The Responder S02 (TV)

– with hindsight, it’s a shame they came back for another bite at the cherry. The first series was so strong and so tense, this one didn’t really have anywhere to go except downhill. To be clear, it’s not bad. It remains gripping, but where the first series felt plausible and gritty, this feels contrived, characters making bad decisions for plot development, outcomes that feel unearned and unlikely, sloppy side plots and egregious actions with no apparent repercussions. It’s just a bit silly.

Ferrari (2023)

– a carefully composed, mostly understated biopic, with striking performances from its main cast, but it’s too preoccupied with family drama to excite and too measured to entertain. Its focus is near completely on Enzo Ferrari’s personal life, his battles with his wife, and his relationship with his mistress and illegitimate son. The cars, his efforts to revitalise his company, and the racing itself plays a muted second fiddle.

Poor Things

– it has offbeat charm and moments of hilarity and certainly feels original, but beyond the surrealist quirks and eccentricity, the gratuitous sex scenes are over the top and its glib observations far less profound than the writers seem to think.

Freud’s Last Session

– I had imagined a great debate between two intellectual giants but this is an oddly uninteresting biopic. It frames itself as a head to head between science and faith, but really serves as a platform to superficially examine a few landmark moments in Freud’s life through disjointed flashbacks. Anthony Hopkins does some bilious grandstanding and Matthew Goode’s CS Lewis offers disapproving looks but is largely relegated to the role of naughty school boy. Disappointing.

Counter Investigation (Contre Enquete)

– I unintentionally rewatched this 2007 french crime thriller and had next to no recollection of anything that happened. I stand by my original review (2017) in which I wrote ‘The sinister ending is a pleasant surprise’, but it’s an unremarkable experience overall, and clearly a very forgettable one too.

Killers of the Flower Moon

– Massively underwhelming given the runtime, the cast, the director… I expected something so much more electric. It’s drawn out and not even particularly compelling as a narrative. I’m almost disappointed I finished it. Three and a half hours is a long time and, watching this, it feels like it.

Criminal Record S01 (TV)

– engaging crime drama keeps you speculating throughout, with strong performances and an intelligent, culturally relevant script. There are some sketchy subplots that detract more than they add, and it puts a few too many ingredients into the mix. It works best when operating in shades of grey, and thankfully that’s where it spends most of its time.

Masters of the Air S01 (TV)

– a wannabe Band of Brothers but for the pilots and crews of World War 2 bombers, this is easy viewing and serviceable enough, but paves no new ground and given its subject matter offers little by way of emotional engagement. Disappointing, but largely because it could have been so much better.

The Teachers’ Lounge

– gripping, surprisingly taut German thriller about a teacher who decides to unmask a school thief and the fallout among the staff and students as a result. It goes too far in a couple of areas (the young teenage journalists manning the school magazine are depicted like shrewd and savvy journalists at the NYT or somewhere, and a child who starts out being bullied somehow coordinates a massive and implausible rebellion among his peers), but it’s all in the service of creating a unique and interesting school drama.

American Fiction

– thoroughly enjoyed this. It’s both an acerbic, frequently hilarious satire, and a moving family drama. We could do with many more movies that have as much to say and are brave enough to say them.

True Detective: Night Country (S04) (TV)

– very disappointing. I’m unusual in that I preferred season 3 of True Detective to season 1, though I was a fan of both, and while I started season 2, I’ve yet to make enough progress to pass judgement on it. (Perhaps that’s indicative of an issue in and of itself). There are a multitude of problems with Night Country: crap writing, implausible plot twists, an abundance of questions without substantial answers, and its arduously slow pace. I wanted to like it. The setting is enigmatic and the initial conceit intriguing, but when a show is filled with despicable and miserable people behaving in despicable and miserable ways, it would have to be pretty clever to equate to a good time for audiences. This is not clever.

Zone of Interest

– A decade after his last movie, Under The Skin, Jonathan Glazer gives us a plodding Nazi family drama set in the literal shadow of Auschwitz, and juxtaposed against its horrors. It’s interesting to see some of the same directorial manoeuvres used to create unease: headlights in the dark, crying babies, jarring music and colour, and every shot is thoughtfully composed and striking. But even with the best will in the world, the actual zone of interest here is quite small. The point is made within the first few minutes, and the rest of the feature serves to compound it, effectively, but somewhat superfluously. Then again, perhaps we can never be reminded too often, nor too viscerally, of that time, and this is certainly an artful and original depiction.

Maestro

– has its moments but this is mostly a dull inter-relational drama that sees the film makers apparently operating under the prurient assumption that what makes a musical genius interesting is his personal life. It really isn’t. Perhaps this is a problem endemic to the biopic genre: the existence of fame is not necessarily the tell of a fascinating story, and though celebrity might draw in audiences, they’re liable to be disappointed if the life doesn’t live up to the legend. (On the flip side of this coin you get truly squandered opportunities like Ridley Scott’s Napoleon). No wonder they embraced the faux prosthetics controversy, how else to market something this dry? Everyone acts their socks off to no avail. You could probably take random people off the street and encounter more interesting stories and higher drama.

The Holdovers

– downbeat Christmas themed dramedy has good performances, a sharp witted script, and does work showing complexity and decency in unlikeable people, but it never transcends or resolves the heavy sadness that weighs it down.

Kompromat

– French/ Russian drama always feels on the edge of something more, as though due a twist or story upset, but eventually disappoints. Instead, it’s just a plain and frankly tedious slog.

Better Call Saul S06 (TV)

– the series finale of Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad spin-off masterpiece is a suitable, if low key conclusion to Jimmy McGill’s tale. With frame perfect camera work, the usual fastidious attention to detail and a pace that gives every beat time to sink in, this is in turns hilarious, devastating, far fetched and all too believable. It’s a rare thing for a television show to maintain such consistent quality across so many hours and with such a weight of expectation. There may be faults, but they pale in comparison to the achievement.

Napoleon

– considering the legacy of the eponymous legendary tactician and formidable leader, this is a singularly underwhelming and uninspiring depiction of him. It’s not bad, just incredibly lacklustre.

Eileen

– as Bill Goodykoontz wrote for Arizona Republic: Eileen is a weird little movie. It doesn’t really excel at much, and it’s not especially memorable, but it’s an intriguing and vaguely mysterious experience, refreshing in its refusal to do more or less anything that you expect.

Saltburn

– unoriginal black comedy borrows most of its best ideas. Moments of occasional zany brilliance (particularly thanks to Rosamund Pike who is spectacularly funny) are undone by its eagerness to shock viewers with protracted, gratuitous, explicit, and frankly disgusting scenes. Less is often more, and despite a marvellous cast and incredible competence across the board, by the end, this has gone too far on pretty much every metric.

Slow Horses S03 (TV)

– hopefully this season was just a dud, a one-off, not indicative of a permanent slide into farce and mediocrity. It is farce. Comedy doesn’t work as an excuse for silliness unless it’s funny, and this series was trying too hard and getting nowhere. If it wasn’t for universally good performances and investment in the characters established in the first two series, I would have switched off.

Anatomy of a Fall

– compelling legal drama with universally fantastic performances. It runs too long and moves slightly ponderously, but it’s so rare to get a genre piece this original and stimulating, its flaws are easily forgiven.

