August 24, 2016

Pick of the Amazon pilots: The Last Tycoon, The Tick, I Love Dick and Jean Claude Van Johnson

Posted 3 days ago at 18:29 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Normally, I don't bother reviewing Amazon pilots for a number of reasons:

  1. They're pilots, so there's no guarantee they're going to end up becoming series.
  2. Pilots aren't always representative of shows, with some shows starting off badly and getting better, or vice versa, as the Barrometer will explain to you if you ever corner it backstage.
  3. Amazon's 'pilot seasons' always seem to come at my busiest times.

However, since August's been a bit quiet and the latest pilot season has had some intriguing entries, I decided to make an exception - just this time.

So after the jump, I'll be providing mini-reviews of F Scott Fitzgerald adaptation The Last Tycoon, superhero comedy The Tick, Kevin Bacon love affair I Love Dick and meta action comedy Jean Claude Van Johnson. No prizes for guessing who stars in the last one.

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August 22, 2016

What have you been watching? Including My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Mr Robot, The Last Ship and Outcast

Posted 5 days ago at 12:39 | 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. 

Well, look at that. I'm back blogging in August. Okay, the Daily News won't be back until September and I'm not going daily until then for anything else, either, but there's a good chance I'll be peppering August with further posts, including a look at the latest Amazon pilots, such as The Tick, Jean-Claude Van Johnson and I Love Dick, I hope.

Elsewhere, I reviewed the first season of Baron Noir (France: Canal+; UK: Amazon Prime), which was my holiday project, and I left you with my thoughts on Stranger Things (Netflix) and Star Trek Beyond (2016) before I went. But surprisingly, since then, there hasn't actually been much new TV and as I did quite a purge before the holidays, the only regulars I'll be covering after the jump are The Last Ship and Mr Robot, as well as everything up to the season finale of Outcast. I also haven't been to the movies, being away and all, not even to see Jason Bourne

But we did watch one movie rather a lot:

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016) (iTunes)
The sequel to the worldwide success that was wedding culture-clash comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 brings back virtually the entire cast to just about manage to do something different, with Nia Vardalos and John Corbett's daughter Elena Kampouris (American Odyssey) having to choose whether to go away to college or not, while facing the constant pressure to get married to a good Greek boy; meanwhile, Vardalos' parents discover the priest at their wedding didn't sign the certificate, meaning they're going to have to have - you guessed it - a big fat Greek wedding.

Vardalos' script is mostly a mother-daughter story, but is also partly a rejoinder to the original movie's stereotypical portrayal of Greek culture, emphasising its potential for acceptance and diversity as well as the cloying conservatism shown in the original movie. Wisely, it also gives Andrea Martin far more to do. However, there are few of the original's insights, various plot lines (eg Corbett's relationship with his parents) go virtually nowhere, the Greek (what little there is of it, even between people who are from Greece) is atrocious, and the general message of hope and pushing boundaries of the original is destroyed, with Vardalos' travel agency having closed between movies, forcing her to work for the family restaurant again, and her brother's artistic talents going precisely nowhere either.

Nice to see everyone back together again, but a shame that Vardalos doesn't have much left to say, it seems (did she use it all up on the TV series?).

Continue reading "What have you been watching? Including My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Mr Robot, The Last Ship and Outcast"

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What TV's on at the BFI in September/October 2016? Including The Fall, Inside No. 9, From The North and Inappropriate Behaviour

Posted 5 days ago at 11:45 | comments | Bookmark and Share

A bit later than usual (for obvious reasons), a bit thinner than usual (for obvious reasons), and combining events for September and a bit of October (for not obvious reasons), here's TMINE's usual rundown of the upcoming TV showings at the BFI. Not much for TV aficionados, beyond an 'Andrew Davies at 80' event consisting of a chat and a showing of Inappropriate Behaviour, and a chat and documentary about Granada TV, but there is the excitement of two previews, one of series 3 of Inside No. 9, the other of series 3 of The Fall, complete with Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan… 

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August 18, 2016

Alex Cox's recent appearance on Kermode Uncut is like a missing episode of Moviedrome

Posted 9 days ago at 19:23 | comments | Bookmark and Share

As if I wasn't getting pangs of 80s nostalgia bad enough already thanks to Stranger Things, I've just watched the latest episode of Kermode Uncut with Alex Cox and I've got them even stronger.

Cox is the director of Repo Man, among other things…

…but is probably best known in the UK from his time presenting BBC Two's Moviedrome in the late 80s and early 90s. That was a time when the BBC took film reasonably seriously on its main channels. Barry Norman was the ever knowledgeable host of BBC One's Film 8x/9x, reviewing films each week with the seriousness each deserved (or maybe didn't).

