Mayans M.C. – season one review

Kurt Sutter’s fascination with motorcycle clubs continues with Mayans M.C., a spin-off from the immensely popular Sons of Anarchy. In this new iteration we’re placed with the Mayans, a drug-running charter based in the fictional town of Santo Padre involved in the dealings of dangerous cartel family the Galindo’s.

Fans of Sons of Anarchy will already be familiar with the Mayans who were at first rivals, then allies, of Jax Teller and co’. Emilio Rivera returns to the fictional world as Alvarez, the Padrino of the M.C., alongside brand new characters and one or two cameos from familiar faces. The series’ main character – essentially Charlie Hunnam’s equivalent here – is EZ Reyes, a Mayans prospect, played by J. D. Pardo. Other memorable performances include Richard Cabral as Coco and the brilliant Clayton Cardenas as EZ’s brother Angel

The Sons ran guns, the Mayans run drugs. Both are questionable career choices but Sutter is careful to demonstrate that his club members are only in it for the money and actually care about their communities. Honest. This theme was more prominent in SOA with real focus on the Teller family’s loyalty to Charming. The biggest challenge any spin-off faces is in successfully forging itself as stand-alone. While Mayans M.C. is entertaining drama it’s difficult to create a set of characters as beguiling as those in Sons and struggles slightly because of this.

Much like its predecessor Mayans M.C. is blood-soaked, drug-addled fare featuring scantily clad women and testosterone-fuelled fights. What it’s missing is SOA’s thought-provoking exploration of masculinity and male friendship and its deeply-rooted themes of brotherhood. Instead it serves up a highly watchable series that treads new ground, looks visually impressive and introduces likeable characters. It’s highly unrealistic and will offend some, but take it at face value and it’s actually a lot of fun.

Sutter’s new series is not yet of the calibre of SOA, but there is plenty of time for that.

The Long Song review

The first of the BBC’s December TV highlights was The Long Song. Screened over three nights last week, the adaptation of Andrea Levy’s book follows July, a young woman born into slavery in Jamaica. A strong ensemble cast bring the source material to life in what must, surely, be the best mini series of 2018.

Hayley Atwell stars alongside rising star Tamara Lawrance, while Jack Lowden (of Dunkirk fame) supports. Episode one features a must-see guest spot from the brilliant Lenny Henry, almost unrecognisable in his transformation here. Director Mahalia Belo has stayed true to Levy’s mode of storytelling in that The Long Song is a story of slavery that doesn’t showcase extreme violence, thus in turn limiting its audience, but instead creates a moving human drama that pulls an audience in with its accessibility. That’s not to say this is an easy watch, but more to point to the fact that Levy and screen writer Sarah Williams craft a very important story – fiction supported by fact – that studies its characters and the ways in which they adapt to survive in a terrain that is wholeheartedly against them.

The series is a true feat of storytelling that so masterfully blends brilliant humour with gut-wrenching cruelty. As we watch July, over three episodes, we see a story of survival against the odds, one that is filled with unthinkable horror but also a constant glimmer of hope. It’s haunting, deeply moving, powerfully acted. I was immersed in every single second.

A study of human nature, you’ll be both shocked to the core and moved to tears as the final days of slavery are put to the screen in a drama that is an absolute must-see. The only way to end this review is to say; please, everyone, watch this stunning series. You will be richer for it, I promise.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

The most widely asked question of any adolescent is ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’. The importance of knowing where our life is going, and who we’re going to become, is ingrained in us from an early age. I went through a few ideas. An archeologist (courtesy of Tomb Raider); the lead singer in a pop-punk band (inspired by Hayley Williams, obviously); a doctor (it looked so exciting in ER); and, well, a grown up. The youngest of four children I yearned to be older so I could be a part of the fun they were all having.

Recently I’ve been catching myself saying ‘when I grow up I want to…’ or, ‘when I’m an adult…’ and then I realise I am grown up. But the biggest question I have now is not ‘what do I want to be?’ but ‘when will I feel like I’m grown up?’ Because, to be frank, I have no idea what I’m doing. When I look at my Facebook and Instagram feed I see pictures of people my age doing genuinely adult things like buying houses, or traveling the world. Meanwhile, I still eat coco pops for breakfast and, when left unsupervised, an entire pack of biscuits. My only direct debit is to Spotify, and I also spontaneously leave jobs that don’t make me happy with no thought of the future. That’s OK, right? I’m telling myself this is OK.

An aside about the perks of being an apparent grown up:

You can have breakfast for dinner and dinner for breakfast and no one is going to tell you off. You can go to gigs and it isn’t necessary to hide bottles of water filled with vodka in the bushes outside because, get this, you are old enough to buy it yourself. Nice people you’ve never met give you overdrafts so you can still go on holiday if you have no real money. You meet all of these quirky, cool, like-minded people and you find who you belong with.

