Bridge of Spies – Film Review

Bringing together two of Hollywood’s biggest hitters – Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks – for the fourth time, Bridge of Spies is a sharp, beautifully shot thrill ride, with Hanks at the peak of his powers as James Donovan, a Brooklyn insurance lawyer who is thrust into the centre of the Cold War when he’s sent to negotiate a prisoner exchange in East Berlin. Though it doesn’t quite instil the sense of peril it’s aiming for, this remarkable true story is sure to have you gripped to your seat throughout.

Though it’s not quite Christmas yet, Spielberg is already in the giving mood, essentially offering two films for the price of one here.

The first half of Bridge of Spies has the air of a sweeping courtroom drama as Hanks’ steadfast insurance lawyer is assigned the unenviable task of defending captured Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Rylance). Spielberg is almost back in Lincoln mode here as the way Donovan defends Abel sets America’s concept of justice against prejudiced anxieties about national security during the Cold War.

The case is the most poisonous of chalices with the American people, including the judge presiding over the trial, already convinced of Abel’s guilt. Yet Donovan ploughs ahead, determined to ensure his client receives a fair trial, despite the terrible pressure it lays on his worried family. It’s fascinating and utterly absorbing, with enough left unexplored to easily fill an entire film all of its own.

If the second half isn’t quite as intriguing – it’s really just an excuse to mock the confusing lengths each side goes to avoid dealing with the other – the high stakes of the negotiations ensure you remain entirely gripped. After ensuring Abel escapes the death penalty, Donovan is once again called upon by the CIA, this time to negotiate a prisoner swap between two world powers. The Soviets have Francis Gary Powers, a pilot whose spy plane was shot down over their territory, and they want to trade for the imprisoned Abel.

The look of the whole film is breathtakingly gorgeous, with Spielberg delivering a lovingly crafted homage to spy movies. The director has fun indulging all the classic tropes – dead drops, silent phone calls, men wearing trench coats – yet such is his talent these never feel tired or hackneyed. The sequence where Donovan is tailed by a CIA agent through rain swept streets lit only by streetlamps brims with such unbridled enthusiasm, it’s impossible not to get swept up in the magic.

This sprightly tone might come as a surprise in a film that is essentially constructed of old men pontificating across tables, and that’s partly down to the writing. The Coen brothers were brought in to punch-up Matt Charman’s original draft and their paw prints are all over the dialogue, bringing their trademark off-beat wit to liven up the negotiation scenes.

Hanks excels as Donovan, doing what he does best by playing an honourable everyman who fights for what he believes is right. Spoken by lesser actors, lines such as “The Constitution: that’s what makes us American” might sound glib, but Hanks delivers them with an off-the-cuff charm that is both natural and believable.

Our own Mark Rylance is equally impressive in a stunning turn as Abel. Though he superbly underplays Abel’s intelligence under a deadpan façade, Rylance also imbues his character with a warmth that makes him easy to root for even though you are fully aware of his guilt from the start.

Bridge of Spies’ only real drawback is that it feels rather short of tension. For all its charm, wit and pleasing aesthetics, you never doubt that everything will turn out all right in the end, which causes the final few moments to drag just a little too long.

That’s the price of being in Spielberg and Hanks’ safe hands, though. These two masters of their crafts whisk you away with extraordinary stories before bringing you back safe and sound with a warm glow inside your heart. It’s good old-fashioned big screen storytelling, and it’s absolutely glorious.

Runtime: 141 mins; Genre: Spy Thriller; Released: 27 November 2015;

Director: Steven Spielberg; Writers: Matt Charman, Joel & Ethan Coen;

Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Austin Stowell

Click here to watch a trailer for Bridge of Spies

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Doctor Who: Heaven Sent – TV Review

One of Doctor Who’s greatest assets is its flexible format. One week you might get a tried and tested Base-Under-Siege story, but the next could bring something so entirely out of the ordinary it completely changes your expectations of the show’s capabilities. Of course, not all experimental episodes pay-off (see this year’s Sleep No More), but it’s more than worth the gamble when you get an episode like Heaven Sent.