Meanwhile, Howard Schuman's Moving Pictures on BBC Two was discussing movies and interviewing directors with a competency that means it was subsequently used to teach film studies and even managed to save Mike Figgis' career following Mr Jones

But slightly more accessible was Moviedrome, hosted by Cox between 1988 and 1994. Each curated season consisted of a number of movies picked by Cox, some good, some bad, all interesting, which he would discuss before their showing, highlighting both their positives and negatives. There are numerous movies I would never have seen without him, including my beloved Manhunter and The Andromeda Strain, which are the ones I usually cite. But simply looking through the list of movies he introduced, I can see that I'd forgotten he also gave me my first tastes of The Wicker Man, The Parallax View, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Fly, The Thing From Another World, THX 1138, Sunset Boulevard, Get Carter and Solaris, to name just a few.

For sure, Film 8x's roving reporter Tom Brook is still doing marvellous work on BBC World News' Talking Movies, but that's about it and the idea of curation seems to be something that only Film4 and a few more obscure channels do and then occasionally. Which is shame. If only there were a modern-day Moviedrome, maybe even hosted by Cox.

Well, Cox has just made his second appearance on Kermode Uncut, this time to discuss Moviedrome, and Mark Kermode asks him what movie he'd like to feature in a new Moviedrome. As you might expect, the answer is superb and will just make you wish Cox was back on our screens again.

Review: Baron Noir - season 1 (France: Canal+; UK: Amazon Prime)

Posted 9 days ago at 12:24 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Baron Noir

In France: Aired on Canal+ in February/March
In the UK: Available on Amazon Prime

There can be few channels around the world as reliable as Canal+ when it comes to producing quality TV. Chances are, provided it sticks to French, any Canal+ series you watch is going to be HBO-good.

A case in point is Baron Noir, a remarkably prescient and impressive political series that is everything that Les Hommes de L'ombre (Spin) and Marseille should have been but weren't. Airing in France in February and March this year, but available in the UK on Amazon, the show somehow managed to anticipate both this year's Brexit and the Corbyn/Smith Labour leadership competition and relocate them to France, taking in all of left-wing French politics along the way.

And when I say 'all', I mean all.

The show is about the mayor of Dunkirk, Kad Merad (Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis), an old-school socialist who's spent years fighting (sometimes literally, with a baseball bat) for the poor, oppressed working classes. He's best friends with fellow socialist and presidential candidate Niels Arestrup (Un prophète, De battre mon cœur s'est arrêté, Quai d'Orsay), to the extent that he's willing to steal money from social housing projects to help fund his campaign. However, soon there are ructions between the two friends and before you know it, Merad and Arestrup - both sometimes helped, sometimes hindered by new-wave technocrat Anna Mouglalis (Romanzo Criminale, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky) - are pulling strings and levers behind the scenes of French politics to block each other and further their own, the party's and the country's interests, all while trying to avoid ending up in prison through Mutually Assured Destruction.

While the opening episode of the show gives the impression that this is going to be a show about corruption - and certainly that is an element - most of the first season is about political dirty-tricks and manipulations at every level of politics: everything from how to disrupt a local council election through how to manipulate the media and use party rules to counter your enemy's plans through manipulating the Assemblée nationale all the way up to the EU and how to play it off against your own national interests by threatening to leave it to 'ensure your country's sovereignty'. Advised behind the scenes by real-life French politicians, it's a real eye-opener, not least because it actually manages to film inside the Palais Bourbon itself, but also because of the differences between French and British politics - it's a long time since anyone had to take Troskyites and communists seriously here. Well, it used to be, anyway.

If Baron Noir has a message, it's that there are no friends in politics yet if you do screw over your friends in the short-term, chances are that things will go badly for you in the long-term - you just have to know how to balance all the options and bring people back on side. Merad spends most of the season in a whirl of plots and counter-plots, playing one person against another, usually with their knowledge, often by giving inspiring speeches about the left and the need to look after the oppressed/fight the National Front - think Jeremy Corbyn if he had charisma and leadership skills.

Beautifully shot and acted with some cracking music, the show nevertheless isn't without flaws. Merad is implausibly attractive to women of all ages and there's one relationship involving him where not only the audience but the couple themselves are surprised it's taking place at all. It also meanders a little, dropping interesting plotlines and characters, and focusing too much in later episodes on that housing project, which so dominates the first episode. For English speakers, there's also the subtitling, which starts off fine but starts to lose it a little mid-season, such as by switching the French-Algerian's Mercad's reason for entering politics from helping 'les Arabs' to helping 'minorities' and frequently taming down some of the more interesting, fruitier language (it's a real tragedy that the marvellous 'putain ville de merde' ends up as 'this town sucks', for example).

But if you want a House of Cards that's not only European but better than Netflix's, Baron Noir's your boy. Give it a whirl - there's a second season on the way in France next year. Here's a French-language trailer for you to get an idea of what it's like.

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That time Kyle MacLachlan explained the plot of Dune on Twitter

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July 23, 2016

My summer holidays start now

Posted on July 23, 2016 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Heraklion

It's that time again, my friends - holidays! Yep, I'm off again and since most of you are, too, as well as most of the people who make the news, there's not going to be much point blogging for the next few weeks (ie August) so I won't.

