What have you been watching? Including Residue, American Sniper and The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

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.

As we sit in the gap between the end of the Fall 2014-15 season and the summer season in the US, Canada and most countries around the world, we discover the horror that is not having any tele to watch. I’ve even been reading books. Gasp!

But I have found a few other things to watch and tell you about, don’t you worry. I’ve already reviewed the first two episodes of 1864 elsewhere, and after the jump, as well as the usual usuals of Community, The Flash, Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley, I’ll be casting my eye over Netflix’s three-part Brit sci-fi/horror gloom Residue. But I’ve actually managed to watch a couple of movies, too. Well, parts of movies…

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies (2014) (iTunes)
The third of the almost interminable Hobbit movies sees Bilbo and the dwarves facing orc armies, dragons and more in a whole bunch of scenes that definitely weren’t in the book. The big Hobbit conclusion – Bard killing Smaug – happens in the first 10 minutes or so, after which it’s all about big armies of CGI beasts smashing each other, and elves being stoic and doing the right thing, all while Thorin (Richard Armitage) fights off his gold addiction. The Hobbit himself (Martin Freeman)? Doesn’t actually do a whole lot…

As I mentioned in the comments on last week’s WHYBW, I did actually start watching this nearly a fortnight ago, got three-quarters the way through then went to bed… and totally forgot I was watching it until this Monday, by which point it was too late to continue watching it without re-renting it. So I’ve no idea if we get cameos from old Bilbo and Frodo (or anyone else) at the end, and probably won’t do until Netflix picks it up. Nevertheless, while you might argue that this all tells you something about me, I’d argue that it tells you something about just how engrossing this third entry in the series really is.

American Sniper (2014) (iTunes)
Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of the autobiography of America’s most lethal sniper got a whole lot of attention for something that’s really pretty ordinary at heart. Bradley Cooper does well as the Texan who enlists in the Navy SEALs in the 90s to fight terrorists and ends up shooting an awful lot Iraqis in the 21st century, while Sienna Miller is astonishingly unrecognisable as his long-suffering but tolerant wife.

Eastwood’s direction is relatively pedestrian and matter of fact, and his few forays out into CGI special effects are decidedly ill-advised (did he learn nothing from Firefox?). But the film is notably non-judgemental and reverential of its subject, showing a normal man in a lethal occupation doing his best to defend people and his country, even if he subsequently finds it hard to initially mix with those people when he returns from war.

While it’s easy to criticise the movie for not bothering to make any of the Iraqis anything more than murderers, with scenes at times reminiscent of Zulu’s large-scale slaughter, most members of the audience will be aware of the greys of the situation and that this is just one story about a very complex subject. Worth watching to see just what Bradley Cooper can do as an actor and if you prefer your dramas to have less judgement of its subjects.

Residue (Netflix)
Brit gloom fest designed as a three-part pilot for a second longer season. Set in an unnamed British city (probably York), it sees an explosion blow up a building. Unfortunately, said building is right next to an underground MoD weapons dump and something leaks out, forcing a huge section of the city to be quarantined. The story then follows a number of characters, but primarily civil servant/PR Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones, Vicious, Misfits) and photographer Natalia Tena (Game of Thrones, Harry Potter), as they begin to discover that what leaked out is causing people to do all manner of icky/murderous things… and showing up as ghostly images on Tena’s photos.

Written by John Harrison, who wrote and directed the rather good Frank Herbert’s Dune mini-series all of a decade and a half ago, Residue is nevertheless an embarrassingly poor mini-series/pilot that exhibits all the cliches of indie Brit sci-fi/horror, coming across more like an extended film school project, with most of the action shot at night, lots of scenes of ‘The Street’, characters that speak inane, wincingly bad lines to show how deep they are, and actors that are clearly there to bolster their CVs and get some quick money, rather than perform convincingly. Tena’s the exception, taking everything very seriously, but Rheon’s still stuck in Ramsay Snow/Bolton mode, even though he’s been in similar territory on Misfits with Residue’s director Alex Garcia Lopez.

It took me about three days to get through the first episode, so engrossing was it, so a general ‘don’t watch’ from me. If I was going to salvage anything from this, I’d say that Residue is an interesting demonstration of how Netflix’s production model is changing to include indie production companies producing small pieces of work, rather than huge programmes in the vein of House of Cards.

The recommended list

Community (US: Yahoo; UK: Sony Entertainment Television)
6×11 – Modern Espionage
An episode that just about managed to tread the thin line between loving tributes and overly meta, with this year’s paintball episode homaging action films including Highlander, Mr and Mrs Smith, Iron Man, The Avengers and Captain America: Winter Soldier, to name but a few. Not as funny as it should have been, but with some very clever moments, it’s possibly the best episode of the season so far.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode  

The Flash (US: The CW; UK: Sky 1)
1×23 – Fast Enough
I’m going to go out out on a limb and say this was a tad disappointing as a season finale, after a season that had managed to juggle all its many balls incredibly well. While it wasn’t quite season 1 Heroes bad, it was largely two-thirds people gassing on about whether to make a decision or not, followed by a different decision being made, all while numerous references were being laid down to Legends of Tomorrow, a show that’s not coming out for another year (although I wouldn’t put it past the producers to use season 2 of this show and season 4 of Arrow to put in more set-up for it). A few good touches, such as the Flash’s helmet, the Sisco revelation and (spoiler) the scene with his mum, one big surprise that wasn’t, thanks to so much foreshadowing of it, and some really bad science. The cliffhanger was also a bad choice.

Enjoyable but could have been so much better. I might be in a minority on this one, though.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode  

Game of Thrones (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
5×6 – Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
A horribly unpleasant end, thankfully played out off-camera, to an otherwise fascinating episode. But other than that, it was a reasonably fun episode with plenty of humour, real depth added to some of the story and some clever politicking thanks to Diana Rigg and co. But that ending…
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; first season; second and third seasons

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
2×6 – Homicide
While the SWOT analysis felt a little like the algorithm scene at the end of the first season, another perceptive, clever episode that was as much about the personal as the business side of Silicon Valley. The scenes involving the firm’s two women also showed a surprising level of perception.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

    View all posts