Carnival Row Review

Amazon wow’d me a little while ago with their series “The Boys”. It is seriously one of my favourites shows of the year, and if they continue on the trajectory, they started with that season it will go on to become one of my favourite shows ever. The latest Amazon original series is Carnival Row. Based in a fantastical Victorian style world with magic and creatures mixing with humans. Starring Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne alongside a stellar supporting cast, it has all the ingredients of a good show. 

Carnival Row is attempting to bring us a world that has been tried several times in many different mediums. For me the Victorian style mixed with fantasy never quite hits the spot. It makes me think of games like Bloodborne or The Order 1886, both of which did the Victorian fantasy mash up, but I couldn’t get into. I went into Carnival Row expecting it to have the same struggle, but I was surprised that a couple of episodes in I just wanted to watch more.

A big part of that, and my personal favourite element of the show, is the intriguing relationship between Orlando Bloom as Philo and Cara Delevingne as Vignette. As it develops through the show you find out more and more about their past together, and Episode 3 was one of the high points in the show where their relationship is brought into focus.

For a while it seemed to me like Orlando Bloom would always be known for Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean. He has been in other films and shows, but I always see him as Legolas or Will Turner. Here is the first role since those ones that I can say I really bought into his character and enjoyed his performance. Philo is an interesting character and one with layers of history that we uncover through the main plot, and the reveal about him is nicely done and plays into the overall narrative of Carnival Row.

As for Cara Delevingne, I consider this her best role to date. My exposure to her as an actress is limited to Suicide Squad, where I thought she was okay, but her character was just a bit odd. In Carnival Row’s Vignette, she’s given a character with a lot of meat and motivations that are justified. She’s a strong woman and is uncomfortable with the role the society expects her kind to fulfil, which plays out in a variety of ways that Cara pulls off well.

One of the biggest issues Carnival Row has for me is that is almost benches these two characters in exchange for a political story for what felt like a long while. Everything is interconnected in a way, but I felt the two halves of the whole were very disjointed until the reveal near the end of the season. It makes sense overall just I managed to guess the reveal before it happened because of the clear change in focus.

That main story is broken up with a very interesting sub plot between the upper classes of the city, where we get some good performances. I enjoyed how this plot is delivered alongside the other one and given its own importance and story. If done poorly, this would have been an annoying distraction from the main story, but I enjoyed the variation. Simon McBurney, Tamzin Merchant and David Gyasi play out this class-based Beauty and the Beast with a twist story brilliantly and in the final episodes I found myself enjoying their plot line as much as the main one.

That main plot line with Philo, Vignette and the politics starts strong, but ends flat. I understood the motivations of all involved, but due to the late introduction of some characters and the short screen time of others, I just didn’t really care about anyone outside of those two main characters.

Carnival Row is a solid start to a new show. It has potential to become a much bigger story, with the intrigue and politics beginning to suggest a power struggle on top of the class war that is dividing the city already. The shows message about everyone being equal is heavy handed at times, but I never found it too offensive. I think the show could go on to a much better second season, but the first season is worth a watch on its own. Carnival Row is streaming now on Amazon Prime, so most of you will have access to it.

Good: Interesting world built that I want to see more stories in, several great performances, Orlando Bloom pulls off a bowler cap well.

Bad: Peaks in the first half of the season and some characters are underdeveloped for the role they play in the overall narrative.

7/10 – Solid Start for a new show.

ChAzJS

 

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After Life Review

Ricky Gervais is a somewhat divisive figure in the entertainment industry. His stints hosting the Golden Globes are famous for his harsh put downs and dry humour that often goes past the line of politically correct. After Life is the new show from the mind of the comedian that has been released on Netflix.

The how follows a man whose wife has passed away and taken his main reason for living with her to the grave. Gervais is the writer, director and star of the show, and his sense of humour is stamped all over the show. You get the feeling the character of Tony is not very far from Gervais’ real thoughts. He puts himself in this position and it’s hard to say he is acting well, as it feels a lot like it’s just him and not much of a character.

Surrounding Gervais is a flock of talented actors and actresses who are all solid throughout the show, some comedians you’ll recognise from TV and some character actors who have popped up in a lot of British television. It’s clear immediately though that Gervais is the focus, and Afterlife is a vehicle for him to put his thoughts out into the world.

A lot of this is managed heavy handedly by Gervais, with all the subtlety of a brick through a window. The lack of a deft touch is noticeable, especially early in the six episode series. Some of the jokes fell flat to me, and this is evidence that it really is all about how a joke is delivered. The jokes are similar in topic and at times even similar in structure to his stand up jokes, but for me Gervais’ stand up is a lot funnier than this show is.