The Hurricane

– “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” An inspirational and optimistic drama with an immense performance from Denzel Washington. It’s astonishing it’s taken me this long to watch it.

An Officer and a Spy

– French historical drama moves painstakingly slowly yet feels rushed, and includes so much history but still feels uneventful. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that the litigious affairs of the 1890s are distinctly short on entertainment.

Diggers

– downbeat small town drama has the charm you’d expect from this cast and moments of comedy, but it’s not exactly captivating.

In The Flesh S01 (TV)

– novel take on the zombie genre puts rehabilitated walkers back in the same communities that lost loved ones to the undead apocalypse. Despite some goofiness and the sense it’s all a bit rushed, it has some amazing acting and is genuinely moving.

In The Flesh S02 (TV)

– after an impressive first limited series, this six episode follow up is like watching Neighbours with zombies: soap opera silliness abounds. Especially annoyingly, the whole show was cancelled abruptly, so it ends on a cliff hanger with a ton of unresolved plot strands.

The Catch S01 (TV)

– Being a fan of Peter Krause ever since Sports Night, I wanted to enjoy this, but even knowing it would be frivolous (as every inch of its marketing conveys), it’s a difficult watch for any viewer who cares about plausibility, plotting, wit, subtext, visual interest – in short, who watches for any reason beyond switching off all their mental faculties. Does it plumb new depths as it goes on? I couldn’t say – I wasn’t willing to complete it.

Apostasy

– stark and bleak drama about the disintegration of a Jehovah’s witness family when one member abandons the faith. The madness of it makes it borderline sci-fi.

Full Time

– stressful french language drama sees a single mum struggling with two kids and a long commute to her job as a hotel maid during a major transport strike in Paris. It’s high intensity but exhausting and lacks the visual interest of something like Boiling Point (which is a similar genre).

The Loudest Voice (TV)

– Compelling mini series starts out slowly, and perhaps too in awe of its subject, but Russell Crowe excels as Aisles, becomes him, and as his transgressions, paranoia and rage grow, it becomes ever more enthralling. Watching history retold through this lens – Fox News and Aisles’ lens, behind the scenes – is like having a magic trick explained to you then watching it performed again: even though you know exactly how it’s done, you still marvel at the success of the illusion.

Land of Mine

– monotonously bleak Danish war drama benefits from amazing performances and beautiful photography but lacks emotional range.

Maria Marta: El Crimen Del Country (TV)

– wow, this was a disappointment. Spanish language crime thrillers rarely miss the mark so widely. After two episodes, nearly nothing had happened, no excitement, no humour, no tantalising clues, no likeable (or even unlikeable) characters. It was a flat, dry, and frankly tedious waste of a few hours.

Oppenheimer

– an excellent film with two issues: it’s too long and it feels like it; and much as there are always reasons to enjoy watching a moody, smouldering Florence Pugh, her story arc in this is the weakest and her entire role feels shoe-horned in by a studio looking to ramp up the sauce and generate some marketing fever (which it did, in spades). Aside from those (admittedly pretty minor) flaws this is a fascinating, enthralling and thought-provoking biopic of J Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project that’s sure to generate lasting conversation.

Barbie

– Barbie seems to have succeeded commercially on several fronts: those who love its message conflate that with loving the film, and those who don’t love the film, don’t want to say so, for fear of appearing not to agree with its message. Then there are those who hate the film and the message but still bang on about it (and watched it) because it outrages them so much, and that’s a commercial win too. But it’s possible to be pro gender equality and anti-Barbie; to think every fair point it makes is buried in a jumble of confused nonsense and pseudo-philosophy with the snarky self-assurance and intellectual depth of a teenage gossip mag; to think it could just as easily be a spoof and mockery of 21st century feminism as a ‘manifesto’ for it; and to find its reliance on ‘magic’ to move the plot forwards lazy. Its core premise, explicitly stated in a frustrated monologue, is that: “It is literally impossible to be a woman…You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line…And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault. I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us.” Evidently, this is a film designed to inflame and profit from the culture war and, if nothing else, it’s achieved that.

Fleishman is in Trouble (TV)

– there’s surprising depth to this drama ‘about everything’, given it wears all the trappings of something so superficial. It draws you in with whimsy and light situational comedy, then slaps you about with trauma, marital breakdowns, and general existential misery. It is overwrought, and at times you can hear the narration straining for profundity and sounding more like a fridge magnet or Meredith Grey, but a lot of it lands, the acting is broadly excellent and it’s often moving. It’s a bit of a shame that while one clear ‘moral’ of the story is that everyone has their own challenges and complexities, and certainly that’s demonstrably true for the core characters, all the people at the fringe of their social circles, particularly the wealthier ones, are portrayed as vacuous, careerist clichés. Also, the show attributes many of the difficulties people face in modern, Western life – loneliness, status games, repetition – to their choices and their yearning to be young (and free) again, but it neglects to consider environmental context at all. These depressed people do not exist in a vacuum, but in an economy that demands their constant labour and depends on their feelings of inadequacy and incompleteness to sustain itself. There’s no acknowledgement of this at all, instead, the individuals are mocked as they strive to stay sane, and the conclusion of the piece is that their emotional crises are an inevitable part of growing old. Maybe some are. One can’t help if others are entirely a product of our current way of life.

The Crowded Room (TV)

– Everything about this rings false, from its conceit to the costumes and its stagey depiction of the late 70s. Even so, if the twist hadn’t been guessable from the title, the title sequence, the script and the direction of the opening episode, maybe it might have held my attention. Instead, I watched it with boredom and frustration as everything unfolded exactly as predicted. No surprises, no intrigue, nothing to say – not worth watching.

The Crown S03 (TV)

– Claire Foy’s last outing as Queen is a disappointment. The show drops the ball, its focus much more salacious than its predecessors, with a prurient interest in Princess Margaret and other affairs in the upper echelons of society, from JFK and Jackie to Harold Macmillan and Lady Dorothy. The result is a more juvenile and trashy show, a string of non-scandalous scandals framed as high drama but mostly devoid of actual substance or historical interest.

Air

– how is a film about a business deal between an athlete and a mega corp even remotely watchable? Well, to start it has a cast of cinematic superheroes (real ones) and is helmed by Ben Affleck, who’s hardly slipped gear since he turned his hand to directing, and then it’s got some damn fine costumes, a hip 80s soundtrack and a script with wit, heart and warmth. It’s basically everything you want in a film. In fact, if it wasn’t about something so mundane, it’d have been even better. But hey, even non-sports fans love a great sports movie, and you don’t have to be an accountant or a marketing guru to recognise the momentousness of the Nike-Jordan deal and enjoy the (no doubt) rose-tinted reminiscence of how it all went down. This is a lot of fun.

Goliath

– This french language drama might not be novel, but it tells the familiar tale of a chemical company whose pesticides are causing cancer, pitted against the families of people their products are affecting, passionately and convincingly, and the decision to juxtapose the upturned lives of victims against that of the smug lobbyists makes it all the more hard hitting. Would recommend ‘Merchants of Doubt‘ as well/ instead – same topic but documentary.

The Sixth Commandment (TV)

– depressing BBC drama about Will fraud is incredibly well acted and devastating. They’re such nasty crimes, perpetrated by such a callous and malicious villain, I’d argue the focus should have been less on him and his actions and more on the investigation that proved his downfall, but if nothing else, this is eye-opening.

