Netflix Review: “Disappearance at Clifton Hill” (2020)

Disappearance at Clifton Hill follows a troubled young woman whose return to her hometown at Niagara Falls triggers a disturbing memory from her childhood. Did her seven year old self really witness a child’s kidnapping all those years ago, or is it all just a confused memory, or a fantasy?

Tuppence Middleton gives a convincing performance of unbalanced, charismatic, driven loner Abby. I was captivated, totally believing that she is capable of all the deviousness she gets up to. The other cast members are also good, the film-stealing turn coming from director-turned-actor David Cronenberg (yes, the same). Unfortunately, the important role of the Moulins (Paulino Nunes and Marie-Josée Croze) seemed like a side of overdone eggs with extra ham. The sound design was unsettling and was key to the eerie, almost surreal and dream-like atmosphere of the film.

The film was a little bit tricky to follow, especially at the beginning, and the ending felt like it needed a more distinct underlining. But that was befitting a picture which left such a powerful impression but at times failed to make a sharp impact. None-the-less, I was along for the ride.

A wonderful portrait of a lonely woman in a town of lonely souls, Disappearance at Clifton Hill sometimes lacked edge and at times veered off into crime series territory (in terms of acting, story, soundtrack), but it was an enjoyable and engrossing ride — albeit too slow-going for some viewers.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E10 #BritBox @BritBox_UK

originally posted at www.moviereviewsblog.com

Recent episodes of Spitting Image have been a bit weak. Would the season finale arrest this decline, or are we locked in a death spiral?

Episode 10 had the usual mix of running sketches and references to that week’s news events. This week, Priti Patel’s bullying came up. Boris Johnson compares it to his Eton shenanigans and declares Patel’s behaviour “harmless banter”. The whole cabinet then proceed to “banter” Hancock by physically abusing him while victim Hancock proclaims, “I’m part of the gang”. Probably the best scenes of the episode. Satirical, references current events, and the surreal elements had some basis in truth (Priti Patel “deporting” a succulent plant out the window for being “foreign”).

There were many other funny moments, too. Barack Obama was portrayed as a money-grubbing, corrupt, shyster who only cares about selling his book. Great to see a hero of the liberal-left satirised. Harry Styles tries to be macho but just keeps getting camper, which made me laugh. And Taylor Swift was portrayed as vacuous and basing everything on market research. The runner Mike Pence’s Fairytales for White Folk was actually funny this week, almost makes me regret that we won’t likely be seeing it again. Fox Man Starmer was also back, and as usual he isn’t so much “forensic” as he is a tedious law bore. None of this was razor sharp, but it was all diverting satire with surreal and grotesque streaks running through it.

The satire was indeed more on-point than during most of the series. A great example of this was the satire of Amazon, referencing absurd over-packaging of items and its almost creepy invasiveness. So much funnier than all that nonsense with Bezos on Mars from previous episodes.

There were a few clangers, though. Bezos’s girlfriend’s puppet looks exactly like a whitewashed Megan Markle puppet. This was weirdly distracting. The song number was once again unfunny. And there were a few sketches that went on a bit long.

None-the-less, Episode 10 was a stronger outing than in recent weeks, a decent end to the season. Just nudges a three.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E9 #BritBox @BritBox_UK

originally posted at www.moviereviewsblog.com

Spitting Image Episode 9 continues with the rhythm it found in the last outing, running sketches interspersed with satirical takes on the news of the week, and it was characterised by the same growing confidence in its own material.

As for the “news of the week” stuff, we saw Cummings get sacked. This was a diverting if not totally amusing section. There was also a return of Trump and his launch of Trump TV. Again, hardly side-splitting, but it was good to see the best character in the show back again. We also also saw Matt Hancock give an interview on Good Morning Britain, an event whose significance, such as it was, has already been forgotten by society. None-the-less, vaguely interesting but hardly amusing.

The episode was characterised, as so often during this first season, by frankly unforgivably lazy writing. The Mars stuff, where we see Bezos, Musk, and Branson trapped on the Red Planet and passing the time by blazing the days away, is as unfunny and pointless as ever. The addition of Oprah showing up as she “has houses everywhere… even on Mars” was not in the slightest funny. Joe Wicks rears his head again only to be (once again) splatted by a frying pan. This running sketch is so forgettable that I have no idea why the writers keep doing them. But the pièce de la resistance of awful and lazy writing was the treatment of Nicola Sturgeon. I am no fan of Sturgeon or the SNP, so I was yearning for some good quality satire here, but this was truly dire stuff. The accent and mannerism was all off, the jokes was bizarrely lazy. I mean, “Glasgow kiss”? Seriously. But the worst sin of all, the puppet was really poor. This show has phenomenal puppets, and it is a puppet show, so this was just shocking in its general direness. The worst part of this sketch? It has actually made me take the SNP’s side in a debate: this was lazy and vaguely racist, poor quality nonsense from the Spitting Image team.

