*NEW* THE HATEFUL EIGHT REVIEW *NEW*

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Well, I didn’t hate it. QT is back and bigger than ever. But better?

In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters.

From the beautifully shot opening, I was entranced. The 70mm film format capturing the picturesque cinematography of QT stalwart Robert Richardson perfectly. The credit sequence accompanied by an original Ennio Morricone score (The first in 30 years) brought back that old school nostalgia of the classic Westerns.

However that nostalgia soon dissipated when Russell’s John Ruth crossed paths with Samuel L Jackson’s Major Warren sitting on a cushion of dead bodies. After an initially tense and intriguing introduction with QT’s chapters popping up left, right and centre, the first hour soon churned along at an agonizing snail’s pace.

There wasn’t enough tidbits, stylish dialogue or suspense to keep me going. It was almost mind numbing. I felt a sick feeling in my stomach. Russell, Leigh and Jackson were doing their best BUT it wasn’t entertaining enough. A running joke about Jackson receiving a letter from Lincoln did the job BUT I found the first act lacking. That was until they reached Minnie’s Haberdashery.

A grotty shack with even grittier lodgers. It really was a case of the waiting game. BUT was it going to be worth it? Trapped for the next few days during a blizzard, the tension bubbling. Each shady individual casually interrogated.

Russell and Jackson were superb. They had a real rapport and ran the show for me. Leigh was brilliant. A real rough looking menace with an acid tongue. It was great to see a good portion of the QT regulars popping up in this. What a supporting cast. However, some characters didn’t quite deliver as much as I had expected.

I have been a big fan of Walton Goggins for some time after some cracking turns in The Shield and Justified. QT finally gave him the platform he deserved as the gullible dim wit Sheriff Chris Mannix. He was perfect. His dumb theorizing and poor deducting skills delivered the laughs.

Tim Roth was great as the delightfully flamboyant Oswaldo Mobray. If anything, I wanted more of him in this.

Bruce Dern (Nebraska) and Michael Madsen weren’t quite as interesting as I’d hoped. Once Jackson delved into Dern’s past a little more, things got going BUT Madsen was a highly unmemorable red herring. Mumbling and grimacing away to no avail this time.

I was more entertained by James Parks (Kill Bill) as the unlucky stage coach driver O.B. and Demian Birchir’s (The Heat) Senor Bob.

At first, it had my curiousity. BUT once Jackson’s Major began to suspect foul play and connect the dots, it finally got my attention. It was funny how convenient everyone’s back stories were. Ruth conveniently bumps into the town’s new sheriff and hangman at the same time that he’s bringing in a huge bounty? Hmm . . .

After that insufferable and completely unnecessary intermission*, the second act redeemed itself. A tense little nail biter with a few twists here, some grandiose Jackson monologues there, and all the demented mayhem you could expect from a QT flick. It was bloody, violent and ridiculous. Typical of the man and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You really couldn’t take your eyes off it. Lulled into a false sense of security. The finale was every bit as outrageous and brilliant as I could hope for.

I was ashamed to doubt QT. It was always going to be tough to top Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction BUT this certainly wasn’t QT’s weakest effort. That honour goes to Jackie Brown or Death Proof.

Overlong and a little patchy in parts BUT once it going, it was everything you could want from a Tarantino penned Western.

3.5/5

*The intermission was a joke. I don’t know whether in the States QT did something special in those 15 minutes BUT over here, it did nothing. Probably didn’t help that the cinema had already closed the food and drink stand. Logic? None, apparently.

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*NEW* AMERICAN ULTRA REVIEW *NEW*

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Ultra-boring, more like.

A stoner (Jess Eisenberg), who is in fact a government agent, is marked as a liability and targeted for extermination. But he’s too well-trained and too high for them to handle.

Eisenberg and co do their best BUT for all the promise, it fails to reach anything you could have expected.

The slow opener didn’t get things going BUT it suggested a Burn After Reading meets Pineapple Express vibe. Unfortunately it offered little on both. Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart reunite (Adventureland) and make a watchable couple. BUT it wasn’t long before I got bored of all the pot smoking and arguing. Especially when it wasn’t even funny.

