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Charlie Brooker shines darkly again! BLACK MIRROR (Season 4) – Netflix Review

BLACK MIRROR – SEASON 4 – TV / NETFLIX REVIEW

Created by: Charlie Brooker

Producer(s): Barney Reisz, Charlie Brooker, Annabel Jones

Distributors: Endemol UK – Netflix

Season 4: 6 Episodes

Writer(s): Charlie Brooker plus William Bridges (USS Callister)

Directors: Toby Haynes, Jodie Foster, John Hillcoat, Tim Van Patten, David Slade, Colm McCarthy

Cast: Jesse Plemons, Cristin Milioti, Jimmi Simpson, Michaela Coel, Billy Magnussen, Rosemarie DeWitt, Brenna Harding, Andrea Riseborough, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Andrew Gower, Georgina Campbell, Joe Cole, Maxine Peake, Douglas Hodge, Letitia Wright etc.

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Technology: the final frontier; allowing humans to boldly go where no human has gone before.  Indeed, one of the most incredible elements of our world is the technological breakthroughs we have made over the past century or so. We have: electricity, nuclear power, robots, driverless vehicles, television screens, computers, mobile phones, satellites, GPS tracking, drones, 3D printing, smart home air-conditioning, Hadron Colliders, huge space-ships which travel beyond the stars, WI-FI, the world-wide-web connecting everyone with anyone, holograms, the social media phenomenon, virtual reality head-sets, software algorithms, x-rays, gamma knifes, DNA, cloning, MRI scans, Hyperloop tube trains, Sat-Nav, Google, immersive video-games; plus many more medical, military and industrial inventions which make our lives so easy today.

But with such wonderful and fantastic discoveries there is always a dark side. While we may create a medical breakthrough which cures on the one hand we’ll ultimately invent some new weapon or means with which to kill ourselves. So while technology is mainstay of our existence it also can feed our obsessions and thus become an extension of our poor choices, violence and insanity. The scariest thing is we think technology is absolutely necessary and we cannot live without it. I mean, all we really need to survive is water, air, food, shelter and perhaps, as The Beatles sang, love. For all its’ positives, technology is an addiction and can be used to do wrong and cause harm.

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Charlie Brooker’s sublime anthology series Black Mirror is now in its 4th Season (2nd on Netflix). It taps into the fear factor technology brings and presents nightmare scenarios that more often than not possess a prescient twist. Who can forget the very first episode of BM which had Rory Kinnear’s Prime Minister having to fuck a pig as a means to pay a hostage ransom?  The subsequent tabloid news that our then former Prime Minister David Cameron had, allegedly, stuck his member in a pig’s mouth suddenly made BM incredibly prophetic. This season is another televisual triumph with an incredible array of acting, directing and production talent with each episode offering the feel and scope of a cinema release. I’ll be honest being a massive Charlie Brooker fan I would probably enjoy a video of him dancing in a tutu whilst juggling tomatoes; however, I can confirm these six episodes were beyond brilliant too.

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Within the fabric of each episode Brooker holds a mirror up to the future and invariably it will come back black. However, the touching love story of San Junipero (from Season 3) offered some light in the BM universe and similarly Hang the DJ (officially 3rd in the Season 4 list) contained a wonderful love story at its’ heart with Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole giving humorous and touching performances. It also contains a Truman Show (1998) style ending and a twist that I thought was absolutely fantastic. Indeed, what appears to reflect the dystopic controlling techno-world of romance apps becomes something entirely real and beautiful by the end.

While Hang the DJ offers hope, the remainder of the episodes are bittersweet, brutal and unforgiving in their rendering. Actually, I suppose the Star Trek pastiche USS Callister has a kind of optimistic ending and is bloody funny in its affectionate satire of Trek archetypes and monsters. However, Jesse Plemons downtrodden Silicon Valley programmer holds a dark secret during his immersive Virtual Reality gaming experiences. Full of Star Trek references and themes, the clever script merges ideas relating to gaming and DNA technology with fantastic sci-fi meta-textual moments.

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Arkangel also has an element of brain implanted software which enables a neurotic mother (Rosemarie DeWitt) to track and view her daughter’s every move on a computer screen. Despite the revolutionary software used this story is based wholly in familial reality as the relationship between mother and daughter becomes strained as she enters her rebellious teenage years. The danger of “helicopter” or overbearing parenting becomes too apparent in satisfying soap operatic story.

Brooker relates many of his scripts in genre territory so the more outlandish or fantastic ideas are grounded with an identifiable cultural identity. The horrific murder plot of Crocodile unfolds in true Hitchockian fashion as an insurance adjuster tracks down the details relating to a vehicle accident but tragically stumbles on something altogether more deadly. The ending of this story is particularly far-fetched, as Andrea Riseborough’s architect gets deeper and deeper in the mire, however, Brooker must be praised for taking risks with his twists.

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Rather simpler is the pursuit thriller Metalhead, presented in crisp black and white, as a woman (the brilliant Maxine Peake) attempts to survive in a dangerous land full of robotic guard-dogs. It’s mainly a tense one-hander and the future never looked so drained of hope and colour. The final episode Black Museum was even more grisly as Douglas Hodge shows Letitia Wright’s tourist around his grim parade of exhibits. Brooker’s writing is as strong as ever and the horrors of the entwining anthology stories are shocking and powerful. It’s a dark, dark episode which contains the fantastic idea of uploading one’s digital soul into a loved one’s to share their consciousness. This plays out with both horror and humour in a compelling end to the season.

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Being a total Charlie Brooker and Black Mirror fan; a big lover anthology stories; plus a fanatic of horror and tales with a twist it’s obvious to say I loved this seasons offerings. They are clever, dark, funny, sickening, silly, romantic, scary, twisted stories full of satire and warnings about the dangers of technological progress. Ultimately, though it is not science or computers or mechanics which are the danger; but rather humans use and abuse of said technology. Because, for all our ingenuity and invention we more often than not use machines negatively and Black Mirror reflects that (im)perfectly.

Mark: 10 out of 11

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HEARING STORIES: SOME THOUGHTS AND REVIEWS ON AUDIO-BOOKS

HEARING STORIES: SOME THOUGHTS AND REVIEWS ON AUDIO-BOOKS

Six months ago I was reading a physical book of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 and I was just not feeling it. Not the actual book as it is a classic novel of our time but the actual activity of reading itself. I just did not want to read anymore. Of course, I can do it but my mind just didn’t have the desire or energy. What did this mean?

Had I been dumbed down and rendered attention deficient by virtue of the constant viewing of films, TV and the barrage of internet viewing. Perhaps my brain had been become punch-drunk and distorted my mind, like an over-the-hill boxer who’d just had one too many fights. It was confusing. I’ve always loved reading and did not want to stop.

So, I thought why not try out the Audio-book route?  What’s the worst that could happen?  I could LISTEN to someone reading the book to me and experience the literature from an aural perspective. I have to be honest – I’m glad I did! Because I have been listening to a number of audio-book productions and they have been very rewarding from all manner of dramatic, artistic, comical and emotional directions. Moreover, I listen to these books while walking and at the gym so my “reading” has become a very pleasing mobile pursuit.

Anyhow, here are some reviews of the books I have been listening to over the past months. If you also listen to audiobooks please feel free to suggest any good “reads” or narrations.

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BACK STORY – DAVID MITCHELL (narrated by David Mitchell)

Comedian, actor, panel-show humourist and writer David Mitchell takes us on a literal walk of London landmarks and streets, while also wandering down his own personal memory lanes and avenues. Pedantic, neurotic, angry and insightful in equal measures this is an entertaining and intelligent journey full of hilarious rants and stories relating to Mitchell’s life; one which is blighted, not by personal tragedy, but rather a very painful bad back. His narration too is very funny and listening to him speak is like having your very own personal version of the brilliant comedy show Peep Show in your head.  I especially, from a creative point-of-view, enjoyed his analysis of comedy past, present and the actualities of writing sketches, jokes and performing too.

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CATCH 22 – JOSEPH HELLER (narrated by Trevor White)

The novel which began my whole diversification into the audiobook territories is a startling anti-war character drama full of tragedy and black comedy, highlighting the folly of humanity during conflict. I was both laughing out loud and crying inside as Heller’s seminal work crashes us into the heart of madness during World War II. Featuring any number of crazed pilots either being killed or trying not to be killed while flying over Italy, this novel expertly takes you up and down and up and down. Heller does this with a meticulously acute writing style and via characters such as the wonderfully named: Yossarian, Milo Minderbinder, Doc Daneeka, Snowden, Nately, Nurse Cramer, Captain Aardvark, Colonel Cathcart and many more lunatics. This is a sprawling insane war-set epic which satirizes and laments the folly and destructive behaviour of mankind, and is all the more relevant today because we still can’t fucking learn to stop killing each other over ridiculous things like money, land, God and love.

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DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP – PHILIP K. DICK (narrated by Scott Brick)

Dick’s classic science-fiction novel is better known now as Blade Runner and the film versions are incredibly stylish and powerful genre works. Yet, Scott Brick’s narration of Dick’s source novel is absolutely perfect in its rendition, creating a haunting pathos beyond that featured in the film. The story covers one day in the life of Rick Deckard – an “Andy” or android bounty hunter who must track down a series of superior robots of the Nexus Six variety. The original Blade Runner (1982) film did well to distil and simplify the narrative but it only touched the sides where the complex themes are concerned. The novel is far more involved with subtext relating to: simulations; animal husbandry; Artificial Intelligence; Virtual-reality religious fervour; and the existential pain or humans and robots, being explored within the rotting dystopic, Earth setting.

