New Top Gear Review

One of BBC’s flagship shows has finally returned to our screens. Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc replace Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May as Top Gear presenters. The interest in how they’d do has been intense as the shadow of the three departing hosts looms large. At last, we have some answers.

The show pulls no punches in the opening segment. Evans and Sabine Schmitz (a German female driver) head to the actual Top Gun facility in America. Cue movie quotes galore, one of which Sabine gets comically incorrect, and two co-pilots. Their job is to control a laser guided targeted system attached to Evans’ and Schmitz’s cars.

It was Dodge Viper versus Corvette Z06, and while the concept was fun, it becomes clear early on this new Top Gear is going to be very scripted and staged. “Hit the brakes and fly right by,” the famous quote used to avoid a lock-on. Without proper planning, two supercars would have been written off.

That’s not to say the old show wasn’t planned but it always felt natural. That lack of organic feel becomes evident once Evans and LeBlanc share screen time together. At this moment there isn’t a spark between them. It may come over time, and there’s enough promise to suggest they deserve the chance.

This week’s theme was USA v UK and was decided by driving Robin Reliants to Blackpool, a series of challenges (standard dragging Ice Cream vans around stuff), climaxing in Jeeps hauling the Reliants to the top of a hill. The main thing to take away from it is how much Matt LeBlanc looks like Ross Kemp if you put him in a helmet and goggles.

Breaking up the challenge was LeBlanc in a buggy skipping around Morocco. Again, it was a decent feature but the stunt at the end was pure script and felt out of place.

The show has justification sticking to the tried and tested formula. Star in a Reasonably Priced Car got an upgrade. It’s now a Mini and there’s an off-road section in the track. Gordon Ramsey and Jesse Eisenberg the first to take the new layout. But sticking to the old way too closely leaves Top Gear feeling dated.

Evans has said the show isn’t in competition with Clarkson and Co.’s The Grand Tour, and with good reason. They will never go head-to-head and The Grand Tour’s £140m budget dwarfs BBC’s own production. But what it does is highlight how “New” Top Gear now feels old.

It doesn’t help when Evans is sat in cars trying to do a Clarkson impression. He has enough natural charisma and presenting experience to avoid this. The problem is worsened by LeBlanc’s blandness. It could be seen as a cynical move having the American on the show just to increase its export value.

Overall the show just got a lick of paint when it’s clear it needed the type of overhaul Matt LeBlanc’s Robin Reliant required.

Based on the Top Gun section and the potential, it gets 6/10.

The Leftovers – Season 2 – Episode 8

So Kevin took the magic potion and fell down the rabbit hole. Watching Michael Murphy drag him away at the end of episode 7 looked like the ultimate betrayal. Virgil had then taken the “easy way out” and blew his own head off.

But wait…maybe he did it to ensure he was there on the other side to assist Kevin. We find him in a purgatory of sorts. Fans of Lost cringe. I never had a problem with that particular show and understood what happened on the island (many still don’t). Despite what naysayers spout, Lost was pretty simple and clearly laid out by the end.

The same can’t be said by this turn of events in The Leftovers. The eagle-eyed viewer will have been picking up on clues. Like the guy reported in Australia that can’t be killed. Where’s Kevin’s dad again? Oh, and he pops up in this episode through some mystic TV channelling.

Kevin dons a hitman outfit and plays this persona to assassinate a version of Patti that is the leader of a large political Guilty Remnants movement. To do so will free him. Her bodyguard is the spiritual leader Wayne, from season one.

He’s told to avoid drinking the water in the purgatory hotel they occupy. This leads to questions of metaphor. Will he pass over forever with his acceptance of thirst? Is this a flash dream before death really occurs?

The answers are being drip-fed as the questions stack up.

The end of this episode is shocking and further demonstrates Justin Theroux’s acting ability.

Some may not like this turn used by the writers, I have zero complaints. It has made a great season become a classic.


Maggie – Review

It’s great to see Arnold Schwarzenegger back in movies. It’s even better to see he’s willing to step out of his comfort zone and assume different roles. On the face of it Maggie, a zombie horror, shouldn’t be too much of a change. But this isn’t a rehashed action flick for the goth generation. At its heart it’s a drama. But does it work?

In the movie’s early sequence we see Arnie bash a zombie to death, at this point you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a disguised action flick. That soon peters out and director Henry Hobson enters indie flick territory.

It gives the story a chance for scene setting. Zombies are actually infected with the necroambulist virus. It gives those unfortunate enough to have it a period of grace. There’s no bite from the undead and quick trip to zombieville. In fact, the zombies are kind of portrayed as crazy, mindless cannibals. That are, well, just like zombies.

Arnie knows his daughter, the title of the movie, played by Abigail Breslin, is on borrowed time. So he intends to saviour every last moment. Unfortunately for the viewer, the director also wants to saviour every last moment. And so he drags out her final days as if we are living them with her. Those days feel like years.

Arnie has the option of handing her over when the time is drawing close, placing someone in quarantine removes the danger they possess. Or he can finish the job himself. Obviously neither of these appeal to the devoted father.

What follows is his desire to hang on to someone that is inevitably going to die. These moments are touching, and really well acted by the former Mr Universe. Expressing the sort of range he’ll need now his action days are (should) be nearing their end.

Breslin for her part is faultless. She knows she’s doomed and his horrified when stepmother Joey Richardson isn’t cooking downstairs but she smells food. It’s the stepmother that smells like fresh meat.

There’s a scene with a former crush of sorts that helps fill in some of the backstory around the virus and why the camps are so bad but by this point you’re hoping Arnie gets the job done and puts Maggie to rest.

Indie films are great and give makers a chance to explore outside of mainstream requirements. Here, we had a great concept and fine performances. But a film about dying needed an injection of life. Arnie will be back, hopefully next time the story will be better.


The Leftovers – Season 2 – Episode 7

In a show where the main character is hanging by a thread, eventually things will become unhinged. After Kevin’s soul bearing admission to Nora that he can see Patti, he finds she has left him. Nora is, and as we’ve witnessed throughout the entire story, a survivor. He’s viewed as a danger, so she ups and leaves with the baby and her sister-in-law.

This leaves Kevin with an angry daughter and an unwelcome offer. The latter comes by way of Michael’s grandfather Virgil, the guy that has touched kids inappropriately. Not the first choice a man should go to for salvation. He refuses – storms away, in fact – when Virgil says he has to face Patti in death.

By chance, Kevin gets a call from the troopers that his wife Laurie is at the gate requesting his presence. Handy that a psychiatrist pops into his life when he needs it. For the second time in two episodes he tells a woman he’s going crazy. This one agrees, and says she’ll help nurse him back.

Then we get a turn of events and a twist (so stop reading before you hit spoilers).

Kevin has a heartfelt conversation over the phone with the estranged Nora. She agrees to return if he is 100% fixed. So a long path to recovery with the professional help on hand, right? Nope. A trip back to Virgil and a jug of poison.

What follows will have you reaffirming that you should never trust a paedophile.


Making a Murderer – Season 1 – Review

Contains Spoilers

Netflix’s recent documentary, Making a Murderer, has caused quite the storm. Presented as a voice for justice and one man’s struggle against a corrupt system. By the end of the season many questions are left hanging, including those the defence would like you to ignore.

First off the bat, it needs to be made clear: Netflix haven’t set out to make a balanced review of the case study. Their mission was to exonerate Steven Avery with trial by TV. And it’s easy to think this isn’t for noble purposes because a balanced show wouldn’t be as entertaining.

So who is Steven Avery?

Episode one reveals to us a man that is perhaps slightly unbalanced. He did wield a weapon at a police officer’s wife. Maybe not an accepted member of the community. But in no way an out-and-out bad guy.

Unfortunately for him, the Manitowoc County PD had him on their radar. That’s kinda what happens when you threaten the missus of the boys in blue. So when a woman is violently raped on a beach, their mission is to pin the crime on Avery. Something they successfully do.

This is in spite of Avery having an alibi and other mitigating circumstances. They also overlook the advice from neighbouring law enforcement agencies that a known sex offender is in the area. Doesn’t matter, they know who they want behind bars and they manage to get their man.

When asking the victim for a description the artist’s impression, drawn by Chief Deputy Eugene Kusch, was apparently produced by her word of mouth, when in fact, it looks like it’s been traced from the photo held on police file. All the way down to wavy hair and beard, that Avery no longer had.

The victim was adamant her attacker had brown eyes during the initial police interview, but later said Avery resembled the man despite him having blue eyes. A face she’d never forget. It’s not her fault. The police manipulated the presented evidence until she was convinced of any setup they’d forged.

For the crime, Avery spent 18 years in prison. He was released when DNA evidence proved the attacker was the guy the neighbouring force had warned of before the assault even took place. Before being captured he committed another known violent rape. That crime should also sit on Manitowoc County’s conscience.

