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What have you been watching? Including Empire, Togetherness, Taken 3, Engrenages (Spiral) and Banshee

Posted on January 12, 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.

Slowly, broadcasters have been emerging from the Christmas holidays and into the New Year, like so many blinking cave dwellers faced with the removal of their entrance-blocking rocks. That means not only do we have some exciting (and not so exciting) new shows to deal with, we also have the return of some old favourites.

In the past week, I’ve reviewed VH1’s Hindsight and ABC’s Marvel’s Agent Carter, but I’ve managed to give a couple of other shows a glance over as well.

Empire (US: Wednesdays, 9/8c, Fox)
Compared to the last mainstream black show about hip hop moguls – Starz's depressingly exploitative and unpleasant Power – Fox’s Empire should be a masterpiece. It could well be, in fact. It’s created by Lee Daniels (Monsters Ball, Precious, The Butler) and Danny Strong (best known as Jonathan from Buffy The Vampire Slayer but he’s also the Emmy and Golden Blobe award-winning writer of Recount, Game Change, The Butler and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay [parts one and two]). It’s based on King Lear and The Lion In Winter. And it stars Terrence Howard (Iron Man, Hustle & Flow) and Taraji P Henson (Person of Interest). Howard is a former drug dealer who’s diagnosed with ALS and has to work out how to portion out his kingdom to his three sons.

Sounds quite good, doesn’t it, apart from the drug dealer bit, and it was certainly a whole lot better than Power. Unfortunately, within about five minutes, I began to realise there was going to be a whole load of R&B and hip hop assaulting my eardrums so I bowed out. I said no to Nashville, I’m saying no to Empire. Tough on music, tough on the causes of music, me.

Togetherness (US: Sundays, 9.30pm, HBO; UK: Mondays, 10.35pm, Sky Atlantic, starting tonight)
Most HBO comedies barely warrant the title, and for about the first 15 minutes of this ‘comedy’ from Steve Zissis and Jay and Mark Duplass, you get pretty much the same old, same old HBO. Brett (Mark Duplass) and Michelle (Melanie Lynskey) are married but their relationship is struggling, with Lynskey preferring diddling herself with 50 Shades of Grey to having sex with Brett. Meanwhile, Brett’s friend from High School, Alex (Zissis) is being evicted and being fat and balding, his acting career isn’t really going anywhere, so he moves in with Brett and Michelle. At the same time, Michelle’s sister, Tina (Amanda Peet), is breaking up with her boyfriend and ends up moving in with them all, too.

For half the episode’s run, this feels like a standard #WhitePeoplesProblems affair, a somewhat introspective look at actors struggling in LA, marriages failing and the difficulties of dating when you’re older that we’ve seen innumerable times elsewhere. The idea that schlubby Zissis will eventually hit it off Peet, once named by People magazine as being one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world, prompts an almost Pavlovian eye rolling, too. However, once Peet and Zissis meet, everything becomes a lot more fun and it actually starts to become a comedy at last. It’s still a bittersweet piece about people disappointed by life and not getting what they want, even when they think they have, so doing what they can to enjoy themselves, but it’s a lot more likeable than it seemed to be at first.

Still in the viewing queue because it’s a mini-series is the first episode of the Canadian Book of Negroes. But after the jump, I’ll look at the latest episodes of Banshee, Cougar Town, Elementary, Forever, Gotham, Ground Floor, The Librarians, Scorpion, Spiral (Engrenages) and State of Affairs, as well as, for no well explored reason, Person of Interest. One or perhaps even more than one is getting dropped this week – can you guess which one?

But first, movies!

Warrior (2011) – Netflix
Tom Hardy is an ex-marine; Joel Edgerton is a high school physics teacher. They’re brothers and former wrestling champions trained by their abusive alcoholic father (Nick Nolte). However, for different reasons, they end up fighting in the same MMA competition. Will they end up facing off in the final, maybe? Hmm. Despite the somewhat inauspicious plotting, Warrior is nevertheless actually a very good sports movie, shot Friday Night Lights style and managing to resist the obvious revelations or even a pat ending. The MMA’s a little basic, but still genuinely exciting. Frank Grillo (Captain America 2, Kingdom) pops up as a trainer, but does surprisingly little fighting.

Taken 3 (2014) - down 't cinema
Surprisingly, given the horror story that was Taken 2 and the fact Olivier “Taxi Brooklyn” Megaton is back directing, actually a much better affair than the second entry in the series was. Liam Neeson’s back but he’s in the US and no one’s been taken in this time, with Neeson framed for a murder and he having to escape from the law while protecting his family and finding out who really did the crime. The script by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen touches on all the better aspects of Taken, with Neeson using some of his special set of CIA skills that don’t involve punching. Maggie Grace gets a lot to do for a change, too, albeit forced to play someone who’s about 10 years younger than herself. That’s the good side and everyone seems to enjoy that, even Neeson, although he seems a little tired and in need of a nice sit down and a Bovril at times.

True, the casting could be better, with most of the cast composed of people you’ll recognise from minor roles on TV shows, including Banshee and The Last Ship. Forest Whitaker heads up the cops, but he spends the entire time playing with a rubber band. None of this would be insurmountable, though.

But where it all goes to epic pants – literally at one point – is the action scenes. Even if Megaton, who’s an otherwise perfectly good director, could actually shoot an action scene in a way that was engrossing rather than soporific, it’s as though neither he nor the rest of the cast could be bothered. Every action scene might as well have been replaced with <<INSERT CONTRACTUALLY AND GENRE-OBLIGATED SCENE HERE>>. Ridiculous things happen and no one can even be bothered to explain how Neeson escaped them, lots of the best bits of Taken are reused and whenever something even slightly exciting is about to happen, the camera either looks away or some very bad CGI kicks in. Decent script – shame about the direction.

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