Watcher (2022)

– aims for the suspenseful slow burn and it works up to a point, but it feels like it should have done more with the time allotted. Not bad, just underwhelming.

Assassins (2021)

– tightly gripping true crime documentary shows the extraordinary plight of two oblivious girls caught up in one of the most high profile political assassinations of our time – Kim Jong-Nam. Though staid in style, the story is so captivating it really doesn’t need added panache. Brilliant.

Navalny

– ironic that two of the best documentaries of our era each stem from passionate, articulate and inspiring individuals intent on highlighting the overreach (and in this case, murderous intent) of their respective enemy countries: Snowden in Citizenfour, and Alexei Navalny, with his extraordinary investigations into Putin and the Kremlin. That Putin can be so thoroughly exposed as he is in this documentary and remain in power goes to show the formidable death grip he has on Russia and its people. Hopefully this will not be the end of Navalny’s story.

Small Engine Repair

– this odd little flick about a trio of macho, irascible friends getting heated in a garage skirts categorisation, with a Venn diagram broadly overlapping comedy, drama and crime thriller. It doesn’t excel as any of them, but still just about works overall, thanks to strong performances and some expertly delivered suspense at the start of the third act.

The Square (2008)

– not to be confused with the 2017 absurdist comedy drama of the same name, this dour Australian effort begins compellingly, with all the ingredients for a twisty ride, but in its reliance on tropes (phone battery dying, phone out of earshot, body buried in a building site, to name a few), and determination to make each scenario go from bad to worse, it derails itself, ultimately resulting in quite a bland and unexciting crime thriller.

A Perfect Enemy

– what begins as an intriguing conceit turns into a tedious waiting game for resolution. When it comes it’s unsatisfying and not a little confusing. Solid performances from central duo though.

Good Neighbours

– Not sure what the deal is with this flurry of absurdist, taboo-oriented, weird shit I’ve been watching recently. After this, The Death of Dick Long, and Fresh, it’s about time for something more vanilla. This is a focused, almost theatrical crime drama detailing the manias and twisted vendettas of residents in a single tower block. Scott Speedman gives a surprisingly great performance, but the pacing is off (it’s a drag), and the conclusion is so abrupt and dark it leaves you yelling at the screen. Definitely NSFW.

Ozark S04: Part 2 (TV)

– the midseason break didn’t do the show any favours. It limps to the finish line despite the escalating insanity of every scene, falling to the same hurdle as so many other great dramas: likeable characters sacrificed on the altar of ‘dramatic intensity’. The humour is practically non-existent by its concluding episode, plot strands are introduced only to be resolved an episode later, and its attempt to go out with a literal bang left this viewer unconvinced. A great shame for the finale of such an epic show, but perhaps it was inevitable it wouldn’t meet its own high bar. Now it’s over, yet another reason to unsub to Netflix (if you didn’t already…)

Slow Horses S01 (TV)

– Apple’s MI5 black comedy spy thriller is an absolute romp. From the opening sequence to the cynical ending, it’s a series of biting exchanges and phenomenal performances, particularly from Gary Oldman (still original and hugely watchable after a ludicrously prolific and diverse career), and relative newcomer Jack Lowden, who I last watched in Calibre (which I also highly recommend). Great to see there’s a series two already lined up and shot. Lowden surely a shoo-in for Bond after this?

Landscapers (TV)

– unique, visually stunning and creatively directed by Will Sharpe, this theatrical mini-series about two middle-aged Brits accused of murder manages to vacillate between devastating and laugh-aloud hilarious every few minutes, with Olivia Coleman and David Thewlis both smashing it out of the park. It’d be easy to recommend purely on the basis of how distinctive it is, but it’s also nearly perfectly executed. Definitely gets a smiley.

The Batman

– noir, low lit and low key reimagining of the caped crusader might be too ponderous and grimy for its own good. Pattinson’s Batman is a greasy straggle haired emo, a scarred wreck of a man, his aesthetic more misanthropic, washed out rocker than billionaire playboy. His tech is lo-fi and clunky, his boots thicker soled than Trinity’s. But there’s nothing wrong with Pattinson’s performance, nor his chiselled jaw or inevitably gravelly voice. It’s no fault of his that director Matt Reeves wanted sombre and sluggish over suave and swift. Nothing says sleek like jumping off a building, snagging a parachute on a bridge, getting hit by a bus then bouncing along the pavement like a discarded coke can. Every movement, be it a kiss or a car chase, feels unrealistically, achingly slow. The runtime could have been halved if characters just moved and spoke like normal people. But credit where it’s due: when all is said and done (three hours later), it is this stylistic choice, derivative of the noir serial killer detective thrillers of the late 90s, that conjures the thick atmosphere and carries the action. It’s not a great film, but it’s not bad either, and that makes it stand out in the superhero panoply.

Cut Off

– German serial killer thriller is overly graphic and about as silly as the genre gets but is so committed to its mystery and so outlandish, it works quite well as escapism.

All the Old Knives

– the name tells you the kind of film it wants to be, Chris Pine’s weird Pierce Brosnan haircut tells you the kind of film it is. Everything about it is unconvincing, unlikeable and oddly unmoving, particularly the dialogue and love story. Of the heavy weight cast, the only one actually pulling their weight is Jonathan Pryce. It’s a shame because it feels like the core conceit and set up could have been a success in the right hands and the genre is ripe for great storytelling.

The Typist (TV)

– straight-laced German crime drama is the opposite of a whodunit, telling you exactly what’s happening when it’s happening without a shred of mystery. I spent the time hunting for twists and surprises that the show had no intention of delivering. The performances are mostly good, but the overall tone is dreary. At least it’s only five episodes.

The Outfit

– neatly crafted little crime thriller, only a few missteps short of brilliance. With its unity of time and place, it’s more like watching theatre than cinema, but no less engaging for it, and perhaps more so.

Extreme Job

– Don’t think I’ve enjoyed a cop comedy this much since I was a kid. Inane from the get go, this is a silly rollercoaster ride, with laugh out loud slapstick, some genuinely sharp wit, and a few slick action set pieces. It’s a little too reliant on the latter towards the end, and could easily have shed some runtime cutting back on that, but highly recommended nonetheless.

Windfall

– the only thing this has going for it is a beautiful location. It’s 90 minutes of waiting for something to happen with inexhaustibly dull and unpleasant company, and a script that has nothing worthwhile to say either. Hugely disappointing given my love for director Charlie McDowell’s film, The One I Love.

The Death of Dick Long

– a film with this storyline has no place being as brilliantly acted and heartfelt as this one. It’s a Fargo-esque black comedy tinged crime drama with a big old taboo twist and a knack for keeping you wondering. Not for everyone and very weird, but refreshingly different and kind of great in its own way.

No Exit

– quite terrible Identity wannabe, wherein a handful of unsympathetic people get stranded at a visitors centre and none are who they appear. Starts run of the mill and goes downhill.

Zola

– as explicit as you’d expect a story based on a Twitter thread about strippers turned prostitutes to be, though probably less entertaining. Not sure what it’s trying to do given it doesn’t function as an emotive drama nor any kind of thriller, and it won’t crack a smile. Quite tedious actually.

Nightmare Alley

– Del Toro’s latest is hugely overrated. It’s super immersive, with atmosphere and intrigue in spades, but the lack of rationale for key story developments is problematic. Despite the (excessive) time we spend with the characters, they feel thin, and ultimately we’re left with too many unanswered questions. The grimy gothic circus setting could have made for an interesting series though.

You Don’t Know Me S01 (TV)

– an interesting premise, a la The Usual Suspects, where a man’s tall tale might get him off the hook in a murder trial, but its delivery is fundamentally flawed. Despite strong performances, every character is unlikeable and uncharismatic, the twist takes too long to develop and doesn’t really work when it comes, and the ending is of the ‘fence-sitting’ ilk (which doesn’t bother me but had my other half shouting ‘NO!’ at the screen). Given the dynamism of the story, the execution is horribly flat. Everything should have happened faster and with more panache. Watchable? Maybe. Only four episodes, but feels like two too many.

The Stronghold aka BAC Nord

– French language crime thriller does a phenomenal job of portraying an explosive dynamic between police and drug gangs in the ghettos of Marseille and includes some electrifying set pieces, but the first and final acts drag, the lack of real resolution is frustrating, and after the plot takes an abrupt change in direction, the concluding emotion is one of disappointment. A near miss at greatness, but still very watchable.

Hierro S01 (TV)

– even as a fan of Spanish-language cinema, I couldn’t bring myself to finish this small minded and uninspired crime thriller, packed full of tired tropes and unimaginatively presented. Avoid.

