The Duchess (2020) – TV Review

In recent years, multiple female stand up comedians have finally been given the opportunities that were usual saved for their male counterparts and have been able to lead (and often create) their own TV shows.

This time, the honour falls to Katherine Ryan, the constantly funny guest on many panel shows and a strong stand up-comedian. However, despite her obvious talents, her writing really seems to lack the nuance and balance between drama and comedy that someone like Aisling Bea managed so perfectly in ‘This Way Up’.

‘The Duchess’ isn’t a dreadful show, and as proven by the fact that it has been the number one title on Netflix UK since it dropped, is exactly the sort of show that usually is huge on the streaming service.

However, my issue with it is that no characters or plot ever feel real or organic, and many of the lines of there to simply try and shock the audience. Instead of telling a real narrative or earning jokes, it often feels like a sketch show or a fully scripted stand up routine for Ryan.

There is a compelling story that could’ve been dug into more (one I know is close to Ryan’s real experience) and that is the unique bond between a single mother and her only child, and how that dynamic changes as the child ages. Katy Byrne plays Katherine’s daughter here and she is very likeable, and this is where the story should’ve really focused if it wanted to succeed.

Another issue is that Katherine Ryan, despite being a great comedian, just isn’t a natural actress and therefore many of her lines feel like she’s delivering a script, as opposed to a real person naturally talking.

The show does have some very funny moments though and Ryan gets her chance to shine, especially in the alleyway sequence where Katherine and her ex are struggling to have sex again, and also in the schoolyard scene where she reveals her own nude photos just to spite another mum.

I was looking forward to this show and wish it was better, but I think many people will still find lots to enjoy in this unapologetic comedy.

Rating = 2.5/5

Semi-Detached (2020) – TV Review

Recent years has seen an renaissance of ‘prestige’ comedy in Britain where the likes of ‘Fleabag’ and ‘Derry Girls’ manage your perfectly mix important subject matters with genuine humour, resulting in some incredibly nuanced and enjoyable TV.

However, this rise has also coincided with the fall in the ‘farce’ and ‘laugh a minute’ comedies that were once so popular, and Lee Mack and the BBC have decided to try and bring that back.

In this 6 part sitcom, the BBC have established an all star cast of comedic talent and put them together in a supporting cast behind Lee Mack, and just let them all play off each other, and it works. They are all just so talented that they can shine with just a few lines, and the like deliveries are always spot on.

Mack is solid in the lead role and allows everyone to bounce off his successfully, and some of my favourites from a strong comedic cast here are: Neil Fitzmaurice, Sarah Hoare, and Ellie White.

Each episode plays out in the classic farce manner of the protagonist just stumbling from chaos to even more chaos and making stupid mistakes along the way.

There is also a lot of physical humour on show here, some of which works and some of which really doesn’t land well.

It’s far from the perfect comedy and due to its premise it doesn’t have the most nuanced or particularly strong script. But what it lacks in those departments, the cast really makes up for and that’s why in general it is good fun.

Rating = 3.5/5

For the Sake of Vicious – Fantasia Review

Sometimes when you see a film for the first time, you can just instantly tell that it is going to divide people, and this is certainly one of them. ‘For the Sake of Vicious’ is very aptly named, as it is packed full of seemingly senseless violence and real terror. The film has a tight running time and it makes the most of every minute of it, with no time wasted on screen which gives the film a real feeling of onwards momentum all the way through.

‘For the Sake of Vicious’ starts out with a nurse called Romina (Lora Burke) returning home from a shift on the night of Halloween and getting ready to pick up her son to go trick or treating. However, as soon as she returns home, she is startled to find Chris (Nick Smyth) already inside, and he is not alone. He is armed with a gun and has another man badly beaten and tied up downstairs. The other man is Alan (Colin Paradine), the rich landlord to Romina and the man Chris believes is responsible for the rape of his young daughter. Chris continues to become more unpredictable and volatile as he attempts to violently force a confession from Alan, and Romina in the meantime tries to keep Alan alive. Things then escalate even more when a group of masked men invade the house and events descend into complete madness.

Instead of the standard three act structure, the film plays out very much in two distinct halves. The first half of the film unfolds almost like a play, with the three lead characters essentially locked inside Romina’s house in a tense stand-off with character motivations and history being gradually revealed as the tension builds up. I found this to be incredibly effective and a real sense of dread was created, as you hang on every word and action of the three very unpredictable leads.

However, in the second half of the film it erupts into a pure genre thrill ride packed full of extreme violence and brutal kills with every type of weapon imaginable, as the house is invaded by masked men with ulterior motives. It then becomes an outright horror film with our protagonist(s) having to do battle with an army of madmen in order to stay alive and work out what is going on. It is packed full of crushed skulls, exploding chests, and agonized screams in a non-stop blood bath that doesn’t allow you to come up for breath.

