Thursday 22 July 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.  Or you can put the 'where to watch ***' into whichever search engine you use, or go to the programme's own site, it if has one.

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.

Series: Black Summer - Seasons 1 & 2

(Netflix, Hulu)

5* plus ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Zombie apocalypse, but these are no slouching, slow Walking Dead zombies.  They're more like those afflicted with the rage virus in 28 Days/Weeks Later.

I watched the first season again before starting on the second one, which has just come out - S2 is less frenetic than S1, as it's a few months into the changed world, but it's every bit as impressive.  The stand-out actor is Justin Chu Cary as Spears (episode 5, White Horse, is staggeringly good), and my other favourite character is Sun, a Korean girl who speaks very little English.  Utterly gripping, stark and violent all the way through - the acting, writing and directing are first class.  Can't recommend too highly.

Documentary: The Sparks Brothers

(Amazon Prime, Apple)

5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Marvellous.  And there was me, thinking Sparks were just that curious duo from the 1970s who had a couple of hits in the 1980s too, then sort of faded out.  I had no idea how prolific they are, how brilliant, how inventive and how funny.  Total respect.  Even if you think you're not a fan (if you sort of forgot about them after Amateur Hour), you will love this.  It's so well made, my only slight criticism being that at times I wanted to watch the whole song/video, only to have it chopped off so we could listen to someone else talking about them.  

As their career spans over fifty years (I love stories about how the successful made the journey from unknown artistes to recognition!), it's a most interesting look at changing trends in music, video, fashion, the pop industry generally.  Throughout, the Mael brothers come across as very un-pop-star-ish, just two brothers utterly dedicated to their art.  And really nice chaps.  I admit to a bit of a crush on Ron, having watched this.

Miniseries: Time


5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is excellent.  Three one hour episodes - Sean Bean stars as Mark Cobden, an English teacher with an alcohol problem, who gets sent to prison for four years for killing a cyclist whilst driving under the influence.  Stephen Graham plays Eric, an honest and respected prison officer who has little choice but to break the law in order to keep his family safe.

Sean Bean, in particular, is at his best in this.  I was completely engrossed all the way through, although 'enjoyed' seems the wrong word, as it's brutal, shocking, incredibly sad in places and, throughout, reeks of the desperation and despair of being locked up in a place where keeping alive and healthy is dependent on your wits.  It is not without hope, but just when you think that everything's getting better (I was worried that episode three seemed a bit lukewarm, for a while), both Mark and Eric have more shocks in store.

Highly recommended!

Series: Mr Inbetween - Season 3

(FX & FX on Hulu)

5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Just as good as the last two seasons. Australian black comedy crime drama: the warts and all life of Ray Shoesmith, some time assassin and general bad boy for hire, but also a loving father with his own moral code who is never slow in putting down the real assholes.  25 minute episodes, violence but with a certain humour and some serious pathos.  Scott Ryan is perfect as Ray; he also writes and produces.  Episode 8 of this group of 10 was particularly brutal, and incredibly sad... so good I'd happily watch it all from the beginning again, and no doubt will at some point.

There will be no more - apparently Scott Ryan decided to put Ray Shoesmith to bed.  A great shame, but the outcome/last episode was not disappointing!

Series: Bosch - Seasons 1-7


5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Watched all of these as they came out, but we decided to watch the whole thing from the start again, as the latest season is the last.

If you haven't seen this, do.  Titus Welliver stars as Harry Bosch, LA Detective.  Yes, as is standard in cop series, the main character has a broken marriage and an emotionally charged personal life, but it doesn't come across as hackneyed.  Madison Lintz (Sophia in TWD!) is terrific as his daughter, Maddie, and my favourite character is the lovely Jerry Edgar, Bosch's friend and partner, played by Jamie Hector (Marlo Stansfield in The Wire).  

As for Season 7, it's one of the best, with some satisfying justice taking place (as well as some that was about to happen as the final credits rolled, that I wish I could have seen!).  Throughout, I loved the relationship between Bosch and Maddie (as well as Bosch and J Edgar); the very end was great, and what I would have hoped for.  I felt most flat when it was over - the sign of a damn good series.  Definitely room for a spin-off....

(TWD Watch - S1: Scott Wilson as a retired doctor who was exactly like Hershel. Worked for me!  S2: Nick Gomez (prisoner Tomas in TWD S3) as an assassin and general ne'er do well. S4 - Ryan Hurst (Beta) as a PI.  S6 - Lynn Collins (Leah) as a manipulative schemer ... and a few others)

Trailer is for Season 7.  

Series: War of the Worlds - Season 2

(Disney, Epix, Amazon)

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

If you haven't seen any of this yet, do start from the beginning and enjoy!  A highly inventive version of the traditional H G Wells story, in which astronomer Catherine Durand (LÊa Drucker) detects alien communication.  The UK government receives news about an impending attack, but hunker in their bunker rather than warn the public - until Dan, the son of scientist Bill Ward (Gabriel Byrne) tweets the truth. 

