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SCREENWASH SPECIAL – ITV DRAMA REVIEWS

SCREENWASH SPECIAL – ITV DRAMA

Of late I have been theming or focussing my viewing in certain directions. The last few months I decided to watch more ITV dramas. Historically ITV have arguably suffered in comparison to BBC dramas, and most certainly the big budget HBO, FOX and SHOWTIME programmes from the United States.

So, I thought I would check a few out and see if they are still the safe and formulaic ITV dramas I have seen in the past. Well, I would say, while adhering to certain genre conventions, notably in regard to cop stories and “true story” biopics, the writing, direction and acting is of an excellent standard. Here are some bitesize reviews.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

 

BROADCHURCH (2013 – 2015) Seasons 1 & 2 – ITV ENCORE

This terrific police procedural drama begins with the death of a young boy and the subsequent police investigation, plus the impact this has on his family and coastal community of Broadchurch. The first season is first and foremost a terrific “whodunit” as various members of the town are all plausible suspects. Moreover, the brilliant acting duo of Olivia Colman and David Tennant spark off each other throughout the investigation. Writer Chris Chibnall deals expertly with the emotions too as the family – including Jodie Whitaker as the mother of the tragic child – are put through the wringer by the crime. The second season is almost as gripping as the child killer faces trial and Tennant’s character obsessively investigates a historical crime which blotted his career. Overall, it is an excellent drama with many twists and a superb ensemble cast of British actors. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

CHASING SHADOWS (2014)Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

Reece Shearsmith is one of my favourite actors and I have loved his work ever since the grotesque comedy genius of The League of Gentlemen. Here he shows his range as a socially awkward but exceptionally determined Detective searching for long-lost missing people. Like Broadchurch it’s another Dr Who cast reunion as Noel Clarke and Alex Kingston also co-star in a decent by-the-numbers cop show.   (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)  

 

CILLA (2014)Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

While there is an element of tragedy in regard to uber-manager Brian Epstein’s tragic death, this biopic of the early life of Priscilla White and her rise to stardom is pretty tame and fluffy. Still, Sheridan Smith is brilliant as the young songbird who would hit the top of charts with a series of late sixties ballads. The evocation of working class Liverpool and bands such as The Beatles is well played and the songs are belted out with a passion by the very likeable Smith. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

IN PLAIN SIGHT (2016) Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

This is a very compelling 1950s set drama which tells the story of heinous Scottish serial-killer Peter Manuel. It benefits from an exceptionally good performance from Martin Compston as the devious killer; and also by Douglas Henshall as the Detective trying to catch him. Overall, a good drama which had me gripped throughout. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

JEKYLL & HYDE (2015) Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

I really enjoyed this updating of the old Robert Louis Stevenson monster classic. Created by Charlie Higson it was over-the-top and frankly loopy at times with some occasional bad acting thrown in. In going for a 1930s-period-Bond-meets-Dr-Who-meets-Hammer-horror-mash-up it wasn’t always successful but overall it was fun entertainment.  The cast all seemed like they were having fun and Amelia Bullimore, Enzo Cilenti, Natasha O’Keeffe, Richard E Grant were standouts while Tom Bateman was okay in the lead monster/man dual role. It’s just a damned shame the show got cancelled on a bloody suspenseful cliff-hanger. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

LUCAN (2013) Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

ITV love a “true” story or crime stories based on real events and at the forefront of many of those are the excellent writer Jeff Pope. As Head of Factual Drama at ITV he has written and produced many fine TV programmes and this biopic of the infamous “Lucky” Lord Lucan case is also very good.  Rory Kinnear is an impressive brooding presence as Lucan and Catherine McCormack also excels as his abused wife. We may never know what happened to Lucan but this drama attempts to shed some light on the ill-fated events from 1970s British society. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

MRS BIGGS (2012) Season 1 – ITV ENCORE

Another narrative based on true events focusses on the 1960s Great Train Robbery and its aftermath from the perspective of Ronnie Biggs’ wife Charmian. Sheridan Smith is astounding as the long-suffering wife partner of Daniel Mays’ Ronnie. The acting all-round and writing are excellent as we find Charmian essentially falling big for the wrong guy. Her determination and commitment to Biggs was incredibly naïve yet admirable as she carried herself and her kids to Australia and Brazil in order to keep the family together. At no time does it glamorise the crimes as Smith and Mays prove an unlikely but testament to the power of love and the lengths one may go to because of it. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

SAFE HOUSE (2012) Season 1 – NETFLIX

Christopher Eccleston, who is always reliable, stars as a retired cop who employs his Lake District property as a “safe house” for witness protection. The vistas are beautiful and the suspense is often palpable in this well written drama by Michael Crompton.  Paterson Joseph provides excellent support as Eccleston’s former boss but the highlight of the show is under-rated British actor Peter Ferdinando, who portrays an obsessive criminal with sinister verve and pathos. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

