Tag Archives: TELEVISION

ATLANTA (2016 – 2018) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – FOX TV REVIEW

ATLANTA (2016 – 2018) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – FOX TV REVIEW

Created by: Donald Glover

Writer(s): Donald Glover, Stefani Robinson, Stephen Glover, Jamal Odori etc.

Director(s): Hiro Murai, Janicza Bravo, Amy Semetz

Starring: Donald Glover, Brian Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz

Original network: FX

'Atlanta' TV show premiere, After Party, Los Angeles, USA - 19 Feb 2018

Donald Glover and his multi-talented cast and crew deserve all the praise and accolades they have or will receive for Atlanta. It is easily one of the best and most originally voiced television shows I have watched in the last decade.  Set in the Atlanta, which is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Georgia; it centres on a collection of characters on the outside of the capitalist system just trying to make their way in life through: creativity, music, strange schemes, ducking, diving; and possibly a bit of drug dealing.

Atlanta has a rich political history. In the 1960s it became a major organizing centre of the civil rights with Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and many others playing serious roles in the movement’s leadership. Flash forward fifty years and, while we find the USA has moved beyond segregation from a legal perspective, inequality and social divide remain everyday from an economic perspective. The underclasses stay just that with the rich getting richer and the poorer communities unfortunately scrabbling around just trying to get by.

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It is against this social milieu we meet our main protagonists in Atlanta. Donald Glover is Earnest “Earn” Marks, a young Princeton dropout turned manager; Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles, Earn’s cousin and up-and-coming rapper; Lakeith Stanfield as Darius Epps, Alfred’s eccentric right-hand man and visionary; and Zazie Beetz as Vanessa “Van” Keefer, Earn’s on-again-off-again girlfriend and the mother of their daughter Lottie. These are presented as complex characters who, while at times, not following the law or rules are just trying to survive in these difficult economic times. A mixture of both society and their own poor decisions trap them, and from this comes much drama and comedy.

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This is a very rich show, which over two seasons, is brilliantly acted, scored, filmed, written and directed. Thematically, it is very powerful while retaining a very honest humour. Episodes cover: stoner culture; crime; family relationships; the working class struggle; guns; violence; street gangs; drugs; children; social media; hip-hop; fashion; celebrity; as well as satirizing white people’s attitude to black culture and the music scene in general.  It is confidently written with a loose episodic structure with events linked thematically and often looping back and re-joining much later in the season. Atlanta also experiments with form as well as style using a meshing of genres including: pop video, short film, chat-show, horror, comedy, internet and various dramatic devices to tell its story.

Overall, this is one of those shows which constantly surprises you and what appears to be a loose vibe is in fact a cleverly structured series of impactful vignettes full of rich moments.  Indeed, episode 6 of Season 2 called Teddy Perkins is one of the most amazing pieces of television I have seen in a long while.  Atlanta is not just a TV show but an experience not to forget and I certainly had Georgia on my mind long after I’d finished watching it.

(Mark: 10 out of 11)

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WESTWORLD (2018) – SEASON 2 – HBO TV REVIEW

WESTWORLD (2018) – SEASON 2 – HBO TV REVIEW

Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Tessa Thompson, Luke Hemsworth, Simon Quarterman, Talulah Riley, Rodrigo Santoro, Ed Harris, Angela Sarafyan, Anthony Hopkins etc.

Created by: Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy

Written by: Lisa Joy, Jonathan Nolan, Carly Wray, Dan Dietz, Gina Atwater, Ron Fitzgerald, Robert Patino etc.

Original network: HBO

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** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS HA! HA! **

Where does one start when reviewing HBO’s latest season of Westworld?  I could start at the beginning by clearly establishing the world, concepts and themes of this review. I could also begin by building in empathy and sympathy via a structured linear approach which would be easy for the reader to follow and create audience enjoyment and emotion via the action and events. Or, I could take the alternative route  by starting at the end, drip feed events via fractured timelines; develop a maze like structure full of dead ends and unreliable narrators; only to retroactively switch focus and continuity to confuse you beyond belief. Guess what Westworld’s writers did?  They took the latter course and over ten spectacularly beautiful looking episodes — acted, designed and directed with wonderful precision — we ultimately got a legion of stories which did not, for me, make any narrative or emotional sense.

