Favourite female film characters with brightly coloured hair

Someone I know recently dyed her hair pink. She’d previously had it purple, or was it green or blue? I forget, whatever the colour I remember it looked cool at the time, because, let’s face it, if you’ve got bright hair you’re automatically fifty per cent more interesting than most of us.

I mean… it’s the same with someone with unusual tattoos. Are they more creative? More artistic? A tortured soul? Perhaps they are. I’d like to hope they are. Whether they are or not, I find these artistic additions and enhancements to people’s outward-facing personas to be endlessly fascinating. I get drawn in, like a moth to a flame.

And this got me thinking, as I do, about characters in film with bright hair, as there are a bunch – from Natalie Portman’s stripper in Closer to manic pixie dream girl Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim. I am sure there are lots more, but below are a few I thought I’d pick out.

Who would yours be?

Natalie Portman as Alice in Closer (2004)

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Milla Jovovich as Leeloo in The Fifth Element (1997)

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Angelina Jolie as Gia Curangi in Gia (1998)

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Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Romana Flowers in Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (2010)

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Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Noni in Beyond The Lights (2014)

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Lea Seydoux as Emma in Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013)

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Kate Winslet as Clara in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

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Robert Pattinson and Daniel Radcliffe: indie darlings

So recently I watched The Rover starring Robert Pattinson. Then I caught the trailer for Daniel Radcliffe’s new film, the straight shot of demented madness that is Guns Akimbo, and it got me thinking… both these actors got their breaks in big franchise movies for children and teens (Radcliffe with Harry Potter and Pattinson with Twilight) and both, once free of those juggernauts, have spent the last eight years or so plying their trade in increasingly weird and wonderful films, about as far from the mainstream as you can get.

And that, in my book, has to be applauded.

I mean, I’m sure they’ve had many offers to return to big studio movies, yet they’ve stuck to their guns, akimbo… so to speak.

I guess my point with this piece is that I want to draw attention to them and give them some credit. Pattinson is arguably the better actor, but both have taken on some really interesting projects and really pushed themselves as actors, quietly rising up the ranks in my estimations. It’s as almost if the franchise movies that put them on the map is some kind of debt that they’re both working off.

So here’s to them. And to some of the films they’ve given us. Here are a few below.

Daniel Radcliffe

Is age 30 with 41 acting credits to his name. He’s played Allen Ginsberg, Igor, and a farting corpse. He’s tackled historical drama, fantasy, comedy, and demented action – his latest film sees him wake to find he has guns bolted to both his hands. It’s mad, unexpected, and delightfully weird.

The Woman In Black (2012)
Kill Your Darlings (2013)
Horns (2013)
Victor Frankenstein (2015)
Swiss Army Man (2016)
Now You See Me 2 (2016)
Imperium (2016)
Jungle (2017)
Beast of Burden (2018)
Guns Akimbo (2019)
Escape From Pretoria (2020)

Robert Pattinson

On the other hand, is a little older (33) and with a couple less acting credits (39), but has trod a similar path, albeit worked with more auteur directors: David Cronenberg (twice), James Gray, the Safdie brothers (who recently did Uncut Gems with Adam Sandler), Claire Denis and, this year, he’s in Christopher Nolan’s latest, Tenet.

Cosmopolis (2012)
The Rover (2014)
Maps To The Stars (2015)
The Lost City of Z (2016)
Good Time (2017)
High Life (2018)
The Lighthouse (2019)
Tenet (2020)
The Batman (2021)

Knives Out: a twisty, hilarious tale from Rian Johnson

After getting lambasted by angry man-babies for his attempt to do something very slightly different with Star Wars, you could forgive writer-director Rian Johnson if he decided he wanted to retreat to the hills never to make a movie again. However, the best thing you can do, with most setbacks in life, is to get back out there.

And boy, he did. For Knives Out is a triumph and, for me, one of the best films of the year.

It perhaps helps that we’ve had a lot of blockbuster and superhero films of late. So with Johnson’s film being in the mould of a classic whodunnit, it’s probably a welcome change of pace for a lot of movie fans. A palate cleanser at the end of the year? Maybe. Whatever it is, it’s a great story. Rumour is he came up with the idea for the film shortly after finishing Brick in 2005, so it’s been a long time coming. I am glad he’s finally been able to bring it to the screen.

