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July 21, 2014

Review: Matador 1x1 (El Rey)

Posted on July 21, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

El Rey's Matador

In the US: Tuesdays, 9pm ET/PT, El Rey

There is something of a stereotype in the US that there’s only three groups of people who play what the rest of the world calls football/le football/Fußball/ποδόσφαιρο/etc but which America calls soccer:

  1. Children, particularly girls
  2. Immigrants
  3. Latinos

'Real men', on the other hand, play what the US calls football, but the rest of the world calls American football.

Now, the World Cup this year, at which the US did surprisingly well, might have helped to start the slow process of neutralising this stereotype. But film director Robert Rodriguez made his career playing with Latin stereotypes in films such as El Mariarchi and From Dusk Till Dawn and with grindhouse homages such as Sin City, Machete and, erm, Grindhouse. Given that Rodriguez now has his own English-language, Latin-interest, pro-grindhouse TV network, El Rey, it’s no big surprise therefore that his second scripted drama, which follows hot on the heels of the TV adaptation of From Dusk Till Dawn, should capitalise on that stereotype.

Matador is a partial grindhouse homage about an undercover DEA agent (Gabriel Luna) who gets recruited by the CIA when they spot he’s not only quite good at undercover work, he can also run very quickly. Luna’s task? To somehow infiltrate LA’s professional football team, run by Alfred Molina, to uncover a global conspiracy.

Plausible, no?

By turns Chuck-like then Escape From Athena ridiculous, Matador is unfortunately only moderately exciting and, it has to be said, is full of immigrants. Brits and Australians. There’s just loads of them.

Here’s a trailer.

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July 15, 2014

Review: The Strain 1x1 (FX/Watch)

Posted on July 15, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

FX's The Strain

In the US: Sundays, 10pm, FX
In the UK: Acquired by Watch to air this autumn

Vampires are one of the enduring horror icons of the past two centuries. Based originally in folktales, they first truly rose to prominence thanks to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. However, initially playing on the dual horrors of death and sex, they’ve gone on to be metaphors for pretty much everything from women’s sexual liberation to drug addiction.

Along the way, though, they’ve lost a lot of their potency, in part because of the general decline in Christianity but also because of the even greater decline in belief in scary beast monsters that skulk in the dark. More sophisticated demands from audience in terms of characterisation and the acknowledgement that stereotyping is generally a Bad Thing have meant that the question of whether a race of creatures, even non-human ones, can be all bad has also added to people’s reluctance to take vampires en masse as scary evil bastards.

Indeed, it would be relatively easy to list at least some of the media that have ‘defanged’ vampires and made them almost objects of ridicule: The Twilight Saga, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Blade, True Blood, Being Human (US), Being Human (UK), Dracula, From Dusk Till Dawn, 666 Park Avenue, The Gates, The Vampire Diaries, Moonlight, Penny Dreadful… As you can see, the list does indeed go on and on and on and on - poor old vampires. Makes you almost feel sorry for them.

So you have to at least admire shows that try to make vampires scary again. The much revered and generally wonderful Channel 4 mini-series Ultraviolet is perhaps the best example of how to do this properly, treating them completely seriously, adding science to the mix, giving us all that nuance about whether vampires are truly evil or not, and then basically saying, “Yes, they are and they want to kill us all and stick us in battery farms after creating a nuclear winter to block out the sun.”

Guillermo del Toro’s calling card to the world, Cronos, was also another sterling attempt to make vampires scary, giving us a vampirism passed on by a piece of beetle jewellery, although the film suffered more than a little from del Toro's love of grand guignol.

Now, del Toro is having another go at making vampires scary with The Strain, an adaptation of his own books in conjunction with Lost/Bates Motels exec producer Carlton Cuse. This essentially takes that original story of Dracula and asks the question: “What would happen if Dracula hadn't turned up in the 19th century at a boat in Whitby but instead arrived on a 747 in 21st century New York? He’s super fast, super strong and kills in horrible nasty ways, before bringing others back to life as vampires, too. How would the authorities react? What would science make of him?”

So far, so good.

Unfortunately, taking a leaf from his own book, del Toro's also asked, “What if Dracula’s vampirism was actually caused by an infestation of worms? And there were actually a lot of evil vampires, all intent on taking over the world in a secret gothic conspiracy where they all dress in black?”

Equally unfortunately, the result is something not so much scary as a bit unpleasant yet laughably bad.

Here’s a trailer.

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July 11, 2014

Review: Welcome To Sweden 1x1 (TV4/NBC)

Posted on July 11, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Welcome To Sweden

In Sweden: Aired starting in March on TV4 in Sweden
In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, NBC

International co-productions are the future. Television is just getting so pricey and risky to make and the margins are getting so thin for most shows that pretty much anything you care to think of of any import is going to have foreign money in it somewhere.

There are right ways and wrong ways to do a co-production, though. Taxi Brooklyn is the wrong way. The wrong way. If you try to make a TV show like Taxi Brooklyn or in the same way as Taxi Brooklyn, you are doing it the wrong way.

You might ask if there is a right way, though. Certainly, taking the foreign money and making the show you always intended to is a right way. But another right way is for both parties to be properly involved, equally skilled and have equal input.

Welcome To Sweden isn’t quite the right way, but it’s close. It sees an American celebrity accountant move from New York to Sweden to be with his girlfriend, where he has to learn about and adapt to Swedish ways. Cue the stereotypes?

Not quite. The show was created by Greg Poehler and Swedish writer/actress Josephine Bornebusch, who also star in it and produce it. It’s based on Poehler’s experiences of being an American living in Sweden for the past seven years. It has both Swedish and American writers, and is half in Swedish, half in English. It’s filmed in Sweden and first aired on Sweden’s TV4. It features a host of cameos from famous Americans, usually but not always playing themselves, including Patrick Duffy, Gene Simmons, Amy Poehler and Aubrey Plaza from Parks and Recreation, and Will Ferrell (who’s married to a Swede and can speak Swedish). It also includes cameos from famous Swedes, including Malin Åkerman, Lena Olin, author Björn Ranelid and Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus.

So there's a lot more nuance to the show and it's even quite funny, which is a bonus. It's international co-production done right. Almost.

Continue reading "Review: Welcome To Sweden 1x1 (TV4/NBC)"

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