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 'where can I watch ***' into whichever search engine you use, or go to the programme's own site, if it 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: The Shield - Seasons 1-7
5* plus plus plus recurring ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐✰✰✰✩⋆
(Stream: UK: Amazon Prime, Virgin TV Go. US: Hulu)
When people ask about all-time favourite shows, I usually mention The Walking Dead, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Dallas, South Park... but not very often The Shield, probably because it's nine years since I watched it and I'd forgotten quite how excellent it is. Recently, we've watched the whole thing again, and I was reminded that not only is there not one weak episode in the whole seven series, but there is not one weak moment in any of the episodes. The acting, the plot, the writing, the pace, the realism, the drama and suspense - it's a televisual masterpiece. On the whole, I'd say it's actually superior to The Wire, should the two be up for comparison.
If you've not come across it before, it was conceived and is written by Shawn Ryan, and centres around a police department (in a former church, nicknamed The Barn) in a fictional, run-down area of LA called Farmington - gangs, murders, prostitution, drugs, etc. The main character is Vic Mackey, played by Michael Chiklis (*we are not worthy*) who runs the Strike Team, the core of which is made up of Shane (Walton Goggins, another favourite), Lem (Kenneth Johnson) and Ronnie (David Rees Snell). I see them not as essentially 'bad' cops, give or take the odd bit of skimming for their 'retirement fund'; mostly, they tend to do the wrong things for the right reasons. Even though some of their actions are fairly reprehensible, you can't help but root for them all the way through.
Throughout the three years in which the story takes place (though it actually ran from 2002-2008), Mackey and his team are up against not only dangerous criminals, but their captains - David Aceveda (Benito Martinez), Monica Rawling (Glenn Close) and Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder), also the creepy Internal Affairs officer John Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker), and problems in their personal lives. Of course, their various wives and partners are closely linked to their often criminal activity, even if they don't know it, and every aspect of their lives is coloured by the constant conflict between doing what they need to, to provide for themselves and those they love and ensure an easy life all round, and working out where lines must be drawn, how far is too far - and how not to get caught.
I felt quite bereft when it had finished, all over again. It's just utterly brilliant. If you haven't seen it yet, I envy you!
(TWD Watch: Khary Payton in Season 3, Laurie Holden and Jose Pablo Cantillo in Season 7, and a fair few more!)
Chanced upon this during a browse, and what an excellent find. It's a Norwegian film with subtitles, about what happened to the Jews in Norway during WWII, and how their removal and murder was aided by the Norwegian police. It's based on the true story of one family, the Braudes, and shows their normal, happy life before the occupation, and the sinister way in which prejudice was allowed to build up, ending so horrifically. A worthy warning of how easy it is egged on by propaganda to believe that certain people should be segregated, removed from society, or deserve worse treatment than others.
Series: Romper Stomper - Season 1
(Stream - US: Amazon Prime UK: Sky Go, Virgin TV Go, STV Player. Aus: Stan)
Six part series made in 2018 that followed on from the 1992 Russell Crowe film of the same name; it actually features some of the same actors as the same characters, 26 years on. Set in Melbourne.
In 1992, Russell Crowe led a band of skinheads in a fight against the influx of South East Asian immigrants. In 2018, the battles are between the far right (main character Cane, played most compellingly by Toby Wallace) and the far left - they are both as bad as each other, though the far right make no bones about being violent thugs, whereas the far left seem to be under the impression that it's okay to beat someone senseless as long as you do it in the name of social justice. Though they do make soup for the homeless. It's very, very good. I badly wanted there to be more. Shame.
Film: No Man of God
(Google Play, Amazon Prime and Apple TV)
Stars Elijah Wood as a most convincing Bill Hagmaier, an FBI agent who interviewed Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) on many occasions, most notably during the days leading up to his execution; the film is based on real life transcripts and the recollections of Hagmaier. As for the serial killer himself - well, we all know that he was handsome, intelligent and charming, but the tongue-hanging-out gorgeous Kirby made Ted Bundy look like Father Ted. Not that I'm complaining, and he was extremely convincing too. Trouble was, he made one start to like the character.
Fascinating, very well made all round. Particularly commendable when you consider that most of it took place in one room with two men talking to each other, but it was still gripping.
The real Hagmaier and Bundy
Miniseries: The North Water
From the book of the same name by Ian McGuire, which I read a few years back. My review is HERE. This 5 episode miniseries stars Colin Farrell as whaler brute Henry Drax and Jack O'Connell as Patrick Sumner, a surgeon who, unable to get work elsewhere due to an army Court Martial, takes a job on board a Yorkshire whaling ship bound for the Arctic.