The Responder S01 (TV)

– endlessly simmering bent cop thriller stops just short of boiling point but still cooks up some of the best BBC drama of recent times. Martin Freeman is unrecognisable as copper Chris Carson, (looking like Russell Tovey’s dad), risking his marriage, his career and hard time while trying to stay on the right side of a mental breakdown as well as his new rookie partner (another terrific performance from Adelayo Adedayo). The script crackles with deliciously black humour and the soundtrack keeps your heart rate elevated a notch above comfortable. Excellent and just a few decisions away from masterful – but all the ingredients are still there, so maybe the inevitable sequel will raise the bar further.

Ozark S04: Part 1

– the family continue in the same blackly comic macabre vein that has been their hallmark throughout, and thankfully, the script and story have upheld their standard, too. This is one of Netflix’ best.

Bajocero (Below Zero)

– thriller set inside a prisoner transport truck is mostly gripping while it lasts but proves forgettable. Javier Gutiérrez is excellent as ever, but as a whole, this doesn’t hold a candle to the best Spanish language crime thrillers.

Dexter: New Blood (S01)(TV)

– season 9 or season 1 of New Blood? Officially S01, but hard to envisage a S02 after the events of this one. The plot is as silly and impossible as ever, but it’s still a pleasure to see Michael C Hall step back into the familiar shoes of Dexter Morgan, serial killer. Despite annoyances and story inconsistencies that would never have plagued the first few seasons of the show and cement its massive drop in quality, surprisingly, it remains fun to unwind to and to second guess. The ending, then, puts an abrupt and unexpected stop to that and will prove hugely divisive (or straight up hated).

Cry Wolf (S01) (TV)

– underrated Scandinavian domestic violence drama is as bleak as expected with generally strong performances, and maintains an element of intrigue throughout. Its reliance on contrived indiscretions though, sensitive conversations overheard through open doors, behaviour witnessed through windows etc., means the depiction feels a little beyond the bounds of realism, even while the subject matter, sadly, is not.

Dopesick S01 (TV)

– this is a compelling and illuminating show about the underhand tactics employed by Purdue Pharma to sell Oxycontin and the ruinous detrimental effects their selling of the drug had on communities and families in America. At times it’s harrowing and heartbreaking, but it’s also brilliantly well acted and well produced, with a (mostly) tight script and smart direction. Way above average drama and highly recommended.

The Beta Test

– Jim Cummings is absolutely electric in an unexpectedly sharp satire about corporate culture, modern romance and suppressed sexual appetite. This blackly comic psychological thriller is altogether more sinister and rewarding than its erotic premise suggests and Cummings is just wickedly hideous. American Pyscho for new audiences and a new era.

Red Notice

– A case of the Netflix blockbuster formula: big stars, no brains. This is an exercise in character one-upmanship where the goal is to be the most annoying. Absolute trash.

The Outlaws S01 (TV)

– Stephen Merchant’s return to BBC comedy after his stint in the States is by no means perfect, but it has a high gag rate and the general silliness is charming enough that even the low brow jokes, rehashed Office skits and over-egged dramatics are easily overlooked. Good giggly fun with some genuine thigh slappers. Bring on Series 2.

Riot Police (Antidisturbios)

– one of the finest TV shows I’ve seen, and certainly the finest I’ve seen from Spain. Barring one strange misadventure in the middle of the series, this is an epic, edge of the seat tour-de-force: smart writing with visually commanding direction and a killer score. The characters are nuanced, sympathetic and compelling, and without exception, the cast deliver their A game. Amazing that this isn’t one of the most talked about shows out there. Creator Isabel Peña is clearly one to watch.

The Night House

– Rebecca Hall gives an amazing performance as a widower traumatised by her grief in this artistic and creatively ambitious little horror gem that, despite its supernaturalism, manages to feel grounded and harrowingly realistic. Deeply unsettling and moving in all the right ways.

Crisis

– well intentioned drug drama with a strong cast, shame the story is so unimaginatively communicated. It feels like the bare minimum of film making, with nothing to commend it and a plum boring script.

Midnight Sun S01 (TV)

– a fun, if chaotic, multi-lingual scandi-noir, with some interesting forays into grand themes such as race relations, but crammed with too many unrelated stories and a mystic/ druidic undertone that just feels silly. It’s got a quirky sense of humour though and the performances are all really strong, so while not in the league of The Bridge or The Killing, it’s worthy of the time investment.

Caliphate S01 (TV)

– A fast paced, phenomenally well acted and convincing depiction of radicalisation that leaves you feeling angry, distraught and excited, but mostly like your nerves have been shredded with a cheese grater. Annoyingly, the narrative is undermined by contrivance and irrational, even farcical behaviour and judgment from some of the characters, but these dubious writing decisions are forgivable when the overall result is so compelling, and it could be argued they provide more opportunity to tell the greater tale. Very scary thriller.

The North Water S01 (TV)

– a powerhouse cast, and Farrell appears to have morphed into an actual powerhouse. The man is an ox in this show. He embodies the role brilliantly, such a weighty presence I worried my screen would come off the wall mount. Jack O’Connell, too, is riveting as his foil: a laudanum addicted surgeon haunted by the ghosts of a grisly past. Indubitably, this period drama isn’t for everyone. It’s grimy, gory and deeply unpleasant at times, with few likeable characters, but the cinematography works magic and the script largely stays a few oar lengths ahead of the viewer. If you can stomach nastiness, this is highly recommended.

Vigil S01 (TV)

– compelling and engaging TV crime drama sacrifices believability in a frantic effort to excite, and while it’s predictable and quite silly most of the time, it still mostly works as good fun. Would have been even better if they’d dropped the shoehorned family and relationship backstory.

Body Brokers

– an affecting and slickly produced drama illustrating the problems of capitalism in the drug and alcohol rehab industry. Strong performances and sharp narrative. A pleasant (if slightly depressing) surprise.

My Son

– McAvoy blazes in this stressful crime thriller about a man hunting for his missing kid in the stunningly beautiful Scottish countryside. Grim but gripping, with a continual capacity to surprise.

Tape

– stressful and frequently annoying, this is nonetheless a provocative and evidently timeless exploration of gender power dynamics, jealousy and guilt. It’s much more of a play than a film, with a brilliant cast of three in a single location, relentlessly abrasive dialogue (a la Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and Linklater’s inventive camera angles doing a lot of work. Even so, one can’t help but feel this might have been much more successful in a theatre than on screen and it’s hard to recommend for a general audience.

Stillwater

– Damon delivers as always in this unremarkable but solid drama, and though the plot is clearly Amanda Knox inspired, that’s the bland backdrop: the real story is a second chance and second life for a man who had all but given up.

The Mole: Undercover in North Korea

– an astonishing fly-on-the-wall account of a ten year mission to infiltrate North Korea, so far fetched as to be entirely unbelievable without the visual evidence documented here. Jaw dropping and totally gripping. The only question left is where is the accountability?

Reminiscence

– Hugh Jackman speaks a few octaves deeper than a regular human and does his best deadpan Max Payne impression in this densely expositional dystopian sci-fi that leans so heavily into the neo-noir genre it’s practically a parody, with universally unlikeable characters, unfeasible tech and a wretched script offering lines like, ‘The past is just a series of moments. Each one perfect. Complete. A bead on the necklace of time.’ What a load of tosh.

Cruella

– an upbeat and hugely entertaining punk reinvention of the eponymous childhood villain, though the sinister transition from sweet Estella to psychotic Cruella results in a climax that feels more unsettling and hollow than resoundingly victorious.

Perdida S01 aka Stolen Away (TV)

– Spanish language soap-thriller is fast paced, easy (if frustrating) viewing and good practice for learners; as a show, I can’t recommend it. The plot is insane, the script and acting typically hyperbolic, and the direction completely rote.

Bosch S07 (TV)

– the final series of the earnest and plodding police drama doesn’t make radical changes. If you liked the first six, this is more of the same. It’s a fitting and tidy conclusion, but not momentous.

Bad Genius

– gripping unorthodox heist style thriller pits student geniuses against the stringent STIC exam rules. It’s too on the nose at times and pushes the boundaries beyond credulity, but it’s still a thoroughly entertaining watch and enjoyably different from ‘Western’ fare.

No Sudden Move

– Definitely not setting the world alight, but the dry humour and endless double crossing of this period crime drama made for an enjoyable few hours. The biggest disappointment was the overtly political ending which felt unearned in the context of the rest of the film. But that’s the point I guess…

Those Who Wish Me Dead

– Taylor Sheridan continues to excel. This is like watching a Cormac McCarthy novel interpreted by the Coen Brothers. A smart script, visuals and direction top notch, amazing cast, heartfelt and thick with metaphor. Enjoyed it a lot.

Wrath of Man

– Guy Ritchie’s latest is all brawn, swagger and meaty muscle men. His trademark one-liners and quirky English wit don’t translate at all to American, and the opening act is too slow and broody to charm. That said, Ritchie still delivers a polished, stylish revenge thriller, worth watching even when we’ve seen Statham do it all before and know the ending’s a foregone conclusion.

Time (TV)

– marvellous three part drama with fantastic performances from just about everyone involved and an effectively laconic script. Great to see Sean Bean demonstrate his significant acting talent and survive the series. It’s unusual in that we’re so accustomed to seeing violence in prison dramas that I found myself conditioned to expect it at every turn. In fact, the emotional violence of this series is much more brutal and affecting. Surprising, ultimately upbeat, and highly recommended.

Lupin (Part 2) (TV)

– where part one was seductively tongue in cheek and winsome, part two, I fear, relies too heavily on the charisma of its lead and fails to deliver a decent plot or cunning heists. The twists are too heavily forecast and the personal drama too much of a distraction. Hopefully part 3 will have the prep time to get back on track.

Mare of Easttown S01 (TV)

– a compelling crime drama, without a doubt, but for me personally, too oppressively bleak to actually enjoy. Instead, I admired its polish and the guesswork of the whodunnit, and readily moved on when it was over.

I Care A Lot

– For a movie that wants to be taken seriously, this takes far fetched and stupid to a whole new level. As well as a boys versus girls, playground level interpretation of feminism, it serves a stream of contrivances, and endless vile people to hate with not one to root for. It’s like receiving frustration via IV. What’s the time? Taser time. Absolute balls.

The Mosquito Coast S01 (TV)

– far from just a Theroux family vanity project. Both in terms of plot and stylistically, this is a cross between Breaking Bad and Ozark. I’m yet to be convinced it’s on a par with either, but it’s not too far off. Its biggest issue is that for the plot to work, it’s contingent on a single contrivance: that in this family fleeing from the US government at all costs, neither of the teenage children, nor the audience, ever learn why they are being chased. That grows thinner and more implausible with each passing episode. Fortunately, they’re just about exhilarating and smartly scripted enough (barring some grimace-inducing social commentary) to keep the McGuffin rolling, but Season 2 will have a lot of explaining to do.

I See You

– (the one with Helen Hunt and Jon Tenney, not the freaky home video b-movie of the same name and year!) After an unconvincing start, this resolves to be much cleverer than it first appears. It still feels a bit forced, but the plot keeps you guessing and there are more twists (and satisfactory twists at that) than most movies get away with.

Riders of Justice

– Danish revenge comedy aims for black humour but leans too far into tragedy at times. It’s original, well-cast and acted, though its silliness distracts from an insightful depiction of grief.

Line of Duty S06 (TV)

– early Line of Duty may have been brilliant at times, but this series was dire. Bad scripting, a made-for-TV gloss and style of editing that feels dated in this day and age, and laughably unrealistic plot turns including shoot outs with automatic weapons in the middle of the street by teams of ‘bent coppers’ which appear to gain no media coverage nor warrant further investigation. About the only realistic thing in the entire show is the ending, which is unpopular because it’s so uneventful. Plus, every character has become a caricature and half of the lines uttered are catchphrases or clichés. So disappointing.

The Innocent (El Inocente) S01 (TV)

– twisting thriller with a stellar cast starts strong then rapidly goes off the rails, stretching implausibility until it snaps and becomes straight up stupidity. A shame, as it seemed so promising, but shows like these – especially Spanish – never let realism get in the way of melodrama, and the standard suffers.

Promising Young Woman

– simultaneously both enjoyable and uncomfortable, but not enjoyably uncomfortable. Clearly designed to provoke, I imagine post-cinema conversations varied wildly. It’s a shame Carey Mulligan’s Cassie was quite so unhinged and unsympathetic, else the viewer might have found it easier to root for her.

Blue Iguana

– may one day give this another shot, but at the point I gave up on it, it would have taken a miraculous sea-change to redeem it. Puerile, unfunny, and just really goddam boring.

Judas and the Black Messiah

– I wanted to like this much more than I actually did. It’s a powerful story, well acted and polished, but it struggles under its own weight, estranges the viewer rather than entices them. Worthy, but too in awe of its subject matter to deliver an enthralling crime drama.

The Mauritanian

– apart from its awkward title, this is an awkward film. Though the message is clear and, to some extent, lands, the way it depicts the brutality of gitmo feels gratuitous, particularly as the cast are all a bit too Hollywood-gloss to achieve the grittiness it seems to be aspiring to, and the script, too, feels like it was hammered out to a studio formula. In short, despite its “true story” claims, it feels inauthentic.

Le Bureau S05 (TV)

– disappointingly, the series never fully recovered after it’s 4th season dip in quality, but at least this is an improvement, and it’s still gripping and above average entertainment. It’s a shame this series adopted a strangely hallucinatory style of editing and direction, and felt a little too self-indulgent with its multiple dream sequences and graphic sex scenes. The final two episodes in particular felt decidedly out of character and tonally off. Nonetheless, absolutely worth watching for fans of the show and still highly enjoyable.

The Inmate (El Recluso) S01 (TV)

– enjoyably awful Spanish language prison thriller with a crazy and implausible plot, a terrible script, and editing that feels like whole chunks of the show were left on the cutting room floor. That said, the cast put in admirably hammy performances – with Flavio Medina as Peniche and David Chocarro as Santito both particularly riveting. They deserve much better roles. All in all, not worth it unless you’re a fan of this kind of shambolic telenovela melodrama. Shamefully, perhaps, I am.

Le Bureau S04 (TV)

– The first season of the show that feels dangerously close to ‘average’. Malotru is still out of control, buffeted around by circumstances, the loss of a key figure is seriously detrimental to the dynamic, and for some reason, the writers decided they’d lean into the tried and tested magic of hacking and AI for a bounty of deus ex machinas and other plot contrivances. It’s still an enjoyable ride, but this season fell far short of its predecessors, including with its uncertain and slapdash conclusion.

Le Bureau S03 (TV)

– the French spy thriller’s standard stays high, mostly, and the multitude of stories engaging – if a little familiar, despite a plot development that has the potential to derail the whole series.

Le Bureau S02 (TV)

– Malotru is back and so is the staggeringly high standard of screenwriting and acting. So compelling and fast paced, it feels like it ran straight into series three. Your love hate relationship with Marina Loisseau starts here…

Le Bureau S01 (TV)

– high stakes, nuanced and blisteringly tense French spy drama takes an episode to get going and then never lets up. With top notch performances and intelligent scripting, this is that rare gem: a truly great spy thriller.

The White Tiger

– Netflix finally surprises with this wicked little cracker, an acerbic excoriation of wealth inequality and Western hypocrisy in a similar vein to Parasite. The pacing sags slightly in the middle and the ending is weird, but nonetheless, this is a great start to 2021 cinema. What a phenomenal performance from Adarsh Gourav.

Synchronic

– intriguing sci-fi thriller hugely undermined by a dreary mid-life crisis subplot and less than precise ‘time travel’ logic. Worth it for genre fans though.

The Little Things

– clearly aspired to be better than its end result and I applaud that ambition, but the script isn’t up to scratch and the direction and editing are also subpar. Disappointed this didn’t itch the crime thriller scratch, but nice to see Denzel in anything really….

Mr Mercedes S01 (TV)

– ten episodes is far too long, and though both leads can hold their audience (extremely disconcertingly in Harry Treadaway’s case), the direction and scripting leaves a lot to be desired, with contrivances and implausible behaviour happening all over the shop. It’s also extremely gratuitous and graphic and generally pretty damn unpleasant to watch. On balance, with the range of high quality TV available now, I’d give this a miss.

Possessor Uncut

– Gawd almighty! This is a scarring and difficult watch; it ought to carry a warning or something. Most disorienting and savagely twisted thing I’ve seen since Eraserhead, except with stylishly stark colours, modern technology and today’s desensitisation to extreme violence, this is so much more harrowing. I genuinely think it’s a health hazard…

Manhunt: Deadly Games S02 (TV)

– not a patch on the original Unabomber series. The scripting is farcical at times, and it’s dismaying that most of the story and characters are completely fabricated. Honestly though, for fans of high stakes crime thrillers, this is still an engaging and easy-viewing romp.

Let Him Go

– fire and brimstone in Gladstone in this slow and dreary neo-Western starring an achingly weary and world-weary Kevin Costner. It’s all too much effort and mostly nonsensical anyway. As if this year wasn’t hard enough.

