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An archive of all the blog's reviews of TV programmes, films, DVDs, plays, audio plays and gadgets. There's also an A-Z index of all reviews.


November 30, 2016

Third-episode verdict: Shooter (US: USA; UK: Netflix)

Posted on November 30, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerShooter.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, USA
In the UK: Wednesdays, Netflix

The biggest problem with Shooter - USA's adaptation of the 2007 movie of the same name, in which a retired marine (Ryan Phillipe) is falsely accused of an assassination and must find the true culprits to clear his name - is that it's educational. Yes, educational.

I say problem because you'll end up knowing an awful lot about guns after each episode. At some point in each hour, you'll get an awful info dump from Phillipe about some new weapon or other ("the pistol grip on that shotgun reduces your control and may cause you to spray shot into her gut") that's both impressive and yet simultaneously a bit upsetting - like a neighbour who can tell you in forensic detail exactly what you did every single moment of the day in chronological order. Even when you thought you were alone. And were at work.

But like that neighbour who might otherwise be quiet, keep to himself and always mow his lawn, if you can overlook the one problem, you might get on well. Shooter, like its antecedent, is actually a pretty fine thriller.

While the first episode was more or less identical to the first 20 minutes or so of the movie, providing almost no surprises whatsoever, episode two was an intriguing "what if he'd turned right instead of left?" embellishment to the movie that still ended up at more or less the same point by the end, but which fed in a whole new bunch of parameters, allies, enemies and situations that made the whole thing just a little bit more realistic and expansive than the movie. It also made Phillipe's wife (Shantel VanSanten from The Messengers and The Flash) a little more interesting and gave Cynthia Addai-Robinson something to do other than glower.

Episode three in turn is the beginning of Phillipe's hunt for the bad guys and their hunt for him, and it dials the tension up several notches with some smart moves on everyone's parts. It also added to the show's already pleasantly conservative tone, giving us all manner of 'brothers and sisters in arms' moments that should make you swell with patriotism, even if you aren't American.

Where the show falls down a bit, oddly enough, is its action scenes - or at least its fight scenes. Never has a marine been so incompetent at fighting. In a day and age when pretty much every action show has an ex-military advisor on hand, Phillipe appears to be at almost yellow-belt status in dealing with the enemy, barely able to muster a competent o-soto-goshi, let alone give us any proper marine corps martial arts.

If you like a decent thriller, with reasonably sensible plotting, a decent cast and decent characters, then Shooter's a good show to watch. If you love guns, you may even love it*. It's just a shame nothing about Phillipe really says 'top marine sniper', particularly his fighting.

Barrometer rating: 2
Would it be better with a female lead? If it was Gina Carano, sure
TMINE's prediction: Will certainly last a season

*Although for all I know, it might be making it all up, in which case you won't

November 24, 2016

Review: Search Party 1x1-1x2 (US: TBS)

Posted on November 24, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Search Party

In the US: Nightly, 11/10c, TBS

One of the conclusions of Adam Curtis' Hypernormalisation was that thanks to individualisation and the Internet, people are now more invested in the virtual world than the real world, making political solutions to problems all but impossible.

So now you've seen the documentary, here's the dramedy: Search Party. Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat is an aimless twentysomething, drifting through life without any real ambitions or interests of her own, it seems. But she's no different from shallow boyfriend John Reynolds, shallow gay friend John Early, shallow actress friend Meredith Hagner and shallow ex-boyfriend Brandon Micheal Hall, all of whom are more invested in texting, Twitter and selfies than anything real.

But then Shawkat spots a missing person's poster for a college friend who's disappeared and decides to investigate, perhaps in an effort to connect properly with someone else. Can she drag everyone else back into the real world with her to help her? 

Despite airing on TBS, whose motto should really be "We're occasionally funny, but never as much as Comedy Central", Search Party is barely a comedy at all; it's also a lot smarter than you'd expect, thanks to the likes of indie movie makers Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers (Fort Tilden, The Color of Time) on the writing team.

The show is in part a cry for self-involved millennials to reach out and connect - and it has some acute observations about how disconnected everyone now is. Reynolds would rather masturbate to his own fantasies in bed than have sex with Shawkat when she's right next to him. Neither of them know what to do when they hear sounds of domestic violence in a neighbouring flat, so they do nothing, even when glass starts smashing. No one remembers anyone else, unless there's an online record of their actions, and no one is willing to commit to anyone else if it draws them out of their bubble, their fear of the real world and real feelings is so great. Hagner even has to turn to a writer on one of her TV shows to ask for his advice on what an event in the real world might mean, and no one is that sure about what's real and what's not, anyway. After all, Hagner is an American actress pretending to be a fictional actress pretending to be a policewoman who works with another American actress pretending to be an English actress pretending to be an American policewoman. Can anything be trusted to be real or has everything been hypernormalised now?

