REVIEW: DEFENDING JACOB

Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, and Jaeden Martell in Defending Jacob (2020)

Starring

Chris Evans (Knives Out)
Michelle Dockery (Hanna)
Jaeden Martell (IT)
Cherry Jones (The Beaver)
Pablo Schreiber (First Man)
Sakina Jaffrey (Lost In Space)
Betty Gabriel (Unfriended: Dark Web)
J. K. Simmons (Spider-Man)

Chris Evans at an event for Defending Jacob (2020)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Paul Wesley (The Vampire Diaries)
Poorna Jagannathan (Awake)
Jake Picking (Top Gun: Maverick)
Nathan Parsons (Roswell, New Mexico)
Leighton Meester (The Judge)
Kat Graham (The Vampire Diaries)
Daniel Henshall (Skin)
Matt Lanter (Disaster Movie)
Patrick Fischler (The Finder)
Megan Byrne (Ghost Town)

Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, and Jaeden Martell in Defending Jacob (2020)As a limited series packed to the gills with recognizable faces and even big-name stars, Defending Jacob is yet another step in the right direction for Apple TV+. Though the nascent streaming television (and movies) service from one the biggest tech companies in the world has had something of an uneven start, with ambitious, big-budget series like The Morning Show and See that created relatively small ripples in the sea of streaming content when they likely should have been the source of enormous waves signaling a massive change in the day and age of Peak TV. Nevertheless, the progress of Apple TV+ continues apace, with nearly every subsequent television show being arguably better than the last (with the exception of Amazing Stories, sadly). And while the service finds itself taking smaller steps toward seriously competing with the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+, the inclusion of star-driven adult-oriented dramas like Defending Jacob make the service a welcome outlier among services relying on ubiquitous IP or that are relentlessly chasing the next Game of Thrones.Adapted from the novel of the same name by William Landay, the series is written, executive produced and showrun by Mark Bomback (Outlaw King), with all eight episodes directed by Morten Tyldum, who helped create the somber look and feel of Starz’s superb sci-fi spy drama, Counterpart. Like most of Apple’s original series to date, Defending Jacob looks like a million bucks, with its chilly color palette that accentuates the story’s brooding and moody tone. It’s sort of the complete package, in terms of prestige-y dramas, with the aforementioned Evans and Dockery playing Andy and Laurie Barber, a well-to-do Massachusetts family who finds their world is one day shattered after their son, Jacob (Jaeden Martell), is accused of brutally murdering his classmate.Pooka-10What follows is a slow-burn thriller that asks how far a parent would go to protect their child, even when the questions regarding his guilt are too great and too compelling to ignore. Complicating matters is Andy’s position as an assistant D.A., a fact that shines an unwelcome spotlight on a crime that already has their community in an uproar. But while Defending Jacob could have been a compelling two-hander, with Evans and Dockery weighing the possibility that their child is indeed guilty of a horrific crime, all while doing everything in their considerable power to ensure he’s set free, the series offers a robust supporting cast that helps make the Barber’s world feel more lived-in and compelling, especially as it begins to turn on them.Defending_Jacob_Photo_010104The rest of the cast is made up of terrific character actors like Cherry Jones, Sakina Jaffrey, and Pablo Schreiber, while also bringing in the always-welcome J.K. Simmons and Betty Gabriel (who both worked with Tyldum on Counterpart). Each supporting role plays a fascinating part in examining the ways in which a community can be torn apart by violent crime and the ensuing accusations that emerge as a result. They also help ground the story as it unfolds, and as the series introduces plausible and not-so plausible answers to the question at hand. But many of the key supporting players — Jones and Gabriel, chiefly — also aid in assuaging one of the biggest obstacles the series faces: that of convincing the audience that Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery are the middle-aged parents of a teenaged son.a5-21-e1585242550178In approaching this concern, Defending Jacob stacks its cast with characters for whom this is not at all unusual. It’s a bid to normalize what is essentially an odd sticking point for an otherwise compelling mystery-thriller that just happens to have cast two people who very much look like movie stars as everypersons. The result, then, is something of a strange throwback to the kinds of mid-budget thrillers that Hollywood doesn’t really make anymore. From that perspective, it’s easy to see why Evans was attracted to the material (he also serves as executive producer on the series), having come off an extended stint playing the lab-grown super soldier and idealized version of the male form for Marvel. So, while it may be a bit of a stretch to think there’s a small-town D.A. with biceps bigger than the average human’s head racing to keep his son out of prison for a crime he may or may not have committed, it’s ultimately a small quibble considering Evans and Dockery deliver strong performances that, along with the rest of the cast, ultimately make the series worthwhile.200412-defending-jacob3Though it’s easy enough (especially right now) to jump into a dark eight-hour drama with a cast as appealing as this, it’s important to note the series dutifully takes its time getting started, as though the term “slow-burn” wasn’t just an apt descriptor but the ethos of the entire production. In that sense, Defending Jacob feels a great deal like HBO’s superb The Outsider. And while the former doesn’t have the benefit of a supernatural entity haunting its edges, it does have a compelling mystery and thoughtful performances to keep audiences watching until the end.

