Legion (season 2)

legion s2 poster

In its first season, Legion established itself as ‘a bit weird’ (!). However, right from the word go, season two is just… bizarre. We finally see the interior of Division 3, and alongside strange design and twisty architecture, we find it’s run by a man with a basket on his head, who communicates via a trio of identical, mustachioed young women. Yes, women. And buckle up, gang, ‘cos that’s just the opening five minutes…

I absolutely adored series 1 and its fresh take on the superhero/comic genre. David Haller goes from troubled inmate of a mental institution to possibly the most powerful mutant on the planet, and it’s a heady ride. Series 2 kicks off with a bit of a blip – suddenly everyone seems to know that the Shadow King is Amahl Farouk, and who that is – and a relatively straightforward quest for David, Syd, and the rest of the Summerland gang, plus their new allies, to track down Farouk’s body before he does.

However, the whole series is anything but straightforward. Perhaps the plot is too simple, perhaps the writers/directors just wanted to flex their imaginations. Thus we get some absolutely bizarre episodes even by the standards of a show as ‘out there’ as this. Some are spectacular – e.g. one episode explores all the different ways David’s life could have played out, another takes us groundhog day-like through Syd’s past – and even when they fall short of that there’s still a lot to be enjoyed. On the other hand, your patience might be a little strained by the weirdness and random meandering away from the point, whatever it is.

I think this is why it took me a second attempt to get through this series, as much as I love the show as a whole. It was worth it, though: everything leads up to a denouement that the story is far from over, and anything could happen in (the final) series 3…!

First broadcast: April 2018
Series: 2 (of 3)
Episodes: 11 @ ~49 mins each

My rating: 7.5/10

Bombshell (2019)

bombshell poster

Based on real events, Bombshell is the story of the women who brought down the powerful head of Fox News, exposing the toxic culture of sexual harassment and coercion behind the headlines.

I was on the fence about seeing this one, mainly as I have very little knowledge of the events portrayed. I read that the real people are captured perfectly by the actors, but I couldn’t have told you who Megyn Kelly was – although googling for pictures, I am impressed at Charlize Theron’s subtle yet spot-on transformation. I’m even more awed by her performance, which is fantastic, as are those of Margot Robbie as the new, wide-eyed ingenue, and Nicole Kidman as the first woman to risk everything by going public and trying to bring down the all-powerful Roger Ailes (John Lithgow, fantastically slimy).

I think the real ‘shock’ is how recent the events portrayed are. This is set in 2016, not the 60s or 70s, not a point where we can nod sagely and say ‘how times have changed’. This is three frickin’ years ago, that people thought they could get away with such behaviour. That’s… chilling.

Still, I thought I lost a little of the impact by being so unfamiliar with the players and events. For me, the ‘setting’ detail that really shone out was a lot of stuff about Donald Trump. They’ve used archive footage, and wow is it damning – and almost unthinkable that they could make a movie with this kind of thing about the *current* president.

I could hope it all might serve as a cautionary tale for some, too, but… hmm!

I also enjoyed the last act catalog of cameos – so many great actresses given 2 or 3 lines but still taking part. The stylistic choices fit perfectly, with frequent to-camera statements that bring the audience in seeming very natural given the newsroom setting.

Powerful and eye-opening, Bombshell is worth the watch for the outstanding performances and a story well-told

Released: 17th January 2020 (UK)
Viewed: 17th January 2020
Running time: 109 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8/10

Ash Princess – Laura Sebastian

ash princess cover

“The last person who called me by my true name was my mother, with her dying breath.”

Theodosia watches her as her mother’s throat is cut, then her kingdom occupied by the invading Kalovaxians. Their leader, the Kaiser, is particularly cruel, delighting in keeping Theo – renamed Thora via repeated torture – as a trophy of his conquest and whipping girl for any rebellious acts by the enslaved local population.

Meek and dutiful Thora, however, is pushed too far when the Kaiser forces her to execute the leader of the rebels and her last best hope for rescue. Soon, she’s neck-deep in plotting to free her people and become the queen she was born to be. But it’s not so simple to pretend to seduce a ‘prinz’ – that is, the pretense bit. Oy.