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GAME OF THRONES – GEORGE R.R. MARTIN (narrated by Roy Dotrice)

George R. R. Martin’s North-versus-South-Westerosian fantasy epic has provided hours of entertainment via HBO’s massive hit TV adaptation. The original source novel is a literary monster of a book with an over 33 hours running time, so kudos to the talented, yet ageing actor, Roy Dotrice for staying alive during the recording and finding the energy to narrate it. If you don’t know the Game of Thrones TV show, it has become an iconic narrative of Starks versus Lannister’s versus Targaryen’s versus zombies versus dragons and all manner of: lords, ladies, monsters, whores, hordes, henchmen, sorcerers, warriors, Kings, Queens and peasant scum; all fighting and spitting hate at each other for a baying public’s bloodthirsty satisfaction.

The book, of which Game of Thrones is based, is an intricately plotted, brilliantly characterised and action-packed joy. Not for the faint-hearted it is explicit from a violence and erotic perspective and Martin’s writing is believable unbelievability of the highest order. While it may be fantastic in regard to many of the concepts it is grounded in a raw and human reality as the flawed characters conflict with each other in all manner of familial jousting, hearty battling and political chicanery. The book has all the greatest qualities of the television show and much more besides and well worth the many hours it took me to “read”.

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HOW NOT TO BE A BOY – ROBERT WEBB (narrated by Robert Webb)

The other half of the Mitchell and Webb double-act, Robert, narrates his own story with an adept sarcasm, intelligence and over-riding sense of grief throughout. As a big fan of Peepshow, his brilliance as an actor is playing unlikeable-selfish-man-boys with devilish charisma. He’s obviously very funny too and his anecdotes and memories of growing up in a Lincolnshire town and overcoming family heartache before joining the so-called Cambridge academic elite are very honest and personable. I would have liked a bit more detail about his creative process but reading between the lines I felt that it all came very naturally and unpretentiously to Webb. Overall, this is a terrific listen, full of funny and tragic moments; plus given I’m the same age as Webb, his references to televisual, pop, film and comedy culture were immediately recognisable to me, only adding to the book’s enjoyment.

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I, PARTRIDGE: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT ALAN – ALAN PARTRIDGE (read by Alan Partridge)

Steve Coogan’s genius comedy creation Alan Partridge has been part of my life since the 1990s when I first saw him on the brilliant satire show The Day Today. There he presented the sports and would subsequently go on to a kind of greatness as a chat show host on Knowing Me, Knowing You and starring in one of the best sitcoms of all time, I’m Alan Partridge. It is a testament to the acting ability, quality of writing and sheer stamina of Coogan that he continues to mine comedy gold from the hills of Partridge, as it were. Coogan narrates (in the glorious character of Partridge) a fictional autobiography from actual cradle to career grave. It also hilariously covers how he bounced back from the precipice of a chocolate-driven-frenzied-nervous-breakdown-suicide-attempt in Dundee. I have never laughed so much as six hours of comedic gold entered my brain and left me in stitches throughout. This is one of the funniest things I have had the pleasure to listen too; full of bitter rants, vengeful asides, over-elaborate similes and a litany of what I can only call Partridgeisms! Is that a word: well it is now!

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MOVIE REVIEW – THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

MOVIE REVIEW – THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

The Marvel Franchise bus shows no sign of slowing down and the number of Superhero passengers and routes its taking increases every year. Indeed, I’m wondering which driver (i.e. director) will be the first to get a puncture and crash their respective bus, because even though we are well past saturation point the successful formulae is still sweetly cruising along without the threat of breaking down. Even slightly lesser known heroes such as Dr Strange (2016), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Ant-Man (2015) have all made loads of money, and corny vehicular metaphors aside, surely it is only a matter of time before Marvel’s monopoly on Superhero movie success flails. However, Thor: Ragnarok (2017) is most certainly NOT the film that causes the decline.

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The crafty Marvel bosses have kept their products fresh by often changing directors because where DC failed artistically, in my view, was they allowed the hyperbolic effects-driven blockbuster style of Zach Snyder — until the impressive Wonder Woman (2017) that is — to dominate their bombastic releases. Marvel Studios, on the other hand have given reign to arguably more quirky, indie-flavoured filmmakers such as: Joss Whedon, James Gunn and now Taika Waititi to drive their movies forward. Thus, along with the standard heroes-versus-villains-end-of-the-world storylines, massive battle set-pieces and fantastical worlds and characters on show, such directors add an element of humour and characterization to proceedings.

