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

Mandy (2020) – TV Review

In recent years, there has been a large amount of Britain’s finest female comedians finally getting the TV show opportunities of their male counterparts and it has resulted in mostly incredible work (Aisling Bea’s ‘This Way Up’ is a masterpiece) and this time it is Diane Morgan’s turn to write and star in her own show.

However, she’s taken a different approach to most as she has gone for just 15 minute episodes and a very slapstick and silly approach, as opposed to the more nuanced and emotional way many comedies have been going recently.

I respect that decision and always like variation, I just wish this variation had been better than it is here, as this comedy very rarely manages to make you laugh, and it is so over the top at times that you lose interest.

I think the main issue is the main character. Morgan plays ‘Mandy’ as a working class woman with so many physical ticks and stereotypical character traits that it is tough to see her as a real person, and it also feels very cynical and also mocking in many ways.

Diane Morgan is a great comedian and talented actress who has done strong work as Philomena Cunk, and in shows like ‘After Life’, but I feel she could’ve made something really great here but ended up stumbling.

Rating = 2.5/5

Unsaid Stories (2020) – TV Review

In response to the recent Black Lives Matters civil rights movement that has (rightfully) gripped the entire globe, ITV decided to create four 15 minute shorts, filmed in lockdown (just like they did with ‘Isolation Stories’) tackling different British perspectives on race relations.

All episodes are tackling different perspectives on racism and race relations, and all are very valid and important topics to look at. I think some episodes are definitely more successful than others, but I respect what they were trying.

The final episode ‘Lavender’ is very grating and really doesn’t help anyone as it is just a shouting match that struggles to get to any real conclusion.

A very effective episode however is the opener titled ‘Generational’ which explores why a black father doesn’t want his daughter to attend BLM protests due to incidents he’s had in the past, and the racism that he’s lived through all his life. This episodes takes the characters on a journey in its short run time and I would’ve loved to see a feature length version of this.

There’s not much more to say due to the short length of the episodes, and there are much more important voices than mine that need to be heard talking about race relations, but I applaud ITV for tackling this and hopefully if the Covid-19 situation improves soon, we can see them tackle these crucial issues with full series.

Rating = 3/5

The Simpsons Season 9 (1997) – TV Review

After the first couple of seasons were spent finding its feet, ‘The Simpsons’ experienced a golden age unlike many shows have ever managed, and it was incredible. However, season 9 spells the end of that particular golden age for me, and even then, it is still an incredible season of TV that just struggles to live up to the almost unattainable heights of previous years.

The City of New York vs Homer Simpson is one of my favourite Simpsons episodes and is a brilliant recreation of the city and also provides some great Homer moments, and at times acts like an effective thriller. It is a stand out of the season and really kicks it off with a bang.

“The Garbage Man” musical number in this season is arguably my favourite musical sequence in the show, simply because it is so catchy and a bit ridiculous. The episode itself is strong but the set-piece itself is a real gem.

The Principal and the Pauper is one of the worst episodes of the show due to an unnecessary and really hurtful plot twist that could be a “jump the shark” moment for the show”.

There are some really good episodes in this season but the thing that drags it down below the quality of some of the previous seasons is that it also has some week episodes.

On the whole though, still superb TV.

Rating = 4/5

Chadwick Boseman – A Life and Legacy

“Death is not the end, it’s more of a stepping off point”

Today we awoke to the shocking and truly heartbreaking news that Chadwick Boseman had lost his life at the age of 43.

He was diagnosed with advanced Colon cancer in 2016, and despite battling it hard with numerous surgeries and chemotherapy, he managed to keep the news quiet and make a remarkable amount of important movies.

After his diagnosis, he was able to make films including: Marshall, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, 21 Bridges, Da 5 Bloods, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. To get in the physical condition, perform stunts, give yourself fully to performances, do the press tours and much more, all the time while being so ill and fighting so hard for your own health is remarkable.

He made a career pre-Marvel with stunning performances in biopics as the likes of James Brown in ‘Get On Up’ and Jackie Robinson in ‘42’, before making his MCU debut as Black Panther and changing the world.

2018s ‘Black Panther’ is one of the most influential movies of all time, providing an inspirational and relatable hero for millions of young black children (and honestly, millions of people in general, whatever your background) who until then had mainly only seen white heroes on the screen. Chadwick Boseman understood better than anybody the importance of the film succeeding and was open about his pride at the impact of the character on his people and society in general.

With the passion and commitment he left out there on screen, it is almost unfathomable to think he was so ill at the same time. Recently photos had leaked where he looked thin and people made jokes and speculated about him, which I wish had never happened as he clearly respected his privacy, but he managed to essentially keep this battle to himself throughout all of it. A man of true dignity.

I lost a close family member to cancer, who even younger than Chadwick was, so I totally understand the devastation and shock of losing someone so young. It is a evil disease and the strength he showed to fight it so long is an example to us all.

Despite the very different circumstances, I can’t help but also think of Heath Ledger. Boseman and Ledger are truly two of the most talented actors of the 21st Century, and while it is the human loss that is most deeply heartbreaking, it is also devastating to think of the further incredible art they could have created and yet will never be able to. However, they managed to do so much good in the short time they were with us, and we must carry on that legacy.

He died on August 28th. Jackie Robinson Day, the anniversary of Dr King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and the birthday of Jack Kirby, the creator of Black Panther.

Chadwick Boseman. 43 Years Old. Rest in Power and in Peace.

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