REVIEW: TUCA & BERTIE- SEASON 1

Tuca & Bertie (2019)

Starring

Tiffany Haddish (Night School)
Ali Wong (American Housewife)
Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead)
Nicole Byer (All About Nina)
Richard E. Grant (Logan)
John Early (Late Night)
Reggie Watts (Pitch Perfect 2)
Tig Notaro (Star Trek: Discovery
Amber Ruffin (Drunk History)
Jermaine Fowler (Robot Chicken)
Tessa Thompson (Westworld)
Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians)
Michelle Dockery (Downtown Abbey)
Isabella Rossellini (Death Becomes Her)
Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures)

Bird Town is a strange place where the trains are slithering snakes, the neighbours are stoned plant-people and “sex bugs” get put on trial. Promising madcap adventures, this metropolis provides the setting for Tuca and Bertie, a new Netflix animation that feels like a natural successor to Broad City.Tuca & Bertie (2019)The show’s creator Lisa Hanawalt, known for her work on nihilistic cult favourite Bojack Horseman, has rendered this new universe with a lighter, fizzier touch. The result is a rare thing – an adult animation made by women about women (albeit women in bird form). And, in a particularly canny bit of casting, Tuca and Bertie has signed up two of the buzziest comics around.

Tuca & Bertie (2019)Tiffany Haddish, the breakout star of Girls Trip and the most extraordinarily candid celebrity ever, plays Tuca, a gobby, gumptious, hot-pant-wearing toucan who is in need of “constant positive reinfofo”. She gets it from Bertie the song thrush, her steadfast but neurotic BFF voiced by Ali Wong, the standup who soared to fame for her perineum-splitting comedy specials about pregnancy (Baby Cobra) and parenthood (Hard Knock Wife). Co-starring are Richard E Grant and Tig Notaro – and it’s clear they’re all having a clucking riot. Never have fowl been so foul-mouthed.Tuca & Bertie (2019)Bertie has always been there to buoy up Tuca with reminders that she won’t ever leave her – and that “most girls would kill to have such a curvy beak”. But Tuca is now moving out of their apartment to make way for Bertie’s boyfriend Speckle (played by Steven Yeun, AKA Glenn from The Walking Dead). By day, Bertie is trying to get a promotion in her office job at Conde Nest. By night, she’s desperate to keep the spark alive in her relationship (with help from Nests of Netherfield, her Downton Abbey-esque porn substitute) and fulfil her dream of being a pastry chef.  Tuca, never one to conform, ribs her incessantly for all this “normie lifeplan bullshit”. Eventually Tuca wanders into a neighbourhood called Adulthood, replete with shops called Matching Crockery and Furniture Already Put Together, but ends up committing instead to a new forever friend – a purple jaguar she names Jackie.Tuca & Bertie (2019)The whole show is a topical sendup of our age, tackling the cult of Facebeak, the #Metoo movement (via predatory rooster bros) and even Marie Kondo. But the writers have also put in the hours dreaming up every possible bird gag – from the local birdega to the musical Nest Side Story. So if bird-pun-spotting is likely to ruffle your feathers, you may be in the wrong place. In comedy terms it’s more rolling chuckle than laugh-out-loud, and there are sometimes slightly jarring shifts in animation to lo-fi claymation or even sock-puppet styles. Those aside, this is a chirpily realised world that stays true to its experimentalism – and its pleasures are consistent, if deliciously twisted, and very surreal indeed.At one point, Tuca and Bertie race past a woman on the street and the show morphs into a Mrs Dalloway-esque piece of metanarrative. For just a second, the action falls away as words ping up around the woman, sharing her story in a hilariously succinct way: “Sandy Q Piper. Rich interior life. Not part of this show. You will never see her again.” The series plays out like a feminist fairy tale, one “where Mother Goose is not defined by her ability to lay eggs.” At its core, Tuca and Bertie is about the many and complex joys of female friendship, about navigating the sometimes crushing world of adulting with your best bud by your side, about growing together, bolstering each other – and buying sex-bug ointment together.

