The King review

David Michod’s The King combines different Shakespeare plays to deliver a lengthy historical tale that is light on action but big on human drama. Timothee Chalamet flexes his acting muscles, which are many and varied, while Joel Edgerton lends humorous support as Falstaff.

Netflix’s The King has been highly anticipated. Boasting big names and an even bigger budget, its a cinematic gem in scope and talent but it lacks in emotional depth and spectacle punch, leaving the feature a little lacklustre in finish. Reviews have, understandably, been varied. Some love it while others loathe it. Michod is a celebrated director in the independent realm, delivering Animal Kingdom and The Rover which were both met with unarguable acclaim. Here, it’s as though the championed director is slightly out of his depth, delivering a narrative that is disjointed and clunky and, at times, hard to follow.

Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography is the treasure of the piece. Combining beautiful green landscapes with moody sunsets, the land becomes a character and one you can’t help but marvel over. The action is slim on the ground here but the one battle scene that does feature is suitably disorientating, shot in the murky mud of a French battleground. The camera comes in close, demonstrating the claustrophobic horror of 15th century warfare; both unforgiving and feral.

Many have questioned Chalamet’s validity as a leading man of this calibre, but here he shows himself as an actor of depth, one who can match the very best as he stands shoulder to shoulder alongside peers Ben Mendelsohn and Edgerton. Every performance is stellar, including the wonderful Sean Harris who’s star turn is a joy to watch.

While The King is too long and lends itself (if unintentionally) to genre cliches, terrific cinematography and talented acting save it from the depths of poor period drama.

Killing Eve review

In Killing Eve a bored MI5 agent (Sandra Oh) is drawn into a violent chase to track down deadly assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer); a psychopathic killer who has targeted a number of well-known public and political figures. As Eve gets closer to tracking her down, she becomes obsessed with the elusive target, enjoying the new-found excitement in her life.

BBC America’s new drama adapted from a series of novels by Luke Jennings, is a superb, expertly crafted game of cat and mouse featuring a star-making performance from Comer. Already confirmed for a second season (before its satellite premiere which vouches for its quality) the series is a super slick, and often bloody, example of television at its brilliant best.

Jodie Comer (My Mad Fat Diary, Doctor Foster) is truly exceptional as Villanelle. An awards-worthy performance from one of the industry’s best new talents, Comer nails the complexity of the assassin and showcases a depth not often seen in small-screen dramas. A truly revelatory turn for an actress so early in her career, Villanelle is a frequently surprising villain. Sandra Oh is similarly fantastic, and despite her character becoming less likeable as the series develops, Eve is a well-written, fully realised protagonist.

The supporting cast are a delight too, and not one person lets this team down. Kim Bodina is devilishly funny; Fiona Shaw (who many will know from the Harry Potter franchise) is fantastically dry, clearly having lots of fun as an eccentric and high-flying MI6 agent; and newcomer Sean Delaney adds a slice of much-needed innocent warmth to this pitch-black story .

Already attaining a kind of cult status, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s adaptation is not only exceptionally written (balancing dark wit with challenging themes) but refreshingly original. There’s an obvious feminist feeling to it and the lead performances from Comer and Oh are worth tuning in for if nothing else, but it’s the near complete perfection of the production as a whole that makes this such a joy to watch. There are moments of narrative frivolity (for it’s all a bit silly) but this made-up world entraps you and it’s the new definition of binge-worthy.

Stylish, shocking and brilliantly acted, Killing Eve is a delight to discover. Raising the bar for what a single 40-minute episode of television can achieve, it’s one of the best (if not the best) dramas to hit the small screen in recent years. Waller-Bridge has masterfully adapted Jennings’ engulfing story for TV and proved that everything she touches becomes pure gold.

Simply a must-see.