Penned by Steven Moffat, the first episode of this year’s two-part finale takes the concept of Listen’s opening sequence (Capaldi talking to himself) and stretches it into 54 minutes of tensely plotted drama as the Doctor is confronted with his darkest secret. As with most of Moffat’s stories, it can be viewed as thrillingly complex or woefully convoluted, with its intricate metaphors and open-ended meanings likely to frustrate as well as entertain. Some may dislike it for its strangeness, but for those who get swept up by it, Heaven Sent is an utterly powerful piece of storytelling.

Following on directly from the end of Face the Raven, Heaven Sent immediately reveals where Ashildr’s teleporter has sent the Doctor. Unfortunately, even he doesn’t know exactly where, or even when, he is. He appears to trapped in an automated castle that can change form at certain moments, but isn’t entirely sure how. Still, at least he’s not completely alone. Someone, or something, is watching from afar as the Doctor is pursued by the mysterious but deadly Veil.

With Clara’s death continuing to lay heavy on the Doctor’s mind – painful reminders of what he’s lost lurk behind every corner – Moffat naturally drops his usual bonkers energy for something more mournful and introspective. The plot unfolds at a gradual, languid pace as the Doctor endlessly wanders the castle ruminating on the nature of life, death, loss and time.

“It’s funny, the day you lose someone isn’t the worst… it’s all the days they stay dead,” the Doctor laments at one point. Lines like this might be too heavily weighted for the youngest of viewers to comprehend, but for those a little longer in the tooth it will undoubtedly resonate. As morbid as it feels, Moffat deserves praise for gently tackling the lasting effect Clara’s death has had on the Doctor rather than simply glossing over the loss by moving on to the next adventure.

Also worthy of acclaim is returning director Rachel Talalay, whose superb direction ensures this complex, singularly-focused episode never feels boring. There’s shades of gothic horror to the palette with Talalay dropping in haunting images of drowned skulls, sodden graves and fog-swept courtyards to create a palpable sense of unease. Her direction is also highly dramatic, with bursts of piercing light and deep shadows lending a theatrical feel to the action.

Composer Murray Gold’s work is just as vital as the visuals here, his operatic score deftly heightening the tension via several sweeping, pulsating melodies to seamlessly replace the absence of dialogue.

Of course, the episode really belongs to Peter Capaldi and his magnificent performance. Sustaining an entire episode on your own is no mean feat, yet Capaldi’s ferocious energy makes it seem effortless. The depth and range of his performance is simply extraordinary. From anger and despair to confusion and wiry energy, Capaldi runs a whole gamut of emotions as the Doctor is put through his paces inside the castle.

As you might expect of a single-hander, Heaven Sent sees the Doctor embark on a deeply personal journey. Arriving to find the castle littered with relics from his own nightmares, the Doctor rapidly uncovers the structures sinister purpose as his own personalised torture chamber. The information his hidden captors wish to extract? Everything the Doctor knows about the Dalek-Time Lord hybrid that has been prophesised all series.

In one of those rare moments where you genuinely fear for the Doctor, the psychologically draining ordeal he is put through here is hard to watch as the castle preys on his fear and loneliness, pushing him to the ends of his limits.

Though he’s the only one who speaks throughout the episode, the Doctor is not entirely alone in the castle. As he roams the corridors trying to crack the puzzle of his prison, the Doctor finds himself being stalked by the Veil, a demonic figure that best resembles a cross between a Weeping Angel and a frosty Dementor.

In keeping with the inventiveness of the episode, Moffat’s latest creation is not your typical monster. It never speaks, nor do we learn much about it other than it can only be halted by hearing the truth. And it’s all the more terrifying for it. There’s a sense of haunting inevitability to the Veil’s ability to catch up with its victims that means even the mere suggestion of its presence has the ability to chill you to the core.