 

 

 

REVIEW: HANNA

CAST

Saoirse Ronan (The Host)
Eric Bana (Hulk)
Cate Blanchett (The Hobbit)
Vicky Krieps (Colonia)
John MacMillan (Fury)
Tim Beckmann (Foster)
Jessica Barden (The Lobster)
Tom Hollander (Enigma)
Olivia Williams (Dollhouse)
Jason Flemyng (From Hell)
Michelle Dockery (Self/Less)

Saoirse Ronan in Hanna (2011)

Hanna Heller (Saoirse Ronan) is a 15-year-old girl who lives with her father, Erik Heller (Eric Bana) in rural northern Finland, near Kuusamo. The film opens with her hunting and killing a reindeer. Since the age of two, Hanna has been trained by Erik, an ex-CIA operative from Germany, to be a skilled assassin. He teaches her hand-to-hand combat and drills her in target shooting. He left the agency, going incognito into the Arctic. Erik knows a secret that cannot become public, and Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), a senior CIA officer, searches for him in order to eliminate him. Erik has trained Hanna with the intent that she will kill Marissa. Due to her upbringing in the wilderness, she is unfamiliar with much of the modern civilisation although she has great encyclopedic knowledge.Saoirse Ronan in Hanna (2011)One night, Hanna tells Erik that she is “ready” to face their enemies. Erik digs up a radio beacon that eventually will alert the CIA to their presence. Although he warns Hanna that a confrontation with Marissa will be fatal for either her or Marissa, he leaves the final decision to Hanna who activates on the beacon. Erik leaves, instructing her to meet him in Berlin. A special forces team arrives to capture Hanna and Erik, but Erik is already gone and while Hanna kills two soldiers, the rest of the soldiers assume Erik killed them before escaping. Hanna is taken to an underground CIA complex where Marissa, being suspicious, sends a body double (Michelle Dockery) to talk to Hanna. While talking to the double Hanna starts to cry and crawls sobbing into the lap of the double, which makes her captors uneasy. They send some guards to her cell to sedate her. As they enter the cell, Hanna kills the double along with some of the guards and escapes.
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In a flashback, Marissa is seen firing at a car that is carrying Hanna’s mother; two-year-old Hanna; and Erik. The car crashes but the trio flees. Marissa shoots Johanna, but Erik escapes with Hanna into the woods. Hanna finds herself on the run in the Moroccan desert, where she meets bohemian British people couple Sebastian (Jason Flemyng) and Rachel (Olivia Williams), who are on a camper-van holiday with their teenage daughter, Sophie (Jessica Barden), and their younger son, Miles (Aldo Maland). She stows away in the family’s camper-van on the ferry ride to Spain seeking to reach Berlin. The family is nice to her, and she and Sophie become friends. Marissa hires Isaacs (Tom Hollander), a former agent, to capture Hanna. Hanna travels with the family as they drive north. Isaacs and two skinheads trail them and eventually corner Hanna and the family in France, but she manages to escape, killing one of the assailants. Marissa catches up with the British family and during interrogation finds out that Hanna is heading to Berlin.
Cate Blanchett in Hanna (2011)
Arriving at the address that Erik had told her, Hanna meets with Knepfler (Martin Wuttke), an eccentric old magician and a friend of Erik’s, who lives in an abandoned amusement park. Hanna plans a rendezvous with her father. However, Marissa and Isaacs arrive. Hanna escapes, but overhears comments that suggest Erik is not her biological father. Later, Hanna goes to her grandomother’s apartment where she finds her grandmother murdered. In a conversation Erik admits to Hanna that he is not her biological father. Erik once recruited pregnant women into a program where their children’s DNA was enhanced in order to create super-soldiers. After the project was shut down, its subjects were eliminated. Marissa and Isaacs arrive, intent on killing them; Erik acts as a distraction to allow Hanna to escape. Erik kills Isaacs in a fight, but is shot by Marissa, who goes to Knepfler’s house. Hanna is there, having just discovered Knepfler dead. They wound each other and eventually Marissa becomes disoriented from her wound, slows down and loses her weapon. Hanna finds the weapon and kills Marissa, echoing the deer hunting scene from the start of the film.Saoirse Ronan in Hanna (2011)Quirky, dark, neat. Saoirse Ronan is terrific.  The cinematography is strong, the locations are diverse and far more imaginative than most films. The script is flawless. All in all an excellent movie.

