What have you been watching? Including Spectre, Master of None, Flesh and Bone, and You’re The Worst

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.

The first of the mid-mid season shows made their way on to our screens/Internet connections this week. Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed the first episodes of Agent X (US: TNT), Donny! (US: USA) and Blood and Water (Canada: Omni). However, they’re not the only new shows that have started this week:

Master of None (Netflix)
Aziz Ansari’s best known from Parks & Recreation, but here he’s playing a thinly disguised version of himself – Dev, a small-time Indian actor living in New York and trying to get his break in a business that’s still not ready to accept Indian actors as anything except taxi drivers, doctors and convenience-store clerks, and then only with Indian accents. This is something that Ansari has one or two opinions about, which he shares with his other Indian friends, as well as his Asian friend and black lesbian friend. 

It would be tempting to assume this is basically Ansari’s version of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but actually, it’s far more reasoned, genteel, likable Curb Your Enthusiasm, with each episode almost self-contained and exploring not just discrimination against Indians by the media, but a different facet of modern life, during all of which Ansari tries to be reasonably respectful and thoughtful in extremis. The first episode looks at kids and parenthood, with Ansari discovering that being the fun uncle only works for an hour or so, and that a full afternoon looking after kids is more than he can bear. However, of the six episodes I’ve watched so far, it’s actually the least funny. 

Fortunately, things pick up after that, with some genuinely amusing episodes, particularly one that sees Colin Salmon doing a ‘Patrick Stewart on Extras‘, and Parents, which is a spot-on look at the relationships between older parents and young adults, particularly first-generation immigrant adults. Guest stars including Claire Danes, H Jon Benjamin and Noah Emmerich also give the show a greater pedigree than you’d otherwise have thought.

While Ansari’s squeaky voice gets annoying after a while, this is the first Netflix comedy so far that’s been worthy of the name, and I’ll be trying to watch the rest of it as soon as I’ve finished writing this.

Flesh and Bone (US: Starz)
Short version: Showgirls meets Whiplash at the ballet
Long version: A surprisingly loving, beautifully shot, eight-part mini-series about an abused young woman (Sarah Hay from Black Swan) who runs away from home to make it big at the ballet. Her talent is spotted by the head choreographer (Ben Daniels), who decides to make her a star, but he has very strict training methods. 

All of which is lovely and beautifully done, with some excellent acting, and even though I’m absolutely not a ballet person, some of the dancing was absolutely stunning and even moving. However, so far, the long version doesn’t sound Starz enough, does it? 

So first add in copious nudity, sex and drug-taking, lots of mean girl scenes, maybe a hint of lesbianism. Then have new girl ballerina equivocating about whether to moonlight with another ballerina as a stripper to make ends meet. Then add in some truly hilariously bad scenes, such as when the choreographer is vigorously bumming another bloke over his desk while repeating to himself things like “I am the master of all I survey.”

I think I would have watched this were it not for that kind of epic stupidity and excess that tend to dog Starz shows. But I doubt I’ll get much further with it now.

I’ve passed a third-episode verdict on Supergirl (US: CBS; UK: Sky1) elsewhere, so after the jump, a look at the latest episodes of Arrow, Ash vs Evil Dead, The Beautiful Lie, Blindspot, Doctor Who, The Flash, Grandfathered, The Last Kingdom, Limitless, The Player and You’re The Worst. But first, a movie:

Spectre (2015) (at cinemas now)
I actually saw this last week but completely forget to include it in my round-up. That should give you a clue as to what I thought about it.

As the name suggests, this introduces old Bond’s eventual arch-enemy Spectre to us, except here it turns out that it’s been Spectre orchestrating everything from Casino Royale onwards, for all kinds of pointless personal reasons involving Bond. Meanwhile, Andrew Scott (Moriarty in Sherlock) is a new surveillance-obsessed bigwig intent on unifying MI5 and MI6 and getting rid of the 00 section in the process.

It’s fine. Nothing great bar Craig and a marvellous four-minute long pseudo-tracking shot at the beginning, but fine, although there are parts of it that will make you feel like a great big chunk of story has been removed. It’s more or less the same structurally and thematically as Skyfall. There’s one age-appropriate Bond girl (Monica Bellucci), one age-inappropriate Bond girl (Léa Seydoux), a baddie who finally looks like he can take on this muscled incarnation of Bond (Dave Bautista), and Christoph Waltz does a homeopathically weak version of his usual routine, as the head of Spectre. I would give you the name of his character, but you can guess it.

Spectre‘s basically the conclusion of the Daniel Craig James Bond series, which has been setting up all the aspects of the Bond character from the previous films, just so that he can retire now it’s all been set up. Of the four Craig movies, it’s probably the second or third best, and like the previous Logan-Mendes Skyfall, it actually seems to enjoy the sexist and hokey aspects of the old series that it’s trying to reintroduce, despite the pains Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace took to try to make Craig’s Bond a modern hero.

