Tag Archives: drama

BILLIONS (2016 – ) – SEASON 3 – SHOWTIME REVIEW – “Television Theatre of the highest order!”

BILLIONS (2016 –   ) – SEASON 3 – SHOWTIME TV REVIEW

Created by: Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Andrew Ross Sorkin

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff, Malin Åkerman, Toby Leonard Moore, David Costabile, Condola Rashād, Asia Kate Dillon, Jeffrey DeMunn

Distributor: Showtime Network

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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After experiencing the dizzying, serpentine narrative cul-de-sacs and mazes of Westworld Season 2, I was grateful to drink in the relative comfort of some genre drama that actually made sense. I mean I don’t mind working hard to gain pleasure from the TV viewing but non-linearity for the sake of it, or because the writers are so self-aware, they believe it is demanded of them irks me somewhat. The writers of Billions on the other hand rely on: good old proper plotting; sharp and witty dialogue; well-rounded archetypal characters; fantastic scenery-chewing performances; and an uber-ensemble cast of television and cinema actors to die for.

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Once again, Season 3 posits a similar question to the last two: how do you make the rich and privileged empathetic? Well, firstly you have the aforementioned brilliant cast of vintage screen actors, notably: Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff, David Constabile, Jeffery DeMunn, Malin Akerman, plus exceptional newcomers such as Asia Kate Dillon; and finally parachute in veteran warhorses like John Malkovich and Clancy Brown. Secondly, you make these greedy and power-hungry legal and financial based individuals brilliant at everything. Thus, pleasure is derived from the characters trying to out-brilliant and out-do themselves. In Season 3, the writers manage to find some more exceptional ways which the characters can fuck each other over.

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The first two seasons saw Giamatti’s Attorney General, Chuck Rhodes try and take down financial demon of Wall Street, Bobby Axelrod. Watching these two rich-privileged-masters-of-universe-types ripping each other apart from a legal, family and financial perspective is absolutely riveting drama. I’m not always down with the fast-paced nature of the economic markets but essentially you don’t have to be because the writing always puts the human drama first before the jargon.   Season 3 followed in a similar vein to the previous two and contained a very interesting structure. The writing continued to be whip-cracking funny and twisted and the plots were a joy; full of arch Machiavellian machinations galore. The twists around episodes six and seven were absolutely brilliant and I was gripped. The final few episodes then manoeuvred the characters like chess pieces, carefully laying the foundations for what promises to be a monumental, melodramatic and mesmerising Season 4.

                                                                 (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

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A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL – BBC TV REVIEW

A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL – BBC TV REVIEW

Directed by: Stephen Frears

Written by: Russell T Davies – Based on A Very English Scandal by John Preston

Starring: Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw, Monica Dolan, Alex Jennings, Blake Harrison, Eve Myles, Patricia Hodge etc.

Composer(s): Murray Gold

Production Company: BBC

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**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

I’ve never been a fan of politicians. They are a necessary evil. Perhaps I shouldn’t blight a whole raft of people who may, in their hearts, believe they are trying to do well for their country.  But, I just cannot help feeling there is something not quite right with someone who wants to be in control or lead or rule. I’m of the view that power does corrupt the individual and even though they may begin with great altruistic tendencies they will, ultimately, be poisoned by the job. Or worse than that they have sociopathic tendencies and the prestige of being voted in will feed their greed and lust for control. How does one explain the amount of wars and conflicts there are? Humanity is greatly flawed and the leaders of the so-called free world are more flawed than most.

But, what alternative is there to the capitalist system we have?  Running a country and leading millions of various people must be tough; and difficult decisions must be made everyday. Many have tried the commune lifestyle and socialism has also led, in the Soviet Union and China for example, and, to dictatorial regimes replete with fear, repression and murder. Not that the West hasn’t had its fair share of Dictators and sociopathic leaders. General Franco in Spain is one such fascistic leader and our own Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher,  hiding within the illusion of democracy, crushed Union leaders, working class lives and whole industrial communities. As such, crooked and nefarious politicians are often a staple of film and television shows. A case in point is the BBC’s recent adaptation of John Preston’s book, A Very English Scandal.

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This strange true life tale focussed on the Liberal party leader Jeremy Thorpe and his relationship with a troubled young man called Norman Scott. What first starts off as an illicit but touching love story soon becomes a desperate, twisted and darkly amusing black comedy of insane proportions.  First off, Thorpe and Scott are portrayed with absolute brilliance by Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw. Both sterling film actors they bring gravitas, sparkling chemistry and humour to their respective roles; while Alex Jennings, Adrian Scarborough, Eve Myles and Patricia Hodge also excel in supporting roles. Furthermore, acclaimed director Stephen Frears ties the strands of Russell T. Davies brilliant script, expertly switching between comedy and heightened drama, without losing tonal control.

