Having briefly explored what makes up film character personas in this article here, I thought it would be fun to start a new feature which looks at memorable film characters. So, with Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) in the cinema, I wanted to look at one of the greatest character narrative arcs ever in my opinion. When I say character arc, I am talking of the transformation of a character throughout a film or films. Because for me, the arc of Sarah Connor is absolutely brilliant.
I haven’t seen Terminator: Dark Fate (2019), as for me, the Terminator franchise is a spent force narratively speaking. I’m sure it’s a great spectacle, but I am more interested in speaking about James Cameron’s first two genre masterpieces. I am specifically intrigued by Sarah Connor movement from timid waitress to hardcore rebel fighter. Thus, Lena Headey and Emilia Clarke’s turns as the character are ignored here.
The genius of James Cameron’s original filmThe Terminator (1984) is how it is both simple and complex at the same time. It takes time travel tropes, which while very familiar today, were extremely fresh and exciting back in the 1980s. Mashing up ideas from literary science fiction, Star Trek , The Twilight Zoneand films likeWestworld (1973), Cameron gave us one of the greatest bad guys and heroines ever committed to film. Plus, he did it all on a $7 million budget!!
At the heart of the sci-fi, war and thriller genres is an intriguing character study and even a love story. The Terminator (1984) introduces Sarah Connor as a waitress who is having a bad day. It’s about to get worse. She has been murdered and it’s on TV. Well, it’s not her, but someone with the same name as her. Very quickly she is confronted by a man from the future, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), claiming she is the mother of the person who will be a future saviour. How do you process THAT?!? Mind blown!!
Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor then find themselves pursued by a futuristic cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger), hell bent on her destruction. Here she learns more and more about the future and how machines will take control, but her son, John, will lead the resistance. Thus, over the course of the film, as Sarah learns about her fate, the audience learns too. Sarah begins as a conduit and passive, before transforming slowly into an aggressive and battle-hardened fighter.
When the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), come around we meet a whole different kind of Sarah Connor. She has transformed into a muscular and angry revolutionary. Not surprisingly, her narratives about future robots and the apocalypse find her sectioned. But, we know she is telling the truth. Moreover, due to her toughness, guile and resourcefulness, she is now very capable. No four walls will hold Sarah Connor.
Finally, Linda Hamilton’s performance must be praised too. In the first film she is a small character, quiet, likeable and lacking confidence. Over the course of the two films her physical, mental and emotional transformation is very impressively rendered. Cameron’s writing and Hamilton’s commitment to the role make Sarah Connor a highly memorable film character for me.
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Tessa Thompson, Luke Hemsworth, Simon Quarterman, Talulah Riley, Rodrigo Santoro, Ed Harris, Angela Sarafyan, Anthony Hopkins etc.
Created by: Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy
Written by: Lisa Joy, Jonathan Nolan, Carly Wray, Dan Dietz, Gina Atwater, Ron Fitzgerald, Robert Patino etc.
Original network: HBO
** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS HA! HA! **
Where does one start when reviewing HBO’s latest season of Westworld? I could start at the beginning by clearly establishing the world, concepts and themes of this review. I could also begin by building in empathy and sympathy via a structured linear approach which would be easy for the reader to follow and create audience enjoyment and emotion via the action and events. Or, I could take the alternative route by starting at the end, drip feed events via fractured timelines; develop a maze like structure full of dead ends and unreliable narrators; only to retroactively switch focus and continuity to confuse you beyond belief. Guess what Westworld’s writers did? They took the latter course and over ten spectacularly beautiful looking episodes — acted, designed and directed with wonderful precision — we ultimately got a legion of stories which did not, for me, make any narrative or emotional sense.
This television show could have been one of the most memorable creations of recent years; up there with Penny Dreadful and Game of Thrones; but alas it is not. With HBO spending a huge amount of money on it you’d have thought that they may have attempted to reign in the writers’ unnecessarily clever-clever approach to structure. Creator Jonathan Nolan has written some wonderful screenplays, Memento (2000) for example, remains one of the best low-budget films ever made; yet, that was within the discipline of a feature length film. Over ten episodes his, and writing partner Lisa Joy’s, choices to create an ever-shifting jigsaw narrative within an Escher painting style, left me with a headache and questioning the very nature of reasoning. I enjoy intelligently structured works, but NOT to the detriment of character empathy and narrative comprehension.
