November 27, 2014

What TV's on at the BFI in January 2015?

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It's time for our regular look at the TV that the BFI is showing, this time in January 2015. And it’s very much a month of foreign TV, for a change. Kind of.

As well as a preview of Sky Atlantic’s Fortitude, starring the likes of Stanley Tucci and Sofie Gråbøl and filmed in Iceland, there’s a season of Eric Rohmer’s French TV documentaries and a season of British TV dramatisations of American plays, starring the likes of Eartha Kitt, John Malkovich and Eli Wallach. But just for a bit of variety, there’s a couple of plays starring Maggie Smith.

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Nostalgia Corner: Where's Elvis This Week? (1996)

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Jon Stewart in Where's Elvis This Week?

Back in the 90s, Brits loved Americans and Americans loved Brits. To some extent, this started with the love-in between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 80s, when American movies and TV shows also began to reign truly supreme in UK cinemas and on our TV screens, but a period under George HW Bush dimmed the fires of passion somewhat.

Then along came Bill Clinton and suddenly we couldn’t get enough of the US, particularly on BBC2, which worked at particular length to get more US shows on our screens. TV Nation was a co-production between NBC and BBC2 that explored British and American cultures using journalists and comedians from both sides of the Atlantic. BBC2 also bought in for a six-week experiment famous US movie review show Siskel and Ebert, even getting them to film a special segment for UK viewers at the end of the run (this isn’t it – no one could be bothered to record it).

Probably the least successful, least remembered example of this Americophilia is Where’s Elvis This Week?, a five-episode, Saturday night BBC2 show hosted by Jon Stewart. Yes, him off The Daily Show. That Jon Stewart.

Trying his best to be hip and cool in a leather jacket, despite

  1. The Jon Stewart Show having recently been cancelled
  2. Craig Kilborn being set to continue hosting The Daily Show for a further two years
  3. Being Jon Stewart

Stewart presided over a panel of two Brits and two Americans who tried to explain each other’s news to each other and give their opinions of the other country’s news. And what panels they were. The likes of Christopher Hitchens, Dave Chappelle, Eddie Izzard, former mayor of New York Ed Koch, Nora Ephron, Armando Iannucci, Joe Queenan, David Baddiel and others all showed up and did their best to be both interesting and funny, despite the format and the occasional additional lame duck panellist such as Tony Hawks (no, not that one). Stewart, in turn and despite being obviously uncomfortable with just about every aspect of the show, did his best to play the laid-back, regular Joe foil, but every so often, exposed his intellect with a particularly smart comment.

Just like America's love for Bill Clinton, neither the show nor the Americophilia lasted very long, and it was promptly cancelled, thankfully putting everyone out of their misery. But you can still watch this experiment in transatlantic comedy below. For those that care, here were the line-ups for the five episodes, so you can decide which one to give a whirl. It’s worth noting that Christopher Hitchens comes up with something profound at the end of his episode, prefixing it with “I’ve just thought of something profound”:

  1. Eddie Izzard, Phil Jupitus, Laurie Pike, Scott Capurro
  2. Dave Chappelle, Helen Gurley Brown, Christopher Hitchens, Tony Hawks
  3. Felix Dexter, Norm MacDonald, Joe Queenan, Lowri Turner
  4. Martin Clunes, David Baddiel, Ed Koch, Wendy Wasserstein
  5. Armando Iannucci, Craig Kilborn, Arthur Smith, Nora Ephron

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November 26, 2014

The Wednesday Play: Anton Chekhov's The Three Sisters (1970)

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Anthony Hopkins in The Three Sisters

Although Chekhov’s slightly fallen out of favour these days, his work has featured in several TV productions over the years. One of the most notable versions of the 1900 play The Three Sisters was the BBC Play of the Month videotaped television production of 1970, directed by Cedric Messina.