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Humour, more than anything, is what Waititi brings to Thor: Ragnarok. This is essentially the first all-out Marvel comedy pitched an octave funnier than Guardians of the Galaxy on the comedic scale; as punchline after punchline reigns down with the power of Thor’s lightning bolts. The opening scene is a case in point where Chris Hemsworth’s sly comic timing is utilised to great impact when facing the demonic Sutur. Hanging upside down and chained, Thor’s momentum swings him around and away as the fiery devil delivers his monologue, only for Thor to ask him to wait until he comes back round again. While covering the exposition in a very funny way the gag also satirizes the clichéd villains’ plot while serving as a wonderful taster for the events to come.

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The witty screenplay and lightning pace covers up the familiarity of the story as once again Asgard comes under attack from a hellish force, this time in the guise of the beautiful evil of Hela (Thor’s older sister) portrayed with tremendous gusto by the ultra-talented Cate Blanchett. Usually seen in more serious dramatic roles Blanchett excels as Hela, and arguably is a touch underused until the incredible battle scene at the end. Anthony Hopkins and Tom Hiddleston once again reprise their roles as Odin and Loki respectively; Loki, as usual, getting some great moments to show his dupliticity and mischief. Both Hopkins and Hiddleston take great pleasure to also parody their characters compared to the pitch black seriousness of Thor: The Dark World (2013).

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Waititi, the writers and production crew deserve much credit for not only delivering some familiar faces and worlds to the film but also some new ones to freshen it up. I must admit I wish the trailer hadn’t spoilt the appearance halfway through of the “Big Guy” because if I had not known that I would have been amazed at such a twist. Nonetheless, the Hulk does appear and via Mark Ruffalo’s neurotically bemused turn as Bruce Banner we get, amidst all the gladiatorial mayhem, a cracking buddy story too. Moreover, Tessa Thompson as a hard-drinking-hard-fighting “Scrapper 142” (with a hidden past) is another sterling addition to the ensemble and the visuals which derive from her backstory via flashback are the some of the most impressive I have seen all year.  Jeff Goldblum as a wacky but dangerous Space Dictator and the hilarious Taika Waititi as a wise-cracking Kronan (a rock-looking dude!?) almost steal the show too.

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As he showed with Eagle versus Shark (2007), What We Do In the Shadows (2013) and the exceptionally funny and touching, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016), Waititi is a very talented filmmaker and he has brought his love of eccentric characterization and comedic ability to great effect within the Marvel Universe. Thor: Ragnarok is a riotous mix of stunning visuals, booming rock music, huge battles, family wars, smashing punchlines and hilarious performances. Arguably the comedy sidelines the drama and tonally the film is uneven in places and compared to the magical and hallucinatory world of Dr Strange it is not as satisfying in terms of the whole world and vision created. Nonetheless, as comic book adaptations go it is one of the most entertaining Marvel sequels to date.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

 

 

10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU – #6 MODERN LIFE

10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU – #6 – MODERN LIFE

I recently wrote a little personal review on stuff I love about life which can be found here. BUT then I thought ah, why not continue my Ten Things I Hate About. . . series which to date includes reasons why I hate: Zach Snyder’s Man Of Steel, the Cinema, Found Footage films, Politics and Movie Hair!? Therefore, I thought why not write about things in LIFE I hate too!

Here I’m just saying that this is for fun and not a cry for help, as my life is pretty good I have a job, a roof-over-my-head, good family and I have my health. Compared to those in war-torn countries and those hit by horrific tsunamis and hurricanes I CANNOT COMPLAIN!!  Still, there’s no harm in having a little bit of a moan now and then. So, here are ten things that really get on my nerves most days whilst living and breathing on Earth.

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#1 – ONLINE HATERS OR TROLLS!

Why are people so over-the-top with their reactions online I ask myself? Maybe they are channelling their life disappointments or existential anger by way of dissociative behaviour. Criticizing things is one thing but venturing into petty online spite could be a way of distancing themselves from the pain of life or just a means to attack others in an offensive way. Moreover, sport, politics, novels, schools, pop videos and even cakes give rise to the most ridiculous hate-filled crap online. Even worse is that many people are cowards and use anonymity too. Why can’t we all just get along?

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#2 – GU: GLASS POTS

This is a bit of a niche pet-hate! But I once shared a flat with a very decent person but they kept, every day, purchasing GU Pot desserts. They would eat them, clean the glass pots and place them in the cupboard. Soon we were infested with GU Pots!  I thought maybe he was to recycle them at the glass bank but he left the tenancy and I was the one who had to get rid of these damned pesky pots. I’d given up smoking so couldn’t even use them as an ashtray!

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#3 – PEOPLE WHO DON’T INDICATE WHEN DRIVING

Come on drivers please let me know which way you’re going?!?  It’s the lever on the steering wheel; just flick it and THEN I KNOW!!  Also, if you’re changing lanes don’t just lurch left or right without warning you bastards!!  Please use the indicator!!  I’m a bit anal when it comes to this but just have a bit of decency please?  Oh, and while you’re at it stop driving so close to my back bumper! THAT’S HOW CRASHES OCCUR YOU MUPPETS!

