Archive | Film reviews

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


January 15, 2016

What have you been watching? Including The Hateful Eight, Byw Celwydd, Rebellion and Endeavour

Posted on January 15, 2016 | 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, you can't say I haven't been keeping you up to date on all the new shows around the world. Or at least trying to. This week I think I've hit a personal record for number of new shows either previewed or reviewed in a week, since I gave you the lowdown on the following:

Which ain't bad. Idiotsitter I previewed last week, so that doesn't count.

I haven't had a chance to watch last night's The Family Law (Australia: SBS) yet, but I'll get round to that over the weekend, fingers crossed, and let you know about it (and anything else that debuts or that's escaped my radar) on Monday.

After the jump, I'll be looking at the regulars, as well as those shows I thought promising enough to keep in my crowded schedule: American Crime, Byw Celwydd, Cooper Barrett's Guide To Surviving Life, Endeavour, Grandfathered, Man Seeking Woman and Rebellion. Those keeping score will notice that I couldn't be bothered with the second episodes of Shades of Blue, Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands or Angel From Hell, but 100 Code will be getting a look in over the weekend, too. Probably.

But first, a movie!

The Hateful Eight (2016)
Quentin Tarantino's latest is a Western that assembles many of his usual tropes and uses them as a framework for him to mash up Reservoir Dogs, The Thing and 10 Little Indians, into a lovely morality tail about how adversity can help men overcome their racism so they can join together to be misogynistic.

Set just after the civil war, the film sees bounty hunter Kurt Russell is taking in fugitive Jennifer Jason Leigh when a blizzard forces them - and fellow bounty hunter Samuel L Jackson and local sheriff Walter Goggins - to take refuge in a shop on the side of a mountain in Wyoming. There they meet various other characters (Tim Roth, Demián Bichir, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern), one or more of whom could be secretly in league with Leigh. As the snows set in, the bodies start to pile up…

It takes a good half hour for the film to reach the shop, that half hour being so dull I actually fell asleep for 10 minutes. However, the remaining two and a half hours (including interval) are considerably better. While the film owes an epic debt to The Thing, even poaching some of that film's score, it's also its own beast. But while it doers innovate, constantly surprises, plays with audience expectations, and looks fantastic in Panavision Ultra 70mm, it never does anything quite as exciting as Tarantino's previous efforts, particularly Inglorious Bastards

Funny, but mostly from its gross-out humour; tense, but mostly thanks to The Thing; a decent enough viewing, but mostly full of plot loopholes and missed opportunities. Nothing to go out of your way for.

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January 4, 2016

What have you been watching this Christmas? Including Elf, The Force Awakens, Doctor Who and Kung Fu Killer

Posted on January 4, 2016 | 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 Christmas holidays/Saturnalia are a time for revelry and fun, followed by bloated lounging around watching TV. At least, they usually are. This year, good TV was slightly harder to find, so after the jump in this Christmas viewing round-up, the only Christmas specials I'll be looking at are Doctor Who and Sherlock, as well as the slightly unexpected and un-Christmasy Marco Polo: One Hundred Eyes. Several of the regular shows also finished their runs over Christmas, so I'll be taking a gander at Ash vs Evil Dead, The Bridge and Legends, and I finally finished the first season of The Man In the High Castle, too.

That doesn't sound like much viewing for two weeks, and you'd be right. I also watched a few movies and even went to the theatre:

Elf (Dominion theatre, London)
A stage adaptation of the delightful Will Ferrell Christmas classic movie, in which a Christmas elf discovers he's really a human and ventures south to New York to find his children's book-publisher father (James Caan), only to discover that daddy is in Santa's naughty list. He gets a job at a department store, where thanks to adorable co-worker Zooey Deschanel, he discovers the human thing called love, and manages to restore Christmas cheer to the world.

Initially tediously slavish to the original, right down to the New York setting requiring the entirely British cast to put on US accents, this musical version starts to get better only when the story begins to diverge halfway through. The show is also more knowing than the original, losing some of its innocence and adding jokes that only the adults in the audience will get.