Brotherhood Review

Nine years after Adulthood and ten years after Kidulthood comes the final instalment of the franchise, Brotherhood. They bare similar names and follow similar themes but audiences are as interested in the inner-city narrative today as they were upon its original release. Why are we so enthralled by youths behaving badly? Is it Noel Clarke’s determination as actor/director to showcase society’s pitfalls and its effects on the young? Or do middle-class cinema-goers just enjoy watching a glamorised version of those who live just one or two boroughs away? Whatever the reason for this franchise’s continued success is, frankly, irrelevant for it captures the attention of an audience and it showcases the talents of bright British stars on the rise.

In Brotherhood Clarke’s Sam is married with two children, he works several jobs to provide for his family in a nicer neighborhood than we’ve seen him in before and he does what he can to stay clear of trouble. Is he an alien in this world? When his brother is shot in a nightclub and an old enemy returns from prison for revenge Sam must decide whether to acknowledge his violent past or run and suffer the consequences. Neither option being the preferred. It’s a story of change, and accepting that change. Most interesting in this instalment is the realisation that Sam, who murdered a teenager in the first film and somehow found redemption in film two, is not a nice man. He cares about his family and he wants to do right (after years of doing wrong) but he leads with violence and his morals are questionable. Brotherhood and Adulthood are character studies of a leading man who began life as an antagonist but somehow developed into a protagonist through careful writing and the positioning of harder, darker wannabe gangsters.

The narrative is nothing we haven’t seen before and it isn’t particularly lay

Brotherhood Unit Stills

ered but it gets the job done. Brotherhood allows its audience closure and this in itself is enough to please adoring fans of the social drama. In the ten years since Kidulthood came crashing onto our screens shocking parents and affecting adolescents, we’ve seen an array of London estate dramas that focus on angry young men and the women who follow. Kidulthood was gritty and disturbing because we knew it wasn’t far from reality, its soundtrack was a who’s who of UK’s top rap and grime artists and it was undeniably British to the core. Since this time the genre has evolved but its two sequels perhaps haven’t. We’ve become desensitised to the gritty violence, and the continual degradation of young women is as offensive as ever without any take-away commentary behind it. Brotherhood differs from its predecessors in that there are one or two strong female roles but these characters are present because of their entanglement with men and don’t have a whole lot of screen time to themselves.

Compared to the likes of Channel 4’s superb urban drama Top Boy, Clarke’s film doesn’t compare in style, direction or story but it does serve as a satisfying end to an iconic series of Brit films. A flawed but necessary entry – with a brilliantly unexpected turn from Stormzy – Brotherhood continues to demonstrate the strength of low-budget filmmaking with a cast of relatively unknown stars.

Why We Love Stranger Things

Stranger Things is undoubtedly Netflix’s new hit. All of my pals keep mentioning it in conversation, the internet loves it, and we are craving season two already. But why are we all so impressed by The Duffer Brother’s show? Stranger Things is eight episodes of traits and formulas that, collectively as an audience, we have most definitely seen before, and there isn’t necessarily something new in sight that has taken aficionados or fans of the canon by storm. But, we love it nonetheless and there are many a reason as to why. Below I look at just five elements to the programme that make it a stand-out entry into 2016 television.

  1. The nostalgia is real

I recently read an article that sighted Stranger Things as a re-hash of 80’s coming-of-agers such as Stand by Me. The author was kind of stating that this was a bad thing. In my mind, the references to classic 80’s hits and the cinematic odes to films such as Stand by Me is what propels the series to greater depths of enjoyment. As we watch three lads and their new friend – a superhuman girl who finds herself with pals for the first time – we are flung into nostalgic feels of times past. Who doesn’t like a bicycle chase that includes a van flip, or a journey along a train track to find a mysterious gate to another realm?

2. It’s actually really funny

I spent a lot of season one in little fits of giggles. The character responsible for this laughter? Dustin. Gaten Matarazzo has a natural streak of comedy genius in him and his moments of bad language and sharing of life views leads to some lighthearted laughs that are needed in this tale of unearthly creatures and missing children. The humour, mostly penned by Matt and Ross Duffer, is reminiscent of the likes of The Two Cory’s in such flicks as The Lost Boys; it’s all very silly but undeniably enjoyable.

