Welcome To Hell: A Dunkirk review.

Directed by: Christopher Nolan.

Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, James D’arcy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy.

There have been many remarkable films that have been made that tell the stories of the brave men & women that fought in the many conflicts of the Second World War, some better than others, some played for patriotic grandeur and some taking a more sensitive and thoughtful look at the awful situations those people found themselves in, some falling somewhere in between. The prospect of a World War 2 movie in the hands of an auteur like Christopher Nolan was always going to be an enticing one but how well he would handle a real world, non-fantasy narrative remained to be seen.

I don’t think it is bold in the slightest to call Dunkirk, from a technical standpoint, Christopher Nolans finest film to date. Charting the extraction of troops from the French coastal town of Dunkirk and comprising 3 narrative strands, each running for a different length of time 1. The Mole (land): a week , 2. Sea: a day and 3. Air: an hour, jumping back and forth between the narratives as they meet and intertwine each other, it is dazzlingly handled by Nolan. Dunkirk is truly, beautifully shot, powerfully so. From the stark imagery of soldiers lining the wind strewn beach as the sea blows in foam, to the breathtaking aerial photography and the spine chilling futility of it all illustrated in a shot of a soldier simply giving up all hope and wading out into the sea, will stay with you long after the film has ended. It is perhaps rightfully so that the film should be so visually arresting as there is very little dialogue In Dunkirk, relying more on imagery & mood to convey the plight of these men. A lot of Dunkirk’s strength lies in its sound design and pounding Hans Zimmer score. German fighters screaming out of the sky to Zimmer’s ticking, almost ambient accompaniment, married in perfect unison make for even more tense viewing.

With minimal dialogue, the cast of Dunkirk deserve even more praise than could usually be afforded. The younger cast members, Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles & Tom Glynn-Carny in particular all superbly convey the desperation, fear and spirit of the young men in that terrible predicament of fighting for their very survival and in the protection of their own. The older, more seasoned cast members, the likes of the ever amazing Mark Rylance & Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Kenneth Branagh all give reliably strong supporting performances also.

Dunkirk is an intense, beautifully shot, expertly crafted ode to the enduring “Dunkirk spirit” of troops in that fateful May of 1940, an intimate yet sprawling testament to the men & women that fought, died and survived. In Dunkirk, Nolan may very well have delivered his opus and that is not a plaudit that is offered lightly, this really was a breathtaking and deftly delivered piece from an absolute master of his craft operating at the peak of his game. If you can, try and watch Dunkirk in IMAX as it was intended to be seen, you will not regret the experience.

Reach Out And Touch Faith: An American Gods Season 1 review.

Developed by: Brian Fuller & Michael Green.

Starring: Ricky Whittle, Emily Browning, Ian McShane, Crispin Glover, Bruce Langley, Gillian Anderson, Pablo Schreiber, Yetide Badaki.

Plot: Repentant convict Shadow Moon has been released from prison to find his wife dead and his prospects on the outside world severely limited, that is until he happens upon the enigmatic Mr Wednesday who offers Shadow employment. Soon Shadow is thrust into an America where gods old & new engage in a conflict for supremacy.

I haven’t read American Gods, there, I’ve said it and as a consequence went into the first Season of the Brian Fuller led American Gods TV show pretty much blind. I knew some things, that is was written by the incomparable talent that is Neil Gaiman, that it told a story of gods living amongst men in modern America and that I was immediately enticed by this prospect along with the sterling word of mouth from friends of mine that were fans of the book and had already seen the show, they weren’t exaggerating. 

