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13 REASONS WHY DOCTOR WHO WILL BE FINE!

13 REASONS WHY DOCTOR WHO WILL BE FINE!

The 16th July 2017 the news was passed, after the Men’s Singles Final at Wimbledon, that there would be a new actor playing BBC TV’s long-running sci-fi fantasy character Doctor Who; and that person will be the very talented Jodie Whittaker.

So, as Roger Federer was holding aloft the trophy to worship and cheer, the internet was quickly going into meltdown as Doctor Who fans and geeks cheered this exciting news about the soon-to-regenerate Timelord/Lady!  Meanwhile, in the darkness and under the bridges of the world-wide web the naysayers, fiends and trolls began sharpening their claws and keyboards ready to protest most vehemently at this gender shift.

My initial reaction was one of excitement and now the dust has settled slightly I continue to feel a keen sense of anticipation for the next season and the casting of Jodie Whittaker! So, here are thirteen reasons why the next season will, in my opinion, be fine.

  1. CALM THE F**K DOWN – IT’S JUST A TV SHOW!

The level of negative comments on Facebook pages, newspaper comments, online fan forums, YouTube and other geeky websites was absolutely ridiculous. Den of Geek even had to issue a warning because of some of the vitriolic comments. I think humanity has a problem if they’re losing their mind of the casting of a woman into a historically male role.   It’s not a matter of life or death or a war or cancer! It’s just a bloody TV show and everything will be fine!

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  1. IS IT POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD?

Many online comments have been that this is political correctness gone mad and I find this offensive to be honest.  I don’t believe this is motivated by feminism or tokenism or positive discrimination. This is a creative decision based on who the showrunner’s think are best for the role.

  1. DOCTOR WHO IS NOT ABOUT GENDER!

The character is about regeneration. The 13th Doctor’s regeneration is coded as female in gender! It’s not about rewriting history but presenting the character in a whole new context within the narratives, drama and humour.

  1. JODIE WHITTAKER IS A BRILLIANT ACTRESS!

Jodie Whittaker is perhaps best known as Beth Latimer in excellent ITV drama Broadchurch. In it she acts her heart out as a young mother struggling with the loss of her son.  She’s also appeared in many stage productions and also has form appearing in sci-fi stories such as Attack the Block (2011) and the Black Mirror episode The Entire History of You (2011. Overall, she is a sterling actress with a great range who will bring a tremendous verve and energy to the role.

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  1. JODIE WHITTAKER IS WORTHY!

The character of the Doctor is all about taking on injustices across space and time and this takes a hell of a lot of courage from the character. By taking such an iconic role dominated in history by male actors, Jodie Whittaker proves she has the backbone to stand up to the ridiculous backlash that has occurred and make the role her own.

  1. TIMELORDS ARE SHAPE-SHIFTING ALIENS!

As the show has demonstrated recently with the Master transforming into Missy, Time Lords are confirmed as shape-shifting aliens and therefore it makes sense they can change gender. It’s only reactionary thinking and resistance to change which doesn’t recognise this.

  1. DOCTOR WHO IS TIMELESS!

Doctor Who is an institution that has been going for 53 years. Even when the TV show was on a break it regenerated into other mediums. There are fans worldwide who attend shows and conventions now we have an industry full of Doctor Who comic books, novels, audio books, radio adaptations, paintings, posters and many more social media outlets.

  1. SO MANY FAMOUS FEMALE DOCTORS!

I feel ridiculous for even using this as justification; but there have been so many amazing Doctors who happen to be female. I mean do we live in the dark ages where idiots refuse to be seen by female Doctors. Anyway, click here for a list of just a few famous Doctors:

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  1. NEW DRAMATIC PERSPECTIVE

Changing the actor of the Doctor opens up a whole new different set of dramatic possibilities. The casting of Jodie Whittaker will present a marked move away from the Doctor as a middle-aged eccentric male. They broke this mould when casting Matt Smith and he was excellent, so I expect the new Doctor to just as positive in the next season.

  1. BRAIN OVER BRAWN!

Based on many of the morons commenting online it’s the end of the world as we know it with the casting of Jodie Whittaker. But the character of the Doctor has NEVER been about using stereotypical brute force associated with male action heroes. The Doctor uses brain, cunning, experience, humour, smarts and their overall genius to overcome the monsters.

  1. IT WILL CONFUSE THE HELL OUT OF THE ENEMY!

The Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, Sontarans, The Silence, The Silurians, Humans and many, many more have come a cropper due to the Doctor’s ingenious skills. Thus, a female Doctor could potentially screw with their brains initially. Well, all of them except perhaps the Master/Missy; whoever that may be next!!

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  1. POST-HUMOUR!

As well as the wonderful science fiction and horror tropes present in Doctor Who there’s almost always humour in the show. Patrick Troughton and Matt Smith were very good at acting the clown, while Tom Baker was also very good at acting insane when in times of trouble. Peter Capaldi brought a wonderful sarcasm and a litany of zinging one-liners during his tenure, but with the new Doctor the dynamic will change. Thus, I look forward to a different kind of humour with hopefully some satirical gags at the change in gender.