If you can think of a trope in a YA fantasy, chances are you’ll find it here. Young woman, possibly with untapped magical potential, going from rags to rising up to claim her true destiny? Check check check. Love triangle? Of course. Cruel pantomime villains starting to leer at the burgeoning womanhood? Oh yes. And a large shout out to the ridiculous fantasy names: Theodosia, Crescentia, and changing ‘prince’ to ‘prinz’, among other painful tongue twisters.

I’m a little amazed that I got past the opening chapters with all of that ringing large alarm bells, and I have mixed feelings that I bothered. On the one hand, this is a decent enough book – well enough written, good pace and holding of attention. On the other, it is so very very familiar. I hated the first-person narrative at the beginning, and only grew to be so-so about it. And I cannot, cannot stand the love ‘triangle’.

Oh – and then there’s the violence. Teenage girl gets regularly whipped, for a *decade*, with quite frankly too much detail at certain points – YA should not stray into torture porn, even briefly o.O

Urgh. It wasn’t awful. You might enjoy it a lot more. But I didn’t need another rehash of this kind of story, I’m afraid.

NetGalley eARC: 448 pages
First published: 2018
Series: Ash Princess trilogy book x
Read from 3rd-10th January 2019

My rating: 5/10

Bloodlust and Bonnets – Emily McGovern

Bloodlust and Bonnets cover

“Somewhere in Great Britain at the tail end of the Regency…”

Take an English Regency setting and a nice young lady who’d rather be anything but, throw in Lord Byron (you know, from books), a mysterious, non-binary adventurer, a giant psychic eagle (who happens to be French), and send them all vampire hunting through the upper echelons of English society…

panel from Bloodlust and Bonnets

Oh yeah, and do it all under the penship of the wonderful Emily McGovern, who gave us the fantastic My Life as a Background Slytherin webcomic (if you haven’t discovered this – go go go!), and you can throw in some familiar flouncing. I’m not sure, but there might even be a bibbling little cameo…!

I utterly adored this book. It’s fun and irreverent and a bit daft and a lot of joy. It plays with all of the tropes from fiction of the period – Lucy goes to a ball, to Bath (natch), is talked down to by men and her social superiors (!), and meets a rich widow with an unfortunate habit of losing husbands. But as well it has a lot to say about current society, be that gender roles or the desirability of pockets in dresses.

The simple drawing style still captured such a lot of expression, despite the characters’ facial features being limited to eyes and eyebrows – I’m impressed! The colours are lovely, too.

If I had to make a complaint, then it’d be that the plot is a bit rambling. But then, that’s also part of the joy.

another panel from Bloodlust and Bonnets

Recommended for those who think a mashup of Pride and Prejudice and Dracula is well overdue!

Paperback: 203 pages / 12 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 25th December 2019 – 1st January 2020

My rating: 9/10

Jojo Rabbit (2019)

jojo rabbit poster

Ten year old Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), an ardent member of the Hitler Youth, discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl in the attic. There are so many ways this scenario could have played out. But instead of a dark and gloomy slice of ‘reality’, screenwriter and director Taika Waititi has taken the opportunity to give history’s darkest moment a great big ‘F-you’. Casting himself as Jojo’s imaginary friend, Adolf (!), is genius, and watching the idiotic Fuhrer bumbling around the boy’s imagination is the perfect satire.

The movie’s irreverent tone could have taken a huge misstep with this and at other points, but instead it walks the line perfectly balanced between heart wrenching and completely hilarious.

The opening scene is just perfect. It starts with the Beatles’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand, which they also recorded in German (seeing as they started out in Hamburg, makes sense). I was so busy squee’ing over recognising the song that it took my brain a moment to realise I wasn’t watching 1960s footage of Beatlemania. That comparison, that realisation that the same fanaticism was in play in 1940s Germany – kick to the gut, and first of many.

