What have you been watching since Christmas? Including Mr Selfridge, End of Watch, The Hobbit, Premium Rush, Doctor Who, Elementary and Last Resort

It’s the slightly retitled “What did you watch this week?”, my chance to tell you what I movies and TV I’ve been watching in the past week since Christmas that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I’ve missed them.

Now that Christmas is out the way and I’m back from my holidays, hopefully this will once more be a weekly feature, hopefully always on a Friday, but what with work n’all, maybe on Monday, instead. But weekly.

First, though, the usual recommendations: 30 Rock, Arrow, Don’t Trust The B—– in Apartment 23, Elementary, Go On, Last Resort, Modern Family and The Wedding Band.

Second, a new recommendation: Mr Selfridge, which is an ITV period piece written by Andrew Davies that looks at how American retailer Harry Gordon Selfridge came to found his Oxford Street department store and how various women’s lives were changed by the freedoms it offered them. I really liked it – beyond an occasional bit of woodness from a few of the younger cast members and Piven, who’s otherwise superb, the first episode was pretty much perfect, I thought. Yes, an ITV drama that’s actually good. Surprise 1. Secondly, a Jeremy Piven drama that’s good. Surprise 2. No surprise that Spiral‘s Grégory Fitoussi, who plays the store’s chief window dresser, is good, though.

And here’s a few thoughts on what else I’ve watched. There’s more than a few shows in the pile still to watch, thanks to my extended absence, including Ripper Street, Restless, A Young Doctor’s Notebook, Hard and Spies of Warsaw, as well as the return of Cougar Town and Modern Family. Let me know if any of those are/aren’t worth the effort. But here’s what I have seen:

  • Borgen: I’m midway through episode one of the new series. Please tell me it gets better, because it’s even worse than The Killing 3 at the moment. Confusingly, it even has the Danish PM from that show playing another character who isn’t the Danish PM. But I am liking the lead (Sidse Babett Knudsen) a lot and the switch into English whenever anyone foreign turns up is pleasing.

  • Doctor Who: Yes, the Christmas episode, which I think was probably the best Matt Smith one so far. Funny and fun, with just a hint of intriguing tragedy, too. The links to good old Troughton villain The Great Intelligence were lovely, too.

  • Don’t Trust The B—-: Two unremarkable episodes for the show, but they’re still a cut above most comedies and a lot darker than you’d expect from a network show.
  • Elementary: Despite the presence of Vinny Jones, who was actually pretty good as (possibly) Moriarty (spoilers: not actually Moriarty but the famous Colonel Sebastian Moran, Moriarty’s helper monkey from the books), probably the best episode so far. Quite why Vinny was such an Arsenal fan and quite why Arsenal were playing so many games that week, I don’t know, though.
  • The First Family: Essentially, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air but in the White House and not funny.

  • Go On: Good to see them moving away from everything being Ryan-centric now, with various characters interacting and having storylines without him.
  • Last Resort: Well, it looks like they’re actually going to wrap this baby up in two episodes’ time, and things are progressing apace. As always, anything naval is superbly handled and tense, anything domestic is dross.
  • Little Crackers: Various semi-autobiographical pieces by stars including Sharon Horgan and Dylan Moran. Like a lot of Sky comedies, not as funny as they should have been, and obviously in need of an edit or two, but all had odd merits.

  • The Mindy Project: And I’m giving up. Only a few chuckles per episode now – the switch away from rom-com to office comedy has been a real let-down after such a great start. Oh well. More time to watch other stuff, then.
  • Vegas: You know, I only noticed this last episode but Sarah Jones from Alcatraz is the new lady in town, isn’t she? Well, she’s far more versatile and chameleonic than I realised. Glad she’s moved onto a better show, too, because she was wasted there. This week’s episode, getting back on topic, was a big uptick in quality, getting away from the episodic crimes in favour of more serial story-telling, with an almost Wire-like attempt to show that the system can’t be changed. Carrie Anne-Moss actually had something to do, too, and Michael Ironside even got to appear. Keep it up, Vegas, and you’ll be promoted to the recommended list, soon.
  • The Wedding Band: The first excellent episode of the show so far, despite starting with the tired old “all Indians have arranged marriages” cliche. As always, surprisingly sensitive and sophisticated, despite the guyisms, and there’s not many shows that can have you sniffling from the romance of a plotline and then end the episode with a cover version of ’99 points (but a bitch ain’t one)’. Good use of soccer rules in it, too.