The Three Sisters describes the lives and aspirations of the Prozorov family: sisters Olga (Eileen Atkins), Masha (Janet Suzman) and Irina (Michele Dotrice), and their brother Andrei (Anthony Hopkins). Brought up in Moscow but living in a provincial town for the past 11 years, the sisters dream of returning to the big city. However, the move never happens and the sisters are forced to find meaning in their current home.

Also starring Joss Ackland, the play is available on DVD but you can watch it below as it’s this week's Wednesday Play.

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  • Regina King to star in FX’s Comedy, Daisy Betts joins Syfy's Childhood’s End
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  • Jeffrey Dean Morgan to play Joe DiMaggio in Lifetime’s Marilyn
  • Parminder Nagra and Jessalyn Gilsig join CBS’s Evil Men
  • Matt Barr joins TNT’s Jerry Bruckheimer drugs drama

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November 25, 2014

Weekly Wonder Woman: Wonder Woman #36, Superman/Wonder Woman #13, Sensation Comics #15, Justice League #36

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Wonder Woman #36

As usual, we can rely on DC Comics to time its releases of comics with impeccable precision. So, after weeks of a couple of guest appearances here and there by Diana in various comics, finally, we have all the usual main Wonder Woman titles out in the same week.

When last we left both Wonder Woman and Superman/Wonder Woman, we were waving goodbye to two A-teams: Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang were departing Wonder Woman, having concluded their three-year reboot of the character; meanwhile, Charles Soule and (predominantly) Tony Daniel were bidding both Superman and Wonder Woman adieu over on Superman/Wonder Woman.

Joining the fold last week, we had Meredith Finch and Brian Finch on Wonder Woman #36 and Peter J Tomasi and Doug Mahnke over on Superman/Wonder Woman #13. After the jump, I’ll be looking at both issues and wondering if we’ve got two new A-teams, two new B-teams or some other alphabetical combinations.

But we’re not done. Because on top of those two, we have the conclusion of Gilbert Hernandez’s two-parter in Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #15 and in Justice League #36, we have the arrival of Wonder Woman’s movie costume in the comic book world.

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News: Rutger Hauer is a viking, ITV 'updates' Jekyll & Hyde, George Eads to leave CSI + more

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November 24, 2014

Yes, there's even more to David Lynch's Dune than you first thought - here's 21 deleted scenes

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So I’ll come clean and admit that David Lynch’s Dune is one of my favourite movies. It’s also one of the ones I can quote from the most, but I won’t subject you to that – I think you’d rather endure the Box than that.

As you might expect from such a huge book, it is also a long movie, very long for 1984 when it was released, coming in at 2h11. It could have been even longer, though, but producer Raffaella de Laurentiis had a clear strategy for stopping David Lynch from going too long: "For every day you run over budget, she told Lynch, a page will be ripped from the script. At random.”

Even so, Lynch filmed a lot more Dune than went into his first cut. Much of that extra material then got saved up and restored, complete with additional narration, for an extended Sci-fi channel version – which Lynch asked be credited to someone other than him, as he didn’t approve.

But that still wasn't all the footage that Lynch filmed. Oh no. There was plenty, plenty more. And for fans of the book, some of those deleted scenes were actually very important moments: everything from Paul marrying Irulan and the death of Thufir Hawat through the funeral of Jamis all the way to the creation of the Water of Life by a baby sand worm.

But life is good. YouTube is kind. And you can watch all 21 additional scenes in the play list below*.

The spice must flow.

* Some of them you can see in the Extended version.

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November 21, 2014

What have you been watching? Including Cara Fi, The Comeback, Neville's Island, Robocop (2014), Constantine and The Fall

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It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there's Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

First, I’ll apologise in advance for the typos: I’m just heading out the door to watch The Imitation Game.

Anwyay, we’re nearing Thanksgiving and the Christmas season (aka ‘December’) which means that viewing options are starting to drop off, new shows are few and far between, and old shows are giving us their mid-season finales. But I have watched a couple of new things, including State of Affairs, which I’ve reviewed elsewhere.