How To Blow Up A Pipeline

– as per the uninspired title, some eco terrorists hook up online and plot to make a bang. If they weren’t all so unsympathetic and annoying it might work as a stirring call for action, instead it plays into all the environmentalist tropes – disgruntled, drug addled, and overeducated middle class kids who think their way is the right way. If it is, it’ll need better ambassadors than this to get people on board.

L’Adversaire (The Adversary) (2002)

– French language crime drama creeps so slowly and with such muted tones as to be near soporific, but the disjointed narrative and sense of impending horror never quite lets you get comfortable enough. Even so, a bit of a slog.

Succession S04 (TV)

– finally the famously offensive, shouty, sweary show is over, and about time, too. While the performances of the entire cast got better and better, the hit and miss humour had started to miss more often, the narrative was tired, and there are only so many false starts and plot resets a show can get away with before it’s just failing to deliver on promises. Succession crossed that line a few series ago, so it’s a relief that in the end, something real and lasting and irreversible actually happened.

Seven Types of Ambiguity (TV)

– engaging Australian drama has excellent performances and an intriguing premise, but after the thrills of its initial episodes, the wind goes out of its sails and it drifts and meanders desultorily, introducing more and more questions about the motives of its increasingly unsympathetic characters without the time or focus spent answering them, such that by the time the brilliantly powerful final scene arrives, it feels long overdue.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow

– Cummings’ genius is that this is as much an insightful meditation on banalities as it is a supernatural horror. In contrast to the lunacy of the murders, his character’s battles – with alcoholism, his career, his marriage, every member of his family, his insecurities – are mundane, and entirely relatable. As with his other two films, Cummings casts himself (and excels) as a man teetering on the brink, his attention bouncing between his competing responsibilities, and his mood on the boil, bubbling from agitated to unhinged. He constructs or finds comedy in every situation, but never at the expense of the humanity underpinning it all. A fantastic, clever little film. Can’t wait for his next.

The Artifice Girl

– Don’t expect fireworks, this is dialogue driven and practically theatrical, not to mention nearly all set in a single room, but it’s a timely, intelligent and engaging sci-fi that transcends its low budget and small scale with a strong cast and thought-provoking script.

The Diplomat S01 (TV)

– proudly touting Deborah Cahn’s The West Wing credentials, it’s clear from the off that this is a political drama hoping to bridge the gap between politically incisive and conventionally thrilling. Unfortunately, she’s no Aaron Sorkin, and I’m reminded of a story he tells about how executives initially read his pilot script and thought it would be ‘more exciting’ if Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman literally swam out to rescue the Cuban refugees from their rafts. In this, despite highfalutin, quick fire walk-and-talks and political window dressing, the political operatives are embroiled in so much conspiracy it’s laughable. From political assassinations, kidnappings, false flag operations involving the British PM (without informing his foreign secretary), love affairs, CIA stitch-ups – it’s all just so over the top. ‘Trashy’ might be too strong a word, but it’s certainly not realistic. Is it fun though? Mostly. Maybe. Sometimes. Right up until it jumps the shark mid-series, perhaps. I don’t regret watching it, but I’m also not eager to recommend it. A shame it didn’t at least rap up the storyline (or any story arcs), as I’ll be giving Season 2 a miss.

Blue Lights S01 (TV)

– Belfast police drama is very typically BBC, made-for-TV, ham and cheesy, in much the same way Line of Duty was. It has echoes of The Responder (Martin Freeman), but where that show is so gritty it makes you want to wash, this leans more towards soap opera. That’s not to say it’s bad, not at all. It’s engaging, with some funny dialogue and a few genuinely great characters, but it falls firmly in the light entertainment category. Nothing wrong with that.

We Own This City S01 (TV)

– Writer / Creator David Simon’s latest is another Baltimore based slow burner, and albeit not in the same league as The Wire, the parallels are obvious. It doesn’t crackle and excite as that show did, and some of the dialogue is painfully didactic and explanatory, functioning to spell out the politically obvious in a manner that feels a bit patronising at times, but overall it works for the same reasons that show succeeded, shining a spotlight on an unfettered criminal underbelly with a gritty, authentic-seeming approach, genuinely interesting characters, and universally excellent performances.

Living

– Bill Nighy plays a stiff upper lipped, subservient bureaucrat who realises there’s more to life when he receives a terminal diagnosis. It’s touching in the same way an awkward acquaintance might pat you on the shoulder if you overshare – sincere, but far too restrained and formal. Given the upshot of the premise, I expected something with more gusto.

Succession S03 (TV)

– while remaining hugely entertaining, a question mark is beginning to form about to what extent the writers rely on expletives to disguise a lack of genuine wit or imagination. The occasional vulgarity is so farcically, vividly grotesque as to prove hilarious, but much of the effin’ and jeffin’ is neither funny nor warranted by the context, and it seems to be replacing actual jokes. By now, there are a lot of narrative frustrations in general, like the fact that every new series seems to reset the balance of the previous one; that the great upheaval and story twist they each build towards is ultimately dismissed as a trifling inconvenience or hardly commented on again (Logan’s health, Kendal’s betrayal, Kendal’s second, more dramatic betrayal, the Sandy buyout, the Pierce buyout, the Gojo buyout, Tom’s prison time, Tom and Shiv’s on again off again relationship); that scenes which deserve whole episodes (the congressional hearings!) are given a few seconds of screen time. It feels like the writers are copping out. Instead, weird subplots bubble to the surface, seemingly from nowhere – Roman’s obsession with Gerri, Logan’s sudden reliance on Roman and his meteoric, inexplicable rise from starting and bailing on a management training programme to suddenly being in contention for CEO, Tom’s abrupt desperation to have a baby with Shiv and her reluctance, not to mention extravagant birthday party after extravagant birthday party. They feel like ideas thrown around in the writers room in the absence of a proper narrative progression because everyone is too cowardly to introduce a genuine and significant change to the family’s circumstances. It’s engaging, but at this point, it’s engaging like watching a Merry Go Round at night, all sparkles and music and flashing lights, but going nowhere, and going nowhere slowly.

Flowers S01 (TV)

– off-beat and weird comedy drama is sometimes hilarious but mostly so silly it’s borderline unwatchable. It follows the lives of a suicidal man, his confused wife and their batshit crazy, dysfunctional twin kids. If Will Sharpe could somehow distill all his genius ideas into something resembling consistency his work would be unmissable, as it is, you need to tolerate a lot of bollocks to enjoy a few moments of magic.

Succession S02 (TV)

– not as strong overall as the first season, particularly with Kendall depressed and in the doghouse and some meandering episodes that drag on the overall momentum. That said, there are enough zingers in the script to land at least a few belly laughs each episode and the show still has the capacity to surprise. It’s buoyed by the magnetic cast of Roys (and Wambsgans) who offer ceaselessly zany performances. Fortunately, too, this time around it ends with the explosive shake up that was long overdue. Season 3 promises excitement.

Babylon

– Albeit technically a major accomplishment, for such a savagely raucous visual and auditory onslaught, this feels like an epic wasted effort, exhausting and unrewarding. Surprising, given how hard it evidently tries and the extensive talent involved. It’s not a total failure, and its love for the medium of cinema positively explodes from the screen, but the problem is you could watch two better films in the same time frame. I recommend you do.

