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July 8, 2016

Review: Roadies 1x1-1x2 (US: Showtime; UK: Amazon Prime)

Posted on July 8, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Roadies

In the US: Sundays, 10pm ET/PT, Showtime
In the UK: Mondays, Amazon Prime

Although the theory of 'the auteur' is eminently quibblable, it's fair to say that you can spot the work of Cameron Crowe a mile off. Whether it's Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, Elizabethtown or We Bought A Zoo, his work is usually characterised by an indie sensibility; a central male-female, potentially romantic relationship; quirky dialogue; a focus on music; and a lot of heart but not much brain. You won't get very far through Roadies, Showtime's new series about those unsung heroes and heroines of the live music industry, before proclaiming it as possibly the most Cameron Crowish piece of work that Cameron Crowe has ever done.

Crowe's never been one for putting plot above character, so it's a little hard to say what Roadies is actually about, other than that it's a show about roadies - and the first episode is an introduction to all of them. The ostensible focus of the show are Luke Wilson (Idiocracy, The Royal Tenenbaums, Legally Blonde, Enlightened), the tour manager with a failed marriage and who now sleeps with women literally half his age, and Carla Gugino (Watchmen, Threshold, Wayward Pines), the production manager with a failing marriage and who doesn't sleep with anyone. They have such The Thin Man chemistry together and obvious devotion to one another, everyone who meets them thinks they're married - except they're not!

However, Crowe seems more interested in Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later), the young roadie who's heading off to film school because she's stopping believing in the music. If only she could recover her faith. Most of the first episode follows her around as she slowly rediscovers that faith thanks to all her fellow roadies, who are all a motley bunch of amiable characters: Ron White, the old hand who may have murdered two people but all the bands like; Keisha Castle-Hughes (Game of Thrones, The Almighty Johnsons, Whale Rider), the lesbian; and Peter Cambor (The Wedding Band), the guy from New Jersey who worked with Elvis Costello for a while and got stuck with his accent. There's also Machine Gun Kelly, a roadie for another band with a strange relationship with Poots, which gets explained at the end of the first episode (spoilers, sweetie).

Crowe's one real concession to plot comes from Rafe Spall (The Shadow Line, I Give It A Year), the semi-menacing English finance guy who used to work in sports and 'real estate' so doesn't really get music, but who's been sent over to make some budget cuts. Who's for the chop? Probably not Poots, judging by the other age-inappropriate, Crowe-typical relationship that gets thrown into the mix. Probably no one, in fact, as Spall gradually learns that it's love and people, not numbers, that keeps everything working backstage and you remove a piece of that bizarrely intricate puzzle at your own risk.

That first episode is in many ways lovely and heart-felt, albeit a bit saccarine and divorced from reality, with obvious love for music and people oozing from every scene - even for Spall and the creepy stalker girl who wants to do odd things with microphones (Jacqueline Byers). The trouble with auteurship, though, is that unless you're Aaron Sorkin and prepared to consume superhuman amounts of cocaine to write a classic script every couple of weeks for umpteen years, it's not something that can transfer over easily from film to TV.

The result is that even though Crowe directs the first two episodes, he hands over writing duties to others from episode two. Winnie Holzman (My So-Called Life) is the first to pick up the slack, but although she's good in her own right, she's not up to being Cameron Crowe. The result is faux-Crowe and a little bit painful to watch without his heart-on-a-sleeve gushing. It doesn't help that Wilson pretty much checks out after the first episode, even if everyone else is working hard, particularly Spall whose role switches from menacing to comedic from the second episode. To be fair again, Wilson does give a near-perfect performance as someone who's coming down after smoking heinous amounts of weed, so there's that one small concession to reality, at least.

If you like Cameron Crowe, it's worth watching the first episode at least, as long as you consider it as a one-off short movie. Watching any more than that would be intolerable. You can watch a trailer below, and if you're in the US, you can watch the first episode for free here.

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July 6, 2016

Review: The Kettering Incident 1x1-1x2 (Australia: Foxtel Showcase)

Posted on July 6, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Kettering Incident

In Australia: Mondays, 8.30pm AEST, Foxtel Showcase)
In the UK: Not yet acquired

As I mentioned in my recent birthday round-up of lessons learnt over the past year, Australian TV is on the rise at the moment. There are lots of reasons for this. There's the arrival of BBC First, resulting in the native channels having to create more of their own content rather than buy it from the BBC. Keeping a keener eye on selling to foreign markets means that co-production money can elevate or even gets shows off the ground where once they would have languished or not get made - Cleverman, for example, has benefited a lot from SundanceTV US's budget contributions. There are also government and state funding bodies, with the likes of Screen Australia and Screen New South Wales giving TV companies cash and/or help in exchange for jobs-boosting filming (cf The Doctor Blake Mysteries) - which helps a lot.

All of this comes together in some way or other with The Kettering Incident, a production from Foxtel Showcase (think of it as Australia's Sky Atlantic, UK readers) made in association with BBC Worldwide and Screen Tasmania. It's also got its eyes firmly on what appears to sell well to the overseas market - beautifully shot, moody locations (Top of the Lake) and 'Australian Gothic' (Glitch). 

Elizabeth Debicki, who of course was faux American in The Night Manager, is here a faux Brit - well, an Australian who used to live in the town of Kettering in Tasmania until she was a teenager. Then, while she and her friend were out in the forbidden woods one night, they see some lights, hear some noises and suddenly it's eight hours later, Debicki is all alone and covered in blood and her friend has gone missing.

