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.

Togo

– for a film about a dog, this is a surprisingly heart warming sermon on love and determination, with gentle, affecting performances from Dafoe and Nicholson.

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.

The Way Back

– if there’s only one compelling reason to watch this, it’s Ben Affleck’s masterful performance. Affleck’s career has had such an impressive arc, with his recent roles showing serious talent and selective nous. The plot itself is quite disappointing, adhering to nearly every sports movie trope, but it’s less about the sport and more about the man and his battle with alcoholism. Worth a watch for the acting, if not the story.

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.

Adrift

– more dull romantic drama than survival thriller, this features strong performances from the central duo (it’s basically a two man cast), but the script is terrible, really insipid, and the romance is on the nose.

Midway

– typical Roland Emmerich action thriller (Independence Day, 2012): talking torsos surveying destruction as it unfolds on a green screen and flag waving as they stare down the barrel of inevitable defeat to ultimately triumph against the odds. If glorifying war wasn’t enough, it also features some of the thinnest female characters ever committed to screen. Yeah, it’s a Sunday movie, and absolutely undeserving of its current IMDb/ TMDb ratings.

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).

Onward

– an inept boy struggles to get over the loss of his dad while learning to appreciate his brother in the emotional plot underpinning this animated magic adventure. Whether it works for you is likely to correlate directly with your own family relationships. It’s certainly less adult-friendly than some other Pixar creations, generally eschewing wit and pop culture references in favour of slapstick comedy as it ploughs a familiar feel good groove, reiterating the beloved Hollywood values of family, standing on your own two feet, and facing your fears.

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.

Little Women

– solid piece of cinema. If period drama is your genre, you’ll love this. Really strong performances throughout (particularly from Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh), a smart script with some cutting one liners, and an emotive story.

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.

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.

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.

Bombshell

– smart dialogue, terrific acting and generally a pleasant surprise. What a cast. Could have done without the expositional breaking of the fourth wall, but at least it’s curtailed in comparison to The Big Short and Vice (neither of which impressed as much as this).

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.

A Private War

– Dialogue is thin, even condescending in places, the depiction of PTSD is a standard, unsubtle Hollywoodisation, and some of the direction is plain weird, like a sequence where Colvin has sex with a stranger while her voiceover describes dismembered bodies. All in all it’s an unimaginative, unflattering and strenuous biopic of war correspondent Marie Colvin.

Bacurau

– bold and indisputably extraordinary, this sinister, Brazilian dystopian drama is tirelessly intriguing but never clear. Though its metaphors are plain and the thin story captivating, without more grounded explanation, it feels incomplete. An interesting experience though.

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.

Servant S01 (TV)

– the clues to this convoluted, slow-burning, skin-crawling mystery emerge through a combination of supernatural horror and black humour. It’s a claustrophobic drama, brilliantly acted, wonderfully intriguing and often very funny, but it’s also inconsistent, juggling a plethora of ideas and themes that are too meandering (almost random), and left underdeveloped and ultimately a bit thin (echoes of Lost). Perhaps an expanded cast and range of locations will help flesh it out in season two.

1917

– The problem with this style of cinema is that it’s massively distracting. It invites more time spent wondering about the production methods, hidden cuts, and how the environment is mapped out than engaging with the characters and story. Without the self-imposed constraints of the single take impression it could have been a better film, and still included long takes where appropriate. Instead, it belongs in the same category as Gravity: an incredible feat of film-making at the cost of storytelling. But like Gravity, is an unmissable spectacle and deserving of accolade.

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.

Aniara

– a bleak prophesy of our colonial space future, and an equally bleak metaphor for our fleeting time here on Earth. Impressive in its way, but distinctly vapid and a massive downer.

The Morning Show S01 (TV)

– Billy Crudup carries this hyperbolic #metoo movement drama as sociopathic and anarchic network news president, Cory Ellison, perhaps the only character among the whole stellar lineup who’s actually entertaining or likeable. There are moments of clever scripting – some even laugh out loud, but mostly it’s not half as clever as it would like to be or thinks it is, brimming with overacting, contrived set pieces, and a condescending didacticism that seeps through cheesy montage after heartfelt speech after hysterical breakdown as the show goes to increasingly far-fetched and eye-rolling lengths to inject some excitement and jeopardy into morning news. It’s certainly bingeable, that much is true, but whether it deserves to be binged is another matter. It feels like a desperate effort to capitalise on real world events, yet despite its grounding in the truth, manages to be utterly unconvincing.

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.

The Current War

– bad tempered, unlikeable characters go back and forth and over and over in the ego impelled rivalry between Westinghouse, Edison and Tesla. It’s dry and not particularly entertaining, but competent.

