Films in November

Bohemian Rhapsody
I always forget how many truly great songs Queen have had. The trailer alone for this film packed half a dozen songs together into a stunning mashup with incredible editing. Then you’ve got the story of the band, and particularly Freddie Mercury which gives more than enough story. Sadly, while the material is all there for a 10/10, the film only manages to get to 8/10. There were a few too many elements that I felt needed just one more polish – dialogue and direction were at times just too obvious, most of the characters were too thinly painted (particularly Paul and Mary) and I don’t think there was really a commitment about how to handle Freddie’s sexuality. Not to mention quite a lot of artistic licence with history.
BUT while these things niggle from the point of view of making an outstanding film, they don’t detract from the pure enjoyment of watching this film. I was entertained throughout, and firmly convinced of the joy and heartbreak of Freddie and Queen’s music. I watched most of the last 20 minutes with both a huge grin and streaming tears. I’m writing this a couple of hours later with Queen thumping out of the stereo and I’ve stopped typing several times just to sing along.

A Star is Born
First of all I want to say that Lady Gaga is absolutely phenomenal in this film. I knew she could act a bit from her tv work, but here she is a full blown, award worthy actress. The character has depth and complexity, she is clearly saying one thing while thinking another, and often not even really knowing how feels. It is a stunning performance, and I’m just disappointed that the rest of the film didn’t feel as worthy of her talents.
The biggest problem for me was that I felt the film presented itself as a love story and music film, and didn’t dig hard enough into the issues of exploitation and power dynamics. The issues were there, but never challenged and explored, continually sidestepped with a rousing musical number or emotionally manipulative confrontation on a different subject. I felt uncomfortable the whole time, even when I was also enjoying the music and spectacle. Was Ally being exploited by the older star who found his own passion for music and life reinvigorated by her as a muse and the music industry trying to change her image to sell more records. Or was Ally very aware of that and playing the game to her own gain? From their very first meeting Ally and Jack set off all my “me too” alarm bells with a famous, older, drunk man picking up a younger woman and offering her a path to her dreams. Maybe neither side felt there was a trade being done, but there was clearly a power imbalance at the heart of their relationship and I don’t think the film addressed that at all, it just romanticised everything. I would have much preferred if Ally hadn’t known who he was when they first met and she could obviously fall in love with the person rather than any uncertainty. Add to that the timeframe within the film felt rushed, but the film itself dragged. I spent the whole film feeling uncomfortable and the more I think about it, the more frustrated I get.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (netflix)
This is actually five short films stuck together and I’m honestly not sure whether I liked it or not. I watched the first 4 stories back to back one evening and I was utterly bored. But then I finished off the fifth one and I found myself rather charmed by it, and also thinking back fondly on the sections that previously I’d found quite dull. It’s a great cast of character actors, all giving it there all to bring characters to life so quickly. The stories are fairly minimal, but that works well to celebrate the acting and not outstay the welcome on any messages. There’s some lovely directing and cinematography as well. Maybe it’s best to watch each one individually.

Rewatches – I had a day of watching Disney films and playing with Lego. It was brilliant.
Up – Another really really amazing film from Pixar. The opening was really beautiful, similar to Wall-E in telling a meaningful story with very few words. There’s a slight disconnect between the beauty of the opening and then the more standard Disney style adventure, which I found a little tricky to process. But once I settled into the adventure it was a lot of fun. Once again Pixar made me laugh out loud and bawl my eyes out. They really are leading the way in film making, not just for animation but for family films in general.

Wreck-It Ralph – I don’t like the title. That really is the only criticism I have of the film, everything else about it was just so bright, original, entertaining and expertly crafted that the title really is the only thing that stands out as not being completely perfect. The care and attention that went into the design of the world, the characters and the storyline created something that seems to effortless that you come out wondering why other films aren’t that good. In many ways my gushing about this film almost doesn’t seem right, because it’s not really a groundbreaking film. It doesn’t try to do anything epic like some of Pixar’s films do, but that doesn’t feel like a lack of ambition, instead it feels like all of that creativity and skill has instead gone into producing a near perfect animation.