And, as you can imagine with my being on two transatlantic plane flights, I saw a lot of movies:

End of Watch
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña find themselves in a slightly implausible episode of Southland. Probably one of the best cop movies you’ll ever see, but the demands of the A-plot swamp most of the virtues of the movie, which are the everyday small talk between Gyllenhaal and Peña and the encounters they have with normal LA citizens.

The Hobbit
So incredibly dull for the first hour, I actually fell asleep twice. However, once the trolls turn up and it becomes a lot more Lord of the Rings, then it becomes a far more enjoyable prospect. Richard Armitage does a decent job as Thorin, Martin Freeman boggles the mind by being Martin Freeman… but not, and it’s nice to have the return of all those Rings actors – it brought a little tear to my eye. Even Sylvester McCoy works in context. However, it’s still fundamentally a story for kids rather than for adults, with a lot more fart gags than the previous movies had.

No Strings Attached
An interesting attempt to do a gender-reversal rom-com, with heart-on-a-sleeve, IQ-challenged Ashton Kutcher hooking up with the emotionally stunted brainiac doctor Natalie Portman, who wants a no-strings attached sex-only relationship. At one level, it works quite well, with Portman having to go through all the emotional and physical challenges the heroes of romcoms normally go through. But despite being written by New Girl-creator Elizabeth Meriwether and starring most of the casts of Fox’s current shows, including The Mindy Project‘s Mindy Carling and New Girl‘s own Jake Johnson, it’s not actually funny. Rom but no com isn’t great. Also, when did people stop doing foreplay?

Percy Jackson
Harry Potter meets Greek myth… badly. Strictly for the kids.

Premium Rush
When you think about it, there are surprisingly few movies or TV shows about people who ride bikes (remember ITV’s Streetwise with Andy Serkis, anyone?), which is what makes Premium Rush so refreshing. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a cycle courier in Manhattan who has to deliver a package before 7pm or else bad things will happen. Except Michael Shannon from Boardwalk Empire wants to stop him. Very indie, with a non-linear timeline, elements of Witness and more, probably the worst thing about it unusually is Shannon, who goes for comedic when he should be threatening. But if you’ve ever ridden a bike seriously, the adrenaline surge you’ll get from the racing scenes will be something chronic. Loved it.

Ruby Sparks
Writer imagines a perfect girlfriend and Weird Science-like, she comes to life. So painfully twee, though, I lost all patience with it within about 10 minutes.

The Social Network
David Fincher is back on form. Hooray! With this, Aaron Sorkin takes the plunge and decides to deal with this new-fangled Internet thing – specifically, how Facebook was created. Horribly misogynistic, both in the attitudes of the people involved and in Sorkin’s authorial choices, but Jesse Eisenberg is fantastic as Mark Zuckerberg, a man who apparently has the most obvious case of Asperger’s superiority complex since the dawn of time. Great movie (apart from that annoying misogyny).

Well, I guess if you’re going to do a Euro spy thriller, Liam Neeson is the person to call. Here, he plays an academic who wakes up after a car accident to discover no one knows who he is, not even his wife, and someone else has taken his place. A sort of combination of Taken, The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Identity (indeed, in some ways it’s more The Bourne Identity than The Bourne Identity was), it’s surprisingly better than you’d think, playing with cinematic conventions to make you think it’s one thing when it’s really another. When the explanation comes, it’s not as deep as you think it’s going to be, but in some ways that makes it better. Worth a try, but January Jones is incomparably bad in this, though, and the trailer gives everything away, so don’t watch that if you actually plan on seeing the movie. Oddly, German actress Diane Kruger (currently playing the US version of Saga Noren in the remake of The Bridge) is here playing an East European immigrant.