Cara Fi (UK: S4C)
A dying Welsh village puts the faces of its single men on the sides of milk cartons to attract women there. Starring Dave Coaches (Steffan Rhodri) from Gavin & Stacey, it’s pretty gentle, not especially romantic comedy with a sad basis in reality. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but it’s a different change of pace from the usual fare and it clips along decently enough.

The Comeback (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
Lisa Kudrow plays a fading, once semi-famous actress, trying to use reality TV to make a comeback, only to discover that she might get a second chance, playing a thinly veiled pastiche version of herself in a sitcom. Technically the show’s second season, it’s first season airing in 2005, and since then, most of its young stars (Kellan Lutz, Malin Akerman) have gone on to better things, although Akerman makes a cameo in the first episode, Lutz lined up for a later appearance. However, as with the first season, this is such an insider TV show that even though I’ve been writing about TV and US TV for the best part of two decades, even I found it a bit niche. More damningly, I didn’t laugh once. Fans says the show’s simply ahead of the curve, in which case I’ll probably find it funny in 10 years’ time, but seeing as most of it is cringe comedy and laughing at people who’ve fallen on hard times, maybe not.

I’ve also watched a movie:

Robocop (2014)
Remake of the 1980s ‘classic’, this hits neither the original’s lows nor its highs, loses virtually all the satire, and ditches Nancy Allen’s tough female partner for Omar from The Wire. Nevertheless, the story of a murdered cop turned into a cybernetic police officer for a privatised police force does actually do some interesting and different things, looking at the concepts of free will, the nature of perception, media manipulation, the disabled, prosthetics, and the tensions between altruistic science and those funding it. It’s certainly not memorable and will probably be forgotten about soon enough, but it’s nevertheless a pretty decent film that would probably be a lot more noticeable and notable were it not for the original.

And I’ve been to the theatre, too.

Neville’s Island (Duke of York's)
Four Northern middle managers (Neil Morrissey, Adrian Edmondson, Miles Jupp, Robert Webb) go the wrong way on an outward bounds course and end up stuck on an island in the Lake District. How will they get on together? Will they escape? And will any of them go mad and attack the others? I’m not saying, but it’s a fun play which ultimately doesn’t say a whole lot, but is entertaining nevertheless, with some good performances. It also features one of the best sets I’ve ever seen – or smelt. Seriously, that’s some moist piney goodness they’ve got going on there.

After the jump, I’ll be running through: Arrow, Constantine, Elementary, The Fall, The Flash, Forever, Gotham, Gracepoint, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, The Newsroom and Scorpion.

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November 20, 2014

Nostalgia Corner: MacGyver (1985-92)

Posted 7 days ago at 14:38 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

MacGyver

There are few TV shows that have actually changed the English language, but ABC’s MacGyver gave us not only a new verb, but inspired virtually an entire generation of viewers to start carrying around Swiss Army Knives.

Starring Richard Dean Anderson as the eponymous Angus MacGyver, the show was created by three men: Lee David Zlotoff, one of the producers of Remington Steele; Emmy-award winning director John Rich; and Henry Winkler - the Fonz on Happy Days. It saw Anderson's former Vietnam bomb disposal expert turned secret agent working first for the US government’s Department of External Services and then for the private sector Phoenix Foundation, investigating all manner of dangerous subjects both professionally and personally.

So far, so ordinary. What then set MacGyver apart from other action heroes?

  1. His mullet.
  2. The intensely catchy theme tune.
  3. But most importantly, in contrast to the usual US action hero stereotype, MacGyver not only refused to use a gun, he used his mind instead. Give MacGyver a dilemma to solve or sticky situation to get out of, not only would he likely remember a related situation from his childhood, he’d use his vast knowledge of science and technology to improvise a solution, whether it was something basic like putting an egg into a perforated radiator to temporarily plug the holes or something more advanced like building a laser.

Here, let the title sequence give you all three of these things in a concentrated burst:

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