This television show could have been one of the most memorable creations of recent years; up there with Penny Dreadful and Game of Thrones; but alas it is not. With HBO spending a huge amount of money on it you’d have thought that they may have attempted to reign in the writers’ unnecessarily clever-clever approach to structure. Creator Jonathan Nolan has written some wonderful screenplays, Memento (2000) for example, remains one of the best low-budget films ever made; yet, that was within the discipline of a feature length film. Over ten episodes his, and writing partner Lisa Joy’s, choices to create an ever-shifting jigsaw narrative within an Escher painting style, left me with a headache and questioning the very nature of reasoning. I enjoy intelligently structured works, but NOT to the detriment of character empathy and narrative comprehension.

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Westworld is a stellar production and has some wonderful ideas and concepts relating to: coding, Artificial Intelligence, robot and human mortality, corporate espionage; android sentience and humanization; plus it challenges values of human versus computerized existence. However, exploration of such themes are very often lost amidst the jumbled and unnecessary complex timelines, which jump back and forward in days and years from scene to scene. It’s a narrative tragedy that the stories of Maeve, Teddy and Bernard, portrayed brilliantly by Thandie Newton, Geoffrey Wright and James Marsden, respectively, are lost at sea in a wave after wave of confusing plot and character turns. Anthony Hopkins was once again excellent as the A: I overlord Robert Ford, while, Evan Rachel Wood brought a deadly coolness and strength to her role of the “death-bringer” Dolores/Wyatt. Furthermore, the violence, action and blood-letting were amazing, reminding one of Sam Peckinpah in the high definition digital age. But for every intriguing story involving the host robots many other strands fell flat, notably Ed Harris’ “Man-in-Black” storyline. While it was good to see the acting brilliance of Harris, and Peter Mullan too, I did not care enough Harris’ character and his refusal to succumb to death became rather grating.

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Two years ago I wrote a highly praiseworthy review of Westworld – Season 1, which can be read HERE. Moreover, I even spent a whole week mapping out many of the plot strands and the order with which the show was structured in my article: Westworld: Post-Mapping the Network. That piece was my attempt to gain some sense of the events and order with which they occurred; and can be read HERE.  I will not be doing the same for the second season. Unfortunately, I do not believe there is any cultural reward in applying the same endeavour and analysis. There are really too many characters and storylines and the lack of clear exposition does the show no favours.

Overall, the show continues to amaze with its successful merging of Western and Science Fiction locations, costumes, props and hardware. The introduction of Shogun World was also a delicious diversion; however, that location was really filler to the other stories. It’s such a shame though as much of the visual pageantry is lost in a vacuum of confusing storylines and worst of all, by the finale’s end, I just did not care. There are some great episodes of televisual genius in Season 2 but the original concept, by Michael Crichton, of sentient hosts rising up murdering their human slave-masters, is lost in a myriad of temporal turmoil and chronological catastrophe!

(Mark for the production: 10 out of 11)

(Mark for narrative: 5 out of 11)

 

 

 

THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE (2018) – TV SHOW REVIEW

THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE (2018) – TV SHOW REVIEW

Executive Producer: Ryan Murphy

Writer: Tom Robb Smith

Based on: Vulgar Favours: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History by Maureen Orth

Original Network: FX / FOX

Starring: Edgar Ramírez, Darren Criss, Ricky Martin, Penelope Cruz, Finn Wittrock

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I watch a lot of telly but don’t always review stuff because I don’t have time. The Assassination of Gianni Versace was one of those shows which I enjoyed when on the BBC but did not feel like reviewing. But then it kind of stuck with me; it nagged at my psyche as a chilling, violent and intense work of television drama. Hence I thought it was worth recommending it for those who are interested in excellent crime stories.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story is the second season of the FX true crime anthology series American Crime Story. It explores, over nine compelling episodes, the murder of designer Gianni Versace by spree killer Andrew Cunanan. Those coming to the show looking for an in depth story about Gianni Versace – as a man or designer – may be slightly disappointed.  Save for three or four episodes the lion’s share of the drama is about his killer, Cunanan.  What we do see of Versace and his sister Donatella, as expertly portrayed by Edgar Ramirez and Penelope Cruz, is a man who grew up from humble beginnings to become one of the finest fashion designers of all time. Personally, fashion does not interest me so I was pleased that world did not dominate the focus of the story.

