Lisa Kudrow

Death to 2020

27/12/20

Netflix

I had thought that the hideous happenings of 2020 could never make me laugh.

I was wrong.

Charlie Brooker’s cunningly constructed mockumentary takes a long hard look at the events of this momentous year, and gleefully eviscerates them in his familiar no-holds-barred fashion. (You could argue that he’s been a little too hasty in releasing it with a few days still to go, but hey, it can’t get any worse. Can it?)

Death to 2020 takes me from wincing and cringing to laughing-out-loud time and time again. It’s the comedy equivalent of riding a roller coaster. For once, this is far less of a one-man project than we’ve come to expect from Brooker. There are no fewer than twenty writers attached to this project, and it would seem their best efforts have been cherry-picked. This is essentially a month-by-month retelling of everything that went down in the year 2020, but all viewed from a slightly skewed perspective. It works, big time.

Brooker has also enlisted considerable star-power for this special. Samuel L Jackson is Dash Bracket, focusing his ironic comments on the rise and fall of a certain Mr Trump. Hugh Grant (never funnier) is Tennyson Foss, a historian who can’t seem to differentiate between genuine history and random events from Game of Thrones. Lisa Kudrow is brilliant as Trump spokesperson Jeanetta Grace Susan, unashamedly denying the president’s heinous actions even as they unfold on video, right in front of her eyes. And Tracey Ullman is rather too convincing as Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Charlie Brooker event without the presence of Diane Morgan, and she’s here too, as Gemma Nerrick, a woman so odious that lockdown has actually worked in her favour, a viewer so overdosed on daytime TV she’s constantly muddling real events and the soaps she’s addicted to.

Of course, some will argue that we shouldn’t be laughing at the horror-show in which we’re all so inextricably mired, but I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected to. Chances are, you will to.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

The Girl on the Train

10/10/16

The Girl on the Train‘s transition from page to screen was inevitable: Paula Hawkins’ novel has been a huge hit, its popularity earning its author over ten million dollars, and pretty much guaranteeing that this film adaptation will attract a large audience.

It’s a thriller, of sorts, unpicking the tangled lives of three women. Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a tragic figure, an alcoholic, obsessed with her ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), and the baby she never had. Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) is Tom’s new wife, and Megan (Haley Bennett), is a neighbour who works as Tom and Anna’s nanny  (yes, they do have a baby) and seems to have the perfect life – at least, as far as Rachel can tell from what she glimpses from the train. Let’s be honest, the story stretches credulity at times, and it’s kind of irritating that the women are all defined by their motherhood – or lack thereof. It verges on the histrionic in places, and there are moments where it lacks pace or drive. But, where it works, it does work well.

There’s a change of location: we’re in New York instead of London, but this isn’t detrimental to the film. In fact, the cinematography is lovely; the contrasts between the urban mayhem and the glassy smoothness of the lake help add a layer of eeriness and tension to the piece. And the shift is only geographical: the social and sexual mores of affluent white suburbanites seem similar in both locales.

Emily Blunt in particular deserves some accolades: she absolutely convinces as the drunken, broken Rachel, desperately searching for a way back to herself. And there’s a stellar supporting cast, including the ever fabulous Allison Janney and the ‘why-doesn’t-she-do-more?’ Lisa Kudrow.

Overall, then, it’s kind of… okay. There’s a soggy middle section where your mind might wander, but you’ll be pulled back in for the rather racier (if somewhat predictable) ending.

If you liked the book, you’ll probably like this.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield