The OA season two review

The OA, Netflix’s bizarre, otherworldly drama, first appeared on our screens in 2016. It was a whirlwind ride of near death experiences, strange dance moves and teenage angst that ended on a cliffhanger which allowed it to transcend its mythical realm and echo terrifying real life trauma. Cut to three years later and the series has finally made its eagerly-anticipated return but it’s more confusing than ever and strangely detached from its predecessor.

Brit Marling’s sci-fi drama series was gone so long that, much to the relief of its returning fans, it began with a lengthy reminder of what took place in season one. We were collectively reminded of Marling’s Prairie / OA, a beguiling young woman who returns to her small town after disappearing for seven years. Season one mixed two major storylines: flashbacks to OA‘s life as Hap‘s (a brilliant Jason Isaacs) prisoner and her new life in the present among a mismatched group of outsiders. The formula worked well but series two loses itself to big budget moments, forgoing the touching dialogue and in-depth study of human nature that season one thrived on. Instead, this new incarnation takes us on a confusing journey towards giant octopus, interactive games and mysterious houses. It’s still engulfing as a narrative, but feels, oddly, like a totally different creation from that of the first season. The only moments that echo the first, in terms of direction and narrative tropes, are the three episodes that centre around BBA, Steve and gang, and the whole piece suffers because of this.MV5BZjVhYTMyYTktZGFhMi00M2ZmLTlhMTAtZWM2NzNiZDkwYmZlXkEyXkFqcGdeQWFybm8@._V1_CR0,68,3600,2025_AL_UX477_CR0,0,477,268_AL_

While the effects are impressive, and something to be marvelled at, they don’t feel as though they belong in this piece. Series one was so gritty and played on this idea that certain aspects could indeed happen; it mixed harrowing drama with fantastical elements and turned out something that scared us with a strange kind of sci-fi realism. Series two loses touch with its humanity, instead focusing on seemingly unrelated (not to mention unexplained) sub-plots. While the season suffers because of this, it redeems itself with the return of the fabulous Phyllis Smith and the introduction of Kingsley Ben Adir as new character Karim. The best moments of this suspend-your-belief series come from both actors and Adir is a total joy to watch as he steps his way to stardom. There are moments of horror in this new series too, but not the real-life kind, the best-of-the-genre kind. The slow-creeping dread and jolting scares are effective and enjoyable and make for a welcome addition to a show that tries to cram a lot of unnecessary moments into what was, initially, a relatively simple starting point.

The OA is still an interesting watch; Brit Marling is a fierce talent as writer, actor and producer, alongside artistic partner Zal Batmanglij. The pair dive deeper into the unknown, exploring the multiverse with probing interest which translates enthusiastically, if a little confusingly. The heart of this show lies with OA‘s motley crew from series one and with not one scene shared in series two comes a lack of sentimentality, not to mention apathy.

Still intriguing, if a little misjudged, The OA will return for a third series but will its viewers? I for one am no longer sure.

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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 Mayan’s 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.

Sex Education review

Sex Education, Netflix’s newest original series, follows a group of sixth form students as they discover the joys and misadventures that come with having sex. Created by Laura Nunn and starring a string of fresh faces, the comedy-drama is pitch-perfect and completely of the moment.

There is an appealing universal nature to Sex Education, with its effective balancing of timely themes (abortion, masculinity and sexual orientation) and a whiff of the surreal, giving it the chance to speak to both men and women. It’s entirely adult in nature and not for younger audiences, but its exploration of sex holds a genuine relatability that older audience members – who this was made for – will, undoubtedly, find refreshing.

Similar in ways to Skins but much funnier and less inescapably depressing – as well as being embedded in more realism and less cliched drama – Sex Education encompasses a fantastic Britishness while embracing an 80’s American aesthetic. Also, much like Skins, it’s successfully providing a platform for a plethora of young, talented actors, many of whom put in star turns here.

Asa Butterfield leads the ensemble as Otis, a sixteen year old boy coping with rising sexual pressures as he embarks on his first year at sixth form. Butterfield is simply fantastic; relatable, funny, likeable, sweet, slightly weird – as a viewer you can’t help but root for him. This, in itself, is a feat of great serial storytelling. It’s not often – even with the very best of television – that you can binge-watch a series and not find one annoyance with the main character but, with Butterfield’s Otis, this really is the case.

Asa is supported by Ncuti Gatwa (Eric) and Emma Mackey (Maeve), as well as Gillian Anderson; an acting pro who here shows off her knack for delivering understated comedy. The four put in equally memorable performances but it’s Eric‘s story that holds the most emotional depth. With a want not to give anything away, his journey as a gay man with a penchant for styling feminine attire is thoughtfully developed and deeply moving and Gatwa gives an unforgettable breakout performance.

Sex Education is intelligently penned, fiercely relevant and confidently acted cementing it as Netflix’s best original series in recent memory.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool review

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a deeply moving story tracing the relationship between Peter Turner, a young Liverpudlian actor, and Gloria Grahame, an aging Hollywood star. Adapted from Turner’s memoir of the same name by Paul McGuigan, the film is a portrait of sincere companionship and unexpected romance, featuring Annette Bening in a career-best performance.

McGuigan’s film is charismatic, capturing the surreal glamour of Hollywood with clever visuals, and the immense complexity of Gloria Grahame, an Oscar-winning actress who, in 1981, was coming to the end of her life. Gloria’s character – brilliantly funny, entirely self-aware, and quietly vulnerable – is celebrated in this biopic; a film that is at times great fun, and at others undeniably sad.

