The Bold Type
US TV reviews

Preview: The Bold Type 1×1 (US: Freeform)

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, Freeform. Starts July 11

No two publications are ever the same, inside or behind the scenes. I’ve worked on trade magazines, consumer magazines, newspapers and web sites, in the US and the UK, and while certain elements have been the same, management, culture, processes and budgets have differed almost completely.

So despite the fact The Bold Type is based on the life of former Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Joanna Coles, it would be tempting to say that pretty much everything that happens in the show is absolute nonsense. But maybe, in the land of insane ad spend, magazines do pay their writers enough that they can live in spiffy Manhattan apartments. Maybe once bright young interns are promoted to the stellar job title of ‘writer’, Cosmo immediately invites them to participate in board meetings where rich old white male board members listen to their feature pitches about vibrators and decide whether to allow them to ’empower women’ like that – in ‘Cosmo‘? ‘Surely not!’ they say, like they’ve just wandered in from Shangri-La and picked up a copy of the magazine for the first time.

Maybe it really is like that. So I’ll stop trying to pick holes in the inaccuracies. Although, seriously? How big was the computer presentation screen in the boardroom? How much did that cost? Can’t they just huddle round a laptop like the rest of us?

Sorry. I’ll stop that right now. Let’s focus on the plot.

The old adage of ‘show don’t tell’ is still a vital tool in writers’ armouries. It lets them know when they should stop sledgehammering everything into the readers’ minds, assume they have a modicum of intelligence and find subtler ways involving plotting, dialogue, direction and acting to tell the story.

The Bold Type. Yep, already ‘show don’t tell’ has been chucked out the window, because it’s a double meaning – as well as being about magazines, it’s about strong, clever young women being bold and daring. And they’re going to tell you that all the way through.

Unfortunately, the writers are either sending up the audience or they’re too inept to actually show you how bold and daring the women are without telling you that the whole time. Indeed, just as 90% of The Playboy Club was contractually obliged to explain just how liberating and feminist working for corporate sponsor Playboy really was, so The Bold Type spends roughly half its run-time explaining how working for Cosmopolitan – sorry, ‘Scarlet’ magazine – really is a top feminist move that all the bright young, talented lead characters have been aspiring to all their lives. It’s not just sex and shopping, but it’s really willing to tackle the brave and daring issues, too. As you learn every other line of dialogue.

The trouble is the other half of The Bold Type is really just about sex and shopping, as well as just how groovy New York City is, which slightly undermines the message. It would also help if when it did try to do anything feminist or political, it wasn’t so utterly, laugh out loud inept at it.

The main storyline of the first episode sees the new promoted social media director at Scarlet Aisha Dee (Sweet/Vicious) – a social media director who actually Tweets the corporate account from her phone, rather than using TweetDeck, HootSuite or something a pro might be use… sorry, I’ll stop that now – trying to prove her worth (variants of “You go, girl” are the inevitable response) by convincing an artist to agree to an interview with the magazine.

Using a thesaurus, the writers of the episode decide that to show just how daring Scarlet and Dee are, the artist will be an Arab woman (Nikohl Boosheri). A lesbian Arab woman. A lesbian feminist Arab woman. A lesbian feminist Muslim Arab woman.

A lesbian feminist Muslim Arab woman who’s going to smuggle sex toys back to her home land! That was Dee’s idea! You go, girl! What could go wrong?

Can you guess what happens next?

Yes, the artist ends up arrested at the airport. Oh dear.

But rarely has there been a funnier moment on TV than when Dee and her Scarlet friends – that’s newly promoted writer Katie Stevens (American Idol) and top assistant Meghann Fahy (One Life To Live) – learn what’s transpired and reach for their phones… only to realise that Tweeting about it won’t save the artist. Not even the best-conceived hashtag campaign in the world will save her.

“If only there was something we could do,” they say, putting down their phones.

Indeed, amusingly, whenever Scarlet magazine boss Melora Hardin comes along to alternate between being a mentor and being a Devil wearing Prada, it’s usually to suggest that the budding writers get off their backsides and do something, rather than trying to social media everything to death.