  1. NEW SHOWRUNNER!

Chris Chibnall has carved himself out an impressive television writing CV, including work on: Law and Order, Torchwood, Doctor Who and Broadchurch and I think he will breathe new life into the show and characters. Chris Chibnall says of the new casting:

“After months of lists, conversations, auditions, recalls, and a lot of secret-keeping, we’re excited to welcome Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor. Her audition for The Doctor simply blew us all away. Jodie is an in-demand, funny, inspiring, super-smart force of nature and will bring loads of wit, strength and warmth to the role. The Thirteenth Doctor is on her way.”

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IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD!

In my humble opinion Jodie Whittaker will be brilliant. If she isn’t or the show isn’t very good I won’t complain. I will just stop watching the show based on creative and qualitative reasoning. I won’t use the reason she is a woman as a negative because WE LIVE IN THE 21ST CENTURY!!

And remember – it’s just a TV show!  It’s not the end of the world because if it was we will always have the Doctor to save us!

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TIME TO SAY GOODBYE – DR WHO – SERIES 10 REVIEW

TIME TO SAY GOODBYE – DR WHO – SERIES 10 REVIEW

TIME AND RELATIVE DIMENSIONS IN SPACE

I love Doctor Who and have written many times about it on this blog with reviews and articles. I think what I love about it most is that within the genre structure of a Time Lord and companions doing battle against foes is the fact that you can end up anywhere in time and space; in scientific reality and magical fantasy. Each episode contains surprise and mystery and imaginative ideas which draw you in again and again. So, here I go with a review of the at times completely genius, occasionally so-so, but mainly brilliant entertainment that is Season 10. If you also wish to read last season’s review please do so here.

SPOILERS AHEAD, DARLING

Couple of minor gripes before I start!  Please stop with the preview spoilers BBC!  There were too many dramatic surprises within the series given away across the TV screens and T’internet. Firstly Capaldi’s departure from the show AND John Simm would be coming back as The Master. Oh, and the origins of the Mondasian Cybermen was revealed too giving away another surprise from the exceptional double-headed finale. Lastly, now Chris Chibnall is to take over from Steven Moffat as showrunner, I hope he’ll dispense with the incessant characters dying and coming back to life trope. This has now literally been done to death. However, putting these minor grumbles aside I was very entertained by the season overall.

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WHAT’S IN THE VAULT?

When the commanding character actor, musician, director and writer Peter Capaldi was announced as the new Doctor Who a few years ago, I was very excited. Here was an experienced actor full of gravitas, energy, wit, light and dark humour, who would no doubt bring his own vision to the role of the ancient Gallefreyan. And I was not disappointed at all!  I really loved Capaldi’s Doctor because he was very rounded and in his face you could see the years of time-travelling experience. And wow – can he deliver a grandstanding monologue too!

In Season 10, he was meant to be anchored to Earth guarding the Vault, having taken an oath to ensure Missy/The Master does not escape. Instead he attempted to redeem Missy – portrayed with devilish brio – by Michelle Gomez. Did he succeed? Well, it’s open to interpretation. Nonetheless, this story arc was way more convincing and emotional than Season 9’s confusing “Hybrid” arc. In fact, I’d say Steven Moffatt nailed the dramatic arc and emotion on this one.

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THE NEW FACES

The Doctor, as well as looking after the Vault, found two new companions in tow. They were Bill Potts, played with a wide-eyed and naïve charm by Pearl Mackie. We also had a former rogue-but-now-kinda-sweet cyborg called Nardole, portrayed by the brilliant comedic actor Matt Lucas.  In a terrific meta-gag from Steven Moffat, during World Enough and Time, Missy called them “Exposition” and “Comic Relief”; however, I think they were a bit more than that.

As usual the audience were reflected in Bill’s character as her initial wide-eyed and open-mouthed awe at the Doctor and the Tardis’ capabilities gave way to an awe and wonderment at the space adventures that ensued. Bill proved herself a valuable sidekick to the Doctor. She had a kind soul and there were some emotional pull to her due her being an orphan, plus being gay created an extra dynamic in the storylines as well as some humour too.

Nardole, on the other hand, was mainly played for laughs as he had some fantastic banter with the Doctor. Lucas did not go over-the-top wacky though and gave Nardole a world-weary trudge and set of grumpy looks and fine one-liners. At the same time he remained very loyal to the Doctor and really came into his own in the latter episodes when his hacking skills were used to combat the Cybermen.

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THEMES

Thematically this season of Doctor Who was very strong. Of course the Doctor remained stalwart in his world view of protecting the oppressed against evil. But he also had a redemptive plan where Nardole and Missy were concerned. Reading between the lines it appeared Nardole had a shady past so the Doctor employs him to do right by his oath to guard Missy in the Vault. Missy however, was a more difficult proposition and during Extremis it is revealed the Doctor saves her from death, with a view to redeeming her soul. This theme plays out really well within the individual episodes, especially in the wonderful denouement of The Doctor Falls where Missy and her older self, The Master (fiendishly portrayed by John Simm) join forces against the Doctor; only for Missy to kind of atone and attempt to join the Doctor in the fight against the Cybermen.

