What have you been watching? Including Doctor Strange, Central Intelligence and X-Men: Apocalypse

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. 

“We’re now nearing mid-Fall season/mid-Spring season (delete according to the hemisphere of your choice), which means there’s few new shows heading our way”

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! What fool said that?

It’s never going to stop. We’re at peak TV so it’s never going to stop. Help.

In the past week, I’ve reviewed the first few episodes of Chance (US: Hulu), Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (US: BBC America; UK: Netflix), Man With A Plan (US: CBS) and Graves (US: Epix). But that’s not really scratching the surface, since although I’ll be tackling Pure Genius (US: CBS; UK: Universal) and The Great Indoors (US: CBS; UK: ITV2) tomorrow and/or Wednesday, I’m not going to have time this week to make a dent in Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt. I’ve also had no time to watch Channel Zero (US: Syfy; UK: 5*), but since that’s an anthology horror show, I have no qualms in deciding I’m not going to watch it. I’ve also noticed that Young Pope (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic) has started in the US, but since it’s already started in the UK, too, you can probably work out for yourselves whether you like it. 

However, good news! I’m away for a couple of days at the end of the week, which means I can start a mid-season cull through the usual simple mechanism of asking myself “Can I be arsed to play catch up with this show when I get back?”

Accordingly, I’m waving goodbye to Kim’s Convenience, No Tomorrow, The Secret Daughter and Speechless, as well as – shock, horror! –  two long-standing regulars! Find out which ones after the jump. Frequency, Lucifer, Timeless and Designated Survivor are also on the endangered list and it’ll just be case of finding out when I get back whether I can be arsed to play catch up with them.

Elsewhere, I’ve passed third episode verdicts on Insecure (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic) and Falling Water (US: USA), with Insecure failing to stay on the viewing pile. We’ll see if I can be arsed with Falling Water when I get back.

That means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes (that I’ve seen) of Ash vs Evil Dead, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Designated Survivor, Doctor Doctor, Eyewitness, The Flash, Frequency, Hyde and Seek, Impastor, Lucifer, Son of Zorn, Supergirl, Timeless, Travelers and You’re The Worst. I’ve not yet had time to watch the latest Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Eyewitness and Westworld, and since Y Gwyll (Hinterland) and Humans both chose to make a reappearance last night, don’t be too surprised I haven’t manage to watch them, either.

But somehow, I did manage to find time to watch a few movies…

Central Intelligence (2016)
Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson both went to High School together, Hart being the golden boy voted most likely to succeed, Johnson the fat kid everyone picks on. Twenty years later, Hart is an accountant while Johnson is a top CIA agent who needs Hart’s accounting skills to find out who killed his partner (Aaron Paul) and is selling top secret satellite codes. Or is he? Could it be that Johnson is really a traitor, which is why the CIA is out to get him?

Kevin Hart is normally a cast iron guarantee that a bad movie is coming your way and this has all the hallmarks of being Kevin Hart in the kind of movie Adam Sandler rejects as being too low brow. But actually, it’s reasonably funny and smarter than you expect it to be, right down to a crucial Rashomon-esque lift scene. Hart is surprisingly unirritating, too, there’s a jaunty 90s soundtrack, and Johnson manages to do both action and comedy pretty well.

Doctor Strange (2016)
The latest Marvel movie sees arrogant surgeon Benedict Cumberbatch injured in a car accident and unable to operate any more. He heads East and before he knows it, as well as learning how to heal himself, he’s learning magic from The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her helpers (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong), so that he can fight her former helper Mads Mikkelsen who wants to make everyone immortal… but in a really bad, murderous way.

On the one hand, it’s oftentimes a really visually impressive movie, with echoes of everything from Inception through 2001: A Space Odyssey, as reality warps and the action jumps between universes and dimensions. It’s got a top cast and the script, while treading often cliched ground at times, also channels Eastern philosophies to give us a slightly different take on the usual ‘great evil that must be defeated through brute force’, which is what Marvel normally gives us – squint, in fact, and you can spot a bit of Daoism, a bit of Buddhism and a bit of Kung Fu. Indeed, Mikkelsen is at times almost irrelevant to the larger personal journey that Cumberbatch is undergoing, such is the change in focus.