From the first few minutes you can tell this is going to be a fun ride. The dialogue is sharp and peppery, the editing and direction slick and assured, and the performances on point.

The film opens with the death of the patriarch of a large family, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) and the family being called in for questioning. So we get to meet them one by one: the daughters – eldest Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and free spirit Joni (Toni Collette), underachieving son Walt (Michael Shannon) and shady son-in-law Richard (Don Johnson).

From the first few minutes you can tell this is going to be a fun ride. The dialogue is sharp and peppery, the editing and direction slick and assured, and the performances on point. Indeed, it’s one of those films where you can tell the cast all upped their game, knowing they were making something special.

Lurking in the background of these opening exchanges is master detective, Benoit Blanc (played with a sublime southern accent and real gusto by Daniel Craig. Probably relishing the chance to lean into the sort of role he rarely gets to play). Slowly, he gets more involved, taking over the questioning from the police and unsettling the family.

In some ways he acts as antagonist, of sorts, trying to get to the truth of Harlan’s murder whilst keeping Harlan’s nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) close – for the story is primarily told from her point of view. She seems distraught at Harlan’s death but is clearly hiding something. But then so is everyone. In classic whodunit style most of the family have a credible reason as to why they might want to kill the old man.

The trick, these days, is to try and keep the audience guessing, but not to confuse them trying to be too clever with the plot. I’d say that Johnson does this in a remarkably accomplished way, getting the balance spot on. It all goes up a notch when bad apple son Hugh (Chris Evans) turns up. After Captain America you can see the joy Evans has in playing a bit of a bastard.

It’s also worth mentioning Ana de Armas. As our protagonist she is really holding the whole thing together. I’d only really seen her in a small part in Blade Runner: 2049, so it was nice to see what she could do in a more complex role – and she does well.

Johnson has apparently said in an interview that he’d be open to doing a sequel, following Benoit Blanc around as he solves other murders. I am torn on this as sometimes it’s better to let things lie and not end up watering down the impact you had striking gold first time round.

Whatever he ends up doing, Knives Out remains one of Johnson’s best pieces of work, adding another string to his bow as a filmmaker (Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) and makes me excited to see what he does next.

Top ten alternative Christmas movies

Now’s the time of year when a lot of people become insufferable, spouting their Christmas cheer all over the place. I bet there’s a chance that was your reaction reading my opening line, right? Something like, ‘Don’t be a scrooge! Cheer up, it’s chriiiissstmaaas!’ This is exactly the kind of thing that drives me mad. I mean, to be honest, I’d be fine with Christmas if it didn’t seem like everyone was forcing you to be merry all the time.

Which brings me onto movies. Most Christmas offerings are awful, tragically soppy and saccharine affairs (although I have a soft spot for Santa Claus: the movie, mostly because of John Lithgow). So when it comes to settling down with loved ones to get in the Christmas spirit, it’s either watch one of those or have an argument about whether Die Hard is or isn’t allowed Christmas movie status. And if it does get the ok, what else could be considered a Christmas movie?

So I did a little list. My alternative Christmas movies, if you will. See what you think.

1. Gremlins (1984)

This is such a fun film. There are rules: don’t get your mogwai wet, don’t feed it after midnight or it’ll turn into an evil gremlin with a mohawk, that sort of thing. I also found out, years later, that they used the exact same small town set for this film as they did for Back to the Future.

2. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Highest Shane Black film on my list (there are quite a few more below) and this one is significant because it marked the return from the wilderness for Robert Downey Jr (he went on to do some kind of superhero film or something). It also had fantastic performances from rising star (at the time) Michelle Monaghan and also a return, in hilarious fashion, for Val Kilmer.

3. Batman Returns (1992)

Arguably, whisper it, the best Batman film of the Keaton era? Actually, I am torn. Batman was truly great but Batman Returns gave us Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, Danny DeVito as the Pengiun and Christopher Walken as, er, evil business dude. Max something.