SHETLAND (2013) – Season 1 – NETFLIX

Another detective show starring the impressive Scottish actor Douglas Henshall. This one feels old-fashioned but the stark contemporary Scottish settings work in its favour and interestingly enough it is an ITV produced show FOR the BBC.  The characters are believable and Henshall’s police team are down-to-earth and likeable. Overall, the writing is pretty good with some gripping storylines while the slower pace adds to the drama and atmosphere. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

THE WIDOWER (2014) – Season 1 – NETFLIX

Reece Shearsmith stars again but as a weird sociopathic wife-murderer based on a real-life case. His modus operandi was to finagle himself deceitfully into women’s lives and then use their wealth to clear his debts. Sheridan Smith pops up in the first episode but Shearsmith’s Malcolm Webster later moves abroad to New Zealand to prey on other victims. Webster is an everyday monster and his actions defy belief that there would be someone so heinous; and Shearsmith gives a chilling performance. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

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

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

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

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

 

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: HOTEL (2015) – NETFLIX

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

BLACK MIRROR (2016) SEASON 3 – NETFLIX

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

BROADCHURCH – SEASONS 1 & 2 – ITV ENCORE

The 3rd season of this police procedural drama is on ITV now so I thought I’d do a quick catch up of the first two seasons. It begins with the death of a young boy and the subsequent police investigation, plus the impact this has on his family and coastal community of Broadchurch. The first season is first and foremost a terrific “whodunit” as various members of the town are all plausible suspects. Moreover, the brilliant acting duo of Olivia Colman and David Tennant spark off each other throughout the investigation. Writer Chris Chibnall deals expertly with the emotions too as the family – including Jodie Whitaker as the mother of the tragic child – are put through the wringer by the crime. The second season is almost as gripping as the child killer faces trial and Tennant’s character obsessively investigates a historical crime which blotted his police career. Overall, it is an excellent drama with many twists and a superb ensemble cast of British actors. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

LUKE CAGE (2016)SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

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

SONS OF ANARCHY – SEASONS 4 & 5 – NETFLIX

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

QUARRY (2016) SEASON 1 – SKY ATLANTIC

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

 

TABOO – SEASON 1 – BBC

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

 

DOCUMENTARY FILM REVIEWS including: 13TH, RATS, THE WHITE HELMETS, BLACKFISH and more. . .

SCREENWASH – DOCUMENTARY REVIEW SPECIAL

I thought I would make an effort to watch more documentaries over the last few months. Personally, I love nothing more than to immerse myself in fictional worlds created by writers, show-runners and filmmakers etc. but sometimes it’s important to face the “truth”.

Having said that are documentaries actually reflecting reality or the truth?  Because the documentary genre over the years has become ultra-sophisticated and many “true” stories are not just simply filmed documents or events or interviews. Now, documentaries are often carefully constructed narratives with as much if not more drama and turns in their tales than fictional works.

I wasn’t the only one who was gripped by Netflix’s Making a Murderer (2015) or HBO’s exceptional The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. Moreover, I’ve always been an avid viewer of the work of dogged filmmaker Nick Broomfield, the disarming talent of Louie Theroux, and at his best the polemical Michael Moore. However, you always have to be aware that what one is watching has been manipulated and finessed to tell a story or a certain agenda; thus truth is not always absolute and should always be questioned.

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Nonetheless, the documentary film or programme remains an important tool to confront existential, sociological, historical and political events and issues. It also tends to be a lower budgeted medium – compared to fictional works – with which to illuminate and entertain an audience. So, here are some documentaries I have been watching of late.

CRIME

Crime documentaries are big business and along with historical Nazi dramas fill up the TV screens and online. Netflix has some well-presented and often controversial documentaries, one such is AMANDA KNOX (2016), which interviewed many of those involved in the despicable murder case of Meredith Kercher a few years back. This intriguing documentary lifts the lid on a case where the media and Italian legal system are on trial as much as Knox herself.

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WAR

With the Nazis in mind, the BBC documentary AUSCHWITZ: THE NAZIS AND THE FINAL SOLUTION (2005) is a horrific examination of wartime atrocities which probes the means with which the Nazis tried to wipe out all the Jews. This is a challenging yet incredible mix of interviews, dramatic re-enactment and detailed research on the evil death camp Auschwitz. While not an easy watch it is a brilliantly devised series which illustrates the blackest stain of one of humanity’s darkest periods in history.

From World War II to a very contemporary conflict Netflix presents THE WHITE HELMETS (2016), which over a hard-hitting forty minutes profiles the heroism of the eponymous rescue workers striving to save civilians from conflicted Aleppo and Syria on the whole. The short film won an Oscar but having done some research online the other side of the argument suggests this is a propaganda piece and does not represent the real work of this group. All I can say is someone somewhere is blowing the hell out of Syria and it is a bloody tragedy because people are dying! Indeed, whichever side the White Helmets are on the filmmakers show the insane destruction of war and suffering occurring for reasons that are beyond my understanding.