The film truly doesn’t settle down at all as soon as the second half begins which will thrill some but left me feeling slightly frustrated that the moral questions and commentary on society that seemed to be raised throughout fall to the wayside and are almost entirely forgotten about in some cases. This left me with a very unfulfilled feeling because the film had initially leaned into the consequences of the power dynamics between rich landlords and their poor tenants, the lack of accountability for the rich and powerful in society at large, and the crimes they are able to get away with. This is important stuff and it felt wasted here with the way the film played out.

One of my other main issues with the film was the acting, as only Lola Burke convinced me in her role. The two other leads seemed very stilted and honestly lacking in a compelling screen presence that made you buy into the crazy antics of their characters. It is lucky for the film then that Burke is at the centre of it, and is able to provide a very calming and engaging performance. She really instils in Romina an incredible willingness to stay clear-headed and reasonable even though she has found herself at the centre of events that just keep spiralling. Romina has her flaws but you immediately root for her because the first thought is always about how she can deescalate the situation, and you truly buy into Burke in that role.

I think almost universally people will appreciate the effectiveness of the first half of the film and the way it builds suspense and tension despite it just essentially being three people talking in a house, but it is the second half of the film that will split the audience. Some will see it as unnecessary torture porn that sends the story off in an unnecessary direction, and others who are genre lovers will appreciate how the film fully commits to the violence and entertaining chaos. I have to respect the film for at least eliciting such strong reactions from the audience, as that is better than a general indifference.

Rating = 2.5/5

The Columnist – Fantasia Review

Hell hath no fury like a woman trolled! Despite any genre trappings and social media commentary that occurs here, at the very heart of this film is the female rage and the feeling of “enough is enough” when it comes to the way many men have been treating women for centuries, whether it is physical violence or verbal and emotional abuse.

In ‘The Columnist’, writer Femke Boot (Katja Herbers) is trying to progress in her life and career whilst writing columns for a magazine and publish a book. She wants us to live in a world whereby we can disagree with others but still be kind and civil (wouldn’t that be something). However, after arguing in an article that Black Peter, a staple of Christmas folklore where white Dutch citizens dress up in blackface, should be brought to an end, she becomes the target for a barrage of online abuse.

At first, she just becomes obsessed with reading these posts and can’t focus on anything else, and then as the abuse continues to grow more violent and misogynistic, she snaps into action and decides to bring real life consequences to those who abuse her online. Her first revenge kill happens so quickly and ‘normally’ that it seems it must be a dream sequence, but it isn’t, and the film just continues to get more bizarre from there.

The film tackles head on the effects of online abuse and also the wide variety of different people (mainly men) who decide to attack women online, and it explores the wide age ranges this can occur from (hinting but never properly digging in to the idea of the toxic masculinity that is ingrained in many men from such a young age and never leaves). We get a realistic and often sickening look at what everyday life is like for a woman online, and how that treatment is not something that can always be escaped by simply “logging off”. We aren’t asked to agree with the decision of the protagonist, but it is tough to not sympathise with her at times due to the abuse she is receiving.

We also have a sub-plot regarding the main character’s daughter who is having her own issues dealing with themes like free speech at school, and her actions often used as a more practical and less violent version of her mothers, and the stories for mirror each other well. This storyline isn’t developed enough to create a major impact but I appreciated it’s presence.  

We also see some real visual flourishes behind the camera at times, even though the film for the most maintains an intentionally dull palette in order to ground the films setting in realism. This visual mask starts to slip at the same time as the protagonist’s mask of sanity slips, and we are quickly introduced to more colour and sharp cuts, right up until the final scene which features a memorable white outfit that is splattered in blood and provides a central image to remember the film by.

The film is a real showcase for Herbers who gets to show off multiple sides of her acting talent. During the first half of the film she plays a woman with real repressed rage, that only occasionally comes to the surface but is mixed in with a genuine fear for her safety when she receives these threats. However, in the second half the character really lets loose and this allows for Herbers to play an almost rabid fury and a righteous anger, all of which had been previously hinted at but is now fully realised. She manages to do all of this dramatic work whilst maintaining a consistent dead-pan wit which is very in keeping with the tone of the film, and often times the character seems as shocked as us at how these ridiculously violent events are occurring in such a matter of fact way.

‘The Columnist’ does slightly lose its way in the third act as it falls into genre clichés of a slasher revenge flick and loses the commentary and tone that it had initially maintained. This is disappointing as it felt for a while as though this could be something really special and unique, but despite that issue, I still think it is a memorable film that people should seek out. It is worthwhile for the lead performance, the visual flourishes, and the commentary on the way women are treated in our new digital age.

Rating = 3.5/5

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