Australian and New Zealand TV

Child actors: nice to see Whale Rider’s Keisha Castle-Hughes getting work in The Almighty Johnsons

Do you ever have those “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” moments when watching an actor in a movie, where eventually you realise that you’ve seen them when they were a child?

Evan Rachel-Wood in Practical Magic.

Evan Rachel Wood in Practical Magic

Who’s now been in True Blood, amongst other things.

Evan Rachel-Wood

Or Lukas Haas, that nice little Amish boy in Witness.

Lukas Haas in Witness

He was the crap gang member in Inception.

Lukas Haas in Inception

Then there’s Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel, who have been in everything and were in fact in everything when they were kids, too.

Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel

Then there’s Kirsten Dunst in Interview with a Vampire:

Kirsten Dunst in Interview with a Vampire

Who was in all three Spider-man movies and in Melancholia:

Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia

And of course Claire Danes was Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and is now doing very nicely for herself in Homeland:

Claire Danes in Romeo and Juliet

Claire Danes in Homeland

Anyway, I’ve been having one of those moments while watching New Zealand show The Almighty Johnsons and finally, I’ve worked out where I’ve seen Keisha Castle-Hughes (aka Gaia) before:

Keisha Castle-Hughes as Gaia in The Almighty Johnsons

She was, of course, the youngest person ever to receive a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars for Whale Rider all of 10 years ago now:

Keisha Castle-Hughes

My how time flies, doesn’t it? (Of course, Cliff Curtis from Whale Rider has been finding work in the US with Trauma and now Missing.)

Here’s the trailer for it and after the jump, you can watch the whole movie – aren’t I good to you?

Continue reading “Child actors: nice to see Whale Rider’s Keisha Castle-Hughes getting work in The Almighty Johnsons”

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What did you watch last week? Including The Syndicate, Punisher: War Zone and Steven Seagal’s True Justice

It’s “What did you watch last week?”, my chance to tell you what I watched last week that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case e’ve missed them.

First, the usual recommendations from the first-run US shows: The Almighty Johnsons, Being Human (US), BeTipul, Community, The Daily Show, Happy Endings, Mad Men, Ringer, Shameless (US), Spartacus and 30 Rock. Hunt them down.

For the love of Joanna Page, I’ve been trying to watch The Syndicate, but it’s hard going. I know it’s written by Kay Mellor, who’s both quite good and a Leeds native, but like every BBC drama about ‘regular people’, it’s just so patronising, with every Northerner written as or acted as a stereotype. Heaven forfend that you might overlap with another stereotype, such as ‘the overweight woman’ because then you’ll be comedy relief in a show in which everyone is pretty much self-pastiching anyway. But I’m going to keep giving it a try. Apparently, they focus on one character every week and Joanna’s episode four.

Now, some thoughts on the regulars, apart from last night’s Mad Men, which I’ve still to watch:

  • The Almighty Johnsons – There’s light at last! A bit more of a season one-style episode than some of the latest efforts have been and I’m hoping it’s a sign that there’s going to be a bit more balance to the show in the next few episodes.
  • Awake – Interesting ending, which suggests some more possible story arc and for once, the story was really more about relationships than the procedural. But there were bits I didn’t get at all (why did he go to the warehouse, just because it was the one his wife used?). Surprisingly though, as the series is progressing, I’m glad there’s no sci-fi reason for what’s happening being suggested and that one reality might actually turn out to be a dream.
  • Being Human (US) –  Nice to see some funny in what has become quite dark, even if it was for a limited time only, but a bit of a soapy episode and the return of the “less fun than she used to be” Nora wasn’t as welcome as I thought it would be.
  • Community – Who would have thought that last year’s KFC product placement show could ever have been topped? John Goodman was marvellous, but the show’s starting to sideline Pearce and Chiang a bit too much at the moment.
  • Happy Endings – Would have made more sense if I’d watched Three’s Company, but some good moments, largely from Elisha Cuthbert, and a great end sketch saved it. Feels better in retrospect than when I was actually watching it.
  • Mad Men – Interesting but dull, like all Mad Men season openers. But how messed up were Don and Megan? Ouch. Oh and that song? WTF?
  • Ringer – Well, it all seems to be coming together, suggesting there may all have been a cunning plan all along. But there were too many obvious misdirects that you could see coming a mile off. Fun to see them happen though.
  • Spartacus – Bloody, with some very interesting choices that mostly neutralised most of this season, with the deaths (you knew there would be some) predominantly the ones who have been wandering around without much story this year. I’ve started to notice, incidentally, that the least effective stories are typically the ones written by Steven DeKnight and this finale was no different. Despite everything that happened, there wasn’t quite enough surprise and good writing to really lift this beyond the good. But it was still good.
  • True Justice – Quite how I could have missed this when it aired on 5 USA this year, I don’t know, but now it’s airing on Reelz, I’ve finally caught up with it. Written by Steven Seagal, created by Steven Seagal and starring Steven Seagal, this is the first TV show I’ve ever watched that’s made from pure Carusonium, the most talentless element in the known universe. Just fascinatingly bad, borderline (if not actually) racist, terribly acted, sometimes impenetrable Canadian accents (seriously, when have you ever heard an impenetrable Canadian accent before this? And it’s supposed to be set in Seattle, FFS), horribly exploitative (it actually has one of the female leads poledancing in the titles) and the fight scenes are so badly directed, you can’t see what’s happening half the time – which given the only good thing about a Steven Seagal movie or TV series is watching some excellent aikido, entirely removes the only good thing about the series even before it starts.
  • 30 Rock – Possibly the first duff one this year, although the meditation scenes were fun.

And in movies:

  • Punisher: War Zone – I wasn’t expecting much of this, which I was largely watching to see how Ray Stevenson did in a lead role and how Lexi Alexander did in her own element (fights – she’s a former world karate and kickboxing champion, who even taught the US marines), but this was substantially worse than I was expecting. More or less everyone appears to be in it for the cash, particularly Dominic West, sporting possibly the worst Brooklyn accent committed to celluloid; Colin Salmon’s US accent isn’t much better, although Stevenson’s is acceptable. The violence is incredibly sadistic, although given the nature of the subject matter and the fact they’re trying to get closer to the comic, maybe that shouldn’t be too surprising. The writing is abysmal. Julie Benz is entirely wasted. Don’t watch. Well, watch this trailer to see how bad it is and how awful West’s accent is.

“What did you watch this week?” is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid – and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I’ve watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you’ve seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?

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US TV

What did you watch last week? Including Touch, 30 Rock, Spartacus and Missing

Lothaire Bluteau in Missing

It’s "What did you watch last week?", my chance to tell you what I watched last week that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case we’ve missed them.

First, the usual recommendations: The Almighty Johnsons, Archer, Being Human (US), BeTipul, Community, Cougar Town, The Daily Show, Happy Endings, House, Mad Men, Modern Family, Portlandia, Ringer, Shameless (US), Southland, Spartacus, Suburgatory, 30 Rock and Top Gear. Assuming they’re on where you live, of course. 

Now, some thoughts on the regulars, apart from Mad Men, which I’ve still to watch:

  • The Almighty Johnsons – I’m now on New Zealand time, BTW. The darkest episode yet but signs of light at the end of the tunnel. Loki’s getting irritating and the goddesses are getting maltreated. Not much Axl this week either, and very little Anders, too, but he’s off filming The Hobbit, so what can you do?
  • America’s Next Top Model – is now being officially boycotted in this house for anti-Scottish racism
  • The Apprentice – the same old, same old, but don’t you just love it?
  • Archer – the finale wasn’t as funny as the first part, but it was still a pretty good episode
  • Awake – again with the dull procedural. Stop it. More fleshing out of secondary characters is needed, but it’s still intelligent, moving and insightful. It needs more on why this is all happening though.
  • Being Human (US) – Good to see that Sally now effectively has an addiction like the others, putting her on an equally monstrous footing with the others
  • Community – classic Community in that it was dark and weird but not hugely funny. But some character moments of joy, including Jeff and Britta, and the return of dark Abed.
  • Cougar Town – a lovely get out for a thorny dilemma that’s plagued the show for a while, plus a return of the Travis-Laurie dynamic
  • Dirk Gently – Probably the best of the bunch: funny with decent characterisation. Still not loving it, but it’s now not bad
  • John Bishop’s Sport Relief Hell – I only watched a minute of it and nearly cried.
  • Missing – Jesus of Montreal himself Lothaire Bluteau made an appearance to not much effort. More preposterous than the opening episode, with linguistic tricks around the phrase ‘hard drive’ needed for a very uninteresting reveal. The break-in was silly, the whole Netleaks thing was even more ridiculous and the narrow squeak at the end preposterous. But still a tense hour.
  • Ringer: Juliette still can’t act, but last week’s episode made slightly more sense than the previous week’s
  • Southland – an anti-climatic ending to the season, which overall was very strong.
  • Spartacus – phenomenal: shocking, surprising and finally we get to see the Romans as something less than cannon fodder and more the most powerful fighting force in the world (cf Rome).
  • 30 Rock – quite the best season since the first, I think. Some wonderful cameo appearances, including one of the Baldwins doing a great impression of Alex, and a vast amount of almost Community-level meta-ness, particularly the part where Tracey comes off his meds and (spoiler) thinks he’s in a show within a show and his real name is Tracey Morgan. Even Kristen Schaal is just about funny for once.
  • Touch – basically an episode of Highway to Heaven. Nice to have a mini-24 reunion, with Jude Ciccolella, even if the show does all it can to avoid the memory of Jack Bauer by having Kiefer Sutherland get his arse kicked in fights. Danny Glover basically did nothing, as did Guru M-R. The lack of regular characters also makes it hard to care about the show. But at the end of the day, despite all those caveats, quite heart-warming.
  • Two and a Half Men – Only watching it because Sophie Winkleman (Big Suze from Peep Show, but also Charlotte from NBC’s 100 Questions) is on it. Has to be said – not a great show and the usual American TV problem of being mildly bemused and unable to cope with the existence of foreigners, but she’s good.
  • The Voice – I don’t normally do reality, but with Tom Jones on it, how could we refuse? Actually quite enjoyable, although Reggie Yates and Holly Willoughby were entirely superfluous. Surprised will.i.am didn’t get more people, though. And Tom really did seem unimpressed to discover one of his was gay.

And in books:

  • The Go-Between by LP Hartley: bored me rigid. Sorry.

"What did you watch this week?" is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid – and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I’ve watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you’ve seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?

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US TV

What did you watch last week? Including The Almighty Johnsons, Dirk Gently, Shameless, The Mechanic and The Thin Man

Tom Cruise running in Cougar Town

It’s “What did you watch last week?”, my chance to tell you what I watched last week that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case we’ve missed them.

First, the usual recommendations: The Almighty Johnsons, Archer, Being Human (US), BeTipul, Community, Cougar Town, The Daily Show, Happy Endings, House, Modern Family, Portlandia, Ringer, Shameless (US), Southland, Spartacus, Suburgatory, 30 Rock and Top Gear. Assuming they’re on where you live, of course.

The observant will have noticed that I’ve promoted The Almighty Johnsons to the A-list there. I’ve caught up to those lovely New Zealanders now and I’d have to say that the first season is really good and really takes over from about episode eight onwards; the second season is a lot darker though, has some holes in the cast that the show really feels, as well as some changes to the set-up and general approach to the show – away from gods v goddesses to gods v (spoiler) Loki – that make it weaker. But it’s still a good show and the signs are that subsequent episodes will repair some of the damage. But what’s with Anders’ beard and all the rubbish new haircuts for everyone?

