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April 15, 2013

Monday's "More House of Cards and Benidorm, Hannibal rises and Keeley Hawes rejoins the police" news

Posted on April 15, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

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April 7, 2013

What did you watch this week? Including How To Live Life With Your Parents…, Corleone, The Raid and The Americans

Posted on April 7, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

It's "What did you watch this week?", my chance to tell you what I movies and TV I've watched this week that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

First, the usual recommendations:

  • The Americans (FX/ITV)
  • Archer (FX, 5USA)
  • Arrow (The CW/Sky 1)
  • Being Human (US) (SyFy)
  • The Daily Show (Comedy Central)
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries (ABC1/ITV)
  • Cougar Town (TBS/Sky Living)
  • Doctor Who (BBC1/BBC America)
  • Elementary (CBS/Sky Living)
  • Go On (NBC)
  • Hannibal (NBC/Sky Living)
  • House of Cards (Netflix)
  • Modern Family (ABC/Sky 1)
  • Plebs (ITV2)
  • Shameless (US) (Showtime/More4)
  • Southland (TNT/Channel 4)
  • Spartacus (Starz/Sky 1)
  • Vegas (CBS/Sky Atlantic).

These are all going to be on in either the UK or the US, perhaps even both, but I can't be sure which.

I'm adding to the recommended list both Plebs (ITV2) and Hannibal (NBC/Sky Living) (hopefully, I'm not being too quick off the mark there).

Still in the viewing queue: Jonathan Creek, last night's Orphan Black, Arne Dahl and Rogue. I'll be reviewing last night's Doctor Who on Monday, when I've woken up. But I've tried a few new shows this week:

How To Live With Your Parents For The Rest of Your Life (ABC)
In which Sarah Chalke (Scrubs, Mad Love) is once again wasted, this time in an incredibly bland sitcom with an almost zero joke count. The story, for what it's worth, is that Chalke splits up from her no-hope, but good-hearted husband and takes her kid with her to live with her parents. Six months later, she's still there. Everyone, including Elizabeth Perkins as Chalke's mother, tries really, really hard to make this work, but i's just utterly bland.

Corleone (Sky Arts)
2007 Italian crime drama aka Il Capo dei Capi based on the life of real-life gangster Salvatore Riina, aka Totò u Curtu, growing up in post-war Sicily. Surprisingly well made for Italian TV, it is, nevertheless, completely unremarkable and lacking in interest for anyone who doesn't know about said gangster. Trailer over here, for those who want one.

I've also been watching a few things on Netflix, just to mix things up a bit:

Black Books
Yes, I never watched Black Books. Treat me like the leper I am. The first episode wasn't bad and it surprised me to see Martin Freeman in it as a doctor, doing the exact same Martin Freeman routine he's apparently been doing for the last 12 years now. Still feels like a slightly less funny cousin to Spaced, Hippies and The IT Crowd. But I'll keep watching when I have time.

House of Cards (remake)
I finally got to the end of it. Yes, it ends on a cliffhanger. Yes, that cliffhanger is not the same as the BBC original's cliffhanger. Yes, nothing much at all is resolved. But it's still magnificent.

Spiral (season 1)
Yes, I know I've watched it already, but I thought I'd give season one a re-watch, since I'm now horrified to discover it was filmed in 2005 (although I think it took BBC4 a couple of years to pick it up). It's remarkable to see what'd different and what's changed. The directorial style, with the CGI zoom and crash zooms with sound effects are just weird; the swearing was considerably less than it is now; it's filmed in Summer, so everything looks sunny for a change; Laure's happy; Karlsson's still learning how to be evil from the drunk struck-off solicitor; Clement's still a magistrate; Romanians are the ethnic enemies; Pierre and Laure are shagging like very French bunnies. It's all just so fascinating to watch and fun to see how the Spiral formula is still being worked on.