The Sword in the Stone – This certainly ranks near the top of my Disney films list, it’s certainly one of my favourites of the roughly described ‘pre-modern-era’. I must have seen this a dozen times growing up and I definitely remember it being one that my Dad would cheerfully watch over and over with me. It’s got that great Disney blend of humour and heart, enough action and laughs to keep the attention, and a good enough story and message at its core to give it life beyond the fun. It’s not the best animation admittedly, the style is quite rough in places looking like it’s more of a first draft than a finished offering (although the squirrel sequence, which presumably could re-use animation and studies from previous critter cartoons is more impressive). The songs however are wonderful (the Sherman Brothers strike again!) and the voice acting charming. Utterly wonderful.
Ranking: 8 / 10

Zootropolis – The lines between Disney and Pixar are really blurring under John Lasseter’s leadership of Disney and that’s turning into a really really great thing for Disney. Zootropolis does all the things we’ve always expected from Pixar – smart, bright, original and with a huge heart. It’s playing with classic ideas of the cop genre, taking a keen new recruit and throwing them into the reality of the city and partnering with a more worldly wise companion (in this case a conman). I laughed pretty consistently through the film thanks to the verbal and visual gags, particularly the elegantly included grown up references that in no way would detract from a child’s entertainment. There were a couple of slower segments in the middle where plot was explained and the kids in the audience got a bit fidgety. Also the moral message was really hammered home until it became a little frustrating, but given how important a message it is, I shouldn’t really complain. Another great entry into Disney’s catalog.

Moana – Another great entry into the Disney catalogue, it’s a good long while since they’ve had a dud, and they continue to meld both all the traditional elements that make Disney great while bringing innovation in tone, style and story that continually surprise. Moana’s focus on a very different culture is respectful of traditions without compromising on incredibly strong female characters. Like Frozen there are complexities in who the ‘baddie’ is which adds a lot of depth to the story. The animation is beautiful, and the voice acting is superb, completely integrated with the animation, never feeling like celebrities putting on voices and disjointed. The songs are catchy, and actually grow on me every time I hear them. I rewatched it on DVD and am actually improving its rating, which rarely happens. It had lost absolutely none of the joy or freshness on repeat viewing, and actually I saw even more strength in the characters and story, and more nuance and beauty in the animation.

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Books in November

Marc ‘Elvis’ Priestley – The Mechanic: The Secret World of the F1 Pitlane
I stopped watching Formula 1 a few years ago, but when I spotted this in the library I was intrigued and thought it would be interesting to hear about the sport from the point of view of the ‘nameless’ mechanics. The perspective is interesting because the mechanics are the heart of the sport, at the centre of this massive show, and yet are largely anonymous and are certainly not making any of the money. Priestley gives an engaging and frank description of the near insanity of McLaren in the 2000’s as they challenge for world titles, are found guilty of spying (sort of) and Alonso and Hamilton do their best to destroy the team. I wouldn’t have minded a bit more description of the actual engineering, and race activity for the pitlane crews; and a little less drunken partying. Overall it’s interesting, but a little bit light. (596)

Ben Aaronovitch – Rivers of London 8: Lies Sleeping
It is a little hard to find something original to say about books in this series, they are stunningly consistent, just like an old friend that you can immediately fall into sync with. It is once again brimming with cleaver, elegant and witty turns of phrase that ground the characters entirely in present day London, even when the story is towards the bonkers end of the spectrum. As usual I found myself re-reading sections for the pure joy of it. I think the story line hung together a bit longer than usual, but I did lose track a bit at the very end. (593)

Susan Calman – Sunny Side Up
I love Susan Calman, and this book is completely HER. While her first book was about the challenging subject of depression, this one is about joy and kindness. Since doing Strictly Come Dancing, she seems to have blossomed and this book celebrates that. That doesn’t mean it’s a simpering saccharine affair, Calman still has enough witty rage and pithy cutdowns to please my cynical heart. It is quite a lightweight book, it’s not going to change the world, and it doesn’t give a huge insight behind the scenes of Strictly or the life of a comedian, but it is just a NICE book and sometimes that’s what is needed.