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The main focus, however, was the spree killer Andrew Cunanan. Writer Tom Robb Smith, adapting from Maureen Orth’s book takes many risks, notably telling Cunanan’s story in reverse chronological order. I’m not always a fan of non-linear storytelling for the sake of it, however, beginning with Versace’s murder and then flashing backwards revealing, episode by episode, the sad demise of each of his victims made for absorbing viewing. Darren Criss as Cunanan is absolutely brilliant. His performance of the fantasist murderer is equally scary, embarrassing and darkly funny at times.

Evoking the characterisation of Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman, Criss nails the confidence and desperation of a very conflicted person. His Cunanan is not just a straightforward psycho but a rather complex loner with delusions of grandeur. The reveal in the later episodes that go some way to explain Cunanan’s psychosis are especially chilling. The show is also very honest about Cunanan’s sexuality. Via Cunanan’s, and other characters’ experience, the representation of gay men in America is illustrated in a fascinating way. Finn Wittrock, Mike Farrell, and Cody Fern, who portray three of Cunanan’s victims, are very empathetic as they battle the prejudices and expectations of gay men in society. It is a tragedy their lives, and others including Versace, were so violently ended at Cunanan’s hands.

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Overall, I was extremely absorbed by The Assassination of Gianni Versace. While not as grandstanding as The People Versus O.J. Simpson (2016), this character drama both shocked and stunned in equal measure; thanks to an excellent script and Criss’ haunting acting performance. Also, kudos goes to show-runner Ryan Murphy. This uber-producer is best known for creating/co-creating/producing a number of successful television series, including the FX medical drama Nip/Tuck (2003–10), the Fox musical comedy-drama Glee (2009–15), the FX anthology series American Horror Story (2011–present); Feud (2017–present); and with this latest season of American Crime Story (2016–present) he has overseen another memorable televisual experience.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

THE ORVILLE (2017) – SEASON 1 – TV SHOW REVIEW

THE ORVILLE (2017) – SEASON 1 – TV SHOW REVIEW

Created by: Seth MacFarlane

Starring: Seth MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, Penny Johnson Jerald, Scott Grimes, Peter Macon, Halston Sage, J. Lee, Mark Jackson

Executive producer(s): Seth MacFarlane, Brannon Braga, David A. Goodman, Jason Clark, Jon Favreau (pilot), Liz Heldens, Lili Fuller

Production company(s): Fuzzy Door Productions; 20th Century Fox Television

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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If you search YouTube for Star Trek fan films you will find hundreds of them. In fact, I myself have written and produced one myself called Chance Encounter (2016). However, you will not find a shiny and more expensive Star Trek homage and fan film – in all but name – than Fox’s big budget science fiction series, The Orville. It was written and created by uber-talented Seth MacFarlane and joins the stable of shows and films he has been involved in, including: Family Guy, American Dad, Ted (2012) and A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014).

The Orville is set on the titular U.S.S. Orville (ECV-197), a mid-level exploratory space vessel in the Planetary Union, a 25th-century interstellar alliance of Earth and many other planets. Seth McFarlane portrays Ed Mercer, a journeyman officer who is depressed due to his wife’s infidelity, and constantly turning up to work hungover and uninterested. A chance at redemption comes when he offered the captaincy of The Orville.  He is then joined by his first officer, Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), who so happens to be his ex-wife. This slightly clichéd dramatic turn does actually become a positive fulcrum for the twelve episode run, providing many jokes and bitter asides between the two. Their dedicated crew is a mix of aliens, humans and a genius robot called Isaac; who may as well be called Data to be honest.

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The Orville is an interesting show to review because I could understand someone watching it randomly because of say, liking Family Guy or Ted, and then not enjoying this at all. Because aside from the odd sight gag or wicked one-liner, this is not all out comedy. The Orville is instead a really solid science fiction show which mixes satire, action, comedy and drama. Indeed, while there is much to smile at, many episodes feature contemporary moral dilemmas involving: relationships, religion, social media, race, gender issues and sex. Most of all this is Seth Mcfarlane’s tribute to Star Trek. He even goes as far to enlist Trek producer Brannon Braga to executive produce and helm several episodes; while Jonathan Frakes also directs episode 6 – Pria.

