Saturday 8 May 2021

Lately I've Been Watching....

The latest in my series of mini TV and film reviews, with trailers and 'where to watch'.  If you have trouble finding where any show/film is available in your country, this is a good site: Justwatch.  Just put the name of the show into the search, and choose your country further down, from the drop-down menu.  It shows where you can stream, buy or rent.

If you would like to see more posts, please click here: Lately I've Been Watching.  If you get as far as the bottom, 'Older Posts' will take you to more.

Film: The Courier 

(Amazon Prime)

5* plus ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

True story, set during the Cold War, of English businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch), who was recruited by MI6 as a courier to transport information from Soviet agent Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze). Also stars Rachel Brosnahan (Mrs Maisel - I feel the 1950s/early 60s is her spiritual home!) as Emily Donovan, one of his CIA handlers.

One of those quiet stories of recent history that has escaped wide publicity, but Wynne and Penkovsky were two heroes everyone should know about.  The Courier is solid, great drama of the old-fashioned kind; no gimmicks, no jazzing up the story, just the atmosphere of the time, excellent writing and acting, and masses of edge-of-the-seat suspense.  

At the end there is a short piece of footage of the real Greville Wynne.  Highly, highly recommended.

Film: Nobody 

(Amazon Prime)

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Produced by and stars Bob Odenkirk, a favourite of mine - at first you think that the 'Nobody' of the title refers to the fact that he seems like a rather depressed family man living a humdrum life and slightly emasculated by his wife, but the truth is slowly revealed.

It's very violent, with lots of fights, murders and explosions, so it ticked many boxes for me; it's got that darker-than-dark humour thing going on that's so popular these days, and it totally works.  

Film: Nomadland

(Hulu, Disney+; buy/rent on Amazon and many others)

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Multi-award winning, I believe.  Rather than describe the plot myself, here is the Wikipedia link: Nomadland.

Frances McDormand is always a 'must watch', and this film was heartbreaking and oddly beautiful, both at the same time.  Don't expect any great plot - it's just about the fictional Fern's life, in a situation based on a true story.

Documentary: Tina

(HBO Max, Apple)

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I've never been a particular fan of Tina Turner, but I love watching biographies like these, and find they make me appreciate the artiste more, even if what they do isn't my cup of tea.  This one made me understand what all the fuss is/was about, for sure.  

The documentary is divided into 5 parts - obviously there is much focus on the Ike years in the earlier parts, but it underlines how she became endlessly frustrated by journalists and talk show presenters constantly asking her about her relationship with him, even years and years later when she'd become a superstar in her own right.  In this, the section I liked most was the era of her incredible success, when she really came into her own.  One of those women who became more beautiful when she was over forty, which is always great to see, as was her relationship with her husband, Erwin.

She's 81 now, and has suffered ill health over the past 8 years (intestinal cancer and a kidney transplant), and, as would anyone at this age (she was 79 in the present day interviews in the documentary) and with such devastating health problems, she now seems like an old lady - but the fire is still there.  I was saddened to see how much plastic surgery she'd had, though.  I'm not sure I would have recognised her; that fabulous strong face has been lifted, filled and kind of flattened.   

Incidentally, I found most interesting what Ike Turner said about the music business in 1960s America vs England - that a black artist in the US would have to be played and become popular on the black music radio stations before the mainstream stations would even consider it, whereas in England a song would just be accepted for what it is - which is why River Deep, Mountain High was a success in England but not in America on its first outing.

Series: Snowfall - Season 4 

(Disney+, Sky, BBC iPlayer, Amazon, Apple)

5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Been enjoying this so much from the beginning - and now crack entrepreneur Franklin's world becomes increasingly dangerous.  Damson Idris is terrific in the starring role; his persona zig-zags between the charming young man we first met, and the ruthless businessman he's becoming.  I imagine Season 5 will be quite different, as a fair amount of ends were tied up in this one.  If you've watched the other seasons, you won't be disappointed by this one; if you haven't, start now!

In a nutshell, it's a somewhat sanitised version of a true story about the CIA joining with drug cartels in the 1980s to sell enough crack to fund the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.  

(TWD Watch: Kevin Carroll - Virgil - as Franklin's father)

Series: Line of Duty - Season 6

(BBC iPlayer)

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I was glued to this all the way through, and Kelly MacDonald was excellent... but, like many people (from what I've seen on Twitter), I thought the ending was SUCH an anticlimax.  Best summed up by @crazytownfanOne view is that it's a reflection on current society, especially in UK politics, that the people at the top are getting away with everything and there's no accountability. On the other hand, I wanted a satisfying ending to a tv show and that wasn't it.

Great story, zipped along, but the 'slow reveal' bit, when we (eventually) learned that Buckles was the person who couldn't spell definitely, was ludicrous - it was like those ghastly TV talent shows ('and the winner of X Factor 2034 is....') where they keep you guessing for ages by showing people walking into rooms in such a way that you don't see their faces.  Even more ludicrous was Kate Fleming deciding that Dot Cotton's dying finger spasms were attempted communication via morse code - as there were four of them and four dots is morse for 'H', she somehow divined that codename H meant there were four men at the head of the corruption conspiracy.  Arnott and Hastings bought this with no question, even though the concept was spoof-worthy.  I'm surprised no one in the writers' room said, 'Oh, come on, nobody's going to swallow that!'  

