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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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.

New on Netflix: God’s Own Country

Netflix is upping its array of indie delights and its most recent addition – God’s Own Country – is not to be missed. Released in October 2017, Francis Lee’s debut follows the relationship between two men. Quietly tender and arrestingly urgent, this moving story will have you bleary-eyed and seeking out more indie gems on the platform.

A great example of what people mean when they say ‘Very British Cinema’, God’s Own Country is set on a Yorkshire farm during a cold, dirt-strewn spring. Director Lee celebrates the beauty of this county while showcasing the inherent loneliness of farm life, while the central theme of the film focuses on the relationship between farmer Johnny Saxby (a fantastic Josh O’Connor who you’ll know from ITV’s lavish period dramedy The Durrells) and migrant worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu). The success of Lee’s film can’t just be seen in the silently arresting performances of these two actors, but also in the way it tackles two vital themes: masculinity and Britishness. And more specifically, the pressure of upholding a family tradition that is founded on very British values.

Alec Secareanu and Josh O’Connor in God’s Own Country

We aren’t exactly a nation known for wearing our hearts on our sleeve, irritatingly stoic when it comes to talking about our feelings, the struggle to say how we feel is explored throughout the 105 minute run-time, and predominantly through silence. Director Lee masterfully tells the story of Johnny and how he breaks free of his own emotional prison with the tender, sentimental support of Gheorghe in a story that transcends the specifics of gender. Centrally about loneliness, rumination and how, without real, meaningful relationships, men can and will break down, the tale is refreshingly honest, and quite bittersweet too.

From start to finish the flick runs with little dialogue or music, placing us in the literal and metaphorical silence that Johnny lives with. What begins as a seemingly bleak British farm drama evolves into a hopeful story of love and friendship, responsibility and hardship, and the ability to begin again. God’s Own Country isn’t only a great film, it’s thematically relevant and undeniably important.

Next time you turn to Netflix, take a trip to God’s Own Country.

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.

6 Years, review

Hannah Fidell’s adolescent romantic drama 6 Years is an emotive, realistic depiction of a relationship on the brink of despair. That despair, is constant. And that continuity verges on boring. But with strong performances from the leads Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield, Fidell’s budget flick achieves something, even if that something is only minute.

Remember the days of straight to VHS? Yeah, me too. It usually meant the film had a terrible cast, an even worse narrative, and a budget to match. In the contemporary film market today, it doesn’t. There are an array of stellar independent films that don’t meet the audience they deserve due to a window release system that favors blockbusters and star-power over underplayed quality. While Fidell’s 6 Years doesn’t quite match up to similar movies The Spectacular Now, Adventureland and Short Term 12, it does warrant an appreciative audience. Thanks to Netflix, the film should receive it, with AHS fans chomping at the bit to see an on-screen return from Farmiga.

Director and writer Fidell tells the story of Mel (Farmiga) and Dan (Rosenfield), a young couple reaching adulthood who have been in a relationship for six years. As they embark on different journeys their romance becomes entangled in bitterness, jealously and violence as we watch this sad couple attempt to make things work. Supporting performances come from Friday Night Lights actress Dana Wheeler-Nicholson and Bates Motel‘s Joshua Leonard and the ensemble are strong. The performances from this somewhat unappreciated (and perhaps, relatively unknown) cast are what keeps the feature together and the plot moving along. The biggest issue is what you gain as a viewer. Apart from feeling genuinely moved at the strength of Farmiga’s role as Mel, it’s hard to take away anything much from this 80 minute drama that, simply put, is incredibly glum. With lots of alcohol, self-destructive behaviour, and one or two uncomfortable scenes, 6 Years will sit comfortably amongst 16-25 year old’s but will struggle to find a wider demographic.

farmiga and rosenfield in 6 years

farmiga and rosenfield in 6 years

It’s not all bad, though. There’s an interesting exploration of underlying violence in relationships that isn’t pin-pointed often enough in popular culture, and the bravery of Fidell to include this as a theme – as well as be sure not to over-play or under-play that – is intelligently done. This in itself is thought-provoking and creates a divide between the two leads, forcing us to choose a side and stick to it. Although, thanks to the complexity of long-term relationships and the strength of the script, you will find yourself swapping from Ben to Mel and back again. The visuals are great, too. Lot’s of visceral colours make for a truly contemporary movie, and it’s an attractive feature. The repetition of house-parties and flashing lights becomes predictable though and as a viewer we just want to see this bleak story move forward. It doesn’t happen and therefore never fully engages its audience.

6 Years is an authentic – if somewhat under-whelming – story of a young couple and their tribulations. Farmiga and Rosenfield have a genuine chemistry that is electric and toxic at all of the right moments. These performances alone save the film from the dark depths of melodramatic indie territory and propels Hannah Fidell’s second feature into positive territory. It won’t blow you away, but it’ll make you think.