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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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HBO’S DEADWOOD (2004 – 2006) – CLASSIC TV REVIEW

HBO’S DEADWOOD (2004 – 2006) – CLASSIC TV REVIEW

ORIGINAL NETWORK: HBO – CURRENT NETWORK: SKY ATLANTIC

CREATED BY: David Milch

STARRING: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Powers Boothe, Dayton Callie, Kim Dickens, Brad Dourif, John Hawkes, and Robin Weigert etc.

SEASONS: 3 – EPISODES: 36

ORIGINAL RELEASE: March 21, 2004 – August 27, 2006

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The blood and sweat and liquor seep into muddy earth as wood creaks, leather cracks and barrels roll within the midst of morning in Deadwood town. Horses cry readying themselves for the work ahead as the hangover of alcohol, greed and necessity fill men, women and children’s hearts not knowing how the day will end. They could be destitute, broke or worse; six feet under from a gunshot or plague or had their throat cut during a game of poker. Or they could be richer than a King or Queen having struck lucky in the goldmines of Montana. These are desperate times brimming with whores, bandits, con-artists, killers and unbelievably twisted optimism. There’s hope that striking gold will change lives forever and bring about fortune and prosperity. More often than not though it simply brings about death.

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David Milch’s formidably researched Western TV classic was a show I’d never ever seen so I took great pleasure drinking in its’ flavours and palette at the end of 2017. I recall when released the tabloid newspapers were forever reporting the controversy of the colourful industrial language. While the language is indeed profane and sometimes enough to make a football referee blush it is the stand-out element of the scripts. Because Deadwood is one of the most brilliantly written shows I’ve seen; and while the dialogue is clearly anachronistic it feels paradoxically authentic. Throughout the thirty-six episodes the monologues sing from the screen as a litany of character actors drawl and deliver words of filth, comedy and great tragedy. At times the dialogue is so dense it reaches sonorous Shakespearean heights.

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The narratives of each season feature characters based on real people from history (Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok, Al Swearengen, Seth Bullock et al); all presented via a daily slice of mining camp life through an incredible ensemble cast. There are no heroes to hang our desires on but rather a rag-tag clan of flawed human beings presented as: killers, cowards, thugs, addicts, prostitutes, card sharks, immigrants, gold-diggers, crooked politicians and morally dubious law representatives. The amazing cast, led with frightening acting acumen by: Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Molly Parker, John Hawkes, Robin Weigert, Brian Cox and Powers Boothe spit words as weapons, while the glint of gold drives humanity, creating a hard-bitten early representation of the American dream.

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Here the early realms of civilization and society are shown to be full of issues relating to: race, capitalism, prostitution, misogyny, violence, politics, and immigration. Thankfully, things have changed now and we live in a near-perfect society with no problems today. NOT! Deadwood may represent a series of distant Wild West memories but its’ grizzled and bloody vision of humanity is just as valid today. The streets of society now may have pavement and tarmac and skyscrapers but they are still besmirched with blood and greed and alas that will never change.

Mark: 10 out of 11

 

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)

 

 

BLADERUNNER 2049 (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

BLADERUNNER 2049 (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

Philip K. Dick’s dense, dystopic and futuristic novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968), is an ugly, beautiful, depressing, obtuse, hypnotic wade-through-treacle read full of incredible concepts relating to: Artificial Intelligence; robot technology; android simulacra; animal husbandry; apocalyptic disease; virtual reality/empathy mood tech; extinguished humanity; and ultimately, of course, mortality and death. The fact that Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples were able to fashion a workable screenplay for Ridley Scott to direct is a creative miracle in itself. Moreover, it is testament to the writing and Scott’s incredible production team that Bladerunner (1982) is held in such high esteem among cinema fans now.

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The original Bladerunner, despite bombing at the box office and subsequently going through a number of cuts, re-cuts, final cuts and re-re-re-releases, has become a bona fide science fiction cinema classic. I watched the original theatrical version recently and despite the deadpan Harrison Ford voiceover and spurious, tacked on “happy” ending, it actually has a lot going for it. Obviously the ‘Unicorn Dream’ re-edits released under the guidance of Ridley Scott are the purer versions but the film holds up notably because of Ford’s gruff, depressive and world-weary performance as Rick Deckard; the imperious psychopathy of Rutger Hauer as android assassin Roy Batty; Scott’s glorious tech noir rendition of our desecrated future; as well as the evocation of Philip K Dick’s thematic existential power.