Roadkill S01 (TV)

– Hugh Laurie demonstrates why he’s consistently chosen as a leading man, but I’m not sure this series is really anything more than a juicy political soap opera. Light, easy viewing, and for both these reasons, also quite boring.

Les Misérables (2019)

– not to be confused with the classic of the same name (or any of its incarnations), this is a gritty, high intensity police thriller that plays out like a French remix of City of God and Training Day. At once tender and brutally, shockingly savage, it’s a pièce de résistance and a must watch.

A Patch of Fog

– well-titled, sinister stalking thriller is a bit too focused on its two leads, and compelling as their performances are, it needed diluting with a subplot or a few more characters. Overall, this punches above its weight.

Cardinal S01 (TV)

– quite gruesome but enjoyably straightforward cop show, short episodes and a short season. This is no True Detective, but it’s ideal for filling the gap between bigger and better TV shows.

DNA S01 (TV)

– as expected from one of the writers of (the original) The Killing, this is an above average scandi crime thriller with twists aplenty and a delightful capacity to surprise. Though imperfect, it’s an enjoyably puzzling mystery for anyone with an appetite for the genre.

Hustlers

– J Lo plumbs the depths of sleaze in this tiresome and drawn out drama about strippers drugging then robbing punters. A feminist rallying cry it’s not.

The Trial of the Chicago 7

– a fantastic and fantastically timely piece of cinema. Sorkin’s script is characteristically sharp and pacy, and the cast are at the top of their game. Rarely do I feel so animated by a film, but this is certainly stirring. A must watch.

Alone

– fair to say this is an above average kidnapping thriller, and the vexing reliance on contrivances to make it all work is offset by its patient direction and performances. Shame it’s so damn nasty, but that’s the genre I suppose.

Bad Samaritan

– the bad title sets the tone for this ludicrously stupid but improbably engaging serial killer thriller featuring the magnetic Robert Sheehan. I haven’t shouted at the TV so much in ages. Quite cathartic actually…

Queen and Slim

– this slow paced crime drama is acrimonious with confused messaging and a tonal dissonance that never sits right. Feels like a well financed student film, despite the stellar leading duo.

Patriot S01 (TV)

– Ozark-vibes comedy finds humour in the blackest of places. It fluctuates between highly entertaining and hugely depressing, and its slow pace might be off-putting to some, but it’s pleasingly original.

Tenet

– both leads are phenomenal in this fast paced, slickly shot headscratcher that’s as confusing as it is engaging and either too clever or too tangled for its own good. Not as enjoyable as Nolan’s last few films (excluding The Dark Knight Rises which is a bad anomaly).

Beforeigners S01 (TV)

– light-hearted sci-fi scandi crime series playfully ridicules modern and historic societal attitudes while erring on just the right side of spoof. Definitely not high art, and definitely unfinished after one series, but there’s enough fun and mystery here that I’m happy to recommend.

The Valhalla Murders S01 (TV)

– fairly standard scandi-noir, some duff writing, stupid coincidences and a lot of personal relationship drama that dilutes the intrigue and distracts from the plot, but it’s watchable enough if murder mysteries are your cup of tea.

Waco (TV)

– Koresh gets a (somewhat) sympathetic depiction in this immediately compelling dramatisation of the Waco catastrophe. The filmmakers caveat their portrayal to some extent, and it remains unclear how factual it is, but this is a pretty hard hitting indictment of the ATF and FBI’s approach to the standoff. Gripping from the off, and definitely recommended.

Bad Education

– slightly protracted but excellent comedic drama with two stunning lead performances: Allison Janney is genuinely the best in the business and Hugh Jackman is nearly unrecognisable (within reason).

The Whistlers

– Romanian Spanglish crime drama is convoluted in the extreme, with allegiance switching and betrayals galore. It’s sumptuous to look at and keeps you guessing, but the conclusion doesn’t tie things as neatly as hoped, and the tone is too deadpan to be fun.

Bosch S06 (TV)

– unusually, a show that gets better with time. It’s reassuringly steady and unambitious; not shock and awe, just the enjoyably slow piecing together of disparate cases and clues.

Barry S01 (TV)

– I wanted to like this much more than I actually did. While clearly a Bill Hader vanity project, he’s easily good enough to carry it, and in a silly way the plot just about works. The tone is all over the shop though, sometimes slapstick goofball (and unfunny) comedy, sometimes sharply witty, and sometimes quite devastating drama. If it were consistently smarter and funnier, it might work, but as it stands, it falls short.

Just Mercy

– as dramatic and bleak as the subject matter dictates, complete with protracted execution sequence. Doesn’t do anything new with the formula, but sadly these films are still very necessary.

Waves (2019)

– hesitant to award the Smiley not because it’s undeserving, but because it’s like having boiling hot water splashed on your face for two hours. It’s emotionally scolding, furious and furiously intense, with a soundtrack that’s as dominant as the powerhouse performances it lifts. I felt damaged after watching it, but somehow a little bit stronger too.

Defending Jacob S01 (TV)

– by and large, this is an engaging and addictive drama but its innumerable flaws (dated gender stereotypes, predictable twists, endless contrivances, to list a few) lead to an underwhelming and disappointing conclusion.

Joker

– on a second viewing this still holds up as an intense cinematic experience, though as a result of the current political situation and rioting in the USA, it feels a little less comfortable as entertainment.

The Trial (Il Processo) (TV)

– Italian crime thriller reaches for high stakes but descends into melodrama instead. The story is an absurd, rambling, meandering mess, beleaguered by endless contrivances. There’s nearly nothing here to like.

Devs S01 (TV)

– for an emotive premise, the Devs cast seems to have been carefully selected and briefed to be devoid of emotion. It results in dry and deadpan delivery that’s a real turn off, and in some cases downright infuriating (see preachy, expressionless Alison Pill as Katie who seems to be trying her hardest to stop viewers wanting to engage at all). As a fan of sci-fi, I’ve come to expect some pseudo-science-philosophy-waffle, it’s often required exposition, but here, presumably in an attempt to be profound, the explanatory science and logic is told in a condescending, imperious fashion, and the line between confident, self-assured plot, and smugly complacent “we know something you don’t know”-ism is crossed time and again. It’s a shame and especially frustrating as predeterminism is not even a particularly challenging concept. There’s so much going on here, and some of it is brilliant (like the soundtrack, set design and Nick Offerman’s simmering performance), but unfortunately, it ties itself in knots trying to one-up the viewer, and ends up collapsing inwards. If this was a first draft, the potential would be so exciting, but as a finished product, it falls very far short.

Yellowstone S01 (TV)

– A promising start then it all falls apart. That’s the plot, as well as a review. This Montana set Western follows unsympathetic, even despicable characters, through an endless stream of farfetched and usually violent contrivances. The scenery is beautiful, the premise is strong, the execution is near terrible. Show creator Taylor Sheridan is a serious talent, a pity he’s only credited with story for the first two episodes (by far the best).

Bad Boys For Life

– To contrast with the Smiley of Approval, maybe I should introduce a sad face for truly disappointing films. Given my fondly nostalgic memories of its progenitors, this pitiful, unfunny excuse for an action comedy would certainly deserve one. A generous viewer might argue the buddy cop duo themselves at least retain a degree of charisma, but even that’s a stretch. A great shame.

Better Call Saul S05 (TV)

– when brilliant writing meets convincing acting and memorable cinematography is cut with creative direction, you end up with a show as consistently compelling as Better Call Saul. Jimmy has come a long way since we were first introduced to his origin story, but Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould pace his development just right, with barely a foot wrong. Unfortunately, the wrong foot in this season falls in the final episode, which is a real clanger given the deliberate realism of the series so far. This might well be the best show currently on TV though, and over 50 episodes, the occasional misstep can be forgiven.

Ozark S03 (TV)

– though the black witted crime drama remains a cut above most of its competition, this season dips in the middle, returns to retread some old ground, and has a sense of inevitability about it that is dangerously close to tedious. That said, it ends with a bang, the comedy remains laugh out loud at times, and the main cast are as terrific as ever. It’s a shame the writers lean into ’emotional conflict’ so heavily they could be following notes from a university lecture on creative writing. It grates.

Tiger King S01 (TV)

– batshit crazy biopic cum true-crime documentary about the deadly rivalries between private zoo owners in the USA. Definitely unique and worth watching for the extraordinarily eccentric characters and the eye opening lives they lead. The chronology is chaotic though and the whole series too drawn out. It also feels a little manipulative, as these shows so often do, withholding key information or revealing it in drips to frame audience opinion and maximise shock factor.

