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


March 16, 2015

What have you been watching? Including The Producers, Divergent, Dig, Gallipoli, Fortitude and Vikings

Posted on March 16, 2015 | comments | 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. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV – they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

Well, I’ve not quite caught up with my backlog. Nearly, but not quite. To be fair, the deluge of new shows has continued and this week I’ve already dealt with the first episode of American Crime and Powers, not to mention the first three of Secrets and Lies. But I’ve had to put on the backburner for a couple of days at least the first two episodes of A&E’s The Returned, a remake of Canal+’s Les Revenants, as well as E!’s first foray last night into insulting the British scripted programming, The Royals. I’ve also had to hold off starting on both the third season of House of Cards and Netflix’s new Tina Fey sitcom The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But I will get round to all of them, I promise.

After the jump then, the regulars and the new regulars including 12 Monkeys, 19-2, The Americans, American Crime, Banshee, The Blacklist, Dig, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, Fortitude, Gallipoli, Man Seeking Woman, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and Vikings. One of them has been promoted to ‘recommended’ status and one of them narrowly avoided demotion – which ones do you think they were?

But I’ve also watched a couple of movies and been to the theatre!

The Producers (touring production, Bromley Churchill Theatre)
Musical adaptation of the Mel Brooks movie classic, in which theatrical producer Zero Mostel discovered from accountant Gene Wilder that he could make a fortune from a flop, and the duo conspired to put on the worst play imaginable: Springtime For Hitler. This touring production sees Cory English take on the Zero Mostel role, Jason Manford take on Wilder’s, with Phill Jupitus, Louise Spence and David Bedella rounding off the rest of the cast. Despite Manford, Jupitus and Spence being the big names, it’s English who’s the film’s focus and who gets the lion’s share of the work, the others getting surprisingly little to do. But the cast itself, right down to the dancers, are all uniformly excellent, even if Manford spends a little too much time in the first half trying to copy Wilder’s vocal patterns rather than giving his own interpretation. Not quite as funny as the original film, and with too many songs for its own good, it’s nevertheless a top notch night out.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014) (iTunes)
Catness is out with the resistance in the third part of the series, which dials back in the action in favour of lots of propaganda videos, as each side tries to out PR the other in the ongoing civil war. It's all a bit bleak and miserable actually, with very little respite from the darkness, making it the hardest watch of the series so far.

Divergent (2004) (iTunes)
More young adult, post-apocalyptic misery. To maintain peace and prosperity, society gets divided into factions following a terrible war and just as with Harry Potter’s sorting hat, everyone gets sorted into factions that suit their personalities. Except Shailene Woodley’s Tris is ‘Divergent’ and could belong to any number of factions, so picks ‘Dauntless'. Unfortunately, the ‘Erudites’ don’t like that, because they have a naughty scheme up their sleeves that the Divergents could ruin.

Very much a watered down Hunger Games, with flimsy logic and a thinly veiled metaphor for High School life (are you a nerd, a jock, on the debate team, a wallflower or are you really just such an individual?) meshed poorly with a very sub-Equilibrium post-apocalyptic background and fight scenes and a Twilight-style ‘special’ heroine whom everyone is after because she’s so special, yet simultaneously special. All the same, it's actually enjoyable enough stuff, with some darkish moments, a plucky heroine, Theo James (Golden Boy, Bedlam) almost summoning up a personality for a change and Ashley Judd getting to use her Missing training for all of five minutes.

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February 16, 2015

What have you been watching? Including Gallipoli, The Slap (US) and The Doctor Blake Mysteries

Posted on February 16, 2015 | comments | 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. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there's Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

Time, I think, for another purge. "Why, Rob?" you may ask. “Lots of shows such as Constantine, Ground Floor, Spiral (Engrenages) and State of Affairs are finishing anyway, so why purge any more?”

Because it’s a good habit to get into, that’s why. Rather than simply watch whatever floats past out eyes, shouldn’t we examining everything, seeing if it’s still worth it, and abandoning anything that really isn’t serving a purpose it might once have? Hence, a purge.

Plus I’m away for a few days next week and there are some new shows starting soon, so I need to claw back a little time.