That’s not to say its not got it’s moments, it just never peaks above the funny clips I saw before release. Three or four times through the series I found myself laughing out loud at the show which is lower than I expected for this season going in. Those expectations I found myself changing as the show went on and I realised what Afterlife is; Afterlife is Gervais trying to tell a story with his comedic style sprinkled in, and I expected a more comically focused series.

The story we follow is interesting, relatable to people, and has a good message at its core. The heavy-handedness with the comedy is also present with the storytelling here though, and at times the script is blunt and repeats its point. The main character’s arc is satisfying if obvious, and didn’t really hit me how it could have if it was better handled.

After Life is an odd series of TV, it’s a lot of good ideas that just didn’t hit the mark for me. Gervais is a good comedy writer, and his sense of humour works for me as it did brilliantly in his stand up show, but something didn’t quite hit right for me here. It is a series with the potential to be a thoughtful introspective on loss, loneliness and the emotions people deal with in tough times. The heavy-handed execution mean it lands as a decent series with unfulfilled potential.

Good: Gervais delivers some good laughs, themes and story are fantastic.

Bad: Poor execution and lack of a light touch took away from the series for me.

5/10 – High potential but didn’t hit for me.

Sex Education Review

Netflix’s original series’ have been going from strength to strength, and the latest one I sat down to binge through is Sex Education, the Asa Butterfield led series about a 16-year-old boy who has grown up with a sex therapist as his mother. The mysterious cool girl at school convinces him to share the knowledge he has picked up over the years with the rest of his school peers, and make a bit of cash at the same time. 

This odd premise is used as a brilliant framing mechanism for the show which delves into a plethora of topics that teenagers have to deal with in their formative years. Exploring their sexuality and all the uncomfortable moments that brings with it. Handling such important topics in what is first and foremost a comedic show is a very tough task, but one that Sex Educations writers get absolutely perfect.

I don’t recall any show I have ever watched successfully bringing real questions the are directly relatable to the real world in the same way this show does. The show is set in 2019, in the real world and every character we spend any meaningful time with has a story and feels real. Again, the writing for these characters and their arcs through the series is tremendous, and somehow the tone stays consistent throughout the whole show regardless of whether the topic is a picture being spread around the campus or characters losing their virginity.

The great writing goes hand in hand with some great break-out performances, particularly from the main 3 characters. Asa Butterfield as Otis is equal parts socially awkward and quirkily charm. Ncuti Gatwa plays fabulously camp Eric, and I found his characters journey was really interesting as it’s a journey I know nothing of, but I am sure a lot of people my age struggled with the same problems he encounters. For me the star of the show is Emma Mackey as Maeve Wiley. Maeve is an odd entity in school, maligned by the cool kids, but too cool for the rest of her peers, the story her character goes on is entertaining, heartbreaking and very real.

That element of the show, how real every situation feels, is what I think Sex Educations special ingredient is. I did not experience all of the shows events in my time as a teenager, but I experienced a few of them, and I think it will be the same for anyone in my generation. For the generation below me, who are currently going through this time in their life, this show brings to light the fact that everyone is in the same boat and dealing with their own problems.

There are not many shows I have watched where I have repeatedly thought “This is brilliant”, but Sex Education is one of them. I have written a lot about the messages and societal issues the show addresses, but it would be remiss of me not to touch on just how funny the show is. It finds the funny side of most situations, and more often than not it times the punchline right, so as not to ruin the moment. Occasionally a few of the jokes fall a little flat, but its got a high success rate compared to jokes in most Netflix shows I have watched.

The one real negative I have on Sex Education is the first episodes placement in the season, the “big issue” (pardon the pun) is a bit too on the nose for the first episode and perhaps could have been swapped out to a later episode, even episode two. The show moves through topics and issues that teens struggle with but are perhaps feel are too taboo to ask the questions that sex educations poses, and it often answers them as well. This is one of the cleverest shows I have seen, and I would recommend it to pretty much everyone over the age of thirteen.

Good: Incredible handling of sensitive topics, brilliant acting, 80s wardrobe, Awesome soundtrack (Old Time Rock and Roll being the highlight for me).

Bad: Some of the first episode is a bit silly.

10/10 – One of the best shows that will come out in 2019. 

Netflix’s The Punisher Season 2 Review

Netflix have recently announced the cancellation of a number of their Marvel show’s, with Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Daredevil all being scrapped by the property. There is no word yet, but I am pretty sure all of these series are done for. That being said, The Punisher was one of the best series out of them all, with only Daredevil beating it for me, and one of those Daredevil seasons featured Frank Castle heavily. 

