Films in Aug and Sept 2022

I’ve had a fair amount of life stuff going on recently which means I’m very behind on writing up reviews, but I’ve also not been watching much, so at least it matches.

See How They Run
There’s a kind of sub-sub-genre that could be vaguely described as Agatha Christie murder mysteries but not taken seriously, but not a completely stupid parody, so still a proper murder mystery, just emphasising the slightly ridiculous characters. Think Knives Out. See How They Run is more directly connected to Agatha Christie as it’s set around the early days of the Mouse Trap (it doesn’t spoil the show, and you don’t have to have seen it, but there are a couple of jokes you may miss). I really enjoyed the whole thing, the mystery was solid, the characters large but believable, and I chuckled fairly consistently. I really wish there were more films like this, just easy going solid entertainment. 8 / 10

Do Revenge
I really enjoyed this! It’s a high school spin on Strangers on a Train and knowingly plays up to all the tropes of high school movies – ‘kids’ blatantly played by 20-somethings, with too much money, no schoolwork, overworked cliches and overblown relationships. There isn’t an ounce of realism in this film and it was therefore a brilliant bit of escapism. The actors are all charismatic and utterly believable playing preposterous characters; the twists of the plot are both predictable and ridiculous and it’s a riot of colour and energy. Exactly what I needed. 8 / 10

Coincidentally I read Persuasion earlier this year and given that I usually hate this kind of book, gave this one the dubious positive review of being “the best one I’ve read” with a “quite likeable” lead character. I therefore went into the film tentatively, particularly given that it seemed to be getting terrible reviews, but I actually rather liked it! It didn’t take itself too seriously, and I thought the breaking of the 4th wall and Dakota Johnson’s performance was actually really fitting for the book and brought a nice energy to the whole thing. There were a few too many characters to keep track of (the same problem I had with the book), but the more comic characters were played beautifully. 8 / 10

There’s quite a clever idea behind this film – the toy Buzz Lightyear is tie-in merchandise to a film, and this is that film. I like the meta-ness of that. I also loved the trailer, set to David Bowie and absolutely beautiful. Sometimes Pixar manages to pull off that balance (Inside Out, Wall-e), but here the two ideas just fight each other. On one hand you’ve got a kids’ film with an overblown (and frankly annoying) lead character, a robot cat and band of misfits. On the other hand you’ve got a complicated plot relying on understanding Special Relativity and ethical dilemas about when you should fight a situation, and when you should make the best of it. the film does look absolutely beautiful, but as a whole, it just didn’t work. 5 / 10

A former soldier with a lot of stuff going on is forced into a road trip with a former military service dog who also has a lot of stuff going on. It’s not exactly challenging to guess where this story will go and it doesn’t even try to subvert the genre in the slightest. But this sort of story works for a reason, and so long as you’ve got a charismatic lead (Channing Tatum – tick) and an excellent dog (tick) then you’ve got a recipe for success. Plenty of humour, plenty of emotion. Big tick. 7 / 10

This is a terrible film. If not for some of the names attached (Roland Emmerich, Halle Berry) and the scale of the budget and effects, you would assume it was knocked together in a basement somewhere. The plot makes very little sense even if you can ignore the horrifically bad science, the script is clunky and the acting hammy. It is at least pretty to look at, but it completely fails to capture any of the energy or entertainment of Independence Day and it makes even Day After Tomorrow look like a masterpiece. The only thing it has going for it is that it’s not offensive in any way except for the waste of some money and a small amount of talent. 4 / 10

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
I don’t know why I decided to give this film a second try, maybe because the concept of making a sort of superhero team out a random collection of literary characters in a steam punk setting is so good. But the reality is a mess. The script is absolutely dire, a messy plot, inconsistent characters and just terrible dialogue. The look of it is also a problem because everything is so dark it’s hard to understand what’s going on, and to be honest just not worth the effort. An absolute waste. 4 / 10

The Wind
I feel like I should write something really carefully considered about this film, but I just can’t seem to be bothered. It’s supposed to be a horror film, and it’s relying on the unsettling nature of the utterly desolate setting of the edges of America in the late 1800’s, a pair of couples trying to make their way surrounded by frankly nothing. But within about 10 minutes my attention wandered and I disengaged. The cinematography was beautiful and maybe in a cinema would have been enough, but the story and characters were fairly unremarkable, and the jumping timeline kind of ruined any sense of surprise. It’s not terrible, and at least it’s under 90mins, but it could probably have been under an hour and not lost 6 / 10

Sister Act
A thoroughly entertaining and feel good film. Yeah, it’s a bit dated now and there are plenty of daft moments, but when I stumbled across it on television I still found myself laughing, smiling, and singing along. The only thing that surprised me was that it was actually a bit light on the songs, particularly as most of them get reprised. 7 / 10

There’s absolutely no reason this film shouldn’t have been great, it had a massive budget, an excellent cast, talented crew and the kind of creative freedom only a name that Ridley Scott can bring; it had “how can it possibly fail?” written all over it.
The answer is apparently that it can fail through sheer laziness on the script writers parts. The story made no sense! Plot holes you could drive moons through, astronomically stupid characters, bludgeoning the ‘suspension of disbelief’ barriers until they break and a casual disregard for science, health and safety, or common sense that is just offensive. Maybe they forgot the basics while they were droning on with “where do we all come from” mystycism. Alien was just about some believable people trying to survive and that was why it was tense and engaging, idiots trying to find the answers to life’s eternal questions… who cares.
If you can’t make the plot work without characters making stupid and random decisions, the plot doesn’t work. If you insist on your characters being stupid and random, then I’m not going to care when they get splattered, in fact I’ll likely give a little cheer. Oh and insisting on putting female characters in their underwear (and utterly impractical underwear at that) isn’t going to help your case either.
The only positive thing I will say for the film is that the cast did their best with awful material. Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender were superb, Idris Elba was charming (with the exception of his meandering accent) and Charlize Theron took her idiotic character and made her interesting for a little while. The cast deserved better. As did the viewer. 5 / 10

Alien: Covenant
Given how utterly awful I found Alien Prometheus, I didn’t have high hopes for Covenant, and yet somehow I think they actually managed to make something worse. Just like Prometheus, we’ve got an incoherent plot, stupid characters and interminable mysticism and talking, when all I really wanted was running and screaming. There’s also way too many characters to keep track of, a lot of stuff happening in dark uninteresting caves and a slightly under-whelming hero. The only positive is that there were a lot less gratuitous underwear shots, so at least it only insulted my intelligence not my morals. 5 / 10