“It must be terrible not knowing what your ex is up to, now he’s quite Instagram,” she says sympathetically.

“It is,” says Stevens. How will she ever find out what he’s doing? She can think of literally no way of finding out.

So Hardin forces her to… go to his house and talk to him. Gasp.

The Bold Type isn’t so much a show about smart, talented, bold young women working in the world of media as it is a stupid old person’s idea of what smart, talented bold young women working in the world of media must be like. And again, although I’ve never worked at Cosmopolitan and all magazines are different, my experience tells me that there are far smarter, far bolder young women working in journalism right now than The Bold Type would have you think.

Bin it, cancel your subscription and try another title instead is my advice.

What have you been watching? Including American Gods, The Handmaid’s Tale and Doctor Who

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.

The thing about holidays, even short ones, is you end up with masses of work to do in order to catch up. So apologies for the lack of much blogging last week and indeed this week, but work called. Plus there hasn’t been that much new to review anyway.

Since the last WHYBW, I’ve looked at all the new shows I could find (there was probably something on Netflix, but they tend to hide) but that tally isn’t huge:

Come on TV networks! What am I going to focus my sarcasm on if you’re not going to wheel out some crappy new summer shows. (What’s that Freeform (US)? The Bold Type started last night? Fine, I’ll review it tomorrow.)

It doesn’t help, of course, that a lot of current shows are winding up, too. After the jump, all I’ll be able to talk about are the latest episodes of Downward Dog, Doctor Who, Silicon Valley, Twin Peaks and You Are Wanted, as well as the season finales of American Gods and The Handmaid’s Tale. Pfft. I’m going to have to take up crocheting or something, aren’t I?

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Blood Drive
US TV reviews

Mini-review: Blood Drive 1×1 (US/UK: Syfy)

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, Syfy
In the UK: Acquired by Syfy UK

Grindhouse is one of those genres that never really took off in the UK. Best known for its exploitation tropes, you can probably name a few grindhouse movies, such as Death Race 2000, but chances are you won’t have seen them, since they were pretty much eclipsed in our national consciousness by ‘Video Nasties’ such as Driller Killer.

In the US, it’s a different story, perhaps in part because of film nerds like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez doing their best to repopulise the genre. I’m not convinced people genuinely like it, so much as have fond feelings for it that probably wouldn’t survive their rewatching any of their favourites. But so long as they never actually look to see if their memories have cheated them, grindhouse will still sit in the hearts of many a middle-aged US nerd.

Blood Drive is an explicit (in all senses) effort to capitalise on that fact-free nostalgia but makes the fatal mistake of being authentically terrible rather than post-modernly tongue-in-cheek terrible. Set in the far flung dystopian future of ‘1999’, the show sees the world’s resources all used up, petrol at $1,000+ a barrel, water scarce and crime rapant. Against this backdrop is a race through the US for no really good reason. All you need to know is that the race is happening and the cars run on… HUMAN BLOOD!!!!

The ‘heroes’ of the piece are former Aquaman Alan Ritchson as the one honest LA cop left who ends up having to join the race and hotty old hand Christina Ochoa (Matador, Animal Kingdom)*, both of whom must fight against all and sundry, particularly the other drivers, while occasionally having to top up with a pint or two of O-.

The show’s tongue is very firmly placed in its cheek. Unfortunately, it’s also placed firmly in your cheek, too, making it all a deeply unpleasant experience to watch. It’s not just the gore, it’s the letchery, sexism, racism et al that make it a hard viewing.

More so, everything is knowingly stupid, rather than fun stupid, appealing to the ‘tickbox’ mentality of genre fans, rather than just trying to enjoy itself. Characters are deliberately poorly drawn, budgets are low, direction poor because that’s Grindhouse – but that was largely all through necessity with the originals, rather than because of deliberate choices.

