streaming quick picks

Quick Picks are quick-read reviews and double-bill recommendations of new and classic films and TV shows.


Ti West’s incredibly clever homage to the origin of the slasher genre, X, paid tribute to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Psycho, to name just two, in exploring the foundations of porn, horror and art. But far from being a mere blood-soaked cinematic seminar, X explored our collective fear of sex and age. His sequel to X has taken a long time to reach British cinemas, and sadly this may result in lacklustre box office takings, but I hope I am wrong. Part blood-soaked homage to The Wizard of Oz and part love letter to Joan Crawford’s underrated Strait-Jacket, West’s clever dissection of psychological horror is just as intelligent in its narrative structure and artistic vision as his first outing. But add to the mix the outstanding Mia Goth and Pearl becomes a twisted pleasure that deserves to be seen on the big screen.


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Shazam! (2019)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fourteen-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) spends his spare time desperately searching for his birth mother. His quest led him to run away from countless foster homes while developing a healthy criminal record of petty offences. However, when Billy is given a final foster opportunity, he is unaware that his life is about to change in multiple ways as a subway journey leads to a new and confusing superpower.

Shazam! offers us something unique in an ocean of comic-book movies, a tale rooted in childhood dreams. Here Shazam! lights up the cinema screen in a film that pays homage to the energy, fun, humour and excitement of C.C Beck and Bill Parker’s unique comic book hero. Sandberg cleverly dovetailed elements of Kick-Ass with the comedy of Big and Vice Versa in creating a joyous, energy-filled comic book adventure that appealed to all ages. Here what could have been the movie’s biggest flaw ends up being one of its most charming characteristics, the interface between the manchild of Shazam! and his younger teenage self.

But the true genius of Shazam! sat within the deep themes of friendship, discovery and belonging at the heart of the action. After all, this is a superhero movie rooted in hope, love and family, with Billy’s journey equally as important as his alter-ego.

Unlike several of the disappointing DC films before it, Sandberg’s Shazam! understood its target audience and the dynamics that had made Marvel films like Spider-Man: Homecoming work so well. The result was a comic book movie that left you with a superhero-sized smile. (NEIL BAKER)

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Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Shazam! was a surprise hit in 2019, injecting new life and a fresh dose of optimism into a beleaguered DC slate of films. But does lightning strike twice? Broadly the answer is yes. Shazam! Fury of the Gods may have been caught in the political turmoil of a changing studio, but it is a super-charged superhero epic that does precisely what it needs to do, entertain. Sandberg’s sequel is bigger, bolder and more action-packed than the first film, and while this results in a less intimate aesthetic, there are still moments of perfectly timed humour and emotion on display.

Shazam! Fury of the Gods owes much to Superman II in its core narrative (hell, what superhero sequel doesn’t?). Here we find Levi and Angel’s Billy and Shazam! Facing off against three deadly gods (Mirram, Liu and Zeglar). However, unlike the first film, we now have a whole family of heroes, and it’s here Sandberg’s sequel struggles. Shazam! Fury of the Gods spends a lot of time attempting to figure out what to do with the broader family surrounding Billy and Freddy and only occasionally finds an answer. As a result, this is very much Billy and Freddy’s story, with Freddy (Dylan Grazer), in particular, taking centre stage.

However, these minor narrative niggles in no way distract from the bravery and scale of Shazam’s second outing or the ability of the movie to immerse you in a truly spectacular world of teen heroes, machiavellian villains, dragons and heart-pounding action. Neither do the niggles distract from the superb performances at the heart of this visually stunning and surprisingly emotional second outing. I, for one, hope we see Shazam! fly again because this is one character I am not ready to say goodbye to. (NEIL BAKER)


