May 26, 2015

Learn how to achieve 'peak Brit' with The Hunt For Red October

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These days, travel is cheap. This means two things:

  1. It’s easy for us to travel places, see what they look like and learn about other people’s cultures
  2. It’s easy for film crews to travel places and film them

That means that these days, except in a few cases where it’s not worth the effort, if a movie wants to show us Japan or Paris or Iceland, it can.

But this hasn’t always been the case. The Hunt For Red October is a rather good 1990 movie directed by Die Hard’s John McTiernan, with cinematography by future Speed director Jan De Bont. Based on the Tom Clancy novel of the same name, it was the first of many movies featuring Clancy’s hero Jack Ryan (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit being the others), here played by 30 Rock’s Alec Baldwin – yes, young people, there was a time when Alec Baldwin was an action hero. It was also the movie that temporarily relaunched Sean Connery’s acting career.

But as it was 1990, which was a horrifying 25 years ago, the American film industry’s approach to foreign filming – and indeed foreign – was a little different. First off, it was entirely acceptable to have Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Gates McFadden pretending to be Ryan’s English wife Caroline.

Gates McFadden as Caroline Ryan in The Hunt For Red October

Yes, children, there was a time when there were so few British actors working in Hollywood, they actually had to hire Americans to play Brits. Can you imagine that?

But how best to establish that our Jack lives in England, without actually going to England, cos it’s expensive and who cares about the tax breaks and co-funding that don’t yet exist? Well, he’s got to go to the airport, of course, and that means Heathrow. But do enough people know that’s in London? Probably not. So let’s make sure it’s labelled ‘London Heathrow’. And because it’s England, that means it has to be raining. So let’s start with that.

Heathrow airport

Good so far. But is that British enough? Obviously not. We need to make sure there’s a whole bunch of right-hand drive cars, made obvious with some careful backlighting. And they have to be obviously English cars, too, so let’s throw in a black cab, a Rolls Royce and a Land Rover.

Still not enough? Okay. Let’s add in a double decker bus. Still not enough? Then let’s add in a Union Flag.

Union Flag

But is that British enough? Really? Are we quite sure everyone will realise they’re in London yet? I don’t think so. So let’s add in a map of the London Underground on the side of a bus stop for no well explored reason. Surely that should say London, England.

Tube map on bus stop

Not enough? Are you kidding? Surely that’s peak Brit. Okay, fine. I can see what we need here. We need a good old British bobbie in one of those pointy helmets.

British bobby

Happy? No! Really, that’s not British enough? Right. Fine. Here, have two British bobbies.

Two British bobbies

And thus we reach peak Brit. That’s how we did it in the 90s, kids. And here you can see it in one smooth, beautiful 90 seconds of Englishness so powerful, it might as well be drinking tea and eating spotting dick while a British Bulldog sits on a Union Flag pillow with the Queen.

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May 22, 2015

Preview: Supergirl 1x1 (US: CBS)

Posted 4 days ago at 14:46 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Supergirl costume

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, CBS. Starts November
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Is there truly no such thing as bad publicity? That is what George Schweitzer would apparently argue, based on how many hits the trailer for Supergirl got - 10 million.

Never mind that a lot of those who watched the trailer thought that it was nothing more than the Saturday Night Live spoof Black Widow sketch actually turned into a real TV show, with horrific cliches oozing from every pore. They watched it and for Schweitzer that’s all that counts. Presumably that’s what he’s paid to do and whether people subsequently tune in and enjoy the show is the purview of someone else.

But can a trailer truly convey what a show is like? Or by judicious editing can you make it seem like a completely different show? Even if that show is terrible and your show is actually quite good?

Someone needs to find out. That someone is me. Brace yourself - I’m reviewing the pilot after the jump.

But in case you haven’t watched it, here’s that trailer.

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Weekly Wonder Woman: Sensation Comics #35, Convergence: Wonder Woman #2, Convergence #7

Posted 4 days ago at 12:52 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Sensation Comics #35

It’s a miracle. I got all my work done early and therefore Weekly Wonder Woman avoids a Bank Holiday weekend hiatus. Woot woot!

After the jump then, we’ll see the end of the three-part ‘Vendetta’ in Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman, the conclusion of Convergence: Wonder Woman and the penultimate instalment of Convergence itself. And there will be blood. Mainly because of the punching. But also the vampires.

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Want to watch some international TV over the Internet? Try MHz Worldview

Posted 4 days ago at 12:04 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Sometimes, on this ere blog, you might wonder to yourself, “How can I watch these marvellous international shows that Rob talks about?” Well, that would be telling, although depending on where you live, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime are all possible options.

What I would suggest at this point, particularly if you’re in the US, is MHz. This is a "global media company which specializes in presenting top-quality international television programming to American audiences” and it does this through a number of means, including cable. However, there’s also a streaming video channel, MHz Worldview Live, which isn’t geo-restricted – you can watch it anywhere in the world.

Now, being a US channel, it operates a schedule geared to US time zones. However, if you’re prepared to stay up to the wee small hours, you can watch, for example:

  • Commissario Brunetti Mysteries: Oddly, an American author writing detective stories set in Venice but that have been adapted and made in German
  • Tatort: The world's longest-running German-language police procedural show, having first started in 1970! It’s filmed in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, with each country producing its own episodes with its own characters
  • The Eagle: A Danish TV show that’s a bit like Crossing Lines, with a crack Danish police squad solving crimes that cross borders into countries including Russia, Germany and Norway.