As a show Blood Drive is deliberately bad, but so bad it’s unwatchable, rather than a secret pleasure. If you’re the sort of person who likes Sharknado, you might enjoy Blood Drive. But if you like shows that are… good, then steer well clear.

* Who I’m fascinated to learn is a member of Mensa who studied marine biology, focusing on elasmobranchii; an “actress, science communicator and writer”; grand-niece of 1959 Nobel Prize winner Severo Ochoa; and daughter of acclaimed Spanish sculptor Victor Ochoa. Blood Drive really doesn’t play to her strengths

US TV reviews

Mini-review: Claws 1×1 (US: TNT)

In the US: Sundays, 9/8c, TNT

TNT has been trying to break out of its crime niche for years now. A few years ago, its ‘TNT – Bang!’ birthed The Last Ship, but little else, and since then, like a cat trapped in a pit, clawing at the walls, TNT has been hunting for an escape. Last year’s Animal Kingdom was still a crime drama, but it was about a family who indulged in a bit of criminality rather than being all about the crime.

Claws is a similar attempt to escape the pit, except here through a sort of marriage with Real Housewives. Set in a nailbar in Florida’s ‘Manatee County’, it follows the exploits of owner Niecy Nash (Getting On, Reno 911) as she tries to raise money to buy a classy new nail salon through the drug trade, running dodgy medical clinics that let any old addict have what they want, provided they have the cash, coaching them what to say if they can’t quite hit the low mark of ‘slightly convincing shoulder sprain’ unaided. Trouble is, her drug dealer boyfriend is playing her and cheating her out of her ill-gotten gains, so something’s gotta give…

The show’s real focus, though, is the staff at Nash’s nail salon, and the show would really much rather be spending its time just hanging out there, while they all chat to one another. Notable amongst the identikit Floridians are The Good Fight‘s Carrie Preston as a recently paroled quirkfest and Scrubs‘ Judy Reyes as a near-silent tattooed lesbian.

Claws goes through the well-trodden motions of female empowerment, bad assery, etc, which largely involve everyone teasing each other a bit, hugging each other more and then shouting a lot at anyone who dares to try to do anything to a member of the ‘crew’, particularly if they’re a member of that crew themselves (Karrueche Tran). But it’s horribly written, horribly acted nonsense that goes through the motions without truly doing anything new, whose only saving grace are some strong visuals, including the occasional architectural tour of a nice house.

Worse still, it’s supposed to be a dramedy, but it’s so poorly put together it’s hard to tell if it’s genuinely trying to be comedic or dramatic or whether it’s trying to do the opposite and simply missed its mark. TNT’s worst piece of TV since King and Maxwell, do not watch it unless you enjoy yawning a lot.

Daytime Divas
US TV reviews

Review: Daytime Divas 1×1 (US: VH1)

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, VH1

While this year’s most obvious and manliest trend in US TV has been military shows, with Shooter and Six already with us and a slew of others in the pipeline, another, womanlier trend has been quietly bubbling away in the background: TV satirising TV. It probably all started with Tina Fey’s 30 Rock, but since then we’ve had The Bachelor satirised with UnREAL, news programmes mocked with Great News and Notorious, period dramas skewered with Another Period, and real-life crime documentaries teased a bit with Trial & Error.

Now we have VH1’s effort, Daytime Divasa mild poking in the ribs of The View. For those who don’t know, The View is America’s equivalent of Loose Women, with its cohort of calculatedly diverse women expressing calculatedly diverse opinions on the topics of the day, ostensibly in a show of sisterhood, but largely to further their own diverse personal agendas. Former The View presenter/cackler Star Jones went on to write a satire of the show and its internal politics called Satan’s Sisters, which is the basis of Daytime Divas.