Basically, meh.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Spectre, Master of None, Flesh and Bone, and You’re The Worst”

What have you been watching? Including Legends, Dim Ond y Gwir, Arrow, 800 Words and Limitless

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.

Brace yourself – a new wave of TV shows is about to hit us, because we’re about to hit the mid, mid US season, and Amazon and Netflix are busy hitting us with new pilots and new shows even as I type. So consider this a lull. 

Elsewhere this week, I’ve reviewed the first episode of Ash vs Evil Dead (US: Starz) and passed a third-episode verdict on The Beautiful Lie (Australia: ABC), which means that after the jump, I’m going to be talking about the season finale of Arrow, Blindspot, Doctor Who, The Flash, Grandfathered, The Last Kingdom, Limitless, The Player, Supergirl and You’re The Worst, as well as the season finales of 800 Words and Y Gwyll. I also final caught up with the final few episodes of Strike Back

But that’s not all I watched this week. I’ve also watched two new shows: Dim Ond Y Gwir and Legends. What do you mean Legends isn’t new? Well, that’s strangely debatable…

Dim Ond Y Gwir (UK: S4C – available on iPlayer)
Flush with the success of detective show Y Gwyll/Hinterland, S4C has decided to branch out into another genre: the courtdroom drama. Dim Ond Y Gwir (Only the Truth) is a half-hour weekly affair that follows ‘law court workers as they go about their daily lives’. In the first episode, this amounts to watching various ancillary workers man the metal detectors, while someone in the cafe bakes a cake. Meanwhile, up in the courts themselves, we have barrister Rebecca Trehearn dealing with one case when it turns out that the opposite barrister is her ex-boyfriend! Oh noes.

Filmed in Caernarfon where it’s actually not that uncommon for cases to be heard in Welsh, this is a pretty poor affair, with the supposed sexy ex more the kind of guy who sidles up to women when they’re drunk in bars, almost no legal accuracy in the proceedings whatsoever, and the case hinging on whether Trehearn will bother defending her client if she thinks he’s guilty or not (big reveal at the end that has no legal bearing!). The acting is also pretty dreadful, too, and the budget’s probably about £3.50. Sorry, S4C – this one ain’t going to go global.

Legends (US: TNT; UK: Sky1)
So, as we all remember, but are possibly wondering if we imagined it all, Legends was a very sub-par piece of US TV in which Sean Bean was the US’s best undercover FBI agent, a human chameleon able to become whomever he wanted while his NCIS-style buddies back at home base helped him to overcome computer problems and the like, as he assumed a new identity every week. Unfortunately, Bean’s personality might itself be a ‘legend’ and he’s forgotten who he really is. Oh noes.

The big reveal at the end of the first season (look away for year-old spoilers) is that yes, Bean was really MI6 and that he’d lost his memory in an accident. The big problem is that he’s then framed for murdering a top FBI director. Oops. 

‘TNT – Bang’? Not really.

But in between seasons, the show changed showrunner and new boy Ken Biller (Perception) decided not just to change direction but perform a ‘hard reset’ of the entire show. Severely hard. Out of the show are everyone except Bean and Rosewood‘s Morris Chestnut (for a few episodes at least) – even Ali Larter, those cads. The entire show has also moved to Europe and now covers several timelines – Bean’s upbringing at a rather nasty Northern public school in the 70s, undercover work in Prague in 2001 and two modern day storylines involving Bean’s attempts to rediscover his old life in London and a new FBI agent’s attempts to find him through the Prague connection. 

And it’s just the weirdest thing. An almost entirely new show that feels like a British spy show, feels even like it’s been written by a Brit (bar the swearing), but shot US-style. It’s basically Homeland meets The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. I’m still reeling from the changes, they’re so profound. It’s now a really good spy show, although the plot about the radicalisation of young London Muslims is a bit trite, and Bean’s character seems to have forgotten the whole ‘best undercover agent ever’ thing, judging by how much he’s cocking up. 

All the same, despite the absence of our Ali (sob), even if you gave up on Legends the first time, give it a go this time round, since you might as well be watching a new show.

Movies
Would you believe it, I actually had some time to watch a couple of oldish movies, too.

Sherlock Holmes and The Secret Code (aka Dressed to Kill) (1946) (Amazon Instant Video)
One of the great things about growing up in the 80s was that BBC Two regularly used to show all the old Basil Rathbone movies at 6pm of an evening. Which was great. Seeing as Amazon Instant Video has quite a few of them to view for free, I thought I’d give Dressed To Kill a go. It’s basically Conan’s Doyle The Six Napoleons/Blue Carbuncle but with a set of music boxes that a set of villains are trying to get for some nefarious reason. The chief villain is basically Irene Adler except not: an actress who outwits Holmes and Watson, even reading A Scandal in Bohemia and his monograph on cigarette ash to find out Holmes’ methods of operation and turning them against him.

