Archives For TV

Here’s a round up of everything I’ve written in March.

Annihilation (2018, Dir: Alex Garland)‘A surprisingly deep film…’

Anti Matter (2016, Dir: Keir Burrows)‘A satisfying experience.’ 

Black Roses (1988, Dir: John Fasano) – ‘Death by stereo indeed.’ 

Death Note (2017, Dir: Adam Wingard)‘Death Note is a sluggish, tonally uneven film which cribs from the Donnie Darko style guide.’

Deliver Us From Evil (2014, Dir: Scott Derrickson)‘Should you see this in your partner’s Netflix queue, break up with them immediately.’ 

Game Over, Man! (2018, Dir: Kyle Newacheck)‘Unbelievably smug.’ 

Inside No 9 S4E1 Zanzibar (2018, Dir: David Kerr) – ‘A sparkling start to the series.’ 

Inside No 9 S4E2 Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room (2018, Dir: Graeme Harper)‘Poignant piece of TV.’ 

Inside No 9 S4E3 Once Removed (2018, Dir: Jim O’Hanlon)‘…impish comedic behaviour.’

Insidious (2010, Dir: James Wan)‘…eerily like the dream world of Drop Dead Fred.’

Kangaroo: A Love Hate Story (2018, Dir: Kate McIntyre Clere, Michael McIntyre)‘A well-made and emotive film.’ 

Kangaroo: Love it or Cull it Interview with Kangaroo: A Love Hate Story director, Mick McIntyre 

Killer Barbys (1996, Dir: Jess Franco)‘It’ll be hard to find anyone who would wilfully cheer this one on from the sidelines.’

Leprechaun: Origins (2014, Dir: Zach Lipovsky) ‘No limericks, no green hats and no fun.’ 

Les Diaboliques (1955, Dir: Henri-Georges Clouzot) – ‘Buy it, treasure it, and never let it leave your side.’

Paranormal Entity (2009, Dir: Shane Van Dyke) ‘Boring.’ 

Prayer of the Rollerboys (1990, Dir: Rick King) – ‘I’d like to acknowledge the glacial romance between Haim and Arquette that is more comical than it is sexy.’ 

Prevenge (2016, Dir: Alice Lowe)‘The film manages to comfortably navigate through nihilism and comedy.

Red Sparrow (2018, Dir: Francis Lawrence)‘A rollicking spy thriller.’ 

See No Evil (2006, Dir: Gregory Dark)‘Thankfully, it ends.’ 

Serial Kaller (2014, Dir: Dan Brownlie) ‘Tepid Entertainment.’

Stepping Out of the Hundred Acre WoodInterview with Christopher Robin’s Director, Marc Forster

Straight on Till Morning (1972, Dir: Peter Collinson) – ‘Mean-spirited, gritty and with a gut punch of an ending…’ 

The Bat (1959, Dir: Crane Wilbur) – ‘They don’t make them like Vinnie anymore.’ 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017, Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos)‘More accessible than The Lobster, but just as confronting.’ 

The Nanny (1965, Dir: Seth Holt) – ‘The Nanny demands a spot on anyone’s DVD shelf.’ 

The Open House (2018, Dir: Matt Angel) – ‘All the fast pace action of an iceberg.’ 

Unforgettable (2017, Dir: Denise Di Novi) – ‘Trundles along.’

Veronica (2018, Dir: Paco Plaza) – ‘Veronica is the kind of film you want to succeed, which makes its failure to do so even more disappointing.’

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Following in the footsteps of Memento and Irreversible, Inside No 9 ventures into the arena of the reverse; telling its narrative from end to beginning, and still managing to add depth of character whilst it appears to stripping it away.

Things start off normal enough with a removal man turning up at a country cottage (Number 9, natch) to help housewife May (Monica Dolan) move her stuff. There’s a Carry On style farce to proceedings as May tries to wrap her head around the removal man’s euphemistic company name, and he tries to handle seeing May’s husband (Reece Shearsmith) walking into the kitchen dressed as woman. It’s end of the pier stuff and Kenneth Connors emerging from a bush to utter ‘Crickey!’ wouldn’t seem out of place. And then the bodies start turning up. One wrapped up in a roll of carpet, the other in the downstairs toilet, it’s understandable by the removal man would want to make a hasty retreat. When May ends up killing her husband, it’s time for explanations. Instead, Shearsmith and Pemberton rewind the clock to ten minutes previously.