The first 20 minutes was mind numbing. Connie Britton did her best to make the CIA back room melodrama seem interesting BUT it was dull as dishwater. Some waffle about a “project spring clean” and Eisenberg’s sleeper agent facing termination. This was thankfully reprieved by a fantastic turn from Topher Grace (That 70s Show). There wasn’t enough of him. He really took things up a notch and played the douchebag supervisor brilliantly.

I prayed for Eisenberg’s “activation” to come quicker. Watching the stoner smoke pot and battle his fear of flying while doodling graphic novels about a monkey astronaut was just terrible. Trust me. I’m making it sound a whole lot better than it was.

FINALLY after Britton’s funny rendezvous with a stoned Eisenberg, the film appeared to offer more of what I expected from the get go. Emphasis on the word appeared.

Eisenberg proved he can do fight sequences and do them well. I actually had doubts about the chap playing the iconic role of Lex Luthor in the upcoming Batman Vs Superman movie but the supermarket shoot em up sequence reassured any anxieties I had. He looked sinister and completely bad ass as he crept out of the smoke grenade ridden mist.

Normally I’m a fan of Britton BUT her character was far too serious for its own good. Arrested Development’s Tony Hale, who played her partner in crime, was tragically unfunny and completely irrelevant by the time the credits rolled. Shame.

John Leguizamo was also incredibly annoying as Eisenberg’s dealer Rose. He had one funny exchange with Eisenberg and then went on far too long. The bullets not coming quick enough.

It felt like the writers didn’t know what tone to take with the piece and tried a dab hand at everything. The action scenes were fantastic. The kitchen ambush sequence involving a bullet and a frying pan was cool. BUT they were few and far between.

As were the gags. It wasn’t funny enough. The best gags were heavily flogged in the trailer. Stewart and Eisenberg’s relationship was put to the test BUT their bickering just hampered things terribly. There was a twist half way through the film that was so dreadfully predictable that it added nothing to the mix.

Walton Goggins’ (Justified) Smiler had the potential to be a decent little villain with his hyena-esque laugh BUT it was a wasted opportunity and the character was far too weak.

The finale did deliver some frantic fist fighting and utterly bonkers shoot em ups. BUT it felt like a case of too little, too late. And it was still light on the laughs. DISAPPOINTING.

Unfortunately, American Ultra was very much like its protagonist; messy, all over the place and annoying.

2/5

SAY WHEN REVIEW

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WHEN! WHEN! WHEN!

When . . . will they stop churning films out like these?

A little harsh but oh so disappointing. (NOT Kevin Sorbo Hercules DISAPPOINTED!)

Keira Knightley certainly does her best but even with a decent supporting cast; you can’t help but feel that the film doesn’t deliver enough romance, enough comedy and enough of . . . anything really.

So what’s it all about? In the throes of a quarter-life (What?) crisis, Megan (Knightley) panics when her boyfriend (Mark Webber) proposes, then taking an opportunity to escape for a week, hides out in the home of her new friend, 16-year-old Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz), who lives with her world-weary single dad (Sam Rockwell).

Knightley has already proven with Begin Again that she can deliver an American accent and handle a leading role with no qualms. She certainly delivers another solid performance which helps carry this lacklustre affair.

We start with the inevitable cheesy (and nauseating shaky hand held camera) montage of Knightley and her teenage friends having fun during their prom. A little unnecessary and overlong. That then skips to the present with Megan’s slacker plodding along through life. Flipping signs for her father’s business and constantly making up excuses as to why she hasn’t seen her career councillor.

A character I could relate to a little too easily. Her procrastination and immaturity becoming a bug bear for all who know her (Not that bit . . . I hope).

Ellie Kemper (Sex Tape) was probably the only high school friend who had any decent dialogue or actual substance. Constantly trying to control and push Megan to sort her life out. The sort of friend that we all have or (if you’re lucky) used to.

Her cringe-inducing wedding dance made for unsettling but laughable viewing. I’m never going to listen to Daniel Bedingfield’s “If You’re Not The One” in the same way again. But then again, I never liked that song. But that’s a different story.

