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What have you been watching? Including Frontier, People of Earth, Stan Against Evil and Ghostbusters

Posted on November 14, 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. There's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. 

Made it. Backlog - cleared. TV - watched.

Okay, not quite. I skipped Dark Water because that's now on BBC Four, so there's not much point my previewing it now. Oops. Still, it was only a mini-series.

Also, all the new Internet shows I keep listing are going to take a little longer, as are the shows I'm currently watching with lovely wife (WestworldHumans, The Crown). But everything else is now up-to-date. Well done me.

Given I've already passed third episode verdicts this week on The Great Indoors (US: CBS; UK: ITV2) and Eyewitness (US: USA), that means that after the jump, I'll be looking at the latest episodes of Ash vs Evil Dead, Chance, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, Designated Survivor, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Doctor Doctor, Falling Water, Frequency, Hyde and Seek, Lethal Weapon, Lucifer, Son of Zorn, Supergirl and Travelers.

In terms of new shows, elsewhere, I've reviewed Second Jen (Canada: City), but I have tried a few others, you'll be happy to hear.

Frontier (Canada: Discovery; UK: Netflix)
Set in the disputed Hudson Bay territory of Canada at the turn of the 18th century, Discovery's first scripted show Frontier sees Jason Momoa as a tomahawk-wielding go-between for all the competing interests that want to kill animals for their fur, including the English, Scottish, Americans and Canadians (who are all either English or French at this point, of course). With its terrible dialogue, motley medley of actors all sporting bad accents no matter their origin, and middling production values, Frontier is unfortunately little more than The Patriot meets Last of the Mohicans, with Momoa clearly thinking he's in a different show from the rest of the anaemic cast. Practically unwatchable, it's still not quite as bad as The Bastard Executioner.

People of Earth (US: TBS)
TBS apparently being where Daily Show correspondents now go to die, People of Earth gives us Wyatt Cenac as a cynical magazine journalist sent to cover an "alien abductees survivors group" - although they prefer 'experiencers' - where he soon begins to realise that those vivids hallucinations of talking deer might be a sign that he, too, has been abducted. So he decides to stay in town and see if he can work out what's really happening and whether an alien invasion is really underway. 

The show is a 50/50 split between two strands. The first strand is the desperately unfunny goings on at the support group, which reminds you of Go On but with Cenac's deadpan instead of the jokes and Matthew Perry's sardonic quips.

The second is with the aliens themselves - for they are real - where the show is actually a properly funny workplace comedy. Yes, that's right - a workplace comedy. I mean have you ever considered how much effort goes into faking those cover-ups?

I watched the first episodes, I might keep watching for the aliens. But I might not. 

Stan Against Evil (US: IFC)
John C McGinley reprises his Scrubs Doctor Cox role here to play a sheriff of a small town near Salem that was once the host to even more witch burnings. However, these were all real witches and demons, who vowed to kill every sheriff the town would ever have. Fortunately for Cox, his learned wife managed to use all manner of magic to protect him, making him the only sheriff to survive the job in the town's entire history. But Cox is fired, just after his wife's funeral, so soon a replacement (You're The Worst's Janet Varney) is in town and together, they have to fight all manner of horrors together, since the demons want them both dead.

Coming on the heels of Ash Vs Evil Dead, this is a somewhat poorly timed piece of comedy horror, in which the clueless, frequently misogynistic, outspoken McGinley ("I want you to admit Starsky was gay. He wore a sweater with a belt. Come on, you're a cop. Follow the evidence!") has to deal with demons, women and modern society's general pansiness, with only a suspiciously familiar book of magic to help him. Varney does offer a reasonable counterpoise to him and the plots involve her as much as him, but ultimately this is McGinley's show and he's naturally very good.

Unfortunately, the plots themselves are neither as funny nor as gory as Ash vs Evil Dead's. I watched the first four episodes of this, and while each offers maybe a couple of laughs, is a little smarter than than Bruce Campbell's show and the demons (eg goat demons, a succubus) have a bit more variety and a bit more of a scare than the 'deadites', it still felt like a bit an effort to get through for some slightly pointless, slightly derivative pieces of work.

I also watched a movie!

Ghostbusters (2016)
An all-woman line-up of ghost exterminators (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Hope) go into business for themselves in New York and have to deal with a bunch of spooks emerging from the afterlife who could threaten life as we know it.

Featuring cameos from all the surviving cast of the classic 80s movie, this 2016 version homages most of the first movie's iconic moments and props, while simultaneously avoiding being a retread and finding its own sources of humour. McKinnon - best known as Saturday Night Live's Hillary Clinton - in particular breaks from the confines of the plot to be something a lot odder and more interesting than you'd expect.

However, the movie plays a lot younger than the original, losing the 80s version's slightly edgier and stranger qualities, and its denoument goes on for far too long. On the plus side, though, Chris Hemsworth is very funny as the Ghostbusters' eyecandy receptionist.

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Review: Shoot The Messenger 1x1-1x2 (Canada: CBC)

Posted on October 21, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Shoot The Messenger

In Canada: Mondays, 9pm (9.30pm NT), CBC

For ages, I was pining for a sequel to State of Play. I really was. It was just so bloody marvellous.

It didn't help that the movie adaptation was just so average, I'm still only halfway through it.

State of Play 2 isn't happening and never will. Sniff, boo hoo. So bless you Canada for trying to do your own (unofficial) State of Play. It's not the same, it's really not, but it touches me that you'd give it a go.