And so it goes on for the rest of the episode and more layers are added to the narrative. May is not the owner of the house, it actually belongs to Natasha (Emilia Fox) and her senile father, Percy (David Calder). Natasha’s neighbour is May, who – we eventually discover – has just found that Natasha’s sleeping with her husband. To add insult to injury, Natasha and May’s husband are planning to elope after getting a hitman to kill May. Shearsmith is that hitman, Viktor, and his reasons for being at Natasha’s house and not May’s? Well, that’s down to May changing Natasha’s house number from 6 to 9. This one tiny act of somewhat excusable self-preservation, we learn and have already learnt, will lead to the deaths of five people instead of just one. Talk about the butterfly effect.

It’s a brilliantly constructed piece of work that plays upon the audience’s assumptions, without letting them get in the way of the narrative. It’s fascinating to watch how the characters change as they’re dragged back to their original states. Natasha leaps from tragic murder victim to Lady MacBeth-esque conspirator. Whilst Viktor goes from camp cross-dressing husband, to doting son (Percy imagines him to be a long lost relative), to the cool and calm hitman he always was. All of which is coloured by his utter frustration as he continually stumbles across one more witness he must dispose of. You almost feel sorry for him.

Once Removed revels in farce as much as it does bloodshed and is all the better for it. After the rather bittersweet ending of the last episode, it’s nice to see the boys getting back to some impish comedic misbehaviour.

This review may contain spoilers.

As we grow and get older, it’s common to see the large group of friends we once had in our youth begin to fracture. Often, it’s for familiar reasons such as moving away, getting married or having children. These are the commonplace grumbles we’ve all had. “I never see Darryl anymore since he got a kid.” Darryl doesn’t hate you, his circle of priorities has moved over ever so slightly to accommodate looking after this mewling creature that’s come out of his partner and needs constant attention until it buggers off at the age of 18. Darryl doesn’t love you any less, stop hassling him.

Sometimes, and this is rare, we fracture our group by ourselves. A sharp word or misappropriated ‘joke’ goes awry and the next thing you know, you’ve had a blazing row with your friend of 20 plus years and they no longer want to see you. It can leave you devastated and abandoned, or it can leave you poisoned and bitter. Time will heal you and one afternoon, your thoughts may turn to that person. You’ll sift through some feelings you’ve not had in a while, and you may even ponder about what happened to your friend and if you’ll ever make amends.

The second episode in the fourth season of Inside No 9 is about friendship. It’s about other things too, of course. It throws a spotlight on comedy and the creative/argumentative process. It tackles remorse and regret, the empty feeling of reminiscing about a past that you can’t alter. It’s about trying to make amends with yourself.

Largely though, it’s about two friends: Tommy (Reece Shearsmith) and Len (Steve Pemberton).

Tommy and Len were once a popular comedy duo from the late 80s called Cheese and Crackers. I mentioned this episode is partly about comedy and their old name immediately conjures acts like Cannon and Ball, and Little and Large. Comedy duos you couldn’t imagine continuing should one leave the other. Tommy and Len have long since gone their separate way and now, 20 years later, find themselves in a school hall getting ready to put on one last show.

Tommy is now Thomas, a successful businessman who wishes to have the whole Cheese and Crackers business best forgotten. In a temper, he admits to Len that he pays someone to take down any videos of their old act that are uploaded to YouTube. After all, how is he to do business if people have seen him ‘with tights on my head and ping-pong balls for eyes.’ Len, on the other hand, has never left the duo. He bounds into the hall, bubbling at the prospect of working with Tommy again. As they run through their old routines, he throws himself into each one with more gusto than his partner. Whilst this is all an incredibly dated embarrassment for Tommy, it’s a second chance for Len.