John Le CarrĂ© – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Generally I didn’t really follow what was going on, too many people and too much jargon. But at the same time, it was quite a page turner. It reminded me a bit of the Patrick O’Brien’s Master and Commander books, which have the same problem that I understand almost nothing they’re talking about, and yet somehow it all washes over you to give a quite immersive experience of the situation. It sort of all came together for me by the end, but I can’t quite definitively say whether I really enjoyed the book as a whole. I suspect if I immediately read it again, I’d probably really like it because I’d not feel so ignorant, but I’m not going to bother.

Laura Purcell – The Corset
Another very satisfying book from Laura Purcell, following on from The Silent Companions. The Corset is not scary in the dark and ghosty way that The Silent Companions was, but it’s still creepy thanks to just the day to day horrors of being poor in Victorian times was. The main story is told in flashback and interwoven with some day-to-day tribulations of a considerably more well off woman who is frankly quite irritating. While her own difficulties are significant to her, and obviously demonstrate the contrast in fortunes, I got frustrated at being pulled away from the more interesting story. Other than that the pacing is excellent and the resolution very satisfying. Heartily recommended for a dark Autumn evening.

Andy Miller – The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life
I keep reading books about reading books; and generally I find that the more the author talks about their love of books, the more I find myself turned off. This book is the closest I’ve read to actually making me believe the author really does love reading, and some of the aspects he talks about do resonate with me. But he’s also an English graduate with a tendency to pontificate and most of the books he picks are utterly unappealing to me. The book itself is rather forced, a meandering mission and a bludgeoned together structure that feels utterly artificial. His voice is strong though, and he made me smile all the way through with his little observations of life. I did enjoy reading it, which to me makes it a good book, but I think the author probably wanted a more profound impact than that.

Killjoys: Season 1-4

Canada has always done an extremely solid line in excellent, character driven science fiction. My understanding is that it’s thanks to generous tax breaks and a wide variety of different landscapes in a relatively small geographical area, making it perfect for any series where the characters are travelling a lot. So X-Files, Warehouse 13 and Supernatural could tour the US while the Stargate franchise, Dark Matter and Battlestar Galactica can tour the universe. It can get a little incestuous with the same names and faces appearing in cast and crew and the same forests and mountains subbing for different cities, planets, spaceships and whatever else the imagination can summon. But they all know how to make the money go a long way – making the most of minimal set dressing, effective stunts and special effects rather than flashy but insubstantial CGI, and writers and actors who can deliver meaningful scenes in a bare corridor, or the small standing set that they use every week.

Killjoys is a very worthy entry into this great pantheon. The building blocks of the plot can be taken from any role-playing adventure – the characters fall into their assigned roles neatly (warrior princess, thief, soldier, cleric, medic, gay bartender) and head off on requisite quests and heists. But the universe behind it is half science fiction exploration of a class based society gone mad, and half like a bad trip (shared memories stored in “the green”, bodysnatcher goo and unkillable zombie like opponents) with conspiracy theories and wars being fought across the millennia. As I try to write it down, I realise that I don’t really understand the plot. It doesn’t matter though because it’s not about any of that. It’s about characters.

The three main characters (the warrior princess, the thief and the soldier) form an incredibly strong core to the series. They are beautifully written, and wonderfully acted. Killjoys could be used to teach what good character and relationship writing looks like. The thief (Johnny) and the warrior (Dutch) are bounty hunters (known as killjoys), the soldier (D’Avin) is Johny’s estranged brother, suddenly landing in the middle of their lives. The relationships between the trio, and the individual pairings are all wonderfully nuanced, but it’s the relationship between Johnny and Dutch that is my absolute favourite. They are soulmates, they are codependent, rely on each other, bicker away and call each other on their crap. But they are not in love. They freely admit they love each other, but they are family not romance. The openness and trust between the two is beautiful; while the worlds shift around them, they are bedrock.