Well, I might. I'll be back mid-August and since it'll be straight back to work and there is actually going to be new tele to watch, I might end up blogging a bit. All of which is my usual faffing way of saying everything will be back as normal in September, but don't be surprised if I pop up again in a few weeks' time if I get bored.

Feel free to chat and discuss things here while I'm gone, though. Here are a couple of brief thoughts on this week's viewing, too:

Star Trek: Beyond (2016)
The best of the new movies, even if as usual it involves the Enterprise getting twatted one. Lots of homages to the original series and it also feels like an old episode at times, with some genuinely alien and visually innovative moments, as well as plenty of character time, rather than a simple focus on action. Not outstanding and plenty of all-out daftness, but definitely more of a Star Trek II than a Star Trek V.

Mr Robot (US: USA Network; UK: Amazon Prime)
2x3 - eps2.1_k3rnel-pan1c.ksd
Genuinely brilliant TV, messing with you the viewer in utterly unexpected, marvellous ways - if you're not watching it, you're not doing tele right. Season 1's just started on Universal Channel in the UK, too, BTW.
ReviewsFirst episodethird episode 

Stranger Things (Netflix)
I might do a longer review of this when I get back since although I paid almost minimal attention to it while it was in production and only reluctantly decided I'd give it a try this week for the sake of completeness, I'm so glad I did, as it's an almost painfully beautiful, near-perfect recreation of the 80s, as well as 80s genre movies and TV, taking in everything from ET and Goonies through to The Thing and D.A.R.Y.L. I loved pretty much every second of it, from its title sequence and music through to the plot itself, which even though you can probably guess most of it just by extrapolating from other shows or anything by Stephen King, is delightful, with an innocence you just don't get any more. One of my favourite TV things this year, give it a go, as it's only eight episodes and Winona Ryder's in it. A second season has already been commissioned.

Anyway, see you all on the other side and I'll leave you with the official Wonder Woman (2017) poster and trailer, which were revealed this weekend at Comicon. They bode well.

Wonder Woman (2017) poster

As does the Justice League trailer....

July 22, 2016

News: Daredevil renewed; many Marvel trailers; BBC1's Les Mis; + more

Posted on July 22, 2016 | comments | Bookmark and Share

The Daily News will return in September. Or maybe August

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July 21, 2016

Mini-review: Vice Principals 1x1 (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)

Posted on July 21, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Walton Goggins and Danny McBride in Vice Principals

In the US: Sundays, 10.30pm, HBO
In the UK: Tuesdays, 9.35pm, Sky Atlantic. Starts July 26th

This year, it seems, is the year that US TV has decided it wants not only to go back to school but to go back to school childishly. "Being an adult hard? How about a bunch of teachers who behave like kids? Wouldn't you like to watch that?" seems to be the theory.

We've already had Teachers and Those Who Can't from TV Land and TruTV respectively, offering us just that, and now we have HBO's efforts at the same, Vice Principals, in which Walton Goggins (Justified, The Shield, The Hateful Eight) and Danny McBride (Eastbound and Down, Tropic Thunder) are - yes, you guessed it - vice principals at the same US High School. Goggins is the sweet-talking but ultimately two-faced popular one; McBride is the foul-mouthed, inadequate dick that everyone hates; both hate each other.

Then the principal (Bill Murray - yes, Bill Murray) decides to stand down for the sake of his sick wife, prompting a contest between his deputies to replace him, only for both their dreams to be dashed as outsider Kimberly Hebert Gregory (Devious Maids) gets the top spot instead. My enemy's enemy is my friend so McBride and Goggins unite to defeat their new opponent - but such is their ineptitude, all's that likely is mutually assured destruction instead.

The show has several strands of (attempted) comedy. With McBride co-creating and writing, as per Eastbound and Down, it's not surprise there's his usual parade of attempted alpha male put-downs, extreme dickery and inappropriate teaching methods, here filtered through a more inadequate, more self-aware, less sports-obsessed prism than Kenny Powers. There's also the childish squabbling between McBride and Goggins, and their frequently politically incorrect antagonism towards Gregory's 'smart, sassy black woman' routine - which, subtly, is itself as manufactured as both McBride and Goggins' facades.

But despite all those elements at play, Vice Principals isn't hugely funny, except towards the end of this first episode when the two enemies unite, and largely feels like watered down Eastbound and Down. McBride's ex-wife Busy Philipps (Cougar Town) doesn't get to do much beyond be the butt of his ineptitude, while Shea Whigham as her new husband largely gets to play the unexpectedly nice guy that McBride doesn't quite know how to deal with, without getting to cause any laughs himself. 

An almost-interesting looking at failing masculinity and petty power struggles, Vice Principals might get better in its second episode when hostilities take off. The fact that it's a definite two-season, 18-episode run means that it should have a fixed story arc that takes as long as it needs, no more, no less, which is another plus. At the moment, though, it feels like it needs work: must try harder.

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News: Black Sails cancelled; The Spy Who Came In From The Cold TV series; + more

Posted on July 21, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

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July 20, 2016

News: Power renewed; Chronicles of Amber adaptation; CBS has a Hunch; + more

Posted on July 20, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

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