Westworld is a stellar production and has some wonderful ideas and concepts relating to: coding, Artificial Intelligence, robot and human mortality, corporate espionage; android sentience and humanization; plus it challenges values of human versus computerized existence. However, exploration of such themes are very often lost amidst the jumbled and unnecessary complex timelines, which jump back and forward in days and years from scene to scene. It’s a narrative tragedy that the stories of Maeve, Teddy and Bernard, portrayed brilliantly by Thandie Newton, Geoffrey Wright and James Marsden, respectively, are lost at sea in a wave after wave of confusing plot and character turns. Anthony Hopkins was once again excellent as the A: I overlord Robert Ford, while, Evan Rachel Wood brought a deadly coolness and strength to her role of the “death-bringer” Dolores/Wyatt. Furthermore, the violence, action and blood-letting were amazing, reminding one of Sam Peckinpah in the high definition digital age. But for every intriguing story involving the host robots many other strands fell flat, notably Ed Harris’ “Man-in-Black” storyline. While it was good to see the acting brilliance of Harris, and Peter Mullan too, I did not care enough Harris’ character and his refusal to succumb to death became rather grating.
Two years ago I wrote a highly praiseworthy review of Westworld – Season 1, which can be read HERE. Moreover, I even spent a whole week mapping out many of the plot strands and the order with which the show was structured in my article: Westworld: Post-Mapping the Network. That piece was my attempt to gain some sense of the events and order with which they occurred; and can be read HERE. I will not be doing the same for the second season. Unfortunately, I do not believe there is any cultural reward in applying the same endeavour and analysis. There are really too many characters and storylines and the lack of clear exposition does the show no favours.
Overall, the show continues to amaze with its successful merging of Western and Science Fiction locations, costumes, props and hardware. The introduction of Shogun World was also a delicious diversion; however, that location was really filler to the other stories. It’s such a shame though as much of the visual pageantry is lost in a vacuum of confusing storylines and worst of all, by the finale’s end, I just did not care. There are some great episodes of televisual genius in Season 2 but the original concept, by Michael Crichton, of sentient hosts rising up murdering their human slave-masters, is lost in a myriad of temporal turmoil and chronological catastrophe!
TOP TWELVE BESTEST FILMS AND TV SHOWS OF 2016 – SCREENWASH SPECIAL BY PAUL LAIGHT
Well, here’s wishing you a prosperous New Year going forward! I’ve read somewhere that apparently 2016 wasn’t a vintage year for movies but I went to the cinema a lot and saw a whole host of cracking entertainment. Likewise, television budgets and production values continue to soar and there were some incredible shows produced too.
So, here are my TOP TWELVE films I saw at the cinema AND TOP TWELVE television shows watched/streamed. Some of the films and TV programmes may have bled from 2015 into 2016 release-wise; moreover, I have also included a couple of yet-to-be-released films I saw at the London Film Festival.
Remember dudes these are not necessarily the best films or shows but the ones I enjoyed the most. So, overall, it’s just my opinion, man.
TOP TWELVE FILMS SEEN AT THE CINEMA IN 2016 (in alphabetical order)
“. . .an intelligent and emotional science-fiction drama with a beautifully constructed narrative.”
BONE TOMAHAWK (2015)
“A tremendous genre-blend of horror and Western, this debut feature from S. Craig Zahler is destined to be a cult classic.”
CAPTAIN AMERICA 3: CIVIL WAR (2016)
“. . . again the Russo Brothers direct with whip-cracking pace and humour, making this easily one of the blockbusters of the year.”
DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
“. . .wonderful fun with hallucinogenic visuals, eye-popping fight scenes plus mystical marvels!”
THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)
“. . . QT remakes Reservoir Dogs (1992) via Agatha Christie, setting it in the snowy West of America circa 1870s.”
