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Review: Quarry 1x1 (US: Cinemax; UK: Sky Atlantic)

Posted on September 16, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Cinemax's Quarry

In the US: Fridays, 10pm, Cinemax
In the UK: Sky Atlantic. Starts October

As fans of The Great British Bake Off have recently discovered, format rights are very important these days. In fact, there have been 60-odd legal disputes over format rights around the world, over the years.

This is odd, since legally, there's no such thing as format rights. After all, it's one thing to argue that as you created suave British superspy James Bond, someone else writing books about suave British superspy James Bond without your permission is doing something untoward; it's quite another to argue that no one else should be able to make a TV show that involves amateur cooks making cakes.

Of course, there's a grey area somewhere between those two extremes. How about books featuring British superspy? Or superspies of any nationality? Or just regular spies? What about baking competitions that have a host called Mary Berry and all the same rounds as The Great British Bake Off, that's called The Pretty Good British Bake On?

It's somewhere lurking in this middle ground that we found Quarry, Cinemax's latest excursion into adventure, drama, things being shot and ladies getting naked. It stars Logan Marshall-Green of Traveler, Dark Blue and Prometheus fame as a soldier returning home to Memphis after the Vietnam War, where he discovers not only that veterans aren't that welcome, particularly ones implicated in rather heinous massacres, but also that jobs aren't that common. However, the rather mysterious Peter Mullan (Miss Julie, Red Riding, My Name is JoeTyrannosaur) is willing to pay him and fellow war buddy Jamie Hector (The Wire) rather a lot of money to put their soldiering skills to work killing people, and before you know it, the body count is piling up.

If that sounds a bit familiar, it's because of one of two things. 

  1. You've read Max Allen Collins' Quarry series of books on which the show is based
  2. You've seen ITV's The Fixer, in which a war veteran who's done some bad things ends up killing people for Peter Mullan.

The shows aren't exactly 100% identical and the Quarry series was written way before The Fixer. But with the very Scottish Peter Mullan playing a very Southern but otherwise identical 'tough bastard boss'? Hmm. That does not to me coincidence say.

If only format rights were real, ITV might be having some quiet words with Cinemax right now.

As well as being a relocated Fixer, Quarry also has a lot in common with Cinemax's own Banshee, beyond simply the involvement of Greg Yaitanes. 'Quarry' - as Marshall-Green soon becomes known - is returning to a lost love whose love he might have lost (Jodi Balfour); he's come back brutalised by his experiences and has to adapt to normal life again; there's the lure of criminal life and its rewards but the acknowledgement of its costs, particularly in the lives of people we care about as well as of normality; there's a sexually fluid and amusing fellow criminal (Damon Herriman - last seen as a trans spy in Australia's Secret City); and practically everyone in the cast is from outside the US (Mullan - British; Balfour - South African; Herriman - Australian; Nikki Amuka-Bird - Nigerian-British).

But the tone's different - whereas Banshee was pure pulp that both transcended and embraced its trashier qualities, Quarry wants to be something greater, something more noirish, something more philosophical. As well as lapping up its period setting, the mid-70s being a respite from the omnipresent 80s nostalgia we're currently experiencing, Yaitanes also gives us all the directorial tricks he can throw our way, ranging from flashforwards and dream sequences to odd camera angles and compositions. And both Marshall-Green and that non-American cast list are top-tier acting talent - they're not here for the shootouts. 

While the feature-length first episode was a little too long and a little too exploitative for its own good, Quarry made a good start, clearly setting itself up to be Banshee mark 2, a more refined show that should still appeal to the same audience but which isn't going to dwell in the realm of the hyper-violent and could draw in more discerning viewers as a result. The producers need to work a little on making the characters more appealing, as pretty much everyone is either too messed up or too criminal for you to want to spend much time with them. But they have the foundations they need in place, plenty of source material to work with (including The Fixer) and a decent story to tell, so I'll be tuning to see waht they do with it all.