Birds of Prey
This was exactly what it needed to be and should be – bright, exciting, engaging and with just enough substance to it to raise it above disposable fluff. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is mesmerising, she may seem bonkers, but she’s actually seeing things possibly more clearly than anyone else. The world she lives in is insane and she’s just reacting accordingly. The rest of the Birds of Prey can’t quite find the space to shine for most of the film, which is a little disappointing as for most of the film any scene without Harley in it is just a little duller and starts to lag. In the unchallenging competition of the DC cinematic universe, this is the first one that hasn’t disappointed me. 8 / 10


The Mandalorian: Season 1 and 2

I held off on subscribing to Disney+ until there was a bit of a critical mass of stuff to make it worth while, and all along The Mandalorian had been the thing I was most keen to see. I powered through all of season 1 and most of season 2 in just a couple of days and then had to wait for the weekly releases for the last couple of episodes. I don’t actually think the series is helped by the weekly releases, there’s not quite enough substance in each episode by itself to make it worth the wait.

The Mandalorian is presented as a fairly classic western – the quiet but deadly bounty hunter out at the edges of civilisation, preferring to not really have much to do with anyone and yet forced to engage with a range of characters just to complete his missions… and then getting dragged into a quest. Everything from the dusty landscapes to the music and the framing of shots play to the western theme. The good news/bad news is that The Mandalorian is a good western, which is bad news because I’m not a big western fan. I find them (and this) a little too slow and needlessly melodramatic, and I struggle to keep engaged. That’s a big problem for The Mandalorian when it’s episodes are often only 1/2 hour long, and if you’re waiting a week between each of them. I’d definitely suggest box setting to maintain some semblance of momentum.

The Mandalorian just about kept my attention, because while the pace is slow, the moments of activity are carefully distributed and really good. Whether that’s the action sequences, character development or the gloriously dry sense of humour. And of course you’ve got the adorable little… whatever he is. The relationship between The Mandalorian and The Child is beautifully done considering one half is an expressionless helmet, and the other an animatronic that doesn’t talk. It is cute, but it’s also dark and a bit sarcastic – which I for one love.

There are clearly a lot of connections to the rest of the Star Wars cannon, and I’m a long way from being a big enough Star Wars geek to get all of them, but even for me there were plenty of moments that made me sit up and give a little cheer. The Star Wars universe is so huge, with so many untold stories that there’s always going to be plenty of material and it’s nice to see new series being slotted into the gaps. I wouldn’t say I was blown away by the series, but I was impressed and I certainly enjoyed it enough to justify a month of subscription to Disney+ all by itself.

The Greatest Great British…

It can’t have escape your notice that there are a lot of Great British… shows about, not to mention all the others that build on the concept with increasingly daft applications. I seem to have been on a bit of a binge of these recently, they tend to be just the right level of engaging for a tired brain that wants to ignore the world for a bit. So here’s my rundown of the various options, and the all important question – which has the most innuendo?

The Great British Bake Off (BBC / C4)
Amateur bakers in a tent, shepherded through by amiable comedians and judged by experts. This is where it all seemed to begin, something about the niceness of it all, the contestants are supportive to each other and the judges encouraging. Over the years the challenges have gradually got more obscure and the contestants less amateur – macarons started out as the ultimate test, now they’re merely thrown in as a decoration. Mel and Sue set the tone for the series, I read somewhere that if a contestant was getting too upset or stressed, Mel and/or Sue would swear so that the footage couldn’t be used. Moving to Channel 4 saw the handover to the unexpected combo of Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding who turned out to be amazing together. Steely eyed Paul Hollywood has been with the series throughout and still has a look of “what on earth am I doing here” about him. legendary Mary Berry was on the BBC and replaced by the less legendary Pru Leith and have a shared taste in horrible clothing. The contestants are fairly universally nice, although with a heavy theme of white middle classedness.

  • Innuendo level: Mel and Sue are the queens of innuendo and there are plenty of buns to be fondled and dubiously shaped eclairs. Plus the squirrel with his nuts.
  • Disaster quotient: The time limits on challenges have become increasingly ridiculous. “Can you make and decorate a fruit cake in 2 hours?”. No. No you can’t, because it takes an hour to cook it, let alone make the mixture and it will never cool quickly enough to ice it. Inevitably contestants don’t practice to time, make things too complicated, don’t understand gravity and KEEP trying to make mouse sets (it NEVER sets, DO NOT MAKE MOUSE).
  • Overall: The sweet grandmother of all the rest, but every now and then Granny gets mean and I am getting increasingly frustrated with the near impossible challenges.
  • The Great British Bake Off: The Professionals (BBC / C4) – Like Bake off, but with people that know what they’re doing. Theoretically.
    This series also moved from BBC (where it was painfully called Creme de la Creme). The judges are currently the terrifying Cherish Finden and incredibly French Benoit Blin. When they don’t like something they are utterly unforgiving and leach all joy out of food, but when they like something they bring it all back again. The presenters are currently Liam Charles (Series 8 of Bake Off) and Tom Allen who form a fun duo but seem at odds with the tone the show is trying to set.

  • Innuendo level: It should be low, there isn’t time for that kind of nonsense, except that Liam and Tom keep trying to inject innuendo into the proceedings and everyone just looks embarrassed about it.
  • Disaster quotient: Incredibly high. There’s no time allowance for any mistakes. The showstoppers they make are generally pretty catastrophic with chocolate melting, and sugar shattering. But these are supposed to be professionals and if they can’t plan, or don’t understand how gravity and temperature work, they shouldn’t be there.
  • Overall: This doesn’t really work. On one hand you’ve got professional chefs putting their reputations on the line (and their employers’ as they are named too), and appropriately high expectations from the judges. But then you’ve got Liam and Tom making smutty gags.
  • The Great British Sewing BeeLike Bake Off, but with sewing machines instead of KitchenAids
    I’ve only recently started watching this and have seen the first season and the most recent one and I love it! It follows the same pattern (ha!) as Bake Off and has the same tone of very gentle competition between lovely people with some combination of talent and passion. Claudia Winklemen started it off, and she is wonderful in absolutely everything (up to and including a head and shoulders advert) and the most recent series had Joe Lycett who is weirdly endearing. The judges are uncompromising but always encouraging, they seem genuinely sad when they have to give negative feedback, and have a joy and open mindedness that is very positive and a step above the Bake Off judges.

