12 Monkeys – TV Review

Part of the latest crop of TV producers’ seemingly endless attempts to mine cinematic history for the small screen’s golden future sees SyFy dig 20 years into the past to dust off 12 Monkeys, Terry Gilliam’s mind-blowing sci-fi that was itself based on little-known French short, La Jetée.

While 12 Monkeys doesn’t quite have the same brand recognition as Sleepy Hollow or even Psycho that could work in its favour, allowing writers Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett to take the 1995 film’s premise and reimagine the mythology with little opposition and hopefully come out the other side with a truly unique and exciting piece of television.

Alas, Fargo this is not and instead of a dramatic reinvention we get a rote retelling of the film but without any its passion or creativity.

Aaron Stanford replaces Bruce Willis in the role of time traveler James Cole, who is zapped from the year 2043 to the present day to prevent the outbreak of a deadly virus that in Cole’s timeline caused the death of 93.6% of the world population. Enlisting troubled scientist Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), Cole tracks down the shadowy threat responsible and uncovers an elaborate conspiracy that goes for beyond what he expected.

It’s a great premise, bubbling with potential to tap into our present fears about the chance of a global pandemic (thanks, Ebola) and to explore themes relating to the lengths mankind is prepared to go in order to survive.

Yet Matalas and Fickett have bizarrely eschewed these interesting avenues in favour of a rote conspiracy thriller. Instead of expanding the plot to encompass its characters’ rich pasts, presents and futures, we become trapped in a grim version of 2015 as Cole and Railly investigate a monolithic pharmaceutical conglomerate fronted by the supremely seedy Tom Noonan.

From The Terminator-inspired premise to the Sleepy Hollow-aping way Cole’s man-out-of-time struggles are depicted for comic effect, 12 Monkeys is a jumble of hackneyed genre tropes that you’ve seen put to better use elsewhere and it doesn’t yet know what to do with them all.

As a consequence, the plot development is frustratingly predictable, which sadly makes watching the show entirely pointless.

With the plot mostly consigned to the present day, it’s easy to forget that the lives of seven billion people is a stake for Cole’s mission – or it would be if he could resist muttering it under his breath every 10 minutes – and the writers would be wise to draw more attention to this by focusing more on the future timeline.

This would enable Matalas and Fickett to explore the moral implications of Cole’s mission in greater depth than the present day-timeline allows, which is surely the point of turning a film into a TV show. It would also open up the possibility of exploring the political mechanisations behind the team of scientists sending Cole into the past, which you would imagine is rife with ulterior motives and hidden agendas.

In casting, Stanford is solid, if unremarkable, in the lead role with plenty of hints dropped about Cole’s troubled past throughout the opening episode, but aside from him no-one else really stands out. The problem is that Matalas and Fickett are more interested in setting up the conspiracy storyline than they are in fleshing-out their characters, and the majority of the cast are left to act as little more than faceless plot points as a result.

All is not necessarily lost, however. As I said, the premise has great potential and if the writers can find the right voice and gain the confidence to tackle more complex themes, 12 Monkeys could be something truly special.

As yet, however, the plot is just too predictable and uninspiring and the characters so unappealing and unnoticeable that it really is rather hard to give a monkeys about any of it.

Click here to watch a trailer for 12 Monkeys

Critical – TV Review

Though he may be better known these days as the writer of gripping crime drama Line of Duty, Jed Mercurio first came to the nation’s attention as the creator of scathing medical dramas Cardiac Arrest and Bodies. Now he’s returning to the genre that made his name with Sky One’s Critical, a 13 part series set within the Starship Enterprise-esque walls of a major trauma centre.

For those who have grown weary of the BBC’s soft-bellied stalwarts Holby City and Casualty, this original series provides a much-needed rush of adrenalin to the flagging genre. Styled as a taut, breathless thriller, the show opens with a helicopter racing overhead and a flatlining patient coughing blood as a clock beings its merciless countdown, and the tension rarely lets up from there.

Critical’s USP is its 24-like real-time duration with each episode following a trauma team during the 60 minute window they have to save the life of a critically injured patient. Or not, as the case may be. Yet this device never feels like a cheap gimmick, its inescapable immediacy giving the show a ferocious energy that resembles the improvisational style of Suspects as doctors and nurses race against time to uncover the cause of the patient’s severe haemorrhage, reacting seemingly on-the-fly to each new complication.