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Thus, to offer up a near three-hour sequel to a box office bomb of an almost unfilmable novel was something I thought extremely brave from a creative and business perspective. However, as soon as I saw the director Denis Villeneuve was attached, I immediately knew that Bladerunner 2049 was a must-see! This filmmaker has elevated himself to the higher echelons of Hollywood directors with superlative work such as: Incendies (2010), Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2014), Sicario (2016) and Arrival (2016). In such films he was able to meld story, style, character and performance to create very accessible genre films which encapsulate the pain and drama of the human condition adroitly.

In Bladerunner 2049, the future’s orange but, like the original novel and film adaptation, it’s definitely not bright! We are in a sick, unforgiving and murderous world where a dying Earth, specifically California, is inhabited by killer replicants, pleasure models, and totalitarian law enforcement and overseen by the venal, profit driven capitalist oligarchic Wallace Corporation. In this vision of Earth, men, women, children, animals and robots are all slaves to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. I have seen some critique that the film is exploitative in its female representations but the films reflects much that is wrong with our world today and the original novel’s dystopic and misanthropic themes.

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Both male and females are objectified and deemed commodities and alas that is true too of the sick world we live in today, yet perhaps just not as blatant? Bladerunner 2049, I does not offer solutions but depressingly mirrors society’s desire to sexualise and exploit others. Our “hero” the replicant cop ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling) is a victim of such exploitation in his touching relationship with A: I hologram Joi (Ana De Armas). Ultimately, he learns that they’re all being faked by the horrific technological nightmare they call existence. I think it extremely interesting that K’s wry smile when he realises he has been exploited by the Wallace Corp. product Joi; and paradoxically this demonstrates his humanity.

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Villeneuve, aided with startling artistry by cinematographer Roger Deakins directs from a screenplay written by original writer Hampton Fancher, plus Michael Green. One could argue that the original Bladerunner is style over content, as the story was distilled to that of Deckard basically hunting down a bunch of outlaw robots. However, the style WAS the content along with the dense richness of the themes. Similarly, Bladerunner 2049 does not have a particularly complex plot, save for one fantastic thematic reversal, yet at its heart it explores the powerful question of what it means to be human? I think all intriguing narratives should ask this and explore important notions of existence. I mean, it’s not surprise Gosling’s character is called ‘K’ – because the story echoes Kafka’s The Trial in many ways. Indeed, is his seemingly futile search for meaning or humanity just a pointless pursuit or is it reward enough to delude oneself with the possibility of hope or love? Life and the decision whether to carry on regardless is therefore very much on trial.

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I think this is a film which will benefit from further viewings. I felt like I was watching a Tarkovsky or Bergman film on a massive budget.  It’s like Denis Villeneuve managed to combine, with the writers and designers, an indie-Hollywood-art film installation. I would say this is a character and theme led narrative rather than purely plot driven. Even Niander Wallace’s (Jared Leto) weirdness, while not essential for the plot, added to the depth of character and surface emotion. He felt like a Colonel Kurtz figure trapped in his own insane delusion and obsession. Could he have been a replicant too? Likewise, Harrison Ford’s reappearance as Deckard adds great flavour to a wonderful sci-fi broth. Yet, his aging persona is integral to the plot and not simply a meta-textual nod to the original film.

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Ultimately, we mere mortals are arguably not worthy to critique this fantastic work of genre art cinema. I understand it was slow but that almost increased the joy for me. It moved glacially but with high confidence and in Ryan Gosling it had a bona fide star to guide us through this sick yet beautiful world. Moreover, the sound design and music from Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch was a powerful force which heightened the suspense and paranoia. While the visuals are absolutely breath-taking I was also drawn in by the existential intrigue of the themes.  Technically, within the story, the replicants are not living people but we empathise with their plight nonetheless because THEY are US. There lies the paradox and beauty of this film, in that I cared and was fascinated by what happened to actors playing robots on the cinema screen.

(Mark: 10 out of 11)

8 EPISODES WHY HBO’s ‘CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM’  IS “PRETTY GOOD!”

8 EPISODES WHY CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM  IS “PRETTY GOOD!”

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

David, who plays an extreme version of himself (one hopes), revels in pedantry, un-PC behaviour, poor decisions, risky statements and strict adherence to the social etiquette and unwritten rules of life that make him a right royal pain in the backside. Yet, incredibly, because the writing, situations and storylines are so clever the whole show works a treat. To celebrate the recent release of the 9th season of HBO’s classic comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm, I have chosen one episode from each season to praise. It’s a difficult choice to pick my favourites but I think you’d agree these episodes are pretty, pretty good!