Ben Forster (winner of ITV's Superstar), who's got a cracking set of pipes on him, plays Buddy the Elf a bit closer to Jim Carrey than to Will Ferrell, while Girls Aloud's similiarly pipe-equipped Kimberley Walsh (I'd misread that as Kimberly Wyatt from Sky 1's Got To Dance, so was a bit disappointed when I realised my mistake…) foregoes Deschanel's hipster quirkiness in favour of being just a cynical woman embittered by too many of life's disappointments. More interestingly - again for the adults - is the presence of 80s/90s stars Joe McGann (The Upper Hand) and Jessica Martin (Doctor Who, The Bobby Davro Show) as Buddy's human parents.

It's a lavish affair with a good cast that's still very entertaining and that eventually finds its feet, but it's better if you've never seen the original and imagine it's all set in London - they missed a trick there.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015) (iTunes)
Every Mission Impossible is a bit different but this time we do get something a bit closer to the first movie in the series, with an attempt to do proper spy stuff again. Senator Alec Baldwin is trying to shut down the Impossible Mission Force, just as Tom Cruise cottons on to the fact that rogue agents from other countries' spy agencies have clubbed together for nefarious purposes, forcing the team to go on the lam. Can Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner and generic token woman Rebecca Ferguson (The White Queen) stop the 'rogue nation', even though its agents are supposedly every bit as good as IMF and wise to how it does business? 

You betcha, but the fun is in finding out how. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie gives us some occasionally thrilling, mostly too-CGIed action set pieces, as well as some surprisingly funny moments and the traditional con jobs, although an attempt to create parallels to Casablanca are ill judged, Renner is confined almost entirely to chatty scenes in Washington and London has about 1,700 red telephone boxes for no good reason. Also amusing for UK viewers is that the British government appears to be entirely composed of the cast of Rev.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (20150 (in cinemas)
Simultaneously answering the questions "What if it had been Princess Leia rather than Luke Skywalker left on Tatooine?" and "What must it be like to work for the Empire?", this new Star Wars movie has newcomer Daisy Ridley as Rey, a scavenger on a desert planet waiting for her family to return to pick her up. Into her life come a comedic stormtrooper-with-a-conscience sidekick (John Boyega) and a droid looking for an old jedi. Together they have to escape the revamped Empire, find the rebels, meet Han Solo in the Millennium Falcon and destroy the Empire's new, definitely-not-the-Death-Star-oh-no superweapon.

JJ Abrams gives us the first decent addition to the Star Wars series since the 80s through the simple measure of giving us Star Wars again, but with modern special effects and a few character/relationship switches just to obfuscate the fact it's the same movie as the first one. But it is a very decent remake-sequel, reminding you of just how good the original was, being genuinely thrilling, funny and enjoyable throughout, not invoking any of the tedious cruft that Lucas added in the prequels, and giving us a decent new cast and a return of the old cast. And it's great to have one of these things about a girl rather than a boy for a change, too.

The big question, given where the film ends, is whether the next one is going to be a simple retread of The Empire Strikes Back or whether there are still new stories to be told in the franchise.

Kung Fu Killer/Jungle (2014) (Netflix)
Top martial artist Donnie Yen's in Hong Kong nick for murder, when other top martial artists start getting killed off, forcing the police to recruit him to stop the murderer from killing anyone else. But does Yen know more than he's letting on and can he stop the killer before he gets to his girlfriend?

It's a largely unremarkable plot, but what lifts Kung Fu Killer are its fight scenes, direction and cast. Featuring pretty much a who's who of the Hong Kong martial arts industry, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera (stick around to the end to see if you spotted everyone), the movie is often a Chinese travelogue and has some directorial flourishes that nod to a diverse range of movies, including The Bourne Supremacy, although its CGI is a bit weak and the wire work a bit too obvious. The best fight is saved for Yen and till last, but the movie fills its runtime in an almost Game of Death-style deconstruction of kung fu, each scene showing a different aspect of Chinese martial arts.

Worth watching if you want to see what a modern Hong Kong martial arts movie looks like and to see Donnie Yen on good form.

Continue reading "What have you been watching this Christmas? Including Elf, The Force Awakens, Doctor Who and Kung Fu Killer "

November 29, 2015

What have you been watching? Including Chicago Med, Ant-Man and The Bridge

Posted on November 29, 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.