Clearly, with so much true-to-life action taking place there’s no room for the syrupy melodrama of ER here. Critical’s eye is always firmly on the patient, which makes the remarkable vividness of the characters all the more impressive.

Using only snatched glances and brief interludes where the staff nervously await test results, Mercurio is able to reveal so much about his cast’s personal lives, hinting at a turf war between NHS staff through Claire Skinner’s trauma leader’s combative discussions with Peter Sullivan’s head of emergency medicine, timid newcomer Harry’s (Fresh Meat’s Kimberley Nixon) struggle to standout on the sidelines, and at how overwhelmed hospital fellow Fiona (Catherine Walker) feels as she’s forced to lead the operation.

As a former doctor, it’s unsurprising that Mercurio is obsequious about the mechanics of the medical procedures depicted and he clearly revels in the gore, drawing the camera in close whenever blood gushes from an open wound or surgeons attempt something disgusting like cracking open a man’s chest. It’s really not for the faint of heart.

Indeed, it’s not really a show for anyone with any kind of heart. While this shocking, visceral thrill ride can be seen as a welcome attempt to try something new, Mercurio’s nuts-and-bolts approach to the process of medicine is more than a little cold.

By learning very little about the man who’s fighting for his life and having to watch the staff nonchalantly crack jokes and munch on stolen chocolate bars as their patient bleeds out on the table in front of them, we never get the sense that we should truly care about what will happen next and the tension sags as a consequence.

This kind of insouciance may be a necessary requirement of the job for medical professionals, but for those of us simply watching a TV drama, it often makes for soulless and really rather cold viewing.

Click here to watch a trailer for Critical

Broadchruch Finale – TV Review

Where did it all go wrong for Broadchurch? Chris Chibnall’s gripping crime drama captured the nation’s imagination in 2013 by reimagining the whodunit as a means to explore the impact of grief on an entire community. The first series was one of those rare shows that actually had you leaning closer to the television to find out what happens next just a few second faster.

An unexpected second series looked like it would continue in a similar vain, initially overcoming any fears of ‘second season syndrome’ with a powerhouse of an opening episode that appeared to have found an exciting way of continuing a story we thought was all wrapped up following Joe Miller’s startling confession.

In a bold and brilliant move, Chibnall had Miller shock everyone, including his own lawyers, by pleading not guilty to Daniel Latimer’s murder, thus enabling the writer to further explore how impossible it is to move on from the death of a child through an arduous court case.

With almost 10 million viewers sitting down to watch the trial commence, Broadchurch looked set to transfix the country yet again.

And then it all crumbled like the gorgeous sandstone cliffs under which Danny’s body was first discovered. The electric tension of episode one evaporated almost instantly as events became even more improbable and additional drama was seemingly shoehorned in to compensate for the lack of an engaging plot.

Instead of the first series’ understated intrigue that gradually exposed the dirty secrets of the town’s denizens, Chibnall attempted to prolong his drama by stuffing it full of the kind of high drama that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of Eastenders.

Illicit affairs, abusive spouses, secret abortions, and characters miraculously returning out of the blue to reignite old feuds, it’s all been going on in Broadchurch recently; unfortunately, very little of it kept us wanting to tune in for the next instalment. Not even Lee Ashworth’s endless appearances brooding on top of the town’s various grassy knolls could keep us intrigued.

All was not lost, however, provided Broadchurch could rediscover at least some of its subtlety for tonight’s finale.

The omens were hopeful going in, with last week’s penultimate episode finally raising the stakes, as the jury appeared to be on the brink of announcing their verdict and the pieces of Hardy’s investigation into the Sandbrook murders seemingly falling into place. But could it stick the landing?

It has to be a resounding yes. Remarkably, Chibnall somehow stuns everyone with a gripping episode packed with devastating revelations, confessions and outpourings of grief that provoke powerfully emotive performances from the entire cast.

Most of the final episode is devoted to what happened in Sandbrook, the broken case that nearly destroyed Hardy, as Miller uncovers a key piece of evidence that forces Lee and Claire to finally break their silence.

In an unsettling flashback that recalls the first series’ tense finale, Ricky Gillespie is revealed as the killer having bashed his daughter’s babysitter’s head against some floor boards after catching her shagging Lee. Threatening to frame him for her murder, Ricky forces Lee to help him get rid of the body, but while he is away Claire and Lee decide to suffocate witness Pippa to ensure she cannot expose Lee to the police.

