Au service de la France
International TV

What have you been watching? Including Au service de la France, Dead Lucky, Stargate: Origins and You Are Wanted

It’s “What have you been watching?”, your chance to recommend to fellow TMINE readers anything you’ve been watching this week/month

I’m calling it – summer season is dead. It has ceased to be. It is an ex-season.

Before TMINE went away on its holidays, I pointed out how quiet July had been worldwide, but while I was away, the number of new shows has been small. Very small. Castle Rock (US: Hulu) and Dead Lucky (Australia: ABC) were released and Netflix gave us Insatiable, but that was basically it.

Sure, there have been returning shows, but new shows haven’t had a look-in and a lot of shows that used to air over July and August have postponed their returns until the end of the month or September. That even includes the final season of The Lost Ship, which was filmed a year ago, so production concerns clearly weren’t stopping it from being aired in its usual slot.

I’m guessing that ratings haven’t held up for any TV shows. Probably because everyone’s been on holiday. Or maybe it’s because of my fearsome “if it starts in August, I won’t review it rule.” That’s probably it, isn’t it? Still, it does make my life easier.

Thankfully, new shows have already started coming online. Netflix has this very day given us Ghoul, The Innocents and Deadwind, while Amazon has woken up again and is giving us Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan next week. I’ll try to watch some, if not all of them, and give you at least one Boxset next week. After that, I’ll be struggling to catch up with the release schedule, with new Iron Fist coming, The Last Ship back, and season two of Ozark due on 31st.

In the meantime, I’ve been continuing with the usual viewing queue, although that’s now down to just Shooter, given Condor and Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger finished their runs while I was on holiday. All of them I’ll discuss after the jump.

I also scoured around for new shows to watch, as well. Of the shows I mentioned last time, I could never quite bring myself to watch the rest of Jongo but I made a brave stab at the properly subtitled second season of You Are Wanted. I also managed to catch the movie version of Stargate: Origins, and started a new French show: Au service de la France (A Very Secret Service). But we can talk about all of those after the jump.

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The Avengers: Infinity War poster
Film

Movie Monday: Avengers – Infinity War (2018)

Eighteen. Although there have been many more movies featuring Marvel comic book characters or that have been made by Marvel Studios, there have been 18 ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ movies since the studio began Phase One of its ambitious, interconnected franchise plans in 2008 with Iron Man. That’s more than an entire season of the average US TV show these days.

Getting to the end of your first season without getting cancelled is impressive enough. Getting this far with a relatively consistent continuity, despite numerous writers and directors, is even more impressive. But getting this far with at least some really good movies coming out of the endeavour is nothing short of amazing.

The key to the MCU’s longevity is that while some characters hop around and appear in other movies, each movie has had a different roster of superheroes to play with, ensuring a different tone and freshness to each one (hopefully). In addition, each main character’s franchise has stopped after three movies: it’s not Iron Man 18 we’re watching in cinemas, since we stopped at Iron Man 3, and Thor, Captain America and co have similarly bowed out after three movies or fewer in favour of new arrivals such as Black Panther and Doctor Strange.

However, one important feature of the MCUs is its periodic reunions of characters from all the franchises, both past and present, for something typically Earth-shattering that requires a combination of superheroes to defeat. These movies cement in the audience’s mind the idea that the MCU is truly interconnected and that missing out on one film is possible, but it’ll be like missing an episode of a serial TV show if they do. Iron Man might not have got a fourth movie, but he’s shown up in The Incredible HulkCaptain America: Civil Warand Spider-man: Homecoming, too. And that’s before we even get to the ensemble The Avengers movies, in which everyone turns up, whether they’re dead or not.

Which is where we get to the problem. Movies aren’t TV series. Sure, you can stretch them to three hours or so if you want, but if you’ve got literally dozens of regular characters in separate movies, when you bring them all together in one movie, how do you give them enough screen time to properly service them as characters while still having a decent plot?

Avengers: Infinity War

The Avengers: Infinity Characters

When Avengers: Age of Ultron came out, I suggested that writer-director Joss Whedon had done just about as well as anyone could be expected, given how many characters he had to squeeze into his script. In retrospect, my review was probably a bit more generous than the movie deserved, since it hasn’t held up so well on repeated viewings chez TMINE. But it’s still not bad.

One area I was also wrong about was in suggesting that Whedon was about the only person who could have pulled it off. Whedon was, of course, the king of Marvel’s Phase One, but since then, some unexpected new royalty has hit town: the Russo Brothers. Improbably picked to direct Captain America: Winter Soldier following their work on the paintball episode of Community, they immediately hit the ball out of the park with what to my mind is the best movie of the entire MCU – and a damn fine spy/action movie in its own right. No small surprise then that they got its sequel, Captain America: Civil War, to direct as well. That movie can also be considered The Avengers 2.5 in its own way, given how many MCU characters are in it, and while it wasn’t as good as Winter Soldier, it was still a really good movie.