Director McGuigan seamlessly weaves scenes together in an unconventional mode of storytelling, intelligently playing with the chronology of the story that charts the pair’s unique love. Grahame’s relationship with Turner – a man who was 20 years her junior – is the focus of the film, but beyond this surface story McGuigan focuses in on the idea of one person giving another a sense of home in a way that feels so familiar, so honest, and as a viewer involves you entirely.

Jamie Bell stars alongside Bening and the pair share a searing chemistry; not only depicting a deep romantic connection, but a sense of friendship often amiss in stories of this kind. The fact that this tale is true of course makes the emotional impact heavier, but McGuigan’s genteel exploration of Turner and Grahame’s relationship gives the film a sensitive quality that is genuinely effecting and totally absorbing.

The support cast are reliably brilliant, bringing in Stephen Graham and Julie Walters, alongside a swift, but no less memorable, appearance from Vanessa Redgrave. It’s not the star power that propels the film to great heights though, it’s the modes of storytelling McGuigan deploys to bring this compelling experience in Turner’s life to the screen.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a terrific feature which tells a truly fascinating story of life, love and death, and one that explores its characters with brilliant warmth. Simply fantastic.

Widows review

Steve McQueen adapts Lynda LaPlante’s iconic mini-series Widows, leaving behind London for inner city Chicago, tackling race, capitalism and contemporary America along the way.

Steve McQueen is a director who, through a handful of exceptional films tackling tough subjects, has cemented himself as one of the best filmmakers working today. From Hunger and Shame to 12 Years a Slave and, now, Widows – perhaps his most Hollywood effort to date – when news hits that McQueen is working on something new, there is a collective buzz among film critics and fans. So, with the release of Widows, an Americanised version of a very British 80’s drama series, we expect big things.

In Widows, Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his crew make money stealing from gangsters but their latest job goes wrong leaving their wives to pick up the pieces. Viola Davis is Rawling’s wife Veronica; a wealthy woman who, upon losing her husband, is left with nothing. Threatened by gangster-turned-politician Jamal, she recruits the other lost wives to pull off a heist laid out by Harry. McQueen unites a cast of superb actresses, supported by a handful of acclaimed actors, for a reimagining of Lynda LaPlante’s much-loved heist story. It’s a simple premise which delivers a fantastic twist, but something is slightly amiss.

The treat of the film comes with the cast. Oscar winner Viola Davis is exceptional as Veronica; a woman whose experiences with loss have left her cold and, ultimately, alone. Daniel Kaluuya is excellent as Jatemme, Jamal’s psychotic brother with a penchant for violence. It’s great to see him flex his acting muscles, playing a character who is truly awful, and believably so. The youngest of the esteemed cast, his role leaves a memorable mark, alongside Elizabeth Debicki whose character transforms her emotional vulnerability into a surprising strength. Michelle Rodriguez is cast against type; frequently known as a bad-ass heroine, here she is seemingly out of her depth as a young mother fighting for economic survival. The film establishes McQueen as a director fascinated with people, one who directs with such a fierce virtuosity and understanding of human nature.

Gillian Flynn’s screenplay is paired back and refreshingly realistic; there isn’t a trace of unnecessary dramatics, with the characters reacting to events in a wholly relatable fashion. Every aspect of the film comes together to make it a complete movie that is really rather excellent, but the genre detailing isn’t as fast-paced or exciting as expected and this ultimately leaves us with a sense of dissatisfaction come the end scene.

Carefully, considerately shot – with an ensemble cast of dreams – Widows is, as expected, a fantastic film, but when the final job comes it doesn’t quite deliver the genre punch we came for.

A Star is Born review

Bradley Cooper revitalises one of cinema’s best-loved romances, updating the story of an ageing rock musician and his relationship with a talented rising star with an emotional depth often amiss in romantic-dramas.

With the cinematic release of A Star is Born – a film that had been hovering in development with various directors and actors attached for some time – came a plethora of critical acclaim. That acclaim, widespread and enthusiastic, is not misplaced. Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut – an obvious passion project that he has poured his heart and soul into – is a confident film with songs featuring hair-raising live music scenes, moving adult drama, and knockout performances from a small ensemble cast.

Both Cooper and Lady Gaga are sensational, they share an electric on-screen chemistry meaning their relationship is believable and their shared scenes (essentially the whole movie) are a delight to watch. There are many (quite possibly too many) romantic films out there. None are quite as affecting as this one.a-star-is-born

Gaga gives an Oscar-worthy performance, fusing quiet confidence with a rising-star vulnerability that endears us to her and allows us to see beyond the veneer of her real life star persona.  Cooper directs with a curiosity for his characters and the music industry that takes us on a captivating journey. Morphing into haunted rock star Jackson Maine, Cooper gives a physical and emotional performance that is both memorable and tragic, and veteran Sam Elliott is terrific, supporting his co-stars with comfortable ease.

With A Star is Born Cooper explores timely themes with such gut-wrenching force it’s almost impossible to leave the cinema unmoved. The film’s power is in its ability to stay with you long after the credits roll and, this alone, is its true triumph.

Billed as a romantic-drama, A Star is Born is so much more, going beyond its genre to explore the music industry, masculinity and mental health. It might be the story’s fourth incarnation but it is also quite possibly its best. Superb.

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.