Film Review – A Star Is Born (2018) – Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga take hold of your emotions and don’t let go, in this incredible film

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Last night, I had the opportunity to watch a preview of one of the year’s most anticipated films and I have to say, I was not prepared for the emotional response it would illicit from me. So viscerally real is the emotional gut punch this film delivers, that I left the cinema feeling as if I’d just experienced a story first hand, as is often the case following a powerful theatre show. It is almost as if you are standing backstage watching the story take place in front of your eyes.

For those who, like me, have not seen any of the previous three versions of this story, A Star Is Born sees internationally successful musician and singer, Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), struggling with the pressures of a career in the spotlight, the worsening of his tinnitus problem and toughest of all, an addiction to drugs and alcohol.  One night, after a concert, he stumbles in to a bar and is captivated by the raw vocal talent of Ally (Lady Gaga) and the two have an immediate connection.

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What follows is an incredibly moving exploration of two careers at opposite ends of the spectrum – as one takes flight, the other falls to earth and how the pain and heartbreak of addiction affects not just the addict, but those closest to them.

The question I’ve been asked most since seeing the film is whether Lady Gaga can act. The answer is an emphatic yes and she delivers a confident, beautiful performance as Ally, from her early, slightly nervous interactions with Jackson, to a woman taking a hold of her chance at success and shining. I admit, I’d wondered whether I’d be able to see past the extravagant image we all know her for so well. Yet, the film perfectly takes those pre-conceptions and discards them, as we see Ally first perform La Vie En Rose, on stage at a drag show, in full make-up, only for this to be stripped away, in part literally by Jackson, to reveal the person underneath and you soon forget she’s ever anyone else.

It’s no surprise her vocals are stunning, from the intimate gig, to the vast stadiums, but Lady Gaga also brings the soul of her character to the forefront, as we see her struggle to first believe her good fortune, before also finding herself in love with a man she’s trying so desperately to help. Many have wondered whether she’d be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand (both of whom have starred in previous versions). They needn’t have worried and I fully expect award nominations for her performance, which will no doubt introduce her to a whole new audience.

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Another key to the success of this film is the chemistry between Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. From their very first scene together, you can feel the connection between them and it certainly adds credibility to a story in which two people almost instantly fall in love. It doesn’t feel contrived or forced. You believe the passion and love they share, which is essential if you are going to invest in the journey of these two characters. Watching them move through the highs and lows, I felt as if I was observing real lives; that’s how strong their relationship on screen is and the trust and affection they clearly have for each other as actors feeds in to their performances. Together, they make you laugh and cry.

As for Bradley Cooper’s performance in the film, in my opinion, it’s his finest performance to date and should undoubtably earn him a fifth Oscar nomination. Not only does he look different, but his voice is lower and more importantly, he is able to convey the complex palette of emotions that are constantly battling within Jackson as an addict. The combination of his hearing difficulties and need to rely on drugs and alcohol to simply exist in the touring world he inhabits have made him a lonely figure and it’s a joy to see the difference meeting Ally brings to his life. You see the light in his eyes at having a new reason to live. Jackson, in the hands of Cooper, is a gentle soul, struggling to keep going and the vulnerability he brings to the role is utterly heart-wrenching to watch, as we see a man with so many personal demons he’s trying to overcome and I confess, there were moments so emotionally raw, that I could barely watch. At this point in time, I can’t imagine a finer performance beating him to next year’s Oscar and 24 hours after watching the film, his astounding performance is still on my mind.

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The film also draws on strong supporting performances, most notably from Sam Elliott, who plays Jackson’s older brother Bobby, who stepped in to the role of the father figure his brother never had, due to their father’s own problems with alcohol and this relationship forms another touching facet of the story. Bringing a lightness and humour to the film is Andrew Dice Clay, as Ally’s father, whose pride and utter joy at her success brought a smile to my face.

A Star Is Born is also the directorial debut of Cooper and what a superb achievement it is. Yes, it’s perhaps a little too long and drags slightly in places, but it’s clear that Cooper had a strong eye and clear vision of what he wanted to bring to the screen. His choices in certain scenes, whether the framing, or the focus on which the camera rests in order to maximise both the stunning scale of the bigger moments and the quiet intimacy in others, is certainly impressive. If this is what he can achieve with his first film, I cannot wait to see what else we’ll see from him in the future.

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A film centring on the love and lives of two singers, also required a strong soundtrack and the original songs written for the film are stunning and crucially, filmed live for the scenes. This decision adds yet more authenticity to the piece, as we see Cooper and Lady Gaga performing in front of audiences at actual venues (including Coachella in California and Glastonbury in the UK). The biggest surprise musically, is perhaps the vocal ability of Cooper, who has a fantastic voice and you can sense the pleasure the two leads had performing together. As well as Lady Gaga and Cooper, collaborators include Luke Nelson, Mark Ronson, Dave Cobb, Diane Warren, Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter. I can easily see the film vying against itself in the original song category at next year’s Oscars!

The film isn’t perfect of course. I’ve mentioned it’s a little too long and although my view may be clouded by his later decisions, which left me so angry, the character of Ally’s manager seems rather two-dimensional.

That being said, my response to A Star Is Born is overwhelmingly positive. In fact it exceeded all my expectations, delivering not just a wonderful love story, but also a very real, painful and heartbreaking insight in to the struggles so many people suffer when caught up in cycles of addiction. Writers Eric Roth, Will Fetters and Cooper himself, have taken a classic story and brought it in to the twenty first century, ensuring it feels utterly relevant for today’s world. I laughed, I smiled, I held my breath during both the highs and lows and I shed quite a few tears. This is a film that will stay with me for a long time and I’ll be returning to see it again at the earliest opportunity.

A Star Is Born opens in cinemas in the UK on 3rd October and the USA on 5th October. Running time: 136 minutes. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/nSbzyEJ8X9E 

 

 

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Television Review – Suits 8.10 “Managing Partner”- where it’s clear who’s really running the firm

Well, we’ve reached the mid-season finale of Suits season eight. It’s certainly come around fast and this week’s episode tied up some plot lines, but left others (it’s obvious which one sticks out) frustratingly at a standstill.