Stan & Ollie

– they’re good performances from the central duo as Laurel and Hardy, but it’s too focused on their waning years and brittle friendship, so the balance is all off and it’s mostly maudlin and unfunny.

Jojo Rabbit

– uniquely original war film with a twist is a work of genius from Taika Waititi. It has so much charm, outlandishly daring laugh-out-loud humour, and a top tier cast. Particularly impressive turns from young child stars, Roman Griffin Davis and Thomasin McKenzie – definitely ones to watch.

The Two Popes

– delightfully warm reflection on the transition from Pope Benedict to Pope Francis, featuring immense performances from both Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins, and a witty script.

The Lion King (2019)

– not so much a reimagining as a realistic, shot for shot remastering of the original, with a few added modernising updates. It remains a two dimensional but heart-warming tale with memorable characters and moments of laugh out loud comedy.

Dead Man

– meandering, peculiar and pretentious arthouse Western has a dream-like quality despite its black and white aesthetic. If there’s gold in the dirt, I didn’t see it.

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.

The Report

– insightful and cerebral drama about crimes by the CIA against detainees post 9/11. Top performances and intelligent scripting, but the volume and density of information makes it hard work at times.

Late Night

– it’s punctuated by earnest speeches throughout and inevitably burdened by a preachy premise, but its comedy just about survives and, overall, it’s an uplifting experience.

Free Solo

– documentary about climber Alex Honnold scaling El Capitan in Yosemite without ropes is nail-biting, edge of the seat, stress-saturated brilliance. The vistas, the personalities, his philosophy and, of course, the feat itself are all profoundly affecting, and together make for an introspective and inspiring piece of cinema.

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.

Aladdin

– adults are clearly not the target audience for this cringeworthy musical adaptation of the classic from Guy Ritchie, but kids will enjoy it, and thankfully, Will Smith offers some light relief as the hammy genie who goes above and beyond.

The Favourite

– whilst certainly a novel regal portrait, Olivia Coleman’s childishly petulant Queen is tiresome to watch, and the crass, stilted dialogue of her courts, presumably aiming for humour, is jarring and at times perilously close to repulsive. A nasty period piece. Not for me.

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…

The Nightingale

– Excessively long and hate-filled Australian gothic Western whose endless bloody viciousness is primed to enrage audiences, not least because so many opportunities for dissent are passed over by the frustratingly pathetic Nightingale, who fails to fight for herself or anyone else throughout, and apparently prefers a sneering lullaby to a vengeful bullet. Hugely irritating.

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.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

– Skilled film-making as always from Tarantino, and played with wit and vigour from the all star cast. It doesn’t feel as well-plotted and balanced as some of his other films, more like an extended montage of different genres, but it’s good fun, for sure, and an interestingly self-aware depiction of Hollywood personalities and culture.

Mary Poppins Returns

– the banal becomes a little less banal as the titular childhood icon revisits the Banks family, bringing her imagination-championing philosophy to life with playful and psychedelic dance and song. It looks made for the stage, and feels strangely limited in scope, but Emily Blunt excels as always and it’s hard to imagine children will be disappointed.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Anima

– PT Anderson directed musical short with Thom Yorke is fairly captivating, but given it’s only 15 minutes long, it ought really to be utterly captivating. The first track especially is excellent, the remainder less so. For fans of Thom’s music and modern dance though, this is definitely worth watching.

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…

The Wolf’s Call

– Wonderfully dramatic French thriller – such a refreshing surprise. Yes, it’s full of absurdly Hollywoodised moments, but they have a kind of hammy charm, and the overall suspense and tension is terrific throughout. Thoroughly enjoyed this one!

Eighth Grade

– one of the scariest, most uncomfortable and cringeworthy dramas. I watched it through splayed fingers and felt as anxious as Kayla. So hard hitting it’s like an anti-children advert, because no parent could ever want their child to endure what Kayla does while being impotent to change their situation. Great soundtrack too.

The Fundamentals of Caring

– Road trip drama with a snarky script, clunky exposition, and ridiculous contrivances. Though well meaning, the relentless Hollywood cheese is so blatantly emotionally manipulative it’s more likely to provoke eye rolls than tears.

The Square

– Endlessly intriguing and hilariously, wonderfully weird. Every time you think it’s reached peak strange, it gets a little stranger still. Unique.

The Wife

– brilliant performances but the story feels inevitable and unsurprising, even up to its concluding scenes. Very solid drama overall though.

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.

Creed

– pretty bog standard boxing movie, strong on the hype, short on the boxing. Got me fired up though, which is what you want from this sort of thing.