“What did you watch this week?” is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid – and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I’ve watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you’ve seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?

  • I watched, 'The Girl', the HBO special that was shown on BBC2. Whilst I can appreciate that is was good, I can't say that I enjoyed it; I just found it very uncomfortable to watch.

  • I watched, 'The Girl', the HBO special that was shown on BBC2. Whilst I can appreciate that is was good, I can't say that I enjoyed it; I just found it very uncomfortable to watch.

  • Mark Carroll

    Well, we watched the British Bake-Off thing. I think the whole family liked that. I think that our other satellite dish must be pointing at Eutelsat 9A. Lately I've been watching some older films and crime dramas in French on TF1. Rumour has it that it bears a French Bake-Off thing too, but apparently not right now. Last night we had L&O: CI on it.

    I noticed a Royle Family Christmas episode. It wasn't all that great.

    We watched quite a few things that seem hardly worth enumerating given my reaction isn't much more than, “eh, it was okay”. I just asked my wife what notable things we've watched in recent weeks; her answer was, “nothing really”. Her mother did like Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes.

    I did see the episode of the Big Fat Quiz that seems now to be in the news. I enjoy shows like South Park, but the newsworthy parts of that quiz did strike me at the time as being rather more crass than funny.

    With Doctor Who, I did like the link with The Great Intelligence, and I shall be interested to see where that goes, if anywhere, but I think that A Christmas Carol remains my favourite Matt Smith Christmas episode, given how it worked into the original story, and The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe was quite good.

    Oh, that reminds me, I still like George C. Scott's portrayal of Scrooge; we watched that.

    Maybe I'll give Unknown and Premium Rush a try. I suppose I'll soon get around to joining Blockbuster.

  • aylwardreed

    Funnily enough I watched Premium Rush yesterday too(I'm guessing you've got a US iTunes account also) and thought it was excellent. Great fun. Although to be honest I'll watch anything JGL is in and love it. Top guy.

    Agree about End of Watch. Incredible film, felt very much like The Shield: The Movie which was ironic considering the presence of the excellent Pena.

    Think I'll give Selfridge a try on your recommendation.

    Also, knew I'd be right about Moriarty(not that I'm boasting).

  • No US iTunes account – just an inflight on-demand movie player 😉

  • GYAD

    Welcome back. I hope you had a good Christmas and New Year.

    CHASE – New Jerry Bruckheimer TV thing. Essentially the same as every other daytime US cop show: a multi-ethnic cast of plastic looking non-entities, great production values, no soul or intelligence or wit.

    HEMINGWAY & GELHORN – Breathless HBO movie about the affair between the two writers. Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen both badly miscast. The switches between sepia, archive and colour film made no sense; the writing was mediocre at best, blatantly manipulative at worst; with lots of bad history and nonsensical scenes.

    30 ROCK – Always weird, mostly very funny.

    BORGEN – Well acted and good production values but a lack of political depth and episodic stories mean that it isn't much more than a well made soap opera with political overtones.

    HARD – OK but not really funny and all the jokes are too obvious. Not really interested in watching (even snippets of) pornography; would have preferred a seaside postcard tone.

    RIPPER STREET – Empty bravado that shamelessly rips off the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films. Lots of sex, fighting and murdering but no characters worth caring about, wonky plots and little sense of period. In particular, it isn't shocking because there are no real moral limits for it to transgress.

    RESTLESS – A huge budget and amazing sets wasted on a pathetic story. The traitor was obvious from the first, the heroine never really has to work for anything, and nobody talked/acted/moves like they were in the 1940s (or 1970s). Also very ineptly shot.

    I'm sure I watched a few other things but it appears that they were so dull that I can't even remember them.

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