Sunday 31 October 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 '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.

Film: Small Engine Repair

5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

(Google Play/Youtube online, Spectrum TV, also in AMC theatres)

I loved this film.  Drama set in small town America usually ticks a few boxes for me, and Jon Bernthal and Shea Whigham are marvellous as Swaino and Packie, two long-time friends in Manchester, New Hampshire, whose old mate Frank (John Pollono) is getting his life back in order after coming out of jail.  Frank is also trying to repair his relationship with his daughter, Crystal (Ciara Bravo), hindered by visits from his fiery ex-wife, Karen.

Three months after getting out, Frank invites Swaino and Packie round for a special lads' night at his small engine repair premises - beer, a special whiskey, steaks, a boxing match on TV, some blow ... and much more, that they never would have suspected.  Suddenly it turns from a drama about three old buddies and their unresolved issues, into something much, much darker.  As another character says, you have to be careful what you put on the internet, because it's there forever...

Jon Bernthal's Swaino was delightfully like TWD Shane at times (made me feel nostalgic for those early seasons), and he and Shea Whigham performed some of the best 'banter' scenes ever - what terrific actors they both are.  Perfectly written and executed dialogue; a great cinematic pairing.  I notice that Jon produced the film, and that his daughter Adeline played Crystal aged six, in one flashback scene.  

I was slightly disappointed by the ending, but it really is a splendid film and I can't recommend it too highly.

Series: Billions - Season 5

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

(Stream: Sky, Now, Google Play, buy on Amazon or Apple)

And the story rolls on—I'm not quite as impressed by this show as I was at first; the way everyone speaks in that short, sharp, self-consciously clever fashion has started to get on my nerves a little.  I'm not sure if it's because it's all getting slightly repetitive (you would think Chuck Rhoades would find something other than hating Axe to motivate him, by now), or that my tastes have changed.  Anyway, if you watch this you'll probably already know that Damian Lewis has now made his last appearance (due to developments in his personal life) and that Corey Stoll as Mike Prince is taking over as the person-with-whom-Chuck-and-probably-Taylor-want-to-get-even-with. Stoll is vg as Prince, but he's no Axe; however, I'll continue to watch it, I'm sure! 

Film: The Many Saints of Newark

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

(HBO Max)

The early years of Tony Soprano - the younger him is played by Michael Gandolfini, son of James, and very convincing he is too.  The film gives great insight into the old days when Dickie Montisanti (Christopher's father)and Tony's own father ruled the roost, and I was delighted to see Johnny played by Jon Bernthal.  Young Corrado (Uncle Junior) is excellently portrayed by Corey Stoll with a nose extension, while Vera Farmiga plays Livia.  It's jolly good, and made me want to watch the whole of The Sopranos again, from the beginning.  Which I did, over a period of a few weeks, and which of course I award 5* plus yet again :)

Series: Dr Death - one season only

5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

(Amazon Prime, Peacock streaming service)

I first became aware of Joshua Jackson when he played troubled, betrayed husband Cole Lockhart in The Affair.  Seeing him as Dr Christopher Duntsch, a character who couldn't be less like the lovely Cole, made me realise what an excellent actor he is.  

This is a true story about a neurosurgeon convicted of malpractice.  Patients died or were rendered immobile, but still he was able to continue practicing.  Alex Baldwin and Christian Slater play Doctors Henderson and Kirby, who campaigned to bring him to justice.

It's extremely good, but I warn you that it's upsetting and haunting to see how these poor people suffered in this way, and the fact he was allowed to continue and spin his lies, excusing himself, for such a long time.  The episodes zig-zag between the present and his past, showing how his bizarre and dangerous personality developed; it's a structure that works very well.  Highly recommended.

Series: Animal Kingdom - Season 6

5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

(Amazon Prime)

The Cody boys find out what life is like without Smurf to hold the crime family together, not just practically but emotionally.  I liked this season a lot, especially because, throughout, the present story alternated with the past, showing how Smurf took herself from single mum of twins (Pope and Julia) living in a trailer, to matriarch of a crime empire.  This took the whole show to another level, I thought.

If you haven't seen this show yet, I recommend!  Ben Robson continues to be totally lush as Craig ;)

Series: Person of Interest - Seasons 1-2

4* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

(UK: Buy only - Apple, Amazon, Google play.  US: Stream on HBO Max)

Mysterious reclusive billionaire computer programmer Harold Finch has developed a programme for the government that will predict terrorist acts, but he decides to use it for another purpose - its ability to predict the perpetrators or victims of other crimes.  He then recruits a former CIA agent to stop these crimes happening.

