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Birds of Prey Review

Starring Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Chris Messalina, Ella Jay Basco and Ali Wong.


Following Infinity War and Endgame, there is definitely an opportunity for DC to take on Marvel, which has arguably hit its apex. Spiderman: Far from Home was a big indicator that the Avengers may struggle to stay relevant and interesting post-Thanos, and was the worst MCU film since Iron Man 2 in 2010. However, Marvel still has a big advantage in terms of reliability. DC’s record has been hit and miss since The Dark Knight Trilogy – Man of Steel and Wonder Woman were excellent, but Batman v Superman and Justice League disappointed, while Suicide Squad was an unmitigated disaster and a contender for worst blockbuster film of the decade. However, DC has two big ways it can edge out Marvel: it goes darker and it has more variety. Birds of Prey employs both of these strengths, and while its not as epic as Man of Steel, as uplifting as Wonder Woman or a breakthrough like Joker, its a bloody good entry in the Worlds of DC.

Birds of Prey is considerably more violent than your average superhero film – realistically so. Its played for laughs to some extent a la Deadpool, but still is unremittingly brutal like Dark Phoenix or Batman v Superman. Black Mask and Zsasz are a very nasty (if comical) set of villains, and Harley, Huntress and Black Canary have never been characters that shy away from the dirty side of being vigilantes or anti-heroes. Bones break, blood is drawn and the (surprisingly few) deaths are pretty gruesome. Marvel never goes there (at least not in the MCU), but DC has always been unapologetic about realism in its action scenes, and it plays well here. Given the film is from Harley’s perspective, it makes sense that its violent tendencies are remorseless and played for laughs – that’s what Harley does. She’s not a hero. She’s just someone trying to survive in a world full of monsters. Robbie is as good as ever as Quinn, and its clear the scriptwriter and director are more competent and comfortable with her character than in Suicide Squad. The character is believable and true to the comics here in a way she wasn’t before, getting much better dialogue and put-downs, and there’s no leering shots of Harley in skimpy clothing like David Ayer had plastered throughout Suicide Squad. For those who care, the film is very much a feminist and diverse piece, but unlike in say, the Star Wars sequels or Chibnall’s Doctor Who, its done in a natural way, not shoved awkwardly in – no virtue signalling or preaching here.

The cast does well, with Ewan McGregor a standout as Black Mask – he may be a third-tier Batman villain (i.e. one with little name recognition to people who haven’t played the Arkham games, read comics or watched the cartoons), but McGregor’s chilling yet maniacally flamboyant performance makes him memorable and a fitting antagonist, if not one who is really in Quinn’s league. However, the focus on Harley does sideline a few of the other members of the Birds of Prey, like Winstead’s huntress, who get cool action scenes and laughs but little else to work with. Overall though, the cast gels well and there’s no obvious miscasting here, so I won’t be too critical. The direction and production is strong (there’s very few cuts in the fight scenes – unlike in MCU films – and few CGI fights – unlike in Justice League or Dawn of Justice) and while the plot is nothing special, its a damn sight better than Suicide Squad’s and still more interesting than say Deadpool, which is probably is closest equivalent in Superhero terms.

Overall, Birds of Prey isn’t the best DC can do, but its a step in the right direction, and proves that a female superhero (or anti-hero) ensemble works (not that this needed proving, but maybe misogynists on YouTube can shut up now). Good acting, production meshes with lashing of slapstick violence and humour to make a really fun film – if not one you’ll speak of in the same terms as Joker or Endgame. But then again, that’s not what this film was meant to be – compared to similar anti-hero films like Deadpool 1 and 2… it’s a cut above the rest.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The next film I review will probably be No Time to Die in early April. Stay Tuned!

My Top 10 Films of the Decade

Here we go… my picks for the top 10 films of the last decade.

All films on this list, barring 10th place, got a solid 5/5 from me. 10th gets a 4.5/5, but was pretty borderline – had it’s first hour been as good as its second, it would have got full marks.

10: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Of the five Star Wars films released in the last decade, Rogue is the only one universally liked by critics and fans. Darker and more intelligent than Force Awakens, more action-packed than Last Jedi, less of a garbled mess than Rise of Skywalker and with more compelling characters and plot than Solo, this is a proper Star Wars film that has a story to tell and gets on with telling it. With lashings of humor throughout to alleviate its darker tone, Rogue One finds the balance between Light and Dark. The action scenes look amazing, particularly the combined space and ground battle on Scarif at the climax. But ultimately, its the characters that make this work so well. Jyn Erso is arguably the best female character the Star Wars franchise has ever given us, thanks to her key role in events and Felicity Jones’ wonderful acting. The supporting characters, such as K2S0, Cassian, Saw Gerrera and Krennic are all memorable – to the extent that you will care when they die (and its not a big spoiler to say most of them do) – this film does what few action films do – portrays a suicide mission realistically – the rebels know that they probably aren’t making it out, but risk their lives anyway. The villains are also a cut above, with Krennic a much more interesting character than say, General Hux or Captain Phasma, while Darth Vader gets two brilliant scenes which reaffirm why the character is such an iconic villain. Ultimately, this should be in everyone’s top 5 Star Wars movies – and i’ll wouldn’t blame you if it was your favourite.

Highlight: With major character deaths, space battles, AT-AT attacks and THAT Vader scene, The Battle of Scarif is thrilling from start to finish.

9: Avengers: Endgame: It was inevitable… that this made my list. While I still wish Thanos got more screen time in this one, the finale to the first 11 years of the MCU was everything fans could have wished for, with an epic storyline, great performances from Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth and some awesome action scenes. Throw in fan-pleasing moments like Tony spending time with his father in the past, Cap lifting Thor’s hammer and Thor finally getting to say a proper goodbye to his deceased mother, and you have a classic. The humour is dialed down but still present (fat Thor threatening a video gamer was hilarious), the script finds a way of giving all its characters something to work with and the special effects are awesome from start to finish – great job Marvel – this was a hell of a send off for some of your most loved characters – we can only hope phases 4, 5 and 6 can live up to it.

