Film

What have you been watching? Including Black Widow, Nobody and The Tomorrow War

As usual, the gulf between my ambitions and the practical realities has been vast. I had a big list of things I wanted to review but my Monday and Tuesday work schedules told me something different, which is why it’s three weeks later and I’m only just about to write something. All the same, there has been viewing going.

First up, I went to the theatre. Yes! A theatre! A local production of Photograph 51, in fact. It wasn’t exactly the West End but it was theatre and I actually thought it was really good, in terms of both the writing and the production values, serving science, history and Rosalind Franklin well.

From the regulars pile, I’ve been watching Loki (Disney+), Evil (US: CBS), Superman & Lois (US: The CW) and Mythic Quest (Apple TV+). I’m a bit behind on Loki, so I’m two weeks behind, but I’m enjoying the new female Loki (or is she?) and will be sticking with it. Evil… has got a bit silly. The fun of Evil was that it was horror with smart humour; now it’s gone the way of The Good Fight and is downright implausible. That said, the arrival of an archangel in episode two was really very good. All the same, I might well abandon it because it’s not what I signed up for.

Superman & Lois is on hiatus right now but ended with a broke up with a doozy an episode, the cliffhanger of which is still haunting me, but in itself, was a lovely trip through Superman history while simultaneously giving us a dark mirror image version of it, as well as a two-fingered salute to John Cleese.

Meanwhile, Mythic Quest, which has arguably been a bit pedestrian this season, both went out on a high and managed to come up with an in-story reason for its own insipidness. Equally arguably, that wasn’t a real explanation since the show’s main problem this season is that it had little to say about games, much to say about the problems of having good ideas and writing well.

In terms of new things, it’s largely been about movies. Movies on streaming and at the cinema. Ooh! Remember those?

Kevin Can F**k Himself (US: AMC)

But I did try the first episode of Kevin Can F**k Himself (US: AMC), which stars Annie Murphy as a woman with the usual overgrown manchild husband you’d expect of a studio-filmed sitcom. Except Murphy is only in a studio-filmed sitcom when he’s around; whenever he leaves, she’s suddenly in a bleach out single-cam real-world of impoverished working-class Massachusetts life, having to deal with all the indignities of life without the safety net of comedy writing conventions.

However, that’s a very positive spin on what is basically just a miserable show about people with miserable lives. The high concept doesn’t really work – there’s no explanation for it, no real consistency in its use and it’s not even a good critique of bad sitcoms. Murphy is fine, but the other actors are having to deliberately mug for the imagined conventions of the sitcom, so she’s effectively the only one.

Black Widow (2020)

The highlight of the past three weeks’ movies has undoubtedly been the much-delayed Black Widow, the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, serving as a sequel to Captain America: Civil War and a prequel to Avengers: Infinity War with Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) on the run but brought back to the spy game she threw aside by her ‘sister’ and fellow Red Room graduate Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh).

It’s an oddly standalone piece that is more background story for Natasha, taking in everything spyish from The Bourne Identity through to The Americans. Despite its plot arc and big bads somewhat mirroring Captain America: The Winter Soldier, without quite having that movie’s directorial power, and despite never really giving its heroine a chance to truly shine, it’s a really enjoyable affair that has a lot to say about the abuse of women. The Russian elements are a little Rocky and Bullwinkle at times, but the script manages to throw in some genuinely nasty moments, some drawn from the Black Widow comics and you get a real context for Natasha’s character. The end-credits scene is genuinely moving and given both the movie’s dramatic and box office success, you do hope that somehow, we’ll still get to see more of the Black Widow.

Nobody (2021)

A decent second place is Nobody, written by the guy who wrote John Wick and essentially John Wick again, just with Bob Odenkirk being funnier and doing fewer fights. Odenkirk is a nobody – and a Nobody (cf The Odyssey) – who breaks bad and returns to his former violent ways when his house is broken into and his daughter’s Hello Kitty bracelet is stolen. He then obviously has to go and fight some Russians, using the very special skills he’s built up.

It’s not in John Wick’s league by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s actually a lot of fun, Odenkirk is surprisingly plausible and an unstoppable death machine and the fights are decently executed.

The Tomorrow War (2021)

Coming unquestionably in third place is Amazon exclusive The Tomorrow War, a sort of horrendous mismash between Starship Troopers and The Edge of Tomorrow in which soldiers from the future arrive in our time to draft the current generation as soldiers against a nasty species of aliens that have invaded the Earth. For some reason, only 40somethings are suitable for drafting – something to do with paradoxes – and former special forces soldier turned science teacher Chris Pratt gets enlisted. In the future, he then has to team up with Yvonne Strahovski to take on the nasty things and maybe find a way of defeating them once and for all.

