PREVIEW: May 2022

Another month has come and gone, and a busy one approaches. April saw a good amount of content, including Post 1,500 with my review of The Green Knight. May is going to be busy, but I will strive to get as much content as possible published, including reviews of recent releases Downton Abbey: A New Era, The Northman and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. I have a number of cinema trips lined up for May, including The Bob’s Burgers Movie, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Everything Everywhere All at Once, Father Stu, Firestarter and Top Gun: Maverick. I will also get more in my series of Apprentice posts written – only 9 left to go, so I might manage to finish them this month (although that is unlikely).

Thank you as always for visiting this blog, and for the month ahead I of course wish you good health and Happy Reading!

Top 10 Films of 2021

Well, all of the Awards’ favourites of 2021 have played in UK cinemas now, and four months into 2022 I think it is time to make my Top 10 films of 2021 list. These are my critical Top 10, and not necessarily a reflection of the 2021 films that I enjoyed the most. It was a hard list to make, as there are a number of films I would have loved to put on it, including Belfast, CODA, Last Night in Soho, The Novice and The Worst Person in the World, but alas not. That can only be a good thing though, as they were great films, but there are 10 that are even better, so here we go…

10. Mass (Dir. Fran Kanz)

Easily one of the most topical films of 2021, it was a brave risk by Fran Kanz to make a film about a mass shooting in a school, but the risk really does pay off! Rather than depicting the shooting itself, he depicts two sets of parents whose lives were changed forever that day meeting six years later to discuss the events and find closure. It is an incredibly poignant and intense film that examines the long-term impact of such a tragedy upon the families of those involved, both perpetrator and victim, and is primarily a four-hander between an outstanding central cast who bring incredible raw emotion to the screen.

9. Drive My Car (Dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi)

The 3-hour-long runtime does not stop this from being a consistently engaging film from Japan, thanks in no small part to Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s nuanced and slow-burn approach to a character-focused narrative. Featuring an outstanding cast led wonderfully by Hidetoshi Nishijima, this film is simultaneously two things. On the one hand it is a powerful exploration of the long-term effects of bereavement and the difficulties in coming to terms with past hurt, and also a wonderful celebration of how the arts transcend nation, culture and generation alike through the very clever concept of a multi-lingual production of Uncle Vanya.

8. The Green Knight (Dir. David Lowery)

If you have seen A Ghost Story then it shall come as no surprise that David Lowery once again proved himself to be a master of slow-burn narrative and arthouse flair with this gripping take on a 14th Century Arthurian poem, which boasts a rich colour palette and stunning designs. A very atmospheric piece of cinema with a very well-executed sense of mystery, with a wonderful sense of fantasy due to the incorporation of (amongst other things) giants, talking animals and ghosts, the gripping narrative features a dual-focus on Gawain’s character arc and his vulnerability in relation to nature, both of which are realised wonderfully by Dev Patel.

7. Dune (Dir. Denis Villeneuve)

The first in a two-part adaptation of Frank Herbert’s epic and game-changing science-fiction, Denis Villeneuve once again proves himself to be one of the best directors working today, as he brings a tremendously deft hand to big scale world-building scenes, more intimate moments between characters and spectacularly choreographed fight scenes alike. The screenwriters do a fantastic job of world-building that is absolutely fascinating, and will especially pay off with Part Two next year, and once again Villeneuve presents us with a visually breath-taking science-fiction, that is complimented tremendously by terrific sound design and mixing.

6. Boiling Point (Dir. Philip Barantini)

A captivating sensory assault of the Uncut Gems ilk, Philip Barantini achieves one of the most gripping films of the year by presenting us with a deftly executed 90-minute-long single take, the non-existence of errors testifying to how well the cast had been directed and the film rehearsed. Featuring a career-best, tour de force performance from Stephen Graham, the down-to-Earth and naturalistic screenplay grapples with issues of addiction, low self-esteem, racism and self-harming, the social realist aesthetics of which are aided by Barantini’s nuanced direction, the naturalistic pacing and Matthew Lewis’s use of a handheld camera. Plus as a foodie, this film certainly made my mouth water.

