Film Review | The Two Popes (2019)

the two popes jonathan pryce anthony hopkins benedict francis netflix review anthony mccarten fernando meirelles

In its weakest moments, The Two Popes treats Benedict as an aberration, an interruption that needed to be corrected by Francis – at times, the affection felt towards the current Bishop of Rome risks tending towards the hagiographic.

And yet The Two Popes clearly aspires to a more complicated narrative. Central to this story are the sexual abuse cases that came to light towards the end of Benedict’s papacy. It’s a fraught subject, and The Two Popes is necessarily precise in approach – the careful levity of McCarten’s script is easy to appreciate, conscious in how it threads the needle between this and its otherwise gentle humour, never quite polemic or farce.

I am really, really pleased with this review. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to bring myself to write something properly, for a myriad of boring reasons, but here I really managed to break that writer’s block. Lots of half-completed drafts cluttering up my desktop at the moment, but this, thankfully, is not one of them.

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Film Review | The Nightingale (2019)

the nightingale aisling francoisi sam claflin jennifer kent review alex moreland

Kent lingers on the violence, lingers on assault, lingers on the casual, visceral nature of this world; the camera holds its gaze far longer than one can bear, deliberately unsettling audiences and challenging them not to look away. Indeed, The Nightingale is designed for the cinema experience – being able to look away from the laptop screen and check Twitter defeats the point of Kent’s unrelenting direction, however necessary it might sometimes feel.

Here’s my review of The Nightingale, accompanying my recent interview with its two lead actors.

It’s an interesting film, The Nightingale – as I remark in the review, it’s a movie that’s far easier to respect than to like. There’s a lot about it that’s hugely, hugely impressive: not just Jennifer Kent’s direction, but also the performances of Aisling Franciosi and Sam Claflin. (And indeed of Baykali Ganambarr – I’m a little annoyed with myself I didn’t find the space to mention to his performance in the review itself, it’s quite a notable omission.)

I wasn’t especially fond of it when I first watched it; my appreciation of it has grown since then, though, the more I’ve thought about it. It’s definitely a film that benefits from deeper thought and consideration – certainly, had I reviewed it closer to when I watched the film, I’d have likely written about it more critically than I ultimately did. Admittedly I’m not super pleased with the review itself: I think perhaps I could’ve done a stronger piece of writing about the film than I actually did, particularly in the second half of the review.

Still, though. Pretty pleased with that segment I quoted above. Good set of sentences, that.

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Aisling Franciosi and Sam Claflin on The Nightingale

sam claflin aisling francoisi the nightingale interview jennifer kent alex moreland

You should never see a scene of – well, any kind of violence, but in this case, sexual violence and not be made to feel uncomfortable. In my opinion, it’s filmed wrong if you don’t feel repulsed by it – there’s something wrong in the way that it’s been depicted.

This is a very exciting one! First-ever video interview. Not that you can actually see me in it, mind – I’m rather more suited to a radio career than television – but I was in the room, and they were filmed, so it counts. And it was a pretty cool experience generally, so that’s good.

I’ve linked directly to the YouTube video above, but there’s also a little bit of a write-up over at Flickering Myth, if you’re interested in that as well. It’s a good interview, I think – we only had a relatively short time together, but still managed to get to the heart of what’s proving to be quite a challenging film. (I’ll have my own review of The Nightingale up in a few days – it’s certainly quite a striking film, if nothing else.)

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Composer Kurt Farquhar on Black Lightning, the evolving sound of an ongoing series, and more

kurt farquhar black lightning season 3 soul train own the neighbourhood interview

We’ve had to change and alter things to be a little bit darker, a little bit edgier. There’s a lot of solo violin and cello, string quartets and things like that, mixed with some urban ethnic sounds and a lot of interesting samples. We’re just making up some shit, we’ll see! But it’s been pretty exciting. It’s a very interesting season, trying to figure out where they’re going. I personally have not been watching ahead – I watch an episode when I get it, when it’s ready for me, that’s when I look at it. I don’t look at any of it earlier, because I just want to be discovering this like the fans are, I want to be so close to my emotions so that the only difference between me and the fans is that I get to emotionally erupt onto the musical palette, you know? Like “oh my God, that was so cool!”

Another interview! This time with Kurt Farquhar, who’s the composer on Black Lightning – and lots of other things too, actually, because he hasn’t worked on fewer than five shows at once since 1991.

It was also quite interesting to hear about Kurt’s plan to start suggesting producers hire other, new composers instead of him – helping composers who are just starting out get more established. That’s pretty cool, I thought. Read more at the link, as per the norm.