The West Wing S07 (TV)

– it’s only upon concluding the West Wing story that you realise how truly momentous and significant an achievement it was, and even more strikingly, how much the standard of the last three seasons suffered as a result of Aaron Sorkin departing the political drama. I could easily watch it again, but if and when I do, I’ll stick with the first four series and happily forget the unpleasantness of its concluding chapters.

White God

– there’s something affecting about this unorthodox drama when it eventually reaches its payoff, but the route there is so torturously dour and grisly, it’s hard to make the argument it’s worth it.

After Life S01 (TV)

– Gervais carries on his losing streak with a now typical dramedy where the comedy comes second to the laboured and on the nose hardship of his characters. If long-suffering fans are still hoping for a glimmer of the genius shown by The Office and Extras, this will disappoint. The XFM shows and podcast series continue to be mined for jokes, and even without his involvement, Karl’s ideas crop up throughout. Gervais seems to believe crass language is comedic in and of itself, resulting in a script that’s as hard to listen to as his protagonist is to like, his tedious, career-long obsession with atheistic bible-bashing goes on unabated, while the intended redeeming moments of poignancy are so devoid of subtlety or art they feel as lifeless as his character’s dead wife. This is a depressing show, both literally because of its content, and also because it suggests any hope for Gervais to return to his glory days is not worth holding on to.

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.

Roma

– The love for this black and white drama is incomprehensible. Some impressive shots and a smart visual style, but beyond that, there’s really little to it. I think this is a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Border

– sometimes knowing nothing about a movie before you go to the cinema leads you to experience unexpected gems. Othertimes it leads you to batshit crazy stuff like this bizarre Swedish fantasy drama about two trolls living in human society. If slow and weird is your bag, try it.

Bodied

– this hugely entertaining drama/ comedy about rap battles sends mixed messages, reveling in causing gratuitous offence under the guise of lampooning stereotypes. But while its message might be lost in translation, it still makes for a fun ride.

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 Angel

– confusing plot portrayed in a gripping and restrained manner. Worth watching this political thriller, but you might need a quick Wikipedia history lesson afterwards. (I did.)

Sorry To Bother You

– a dramedy with much to say and the good sense to say it with a sense of humour. Brilliantly original, each time it begins to tread a familiar path, it takes a dark turn into the ever more fantastical. Deserves a thesis, not a few lines of review. Watch it.

Vice (2019)

– trashy propaganda biopic with some good performances but a pretentious script and even more pretentious style of direction. Like watching someone pat themselves on the back for 2 hours. ‘Fact’.

A Simple Favour

– a bizarre balancing act between drama and comedy with just enough of each to keep you watching with a bemused look on your face, until the credits roll and leave you questioning what happened to your good judgement.

The 12th Man

– mostly engaging and sometimes suspenseful war drama highlighting the extreme endurance of a soldier isolated behind enemy lines. It’s no doubt an extraordinary feat of survival that saw him return home, but it doesn’t always make for the most enthralling viewing experience.

Leave No Trace

– sad and slow moving drama with a minimal script and minimal story. It’s like an extended, stretched, short rather than a full feature. Fortunately, an immensely powerful payoff rewards those with the patience to stick it out.

Bodyguard S01 (TV)

– after a phenomenal start that marked a new bar for British TV, with set pieces that would have been polished even for Hollywood thrillers, the story and action slips into familiar clichéd territory and intensity becomes absurdity. That said, this is still an extremely compelling and smartly delivered BBC drama, ideal for an edge of the seat binge watch.

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.

Ozark S02 (TV)

– another solid, morbid series of drama, thrills and blood spills. Not quite as polished as its antecedent, nor quite as wholly gripping, but still well above average and highly recommended with outstanding performances across the board.

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.

First Reformed

– Slow philosophical drama juggling the twin issues of religion and environment. The points it makes are good ones, and the style is neither too preachy nor too patronising (although it walks close to the line on both counts), but the real issue is simply that it is boring. It is not entertaining, or even compelling, to watch a man struggle with existential questions, and despite strong performances, the story isn’t surprising or intriguing enough to keep the viewer gripped, particularly as it chickens out of its core conceit.

You Were Never Really Here

– like dehydrating in a desert, gnawing your own flesh to taste water, only for it to be poured boiling over your face when it finally comes. Much like this review, one gets the feeling this dreary revenge drama is over-encumbered by metaphor.

Halt and Catch Fire S04 (TV)

– the first half of this season is quite stunning. It’s funny, sweet, intriguing, full of potential. Then there’s a tonal shift, it becomes ponderous, introspective, monologue after monologue, devoid of ideas and inspiration (much like its characters). If the first three seasons were about progress and moving forwards, this season is preoccupied with regression and the past.

Fauda S01 (TV)

– Gripping, if entirely unrealistic thriller. After a strong and furiously fast paced start, the pacing drops off a cliff and padding crops up detailing superfluous soap opera relationship drama. It’s a shame. Furthermore, the ending, when it comes, is so abrupt it feels like no ending at all, with slapdash contrivances that undermine all the efforts of the protagonists (and the audience) to have come so far. The same story in 8 episodes would have been a blinder. Expect I’ll still watch season 2 though.

Palmeras en la Nieve (Palm Trees in the Snow)

– Absolute balls. Eye-rolling and cringe inducing melodrama. Nauseatingly saccharine, self-indulgent, badly edited and painfully ponderous (with a runtime that’s an exercise in audience tolerance). Among its other crimes, it somehow depicts the Spanish as the victims of their own colonial era in Guinea. Quite the feat.

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.

This Is Where I Leave You

– Unengaging and hackneyed dramedy complete with mandatory indie music, adults dabbling with drugs, and puerile gags. Relationships, mistakes, regret, forgiveness, you’ve seen it all before and it’s still not worth the time.

Goon

– if you have the mentality of a thirteen year old and can tolerate relentless coarsity, unfunny jokes and eye rolling slapstick, then you’ll fare better with this sports comedy than I did. Awful.

The Salesman

– Not sure I understand the overwhelming acclaim for this dramatic story of a revenge gone wrong. It’s intriguing and sometimes powerful, but the pacing was inconsistent and the real drama too thin on the ground.

Cargo

– Surprisingly excellent. It’s received so little acclaim and generated practically zero mainstream hype or discussion that I assumed it was going to be a generic Netflix bargain basement Zombie flick. Instead, it’s a thought provoking and very moving, human story. Basically a drama dressed up in the guise of a horror. The characters were all deep enough to be interesting and albeit quite slow paced, the story was relentlessly engaging. Interesting to see Martin Freeman do a film like this too, his acting chops have come so far since The Office!

The Motive (El Autor)

– Spanish psychological drama following a man who becomes so obsessive about writing his novel he manipulates his neighbours to engineer increasingly outlandish storylines. Mostly compelling but becomes increasingly absurd and farcical as it wears on. The ending is disappointingly prosaic.

Capote

– Intended as a character study, this is a slow paced and moderately irritating drama, entirely unnecessary given the masterwork it describes. Read ‘In Cold Blood’ and ignore this.

Beast

– Slow burning and suspenseful, this indie, low budget emotional thriller is very effective, but feels overwrought and try hard at times.

I, Tonya

– Another reinvention of history, this is still a good film, if only for its fantastic performances. The more I read out about Tonya Harding the less sympathy I have for her, but her story is certainly an engaging one to watch unfold onscreen.

Darkest Hour

– Oldman delivers an impressive turn in otherwise pretty dour love letter to Churchill. Cherry picked and rose tinted history never really does it for me and this film overlooks, even candy coats, all of Churchill’s problems bar moderate rudeness, which is easily forgivable in a man haunted by a country at war. Misleading and romanticised.

Personal Shopper

– A waste of everybody’s time. The interesting premise is clumsily executed in this tediously slow and sombre psychological drama. It’s agonisingly boring, with a large portion taking place via text messaging, complete with enraging repetitive notifications. Infuriating from beginning to end.

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.

About Elly

– frantic and suspenseful Iranian drama, gripping and full of mystery and intrigue, but the end, when it eventually comes, is less of a conclusion than an abrupt stop. A shame.

Molly’s Game

– As fast paced, slick and loquacious as we’ve come to expect from Aaron Sorkin. This is a fun drama, but one can’t help but wonder if there aren’t more interesting stories to be told with Sorkin’s talent.

Gifted

– Good story drastically undermined by an unnecessary and tedious romance that reeks of studio interference. A shame, as at its best, the script is clever and the acting is strong.

The Founder

– Heavy with injustice and all the better for it, this is the tragic story of Ray Kroc, the man who stole McDonald’s. Strong performances give way to a lot of biopic clichés, but this is better than average.

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.

Gold

– solid and engaging drama whose main fault seems to be glamorising and espousing an industry that has blood on its hands. The true story is even stranger than the fiction, worth reading about.

Shepherds and Butchers

– plodding and unnecessarily drawn out courtroom drama, targeting too many moral sins with a broad brush, laying it on thick, and ending up with a clumsy overall picture. Nonetheless, easily watchable and still somewhat moving.

Mother!

