Toxic man

Lately, things that annoy me include: beer and lads and birds and banter.
Because whenever they’re linked to toxic man.
They just lead me to certain anger.
Like Professor Banner getting cursed by gamma.
Cos toxic man is a backstabber.
Who just grins as he turns his dagger.
And I’m fast learning I can’t hurt this gangster.
He’s untouchable, a myth.
This is me versus Santa.
So when I face this street fighter, it might be electric.
But all I’m doing is getting burnt by Blanka til I turn and scamper.
Shell-shocked, like Thor.
Knowing maybe I didn’t earn the hammer.
Cos how do I call out guys I know, when their ‘friendly’ comments are so passive aggressive?
Alpha male 101.
Classic defensive and lacking perspective.
Cos when it comes to bonding with other men, these lads are in the dark ages.
Real feelings hidden, raiding each other’s houses like masked bailiffs.
Treating their peers so poorly that they surpass shameless.
Never facing the darkest parts of themselves.
At best, they grasp basics.
And endlessly toy with people’s emotions.
Then swan off like they’ve passed blameless.
Taking their lead from the piss-take patriarchy.
People like Trump, the psychopathic statesman.
Or narcissistic assholes like Patrick Bateman.
Those that think that one good deed is a massive statement.
But, hold up.
I’m wailing on these guys like I’m better than them.
Which has me under the weather again.
As this vendetta brings its own pressure.
And really, I’d rather just settle for zen.
But I’m bull-headed.
My mind at war like a minotaur.
Cos now, it seems, I’ve gotta wrestle a friend.
With fire and brimstone, til my rebel ascends.
To then face off with the devil again.
Til one of us meets with a terrible end.
Cos how can I call myself feminist, if I’m only slightly better than the guys I accuse?
If feminism needs allies, do I have a right to refuse?
Can I live with myself if I find an excuse?
Maybe I should be less try-hard and more die-hard.
And just say yippee ki yay before lighting a fuse.
I mean, at that point, what would I lose?
It’s hardly like these toxic guys were good friends in the first place.
Those that remember my birthday.
Not that that’s enough.
Cos I need connection on a deeper level.
Vulnerability with another man because we need this peril.
Til we grow and know how we can be this special.
Cos we’re cracking open new emotions.
Which, whilst thrilling, mean our knees now tremble.
Cos it’s tough stuff.
But doesn’t leave us with a weakened temple.
Nah, this is training day and I lead the way.
This is me and Denzel.
So let’s keep it central.
Cos modern masculinity doesn’t need to be this stressful.
I mean, I could sketch out how we fix man, I just need a pencil.
And I get I’m rambling, and that this whole scheme is mental.
And maybe the impression I gave, was that I seemed all gentle.
But in actual fact, I’m ready to crack toxic heads til I get lost instead.
Cos certain men are a cancer.
And it’s high time that we stopped this spread.

A Quiet Place: a horror masterclass

The ‘what if’ question is often a good way to start the process of creating a story for a writer. To come up with a meaty concept. In A Quiet Place it’s: what if alien type monsters arrived on earth and could hunt us based on the tiniest sounds we make?

So with the inevitable when (and it’s always a when) of when you break the silence, you’ll find it’s game over moments later, because these predators are insanely fast and nigh on indestructible.

The only way to survive is to be utterly silent.
At all times.
Or die.

Which is where we start.

Searching for supplies in an abandoned town we meet Lee Abbott (John Krasinkski) and his family. It’s clear the slightest noise they make is a BIG DEAL. So they use sign language and move around barefoot, walking from their farm to the town and back on trails of sand they’ve painstakingly put down everywhere.

Whilst Lee and his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt) are highly aware of what might happen should they make a noise, the kids are slightly less mindful of the danger (being kids), except maybe oldest daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds).

The thing that struck me in these opening exchanges is how Krasinkski as director allows us into the characters’ world with such ease. He sets out the roles within the family dynamic and how they interact in such a simple, effective and visual way. All in the first few moments, and all in silence.

And this is made particularly impressive by the fact that the majority of modern mainsteam studio films start guns blazing… all dialogue, action, music, mayhem turned up to 11.

So it’s refreshing, palate cleansing almost, that Krasinski starts the way he does. Showing a confidence in his material and commitment to his vision as a filmmaker.

This in spite of the fact that it’s only his third outing as director and, being a contributing writer as well as one of the leads, it seems like it should be too much for him (or anyone) to handle, but he appears right at home.

