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True Detective: season 2 review

TV

Whilst it’s incredibly easy to jump on the critical bandwagon and denounce the second season of True Detective as a confusing and unengaging flop, I feel that’s slightly unfair. It’s also unfair to constantly compare it to the first season. A season which, let’s face it, had little expectation, other than the fact it had a couple of A-listers in the lead roles. Yet delivered and then some.

For the sake of fairness, the first season had a couple of obvious but vital things going for it too. It was a simpler story, albeit leaping around time periods. It also had a secret weapon: Matthew McConaughey, a man at the top of his game. But, first and foremost, we identified with the two lead characters and the interaction they had together.

Fast forward to season two and the cast has changed and grown, the story has become more complex and layered, and the location has shifted from the simmering deep south to the urban sprawl of LA.

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So, it’s literally almost an entirely different show.

That said, some things remain. Such as the slow burn tone (expertly continued with a woozy, languorous and devilishly seductive soundtrack) and the tortured characters (instead of two leads we now have four – more bang for your buck). Although what this does mean is that we as an audience need to reinvest ourselves in an entirely new set of troubled souls.

So in step Colin Farrell (a washed up old copper desperate to connect with his kid), Rachel McAdams (a prickly detective unable to meaningfully connect with anyone at work or at home) and Taylor Kitsch (a young traffic cop grappling with – and hiding from – his sexuality), who are thrown together to initially solve a murder which spirals out into a much bigger web of corruption and deceit, partially involving Vince Vaughn’s aspirational gangster.

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With the series finale (after eight episodes) I was left feeling rather relieved it was all over as it had sort of collapsed under the own weight of its expectation. And, despite the cast all giving a decent account of themselves (particularly Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell), there was nothing they could do to elevate the confused and convoluted script.

Will there be a season 3?

Smart money would say no, although HBO are open to it. The first season was critically acclaimed and the second the polar opposite; maybe the result of just trying to be too ambitious for its own good and different for the sake of it? If that’s the case then the show’s creator Nic Pizzolatto should be applauded for his bravery. After finding a winning formula in season one he then oddly, largely, abandoned it. Or perhaps tried to evolve it, it’s hard to say.

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On the plus side there were definitely things to love about the second season. For example we had proper, cinematic, edge-of-your-seat scenes throughout, in particular a street gun battle in broad daylight that felt akin to the one in Michael Mann’s Heat.

Then there were quieter, more introspective moments that were incredibly tender and showed a deftness of touch. In particular a series of intensely vulnerable moments between Farrell and McAdams’ characters as they opened up to one another, which were understated and deeply moving.

In some ways I’d be interested to see what they do with a third season, should they choose to make one. Different location again? Different characters? Would any return or cross paths?

These days, TV audiences are a little spoilt for choice with the quality out there, despite the fact that the ‘golden age of TV’ is reportedly over. And anything that plays by its own rules is bound to divide people. But there is definitely a place for this sort of show, so maybe let’s not give it a kicking just yet eh?

[Related articles]
Guardian article: In praise of… True Detective

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Trash culture

Poetry

Hey hey, I’m feeling low today, when did our culture become so throwaway?
There I was, on display in the shop, best of the bunch on the shelf at the top.
And this kid comes in, Damien was his name. A little devil clearly destined for fame.
Then there he goes, he snatched me quick fast. In his podgy hands I’m never gonna last.

But off we went, back to his lair, me with a looming sense of despair.
I’ve been a good toy this just isn’t fair.
But hey, what can you do?
Very soon I’ll be part of this mad kid’s zoo.
Yes it’s true I was once top of the line, until what happened was less than devine.
Years of abuse at the hands of Damien, until he threw me out, like he thought I was maybe done.

Sitting proud on a heap ‘o trash, it’s hardly a leap to say I’ve crashed.
Then, like a bolt, a thought struck me hard. I’m the dealer and now hold all the cards.
This trash heap, this is my Kingdom. Now I rule I can have some real fun.

As other toys arrive I lay down the law. ‘Wherever you’re from it won’t be like before’.
The message is clear, they want me to rule. They know as a leader I’ll be super cool.
But one, like a fool, rises against me. ‘If you lead we’ll never be free!’ he cries.
I stand to face him and see fear in his eyes.