5. The Power of the Dog (Dir. Jane Campion)

It took 54 years for Thomas Savage’s novel to be adapted to screen, but it was worth the wait, as Jane Campion handles the arc of the four main characters with an incredibly deft hand, bringing real nuance and sensitivity to each of them, giving them all a natural progression and effortlessly interlinking them all. It is primarily a character-driven piece brought to gripping life by the unanimously strong quartet of Benedict Cumberbatch, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst, but also it is a very different take on the Western genre and the forms of masculinity therein, with the exquisite production design evoking the iconography of classic Western films.

4. The Tragedy of Macbeth (Dir. Joel Coen)

The first film on which director/screenwriter Joel Coen did not collaborate with brother Ethan also happens to be one of the best cinematic takes on one of Shakespeare’s most iconic tragedies (Throne of Blood remains number one though). Keeping a very tight focus on characters, magnificently choreographing the fight scenes and having very creative takes on some of the most famous Shakespearean moments, Coen also evokes the spirit of the original dialogue without quoting it verbatim and makes outstanding use of Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in the lead roles. All of this is brought to visually striking life on screen by Bruno Delbonnel’s formalist shot composition and outstanding use of black-and-white.

3. The Souvenir Part II (Dir. Joanna Hogg)

As with the original, this is clearly an incredibly personal film for director/screenwriter Joanna Hogg as she draws upon her own experiences as a young adult in the 1980s. A natural follow-up to the first film, this is a character-driven piece which explores the difficulty of moving on from a toxic relationship and coming to terms with that past pain, which is realised wonderfully by lead actress Honor Swinton Byrne, who gives a captivating and sensitive turn. Furthermore, this film is a wonderful celebration of the art of filmmaking and a love letter to the abilities of the creative arts to bring people together and evoke discussion, brought to life by excellent mumblecore dialogue and gorgeous use of 4:3 film to give the final piece the visual quality of a 1980s’ film.

2. Petite Maman (Dir. Céline Sciamma)

This is a unique film on the list and not just because it is the only French film on this list. Céline Sciamma is no stranger to films about childhood, but never before has she approached a person’s formative years by (beautifully) blending family drama, ghost story, time travel and an exploration of bereavement that is utterly compelling and truly timeless due to its microscopic focus and wonderful sense of childlike innocence. The child actresses are remarkably natural talents, but what has to be praised about this film most of all is the fact that Sciamma adapted wonderfully to France’s lockdown restrictions and did not let those stop her from successfully delivering a nuanced and emotionally impactful piece, not letting a short runtime or small cast hamper that.

1. Flee (Dir. Jonas Poher Rasmussen)

The most unique film on this list also happens to be the most unique film of 2021. Whilst documentaries about refugees have been in considerable number during the last 5 years or so, this one does not concern the refugee crisis of recent years, but instead concerns the experiences of a single refugee and his family during the 1980s and 1990s. It is an utterly compelling piece as the central figure reflects on his childhood and youth experiences over 20 years later, in doing so providing a fascinating exploration of how perspectives on experiences as harrowing as that of the refugee can change with age and life-experience, as well as how difficult it can be for the refugee to adapt to a new society and culture once he or she has asylum. Furthermore, Jonas Poher Rasmussen must be commended for negating the issue of having to protect people’s identities by blending the audios of his interviews with wonderful hand-drawn animation.

2021 may not have been a truly outstanding year for cinema, but this list testifies to the fact that the year still gave us a wonderful variety of outstanding films, despite the issues caused by the pandemic during the production of some of them, for which a plethora of filmmakers have to be praised. Now to see what the rest of 2022 has in store for us, and I cannot wait to write my Top 10 Films of 2022 list, by no later than this date next year!

FILM: The Green Knight (2021, David Lowery)

NOTE: This is Post 1,500 on this blog. Fifteen-hundred posts into blogging here, and I have loved every minute of it.