Hopes were therefore high for their Avengers: Infinity War, the first of two movies designed to polish off the first three phases of the MCU – the season finale, if you will. By contrast, the once box-office transforming The Avengers and The Avengers 2‘s character rosters feel more like a small piece of local theatre, given there are probably twice to three times as many characters for them to juggle, both old and new. Infinity War also had to round off the massive storyline that’s been building since as far back as Thor.

No pressure, then.

Fortunately, they’ve certainly risen to meet the challenge, managing to out-Whedon Whedon himself.

Avengers Infinity War

The story so far…

For those of you who haven’t been following the linking storyline – and it does get explained in Infinity War, you’ll be glad to hear – there are six great big McGuffins known as Infinity Stones that have been popping up all over the MCU in the likes of The Avengers, Thor: Dark World, Thor, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Each of these has a different mega-power and the Big Bad of The Avengers, Thanos, wants to collect them as he’s basically an intergalactic Thomas Malthus – believing that life outstrips resources, it’s his mission to wipe out half of all life in the universe so that the survivors never have to worry about starvation, overcrowding et al ever again. If he gets all six stones, he can kill everyone with a single wave of his specially made Infinity Gauntlet (guess what that’s for).

Naturally, Earth’s mightiest heroes – as well as Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy – aren’t really inclined to let him. But even combined, can they really take on a Titan who can beat the Hulk in a fist fight, crush a god’s neck with his bare hands and hurl a moon at someone he doesn’t really like? And give that Infinity War is the first of two movies that answer that question, who’s still going to be left standing at the end of this one?

You may be surprised. Both non-spoilery and spoilery reviews after this trailer and then the jump.

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Jumanji
Film reviews

Movie Monday: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) and Wonder (2017)

Once in a while on Monday, TMINE will review the select few movies it’s had time to watch when it’s not been watching TV. The film reviews A-Z lists every film ever reviewed here

Just a couple of movies this Movie Monday, seeing as there hasn’t been much on iTunes of late. Although I was tempted by Netflix’s Annihilation.

Jumani: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Technically, the third in the Jumanji series, given that it’s a sequel rather than a reboot of the 1990s movie (and its subsequent sequel) starring Robin Williams, in which the characters and hazards of a haunted African board game started to enter the real world. This new entry sees the game of the first two movies washed up on shore in the mid-90s, where it’s picked up on a beach and taken to someone’s home. However, it gets tossed to one side by its new owner – “who plays board games any more?” – but quickly learns that console games are where the new fun is at, so reincarnates itself as a video game.

Fast forward 20 years and a bunch of teenagers stuck in detention find the game and make the mistake of playing it, whereupon rather than the game taking over the world, Tron-like they get sucked into it instead and become the game’s characters. Nerdy allergic kid becomes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; bullying high school football star becomes teeny tiny Kevin Hart; selfie-obsessed popular girl becomes middle-aged fat bloke Jack Black; and snarky feminist becomes the kick ass Karen Gillan. Possessed of only three lives each, they have to learn the rules of the game, survive its obstacles and rescue the land of Jumanji from evil Bobby Cannavale – all while going Breakfast Club style on big personal emotional journeys.

Although comparisons with the original are inevitable, this is a far nicer, gentler, funnier movie than horror fan Joe Johnson (Gremlins)’s film; beyond a few references to the original, it’s also largely a standalone story. The first half is a pretty decent satire of video games and their arbitrary rules and approaches to storytelling, with “cut scenes” to explain the back story, each of the characters having stupid powers (“smouldering intensity”, “dance fighting” and of course, “Weakness: cake”), NPCs (non-player characters) only having a set stock of responses to our heroes’ questions, and the ridiculous puzzles that have to be solved to pass onto the next levels of adventure games. True, Karen Gillan’s navel-exposing outfit is only part satire of games’ attitudes to women, part attempt to get Karen Gillan in a navel-exposing outfit, but there is some good intent there at least.

It’s also really funny in places and not just thanks to the resurrection of Central Intelligence‘s Johnson/Hart partnership. Everyone gets good lines, Johnson does a sterling job of playing a nice Jewish boy who’s scared of everything but now has the body of a former WWE wrestler, while Black is surprisingly convincing as a teenage girl. The movie also sticks strongly to its spirit of its characters, with Gillan marvellously awkward – Black’s attempts to train her in the ways of seducing boys fall hopelessly flat, leaving her to find a way that’s more true to herself.

In its headlong pursuit of the end of the story, the second half of the movie loses some of that sharpness, becoming a more conventional, CGI adventure. But it by no means loses it completely and there are twists that you might not see coming. The ultimate conclusion is also a little hurried, not really showing us how the adventures have changed the characters’ life paths, beyond perhaps a new romance or friendship or too – maybe the planned sequel will fix that.