But it wasn’t all boring or lazy or unfunny. Jurgen Klopp once again amuses, starring opposite Idris Elba in a new section called “Good Klopp Bad Cop”. I didn’t need to reach for the needle and thread, but despite the lack of split sides I did at least smile along. The life of the modern rock star mockumentary sketch was overlong, but still quite snort-worthy if not full-on laugh-worthy. The joke was summarised, “Modern pop stars: focused, middle class, and tedious”. David Attenborough’s further tech fails did actually make me laugh, as did a scene with Ronaldo as a fat pub landlord: the line “Mini Frazzles… but enough about your dick” made me chuckle. And Ru Paul’s Pope Race was actually very funny, I can’t deny. To top it off, there was another “comedy” song which, although not funny, was for the first time this season not totally awful.

Despite some good moments, Episode 9 was still fairly poor quality. I’m even more convinced of what I said in my Episode 4 reviewSpitting Image Season One will be best viewed as a 24 minute viral video compilation of its best bits.

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

Reference: https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/entertainment/nicola-sturgeon-spitting-image-puppet-23061793

featured image from https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/entertainment/nicola-sturgeon-spitting-image-puppet-23061793

BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E8 #BritBox @BritBox_UK

Spitting Image Episode Eight saw the show begin to get into the swing of things. With its running sketches, such as Govey in Paris and the Bond auditions, this felt like a show that was finally finding its rhythm. Sadly, it’s not a hugely funny rhythm.

The anthropomorphised Coronavirus “Coronie” is back again. He’s depressed because of the vaccine, but gets a pep talk from the Flu who tells him that Chicken Pox isn’t down in the dumps so why should he be? So Coronie vows to “mutate with the times”. Uninspiring stuff, but at least it has surrealism to make it borderline diverting. Something that cannot be said of our inane Bezos-Musk-Branson storyline featuring the three entrepreneurs trapped on Mars and getting high as kites. This is as unfunny as ever.

Biden comes face-to-face with the Illuminati which is comprised of underused puppets created for the show, one of which is Piers Morgan. But really, Morgan is that influential? Having him as a main member of the Illuminati could only be motivated by a desire to flatter the real Morgan’s huge ego in order to get air time on GMB. Weird stuff.

But it wasn’t all dire.

Harry and Megan made a return. It’s still the same joke: he’s a clueless put-upon prat and she’s a power and fame hungry C lister who’ll stoop to anything to get breaks. None-the-less, it’s amusing. A rather amusingly well-delivered line from Harry was, “Either I’m an idiot, or you’re the greatest actress of all time”, to which she responds “Oh, Hairr-brains, that’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said”. As much as I’ve been doing down this show over the last few episodes, that exchange genuinely made me chortle, and it was also refreshingly humanising of these two individuals.

The spoof of Tarantino was completely straight-forward and predictable but none-the-less reasonably amusing.

BoJo was shown as beholden to public opinion and willing to flip-flop at the drop of the hat if the people, that is, Marcus Rashford, will it. This was quite amusing, and I shared an online clip of this segment, such was my amusement.

Idris Elba‘s “smoulder” was back, and pretty amusing. The best bit of the episode, really, all five seconds of it. And there was some mockery of Gwyneth Paltrow‘s new age nonsense, which also amused. The James Corden impersonation is still shockingly accurate, hard to believe it isn’t actually him. Seeing Corden get hit around the head with a club by Tiger Woods was satisfying and amusing, but it was hardly great satire.

Amusing. Yes. “Amusing” is the word. Much of this episode was amusing, some of it raised a smile, but none of it made me laugh out loud as moments from previous episodes did. Therefore, even though it was more solid than Episode Seven, it has no real stand-out comedy moment unlike last week’s outing. Although there was an exceptional stand-out bit of surrealism where Kanye West takes to rearing GMed cattle which are designed to grow trainers instead of hooves which he then just snips off and sells…

Spitting Image seems to be finding a rhythm, finally, and growing in self-confidence, but it is still uninspired and lazy, lacking in bite, edge, or even good jokes.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E7 #BritBox @BritBox_UK

originally published at www.moviereviewsblog.com

Spitting Image Episode Seven was the first to come out after the US Presidential results. So it was sure to be heavy on the Biden-Trump satire, and Trump was certain to get a right marionetting. I was looking forward to it.