– a spectacularly menacing and then outright batshit crazy visual assault. Recommended if only for the masterful film-making, this is an unpleasant allegory with the subtlety and nuance of a battering ram. (Key clue: Mother! is Mother Nature).

Man Up

– Simon Pegg proves he really has sold out. Insipid romcom. And I quote: “you’re just an emotional jigsaw at the moment, but you’ll piece yourself back together again”. Nauseating.

Moana

– funny and heartfelt animated drama combining didactic messages of feminism and environmentalism. Worth watching despite the horrifically cheesy music.

Ozark S01 (TV)

– best original show in years, a masterclass – Bateman and Linney are fantastic, but the writing is where it flies, the dance between tragedy and hilarity is graceful and gripping. Excellent, must watch show.

Black Snow (Nieve Negra)

– slow burning drama with a (not entirely unpredictable) twist. Ricardo Darin is phenomenal as always, but the film feels very overencumbered and weighted into the final act. It’s an interesting premise that falls short in its execution. Worth watching anyway.

K-PAX

– slow and gentle drama exploring the relationship between a psychiatrist and his patient, who claims to be from another planet. Mostly intriguing, but its pace drags behind comfortable.

Lion

– emotive but overly long (and self-indulgent) drama with solid performances, especially from the child actors. Fairly familiar tear jerk territory.

Halt and Catch Fire (S03)(TV)

– Whilst still mostly excellent, this season indubitably suffered from excluding, to a large extent, its most interesting character: Joe McMillan. Whilst he’s still present, his storyline plays second fiddle to the emotional difficulties in the relationship triangle between Donna, Gordon and Cameron.

Fences

– like so many dramas, a concentrated burst of all of the lows with none of the highs to balance the lives it purports to present. Viola Davis turns a staggeringly strong, powerhouse performance, but beyond an effective and affecting acting class, there’s little here to enjoy.

American Honey

– engaging, artistic road trip drama, with excellent performances but a desultory plot that sadly fizzles out long before the end. Plus, the soundtrack is too on the nose. Definitely worth watching though.

Hoosiers (Best Shot)

– I’m always impressed when a sports film draws me in, when I’ve no interest in its subject matter. This is dated, but Hackman is great as ever and the underdog drive is as strong as any modern flick.

Snowden

– Not as life changing as Citizen Four, but that’s to be expected. In some ways this is a more important biopic drama as it has the potential to be viewed by many more people, and for that reason, it needs to be exciting and accessible. This is, for the most part. It could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse. Watch it, then read and understand more.

Silence

– arduous, exhausting slog. Perhaps Scorsese is atoning for the grand decadence and joyous corruption of the Wolf of Wall Street with this nearly insufferable drama. Not devoid of cinematic beauty but hard to credit with much else.

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.

Safety Not Guaranteed

– a perfect ten. Beautifully constructed and wonderfully imagined romantic comedy drama with scripting that frequently made me laugh out loud. Grew on me from the opening scenes right through to its powerfully affecting conclusion. Terrific.

Arrival

– unique sci-fi drama that’s difficult to describe. Not what I was expecting, and perhaps slightly underwelming given the hype, but it certainly set me thinking and deserves a second viewing.

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.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

– every time I think Superhero movies can’t get any worse, Hollywood squeezes out another turd. Miserable, long and confused; by now somebody has surely identified Zac Snyder as a child in adult’s clothing. Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is an abomination, just disgustingly self-indulgent ham acting. Not all villains can be Ledger’s Joker, but man alive, someone out there must be able to do better than this? Maybe we need a decade or two pause to reflect upon what makes Superhero movies worth watching.

War Dogs

– mismarketed as a comedy, this is an engaging, solid drama hamstrung by presentation issues. The narration is often tedious and condescending, and the cheap chapter markers interrupt the film’s flow. Jonah Hill is quite fantastic though. He gets better and better.

The Rack Pack

– interesting and often fun depiction of snooker as Barry Hearn transitions it from smoky mens club to mainstream, commercial, household sport. Some great, standout performances from relative unknowns.

Jason Bourne

– disappointing after the terrific original trilogy. I can’t see this being included in everyone’s mind as a core part of the Bourne saga, it’ll most likely be a simple addendum, disregarded by history.

Special Correspondents

– glib comedy of the kind Gervais has become accustomed to producing: few laughs, a lot of groans, a saccharine romance. Even Gervais fans might struggle with this one (or perhaps especially Gervais fans, for whom his steady deterioration is particularly painful).

Forsaken

– terrific Western, a contemporary love letter to the classics. The story is strong and traditional, and the acting is frankly breathtaking. To see the Sutherlands side by side for the first time in nearly twenty years is emotive in itself.

