lucy, Andrew Santino, Al Madrigal, Clark Duke, Michael Angarano and W. Earl Brown. Ari Graynor, as the Texan comedian fighting her way up in a male-dominated world; and, young, black comedian W. Earl Brown especially stood out. I have seen W. Earl Brown in a number of shows and films now and I think he is a bona fide star in the making. The double act sparring of Clark Duke and Michael Angarano are also hilarious too as the lively, aspiring acts from out of town, so broke they have to rent a closet to live in.

The era, costumes and smoky settings of comedy clubs are fantastically evoked as is the characterisation of the comedians’ struggle. I mean these are intrinsically narcissistic individuals striving for fortune and fame yet many of them are self-hating, low-esteemed and bitter people just searching for a moment of adoration through the audiences’ laughter. Many of the characters are also deeply flawed and actually unlikeable, notably Andrew Santino’s Bill Hobbs. Moreover, while creating a sense of community with each other the comedians are also fiercely competitive and much humour is driven by their cutting barbs and scathing comments toward each other. Childish tit-for-tat battles rage too when things heat over between the acts; either because they have bombed or because they have been stitched up by another act. Lastly, the socio-politics of the era provide excellent subtext and much of the drama derives from: sexual politics; alcohol and drug addiction; comedy club rivalry; joke-theft; heckler-battles; career and actual suicide; race relations; the Vietnam War; and every day existential crises.

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Overall, I’m Dying Up Here may not be for everyone but it was brilliant viewing for me. I love stand-up comedy and I love television drama. I also thought the writing, direction, acting, performances, soundtrack and production design were excellent. The show’s strength is in the ability to balance drama and adult-based humour over ten fascinating episodes. It reminded me, most of all, of an extended series of the film Boogie Nights (1997) and the work of Robert Altman. Finally, I myself have written and performed stand-up comedy and, while there’s been little financial or cultural success, I have absolutely loved my time on stage. As a creative pursuit it can be both exhilarating when it goes well and completely devastating when you ‘die’ and NO ONE laughs. But hey, death on stage is far more palatable than the apocalypse! Indeed, it’s NOT THE END OF THE WORLD!

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

 

 

 

 

THE NETFLIX PARADOX: RANDOM THOUGHTS, including reviews of: ANNIHILATION (2018), MUTE (2018), OZARK (2017) and more.

THE NETFLIX PARADOX: RANDOM THOUGHTS ON A MODEL including quick reviews of: ANNIHILATION (2018), BRIGHT (2018), MUTE (2018), OZARK (2017), and others etc.

I first subscribed to Netflix around four years ago when my Sky TV dish was out of action. Being a film and TV addict, Netflix was a godsend and easily fixed my desire for continuous viewing. It was cheap and had loads of older and not so older content including: drama box-sets, comedy, new film releases and classic cinema. Then, a couple of years ago Netflix decided to begin producing its own original content and many of the shows released have been excellent.

There’s SO many great shows to mention but programmes such as: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Black Mirror, Mindhunter, Breaking Bad, Making a Murderer, Better Call Saul, American Horror Story, Doctor Who, Stranger Things, Fargo, American Crime Story; plus the back catalogue of: stand-up comedy specials, documentaries, BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and US cable shows I’ve re-watched all make Netflix a brilliant virtual online video shop. In fact, given the amount of output I have NOT seen one might say there are TOO MANY shows with not enough time to consume them all.

Of late they have released a number of, what one would class as, proper cinema films such as: Okja (2017), Beasts of No Nation (2015), Cloverfield Paradox (2018) and many more. But rather than being given the chance to watch them on the big screen they have gone direct to the streaming platform. I think this is a shame as experiencing a film in the cinema can enhance the enjoyment. It cannot save a poor story yet it would be great to have the choice to see these films on the silver screen. I wonder how sustainable it is though. Surely a big budget film makes its profits from cinema-goers as well as subsequent DVD and BLU-RAY sales. How do, aside from subscriptions, Netflix make their money back on big budget products? And should I care?  I probably shouldn’t worry at all. I’m just an ordinary Joe who at the moment is binge watching Mad Men and Star Trek (original series onwards) and only have to pay a tenner a month for the privilege.