My immediate reaction to 8.10 was a feeling of being underwhelmed. First, it’s a weaker mid-season finale when compared to many of the others we’ve had in the past (think Louis finding out about Mike, Mike getting arrested, Jessica leaving, last season’s kiss) and that did surprise me. I’d been expecting a big moment to keep us dangling over the next four months and although I’m relieved in a way that there isn’t something to drive me nuts about over the hiatus, it also felt rather anti-climatic.

On that note, I’ll delve in to the specifics.

Alex vs. Samantha – Part 2

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I have to say, I’m so pleased the “fight” for Named Partner is over! It’s taken up so much of 8A and I’ve not been hugely invested in the outcome, so I’m very happy everyone is moving on. Louis spoke my exact thoughts when he said he was “sick of this shit.” You’re preaching to the choir, Louis. In itself, the case in which Alex and Samantha fought this out wasn’t bad, it was just a bit dull and what became the most interesting aspect of the whole storyline was the further insight we saw in to Samantha (more on that later) and the consequences that flowed from the battle for the firm as a whole.

Samantha Wheeler’s history continues to unfold

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To say she’s only been in the Suits world ten episodes, Samantha Wheeler has certainly made herself very much at home and I’m a fully paid-up member of Team Wheeler. This week provided deeper insight in to Samantha’s history, her own and her history with Robert Zane and both elements proved fascinating.

We’ve all known that Samantha and Robert’s history clearly ran deep and very likely involved something shady and this week we saw that this was partly true. Zane has indeed been her mentor and surrogate father for 12 years (what is it with this show and 12 year periods?!), but we also learnt how that relationship came to be. For a split second, I thought Robert was going to be shady, but thankfully that wasn’t the case and instead, it was his dodgy fellow partners, who had pulled a Forstman on him to keep him quiet. The reveal that it was only with Samantha’s help that Robert took control of his firm was a lot of fun and truly gave validity to why he’d be so keen to back her, no matter the promise.

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We also discovered some further information about Samantha’s personal life, all of which provide plenty of possibilities for further storylines. We now know she has never known who her parents are, so having them reappear could be explored (although, no cheesy shocker of her being Harvey’s half-sister or something, please). I was also intrigued by the line of dialogue in the flashback, which suggested that she may have spent time in the military, as the federal agent referred to her previously serving her country. If she had no family and moved through the foster system, perhaps joining the military provided her the family she’d never had. Again, this is something else that could be explored in future episodes. It’s all very promising and I’m looking forward to seeing what lies ahead for the newly-branded Named Partner.

Congratulations to Louis Litt!

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First of all, let’s all take a moment to enjoy Louis Litt finding some happiness! It wasn’t too long ago that he was sobbing in to Rachel’s arms over the loss of Tara, or was being mugged at gunpoint. Yet, by the end of 8.10, we welcomed the new Managing Partner and I was thrilled to see I actually got something right when it comes to the plot, as I mentioned in my review of 8.09 that I thought Louis should be in charge. That’s not something I’d have contemplated before season seven and yet, since then, Louis has slowly started to show he’s the right man for the job at the moment.

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Right from the start of this week’s episode, Louis was the mature leader. He made clear the fight between Alex and Samantha needed to be clean, something Harvey and Robert couldn’t stick to. He then advised Katrina not to risk destroying the firm by getting involved; advice Donna gave to Harvey in the same episode. He was putting the firm above anyone’s own personal need. So, by the time the battle between four people was coming to a head, Donna’s strategy was the clear and obvious solution and hearing Louis lay down the law to Harvey and Robert was fantastic. He was calm, serious and a leader. Jessica Pearson would be so proud, Louis!

On the personal front, we also learnt that he and Sheila and going to be parents. I’m pleased for Louis, even though I’ve not really been a huge fan of the way Sheila has conducted herself this year. I can only hope that all the unresolved questions hanging over them (religious upbringing, who will spend less work time etc.) don’t create any insurmountable hurdles. I certainly wasn’t a fan of his guilting Sheila in to giving up work. Not cool, Louis. Finally, highlighting just how much Louis has grown up recently, his last scene with Harvey was a delight to watch and top marks to Gabriel Macht and Rick Hoffman. Harvey telling Louis he’d be an excellent Managing Partner and outstanding father was one of the best bits of 8.10. These two used to be so aggressive and angry with one another and now their friendship is very real and the affection in that hug was lovely to see. Hopefully this will survive Louis taking the reigns!

We all know who the real Managing Partner is (and it’s not Louis)!

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In last week’s review, I commented that the title of 8.10 could refer to Donna, based on all the relationships she’s managing so damn well and that proved to be partly true. We saw Donna, yet again, keep the firm from turning in to a pile of rubble, this time by convincing Louis to step up. It makes perfect sense. Harvey has already acknowledged that, deep down, the role isn’t the one for him and I agree. Plus, last week suggested Robert may be starting to re-evaluate his priorities and he also knew that it needed someone else to step between him and Harvey. It was fantastic to see Donna demonstrating her talent for reading the situation and the personalities involved and saving everyone from themselves!

It was also lovely to see Katrina come to Donna for advice about Harvey’s proposition, which I have to say, I wasn’t impressed with. Harvey, Alex, Samantha and Robert can play their games, but dragging Katrina in to it was crossing a line in my view. I was also a little surprised that Donna advised her to do it, especially as she has first hand knowledge of the risks of pretending to be someone you’re not to obtain documents. From now on guys, leave Katrina out of your dodgy shenanigans! Even Harvey by the end realised who the true managing partner is and he looked pretty impressed by the realisation too.

So….No review would be complete without discussing Donna and Harvey, so let’s do it…..

