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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)

 

 

 

HOW’S YOUR CATHOLIC GUILT? THE YOUNG POPE REVIEW (2016)

HOW’S YOUR CATHOLIC GUILT? REVIEWING THE YOUNG POPE (2016)

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Having recently reviewed Martin Scorcese’s Silence (2016) I thought it apt to follow it up by looking at a more contemporary vision of religion and faith with a review of Paulo Sorrentino’s HBO produced The Young Pope. Created, co-written and directed by uber-Italian-auteur Sorrentino it stars the impressive Jude Law as the eponymous lead protagonist. Law’s Lenny Belardo, rather than the crusty-almost-dead-looking-Popes we’re used to seeing behind bulletproof glass or delivering sermons from the Vatican, is in fact a younger, muscular and even sexy Pope.

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Now, while I respect an individual’s right to believe what they want to, be it the teachings of Christ or Mohammed or Obi Wan Kenobi for that matter, I’m not a great fan of ‘Organized Religion.’ Indeed, ‘Organized Religion’ must be up there, along with global governments, Hitler, Spanish flu, and bubonic plague, as the main cause of wars, death and the suffering of millions.  More specifically, Catholicism and its representatives have been at the forefront of negative events down the years including the Medieval Witch Hunts; Spanish Inquisitions; the tragedy of the ‘Fallen Women’ in 1920s-1950s Ireland; general acquiring of huge wealth while followers live in poverty; anti-gay and Pro-life ideologies; and as most recently seen in the film Spotlight (2015), a worldwide cover-up of paedophilia by Catholic priests. So how does Sorrentino approach such issues?

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Well, his creative team’s approach to the material is not one of demonization but rather playful satire, wistful respect and a formidable testing of the Vatican as an institution. His desire it not to bring down the Catholic Church but rather purge the old and modernize its way of thinking and how it represents itself. It’s a testament to the strength of the writing that it held my interest throughout and this was essentially down to the incredible characterisation and performances from Jude Law, Diane Keaton, James Cromwell and incomparable Sivio Orlando as the devious but ultimately soft-hearted-Napoli-fan Cardinal Voiello.

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Over ten episodes of high quality dramatic analysis Sorrentino presents many of the issues facing the Catholic church now including: the paedophilia cases charged; the sexual behaviour, addictions and sins of Priests; the financial and political machinations of the Vatican; the importance of public relations and marketing the Vatican; and of course the very nature of faith and what it means to be a Catholic.  These are indeed heavy subjects yet while serious like Scorcese’s Silence, The Young Pope contains some wry and delicate humour too. I mean ten episodes of a Vatican-based comedy it isn’t, but Paulo Sorrentino’s skewed look shows the priests and nuns, not as higher beings but rather flawed humans like the rest of us.

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None are presented as more human than the lead character Lenny Belardo.  Jude Law’s character is a surly, sarcastic and snappy dude from the start. He smokes and shows little respect for the elder priests, led by Cardinal Voiello and his prior mentor, Cardinal Spencer (James Cromwell) who are as surprised as him that he somehow won the Papacy due to an advantageous split in the votes. Belardo vows to break the “old boys” network and spends much of the season locking heads with Voiello and Spencer in a bitter series of power plays. This young Pope does not suffer fools and refuses to be seen in public and reneges on his public relations duties. He even at times “jokes” about not believing in God; while his first speech delivered in silhouette is an unmitigated PR disaster.

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Yet, at Belardo’s heart is a dark sadness due to his abandonment by his hippy parents, who while a young boy, dumped him at an orphanage run by Sister Mary (Keaton).  Keaton portrays the surrogate Mother to Lenny and his best pal, Cardinal Dussolier (Scott Shepherd) as she supports him admirably during his papal duties. We see Belardo battle his elders, his faith, his anger, loneliness and sexual temptations which are put before him; all as he finds his voice as the Pope. It is a fascinating journey which really pulls you into the Pope’s internal and external strife.