There’s also more familiar international imports Wallander, The Bridge, Salamander, Borgen, Unit One, Detective Montalbano, Crimes of Passion, Maigret, Spiral and Sebastian Bergman. Give it a try.

Maison Close in now on Amazon Instant Video

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I didn’t think much of it, but I thought you’d like to know, anyway.


What have you been watching? Including Residue, American Sniper and The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Posted 4 days ago at 11:37 | comments | Bookmark and Share

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.

As we sit in the gap between the end of the Fall 2014-15 season and the summer season in the US, Canada and most countries around the world, we discover the horror that is not having any tele to watch. I’ve even been reading books. Gasp!

But I have found a few other things to watch and tell you about, don’t you worry. I’ve already reviewed the first two episodes of 1864 elsewhere, and after the jump, as well as the usual usuals of Community, The Flash, Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley, I’ll be casting my eye over Netflix’s three-part Brit sci-fi/horror gloom Residue. But I’ve actually managed to watch a couple of movies, too. Well, parts of movies…

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014) (iTunes)
The third of the almost interminable Hobbit movies sees Bilbo and the dwarves facing orc armies, dragons and more in a whole bunch of scenes that definitely weren’t in the book. The big Hobbit conclusion – Bard killing Smaug – happens in the first 10 minutes or so, after which it’s all about big armies of CGI beasts smashing each other, and elves being stoic and doing the right thing, all while Thorin (Richard Armitage) fights off his gold addiction. The Hobbit himself (Martin Freeman)? Doesn’t actually do a whole lot…

As I mentioned in the comments on last week’s WHYBW, I did actually start watching this nearly a fortnight ago, got three-quarters the way through then went to bed… and totally forgot I was watching it until this Monday, by which point it was too late to continue watching it without re-renting it. So I’ve no idea if we get cameos from old Bilbo and Frodo (or anyone else) at the end, and probably won’t do until Netflix picks it up. Nevertheless, while you might argue that this all tells you something about me, I’d argue that it tells you something about just how engrossing this third entry in the series really is.

American Sniper (2014) (iTunes)
Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of the autobiography of America’s most lethal sniper got a whole lot of attention for something that’s really pretty ordinary at heart. Bradley Cooper does well as the Texan who enlists in the Navy SEALs in the 90s to fight terrorists and ends up shooting an awful lot Iraqis in the 21st century, while Sienna Miller is astonishingly unrecognisable as his long-suffering but tolerant wife.

Eastwood’s direction is relatively pedestrian and matter of fact, and his few forays out into CGI special effects are decidedly ill-advised (did he learn nothing from Firefox?). But the film is notably non-judgemental and reverential of its subject, showing a normal man in a lethal occupation doing his best to defend people and his country, even if he subsequently finds it hard to initially mix with those people when he returns from war.

While it’s easy to criticise the movie for not bothering to make any of the Iraqis anything more than murderers, with scenes at times reminiscent of Zulu’s large-scale slaughter, most members of the audience will be aware of the greys of the situation and that this is just one story about a very complex subject. Worth watching to see just what Bradley Cooper can do as an actor and if you prefer your dramas to have less judgement of its subjects.

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May 21, 2015

Celebrate Red Nose Day by watching Peter Dinklage sing about Game of Thrones

Posted 4 days ago at 19:47 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Red Nose Day may be so old now in the UK that I was a 'child or young person' when it started, but in the US, it's all new and exciting - the very first one starts tonight on NBC, in fact. As with Red Nose Day in the UK, there's lots of pre-recorded sketches from celebrities, and if you Google about, you can find Anna Kendrick remaking Raiders of the Lost Ark, for example. 

But for our purposes, I think Peter Dinklage singing about everyone who's died in Game of Thrones is the most interesting of them all.

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May 20, 2015

The Wednesday Play: The End of Arthur's Marriage (1965)

Posted 6 days ago at 13:15 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

A satirical musical full of fantasy, surrealism and formal experimentation? That can only mean one man: Ken Loach.

Hang on a sec. That doesn't seem quite right, does it? Yet 1965's The End of Arthur's Marriage is just that.

Written by poet and Private Eye contributor Christopher Logue and composer Stanley Myers (who wrote the theme to The Deerhunter, fact fans), The End of Arthur's Marriage was broadcast as part of the BBC's Wednesday Play series and sees working class man Arthur (Ken Jones) tasked with putting down a deposit on his house, using his in-laws' savings. However, he soon discovers he'd rather spend everything in a few scant hours with his daughter (Maureen Ampleford) instead.

The play was one of Loach's earliest works, so came at a time when he was still finding his voice. While it incorporates a number of his future trademarks, including his first use of 16mm film, as well as the use of documentary techniques and the untrained Ampleford, there's a lot that's uncharacteristic of Loach: as well as conventional songs by Long John Baldry and others, there are in-character songs, including a sales pitch by shop assistant John Fortune, and narrators attacking middle-class conformity. There are also hints of Brecht in Arthur's purchase of an elephant and the episodic narrative structure, and Loach intercuts between scenes of people dancing and disgruntled viewers, even appearing as himself at one point, arguing with a documentary crew filming at his planned location.

While Loach says he was the wrong person for the job, it's certainly worth watching The End of Arthur's Marriage to see what he could do before he decided what job he was the best person for. And you have your chance below - enjoy!


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