Based upon the Arthurian poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, medieval fantasy epic The Green Knight is distributed by A24. The mysterious Green Knight (Ralph Ineson) announces a “friendly Christmas game” – a challenger at Camelot who can land a blow upon him will get his mighty axe…but they will have to receive the exact same blow one year hence at his chapel. Young Gawain (Dev Patel), a nephew of King Arthur (Sean Harris) yet otherwise unremarkable, foolishly takes the bait and succeeds. However, as the anniversary approaches he becomes increasingly fearful at what lies ahead for him, but realises that as someone who yearns to be a knight he ultimately has to prove his honour.

PROS

  • In his dual-role as director and screenwriter, David Lowery brings real flair and a unique vision to the film, consistently keeping a firm dual-focus on both Gawain’s character and his weakness and vulnerability in relation to nature.
  • Aided brilliantly by David Lowery’s slow-burn approach and arthouse flair, there is a brilliant sense of mystery to the narrative as it is often unclear for periods of time whether events are happening or if it is Gawain’s imagination, and there are a variety of fantasy tropes and quirks, including giants, talking animals and ghosts.
  • An altogether strong cast (standout supports being Alicia Vikander, Sean Harris and Ralph Ineson), led brilliantly by Dev Patel who has a sense of nobility yet also the necessary air of naivety, and plays Gawain with real intensity.
  • A visually stunning film, partly thanks to the excellent production and costume designs, as well as the unique vision for the Green Knight, and also the breathtaking cinematography by Andrew Droz Palermo, his gauzy (and therefore atmospheric) shots utilising an exquisite colour palette and fitting formalistic style that makes for striking imagery.
  • The sense of mystery and feeling of atmosphere are further elevated by Daniel Hart’s wonderful score, which mixes traditional folk music with occasional oppressive synths, and is altogether gripping to listen to.

CONS

  • A couple of supporting cast members are underused, in particular Barry Keoghan as a Scavenger.
  • The transitions between scenes are occasionally somewhat abrupt and slightly disjointed.

VERDICT: 9/10

Is this the right Avatar franchise?

Yesterday at CinemaCon, the official title for James Cameron’s second Avatar film was finally revealed, and it is…

I have to be honest, when I heard that this film was titled Avatar: The Way of Water, my first thought was that the title would be better suited to a different Avatar franchise, one that had two outstanding cartoon series. You have probably guessed it – The Way of Water, to me, sounds like a third cartoon series within a franchise that began with a series sub-headed The Last Airbender. Of course, being a teenager during the 2000s, for my generation that was the only thing we ever referred to as “Avatar” prior to Cameron’s film being released in December 2009, and my friends and I were forced to start using the sub-heading Last Airbender to differentiate the cartoon series we loved from Cameron’s film.

Now where do I stand on this film? I realise that that is something which I have never spoken about on this blog, so I might as well do so now. In short, I feel that it is a pointless cash-grab. The original film (decent enough, but not great) had a traditional beginning-middle-end narrative, and no loose threads were left behind at the end, so from a narrative perspective it is unnecessary (although there is of course the argument that a sequel could expand the world and lore of Pandora, but given that two characters killed off in the original are returning from the dead I have my scepticisms). Furthermore, the fact that Cameron is hoping to make a further three sequels after this one just makes the whole affair stink of cash-grab. Whilst I do not doubt that Cameron is going to use these sequels to push the boundaries of 3-D technology (as he did with Avatar) and the boundaries of what is possible with visual effects (as he has ever since The Terminator), I just wish that he were striving to do so with an original concept. I will of course see the films, but I have little hope for them where quality is concerned.

TELEVISION: Civil War 360 (2013)

American miniseries Civil War 360 is a three-part documentary on the American Civil War by the Smithsonian Channel. The series provides a wider overview of the conflict, with episode 1 (hosted by Ashley Judd) exploring the Union, episode 2 (hosted by Trace Adkins) exploring the Confederacy, and episode 3 (hosted by Dennis Haysbert) considering what the conflict meant for African-Americans (slaves and free-folk alike).

