Archive | Film reviews

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

November 28, 2016

What have you been watching? Including Goliath, Finding Dory, Chance and Frequency

Posted on November 28, 2016 | 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. There's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. 

Thanks to the Thanksgiving holidays in the US last week, lots of programmes were taking a slight breather and few new ones decided to stick their heads above the parapets. That means it's been a quiet week for TMINE, with only Search Party (US: TBS) to deal with in the 'new' category and the regulars reduced to just Chance, DIrk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, The Flash, The Great Indoors, Lucifer, People of Earth, Supergirl, Timeless and Travelers - I'll be dealing with them after the jump.

On the plus side, though, that did mean I could not only play catch-up with an Internet TV box-setted into our laps a little while ago, I could also watch a couple of movies.

Goliath (Amazon)
'A legal thriller by David E Kelley! Whoopdy doo,' I thought. Like most people, I immediately think of the likes of Ally McBeal, Boston Legal and Harry's Law when I hear Kelley's name; unlike most people, I also think of his reasonably poor efforts with Wonder Woman, the dismal The Crazy Ones and the putrid Wedding Bells

However, Kelley hasn't always been king of fluffy backlash legal dramas. Back in the day, he created The Practice, a supposed antidote to the cutesy view of legal work perpetrated by LA Law; on said show, the story editor was one Jonathan Shapiro, a former Rhodes Scholar and professor of law.

Together, they're responsible for Goliath, a legal drama that stars Billy Bob Thornton as a former top lawyer who's fallen on hard times. Then Nina Arianda (Hannibal) turns up needing Thornton's help with a case involving the supposed suicide of an engineer who worked for a major arms manufacturer. Before you know it, Thornton's David is taking on the Goliath that is his old legal firm, which includes ex-best friend William Hurt, ex-wife Maria Bello (Prime Suspect) and newby lawyer Olivia Thirby (Dredd 3D), and the might of the US defence industry.

Mostly, this is a show that owes a lot more to Shapiro than Kelley tonally, being about legal clevery dickery and shady big name clients in the same way that Suits was when it started. Shapiro's legal knowledge really shines here and Goliath goes through all manner of things you've probably never seen in a legal drama before ("complex cases", using the rules of contempt to get evidence admitted, etc). It's also quite dark, with bodies being found in car boots, witnesses being run over, police abuse and more.

But Kelley's name isn't on the sign simply to drum up trade. There's a definite air of Kelleyisms to Goliath around the edges, ranging from some actual jokes through the daft names the lawyers at Hurt's firm call each other ("The Mole", "The Mouse"), Hurt's facial scarring and his use of a clicker to communicate when he wants to be annoying, Thornton almost representing the forces of the un-PC against the PC tyranny of the Goliath-like enemy (Thirby has a stammer and uses the American Disability Discrimination Act to counter Thornton's tricks; Bello is gay and has a girlfriend who also works at her law firm), to some distinctly dodgy attitudes towards women and some ethical issues to be considered, such as revenge porn and whether lawyers should break privilege to report wrongdoing by their clients. Arianda's practice even feels a lot like the one in Harry's Law.

Goliath is still a lot better than I was expecting, probably being the second-best original Amazon drama after The Man In The High Castle that I've seen. It's also a lot tenser - I'm six episodes through the eight episode run and each episode has managed to ratchet up the claustrophobia as Thornton's got closer to the truth and increasing danger. I'll probably watch the final two episodes tomorrow, in fact.

But it's still got enough Kelley daftness, is slow-moving enough and fails to make you care enough for the characters that I can't really recommend it. If you like John Grisham-style legal dramas, though, this is certainly worth a look-in.

Frequency (200)
Since the TV adaptation is currently airing on The CW/Netflix and I'd never seen the original, I thought I'd give it a whirl just to compare and contrast, especially since it's currently free on Amazon Prime. At its heart, like the TV series, Frequency is about a father and his grown-up child cop managing to communicate by radio over several decades and using information about the future to change the past - again, to prevent the father's imminent death and to subsequently stop the change in history that is the mother being murdered by a nurse-hating serial killer.

