Tag Archives: TV

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)

 

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)

 

SCREENWASH ROUND-UP! REVIEWS OF: FENCES, MOONLIGHT & SPLIT

SCREENWASH CINEMA ROUND-UP! REVIEWS OF: FENCES, MOONLIGHT & SPLIT

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

FENCES (2016)

Denzel Washington’s honest, down-to-earth and heart-cracking drama is a formidable character piece and acting tour-de-force. Adapted from August Wilson’s prize-winning play, the narrative bristles with authentic working class lives of 1950s Pittsburgh, and is littered with some wonderful stories and dialogue. At the heart of the drama are Denzel Washington’s complex character Troy Maxson and his long-suffering wife, Rose; portrayed with significant humility and pathos by Viola Davis. Great support comes also from Mykelti Williamson as Troy’s mentally impaired brother, Gabriel.

Troy’s character is very charismatic and he delivers some hearty yarns from his past, but he’s also bitter and a drinker and, while he has had a hard life, he bullies everyone around him. His sons and more importantly his wife Rose put up with it but eventually he grinds everyone down, pushing them away with his boorish “I-know-best” arrogance and aggression. With her quiet power Viola Davis more than matches Denzel Washington’s grandstanding and Rose’s heartfelt speech toward the end of the film is a stunning retort to her husband’s continual tirades and emotional neglect.

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I’ve seen some criticisms of the film stating it is too “stagey”. Well, as it is based on a play that is understandable, yet, August Wilson’s words are a thing of beauty and therefore deserve focus. I think, while directing, Denzel Washington could quite easily have opened up the settings and had conversations on the street, but the decision was made to “fence” in the characters to create a sense of claustrophobia and intensity. By keeping the players mainly in the yard and the house we feel as trapped as they are by society, social status and their life decisions. It’s an intimate film about proper characters and real lives and overall the performances alone make the film feel cinematic. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

 

MOONLIGHT (2016)

Barry Jenkins low-budget contemporary drama is another brilliantly acted character memoir; although when compared to Fences it benefits from a more complex structure and cinematic style.  Split into a trio of linear timelines from the same characters’ lives we get three different actors representing the life and changes which occur in Chiron’s existence; with chapters named, Little, Chiron and Black.

Each section draws us into the characters’ world as Chiron searches for meaning, identity and direction as to who he really is as a person. With his father absent Little Chiron (Alex Hibbert) cannot find satisfaction via his mother, an angry and lost woman portrayed brilliantly by Naomi Harris. Small for his age he is also at the mercy of school bullies and while a random meeting with a local drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali) provides Little with a mentor to connect with it doesn’t sustain. Ali as Juan, like most of the performances, delivers a subtle realisation of a character trapped by his life choices and perhaps sees some redemption in ‘Little’. Alas, due to his lifestyle and ‘job’ he is clearly not the role model ‘Little’ needs.

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In the second and third sections Chiron’s relationship with his best friend Kevin comes to the fore both in terms of some powerful drama and intimate sexual connections. Barry Jenkins framing, colour design, use of music and editing choices all commit to create a poetic and fragmented style, further drawing me into Chiron/Black’s story. Chiron’s continual search for identity and meaning in the world reflects the most essential of human needs: the search for identity and love. Overall, this is a film of harsh and beautiful moments and each segment was layered with so many emotions and so skilfully told that I wanted to see more of the characters. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

SPLIT (2016)

Split (2016) is an altogether different film about the search for identity. In fact the lead character portrayed devilishly well by James McAvoy has TWENTY-THREE different people battling around his mind and something is about to give. Let me say that a film like Split won’t be challenging the Oscars because in essence it is a terrifying B-movie thriller, however, McAvoy gives a performance of such quality it reminded me of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in his cannibal pomp. McAvoy’s twisted ability to switch between the many personalities was a real guilty pleasure as he earned his acting fee over and over and over again.