4. Go (1999)

Written by legendary screenwriter John August, this is essentially the screenplay that put him on the map. It has a soft spot in my heart, being one I watched a lot growing up – it just seemed so cool. The story starts by introducing a group of characters, we follow one of them. The story then returns to the same place to follow another character. Eventually, they intertwine.

5. Trading Places (1983)

Dan Akroyd, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Lee Curtis team up to take down a couple of corrupt, rich old white guys. You could say this film feels intensely relevant in 2019, or ten years ago, or that it’s basically timeless. Either way, it’s a funny film with a bunch of ’80s actors at the top of their game. And Akroyd, dressed as Santa, eats salmon through his beard.

6. The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)

My second Shane Black film on this list. Before Angelina Jolie, Kate Beckinsale and others took up the mantle as the action women of Hollywood, we had the bad ass momma Gina Gershon. Here as an assassin that’s lost her memory and living life as a contented housewife. Then things happen and she starts to remember who she was, teaming up with Samuel L. Jackson to take down some bad guys.

7. In Bruges (2008)

A job goes wrong for two hit man, so they head to Bruges to lay low. One (Brendan Gleeson) loves the city, the other (Colin Farrell) hates it. Trouble is their somewhat unhinged boss (Ralph Fiennes) has ordered them to stay put. He then heads out to join them in a ridiculous showdown. This remains darkly comic genius from writer-director Martin McDonagh. Highly rewatchable.

8. Lethal Weapon (1987)

The film that put Mel Gibson on the map as a Hollywood leading man. This is also the film that got writer (and now director) Shane Black in the door, kickstarting his career. It’s also kind of interesting, in that this first film had live wire cop Riggs (Gibson) really struggle with his demons. The sequels were funnier but this first film actually had some fairly dark moments.


9. Iron Man 3 (2013)

After helping revive Downey Jr’s career with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Downey returned the favour by having his friend Shane Black direct him in this third instalment of Iron Man’s story in the MCU. A good decision, some might say, as this film went on to be one of the highest grossing movies for Marvel.


10. American Psycho (2000)

The film that put Christian Bale on the map as an intense character actor. And also a leading man, in a weird sort of way. He’s since gone onto an incredibly varied career as one of the best actors working today. But for a long time, he was known as ‘the guy that played Patrick Bateman’.

Honourable mentions also go to:

Filth, Bad Santa, Home Alone, About a Boy, Brazil, Edward Scissorhands.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Tarantino’s swansong

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the ninth film by Quentin Tarantino – and it’s one you’d better make sure you watch because he’s only making one more and that’s it, he’s done. His legacy of ten films will be there for us to watch but no more will be made, verily the movie gods have spoken (until he gets bored and comes out of retirement).

Now this used to make me sad, but in recent years it’s bothered me less. With each film he releases I end up enjoying them in parts, but don’t come out of the cinema fired up the way I used to – perhaps not since Kill Bill have I been blown away by one of his films. Yes, his stories all have had standout scenes and moments, but they just haven’t engaged me scene for scene the way his early ones did. His great vengeance and furious anger has dissapated.

The problem lies in the edit

Since his editor, Sally Menke, died in 2010 (she edited all of his films up until Inglorious Basterds) his storytelling has never been as tight. Legendary director Peter Bogdanovich was reportedly so good because he inherently understood the editing process; indeed, he was a brilliant editor in his own right. This is something Tarantino lacks and no one is strong enough to stand up to him in this regard, be it an editor or a producer.

As a result Once Upon a Time in Hollywood clocks in at 2 hours 45 minutes. If you add trailers we’re talking 3 hours plus – and this is the case every time you see one of his films these days. Add to this that I’ve read recently he wants to release an even longer version. If this doesn’t tell us he completely believes his own hype, then I don’t know what does.

Once upon a time…

Edit aside, the story here is an interesting one. It focuses on TV leading man Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an actor whose star power is fading. A man trying to revive his career, but in general only has his stunt man and best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) in his corner, supporting his choices and acting as kind of a big brother. Cliff drives Rick around trying to keep him on the straight and narrow. They prop each other up and the dynamic between these two alpha males of Hollywood is the beating heart of this story.