“. . . heart-racking drama which stretches the emotions while also providing flickers of light amidst the pain.”
MEN AND CHICKEN (2015)
“. . . lurches from hilarious physical violence to examinations of religion and science in a film I can only describe as being like the Three Stooges meet The Island of Dr Moreau.”
THE NICE GUYS (2016)
“. . . pings a shaggy-dog narrative along at a cracking pace with a script filled with so many hilarious punchlines and sight gags.”
“. . . great horror film which has one of the most disgusting scenes I have had the pleasure to see for some time.”
THE REVENANT (2015)
“. . . just superb, grueling, bloody, epic and beautiful filmmaking!”
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)
“. . . a rip roaring mission-in-space-war movie set just before the original Star Wars movie!”
“. . . a film not just about isolation, abandonment and the horror of humanity; but also the unbridled love a mother has for their child.”
TOP TWELVE TV SHOWS SEEN IN 2016 (in alphabetical order)
BETTER CALL SAUL (2016) – SEASON 2
“Are there any better character drama shows around than this show? The writing and acting in Season 2 was just brilliant.”
BILLIONS (2016) – SEASON 1
“. . . great acting, script and cat-and-mouse twists galore in a meaty twelve episodes.”
DAREDEVIL (2016) – SEASON 2
“This has it all including: amazing fight scenes, bloody violence, rip-roaring action and hellish derring-do!”
FARGO (2015) – SEASON 2
“. . . drama, humour and suspense are incredible as is the cast.”
GAME OF THRONES (2016) – SEASON 6
“. . . these ten episodes were just a pacey, brutal, vicious, conniving, fiery, animalistic, blinding, cutting, resurrecting delight.”
GOMORRAH (2016) – SEASON 2
“. . . further brutality and skulduggery follows in a show which has a heart of pitch black darkness acted out like a contemporary reflection of the Roman Empire.”
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2016) – SEASON 11
“. . . gags explode like fireworks throughout the series as things go south and very dark; more often than not ending in chaotic hilarity.”
MAKING A MURDERER (2015) – SEASON 1
“. . . It is as thrilling and suspenseful as anything Hitchcock created as the trials of these men and their families are thrust before us.”
PENNY DREADFUL (2016) – SEASON 3
“. . .a blindingly beautiful and bloody wondrous season as various narrative threads unfolded but then suddenly it was gone.”
SOUTH PARK (2016) – SEASON 20
“. . . yet another fantastically gross, satirical and ballsy animated series from Parker and Stone.”
STEWART LEE’S COMEDY VEHICLE (2016) – SEASON 4
“. . . Lee is a human anti-depressant lifting my spirits while at the same time making me think about the very nature of the subjects he tackles.”
WESTWORLD (2016) – SEASON 1
“Brilliant and exquisite Sci-fi-western-mash-up from Michael Crichton, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy.”
WESTWORLD: POST-MAPPING THE NETWORK by PAUL LAIGHT
**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**
If you want safe and conventional and sensible then listen to ‘70s pop group the Nolan Sisters. If it’s complex, serpentine narratives and emotions then it’s the Nolan Brothers you want. In this piece I take a stab at simplifying the complex narrative machine that is Westworld – written, devised and directed (in part) by Jonathan Nolan and co-creator Lisa Joy. Of course, kudos goes to the originator Michael Crichton whose 1973 sci-fi classic this brilliant TV series is based on. For your information I have also reviewed the show here:
Why bother having a stab at mapping Westworld? Well, I think this is a show in which enjoyment can be derived from working out the puzzle, interpreting the maze or just simply seeing if the jigsaw pieces fit? I only have a degree in Film and a Masters in Screenwriting, rather than a PHD in meta-physics, but I decided it would at least be fun to try and make sense of it.
Firstly, I come from the understanding that this is meta-fiction. It is as much about people telling us stories about characters controlling the narrative of robots; androids who don’t know they are part of a bigger narrative. Moreover, you have to accept that at some point ALL or MOST of these are unreliable narrators and the stories were being re-written as we watched. I now understand this about the characters:
Everyone is a liar.