After the first season surprised me with the story driven deep dive into Frank Castle’s mind, I was open to whatever story the show runners decided on. From the start of Season 2, I found myself really intrigued by the story. With Frank seemingly close to getting away from his bullet-filled past, the opening episode is quite different, but I thought it was a great way to show that Frank could have a different life, but he is constantly drawn to violent situations.

Jon Bernthal is once again superb as Frank Castle, he has completely owned this role and made the character infinitely more interesting to me. Before this version of The Punisher was brought into the world, he was always a character I felt was extremely thin with not much to explore beyond the rain of gunfire he brings with him. Bernthal plays a man haunted by his past, desperate to get away, but almost subconsciously drawn towards a world he thrives in.

Frank ends up looking after a young girl, around the same age his daughter would have been, who is played excellently by Giorgia Whigham. She’s a street smart kid, and doesn’t initially trust Frank, and why would you, he kills anyone he gets into a fight with. The dynamic between them is the driving force behind the entire season for me. There are elements of Joel and Ellie from The Last Of Us, and I really enjoyed that element of the show. She is there to remind Frank to stay on the right side of a line. He does kill, but he kills when he has to, not just because he can, leading to some of the best moments in the season.

Micro from Season one is nowhere to be seen, or been mentioned but returning from are Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah) and Curtis (Jason R Moore) who are both there to help Frank despite his grumbling. Curtis has a much bigger role this season than he did last, and I liked the way he interacted with Frank and the arc his character goes on is genuinely interesting. Madani however, I found a little odd. There isn’t much for the character to do, she is essentially the worst Homeland Security Agent in history, who is always a step or three behind the protagonists and antagonists in the story.

Speaking of Antagonists, Ben Barnes returns as scarred ex-best-friend of Frank, Billy Russo. I really liked the actors performance, but I did find the story with him and his psychiatrist to be a little repetitive. At the 5th or 6th time we see them discuss the past, the bit begun to wear a little thin and I would have rather dedicated more time with him and Frank perhaps having more interaction. In addition to him, we have Josh Stewart playing a devotee of the Church, whose motivations are initially unclear. I won’t say too much for fear of spoilers, but I found his characters arc grew into the season. His  ominous presence begins as a distraction and uninteresting, but by the end I was keen to learn more about the character.

Being a Netflix Punisher season, the action is something to behold. Every gunfight, hand to hand brawl and car chase is shot and edited masterfully. I loved all of the action, and could have gone for a bit more although that’s not to say the show lacks it in any way. In a similar vein to the entirety of the Punisher show, it never quite reaches the heights of Daredevil’s one shot masterpieces. The brutal action of the punisher is still very entertaining, although be warned, this is maybe the bloodiest of the seasons Netflix has produced.

All in all, I had a great time watching this season. The melancholy feeling knowing this may be the last season we get from this is hard to avoid, but even though a season 3 is easy to get to from where our characters are left, I am happy with the finale of the show. Perhaps the biggest indication of how much I enjoyed it, is that I finished the entire 13-episode run by 3pm on saturday, just 31 hours after the show dropped on Netflix in the UK.

Good: Jon Bernthal is fantastic, along with a number of the rest of the cast, and the story with him and Giorgia Whigham is great. Action scenes are brutally brilliant.

Bad: Madani a wasted character for me, and even though I was hooked throughout, there is probably 2 episodes worth of time we could have saved with some editing and not beating us over the head with the Jigsaw character’s memory loss.

9/10 – Great series and I hope we get more, but if not The Punisher ends on a high.

You – Netflix Review

I had not heard anything about you before I saw it pop up on Netflix. The trailer suggested a thriller, but a few minutes in you realise that the show is doing something I haven’t seen before, or at least not that I can think of. 

You is set around the life of Joe, a Book store clerk played by Penn Badgley, a guy with an unusual way of courting women. Beck, played by Elizabeth Lail, stumbles into his life and Joe is instantly obsessed. He then begins to stalk her and use the information he gathers to help her fall for him, letting nothing and no-one get in between his plan to be with her.

Joe is an evil character. He is snide, lies his way through everything and stalks Beck in a variety of creepy and all to real ways. In the Digital age, everyone’s online profile is a few taps away, and You highlights how much information is out there, even if it’s not so easy to access in reality (I hope). The show focusing on such a clearly evil and selfish character is a very interesting way to tell this story, as we spend most of our time with joe, learning his thought processes and his reasons for doing things.