Weaving an intricately mapped story of conflict between old & new gods in contemporary America, American Gods is a concept tailor made for a structured TV serialisation. Take one look at the thick tome it is adapted from and you’ll see there was no other way to go in respect to format without dropping facets of the story and risking narrative cohesion. People I know who have read the book have corroborated that American Gods is a story so richly and intricately woven that to weed away the story to suit a framework that didn’t fit it would have been a huge disservice, so to see it get the full Brian Fuller backed TV treatment is a move that long term fans and like me, the erstwhile newcomer with no prior knowledge, will certainly appreciate. American Gods is certainly a show that respects its audiences intelligence, it doesn’t pander to them or dumb down its source material to make it more palatable. Neil Gaiman is a verbose writer of great imagination & intellect which reflects in his work, the brilliant Neverwhere was a book that placed an entire world beneath the streets of London, fully realised and full of complex characters and narrative, American Gods even more so from what I am reliably told and it certainly translated that way in the TV show. 

In American Gods the audience has to do a lot of the groundwork to get the truest sense of what’s gong on in the narrative of the show, who the old gods are and what the new gods represent. The new gods I feel are slightly less ambiguous, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why the goddess Media only appears as in the guise of icons of stage & screen, that Mr World is an allegory for globalisation or why Technical Boy resides in a matrix-like cyberworld, locking down the old gods however certainly requires a bit more knowledge on the viewers part. I had heard the name Mad Sweeney before, I knew that Bilquis was the Queen Of Sheba and I think most people will have cottoned on as to who Mr Wednesday actually is before the reveal, a modicum of prior knowledge of certain folklores and mythologies will help you pick out a few but certainly not all of them but if you can, have a cream bun and a gold star on me.

American Gods is yet another show with an incredibly strong ensemble cast. People this side of the pond may recognise Ricky Whittle who plays Shadow Moon from godawful UK soap opera Hollyoaks, he certainly has traded up here delivering a strong and likeable lead performance despite the characters many flaws, the same can be said of Emily Browning as his wife Laura, a sympathetic portrayal of a depressed and alienated spouse and later dead pan delivery of an increasingly absurd and amusing situation after her resurrection. Ian McShane brings his usual magnetic charm and acerbic delivery to the role of Mr Wednesday and some fun support from his fellow gods, Pablo Schreiber seemingly having a ball as Mad Sweeney, Gillian Anderson playing dress up and giving a scarily good Bowie impression as Media and the gloriously oddball Crispin Glover chews the scenery with gusto as Mr World.

American Gods is high on my list of must see TV shows this year. It was original, captivating, funny, unabashedly provocative, not afraid to take creative gambits such as an animated introduction in one episode and a luscious episode long period backstory in another. It doesn’t pander to it viewers and relies on them joining the dots so to speak but is in all a massively addictive watch. With just 8 episodes in this first season it’s highly likely you will binge watch once you start it and with the knowledge that Season 2 has just been greenlit, you’ll be chomping at the bit for more.

American Gods Season 1 is currently available to stream via Amazon.

(Don’t) Look Away!: A Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events Season 1 review.

Developed by: Barry Sonnenfeld.

Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton, Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, K. Todd Freeman, Presley Smith, Joan Cusack, Alfre Woodard, Catherine O’Hara, Rhys Darby, Will Arnet, Cobie Smulders.

Plot: The Baudelaire children, Violet, Klaus & Sunny are orphaned and left open to the machinations of their relative, Count Olaf, a terrible actor with an eye on their family fortune. The Baudelaire’s seek to unravel the mystery surrounding what happened to their parents and the secret organisation they were involved with.

Mention Daniel Handler and people will most likely shrug, mention his more commonly known moniker of Lemony Snicket and people will recognise the name for differing reasons. From the series of macabre children’s novels from the late 90’s but most likely from the 2004 Jim Carrey film of the same name which covered the events of the first 3 novels of the 13 novel series. The Netflix Lemony Snicket series intends to bring all the novels to our TV screens and season 1 gets things off to a very strong start. The stories contained in the Lemony Snicket novels certainly benefit from the format of an 8 part episodic season, this first season containing the narrative of the first 4 novels, rather than the strictures of a near 2 hour film trying to cram in as much of that narrative as it can. The stories are allowed to have more context, greater emphasis is allowed to be applied to sub-plots and a much greater degree of character development is allowed to evolve over the course of a season run. Production values on this series are high, the show is gorgeous to look it, nailing the aesthetic of Snickets world, a slightly off kilter Gothic ambience hangs over the proceedings in a world with an ambiguous location & place in time.

