What have you been watching? Including Humans, Tyrant, Jodorowsky’s Dune and Jurassic World

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.

It’s time for a move again. With new shows launching on Thursdays and a couple of Sunday shows finishing, I’ll be switching “What have you been watching?” back to Mondays, starting next week, to give myself time to watch everything. (This was a bad idea. I’m sticking to Fridays for now)

In terms of new stuff, still sitting in the viewing pile somewhere are The Astronaut Wives Club, Complications and Killjoys, which I should be getting round to reviewing on Monday or Wednesday, but I did manage to watch Dark Matter this week, as well as…

Humans (UK: Channel 4; US: AMC)
We’ve discussed this a bit already in the comments section elsewhere, but this UK-US co-produced remake of SVT’s Äkta Människor is a surprisingly good bit of sci-fi, imagining a parallel world where robot humans are being created to replace people in sectors ranging from mining to social care to prostitution. Tom Goodman-Hill (Mr Selfridge, Cabin Pressure) decides to buy a ‘synth’ to help out around the house, much to the annoyance of his often-absent wife (Katherine Parkinson, apparently unable to escape the IT crowd), particularly when her children decide they like the new arrival (Gemma Chan from Bedlam) better than their mum. The problem is that Chan and a few other synths may be a little bit more alive than they’re supposed to be…

The show does a decent job of imagining this parallel world, from all the applications that the robots are put to through to the little details about how they’d operate in practice. It also wisely chooses to focus not just on questions of artificial intelligence but how we react to synths – we might like labour-saving devices that do the cooking for us or even read bedtime stories to our children, provided they don’t look like prettier, younger women whom our children can bond with and prefer. Similarly, in the case of engineer and synth inventor (?) William Hurt (Challenger), we might well want to keep an old android around, even once it’s malfunctioning, if we’re starting to dement and the android has the only memories of our dead wife.

The show’s a little too “made in the UK” for my liking, with its prosaic, unimaginative direction making it look like it has a budget of £3.50. Nevertheless, it’s a smart, sometimes creepy, sometimes touching show that I’ll be making an effort to tune in for next episode.

I’ve already passed third-episode verdicts on The Whispers, Westside and Stitchers, so after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal and Strike Back: Legacy, as well as the season finales of Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley, and the first new episode of the returning Tyrant.

But first, movies!

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) (iTunes)
I’ve already given a lot of the background to this elsewhere, so I won’t go into it in great detail, but suffice it to say a very different adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune was developed in the 1970s by surrealist director Alejandro Jodorowsky (The Holy Mountain) and this movie is a documentary that runs through the history behind it.

It’s a fascinating movie, but watching it, one can’t help but feel that firstly, Jodorowsky’s Dune would have been an absolutely stunning but utterly silly movie with often little more than a passing resemblance to the book. Secondly, it’s surprising how much influence a non-existent movie can have, since without it (or if it had ever been made), there’d have been no Alien and a number of movies would have lost some of their most important imagery. Thirdly, it makes you realise just how crazy mental you need to be to produce at least certain kinds of art.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) (iTunes)
X-Men: First Class/Kick Ass’s Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman adapt Mark Millar’s comic The Secret Service to give us a fond homage to Roger Moore-era James Bond, with Colin Firth, Jack Davenport and Michael Caine a bunch of posh secret agents who have to let chav new blood (Taron Egerton) into their top secret organisation when they have to deal with a tech billionaire (Samuel L Jackson) who wants to save the world from nasty polluting human beings.

At times, Kingsman feels like a retread of Vaughn and Goldman’s previous movies, mixing in the school training and spies of First Class with the superbly choreographed fights and ultraviolence of Kick Ass. What largely differentiates the movie is its Englishness, the movie satirising Moore’s Bond and (American) movies’ concepts of what an English gentleman should be while simultaneously taking ownership of it to give something a young, male working class audience to aspire to.

The movie’s final scenes involving a Swedish princess are a little disheartening after the largely good work that preceded it, even if it is another Moore satire, but generally a good viewing and by the end of it, you will accept Colin Firth can be an action hero. Mark Strong is also in there as a Q-like Scotsman, but no Welsh or Northern Irish members of the nation were apparently invited to join the Kingsmen.

Jurassic World (2015)
Bigger but not better retread of Jurassic Park set 20 years after the original that imagines a world now jaded about the return of once-extinct dinosaurs so regarding trips to the expanded ‘Jurassic World’ theme park island as little more than trips to the zoo. Consequently, the company behind it decides to bring the crowds back to create a brand new dinosaur by cross-breeding the more dangerous parts of a whole bunch of other dinosaurs – belatedly bringing in former US navy sailor turned Velociraptor trainer Chris Pratt to check out their security. Want to have a guess if it’s good enough or not?