Highlight: The Portals scene. Had to be. Seeing every single hero onscreen at once… epic. Hard to see Marvel ever outdoing it. The final battle which follows is the icing on the cake.

8: Logan: The best film from the X-Men universe (narrowly eclipsing First Class) and Hugh Jackman’s last performance in the role of Wolverine had to be on this list. A dark glimpse into a future where mutants have been all but eradicated, Logan has a distinct western vibe of ‘old gunslinger taking up arms for one last battle’. Hugh Jackman puts in one of his best performances as a world-weary, bitter, more vulnerable version of Wolverine. Patrick Stewart and Stephen Merchant are good value as Xavier and Caliban, two of the only other surviving mutants, but the real plaudits must go to Dafne Keen as Laura, a young mutant who forms a bond with Xavier and Logan and brings them back into action. With some truly brutal yet epic fights scenes, this is the Wolverine film we always deserved – and probably the darkest one we’ll ever get now X-Men has gone over to Marvel.

Highlight: The final scene between Logan and Laura is utterly heartbreaking and features a great pair of performances from Hugh Jackman and Dafne Keen. If you don’t cry at this, your heart is made of stone.

7: Skyfall: After the disappointment of Quantum of Solace and a 4 year break from screen, the next Bond needed to be good. Craig, the writers and director Sam Mendes duly delivered with this back to basics approach. Introducing new versions of Q and Moneypenny was done seamlessly, and both are perfectly cast. After the forgettable Bond girls in Quantum, this film puts Judi Dench’s M front and centre of its female characters, and is far better for it. Meanwhile, Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva makes for one of the most memorable villains in Craig’s run (so far anyway – come on Rami Malek). Skyfall also takes its time whether other Bond’s might have rushed from action scene to action scene – it feels like a more realistic, plausible spy film than most Bonds – probably as an apology for what seemed like a bunch of action scenes that had been randomly plastered together with the first plot that came to hand in Quantum. It was also refreshing to have Bond have an adventure mostly set in the UK, which is extremely rare in Bond films. There are a few plot holes, but overall, this still stands as the best of Craig’s 4 films – and boy, what an opening number from ADELE!!!

Highlight: The climatic attack by Silva’s men on the Skyfall estate. Given the overblown finales Bond films can sometimes get drawn into, this is refreshingly smaller scale, with real tension. The effects are pretty good too (now that is how you do a helicopter crash Suicide Squad!).

6: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Catching Fire is the best of the Hunger Games films, with a more engaging plot than Mockingjay’s two parts and better direction and set design than the first film. The core cast of Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth are all settled into their roles, while newcomers like Sam Claflin and Jena Malone add a lot to proceedings. The special effects, music and direction are all solid, and overall this is an extremely enjoyable adaptation which actually outdoes the book its based on, which is very impressive. Overall, its one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen this decade, and one I’m more likely to re-watch than the previous 3 on the list, hence its position.

Highlight: The Victory Tour scene in district 11. From Katniss’ tribute to Rue to the show of solidarity by the citizens (and the guards ruthlessness execution of a dissident), this scene is heartwarming, emotional and brutal all in one go, and gives Jennifer Lawrence some great stuff to work with.

5: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2: Once I remembered this came out in this decade, I knew it had to make this list. With all the weaker parts of JK Rowling’s book out the way in Deathly Hallows Part 1, Part 2 is free to give us a spellbinding depiction of the best two bits of the novel: i.e. the raid on Gringotts Bank and the Battle of Hogwarts. Both are vividly brought to life and the cast and crew all give their best at making this a memorable send-off. Alexandre Desplat provides a great soundtrack that’s up there with the best efforts of Williams and Hooper, while the special effects, particularly for the scenes in the Room of Requirement, are superb. Few film franchises have ended on the best film in the series, but this is perhaps a rare exception to the rule.

Highlight: While the action scenes may be more memorable, my favourite scene is still Harry and McGonagall confronting Snape in the great hall and forcing him to flee Hogwarts. Daniel Radcliffe in particular is at his absolute best during this scene.

I couldn’t split the next three films no matter how hard I tried, so they are all coming in joint second. All three are DC movies I rate extremely highly, but all offer something different in their approaches, styles and themes.

2= Man of Steel: The only film on this list that wasn’t critically renowned, but I make no apologies – I bloody love it. Henry Cavill makes a great Clark Kent and superman, and the supporting cast is excellent, particularly Amy Adams as Lois Lane an Michael Shannon as General Zod. A shade darker than most superman films but still light in tone compared to Batman, this equals Batman Begins as an origin story and features some epic action scenes, particularly Superman’s clashes with the Kryptonian warriors. As for the controversial choices the film makes in its final third – this is an origin story – Superman is going to make mistakes – it makes narrative sense to show something that instills his disdain for killing, even as a last resort, and his desire to save people above all else – and the destruction of much of metropolis and Zod’s fate set that up perfectly.

Highlight: There’s a lot of good scenes here, but Jonathan Kent’s death is one of the most dramatic and heartbreaking, backed up perfectly by ‘Tornado’ one of Hans Zimmer’s most emotionally wrenching tracks. Also features Cavill’s strongest acting in the whole movie – I really don’t get why he comes in for so much criticism.

2= The Dark Knight Rises: Nolan makes it three out of three with this epic conclusion to the Dark Knight Trilogy. Tom Hardy’s Bane does the near impossible job of following Heath Ledger’s Joker as a main villain, while Anne Hathaway and Marion Cotillard make the most of their roles as Catwoman and Talia. The action scenes are probably the best in the whole trilogy, particularly Batman’s two bouts with Bane and the final chase sequence. Hans Zimmer’s bombastic soundtrack really adds to the intensity, while the story neatly ties all three films together in a way few trilogies manage. Its spirit is closer to Batman Begins than the Dark Knight, but that’s no bad thing in my book. All are five star films, and this one was a fine send-off.

Highlight: The scene where Bruce finally climbs out of the pit. Backed by one of Hans Zimmer’s best tracks (that’s saying something!) and the catchy as hell Deshi Basara chant its a epic scene that kicks off the films final act on a real high.

