Most Recently Rated
Top of the Lake: Episode #1.7 (2013)
S1: Very good at the cold sense of detached isolation, but less good at delivering the narrative
If you can forgive me looking at one aspect of this show right out of the gate, if there is one thing this show does excellently, it is to produce a feeling in a consistent manner. That feeling is one of isolation, of detachment, of lack of options and of an almost total acceptance of all of it. It is a powerful sense that is there from the first opening scene right through to the end and it is what I take away from the 7 episodes because it is what I liked most about it. At times it seems to be all the show itself is interested in, and as such it produces this aching, still, empty feeling in a way that I was surprised by how well it reached me mostly watching the show on a small screen in my front room. The remoteness of New Zealand plays a part in this and the landscape is well used as a static, silent background rather than being lovingly swooped over as many a production would have done.
The problem I had with the show is that this is far and away the best thing about it, and that it does seem to care less about other aspects of the show. Unfortunately one of these is the narrative. Well, not so much the narrative itself, because a lot of it is compelling as a story, but it is the delivery of it that hurts. Major events happen and occasionally seem to be forgotten; scenarios and people exist without context at times; credibility is stretched to breaking regarding some things, and generally the show is not really effective at delivering a tense, dramatic story because it seems to have no interest in doing that or being that type of show. Again, I liked what it wanted to be instead but we still have all this plot kicking around which feels consistently neglected.
The cast match the direction of the show well, which again hurts the delivery of the narrative but adds to the sense of isolation and detachment. Moss is good at this and I really felt for her throughout. Mullan brings his usual intensity to his role and as much as I was surprised to find him here, he did well. Young Joe does well as Tui even committing herself in the delivery of some of the less convincing aspects of the later episodes. Hunter throws herself into her role, although personally I found her character and her whole camp to be something that didn't ever really work within the narrative. Wright, Wenham and others are solid throughout, but in some occasions I felt like this was not the crime show they thought they would be in. I've only been to New Zealand once (and as an older man, did not live there for 6 months like everyone else and their dog), so I am not the best to comment on accents but with all the Australians, Americans and Scots in the cast, it should be no surprise that the accents are a bit varied.
For me the atmosphere and the feeling within the show carried me a long way, while the deficiencies in the delivery did not totally stop me being engaged in the narrative. That said, it is hard not to see the weakness from my point of view, although credit to the show for the way it knows what it wants to be and gets it right from its own agenda even if I think it would have been a better show if one aspect done very well didn't negatively impact on other aspects.
Season 4: Leans very heavily towards an older audience, which I think is a shame, but did not stop me enjoying it
I did not enjoy the second season of this show quite as much as I enjoyed the first, mainly because I felt the universal nature of it working for older children and adults had not been done as well. Season 3 seemed more balanced in this regard, but the fourth season is the first that seems to have really clearly pushed for a much older audience in terms of older teens and adults. I guess in some ways you could argue that the audience that started watching the show three or four years ago, are not three or four years older so thus tastes and what they are used to is also older with them however for me the show as it was worked for that age group already and the fourth season does feel like it would actively exclude younger viewers who may enjoy the previous seasons.
The reasons for this very much comes down to the tone and content of the majority of the episodes. Speaking as a man in his 30s who probably has no business watching a Cartoon Network show, I did enjoy the season because I have no children and the material worked for me. However, comparing to previous seasons it is striking just how much darker or more focused on older viewers a lot of the episodes are. In some ways this is no big deal because it is manifested in jokes that would just go over the heads of younger viewers (some of which are perhaps a little crude, but my favorite of which is a reference to the 'travelling players' device in Hamlet). More frequently though this change relates to the content of the episodes and a lot of this is surprisingly more adult, being quite frightening, creepy and overly random.
Demons, monsters and danger are not new things to this show; however the extent of it is much more extreme now. Personally I didn't overly mind it, but I think it was a tad overdone and it changed the generally enjoyable and accessible tone of the show, and didn't always fit with the humor either. The darker tone is engaging though and I appreciated it for having it while also more or less keeping the core of the show the same (albeit aimed older than before). The animation remains good and is very well done in bringing out darker scenes to make them a little more intimidating. Some of the characters have changed from the previous season visually and in terms of character, some of them seemed a bit off and perhaps not the focus they once were. Actually, in terms of the writing, this is an issue since Finn and Jake's adventures seem to take them out of the circles of their regular princesses, so previously regular characters feel almost like bit players in this season.