The wedding was the perfect platform for Megan to hit breaking point. There was one unexpected revelation that I didn’t see coming which made for a surprise. The inevitable friends growing up and moving on spiel is playing to its heart content. Weddings, babies, etc. The usual guff.

However, it is at this moment that Webber’s Anthony (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) decides to pop the question to Megan. Her response? She runs away while pretending to be on a life changing seminar, of course!

Taking some time to re-think all her decisions and frustrations, Megan seeks refuge in 16 year old Annika’s home. Moretz doesn’t do a bad job but her character is a little weak, in comparison to the number of meatier and more memorable roles she has delivered.

Once Megan meets Annika’s dad, the legend that is Sam Rockwell. Moretz seems to be pushed into the background. Only to pop back up when the story is lagging. Her subplot involving a crush on one of her high school friends was all too tame and horribly cliched.

Sam Rockwell was . . . pretty much being Sam Rockwell. Which just about works this time round. To be honest, his role was a lot smaller than I expected. He’s instantly likeable and very entertaining. He works well with Knightley and they have great chemistry. He also delivers some funny lines and a couple of (definite) improvised moments. You could tell the cast were trying not to laugh.

I was frustrated that Megan and Craig had to fall in love with each other. It felt forced. We know Megan was unhappy with Anthony but he wasn’t a complete tool. It just seemed unnecessary. It would have been more of a twist if they didn’t get together. The friendship would have worked better. Don’t get me wrong, K & R do just enough to pull it off . . . and make it bearable.

I was hoping for more of an examination of Megan’s quarter-life crisis, as a lot more people in their 20s are going through this sort of thing, but it’s all resolved a little too easily and with a simple and lazy fling? Run out of ideas, maybe?

The gags are sparse and not very funny. One involving an anorexic tortoise just came off hammy and rather pointless. I mean come on! What was the point of it? A bonding prop for Knightley and Rockwell? And the naming a baby after planets gag wasn’t funny from the first planet. We didn’t need the entire solar system named at us!

In terms of drama, there were some good moments. An awkward encounter between CGM and (the alluring) Gretchen Mol’s (Boardwalk Empire) negligent mother showed promise and allowed Knightley’s Megan to step up but a few sobering words and that’s it? Really? Anyone could have played Mol’s character and to be honest, thinking back the whole scene was a little pointless as she doesn’t make a reappearance.

There was a turning point nearer the end of the film that allowed the little drama that there was to finally kick off. BUT again it’s all swept under the rug and resolved d far too easily. Leaving us with a cliched and highly predictable ending. Flat and expected.

There were some good performances from the rather bland characters. I couldn’t believe Jeff Garlin from Curb Your Enthusiasm was in this. It didn’t seem right without him shouting all the time. He didn’t do too bad a job.

Kaitlyn Dever (Justified) was quite funny and did well as Annika’s mad BFF. Webber played the dimwitted Anthony well. A change from Pilgrim. Completely oblivious to Megan’s feelings but not fully deserving of her frustrated temper.

There was certainly no issue with the pace. It zipped along well enough. I just wish it had a bit going on, that’s all.

Such a shame that it’s not as hard hitting or as offbeat as you wish. A mess but a watchable one. Say When? When you have the spare time and nothing better to watch, I’d say give it a go. They may have changed the title to Laggies but I just wish they could have changed the content instead.

2/5

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU REVIEW

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This is where I leave the cinema for a bit . . .

No, it’s not that bad. But not that great either considering the talent at Shawn Levy’s fingertips.

Levy’s projects have always been okay (Real Steel/ Date Night/The Internship). For some of you those titles might make you wince. The master of ground breaking comedy classics? Not even close.

The cast did their best with the material. It’s just a shame that the material is not that good. In all fairness, Levy takes a stab at family dramedy. But maybe he shoudn’t have.

AND if you wanted anyone to head a dysfunctional family, it would be Jason Bateman (Arrested Development/Horrible Bosses).

So what’s it all about? When their father passes away, four grown siblings are forced to return to their childhood home and live under the same roof together for a week, along with their over-sharing mother (Jane Fonda) and their spouses and exes.