Most of all, though, I needed Carmichael to get her comeuppance.  Shame.  Chloe was a great addition to the main cast, and I liked Chris, too.

Anywayyyy - loved the rest of it, but - what @crazytownfan said.

Film: Kill The Messenger (2014) 

(Amazon Prime, Netflix)

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The true story of Snowfall, about Gary Webb, the journalist who tried to expose this.  The 'Franklin' character appears only briefly (but played by Michael Kenneth Williams, so it's all good!).  Recommended for those who like to know a little about what really goes on in high places.

(TWD Watch: Robert Patrick (Mays), Steve Coulter (Reg Monroe), and a very young Matt Lintz (adult Henry)!)

Series: Fear The Walking Dead - Season 6, episodes 8 -11

(AMC+, Amazon)

5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I've never obsessed over Fear TWD like I do original TWD, but Season 6 has been outstanding all the way through, even the episodes that focused on my less favourite characters.  Lennie James as our lovely Morgan is marvellous, as is Garret Dillahunt as John Dorie (no spoilers here!)

I notice how Morgan's path is mirroring Rick's; the constant wave that he rides about to-kill-or-not-to-kill, finding himself, losing it again, the new love with a new child.  The question of what to do with Virginia at the end of E9 had a few echoes of the Negan scenario at the end of TWD S8, too.  

As for the underground people, there's nothing like a new threat.  Those that are left, anyway.... 

Other thoughts:

  • Hoping that we get more Dwight in episodes to come, and that Sherry eventually finds her way back to him (or maybe the writers don't know quite what to do with him now he's a good guy again!). 
  • I know a few people have said about June becoming FTWD's Carol, but I thought of Michonne too.  Also made me think of Gabriel and Dante - f*ck reason and humanity, I'm doing what I need to do.  Either way, the hat seemed very symbolic!  (another echo...!) 
  • I wonder whether there is going to be a time jump, to get it up to the same time as TWD, at some point?  Because at the moment they must be about 5 years behind.  

Series: V - 2009 - Two seasons
(Now TV, Amazon Prime)

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Remake of the original series from the early 80s, starring Morena Baccarin (Nick Brody's wife in Homeland) as the queen of the Visitors, beings from another planet who, out of the blue, arrive in their space ships in major cities across the world.  They offer clean energy and healthcare beyond anything we can imagine; immediately, the public accept them, with an almost religious fervour.

Soon it becomes apparent that a number of Visitors have been living on Earth for some time.  Amongst these, and on the ships, are of those who oppose their plans for world domination: The Fifth Column.  The other main characters: FBI agent Erica Evans, her son Tyler who becomes involved with the queen's daughter, a Visitor who has lived on earth for some time as a Fifth Column activist, a priest, and a criminal wanted by the FBI.

I found this thoroughly entertaining, though it got a bit more daft and outlandish towards the second half of the second season - I imagine this was because the original order for 13 episodes was cut to 10, so they had to get more story into less time.  Anyway, it was cancelled after 2 seasons, though the end of S2 does have a kind of conclusion - but I was most fed up that there was not more to watch!

Film: Mystery Road 

(Amazon Prime, Apple)

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Set in the north-western Australian outback, Detective Jay Swan, from the city, arrives at a small town to investigate the murder of a young girl of the indigenous population.  Leads to discovery of all sorts of corrupt skulduggery taking place.  Aaron Pederson as Swan is the strong silent type, so much so that now and again I wished he would say something or give some indication of his feelings via the mode of facial expression.  

I loved the atmosphere of this film, and it's worth watching for the cinematography alone - absolutely stunning (and the reason for my extra .5 of a star).  It's quite slow in places, but this kind of adds to the realism and the feeling of being out there in that open, empty country.  Excellent gun battle at the end. 

Series: Mystery RoadSeasons 1 and 2
(stream: BBC iPlayer, Acorn TV.  Buy: Amazon, Apple, Google Play)

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The TV series version of the film.  Happy to see that, in Season 1, Aaron Pederson is a little more animated than in the film.  The town has a more cosy ambience, while Swan's daughter is less of a sulky, monosyllabic teenager with 'juvie' written all over her, and more of a wild-haired beauty who loves her dad.  The story is completely different; this time Swan has been called in to investigate the disappearance of a local football star.  

In Season 2, Swan returns to his former Man Of Stone persona, and when he does speak to anyone he's so rude I'm surprised he doesn't get thumped more often.  Okay, so he has the pain of a broken marriage, of not being able to communicate with his daughter, of being a black man in a white man's world, but now and again I think how refreshing it would be to see a TV detective who doesn't have a character flawed by familial troubles, alcohol, etc.  Can't they be brilliant mavericks without having a stormy past?

Meanwhile, the story in this second season is much better than either the film or S1.  He's in another town now, and comes up against corrupt cops, drug dealers, troubled teens, the aboriginal tribal leader, a professor on an archaeological dig, and much more.  Gripping, loved it - S2 is worthy of 5 stars.