Set against the backdrop of English Parliament and the United Kingdom’s homophobic laws which outlawed gay sex, Jeremy Thorpe, is presented as an honourable man at first. He champions workers’ rights and lambasts the policy of Apartheid in the House of Commons. He has to hide his homosexuality though due to the oppressive legal system and the fact that, as a politician in the public eye, this would seriously harm his ambition to become Prime Minister. When he meets Ben Whishaw’s highly strung stable lad he immediately falls for him and they begin a secret affair. The relationship goes wrong and Thorpe moves on to become the leader of his political party, but an ever increasingly unstable Scott, just won’t go away. That’s when things begin to go awry for Thorpe. Scott won’t take a pay-off and Thorpe won’t give him the National Insurance Card, Scott hilariously demands.

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So, like Henry II demanding, “Someone rid me of this meddlesome priest”, he allegedly, as per the script, takes a more sinister route. I won’t spoil it but the events which are presented are both funny and shocking and have to be witnessed to be believed. The privileged Jeremy Thorpe, garners some empathy due to having to hide his sexuality, however, his subsequent decisions to shut Scott down, as presented in this fascinating tale, are shown to be the actions of a spoilt, desperate and sad man wielding power over someone less fortunate. They say absolute power corrupts absolutely but as shown in A Very English Scandal it also leads to incredible poor decisions by individuals from the ruling classes. Indeed, the main reason I dislike and distrust politicians in general is they can and should afford to be better behaved and more compassionate than those they lead.

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

 

THE LEVELLING (2016) – SKY CINEMA REVIEW

THE LEVELLING (2016) – SKY CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Hope Dickson Leach

Written by: Hope Dickson Leach

Starring: Ellie Kendrick, David Troughton, Jack Holden

Music by: Hutch Demouilpied

Cinematography: Nanu Segal

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I grew up watching visions of the English countryside as represented by television shows such as H.E. Bates’ The Darling Buds of May and James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. With such rural narratives you were never far from a beautiful landscapes, wonderfully sunny skies and country folk working together, on the main, as a community. Hope Dickson Leach’s independent British drama is an altogether different beast. It’s a muddy, grieving, bloody and filth-ridden exploration of how tough family and farming existence is.

Featuring some fantastic performances from Ellie Kendrick and David Troughton the story is very simple. Clover (Kendrick) returns from Veterinary College following the sudden death of her brother. While her father is steadily drinking himself to death, she tries to make sense of her sibling’s apparent suicide. Her father, an army man and farmer is living in a caravan next to the battered family home. The farm business is sliding to bankruptcy and their home has been rotting since the Somerset floods a couple of years before. All round their property and livestock are threatened by damp, disease and death.  In short: this is NOT The Darling Buds of May.

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Ellie Kendrick, who I recognised from several TV shows including Game of Thrones, absolutely owns the character of Clover. She is seen as weak and unreliable by her father but is in fact an intelligent and resilient character who is prepared to work hard and dig deep for some respect. The plot itself reminded me a lot of the Michael Caine gangster classic Get Carter (1971); accept with a female lead and more cows. As Clover attempts to steady the fortune of the farm, caused in part to mis-management by her father and brother, she also turns detective, stealthily delving into circumstances relating to her brother’s death.

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Overall, Hope Dickson Leach has made a really touching personal story of grief. This is a very emotional story about a family torn apart by death on personal and financial levels. I don’t know much about farming life, but while it may be idealized in certain books and films the reality is much tougher. Animals, while commodities are often culled because of disease and farmers are at the mercy of the weather. Moreover, it would appear to be much tougher for women too progress in a male-dominated world which favours sons over daughters.  What the film ultimately shows too, in many brilliantly acted and directed scenes, is we must transcend our differences and work together as one – as family – in order to survive.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

 

LEAN ON PETE (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

LEAN ON PETE (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Andrew Haigh

Produced by: Tristan Goligher

Screenplay by: Andrew Haigh

Based on: Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin

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

Music by: James Edward Barker

Cinematography: Magnus Joenck

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

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

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

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

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

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)

 

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #13 – MIKE LEIGH

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #13 – MIKE LEIGH

There is no way a mere simple page of words from my keyboard can do justice to the decades of incredible theatrical, televisual and cinematic work of the genius that is Mike Leigh. He has, since the 1960s, worked tirelessly creating: drama, comedy, pathos, empathy, love, hatred, politics, harmony, conflict, nihilism and hope through an orchestra of characters and creative endeavour.

For me Mike Leigh is a true artist. He has not only been involved in innumerable film, TV shows and plays since the 1960s but also created his own production modus operandi in the process. He is rightly well regarded for working intimately with his actors organically creating character and stories from the kernel of an emotion or idea. His works are legion and often feature representations the working or under-classes. There are no superheroes or special effects but rather raw emotion and feelings within his body of work.