Pitt is all easygoing charm, much like his character Rusty in Ocean’s Eleven. DiCaprio is tense, twitchy and unhinged, drawing on his characters from Wolf of Wall Street, Shutter Island and a host of others. It’s a delightful pairing and their chemistry sings in each scene. You just want to spend time watching them hang out and shoot the breeze.

A love letter to Sharon

Ahead of the film’s release many expected this story to focus on Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and the days leading up to her murder, but it doesn’t. The slight of hand Tarantino has played with the film’s marketing has frustrated some who have written about feeling cheated. They’ve been given minimal Tate (and therefore minimal Robbie). Yes, she’s a presence throughout, but her story is only very loosely connected to Dalton’s, which is the main one we follow.

Tarantino has written about how he just wanted to spend time with her, celebrating Tate as a person and an artist. This comes across, but is does feel like a waste of Robbie and we still don’t hugely get to know Tate as a person from this film. Robbie is an Oscar-winner and could have brought so much more to the part, had she been given more to work with.

There are things to love

Despite the baggy run time and the strangely languid pace of storytelling there are still many things to love in this film. I mean, you’ve got Pitt, DiCaprio and Robbie as the leads – three beautiful humans and all powerhouse actors. Pitt’s laidback charisma shines through in every scene. DiCaprio has played a bad guy for Tarantino before in Django Unchained and, in a sequence in this film, he plays the bad guy again, but not in the way you might think. It’s rather inspired. People forget how good he is at comedy.

And Robbie, whilst not having a great deal to do, drifts through the film as perhaps a symbol of innocence, beauty and hope for the future. It’s a joy to watch her dance and smile on screen. I just wish she had been more integral to the A plot story.

So, all in all, this film for me sits about mid-teir Tarantino. It looks beautiful and there were a few standout scenes and moments, but the issue I had was, like his last three, it’s overlong and drifts rather than engages me in the story and the characters.

Maybe some day someone will release a tighter edit of this film. I’d get behind that. In the meantime we have one more to go, I for one am most curious about what his final film will be. I hope he burns out rather than fades away as a director.

The Kid Who Would Be King – a warm-hearted retro delight of a movie

Joe Cornish hasn’t had the best run of luck as a director. He broke out with Attack the Block in 2011 and it’s taken eight years for him to give us another film. Through no fault of his own I might add, as he’s been plugging away on projects but I guess that’s just how the cookie crumbles, even for an up-and-coming director and a man with talent and friends in high places (hello Edgar Wright and Steven Spielberg).

Anyway, that’s all behind him now because his second big studio film as director is a pure delight. The Kid Who Would Be King harkens back to films like The Goonies and Stand By Me. A spirit perhaps only recently recaptured in TV show Stranger Things.

We start with 12-year-old schoolkid Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of actor Andy Serkis), standing up to bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), protecting his weaker friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo). In one scrap Alex finds himself in a building site and discovers a sword stuck in a lump of concrete. Turns out this is the sword in the stone, Excalibur, the sword of King Arthur. Who would’ve thunk it?

These events awaken evil sorcesses Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), who seems to be trapped in a tree underground. She wants the sword for herself – to unleash evil on the world and that sort of thing. Alex pulling the sword out the stone also triggers Merlin (Angus Imrie, son of actor Celia Imrie) to return to the mortal realm (in the form of a teenager) to help Alex on his quest to defeat Morgana.

Alex ends up teamed up with aforementioned bullies Lance and Kaye, as well as the trusty Bedders. The four of them must learn how to become warriors and stop Morgana once and for all.

Now, plot wise, there are some pretty big leaps you have to take in order to be on board with the story, but this doesn’t matter that much. If you’re picking holes in the plot you’re probably the kind of person that refuses to be swept up in the magic of it all. Shame on you.

Because, in short, this film is utterly charming. It’s the sort you watch when you’re sad and need cheering up. Or you’re hungover. Or it’s Sunday and you’re visiting the family and need something that everyone can watch. And this isn’t to put it down in any way.

Making this sort of film is actually very hard to do.
It’s got real heart, charm and inventiveness. Simply put, it’s a good-natured feel-good tale. Phrases that get thrown around a lot, but genuinely apply here.