These scenes are as harrowing as they sound, and if they lack some of the force of the series one finale it’s because we simply haven’t received enough encouragement throughout the series to invest in these characters in the way we have with the Latimers.

Speaking of which, we of course get a resolution to Joe Miller’s murder trial. Sadly, Joe walks free, acquitted by a majority verdict while the Latimers are left to sit in shock, unable to accept that the pain and indignity they have endured throughout the trial has been for nothing.

Thankfully for all involved, that’s not the end of Joe’s journey as, in the episodes most moving scene, the entire community band together to abduct and banish him from the town, packing him off the Sheffield of all places. One suspects he will not be missed.

The final message is one of hope, the Latimers returning to the scene of Danny’s murder in an acceptance that the pain will always linger but life must still go on. It’s a beautiful, absorbing, heart-poundingly tense conclusion that offers far more than the series itself was worth.

Still, it’s hard to look beyond the ridiculous plot-lines that brought us here. Would the Latimer’s really have chosen the prosecution council? Would Sharon Bishop really get away with accusing Mark of murdering his son without even a shred of forensic evidence? And why in the world would Miller care more about Sandbrook than her own children?

The implausibility of these muddled plot-lines is perhaps best summed up by last week’s sudden decision to tackle middle-aged lesbianism. The nuanced portrayal of characters’ private lives was Broadchurch’s biggest strength and kept us all hooked, but the scene in which Knight declares her undying love for newspaper editor Maggie on a blustery clifftop was clunky, obvious and laughably absurd.

Just like the writers of The Fall and The Last Tango in Halifax, Chibnall’s attempts to prolong his landmark drama have been painfully obvious and have lacked the subtlety and invention of series one. Over eight weeks we’ve been bombarded with outrageous melodrama and questionable plot twists as Chibnall tried to make sense of his scrambled narrative.

The finally may have provided a satisfying conclusion in its own way, but it has taken a terribly frustrating journey to get here, which is probably why so many viewers fled to the far superior Silent Witness. Perhaps now, after so many recent warnings, drama writers will learn to leave well enough alone.

Oh no, wait, it says after the credits that Broadchurch will return. Some people just never learn.

Big Hero 6 – Film Review

What has taken Disney so long? The monolithic studio first acquired Marvel Entertainment in 2009, and with it a vast resource of little-known stories ripe for adaptation and reinvention. Yet it’s only now, six years later, that Disney Animations has finally made its first film featuring Marvel Comics characters; meanwhile, the MCU has loudly gone about its multi-phase plan for world domination.

Still, at least it was well worth the wait. Action-packed and vividly animated, Big Hero 6 makes up for its mechanical storytelling with super-powered levels of heart, warmth and humour in a touching story about a broken tech geek and his gentle robot friend.

Our hero is, aptly enough, Hiro (Potter), a 14 year-old robotics prodigy wasting his potential competing in back-alley ‘bot battles while living in the futuristic San Fransokyo with his brother Tadeshi (Henney) and Aunt Cass (Rudolph). After winning a spot on a prestigious robotics program with a dazzling demonstration of his micro-robotics technology – tiny building blocks that combine to create mass objects, Hiro is knocked by a personal tragedy that once again leaves him listless and in trouble.

Lucky for him, then, that his brother invented Baymax (Adsit), an inflatable healthcare android designed to heal all human pain. Determined to help Hiro overcome his grief, Tadeshi’s cuddly-creation teams up with a ragbag mix of scientists – GoGo, Honey Lemon, Wasabi and, erm, Fred – to hunt down the masked villain who stole Hiro’s technology.

Everything about this plot is terribly formulaic, directors Don Hall and Chris Williams shamelessly aping everything from popular Marvel releases (namely Iron Man and Spider-man 2) to The Lego Movie, and most obviously Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon, with its central plot about a lonely boy who forms a close bond with a loveably inhuman companion. Disney is clearly hoping this will replicate the latter’s global success, but the predictable nature of the story makes the action hard to engage with and all the major plot twists are too easy to see coming.

Yet the real appeal isn’t its superhero origin story structure but rather the emotive force of its central pairing. In trying to incorporate the emotional depth of Pixar’s best work, Hall and Williams have successfully crafted an unflinching portrayal of teenage grief. Hiro comes across as a credible teenager suffering through repeated tragedy, his mood swinging uncontrollably between anger, depression, inertia, confusion and euphoria as he tries to channel his pain into a misguided pursuit that threatens to undo all of his brother’s good work.

