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What have you been watching? Including Black Sails, Broad City, White House Down and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Posted on January 28, 2014 | 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.

The January TV deluge is dying down, mostly in preparation for the February TV deluge, but also because of the Winter Olympics. Nevertheless, I’m still a little bit behind, with a Helix, Archer and The Three Musketeers to watch, so to cut my losses, I’ve abandoned attempts to watch:

  • Mr Selfridge, largely because I’d have to deal with the atrocious ITV Player but also the first season got too soapy for my liking and the fake cockney/posh accents started to grate after a while.
  • House of Fools continued in much the same vein as the first episode – surreal and a bit sexist, but not quite as funny as you’d hope.
  • Being Human I’m abandoning after three and a bit seasons, because it’s not going anywhere especially interesting and where it is going is too far removed from where it started (three supernatural flatmates). The second episode was better than the first, though.
  • Looking – I suspect this is not a show for me.

My third episode verdict of True Detective should be up tomorrow.

This week, I have managed to watch a couple of new shows, though.

Black Sails (Starz)
A prequel to Treasure Island that shows us the young, handsome Long John Silver in action on board a pirate ship in the Caribbean. And that sentence is probably the most interesting thing about the show, because despite the fact I love things maritime (Greenwich, Portsmouth, Master and Commander, the Aubrey and Maturin series, et al) and despite the pirates, the surfeit of female full frontal nudity, the exotic location, the boats, Mark Ryan from Robin of Sherwood and the occasional sea battle, this was possibly the most boring show I’ve watched in a long time, as it was largely about pirate bureaucracy. Plus pirates were gits, not nice guys. Dull, dull, dull.

Broad City (Comedy Central)
Based on the web series, this sees two female friends in dead end jobs trying to get by in life. Desperately tries to be fun and funny, while commenting on life at the crap end of the labour market for young people, but never actually manages to be funny.

Shows that I've been watching but not really recommending:

The Tomorrow People (The CW/E4)
Evil street Tomorrow People show up and beat up our nice Tomorrow People, requiring the new leader to deal out some punishment. Okay as episodes go, but this one’s close to getting dropped, too.

And in the recommended list:

Archer (FX/Channel 5)
Not where I thought that reboot was going. Some great individual moments.

Arrow (The CW/Sky 1)
Full on Deathstroke! This is what we want!

Banshee (Cinemax)
A very much better return to normal, although more soft porn sex that we could have done without. Strangely, Sheriff Hood seems to be getting beat up a lot these days, despite being number one bad ass last year. Interesting to see an episode focusing on the native Americans rather than the Amish for a change.

The Blacklist (NBC/Sky Living)
This year’s seen an odd focus on “black list” members, this episode dealing with – I’m not joking – an evil adoption agency. However, evil adoption agency turned out to be very creepy indeed and Campbell Scott was great, as was the continuing James Spader ‘vengeance’ sub-plot. In true NBC “we don’t really want any success” style, we now have to wait until after the Winter Olympics for the next episode. Weird note: odd references to Greek myth, with a fertility clinic called Galatea (the statue brought to life by Pygmalion) and an employee who works there called Nestor (the old warrior in the Trojan War).

The Bridge (BBC4)
Some weird, sometimes unpleasant sex things are going on and I’m wondering if we’ve been given another red herring to deal with. The usual excellence of The Bridge.

Community (NBC/some random UK channel)
Another one of Community’s traditional pan-college games, this time: keeping your feet off the imaginary lava. Very funny and a lovely send off for a certain character. Made Abed look a bit crazy, though.

And in movies:

White House Down
Channing Tatum wants a job on the Secret Service and while he’s at the White House, baddies take over and try to kidnap president Jamie Foxx. A stupid film, but one that knows it – essentially, it’s Die Hard in the White House but with the President blowing things up with a rocket launcher – and it’s got James Woods, Maggie Gyllenhaal and a whole host of people you’ll recognise off minor TV shows (Jason Clarke from Brotherhood/The Chicago Code, Jimmi Simpson from Breakout Kings, Lance Reddick from The Wire and Fringe, etc). Yet it's also cleverer than you might think. Worth a try if you've nothing else to watch.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
A surprisingly not-awful origin story for Tom Clancy’s hero (this is his fourth movie), with Chris Pine adopting the mantel of the dull but earnest all-American brainy marine hero, recruited to the CIA by Kevin Costner. Here he also has to defend America from being destroyed by evil Russian Kenneth Branagh, while trying to keep his relationship with Keira Knightley together. Surprisingly competent, it falls between two stools, not quite being pure spy realism but not being very escapist either and trying to homage the 60s, the 80s and modern day spy thrillers. There are also bits that don't make a lick of sense, either. Intriguingly, as with most Clancy things, it’s all about Americans working together as a team, all being good at their jobs but nuts in the overall awesome US spy machine. Pretty good overall.

"What have you been watching?" is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid - and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I've watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you've seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?

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What have you been watching? Including The Three Musketeers, House of Fools, Monsters University and Enlisted

Posted on January 21, 2014 | 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.

The January TV deluge has begun in earnest now, with many new shows as well as returning old shows, and although I'm doing my best, I've still got a few things sitting in my viewing queue as a result (being a day late with this hasn't helped...): Sunday's Looking, True Detective and Mr Selfridge, and last night's Being Human and Intelligence. I've also got to try to preview Black Sails at some point.

I've given a few new shows a go, though:

Still Open All Hours (BBC1)
A Christmas special - already commissioned for a new series - which sees David Jason reprise his role of Granville, now the owner of Arkwright's old corner shop, and with a probable son in tow. Most of the old cast are still there, surprisingly all having aged better than Jason, and the characters still the same, but the jokes are now a bit old and not especially funny.