The other thing is, the series is FUNNY. Proper laugh out loud, spit out your tea, rewind to hear it again, funny. There’s a realness to both language and delivery that has me smiling just thinking about it. It’s not elegant in terms of creativity of language or delivering complex set ups; it’s the hilarity of a perfectly timed swear word, a shared sigh, a heartfelt insult, an acknowledgement of insanity, a well timed pratfall. It’s the private jokes of family members, that are somehow feel inclusive rather than exclusive.

I love this series. I powered through it, and then went back and re-watched many of the episodes to obsessively seek out key moments and lines. Yeah, the plot goes a bit nuts and there are holes that you could drive an asteroid through should you chose to look for them, but it’s such a fun ride that I just don’t care.

Films in October

I actually had quite a quiet month for films, the only reason this film doesn’t look quiet is that I had a day off sick and watched 7 films back to back. I think that may be a personal best.

New films
First Man
There’s a lot that is admirable about this film. The ‘story’ of the first man to walk on the moon is a fantastic one that certainly supports a film. Armstrong is simultaneously the least likely choice and the perfect choice for the history making position – a remarkable man, but also a very down to earth one (pardon the pun). The film’s writers, directors and star Ryan Gosling all fully explore the contrast – telling the story of his daughter’s death, showing everything in lingering closeup and performing everything in an very internalised way. It’s an incredible story, told well. So why didn’t I like it?
Firstly, I didn’t get on with the style. I see why they chose to film it in a period way (basic framing, lots of closeups, grainy texture, flat lighting) but I found it dull. I also often had to close my eyes when the handheld, fast motion got rather nauseating. I can see that the film isn’t about NASA, or even the moonshot itself, but is in fact about Armstrong, but I was disappointed to not get more of the ‘supporting’ characters, most of whom (even Buzz Aldrin) were reduced to single note cliches. I also understand why it played so slowly at times, but I found it boring. Maybe that was because I did already know a lot of the beats in the story and it just felt dragged out. There were a few moments scattered through that really, completely engrossed me (the footage on the moon was beautiful, and the Apollo 1 section was utterly horrific to watch). But my over-riding response for most of it was impressed but slightly bored.

Extinction (Netflix)
There were three phases to this film and I’m going to avoid spoilers, so pardon the vagueness. The first phase is well covered by the trailers – a ‘normal guy’ in a near future looking city is having recurring dreams of some sort of apocalyptic attack. It’s all very flashy, but it’s hard to make out real details. His family, friends and colleagues are noticing his distraction and want him to get treatment, but he feels that they’re not dreams but visions. Then in the second phase it looks like his visions are coming true, when an invasion starts. We start following the fairly standard steps of him trying to get his family to safety – dodging attackers and explosions. At this point I was pretty bored to be honest. While it was trying to look flashy, it felt cheap and unoriginal. Not enough was really made of the vision bit and I was feeling frustrated that the ‘unique selling point’ was being so dramatically underused.
The thing is, the final third explains what’s going on and pulls everything together. Suddenly there’s interesting depth to world and characters which I wanted to spend more time exploring… but having dedicated an hour to the boring bits, we’re now out of time. I can see that you wouldn’t be able to get to the interesting bit without the first bits, but that doesn’t change that they’re quite dull.

New to me
Crazy, Stupid Love – I wobbled about on this film. That’s not necessarily a surprise as it’s a sort of anothology film, with a few different storylines running through, either losely but obviously connected or seemingly disconnected from each other. Some of the characters are problematic, and some of the others also had some dubious moments. But, I did rather find myself charmed overall. The character development is quite sweet and the way things occasionally clicked together was incredibly satisfying.

