What have you been watching? Including Humans, Tyrant, Jodorowsky’s Dune and Jurassic World

Posted on June 19, 2015 | Post a comment | 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.

It’s time for a move again. With new shows launching on Thursdays and a couple of Sunday shows finishing, I’ll be switching “What have you been watching?” back to Mondays, starting next week, to give myself time to watch everything. (This was a bad idea. I'm sticking to Fridays for now)

In terms of new stuff, still sitting in the viewing pile somewhere are The Astronaut Wives Club, Complications and Killjoys, which I should be getting round to reviewing on Monday or Wednesday, but I did manage to watch Dark Matter this week, as well as…

Humans (UK: Channel 4; US: AMC)
We’ve discussed this a bit already in the comments section elsewhere, but this UK-US co-produced remake of SVT’s Äkta Människor is a surprisingly good bit of sci-fi, imagining a parallel world where robot humans are being created to replace people in sectors ranging from mining to social care to prostitution. Tom Goodman-Hill (Mr Selfridge, Cabin Pressure) decides to buy a ‘synth’ to help out around the house, much to the annoyance of his often-absent wife (Katherine Parkinson, apparently unable to escape the IT crowd), particularly when her children decide they like the new arrival (Gemma Chan from Bedlam) better than their mum. The problem is that Chan and a few other synths may be a little bit more alive than they’re supposed to be…

The show does a decent job of imagining this parallel world, from all the applications that the robots are put to through to the little details about how they’d operate in practice. It also wisely chooses to focus not just on questions of artificial intelligence but how we react to synths - we might like labour-saving devices that do the cooking for us or even read bedtime stories to our children, provided they don’t look like prettier, younger women whom our children can bond with and prefer. Similarly, in the case of engineer and synth inventor (?) William Hurt (Challenger), we might well want to keep an old android around, even once it’s malfunctioning, if we’re starting to dement and the android has the only memories of our dead wife.

The show’s a little too “made in the UK” for my liking, with its prosaic, unimaginative direction making it look like it has a budget of £3.50. Nevertheless, it’s a smart, sometimes creepy, sometimes touching show that I’ll be making an effort to tune in for next episode.

I’ve already passed third-episode verdicts on The Whispers, Westside and Stitchers, so after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal and Strike Back: Legacy, as well as the season finales of Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley, and the first new episode of the returning Tyrant.

But first, movies!

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) (iTunes)
I’ve already given a lot of the background to this elsewhere, so I won’t go into it in great detail, but suffice it to say a very different adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune was developed in the 1970s by surrealist director Alejandro Jodorowsky (The Holy Mountain) and this movie is a documentary that runs through the history behind it.

It’s a fascinating movie, but watching it, one can’t help but feel that firstly, Jodorowsky’s Dune would have been an absolutely stunning but utterly silly movie with often little more than a passing resemblance to the book. Secondly, it’s surprising how much influence a non-existent movie can have, since without it (or if it had ever been made), there’d have been no Alien and a number of movies would have lost some of their most important imagery. Thirdly, it makes you realise just how crazy mental you need to be to produce at least certain kinds of art.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) (iTunes)
X-Men: First Class/Kick Ass’s Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman adapt Mark Millar’s comic The Secret Service to give us a fond homage to Roger Moore-era James Bond, with Colin Firth, Jack Davenport and Michael Caine a bunch of posh secret agents who have to let chav new blood (Taron Egerton) into their top secret organisation when they have to deal with a tech billionaire (Samuel L Jackson) who wants to save the world from nasty polluting human beings.

At times, Kingsman feels like a retread of Vaughn and Goldman’s previous movies, mixing in the school training and spies of First Class with the superbly choreographed fights and ultraviolence of Kick Ass. What largely differentiates the movie is its Englishness, the movie satirising Moore’s Bond and (American) movies’ concepts of what an English gentleman should be while simultaneously taking ownership of it to give something a young, male working class audience to aspire to.

The movie’s final scenes involving a Swedish princess are a little disheartening after the largely good work that preceded it, even if it is another Moore satire, but generally a good viewing and by the end of it, you will accept Colin Firth can be an action hero. Mark Strong is also in there as a Q-like Scotsman, but no Welsh or Northern Irish members of the nation were apparently invited to join the Kingsmen.