  • Innuendo factor: Oddly, not as high as it could be given the number of body parts that actually have to be dealt with. There’s a fair amount of camp humour with Joe Lycett, but it’s gentle and sweet.
  • Disaster quotient: Fairly low despite attempts to hike up the drama. Timing is tight, but generally it just means a scruffy hem or some missing buttons rather than a complete disaster. I haven’t seen any half naked models yet. Although there have been some pretty horrendous ‘fashions’ on display.
  • Overall: I wish I’d been watching this all along.
  • The Great Pottery Throwdown (BBC / C4) – Like Bake Off but replacing the KitchenAids with pottery wheels
    Another one that I’m new to only watching the latest series which has successfully moved from BBC to Channel 4 where it’s presented by the lovely Mel Sykes. However the star of the show is judge Keith Brymer Jones who is a giant bloke who bursts into tears at the weirdest of things. He’s friendly, encouraging, supportive and absolutely wonderful. There’s a second judge too but I have no memory of her. The contestants do tend a little bit towards the posh end of the spectrum and can sometimes be a little bit irritating in their pretentiousness about Art. But I grew to like them.

  • Innuendo: OFF THE SCALE. It’s positively filthy.
  • Disaster quotient: Theoretically quite high. Clay goes splat on the floor a lot, things crack in the kiln and stuff come out looking very different to plans, but that’s pretty much par for the course with pottery so everyone takes it in their stride and there’s not too many meltdowns or complete failures.
  • Overall: I love it, I now need someone to rerun it so I can watch all the older episodes.
  • The Great British MenuLike Bake Off but with Michelin stars
    I’ve only watched the latest series of this, because I was lured in by Susan Calman who is wonderful and I won’t hear a word said against her. The series is a bit of a slog with 3 episodes a week, over 9 weeks; if not for the fact that it coincided with lockdown, I might not have made it all the way through. The contestants and the judges are all professional chefs and can come across as rather dry, and everyone (including the judge for 2 of the 3 days) rotates out each week so there’s not much opportunity to form a connection. There’s also a fundamental structural problem where the judge during the week decides who’s going through to the head-to-head. The two remaining chefs cook pretty much the same meals yet again and then you get a trio of judges, who suck all the joy out of food and who often completely disagree with the previous judge, giving away the fact that taste in food is entirely subjective and at this level, picking between dishes is pretty bonkers.

  • Innuendo: Very low. Susan tries occasionally, but most of the competitors are so dull it goes straight past them.
  • Disaster: The series tries to make a drama of it, but these chefs are professionals and even when a mouse doesn’t set, they tend to find a workaround.
  • Overall: There are a LOT of episodes, and it can get repetitive at times and has real structural problems. If the chefs don’t have a bit of charisma to them it can be a bit of a slog. But Susan is lovely.
  • Britain’s Best Home Cook (BBC) – Like Bake Off, but you have to eat vegetables
    The first season was lovely, nice people making nice food, with Claudia Winkleman floating around like an overenthusiastic puppy just stealing food whenever she could. The second season (which also dropped the “Britain’s” from the title) took a turn for the miserable. They kept setting unreasonable time limits and critiquing food as if they were on Masterchef rather than celebrating food for the family. Mary Berry and Angela Hartnett are brutal in their critiques and I frequently shouted at the screen, Chris Bavin tries to be a bit nicer but is usually drowned out. They’ve completely missed a trick by not having at least some of the judging done by families and the people who are actually eating normal food in normal homes.

  • Innuendo: Claudia has some moments, but generally low.
  • Disaster: It’s stressful because of the judges who pick on any tiny little thing, they’re the disasters not the cooks.
  • Overall: The first season was lovely, the second season made me incredibly cross.
  • Next in Fashion (Netflix) – Like Sewing Bee but with professionals (theoretically)
    There’s an interesting structure in that the contestants are paired up for most of the show, some of the teams know each other but others are complete strangers which is a recipe for some interesting psychology and some absolute disasters. The contestants are international and have lots of variation in their styles and experience levels and in their annoyingness which some of them really excel on. The stars of the show for me were expectation busting Marco and Ashton who present as tattooed, leather wearing LA fetish wear designers and are the nicest, sweetest, most supportive pair of people I’ve seen on one of these shows. Tan France and Alexa Chung are an absolute hoot as hosts, but are a little more stand-offish than some other presenters as they are also involved in the judging.

  • Innuendo: Pretty much non-existent, it doesn’t really translate internationally.
  • Disaster potential: High. Some of the designers are incredibly highly strung and have some total meltdowns.
  • Overall: I didn’t get most of the stuff they were making, and some of the contestants made me want to punch them, but Tan and Alexa were wonderful.
  • Blown Away (Netflix) – Like Pottery Throwdown, but with glass
    This is a Canadian series but with an American host and international contestants, and it leads to a blend of styles and attitudes that can feel muddled. The glass blowers are all very experienced in their field (this isn’t exactly a hobby to do in the kitchen) and many know each other, so there are some interesting relationships already established. Some of the contestants are zero fun to spend time with – obnoxiously competitive, judgemental of others and highly defensive of their art; while others are more easy going and probably more relaxed then they should be around face meltingly hot equipment. The contestnats have such big personalities that the judges and presenter completely fade into the background.

  • Innuendo level: None. I don’t think the American audience really do that.
  • Disaster: REALLY high. There’s incredibly high temperatures, glass shattering and “artistic visions” dying all over the place.
  • Overall: Oddly compelling for one series, but I think that was probably enough.
  • Zumbo’s Great Desserts (Netflix) – Like Bake Off but with insane Australians
    Zumbo is like some Heston Blumenthal-esque Willy Wonka but without any of the actual charisma. His creations are incredible and it’s a good concept that each episode has the two lowest placed contestants trying to recreate one of his concoctions. The first round is just the contestants making their own offering on a theme and showing off their personalities, which is where many of them fall down. It’s hyped up and over-blown with contestants clearly egged on to be over the top and competitive and that makes them very hard to warm to as they’re all very fake.