House of Fools (BBC2)
Vic and Bob return triumphantly to their surreal comedy, pastiching so much that you never know what they're even pastiching half the time, whether it's themselves, 70s sitcoms or anything else. Very funny a lot of the time, but the jokes about women (and Sandi Toksvig) left a nasty taste that detracted from the fun and by about 20 minutes in, it had become very wearing. Matt Berry wasn't exactly stretched much as an actor, either.

The Three Musketeers (BBC1)
Originally planned as a family filler to sit in between seasons of Doctor Who, this has now been promoted to Sunday primetime and sees Dumas' classic taken and then passed through the BBC1 generic family action washing machine to give us something bland, inauthentic, unfaithful and without any really discernable characteristics, beyond crappy dialogue (cf Merlin, Atlantis, Hunted et al). Nice to see Santiago Cabrera (Heroes) getting work and Peter Capaldi is delightfully evil, without going over the top, but everyone else is as remarkable as battleship grey. Fun enough with some relatively decent action sequences, but could be so much better.

Shows that I've been watching but not really recommending:

Almost Human (Fox)
A generic episode that felt strangely out of order in the series run. Tracking bullets was the somewhat silly sci-fi idea of the week.

Agents of SHIELD (ABC/Channel 4)
More of the story arc, more of the Skye story. Still don't care. I'm wondering if this has passed the point where it can make us care about its characters?  

Enlisted (Fox)
A toxically unfunny 10 minutes followed by a much better second half, with some obvious changes in military accuracy. Lacked a lot of the clever dialogue from the first episode, but had a good range of character moments. 

The Tomorrow People (The CW/E4)
One format change (a swap in leader) that was interesting, but the idea that mole TP could still be a mole after all this time is now terrifyingly implausible. Liz Hurley showed up (not literally) to not much effect as the voice of the bad guys' computer.

And in the recommended list:

Archer (FX/Channel 5)
A massive series reboot and some delightfully nasty humour, but a final five minutes that were a bit flat. Still, let's see where it all goes next week.

Arrow (The CW/Sky 1)
Probably the most Batman-esque episode so far. Largely, though, aimed at nudging characters in particular directions, rather than anything radical. And is it just me or are the martial arts fights just not as good or even frequent this season. But more Oliver-Felicity, please, and can we get Black Canary off the island, as soon as possible, too?

Banshee (Cinemax)
A bit soft porn in places and officially moving from 'heightened reality' to 'very silly', but a couple of good fight scenes and good use of humour. Not entirely sure niece Amish is plausible as a human being...

Being Human (US) (SyFy)
As usual, most of the cliffhanger plot threads were easily resolved in the first episode, and some new ones thrown in our direction instead. Some of these are moderately interesting and the idea of the inverted werewolf (a wolf except during the full moon, when humanity returns) was novel to me at least, but I think, as with Shameless (US), I'm going to be abandonning this, since I can't see anything in the new threads that interest me, unless last night's episode was a doozy. The downplaying of evil female vampire in favour of a new male nemesis also seemed unnecessary.

The Blacklist (NBC/Sky Living)
A surprisingly fluid show that keeps on changing format as soon as you think you've got it nailed down. Last week's was marginally better than this week's, with Spader getting to be downright evil and vengeful rather than merely arch, but everything involved Megan Boone and her hubby needed to be destroyed in fire ASAP.

The Bridge (BBC4)
A little annoyed that most of the past few weeks has been red herrings, but some great moments, particularly for the main characters. If you aren't watching, you absolutely should be.

Community (NBC/some random UK channel)
For a character that largely wasn't in the show much of late and whose actor didn't half annoy the EP, Pearce has cast a very big shadow over the first set of episodes. Essentially another 'bottle episode', last week's was still hilarious and weird, and enlivened even more by Walter Goggins (Justified) as Pearce's lawyer. A definite return to form for the show, and also a clever way to write out another character.

Cougar Town (TBS/Sky Living)
Back but everything's pretty much the shame, apart from that new romance. The 'international penny can' thing worked well, as did 'the evil twin', though. The arrival of Matt Perry for the Monica/Chandler reunion lifted the second episode considerably, too, although it did show how much better as a comic actor he is than Josh Hopkins.

Ground Floor (TBS)
And promoted to the recommended list, thanks to a really good, game-changing episode, that as well as a couple of innovative storytelling points (including a Shining reference), we got some seriously good and moving acting from Briga Heelan.

Intelligence (CBS)
A very silly episode involving digestible explosives and the return of Sawyer from Lost's dead wife from Homeland. Just an obvious attempt to ditch the romance-inhibiting backstory the pilot lumbered the show with or will she be back? I wonder...

Shameless (Showtime/More 4)
In the interests of sanity and because this is now effectively a reboot, all the old stories having ended last season, I've decided to drop Shameless, since I can't see the value in continuing it - at least in the direction it's currently going. These are all new plot strands that don't really add anything to what's gone before, and in some cases, are only likely to diminish it. I might/probably will turn out to be wrong, but c'est la vie. It's been four seasons. I'm still recommending it though, so let me know if I should start watching again.

And in movies:

Monsters University
A prequel to Monsters Inc, in which we learn how Mike and Sully got their jobs at Monsters Inc by following them during their college days. Unfortunately, not a patch on the original in terms of imagination, even if the animation has improved considerably, and despite the likes of Nathan Fillion and Helen Mirren lending their voices this time round, it's not until about halfway through that it starts to garner anything more than a titter. Somewhat disappointing, but not a total washout.

"What have you been watching?" is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid - and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I've watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you've seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?

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Archer says: 'Beware of ninjas'

Posted on December 4, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Of course, the plural of ninja is ninja, but inaccurate spelling is the least of your worries when you're face by armed assassins. Assuming you even see them coming. Because, you know, they're ninja.

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