One of the wonderful things about this episode is how, come the ending, it begs you to rewind and listen again to the dialogue, now with added weight. A bittersweet joke about Len having all their old shows on VHS but not being able to watch them foreshadows the later revelation that he is homeless. When Tommy barks that he’s only returned because of a letter from Len’s daughter, this is the first step towards acknowledging that things got much worse for old Lenny. Other clues were there, from Len’s overzealous splash of whiskey in his coffee to using real beer in their sketches. Len is an alcoholic or to be more exact was. This whole episode has really been about Tommy attending his friend’s funeral and preparing to give a speech in honour of a man he hasn’t spoken to in decades. It’s an old trope of speaking to the dead, but the way they pull it off is heart-breaking.

To read all the above, it does sound like a bleak half hour. Inside No 9 very rarely wades up to it neck in dramatic waters, and there are enough laughs here to stave off the doom and gloom. From being unable to rely on celebrity impersonations because they’re all on the Yewtree list (‘People love remembering things that happened in the 70s.’ ‘This lot don’t.’) to much more innocent affair as Tommy and Len go through their genuinely funny old school routines. In the end, the running over old material allows Tommy to move on from the animosity he had towards Len’s drinking, and remember his friend in a warmer light.

With excellent performances from Pemberton and Shearsmith, this poignant piece of TV was a reminder that there is always a chance to forgive, our friends never really leave us and if you’re going to cry, cry tears of laughter. Just wonderful.

Inside No 9 is back for a fourth series, and it’s amazing to see how much the show has grown over the years since Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s first episode, Sardines, aired back in 2014. Their first collaborative effort after League of Gentlemen went on sabbatical, Psychoville, carried over a lot from their early days on the BBC: crude characters and the bleakest of bleak humour. It may have all been wrapped in a House of Hammer plot that blossomed into Tales of the Unexpected in its second series, but it too often felt like a satellite office to The League of Gentlemen rather than its own thing. To the cynical eye, Inside No 9 look like a humble pretender to the crown of glory past. After all, taken at face value, each one is nothing more than a mini-play, often set within one room, which will have no effect on the episode that comes after.

That is, of course, an extremely cynical view.

Taken as a whole, Inside No 9 is a universe which fully encompasses the full spectrum of human interaction. Yes, there are episodes that focus of the bleak side of life, but stare at them for too long and you miss the likes of the heart-breaking The 12 Days of Christine, the slapstick silent tomfoolery of A Quiet Night In and the surprisingly romantic Empty Orchestra. No, Inside No 9 escapes the League comparisons of Psychoville and becomes something much more.

The point that this rather long-winded introduction is getting to is that Zanzibar, which kicks of this new series, bodes well for what’s to come and shouts that Inside No 9 is showing no signs of running out of creative steam.

Written entirely in iambic pentameter, Zanzibar sees a disparate group of people interacting with each over, in real time, within the confines of a hotel corridor. Whilst set during the modern day, there’s a Shakespearean feel to the proceedings that isn’t limited to the dialogue. Fred the bellhop (Jaygann Ayeh) takes on the duties of Puck, introducing the audience to the tale that includes allusions to Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth and Twelfth Night. There are confusions involving twins (played by Rory Kinnear), poisoned chalices – well, glasses – of red wine, monologues to the audience and prostitutes with skills in ‘water sports’. Admittedly, that last part might be unfamiliar to Shakespeare canon, but those who crack a wry smile whenever they hear the title of the Bard’s play, Much Ado About Nothing, will likely accept that if Will could have gotten away with it, he would have.

As has been happening with the last two series, Shearsmith and Pemberton more or less take a backseat in this story, playing minor, but important, parts in the overall narrative. Pemberton plays an overprotective son trying to cure his mother’s dementia, whilst Shearsmith is a leering, sinister bodyguard with machinations to murder his boss and make himself out to be a hero. Despite their limited screen time, they aren’t missed. And I mean that in a good way. The ensemble in their place, which also includes Helen Monk, Tanya Franks and Kevin Eldon, bring out the best in the duo’s words.