The Quiet Girl

– as mild mannered as the name suggests, this is an affectionate, meditatively paced (read: very slow moving) drama. While potentially too dull for some viewers, its warmth and simplicity are charming.

The Last of Us S01 (TV)

– for once, finally, a genuinely impressive and faithful adaptation of a video game, and a brilliant one at that. As a huge fan of Naughty Dog’s series, I was apprehensive about this, but it echoes everything I loved about the games and mirrors the aesthetic almost exactly (practically shot for shot in places). The casting is spot on and the acting, convincing. The script’s entertaining banter and joshing is sometimes lifted verbatim from the games. I’m excited to see how they tackle series two, given that the second game is so much darker and generally more unpleasant.

The Gold S01 (TV)

– rose tinted bullion heist crime drama is very BBC, the criminals questionably depicted as being class warriors on a mission rather than ruthless gangsters, but with the caveat that it is history rewritten, it proves a spirited six hours of entertainment.

The Specials

– in a similar vein to Intouchables, this is a poignant but amusing French language drama about carers looking after severely autistic people, with excellent performances and a witty script.

Tokyo Vice S01 (TV)

– illuminating and novel as it is to see a stylish, Tokyo-set, Yakuza-centred Western crime drama, this is nothing to write home about. Adelstein’s offensively forward, and on balance, quite unlikeable journalist is improbably fortunate in his every venture, is a magnet for any girl he sets eyes on, and has a more active nightlife than most first year students. His backstory is paid lip service, and the interesting hints of nationalism and racism that he endures in the first episode or two are forgotten entirely as the various plots – involving a hodgepodge of call girls and their patrons – develop. Of the handful of characters the viewer is invited to care about, only Sato the gangster’s story emotionally resonates, and the lack of conclusions by the end of the series is frustrating. At least the core power struggle between rival Yakuza gangs and Adelstein’s mission to document it proves mostly engaging, if not substantive.

Sharper

– the key to a decent con movie is two fold: stay ahead of your audience and ensure they’re rooting for the conmen. This lifeless heist drama fails on both fronts, though does so with strong performances and enough polish that it’s not a total waste of time.

The Fabelmans

– Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical and semi-entertaining family drama is a heartfelt coming of age movie and certainly a love-letter to his craft, but doesn’t deserve to be such a critical darling; Seth Rogen remains talentless and reliant on his stoner laugh, Dano feels like he could play the role in his sleep, and Michelle Williams character of Mitzi is so ethereal she practically breaks the illusion of the whole film. Thankfully Gabriel LaBelle’s Sammy is a lovable protagonist and his passion along with Spielberg’s inventive camera work just about carry it.

Happy Valley S03 (TV)

– the northern cop drama concludes with the same confident delivery and feisty scripting of the last two series. The acting throughout is superb. Sarah Lancashire is made for the role, and although the menacing Tommy Lee Royce storyline had definitely already run its course by this season (how many times can this dense guy evade the law, pop up and cast a shadow over little Ryan?!), it still proved an engaging and thrilling enough ride. It’s a shame the writer(s) relied quite so heavily on ‘made for TV’ contrivances and rushed the subplots.

The Crown S01 (TV)

– surprised to find this is pretty excellent and mostly deserving of its acclaim. It’s frustrating to watch because of the lack of likeable characters, the agonising adherence to tradition and pomp, and the sense that everyone (except Princess Margaret and the Duke of Edinburgh) is buckling under the weight of their duty, history, and misguided, anachronistic morals. It certainly doesn’t do the monarchy any favours overall and it lacks any compelling overarching story to thread each episode together, but it nonetheless works as a brilliantly acted, polished, and useful (albeit spurious) insight into Royal life and politics.

Madre (2019)

– emotionally compelling Spanish / French drama is borderline taboo as a 39 year old grieving mother becomes intimate friends with a 16 year old boy at a beach resort. Although it remains an interesting and engaging work and is disconcerting throughout, its characters never behave believably enough to deliver the emotional punch it intends.

Encounter

– not sure if I was just feeling especially susceptible the day I watched it, but thought this was extremely powerful and unexpectedly affecting, with beautiful direction by Micheal Pearce and universally excellent acting, including from bit roles like Rory Cochrane. It’s badly named and mismarketed – nothing to do with sci-fi whatsoever – but as a desperately sad drama about parenthood, comes highly recommended.

Woman of the Dead S01 (TV)

– scandinoir does the usual scandinoir shuffle. At this point, finding a decent crime mystery series is like spinning a tombola, liable to leave you disappointed. Mostly they’re a string of increasingly outlandish crime scenes, shady characters with high profile roles in the community and absurdly devious motivations, predictable twists and eye-rolling contrivances. Sadly, this is no different. If you’re desperate for gnarly murders and dour landscapes, this will just about keep you sated, but gone are the lofty days of The Killing, The Bridge and Nobel.

The Beasts (As Bestas)

– Isabel Peña continues her streak of phenomenal work. She’s definitely my current favourite spanish screenwriter. This is an unsettling, powerfully realistic drama, beautifully shot by director Rodrigo Sorogoyen, who also has an impressive track record, May God Save Us and Riot Police in particular, and whose eye for composition bestows even everyday scenes with eerie beauty. It’s heavy going, bleak and uncomfortable at times, not for casual viewing, but definitely recommended.

The Swimmers

– a great story and historic snapshot offering an insight into the refugee journey from Syria to Germany via boat to Lesbos, along with the challenges it entails and the circumstances that motivate people to take the risk. I’m not convinced it’s told as effectively and affectingly as it might have been, in part because it’s not an especially flattering depiction of its protagonists, but that’s a matter of taste rather than any particular misstep on behalf of the cast or director.

The Mosquito Coast S02 (TV)

– The Fox family misadventure falls apart at the seams, with ill conceived and half arsed plot swings, idiotic decision making and each family member dumbed down until their motivations are practically visible as straight lines on a story board. An ignominious exit for the series.

The Pale Blue Eye

– director Scott Cooper’s maudlin detective story is elevated slightly above mediocre by its extraordinary cast (seriously, why did they all sign up for this?!) and typically magnificent Howard Shore soundtrack (a score with distinctly LOTR moments). The bleak, ice encrusted setting is eye-catching and the performances are strong, so it’s a shame the proceedings are so drab and slow, and the story so po-faced (pun intended).

Triangle of Sadness

– there are moments of brilliance and stark insight scattered in this chaotic and gleefully grotesque satire about a group of money obsessed super rich on a hellish cruise. Unlike Östlund’s last film though, The Square, which got better and better, this one is a mess, vacillating unevenly between situational comedy and utter tedium before eventually getting lost in its own whimsy. If it was shorter, it might be worth the trip, but for a multitude of reasons, this is hard to recommend to a general audience.

The English S01 (TV)

– Hugo Blick’s latest is a vengeful love story in the Wild West. The acting is excellent, particularly from the central cast, and wonderfully hammy where appropriate (Rafe Spall excels as the arch villain, for instance). The cinematography, though theatrical and stagey, is striking and darkly beautiful. The issue is that the plot meanders erratically, running either too fast or too slow, with characters introduced to be killed in short order, and verbose, uninspired soliloquies aiming for profundity and landing flat. Ultimately, at only 6 episodes, it is worth watching, but it’s definitely massively overrated.