Despite looking excellent, giving plenty of head nods to the original and some oftentimes smart writing, Jurassic World is nevertheless a little dead inside. Characters are either underdeveloped or plain annoying, so we don’t really care enough about them to feel frightened when bad things start to happen. Indeed, you’ll probably care more about the poor herbivorous dinosaurs getting a pasting at the hands of Indominus Rex than about whether Pratt survives to make it to a second date with the perpetually high-heel clad workaholic theme park executive Bryce Dallas Howard, who turns out not to be too shabby with a gun.

All the same, despite not hanging together well as a movie, there are some good individual moments that’ll stick with you afterwards.

Shows I’m watching but not recommending

Tyrant (US: FX; UK: Fox)
2×1 – Mark of Cain
 Tyrant’s back. Excited? Probably not. The first season didn’t exactly set the world on fire, thanks to the behind the scene conflicts between creator Gideon Raff and the new showrunners resulting in a show that started as an obvious fictionalisation of the rise of Bashar al-Assad and become a schizophrenic soap opera about a good brother trying to save his home country from his psychotic rapist bad brother.

We left the show with good brother in the nick following a failed coup and this first episode hasn’t moved on that much further, beyond re-setting the show’s boundary’s. Good brother is on death row but is now a symbol of the resistance, while bad brother is doing pretty much all the evil things everyone thought he would – although he draws a line in the sand when his uncle suggests using chemical weapons.

The producers promise something a bit more edgy this season, with IS and more real-world concerns being brought into the mix. But as the episode title highlights, this is still little more than a bible story with a naive, simplistic attitude towards the Middle East.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First two episodes; third episode

The recommended list

Game of Thrones (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
5×10 – Mother’s MercySo a whole bunch of people are dead (probably), a whole bunch of plot lines resolved and a whole bunch of new threads dangled. It’s yet another Game of Thrones season finale. I can’t help but feel that while the season picked up in the second half, we’re still not much further along the plot than we were at the start of the season, beyond having had a whole bunch of new plots that were slightly superfluous anyway being launched and then resolved. Still, we have run out of books now, thanks to George RR Martin’s somewhat slow pace of writing, and with only two seasons to go, we do have a chance for things to actually start progressing. But dear gods, the show is taking its time getting anywhere really good and it’s incredibly frustrating.
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)
2×3 – The Way In
We appear to be in some sort of parallel universe now, where cloud and utility computing are about to be created in the mid-80s, alongside social networking. All the same, the show is giving us a first glimmering of a direction for the season, a lot of hints are being dropped and there were some bravura moments for the cast.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Hannibal (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living)
3×3 – Secundo
A slight regression to both the silly and pretentious as we start raiding the inadequate Hannibal Rising for plot. Still, Jack’s back, which is a plus.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Silicon Valley (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
2×10 – Two Days of the Condor
I’m not prone to saying hilarious, but a genuinely hilarious episode to conclude what’s been a very good season for what is, for my money, the best comedy on US TV at the moment. The show’s done quite well at remaining focused this season on sending up some of the more bizarre aspects of Silicon Valley, even if character development hasn’t been its strongest suit. If you haven’t been watching, get a box set.
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode; third episode

Strike Back: Legacy (UK: Sky 1; US: Cinemax)
 5×3-5×4
It’s the final season so naturally we have yet another regular character’s death and I’m sure there’ll be more later on, too, probably equally well telegraphed. The show’s also continuing its unique two-episode unit story structure, with each unit having its own small sub-plot and Big Bad, who gets killed by the end of the unit. The Thai filming is as beautiful as you’d expect, taking in all the things The Man With The Golden Gun did when it was there in the 70s, but the show isn’t making the most of the racially confusing* Michelle Yeoh, even having her lose in a martial arts fight to Robson Green, FFS. The addition of a son for Damien just about works, but as always with Strike Back, the show drags and scrapes along when it tries to do character and dialogue, but then gives as fight scenes like no others to make us forget everything.

* She’s Malaysian-Chinese, playing a North Korean spy who got into Cambridge pretending to be Japanese
When’s it airing near me?
Reviews: First episode   

  • tobyob

    Best addition to 'Silicon Valley' for its sophomore season was Matt McCoy as the disbarred lawyer with the strange addictions and fetishes. Not exactly a perfect replacement for Christopher Evan Welch as Peter Gregory, but he was responsible for most of the laugh-out-loud humor in the second half of the season.

