What have you been watching? Including Big Hero 6, The Audience and Hannibal

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.

Life is good. Summer is here. I’ve watched loads of tele. Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed and previewed:

I’ve also passed verdict on the first four episodes of UnREAL (US: Lifetime) and the first three of Between (Netflix). That means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of: Game of Thrones, Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal, Sense8, Silicon Valley, Stitchers, Westside and The Whispers.

But before that, not only have I watched a movie, I’ve been to the theatre again:

Movies

Big Hero 6 (2014)
The first Disney animated movie to be based on a Marvel comic, Big Hero 6 sees a group of nerds come together to become science and technology superheroes when they’re faced with a man with an army of tiny robots. Led by a teenager called Hiro, they’re also helped by an inflatable healthcare robot called Baymax who can’t quite get to grips with this fighting thing superheroes do…

It’s actually quite a sweet little film, albeit with slightly traumatic moments that might disturb little children, with ironically Hiro learning from the caring Baymax how to be a better person and hero. Despite being a bit ‘boys and toys’, there are also a few good female nerd roles and some bits that will make you laugh out loud. The East meets West location of San Fransokyo is brilliantly realised, too.

Theatre

I’ve already reviewed The Oresteia (Almeida) elsewhere.

The Audience (Apollo Theatre)
Once a week, in a tradition that goes back to the time of Queen Victoria, the reigning monarch of the UK meets with the current Prime Minister to be updated on current events and to discuss matters of relevance to the both of them. In the hands of playwright Peter Morgan (The Queen), what could be purely a matter of historical interest instead becomes a song of praise to both the institution of the monarchy and the Queen herself.

The play flits between historical periods, giving us Prime Ministers from Churchill through to David Cameron, with the Queen acting as a fixed point in time who can compare Anthony Eden’s misadventures in Suez with Tony Blair’s in Iraq, Cameron’s small majority with Wilson’s, and act as a confessional for all of them. But it also looks at how the Queen herself changes over time, starting from a young, independent woman wanting to be involved in matters of state through to the mature monarch who accepts the needs of the constitution for her to back the government in everything, whatever she might feel personally. She also gets to have her own sounding board. Who, you might ask? Well, who could possibly provide the Queen with an audience except herself?

Rather than put the boot in as The Queen perhaps did, the play, which has been updated since its original run with Helen Mirren to include both Blair and Cameron at the expense of Callaghan, humanises both the Queen and all the Prime Ministers: Churchill is the traditionalist who mentors the new queen but also wants to postpone her coronation for political purposes and forces her not to change her name when she marries; Eden was right about Mussolini and Hitler and is convinced Nassar is the same; Wilson is the upstart socialist from Huddersfield with the eidetic memory who becomes paranoid as Alzheimer’s starts to rob him of his faculties; and Brown is the economics expert who believes his destiny was to lead the country – but who knows that he’s not got the right skills for the job. Even Major is redeemed: the man everyone remembers as little more than the tail end of Margaret Thatcher’s regime is here the man who brokered deals between warlords in the Balkans but who’s constantly undermined by his supposed allies.

And then there’s Margaret Thatcher…

Kristin Scott Thomas is excellent as the Queen, having to endure numerous quick changes of costume and jumps between time period, yet still surely making even the most ardent republicans feel something for the most powerful woman in the world, the firm proponent of the Commonwealth who was happy as a mechanic in the war and who would probably vote Labour if she could. In this she’s helped considerably by Izzy Meikle-Small as her younger self, who’ll make you wonder if the Queen is really just a grown up Arya Stark.

Hats off also to David Calder (Star Cops) as Churchill, Gordon Kennedy (Absolutely) as Gordon Brown, Michal Gould as John Major, Nicholas Woodeson (Rome) as Harold Wilson, and Highlander’s David Robb as Anthony Eden.

I’ll happily confess that both my wife and I wept buckets during the play and would happily go and see it again.

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

Sense8 (Netflix)
1×3 – My Money’s On the Skinny Bitch
Well, there’s a cage-fight at the end of the episode directed by the people behind The Matrix and yet I’ve only managed to get through half the episode before passing out from boredom. I think that’s basically the show’s biggest problem – despite all the great ideas, the diversity, the beautiful filming locations et al – it’s just so very, very boring and badly written.
Review: First two episodes

Stichers (US: ABC Family)
1×2 – Friends in Low Places
This episode of VR5 – 20th anniversary edition as perhaps Stitchers should best be described gives us the now traditional second-episode retooling, with a bit of retconning and rebooting to expand the team and change relationships. Less enjoyable than the first episode but just as silly, it does still manage to flesh out the characters of the supporting nerds, although Monica Potter Jr’s agreeing to continue stitching at the end was about as forced and unlikely as it’s possible to get, following the events of the episode. In terms of explicit nerd references to other shows, everything from Galaxy Quest to Batman got a look in, but I still probably missed a few, there were that many.
When’s it airing near me?
Review: First episode

Westside (New Zealand: TV3)
1×2 – Is’t Far You Ride?
A slightly darker piece than the first episode, with Ted and Rita having to deal with their new Eastern European criminal neighbours, 1970s-style casual racism being hurled around, while Rita plots and betrays her way around the more genial Ted. I still liked it.
Review: First episode