  • Innuendo: Not a smidge
  • Disaster quotient: there’s a lot of time pressure and the highly strung contestants have a fair few meltdowns, but I mostly just rolled my eyes at them.
  • Overall: it looks amazing, but the substance isn’t really there.
  • The Big Flower Fight (Netflix) – Like Bake Off but with ridiculous flower arranging
    Pairs of people making giant sculptures out of plants and flowers. Yes, really. The international pairs of contestants have clearly been chosen because they are wacky and overly dramatic, and I don’t think I would survive more than 30 seconds in a room with any of them. Vic Reeves plods through like he’s having an out of body experience and Natasia Demetriou is visibly trying to work out what happened to her career. The regular judge is the fabulously dressed and equally fabulously named Kristen Griffith-Vanderyacht who is as confused as the audience about what on earth this show is doing. There’s a revolving door of guest judges having an even more baffling time.

  • Innuendo: Vic Reeves gives it a go a couple of times but it’s confusing and uncomfortable for everyone involved.
  • Disaster quotient: there’s a lot of time pressure but they all seem to get it done, there are less structural collapses than I’d expect at the scale they’re working at. I think the chances of any of those poor plants surviving a week is negligible.
  • Overall: Pretty rubbish. A daft idea, too much artificial conflict and time pressure
  • Books in June 2020

    Five books this month! That’s mostly thanks to a few incredibly lazy days just sitting in the garden reading, and also a couple of really entertaining reads. Even the couple that weren’t necessarily very good were diverting enough to keep me settled in my deckchair, and Agrappina has gone straight to the top of my favourite books of the year and made a pretty high entry on my top non-fiction books ever.

    agrippinaEmma Southon – Agrippina
    The period of the first few emperors of Rome is absolutely fascinating, and has been studied, written about, mythologised and dramatised pretty much ever since it happened. It’s a transformative period for a massive civilisation that ripples through history today; but it also plays out like a spectacular melodrama with endless plotting, scandals, betrayals and murders. However as Southon points out throughout this book, the lure of a good story has frequently overpowered what we today would consider ‘good history’. With very few direct primary sources (even the Roman writers we’d probably think of as primary sources were often writing hundreds of years after events) everything is suspicious.
    This is particularly true of a person like Agrappina. A woman in a completely male world. Historians throughout history have interpreted her as manipulative, self-serving and power-mad, but Southon brings a fresh approach questioning absolutely everything, going back to the sources and considering the agendas of the writers. These were people to whom the idea of a woman looking out for herself was horrifying, whereas Agrappina’s action’s take on a rather different spin when you consider that most of her family had been exiled and/or murdered, including young children who’s only crime was inconvenient location in the family tree. I’m not going to call it a ‘feminist’ take, because that’s incredibly patronising, it’s a ‘fair’ take, respectful of the context and acknowledging the many things that just can’t be known.
    The biggest thing I can praise about the book though is that the author’s voice is loud, proud and HILARIOUS. There is no dry academic language here, she grumbles about confusing naming practices, swears about sources, calls out respected historians for their double standards, she makes off hand pop culture references and freely admits when she isn’t sure of something. I absolutely loved spending time in her company and I came away informed, intrigued, challenged and hugely entertained. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

    venetian gothicPhilip Gwynne Jones – Venetian Gothic
    Another very solid thriller from Philip Gwynne Jones. The mystery element is maybe not as strong as some other writers, but it’s more than made up for by the incredibly rich description of Venice, not as a glamourised romantic vision, but as a real place where people live. The central characters are also well formed with flaws and eccentricities alongside their charms. This is not a series that will ever set the world alight, but they are good fun reads and a lot less disposable than the average thriller. And they really make me want to visit Venice again.

    early riserJasper Fforde – Early Riser
    I was just reading back through my reviews of previous Jasper Fforde books and I’ve been pretty critical of him in the past, in a way that makes me wonder why I keep picking his books up. There’s a four year gap in his bibliography before this book was published, and he’s come back in better form than ever. Early Riser hung together better than I think any of his other novels have. There’s a characteristically weird world, but this one feels completely real, it’s fully formed and makes sense (in a nonsense kind of way). Also the plot is smoothly developed through the book, with twists and turns on a coherent journey and a cast of characters that are entertaining and curious. I was pretty gripped through the whole thing and ended up completely satisfied.

    terra twoTemi Oh – Do You Dream of Terra-Two
    I’m afraid that I don’t think this is a very good book. On a surface level it’s a solid page turner with a fundamentally interesting idea, good pace, diverse characters and lots going on. But unfortunately anything beyond the very superficial starts to fall apart. The story revolves around a group of astronauts sent on a 20+ year mission to another planet. OK, solid idea, but the details are all ridiculous. 6 of the crew are teenagers who’ve gone through years of highly accelerated training that seems to have completely overlooked even the most basic psychology and mental health considerations leaving the whole set up completely ridiculous. I kept suspending more and more of my disbelief and switching my brain off until there was almost nothing left. I’ve got nothing against a book that’s dumb and fun, but this book isn’t presenting that way, it’s trying to be full on science fiction, and it’s sadly just not good enough.

    henri pickDavid Foenkinos – The Mystery of Henri Pick
    Walter Presents is a collection hosted by Channel 4 which curates the best in international television, and this is the first in a book series trying to reach a larger audience for books not originally written in English. Despite my best intentions, I’ve never actually watched anything on Walter Presents, but this book caught my eye. It’s by a French author and from my incredibly limited experience of French cinema I’d say it certainly feels French. Despite being entirely based in the real world, there’s a slightly fantastical feel to the story.
    From a plot point of view, nothing much happens – an abandoned book is found and turns out to be a masterpiece. We then drop in with various characters who are connected to the story, meandering through their connections and how the publication of the book slightly changes their lives. It’s a book that encourages words like “gentle”, “charming” and the ultimate in faint praise -“nice”. It’s engaging enough while reading, but not impactful enough to really linger. The only thing I will say is that I would recommend not reading the epilogue, it felt like the author slightly chickened out of deciding which end to have and included an alternate one that would have been a much darker story than the one the rest of the book tells. That was a real disappointment right at the very end.

    Films in April

    I’m still finding it a bit difficult to pick films that I want to watch at the moment, generally I’m looking for things that are engaging enough to distract from the world, but not too challenging or melancholy. Although every now and then I embrace the drama and seek out a horror film to completely overwhelm my brain. The list below are almost exclusively older films that are available on Netflix, Amazon Prime or occasionally on television; the only “new release” is the first film which premiered on Netflix so jumps to the top of the list, even though it was hardly a ‘big’ name.