Trump’s distended arsehole (no, yes) is still as shockingly funny as ever, really inspired toilet humour. Other toilet humour, such as a piss-exploding corgi, was good, albeit a bit senseless. We saw more of Keir Starmer’s superhero alter ego Foxman, which amused, and Vladimir Putin definitely doesn’t give James Corden a plutonium-laced death kiss — which was satisfying. Glad to see I’m not the only one who seethes with hatred (and jealousy?) whenever Corden comes on the screen.

Sadly, these good moments were few and very far between in a rather arid outing.

Dominic Cummings began the series as one of the best characters, but now his alien schtick is getting very old. None-the-less, the “head pulse” is still hypnotic and amusing. The “New James Bond Auditions” sketch, which has become a runner, is a potentially great idea — such a shame that it hasn’t been particularly funny.

The satire, such as it is, goes downhill from this point on.

Trump talking about having a big penis, Prince Andrew getting hit around the head (again), and Her Majesty with a mouth like a Tommy in the Trenches (Why? How does this even make sense?) were particular lowlights. The whole foul-mouthed Queen stuff took up significant screen time, as well. But we hadn’t quite reached rock bottom yet. That was “achieved” with not one, but two very unfunny and painful to watch/listen to “comedy” song numbers: the first, based on the decades-old skit idea of coming up with a new Bond theme tune, the second, on the potentially fruitful topic of euthanasia. Potential for laughs, sure, but the numbers were atrocious. As I’ve said before, the writers either need to knock these so-called “comedy” songs on the head, or else hire someone who can actually write funny music. Awful stuff.

The worst thing about this episode, given it came out after the US Presidential Elections results came in, was that it was distinctly light on current news or satire or reference to the election. Very disappointing.

I’m not sure that this show is getting better as it goes on. Scrapes a two. Sad.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E6: US Election Special Part II #BRITBOX @BRITBOX_UK

check out my film and series review blog here

Spitting Image‘s sixth episode saw a return to Megan and Harry, the start of what looks like a running sketch (new James Bong auditions), and more of Richard Branson’s deluded ramblings that he’s still relevant.

BoJo’s audition to be Bond was an amusing bit, I can’t deny. Perhaps this sketch really could be a runner and a great addition to the series. Let’s see how they use this audition set-up.

We saw Megan Markle release — what else? — a cosmetics range of her own. In a truly grotesque moment, we see that her range features a bottle that squirts the liquid out of an orifice shaped like a lady’s part: inspired toilet humour and satire. The puppets really sell it.

Bezos, Musk and Branson duke it out to be the first to land on Mars. This was fairly topical, which was good, but it was fairly unfunny, too, which was bad. The less of this boring triumvirate the better.

Jo Biden gets confused and starts working in a diner: this was amusing stuff. Although, once again, cutting edge it was not. What point were they making other than that Biden seems to get easily confused?

Generally, episode six was underwhelming. It was far weaker than episode five. And weirdly for a “US Election Special”, there was very little US election in it. A bit of a let down.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E5: US Election Special Part I #BritBox @BritBox_UK

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Spitting Image episode five was the first half of a US Election special double-parter with a season-appropriate Hallowe’en theme (although later on, the theme slid into Christmas, which was a tad discordant and odd).

The stand-out scene, which came early, was a séance which ended up in Margaret Thatcher’s ghost taking over Boris Johnson’s body. Boris-in-a-wig was something to behold, but nothing compared to the image of Michael Gove wanking off under the table to said possessed Johnson or to Priti Patel actually getting off with the spectre. A surprising and delightful scene.

We got to meet Fox Man Starmer, a hero for our age, which seemed to recall the classic Batman and Robin scene from Only Fools and Horses. Another surprising and delightful turn. I hope we see more of Starmer’s alter ego.

However, the episode was far from solid laughs. One problem with Spitting Image so far is the tendency to explain its jokes. For example, we saw Trump declare, “I want an election that is free, and fair, so I’m going to personally check all the mail-in ballots”. Which was great! But then they ruined it by carrying on, “… and destroy all the fraudulent ones that voted Democrat!” We got the joke already!! Why explain it to us? Or how about another decent moment, where we see Boris Johnson going to Biden to grovel and pre-emptively be friends — great! But then once again the joke is spelled out and ruined, BoJo telling Biden, “I love you … since I’ve seen the latest polls”. Explaining jokes smacks of writers who don’t have confidence in their own material or in their audience. It’s bad writing at the best of times, but in a supposedly sharp satire, it’s unforgivable.