Overall, I really enjoyed the show because of its similarity to Star Trek and because the characters drew me in tooSeth Macfarlane is not the greatest actor but he is a very likeable everyman. He is also ably assisted by a very committed supporting cast and the slick production. Many episodes whizz along at a decent pace and it doesn’t take itself too seriously either. There’s some excellent supporting characters along the way portrayed by Charlize Theron and Rob Lowe. There’s also some brilliant science fiction stuff which I loved including: space weapons; space ships; time travel; worm holes; ion storms; alien creatures; special powers; cannibal monsters; and hologram devices. Basically everything that Star Trek had The Orville has and that’s why I enjoyed it.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

CONTRASTING DREAMS: REVIEWING THE WORK OF AUTHOR – PHILIP K. DICK

CONTRASTING DREAMS ON PAGE AND SCREEN: REVIEWING THE WORK OF PHILIP K. DICK 

“Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, what is real? I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”

― Philip K. Dick

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INTRODUCTION

For a writer who wrote extensively about artificial intelligence and technology, Philip K. Dick himself was in fact a certifiable writing machine, publishing over 44 novels, a further 120-odd short stories, plus a whole vision of manuscripts, essays and other literary paraphernalia. His death at the relatively young age of 53 took an incredible genius away from us; however, you’re never too far away from his work either on TV, computer or at the cinema.

The latest cinema release inspired by Dick’s vision was the beautifully directed space epic Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Here Denis Villeneuve picked up the baton from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982); an adaptation of K. Dick’s seminal novel Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep (1968). But of course his stories have also given us film adaptations including: Minority Report (2002), Total Recall (1990 & 2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Next (2007), Paycheck (2003), A Scanner Darkly (2006) etc. Moreover, Amazon has recently adapted his classic 1962 alternate history novel The Man in the High Castle (2015) to positive acclaim.

With Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror jumping ship to Netflix, Channel Four UK (Sony / Amazon in the U.S.A) and various other production companies) must have felt there was a “futuristic anthology show” hole in their schedule. Thus, they obtained the rights to Philip K. Dick’s back catalogue and produced a show called Electric Dreams – shown in two halves in 2017 and 2018. The production values were very high and some extremely talented actors, producers, writers and directors were brought in to bring ten Dickian short stories to the TV screen. Such creative luminaries included: Janelle Monae, Dee Rees, Ronald Moore, Juno Temple, Bryan Cranston, David Farr, Matthew Graham, Timothy Spall, Jack Thorne, Steve Buscemi, Anna Paquin, Terrence Howard, Travis Beacham, Richard Madden, Vera Farmiga and many more.

I have immersed myself in the novels, cinema and TV work inspired by Philip K. Dick recently. I was fascinated by the themes and narratives represented and comparisons between the literary and screen works.  How did they compare to Dick’s original vision and how do they differ?

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NIGHTMARE THEMES IN ELECTRIC DREAMS

Of late I have read his novels Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep (1968), Ubik (1969) and the collection of short stories – collated in conjunction with the Channel 4 series – Electric Dreams. Moreover, I have seen most of his works adapted for cinema. His narratives are often hallucinatory and dream-like with simple yet devastating prose. They deal in reality, alternative reality and beyond reality. You’re often in a place where you are unsure as to what is occurring is in the real world or some imagined or manufactured nightmare. Technology, disease and war are more than often a threat.  The biggest threat though is humanity and its seeming endless proclivity for inventing weapons, machines and viruses with which to kill. Paranoia and doubt infect Dick’s work making you feel as trapped as his characters. Further, mutated strands of humanity are a staple trope where telepaths and empaths inhabit his oeuvre; along with classic science fiction aliens and monsters from outer space too.

The narratives, while possessing an otherworldly and futuristic feel, paradoxically feel realistic because his characters are everyday people. They are rarely action heroes or soldiers or scientists but rather administrators or office staff, factory or transport workers. They are family people trying to make their way through life and the horrors the world throws at them. Given Dick was writing during the 1950s onwards it’s not surprising that the threat of nuclear war hung heavy within his words. Furthermore, the rapid technological breakthroughs which, while offering hope for humanity, brought with it a movement to the loss of free will and a possible future governed by machines. Big corporations, banks, governments and computers all erode and destroy the very fabric of being in Dick’s world rendering human identity and existence obsolete. His universe is brimming with people under threat, humans desiring to escape and a questioning of what it means to be human.