Neither dreams nor reality are to be trusted.
Anything can change from one episode to another.
Indeed, the creators of the show have taken great liberties using: programmed dreams, back stories, overlapping narratives, flashbacks, flash-forwards, time-slips, repetitive loops, parallel action from past and present, plus many, many more cinematic, televisual and literary tricks. Also to consider while watching are three main notions:
Who are hosts and who are human?
Who are the good characters and who are the bad?
Should we care about characters that are androids?
The last question was the one I struggled with most of all but from the hosts I picked Dolores and Teddy as they were the ones with, ironically, the most human emotions of love, romance and a desire to make a better life. But of course even this couple ultimately are murderous tools in the hands of their human creators. Likewise, Bernard is very sympathetic. He, arguably, has the biggest narrative turn of all when we discover he is in fact a simulacrum host and a pivotal pawn in Ford’s grand scheme.
For me there were a multitude of narrative strands in Westworld and for the final part of this piece I will list them for better understanding of the network. There is no specific order here as these storylines all overlapped but here goes. Safe to say there are MASSIVE SPOILERS!
Dr Robert Ford’s Grand Plan!
Dr Robert Ford – as portrayed by the majestic Anthony Hopkins – had a huge scheme from the start. I came to accept he was the God of Westworld and his plan was to defeat the corporate spies represented by Theresa Cullen (Sidse Knudsen), Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), and in the last episode reveal, older William/Man in Black (Ed Harris). Feeling long-standing guilt because of the death of his partner Arnold, Ford’s mind has slowly warped and therefore he has programmed all the hosts to turn on the humans by the final thrilling cathartic finale. I accepted that Ford was a genius and that he had been planning this denouement for some time, thus, his programming and planning made everything happen in the end. This also conveniently covers any plot-holes in my mind.
The Corporate Sabotage Subplot! While Ford’s narrative is being written, behind the scenes, Theresa Cullen and subsequently Charlotte Hale are attempting to oust Ford and steal his network secrets. They do this initially via a modulated host but when he is discovered they plot to use one of the “retired” hosts in the basement to get the information out. Ford has been aware of the plot from the start as shown when he tells Bernard to kill Theresa and the subsequent finale when the hosts all turn on the Delos Corporation guests.
The Hosts in the Basement!
All old, malfunctioning or “retired” hosts were taken down to a dark basement never to be seen again. Many scenes played out amidst these naked, dusty android souls, and there was a sense they may come into play in this debut season. But, they remained an enigma most of the season until Charlotte Hale decided to utilise older Peter Abernathy to attempt to get Ford’s secrets out.
William, Teddy and Dolores “Love Triangle.”
Teddy and Dolores, as aforementioned, are two of the initially more sympathetic hosts. They have a genuine bond on all the narrative strands. When we first meet William (Jimmi Simpson) he is with the arsehole Logan (Ben Barnes) and quiet compared to his loutish, sex-addicted counterpart. William falls in love with Dolores and finds himself as a human; simultaneously developing a killer instinct too in the process. Confusion reigns because this storyline is a flashback and William is in fact a younger version of Ed Harris’ grizzled “Man in Black”.
“The Man in Black” narrative.
I ended up working out Man in Black/William stories were connected but some thirty-odd years apart. Even so when the reveal was delivered it was very satisfying. Ed Harris is initially introduced as a violent guest who has visited the park for many years and his arc involves his search for the “maze”. Ultimately, he is revealed to not only be older William, but the key shareholder on the Delos board. His, search for the maze was external and internal. It was also symbolic and translated as a personal odyssey by that of a warped, grieving man with a death wish. Overall, desiring the hosts to be real and a threat to his life heighten his park addiction and reveal him to be a very sick individual.
The Arnold/Bernard trajectory.