2= Joker: Todd Philips broke all the rules of comic book movies with this intense, character focused tale where there are no heroes, just villains and victims, and cinema is all the better for it. Joaquin Phoenix gives an Oscar worthy turn as the man who becomes the Joker, and interprets the role in a way even Hamill and Ledger would be proud of – and one that hopefully relegates Jared Leto’s version to the scrapheap. With superb supporting actors like Robert de Niro and Zazie Beetz backing up Phoenix, there isn’t a weak link in this whole film. While it may not be to everyone’s taste, its a remarkable achievement which doesn’t shy away from important themes, brutal violence and stark messages about mental health. It’s one of the most intense films you’re ever likely to see, but I’d encourage everyone to do so.

Highlight: Arthur’s climatic interview with Murray. A masterclass in scripting, creating tension and acting from Phoenix and de Niro, who help the scene build to a brutal kick in the teeth for the audience. Amazing stuff.

1: Rush: The story of James Hunt’s (Chris Hemsworth) battle with Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) for the 1976 F1 World Championship is my film of the decade. As biopics go it takes a few liberties, but crafts a very compelling story of rivalry, tragedy and triumph as the arrogant but passionate playboy (which Hemsworth excels at playing) clashes with the methodical, socially awkward Lauda. If it wasn’t for Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, I’d have given my best actor award to Daniel Bruhl, who owns this film as Lauda and increasingly wins your support as the film goes on. The racing scenes are vividly recreated, backed up by some of Hans Zimmer’s best work from the past decade, but the character stories and recreation of the 70’s atmosphere is where this film’s heart truly is, and it couldn’t be any better – its the only one on this list which I can watch and not highlight a single thing, however small, that I’d change. The best film Ron Howard has ever directed, and not one only F1 fans or car nuts can enjoy. Puts other racers like Ford vs. Ferrari to shame.

Highlight: The horrifying depiction of Lauda’s Nürburgring crash and its aftermath has to be the films strongest segment – you will definitely flinch at both the accident and the treatment Lauda has to go through afterwards.

My Film Awards 2010-2019:

Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

Best Actress: Felicity Jones (Rogue One)

Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin (Avengers Infinity War)

Best Supporting Actress: Judi Dench (Skyfall)

Best Young Actress: Dafne Keen (Logan)

Best Director: Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises, Dunkirk)

Best Composer: Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, Interstellar)

Best Animated Film: Toy Story 3

Best Comedy: Kingsman: The Secret Service

And on the other side of things…

Worst Film: The Last Airbender

Worst Actor: Miles Teller (Reed Richards – Fantastic Four)

Worst Actress: Julianne Moore (Poppy – Kingsman: The Golden Circle)

Worst Supporting Actor: Mickey Rourke (Whiplash – Iron Man 2)

Worst Supporting Actress: Leslie Jones (Patty – Ghostbusters)

Worst Young Actor: Noah Ringer (Aang – The Last Airbender)

Worst Director: David Ayer (Suicide Squad)

Worst Script: Suicide Squad

Worst Composer: Alan Silvestri

Worst Soundtrack: The Rise of Skywalker (John Williams)

Worst Reboot: Fantastic Four/Ghostbusters

Worst Sequel: The Rise of Skywalker

Worst TV Adaptation: The Last Airbender

That’s it, the last of my ‘best of the decade’ articles done. Hope you found them interesting, and hope this decade’s highlights will be even better!

I’ll take a break from blogging for a while now – I’m still mired in a job search now into its fourth month – but i’ll be back later in the year with reviews of the new Bond and Wonder Woman films, along with any other films, TV or games that catch my eye – see you all then.

My Top 10 TV Shows of the Decade

No major spoilers – so don’t worry if you haven’t seen these shows yet.

Rules: I set myself two rules when making this list: that only shows with at least 3 seasons would be counted (2 excellent seasons, while notable, can’t really make something a standout from the whole decade) so don’t expect to see stuff which only started in 2019 like The Witcher or limited miniseries like The Bodyguard. Secondly, nothing from before 2010 counts – so while Merlin ran until 2012, a lot of its best episodes come from 2008 or 2009, so it won’t make this list (not that it necessarily would have anyway – it’s just a nice example to use).

Also, obviously, this is my personal list, so feel free to comment your own – I haven’t watched a lot of shows like Breaking Bad or Daredevil so other people’s lists may be entirely different. Anyway, without further preamble, here’s my picks from the past decade:

10: iZombie: iZombie at its best is hilarious, heartfelt and a good detective story, often all within the same episode. Boasting an excellent cast headed by Rose McIver as Liv, the show is further boosted by writing that is pretty consistent and villains who remain compelling throughout the shows run. While there’s been the occasional cringeworthy episode, the majority have been good and a significant proportion great (particularly in seasons 1 and 2). Its neat main concept (Zombies gain memories and personalities temporarily from the brains they eat) allows the Zombie cast to play around with a wide variety of personas, often to great comedic effect (Liv can be on the brains of a D&D player one episode, a shameless gossiper the next and a wannabe superhero the one after). The shows wider plot, examining how Zombies would try and survive undetected, a black market for brains, and how human characters react when they discover zombie’s exist, is all done in a very interesting way, and with more intelligence than is common for this genre. If you’re interested, it’s all on Netflix.

9: Homeland: Homeland was essential viewing at the start of the decade. Billed as ‘the thinking man’s 24’ and a favourite of none other than president Obama, Homeland stars the wonderful Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, a gifted CIA analyst who struggles with bipolar disorder and frequently crosses ethical and personal lines trying to foil terrorist plots. Initially focused on the USA, the series has had seasons set in Pakistan and Germany, and featured some great actors in its supporting cast, mostly notably Damien Lewis, who was a key feature in the early seasons as an American POW who Carrie was investigating, in fear of the possibility he’d been ‘turned’ during captivity. While Homeland isn’t quite as good now as it used to be, its still been something I’ve followed thorough the decade, and the strength of seasons 1, 2, 4 and 6, as well as a fair few standout episodes from the other seasons, still leaves it as one of the best spy thrillers around.