The casting for the show is expansive and pretty much spot on. As much as I loved Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Count Olaf, Neil Patrick Harris over the course of this first season makes the character his own, it isn’t him trying to do his best Jim Carrey impression, Harris’s Olaf is much more subdued and nuanced than Carrey’s comparatively one note mugging and is a move that pays off big for the Broadway stalwart, a side he also gets to show off in his performance of the shows brilliantly infectious theme tune. The actors playing the Baudelaire orphans are great, there is no cliched, irritating child acting here, Malina Weissman & Louis Hynes are excellent choices as Violet & Klaus respectively and carry their roles with a deft touch that defys their youth. There is also a scene stealing turn from the impossibility cute Presley Smith as Sunny who never fails to raise a smile when onscreen and is voiced by voice artist extraordinaire Tara Strong, adding the prerequisite coo’s & gurgles. The role of Lemony Snicket is embodied by the ever brilliant Patrick Warburton who’s deadpan delivery of the author is a constant joy to behold as the series goes on, who’d think an in depth explanation of the definitions of literally & figuratively could be so entertaining? The show also boasts a ridiculously varied and talented support cast. Deep breath, Joan Cusack, Alfre Woodard, Will Arnet, Cobie Smulders, Don Johnson, Rhys Darby even Catherine O’Hara who starred in the film makes a return appearance, all giving note perfect performances in their episodes.

Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events is a joy from start to finish, a darkly comic, richly and impeccably delivered take on its source material giving the Daniel Handler stories wonderfully realised life. There have been 2 more seasons of this show commissioned by Netflix to cover the remaining 9 stories in the series and if they are anything like what has been accomplished in season 1, we are in for a real macabre treat in the years to come.

Season 1 of Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events is currently available to view on Netflix.

Winter Is Here: My thoughts on the first episode of Game Of Thrones Season 7.

*ATTENTION* This is a post regarding the events of the first episode of the seventh season of Game Of Thrones and as such will contain plot points. You have been warned.

It’s been a long wait but it’s finally here, Game Of Thrones Season 7 has begun and I thought I’d take some time to give my feelings on the episode and also where I think that this season will take us, but first a recap may be needed. At the end of Season 6 we had Jon Snow defeat Ramsey Bolton at The Battle Of The Bastards and become King In The North, Cersei in one fell swoop taking out The High Sparrow, faith militant, prominent members of the Tyrell family and demolishes the Sept by igniting Wildfire caches beneath it resulting in King Tommen’s suicide and her assent as Queen and most importantly, Daenerys makes her move to cross the narrow sea with her army and heads for Westeros. With The Nights King and the army of the dead marching for The Wall also, this upcoming Season is going to be nerve shredding.

So, the first episode of the new season is as to be expected, setting all the pieces into motion on their respective courses. In a fist pumping pre-credits sequence we see Arya finally getting revenge against the Frey’s by masquerading as the deceased Walder Fray at a banquet and poisoning every male in the room with a toast in a class moment of ruthless vengeance for the murder of her mother & brother at the red wedding. This act sets Arya in motion toward the capital and Cersei, briefly stopping to dine and converse with Lannister soldiers in a frankly throwaway scene featuring a cringing guest appearance by serial ear botherer Ed Sheeran, one can only hope this doesn’t herald a move toward acting because it is excruciatingly forced viewing with very little purpose. 