It’s Baymax, however, that is undoubtedly the star of the show. In the comics he may be a synthetic bodyguard capable of ‘synthforming’ into a dragon (which is sneakily referenced in an early scene, for eagle-eyed viewers), here Baymax is disarmingly transformed into a huggable walking-marshmallow, with the endearing naivety of E.T. and the resolute loyalty of man’s best-friend proving to be a winning combination.

Though primarily a source of comic relief, his ungraceful waddle and cumbersome movements making for some excellent physical comedy, it’s surprising how much we come to care for Baymax by the film’s wrenching conclusion, the animators impressively evoking a range of emotions through his simple dumbbell eyes.

While the design of San Fransokyo is beautifully vibrant and unique in its blend of eastern and western influences, the action sequences lack the same imaginative flare, whizzing by in a flash whilst making little impact. The supporting characters likewise lack invention, with Hiro’s crime-fighting pals barely registering beyond their basic character tropes. This is especially true of James Cromwell’s masked villain, whose enigmatic identity prevents him from ever appearing as a credible threat.

Despite its storytelling and characterisation faults, Big Hero 6 is still an immensely entertaining adventure, possessing the sweet-natured charm of Disney, the emotional intelligence of Pixar and the awesome spectacle of Marvel, and propelled by two characters whom you come to care for deeply. I, for one, am satisfied with my care.

Running time: 102 mins; Genre: Animation/Adventure; Released: 30 January 2015;

Directors: Don Hall, Chris Williams; Screenwriters: Jordan Roberts, Dan Gerson, Robert L Baird;

Starring: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Maya Rudolph, Daniel Henney

Click here to watch a trailer for Big Hero 6

TV Review: The Casual Vacancy; I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse

Don’t be taken in by the bucolic charms on show in Pagford, the setting for this BBC and HBO funded adaptation of JK Rowling’s best-selling novel The Casual Vacancy. Beneath the sun-drenched shots of rolling green fields, gently meandering rivers and rustic stone cottages lurk deep divisions and dark secrets just waiting to be uncovered.

Yes, it’s yet another British drama where the inhabitants of a seemingly idyllic community have their dirty laundry cruelly exposed by an unexpected death. Is the ancient curse that causes a resident of Midsummer to drop dead each week catching?

The main focus of The Casual Vacancy, for those few who have not read the book, centres on a battle over the fate of local community centre, Sweet Love House. Devious council chairman Howard Mollison (played with vile relish by Michael Gambon) plans to turn it into a wealth health spa that will not only further line his pockets with cash but also put an end to the blight of “plebs and junkies” streaming into the village from a nearby council estate.

What he doesn’t plan for, however, is the opposition of village saint Barry Fairbrother (a superb Rory Kinnear), a local solicitor who makes an impassioned speech about how the house must remain open for the “enjoyment and betterment” of the people of The Fields. Unfortunately, Barry unexpectedly pops his clogs midway through the first episode, opening up a casual vacancy on the parish council and an election that threatens to spark a class war in this ostensibly peaceful community.

An early use of juxtaposition to contrast Pagford’s picturesque façade with the fetid vagrancy that hides in dark corners notwithstanding, it’s hard to see how this miniseries betters similar dramas that have come before. The story holds ambitions of exploring timely themes of poverty, class divides, crime, domestic violence, addiction and a country generally dismantled by austerity, but these kind of slow burning dramas hinge on having believable characters with intriguing plot arcs.

It’s here where The Casual Vacancy falls short. Aside from one interesting scene in which a social worker is refused permission to remove a child from his squalid environment because the social services lack the budget to do so, the story is without insight, painting its characters in the broadest of strokes and failing to build the kind of gripping mystery that will keep viewers hooked.

The viewers will still undoubtedly flock in their millions, of course, if only because the schedules are so lacking in appealing alternatives right now.

Speaking of unappealing alternatives, BBC Three launched their new horror-themed game show I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse last night.

At first I thought the creators had taken inspiration from Jurassic Park and literally used fossilised DNA to genetically engineer their own horde of ravenous flesh-eaters to devour unwitting members of the public for our viewing pleasure.