Based on the bestselling novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Daisy Jones & The Six feels like an extension of Cameron Crowe’s sublime 2000 film Almost Famous. But here, the coming-of-age themes are replaced by a focus on internal band conflicts, romance and politics. Told over two timelines, interviews about the band’s collapse are weaved into a delightful exploration of the 70s music scene creating a bingeful six-episode run full of 70s bangers and original tracks. There is also much to love in the performances of Daisy (Riley Keough) and Billy (Sam Claflin) and the Nicks and Buckingham-inspired dynamic between the two. Equally, the ensemble of Billy’s brother Graham (Will Harrison), bassist Eddie Roundtree (Josh Whitehouse), drummer Warren Rojas (Sebastian Chacon), keyboardist Karen Sirko (Suki Waterhouse) and Billy’s long-suffering wife (Camila Morrone) are an absolute delight. However, for all the high production values, there is a question about whether Daisy Jones & The Six manages to reflect the energy and drive of the novel, and while it may pay homage to Almost Famous, it never quite reaches the emotional and dramatic heights of Crowe’s love letter to 70s music. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t highly addictive and entertaining drama.


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Empire of Light (2022)

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Set in 1981 on the Kent coast, Hilary Small (Olivia Colman) leads a solitary existence after finishing a stay in a psychiatric hospital. Sexually exploited by her vile boss (played with pathetic sleaziness by Colin Firth) and alienated from the rest of her colleagues, she trudges through life with no sense of purpose or direction. She starts an affair with Stephen (Michael Ward), the newest of the young ushers working in the cinema, who shows her the tenderness of which she is deprived.

What follows feels like an inelegant soldering together of two different films. The first is a period film about an interracial relationship and attitudes towards mental illness in the vein of a Mike Leigh drama. The second is an ensemble piece about a ragtag group of cinephiles finding comfort and solidarity in their temple of the moving image. While these ideas aren’t necessarily in conflict, the two concepts never converge.

Olivia Colman is untouchable at this point in her career, so her star power is unlikely to be dimmed by appearing in a mediocre film. Commendably, she brings her full dramatic weight to the underwhelming script. Hopefully, Michael Ward will be able to use the exposure from the movie as a springboard to more substantive projects. But, far more than any of the human players, the film’s real star is Margate’s historic Dreamland cinema, which is immaculately photographed by Mendes’ frequent cinematographic collaborator, Roger Deakins.

Empire of Light has good intentions, strong performances from the leads and handsome cinematography. But, ultimately, more is needed to save this unimaginative and thematically disjointed venture.


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Armageddon Time (2022)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Each story director James Grey brings to the screen, whether science fiction, adventure or thriller, is wrapped in an intimate human journey. Often these journeys centre on family, belonging or a past event that niggles at a character’s subconscious mind demanding resolution. In Armageddon Time, Grey takes us back to his New York childhood with a semi-autobiographical drama that explores a friendship that left an indelible mark. As a result, Armageddon Time feels deeply personal, a series of joyous, loving, challenging and uncomfortable memories played out on screen.

The place is Queens, and the year is 1980. Paul (Banks Repeta) is the youngest son of Irving (Jeremy Strong) and Esther (Anne Hathaway). Paul is at that age where the idea of rebellion appeals, and in a city where cultural change is coming thick and fast, Paul longs to escape his middle-class Jewish life for an artistic adventure. The only person who seems to understand him is his grandfather (Anthony Hopkins), who encourages his love of art and sense of ambition and rebellion.

At school, he bonds with Johnny (Jaylin Webb), a Black kid who, like him, believes there must be more to life than school and endless rules. But while both Johnny and Paul may share the characteristic of a minority group, the nature and experience of persecution in New York for a Black and Jewish kid are very different.

In Grey’s engaging and atmospheric coming-of-age drama, chaotic family meal times are full of banter and love, while the streets of New York are alive with risk and change. Paul is desperate to embrace social change but has yet to discover what that change should be. However, he knows that with his friend, Johnny, in tow, change is possible and inevitable. But Paul is about to learn that childhood dreams and desires rarely survive a night of adult realities. (NEIL BAKER)


