Critics' Choice

By Jonathan Ross Cerys Matthews Ellen E Jones
Author: Jonathan Ross

Jonathan Ross

Jonathan Ross is a comedian, talk show host, film critic and one of Britain's most successful broadcasters.

Author: Ellen E Jones

Ellen E Jones

Ellen E Jones is The Independent's TV critic and a columnist for The Independent on Sunday and The i Paper. She runs regular review writing workshops and mentoring programmes for young journalists, yet still finds time to squeeze in a solid four hours of TV-viewing a day.

Author: Cerys Matthews

Cerys Matthews

Radio 6 Music broadcaster, MBE, author, songwriter and former singer with the band Catatonia, Cerys Matthews has got music in her bones. She's passionate about all kinds of sounds so let her inspire you too.

Jonathan Ross says...

Word is that next year, if you include animated features, Warner Brothers is due to release six separate Batman films. That’s right, six! These high-concept tales, in which men (and the occasional woman) right the world’s wrongs in tight Spandex, are the crowd-pleasers du jour, just as Westerns once dominated the action movie marketplace in the 1950s. And, just like the superhero genre, there were many who predicted that the Western would die out. But it didn’t, of course. Those tales of the old frontier, often juvenile stories of revenge and heroism, survived by evolving more sophisticated scenarios that questioned the actions of those early pioneers. Protagonists were gradually presented as flawed, troubled human beings rather than simple two-dimensional moral guardians.

The superhero genre is now wrestling with those very same growing pains, but faces a harder task. Westerns were rooted in actual history, and their evolution from pulp fiction into more satisfying fare came from the willingness of filmmakers to take a more brutally honest look at actual events. Superhero movies, however, are based on a foundation of pure imagination – charming whimsy created originally for a younger, less demanding audience. But there is a history of sorts that they can revisit – that of their own mythology. And when a character has been around for as long and been as successful with both the comic-reading and movie-going public as Wolverine, there’s a lot to build on. Which is exactly what has been achieved with great aplomb in Logan, reportedly the last of the Wolverine movies – and almost certainly the last that will star Hugh Jackman as the curmudgeonly mutant.

It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the adamantium-clawed warrior. As Jackman has inevitably grown older in the part, it was clear that Logan would reflect that on screen. He’s haunted by his past, his super-powered enhancements slowly destroying his body from within while the world outside continues its unsympathetic view of him and his fellow mutants. He’s also wrestling with the consequences of his actions – the death and destruction that lie in his wake. With great power, as someone once said, comes great responsibility.

Logan offers us the vulnerable, side of one of the most popular fictional characters in recent history. It also gives Jackman a chance to really get his teeth – or claws – into the character. It may even remind you of Clint Eastwood’s last time in the saddle as a troubled, older gunslinger in The Unforgiven. That film, coincidentally, inspired the comic book Old Man Logan, which became the movie you can watch on board today.

Cerys Matthews says...

Who was the first Beatle to release a solo album? Who was the first one to top the charts as a solo artist? The first to persuade the others to study meditation? The architect of The Concert for Bangladesh and the indie film producer of the Monty Python movies? Who helped create the troubadour band The Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty? Yes, we’re talking about George Harrison here.

There’s a two-part special available on board as part of DJ Redbeard’s In the Studio series that gives a fascinating insight to the mind and gentle wit of this major talent. Harrison talks of wanting to make music to help “people keep on trucking” through hard times and about the pressures of being in the world’s most famous band during the years of Beatlemania. “We were put on such a pedestal,” he says. “We had everybody bowing and scraping to us. We were on the front page of all the papers. Eventually you realise there’s more to life than this.”

It made me wonder how these four game-changing young Liverpudlians would have handled fame in today’s climate. What kind of cryptic messages would John Lennon have tweeted? What positive message might a young, idealistic Harrison have shared with us? Andy Warhol’s legendary quip – “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes” – has turned out to be quite prophetic but actually underestimated as we now employ a lifetime’s posting on various public platforms. That uploaded data will no doubt outlive us all.

But back to Harrison. It was 50 years ago this month that pop artist Peter Blake created what must be the most recognisable album cover of all time, the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The anniversary will be marked with a three-week extravaganza in Liverpool and a BBC-produced documentary on the famous faces featured in the artwork. They include the actress Mae West (who was apparently horrified to be member of a ‘lonely hearts club’), the boxer Sonny Liston, Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas. The Beatles were huge fans of the Welsh poet. “I used to read him a lot,” said Paul McCartney in 1987. “I think John started writing because of him.”

We can, of course, given today’s technology, follow the thoughts of Ringo Starr and McCartney on Twitter @ringostarrmusic and @PaulMcCartney. Alternatively, why not head straight for the George Harrison interview and hear from the man himself? It’s a wonderful listen. Safe travels.

Ellen E Jones says...

When something looks too good to be true, it usually is. That’s especially the case in television, where sumptuous set design and a crush-worthy cast can all too often gloss over shoddy storytelling. But Big Little Lies, HBO’s new drama series, may just be the exception to that rule. Not only does this glossy drama series look good, it also rings unmistakably true.

Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley co-star as three mothers living in a well-to-do Californian community, where their children all attend first grade in the local school. Big names signing up for small-screen roles is nothing remarkable in the modern television industry but, unusually, these movie stars actually deliver movie-star performances to match their (presumably) movie-star pay cheques. Witherspoon plays Madeline, a fiery alpha mom who’ll move mountains to defend her loved ones. Kidman is Celeste, a soft-spoken housewife who gave up her high-powered law career to cultivate a seemingly perfect home life with her seemingly perfect husband, and Woodley is Jane, the mysterious single parent who arrives in town on a trail of secrets.

The initial pleasure of the series is in gawping at these women’s affluent lifestyles. We are wealth tourists on an all-expenses-paid trip along the Californian coast. Especially enjoyable are the school-gate confrontations, which can switch without warning from PTA niceties to Mafia-style threats. “You are dead in this town. As is your f***king puppet show,” growls Renata to Madeline in one scene – and, let’s just say, she was definitely provoked. Cleverly, though, David E Kelley’s script shows us the women’s very worst sides first, before gradually defrosting even the coldest of bitches, or unravelling the most twisted of marital knots. You may not approve of Celeste’s decision to stay but, by episode three, you’ll certainly understand why she’s making it.

It’s not just adult relationships that are subjected to this show’s silky scrutiny either. Listening in on Madeline bickering with her teenage daughter or watching Jane and her son goof around at the beach, we’re reminded of how rare it is to see the parent-child bond done justice in grown-up TV drama. In myriad interesting ways, these little lives reflect and amplify the big adult story world around them.

Surrounded by all this satisfying dramatic detail, it’s inevitable that the murder mystery, which is Big Little Lies’ nominal centre, can sometimes feel like an afterthought. But it’s not tagged on – intrinsic to this story is the brutal violence that sometimes lurks beneath beautiful surfaces. It’s not often that a TV show allows you to teeter on the cliff edge of realistic moral dilemmas, while still enjoying the magnificent views.