Same knock-your-socks-off cinematography; I would say that, generally and artistically, the 2013 film is more sophisticated, but the TV series is more entertaining.

Film: Goldstone


4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The sequel to the original Mystery Road film, made in 2016, in which Detective Jay Swan travels to the remote mining town of Goldstone to investigate the disappearance of an Asian girl.  Murder, corruption, the traffficking of young girls, scary bikers, the reality of living hundreds of miles from anywhere, it's got it all.  David Wenham (Faramir in Lord of the Rings) stars as the owner of a mine who wants to expand his operation, and is offering financial incentive everywhere he can, in order to do this.  Jacki Weaver as the town mayor is a psycho very thinly disguised with smiles and red lipstick. 

Swan has gone down the pan in this one, and has a drink problem and a dead daughter, who rose from the dead to be in the TV series, but never mind.  It's really good. 

Comedy Series: No Activity 

(Amazon, Apple)

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Australian version.  

Two detectives sitting in a car talking.  Two police clerical workers sitting at a desk talking.  Two criminals sitting in a warehouse talking.  Doesn't sound that interesting... but it's great.  Very, very funny.  The writing and acting is first class - approximately 25 minute long episodes alternating between different pairs involved in whatever crime the current season is about.  The best sort of dry Aussie humour.

American version

3.5* ⭐⭐⭐

Not as funny, but still worth watching!

Film: Midsommar 

(Amazon, Google Play, Apple)

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

An independent film that appeared on a recommended list... Dani, a student, is suffering severe shock after discovering the dead bodies of her parents and sister. Her boyfriend, Christian, is in a close-knit group of four friends, one of whom (Pelle) is Swedish.  Pelle invites his three friends and Dani to come home with him for a holiday, to the isolated community on which he lives in a remote part of rural Sweden.

The community is about to embark on an traditional several-day festival, and Pelle is eager to show his people's culture to his friends.  Almost immediately, Dani and the others feel that something is not right, as curious events follow shocking deaths - all is smiles, flowers and dancing on the surface, but, slowly, the terrifying reality of the festival, and the reasons why Pelle brought them all along, begin to reveal themselves.

Think updated Wicker Man - it's that kind of atmosphere.  Lots of gruesome scenes, though this is not overdone - it doesn't feel like it's there just to shock.  The spiralling sense of danger is proper edge of the seat stuff!

Series: Keeping Faith - Season 3

(Acorn, Amazon, BBC)

4* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I think I liked this slightly more than the first two seasons; better story, though a little odd that Faith's best friend has, overnight, had an almost complete personality change, and the characters who were irritating before have remained so.  Only six episodes - just right.  Hated the ending, so sad - and something I very much wanted to happen, didn't!  Also stars Celia Imrie as Faith's mother.  If you liked the others, you'll enjoy this, too.

(I will just say that Faith's hair is FABULOUS in this one - I kept studying it and wondering if I could get mine to be similar with a bit of growing here and there, but as time went on I began to suspect hair extensions.)   

Film: Here are the Young Men 

(Apple, Chili, Rakuten, Microsoft, Fandango, Vudu)

3.5* ⭐⭐⭐

Set in Dublin.  Stars Finn Cole (Jay in Animal Kingdom) as Joe, Dean-Charles Chapman as Matthew and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (King Alfred in Vikings) as Rez - three lads just leaving school and ready to have themselves a time. Also Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen's Gambit) as Jen, the girl Matthew loves, and Travis Fimmel (Ragnar Lothbrok!!!) as a TV host.

Finn Cole was the one who stopped this being instantly forgettable; he was excellent as the bad boy whose inner psychopath rises to the fore after he sees a fatal road accident.  This a dark coming-of-age type of story, but too much of it made me feel like I'd seen it all before in other coming-of-age type stories; the main character, Chapman's Matthew, was rather one-dimensional and uninteresting.  Travis Fimmel was delightfully weird, but there wasn't enough of him!

It's good, but not as good as I thought it was going to be.  Worth a watch, but you may feel, as I did, that it doesn't live up to its potential.

Film: The Ballad of Billy McCrae 

(Google Play, Microsoft, Youtube online)

4* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Made by Cymru films.  A Welshman who made it big in Canada comes back to his home town in industrial South Wales after his business partner allegedly did the dirty on him, forcing him into bankruptcy.  He starts work for Billy McCrae (David Hayman, never disappointing), who owns a local quarry.  Determined to climb back up, he makes friends with Billy, and starts a relationship with his daughter.

A good, solid, suspense-filled drama/thriller: 'a story of love, hate and murder'.  Worth watching!


  • 5* plus ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ - outstanding
  • 5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ - highly recommended
  • 4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ - nearly 5* but not quite
  • 4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐ - better than 4* but misses that X factor
  • 4* ⭐⭐⭐⭐ - good, worth watching
  • 3.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐ - parts of it good, but couldn't actually say I liked it
  • 3.5* ⭐⭐⭐ - parts of it good, some aspects bad
  • 3* ⭐⭐⭐ - not much cop but not terrible
  • Anything lower - I wouldn't recommend.