High-Rise

– Dystopian/ Utopian drama. Stylistically brilliant, and extremely competent film-making/ scoring etc. But it needed a sense of cohesion that wasn’t there, or at least it needed to hint a little more at the method in the madness. The whole film was itself basically one big orgy: self-indulgent, chaotic, gratuitous, exciting, and ultimately an anti-climax.

Enemy

– fascinating and deeply unnerving drama, grounded enough to remain compelling, and abstract enough to provoke intrigue and curiosity. Quite unexpectedly brilliant.

Everest

– A pleasant surprise. This biopic explores the horrors of Everest when a storm catches a climbing tour unawares. Harrowing and oddly downbeat in its ending, this is a splendid and visually overpowering piece of drama. Highly recommended to see it in the cinema or on a large screen.

The Affair

– beneath the sophisticated patina lies a schizophrenic, prurient, glorified soap opera that leads the viewer on with the pretense of deep intrigue and the promise of a whodunit, whilst stubbornly refusing to impart anything other than (often) tedious drama. Snippets of excellent dialogue help alleviate the drab repetition of each episode, but beyond the impressive performances and occasionally smart scripting is little to actually enjoy. Disappointing.

Birdman

– Although over cooked with self-indulgent monologues, this is nonetheless a fascinating and original theatrical dramedy, wickedly directed and boldly acted. The black humour might be a bit dry for some, but when it works, it soars.

Fast and Furious 7

– Exhausting nonstop action and ripe cheesy scripting leaves the 7th film in the dust of the far superior 5th and 6th franchise outings. However, the technical inclusion of the late Paul Walker throughout the movie, post humously, is seriously impressive, and their tribute to him is heartfelt and worth recognising.

A Single Shot

– Another outback drama with a terrific cast and wonderful acting cursed by a substandard story. Worth watching for Rockwell and the beautiful scenery, this is disappointingly lacking, I’m just not quite sure what…

The Drop

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

Rosewater

– Moderately interesting and well acted drama about an Iranian journalist imprisoned for his coverage of government military repression. Not unique among this type of film, and many others have done it better.

Kon-Tiki

– Biopic drama charting the Kon-Tiki voyage. The film Life of Pi wishes it had been. Uplifting, suspenseful, funny. Blessed with a touch of the Sublime. A pity it’s quite so cheesy.

American Sniper

– unashamed propaganda for the US, this is nonetheless a gripping a war drama and occasional thriller. Sickeningly pro-war, pro-violence and borderline racist, if you can suspend your liberal fury for the runtime, you will probably be entertained.

Foxcatcher

– Odd, off-beat biopic that demonstrates top talent in a decidedly peculiar tone. Curious, moderately compelling despite very slow pacing, but hardly the drama that the hype suggested it would be.

The Impossible

– Whiter than white drama about a middle class family and their upset holiday plans. Quite sickening given the 100s of thousands of natives that lost their lives. Horribly misjudged, and on top of that, quite bad.

Secret State (TV)

– Solid political drama series with strong performances all round and a hypercritical script depicting the cosy relationship and interworkings between British banks, businesses and government. Very worth watching, but not quite landmark TV.

Trash

– Danny Boyle-esque drama cum thriller in which a trio of Brazilian lads (literally) unearth the key to political upheaval. Aided by strong direction and solid acting, this rattles along at a terrific pace and is a lot of fun.

Night Moves

– very slow though always engaging, introspective drama/thriller exploring paranoia, extreme convictions, and the possible consequences of upholding and enacting those convictions.

The Man From Earth

– A thinking man’s film. History, philosophy and religion all undergo scrutiny following the revelation that a long term friend is 14000 years old. Purely talking, and all in one location, this won’t set your nerves on edge or your heart apounding, but time and place dependent, will leave you with a healthy discussion on your hands.

God’s Pocket

– Not a bad drama, but utterly devoid of anything to get excited about. It’s dreary, slow, and not especially witty, even though it tries hard with its smattering of black humour.

The Contender

– If only this US political drama had a scintilla more pace. The plot, scripting, casting and acting are all top notch. It’s so close to perfection, and yet it lacks a little punch that post-Sorkin’s The West Wing and Fincher’s House of Cards, is almost a prerequisite of political depictions. Fantastic though, watch it.

Borgman

– Thought provoking and intriguing surrealist drama, with a kind of insidious and sadistic nastiness that really takes a hold as the film develops. Utterly gripping despite a slow pace; quite remarkable and very different.

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.