The frustrating Darvey dance continues (insert deep sigh here)

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It’s ironic that I’ve ended this first half of season eight feeling frustrated when it comes to Darvey, as I’ve been one of the few people who has remained fairly positive throughout the last nine episodes. For me, I’m happy as long as I can see some sort of narrative plan and this seemed to veer a bit off course by the end of 8.10.

The subject of Darvey probably needs a post all its own (shout if you’d like one!), but in essence, I’ve enjoyed seeing some tension this season. Following the wedding not everything was resolved. They’d been through a lot and hadn’t really moved past it, but season eight began with them trying to get back on decent ground, which with these two includes the flirting of years gone by. When that blatant flirting was replaced by arguments rather than a resolution, after 8.05, I could understand it. Harvey’s abandonment fears resurfaced and affected his emotions and we saw some of the underlying resentments both still carry in the wake of season seven.

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It felt as though we were building to something credible. There was no after works drinks and they became more and more distant, as Donna grew more independent in her role as COO. Clearly, I knew we wouldn’t see something definitive to close out this half season; that would be too simple, but I did expect something that made sense and as much as I enjoyed the last scene between them, it felt out of sync with the tone that had been building between them. It was a scene that would’ve fitted up to 8.05, but coming at the end of 8.10, I sensed it was more of a “we should give the fans something” moment, which personally, I’d have been happy without. Is the tension and resentment behind them? Are they “back to normal” again? Who knows now.

I think the back half of season eight is going to be crucial for this particular relationship, especially based on the information we now have on what is to come. Do I think Darvey is endgame? Yes, but I may change my mind come the end of 8.16.

Speaking of the future. Looking ahead to 8.11-8.16 (WARNING: Spoilers ahead!)

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I end each post looking ahead to the following week’s episode. As we won’t see the series return until next year (I’m guessing January, as there’s no Winter Olympics in 2019), we have less to go on. All we really have is the information gleaned from the interviews that have surfaced in the last day and the very brief promo.

First, we know the firm will become Zane, Specter, Litt, Wheeler, Williams. The stationery firm responsible for their branding needs must be thrilled by how much money all these changes bring in! It was never about beating someone else to the job for Alex. He just wanted the title and so I’m not surprised that the choice Samantha gave him at the end of 8.10 has resulted in him putting himself last.

Second, something covered last season is going to come back and apparently “sort of rear its head for one or maybe more episodes.” Time to start thinking about season seven again if you can bear to. As long as it’s nothing to do with Paula! That’s a dealbreaker for me!

Finally, creator Aaron Korsh has stated that in the back six episodes they’ll be delving in to Donna’s backstory AND giving her a love interest. Taking these two elements one at a time, I’m thrilled that we’ll be learning more about Donna on a personal level. We still know very little, so there’s so much scope here. Will we meet her mother? Does she have a sibling we’ll meet? Will we see her first starting out at the DA’s office, before Harvey, or get a glimpse in to her life away from the firm and the people in it? I want all of it, but I’ll settle for some of this list! We’ve explored Louis, we know all about Harvey’s issues, so it’s time for a focus on Donna and it’s the element I’m most excited for in 8B.

As for the love interest? Well……..I’m torn about this, which is driven by the uncertainty about the show’s overall future. The consensus seems to be season nine is looking good and if that’s true, then I’m all for Donna having the chance to have someone come in to her life and give her another possible path. If season eight was to be the last, then this idea seems nuts, as it would mean they only had six episodes to resolve everything (including Darvey finally coming together). So, assuming we have the time, who could this love interest be? Someone new, or someone from her past, with whom she’s already deeply connected? We’d get to see another side of Donna and also, I hope, another side of Harvey. Perhaps, seeing someone else take her attention and affection is what he needs to realise what he could lose. It took Paula’s presence for Donna to evaluate her feelings for Harvey. Having him do the same, perhaps in therapy, would be a brilliant parallel. Plus, it could set them up for the moment most of us are waiting for!

It’s now a waiting game. See you all in 2019 for new episodes, but expect a couple of Suits-related posts before then! Thanks for reading!

Suits season eight will return in early 2019 (I hope) on USA Network in the US and via Netflix in the UK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Television Review – Suits 8.09 “Motion To Delay”

As I am writing this review of last week’s episode of Suits, the day before the mid-season finale airs, the irony is not lost on me that the episode on which I’ve been delayed in posting my thoughts is entitled Motion To Delay! Interestingly, 8.09 was the first episode of season 8 that linked back to the old seasons, through the inclusion of the ghost of Frank Gallo. There were also a number of different plots within the episode, but the writers were able to keep all the plates spinning, resulting in quite a satisfying hour and one that I found much better than last week.

As always, let’s dive in:

Congratulations to ZSL’s newest Senior Partner, Katrina Bennett! 

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It was so lovely to see Katrina achieve her dream of being senior partner this week, with Louis escorting her, in his own special way, in to her new office. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Katrina’s journey so far this season, as she navigates the harder elements of rising the ranks in such a competitive and life-consuming profession and it was lovely to see her able to take on a case that truly mattered to her, now that she had the power to do so. However, it was also satisfying to see her not succeed without a struggle and her seeking Harvey’s advice (don’t forget it was him that brought her to the firm originally), was particularly lovely. It also demonstrated how much he’s grown too, in a scene where he really was a sounding board to someone junior to him.

There was another element to Katrina’s story this week and that involved her newly-blossoming friendship with Brian. I don’t know about you, but I spent most of the episode with my fingers crossed that they weren’t going to take this plot strand in to the cheating sphere. It really would sour my opinion of both characters and having them simply by great friends, supporting each other through the chaos, will be far more interesting in my view. Thankfully, the writers haven’t chosen what would be the cliched route yet and the more we see them together, the more it seems Brian isn’t looking for anything more than a friend (and no doubt an advocate for his career progression down the line). As for Katrina, I’m still not convinced she has romantic feelings towards Brian; rather he’s more of a symbol of what she knows is still missing in her life and which was only highlighted more in her lovely final scene with Louis. I’ve missed them together, so it was heartwarming to see him there to support her and congratulate her on such an incredible achievement.