Apart from these hit-and-then-miss moments, there were many moments that missed altogether. For example, there is another song that falls flat. Guys, don’t write these songs if you can’t write them funny. And the lazy jokes kept coming: Prince Andrew repeatedly being hit in the face. I understand: he’s a punching bag. I understand: we just want him to shut up. I understand: every time he opens his mouth, bad stuff happens. But it’s not funny. Stop.

Richard Branson was presented as yesterday’s man, a kind of prehistoric Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, who, at least in his own deluded mind, he is in competition with. Weirdly, none of these jokes worked well and I kept looking at the time to see when the Branson-Musk-Bezos segments would end.

Episode Five also saw Putin and his troll farm get “investigated” by Zuckerberg. It was amusing, but the only two real laughs came from the lines “U, S, and also A” and “da”. When funny accents and dodgy foreign grammar are the best bit of your satirical take, you know you are in trouble.

All in all, there were several laughs and a couple of really memorable scenes. However, laziness, jokes that make little sense, and a general lack of cutting edge (Tories literally or metaphorically wanking off to Thatcher is not original or clever, no matter how funny that scene was) mean that this episode never rises above being merely “good”.

3/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

BritBox Review: Spitting Image S1E4 #BritBox @BritBox_UK

Spitting Image‘s fourth episode saw an increased emphasis on the doings of Michael Gove, pop star Adele, and Ivanka Trump. It was about as focused as last week’s episode in this regard (which also focused on a few main characters, mainly Prince Harry and Megan Markle), there thankfully being no return to the chaotic scatter gun approach of Episode Two.

However, there was nonetheless a notable drop in quality from last week. Many of the jokes weren’t relatable (I still find the “Priti Patel is a vampire” thing unintelligible, only now it’s unintelligible and tedious) and many of the others have been well and truly overdone by only the fourth episode (I’m thinking Emmanuel Macron’s overly long lascivious tongue). The joke about Adele’s weight loss and everyone’s fixation on it was mildly amusing the first time it was told in this episode, but not the second time — let alone the fourteenth. We get it, we get it already! Here comes another joke for the umpteenth time: Ivanka Trump is a vacuous person. Okay, okay. Stop it, please, stop the “joke” already. My God, stop. On the up side, Jurgen Klopp was, once again, amusing, although not quite as “funny” as he was in Episode Two. And the “The dress is blue and black… I heard ‘laurel’” joke was admittedly funny, albeit five years out of date. When your best joke in a twenty-four minute sociopolitical satire relates to a five year old viral meme about the colour of a dress, you need to ask yourselves some serious questions.

The main “joke” about Gove seems to be that his cheeks look like two giant bollocks. Heady satire indeed(!) Speaking of which, however, the puppets are wonderful. We get a long look at Piers Morgan, and it’s truly delightful. The puppets really are magnificent. A shame the episode wasn’t. Another tawdry song number rounded off what was a pretty poor, if not totally worthless, fourth instalment. It has made me YouTube the songs from Not the Nine O’Clock News; now that was how to write a funny comedy song!

I haven’t given up hope yet, but I’m getting the feeling that Season One might end up being best viewed in a single twenty minute “Best Bits” compendium.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from https://www.chortle.co.uk/images/photos/small/spitting-image-michael-gove.jpg

Film Review: Honeymoon (2014) #NetflixReview #Honeymoon @HarryTreadaway_ @RLeslieSource

check out my film review blog here

read the 150 word review here

I am a huge and borderline obsessive Game of Thrones fan. I mean, I don’t dress up and go to the conventions. And my bookshelf doesn’t boast a crumbling copy of David J. Peterson’s book Living Language Dothraki. But it certainly can’t be healthy for a 35 year old man to be repeatedly kept awake at night by an almost endless stream of fantasies where he inhabits the Game of Thrones universe as a key protagonist. How would I react if my dragons—-Wake up, Bryan, you pathetic manchild, and smell the early onset midlife crisis!

Given that context, it is very surprising to me that I somehow missed 2014’s Honeymoon starring as it does GOT‘s very own Ygritte, a.k.a., the ridiculously lovely Rose Leslie.

Leslie and co-star Harry Treadaway play head-over-heels-in-love newlyweds, Bea and Paul, who just can’t keep their hands off each other. We join them as they start their honeymoon in Paul’s family cabin in the woods. Our leads give believable albeit slightly off-centre performances, but their quirkiness brilliantly foreshadows the disturbing story to come. Paul wakes up to find Bea sleepwalking alone in the woods. Things start to fall apart quickly for the young couple as it becomes clear that something very bad happened that night.