There’s not much detection, most of it being Rathbone just making lucky guesses, but it’s fun and a lot smarter than you’d have thought for something pretty much cranked out post-War in a job lot.

Pacific Rim (2013) (Amazon Instant Video)
One of those movies where you look at who the writer/director is and go, “Really? I mean really?” Basically, Transformers meets the Godzilla movies but with the monster and biological horror that we do actually all associate with Guillermo Del Toro, it sees a bunch of giant monsters emerging from the sea to destroy the world’s cities, but the world at a loss to respond until they think of sticking people in giant robots to punch them to death.

There’s far more action than there was in the most recent Godzilla, it’s got some interesting ideas and it’s got Idris Elba as the leader of the plucky robot pilots, but it’s very silly and to be honest, I’d rather have watched old episodes of Star Fleet instead, as they have more charm.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Legends, Dim Ond y Gwir, Arrow, 800 Words and Limitless”

What have you been watching? Including Hamlet (NT Live/Barbican), Limitless and The Player

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.

So I had a last minute ‘Cumberemergency’ on Friday, which meant that I suddenly didn’t have the time to write ‘What have you been watching?’ Sorry about that, but hopefully, this will make it up to you.

Last week on the blog, I reviewed a big slew of first episodes from all manner of different countries:

And today I passed a third-episode verdict on BBC America/BBC Two’s The Last Kingdom.

That means that after the jump, you can find reviews of the latest episodes of 800 Words, Arrow, Blindspot, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, CSI, Doctor Who, The Flash, Grandfathered, Limitless, The Player, Y Gwyll and You’re The Worst. Yes CSI, since I finally got around to watch the final ever episode of that.

One of those shows is getting promoted to regular. Can you guess which one it is? Not CSI, obviously.

(Actually, I haven’t managed to watch the very latest episodes of either Y Gwyll or The Beautiful Lie, because it’s really Sunday and this is a scheduled post I’m writing before both of them have aired. I’ll let you know about them next time.)

I did try to watch the first episode of Con Man as well. However, I gave up 5 minutes when it started becoming cringe comedy on the plane and Tudyk tried to get a fan to give up his seat for him. No extended music sequences in my TV shows, no cringe comedy in my comedies – those rules are sacred.

Anyway, let’s talk about the ‘Cumberemergency’, since I was called upon at the last minute to accompany my mother-in-law to the theatre. Or was it a movie? Maybe it was both. Or neither.

Hamlet (The Barbican)
The National Theatre’s latest version of Hamlet, performed at the Barbican and starring that Benedict Cumberbatch from off the telly. Except it was one of those NT Live things where they film the play as it’s performed and beam it into cinemas everywhere. Except the cinema in question was at the Barbican, so they might as well have just knocked a hole in the wall and let us look through it.

Anyway, Hamlet‘s one of those plays where every director tries to make his or her mark by doing something radically different. The last version I saw at the Barbican was the Stephen Dillane (The One Game, The Tunnel, Hunted, Game of Thrones) one where he went naked for a scene.

On top of that, Hamlet exists in three different versions, some which have scenes that aren’t in the others. The result is that I always forget what’s in the play and spend the whole time thinking “I don’t remember this. Is this in the original?”

In this version, our Benedict is playing a very bereaved, but generally good-egg Hamlet, who’s a bit annoyed his mum’s remarrying so soon after his dad died – except his dad’s ghost reveals that actually, he was murdered. He doesn’t get very pissed off like Mel Gibson or naked like Dillane, but does plot his revenge, all while his girlfriend goes super-loopy.

Unfortunately, the NT Live experience is basically the worst of both worlds. Despite my flippancy, the NT production does look very innovative, interesting and surprisingly funny, giving all the scenes genuine meaning. Bennie gives a great performance as Hamlet, making interesting choices such as the removal of any hint of sarcasm from the ‘what a piece of work is man’ monologue to make him a disappointed optimist rather than an embittered child-man. Siân Brook is marvellously barking as Ophelia. Ciaran Hinds’s Claudius is the surprising weak link, straining to effect a Yorkshire accent for no discernable reason, but still a decent stage presence.

But any sense of theatre’s immediacy is lost in the cinema. It looks nice, but you don’t feel anything, because the actors aren’t there on stage in front of you. Similarly, it’s not cinematic enough, despite the director’s best efforts to include crane shots and the like, for you to get the benefits of the directorial options and camerawork available to movies.

The play’s split into two acts, the first 2h, the second 1h, and the first certainly feels the full 2h as a result of these problems. It’s not the production’s fault, it’s simply a problem of the medium.