Ultimately, the Netflix streaming model grows bigger and bigger and their model may prove revolutionary and make going to cinema a thing of the past. I doubt that but you never know. They once said sound wouldn’t take off and look what happened there. Anyway, enough of the random debate, during the last few months I’ve continued watching some of Netflix’ biggest releases and here’s a few quick reviews of said product with the usual marks out of eleven.

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ANNIHILATION (2018)

Alex Garland is a brilliant writer and his debut film Ex Machina (2014) was a stunning sci-fi character drama. His second film is an adaptation of a book by Jeff VanderMeer. In it a group of scientists venture into an apparent alien invasion in order to investigate a weird landscape called “The Shimmer”. Slow and meditative with flurries of monstrous action, Annihilation, was brilliantly made but Garland’s steady pace does the story no favours and I failed to connect with the characters or narrative. Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh stand out amidst an excellent cast but while beautiful to look at the film left me cold. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

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BETTER CALL SAUL (2017) – SEASON 3

We are now onto Season 3 of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s legal prequel to Breaking Bad and once again it proves itself a brilliantly written character drama. Still working under his original name, Jimmy McGill continues subtle battle with his big-shot lawyer brother Chuck, portrayed superbly by Michael McKean. With Jonathan Banks and Rhea Seehorn again provide fantastic acting support, this is always an absorbing watch as Bob Odenkirk again steals the show as the cheeky ducker-and-diver-lawyer. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

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BRIGHT (2017)

David Ayer follows up the almighty mess that was Suicide Squad (2017) with a kind of remake of his early millennial classic Training Day (2001). But rather than Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke doing battle with gangs and crooked cops we get Will Smith and Joel Edgerton doing battle with orcs, dwarves, elves and crooked cops. It’s a bloody weird mix of magical fantasy and buddy cop drama but I was pretty entertained by it all and Smith and Edgerton were worth watching despite the meshing of two unlikely genres. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

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MUTE (2018)

Duncan Jones’ directorial follow up to the disappointing Warcraft (2017) is another massive fail all round. Everything about it fails to entertain despite a cast including the brilliant Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux. Alexander Skarsgaard portrays an Amish mute hunting down his missing girlfriend in a futuristic Berlin setting. Aside from the pristine Bladerunner style visuals there is no real reason for the futuristic setting and the noir story just does not add up to anything in terms of drama, proving ultimately to be both illogical and in poor taste.   (Mark: 4 out of 11)

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OZARK (2017) – SEASON 1

This is a fantastic crime drama featuring an enthralling narrative and brilliant acting from both Jason Bateman and Laura Linney. Bateman plays an accountant who has to go on the run with his family to Ozark, Missouri while working for a murderous Mexican drug cartel. I won’t give anything else but this is up there with Breaking Bad at times with its violence, twisting plots and dark humour. Bateman, who directs many episodes too, is like a metronome of perfect delivery as his Marty Byrde flies by the seat of his pants staying one step ahead of: the local gangsters, religious nuts, the FBI and the aforesaid Cartel. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

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THE PUNISHER (2017 – SEASON 1

Marvel’s latest TV offering in conjunction with Netflix suffers similarly to other shows in that it struggles to stretch the story over 13 episodes. Having said that, any show starring John Bernthal, literally bursts off the TV screen with machismo, crunching physicality and some sensitivity too. Set after the events of Daredevil (S2), Frank is off the grid trying to overcome the grief of losing his family but it’s not long before he’s battling military bad guys looking to finish him off. The script has some depth too as in delves into the horror of post-war stress disorder and those soldiers disregarded by society. Yet it’s Bernthal’s brutal performance that holds the interest through this very watchable series.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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THE SINNER (2017) – SEASON 1