However, there are various production choices that undermine it all tad. Cumberbatch is saddled with an American accent he really doesn’t need and which affects his performance, fight scenes are endless shakycam and Michael Giacchino’s score is the usual strings-dominant orchestral pieces that rob the movie of the true weirdness it deserves. It’s also not as funny as it thinks it is.

On the whole, pretty good, but could have been better.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Last of the three prequel movies featuring the younger X-Men cast (at least, for now…), with the action shifting to the 80s as an Ancient Egyptian mutant/god comes back to life and decides to wipe the Earth clean of weaker specimens who won’t obey him. He assembles his own team to go and fight the good mutants, which now include young versions of Night Crawler, Jean Grey and Cyclops, as well as the usual usual and some of the characters from X-Men: First Class who didn’t get much/any screentime in X-Men: Days of Future Past. And guess who also shows up…

There’s nothing that new and remarkable about X-Men: Apocalypse, with very little you won’t have seen in either the first three movies or the prequels. But if you haven’t watched those movies, you’ll be wondering about a whole bunch of things the film assumes you already know, so it’s a bit lose-lose. However, the film is good when it’s focused on the more human side of things, whether it’s Jean’s and Cyclops’ romance, Magneto’s family, James McAvoy and Rose Byrne’s 20-year-long romance, and so on, making it a surprisingly decent third act. 

A bit meh, but Bryan Singer’s talents mean it’s not X-Men: Last Stand, for sure.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Doctor Strange, Central Intelligence and X-Men: Apocalypse”

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

Third-episode verdict: Insecure (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)

In the US: Sundays, 10.30pm, HBO
In the UK: Tuesdays, 10.45pm, Sky Atlantic

After three episodes of Insecure, it’s clear that even if Issa Rae doesn’t know how to be a black woman, everyone else is pretty sure and they want her to act that way, too. Maybe if she weren’t so insecure, she could fight back and be who she is, but even her friend (Yvonne Orji), who seems a bit more sure of herself and is willing to tell others how to be a black woman, seems to be having trouble, too.

Essentially, the message of Insecure is that stereotypes and ignorance don’t help a black woman to navigate life, but even without them, it’s still difficult. But if you can get people to listen and understand, sometimes things can change in a small way.

There, now you don’t have to watch it. Because to be honest, after a good startInsecure has gone from a pointed piece of comedy making astute observations to a simple drama with one or two laughs. It’s not got much by way of plot, boiling down basically to Rae having to deal with her well-meaning work colleagues’ unconscious racism every week and Orji having to deal with a new dating disaster. Meanwhile, its cultural specificity is now at Girls level, showing us not just what life is like for middle/upper-middle class, twentysomething, straight, college-educated African-American women but for middle/upper-middle class, twentysomething, straight, college-educated African-American women who live in LA, which is just a little bit too specific for me over here in the UK. 

Rae is good and the writing is decent enough – it’s just not engrossing, well plotted or funny enough for me to watch any more of it.

Barrometer rating: 2
Would it be better with a female lead? N/A
TMINE’s prediction: Could make it to a second season, but chances are it won’t

A Stranger Things Christmas

It’s nearly November, which means as far as TV is concerned, Christmas is just around the corner. Normally, you might choose to celebrate by watching It’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, but this year, you now have the option of watching ‘Merry Christmas Will Byers’, a sequel of sorts to Stranger Things done in the style of It’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s really quite delightful, so give it a watch. You’ll need to have seen Stranger Things first, of course.

[via Toby]

Hulu's Chance
Streaming TV

Review: Chance 1×1-1×3 (US: Hulu)

In the US: Wednesdays, Hulu

For most people in the UK, Hugh Laurie is Hugh Laurie. He may have played Gregory House in House for umpteen seasons, but he’s also the guy from Blackadder, Bertie Wooster in Jeeves and Wooster, and Stephen Fry’s comedy writing partner for most of the 80s and early 90s.

For most Americans, though, he’s House. He is the grumpy, misanthropic, genius American doctor from House. End of. So you can kind of understand why Laurie would take on a two-season role as an eponymous doctor again, if only to cleanse American viewers’ memories by playing something similar, but crucially different in one big regard: he’s nice.

Based on the novel by Ken Humm (John from Cincinnati), Chance sees Laurie playing a consultant psychologist, who tries to sort out treatment for people who have neurological problems. When Gretchen Mol (Life on Mars) is referred to him with disassociative personality disorder, which she says started after her cop husband Paul Adelstein (Prison Break) began to abuse her, he tries to help her but soon the husband is coming after him.