Love was another powerful emotion and theme to pervade the season.  The Doctor’s love for, or at least yearning for the childhood friendship he had with Missy/Master shone through during those final episodes. Bill’s love for her deceased Mother was palpable too, playing a big part in defeating the Monks in The Lie of the Land. Also, it was Bill’s love for Heather during the The Pilot episode which eventually saved her and the Doctor from certain death during The Doctor Falls. It was a big leap of faith in the storyline to believe this substantive narrative call-back, but I think it really worked and I was pleased Bill survived. What becomes of the Doctor we shall see?

The episodes generally were very strong and Doctor Who also gave some terrific social commentary in between the monsters, robots and general temporal trickery. Thin Ice critiqued racism, while Oxygen did the same with corporate greed. Rogue landlords and the student life were satirized in Knock Knock and most powerfully religious, medical and military control were examined and disparaged during the trilogy episodes: Extremis, Pyramid at the End of the World and Lie of the Land. Visually the show was also very striking with agricultural, urban and futuristic locales merging with some wonderful beasts, humanoids, robots and space zombie foes. Thus, overall, in my humble opinion, it was a very impressive and rich raft of Doctor Who episodes.

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EPISODE REVIEW AND RATINGS (with more SPOLIERS)

  1. THE PILOT – Steven Moffat

This was a terrific opening episode full of fine sci-fi and fantasy concepts which established a melancholic desire for belonging and love across the stars. Bill meets the Doctor and is pursued by a strange alien force in oil form and we see the Vault for the first time. (Mark: 8 out of 10)

  1. SMILE – Frank Cottrell Bryce

Bill and The Doctor visit an Earth colony run by Emoji-faced robots which somehow had been programmed to treat grief and depression as a disease. A beautifully designed other world setting mixing future and agricultural landscapes is the strength of this episode. The Bill and Doctor dynamic also developed very nicely too.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)

 

  1. THIN ICE – Sarah Dollard

Set in London 1814, the story found a nasty English Toff exploiting a beast below the iced river of the Thames for super-fuel. Bill discovers the Doctor is not a stranger to death and as a critique of the racist and prejudicial nature of the upper classes the episode works very well. (Mark: 8 out of 10)

 

  1. KNOCK-KNOCK – Mike Bartlett

Strange landlords, cockroaches and a house that eats people are the dangers that face Bill and her flatmates in this episode. David Suchet is on excellent form as the antagonist compelled to keep his Mother alive in a touching reveal at the story end. Capaldi’s Doctor is kind of in the background but, of course, comes to the fore when danger strikes. (Mark: 8 out of 10)

  1. OXYGEN – Jamie Mathieson

This was a terrific episode set on a space station where the air is literally paid for by the breath. Space zombies run amok as the Doctor, Bill and Nardole join a panicked crew into battling both monsters and a capitalist algorithm hell-bent on increasing profits. It’s full of great space mechanics, plot twists and race-against-the-clock excitement. Plus, the biggest gut-kicker is the Doctor goes blind; and the ramifications are very dramatic in later episodes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 10)

 

  1. EXTREMIS – Steve Moffat

This was a tricksy episode because, amidst the Doctor’s blindness, we also got the Doctor saving Missy from a fate worse than a fate worse than death. We also got The Monks who, similar to the skull-faced Silence were a religious baddie determined to take over Earth. It was wonderfully crafted with a fine Monty Python “Killing Joke” homage and convincing critique of organised religion and suicide cults. Arguably the simulacra-twist at the end undermined the drama a tad, but on second watch it was a very clever and well-written episode. (Mark: 8.5 out of 10)

  1. THE PYRAMID AT THE END OF THE WORLD – Peter Harkness and Steven Moffat

Following on from the religion heavy previous episode here the writers took a swipe at the military and the scientific folly of humanity. The Monks now reveal themselves openly and clearly to the world and that they will save the Earth from a biochemical catastrophe. The most powerful aspect of this episode is Bill’s decision to save the Doctor’s sight even though it means the Monks gaining control. Here the emotional power of the script was impressive and Capaldi was awesome in both wit and gravitas. (Mark: 8 out of 10)

 

  1. THE LIE OF THE LAND – Toby Whithouse

The Monks trilogy came to an end with the world plunged into a dystopic Big Brother style mind-controlling of stupid and gullible human beings. The Doctor has sided with the Monks and Bill and Nardole must track him down to attempt a reversal of fortune. Again Bill is at the centre of the emotion here as Pearl Mackie delivers a fine dramatic performance. Safe to say the Doctor and Bill’s love for her mother defeat the Monks somewhat fantastically but a strong denouement nonetheless. (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)

 