Starring Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman this expertly crafted six-part crime drama begins with a cracking opening episode that pulls you right into its grasp. Biel portrays Cora Tannetti, a mother and wife, who suddenly finds herself in the midst of a criminal investigation that threatens to tear her life apart. Pullman, the sympathetic police detective with dark secrets of his own, investigates the crimes and attempts to uncover the truth. This is a twisted tale full of sexual tension, religious fervour and sudden violence; and aside from one gaping plot hole it had me gripped throughout. Biel and Pullman are especially committed to their roles as the script, based on Petra Hammesfahr’s novel, goes to some very dark places.  (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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NINE REASONS WHY INSIDE NO. 9 IS ONE OF THE BEST TV SHOWS EVER!

NINE REASONS WHY INSIDE NO. 9 IS ONE OF THE BEST TV SHOWS EVER!

Having just finished watching Season 4 of the incredible anthology TV show Inside No. 9, I felt compelled to write why it is so good! So here are NINE reasons why it is one of the best TV shows I have ever seen.

 

  1. League of (Two) Gentlemen

Inside No. 9 is written by and stars Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. Both are brilliant comedic and dramatic actors having appeared in many TV shows and films down the years. They are arguably most famous for beginning their careers in cult comedic troupe The League of Gentlemen; however, their work on Inside No. 9 actually surpasses the ‘League’ in my view.

 

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  1. Cast

Shearsmith and Pemberton, along with themselves, are able to cast well-known actors from stage and screen in supporting roles. Part of the fun of many episodes is spotting such guest appearances with, in many cases, the ensemble brilliance of the actors bouncing sparks of each other. Inside No. 9 has featured talented performers including:  Timothy West, Fiona Shaw, Jack Whitehall, David Warner, Denis Lawson, Sheridan Smith, Rory Kinnear, Conleth Hill, Alison Steadman, Noel Clarke, Philip Glenister, Zoe Wanamaker, Keeley Hawes, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Derek Jacobi and many more.

 

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  1. Writing

Each episode is self-contained within a 30 minute one-off story. The challenge therefore is to create a compelling narrative which establishes: theme, character, setting and the drama quickly in order to draw the audience in and subsequently entertain. Like similar classic anthology shows such as The Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected the writers do this brilliantly and conversely, for me, every script is a joy to experience again and again.

 

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  1. Genre

Shearsmith and Pemberton are experienced actor and performers with great range. They initially worked in comedy, however, The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville contained heavy infusions of horror and grotesque which scared and disgusted amidst the laughter. Inside No. 9 could be described as comedy but it crosses many other genres too. Episodes such as: The Harrowing (Season 1) and Séance Time (S2) and Devil of Christmas (S3) are firmly fixed in the horror genre; Tom and Gerri (S1) and Diddle, Diddle Dumpling (S3) and Nana’s Party (S2) are contemporary domestic dramas; The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge (S2) evoked historical dramas; and silent and slapstick comedy is represented by the sublime A Quiet Night In (S1). Every episode is beautifully devised within its set milieu and genre creating a rewarding viewing experience.

 

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  1. Number 9

During the whole four seasons, as well as the writing being spot on, there is much imagination in the details. For example, the No. 9 is not just the house number of the story location it is also a: dressing room, sleeper car, barn, call centre, shoe-size, study, karaoke booth, gallery space and church hall. Such locations show the diverse imagination of the writers and various spaces of these wonderful stories.

 

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  1. Emotion

Stories are nothing without compelling characters. Amidst the gags, one-liners, horror, drama and clever writing you have to care about what happens to the characters. Indeed, Inside No. 9 also delivers some compelling stories which contain much emotion and pathos. The 12 Days Of Christine (S2) is one of the most blistering dramatic arcs I have seen within a short form TV show. Similarly, Tom and Gerri (S1), Diddle, Diddle Dumpling (S3), To Have and To Hold (S4) and Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room (S4) contain very powerful endings that shock the heart as well as the mind.