Vanessa Williams stars as the creator and co-host of ‘The Lunch Hour‘, a View-a-like show in which five women sit around and pretend to be friends while still hating on each other and dealing with their own personal problems:

  • Tichina Arnold (Everybody Hates Chris) is a black female stereotype of a stand-up who plays up to the stereotype to ensure she’s the vital (irreplaceable) comedy presence on the show. But is her performance too ‘urban’ for the network? And is her rocky sex life her Achilles heel?
  • Chloe Bridges (The Carrie Diaries) is a ‘sexually fluid’ former child star still on probation after rehab and having to deal with a mother who only loves her for her money
  • Camille Guaty (Scorpion) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who’s perhaps a bit too boring for her own good, but never seems to get to do the journalism she really wants to be doing
  • Fiona Gubelmann (Wilfred) is a conservative Christian Republican, who’s all about the family values, but whose marriage is rocky and possibly even abusive

All seems to be going well until one day, the famously cosmetic surgery-free Williams undergoes minor surgery (actually cosmetic surgery) when she has a reaction to the anaesthesia and falls into coma. Before you know it, all her co-hosts are vying to take her spot in the vital ‘left chair’, with Williams’ son – the show’s producer – McKinley Freeman (Hit The Floor) having to adjudicate between them.

Despite ostensibly being a skewering piece of TV, it doesn’t have even one-tenth the edge of UnREAL, the one real tool in its armoury being mild cattiness. The co-hosts are slightly unpleasant to one another and will threaten to confess each other’s secrets to the media, but that’s about it for the inter-personal drama and satire, the rest of the time being devoted to tepid issues-based personal drama and poor representations of bisexual women. The characters are all studiously far enough away from being real View hosts to avoid lawsuits, too, but that also means there’s no real accuracy to the comedy, either. Its idea of how a TV show is produced is like a five year old’s and the worst language used is vagina. And that’s to describe a vagina.

So, these are not ‘Satan’s Sisters’ by a long chalk and by the end of the first episode, it’s clear that Williams is the surrogate mum of the piece who keeps her family together – they all need her and it’s really just one big dysfunctional family, who’ll end up loving one another really. Ah. How lovely.

That means whether you watch Daytime Divas is basically down to whether you like women saying mildly catty things to one another to raise a laugh. And if that’s your bag, you might as well just watch The View.

What have you been watching? Including I’m Dying Up Here, The Americans and Twin Peaks

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.

This may – or may not – be the last WHYBW for a couple of weeks. TMINE will be taking a break from Thursday through to Monday next week. Will I have time to watch much TV? I don’t know. The fact that my watch list is now just a few shows should help, but we’ll know for sure next Tuesday.

Elsewhere, I’ve already reviewed:

Which means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of American Gods, Doctor Who, The Handmaid’s Tale, Silicon Valley and Twin Peaks, as well as the season finale of The Americans. That’s not much, is it. Come on summer season. Where are you?

Because this is the only other show I watched this week:

I’m Dying Up Here (US: Showtime)
1970s-set drama about a bunch of up-and-coming comedians in LA, all hoping to hit the big time by appearing on the Johnny Carson Show. But first, they’ve got to prove themselves worthy of a main room gig at Goldie’s on the Sunset Strip and Goldie (Melissa Leo) is only going to let you have that once she decides you’re good and ready. Until then, you’re not going to get paid, so you’ll be bunking down with your mate in someone else’s closet or masturbating in front of dying priests to earn some money, just to get by.

Initially, the show, which is based on journalist William Knoedelseder’s non-fiction book of the same name, looks like it’s going to be about Sebastian Stan’s ‘Clay’, who is the first of the bunch to get on Tonight. However, as the name of the show suggests, all doesn’t work out well for Stan, so the focus quickly shifts to his ex-girlfriend and fellow comic Ari Graynor (Bad Teacher), some of Clay’s friends from Boston (The Knick‘s Michael Angarano and The Office (US)‘s Clark Duke), and African-American comic RJ Cyler, who’s badly represented by agent Alfred Molina.

Despite being exec produced by Jim Carrey, I’m Dying Up Here‘s biggest problem is it’s not funny. Indeed, it’s bloody miserable, being closer to How To Make It In America and the horrors of being completely utterly broke than it is about the joys of comedy. Even when it’s supposed to be funny, such as when Graynor finally produces a routine that will ‘define’ her and potentially take her to the big time, it’s singularly unfunny.