Marshall

– the eponymous Thurgood Marshall and Jewish lawyer Sam Friedman face bigotry, discrimination and an uphill battle for justice while defending a black man on trial for rape. Plain sailing legal drama, neat and unambitious, but enjoyable enough.

Rememory

– surrounded by unconvincing performances, static direction and dodgy editing, Peter Dinklage (aka Tyrion Lannister) turns sleuth and rummages through memories to solve a murder. It’s a disappointingly weak manifestation of a sci-fi premise which, though unoriginal, has stacks of potential.

A Confession (TV)

– Martin Freeman is well cast in this tense and punchy drama detailing the fall from grace of Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher, who caught a serial killer then spent years fighting for his career as well as pursuing justice for the victims’ families. No comment on the facts of the case, but as a TV show, this is polished and absorbing, if a little heavy on the drama and liberal with the exposition. It’s definitely worth a watch.

The Capture S01 (TV)

– if every character wasn’t so annoying, and the plot wasn’t so ludicrous, this very-BBC-TV cop thriller could have been good. As it stands, it’s certainly bingeable, and paced fast enough you might overlook its endless irrationality. I’m afraid I couldn’t.

Dark Waters (2019)

– A horror movie title for a drama detailing a litany of corporate horrors. Though a handful of moments are so Hollywoodised as to stretch credulity, the bulk of this David versus Goliath saga is compelling, jaw-dropping and powerfully affecting. A perfect example of the power of film to educate as well as entertain.

The Outsider S01 (TV)

– after an intriguing and promising start, this Stephen King mystery abandons the mystery, introduces a human-possessing demon and an expositional clairvoyant, then sinks the viewer into their very own hell: boredom. Hugely disappointing, an absolute waste of time.

Richard Jewell

– Clint Eastwood’s attack on government and the media is badly timed and hamfisted in places, but it’s (mostly) engaging and boasts consistently excellent performances from Hauser, Bates and Rockwell.

21 Bridges

– suspenseful cop thriller with tight direction and strong performances, particularly from leads Stephan James and Chadwick Boseman. A shame they opted for so many shoot ’em ups rather than a smarter script, but what it does, it does well.

The Stranger (TV)

– very ‘made for TV’ binge mystery starts intriguing but farfetched and gets progressively more and more inane. None of it adds up, none of it is remotely plausible outside of the realms of TV land, and it’s stupid even by those low standards. Save yourself the eyerolls and vexation: avoid.

Motherless Brooklyn

– a long, moody film noir a la Chinatown; atmospheric, mostly well acted, and simply directed (in contrast to its convoluted plot). It’s a shame that albeit engaging and definitely worth watching, it falls a little short of its potential. Love the jazz soundtrack.

Giri/ Haji (TV)

– international detective story boasts a cast at the top of their game, a hugely witty script and more excitement by episode three than most series have reached by their finale. Unfortunately, it struggles to sustain its focus, becomes diverted by petty relationship dramas and ill thought out plot strands and so misses the bullseye. That said, fantastic TV show, highly recommended. Great soundtrack too.

Black ’47

– named after the most devastating year of The Great Famine in Ireland, this revenge drama is as dour as the title suggests. The production and score is solid, but the plot’s unremarkable and overall it’s too flat to recommend.

The Gentlemen

– it is a relief to see such a proficient return to form from Guy Ritchie who delivers an innovative, irreverently funny and fast paced helter-skelter ride featuring his by now trademark one-liner quips, slickly stylised direction, and an hilariously addled narration by Hugh Grant’s oleaginous private investigator. Everyone is at the top of their ham game, and this is an absolute riot.

Uncut Gems

– without doubt a brilliantly concocted and immersive feat of film-making, but it’s so relentlessly high stress, angst-ridden and chaotic it’s hard to enjoy. Adam Sandler utterly embodies the role though, his finest performance.

El Reino (The Realm)

– a politician scapegoated in a financial scandal frantically tries to prove the corruption runs deeper. Excellent performances and a fast paced, compelling script, but the plot is occasionally confusing, and the ending is an outrageous disservice to viewers. Almost brilliant, but falls short.

Counterpart S01 (TV)

– JK Simmons’ doppleganger sci-fi definitely suffers from an overly ponderous pace and dour tone, but if you’ve the patience for it, there’s a smart spy thriller at its core, with a pleasantly convoluted and twisting plot, fantastic acting and an evocative musical score.

The Irishman (I Heard You Paint Houses)

– Scorsese rewinds the clock with Pacino, Pesci and De Niro back in their well-worn mobster shoes and retreading old ground with new technology. It’s a polished and accomplished epic, but despite modern techniques, somehow feels anachronistic, as if rediscovered and remastered from a bygone era of cinema. The 3.5 hour runtime may be offputting to potential viewers, but for those who can spare the time and patience, it’s a rewarding, if slightly underwhelming experience; a feat of film-making and a feat to watch.

Dublin Murders S01 (TV)

– a mixed bag of mystery and intrigue whose brilliant cast and sometimes sharp script is tempered by bad subplots and ludicrous allusions to the supernatural. An enjoyably compelling experience overall, but proves ultimately disappointing.

The Great Hack

– documentary raising the alarm on data manipulation and election rigging is certainly timely (if anything, belated – Twitter just banned political advertising). It deserves viewing, particularly by big data skeptics and critics of Carole Cadwalladr, but in its efforts to be mainstream and accessible, it barely scratches the surface of these major issues, with a narrow focus on a small cast of characters.

Animal Kingdom S04 (TV)

– perhaps the most bingeable of the show’s seasons despite a jarring and tedious historical plotline about Smurf. The writing is smarter and wittier than the last series (admittedly a very low bar to beat), and the plot moves at a fast pace through major, character-changing events. If you were on the fence about carrying on after S03 (and I wouldn’t blame you), this is worth resuming. If not, I wouldn’t bother starting Animal Kingdom at all.

Animal Kingdom S03 (TV)

– there’s nothing more criminal in this series than the way it has turned a menacing, high stakes crime drama into a chaotic, madcap and asinine catalogue of errors; as if the writers decided as long as they included the stock ingredients of drug-taking, sex and random acts of violence, they could avoid actually having to drum up a compelling storyline or any innovative new heists. This is terrible writing with nearly nothing to redeem it. As a fan of series 1, I can only hope they seriously upped the game for season 4. I’m not holding my breath.

Narcos: Mexico S01 (TV)

– engrossing as this sometimes is, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before (and in this show no less). The Narcos formula begins to feel tired; thin on ideas and excitement, with twists and turns bordering on predictable, and plot strands that run to nowhere. It doesn’t help that the characters this season aren’t charismatic and the ending, when it comes, concludes nothing.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

– very much a sequel to offer closure on Jesse Pinkman’s story. It plays more as an extended episode of the show than a standalone film, with some slightly laboured exposition to help fill the gaps. It’s an unnecessary but no less welcome return to Breaking Bad, and although it doesn’t bring anything new, Gilligan’s trademark camerawork and strong performances make for another engaging and competent production.

Cheap Thrills

– whether its ambition is to highlight the depravity of greed at all costs or not, this dog eat dog thriller is sick and repellent, depicting a viciously sadistic sequence of events it would be indecent to recommend. Grim indeed.

Joker

– where Heath Ledger’s Joker exploded on screen in a dazzling spectacle and jolt of adrenaline, Joaquin Phoenix’ character deteriorates like rot, until sympathetically unhinged becomes fully detached and he sucks chaos towards him like a black hole. It’s a masterful performance. Kudos, too, to Scott Silver and Todd Phillips, who have dared to introduce shades of grey to a genre dominated by black and white, added enough social commentary to stir up the zeitgeist, and still crafted an utterly compelling origin story for one of the most loathed and adored villains in the superhero catalogue. It’s only appropriate to award the smiley…

Time Lapse

– refreshingly original and thought provoking take on the time travel genre, where time and its nature is the centrepiece rather than a cheap plot device. Things escalate a little too fast, but overall this is fairly excellent, and has flown remarkably low under the radar. Deserves more attention.

Unbelievable S01 (TV)

– Though clearly a series on a mission, the impressive acting and well paced cat and mouse story allows for some didactic freedom without the script becoming too preachy. It takes a few episodes to really kick into gear, and the extensive exposition is tiresome, but once it has you, it’s extremely compelling viewing and a very refreshing addition to the crime genre.

The Boys S01 (TV)

– wildly original as well as just plain wild, this is a superhero misadventure with more dark twists and psycho kinks than a comicon in a bondage dungeon. The script is often too try-hard, whether in attempts at shock or humour, and the characters and Machiavellian scheming sometimes just too obvious, but as a cocktail, it’s hard not to swallow the lot with a giddy smile and extend the glass for more. Cross Deadpool with Banshee and you’re somewhere close – Antony Starr sure can pick ’em.