If each episode of Inside No 9 is considered a mini-drama, then episodes like Zanzibar prove the durability of their work. Their playful usage of the English language not only shows a love of the theatrical, but also of the culture from which scripts like this extend from. Sexual escapades aside, there really is no reason why something like this couldn’t be taught in schools to show that Shakespeare’s legacy extends beyond a handful of plays that are drilled into us from age 11 onward. A sparkling start to the series, we can only hope that Inside No 9 continues down this inventive path.

Based on the graphic novel of the same name, The End of the F***ing World feels like a Wes Anderson film set in the backwaters of Britain. James (Alex Lawther) is like every other teenager careering towards their 18th birthday. He wants to do something different, he wants to escape being stifled by his father, he wants to kill someone. You know, the usual stuff. Alyssa (Jessica Barden) is spitting fire at the world. She hates her step-dad, she hates school and she’d probably hate James too, but he appears to be nerdy and aloof.

Over the course of eight criminally short episodes, Charlie Covell’s script uses James desire to kill Alex as a springboard into a deeper exploration of growing up, mental illness, and the ache of being dragged kicking into adulthood. Deciding to find her real dad, James and Alyssa decide to run away together, where they soon kill a serial rapist and find themselves on the run from the police.

In some ways, the show is like the reverse of Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker. There we saw troubled teen India realise that she can’t escape the dark feelings that course through her veins, before eventually embracing her desire to kill. James’ homicidal tendencies, as with Alyssa’s rebellious attitude, is revealed to be nothing more than a front. They’re both simply using mechanisms to help them ignore what’s happening around them.

With each episode narrated by the duo, their home lives are depicted are depicted as torturous purgatory that no one else will understand. However, we, the audience, are made privy to the odd glance, a dropped word, a small gesture that manages to paint volumes about things they can’t/don’t want to see. James’ dad, played by Steven Oram, is perpetually cheery, but it’s suggested this is merely a front to hide the fact he’s still mourning his dead wife. Meanwhile, Alyssa feels she can’t talk to her mum about her pervy step-dad, but the audience knows that not only does mum know, she’s scared to do anything about. Despite James and Alyssa’s, shall we say, affectations, they perfectly echo that deep-rooted angst in us all that forces us to believe at that age that we really are alone.

All of which makes The End of the F***ing World sound like you’re playing all your Radiohead albums at once. Far from it, a thick juicy vein of nihilistic comedy runs right through the series. Having shown his repertoire of nervous twitches and stuttering in Black Mirror’s Shut Up and Dance, Lawther brings them out to full effect as the Dexter-lite killer, who goes into panic mode when he finally gets a chance to kill someone. Barden, meanwhile, brilliantly captures that violent frown that only teenagers can do so well. Everything she’s face with is an annoyance of some kind; whether it be meeting her deadbeat, absentee father, or having to clean up after a dead rapist.

All of which contrasts nicely with the series bleak ending. The End of F***ing World is not merely a bombastic title, it’s a forewarning that everything you’re about to see may be for naught. Once the credits for the final episode play, you realise that the show was always going to end this way. Like James’ effect on Alex, and vice versa, the show leaves an indelible mark on you that’s both bittersweet and strangely uplifting.

Doctor Who Showrunner, Steven Moffat doesn’t do things by halves. If you’ve read anything about the nightmare that was writing the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special, you’ll know the Press Gang writer really likes to fly by the seat of his pants. Soon to be stepping down to make way for new showrunner, Chris Chibnall (Broadchurch), Moffat had originally planned to leave Doctor Who after The Doctor Falls, a regular episode that saw the Doctor ready for regeneration. It was only after hearing that Chibnall didn’t want his first episode to be a Christmas special, that Moffat agreed to oversee one more episode. In doing so, he probably added some undue pressure onto himself.

For not only is Twice Upon a Time his last episode, it’s also the last episode of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor. When Doctors regenerate, the show’s audience demands it be epic. You gotta go out big! Inverting those expectations, Moffat has crafted an episode that manages to be much more personable than other Christmas specials under his watch, and it’s all the better for it.