There are 103 episodes of this across 5 seasons; I've probably watched about a quarter of them.  It's good - I wouldn't totally rave about it but it's definitely worth watching.

The Walking Dead Season 11

(US Stream: Netflix, AMC, fubo DIRECTV & others, UK Stream: Disney +)

Just loved it, and roll on Season 11b, starting on Feb 20, 2022!

Episode 4: Full Review HERE

Episode 5: Full Review HERE

Episode 6: Full Review HERE

Episode 7: Full Review HERE

Episode 8: Full Review HERE

Documentary: The Velvet Underground

4.5* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

(Apple TV)

About the early years of Lou Reed and John Cale, and their creative history.  John Cale and Moe Tucker provide much insight into the life and times, as do others interviewed.  Most fascinating to learn about Cale and Reed's creative processes, and if you're too young to remember the 60s and 70s, it'll make you nostalgic for a time before you were born.

Documentary: Maria by Callas

4* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

(UK stream: Virgin.  US Rent only: Amazon, Apple, Google play & others) 

The life and work of Maria Callas in her own words, using her letters, interviews and performance.  I thought it showed more about her than it would have with a narrator; it's beautifully made.  I never knew that Aristotle Onasis was the love of her life, and she of his; their affair continued during his marriage to Jackie Kennedy. 

She seemed rather lonely, throughout, whatever relationship she was in, whatever was happening in her career. A few times she mentioned sacrificing the possibility of having a family, for her music; then was an aura of sadness about her whenever she did so.     

Film: Cop Shop

3.5* ⭐⭐⭐

(UK Stream Google Play, rent Amazon, Apple, etc.  US Rent Apple, Amazon, lots of others)

Fairly ludicrous action romp set in a police station (hence the name), starring Frank Grillo, Alexis Louder and Gerard Butler, with lots of people getting killed, or getting shot or stabbed but still being able to get up and run around and kill some more people themselves.  You know the sort of thing.  Entertaining, but that's about as far as it goes!

(TWD watch: Secondary stars include Chad L Coleman and Jose Pablo Cantillo - Tyreese and Martinez) 

Documentary: Last Man Standing

4* ⭐⭐⭐⭐

(US Rent: Amazon, Google Play, Apple, DIRECTV.  UK stream: Virgin TV Go.  Buy: Amazon, Apple etc)

Documentary about Suge Knight, Death Row Records, the murders of Tupac and Biggie Smalls, and corrupt LA police officers.  All of which I find oddly intriguing. Some lovely film of the young Tupac, before all this, which was a bit on the heartrending side - how intelligent he was, and how charismatic.

Series: Y The Last Man - Season 1

3* ⭐⭐⭐

(UK Stream: Disney +.  US stream: Hulu)

Deadly virus that only kills men - except for one, the man-baby son of the new president of the all-female world, played by Diane Lane.  How it affects transgender people is something I never quite got my head round (i.e, whether it affected men who used to be women or women who used to be men, and whether it affected people who were or weren't taking which hormones) but I probably wasn't concentrating.  I watched about 4 episodes then gave up on it.  Quite entertaining in parts but I believe it's offended some easily-offended section of the viewing public; it's already been cancelled.

Series: Outlander

3* ⭐⭐⭐ (but do bear in mind how much I've watched; see below!) 

This is more of a bewildered comment than a review.  I know this series is massively popular, lapped up like viewers across continents lap up Downton Abbey, but, as with that, I don't get it.  I've tried to watch it twice now, and been unable to get past half way through episode two.  I love the story idea, the scenery is great, I'm fascinated by the history and I would have loved to know what happened, but I am totally put off by the woman who plays the lead, who is one of the most wooden, unconvincing actresses playing one of the most unlikable characters I've ever seen in a TV drama.  Prissy, patronising, smug, with the demeanour of that teacher you couldn't stand at school—I found myself hoping one of the rebels would run her through with a sword so that we could settle down and watch the rest of it.  I'm guessing that doesn't happen, though.   


  1. I tried to watch Outlander, and couldn't get past halfway through episode 1, so well done!

  2. I'd love to see the documentaries of Velevet Underground and Maria Callas, TT. As for Outlander, I have the same feeling about the books. I read the first two and couldn't believe in the heroine any longer. Apart from anything else, the author lost the plot herself a few times and had me leafing back to earlier parts wondering if I was going nuts. I haven't seen any of the series at all, though, and wouldn't be tempted. This probably isn't what you're talking about at all, but just thought I'd add my tuppence worth :)

    1. V, that's exactly how I felt. I just didn't believe in her. If the narrative (that flowed behind the scenes) was straight out of the book, their popularity is a mystery to me.

      Those docs - yes, you would!