Daredevil Season 3 Episodes 2-6 (“run” by Erik Oleson) [7/10]

Daredevil Season 3 review

This third season of the Marvel tale set in New York runs for thirteen episode and after Episode 1, which I rated as 6/10, barely enough to keep me going, “Daredevil” ambles onwards at a pace that frustrated me. Charlie Cox tries hard as the blind masked avenger left for dead at the end of Season 2, but there’s no compelling magic here, and Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of arch villain Fisk lacks the necessary menace. The fight scenes thump and smack with tremendous vitalism but I wasn’t watching a Kung Fu movie. At the end of Episode 4, I was nearly ready to give up. But perhaps the slow build has a point, for Episodes 5 and 6, as Fisk sets in place a plan to usurp Daredevil for his own dastardly ends, suddenly roar into life. Wilson Bethel emerges as a genuinely malevolent, wicked mock Daredevil, and Deborah Ann Woll’s performance as Karen Page notches up the drama. I’m now halfway and hooked for the last seven episodes… hope they deliver!

Stan and Ollie [6/10]

Stan abd Ollie review

Laurel and Hardy epitomise nostalgia, nostalgia for an era of gentle slapstick comedy that would not even surface in modern times. “Stan and Ollie” is an affectionate take on the famous comedy duo’s last stand, a tour of United Kingdom well after their box office stardom. This is a film where the acting receives mention more than any other attribute: Steve Coogan is triumphant in his immersive role as Stan Laurel, and John C. Reilly is pretty damned good as Oliver Hardy, and the supporting cast is nuanced and pitch perfect. The settings in various parts of the British Isles are lovely and the soundtrack is suitably ancient. And yet… and yet nothing much happens. I guess what I’m saying is that with a different script or in the hands of a different director, this mild tribute to creative friendship and partnership could have been immersive; instead it drags. I wish I could have enjoyed it more.

In Servitude by Heleen Kist [5/10]

Heleen Kist In Servitude review

A fast-paced thriller set on the rough streets of Glashow, “In Servitude” has much going for it but the plot overruns the characterisation. When Grace’s sister is killed in a car accident, Grace is thrust into a miasma of shady deals and shady people. Debut author Kist writes energetically, with plenty of style, and the Glasgow locale is well drawn. Yet it was hard to warm to Grace, lurching around in polar emotional states and forever finding new hidden enemies. It’s hard to get right, the multiple betrayal plot twists, and authors like Harlan Coben make it easy, but here the hand of the author remans too blunt. A promising debut.

The Paper Wasp by Lauren Acampora [7/10]

Lauren Acampora The Paper Wasp review

Abby Graven is the young, geeky, going-nowhere heroine of the engaging, sharp-witted debut novel “The Paper Wasp“,” written with immediacy and panache. Abby’s former best friend Elise is now the next hot thing in Hollywood and Abby impulsively inserts herself into Elise’s turbulent life, with unexpected consequences. I’ve read many of these “beauty and the beast” dramas but this one distinguishes itself by immersing the reader in Abby’s coiled psyche. I loved the savage look at Tinseltown and dreaded, then enjoyed, the dark ending. An impressive debut.

John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection directed by Julien Faraut [9/10]

John McEnroe In the Realm of Perfection review

One of the oddest documentaries I’ve ever had the privilege to watch, and I say privilege because this is drama of a fierce, fierce kind. “John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection” pivots around reels and reels of tennis instructional footage taken at Roland Garros during the French Open in the 70s and 80s, shot with noisy slow-mo cameras. Faraut cleverly sidles up to his focus, namely McEnroe, clearly an obsession of Gil de Kermadec, the French head of the filming project, and you wonder if Faraut is going to look more generally at tennis talent. But the final two thirds of the movie is all McEnroe, juxtaposing his artistry (one can swoon at the slo-mo of his drop shots and drop volleys) and his on-court antics. Was he spoiled brat or was it all a means of revving up performance? Faraut indulges in some pop psychology but then the final twenty minutes comes down to one match in June 1984, when McEnroe, during a nearly flawless year, takes the first two sets in his Roland Garros final against Ivan Lendl, only to begin to flounder. An electric guitar soundtrack roars as the slo-mo cameras from different angles capture the pent-up agonies on McEnroe’s face, in his posture. This is not acting, this is real, this is film showing the inner person under utmost stress. Extraordinary, I left the cinema shaking my head in awe at Faraut’s filmic genius.

