Archive | Film reviews

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


July 3, 2015

What have you been watching? Including Scream, Mr Holmes, Ballers, True Detective and Mr Robot

Posted on July 3, 2015 | 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. 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.

Summer schedules are here, so another week, another batch of new programmes to review. Elsewhere, I've reviewed most of the new shows, I think:

I’ve also passed third-episode verdicts on:

I haven’t watched this week's episode of Strike Back, which I usually watch with my wife, but she had better things to do this week. So that means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of the usual regulars – Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal, The Last Ship, Suits, Stitchers, True Detective, Tyrant, Westside and The Whispers – as well as newbies Ballers, The Brink, Killjoys, Mr Robot and UnREAL. At least one of them’s for the chop.

But I’ve watched one other new TV show, as well as a movie…

Scream (US: MTV)
I was umming and ahhing about whether to review Scream, given that

  1. It’s MTV so aimed at ‘those young people'
  2. I never really liked the Scream movies
  3. I have a big workload next week so might not have the time
  4. I’m slightly boycotting anything associated with Kevin Williamson, as a result of the evil that is The Following and Stalker.

But as I had nothing else to watch this lunchbreak, I decided to watch it anyway. And frankly, I was bored. Scream as a movie was moderately interesting, critiquing and subverting the horror genre with characters making explicit analysis of the tropes of horror movies, so that these could then be undermined.

The TV Scream wishes it was even half that clever, though. Not truly a sequel, given it doesn’t really follow on from the original movies or feature those characters, as far as I can see, it does however feature a ghost-masked killer who’s always on the end of a phone (or social media interaction), talking to his victim. It also starts off by doing the exact same thing as the original Scream – killing the most famous cast member in her own home while she’s on the phone to the killer.

All the same, that’s where the similarities really stop, since the rest is tedious. The show spends most of its first hour boring us witless with a bunch of cookie-cutter teens and their cookie-cutter relationships, which are so tediously unoriginal, the show tries to be clever by pointing out how tediously unoriginal they are at the end. It also tries to ‘Scream' TV shows, name-checking the likes of American Horror Story, Hannibal, The Walking Dead et al, without adding even an iota of insight or analysis to them.

Even halfway through, I was desperate for my lunchbreak to end and the sweet relief of work to begin. Surely that’s not the way it’s supposed to be?

Mr Holmes (2015) (in cinemas)
Sir Ian McKellen plays a 90-year-old Sherlock Holmes, retired and looking after his bees, while slowly losing his faculties. At the same time, he thinks back 30 years to an old case that Watson fictionalised and whose solution he can’t quite remember.

Those going in expecting a 'Sherlock Holmes story’ will be disappointed as there’s only two minor mysteries for Holmes to solve in the entire piece and they’re not the hardest to crack. But while it’s still definitely a story featuring Sherlock Holmes – in various forms, including the Strand magazine Holmes and Nicholas Rowe's Holmes, Rowe having starred in Young Sherlock Holmes – Holmes here is a proxy for intellectuality without emotionality/spirituality and how it’s ultimately no comfort if you’re human and mortal.

I wouldn’t say I loved it, but it’s something that definitely leaves you thinking about it for some time afterwards, and McKellen is superb at both ages.

Also features a slightly odd excursion to Japan with Hiroyuki Sanada (Helix, The Last Samurai, Ring, Lost).

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June 19, 2015

What have you been watching? Including Humans, Tyrant, Jodorowsky’s Dune and Jurassic World

Posted on June 19, 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 time for a move again. With new shows launching on Thursdays and a couple of Sunday shows finishing, I’ll be switching “What have you been watching?” back to Mondays, starting next week, to give myself time to watch everything. (This was a bad idea. I'm sticking to Fridays for now)

In terms of new stuff, still sitting in the viewing pile somewhere are The Astronaut Wives Club, Complications and Killjoys, which I should be getting round to reviewing on Monday or Wednesday, but I did manage to watch Dark Matter this week, as well as…