True Romance – I just didn’t really get into this film, from the very start I found the characters irritating and frustrating. I didn’t really feel it was stylish enough to be a parody or riff, but it was a very long way from being realistic and a credible caper. There were moments that showed flair and originality, but for the most part I was bored and irritated.

The Stepford Wives (1975) – The film does suffer a bit when you know what the secret is, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find many people who don’t by now know it after it’s been referenced so many times. But I was actually surprised that there’s still considerable value in watching the film, the tension of suspicion and paranoia and seeing the characters work things out. It’s a heavily period piece now – not just in terms of the fashions, but also the film making style, but that just gives it another level of interest.

Panic Room – You could almost use this film as a masterclass of how to make a solid thriller. The sense of dread builds up from the very beginning, not rushed, but also not waiting so long before the drama really kicks in. The sense of claustrophobia is pitched just right – the eponymous panic room is small, but with the use of security cameras in the larger house the scale of the film isn’t too limited. There were times when I was almost shouting at the screen as characters made stupid choices, or didn’t think of obvious (to me, sitting on my sofa) options, but for the most part I think they fell just on the side of reasonable. My only real complaint is that it got a little ‘Home Alone’ at times.

Finding Your Feet – I felt really cross about this film. I put it on because I was looking for some feel good, easy entertainment. I should have known better because any film with ‘older’ characters seems to endlessly feel that they must have a death in it somewhere. So rather than smiling and tapping my foot, I’m reaching for the tissue box. The film is solidly written, the cast is superb and everything is very well delivered, so if you’re looking for a big dollop of heartbreak along with your feel good, then it’s a good film. But I do think films should come with a warning label that realistic but depressing life events may occur.

Bridget Jones’s Diary – Somehow, I’ve managed to got seventeen years without seeing Bridget Jones’s Diary. And after all that time I find that I wasn’t really missing much. I can see that it could really speak to some people, but personally I just found Bridget incredibly irritating and the choices of men that she’s presented with deeply underwhelming.

Rewatches
Scream 1-3 – I’m not a fan of horror films, but I’ve always loved the Scream films, maybe it’s because they’re as much a film for film fans as they are for horror films. Scream is now over 20 years old but is holding up quite well, it was a new take on teen slasher movies at the time and it still feels surprisingly fresh. The self-awareness of the characters still feels appropriate and the pacing is well managed to build and release tension. I think the fact the elements of the plot are so straightforward but delivered at such speed means there’s never time to start questioning how things fit together, or even to notice aspects that are now dated (at no point did I actually even think about them using mobile phones). Sadly the next two films in the trilogy have dated less well. The second one is still delightfully self-derogatory (“by definition sequels always suck”) with the characters realising they are in a horror movie and a sequel at that. It’s not as tight as the first film, but it’s still fun, which is more than can really be said for the third film. With Neve Cambell in a reduced roll it falls to the Arquettes to carry the movie and they just can’t manage it. The cannon fodder is numerous, interchangeable, and not very good; the villain is convoluted and unpredictable and the script predictable and cheesy. I couldn’t face watching Scream 4.

The Hateful Eight
I say over and over again that I’m not a Quentin Tarantino fan. I have a respect for his style, and frequently actually like it, but as a film maker I think his flaws override his strengths and I’m endlessly frustrated that he hasn’t learnt better. Hateful Eight is classic Tarantino. It’s a small (largely familiar) cast, it’s dialogue heavy, violence heavy, set slightly out of its time, with a spectacular soundtrack and some gorgeous visuals. It’s also classic Tarantino in that it’s waaaaay too long and that completely undermines the otherwise extremely good film.
I first saw this film digitally projected in a cinema and it was over 3 hours long with an intermission in it. An actual intermission! For a start, that just made the film even longer, for a second it gave you a chance to realise just how much more of the film there was to go and how much of your day was evaporating, and for a third, it completely broke the flow of the film. I next saw it on Netflix and had to watch it across two days. While every scene had something interesting in it (even if that was just Jennifer Jason Lee pulling faces in the background) as a whole it was baggy and draining.
I wish I spent longer in this review talking about how good it was, how funny it was, how original. How good the performances were. How interesting it was to have much of it set inside just one large room and be able to watch all the cast members in the background. But instead Tarantino shoots himself in the foot and all anyone talks about is how it’s too long. Learn Quentin! Learn!