    The Willoughbys (Netflix)
    A perfectly fine animation, but it felt like it could have been something a bit more impressive. The story is solid, the animation is lovely with an original style and creativity and the voice work very good. I think my disappointment was that it wasn’t quite dark enough. It has some fairly dark ideas that reminded me of Roald Dahl, Lemony Snicket or Tim Burton, but it just doesn’t quite follow through. Maybe it’s because the visuals are so colourful that it instinctively feels less creepy. It’s solidly entertaining, and maybe it’s just me and others will enjoy it a lot more, but it just seemed not quite all there to me. 7/10

    The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (Amazon)
    An absolute classic of a film, a defining moment for the Spy genre. It’s not flashy secret agents with guns and car chases, but quiet, slow and thoughtful. The story is beautifully crafted so I always thought I knew what was happening, but also had an element of suspicion that meant I was never completely sure. My uncertainty and nervousness mirrored the paranoia of the characters and worked perfectly to bring a sense of unease to the film. The way the story eventually unwound was immensely satisfying. 9/10

    Death on the Nile (TV)
    Agatha Christie is the rightful queen of the murder mystery and this is one of her absolute best stories, beautifully constructed with twists and turns. Here it is brought to life beautifully; some of the best character actors around at the time bring the drama and the cheesiness at all the right points. The icing on the cake are the stunning locations of Egypt. 8/10

    Three Identical Strangers (Netflix)
    The documentary starts with a seemingly miraculous story, a boy going to college only to find that everyone seems to recognise him, and the rapid discovery that he’s got a twin brother who he never knew about, split up when they were adopted and neither family knowing the other. Then a third brother is found. That story in itself is incredible enough to make a decent film, but the story continues to develop, as the clickbait headline would go “in ways you’ll never believe” and I’ll not spoil. The events in this film are absolutely incredible, everyone on screen says they wouldn’t believe it if they hadn’t lived it. The film makers do a very solid job unraveling the story, always giving the individuals time and space to express how they felt and the very human impact that these sensational events had. It’s a shocking story that had a real impact on me. 8 / 10

    Operation Petticoat (Amazon)
    A Cary Grant classic! Pink submarines, women, goats, babies, bombs and thieves all conspiring to make Grant cranky. The combination of Tony Curtis and Cary Grant is an hilarious one, one never stops talking and the other one doesn’t need to say a word. It’s not exactly aged perfectly with a fair amount of leering at the women, but actually it’s nowhere near as bad as it could have been and the women do a good job standing up for themselves. One of my favourite films when I was a kid and still absolutely hilarious. 8 / 10

    Bumblebee (TV)
    I am rather amazed to say, I really enjoyed this Tranformers film. I haven’t seen the most recent ones I don’t think, I don’t even really know how many of them there have been, but I’d heard suggestions that as a more standalone film (and a prequel I think) this one was something different. It felt like it was harking back to solid old tropes of aliens/monsters befriending young people who help keep them secret and safe. Bumblebee the character is beautifully created to be part child, part scary fighter; the complicated animation really communicates his feelings even when he has no voice, I felt real sympathy and joy with him at times. Hailee Steinfeld is an excellent lead, also delivering charm and emotional punches, creating chemistry with the animation. I even liked the way the 80’s period setting was used, the pop culture references making me laugh rather than cringe. The script is nicely knowing about the cliches they’re playing (“They literally call themselves Decepticons. That doesn’t set off any red flags?”). Okay, so the plot is a bit predictable and the emotions laid on too thick at times, but for a piece of family entertainment, it really delivers. 8 / 10

    The Current War (Amazon)
    Once upon a time, I studied the history of science, and this film is exactly the type of story that got me interested in the subject. On the surface the idea of a film about whether AC or DC electricity would ‘win’ is really not that exciting sounding. But what this film captures is the complex components of that decision, the combination of all the personal, political and sociological issues that play out along the actual science. One of the things they teach you about studying history is that it’s important to not fall into the trap of thinking of people as heroes and villains, even people who are pushing for a theory that we now know is wrong aren’t (usually) villains and this film really shows that. Both Edison and Westinghouse demonstrate greatness and underhandedness, both have beliefs, passions, curiosity and ambition, and the film follows them as they wax and wane. On top of a fascinating story being told very well, the film is beautifully shot and there are some very well placed stylistic elements that really stood out. I wasn’t expecting much from this film and I was very pleasantly surprised. 8 / 10

    Julie and Julia (Netflix)
    I found this film utterly charming! I was really surprised at how much I loved it, I thought the modern half of the story would be filler to Meryl Streep’s impression of the slightly ridiculous Julia Child. But if anything it was the Streep half that felt like filler. I loved Julie and all her (many) trials, tribulations and failings, cookery based and otherwise. I haven’t laughed this hard at a film in a very long time or been so sad when it counted down to it’s final recipe. 8 / 10

    Midsommar (Amazon)
    This film brings two things the sub-genre of horror films about creepy cults that I really liked. The first was the fact that the whole thing is set in big open spaces in the sunshine. Horror films are too often set in dark and claustrophic spaces, where I frequently find myself struggling to be able to actually see what’s going on. But here there are bright blue skies and wide open fields, that by the end of the film feel just as threatening. The second thing I very much like is the wonderful Florence Pugh who brought an intense believability, that grounded even the weirdest of scenes. There’s a great blend of all the major horror styles, there are jump scares, creepy oddness, edge of seat suspense and visual gore. I would say that in order to get all that in the film does drag on a little with a nearly 2.5 hour runtime, which meant by the end I was rather willing it to be over. 8 / 10

    Good Night, and Good Luck (DVD)
    This is a strangely intimate feeling film considering the depth of the history it’s covering, journalists finally standing up against the bully that was Senator McCarthy. Most of the story is told through discussions in the newsroom, and the remainder is told through historical clips of McCarthy and the hearings. I was a bit skeptical of the black and white at first, but I think it actually helped focus on the words and imbue the whole film with a sense of history (I guess having black and white clips in a colour film wouldn’t have worked). David Strathairn isn’t a well known actor but he’s perfect as Edward Murrow and George Clooney brings his charm and integrity to Fred Friendly. An entertaining film, and a fascinating insight. The film’s plot/history was well crafted and the use of period footage was very powerful. It’s not often I say this but I think the film could actually have been a little longer (run time 93minutes) to explain things a little more. A fascinating film with some bold choices in direction, most of which work but some of which are just plain irritating. 8 / 10