Sometimes real life is far more horrific than anything a fiction writer can conjure. John Ridley’s and Carlton Cuse’s adaptation of Sheri Fink’s detailed and harrowing book, Five Days at Memorial, places us in the middle of an event so gut-wrenchingly awful that it is hard to believe we are in one of the wealthiest countries in the world in 2005. Starring Vera Farmiga, Cherry Jones, Cornelius Smith Jr. and Robert Pine, this is the story of the New Orleans Memorial Medical Center and Hurricane Katrina. But this tale is less about the hurricane and more about government failure, the collapse of civil structures and the unbearable decision-making that doctors and nurses were forced to make as they sat alone in a hospital surrounded by flood waters. It’s the story of 45 patients who died over five days and a fragmented healthcare system that allowed a hospital to be isolated in its time of need. Five Days at Memorial is a tough, gritty and urgent drama that offers no tidy conclusions as it attempts to unpick themes of accountability and a lingering sense of injustice. (NEIL BAKER)




Epic documentaries are rare nowadays, especially those that dare to stretch over three two-hour episodes. But anyone familiar with documentary maker Ken Burns and his long-time collaborators Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein will know that epic and detailed are bylines for Burns’ work. Here Burns unpicks and then stitches together a complicated tapestry of US history in relation to immigration, War in Europe, antisemitism and race from the early 1930s to the post-War period. No stone is left unturned as Burns explores two sides of the same coin, one rooted in segregation and a belief in America first and the other in compassion, bravery and a need to protect. Meanwhile, the dark history of Eugenics and psychological discrimination and oppression sees the UK and the US shoulder at least some of the responsibility for the horrors of Nazism. The US and the Holocaust is documentary filmmaking at its most powerful and urgent. (NEIL BAKER)

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Heartstone (2016)

Rating: 4 out of 5.


At what age does the freedom and innocence of childhood become consumed by the mists of adolescence? The answer is, of course, different for every person – the journey to adulthood rooted in individual self-discovery. These themes have long been central to the coming-of-age genre and the coming-out drama. However, few films capture this transition’s complexity, intensity and emotion, like Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson’s Heartstone (Hjartasteinn).

Guðmundsson weaves the brutal realities of early teenage life with unspoken community norms, family, social conflict, and rural isolation. Like A Swedish Love StoryHeartstone captures the raw reality of the emotions, fears, and joys of early adolescence; the bodies of our two leads demanding their attention while their minds remain caught in the void between childhood innocence and adult responsibility. Here the sublime performances of Baldur Einarsson and Blær Hinriksson wrap us in a realism that is rarely found in coming-out dramas as both boys emerge from the cocoon of childhood. Guðmundsson’s movie beautifully reflects the urgency and excitement of early sexual exploration in a caged community and the role community and family play in the coming-of-age journey of each young person in their care. (NEIL BAKER)



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Beautiful Beings (2022)


Rating: 4 out of 5.

To label Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson’s Beautiful Beings an Icelandic Stand By Me is not only lazy but dismissive of the darkness that ripples through his latest challenging, achingly beautiful and uncompromising coming-of-age tale. While Stand By Me is undoubtedly an American coming-of-age classic, Beautiful Beings is firmly rooted in European realism. Following on from his heartbreakingly beautiful feature debut in 2016 Heartstone, Guðmundsson moves his lens from Iceland’s rural communities to its cities, losing none of his ability to capture the darkness, light and emotional complexity of adolescence along the way.

From the heartbreaking and challenging opening scenes of 14-year-old Balli (Áskell Einar Pálmason) being bullied and abused by his peers, Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson builds on his knack for capturing the deep emotional turmoil, pain and confusion of teenage life through an outstanding cast featuring, Birgir Dagur Bjarkason, Snorri Rafn Frímannsson and Viktor Benóný Benediktsson. Beautiful Beings takes many of the themes present in Heartstone and places them into a cold yet vibrant inner-city environment of peer pressure, sex, drugs, alcohol and casual violence. At its heart, Beautiful Beings may be a classic tale of friendship, belonging, and safety, but its soul is dedicated to exploring the unspoken bonds of love between adolescent boys and the packs they rely on for security. It is a beautiful, challenging and powerful exploration of emerging masculinity from a truly visionary director. (NEIL BAKER)


For eleven-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio), a beach holiday in Turkey with her dad, Calum (Paul Mescal), marks the final summer of childhood innocence. While for her dad, the holiday coincides with his 31st birthday, a birthday he never thought he would reach. Charlotte Wells’ adventurous, understated and artistically bold film is a stunning photographic essay of love, loss, joy and disappointment, a mosaic of memories forever burnt into celluloid. Aftersun is filmmaking at its most profound, beguiling and beautiful. (NEIL BAKER)