Gosford Park – A great film that really benefits from multiple viewings. There’s about 30 different characters to try and track and most of the first viewing is spent trying to work out who’s who and how they relate to each other. However they are all well developed and have their own stories to tell. It’s definitely worth giving it a chance as it is a truly superb film with so many great performances and different layers to it. This is one of my top picks for a sofa day and I watch it almost annually and I never fail to be entertained and gripped.

The Woman in Black – The film is built around the scariness of long drawn out silences followed by things jumping out at you. The problem with that is, that if something goes wrong with either the tone of the movie, the casting, or just the interest level of the viewer, the long drawn out silences don’t so much build tension as just make you bored. This film was boring. Maybe it’s the relentless grey, the slight miscasting of Daniel Radcliffe (he’s good, but the character needed to be older), or just the fact that I was too easily distracted by other things… but I found this film not scary, but boring.

Before I Go to Sleep – Although I had read the book and been completely gripped by it, I couldn’t remember the details of the plot, so was equally gripped by the film (even the second time around). The story is very well told (in both book and film) with twists and turns constantly keeping the audience on edge right along with the main character. The real success of the film though is the casting which sees Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong switching back and forth between their rather typecast personas and the polar opposite. The whole thing played with audience expectations very slickly. The plot isn’t without holes and stretches, but it’s so atmospheric that you don’t really think about it while you’re watching.

Death Becomes Her – This film was a staple in my family growing up (I have no idea why!) so despite not having seen it for years, I found I could quote most of the dialogue and was laughing at things before they’d even happened. That does make it rather hard for me to objectively assess whether it’s any good, I have a suspicion it probably isn’t. But I don’t care.

Kubo and the Two Strings – Visually, this film is absolutely stunning. It’s beautiful to look at with an original and strong style to it, but throughout I had to keep reminding myself that it was stop motion, and when in the credits they show a tiny snippet of the scale and detail of the work that went into the film, it’s absolutely breath-taking. Fortunately the film is also entertaining and meaningful, taking fairly standard themes and building and twisting them. The visual style is original and gorgeous and the humour subtle but lovely.

Books in October

Tim Harford – Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy
Economics is a subject I always wish I understood more, but it doesn’t seem to matter how much I read or study, it just doesn’t seem to stick in my head. Tim Harford makes economics both interesting and accessible and this book is a great illustrator of a lot of core ideas to the subject. There are 50 chapters on different physical things, or non-tangible ideas that are each just a few pages long so really easy to pick up on tube journeys or while dinner is cooking. Harford’s style is so engaging, always using stories, examples and simple metaphors that it is a really easy to see how each ‘thing’ shaped the economy and in turn shaped the world (for good, bad and often both). This is one of those uncommon books that teaches you lots and entertains you while it does it.

Agatha Christie – Nemesis
Some may find Miss Marple’s meandering slowness endearing and relaxing, but I just find her a bit dull and this book really emphasized it without even trying to compensate for the character traits by having a more active plot. It felt like the whole thing just dragged and dragged. It was hard to get engaged in the case when you didn’t meet half of the key characters in the mystery and by the time the plot filled in, it felt very obvious to me who did it. Not one of Agatha Christie’s better works.

