What have you been watching? Including The Arrangement, Midnight Sun, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

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.

After last week’s Marvel’s Iron Fist (Netflix) and Snatch (US: Crackle) action, with only a verdict on Making History (US: Fox) for a bit of variety, I’ve had time to play catch-up with my viewing. After the jump, I’ll be talking about the latest episodes of The Americans, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, The Good Fight, Imposters, Legion and The Magicians.

But that’s not all. We’re nearly up to date (shucks) with Westworld now, but I’ll save my comments to next week, when there’s a good chance we might have finished it by then. I also should have reviews of Shots Fired (US: Fox) and Nobodies (US: TV Land) up this week, as well as possibly Amazon’s first German-language show You Are Wanted.

On top of that, I’ve even been to the theatre and watched quite a few episodes of some new shows that I don’t have time to review in full:

The Arrangement (US: E!)
E!’s choice for its first venture into scripted television was slightest unwise: The Royals, a slightest farcical, hugely unfunny piece about the British royal family. The Arrangement is a slightly wiser pick that plays to E!’s core competencies: salaciousness and celebrity.

A thinly veiled allusion to… (hey libel lawyers – can I say who? No. Oh. Okay…) a certain celebrity couple, it sees Christine Evangelista (Lucky 7) playing a smart but careerless young actress. One day, she attracts the attention of superstar actor Josh Henderson (Desperate Housewives, Dallas) at an audition for his new movie and before you know it, he’s whisking her off in his private jet to buy islands.

However, looking after Henderson’s career are producer Lexa Doig (Arrow, Andromeda, Continuum) and Michael Vartan (Alias), the proprietor of a self-help institute that has rather a few similarities to Scientology. Before Evangelista’s even on her second date, they’re getting her to sign a $10m marriage contract that plots out the two love-birds’ relationship, including pretty much every aspect of what Evangelista can and can’t do with her life. Should she sign it, become world famous as Henderson’s wife and kick start her career in his movie? Or is the creepy weirdness of it too off-putting?

The show is actually surprisingly credible and even a bit of slow burn, clearly intent on showing how an actress and definitely not a specific one who’s smart and talented and who raps about Shakespeare in her spare time could walk eyes-open into a relationship with a charming actor who’s still famously a nut-job, in preference to waiting tables and dealing with her two-timing beau.

The first episode is quite a delightful little romance in its own right, as Evangelista and Henderson ‘click’, have a whirlwind romance and then have a lot of basic-cable sex in Venice and Mexico. It’s not perfect – I didn’t know whether I was supposed to be laughing when Evangelista excels at her audition by crying through lines like “I got close to you so that I could devise the perfect plan to kill you”, after which Henderson chases after her to say “That’s what acting is supposed to be” in a way supposed to indicate how deep he is – but it was quite sweet, quite fun and it felt like a certain degree of E!’s collective knowledge about celebrity lifestyles had gone into it.

It’s over the course of the next couple of episodes that the show becomes a bit more mundane and darker, as we see Henderson punching out photographers who come after Evangelista and Vartan getting heavies seemingly to take out ex-girlfriends of Henderson. The third episode feels less about the ongoing themes and more about “Gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to have a lot of money. Oh no! People might sell old photographs of me for money now I’m famous!” There’s still a degree of smartness to proceedings, including time jumps in the narrative, and the leads are all still firing on all four cylinders, but it’s less fun than it was when it started.

Whether the show will become simply a modern-day Cinderella, with Henderson throwing off Vartan the Wicked Stepmother in favour of true love, or whether it’ll all end in divorce, murder investigations and recriminations, isn’t clear at this point. But there are enough hints that it’s not going to be all ball gowns and coaches that it might well be worth sticking with.

Barrometer rating: 3

Midnattssol/Jour Polaire (Midnight Sun) (France: Canal+; Sweden: SVT; UK: Sky Atlantic)
A curious bit of Nordic Noir that feels like SVT (Sweden) wished it could have more episodes of Bron/Broen (The Bridge), Canal+ (France) wished it could have more episodes of The Tunnel (Tunnel), so the two of them sat down together to create a weird French/Swedish/English hybrid of the two. Midnattssol/Jour Polaire (Midnight Sun) sees a bizarre murder involving a French national take place in rural Sweden. Lead investigator Peter Stormare (Swedish Dicks, Fargo, Prison Break) asks the French police for their help and they send Leïla Bekhti (Paris je t’aime, A Prophet). But soon it turns out that it’s not the only murder and that the murder victim was a member of the French Foreign Legion.