The cast of Stranger Things

The cast of Stranger Things

3. If you don’t like one character, you have a whole bunch to choose from

It’s always really important to like your protagonist. In Stranger Things it’s not instantly clear who the protagonist is – and that role is pretty much shared throughout season one – but if you don’t like one character, you have about six more who share screen time in which you can root for. As an audience we are positioned with the adults, the teens and the kids, and you’re guaranteed to find at least one version of yourself (don’t deny it) in the group. With so many characters comes a bunch of different perspectives and we have been able to see the events of Hawkins, Indiana from a number of people and places – including the not-so-friendly Upside-Down.

4. Winona Ryder is back, and she’s better than ever

Winona Ryder had that huge career in the later 80’s and through the 1990’s but it all went a bit stale. A lot of time has passed and the oh-so talented actress is back. Ryder may have taken a break, but her talent hasn’t wavered and as the broken Joyce in Stranger Things we see a return to form as she desperately clings to the belief that son Will is alive. It was ingenious to cast Ryder as a woman on the edge, and she grabs this opportunity and doesn’t let go – this should be the start of a rejuvenated career.

5. The Duffer Brothers have reinvigorated science-fiction in television

There are plenty of science-fiction T.V. flicks to choose from, but none have recently had the impact like this. You don’t need to be a huge fan of sci-fi to get on board because at its heart, Stranger Things is a human drama that we can all connect with. With themes of grief, growing-up, love and the complex nature of friendship, the series is a multi-layered tale of one very small town with some very big goings-on at the centre of it.

And not forgetting, Stranger Things comes with a neon title and electronic music – what more do we want?

 

 

Peaky Blinders: A Masterclass In TV

We all know the score. Television of the good ol’ days was known for soaps and mini series’ – and not necessarily ones that were going to change the game of the small screen (with the odd exception, of course). In the past ten years we have seen a ten-fold improvement in the quality of TV drama. From the good fellas at HBO producing cinematic series’ such as police drama True Detective, to AMC giving viewers a multi-layered exploration of an apocalyptic deep south in The Walking Dead; whatever your genre, there’s something, on some channel, to please you.

While America is way ahead with their budgets, their production values, and their star power, the UK is steadily catching up. Peaky Blinders is an exemplary case of such competition, with an ensemble to rival the best, an intricate narrative and a blistering soundtrack that creates a palpable atmosphere. BBC Two, you continue to surprise us all. As we reflect on the events of season three we are reminded of the utter strength of modern television.

With only six episodes per season, Peaky Blinders is a short series that packs a lot in. In season three we met new antagonists, said goodbye to familiar faces and welcomed new members of the family. Over just six episodes producer and writer Steven Knight creates a multi-faceted narrative that escapes genre cliches to provide audiences with substance and originality. While it isn’t always faultless, often it is close to small-screen perfection. Peaky Blinders is based on the notorious Romany gangster family of the 1920’s but Knight has attained poetic justice in his verve as a writer as he develops complex characters portrayed by a stellar ensemble cast of British actors.

Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders

Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders

Cillian Murphy leads a strong cast, all of whom share an electric chemistry fueled by fiery personalities and an underlying rage. Paul Anderson is an absolute triumph in his role as Arthur, a character who audiences have seen evolve over eighteen divergent episodes. With fierce story-lines comes a need for actors who can display range and, despite their wrongdoings and bandit behaviour, we are firmly rooted with the Shelby family thanks to the complexity of the characters we have somehow come to relate too.

