PREVIEW: April 2019

Well, another month has come to an end and I have managed to do a fair number of posts and see a reasonable number of films. This month saw the publication of post 500 on this blog – Top 5 Pokémon Battles (Kanto Saga). Tuesday April 2nd will be the second anniversary of this blog, which feels crazy.

Anyway, as per usual, here is a preview for next month. I have a few cinema visits lined up, including Pet SemataryShazam!The Sisters BrothersMid90sWild RoseMissing LinkGretaEighth Grade and, of course, Avengers: Endgame. I will endeavour to get reviews for these films up as well as some other posts, time permitting of course.

Thank you as ever for visiting this blog and, as always, Happy Reading!

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TELEVISION: Last of the Summer Wine (1973-2010)

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British sitcom Last of the Summer Wine aired for 295 episodes on BBC1. Deep in the heart of Yorkshire, a trio of senior citizens get up to all kinds of mischievous shenanigans, at various points getting local townspeople involved too. While the main trio changed a lot over the course of 37 years, Norman Clegg (Peter Sallis) remains consistent for the first 35 (Peter Sallis’s advanced age meant that Clegg became a supporting character for the final 2 years).

PROS

  • Creator Roy Clarke’s writing is charming in its simplicity, with quirky, simple jokes and a fun depiction of an unwillingness to let go of one’s youth, although he does also pen some wonderful farcical moments here and there over the series’ run.
  • A good ensemble cast, the majority of whom have very good comic delivery and timing, while many of them have great rapport with each other, particularly Peter Sallis and his fellow trio members.
  • The cinematography department capture the rustic charm of small Yorkshire towns and frame the beautiful landscapes of the countryside very nicely.

CONS

  • At the end of the day, this sitcom ran for far too long, which is sadly ultimately proven by the number of cast members (main and supporting) who passed away or retired due to ill health during the series’ run.
  • It is quite formulaic, but as the series gets older the episodes’ structure becomes far more like that of a soap opera as Roy Clarke tries to ensure that all members of the ensemble cast get screen time.
  • Most characters get no development, even those who are around for over 20 years, while some notably weaker new characters are introduced in the final few years.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: Us (2019, Jordan Peele)

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Psychological horror Us is distributed by Universal, following its premiere at South by Southwest 2019. The Wilson family are on holiday at their beach house in Santa Cruz. However, one night a family of doppelgängers break into the house…and they are far more unhinged, creepy versions of the Wilsons with phenomenally sinister intentions. What the Wilsons do not realise is that this is just part of something bigger, and soon matriarch Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is forced to face long-standing, deep-rooted fear and trauma.

PROS

  • Following Get Out, director/screenwriter Jordan Peele cements his status as a real talent to look out for. His direction here is very nuanced and meticulous, and his screenwriting feels fresh and different, as he presents a wonderful blend of character driven drama, unsettling horror, slow-burn tension and engages with themes of paranoia and idolatry, while he also pens some clever and altogether very amusing gags here and there.
  • An outstanding cast, with Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex brilliantly contrasting their dual-roles, with Nyong’o being especially nuanced and rich in raw emotion, Duke being authoritative while also hitting great comedic notes, and Joseph and Alex showing themselves to be two great young talents. They are supported especially well by Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker (I will say no more for risk of spoilers).
  • Outstandingly detailed work by the make-up department, who use fake blood magnificently to create some truly vivid imagery that one will certainly not be forgetting in a hurry.
  • Terrific cinematography by Mike Gioulakis, who utilises the nighttime setting that makes up the bulk of the narrative to elevate the eerie sense of darkness to the narrative, although his skills are most visible in a creepy, tense hall of mirrors sequence at the start.

CONS

  • Jordan Peele does utilise humour just a little too often, which on one or two occasions does break tension and a couple of the slapstick gags especially are predictable.
  • Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker’s roles in the narrative do end slightly abruptly and one does feel that they could have had just a few more minutes of screen time (again, I cannot say more than this for risk of spoilers).

VERDICT: 8/10

FILM: Cheaper by the Dozen (1950, Walter Lang)

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Distributed by 20th Century Fox, family comedy-drama Cheaper by the Dozen is based on the memoir by two of the twelve Gilbreth children. The film tells the story of the Gilbreth family – parents Frank (Clifton Webb) and Lillian (Myrna Loy) and their twelve children – of New Jersey in the early 1920s, the challenges that the parents face and the meticulous, mathematically brilliant Frank coming to terms with the older children coming into adulthood.

PROS

  • A well-realised, realistic depiction of a family, as siblings clash but ultimately show their love for each other, parents have to come to terms with the fact that their children are growing up and the efforts to maintain a steady and non-chaotic home life.
  • Clifton Webb portrays Frank’s meticulous tendencies and eccentricities well with some real quirkiness, while Myrna Loy conveys a genuine sense of maternal warmth.

CONS

  • A very episodic narrative that has multiple underdeveloped events crammed into 85 minutes, but ironically these events often have a very slow, dreary pace that fails to make the familial dynamic in the house interesting, engaging or even just different.
  • Some very daft, repetitive gags that for the most part miss the mark, the only one that hits the mark being a slapstick gag quite early on in the film.
  • Most of the children are little more than extras and, while none of them give strong performances, one must question whether they could have given good performances had they had more screen or better material to work with.
  • While Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy are good individually, the two lack chemistry with each other and their shared scenes resultantly drag.