Overall, this was a heavy yet rewarding series to watch. The scenery and imagery on show dazzle as Sorrentino and his cinematographer conjure some startling holy visions and beautiful architectural compositions. The writing is also of the highest quality with some magnificently lofty, pious and poetic speeches throughout. Being very clever Sorrentino both pokes a teasing stick at the Vatican but also praises the Lord in his own inimitable way, creating several fascinating characters in the process. Jude Law has never ever been better in a show which while initially testing rewards those who keep the faith.

 

THE FRACTURED BUT TROLL! – SOUTH PARK – SEASON 20 REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

THE FRACTURED BUT TROLL!  SOUTH PARK – SEASON 20 REVIEW by PAUL LAIGHT

The latest season of South Park ended mid-December time and so I’m a bit tardy with the review. This is mainly because I decided to watch all ten episodes back-to-back over the Christmas holidays, and in some ways, this was a mistake. I say this because I think sometimes as viewers we have to take some criticism too. In hindsight I definitely should NOT have binge-watched this season as it was so complex and plot-heavy with many themes and interlinking plot strands. In fact, similarly to the more satisfactory Season 19, this season transcended the usual mix of puerile and satirical comedy it’s known for, to become something much more.

**SCREW YOU GUYS – THERE ARE SPOILERS!”

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TAKING PRESIDENTS!

Over ten episodes South Park once again became a huge mirror that reflected many of the events occurring in the USA and the world in general.  The biggest event was of course, the Presidential elections which saw Mr Garrison and Caitlyn Jenner representing the Trump/Republican side and Hilary Clinton, of course, representing the Democrats. Amusingly they were referred to as Douche and Turd Sandwich respectively; calling back the classic episode where Stan is banished for refusing to vote.

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Garrison soon realises he’s made a terrible mistake in running as he has NO policies and tries to extricate himself from the race. Thus, much of the comedy deriving from this narrative strand was brilliant and made me laugh throughout the season; especially during the episode Oh Jeez when Garrison won and went into full Trump mode. By the end of the season he’s shown to be a complete buffoon open to manipulation by Mr Slave and Kyle Broflovski when it comes down to the bombing of Denmark. But, hey, that’s a whole different story!

A TROLL IN THE PARK

The second major narrative line in this season was Gerald Broflovski (Kyle’s Dad) being revealed as an uber-Troll online called Skankhunt42. He begins by trolling his son’s school before moving onto cultural icons and then the whole of Denmark itself. Gerald, who usually represents the liberal side of the show, is seen becoming a vicious sneak who enjoys bullying for the humour. However, being the intellectual hypocrite he distances himself from the nerdy-no-life-outcasts he ultimately gets lumped in with.

Gerald’s actions eventually spiral totally out of control by the end and, while South Park itself has been a massive critic of celebrities and government figures in the past, it is quite justified in lampooning the cowardice of online trolls. These sad individuals hide under the bridges of social media feeding their tethered egos and weak personalities for the benefit of either humour, revenge or to obtain some idea of power.

In the episode The Damned, Gerald is literally pissed on by his wife in order to extricate himself from being rumbled as an online troll. That online bullies are shown to be mainly shut-in losers as opposed to Jocks, demonstrate that bullying can be done by anyone and needs to be pissed on from a great height. Lastly, the monstrous rise of Garrison to power also highlights the fact that hair-brained Trump has become the biggest troll in the world.

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ANTI-SOCIAL MEDIA

The theme of hyperbolic social media behaviour was supported by the further strand of South Park Elementary School students committing “suicide” by leaving Twitter. A character named Heidi is even mourned by her class during the episode Skankhunt even though she is actually in the class!  Also, believing Cartman to be the troll ‘Skankhunt’ the kids gang up and ‘kill’ his electronic devices, burying them in an Evil-Dead-Cabin-in-the-Woods-horror-film-homage. The internet and social media is therefore cast as an extension of the playground; with kids and adults giving their social media live’s more importance than real life and move away from actual intimacy and human contact.

