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.

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending

Haven’t got round to watching last night’s episodes of The Librarians so that will feature in the next ‘What have you been watching?’

The Librarians (US: TNT; UK: Syfy)
…And Santa’s Midnight Run
Bruce Campbell is Santa and the Librarians have to stop Max Headroom from killing him before he has a chance to bestow Christmas cheer upon the world. Largely rubbish, particularly the London bits, but Bruce Campbell and the general joy of the episode overcame its faults, and Campbell’s becoming various older versions of the Santa Claus myth, right down to Odin himself, was inspired.
+ …And The Apple of Discord
Eris’s apple of discord causes the Librarians to go evil, including the Librarian himself (Noah Wyle returning for an episode). Largely an episode designed to give the The Librarian stamp of approval to the new gang and to big up Rebecca Romijn’s character, it’s a relatively palatable piece, although Wyle is clearly going to need treatment for ham addiction in the near future after the massive overdose he took this episode. The evil version of Cassandra Cillian was great, though, even if it was the standard ‘mouse girl becomes sexy when she’s evil’ trope.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First and second episode; Third episode

Mulaney (US: Fox)
It’s A Wonderful Home Alone
A homage to Home Alone, with Mulaney revealing his life long animosity to Macauley Culkin after he was denied his role in that movie. A few laughs but so few, I’m thinking I’ll probably give up on the show now.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode

State of Affairs (US: NBC)
The show finally dispenses a great episode, with all the plot points finally converging and the show’s various liabilities flipping over to become assets. Perilously close to being recommended, were it not for Katherine Heigl’s wardrobe.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

The recommended list

Doctor Who (UK: BBC One; US: BBC America)
Last Christmas
A change of pace from the usual Christmas story and indeed the Capaldi formula under Steven Moffat, with a multi-levelled story that homages (explicitly and implicitly) all manner of movies in an episode that’s actually more in the tradition of Christmas ghost stories than the blockbusters and fairy tales served to us before. Creepy, mind-bending (although most of the twists were obvious) and, of course, Clara’s back, too. What could be better?
When’s it airing near me?

Ground Floor (US: TBS)
Space Invader
The two love birds accidentally move in together, prompting flipping of the usual stereotypes about women and commitments, right down to an homage to Paranormal Activity. Stereotypes about men continue to be flipped, too. In fact, you’d be hard pushed to uncover any male traits in some of them… But a funny episode.
+ The Break Ups
And the slightly incestuous nature of Doozer productions come full circle, with Brent Morin, Skylar Astin’s co-star on Pitch Perfect, appearing as the head-hunting business rival of John C McGinley (of Doozer’s Scrubs), Morin having previously starred in Doozer’s Undateable, where he appeared with Ground Floor star Breega Heelan as her boyfriend, Heelan previously recurring on Doozer’s Cougar Town but now playing Astin’s girlfriend on Ground Floor. Clear?

An intriguing episode, with Harvard getting a love interest that should hopefully stop the sexual harassment of Heelan’s character, and Morin presumably here to end the ridiculous plot where Astin works as a janitor to regain McGinley’s love – and to sing duets with him.
When’s it airing near me?  
Reviews: First episode

Y Gwyll/Hinterland (UK: S4C)
New Year’s Day special/Spesial
Despite both S4C’s Clic and BBC’s iPlayer preventing me from watching this live – no subtitles on live streams, would you believe? – I was able to play catch up and watch it over the weekend, albeit having to make the usual adjustment of having to switch not just languages but characters between Hinterland and Y Gwyll (yes, Mattias can speak Welsh and doesn’t look down on people who do/feel ostracised for not speaking it). This wasn’t a great story, coming across more like a dark episode of Ffermio, with much intrigue over who owns a particular hill farm and running around in black corridors to then get twatted by someone. But the usual Y Gwyll rule applied of sticking to the end, since that’s suddenly where the very best of the episode appears – in this case, all the backstory you’ve been hoping for about Mathias that didn’t get mentioned in the first series. Even DI Rhys got a bit of fleshing out, too, and the ending provides hope for new drama in the next series, so I’ll still be tuning in for it – and to watch lots of Welsh countryside.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; first series

  • Rullsenberg

    So are they not broadcasting Y Gwyll with English subbies anymore? Bugger. From you say it sounds we have to watch Hinterland. ..

  • Yes, they are. Just to clarify, if you watch it live on Sky, Freeview, Virgin, etc, there are subtitles; if you watch it live online, there are no subtitles; if you watch it on catch-up on anything, there are subtitles.

    It's only the live stream that doesn't have subtitles.

    PS Hello! Welcome back!

  • Gareth Williams

    I have had Frozen on a continuous loop for almost two years: I liked The Lego Movie, but no, this is the film I am forced to watch endlessly in small and long doses. I had the pleasure of attending the song-a-long at the cinema over Christmas as well. There is nothing for adults in this film apart from the highly suspect, 'I've decided: I want you to take me up the North Mountain' line that Anna demands of Sven… See?! I know all their bloody names. Everything is not awesome.

  • Mark Carroll

    I did quite like Despicable Me. (I don't have a clear separation between 1 and 2 in my memory.) I agree, Megamind is better. The girls in Despicable Me didn't annoy me, though I don't find the minions cute and appealing. I liked the different visual style and from early on suspected French involvement.

    Frozen was a pleasant surprise too, though on first viewing I thought “Let It Go” a good moment to end it: Elsa's finally happy, having learned the moral that other people are more trouble than they're worth. Instead, the film went on, delivering the moral, don't assume somebody's dead until you've actually seen their lifeless corpse. Still, the “Let it Go” bit is a nice transformation.