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NATURE

For something far more heart-warming I recommend the majestic film THE EAGLE HUNTRESS (2016). It documents the story of Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl from Mongolia, as she attempts to become the first female eagle hunter in her country. Beautiful vistas and soaring eagles amidst the snow are to the fore in a very sweet tale of a young lady facing up against years of cultural chauvinism and prejudice, for something she loves doing.

More harrowing though is the well-constructed Killer Whale documentary BLACKFISH (2013) which highlights the cruelty to these beautiful creatures in captivity and the alleged corporate greed of SeaWorld following the deaths of trainers at the park. It also illustrates, in my opinion, the idiotic folly of human beings who think it is wise to get in the water with gigantic aquatic hunters. We are imprisoning animals for our own apparent entertainment and killing ourselves because of it. Idiots!

More human lunacy can be found in the harrowing film VIRUNGA (2014) set in the Congo where director Orlando von Einsiedel stabs at the heart of darkness and finds Soco International and civil war damaging the natural beauty of Virunga National Park. It’s another sad indictment on humanity as the people who live there and the animals, notably the Gorillas, find their habitat is surely being destroyed in the name of greed and insane mercenary bloodlust.

Taking the nature documentary in the direction of horror is Morgan Spurlock’s brutal film RATS (2016). This sickeningly impressive doc takes us on a whistle-stop tour of the globe with gruesome scenes of rat-catching, scientific experimentation, baiting and butchering of rats. Most disgustingly the eating of rodents in Vietnam is considered a delicacy. Gross!

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SOCIO-POLITICAL

Arguably the most powerful of the documentaries I watched was Ava DuVernay’s polemical and politically charged 13th (2016), a film which slams years of Government policies in regard to incarceration. Indeed, the evidence presented shows systematic lobbying from big business to turn the prison system into a means of enslaving the less socially advantaged. The mass rise of inmates in jail from the 1970s to now bares out this fact and the harsh stories within the documentary too are shocking. 13th is a savage indictment against the United States Government treatment, over the years, of black and Hispanic communities, and while it’s very one-sided, the points it is well researched and makes are incredibly powerful.

An altogether less incendiary and academic approach comes via Noam Chomsky’s interviews represented in REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM (2015) where the ultra-intellectual argues lucidly that a half-century of policies have been designed to favour the most wealthy at the expense of the majority. It’s thought-provoking and makes you wonder if this real life “They Live” style of social domination by the rich is truly real or just a dreamt up socio-liberal political conspiracy. To me, and I am not particularly bright when it comes to such matters, believe it is capitalist Darwinism at its worst and the wealthy and powerful are simply protecting what they have to the detriment or the less socially advantageous. Bastards!

I have to say that I admire the bravery of many documentary filmmakers, especially the ones who get right into the nitty gritty of the action. One such filmmaker Matthew Heinemann and his film CARTEL LAND (2015) has a lot of bottle going to Mexico and the US border to film events relating to the drug trade, criminality and nefarious Cartel factions and Government groups. Heinemann and his crew deserve praise for bringing these incredible events concerning an ongoing bloody civil war which seems to have no end in sight.

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LIFE

America is a continual goldmine for fascinating documentaries and Louis Theroux has proved time and time again he is a dab hand at gently poking a stick into some of the darker areas of humanity. Two such BBC documentaries he made are LA STORIES (2014) and THE CITY ADDICTED TO CRYSTAL METH (2009) where Theroux’s unassuming style examines the lives of people and animals affected by drugs, paedophilia, death and social decay. I like Louis Theroux as he isn’t afraid to ask important questions and his work gets into your psyche, without ever smashing you over the head with a definite agenda or tunnel-vision polemics.

The comedian Russell Brand presented a more vigorous approach when challenging the UK government’s ‘war on drugs’ policy by finding out how other countries are tackling their problems of drug abuse. RUSSELL BRAND – END THE DRUGS WAR (2014) was an passionate crusade by Brand to treat drug addiction as a disease and not a crime and he made some excellent points in carrying his case to legal and Government figures.

CINEMA

For some lighter viewing I also watched an informative documentary about filmmaker, actor and theatre genius called: MAGICIAN: THE ASTONISHING WORK OF ORSON WELLES (2014), which entertainingly ran through the career highs and lows of Orson Welles. Meanwhile, I AM YOUR FATHER (2015) was a likeable tribute to the man who WAS Darth Vader in the original Star Wars franchise – David Prowse. However, the film was ruined by the Spanish director crow-barring himself into the film and also trying to create some drama out of Prowse being gazumped by George Lucas for the shooting of Vader’s death scene. Prowse had a great career and I found the attempts at controversy were unnecessary and the film should’ve concentrated on the man in the suit himself.

