Tag Archives: drama

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)

 

 

 

CINEMA REVIEW: THE LOST CITY OF Z (2017)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE LOST CITY OF Z (2017)

TITLE: THE LOST CITY OF Z (2017)

DIRECTOR: James Gray 

SCREENWRITER:  James Gray (based on the non-fiction book by David Grann)

CAST:  Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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I’m not a great traveller myself. Boats and trains aren’t too bad but I can’t stand flying. If I feel the need to experience the world I am more than happy to either Google a place or vicariously familiarise myself with other worlds and cultures by absorbing it through TV or indeed at the cinema. Moreover, stories about explorers, adventurers, mountain climbers, adrenaline junkies and the like are not always my favourite kind of sub-genre film. Obviously, if it is a story well told then I am open to all genres but more often than not the obsessive and narcissistic characters in pursuit of thrills or far flung places can leave me cold. Not so with James Gray’s epic adaptation of The Lost City of Z which focuses on soldier, surveyor and explorer Percy Fawcett’s dogged search for definitive archaeological proof of a historical Amazonian civilisation.

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The story begins at the turn of the 20th Century where Percy Fawcett (Hunnam) is a mid-ranked officer in the British Army. Keen to find some serious military action he’s disappointed to be given the job of surveying and mapping the uncharted borders of Bolivia and Brazil. Accompanying him is his guide and aide-de-camp Henry Costin (Pattinson) and what begins as a punishing journey into the heart of darkness becomes, over the course of the film and subsequent expeditions, an obsessive ‘Holy Grail’ type quest for Fawcett. The drama in the jungle gives us Fawcett’s encounters with: the elements, piranhas, rapids, illness, wild animals, starvation, dehydration, cannibal natives and even an Opera concert at a plantation deep in the forest. However, the conflict back in Blighty is just as resonating as Fawcett battles the naysayers who question his belief that the indigenous tribes may have been in anyway civilised or cultured. Indeed, as a historical critique of the old British Empire and their inherent racism the film makes some interesting points.

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I watched the film at the Picturehouse Central on a 35mm print and it really added to the old-fashioned, poetic and golden feel of this attractive sprawling epic.  Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Tom ‘new Spiderman’ Holland and Sienna Miller all provide excellent performances. Hunnam – who I know from his sterling work on Sons of Anarchy – stood out especially and given the right script choices he’s likely to become a bona fide movie star. His Fawcett is a complex, confident but honest man who, while obsessed with his pursuit of the Lost City, loves his family and stands on the side of the righteous. The director James Gray and his filmmaking team, above all else, deserve special mention for delivering a beautifully shot, acted, paced and edited historical drama. Indeed, this fascinating material deserved more screen time and it was so mesmeric I could easily have watched this film for hours.     (Mark: 9 out of 11)

SCREENWASH – TV DRAMA REVIEW ROUND-UP including BLACK MIRROR, BROADCHURCH, LUKE CAGE etc.

SCREENWASH – TV DRAMA REVIEW ROUND-UP including BLACK MIRROR, BROADCHURCH, LUKE CAGE etc.

While going to the cinema is one of my favourite things to do the quality of television dramas has risen in quality to almost cinematic levels at times. Plus, there’s nothing quite like a box-set binge too for one’s enjoyment.  Here are a few TV dramas I’ve caught up with over the last few months with marks out of 11.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

 

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL (2015) – NETFLIX

Minus Jessica Lange alas, this one had Lady Gaga to fill the void as the writers introduced a whole new set of monsters, murderers, rapists, ghouls, vampires, junkies and deviants. Set in a H.H. Holmes-style horror hotel, one can always rely on American Horror Story for over-the-top blood-letting, devilish characters trying to out-do each and pitch black humour throughout. While sickening to watch at times it never takes itself too seriously and is recommended to proper horror fans. On the whole its narrative takes second place to the demonic style; pop video vignettes and decadent shenanigans featuring historical serial killers and fantastical blood-sucking beasts.   (Mark: 8 out of 11)