8: Jessica Jones: I’ve watched a lot of Superhero TV shows over the past decade, and it was perhaps inevitable that one would get on this list. Deciding which one was hard: after all, many had strong starts (The Flash, Arrow, Black Lightning) only to fall apart later on. Others have been very good recently, but had difficult starts (Supergirl, Luke Cage). In the end, only three of the ones I’ve seen have been good the whole way through: Jessica Jones, Legends of Tomorrow and Gotham. Legends probably would have won that contest two years ago, but its last two seasons, while hilarious, have got a bit too silly and lost their edge. Gotham has had some real bright spots, but lacked Jessica Jones’ focus – its need to have 22 episode seasons meant there was often too much filler or strung out subplots. Jessica Jones may have felt padded in places, but overall did the best job of any Marvel Netflix series in terms of justifying its runtime. Krysten Ritter has been one of my favourite actresses since I tuned into JJ, and like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, its hard to ever see someone else playing the role now that she’s absolutely nailed the character. If that wasn’t enough, David Tennant’s Kilgrave remains one of the creepiest supervillains any show has given us, and one no one will forget anytime soon.

7: Stranger Things: Just when Doctor Who started to falter, Netflix stepped up to the plate with this great sci-fi series. Acting as a homage to numerous 80’s films, including classics like Aliens and The Terminator, it still remained very much its own thing. It has one of the best young casts you’re ever likely to see, including Finn Wolfhard and Millie Bobby Brown, backed up by established veterans such as Winona Ryder and David Harbour. The special effects look brilliant and the direction is consistently strong, while an excellent soundtrack coupled with classic 80’s hits adds to the atmosphere in a way that Guardians of the Galaxy would be proud of. The three seasons so far have provided a entertaining mix of sci-fi, horror, coming of age stories and comedy, and I for one can’t wait for season 4 – particularly after all the cliffhangers season 3 ended on… don’t make us wait too long eh Netflix?

6: Orange is the New Black: One of Netflix’s most consistent shows, OITNB’s mix of drama and comedy has been a winning combination since the get go. With a superb cast, most of whom get their own episodes to shine in as we get frequent flashbacks to prisoners and guards pasts, this has been one of my go to series for a while. Which season you’ll think best is hard to judge, some take a lighter tone, some darker, some are more political than others etc. The good thing is that there’s no season in the run of 7 I’d give a bad score too. Given how often the cast and plotlines get shaken up, its consistency is remarkable. It touches upon big issues frequently, and isn’t always an easy watch, but it makes you care about the characters, whether ones you love, sympathise with, or the antagonists you just plain out hate. If you haven’t checked it out already, i’d always recommend trying it – it won’t necessarily be to everyone’s tastes, but its one of Netflix’s most successful shows for a reason.

5: Doctor Who: This would have been much higher up the list had I made it in 2015, but Matt Smith’s excellent run, the 50th anniversary special and Capaldi’s stellar first two series mean it still makes it despite a lacklustre series 10 and Chibnall’s catastrophe of series 11. We’ve had some great series arcs during the decade, including The Cracks in Time and Missy, renowned writer like Neil Gaiman contributing scripts for the first time, and fantastic episodes like The Pandorica Opens, The Doctor’s Wife, Listen, Heaven Sent and The Day of the Doctor. Its made household names of Karen Gillan, Jenna Coleman and Arthur Darvill, as well as making Capaldi and Smith two of the most sought after actors in the business. Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner, while divisive, is still in my opinion one of the best in the shows history. The only pity is that it may be the last one I watch… hopefully the 2020’s will see it recover from its current nadir.

4: The Crown: Netflix’s series on the royal family is one of the most lavish, beautifully shot productions you’re ever likely to see. The direction, set design and production values are second to none. The show dramatically brings events from the Queen’s reign to life, including several, such as the Aberfan tragedy, that my generation would not otherwise have heard of. The show also touches heavily on political history, with the various prime ministers of the Queen’s reign depicted in detail (particularly Churcill and Wilson, with Thatcher set to be a key part of season 4). If you have any interest in recent history, British politics or the Royal family, this is definitely a show worth checking out. The fact its cast was completely reshuffled between season 2 and 3 and there was no discernible drop in quality (if anything its arguably got better), speaks volumes about its appeal. With such superb actors as Claire Foy, Matt Smith, Olivia Coleman, Helena Bonham Carter, Charles Dance, Jon Lithgow and Derek Jacobi all appearing in the first three seasons, its one of the finest ensembles on Netflix, which is usually a sign of a great show.

3: Black Mirror: Starting on channel 4 then taken over by Netflix, Black Mirror is the brain child of Charlie Brooker and has provided some of the best hours of television in the past decade, earning it a spot in my top three, a big achievement for something that has only had 22 episodes and one movie length special. Episodes can vary between highly tense drama and pure sci-fi horror at ease, sometimes within one episode! While the show has the occasional misfire (The Waldo Moment, Bandersnatch), it has a very high strike rate. Its nature (an anthology of stories with similar themes but no overt connection to each other) gives it the freedom to experiment and tell any story it wants. It has starred some huge acting talents over the past decade, including Andrew Scott, Antony Mackie, Maxine Peake and Lindsay Duncan, not to mention plenty of lesser known actors who its helped bring to the fore. While everyone will have different favourite episodes, I would say the highlights include Series 2’s Be Right Back, 3’s San Junipero and Hated in the Nation, 4’s USS Callister and Black Museum and Series 5’s Smithereens. If you don’t like the first episode you watch, keep going – because they vary so heavily, there’s bound to be one that’s to your taste!

