A screen-cap from Twin Peaks
TV reviews

What have you been watching? Including GLOW, Riviera, Logan, Twin Peaks and Ronny Chieng

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.

Redesigning and migrating TMINE took up quite a bit of my time this week, so I didn’t cast my net as wide as I’d hoped in watching new TV. All the same, you’ll be excited to hear that I’ve managed to give two other new shows at try, as well as a movie, and I’ll be reviewing The Mist (US: Spike) in the next couple of days, too.

After the jump, a look at the latest episodes of Doctor Who, Ronny Chieng: International Student and Twin Peaks, as well as the season finale of Silicon Valley. One of those could offer some of the finest visuals TV has ever seen.

But first…

GLOW (Netflix)
Slightly weird half-hour comedy based on the genuinely real 80s phenomenon of GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling), which has already been the subject of movies and TV shows but here sees aspiring but really rather terrible actress Alison Brie (Community) almost as the point of doing porn to make ends meet before her agent gives her one last potential gig – a new cable TV sports show in which she would be a wrestler. Together with several other oddball women, she auditions to take part, but it’s not until she ends up in a catfight with best friend Betty Gilpin (Masters of Sex, Nurse Jackie) that she gets her chance to appear in the ring.

I got through the first episode without laughing much, except at the over-the-top attempts at 80s LA fashions, which all seemed to be takes on Jane Fonda aerobics videos. But it was amiable enough and silly enough that I’ll at least try episode two.

Riviera (UK: Sky Atlantic)
Glossy French-set, French-filmed thriller in which Julia Stiles (the Jason Bourne movies, Dexter) is apparently happily married to super-rich Anthony LaPaglia (Murder One, Without A Trace) when his yacht gets blown up off the coast of Monaco. The result is… revelations! Maybe LaPaglia got his money through dodgy means. Maybe he was having an affair and slept with ‘party girls’.

All the episodes have been released but I’ve only managed the first, rather insipid one so far. Stiles is fine, but spends most of her time having passive aggressive sit-downs with LaPaglia’s ex-wife Lena Olin or one of Olin’s kids (Misfits‘ Iwan Rheon and Les témoins (Witnesses)’ Roxane Duran). Attempts to inject excitement into all the iciness come from having Amr Waked (Lucy, Engrenages (Spiral), Marco Polo) run around a bit or by promising some excitement soon but never actually producing anything.

Basically, the usual glossy Sky fare with a good cast list (and Neil Jordan in the writing credits) but only two big names who actually stick around for the main action.

Logan (2017)
The X-Men meet gritty reality and the cowboy genre, as we flashforward to 2029. Most of the world’s mutants are dead, with Wolverine and Professor X the only big names left alive thanks to a highly successful stamping out campaign. Even so, Wolverine’s dying from adamantine poisoning and Professor X has dementia over which he’s losing control, causing all manner of problems for anyone and any towns that happen to be in his vicinity. Into the mix comes a woman with a girl who has Wolverine-like abilities, asking our hero to protect her from evil Richard E Grant and the cybernetic Reavers.

It’s basically Shane with superheroes, but a clever piece of work that is sparing with the action but nevertheless has an awful lot of bloody stabbing. It pokes fun at its predecessors as being (literally) comic book fun, divorced from the real world in which people suffer and die, but manages to still enjoy the trappings of the superhero genre.

It’s all a bit bleak though and beyond a couple of cool scenes, nothing to really unique.

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Wonder Woman (2017)
Weekly Wonder Woman

Weekly Wonder Woman: Wonder Woman (2017), Trinity Annual #1, Wonder Woman Annual #1

Yep, it’s that time again – our weekly round-up of all the Wonder Woman comics out in the past week. I might also mention and review a certain movie. Or two. Or even three.

As Saturday was officially ‘Wonder Woman Day’, as well as this week’s release of two annuals featuring our Diana – Trinity Annual #1 and Wonder Woman (Rebirth) Annual #1 – issue #1 of Wonder Woman Rebirth got a free reissue to lure people into Greg Rucka’s ongoing reboot.

I couldn’t spot anything different, other than the currently standard interviews with members of the cast of a certain movie, but I might be wrong. The other releases I’ll talk about after the jump.