On a secluded island, a spikey house manager and a reclusive and famous chef greet a small group of wealthy individuals. They have all come to experience a world-class menu that is more theatre than food. But as the night progresses, the menu becomes a deliciously dark game of no escape. Mark Mylod’s wicked satire takes no time in taking a huge bite out of the world of haute cuisine as we watch Ralph Fiennes’ cold and deranged chef Julian Slowik turn from MasterChef into a malevolent and merciless maitre d’. (NEIL BAKER)



It would be easy to label Melissa Lesh and Trevor Frost’s beautiful and tender documentary as a classic healing journey, but Wildcat is much more. It is the story of a young Afghanistan veteran and two lost and lonely ocelots in a world that is often unforgiving and harsh but also full of wonder and hope. Wildcat is a tender, intimate and beautiful exploration of life, loss, love and rebirth that never attempts to sugar-coat the journey of Harry, Samantha, Khan and Keanu. (NEIL BAKER)


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Judy (2019)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Adapted from the stage play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter and directed by Rupert Goold, Judy is a devastating, heartbreaking, yet tender and loving exploration of a woman in freefall, desperately trying to cling on to the rock face of stardom as her nails give way one by one.

Unlike many biopic performances, Zellweger’s performance never seeks to embellish or lovingly re-draw Garland for a modern audience. Instead, she captures a voice slowly breaking yet beautiful and a lifetime of buried pain and hurt that resurfaces in fits of anxiety, doubt and nervous energy.

The result is a tender, loving and honest exploration of a woman who lived for the stage and suffered for her art. Her choices, addictions and vulnerabilities formed by a yellow brick road through Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s Hollywood powerhouse of dreams and nightmares.


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Elvis (2022)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Baz Luhrmann’s epic jukebox exploration of the life, career, rise and fall of Elvis Aaron Presley is a fascinating, fantastical biopic. On the one hand, Elvis is a glittery tribute to a musical legend many call the King of rock n roll. But on the other, it’s a melancholic portrait of the horrors of fame and the devil in disguise. Money.

Elvis is a fantasia, a fairytale with moments of spine-tingling beauty and deep, inescapable horror. In Luhrmann’s world Elvis is a puppet from the moment he agrees to let Colonel Tom Parker (a sinister and almost cartoon-like Tom Hanks) into his life. Parker’s strings extend from every limb of our dancing and singing boy – pulling, manipulating and controlling every move. Austin Butler brings this scared, delicate, beautiful and powerful boy and man to life with such love, grace and sincerity that one could almost be watching the hip-swinging King himself.

Of course, some fairytales have happy endings, but not this one. We all know how this story ends. But that doesn’t make the final few frames of Luhrmann’s movie any less heartbreaking as the puppet master squeezes every last drop of energy from his marionette before the strings finally break. (NEIL BAKER)


If you thought the first season of Chucky was nuts, just wait till you get a load of this! Any rules built over the years are duly thrown to one side as Chucky Season 2 carves its own unique place in Chucky-Lore. From the return of Glen to doll-obsessed nuns, a heavenly father (Devon Sawa) who looks a lot like a dead dad, dodgy psychologists (Rosemary Dunsmore), and the Lex Luther/ Apocalypse Now-inspired ‘Colonel’ (Brad Dourif). Season two is a rollercoaster ride of camp horror, gore, comedy and devilishly good performances from Zackary Arthur, Bjorgvin Arnarson, and Alyvia Alyn Lind. (NEIL BAKER)


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In Fabric (2018)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Set in the fictional town of Thames Valley on Thames, Peter Strickland’s In Fabric bathes us in a devilishly clever horror-comedy exploring consumerism past and present. Here the town at the heart of the story sits in a timeless void, where the traditional 70s British high street remains intact. In the centre of town sits, Dentley & Soper’s department store, a vast cavern of wonder that encourages residents to spend their hard-earned cash. Here the classic British department store of Are You Being Served is subverted into a gothic nightmare of secrets and desires—the staff team dressed in Victorian attire while talking in riddles. 