2: Game of Thrones: When season 4 finished, this would have come first on this list, without a doubt. But while I did enjoy large parts of Seasons 5-8, its reduced complexity and lack of input from George R. R. Martin did cause some significant issues with pacing, character arcs and the overall direction of the series. I still liked the final product for the sheer spectacle it provided and the wealth of talent the show maintained in its actors, directors and effects department. We may never see a TV show with quite the worldwide impact of this one again. But, to those who have cursed its ending, ask yourselves, how many shows maintain their quality for 8 seasons? Virtually none. Think about Lost or the Walking Dead: Game of Thrones may have stumbled in its last few seasons, but it didn’t fall off a cliff the way those other blockbuster TV shows have. Overall, Game of Thrones is still an immense achievement for all involved, and one of the best fantasy TV shows of all time. We may never see its like again…

1: The Americans: My show of the decade – and I’ll be surprised if even a third of my viewers have heard of this, much less watched it, as it hasn’t aired on free UK TV since season 2, and is only available on Amazon Prime now. The Americans follows Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, two Russian spies embedded in 1980’s America at the height of the cold war – to the extent that they have American jobs, American friends and American children of their own. Elizabeth is a stone cold loyalist who rarely flinches from what is asked of her – Philip a more open minded type – equally driven, but more questioning of what they do and more open to American ideas – it creates an underlying tension between the pair which rears its head frequently, despite their love for each other. Homeland may be a more popular spy drama, Game of Thrones may be far more entertaining, The Crown may have more famous actors, but none have held a candle to this in terms of either quality or consistency. I’d give 3 episodes out of 75 a score of 3.5/5. Everything else is a 4 or above – at least half would garner a 4.5/5 or above. Not even Thrones has that kind of strike rate. The two leads, the writing, the music and direction has never wavered. Of its 6 seasons, five were excellent, one merely good. Its a real slow burner of a spy drama – you need patience and intelligence to properly appreciate it – I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone – its like Joker, brilliant but not to everyone’s taste. Subplots and character arcs can take 20 episodes to fully play out, while earth shattering moments are usually the result of discussions or confrontations instead of action scenes, not that the show shies away from those when it needs them. It has the occasional flaw – most in season 5, which lacks a main plot as compelling as the others, but these flaws are few and far between. Even if Thrones’ final season had blown everyone away, I’d probably still have put this in first – its final season, by comparison, was faultless and the best of its run. I’m going to miss it – spy dramas this clever are very, very rare.

My TV Awards 2010-2019

Best Actor: Matthew Rhys (The Americans)

Runners Up: Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Peter Capaldi (Thick of It, Doctor Who)

Best Actress: Keri Russell (The Americans)

Runners Up: Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), Claire Foy (The Crown)

Best Supporting Actor: Andrew Scott (Fleabag, Sherlock)

Runners Up: David Tennant (Jessica Jones), Tom Cavanagh (The Flash)

Best Supporting Actress: Jodie Comer (Killing Eve)

Runners Up: Taryn Manning (Orange is the New Black), Winona Ryder (Stranger Things)

Best Young Actor: David Mazouz (Gotham)

Runners Up: Noah Schnapp, Finn Wolfhard and Gaten Matarazzo (Stranger Things)

Best Young Actress: Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things)

Runners up: Sadie Sink (Stranger Things), Dafne Keen (His Dark Materials), Camren Bicondova (Gotham)

Best Director: Miguel Saponchik (Game of Thrones)

Runners Up: Rachel Talalay (Doctor Who), Neil Marshall (Game of Thrones)

Best Showrunner: Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag, Killing Eve S1)

Runners Up: The Duffer Brothers (Stranger Things), Steven Moffat (Doctor Who)

Best Writer: Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Sherlock)

Runners Up: Charlie Brooker (Black Mirror),  Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag)

Best Season Finale: Victory (Spartacus Season 3)

Runners Up: The Winds of Winter (Game of Thrones Season 6), START (The Americans Season 6)

Best Episode: The Rains of Castamere (Game of Thrones – i.e. The Red Wedding)

Runners Up: Be Right Back (Black Mirror), Heaven Sent (Doctor Who)

Best Composer: Ramin Dwajadi (Game of Thrones)

Runners Up: Blake Neely (Arrowverse shows), Murray Gold (Doctor Who)

Best Theme Tune: Game of Thrones

Runners Up: The Defenders, Stranger Things, His Dark Materials

And now some of the disappointments… (I’ll keep these brief – prefer to keep this article positive!)

Worst TV Show: Britannia

Worst Episode: Finish Line (The Flash Season 3 Finale)

Worst Actor: Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Divis/Weird Driud Guy – Britannia)

Worst Actress: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor – Doctor Who)

Worst Supporting Actress: Candace Patton (Iris West – The Flash)

Worst Showrunner: Chris Chibnall

Worst Writer: Chris Chibnall

I’ll try and get my Top Games and Films of the Decade finished sometime tomorrow. Hope you all tune in then!



Luke Cage: Season 2 Review

Starring Mike Colter, Rosario Dawson, Mustafa Shakir, Theo Rossi, Alfre Woodard, Reg. E. Cathey, Simone Missick and Finn Jones.

Spoilers for Season 1. Minor Spoilers only for Season 2.

I really wasn’t a fan of Luke Cage after season one. By which I mean the show, not Mike Colter’s character. Colter has always convinced in the role ever since he first appeared on Jessica Jones’ first season. But aside from several good acting performances (by Colter, Mahershala Ali etc.) Season 1 was very, very disappointing, and in my opinion, was one of the most critically overrated TV series (I’d give it a 2.5/5). Sure, it was a landmark event in that it was the first Superhero TV show centred around a Black Superhero and a majority Black Cast. But this doesn’t automatically make it good television, no matter how powerful its message is. It had a unique feel, sure, with a soulful soundtrack that worked wonderfully, but I wouldn’t have recommended it to anyone.

Luke Cage had three major issues in S1: its pacing, its villains and a failure to use its hero in an interesting way. Luke was often too sidelined in favour of the supporting characters throughout the first season, and his whole ‘reluctant hero’ schtick really wasn’t that interesting a character arc – it just made him seem selfish and jaded and didn’t let Colter’s natural charisma show the way it did in Jessica Jones and the Defenders. Worse, the nature of Luke’s powers meant he was completely invulnerable for the first 6 episodes, but then once a weapon that hurt him was introduced in episode 7, he kept going down far too easily (i.e. the familiar Superman/Supergirl problem). The shows pacing was all out of whack, as is usual with Marvel’s Netflix shows, and was definitely 3 episodes too long. The biggest problem, however, was the villains. S1 had 4: Cottonmouth, Diamondback, Shades and Mariah. Although the actors did their best with each of them, we never got any reason to care about Shades or Mariah, who were really bland throughout, Diamondback was very OTT and had a really hackneyed origin story (Luke’s resentful brother, I mean seriously??! talk about cliched) and Cottonmouth (the only decent one) was killed off halfway through.