After a few hours, you are on Joe’s side somehow, despite seeing him do a variety of sinister actions. This unique take on who to put as the protagonist of a show works well, causing you to question yourself when you realise what Joe is actually doing. He does have real redeeming qualities, which is what makes him a compelling character.

Beck is right on the other side, in that she is an inherently good person, but as we see her from Joe’s pint of view, we see a lot her faults. Even if a lot of the faults are ignored by the infatuated Joe, we see Beck is a flawed but still good person. Throughout the series there are a number of these flawed but good people, coming and going and all showing that Joe is a bad person. Through it all though, I found myself kind of cheering for Joe somehow.

All of these character driven scenes are shot with some very unusual techniques, at times the entire background of a shot is blurred, with just the character on-screen in focus. I imagine it is used to give you the view from Joe’s perspective, that all else is blurred and only Beck is clear in his mind. Other than that, the whole show is well made, with solid performances from everyone, especially Penn Badgley in the lead role.

I stumbled into You, not expecting a great deal, and was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the show. The premise does wear a bit thin in the later episodes, before a final ramp up in the finale which sets up a new season quite well. If you’re looking for something easy to watch with interesting characters, this is a solid show to take up 10 hours of your time.

Good: Good performances, unique protagonist dynamic and a story I haven’t seen before make You worth watching.

Bad: Gets a bit samey in the mid to late episodes, and some of the “funny” moments fell a bit flat on me. Couple of annoying side characters that didn’t work to me either.

7/10 – Solid show and worth a watch if you like the trailer. 

My Most Anticipated TV series’ of 2019

I’ve done Games, I’ve done movies, now for the series that will take up hours of my time throughout the year. Last year had some excellent shows, Killing Eve, Bodyguard, and Daredevil sticking out in my head, but 2019 has some real treats in store (hopefully) and these are a few of the ones I am most excited to binge watch. 

Game Of Thrones – April

Where better to start than with arguably the most anticipated TV series in history. I watched every episode of Game of Thrones in August 2017, having never seen a single episode before. I knew about it of course, but I missed the start and felt I was too late to jump in. Once I decided to go from Episode one, it hooked me within the first hour. Sixty-seven episodes later, and I am a massive fan of the show.

With so many memorable characters over the seven seasons to date, and so many of them having met horrific ends, this season has the unenviable task of finishing the story. There are so many fan predictions and videos online about the upcoming season, but honestly I am avoiding all spoilers and going in just hoping that they can stick this landing. This is as ambitious a project as I have ever seen on TV, and if they pull it off and finish this series well, it will almost certainly cement itself at the top of TV shows for me. I loved Breaking Bad so much because of its excellent ending (in my opinion), so I really hope Game of Thrones can get it right.

Netflix’s The Punisher – January 18th

Netflix last year released a lot of series, all 4 of the defenders has a series released and to me the only success was Daredevil season 3. The next, and possibly the last Netflix Marvel series after the cancellation of Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Daredevil, is The Punisher Season 2. The first Punisher series surprised me, because it didn’t go for the over the top action I expected. It told a real story about a flawed character, and is the only series without Daredevil that has worked really well for me in this Netflix Marvel world.

Jon Bernthal returns as the title character, and his portrayal of Frank Castle is probably the best single performance in the Marvel series aside from Vincent D’onofrio’s Wilson Fisk. This season I am hoping for a bit more of the action I expected last time. The villain this time round, Jigsaw, was set up brilliantly in the last episodes we saw, so I am expecting big things from him trying to get revenge on Frank.

Stranger Things – 4th July

Halloween last year didn’t feel right without Stranger Things to binge all weekend, and I for one am glad its back this year. Wait its coming out in July? What the f….

In all seriousness, this show has been excellent for most people who have seen it,  for me its been a good show with some great moments, and I really hope the next season expands the property into new areas. The random episode last season (Season 2, Episode 7) felt very out of place for everyone, but I think this next season will do a lot to make sense of that episode. I expect a bit a change of tone for Stranger things, mainly due to the moved release date. Halloween was perfect for the pervious 2 seasons, so I am hoping for even more of a Goonies vibe this time round.

American Gods – March 10th in US – UK Unconfirmed.

American Gods was one of the weirdest series of tv I have ever watched. To be honest I am not sure whether i liked it or not, such is the level of weirdness. It was certainly interesting, and Ian McShane is absolutely brilliant in his role. The world it’s set in really does intrigue me a lot, combining the mythology of every real world religion is a really cool idea, and i have been tempted to read the book myself.