The Leftovers (TV)

– Lifeless, po-faced and painfully grave, this speculative dystopian TV drama isn’t short on intrigue, but stubbornly refuses to offer answers or resolution, resulting in an inexplicable world of shock factor scenes, irrational behaviour, and detached angst. I really wanted to like it, but there is very little to like, let alone praise.

Joe

– Terrific, moving and powerful drama with easily the best performance Nic Cage has pulled out in the last decade. The soundtrack is brilliant and the acting throughout, top notch. Ty Sheridan impresses as usual.

Blackthorn

– Dry, slow burning neo-Western drama that is surprisingly affecting, particularly as it isn’t especially gripping. Sam Shepherd is good, and predominantly speaks Spanish throughout.

Innocent Voices

– Harrowing, unflinching and deeply affecting tale of an eleven year old boy during the El Salvadorian civil war, in the year prior to his forced conscription in to the army. Should be rated much higher than a certificate 12.

Dangerous Liaisons

– ludicrous period drama with the plot of a soap opera. Malkovich is supremely pernicious as always, the quintessence of villainy, but it’s all too far fetched, too contrived and much too on the nose.

Friday Night Lights (S01-S03)

– Surprising, brilliantly well-scripted American football drama following the trials and tribulations of Coach Taylor, his family and his squad, as they adjust to living within the football obsessed, fictional community of Dillon, Texas. Although over time the series falls prey to soap opera cliches and short sighted plot turns, it is often impactful, even profoundly didactic. Frustratingly, characters become increasingly two-dimensional, and storylines are reused time and again over the course of the show. The performances of Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton are definitely worthy of plaudits though, and the first season of the show is a must watch. Take or leave the remaining seasons.

Life of Pi

– Although the special effects in some scenes are astoundingly good looking, as a whole, the film is too slow moving and frustratingly PG, and acheives none of the profundity of the book.

Breathe In

– Firmly and shamelessly ploughs the inevitable furrow for a family drama of its ilk, but does so with sensitivity and powerful, if understated performances. Who would have thought Felicity Jones is 30 years old…

Philomena

– Top quality drama with Steve Coogan, to my recollection, in his finest dramatic role. Dame Judi Dench is just marvellous as always. Not a genre I’m fond of, but a very solid movie.

Calvary

– excellent, profoundly affecting drama. At once comic and crushingly sad, it raises all the right issues and asks all the unanswerable questions. Terrific.

Line of Duty S01

– A brilliant, understated cop drama series from the BBC. Not as good as the Shadow Line, but operating in similarly slick territory. Unfortunately, the end is unsatisfying. Typical beeb.

Noah

– Devoid of any redeeming features. A badly misjudged, badly executed drama epic and without a doubt Aronofsky’s worst movie to date – even surpassing The Fountain. Angeringly terrible.

Orphan Black S01

– Infuriating and cliched dialogue and glossy set design undermine multiple strong performances from Tatiana Maslany. It’s a pity the whole show is so shallow, as the clone storyline isn’t novel by a long shot either so it really has very little going for it. This is bad TV, of the type that will get multiple series and entertain families across the globe because it’s “light hearted, fun” and requires dick all thought. Depressing.

Rectify S01

– Refreshingly original premise for a TV drama, but the pacing is off, and as a result, the story progression feels unnecessarily laboured. I will watch Season 2, though I keenly hope that story developments are a little more rapid and enticing. Strong performances all round though, and the novel programming should be commended.

The Edge

– A good enough wilderness survival drama with adequate performances, though it’s not the most compelling premise (with most of the dramatic tension arising from the persistent threat of a bear attack) and consequently feels more sluggish that it needs to. Perhaps more interesting would have been further development in the conclusion of the story: what happens next?

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.

Compliance

– Obscene and angering. If you know the story, you don’t need to watch the film. It follows the circumstances of the real life hoax almost exactly and makes you feel morbid and complicit. Unfathomable that anyone could behave so stupidly as all of those involved evidently did.

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.

Polisse

– Albeit primarily a drama, this treads the very fine line between comedy and tragedy with aplomb. In turns heartbreaking, unsettling, jawdropping and hilarious with an ending that feels like a punch in the stomach.

12 Years A Slave

– Bleak, unflinching and harrowing drama charting the life of a black slave stolen from his family. The remarkably stellar cast turn amazing performances, but ultimately this is unlikely to inform any further than any decent school education already should have, and it’s just about as enjoyable as a history lesson too. No doubt an oscar contender, but look elsewhere for cinematic escapism.

Boy Wonder

– Very novel take on vigilantism. Excellent acting, strong characters and a solid script really transform what could have been bargain basement fodder in to an engrossing, clever and moving thriller.

