TV reviews

Review: Quarry 1×1 (US: Cinemax; UK: Sky Atlantic)


In the US: Fridays, 10pm, Cinemax
In the UK: Sky Atlantic. Starts October

As fans of The Great British Bake Off have recently discovered, format rights are very important these days. In fact, there have been 60-odd legal disputes over format rights around the world, over the years.

This is odd, since legally, there’s no such thing as format rights. After all, it’s one thing to argue that as you created suave British superspy James Bond, someone else writing books about suave British superspy James Bond without your permission is doing something untoward; it’s quite another to argue that no one else should be able to make a TV show that involves amateur cooks making cakes.

Of course, there’s a grey area somewhere between those two extremes. How about books featuring British superspy? Or superspies of any nationality? Or just regular spies? What about baking competitions that have a host called Mary Berry and all the same rounds as The Great British Bake Off, that’s called The Pretty Good British Bake On?

It’s somewhere lurking in this middle ground that we found Quarry, Cinemax’s latest excursion into adventure, drama, things being shot and ladies getting naked. It stars Logan Marshall-Green of Traveler, Dark Blue and Prometheus fame as a soldier returning home to Memphis after the Vietnam War, where he discovers not only that veterans aren’t that welcome, particularly ones implicated in rather heinous massacres, but also that jobs aren’t that common. However, the rather mysterious Peter Mullan (Miss Julie, Red Riding, My Name is JoeTyrannosaur) is willing to pay him and fellow war buddy Jamie Hector (The Wire) rather a lot of money to put their soldiering skills to work killing people, and before you know it, the body count is piling up.

If that sounds a bit familiar, it’s because of one of two things. 

  1. You’ve read Max Allen Collins’ Quarry series of books on which the show is based
  2. You’ve seen ITV’s The Fixer, in which a war veteran who’s done some bad things ends up killing people for Peter Mullan.

The shows aren’t exactly 100% identical and the Quarry series was written way before The Fixer. But with the very Scottish Peter Mullan playing a very Southern but otherwise identical ‘tough bastard boss’? Hmm. That does not to me coincidence say.

If only format rights were real, ITV might be having some quiet words with Cinemax right now.

As well as being a relocated Fixer, Quarry also has a lot in common with Cinemax’s own Banshee, beyond simply the involvement of Greg Yaitanes. ‘Quarry’ – as Marshall-Green soon becomes known – is returning to a lost love whose love he might have lost (Jodi Balfour); he’s come back brutalised by his experiences and has to adapt to normal life again; there’s the lure of criminal life and its rewards but the acknowledgement of its costs, particularly in the lives of people we care about as well as of normality; there’s a sexually fluid and amusing fellow criminal (Damon Herriman – last seen as a trans spy in Australia’s Secret City); and practically everyone in the cast is from outside the US (Mullan – British; Balfour – South African; Herriman – Australian; Nikki Amuka-Bird – Nigerian-British).

But the tone’s different – whereas Banshee was pure pulp that both transcended and embraced its trashier qualities, Quarry wants to be something greater, something more noirish, something more philosophical. As well as lapping up its period setting, the mid-70s being a respite from the omnipresent 80s nostalgia we’re currently experiencing, Yaitanes also gives us all the directorial tricks he can throw our way, ranging from flashforwards and dream sequences to odd camera angles and compositions. And both Marshall-Green and that non-American cast list are top-tier acting talent – they’re not here for the shootouts. 

While the feature-length first episode was a little too long and a little too exploitative for its own good, Quarry made a good start, clearly setting itself up to be Banshee mark 2, a more refined show that should still appeal to the same audience but which isn’t going to dwell in the realm of the hyper-violent and could draw in more discerning viewers as a result. The producers need to work a little on making the characters more appealing, as pretty much everyone is either too messed up or too criminal for you to want to spend much time with them. But they have the foundations they need in place, plenty of source material to work with (including The Fixer) and a decent story to tell, so I’ll be tuning to see waht they do with it all.

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What have you been watching? Including Lady Dynamite, Vis a Vis (Locked Up), Banshee and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow

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. 

It’s the last WHYBW? for a little while, since I’m off on holiday next week. Fingers crossed, it’ll be back on the 6th, but don’t be surprised if the 10th or more likely the 11th is the actual date. You know me.

There have been a few new shows this week, although the networks oddly decided to start them on Friday and over the weekend for the most part, meaning that I haven’t had a chance to watch most of them yet. Preacher (US: AMC; UK: Amazon Prime) started airing last night, but Amazon crazily got its act together and gave me access to previews of the first three episodes. However, it only gave me access on Friday, so it might be a couple of days before I get through all three of them. Also coming this week (more crossed fingers – how many hands do you have?) is a preview of Outcast (US: Cinemax; UK: Sky Atlantic).