Meanwhile, the non-confrontational Laurie is in the middle of a no-fault divorce from his wife Diane Farr (Numb3rs) and needs money. When he takes his antique desk to Clarke Peters (The Wire) to be sold, Peters tells him he could get nearly twice as much money if it still had the metalwork on it. Fortunately, Ethan Suplee (My Name is Earl) works for him and could add the missing metalwork if Laurie doesn’t mind a little deception. In turn, Suplee doesn’t mind a little bit of ultra-violence and is potentially willing to help Laurie out with his other problem…

I’ll play a little game now. I’ll list a few things and you have to say at which word you realised what the show’s biggest influence is.

San Francisco. Psychiatry. Blonde. Femme fatale. Different personalities. Hitchcockian strings.

Well, if you haven’t got it already, the answer’s Vertigo, one of Alfred Hitchock’s finest, in which Jimmy Stewart falls for Kim Novak who plays two women who turn out to be just the one. Certainly, Chance has huge ladels of both Vertigo and film noir spread all over it. There’s also lashings of Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanours, with Suplee and Peters leading the normally ethical Laurie towards a life of escalating moral infractions towards possibly even murder.

But Chance is certainly a lot more than that and knows that you know what its references are. Certainly, Laurie doesn’t do anything massively stupid, instead doing all manner of smart, prudent things rather than leaping in at the deep end. There’s also a certain House of Cards – David Mamet’s, that is – quality to it all which the show is also keen to highlight. Is maths tutor Mol really disassociative or is she faking it? Is Adelstein really doing all the things that he seems to be doing or is the surprisingly bright Suplee actually doing it all to lure Laurie into a huge con? Could they even all be in league with one another?

Chance wants you to be wondering all of these things, which is why, despite its depressing qualities, it’s also compelling, very tense and claustrophobic (rather than vertiginous). The double meaning in the title, which becomes hugely important in the second episode, makes you wonder exactly how much of what’s going on is genuine coincidence and what’s not – or even if Laurie’s character is facing a Sixth Sense discovery that he’s had a brain injury himself. Even if you’re not exactly sure what the trap is, you can feel the jaws slowly closing around Laurie, who’s a good guy who wants to do the right thing.

It’s a good, smart, well-paced thriller that’s definitely worth a try.

Barrometer rating: 2
Would it be better with a female lead? No
TMINE’s prediction: Commissioned for two seasons

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

Third-episode verdict: Falling Water (US: USA)

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, USA

The problem with Falling Water, USA’s new sci-fi thriller about three people who find they’re sharing dreams that give them insights into the real-world, is that the dreams are almost indistinguishable from reality. You might think this a good thing, as one of the better things about the otherwise soporific pilot episode was its Francis Bacon-inspired and often surreal dream sequences. And indeed some of the dreams featured in the show have been engrossing, disturbing, fascinating and mind-bending. Certainly, you’d be excused for watching Falling Water simply for the dreams.

And if Falling Water‘s principal plan is to make us doubt reality or question what is real and what is dreamt, it might be on to something. The trouble is that the show seems to want to have its cake and eat it, by making us want to doubt reality yet still arguing there is a reality – but one that’s so stupid, it might as well be a dream.

The essence of the show is a bonkers conspiracy theory involving shady international commodities dealings, 70s folk singers, a creepy child and a suicide cult that wears green trainers. It’s hard to watch all of that without thinking that unless it’s all revealed to be absolute nonsense in some Inception-like third layer of dreaming, Falling Water is YA serial TV show with a ridiculous McGuffin that will disappoint anyone who stays to the end of the season and/or series.

Which is a shame, because the show does have some great imagery, some fine performances and those dream sequences. Okay, it moves at glacial speeds and it’s only at the end of the third episode that the three dreamers (Lizzie Brocheré, David Ajala, Will Yun Lee) whose individual stories we are following come together for the first time, but it’s still fascinatingly odd, without exhibiting the worst laws of Netflix’s similar Sense8

I’m probably going to keep watching this, because of the visuals, its oddness, Ajala and Yun Lee, but it’s not a show I’d recommend starting if you’re not already watching yourself.

Barrometer rating: 3
Would it be better with a female lead? If it was a different lead to Brocheré then yes
TMINE’s prediction: Cancelled by the end of the season