True to his rebellious nature, the Twelfth Doctor is refusing to regenerate. Holding on with every ounce of strength he has, The Doctor escapes to the South Pole in 1986 where he meets someone extremely familiar. The First Doctor (David Bradley) has just defeated the Cybermen and looks set to regenerate. However, like his future incarnation, he won’t go down without a fight. Realising that if his first incarnation doesn’t regenerate then none of the good things he’s achieved will come to pass, the Twelfth Doctor looks set to go all Wonderful Life and show the First Doctor the true meaning of Christmas. But then there’s the small matter of the World War One Captain, played by Mark Gatiss, who most definitely shouldn’t be roaming the 1980s tundra. Along the way, the trio will meet creatures made of glass, see the return of Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) and witness the Christmas Armistice of 1914. Honestly, it’s not as grandiose as it sounds.

Considering the weight that hangs over Twice Upon a Time, and everything mentioned above, the plot Is actually rather light. It doesn’t matter how many Doctors you throw on the screen, the whole mystery of Gatiss’ Captain being plucked out of time is merely an excuse for Moffat to allow the Doctors to rub each other up the wrong way. Grumpy, but a bit more in tune with 21st century ideals, Capaldi’s Doctor clashes somewhat with the equally grumpy, but old fashioned First.

The First Doctor may look the eldest, but he’s still a youngster learning about the universe. No one is inherently born woke and it takes the 12th doctor all his strength to stop from throttling the First over his problematic comments. All of which plays into the thread that runs through Twice Upon a Time; our past may define us, but we are who we are in the moment. We all still have chances to learn and grow. We will make mistakes, and some of them will be terrible, but we will overcome them and keep pushing forward.

This idea of acceptance plays nicely in Capaldi’s eventual regeneration. Having helped the Captain, and encouraged the First Doctor to get on with his lives, the Twelfth Doctor is afforded an opportunity to come to terms with his own end. ‘Doctor,’ he says tiredly, but content. ‘I let you go.’ If we cast our net further, past Moffatt’s tenure, this contrasts nicely with Russell T Davies’ send off for David Tennant, which sadly saw the Oncoming Storm reduced to a whining ‘I don’t want to go.’ It was a line that never sat well with me, and I can’t help thinking that it didn’t with Moffatt either.

Whilst Capaldi’s performance was excellent, time must be taken to give Bradly his dues. Having originally played William Hartnell in Gatiss’ Adventure in Space and Time, the actor was more than ready to cross the line and go full Doctor. It’s not the first time the First Doctor has been recast, but it was certainly the best. The Five Doctors saw Richard Hurndall take over the reins from Hartnell and, to be honest, it never felt more than a pencil sketch of the character. In Bradley’s hands, the First Doctor felt real, like he’d never really been away. The Doctor who once threatened to beat a caveman to death, was just as problematic when faced with ‘modern’ society and he was wonderful. Equally, Mackie appeared to be having just as much fun as Capaldi, clashing with Bradley’s pomposity. I’m not saying I want a series of adventures where the Frist Doctor and Bill travel together, but I am.

Surprisingly streamlined and as emotional as you would want it to be, Twice Upon a Time was – to quote the Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) who made a cheeky appearance – brilliant. Moffat certainly had issues during his time as showrunner, his overly complicated sixth season will never be one of the classics, but it amazing to watch how the show has evolved. It’s going to be fascinating to see where Chibnall goes from here.

Throughout his tenure as showrunner of Doctor Who, Steven Moffat has – for better or worse – been happy to experiment with the show’s format; offering episodes treated as mini-movies like season 7 or bringing in multipart stories as in season 9. Based on the evidence of season 10’s opener, Moffat appears to be at his most daring by giving us stripped back storytelling that (so far) isn’t weighed down by the events of the seasons before it. I know! Who knew?

Like Dan Harmon’s fifth season return to Community, Moffat appears to be applying a soft reboot to Doctor Who that doesn’t ignore his contribution to the show but offers potential new viewers an opportunity to see what the fuss has been for ten seasons. In some ways, this is his version of Rose, the episode that kicked off the show’s relaunch 12 years ago. Yes, really, 12 years ago! To be honest, if there had been a big reveal that this had been written by Russell T Davies in secret, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Tonally, The Pilot is so different from previous seasons.