 

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  1. Form and Style

Shearsmith and Pemberton are not only great actors and writers; they are also drenched in film, TV and cultural knowledge. As such, their work on Inside No. 9 is consistently reflexive and inter-textually referencing pop culture. In the: The Devil of Christmas (S3) they reference DVD commentaries and 1970s horror TV; in Once Removed (S4) they do a Memento (2000) and tell the story backwards; while in Zanzibar (S4) the characters deliver lines in iambic pentameter. However, stylistic or formalistic devices do not impinge on the narrative polarity but enhance the viewing experience.

 

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  1. Twists in the Tale

Ah, I love a good story twist as I grew up watching shows such as: Hitchcock Presents, Tales of the Unexpected, The Twilight Zone, Armchair Theatre and The Outer Limits to name a few. Inside No. 9 follows in the tradition of these classic programmes by often flipping narrative expectations with delicious results. Much fun can be derived trying to work out the twist too and even if you can see it coming that still adds to the entertainment factor to me. But WHEN YOU DON’T see it the programme becomes something else altogether!

 

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  1. Favourite Six Episodes

Tough one this but if I had to choose my favourite six episodes (out of 24 so far) I would go with the following (in production order):

  • A Quiet Night In (2014) – two burglars try to steal a painting in silent comedy classic.
  • La Couchette (2015) – a train sleeper car provides the setting for a hilarious night of comedy chaos.
  • The 12 Days of Christine (2015) – Sheridan Smith shines in this haunting and beautiful character profile of a young woman.
  • The Riddle of the Sphinx (2016) – ultra clever crossword dominated thriller set in a University study.
  • Diddle Diddle Dumpling (2017) – Shearsmith and Keeley Hawes excel as a couple whose lives are impacted by obsession and a lost shoe.
  • Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room (2018) – two failed TV entertainers bicker as they prepare to perform their act one last time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something to offend everyone! CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM – SEASON 9 – TV REVIEW

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM – SEASON 9 – TV REVIEW

Created by and story by: Larry David

Executive producer(s): Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Robert B. Weide, Larry Charles, Erin O’Malley, Alec Berg etc.

Production company(s): HBO Entertainment, Warner Bros.

Starring: Larry David, Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman, J. B. Smoove etc.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

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There’s absolutely no reason why a situation comedy about an aging, wealthy, neurotic and narcissistic Hollywood writer should be one of the most consistently funny comedy shows of the last twenty years. There’s no real substance or depth in Curb Your Enthusiasm; in fact not much really happens of great value as it occurs in a “Larry David / Hollywood” bubble. Moreover, in anti-hero Larry David you more often than not find his behaviour abhorrent as he goes about upsetting friends, family members, celebrities, and strangers on a daily basis. However, due to the writing, cast and situations the humour is always pretty, pretty good!

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After a six-year hiatus Larry David is back and nothing really has changed. The formula remains the same inasmuch as he gets himself in ridiculous situations upsetting everyone around him, resulting in the most farcical of comedic pay-offs. However, while many of the narrative reveals can be seen a long way off it doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. Special highlights during Season 9 are JB Smoove’s scene-stealing turns as Larry’s “house-guest” Leon Black; who over the course of the last few seasons has inveigled his way into Larry’s life. The two have become an unlikely double act as uncool Jewish bald guy buddies up with his cooler, streetwise and “player” pal. With Leon and Larry you get a relationship which both reflects and satirizes racial stereotypes to funny effect.

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While most of the Season 9 episodes work as stand-alone stories the integral over-riding arc involves Larry David writing a new Broadway show. Inspired by events which occurred to novelist Salman Rushdie, Larry has written a musical called, incredibly, Fatwa!  At first everyone loves the idea and rushes to invest. However, when Larry mocks the Ayatollah on the Jimmy Kimmel show he himself is, you’ve guessed it, hit with a Fatwa!!  The running gags throughout created by this comedic narrative are very broad, un-PC, stereotypically offensive; but also bloody hilarious. I wondered why there wasn’t more controversy; however, Larry David himself is the butt of many of these jokes as he fails to lift the Fatwa.