So dropping off the viewing list this week are the following:

Allegiance (US: NBC)
After the first episode’s cliffhanger ending, we have the most obvious cop-out imaginable that makes super-genius son look a complete idiot. And unless Hope Davis was mumbling for most of last week (possible) or I just wasn’t paying attention and didn’t notice it (possible), this week she seems to have acquired the world’s worst Russian accent. No more of this fresh hell for me, thank you.

Better Call Saul (US: AMC; UK: Netflix)
I wasn’t a fan of Breaking Bad, I’m not finding the first few episodes great so far. Maybe I’ll pick it up again later (thanks, Netflix). But right now, it’s not for me.

Fresh Off The Boat (US: ABC)
I was hoping Nahnatchka Khan’s magic was going to be enough to get the show improving over time. But despite a winning performance by Constance Wu, episode three proved to be laugh-free.

Gotham (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)
If it hadn’t been a Batman prequel, I would have dropped it by now. But one good episode isn’t sufficient to maintain my interest and although we actually had the Penguin and the Riddler meet this week, it was yet again a brief flash of interest in an otherwise turgid episode.

Hiding (Australia: ABC)
Each hour-long episode probably has about enough plot and laughs for half an hour. Even then, when the show sets up a glorious opportunity to do something good – our ex-crim turned faux doctoral student in criminal psychology given a chance to lecture on what makes crims tick – it bottles it and tries to save up what morsels of goodness it does have for another episode.

Man Seeking Woman is hanging on a thread, too. But I won’t be giving up just yet.

I also tried two new mini-series this week.

Gallipoli (Australia: Nine)
The Gallipoli campaign of the First World War (its centenary is in April) is a strange affair. Rarely mentioned in the UK except perhaps as an example of yet another thing with which Winston Churchill was involved before the Second World War that he inevitably cocked-up, elsewhere in the world it’s of vital importance. An attempt by the Allies to take Constantinople that stalled in Gallipoli, it was the moment for Australia and New Zealand that they decided that being part of the British Empire wasn’t that great, while for the Turks, it was the spur that eventually led to their later independence under the leadership of Gallipoli hero Mustafa Kemal.

Based on the book of the same name, this nine-part Australian mini-series is effectively Australia’s Band of Brothers, attempting to take a balanced approach to the campaign, with Brits, ANZACs and Turks treated equitably by the producers, as the horrors and inevitabilities of war, coupled with human nature, force everyone into untenable positions that eventually results in untold slaughter.

The first two episodes are light on characterisation, largely sticking to re-enacting the war and focusing on one teenage soldier (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as he learns to kill and survive, although there are scenes involving famous figures, including British war reporter Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, here played by Gaius Baltar himself James Callis, and Mustafa Kemal (Yalin Ozucelik), although he’s not yet been identified by name.

It’s a very creditable, often moving piece of work, even having been filmed in Turkey, although the CGI (and some of the accents) are a bit flakey. Worth watching if you have an interest in history, particularly history that’s important to people in the rest of the world, and don’t mind a heavy emphasis on warfare.

The Slap (US: NBC)
A remake of the Australian mini-series of the same name, which in turn was based on the book of the same. A Greek-American family and friends all get together to celebrate the 40th birthday of Peter Sarsgaard. Except midway through the party, cousin Zachary Quinto hits a misbehaving child and all Hell breaks loose.

While this is obviously an attempt by NBC to put on a prestige series about a Very Important Topic, with a Very Important Cast (Uma Thurman, Thandie Newton, Brian Cox), it’s creatively flawed at pretty much every level. Some of that is the fault of the source material – assuming, of course, the original thought a 40-year-old man considering an affair with a teenager was in any way a good idea. But a lot of it’s down to casting. Melissa George, who reprises her role from the original, has minimal to do, but attempts by Sarsgaard, Cox and Quinto to demonstrate their Greekness result in some of the worst Greek yet put on screen, with Cox and Quinto often forced to use the time honoured “mumble, talk in someone’s ear or cover my face with my hand when I’m ‘speaking' this language. Oh wait, let’s speak English for no good reason!” technique of ensuring that no one can hear them speaking Greek, lest we all find out how bad they are. Unfortunately, we do.