  • benjitek

    Just finished the last episode of Äkta Människor's season 2 — viewers of Humans are in for a treat. Wouldn't be surprised to see SyFy do version at some point — while it was pretty good, it did have a very SyFy Network feel to it — the 1st episode of Humans didn't give me the same impression — think I may prefer the British remake, usually I prefer the originals, even if it involves subtitles 😉

    There is a season 3 coming, ideally they'll resolve the story and not drag it out more — starts to get a bit far-fetched in the last scenes of the finale.

  • Gareth Williams

    I'd heard about the Kingman complaints before going in so I was expecting the scene to be much worse than it actually was – so it's possible that my shock meter was artificially lowered. On the face of it it is a crass joke that seems to have been parachuted in from some awful Vince Vaughan comedy, or the horrendous looking Entourage movie which appears to have the same joke in its trailer! It seems pretty obvious that it is parodying the final scenes from the Moore Bonds, especially Moonraker's 'attempting re-entry' so it isn't meant to be taking at face-value, but it does appear out of step with the rest of the film.

    Jurassic World I thought was okay, and I'm not a huge fan of the original. The ridiculous central premise that people are bored of dinosaurs when a visit to that island would clearly be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, which would realistically have a huge waiting list is one plot hole I couldn't forgive, however.

  • Mark Carroll

    I'll be interested to hear what you think of the British remake as it continues, having seen the original.

    (Normally Channel 4 is a bit more effort for us; 4oD usually works, but it is one of the pickier ones.)

  • Mark Carroll

    I largely finshed off Planet Earth; it stayed generally good, though I skip the “making of” bits after each main part. There seem to be a few “we'd better save the planet” episodes near the end, as he does like to lay that message on fairly thickly; I'll get around to them too, but perhaps less attentively.

    I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next season in Game of Thrones but it generally didn't seem quite as addictive as previous seasons. The finale left things dangling a little more than I might have liked, in terms of things that could be somewhat resolved simply by our seeing another hour of what happened, given how long it is now before the next episode. I've come this far, I'll certainly keep watching, and with some hope, but, yes, in terms of net progress, some parts are slow indeed.

    Game of Thrones is something I have to watch promptly because the Internet becomes quickly covered with unavoidable spoilers, so for once I've better known when you'll be asking us what we've been watching: a couple of days after GoT is Hannibal, and then you'll ask. But now you're moving it and GoT is done anyway, it'll be back to my not usually noticing what television has got to do with days of the week.

    Speaking of Hannibal, I agree; still more pretentious than truly creepy, and starting to feel like they gave a film school student a large budget. I wonder now if part of the problem is that it's not feeling realistic, character-wise, perhaps partly because almost everything that happens is filled with significance. My memory of the books and prior films (though I didn't see that one of Hannibal's childhood with Nazis) is hazy enough that I don't well know the map showing the way ahead, but before long what keeps me watching will be hope that in time the story gets back onto a better track, and in the meantime I'm now finding I'm no longer exactly glued to the set while it's on.

    The kids re-watched Tokyo Godfathers. I'd forgotten that it's actually quite good. Sure, it's not subtle, and there are some unlikely coincidences for the convenience of the plot, but I suspect a fair range of people would find it adequately entertaining.

    The BBC's providing some nice documentaries at the moment. I liked the one on British castles that just finished — it was a brief overview, really, but informative and well done. Also, we have the evolution one at the moment, from the fish paleontology guy, and that's been interesting and full of content. We did watch the second half of the dentistry one, which did include some decent content, but for those nuggets the viewer has to endure plenty of the human interest side. But, then, sometimes there's even a physics documentary about something interesting where you get to the good bits only after hearing all about the the winding path to get to finding it out and how everyone felt about it all along the journey. (You can tell I'm still bitter about the Open University lectures not being shown any more!)

    The BBC's adapted fiction has been good too. A highlight was Stonemouth. I wasn't actually a big fan of the book, I think I enjoyed the adaptation more; I don't think it had any failings that weren't there in the original, and, perhaps through whatever editing compresses it down into that running length, I thought it all hung together a bit better. It's somewhat silly fun, but it's only a couple of evenings' viewing so that's okay.

    Also, of course, Clangers. (Wasn't it *The* Clangers before? Maybe not.) I have some backlog, it's daily after all, but it's been good, and very faithful to the original and preserving what was good about it. My only question so far has been, what's the point? It's so faithful to the original that so far it seems that much of the effort has been to give us something that doesn't really give us anything new beyond sharper focus and brighter colours.

    Oh, we watched some more Gerhard Reinke's Wanderlust. The character and the format are actually a fairly good parody, especially some of the small, quick touches, but some episode subplot does often seem to over-milk some crass personal issue.

