Boy Swallows Universe [9/10]

Boy Swallows Universe review

Based on Trent Dalton’s mega bestselling novel of the same name, Boy Swallows Universe, a lovingly crafted seven-episode streaming show, never flinches from the dark side of the original work. Eli Bell grows up in the harsh light of the bogan drug world of 1980s Brisbane, accompanied by his semi-savant older brother Eli. Even as his parents and stepfather sell and take drugs or alcohol, a naive optimism grips Eli, and both the actors portraying him over a decade, Felix Cameron (especially) and Zax Burgess, convey this superbly. The other actors in a busy ensemble are also superb, with special mention of Simon Baker as Eli’s agoraphobic alcoholic estranged father. The bleak yet somehow lovely background of Brisbane’s grungier suburbs is on full display with lush cinematography and the music score is evocative. The underlying book veered, in my opinion, toward the overly histrionic, but John Collee’s script, and the work of three directors, achieve a powerful balance that marries gritty reality, emotive aspirations, surreal elements, and narrative tension. Boy Swallows Universe is a triumph, definitely the highlight of the 2024 Australian movie/show scene and a worthy aspirant globally.

The Great Escaper [4/10]

The Great Escaper review

If someone were to pass me a magazine article, say, about a 90-year-old British WWII vet who gatecrashes the 70th anniversary of Dunkirk in France and becomes plastered on the front covers of newspapers … well, I’d read and mutter “interesting.” As a movie, The Great Escaper is a dull, drama-deficient failure. Michael Caine convincingly plays the vet shuffling with his walker but the lines he is given by the pedestrian script blunt his performance. Only toward the end is he allowed to shine a little and display real emotion, but by sticking to veracity the narrative can find no tension or friction. In theory, Glenda Jackson should work well as his wife, the two of them clearly meant to portray what it is like to be very elderly but still bask in seventy years of love, but her performance is all hammy edges and no traction. The music is abominably treacly and the supporting cast adds few sparks. All up, The Great Escaper might make sense if you adore World War II nostalgia but otherwise, skip it.

Annika Season 2 [9/10]

Annika Season 2 review

Season 1 of Annika startled me with its narrative device of the main character regularly speaking directly to the viewer, and it took me one and a half episodes to come to grips with the notion. I suspect that in many writers’/directors’/actors’ hands, musings, usually around a cultural or historical theme, and confessions would backfire badly, but in this case, the effect is stunning. Each episode of this procedural series is standalone, with the key Marine Homicide investigator solving a distinct murder, and somehow the chats-to-viewer mesh seamlessly with both the murder case and the evolving lives of the homicide crew. The script crackles with superb dialogue, Directorial control never falters, marrying action and investigation to scenes on and around Scottish waters. And, most important of all, Nicola Walker is brilliant in her portrayal of DI Annika Strandhed. As a bonus, the other bit characters are also portrayed wonderfully well; Jamie Sives is especially absorbing as DS Michael McAndrews, #2 in the unit and someone with longstanding linkages with Annika. Season 1 ended with a brilliant cliffhanger, a climax that spills over into the six episodes of Season 2 with satisfying cohesion, and Season 2 itself does not lack for a fine finale. Overall, Annika has proven to be a welcome surprise package.

The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett [9/10]

Janice Hallett The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels review

A cozy mystery rendered via emails, interviews, WhatsApps, etc., etc. The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels might seem destined to be an anodyne interlude. The plot essentials could fall flat, also: when two rival true-crime authors tackle the horrific ritual killings of five people eighteen years earlier, basing their investigations around a mysterious baby born then, hidden layers of artifice fall like dominoes. As the cliche goes, nothing about the original satanic cult case withstands scrutiny. But Janice Hallett displays consummate craft skills in bringing both the plot and the third-hand storytelling devices into a glow of character-based tension that gripped this reader for the duration of a one-sitting read. The myriad twists and turns of the investigation equally startle and remain convincing, and the author somehow manages to keep all the many strands of evidence clear in the reader’s mind. The resulting concoction of cleverness and humanity is an intoxicating brew. Consider The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels as one of those dream marriages, Agatha Christie betrothed to True Detective.