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What have you been watching? Including Strange Empire, Coverband, Electra, The Flash and Doctor Who

Posted on October 20, 2014 | 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.

You may have noticed I was playing epic catch-up on Saturday, in contravention of my normal rule of weekend blogging. So on top of Friday’s all out efforts and a couple of extra ones today, I’ve reviewed the following new shows, some of which have already been acquired for Blighty’s viewing pleasure:

Yay, me. No back log now. Time to have regular weekends again. Phew.

In fact, so ahead of myself am I that I’ll point out that ages ago, I reviewed NBC’s Constantine, which starts on Friday. Okay, it’s changed a bit since the pilot but you’ll get the general point.

But I’ve not stopped there. Oh no. Because I’ve also watched a New Zealand and a Canadian show just for luck. Okay, I was a bit behind on all of them, so I’ve only seen the first episode of each, but honestly, that felt like enough.

Strange Empire (Canada: CBC)
Set in the 1860s on the Alberta-Montana border, this sees three women (Cara Gee, Tattiawna Jones and Melissa Farman from Lost) band together for survival after virtually all the men in their town are murdered and those remaining behind battle for power. Very nicely made and already being described as the saviour of CBC, it's historically interesting but about as tedious as any other western, and none of the characters really grabbed me.

Coverband (New Zealand: TV One)
A one-hit wonder band reunite back in New Zealand years after they were famous. Unfortunately, the female lead singer was the one who was a success, leaving the terminally unsexy rest of the band to make it by themselves, something at which they fail miserably. Now having to deal with the pressures of normal lives and forced to do cover versions of other bands’ records, they suck completely until they stagecrashed by Laughton Kora, who shows them what rock charisma and singing really are, so they hire him. Kind of.

It’s an amiable and accurate enough show, based on cast member Johnny Barker’s own experiences as an Auckland cover band musician, and were there enough time in the world, I’d probably tune in for a few more episodes. But the show’s not so inspiring that I’ll throw something else aside for it and I’ve already seen The Wedding Band crash and burn, so I don’t think I need to see that happen again.

Unfortunately, New Zealand doesn’t want to produce any globally available videos of its own shows, apparently, so here’s a picture of the cast to tide you over.

Coverband

That's it for new new shows, but after the jump, I’ll be running through: Arrow, black-ish, The Blacklist, Doctor Who, The Flash, Forever, Gotham, Homeland, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Plebs, Scorpion, Selfie and The Walking Dead.

But hey! Before you go, I should mention I went to the theatre, too!

Electra (Old Vic)
Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra, a new translation of Sophocles’ original text by Greek tragedy stalwart Frank McGuinness, music by PJ Harvey – what could go wrong? Well, not much actually, beyond a certain staticness to the direction, a slightly weak performance by Jack Lowden as Orestes and a very strange performance by Tyrone Huggins as Aegisthus. Other than that, a fine piece of work, surprisingly faithfully staged (although that’s not quite how Greek people prayed), with an outstanding performance by Thomas and a surprisingly funny text by McGuinness – in part to cover up for casting slightly older than originally written, but also to hide the unlikelihood of Electra not recognising Orestes. Liz White (Life on Mars) gives the best performance I’ve ever seen from her as Chrysothemis, Electra’s sister.  

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Review: Gotham 1x1 (US: Fox; UK: Channel 5)

Posted on September 23, 2014 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Fox's Gotham

In the US: Mondays, 8/7c, Fox
In the UK: Acquired by Channel 5. Will air in October

There have been a lot of Batmans over the years. I don’t just mean actors or even characters who have become Batman in the comics. I mean that tonally, Batman has changed many times since he was first created 75 years ago. Whether it’s the comedic Adam West Batman of the 60s, the gothic, operatic Tim Burton Batman or camp Joel Schumacher Batman of the 90s, the dark, quasi-realistic Batman of the Christopher Nolan movies, the borderline psychopath of the Frank Miller comics or the back to basics action hero of Denny O’Neil, these Batmans have all had often radically different tones.

Importantly, though, they’ve all been consistent. You couldn’t have had Heath Ledger’s Joker in the Adam West TV series; Frank Miller’s Batman would have scared the living daylights out of Danny DeVito’s Penguin; and so on. Plus they all would have looked really, really stupid mish-mashing genres like that.

I mention this because Fox’s Gotham, a Batman prequel that follows the origin stories of not just a young Batman but all his enemies and allies, as newbie police detective Jim Gordon tries to clean up the city, makes the near-fatal mistake of trying to be all Batmen to all people.

At its base, we have a fine script from the always wonderful Bruno Heller (Touching Evil, Rome, The Mentalist). It feels like a Nolan script and touches base with Batman continuity points at every turn, with everyone from Alfred the butler to Poison Ivy, The Riddler, The Penguin, The Joker (maybe) and Catwoman putting in a pre-grotesque appearance. Many a Batfan’s heart will be a flutter as they spot who’s who and what’s what, I’m sure, and if you know the origin story of Batman well, you’ll appreciate how close it sticks to the comics as well as innovating in its own way - particularly nice is the way Selena Kyle keeps watch over the young Bruce Wayne, having witnessed his parents’ murder, but the Penguin is also the obvious standout character from among the various assembled Batman villains taking their first baby steps.