I am keen to see how the story plays out with the characters I know, and I think this next season could be a real surprise. Hopefully I am right, but honestly this series could be terrible, and at times in the first season it teetered on the edge of being nonsensical madness.

Of course there are several other series I will watch, Brooklyn 99, Lucifer and hopefully Archer all have new seasons coming out, along with Rick and Morty. Thanks for reading this week, and I am going to keep the posts coming this year. Again please share if you think someone else might like to waste 5 minutes reading my ramblings. Til tomorrow.

ChAzJS

These are a few of my favourite things (2018)

It’s a new year, so what else to do but write a post about my favourite film, TV show and game of the last year. These aren’t necessarily what I think is the best in terms of technical skills involved or even story, but they’re the pieces of entertainment that I enjoyed the most personally.  I have 4 picks, one for each of the 3 formats, I mentioned above, and then the one thing that I really enjoyed the most.

Favourite TV Show of 2018 – Killing Eve

I had no idea what this show was, right up until the minute I started watching it. A quick read of the synopsis told me it was about a female assassin, but beyond that I was blind going in. The shows brilliant leads Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh are equally fantastic in the show, and the dynamic that is developed between the them and the rest of the cast really make this show tick.

It has a little bit of everything I like in a show, and crucially for me, it doesn’t take itself too seriously which is what didn’t work for me in another good show from last year The Bodyguard. The only contender to Killing Eve’s crown was Netflix’s Daredevil season 3, but honestly even that didn’t come close. If you haven’t got round to Killing Eve yet, it’s on BBC iPlayer and im sure its streaming worldwide somewhere, it really is too good to miss out on.

Favourite Game of 2018 – Assassins Creed Odyssey

I have shocked myself with this choice and I am kind of cheating, but I know what my favourite piece of entertainment of the year is and I don’t want to give something 2 spots on this list, so Assassins creed has found its way here. I loved Spiderman, I appreciate the masterful work in Red Dead Redemption 2, I have played more of Fifa and Destiny 2 this year, and Fortnite is a endlessly enjoyable experience, but no game captured my imagination quite like AC: Odyssey did. I chose to play as Kassandra, and within the first hour of the game i was absolutely in on her story and what she was trying to do.

From the first moments on the island of Cephalonia, to the last minutes of the game I was hooked and this game does that by giving you a lot of fun tools, a massive, busy open world with lots of quests, and letting you play your way in it. I had largely given up on Assassins Creed after not enjoying the new style of play in the previous entry AC Origins, but this has brought me back and I still play this occasionally now, after completing the 3 huge main Quests. This was a very tight choice between AC and Spiderman on PS4, but today, I’m picking AC when tomorrow I might pick Spiderman, they’re both that great.

Favourite Film of 2018 – Avengers Infinity War (SHOCKING) 

This is a very tough category for me, with so many great films in 2018 i had a real hard time decidi…. LOL JK it just had to be Infinity War. Yes Spiderverse was amazing, and there are a lot of brilliant drama’s around, but nothing compares to the event that was Infinity War for me. It may require 22 films of homework before you watch it, but the payoff is sublime. A movie of this scale and encompassing so many characters is an achievement never attempted before in cinema history and somehow the Russo Brothers, Marvel and everyone who worked on this film managed to pull it off.

There are moments in this film that make me smile, laugh, well up, and gasp in disbelief. I remember the thought in my head in the final act of “Are they actually going to do it, end it at that iconic point from the comics”. I thought that, and then they went ahead and did exactly that. No spoilers here, but by now everyone has seen it, that moment is one of my favourite movie scenes of 2018.

Favourite Piece of Entertainment in 2018 – GOD OF WAR (PS4)

Sony Santa Monica’s God of War is the single greatest piece of entertainment I have ever consumed. Not just 2018, but in my 25 years on earth. Nothing in video games compares to the feeling of calling the Leviathan Axe back to your hand after throwing it through an enemy. No game I have played looks better than this game, and No game, film or TV show has ever produced a 10-15 hour experience all capture in one, long, uninterrupted camera take.

God of War can be compared to a stage show with its small cast of engaging characters and easy to understand plot, at the same time as being compared to the biggest blockbuster games and movies of all time with its spectacular set pieces and bombastic action. I know a lot of people, older generations in particular, will never see anything part of God of War, and I wish I could change that. God of War for me goes beyond just being a game, it is entertainment and storytelling at its very best.

Thanks for reading my rubbish! Please share if you think anyone else you know might want to waste some of their time reading my thoughts.

ChAzJS