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TV REVIEW: LEGION (2017)

TV REVIEW: LEGION (2017) – SEASON 1

DIRECTOR(S): Noah Hawley, Michael Uppendahl, Larysa Kondracki, Tim Mielants, Hiro Murai, Dennie Gordon

WRITER(S):  Noah Hawley, Peter Calloway, Nathaniel Halpern, Jennifer Yale  – based on Marvel’s Legion created by Chris Claremont & Bill Seinkiewicz

CAST:  Dan Stevens, Aubrey Plaza, Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Jeremie Harris, Jemaine Clement, Bill Irwin

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**REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Noah Hawley is a postmodern auteur par excellence. He takes established genre output and influences from film, television and literature, before translating them through his creative persona to breathe paradoxical original life into his productions. For example, he actually had the creative courage to take one of my favourite films Fargo (1996) and turn it into a brilliant and quirky television series. Similarly he has done the same with Marvel’s comic-book-X-Men-based-anti-hero Legion.

Of course the superhero/heroine genre has become massive business at the box office. I loved Nolan’s Batman trilogy and personally am also a big Marvel and Avengers fan, believing the Captain America trilogy to be representative of the height of the genre model. Meanwhile, the X-Men franchise also has some fine entries too notably X-Men: First Class (2011) and Days of Future Past (2014); and Netflix’s Daredevil (2015) has also given us two seasons of gritty and energetic delight too. Yet arguably some of the more intriguing Marvel adaptations have been the lesser known products such as: Ant Man (2015), Doctor Strange (2016) and the effervescent Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Now, FX’s sensational television series Legion (2017) proves to be the most mind-boggling and consistently brilliant of the lot.

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It features a talented ensemble cast led by the intensely brilliant Dan Stevens portraying a mentally disturbed young man called David Haller. The pilot episode’s opening sequence establishes his issues from a young age through teenage-hood right through to the now as he finds himself in a psychiatric hospital being treated for schizophrenia. Patients he connects with mostly are Aubrey Plaza’s eccentric and wild Lenny Busker and the more sensitive Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller). Syd cannot stand to be touched – a character quirk which is soon to be revealed more than a phobia – yet her and David fall for each other. This romance propels one facet of the multi-stranded narrative; at the same time providing the story with much empathy and heart.

The main thrust of the narrative though is totally cerebral. While David finds himself in the middle of a war between mutants and the shady government agency called Division Three, we essentially spend many of the episodes in David’s troubled mind. There events unfold in a whirling cavalcade of images, characters and monsters all battling for supremacy of his brain. At times I could not work out what was happening yet I felt compelled, like last year’s HBO production Westworld (2016), to persist and the rewards and payoffs in the final episodes are indeed legion. Because the show, no doubt propelled by Hawley’s creativity and the original source material, is brimming with stunning ideas and visuals that literally burst out of the screen.

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The cast are incredible. Dan Stevens cements himself as one of the best emerging actors and he is destined for stardom in my view. Aubrey Plaza, who was great at laconic sarcasm in Parks and Revelations is wildly over-the-top and entertaining in her devious role; while Rachel Keller is the polar opposite: doe-eyes cute, vulnerable but with steely determination to protect David. My favourite supporting character was Flight of the Conchords’ comedian Jemaine Clement as a far-out scientist lost to the astral plane. His delivery and deportment just made me laugh out loud amidst the madness on show.

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This is as imaginative and original take on the superhero/mutant/X-Men genre you are going to find. Many people lost their shit over Logan (2017) but that is pedestrian compared to Legion. It also very cleverly melds themes relating to: mutation, special powers, telekinesis, split-personality, disassociation and schizophrenia expertly while wearing its’ influences neatly on its sleeves. Indeed, if you’re a fan of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), I’m a Cyborg But That’s Okay (2005), Clockwork Orange (1971), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) , Inception (2010) and the work of David Lynch, then you’ll love Noah Hawley’s masterful Marvel adaptation.