The cast is fine as well. We have Ben McKenzie, who was so brilliant as a cop in Southland, playing ex-soldier Jim Gordon; Sean Pertwee is a redoubtable and authentically working class English Alfred; Donal Logue (Terriers, Life, Vikings, The Knights of Prosperity) is his usual furry, Irish, working-class cop self as Gordon’s partner, the corrupt but still well intentioned Harvey Bullock; John Dorman (Borgia, The Wire) is mesmerisingly contained as crime boss Carmine Falcone; and the child cast (David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne, Camren Bicondova as Selina Kyle, Clare Foley as Ivy Pepper) are all very good, too. Even the more unknown supporting cast, as well as crime lady Jada Pinkett Smith, do well.

The problem is everything is working to completely different Batmans. In fact, the director, Danny Cannon, picks several - at times going for a Nolan Gothan, at times for a Burton one, dragging the set designers along with him. Just for luck, he even tries a bit of Spike Lee and Kathryn Bigelow, awesomely failing to pull off either.

The cast seem a little unsure, too. A lot of them think they’re in a campy Joel Schumacher Batman, while others pick and choose depending on their mood, sometimes being gamely operatic à la Burton, sometimes going for a gritty Nolan. McKenzie even growls and postures like he thinks he’s really Christian Bale’s Batman, assuming Bale had forgotten he wasn’t wearing his Batman outfit.

As for composer Graeme Revell, I’m not even sure he knows this is a Batman show, so largely plumps for generic syndicated 80s action show, right down to the ubiquitous guitar riffs that envelope pretty much every scene. If ever I’ve taken Murray Gold’s name in vain, I apologise - there are composers who are far worse and more ruinous than he, it turns out.

This is a pilot, of course, and over time, I’m sure everyone will manage to pick a style - hopefully the same one - and stick with it. Heller does well at giving us a heroic Jim Gordon who ultimately is going to fail in his quest because he’s no superhero, but who’s going to do his best for the next decade or two anyway, and it looks like he knows how to tell that story in an interesting and semi-realistic way.

However, at the moment, Gotham feels more like an homage to every Batman there’s ever been, rather than a show that knows what it is in and of itself. It’ll probably be worth tuning in for subsequent episodes, to see if it can settle down, but this isn’t the slam dunk that Fox was undoubtedly hoping for.

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Review: Murder In The First 1x1 (TNT)

Posted on June 13, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Murder In The First

In the US: Mondays, 10pm (ET/PT), TNT

TNT’s an odd network, a sort of in-between house on basic cable between regular old vanilla, commercial, network TV and the no-holds-barred, challenging world of premium cable. With no real identity of its own, it churns out shows that would largely sit very happily on any broadcast network were it not for the occasional swear word: Falling Skies, King & Maxwell, Perception, Memphis Beat, Dark Blue, Leverage, Saving Grace, Trust Me, Rizzoli & Isles, Franklin and Bash, The Closer, Major Crimes - the list goes on and assuming you hadn’t forgotten that pretty much all of those shows ever existed, you’d have been hard-pushed to remember they were on TNT and perhaps even cable. The network’s one truly good show was Southland… which it picked up from NBC then slashed its budget.

At most, you might think of TNT as 'The Crime Channel', because of the 13 shows listed above, 11 involve cops, lawyers and/or robbers, and the rest of the time, it’s broadcasting reruns of Law & Order. But you don’t. It’s just TNT. It’s just… there.

I don’t think it’s escaped TNT’s notice that it’s not very noticeable, either. It’s got an ambitious summer schedule of dramas lined up that includes spy thriller Legends, for example. But it’s starting us off gently with another crime drama, except to make it a bit more memorable, it’s gone once again to Steve Bochco, who previously gave the network Raising the Bar (make that 12 out of 14 shows).

Young people might not have heard of Steve Bochco (and let’s face it, they're probably not going to be watching TNT, since it leans towards a much older demographic, anyway), but together with Mary Tyler Moore’s MTM Enterprises, he was pretty much responsible for launching the second wave of great American television that began in the 80s. He started it off with the innovative Hill Street Blues before giving us LA Law, Doogie Howser MD, Hooperman, NYPD Blue and (oh horror) Cop Rock, which I guess was innovative, too, given it was as the name suggests, a musical drama about cops:

Possibly Bochco's greatest creative achievement, even if it wasn’t a ratings success, was the almost-theatrical Murder One. As with Hill Street Blues, Murder One was unusual for its time in having story arcs - a season-long high-profile criminal case in Murder One’s case. It was filled with a fantastic cast that included Patricia Clarkson, Mary McCormack and the magnificent Stanley Tucci and Daniel Benzali, who presided like a Renaissance Pope over his cadre of lawyers:

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that for his latest show, Murder In The First, Bochco has pitched at that older demographic who liked his previous shows. Giving Murder One a slight Law & Order twist, Murder In The First follows a criminal investigation by San Francisco police into two murders linked to a celebrity all the way through to the trial and (presumably) conviction of the killer. It also adds in a dash of Hill Street Blues, with its focus on the domestic lives and working relationships of the cops.

Starring Taye Diggs (Day Break), Kathleen Robertson (Boss), Richard Schiff (The West Wing), Steven Weber (Studio 60), Nicole Ari Parker (The Deep End) and Draco Malfoy himself - Tom Felton from the Harry Potter movies - it’s not exactly what you’d call ground-breaking, but is probably going to be a passable piece of summer viewing. Well, better than everything else on TNT, anyway.

Here’s a trailer:

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