Beyond the obvious strength in writing we have to applaud the cinematography, costume design and stylistic direction. Season three moved with the times and with a change in year came stunning flapper girl fashion and sociopolitical themes. These were offset by a ravishing aesthetic that balanced gritty inner-city Birmingham with lavish countryside, brilliantly balancing the opulence of the life recently acquired by Thomas Shelby and co with the roots of the family; an important element to the story and one which their foes seemingly never allow them to escape.

With many scenes a violent spectacle, Peaky Blinders isn’t for everyone, but as the series progresses its exploration of feminism, masculinity, violence, family – and much more – is a fantastic case study for what can now be achieved season by season. Atmospheric and challenging, Steven Knight and BBC Two should be proud of their popular creation which has confidently taken the world by storm.

The Walking Dead – if you didn’t know, it’s back!

Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ll be totally aware that AMC’s The Walking Dead is back – and it might just be better than ever. I talk a lot about the exploration of humanity seen in recent seasons of the Robert Kirkman-created zombie drama, but in No Way Out and The Next World, writers have delved into the bravery of the Alexandria community, and the new-found courage of many of its inhabitants. The series has also, at this stage in its popularity and success, reinvented the zombie genre and turned it into something fresh and new. It’s changed in its thematic qualities and the way in which those are explored, it fuses evocative scores and stylised fighting scenes with thoughtful dialogue and tender moments of conversation. Zombies are now fair game in a drama and don’t just sit in the horror genre, meaning this is T.V. that is accessible for most.

Through the medium of television, the creators behind this fantastic show have had the time to evolve the narrative and this is where the genre suffers in film but thrives on T.V. There isn’t a need for constant action because we know and care about the characters and want to see their individual stories develop. Now, after a lengthy six seasons and 77 episodes, audiences are seeing an actual journey – not necessarily one of physicality, but one of mentality. Frequent director Greg Nicotero is studying his characters with succinct detail, demanding emotion and realism – both of which have been seen (perhaps more so than in seasons past) as genuine facets of strength which demonstrates the ability of the ensemble cast.

The sudden change of pace is refreshing and makes for a non-formulaic set of episodes that means The Walking Dead continues to stray away from the conventions of modern television. While the first eight episodes of the sixth season were disappointing in their slow descent to eventual anarchy in Alexandria, these final six could save a series that many have questioned is waning in its effectiveness. We have had emotion and wit, and carefully crafted tension that is generated from an atmosphere created through the use of lighting and locale, and – most importantly – we have a set of characters we root for.

Welcome back, Walking Dead.

Ash vs. Evil Dead – Gore and Giggles Never Gelled So Well

Ash vs. Evil Dead has been an anticipated series for me since I saw the initial trailer. While Fede Alvarez’s 2013 remake was too out-there for my tastes (and in honesty, too scary to sit comfortably with me too), Sam Raimi’s new comedy-horror series, distributed by Starz, looked set to be a fun thrill ride that leaned towards the cheesy humour of chainsaw arms rather than the questionable adage of mutilating trees.

bruce campbell as ash in ash vs. evil dead

bruce campbell as ash in ash vs. evil dead

Following the first installment (yes, I am three episodes late in watching), it’s safe to say that Raimi has made the right choice in allowing this series to be one that doesn’t take itself all that seriously and therefore allows wit to lead first with moments of horror following second. The latter additions are genuinely scary and the former are of laugh-out-loud quality; combined these give viewers of Ash vs. Evil Dead an all-round television experience that is light relief following Alvarez’s dark and uncomfortable film reboot.

Bruce Campbell leads the series as the titular character Ash. He’s seedy, charming and hilariously un-pc, Campbell is an on-screen genius and he revels in his chance to take the lead once again. Supporting the veteran of the Evil Dead universe is young blood Ray Santiago as Pablo and Dana Delorenzo as Kelly. The trio have an enjoyable chemistry and it’s this alone that has propelled me to want to keep on watching this unique and nostalgic series. Think of Ash vs. Evil Dead as a tribute to the 1980’s; dive bars, questionable outfits and a memorable score – it shouldn’t work, but it does. Somewhat facetious and hilariously over-the-top, if you don’t overthink the narrative too much, you’ll love it.