I gave S2 another chance because, as I said, I like Colter’s performance and figured the show could do a lot better. Has it?

Yes it has. Thank God!

Luke is a much, much more interesting lead this season. He grapples with more compelling themes, struggling with anger issues, his newfound celebrity status, and his desire to do what’s right even when he knows he could solve Harlem’s problems more quickly by just killing Mariah or working outside the law. While he still feels a bit too sidelined at times, the screentime Luke does get is put to much better use. Colter clearly relishes the role he’s playing this time, whether its sparring with Claire and Misty over his methods or trying to reconnect with his estranged father (marvellously played by the terrific late Reg. E. Cathey, who the series is dedicated to).

The writing has also improved a lot, mainly because it focuses a lot more on character work, so that even when the plot slows up we still get some compelling scenes. The racial politics and progressive messages are still there, but are included with far more nuance, and aren’t so jarringly on the nose as they were in season one. As Black Lightning proved, these things work far better when they are simply shown, rather than being patronisingly spelt out for the audience. In other good news, the supporting characters this season (Sugar, D.W. Piranha, Comanche, Tilda, Anansi) are all much more interesting than Misty, Scarfe or Shades were last season. Thankfully, Misty is a much easier character to like this time round, simply because she’s clued in and on Luke’s side from the start. Even more surprisingly, Shades becomes one of the shows most intriguing characters this season, as Theo Rossi gets much better material to work with and gets the chance to really show his talent as an actor. Alfre Woodard gets a better storyline as Mariah as well, as the show does a better job of transforming her into a main villain, though arguably it gets too focused on her in the latter episodes of the season.

The show’s biggest strength, however, has to be new villain Bushmaster. Not only is this villain capable of going hand-to-hand with Cage (something which Mariah, Shades and Cottomouth were handicapped by their inability to do), but he’s also played with great charisma by Mustafa Shakir, who turns Bushmaster into one of the most memorable villains in Marvel TV (he’s virtually Tennant as Kilgrave good, and that’s the highest praise I can give). His fights with Luke are highlights of the season, and the fight choreography in general seems to have taken a massive step up this year – you’ll never get bored of Luke smacking down thugs or going toe-to-toe with Bushmaster, who is the first character to ever pose a genuine physical threat to Luke. It’s just a pity that Bushmaster gets sidelined in favour of Mariah in the last few episodes of the series, as he was definitely the stronger adversary of the two.

The series still isn’t perfect however. While it feels like you could get 13 episodes of story from the plot, each episode weighs in at 50-65 minutes, so the episodes do feel stretched out in places, normally because police incompetence or Luke’s reluctance to kill keeps some villains in play longer than they need to be. If you fancy a drinking game, have one everytime there’s an interlude mid-episode for a musical performance at Harlem’s paradise – it happens like every bloody episode and probably adds at least a good half-hour of runtime over the season. There’s also an Iron Fist crossover episode, which has its moments, but feels more like fan-service than actually adding anything to the plot (though I’m happy to say Finn Jones is much more likeable as Danny Rand now).

Overall, the shows character-driven scripts and cool fight scenes, in addition to a more subtle and nuanced approach to its political message, make this a huge improvement over season 1. However, it still feels stretched out and arguably focuses on the wrong villain in the final few episodes. Despite this, its probably up there with Jessica Jones’ second season in terms of quality, so I’ll give it the same rating.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Final Thought: Make sure you watch S1 of the Defenders before you watch this, because there’s a lot of references to the events of that crossover series here, particularly regarding Misty and Danny Rand’s role in events.

Avengers: Infinity War Review

Starring Josh Brolin, Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Chris Hemsworth. (I’m not listing all of them or we’d be here all day).

Warning: Full Spoilers. Only read if you’ve already watched the film or don’t care about spoilers.

Infinity War had a LOT of expectation riding on it. How could it not? It’s the centrepiece of Marvel’s ‘phase 3′. It’s made by the Russo Brothers, who produced Winter Soldier and Civil War, two of the best Marvel films to date. It has the largest cast of any superhero film to date. It finally, FINALLY had a villain who might just be an opponent deserving of the Avengers’ attention. It’s predictably braking all sorts of box office records. But does it live up to the hype? Answer: mostly.

Is it a fun, really entertaining film? Yes.

Is Thanos a great villain? Hell yes!

Will it surprise you in any way? I doubt it.

Is it the best ever Marvel film? No.

Let me go into a bit more detail. The film looks great, and the vast number of different locations, some new (like Titan, Thanos’ homeworld), some familiar (like Knowhere from Guardians 1), are all brilliantly created and all have a suitably different feel from each other. It is refreshing to see a superhero film that only spends 10 minutes in New York, not the whole bloody runtime. The direction is pretty flawless, and the fight scenes are all very well choreographed (a refreshing change, as the fight scenes in Spider-man and to a lesser extent Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther were not particularly great). The script is full of witty lines and seems to know when to dial down the humour (though there’s still a few too many quips mid-fight scene) and the plot is straightforward enough that you can probably follow it as long as you’ve seen at least half the previous avengers films. The only letdown on the production side is the soundtrack, but that’s what happens when you hire Alan Silvestri. Given the number of good composers Marvel has used for its 19 films, why they picked him is beyond me. The score is very generic, and not remotely memorable. It serves its purpose during the action scenes, but does nothing to heighten the tension and really fails to hammer home the impact of the various death scenes or the ending sequence.