What Sumner doesn't know is that the captain (played by Stephen Graham) has plans for the boat that don't involve returning with a full cargo.
Marvellous acting, with all the filth and damp, depressing atmosphere of Hull in the mid 19th Century, and aboard the ship of meagre comfort. The story weaves down dark lanes of degeneration and evil, until matters take a turn for the worse - which poor Sumner has to face while suffering laudanum withdrawal. I kept wanting to tell him, you ought to be weaning yourself off that stuff before you run out, matey...
I only have one complaint. Everyone is effing and blinding all the way through it, swearing in such a way that sounded more current; the words even felt awkward when they were saying them. I believe these men would have used different swear words, much of the time, maybe religion-orientated, rather than 'f*cking' or 'f*cker' in every other sentence. I may be wrong, but it didn't sound right to me.
Also stars Tom Courtenay. Very good, but, on reading back my review I realised that I felt the same about the series as I did about the book - loved it, absolutely up my street, but the end was something of an anticlimax, a slight let down compared with the rest of it.
Series: The Walking Dead - Season 11
(Stream: UK: AMC+, Disney, Virgin TV Go. US: AMC+, DIRECTV)
Episode 1: Full Review HERE
Episode 2: Full Review HERE
Episode 3: Full Review HERE
Series: Money Heist - Season 5 Volume 1
I think this is one of those series you think is utterly fab and gripping, or you don't. If you're in the first camp (I am), you'll love it however outlandish it becomes. I don't think anything can beat the first couple of seasons, but it's still great - these five episodes (the rest to air on December 3rd) are still set in the bank, and all about the end of the road, as disaster after disaster piles up ... but I'm sure the Professor will have more up his sleeve to get them out! Great stuff, I loved it.
(Apple TV, Amzon Prime, DIRECTV - not sure if free yet)
Tick VG. Matt Damon stars as Bill Baker, a roughneck (one who labours in the oil drilling industry) from Oklahoma who has travelled to Marseilles to see his daughter with whom he has had a troubled relationship - not helped by the fact that she is currently in prison for a murder she says she didn't commit. When her legal team are evasive, Baker makes the decision to stay in Marseilles and bring the real killer to justice - and, along the way, his own life changes in a way he had not imagined.
Matt Damon is terrific as the monosyllabic Baker who finds it hard to express himself and has many regrets about his life - he looks like he put on a couple of stone to look right, even; he's much meatier looking than I've ever seen him before. It's well-written, convincing, a great plot, tear-jerkingly touching in places, and so, so sad in others.
Series: Strange Angel - Seasons 1 & 2
(CBS All Access, Amazon Prime, Amazon, Apple)
Based on the true story of rocket scientist Jack Parsons (Jack Reynor), who was influenced by the occult and Aleister Crowley. Also stars the always-terrific Rupert Friend (Peter Quinn in Homeland), as the neighbour who introduces Jack to his new faith, and Angus MacFayden as Crowley.
I was interested enough to read up on Parsons after watching the two seasons and discovered that only half his story is told in this series; it finishes when he meets L Ron Hubbard. Sounds like the even more interesting stuff happened after that, but I wonder if the fact that many Hollywoodians are Scientologists had something to do with it being cancelled. It's good. Rather depressing in some ways, but I liked it.
(TWD watch: Kirk Makinen - Richard from The Kingdom - as a military officer)
Documentary Series: 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything
(Stream - UK & US: Apple TV+)
Eight episodes, each dealing with different areas and aspects of the music business with relation to what was happening in the world. If you remember 1971, it's worth watching just for the old footage of people like the Stones, Bowie, Sly and the Family Stone, Joni Mitchell, Carole King and many, many more.
It's made by Americans and is almost solely about America, so there is much emphasis on Vietnam, student protests and racial tension, and little mention of English music apart from the Beatles, Stones and Bowie, and Marc Bolan; the emphasis was on how Bowie and Bolan changed the way people think about the gender-non-specific way of presenting oneself. The prog rock of the late 60s/early 70s, the emergence of bands like Deep Purple and Free did not feature at all, or the ska music that I remember the scary skinhead girls at school liking, when I was 12; in this, the British skinheads only listen to reggae. But it's still jolly good :)
(Stream - UK & US: Netflix. Rent on Amazon)
Scott Adkins stars as Cain Burgess, a prisoner who escapes police custody after his mother's death and visits the private bar of a London pub, holding its members hostage as he starts revealing his past and what led to him becoming a violent fighter. Craig Fairbrass plays his demonic brother. Good stuff, but give it a miss if you don't do violence, because bloodshed occurs approximately once every five minutes, or possibly more often.