It looks beautifully 70s and it quickly kills any idea you might have that stand-up was glamorous back then. Watchable or enjoyable, though? Not at all.

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Still Star Crossed
US TV reviews

Review: Still Star-Crossed 1×1 (US: ABC)

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, ABC

I know what you’re thinking. “Thank Christ for that! At last! A sequel to Romeo and Juliet! I so wanted to know what happened to everyone else at the end of that. Not Romeo and Juliet, obviously, because they’re dead.”

Thankfully, after a few mere centuries of waiting, here we are, all braced to find out what happened to the supporting cast of one Shakespeare’s finest thanks to Still Star-Crossed, an adaptation of Melinda Taub’s book of the same name. Will it be war between the Montagues and the Capulets? Does Rosaline, Juliet’s serving girl, get married and live happily ever after, preferably not to a Capulet? Did Romeo really manage to kill Paris? And what will happen to Friar Laurence, the narrator of the play and the bloke who gave Juliet that pesky potion that caused this story of woe?

By the end of the first episode, though, if I’d ever wanted to know the answers to those questions – and I’m not sure I did – I’d definitely lost all interest in finding them out because Still Star-Crossed is desperately dull. Strangely, it’s a bit hard to work out where it’s going so horribly wrong, but it quite definitely is.

The script itself isn’t that awful. While expecting Shakespeare is an error, of course, it follows the original play for about half its runtime and when it tries to be original itself, it’s reasonably well plotted, if soapy, with intrigue, war, covert love affairs, sibling rivalry and mean step-mothers/aunts/employers aplenty. The dialogue’s a bit ropey and cod Jane Austen, but nothing too shocking – although, oddly, no one thought to half-inch much from Shakespeare himself, à la Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. I can’t help feeling that catholics living in Italy during the Middle Ages would be less likely to have mass sword-fights inside cathedrals than depicted, but history will almost certainly provide dozens examples to disprove me, I’m sure.

Production values are okay. The show’s gone to the effort of filming in Spain, rather than Sacramento, and in lots of lovely old towns at that, so at least it looks reasonably the part. If a bit autumnal. And Spanish, not Italian. Where it needs more help to look Veronese, there’s plenty of background CGI, albeit quite obvious, cheap background CGI. Everyone gets decent enough wardrobe and set dressing. It looks a bit too clean to be properly medieval and has a touch of The Musketeers about it at times, but it still looks 100 times more authentic than the average Renaissance Fair, say.

Direction is… average. There are the occasional nods to Baz Luhrmann’s visually exciting and innovative Romeo + Juliet, but for the most part, it’s competent and workmanlike, albeit more intent on showing off the nice interior decor than it is on thrilling us.

The cast of almost entirely English actors is pretty and not too hammy. Anthony Head (playing Lord Silvestro Capulet) is the obvious stand-out who knows what he’s doing and can do all this with his eyes shut. Everyone else is either concentrating a bit too hard on the dialogue, not hitting anyone else too hard with their swords or blinking in disbelief that they’ve been cast in this – to the show’s credit and taking its cue from modern theatre, at least half the main cast are black, with a few pasty white Brits making no effort whatsoever to sound Italian (if realism is your worry) making up the rest of the numbers.

They’re just nothing that wrong with any of its components. By rights, it should be a perfectly average piece of US TV that passes the time oddly, and certainly no worse than Outlander does, for example. Yet, it’s impressively uninvolving, with no character to really care about, action scenes that go through all the motions of period action scenes without evoking even the slightest thrill, and illicit romances and jealousies that have all the piquancy of an end-of-year profit and loss reconciliation meeting.

Who, what, where, why? I just didn’t care. And you won’t either.

Here’s a trailer. A plague on both the houses of whomever thought “where this tragedy ends… an even greater story begins” was a good idea.