Humans (UK: Channel 4; US: AMC)
We’ve discussed this a bit already in the comments section elsewhere, but this UK-US co-produced remake of SVT’s Äkta Människor is a surprisingly good bit of sci-fi, imagining a parallel world where robot humans are being created to replace people in sectors ranging from mining to social care to prostitution. Tom Goodman-Hill (Mr Selfridge, Cabin Pressure) decides to buy a ‘synth’ to help out around the house, much to the annoyance of his often-absent wife (Katherine Parkinson, apparently unable to escape the IT crowd), particularly when her children decide they like the new arrival (Gemma Chan from Bedlam) better than their mum. The problem is that Chan and a few other synths may be a little bit more alive than they’re supposed to be…

The show does a decent job of imagining this parallel world, from all the applications that the robots are put to through to the little details about how they’d operate in practice. It also wisely chooses to focus not just on questions of artificial intelligence but how we react to synths - we might like labour-saving devices that do the cooking for us or even read bedtime stories to our children, provided they don’t look like prettier, younger women whom our children can bond with and prefer. Similarly, in the case of engineer and synth inventor (?) William Hurt (Challenger), we might well want to keep an old android around, even once it’s malfunctioning, if we’re starting to dement and the android has the only memories of our dead wife.

The show’s a little too “made in the UK” for my liking, with its prosaic, unimaginative direction making it look like it has a budget of £3.50. Nevertheless, it’s a smart, sometimes creepy, sometimes touching show that I’ll be making an effort to tune in for next episode.

I’ve already passed third-episode verdicts on The Whispers, Westside and Stitchers, so after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal and Strike Back: Legacy, as well as the season finales of Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley, and the first new episode of the returning Tyrant.

But first, movies!

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) (iTunes)
I’ve already given a lot of the background to this elsewhere, so I won’t go into it in great detail, but suffice it to say a very different adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune was developed in the 1970s by surrealist director Alejandro Jodorowsky (The Holy Mountain) and this movie is a documentary that runs through the history behind it.

It’s a fascinating movie, but watching it, one can’t help but feel that firstly, Jodorowsky’s Dune would have been an absolutely stunning but utterly silly movie with often little more than a passing resemblance to the book. Secondly, it’s surprising how much influence a non-existent movie can have, since without it (or if it had ever been made), there’d have been no Alien and a number of movies would have lost some of their most important imagery. Thirdly, it makes you realise just how crazy mental you need to be to produce at least certain kinds of art.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) (iTunes)
X-Men: First Class/Kick Ass’s Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman adapt Mark Millar’s comic The Secret Service to give us a fond homage to Roger Moore-era James Bond, with Colin Firth, Jack Davenport and Michael Caine a bunch of posh secret agents who have to let chav new blood (Taron Egerton) into their top secret organisation when they have to deal with a tech billionaire (Samuel L Jackson) who wants to save the world from nasty polluting human beings.

At times, Kingsman feels like a retread of Vaughn and Goldman’s previous movies, mixing in the school training and spies of First Class with the superbly choreographed fights and ultraviolence of Kick Ass. What largely differentiates the movie is its Englishness, the movie satirising Moore’s Bond and (American) movies’ concepts of what an English gentleman should be while simultaneously taking ownership of it to give something a young, male working class audience to aspire to.

The movie’s final scenes involving a Swedish princess are a little disheartening after the largely good work that preceded it, even if it is another Moore satire, but generally a good viewing and by the end of it, you will accept Colin Firth can be an action hero. Mark Strong is also in there as a Q-like Scotsman, but no Welsh or Northern Irish members of the nation were apparently invited to join the Kingsmen.

Jurassic World (2015)
Bigger but not better retread of Jurassic Park set 20 years after the original that imagines a world now jaded about the return of once-extinct dinosaurs so regarding trips to the expanded ‘Jurassic World’ theme park island as little more than trips to the zoo. Consequently, the company behind it decides to bring the crowds back to create a brand new dinosaur by cross-breeding the more dangerous parts of a whole bunch of other dinosaurs - belatedly bringing in former US navy sailor turned Velociraptor trainer Chris Pratt to check out their security. Want to have a guess if it’s good enough or not?

Despite looking excellent, giving plenty of head nods to the original and some oftentimes smart writing, Jurassic World is nevertheless a little dead inside. Characters are either underdeveloped or plain annoying, so we don’t really care enough about them to feel frightened when bad things start to happen. Indeed, you’ll probably care more about the poor herbivorous dinosaurs getting a pasting at the hands of Indominus Rex than about whether Pratt survives to make it to a second date with the perpetually high-heel clad workaholic theme park executive Bryce Dallas Howard, who turns out not to be too shabby with a gun.

