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

Westworld (season 1)

Back in 1973, one of the robots (Yul Brynner) in a Wild West theme park went a bit berserk. Fast forward 40-plus years, and the new Westworld shows that sometimes revisiting old ideas really is a good idea, and that TV is no longer the poor cousin of the big screen. In fact, this 10-hour series shows that the mature format is a really excellent way of telling complex, layered stories.

Without giving too much away, Westworld is still a theme park – the theme park, a place where (very rich) people can go to live out their wildest fantasies. Want to shoot bad guys, play with the saloon girls, discover who you really are? Let the park’s ‘hosts’ (aka robots) cater to your every whim.

Meanwhile, we also get to see behind the scenes. The programmers, the behavioural specialists, the cleaner-uppers, all striving to make these automatons as real as possible. And that’s not ever going to go wrong, right?! o_O

I can’t praise this series highly enough. The cast is absolutely amazing, often called upon to display several different versions of their characters. The set design is outstanding, from the futuristic, rather sinister working areas, to the expanse of the old West in all its glory and otherwise. Oh, and the soundtrack: excellent original scoring, but then – wait, is that honky-tonk piano playing Radiohead?! Yup, and The Stones, The Cure, Soundgarden – it’s just another layer of ‘wow’ on a show that has been done *so* well!

Then there’s the plot. Westworld is one of those shows that is made to mess with your mind. From the opening scene, nothing is ever as it seems, challenging the viewer to question their expectations and perceptions – which is just so damned perfect for a show in which reality is absolutely up for question.

The mark of an amazing story, in any medium, is that it is something you can watch again and again. Westworld is a whole different place when you view it for a second time, knowing some of the ‘twists’, and I have no problem with the idea of watching it again, again (!), and probably picking up more every time.

Absolutely recommended!

First broadcast: October 2016
Series: 1
Episodes: 10 @ ~56 mins each

My rating: 10/10

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

When a poor pioneer town is threatened by some no-good industrialist types (led by Peter Sarsgaard, (metaphorically) twirling his moustache with a vengeance!), bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington) is approached to help the townsfolk regain control of their home – or at the very least, extract some revenge if not justice for the latest atrocity.

Chisolm gathers up a rag-tag bunch to aid in this quest: gamblers and degenerates, mostly, but allowing for quite the impressive cast, including Ethan Hawke, Chris Pratt, and Vincent D’Onofrio. Can the group overcome personal issues, let alone a well-armed group of evildoers?

The problem with remaking a classic – and indeed, sometimes just rewatching classics – is that the story has become a template for so much else. So while I haven’t seen the original (or what it was based on), the story here was very familiar. In fact, it’s become so part of mainstream culture that you could point to something as unlike it as Home Alone, and see the comparisons.

Which isn’t a weakness, per se, but definitely something to be aware of. It does allow for the plot to take second place to the character building, and that’s reasonably strong, if just a little too black and white at times: seven characters, at least five stereotypes covered? The main ‘difference’ is, of course, casting Denzel in the lead. He’s a superb actor, so that was always going to go well, but it did have a slight oddness when no one even mentions his race, after so many poor reactions to the other non-white characters. Hmm.

It’s not big, it’s not flashy, and indeed it’s possibly just a tad too slow, but worth the watch.

Released: 23rd September 2016
Viewed: 5th October 2016
Running time: 133 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

Hell or High Water (2016)

With the bank due to foreclose on the loan on the family ranch, Texan brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner (Ben Foster) take to robbing banks – all branches of the one trying to swindle them out of their inheritance, by their reckoning. Come hell or high water, they must get the money to the bank before the foreclosure date. But with a soon-to-retire Texas Ranger (Jeff Bridges) sticking doggedly to their heels, can the brothers succeed?

Put like that, Hell or High Water sounds like a typical heist-chase movie – it’s not. Instead, it’s something quite a bit darker, full of pathos, and with layers of motivation giving it a great deal more meat, if a little bit less ‘fun’. Don’t go in thinking this is going to be escapism! The desperation, the unhappiness, the grinding down of the everyman – these are themes that aren’t meant for giggles.

That said, there’s a lot of moments of ordinary, every day humour on show, too. There’s something quite real about this story’s telling – and that can feel a little odd in a cinema setting, more familiar to hyper-real blockbusters.

HoHW is a quiet affair, really. It did feel a little slow at times, the plot just a little – not exactly predictable, but not surprising – and the performances can rely perhaps a little too much (Mr Pine) on sultry looks and long silences. But overall it’s very well made, and a lovely change of pace from the kind of movies that usually have car chases and guns in them. I could see this movie just slipping under the radar for most, but I’m glad I saw it.

Released: 9th September 2016
Viewed: 23rd September 2016
Running time: 102 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

The Lone Ranger (2013)

The Lone Ranger was critical panned when it came out. To be honest, it’s not difficult to see why, and yet it’s not as bad as all that.

What’s to like: well, Armie Hammer is actually quite appealing as the clueless, overly-moralistic John Reid, pushed into becoming the titular character over the course of the movie.

Urm, and that’s probably about it! It’s interesting that this is the first time any version of TLR has credited Tonto (Johnny Depp) above the eponymous hero, but the character is… odd. And not good odd, just odd. I also really really hated the framing story technique, which sees a very elderly Tonto tell his story. I suppose it could have added some kind of justification for an over the top story coming from an unreliable narrator, but it really didn’t.

The story is, perhaps, just a little too dull. Certainly it drags in a big way in the middle, which is only shown up more when the famous William Tell Overture theme kicks in for an extended action sequence which, really, is the only time the film feels alive. Stuff happens after that point, to tie up the story, but heck – I can barely remember it already.

Overall, I’d suggest this falls foul of exactly the same hubris as Disney’s epic from the previous year, John Carter (2012), of just thinking itself so huge and sweeping – and from such famous source material – that it couldn’t possible fail. Alas, it instead proves that big budgets and pedigree are not the only things necessary for a good story.

Released: 9th August 2013
Watched: 5th September 2015 (Netflix)
Running time: 149 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5/10