Because cinemas are currently closed due to this blasted virus, I’ve not been writing film reviews. However, a few people have suggested I review the films I’ve been watching on television. I’m hesitant, as the whole point of my film reviews is to encourage cinema attendance (hence why I’ve avoided reviewing direct to streaming films). However, since going the cinema is impossible at present, here are three brief reviews of television series I recently watched.
The Mandalorian (Disney+) – Let’s get the Star Wars one out of the way first. This won’t be news to anyone who lives in the US, but a couple of months ago Disney+ launched in the UK, which finally gave us Brits a chance to see what all the Baby Yoda fuss was about. Actually I’m quite irritated by all the memes, purely because the climax of episode 1 introducing Baby Yoda proved a deft reveal, that would have been best left unspoiled. Still, what’s done is done, and one could hardly expect a national act of spoiler restraint from our US cousins. Of course, cute though he is, Baby Yoda isn’t actually Yoda at all, as far as I can tell. Some claim he’s a reincarnation, but that wouldn’t fit with his ghost appearing to Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi. Unless Baby Yoda gets killed between now and The Last Jedi of course, but I doubt Disney would let things get that dark.
Anyway, to the matter at hand, The Mandalorian is little more than a spaghetti western in the Star Wars universe. It works well enough in a whizz-bang sort of way. I did enjoy some of the guest appearances from the likes of Nick Nolte and especially Werner Herzog. There’s a lot of a talent writing and directing the programme too, including Dave Filoni, Jon Favreau, Taika Waititi, and Bryce Dallas Howard. However, I must confess it doesn’t really spark with me the way the original films do. Not so far, at any rate. Those end credit production art stills are nice though.
Ozark (Netflix) – A family end up laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel in the Ozarks, in this compellingly nasty crime thriller, created by Bill Dubuque and Mark Williams. Featuring strong performances from Jason Bateman and Laura Linney as Marty and Wendy Byrde, with equally good performances from Sofia Hublitz and Skylar Gaertner as their teenage children (who have a life of crime foisted upon them), this is gripping, tense, compulsive viewing.
Ozark isn’t quite in the same league as Breaking Bad, but series 3 in particular comes very close. It delves deeply into the characters, wisely keeping Marty and Wendy front and centre, as their respective ambitions and deceptions put their already-on-thin-ice marriage at greater and greater risk. Themes of power, corruption, and the tragic hubris of over-reaching criminal ambition are duly explored and followed through to their inevitable and sometimes surprising conclusions. For instance, the final scene of series 3 is a real shocker.
Julia Garner also deserves a special mention mid the colourful cast of fascinating supporting characters. She’s definitely one of the more interesting up and coming actresses on my radar.
Devs (BBC) – Alex Garland’s previous work includes Ex Machina and Annihilation, so he’s no stranger to big, brainy sci-fi. Although Devs is an 8 part TV drama rather than a film, it is still superbly directed, with great performances from the main cast.
The plot concerns Lily (Sonoya Mizuno), a slightly selfish and annoying protagonist investigating the mysterious, top secret development division in a San Francisco based technology company; following the strange disappearance of her boyfriend who worked in said division.
To say anything more is to get into spoilers, but on the whole this is intellectually rather than emotionally gripping, delving into big questions of playing God, predestination versus freewill, determinism, and the nature of reality. Yes, it’s also about grief, and some of that is explored with a degree of poignancy, but what works better is the mind-bending, what-just-happened nature of the finale.
It’s not perfect. Before said finale there are a few longeurs, but on the whole Devs is worth sticking with, if this is your kind of thing. Plus that massive statue of the little girl is really sinister. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.
I may review more TV dramas from time to time, whilst cinemas remain closed. Watch this space.