  1. EMPRESS OF MARS – Mark Gatiss

A meta-mish-mash episode from Mark Gatiss, as Zulu meets the Icemen of Mars! This fast-paced episode was reminiscent of old Doctor Who as the British Empire soldiers find they are no match for the Icemen and their recently awoken Empress. A direct cousin to the Gatiss-penned episode Cold War, what it lacked in emotion it made up with in humour and derring-do. (Mark: 7 out of 10)

 

  1. THE EATERS OF LIGHT – Rona Munro

More soldiers but this time the episode features the Picts and legendary 9th Roman Legion which mysteriously went missing in 2nd century Scotland. There was a lilting Celtic vibe to the music and cold landscape as a vicious beast feeds on the light and any humans in its way. I enjoyed the witty script and mix of historical and science fantasy made it very watchable indeed. (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)

 

  1. WORLD ENOUGH AND TIME – Steve Moffat

This was my favourite episode of the season; only spoilt by the BBC ridiculous policy of giving away plot details in the trailers.  Here the Doctor, Nardole and Bill land on a humungous space-ship over 400 miles high which is perilously close to a black hole. The Doctor gives Missy a chance to shine as er… The Doctor and much hilarity ensues. Michelle Gomez owns this episode and the moment she meets her past Master is a wonderful twist. I loved the duality of evil theme and the ship with different temporal states was just a brilliant concept from Moffat. Bill’s slow transition into a Mondasian Cyberman is directed with creepy imagery and fear-inducing dread; while Capaldi’s face when he realises he’s too late is damned heart-breaking. (Mark: 10 out of 10)

  1. THE DOCTOR FALLS – Steven Moffat

The Doctor, Nardole and Cyber-Bill join together to battle the gathering Cybernetic storm. In their way though are the old Master and an on-the-fence-good-bad Missy. Bill’s realisation that she is a Cyber-person adds real pathos, while the Missy/Master axis of evil contains some dark wit between the action. The Doctor stands strong, until even he cannot sustain life amidst the beatings, electrocutions and explosions he suffers. With the Doctor and Bill virtually dead, and the Master and Missy killing each other, it is left to Heather (from The Pilot) to save the day. It was a big narrative pill to swallow but I loved the sentiment of love conquering space and time. Lastly, the final image of the Doctor, dying in the snow, being found by his original self was a wonderful payoff to lead into the Capaldi’s regeneration episode. (Mark: 9 out of 10)

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THE FUTURE

I read on the social media forums a lot that, amidst the more level-headed Dr Who fans, people are very critical of how the show has gone under Steven Moffat. Like a football supporter unhappy with their manager they have been complaining that Moffat’s writing is not very good and episodes have become stale and repetitive or even worse boring. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but I say to those people to stop watching.

Having viewed all of the rebooted Dr Who seasons many times I think, for a science-fiction family show screened at teatime on a Saturday it is actually on the main brilliant. Some of Moffat’s over-elaborate timey-wimey arcs have probably been too complex and fantastical, however, he has tried to be imaginative and experimental and for that should be congratulated. He has done great service to the grand Time Lord and he, the production crew, actors and writers should be proud of their wonderful efforts.

We await a new Doctor and a regenerating writing team led by Chris Chibnall of Broadchurch fame. Broadchurch was a brilliant police show set in a coastal community and if he can bring the emotion and depth of character to Doctor Who, I believe the show will be in safe hands. And who will be the next Doctor! Well, my choice would be the superb actor Reece Shearsmith and if they so happen to make the character female then I would go for Olivia Colman. Who it will be only time (and space) will tell.

 

MOVIE REVIEW: COLOSSAL (2016)

MOVIE REVIEW: COLOSSAL (2016)

**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

Having watched Alien: Covenant (2017) and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017) in the last few weeks at the cinema, it’s been a bit of an alien-monster-sci-fi month so far. Both of those films were very entertaining genre/franchise movies with loads of action, suspense and decent enough performances and set-pieces to make them well worth the admission fee. Of course, they also used established formulas and known properties to propel their narratives and the movie Colossal (2016) too draws upon Japanese movies or ‘Kaiju’ subgenre; which in itself was influenced by the atomic age and Hollywood monster movies of yesteryear. Colossal, however, transcends the monster genre to become something surprisingly more human altogether.

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The filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo wrote and directed one of my favourite time-travel films ever called TimeCrimes (2007). In that an ordinary guy gets caught in a paradoxical nightmarish loop of murder and temporal intrigue, delivering a film rich in devious plotting, mind-bending structure and also strong thematic subtext. Similarly, Colossal is equally ambitious employing intelligence and powerful concepts as Anne Hathaway’s lost-in-life-thirty-something finds her consciousness somehow connected to a Godzilla like beast wreaking havoc in South Korea. If you’re thinking that’s a bit weird isn’t it – then you are correct! However, Vigalondo has crafted one of the most original cinema experiences I have had all year.