But I have managed to watch a couple of new shows:

Lady Dynamite (Netflix)
Yet another “promises much, offers little” comedy from Netflix, with Maria Bamford the actress/comedienne playing ‘Maria Bamford’, the actress/comedienne, as she navigates family, life, mental illness, stand-up comedy, acting, etc. Coming from Pam Brady and Mitchell Hurwitz of Arrested Development fame, you’d expect a lot more of Lady Dynamite than you would of normal comedies. It certainly thinks it’s better than normal comedies, playing with form and convention, from its 70s-style title sequence, its breaking of the fourth wall and having Patton Oswalt and John Mulaney turn up to critique the show’s narrative choices, through to Bamford fight-tuning the colour balance for the video of the scene by asking the editor to adjust it.

But despite watching the show for an episode and a half, I didn’t laugh once. I admired its cleverness, its time jumps and more. But I didn’t laugh. I was also very irritated by Bamford, who’s as close to the female equivalent of Pee Wee Herman as it’s possible to get, I suspect. And following on as it does from Netflix’s Flaked, perhaps I had less patience than I once did for YA show about a dysfunctional, self-involved Californian.

Then again, I never really laughed at Arrested Development, so YMMV.

Vis a Vis (Locked Up) (Spain: Antena 3; UK: Channel 4)
Young woman gets sent to prison and meets lots of other women of varying degrees of friendliness. The first 15 minutes or so are basically Orange Is the New Black again, but after that, the show becomes more of a thriller, with our friendly little office worker having to learn to survive inside. If you want to box-set it, all 11 episodes are now on All 4, but I didn’t find it particularly arresting (see what I did there?).

After the jump, the regulars: 12 Monkeys, The Americans, Arrow, The Flash, Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley and The Tunnel (Tunnel), as well as the season finale of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and the series finale of Banshee

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What have you been watching? Including Wolf Creek, Banshee, The Tunnel and Game of Thrones

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. 

It’s been another quiet week for new TV, as the various networks around the world let their older shows run their course, so they can leave the field clear for the newbies to wow us in just a week or two. That doesn’t mean a few shows haven’t tried to jump the gun and show us what they’ve got ahead of the others. I’ve already reviewed Raising Expectations (Canada: Family), but over in the US, there’s also been Submission on Showtime (so inevitably will be coming to Sky Atlantic at some point). Why haven’t I reviewed it yet? Well, here’s the plot synopsis:

Beautiful but unfulfilled Ashley has her eyes opened to the tantalizing possibilities of BDSM when she discovers the popular erotic novel SLAVE by Nolan Keats. But her fascination with the mysterious Mr. Keats leads her into a sexy but dangerous love triangle, and tests the boundaries of her own sexual limitations. Part romantic drama, part mystery, this tale of seduction, obsession and sexual power from acclaimed adult writer/director Jacky St. James will leave you breathless and begging for more.

Yep, it’s lady porn. You can rely on Showtime, can’t you?

But I have watched one other new show:

Wolf Creek (Australia: Stan)
Based on hit Australian horror franchise of the same name and with John Jarratt reprising his role as outback serial killer Mick Taylor, Wolf Creek is a pretty effective but overly gory thriller in which the poorly accented Lucy Fry (11.22.63) plays an American teenager on holiday with her family in Australia, who are trying to help her get over her drug addiction. Unfortunately, pre-credits they bump into Jarratt, who slaughters everyone except Fry, who then goes on a quest to bring Jarratt to justice, helped and hindered along the way by cop Dustin Clare (Spartacus).

Never having watched the movies and not being a huge fan of horror, I don’t know how much the series has in common with the originals. For the most part, it plays like a standard crime drama and it’s nice to have the reversal of the ‘last girl’ becoming the one doing the chasing. But whenever Jarratt shows up, it becomes something else almost comedic at times, part mockery of the Crocodile Dundee stereotype that people hold of Australians and Outback denizens in particular, part embracing of that stereotype, almost in the style of Ronnie Johns’ Chopper impression, with Jarratt hacking to death anyone who needs to harden the fuck up, particularly anyone who does yoga. 

Horror ain’t my scene and the first five minutes of chainsaw and machete misery almost made me want to switch off. But when the action is focused on Fry and her quest, it’s actually pretty good. Not for me, might be for you.

After the jump, the dwindling regulars: 12 Monkeys, The Americans, Arrow, Banshee, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley and The Tunnel (Tunnel). When will something new be along to join them, I wonder?

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What have you been watching? Including Marseille, Captain America: Civil War and The Americans


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. 

Quiet, isn’t it? Where has all the new TV gone? Despite a fortnight in between WHYBWs, all I’ve managed to cover are the third episodes of Containment (US: The CW; UK: E4) and Game of Silence (US: NBC). I’m sure there’s something somewhere that I can review, but I just haven’t spotted it.

Okay, so there’s a new series of comedy pilots on Australia’s ABC on Wednesday, but being pilots, there doesn’t seem much point in reviewing them – I did like the sound of Ronnie Chieng: International Student, though. There’s a new Canadian Molly Ringwald/Jason Priestley sitcom, Raising Expectations, that started last night on the Family Channel – I just need to work out a way of watching it.