BLACK MIRROR (2016) SEASON 3 – NETFLIX

This is a must-see TV programme for anyone who likes brilliant drama which has intelligent writing and a scorpion twist in the tale of every story. Six stand-alone episodes all provide an insight into the dark recesses of technology and how it can impact humanity.  Social media, videogames, virtual reality, internet bullying, techno cryogenics, military mind experiments and cyber-terrorism are all filtered through Charlie Brooker’s devious imagination. A great ensemble cast of actors are seen within the anthology series including: Bryce Dallas Howard, Mackenzie Davis, Kelly Macdonald, Michael Kelly, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jerome Flynn and many more make this one of the best TV programmes of last or any year. If I had to choose the stand out episodes were San Junipero and Shut Up and Dance. (Mark: 10 out of 11)

BROADCHURCH – SEASONS 1 & 2 – ITV ENCORE

The 3rd season of this police procedural drama is on ITV now so I thought I’d do a quick catch up of the first two seasons. It 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 police career. Overall, it is an excellent drama with many twists and a superb ensemble cast of British actors. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

LUKE CAGE (2016)SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

Luke Cage’s reluctant superhero had previously popped up in the Marvel series Jessica Jones and the action follows up from there. He’s a humble man trying to keep a low profile but given he is virtually indestructible it’s not long before trouble finds him in the guise of Harlem gangsters Cottonmouth (Mahershala Ali), Diamond Back (Erik LaRay Harvey) and Alfre Woodard’s crooked politician Mariah Dillard. Luke Cage is decent show with a lot of style, soul and terrific musical performances. The script draws attention to many important historical black figures from history, while the direction harks back to 70s’ Blaxploitation films. Mike Colter in the lead lacks a certain charisma but has power and likeability. Overall the story felt padded out over 13 episodes by some unnecessarily long dialogue scenes and while the fights scenes were strong they lacked the wow factor of say the brilliant Daredevil show. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

SONS OF ANARCHY – SEASONS 4 & 5 – NETFLIX

While it’s pretty binary in its tough guys and dolls representations I’m still digging my catch-ups on this neo-Western-hard-assed biker drama.  The main reasons to watch the show are the performances of Charlie Hunnam as the ever-conflicted Jax and Maggie Siff as his “old lady” Tara. Katey Sagal and Ron Perlman are also excellent as the matriarch, Gemma and grizzled patriarch, Clay.  The twisting serpentine plots of Seasons 4 and 5 find, aside from other gangs and the law, new rivals in the way such as: the Mexican Cartel, businessman Damon Pope and SAMCRO themselves splinter into civil war after Clay’s skulduggery upsets the groups’ dynamic. The seasons are full of the usual grim violence, motorcycle pursuits, gunfire, black humour and lashings of naked flesh. It’s soapy at times but full of great dramatic twists making it very watchable television.  (Mark: 8 out of 11)

QUARRY (2016) SEASON 1 – SKY ATLANTIC

Pitched somewhere between Fargo and the Rockford Files this violent 1970s set thriller was a brutal watch at times. The story finds a recently returned Vietnam veteran, Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green) carrying out hits for a murky businessmen called The Broker (Peter Mullan) in order to clear a debt. As a troubled character, suffering from post-traumatic stress, Conway is a fascinating anti-hero and the thrills come from the hellish danger he finds himself in from episode to episode. Essentially, his whole world turns to shit and the only way out of it is to become a reluctant killer. Like Luke Cage music is featured very prominently, notably dirty blues, jazz, rock and soul; while the style is muddy water noir throughout. Marshall-Green is a dead ringer for Matthew McConaughey but is a fine lead and he, Mullan and gay hitman Damon Herriman make this bloody show most watchable. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