Without sounding like the title of a Britney Spears film (which, FYI, is so worth watching) there is this thing I am experiencing called a crossroads. When you’re an enthusiastic teenager teachers and parents and careers advisors forget to tell you that even if you know what you want to be it might not work out. Stuff like mental health gets in the way. The ability to afford to take unpaid opportunities that could eventually, maybe lead to a dream job. Doing what you really thought was what you wanted and then realising it is so not what you wanted after all. Being happy in something and having it taken away because, well, you were only temporary. That is the crux of navigating adult life.

All of this to say, I’m 24 years old and I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. But what I do know is, through mental illness, maxed-out overdrafts, difficult times, and truly brilliant times, until the moment when we, individually, finally feel grown up, everything is totally fine.

Killing Eve review

In Killing Eve a bored MI5 agent (Sandra Oh) is drawn into a violent chase to track down deadly assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer); a psychopathic killer who has targeted a number of well-known public and political figures. As Eve gets closer to tracking her down, she becomes obsessed with the elusive target, enjoying the new-found excitement in her life.

BBC America’s new drama adapted from a series of novels by Luke Jennings, is a superb, expertly crafted game of cat and mouse featuring a star-making performance from Comer. Already confirmed for a second season (before its satellite premiere which vouches for its quality) the series is a super slick, and often bloody, example of television at its brilliant best.

Jodie Comer (My Mad Fat Diary, Doctor Foster) is truly exceptional as Villanelle. An awards-worthy performance from one of the industry’s best new talents, Comer nails the complexity of the assassin and showcases a depth not often seen in small-screen dramas. A truly revelatory turn for an actress so early in her career, Villanelle is a frequently surprising villain. Sandra Oh is similarly fantastic, and despite her character becoming less likeable as the series develops, Eve is a well-written, fully realised protagonist.

The supporting cast are a delight too, and not one person lets this team down. Kim Bodina is devilishly funny; Fiona Shaw (who many will know from the Harry Potter franchise) is fantastically dry, clearly having lots of fun as an eccentric and high-flying MI6 agent; and newcomer Sean Delaney adds a slice of much-needed innocent warmth to this pitch-black story .

Already attaining a kind of cult status, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s adaptation is not only exceptionally written (balancing dark wit with challenging themes) but refreshingly original. There’s an obvious feminist feeling to it and the lead performances from Comer and Oh are worth tuning in for if nothing else, but it’s the near complete perfection of the production as a whole that makes this such a joy to watch. There are moments of narrative frivolity (for it’s all a bit silly) but this made-up world entraps you and it’s the new definition of binge-worthy.

Stylish, shocking and brilliantly acted, Killing Eve is a delight to discover. Raising the bar for what a single 40-minute episode of television can achieve, it’s one of the best (if not the best) dramas to hit the small screen in recent years. Waller-Bridge has masterfully adapted Jennings’ engulfing story for TV and proved that everything she touches becomes pure gold.

Simply a must-see.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review

In Martin McDonagh’s newest film Mildred (Frances McDormand), a mother grieving the murder of her teenage daughter, pays for three messages to be painted on deserted billboards. The messages question local Police Chief Willoughby’s ability to find the culprit and rile the small town, setting off a chain of bizarre and violent events.

McDonagh’s third film is a pitch-black comedy that hits you like a punch in the chest with shocking violence and dark wit. Three Billboards is certainly not for everyone, but those who do get it will simply adore it.

Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes.

The director and writer follows up indie-hit Seven Psychopaths with a feature of the same vein. Three Billboards is similarly blood-soaked and comedic, yet different in the unsuspecting warmth that creeps in among the dark cracks. Another star-studded affair, the film utilises its starry talent well and introduces the audience to some brilliant young new actors (Lucas Hedges is again spectacular).

The hype is real, folks. Frances McDormand is heart-achingly sensational as Mildred, a character whose former life is over and whose current life is ruled by grief, anger and quiet despair. McDormand is given free reign with this role as McDonagh allows her to explore her range, showing herself a true character actress. The results are nowhere short of magnificent. Giving an eye-watering performance that will go down as one of the best in history, McDormand is simply one of the greatest thespians to have walked this earth.

Three Billboards is a film of memorable performances. Every scene offers something to remember from another of Hollywood’s finest. Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are both on top-form, the latter flexing his muscles as a racist cop with a true penchant for violence. Rockwell is often memorable, but here he’s something else, giving such complexity to a character who could otherwise be totally one-dimensional. Although the final scene feels initially abrupt and unfulfilling, the importance of the film as a whole creeps up after watching and banishes any initial disappointment.

Three Billboards is completely challenging but completely worth the watch. Wholly uncomfortable in moments yet giggle-inducing and downright silly in others, McDonagh has somehow created his own sub-genre, and may his spellbinding work as auteur continue on.

Peaky Blinders series four review

Ladies and gentlemen, by order of the Peaky Blinders, I give you Thomas Shelby OBE and Labour MP for Birmingham.