The My Cinematic Romance series has always sought to praise filmmakers and actors I really love and Mike Leigh is no different. I would have to say though that to pick FIVE of my favourite works is an impossible task as there is so much choice. Nonetheless, these are five of my favourite Mike Leigh works but do check out any of his films as they have much to say about humanity and life and are also very entertaining in their own inimitable style.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

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ABIGAIL’S PARTY (1977) – BBC TV PLAY

Opening as a stage play in 1977, the seminal tragic-comedy Abigail’s Party sold out for months at the Hampstead Theatre when first released. A filmed TV version was released later to much acclaim that year and starred: Alison Steadman, Janine Duvitski, John Salthouse, Thelma Whiteley and Tim Stern. It’s a comedy of crumbling relationships featuring the passive aggressive clashes between the aspirational classes. The performances, notably from Steadman as the brash and formidable Beverley, are astute, over-the-top but somehow hilariously nuanced too. Moreover, the barbed dialogue and bitchy asides are perfectly delivered during a dinner party that, once seen, will have you laughing throughout. But, like much of Leigh’s work, by the end you somehow feel sad too.

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MEANTIME (1983) – CINEMA

The epitome of classic working-class-kitchen-sink-council-estate tragic-comedy, Meantime, features a “Who’s-Who” of now famous actors including: Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Phil Daniels, Alfred Molina; plus an early appearance from Leigh favourite Peter Wight. Set amidst the bleak concrete landscape of East London the episodic story focusses on the Pollock family, notably the unemployed brothers portrayed by Daniels and Roth. The former is an answer-for-everything-clever-dick while Roth’s Colin is the more subdued, shy and possibly autistic one, very much in his brother’s shadow. Furthermore, a very young-looking Oldman pops up as a bored, thuggish, glue-sniffing and racist skinhead who bullies those around him, especially Colin. Overall, Meantime evokes memories of my own childhood growing up on a rough Battersea council estate and captures the ennui and inertia of unemployment in Thatcher’s Britain. While it may sound depressing there’s also some classic dialogue and a number of hilarious exchanges between the family and characters which certainly silvers the dark, grey clouds on the horizon.

NAKED (1993) – CINEMA

We need to talk about, Johnny! Arguably, of all the characters and creations from Mike Leigh, Johnny Fletcher is the darkest manifestation and representation of his worldview. Unlike the permanently positive Poppy from Leigh’s Happy Go Lucky (2008), Johnny is a dress-in-black, biting and bilious shadow who drifts like smoke from North to South with no aim other than to attack those around him. Sardonic and severe in his outlook, Johnny’s misanthropy knows no bounds as he angrily castigates his ex-girlfriend’s lack of ambition, portrayed by Lesley Sharp, before beginning a doomed sexual liaison with her flatmate, the self-hating Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge).  It is not an easy film to watch due to the flagrant and offensive misogyny exhibited by the male characters and the seeming lack of hope throughout. Yet, it remains a compelling portrait of pre-millennial nihilism with some epic monologues delivered by the rasping and mercurial voice of David Thewlis’ in a never-to-be-bettered acting performance.

SECRETS AND LIES (1996) – CINEMA

After the nihilistic dissonance of Naked (1993) Leigh’s next film would return to familial roots and gentler, if still emotionally resonating, domestic drama. The story centres on Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s optometrist attempting to locate the birth mother who gave her up for adoption. In an extremely tender and serene performance, Baptiste as Hortense Cumberbatch finds her search turn up unexpected results. Brenda Blethyn, in the more melodramatic role of Cynthia Purley, runs the gamut of emotions; while the imperious Timothy Spall steals the floor with his noble rendition of Cynthia’s brother, Maurice. Spall’s Maurice is an ordinary, yet noble man, trying to hold the disparate family strands together. I especially loved the opening vignettes of Maurice’s photographic customers which established themes of surface appearances contrasted to hidden family secrets. This overall is what I class as a small epic containing so many brilliant character details, funny looks, and very touching moments where the emotion, quite often, is in the silence. Secret and Lies (1996) was, to date, Mike Leigh’s most accessible and emotionally satisfying film and would deservedly garner acting and directing awards and nominations from the Academy, BAFTA and Cannes.

VERA DRAKE (2004) – CINEMA

Having presented the lively Topsy Turvy (1999) world of Gilbert and Sullivan a few years before, Leigh created another period piece with Vera Drake. Set in 1950s London it centres on Imelda Staunton’s kind housewife who harbours a secret life. Amidst her family and work existence Vera assists young woman who accidentally get in the “family way”. I don’t want to say too much but this is a gut-wrenching and tragic story which highlights the issues of the day with a stunning emotional power. Imelda Staunton is one of the best actors I have ever witnessed on stage and screen and she brings to Vera’s character sympathy, pride and passionate inner strength. The supporting cast of Philip Davis, Eddie Marsan, Daniel Mays, and Sally Hawkins are superb; and a special mention to cinematographer Dick Pope, who has lit most of Leigh’s films. Pope creates, within a palette of greys, greens and browns a salient mood which enhances the performances and Leigh’s masterful direction.

 

Mike Leigh’s new film PETERLOO (2018) will be released this year in cinemas.

 

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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