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 2

Third-episode verdict: Downward Dog (US: ABC)

In the US: Tuesdays, 8/7c, ABC

I have to admit that despite expectations, I’m actually quite enjoying Downward Dog, ABC’s new comedy in which a dog comments on his and his owner (Fargo‘s Allison Tolman)’s lives together as though he’s speaking to his therapist. After all, it’s a mid-season, ABC show involving a talking dog.

But despite that unpromising scenario, it’s proving to be a lot smarter and a lot more grown-up than I’d expected. While the show obviously has a talking dog, it’s still a dog, not a pseudo-man, so its concerns and understanding of the world are pretty much a dog’s concerns and understanding of the world, rather than a Garfield-like commentary on life and obsession with lasagne.

In episode two, does he understand that the magnet tied to his collar operates some machinery that opens the dog flap? No, he thinks he has powerful mental powers and we follow his mental processes as he tries to understand that (“Maybe I made that old monkey friend of mine who kept saying ‘I love you’ say it with my mind, too”). Episode three sees him trying to deal with the staggering revelation that his beloved owner goes to work where she spends time with other people; feeling neglected, he contemplates an emotional affair with someone else who gets him, but when his new ‘owner’ turns out to be the kind of person who throws a ball for him to chase after but secretly keeps it in his hand, he realises the value of his existing relationship.

While that offers plenty of fun and actually some real pathos at times (that was just something in my eye, honest), the show is still more about Tolman than the dog and offers something more like a serial drama than a comedy. It’s about her struggles at work with her clueless boss, his struggles with his own cluelessness and her ongoing relationship with her ex-boyfriend. Or is he her ex – is it something more? Here, there are genuine adult issues and emotional nuances being explored, ranging from how to balance all the contributions in a working team through how to deal with workplace seniority struggles through to wondering if you and your partners’ goals are the same, whether you’re growing up at the same speed, whether what you have in common is really what you have in common and more. There’s nothing here that more powerful, straight dramas haven’t covered, of course, but compared to the eternal childhood of Imaginary Mary, Downward Dog is impressively emotionally literate.

Despite its name, Downward Dog is ultimately a very warm, very human show about human concerns. It’s rarely laugh-out loud funny, but its wry humour is never far away and its take on dog psychology is hugely fun. Not necessarily a show to deliberately seek out, but you’ll probably enjoy it if you ever catch it.

Barrometer rating: 2

What have you been watching? Including You Are Wanted, Passengers and The Accountant

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.

WHYBW took a bit of a break last week, thanks to there being Twin Peaks to watch and not enough time to do that and write about other TV, too. But it’s back, just in time to catch some season finales as the US Fall season begins to wave its final goodbyes and the Summer season starts to kick in.

There have been a few new shows, too, in the past fortnight: the first episode of Downward Dog and those first two new episodes of Twin Peaks I’ve already reviewed elsewhere and I’ll be reviewing Still Star-Crossed (US: ABC) and previewing I’m Dying Up Here (US: Showtime) later in the week. But with a bank holiday weekend, I’ve had a chance to catch up with everything, watch a few movies and even try some of my backlog.

So, after the jump, I’ll be reviewing the latest episodes of American Gods, The Americans, Doctor Who, Downward Dog, The Handmaid’s Tale, Master of None, Silicon Valley and Twin Peaks, as well as the season finales of The Flash, Great News and Lucifer. Before then, a new TV show and not one but two movies!

You Are Wanted (Amazon)
Amazon’s first German-language TV show is a Berlin-set ‘techno thriller’ starring (and written, directed, produced and composed by) one of Germany’s most successful actor-director-composer-writer-cameramen-producers Matthias Schweighöfer, who plays a moderately successful hotel manager and family man, whose life starts to fall apart when hacktivists start to take an interest in him for no obvious reason. Before you know it, they’re in every computer system he has from his laptop and smartphone through to his TV and child monitor, stealing his money, faking an affair and incriminating him in crimes, all while blacking out Berlin’s power system. What do they want and why him? Well, you’ll have to watch to find out.