Pinocchio

– superficially heartfelt with that ‘on the sleeve’ didacticism so typical of Hollywood animations. Though technically impressive, this is neither funny nor especially whimsical, its fascistic wartime subplot is arguably too macabre for young kids, and its surrealist metaphorical narrative too bizarre to be compelling.

The Photographer of Mauthausen

– mixed german / spanish language World War 2 drama details the efforts of a young photographer to secretly preserve evidence of crimes committed in the prisoner of war camp where he’s detained. It’s not particularly showy or remarkable, and definitely nowhere near genre leading, but it’s a heartfelt, engaging, and dare I say it, slightly uplifting story.

The Good Boss (El Buen Patrón)

– a black comedy with terrific acting. Javier Bardem is the CEO of a scales company trying to solve a series of increasingly tricky personal problems in the lead up to a competition. It’s a mostly lighthearted if scathing take on capitalism at the expense of human decency. There are no revelations, and it might prove forgettable, but it’s (sadness tinged) fun while it lasts.

The Banshees of Inisherin

– Despite occasional moments of fleeting comedy, this is a ceaselessly bleak folktale allegory of the Irish civil war that unfolds exactly as you’re afraid it’s going to, with bitter acrimony between friends growing increasingly hostile and violent. Though hauntingly artistic, it’s not exactly an enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

She Said

– dramatisation of the behind-the-scenes of the Weinstein scandal from the perspectives of journalists at the New York Times is straightforward in its format but brilliantly acted and, barring a few oddly laboured and contrived scenes, very compelling. It’s also a timely reminder of the importance and power of journalism when it’s targeted, well-resourced and focused on stories that matter.

Shadowplay S01 (TV)

– Taylor Kitsch is a smooth talking American police detective in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of WW2 (1946) on the hunt for his brother, who’s been left traumatised and vengeful after witnessing war crimes. He takes charge of a ramshackle police force doing its best with no resources, but finds himself pulled in all directions by the forces at play in the city. It’s not a bad premise, but even Kitsch at his most likeable is simply too thin on charisma to make me care about any of the plot strands, whether criminal, political or romantic. Generously, this is a middling crime drama. Less generously, this is very dull.

The Peripheral S01 (TV)

– what starts out as a visually arresting, striking vision of a dystopian future, after a few episodes, through some quirk of ‘made for TV’ homeostasis, becomes far too conventional for its own good, with the innovative aspects of the lore taking a back seat in favour of painfully familiar themes – crime families, evil scientists, PTSD suffering soldiers, forced romantic side plots – and infuriatingly complacent, arrogant protagonists. There’s hardly a character who isn’t self-satisfied and hubristic, making them quite irritating to watch. The highly futuristic and impressively realised sci-fi elements – peripherals, sims, melding psyches, parallel universes and cross temporal communication, apocalyptic pandemics and artificial environments – novel areas that would be fascinating and potentially original territory to explore, all end up as almost farcical gimmickry in the service of telling very unremarkable, even boring stories. After receiving the start of the series enthusiastically, disappointingly, I’m not excited at the prospect of another. A shame, as it’s a waste of diverse talents, not least from the VFX crew.

Dog

– Channing Tatum carries Dog, both literally and metaphorically. A road trip drama about two war veterans struggling to cope post service, it’s occasionally touching, but more often uninspired and fanciful. Without Tatum’s charisma, it would have little to commend it.

Shot Caller

– unexpectedly deep prison set crime thriller explores the journey of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s rich city-boy ‘Jacob’ as he transforms into fear inspiring lifer inmate, ‘Money’ Harlon. This is that rare film with such a range of themes and stories it could benefit from additional run time. He’s such an intriguing lead, as are each of the supporting characters, it’d have been interesting to see some of the gaps in his descent filled in, particularly his history with various inmates, and his wife’s new life trajectory. What’s there is great though, powerfully acted and compellingly directed. For the most part it sadly feels all too believable, even if the prison politics and hierarchy stretch credibility a little.

Argentina, 1985

– Spanish language legal drama depicts the prosecution of former military commanders. Ricardo Darin is marvellous as ever, as are the whole cast. It’s an important piece of history told in an informative, compelling way, with wit and compassion, but it’s carried by the gravity of history and the weight of its performances rather than because the events themselves are especially cinematic or exciting.

The Bear S01 (TV)

– after Boiling Point, it wasn’t as surprising to behold the intensity of a kitchen in full flow, but this takes it to a sensory level. The searing heat here is sustained largely by the volume of shouting from the pent up characters, similar in frenetic style to Uncut Gems. The show is definitely impressive and original, both in terms of performances and production, and the short episodes make a refreshing change from the mini-films most series employ these days, but it’s not exactly likeable or comfortable viewing, and the story is too loose to be compelling.

The Greatest Beer Run Ever

– if it wasn’t closely based on the truth (with inevitable tweaks here and there, chiefly the timing, 3 days instead of the actual 4+ months!), this story would be inconceivable. Even with the facts on its side, the film takes itself and the war too flippantly to succeed. While everyone involved performs their roles serviceably, the script makes light of the circumstance and the people, in such a way that even in the few moments it genuinely charms, it doesn’t sit right.

All The Way (2016)

– Cranston gives another phenomenal performance, this time as President Lyndon B Johnson in the months leading up to his election as he works with Martin Luther King to pass his first Civil Rights Act. It’s an insightful snapshot, both about LBJ as a man and as an introduction to other key characters and political themes of the era. (Robert Caro’s biography Passage of Power is the bible on this period and matches with Cranston’s portrayal here).

The Woman King

– despite the extensive violence, this is a surprisingly warm hearted and tender drama about resilience and motherhood; brilliantly acted and with an unpredictable enough story to engage despite its protracted (tightly choreographed but no less dull) combat scenes.

The Stranger

– taut and convoluted crime thriller begins so slowly and laconically as to be off-putting, but gradually ramps up the stress and tension until, as it all ties together, its endlessly plodding pace and quiet tone is at odds with your racing heartbeat. Edgerton is good in roles like this, and Sean Harris scarily impressive, too. Ended up pleasantly surprised.

Succession S01 (TV)

– despicable though each of the characters are, this is an often hilarious depiction of the uber wealthy as they trample on one another and everyone else in their pursuit of self importance. The comedy is black and grotesque, and in a similar vein to that of Veep or The Thick of It, but the presentation leans further into high stakes drama. It goes over the top in the season finale, but then the whole point of the show is excess, so perhaps that’s unsurprising.

Bad Sisters S01 (TV)

– after the few episodes it takes to build some momentum, this black comedy about a group of sisters trying to kill their brother in law hits an enjoyable, albeit vaguely trashy, stride. The script is much more comedic than is acted, so it feels like a comedy played as a drama, rather than an outright black comedy, and many of the jokes don’t land. The five sisters (each acted with aplomb) behave pretty reprehensibly and are quite unsympathetic, so to get the viewer on board with their scheming, Claes Bang’s villain, JP, is made irredeemably grotesque and vile – a role he absolutely nails. Overall, the core conceit and structure (the time jumps between before and after his death) is hugely engaging and intriguing, even if the conclusion isn’t quite as unpredictable as Sharon Horgan and her writing team may have hoped.