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

 

 

 

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THE IMITATION GAME (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

 THE IMITATION GAME (2014) – FILM REVIEW BY PAUL LAIGHT

**MASSIVE SPOILERS IN HERE. SORRY**

Films based on “true” stories are interesting to review as they will inevitably distort situations in the name of drama. I personally do not mind if a film compresses times, characters and incidents as I am interested firstly in my emotional response to the story and characters more than historical authenticity.  If I want accuracy I’ll rely on Wikipedia.

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Yet, as films based on ‘real’ events go The Imitation Game (2014) is a creditable distillation of the WWII code-breaking heroics as well as being a high class theatrical tragedy in cinematic form.  Having said that while the film acts as an excellent tribute to the genius of Alan Turing (phenomenal Benedict Cumberbatch), the work of others in the field such as the Polish code-breakers, Tommy Flowers and many others must also be recognised. But perhaps that is for another film altogether.

I didn’t know much about main protagonist Alan Turing prior to seeing this movie but having done some basic research one soon realises what a great British hero he was in terms of cracking the Nazi Enigma codes. Moreover, his incredible mind also contributed in some way to the invention of what you are reading this very review on right now. No, not http://www.wordpress.com but the actual computer itself.

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The fact that one of humanity’s greatest minds was treated so badly because of his homosexuality is a genuine war crime.  It’s also a massive indictment AGAINST the Government and the Official Secrets Act that Turing is only just being truly recognised for his outstanding work in the last few years.  Indeed, one of the films main strengths — not forgetting Andrew Hodges’ book on which it is based —  in bringing Turing’s story to the screen is it acts as a thrilling monument to a man so cruelly destroyed by an intolerant 1950s society.

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The narrative switches between Turing’s life pre-war, post-war and in-between.  Graham Moore’s screenplay is deftly written and well-paced; both personable and witty. In terms of genre we are in biography and war film territories with a sprinkling of espionage and suspense thrown in.  The code-cracking team at Bletchley Park are a kind of super-intelligent version of Marvel’s Avengers and include a handsome cast supporting Cumberbatch including: Matthew Goode (the next James Bond I reckon), always reliable Mark Strong and a commendable turn from Keira Knightley.

Firstly the team clashes with the prickly and arrogant Turing. Then, of course, over time they come to respect him. Meanwhile, idiosyncratic Turing finds his main ally in Joan Clarke (Knightley) as their “romance” becomes the heartbeat of the piece amidst the manipulation of machines.  Both hearts and minds are drawn to each other and the two get engaged. But Turing’s sexuality proves an obstacle to the marriage and there’s a wonderful scene which reflects this; beautifully played by Cumberbatch and Knightley and echoes — albeit more seriously — the classic “No one’s perfect” end-scene from Some Like It Hot (1959).

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There is so much heartache in the character of Turing.  The flashbacks to Turing’s school years when he was bullied and suffered personal loss garners further pathos. Moreover, the “peas and carrots” scene alludes to the possibility of Turing having Asperger’s or similar high-functioning autism.  And in Benedict Cumberbatch we have an actor who imbues Turing with a grandiose pain which I found genuinely moving. Here’s is an actor — who while cornering the market on misfit geniuses — once again shows terrific range and surely he will be nominated come Awards ceremony time.

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This is a tremendous drama directed by Morten Tyldum which is arguably more televisual than filmic. Indeed, it reminded of those amazing BBC Play For Today productions I grew up watching when a young boy. It works mainly as a fine biopic of an incredible man so cruelly persecuted for just being born slightly different. Yet it is also has touching romance and high drama as shown when having  cracked the Enigma the team face the agony of having to hide the fact as a strategy to win the war. Ultimately, I left the cinema uplifted by the work these amazing code-breakers did and but also with anger in my heart; anger at the damned British Government for not rewarding Alan Turing for his miraculous contribution to the war effort. He deserved so much more.