  • GYAD

    Re: KINGSMAN – It felt to me like a Roger Moore Bond film with every ounce of charm, sophistication and wit excised.

    Re: TYRANT – With every passing week of MENA politics, it feels more and more like the biggest missed chance in TV. Should have been made by the French.

    1992 – Gloriously cynical & romantic.

    UNDERCOVER – Armenian gangsters? In Britain? Also not funny.

    VICIOUS – Better than MR HOLMES.

  • benjitek

    Based on the first episode, Humans seems tighter — a little faster moving and a bit more engaging. They re-organized much of the opening plot. The final scene of Humans episode 1 never occurs in Äkta Människor.

    There's a female hubot character that comes along much later in the series, a vixen's vixen. I think there's a lot of what she does that won't be allowable on Channel 4. I hope Humans does as good a job casting that role, Marie Robertson does good evil 😉

  • Andy Butcher

    Most of my week was spent catching up on Season 3 of Hannibal. Mission accomplished, as I found I was able to skip through nearly all of Season 1 (I'd re-watched it when Season 2 started and my memory only needed a slight jog, so the 'previously on' segments were frequently enough). Probably could have done the same with Season 2, but it gripped me just as strongly as it did last year, so I ended up re-watching all of it.

    Season 3, however, is shaping up to be a bit of a mixed bag so far. I really don't mind the pretension – I've always enjoyed the way the show actively revels in its pretentiousness – it's more the development of Will and the structural changes to the story that bother me.

    I could go into detail, but I'd probably end up writing an essay, so the short version is that I'm a little concerned. If anyone is interested in exactly why, I'd be happy to explain. 😉

    Didn't really watch much other TV of note this week.

    Jodorowsky’s Dune pretty much blew my mind in the last 5 minutes. I'd found it fascinating throughout, but hadn't really stopped to think about the dates – once they pointed out that every major studio in Hollywood got a copy of 'the book' in the mid-70s, though… Mind. Blown.

    I would happily pay any price if they'd actually publish that thing. 😉

    My main issues with Kingsman were less about the Swedish Princess and more about the lack of consistent tone – the movie is all over the place, and never seems to decide what it wants to be – and the violence, particularly the scene in the church. I have the kind of sky-high tolerance that you'd expect from someone who grew up watching 80s action and horror movies, so it's extremely rare for this kind of thing to bother me. But that whole extended sequence redefined 'gratuitous'. Had it been a climactic battle against bad guys, I'd probably have enjoyed it. But watching one of your protagonists slaughter dozens of innocent bystanders while under the influence of the bad guys left me completely cold. I just didn't understand what the hell they were thinking or trying to say.

  • He was great – loved him. Evan Welch's female replacement was interesting, too, but I expect she'll figure more next season

  • I'd be surprised if SyFy does a version, given Humans is a co-prod with AMC, which will be airing it from Sunday.

    Remakes are sometimes better than the originals. I think Being Human (US/Canada) was better by about the 2nd or 3rd season than the original was, and Touching Evil (US) was infinitely better than the UK original.

  • There's plenty of plotholes in Jurassic World. Like how come the very big dinosaur was able to get the smaller dinosaur at the end, unless its entire 'paddock' had been redesigned or it had always been able to attack passers-by but just never bothered.

    But it's a movie more about spectacle than logic, and I think it does reasonably well at that.

  • It's almost impossible to avoid GoT spoilers. I get spoiled the next morning when I'm doing the news, usually, mainly by headlines that think they're trying to avoid spoiling, but really aren't, like “You'll never guess who got killed right at the end of last night's Game of Thrones”.

    Hannibal's timeline is all dicked up. The original book chronology was Red Dragon/Manhunter, Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal then the prequel Hannibal Rising, but aspects of the plots for all the books were used in the first two seasons and this season has basically followed Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, with a return to Red Dragon scheduled for later in the season. Silence has rights issues, but they mirrored aspects of it in season one that make it hard for them to do it later on.

    I wonder how much of Hannibal's problems are the filming in Europe requiring a new director – it's been the same bloke for all the episodes so far and he seems more of a 'European' style of direction. Characterisation is a problem, though. But then Bedelia is somewhat taking on Starling's later role in Hannibal and that was all pretty implausible, too, and so another part of me wonders if the problem is trying to mesh Hannibal with the not very good Hannibal, particularly since Will doesn't figure in that.

  • re: Kingsman. I think that's a deliberate choice – that it's deliberately crass rather than 'charming' because that wouldn't work with the target audience and it's about a character who's evolving from crass into charming but isn't there yet.