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Safe to say this has one of those fantastical-let’s-go-with-it plot turns in the first act which establishes the films’ quirkiness very quickly and runs with it superbly. Anne Hathaway provides the films’ emotional heart with a terrific performance as an alcoholic-unemployed-party-girl who seeks to escape the hedonistic night and day life which is slowly destroying her. On top of her addictions she is kicked out by her cloying and controlling boyfriend, portrayed with overloaded smug by Dan Stevens.
Heading back home to the place she grew up in is seen as a way of escaping and gaining control. Indeed the move from the city to a small town is a staple of many lo-fi indie comedies and dramas but when a monster attacks Seoul, the film suddenly mashes up the genres to fascinating dramatic and comedic impact.

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Admitting defeat in life, Gloria has nothing but an empty place to reside and very little to cling onto emotionally. That is until Jason Sudeikis’ Oscar, a childhood friend, gives her a job and furniture and most importantly, an ear to listen to. Sudeikis is amazing in his role as the complex Oscar as he sees, in Gloria, a chance to rekindle a past unrequited love. However, while the two connect the story goes in an unexpected direction and his motivation really pushes the narrative to surprising places. But what about the monsters I hear you ask?  Well, without giving too much away the human story of Gloria and Oscar is cleverly reflected by the destruction in Seoul as Vigalondo pushes both emotional and cerebral buttons very successfully.

Lastly, thematically speaking this film is a very rich. The subtext is all about human beings gaining control over the external forces, internal weaknesses and those people who bully you and try to mould your existence.   While it may be tonally uneven in the latter half of the film, as it veers from comedy to high drama, this merely adds to the overall charm and unconventionality. In a summer which will bring us blockbusters galore they will have to go some way to match Vigalondo’s lower-budgeted Colossal for originality, humour, heart and Seoul (sorry!) (Mark: 9 out of 11)

SCREENWASH – AMERICAN TV DRAMA REVIEWS, INCLUDING: BILLIONS, BIG LITTLE LIES & WALKING DEAD

SCREENWASH – AMERICAN TV DRAMA REVIEWS

Following on from my recent reviews of ITV drama shows I have also recently watched, many U.S. programmes over the last few months.  So, here are some more bite-size reviews with marks out of eleven. Hope you enjoy.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

BATES MOTEL (2014) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

So, Norman Bates gets a paradoxical contemporary prequel which while chronologically set before Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho (1960), exists in the now of mobile phones, crooked cops, Chinese sex slaves, cystic fibrosis and huge cannabis forests that drive the towns’ industry.  Freddie Highmore as young psycho Norman and Vera Farmiga as his domineering, yet sexy, mother are absolutely brilliant in this absurdly plotted but nifty little horror-crime-thriller-mish-mash. I especially enjoyed Highmore’s subtle delivery as he fights with the demons in his head, amidst hormonal teenage desires. Plus, more often than not he echoes Anthony Perkins classic performance as the original Master Bates. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

BIG LITTLE LIES (2017) – SEASON 1 – SKY ATLANTIC

One of the most difficult things a screenwriter and director have to do, in my view, is to make rootable those wealthy, spoilt and first-world characters that drive your story. One way to do it is to make their conflict human and relatable, plus casting brilliant actors in the lead roles helps greatly too. Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Alexander Skarsgard and Shailene Woodley are all on top acting form portraying various personas within the affluent Monterey upper middle classes. Jean-Marc Vallee directs David Kelley’s superb script with aplomb and the editing is some of the best you will see in a television show all year. The interweaving stories concerning an unknown murder victim; school bullying; warring parents; extra-marital affairs; and the abusive relationships, is expertly played out over seven compelling episodes. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

BILLIONS (2017) – SEASON 2 – SKY ATLANTIC

Again, how do you make rich people empathetic and rootable? Well in Billions the writers don’t!  They have created a superbly written series around some of the most selfish, self-centred, vicious and vindictive characters in hedge-fund shark Bobby Axelrod and unscrupulous Attorney General Chuck Rhodes; and pitted them against each other over ten compelling episodes. Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti are on fantastic form as “Masters of the Universe” leads that will stop at nothing to destroy each other’s lives. Maggie Siff and Malin Akerman as their respective wives also at the sharp end of the legal, financial and psychological one-upmanship drama, along with a terrific ensemble cast including: David Constable, David Strathairn, Eric Bogosian, Toby Leonard Moore and the very gifted Asia Kate Dillon. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

HOMELAND (2014) – SEASON 3 – NETFLIX

After the explosive end to Season 2, which wiped out many of the major supporting players, Season 3 found Carrie Matheson and Nicholas Brody find themselves separated and in deep trouble. Matheson is cast as the scapegoat for the destruction of the CIA and failure in protocols while Brody is in Columbia lurching from one violent episode to another. The strength of the first two seasons came from the dynamic plotting, heart-racing suspense and the chemistry between Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. Season 3 suffers from the two’s separation slightly but there was enough dramatic moments throughout to make it well worth a watch. Danes was especially impressive as Matheson who is forever taking chances because of her determination to protect her country, plus her love for Brody. The show doesn’t present easy answers and the ending was particularly bleak as we come to realise that no one wins in these political and international wars. Have to say that Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson and Rupert Friend gave great support and the show ultimately remains compelling, even if at times it slightly tested believability.  (Mark: 8 out of 11)