Ian Fleming – Dr No
I thought reading a James Bond book was probably one of those things I should tick off, although I do wonder how many people, even those that consider themselves James Bond fans have actually read one of the original books. I’m not a huge James Bond film fan, I’ve watched most of them I should think, but not with any real loyalty, just as a passable action film. I went into the book nervous at what James Bond written in the late 50’s would look like, when even in modern versions he’s a fair way from what I consider ‘acceptable behavior’. I wasn’t wrong to worry as the overt sexism and exploitation were pretty miserable to read. It completely overwhelmed any enjoyment I might have got from a solidly put together action novel. It’s not going to hold up well in terms of plot and action to modern thrillers, but it got the job done as a page turner. If you can ignore the “of it’s time” elements then I suppose it’s entertaining enough, but I’m not sure why you’d bother when there’s any number of modern thrillers that will avoid most of the issues.

Max Gladstone – The Craft Sequence 1: Three Parts Dead
I’m a bit torn on this book. On one hand it’s got a fairly original premise – magic and religion are kind of like contracts and trading – power, belief, terms and conditions. So lawyers are at the heart of it all. That’s an elegant idea, but I didn’t think it was very well introduced or developed. There was a bit too much going on for a first novel, and as I didn’t understand how the world was working, I couldn’t get lost in the schemes and subversion of the rules. The characters were all solid, I think the plot just about hung together and it was very readable; I just didn’t quite feel it was quite there.

Killing Eve: Season 1

Sometimes I really am tempted to just write “this is really good, you should watch it”. I’m very aware that reviews can leach the joy out of things, particularly the pleasure of discovering something wonderful when you have absolutely no idea what’s coming. The good news is that I’m quite far behind on my TV watching, so I figure if you were going to discover Killing Eve for yourself, you’d already have done so and I’m just giving a bit of a nudge.

It’s a hard show to describe. It’s about serial killers, psychopaths, murder, chaos and terror. And yet, it’s also hilarious, knowingly ridiculous and a lot of fun. In a world of scandi-noir and bleak dramas it’s something of a breath of fresh air. There are moments of true drama though. There was an incident a few episodes in which was well telegraphed and I spent the whole episode just wishing it not to happen and was properly devastated when it did. There are a few other moments spread through the episodes that are either horrifying, terrifying, depressing or all of the above. But wrapping around them is a dry and witty sense of humour.

Anyone familiar with Sandra Oh from Grey’s Anatomy will know her wonderful talent for delivering heartbreak and humour in the same breath and she uses that skill here beautifully. Her counterpart is played by Jodie Comer who has a similar ability to slide between mischievous and murderous. The relationship between the two women is fascinating, the connection is clear even when they’re apart and when they do share scenes together I found myself holding my breath.

As is now my usual way, I burned through the series in just a couple of sittings. In my defense it is only 8 episodes and they’re only 45 minutes long. The plot is well structured with gradual reveals to reward you, but a deepening storyline to keep things moving. The game of cat and mouse between intelligence officers and a villainous organisation is hardly original, but the characters all felt richer and fresher than the traditional wood paneled rooms. Of course a lot of that is down to having so many women involved, it’s created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) and most of the main characters (hero, villain, boss) are women. I’ll leave it up to the reader to extrapolate how that would make for a different feel from something like James Bond or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

I’m happy to see that a second season is already in production and I look forward to how the story continues to twist and turn. I do have a slight worry that things could end up being strung out too long, and conspiracies getting too complicated, but for now, I’m thoroughly enjoying the ride.

Killing Eve is available as box set on iPlayer for a whole year

Films in September

New Films
The Miseducation of Cameron Post – While I was watching, I was gripped by this film. Even in some of the more ‘arty’ moments of lingering, moody shots, I was entirely there – mostly I suspect due to the extraordinary talent of Chloe Grace Moretz who can say so much without opening her mouth. Afterwards, as I though about the film however I felt a little more frustrated that threads of story and other characters hadn’t been better developed. Each character effectively had a single moment that gave them depth, but then it wasn’t really extended at all and so they all came across as two dimensional. That’s better than one dimensional, but it’s still frustrating. I wish that thought hadn’t lingered as much as it has, because as I left the cinema itself I thought really highly of the film.

