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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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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.

SCREENWASH – SUMMER 2017 – TV DRAMA REVIEWS including: THE NIGHT OF, HANDMAID’S TALE, FARGO (S3) etc.

SCREENWASH – SUMMER 2017 – TV DRAMA REVIEW ROUND-UP

I’ve been watching some excellent dramas over the last few months so here’s a few bitesize reviews with the usual marks out of eleven!

 

BROADCHURCH (2017) – SEASON 3 – ITV

Chris Chibnall’s compelling investigative-crime-coastal-set drama continues as Police Officers Hardy (David Tennant) and Miller (Olivia Coleman) get to grips with a horrific sexual attack. The chemistry between the two leads is, as usual, the glue that holds the show together as does the suspenseful narrative. It’s a very well-crafted human drama too with many well-rounded characters driving the story. The excellent supporting cast including: Jodie Whittaker, Andrew Buchan, Lenny Henry, Julie Hesmondhalgh etc. make this another very watchable drama. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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FARGO (2017) – SEASON 3 – MGM / FX

Noah Hawley continues to emulate the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre with pitch perfect expertise. This story of stoic cops, dumb criminals, ultra-violence and random acts of fate amidst the snowy landscapes of Minnesota is highly recommended. Ewan McGregor brilliantly plays TWO warring brothers whose feud escalates out of control while corporate crime also gets a poke as McGregor’s Emmet Stussy car-lot business gets swooped on by shysters. Slyly satirising the police procedural drama with off-centre plot twists and dark humour, David Thewlis’s scumbag businessman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead crafty femme fatale steal the show in ten brilliant-could’ve-watched-it-all-day-violent-but-hilarious episodes. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

GENIUS (2017) – SEASON 1 – NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

This beautifully shot and well-written educational drama is based on Walter Isaacson’s book Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007). It examines Einstein’s early life as a struggling clerk and events which saw him become one of the most famous scientists. Johnny Flynn portrays young Einstein with a fine energy while Geoffrey Rush excels as the mad-haired genius we have come to recognise. I’m definitely not a science buff, however there was much to be engrossed by in Einstein’s story, not least his dysfunctional family and marital issues. Both informative and enlightening in regard to science and history it’s fascinating throughout. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
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THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2017) – SEASON 1 – HULU / C4

Based on Margaret Attwood’s novel, it is set in a dystopian (is there any other kind) near future where the United States has now become split following a societal breakdown and coup. Having moved to more religious-based dictatorial rule, women on the main are now barren and unable to have children; there are however a select few who can still get pregnant. Rather than herald these individuals they are herded up and given to the ruling elite as brood slaves. Elisabeth Moss is mesmerizing as the lead “Handmaid” Offred/June who must survive oppression following her husband and daughter’s apparent death. This hard-hitting drama is definitely one of the best I have seen during 2017. It moves slowly and is very bleak but, like Children of Men (2006), it contains suggestions of hope, light, rebellion and solidarity in a grim, patriarchal world which crushes life and colour. Impressively directed, acted and shot it had me transfixed and disturbed and I very much look forward to a 2nd season. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

HOMELAND (2014) – SEASON 4 – SHOWTIME / C4

Claire Danes deserves so much praise for her role as Carrie Mathison. She owns the screen with her single-handed determination to fight against both bi-polar and “enemies” of the USA. Set in Kabul this season eschews the more romantic intensity of the previous seasons for some thrilling spy twists. Rupert Friend excels too as the burnt out CIA Operative as the story moves more toward 24esque territory. It’s sad that the political landscape gives rise to shows such as this but it remains compelling if slightly generic viewing compared to the other seasons. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

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IRON FIST (2017) – SEASON 1 – MARVEL / NETFLIX

Danny Rand (Finn Jones) – previously believed dead – comes back to claim his family business and takes on both corporate and mystical villains in this contemporary superhero drama. Jones is okay and David Wenham is excellent as one of the bad guys but I really struggled with this. I enjoyed Daredevil and Jessica Jones and thought Luke Cage, while a bit slow, had some excellent moments. Iron Fist, however, had a thin repetitive narrative and the fight scenes, characters and dialogue lacked the fizz of Marvel’s best TV work. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

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THE NIGHT OF… (2016) – HBO/SKY

A shy young student Naz portrayed by Riz Ahmed makes several poor life decisions and finds himself in jail for the murder of a young woman. Ambulance-chasing-psoriasis-suffering lawyer John Stone (John Turturro) takes his case as all the evidence points to his guilt.  Created by Richard Price and Steve Zaillian and starring Riz Ahmed, John Turturro, Michael Kenneth Williams and Bill Camp this exquisite noir-crime drama carries the confidence and style of the very best cinematic offerings.  Moreover, the rich characterisation and performances raise it well above the usual police/lawyer procedural dramas on television. Award winning drama of the highest quality with a superlative cast. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 7 – REVIEW & RANDOM THOUGHTS

GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 7 REVIEW & RANDOM THOUGHTS

**ABSOLUTELY NO SPOILERS**

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL – CULTURAL ROUND-UP

2017 EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL – CULTURAL ROUND-UP

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

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

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

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LODGINGS

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

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FOOD

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

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

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

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

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MUSIC

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

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COMEDY

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

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

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

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

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

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OVERALL

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

SIX OF THE BEST #10 – GAME OF THRONES FINEST HEROES!