But at the same time, the show is more complicated than a simple hippyish "why don't we all just reach out and touch someone to make the world a better place?" It has a New York-mistrust of others and strangers. When Shawkat reaches out to someone, they turn out to be crazy or aggressive; when Reynolds finally tries to help the abused woman living next door, she simply shrieks insults at him until he goes away. Even when Shawkat goes to the police for help with the missing girl, the police are equally atomised, unwilling to become involved in another person's life to help her, and Shakat, as with the rest of her peers, lacks the social skills to persuade them, instead resorting to insults herself.

The show is almost too clever, with metatextual references to Anna Karenina ("She dies at the end") and comments about how the search is often more interesting than the discovery are almost designed to put you off watching further. Yet at the same time, it's not clever enough. Like the oddly similar Girls, it gives you a set of pampered heroes and heroines you want to die a horribly fiery death. Unlike Girls, it has almost no wit or comedy to alleviate that desire, making it an almost Scream-like show, crying out at the loneliness of modern life yet not making the alternative look any better.

Search Party is an interesting idea that's as alienating as its characters are alienated. I don't want to reach out and join this party, I'm afraid.

November 16, 2016

Review: Shooter 1x1 (US: USA; UK: Netflix)

Posted on November 16, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Shooter

In the US: Tuesdays, 10/9c, USA
In the UK: Wednesdays, Netflix

I think it's fair to say that America loves guns. Or at least has a lot of them: 300 million at last count, on a population of 325 million. And if you have a lot of guns, they tend to get used, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Which has caused all kinds of problems for USA's Shooter, a show that loves guns rather a lot. Originally scheduled to air mid-July, it was postponed at first by a week following the shooting in Dallas. However, following the shooting in Baton Rouge, USA decided to move Shooter from its summer schedule to November. 

Shooter sees Ryan Phillipe (Secrets and Lies, Cruel Intentions) once again take on a role to which he's slightly ill suited - a former marine sniper. Wounded in action by the Chechnyan sniper who killed his best friend, he's perfectly happy with his wife and daughter, until his former CO turned secret service agent Omar Epps (House, Resurrection) approaches him for help. Said Chechnyan sniper has threatened to kill the President and Phillipe is one of the few people in the world with the skills to work out how he could do it and so prevent it. Except things are not quite as they seem…

Based on the 2007 movie of the same name, which in turn was based on Stephen Hunter's book Point of Impact, this pilot episode follows the film and to a lesser extent the book pretty faithfully, meaning that if you've seen the movie, there'll be almost no surprises as to what happens at the end of the episode.

That said, there have been a few tweaks. Epps's characters might not be the obvious double-crosser that Danny Glover was, while Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Arrow, Spartacus)'s disgraced FBI agent and potential ally to Phillipe is a moderately interesting gender-change to the Michael Peña character, even if she's not quite as interesting as he was. The fact Phillipe now has a family, rather than a Kate Mara to hook up with, also changes the dynamics of the story a little.

As I mentioned when I reviewed Graves, shows with conservative politics are relatively rare and Shooter is clearly aimed at viewers of that disposition, right down to our hero's family saying grace before meals. Its dedication to honourable men and women, doing honourable things in service, is a refreshing change, too, even if we know a great big conspiracy is potentially looming round the corner. Its big, big, big love of guns (aka "defenders of freedom"), which it inherited from its source material, is also a little different, even if does come across like a product review page in Guns & Ammo at times.

But dramatically, it's not really innovating much and the opening scene in which Phillipe starts shooting orthodentists because they've used the wrong kind of gun and rounds to hunt a wolf is astonishingly clumsy. Characterisation is weak, largely fitting people into particular plot functions rather than making them fully fleshed out human beings. Dialogue is often dreadful, particularly anything between Phillipe and his wife, who judging from her lines must have been a sniper herself. And the constant use of low-budget CGI "bullet time" shots for, erm, bullet shots makes the show look cheap and a bit silly. 

As a piece of action-thriller TV, Shooter's pretty good, though. Clearly, that's mainly down to the source material but sometimes it transcendents that material to avoid some of its sillier ideas. Whether subsequent episodes, which will have far less to work with, will be as good or whether Phillipe will be shooting more dentists remains to be seen.

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