    Filmed in Supermarionation (Amazon)
    I grew up with several of Gerry Anderson’s series, and still think that Thunderbirds is one of the best concepts for a TV series there has been (although not necessarily the best delivered). This is a very un-flashy documentary that would be very at home on Sunday evening TV, but does fit the history of the production company that was run by a small group of people in glamorous locations like Slough. It’s a straightforward chronologically told story with plenty of clips of the series, behind the scenes footage, pieces to camera by the people that were there and even a group of the original teams going back to where they used to work. It’s very charming, and a fascinating story for anyone that has a fondness for these series, or an interest in the history of television. I could have lived without the new snippets of the puppets as if they were part of the documentary, that was just too cheesy. 7 / 10

    Animals (Amazon)
    I think to really appreciate this film you need to connect to the characters, to feel some kind of familiarity to some part of them, and I just didn’t feel that. I don’t think that’s because the film wasn’t good, I think the characters were well written and performed and I’m sure a lot of people will really connect to them, it’s just that the passions that drove them were ones that don’t really speak to me. So I felt myself a bit frustrated and bored of them, rather than sympathetic. Even without that connection though there were still moments that did speak to me, enough that I could see the talent behind the film. It just wasn’t for me. 7 / 10

    Coyote Ugly (DVD)
    A fun enough film with a great soundtrack and a tolerable enough plot in between. The Coyote Ugly bar is an interesting idea and it’s a shame it wasn’t in more of the film. Some likeable performances by a collection of pretty unremarkable actresses, although the characters are pretty one dimensional. 7 / 10

    Magic Mike (DVD)
    I’m a sucker for any of these films, any of those ‘struggling artist finds a home and a purpose by performing’, it’s just they’re usually about girls. And not usually about stripping. But my fondness carried through and I loved Magic Mike. The way the story turns some elements on its head brings freshness to the genre (the new guy isn’t the hero, it’s the older teacher that gets the better story) and the insight into the practical business of stripping is fascinating. For all that there’s actually a very strong story and interesting characters though, they also don’t shy away from the stripping, but if you’re just watching for that, I think you’re missing the true strengths of the film. Well, some of them anyway. 7 / 10

    Children of the Corn (Amazon)
    A classic of the horror genre that flip flops a bit between ideas and scenes that are still genuinely creepy, and ones that have dated very badly and just seem funny now. The story still holds up as a concept, murderous children are alwasy going to be unsettling. Given it was made in 1984, it’s not that surprising that it looks a little rubbish now, incredibly low quality effects and weirdly non-creepy looking deserted streets. I do wonder if the voice of Isaac was ever anything other than funny. 7 / 10

    21 Bridges (Amazon)
    This is a pretty good brainless action film that’s got a bit more depth to it than usual. Unfortunately I think the film is presenting itself as a smart thriller and there were two problems with that. There is too much reliance on suspension of disbelief that is normally used for mindless action films. The main characters lead charmed lives where every shot they take hits their target, but they walk unharmed through hails of bullets unscratched. It just didn’t feel like the villains had the level of skill to create the carnage and chaos they did, they’re presented as not much more than thugs for hire and yet they take down half a dozen cops with relative ease. The second problem is that I felt it was a bit of a waste of the premise. Shutting down the island of Manhattan is a great dramatic moment (and an opportunity for a rousing speech from Chadwick Boseman) but it didn’t feel like it actually played a huge part of the story. I mean Manhattan is huge, surely two guys could have hidden and waited it out? It didn’t really feel like it added anything to the film at all. So if you go in expecting a smart thriller I think you’ll be disappointed. But as an action film with some solid character work and performances, it’s pretty entertaining. 6 / 10

    Chicken Run (Amazon)
    This isn’t as stand out as many of Aardman’s other movies, it doesn’t feel as rich or detailed as something like Pirates an Adventure with Scientists, and it doesn’t have as much charm as Wallace and Grommit. But it is still entertaining, really playing up the ideas of The Great Escape and delivering them in chicken form. It’s funny and charming, and beautiful to look at. However there’s a big problem with the concept that can never really be overcome. It’s a children’s film about a chicken farm. There’s an early scene of a chicken being killed for the kitchen table and the other chickens being aware of that fate, which doesn’t quite blend with the quirky adventure tone of the rest of the film, and I certainly wouldn’t feel like explaining what’s happening to any younger children. 6 / 10

    Booksmart (Amazon)
    There was a lot about this film that I was impressed by. It felt like a very current entry to the coming of age genre, with a mixture of genders and sexuality that would have been remarkable a few years ago but here is just accepted as normal. But it still has all the usual elements of a coming of age film, and I’m not a big fan of those. There’s a lot of cringing humour, characters making fools of themselves, disasters that can be seen coming from a mile off. Many of the characters are quite annoying a lot of the time, which does make their moments of nice-ness a lot more impactful, but for the most part they’re just not fun to spend time with. I respect this film a lot, but I didn’t particularly like it. 6 / 10

    Hustlers (Amazon)
    I’d been disappointed to miss this film at the cinema and was excited to see it appear on Amazon Prime, but unfortunately it didn’t live up to the expectations. I was immediately on edge with the level of nudity and sexualisation in the opening scenes. I’m not being a prude about it, but it felt exploitative rather than narrative, the full pole dance routine Jennifer Lopez does wasn’t about establishing her character, motivation or backstory, it was just about JLo in a skimpy outfit doing a pole dance. I’m not sure the film ever came back from that. There were plenty of opportunities for the film to be a proper drama, looking at the deeper stories of the women and how they felt, what they wanted and why their stories played out that way, but it never felt like it got beyond the tight dresses, leering and intrusive cameras and one dimensional characters. As a caper movie with strippers, it wasn’t un-entertaining, but I thought it was going to be more than that. 6 / 10

    Diego Maradona (TV)
    After Asif Kapadia’s excellent documentaries Senna and Amy, I had high hopes that he could bring the same level of insight to the world of football and someone I knew of only because of the ‘hand of god’ cheating. Sadly, I was disappointed. Not just disappointed but bored and frustrated. The film focuses on his time playing in Italy and I never felt like I understood where he came from, the interviews and voiceovers said stuff, but I never felt like we saw evidence to support anything. I didn’t get an understanding of how his football playing was special and I never understood the reactions of the fans and people around him. On top of that much of the footage was really dated and almost the whole thing was subtitled so as my attention wavered I completely lost track. I just don’t think this was anywhere near as good a piece of work as Kapadia’s previous works. 5 / 10