Alex vs. Samantha – Part 1

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It seems that the mid-season finale is going to spend a lot of time on the battle for Named Partner between Williams and Wheeler (more on that later), so this week could be seen as the warm-up round, as they found themselves on either side of a case between two clients. It only made things more interesting to have one of those being the shady client Samantha can’t stand and Alex was stupid enough to take on. I have to say, based on what we’ve seen of Gavin Andrews, I agree with Samantha that whatever happened to the painting was probably deliberate! I also didn’t think she was out of line suggesting the firm drop him. Hasn’t PSL / ZSL had enough of dodgy clients? This was the perfect opportunity to legitimately ditch another one!

Donna’s conversation with Samantha was also fascinating, as I too was initially surprised to hear Donna suggesting to another woman that she hold back from what she wanted. Coming from someone who’d fought so hard recently to achieve a more prominent position, independent of a man, it seemed a little out of character for Donna to do this, although her ultimate goal seemed to be firm harmony, which has always been something she’s been involved in too. What I did love though was the dialogue here and how, by the end of the scene, Donna understood and respected Samantha’s position and not that it matters, but I’m still Team Wheeler.

Life Is Short (No Matter What Harvey Says)

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Motion To Delay also saw the firm, yet again, under threat. This time is was from Tommy Bratton, still annoyed that his criminal activity had been curtailed and his career halted. Shouldn’t he just be grateful not to be in prison?! This could have been yet another episode where we have someone make lots of threats and then have the team find a way to beat them. Let’s face it, Suits does that A LOT! However, the writers chose to incorporate the sentiment that none of us are here forever and you never know what’s around the next corner, with the revelation that Bratton was dying, followed by his unexpected death later on.

What was most interesting to me in this plot strand was how Bratton’s death affected Robert Zane and Harvey quite differently. Harvey acknowledges how if you found out your days were limited that surely you’d make the most of them, but he was more detached from the reality of what happened and it didn’t seem to cause him to reflect upon his own life, unlike when he was faced with Louis’s changing circumstances earlier this season. He also even commented to Katrina that “life is long.” No, Harvey, that’s not the lesson you should be taking from this! Life is not long. You do not have all the time in the world, so hurry up and tell Donna you love her! Mind you, the comment seemed to sum up his current frame of mind, as this season he’s seemed to be struggling with the changes around him. Perhaps every day feels like a long struggle to him right now?

Robert on the other hand, took the news of Bratton’s death very badly. Yes, he’s older and had known the man personally for many years, but it seems to cause a bigger shift in his outlook on life. Just as Louis has started putting more of a focus on his personal life this season, Robert too seemed to be weighing his choices for the future by the end. Will we see him stepping back from the office? I think it’s very possible.

What’s going on in that brain of yours, Donna? Just ASK HER, Harvey! 

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We didn’t have much between Donna and Harvey in Motion To Delay, with the scene we did have being quite formulaic when it comes to them – Donna gives helpful insight, Harvey realises she’s right and follows her suggestion. In this case, it was Donna pursuing a lead of her own with Frank Gallo’s daughter, but let’s face it, we’ve seen this same scenario hundreds of times. I did find Harvey’s question and overall mood in the scene interesting though. As I’ve said already, he seems emotionally exhausted this year and the interaction lacked any spark, or banter and as for the question, I certainly think Harvey would like the answer to that to cover more than just work!

It’s not quite the same as the Mike and Harvey bromance, but I do love Zane and Specter!

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We’d heard creator Aaron Korsh say that, just because Mike was gone didn’t mean the movie quotes would disappear too and sure enough, this week saw Harvey find a new partner in crime when it came to the movie quotes. I loved this more light-hearted scene between the two characters and it reaffirmed that they may have their differences, but there is still an affection and respect there.

Looking Ahead – we’ve reached the mid-season finale already! 

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Blimey, time flies! We’re already at episode 8.10, which will leave us with a few months to ponder what awaits us over the final six episodes of season eight. Entitled “Managing Partner” we already know that the episode will involve a fight for named partner between Alex and Samantha. Who’ll win? The obvious answer would be Samantha (perhaps using her mysterious past with Zane to her advantage?), but perhaps things won’t work out the way we expect. Also the title could suggest Robert does choose to step down, leaving the managing partner role open again for either Harvey or Louis. Part of me honestly thinks Louis would be better placed to take this on right now, but we’ll have to see.

Or the title could simply relate to Donna, who manages so many partnerships in the office at the moment, whether with Harvey, Robert or the other characters. The synopsis suggests Donna has to make some sort of decision for the good of the firm, which intrigues me. Will Harvey see this as a betrayal, only solidifying the distance that’s existed between them so far this year? They certainly look quite serious and a little sad in the promo photos we’ve seen. Plus, the cast includes landlord David Fox. Is he back with more work for Harvey? Is he still trying to get Donna to have dinner with him? He did redeem himself a little last time, so it’s not totally ridiculous is she said yes.

I honestly have no clear idea what’s going to happen and whether or not we’ll be left with as excruciating a cliff hanger as we were this time last year! Not long to find out!

Suits continues tomorrow with 8.10 “Managing Partner” on USA Network in the US and on Thursday in the UK via Netflix. You can see the promo here: https://youtu.be/odjg7v3_eLU

 

 

 

Television Review – Suits 8.08 “Coral Gables”

I’ve been enjoying season 8 of Suits so far. Yet, this episode was the first one that I’ve really felt was quite dull and more filler than meaningful stories, with a number of strands feeling unresolved by the end. Either that, or it was setting up a number of possible storylines to come in the next couple of weeks, in which case, maybe I’ll look back on it more favourably than I do at the moment. Oh and the title was a bit silly too (referring to the place both Gretchen’s friend and Samantha’s foe had moved to – boring). They really could have come up with better.