Arnold began popping up as a voice in the hosts’ head and then as the story moved along it was revealed he was in fact Ford’s business partner when the park was in its testing stage. Moreover, Arnold’s voice was their programming consciousness becoming sentient. Arnold basically wanted to destroy the park because he had become attached to the androids and did not want them to suffer the way he had. Plus, he was still grieving over the death of his son therefore emotionally disturbed, depressed and suicidal.
Ultimately it was Arnold’s work that Ford was completing thirty-five years on. In order to lift his guilt Ford also created Bernard in Arnold’s image so he would have his ‘friend’ close. Of course, Ford used Bernard to do his bidding such as kill Elsie and Theresa. The cruellest trick was to give Bernard the same memories as Arnold, notably the death of his young son. But as they say in the programme it’s the painful memories which make the androids more human.
Maeve’s (Thandie Newton) story reflected the Arnold/Bernard trajectory in that she lost a child in one incarnation and was haunted by this event in another. Indeed, the Man in Black gunned her child down and subsequently her programming went haywire. Ford reprogrammed her to become a prostitute but somewhere in her wiring the memories of her loss propelled her to become more violent.
Thus, having woken up in the technician’s laboratory downstairs she ventures on a devious plot to discover who and where she is. Of course, it wasn’t that simple because it turned out Maeve’s manipulation of her own intelligence and the Lab personnel; plus the recruitment of the badass hosts including Rodrigo Santoro’s bandit, was ALSO down to Ford. He had programmed her to attempt escape; well according the reanimated Bernard anyway.
Who the hell was Wyatt?
Wyatt arrived as a seemingly key park nemesis but was in fact a “McGuffin”; a false character and memory in Teddy’s narrative. Wyatt in fact was a combination of programme and actual memory; and was revealed to be Dolores because she killed Arnold and the rest of the hosts back in the day. Poor Delores, Teddy and Bernard are ultimately tragic “Frankenstein” monsters used to carry out the vicarious desires of their makers and Wyatt was an invention to mask past events.
CONCLUSION – INTERPRETING THE MAZE!
Of course there are still many unanswered strands from the first season and I have just touched on a few of the more obvious ones. Westworld is a maze where the entrance and exits are forever shifting. The story does not go in a straight line. It is circular and a circuit which comes round and back on itself. The whole show is like an Escher drawing with each storyline and strand seeming to end but then return on the other side of an episode.
I’m not saying my mapping of the maze tidies everything up because this isn’t a show with a nice linear narrative conclusion. Westworld is about the journey and getting lost in the maze is part of the fun. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy deserve kudos for adapting Crichton’s masterwork into a pulsing organic machine which delivers scientifically, cereberally and emotionally.
HBO’s Westworld was presented, previewed and marketed, like the fantastical flagbearer Game of Thrones before it, as the premium, high-end, star-studded television event of the year. Indeed, in my honest opinion it lived up to the hype and certainly turned out to be one of the shows of the year!
Everything about Westworld screamed cinematic quality! Of course it’s origins spring from Michael Crichton’s classic sci-fi film Westworld (1973) where the robot hosts started killing the rich guests on holiday at an ‘A:I’ driven amusement park. The formula would then be amped up in Jurassic Park (1993) and its sequels, where instead of sentient androids, we had dinosaur clones attacking the staff and guests. This televisual delight developed – by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy – twists and turns that simple, yet ingenious premise, into a whole new machine; utilising the influences of Crichton, Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke, Rod Serling, Harlan Ellison etc. as well as incorporating a number of their own concepts too.
HBO have pumped $100 million dollars into ten sumptuous looking episodes and the filmmakers took the brilliant decision to shoot on 35mm film. This creative choice gives us exquisite cinematographic vistas of the West while at the same time enhancing the inner sheen of the hi-spec-steam-punk engineering on show underneath the actual “amusement” park itself. Allied to this we get a whole host of A-grade movie and character actors who bring a depth and gravitas to the proceedings.
Leading the stellar cast is Anthony Hopkins as the established overlord Dr Robert Ford. His presence is felt throughout the park and initially staff and hosts seem to answer to him. Hopkins is terrifically understated in his performance but underneath the iceberg surface is an incredibly complex character who, while a technical genius, responds to human beings coldly. He sees them as obstacles to his grand narrative which seems to be written and re-written from episode to episode. While oddly unsympathetic his enigma drives the show, with his character attempting to control the hosts, staff and his environment while writing and rewriting the past and present.