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Consequently, Cartman himself goes the other way and falls in love with Heidi and their relationship is quite touching over course of the season. It’s especially funny as it plays with the audience’s expectations and the other kids think it’s all part of some Cartman uber-plan. Indeed, Cartman’s arc in this season is interesting as it seems they tried to make him more sympathetic. At first his feminist leanings are part of some scheme to undermine the girls’ sit-down protests during the opening Member-Berries episode. But eventually it turns out he does find Amy Schumer’s “vagina” comedy actually funny.­ Alas, the storyline kind of runs out of steam by the episode 9, Not Funny.

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Gender politics and the boy-versus-girls dynamic further complicate the narrative when Butters leads a protest against the girls. Butters and the boys who have all been revenge-dumped by the girls because of ‘Skankhunt42’s vicious actions decide to protest too. So, they get their dicks out during the U.S. national anthem; which in itself satirized last year’s “sit-down” protests that occurred during U.S. college sporting events.  I myself was not as educated about these particular occurrences but as usual Parker and Stone went to ridiculous lengths to demonstrate that however noble the cause, once everyone jumps on the bandwagon the protests become diluted and lose their power. Moreover, such stands against authority can also be wiped by a simple rewrite of history or rebooting for the future.

‘MEMBER WHEN. . .

Rebooting the present or future was yet another thematic present within this packed season. The “Member-berries” introduced in the first episode are a super-food which while innocent at the start become evil-humanized-nostalgia-fruit hell-bent on ensuring humanity lives in the past and doesn’t move on with any new ideas. Indeed, in the final episode The End of Serialization the “Member-berries” even end up in the White House. While not always convinced by these turn of events I can see the satirical point being made that living in the past remembering: Star Wars, Chewbacca, Tie-Fighters, Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, Flash Gordon, Superman, Reagan, the 80s, sugar from your neighbour, feeling safe, Stormtroopers etc. can be culturally dangerous and lead to the excavation of archaic politics hence the rise of Trump and the perceived right-wing Brexit vote.

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Yet, nostalgia can also be a positive thing too and paradoxically I do at times hanker after the simpler, yet brilliantly effective South Park episodes which were perhaps more focussed and arguably funnier. But one cannot fault the programme makers for aiming higher than the usual shit you get on television. Plus, the “Member-berries” plot line did rightly put the boot into the ridiculous eulogizing of J.J. Abrams and The Force Awakens which definitely wasn’t as good as people made out. So, in that respect, the show made a very valid cultural point. But while going back can be a negative force it can also help us learn from our mistakes, however, given President-Trump’s about to enter the White House it seems humans just love making the same mistakes over and over again.

CONCLUSION. . .  FRACTURED BUT NEARLY WHOLE!

While Season 19 became arguably the most coherent, incisive, funny and complex narrative out of all Trey Parker’s and Matt Stone’s previous work, Season 20 had a lot to live up to. However although the riotous narrative strands represented a major strength I don’t feel, overall, this season had as many gags or classic episodes. I would say that it worked best as an accomplished serialized conceptual satire with a few piss and dick jokes as opposed to the fast-paced-gag-filled-stand-alone-episode format of the earlier seasons. Still, while it may not have had many stand-out classic episodes, Season 20 was still a blast of wonderful filthy satire and due to the complex density of the storylines will no doubt improve with further viewings.

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As I have attested on this blog many times, South Park is the greatest comedy of all time and shows no sign of losing its comedic and satirical power. The bar was raised SO high by Season 19 that perhaps ambition to beat that was always going to be tough. Still, I still respect Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s multi-skilled “authoritah” in using the inhabitants of South Park to rip into the world, media, politics, culture and religion with hilarious effect.