Jurassic World (2015)
Bigger but not better retread of Jurassic Park set 20 years after the original that imagines a world now jaded about the return of once-extinct dinosaurs so regarding trips to the expanded ‘Jurassic World’ theme park island as little more than trips to the zoo. Consequently, the company behind it decides to bring the crowds back to create a brand new dinosaur by cross-breeding the more dangerous parts of a whole bunch of other dinosaurs - belatedly bringing in former US navy sailor turned Velociraptor trainer Chris Pratt to check out their security. Want to have a guess if it’s good enough or not?

Despite looking excellent, giving plenty of head nods to the original and some oftentimes smart writing, Jurassic World is nevertheless a little dead inside. Characters are either underdeveloped or plain annoying, so we don’t really care enough about them to feel frightened when bad things start to happen. Indeed, you’ll probably care more about the poor herbivorous dinosaurs getting a pasting at the hands of Indominus Rex than about whether Pratt survives to make it to a second date with the perpetually high-heel clad workaholic theme park executive Bryce Dallas Howard, who turns out not to be too shabby with a gun.

All the same, despite not hanging together well as a movie, there are some good individual moments that’ll stick with you afterwards.

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

Tyrant (US: FX; UK: Fox)
2x1 - Mark of Cain
Tyrant’s back. Excited? Probably not. The first season didn’t exactly set the world on fire, thanks to the behind the scene conflicts between creator Gideon Raff and the new showrunners resulting in a show that started as an obvious fictionalisation of the rise of Bashar al-Assad and become a schizophrenic soap opera about a good brother trying to save his home country from his psychotic rapist bad brother.

We left the show with good brother in the nick following a failed coup and this first episode hasn’t moved on that much further, beyond re-setting the show’s boundary’s. Good brother is on death row but is now a symbol of the resistance, while bad brother is doing pretty much all the evil things everyone thought he would - although he draws a line in the sand when his uncle suggests using chemical weapons.

The producers promise something a bit more edgy this season, with IS and more real-world concerns being brought into the mix. But as the episode title highlights, this is still little more than a bible story with a naive, simplistic attitude towards the Middle East.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First two episodes; third episode

The recommended list

Game of Thrones (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
5x10 - Mother’s Mercy
So a whole bunch of people are dead (probably), a whole bunch of plot lines resolved and a whole bunch of new threads dangled. It’s yet another Game of Thrones season finale. I can’t help but feel that while the season picked up in the second half, we’re still not much further along the plot than we were at the start of the season, beyond having had a whole bunch of new plots that were slightly superfluous anyway being launched and then resolved. Still, we have run out of books now, thanks to George RR Martin’s somewhat slow pace of writing, and with only two seasons to go, we do have a chance for things to actually start progressing. But dear gods, the show is taking its time getting anywhere really good and it’s incredibly frustrating.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; first season; second and third seasons

Halt and Catch Fire (US: AMC; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
2x3 - The Way In
We appear to be in some sort of parallel universe now, where cloud and utility computing are about to be created in the mid-80s, alongside social networking. All the same, the show is giving us a first glimmering of a direction for the season, a lot of hints are being dropped and there were some bravura moments for the cast.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Hannibal (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
3x3 - Secundo
A slight regression to both the silly and pretentious as we start raiding the inadequate Hannibal Rising for plot. Still, Jack’s back, which is a plus.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
2x10 - Two Days of the Condor
I’m not prone to saying hilarious, but a genuinely hilarious episode to conclude what’s been a very good season for what is, for my money, the best comedy on US TV at the moment. The show’s done quite well at remaining focused this season on sending up some of the more bizarre aspects of Silicon Valley, even if character development hasn’t been its strongest suit. If you haven’t been watching, get a box set.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Strike Back: Legacy (UK: Sky 1; US: Cinemax)
5x3-5x4
It’s the final season so naturally we have yet another regular character’s death and I’m sure there’ll be more later on, too, probably equally well telegraphed. The show’s also continuing its unique two-episode unit story structure, with each unit having its own small sub-plot and Big Bad, who gets killed by the end of the unit. The Thai filming is as beautiful as you’d expect, taking in all the things The Man With The Golden Gun did when it was there in the 70s, but the show isn’t making the most of the racially confusing* Michelle Yeoh, even having her lose in a martial arts fight to Robson Green, FFS. The addition of a son for Damien just about works, but as always with Strike Back, the show drags and scrapes along when it tries to do character and dialogue, but then gives as fight scenes like no others to make us forget everything.

* She’s Malaysian-Chinese, playing a North Korean spy who got into Cambridge pretending to be Japanese
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode   

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