I did still very much enjoy the fourth season of Adventure Time because it does what it has done before, and also as an adult I did enjoy the darker themes and aim for an older audience. At the same time I do think it is a shame since previously the show covered a lot of bases without seeming to compromise itself for anyone, and that sense of accessibility is really gone in this season, which is a shame, but didn't stop me personally from enjoying it.
The Double (2013)
Very much about the style and, as good as that is, there's no point in pretending it isn't also a weakness
The Double is not an original idea, and the manner in which it is delivered is so clear in its many influences that it fair to say that the film as a whole is not as original as perhaps the sheer oddity of it would have you think. The plot sees a weak-willing and largely inconsequential young man, pushed even more into pointless existence when another man shows up who looks identical to him. Despite this, the new man is effortlessly popular, successful and confident, while the original finds himself pushed even further back into himself.
This is all played out in an oppressive environment of soul-crushing office work, banal television, terrible cafés and generally hopeless existence; and it is this setting and delivery that makes the film work as well as it does. Ayoade will always be the 'funniest one from the IT Crowd' perhaps, but his control of atmosphere and tone is excellent here as director. The feeling of oppression and of things pushing in one the main character's very being, is very well done so much so that it carries the film along. I loved the look of it throughout, the sets, the wardrobe, the cinematography, the sound and the performances. All of these things come together really well to create this great sense of place a terrible, terrible place. This style and general design is what I really enjoyed about the film and it is almost enough. Almost.
The narrative being obtuse and odd is not an issue for me, but it is a problem that it satisfies much less than it should and really doesn't offer a huge amount beyond the surface level work which, as much as I loved it, is not really enough on its own. The lack of originality and spark shows through most in this place, whereas in the style it is so well done that it is something I readily accepted and enjoyed for how it brought things together in this way. I wanted more from this aspect of it and it was a shame that it didn't deliver.
The performances to me are part of the style, not the content, so in this way they were excellent fitting into the world of, and vision for, the film. Eisenberg seems to enjoy his secondary role but he is best in the weaker character, really selling the awkward defeatist without making him comical or overly pathetic. Wasikowska is attractive and fast-talking, working well with Eisenberg. The supporting cast fit in with the weird tone really well, from Shawn through to Holdbrook-Smith and J. Mascis in small but important roles.
Ultimately the film does have weaknesses in the content and narrative, however it just about covers these by how well it creates the oppressive society in which it occurs; not as original as it seems, but still it works if you like that, which I did.
Moone Boy: Boyle Wedding (2014)
Season 2: Another consistently funny season with good plots and wit
I see already this show has been renewed for a third season which is good news, and that this will be its last which is a shame but also means that hopefully the show will not dip in quality but will go out as it has so far gone. The second season returns with the same wit and imagination which the first had; the scenario continues with young Martin Moone living in a small Irish town with his family and imaginary friend. The plots are a good mix of the imaginative and grounded; so okay it has the usual sitcoms conventions of weddings and pregnancies, but it does make them work and rise above the genre by virtue of the humor.
I like the way that the show very much exists in the memory of Martin, so this does rather mean it has an unreal quality which exists in the bigger picture but also in the smaller moments. My favorite example of this is when Martin's Mum phones his school and, barely audible, the phone is answered 'hello, Martin's school', which I thought was a very nice touch but typical of the construction of the show. The wit and invention of the sitcom provides plenty of laughs and the supporting ensemble of cast give plenty of throwaway material and opportunity for plots which give each episode a good frame and flow; again none of them are amazing and many do rely on genre standards, but they are done with such charm and wit that it really doesn't matter.
The detail of the show plays it a similar way the soundtrack, the cultural reference points are perhaps obvious but they are done with such genuine charm and affection that it is hard to be cynical towards them. The level of absurdity in the material fits this too it is silly and absurdist but never too random or silly for the sake of it. The cast act into this really well and in particular Rawle is very good in the lead role; he and O'Dowd work very well together. O'Reilly's Padraic is very funny and support is good across the Moone family. The few famous faces that turn up in small roles (Ball, Vegas) don't add too much to be honest and I found them more distracting than anything else.
It is a sitcom at the end of the day, but it manages to have a very good mix of warmth, charm, laughter, plot, absurdist development and good comic performances. I very quickly got into the tone of it all and enjoyed it a great deal, and will look forward to hopefully the final season rounding it out with consistent quality.