In the North we see King Jon holding court and pardoning the Karstarks & Umbers for their role in their betrayal of House Stark by fighting for the Boltons during the battle of the bastards, needing as many hands to fight knowing what is approaching from the North of the wall. There is some butting of heads with Sansa over this decision, Jon angry with Sansa for essentially undermining him in front of his people, possibly heralding more tension between the two siblings in the future also but with Sansa also rightly pointing out a summons from the Queen asking Jon to Kings Landing to bend the knee, an instruction that ignored would almost certainly Illicit even greater animosity between the two houses. It’s all about to kick off!

Meanwhile in Kings Landing, Cersei & Jamie discuss the very real predicament of being quite literally surrounded by enemies with a distinct lack of allies. Cue the arrival of Euron Greyjoy and his armada offering his support in exchange for marrying Cersei. She may be desperate for support but doesn’t trust him so he vows to win that trust with “a gift”, a remark that feel unsettlingly portentous considering his previous form. Quite what Euron has in mind remains to be seen but it certainly doesn’t bode well and quite how well his armada will stand up against Daenerys’s dragons remains to be seen.

Sam Tarly is now set up in Oldtown at the citadel basically operating as a lackey, cleaning bedpans, serving food, being a general dogsbody all the while keeping his eye on a locked restricted section of the citadels library like a rotund Harry Potter, an area he is forbidden to enter by the archmaester who believes Sam’s warnings of the White Walkers but feels the Wall is more than enough protection from the onslaught. After stealing his way into the restricted section and a selection of its wears, he discovers that Dragonstone, the Targaryen ancestral seat is home to a stockpile of dragonglass, a priceless commodity in the fight against the Night King due to its lethality to White Walkers. Factor in a surprise appearance by a decidedly scaly Jorah Mormont and our visit with Sam has been a pretty damn important and interesting jaunt.

In the Riverlands, The Brotherhood Without Banners and Sandor Clegane hold up in the home of a farmer The Hound had robbed in a previous season, the bodies of him and his daughter still present adding to Clegane’s growing conscience of his past wrongdoings so much so that he burst the bodies, not an act The Hound of a few short seasons ago would have carried out. With the guidance of Thoros Of Myr, Clegane also witnesses a vision in the flames of the fireplace of the advancing White Walker army marching on the Wall. It looks as though The Hounds story arch this season is going to be a very interesting one, a more human side to the character is emerging and the fact he is experiencing visions makes for a fascinating turn of events.

Finally we stop by Dragonstone and the arrival of Daenerys and her army, arriving back on Westeros soil and at her ancestral seat no less. It’s not a particularly long scene but a portentous weight hangs over it. The castle is deserted and has remained so since Stanis Baratheon made his ill fated journey north. Daenerys connection to the place doesn’t feel sentimental though, rather than sit in the throne of her castle she makes her way to the war room instead to get down to business, kingdoms don’t reclaim themselves you know?

Ones to watch this season? Sansa is acting very cagey in my option, I feel a betrayal coming on. Arya is ticking more names off her list and heading to Kings Landing for a biggie in Cersei who is in quite the predicament of desperately needing support and having to trust a decidedly untrustworthy Euron Greyjoy albeit with a proving of that trust to be delivered on his part firstly, don’t think his armada is going to stand up to three angry dragons though. The Hound is undergoing a dark night of the soul, almost showing signs of a conscience, it’s going to be a really interesting season for him I think. With the knowledge of Daenerys essentially sitting on a giant stockpile of dragonglass, it won’t be long before she crosses paths with her relative Jon Snow. A lot occurs in this first episode, some blood is spilt, some interesting information comes to light, some even greater questions are left unanswered, tentative alliances are being made and relationships called into question. Basically, Game Of Throne is back baby!  

The Doctor Is In: My thoughts on the historic announcement of the 13th Doctor.

