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What have you been watching? Including Y Gwyll/Hinterland, Doctor Who, Ground Floor and The Legend of Hercules

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.

Yes, I’m back. Hopefully, you’ll have noticed already, if not, let this be my notice to you. So what have you been watching this Christmas? For me, not a lot of tele, although after the jump, I’ll be running through the likes of Doctor Who, Ground Floor, The Librarians, Mulaney, State of Affairs and Y Gwyll/Hinterland – I’ve already reviewed Galavant and Marco Polo elsewhere, in case those float your boat.

No, as is traditional over the Christmas period, it’s been all about the movies.

Despicable Me (2010)/Despicable Me 2 (2013) – iTunes
Evil villain dedicates his life to evil, only to find himself saving the day when an even worse evil turns up. If that sounds very similar to Megamind, that’s because it is and Despicable Me at least is decidedly inferior to that movie. However, many of the elements from the first movie that were more of an annoyance in Despicable Me – the three girls the evil ‘Gru’ adopts and his small yellow minions – come into their own in the far superior second movie, with the minions in particular turning into some very entertaining French-speaking oddities that are now warranting their own spin-off movie. Still not as good as Megamind, but more suitable for a younger audience and not without considerable charms.

Frozen (2013) – iTunes
Late to the show as always, I finally got round to watching the most popular animated movie in history. And actually, it’s not bad and its ending is pleasingly different from virtually all other Disney movies, with a story that’s more about the value of sisterhood than finding true love. It’s also got a couple of catchy songs that despite the occasional dodgy lyric (‘frozen fractal’ – oh dear God) you’ll find yourself quoting the best bits of at random points during the day and Kristen Bell turns out to be quite a good singer/voice actress. It’s just annoying that after a slightly uninspiring start, along the way, the whole thing feels like it’s been directed with the aim of having a stage show on ice spin-off, with some scenes even shot exactly like a West End musical rather than a film. But it’s survived a couple of re-watches already, so it must be a good ‘un, I reckon.

The Legend of Hercules (2014) – Netflix
Surprisingly, of the two Hercules movies released last year, this turns out to be far the superior to the Dwayne Johnson version and is faithful enough to both call him Alcides for most of the movie, rather than Herakles/Hercules, and to have a decent recreation of Tiryns based on the discoveries at Mycenae. It stars Kellan Lutz (Syrup, Twilight) as Alcides, who has to deal with both his evil god-rejecting mortal dad Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) and the revelation that his true dad is Zeus, king of the gods. While the movie eschews the conventional Labours bar the Nemean Lion in favour of new plots, it’s not to its credit that it messes around with the natures of Amphitryon, Alcmene and Iphicles in quite the way it does; neither is the strange middle section where the film decides it wants to be Spartacus so much it actually brings in Spartacus himself (Liam McIntyre) and sticks him and Hercules into a gladiatorial arena to fight baddies, more than a millennium before the gladiatorial arenas for thousands of spectators existed. But while it does stray, it does so in interesting ways. No one’s walking away with any acting or writing awards, but if you’re going to watch a Hercules movie, this is the best one.

Maleficent (2014) – iTunes
Disney does a Wicked with the wicked witch of Sleeping Beauty (Angelina Jolie), giving us the inside track on why she became evil and whether things were quite as one-sided as other movies might have suggested. Oddly, a much better film when dealing with the younger, pre-Jolie Maleficent and the whole thing boils down to ‘some boy done me wrong’, but innovative and enjoyable despite the relentless Disney co-branding.

Non-stop (2014) – Amazon Instant Video
Essentially an Agatha Christie locked room mystery, with one passenger on a plane killing off the others, one at a time, unless he or she is paid a big sum of money. Only air marshall Liam Neeson can find out who it is – by punching and shooting people a lot. Quite a taut and nuanced post-9/11 thriller that’s only slightly stupid at first but which turns into absolute bobbins once the identity of the killer is revealed. Nevertheless, there are worse action thrillers out there, a lot of them starring Liam Neeson, too.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Y Gwyll/Hinterland, Doctor Who, Ground Floor and The Legend of Hercules”

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US TV

Mini-review: Galavant 1×1-1×2 (US: ABC)

Galavant

In the US: Sundays, 8pm ET/7pm CT, ABC

It’s the usual story: boy and girl meet, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl sing songs together, evil king abducts girl, boy comes to rescue her, singing a song, girl decides she prefers being with the rich and famous evil king, who sings a song of triumph, boy decides to become a ne’er-do-well and drink his life away – before being given the chance of revenge against the rotter who stole his girl.

I imagine if you work at Disney, a lot of the time you’ll want to send the whole thing up. And as you can tell from the above précis of ABC’s new musical comedy, Galavant, the show’s producers Dan Fogelman, Alan Menken and Glenn Slater have finally got their wish, after working on Disney’s Tangled together. Trouble is, it’s the kind of thing you should probably leave behind at the Christmas party, rather than stick into an eight episode limited series.

Galavant is certainly a show that thinks it’s funny. To its credit, it often is as well, particularly those scenes involving Psych’s Timothy Omundson who plays the evil king and/or Vinny Jones, who plays his evil henchman. It’s just nowhere near as funny as it should be, let alone as funny as Enchanted, which is pretty much the gold standard for fairy tale pastiches.