PROS

  • As well as providing an overview of their specific subject-matters’ experiences during the Civil War itself, each episode also provides a historical context of what led to them being where they were when the war commenced, and a brief epilogue that explored the post-war repercussions for them, which were in some cases complicated by President Lincoln’s assassination – a well-rounded approach indeed.
  • A striking amount of nuance that does not treat the subject-matters as black-and-white, which is especially notable in the Confederacy episode, which explores how many (including Robert E. Lee) fought on that side primarily out of a sense of loyalty to their home States, and how their sense of duty became increasingly begrudging as the war progressed. Both the Confederacy and Union episodes also explore the civilian suffering in those respective States, bringing a greater sense of the poignancy and humanity of it all.
  • A variety of historians bring very interesting expertise to the series and explain their insights in an accessible manner, whilst a plethora of fascinating historical artefacts are shown which bring real nuance and humanity to one of history’s most significant conflicts.
  • Three excellent and engaging hosts, each of whom have a connection to the niche focus of their episode via their ancestry, and all of whom are clearly fascinated by the Civil War’s history and therefore interact very well with the experts whom they discuss things with and the artefacts that they examine.

CONS

  • The episodes are occasionally disjointed, particularly when transitioning from the host addressing the camera or experts explaining something to the re-enactments of historical moments (which inevitably feature bad acting).
  • Given how much is explored/covered in each episode, the episodes do feel constrained (and at times rushed) by an hour’s runtime each.

VERDICT: 8/10

Top 5 Tasks of The Apprentice Series 13

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Continuing my series of Apprentice posts to mark the long-awaited return for the UK Apprentice, it is now time for me to finish revisiting Series 13 of the British Apprentice, a.k.a. the one which (wrongly) had two joint-winners. Originally airing from October-December 2017, the candidates did an initial 10 business-related tasks in their efforts to win Lord Sugar’s £250,000 investment into a 50-50 business partnership. Of those 10, some naturally stood out more than others and were more interesting and (in some cases) entertaining for me. It is worth clarifying that these are my favourite tasks and, before writing on my Top 5, there are some which just missed out, so here are the…

Honourable Mentions

  • Burgers (Task 1): Rule 1 of a food sales task – work out your costings ASAP. Rule 2 of a food sales task – catch the lunchtime rush. The men managed neither of these and made a loss of £187.
  • Stadium Events (Task 4): both teams had to run corporate boxes at Wembley Stadium during the Women’s FA Cup final, and there were great moments such as Harrison singing “My Way” and Jade’s phenomenal sales energy.

5. Healthy Eating (Task 9)

For their penultimate task the teams had to create healthy eating kits and, due to their food-related business plans, Lord Sugar appointed Sarah and Harrison as Graphene and Vitality’s respective PMs. It was a tale of similarities when it came to creating as both PMs came up with good meals (Sarah a salmon risotto and Harrison a chicken curry), but packaging and branding was disastrous for both teams. On Vitality, Joanna and Jade squabbled so much that they did not finish the packaging, leaving Harrison disappointed (as he expected better from them) and Michaela furious; whilst Graphene’s was finished, but their branding was inspired by Crusaders…so many bad historical connotations. The pitch, however, was the game-changer as Harrison delivered an excellent and passionate task-winning pitch, whilst Graphene’s was full of toe-curling amateur dramatics, burnt food and Donald Trump jokes. Easily one of the worst pitches in Apprentice history, and it was hilarious to watch.

4. Bruges Tours (Task 6)

Both teams had to put on tours of the historic city of Bruges for British cruise ship passengers, and this was also the first task with properly mixed-gender teams. Graphene focused on a modern city tour and Harrison came up with the excellent idea of including a chocolate-tasting session (Belgian chocolate is the best in the world after all!), whilst they did some of it on segways. The tour itself was led by PM Elizabeth, who ran a military operation that gave us the hilarious sight of an ever-straight-faced Claude Littner riding a segway. Vitality did a historical tour, into which Andrew decided to incorporate a beer-tasting session (again a great shout!), but when selling tickets he basically sold them a Dickensian stag do – he basically told them that they would get totally inebriated and then get a horse and trap home. Their tour was a disaster on a hilarious magnitude – Charles got them well and truly lost, Anisa struggled with facts and the beer-tasting was only 3 small samples totalling less than 1 pint. It was a hilarious tour full of facepalm moments, and it was no surprise that Vitality lost after multiple customers demanded refunds.