SONS OF ANARCHY (2015) – SEASONS 6 & 7 – NETFLIX

My lord this show is SO brutal; in fact I think it is arguably the most violent TV show I have ever seen because many of the deaths are cold and hot-blooded savagery. In Seasons 6 and 7, Jax (Charlie Hunnam) desperately tried to become a better person and take the club down a more legitimate route, however, once an outlaw – always an outlaw. Thus battles with cops, IRA, gang-bangers, Mayans, Aryan Brotherhood, and more culminated in two seasons of the usual carnage and bloodshed. Also, Jax had the horror of dealing with the death of loved ones borne out of terrible lies and decisions by those close to him. The main strength of the show is the terrific ensemble cast of which Jimmy Smits, Charlie Hunnam, Tommy Flanagan and Katey Sagal really stood out. Also, the action and serpentine plot twists kept the dramatic irony and suspense at pulsating levels. Only the indulgent montages, over-the-top “I love you, brother” dialogue and overlong episodes wrenched a little but overall an exciting end to a gruesome but entertaining TV show.  (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

THE WALKING DEAD (2017) – SEASON 7 – FOX

The Walking Dead is very much like an elderly grandparent in as much as it has provided happy past memories; has a lot to offer in terms of historical experience; yet sits in their armchair only occasionally sparking into life for our entertainment. However, I must say, Season 7 was way more entertaining than Season 6, which overall really stalled in terms of storylines and fast-paced action. Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his Alexandrian crew and family came under pressure, not just from the zombie hordes but also Jeffery Dean Morgan’s delightful uber-villain, Negan. Massacring two of the leading characters at the beginning of the season created a real sense of suspense throughout and, aside from a few filler episodes; I thought the writing and the introduction of other clans gave the show some dramatic impetus. I still think sixteen episodes are too many but the war against the Saviours was gripping and overall there was enough bloody zombie deaths to entertain this horror fan. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

SCREENWASH SPECIAL – ITV DRAMA REVIEWS

SCREENWASH SPECIAL – ITV DRAMA

Of late I have been theming or focussing my viewing in certain directions. The last few months I decided to watch more ITV dramas. Historically ITV have arguably suffered in comparison to BBC dramas, and most certainly the big budget HBO, FOX and SHOWTIME programmes from the United States.

So, I thought I would check a few out and see if they are still the safe and formulaic ITV dramas I have seen in the past. Well, I would say, while adhering to certain genre conventions, notably in regard to cop stories and “true story” biopics, the writing, direction and acting is of an excellent standard. Here are some bitesize reviews.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

 

BROADCHURCH (2013 – 2015) Seasons 1 & 2 – ITV ENCORE

This terrific police procedural drama begins with the death of a young boy and the subsequent police investigation, plus the impact this has on his family and coastal community of Broadchurch. The first season is first and foremost a terrific “whodunit” as various members of the town are all plausible suspects. Moreover, the brilliant acting duo of Olivia Colman and David Tennant spark off each other throughout the investigation. Writer Chris Chibnall deals expertly with the emotions too as the family – including Jodie Whitaker as the mother of the tragic child – are put through the wringer by the crime. The second season is almost as gripping as the child killer faces trial and Tennant’s character obsessively investigates a historical crime which blotted his career. Overall, it is an excellent drama with many twists and a superb ensemble cast of British actors. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

CHASING SHADOWS (2014)Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

Reece Shearsmith is one of my favourite actors and I have loved his work ever since the grotesque comedy genius of The League of Gentlemen. Here he shows his range as a socially awkward but exceptionally determined Detective searching for long-lost missing people. Like Broadchurch it’s another Dr Who cast reunion as Noel Clarke and Alex Kingston also co-star in a decent by-the-numbers cop show.   (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)  

 

CILLA (2014)Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

While there is an element of tragedy in regard to uber-manager Brian Epstein’s tragic death, this biopic of the early life of Priscilla White and her rise to stardom is pretty tame and fluffy. Still, Sheridan Smith is brilliant as the young songbird who would hit the top of charts with a series of late sixties ballads. The evocation of working class Liverpool and bands such as The Beatles is well played and the songs are belted out with a passion by the very likeable Smith. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

IN PLAIN SIGHT (2016) Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

This is a very compelling 1950s set drama which tells the story of heinous Scottish serial-killer Peter Manuel. It benefits from an exceptionally good performance from Martin Compston as the devious killer; and also by Douglas Henshall as the Detective trying to catch him. Overall, a good drama which had me gripped throughout. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