So don’t do NT Live if you can. The play’s the thing, after all.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Hamlet (NT Live/Barbican), Limitless and The Player”

What have you been watching? Including The Martian, Arrow, The Flash and Continuum

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.

So I got a bit snowed under with work on Friday and then went out for the evening, which meant ‘What have you been watching?’ didn’t happen. Sorry about that. Fingers crossed, things will be back to normal by the end of this week.

Anyway, here it is now. Unfortunately, I’ve not yet had a chance to watch last night’s Quantico, Blood & Oil, and Y Gwyll, but never fear third-episode verdicts of the first two will be arriving in the next few days, as will a third-episode verdict on The Player and a review of BBC America’s new Vikings v Saxons show The Last Kingdom

However, the delay does mean I’ll be able to provide my thoughts on Friday’s Dr Ken and the last ever Continuum, as well as Saturday’s Doctor Who. You’ll find them after the jump, snuggled in the warm embrace of reviews of the latest episodes of: 800 Words, Arrow, Blindspot, Code Black, The Flash, Grandfathered, The Grinder, Scream Queens and You’re The Worst

Just in case you think I was slacking, though, elsewhere I did manage to review the first episodes of new shows This Life (Canada: CBC) and Dr Ken (US: ABC), as well as provide third-episode verdicts on Blindspot (US: NBC; UK: Sky Living), The Muppets (US: ABC; UK: Sky1) and Limitless (US: CBS; UK: Sky Living).

And, I went to see a movie, too:

The Martian (2015) (in cinemas now)
Ridley Scott and Drew Goddard’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestselling ‘MacGyver in space’ novel, in which an astronaut is accidentally left behind on Mars and must use his advanced knowledge of science and engineering to survive, re-establish contact with Earth and then somehow get home again. Despite being very faithful to Weir’s original plotline and dialogue, it’s neverthless a different beast to the book, which was originally published online a chapter at a time, presenting a different scientific or engineering challenge with each installment. Most of the science and a lot of the tension have gone, to the extent that huge chunks get replaced with a ‘seven months later’ caption, although you can still see some of it left behind in various places.

All the same, it’s different, rather than inferior to the book – a cinematic experience rather than a literary one that’s more about survival than solving problems single-handedly – and is easily Scott’s best work in years, as well as probably his funniest ever. A great cast in a movie that largely tries to get science right, doesn’t pick sides and actually looks great in 3D for a change.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including The Martian, Arrow, The Flash and Continuum”

What have you been watching? Including You, Me and the Apocalypse, Limitless, The Muppets, Scream Queens, Doctor Who and Y Gwyll

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.

I always forget. I always go “Look how much I’ve done!” in the first week of each new Fall season, then forget that in the second week I’ve got to watch all the new programmes that start airing that week as well as the ones that began the previous week.

My, what a lot of tele I’ve watched this week.

Still, unbelievably, I’m actually up to date. This week, I reviewed the first episodes of the following new shows:

And after the jump, you’ll find reviews of the latest episodes of: 800 Words, Blindspot, Continuum, Doctor Who, Heroes Reborn, Life in Pieces, Limitless, Minority Report, The Muppets, The Player, Rosewood, Scream Queens, Y Gwyll and You’re The Worst. Some of them won’t be making it to a third-episode verdict, particularly since the Barrometer is currently in a tanning salon somewhere in the Gorbals so too busy to pass judgement on anything, but you can find out which after the jump.

On top of all that, I also managed to watch the first episode of another new show, this time from the UK.

You, Me and The Apocalypse (UK: Sky1; US: NBC)
As with most US/UK co-productions, particularly those involving Sky, this is a lukewarm affair that satisfies no-one, perhaps best evidenced by the change in the show’s title from Apocalypse Slough. It sees a comet approaching the Earth, meaning that everyone goes a bit whacky at the prospect of the coming Apocalypse that will result when it hits. However, the action of the first episode is all set in the lead-up to the lead-up to the comet, introducing us to several different groups of people from around the world who are going to all end up together at some point. These include Mathew Baynton, Joel Fry (Plebs), Pauline Quirke (Birds of a Feather), Rob Lowe (like you need to know who he is), Paterson Joseph (Peep Show), Jenna Fischer (The Office US) and an almost unrecognisable Megan Mullally (Will and Grace). Unfortunately, it’s all a bit weak and pathetic, not really knowing who its audience is, despite the occasional choice joke. The only exception to this is Rob Lowe’s bad minded Catholic priest who is the Vatican’s Devil’s Advocate. Otherwise, eminently missable.

But if you think after all that I had any time to watch any movies or go to the theatre, you have a higher opinion of me than I do.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including You, Me and the Apocalypse, Limitless, The Muppets, Scream Queens, Doctor Who and Y Gwyll”