3. Robots (Task 3)

Lord Sugar is a technology man, he has been since before any of the Series 13 candidates were even born, so he often sets a tech-related task, and this year he went with the huge growth market of robots. With the men having lost the first 2 tasks, he moved Michaela over to knock them into shape (due to her having 4 younger brothers). She was a good PM in fairness…but she made fundamental errors. Vitality were on to a loser by programming their robot to be “a helping hand for life” to the elderly, but even after it had been programmed to be “Jeffrii”, she went with calling it “Siimon”, not realising that it could not be reprogrammed in time for the pitches, plus the advertising board she made for them was full of typos and grammatical errors. With their educational robot “eBot”, Jade did a great job of leading Graphene, but by jove did that team quarrel throughout the task and bring serious egos to said quarrels. However, their far superior robot won the day by a country mile, leaving Vitality gobsmacked that they could lose so badly to a team which was so dysfunctional.

2. Car Marketing (Task 7)

Lord Sugar has considered himself a marketing man for decades as he has played a key role in the advertising campaigns for a number of his products, and this has historically been one of his favourite tasks. For Series 13 both teams had to brand a car and create a marketing campaign for it. Led very well by Michaela, Vitality came up with the name “Miami” and targeted the 18-35 market with their advertising. Whilst there was a lack of synergy between their digital posters and their 30-second-long advert, the latter was storyboarded and directed brilliantly by Jade, the one problem being the inclusion of the word “Fast”. I had to commend Michaela for facing her nerves over pitching and leading the pitch to industry experts, and she did a very good job, hence I felt so bad for her when Anisa agreed with their concerns. Graphene targeted families with “Expando”, and their commercial and posters had even less synergy than Vitality’s, after a muddle-up led to PM James choosing a recreation of a Norman village for them to shoot in. It led to a hilariously bad advert, which director Sajan could not convincingly defend, and the edit of which Elizabeth took over. It was a hilarious advert for all the wrong reasons and did not sell the concept of a family car, so it was no surprise when Graphene lost.

1. Birthday Discount Buying (Task 5)

The discount buying task is always a highlight whenever it is done on The Apprentice (in the first 15 UK series it featured 13 times), and Series 13’s one was no exception. It had a totally different twist to usual as, to mark Lord Sugar’s recent 70th birthday, all 9 of the items were in some way related to his life story, milestone birthday or business ventures – including an Amstrad computer, scarlet doeskin and an item from 1947. It was a tale of two opposites where the teams were concerned. Vitality negotiated better discounts, but failed to get the high-price items and resultantly got vast amounts of fines – plus there was an amusement factor in seeing Harrison’s hair get more unkempt as the task progressed. Joanna (who was on very thin ice with Lord Sugar) led Graphene with great organisation and successfully found all 9 items, although several of the items were purchased for higher prices than Vitality managed, plus there was a wholesome moment when James developed a good working relationship with a Jewish baker in the East End – but getting all of the items meant Joanna took a gamble and they were late to the task’s finish line, thereby incurring a fine. However, Graphene’s superior performance on the task meant that (even with the late fine and more money having been spent on items) they still won by nearly £100 – a great example of Lord Sugar’s philosophy that it is always worth taking risks in business.

Top 5 Candidates of The Celebrity Apprentice Season 7

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Continuing my series of Apprentice posts to mark the long-awaited return of the UK Apprentice, it is now time for me to revisit Season 7 of the American Celebrity Apprentice, a.k.a. the final season with the Trumps, Apprentice legend George Ross, Piers Morgan, “receptionist” Amanda, elevator operator Adrian and the late, great Joan Rivers (who sadly passed away during the several month gap between filming wrapping up and the season airing). Originally airing from January-February 2015, 16 celebrities entered to win money for the charities of their choice – each task would result in a minimum of $20,000 being donated to the winning Project Manager’s charity. Of those 16, some naturally stood out more than others and with presences that I liked more than others. It is worth clarifying that these are my favourite competitors rather than those who did best (or showed the most competency). Before writing on my Top 5, there are some who just missed out, so here are the…

Honourable Mentions

The season opening, featuring all 16 celebrity competitors.