    We saw Snow White and the Huntsman and that seemed adequately executed but nothing very special. I rather preferred Maleficent: that was well put together, and different, and delivered some satisfying payoff (though I'm not sure that the final joining of the two kingdoms is necessarily warranted or advisable, nor I am sure that many years of imprisonment is good training for queenly governance). I guess I liked Angelina Jolie's character.

    I did like Doctor Who. It wasn't fantastic, but it was pretty good, not annoyingly silly as the dream explanation worked well enough.

    Various other things are still in the backlog.

  • I imagine after two years it would be less than awesome.

    PS Isn't Sven the moose, Christoph the bloke?

  • The ending of Maleficent was a bit of a letdown and I can't help but feeling a little too shiny – wouldn't Sleeping Beauty be just a little bit upset with Maleficent for (spoiler alert) letting her dad fall to his doom after a protracted battle, even if it was in self-defence?

    The most interesting bit of DW, I recall now, is that when the Doctor keeps waking up, he does so in the same location as all the dreams took place in the previous episode, possibly implying that either that was a dream, too (Missy is the Doctor's fantasy?), or that he's still in a dream (reference to the Dream Lord). I wonder if they'll do anything with that.

  • Gareth Williams

    Ha! You're right. I've been playing Frozen Top Trumps all Christmas, it's muddled my mind.

  • GYAD

    CRISIS – A stunning indictment of US TV.

    JACK IRISH: DEAD POINT – Excellent and stylish, if implausible.

    THE LEGACY – Stupendously depressing.

    WRONG MANS – Different but parochial.

  • No one can remember Christoph's name because Olaf calls him Sven all the way through the movie. Plus no one cares about Christoph.

  • I thought Crisis had about three or four okay episodes before it went to total pants.

    Watched Warrior on your recommendation last night – enjoyed quite a lot. I'll do a proper write up next week, though.

  • JustStark

    don't assume somebody's dead until you've actually seen their lifeless corpse

    Very important moral that, though.

    I haven't seen Frozen; I usually catch up with these Disney movies 2-3 years later when they turn up on BBC One as the big Christmas Day feature and there's nothing else on. So I expect that'll happen.

    I did see Despicible Me and thought it was meh, but if the general consensus is Megamind is better then I'll keep an eye out for that (as in I won't actively seek it out but if I see it's on I'll set the recording device).

    I'm not sure what I thought of Doctor Who. It just sort of… happened, without much to actually engage with. The old-companion bit I thought was an interesting way to end the story, but then it turned out that the whole rumour-seeding of the last year was in order to sell a three-minute fake-out, which was an interesting PR decision, but whatever.

  • GYAD

    Ooof, I have to disagree there. The basic idea was fine but for…

    1) Insanely annoying rich kids (apart from the fat Jewish nerd – no stereotyping there) which left you rooting for the bad guys.
    2) Absurd plot points: 'As an experienced Secret Service agent about to betray his country, I'll just shoot my partner in the chest once, right where his body armour is, and then not bother with a coup de grace…'
    3) Silly time distortion: the agent and kid still running through the woods minutes after the attack running parallel with the kidnapped kids getting knocked out, transported and imprisoned over several hours.
    4) Unnecessary gore: in a show this silly, to show someones finger being cut off in such a graphic fashion is pornographic.
    5) Dialogue so 'on the nail' that it might as well have come with a hammer.

    On the other hand, I'm glad to hear you enjoyed WARRIOR.

  • 1) Part of the joy of it is hating the rich kids and wishing bad things to happen to them
    2) That's actually answered in either the second or third episode.
    3) I don't mind a time distortion. Purely linear storytelling can be a bit dull sometimes.
    4) Yes. Brave for network TV and nothing compared to Hannibal, mind. But unnecessary.
    5) I forget – I'll take your word for it.

    It's more that it's a lot less stupid than most action shows and there's a few good twists in it. I liked the bluff about who the bad guy is and the fact that he does have a well orchestrated plan. It's at least on a par with series 1 of BBC2's Line of Duty (not series 2) in that regard.

    After three eps or so, though, it pretty much throws away any good will the audience might have had, along with any intelligence. They actually had to stop halfway through filming to rewrite it and make it better (ie more like the first episode). Didn't work.

  • GYAD

    Those are all reasonable points but all of those problems together, combined with the flat direction, were too much for me. It's quite hard to watch this sort of generic tosh after seeing a proper thriller like MEA CULPA (2014).

  • All TV is pretty much ruined once you've seen The Wire.

    I didn't give Crisis a great review at the time (http://www.the-medium-is-not-e… but I was cautiously optimistic, which is about all you can be with it. I watch epic amounts of tosh, thanks to the requirements of this 'ere blog, so maybe Crisis simply looks better in comparison.

    Did you watch Hostages when it was Channel 4 (?) BTW?

  • GYAD

    Yeah. I've got to admit that I'm always impressed with how much tosh you manage to get through in order to find the nuggets of TV gold.

    I did watch HOSTAGES, which I thought was similarly dire.

    For my money American TV thrillers are pretty poor. They seem to lack an understanding of the complexity and the brutality of the world around them. They're very insular and safe; often family/relationship dramas with a thriller coating.

    It also doesn't help that the current American taste in TV direction seems to be endless flat shots, with bland locations and pointless in-scene cuts between wide, close-up and ECU.

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