It probably helps he brought part of his home with him – at least in terms of acting (for the first time) opposite his real-life wife, Emily Blunt. As this makes for an easy and believable chemistry (you’d worry if they didn’t get this bit right) and, to be honest, if you can get Emily Blunt in your movie, then get Emily Blunt in your movie. I’m a big fan and she brought a lot to the role.

The best parts of this film, unsurprisingly, come in the quietest moments.

By this I mean not necessarily the sound, but the little details, the grace notes, the thought and care the filmmakers put into creating this world. From the VFX people and how they created the monsters, to the design and layout of the farm and even down to the clothes the characters wear (all rugged, chunky knits in rich, earthy, natural colours).

There is also delicate detail in the way the tension builds slowly and feels real. Opposite to how – with most horror – you’re expecting a monster or killer to jump out and eviscerate one of the expendable characters, or even a lead character, often quite early in proceedings. Here you’re hoping and praying the family don’t suffer the same fate.

I found I cared a lot more about the Abbott family then I have ever done for a group of attractive teens trying to evade a slasher killer, for example.

And this probably comes down to the message the movie is trying to put across about how difficult it is being a parent in the modern world. After a traumatic incident early on that sets the stakes and illustrates the danger, the rest of the movie is basically Lee and Evelyn trying their hardest to protect their kids and just live their lives.

Evelyn even says to Lee at one point, ‘Who are we if we cannot protect our kids?’.

And talking of kids, special mention should go to the actors that play the two eldest children, Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe). Both put in superb performances, particularly Millicent, who blames, and is angry, at herself, after the incident early on, and just wants her father’s love, but doesn’t feel she deserves it.

For me, Krasinski was also something of a surprise. I’ve not really seen him in anything before, just knew his name. He was almost Captain America at one point, and you can see why. He’s a commanding presence and holds the screen and has handsome, everyman hero written all over him. He’s also very expressive without having to say anything. One to watch as both a director and a leading man. I’m keen to see what he does next.

In terms of A Quiet Place though, it’s superb. Even if you aren’t really into horror, it’s so much more than that really. It’s emotionally very affecting, tense, tender and will leave you thinking about its themes for days after.

A diamond that hits back

I’m hardly past it.
(Mid-30s if you’re wondering.)
And in recent years, have kinda felt like I hate this game.
Cos life plus time is evil.
And seems to equal more aches and pains.
And it’s a sad fact and makes me mad that, whatever I do, I can’t escape this change.
It’s like my inner sadist stands back and toasts my decline, all gross and divine.
Grinning as he tastes champagne.
All the while, I just chase insane.
And weather this draught as I pray for rain.
A sad commuter.
Left on the platform cos I lack form.
No longer able to chase this train.
Cos it’s gone, and is now steaming ahead.
So whilst I’m calm on the surface.
Really I’m nervous, like I’m feeling a threat.
Maybe I can rebuild, you know?
Stitch together with needle and thread.
And plug wounds so I stop bleeding all red.
Cos I can’t muddle along.
I’ve gotta get ahead of the reaper.
My thoughts ice cold.
Like I’ve got my head in a freezer.
With vessels that beat temples.
Like a high temperature fever.
Perhaps I’m not old yet.
But my brow is just cold sweat.
Like I’ve got unsettling features.
And I’m feeling an ill chill, like Kiddo in Kill Bill.
Thinking, why is no one checking the heater?
But I digress.
I wish I could calm my mind, you know?
Just spark up a reefer and drift off in the ether.
Then talk riddles like Gollum, cos I’m an odd little creature.
But in tough times I seek stress and ignore weak legs.
Cos there’s no stopping this cheetah.
I mean, I’ll chase anxious thoughts like precious prey.
And think each one’s a keeper.
I know that it’s better to let ’em pass by and be more zen.
Maybe switch my lifestyle and rock vegan.
Then I can watch the sky for enemies like I fly serenity.
Just call me Joss Whedon.
Cos I’ll slay my monsters like Buffy.
Just trust me, when I say I’m clocking these lost demons.
So if they attack, I’ll strike back with a spiked bat.
And crush pretenders like I’m the boss, Negan.
But wonder, have I trapped myself in this setup?
Is this the price I pay?
Is this the cost of freedom?
Cos when I break for a minute I think, should I stop this feeling?
Because despite my fight, my boat’s full of holes and I’m bailing fast.
I know I’m awkward with help.
I kinda hate to ask.
Maybe I can find solace in making art?
Or playing darts?
Yeah, well… scratch that.
I spend too much time indoors as it is.
Gotta get out… see the world with my backpack.
Not make excuses, where all I do is just backtrack.
Cos honestly, there’s more to life than god damn Facebook and snapchat.
So if I’m not the pilot of my destiny, then I should just give my cap back.
Otherwise, life will be one big ‘remember the time when I almost..’
And just play out in flashback.
So do I stick or twist?
Or double down like in Blackjack?
Find Wonderland, London Below and the Upside Down.
The place where the gaps at.
Where weirdos are welcome and it’s all a bit abstract.That makes sense.
I could probably back that.
There I’d be less nervous.
I’d have purpose.
It’d stop my mind getting ransacked.
So when emotional bombs drop I don’t have to hide from the impact.
I’ll be left silent and intact.
Growing in stature with every step.
A beast amongst petty people, like a giant that’s mismatched.
Then all I have to do is find the life I want is grab hold, and tighten til it snaps.
Which, even if it hurts, and I find I get whiplash.
I’ll know I’m unbreakable.
That, finally, I’m a diamond that hits back.