Miami, some time in the future when the planet has gone to hell, the seas have risen, the temperatures have become so hot that most people sleep in the day and work at night, and wars have killed many. Hugh Jackman plays Nick Bannister, who runs a business that gives clients the opportunity to relive certain memories of when life was better; in this he is aided by Thandiwe Newton.
One day, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) enters the premises, and Nick falls in love - but soon finds out that she is linked to a case that a local Prosecutor has asked him to investigate.
As usual with any films set in future devastated worlds, I find myself wanting to see the story of how the devastation happened, rather than the actual film I'm watching, though I did love all the images and scenes of the watery world. I quite enjoyed it, but I only watched it last week, and I had to look it up on Wikipedia so I could remember exactly what it was about, in order to write this. Take from that what you will.
Series: Cruel Summer
(Stream - US: DIRECTV, Hulu, Spectrum. UK: Amazon Prime, Virgin TV Go)
Entertaining teen drama/thriller set in 1993, 1994 and 1995 - those halcyon days of long ago before social media ruled the world, before everyone was instantly trackable by smartphone, and before all teenagers were (according to current Netflix and Amazon teen shows) ready to get their kit off for anything or any group of things with a pulse/pulses, at the drop of a hat. For this reason, this series was rather refreshing.
Jeanette Turner (braces, glasses and a bit geeky) is jealous of and a bit obsessed with Kate Wallis, beautiful belle of the school with the hunky boyfriend and rich parents. Episode 1 started off in June 1993 with 15 year old Jeanette being wished happy birthday by her lovely family, all cutesy teenage bedroom and smiles. Fast forward to 1994: she's no longer geeky and is being woken up on her 16th birthday by her hunky boyfriend. Then onto 1995, and everything has changed. She's miserable, and is woken up on her 17th by her harrassed, equally miserable-looking father. The episode then zig-zags between the years.
Episode 2 develops in a similar pattern, but from the POV of Kate. Each episode then moves on a couple of days or couple of weeks to build up a complex story of family and love relationships, friendships, conflict, dark secrets, lies and obsessions. The 1993 parts are filmed with a light, golden filter, the 1994 parts in normal lighting, and 1995 with a dark greenish, at times almost monochrome feel. I loved the structure, and it's extremely well put together.
Something else I liked about it was that the baddies and goodies were not clear cut. Kate, as the golden girl, was not the High School Bitch type, but very sweet and unsure of herself. Jeanette reinvents herself, but not in an 'inspirational' fashion. It's highly entertaining, with a lovely little twist at the end.
Documentary: Lady Boss: The Jackie Collins Story
(Stream - US: Netflix. UK: Curzon Home Cinema - rent only)
Lots of footage of the late great Jackie Collins, and detail about her early life, which was fab as I've always been a Joan and Jackie fan - and a fair bit of input from the wonderful Joan too! We also hear from her three daughters and other old friends, and I did enjoy seeing film of her happy years, when she was married to Oscar Lerman (he died of cancer).
What I didn't like about it was the way it talked about her books. If you had never read any of them (which you may not have done), you would think, after watching this, that all she wrote about was determinedly Strong Women who stride about having casual sex with anyone they fancy while running film studios. This is not the case, at all; they're about so much more. My tastes have changed over the years so I haven't bought one for two or three decades, but I've read enough to know that the sex in them is mostly incidental, and not that explicit.
My favourite is Chances, which starts in 1906 and is about a young street kid called Gino Santangelo who grows up to be one of America's most prosperous gangsters - and it's also about Carrie, a poor black girl forced into prostitution by her uncle. It's a huge volume, in which any sex is just a part of the story; it's about the streets, the hunger for a better life, about hardship and great resolve.
I also love Hollywood Wives; the best female character in this is Elaine Conti, who is far from being the Strong Woman talked about in this documentary - she lives the superficial life of the actor's wife, and turns to drink when he leaves her. It's also about Buddy, a young actor who did what he had to do to get where he wanted to, and his very, very dark past.
Her strength is in writing about people, all sorts of people, and understanding their emotions and motivations. She writes men as MEN, not as women would like them to be. If you've never read her, try one of those two I mentioned :)