REVIEW: ANNA KARENINA (2012)


CAST

Keira Knightley (Pirates of The Caribbean)
Jude Law (Spy)
Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Godzilla)
Matthew Macfadyen (Enigma)
Kelly Macdonald (Boardwalk Empire)
Alicia Vikander (Jason Bourne)
Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
Olivia Williams (Dollhouse)
Ruth Wilson (The Lone Ranger)
Emily Watson (The Theory of Everything)
Michelle Dockery (Hanna)
Raphaël Personnaz (Three Words)
Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad)
Bill Skarsgård (Allegiant)
Alexander Roach (The Huntsman)
Hera Hilmar (Mortal Engines)
John Bradley (Game of Thrones)

In 1874 Imperial Russia, Prince Stephan “Stiva” Oblonsky’s wife, Princess Daria “Dolly”, banishes her husband from their home due to his infidelity. Stiva’s sister, Anna Karenina, a well off and liked socialite living in St. Petersburg with her older husband, Count Alexei Karenin, and their son, Seryozha, travels to Moscow to persuade Dolly to forgive Stiva. Meanwhile, Stiva meets his old friend Konstantin Levin, a wealthy land owner and aristocrat who is looked down upon by Moscow’s elite for preferring country life to city life. Levin professes his love for Stiva’s sister-in-law, Princess Katerina “Kitty” Alexandrovna, and Stiva encourages him to propose. However, Kitty declines as she hopes to marry Count Alexei Vronsky. Later, Levin meets with his elder brother Nikolai, who has given up his inheritance and taken a prostitute named Masha as his wife. Nikolai suggests that Levin marry one of the peasants on his estate. On the train to Moscow, Anna meets Vronsky’s mother, Countess Vronskaya, and once there Anna meets Vronsky himself, and they have immediate mutual attraction. When a railway worker is killed in an accident at the station, Vronsky is seen by Anna, Stiva, and the Countess giving a large sum of money to the worker’s family. Anna convinces Dolly to take Stiva back. At a ball that night, Kitty attempts to dance with Vronsky, but he dances with Anna, attracting the attention of everyone in attendance and leaving Kitty heartbroken. Anna boards a train to St. Petersburg, but at a rest stop notices Vronsky, who declares that he must be wherever she goes. She tells him to go back to Moscow, but he refuses.
In St. Petersburg, Vronsky visits his cousin Princess Betsy Tverskaya, a friend of the Kareninas, and begins to show up at all the places Anna and Betsy visit. Vronsky flirts openly with Anna at a party, which catches Karenin’s attention. He suggests they go home, but Anna chooses to stay. Vronsky tells her of his intention to take a promotion in another city but Anna persuades him to stay and the next day they meet at a hotel and make love.
Stiva visits Levin at his country estate and informs Levin that Kitty and Vronsky are no longer to be married. Levin focuses on living an authentic country life, working in his fields with his workers and contemplating taking one of their daughters as his wife, as his brother had suggested.
