Review Round Up- 13 Reasons Why S1, Kill Ben Lyk, Muse


One of the things of starting to stream stuff is the abundance of material available and though I subscribed to Netflix to finally see Stranger Things (some inevitable reviews will appear!) I’ve found some other gems knocking around including a series I’d always wanted to see 13 Reasons Why. Running from 2017-20 across four seasons this dark glimpse into the bruised psyche of American youth won many plaudits during its run and it’s easy to see why. While a lot of dramas take easy options when it comes to issues like mental health and suicide this is a programme that attempts a more grounded, less sanitised portrayal. It centres on the aftermath of the suicide of a girl called Hannah Baker. Her legacy is a series of cassette tapes, each one addressing the behaviour of one of the people she blames for her ultimate act. The accused have to listen to these tapes and the ramifications both of what she says and what people think happened runs across the whole season.

Once you can get past the slightly rusty premise of cassette tapes and who in this day and age has the kit to play them on (lots of American high schoolers it seems) you can start to become absorbed in the story and you will. The presentation is subtly impressive with sequences moving back and forth between then and now sometimes in the same scene. We see different interpretations or memories of key events with the suggestion that not everything Hannah or indeed anyone else says is necessarily wholly true. It’s about how people can remember things differently through the prism of their own concerns and priorities.

The tapes create ripples and tensions between this group of people as each reacts in different ways to what they are being accused of. I wasn’t sure at first if I was going to like it- the subject matter is off putting and there’s also a sort of arbiter character called Tony who got on my nerves a lot till episode nine when we find out why he is as he is. Beware too that a couple of the episodes contain extremely uncomfortable, shocking scenes in the context of the story.

Though this is an ensemble series to guide us through the emotional maze we have Clay Jenson, who struggles against the strictures of the process while trying to make sense of things. He and Hannah were good friends though no more even though it seems both would have liked there to have been more. In this pivotal role Dylan Minnette is terrific as Clay oscillates between guilt, anger, indignation and sadness. Though Hannah is dead before the opening credits of part one she is brought to vivid life by the superb Katherine Langford. Its perhaps a slight weakness that her and Clay’s will they/ wont they chemistry falls too easily into the cliches avoided with other plot points but thanks to the actors it still works. I also took some issue with the writers lathering on so much bad luck, slights, snubs and terrible experiences onto Hannah but I suspect the writers are using her as a vessel for many kids. What does work tremendously well is the way both the scriptwriters and Katharine Langford avoid the goth-sad model so often used. Hannah seems quite a delightful person really making her fate even harder to take.  All of the cast are great  too with strong performances all around especially from Brandon Flynn, Miles Heizer, Alisha Boe and Kate Walsh who is heartbreaking as Hannah’s bereft yet determined mother.

There is way too much plot to go into detail here and I’ve only seen the first season so I’m not sure yet how the writers managed to spin this out across three more but this is intelligent, thought provoking stuff set in an environment where too often writers offer cliches and stereotypes. It has a hint of Twin Peaks and the sheen of American high school dramas aplenty but it soars into different territory and is definitely not intending to provide any easy answers or cookie cutter psychology. It’s a big commitment (there are 49 hour long episodes in total) but on the basis of these first 13 its worth your time.

In the film Kill Ben Lyk! the ruthless murders of several people with the same name in London causes the police to gather together all of the remaining people called Ben Lyk in a large country house for their protection. This 2018 comedy thriller riffs on whodunnits and their tropes quite successfully. Not all of the humour lands but what does will raise some laughs. There’s a great cast, especially  Gretchen Elgof as the police chief who has to keep talking to her young child on the phone, Simone Ashley as the only female Ben who is something of a prankster and also Bronson Webb as a twitchy Ben who manages to be both funny and aggressive at the same time. I wish we could have spent longer in the company of the various Ben Lyk’s before they start to be dispatched actually as some of the others get less to do.

One possible reason the film didn’t do better is that the main Ben- and this is no fault of the actor Eugene Simon who has great comic timing- is a rather irritating character; a vlogger whose motivation is rather sketchily written. Also it doesn't quite have the panache of Knives Out.  Pleasingly the ending is well done and the narrative becomes more menacing just when it needs to. Plus, like all the best whodunnits you’ll never guess who the killer is till the reveal.

When the first ten seconds has chanting and big fat drums you know it’s Muse and their latest album `Will of the People` is so very Muse that it might almost be an imitation. The trio have never been short of epics but here it feels like they are flying free utilising all the things people like about them. Lyrics about revolution and paranoia, melodramatic piano intros and stacked harmonies right out of the Queen songbook abound. There’s tempo changes ahoy and plenty of distorted noises including one that sounds like a sea lion was in the studio with them. Yep there’s even a church organ!  One track even sounds like that `Someone’s Watching Me` turned up to eleven with added guitar solo adding to the Eighties vibe this album gives out.. 

Any message that these songs have though is at risk of being overwhelmed by the bombast. However when you can hear what he's singing about, Matt Bellamy's litany of repressive authority and revolution sounds more prescient now than it did ten years ago. It’s like an opera, a blockbuster film and a World Cup all in forty minutes -magnificent and ridiculous all at once!


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