Fargo Series 3 Episode 2 (Review)

This article is also available to read on The Yorker.

Fargo is an award-winning drama inspired by the 1996 film of the same name. The show, now on its third series, was created by Noah Hawley and currently stars Ewan McGregor, Carrie Coon and David Thewlis. It airs on Channel 4 at 10pm every Wednesday.

This is a continuing review. Follow the link to read the review of Episode 1.

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The Power (Review)

Sometimes, you don’t immediately click with a book. It took me a while to read the first 100 pages of The Power; I dipped in and out, every couple of days. After the hype surrounding it and my excitement to get started, once I did start reading it it took a conscious effort to pick it up and carry on. Sure, I was interested, but it hadn’t quite grabbed me yet. Then, just like that, I demolished the remaining 240 pages in a matter of days.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (Review)

This article is also available to read on The Yorker.

It seems that everyone in the world, apart from Disney movie execs and the actors, have decided that we really should stop making Pirates of the Caribbean films now. We probably reached that stage after 2007’s At World’s End. But here we are, ten years later with number five, which wasn’t worth making unless the aim was to show just how long corporations can flog a dead horse.

Saying that, the film wasn’t entirely appalling. We follow Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), Will and Elizabeth’s son, as he seeks the help of Jack Sparrow in finding the Trident of Poseidon – the only thing that can break Will’s curse. Joining the quest is Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), who clutches her father’s notebook and uses it to map the stars and search for information about him. Meanwhile, Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) is on the hunt for Jack, who cursed him to the half-life he now lives. The first act is fun enough, with charming newcomers and some semblance of pace, and the final battle is more involving than CGI beings of unspecified power hitting one another. The moment with Will and Elizabeth made me feel more than I expected it to. What was appalling, unfortunately, was Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.

Way back in 2003’s The Curse of the Black Pearl, far and away the best instalment of the franchise, Sparrow was exciting and new and moderated. He wasn’t the protagonist and so we didn’t get tired of him, rather looked forward to him popping up again with some new scheme. There was always a reason for him to be where he was, for him to make certain decisions, because the writing had more care taken over it. Also, Johnny Depp cared. Let’s not forget, he was Leading Actor-nominated by the Academy for the role first time around. Now, though, he’s the least attractive part of the film. What once was a character is now a routine; funny walk, drink, say something mildly inappropriate followed by a catchphrase. The scripts have declined in quality, Depp’s paycheck has skyrocketed and his effort – across his career – has slumped significantly. From Black Mass to Fantastic Beasts and now Pirates 5, he now just does the Johnny Depp thing and wows nobody.

Jack Sparrow is also the character through which we become involved in the lowest point of the entire franchise. Quite unexpectedly, in the middle of the film we find ourselves on a beach somewhere with someone who Jack owes money to or something forcing him to marry his sister. And guess what? This guy’s sister is fat and grubby with warts and cracked lips. And Jack has to kiss her to live. I reached a point of exasperation I had never reached before during that scene. There’s also some excruciating dialogue between the crew on several occasions, usually pertaining to women. It’s reasonable to include viewpoints which are relevant to the period, especially when they are being proved wrong in characters’ actions, but when you centre every joke around it, nobody laughs. The second act is a real trudge.

There were some brighter sides to this film, though! Carina was a joy, and her company so much more enjoyable than Elizabeth’s in the earlier films. She doesn’t have the middle class fussiness or the high-pitched whining voice; instead she is a woman of science and astronomy who patiently explains to those stuck in the times that she isn’t a witch and then gets stuck in during action scenes. Javier Bardem was a suitably dribbly villain, with cool CGI hair that looked like it was underwater which you could watch float around when you couldn’t quite tell what he was saying. Geoffrey Rush, as always, was a pleasure and was gifted the most poignant moment of the film.

All in all, this film was pretty much what I expected it to be, exceeding those expectations at times and seriously disappointing them at others. It was another Pirates film. I expect it won’t be the last, and the next will be just as pointless as this one was. Until next time, then.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge is now out in cinemas across the UK. Image source: IMDb.com

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Review)

This article is also available to read on The Yorker.

The recent National Theatre production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was something of a revelation for me. When brilliant writing, acting and direction all come together like that, it’s difficult not to be affected by it. I’m now even more in awe of the bottle format than ever before. And I think I have a new favourite modern play.