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CONTEXTUALISING THE NIGHTMARES

**CONTAINS FILM AND LITERARY SPOILERS**

Adapting Dick’s work can be complex because what works on the page as a concept can be difficult to transfer to a visual medium. Conversely, his work is often altered beyond recognition with fragments of the initial idea remaining while others stay true to the original. The original and subsequent sequel of Bladerunner (1982) are very faithful to the structure and futuristic vision of Dick’s original novel; retaining the ‘hunting of replicants’ plot and the existential question of whether an android can be considered human. In Electric Dreams the adaptation of the short story Human Is. . . . poses a similar question. In this story a wife faces the choice as to whether her husband, whose body has been invaded by an alien, is in fact more human because he is an improvement and displaying idealised human traits such as kindness and love. The flipside of this occurs in the film adaptation of Imposter (2002), and the short story adaptation The Father Thing, where nefarious aliens hell-bent on invasion take over the humans in order to divide and conquer. Human Is…  both the short story and television adaptation are particularly convincing as many people have all been trapped in dying relationships where we wish we could change our partner.  Dick’s story takes this idea and makes it real and emotionally very powerful.

Certain filmmakers, when adapting Dick’s work, will mould their style to his vision. For example, in the Steven Spielberg directed thriller Minority Report (2002), Dick’s pre-crime conspiracy model was presented as an action pursuit film with Tom Cruise going on the run for a crime he may or may not have committed.  Spielberg retains the initial idea and concepts relating to pre-cognitive telepathy and empathic mutation but renders it a more fast-paced and spectacular cinematic experience. Similarly, telepathy and mutants feature heavily in Matthew Graham’s pretty faithful adaptation of The Hoodmaker. Like Minority Report telepaths are exploited by the government and law to do their bidding, only for the system to be corrupted and used for death by those in power.

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Dick’s story We Can Remember it For You Wholesale, has been adapted on two occasions as Total Recall (1990 and 2012). Paul Verhoeven’s earlier version about warring government agents and colonies on Mars is an absolute blast. Dick’s concepts relating to alternative realities and implanted memories are fused with an explosive Arnold Schwarzenegger action film. Yet, what is retained amidst the shoot-outs and spectacular set-pieces is the main protagonists’ life dissatisfaction and desire to escape their everyday existence for something more exciting. This is a common theme in Dick’s work and can also be found in the Electric Dreams’ stories Impossible Planet and The Commuter. In the latter a Station clerk finds a hitherto lost “town” which offers a means of escape from his seemingly humdrum life but it comes at a cost. While Total Recall raises the pace and stakes within an interplanetary setting, The Commuter is more ordinary and emotional in its cerebral representation.

Political, social and technological corruption is present in many of Dick’s other works too. In Richard Linklater’s adaptation of A Scanner Darkly (2006), an undercover cop battles to conceal his identity while struggling with drug addiction. While in Electric Dreams, Dee Rees’ rendition of Dick’s short story The Hanging Man, takes an allegorical story about social unrest and fascistic hangings, turning it into a thought-provoking, paranoiac nightmare scenario. Rees calls her story Kill All Others, where we find Mel Rodriguez’s factory worker driven by fake news and political manipulation during an election. This eerily reflects much of the social and media saturation seen during Donald Trump’s U.S. election win. Likewise the adaptation of Foster, Your Dead became the very impactful Safe and Sound; and examined the deadly possibilities of technology firms manipulating youth within the context of the war on terror.

Arguably not as successful, however, was the Tony Grisoni adaptation called Crazy Diamond. This episode completely altered Dick’s story Sales Pitch, which told of a relentless Sales-Bot who won’t take no for an answer. In fact I had no idea what Crazy Diamond was trying to say and perhaps the writer should have stuck to Dick’s intriguing techo-nightmare premise.  Indeed, threat of technology and the inevitable doom progress represents is also presented in the excellent episode called Autofac. Dick wrote this story in 1955 and set it after an apocalyptic world war has devastated Earth’s civilizations. All that remains is a network of hardened robot “Autofacs” supplying goods to the human survivors. However, these drones and bots are in fact hindering survival and the idea is incredibly prescient. Indeed with the rise of Amazon and Google and Apple industries our society is becoming more dependent on such technology to the extent we could be classed as helpless without it.    

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CONCLUSION

Lastly, what Electric Dreams demonstrates, along with the many film adaptations of his work, is that Dick’s concepts are just as relevant, if not more so than at the time of writing. Moreover, what this thematic and genre contextualisation of Dick’s work illustrates is that universal themes such as: the desire to escape; what it means to be human; media manipulation; fear of technology and war; oppressive government regimes; and all round insidious paranoia about a very dark future are inescapable and will always be part of society and the human condition.