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Gary Dauberman on his directorial debut Annabelle Comes Home, faith-based horror, and more

Gary Dauberman It Annabelle Comes Home horror stephen king james wan conjuring

I think my writing career informed my directing because over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to work alongside very talented filmmakers. Each had their own aesthetics and process, so I was able to pick elements that worked for me from each and adopt it as my own. It was the same process I had when I started out writing – I’d steal from King, I’d steal from Gaiman, Vonnegut, whoever. And eventually all the elements you took from those you admire wind up becoming your ‘voice’. Feels like that’s how it is with directing, although obviously I am not as far along with the process as I am with writing…

Recently had a chat with Gary Dauberman about his directorial debut, Annabelle Comes Home. Gary’s a screenwriter as well, and he’s written lots of things – like the previous Annabelle movies, but also It and It: Chapter Two, the recent Swamp Thing adaptation, and so on.

It was neat to get the chance to talk to him about adapting Stephen King and Alan Moore, but also to ask him a few questions about how his faith has influenced his writing too – Gary had spoken in the past about how his faith had quite heavily influenced the Annabelle movies, so I was curious if that had an impact on any of his other work as well.

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Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor: The Waters of Mars

doctor who the waters of mars russell t davies phil ford graeme harper review

For a long time now, I thought I was just a survivor, but I’m not. I’m the winner. That’s who I am. A Time Lord Victorious.

See, the thing I just don’t believe about this is that it aired on a Sunday. I know, technically, that’s true – ten years ago, 15th November was a Sunday, sure, and it’s on Wikipedia, so I can hardly argue with that. But I don’t remember it at all! That really feels like the sort of thing that would’ve stuck – a massive disruption of everything I knew to be correct and right in the world!

Apparently not, though, because I have no recollection of that at all. Maybe I was more relaxed about that sort of thing as a child. Actually, thinking back, the only thing I remember about this one from the time is being a bit confused by Ood Sigma, and feeling very validated that the Master was in the next time trailer, because I’d been going on about that to anyone who’d listen for ages. (I haven’t changed.)

Anyway, The Waters of Mars. We’re starting to get towards the end of these now, which is strange to think – I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it when I end up watching The End of Time (characteristically, though, it’s unlikely to be of any particular insight), but it was quite striking watching this and starting to feel like Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor is starting to wrap up. I’ve been doing these things, on and off, for about six years now – essentially the entire time I’ve been writing. A lot has changed in that time. Started out because I figured it’d be a good way to get some tumblr notes and grow the brand a bit; now, it’s a little side thing I post chiefly out of stubborn refusal to miss an anniversary, even when I have essentially nothing to say about an episode. Easy to feel a bit reflective about that. If I’d spent more time on this, maybe I’d have tried to construct some clever parallel between, like, Adelaide’s legacy, and fixed points in time, and blah blah blah. It wouldn’t have been all that clever, I suppose.

Still, no need for any of that now. That isn’t important! I’ll get to that in a few weeks time, when things actually do finally wrap up for good. For the moment, we’ll stick with The Waters of Mars.

doctor who the waters of mars adelaide brooke lindsay duncan david tennant tenth doctor

The Waters of Mars is another one of those episodes I’ve seen relatively few times over the years – as much as I’ve always had a relatively positive opinion on it, I’ve never been inclined to rewatch it. I always assumed, I think, that it’d be a fairly grim one to go back to – exactly the sort of serious, ‘gun’ story I’ve never quite liked as much as I might want to.

What was nice, though – and what’s always nice about going back and rewatching different episodes as part of these reviews – is actually just how pleasant it is to go back and rediscover all the little things I’d forgotten. Like, wow, Gemma Chan is in this! The latest in a long line of actors who’ll go on to do genuinely really cool stuff, in a pretty thankless role here. (Base under siege characters always are, but almost particularly so here – you’d have thought, given the ending, they might at least have been at the level of their Sanctuary Base 6 or Penhaligon counterparts, but, no, these poor explorers were even more flat than their predecessors.) Or, hey, aren’t the cutting-edge-for-2009 CGI models really cute, actually? As is Gadget – naff, sure, especially the go go Gadget superspeed bit, but hey, it’s fun.