My God, is this what I’ve become?
In my efforts to evolve I’ve turned into Damien.
This makes me freeze and go weak at the knees.
‘Please!’ I implore. ‘It won’t be like that. Together we’re strong and that’s a fact.’
Slowly, as one, they all come around.

And that became the start of Toy Trash Town.

Over time we’ve built a community.
Part of the world where we can be free.
We had to scrap for it though, battling each day.
Fighting those that became so throwaway.

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I am the one who boasts

Poetry

Anything you can do I can do better.
It’s time you learnt I’m a bona-fide trendsetter.
While we’re sharing I’m gonna boast in party situations I’m the world’s best host.
Hell… I’m a social butterfly.
People flock to me as I dance and flutter by.
No word of a lie it’s true, the fact that I’m best is far beyond you.

But out there, people cause trouble.
Looking for a weakness to burst your bubble.
You want a single shot, they want doubles.
You apply the brakes as they up the stakes.
They’re out there, showing they’re best.
But they’ve always got issues to get off their chest.
You gotta sack ’em off… that’s what I say.
Put ’em in the dirt and leave them where they lay.
You don’t need them bringing you down.

Mentally agile I’m a brutal intellectual.
Your IQ is nothing if not ineffectual.
Pound for pound I’m the champ with anecdotes.
You the smart Alec but as usual you choke.
For if you can’t beat the problem then let it be broke.

In the world of business I’m a CEO.
You should see me in meetings when I’m in full flow.
People hang on my word, my God it’s absurd.
But they’re my soldiers, my little herd.
Now budgets and spreadsheets, that’s my thing.
I make those cells dance and the numbers sing.
To negotiate you’d better step to the plate.
There’s no time to hate if you think it’s same-same.
You’d better up your skills and bring your A-game.
If not you’ll fall fast and flat on your ass.
Which I find is when I call time when faced with a mind like mine.

When it comes to family I’m the world’s best dad.
Honestly though, it drives my wife mad, with desire of course.
For our fires burn bright and we’ll never get divorced.
But back on the market I’m a swinging bachelor.
I ratchet up the pressure on the single fellas.
‘How do we bag a bride?’ they cry, ‘Please tell us!’
Instead I smile, look away and stay silent.
I’ll take that to the grave, don’t make me get violent.

And so.. To sign off, a confession.
Consider this a humility lesson.
None of what I’ve said has a grain of truth.
From middle age back to my bad boy youth.
But then again, you knew that didn’t you?
I used to think that you never had a clue.
I used to think that you liked to play it smooth.
I used to think that you’d push it for the sake of it.
Piling on the pressure just to make it fit.
I’d be out there giving it large.
Yet all along, you were in charge.
But like a vapid spectre, an empty ghost.
I still remain, the one who boasts.

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Amy: the girl with demons that were just too dark to overcome

Film

From great pain comes great genius. And let’s not muck about, Amy Winehouse, the gobby girl from North London, the unassuming jazz singer, had both in buckets.

This documentary – directed by Asif Kapadia, the man who brought us Senna a few years back – charts her life through mostly previously unseen footage in a compelling and deeply affecting way.

I’ll say from the outset I was – and still am – a big fan.

I loved her music, that unique and beguiling voice, the darkness she carried that came out in her lyrics and – this may seem callous but – I cannot think of another artist that, if they died, I’d be that cut up about. There was obviously something about her that spoke to me.

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Darkness, pain, loneliness, vulnerability – these things can mean a lot to a lot of people and Amy was our figurehead. When she died it was a shock, although the act not shocking in itself. More that maybe it hadn’t happened sooner, in a way, given the media frenzy which surrounded her later years (which we’ll come to in a bit).

With Amy we get a detailed insight into her inner circle, the people closest to her and how her eventual demise came to pass. From her friends and various managers and producers to her absent family, all seemed to play a part in trying to help her get back on track, but almost all ultimately failed her in some way.

And some more than others.

The person that got cast in the worst light was probably her father, Mitch Winehouse (who came out after the film’s release, surprisingly enough, saying he wanted the filmmakers to make changes). With her most famous song, Rehab, directly referencing the fact he told her not to go, he had dealt his own hand in terms of how he wanted to be portrayed as a father. This absenteeism as a role model for Amy continued right up until the end.