In Dentley & Soper’s sits a beautiful red dress, its elegance and grace reflected in its flowing curves and luscious material. However, the dress is tinged with tragedy, its enchanting allure holding a deadly spirit. But, for single mum Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), the dress captures her attention as she plans a dinner date. On purchasing the red dress from the creepy staff at Dentley & Soper’s, Sheila has the confidence to believe her life can be better. However, the dress has its own plans.

The dress at the heart of Peter Strickland’s film burns with ferocious energy as it glides through a blood bath of humour and terror. But, when the arresting visuals are combined with the score of Cavern of Anti-Matter, In Fabric transcends the boundaries of horror and comedy—mixing the Italian style of Dario Argento with a decidedly British ghost story.  (NEIL BAKER)


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Flux Gourmet (2022)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What is art? Is it a bed surrounded by junk? A meticulous painting depicting a historical scene? Or maybe it’s a deconstructed cottage pie and a silky Jus? The truth is art is whatever the artist views as ‘art,’ and therefore, it could be anything! One could never accuse Peter Strickland of shying away from deconstructing the world around us. During his career, he has pointed his lens at fashion, sound and sex, and now he cuts into the world of haute cuisine and bodily digestion with Flux Gourmet.

Surrounded by his tried and tested troupe of performers while welcoming a decidedly grungy Asa Butterfield to the clan, Flux Gourmet is a truly bizarre journey into culinary theatre. Here the body and its gaseous workings are just as important as the food on a table. While the Sonic Catering Institute, led by the flamboyant Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie), is just as chilling as In Fabric’s Dentley & Soper’s Department Store.

As with all of Strickland’s work, Flux Gourmet may not appeal to everyone. But it’s a delicious treat for those willing to be taken on a magical mystery tour that isn’t afraid to cut deep into the bizarre nature of art and food. (NEIL BAKER)


As Game of Thrones came to a close in 2019, many wondered if the media fire it had generated had been firmly extinguished. After all, the final season of the blockbuster show was and still is hotly debated as one of TV’s biggest anti-climaxes. Therefore when House of the Dragon was announced, a fair bit of scepticism was mixed with the excitement of a new beginning in King’s Landing. Thankfully any scepticism was put to bed just three episodes in, as the mix of betrayal, intrigue, medieval politics, and power that made Game of Thrones fascinating found a fresh voice through a host of exceptional new characters. (NEIL BAKER)



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Top Gun (1986)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What is Top Gun? Is it a homoerotic bromance? A brazen advert for the US military? Or an opportunity to cash in on the sex appeal of a young Tom Cruise? These questions surround Tony Scott’s military action flick from 1986. With Top Gun, every viewer comes away from the sweat-drenched muscles, pearly white smiles, tight white t-shirts and aviators with a slightly different perspective. However, for me, Top Gun is an amalgamation of all of the themes raised above while also managing to be a damn fine action flick that provides moments of pure escapism. There is no doubt that Top Gun heralded a new, Reagan-inspired vision of the American military following the anti-war movies of the 1970s. But it wrapped this new, bold, star-spangled vision of combat in MTV-inspired pop. Here Top Gun is, in essence, a feature-length music video.

Designing a movie for the new MTV generation was inspired; after all, it didn’t really need a story, just a killer soundtrack, sex appeal and an emotional hook. Here Top Gun was the first of a new wave of music video movies. These movies would prioritise their soundtrack over their story and bathe us in perfect bodies, skimpy tops, fast action and full-blooded Americana. Watching Top Gun now is a fascinating experience; after all, the triumphalism of America now seems somewhat tired, and its music video montages cover the fact that Top Gun has no real story. Yet, it remains addictive viewing over 35 years later, and that, my friends, is down to its star. Love him or loathe him, Tom Cruise is a Hollywood legend, and Top Gun is a career-defining pop culture sensation that would see white t-shirts and aviators become the must-have fashion accessories of 86. (NEIL BAKER)

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Top Gun Maverick (2022)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As stated above, Top Gun (1986) ducked, dived and raced through a series of genres and pop culture tropes to achieve box office success. It had no meaningful story, dramatic hook, or clear vision beyond its flag-waving, all-American charm.

