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March 24, 2017

Review: Iron Fist - Season 1 (Netflix)

Posted on March 24, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Netflix's Marvel's Iron Fist

Marvel took the movie world by storm with The Avengers, a little film one or two of you may have seen. One of the most important aspects of The Avengers was the fact it wasn't the first movie to features its protagonists, all of whom had appeared in the preceding movies Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, either as the leads or as co-stars.

A staple of the comic book world, the crossover was something that had never really been tried in the movie world before and audiences loved it.

With a few reservations. The most notable of these was that there wasn't a huge amount of diversity in that superheroic line up: lots of straight white men as leads and usually as the villains, too, but women, people of colour et al were either in the supporting cast or completely absent. And while the movies have slowly added black characters such as Falcon and Black Panther and bumped up the role of supporting superheroine Black Widow to the point where Captain America: Winter Soldier was as much about her as about Captain America, solo movies with black or female superheroic leads are still a little way off.

So, when Netflix and Marvel announced they would produce a series of comic book TV shows together, three things were almost compulsory. The first was lower budgets. That meant having none of the movie universe characters in any of the shows, which meant having to pick completely new characters. The second was that there would be crossovers, which in turn would lead to one great big TV series featuring all the new heroes. The third was diversity would be key.

And thus we have a new group of superheroes: 'The Defenders'. Not to be confused with 'The Avengers', obviously. The Defenders is also the name of the ultimate TV show at the end of the list.

The sequence started with Daredevil, a really superb opening featuring probably the one character many people would have heard of, thanks in part to the Ben Affleck adaptation over a decade ago. Daredevil's also blind and a lawyer who does pro bono work defending the poor and helpless from big business.

That was quickly followed up with the suprisingly excellent feminist deconstruction of the entire genre, Jessica Jones, and then Luke Cage, an affair almost plotless because rather than being a superhero show, it largely was more interested in discussing black culture, history and what is the true and correct course of action for the modern black man of honour. A quick second season of Daredevil proved less satisfying, as it ditched gritty reality to pit our hero against a bunch of immortal ninja called 'The Hand'.

All the same, for all their pros and cons, diversity - globs of it everywhere.

Which makes Marvel's Iron Fist something of an odd choice. Because although it fits well with Mark Zuckerberg's idea of diversity, it's almost a slap in the face to the other shows' efforts.

Young Danny Rand, the white male son of white corporate mogul billionaries, is on their private jet to China when it crash lands in the mountains of Tibet. Coincidentally, that's just as the mystical city of K'un-L'un appeared from heaven on its 15-year regular cycle, journeying between planes of existence. Taken in by the warrior monks who guard K'un-L'un, the orphaned boy is trained in their ways and eventually succeeds all trials to become 'the Iron Fist', K'un-L'un's 'living weapon' who uses the power of the heart of the Shou-Lao the Undying dragon, to defend the city from the Hand, whenever it appears on Earth.

However, when K'un-L'un returns to the Earthly plane again 15 years later, Danny abandons his post and heads to New York where he discovers the Hand are already in residence at his parents' company, Rand Enterprises. Soon, he must prove who he really is, take back his company from the bad people who now run it, and stop The Hand.

Yep, that's right: Iron Fist wants you to care about boardroom politics and a spoilt, immature billionaire who wants to clear his family name.

Bad decision by Marvel and Netflix? Well, actually, despite some very odd decisions, a very shaky start, and a very long list of flaws, Marvel's Iron Fist turned out to be really, really enjoyable stuff - due in part surprisingly because it features Sacha Dhawan (Outsourced24, The Tractate Middoth, Line of Duty, An Adventure in Time and Space) as a sarcastic warrior monk named after a Swiss ski resort.

Big spoilers after the jump…

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March 22, 2017

Review: Snatch 1x1 (US: Crackle)

Posted on March 22, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Snatch

In the US: Season 1 available on Crackle

Guy Ritchie is the sort of director who wants not nuffin to do with not none of that auteur theory. That's lardy dah, ponces' talk, that is.

Yet you can spot a Guy Ritchie movie a mile off, innit? You got the hypermasculinity and the sexual objectification of women, ain't ya? You've got the obsession with and eulogisation of working class, English crims - the kind that only someone ultra-posh who's the son of a baronet has, right? You've got the casting of proper working class, hard actors, who hopefully are crims, too. You've got the slow-mo, you've got the rhyming slang, you've got the monickers, and you've got the stylisation that lets the audience know it's not quite for real, that it's all just a bit off from real-life - that it's all just a bit of bantosaurus rexing.

Case in point, guv'nor - like anyone in London's used guv'nor seriously since The Sweeney - is Snatch, Guy Ritchie's 2000 movie about a diamond heist and a 'pikey' boxer (Brad Pitt). Bants and sexual objectification right there in the title 'cos it has a double meaning, don't it? And all as authentically East End as the Islington filming locations.

So what happens when you take the auteur out of the auteured, which is what we now have with Crackle's Snatch? You get something as soft as a soufflé, that's what.