#4 – ADULTS ON SCOOTERS

What is it with this most recent of irritating phenomena!? If it isn’t bad enough pedestrians having to battle regular traffic and hate-filled cyclists failing to stop at red lights while riding on pavements; we now have morons over the age of 18 riding kid’s scooters too. It may get you from A to Z in an environmentally safe fashion but you are dangerous and look like a dick! Just stop it please!


#5 – PEOPLE WHO SAY, “YOU KNOW WHAT I’M LIKE!

I do this all the time and it is bloody annoying. For example, I am very pedantic and annoy people with this – especially my wife. But when I do it I often utter the above words: “Well, you know what I’m like – it’s what I’m like!” No, it doesn’t work as a catchall defence mechanism so must be rejected. You wouldn’t get jury’s in court finding you innocent of murder because it’s “what I’m like!” Just don’t do it to start off with!

 

#6 – PROFESSIONAL CRITICS

Everyone’s a critic!  Everyone has an opinion or a view and the Internet has caused a mass proliferation and gaping spew of words and views and brain-thoughts in extremis. I am just part of that continued global globule of opinionated ephemera which litters the clouds or servers or wherever the hell it is online. However, I do it for fun and to stop me thinking about death. If you earn a living as a critic then you are Satan! Would I do it for a living, well, yes I would but I’d rather create than dictate. I’d rather be the failed artist trying than the trying failed artist.


#7 – WHITE MIDDLE-CLASS KIDS WHO TRY AND RAP!!

Again, it’s a freedom of choice to dress to behave the way you choose, however, the absorption of urban culture by middle-class white kids to me is very grating. I’m not saying don’t appreciate the music, style and fashion styles but dreadlocks, urban-speak and bad rapping should not be tolerated. Most annoying is appropriating other people’s look or behaviour when much has been borne out from a certain social standing. But most of all it’s the terrible rapping. Look at this c**t from M. Night Shymalan’s The Visit (2015)!


#8 – OVER-INFLATED PRICES PAID FOR ART!

Picture the scene: a starving child in Africa passively stares at a camera while a fly irritates their big sad eyes, and they do not know when their next meal is coming from. Meanwhile, in a New York auction house a painting by Cezanne or Gauguin or Picasso is selling for over $200 million dollars! What the f**k is wrong with the world?!  I’m not saying these paintings aren’t great art it’s just that there is NO WAY that amount of money should be paid for a painting when there is starvation, disease, and poverty in the world. It’s just an indictment of the sickness of humanity that we place such value on what effectively amounts to canvas and paint placed in a particular manner by some dead guy. It’s utter madness!!

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#9 – PEOPLE WHO DON’T LET YOU GET OFF THE TRAIN FIRST!

Honestly, it’s bad enough being crammed like sardines in a space not fit for cattle going to market. However, when you try and get off a stacked tube and the passengers on the platform block your way then you can seriously lose your cool. There should be a bigger space and line to allow more room to get off. I mean: what’s the hurry though?  We’re just too much in a hurry I guess to have some empathy and feelings for others’. Damned shame!

#10 – TALKING AT THE MOVIES!

I mean why are you talking during a movie?  There’s a FILM on!!  People who chat during the film SHOULD BE banned forever! In fact a law should be introduced that there’s NO talking from the trailers onwards.  If you do you are forcibly removed from the screening room.  I go to the cinema to escape reality; YOU or YOUR MATE’S voice-words are reality so SHUT THE HELL UP!  If you want to have a conversation piss-off to a pub or a shop or a busy road and PLAY IN THE TRAFFIC. Anywhere but the cinema!

 

 

 

GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 7 – REVIEW & RANDOM THOUGHTS

GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 7 REVIEW & RANDOM THOUGHTS

**ABSOLUTELY NO SPOILERS**

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I’ll be honest: in my younger days of arrogance or confidence or know-it-all-prideful-youth – whatever you want to call it – I used to be an ultra-critical, negative and a bit of a spoilt moaner. But, as my time ticks away ever so slowly and I crawl closer to death, I believe I have grown more mature and reasonable. I remain analytical and active in my viewing and while I am someone who mildly obsesses about certain movies, TV shows, sports and other cultural stuff, I still recoil with embarrassment at the negative hysteria you get online and in social media in regard to life, politics, celebrities, pop videos and more specifically TV programmes or films.