The long-teased cliffhanger isn’t quite as shocking as advertised, with the journey building up to that point proving to be the most enthralling and intriguing part. But while the revelation that the Time Lords on Gallifrey are the Doctor’s captors won’t come as much of a surprise, it certainly serves as an effective teaser for next week’s extended finale as the Doctor looks set to once again go to war.

All in all, Heaven Sent is likely to be one of those Marmite episodes that viewers will either love or hate depending on their feelings towards Moffat’s writing. I for one loved it, being mesmerised by its grim atmosphere, weighty themes and Capaldi’s masterful performance. More like this, please.

Click here to watch Doctor Who: Heaven Sent on BBC iPlayer

Weekly TV News Round-Up

This week, in TV news: Doctor Who makes some new enemies, old favourites return to the small screen and it’s a sad day for BBC3

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 Matt Lucas needs a Doctor this Christmas

While fans are still stinging from the pain of Clara’s feathery demise last week, Doctor Who has at least found some replacements to fill the void, albeit temporarily. Comedy stars Matt Lucas and Greg Davies have joined the show’s upcoming Christmas special.

The yuletide offering finds Peter Capaldi’s Doctor in a typically miserly state of mind, shunning the universe’s festive delights by hiding on a remote human colony. His “Bah! Humbug” squalor is disrupted, however, when a crashed spaceship calls for his help, throwing the Doctor into a fast and frantic chase across the galaxy.

Davies has signed up to face the brunt of the Time Lord’s ire as the episode’s big bad King Hydroflax, a furious alien whose giant robot is out of control and coming for them all, while Little Britain’s Lucas will play Nardole, a marooned alien caught in the robot’s crosshairs.

And if that’s not enough for you, the episode also heralds the return of the brilliant Alex Kingston, as Capaldi’s Doctor meets River Song for the very first time.

Doctor Who’s Christmas special will air, as per usual, on Christmas Day. Until then, you’ll have to make do with the final two episodes of series 9, which continues with tomorrow’s dramatic single-hander Heaven Sent on BBC1.

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Tremors resurfaces on the small screen

Looks like Kevin Bacon is finally about to get his wish as 90s creature feature Tremors is coming back as a new TV series. Bacon will reprise his role as Valentine KcKee, a huckster repairman who leads a fight for survival against a rampaging man-eating worm, as well as producing the series. While NBC Universal has stumped up the cash for the pilot, there’s as yet no network attached to the series – though several parties are reportedly interested.

In other TV-Shows-Based-On-Movies news, Vin Diesel has announced a Riddick spinoff titled MERC CITY, which will apparently follow the Mercs and Bounty Hunters of the movie universe. The ever-busy star also announced a fourth chapter in the Chronicles of Riddick, entitled FURIA, and will soon be back behind the wheel of a preposterously fast sports car for Fast & Furious 8, another film franchise he’s reportedly considering turning into a TV show.

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That’s right, Football Head: Hey! Arnold is coming back

Children of the 90s – prepare to feel old. Nickelodeon has announced plans to remake many of its classic shows, starting with Hey! Arnold.

Yes, apparently enough time has passed for the original series to be considered so old-fashioned it’s in need of an update and the new TV movie will pick-up where the series left off in 2002 by solving the mystery of what happened to Arnold’s parents. The likes of Rugrats and Ren & Stimpy are just some of the other classic franchises in Nickelodeon’s library being considered for revivals.

And if you’re wondering why now is considered a good time to revisit these shows, it’s because Nickelodeon’s Senior Vice President of Content Development Chris Viscardi thinks “kids who grew up watching these characters are now of the age that they are having kids or families themselves”. Excuse us while I go and drastically rethink all my life choices.

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Michael Kelly joins Taboo

Having survived three years alongside House of Cards’ scheming President Frank Underwood, Michael Kelly now feels ready to pit himself against the might of Tom Hardy. He’s just signed on to join the star in Steven Knight’s Taboo.

Based on an original story by Hardy and his father, Edward ‘Chips’ Hardy, the eight-part series follows James Keziah Delaney (Hardy), who returns to 1814 London after ten years in Africa to wage war against the East India Company after discovering he has been left a mysterious legacy by his father.