Alas, those blasted over-cautious Ofcom regulations have struck again and forced us all to endure this rather uninspiring mock reality show instead.

Set six months after a nationwide epidemic “transformed” the majority of the UK population into the living dead, ten contestants – who have all seemingly been put through the same personality vacuum before entering – are dropped into an abandoned shopping centre where they must complete a series of mildly perilous challenges and avoid coming into contact with the “zombies”. Anyone still “alive” after seven days will be whisked off to a tropical quarantine zone as a reward.

Clearly envisioned as a companion piece to Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set, with a premise that attempts to satirise reality TV and modern technology (the zombie apocalypse is caused by a dodgy 5G mobile network), what emerges is a poorly executed revival of Punk’d, only this time Ashton Kutcher and his “white trash” persona have been replaced by the equally offensive Radio 1 DJ Greg James.

May the zombie hordes rise up and takes us all.

Click here to watch The Casual Vacancy and here to watch I Survived a Zombie Apocalypse on BBC iPlayer

Better Call Saul: Can this Breaking Bad spinquel live up to the original?

What’s the name of the show? Better Call Saul

When does it air? Tuesday, from 7am on Netflix

What is this show? A spin-off series to Breaking Bad that follows small-time lawyer James “Jimmy” McGill (Bob Odenkirk) as he transforms into sleazy criminal advisor Saul Goodman.

Wait, wasn’t Saul shipped off to Nebraska at the end of Breaking Bad? He sure was. In fact, this new series begins with a monochrome cold open that reveals how Saul fulfilled his own prophecy and now ekes out a paranoid existence managing a Cinnabon in Omaha. However, most of Better Call Saul is set six years before he met Walter White or even adopted the name Saul Goodman.

What happens in the premiere? Not much, to be honest. Most of the first episode is understandably dedicated to the slow-burning introduction of Jimmy as a character. Almost verging on overkill, “Uno” lays on the ‘deadbeat sad-sack’ cliches nice and thick, broadly painting Jimmy as a down-on-his-luck lawyer who has zero phone messages, a stack of unpaid bills, an ailing relative and can barely even get his parking validated at court let along actually win a case.

Events do kick-up a gear in episode two, though, as Jimmy resorts to extortion to build his client base, hiring two knuckle-headed skater punks to get hit by a car so he can persuade the driver to hire him as her lawyer. Needless to say, the scheme is a complete farce, playing out like a scene from Beverley Hills Cop as the skaters target the wrong car and everyone winds up at the house of deranged meth dealer Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz).

Is Jimmy a worthy leading man? Jimmy is undoubtedly a more well-rounded character than Saul, who was essentially a source of comic relief in Breaking Bad, with early episodes doing a great job of expanding his role by detailing his myriad personal and professional struggles. Odenkirk, too, is more than capable of fronting his own series, deftly stripping back the sleazy aspects of his character and adding an endearing level of vulnerability that makes Jimmy a more rootable hero than Saul. And yet, I still found it hard to invest in Jimmy’s plight in the same instantaneous way I did with Walter White. Part of the problem is that BCS is a closed circle: we already know where Jimmy ends up, meaning any threat to his chances of success are immediately tempered by the realisation that we already know he comes out on top in the end.

Who are the best characters? Aside from two wonderfully played reprisals from the aforementioned Tuco and Jonathan Banks’s stern fixer Mike Ehrmantraut, the two standout characters from the first episodes are Nacho (Michael Mando), Tuco’s more level-headed partner, and Jimmy’s ailing brother Chuck (Michael McKean). The heartbreaking relationship between the two brothers is the show’s emotional spine and the way Jimmy tries to support his brother while he suffers some kind of mental breakdown lends his character a much-needed layer of pathos.

Is this show any good? That depends on your expectations. If you won’t settle for anything less than another Breaking Bad-style phenomenon then you will inevitably be disappointed. While AMC’s rich, deadpan prequel takes place in the same beautifully bleak locales and centres similarly on one man’s transformation from milquetoast to the toast of the criminal underworld, it just doesn’t carry the same weight as the original series. But if you’re prepared to accept BCS on its own terms, there’s enough here to recommend it, namely Odenkirk’s remarkable performance and the sense that writer Vince Gilligan is on the cusp of cracking this character and heading in some exciting new directions. Remember that Breaking Bad took a few seasons to really pick up momentum – patience is required when dealing with Gilligan’s imagination.