5. Vivica A. Fox – Actress (3rd)

Celebrity Apprentice candidates have been known to engage in feuds over the years, but one of the most fiery was Vivica A. Fox’s with Kenya Moore and, given how spiteful and two-faced the latter was, I felt Vivica was rather restrained, though by jove did she fight her corner, but at least she was upfront and straight about her opinions! As somebody who has always considered the Real Housewives franchise to be pointless, I also saw the logic in her point to Kenya that she had worked hard over a number of years to be famous (the implication being that Kenya had not due to being a “Real Housewife”). Regardless of this feud though, Vivica made for good viewing as she brought real passion to her work and put in the hard graft, which made her engaging viewing and an asset to her teams, plus she was a good fundraiser too. Furthermore, despite being a fighter, I respected her honesty and integrity – when it came to determining which two should be the final, she admitted that Leeza Gibbons and Geraldo Rivera were stronger competitors who deserved to be in the final far more than she did. Not strategic on her part, but I cannot praise her enough for showing such honesty on what was ultimately a competition.

4. Gilbert Gottfried – Comedian (14th)

Nobody who was fired so early on in the competition has ever made the Top 5 before in this series of Apprentice posts, but this is a favourites list and, as such, Gilbert Gottfried absolutely deserved a place on this list. From the offset he was wisecracking at every last opportunity, at the expense of his teammates and Trump alike – he even fondly addressed Trump as “Mein Fuhrer”, to which an amused Trump replied that only Gilbert could say that. Unfortunately, his lack of filter cost him, as crude jokes in a presentation on Task 3 was a key reason for his team losing and Gilbert being fired, but by that point he had already made his mark, not only because he was hilarious, but also because he was very effective on the first task – he brought in a lot of money for their fundraising efforts and also drew in a crowd by bringing in a number of friends, including Laurel and Hardy lookalikes and a fire-swallower. Gilbert’s presence was missed after his firing, when comic relief was far more needed due to constant clashes between competitors, and when he sadly died 2 weeks ago I thought about his Celebrity Apprentice stint and realised just how fondly I remembered it. To see just how hilarious it was, watch the compilation video below.

3. Ian Ziering – Actor (6th)

A rare occasion in the mid-2010s where Ian Ziering did not come with a Sharknado, he became a favourite early on in the competition. Ian astutely realised why Geraldo Rivera had difficulty working with others during the first task and he did not like the news icon much, but unlike others did not let that cloud his judgement – he did not approve of Kevin Jonas’s attempts to get him to gang up on Geraldo in the boardroom, and later admitted that he considered the news icon his toughest competition. Trump recognised early on that Ian and Geraldo were the two best fundraisers in the process, and (despite his faults) the actor recognised that this whole process was to raise money for charity and embodied that charitable spirit. He and Geraldo were rival-PMs on a fundraising task and agreed that each PM could keep their team’s takings when Trump gave them that offer – as such both he and Geraldo got $300,000 for their respective causes (of which Ian raised $164,000 single-handedly), and we saw how philanthropic his mindset truly was. What made Ian especially interesting and entertaining viewing, however, was the fact that (despite over 30 years in showbiz) he struggled with the creative aspects of tasks. Notably in Task 10 he came up with dreadful slogans for King’s Hawaiian (Brandi Glanville rightly described his ideas as being stuck in the 1980s), and in Task 11 he put a jingle to the tune of La Cucaracha and could not get his head around his teammates, Trump and Joan Rivers’s objections to it or their arguments that he was committing plagiarism. That made for great entertainment, particularly as he tried in vain to defend it in the final boardroom.