Creep 2

– Mark Duplass’ blackly humorous and curiously sympathetic serial killer has certainly carved himself a niche in the genre, but this iteration works more as a depraved character study than a horror.

Shaft (2019)

– three generations of Shaft buck the man and take on the crooks of Harlem in this silly, tongue-in-cheek action remake. Its humour stems from irreverantly playing with questionable notions of masculinity, casual misogyny and millennial bashing, and though it tries to do it with enough swagger that nobody cares, it still feels a few decades too late. Not offensive, just a bit pathetic.

Animal Kingdom S02 (TV)

– the crazed family of thieves continue to trample each other and everyone nearby in their attempts to earn a quick buck, get high or get laid. While there are some major plot developments this series and it remains easy viewing, the show feels less even-handed and considered than its prequel, with a reckless, scattergun approach that is messy and unconvincing.

Polar

– some will hate its overt comic book stylings and video game sensibilities – the shamelessly titillating nudity, caricatured villains and vividly graphic violence – but for fans of the genre this is a slickly produced and exhilarating ride.

Summer of 84

– Really wanted to like this despite the brazen and hamfisted rip-off of the Stranger Things aesthetic, but it’s protracted, humourless and unoriginal, with unsympathetic characters and drab direction.

Animal Kingdom S01 (TV)

– there are plenty of problems with this show, but none register for long before they’re superceded by a nailbiting thrill or a move that leaves you squirming. Though it wallows in gratuity – the whole cocktail of sex, drugs and violence – and the whole conceit stretches plausibility, it goes to plenty of dark places that a lesser show might not, and though the dialogue can seem trite at times, the cast (nearly) uniformly deliver even the weaker lines with an unhinged edge that keeps you gripped and their deranged characters intact. Echoes of Bloodline (2015) but far less restrained.

Ned Kelly (2003)

– rose-tinted reimagining of the life and times of the eponymous Irish/Australian scoundrel. Youthfully exuberant performances from its all star cast don’t disguise the uninspired direction and dated style. Tame.

Dragged Across Concrete

– deliberately dry and burdensome style could be off-putting to some viewers, but those with patience will be rewarded with a slickly directed, well shot and wrly amusing heist thriller of the sort that are few and far between these days.

Mindhunter (S02)(TV)

– As per the first series, though on paper the premise suggests an intense and suspenseful crime thriller, in practice, the ingredients feel undercooked, lukewarm, not even raw. The inherently interesting subject matter proves compelling enough to keep watching, but never excites.

Parasite

– this unique Korean masterpiece is first and foremost an hilarious black comedy, but more than that, it’s also a searing critique of class and capitalism, stacked full of metaphors and insightful dialogue, that feels simultaneously both horrifyingly prescient and reflective. Genius.

Piercing

– atonal film noir plays with expectations without ever meeting or bettering them. Despite an interesting, clinical style with some imaginative direction and a dreamy soundtrack, it sets its sights on sinister black comedy but winds up bafflingly humourless instead.

Chernobyl (TV)

– brilliantly crafted historical drama depicts the harrowing tragedy informatively and ungratuitously whilst remaining utterly engaging. A rare feat that more than deserves the acclaim and audience recognition it has received.

Stockholm

– crime caper that goes as awry as the faux bank heist it portrays. Without exception the characters are annoying and unlikeable, the direction is uninspired, and while incompetence can be amusing, it is more often infuriating, as it is here. Hugely disappointing.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

– Both Zac Efron and Lily Collins turn in brilliant performances in this risky biopic of serial killer Ted Bundy. In its execution though, the executioner is allowed too much sympathy. Albeit almost certainly the point, his repeated denials are credited with enough plausibility throughout as to be nearly convincing despite the widely known truth and ultimate outcome of his case. It leaves you wondering if the same cast and crew could have delivered a less troubling and thus more satisfying film.

The Good Neighbour

– though on the surface the conceit has some echoes of Disturbia (2007), this is a much more compelling and convincing film, with a plausible set up, backstory and conclusion. The puerile teenage interludes are tedious, but the overall execution is suspensful and engrossing. A pleasant surprise.

Shoplifters

– an original story told with wonderfully earnest performances and understated direction, but this heartfelt crime drama lacks the pace to really hook the viewer, relying on the intrigue of its premise and the promise of something more to keep them invested. It’s ultimately a little disappointing.

In The Fade

– slow paced but extremely intense crime drama documenting the misery and despair of a mother after she loses her husband and only son to a terrorist attack. So bleak it’s hard to recommend as entertainment.

The People vs. O.J. Simpson

– solid if unexciting show, worth watching, particularly as an educational historical piece highlighting the significance of the case as well as the simmering race issues at the time. Not the most fun I’ve ever had though…

Killing Eve S02 (TV)

– Sadly far inferior to its predecessor, this time it forgoes the cat and mouse excitement for a focus on relationships, resulting in the kind of banal drama found in any other run of the mill TV show. There are enough key ingredients to entertain, but it’s disappointing.

Bosch S05 (TV)

– a strong season for fans of grumpy Harry. It’s not cutting edge TV, it’s basic, borderline procedural crime drama, but the characters have a cantankerous charm about them, and the soundtrack and general atmosphere is somehow calming. In the absence of better crime thrillers, this is just dandy.

Quicksand

– if you can weather the first two unremarkable and slow paced episodes of this, it develops into a brilliantly acted and compelling crime drama where for all your suspicions, the truth only really emerges in the final seconds. Surprisingly powerful.

Under The Silver Lake

– comparisons to Inherent Vice are deserved, though I think the snowballing mystery in this is actually far more satisfying. Don’t be fooled by the gently intriguing trailer, this is a conspiracy movie for conspiracy theorists. It’s like watching a cheerful descent into mental illness.

Deadfall

– this script was not nearly deserving of such a strong cast. The dire writing and absurd plot leaves even actors of this calibre looking like soap stars. Crap.

The House That Jack Built

– Lars just throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. Nothing it seems. I wanted to like this. Dillon is excellent, but the film is just exhaustingly dull, vacuous and unpleasant for the sake of it. Not worth the time.

The Old Man & The Gun

– gentle heist drama with a sympatico Robert Redford giving his swan song performance. Gentle, with a great soundtrack and feel good vibes, this is short and comfy viewing, for fans of the actor, not the genre.

Detroit

– fiercely powerful and exceptionally difficult viewing. Brutal, sickening, offensive, but brilliantly well done. There is no entertainment here, but if you want to feel angry, if you want to get fired up, if you want to shed tears of fury for past and continuing injustices, this is the drug for the job.

The ABC Murders (TV)

– gratuitous and trashy whodunnit crime thriller with no wit, charm or smarts. The few bits of genuine intrigue remain unsolved at its conclusion, and the murderers motive (and unexplained obsession with Poirot) is farcical to the point of annoyance. Avoid.

Widows

– A film about corruption, patriarchy, racism, domestic abuse, prostitution, police shootings, adultery, greed…too many ingredients ultimately undermine this thriller, but it still packs a punch and delivers vastly better entertainment than the usual fare.

22 July

 – after the initial depiction of the event itself, which is morbidly compelling despite being more shocking and grotesque than you might even imagine, the extreme tension dissipates into extreme tedium as the usual dramatic beats take over, and a long and unexciting court case gets underway. There’s little here to entertain.

Fariña (Cocaine Coast) S01 (TV)

– a spanish language narcotics soap opera, a telenovela in every respect but production values. The story is predictable, character behaviours stupid, and every episode follows the exact same formula: risk of arrest being averted by a litany of increasingly absurd coincidences, contrivances, and deus ex machinas. If it wasn’t for the love of the language, it’s unlikely I’d have watched past episode two, and all the warning signs are there in episode one. If you want an amazing thriller about drug trafficking, there are so many to choose from, don’t choose this one.

Stranger S01 (TV)

– An above average whodunnit wrapped in political intrigue and cultural hierarchies and deferences. Our fascinating protagonist isn’t some blundering alcoholic battling with his demons as he solves cases; he is shrewd, capable, relentless, he sees much and says little, he is enigmatic but sympathetic, and his performance is fastidious and crisply delivered. The programme is soap operatic in many ways, excessively long (episodically and as a series), and it does suffer curious quirks and melodrama that are a million miles from realism or even plausibility, but overall these inadequacies don’t undermine its value as fun and extremely engaging television.