This Is England – why I’m not (and will not) be watching ’90

There is no denying that director Shane Meadows created something special with his 2006 feature film This Is England. With a cast full of bright up-and-comers and an exploration into the trials and tribulations of post-Thatcher Britain, Meadows was sure to create a movie full of memorable moments. With a combination of wit and stark realism, This Is England quickly became a cult classic and received not only a positive response from cinema-goers, but critics too. Thomas Turgoose was an absolute find as well, and he shone bright with emotion and naivety and instantly became a favourite for me. He went on to star in Somers Town and Eden Lake and showed himself to be a true young talent. So, come This Is England ’86 I was more than up for another round of Woody (Joe Gilgun), Lol (Vicky McClure) and Milky (Andrew Shim).

the one-sheet for this is england

the one-sheet for this is england

The six-part series started strong, and no doubt created nostalgia for viewers from that decade. But the brutal subject matter turned off many viewers, including me. ’88 came two years later, and was just that little bit more engaging, but still as miserable as ever. Although the cast are an impressive ensemble, that in itself wasn’t enough to sway me to jump to Channel 4 for the premiere episode of ’90. Following the first installment Facebook and Twitter were gleaming with positive words from home-viewers and I felt inclined to give it a watch on 40D. Then came the second episode, and the revelation that the creators behind the show have featured more hard-hitting brutality. Again, towards women. And this had led me to ask, once again, is it necessary?

Meadows’ feature was a film of two halves. The first, a somewhat up-beat montage of 1980’s Britain and the sub-culture that came with it. The second, a dark look at the underbelly of the Skinhead lifestyle and the racism that sat somewhere among it. Stephen Graham as Combo was a terrifying enigma of a man who encompassed, what appeared to be, the anger of a nation. Many believed the preaching dialogue of the character to be a little over the top. Others were impressed with the intelligence of the script and the bravery of Meadows as a director to challenge his audience with the shocking – and hard to watch – final scene that he delivered. I sat with the latter half, and have gone back to the film many times, never to be let down or disappointed by just how strong the feature is nearly ten years later.

You are probably asking, what’s the difference between the brutality of racist violence in the film, to the sexual abuse themes and rape scene in the series? Well, there’s a big difference. This Is England carried with it so many ideological messages, from the sides of the characters we, as an audience, grew to love, and those that we grew to hate. I, and collectively as an audience, us, took something away following the first viewing of the film and I still remember the effect it had on people I know. When I asked a friend recently about her views on the new series (when I was trying to figure out just how far Meadows had gone this time), she replied, ‘Well, I can’t tell you what happened, apart from I felt miserable afterwards.’. And that, simply, reflects my problem with what this legacy has turned into: misery.

A lot of people will disagree with me, and that’s the brilliance of film and television. It’s emotive, effective, and people respond in completely different ways. But some things are best left alone, and now I seem to remember the weaknesses of the social-realist franchise, rather than the strengths of the independent movie that first moved audiences everywhere.

Man on Fire, review

Man on Fire is now eleven years old. Tony Scott’s film exemplified the director’s slick transition from corny territory (seen in Top Gun) to contemporary, stylized cinema. Edited at warp speed and finished with a visceral colour palette that perfectly sets Mexico City as a locale of danger and violence, Man on Fire stands as one of the best features from the director. Scott, you gave us cinema at it’s most energetic and visually immersive, seen prominently here. Starring Denzel Washington as Creasy, a retired CIA agent struggling with his conscience (frequent religious imagery and questions of will God forgive him are featured in the first half successfully demonstrating his guilt). Radha Mitchell and Marc Antony star as the wealthy parents of Dakota Fanning’s Pita, who is in need of protection from a group of kidnappers known for targeting families for ransom.