Amazon Prime’s picked up Hulu’s Casual, too. I didn’t watch that when it first appeared on Hulu since I figured “What’s the chance any UK network is going to pick up something on Hulu, hey?” There’s me duped. I might watch that, too, but I suspect the ship has sailed on that one.

In fact, the only new thing I’ve spotted that I haven’t yet reviewed, and had both the inclination and the ability to review was…

Marseille (Netflix)
Following on from last year’s Narcos, which was effectively Netflix’s first Spanish-language original drama, now we have Marseille, the company’s first French-language original. It stars – who else? – Gérard Depardieu as the mayor of Marseille, having to balance the competing demands of a degenerative disease, his family life, a drug habit, his back-stabbing protégé, a project to renovate the city with a new casino, and the mafia.

And it’s nothing special. I did say ‘original’, but for all intents and purposes, it’s Starz’s Boss but in French, with just a hint of Les hommes de l’ombre (Spin). It’s got the usual misogyny of such shows. It’s got the slightly tedious offsetting of power and crime. It’s billed as ‘steamy’ but is surprisingly perfunctory (and again misogynistic) for a French show. None of the characters are especially engaging and Depardieu oddly doesn’t have half the presence that Kelsey Grammer did in Boss. Subtitling loses quite a bit in translation and you’ll often have points where you wonder what people are reacting to as a result of what’s allegedly said (eg there’s a point where two women are laughing when one of them says ‘chick’. It makes a bit more sense if you know she actually said ‘poof’). And oddly for Netflix, the production values are pretty low, with more than a hint of ‘stuck in a cheapo studio with a cheapo video camera’ at times.

More laughable than gritty, it’s hard enough to get through one episode, let alone all eight, so I’m not going to try.

After the jump, it’s the regulars: 12 Monkeys, The Americans, Arrow, Banshee, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Game of Silence, Game of Thrones, Lopez, Silicon Valley and The Tunnel. Most of those are double helpings, since there was no WHYBW last Monday, it being a Bank Holiday everywhere; two of them will be getting crossed off the viewing list, too. I’ll also be looking at the season finales of both Limitless and Lucifer.

But before that, a movie!

Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Depending on how you want to look at it, this is probably better titled Captain America: Winter Soldier 2 or The Avengers 2.5, since it sees Cap continuing his mission to find and rehabilitate his brainwashed pal, Bucky “The Winter Soldier” Barnes, with various members of The Avengers either trying to help him or hinder him after Barnes is implicated in an act of terrorism.

Otherwise, the plot is more or less identical to that of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, with its concerns about collateral damage from superheroics and the consequent need for legal limits on superhuman powers. Yet despite the huge cast from the other movies (only Thor and Hulk are absent) and the necessity to launch both Black Panther and Spider-Man off its back, it manages to be a million times better than DC’s drudgefest. Once again directed by Winter Soldier‘s Russo Brothers (who got the gig directing, of all things, the paintball episode of Community), it manages to make all previous superhero movies look plodding and stupid, balancing comic book fun with gritty Euro thriller aesthetics, while serving all its characters well, being by turns tear-jerking, funny, breath-taking and tense.  

It’s a little longer than it needs to be, but nevertheless, afterwards we came out so drained by the spectacle, it took about three hours down the pub to recover. It also rendered Age of Ultron unwatchable. Some would argue it already was, but we’d enjoyed it at the time.

Best Marvel movie so far.

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What have you been watching? Including Bridge of Spies, Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley

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. 

I spent most of the weekend not watching a lot of things I was supposed to be watching, instead watching season one of Daredevil again – it’s so much better than the second season, which is starting to feel more disappointing with every passing day. But that doesn’t mean I’m not up to date. It just means I still haven’t watched Ófærð (Trapped) yet.

Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed Containment (US: The CW; UK: E4) and passed a third-episode verdict on The Detour (US: TBS). I’ll be passing a third-episode verdict on Game on Silence either tomorrow or Wednesday. That means that after the jump, we’ll have a look at the latest episodes of The Americans, Banshee, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Limitless, Lopez, Lucifer and The Tunnel (Tunnel), as well as the season finale of Supergirl. HBO’s also just brought back Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley , so I’ll be looking over them, too.

But first, a movie:

Bridge of Spies (2015) (iTunes)
Slightly soporific Spielberg biopic of Cold War lawyer James B Donovan (Tom Hanks), who defended notorious spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), and ended up helping in negotiations in Berlin to exchange Abel for U2 pilot Gary Powers. He does that by talking about the Constitution and what it is to be American. All solidly made but that summary is really all you need to know, in what is basically a not very subtle commentary on post-9/11 US attitudes to human rights, treating enemy combatants civilly, etc. If you do watch it, don’t be surprised that there’s a chunk in the middle in German without subtitles, as that’s deliberate. Don’t worry – they’re just talking about how expensive his coat is.

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