And the dynamic between the four ‘knights of the round table’: Alex, Bedders, Lance and Kaye, are the sort you just don’t see in film these days. Admittedly Lance and Kaye are a little underserved as characters, but Serkis and Chaumoo as Alex and Bedders have real chemistry. Serkis in particular, has clearly inherited a lot of his father’s skills as an actor. For a boy that’s barely even a teenager he leads the film well and holds the screen.

And then there’s Merlin.
Angus Imrie, also, must have picked up a trick or two from his mother Celia. He’s quite fantastic as teenage Merlin – for example in the way he performs his spells cutting shapes with his hands, to the way he walks and holds his body and gazes at you intently and disconcertingly in a somewhat devious manner. He elevates the film. Moreover, every now and then he switches into old Merlin (Patrick Stewart), which is both surprising and a little heartbreaking.

My slight niggle is that Rebecca Ferguson as Morgana is underserved – even more so than Lance and Kaye. Which is a shame as Ferguson is a fantastic actor. She could have brought some real menace and threat as Morgana, but for the most part she’s fused to a tree underground, stuck whispering commands to minions.

In one scene she gets a face to face with Merlin and I began to get excited, thinking we’d get to see a real juicy exchange between them. Sadly it didn’t last long. However, I get why. The star of this film is Alex and the focus is on him, and to a lesser extent, Bedders.

And in that I can be satisfied.
So, if you’re hungover, or sad, or tired, or anything really – go watch this film.

You’ll come out feeling that life is a little better with your heart and your cockles (whatever they are) truly warmed.

 

Spider-Man: Into the spider verse – review

First things first. Where did this film come from? All of a sudden, there it was. My spidey sense did not tingle, I was basically caught fully unawares. Although, as far as surprises go, this was quite a welcome one.  When this came out some people questioned whether we needed yet another Spider-Man movie. However this was quickly put to bed as many have since said that this is quite possibly the best iteration of of the character so far. In your face live action movies, animation has beaten you to it!

The setup goes: young teen Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) gets bitten by a trippy psy-trance spider and then stumbles on the actual Spider-Man (Chris Pine) in the middle of a fight with a bunch of bad guys, led by Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin (Liev Schriber).

Fisk has a plan to create a rip between dimensions so can bring back his lost loved ones. However, his first attempt doesn’t go to plan, Spider-Man stops him, albeit temporarily. What does occur, though, is the momentary dimensional rip causes a number of alternate reality Spider-heroes to be sucked into the same dimension as Miles. And with the Spider-Man of Miles’ dimension unable to continue the fight, it’s left to Miles to take up the mantle.

With great power and all that…

Now this film was written by Phil Lord of Lord and Miller, the guys behind The LEGO Movie and 21 Jump Street. So in terms of bucking convention and getting a bit trippy, they’ve got you covered. Well, Phil Lord does. I am sure Miller was busy elsewhere.

Generally speaking, this film delivers way beyond expectation. In that there was no expectation. And so, no pressure. Often the best films turn up that way, completely out the blue. The sheer invention, wit and detail on display here was a joy to experience. The film takes real risks and pushes the formula of what a superhero movie should be in a way that live action just cannot match.

I’ve read that the filmmakers wanted you to feel as if you were within a comicbook and they’ve really achieved that – we get dialogue boxes popping up when characters are thinking certain things, as well as little visual flourishs that nod to their emotions, plus split panels across the screen that chop up the action.

And it’s all done so lovingly.
From a storytelling, character, and cinematic point of view it hits the mark on all levels.

Add to that it’s also very funny.

Hopefully this won’t be the last we see of Miles Morales. The question next though will be, can Phil Lord and co pull off that difficult second album?

Sex Education: can we have some more?

Netflix are sneaky scamps, forever banging out shows and with some hit and some miss it makes it hard to keep up and know what to watch. But when Sex Education popped up out of nowhere I immediately heard good things, so thought I’d give it a go. And I’m glad I did, it’s fantastic.

Set in South Wales it’s all beautiful green valleys and rolling hills bathed in late summer sunshine. The whole place looks gorgeous.