Deadwind S01 (TV)

– Based on episode one only, this is a plainly unoriginal and formulaic drama following the tropes established by The Killing, The Bridge and other far superior scandi-crime dramers/ thrillers. Given how competitive this space is, shows really need to do better to stand out.

Bosch S04 (TV)

– Great series overall and they handled a difficult plot turn mostly well, although it cast a glum shadow over the remaining episodes. This is a reliably solid detective show in a landscape that suffers from a drought of decent murder mysteries. Hope Bosch S05 gets the go ahead.

Ocean’s 8

– moderately entertaining, but not a patch on the trilogy that came before. Unfortunately it emulates Ocean’s 11 so closely it feels unoriginal and trite, doing no favours for its screaming effort to be a female showcase for a female audience (Doncha know there’s nothing women love more than shopping, glamour and jewellery?! An ‘A’ for effort Hollywood…)

Who Killed Cock Robin

– disappointing film overall, especially given the absurdly high rating it has on TMDb (and elsewhere…) It also doesn’t make a lot of sense at times, in a way that I’m not sure was down to the translation/ culture.

The Snowman

– this murder mystery is short on quality in just about every regard. the acting and direction is bland, the script stunted, and it’s so strangely and scrappily edited as to leave you feeling you’ve watched two thirds of a thriller. The ingredients for a much better film are there, but they’re served up uncooked and cold.

Grupo 7 (Unit 7)

– Spanish language police drama about a corrupt police unit who terrorise the locals to make arrests and increasingly antagonise the community with violent results. Polished, but simply not engaging enough to recommend highly. Elite Squad and its sequel delivered the same concept much more convincingly and enjoyably.

Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado

– Henceforth destined to be called simply ‘Soldado’, this sequel to the cartel thriller matches the suspense of its predecessor beat for beat and imitates its visual style mostly successfully. The ending feels too hastily wrapped up and slightly sloppy, with some niggling unresolved questions, so it doesn’t feel quite as polished or perfectly packaged as the original. Nonetheless, this is one hell of a film, brilliantly acted and scripted. It’s certainly a worthy sequel. Shame about the crap title.

Utopia S02 (TV)

– enjoyable continuation of the conspiracy thriller, but clutching at straws and contrivances in a way that series 1 didn’t need to. Still great entertainment, I’m just glad it was wrapped before it descended into farce.

Den of Thieves

– the one gripping heist sequence towards the end is very tightly executed, but the rest of this macho thriller is so testosterone fuelled and trite it’s off-putting. Too long as well.

Utopia S01 (TV)

– An intriguing and arresting pilot episode is followed by what must surely be one of the finest and most original conspiracy thriller series Britain has produced. There are some occasional lines of cheesy expositional dialogue, and the plot frequently strays into absurdity, but for sheer entertainment and thrilling momentum, this is an instant classic. Neil Maskell in particular is a rivetingly sinister villain.

Montage

– A classic, conventional crime thriller. Compelling, with various intriguing twists and turns. If only the ending wasn’t so drawn out it would be even better.

Mother

– not Aronofsky’s descent into madness of the same name, this Korean drama follows a mother seeking to exonerate her son from a murder charge. Atmospheric and well shot, but it didn’t move or excite me.

Tattoo

– German noir crime thriller, mostly gripping, if a little over the top. The plot is undermined by a plethora of extraordinary coincidences, but for fans of the serial killer genre, this is worth a watch.

La Casa De Papel

– what starts as a trashy Spanish heist thriller turns borderline unbearable as the plot twists itself into a ludicrous, inconsistent and often nonsensical mess. Then after 13 absurd episodes, the season ends abruptly and unsatisfyingly. Unless season two is a work of utter genius, I cannot recommend this.

The Five (TV)

– Thoroughly engaging and enjoyable TV drama exploring the mystery of why a missing and presumed dead boy’s DNA is showing up at murder seasons. Utterly ridiculous and implausible, but compelling.

Z (1969)

– I don’t think masterpiece is too strong a term for this marvellous conspiracy thriller. Way ahead of its time in terms of cinematography and directorial style. Vastly better than I could have imagined after so many years. Utterly convincing.

L’Affaire SK1

– Harrowing and compelling as this story is, and I did (mostly) enjoy the film, I was really disappointed that there wasn’t more to it. I expected a twist, or a revelation, or some kind of climax. Whilst real life doesn’t always come with neat red herrings and gut punch reveals, that is what the best crime thrillers deliver. I wonder if this might have been a better “based on a true story” rather than a direct biographical retelling.

Mindhorn

– I really enjoyed this again on a repeat viewing, although it definitely does sag in the middle, and the supporting cast aren’t up to Barratt’s comedic calibre.

Broadchurch S03

– far better than the second season, and its mistakes easier to forgive. It follows the same tropes and gives itself to tedious moralising at times, but this was a good fun whodunnit.

The Prestige

– so much more impressive on a second viewing, perhaps in part with maturity and in part from a greater and more complete understanding of the trick. A fantastic film to be sure.

Patriot’s Day

– a blow by blow, hour by hour retelling of the Boston Bombings. I’m not informed enough to be able to judge its accuracy, but it doesn’t feel gratuitous in any way. It’s focused on the community reaction, the strength of people there in the wake of the attack, and the police officers and security officials who worked to find the guys afterwards. There are definitely moments when they go off on one banging the drum for America and freedom, and the flavour of patriotism is a bit intense, but under the circumstances, it’s kind of forgivable, and it doesn’t detract much as a viewer. Bit long, and feels a bit too soon to be making it, but overall pretty solid.

Sherlock S04 (TV)

– a far fetched and self-conscious but mostly enjoyable crime series, with a finale that hugely disappoints. It seems the creators gave up on actual cases in favour of pseudo psychological thrills and set pieces, and the show suffers hugely as a consequence.

Passengers

– sci fi romance that fails on the science and the fiction, but somehow remains enjoyable, perhaps partly thanks to Chris Pratt being a loveable baffoon. J Law is always solid casting too. The lasting question as the credits roll, though: where the hell did Andy Garcia come from?

Goliath (TV)

– strong criminal drama with a frustratingly abrupt and unearned conclusion. Billy Bob Thornton is terrific, and the plot is intriguing and nuanced, but the rushed delivery in eight episodes was totally insufficient and ultimately disappointing.

The Night Of

– poor courtroom drama and scripting, and irrational, ill-formed character actions, slowly bled the promise of the excellent pilot until we’re left with a glorified, prolonged episode of Law & Order. It’s an enjoyable watch, but after a very strong start, it didn’t come close to its potential. A great shame.

Suicide Squad

– nonsensical plot with not enough malice in the team of criminal sociopaths, and not enough spectacle to be fun. Indestructable omnipotent villains with synthetic voices are sooooo tedious.

The Nice Guys

– wickedly funny detective crime caper. Chemistry between Gosling and Crowe is surprisingly feisty and the script is laden with black humour and unexpected slapstick. Just a great, fun film.

Miss Bala

– slightly gratuitous spanish language cartel thriller. Oddly sparsely scripted, with the titular character cowering from bullets in lingerie for most of the film. Not recommended.

Sicario

– Striking and artistically directed drug cartel thriller. Fantastic, nail biting, edge of the seat stuff from start to finish. I would see it again in an instant.

Narcos (TV)

– Fast paced (perhaps too fast paced), drug cartel crime thriller charting Pablo Escobar rise and fall from power in Colombia. Sharp acting and excellent direction, it’s a minor pity that the script frequently borders on US propaganda. Terrific TV though.

Nightwatch [original]

– It turns out the US remake was essentially a shot for shot rework of this original danish serial killer thriller which enormously undermined the impact of this for me. Clearly a solid film though, and pleasantly unpleasantly twisted.

Infernal Affairs

– It’s not often I declare a remake superior to the original, but in many ways I prefer The Departed to this crime thriller. The direction and acting are all top notch, but a couple of story twists were nicely refined for the US version. That said, this happily skips alot of the sappy Hollywood romance and tones down the caricature.

The Drop

– Pay close attention and this unexpected crime drama will pay dividends. Powerfully understated, with excellent performances to a man. Refreshingly original.

The Absent One

– Better than its predecessor. Another nordic crime thriller. A little more explicit and violent this one, the plot doesn’t unravel as suspensefully as it could, but it’s a tightly spun yarn.

Focus

– Vacuous heist/ con artist thriller that plays the usual cards and tricks with a hyper modern and unrealistic twist. Nowhere near as fun as it should and could have been, with all the ‘focus’ evidently misplaced on gloss instead of substance.

The Voices

– Utterly inane, wacky, off the wall serial killer comedy that baffles more than it entertains, although it’s worth watching to the end simply for the final credit sequence. Ryan Reynolds is a dream.