Fast-forward 15 years and she's now a haematologist living in London. Problem is, she's starting to have black-outs, during which she does weird things. She wakes up in the bins at the side of the street, covered in bruises. She wanders into her hospital and starts tap dancing. Then worst of all, she wakes up back in Kettering, having unknowingly bought a plane ticket and flown over there.

Before you know it, she's having more time gaps, other people are disappearing having seen the lights, huge moths are gathering for no good reason, and she's having visions. All while she gets angrily stared at by all the people who think she killed her friend.

Is there some secret military base, aliens, fairies or something weirder out in the forest? Or is Debicki psychotic like her mum and killing people when she blanks out?

The first two episodes are a tad on the slow side, something that's not helped by the fact Debicki's character is shit to everyone she meets or just spaced out the whole time. Most of it is Debicki milling around, meeting people, having a vision (usually of a moth) then passing out, only to discover something terrible/awkward has happened while she was out. There's also not much by way of investigation of the central mystery, which given this first season is eight episodes and the showrunners are angling for additional seasons, makes me worry it'll be about another five weeks before anyone does anything except pass out/complain about all the logging going on/have secret meetings to discuss Debicki.

But it does look very pretty and a bit eery, thanks to all the Tasmanian filming, the time losses are disconcerting (more so than in The Anomaly, thankfully) and there's a good chance there might be a decent mystery behind it all, so I'll probably stick with it for another couple of weeks at least. I'm not going to recommend it just yet, but I'll keep my eye on it for you for now.

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July 5, 2016

Review: Dead of Summer 1x1-1x2 (US: Freeform)

Posted on July 5, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Dead of Summer

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, Freeform
In the UK: Not yet acquired

I thought we'd got over the 80s. I thought that the advent of shows like Hindsight meant that we had moved on and were looking at the 90s and beyond. But now we have Dead of Summer, which is almost pure, distilled 80s, with 80s in every shot in a way the real 80s never was. Indeed, it feels like a show invented by someone who had almost no memories of the 80s beyond watching some 80s movies, but doesn't care because he knows the intended audience wasn't even alive in the 80s.

Riffing off another (hopefully dying) trend for remaking old horror moviesDead of Summer takes that hoary old US horror staple, the summer camp, and revisits it with a thin sprinkling of the almost 80s' Candyman on top. It sees a diverse (in a modern sense) group of attractive young people trying to help Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell to set up a new summer camp where they'll be camp counsellors. Except wouldn't you know it, the summer camp is built on an old burial ground or pentagram or something, and soon the dead are popping up in videos, pretending to be imaginary friends or just generally scaring the crap out of people, their number being added to in practically every scene as the bodies pile up. You don't even have to say 'Candyman' for it to happen - Tony Todd will pop up without any provocation as the silent, pointing and probably well paid 'The Tall Man' (just to confuse fans of Phantasm, I presume).

Created by Lost/Once Upon A Time writer Adam Horowitz, the show is a veritable cornucopia of 80s references, with mentions of D&D, The Empire Strikes Back and more popping out of people's mouths without any real cause every minute - almost like they're possessed by the spirit of the 80s. There's even a direct and actually quite impressive visual rip-off of one very famous scene from Poltergeist in the second episode, just to make it clear how much the show is set in the 80s.

But so quickly does the show get through all the references to 80s horror movies and trends in the first episode that by the second episode it's practically run out of them, so decides to start mining other genres. Weirdly, the show decides the best way to give its characters backstories is using Lost flashbacks and presumably deciding to emulate The Americans, makes one of the camp counsellors a secret Ruskie (or 'from the USSR' to be exact). What's his secret mission? He plays the long con all episode before finally closing his trap to obtain his ultimate prize… to have access to clothes from a dry cleaner. 

Yes, that does all play out as stupidly as it sounds.

It's hard to tell how knowing some of this is. Are we now post-Scream and taking horror seriously again or post-post-Scream and playing it for laughs? I forget. But there's a slight chance all the shallow teen romances, "who's next?" guessing, deep dark secrets et al are designed to be amusing rather than scary, given there's a Satan-worshipping heavy metal fan called 'Damon Crowley'. Maybe it's a bunch of 40somethings have a laugh at 20somethings' expense, without the 20somethings realising it ("They actually think it was like this! Can you believe it? Quick, put in something about a 2d20! They'll lap it up!")

More probably, it's merely aimed at people who have seen a lot of 80s movies and wish there were more of them than were actually made in the 80s. It's hard to tell how much such people are concerned by correct period detail: most of the fashions seem to come from the entire 80s, not just 1989 when the show is set; I'm not entirely sure the general public knew what a serial killer was in 1989; I doubt more than seven schoolgirls ever played D&D in the whole of the US in the 80s; and I'm pretty that someone in their early 20s would try not to be so openly and self-admittedly 'super gay' (was that even a phrase in the 80s?) in the somewhat repressive atmosphere of the late 80s US, let alone at a summer camp where they would be put in charge of children and risk getting fired and/or lynched.

This is the 80s for people who've seen The Breakfast Club and assume that everyone acted and dressed like that all the time, all decade.

The Ruskie backstory was bonkers enough that I might want to watch more of Dead of Summer, just to see if they do a tribute episode in which Airwolf flies over and blows up the camp. The sight of Tony Todd popping up every half hour to point silently behind people like he's just spotted a rare Crested Caracara and doesn't want to disturb it but definitely wants you to look at its beautiful plummage? That never gets old either.

But as a show, Dead of Summer isn't scary or innovative, the teens are quite dull, and Elizabeth Mitchell isn't in it anywhere near enough, so I won't be watching it for anything more than sh*ts and giggles if I do.

Here's a trailer and just in case you have 45 minutes or so to waste, the whole of the first episode, too.

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