*Article originally appeared on http://www.sothetheorygoes.com*

 

INGRID GOES WEST (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

INGRID GOES WEST (2017) – MOVIE REVIEW

DIRECTOR:            Matt Spicer 

WRITERS:              Matt Spicer, David Branson-Smith

CAST:                    Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, Billy Magnussen, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Wyatt Russell, Pom Klementieff,

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**CONTAINS MINIMAL SPOILERS**

Grief is something which we will, or have already experienced, and given the dramatic possibilities, death and overcoming the death of a loved one propels many narratives in the cinema, literature and music etc. Ingrid Knows Best is one such narrative and while much is made of the plague that is social media and Instagram culture, this is ultimately a story of how our anti-hero deals with the loss of her mother and, in some ways, her own identity. In short: she doesn’t handle it very well, but rather disassociates her grief and fixates on so-called on-line celebrities in order to distract herself and escape the pain.

Aubrey Plaza is brilliant as Ingrid and she is fast becoming one of my favourite actors. I loved her in Office-influenced sitcom, Parks and Recreation and the brilliant lo-fi-sci-fi-rom-com Safety Not Guaranteed (2012). However, in this film and the mind-bending science fiction series Legion (2017), she completely owns the show. Plaza has a rare skill for vulnerable insanity where she does crazy stuff but at the same time you really empathise with her character.

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In the opening scene she commits an act of pretty despicable revenge but once you see her living arrangements and family situation you really gain understanding of her character.  Even when Ingrid heads west and begins stalking her next obsession, Plaza’s doe-eyed-butter-wouldn’t-melt façade and crumbling inner humanity ensure you never lose empathy for her. The writing is excellent as the script creates humour, drama and skilful satire of the facile, narcissistic and selfie-obsessed culture we live in today. Elizabeth Olsen too is impressive as the “Instagram Queen” and object of Ingrid’s obsession.

Overall, this was just #brilliant #dark #funny #sad!  I was really satisfied with this film and while the slightly off-kilter crime-plot-turn near the end slightly unhinged the character study, the touching and thematically perfect ending was a brilliant pay-off for Ingrid’s character. Plaza though is the shining light of the film as she imbues Ingrid with not only the pathos of a zeitgeist Travis Bickle, but also a comedic mania which really brings the satire home.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)

 

SCREENWASH – BBC DRAMA REVIEWS

SCREENWASH – BBC DRAMA REVIEWS

Over the past few months I’ve focussed my extra-curricular viewing on BBC produced dramas via the BBC channels and catch-up on Netflix. The British Broadcasting Corporation, being the public-service-tax-payer-funded-beast that it is has a commitment to produce quality programming for national viewing and also overseas sales too. I then got to thinking; why not check out where some of my £12.12 per month money goes. So, here are some bitesize reviews of recent BBC dramas with marks out of the usual eleven.

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

THE CHILD IN TIME (2017)

Based on Ian McEwan’s prize-winning novel this was an interesting drama which worked in many respects but did not quite connect in others. Benedict Cumberbatch and Kelly McDonald are parents whose child goes missing while out shopping. The drama and grief of this was very well evoked but the supporting story of a publisher’s regression and mental collapse did not quite thematically meld for me. No doubt McEwan’s original source is a master work and I enjoyed many of the emotional moments provided by the excellent acting. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

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DOCTOR FOSTER – SEASON 1 (2015) + SEASON 2 (2017)

Suranne Jones is absolutely stunning in this domestic drama written by Mike Bartlett. She acts her heart and soul out as the eponymous GP, who in the face of her husband’s suspected infidelity, attempts to find both the truth and maintain her family unit and sanity. It’s a brilliantly written TV series which creates great drama from the “whodunnit” aspect of the potential spousal treachery. Plus, in addition to the Hitchcockian elements Dr Foster herself is very unpredictable in her actions; making for some nail-biting scenes. Bertie Carvel also excels as the charismatic husband and the second season, while not reaching the emotional heights of the first, and feeling more contrived, had some decent dramatic twists too.