Midnight Sun is strange. Even before the title sequence has rolled, we have “Death by being attached to a helicopter rotor and whirled around a lot”, which is just plain nonsense. Then at the end of the first episode (spoiler alert) Stormare dies of a stroke after the entire ground opens up in front of him – the nearby iron ore mine is so huge, so important that the fact it’s causing quakes and other problems means that rather than the mine be closed down, the town itself is being moved instead. Which is an odd choice that suggests a bit of funding money was needed.

After that, the focus is more on Bekhti’s relationship with Stormare’s deputy, Gustaf Hammarsten (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), which is a far more comedic partnership, although Stormare’s relationship with his wife is still both warm and amusing. By contrast to the experienced Stormare, however, Hammarsten is inept, constantly joking and constantly has problems with his teenage daughter.

The show also plays to cultural differences. Bekhti speaks French back in France and with other French people; Hammarsten and Stormare speak Swedish; none of them speak each other’s languages so the rest of the time, the dialogue is in English. But that still leaves plenty of time for jokes, with Bekhti’s request to Hammarsten to say a Swedish place name results in “It’s spelt as it’s pronounced”, which results in Bekhti telling a colleague to “just Google it”. Meanwhile, Hammarsten and Stormare’s boss is advising about the use of the French word ‘bordel’ (brothel) as a way of meaning ‘it’s a mess’ (well, it does but… What could possibly go wrong?), which is something a French audience will certainly have fun with. As the name suggests, Bekhti also has to deal with the Insomnia-esque issue of the constant daylight in her new home away from home.

However, the central dynamic of the two investigators isn’t that compelling, Bekhti’s having to deal with the news of her brother’s death and occasional desire to impale her hand on spikes usually makes her a little joyless, and I’m a bit tired of grotesque deaths and mutilations by genius killers, even if you aren’t. I’ll probably watch some more of it, because later episodes look at the local native culture more, but this isn’t the instant classic Broen/Bron was.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Old Vic – Until 6 May)
The play that made Tom Stoppard’s name, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead takes two minor characters from Hamlet who appear in a few scenes and are then declared dead, and catapults them into their own play, imagining what they got up to in between scenes and using those dialogues to discuss the nature of fiction, the nature of theatre, what it is to be a thinly drawn supporting character and to critique Hamlet itself. The play is an amazing piece of work, clever and witty, written in modern day English except whenever it meets up with the mothership again, where it uses the original’s dialogue.

However… the two leads are Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire playing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern respectively (or is that Guildenstern and Rosencrantz?). Whichever way round it is, it was the wrong choice, because while McGuire is perfectly good and has decent presence, Radcliffe, who has the more passive character, is… passive and uncharismatic as the role demands, but far more so than necessary, resulting in a chemistry-less pairing and McGuire doing all the heavy lifting. Director David Leveaux also allows the two to rush the dialogue, perhaps to keep the play to its very tight two and a half hour runtime, meaning that it’s almost impossible to savour the writing and sometimes to even hear it.

Both McGuire and Radcliffer, however, are eclipsed by the more seasoned David Haig (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Yes, Prime Minister) as the leader of the strolling players. Direction is fine, although quite sexualised, and the party of teenage schoolkids behind me couldn’t quite cope, so spent the whole time commenting on it. Try to ensure you don’t have an audience of easily embarrassed schoolkids behind you if you’re going to watch it.

To be honest, not a great production, but a perfectly solid one and enough of the text shines through that it’s still no failure. Try the movie instead, though.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including The Arrangement, Midnight Sun, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”

Canadian TV

Review: Travelers (Canada: Showcase; UK: Netflix)


In Canada: Mondays, 9pm ET, Showcase
In the UK: Acquired by Netflix

Given that Canada, Showcase and Brad Wright have been so central to science fiction television, particularly time travel shows, in the past few decades, we shouldn’t be surprised that with the US lining up the likes of Timeless, Frequency, Time After Time and Making History, all three have decided to get in on the act to produce something similar but different.

Travelers flips most time travel stories on their head by having travelers coming from the future to our present in order to prevent a terrible disaster from occuring. So far, so identical to Showcase’s own Continuum. The difference here is that the time travelers are (apparently) the good guys and they’re from the far off future, a future so distant the human race is in danger of extinction, something they’d quite like to prevent by changing things now.

But most important of all, they can’t actually physically travel through time. Instead, provided they know the exact time and place someone is going to die, they can project their minds back in time into the ‘host’ and take over their body à la Chocky and Quantum Leap.

Travelers‘ first episode, written by Wright, is mainly establishment of the lives and families of the hosts who are shortly going to die and be replaced by an ‘elite unit’ of time travelers. We have the learning disabled Mackenzie Porter (Hell on Wheels, Blackstone); douche high school quarterback and cage fighter Jared Paul Abrahamson (Awkward); abused single mum Nesta Marlee Cooper (Heroes: Reborn); and drug-addicted college student Reilly Dolman.

