Archive | Film reviews

An archive of the blog's film reviews. There's also an archive and an A-Z index of all reviews.


May 2, 2017

What have you been watching? Including Saving Mr Banks, Lucifer, Doctor Who and The Flash

Posted on May 2, 2017 | 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 and your chance to recommend anything you've been watching.

Easter's over, we're entering May and while Captain Squarejaw might be depressed about the whole thing, TV networks around the world are waking up, filled will the joys of spring, and starting to send us a whole batch of new shows to enjoy.

Elsewhere, I've already reviewed the whole of Seven Types of Ambiguity (Australia: ABC), as well as the first episodes of Great News (US: NBC) and Genius (US/UK: National Geographic). Later in the week (I'm guessing Thursday), I'll be casting my eye over the first few eps of The Handmaid's Tale (US: Hulu) and American Gods (US: Starz; UK: Amazon), but there'll probably be a few other shows I haven't noticed yet that I'll try to review as well (eg Dear White People). 

After the jump, though, I'll be reviewing the usual regulars: The Americans, Doctor Who and Silicon Valley. Joining that list are the returning The Flash as well as the long-absent Lucifer. Hoorah! I'm assuming that's what I heard you all saying just now, anyway.

I also watched a movie over the weekend.

Saving Mr Banks (2013)
Dual biopic about the making of Mary Poppins, in which a reluctant 'PL Travers' (Emma Thompson) is convinced to give Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) the rights to adapt her famed book. Coming over to Hollywood, she then has to deal with the fact the movie will be a partially animated musical that's less than identical to the book and characters as she envisioned them, with the likes of Bradley Whitford and Jason Schwartzman having to show her just how supercalifragilisticexpialidocious it'll all be if she just lets them to their thang.

Meanwhile, a second parallel plot flashes back to Travers' upbringing in Australia with her delightful but chronically alcoholic dad (Colin Farrell), suicidally depressed mum (The Affair's Ruth Wilson) and suspiciously Poppins-like aunt (Rachel Griffiths), so that we can see what meaning Poppins might have had to Travers and how it made her so precious about her creation.

Obviously, you have to know Mary Poppins quite well to get the most out of everything, with Amadeus-like scenes depicting prototyping of characters and songs that require you to know what the final result should be like in order to see the difference. There are some very weird accents in the Australian portion of things, while Hanks' performance is less than sparkling. The ending is also a bit of a fudge, since Travers still hated Mary Poppins when it came out.

Yet, the film, despite playing around with time, place and people, still gives us a Disney who isn't whitewashed and Thompson's Travers is marvellously acerbic (Travers insisted on having everything recorded, so much of the dialogue is what she actually said, not just conjecture). The recreations are also quite lovely, while Travers' childhood is heartbreaking. If you have an interest in classic movie production, Saving Mr Banks is far more interesting than the average documentary and is full of laughs and pathos.

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April 3, 2017

What have you been watching? Including Imaginary Mary and Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Posted on April 3, 2017 | 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 and your chance to recommend anything you've been watching.

The last WHYBW for some time now, since I'm off on vacation for a week from Wednesday and then there's the double Bank Holiday weekend that is Easter directly after that. Maybe I'll try to squeeze it in on the 13th or 18th, although I'd actually have to watch TV while on holiday to manage the former, which just ain't happening; maybe it'll even be the 24th. But WHYBW will be back, I promise.

The airwaves have been a little quieter of late, but I've somehow not managed to watch any of Shots Fired, which means I doubt I'll ever get round to playing catch-up. Midnight Sun I'm going to try to binge-watch somehow, since it got better after last week's ep-and-a-half review. If I find the time, I might play catch up on Fortitude, too, and I really will try to watch You Are Wanted.

Elsewhere, I've reviewed Nobodies (US: TV Land), which means that after the jump I'll be looking at the latest episodes of The Americans, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, The Good Fight, Imposters and The Magicians, as well as the season finale of Legion. But I have watched one other new TV show and a movie, too.

Imaginary Mary (US: ABC)
I love Jenna Elfman. I really do. Okay, the scientologist thing is off-putting, she's really fun, really charismatic and really watchable. So why is it that everything she's been in since Dharma and Greg and Keeping The Faith has been just heinous? Growing Up Fisher, 1600 Penn, Accidentally On Purpose - she was great, they weren't. And neither is Imaginary Mary.

The show is basically what happens if you have one idea and precisely one idea only. Here, the idea is that sports PR woman Jenna Elfman's childhood best friend comes back to help her in her adult life, when she finally starts having to deal with kids, a grown-up relationship et al. But that's where the ideas run out.

The work of three men, it feels like the closest they've come to ever meeting a woman is to read a book on Greek myths to learn that Artemis is a perpetually adolescent goddess so they could name Elfman's PR firm "Artemis PR" - that's the level of subtlety we're dealing with here. Elfman's character has apparently never even met a child, let alone spent time with one, but then again, the writers don't seem to have met any children either, since they're all the sorts of moppets that can be assembled from tropes in other TV shows.