Kelly will play American doctor Dumbarton in the show, joining a star-studded cast that includes Jonathan Pryce, Oona Chaplin, David Hayman, Jessie Buckley, Ashley Walters and Jefferson Hall. Filming kicked off in London this week under the direction of The Killing’s Kristoffer Nyholm, with Taboo expected to air sometime next year on the BBC.

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BBC3 to close next year

In sad news for supporters of BBC3, The BBC Trust has formally approved plans to move the broadcast channel online in March 2016.

Despite a number of stars, including Jack Whitehall, Daniel Radcliffe and Olivia Coleman, speaking out against the move, there will now be a phased migration online from January next year. The cost-cutting measure has been driven by the increasing numbers of young viewers watching TV online making the traditional broadcast channel less valuable.

BBC3 controller Damian Kavanagh has promised the move online will be great, saying: “Today is just the beginning for BBC3 and our plans to transform our offer for young people.”

Fans of BBC3 programming will still be able to catch their favourite shows on the TV, though, with the BBC committed to airing new content on BBC1 and BBC2 after it debuts online.

Blindspot – TV Review

In an eerily deserted Times Square, a shivering young woman crawls out of a discarded duffle bag, her naked body swathed in tattoos, as NYPD’s heavily-armoured bomb squad swoops in to take her down.

As arresting opening sequences go, Blindspot’s certainly gets the high score for ambition and intrigue. But while this action-packed conspiracy drama has a great idea, it rapidly runs out of steam as soon as the action moves beyond its smart premise.

In a slick-paced opening episode, the show’s creator Martin Gero wastes no time piling on the mysteries. Suffering from a “chemically-induced state of amnesia”, our unexpected arrival has no idea who she is or what has happened to her.

What she does have is the name of FBI Agent Kurt Weller inked across her back. But then, he doesn’t know who she is either. And the FBI become yet more perplexed when they take their Jane Doe out into the field and discover she has a very unusual set of skills. Who is this woman?

It’s indicative of a series that’s seemingly determined to rattle along relentlessly without pausing to think about where it’s going. Director Mark Pellington overloads the screen with flashy graphics and shifty camerawork as he zips through an endless stream of well-executed set-pieces in the hope we won’t have time to find holes in the show’s creaky premise.

That plan doesn’t quite come off as, for all its early intrigue, the plot quickly slips into a predictable procedural formula. Discovering Jane’s tattoos form an implausible treasure map of clues to major crimes, Agent Weller and his team stumble upon the trail of Chao, a Chinese expat planning a terrorist attack on New York City.

Much like Prison Break – which also combined a puzzle-of-the-week format with the gradual unpicking of an overarching mystery – this reliance on such a generic structure points to a lack of ideas about how to expand on its high concept. Unless its writers can think up some inventive twists on the genre, it seems likely Blindspot will suffer a similarly short life-span as Fox’s one season wonder.

On the plus side, the central performances are excellent. Thor’s Jaimie Alexander is utterly compelling as a helpless and dazed Jane. There’s a touch of Orphan Black’s Sarah Manning about the character – an unravelling enigma who’s frightened of a world she doesn’t understand and yet is bravely determined to rediscover where she came from – and Alexander completely sells this complex personality.

Sullivan Stapleton, meanwhile, offers something slightly different to the gruff-senior-cop you’d expect Alexander’s naïve newbie to be paired with. While Agent Weller certainly isn’t beyond barking orders, he’s actually a more gentle team-player than is first apparent, doing his best to show compassion towards his overwhelmed new partner.

The only disappointment here is the rest of Weller’s squad are a bunch of thinly-sketched archetypes, from Marianne Jean-Baptiste’s tough-talking Assistant Director to Rob Brown’s wise-cracking Agent Reade.

Though it remains to be seen if Blindspot can find enough invention to become a lasting success, with it’s action-packed script and enticing central characters, there’s plenty of fun to be had while we wait to find out. Just don’t think too hard about what’s actually going on.