We’ve also had a couple of trailers released for forthcoming Wonder Woman-related movies. Due out on July 26, Lego Super Hero Girls: Brain Drain sees our miniature heroines losing their memories and having to retrace their steps to work out why:

Meanwhile, we have the real-life story of Wonder Woman’s creator(s), Professor Marston & The Wonder Women:

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

No release date yet, but that might change quite quickly…

Right. Got your Wonder Woman Cookies of Truth ready? Then let’s talk about a certain movie. Full review after the jump (and I do mean full), but first just a couple of news pieces.

George Perez, who rebooted Wonder Woman back in the 80s for the start of Volume 2, has also been discussing not just that process but also what he thinks of Wonder Woman.

And a whole bunch of the great and the good in the comics world have been discussing what Wonder Woman means to them, too, including Perez, Phil Jiminez, Dan Didio and Shea Fontana:

But finally, the time has come. Let’s talk about Wonder Woman.

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What have you been watching? Including You Are Wanted, Passengers and The Accountant

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.

WHYBW took a bit of a break last week, thanks to there being Twin Peaks to watch and not enough time to do that and write about other TV, too. But it’s back, just in time to catch some season finales as the US Fall season begins to wave its final goodbyes and the Summer season starts to kick in.

There have been a few new shows, too, in the past fortnight: the first episode of Downward Dog and those first two new episodes of Twin Peaks I’ve already reviewed elsewhere and I’ll be reviewing Still Star-Crossed (US: ABC) and previewing I’m Dying Up Here (US: Showtime) later in the week. But with a bank holiday weekend, I’ve had a chance to catch up with everything, watch a few movies and even try some of my backlog.

So, after the jump, I’ll be reviewing the latest episodes of American Gods, The Americans, Doctor Who, Downward Dog, The Handmaid’s Tale, Master of None, Silicon Valley and Twin Peaks, as well as the season finales of The Flash, Great News and Lucifer. Before then, a new TV show and not one but two movies!

You Are Wanted (Amazon)
Amazon’s first German-language TV show is a Berlin-set ‘techno thriller’ starring (and written, directed, produced and composed by) one of Germany’s most successful actor-director-composer-writer-cameramen-producers Matthias Schweighöfer, who plays a moderately successful hotel manager and family man, whose life starts to fall apart when hacktivists start to take an interest in him for no obvious reason. Before you know it, they’re in every computer system he has from his laptop and smartphone through to his TV and child monitor, stealing his money, faking an affair and incriminating him in crimes, all while blacking out Berlin’s power system. What do they want and why him? Well, you’ll have to watch to find out.

The first episode was a touch more German in its production values than Amazonian (ie not as good and a bit silly at times), but while it’s not exactly Mr Robot when it comes to hacking, it’s not American Odyssey either, exhibiting a slight hint that it might know a bit about the subject at least. Schweighöfer is appealing, but there’s not much by way of thrills so far, just a lot of Schweighöfer playing with his family and reinstalling operating systems. But it’s promising enough I’ll probably be watching episode two this week at some point.

Word to the wise: despite promises to the contrary, Roku’s Amazon channel won’t display subtitles (I’ve fiddled with every setting it has and nada on anything I’ve watched). So, although half the dialogue’s in English, your German had better be up to knowing what “hydraulic fracking” and “epidemiology” are auf Deutsch if you’re to get by on that platform, so stick with iOS (which definitely does work) or something else. When I gave the subtitles a whirl, though, they turned out to be pretty bad translations that removed any nuance from the original (eg “Google is your friend” became “Use Google”), so I’m not sure that’s much better.

Passengers (2016)
Mechanic Chris Pratt is in hypersleep on board a spaceship to a new colony, when a meteorite collision causes a malfunction on the ship. Pratt wakes up 90 years too early and he’s the only one on board apart from android barman Michael Sheen. Dare he wake up alluring writer Jennifer Lawrence to keep him company? And if he does, what will she do when he finds out he’s effectively killed her? And was his malfunctioning hypersleep pod the only thing damaged by the collision?