All these new shows coming out at the same time is not very helpful. Even with Thanksgiving in the US knocking a whole bunch of shows out of action, I haven't got further than the first episode of The Man In The High Castle, and the Black Friday dumping of WE TV's South of Hell means I haven't watched any of it. I also haven't had a chance to watch last night's Doctor Who and The Bridge. Oh well. 

I might discuss this phenomenon more on Monday.

But this week, I did watch the first episode of The Art of More (US: Crackle) and review the entire first season of Jessica Jones (Netflix), which ain't bad. And after the jump, I'll be reviewing the latest episodes of Ash vs Evil Dead, Blindspot, Grandfathered, Into The Badlands, Legends, Limitless and Supergirl, as well as last weekend's episodes of Doctor Who and The Bridge.

I also watched the first episode of another new show.

Chicago Med (US: NBC)
A spin-off from Chicago PD which itself was a spin-off from Chicago Fire, this hospital procedural from the Dick Wolf school of entirely predictable institution-revering has already had a backdoor pilot in Chicago Fire and now it's heading off all by itself. I barely need to describe the set-up - it's an emergency department, in which very poor character actors turn up each week pretending to be ill, so that various medical professionals can work their hardest to defeat the system, cure whatever illnesses they have and show how damn awesome they are, without having to fill out a single form or charge a dime.

Surprisingly, every illness also presents an Important Moral Issue - here's a surrogate mother who signed a contract giving medical attorneyship to the parents of the baby… except now she needs an operation to save her life that might kill the baby! What choice will the parents make and how will it affect the Pregnant Doctor?

As well as the cameos from Chicago Fire cast members, including David Eigenberg who's now done all three shows, we have a regular bunch of competitive doctors, all trying to out-awesome each other. Central to all this is newbie Colin Donnell (Tommy Merlin from Arrow), who's just so awesome, although his 'fluent Spanish' seems to consist mainly of speaking Spanish for two sentences with someone who only speaks Spanish before switching back into English to force them to carry on falteringly in English, too. There's also Oliver Platt and S Epatha Merkerson, Laurie Holden having jumped ship twixt pilot and series. There's also a bunch of young 'uns whose job is to be rubbish so they can be told what to do by Team Awesome and some honourary members of Team Awesome, who we're supposed to think are awesome, but who largely patronise and interrupt their patients, rather than listen to them.

Probably the best thing about it, about from a thoroughly entertaining cameo by Rahm Emmanuel to open the new ED, is that it's thoroughly ludicrous, with Donnell rescuing everyone in a crash on The Loop and then sewing stitches into his own arm, to show how awesome he is, despite being surrounded by an entire team of trained nurses and doctors, all of whom have two working hands and aren't in a lot of pain. It's also reasonably likeable, unlike 'Dick Central', aka Code Black. Otherwise, utterly generic, which seems to be NBC new policy - to be fair, it also seems to be working for them.

I also watched a movie:

Ant-Man (2015) (iTunes)
The latest Marvel movie continues efforts to raid the B-team of characters, here with Paul Rudd playing the titular Ant-Man. He's a social justice warrior sent to prison for burgling big companies, and comes out unable to get a job. Fortunately, former 1980s Ant-Man Michael Douglas's slightly mental pupil is trying to create an army based on Douglas' shrinking technology, so Douglas enlists Rudd to steal the technology back and make sure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands. This is despite having a daughter (Evangeline Lilly from Lost and The Hobbit movies) who's so much more qualified for the job than Rudd, she has to spend the entire movie teaching him what to do.

The film is somewhat unusual in being one long heist movie, albeit involving a criminal who can shrink in size and enlist ants to do his bidding. It also eschews some of the standard Marvel tropes, in having a relatively sedate Big Battle at the end, one that's played for laughs and which rapidly and even more unusually turns into the final act of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Most of this oddness can probably be laid at the door of the movie's original director, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim, Spaced), who was ejected from the project for creative differences, and while replacement director Payton Reed doesn't do a bad job, Ant-Man is a bit too ordinary in its ordinariness, right down to removing all the references to the superhero's dumb name that were interspersed throughout the trailers.

For Marvel fans, there's plenty of cameos and references to both the other movies and the comics, but this feels like a somewhat ordinary addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one that could quite easily have been a Black Widow movie to greater effect.

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