The Larry Sanders Show: Flip (1998)
S6: A bit darker in tone but still funny and drawing it all to a satisfying ending
I remember starting the first season or so of Larry Sanders and not really seeing the great show that others claimed to. The show has consistently gotten better from that point and, while the final season is not the high point of the lot of them, it is still a very satisfying and enjoyable season. The plots are generally centered around the show coming to an end and the reasons for this, with various characters having threads leading off of this. As such it perhaps has a bit of a darker edge to the humor, and is a bit less sparky and fun as a result, but it is not a dramatic shift by any means.
The key thing is that it remains funny and there are frequently good laughs throughout, although the tone of the show tends to give it that edge somewhat. This is seen in particular in Hank, where his clownishness is a bit more tragic in some ways in this season in particular. The spread of material throughout the supporting characters is not always successful, and not all of the narrative threads are as engaging or as funny as others, with one or maybe two episodes not working quite as well as the others because of this. Outside of this there is a certain amount of business as usual, with Larry stressing about guests, his image, and so on.
I think I prefer some of the previous seasons to this one, but the difference is not so significant. Ultimately this is a solidly good final season which keeps itself together right to the final scene, where it goes out with a delicate touch which is true to the characters and is enjoyable in how low-key it is.
Stark Raving Black (2009)
Controlled and well paced which limits the highs but gives good comic consistency
Although I have seen his bits on The Daily Show, and also enduring one season of Root of All Evil, this show was the first time actually seeing him do a full show. The biggest thing I noticed from early on was that the tone was much more balanced; of course in segments of a few lines (as host) or a few minutes (as guest), he pushes the anger and rage to the fore, but here, while that is of course still very much part of the show, it is never pushed quite as much as in the smaller segments. This did take me a minute to get used to, but it was an issue with me, not the show.
Settling into the tone I found that Black still based his material on disillusionment and anger, but the show had more of a balance and thought to it, so jokes were more stories rather than quick-fire one-liners delivered with a thrusting point of the finger, and the extremes to which he went in his delivery were more leveled out. This did make for more of an engaging show I felt, although different to what I expected. The laughs also come fairly consistently but without quite the highs either. Some of the segues between subjects were pretty clunky, but the subjects themselves are good, with a range of personal, opinion, exaggerated and so on. Although he is political in nature, there were more 'calling people out' moments than I expected given the balanced tone of the show, and these were well phrased and reasoned.
A surprisingly even handed show then; perhaps not as hilarious as his Daily Show segments but understandably more controlled and reasoned through, making for a consistent and enjoyably show.
Has energy and invention at its best, but sometimes just has energy and is lesser for it
Like many, I know Smoove through Curb where he plays a very outlandish and energetic character; it was enjoying him in these snippets that made me check out his first filmed standup special. With a rather deliberately written and spoken title, Smoove opens the show with his own theme music, rewinding it (and himself) because of how much he loves it, and then acting out the various extreme things that the music makes him want to do. It is a high- energy start to the show but the overuse of the word 'dooz' and the hyper-expressive acting out did make me think he was just overplaying it a bit.
This feeling continues through the show because he is very physical and constantly dropping slang like dooz, calling people 'playboy', and swearing a lot. Such antics tend to replace content and there are jokes that go on too long due to his acting them out several times. That said, when he has invention and randomness in there, such delivery is very funny particularly as he goes with the joke the whole way whether it be a joke about police brutality leading to cooking tips, shadow puppet shows and ultimately a swan behind bars; this is one example but there are quite a few where his energy carries the audience to very silly and funny places, and these bits are very good. As I say, at times the material isn't there and it just feels he is acting up in a rather obvious manner just for the sake of keeping the energy in the room.
His act is pretty crude but where he has this invention and determination in the material, it does work well; it is just where he has little else but noise and energy that he gets a bit exposed and feels like he is falling back on swearing and such to carry him through. Worth a look if you like him though, because there is enough clever nonsense in here to carry you through the periods where there isn't.
Ceaseless Sound (2011)
Unnatural and heavily delivered, Chandler helps it a lot but the film doesn't do much to help her
There is more than just the film going on here and, although it shouldn't be like this, you probably get more from the film knowing the background. I came to this film after doing some data corrections to the work of the late actress Vivienne Chandler, and to check this was her work I watched this short film. I had read quite a bit about her beforehand, so I knew the nature of her death (1 year after this film) and that she had battled cancer up until the end. In this film the plot is one of hope in the face of a terminal illness, as a woman finds strength in her friend and her dreams.