For your information you can also find the following on my blog:

Top 20 South Park TV/Film parodies can be found here:

https://paulraylaight.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/20-years-of-south-park-%C2%AD-twenty-great-tv-movie-based-parodies-by-paul-laight/

My review of Season 19 can be found here:

https://paulraylaight.wordpress.com/2015/12/29/check-your-privilege-south-park-season-19-review-by-paul-laight/

My favouritest ever episodes up to Season 17 can be found here:

https://paulraylaight.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/respect-my-authoritah-my-favourite-17-south-park-episodes-ever/

 

SCREENWASH – DECEMBER 2016 – REVIEW ROUND-UP by PAUL LAIGHT

SCREENWASH – DECEMBER 2016 – FILM & TV REVIEW ROUND-UP by PAUL LAIGHT

Merry Christmas to anyone reading this and a Happy New Year!  So, as we wind down our employment and head home for the holiday season I offer my final cinema and TV screen round-up of the year.

From next year the Screenwash monthly round-up will mainly consist of the best stuff I saw each month rather than EVERYTHING!  My blog will also feature the usual classic film features and reviews as usual.  I’m off to the pub soon so a very quick run-through with marks, as usual, out of eleven!

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

 

A PERFECT DAY (2015) – NETFLIX

Well-meaning and intriguing comedy-drama set circa ‘90s Balkan conflict stars Benicio Del Toro as an Aid worker facing anything but a perfect day.  (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

BILLIONS (2016) – SKY ATLANTIC

Tremendous drama starring Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti, as a billionaire stockbroker and New York Attorney General respectively, who lock horns over insider trading. This has the lot: great acting, script and cat-and-mouse twists galore in a meaty twelve episodes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

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BLUE VELVET (1986) – BFI CINEMA

“Why are there people like Frank?” asks Kyle Maclachlan’s Jeffery Beaumont in David Lynch’s dark journey into the underbelly of small town America. Hopper’s tour-de-force performance is chilling and funny in this eccentric, violent and memorable thriller. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

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CASE 39 (2009) – NETFLIX

An alright chiller starring Renee Zellweger as a social worker investigating the abuse of a young girl. Of course, not all is what it seems. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)

 

FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING (2016) – NETFLIX

Paul Rudd is excellent as a depressed man seeking escape from life by helping muscular-dystrophy effected youth, Craig Roberts, in a touching and funny road movie. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

FUNNY GIRL (1968) – NETFLIX

The classic Broadway musical which I saw recently in London with Sheridan Smith (I wasn’t with her – she was in it) is a breezy blast through the songs and career of Fanny Brice. The kind-of-rags-to-riches-narrative is simple but the delivery is brilliant, with Barbara Streisand bursting with life, humour and song in an energetic Oscar-winning performance. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

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JOY (2016) – SKY CINEMA

Hit-and-miss drama stars the amazing Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano; who battles family strife and corporate sexism to rise to the dizzy heights of TV shopping celebrity. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

IP MAN 3 (2015) – NETFLIX

Donnie Yen, again, excels in the further adventures of martial arts legend Ip Man. This time its 1959 and he’s up against Mike Tyson as a gangland boss and other rivals to his Wing Chun crown. Worth watching for the majestic fight scenes and the always awesome Donnie Yen (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

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LES DOULOS (1963) – BFI CINEMA

Classic French Noir from Jean-Pierre Melville stars Jean Belmondo is a shadowy joy which thrills with its twisting plot following a robbery-gone-wrong. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

MASCOTS (2015) – NETFLIX

Christopher Guest’s comedy mockumentary about sports mascots has some big and silly belly laughs and even sillier costumes too. It’s very daft with some fun routines throughout. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

MATCHSTICK MEN (2003) – SKY CINEMA

Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell are brilliant in Ridley Scott’s smaller-in-scale-than-usual-con-artist film which contains a series of thrilling twists and Cage’s excellent OCD-afflicted performance. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

 

PUSH (2009) – NETFLIX

Captain America/Chris Evans stars in this not-bad action-thriller about telekinetics being hunted down by a nefarious agency somewhere in Hong Kong. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

 

REMAINS OF THE DAY (1993) – MOVIE MIX

Sensational period drama set just before WW2 features incredible acting from Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. They star as the Butler and Housekeeper who develop feelings for each other but professional commitments keep them at arms-length in a wonderfully touching human story.  (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

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ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016) – CINEMA

Disney’s Star Wars roadshow-behemoth moves onto the first of it’s’ anthology series with a rip roaring war movie set just before A New Hope (1977) – (Mark: 9 out of 11). My full review is here.