On top of this, we get Sarsgaard grouching about the fact a woman – a Latina, at that! Heavens! – got the job he wanted and the whole thing feels like some sad, middle-aged white man somewhere got a bit upset that he wasn’t allowed to do sh*tty things with impunity any more, and decided to write a bit of wallowing self-pity about what the world’s come to.

Episode two might be better, though.

After the jump, then, I’ll be looking at last week’s episodes of 12 Monkeys, 19-2, The Americans, Arrow, Banshee, The Blacklist, Constantine, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, The Flash, Forever, Fortitude, Ground Floor, Man Seeking Woman, Marvel’s Agent Carter, Spiral (Engrenages), State of Affairs and Suits.

I also watched a movie.

Valentine’s Day (2010) (iTunes)
Slightly tepid Gary Marshall (Pretty Woman) ensemble movie that attempts to Crash/Love Actually St Valentine’s Day, with various couples getting together and breaking up on Valentine’s Day as their various stories all intersect each other. Jamie Foxx, Julia Roberts, Bradley Cooper, Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Garner, Jessica Biel, Queen Latifah, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Alba, Shirley Maclaine, Eric Dane and others are among the star-crossed lovers unfortunately trapped in LA, with not a single one of the stories plausible or even especially romantic, with only one or two surprises in the whole thing. The final two couple revelations are almost worth the prize of admission, though.

But last week was Greek week in London. Yes, students at two universities, KCL and UCL, stage a Greek drama or tragedy at this time every year – just for larks, KCL's is in Ancient Greek with super-titling!

The Clouds (KCL: Greenwood Theatre)
Aristophanes’s comedies are always tricky boys to dramatise, not least because a lot of the humour only works in Ancient Greek, but because attempts to make them funny also tend to fall flat. So it’s to director Oliver Harrington’s credit that he managed to make The Clouds, in which a rustic farmer with debts decides to learn sophistry from Socrates so that he can talk his way out his problems, actually very funny. While some of the cast (and the supertitler…) struggled with the Greek a little, Harrington managed to mix the old and new, acting with singing, crude and sophisticated together in one show and for it all to work. I did get slapped by a phallus midway through, though.

Bacchae (UCL: Bloomsbury Theatre)
UCL have it a little easier, working in English, but The Bacchae was no less memorable, with Emily Louizou’s more timeless production managing to bring out the religious aspects of Euripides’ original play, to give us a truly frightening and charismatic Dionysus (Pavlos Christodoulou), who can bend reality to his will and make mortals do the unthinkable.

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February 2, 2015

What have you been watching? Including Gone Girl, Suits, Spiral, The Blacklist and The Americans

Posted on February 2, 2015 | comments | 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. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there's Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

It's February. How did that happen? Anyway, what with the Superbowl and the fact that no one launches any new shows at the end of January, it's been a relatively quiet week in terms of new shows, with only Sky/Pivot bucking the trend to give us Fortitude. On the other hand, a few old hands have returned with new seasons...

After the break then, all the regulars, including 12 Monkeys, 19-2, The Americans, Arrow, Banshee, Constantine, Elementary, The Flash, Gotham, Ground Floor, Hindsight, Man Seeking Woman, Spiral (Engrenages), State of Affairs, and Suits. The observant will notice that neither Cougar Town nor Marvel's Agent Carter are on that list: that's because I'm watching them with my wife and she only watches TV - get this - when she's in the mood. It's just inconceivable, isn't it? I also tried to watch Backstrom's second episode but failed, as it was even less engrossing than the first episode.

But that relative lull means I've been able to squeeze in a movie this week.

Gone Girl (2014) (iTunes, Amazon Prime)
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike meet, fall in love and get married. Then one day, Affleck returns home to find his wife gone in mysterious circumstances. But it's not long before the finger starts pointing at him. Novelist Gillian Flynn adapted her own bestseller for this slightly meandering, variable piece, shot with the usual visual precision by David Fincher. By turns disturbing, upsetting and even comedically ridiculous, the film veers close to misogyny, but the specificity of Affleck and Pike's characters means they can't be generalised to All Men and All Women or even to reality itself, such are some of the ludicrous twists. It's at its best when analysing the nature of media coverage of criminal cases and allowing the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross soundtrack to dominate, at its worst when trying to convince the audience that This Could Happen.

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