Admittedly, I do often find myself in the position where I just don’t particularly have a lot to say about these episodes. They’ve been covered so much, by so many, that I rarely feel like I’ve got anything in particular to add – especially while I keep trying to fit to this basic format. I just went back to look at the Planet of the Dead review, because I remembered it being a bit lightweight – but no, actually, that’s a solidly okay criticism of that story’s aristocracy fetish. Not quite the same here. I would recommend watching The Waters of Mars! It is a pretty well put together episode of Doctor Who, and I had a lot of fun watching it, and indeed rediscovering it. Lindsay Duncan is great, David Tennant is great, the water aliens are a pretty fun idea, it’s all good! (Well, no. The score is borderline oppressive at points, that isn’t so good. But outside of that: fun!)

doctor who the waters of mars time lord victorious david tennant tenth doctor

Coming so close to the end of the Tenth Doctor era, I think it’s a necessary story – the hubris that comes to the fore here had been bubbling away in the background for quite a long time, so it’s worth examining it again.

Does it work? For the most part, yes, although I must admit I have a few qualms. Genuinely clever though it is to do a fixed points story about a fixed point in the future, I’m still not actually all that convinced these stories ever properly work – and, again, there’s a lot of ‘Great Man of History’ stuff going on that I don’t particularly like, and never do. Plus, I am also not all that convinced that Adelaide’s decision in the end is wholly justified – an absolutely huge moment, and a necessary one, absolutely the right narrative choice for the story, but the moment is undercut slightly because of how quickly it happens. I’m not sure what the fix would be – excise two of the crew members to make a bit more space for Adelaide? – but it’s hard not to wish there was just a little more to it.

But, hey, look at what does work – that’s a genuinely effective monstering of the Doctor, all those positive traits cast in a completely different light. Even “it’s bigger on the inside” becomes a note of horror and confusion, rather than the usual awe and wonderment. It’s also a pretty neat pay off to everything RTD has been writing, in the background, about religion, and gods, and the gods we make. Nice to have got that in there at the end.

I liked this! I liked it a lot. I have also just had a much better idea for this review. I wouldn’t normally do this, but, hey, it is a time travel episode.

Hold on…



Ten Years of the Tenth Doctor Reviews

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Weekly Watchlist #10 (4th Nov – 10th Nov)

weekly watchlist 10 his dark materials the accident the end of the fucking world riverdale

Here we go again!

His Dark Materials (BBC One)

I read these when I was around 8 or so – and because I was around 8 or so, I’ve kinda always had this idea in my head that the His Dark Materials books were quite deep and adult. I have since realised they aren’t exactly what they seemed at the time, but I am still basically quite fond of them in hindsight. (Not that I’ve ever re-read them; I’m reliant more or less entirely on those faded memories.)

I enjoyed this, anyway – far more than November’s other Jack Thorne offering, at least. It felt a little off in places, admittedly, but hey, James McAvoy is pretty great, so that’s always fun.

In the Long Run (Sky One)

See, after everything I said last time about how impressive Idris Elba is as a comedy actor, he was hardly in the ones I watched this week! That was a bit of a shame, having his character be restricted just to the framing device. I wonder if it was an availability thing – it makes sense, admittedly, he’s a pretty busy actor. Still, a shame.

(Which isn’t to undercut the others, though – Bill Bailey and Jimmy Akingbola were both great in the most recent episode I watched. Still, a shame though.)

Riverdale (Netflix)

I’m going to be paying quite close attention, over the next few weeks, to all the Best of 2019 lists – and all the Best of the Decade lists! – and I will be heavily, heavily judging anyone who doesn’t find space for Riverdale on those lists. It doesn’t have to be in the number one spot, that’d just be unreasonable.

But top five, surely, is a given.

The Accident (Channel 4)

I am not sure who, exactly, thought “Grenfell but white” was a good idea – well, no, Jack Thorne did, obviously. God knows why though.

The End of the F***ing World (Channel 4)

Been looking forward to this for ages – really enjoyed the first series, it was one of my favourite pieces of television in 2018. I was a little surprised Alex Lawther was in it again this go around, actually – probably the hoped for reaction, given the marketing. I’d kinda come around to the idea of a solely Jessica Barden oriented series, so I was a little… not disappointed, obviously, I love Alex Lawther, but my expectations have been thrown a bit. Would’ve been interested to see the other version, though – Jessica Barden could absolutely have made it work.

You can look at other Weekly Watchlists here. If you liked this article and you want to support what I do, you can leave a tip over on ko-fi, or back my Patreon here.