The story itself centres on Otis (Asa Butterfield), the son of sex therapist Jean (Gillian Anderson). He strikes up a business arrangement of sorts with super smart school rebel Maeve (Emma Mackay). She learns he’s picked up therapy skills from his mum which could be put to good use, so she proposes they set up a sex advice clinic for kids at school. Maeve gets to make a bit of money and awkward Otis, smitten by Maeve, gets to hang out with one of the coolest girls at school.

So they start sourcing ‘clients’ and Otis instantly finds he’s in over his head, advising students on their sex lives when he himself has his own issues and is hardly worldly wise in the complex matters of sex and relationships. And yet, he does have a natural ability to get people to open up and discuss their feelings. He also wants to get to know Maeve better, so he sticks with it.

Setup aside, this show is a funny beast, in that it’s an odd hybrid of USA and UK.

The kids have lockers, they go to prom, they’ve got a school logo that is textbook American, yet the cast act and speak, for the most part, like they’re modern British teenagers.

I say modern because, in another oddity, they all dress as though they’re in some fantastical version of the ’80s. It’s beyond hipster – far too cool than they have any right to be.

Apparently the show’s writer, Laurie Nunn, said this was a tribute to the John Hughes’ films of the ’80s, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. And also influenced by Grange Hill, but more a more aspirational version.

One of the things I really liked about this show – as did many others – was the way they seemingly, effortlessly, tackled a number of issues that teens deal with: sexuality and sexual identity, bullying, performance anxiety, repressed traumas etc. Which sounds heavy going, but it’s done, for the most part, with levity and a good whack of humour.

And speaking of characters, it’s not just the leads that we get to know well.

Most of the supporting characters get, er, character, but not in the way you might expect. Starting out as archetypes – jock, bully, mean girl – most of them get subverted in some way. So, without spoiling anything, suffice to say that like most teenagers, and grown ups, there’s a lot more to a person than what they show most of us on the surface.

The show does this brilliantly, often just using a small scene to add depth to a host of characters. Not only does this engage us a lot more deeply, but it also treats us an audience with intelligence. It’s 2019, we don’t need to be seeing the same old kinds of characters played out time and again.

So, oddly, it’s actually a very refreshing show. Feel-good and heart-warming, all those words. Before you know it you’ll have gobbled up all eight episodes and, much like a sexually repressed teenager, you’ll be surprised that all the sexy stuff was over quite so quickly.

Let’s hope they don’t take too long to give us a season two.

My top TV shows of 2018

Most TV I watched last year were actually shows that had come out a few years back. Basically I’ve been catching up. So for this list I just wanted to review new shows or new seasons out in 2018.

Here were my favourites.

Killing Eve

The story goes: MI5 Desk analyst Eve (Sandra Oh) gets tangled up in the hunt for a psychopathic assassin called Villanelle (Jodie Comer) in an unexpected and delicious manner. Now this show came somewhat out of nowhere accompanied with much hype, and rightly so as it’s fantastic. The writing was nuanced and inventive, but it lived or died with the performances of the two leads, Oh and Comer. The dynamic between their characters made for some of the show’s best moments. Comer in particular, astounded me – beautiful, precocious, deadly. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Daredevil season 3

They say you should always go out on a high and, boy, did this show do so (Disney have since cancelled it, damn them). In this final season our hero Matt Murdoch aka Daredevil (Charlie Cox) finds he’s got both the rising power of Wilson Fisk aka Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) to deal with, as well as the highly unstable FBI agent Ben Poindexter aka Bullseye (Wilson Bethel). All whilst he’s been stripped of his suit and is wanted by the police. So we go back to basics. After a slightly unsatisfying season two and the underwhelming first (and only) season of the Defenders, this final chapter on the devil of Hell’s Kitchen feels like a welcome return to form, anchored by strong performances from Cox, D’Onofrio and Bethel.