Scott’s feature is a film of two halves; the first full of character development and setting the stunning scene of Mexico City. The on-screen father/daughter-esque chemistry between Fanning (only ten years old at the time of filming) and Washington gives those watching a sense of warmth, and come the end the pairs friendship makes way for plenty of emotion. Its these two that carry the film (despite Fanning’s lack of scenes in the latter half) with Antony bringing little in the way of anything in his role as Pita‘s Dad. Mitchell is more impressive and has her moment to shine at several occasions. Mickey Rourke provides further support during a dive in his career, and despite his comeback not happening until several years after, his on-screen presence is clearly seen here.

denzel washington as creasy in man on fire

denzel washington as creasy in man on fire

Th repetition of certain images and the split in dialogue between Spanish and English propels the film into the realm of intelligent blockbuster (and these are becoming harder and harder to come by in recent years). Scott, writer Brian Helgeland and cinematographer Paul Cameron all do well in their respective roles with the latter’s eye of urban beauty deserving credit. The lack of positivity surrounding the picture is perhaps understandable if this were to be released in recent years – but eleven years ago this was pretty original fair. Today, there are tonnes of thrillers similar in genre and style being released, not quite with the same flair or courage to represent modern issues, that Man on Fire possesses.

Critical acclaim was mixed – some heralded, some frowned – but Tony Scott’s film is ferociously good-looking (juxtaposing bright lights and vibrant club scenes with blood-soaked violence) and features Washington in a role he is now seasoned at. Original, and packing a political punch, Man on Fire is one of the best (and sorely underrated) of it’s genre.

The Walking Dead – Self Help review

Scrolling through Facebook today (yes, that social convention that takes up a fair amount of time) I came across a status which read “The best part of Monday is hearing ‘Previously on AMC’s The Walking Dead.'”, and I believe its fair to say that you would be hard-pressed to come across a fan who would disagree. Five seasons in, WD could potentially find itself between a rock and a hard place; its far enough in to of cemented itself as a great show, but also at the stage that the final season, and the question of when that will come is a hovering thought. Currently, The Walking Dead is still as thrilling, and exciting, as it was in season one (perhaps even more so), and although the narrative has generally been continuous throughout, the curve-balls thrown in have been enough to keep us all coming back for more. Today’s episode, Self Help, leads one to ask, where next? For the first time. The shock of Eugene (a character we know little about, played by Josh McDermitt) professing that his whole story of the chance for a return back to the life they all once knew, and a cure to the virus that has turned humans into Walkers, was all a lie, left a gap for the thought – where now? Where will the story go next, and where can this whole show now go? If you read the graphic novels, then you’ll have that answer. But for us in the dark, its certainly a thought that makes for a fair amount of day-dreaming, and mental script-writing.

michael cudlitz as abraham in the wlaking dead

michael cudlitz as abraham in the wlaking dead

A formation that WD has perfected over the past two seasons is that of swapping between characters, and their stories. This week it was all about Abraham’s (and those who left with him) journey to DC, last week we followed Beth, and before that Rick and the crew. This way of storytelling from the makers, means every week there is a fresh narrative in which audiences can sink their teeth into (excuse the pun). Gaining insight this week (however slight it was) into Cudlitz’s Abraham made for new and definitely interesting fare, and discovering that he at one point nearly took his own life added a softer element to a character with a hard exterior. More than this however, the aesthetic of what must be nearly a thousand walkers (I may be exaggerating) was one of the best images WD has given us yet, and almost places you there in the scene. Trust me, its up there with the park Walker of season one (and who can forget that?!). While Self Help didn’t present itself as the best episode season five has given us, it still remains a fantastic offering for the zombie genre. This weeks episode also reminds us that The Walking Dead is an adult show, and one that explores relationships of all types, in a refreshing and human way.

Not an episode of epic proportions, or overwhelming discoveries, but an episode of humble modesty, exemplifying The Walking Dead‘s ability to shine no matter what the subject matter.