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Last but not least if you love filmmaking docs you must watch LOST SOUL: RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR MOREAU (2014). This documentary charts the journey of director Richard Stanley and his attempts to bring classic novel The Island of Dr Moreau to the silver screen. With a massive budget and filming taking place in Australia it all starts to go wrong for Stanley as tropical storms hit the set and the money men at the studio lose confidence. Add the crazy Marlon Brando, difficult Val Kilmer and hedonistic extras to the mix and you get a box office turkey burning in front of your eyes. Both funny and tragic it reveals the folly of filmmaking yet sadly also seemed to finish Stanley’s promising directorial career.

 

 

 

WHAT IS LOVE? VALENTINES’ MOVIE REVIEW SPECIAL

WHAT IS LOVE?

–        Is it the joining together of two people forever committed to a relationship built on respect and trust? 

–        Is it the emotion you feel for a family member or person you have bonded with over time? 

–        Is it nature’s way of tricking us into the act of pro-creation? 

–        Is it an abstract and emotional concept created by a higher power to ensure we act positively?

–        Is it a form of madness which ensures we make crazy and stupid life decisions?

–        Is it a dark force which enlivens obsession and stalking and violence?

–        Or is it a marketing delusion forced upon us by greedy advertisers, florists and chocolate vendors?

Put simply it is: ALL OF THE ABOVE at some point in all our lives; although perhaps not the stalking!?!?

What I definitely know is that love is a big part of everybody’s lives whether it’s the positive or negative type? Moreover, love or the lack of love has provided the springboard for millions of stories, films, plays, songs, poems, slogans, TV show and adverts!  So for my latest article I will review some of the films and programmes I have watched recently which had love or some version of it echoing through its’ narrative heart.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

45 YEARS (2015) – NETFLIX

Charlotte Rampling just owns this wonderful bitter sweet drama as a woman “celebrating” forty-five years of marriage to curmudgeon Tom Courtenay. The story moves slowly but confidently as Rampling’s Kate Mercer is shook up by revelations from her husband’s past. Andrew Haigh directs with a haunting charm as love is rendered in wintry hues, while marriage is illustrated as a culmination of what-ifs-buts-and-what-could-have-beens.  (Mark: 9 out of 11)  

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BLACK MIRROR (S3) – SAN JUNIPERO – NETFLIX

Charlie Brooker’s savage satire series cuts off your eyelids and forces one’s eyes to the see the nefarious side of technology. However, the episode San Junipero is an altogether more touching and heart-rending beast. Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis as a couple of young girls who fall in love in the 80s drenched coastal town of San Junipero it builds slowly to a majestic reveal in the final act and the themes of love, euthanasia and life after death inform the romance with tearful power. (Mark: 9 out of 11) 

BLUE JAY (2016) – NETFLIX

Mark Duplass is an interesting actor-writer-director-improviser who produces small, naturalistic and improvisatory films that are often quietly impressive. Blue Jay is a sporadically brilliant two-hander starring Duplass and the effervescent Sarah Paulson as a former couple who reconnect after years apart and spend a day together revelling in the past, present and future love. Paulson is stunning and Duplass is just Duplass as we spend time with very human characters just trying to get by in love and life. (Mark: 8 out of 11) 

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BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR (2013) – FILM FOUR

You know the story: girl-meets-girl-falls-in-love-has-lengthy-lesbian-sex-sessions-moves-in-with-girl-then-cheats-on-girl-but-not-before-there-are-more-lengthy-scissor-sister-sessions. Well, something like that.  Jokes aside, this is a very honest and believable slice-of-life drama with incredible performances from Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos as the two lovers. The film was laden with awards at time of release and benefits from Abdellatif Kechiche’s frank and intriguing direction. Personally speaking I felt the soul-searching drama and love story were very powerful but the sex scenes were over-long and pornographic and lent nothing to the story overall. (Mark: 8 out of 11) 

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BROOKLYN (2015) NETFLIX

This soapy-honey-sweet 1950s set love story contains a tremendous central performance from Saoirse Ronan, as an innocent Irish girl who goes to New York in search of a job and finds love with an Italian plumber. The film delivers a pot pourri of bright colours, national and migrant archetypes and resolves much of the drama very easily; in fact, the film was so nice I expected the cast to break out into song by the end. John Crowley directs the undemanding story deftly and while, I imagine, the plight of an immigrant in those days was much harder than demonstrated this is fine Sunday matinee fare and difficult to dislike. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11) 

