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September 22, 2014

What have you been watching? Including Scotland in a Day, Red Oaks, Doctor Who and The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Posted on September 22, 2014 | 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.

The deluge is about to begin, with a whole slew of new US shows going to kick off this week, more the following week. Fortunately, I’m braced and prepared, and have got right up to date with all my tele. Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed the first episodes of a few shows that have begun to air:

Also starting this week, but which I’ve miraculously already reviewed is Forever (US: ABC; UK: Sky1), which premieres tonight. But that’s it so far.

I have also watched a couple of other one-offs.

Scotland in a Day (UK: Channel 4)
Timed nicely to coincide with the referendum, Scottish comedian Jack Docherty – you may remember he had Channel 5’s first late night chat show – shows us various famous Scottish actors (e.g. John Hannah, Dougie Henshall) and various famous not-Scottish actors (e.g. Doon MacKichan, Isy Suttie) pretending to be real people in an attempt to be funny that largely falls flat on its face. It’s one saving grace is that Docherty resurrects the marvellous McGlashan from Absolutely for the piece.

Red Oaks (Amazon Prime)
Yet another attempt to do 80s nostalgia (cf The Americans, The Goldbergs), this time giving us a young Jewish guy at college trying to work out what he wants to do in life, so becomes an assistant tennis pro at the Jewish country club where his girlfriend works as an aerobics instructor. Were it not for the occasional Walkman and old car, you’d never know this was set in the 80s, and were it not for the fact it says so on the description, you’d never know this was a comedy either. There’s plenty of Jewish jokes (“A C is a Jewish F”) and bonus points for casting Paul Reiser and Jennifer Grey, but the lack of fun, insight and decent female roles make this a considerable waste of time, and Craig Roberts is incredibly miscast.


Even more excitingly, I watched a couple of movies:

The Amazing Spider-man 2 (2013)
If there was one thing that made The Amazing Spider-Man any good, it was the chemistry between Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield. Naturally enough, Sony wanted to make the most of this so created a 2h20m film that separates them for most of it, filling that run time with not one, not two but three classic Spider-Man villains, all of whom get perfunctory characterisation and storylines. And then right at the end, it stupidly repeats the ending of the first movie. I’m slightly at a loss for how so many elements can have been so badly misused, whether it’s Jamie Foxx as Electro, Paul Giamatti as Rhino (yes, they got one of America’s finest actors to play a Russian in a rhino suit) or both Stone and Garfield. It does look very good, I’ll admit, with some excellent use of bullet time to illustrate Spider-man super agility, but they really needed to spend a lot more time on the script (while simultaneously spending a lot less time on it, if you see what I mean).

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2013)
My sister had really raved about this, as had Mark Kermode on Radio 5, the trailer seemed really funny and the cast seemed epic (Ralph Fiennes, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Ed Norton, F Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan, Tom Wilkinson, et al), so I was really looking forward to Wes Anderson's latest. All those plus points were even enough to convince my wife to watch it. However, she fell asleep halfway through and I was seriously bored. While it looked and felt beautiful, and there were some great individual lines, the big laughs were almost all confined to moments shown in the trailer, and were few and far between in the movie itself. Disappointing, with the exception of Ralph Fiennes who turns out to be a superb comic actor.

After the jump, the regulars: Legends, Doctor Who and You're The Worst.

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September 8, 2014

What have you been watching? Including Hand of God, Betas, Doctor Who, Legends and Lucy

Posted on September 8, 2014 | 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.

Thankfully, it's still all little quiet on the TV front at the moment, allowing me to combine blogging and work without killing myself. Perhaps too quiet though, because I've been forced to watch some of Amazon's TV pilots. I've already covered The Cosmopolitans elsewhere, but on top of that, I've watched two others:

Betas 
Take Silicon Valley. Remove the laughs, insight, dialogue and cast. Add a couple of female characters for ogling purposes. Voila. Now you have Betas. I'm not joking about this, BTW -- it's almost absolutely identical to Silicon Valley in concept, at least. It's just not good. Which is a charitable way of saying it's bad.

The Hand of God
A cross between Eli Stone and Boss, this sees corrupt judge Ron Perlman go a bit loopy, become convinced he's become the right hand of God in order to bring justice to his fair city and starts doing some very odd, usually nasty things indeed. Except perhaps he really has been sent by God, what with that speaking in tongues, the visions that turn out to be true and so on. 

Perlman's his usual reliable self (although not quite as good as Kelsey Grammer), Dana Delany is fab as his calculating wife, Andre Royo is a bit miscast as the city's mayor and Garret Dillahunt is downright scary (scarier even than when he was a Terminator) as Perlman's helper monkey. Unfortunately, despite its good qualities, it's about as enjoyable as Boss

I've also squeezed in a few movies.