2. Leeza Gibbons – TV Host (Winner)

It came as no surprise when Leeza Gibbons made it to the final – by that point it had been 11 tasks of watching her be an invaluable asset to her teams who Trump and her teammates all loved and respected. Leeza was a very calm and mature presence that was a breath of fresh air on this season of Celebrity Apprentice due to there being more competitors getting into arguments than on any previous season, and she also treated everyone with respect and warmth, for which everyone respected and liked her. As well as a fantastic contributor on all tasks (8/11 of which she won), Leeza was a highly organised and natural leader who brought a wealth of wisdom and experience to each task, winning as PM on Tasks 7 and 11, both of which were advertising-related tasks that she led on with kindness. On the second of those she achieved an Apprentice (of any iteration) first – on advertising/branding/marketing tasks, even the winning team will have aspects of their work criticised, but her jingle for Budweiser did not even get nitpicked, let alone criticised, the executives from Budweiser and Trump/his boardroom advisors alike having overwhelming praise for Leeza and her team. Furthermore, Leeza was the third most effective on fundraising tasks after only Geraldo Rivera and Ian Ziering, but raised far more than Geraldo when they went head-to-head in the final. It was therefore no surprise that she became the final Celebrity Apprentice winner whom Trump crowned – a truly worthy winner!

1. Geraldo Rivera – News Icon (Runner-up)

The eldest competitor by 12 years, Geraldo Rivera brought a wealth of experience and wisdom to the tasks, and was a real asset to his team – despite losing Tasks 6-10, at no point was he ever in danger of being fired, nor did Trump seem willing to really consider the possibility of firing him. The eventual runner-up became my favourite candidate of the season as he a) was entertaining, b) had an interesting impact on team dynamics, and c) most importantly got the charitable spirit of the competition – let’s take these one at a time. A) Entertainment value. His expressiveness and subtle theatricality made Geraldo very entertaining and surprisingly charming to watch – it also came as a slight surprise when a man who did press coverage of the Iraq War got squeamish at the mention of menopause. B) Team dynamics. It became apparent early on that Geraldo had difficulty working with others, which Ian Ziering astutely pinpointed to the fact that he had essentially been doing things his own way for 30+ years, yet despite rubbing others up the wrong way, almost everyone respected him because of the wisdom and experience he brought, which was very interesting to watch. C) Charitable spirit. Geraldo may have lost 7/11 tasks, but he won 2 as PM and they were both fundraising tasks on which he was the most effective fundraiser, bringing in a total of $580,000 for Life’s WORC. Furthermore, he agreed with rival-PM Ian before the results of that second fundraising task were announced that they could each keep their earnings, meaning that Ian got $300,000 for his charity that he would not have otherwise. Leeza definitely deserved the win, but Geraldo absolutely deserved to be a finalist for his efficient fundraising abilities and the fact that he really embodied the charitable spirit and focus of the competition more than most other candidates did.

TELEVISION: Open All Hours (1976-1985)

British BBC sitcom Open All Hours aired for 25 episodes and is a sequel/follow-up to one of the segments from Ronnie Barker’s Seven of One. Set in small-town Yorkshire, miserly grocer Arkwright (Ronnie Barker) has a knack for selling and frustrating his put-upon nephew and errand boy Granville (David Jason). More than anything though, he longs to marry neighbour Nurse Gladys Emmanuel (Lynda Baron).

PROS

  • A stellar lead cast who have excellent chemistry that makes their dynamic all the more engaging, whilst also making their characters unique and memorable. David Jason is very expressive and has good energy as Granville; Lynda Baron is authoritative and firm, yet also very warm as Gladys; whilst Ronnie Barker steals the show as Arkwright, with sharp comic timing and delivery, and never making the character’s stutter feel exaggerated or stereotypical.
  • Generally witty screenwriting by creator Roy Clarke, whose writing is at its strongest with Arkwright’s natural and often hilarious salesmanship, as well as his miserliness, the sense of smugness Granville has whenever he gets one over on his uncle/boss, and in his creating a sense of a small, local community. He also somehow manages to make a running gag around an aggressive old till quite amusing.
  • Good production design gives Arkwright’s shop a sense of authenticity as it feels like the type of small town grocers/local shops that could be spotted in British films and television series of the preceding 15-20 years set in the working-class North, whilst it is always interesting to look at the smaller details regarding heavily-featured items and “offers”.