The announcement of an actor deciding to leave the role of The Doctor is a heady bag of emotions, you’re sad to see a familiar and much loved face go, you wonder what the future might hold for the character and perhaps most importantly, who the hell is taking the role next. It’s all change for Doctor Who moving past this years Christmas special, head writer & showrunner Steven Moffat is also leaving at the same time as Peter Capaldi and Broadchurch’s Chris Chibnall now assumes that mantle and with it, the task of heralding the new Doctor, the face of a new era for a much loved and revered show. Today the announcement was made for the person taking the role of the 13th incarnation of the titular Time Lord and it was probably the most historic and divisive announcement in the shows long tenure on our screens.

Following the final of the Wimbledon men’s competition, we cut to a trailer of a hooded figure walking through woodland. A key materialises in the persons hand as they remove their hood to reveal……. Jodie Whittaker, the 13th Doctor, she smiles before stepping into her Tardis. Goosebumps are an understatement. After a history of 54 years of The Doctor being a male character, we now have our first female Doctor and I couldn’t be happier with the choice of actor for the role. Firstly, this shouldn’t come as that much of a shock to regular viewers of the show, the fact that regeneration can change a Time Lord’s gender has been a canonical plot devise for a good few years now ever since Michelle Gomez took the mantle of The Master, or should that be Missy, at the end of Peter Capaldi’s first season, a decision that in hindsight was made to test the waters for what was to come a few short years later. So, it’s no short leap of faith to accept a female taking a role that up to this date has been male right? The ground work has been laid, it is a canonical concept that isn’t diverging from the science of the show, so why did the internet break in two at this announcement?

The predominant naysayers are long term fans, by this I mean people who have watched Doctor Who long before to its 2005 resurrection. They are angry and in some cases I have witnessed from male fans on Twitter, offensively indignant to the historic announcement. Does such an reaction mark a very real, thinly veiled vein of sexism & misogyny amongst some of the shows fandom? In some cases, unfortunately yes. That’s not to say I have seen nothing but this kind of reaction, I have seen some very intelligently, well worded and thought provoking responses against the news of the casting and have indulged in some good natured debate on the matter also, but it can not be denied that a very ugly face of the fandom of Doctor Who has reared its head and it’s not pretty, we can only hope the volume of such discourse will dissipate when the angry people in question get it all out of their system.

Now to the lady of the hour, Jodie Whittaker is a stalwart of quality British TV following appearances in Marchlands, Charlie Brookers Black Mirror and Chris Chibnal’s much celebrated Broadchurch, she is an actor of great strength & diversity, much like every other actor who has assumed the mantle of The Doctor and I believe she will gel brilliantly in a brave new era of the show, the times they are a changing. My personal opinion on the announcement is one of optimism, I openly welcome a woman assuming the role, its canonical, it makes sense and the actor in question is excellent, couple this with the amazing Chris Chibnall showrunning and there is a hell of a lot to be excited about going forward in Doctor Who. The pieces are now in place, we have our showrunner, we have our Doctor now all we have is the wait for her first appearance in the role this Christmas.

Cine pig: An Okja review.

Directed by: Bong Joon-ho.

Starring: Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Giancarlo Esposito.

Plot: For 10 years, young Mija has been caretaker and constant companion to Okja, a G.M “super pig” at her home in the mountains of South Korea. But that changes when the multinational conglomerate Mirando Corporation takes Okja for themselves and transports her to New York, where an image-obsessed and self-promoting CEO has big plans for our titular piggy. With no particular plan but single-minded in intent, Mija sets out on a rescue mission.

The current trend of bringing high profile films to debut on the Netflix streaming platform has been a decidedly choppy affair, there hasn’t been that many so far that haven’t been bellow par at best. You can find gold on there though and just by viewing the trailer for Okja, you can tell that it is something special. Starting as an almost live action Studio Ghibli-alike proposition and ending on a heart wrenching and soberingly thought provoking note, Okja is a film that is not only wonderfully original Spielberg-esque tale of the bond of friendship but also a thoughtful exploration of the morality of genetic modification and the treatment of animals for mass production in the food industry, miraculously doing so without being right-on or as condescending as an angry protester.