The first episode was a touch more German in its production values than Amazonian (ie not as good and a bit silly at times), but while it’s not exactly Mr Robot when it comes to hacking, it’s not American Odyssey either, exhibiting a slight hint that it might know a bit about the subject at least. Schweighöfer is appealing, but there’s not much by way of thrills so far, just a lot of Schweighöfer playing with his family and reinstalling operating systems. But it’s promising enough I’ll probably be watching episode two this week at some point.

Word to the wise: despite promises to the contrary, Roku’s Amazon channel won’t display subtitles (I’ve fiddled with every setting it has and nada on anything I’ve watched). So, although half the dialogue’s in English, your German had better be up to knowing what “hydraulic fracking” and “epidemiology” are auf Deutsch if you’re to get by on that platform, so stick with iOS (which definitely does work) or something else. When I gave the subtitles a whirl, though, they turned out to be pretty bad translations that removed any nuance from the original (eg “Google is your friend” became “Use Google”), so I’m not sure that’s much better.

Passengers (2016)
Mechanic Chris Pratt is in hypersleep on board a spaceship to a new colony, when a meteorite collision causes a malfunction on the ship. Pratt wakes up 90 years too early and he’s the only one on board apart from android barman Michael Sheen. Dare he wake up alluring writer Jennifer Lawrence to keep him company? And if he does, what will she do when he finds out he’s effectively killed her? And was his malfunctioning hypersleep pod the only thing damaged by the collision?

A lot has been written about the gender politics of Pratt’s actions in this and to be fair, the movie does go at great lengths not to dodge the ethical questions involved. It’s also far more of a piece of science-fiction than you might have assumed and everything looks very beautiful. But ultimately this is a two-hander between Pratt and Lawrence and how much you’ll want to watch this and their musings about the meaning of life and death very much depends on how much like both of them, whether you find their age gap a bit creepy and whether you think Pratt unconsensually violating sleeping Lawrence’s body (metaphorically) is too much of an obstacle to your enjoying the movie. There’s a brief appearance by (spoiler) Laurence Fishburne and a so-brief-you-probably-won’t-even-see-his-face cameo by (spoiler) Andy Garcia, too, which makes me think there’s a longer cut of the movie out there somewhere…

The Accountant (2016)
An odd attempt to revive The Saint but without paying a licence fee, in which rather than Val Kilmer playing a swashbuckling and suave master criminal who adopts Catholic saints as his noms de plume, we have Ben Affleck playing a socially awkward savant and master criminal who adopts the names of famous mathematicians as his noms de plume, as he goes about… analysing the finances of whomever will pay him. Anna Kendrick is the Elisabeth Shue of the piece, a mid-level accountant who finds an irregularity in her employer (John Lithgow)’s books that Affleck can’t stop himself from investigating. Except Affleck has a very specific code of conduct and if any of his employers break it, he’ll use all the training his psych ops army dad gave him to kill them with extreme prejudice. Trouble is, Lithgow has hired Jon Bernthal (Marvel’s Daredevil‘s The Punisher) to protect him so Affleck might not find the going so easy and Treasury agent Cynthia Addai-Robinson is chasing after him in the exact same way she chases Ryan Phillippe in Shooter

Written by Bill Dubuque (The Judge and Netflix’s forthcoming Ozark) and directed by Gavin O’Connor (Warrior), oddly enough the film is more about an accountant with autistic spectrum disorder than it is about a fighty master assassin, with Affleck redeploying the ‘tortured hero with a disability’ routine he used in Daredevil to evoke sympathy as he does a lot of A Beautiful Mind-like writing on vertical surfaces. But oddly, although its portrayal of ASD’s sensory issues as something that simply needs to be overcome through harsh regimens of fighting, flashing lights, loud noise and hitting yourself with a stick is probably a little contra-indicated, it’s surprisingly accurate, albeit more in a Bron/Broen (The Bridge) sort of way than Life, Animated, with Affleck’s character driven by, advantaged by and disadvantaged by his condition throughout.