my inner troll

Where does one find the time anymore?
It seems like lazy days have given way to hard graft.
Like painting and cleaning and tiling the floor.
In some ways I wish I could jump back a decade and just teleport.
Because, damn.
My mid-20s were easy as hell.
And moving up to London, after travels.
It didn’t take much to squeeze me out of my shell.
No real life troubles to speak of.
At least, that’s how it felt.
And yeah, I didn’t have much back then so I just tightened my belt.
But a decade down the line it feels like city life has taken its toll.
Yet I like to think new me has taken over old me by simply breaking the mould.
Yet old me stands on the bridge of progress.
And with stamina, I’ve loads left.
So I gotta start facing this troll.
Cos, let’s be honest.
Monsters grow larger if you let them just take control.
And mine seem to be where I fit in the world.
What’s my higher purpose?
Cos when I find it, I’ll need to give it strong foundations.
Reinforce it with iron girders.
And dip my mind in some fired furnace.
So it’s raw and hot like liquid steel.
But well worn.
Like an old coat with a vintage feel.
But to make my purpose reality I need to be unrelenting and dedicated.
I can’t lose my edge.
Like a fat cat no longer a hunter cos I’m now number and domesticated.
Which is leaving me at best, frustrated.
Am I ducking from destiny?
Can I not just face it?
Cos in my mind, I’ve got weapons to deploy like Castor Troy.
But first I gotta swap bodies and give myself a facelift.
Not hop from idea to idea.
Pretending like each one’s my favourite.
How do I best explain it?
You know how, each month, you would expect a wage slip?
Well imagine one day, you stopped being paid.
Cos it’s passion and purpose that now puts food on your plate.
So with my life path I should decide fast how I’m gonna go about choosing my fate.
I mean, I can’t just go around assuming I’m great.
Cos these flaws I have are not genetic.
I’m more apathetic.
And my lack of ambition is such a human mistake.
So if I don’t break this cycle I’ll just spin like vinyl.
And then I’ll end up losing this race.
Like an old cowboy past his prime.
Gun-toting and self-loathing.
At the bottom of a bottle and boozing for days.
But to be honest.
When I am actually old, what, for example, will I tell my grandson is my legacy?
Cos I’m done with these pleasantries.
Sod the rat race it lacks grace.
I’d rather be having fun with some weaponry.
Out in the woods somewhere, swinging a sword or throwing an axe.
But I know that’s just escapism.
And I refuse to play victim.
Blaming my lack of progress on the apparent failings of a lame system.
Cos my future isn’t preordained.
There’s nothing to be gained from how my name’s written.
So maybe I should just consider my old self Batman.
And to change, I need to snap back in a way that even Bane didn’t.
So yeah, what I’m saying is, I really need to acknowledge a new state to register as an apex predator.
Where I’m free from those soul-sucking sirens.
Aka WhatsApp and Facebook messenger.
Cos this nagging feeling I’ve got?
Well, it ain’t regular.
So emotionally, I’ve gotta remember to take my temperature.
Or I’ll be still be here in fifty years.
Just a sad and depressed lame type of pensioner.
Full of regret, all old and bitter.
Lamenting the fact I wasn’t colder, sicker.
And had slayed my trolls quicker like a bolder killer.
Cos all I had to do to make new me reality was to simply stand back, take stock and just hold a mirror.

Photo credit: chillier17 on deviantart.

Top five film and TV characters called Michael

A silly post now. I just want to celebrate my name. That, and I had a sneaking suspicion there were some cool film and TV characters called Michael. After all, it’s one of the oldest – and most popular –  names in the world.