Okja is a delightful creation, kinda like a big hairless guinea pig but with big flappy ears and the temperament of a curious puppy. It is a tremendous feat of CG design to imbue in something created in a computer, such a sense of humanity in its screen presence, you’d have to be a little dead inside to not fall in love with this gentle giant. Okja may steal the limelight but that’s not to take anything from the human cast, Ahn Seo-hyun imbues the young Mija with a wonderful innocence and a strong bond in her relationship to Okja and resolve in rescuing her friend, a bond any animal lover can relate to. Paul Dano gives fine support as a softly spoken animal rights activist, Tilda Swinton as morally dubious twin CEO’s and the most marmite role of Jake Gyllenhaal’s career as a screeching, gesticulating zoologist who walks a tightrope of annoying the hell out of you and admiring just how much he throws himself into playing this grotesque.

Do not be put off by its format, the fact that it didn’t get a widespread cinematic release in no way reflects the quality and message of this frankly remarkable film. It is a delightfully original and affecting tale of the bond between humans & animals and how that bond comes with a responsibility and duty of care. It may not be as family friendly as it might seem to be initially but that doesn’t make it any less of a rewarding & thought provoking viewing experience. Highly recommended.

Okja is available to view now via Netflix.

Look Out!: A Spider-man: Homecoming review.

Directed by: Jon Watts.

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marissa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr.

Plot: After his showdown with Captain America’s divigent Avengers, Peter Parker starts to get to grips with his persona as Spider-man and the risk that comes hand in hand with it.

Before the unveiling of Captain America: Civil War in 2016, the news broke that a deal had been reached between Sony, who owned the film rights to Spider-man, & Marvel Studios to allow the web slinger to appear along side his other Marvel cohorts onscreen. A million fanboys whooped in unison as Spideys cinematic output under Sony had been patchy at best, now was Marvels turn to handle him and give him new cinematic life. His appearance in Civil War was well met and Tom Holland received praise for his performance, how would he fair carrying his own film though?

Very well it would seem. Spider-man’s first screen outing under the Marvel Studios banner is a resounding success. Coming back to the Marvel fold as allowed their team of writers and super producer Kevin Feige to come up with something pretty darn excellent. Yes, this is ANOTHER Spider-man reboot, but most importantly it is a reboot that actually works across the board, no weak links or over egging of the pudding, it is absolutely spot on and I couldn’t be happier. Their are many a cameo appearance from other Marvel characters, we get not one but two incarnations of The Shocker, Prowler, Hobgoblin (if Parkers BFF Ned is actually Ned Leeds) and a brief appearance by Mac Gargan. They may not be massively noticeable character cameos but totally add to the feel of the film when you spot them.

Tom Holland completely owns the role, he is goofy without being overly annoying, utterly believes as Parker & Spider-man and bounces superbly off his supporting cast particularly Michael Keaton’s Vulture, again a lesser known villain from the rogues gallery but one that work great in the context in which he has been placed and with an actor with the chops that Keaton has, it was a work of genius on the casting front. We also have the perennially overlooked Marisa Tomei taking over the role of Aunt May, played younger than she ever has been but done so well by Tomei. We also get great extended cameos from Marvel stalwarts such as Jon Favreau & Robert Downey Jr to cement the background of Spidey now being firmly in the MCU which is a nice touch.

Spider-man: Homecoming is a resounding success that bodes very well for the Sony/Marvel deal and future appearances of the character in the MCU. Homecoming is engaging, well written, superbly cast and above all, it’s massively fun and without a shadow of a doubt, the strongest Spider-man film since Sam Rami’s Spider-man 2, perhaps even surpassing it, time will tell with repeated viewings. Already proving this latest incarnation of the character bounces well off the current crop of Marvel characters he’s appeared with, I can’t wait to see his inclusion in the forthcoming Infinity Wars films and appearing alongside a greater cast of the MCU.