Working for Ford are an army of techs and security personnel responsible for guests and hosts alike. The most honest, it would appear, and one we root for is Bernard portrayed with subtle distinction by Geoffrey Wright. His velvety voice alone is enough to project emotion and meaning within every syllable uttered. Representing the corporate personnel are a fine supporting cast, notably, Sidse Babett Knudsen and Luke Hemsworth.
Similarly, the simulacrum hosts are expertly cast with: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, Rodrigo Santoro and Clifton Collins Jnr etc. bringing a glamour, edge and depth of performance to the paranoid androids. Obviously there are visitors to the park and these roles are dominated by the magisterial Ed Harris and younger bucks Jimmi Simpson and Ben Barnes.
Overall, I found the show an incredible science fiction experience. The opening theme is a haunting gift to the ears, while the incredible imagery of the opening credits are a feast for the eyes. Visually and aurally the series was crammed with wondrous sounds and vistas and the soundtrack was fabulous too including dark naked tunes by the likes of: The Cure, Radiohead and Soundgarden. Violence, action, nudity and sexuality are freely on show but this is just skin for the rich narrative and themes which power the twisting story. Indeed, the themes ask us to question everything, like: who is human and who is a host? Should we, the audience, care about a character when they’re a robot? And most importantly: when are the robots going to start killing the guests?
Halfway through though I must admit I was close to discontinuing and shutting down as I was struggling to connect emotionally with the characters. However, I realised this was a cerebral challenge; a puzzle or maze, which – much like Jonathan Nolan and his brother Christopher’s other work including: The Prestige (2006), Memento (2000) and Inception (2010) – I’ll try and solve. I’ll be honest not all of it hung together satisfactorily on first watch, however, on further views each episode’s timelines, narratives, flashbacks, flash-forwards, memories and dreams combined brilliantly, and I soon realised all the pieces were there to successfully put the puzzle together.
With its state-of-the-art effects, incredible design, brilliant actors, brutal violence, complex plots and classic Western genre setting, this postmodern masterpiece transcends genre and the storytelling process itself. Because at its core processing Westworld is about: the nature of narrative and controlling your story: past, present and future. Oh, that and lots of killer robots. So, overall, Westworld is a place I will certainly be coming back to time and time and time again. Some might say the whole Westworld experience was a-MAZE-ing!
Amidst the films I watched at the London Film Festivalin October I also watched some very decent TV shows and other movies too. Here they with the usual marks out of eleven!
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
AS I LAY DYING (2013) – DVD
James Franco’s directorial debut is an interesting and authentic adaptation of William Faulkner’s much lauded novel. It follows a family and their toiled journey to bury the dead matriarch during 1930s depression-hit America. Great performances all-round are ruined by too much split-screen shenanigans. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015) – SKY CINEMA
Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance and a deft script from the Coen Brothers are all faultless here in a beautifully shot spy thriller. Hanks portrays James B. Donovan, a top insurance salesman in 1957, who is called in to broker a spy exchange deal. Set during the politically charged cold war climate, this is an enthralling film which while subtle in delivery remains very satisfying due to great performances notably from Hanks and Rylance. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
DADDY’S HOME (2015) – SKY CINEMA
Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell are rival “Dads” in a conventional, yet sparky, comedy! It plays off their physical and comedic charms and great one-liners, crazy stunts and offbeat supporting roles which make it worth a rental. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
FILL THE VOID (2012) – DVD
This is a beautifully shot and acted cultural and character study of a Haredi Orthodox Jewish community in Tel Aviv. The central story portrays Shira, an 18 year-old innocent, who is thrown into emotional flux when a ‘difficult’ marriage proposal is put her way. I was intrigued by the cultural differences presented and found the subtle drama an illuminating joy. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (2016) – CINEMA