Jason Bateman was brilliant. He carried the film in my opinion. His marriage breakdown story line was hardly original but it gave an extra something to the endless childish sibling bickering that dominated the majority of the screen time. How it was all resolved was a little predictable and terribly flat but at least there were a few dramatic moments to be had.

Tina Fey didn’t really deliver as much as I hoped. I know she’s funny. Come on, 30 Rock and Date Night proved that. It felt like she played it safe and stuck with the tame script which made her highly unmemorable, bar two little scenes. She worked well with Bateman and did her best but with her comedic prowess, you expected something a little better.

Adam Driver (What If?) was a much needed comedy injection. His lines were hardly comedy gold but his delivery and style managed to get a smile out of me. His relationship with Bateman made for an entertaining and endearing one.

Connie Britton was wasted in her role. A shame after her turn in Friday Night Lights and Nashville. A nothingy character that didn’t really add anything to the mix. Nothing more than a psychiatrist MILF that Adam Driver got to show off to the family.

Speaking of nothingy role, Timothy Olyphant come on down! Absolutely gutted after his terrific performance in Justified. His character was involved in a naff subplot that didn’t really go anywhere. This is what infuriated me with TIWILY. There were so many missed opportunities with the characters and the cast to make more drama and better story lines.

I know that this was adapted from a Jonathan Tropper novel. I can’t say how faithful the film is to its source material but it certainly hasn’t made me want to read it.

Some of the gags were just plain terrible. I mean the recurring joke of the little toddler moving his potty around to poop all over the house was just not funny. The little toddler himself actually was hilarious. His improvisation with some of the cast was brilliant. They didn’t expect him to retort back. More of that would have been perfect.

But potty-ing (I know it’s not a word. I’m not wasting any time finding another) around the house and flinging poo? Awww. No. AWWW – Are you kidding me? Put your potty in the bathroom, boy. Jeez.

Anyhoo . . . The sibling rivalry and tension wasn’t badly done. Everyone can relate to it in some capacity and the moments in which they look back and experience the old nostalgia make for some nice moments. One of the gags that should have been branded as just plain lazy actually entertained me.

A scenario involving some marijuana and a synagogue classroom actually allowed for a comical encounter between Bateman, Driver and Corey Stoll (Homeland). It was great to see Stoll have a bigger role and he doesn’t do a bad job as the stubborn older brother.

Ben Schwartz was incredibly annoying as the hyperactive Rabbi Charles Grodner or Boner to everybody else. Delightful. A guest that gets a giggle and then overstays his welcome . . . in almost every scene. Not even the (usually) hilarious Kathryn Hahn (Step Brothers/We’re The Millers) could save the day with her kooky momma hell bent on getting preggers. It was weak.

And Jane Fonda . . . Apart from having fake pumped up breasts to cue inevitable breast feeding gags, she was highly unmemorable. In fact, there was a bizarre revelation that occurs nearer the end of the film which doesn’t fit in at all. It didn’t work and just completely unnecessary. It was nothing more than a lazy plot device to stop the family scrapping. The only bit of real heated drama that got me interested.

Dax Sheppard (Without A Paddle) played the two-timing sleazebag well. But is this the only character that he can play? And to be honest, when he was first introduced with the Howard Stern DJ spiel, it wasn’t funny. Just annoying as hell. It made a change for Abigail Spencer (Suits) to play a more meatier role as the cheating wife. But the story line was so hammy and predictable, it never really hit the heights that you’d hope.

Rose Byrne (Damages) and Bateman had good chemistry but their love subplot was so generic and corny that I really couldn’t care. Tropper left their little romance so open as a feeble attempt to prevent the predictable outcome but just made it flat and uninteresting.

To be honest, this film only did one thing. Well, two. Waste my time. And make me realise how good August: Osage County was. If you want a good family drama, then I’d invest your time in that instead.

There is the odd moment to be had. One chuckle here, one little heart plucker there. But memorable and entertaining? Quotable and re-watchable? Meh.

2/5

THE EQUALIZER REVIEW

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Denzel + Hit Girl = a dull long winded action flick. Redeemed by a few moments of carnage.

The Equalizer or Man on Fire 2 (if Creasy chose retirement and decided to work in a DIY store) proved one thing. That Denzel Washington is still very much the man.