  • Yes, those last five minutes are when you sit up and go, “Oh, that's interesting!” I'm not entirely persuaded that, say, The Terminator borrowed from Jodorowsky, but at the same time, Cameron was a real film school spod and the Terminator eye scene is a clear reference to Bunuel's Le Chien Andalou that he acknowledges, so it's entirely possible he'd take from another surrealist/Dali-influenced director.

    The Kingsman church fight kind of worked for me. It was cool for one thing, but the tone of the film is quite comic book and ultraviolency, so they couldn't have turned away and I think simply having a church full of people attacking each other has been done before (if not in that specific locale) and wouldn't really have hit home the effect of Sammy Jackson's evil magic ray could have.

  • benjitek

    Äkta Människor (Real Humans) vs. Humans

    After the first episode of Humans, I thought I might prefer it over the original Real Humans. After the first 2 episodes of the remake, I couldn't be more wrong. I'd have to say the names for each series are appropriate. One is 'real', the other is a knock-off. Humans has removed characters, and combined elements of them with the remaining characters to leave certain plot elements in the story. In one instance, they've also split a character from the original and created a new character in it's place. They've added a lot that didn't occur in the original, and left quite a bit out. The plot itself has been rearranged, it couldn't be any more out of sync with the original.

    In Real Humans, the androids are called 'hubots', Humans calls them 'synths'. I prefer hubot, sounds better — easier to pronounce: hoo-bot 😉 'Synths' rolls off the tongue with a bit of lisp-effect.

    The on/off switch is under in the left armpit area in Real Humans, in the remake the user taps under their chin.

    The officer who's wife has a hubot that is shown giving her a massage in episode 2 has been 'merged' with another character from Real Humans. In Real Humans, it was the neighbors across the street from Anita's family that had that hubot, the husband worked in a chemical production plant and was physically abusive to his wife. When they married, she had a 6-month old son, now a teenage boy with anti-hubot tendencies which have been 'merged' into Anita's family's daughter in Humans, who, in Real Humans had nothing against hubots. The officer character was single, and his co-workers had a habit of encouraging him to start dating.

    None of the primary hubots worked as a prostitute in Real Humans — there was a hubot bordello used as a backdrop to the plot in some of the earlier episodes. The prostitute character was portrayed as the partner of the unmarried officer, pretending to be human.

    In Real Humans, the wife of Anita's new family is initially uncomfortable with a family hubot — but not nearly as much so as in Humans. Anitia interacts consistently towards all the family members in Real Humans, and while she has similar flashbacks as Anita in Humans, she doesn't project them onto the youngest daughter. She doesn't take the daughter for that late night walk out in the rain. She doesn't cup a spider in her hands to scare the wife. She doesn't accidentally burn the wife. The wife in Real Humans early on starts to sense something is different about Anita, but at no time does she attempt to return her to the android-store.

    William Hurt's character in the original was the father to the wife where Anita works. He had nothing to do with the creation of the hubots, though is intregal to the plot. While in Real Humans his longtime companion hubot was beginning to malfunction, there was never that part where he was almost going to destroy him with a hammer, it was a stronger scene — he was in the waiting area of the hubot recycling center but couldn't do it.

    In this instance, I definitely find the original better…

  • Andy Butcher

    Agree that the Terminator link was by far the most tenuous.

    Still can't see any appeal in the church sequence, I'm afraid. It pretty much ruined the whole film for me, and they could easily have sold Jackson's evil magic ray in any number of ways.

  • Andy Butcher

    Yeah, this is exactly the structural issue I've been having with Hannibal.

    To an extent, it's been an issue for me all along, and I found I enjoyed the first season a lot more the second time around, when I'd come to terms with the fact that Hannibal is very much 'inspired by' the books rather than a straight adaptation.

    But I think I was also reassured by Fuller having laid out his seven season plan, with Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal as seasons four, five and six. (Although that in itself did raise questions about how there were going to deal with losing one of the two main characters of a TV show halfway through its run.)

    Now, though, they seem to have thrown that completely out the window and decided to make much larger structural changes to the story, and I'm yet to be convinced that this was wise.

  • Mark Carroll

    I don't remember why I opted for “In Treatment” over the Israeli original but it was definitely a conscious choice at the time. (May be a “no worse” than “actually better”.)

  • Mark Carroll

    Ah, interesting, thank you: perhaps the problem there isn't my memory being hazy!

  • It's different. I prefer US In Treatment over Israeli one, simply because it's a bit more theatrical than Be'Tipul. The actors are better, too. Basically the same plots, though.

  • laceytraceplatt

    Thanks for the article. For those who live outside UK and want to access 4oD, you can use UnoTelly as I do to get around the geo block.