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What have you been watching? Including En Immersion, Neviditelní, Gomorra and The Collection

Posted on September 5, 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. 

Look at that - Autumn's here. How did that happen?

Anyway, just as leaves will fall and everyone in the US is now morally obliged to stop wearing white, so TMINE returns to its usual blogging service come Autumn. More or less. Give it a week or so, anyway.

However, although I'm braced and ready for duty, the TV networks are biding their time, deploying some sophisticated form of Sicilian Defence with their schedules, which means there's not been a lot new for me to review since the previous WHYBW?, other than the somewhat awful Four In The Morning (Canada: CBC) and a whole bunch of Amazon pilots. A few old favourites have returned, though, which means that after the jump, as well as The Last Ship and Mr Robot, I'll be casting an eye over the first new episodes of the third seasons of Halt and Catch Fire and You're The Worst, as well as the start of season two of Narcos.

I did manage to look over a couple of new shows, fresh off the presses, though.

En Immersion (Deep) (France: Arte; UK: Netflix)
Stylised French crime drama from Philippe Haïm (Braquo) in which Patrick Ridremont (Dead Man Talking) plays an unambitious cop and single father living in Paris. When he starts to suffer hallucinations, he discovers he is suffering from an incurable fatal neurological disease. With nothing left to lose, Ridremont joins a team of undercover narcotics agents led by Emmanuelle Meyssignac (The Avignon Prophecy), working to bring down Olivier Chantreau (Spiral) and his designer drugs.

As you can probably guess from the fact it was made for France's arty Arte, En Immerson is more about how the story is told than what the story is, with the series shot in black and white and Haïm at times replacing dialogue with music. Visually, it's lovely, but unfortunately, it's also completely uncompelling, not exactly innovative in terms of plotting, and its Braquo-esque ultraviolence is as hard to palate. 

The Collection (Amazon)
Set in France just after the Second World War, The Collection sees Richard Coyle (Coupling, Crossbones, Covert Affairs) playing the owner of a fashion house that is going to give France a makeover and once more associate it with fun, haute couture and femininity. Trouble is that the talented one who can design clothes is his f*ck-up brother Tom Riley (Da Vinci's Demons). How can the ruthless Coyle get little bro with the programme, while preventing the deep, dark, possibly wartime-collaborating family secret from seeing the light of day? Well, it ain't going to be pretty…

Echoing the latter day production arrangements of Ripper Street, it's an odd little thing, this, with a whole host of American actors playing moustache-twirling Americans (including Mr Robot/The Newsroom's Mamie Gummer), a whole host of Britain's finest (including James Cosmo, Sarah Parish and Frances De La Tour) playing the French and a soupçon of French actors in teeny tiny unnoticable parts playing god-knows-what, with virtually every exterior shot of post-war Paris apparently shot on the same repeatedly redressed backlot in Grimsby. Coyle is as well cast as when he was a pirate or KGB assassin, and everything has the authenticity of a Hong Kong market knock off. 

There's too little fashion to please fashionistas, too little charm or romance to please the period drama-lovers, too little action to please thriller-lovers and too little attention to detail to please historians. The Collection's not awful and is competently made, but there's no USP, nothing it does that you won't have seen done better elsewhere, no reason for its existence other than to keep another BBC Worldwide co-production agreement going. Try it if you like, but I doubt it'll be your size.

But hey guys! This is 'What have you been watching?'! Note the emphasis on you. Over the weeks and years, some of you have rather benevolently been letting the rest of us know about the good stuff we've been missing that I haven't been picking up on. Just in case you were worried it's all been falling on deaf ears, you can breathe more easily: in my quest to fill the empty gaps in my viewing schedule, I also looked through your recommendations to find some new shows to try. Here's what I found.