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SATURDAY NIGHT & SUNDAY MORNING (1960) – DVD

Albert Finney is excellent in this ground-breaking-for-its-day-working-class-social-realist drama. He’s a hard-working-boozing-chauvinist who rebels against the bosses and law in a gritty, and at times humorous, slice of British life. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).

 

SECRET IN THEIR EYES (2015) – SKY CINEMA

Pointless and so-so remake of the classic Argentinian Oscar-winner which takes a great story and good cast and reduces it to a functional detective story. (Mark: 6 out of 11).

 

SELF/LESS (2015) – SKY CINEMA

Badly-reviewed-but-not-too-bad takes a great premise of Ben Kingsley having his consciousness transferred into Ryan Reynolds’ soldier and turns it into a decent action-chase thriller. (Mark: 7 out of 11).

 

THE SIEGE OF JADOTVILLE (2016) – NETFLIX

Decent based-on-a-true-story set in the Congo during a battle in the Katanga district circa 1961. Charismatic Jamie Dornan leads UN troops battling French mercenaries in some brutal and explosive battle scenes which echo the backs-to-the-wall heroics of Rourke’s Drift. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).

 

SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974) – FILM FOUR

Steven Spielberg’s debut cinema release is a lively road-pursuit-comedy-drama with a sparky lead performance from a very young Goldie Hawn. The characters strife didn’t grab me but the action barrels along sweetly with some funny scenes and beautiful cinematography. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).

 

SULLY (2016) – CINEMA

Tom Hanks excels as the experienced and noble pilot Chesley Sullenburger who somehow landed a plane on the Hudson after birds had ripped out its engines. Clint Eastwood directs with his usual steady hand as the film shows life experience is often more valuable than a computer simulation. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).

 

THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988) – NETFLIX

Errol Morris’ seminal documentary about a miscarriage of justice pretty much re-invented the crime documentary with its’ chilling re-enactments and interviews with the personae involved. The film would eventually prove the innocence of wrongly-accused drifter Randall Adams in the crime of a murdered police officer in 1976. Formidable, gripping and humane drama. (Mark: 9 out of 11).

 

THE THREE AMIGOS (1986) – SKY CINEMA

Chevy Chase, Martin Short and comedy genius Steve Martin star in this silly spoof of Westerns and silent-comedies as they are mistaken for hardened protectors of the weak. (Mark: 7 out of 11).

 

WESTWORLD (2016) – HBO – SKY ATLANTIC

Brilliant and exquisite Sci-fi-western-mash-up from Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy with an all-star cast is reviewed – (Mark: 9 out of 11) – in full here:

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WHITE FANG (1991) – SKY CINEMA

Ethan Hawke is a young explorer looking to make a go of his dead father’s gold mine in the end of the 19th century Yukon. Lots of snow and action aplenty as Hawke’s boy becomes a man and befriends a young wolf in the process in fine family entertainment. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11).

 

WOLF HALL (2015) – NETFLIX

Mark Rylance owns this dark drama as Thomas Cromwell; a key figure in the court of Henry the VIII – here portrayed by the brilliant Damian Lewis. Based on Hilary Mantel’s astonishing novels it charts the political and religious back-stabbing of the day in a naturally shot and wonderfully acted period drama. Rylance’s performance is subtle and steely as the man from lower stock who rose to pull the strings in the King’s court.  (Mark: 8.5 out of 11).

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