Click here to watch the trailer for Blindspot

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 – Film Review

Greedy. Misguided. Cynical. Call it what you like the marketing decision to split the final book in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy into two films has proven to be a terrible mistake. Last year’s sullen Part 1 was an unnecessarily protracted affair that was high on intrigue but painfully low on visceral action.

It also left the second film with a heck of a lot to do in order to wrap everything up into a satisfying conclusion. Sadly, Mockingjay Part 2 comes nowhere near achieving that feat. Continuing to be burdened by a bloated plot and a stark void of excitement, the film staggers towards the finish rather than burning out in a blaze of glory.

Questions are immediately raised about the need for last year’s film as the first half of Part 2 spends all of its time plodding through a pointless retread of the ground covered last time out. We pick up shortly after the events of Part 1 with Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) recuperating from a vicious assault at the hands of a brainwashed Peeta (Hutcherson).

With Panem torn apart by the destructive force of civil war and the rebels preparing to mount a final assault on the Capitol, a revenge hungry Katniss seeks to strike out on her own on a mission to assassinate President Snow (Sutherland) and liberate her people once and for all, only to discover rebel leader President Coin (Julianne Moore) has other plans for her valuable Mockingjay.

Such a high-stakes set-up should signal the moment Katniss straps on her boots and makes a beeline for Snow’s palatial home hidden deep in enemy territory. Yet, frustratingly, she continues to be held back from the action, forced by Coin to hang behind shooting propaganda videos long after the danger has passed.

What’s most out of character is to see Katniss being so passive to the events around her. She stands and watches as people around her suffer for her actions, seemingly too numb to do anything about it – a trait that is completely out of synch with the Katniss of Collins’ books.

Rather than seeing our hero embroiled in a run of spectacular action sequences, we continue with the dour rumination on the devastation of war as Katniss and her squad make their way through Panem’s crumbling streets questioning whether such destruction will be worth it in the end.

While this sharp social commentary has been one of the biggest plus points in this mature fantasy franchise, it’s also a topic covered in relentless detail in Part 1; this film does little to move the conversation forward and the story stalls as a result.

One of the reasons it’s such a shame to see Katniss stuck in the role of pawn in Snow and Coin’s game of political brinkmanship is because it entirely wastes Jennifer Lawrence’s predictably outstanding performance. As always, Lawrence deftly combines the steely determination and fearlessness of a leader with a soft vulnerability that has made Katniss such a captivating presence on screen. Even with a henpecked role, Lawrence continues to carry the film, as she has the entire franchise, and it’s sad to think we may never see this strong female hero on screen again.

The film’s inability to balance character beats with exhilarating thrills becomes even more disappointing when the action does finally arrive to really show us what we’ve been missing. Katniss arrives in the Capitol to find Snow has transformed the city into an ersatz arena, rigged with a minefield of mortal traps and GCHQ-levels of CCTV cameras to broadcast the carnage in lieu of the actual Hunger Games.

Director Francis Lawrence handles these bursts of action superbly, especially with a standout sequence that takes place beneath the Capitol. As Katniss’ squad make their way through the city’s dense sewer network they’re set upon by a horde a zombie-esque creatures genetically engineered to wreak havoc against the rebels.

It’s an unbearably tense sequence, playing out as a cross between Alien and Dawn of the Dead as Lawrence ramps up the suspense before unleashing hell in a flurry of fire, explosions and tragic loss. It’s a breathless, intense and fantastically gripping scene and it’s a crying shame there aren’t more of them here.

For all its faults, though, it’s hard to deny Mockingjay builds to a magnificent climax. While there’s no moment of fiery triumph with Katniss standing atop the Capitol having slain the despicable Snow, The Hunger Games has never been about finding glory in survival. Instead, Mockingjay finds an unexpected end that still feels in keeping with the theme of exposing the ravages of conflict as Katniss suffers the ultimate price for her role in the fight.

This is not to say the finale is overly bleak; it’s rawly emotive and completely absorbing, and while there’s no real sense of victory there is at least a note of optimism in the end with the suggestion there is hope for a better future.