Here’s a few that float my boat.

Mikey, The Goonies (1985)

Played by the legend that is Sean Astin, Mikey was the driving force behind the adventure – and subsequent scrap – the gang gets into with the Fratellis. They did find a One-eyed Willie’s pirate ship and treasure though, so that’s win.

Mike Lowry, Bad Boys (1995)

‘Mike Looowwry… Why don’t you whip it out for her, big boy? Yeah, right on your forehead.’ Martin Lawrence winding up Will Smith’s Mike Lowry, the smooth ladies man of their cop duo, in what is probably Michael Bay’s second best film (after The Rock of course).

Michael Corleone, The Godfather (1972)

Al Pacino, in his best role. No question. Those haunted eyes, realising what he has to become to take over as head of the family. Probably the scariest – and best dressed – Michael in this list.

Michael Burnham, Star Trek: Discovery (2017)

Not only is Michael Burnham, the lead character, a female with a male name, she is also a person of colour. Go Star Trek for mixing things up. Played by Sonequa Martin-Green, her character is a disgraced Starfleet officer who finds a place aboard Captain Lorca’s (Jason Isaacs) technically advanced ship, where she’s instrumental in the fight with the Klingons.

My five favourite modern Westerns

Yes, there are loads of bona-fide classic Westerns out there, with the bulk being from the ’50s and ’60s. That said, there new ones being made all the time. It’s a genre that continues to fascinate us as moviegoers.

And with these new stories, filmmakers are finding new ways to tell them and present them, and make them relevant for a modern audience. Here are some that I like to come back to whenever I can.

Open Range (2003)

Cattle herders Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall run into Michael Gambon’s despicable rancher. He takes a dislike to them coming to town with their cattle and the whole films builds to an almighty showdown. It’s a thoughtful, considered type of story though, with solid performances across the board.

3:10 To Yuma (2007)

Christian Bale and Russell Crowe were both on fine form in this story, one where Bale, an ex-rifleman, becomes the reluctant minder of Crowe’s notories outlaw. His mission: to get him onto the prison train to Yuma, all the while being pursued by his gang who are trying to free him.

The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

With cinematography from the great Roger Deakins and masterful performances from both Casey Affleck as Ford and Brad Pitt as James, this is both a critically acclaimed film and one overlooked by the general public. It’s worth your time, though.

Tombstone (1993)

Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, and a cast that also included Bill Paxton and Sam Elliott as good guys and Powers Boothe, Stephen Lang and Michael Biehn as the bad guys, what’s not to love? There’s even a scene where two characters insult each other in Latin.

Django Unchained (2012)

Originally, Tarantino wanted Will Smith in the lead role, however Jamie Foxx smashes it. It’s also heightened by a powerhouse performance from DiCaprio. Not that you would expect anything less.

My top seventeen films of 2017

This year has been a bit of a bumper for good films. Putting together a list, yet again, I realise there are so many I haven’t seen. Here’s those that I have, a top seventeen and the order in which I liked them. Plus a rather large number that I am yet to see, but want to, and have heard good things.

1. Get Out

Off-kilter and deeply unsettling. The first two thirds of this film puts certain deeply held prejudices into stark focus. Little micro-aggressions of racism that people of colour experience, in a way that white people simply cannot comprehend. This film achieved big at the box office, from a miniscule budget – doing strong numbers in the States. Frightening, vital storytelling.

2. Thor: Ragnarok

Taiki Waititi is an odd man. This is not an understatement. His past work includes a documentary style vampire film, What We Do In The Shadows and a highly unusual road chase movie Hunt For The Wilderpeople. Then Marvel gave him a superhero sandpit in which to play. The result is Ragnarok, the funniest, strangest film to come out of a studio that’s seventeen films in.

3. Baby Driver

Edgar Wright left Ant-Man over creative differences to go and make this. Silver lining and all that, because this is, by far, Wright’s best film. It’s practically a musical, in terms of how effortlessly and brilliantly songs are weaved into its DNA. And the performances across the board are surprising and inspired. A helluva lot of fun.

4. A Monster Calls

This came out New Year’s Day 2017, so you can be forgiven for forgetting it. But you shouldn’t, because it’s one of the most emotionally affecting films I’ve ever seen. Utterly heart-breaking stuff from director Juan Antonio Bayona.

5. Moonlight

Oscar winner (eventually), this film should be on your ‘must watch’ list. A big break for director Barry Jenkins, with outstanding performances from all three leads, playing the same man at three key points in his life. Languid, dreamy, painfully well observed.