Of late the fury of the Internet “haters” or “trolls” was aimed with fundamental ire at the all-female-led-cast Ghostbusters movie. Who really cared?!?  It was an okay film; not great. My main problem was that it was not particularly well written or directed despite the excellent efforts of the cast. In another sexist tirade the online public hacks also attacked the casting of excellent actress Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor Who. I mean the Doctor is a shape-shifting alien who changes bodies and heaven forbid that, after thirteen men (including John Hurt’s War Doctor) in the role, a woman suddenly be cast!

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Why are people so over-the-top with their reactions I ask myself? Maybe they are channelling their life disappointments or existential anger by way of dissociative behaviour. Criticizing these casting decisions could be a way of distancing themselves from the pain of life.  Or perhaps the more socially-charged analysts could argue that filmmakers and TV showrunners are cowering to the liberal left and changing such roles to be more PC! Or maybe they are simply just nuts!?

I guess everyone is entitled to an opinion and the Internet, for better or worse, has given power to those opinions. I just don’t understand why people get so angry though!  I mean some of the criticisms aimed at the latest season of Game of Thrones were admittedly erudite and thoughtful; however, much of the wrath toward the writers ranged from the silly to the furious to nit-picking pedantry of the highest order. It’s as if the online villagers of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter had been sharpening their pitchforks and lighting their torches before the show had even aired.

My view of Game of Thrones is simple. The first six seasons gave me some of the greatest televisual enjoyment I have ever experienced. In terms of character, plotting, dialogue, action, reversals, twists, shocks, romance, performance, political intrigue, editing, direction and jaw-dropping-heart-pounding-tension it is ONE OF THE GREATEST TV SHOWS EVER!

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Thus, Season 7 had a lot to live up to and in some ways it has been a victim of its own success. When you raise the bar that high it is of no surprise if such heights dip on occasions. Having said that I thought Season 7 was fantastic TV; and I’m not the only one. It was seven episodes of brilliant entertainment with too many wonderful moments to mention.  But the online village hordes were quick to complain with vehement cries of “Burn the Writers!”  Moans included:

  • The writing’s not as good as the earlier Seasons!
  • George R. R. Martin’s careful characterisation and plots have gone!
  • The pace is TOO quick compared to the prior Seasons!
  • Too many character reunions!
  • The map has been compressed and characters seem to teleport!
  • Too many plot-holes and character inconsistencies.
  • The White Walkers / Night King enemy are too one-dimensional.
  • It’s just not as good as the books!
  • It’s become too predictable!
  • Show-runners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are the Anti-Christ!  game-of-thrones-season-7-arya

While I agree in regard to the geographical shifts of characters and speeding up of the plot points is different to the previous Seasons, I don’t believe the entertainment value has been lost; in fact it has been heightened. I also don’t agree that the writing is bad. The show, having built up much good faith in the earlier more politically charged Seasons has now shifted to a faster more cinematic pace rather than the steady literary tread of George R. R. Martin’s work. Of course, the book is ALWAYS better than the film or show as a rule but it’s a different medium altogether.  We’re reaching the end of the show and the characters’ arcs are peaking toward denouement so the increased pace is understandable.  In regard to predictability, well, there’s only one way the whole show was going and the battle between Ice and Fire has been on the cards since the first episode! WINTER IS HERE!!  I realise many are disappointed in this shift having committed many hours to watching the show; but I honestly think the show remains as powerful as ever.

EVERYONE is now a screenwriter and while it is much fun to decide how you want the characters you love to behave, just because they do something slightly different to what you, or George R.R. Martin would do, it doesn’t mean it is bad writing or illogical. On the contrary Season 7 contained some exciting writing and an incredible amount of memorable moments. These included: Daenerys’ dragons wreaking havoc; the magnificent masculine mission beyond the Wall; Oleanna and Jamie’s words; Cersei’s continued despotic mania; a summit meeting between many of our major characters; the Hound; Jorah’s redemption; Arya’s special set of skills;the Night King and his horde; Jamie’s doubts; Brienne’s loyalty; the weirdo Bran; and all manner of incredible battle scenes on sea, air, ice and land.

These sequences plus many more and the great direction, acting, design and character twists throughout meant that I was transfixed from start to finish. I do agree that at times it felt rushed in places and ten episodes would have fleshed out some of the more temporal issues. But hey, it was still amazing from my perspective.

Game of Thrones, ultimately is a TV programmes with dragons and zombies and in between human beings attempting to out-plot and out-kill each other.  I agree there was a more Shakespearean feel to the earlier episodes and we have experienced a shift from a literary style to the cinematic.  However, I couldn’t care less and would advise the armchair screenwriters, clickbait critics and online trolls to cease bitching and stop watching the show if you don’t enjoy it any more. Because unlike this highly entertaining show YOU ARE GETTING VERY BORING!