Mockingjay is not the send of The Hunger Games deserves, not by a long shot, but here’s hoping the franchise is remembered for what it achieved – conclusively proving a female can front a major blockbuster and forcing the Young Adult Fantasy genre to grow up – rather than where it faltered. After all, if the Mockingjay has taught us anything, it’s that, sometimes, it’s the intention that counts rather than the execution.

Runtime: 137 mins; Genre: Fantasy; Released: 19 November 2015;

Director: Francis Lawrence; Writers: Peter Craig, Danny Strong (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (novel);

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland

Click here to watch the trailer for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Jessica Jones – TV Review

Coming less than a year after the extraordinary success of Daredevil, the next installment in the Defenders series arrives on Netflix with a colossal weight of expectation on its shoulders. Luckily, Jessica Jones is more than strong enough to handle the load.

Carried by a commanding performance from Kirsten Ritter as a kick-ass female superhero, Melissa Rosenberg’s (Dexter, the Twilight Saga) series is a thrilling mix of old school noir and unsettling psychological horror. Taking on dark, challenging themes with wit, depth and a stylish flair, Jessica Jones manages the remarkable feat of being both fascinating and unique in a market crowded with spandex-clad do-gooders of all kinds.

Following a disastrous end to her brief stint as a superhero, the series finds a PTSD suffering Jones trying to piece her life back together by setting up shop as a private investigator in New York City’s crumbling Hell’s Kitchen. Even throwing herself into a fledging career can’t help her escape from her past, though, as she swiftly becomes embroiled in the disappearance of a college student; a sinister case in which all leads point towards the return of a destructive figure from her past, David Tennant’s menacing manipulator Kilgrave.

Kirsten Ritter is outstanding as the hard-boiled, hard-hitting and hard-drinking Jessica Jones. While she of course comes with a traumatic past like almost every other superhero, what makes Jones refreshing and intriguing is her grim determination to avoid heroism at all costs. A manipulative, misanthropic badass, Jones is more concerned with paying the rent and getting through the day without falling to pieces than she is with using her nondescript powers to save her city.

With her battered leather jacket and permanently peeved expression, Ritter absolutely nails this stay-the-hell-away-from-me attitude, but she also elicits incredible pathos during the story’s key emotional beats. Plagued by nightmares and frequent panic attacks, Jones is attempting to self-medicate by downing bulk-bought booze and jumping into bed with any stranger willing to offer her a free drink. These desperate acts reveal an isolated, vulnerable side that helps to soften Jones’ otherwise razor-sharp edges.

Our hero’s significant troubles lead the show down a very dark path as Rosenberg tackles such challenging themes as PTSD, abuse and betrayal with depth and surprising subtlety. It’s entirely fitting for a show that sets itself out as Marvel’s most adult offering yet with plenty of sex, swearing and alcohol abuse to enjoy in amongst the psychological drama.

Much like Daredevil was a crime-drama first and a superhero show second, Jessica Jones eschews its comic book origins for something more akin to a psychological thriller. Director S. J. Clarkson excels at tying our stomachs in knots in the scenes where Kilgrave attempts to worm his way back into Jones’ psyche, using off-kilter camera angles, uncomfortable close-ups and a nightmarish purple hue (a clever reference to Kilgrave’s comic book status as the Purple Man) to disorientating effect. Meanwhile, Jones’ Rear Window-esque hobby of snooping on her neighbours’ private lives serves to further raise the niggling sense of paranoia that runs through the episode.

The horrors Jones encounters stem almost entirely from the despicable mechanisations of her arch-nemesis Kilgrave, played with a creepy charm by David Tennant. Following the maxim that a monster is always more terrifying when it remains unseen, Kilgrave is little more than a shadowy presence in the first episode. Yet his influence hangs heavily over almost every scene as he uses his powers to manipulate innocent people into committing horrific acts of violence on his behalf.

