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.
Time for a little bit of a catch-up, given I haven’t done one of these in a fortnight. There are still a few things in my viewing queue that I haven’t yet had time to watch: last night’s The Librarians I’ll cover in a third-episode verdict this week and I’ll probably do the same for The Legacy, although the subtitling makes it hard to watch when I’m doing the ironing. I’ll also try to give Netflix’s Marco Polo a watch, given they dumped the whole series online over the weekend.
I have managed to watch a few films, though.
Red 2 (2013)
The gang from Red are back to far less effect, with Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker and Helen Mirren joined by Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Lee Byung-hun as the old/amateur spies (plus one deadly young one) forced to use their lifetime of skills to save the world. Again. There’s a lot more travelling to foreign climes but only Byung-hun’s martial arts and Hopkins’ performance really lift the piece above the humdrum, with most of the interesting edges of the first movie filed off or toned down. It does give us a brief onscreen meeting of Hopkins and Brian Cox, which is probably the only time you’ll get two Hannibal Lecters together.
Jack Reacher (2012)
Tom Cruise is improbably the 6’5” military policeman of the Lee Childs novels, here investigating a seemingly random sniper shooting with an obvious suspect who needs his help being vindicated. A perfectly adequate, reasonably intelligent thriller with military trappings that does little to excite, beyond a few decent fights. Rosamund Pike is wasted.
The Machine (2013)
A strange little independent sci-fi thriller funded by the Welsh Government, of all things, in which scientists Toby Stephens and Caity Lotz work on developing intelligent machines for the Ministry of Defence and have to wrestle with the Turing Test, the nature of consciousness and intelligence, and other existential questions, as well as killer robots. Lotz is the obvious star, demonstrating all the qualities that made her such a powerful presence in the second season of Arrow, but Stephens is no slouch either. The film doesn’t quite manage to square all its intellectual concerns with its need for gore, and the ultra low budget means that the action is largely confined to a couple of rooms. But it’s a lot more interesting and intelligent than you might have expected. Plus it’s got Siwan Morris from Mine All Mine and Caerdydd in it
After the jump, I’ll be running through lots and lots of episodes of: Arrow, Constantine, Elementary, The Fall, Forever, The Flash, Gracepoint, Ground Floor, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, The Newsroom, Scorpion and State of Affairs.
Shows that I've been watching but not really recommending
Constantine (US: NBC; UK: Amazon Prime)
The Rage of Caliban
Has all the sticky fingerprints, right down to its Halloween setting, of being the former second episode shunted to later in the season thanks to the arrival of Zed (who’s looking more and more peripheral to the whole thing). All the same, considerably better than the actual second episode, despite being a generic possessed child story, thanks in part to direction for Neil Marshall. The story also gave us someone a bit more Constantiney, although the transatlantic ticks are getting annoying (no right-handed Englishman will hold their knife and fork that way round - it’s just wrong).
+ Blessed Are The Damned
Basically an episode of Supernatural that appears to have been left over, with angels falling to Earth and fighting each other. Clearly it’s proving too difficult for the writers to have both Zed and Chas in one story, which means they’re playing generic tag team with each other. Not bad as an episode, though, although it’s all a bit Hellblazer-lite.
+ The Saint of Last Resorts
Well colour me surprised. Following the last successful plunder of Hellblazer, the producers have repeated the attempt by going back even further – to the introduction of John Constantine to the comic book world in Swamp Thing for Alan Moore’s much praised Brujeria storyline, those naughty sorcerers now being revealed as the source of the Rising Darkness. We also get the not very Irish, not acid-scarred Sister Anne-Marie from the Newcastle crew, which might make you think they’re going to do the whole thing quite tamely, but given the presence of the Invuche in this episode, all bets are off. Whether the producers will take things to their profound metaphysical conclusion, I don’t know, but that’s what the show is promising, so I’ll definitely be tuning in next year. Zed’s proving profoundly poor, mind.
The Man In The Killer SuitWhile the episode’s attempts to show 'true Englishness' falter on a 'killer suit' that only foreigners would buy, generally a fun piece that knows it’s fun and not to be taken seriously.
+ Skinny Dipper
While the credits gave the game away as to who Ioan’s nemesis is, this was plainly the best episode so far and that was even without the explicit Highlander reference acknowledging the show’s debts. Almost ready to be promoted to the recommended list.