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JACKIE (2016) – CINEMA

Does this fit into the love story genre?  I think as a story about a woman who lost the husband she loved, his head blown completely off by a sniper’s bullet, it qualifies as a film about the departure of love.  It’s a powerful portrait of Jackie Kennedy with Natalie Portman impressing as the wife of the President left devastated by his sudden murder. Portman as Jackie carries the weight of loss and sorrow on her petite shoulders, drawing on all her strength to carry on living for the sake of a nation and more importantly her children. Her life has been condemned as a void and Portman’s haunting visage betrays an unforgettable lament throughout. Pablo Larrain directs using documentary and dramatic stylings to powerful effect and the score by Mica Levi is to die for. (Mark: 8 out of 11) 

LA LA LAND (2016) – CINEMA

As it sweeps the boards at the awards ceremonies La La Land can certainly be praised as a funny, energetic, imaginative spectacle with fantastic direction by Damian Chazelle. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are also on great form, delivering  some wonderful songs throughout. As a love story it works but only on the surface as the boy-meets-girl-struggling-artists’ narrative lacks depth overall. Still, it’s a great musical in the classical Hollywood model – just not a Best Film Oscar winner. (Mark: 9 out of 11)   

My original review can be found here:

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THE LOBSTER (2015) – NETFLIX

In an oppressive near-futuristic society individuals must yield to socio-political mores and be married with children or you get turned into an animal of your choice!  Well, this certainly isn’t the pitch of a love story that Hollywood would make in a hurry. However, the misadventures of Colin Farrell’s hopeless love-life are explored to dark and comical effect in Yorgos Lanthimos’ startling comedy-drama. This is one of the best films I have seen a long time which is equally bizarre yet believable in its absurd honesty. We run around attempting to find love or force romance when we should just let nature take its course. Farrell has never been better and his weird romance with Rachel Weisz is so damned original in thought and delivery it left my heart stained with pathos and delirium. (Mark: 10 out of 11) 

 

LOVE ACTUALLY (2003) DVD

My wife “made” me watch this one at Christmas and as soon as it finished I was diagnosed with diabetes!  It is such a sickly, sweet and sappy rom-dram-com that, while I think Richard Curtis deserves praise for some excellent writing, it is just too clichéd for me. I love ensemble portmanteau films and many of the overlapping stories here would make excellent short films; moreover, the cast including: Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Andrew Lincoln, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth and many more are very watchable. But the whole love pudding is over-sweetened, over-egged and over-cooked for my taste. (Mark: 6 out of 11) 

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PASSENGERS (2016) – CINEMA

You and your other passengers are in stasis on a many centuries long journey to another galaxy and you’re woken up early.  You are alone. In space. Until you die. If you could wake up the other passengers, but would you?  Given the fellow passenger is Jennifer Lawrence you have a bloody tough choice. And what if she finds out too: you’re a murderer in effect. That’s the moral dilemma which faces Chris Pratts’ character in this frothy space-rom-drama. I enjoyed the stylish science-fiction genre flick as it looks fantastic in design and cast. It doesn’t have much depth but I found it to be lots of fun especially as Pratt is charming and funny as ever and Lawrence is easy on the eye too. (Mark: 7 out of 11) 

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #11 – TOM HARDY

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #11 – TOM HARDY

In my latest episode of actor, cinema artist or filmmaker profiles I have picked some favourite roles of Tom Hardy.  This very talented British actor has made a name for himself with a series of intense, moody, muscular and at times psychotic performances. But he has depth too, and demonstrated on occasions, humour, vulnerability and sensitivity beneath the fierce masculine force he brings to the screen. Currently he can be seen lurking in the shadows of the BBC1 drama Taboo (2017), but here are eight other roles which showcase this actor’s depth of talent.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

BRONSON (2008)

Arguably, this is Hardy’s proper breakthrough role as he covered himself in shit and acting glory in Nicolas Winding Refn’s unflinching representation of Britain’s most notorious prisoner. Hardy’s in pretty much every scene pulsing with rage and violence; fighting dogs, gypsies and the system like a bald, working class Bane.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)

Talk of the devil and he shall appear! Hardy brought his bulking mass and searing eyes to Gotham to wreak havoc on its citizens as arch villain Bane.  The film has some narratives issues but I thought Nolan and cast presented some great set-pieces and action in a pulsating end to the trilogy. With the mask and chilling voice plus hulking physical presence Hardy made a memorable foe for Batman and co.

THE DROP (2014)

Hardy offers another brilliant piece of character work as Bob Saginowski, a Boston barman, who works in a mob-owned pub. He finds himself threatened by local scumbag Matthias Schoenaerts over the disputed ownership of a dog. It’s a subtle performance in which he swallows and bottles his rage with a quiet, yet menacing confidence.