But over thirty-five years after Top Gun lit up the box office, could a sequel achieve the same thing? The jury was out when the press lined up outside Cineworld Leicester Square for the much-anticipated screening. After just over two hours, the vote was in, and it was clear Top Gun Maverick had achieved something rare in legacy sequels; it had surpassed expectations by offering us a carbon copy of the 1986 original with different emotional cues. In fact, what is interesting is that many of the young reviewers had likely never seen the 1986 movie on its release and therefore seemed oblivious to the clear familiarities.

Does that mean Top Gun Maverick is a poor movie? Hell no! It’s a near-perfect blockbuster, which is a rare gift nowadays. But does it offer anything new? Well, here the jury is out, but who cares? It’s the big-screen film we all needed following Covid and a divine homage to the now dying 80s summer blockbuster format Top Gun helped give birth to. (NEIL BAKER)

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My Friend Dahmer (2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What makes someone a serial killer? Are they born evil, or are their actions rooted in their upbringing and socialisation? These questions surround our obsession with serial killers; in fact, much of the fear they hold over us is based on our inability to fully understand or comprehend their motivations and actions. After all, as humans, we like to place behaviour in easily defined boxes. For example, when we view the act of murder through a lens of self-defence, war or revenge, we find it easier to identify a person’s motivation. But, a random homicide based on desire remains obscure and scary. At the same time, the murder of a child remains unfathomable due to the power dynamics at play, even if it’s another child who perpetrates the crime.

Based on the 2012 graphic novel of the same name by cartoonist John Backderf, who was friends with Dahmer in high school, My Friend Dahmer places the viewer into a range of uncomfortable encounters where sympathy and even humour mix with a deep sense of unease. For some, this may prove too upsetting. But, for those willing to look into the darkness of the adolescent psychology at play, My Friend Dahmer offers a unique cinematic experience that challenges our very notion of inherent evil. (NEIL BAKER)

My Friend Dahmer

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Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (2022)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If My Friend Dahmer unnerved and upset its audience by challenging our notions of what makes a young man become a vicious killer, then Dahmer aims to revolt and enrage in equal measure. The Netflix drama is as stomach-churning in its horror as it is scathing of the institutions that were supposed to protect and serve. Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan’s complex and layered drama rejects the notion that Dahmer killed freely just because his victims (Black, Hispanic, Bisexual and Gay) had no one who cared about them. Instead, it squarely places the blame at the doorstep of the authorities, whose actions were laced with racism, bias, homophobia and corruption.

Like, My Friend Dahmer, Monster is keen to put a human face to the horror while not apologising for the crime; charged with this near-impossible task is Evan Peter’s who not only achieves this goal but, in turn, offers us a performance of such uncomfortable depth that it must have taken a heavy emotional toll. There have been and will continue to be accusations of exploitation, with many arguing that the show should have placed even more focus on the victims of Dahmer, maybe this is true, but it also sidelines the upbringing, psychology and childhood of the man who took so many lives. Equally, some have stated it should not be labelled as an LGBTQ drama. But by stripping this away, do we not choose to ignore Dahmer’s complex sexuality and the reality that gay men can commit horrible crimes? Monster is uncomfortable to view because it should be; it’s revolting, heartbreaking, infuriating and human. (NEIL BAKER)


Written and directed by William Stone, The Fence builds upon his 2018 short film of the same name as it takes us back to 1980s Bristol for a coming-of-age tale of brotherly love, motorbikes, friendship and crime. At its core, this simple story of a boy and his stolen motorbike may appear too simplistic for the one hour and thirty-minute runtime it consumes, but Stone’s film is far more than an exploration of community justice on the streets of Bristol; its a love letter to friendship, brotherhood and community that shines through the performances of its young cast. It’s clear from the outset that The Fence was a labour of love for the director, producer and crew; the attention to detail is exquisite, alongside a screenplay that oozes charm. But even more impressive is that Stone only graduated from University in 2017. (NEIL BAKER)



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