Neviditelní (The Invisibles) (Czech Republic: CT1; UK: All4)
One of JustStark's recommendations, this quirky little fantasy drama based very loosely on 1970s movie How to Drown Dr Mrácek is centred on the 'Nixies', a bunch of water-breathing people living amongst us - or at least in Prague - but doing their best not to be found out. Then one of their own, albeit someone who doesn't know he's a Nixie, goes and publicly commits suicide by drowning. When he promptly fails to die to everyone's surprise, including his own, a crisis is provoked in the Nixie community. 

I haven't got very far into it yet and the early episodes are less concerned with dynamic storytelling and more with setting up this quaint community, its politics and its rules, from its attempts to attain power through ownership of the water and sewage system through to its attitudes to bleach and its love of fermented frogs. But it's pleasingly off the wall and amusing, and it's significantly better once the fallout of the suicide starts, so I'll stick with it.

No English-language trailers available on YouTube, but you can find out more over on All4, and here's a Czech one:

Gomorra (Gomorrah) (Italy: Sky Atlantic; UK: Sky Atlantic)
One of GYAD's recommendations, Gommora is based on the book of the same name by Roberto Saviano. Again, one I've not got very far into yet - there are two seasons so far, so give me time - it's so far been a reasonably and impressively violent but smart look at the Naples mafia, wars between gangs and mafia operations at the street level. It certainly looks fantastic and the differences between UK and Italian societies, such as the greater availability of guns through official channels, take the show in unexpected directions, too. I'm not 100% in love with it yet, but I've been seeing it get a lot of love on Twitter, where it's been described as almost poetic at times and comparisons have been made to The Wire, and what I've seen so far has been good enough to make me want to watch more, so I'll be sticking with it as well.

Continue reading "What have you been watching? Including En Immersion, Neviditelní, Gomorra and The Collection"

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Preview: Billions 1x1 (US: Showtime)

Posted on January 14, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


In the US: Sundays, 10pm ET/PT, Showtime. Starts January 17
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Back when Suits started on the USA Network, it was a refreshingly strong show about lawyers that took a different tack from most legal dramas - it almost never ventured into the courtroom. Instead, it was all about the moves and counter-moves that lawyers made outside the courtroom to force their opponents to concede without the cost and randomness of a trial. Unfortunately, over the years, Suits' real-world chess-playing fell by the wayside, in favour of relationship-based drama and comedy, but the first couple of seasons were hugely enjoyable pieces of Machiavellian manipulation.

A little known fact about Suits is that originally, it was going to be about investment bankers. The show did eventually venture into that realm, where it was clear there was a very powerful pecking order in the world that made those legal eagles look like mere sparrows.

Of course, there's a group of people who make investment bankers look like wrens in the scheme of things: hedge fund managers. Managing billions and potentially worth billions themselves, depending on how you look at them, they're either the oil that prevents the wheels coming off the modern financial world or sociopaths that destroy others purely for their own personal gain.

Billions is a show that gives us Suits to the max, in that a pits a hedge fund giant (Damian Lewis) against America's top lawyer, the district attorney (Paul Giamatti) in a chess match that would make even Harvey Specter balk. Lewis is a genius of analysis, both of figures and people. He's made billions by knowing how to combine the two, deducing who'll do what, why and how to invest accordingly. He's also worked out how to play the PR game - he may be worth billions, but he's given hundreds of millions to 9/11 charities and the families of all his co-workers who died during that tragedy. 

There's also a very strong chance he's made at least part of his fortune through insider trading.

In turn, Giamatti has been raised since birth by his lawyer dad to think through every move and counter move white collar criminals might make. He knows whom to prosecute, when to prosecute and what it'll get him, and he knows how to play the PR game, too.

When an SEC official brings evidence to Giamatti that Lewis might have broken the law, Giamatti has to decide whether now is the time to take down Lewis or whether he's finally met the man who'll break his undefeated prosecuting streak. The best legal chess match in America is about to begin.

But while Billions is in many ways an excellent drama that has all the best qualities of Suits in its heyday, with smart people doing smart things to outwit each other, it's also just a little too Showtime for its own good.

Continue reading "Preview: Billions 1x1 (US: Showtime)"

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