Let’s get in to some specifics:

A missed opportunity when Louis’s past comes back to haunt him

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I was a little disappointed with the Louis storyline this week. Leaving aside (for the moment) my feelings on the Sheila/Louis relationship, the handling of the bullying element of the plot line was rather strange to me. Yes, Rick Hoffman was very very good (as always), especially in the therapy scenes and I did love Lipschitz’s method of getting adult Louis to resolve the issues he’d been holding on to since his teenage years; that scene between Louis and his younger self (and that lovely hug) was wonderful work.

However, why not address the consequences of his behaviour with the bully?! Are we to believe he didn’t remember Louis, despite just how cruel he was to him? Or was he pretending because he (hopefully) feels ashamed of himself? Plus, was it merely coincidence that the homework Louis used to do for him was Biology? You know, a key subject for someone who is now a hugely successful fertility expert?! Wouldn’t it have been a more satisfying storyline to have Chaz acknowledge his behaviour and admit the help Louis gave him in Biology is what helped put him on the path to who he is now?! Instead, the plot still felt unresolved. Or maybe this is the first set up for the future – will Sheila have surgery? Will something go wrong?  Time will tell.

Oh and I said I’d come back to Louis and Sheila. I continue to feel their relationship is headed for trouble, or maybe heartbreak. It just feels a little off. Plus, this week we had Sheila arranging to see a fertility doctor without telling him, or thinking he’d want to be there?! Their relationship still seems very much all Sheila’s way and I’m bored of it. There are other relationships that need attention (I bet you don’t need three guesses for what I’m thinking about). Move along please!

Romance for Samantha & Harvey? Nah, they’re more like annoying siblings!

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Samantha and Harvey bonded this week and realised they’re more alike than they wanted to admit. Well, that was obvious to all of us, right down to the boxing. Catch up guys! I’m guessing there will be some fans out there panicking about the possibility of this becoming the next disastrous romance for Harvey, but I can’t see it happening. They just don’t have that chemistry and their interactions / dialogue felt more like siblings than anything else to me; the taping her mouth shut; jockeying for a boxing match and general needling of each other isn’t flirty or romantically slanted in my view; these are simply two competitive, work-hungry people, who want to show the other that they’re just as good as they are.

I also enjoyed Harvey trying to find out more about her history with Robert (as I’m curious too) and his awareness that she’s clearly opened up more to Donna, much to his annoyance. It was also good to see Harvey setting the line for her in terms of how things work at the firm. No threatening / ruining the life of anyone whose intentions are decent and honest, Samantha. Harvey may work in the grey, but there are lines you don’t cross.

Again, this storyline felt somewhat unresolved, or a set up for future plots. Will there be a similar set of circumstances in the future, just as Harvey referred to and if so how will Samantha handle it?

The consequences of a simple mistake for Gretchen. Yes, it was a bit dull, but hilariously, it’s one of the few plausible legal plots the show has ever had!

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First things first, I love Gretchen and Aloma Wright always brings so much to her all-too brief appearances, so it was great to see her having her own storyline this week. Yes, it was a bit boring, but it’s one of the few semi-plausible legal plot points that Suits has covered since it started! Could a deal fall apart all because someone didn’t send a piece of paper? Yep and it would be a nightmare for the lawyer responsible. Would a senior partner be handling the signing of his own documents? Less likely, but hey, Alex needed a plot line this week (although, personally I’d have rather had Katrina). In the real world an associate would have been responsible for that and there’d be a copy of the signed document, sent electronically as back-up to the original but, in truth, the story served one (or possibly two) purposes.

First, it showed that Alex is decent enough to not fire Gretchen to save face with his client (which many partners would have wanted to happen). Is this again showing he’s perhaps the more honest choice for Named Partner than Samantha? Possibly. Second? Well, this is where I again highlight this episode’s amount of potentially unresolved / set-up plot lines and this one concerns our favourite COO. Having Donna come to Gretchen and help restore her self-belief after a knock back was lovely, but the episode went further than that, with the mention of Gretchen hoping Donna has someone there for her to do the same if she’s feeling like she should quit. It felt jarring to me. What was the point of it? Was there none and it was simply Gretchen being kind, or is this laying the clues for something happening that puts Donna in that exact position in the near future?

Donna still in need of her own personal storyline

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Following on from the strange dialogue from Gretchen I’ve mentioned above, we’re still waiting for Donna to have her own independent storyline this season. She continues to be the strong support system for everyone else (this week Gretchen), yet we still know little about her. Soon we’ll know more about Samantha after half a season than Donna after eight! Whether we’ll be seeing Donna considering leaving this year remains to be seen, but what is certain is that she needs a personal storyline to truly make her character have the depth she (and Sarah Rafferty) deserves.

A non-existent week for Donna and Harvey

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I’ve used the word “unresolved” a lot so far in this review and when it comes to Darvey, it’s the most apt word there is! We’ve had flirting, fighting and bubbling resentments for Darvey so far this season and it seemed strange this week didn’t have any content whatsoever. True, we learnt that Donna did indeed tell Harvey about Samantha’s plan, which was a relief. Mind you, we all know Donna’s no liar, right? Well, not unless it’s about Harvey anyway, so we should’ve had more faith that she’d make sure he knew something shady was going on. I’m confident this integral plot line (and let’s face facts, it is integral) still has further to go over the next two weeks.

Talking of unresolved….

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How’s Katrina? Has she made some more friends yet? Achieved senior partnership? I understand not all the main cast can have significant story time every week, but as Katrina’s storyline has been one of the more interesting this year, she better be back next week! Also, has Harvey had any more therapy? He clearly has emotional baggage to unpack; that comment to Samantha about him not being able to say what he’d rather be doing, for a start! We all know it involved strawberries, whipped cream and Donna, so go and let it off your chest to Dr. Lipschitz, Harvey. We’ll all feel better when you do!

Looking ahead (only 2 episodes left until that loooong hiatus………..)