6. Logan

It’s nice that director James Mangold got another crack at Wolverine as a character, because he could finally create the film he wanted to create, with the studio giving him a huge amount of freedom. The result being a very much stand-alone X-Men film, but also the best Wolverine story by some distance. And a fitting send-off for Jackman in the role.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2

The first Guardians film had little expectation, but surprised everyone, particular in terms of comedy. And then came the difficult second album. It doesn’t quite have the emotional impact of the first film, but there’s loads of good stuff in it, and it comes darn close to topping the first.

8. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, two chaps that had a crack at the role. Neither are as good a fit as the latest bloke, Tom Holland. It helps that this film is now part of the MCU and Iron Man’s inclusion adds a nice wrinkle to Peter Parker’s progress as a hero; in that Tony becomes a sort of surrogate father figure. Plus, Michael Keaton as a bad guy. Someone you’d want in any movie, if you can get him.

9. mother!

Darren Aranofsky is no stranger to controversy. He wrote this script in what he described as a ‘fever dream’, with star Jennifer Lawrence reportedly throwing it across the room after reading it and telling the director there was something wrong with him. Only to later say he was a genius. This film works on many allegorical levels and granted, it’s a tough watch, but a visceral one from an auteur filmmaker.

10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Coming from a background of indies such as The Brothers Bloom, Brick and Looper, Rian Johnson was an interesting choice for Disney, in terms of continuing the story of Luke, Leia and the gang with all that force stuff. It’s hugely polarised a small portion of the internet but still opened to the second biggest weekend in movie history, so it can’t be that bad. For me, I thought it was a great story and possibly the best of the new films yet.

11. Wonder Woman

Finally, DC came up with a movie that was less of a CGI-fest, although they couldn’t resist descending into this territory come the film’s final third. Luckily, the rest of the movie was more progressive and engaging, and all the fish out of water stuff with Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince was a delight. It also gave us a female superhero as the lead of a blockbuster for the first time, one that has gone on to inspire countless women and girls around the world.

12. Free Fire

Ben Wheatley, as a director, is no stranger to dark stories and messed up visuals. And he’s always had mostly a British cast to work with. As his name has grown everyone wants to work with him now, and this film represents his biggest, most A-list cast to date. So what does he do? Stick them all on the floor in a dirty warehouse crawling around shooting at each other for an entire movie. Hilarious and genius.

13. Hidden Figures

This film is about racism AND sexism. It tells the story of the amazing work done by three women of colour who worked at NASA during the space race with Russia in the ‘60s. All three were instrumental in some of NASA’s biggest achievements at the time. Definitely file under ‘feel good’ movie, but it’s also one that highlighted the true story of three women who dealt with ingrained racism and sexism in the most magnanimous, humbling way.

14. Blade Runner: 2049

Living up to the original film must be a tough gig, and it’s a brave director that takes on the challenge of giving us a sequel, but Denis Villeneuve, hot off of films such as Arrival, Sicario and Prisoners, thought himself up to the challenge. It helped that he had the legend that is Roger Deakins on cinematography duty. It’s too long, but a decent sequel and Gosling was a good fit.

15. The Lost City of Z

Based on the true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett, played by Charlie Hunnam, and his forays into South America and the Amazon in search of an ancient lost city. The film is too long, but takes its time setting everything up, and has a real Apocalypse Now feel about it at times. Recommended.

16. What Happened To Monday

Netflix release, this film went under a lot of people’s radars but it’s pretty darn good. Starring Noomi Rapace it’s a sci-fi set in a world where families are only allowed one child, due to the population. Willem Defoe’s character ends up with seven identical girls, which he names after each day of the week. On their name day they take turns going out into the world. So Monday goes to work on Monday, Tuesday on Tuesday and so on. Then Monday vanishes. It’s up to the remaining sisters to discover what happened. Outstanding performances from Rapace as all of the sisters.

17. okja

Okja, this year, was one of those modern oddities, in that it was released exclusively on Netflix and featured an A-list cast, including Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal. It tells the story of a world where food is scarce so a corporation grows super pigs. A girl becomes attached to hers and fights to save it from slaughter. Directed by Bong Joon-ho it’s supremely strange but lovingly told.