Starring a whole bunch of people now famous from other TV shows (Jim Caviezel, Shawn Doyle, Elizabeth Mitchell, Andre Braugher, Noah Emmerich), it's pretty much the same as the first season of Frequency so far, but with a few interesting changes, such as the dad (Dennis Quaid here) being a fireman not a cop and there being a 30-year time difference, not a 20-year difference. It's a lovely idea and the film has an emotional depth that a lot of sci-fi movies lack, but I think I actually prefer the TV version, since the longer running time gives that a chance to explore a whole bunch of issues that the movie has to leave to montage moments at best, and the gender-swap to a daughter evens out the original's not inconsiderable sidelining of women. 

Still, given it was set in 1999 (nearly 20 years ago now, guys), it's almost like watching time travel anyway, with its reference to Yahoo! as a good stock option.

Finding Dory (2016)
The tear-jerking Pixar delight, Finding Nemo, saw a widower father searching the world for his partially disabled son, following the latter's kidnapping. The twist? They were fish.

Here, in this sequel, their mentally challenged best friend Dory (Ellen Degeneres) comes to the fore as she remembers she had a family back in the day and despite her inability to form short-term memories, goes looking for her mother and father, Nemo and co in tow.

For about the first 10 minutes, this feels like a retread of the original but after that, Finding Dory sets its own path, introducing all-new characters and species that live in or near the marine park that Dory thinks her parents might be living in. It's a lovely piece of work again, with some top moments of comedy and joy, but it never quite hits the emotional highs (or lows) of the original and the final act starts to descend into the silly. Admittedly, it is a movie about talking fish so silly is relative, I guess.

Something both parents and kids can enjoy, but not quite an absolute classic. 

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November 21, 2016

What have you been watching? Including The Grand Tour, Hypernormalisation, Doctor Doctor and Hyde & Seek

Posted on November 21, 2016 | 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. There's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. 

Ironically, just as I've started catching up with everything again, we're about to enter the lull in US TV marked by Thanksgiving December. That means that this week will probably be marked by ventures into Internet TV again, including, I hope, a return to Le bureau des légendes (The Bureau). But always expect the unexpected, since there'll be a few new shows popping up, I'm sure. Hell, Australian Community TV just debuted the six-part ghostly Sonnigsburg, so I'm sure there'll be something coming along I wasn't expecting.

Elsewhere this week, I reviewed Good Behavior (US: TNT) and Shooter (US: USA; UK: Netflix). We've still not got round to watching any more of The Crown, Westworld or Humans, and I've not yet made a start on Y Gwyll, so that means that after the jump, we'll be looking at the latest episodes of Ash vs Evil Dead, Chance, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, Designated Survivor, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Falling Water, Frequency, Good Behavior, The Great Indoors, Lethal Weapon, Lucifer, People of Earth, Supergirl, Timeless and Travelers, as well as the season finales of Doctor Doctor and Hyde and Seek. One show's getting promoted, at leat one show's getting dropped - can you guess which?

But first, as well as a film review, a slight diversion from TMINE's normal remit…

The Grand Tour (Amazon)
TMINE's dedication to scripted shows wasn't always so pure, back in the day. That meant I used to cover shows that included Top Gear. That stopped a while ago, in part because of the shift in focus caused by there not being enough time in the world to watch unscripted as well as scripted TV, but also in part because I stopped watching Top Gear - it had simply stopped doing anything new, and I was bored.

Following Jeremy Clarkson's leaving the BBC, James May and Richard Hammond in his wake, the Top Gear trio signed up with Amazon to do a new show. What manner of show it would be we didn't know, because Clarkson allegedly had a non-compete clause prohibiting him from doing another car show. Given the name, The Grand Tour, maybe it was just going to be a bunch of the old Top Gear travel documentaries.

Anyway, for old time's sake, I decided to 'tune in' today to see what The Grand Tour was like.

Guess what. It's… a car show. More so, it's Top Gear again, just a bit swearier and a bit glossier. More or less every feature of Top Gear has, in fact, moved over to The Grand Tour (note the reversed initials in the title), with just a few changes.