 

Next week is already the penultimate episode before the mid-season hiatus begins, so I’m assuming we may start to see hints of what could be involved in the mid-season finale. 8.09 is called “Motion To Delay” (which would be an ideal tagline for a Darvey movie, but that’s another story) and from the promo, it seems it’s war between Samantha and Alex. Don’t get me wrong, I like Alex. He has a good heart and wants to succeed without screwing people over, but I admit, I’d vote for Samantha. The idea of two partners from the same firm going against each other in court sounds ridiculous. Have they not heard of a conflict of interest?!

The only other story element we know is that next week sees the return of an old foe – there are so many options, but from a narrative perspective, will it be a more personal foe, such as Malik or Travis Tanner (especially as that would be very interesting from a Darvey perspective) than someone like Hardman? Only a week to find out!

Suits continues with 8.09 “Motion To Delay” next Wednesday night on USA Network in the US and on Thursday via Netflix in the UK. You can watch the promo here: 

 

Television Review – Suits 8.07 “Sour Grapes” (and that’s definitely not just the wine)!

I’ve got to give the writers on Suits credit, their episode titles often have multiple meanings and that was certainly the case this week. One of the plot lines may have involved a vineyard, but there were more sour grapes flying around this week than those in Robert Zane’s wine vats (and that’s before we get to Louis’s problems). This week also marks the return to directing for Gabriel Macht (his last episode was in season 4). It can’t be easy acting and directing yourself and he did a great job.

So, on we go to the episode itself, starting with the actual grapes.

Robert Zane – building relationships and dealing with plenty of prejudice

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I’ve loved seeing Robert in charge the season, but Donna was spot on a few weeks ago when she pointed out to him that he needed to let the team work how they work best. He’s clearly taken that advice on board and as well as appreciating Donna, this week he was building a better relationship with Alex, asking for his help over Samantha’s on a personal matter.

Alex has been the character I’ve been least bothered about this season, so it was great to see him having a more interesting role this week, working alongside his boss, but not being afraid to let him know when he was being unreasonable. It was also satisfying to see Suits yet again raising the subject of racism and how that doesn’t just disappear, no matter how successful someone is. Yet, this story also highlighted that it’s not just race that can cause prejudices, but also the resentments that arise when you are seen as being successful by those who may be jealous of that success. Not only did Robert have literal sour grapes, but he also had to work through the sour grapes held by the wine-making community he’s now a part of, who saw him as the big Manhattan ego muscling in. Having the show tackle real and interesting issues is always a big plus. Also, I have to say, I love Zane owning a vineyard! Time for a firm retreat where they all get merry on the wine (well, once he actually makes some they can drink)!

Oh and line of the week goes to Robert Zane. You all know the one!

The road to parenthood is not as easy for Louis & Sheila as they’d hoped (in more ways than one)

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It wasn’t just Robert Zane’s storyline this week that was a very real subject, as we saw Louis and Sheila tackling a difference of viewpoint on parenthood that, if left unresolved, would lead to sour grapes between them later down the line. On mistakenly thinking that Sheila was already pregnant (I knew it wouldn’t be that easy), they discovered a new problem – their wildly different wishes regarding the religious upbringing of their child. I had wondered this a while ago, but assumed they’d have worked through this already. I mean, it’s not a small point. Louis wants his children to be Jewish. I’d have thought this would be obvious to Sheila. You would also think two adults of their age would have talked about this before getting pregnant, right? The fact they hadn’t is another red flag to me that these two haven’t truly thought their relationship through and makes me wonder if it will ultimately end in tears and getting engaged when such serious issues are still unresolved didn’t seem to be the wisest choice to me. Time will tell I suppose, but it was great to see another very real issue that many couples have to resolve being highlighted on screen.

 

Samantha continues to become a team player (but also has her eye on the ultimate prize)

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We’ve seen Samantha really start to develop her relationships over the last few episodes. She’s already in with Zane, her and Alex now have respect for each other and their ultimate goal and last week saw her bond with Donna. 8.07 saw her working with Harvey and continuing to earn his respect, as he learns more and more that she is a valuable team player and can get the job done. I’m betting Harvey isn’t fluent in Chinese (and let’s face it, she’ll be fluent, because nothing else would cut it for this woman)! I love seeing the team coming together and the more I see of Samantha, the more I love her, but I’m not blind to the fact she’s still playing the game to get the big prize.

The same way the writers have slowly made viewers like her, she’s doing the same with the rest of the gang; doing everything right to position herself for that promotion. She probably worked out on Day 1 that to get Harvey on side, she not only needed his respect, but also needed Donna in her corner. After this week, she seems to have achieved both of these goals (and established a kick ass duo with Donna along the way; that last scene where they made Harvey twitch with discomfort was so damn satisfying!). Does that mean they can’t trust her, or that she’s a bad person? Nope. But the writers also aren’t painting her as an angel either. In fact, she’s probably one of the most complicated personalities in the team and that’s a big plus to the series. After this week, Alex really needs to up his game, as Samantha is moving her pieces in to position on the board, ready to take the game. If she does, I hope the sour grapes that follow won’t break the firm.

Wait a minute, David Fox has a heart? Who knew?!

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The more we see of David Fox, the more I actually like him. He’s proved to be a ruthless opponent more than once, but this week we saw he actually has a heart and loyalty to the person who helped him become the success that he is. Sound familiar Harvey? If there’s one way to earn Harvey’s respect, it’s loyalty and it was fun to see him have to admit that David Fox isn’t quite as bad as he thought he was. I’m also interested to see what else the writers have planned for this character, especially now they’ve shown us he’s a better person than we initially thought. Maybe he’ll ask Donna out again? Maybe she won’t say no a second time, especially after Harvey’s behaviour this week!

Harvey & Donna – both harbouring resentments this week. The question is, when will they boil over?

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Oh, Harvey. There are weeks when you really irritate me and this was another one of those weeks. This episode saw Harvey sour with a number of people: David Fox for what he assumed are his questionable motives and smugness at having Harvey as his bitch (anyone else love that?!), Samantha for her input in his case (until he realised he needs her to get the job done) and then Donna, for making the deal with Fox in the first place. The first two in this list were resolved in Sour Grapes. He’s on good terms with Samantha and now has a professional respect for his newest client.