Owing almost nothing beyond its general feel to the original movie, it sees Luke Pasqualino (born: Peterborough) playing the Cockney son of notorious banged-up Cockney bank robber Dougray Scott (born: Glenrothes). He's doing his best to pay off the debts, but his get-rich schemes with posh boy Ruper Grint (born: Harlow) aren't working and the local Cockney lone shark's going to take his Cockney mum's flower shop off him if he doesn't pay up - and quick.

So he puts everything they have on a fight involving his 'half-pikey', half-Cockney boxing star Lucien Laviscount (born: Burnley). Except that makes everything worse. 

Fortunately, Cockney moll Phoebe Dynevor (born: Manchester) is still miffed at Cockney Cuban-wannabe Ed Westwick (born: Stevenage) for taking her share of the takings at his club, so enlists them in a cunning scheme to rob Westwick that should help Pasqualino, Grint and Laviscount make thirty grand, easy. It just involves a heist…

Now, not for a second does any of this ring true, from the Manchester filming locations masquerading as the East End because the East End doesn't look like the East End any more through the wobbly accents through the idea that Pasqualino is in any way related to Scott through the action scenes through the amiable Cockney geezers that populate this florist-envying underworld through the laughable prison Scott's banged up in through every other thing that happens in the show.

But unlike Ritchie's Snatch, which was clearly sending itself up while simultaneously worshipping at its East End altar, this Snatch clearly half-believes in its nonsensical vision of the E postcodes that would make EastEnders seem like a Ken Loach documentary. Not totally, but the self-satire has been very clearly bleached out of the formula. Some of the cast are even taking it all seriously.

It's also a very pale imitation of Ritchie's style. Snatch seems to get bored of trying anything visually exciting after the title sequence, after which it's business as usual. There's very little humour, Laviscount is completely comprehensible, and the minimal action in the show fails to excite even slightly. In the least Ritchian move possible, Dynevor even gets lines, character and motivation, while never having to take even some of her clothes off. Not once.

However, as Dynevor and indeed most of the cast seem to be about 15 years old, playing dress-up in a modern-day, London-based Bugsy Malone, that's not such a bad thing.

And yet… there's still a grudging "not bad" quality to it. Sure, writer/creator Alex De Rakoff (The Calcium Kid, Dead Man Running) is British, the cast are British, Rupert Grint is an executive producer and it's filmed in Britain. But this is Crackle, a US internet network, not BBC Three.

Sure, there's a token American supporting character (Stephanie Leonidas from Defiance - ironically, the only member of the cast who is born: London), but there are no lingustic concessions, no forced explanations for dialogue or settings. It's probably the most authentically British TV show made for a US network that I've ever seen. It's just that for Brits, it's not properly pukka, y'know?

If you like weak, semi-comedic crime dramas, Snatch might work for you. If you want to see Rupert Grint doing something a bit different from Harry Potter for a change, it's worth a punt.

But if you're a fan of the original movie, a fan of Guy Ritchie or - heaven forfend - a proper Londoner, born and bred, best to steer clear of this one, me old china and head out for a cheeky Nando's instead.

March 21, 2017

Third-episode verdict: Making History (US: Fox)

Posted on March 21, 2017 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerMakingHistory.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Sundays, 8:30/7:30c, Fox

The trouble with Making History is that it's more of an idea for a show now, rather than an actual TV show. When it started, it had a relatively high concept behind it: Adam Pally has inherited a time machine from his dad and he uses it to go back in time to the War of Independence for the simple, base reason that he wants a girlfriend and is too inept in modern times to impress anyone, let alone the highly talented and beautiful daughter of Paul Revere, Leighton Meester. Armed with centuries of knowledge, he can woo her with Céline Dion lyrics and his tales of having invented the skateboard and headphones. However, he ends up ruining history, so has to recruit uptight history professor Yassir Lester to his cause to put things right.

Since then, the show has struggled to work out what it's actually about, other than three mismatched people who happen to have a time machine. There's plenty of culture shock and commentary, with Pally and Lester managing to ignite the revolution again in the second episode by getting the Brits to threaten to take away the 'Americans' guns ("Why do they need so many? We didn't care at first, but now they have so many, they clearly plan on using them, so we need to take them away from them…"), and Making History is almost funny when it's making these kind of throwaway comments about both modern and past US life.

There's also some humour to be had from Meester's trying to adapt to modern times with Pally's help ("This is a photo of an Asian girl. What do we say when we see an Asian girl?" "Nothing. There is nothing remarkable about an Asian girl and no comments are necessary") while still being an 18th century girl at heart who kills squirrels and uses their pelts for fur and their bones to make very small pianos. 

But that's really about all the show has to offer, so it's really struggling to work out what to do with itself. There's no chemistry between the leads and no reason for the trio to be together other than the scripts demand it. In fact, by episode three, the show is having to dress up Pally as Cher to find any really new jokes to make, which is something that only makes sense if you saw him in Happy Endings; future episodes look likely to involve sending our heroes back in time to other eras in the hope that fresh eras will provide fresh opportunities for jokes, now every other source has been mined.

Of all the time travel shows we've had in the past year, Making History is not only the weakest, it's the least funny, despite it being the only actual time-travel comedy in the pack. Even Timeless has better jokes. This is despite a decent cast and some obvious intelligence in the writing. Ratings are poor, so I suspect the end is nigh for the show anyway, so you can afford to give this one a miss.

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