2017 EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL – CULTURAL ROUND-UP

2017 EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL – CULTURAL ROUND-UP

You may or may not know this but the comedy you see on television via the sitcoms, panel shows, live performances etc. plus the Netflix or Amazon specials which are streamed online are just the tip of the iceberg in regard to stand-up, sketch and narrative comedy shows. Because, underneath is a huge population of individuals writing, rehearsing, directing, editing and performing their works live across the clubs, theatres, pubs, basements and attics of the world.

These unsung creative heroes and the occasional lunatic are, on the whole, slogging their guts out following a dream to hit the big time in their chosen stage craft. Either that or they simply revel in performing and delivering their stories, jokes or narratives to the public live. It’s a cathartic experience to release their heart and soul to the world in comedic, theatrical or musical form and most of these people should be saluted for their creativity.

One of the best places to find these purveyors of dance, comedy, performance, mime, acting, music and sometimes science is at the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This year I went, with my wife, on holiday there for a week to check out some shows and sites and lovely restaurants and pubs!  Here’s a uncritical round-up of some of the things we caught up with. Amazing fun it was too!

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LODGINGS

Like many cities Edinburgh has many great places to spend the night including hotels and other bed and breakfast digs. Many of the acts performing at the Fringe have budgets so will use rented accommodation, hostels, vehicles and ditches too to sleep in. My wife likes some comfort when we stay places whereas I have been happy in the past with the gutter; well, a cheap B & B. So she chose Millers 64 on Pilrig Street and what a lovely place it was too. Run by Louise and Shona Clelland, we experienced some of the best hospitality we have ever had so they are highly recommended. Check out their website here.

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FOOD

Scotland and the North in general has been the focus of stereotypical gags at the expense of unhealthy living including: bad diet, alcoholism and drug abuse. I guess characters such as Rab C. Nesbitt and novels/films like Trainspotting only serve to strengthen such ideas. Of course, if you search it out you will find junk food and drink in any place the world over but I actually ate pretty healthily during my week in Scotland.

Of the places we visited I can definitely recommend La Favorita pizza place on Leith Walk. Moreover, the tasting menu at the Gardiners Cottage was beautifully presented and I very much enjoyed the Indian cuisine at Mother India. There are also hundreds of pubs, cafes and burger restaurants all over Edinburgh.

I enjoyed watching Tottenham Hotspur FC defeat Newcastle FC in the Kilted Pig on the Sunday but my favourite pub was probably The Pear Tree House on West Nicolson Street. It had great beer, food, a massive garden and a constant stream of lively entertainment and music.

Having said that the greatest epicurean treat I had was on my birthday at The Kitchin. The food was absolutely exquisite and what made it all the more amazing was my wife treated me to the meal just for getting a year older. I imagine it was very expensive but the whole experience was fantastic as we also visited the kitchen and met the aptly named owner/chef Tom Kitchin.

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MUSIC

As I only had a week and there is SO much going on at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival I did not see any theatrical presentations, which, if I’d been there for another week would certainly have been on my cultural agenda. Similarly with musical performances I chose the more comedic acts over others but enjoyed an excellent set by jazz guitarist Graeme Mearns despite this. However, the real humdinger of a show I could not miss was the one by gothic chanteuse Camille O’Sullivan. She is a dark storm of a performer who hails from Ireland and sings haunting and very dramatic versions of tunes written by Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Arcade Fire and Nick Cave. In the elegant tent where I saw her show I was bewitched by the spine-tingling performance borne of fire, shadow, light and ice.

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COMEDY

I love comedy. It is a noble craft which on occasions can be propelled to the heights of art and was to the fore of my cultural menu in Edinburgh. In fact, on Monday 14th August I watched SEVEN shows beginning at 11am with the last one finished at 10.30pm.  It was a brilliant day and encapsulated all that is great about the Fringe Festival.  This is NOT a review of the comedians I saw during the week as all the shows I witnessed were BRILLIANT! I don’t believe in comedy competitions or star ratings as comedy is too subjective for that. But rather, it’s a round-up of and a shout out to a very talented bunch of individuals I saw; and there were thousands I missed too but there was just not enough time alas.

Musical comedy is something I have been really getting into and the alternative genius Robert White presented an exhilarating off-kiltered-joke-a-second-Gershwin-inspired operetta of his life in a show called Instru-mental. Equally energetic was the wonderful Pippa Evans in Joy Division; while the very talented Harriet Braine delivered some excellent cover songs which also educated us about the history of Art!

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I also saw some excellent club and storytelling comedians such as: free-wheeling Russell Hicks; Irish mirth-maker Rory O’Hanlon; Cheetah Adam Greene; intelligent Scot Stephen Carlin; conspiracy theorist Don Biswas; witty and frantic Nathan Cassidy; the brilliant comedy-swap laughs of Sketch Thieves; the crafty humour of Ben Clover; plus the ferocious, clever and frantic comedy of Fringe stalwart Richard Herring.