The thing that works so well about the bottle format (having a whole story take place within on location) is you get to sink your teeth into character. In TV, bottle episodes were often used to fill a series when the budget was running low as they only required one set (you may recall Breaking Bad‘s ‘Fly’ in season 3) and often don’t amount to much, but on stage and in film it is always intentional. From Hitchcock’s greats Rear Window and Rope, to Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men, to modern films such as Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours and even my favourite episode of Doctor Who, ‘Midnight’, it invites us to sit down and settle in with the characters, drawing us into their narrative.

Writer Edward Albee perfects the art in this play. An intricate dance between four personalities, it’s no wonder Who’s Afraid…? has been revived so many times since its debut in 1962. The staging in James MacDonald’s version hasn’t changed from the original as it worked so effectively; the location, characters Martha and George’s living room, fills the stage. The centre of the stage is a step down from the edges, which acts as a boxing ring. Whenever a character steps into the ring, they engage in a round.

And what rounds. Albee wrings every possible emotion out of the situation, and the actors get every drop across to the audience. Each act digs further and further into the suppressed depths of George and Martha’s marriage, and each act brings a more stunning performance from the pair, played by Conleth Hill and Imelda Staunton.

If you’ve heard anything about this production, you’ve probably heard about Imelda Stanton; she’s the centre of the marketing campaign and she’s been applauded by critics across the board. Deservedly so. Martha is feisty, frustrated, bitter, desperate, lustful and so much more. Staunton is a force to be reckoned with. However, although the audience can understand her throughout the first two acts, we don’t fully empathise until the third and final act. This is when Staunton comes into her own. The first two acts consist of a lot of nuanced shouting and throwing herself about, which I imagine may have had more impact within the theatre rather than through the barrier of a screen. But the reason she keeps up the bullishness is because Martha takes so long to break. She starts act 3 on her own, drunkenly navigating her thoughts. The change in tone is immediately noticeable, and what follows is the kind of performance that holds everyone in the audience, screen or no screen, right through to the end.

As incredible as Staunton was, the real star for me was her counterpart, Conleth Hill. George is a meticulous character, having the most scenes and the most interactions with all the other characters. He’s the standout in the first two acts, a brilliant instigator of conflict with plenty of his own faults. He takes his fair share of poundings in the ring, and gives as good as he gets. He’s subtler than Martha, using wit and sarcasm as a front, bringing dry humour to counter her bolshiness. In the third act, he is a support, allowing Martha the moment she needs, never disappearing into the background but never intruding. It’s a very well-measured performance, and it was the one that carried me through the whole story.

The other two characters left less of an impression. Luke Treadaway, who plays Nick, was unfortunately least impressive; his American accent, although consistent, was exaggerated in comparison to the experts he shared the stage with, and was particularly noticeable if you’d seen him in anything else (A Street Cat Named Bob, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time). The character of Nick had his moments, and there is a particular point where he cracks open, but his main purpose is as a pawn in the game between George and Martha. He does have more to do than his wife, Honey, played by Imogen Poots; with the least stage time of all, Poots had a tough job. The whole way through I expected her to be brought back in and take on a greater significance, but she is mostly there to serve as backstory for Nick and to underline certain emotional moments. She is allowed moments to shine; she brings a wonderful physicality and grace when performing an interpretive dance draped in her floaty yellow dress. But ultimately, the innocence of her character is what is needed in the company she is in, and her simplicity is a form of relief.

In the end, it is George and Martha’s story. They guide us through the highs and lows, the rows and the reconciliations. Theirs is the story that will stay with you long after you see it.

Image source: Playbill.com

Fargo Series 3 Episode 1 (Review)

This article is also available to read on The Yorker.

The anticipation surrounding the new series of Fargo has been huge; after two series on the trot meeting acclaim from critics and audiences, the pressure is on to pull off a hat trick. An impressive cast has once again compiled, including BAFTA-nominated character actor David Thewlis and hot-off-the-Trainspotting 2-set Ewan McGregor, who is playing twins. With series creator Noah Hawley writing and directing the first episode, there’s a lot to look forward to. For me, at least, the hype has been worth it.

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Ziggyology: A Brief History of Ziggy Stardust (Review)

Ziggyology: A Brief History of Ziggy Stardust is Simon Goddard’s biography of the character that David Bowie played onstage at his concerts (and offstage in his life a lot of the time) from the end of 1971 to July 1973. Goddard presents Stardust as a real cosmic entity who essentially cohabited Bowie’s body for this period of time – as he notes in the preface, “This book is mostly the story of Ziggy Stardust but only sometimes the story of David Bowie.” Now if that’s not a promising fiction and non-fiction cocktail then I don’t know what is.

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