Through the eyes of audience surrogate Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), veteran fans are reintroduced to The Doctor as a beguiling university lecturer, who enthrals Bill with his idiosyncratic lectures ranging Fromm quantum physics to poetry. Bill, we quickly discover, isn’t a student at the university, instead working at the canteen where she gives her crushes extra portions of chips in order to get them to notice her. Like Davies, Moffat manages to paint the fullest picture of Bill in such a short time. She’s gay, she has a stepmum, she’s intuitive, she’s intelligent, she likes sci-fi. In short, she’s a person! A real breathing person that lives off screen. Let’s be honest, Clara was great and all, but any growth she had was completely dependent on what the story needed from her at the time.

Young and sassy, comparisons to Rose Tyler are to be expected but there’s also a hint of Donna Noble in Bill, as she questions the nature of who the Doctor is. Moffat gets dragged across the coals by certain corners of the internet for a supposed disregard for the show’s 50 year canon, but as The Pilot proves, that’s really not the case. The Sherlock writer has a clear love for the show, one which he uses to dismantle and examine its supposedly sacred cows. In his time we’ve established time lords can change race and gender, that they have a sexuality (you hear that Lungbarrow) and, as Bill points out, they weirdly use English to name their ships. No, there’s always been a cheekiness to Moffat’s writing but it’s never to be mean or disrespectful. Though I think he does enjoy needling some of the more hardcore fans.

This respect for the past can be seen in The Pilot’s numerous nods to the series of yore. Having set himself up as a lecturer, the Doctor’s office is littered with paraphernalia from his past. Most prominently, two large photos on his desk of his out of time wife River Song and, most intriguingly, Susan, his granddaughter. Since being left by her grandfather on earth several eons ago, Susan has been alluded to throughout the show’s later years. However, outside of tripping over constantly in The Five Doctors, we’ve not heard much from her. Whether this is just one of Moffatt’s red herrings it’s yet to be seen, but those watching this season’s opener would fail to have missed that there’s some connection being hinted at between Bill and Susan.

Returning to character growth, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor appears to have softened greatly since the lacklustre Christmas special, The Return of Doctor Mysterio. Still being fussed over by Nardole, played by the always wonderful Matt Lucas, the Doctor might be bristly, but he’s not adverse to moments of charity. To be fair, The Doctor under Moffat is a big fan of the secretive grand gesture towards others, and you’d be lying if you said your heart didn’t glow when we found out he’d gone back in time to take pictures of Bill’s deceased mother as a Christmas present. Under Russell T Davies, this the kind of thing that would have been played out with perhaps too much sugar and syrup. Here, Moffat gets the balance just right, ensuring that we never forget that this is still the Doctor that doesn’t hug. Though it is somewhat odd that Bill, who catches a glimpse of the Doctor in one of these photos, never brings this up with her grumpy lecturer.

What I haven’t mentioned here is the episode’s big bad and, to be fair, that’s for good reason. Whilst the concept of a killer puddle of oil was admittedly fun, The Pilot was never about the creature that stalked Bill and the Doctor in the guise of the former’s crush. It’s about the bond that’s forged between the duo – and Nardole – as they skip through time, country and beyond to escape it. To make it anything more than one long chase sequence would perhaps have done the episode a disservice and overshadowed the sterling work done by Mackie and Moffatt in setting up the character of Bill. We have a whole season to watch her get in over her head, so I’m happy to get to know her first. And what of the Vault that was, until the end, keeping the Doctor on Earth? Obviously, we’ll find out before Capaldi takes his bow but let’s hope it’s not as complicated as McGuffins in the past. Hello, Pandorica!

We can’t hide from the fact that this Capaldi’s last season but, based on the strength of this opening, we can hope that it will give the actor a perfect send off. That said, after you’ve had a previous regenerate after falling off an exercise bike, you can’t get much worse.

So, hello to Bill and welcome back Doctor, I look forward to seeing what awaits you.