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In fact, time and again Kapadia comes back to clips that illustrate the fact that most of Amy’s darkness and self-destructive impulses stemmed from the lack of a father figure in her life. Starting with Mitch leaving the family to have an affair whilst she was growing up, she then spent the rest of her life trying to replace him, either with boyfriends/husbands (Blake Fielder-Civil being the worst of the bunch) or managers and producers or, near the end, bodyguards.

The media also comes under Kapadia’s scrutiny (and rightly so), with the rise of the paparazzi scrum hounding her every move directly contributing to her downward spiral. (In some ways the same thing happened with Princess Diana, so it’s clear we’ll never learn.) In this Kapadia makes us complicit, we’re just as much to blame as anyone within her inner circle. We buy the magazines and read the tabloids and gobble up all the sordid details of her destruction like sharks out for blood.

The sucker punch, the killer blow if you will, was that Amy almost turned a corner right before the end. She did a duet with her idol Tony Bennett (who said she was up there with greats like Ella Fitzgerald) and she planned, by the looks of it, to return to her jazz roots. But then, in a flash, it was all over.

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If you were a fan of Amy Winehouse you’ll most likely find the film engaging and insightful. If you weren’t, you’ll still get something from it, as it’s a fascinating look at the recent and tragic demise of a modern-day musical genius and the factors that contributed to her downfall.

Kapadia seems to have treated the material sensitively and portrayed Amy in a sympathetic light. Whether you choose to – as I do – feel a little responsible and quite disgusted by the way the world ended up treating her will be up to you.

For me, it made me raw again that she’s gone. But this was an important film to make and the story needed to be told.

Rest in peace Amy. We’ll miss you, always.

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Vanilla backlash!

Poetry

Don’t get me wrong, it has its place.
There’s a certain time for that kind of taste.
It’s sneaky too, but lacks edge and leaves you peaky and blue.
More punch was needed to fill you with glee, to leave you knee-deep in Peaches and Cream.

Time to launch in.

Setting the bar high you opt for Rocky Road.
Your taste buds implode and explode simultaneously.
It’s heinous this taste sensation, you’d best believe.
You almost go for Raspberry Ripple, but as flavours go it’s unforgiveable.
Not even really a taste at all, but a phony, a fake.
You can’t mask this bland offering with a chocolate flake. Or goddamn cake.

Honestly… You can’t catch a break or escape the vanilla trap.
It’s a killer when you realise and feels like slap, this is crap.
That said, maybe Pistachio is the way to go?
Exotic enough for the danger zone, but you quickly suffer a major blow.
You’re stuck with vanilla again, say it ain’t so!
No matter, you’re an ice cream ninja.
Although this binge has made you a thirsty guy, maybe it’s time you diversify?
But sorbet’s not your forte, you just can’t embrace the lie.

Next on your hit list is Cookie Dough.
How could you sink so low? Have you no sense of shame?
Back on the vanilla bandwagon you’ve only yourself to blame.
Time for secret, a solid gold tip.
Your one safe haven here is Mint Choc Chip.
But you need to get a grip to save yourself and turn your back on vanilla for the sake of your health.

How about Salted Caramel?
Choose that and you’ll go straight to hell, it’s the devil’s choice.
Yes! Yes! Yes! You’ve finally found your voice.
One scoop, two scoop, you can’t stop, eyes go wide you’re about to pop, then the hunger subsides and you stop the rot.
Turns out you’re left burning hot.
My God, you ate a lot.

Is this what happens when you give up vanilla? It may as well be crack.
Oh great, now you’re having a panic attack and look sick and green.
Has your life come to this, ruled by mere ice cream?
The depths of your depravity know no bounds when the local ice cream truck does the rounds.
That tinkly music just makes you lose it.
You fight to stay still, to beat your addiction, but it’s tough.
There comes a point when enough is enough.
But you’re not there yet.
So the next time someone says give up vanilla, for God’s sake don’t take the bet.

poohsticks

Pooh Sticks (learning to flow)

Poetry

I shiver and quiver as I hit the river.
I sink fast. Curses!
Then I emerge from the drink and surface.
The pain of being discarded burns less as I bob down the stream.
This river is mobbed but it turns out I’m part of a team.
Floating nearby my buddy suffered a similar fate.
As we converse we’re not irate, but then our pupils dilate as there’s rocks ahead.
We form a plan fast lest we both end up splintered and dead.