SIX OF THE BEST #10 – GAME OF THRONES FINEST HEROES!

According to Christopher Booker’s text The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, there are in essence only a limited number of narratives including the: ‘Overcoming the Monster’, ‘Rags to Riches’, ‘The Quest’, ‘Comedy, ‘Rebirth’, ‘Tragedy’ and ‘Voyage and Return’. Booker echoes too the studies of mythologist Joseph Campbell who argues that the ‘Hero’s Journey’ or monomyth is the common template of most stories.

Christopher Vogler followed on from Campbell’s extensive work in his book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writer arguing that most popular stories can be narrowed down to a series of basic structures and archetypes. Indeed, while watching Game of Thrones you can certainly identify many of them notably the Heroes Journey!

So, to continue my exploration of the first six seasons of one of the greatest shows ever, I look at some of the more heroic characters in HBO’s TV masterwork.

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS – SEASONS 1 – 6**

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ARYA STARK – MAISIE WILLIAMS

A young tomboy at the start of the show Arya’s transformation from fresh-faced waif into a face-shifting-sword-fighting-deadly-assassin has been nothing short of extraordinary. What strikes me as most heroic is Arya’s propensity for bouncing back and that mental toughness has seen her overcome going blind, being enslaved, kidnapped, beaten and left for dead and STILL managing to get revenge on her enemies.

BRIENNE OF TARTH – GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE

I don’t think there is a nobler character than Brienne of Tarth. She is an honest and loyal Knight of the highest order and an incredibly tough swordsperson too. I was surprised more than anything when she defeated the Hound in combat. Furthermore, her unrequited romance with Jamie was very touching. She is probably the hero with the biggest heart and I hope she gets a good ending in the show.

DAENERYS TARGARYEN – EMILIA CLARKE

Daenerys is arguably not as sympathetic a hero as many of the others on the list. Perhaps, her demand and pursuit for the Iron Throne could be seen as power hungry; and in recent seasons her desire for fire and blood have shown a more dangerous side to her. However, her journey has been from a naïve, sold-off bride to a storming Queen; one that has not only commandeered the Dothraki and Unsullied but also defeated the venal Slave-Masters.

JON SNOW – KIT HARRINGTON

Probably the most heroic character of them all as he had outsider beginnings as an illegitimate bastard before growing in stature and experience to become the King of the North. Having made vows to the Nightwatch his desire to form an alliance with the Wildlings became his undoing and only the Lord of Light prevented him passing into the next world. A handsome, rugged and fine fighting specimen, Jon Snow leads by example inspiring those around him to greater things.

SAMWELL TARLY – JOHN BRADLEY-WEST

Samwell is what I would class as a quiet hero. Ridiculed for his larger size on first meeting he slowly, through intelligence and diplomacy, came to be respected by the Nightwatch; notably Jon Snow. However, it is his protection of Gilly which has seen his heroic stock rise. Having rescued her from the evil Crastor; adopted Gilly’s son as his own; fought off a White Walker; he even stood up to his bullying father, proving Sam to be a right decent chap all round.

TYRION LANNISTER – PETER DINKLAGE

Much maligned and ousted from the Lannister family following Joffrey’s deserved death Tyrion has proved his bravery and fortitude in many desperate circumstances. I feel his heroism comes from the determination to never give up despite his physicality and the demonization which occurred when he was born. Be it on during the Battle at Blackwater Bay or when standing up to his father Tywin, Tyrion just refuses to buckle and heroically ploughs on.

