Westworld (season 2)

Westworld s2 poster

The amazing and brilliant first season of Westworld left more than a few questions still to be answered. As ever, if you haven’t seen the first season, even a mention of something that happens in season 2 might be considered a spoiler, so read on at your own risk!

With the Hosts now taking control of themselves, the fight is on for the park. Caught up in the brewing war are many of the characters we met in season 1, and each has their own story. From Maeve, intent on finding her child, to William aka The Man in Black, still playing ‘the game’, the strength of season 2 is quite possibly the way it lets the bigger events play out as a background to some much more personal stories.

Another brilliant thing about series 2 is the widening picture of Delos’s crowning glory (in more ways than one…!). There are at least six parks, based on a character’s comment, and we get to see another two of them here. I won’t spoil the surprises, but I enjoyed these glimpses into the ‘other’ bits.

If I thought the cast were superb in series one, then I’ve run out of superlatives for the performances turned in here. Emotions have been turned up past eleven, and are displayed with such powerful subtlety from every single actor here. I mean, wows all around, quite frankly!

Of course, the plot is no less twisty than season one, and even expecting this I had to keep questioning: what’s happening, what timeline is this – “is there something wrong with this world”, in other words! Nothing can be taken for granted. Of course, knowing fine and well that this is what the show was likely to do, they even play with that: episode one might show you a familiar face, dead, only for you to spend the rest of the series waiting for the death to happen!

I do love this show. It’s intelligent, and assumes its audience is too. It plays with tropes, but doesn’t disappoint when it needs to deliver. The need to expand the story and follow several main characters on diverging paths possibly dilutes things just a little, so I didn’t adore it in quite the same way as season 1, but it was still some of the best TV out there, and I cannot wait for series 3!

First broadcast:  2018
Series: 2
Episodes: 10 @ ~42 mins each

My rating: 9/10

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Lucifer (season 1)

lucifer poster

Once upon a time a little graphic novel series, Sandman, told of the Lord of Hell, Lucifer Morningstar, growing bored of the job and deciding to decamp to Los Angeles – where else?! He opens up a nightclub and sets about living life to the full, encouraging the mortals around him to do the same.

Neil Gaimain’s story was picked up by Mike Carey, and Lucifer got his own spin-off comics – which have now been adapted for the small screen, but with the same irreverent humour and sympathy-for-the-devil tone that would probably have my granny rolling in her grave. Ahem!

So… after a shootout at Lux, his nightclub, Lucifer ends up consulting for the police department. He’s soon rather obsessed with Detective Chloe Decker – possibly the one person on earth who seems immune to his plentiful charms. But talking of immunity, how is Lucifer’s power, and his invulnerability, going to be affected by a prolonged stay in the mortal realm?

I’m a bit late to the party with this one, seeing as it was squirrelled away on a less-than-handy broadcaster. Still, better late than never – except for the bit where, after three series, they’ve only gone and cancelled this! Is it still worth watching? Hell, yes! 🙂

I absolutely love the story here. It’s dark and funny and not as blasphemous as some might think (ymmv). More, the intrigue levels are kept high – I practically bounced off the sofa at the big cliff-hanger statement setting up season 2!

Tom Ellis does wonderfully as the sardonic, not-quite-slimey-somehow title character, utterly clueless as to why he can’t walk through life doing and getting what – or who! – he wants. The fish out of water schtick works really well when your outsider character is a fallen angel with the power to make people blurt out their deepest, darkest desires…! His relationship with the detective is so-so, but his experience with therapy (yes, really!) is a hoot, and his faithful demon, Mazekeen, is absolutely kick-ass and I love her a lot!

Best of all, perhaps, is the way that Lucifer is so upfront about who and what he is and watching all the humans around him try to turn into into something else – metaphor, delusion, etc. Waiting for the penny to drop for some of them is the least of what’s keeping me watching, but watching I am! More!! #SaveLucifer all the way!

First broadcast: 2015
Series: 3
Episodes: 13 @ ~42 mins each

My rating: 9/10

Deadpool 2 (2018)

Deadpool2 poster

I frickin’ loved Deadpool (2016) so of course I was a little worried that the sequel could only disappoint. But thankfully following a successful movie isn’t always just a money-making exercise these days, and with a team that loves the source material as much as any of the fans we’re in safe hands here.