Now, some thoughts on some of the regulars and some of the shows I'm still trying:

  • The Americans (FX/ITV): Just keeps getting better every week, blurring the boundaries between who's good and who's bad in the cold war between the KGB and the FBI. The separation was unexpected, as was the final killing, and while the show obviously amps up the intrigue beyond what the KGB would have allowed their sleeper agents to do, it's all done in as unshowy a manner as possible. A regular must-see.
  • Arrow (The CW/Sky 1): Despite the presence of Count Vertigo, this episode surprisingly didn't suck and was actually quite good. Nice to see that they're making the Chinese woman Oliver's flashback mentor, rather than Deathstroke.
  • Being Human (US) (SyFy): Another US TV season ends with an overly sentimental wedding. Quelle surprise. But despite some good jokes in this final episode, it's largely been a bit of waste of a season, offering no real plot advancement, with everything that happened in the first few episodes effectively reset by the end of the season. There have been a few changes and clearly a whole lot of things are being set up for next season that might pay off. But unlike the British original, it'll probably still be worth watching. UPDATE: Duh! Obviously, it wasn't the season finale. Silly me…
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries (ABC1/ITV): A decent 10 episodes of intelligent TV period crime drama. It became a little formulaic towards the end, with less of the period commentary than before, but the story arc about Blake's family was very well handled and moving, and the ending only promises good things for the future.
  • Elementary (CBS/Sky Atlantic): Surprisingly close to a genuine Sherlock Holmes mystery, although Jill Flint was badly unused. The addition of Doyle's Hudson to the roster of characters was very welcome, changing the Watson/Holmes dynamic in useful ways, and well handled, too, given the changes made by the producers. The story was also a good way to capitalise on New York's recent weather 'issues'.
  • It's Kevin (BBC2): Cameos from Stewart Lee, Peter Serafinowicz, Matt Berry and more show how respected Kevin Eldon is. Definitely getting better but a little bit of an acquired taste. The Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber sketch was marvellous though.
  • Parks and Recreation (NBC/BBC4): Six episodes into the second season and I've finally see a funny episode that didn't entirely depend on Ron Swanson for the jokes. And that's after an episode that didn't have Ron in it at all, and so was virtually unwatchable.
  • Plebs (ITV2): While largely The InBetweeners in Roman times, it's surprisingly clever and this week's "role reversal" episode where the hero and his slave swapped jobs for day and the two cousins who shag were interesting marriages of laddish humour with Roman cultural differences. If you watch one ITV2 show, this is the one to watch.
  • Shameless (US) (Showtime/More4): Surprisingly, not the final episode of the season, despite the apparent resolution of so many plot threads, including an unexpected act of kindness by Frank. What they do tonight should be the last thing we expect then.
  • Southland (TNT/Channel 4): More or more like a series of vignettes, rather than an actual drama, with our characters almost aware that their television time is drawing to an end and looking for personal closure. A great couple of cameso this week for long-time fans of the show, which I'm hoping will lead to more by the end of the season.
  • Strike Back (Sky 1/Cinemax): I'm finally catching up with this, which has been sitting on my Apple TV for months now. Funny to see Tim Piggott-Smith running around with a sub-machine gun, Charles Dance being an arms dealer, and
  • Spartacus (Starz/Sky 1): We're on the home straight of the season, the traditional time for the show to really dig into the politics and intrigue. An almost nostalgic episode, where the gladiators return to the 'arena', various characters get the vengeance they want and deserve, and with the arrival of the third member of Caesar/Crassus triumvirate, Pompey (if not yet in person), it's starting to feel more and more like a prequel to Rome as well as decent ending for one of the most surprising shows on cable TV in years.
  • Vegas (CBS/Sky Atlantic): Finally realised that the FBI guy is Shawn Doyle (with US accent and black hair) from Endgame. An odd little procedural about an under-age prostitute, with a somewhat surprising, feminist conclusion that once again shows what a standout Sarah Jones is. That, and the addition of a new title sequence, suggests the producers have been having a slight rethink in the show's extended absence. Needs a little more umph, but still a good drama and a cut above the standard CBS procedural.

And in movies:

No Country For Old Men
An excellent movie with a great cast. Josh Brolin finds some money, Javier Bardem chases him with a bad haircut, Sheriff Tommy Lee Jones wanders around cluelessly. It's quite a scary movie, in some senses, where the moral of the story is that even if you are a Vietnam vet and a hunter, there's always someone deadlier than you out there, and beyond that is God/Fate who can kick that person to the kerb, too. It's ending defies analysis, too, although it's efforts to defy the standard Hollywood traditions of how plots must be resolved, particularly violent plots, is welcome.

The Raid
An elite Indonesian SWAT team have to take in a crime lord who lives at the top of a building. To get to him, they have to shoot, punch, stab, kick and beat everyone they come across along the way, in what is largely a demonstration of the Indonesian martial art of pencak silat, starring some of the art's greatest living practitioners. Not exactly the most plot-driven or character-rich movie out there, but a cracking action film, incredibly shot on a ridiculously low budget, that'll be too violent for a lot of people. Came out at the same time as Dredd 3D, to which it bears such a similarity that it largely (unfairly) killed that movie's box office.