Ted K

– Sympathetic but not uncritical depiction of Ted Kaczynski’s life and extremist views as he evolves from irate woodland luddite to the domestic terrorist known as the Unabomber. As an informative potted history, it’s quite interesting, as a piece of cinema, it’s dull. For anyone looking for a vastly more enjoyable retelling of Ted’s story, I highly recommend the series Manhunt: Unabomber.

Emily the Criminal

– Aubrey Plaza’s Breaking Bad is a competent but loveless crime drama, delivered without panache. It feels functionally like a solid film, but is wooden, lacking some key ingredient that would make it enjoyable, be it passion, emotional connection, excitement or just style. It’s a shame as the components are there, just assembled into something not worth assembling.

Decision to Leave

– Innovative direction, artful symbolism and a wry wit isn’t quite enough to rectify this warped Korean tale of a police detective falling for a murder suspect. It’s an unlikeable, manipulative romance, and albeit intriguing, the resolution to the meandering story is unsatisfactory. It’s arguably worth watching to admire Park Chan-wook‘s craft alone though.

Boiling Point

– blistering one take drama in a high end restaurant kitchen at Christmas feels grotesquely realistic, rushing from urgency to panic with the entire ensemble delivering such vulnerable, human performances, you want to reach into the screen and give them each a hug. It is a little overcooked by the final curtain – the stress was certainly peaking without the need for its arguably hyperbolic conclusion – but what an achievement, nonetheless.

A Day

– convoluted Korean sci-fi thriller riffs on the Groundhog Day repetitive loop. It’s intriguing up to a point, but also overly contrived, and the characters’ behaviour and motivations are unconvincing and eventually a little tedious.

Mr Smith Goes To Washington

– it’s films like these that make me ashamed to assume an old black and white picture won’t compare to modern cinema. This is a powerhouse drama whose warmth belies its desaturated finish, simultaneously illustrating venal political operatives and their abuses of power while lauding the foundations of democracy. It’s all told with a generous dose of wit, impassioned oratory, brilliant acting, and even a delicate love story in the mix. A shame there aren’t more recent films like it.

Primary Colors

– Nuanced, timeless and illustrative of why personally despicable people still survive or thrive in politics. Makes me long for more high calibre political dramas.

Where The Crawdads Sing

– like wading through the marshes, this wet and affected courtroom drama is a slog from start to finish, with vanilla direction and broadly unimpressive performances.

Totems S01 (TV)

– after Le Bureau proved such an accomplished French export, I hoped this might be another. Alas, not so. Totems takes the scientific-office-bod-turned-super-spy trope and runs with it through Soviet era Russia and East Germany, using an unconvincing romance as a crutch. Nothing about it is noteworthy, let alone remarkable, and mostly it’s just bad. After more than four hours, I decided it’d be gambler’s fallacy to carry on.

Escape at Dannemora S01 (TV)

– abandoned this around the halfway mark. It felt refined but unlikeable. There are so many prison dramas, most more thrilling and engaging than this, and despite the performances and meticulous direction, I simply didn’t care enough about any of it to justify the time investment.

Thirteen Lives

– this doesn’t achieve anything The Rescue documentary didn’t already, and viewing this subsequently, knowing exactly what to expect and when, I found it underwhelming. But it’s not bad by any measure, and as a standalone film I’d imagine it does a good job conveying the extraordinary drama of the rescue.

Black Bird S01 (TV)

– engaging and polished crime thriller with some impressive (if weirdly stylised) performances and a suspenseful atmosphere. Disappointingly, the script goes on some strange and unconvincing tangents, with implausible dialogue, irrelevant subplots, and disconnected scenes. The result is compelling but unnecessarily rushed and nowhere near as tight or satisfying as it could have been, or as some comparable shows, like True Detective S03.

The Old Man S01 (TV)

– Its drab name belies the best spy thriller since Le Bureau. The Old Man puts the craft in spy craft, with a heavyweight, serious cast, each at the top of their game, and thoughtful direction that commands your attention with subtle hints, careful pacing, and the refreshing use of space: both for the cast to shine and the suspense to marinate. Despite a proclivity for showy, literary monologues, its intelligent scripting weaves what could easily have seemed a farfetched narrative into a convoluted but pleasantly adhesive web, while its tastefully unadorned, gritty aesthetic helps add authenticity. A shame season 1 only lasts an irregular 7 episodes, but gladly, FX have renewed it. This one is highly recommended.

Sherwood S01 (TV)

– inconsistent crime drama set in a former mining community where old alliances are still causing problems. While this is quite well produced and acted, the story depends on so many far fetched ingredients and manipulative narrative twists that it practically feels unfair to the viewer, and the ending (specifically the killer’s motives) feel like an absolute copout. Top marks for casting though, the younger, flashback versions of the older characters are very convincing.

Father Stu

– critics panned this inspirational true story of a boxer turned priest and his endless battle with adversity, but audiences, myself included, appear more receptive to its charms. It is very Hollywoodised, but of the ‘feel good’ variety, where characters are all redeemable and ultimately good people, despite their myriad issues, and where faith and love of one another triumphs. If that sounds saccharine, it is a bit, but it also makes for uplifting viewing. Not to mention, Mark Wahlberg’s performance and physical transformation is seriously impressive.

Benediction

– while the performances in this biographical drama are good and it’s informative about the poet, Siegfried Sassoon, and the impact of PTSD, depression and his homosexuality on his life, the speech is so clipped and the style so stilted that it left me cold. It presents almost theatrically, with protracted scenes of archive war footage and morose expressions on the actors faces while long extracts of poetry are read. I wasn’t unmoved, but I also didn’t much enjoy the experience.

The Dissident

– harrowing true story of the Jamal Khashoggi murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on the orders of Mohammed bin Salman. The CGI infographic style of presentation didn’t really do it for me, but the story, CCTV and transcript footage is so jaw-dropping the alternative visuals really aren’t that relevant. Definitely worth watching, if only to remind yourself what individuals in positions of power get away with.

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.

The Duke

– while this is certainly a competent and affectionate film, I’m somewhat baffled by its acclaim. It’s described as a heist movie but there’s no heist to speak of: the art theft itself over in the blink of an eye and really just a necessary plot development rather than central to the action. The drama revolves around an ageing couple’s relationship, their coping with impecunity and the loss of their daughter. There’s nothing wrong with it per say, it’s just quite drab and boring, despite the sparkling talents of its cast (Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren and Matthew Goode).

The White Lotus S01 (TV)

– This droll dramedy is like watching a car filled with deplorable passengers crash in slow motion, and being asked to laugh at it. There’s a small kick to be had watching insufferable people suffer, but by and large it’s just tedious, laden with scornful social commentary and judgement, and grotesque in its style. Thankfully it boasts some big hitters who can spin gold from straw: Murray Bartlett is a treasure, playing hotel manager Armand like a genius cross between John Cleese and Jim Cummings, while Connie Briton and Steve Zahn are electric and charismatic in any role and still a joy to watch here.

Black Pond

– told in Will Sharpe’s characteristically bewitching, kaleidoscopic style, this indulgent mockumentary about a dysfunctional family who bury a dog and a stranger in the woods has a lot to commend it, including some genuinely hilarious scenes and moments of profundity. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have nearly enough to justify even its short 80 minute runtime, and the flashes of greatness (primarily from Chris Langham and Amanda Hadingue) are distributed unevenly throughout. Simon Amstell’s character in particular feels like a very weak link. All in all: creative, artistic, light and amusing, but ultimately too whimsical to recommend for a mainstream audience.