The only people left are those who managed to get underground or inside some form of metal hideaway (like my favourite character Kariem, an illegal immigrant played by Bayo Gbadamosi, who stows away in an empty oil tanker to cross the channel).  

Season 2 reveals the truth about the aliens - alas, there are no giant-sized metal tripods in this version of the story, though you'll see plenty of those terrifying mechanical dogs.  It's a fabulous take on the idea, and involves time travel - with the ending leaving a door open that could mean we're going to get a Season 3.  I do hope so!

Favourite characters: Kariem, Bill, Helen, Tom in S2, Sophia, Ash, Zoe and the Colonel from the observatory.

Least favourite characters: Tom in S1, Sacha and his revolting father.

Most irritating: Emily, Sarah, Tom in S1.

Series: The Handmaid's Tale - Season 4

(Channel 4, Amazon, Apple)

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I enjoyed this new season on the whole, though the once-every-five-minutes extended close-up shots of June's face as she thought murderous thoughts was a tad overdone.  Of course it was good to see the former handmaids not taking any of that shit lying down, and to see the revenge played out on Fred Waterford, but I wonder if the show may be in danger of going on too long and dragging the story out.  I'd like to see S5 concentrate more on what goes on in Gilead itself, and (possibly) its demise.  And Serena Joy get her comeuppance.  I imagine it will entail June going back in, because nothing is resolved until she has Hannah back.

I have mixed feelings towards Aunt Lydia; I feel that, although severely misguided and with a penchant for inflicting physical pain, she could see the light, and end up helping June to find Hannah - there was something about the happiness on her face when she did something nice for Janine and the commander's-wife-who-was-practically-a-child.  Like she'd realised that being good to people is so much better.

I hope June can be happy with Luke again.  Not Nick ... I think that, although we see evidence of passion and the-love-that-could-not-be, it's partly because of the forbidden element that the strong feelings exist.  Anyway, I'm totally Team Luke.  

I'd like to see more flashbacks about how it all started.  Love that insight, because it underlines the contrast.  Look forward to S5, anyway.

Film: The Tomorrow War


4* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I did enjoy this all-action time-travel, apocalyptic romp!  Soldiers travel from 2050 (appearing in a flash of light, in the middle of a football match) to warn the Earth's population that, in 11 years' time, most of them will be killed following invasion by an alien force they call the Whitespikes.  They're asking for soldiers from the present to be 'jump-linked' into the future to help them fight.  When the majority of them come back in boxes, conscription begins... and main character Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) finds some surprises waiting for him in 2050.  

It's thrilling action and great special effects all the way through, and a good storyline, though I took off half a star because the schmaltzy human stuff was at times so schmaltzy that it was spoof-like.  Also stars JK Simmons (Oz, and a whole bunch of other stuff), Yvonne Strahovski (Serena Joy in The Handmaid's Tale), Sam Richardson and Edwin Hodge as Dan's fellow draftees, and you'll spot Chloe from '24' as another.

Series: Why Women Kill - Season 2

(Amazon, Apple, Paramount Plus)

4* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Unlike Season 1, which was three separate stories in the early 1960s, mid 1980s and now, all very much of their time, this is one story all the way through.  

WWK is a black, black comedy - this season is set in the late 1940s, very brightly coloured and stylised, in the mode of Ratched and The Marvellous Mrs Maisel.  Allison Tolman is excellent as the down-at-heel Alma who longs to be included in the social scene of her wealthy and stylish neighbours.  One murder follows another, and another, and another, as her life becomes intertwined with that of Rita Castillo, the beautiful, unfaithful wife of wealthy and ageing Carlo.

Favourite characters: Alma's daughter Dee (B K Cannon) and private investigator Vern (Jordane Christie).

Film: A Quiet Place Part II

(Amazon, Apple, Virgin TV Go, Paramount Plus)

4* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Ages since I saw the first film so can only remember the basics, not the detail - alien invasion of deadly nasty monster things that can't see, but if they hear you, they find and kill you.  Thus, those still alive live in silence and hiding.  Useful recap at the beginning of the outbreak, before moving on to Day 474.  Standard killing of monsters, near death moments, gangs of feral outlaws, etc - it's good.  Only thing I couldn't work out was why Emily Blunt and her children don't wear any shoes.  Surely trainers would be hardly any more noisy than bare feet, and probably less so than treading unexpectedly on a piece of glass or sharp stone.  

I liked how some of the deaf daughter's scenes were shown as more or less silent, so that you could see how the world would have seemed to her.  

Cillian Murphy also stars.  

Series: Jack Irish - Seasons 1 and 2

(Amazon, Apple, Acorn)

4* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Guy Pearce is highly engaging and entertaining as a former lawyer now criminal investigator/debt collector/cabinet maker with a messy love-life who ends up embroiled in one complicated mystery after another. I liked the first series a lot, but my interest began to wane during the second, and more so during the films (there are three episodic seasons and three films).  I haven't seen S3 yet, but from the trailer looks good.  Best described as an Australian Jonathan Creek, I think, except that it's a bit more edgy and Jack Irish is a great deal hotter than JC.