The Deuce season 2

The first season of this show put the lives of pimps, escorts, bar men and the mafia in New York’s ‘deuce’ area in the late ‘70s under the microscope. It was created by the guy behind The Wire, David Simon, and it’s a show very much in that mould, following a host of characters as their lives intertwine and intersect. With season 2 they move the timeline on five years to the point where some of the characters have moved beyond street walking to become porn actresses and, in the case of Candy (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a bona-fide porn director. The other character you could call a lead of the show, Vince (James Franco), now owns a nightclub, bar and massage parlour, although he’s beholden to the mob and conflicted about his line of work. As with any of Simon’s shows the way he juggles character and story is masterful, the worlds he builds feel real and the characters flawed and human. Audiences agreed and the show will be back for a third and final season.

Westworld season 2

Westworld season 1 showed us a world where a theme park exists populated by AI ‘hosts’ that are indistinguishable from people. It was like the Wild West, and rich humans could go there and live out fantasies killing the hosts and soforth. The conflict arose when the hosts began to retain memories each time they were brought back to life. Then they began to rebel. Season 1 played out across multiple timelines with multiple characters, some host some human. Season 2 continued this, but upped the ante, adding more timelines, flash backs, forwards, sideways, timelines within timelines, worlds within worlds. Imagine the films Inception and Momento had a baby and got drunk and you’re halfway there. Thoroughly confusing but still utterly compelling to the point where you begin to think that any moment they’ll lift the curtain and it’ll all make sense. But it doesn’t, and by the end you don’t much care, as the journey was such a blast.

Altered Carbon

Based on a 2002 novel, this was another of Netflix’s forays into sci-fi; which may have left some of us viewers nervous, as they’re a bit hit and miss in this genre. This show, thankfully, was fantastic. Taking place in a cyberpunk future where a person’s personality/mind etc can be loaded into a ‘stack’ implanted at the base of the neck, effectively meaning they can switch bodies and live forever, or at least the rich can. We start with Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman), a sort of mercenary investigator, resurrected from ‘death’ and called in to investigate the actual (yet not successful) murder of one of the wealthiest men in the universe, 300-year-old Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy). There’s sex, violence, cool tech, Kinnamon scowling, Kinnamon’s abs, what’s not to like? Also, for the second season, Anthony Mackie will be in the lead role.

Billions season 3

US Attorney Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) versus hedge fund billionare Bobby Axelrod (Damien Lewis). That’s sort of all you really need to know about this show. Chuck goes after Bobby, gets him tangled up in various legal issues. Bobby fights back, he schemes, he works the market as best he can. Season 2 was interesting in that Chuck and Bobby found their paths diverge somewhat, with Chuck moving more into politics and Bobby trying to avoid jail time and losing his company. The show did find some inventive ways to bring them together at times, getting perilously close to tipping over into ridiculous melodrama. That said, both Giamatti and Lewis are phenomenal actors and any opportunity to watch them face off is a delight.

My top ten films of 2018

Yes, I am late to the party with a ‘best of’ reviews of the films of 2018, but I like to let my thoughts settle a bit first. Reflecting on the past twelve months I think 2018 turned out to be a pretty amazing year at the cinema. Here are some of my favourites.

1. A Quiet Place

For a modern studio horror blockbuster to have the audience go silent from the off and pretty much stay that way throughout is, in this day and age, some kind of miracle. Although writer-director-actor John Krasinkski somehow managed it. He also persuaded his real life wife Emily Blunt to star alongside him, which was a canny bit of decision-making, as their chemistry elevated the film. We really felt their plight as parents desperately trying to protect their children in the face of these unrelenting monsters.

2. Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel’s cinematic universe (MCU) had been leading up to this point, this two-part finale, for over a decade now. The pressure on the Russo brothers as directors must have been immense. When it arrived though, this film, with its dozens of characters, came together effortlessly. Not only did the directors manage to juggle all these heroes, giving many some lovely little moments in which to sink their teeth, but also deliver a huge purple CGI bad guy in the form of Thanos (Josh Brolin), and have him be a credible, relatable antagonist. Bravely, even more so than The Empire Strikes Back, Thanos utterly won at the end, leaving our heroes depleted and broken.