    Shutter Island (Netflix)
    A thriller without the thrills, and mystery without much mystery. The period setting is intriguing and beautifully created, but the film as a whole was a bit too much style over substance. It’s trying to present itself as gritty and grounded but there are so many obviously daft plot elements that it’s easy to see that there’s more going on. That’s made even clearly by the horrific soundtrack that tramples over any remaining subtlety, literally honking a horn every time something weird happens. 5 / 10

    Van Helsing (DVD)
    What on earth was that? I didn’t have high expectations of it, but I figured it had Hugh Jackman so how bad could it be? The answer is that it could be really really bad. I don’t know whether they were aiming for serious and made it bad, or they were aiming for funny and forgot to put the jokes in, but either way it completely missed the mark. Most of the actors seemed equally unsure what sort of film they were in because I know most of them can do a lot better, although unfortunately there were also some actors that clearly would not have been able to deliver a more nuanced performance even if the script had provided the material. Even the special effects were clunky and painful. The whole film was utterly without redemption. 4 / 10

    Locke and Key: Season 1

    This series has been a long time coming. Based on a highly regarded comic series started in 2008 the rights bounced around various companies it was originally loudly announced as a film trilogy, before converting to a TV series and having pilots made in both 2011 and 2017. Off that second pilot, Netflix picked up the show and then recast almost everyone and making the 10 part series that eventually landed in Feb 2020 and ending up with something that is perfectly fine, but I’m not sure was really worth the wait.

    The series starts with Nina Locke and her three kids trying to get a fresh start following the murder of their husband/father the improbably named Rendell Locke. They’re returning to his family home – Key House, a massive rambling old house that looks exactly like the house in any horror or mystery film with massive rooms, antique fixtures, sweeping staircases and doors everywhere. My main thought is that it’s going to be a nightmare to heat.

    It doesn’t take long for weird stuff to start and we learn that the house is home to a series of magical keys, each with its own exciting powers. It’s a nice gimmick and the series uses it well to have some fun, provide character insight and drive the plot forward. It does occasionally get a bit hard to track the number of keys, what they do, what the rules are and who has them, but generally when I found I was losing track a character would helpfully recap.

    It is more teen drama than adult series, I’d liken it in tone to the later books of Harry Potter, not as childish as the early books because it deals with serious issues like alcoholism, grief and trauma, but still with a fair dollop of teenage ‘shenanigans’ like flirting and dealing with bullies. Given that it’s a story about kids, there’s no way it could go as ‘grown up’ as series like Game of Thrones, but it did feel like it was holding back on some of the more serious issues that could have been pushed darker. The kids aren’t too irritating, and the central trio of the Locke children have some fun sibling dynamics going on, but if you’re not a fan of teenage dramas, then you’re going to get frustrated.

    The series is solidly put together, pacing fairly well through the 10 episodes. I did occasionally get frustrated with the frequent flashbacks (particularly because I found Rendell Locke a very annoying character), but it did feel like the history was revealed at a natural rate rather than people frustratingly keeping secrets just to drag the story out. Given the number of time periods, characters and keys to keep track of, it’s an achievement that it works as well as it does. There’s also some nice design work going on using the lock and key motifs (which I’m sure is straight from the graphic novel) which elevates the early episodes but feels like it fades out later in the series. The younger members of the cast are doing a good job with some complex roles, but disappointingly there’s something about a lot of the adult actors that just feels a little low impact, a little bit second tier and by the numbers.

    I enjoyed watching Locke and Key a lot, but it’s not the kind of series that really stays with you and makes you want to re-watch it or desperately want another season. I do find myself wondering if there was a missed opportunity with the source material to make something superb, maybe by making it more grown up? As soon as there’s a story with teenagers though it feels difficult to make anything other than a teen drama which (apparently) requires cliches of love triangles and teenage uncertainties. But if you go in knowing what it is, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

    American Horror Story: 1984 (season 9)

    Naming the series 1984 conjures up two equally horrifying ideas, George Orwell horrible vision of the future, and the real world’s horrible vision of fashion. It’s not hugely surprising that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk opt for the latter subject as the perfect target for their blend of humour and horror, taking the tropes of 80’s slasher movies. The result is one of the sillier seasons of American Horror Story, and unfortunately not one of its best.

    The series starts in 1984 as a group of young twenty-somethings join up to go to Camp Redwood as counselors for the summer. But the Camp has a history as the scene of a massacre. Unsurprisingly the past comes back and the first five episodes are basically just an over-extended classic slasher movie playing out absolutely all the stereotypes and tropes, just with a 5 hour run time rather than a normal 90 minutes. There are plenty of twists and reveals of additional levels of complexity in the relationships, but I saw most of them coming a long way off and I didn’t find any of it particularly shocking or surprising. I’m also not entirely sure that the different ‘mythologies’ at play were applied consistently.

    The final 4 episodes do something a little more interesting, stepping forward in time a couple of times to see more of the fall out, including some interesting cultural ideas about how people who felt completely at home in a time period feel as the world moves further away from that time. However for the most part I still felt this was a bit unremarkable for American Horror Story. It may be doing something that you don’t see in classic 80’s slasher films, but it’s not original for American Horror Story in season 9.

    Overall I just felt it was a little ‘phoned in’. The majority of the series just doesn’t seem to do anything original with the ideas, it’s just a straight forward slasher movie that except for the improved filming quality and special/visual effects could have been made in the 80’s. The characters are too caricature, the humour too obvious and the story too simple. On the positive side, you can easily just skip this season of the anthology and come back next season which will hopefully be more interesting.

    iZombie and Lucifer: Season 4

    These two shows both fall neatly into what I label as “ironing TV”. They’re shows that I put on when I’m doing something that needs some level of awareness but isn’t fully engrossing; if there’s an interesting bit of the episode, I can pause the ironing to watch it, but 90% of the time it just doesn’t need (or support) that much attention.

    Part of the reason both Lucifer and iZombie fit this way of watching is that the structure of most episodes are built around a “case of the week” that is varying levels of forgettable, and occasionally outright annoying. This structure is better done on iZombie because it presents opportunities for fun with the zombie trick of taking on the characteristics of the person who’s brain was eaten, usually some sort of extreme personality (posh, germophobe, sports obsessed etc). It gives Rose McIver plenty of opportunities to shine and keeps things fresh. Lucifer however is less successful because the cases are always wafer thin with a completely obvious connection to the other stuff going on in the characters lives, I often felt like I was being treated like a bit of an idiot and it left me a bit bored and frustrated.