I mean, do you think, even for a second, that the teenage son of Elfman's new boyfriend would ask her for advice on how to be popular with other teenagers, a mere five minutes after meeting her, while simultaneously confiding to her that he has a folder on his laptop that contains… "pictures of boobs"? Would that ever happen?

It's also unclear exactly what the idea is behind Imaginary Mary, who just reappears unprompted after disappearing from her life when Elfman was 18 and started having sex. Yes, that's right 18. And now she's back, and after a brief double-take from Elfman, everything carries on as before. Elfman doesn't go to a doctor or a psychiatrist now she's started hearing and seeing things, even though 'Mary' carries on talking and appearing in full view of her wherever she is, making it impossible for her to do other things (do the writers even know how an imaginary friend works?).

And what does Mary do? Not much. She's just there, being a bit furry and wacky. No real commentary, nothing daring, no real attempt to expose Elfman's subconscious or animus. just "Look, I'm back".

Bar Elfman, it's almost unwatchably bad. Steer very, very clear.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016)
Dull entry to the Harry Potter universe set in the US in the 1920s that misses pretty much all the opportunities to do something more grown up and interesting in favour of more of the same but with some cute magical animals. It unlikeably stars mumbling Eddie Redmayne as an animal-helping wizard who travels to the US to be nice to some different animals, where he gets caught up in the current anti-animal prohibition and has to deal with 'no-mags' (aka Muggles) who want to get rid of wizards.

Yet despite the opportunities for fun and variety, as well as some scary-level magic, it's really unfathomably dull. Redmayne's wizard is just plain annoying and unheroic. The other characters don't have a tenth of the qualities of Hermione and co that might make you want to spend time with them. All it really has going for it are those fantastic beasts, which are great fun.

Boring.

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March 27, 2017

What have you been watching? Including The Arrangement, Midnight Sun, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

Posted on March 27, 2017 | 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 and your chance to recommend anything you've been watching.

After last week's Marvel's Iron Fist (Netflix) and Snatch (US: Crackle) action, with only a verdict on Making History (US: Fox) for a bit of variety, I've had time to play catch-up with my viewing. After the jump, I'll be talking about the latest episodes of The Americans, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, The Good Fight, Imposters, Legion and The Magicians.

But that's not all. We're nearly up to date (shucks) with Westworld now, but I'll save my comments to next week, when there's a good chance we might have finished it by then. I also should have reviews of Shots Fired (US: Fox) and Nobodies (US: TV Land) up this week, as well as possibly Amazon's first German-language show You Are Wanted

On top of that, I've even been to the theatre and watched quite a few episodes of some new shows that I don't have time to review in full:

The Arrangement (US: E!)
E!'s choice for its first venture into scripted television was slightest unwise: The Royals, a slightest farcical, hugely unfunny piece about the British royal family. The Arrangement is a slightly wiser pick that plays to E!'s core competencies: salaciousness and celebrity.

A thinly veiled allusion to… (hey libel lawyers - can I say who? No. Oh. Okay…) a certain celebrity couple, it sees Christine Evangelista (Lucky 7) playing a smart but careerless young actress. One day, she attracts the attention of superstar actor Josh Henderson (Desperate Housewives, Dallas) at an audition for his new movie and before you know it, he's whisking her off in his private jet to buy islands. 

However, looking after Henderson's career are producer Lexa Doig (Arrow, Andromeda, Continuum) and Michael Vartan (Alias), the proprietor of a self-help institute that has rather a few similarities to Scientology. Before Evangelista's even on her second date, they're getting her to sign a $10m marriage contract that plots out the two love-birds' relationship, including pretty much every aspect of what Evangelista can and can't do with her life. Should she sign it, become world famous as Henderson's wife and kick start her career in his movie? Or is the creepy weirdness of it too off-putting?

The show is actually surprisingly credible and even a bit of slow burn, clearly intent on showing how an actress and definitely not a specific one who's smart and talented and who raps about Shakespeare in her spare time could walk eyes-open into a relationship with a charming actor who's still famously a nut-job, in preference to waiting tables and dealing with her two-timing beau.

The first episode is quite a delightful little romance in its own right, as Evangelista and Henderson 'click', have a whirlwind romance and then have a lot of basic-cable sex in Venice and Mexico. It's not perfect - I didn't know whether I was supposed to be laughing when Evangelista excels at her audition by crying through lines like "I got close to you so that I could devise the perfect plan to kill you", after which Henderson chases after her to say "That's what acting is supposed to be" in a way supposed to indicate how deep he is - but it was quite sweet, quite fun and it felt like a certain degree of E!'s collective knowledge about celebrity lifestyles had gone into it.