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.

Election (1999)

– This 1999 high school gem is a precursor in style to Arrested Development, with hilarious and unanimously likeable characters, and a delightfully silly plot which, for all its downturns, remains relentlessly upbeat. At first glance the whole thing seems trivial, but it’s surprisingly nuanced and insightful, a charming little microcosm of life and its caprices. At the end, I found myself thinking, for the first time in a long while, ‘I could watch that again.’

The Candidate (1972)

– Redford scores again in this prescient (or timeless) and uncomfortably authentic depiction of a newbie political operative losing his way on the path to being elected to the Senate. Understated but brilliantly astute.

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…)

A Very Long Engagement

– French language comedic war film from the director of Amélie (and with the same lead actress, Audrey Tautou). It’s an enjoyable yarn and fun to unravel the mystery of her missing lover, but despite its setting, somehow feels a bit frivolous. Worth watching though.

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.

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.

The Exception

– frustrating World War 2 spy drama begins with a rape then expects you to cheer for the rapist, just one of the many villains it depicts as misguided but well-meaning characters. The romance is just a series of sex scenes; unbelievable, gratuitous and thin, while every character exists to prop up the central trio or nudge the absurd plot along. Thankfully, the spy drama, political intrigue and suspense, particularly towards the end, compensates to some extent and the result is a vexatious but still quite enjoyable few hours.

Masters of Sex S01 (TV)

– There are moments of greatness in this graphic scientific drama, but they’re few and far between, and fuelled exclusively by virtue of the phenomenally talented cast: Michael Sheen and Alison Janney in particular. The small handful of characters at its core are all too unlikeable, and right off the bat some of them behave in ways that seem irredeemable, stultifying any audience ambition to see them succeed. Nonetheless, the plot maintains just enough momentum, and the script just enough wit to keep the viewer engaged, if not always entertained, and it’s an interesting insight into the prudish history of sexual health and the (early) science of intercourse.

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.

Thunder Road

– watched this after being wowed by Jim Cummings more recent feature, The Beta Test, and, perhaps as a result of high expectations, found this underwhelming. It mostly works as a slow tragi-comedy, but is too heavy on the tragedy and light on the comedy.

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.

This Is Going To Hurt S01 (TV)

– a near masterpiece that should be mandatory viewing. Simultaneously hilarious, heartbreaking and a critical insight into the functioning (or not) of our NHS and the people holding it together at the seams, while struggling to hold themselves together. All the performances are stellar, but the real revelation is Ashley McGuire, who steals every scene she’s in. Had me in stitches. The good kind.

Hearts and Bones

– Despite demonstrating restraint and understatement in all the right places, this beautiful, sensitive drama can’t help but be emotionally taxing, even overpowering at times, tackling as it does so many raw themes. It’s a simple, nuanced story; tenderly portraying loss and grief, while ultimately remaining focused on hope and reconciliation.

Jasper Jones

– there’s a simplicity to this gentle, sombre, coming-of-age Australian drama that makes it seem overly patronising for adults, but, like reading a children’s book, still easy to appreciate its qualities, too. Clearly for children, I’d be hesitant about screening it too young: the numerous themes it introduces are very heavy, particularly given their lack of resolution, and likely to prompt some uncomfortable conversations.

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.

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 Nest (2020)

– Carrie Coon and Jude Law’s happy marriage evaporates following a decision to move to England for ‘an opportunity’ in this scathing critique of materialism and capitalism. It works up to a point, but sadly the point is several beats short of a satisfying or substantial film. Close but no cigar. The performances are there, but the tone is all over the place (straying near supernatural horror), as is the pacing (soporific at times), and while director Sean Durkin seems to thrive on visual metaphor, some clumsy and condescending dialogue undoes all his subtlety. And lets not even start on that endi-

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.

Being the Ricardos

– Odd but original Lucille Ball drama is enjoyably Sorkinesque, in both the good ways and the bad: it’s sharp witted with rapid fire, acerbic dialogue, but the comedy never feels particularly funny, and the whole thing feels as staged as the show it depicts.

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.

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.

Don’t Look Up

– well intentioned but irritatingly smug satire (read: Hollywood funded trolling) undersells the prolonged and unprecedented suffering resulting from climate change by reimagining the threat as an instant death. The point it aims to make is important, but rather than seek to persuade, it preaches to the converted in a self-congratulatory fashion, while those yet to be convinced will either feel insulted or not recognise themselves in its story. Message aside, it’s not great as a drama or comedy either: hammy, slapstick, and often distracted by its knowing nods and winks to real life characters and scenes. It’s also way too long.

tick, tick… BOOM!

– though the genre and writing style isn’t my cup of tea, this engaging rock musical biopic showcases the remarkable talent of Andrew Garfield and offers an insight into writer/ composer Jonathan Larson’s creative process. In fact, despite the difference in era, this actually feels like a timely reveal of the anxieties continuing to plague young people, and in particular, artists, actors and musicians.

New Order (Nuevo Orden)

– visceral and brutally graphic Mexican drama presents a violent revolution and the subsequent opportunism and corruption of the military. Though polished and indubitably impactful, this fast paced but horrific depiction is as hard to recommend as it is to stomach.

CODA

– original drama about a deaf family and their hearing daughter offers an extraordinary and heartfelt insight into the experiences of deaf people. Although arguably a bit too cheesy, it presents multiple storylines effectively and the performances across the board are spot on.

Good Kill

– politically on the nose, no doubt, and with dialogue that it’s hard to imagine soldiers using (particularly the unwelcome excess of word plays), but those niggles aside, this is a well executed and heartfelt military drama with a typically strong performance from Ethan Hawke and a (sadly) believable conceit. Probably deserves more attention.

Happiest Season

– while individually this is a standout cast, there’s something about the ensemble as a whole that really doesn’t gel. Whether because of the joke-starved, cliché-ridden script or the unimaginative direction, this doesn’t sit comfortably as either a comedy or a drama. The end result is watchable, occasionally even moving, but it’s definitely not recommended.

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 Rescue

– great to hear of this astonishing and repeatedly jaw-dropping journey from the mouths of those who swam it with a singular goal in mind: to rescue 13 people. Given how limited the actual footage is and the lack of access to the kids themselves, the drama is carried entirely by the narrative, the sheer audacity of the divers and the unlikelihood of their success. It’s testament to the incredible story that it’s still such a compelling film.

A West Wing Special To Benefit When We All Vote (TV)

– this one off theatrical presentation of West Wing episode, Hartsfield’s Landing, brings truck loads of nostalgia and is an absolute love in for the surviving cast and crew. For fans, this is a heartwarming and slightly heartbreaking return to a series that continues to make waves and sets the bar for intelligent political drama. If you loved the series, you’ll love this.

King Richard

– Will Smith is a man with a plan in this enjoyable sports drama about the Williams sisters’ father Richard, their childhood and their rise to tennis stardom. It doesn’t shake up the genre, but it’s fun entertainment.

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.