JEKYLL & HYDE (2015) Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

I really enjoyed this updating of the old Robert Louis Stevenson monster classic. Created by Charlie Higson it was over-the-top and frankly loopy at times with some occasional bad acting thrown in. In going for a 1930s-period-Bond-meets-Dr-Who-meets-Hammer-horror-mash-up it wasn’t always successful but overall it was fun entertainment.  The cast all seemed like they were having fun and Amelia Bullimore, Enzo Cilenti, Natasha O’Keeffe, Richard E Grant were standouts while Tom Bateman was okay in the lead monster/man dual role. It’s just a damned shame the show got cancelled on a bloody suspenseful cliff-hanger. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

LUCAN (2013) Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

ITV love a “true” story or crime stories based on real events and at the forefront of many of those are the excellent writer Jeff Pope. As Head of Factual Drama at ITV he has written and produced many fine TV programmes and this biopic of the infamous “Lucky” Lord Lucan case is also very good.  Rory Kinnear is an impressive brooding presence as Lucan and Catherine McCormack also excels as his abused wife. We may never know what happened to Lucan but this drama attempts to shed some light on the ill-fated events from 1970s British society. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

MRS BIGGS (2012) Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

Another narrative based on true events focusses on the 1960s Great Train Robbery and its aftermath from the perspective of Ronnie Biggs’ wife Charmian. Sheridan Smith is astounding as the long-suffering wife partner of Daniel Mays’ Ronnie. The acting all-round and writing are excellent as we find Charmian essentially falling big for the wrong guy. Her determination and commitment to Biggs was incredibly naïve yet admirable as she carried herself and her kids to Australia and Brazil in order to keep the family together. At no time does it glamorise the crimes as Smith and Mays prove an unlikely but testament to the power of love and the lengths one may go to because of it. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

SAFE HOUSE (2012) Season 1 – NETFLIX

Christopher Eccleston, who is always reliable, stars as a retired cop who employs his Lake District property as a “safe house” for witness protection. The vistas are beautiful and the suspense is often palpable in this well written drama by Michael Crompton.  Paterson Joseph provides excellent support as Eccleston’s former boss but the highlight of the show is under-rated British actor Peter Ferdinando, who portrays an obsessive criminal with sinister verve and pathos. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

SHETLAND (2013) – Season 1 – NETFLIX

Another detective show starring the impressive Scottish actor Douglas Henshall. This one feels old-fashioned but the stark contemporary Scottish settings work in its favour and interestingly enough it is an ITV produced show FOR the BBC.  The characters are believable and Henshall’s police team are down-to-earth and likeable. Overall, the writing is pretty good with some gripping storylines while the slower pace adds to the drama and atmosphere. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

THE WIDOWER (2014) – Season 1 – NETFLIX

Reece Shearsmith stars again but as a weird sociopathic wife-murderer based on a real-life case. His modus operandi was to finagle himself deceitfully into women’s lives and then use their wealth to clear his debts. Sheridan Smith pops up in the first episode but Shearsmith’s Malcolm Webster later moves abroad to New Zealand to prey on other victims. Webster is an everyday monster and his actions defy belief that there would be someone so heinous; and Shearsmith gives a chilling performance. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

CINEMA REVIEW: LADY MACBETH (2016)

CINEMA REVIEW: LADY MACBETH (2016)

DIRECTOR:  William Oldroyd

WRITER:      Alice Birch, adapted from Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk by Nikolai Leskov

CAST:           Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Naomi Ackie, Paul Hilton

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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Are there great films announced as classics or loved by critics which you do not like? That isn’t to say they aren’t great films but subjectively you just don’t enjoy them? I guess the biggest ones for me are probably Mulholland Drive (2001) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). I love the work of Spielberg and Lynch mostly but just do not enjoy these critically acclaimed films at all.

Similarly, a brilliantly made low-budget-period-horror from last year called The Witch (2016) got huge plaudits and the filmmaker Robert Eggers deserved much praise for his atmospheric direction. However, I found it a tremendous bore. As for the box office smash Blair Witch Project (1999); don’t get me started on that over-rated genius-marketing-over-quality-cinema-trash.

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Anyway, how is this ranting connected to my viewing of the grim and pretentious Lady Macbeth (2016)? Well, it’s a film that critics are no doubt going to enjoy for its subversive genre skewering of the traditional period drama. Moreover, the direction by William Oldroyd is stark and impressive, while the fearless Florence Pugh in the lead is clearly going to be an actress to watch in the future. However, it is an intellectual film with little humanity and is ultimately nihilistic in terms of entertainment.

The story is set in 1865 rural England up North against the backdrop of patriarchal dominance where women must and shall know their place. Pugh’s character Katherine is essentially sold into a loveless marriage and rather than play the dutiful wife she rebels viciously. Firstly, she drinks the Master’s house dry of the booze and then enters into an extremely erotic affair with one of the servants, portrayed with muscular naivety by Cosmo Jarvis.

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From then on the cycle of events descend to hellish depths. Murder and revenge are clearly hinted at in the film’s Shakespearean title as Katherine gives Lady Macbeth a run for her money in terms of evil plotting and fiendish acts.  Indeed, this expertly made film is a pure exercise in passionate hysteria featuring a spoilt and lustful lead character. While I love challenging cinema — especially by the likes of Nicolas Winding Refn, Michael Haneke and Lynn Ramsay — there remains an emotional vacuum in this narrative because I found it hard to care about anyone.