What about Donna? The issues raised between these two in 8.07 ran much deeper than David Fox’s case and posed some interesting questions for the rest of 8A. Harvey may have been angry about Donna’s deal (one that he gave her carte blanche to make), but what was more worrying was his declaration that she’s in her job because he “put her there.” Excuse me, Harvey? Did you really just say that?! Have you reverted to your 7.01 alter-ego? It was a statement that made me want to reach in to the television and strangle him with my bare hands! Hell, even Robert Zane now sees Donna’s value in her role and both respects and appreciates her, which he made very clear. Pops and Red are indeed becoming a wonderful team in their own right.

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Donna really shouldn’t have to be reminding Harvey that she earned her position, even though seeing her stand her ground so passionately was glorious and it highlighted he’s not the only one feeling sour in this “friendship.” Not only did she remind him she deserved her job, she voiced more than once that he always does what he wants, regardless of anyone else and crucially, that he didn’t respect her (okay, so she also flagged she isn’t a liar, which we all know isn’t totally true when it comes to a certain kiss, but I’ll let that slide). Her conversation about gifts with Samantha also highlighted that she doesn’t feel he appreciates her either. Those aren’t small things and unlike his relationships with Fox and Samantha, by the end of this episode, Donna and Harvey weren’t “back to normal.” Donna is clearly still angry with Harvey at the end (that last expression on her face is not a happy one) and possibly angry with herself for having feelings for a man she has perhaps suspects will never be able to give her any more than he already does.

It’ll be very interesting to see how this plays out over the coming the weeks. There are clearly emotions they need to deal with. Will that happen? Will it lead to other emotional revelations? Will Donna decide to move on and find fulfilment with someone ready to give her that and if so, how would Harvey react to that? Anything’s possible, but I’m becoming more certain that all these bubbling resentments have to boil over. Will there be fireworks? God, I hope so!

Looking ahead……..

We already know next week involves something from Samantha’s past, which she needs Harvey’s help with. Her backstory is still unfolding, but we know she had a difficult childhood and went through some form of trauma. With the episode title being “Coral Gables” I’m wondering if this will refer to a foster home or orphanage where she possibly grew up? There’s also apparently more obstacles for Louis on the path to having a child and from the photos, it seems he’s in need of Dr Lipschitz’s help to process them. My biggest question though, will Donna and Harvey pretend their unresolved issues don’t exist? Probably.

See you all next week!

Suits continues next week with episode 8.08 “Coral Gables” on Wednesday night on USA Network in the US and on Thursday via Netflix in the UK. You can watch the promo here: https://youtu.be/0ls6nHWMtwQ 

(Screenshots courtesy of USA Network)

Film Review Retrospective: Back on the IMAX screen,The Dark Knight remains a highlight of modern cinema & the only Batman I’ll ever need!

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Ten years ago, I remember heading to my local cinema with a group of friends to see the second Batman film by Christopher Nolan. I can still remember how excited we were and this weekend I was able to relive the cinematic experience at the Odeon BFI IMAX at London’s Waterloo, which has the title of being the country’s largest cinema screen. For one week only, to mark the film’s 10th anniversary (where on earth has the time gone?!), it has been re-released on selected IMAX screens and it certainly did not disappoint. It therefore seemed appropriate to take this opportunity to reflect on the film, which is just as powerful on the big screen today as it was back in 2008.

Batman was always my favourite superhero when I was younger. I’ve still no idea why and I enjoyed the films of the 90s, but it wasn’t until Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, that I really felt I’d found my perfect portrayal of this character and the dark world of Gotham City.

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Awaiting the start of the film at the Odeon BFI IMAX, London

 

Having said that, The Dark Knight is so much more than a superhero movie and it is because of the incredibly layered story, its themes and its stunning performances that it has remained one of my top ten films of all time. It’s one of those films that you perhaps went to see expecting it to be one thing and then realised it had so much more depth to it and it may be the second of a trilogy, but it stands firmly as the best of the three and is more than able to be viewed as a standalone film experience.

First, Nolan’s strong script packs so much in to the running time, from Gotham’s courageous, young DA determined to make a stand against the city’s underworld, whose journey takes such a dark and tragic turn, to the crazed terrorising of The Joker, to the emotional pull of Bruce Wayne towards the woman he still loves (this time played by Maggie Gyllenhaal). There are so many twists and turns during the film, that you’re exhausted by the end! It also manages to highlight some interesting social issues, my favourite being our perception of the good and bad of society and who is more deserving of being saved. It certainly speaks volumes that it is the boat of “good” citizens who are very willing to sacrifice the prisoners for the sake of themselves and seemingly only fail because none of them were willing to live with the guilt.

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Christopher Nolan filming in IMAX (Source: Kobal/REX/Shutterstock)

The script also managed to throw in a few shocks, particularly (for me anyway) the death of Rachel Dawes. Knowing Harvey had to survive in order to become Two Face, it was very clever to have Batman come to his rescue by mistake, making her death and both mens’ grief so much more powerful.

The film of course also looks visually stunning and seeing it in IMAX, when it was the first Hollywood film to be shot, in part, using IMAX 15/70 mm cameras and thus changed the role of IMAX in films, only enhanced that spectacle. From the opening shots of Gotham, to Batman gliding across the Hong Kong skyline, to the exhilarating armoured car chase (and that stunning lorry flip!), to simply the intensity of the emotions on display on a larger screen, it’s a film that continues to impress whether your first or 100th viewing. We’ve grown to expect films to look this good over the last decade and owe Nolan a huge debt of gratitude for that.