For starters, in its first episode at least, it simply relocates its studio setting from an old hangar in SW London to a tent in the Mojave desert, with each subsequent episode relocating the show to another part of the world (Johannesburg and Barbados have been promised).

From inside the tent, surrounded by a native audience, the trio then do the same bickering routine as always, with plenty of races with supercars to break that up. However, everything is done on an Amazon budget, with computer graphics, travel to Portugal for races, et al. And where an element might have got copyright-infringingly close to Top Gear, the show makes changes to the format. Gone is the Stig, replaced by… The American, a tame Nascar driver, for example, and since they can't use the Top Gear track to test cars any more, they've had to use a different one.

As I said, the reason I gave up on Top Gear was that it stopped innovating. Unsurprisingly perhaps, it's all the changes, rather than the keepers from the Top Gear format, that are the best bits of The Grand Tour and remind you how good the former was before it started coasting. The celebrity guest spot was great; the new parts of the track are great; the more scripted aspects of the audience interactions are great; the celebrity guests spot was great.

Where it was at its most dull was when it was Jeremy Clarkson just driving around in a supercar to amuse himself. Nearly nodded off at that point I did.

As a show, Top Gear was at its best when it was all three of the hosts together in an engine-driven bickerfest travelogue in the style of Three Men In A Boat. The fewer of the hosts together and the more it was about cars, the less interesting it became. If the producers of The Grand Tour remember this and remember not to rest on their laurels, The Grand Tour could become what Top Gear once was - a weekly fixture in our house.

Hypernormalisation (iPlayer)
I'd already given you the bingo card, but I've now had a chance to watch this latest Adam Curtis documentary about why the world is the way it is. Impeccably timed to arrive in a post-Brexit, post-Trump world, it shows how attempts to create stability without politics has given us an era in which everything seems real, nothing seems true and no one wants to do anything about it through politics for fear that the boat will be rocked in ways no one can predict.

Clocking in at just under three hours, Hypernormalisation gives us all manner of brilliant and astonishing documentary footage, but is still the least persuasive of Curtis' oeuvre so far. Ironically, given that Curtis critiques our need for simplistic answers to complex problems, his argument is probably too simplistic to be true. But it still takes us to exciting thoughts and considerations about the world that are probably close to the truth but which nevertheless are just hints at the real truth - if such a thing now exists.

All the same, simply through reminding us of all manner of things that have long since been forgotten about, as well as of the fact that what's normal now wasn't always, it's well worth a watch.

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October 31, 2016

What have you been watching? Including Doctor Strange, Central Intelligence and X-Men: Apocalypse

Posted on October 31, 2016 | 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. 

"We're now nearing mid-Fall season/mid-Spring season (delete according to the hemisphere of your choice), which means there's few new shows heading our way"

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! What fool said that?

It's never going to stop. We're at peak TV so it's never going to stop. Help.

In the past week, I've reviewed the first few episodes of Chance (US: Hulu), Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (US: BBC America; UK: Netflix), Man With A Plan (US: CBS) and Graves (US: Epix). But that's not really scratching the surface, since although I'll be tackling Pure Genius (US: CBS; UK: Universal) and The Great Indoors (US: CBS; UK: ITV2) tomorrow and/or Wednesday, I'm not going to have time this week to make a dent in Amazon's Good Girls Revolt. I've also had no time to watch Channel Zero (US: Syfy; UK: 5*), but since that's an anthology horror show, I have no qualms in deciding I'm not going to watch it. I've also noticed that Young Pope (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic) has started in the US, but since it's already started in the UK, too, you can probably work out for yourselves whether you like it. 

However, good news! I'm away for a couple of days at the end of the week, which means I can start a mid-season cull through the usual simple mechanism of asking myself "Can I be arsed to play catch up with this show when I get back?"

Accordingly, I'm waving goodbye to Kim's Convenience, No Tomorrow, The Secret Daughter and Speechless, as well as - shock, horror! -  two long-standing regulars! Find out which ones after the jump. Frequency, Lucifer, Timeless and Designated Survivor are also on the endangered list and it'll just be case of finding out when I get back whether I can be arsed to play catch up with them.