About Time (2013)
Richard Curtis tries to do a heartwarming version of Four Weddings And A Funeral, with Domhnall Gleeson learning from dad Bill Nighy that he can travel back in time and fix moments in his past that have gone wrong - a talent he uses to try to woo Rachel McAdams. Largely a pale imitation of everything Curtis has done before, with all the same criticisms - minimal development of female characters, lack of diversity, everyone paralysingly rich and posh - plus a few others, it largely fails to shine until right at the end, which has some real tearjerking stuff. 

Lucy (2014)
In the first of my "Random Scarlett Johansson" double bill, this week, we start if with something that is in absolute terms quite weird, but compared to its companion movie, is only a little bit weird. Here we have Johansson is an ordinary woman who unwittingly ends up being forced into being a drugs mule, except when the drugs burst in her stomach, they actually turn her into a superhero who can use increasingly large percentages of her brain to change herself, others and even reality. Despite being billed as an action film and having Luc Besson directing, there's only minimal amounts of the movie devoted to fights and car chases, the majority instead being devoted to strange voiceovers, pictures of animals and more 'artiness' (or Luc Besson's attempt at artiness). You think you're going to get The Transporter; instead you get Altered States. Worth watching just to see Johansson hold her own and show she can now be relied on to be the star of a major movie that you might actually want to see. But if you're not into left field stuff, I'd probably give this one a miss. 

Under The Skin (2013)
An even weirder film from Scarlett Johansson in a somewhat loose adaptation of the novel of the same name. A mixture of the extremely naturalistic - Johansson actually drove a transit van around Glasgow with hidden cameras, interacting with members of the public - and the incredibly stylised, Under The Skin is a musing on a lot of things, including sexuality, what it means to be human and predation, with Johansson an alien who goes around picking up lone men to do something to them when she gets them back to her place, but who slowly starts to feel pity for the creatures she's hunting. Despite only minimal dialogue and plot, it's highly disturbing, with some superb cinematography and music design, and images will linger with you for a long time afterwards. With more than a few hints of The Man Who Fell To Earth, this is truly film as art rather than mere storytelling. It's not 100% successful by any means, but it is more than worth a watch. It's certainly a brave choice for Johansson, who mesmerises as the Bowie-esque alien.

After the jump, the regulars, including LegendsDoctor Who and You're The Worst.

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September 1, 2014

What have you been watching? Including Legends, Forever, Outlander, A to Z, Selfie and Intruders

Posted on September 1, 2014 | 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.

Okay, I’ll admit it – I hadn’t intended to leave it quite as long as a month before I started blogging again. But what with work, August, bank holidays, etc, I actually didn’t have the time – until now.

But now I’m back and I can cast my eye back over August’s viewing, making it look like an almost deliberate decision. After the jump, I’ll look at the few recurring shows I’m still watching, as well as those that finished their seasons while I was away.

However, before that, let’s have a look at some of the new shows that popped up in August that I was able to take a gander at. There’s a few I missed out on (e.g. Garfunkel and Oates), but not that many, fortunately, so here’s pretty much all of August’s new TV rundown as well as some previews of some new shows that have already slapped their pilots on the Internet.

A To Z (US: NBC. Starts October 2, 9.30/8.30c)
A relatively benign and almost fun romcom that chronicles the relationship ups and downs of the implausibly named Andrew and Zelda (hence the title). To flip the format slightly, Andrew is the romantic one who believes in fate, Zelda is the uptight lawyer. To not flip the format at all, there are also a couple of best friends who don’t really do anything unexpected or different.

On the whole, though, it’s not bad. It does, however, shoot itself in the foot almost instantly by having narrator Katey Sagal explain that the series covers the whole x number of days of the relationship, dooming the relationship from the beginning. And while there is an easy get out (they break up then get back together again), it puts a significant downer on what actually might have been quite a nice, feelgood show. It also doesn’t help that Cristin Miloti plays Zelda, because she was the mother in How I Met Your Mother. And died in that.

Immigration summary: Lenora Crichlow (English) plays Zelda’s best friend. Otherwise, surprisingly all-American.

Forever (US: Starts September 23, 10pm, ABC; UK: Sky 1, October 2014)
Ioan Gruffudd is a New York chief medical examiner… who also happens to be immortal. Whenever he dies, he wakes up in a nearby watery mass (e.g. river, lake, sea). He’s a bit fed up of living, despite having acquired hundreds of years of expertise in languages, science, medicine, etc, and a deductive skill that puts Elementary’s Sherlock Holmes to shame, so spends his time with the dead, trying to work out a cure for his immortality. Along the way, though, he helps to solve crimes.

Obviously, this is Highlander without the sword fights. Well, I say ‘obviously', but right at the end of the first episode, there’s a massive Highlander reference (spoiler: someone is found dead with a Masamune katana in their chest, just like Connor MacLeod’s). This comes right down to the show having its own Rachel in the shape of Judd Hirsch, constant pining over a long-dead wife and a potential new love interest who’s a NYPD cop. But there’s also a bit of humour and although it might seem like a procedural as well, any show that has one of its chief suspects arrested and his house searched and then allows him to continue investigating the crime and examining the evidence is clearly not going for mimesis.