He provides yet another powerhouse performance proving why he is one of the best actors going. But I fear he may have taken too much on with this one.  Normally you can bank on Washington to carry films that (on paper) may be a little lacklustre but this really did test me.

Washington’s presence certainly makes this just about watchable but it’s still a disappointing mess reprieved by two good performances and some moments of mayhem.

An agonizing coma-inducing opening did not help matters. We get an idea of Washington’s life in a few shots that should have taken up a couple of minutes not twenty. It meandered along as Washington keeps up appearances blending in and trying to maintain a peaceful (and incredibly boring) life.

It was incredibly clichéd and predictable as Washington banters with the staff. That and a tedious subplot in which he helps his best friend Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis) train for his security guard exam. However, his little improvised dance routine is one I will be busting out the next time I hit the town.

Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick Ass) and Washington worked well together. You felt for her character instantly but the constant café meetings to build up a relationship that was clearly established just further slackened things.

I was waiting for the inevitable incident that would activate Washington to take action. An incident that would put Moretz out of action until the closing minutes when she pops back up as a mere afterthought. It’s surprising to see how grown up she has become but anyone could have played her. Anyhoo . . . By the 45 minute marker. FINALLY things got a little bit more interesting with Washington cracking skulls, taking names and dispensing B-movie one liners.

To be honest, every time he glared and tortured someone, I saw Creasy. The frenetic fist-fighting was a feast for any action junkie. The only problem is that the disposing of unmemorable henchmen was dealt with too quickly.

One niggle that irritated me through this. The Equalizer’s thing was his timing. In one particular scene, he threatens to dispose of the East (Or West. Not relevant) Coast Russian mafia in 16 seconds. Washington does his business in a bloody and incredibly violent fashion. BUT in . . . 30 seconds?

This happens constantly. He says 90 seconds to one person and takes five minutes instead. Is Washington getting too old for this shit? I may not have seen the famous TV series starring Edward Woodward (The Wicker Man) but messing up one of his hallmarks does not bode well.

The final 20 minutes made up for a film that desperately wanted to be cooler than it was. The DIY Die Hard sequence offered everything I expected throughout the film . . . NOT just for the ending. I am happy to wait for the violence and destruction.

BUT only if there is enough story or something going on that’s worth filling in that time. 132 minutes is far too long. The action that was delivered was fast and furious. Washington can most definitely still play the hardened action movie veteran.

Antoine Fuqua may have reunited with Washington for their second outing but Training Day, this ain’t. All the other supporting characters were so unmemorable and clichéd that it frustrated me. All except for Marton Csokas (XXX)

He was absolutely brilliant. A worthy adversary to Washington’s peace-keeping protagonist. His lines may have been hammy in parts but Csokas’ expressions and dead pan delivery made him a villain to remember. His presence in every scene created tension and suspense. Something that was much needed.

After commending David Arbour (End of Watch) for his performance in A Walk Among The Tombstones, I found his character in this very dull, passive and generally unnecessary. David Meunier (Justified) made a more memorable turn in just one scene.

I was annoyed that we barely scraped the surface of McCall (Washington)’s past and the only taster we get is a boring encounter with Melissa Leo telling us what we already knew. And Bill Pullman? Remember him? President of America in Independence Day (Or the dad in Casper). A mere chess playing cameo? Terrible.

Washington makes it rain with quality acting, charisma and some fist-fighting, blood curdling violence. Csokas offers a villain that makes up for the lumbering pace. However, all it made me want to do is watch Man on Fire.

It got there in the end but boy, oh boy. If the credits suggested another one in the pipeline, get a better storyline. Or least some more action. Give it a go but me . . . I’m going to get Man on Fire out of the DVD cupboard.

2.5/5 for me.

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY REVIEW

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Behold, an Oscar candidate. A proper one. A perfect showcase in sheer acting. I may have said that a few times now but this one takes the cake.

Brilliant, bold, riveting drama with the best acting ensemble I’ve seen in some time. Meryl Streep once again demonstrates why she still rakes in the nominations. Phenomenal. I may have to retract my bet on the Best Actress nod. Tracey Letts adapted the screenplay from her own award winning stage play. Some may argue that the film may be restricted to the house, a beautiful house at that. But I feel it works as the perfect wrestling ring for one of the most dysfunctional families I’ve seen since Arrested Development (as exemplified perfectly in the poster).