But what happened in the woods that night? And what is happening to them now? The film never fully spells the answers out. There are many possible interpretations. Mine is extraterrestrial rape. And I think when read as an alien abduction film, Honeymoon surely ranks as the most terrifying examples of the genre that I have ever seen. Indeed, if alien abductions really do happen, this film paints a deeply convincing picture of the literally alien / otherly horror of that experience. Although I repeat: the interpretation of what happened is very open.

However, don’t get bogged down in the specifics of what actually happened to Bea. The events, alien rape or otherwise, are merely an incidental device to explore what can happen to a healthy and seemingly rock solid relationship when one partner is violated in some way. The actual violation could be viewed as unwanted pregnancy or perhaps the loss of one’s self to an illness such as Alzheimer’s. But I think this film pretty clearly had rape in mind. None-the-less, I don’t wish to suggest that this film was meant as an allegory of rape or some other specific traumatic violation. But merely that it examines a relationship after having undergone a (any) traumatic violation.

A brilliant and deeply unsettling film that gave me repeated goosebumps and made me shiver endlessly.

© 2017-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Film RE-view: Crash (2004) [SPOILERS!!!] @KermodeMovie #FilmReview #MovieReview

check out my film review and Netflix blog at https://filmmovietvblog.wordpress.com

This RE-view has spoilers

WHY RE-VIEW?

Crash is about racism in America today and the different forms and faces it takes. Institutional, white-on-black, black-on-white, conscious, unconscious bias, rich, poor, and all between: the film was awarded three Oscars for its in-your-face message. It confronted racial tensions in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Various story strands are interwoven in what I can only call a Love Actually ensemble stylee — although the film seems to think itself more Pulp Fiction. Yes, a whiff of self-satisfaction, self-righteousness, and self-congratulation emanate from this flick. And that’s why I gave it 2/5 when it came out. But a friend kept begging me to give it a second look. So finally I did.

THE GOOD

It’s true, there are some great moments. The sweet story of the protective cloak that a father tells his daughter stands out as genuinely touching and believable. The film is well directed and the plot well structured. You can’t fault writer-director Paul Haggis for his mastery over the craft. And despite the large cast, there is good character development, and the film is well paced and zips along nicely. Despite this, some characters are completely extraneous and should have been cut. Particularly, the roles played by Sandra Bullock and her on-screen husband.

THE BAD

The film is also very funny in places. Although I strongly suspect that was unintentional. Either way, it’s certainly odd. The two African American car-jackers provide much of this unintentional comic relief. They drive around procrastinating on race and racism, like a crap Travolta-Jackson Pulp Fiction rip-off duo, whilst their actions confirm the negative stereotypes that they rail against.

This is the worst thing is that nobody reacts normally. Everybody is ready to fly off the handle over the slightest thing. It’s this constant hysteria that jarred so badly thirteen years ago and jars so badly now. And in these sobre days, where 9/11 is now history, we can see this film for what it is. Over-the-top characters and cartoonish racism are par for the course. Everyone constantly make shouty outbursts laced with racial slurs that seem shoe-horned in and never genuine. Example: “So tell me, who gathered these remarkably different cultures together and taught them all to park their cars on their lawns” says a black man whilst hanging out of the back of a Hispanic woman…. Another example: a moronic, obnoxious Iranian shopkeeper — driven to rudeness by post-9/11 hysteria and racism, we are meant to think — does not do what his locksmith told him to, consequently gets robbed, and then does what anyone would: get a gun and go shoot a child… I mean, seriously, we never see him get pushed to that breaking point. By opting for pure melodrama at every turn, the message that racism comes in many forms, not just the obvious KKK lynch ’em kind, is completely undermined.

IN CONCLUSION: OVER-HYPED

I still think the hype and the three Oscars were overboard. Right after watching this again, Midnight Express came on the telly. So I watched that — also, for the first time in ten years or so. Wow, that is what a multiple Oscar winner is all about (despite an equally dubious portrayal of race), not this melodramatic, unrealistic portrayal of racism designed to exorcise middle class white America’s racial and 9/11 demons. Crash was the kind of film America needed in 2004, but that doesn’t mean it lived up to the hype. Crash‘s ideology and surreal histrionic racism are just as jarring as ever. But I have a renewed appreciation for the craft of this film and the moments when it is believable. For that, it earns an improved mark: 3/5.

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

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