Shoot The Messenger has pretty much all the same plot threads as State of Play. It has street shootings. It has an intrepid reporter (Elyse Levesque from Stargate Universe) investigating a murder. It has an equally intreprid police department doing their own parallel investigation, with both sides feeding each other information to advance their own causes. The murder has political connections that might affect a certain big shot to whom Levesque has connections. It even has a plucky British newspaper editor (Alex "River Song" Kingston).

The big difference here is Levesque, who as well as being a cub reporter rather than a seasoned hack is also a bit of a shagger. She's shagging the head of the police investigation (Lyriq Brent); she's shagging her more experienced co-worker (Lucas Bryant). She also comes from a family of shaggers, since her sister is shagging said bigwig. And when Levesque isn't shagging, she's getting hit on the head or hiding under things. 

State of Play this is not. Sorry, Canada.

The show also lacks the journalistic verisimilitude of State of Play. While there are attempts to give both the police and newspaper sides of the plot a sheen of accuracy and Kingston's frequent words of advice to Levesque are frequently useful, The Guardian-logo nicking, serious newspaper 'The Gazette' appears to be equipped with neither copy editors nor fact checkers, there don't appear to be department heads, Levesque actually gets invited to the editor's daily content meetings, there appears to be almost no appreciation of the existence of a little thing called the Internet or social media, Levesque thinks it's okay to use a faux Google Images to check the spelling of names, and Kingston herself thinks it's more grammatically correct to say 'who is whom'.

Oh dear.

State of Play comparisons to one side for a moment, Shoot The Messenger does at least do something different from the usual CBC drama, even the ones that are supposed to be thrilling (eg The Romeo Section, Cracked), by having some action and excitment - its plot focuses on the Somali community and local gang 'the Mogadishu dogs', with Levesque witnessing the murder of the brother of one of the gang members, which sets off a chain reaction of violence (and misreporting). But while there is the occasional insight into that community, mostly it's all a lead in to corporate and political corruption and a Rob Ford analogy. 

But as a thriller, it's not very thrilling and spends a lot of it's time being apologetic for things and feeling sad about children getting killed in gang wars. There's an unnecessary side plot about Levesque's brain-damaged dad; with the exception of Brent, all the black characters are criminals or harbourers of criminals, leaving Bryant to be the implausible Somali expert at the paper; and Bryant seems like he's on quaaludes the whole time.

Levesque and Kingston make Shoot The Messenger pass a lot more agreeably than it should. I might stick with it, since the political side of things hasn't kicked in yet and it could well get better as a result. But more likely, I might just watch State of Play again.

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Review: Travelers (Canada: Showcase; UK: Netflix)

Posted on October 19, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Travelers

In Canada: Mondays, 9pm ET, Showcase
In the UK: Acquired by Netflix

Given that Canada, Showcase and Brad Wright have been so central to science fiction television, particularly time travel shows, in the past few decades, we shouldn't be surprised that with the US lining up the likes of Timeless, Frequency, Time After Time and Making History, all three have decided to get in on the act to produce something similar but different.

Travelers flips most time travel stories on their head by having travelers coming from the future to our present in order to prevent a terrible disaster from occuring. So far, so identical to Showcase's own Continuum. The difference here is that the time travelers are (apparently) the good guys and they're from the far off future, a future so distant the human race is in danger of extinction, something they'd quite like to prevent by changing things now.

But most important of all, they can't actually physically travel through time. Instead, provided they know the exact time and place someone is going to die, they can project their minds back in time into the 'host' and take over their body à la Chocky and Quantum Leap.

Travelers' first episode, written by Wright, is mainly establishment of the lives and families of the hosts who are shortly going to die and be replaced by an 'elite unit' of time travelers. We have the learning disabled Mackenzie Porter (Hell on Wheels, Blackstone); douche high school quarterback and cage fighter Jared Paul Abrahamson (Awkward); abused single mum Nesta Marlee Cooper (Heroes: Reborn); and drug-addicted college student Reilly Dolman.

Chasing after them after he becomes aware of some 'odd traffic' on the dark web is FBI agent Eric McCormack (Trust Me, Will and GracePerception). 

Then, of course, the time travelers turn up and the show then becomes about the differences between the hosts and their new inhabitants, who can fight back, don't have an addiction, aren't learning disabled, aren't complete dicks and so on. And despite having done their research, the time travelers still have a huge culture gap to navigate, from the little things such as text message slang and not answering the front door naked through to quite big things like how people talk and discovering that people lie on social media and that maybe one of the hosts isn't who she claimed to be online.

Shot in the style of Wright's previous big offering, Stargate UniverseTravelers is an edgy and surprisingly intimate affair, trying its best to make all of this not ridiculous, something it does pretty well. To be fair, though, there's actually precious little about the time travelers' mission so it's hard to tell if something extraordinarily silly is round the corner. Instead, it's mostly about changing behaviours and what happens if someone starts acting very differently from how they used to behave - and whether other people will allow that or get suspicious.

Basically, it's a science-fiction spy show with a whole bunch of sleeper agents suddenly being activated. It's The Americans but with a different kind of time travel. Hopefully.

The characters and stories are engrossing, McCormack is as pleasing as ever and everyone, particularly Porter and Dolman, does well with what they've got. There's even an appearance by ubiquitous former Huck Finn and Continuum regular Ian Tracey.

There's a big twist at the end that will be entirely ruined if you watch the trailer below, but Travelers is definitely a very promising first start to a series that's also got a big chunk of Netflix co-production money behind it. I'm hoping for great things, but we'll see how it goes.

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