INCEPTION (2010)

Christopher Nolan’s exquisite, mind-bending heist thriller has an fantastic ensemble cast with Hardy popping up as the forger Eames. Unburdened by masks or grunts or over-aggression, Eames is an urbane and sophisticated character who remains calm under fire; while in perfect ‘Received Pronunciation’ delivers some witty one-liners. Here Hardy demonstrates what an ideal James Bond he would make.

LOCKE (2014)

So, the story is about a bloke on his phone driving up the motorway?  Not a pitch that would grab Hollywood in-a-hurry, but a film that is delivered with such hypnotic power it feels epic. Hardy’s Locke is portrayed as a determined man whose life decisions, family and work-life have triangulated simultaneously to crisis point. It is a performance of restraint and brooding anxiety making the one location-movie compelling throughout.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

George Miller’s bruising, muscular and jaw-dropping spectacular is an orgy of car-bombing action and deathly stunts with little dialogue. So, who better to take on a virtually mute yet physical role than Tom Hardy in this smash-and-burn epic.  Max Rockantansky remains one of the iconic existential anti-heroes, with Hardy taking over the baton from Mel Gibson superbly.

THE REVENANT (2015)

Hardy was rightly Oscar nominated for his portrayal of greasy mercenary John Fitzgerald.  While Hardy’s mumbling Fitzgerald certainly has my empathy early doors his decision to leave Glass for dead after killing his son is the act of a scumbag. Once again, Hardy commits to the role of the murderous trapper with dirty aplomb as he more than matches DiCaprio’s compelling performance.

STUART: A LIFE BACKWARDS (2007)

This is an excellent BBC film starring Tom Hardy as Stuart Shorter, a homeless alcoholic and petty criminal who was also a social justice activist. Shorter meets Benedict Cumberbatch’s writer and the two form an unlikely friendship. Hardy’s performance is full of heart-breaking pathos and physical distress because Stuart suffered from muscular dystrophy. Abused as a child and lost as an adult, Stuart’s is a tragic life and one where Hardy further demonstrates his excellent acting range.

THE FRACTURED BUT TROLL! – SOUTH PARK – SEASON 20 REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

THE FRACTURED BUT TROLL!  SOUTH PARK – SEASON 20 REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

The latest season of South Park ended mid-December time and so I’m a bit tardy with the review. This is mainly because I decided to watch all ten episodes back-to-back over the Christmas holidays, and in some ways, this was a mistake. I say this because I think sometimes as viewers we have to take some criticism too. In hindsight I definitely should NOT have binge-watched this season as it was so complex and plot-heavy with many themes and interlinking plot strands. In fact, similarly to the more satisfactory Season 19, this season transcended the usual mix of puerile and satirical comedy it’s known for, to become something much more.

**SCREW YOU GUYS – THERE ARE SPOILERS!”

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TAKING PRESIDENTS!

Over ten episodes South Park once again became a huge mirror that reflected many of the events occurring in the USA and the world in general.  The biggest event was of course, the Presidential elections which saw Mr Garrison and Caitlyn Jenner representing the Trump/Republican side and Hilary Clinton, of course, representing the Democrats. Amusingly they were referred to as Douche and Turd Sandwich respectively; calling back the classic episode where Stan is banished for refusing to vote.

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Garrison soon realises he’s made a terrible mistake in running as he has NO policies and tries to extricate himself from the race. Thus, much of the comedy deriving from this narrative strand was brilliant and made me laugh throughout the season; especially during the episode Oh Jeez when Garrison won and went into full Trump mode. By the end of the season he’s shown to be a complete buffoon open to manipulation by Mr Slave and Kyle Broflovski when it comes down to the bombing of Denmark. But, hey, that’s a whole different story!

A TROLL IN THE PARK

The second major narrative line in this season was Gerald Broflovski (Kyle’s Dad) being revealed as an uber-Troll online called Skankhunt42. He begins by trolling his son’s school before moving onto cultural icons and then the whole of Denmark itself. Gerald, who usually represents the liberal side of the show, is seen becoming a vicious sneak who enjoys bullying for the humour. However, being the intellectual hypocrite he distances himself from the nerdy-no-life-outcasts he ultimately gets lumped in with.

Gerald’s actions eventually spiral totally out of control by the end and, while South Park itself has been a massive critic of celebrities and government figures in the past, it is quite justified in lampooning the cowardice of online trolls. These sad individuals hide under the bridges of social media feeding their tethered egos and weak personalities for the benefit of either humour, revenge or to obtain some idea of power.

In the episode The Damned, Gerald is literally pissed on by his wife in order to extricate himself from being rumbled as an online troll. That online bullies are shown to be mainly shut-in losers as opposed to Jocks, demonstrate that bullying can be done by anyone and needs to be pissed on from a great height. Lastly, the monstrous rise of Garrison to power also highlights the fact that hair-brained Trump has become the biggest troll in the world.