The story concerns three girls, Casey, Marcia and Claire (including an excellent Anya Taylor-Joy) who are kidnapped and imprisoned by the various personalities in Kevin Crumb’s head. Some – including OCD driven Dennis – are more dominant than others and attempt to wrestle total control, which is where McAvoy’s sly switches are a real joy to watch. As a cat-and-mouse plot bleeds out we also get some intriguing back-story flashbacks into Casey traumatic past. These events really add colour to the main narrative and ramp up the tension and suspense. The scenes between Kevin, his personalities and sympathetic Doctor Fletcher (Betty Buckley) also add some dark humour to the story. By the end though all humour is gone and we get a stunning and believable supernatural turn as Kevin’s mind unleashes an altogether different personality.

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Writer/Director M. Night Shyamalan’s dalliance with big-budget-franchise-Hollywood-pictures – including: After Earth (2013) and The Last Airbender (2010) – did not do his career any favours. But with Split he is back on terrific form as he takes a simple abduction plot and renders it full of horror, twists and fantastical ideas. While I did not enjoy his previous film The Visit (2015) – mainly due to the stupid kid rapping throughout a decent horror story – this one is highly recommended for psycho horror fans and for McAvoy’s performance alone. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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.

A LOVELY NIGHT IN THE SUN: LA LA LAND (2016) REVIEWED

A LOVELY NIGHT IN THE SUN:  LA LA LAND (2016) REVIEWED

**SPOILER ALERT!**

In light of the FOURTEEN Oscar nominations from the Academy who am I to go against the tide of musical loveliness that is La La Land. Indeed, while I dislike all kinds of award ceremonies per se it does deserve most of the accolades coming its way. Because as the Trump puppet rears his huge, ugly head in the United States and Brexit looms large in the UK we all need something feel-good and nostalgic to lift us; especially amidst the bitter cold of winter.

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Damian Chazelle, who wrote and directed the exceptional drama Whiplash (2014), has sculpted a sunny post-modern musical which soars throughout paying tribute to both Los Angeles and Hollywood. The movie stars Ryan Gosling as an uncompromising jazz pianist and Emma Stone as a sensitive, budding actress who meet in a contemporary yet somehow old-fashioned vision of LA; where magic and love are in the air and the potentialities of dreams are a palpable force.

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Stone and Gosling are a stunning couple and while Chazelle’s leads may not have the strongest voices they serve the songs exceptionally well with an ordinary wonder. The chemistry between the two sparkles as the story entwines their characters within a “follow your dream” narrative. Arguably there could’ve been slightly more differences between the two than the “I hate jazz” tension; but as in the romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), Stone and Gosling sail through the film with confidence and profound likeability.

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Chazelle throws everything at the story employing jazz, 80s pop, old band numbers, R and B, and ballads. Moreover, all manner of parody, pastiche and cinematic devices are employed to echo the classic Hollywood musicals of yesteryear; the formidable work of Jacques Demy; plus the more modern pop promos of recent times. The opening Another Day of Sun traffic sequence is a real showstopper as Fame-like dancing and singing on motors in an LA highway jam brilliantly establishes the hyper-real and fantastical elements to come.

LaLaLand_clip_playsetlist.jpgIt seems obvious to say that the music in La La Land is to the fore, but Chazelle and the ultra-talented composer Justin Hurwitz commit a verve and soul to the songs and direction. Clearly the characters and lyrics reflect their own personal emotions, dreams and desire to escape everyday existence. While much of the film skims a stylish surface of colour and verve, numbers such as City of Stars and The Fools Who Dream really touch the heartstrings and draw out the internal emotions of the characters.

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It’s hard to criticize such a funny, feel-good movie and as a musical it is probably a masterpiece, however, while the love story served the musical structure really well, I felt that, compared to say Funny Girl (1968), Grease (1977) and Half-A-Sixpence (1967) it arguably lacked a bit of dramatic tension. Indeed, the break-up itself was under-baked and latterly covered by a have-your-cake-and-eat-it “what could have been” fantasy flashback. Yet, this is a minor critique of an incredibly well realised escapist joy.

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So, roll on the Oscars where the film will almost certainly win best film and direction, plus accolades, no doubt, for the musical and technical achievements. The wonderful Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are certain to be in the fray too. However, while I have seen other more dramatically impactful films such as: Arrival (2016), Manchester by the Sea (2016) and Silence (2016) (not even nominated!!), this remains one terrific musical that will lift the spirits even on the darkest day.