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

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SEASON 1 – EPISODE 4 – THE BRACELET (2000)

I was going to choose Beloved Aunt because of the monumentally unfortunate typo which involved Larry upsetting Cheryl and his in-laws. In an obituary for a recent departure the words “Beloved Aunt” became “Beloved C*nt” and Larry gets the blame. However, The Bracelet is a classic for me as it involves Larry going head-to-head with comedian Richard Lewis for the said jewellery item. The slapstick and race-against-the-clock narrative are hilarious as is their meeting with an ungrateful blind person they help. The road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions!

SEASON 2 – EPISODE 7 – THE DOLL (2002)

One of the delights of the show is when Larry, having made some terrible social faux pas is ripped apart by one of the supporting cast. Arguably, his most fierce nemesis is his agent’s wife Susie; portrayed with vicious, black-eyed venom by Susie Essman. The narrative thrust of Season 2 involved Larry trying to get another Network show commissioned, but when he erroneously trims the hair (god knows why) of a child’s doll he become embroiled in a head-swapping comedy of nightmarish errors. When Susie catches him and Jeff using her daughter’s doll’s head, all hell breaks loose and Larry gets a volley of joyously ripe abuse!

SEASON 3 – EPISODE 8 – KRAZEY-EYEZ KILLA (2002)

Larry’s experiences with members of the black community range from: embarrassing misunderstandings, accidental racism, satirizing lazy stereotypes and finally some very offensive situations. Some of it is hilariously funny while more often than not it can be very painful to watch. However, Larry David is a brave writer as he doesn’t shy away from subjects which could be deemed politically incorrect. More often than not though he himself is the butt of the joke!  Season 3 had a wonderful arc of Larry getting involved with a Restaurant and the final episode had some glorious profanity. However, his run in with Wanda Sykes’ cheating rapper boyfriend Krazey-Eyez and Larry telling Martin Scorsese he “does too many takes” on set is just comedy gold!

SEASON 4 – EPISODE 6 – THE CAR POOL LANE (2004)

Season 4 benefits from one of the strongest narrative arcs of the whole series. Larry has been chosen by Mel Brooks to star in the Broadway show The Producers and includes the brilliant Ben Stiller and David Schwimmer. The Car Pool Lane finds Larry attempting to get into an upper-class-W.A.S.P-y country club and cajole Marty Funkhouser into giving up his dead father’s seat at a Dodger’s game. The comedy sparks really fly when in an attempt to get to the game he hires a prostitute to allow him to use said car-pool lane and beat the traffic. The dovetailing call-backs of his Dad’s glaucoma, trying to get off Jury service, Funkhouser’s dead Dad and country club narrative strands makes this one of the funniest episodes ever and features an effervescent performance from Kym Whitley as Monena the hooker!

SEASON 5 – EPISODE 7 – THE SEDER (2005)

What I love about Larry David’s writing – or retro-scripting to coin a phrase – is he is unafraid to ask intriguing moral or immoral questions within the comedy subtext. In the episode The Seder, he poses the idea that a sex offender, while having served his sentence, could possibly actually be a “nice” guy. Thus, Larry literally befriends a bald, Jewish sex offender (a brilliant Rob Corddry) much to the horror of his family, neighbours and friends. As thanks for an awesome golfing tip he even goes so far as to invite him to a Passover meal where all kinds of social embarrassment ensues.

SEASON 6 – EP. 3 – THE IDA FUNKHOUSER ROADSIDE MEMORIAL (2007)

After the steady mixed-bag comedic narratives of Season 5 – Larry’s potential adoption and Richard Lewis’ dying kidney – Season 6 introduced a new set of hilarious characters and situations. When Larry’s wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) “adopts” a homeless family, whose lives were wrecked by a hurricane, the comedy bar is raised to a whole new level. The season has some classic episodes but my favourite is The Ida Funkhouser Roadside Memorial. Despite Larry’s nebbish irritations quite often I am on his side when it comes to petty grievances. In this episode he deals with: unnecessary condolences and sample abusers, but stealing flowers off a roadside memorial is a totally out of order, So, Larry definitely deserves the stream of ire that comes his way when he commits this gob-smacking social “crime.”

SEASON 7 – EPISODE 7 – THE BLACK SWAN (2009)

Season 7 is most notable because Larry, having split up with Cheryl, is now dating Loretta Black (Vivica Fox). In order to get Cheryl back he orchestrates a Seinfeld reunion with all the gang (Jerry, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards), as a means to offer Cheryl a part. Firstly, though he has to dump Loretta, who sadly is now suffering from cancer. I mean Curb Your Enthusiasm must be admired for the lengths it goes to get laughs and how he “dumps” Loretta is something else. One of the funniest episodes is the Black Swan which occurs on the golf course. Suspected (he did it!) of killing the course owner’s treasured swan, there’s a scene where Larry’s customary “staring” motif is used against HIM!!  The ending of this episode involving his Mother’s gravestone is also one of the great payoffs too!