By the Power of Pooh Sticks we form a raft, with time to spare to fashion a mast.
But I’m no stranger to danger, I know what lies ahead.
My eyes narrow as I fill with dread.

Dogs!

Like goddamn wet, shaggy logs they’re more dangerous than any rocks.
But the river’s getting rapid and ahead lie bendy drops.
Mini waterfalls that even a mad mongrel won’t face.
Those stupid mutts know their place.

Drifting along the river morphs into the sea and my buddy and me know not what to expect.
What fate awaits us in the ocean’s depths?
Whatever it is we’re optimistic, given those darn dogs left us pretty twisted.
However… The Power of Pooh Sticks will keep us safe, as we explore the ocean’s vast space.

Next time you see us we’ll be bigger in size and scope, our twiggy raft having grown beyond our wildest hopes.
Festooned with barnacles, which, let’s face it, would be pretty cool.
So if you ever find yourself on a raft adrift at sea, spare a thought to its origins.
Discarded Pooh Sticks that came from a tiny stream.

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Magic Mike XXL: Strippers on a road trip

Film

Bow… bow, wow, wow. When Genuwine’s Pony kicks in you know you’re watching Magic Mike. Sometimes certain songs coupled with certain scenes elevate an entire film and glue it firmly to our memories. Such was the case three years ago.

Directed by Steven Soderburgh at the time in almost a documentary style, Magic Mike was a funny old beast. It was less about stripping and more male bonding; how these guys actually live and are part of a tribe. Like The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke but with more nudity. (Actually, scratch that, they’ve both got naked guys aplenty.) It focused on character too; so if it were mere titillation we wouldn’t have this sequel now.

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This time round Soderburgh’s long time assistant director, Gregory Jacobs, steps up to direct. He’s a man who has worked extensively with Soderburgh in the past and knows the style and tone of the first movie. Whilst not quite matching the first he does a passable job with this sequel.

So… why would a straight guy go to see Magic Mike, surely it’s one for the ladies? Well, yes, there’s male nudity in abundance but I’d argue this is a film that, in a manner of speaking, has more to offer the male market. Bear (or bare, geddit?) with me here whilst I state my case. First, the plot.

Photo Credit: Claudette Barius

Photo Credit: Claudette Barius

Mike has left the life of stripping behind to pursue his passion of furniture design. He’s got his girl, it’s all rosy. However, three years later things don’t work out as he plans and he gets a call from the old gang as they pass through town on their way to a stripper convention (Yes, it’s a real thing. Tatum actually attended one in his former life before acting.)

With only a little – rather convenient – persuasion from Genuwine’s Pony on the radio in his workshop (in a scene which riffs on Flashdance) he bundles in with the fellas for a road trip and one last stripping hurrah. They meet various characters along the way, including Jada Pinkett Smith’s stripper Madam Rome (Mike’s mentor) and Andie Macdowell’s lonely housewife Nancy, which all add something.

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That said, there’s things missing, specifically characters. Gone is Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) crooning ‘ladies of Tampa’ and stealing scenes. He leaves a rather large hole which the rest of the cast try to fill with varying degrees of success. Gone is Adam ‘The Kid’ (Alex Pettyfer), gone is Mike’s love interest Brooke (Cody Horn), replaced rather half-heartedly with quirky and nomadic Zoe (Amber Heard Depp); who does what she can but has very little to work with. However, former players do step up, particularly Joe Manganiello’s Big Dick Ritchie, who gets the funniest – and ballsiest – scene of the movie.

Stripping scenes aside, the movie itself, in its quieter moments, seems at pains to show these guys as more than strippers. They’ve got hopes and dreams like the rest of us and they’re just as vulnerable, if not more so. There’s one scene where two characters talk about how they’re modern-day healers for women. Weirdly, it’s quite touching and all rather spiritual.

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In parts it does drag a little, but overall it’s a pretty solid follow-up and doesn’t retread too much old ground. It feels like a good way to end, too. If we see a Magic Mike 3 in a few years I can safely say it’ll tank at the box office as there’s really nowhere else to take these characters. I think the actors knew that as they looked like there were having so much fun here and really went for it.

So… It’s a good laugh, fits the tone of the first and is surprisingly sensitive in places where it touches on the male bonding aspect and sense of belonging. But let’s leave it there eh? Mike’s stripping days are done. Time he hung up that thong for good.