To be sure, no one’s cutting any corners. It’s filmed in the UK – unless I’m going crazy, there are even locations used in Robin of Sherwood on display. The cast is mainly British, the exceptions being Omundson and Australian Mallory Jansen, as the gold-digging heroine – apparently there are now so many Brits pretending to be Americans in the US, the US has run out of Brits to play Brits so, as with Matador, it’s time to draw on the Aussies to help out. The songs are written by Slater and Menken, who wrote the Oscar-nominated ‘I See The Light’. And Fogelman doesn’t short-change on the plot, which is actually series-long and multi-layered.

But the show tries to get by merely on subversion and injection of age-inappropriate content. Sometimes this works, giving adults something to laugh about with the juxtaposition of fairy tales and sex, modern language interspersed with more genteel phrasing or characters revealing plot twists in song that other characters then pick up on. The idea of the drunken, selfish handsome prince and the amoral heroine also works well.

However, that’s more or less it and once you’ve seen those tricks all a few times, you’ll want something different, but the show doesn’t really have anything else to offer. So while the joke hit rate is decently high for a network comedy, by the end of each double-episode, you’re going to be feeling a little undernourished by the paucity of variety on the menu.

Probably best watched only as a musical accompaniment to Once Upon A Time, but nevertheless has the potential to get better.

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Internet TV

Season review: Marco Polo (Netflix)

Marco Polo

On the Internet: Available on Netflix

There are a lot of names in history that we learn at school that if we stop to pause and consider them, we realise we still know very little about them. Marco Polo. He went to China. Did he discover China? Was he the first European to discover China? Was he the first Italian to trade with China?

That wasn’t something they really taught you in school.

Ditto Genghis Khan and his grandson Kublai. What did they do, apart from rule a bit of Asia? Did you even know Kublai Khan was his grandson in fact?

Some of you will probably know all this, most won’t. So in many ways, now that period dramas have pretty much exhausted the 17-20th centuries in the UK and the US and are looking for new times and places to explore, we should be grateful for the likes of Marco Polo, Netflix’s new 10-episode drama released en masse over Christmas, for illustrating a period of Asian and European history about which most people know mere names at best.

The show tells the story of the eponymous Marco Polo, a young Viennese trader whose father returns from the East after years away, and decides to drag him and a few priests back to the court of the great Mongol leader Kublai Khan. Kublai Khan is looking to expand his empire to include South China by defeating the Song Dynasty, who have been walled up in a nearby city that has withstood assault for nearly 30 years.

Kublai Khan decides to take the young and loquacious Polo into his court and show him Mongol ways. But how will Polo to take to them? Will he survive the intrigues and politics of the court? Will he find love with a princess? And how good a pupil will he be to the blind Daoist monk 100 Eyes at the art of kung fu?

Wait… what was that?

Yes, because despite being on Netflix, which is normally a sign of good quality, Marco Polo was originally lined up to be a Starz production. Starz – that would be the home of Torchwood: Miracle Day and historically accurate fare such as Spartacus, Camelot and Da Vinci’s Demons.

So although this $90 million series is lavish and has many pluses, including filming in both Malaysia and the steppes of Kazakhstan, don’t expect a history lesson so much as a halfway house between Netflix and Starz’s sensibilities – think Game of Thrones meets The Last Samurai meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, spiced up with the usual female nudity.

Here’s a trailer.

Continue reading “Season review: Marco Polo (Netflix)”

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Audio and radio play reviews

Review: The Brenda and Effie Mysteries – The Woman in a Black Beehive

cover.jpgHello all. Well I may have been a lazy boy over the Christmas period, but that doesn’t mean everyone else has been one, too.

In fact, kind soul, philanthropist and all round nice guy Jonathan Dennis has been doing my work for me, reviewing the latest Bafflegab production: The Brenda and Effie Mysteries – The Woman In A Black Beehive. Bless him.

Bafflegab, of course, are responsible for the likes of the Hammer Chillers and the Vince Cosmos series, and The Woman In a Black Beehive represents the first of a series of Brenda and Effie mysteries, all written by the brilliant Paul Magrs as extensions of his original novel series.

For those who want to know more, here’s the synopsis, and you can read Jonathan’s review after the jump.

Plot
Welcome to the mysterious town of Whitby, where all the monsters and demons of old come to retire and live out the remainder of their spooky days and nights and eat fish and chips on the Seafront.

There’s a strange new landlady in town, opening a B&B by the harbour; a lady with a tall black beehive, nasty scars about her person and a very chequered past. Soon she’s teamed up with part-time witch Effie and together they investigate the mystery of the ghostly singing cat on the rooftops of the old town, and the savage maulings of old ladies in lonely alleyways. Also – there’s something very peculiar about the quite frankly awful oil painting Effie drags home from an auction. Can it really be coming to ghastly life?

Here we are at the very start: about to hear the truth of what happened when Brenda met Effie and hell was unleashed in Whitby for the very first time..!

Paul Magrs’ macabre creations are brought to life by Anne Reid (Last Tango in Halifax) in episode 1 of The Brenda and Effie Mysteries. You can buy each release individually, or subscribe to the whole series. Subscribers will also receive a copy of Vince Cosmos: Glam Rock Detective by Paul Magrs, plus other subscriber bonuses.

Continue reading “Review: The Brenda and Effie Mysteries – The Woman in a Black Beehive”