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What have you been watching? Including Scream, Mr Holmes, Ballers, True Detective and Mr Robot

Posted on July 3, 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.

Summer schedules are here, so another week, another batch of new programmes to review. Elsewhere, I've reviewed most of the new shows, I think:

I’ve also passed third-episode verdicts on:

I haven’t watched this week's episode of Strike Back, which I usually watch with my wife, but she had better things to do this week. So that means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of the usual regulars – Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal, The Last Ship, Suits, Stitchers, True Detective, Tyrant, Westside and The Whispers – as well as newbies Ballers, The Brink, Killjoys, Mr Robot and UnREAL. At least one of them’s for the chop.

But I’ve watched one other new TV show, as well as a movie…

Scream (US: MTV)
I was umming and ahhing about whether to review Scream, given that

  1. It’s MTV so aimed at ‘those young people'
  2. I never really liked the Scream movies
  3. I have a big workload next week so might not have the time
  4. I’m slightly boycotting anything associated with Kevin Williamson, as a result of the evil that is The Following and Stalker.

But as I had nothing else to watch this lunchbreak, I decided to watch it anyway. And frankly, I was bored. Scream as a movie was moderately interesting, critiquing and subverting the horror genre with characters making explicit analysis of the tropes of horror movies, so that these could then be undermined.

The TV Scream wishes it was even half that clever, though. Not truly a sequel, given it doesn’t really follow on from the original movies or feature those characters, as far as I can see, it does however feature a ghost-masked killer who’s always on the end of a phone (or social media interaction), talking to his victim. It also starts off by doing the exact same thing as the original Scream – killing the most famous cast member in her own home while she’s on the phone to the killer.

All the same, that’s where the similarities really stop, since the rest is tedious. The show spends most of its first hour boring us witless with a bunch of cookie-cutter teens and their cookie-cutter relationships, which are so tediously unoriginal, the show tries to be clever by pointing out how tediously unoriginal they are at the end. It also tries to ‘Scream' TV shows, name-checking the likes of American Horror Story, Hannibal, The Walking Dead et al, without adding even an iota of insight or analysis to them.

Even halfway through, I was desperate for my lunchbreak to end and the sweet relief of work to begin. Surely that’s not the way it’s supposed to be?

Mr Holmes (2015) (in cinemas)
Sir Ian McKellen plays a 90-year-old Sherlock Holmes, retired and looking after his bees, while slowly losing his faculties. At the same time, he thinks back 30 years to an old case that Watson fictionalised and whose solution he can’t quite remember.

Those going in expecting a 'Sherlock Holmes story’ will be disappointed as there’s only two minor mysteries for Holmes to solve in the entire piece and they’re not the hardest to crack. But while it’s still definitely a story featuring Sherlock Holmes – in various forms, including the Strand magazine Holmes and Nicholas Rowe's Holmes, Rowe having starred in Young Sherlock Holmes – Holmes here is a proxy for intellectuality without emotionality/spirituality and how it’s ultimately no comfort if you’re human and mortal.

I wouldn’t say I loved it, but it’s something that definitely leaves you thinking about it for some time afterwards, and McKellen is superb at both ages.

Also features a slightly odd excursion to Japan with Hiroyuki Sanada (Helix, The Last Samurai, Ring, Lost).

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Third-episode verdict: Westside (New Zealand: TV3)

Posted on June 16, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerWestside.jpgA Barrometer rating of 2

In New Zealand: Sundays, 8.30pm, TV3

Without having watched Outrageous Fortune, it’s getting increasingly harder to work out Westside, TV3’s 1970s-set prequel to the most popular drama in New Zealand history that isn’t called Shortland Street. Telling the story of OF’s safecracking grandpa Ted West when he was still young, vibrant and married to his still-alive wife Rita, does it feel like Outrageous Fortune 30 years earlier?

Dunno.

Is it true to the characters of the original show?

Dunno.

Does it tie into and sort out all kinds of plot threads from the original show?

Dunno.

Are its Shakespearean episode titles as good as the originals’?

Does it really matter?

To be honest, though, it might be a two-edged sword, knowing Outrageous Fortune well while watching this. There are sub-plots and plot threads from the first couple of episodes that I thought might be interesting for Westside to explore in later episodes. Except having looked them up, it turns out they were all answered in the original show. And having now looked them up, I know there’s going to be a sad ending, too.

So in retrospect, I was probably better off not knowing about Outrageous Fortune, instead getting to enjoy a fun Bonnie and Clyde meets Life on Mars down under comedy crime caper, with a swaggering, smart and likeable young buck of a semi-ethical criminal, his scheming, adulterous but apparently equally good-hearted wife, his dopey gang and their equally dopey relationships with other criminal gangs of various ethnic origins.

My first recommendation for anyone who never watched the original show is therefore to not look up anything about the original show, at least until this season is over. Let it stand on its own two feet, because it does this very well.

After a very decent start to the show, the second episode was a slight come down, losing some of the fun, while bravely making most of our heroes casual racists in a 1970s-stylee. Rita’s scheming was nevertheless good to watch and we got our first Almighty Johnsons cameo (Eve Gordon) - here’s hoping for more to come.

Episode three saw a return to the fun of the first episode, as well as a continuation of the darker themes, with 1970s attitudes to domestic violence coming under the spotlight, as well as New Zealanders’ then attitudes to other islanders. Thankfully, this was all a lot more tasteful than Australia's Jonah From Tonga.

It’s hard to dislike and very easy to like Westside. It could do with tightening up here and there, and there are a couple of duff actors in the supporting cast, but the leads are great, the setting is marvellous and the plots strong. It may be a prequel but it feels like it has the potential to run and run (and I’m sure that’s the intention, too). Just don’t spoil it for yourself by reading what happens 30 years later.

Barrometer rating: 2
Rob’s prediction: Could run for multiple seasons

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Review: Westside 1x1 (New Zealand: TV3)

Posted on June 4, 2015 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Westside

In New Zealand: Sundays, 8.30pm, TV3

As we saw recently with AMC's Better Call Saul, prequels can be tricky things. You typically only get a prequel to a show if it’s been popular and has a strong fan base, and those fans are going to want everything to line up nicely with whatever’s already been established in the original story. However, unless you want ever-reducing audience numbers, you have to ensure that the prequel is of interest to a wider circle than just the fans.

The show formerly and cleverly known as Westside Story, but which is now presumably for copyright reasons simply Westside, has these two issues to juggle. Now, I’ve already gone into the history of its progenitor Outrageous Fortune elsewhere, so I won’t bother here but suffice it to say, as esteemed New Zealand shows with a huge fan base go, you couldn’t find a bigger one than Outrageous Fortune. All the same, that finished five years ago and wasn’t widely known in its original form overseas - indeed, these days it’s perhaps better known as the show that the creators of The Almighty Johnsons ran before venturing into matters more fantastical and theological. As a result, there’s a potential new audience for Westside that never saw the original and who might be looking forward to Rachel Lang and James Griffin’s latest production.

So will the story of safecracker Ted West, his wife Rita and their son Wolf, the future prison-bound patriarch of Outrageous Fortune's West family, stand on its own two feet or will it simply be a piece of fan service from a creatively bankrupt team that have run out of ideas?

I’ll tell you after the jump.

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