Elsewhere, I've passed third episode verdicts on Insecure (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic) and Falling Water (US: USA), with Insecure failing to stay on the viewing pile. We'll see if I can be arsed with Falling Water when I get back.

That means that after the jump, I'll be looking at the latest episodes (that I've seen) of Ash vs Evil Dead, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, Designated Survivor, Doctor Doctor, Eyewitness, The Flash, Frequency, Hyde and Seek, Impastor, Lucifer, Son of Zorn, Supergirl, Timeless, Travelers and You're The Worst. I've not yet had time to watch the latest Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Eyewitness and Westworld, and since Y Gwyll (Hinterland) and Humans both chose to make a reappearance last night, don't be too surprised I haven't manage to watch them, either.

But somehow, I did manage to find time to watch a few movies…

Central Intelligence (2016)
Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson both went to High School together, Hart being the golden boy voted most likely to succeed, Johnson the fat kid everyone picks on. Twenty years later, Hart is an accountant while Johnson is a top CIA agent who needs Hart's accounting skills to find out who killed his partner (Aaron Paul) and is selling top secret satellite codes. Or is he? Could it be that Johnson is really a traitor, which is why the CIA is out to get him?

Kevin Hart is normally a cast iron guarantee that a bad movie is coming your way and this has all the hallmarks of being Kevin Hart in the kind of movie Adam Sandler rejects as being too low brow. But actually, it's reasonably funny and smarter than you expect it to be, right down to a crucial Rashomon-esque lift scene. Hart is surprisingly unirritating, too, there's a jaunty 90s soundtrack, and Johnson manages to do both action and comedy pretty well.

Doctor Strange (2016)
The latest Marvel movie sees arrogant surgeon Benedict Cumberbatch injured in a car accident and unable to operate any more. He heads East and before he knows it, as well as learning how to heal himself, he's learning magic from The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her helpers (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong), so that he can fight her former helper Mads Mikkelsen who wants to make everyone immortal… but in a really bad, murderous way.

On the one hand, it's oftentimes a really visually impressive movie, with echoes of everything from Inception through 2001: A Space Odyssey, as reality warps and the action jumps between universes and dimensions. It's got a top cast and the script, while treading often cliched ground at times, also channels Eastern philosophies to give us a slightly different take on the usual 'great evil that must be defeated through brute force', which is what Marvel normally gives us - squint, in fact, and you can spot a bit of Daoism, a bit of Buddhism and a bit of Kung Fu. Indeed, Mikkelsen is at times almost irrelevant to the larger personal journey that Cumberbatch is undergoing, such is the change in focus.

However, there are various production choices that undermine it all tad. Cumberbatch is saddled with an American accent he really doesn't need and which affects his performance, fight scenes are endless shakycam and Michael Giacchino's score is the usual strings-dominant orchestral pieces that rob the movie of the true weirdness it deserves. It's also not as funny as it thinks it is.

On the whole, pretty good, but could have been better.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Last of the three prequel movies featuring the younger X-Men cast (at least, for now…), with the action shifting to the 80s as an Ancient Egyptian mutant/god comes back to life and decides to wipe the Earth clean of weaker specimens who won't obey him. He assembles his own team to go and fight the good mutants, which now include young versions of Night Crawler, Jean Grey and Cyclops, as well as the usual usual and some of the characters from X-Men: First Class who didn't get much/any screentime in X-Men: Days of Future Past. And guess who also shows up…

There's nothing that new and remarkable about X-Men: Apocalypse, with very little you won't have seen in either the first three movies or the prequels. But if you haven't watched those movies, you'll be wondering about a whole bunch of things the film assumes you already know, so it's a bit lose-lose. However, the film is good when it's focused on the more human side of things, whether it's Jean's and Cyclops' romance, Magneto's family, James McAvoy and Rose Byrne's 20-year-long romance, and so on, making it a surprisingly decent third act. 

A bit meh, but Bryan Singer's talents mean it's not X-Men: Last Stand, for sure.

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