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ANTI-SOCIAL MEDIA

The theme of hyperbolic social media behaviour was supported by the further strand of South Park Elementary School students committing “suicide” by leaving Twitter. A character named Heidi is even mourned by her class during the episode Skankhunt even though she is actually in the class!  Also, believing Cartman to be the troll ‘Skankhunt’ the kids gang up and ‘kill’ his electronic devices, burying them in an Evil-Dead-Cabin-in-the-Woods-horror-film-homage. The internet and social media is therefore cast as an extension of the playground; with kids and adults giving their social media live’s more importance than real life and move away from actual intimacy and human contact.

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Consequently, Cartman himself goes the other way and falls in love with Heidi and their relationship is quite touching over course of the season. It’s especially funny as it plays with the audience’s expectations and the other kids think it’s all part of some Cartman uber-plan. Indeed, Cartman’s arc in this season is interesting as it seems they tried to make him more sympathetic. At first his feminist leanings are part of some scheme to undermine the girls’ sit-down protests during the opening Member-Berries episode. But eventually it turns out he does find Amy Schumer’s “vagina” comedy actually funny.­ Alas, the storyline kind of runs out of steam by the episode 9, Not Funny.

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Gender politics and the boy-versus-girls dynamic further complicate the narrative when Butters leads a protest against the girls. Butters and the boys who have all been revenge-dumped by the girls because of ‘Skankhunt42’s vicious actions decide to protest too. So, they get their dicks out during the U.S. national anthem; which in itself satirized last year’s “sit-down” protests that occurred during U.S. college sporting events.  I myself was not as educated about these particular occurrences but as usual Parker and Stone went to ridiculous lengths to demonstrate that however noble the cause, once everyone jumps on the bandwagon the protests become diluted and lose their power. Moreover, such stands against authority can also be wiped by a simple rewrite of history or rebooting for the future.

‘MEMBER WHEN. . .

Rebooting the present or future was yet another thematic present within this packed season. The “Member-berries” introduced in the first episode are a super-food which while innocent at the start become evil-humanized-nostalgia-fruit hell-bent on ensuring humanity lives in the past and doesn’t move on with any new ideas. Indeed, in the final episode The End of Serialization the “Member-berries” even end up in the White House. While not always convinced by these turn of events I can see the satirical point being made that living in the past remembering: Star Wars, Chewbacca, Tie-Fighters, Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, Flash Gordon, Superman, Reagan, the 80s, sugar from your neighbour, feeling safe, Stormtroopers etc. can be culturally dangerous and lead to the excavation of archaic politics hence the rise of Trump and the perceived right-wing Brexit vote.

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Yet, nostalgia can also be a positive thing too and paradoxically I do at times hanker after the simpler, yet brilliantly effective South Park episodes which were perhaps more focussed and arguably funnier. But one cannot fault the programme makers for aiming higher than the usual shit you get on television. Plus, the “Member-berries” plot line did rightly put the boot into the ridiculous eulogizing of J.J. Abrams and The Force Awakens which definitely wasn’t as good as people made out. So, in that respect, the show made a very valid cultural point. But while going back can be a negative force it can also help us learn from our mistakes, however, given President-Trump’s about to enter the White House it seems humans just love making the same mistakes over and over again.

CONCLUSION. . .  FRACTURED BUT NEARLY WHOLE!

While Season 19 became arguably the most coherent, incisive, funny and complex narrative out of all Trey Parker’s and Matt Stone’s previous work, Season 20 had a lot to live up to. However although the riotous narrative strands represented a major strength I don’t feel, overall, this season had as many gags or classic episodes. I would say that it worked best as an accomplished serialized conceptual satire with a few piss and dick jokes as opposed to the fast-paced-gag-filled-stand-alone-episode format of the earlier seasons. Still, while it may not have had many stand-out classic episodes, Season 20 was still a blast of wonderful filthy satire and due to the complex density of the storylines will no doubt improve with further viewings.

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As I have attested on this blog many times, South Park is the greatest comedy of all time and shows no sign of losing its comedic and satirical power. The bar was raised SO high by Season 19 that perhaps ambition to beat that was always going to be tough. Still, I still respect Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s multi-skilled “authoritah” in using the inhabitants of South Park to rip into the world, media, politics, culture and religion with hilarious effect.