The most sympathetic character in my view was the brutalized maid Anna and perhaps the story would’ve been more interesting for me if told from her perspective? So while the film was beautifully shot and framed, I was quite often stumped by the characters’ motivations; especially by Katharine’s decisions at the end. I mean is she the kind of heroine feminism longs for? I doubt that because ultimately she is an evil human being and not a standard bearer for woman kind. Or is she?

Lady Macbeth undoubtedly makes valuable points in regard to the racist and sexist oppression of the time but it is very difficult to have empathy for a lead character who has had a severe personality by-pass.  A far better representation of female empowerment against dominant patriarchy is Park Chan-Wook’s brilliant film The Handmaiden (2016). So, while this film is likely to be on a lot of critics’ “Best films of 2017” lists, I found it overall a pretentious bore.

(Mark: 5.5 out of 11 for the film)
(Mark: 9 out of 11 for Florence Pugh)

 

 

TV REVIEW: LEGION (2017)

TV REVIEW: LEGION (2017) – SEASON 1

DIRECTOR(S): Noah Hawley, Michael Uppendahl, Larysa Kondracki, Tim Mielants, Hiro Murai, Dennie Gordon

WRITER(S):  Noah Hawley, Peter Calloway, Nathaniel Halpern, Jennifer Yale  – based on Marvel’s Legion created by Chris Claremont & Bill Seinkiewicz

CAST:  Dan Stevens, Aubrey Plaza, Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Jeremie Harris, Jemaine Clement, Bill Irwin

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**REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Noah Hawley is a postmodern auteur par excellence. He takes established genre output and influences from film, television and literature, before translating them through his creative persona to breathe paradoxical original life into his productions. For example, he actually had the creative courage to take one of my favourite films Fargo (1996) and turn it into a brilliant and quirky television series. Similarly he has done the same with Marvel’s comic-book-X-Men-based-anti-hero Legion.

Of course the superhero/heroine genre has become massive business at the box office. I loved Nolan’s Batman trilogy and personally am also a big Marvel and Avengers fan, believing the Captain America trilogy to be representative of the height of the genre model. Meanwhile, the X-Men franchise also has some fine entries too notably X-Men: First Class (2011) and Days of Future Past (2014); and Netflix’s Daredevil (2015) has also given us two seasons of gritty and energetic delight too. Yet arguably some of the more intriguing Marvel adaptations have been the lesser known products such as: Ant Man (2015), Doctor Strange (2016) and the effervescent Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Now, FX’s sensational television series Legion (2017) proves to be the most mind-boggling and consistently brilliant of the lot.

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It features a talented ensemble cast led by the intensely brilliant Dan Stevens portraying a mentally disturbed young man called David Haller. The pilot episode’s opening sequence establishes his issues from a young age through teenage-hood right through to the now as he finds himself in a psychiatric hospital being treated for schizophrenia. Patients he connects with mostly are Aubrey Plaza’s eccentric and wild Lenny Busker and the more sensitive Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller). Syd cannot stand to be touched – a character quirk which is soon to be revealed more than a phobia – yet her and David fall for each other. This romance propels one facet of the multi-stranded narrative; at the same time providing the story with much empathy and heart.

The main thrust of the narrative though is totally cerebral. While David finds himself in the middle of a war between mutants and the shady government agency called Division Three, we essentially spend many of the episodes in David’s troubled mind. There events unfold in a whirling cavalcade of images, characters and monsters all battling for supremacy of his brain. At times I could not work out what was happening yet I felt compelled, like last year’s HBO production Westworld (2016), to persist and the rewards and payoffs in the final episodes are indeed legion. Because the show, no doubt propelled by Hawley’s creativity and the original source material, is brimming with stunning ideas and visuals that literally burst out of the screen.

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The cast are incredible. Dan Stevens cements himself as one of the best emerging actors and he is destined for stardom in my view. Aubrey Plaza, who was great at laconic sarcasm in Parks and Revelations is wildly over-the-top and entertaining in her devious role; while Rachel Keller is the polar opposite: doe-eyes cute, vulnerable but with steely determination to protect David. My favourite supporting character was Flight of the Conchords’ comedian Jemaine Clement as a far-out scientist lost to the astral plane. His delivery and deportment just made me laugh out loud amidst the madness on show.

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This is as imaginative and original take on the superhero/mutant/X-Men genre you are going to find. Many people lost their shit over Logan (2017) but that is pedestrian compared to Legion. It also very cleverly melds themes relating to: mutation, special powers, telekinesis, split-personality, disassociation and schizophrenia expertly while wearing its’ influences neatly on its sleeves. Indeed, if you’re a fan of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), I’m a Cyborg But That’s Okay (2005), Clockwork Orange (1971), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) , Inception (2010) and the work of David Lynch, then you’ll love Noah Hawley’s masterful Marvel adaptation.

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)