New for me
From Up on Poppy Hill – A Studio Ghibli film that I’d not heard of, so a rare treat to be introduced to a new film. It’s a fairly straightforward story of a young girl with responsibilities beyond her age, getting involved with a new group of kids. There’s no fantasy or magic beyond some improbable behavior and lax schooling standards. I quite liked the contrast of a straight story but with the beautiful, delicate illustrations of Studio Ghibli. It’s not outstanding, it’s not hugely original and it’s pretty predictable; but it’s also gently lovely.

American Psycho – The 80’s-ness of it is rather painful and undermines the film a bit, it’s very hard to not laugh (unfairly) at the giant mobile phones, fashions and music. The central themes are chilling, but it’s hard to entirely buy into any of it. There are moments of shock, and it’s well done that there’s more shock in the anger behind the actions than in the violence of the actions themselves. Bale is superbly unpredictable, and the way the film closes surprised me too, but it didn’t really impact me once the credits finished.

Lean on Pete – I was strangely unaffected by this film. Despite being on subjects that would normally have me emotionally gripped, it felt oddly cold. This is possibly deliberate as the lead character is quite emotionally closed off and spends a chunk of the film in various states of shock. Without the emotional connection, I was a bit bored by the film, at one point I checked to see how near the end I was and was shocked to find myself only half way through the two hour run time. I don’t think it was a bad film, the structure kept things moving (I was glad they went for a straight linear timeline rather than jumping around) and the performances were excellent. But it just didn’t work for me for some reason.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool – This did not work for me at all. I just didn’t get on with any of the characters, the eponymous film star was played for almost a single character trait – lack of acceptance of growing older. The boyfriend meanwhile had no personality of his own at all (and I spent a good amount of time just trying to reconcile him as Jamie Bell from Billy Elliott), and although Julie Walters is of course lovely, she is 100% Julie Walters rather than an embedded character. Without any character development the story is too minimal to support the film and it’s just boring.

The Lady Vanishes – Sometimes I’m surprised by films. This was made in 1938 and frankly about the only thing that has dated is the aspect ratio and film quality. The story, characters, and even direction are as fresh and polished as many modern films. The finale is maybe a bit cheesy and improbable, but the twists and turns to get there were gripping. Alfred Hitchcock truly was a master, who directors even today are struggling to emulate.

Rewatches
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – Absolutely brilliant. It’s so vivid- loud with music, alive with characters, bright with colour, and sparkling with dialogue. It’s not pure frothiness, it (and the characters) has a line of hardness running through the middle, not losing touch with the reality of the world around them. The characters are hilarious and heartbreaking, the dialogue exquisitely quotable (in the right company) and by the end I had a giant smile on my face and my heart felt completely full.

Spotlight – This is an incredible story – both the facts that the journalists are trying to uncover, and the process they have to go through to get to the bottom of the cover-up. The film focuses on that without particularly embellishing it with style or creativity. It’s not a glamorous collection of star-turns, it’s instead an incredibly solid ensemble cast and very straightforward writing and direction letting the story (or rather the history) stand on its own. It’s not flashy, artsy or overdone and that’s exactly what the events deserve and what makes the film utterly compelling.

WALL-E – I was lucky enough to see this in the cinema again, 10 years after its first release and it absolutely took my breath away. It is stunningly beautiful in every way – visuals, story and sentiment. Pixar (as usual) have managed to infuse so much character and heart into things with minimal faces and make them seem more human than the human characters. So much of the communication comes from expressions and sound effects and yet you always know exactly what the robots are saying. The visual style is approached as if it were filmed with cameras and lenses – it has lighting, focus and textures that must be constructed for animation and they are breathtaking. It may not be the funniest Pixar, or the slickest plot, or the most exciting, but I think it might actually be the most beautiful one, and it may just be my favourite one too.

The 39 Steps – Not Hitchcock’s best, but an engaging mystery, adventure type film. In many ways it’s an early version of North by Northwest and the later film does many elements much better, including the chemistry and the actual drama. I have to admit I found it quite difficult to get into the film and was very easily distracted.

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