To view the film without this context doesn't help anyone, because frankly it is not much good. The material is clunky and every scene is delivered in a self-conscious manner with heavy use of music over the top of everything. The script is very fragmented, so nothing flows but is rather delivered in blocks, which doesn't help the two actresses deliver either. As such it feels overly earnest but doesn't really warrant it, and in turn this robs it of the flow and natural presence it needed to have. Because of this, director and writer Tilly should be grateful for the casting of Chandler.
Primarily what Chandler brings is the knowledge that she is fighting cancer in real life and that only a year after this film, she would be dead from it. This gives the film more than it deserves to have, and also means that Chandler's performance has that extra bit that comes retrospectively. I guess it both a joy but also difficult for her family to watch. Unfortunately she cannot lift the film as a whole, and it is limited by the writing, the heavy music, the lack of naturalism to the whole production. The real situation behind the character adds something to the film, but being honest, the rest of the short really doesn't deserve that help.
Mommy's Favorite (2012)
The material isn't funny enough to do the job, leaving the cast flailing a bit as they try to make up for it
This short film is quite a simple affair in terms of setting and setup. A group of siblings and a few significant others are in the garden of the family home where they get together a week after the death of their mother. Brother Robert has looked after his mother his whole life, and didn't tell anyone she died for 5 days; but now they are all together they have a matter of inheritance to decide and everyone has their own opinion on what they are owed.
Technically the film benefits from the simple static setting and to be fair to it, it does a decent job as it has good sound and looks alright. It doesn't do anything special with the camera and it is a bit clunky in its simplicity, but it is pretty clear why they did what they did and it does make the most of the limited resources. Unfortunately, it is not the technology which is the most limited resource, but rather the writing because, although it is billed as a comedy, Kamm's script really doesn't have too much in it that works as any sort of comedy. There are stabs at dark humor, clownish humor and others, but nothing really works and I could not tell you if I even laughed or chortled one time in the 20 minutes.
Of course this is a problem for the viewer, but in this case it is also a problem for the cast. The lack of material but direction that it is supposed to be funny does mean they overplay somewhat; an affect not helped by them often being shot speaking in isolation rather than as a group. So it does feel forced and unnatural as a piece Blugrind probably suffering the most with his ham, but the rest do the same to differing degrees. Their overplaying doesn't really help the film be funnier either, if anything it sort of exposes that it is falling short of where it should be and ultimately, while I liked some small aspects of it, as a total film it just doesn't work because it doesn't get it done on the page, leaving everything else struggling to try to cover for that central weakness which they can't.
The Sonnet Project: Sonnet #21 (2014)
S1.83: Sonnet #21: Seems unsure of what it is doing, so just keeps pointing a camera at things
Sonnet 21 is a little playful in that, despite the writer lavishing colorful poetry on his subject in the other sonnets, here he turns round and plays down the need to praise, but rather just to let the beauty of his subject speak for itself and those making a big play of it with fancy words and comparisons, are just missing the art of truth, which of course his love has. With film 83 in the series, it would make me look smart and self-referential if I could do the same for this film, under play how good it is and let it speak for itself. Problem is that I cannot mainly because the film is not much good.
The sonnet lacks a meaning to the words; I confess I do not know anything about the choice of location, so maybe there is a meaning in that which I am not aware of, but otherwise there is nothing here to help the viewer connect to the words. This is not necessarily a bad thing since straight delivery with a good performance has worked in other films here; however with this one we do not get that, because the camera just keeps moving around. We get lots of different shots, few for any reason other than just keeping the camera moving. We also get lots of stuff I don't care for like soft-focus, odd movement of the camera, and other effects like this. None of it adds much, but what it does is make things harder for the actress, since her delivery is all fragmented up without a narrative connection to the text, it needed to be all about what her performance brought to the film, but the film works against her on that.
The 'look' of the film is a bit amateurish I am afraid (although I could do nothing better with 10 times the resources!); sound quality is also variable depending on the shot some is tinny while other scenes are fine. Generally though, what causes the problem is that the film isn't sure of what it is doing itself and as a result the camera just seems to drift around and the actress is left speaking words, not delivering content.