There’s also a rather hefty list of films I have yet to see. These are:

Dunkirk
Lady Macbeth
The Meyerowitz Stories
Call me by your name
The Florida Project
God’s Own Country
Personal Shopper
The Shape of Water
Mudbound
Raw
War For The Planet of The Apes
The Death of Stalin
La La Land
John Wick: Chapter 2
Logan Lucky
The Beguiled
Detroit
Elle
Jackie
The Handmaiden
Paddington 2
Manchester by the Sea
Split
Lion
Prevenge
The Love Witch
Collosal
My Cousin Rachel
Patti Cake$
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
A Cure For Wellness
Gerald’s Game

The Gifted: season one review

So mutants have moved to the small screen these days, with The Gifted, starring Stephen Moyer (of True Blood fame) – and it’s set in a world which runs on an alternate mutant timeline to the big screen films (although those are all over the place these days), and it’s one where the main X-Men have disappeared and have seemingly left John Proudstar/Thunderbird (Blair Retford) in charge of what’s known as the mutant underground. Although he’s not the show’s primary character.

We first meet the underground when Reed Strucker (Stephen Moyer), a district attorney who prosecutes mutants, is forced to go on the run with his family after learning his kids, Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Andy (Percy Hynes White), are, shock horror, mutants themselves. The sweet, sweet irony. This setup means the Strucker family are our way in as an audience.

And so we have a cat and mouse game of back and forth between the evil government agency, Sentinel Services (S.S., see what they did there), and the sweet little Struckers and their mutant friends, forced to live in hiding.

Not that hiding seems that bad. The underground has food, water and an array of hi-tech computers to aid tracking of the enemy. There’s a lot of mutants there too, with most of them pleasingly attractive, which is important if we’re going to stay interested in their plight.

First, we’ve got hunky Johnny/Thunderbird, part Apache with tracking abilities and super pecs, sorry, strength; then Lorna Dane/Polaris (Emma Dumont), a pale, sexy goth type with green hair who’s also the daughter of Magneto, so she can manipulate metal; her partner Marcos Diaz/Eclipse (Sean Teale), a tall, dark and brooding dude with links to the Mexican cartel, so he’s a bit of a bad boy, oh, and he can manipulate photons to shoot hot beams from his hands; and there’s Clarice Gong/Blink (Jamie Chung), a sexy teleporter with a bit of a thing for Johnny; plus Johnny’s actual ex-girlfriend, Sonya Simonson/Dreamer (Elena Satine), a sultry lady who’s all lips and boobs and blows seductive pink smoke at you to manipulate memories. What a temptress.

There’s also a bunch of other lesser characters we don’t really get to know that well, so I won’t spend a lot of time on them.

So with each of these main lot they all seem to have their own personal soap opera going on, and some are more compelling than others. I guess the show’s creators wanted an ensemble cast so they didn’t have all eggs in one basket. Because it’s probably a bit of a burden being the lead in a new X-Men property, even if it is TV.

And thinking on it, I wonder how much the reputation of the films loom over this show.

So much so that the show’s creators aren’t taking massive risks, from what I’ve seen so far. By this I mean, it’s a show that has a lot of action, an abundance of characters, and plenty going on, but at the same time nothing of much significance actually happens. Which is a skill in the writing in itself, but in this golden age of TV one cannot simply amble along for the majority of a season without getting to the sodding point.

Where is this story going exactly?
Is anything bad actually going to happen?
Will I care it if it does?
Are any of these sexy people going to hook up with each other?
Can we see some nudity? (If only relevant to the plot of course.)

Clearly the questions that plague me are the same ones I’m sure you’re asking yourself. Or perhaps you’re not. Perhaps I shouldn’t be? Maybe this is more aimed at young teens, I don’t know.

Maybe you’ll be asking yourself, why am I watching it if I’m not that engaged?
Probably because I’m engaged just enough, and I’m praying more happens. But it’s also one of those shows that, from probably the second episode, I filed under ‘easy watch’. Like when you’re tired and home from work and don’t want anything too taxing that you have to focus on a great deal.

So that’s that really. A solid, dependable 6/10 for entertainment, story and character. If that’s your thing, then get watching. If not, and you’re after geeky TV that has something more to give, try Agents of SHIELD or Jessica Jones.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – progress, this is

Staaaar Waarrrs, na na na, Staaar Waaars. So sang my partner Saturday morning as we strolled down to the rather lovely Olympic studios cinema in southwest London to catch the latest in the franchise, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, directed by Rian Johnson.

This film continues events from The Force Awakens, one which saw the return of old characters that many of us loved so dearly from the original films: Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill); although the latter only appeared in a single scene.