For your information you can also find the following on my blog:

Top 20 South Park TV/Film parodies can be found here:

https://paulraylaight.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/20-years-of-south-park-%C2%AD-twenty-great-tv-movie-based-parodies-by-paul-laight/

My review of Season 19 can be found here:

https://paulraylaight.wordpress.com/2015/12/29/check-your-privilege-south-park-season-19-review-by-paul-laight/

My favouritest ever episodes up to Season 17 can be found here:

https://paulraylaight.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/respect-my-authoritah-my-favourite-17-south-park-episodes-ever/

 

STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE – CINEMA REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE – CINEMA REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

**THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS**

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After the biggest budgeted fan film of all time was released last year with The Force Awakens (2015), I approached Rogue One (2016) with a sense of scepticism. After all, JJ Abrams directed Star Wars movie was essentially a block-to-block remake of A New Hope (1977) but this time substituting Luke Skywalker for a young woman, Rey, (Daisy Ridley) and Darth Vader for a younger more angst-ridden version in Adam Driver. Abrams spectacular epic delighted fans on emotional and aesthetic levels despite the sandcastle plotting, gaping story holes and illogical incompetence of the First Order. For example, why build a ‘Death Planet’ with the SAME weaknesses as the Empire’s Death Star?  It did not make sense to me.

Nonetheless, JJ Abrams safety guaranteed reboot broke not only the internet but also box office records worldwide. It’s a safe and impressive spectacle with bland leads and a nostalgic mix of familiar and new characters. The action was breathless and pristine but the weaknesses in the story ruined the enjoyment of The Force Awakens for me. While it made sense to focus the narrative on the children of the original trilogy, and it was great to see Harrison Ford reprising Han Solo, I wasn’t as impressed by Abrams blockbuster as many were. Of course, compared to George Lucas’-rise-and-fall-of-Annakin-Skywalker-prequel-trilogy it was pure cinema gold.

Talking of prequels Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is just that – Star Wars: Episode 3.5 as it were.  The action takes place after Revenge of the Sith (2005) but just before A New Hope.  We open with Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic pursuing Mads Mikkelsen’s ‘farmer’, Galen Erso, on the planet Lah’mu. Krennic is an Imperial executive working on the Death Star and he requires Erso’s expertise to complete the work so kidnaps him, leaving behind his young daughter Jyn Erso, alone and abandoned.

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As per many other stories in the Star Wars galaxy themes relating to war, family, loss, orphans and hope propels the characters in Rogue One. None more so than Felicity Jones’ grown up Jyn Erso, who inhabits her character with a credible depth and pain throughout. She has clearly had to fend for herself and has become world-weary for one so young, yet she is also tough and very handy in a fight. Against her will she is thrust into the rebellion fight and embarks on a last-ditch mission to locate the plans of the Death Star. Here the story harks back marvellously to the derring-do of WW2 movies such as The Guns of Navarone (1961), Where Eagles Dare (1968) and The Dirty Dozen (1967). That was when I knew this was my kind of movie.

Accompanying Jyn are a ragtag bunch of characters who could arguably been given more backstory but are cast very well. My personal favourite was Donny Yen as Chirrut Imwe as the blind, elegant and formidable ‘monk’ and Diego Luna’s battle-drained rebellion officer who refuses to go down without a fight. With the plot thrusting along at some pace we still have time for reflection by the characters, especially from Luna and Jones. Meanwhile, on the dark side, Ben Mendelsohn gives an intriguing performance as a middle manager unable to grasp the power he so craves.  Darth Vader’s scenes too were fantastically handled in my view and while initially jarring the CGI appearance of Grand Moff Tarkin/Peter Cushing was a curious treat.

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Whereas JJ Abrams skilfully emulated the emotions of the original Star Wars films, Gareth Edwards (and apparently re-shoot director Tony Gilroy) really imbue a sense of menace and doom to the Rogue One mission.  The stakes are incredibly high, and while we know the outcome, most of the characters are given enough purpose to make you care for them. From the stark landscape of the opening scenes to the stunningly bleak midpoint set-piece on the base facility of planet Eadu, pathos, shadow and death inhabit the film’s core. Indeed, it reflects the darker side of the franchise like The Empire Strikes Back (1980) so succinctly.

Of course, the story is all building to an incredible final act where Jyn and her crew seek those darned plans which are inconveniently kept in an impossible-to-breach fortress protected by battalions of Imperial Stormtroopers, droids and weaponry. As our heroes battle for their lives and the future of the rebellion, we cut breathlessly between the space dogfights we have come to love and the explosive conflict on the planet surface. Do they complete their mission? Well, you know the end; however, amidst the fast-paced action and special effects there is time for a sense of loss and a series of spectacular and heroic deaths.

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Where, in my opinion, A Force Awakens was Disney playing it safe, this film takes a few more chances within the corporate conservatism of the movie market. While it has a darkness in its’ heart Rogue One still meets the classic Hollywood “standardization and differentiation” model which has served big business since the dawn of time. Overall this isn’t just a great Star Wars film but a brilliant movie too. It’s very much in the vein of Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), as it transcends the franchise while delivering a pulsating, heroic and emotional experience. While the canonized Skywalker arcs continue to concentrate on expanding the Jedi family tree, the stand-alone anthology series, of which Rogue One is the first, offer an opportunity to perhaps go darker and experiment with form, character and themes.