Bad Boys 2
Dreadful, even by Michael Bay standards. Shame, because Bad Boys was actually quite good.

"What did you watch this week?" is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid - and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I've watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you've seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?

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March 28, 2013

What did you watch this fortnight? Including It's Kevin, Plebs, GI Joe: Retaliation, Parks and Recreation, and Arrow

Posted on March 28, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

It's "What did you watch this week fortnight?", my chance to tell you what I movies and TV I've watched this week fortnight that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

First, the usual recommendations:

  • The Americans (FX/ITV)
  • Archer (FX, 5USA)
  • Arrow (The CW/Sky 1)
  • Being Human (US) (SyFy)
  • The Daily Show (Comedy Central)
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries (ABC1/ITV)
  • Cougar Town (TBS/Sky Living)
  • Elementary (CBS/Sky Living)
  • Go On (NBC)
  • House of Cards (Netflix)
  • Modern Family (ABC/Sky 1)
  • Shameless (US) (Showtime/More4)
  • Southland (TNT/Channel 4)
  • Spartacus (Starz/Sky 1)
  • Vegas (CBS/Sky Atlantic).

These are all going to be on in either the UK or the US, perhaps even both, but I can't be sure which.

A combination of pluses and minuses in terms of time means that although I've nearly watched all of House of Cards, there's still a lot left in my viewing queue, including the latest episodes of The Bates Motel, Modern Family, Archer, Cougar Town and Southland. I'm sure they'll survive without me for a bit, and the Easter weekend should give me a chance to catch up. All the same, I have had the chance to try out a couple of new shows:

It's Kevin
Kevin Eldon's been one of the stalwarts of British comedy for the last 20 years or so - his Big Train appearances, especially his George Martin impressions, were all great, as were his appearances on shows like Fist of Fun. So I had high hopes for this, his first leading comedy role. And it's all right. The second episode was considerably funnier than the first, but largely it's the kind of show that's intellectually interesting and raises the occasional smile, but nothing laugh out loud funny.

Plebs
I had firm expectations of disliking this, ITV2's Roman era answer to The InBetweeners. And it certainly fits The InBetweeners mould, with three lads - two mates, one sensitive, one all mouth (but no trousers - literally) and their slave - moving to Rome from the country where they get office jobs (apart from the slave) and try to pull girls, with minimal success. But despite my expectations, it is actually surprisingly funny. Although essentially it's an ahistoric transposition Up, Pompeii/Flintstones-style of modern society onto an ancient society, the show manages to maintain some degree of in-story excuse for it - that the lads are from outside Rome (hence plebs or plebeians) and the girls are from Britain, so are culturally backward - and have the actual Romans sex-happy, nudity-happy, etc, in a more accurate way (although bouncers at clubs, women without male Romans to be in charge of them, an emphasis on scrolls rather than wax tabular, and a Venus sculpture without arms because, you know, the Venus de Milo doesn't have arms, are just some of the minor infractions that still take place for comedic purposes). Those minor niggles aside, it's still funny, if a little conventional, the CGI to make it seem like Roman times is pretty good, and you have the likes of Doon Mackichan, Adrian Scarborough and Joel Fry to make the funny happen, so it's a cautious semi-recommendation from me. Just don't think of it as being "as good as revision" as some viewers have suggested.

Parks and Recreation
Yes, I have actually watched episodes of this before, but seeing as there's a movement that seems to think P&R is funny, I thought, since BBC4 was showing them all from the beginning, that I'd give it yet another try. So far, I've seen all of season 1 and although it does get better towards the end of the season and I actually began to laugh at other moments and characters, for the first few episodes at least, the basic flowchart was: Is Ron Swanson on? No - not funny; Yes - funny. It was literally that simple. I'm told it gets better in the second season. I hope so.

Watch this trailer and you'll see what I mean.