VERDICT: 4/10

TELEVISION: Pokémon the Series: Black & White (2010-2013)

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Pokémon the Series: Black & White is an anime series, the sequel series to Pokémon the Series: Diamond and Pearl, and originally aired on TV Tokyo in Japan with 142 episodes, before being dubbed into English. Following his journey in Sinnoh, Ash (Sarah Natochenny) heads to the Unova region. There he is joined on his journey by aspiring Dragon Master Iris (Eileen Stevens) and Pokémon Connoisseur Cilan (Jason Griffith). Together they travel round the region, catching new Pokémon, entering tournaments, battling rivals, while Ash battles Gyms with the aim of winning the Unova League. Things are further complicated as they face threats from the Team Rocket trio (who have once again followed Ash), as well as Team Plasma.

PROS

  • Several good new characters are introduced, such as Iris’s Axew (Kayzie Rogers), Ash’s Oshawott (Lisa Ortiz), Scraggy (Jason Griffith), Pignite and Krookodile (both Marc Thompson) and Cilan’s Pansage (Eli James). Meanwhile, Dawn (Emily Jenness) and Ash’s Charizard (Shin’ichirō Miki) both have good returns.
  • Crisp and colourful animation that has a real vibrancy to it, particularly in the battles, while there is far more background detail than previous seasons, most notably in stadium crowds.

CONS

  • The narrative is very, very rushed with far too many ideas packed into too few episodes. This is most obvious in the middle 55 episodes, which include three ongoing Team Rocket plots, two ongoing tournaments, multiple rival stories and five Gym battles.
  • Many new characters are introduced (including nine new Pokémon for Ash), the majority of whom are very poorly realised. Iris and Cilan are two weak protagonists, the former being highly irritating, the latter ultimately serving little purpose to the narrative. Many of Ash’s new Pokémon are highly underused, while Ash is dumbed down A LOT and is frankly a joke of a protagonist compared to previous sagas of the anime.
  • Many of the worst Gym battles throughout the anime’s run happened in this saga, as does the worst regional League of the lot. Furthermore, the rushed nature of the series becomes most apparent when we are given the frankly awful and pointless Decolore Islands filler arc.

VERDICT: 3/10

FILM: The White Crow (2018, Ralph Fiennes)

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Biopic The White Crow is distributed by StudioCanal, following its premiere at the 2018 Telluride Film Festival. The film tells the true story of Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko), who came from poverty to become one of the finest young ballet dancers of the early 1960s, only for his entire life to change when in Paris for a series of performances.

PROS

  • Spectacularly choreographed ballet sequences, which cinematographer Mike Eley frames very well to convey the grace and precise skill of great ballet.
  • Mike Eley uses low saturated colours that give a really sombre, cold visual style to the film, reflecting just how cold and bleak Nureyev’s life ultimately is.

CONS

  • A disjointed, non-linear narrative that feels more like a tick-list of Nureyev’s life than an actual exploration of his story, the final result feeling impersonal, somewhat forced and quite drab and dreary.
  • Mike Eley films in black-and-white with splashes of colour for Nureyev’s childhood flashbacks, but those splashes of colour end up being quite distracting, as does the fact that the aspect ratio changes as well.
  • An altogether underwhelming cast, whose performances are dreary and, in many cases, wooden and bland. The most notable example is Oleg Ivenko. While the quality of his leading turn improves in the final 20 minutes or so, for the majority of the film his line delivery is forced, despite his dancing being excellent.

VERDICT: 4/10

TELEVISION: Luther (2010-2013, 2015-2019)

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British crime drama Luther originally aired on BBC One for 14 episodes, before having a 6 episode revival. DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) works for the Serious Crime Unit, a job which sees him investigating the most horrific crimes in London. A dedicated officer with an occasionally violent temper and some unorthodox methods, he ultimately finds himself consumed by the darkness of the crimes that he investigates, while matters are further complicated for him by his unique relationship with the psychopathic Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson).

PROS

  • Each series focuses on one case and, in doing so, crafts a very dark puzzle that the viewer pieces together with Luther, while also building suspense extraordinarily well as we are left wondering how long the perpetrator will avoid arrest for.
  • A dark, gritty visual style with even the daytime exterior scenes being overcast, emphasising just how dark and bleak Luther’s entire world has ultimately become, while the cinematography department make outstanding use of shadows in interior scenes.
  • Idris Elba is an outstanding lead, giving a truly intense performance as the troubled DCI that is rich in raw emotion and makes Luther a captivating character to watch. He is backed by a terrific supporting cast, the true star of which is Ruth Wilson’s fascinatingly unhinged turn as Alice, with Wilson having a wonderfully unique chemistry with Elba.
  • Outstanding work by the make-up department, who use fake blood with vivid effect to create the injury detail, gore and horrifically maimed dead bodies that inevitably comes up during cases.

CONS

  • The fact that the series received a perfect ending in 2013 only to be revived unnecessarily two years later implies that creator and screenwriter Neil Cross was not wholly confident or satisfied in what he had created.
  • While the revived run had some great moments, it nevertheless is weaker than the original run thanks to a very convenient, rushed kick-off, some retcons and twists that would be right at home in a soap opera and an absence of some of the strongest supporting characters.

VERDICT: 8/10