Chasing after them after he becomes aware of some ‘odd traffic’ on the dark web is FBI agent Eric McCormack (Trust Me, Will and GracePerception). 

Then, of course, the time travelers turn up and the show then becomes about the differences between the hosts and their new inhabitants, who can fight back, don’t have an addiction, aren’t learning disabled, aren’t complete dicks and so on. And despite having done their research, the time travelers still have a huge culture gap to navigate, from the little things such as text message slang and not answering the front door naked through to quite big things like how people talk and discovering that people lie on social media and that maybe one of the hosts isn’t who she claimed to be online.

Shot in the style of Wright’s previous big offering, Stargate UniverseTravelers is an edgy and surprisingly intimate affair, trying its best to make all of this not ridiculous, something it does pretty well. To be fair, though, there’s actually precious little about the time travelers’ mission so it’s hard to tell if something extraordinarily silly is round the corner. Instead, it’s mostly about changing behaviours and what happens if someone starts acting very differently from how they used to behave – and whether other people will allow that or get suspicious.

Basically, it’s a science-fiction spy show with a whole bunch of sleeper agents suddenly being activated. It’s The Americans but with a different kind of time travel. Hopefully.

The characters and stories are engrossing, McCormack is as pleasing as ever and everyone, particularly Porter and Dolman, does well with what they’ve got. There’s even an appearance by ubiquitous former Huck Finn and Continuum regular Ian Tracey.

There’s a big twist at the end that will be entirely ruined if you watch the trailer below, but Travelers is definitely a very promising first start to a series that’s also got a big chunk of Netflix co-production money behind it. I’m hoping for great things, but we’ll see how it goes.

What have you been watching? Including Vinyl, Wanted and Vikings

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.

Apologies for the silence this week – you can blame Windows 8 for that. It wasn’t even my Windows 8 (like I’d have it in the house), but the Windows 8 of somewhere at which I do volunteer work. My advice? Don’t try to fix Windows 8 – just wipe it and start again. Which is what I eventually did.

Anyway, that meant I couldn’t write about tele for several days, but don’t worry – it didn’t mean I couldn’t watch tele. Elsewhere, of course, I’ve reviewed the first episodes of:

And after the jump, I’ll be dealing with the regulars: American Crime, Arrow, Billions, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, The Flash, Limitless, Lucifer, The Magicians, Man Seeking Woman, Marvel’s Agent Carter, Okkupert (Occupied), Second Chance, The Shannara Chronicles, Stan Lee’s Lucky Man and The X-Files. At least one of those gets the chop this week. Can you guess, which? This week also saw the return of Vikings, so I’ll be having a go at that, too. 

Out yesterday was Netflix’s Love, and I’ll try to give that a watch over the next few day; I’ll probably be playing catch-up with BBC4’s showing of Iceland’s Trapped, too.

But there was a couple of new shows out in the past week or so that although Windows 8 stopped me from reviewing them, I did manage to get a chance to watch them. Largely while I was fixing Windows 8.

Vinyl (US: HBO; UK: Sky Atlantic)
Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger co-created this story of the 70s music business, in which Bobby Carnavale (Cupid, Boardwalk Empire, Nurse Jackie) plays the boss of a struggling company trying to work out what’s hip and cool, as punk et al arrive on the scene. Scorsese directs, there’s a soundtrack including Slade and Abba, there’s a strong supporting cast, including Ian Hart, Paul Ben-Victor, Juno Temple, Olivia Wilde, Ray Romano and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen. What could go wrong? Well, lots apparently. Maybe it’s just because it’s about the music business, in which I have minimal interest. Maybe it’s because of the sexism, racism, et al of the period. Maybe it’s some of the dodgy English accents floating around. Whatever it was, despite its having a certain degree of authenticity, I barely made it to the end of the extremely long pilot episode. Not for me.

Wanted (Australia: Seven)
Continuing her majestic stranglehold on all of Seven’s drama output, Rebecca Gibney stars in this odd-couple-on-the-run drama that she also created. Gibney plays a rebellious, free-spirited but broke checkout woman; Geraldine Hakewill is an uptight accountant with a nerdy boyfriend and a criminal secret. They’re both waiting for a bus when a car chase ends in front of them and they witness a murder. Unfortunately for them, crooked cops are involved in the action and before you know, there are more bodies, everyone thinks they’re responsible and they’re on the run, while trying to clear their name and avoid getting caught by bad cop Nicholas Bell or good cop Stephen Peacocke. It’s mildly diverting stuff, but everything goes pretty much how you expect, the jokes are weak, and neither Gibney nor Hakewill make you want to hang out with either of them, let alone go on the run with them.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Vinyl, Wanted and Vikings”

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 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”