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What have you been watching? Including Marseille, Captain America: Civil War and The Americans

Posted on May 9, 2016 | 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. 

Quiet, isn't it? Where has all the new TV gone? Despite a fortnight in between WHYBWs, all I've managed to cover are the third episodes of Containment (US: The CW; UK: E4) and Game of Silence (US: NBC). I'm sure there's something somewhere that I can review, but I just haven't spotted it.

Okay, so there's a new series of comedy pilots on Australia's ABC on Wednesday, but being pilots, there doesn't seem much point in reviewing them - I did like the sound of Ronnie Chieng: International Student, though. There's a new Canadian Molly Ringwald/Jason Priestley sitcom, Raising Expectations, that started last night on the Family Channel - I just need to work out a way of watching it.

Amazon Prime's picked up Hulu's Casual, too. I didn't watch that when it first appeared on Hulu since I figured "What's the chance any UK network is going to pick up something on Hulu, hey?" There's me duped. I might watch that, too, but I suspect the ship has sailed on that one.

In fact, the only new thing I've spotted that I haven't yet reviewed, and had both the inclination and the ability to review was…

Marseille (Netflix)
Following on from last year's Narcos, which was effectively Netflix's first Spanish-language original drama, now we have Marseille, the company's first French-language original. It stars - who else? - Gérard Depardieu as the mayor of Marseille, having to balance the competing demands of a degenerative disease, his family life, a drug habit, his back-stabbing protégé, a project to renovate the city with a new casino, and the mafia.

And it's nothing special. I did say 'original', but for all intents and purposes, it's Starz's Boss but in French, with just a hint of Les hommes de l'ombre (Spin). It's got the usual misogyny of such shows. It's got the slightly tedious offsetting of power and crime. It's billed as 'steamy' but is surprisingly perfunctory (and again misogynistic) for a French show. None of the characters are especially engaging and Depardieu oddly doesn't have half the presence that Kelsey Grammer did in Boss. Subtitling loses quite a bit in translation and you'll often have points where you wonder what people are reacting to as a result of what's allegedly said (eg there's a point where two women are laughing when one of them says 'chick'. It makes a bit more sense if you know she actually said 'poof'). And oddly for Netflix, the production values are pretty low, with more than a hint of 'stuck in a cheapo studio with a cheapo video camera' at times.

More laughable than gritty, it's hard enough to get through one episode, let alone all eight, so I'm not going to try.

After the jump, it's the regulars: 12 Monkeys, The Americans, Arrow, Banshee, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, Game of Silence, Game of Thrones, Lopez, Silicon Valley and The Tunnel. Most of those are double helpings, since there was no WHYBW last Monday, it being a Bank Holiday everywhere; two of them will be getting crossed off the viewing list, too. I'll also be looking at the season finales of both Limitless and Lucifer.

But before that, a movie!

Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Depending on how you want to look at it, this is probably better titled Captain America: Winter Soldier 2 or The Avengers 2.5, since it sees Cap continuing his mission to find and rehabilitate his brainwashed pal, Bucky "The Winter Soldier" Barnes, with various members of The Avengers either trying to help him or hinder him after Barnes is implicated in an act of terrorism.

Otherwise, the plot is more or less identical to that of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, with its concerns about collateral damage from superheroics and the consequent need for legal limits on superhuman powers. Yet despite the huge cast from the other movies (only Thor and Hulk are absent) and the necessity to launch both Black Panther and Spider-Man off its back, it manages to be a million times better than DC's drudgefest. Once again directed by Winter Soldier's Russo Brothers (who got the gig directing, of all things, the paintball episode of Community), it manages to make all previous superhero movies look plodding and stupid, balancing comic book fun with gritty Euro thriller aesthetics, while serving all its characters well, being by turns tear-jerking, funny, breath-taking and tense.  

It's a little longer than it needs to be, but nevertheless, afterwards we came out so drained by the spectacle, it took about three hours down the pub to recover. It also rendered Age of Ultron unwatchable. Some would argue it already was, but we'd enjoyed it at the time.

Best Marvel movie so far.

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Review: The X-Files 10x1 (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)

Posted on January 25, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The X-Files

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by Channel 5. Starts early February

Behold! Feast your eyes! Do you know what this is?

The Pharos Project 2 #1

Well, firstly, it's epic testament to how sh*t I was at Aldus Pagemaker 4.0, 22 years ago when I was still at university. Did you know there's a difference between black & white and greyscale? I didn't, apparently.

But secondly, you are looking at what is the very first magazine in the UK to contain an article about The X-Files. Well, the second magazine to be exact, but it was the first article written by someone who'd actually seen it. It was certainly the first magazine to have one Fox Mulder and one Dr Dana Scully on its cover.

See, I'd recently read that TV Zone, which contained an article about The X-Files culled from a press release, saying how good it was. Intrigued and since I had Cambridge Cable (which became NTL which became Virgin Media), which carried that new fangled Sky 1 and therefore The X-Files, I decided to watch it. I was sufficiently impressed by the episode, Squeeze, to decide to dedicate the cover of the university TV society magazine I edited to The X-Files

Before you knew it, I was publishing the UK's very first X-Files (and Baylon 5) fanzine. Probably the only one, too. And learning about greyscale and even colour printing at the same time. And thus my career in TV-magazine publishing was born.

We did very well for ourselves, once BBC2 decided to show The X-Files and it became a national phenomenon. In fact, we lasted a good few issues.

The Pharos Project 2 #2The Pharos Project 2 #3

The Pharos Project 2 #5But to fill our pages, we came up with all sorts of exciting wheezes. We reviewed the episodes. In fact, we came up with the hugely novel and mind-blowing idea of importing NTSC videos of the episodes as they aired in the US, converting them to PAL, and then watching them so we could preview the episodes before they aired in the UK and tell people if they were any good. Can you imagine the cunning? 

How we thrilled as we watched FBI agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigate the supernatural, particularly aliens who liked to abduct people, especially Mulder's sister. How we - or rather I - tried desperately to prove that Mulder and Scully were 'a thing' in 'The X-Files romance guide', while my partner in crime, Jonathan Templar, poo pooed the evidence right in front of his eyes. I wanted to believe… he didn't. How silly did he feel eventually, hey?

But all good things had to come to an end. In particular, we discovered, as young people often do, that time is not infinite and neither is energy, and if you're working two jobs to make ends meet, it's hard to publish a magazine as well. Particularly one that involves having to talk to that beardy bloke in Forbidden Planet who likes to have sex with teenage girls because they 'have no frame of reference'. 


Also, we went off The X-Files, which somewhat ruined the whole magazine. I can't remember the exact point we fell out of love with the show. Was it the first time or the second time it turned out that the previous definitive explanation for Mulder's sister's abduction was an elaborate government hoax? Maybe it was the third time. Perhaps it was when David Duchovny decided to leave. I can't even remember seeing those Doggett (Robert Patrick) episodes, let alone the ones with Annabeth Gish when she replaced Anderson. I think the last one I saw was with Scully staring at a spaceship underwater off the coast of Africa.

Or perhaps it was just because The X-Files was of its time. It fit the zeitgeist of the early to mid-90s nicely, with government conspiracies, UFOs, a man and a woman working perfectly happily and largely platonically together, mutually respectful of each other's skills (can you imagine that?). And then the late 90s hit and suddenly all those conspiracies seemed just a little bit passé.

Now, of course, conspiracy theories are back in vogue. Fox News used to have Glenn Beck literally drawing on blackboards to illustrate how the world is run by any number of secret conspiracies.

He may be gone, but Fox News carries on his work and with Edward Snowden revealing that Big Brother really is watching us all, some conspiracies don't look quite as unlikely as they used to.

And so it is, into this age of the Internet and smartphones and stealth drones above us, Fox has given us back The X-Files in a new series in which The Truth Is Out There, We Want To Believe, and it really all could be a case for Mulder and Scully. If only they were still together. And working for the FBI.

And even if I can't remember exactly why I stopped watching it the first time round, it did remind me of at least one reason: FFS, Chris Carter. Would you just quit it with "That thing we know definitively was true? That we actually saw happen? That was just an elaborate government plan. This is the real truth." 

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Preview: Teachers 1x1 (US: TV Land)

Posted on January 12, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


In the US: Wednesdays, 11/10c, TV Land. Starts January 13
In the UK: Not yet acquired

The trouble with reviewing things is you actually have to have opinions about them. This means Teachers is causing me a fundamental problem. I've sat here for ages, staring at the screen, trying to have an opinion about Teachers and it's almost proving impossible. So how I can review it?

I've thought about merely stating the facts. Teachers is based on a web series created by and starring improv comedy group The Katydids, who presumably named themselves after the famous children's book, rather than the crickets, pop groupboat or even the sculptures. It's about six elementary school teachers who have their own personal issues about things like dating, friendship, body image, etc, and have a marked tendency to bring those issues into the classroom, which is in no way like pretty much any show about teachers of the past 20 years, including Channel 4's Teachers. It's produced by Alison Brie of Community fame. It's on TV Land, which with shows like Impastor and Younger is trying to reinvent itself as a network watched by people other than those one heart bypass surgery away from death. 

That at least gets me a few words further into a review. Then I figured if I described the plot of the first episode that will get me even further. Here, the teachers are tasked with developing an anti-bullying programme in a school that has no reported bullying. Rather than search the Internet for any anti-bullying campaigns who could advise them, go to their teachers union for best practice advice or ring another school and ask what they did, they come with a whole bunch of ill advised ideas based on their own personal issues, which ends up with an outbreak of bullying.

See? Halfway there already in terms of word count. But the key to the whole review thing is to have an opinion about a show, and I'm struggling to have one. The characters are pretty much what you'd expect - a whole bunch of comedic stereotypes that you'll have seen before and probably work well in improv, but aren't really innovative or individual in any way. Dumped woman still hung up on her ex? Check. Single woman desperate for a man, particularly hot dads? Check. Vain woman who thinks kids' drawings of her are unflattering? Check. 

But now I'm getting stuck, trying to remember if any of the other characters had any significant character traits. That's no help, is it? I can't even few inspired or insulted by them if I can barely remember them, let alone care about them, can I?

What I do remember is that about 10 minutes before the end, Alison Brie turned up and was funny. A lot funnier than anyone in the regular cast. I thought that was probably a bad sign. Do I think the lack of comedic acting talent will destroy the show? I honestly don't know. I just can't decide. 

Oh yes. I remember now. It was quite funny that the anti-bullying campaign was called STAB (stop teasing and bullying) and that they got the kids to say mean things to one another. Erm. Ish.

So there. I can't review it. It feels like I'm covered in some kind of space age material that causes opinions to roll off me without leaving a trace when it comes to Teachers. So I guess all I can say is Teachers is there. It's a programme on TV that you can watch. 

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