 

SCREENWASH – AMERICAN TV DRAMA REVIEWS, INCLUDING: BILLIONS, BIG LITTLE LIES & WALKING DEAD

SCREENWASH – AMERICAN TV DRAMA REVIEWS

Following on from my recent reviews of ITV drama shows I have also recently watched, many U.S. programmes over the last few months.  So, here are some more bite-size reviews with marks out of eleven. Hope you enjoy.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

BATES MOTEL (2014) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX

So, Norman Bates gets a paradoxical contemporary prequel which while chronologically set before Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho (1960), exists in the now of mobile phones, crooked cops, Chinese sex slaves, cystic fibrosis and huge cannabis forests that drive the towns’ industry.  Freddie Highmore as young psycho Norman and Vera Farmiga as his domineering, yet sexy, mother are absolutely brilliant in this absurdly plotted but nifty little horror-crime-thriller-mish-mash. I especially enjoyed Highmore’s subtle delivery as he fights with the demons in his head, amidst hormonal teenage desires. Plus, more often than not he echoes Anthony Perkins classic performance as the original Master Bates. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

BIG LITTLE LIES (2017) – SEASON 1 – SKY ATLANTIC

One of the most difficult things a screenwriter and director have to do, in my view, is to make rootable those wealthy, spoilt and first-world characters that drive your story. One way to do it is to make their conflict human and relatable, plus casting brilliant actors in the lead roles helps greatly too. Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Alexander Skarsgard and Shailene Woodley are all on top acting form portraying various personas within the affluent Monterey upper middle classes. Jean-Marc Vallee directs David Kelley’s superb script with aplomb and the editing is some of the best you will see in a television show all year. The interweaving stories concerning an unknown murder victim; school bullying; warring parents; extra-marital affairs; and the abusive relationships, is expertly played out over seven compelling episodes. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

BILLIONS (2017) – SEASON 2 – SKY ATLANTIC

Again, how do you make rich people empathetic and rootable? Well in Billions the writers don’t!  They have created a superbly written series around some of the most selfish, self-centred, vicious and vindictive characters in hedge-fund shark Bobby Axelrod and unscrupulous Attorney General Chuck Rhodes; and pitted them against each other over ten compelling episodes. Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti are on fantastic form as “Masters of the Universe” leads that will stop at nothing to destroy each other’s lives. Maggie Siff and Malin Akerman as their respective wives also at the sharp end of the legal, financial and psychological one-upmanship drama, along with a terrific ensemble cast including: David Constable, David Strathairn, Eric Bogosian, Toby Leonard Moore and the very gifted Asia Kate Dillon. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

HOMELAND (2014) – SEASON 3 – NETFLIX

After the explosive end to Season 2, which wiped out many of the major supporting players, Season 3 found Carrie Matheson and Nicholas Brody find themselves separated and in deep trouble. Matheson is cast as the scapegoat for the destruction of the CIA and failure in protocols while Brody is in Columbia lurching from one violent episode to another. The strength of the first two seasons came from the dynamic plotting, heart-racing suspense and the chemistry between Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. Season 3 suffers from the two’s separation slightly but there was enough dramatic moments throughout to make it well worth a watch. Danes was especially impressive as Matheson who is forever taking chances because of her determination to protect her country, plus her love for Brody. The show doesn’t present easy answers and the ending was particularly bleak as we come to realise that no one wins in these political and international wars. Have to say that Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson and Rupert Friend gave great support and the show ultimately remains compelling, even if at times it slightly tested believability.  (Mark: 8 out of 11)

SONS OF ANARCHY (2015) – SEASONS 6 & 7 – NETFLIX

My lord this show is SO brutal; in fact I think it is arguably the most violent TV show I have ever seen because many of the deaths are cold and hot-blooded savagery. In Seasons 6 and 7, Jax (Charlie Hunnam) desperately tried to become a better person and take the club down a more legitimate route, however, once an outlaw – always an outlaw. Thus battles with cops, IRA, gang-bangers, Mayans, Aryan Brotherhood, and more culminated in two seasons of the usual carnage and bloodshed. Also, Jax had the horror of dealing with the death of loved ones borne out of terrible lies and decisions by those close to him. The main strength of the show is the terrific ensemble cast of which Jimmy Smits, Charlie Hunnam, Tommy Flanagan and Katey Sagal really stood out. Also, the action and serpentine plot twists kept the dramatic irony and suspense at pulsating levels. Only the indulgent montages, over-the-top “I love you, brother” dialogue and overlong episodes wrenched a little but overall an exciting end to a gruesome but entertaining TV show.  (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

THE WALKING DEAD (2017) – SEASON 7 – FOX

The Walking Dead is very much like an elderly grandparent in as much as it has provided happy past memories; has a lot to offer in terms of historical experience; yet sits in their armchair only occasionally sparking into life for our entertainment. However, I must say, Season 7 was way more entertaining than Season 6, which overall really stalled in terms of storylines and fast-paced action. Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his Alexandrian crew and family came under pressure, not just from the zombie hordes but also Jeffery Dean Morgan’s delightful uber-villain, Negan. Massacring two of the leading characters at the beginning of the season created a real sense of suspense throughout and, aside from a few filler episodes; I thought the writing and the introduction of other clans gave the show some dramatic impetus. I still think sixteen episodes are too many but the war against the Saviours was gripping and overall there was enough bloody zombie deaths to entertain this horror fan. (Mark: 8 out of 11)