Monos

– arthouse in the jungle. It might be unique, but this twisted and faintly surreal observation of some child soldiers guarding a US hostage in Colombia is too slow, opaque and gratuitous. The political commentary, while clearly present, is hidden in so many layers of visual and non-visual metaphor that trying to make sense of it is like trying to decipher a bad dream. Maybe up someone’s street, not mine.

Capernaum

– following a similar format to Slumdog Millionaire, this is another powerful reminder of the way so many children live in deprived parts of the world. All the performances are strong and authentic, but that of the lead actor, Zain Al Rafeea, carrying the whole film and the weight of the drama upon his shoulders, is frankly remarkable. He’ll make you laugh and cry in nearly equal measure. Brilliant film-making and a brilliant film.

Dune (2021)

– on a second viewing Villeneuve‘s epic sci-fi is somehow more compelling, perhaps without the weight of expectation. It’s a visual marvel. I would have liked more upbeat emotional moments where merited, a bit more dynamism from the cast beyond their fight scenes, and it’s a shame that some sequences draw such clear influence from Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring, but by and large, this is a worthy adaptation of Frank Herbert’s magnum opus.

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.

12 Mighty Orphans

– what is remarkable about this otherwise bland period piece is the unrelenting optimism of its hero. He’s a positive, inspiring figure, as if penned by Miles Connolly, and this worthiness makes for a happily uplifting sports drama, albeit a mediocre work of art.

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.

Ted Lasso S02 (TV)

– the second series continues in much the same vein as the first left off. The novelty is gone and Lasso’s quirky references feel more strained, more annoying, and less amusing. That, combined with Nate’s ill-advised shift to the dark side resulting in the loss of one of the funniest characters, means the comedy itself is falling by the wayside. Still, I’m fond of the characters now, irritating though they are, and I’ll probably keep watching.

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.

Another Round

– while the cast and director deliver with aplomb, there’s little to excite or enthuse about in this curious drama exploring the allure and societal dependency on alcohol.

Ad Astra

– director James Gray delivers one of the most visually striking and beautiful depictions of space to date, but for a film about humanity, it’s lacking in humour and heart. Every line is a dour monotone, and every scene emotionally flat, despite the surprising range of Brad Pitt’s eyes. Short of greatness, it’s nonetheless worth a watch for scifi fans and fans of spectacular cinematography.

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.

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.

Mank

– while I remain unconvinced that David Fincher’s feverishly hammy biopic about Herman J. Mankiewicz is better in black and white, it’s definitely an entertaining period piece and love letter to the art of screenwriting. Giant characters with fittingly giant performances.

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…

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.

Ted Lasso S01 (TV)

– this caught me totally off-guard with Jason Sudeikis’ real life Ned Flanders feel good charms and Airplane! level gags and slapstick. The first four episodes had me hooked, but I’m sadly not sure it sustained its magic for the full series, and I’m hoping the gag rate will be higher and more consistent in series 2.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Bliss

– entirely missold drama, pitched as sci-fi, but actually about mental illness, addiction and homelessness. Perhaps because I had no idea what I was in for, the gut punch this delivered was a little more potent that it ought to have been, but I still think there’s more depth to this than the glossy marketing and top tier goofy cast imply. Didn’t enjoy it, but it was genuinely interesting. I think. Maybe…

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…

The Spy (TV)

– Sacha Baron Cohen gives an impressively straight performance as Israeli spy Eli Cohen. The series is uneven, cheesy and rushed at times, but it’s mostly gripping and easy entertainment.

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.

Our Friend

– beautifully acted grief porn of the stricken sort that leaves you feeling sick. If you like that vibe, it’s a masterpiece I recommend. If you don’t, it’s a masterpiece I don’t recommend.

News of the World

– solid Western with Hanks on typically good form, albeit remarkable only in that there are so few these days. Surprisingly for Greengrass, despite two or three thrilling set pieces, this is predominantly a drama.

Jungle

– Daniel Radcliffe’s comedic accent doesn’t do this survival thriller any favours, but neither does the weird direction, odd editing and generally hammy style. Watchable, but feels like it could and should have been much better.

Soul

– Pixar’s jazzy latest is a saccharine reminder to love life. It’s got some laugh out loud funnies, but mostly it follows the usual beats for an animated fable.

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.

A Star Is Born

– slightly ashamed to admit that despite being an obvious vanity project from Gaga and Cooper, this was an engaging and mostly enjoyable watch, though all dramas about a death spiral into alcoholism seem to follow the same inevitable trajectory.

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.

The Queen’s Gambit S01 (TV)

– for chess fans and simply TV drama fans alike, this is a treat. Great casting, direction, and pacing. It’s cheesy and cliché at times, and Beth’s battle with addiction has an inevitability that is always tedious to watch unfold, but overall this is winning and deserving of its widespread acclaim.

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.

Una Noche

– Contrasted with the full gamut of spanish-language cinema, this Havana based drama is certainly not knocking any crowns off, but it’s still a raw and characterful tale. The first two thirds are quite excellent and engaging, but the final third unfortunately falls a little short, if only because of its soaring ambition. Worth watching, though.

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.

Hamilton

– though no substitute for the live theatrical version, this screen rendition is still a joy to behold: inspiring, exciting and completely engaging. All history should be taught this way.

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.

Enola Holmes

– Sherlock Holmes’ feisty younger sister gets the spotlight in this sententious feminist mystery pitched squarely at the next generation. Probably more of a hit with kids, but as an adult, its pompous didacticism is irritating and inauthentic.

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.

The Art of Racing in the Rain

– a movie narrated by a dog (even one voiced by Kevin Costner) definitely risks illegitimacy, but somehow, this love letter to decency, dogs and racing cars makes it work. This star-studded drama is conventionally heart tugging and tear welling, and occasionally, unconventionally profound.

Driven

– Lee Pace is such an underrated actor and this semi-sorta-biography-ish of John DeLorean’s fall from grace deserves a viewing, even though it’s undeniably flimsy and lightweight. File under flippant but fun.

Phantom Thread

– there are many recent films about obsession, but this arguably maps most closely onto real life. PT Anderson delivers a meticulous and measured weave of love and hate, that if it wasn’t so endlessly acrimonious as to be unpleasant to watch, would be masterful. One to admire, not to enjoy.

Irresistible

– disappointing, honestly. Poorly named, sententious and nowhere near funny enough to call itself a comedy. Also condescending to just about everyone, especially rural America.

The Rental

– Dave Franco’s cautionary tale of a risky fling gone awry disappoints with last act slasher. Fairly predictable and conventional, but good enough for discerning horror fans to get a (slight) kick out of.

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.

The Assistant

– mercifully short, because it’s every bit as dry and bleak as the ‘shit job, toxic work culture’ synopsis suggests. Competent, but not for me.

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.

Secondhand Lions

– charming and cheerful children’s tale in the same vein, if not the same league, as Big Fish (which given their shared release year, explains why it might have gone overlooked). Fun but very basic.

Ride Like A Girl

– Thoroughly enjoyed this badly named Aussie sports drama. It charts the usual beats, but it’s novel to see a familiar formula applied to horse racing, and the cast unanimously give great performances.

Fighting with my Family

– Hammy British comedy biopic about WWF wrestler Saraya Knight is fun but not funny. Fortunately, central duo Florence Pugh and Jack Lowden elevate it a notch above mediocre, but I expected better from Stephen Merchant.

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.