It's over the course of the next couple of episodes that the show becomes a bit more mundane and darker, as we see Henderson punching out photographers who come after Evangelista and Vartan getting heavies seemingly to take out ex-girlfriends of Henderson. The third episode feels less about the ongoing themes and more about "Gosh, wouldn't it be nice to have a lot of money. Oh no! People might sell old photographs of me for money now I'm famous!" There's still a degree of smartness to proceedings, including time jumps in the narrative, and the leads are all still firing on all four cylinders, but it's less fun than it was when it started.

Whether the show will become simply a modern-day Cinderella, with Henderson throwing off Vartan the Wicked Stepmother in favour of true love, or whether it'll all end in divorce, murder investigations and recriminations, isn't clear at this point. But there are enough hints that it's not going to be all ball gowns and coaches that it might well be worth sticking with.

Barrometer rating: 3

Midnattssol/Jour Polaire (Midnight Sun) (France: Canal+; Sweden: SVT; UK: Sky Atlantic) 
A curious bit of Nordic Noir that feels like SVT (Sweden) wished it could have more episodes of Bron/Broen (The Bridge), Canal+ (France) wished it could have more episodes of The Tunnel (Tunnel), so the two of them sat down together to create a weird French/Swedish/English hybrid of the two. Midnattssol/Jour Polaire (Midnight Sun) sees a bizarre murder involving a French national take place in rural Sweden. Lead investigator Peter Stormare (Swedish Dicks, Fargo, Prison Break) asks the French police for their help and they send Leïla Bekhti (Paris je t'aime, A Prophet). But soon it turns out that it's not the only murder and that the murder victim was a member of the French Foreign Legion.

Midnight Sun is strange. Even before the title sequence has rolled, we have "Death by being attached to a helicopter rotor and whirled around a lot", which is just plain nonsense. Then at the end of the first episode (spoiler alert) Stormare dies of a stroke after the entire ground opens up in front of him - the nearby iron ore mine is so huge, so important that the fact it's causing quakes and other problems means that rather than the mine be closed down, the town itself is being moved instead. Which is an odd choice that suggests a bit of funding money was needed.

After that, the focus is more on Bekhti's relationship with Stormare's deputy, Gustaf Hammarsten (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), which is a far more comedic partnership, although Stormare's relationship with his wife is still both warm and amusing. By contrast to the experienced Stormare, however, Hammarsten is inept, constantly joking and constantly has problems with his teenage daughter.

The show also plays to cultural differences. Bekhti speaks French back in France and with other French people; Hammarsten and Stormare speak Swedish; none of them speak each other's languages so the rest of the time, the dialogue is in English. But that still leaves plenty of time for jokes, with Bekhti's request to Hammarsten to say a Swedish place name results in "It's spelt as it's pronounced", which results in Bekhti telling a colleague to "just Google it". Meanwhile, Hammarsten and Stormare's boss is advising about the use of the French word 'bordel' (brothel) as a way of meaning 'it's a mess' (well, it does but… What could possibly go wrong?), which is something a French audience will certainly have fun with. As the name suggests, Bekhti also has to deal with the Insomnia-esque issue of the constant daylight in her new home away from home.

However, the central dynamic of the two investigators isn't that compelling, Bekhti's having to deal with the news of her brother's death and occasional desire to impale her hand on spikes usually makes her a little joyless, and I'm a bit tired of grotesque deaths and mutilations by genius killers, even if you aren't. I'll probably watch some more of it, because later episodes look at the local native culture more, but this isn't the instant classic Broen/Bron was.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Old Vic - Until 6 May)
The play that made Tom Stoppard's name, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead takes two minor characters from Hamlet who appear in a few scenes and are then declared dead, and catapults them into their own play, imagining what they got up to in between scenes and using those dialogues to discuss the nature of fiction, the nature of theatre, what it is to be a thinly drawn supporting character and to critique Hamlet itself. The play is an amazing piece of work, clever and witty, written in modern day English except whenever it meets up with the mothership again, where it uses the original's dialogue.

However… the two leads are Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern respectively (or is that Guildenstern and Rosencrantz?). Whichever way round it is, it was the wrong choice, because while McGuire is perfectly good and has decent presence, Radcliffe, who has the more passive character, is… passive and uncharismatic as the role demands, but far more so than necessary, resulting in a chemistry-less pairing and McGuire doing all the heavy lifting. Director David Leveaux also allows the two to rush the dialogue, perhaps to keep the play to its very tight two and a half hour runtime, meaning that it's almost impossible to savour the writing and sometimes to even hear it.

Both McGuire and Radcliffer, however, are eclipsed by the more seasoned David Haig (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Yes, Prime Minister) as the leader of the strolling players. Direction is fine, although quite sexualised, and the party of teenage schoolkids behind me couldn't quite cope, so spent the whole time commenting on it. Try to ensure you don't have an audience of easily embarrassed schoolkids behind you if you're going to watch it.

To be honest, not a great production, but a perfectly solid one and enough of the text shines through that it's still no failure. Try the movie instead, though.

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