Karenin hears that his wife and Vronsky are in the country estate and surprises them there, after she reveals to Vronsky that she is pregnant. Later she encounters Karenin who suggests he join them for the horse races that evening. The races begin, and Anna betrays her feelings for Vronsky as his horse falls and injures him. On their way home Anna admits to Karenin that she is Vronsky’s mistress and wishes to divorce him. Karenin refuses and instead confines her to home. Levin sees Kitty in a passing carriage and realises that he still loves her. Anna receives Vronsky at her house in St. Petersburg and as she complains about why he failed to come earlier, he tells her that his duties as an officer have delayed his visit. Karenin comes back home to find out that Vronsky was visiting Anna, as seen from the love letters found in her desk. Meanwhile, Levin and Kitty are reunited at Stiva’s house, and Karenin announces he is divorcing Anna, who begs him to forgive her, which he refuses. After dinner, Levin and Kitty announce their love to each other and decide to marry. Anna goes into premature labour. With Vronsky at her side, she berates him, saying that he could never be the man Karenin is. Karenin comes back knowing that she is going to die and forgives her. Anna survives and initially decides to stay with her husband. Princess Betsy calls on Anna to discuss what will happen with Vronsky now that he is back in Moscow. Anna suggests that Betsy better discuss it with Karenin, who believes that they will be reunited as a family. However, upon Anna’s recovery, she chooses to be with Vronsky. Karenin refuses to grant her a divorce, but releases Anna from her confinement. She and Vronsky soon leave for Italy with Anya.
Levin and Kitty return to his country estate, where the sickly Nikolai and Masha have been given a storeroom to live there. Levin tells Kitty that she doesn’t have to live under the same roof as the former prostitute, but the newly matured Kitty ignores social norms and assists Masha in nursing Nikolai.
Anna returns to St. Petersburg to see Seryozha on his birthday, but Karenin makes her leave after a short time. Anna now begins to suspect Vronsky of unfaithfulness. She attends the opera where the upper class audience regard her with disdain as someone who “has broken the rules”. Though humiliated, she retains her poise, only to break down once back at her hotel. The next day, Anna has lunch at a restaurant where the society women avoid her. Dolly, however, joins her and tells her that Kitty is in Moscow to have her first child. Dolly says that Stiva’s behavior has not changed, but she has come to accept and love him for who he is. Later, Vronsky informs Anna that he has to meet his mother to settle some accounts, but there Anna sees Princess Sorokina picking him up. Anna becomes upset, and takes the train to see if Vronsky is truly with his mother. On the way, she has hallucinations of Vronsky and Princess Sorokina making love and laughing at her. Arriving at Moscow station, Anna says to herself, “Oh God… ” and jumps under an oncoming train that kills her. The scene then flashes to Vronsky who has a shocked face as if knowing his true love has died. Levin returns home from working in the fields to find Kitty bathing their child. Stiva and his family eat with Levin and Kitty. Karenin, retired by then from serving his country, is seen in his estate, with Seryozha and young Anya playing nearby.Although I sympathise with those who may find the director Joe Wright’s approach too contrived, this film held my interest, and gives scope for a good deal of discussion.