It’s hard to say too much about it without giving away plot points, but safe to say that we’re still breaking the fourth wall, subjected to a barrage of swearing (including a use of the c-word that surprised (but not shocked, it’s just a word, people!) me a little in a 15), and treated to more gore than Marvel’s entire output to date – good! 🙂

What I love so much about these movies is that they are ‘proper’ superhero action movies, while at the same time utterly poking fun at superhero movies in general – one fav line: “You’re so dark are you sure you’re not from the DC universe?” 🙂 And anything else they can think of to poke fun at, let’s face it – I’d need to trawl the ‘net or watch this about six times (tempting…!) to get all the references, I think! Top of the hit list is Ryan Reynolds himself, from previous performances to just him as an actor, and likewise Josh Brolin’s turns in the Goonies and last week’s (!) Infinity War.

Amongst the mayhem and jokes, however, there’s also quite a moving story about family and friendships. It almost hits harder when things happen, as you’re not expecting it between the laughs and blood splatter.

I won’t say this is perfect, but dang I am struggling to pinpoint any actual faults. It’s pretty much everything I could have wanted from a Deadpool sequel, and part of me hopes there are about sixty more to come 🙂

So remember… #WadeWilsonDemandsYourSisterSorryStupidAutocorrectSilence especially during the FIVE post-credit scenes (but not shoved all the way at the end, so you don’t have to sit too long) 😀

Released: 15th May 2018
Viewed: 17th May 2018
Running time: 119 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 9/10

Black Panther (2018)

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Superhero movies. Dumb and overdone, right? And yet, I’m growing increasingly convinced that it’s through these ‘silly’ movies that we’re seeing a shift in all sorts of cultural norms. Wonder Woman gave us our first female-led superhero movie, and now Black Panther is the first set in Africa, with an overwhelmingly black cast. Both show us (futuristic ideals based on) cultures not usually put on the big screen in movies like this, and both are massively better for it. Oh, and Black Panther is just a really very good blockbuster!

Following the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is about to be crowned King of Wakanda. Any opponent who might step forward is less of a challenge than the pressures to review Wakanda’s self-protectionist policy of hiding itself and its vastly superior technology away, disguised as a stereotypical third world farming culture. Is it time to show a better face to the world? And what if parts of that world are intent on breaking in?

One of the criticisms of Marvel movies has been the relatively weak villains and/or their motivations. This bucks that massively: the bad guys are nuanced, and not entirely wrong. The good guys sometimes do bad things. Choosing between a good leader and policies you believe in isn’t black and white (no pun intended). There’s actually a ton to come away and think about after you enjoy the battle rhino’s charge!!

BP balances well interpersonal and familial tensions with the expected OTT ass-kicking expected from a movie like this. The sci-fi elements are a ‘wow’, the cinematography is lush, and there’s enough snippets of humour that a movie like this needs. If I had any complaints it’s possibly over some of the accents, and a slight ‘hmm’ over the idea that a futuristic society is still doing challenge-by-combat – but hey, the Dora Milaje (female bodyguard squad) is utterly, utterly badass! 🙂

I sort of regret giving Wonder Woman as high a mark as I did – it’s culturally important, and blew me away for reasons other than a rather so-so storyline. BP on the other hand, has both: it’s culturally important AND well made AND a lot of fun. But hey: there’s plenty room for both, and here’s to all sorts of diversity showing up in future superhero – and other! – movies!

Released: 13th February 2018
Viewed: 21st February 2018
Running time: 134 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10

The Handmaid’s Tale (season 1)

handmaids tale poster

It’s been well over a decade since I read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (and over 30 years since it was first published) but the power of the story stayed with me. It was enough to make me a little cautious about this adaptation, too: both for the usual reason (what if it’s not well done?) and just the feeling of not wanting to go into too dark a place with my viewing. I’m so so glad I gave this a go, though, as it’s one of the best bits of television from 2017!

Set in a not-too-distant future, attacks on America’s government have opened the way for a new regime: a back-to-basics, fundamentalist Christian one, with more than a few ideas that are very unsavoury. The Handmaids, for instance: faced with plummeting birth rates, fertile females are rounded up, tagged, and sent to breed with the most powerful men – whether they like it or not.

The Handmaid of the title is June (Elizabeth Moss, perhaps best known from Mad Men), who we follow as she is ‘placed’ in the home of Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes, Shakespeare in Love) and his wife (Yvonne Strahovski, formerly of Chuck), expected to produce a child for them. You’d perhaps think that she’d be well treated in between times, given the importance of her role, but she’s a prisoner and an object, and treated accordingly. Still, nothing quite as awful as is revealed in the flashbacks, explaining how this bizarre and awful regime not only gets started, but how on earth it can continue.