A lot has been written about the gender politics of Pratt’s actions in this and to be fair, the movie does go at great lengths not to dodge the ethical questions involved. It’s also far more of a piece of science-fiction than you might have assumed and everything looks very beautiful. But ultimately this is a two-hander between Pratt and Lawrence and how much you’ll want to watch this and their musings about the meaning of life and death very much depends on how much like both of them, whether you find their age gap a bit creepy and whether you think Pratt unconsensually violating sleeping Lawrence’s body (metaphorically) is too much of an obstacle to your enjoying the movie. There’s a brief appearance by (spoiler) Laurence Fishburne and a so-brief-you-probably-won’t-even-see-his-face cameo by (spoiler) Andy Garcia, too, which makes me think there’s a longer cut of the movie out there somewhere…

The Accountant (2016)
An odd attempt to revive The Saint but without paying a licence fee, in which rather than Val Kilmer playing a swashbuckling and suave master criminal who adopts Catholic saints as his noms de plume, we have Ben Affleck playing a socially awkward savant and master criminal who adopts the names of famous mathematicians as his noms de plume, as he goes about… analysing the finances of whomever will pay him. Anna Kendrick is the Elisabeth Shue of the piece, a mid-level accountant who finds an irregularity in her employer (John Lithgow)’s books that Affleck can’t stop himself from investigating. Except Affleck has a very specific code of conduct and if any of his employers break it, he’ll use all the training his psych ops army dad gave him to kill them with extreme prejudice. Trouble is, Lithgow has hired Jon Bernthal (Marvel’s Daredevil‘s The Punisher) to protect him so Affleck might not find the going so easy and Treasury agent Cynthia Addai-Robinson is chasing after him in the exact same way she chases Ryan Phillippe in Shooter

Written by Bill Dubuque (The Judge and Netflix’s forthcoming Ozark) and directed by Gavin O’Connor (Warrior), oddly enough the film is more about an accountant with autistic spectrum disorder than it is about a fighty master assassin, with Affleck redeploying the ‘tortured hero with a disability’ routine he used in Daredevil to evoke sympathy as he does a lot of A Beautiful Mind-like writing on vertical surfaces. But oddly, although its portrayal of ASD’s sensory issues as something that simply needs to be overcome through harsh regimens of fighting, flashing lights, loud noise and hitting yourself with a stick is probably a little contra-indicated, it’s surprisingly accurate, albeit more in a Bron/Broen (The Bridge) sort of way than Life, Animated, with Affleck’s character driven by, advantaged by and disadvantaged by his condition throughout.

The ending is surprising, the fight scenes are genuinely very good, and Affleck and Kendrick are frequently amusing together. And I promise you you’ll never see Martha from The Americans the same way by the end. It’s nonsense and there’s one scene in which JK Simmons sits down to explain the entire plot to the audience, but it’s nevertheless a jolly entertaining, surprisingly smart, surprisingly generous action movie that does for ASD what Daredevil does for blindness.

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What have you been watching? Including Saving Mr Banks, Lucifer, Doctor Who and The Flash

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.

Easter’s over, we’re entering May and while Captain Squarejaw might be depressed about the whole thing, TV networks around the world are waking up, filled will the joys of spring, and starting to send us a whole batch of new shows to enjoy.

Elsewhere, I’ve already reviewed the whole of Seven Types of Ambiguity (Australia: ABC), as well as the first episodes of Great News (US: NBC) and Genius (US/UK: National Geographic). Later in the week (I’m guessing Thursday), I’ll be casting my eye over the first few eps of The Handmaid’s Tale (US: Hulu) and American Gods (US: Starz; UK: Amazon), but there’ll probably be a few other shows I haven’t noticed yet that I’ll try to review as well (eg Dear White People). 

After the jump, though, I’ll be reviewing the usual regulars: The Americans, Doctor Who and Silicon Valley. Joining that list are the returning The Flash as well as the long-absent Lucifer. Hoorah! I’m assuming that’s what I heard you all saying just now, anyway.

I also watched a movie over the weekend.

Saving Mr Banks (2013)
Dual biopic about the making of Mary Poppins, in which a reluctant ‘PL Travers’ (Emma Thompson) is convinced to give Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) the rights to adapt her famed book. Coming over to Hollywood, she then has to deal with the fact the movie will be a partially animated musical that’s less than identical to the book and characters as she envisioned them, with the likes of Bradley Whitford and Jason Schwartzman having to show her just how supercalifragilisticexpialidocious it’ll all be if she just lets them to their thang.

Meanwhile, a second parallel plot flashes back to Travers’ upbringing in Australia with her delightful but chronically alcoholic dad (Colin Farrell), suicidally depressed mum (The Affair‘s Ruth Wilson) and suspiciously Poppins-like aunt (Rachel Griffiths), so that we can see what meaning Poppins might have had to Travers and how it made her so precious about her creation.

Obviously, you have to know Mary Poppins quite well to get the most out of everything, with Amadeus-like scenes depicting prototyping of characters and songs that require you to know what the final result should be like in order to see the difference. There are some very weird accents in the Australian portion of things, while Hanks’ performance is less than sparkling. The ending is also a bit of a fudge, since Travers still hated Mary Poppins when it came out.