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John Wesley Shipp and director Andrew Lyman-Clarke on the chilling true story that inspired their new film Night Sweats, what art really is, and more

night sweats john wesley shipp andrew lyman clarke allison mackie kyle despiegler interview

We came to the revelation that art is simply communication. It’s basically somebody creating something in whatever medium, and that is a product that is put out into the world with the intent of communicating something to others. People who will see it or hear it or experience it in some way.

I definitely still believe that. I mean, I’m an open-minded person, I’m open to other definitions of art. But the way that I approach it is that I am creating something and putting it out into the world with a “message” for others to see and to think about and to chew on. I think that’s the value of it.

I think there’s ways of looking at art and movies and stuff that are a little bit more cynical or jaded, where there isn’t really a purpose of communicating something. It’s just to pass the time or something. I’m not really with that. I’m all about trying to say something, especially when you spend nine years working on something and you pour your heart and soul into it. I wanted it to have some kind of meaning.

Another interview I did recently! John Wesley Shipp you possibly might recognise from The Flash; he’s starring in this film by Andrew Lyman-Clarke, who’s been working on Night Sweats – his debut feature – for nearly a decade now.

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Weekly Watchlist #9 (28th Oct – 3rd Nov)

Much more stuff this week!

Daybreak (Netflix)

This has really captivated me – very easy to dismiss as derivative (because, well, it absolutely is), but with just enough flourish to occasionally feel very inspired. Oddly, it’s not the most confident show – for every step it takes towards a new idea, it quickly hurries two steps back to comforting archetypes – but when it gets things right it absolutely soars. I’d struggle to recommend it wholeheartedly, but at the same time it’s clearly not a bad show: just one I wish was a little more willing to trust its best instincts.

Defending the Guilty (BBC Two)

It never quite managed to solve the flaw I highlighted a while ago – the lack of development for Will’s girlfriend – which becomes harder to ignore as the series concluded. At the same time, though, I still really enjoyed this: it’s funny and it’s moving, with a brilliant cast and a killer soundtrack. The ending invites a second series I’m not sure is wholly needed – but I really can’t wait for more.

House of Games (BBC Two)

I normally tend not to include all the quiz shows I watch in these listings, but I just wanted to note for posterity that I got an answer about Virginia Woolf very quickly this week, and I was very proud of myself.

That’s all.

In the Long Run (Sky One)

It’s easy to forget just how good a comic talent Idris Elba is, given his more high-profile outings tend towards the dramatic – even then, this loosely-autobiographical piece feels like it’s flown especially under the radar, not really making a huge impact on people’s impressions of Elba. (I’d bet more people know about his DJ work than this show. Actually, I’d bet more people would know him from Bond rumours than this show, and that’s probably never going to happen.)

That’s a shame – In the Long Run is a charming, funny little show, the sort of thing that I could very easily see being just as loved as Derry Girls or Stath Lets Flats if it too had found a home at Channel 4.

Motherland (BBC Two)

Admittedly, “I really can’t wait for more” is also exactly how I felt about Motherland’s first series; this year’s effort is much more easily written off. I could never quite put my finger on what changed – and maybe if I went back and rewatched the first series, I’d be disappointed by that as well. Either way, it’s been a disappointing year

Riverdale (Netflix)

Halloween is absolutely the best time of year for Riverdale. Wait a few months and I’ll say the same about Christmas, though – this is a show that really thrives on excess and exaggeration, so the heightened nature of any holiday always makes for an especially fun instalment of Riverdale nonsense.

Superstore & The Good Place (NBC, Netflix)

Doing these ones together, because I remain of basically the same mind about each – Superstore is just about recovering from a rough start, while The Good Place continues to tread water, increasingly prompting me to realise again (as is the case with every new season of The Good Place) that I just don’t love it. Both these shows might end up bumped from the weekly watchlist – I’ll still keep on top of them, of course, but I’m definitely not going to have something new to say about them each week.

Favourite show of October: I suspect ‘favourite’ is probably the wrong word here – I’d want to very heavily caveat it in this instance – but Daybreak is undeniably the show that’s made the most impression on me, and I suspect the one I’ll be thinking about longest.

Best new show of October: Again, I think it has to be Daybreak.

Most looking forward to in November: Lot of possibilities here – I have high hopes for His Dark Materials, some measured interest in a few of the Apple+ shows, and I haven’t quite got around to Watchmen yet so we’ll call that a November show – but it’s hard not to choose The End of the F***ing World series 2. Absolutely loved the first series, and really curious to see how Jessica Barden fills the role of the lead.

You can look at other Weekly Watchlists here. If you liked this article and you want to support what I do, you can leave a tip over on ko-fi, or back my Patreon here.

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