(Season 1 – Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
(Season 2 – Mark: 8 out of 11)

LONDON SPY (2015)

The always-impactful actor Ben Whishaw is superbly supported by thespian giants Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling in this obtuse spy thriller. Playing a troubled warehouse worker called Danny, Whishaw falls for the enigmatic genius, Alex (Edward Holcroft); and is thrown into a murky and murderous world of spymasters and upper-class family feuds. Beautifully acted and designed the story moved too slowly for me. Over five episodes the slow-bleed plot of character despair, double-crosses and cover-ups did not sustain the suspense and tension throughout.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

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THE SECRET OF CRICKLEY HALL (2012)

Suranne Jones (again!) leads the acting line in an earlier post-Coronation Street role. She portrays a mother who, along with her family, seeks the solace of the countryside after their young child has gone missing. However, the house they reside in is haunted by ghosts from the past and as the family attempt to overcome their grief, evil spirits threaten their present. The contemporary narrative works well with the wartime scenes in a decent haunted house scenario that was adapted from the book by horror legend James Herbert; also featuring an early role for Maisie Williams. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

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SMALL ISLAND (2009)

Notable for its excellent ensemble cast and featuring before-they-were-famous roles for: Ruth Wilson, David Oyelowo, Naomi Harris, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ashley Walters, this excellent drama focussed on the war and post-war lives of several disparate characters whose lives become intertwined by fate. Based on Andrea Levy’s novel it is especially rich in regard to the diasporic characterizations and experiences of Jamaican immigrants in war-torn England. The writing is solid and there’s some fine acting and emotional moments to keep one enthralled and I enjoyed how the stories dovetailed dramatically at the end. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

TOP OF THE LAKE (2013)

Hey, what if Jane Campion wrote and directed a cop drama? Well, the answer is Top of the Lake!  This is a slow-burn, who-why-how-dunnit with a superb cast, beautiful New Zealand vistas and eccentric, dark characters. Some may find it too slow and artsy, while certain decisions by the characters and plot turns were intriguingly weird. However, Elizabeth Moss excels as the burnt-out cop (is there any other kind?) searching for a missing pregnant teenager, while Peter Mullan is suitably vicious as the rural patriarch; and Holly Hunter is fantastic too as the leader of a women’s commune. Overall, Campion’s barbed world-view satirizes humanity and cop show clichés in a compelling crime drama. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

TOP OF THE LAKE 2: CHINA GIRL (2017)

Screened earlier this year on the BBC, the follow-up finds Elizabeth Moss, now back in Sydney, tracking down the killer of an Asian prostitute while battling illegal adoption rings and all manner of sexist-pig-men. Like the original it pulls you in with its richly drawn characters and brilliant cast all committing to the lurid and quirky plotlines. Moss is always reliable and does the brooding, melancholic and troubled cop perfectly, while Nicole Kidman is brilliant as the middle-class academic out of her depth with the emotions of her adopted daughter. The sinister beta-male-nemesis Puss portrayed by David Dencik was a great rendition of spurious masculinity while it was great to see Gwendoline Christie out of her Game of Thrones armour, as a naïve rookie cop assisting Moss’ detective. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

TRUST ME (2017)

Jodie “New Doctor Who” Whittaker leads the cast as a downtrodden nurse and single-mum struggling with an NHS cover-up over poor service delivery. Faced with the sack she decides to engage in a cover-up herself by taking on the identity of a Doctor; and then the real drama kicks in. Whittaker is very empathetic and natural, while the suspense was very thrilling at times as her character gets deeper and deeper into the mire. Overall, it was a very tense and fun medical drama which made some very good social points in regards to a Doctors’ life and the NHS in general. Ultimately, it made me appreciate what the NHS does for us but also want to avoid getting ill in the future too!

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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WAR AND PEACE (2016)

Well, the BBC certainly pushed the budget boat out on this one with a who’s who of new and experienced acting talent including: Jim Broadbent, Paul Dano, Lily James, Tuppence Middleton, Aneurin Barnard, Adrian Edmondson, Jessie Buckley, Tom Burke, Rebecca Front, Greta Scacchi, Brian Cox, Stephen Rea, Gillian Anderson and many more. Adapting Tolstoy’s gigantic and classic doorstop novel must have been some feat and it is indeed and sumptuous and incredible production. As a drama it drew me in with its’ stories of over-privileged Russian lives set during the Napoleonic wars as they live, love, cheat, duel, war and die. Yet, while I did not feel too much empathy for the characters, the acting, design and directing is a joy to behold and I garnered a certain hypnotic pleasure bathing in the high quality of the whole shebang. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

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