SEASON 8 – EPISODE 3 – PALESTINIAN CHICKEN (2011)

I am not easily shocked by anything but I must say that this is one of the most controversial episodes of comedy I have seen.  I was sat agog through many of the scenes in this one. I mean I’m not an expert when it comes to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict but I am aware of the geographical and religious issues which have occurred throughout the years. What Larry David does with his comedy is to skewer the significance of the conflict and satirize it within a consumer food war. Having began eating the chicken at a Palestinian restaurant Larry becomes attracted and begins a sexual relationship with one of the Arab customers. She is a sexual dynamo to him and her dirty talk is pure filth and anti-Semitic! As Larry puts his penis first and at the end is caught between rampant sex and his loyalty to his “people”! Again, another classic ending to a brilliant episode.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017) – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW 2017

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017) – LFF REVIEW 2017

“There’s no question that a great script is absolutely essential, maybe the essential thing for a movie to succeed.”Sydney Pollack

Directors are often held up by critics and audience alike as the God’s of film; controlling and pointing and designing and envisioning and corralling their mass creative power to thrust upon the cinema screen. Of course, with many directors or auteurs, the lofty praise is deserved but hey, did they create that vision or story or character arc in a vacuum? No, they had blueprint on a page first. They had a screenplay written by themselves or a determined writer or writing team sitting in a windowless office smoking a thousand cigarettes while slaving to get words on a page in some semblance of a coherent filmic fashion. It seems obvious to say but a great screenplay is the (skeleton) key for any great film; it’s the bones with which to hang the meat and muscle and later the clothes of any movie.  Without powerful bones a film will not stand strong. It will fall.

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Screenwriter (and director) Martin McDonagh has, in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri constructed one of, if not the most, formidable screenplays of the year.  As a playwright he won many awards for his works and his film, In Bruges (2008), was a deceptively simple story of two hitmen on the run which, with rich thematic power, became a darkly hilarious existential comedy-drama. His follow-up Seven Psychopaths (2012) was a heady mix of criminals versus writers in a meta-fictional Hollywood-based narrative; which while brilliantly written and performed arguably lacked the punch of In Bruges. Now, with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, McDonagh has delivered his best film to date; a highly emotional human drama which contains some of incredible characterization, dialogue and zinging one-liners which bounce off the page and crackle on the screen.

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Eschewing a more traditional structure the script’s inciting event – the murder of a young girl called Angela Hayes (Kathryn Newton) – has already occurred and therefore we are thrust immediately into the grief of main protagonist Mildred Hayes, portrayed with an iron veneer by the remarkable Frances McDormand. Her study of a grieving Mother, who is no longer prepared to sit by and wait for her daughter’s killers to be found, is awe-inspiring. Firing a rocket into the patriarchal-dominated police department ran by Chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) she sets in motion a series of unforgettably tragic, violent and blackly comedic scenes.  In using the three billboards to question Willoughby’s investigation she utilises physical media as a larger form of the ‘Scarlet Letter’; an old fashioned “name and shame” device. Because Mildred, is refreshingly traditional and old-fashioned and in rural, small-town America the Internet just won’t hack it for her. She is about direct, in-your-face and ballsy action.

As a study of grief this is similar in feel to the majestic Manchester-by-the-Sea (2016) and no doubt, like Kenneth Lonergan, McDonagh will be picking up many awards for his nuanced screenplay. He imbues each of the characters with a flawed, yet rounded humanity. He takes risks by making his main protagonist, despite her loss, kind of unlikeable. Yet we are always with Mildred because she is righteous and swimming against the tide of authority and masculine dominance. Plus, she surprises us with her actions and language and violence. Below the tough exterior though there is also a vulnerability which makes us love her too and empathise fully with her loss.

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McDonagh and his filmmaking team have also put together a phenomenal ensemble cast including: Woody Harrelson, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, and Abbie Cornish etc. Sam Rockwell is especially memorable as the immature, inept and thuggish mother’s boy, Jason Dixon. His scenes with both Frances McDormand and his on-screen Mother, played with deadpan gusto by Sandy Martin, crack with complex emotion and humour. Collectively they portray imperfect characters whose lives have not just been dealt a bum hand but their situation is exacerbated by poor decisions based on emotion and frustration with life and the world. Ultimately, this is an excellent cinematic experience funny, shocking and moving; only possible because of the expert script from a great writer.

(Mark: 10 out of 11 – and the script goes up to 11!)