The Whispers (US: ABC)
1×2 – Hide & Seek
The plot advances a little, with lots of running about chasing Milo Ventimiglia, who apparently has something of a Memento solution to his suggested weekly possession, assuming I’m reading this right. But the shows needs to amp itself up and do more than focus on kiddies playing.
Review: First episode

The recommended list

Game of Thrones (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
5×9 – The Dance of Dragons
So now everyone hates Stannis for that thing he did this episode – despite a certain well known precedent. Yet at the same time, everyone loves the episode because of what happened at the end. I thought it was overall pretty good, although Danny’s army is a bit rubbish if Tyrion can kill off members of the masked zealots.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; first season; second and third seasons

Halt and Catch Fire (US: AMC; UK: Amazon Instant Video)
2×2 – New Coke
It’s an odd game, as usual, that AMC are playing here, with nothing leading in quite the directions you’d expect. But the tiny acorns for what’s going to happen next are being sown already and I’m happy to wait to see them start growing.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Hannibal (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
3×2 – Primavera
Although the title would suggest Hannibal’s gone to Pizza Express, he’s actually been in Italy, sending Valentine’s to Will Graham, who meets up with his Florence-based Hannibal counterpart, who unfortunately is as much a mumbler as Mads Mikkelsen. As beautiful to look at and filled with as much disturbing imagery as always, the episode helps to put the show back on track and also alter the show’s allusions – where once Hannibal was merely Lucifer, now he’s Lucifer to Will Graham’s forgiving God. While there was a bit of pretentious dialogue here, I did love the moment when Will applied his own talents to God – “God prefers not to interfere. He wants elegance so he allows suffering. That is his design.”
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
2×9 – Binding Arbitration
Some darkly comic moments, with the firm going into ‘binding arbitration’ to decide who owns its IP and having to hire a lawyer who isn’t technically a lawyer because of the various bad things he’s done. The ending builds on Richard’s increasing strength in the middle of his passivity, to give us some morality in Silicon Valley. Like that’ll pay off.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode




  • Mark Carroll

    Hannibal does seem to be getting back into a good direction, but I'd like a little less pretentiousness and a little more creepiness (which isn't just surreal hallucinations). We'll see how it goes.

    I'm looking forward to the various fallout for that thing Stannis did in Game of Thrones. That seems to be picking up again. There are now a couple of things I'm hoping for in coming episodes.

    I finished off season one of In Treatment. It was somewhat thought-provoking and worth the journey. It's well-written and -acted. It makes me curious about the next season, but I'll wait a few months before getting to it.

    We've been watching some BBC documentaries. There's been one about British castles that has given a good overview of their history. There's also been quite a good one on dental things, though with some segments that feel to me what Mitchell and Webb mock with the boy with an arse for a face.

    We finally got around to looking at Gerhard Reinke's Wanderlust. Strange and different, certainly. Almost funny, but you might be right about altered states assisting viewing of Comedy Central's output.

  • I think there's a lot to be said for surreal hallucinations – very hard to pull off. But I take your point and the pretentiousness is starting to annoy.

  • Andy Butcher

    Been a bit of a disappointing week, with little that really stood out. If this carries on I may have to start making notes to remind myself what I've watched and what I haven't…

    * Sense8 – I got to episode 5 (or maybe 6?) and started to lose the will to continue. From the comments I've seen from people who've finished the season, I think I may just leave it there.

    * The Whispers – As you say, seemed to lose momentum in the second episode. I fear it's heading into 'we've worked out much more than the characters and have to watch them catch up' territory, which the pilot did a nice job of avoiding. Still interested to see where it goes, at least for now.

    * Stitchers – Watched both episodes so am up to date. As you've pointed out, it's extremely bad and extremely silly, but in a surprisingly fun way. Definitely has the potential to become a guilty pleasure.

    * UnREAL – Only had time to watch the second episode. Still on the fence, as while I enjoy seeing 'reality' TV being skewered, I'm finding all the stuff with Rachel very dark and actually a bit draining to watch. Will give 3 and 4 a try and then decide whether to continue.

    * Proof – Pretty much agree with everything you said in your preview. The whole set up was preposterous and poorly conceived, not even understanding basic principles of science like the impossibility of proving a negative – all the more ironic given the title of the show. Not sure I'll bother with the second episode.

    * Dark Matter – Not a particularly strong start, appearing to be little more than a Firefly knock-off – right down to the mysteriously gifted teenage girl – with a dash of Farscape thrown in. Still, there's a distinct lack of old school 'adventures with a starship' space opera on TV at the moment, so I expect I'll keep watching to see where it goes. I definitely won't be recommending it based on the pilot alone, though.

    * Hannibal – I made the mistake of getting behind with Season 2 last year, and trying to go back to it now to get up to date for Season 3 has proved troublesome, so I'm either going to rewatch all of Season 2 or just go the whole hog and rewatch it right from the start. Probably the latter, so wish me luck. 🙂

  • Andy Butcher

    Oh, and Big Hero 6 is a lot of fun, and I would move to San Fransokyo in a minute if it actually existed. 😛

  • Good luck with Hannibal. I occasionally rewatch it, but it's always hard to get through, albeit for good rather than bad reasons

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