Yet, the film, despite playing around with time, place and people, still gives us a Disney who isn’t whitewashed and Thompson’s Travers is marvellously acerbic (Travers insisted on having everything recorded, so much of the dialogue is what she actually said, not just conjecture). The recreations are also quite lovely, while Travers’ childhood is heartbreaking. If you have an interest in classic movie production, Saving Mr Banks is far more interesting than the average documentary and is full of laughs and pathos.

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What have you been watching? Including Imaginary Mary and Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching.

The last WHYBW for some time now, since I’m off on vacation for a week from Wednesday and then there’s the double Bank Holiday weekend that is Easter directly after that. Maybe I’ll try to squeeze it in on the 13th or 18th, although I’d actually have to watch TV while on holiday to manage the former, which just ain’t happening; maybe it’ll even be the 24th. But WHYBW will be back, I promise.

The airwaves have been a little quieter of late, but I’ve somehow not managed to watch any of Shots Fired, which means I doubt I’ll ever get round to playing catch-up. Midnight Sun I’m going to try to binge-watch somehow, since it got better after last week’s ep-and-a-half review. If I find the time, I might play catch up on Fortitude, too, and I really will try to watch You Are Wanted.

Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed Nobodies (US: TV Land), which means that after the jump I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of The Americans, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, The Good Fight, Imposters and The Magicians, as well as the season finale of Legion. But I have watched one other new TV show and a movie, too.

Imaginary Mary (US: ABC)
I love Jenna Elfman. I really do. Okay, the scientologist thing is off-putting, she’s really fun, really charismatic and really watchable. So why is it that everything she’s been in since Dharma and Greg and Keeping The Faith has been just heinous? Growing Up Fisher, 1600 Penn, Accidentally On Purpose – she was great, they weren’t. And neither is Imaginary Mary.

The show is basically what happens if you have one idea and precisely one idea only. Here, the idea is that sports PR woman Jenna Elfman’s childhood best friend comes back to help her in her adult life, when she finally starts having to deal with kids, a grown-up relationship et al. But that’s where the ideas run out.

The work of three men, it feels like the closest they’ve come to ever meeting a woman is to read a book on Greek myths to learn that Artemis is a perpetually adolescent goddess so they could name Elfman’s PR firm “Artemis PR” – that’s the level of subtlety we’re dealing with here. Elfman’s character has apparently never even met a child, let alone spent time with one, but then again, the writers don’t seem to have met any children either, since they’re all the sorts of moppets that can be assembled from tropes in other TV shows.

I mean, do you think, even for a second, that the teenage son of Elfman’s new boyfriend would ask her for advice on how to be popular with other teenagers, a mere five minutes after meeting her, while simultaneously confiding to her that he has a folder on his laptop that contains… “pictures of boobs”? Would that ever happen?

It’s also unclear exactly what the idea is behind Imaginary Mary, who just reappears unprompted after disappearing from her life when Elfman was 18 and started having sex. Yes, that’s right 18. And now she’s back, and after a brief double-take from Elfman, everything carries on as before. Elfman doesn’t go to a doctor or a psychiatrist now she’s started hearing and seeing things, even though ‘Mary’ carries on talking and appearing in full view of her wherever she is, making it impossible for her to do other things (do the writers even know how an imaginary friend works?).

And what does Mary do? Not much. She’s just there, being a bit furry and wacky. No real commentary, nothing daring, no real attempt to expose Elfman’s subconscious or animus. just “Look, I’m back”.

Bar Elfman, it’s almost unwatchably bad. Steer very, very clear.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016)
Dull entry to the Harry Potter universe set in the US in the 1920s that misses pretty much all the opportunities to do something more grown up and interesting in favour of more of the same but with some cute magical animals. It unlikeably stars mumbling Eddie Redmayne as an animal-helping wizard who travels to the US to be nice to some different animals, where he gets caught up in the current anti-animal prohibition and has to deal with ‘no-mags’ (aka Muggles) who want to get rid of wizards.

Yet despite the opportunities for fun and variety, as well as some scary-level magic, it’s really unfathomably dull. Redmayne’s wizard is just plain annoying and unheroic. The other characters don’t have a tenth of the qualities of Hermione and co that might make you want to spend time with them. All it really has going for it are those fantastic beasts, which are great fun.

Boring.

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