The following nine episodes then tell the story after Steven Avery’s release for the crime he never committed. At first it seems like there can’t possibly be enough to fill a season. But the first conviction was just a small introduction for Avery and his family to the local judicial system.

Through embarrassment and PR, the court officials actually used him as a symbol for change and pushed through a new bill (aptly named after him) to improve police procedures to prevent a future repeat. During this phase he launched a lawsuit against Manitowoc County for wrongful conviction, aiming to receive a compensation figure of $36m (only in America do you get compo figures like that).

With officers and sheriffs being indicted, careers on the line, when a woman named Teresa Halbach goes missing in the area and the last known person to see her was Steven Avery, there’s only one place the police are going to look hard.

Here’s where facts in the documentary are replaced with opinions.

Following their lead, we’ll do the same here. There’s no doubt in those early days of the search the police failed to perform correctly. Before a body was even located, or her exact movements clarified, one police radio transmission was heard to ask: ‘Do we have Steven Avery in custody?’

Once again, with no evidence, he was guilty until proven innocent.

This was made even worse, when in a scene from a badly written film (but this was real life, folks), Ken Kratz (portrayed as evil prosecutor) holds a press conference spilling details of Brendan Dassey’s confession.

Dassey is the young cousin of Avery and the press conference left nothing to the imagination. The ‘confession’ described a mutilated rape scene with Avery pulling the strings and Dassey playing along. Never once did Katz say it was still unproven or speculation. The world was told – as matter of fact – this was exactly how Teresa Halbach spent her last hours on earth.

The recordings of Brendan’s interviews show a boy, low on IQ, and easily led. The officers could have got him to say he killed JFK.

The evidence that convicted Avery of Teresa Halbach’s murder were based on flaky use of Dassey’s story, where that faltered they made assumptions based on the weakest proof available. They tried to turn the table on Avery’s supporters and ask if DNA made him innocent once, then why doesn’t it count now?

The problem is, the prosecutors used forensic evidence only when it suited. There was never any blood or DNA of Teresa Halbach found in Avery’s bedroom (hard to believe she was raped, strangled and stabbed in there then), but they did find her car keys in there with Avery’s DNA on. Only Avery’s DNA. Surely hers would be there too?

And the key wasn’t found straight away. It was several searches later and by Manitowoc County’s Lieutenant Lenk who didn’t have jurisdiction to be there and was being investigated for his involvement in Avery’s wrongful conviction 18 years early. However, the documentary doesn’t highlight the DNA on the key was sweat. Very hard to transfer.

They found traces of Avery’s blood in Halbach’s recovered car, and he did have a small lesion on a finger. But they got their conviction on the basis he’d shot her in his garage, from a bullet recovered during a search. In there they failed to find any trace of Teresa’s blood. They even dug up the floor in case it had soaked through. It hadn’t.

So a man that can clean crime scenes better than Dexter forgets to clean down a few specs from a car? But, did wipe all his fingerprints from the vehicle. The sample of his blood held in police records had been tampered with too.

The body was then burnt. But where and when? There were three identified burn sites and it was clear the bones had been moved at least once. The argument is in which direction.

The question then becomes: where do you point the finger?

The odd behaviour of Teresa’s brother? He could have deleted messages on her phone, just like her weird ex-bf and her current flatmate. They should have been suspects, as per standard police procedure, but instead walked the Avery site, giving them the potential to ditch or place evidence.

Or another member of the Avery family?

An outsider altogether? Much like the original case seen in episode one.

Or was it Steven Avery, after all.

It could well be that the name of the show reflects what Manitowoc County did to Steven after sending him to prison for 18 years when he was an innocent man.

Perhaps he came out feeling untouchable, believing he could get away with anything now. He would have undoubtedly been angry and it’s horrid to think what life was like inside for a convicted rapist.

He’d also had a history of animal cruelty (he threw a live cat on a fire), a common trait for killers.

His defense may have come closest to the truth when they explained why Manitowoc County would try and frame Steven. It was out of the belief they had the right man, they just didn’t want him to walk free. So they made sure he didn’t.

That doesn’t excuse this mistrial nor does it make Steven Avery an innocent man wrongly convicted for a second time. It means no one can be sure beyond a reasonable doubt.

And while the internet is filled with amateur detectives trying to solve the case, it should be remembered an innocent woman lost her life.

Hopefully the truth will come out so Teresa Halbach can finally rest in peace.