The Judge

– overwrought, exposition heavy, subplot laden and contrived. Downey Jr is in his fast-talking arrogant default, while Duvall does his part convincingly, although it could have been played just as firmly by any number of ageing actors. The whole film sets out as a tearjerker, and that ambition is all too obvious in the script and editing. The comedy is often misjudged (and largely based on the interjections of a ‘retard’) whilst all of the female roles exist solely as sex objects for Downey Jr. This is the kind of film that with a lesser cast wouldn’t cause a ripple in the film industry, but with these kinds of heavy hitters will probably be getting Oscar nods. Most frustrating.

The Parallax View

– Wonderfully directed, with an almost avant-guarde use of cinematography (given it’s era). It’s not a fast paced conspiracy thriller, but it’s compelling, intriguing, and rewarding overall for viewers who love to think and analyse.

The Code (TV)

– Gripping, if at times frustrating, Aussie conspiracy thriller. Solid acting in difficult roles, but as is so often the case, the show fails to offer any lovable, or even likeable characters, and consequently isn’t as enjoyable to watch as it could, and should, have been.

Mystery Road

– Slow burning Aussie crime drama that stumbles over some clumsy dialogue and wooden acting. The execution might not be perfect, but it still commands a solid level of intrigue. If only it had upped the pace.

Epitafios S01 (TV)

– Audience insulting twists, police incompetence, bad judgements, gratuity and cliches galore mar what could otherwise have been a moderately entertaining, if intellectually challenged, serial killer thriller. Frustration ruins a TV series though, and my God, this show is frustrating viewing! (We’re talking worse than Dexter S07)

Snake Eyes

– Creatively directed by De Palma, but massively overacted and with such blatant and crass exposition it feels hugely dumbed down, particularly as the plot is already so predictable. Still a more or less enjoyable conspiracy flick.

Body Double

– And the award for stupidest, most protracted death scene goes to… 80s thriller that fails in so many ways: an obvious set up, terrible lines of script, bad acting, disposable and ditzy female roles, and totally irrational character behaviour – including a policeman who is told of a murder happening metres away and chooses to arrest the witness. Unfathomable stupidity on every level. How are films like this given the greenlight?

Street Kings

– Decidedly average bent cop conspiracy thriller. Likens itself to Training Day (and is directed by the writer, David Ayer), but operates in a different league entirely. The performances are solid, especially from Whittaker and Reeves, though this remains ultimately dull.

Banshee S01

– Give it a chance. Yes it’s stylised, yes it’s testosterone fuelled and macho, but the story really gels together tightly as the episodes progress, and the characters endear themselves quickly. The writing is smart and witty, even laugh out loud at times, and whilst the female characters are indubitably sexualised, they are also strong willed, intelligent and resilient. It’s an excellent hybrid of procedural and serial, with an overarching narrative that progresses swiftly enough whilst always including a novel element each episode. Highly recommended, and with room still to grow. Antony Starr is a revelation.

Papillon

– a terrific epic of prison life in French Guyana, exploring friendship, hope and survival. Strong performances and a great script bless us with a very emotive and thought provoking film.

Double Jeopardy

– the premise and set up for this crime thriller are so bad, and so badly executed, that the suspension of disbelief necessary to enjoy it becomes an immediate issue. The chase is adequate, though the cliches and contrivances stack high. Not worth the time.

The Long Goodbye

– Comparisons to Chinatown aren’t too far off. This crime drama is similarly disappointing. It’s not bad, but given the level of acclaim it has achieved, this viewer certainly expected more. Some fantastic lines of dialogue somewhat make up for the slow and convoluted narrative. Gould is great.

True Detective

– Some of the greatest moments of TV, and some that are utterly pretentious. Hits and misses, but mostly hits. The lead performances are astounding and the cinematography is bang on the money. This is well worth watching, I look forward to season two.

House of Cards S02

– Faster than the first, and better for it. Mistakenly overlooks the conspiracy angle in favour of reshifting the political landscape, but hopefully the third series will pick up where it left off. Very happy to see Jimmi Simpson and Boris McGiver in play.

Takers

– Bizarre. A compelling heist movie up until about the two thirds mark, where it’s as if an entirely different director took over, and starting juggling storylines left right and centre, oblivious to all of the plot strands he was dropping. Immensely frustrating and so disappointing as this could have been, if not great, then very solid and entertaining.

Knight Moves

– Another serial killer thriller centred around a chess genius, this performs better than Uncovered but still feels like a tired cliche. Once the initial chess scene is set, there’s little to distinguish it from the hundreds of other noir thrillers aspiring to be more than bargain basement fluff.

Hannibal (2013) (TV)

– I really tried to like this. Mads Mikkelsen is a terrific actor, but this show is just agonisingly bad. The script is weak at best, shoddy at worst. All of the actors are coasting. Gillian Anderson hasn’t played a different role since… ever, and every episode seems to be an attempt to shock. The colour grades and sfx are stylised to distraction whilst the plot itself fails to flesh out any kind of compelling, plausible thrills or drama, and is consequentially surprisingly boring. The fact that practically everything Will says suggests that Hannibal is the killer, and everything Hannibal says has a murderous subtext, leaves you wondering how an entire team of “FBI behavioural experts and profilers” can be so unfathomably oblivious . This is like starting Dexter in season five; bad and poised to plummet further.

Uncovered

– A film that makes every effort to prove that chess goes hand in hand with crime and intrigue, where the chess pieces are the clues to murder and are taken entirely literally, knight for knight, castle for castle. Unbelievably bad – one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Terrible acting and the script is almost entirely exposition, not to mention there is an utterly bizarre sexual obsession throughout, way beyond the ordinary 90s smut.

The Kings of Summer

– A peculiar, downbeat dramedy following the eccentric lives of three teenage boys who choose to live in the woods. Naturally their nirvana falls apart with the introduction of a girl. An intriguing, worthwhile watch, but nowhere near the laugh out loud experience anticipated off the back of that killer trailer. Make sure you’re amped up on caffeine before you embark on this journey…

Dirty Harry

– Iconic movie with classic lines, a top notch soundtrack and some truly innovative camera work for the era. A powerhouse psychotic performance from Andy Robinson as the killer, and the usual hardnosed Clint with his magnum and trademark sneer. It has significantly dated and it’s a pity that the plot doesn’t quite add up, but it’s definitely one to watch.

The Boston Strangler

– Illuminating biopic about Albert Desalvo, the self-confessed Boston Strangler. Very dated with clumsy direction techniques, but nonetheless worth watching for anyone interested in the psyche of serial killers.

Dredd

– The eponymous Judge dessimates a tower block of drug fuelled gang members in this straight forward action shoot ’em up. Laughably ludicrous but good, mindless fun.

Simon Killer

– Thought provoking and unflinching. Edging in to gratuity with a few scenes though, and despite obvious efforts still felt a little shallow. We are as distant from Simon at the end as we were at the beginning.

The Interview

– An excellently unsettling dialogue driven thriller from down under. Hugo Weaving delivers a very different, but nonetheless brilliant, performance as the victim of a police manhunt. Could have done with a little more resolution.

Identity Thief

– Nauseatingly puerile and astoundingly dull, the humour is thin on the ground at best, although Bateman is as always a pleasure to watch. One or two laugh out loud moments make it just about watchable.

Side Effects

– after a slow first act, a compelling story and dialogue driven thriller emerges. It’s a little too vindictive and gratuitously nasty in tone for my tastes, and the twists take the movie from a clever critique of pharmaceutical ethics to more standardised, familiar territory, but Jude Law and Rooney Mara are excellent and it is original enough to warrant careful viewing.

Criminal Law

– Exudes a sense of smugness despite clearly falling short of its ambition. The acting is hammy at best, and the thrills anticipated. When you think villainous Martin is going to show up – he is, usually in a doorway.

Edison

– an incohesive, ramshackle mess. Timberlake gives a bad, inexperienced performance, more sulky teen than Pulitzer hunter, while Freeman and Spacey are thrown in for star factor alone. Inexplicably shifts from conspiracy thriller to flamethrower shoot’em up in the final ten minutes. Avoid.

The Good Thief

– spices up about half way through and takes a turn for the significantly better, but it’s still a little too patchy for a ‘cool heist’ to sit in the same league as Ocean’s 11.

Killer Joe

– one of those truly, scarringly bizarre, brutal, graphic and mind mangling films. Sick, but morbidly intriguing. Don’t watch with anyone you could be embarassed with…

The Hunt

– Incredible, beautifully shot and and outstandingly well acted drama. It should be compulsory viewing so we are all forced to evaluate how quick we are to judge.