What’s the best thing about it? Jimmy’s Irish accent when posing as his own secretary.

What’s the worst thing about it? Jimmy’s Irish accent when posing as his own secretary.

Should you watch it? The tone wavers inconsistently between melancholia and black farce and the story isn’t quite the compelling character study it wants to be, but for the many Breaking Bad fans out there, there are plenty of charming references to make this a warm return to Gilligan’s thoughtfully stylised vision of New Mexico. And even if you’re not particularly au fait with the story of Walter White and Heisenberg, there’s enough potential in Odenkirk’s marvellous performance to keep you entertained for a few more episodes at least.

Click here to watch a trailer for Better Call Saul

Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Film Review

You’ve got to admire the sheer dedication to technical precision behind Alejandro Iñárritu’s latest film. Aside from a few short shots near the beginning and end of the film, Birdman unravels as one near-continuous take, a remarkable feat of set engineering that required the entire cast and crew to rehearse each and every scene down to an exact art.

The fruit of their labours is a bold and dizzying masterpiece that recalls the technical spectacle of Gravity’s opening sequence only spread across two-hours, and like Alfonso Cuarón’s Oscar-winner, Birdman’s beautifully layered story is never overshadowed by the practical innovation, Iñárritu effectively utilising the intricate camerawork to submerge the audience in his protagonists inescapable reality.

In the film we charge through the tight, cavernous halls of a crumbling New York theatre in pursuit of the equally dishevelled Michael Keaton, whose faded Hollywood star, Riggan Thompson, is attempting to revive his career by staging a Broadway play based on Raymond Carver’s short stories.

This relentless stream of consciousness, coupled with the frenetic jazz beat that frequently accompanies scenes, gifts the film with a ferocious tempo that both reflects Thompson’s increasingly fraught desperation to keep hold of his sanity amid continually mounting obstacles and evokes the raw kinetic energy of live theatre as characters constantly intersect and react off of each other’s presence. In this way, Birdman feels like a thriving, pulsating and thoroughly unique slice of real life, and that’s not something that can often be said.

It needs this explosive pacing, too, in order to pack in the myriad themes and well-drawn subplots that Iñárritu has deftly weaved into the story. Set around a theatre production where everything seems determined to go wrong (onset accidents, drunk actors, unexpected erections to name but a few of the calamities that plague rehearsals), Birdman combines elements of dark farce with a blackly comic takedown of the entertainment industry with Keaton playing the familiar role of a washed-up actor who first found fame in the 1990s starring in a trilogy of superhero themes based around the title character.

Delve deeper, however, and you’ll find that Iñárritu is also exploring big themes concerning the pitfalls of ego, artistic integrity and the nature of celebrity in the social media age. Thompson encompasses all of these ideas: a broke, divorced, overweight and balding actor with a daughter fresh out of rehab (played by a brilliantly acerbic Emma Stone), who risks everything he has to adapt the work of the writer who inspired him in the hope it will help him regain past glories.

As his chances of success begin to look increasingly remote, Thompson starts to suffer a mental breakdown as his thoughts are plagued by the spectre of his cinematic alter-ego who degrades him for wasting his time on a bunch of “pussy” theatre actors. In film, the pursuit of the American dream inevitably ends in the dreamers downfall, and here the Icarus-loving Thompson is ultimately guilty of flying too close to the sun.

The performances are uniformly superb. Keaton’s turn, in particular, proves the casting of the former Batman-actor was no meta publicity stunt as his portrayal of Thompson provides an engaging and bewildering presence throughout, believable as both a narcissistic actor consumed with thoughts of his own legacy and as a fragile middle-aged man struggling to keep his life together. Edward Norton likewise gives the performance of his career so far as pompous method-actor-from-hell Mike Shiner, striding onto set at the last minute with the swagger of a star who knows he is box office gold, but, like Thompson, his bravado masks some deeply personal insecurities.

Undoubtedly a technical triumph of unparalleled precision and commitment, Birdman has a relentless pace and a fierce energy that makes scenes leap off the screen with life. Backed by outstanding performances from Keaton, Norton and Stone, Iñárritu’s latest is deserving of every accolade it receives this awards season and probably more besides.

Running time: 119 mins; Genre: Comedy/Drama; Released: 1 January 2015;

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu; Screenwriter: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo;

Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts

Click here to watch the trailer for Birdman