The ending is surprising, the fight scenes are genuinely very good, and Affleck and Kendrick are frequently amusing together. And I promise you you’ll never see Martha from The Americans the same way by the end. It’s nonsense and there’s one scene in which JK Simmons sits down to explain the entire plot to the audience, but it’s nevertheless a jolly entertaining, surprisingly smart, surprisingly generous action movie that does for ASD what Daredevil does for blindness.

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Review: Twin Peaks 3×1-3×2 (US: Showtime; UK: Sky Atlantic)

Twin Peaks

In the US: Sundays, 9pm ET/PT, Showtime
In the UK: Mondays, 2am, Sky Atlantic

Like most of David Lynch’s work, it’s easy to recognise Twin Peaks‘ importance without really being able to explain why it’s important. Ostensibly a pastiche of US soap operas mashed up with a murder-mystery, it was still obvious from the get-go that Lynch was doing something TV really hadn’t done before. But it was really hard to say what it was doing.

I remember sitting in the TV room during my first week of university watching the show that all the papers had told us was must-see TV. I was already a Lynch fan, Channel 4 having introduced me to most of his movies over the years, so I was looking forward to it even more than most.

But for half an hour we sat there, wondering what the hell everyone was raving about, as the body of high school cheerleader Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) was washed up ‘wrapped in plastic’ near the small town of Twin Peaks and the inhabitants underwent all the stages of grief you’d expect from seeing a golden girl struck down in the prime of life in a town that felt like it hadn’t quite escaped the 1950s.

Then enter Special Agent Dale Cooper (Dune and Blue Velvet‘s Kyle MacLachlan), a boy scout of an FBI agent sent to investigate the murder, and suddenly the tension of the room eased. At last, we understood what everyone was on about. This was magic. This was art.

Over the course of the next two seasons, the show proved elusive. Sometimes a murder-mystery, sometimes a comedy, sometimes a horror movie, Twin Peaks was indefinable oddness, with perfectly ordinary characters (James the biker boy) interspersed with oddball small town characters (Deputy Andy), oddball FBI agents (David Duchovny’s cross-dressing agent and Lynch’s own deaf agent), oddball characters from nowhere in the world (The Log Lady – so-called, because she carried a log with her) and oddball characters from nightmares (Bob, the ultimate killer of Laura Palmer, who came from ‘the Black Lodge’ and possessed people).

There have been books filled with theories about Twin Peaks and what it was. What’s often forgotten is that it wasn’t very David Lynch. Sure, the undertones from Blue Velvet, with its theme of “the darkness hiding behind the facade of white picket fences”, was obvious. But while Cooper got inspiration from dreams and the Black Lodge had dead people talking backwards and dwarves dancing…

…the nightmare surrealism of Eraserhead was a distant memory.

In fact, objectively speaking, Twin Peaks was mostly a very conventional ABC soap opera cum thriller that just happened to have some wonderful characters and some wonderful moments of surrealism.

Nevertheless, despite being cancelled after two seasons and its follow-up movie flopping, Twin Peaks has remained a worldwide cult classic, esteemed almost as much as its contemporary The X-Files was, but without having been dragged past the point of a natural death and ending on a worthy cliffhanger – Cooper seemingly possessed by Bob after a final encounter in the Black Lodge. 

Somewhat perfectly, though, the show had a built-in promise that it would return in 25 years and Showtime in the US has delivered on that promise with a whole new limited series. The question was: what form would it take? Would it be a simple cash-in that brought back a few characters for a quick new murder to be solved? Would it simply riff all the original’s greatest hits without adding anything? Sure, David Lynch was on board, but when was the last time he’d done something exceptional? Mullholland Drive or Lost Highway maybe?

Well, the first two episodes are in and I have to say the new Twin Peaks is magnificent. Absolutely magnificent. And what’s more, it’s a return not just to Twin Peaks but to the David Lynch of pretty much all his movies, including Eraserhead. Although maybe not Dune (Hal yawm!).

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