TABOO – SEASON 1 – BBC

Tom Hardy produced and starred in this flagship BBC period drama which ran over eight dark-hearted episodes recently. I have to say that it was sumptuous and stylish affair which oozed quality and class throughout. Hardy himself, looking very Bill Sykes in his long black coat and battered top hat, portrayed James Delaney, a man on a mission to get back his fathers’ estate and battle the East India Company for crimes against his body and soul. Hardy’s naked muscular body is something you see a lot of amidst the faux mysticism, American spies, gluttonous Royalty, gap-toothed prostitutes, tattooed ragamuffins and Oona Chaplin as Hardy’s cuckolded sister hiding a terrible secret. The supporting cast are absolutely brilliant especially: Tom Hollander, Michael Kelly, Jesse Buckley, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Graham and Edward Hogg. Overall, it was more style than substance and the revenge plot was dragged out and did not make much sense really. Still, the smoke-and-shadows style plus the brooding Hardy made it worth a watch. The score by Max Richter though was probably the best thing in the whole show; both majestic and black in equal measures. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

MOVIE REVIEW: KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)

MOVIE REVIEW: KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)

**THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD**

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Of late I have watched a plethora of heavyweight Oscar-driven dramas such as: Arrival (2016), Manchester by the Sea (2016), Fences (2016), Hacksaw Ridge (2016) and Moonlight (2016) and the cinema-going experience was in danger of becoming far too thought-provoking a place to be. I mean I like using my brain but I was seriously getting over-worked here. Even feel-good films such as La La Land (2016) were pretty complex in their whip-bang delivery, while the bio-pic Hidden Figures (2016) dealt with issues of racial segregation and empowerment during the space race. Thankfully, my brain can take a rest from such challenging dramas as first John Wick 2 (2016) and Kong: Skull Island (2017) have come to save the day with some good old-fashioned-fast-paced-B-movie-bloody-genre-action.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

Kong director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and platoon of screenwriters have constructed a thrilling monster movie which is low on plot but high on pyrotechnics in a cinema blast which they should have called APOCALYPSE KONG!!  The story, if you can call it that, involves John Goodman’s murky conspiracy theorist embarking on a “surveying” mission of an island which rarely shows up on radar. Plus, it looks like a skull on a map AND pretty much every boat or plane which goes near it vanishes. So, enter at your peril!

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Personally, I probably would not choose this as a holiday destination yet Goodman manages to gather an army consisting of United States marines who’ve just that day finished fighting in Vietnam. These battle-weary veterans led by Samuel L. Jackson, Shea Wigham and Toby Kebbell should probably go home but Jackson’s Lieutenant-Colonel Packard has some old testament vengeance business he needs to re-enact. Meanwhile, anti-war photographer Brie Larson and SAS mercenary Tom Hiddleston also join the crew too along with a generic bunch of scientists and military grunts all destined to be Kong fodder!

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Now, I wasn’t a massive fan of the most recent Godzilla (2014) film –  my review here testifies – as it did not have enough of the monsters or action and was WAY too serious. Skull Island is a totally different beast altogether. You get monsters galore from the get-go and of course Kong is the King, as he finds his eco-system invaded by humans and their big weapons so he fights back with hairy, muscular abandon. The humanity and humour of the film is provided mainly by John C. Reilly’s WW2 soldier who has gone bamboo with the natives and his story arguably has the most emotion. But the real stars are the tree-monsters, subterranean creatures, Pterodactyls, giant Squids and Spiders, which along with Kong, leap out of the screen at regular intervals dining on humans for breakfast, lunch and supper.

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Overall, the film wears its’ Jurassic-Park-Hell-In-the-Pacific-Lost-World-Predator-Apocalypse-Now-Godzilla influences on its gigantic jungle sleeves. So it’s safe to say I had a lot of fun taking my brain out and watching the fireworks and monsters in this B-movie behemoth. The story is uneven and characters paper-thin but the gorgeous imagery, fun action set-pieces and a very attractive cast including Hiddleston, Larson and Corey Hawkins, plus the off-kilter mania of John C. Reilly make it worth the admission alone. (Mark 8 out of 11 – for the monsters and mayhem mainly.)