Dallas Buyers Club

– Incredible tour de force from director Jean-Marc Vallée and absolute powerhouse performances from both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. Superb drama offering real emotional complexity whilst educating those who may be ignorant of such a tragic time.

Rush

– Very compelling and engrossing, even for an F1 sports drama, but with such an unlikeable, despicable lead and dull (whilst admirable) support, it leaves you with no-one to really root for. Definitely above average and worth watching though.

Local Hero

– I didn’t give this as much attention as it perhaps deserved, but it struck me as a light-hearted, feel good comedy drama with an appreciation for natural beauty and community friendships. The characters are kind of loveable in their absurdity, and it’s an effective tourist ad for Scotland but I’m not entirely sure why it was quite so well received by audiences.

The Frozen Ground

– Moderately wearisome attempt at a thriller. Cage and Cusack carry it. The script is too revealing to be satisfying, devoid of the intrigue and suspense that’s vital for an effective thriller and without a twist or a solid finishing blow it’s simply too forgettable. The most emotive scenes of the whole film are the factual closing titles.

Middle Men

– Not a bad film by any means, and competently crafted, but the cocktail of opulence and licentiousness fails to evoke any kind of emotional investment, ultimately resulting in a sexy but vapid and dull experience.

The Way Way Back

– Touching adolescent drama featuring the usual charismatic display from Sam Rockwell. Would have worked better as a series than a standalone film, and despite the water park setting, the themes feel pretty worn. Still a worthwhile film though.

The Shooting Party

– Insightful period drama surrounding a bourgeois country estate set against the backdrop of impending war. All star cast deliver fine performances. More allegorical and subtly illuminating than eventful.

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.

Requiem for a Dream

– horrifying, savagely raw and unflinching exploration of the impacts of addiction. Albeit pessimistic and depressing, this is a masterfully spun web of stories; a powerful dose of some ugly bad shit. If you weren’t afraid of drugs, you will be now.

Cache (Hidden)

– precisely and very deliberately crafted psychological drama. Will keep you guessing beyond the ending. Unflinching, unafraid and very thought provoking. My first Haneke and I’m deeply impressed.

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…

Mud

– an almost disturbingly mature performance from Ty Sheridan propels this tremendous, dynamic and thought provoking drama. McConaughy delivers perhaps his finest role. A very human, almost existential tale of growing up, love and friendship.

Top of the Lake

(TV) – Despite the hype, even with top (if not novel) performances, this falls short of an entertaining series. Mildly curious at best, mind numblingly boring at worst, the acting and cinematography cannot save a fundamentally uninteresting drama.

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.

Byzantium

– In an attempt to do something original with the whole vampire ‘thing’, Neil Jordan opts for ‘drama’ over thrills and spills but in doing so draws the viewer, inexorably, to boredom.

Hummingbird [Redemption]

– Oximoronically, this is both a more interesting and varied role for Statham, and simultaneously a more boring film. A healthy dose of fisticuffs is included, but there’s a drama unfolding that is considerably more emotive than we have come to expect of the Stath-meister.

The Kids Are Alright

– Albeit a moderately novel premise, ultimately this is just another off-beat drama of the dysfunctional family variety. Not hugely compelling but easy viewing. Ruffalo carries it working some David Duchovny charm.

George Washington

– a slow, meandering tale detailing the lead up and aftermath of a tragic incident between young children. Simple, empathetic and delicately told, but too deadpan and abstract to be entirely compelling.

Broadchurch (TV)

– excellent whodunit in the style of The Killing with phenomenal performances all round. The conclusion is faintly predictable a few episodes too soon and one or two strands are left unresolved, but all things considered, this is a well above average mystery drama that comes highly recommended.

Broken City

– Straight up, fast moving thriller with Marky Mark doing his action thing. Smarter than most, but unfortunately a little conceited as a result, the impact is lessened by some perfunctory story lines and irritatingly lazy contrivances. Nonetheless, a good yarn at its core.

Viridiana

– Fast moving but utterly bizarre surrealist story of a nun and her gradual understanding of the futility and flaws of the human condition. Superb direction and edgy script.

War Horse

– a pretty spectacular feat of film making by Spielberg in all fairness. Not my thing, but if you don’t mind twee and you’ve a penchant for war time drama (and horses) then this will no doubt tick all the boxes.

No

– An excellent, mild and uncontroversial historical drama about the ad campaign that overthrew Pinochet in Chile. Great acting and a subtle, dry script make for compelling viewing.

The Painted Veil

– a surprisingly effective and accomplished drama surrounding a doctor and his wife in the midst of a cholera outbreak. Marred by too much contrivance, this is nonetheless a beautiful piece of cinema.

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.