    The 10% of the shows that are worth putting the iron down for are the ongoing storylines and characters that are building up. Both shows are playing with similar ideas about nature, destiny, self-awareness and acceptance – generally the fundamental themes at the heart of most of the supernatural genre. Also season 4 for both series are dealing with the fallout of “coming out”. On iZombie the world has found out about the zombies with all sorts of ramifications that each of the characters are having to deal with in different ways. That’s a rich canvas and the series juggles most of it fairly well, but it did sometimes feel like there were too many threads running and not intersecting often enough, with some left hanging and forgotten about by either writers or watchers. It also didn’t always blend well with the more quirky cases of the week and the caricature personalities being shown, the two elements were fighting each other at times.

    Lucifer meanwhile has a more personal reveal with Chloe finally finding out Lucifer’s true nature, which in turn forces Lucifer to confront his own acceptance of who he is. The problem with this is that I’ve never really believed in Chloe as a character, she has little in the way of core personality, just her job really. Also the fact that she’s been with Lucifer this long and she’s never really challenged how he does what he does just undermines her. Lucifer is such a strong and charismatic character and I’ve never felt she balances him, it’s a missed opportunity for a strong female character which is disappointing (maybe due the gender inbalance in the writers room – imdb). There are more interesting threads going on with the supporting characters, but they’re not given much time to really breath.

    Neither show particularly excited me, and both took me several months to get through, partly because of my lack of enthusiasm for ironing, but mostly because of my lack of engagement in the shows themselves. Lucifer is watchable because of the superb Tom Ellis, but fails to adequately support the richness of the potential. iZombie is doing something a bit more creative and interesting, but is maybe overstretching and trying to do too many things.

    The Society – Season 1

    Unoriginal. I’m sure the creators of this show would be deeply disappointed that this is the first word I think about with this show, and I’m pretty disappointed too, although in fairness I didn’t have particularly high expectations. There’s almost nothing here that even the most charitable person could highlight as innovative, the only thing that I could really think of was that one of the main characters is deaf and that’s an integral part of him and the community around him and is almost unremarked on. Even the fact that he’s also gay feels a little generic in the modern young adult landscape (thankfully!). Beyond these positive steps forward in representation, which less charitably could be seen as remedying a failure of the rest of the world rather than a great step forward, there’s nothing going on here that hasn’t been seen dozens of times since Lord of the Flies in the 1950’s, and I doubt even that was entirely original.

    Fundamentally we’ve got a group of teenagers left to fend for themselves after their town is cut off from the world and all the adults disappear. From there you could probably take a pretty good shot at working out how things will go, with a predictable bunch of high school stereotypes (jocks, partiers, rich kids, student council nerds, science geeks, neighborhood psychopath) in predictable relationships (high school sweethearts, bullies, sibling rivalries) and inevitable scenarios (dealing with crime, rationing, establishing democracy). Even the supposed twists are predictable. The TV Tropes page is quite the list.

    Part of feeling generic is that it doesn’t feel modern. Other than the improved representation, this series could be set almost any time in the last 50 years. It would have been nice to see a more positive message – us grown ups are doing such a crap job at leading the world, wouldn’t it be good to have a version of the world run by the next generation, learning from our mistakes and making a better job of it? Rather than falling back to domestic violence, class-ism, violence, backstabbing and short-sightedness couldn’t we have seen a group of people working together to make something better? It feels like this is a show written by adults, and I’m not sure that anyone old enough to be sitting in a writing room can fully understand what it is like to be a 17 year old today in a world where all information, media and communication has always been at their finger tips, and climate change, (non)equal rights, and gun control have always been front of mind. Other than very fleeting references there’s hardly any discussion of how much of a struggle it would be for kids to no longer have working mobiles, or how much of an opportunity to have power to improve on things. Whether it’s true or not, it’s depressing that nothing seems to move forward.

    It’s not that it’s badly made or anything, it’s perfectly fine. The actors are all good enough (although few are convincing as actually being teen aged) and the writing may be unoriginal, but it’s competent. It’s just that it’s very hard to get excited about something so generic.

    Good Omens

    Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are individually two of my favourite authors, and their joint work Good Omens has always been one of my absolutely favourites. Since hearing the announcement that it was being made into a TV series I was almost equal parts excited and anxious. Every bit of news that trickled out raised my hopes – Neil Gaiman’s involvement, each bit of absolutely perfect casting, every behind the scenes photo – they just seemed right. But even as I sat down to watch on the day of release I was scared. Previous television versions of Pratchett’s work just haven’t worked for me despite having all the right ingredients. Maybe what makes Pratchett’s words so perfect to read, just doesn’t work for screen.

    I stayed a bit nervous until the title sequence rolled and then I started to relax.

    Good Omens works. I’d been half expecting a really glossy, shiny, expensive Americanised series like American Gods; but Good Omens is none of these things. It’s quirky, quaint, a little shabby around the edges and incredibly British. It’s Douglas Adams, Monty Python, Enid Blyton (without the now dodgy bits), Vicar of Dibley, Dr Who. It’s charming and a little bit naff in places.

    I burnt through 4 episodes on the Friday night it was released, and polished off the final 2 episodes before 10 am on Saturday morning. Frankly I’m a bit annoyed about that because I’d set aside all of Saturday to watch it and found myself at a bit of a loose end before it was even time for elevenses. The length is perfect though, it gets on with the plot without feeling like anything was dragged out or padding with red herrings. There was maybe another episode worth of fun to be had, particularly with the supporting angels, demons and horsemen, but that’s more me wanting to spend more time enjoying the series than it is about the quality of the pacing.

    The casting is superb, full of names, voices and faces that are incredibly familiar, bringing instant chemistry and security. There’s a lot of hamming it up going on, at times it feels a little in danger of tipping over into an amateur dramatics production with people having a lot of fun. The special effects don’t help on that front, the CGI is often a little on the low budget side. The locations and sets also feel a little easy too, as if someone said, “you know what, there’s a building at the end of my road that would do for this”. But again, that kind of works. Shots of small village churches, London garden squares, shiny office lobbies all felt familiar and comfortable. They’re well shot, creatively framed with plenty of expensive crane and drone shots; it’s just they all feel a bit… quaint.

    And that’s what the series needed. It’s exactly the right setting for Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s story of big events in small places. It gives all the space to the words from the page, delivered by exactly the right people. It was everything I could have hoped for and I absolutely loved it.