Based on a series of books by the late Peter Temple.

Documentary Film: On the Bowery

(Amazon Prime)

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Made in 1956, this hour long documentary follows the fortunes of a few men on New York's skid row, then known as the Bowery, in Lower Manhattan.  The main 'character' is Ray Salyer, a railroad worker, who arrives on the Bowery with every intention of find work and improving life, but inevitably finds himself spending his money in the bars, joining the other drunks as they sleep the night on pavements and in doorways.

Comedy Series: Hacks - Season 1

(HBO Max)

4* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Really enjoyed this; ten half-hour episodes, starring Jean Smart, who is marvellous as Deborah Vance, a comedienne of a certain age, and Ava, a young comedy writer who finds herself out of a job and goes to work for her.  Highly entertaining, though rather poignant in parts.

Documentary: Overnight

(Amazon and a few documentary sites such as DocumentaryTube)

4* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Follows the fortunes of the arrogant, narcissistic and foul-mouthed Troy Duffy, former bartender who sold his script for The Boondock Saints to Harvey Weinstein, and got taken on by the William Morris Agency.  Weinstein said he could direct the film, and Duffy's band, The Brood, was given a recording contract with Maverick Records; they would also provide the score for the film.

Duffy imagines himself to be the next big Hollywood power player, and throws his weight around, insulting established names in the industry.  Because of his behaviour, Miramax cancels the film, and he finds himself blacklisted.  From there, everything goes down the pan, and Duffy ends up having lost his reputation, his money, his bar and his band.

Features a few blink-and-you'll-miss-it glimpses of the young Norman Reedus, who starred in the film!

Film: Before The Fire


4* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Hadn't heard of anyone in this film, but the very beautiful young woman who stars in it, Jenna Lyng Adams, also wrote it, so I bow with respect.  

The basic story: A pandemic (in which many are are dying and society is on the brink of collapse); in LA, Ava Bourne and her photographer boyfriend Kelly are trying to get out.  Back on his family's farm in the area she grew up in, Ava is bored but feels safe - until her past catches up with her, and desperation brings out the worst in human nature.

It's a low key, atmospheric film, with a 'less is more' approach to dialogue. It's very brutal, showing how quickly and easily the civilised world can disintegrate.  Good, I liked it. 


Film: Tomorrow, When the War Began


2* ⭐⭐

Australian action adventure - to be fair, one of my least favourite sub-genres: Feisty Teens Save The World.  In this, a group come back from a camping trip to discover that an Asian coalition has invaded, and their home town is a war zone.

I watched it because of my never-to-be-sated thirst for anything of a vaguely apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic nature; this is mildly entertaining, but, on the whole, pretty bad.  The dialogue is atrocious, and the acting isn't much better.  It's apparently the forerunner to a series in which they're going to keep on fighting until the war is over, and stand menacingly against a dark background with a variety of weapons.  At times it was so bad that I wondered, in all seriousness, if it was a spoof.

Thursday 15 July 2021

A beautiful day on Lindisfarne ~ Wednesday July 14th, 2021 which Julia and I both took our umbrellas, jumpers and jackets, to ensure that the temperature would stay at around 23 degrees with scarcely a cloud in the sky, all day.  It works, try it!

We took this one to send to my friend Amy, as she came with me on my original research trip for my books UK2 and Lindisfarne, and took some wonderful photos for me.  Love the hazy quality around the castle. đŸ˜ƒ

I felt as if I was walking through my books, most of the time; I'd think, ah, that was where Heath and Cleary went to hide from the invaders, that's where Wedge killed the Kaiser, and I'm standing right where Lottie was when she saw Dex and Rowan kissing in the hallway of the hotel...).

For those who don't know, Lindisfarne (or Holy Island) is a tidal island off the north east coast of England, only a stone's throw from Scotland.  There is a high tide twice a day, when the sea comes in and covers the long causeway, thus cutting the island off.

It's magical and I wish I could live there. 

My spiritual home!

Sadly couldn't go inside the castle because it was pre-book only, 
and I'm far too rock 'n' roll to do anything that organised.

(Above: Lindisfarne Hotel, where Rowan was in charge of the stores!)

In the lime kilns, behind the castle


The Priory.  As ever, I wandered round and imagined what it must have been like for those monks looking out to sea and seeing all those longships heading their way, not knowing who they were or what mayhem they would cause. 

The priory was founded by St Aidan in 634AD.  In 793, the first significant Viking raid took place; there had been others, but this one 'attacked the sacred heart of the Northumbrian kingdom, desecrating 'the very place where the Christian religion began in our nation" (English Heritage).

The sky really was this colour :)

And when you spot that village called Rock on the way home, 
it's got to be done.....

(yes, we asked the taxi driver to take it, and yes we're both over 60!)

Thursday 1 July 2021