Now, some thoughts on some of the regulars:

  • The Americans (FX/ITV): One of those shows where if the show runner's name is on the writing credits, it's really good, but suffers when it's not. Fortunately, last week's saw our Joe return to writing duties, and we had a lovely cold piece about how spies can't trust one another, even if they're married.
  • Arrow (The CW/Sky 1): So now we have Alex Kingston (River Song from Doctor Who) in scenes with Paul Blackthorne (also British), both pretending to be Americans, not 100% successfully. And there's John Barrowman, too. So weird. Anyway, two episodes, one utter rubbish, one pretty good - as usual, it's Huntress (about a million miles from her comic book persona) who's to blame, since she's Geoff Johns' baby and Johns appears to be a quality curse when it comes to Arrow. Felicity should also get a panic button, I reckon. But last night's was a lot better, and the Batman Begins-inspired plot that they've been hinting at (potential spoiler: Merlin/Barrowman having gone off to the land of the League of Assassins/Shadows to learn how to be the Dark Archer) looks like it's coming to fruition. Odd to see the lengths they're going to to keep Arrow's Chinese mentor out of the flashbacks' main narrative, but they're definitely going for the long game now. And is it my imagination or are they hinting that Felicity has the hots for Oliver?
  • Being Human (US) (SyFy): Two episodes, one funny, one less funny. The first gave us Sam Witwer's attempt at an English accent. Or maybe it was Irish. It also showed us that essentially the whole season has been a diversion, with everything likely to return to the status quo that was the beginning of the season, after experimenting with changing more or less everyone's set-up (spoiler: Aidan being the only vampire, more or less, before they all start coming back again; Sally being alive, then a zombie, then a ghost again, probably; Josh not being a werewolf then becoming a werewolf again). But at least Deanna Russo is getting work after the horror that was the Knight Rider remake.
  • The Doctor Blake Mysteries (ABC1/ITV): A story that was suspiciously about Asperger's without actually being about Asperger's, which was interesting. Also a fun look at what Australian TV was like at the time, with an appropriately fun ending where (spoiler alert: they all decided to play Pontoon instead of watching any more). Not necessarily the most plausible plot line, though.
  • Shameless (US) (Showtime/More4): A couple of funny episodes, with William H Macey really make Frank his own now. Plus Bradley Whitford playing gay (or is he gay?)!
  • Spartacus (Starz/Sky 1): After seasons of women being raped to provide plot motivation, Spartacus finally moves into male rape with the rape of (spoiler alert: Caesar) no less. And quite an important couple of deaths, too, although given everyone knows that Spartacus's slave revolt failed, it wasn't hugely surprising. Good to see them breaking up the important deaths, though, rather than offing everyone in one go, so that everyone gets their time in the sun.

And in movies:

GI Joe: Retaliation 3D
A surprising movie. Or should I say movies?

While ostensibly a sequel to 2009's GI Joe, with a few of that movie's cast members returning (Channing Tatum, Ray Park, Byung-hun Lee, Jonathan Pryce, Arnold Vosloo, some of whom are more or less just cameos, but I won't spoil it for you by saying who), largely it's a reboot, designed to get rid of some of the deadwood (Christopher Eccleston, that's you, but so are most of the original Joes), and introduce a new cast to the franchise led by The Rock, almost-Wonder Woman Adrianne Palicki, possibly Bruce Willis as well (he's in it, anyway) and… some other guy (DJ Corona from Detroit 1-8-7 and Windfall. Yes, him. Remember him? No, me neither.)

But it's a weird movie(s) that beyond a few elements is very little like the original. Essentially, it consists of one movie that's a proper war movie, with people behaving like proper soldiers, with firefights and Apache gunships, and that features The Rock, Palicki and Corona. Then there's another spy movie, where they're sneaking into places in disguise, that features the same bunch, as well as Ray Stevenson (Rome, Dexter, The Punisher: War Zone) with a dodgy southern accent. Then there's a third movie that's basically Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with ninjas and its own, more or less separate cast (Park, Lee, Elodie Yung). And then it all finishes off by becoming Megaforce.

But despite having that core base layer of stupid, largely derived from its source Saturday morning cartoon to which it pays homage on more than one occasion, it does have some surprising touches. Cobra Commander's plot to take over the world is impressively not stupid, involves actual science and hasn't been done before. Some of the action sequences are well shot and choreographed. Palicki is over-sexualised, including a couple of quite voyeuristic points when she's taking off her clothes, and her ability to attract any man, no matter what, is implausible, but largely she's treated as an equal of the other Joes, she's given some background story and a lot of the time, she gets to wander around in jeans, not being sexy (Michael Bay this is not). And since there's the addition of Jinx to the core roster, there are actually two kick ass women, rather than just the usual token one. The motivations for the villainous Lee are also even more nuanced than you'd suspect.

It's still epically stupid most of the time, the fast action makes the 3D malfunction, and it still somehow feels like a 1980s action TV show that's been given a phenomenal budget, but it's a damn sight better than the original.

"What did you watch this week?" is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid - and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I've watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you've seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?

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