All the same, despite not hanging together well as a movie, there are some good individual moments that’ll stick with you afterwards.

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June 12, 2015

What have you been watching? Including Big Hero 6, The Audience and Hannibal

Posted on June 12, 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.

Life is good. Summer is here. I’ve watched loads of tele. Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed and previewed:

I’ve also passed verdict on the first four episodes of UnREAL (US: Lifetime) and the first three of Between (Netflix). That means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of: Game of Thrones, Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal, Sense8, Silicon Valley, Stitchers, Westside and The Whispers.

But before that, not only have I watched a movie, I’ve been to the theatre again:

Movies

Big Hero 6 (2014)
The first Disney animated movie to be based on a Marvel comic, Big Hero 6 sees a group of nerds come together to become science and technology superheroes when they’re faced with a man with an army of tiny robots. Led by a teenager called Hiro, they’re also helped by an inflatable healthcare robot called Baymax who can’t quite get to grips with this fighting thing superheroes do…

It’s actually quite a sweet little film, albeit with slightly traumatic moments that might disturb little children, with ironically Hiro learning from the caring Baymax how to be a better person and hero. Despite being a bit ‘boys and toys’, there are also a few good female nerd roles and some bits that will make you laugh out loud. The East meets West location of San Fransokyo is brilliantly realised, too.

Theatre

I’ve already reviewed The Oresteia (Almeida) elsewhere.

The Audience (Apollo Theatre)
Once a week, in a tradition that goes back to the time of Queen Victoria, the reigning monarch of the UK meets with the current Prime Minister to be updated on current events and to discuss matters of relevance to the both of them. In the hands of playwright Peter Morgan (The Queen), what could be purely a matter of historical interest instead becomes a song of praise to both the institution of the monarchy and the Queen herself.

The play flits between historical periods, giving us Prime Ministers from Churchill through to David Cameron, with the Queen acting as a fixed point in time who can compare Anthony Eden’s misadventures in Suez with Tony Blair’s in Iraq, Cameron’s small majority with Wilson’s, and act as a confessional for all of them. But it also looks at how the Queen herself changes over time, starting from a young, independent woman wanting to be involved in matters of state through to the mature monarch who accepts the needs of the constitution for her to back the government in everything, whatever she might feel personally. She also gets to have her own sounding board. Who, you might ask? Well, who could possibly provide the Queen with an audience except herself?

Rather than put the boot in as The Queen perhaps did, the play, which has been updated since its original run with Helen Mirren to include both Blair and Cameron at the expense of Callaghan, humanises both the Queen and all the Prime Ministers: Churchill is the traditionalist who mentors the new queen but also wants to postpone her coronation for political purposes and forces her not to change her name when she marries; Eden was right about Mussolini and Hitler and is convinced Nassar is the same; Wilson is the upstart socialist from Huddersfield with the eidetic memory who becomes paranoid as Alzheimer’s starts to rob him of his faculties; and Brown is the economics expert who believes his destiny was to lead the country - but who knows that he’s not got the right skills for the job. Even Major is redeemed: the man everyone remembers as little more than the tail end of Margaret Thatcher’s regime is here the man who brokered deals between warlords in the Balkans but who’s constantly undermined by his supposed allies.

And then there’s Margaret Thatcher…

Kristin Scott Thomas is excellent as the Queen, having to endure numerous quick changes of costume and jumps between time period, yet still surely making even the most ardent republicans feel something for the most powerful woman in the world, the firm proponent of the Commonwealth who was happy as a mechanic in the war and who would probably vote Labour if she could. In this she’s helped considerably by Izzy Meikle-Small as her younger self, who’ll make you wonder if the Queen is really just a grown up Arya Stark.

Hats off also to David Calder (Star Cops) as Churchill, Gordon Kennedy (Absolutely) as Gordon Brown, Michal Gould as John Major, Nicholas Woodeson (Rome) as Harold Wilson, and Highlander’s David Robb as Anthony Eden.

I’ll happily confess that both my wife and I wept buckets during the play and would happily go and see it again.

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