It also ushered in a new generation of heroes that mixed it up well with the golden oldies: scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), Stormtrooper turned rebel Finn (John Boyega), X-Wing pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) and a few others. Plus, a new bad guy, Ben Solo/Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), taking on the heavy burden of Darth Vader’s mantle, but giving us a more layered, nuanced and conflicted antagonist than Vader ever really was.

At the end of The Force Awakens, (SPOILER if you’ve not seen it) Rey, realising she was naturally strong with the force, went off in search of Luke and found him living as a recluse on a windswept island, the spiritual home of the Jedi.

So, logically, we pick up (with a brief detour with prequel Rogue One) where we left off and The Last Jedi’s focus, in part, is Rey’s quest to find out why Luke has hidden himself away, and what happened with Ben that caused the young apprentice to bat for Team Evil; causing Luke to blame himself and ultimately retreat to a corner of the galaxy, Obi-Wan/Yoda style, to live out his days.

The Last Jedi is also very much Rey’s journey – who is she, really? Why does she have such power? Who are her parents? What connection does she have to Kylo? What can Luke teach her? Does he even want to teach her? For me, this exploration of character is the most interesting part of the story.

Alongside Luke’s holiday island getaway storyline we have the usual cat and mouse back and forth space tangles across the galaxy, with the First Order chasing rebel scum. Big ships, little ships, cardboard boxes. Although, cleverly, Johnson turns this into a slow burn strategic battle, with the rebels staying a safe (ish) distance from the First Order as they inexorably run out of fuel.

This chase is led by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), hamming it up and spitting venom with every chance he gets. On the side of the rebellion we have General Leia, but also a new addition, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern, with tremendous purple hair). She lends an air of calm, warmth and gravitas to the impulsive rebellion. Leia version 2.0, in a way.

Her addition helps the gender balance too, with all the big swinging light sabres around the place – something her character directly addresses when putting Isaac’s flyboy Poe in his place, following Leia doing much the same to him in an earlier scene. Both women criticise him for acting the hero no matter the cost, saying that true leaders are less cavalier with the lives of those they’ve said they’d protect. Which is actually a pretty refreshing shift in character for a blockbuster to take.

Moreover, this could be a giant flag planted in terms of where Disney want to take the franchise, reinventing and progressing it and moving it away from the Alpha male Han Solo types, to perhaps a more considered protagonist. Which can only be a good thing for future films. If it works with Stars Wars, it’ll work with most big movies they put out.

So, Johnson has written and directed a film that’s in keeping with – and respectful of – existing Star Wars canon, but also paves the way for the future, with an engaging, progressive story and compelling (largely modern) strong characters (that are both men and women) and feels logical, in terms of a narrative, in that the first film, The Force Awakens, is Han’s story, therefore The Last Jedi becomes Luke’s, with Leia the glue between the two.

(As one internet meme suggested, it’s basically the galaxy’s most dysfunctional family inflicting their woes on everyone else, resulting in decades of war).

Roughly a week since the film’s release it’s also a funny thing because there has been massive backlash, much more so than The Force Awakens, with some have accusing it of being ‘too Disney’, whatever that means. These were always kid’s films, so yeah, odd. Moreover, there’s a lot of adult material in them, but they’re fun adventures. I mean, Wikipedia describes them as ‘epic space operas’, so we shouldn’t really hold them to a higher bar than that.

Then there’s the diversity criticism: all these women, shock, horror, where did they come from? Or a black guy and an Asian woman in such prominent roles? Who the hell signed this off? People of colour can’t be Stormtroopers, women can’t be rebels, admirals, generals, blah, blah, whatever. These people can crawl back under the rocks from whence they came. I mean, honestly.

Hey, listen, this is progress. Whatever the film, however one interprets it, this is all moving in what, presumably, is the right direction in terms of modern cinema. Unless you’re some sort of misogynist, racist, luddite, who considers a ‘modern’ hero to be Harrison Ford leering over Carrie Fisher’s Leia, not letting her escape, then forcing a kiss. Or the fact that the original films had one person of colour, Lando; the satisfaction of a diversity box ticked and a job well done at the time.

Anyway, digressing. To put things in perspective, this film has had the second biggest opening weekend in movie history, $450m worldwide. So, someone is watching (and enjoying it), yet online trolls have loud voices, so we just must remember to take them with a pinch of salt. And not feed them.

For my part, the cast (the new lot) looked much more settled in their roles. The comedy largely works, despite what backwards fanboys/man-babies cry about on the internet. There’s a lot more flesh on the bones of characters, in particular Kylo Ren and Rey and the dynamic between them both. The way their relationship plays out is one of the most interesting things about the film.

