What have you been watching? Including Hand of God, Betas, Doctor Who, Legends and Lucy

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.

Thankfully, it’s still all little quiet on the TV front at the moment, allowing me to combine blogging and work without killing myself. Perhaps too quiet though, because I’ve been forced to watch some of Amazon’s TV pilots. I’ve already covered The Cosmopolitans elsewhere, but on top of that, I’ve watched two others:

Betas 
Take Silicon Valley. Remove the laughs, insight, dialogue and cast. Add a couple of female characters for ogling purposes. Voila. Now you have Betas. I’m not joking about this, BTW — it’s almost absolutely identical to Silicon Valley in concept, at least. It’s just not good. Which is a charitable way of saying it’s bad.

The Hand of God
A cross between Eli Stone and Boss, this sees corrupt judge Ron Perlman go a bit loopy, become convinced he’s become the right hand of God in order to bring justice to his fair city and starts doing some very odd, usually nasty things indeed. Except perhaps he really has been sent by God, what with that speaking in tongues, the visions that turn out to be true and so on. 

Perlman’s his usual reliable self (although not quite as good as Kelsey Grammer), Dana Delany is fab as his calculating wife, Andre Royo is a bit miscast as the city’s mayor and Garret Dillahunt is downright scary (scarier even than when he was a Terminator) as Perlman’s helper monkey. Unfortunately, despite its good qualities, it’s about as enjoyable as Boss

I’ve also squeezed in a few movies.

About Time (2013)
Richard Curtis tries to do a heartwarming version of Four Weddings And A Funeral, with Domhnall Gleeson learning from dad Bill Nighy that he can travel back in time and fix moments in his past that have gone wrong – a talent he uses to try to woo Rachel McAdams. Largely a pale imitation of everything Curtis has done before, with all the same criticisms – minimal development of female characters, lack of diversity, everyone paralysingly rich and posh – plus a few others, it largely fails to shine until right at the end, which has some real tearjerking stuff. 

Lucy (2014)
In the first of my “Random Scarlett Johansson” double bill, this week, we start if with something that is in absolute terms quite weird, but compared to its companion movie, is only a little bit weird. Here we have Johansson is an ordinary woman who unwittingly ends up being forced into being a drugs mule, except when the drugs burst in her stomach, they actually turn her into a superhero who can use increasingly large percentages of her brain to change herself, others and even reality. Despite being billed as an action film and having Luc Besson directing, there’s only minimal amounts of the movie devoted to fights and car chases, the majority instead being devoted to strange voiceovers, pictures of animals and more ‘artiness’ (or Luc Besson’s attempt at artiness). You think you’re going to get The Transporter; instead you get Altered States. Worth watching just to see Johansson hold her own and show she can now be relied on to be the star of a major movie that you might actually want to see. But if you’re not into left field stuff, I’d probably give this one a miss. 

Under The Skin (2013)
An even weirder film from Scarlett Johansson in a somewhat loose adaptation of the novel of the same name. A mixture of the extremely naturalistic – Johansson actually drove a transit van around Glasgow with hidden cameras, interacting with members of the public – and the incredibly stylised, Under The Skin is a musing on a lot of things, including sexuality, what it means to be human and predation, with Johansson an alien who goes around picking up lone men to do something to them when she gets them back to her place, but who slowly starts to feel pity for the creatures she’s hunting. Despite only minimal dialogue and plot, it’s highly disturbing, with some superb cinematography and music design, and images will linger with you for a long time afterwards. With more than a few hints of The Man Who Fell To Earth, this is truly film as art rather than mere storytelling. It’s not 100% successful by any means, but it is more than worth a watch. It’s certainly a brave choice for Johansson, who mesmerises as the Bowie-esque alien.

After the jump, the regulars, including LegendsDoctor Who and You’re The Worst.

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending

Legends (US: TNT; UK: Sky 1)
Episode 4
Starting to edge its way up the quality stakes to the point where it could almost be classified as “better than average”. However, the terrible vestigial remains of the attempted NCIS format from the first two episodes are still tarnishing what is very slowly becoming a slightly interesting look at the psychology of undercover work married with an existential crisis. Sean Bean remains excellent, even if he’s cleverly decided that no one in America knows what a Scouse accent sounds like (The Beatles are but a memory, it seems) so isn’t even trying to put one on for his later cover. Still a long way to go before I could recommend it, but at leas the overall trajectory is upwards

The recommended list

Doctor Who (UK: BBC1; US: BBC America)
Robot of Sherwood
A pretty dreadful piece of comedy from someone who should be great at comedy (Mark Gatiss) that pastiches all those old Doctor Who comedy historicals (The Gunfighters, The Myth Makers) that you probably didn’t even know existed until now and really weren’t worth pastiching in the first place. Not utterly worthless, with some good moments from both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Louise-Coleman, but overall a waste of an episode.

You’re The Worst (US: FX)
Drink Your Milk
A lovely, very black episode with some great lines and even a nifty Usual Suspects reference. A heartbreaking conclusion mind and some excellent acting all round.
First episode

  • Gareth Williams

    Betas was a laugh-free, geeks-get-the-hot-girl-dream waste of time. I watched it months ago though, and it was originally part of Amazons pilot launch so it must pre-date Silicon Valley. I quite enjoyed Alpha House which launched on the same day though.

    Doctor Who was pretty terrible. The worst ever episide of TNG was Robin Hood inspired as well, although it did feature Worf's classic, “Captain I must protest, I am not a Merry Man” line.

  • Mark Carroll

    I actually didn't find “Robot of Sherwood” all that awful, certainly I can imagine that something of that general quality and nature would have been quite at home in the “classic” series. All the laughing was indeed a bit painful but, so far for me, the current series hasn't hit anywhere near the painfully awful moments (or periods) of recent series.

    I do like Garret Dillahunt but it still sounds like I will be avoiding “The Hand of God”.

    I saw the second Captain America and Hunger Games films, which seemed okay but nothing special given the first ones, though I understood they did both get good reviews for the sequels.

  • Betas did predate Silicon Valley but only by a month or so, so they must have been in production at the same time. Which happens surprisingly often.

  • I'd be surprised if Hand of God gets a lot of up-votes, to be honest. I'm surprised you didn't think Cap 2 was all that, since it's my favourite of the Marvel movies.

  • Stuart Nathan

    I really liked Cap 2. Loads better than Thor 2, which was the worst of the Marvel Studios films for me.

  • Mark Carroll

    The attempted assassination was fun, admittedly. I don't think I saw Thor 2.

  • I would agree were it not for the existence of the Ed Norton Hulk, which I think everyone would prefer to forget about.

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