Now, some thoughts on the regulars:

  • Being Human (US): a slightly obvious twist last week that was still a good change for the show. Much better than the UK version now
  • Community: As close to normal as Community gets, and fabulous.
  • Cougar Town: Not just the Scrubs crossover to end all crossovers but we got ‘Tom Cruise-running’ as well. Excellent work all round.
  • Dirk Gently: Different in tone from the first episode, with Matt James (Doctor WhoThe Impossible Planet) on scripting duties. Less a holistic mystery than an actual mystery, it was easy to guess the very sci-fi explanation for what had happened, but that didn’t actually matter. It was even surprisingly touching. One complaint: St Cedds (good), not filming in Cambridge (bad).
  • Happy Endings: A bottle episode, but a well-handled bottle episode, particularly the body swap at the end. Yes, you read that right.
  • Kung Fu: Second season now. The fighting’s getting better. The scripts aren’t getting faster, though, even with ninja.
  • Modern Family: Meh. So so.
  • Ringer: What? I mean seriously, what? Those flashbacks to Siobhan and Andrew made literally no sense within the context of the first two episodes of the show. But it’s Ringer, so what was I expecting?
  • Shameless: Heart-rending two episodes in which to see dreams crushed by other people. One that Ayn Rand-ists should watch.
  • She-Wolves: England’s Early Queens: Didn’t actually watch this one, but my lovely wife did and she reports that it’s quite good in and of itself, but if you know anything about the period before Elizabeth, it’s very basic and you won’t learn much.
  • Southland: Wow. What an episode. This week’s the finale. This should be traumatic.
  • Spartacus: Really very awesome (haven’t watched Friday’s yet), thanks to an influx of Germans, although the constant use of rape as a way to elevate the danger levels is getting very tired. I’m now almost used to Liam McIntyre as Spartacus, even though he’s still not up there with Andy Whitfield.
  • Suburgatory: a bit more drama than comedy, but good to see Robin Givens still getting work.
  • 30 Rock: The return of Dennis! Yey! And “You Soloed me” – a classic line.

And in movies:

  • The Thin Man: a classic Dashiell Hammett story, while the plot is typical 1920s/30s intricate murder-mystery, it’s absolutely worth watching for possibly the first depiction of a modern marriage in a film:

  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Despite the presence of Terry Gilliam behind the camera and Johnny Depp in front, absolutely not a patch on the book and curiously uninvolving.

  • The Mechanic: Jason Statham takes on the Charles Bronson role in this unspectacular remake of the 70s movie about a professional hitman who takes on an assistant. A few good set pieces, but lacking the humour of the average Statham film, as well as the characteristic fight scenes, this is basically a movie by the numbers but with a few elements that take it above the normal. Reasonable enough, but don’t expect to see anything new.

How about you?

“What did you watch this week?” is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid – and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I’ve watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you’ve seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?

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Australian and New Zealand TV

Mini-review: Danger 5 (SBS1) 1×1

Danger 5

In Australia: Mondays, 9.30pm, SBS1. Available on the SBS web site (Australians only)

So imagine a world where the Second World War is happening in the 1960s, Hitler is still alive and five secret agents from around the world have ganged up to try to stop the Nazis.

What do you mean, “Why?” Because I tell you to, that’s why.

Actually, that’s a very good question that maybe we should ask the creators of Australian show Danger 5, who seem to have taken some peyote while watching Thunderbirds, The Prisoner, The Champions, Inglourious Basterds, the Godzilla movies and huge amounts of those bizarre 1960s eurospy movies that Tanner writes about. They’ve come up with a very precise pastiche/homage that tries to walk the line between affectionate and mental, except the peyote is so strong the line actually looks like a blancmange being ridden by Anne of Cleves.

So we have Hitler sending out zeppelins to steal the Eiffel Tower in scenes that remind you of Derek Meddings’ efforts on a bad day; someone with an eagle’s head dressed like Patrick MacGoohan in The Prisoner; deliberately bad dubbing; seductive, smoking, talking robot dogs; bad accents; Champions-like telepathy; exploitation cinema bondage scenes; and more – but for no apparent reason other than it looks cool and people who love the 60s will go “Oh yes, that’s from X”. There’s no plot coherence and no real jokes.

It looks fantastic. A lot of work has obviously gone into it. But it’ll leaving you wondering what the whole thing is supposed to accomplish and why you should be watching it. Even more than Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, in fact.

Here’s a trailer in case you missed it the first time I showed you and the Internet-only pilot episode so you can see for yourself.