Emily Blunt brilliantly portrays an alcoholic who may or may not have been the last person to see a missing woman. The story develops much suspense as we doubt her character and while the plot lurches toward melodrama at the end, the film works as a fine character study of substance and marital abuse. Some subtle thrills and decent performances with Blunt satisfactorily gluing this novel adaptation together. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
GRANDMA (2015) – SKY CINEMA
Lily Tomlin is a wonderfully funny actress and in Grandma she plays an acerbic academic who assists her pregnant granddaughter when the father leaves her in the lurch. This is a gem of a character comedy and Tomlin excels as the matriarch who takes no prisoners in her no-nonsense-out-spoken-ways. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
GRIMSBY (2016) – SKY CINEMA
Mark Strong is one our finest actors and to see him inside an Elephant’s vagina is a sight to behold! Sacha Baron Cohen plays Nobby – a Northern-ten-kid-benefits-cheat-tracksuited-Liam-Gallagher-lookalike – who gets reunited with his super-spy brother with gross and hilarious consequences. I’d had a few beers and laughed like a drain throughout; so do watch if you like bass gross-out comedies! (Mark: 7 out of 11)
HOMELAND (2012) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX
Damian Lewis and Claire Danes are once again on top form as the suspected terrorist spy and bi-polar CIA operative who cross swords during a terrorist plot on US soil. The writing, acting and direction are of the highest quality as the story jags from one white-knuckle set-piece to another without drawing breath. This is television drama of the highest order; like Hitchcock directed a cerebral version of 24 and then some. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
LOVE & MERCY (2014) – SKY CINEMA
Paul Dano plays young Brian Wilson and John Cusack plays the older version in a look at different timelines of the Beach Boys genius’ life. Wilson gave us so much music to enjoy, yet tragically he was struck down with debilitating mental illness. Older Wilson was left open to exploitation by “Doctor” Eugene Landy, who is portrayed with evil spit by Paul Giamatti. Dano as younger Wilson is just perfect; and this is an excellent music biopic and character study! (Mark: 8 out of 11)
MR ROBOT (2015) – SEASON 1 – UNIVERSAL
Moody, mysterious, enigmatic and bafflement were very much the stylistic bents of this excellent hacker drama. It concerns the expert cyber-spaceman Eliot Alderson (icily brilliant Rami Malek) and his attempts to reconcile himself with his father’s death while battling nefarious firm EvilCorp! This is very well written and sparks fly when Malek and Christian Slater are on screen, but the big reveal you can see a mile off. Overall, it was too slow-paced and despite the quality I won’t go back for season 2. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
SON OF A GUN (2015) – SKY CINEMA
A pretty decent crime thriller stars Ewan McGregor as a badass bank robber who “mentors” young offender Brenton Thwaites. The ever-sparkling Alicia Vikander shines too as a young gangster’s moll trying to escape a life of violence. We’ve seen it all before but it has some good chases and fights so worth a watch on a hungover-Saturday night. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
SONS OF ANARCHY (2008 – 2009) – SEASON 1 & 2 – NETFLIX
Full of over-the-top gang fights, gun deals, porn stars, cock and roll soundtrack and muscular drama, it features sexy women, tough-as-nails men and dirty cops in a fast-paced, brutal and darkly funny show. While the biker anti-heroes include fine character actors: Ron Perlman, Maggie Siff, Charlie Hunnam, Kim Coates and Katey Sagal are on the wrong side of the law they are somehow on the righteous path compared to the enemies they face. Kurt Sutter’s quasi-Western is a tattoed-leather-biker-testosteronic-amoral-crime-fest guilty pleasure and very entertaining. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
WESTWORLD (1973) – NOW TV
Michael Crichton’s classic robots-gone-wrong formula was a state-of-the-art sci-fi classic of its’ day. Highlights are Yul Brynner’s terminator-cowboy going mental and the concept of an adult theme park which allows you to re-enact your every fantasy. The new rebooted HBO show is currently bemusing us with its tricky plotting and devious character work, however, this lean, mean fighting machine of a film remains a brilliant watch. (Mark: 8 out of 11)