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The season is crammed with celebrity appearances and particular standouts are: Salman Rushdie, Elizabeth Banks, F. Murray Abraham; and Hamilton creator Lin Manuel-Miranda. The latter hilariously clashes with Larry during the production of the Fatwa: The Musical. There are also some great gags relating to everyday observations including: Uber ratings; pickle jars; tipping; disturbances in kitchens; Asperger’s; plus many more. The episode, Running with the Bulls, with Bryan Cranston portraying Larry’s harangued therapist, was probably my favourite. It was also great to see The Mighty Boosh comedy nut-case Rich Fulcher make an appearance as an evasive Restaurant Manager. Overall, the season was pretty scatter-gun in it’s target humour but it certainly hit the mark throughout. I’m just amazed, in these liberal-PC-social-media-offence-driven times there wasn’t more controversy. Having said that Larry David probably wouldn’t care as in his own words, “I have reservations about everything I do.”

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

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

 

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #12 – STANLEY KUBRICK – incorporating a visit to THE KUBRICK EXHIBITION, COPENHAGEN

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #12 – STANLEY KUBRICK – incorporating a visit to THE KUBRICK EXHIBITION, COPENHAGEN

Stanley Kubrick and I do not have many things in common. But one of them is we both, when he was still with us, hate flying. From some limited research I learnt that Kubrick was in fact a qualified pilot but following an incident in the air it scared him to the extent he refused to fly again. The famous story of recreating the major parts of war-torn Vietnam in London because of this during the making of Full Metal Jacket (1987) has subsequently gone into cinematic folklore.

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I hate flying for a number of reasons. Firstly, I am a science ignoramus and therefore cannot get my head around how that big hunk of metal can actually take off. Moreover, the fear of being trapped somewhere that in a crash situation means I am NOT getting out alive is too much to bear. I mean, on a boat or train or driving in your car you’ve got a fighting chance, but on a plane you’re up cloud creek without a paddle. More prosaically, I do NOT enjoy travelling on planes. Aside from being able to get a beer at seven in the morning, flying is just pointless to me. I don’t really even like holidays. You only have to come back and the relaxation you earned is ruined by the stress of having to fly back home.

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I realise these are first world problems but for me to get on a plane is a big deal. Yet, my wife loves travelling and visiting new places so as an appeasement exercise I agreed to go to Copenhagen. What sweetened the deal though is we both love the films of Stanley Kubrick and, given it has yet to come to London, decided to go visit said exhibition before it ended in January 2018. I am glad I did. It was brilliant.

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As the photos show every one of Kubrick’s completed and non-completed projects were given a wonderfully curated and considered display. There were: props; scripts; clapperboards, letters from fans; video and audio-clips; letters of protests from angry cinemagoers; costumes; set miniatures; and hundreds of production documents identifying the famed meticulousness of Kubrick’s productions. It was an Aladdin’s Cave of Kubrick’s filmic life and well worth getting lost in for several hours. One hopes it comes to London soon so I can go again!

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So much has been written about Stanley Kubrick’s techniques, philosophies and film modus operandi, that rather than offer technical or thematic analysis I’d like to consider the personal impact Kubrick has had on my life. All I can say is that from an emotional level here is a filmmaker who has been with me as far back as I can remember. I recall watching The Killing (1956) on BBC2 in England when I was eleven and marvelling at the incredibly metronomic and overlapping structure. Then, at Christmas later that year, I recall watching Spartacus (1960) on TV with the family and enjoying the blood and guts and heroism of the lead character. I revelled in the Roman baddies being thwarted by a mere slave. When I found out a few years later they were directed by the same person I did not believe it; it blew my mind.