CONS

  • A number of customers appear in multiple episodes but receive minimal characterisation and really just serve to perpetuate age-old stereotypes of the grocer’s customers.
  • The running jokes around Granville being put-upon and the recurring notion that he is still a boy feel increasingly less plausible as the series progresses, particularly in Series 3-4 where he visibly looks aged 35+.
  • Whilst their chemistry is good, Arkwright and Gladys’s dynamic receives minimal development until some revelations are made in the latter part of the series’ run which feel implausible.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: The Outfit (2022, Graham Moore)

Following its premiere at the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival, gangster film The Outfit is distributed by Focus Features. In mid-1950s Chicago, English immigrant Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance) runs a bespoke tailor’s shop, which the Boyles (an Irish mob family) use as a stash house for dirty money – an arrangement which Leonard is content with as they are by far his best customers. One night, however, Ritchie Boyle (Dylan O’Brien) is dragged into Leonard’s shop, wounded from a shoot-out with rival criminal family the LaFontaines, which kicks off a chain of events which will change the lives of both families, as well as Leonard and his receptionist Mable (Zoey Deutch) forever.

PROS

  • Graham Moore crafts suspense very well and keeps the film’s focus first and foremost on characters, giving us reasons to feel invested in Leonard and the Boyles alike. He also makes excellent use of the dimly-lit interior set of the shop throughout, giving the film the intimate and at times claustrophobic feel of a stage play.
  • Graham Moore and Jonathan McClain pen a gritty, intense and at times quite poignant screenplay, and whilst a little too reliant on gangster genre clichés at times, they do cleverly subvert our expectations (established by a rich cinematic history) in several scenes by playing with clichés and formulas, all whilst also celebrating the precise art and beauty of tailoring
  • A solid cast, led wonderfully by the ever-dependable Mark Rylance, who brings great nuance to his portrayal of an complex and ultimately vulnerable man, whilst Johnny Flynn, Dylan O’Brien and Simon Russell Beale provide stellar and intense support.
  • Handsome production and costume designs give the film a good sense of period authenticity, whilst cinematographer Dick Pope makes sublime use of shadows and low lighting to increase the darkness and intensity, and good close-up shots of vivid injuries.

CONS

  • At times the narrative does get quite predictable as some scenes rely far more on gangster genre clichés than others, and in some of those scenes rely too much upon them.
  • Some of the supporting cast do get underused and their performances, whilst good, are forgettable, including Nikki Amuka-Bird and Alan Mehdizadeh.
  • Obvious inconsistency, re. injury details – Ritchie’s initial injury (which has both entry and exit wounds) uses little fake blood, whilst all subsequent wounds use considerable amounts.

VERDICT: 7/10

FILM: Operation Mincemeat (2021, John Madden)

Historical film Operation Mincemeat is distributed by Warner Bros., following its premiere at the 2021 British Film Festival in Australia. The film tells the true story of Operation Mincemeat and the events surrounding it. The titular operation was a deception effort by Naval Intelligence to trick the Nazis, so that the Allied Invasion of Sicily in 1943 could be a success.

PROS

  • Michelle Ashford’s screenplay provides a detailed recreation of the operation and surrounding events, which is made more compelling by John Madden’s often intense direction.
  • An altogether good (if in some cases slightly underused cast), led by the ever-dependable Colin Firth and intense Matthew Macfadyen.
  • A handsome film with detailed period production and costume design, whilst cinematographer Thomas Newman makes excellent use of low lighting and shadows.

CONS

  • At times the direction and dialogue are unnecessarily camp or theatrical (or both), and unsuitably so given the subject-matter.
  • A very rare weak turn from Kelly Macdonald whose delivery is quite wooden and tries unsuccessfully to conceal her Scottish accent.

VERDICT: 7/10