Although massively shocking, I think there’s actually a little less graphicness on the screen than there was in the books, which is a bit of a relief to be honest. That said, there is more than enough here to make anyone feel powerfully uncomfortable – and that’s kind of the point. The kicker for me wasn’t the horrendous treatment of women – not just the handmaids, but all the women – which I was expecting from reading the book, but that as the series progresses and we piece together all the flashbacks, that there is a perverse kind of logic in how this new political systems starts. Tying in things like climate change brings the whole thing more into the present day, only adding to the oomph factor.

Add in fantastic performances from the entire cast, high production values, and some amazing if un-flashy visuals, and this was just compelling from start to finish. It does end on a bit of a cliffhanger (as does the book, if I recall), but hurrah – we’re getting a second series! Bring it on!

First broadcast: May 2017
Series: 1 (renewed)
Episodes: 10 @ ~60 mins each

My rating: 9/10

The Chalk Man – CJ Tudor

chalk man cover

“The girl’s head rested on a small pile of orange-and-brown leaves.”

Short version: It, without the demonic clown.

Eddie Adams thinks his past is tightly locked up in his head. But as childhood friends and old memories start to come out of the woodwork, is it finally time to face up to the past? Because in 1986, five pre-teen friends have their idyllic summer holiday shattered first by a horrific accident, and then the discovery of a dead body. But the chalk stick figures – they were just a game. Who, then, has sent each of them a letter 30 years later, with just that single stick figure drawing?

There was something in the description of this that called to me, despite the fact that I rarely read dark thrillers these days. But, oh, this spoke to the teenage me who adored Stephen King books – and it really is somewhere between Stand By Me (aka The Body) and It – although as I say, without those supernatural elements. They aren’t missed: this is a gripping enough mystery without bringing in anything other worldly.

The chapters alternate between 1986 and 2016, and both strands follow Eddie as his life goes from perfect childhood to tinged with terror and darkness. It’s very well done: both plotlines are equally intriguing, adding to the other, so the flip back and forth never left me wishing for the other segment. I did prefer the earlier segments, though, as the mood that’s conjured is just brilliantly evocative of those 1980s childhood summers that some of us remember (albeit with less, y’know, dead things!), and some have grown to love from watching Stranger Things.

I did think I’d guessed the ‘whodunnit’ early on, only for the whole thing to swerve in an unexpected direction – hurrah! Still, as the mysteries start to be unravelled at the end, there were just a few bits that seemed perhaps a little too coincidental, so I’m knocking a mark of for that.

Otherwise, though, I gobbled this in just two days – it really was that gripping! Absolutely recommended.

NetGalley eARC: 342 pages
First published: January 11th 2018
Series: none
Read from 6th-7th January 2018

My rating: 9/10

The Greatest Showman (2017)

greatest showman poster

There’s nothing like a rousing, feel-good musical to kick off a year’s cinema – and this is absolutely that!

It’s perhaps a little odd, given the subject matter: the real PT Barnum was a lot less ‘nice’ than portrayed here. While that might kick up some controversy, I say: keep in mind that this is fiction, a story to entertain and uplift, and don’t take it as truth just because of the inspiration.

That said, the basic facts are all real enough, if much mixed up in timelines and intentions. ‘Inventor’ of showbusiness, Phineas Taylor Barnum, did indeed start a circus of ‘freaks’, and he did finance a tour for a singer he had never actually heard sing. The rest perhaps owes more to providing a fulfilling story than reality, but hey: this is showbusiness!

Hugh Jackman might be best known for playing Wolverine, but his heart clearly lies on the stage, belting his lungs out (see also: Les Miserables (2012) and Oklahoma! (1999)). He was made for this role, really, and I thought he shone in it. The rest of the cast also seems – thankfully! – picked for strong singing abilities: no Pierce Brosnan moments here 😉

Ah, the music! The bulk of the movie is spoken, with regular show song moments. The song used in the trailer, This is Me, has been stuck in my head for absolutely months. It’s a belter of a tune, and a perfect summing up of the core message: that those marginalised by society can and should stand up for themselves. While that was the standout track for me, several other songs were close and only a couple were a little unmemorable.

Overall, I absolutely loved this film. It absolutely shines with heart, and is possibly the best musical we’ve been treated to in years, avoiding the pitfalls of so many others: it’s more feel-good (if a little more predictable) than La La Land, better performed than Mamma Mia!, and the story works perfectly, unlike Into the Woods. So, finally – look out, here it comes! 🙂

Released: 26th December 2017
Viewed: 2nd January 2018
Running time: 105 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 9/10