Superhero team-ups always get a LOT of mileage from seeing the various heroes or hero groups interact. Seeing Iron Man, Thor and Cap meet up and lock horns for the first time was one of the best things about the original Avengers, and its the same story here, as the two factions from civil war regroup and meet Doctor Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time. Watching Star-Lord and Tony Stark bicker or Thor bonding with Rocket Raccoon was fantastic, as was seeing the developing relationships between Quill and Gamora and Vision and Scarlet Witch. Not all the characters got a huge chance to shine (the ones who miss out are mostly those who survive the ending, which is understandable as you’d expect them to have a large role in Avengers 4) but it was very nice to see some of the supporting characters come to the fore. War Machine and Falcon had some particularly epic fight scenes, while Beneditch Cumberbatch was stealing every scene he was in as Doctor Strange (who came off much better here, interacting with others, than he did in his own movie) helped by some spectacular magical moves done by him and Wong.

So the fun’s still there. Let’s move on to Thanos and the Black Order. The problem both previous avengers films (and most marvel films in general) have had is that the villains haven’t been that engaging, and the heroes have all too often found themselves facing easily defeatable CGI armies (let’s be honest, the Chitauri sucked and Ultron’s minions were weak as hell). This film finally broke the mold. Thanos’ minions actually provided some genuine challenge to the Avengers (though predictably still couldn’t kill any of them). That said, Cull Obsidian, Ebony Maw, Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive (none of which are referred to by name in the movie) were suitably menacing and physically imposing enough to provide a challenge that the avengers needed before Thanos shows up.

Moving on to Thanos himself, Josh Brolin gives a powerhouse of a performance to establish Thanos as one of the all-time great supervillains of cinema. Thanos is multi-faceted, layered and has the depth that so many Marvel villains have lacked. He isn’t entirely unsympathetic either, despite the devastation he causes in this film, and his motives are actually well explained and understandable, which was always my biggest worry about him. He needed a better reason than lust-for-power or petty vengeance, which have been done to death at this point, and the writers delivered. The infinity stones gave him some pretty cool abilities too, which helped the fight scenes immeasurably. Thanos beating down Hulk and holding his own against entire groups of heroes at a time really helped establish him as a credible, juggernaut of a threat. The visible increase in his power with each additional infinity stone was equally well done. It was particularly nice to see his relationship with Gamora fully explored, which gave Brolin and Saldana some great material to work with. While Guardians had delved into this to an extent, it helps explain the edge Gamora’s character had at the beginning and gives Thanos some extra depth as a character.

So we have a great, well developed, villain with actual depth. So why doesn’t this film work perfectly? Because of the way the MCU works. There’s little to no point killing characters we know have to return for Guardians 3 or the Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Spider-Man sequels. Notice how every character who dies in the final sequence is one almost certain to be resurrected in the sequel. That makes it kind of hard to feel anything about the film’s cliffhanger. Aside from Vision, Loki and Heimdall, I doubt anyone who died in this film will stay dead. If say, Stark, Thor or Cap had disintegrated i’d feel a lot more sad and concerned (because their contracts are all up after Avengers 4 so there’s no gurantees they’d be back). Equally, you can’t really have the MCU carry on as normal with half the universe wiped out – humour based flicks like Ant-Man, Guardians and Thor: Ragnarok won’t really work with that as a backdrop. So it seems nigh inevitable this movie’s ending will be completely undone in the sequel, which, to me anyway, makes it feel a lot less impactful.

Another problem the film has is it’s predictability. All the major deaths are signposted well in advance or were generally predictable (i.e. Heimdall’s an expendable character, Loki’s run his course, Vision has an Infinity Stone in his head etc.). That said, Gamora and Vision’s deaths were pretty impactful, mainly because of the performances of Saldana, Brolin, Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen. The largest problem, however, is that Thanos’ victory seems inevitable throughout (both because of the way the film plays out and the fact we know there’s a directly linked sequel). The fact no avengers die during the battles in New York or Wakanda just signposts the fact that things are going to go very, VERY wrong at the end, which undermines any uncertainty the audience may have had about how things are going to play out. The Wakanda battle does work better than the equivalent ones in New York or Sokovia in previous films, mainly because the CGI is more convincing and the fight scenes are larger and better choreographed, but it was stretching the limits of believability that no main cast members fell during it due to the sheer amount of chaos.

Overall, the cast are great, the fight scenes are the best Marvel’s had in a long time and Thanos is a marvellous villain. But the whole thing’s undermined by a lack of unpredictability – the Red Skull cameo is a nice touch but its the only time the film surprised me. Alan Silvestri’s rather generic soundtrack really isn’t up to much either. Why they picked him over Tyler Bates (Guardians) or Brian Tyler (Thor) is beyond me. I’d still say its the best of the three Avengers films – its got more gravitas than Age of Ultron and the plot and script are more interesting than Avengers Assemble. But it falls short of Marvel’s best efforts, and is a very good film rather than the great one I hoped it would be.

Rating: 4 out of 5

P.S. for anyone wondering about the significance of the post-credit scene, Nick Fury’s S.O.S. is supposedly being sent to Captain Marvel, the star of one of the two marvel films before Avengers 4, suggesting that she might have a large role in saving the Avengers and Guardians.



My favourite games of 2015

First up, this isn’t entirely comprised of games that came out in 2015 – it’s simply the ones I’ve had the most fun playing this year (though all are from 2014 or later) and the ones I’d happily recommend to a friend. All games are the PS4 versions.

6. Driveclub

While its not my favourite racer (nothing can match Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit on PS3) its easily the best one available on PS4 right now. It has a lot of DLC, but most of it is really cheap (1.50 each) and you can end up plugging a lot of hours into the single player. Factor in Multiplayer and it’ll be a long time before you run out of stuff to do on this game. The game looks amazing and the range of circuits and courses is high enough that it never feels repetitive. Not the easiest racer at the beginning, but with practice you’ll be fine.