This penchant for cerebral tug-of-war rather than a tangible threat is reflected in the show’s action – or rather, the lack there of. For a show about a near-indestructible woman with super-strength Jessica Jones is surprisingly light on fight sequences, especially in comparison to the bone-crunching brawls that were the main driving force behind Daredevil.

Instead, the series relies on the power of suggestion to raise the pulse and the result is chillingly effective. The scenes where Jones’ reality is distorted by Kilgrave’s powers evoke a palpable sense of fear and anxiety largely because we are never truly certain whether the threat is real or just a trick of the mind.

There are occasional missteps – the first episode is somewhat stifled by the number of characters Rosenberg strains to introduce – but only ones that are inherent of every opening episode. What’s more important is that AKA Ladies Night lays strong foundations for what looks set to be become an extraordinary thriller.

With its strong clutch of dark, complex characters, superb performances and an inventive spin on the psychological horror genre, if Jessica Jones continues on this trajectory it’ll be near impossible not to binge watch the whole thing in one big gulp.

Click here to watch the trailer for Marvel’s Jessica Jones

Weekly TV News Round-Up

This week, in TV news: Sarah Jessica Parker returns to New York City, Aquaman heads to the Wild West and Noah Hawley shapes up to tackle a literary legend.

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Sarah Jessica Parker Shooting New HBO Show

More than 11 years since she last threw on a pair of wildly expensive pumps as Carrie Bradshaw in HBO’s Sex and the City, Sarah Jessica Parker was back strutting her stuff on the sidewalks of New York this week as filming for her new HBO series Divorce kicked off in the city. Following the trials and tribulations of Frances (Parker) as she tries to start life a fresh after the break-up of her failing marriage, the comedy is penned by Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan. Expect it on our screens sometime next year.

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Cary Elwes Joins Lena Dunham’s Max

In other HBO news, Cary Elwes and Mary Birdsong have joined the cast of Lena Dunham’s comedy pilot Max. Taking place in 1963, the project centres on the struggles of second-wave feminism through the eyes of Zoe Kazan’s Maxine Woodruff, an enthusiastic if misguided magazine writer who stumbles into the forefront of the civil rights movement. Elwes will play Max’s magazine editor Ken Reece, while Birdsong features as Sue, the publication’s only other female writer. Dunham will direct the pilot episode based on a script penned by Murray Miller.

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John Krasinski and Stephen Merchant Join Dream Corp, LLC

Despite having already worked together (albeit in a star/executive producer capacity) on the American adaptation of The Office, John Krasinski and Stephen Merchant clearly feel there’s plenty more LOLs to drawn from the mundanity of the 9-to-5. They’ve signed up to produce workplace comedy Dream Corp, LLC for Adult Swim. Created by Daniel Stessen, the animated series will follow a rotating cast of desperate patients inside a neglected dream facility as they’re analysed by an absent minded professor and his team of unremarkable scientists.

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Jason Momoa Heads for Frontier

He’s about to don the mantle of Aquaman in Zack Snyder’s rapidly expanding DC Cinematic Universe, but Jason Momoa’s next project will see him trade scales and tridents for a Stetson and a six-shooter as he’s just signed up to star in Netflix’s ambitious western Frontier. The “action-packed” series takes place in the 18th Century and will follow the chaotic and violent struggle to control wealth and power in the North American fur trade. San Andreas’ Brad Peyton is also on board to direct the six-part series with a worldwide release planned for 2016.

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Noah Hawley Tackles Cat’s Cradle

Having successfully adapted the Coen Brothers, Noah Hawley is now ready to step it up a notch by taking on Kurt Vonnegut. The creator of FX series Fargo has signed up to write and produce a limited series based on the author’s acclaimed 1963 novel Cat’s Cradle, which takes a satirical look at the Cold War arms race and the religious beliefs of the era.

Given the way he miraculously translated the Coen’s indelible style and atmosphere into an original story with Fargo, it’ll be exciting to see how Hawley tackles Vonnegut’s challenging and deeply satirical material, especially as this is the first of his novels to be adapted for TV. The writer is certainly in demand by FX these days as he’s also writing X-Men spinoff series Legion for the network.