And Luke. Good old Mr Skywalker.

In all honesty, Mark bloody Hamill is perhaps the coolest character to make a return to this franchise. Whilst Leia, Han, Chewie and others left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling, Luke returning was actually just hands-down cool. Particularly one or two scenes in the film’s final third, which basically cemented Luke as one of the most compelling (and bad ass) heroes to grace the franchise. Straight out of a Western, in the best sense.

Thinking back, I found him a fairly straight arrow hero in the original films, but here he’s so much more layered. Taking a leaf from Alec Guinness’s Obi-Wan in the originals, here Hamill gets to showcase a lot more of his acting chops, and it’s a delight to see.

I’ll need to see Rogue One again to be sure, but I think this might possibly pip it to the post as the best of the new Star Wars films yet. Simply because it’s trying a few new things, which is, frankly, what this franchise needs if it’s going to stay relevant to a modern audience.

Godless: good, but could’ve been great

Godless is one of the latest shows to be released by Netflix. A Western that got shopped around Hollywood as a feature film but didn’t get picked up, so writer-director Scott Frank (who penned Logan) ended up finding a home for it on the small screen, and the story went from two hours to a solid seven.

Now this could have been a writer’s dream. Think about it, you’ve got a compelling idea for a story and get to write more scenes, develop characters, flesh the whole thing out and give it room to breathe. And Frank does this well, and thus does a decent job for the most part, but more on that to come.

Story wise, the plot focuses on sharp shooting outlaw Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell) who splits from a gang run by Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) and, in doing so, nicks the cash from their latest heist. So they go after him.

He finds refuge at the home of tough rancher Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dockery), who lives on the outskirts of a town called La Belle; which is populated entirely by women, due to a mining accident that wiped out most of the men. And Roy gets tentatively welcomed into her home, bit by bit, coaching Alice’s son on horses, fixing things, exchanging longing looks with her, the usual unfulfilled lusting you get in these types of stories.

So from fleeing his surrogate – and criminal – family, he finds some semblance of a real one, by chance. Meanwhile, Frank Griffin wanders the territory looking for him and generally being a very bad man to anyone that gets in his way.

Basically, the problem at the core of this show is that a town populated – and run by – women, in a Western, is a compelling concept. It feels fresh and timely, particularly in today’s ‘grab ’em by the pussy’, Trump-infused world, where not a day goes by without some public figure being outed for sexual harassment or worse – and this is something Netflix took a punt on with their marketing.

Trouble is, the women of La Belle feel less well written than the men, as the show’s more interested in Roy’s redemption and Frank’s downward spiral; than the idea of women surviving and thriving in a world that’s utterly dominated by macho blokes.

To back this up*, there’s also too much focus on other male characters that aren’t vital to the story. For starters, we’ve got the town’s almost blind Sheriff (Scoot McNairy) who’s therefore a bit of a damp squib as a lawman. He goes after Frank, presumably to satisfy his wounded masculinity.

Then there’s the Marshall of the territory (Sam Waterston) also after Frank. He has full vision but is perhaps even more useless than the Sheriff. Why these two didn’t work together was beyond me. Although they felt like filler characters, in that you could lose the Marshall and the show would be no worse off. Possibly the Sheriff too.

(*Incidentally, Wikipedia lists nine major characters and six are men.)

I suppose I wouldn’t be bothered about the misleading marketing if the show was average, but it ain’t. It’s really rather good. For one thing, it’s achingly, exquisitely shot (seldom have I seen Western landscapes look so beautiful) and the characters are all, by and large, pretty engaging, in that I wanted to learn more about them and their lives and interactions with each other.

It’s just there are too many to introduce in seven hours and none get enough time to develop, particularly the show’s women, with maybe the exception of Alice and the town’s leader Mary Agnes (Merritt Wever), who’s actually one of the most complex and intriguing characters.

Plus she’s the only one who really holds her own with the men and is determined the town’s women have agency and are in charge of their own fate. The other women, rather disappointly, are just happy for some men around the place, whatever it costs them.

So the word is, this show is limited to just the single season, which is a shame considering all the world building it had done. And I feel it’s a slim pickin’ chance we’ll see it for a second go round, as it looks like a show that had a hefty budget.

I hope it does come back and focuses on La Belle and its women and perhaps the fight to save their mine. But this is all wishful thinking and we’ll have to more than likely just enjoy it for what it was, rather than what it could become. And this is no bad thing, I was just hoping for a little bit more.