Admittedly, I was reluctant to see this. Me? Reluctant to see a film? Strange. I know. The trailer didn’t sell it for me. But Mum’s a Streep fan and so we went . . . and was pleasantly surprised. What was strange was seeing ol’ brainbox Sherlock Holmes, Mr Benedict Cumberbatch as silly sympathetic simpleton Little Charlie. An odd, if well acted, transition. After his shoddy accent in The Island, Ewan McGregor has finally mastered the American accent. The only thing I could pick at is why on Earth did he have his teeth done? Are you Rylan in disguise?! (X Factor’s Rylan Clark. If you don’t know, who that is. Well, you’re lucky). Apart from that, very good. In all fairness, the cast were brilliantly picked for the roles. The only problem with so much talent on display, certain actors get pushed to the back of the line but the fact they are still able to make an impression, shows how talented they are and how well developed the characters were. Juliette Lewis as the younger gullible naive daughter (Not surprising that Lewis would play the dimwit but she nails it so well). Delmot Mulroney as the laid back slacker with the fancy Ferrari, trying to stay cool with the kids, reeking of a mid-life crisis.

Julianne Nicholson as Ivy, the daughter that stayed while the others flew the coop. And speaking of coop, it was great to see Chris Cooper. An underrated actor who always shines. I mean only he could go from American Beauty to The Muppet Movie and nail it. Desperately trying to keep the peace in a house full of nutters, his breaking point speech was brilliantly done. You couldn’t help but root for the guy. It could be argued that Abigail Breslin and Sam Shepard were wasted characters. But the real story is between Violet (Streep) and Barbara (Roberts). Breslin’s character Jean was more of a foil to unearth their resentments and there is a reason for Shepard without spoiling anything. Great actor and the fact he made an impact with a mere couple of minutes, reciting TS Elliott was very good. But anyone could have played him. 

There are three actresses that stood out. The first was Margo Martindale (a talented actress that has played some memorable roles from some of my favourite TV shows, Dexter and The Americans. She especially struck my eye after her turn in Justified as the creepy Mags Bennett). She plays Mattie Fae brilliantly. Her chemistry with Streep was fantastic. You could have believed that they were sisters. They made it seem so natural. Now the other two and the main stars, who have been rightly nominated for Oscars respectively, are Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep as Barbara and Violet. They desperately try to keep civil during a family crisis that has finally brought all the family home, despite their strained relationship but it isn’t soon before tempers flare up and everyone’s dirty laundry is thrown about. The pair are fantastic and when they confront each other over their problems with one another, it is great to watch. Riveting and at times emotional. Meryl Streep, however, was on another level. As soon as she entered the first frame, she stole the show and dominated the film as the overbearing pill popping matriarch. Her erratic behaviour from mad ranter to a vulnerable sufferer was conveyed expertly. Her “truth telling” guilt trip at the dinner table was brilliantly done. As the film progresses, we finally get to see her vulnerability and show real sympathy for her. The final moments are a fitting end note to an impeccable performance by an incredible actress. Just watch it!

Family secrets are revealed, unexpected twists and turns jump up, it all kicks off and then . . . ends quite abruptly. The ending was to be expected but it seemed to wrap up all too quickly and loosely but then when are family matters ever really resolved? But after so much build up, tension and great acting, maybe a little more time could have been spared on the final minutes, especially when one of the characters drives away in an unexpected direction. I’m staying as cryptic as possible as I want people to see this. Speaking as someone from a big family, there were so many personalities that reminded me of my own. The dinner table scene demonstrated that perfectly, especially when Violet told the men off for taking their jackets off at the table and watching them put them back on like scorned children. I haven’t seen the play that this was based on but I would very much like to now. Some may argue that the pace doesn’t justify the means but I don’t believe so. I think it allowed the simmering tension to bring to the boil perfectly, making it better for it.

All in all, well shot, well written, well acted, well done! Hazaar! In Streep we trust 4/5

Currently ranks #14 out of 133!