Then, of course, there are the performances, starting with the obvious. I’d been a fan of Heath Ledger for years and yet this role saw his acting talent step up to a whole new level. His Joker is dark, crazed, yet intelligent and crucially, very funny; frighteningly so in fact, which only makes him more fascinating. This isn’t a man in clown make-up. This is a figure to be feared and Ledger’s nuanced performance, full of tics and creepy mannerisms, is still utterly compelling and deeply chilling. You simply cannot take your eyes off him whenever he is on the screen.

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Christian Bale also deserves so much credit for this film (and the trilogy as a whole), as this is not a two-dimensional action superhero role. He conveys the complexities of the man that is both Bruce Wayne and The Dark Knight and finds great depths of emotion throughout, particularly in his scenes with Michael Caine’s sublime Alfred and Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon. Bale not only looks the part physically, but he brings an emotional credibility to the character that hasn’t been matched before or since in my opinion. He isn’t perfect; he’s complex and flawed and you truly care about him.

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Caine and Oldman are also incredible assets to the films, bringing weight to such iconic roles, meaning they truly make them their own and both develop a wonderful bond with Bale, one with Bruce Wayne and the other with his alter ego, allowing each to help shape the man he becomes across the trilogy. This second film also includes Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, whose passion and bravery to stand up for all that is just and decent, makes his ultimate fall in to darkness and despair so much more painful to watch. Eckhart plays both “faces” of Dent brilliantly and you certainly feel the depth of his loss following the shocking death of Rachel. It’s a testament to the strength of this film’s cast that I haven’t even mentioned Gyllenhaal or Morgan Freeman yet, both of whom play a vital role in the story.

Also, as well as looking visually stunning on the IMAX screen, this platform showcased the brilliance of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s gorgeous score. It’s so intrinsically woven in to the film that it’s an extra character and remains some of my favourite film music.

Whether you’re someone who, like me, loves this trilogy, or has never watched The Dark Knight before, if you’re able to catch it this week in IMAX, then I cannot recommend the experience strongly enough. I’m very tempted to go back for a second visit!

The Dark Knight is showing in selected IMAX screens (Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco & Toronto in North America and London in the UK) until 30th August 2018. Relive the trailer here: https://youtu.be/UwrOQ2pYDxY

 

Film Review – Bad Samaritan (2018): Yes, I love David Tennant, but he’s so much better than this average thriller

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I’ll start this review by admitting that Bad Samaritan is not the type of film I’d usually be interested in watching. Yes, I love a good thriller, but I’m not a big fan of the “abduct and torture women for entertainment” genre and so there was only one reason I made a trip to Fright Fest this weekend to see this film – David Tennant. Regular readers of this blog will know I am a huge admirer of the actor (especially on stage) and seeing he was actually the lead in a film for a change, I thought I’d give it a try.

Having already heard mixed opinions from those who had seen the film in North America, my expectations were rather low and perhaps because of that, I actually found the film much better than I thought it’d be, although the treatment of women in it did still sit uncomfortably with me.

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The plot of the film makes one thing very clear to the audience – don’t use valet parking! Ever! (Oh and don’t break in to people’s homes, but that really should already be obvious.) We’re introduced to young, aspiring photographer Sean Falco, played by Robert Sheehan (who also gets to keep his Irish accent for the role). He has a fractious relationship with his step dad, little money and direction in his life and other than his girlfriend (more on that later), not much in his life, besides his best friend. Together they act as valets outside an Italian restaurant in Portland, where they identify potential wealthy patrons, access their car’s SatNav and pay a visit to their homes, where they steal items that they hope won’t be missed (oh and take photos of credit cards, cheque books etc.). Not the nicest of people then.

The twist in the tale comes when Sheehan’s character enters the home of Cale Erendriech (David Tennant) and finds a young woman chained up in his office. The chains can only be unlocked by the key around Erendriech’s neck and when he comes looking for his car, Falco has to leave the woman there and vows to send help, but becomes sucked in to the dark games of a man whose house he really shouldn’t have entered (see folks, crime does not pay!) while the authorities just think he’s crazy.

 

It’s an interesting, if far-fetched, concept and the film is a bit of a mixed bag. There were elements of it I enjoyed, but others that I found rather annoying. Although it does have some great jumps and times when I was sitting waiting for the next one, the characters aren’t particularly fleshed out, so can feel rather two-dimensional and for some supporting characters, surplus to the plot. Take Falco’s girlfriend Riley for example. She has little purpose in the story, other than being humiliated and then attacked, only to then be forgotten. The FBI agents brought in to the mix are also incredibly cringe-worthy (especially the guy) and I found it hard to take them seriously, with their role seemingly just to help quickly wrap up the ending. Also, Kerry Condon, who plays Erendriech’s prisoner does well with the material given to her, but is never fully developed as a character.

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I did however, enjoy seeing Tennant play a darker role again, with his recent stint in Jessica Jones the first one in a long time (since 2005’s disturbing Secret Smile) and it reminded me how good he can be at subtle menace. Tennant is best in Bad Samaritan early on, with those piercing stares, dark looks and creepy smiles, as he works out Falco is on to him and begins his games. It’s a creepy performance that holds the tension, as you’re not sure what he’ll do next. Towards the end of the film, however, Tennant’s portrayal is forced down the OTT crazed psychopath route which, in my view, weakens the overall menace of the character. As someone who is very familiar with his career, I can say with confidence that he’s capable of so much more than this film is able to offer and it frustrates me that a film role really showcasing his talent still eludes him.

Sheehan does a decent job in this film. Starting off playing a not particularly likeable character, he does a great job of changing your view of Falco, once he discovers the girl and risks jail to try and bring help. His determination to help her, despite the threats to himself and those around him certainly redeem him and Sheehan gives a very genuine performance, of someone finding themselves in a situation way over their head.

Overall, Bad Samaritan is an average thriller, but much better than I expected and for those who enjoy films that have you waiting for the next jump, or simply enjoy watching Tennant on screen, then it’s worth a watch.

Bad Samaritan is out now in selected UK cinemas and also available to rent on Amazon and iTunes. In the US, it’s now out on DVD. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/o1_iqyaQEi0