Of the shows that arguably had longevity in terms of their narratives then Darius Davies’ Road to Wrestlemania was really funny. It’s a fast-paced narrative of how, when a naïve teenager, he tried to become a World Wrestling star.  Successfully employing multi-media, costumes and music to tell the story it made me laugh (and almost cry) throughout. I also really enjoyed Dominic Holland’s very funny and touching Eclipsed. Holland, who has been a very successful author and comedian found his career eclipsed by his son Tom Holland who last year became the new Spiderman!  It’s a brilliant story about success and family togetherness amidst some excellent comedic observations of everyday life.

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Of all the comedians I saw I was transfixed by the mercurial delivery and off-centre ideas of Tommy Tiernan. A comedy veteran and Grandmaster of the comedic dark arts, he flits around the stage nimbly while his rich Irish brogue delivers a stream of jokes, observations, non-sequiturs and the occasional barmy rant. He covers many subjects such as: life, death, religion, sex, family, immigrants, football, age and so on. An hour in his company is not enough as I could have listened to him for hours.

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OVERALL

So, that was my first Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The whole experience was fantastic to me as I was around the things I love such as comedy, music, food and booze for an intensely concentrated week of pure culture. If you’re like me and hanging around watching shows and feeding off the energy of a cultural oasis then I highly recommend it. I would say a week is definitely not enough for what’s on offer in bonnie Scotland during the month of August!

(In mild defence of:) THE MUMMY (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

THE MUMMY (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

Is The Mummy (2017) an original movie?  No! Is Tom Cruise’s latest attempt at a movie franchise a good film? Not particularly!  But is it an entertaining-take-your-brain-out-popcorn movie?  Yes!  Now, of course, film reviews are all about opinions and The Mummy is an average film at best, but compared to some of the blockbusters of recent years such as Batman v. Superman (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016), it at least makes sense and has a decent through-line narrative.

The Mummy

I mean, I watch a lot of films, some great, some okay and some not-so-great and every now and then a film receives a critical pasting it deserves. But sometimes films get a kicking they don’t deserve. I think that bloggers and critics, professional or hobbyists, love the sound of their own voice, keyboard-tapping and ego passing judgement. Indeed, I am no different. To give the thumbs up or thumbs down can be empowering; it’s a lot of fun. Yet, at times one can get so caught up in their higher ideals of film critique and actually apply intelligent analysis to the wrong films. Either that or they just thought the film was crap! But in The Mummy’s case I don’t think it is.

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The film kicks off at a fantastic pace and aside from a mid-act breather for some exposition from Russell Crowe’s Dr Jekyll, keeps up the fast action relentlessly. Because, essentially this is all plot, action, jokes and monsters and is NOT MEANT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY! The story is pretty simple and mirrors the Brendan Fraser movies from the late 90s/early 2000s; and any number of Mummy monster films where a hidden tomb is opened up and releases unimaginable horror upon the world. The old Universal Boris Karloff classic from 1932 was a moodier, low-budget and atmospheric affair while this is an altogether whizz-bang-rollercoaster-ride-affair.

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The main protagonist is Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton. He is basically an Indiana Jones meets Ethan Hunt type soldier, who along with his partner Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) is looting Iraq for Saddam’s hidden treasures. Of course, things don’t go according to plan and he and his partner, along with Annabelle Wallis’ fill-in-the-history-dots-archaeologist, unearth a monstrous and murderous Egyptian princess called Ahmanet (striking Sofia Boutella). In recent films such as Kingsman: Secret Service (2014) and Star Trek: Beyond (2016), Boutella has proved herself a physically commanding performer and once again she stands out here.

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I don’t know but maybe I was in a good mood but I really enjoyed the bone-snapping ghouls; heart-stopping plane crash; Ahmanet’s sensual yet suspenseful pursuit; car chases through the murky woods; underwater zombies; duality of man versus monster theme; plus a great little homage to An American Werewolf in London (1981). I would say though that Tom Cruise probably unhinged the story slightly with his “superstar” persona and a less well-known actor may have added a bit more suspense. However, his characters’ arc was actually quite interesting as a cursed thief questioning his morals and actions. Plus, the final pay off, suggesting further adventures, was actually quite satisfying too.

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In fact, while it’s very generic with haphazard plotting it is no worse than blockbusters like A Force Awakens (2015) or Fast and Furious 7 (2015) or Mission Impossible 6 (2016); which I enjoyed but are all very surface and style-driven, while remaining entertaining action films. Overall, The Mummy was totally unoriginal and I would’ve preferred even more horror and gore! But if, like me, you sometimes don’t want to think too much it works as a silly bit of monster entertainment with some brilliant action stunts thrown in. An alternative title perhaps could have been The Mummy: Romancing the Bones – and ultimately it is nowhere near as bad as many critics have stated; in my humble keyboard-tapping opinion that is.

(Mark: 7 out of 11)