All the same, a much, much better movie than you might expect and one that’s already supported multiple viewings chez nous.

Wonder

Wonder (2017)

Based on the New York Times bestseller, Wonder tells the “incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story” of August Pullman, a boy with facial differences who enters fifth grade, attending a mainstream elementary school for the first time.

That’s the IMDb plot summary, that is. What should be added to all of that is before he enters fifth grade, he’s been home-schooled by mum Julia Roberts and dad Owen Wilson. And to that, it should be added that it’s all set in the US, as if all of that wasn’t obvious already.

So maybe it is a lovely, heartwarming story for a US audience, as they see how August is first rejected by his classmates, but finally is accepted by them, making new friends along the way with his great spirit – and with perhaps a little help from inspirational principal Mandy Patinkin as well. Indeed, purely for the sake of giving us a teacher who’s good at his job, cares about his kids and isn’t cynical, Wonder should perhaps be treasured.

However, for a UK audience, it’s probably a different story. Indeed, Lovely Wife – who works in schools with kids with special needs – was almost incensed enough to write a blog entry of her own to explain to parents in the UK just what a horrific and unrepresentative portrayal of mainstream school attitudes to SEN children Wonder is. Apart from the fact that home-schooling usually doesn’t result in super-smart kids who know more than the rest of their classes, because the average parent doesn’t know more than all a kid’s teachers combined, kids are always far more accepting of difference at a younger age so Roberts’ keeping him out of school is literally the worst thing she could have done, stopped him from socialising normally and stopped him from making friends at an early age. It’s tantamount to child abuse. It’s not heartwarming.

Anyway, watch it for Patinkin and some good performances, but be prepared to feel sorry for American SEN kids forced to go through that educational system, if Wonder is to be believed.

Thor: Ragnarok
Film reviews

Movie Monday: Thor – Ragnarok (2017)

Once in a while on Monday, TMINE will review the select few movies it’s had time to watch when it’s not been watching TV. The film reviews A-Z lists every film ever reviewed here

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a varied one. It has the James Bond-style adventures of an African King in Black Panther, the West Coast techno-adventures of Iron Man, the outer space comedy of Guardians of the Galaxy and the magical, reality-warping drama of Doctor Strange. Even within individual franchises, there’s diversity. Captain America was a Rocketeer-styled World War 2 period drama, for example, while Captain America 2 was more of a gritty Parallax View piece of spying.

So you never know what you’re going to get with any given Marvel movie. Thor began as a romance, in which geeky scientist Natalie Portman discovers that the buff bloke she met on a New Mexico road is really Thor, the Norse god of Thunder, exiled from Asgard and looking for redemption, if only his mischievous brother Loki will let him return home.

Thor 2: Dark World was a little bit funnier, but a little bit more of the same, as Thor helps protect the Earth from some Dark Elves who are after Portman. No one really liked it, particularly since there’s literally no way to get the Northern Line from Charing Cross to Greenwich, certainly not in the middle of a battle.

Thor: Ragnarok

Now we have Thor: Ragnarok. Fans of Norse myth will of course know that Ragnarok is the prophesied end of the gods, when giant wolves, serpents and the like come to kill the gods, so expectations were naturally for something a bit sombre, particularly since the Marvel franchises come in packs of at most three movies (eg Iron Man, Captain America) so this was also set to be the last of the Thor movies. Then, of course, there’s Cate Blanchett playing Hella, the Norse goddess of Death. Again, a move that didn’t suggest laughs a minute.

Certainly, watching Thor: Ragnarok, there is an underlying sadness to proceedings, when favourite character after favourite character from previous movies meets a quick and untimely death. But in the hands of director Taika Waititi (Eagle vs Shark, What We Do in the Shadows), it’s fair to say that Thor: Ragnarok is also the funniest Marvel movie to date. Seriously, it makes Guardians of the Galaxy look like a Ken Loach movie at times.

That’s despite Thor losing his mighty hammer Mjölnir, splitting up from Portman and landing up on a planet where he has to fight to the death for Jeff Goldblum against the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

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Black Panther
Film reviews

Movie Monday: Black Panther, Kingsman: The Golden Circle and The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Every Monday Some Mondays Once in a while on Monday, TMINE will review the select few movies it’s had time to watch when it’s not been watching TV

Not quite the monthly feature I suggested, but probably alternating with Boxset Monday whenever there’s not a boxset worth watching, the alliterative Movie Monday is a new TMINE feature reviewing the latest movies that I’ve watched. Usually that’ll be whatever Apple’s just bunged up on iTunes, but occasionally, just occasionally, it might even be one that’s in the cinemas.

This week, to christen everything, three movies: Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017), The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017) and Black Panther (2018).

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