Rating: 4 out of 5

5. Borderlands: The Handsome Collection

This is a strong candidate for hardest shooter I’ve ever played. I died so many more times on this than Bioshock, COD or Resistance. It’s two games in 1 (Borderlands 2 and the Pre-Sequel!) and both are pretty damn tough (levels 1-50, and if you’re level 25 a level 30 mission is basically impossible. That’s how quick the difficultly scales up). With literally millions of gun/grenade and shield variants with shotguns, assault rifles, pistols, smgs, rocket launchers, sniper rifles in various ammo combinations (fire, acid, shock) with The Pre-Sequel adding laser guns and Cyro rounds, it’s a shooters fantasy. It’s immense fun, but you NEED to be good at shooting games to play it. If you struggle on Recruit/Regular on COD, you’re going to be massively frustrated here. The game is rendered in a unique, almost comic-book/anime style way (watch clips to see what i’m on about) while the dark humour is up their with fallout.

The collection features 6 DLC expansions free, so in terms of value for money, it’s pretty damn good!

Rating: 4 out of 5

4. Fallout 4

The biggest confusion I’ve had this year is when people say they love Fallout 4 but hate Star Wars: Battlefront because they changed too much from the previous games in the series? That makes no f*cking sense, because Fallout 4 scraps or alters a LOT of established things from 3 and New Vegas. Individual Skills, the Karma system and the endgame slides for side-quests and companions have vanished, while the perk system and power armour has been completely revamped. Conversations and companion loyalty are now a lot more like the systems in Dragon Age or Mass Effect. Most of the changes are improvements, and the game looks and feels a lot better with the new game engine (far fewer freezes or annoying crashes than 3) but I still miss aspects from 3 and New Vegas. It’s a very good game, but at times it doesn’t feel like the same Fallout series. Fortunately, it keeps New Vegas’ idea of having 4 separate factions to pick from (this time its The Institute, The Minutemen, The Railroad and the Brotherhood of Steel) and each side has good points and bad (there’s no obvious evil Karma option like Caesar’s Legion in New Vegas) while even obvious good guys the peacekeeping Minutemen end up massacring the Institute in their final quest. I couldn’t pick who to side with till well into the games final act, and it was very close between the Brotherhood and the Railroad.

It’s good. But it’s not clear-cut the best game in the series as I’d expected it to be.

Rating: 4 out of 5

3. Dragon Age: Inquisition

In the same way Skyrim is the medieval style Fallout (or vice-versa) Dragon Age is the medieval style Mass Effect and if you liked that series, Dragon Age is the game for you. Inquisition is the third entry in the series, but you can drop right in without playing the previous two games and it won’t be that confusing (though my flatmate would say this was heresy!).  Set on the continent of Thedas, there are four races you can play as: (Male or Female on either) Humans, Elves, Dwarfs and Qunari (muscular warriors with pretty awesome horns who stand a foot taller than humans).

It’s got the same mix of colourful characters (ranging from charming rogue dwarf Varric, flirtatious gay human Dorian, crazy anarchist lesbian elf Sera, the prim proper and frequently exasperated Templar Cassandra and the brutal mercenary and potential ‘friend with benefits’ Iron Bull) as well as the epic storylines and breath-taking settings as Mass Effect.

If you love Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls Games or RPG’s in general, I’d recommend this! It has 3 DLC’s which are all either challenging combat expansions or crucial storyline additions.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


2. The Last of Us: Remastered

Spoiler Warning (two plot points from the first 2 hours gameplay)

A zombie survival game with more tension than the whole Resident Evil franchise and more heart than anything the Walking Dead can offer. Two bold claims but this is a game that pulls at the heartstrings as you play it. And it’s a bloody dark game with suicide, child murder and various violent death scenes all present at points throughout. There are two protagonists, 50-something Joel, mourning the loss of his daughter in the initial outbreak, and 14-year old Ellie, who is the first human to survive a zombie bite without becoming infected. You have a few weapons in your limited arsenal, ranging from pistols to rifles and improvised weapons like spiked baseball bats, shivs and molotovs. And there are a lot of enemies ranged against you in addition to the zombies. Featuring Cannibals, hunters and ruthless post-apocalypse military organisations, the humans are almost bigger monsters than the zombies. Not that some of the zombie sections aren’t terrifying (a bit where you have to restart a generator in a partially flooded hotel basement, which wakes up a ton of zombies nearby, is particularly memorable) but arguably the most tense sequence is where Ellie is stranded, alone, in a burning building with a machete wielding cannibal hunting her (in the closest thing the game has to a boss fight).

Remastered Edition also features Left Behind, a DLC with Ellie’s backstory. There is an online part but that’s not the main attraction, the single player alone is good enough that you should get this (I don’t even like zombie/survival games all that much- but its one of the best single player campaigns I’ve played)

Rating 5 out of 5!

1. Star Wars: Battlefront

It may have its flaws (basically all of which are because its made by EA) but who cares if the servers are occasionally down because when everythings working, this is simply joyous. Soaring through the sky above Tatooine in X-Wings, Tie Fighters or the Millennium Falcon, racing through Endor’s forest on Speeder bikes, downing AT-ATs in Walker Assault on Hoth, it has everything you wanted to do in a game about the original trilogy.

The best thing has to be playing as heroes and villains. Whether your Force lightning your way through Rebels as The Emperor, clashing blades in lightsaber duels between Luke and Vader (this feels pretty epic 1 on 1, which happens a fair amount on multiplayer), gunning down Sith Lords as Han and Leia (who are much more of a match for them than in Battlefront 2) or racking up massive kill counts as Boba Fett ‘don’t get in my way…’ its immense fun.

Not all the online game modes are great but personally I find Fighter Squadron, Heroes vs Villains, Drop Zone and Cargo to be pretty amazing, and Walker Assault or Supremacy feel like proper all out battles from the films. Good job DICE, even if you are working for EA. Now give us a sequel with the prequels will you?

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Anyway that’s what I’ve loved this year.

Predictably as this is a personal preference list there are some notable absences in terms of big name releases this year. Why? Well I don’t count FIFA as a proper game (it’s just not), I lost patience with the Black Ops series of COD games after the first one and Batman: Arkham Knight just wasn’t as good as its predecessors (its a decent game but I feel like it could have been so much more).