Gracepoint (US: Fox; UK: ITV)
Episodes nine and ten
And we’re through to the end and it’s all a bit disappointing in that (spoiler alert) it’s the ending of Broadchurch but made sillier, by making the son the ultimate murderer. The changes to the plot made little sense and only made you wonder why it took so much longer to solve than Broadchurch. The final episode, however, was one of the few to give both the atmosphere and photography of the first episode, and the ultimate revelations were almost as emotionally wrenching as the initial murder. I doubt it’ll be back for a second season, and if it is, I’d advise not bothering with it.
Essentially a two-parter, with our heroes heading off to meet the enemy at the ‘secret location’, together with Kyle McLachlan. A few good bits and the tie-in with Guardians of the Galaxy could open the door to new directions for the show, but lacking in true pizzazz and all a bit silly, really.
Scorpion (US: CBS; UK: ITV2)
A stupid gang and some stupid mechanics. Unfortunately, not as stupid as it needed to be to have fun.
State of Affairs (US: NBC)
Another ‘ripped from the headlines’ piece that takes the least likely, least tasteful option, with smallpox escaping from a Colombian fridge and infecting the local populace. Yes, a fridge. The conspiracy does start to head in a useful direction, though, giving us a critique of unmonitored private companies having too much power.
The recommended list
Arrow (US: The CW; UK: Sky1)
The Brave and the Bold
A conclusion to the crossover with The Flash, both shows getting an infusion of each other’s DNA for just an episode. Here, Arrow gets more fun and more speedy, while The Flash gets a bit of Arrow darkness in return. One of the best crossover episodes of any recent TV show that I can recall.
+ The Climb
Well, blimey. I was not expecting that. While the get-out clause was spelled out for any comic book fan to see, the fact the producers actually did what they did was singularly impressive and made this the best of the mid-season finales. Against that backdrop, we had some great Batman Begins references, Ra’s al Ghul being awesome (and strangely Australian), the return of decent fights, Ray and Felicity being very awesome and more (although the Thea storyline was pants). Earlier this season I was worried the show had lost its way – thankfully, I was wrong.
Elementary (US: CBS; UK: Sky Living)
The Adventure of the Nutmeg Concoction
Decent enough, but the focus of the show for the first half of the season on Kitty and Watson’s spreading of her wings has stopped the show from really doing much else. As a result, there’s been little to commend it and this episode was no different.
The Fall (UK: BBC Two; US: Hulu)
Episodes four and five
A course correction at the start of the fourth episode to adjust for the epic cock-up in tone at the end of episode three means the show managed to avoid stumbling. The tension’s back, we have proper police investigation again and this century’s Prime Suspect is once again showing its muscles.
The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
Arrow V Flash
Arrow shows up to teach the Flash how not to have any fun and gives us the epic fight we’ve all been hoping for and the episode title hints at. Some great comedy moments, including Diggle’s reaction to Barry’s super speed, as well as a nice reminder of an old Arrow story arc that could now come to fruition.
+ The Man In The Yellow Suit
Reverse Flash finally shows up and reveals his identity – to the audience at least. Again, another cracker and a great finale.
Ground Floor (US: TBS)
The return of what slowly evolved into last year’s best comedy/romcom and there have been some necessary changes in the show’s set-up, thanks to last year’s cliffhanger. Plus Alexis Knapp has buggered off somewhere, probably because she had nothing to do, so they’ve thankfully given us a decent, competent female character for the top floor. Still as funny as before, with the usual playing around with storytelling devices, and Briga Heelan is thankfully allowed to go at full power, unlike on Undateable. But the show still has a few issues with the working classes, who apparently only work four hours a day.
The Newsroom (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
A tiresome return to the lows of the first season, with a focus on the characters we don't really give a toss about, as well as some moralising at the likes of Buzzfeed. Sigh. Why is Sorkin so variable…?
+ Oh Shenandoah
…and why does Sorkin keep playing the same cards: an emotionally blackmailing ending, a very dodgy argument about whether rape survivors should be allowed to say outside a courtroom what happened to them in which women are in the wrong, and more. But Sloan’s takedown of the Newsroom app was West Wing great.
+ What Kind of Day Has It Been?
And so it ends. What was that? Sorkin does make some odd choices, and a combination of a musical number, a flashback in the style of In The Shadow of Two Gunmen that told us nothing we didn’t already know and reduced what we already did, a slight rejuggling of the characters and a pregnancy meant that what could have seen the show leaving on a high instead left it on a shrug of the shoulders and Neal “I’ve got a Bigfoot story” of all people providing the show’s overall moral: the Internet can be a good tool in the right hands but most hands aren’t.