The juxtaposition of the humour and the dark plays throughout. For instance, Stephen Merchant (brilliantly cast as the Gestapo agent, looming over everyone) is ridiculous but at the same time, the character has so much power to destroy lives that it’s terrifying. On the other hand, the growing disillusionment portrayed by Sam Rockwell’s ‘Colonel K’ challenges the pantomime baddy portrayal of Nazi officers. Even as atrocities were being carried out, real people were trying to live real lives, as best as they could manage.

There’s so much to dissect about this movie. What is says about human beings, how ‘movements’ can sweep people up, willing or otherwise. But the real genius is that you don’t have to spend 2 hours in heavy thought – you get a funny, moving, surprising movie experience, and it’s perhaps only afterwards you realise just how much it had to teach.

Absolutely recommended.

Released: 1st January 2020
Viewed: 10th January 2020
Running time: 108 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10

There’s a Murder Afoot – Vicki Delany

murder afoot cover

“My sister Phillipa Doyle is a minor functionary in the British government.”

Of all the cosy mystery series set in libraries or bookshops that I’ve tried (and there’s been a few!), this is by far my favourite. It retains focus on the mystery, with the personal stuff kept as a background – perfect! Main character, Gemma Doyle (probably no relation to the famous author), is highly intelligent and logical, and the situations she ends up investigating feel quite natural for her to do so.

I’ll forgive the slight ‘hmm’ of having so many of the usual cast join in her trip to London for this, the latest in the series that began with Elementary, She Read. A Sherlock Holmes convention is the flimsy reason for dragging not just her best friend (for a holiday), boyfriend (to show off her home town), but also another two vague hangers-on. But, that’s a minor blip in an otherwise lovely cosy mystery, decent on the mystery, not too distracted with love interests and/or pets.

When someone is murdered during the convention, suspicion falls on the dazed man found standing over the body. Unfortunately, this happens to be Gemma’s father, a retired police officer. Worse, the detective leading the investigation has a grudge against his former colleague, whom he’d be delighted to see charged with the crime. So of course Gemma’s going to poke her nose into things.

The story leans quite heavily, I think, on the Benedict Cumberbatch adaptation, with Gemma’s sister, Pippa, being quite the Mycroft. But it’s very aware of its inspiration and uses it well, with enough differences and ‘extras’.

Recommend the series for those who enjoy a less fluffy but still cosy mystery.

NetGalley eARC: 336 pages / 22 chapters
First published: 7th January 2020
Series: Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery book 5
Read from 17th-10th August 2019

My rating: 8/10

The Gentlemen (2019)

gentlemen poster

Having built up an empire as the marijuana king of Britain, American Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), has decided it’s time to retire and sell on the business. But this being a Guy Ritchie movie, things are rarely so straightforward. A raid on one of the production facilities, a possible war with the local heroin manufacturers, and a bit of revenge from a tabloid editor he snubbed…

The last gives rise to the framing of this tale, as sleazy investigator Hugh Grant decides there’s more money to be made taking his research to the source for blackmail money, rather than a far smaller fee from the newspaper. Grant is playing against type wonderfully, as he tries to persuade Mickey’s right hand man (Charlie Hunnam), that he has all the ins and outs of the twisted story in place.

The tale weaves brilliantly between the story-telling, flashbacks, and side-stories, rarely letting up on the pace or entertainment levels. There’s plenty of action, bucket loads of laughs, and soooo much swearing! If you’ve seen Snatch or Lock, Stock... you pretty much know the kind of thing you’re getting into, but if anything I’d say this one is better.

The cast is spot on, and all seem to be thoroughly enjoying their parts. Shout out to Colin Farrell’s ‘Coach’, best role he’s had in years. The soundtrack sweeps you up in the mood. And the story twists and turns towards its purpose in a brilliantly non-linear fashion that is nothing short of gleeful.

It’s sweary and politically incorrect, and rude and has you routing for once bunch of criminals over others. Brilliant 🙂

Released: 1st January 2020
Viewed: 3rd January 2020
Running time: 113 minutes
Rated: 18

My rating: 9/10