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With this knowledge and experience in mind, I consciously or otherwise looked out for other works by Stanley Kubrick. My memory is hazy but in my late teens I found Paths of Glory (1957) showing, no doubt on BBC2 (we still only had four channels then in England), and I recorded it on VHS and watched it over and over. Knowing nothing of the filmmaking process I was impacted by the incredible tracking shots putting us in the heart of the action. Timothy Carey, who stole the show as a vicious criminal in The Killing, again really stood out in this classic WWI anti-war film. But like in Spartacus, Kirk Douglas was fierce in his performance and his noble character protests against the injustice of the ruling powers within the poisonous French hierarchy.

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One film of Kubrick’s I never quite got into was Lolita (1962). I tried to read the novel many years ago but my young brain found it impenetrable.  Similarly, the film is a very dark comedy with a risqué theme of illicit romance and sexual awakening. The film was very controversial on release and Kubrick’s one film I have not watched many times but my feeling is that Kubrick was attracted to the weaknesses of masculinity in this work. Now, perhaps it is a sexist and lascivious film but I would need to re-watch it now to be able to fully commit to a clear critical view. One wonders if it would be made now given its context and complexity of gender and paedophilic representations. The PC, Neo-Millenials and feminist agendas would certainly have something to say about it and they would probably have a point. My feeling is though we should be allowed to make up our own mind on controversial works rather than carrying flaming torches on the internet threatening to burn anything that may be deemed controversial.

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Another film which is sexual, but this time more symbolically when compared to Lolita, is the anti-nuclear masterpiece Dr Strangelove: or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). Having watched it more recently and gained knowledge from the wonderful Kubrick exhibition, this scary and hilarious satire is filled with stupid, impotent and warring men bickering and squabbling over the future of a possible nuclear attack. It’s incredible to think that at the time of the Cold War a filmmaker could turn the fear of an atomic bomb attack into a comedy. But that is the genius of Stanley Kubrick because as an iconoclast he did just that. Like Paths of Glory, which was banned by the French government, the film garnered the ire of the military as Kubrick showed he wasn’t afraid to criticize those in power once again.

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2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is another film which, like Lolita, was one I did not see until years later. It was rarely on the television and only watching subsequent cinematic re-releases have I basked in the glory of this science-fiction classic. Kubrick’s work has sometimes been accused of formalism and technique over emotion and arguably 2001: A Space Odyssey is his most accomplished technical achievement. Yet the emotion is derived from the intellectual and philosophical journey of early man to that of enigmatic ‘Star Child’. One wonders at the combination of music and images to create a startling dialectic of wonderment, awe and enigma. What it all means is open to many interpretations and that too was the genius of Kubrick; there was rarely an easy answer to the themes raised in his films.

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While I admire 2001: A Space Odyssey more from afar, his next film  A Clockwork Orange (1971), is one which I have close cultural connections to. Of course, it was released when I was a baby but on entering my late teens the controversy caused on its release had still managed to reach the chattering testosterone of the boys’ school I attended. Here was a violent, sexual, sexist, profane, dystopic, misanthropic film with blood and nudity that had been banned (later I would find it had been withdrawn by Kubrick himself) AND WE MUST NOT SEE! Obviously that meant we HAD to see it. Alas, I didn’t see it until one evening, as a surprised 22 year old, at the Scala Cinema in King’s Cross when it shown illegally as a ‘secret’ film. Subsequently, this action by the above-underground repertory cinema caused legal action by Warner Bros., eventually forcing the cinema to close.

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Even without seeing A Clockwork Orange, before it’s bootleg London screening, I had immersed myself in the music on vinyl, bought posters, watched a theatrical presentation starring Phil Daniels; and of course read Burgess’s incredible novel a number of times. Myself and my brother loved the language and iconography and the danger of the piece. This is why censorship of all kinds can backfire because when you’re told you’re not allowed to see something it makes you want to watch it even more. Nonetheless, A Clockwork Orange would eventually be released openly and it still stands the test of time as a virulent and scathing attack on Governmental control of the proletariat. Of course, Alex the anti-hero is a psychopathic nightmare and a reflection of the brutal society established within the film and book. Again, Kubrick and Burgess’ original book can offer little in the way of solutions but rather a coruscating critique of humanity via an ultra-stylish and formidable cinematic and literary language.

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Kubrick’s next film following the Clockwork Orange controversy was Barry Lyndon (1975). Kubrick had put his typically meticulous planning into a film about Napoleon Bonaparte only for this to fall down for commercial reasons and the budget was then put towards another period drama. I have to admit I did not see Barry Lyndon in full until it was shown on Film Four a few years ago. I subsequently saw it again last year – restored to a 35mm print – at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square and was thoroughly absorbed by the tragic tale of the eponymous leading character. Kubrick’s insistent to shoot in low or candlelight gave the film a heavenly and picturesque glow; fascinating also was the structure of the film as Barry Lyndon’s life plays out via fate and a series of random misadventures. It reminded me somewhat of Forrest Gump (1994) where war and misfortune happen to and around him, while both films end similarly with familial tragedy. Many of Kubrick’s other films have rightly gained classic status with Barry Lyndon perhaps seen as a lesser film. But for me, the imagery and cinematography alone make it a masterpiece for me.

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Like A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining was a film released around the time of the 1980s “video-nasty” era and I watched a lot of those films on VHS. This was the time where my love of horror was formed and despite the enigmatic ending being lost on a dopey 12 year-old, I loved this story of a psychotic Jack Nicholson going mad and attacking his family. It was only years later on further re-watches that I fully appreciated the macabre psychological subtlety of the unfolding detachment from reality, which occurs to Jack Torrance. Of course, everyone recalls the “Here’s Johnny!” moment and is scared to death by his twisted actions, but everything before that is brilliant, as it masterfully builds and creates dread amidst iconic images including: the twin girls, red-patterned carpet, the maze and the creepy barman in the Overlook Hotel. Stephen King, apparently doesn’t rate Kubrick’s The Shining but I think he is wrong. I know he changed King’s excellent novel to fit his own vision but Kubrick’s The Shining stands the test of time today.

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Kubrick’s final two films, Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999) thankfully came out when I was old enough to see them at the cinema. Both are what I consider classic Kubrick mirrored structures. That is they are split into two long acts rather than the traditional three-act structure present in most classical Hollywood films. In Full Metal Jacket we establish the rigours of training Marines involving, from the film’s point-of-view, the dehumanizing stripping of humanity in order to turn men into killing machines. The second-half places such men into the Vietnam War and finds them lost in a black mirror of death and despair, attempting to make sense of the carnage around them. Such themes as the follies of war and damaging arrogance of those in rule are prevalent throughout his work including this film, Barry Lyndon, Dr Strangelove and Paths of Glory.

Having failed to get projects such as The Aryan Papers and Artificial Intelligence to the screen his next feature, Eyes Wide Shut, alas, was Kubrick’s final film. It benefits from close to career best performances from then married Nicole Kidman and Hollywood star Tom Cruise. I recall seeing it at a cinema in Fulham Road and my first reaction was it seemed unreal and ungrounded. The explicit sex scenes seemed stagey and were exploitational; plus Nicole Kidman’s acting aside the whole thing did not work for me on any level. Of course though the film, like many of Kubrick’s works, need to be viewed more than once for the nuance and subtle psychologies at work to seep through into one’s psyche. On further views of Eyes Wide Shut, the dark comedy and tragedy at work contextualises the sexual depravity on show revealing a dreamlike structure and strong moral compass which leads you to the conclusion hedonism and freedom of physical expression are empty vessels and vacuous pursuits compared to the relative safety of love, family and marriage.

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Walking round the Stanley Kubrick exhibition was a fantastic experience. Not only to revel in the artistic bricolage of the genius filmmakers’ oeuvre and history, but also to tread through my own memories of growing older watching Kubrick’s works. This and Copenhagen as a whole made it worth my while getting on a plane and suffering the stress of flight to venture to Denmark; where something totally not rotten was going on.

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