3. Mission Impossible: Fallout

How is Tom Cruise still going? How is he still alive? Each mission he accepts as super spy Ethan Hunt just gets bigger and more impossible. And he’s in his 50s now. Honestly, he puts most of us to shame. Here Fallout brings together the last few films much like Bond’s SPECTRE tried to, although does it far better. It probably helped that Cruise brought back director Christopher McQuarrie, (the first to return for a second go at the franchise), as they seem to have a great working relationship. This is also backed up by the fact that, recently, McQuarrie has signed on to direct two more mission films, back to back.

4. I, Tonya

Telling the story of real life skater Tonya Harding, Margot Robbie puts in an outstanding performance in the lead role. The film plays out quite like Scorsese’s Goodfellas, in that it charts the rise and fall of Tonya (like it did with Henry Hill), has freeze frames where the characters break the fourth wall to speak to the audience, and comes complete with a great soundtrack. Robbie is also supported by Sebastian Stan (as Tonya’s husband), who put in a great performance. Although it’s Alison Janney as Tonya’s mother that almost steals the whole thing – or at least the scenes she’s in.

5. Black Panther

Culturally, this movie was hugely significant. It starred almost a complete pan-African cast and featured a superhero of colour as the lead. It had kick ass women (both as warriors and scientists), a cool soundtrack (by Kendrick Lamar), a layered antagonist, and helped expand the MCU beyond just stories set in America (this took place in the fictional African nation of Wakanda). Considering Ryan Coogler as director was in his early 30s and only had a few films under his belt, the end result was an astonishing achievement. Moreover, it was a blast to watch and audiences really cared about the characters.

6. Coco

Coming out almost a year ago (Jan 2018 in the UK) this film told the story of a boy who finds a guitar and gets transported to the land of the dead. He then has to seek out a dead musician in order to return to the land of the living. Now… this is another film by Pixar which will hit you hard in the emotional solar plexus. Much like the first few minutes of Up, or two or three times in Inside Out, every few years Pixar put out a film that becomes an instant classic. This one won two Academy awards – and deservedly so. A word of warning though, if you’ve recently lost a loved one, this will hit you especially hard. You should still watch it though, perhaps it’s even more reason to do so.

7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Writer-director Martin McDonagh can boast dark comedies In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths as part of his filmography. And whilst they’re both great (In Bruges in particular) they don’t tackle the most weighty of subjects. Then he goes and does Three Billboards (out Jan 2018 in the UK) and it blows us away. Yes it’s dark and yes it’s funny, but it’s so much more than that. It got nominated for seven Academy awards and won two of them, which is not surprising. Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell both put in some of the best performances of their careers.

8. Widows

Steve McQueen as a director is astounding. His directorial debut starts with Hunger (2008), then Shame (2011), 12 Years a Slave (2013) and now Widows. Some output. Widows tells the story of a group of wives and girlfriends left to pick up the pieces after their partners all die in a heist gone wrong. It’s a tough, muscular piece that feels a lot like Michael Mann’s Heat. Although it’s not just a straight up crime movie, it juggles weighty themes throughout, mixing complex characters and commentary on societal issues with the action. Plus the cast are strong throughout: Viola Davis, Cynthia Erivo, Elizabeth Debicki, Daniel Kaluuya, Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez – and all put in fantastic performances.

9. Deadpool 2

How does one top the first Deadpool movie? Add Cable, add X-Force, up the comedy, up the action, up the stakes. Introduce Peter. I appreciate a lot of this won’t make sense if you haven’t seen the movie, but if you have even a vague interest in superheroes and comedy, then it should be on your list. Morever, Deadpool as a character sits apart from the rest of the MCU heroes. He breaks the fourth wall, swears a lot, does filthy things. And forcing him to work with more overtly heroic characters like Collosus, or the more cynical ones like Cable just add to the comedy.

10. American Animals

This film is a true story, amazingly, somehow. It tells the tale of a bunch of college kids who decide to steal $12m worth of old books. They’re not criminals, so it all goes horribly wrong. Now this film feels slightly like I, Tonya in that it splices ‘to camera’ interviews of the real life guys into the narrative. This gets mixed together with interviews by two of the actors playing characters; the enthusiastic Warren (Evan Peters) and the reluctant Spencer (Barry Keoghan). Both actors put in convincing performances and the whole thing builds in a way that is hard to believe, were it not, in actual fact, a true story.