In episode one of series four of Steven Knight’s mega-hit Peaky Blinders we learned that gangster Tommy Shelby had been made an OBE. In episode six we learned he had become a Labour MP. In between we witnessed bloody violence, gin distilling and a sad departure of a key family member.

There’s no denying that Peaky Blinders is completely bonkers, but the eccentricities of the series are what make it such an entrancing watch. The thrilling nature of this BBC Two gem is what enthralls audiences from around the globe, making it possibly the best gangster drama to ever come out of Britain.

As always, the series played out over just six episodes. Perhaps not enough, the series saw the Shelby family back on home turf in Small Heath and seemingly out of their depth for the first time. Adrien Brody joined the ensemble as Luca Changretta; the family’s most dangerous foe yet and Aiden Gillen stepped in as Aberama Gold; a new ally with a penchant for killing people.

Peaky Blinders doesn’t need Hollywood talent to attract viewers or make its mark, but the writers and creators utilise these big names well. Tom Hardy returned for the final time as Alfie Solomons and proved – once again – he’s not a friend to Tommy and co’. While there is joy in seeing such big names play exciting roles it’s Cillian Murphy, Paul Anderson and Helen McCrory who we come to see. Anderson was particularly outstanding in this series, proving what a stellar talent he is as he embodies Arthur; the oldest and most troubled brother.

Series four played around with various themes, namely guilt and grief. With the loss of John and the arrival of Changretta – the son of an Italian gangster Arthur murdered in series two – the whole Peaky crew were on high alert and questioning their morals, or lack of. Polly claimed her experience with the noose had irrevocably changed her, while Arthur came face to face with the mother of the teenage boy he killed in the boxing ring in series one. This is perhaps the first time one season has crammed in so many different past plot threads but it worked well, and directly addressing past sins of the family added a touch of realism.

Knight takes a lot of time examining Tommy‘s face in series four, for it’s not what Tommy says, it’s how he reacts. The deliberate choice to give Murphy – an actor at the top of his craft – little lines in the final episode served the tense, moody finale well. Series four felt big on production values too, and the stylistic choices – from dark, low-key lighting to the hallmark slow-mo walk of the Peaky clan – came thick and fast.

With more guns, bigger set pieces, and lavish costume design, the aesthetic of the show continues to be something to marvel at. Alongside the impressive visage, brooding indie rock and sultry folk from the likes of Nick Cave, Iggy Pop and Laura Marling aid the emotional narrative and support the moody tone of the series well.

As Peaky Blinders continues its fascination with Tommy Shelby OBE, series five can’t come quick enough, which teases to feature a journey across the pond to visit Mr Alphonse Capone.

Okja Review

Bong Joon-ho’s Okja is cinematic storytelling at its finest. Funny, smart, heartbreaking; Bong has created a film with so much soul, it simply has to be seen by all.

In Okja, the ominous Mirando Corporation, led by Tilda Swinton’s Lucy, unveils superpigs, claiming these animals were ‘discovered’ and not created in a lab. One pig, Okja, is raised in the South Korean mountains by a young girl named Mija and together, over ten years, they form an unbreakable bond. When it becomes clear that Okja was reared to be used as live stock, the Animal Liberation Front, helmed by Paul Dano’s Jay, join forces with Mija to bring down Mirando and save Okja from a cruel fate.

Bong’s film is obvious in its messaging and vocal in its views on the meat trade – some viewers won’t like that. Those who can look beyond the imbedded message of anti-meat and see the many other themes the flick involves will relish in the total joy and, at times, utter sadness this sentimental story brings to its viewers. Okja isn’t just a discussion on the treatment of animals reared for food, it’s an exploration of unusual friendships and the want to make a positive impact on the world in which we live.

The film boasts an enviable ensemble that unites fresh new talent with established actors, all putting in memorable performances. Dano is superb as Jay, impassioned and quietly emotional, while Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal have a riot in eccentric roles that are both unforgettable and terrifying. It’s Ahn Seo-hyun who steals the film, though. And, of course, her best friend Okja. Bong brings the best out of his actors as he directs them through a journey that is unashamedly bonkers.

Ahn Seo-hyun in Okja

As with Bong’s previous entries into the world of film, Okja won’t be for everyone. The director has oddball tendencies and blends these with truly dark themes, a combination that won’t sit so well for some viewers. What this is though, is a genuine success for Netflix and a bold leap too. The film is half in Korean and half in English, and it combines a cast of South Korean actors with American talent – this combination of East and West works and does something in terms of bringing audiences closer to seeking out world cinema.

For some, watching Okja will lead to a change in lifestyle. For others, it will be a nonsensical action-adventure. And for most, a riotous ride that’s a great piece of cinema. Bong’s film will stir many different reactions and this reflects its total brilliance. Rather wonderfully, Okja is unlike any film before it. Bong Joon-ho has masterfully crafted a one-of-a-kind picture that is, yes, completely unusual, but brilliantly so. It’s an adventure of epic proportions that’s thematically brave and brimming with heart.