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Penny Dreadful: season 2 review

TV

The first season of Penny Dreadful focused on Sir Malcolm’s (Timothy Dalton) hunt for his daughter, who had been captured by some sort of vampire master. It also shared equal screen time exploring Vanessa Ives’ (Eva Green) story, a battle with a demonic spirit which was attempting to consume her soul.

And we were introduced to troubled doctor Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and the monsters he creates – in particular John Clare (Rory Kinnear). Then there was strong and silent American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) with a dark past of his own. Plus the mysterious and eternal Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) popped up from time to time in a subplot that bubbled along throughout.

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For season two it’s very much a continuation of the first in terms of the main characters and their journeys, albeit with a different antagonist for them to face; a trio of nightcomers/witches who, at the bidding of their master (spoiler: a fallen angel aka the devil) step up their pursuit of Vanessa’s soul.

In general the show is quite slow burn, so if you’re expecting True Blood set in London go elsewhere. It’s dark, moody and there’s some nudity involved, but otherwise it’s a completely different beast. Again there’s a large focus on Vanessa, building up more of her backstory; as she’s such an interesting character it’s a pleasure to spend time in her company. There’s also Ethan Chandler’s past which catches up with him, along with a secret he can no longer keep hidden.

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The primary difference in season two is two-fold: first, the main antagonist has more of a human face and development of character; as the witches are led in suitably machiavellian fashion by Madame Kali (Helen McCrory).

Secondly, the main group, essentially rookies in season one are more cold, clinical and ruthless this time round. They know the sort of darkness they face, both internal and external. That said, the demons they’ve accumulated keep coming back to haunt them.

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We get more Vanessa Ives backstory in which to sink our teeth and the relationship between her and Ethan develops almost as you might expect. Dalton’s Sir Malcolm takes a bit of a backseat this season, but makes way for more of Victor Frankenstein and his flawed creations, including Lily (Billie Piper), who becomes – in almost a 180 switch of character – a bit of a walking nightmare for Victor. Vanessa aside, she probably has the most compelling character arc.

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The season finishes (without giving too much away) with the characters all pursuing different goals of their own and in different places, geographically. As such it will be interesting to see – should they choose to do so – how John Logan and the show’s writers will pick them all up again come season three.

We’ve had vampires and witches. What’s next for them to face?

heat

Confessions of a master thief

Poetry

Unannounced like a thief in the night, that’s what they say right?
For in my job it’s fight or flight.
You get in my way, you’ll end up a sorry sight.
Like a blight I’m a plague on the neighbourhood, I invade homes in the name of the greater good, if others could steal like I could then I bet they would.

Each night I head out with the tools in the van.
Surrounded by my crew, a bunch of fools to a man.
But they’re brave. They’ve got balls. For when I ask them to step up I know they can.
They’re a bunch of tough mothers too, and they’re tight-knit.
To join this crew you’ve got to be the right fit.
Be willing to take a hit if needs be, or do a stint inside, which is never easy.

But we’ve all been there, we’ve all done our time.
It’s part and parcel of a life of crime.
You see me in your house though, good luck dialling 999. For those possessions you hold so dear will very soon become mine.

These days though, the game’s not the same. In truth it’s lame.
There’s less to gain and it’s become a hassle at best and at worst a pain.
Without sounding like an old fart you could say I’ve become less bold and lost my heart, but that’s only part of the reason.
Nowadays most of the stealing is done online and if you’re a cyber criminal it’s open season.

But that technology stuff, it’s not for me.
Give me old school any day, give me lock and key. Then I’ll show you who’s boss.
At the end of the day I’m running a business here and I’ll be damned if I’ll run it at a loss.

Anyway… those homes won’t rob themselves, I must get back.
I’ve got lots of lovely stuff to steal and that, as they say, is that.

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Happy birthday Nan

Poetry

Sit up, take note and hear this.
Right here is a lady with a generous spirit.
Look how she sits as she tackles problems in no mere fits and starts but launches right in, her face locked in a rictus grin as she wears her sleeve on her heart (or the other way round).

And now it’s her birthday, so it’s time to celebrate in the worse way.
It’s time to put on a party hat and curse and pray that her and her other half get up and do the funky chicken, cutting shapes and ripping up the dancefloor, giving all the other golden oldies a licking.

So now go ahead and raise a glass, to this birthday lady… with the generous heart.