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami [8/10]

Haruki Murakami Killing Commendatore review

Haruki Murakami, the workaholic Japanese literary star, represents a conundrum for most readers. Some, myself included, will complain about the plot weirdness of his novels, complain about the seemingly simple writing style, but come away from each experience refreshed and elated. Others – and I know plenty of them – will praise the ease of reading but rubbish the books as nonsense. “Killing Commendatore” is a baggier example of these two extremes. This time, Murakami follows the adventures of an aimless portrait painter who ends up in a lonely mountain house dealing with midnight tolling bells, an enigmatic nearby tycoon, a young girl, and a painting whose subject comes to life. In typical Murakami fashion, our hero’s life unfolds in endless detail that should bore the reader but is instead riveting. Towards the end, he actually plunges down an Alice-in-Wonderland-like hole battling something called Metaphor. Sounds silly? Yes, yet it isn’t. Somehow, through dint of immersion and rhythmic writing, our hero’s meandering, possibly pointless journey exhilarates. The many extended scenes exploring how the painter paints his portraits, deep “in the zone,” are wonderful. I reached the end refurbished and baffled. Another Murakami, I reflected.

The Target by Twist Phelan [7/10]

Twist Phelan The Target review

I love mysteries and thrillers set in my old stamping grounds of the finance sector, so I snapped up “The Target,” a fast-paced tale about Sean Dwyer, an insurance lawyer who snares a job with the SEC, allowing him to investigate insider trading claims against his now-dead father. Insider trading and “shorting” of stocks are fascinating areas of what I call “money behaving badly,” and “The Target” is built on a most clever plotline centered on them. Dwyer is a terrific hero and all the other characters come alive for the reader. A sure sense of pacing, an engaging style, plot twists galore, and vivid settings (especially the milieu of U.S. corporate justice) complete what is a most enjoyable thriller.

Black Earth Rising directed & written by Hugo Blick, Episode 1 [8/10]

Black Earth Rising review

A Rwandan genocide survivor adopted by a international justice prosecutor… a complex case launched… mysterious players… governments involved… the terrain of Hugo Blick’s “Black Earth Rising” is devilishly tricky and right at the heart of modern morality. If Episode 1 is representative, it’s also a humdinger of a thriller, for there are more plot twists here than in most entire series. Michaela Coel is stunning as survivor Kate Ashby, her judge mother is brilliantly played by Harriet Walter, no bit player misses a beat, and there’s even an ongoing oddly effective role played by John Goodman. Spiffy cinematography and crunchy dialogue round out a season opener that begs for a dose of the binges.

On the Basis of Sex directed by Mimi Leder [7/10]

On the Basis of Sex review

Put me in front of a biopic and watch me squirm with frustration. Real life is fascinating but rarely makes for a finely judged story. So I came to “On the Basis of Sex” with apprehension (especially as I’d missed seeing the much-lauded documentary “RGB” about Ruth Bader Ginsburg). I shouldn’t have fussed: Mimi Leder is an excellent director, with an intelligent, finely balanced grasp of story and drama, and the script from Daniel Stiepleman barely puts a foot wrong. Perhaps the reason that this biopic works is that it isn’t really a biopic. Instead it sets the scene with some early-life flashbacks and then settles into a tense, inspiring look at Ginsburg’s very first success at changing U.S. legislation on the basis of sex discrimination. And what a drama it is, with the outcome swinging on a few minutes’ testimony by feisty, whip-smart Ginsburg. Felicity Jones produces a career-best performance as Ginsburg, and Armie Hammer ends up delivering the goods as Martin Ginsburg even if he looks too wholesome. The chauvinistic villains are played by capable character actors. I was swept up by the rousing tale, one little told, and didn’t come down until the abrupt but smart ending. Recommended.