Gruffudd is good, Hirsch is Hirsch and everyone else is just okay. There’s a bit of promise with a series arc that involves a potential adversary/friend for Gruffudd. But it’s not inspiring or compelling, so I doubt it’ll last that long.

Immigration summary: Ioan Gruffudd is all-Welsh, of course; Lorraine Toussaint is from Trinidad; Donnie Keshawarz is American-Canadian-Afghani. Otherwise, all-American for a change.

Intruders (US: Saturdays, 10/9c, BBC America; UK: BBC2, Autumn 2014)
BBC America appears to be confused here in that they seem to think that they should be making programmes that are BBC programmes, just in America. So we have a largely all-Brit cast, including John Simm and James Frain, faking American accents (badly) in the kind of poor sci-fi/fantasy that BBC1 seems to do so well these days (eg Outcasts, Paradox). Here, we have a secret society that seeks immortality by hiding inside other people’s bodies, which might seem an interesting idea at first, but instead gives us some rubbish devil worship scenes and Simm meandering around feeling sorry for himself. Almost lone American Mira Sorvino is wasted.

Immigration summary: Simm and Frain – both Brits - as is Millie Brown, who's a possessed kid. She learnt her American accent watching the Disney Channel, apparently: beat that, American child actors!

Legends (US: TNT. Wednesdays, 9/8c, TNT)
Sean Bean is an undercover FBI operative who can psychologically transform himself into another person for each job. Unfortunately, not only is he starting to find the lines between himself and his false identities are blurring, there’s the distinct possibility he might not even be who he thinks he really is. Oh dear.

Unfortunately, this promising idea gets squandered a lot, thanks to TNT’s efforts to turn the show into a sort of NCIS, with a tedious backroom staff watching and listening to Bean’s every move and arranging hacks of banks and official records in mere seconds, as the case needs it. As a result, Bean’s superb versatility and Ali Larter, who plays Bean’s ex-girlfriend/FBI handler, are the only reasons to watch the show. Having said that, the third episode almost managed to register as “not bad”, rather than “terrifyingly awful”.

Immigration summary: Sean Bean – apparently, the kind of Brit who can pass as a stuttering West Virginian for up to nine months at a time, when no American could.

Outlander (US: Starz. Saturdays, 9pm ET/PT)
Post-War nurse while off with her genealogy-obsessed husband in Scotland, touches a stone circle and finds herself back in 1743, where she meets a buff Highland lad, fighting the Red Coats. Will she succumb to his charms like that fortune teller said she would?

Largely, if it weren't for BSG's Ronald D Moore behind the scenes and the fact that it airs on Starz so there's plenty of sex and violence, this would be on The CW, trying to appeal to teenage girls alongside Reign. I did watch this with my lovely wife and neither of us could find anything that appealing or romantic about the show; buff Highland lad seemed a bit bereft of charisma and charm as is WW2 nurse; and her hubbie (Tobias Menzies from Doctor Who, The Honourable Woman, Game of Thrones, et al) was actually quite nice. We never got as far as episode two.

Immigration summary: Literally everyone is either British or Irish. Everyone.

Selfie (US: Tuesdays, 8pm/7pm, ABC)
Loose updating of My Fair Lady for the social media age, with Eliza Dooley (former Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan) coming a viral cropper and recruiting marketing guru Henry Higenbottam (Harold and Kumar’s John Cho) to rehabilitate her image. Instead, Higgins tries to rehabilitate her and make her less self-centred.

Created by Suburgatory’s Emily Kapnek, this is a marked disappointment, although it still displays her usual wit and intelligence in a few places at least. There are few laughs, few decent characters apart from those inherited from the original and only the beginnings of a vestigial romance between Gillan and Cho. I’ll probably watch episode two, but it’s on thin ice.

Immigration summary: Apart from Gillan, there’s also David Harewood (Homeland) as her boss.

Movies

Guess what? I also watched some movies!

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Admirable, joyful addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with an origin story showing how the slightly dickish 'guardians' come together to defend a utopia from an intergalactic religious zealot (the wonderful Lee Pace from Halt and Catch Fire). There's a lot to like about the film, which isn't quite as good as Captain America 2 (IMHO), but I didn't love it, possibly because of the characters (except for Groot). It does have the best soundtrack of the Marvel movies, too.

Transcendence (2014)
Scientist Johnny Depp dies and gets turned into an artificial intelligence, where he starts to get both world-changing and human-changing ideas. For about 90% of its run, it appears to be a modern-day, biologically enhanced version of Colossus: The Forbin Project, before the ending flips everything on its head. A real slow-mover, it does feature some very interesting ideas, but is still massively too long. Definitely best seen at home.

After the jump, the regulars, including The Last Ship, Halt and Catch Fire, Suits, Tyrant, Doctor Who and You're The Worst.

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