And it’s daft. Very, very daft. Pratt struggles, unable to do anything but his usual routine, but he doesn’t struggle anywhere as much as the script does as it tries to convince us that a 16 year old volcano obsessed nerd is our best hope for saving the human race. The third act weirdly is more like The Thing (From Another World) that what went before it, and actually better than the non-stop CGI firefights that preceded it. But it’s very far from engaging or exciting, even when emptying an entire magazine into your face.

That’s what I watched. But what did you watch?

Lupin
Streaming TV

What have you been watching? Including Lupin – part two and Loki

TMINE has been busy/stuck under something heavy for the past few weeks, which means it’s hideously behind on its viewing. A whole bunch of new shows arrived last week, and I’ve not had a chance to watch any of them: Republic of Sarah (US: The CW), Whitstable Pearl (US: Acorn), Kevin Can F**k Himself (US: AMC), The Unusual Suspects (Australia: SBS) are all looking at me, shiftily, waiting for me to grace them with my attention. I’ve not even caught the first episode of the new season of Evil (US: CBS).

But that’s okay. I’m going to put the effort in this week. And I really, really, really hope to review them as well. Ooh.

Instead, my viewing has mainly consisted of Mythic Quest (Apple TV+), La Haine (1995), Fleabag, Superman & Lois (US: The CW), Loki (Disney+) and the whole of part two of Lupin (Netflix) – I could actually review a whole boxset on a Monday like I used to! If I had the time. Sorry. Things will settle down again soon, I promise.

Mythic Quest has been pretty decent, but none of the subsequent episodes have quite lived up to the delights of the 70s flashback episode, even the two-hander between William Hurt and F Murray Abraham a couple of weeks ago (although that was pretty great).

Superman & Lois, meanwhile, has been nothing but magnificent. I am now going to officially declare this the best superhero show I’ve ever watched (although there are some very close runners-up to that title, to be fair). Everything is just so well done and it’s great that they can really mess around with the Superman mythos as much as they like since it’s so far along in the character’s story now.

Loki is the latest spin-off Disney+ Marvel spin-off from the MCU, explaining what happened to Loki after Avengers: Endgame when he gets hold of the Tesseract thanks to some bad time travelling cock-ups by the Avengers. He’s soon intercepted by an agency dedicated to keeping the timelines intact who want to recruit him to stop… him. Yes, another Loki is going around messing with the the timelines.

If I hadn’t already seen Legion (US: FX), I’d probably be blown away by Loki since it is visually magnificent in more or less the exact same way Legion was. The visuals – and the timey-wimey plot, particularly the arrival of (spoiler) (spoiler alert) Lady Loki or is it the Enchantress? in episode two – are what make the show, since it’s really quite a talky affair that largely relies on Tom Hiddleston’s massive charisma to get by otherwise. It could do with more than that, for sure, but that’s enough to keep me going and I’ll happily watch the rest of it, since it’s certainly better than Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

La Haine (1995) wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. A French classic set on a Paris banlieue, where a few youthful inhabitants get hold of a policeman’s gun after it’s dropped in a riot and events unfold from there. But despite that premise and the film’s name (‘The Hate’), it’s actually a pretty funny, hopeful affair about people finding a way through life, even in a crappy environment like a banlieue, while it simultaneously dissects racism, police brutality and more. Equally, it’s amazing to see the likes of Vincent Cassel and Saïd Taghmaoui back when they were young unknowns.

That’s on the BFI Player, at least, and probably elsewhere, too.

Fleabag, which is currently on Amazon Prime, as part of a National Theatre collection of plays – the National Theatre now has its own app, BTW – is a pretty dark affair. The source of the TV show, it’s a really interesting, not especially funny look at lack of intimacy leads to lack of self-worth and ultimately self-destruction, particularly for women.

The second set of episodes of the first season of Lupin were solidly decent. After a slightly shaky start, the show started to pick up again reverting to our gentleman thief doing more hijinks and capers in a very well executed way. There are some very clever reveals, too, and I did enjoy the various references to Lupin stories – and the fact that copyright being laxer then, Lupid could meet Sherlock Holmes…

US TV

What have you been watching? Including Debris, Mythic Quest and Jupiter’s Legacy

It’s been a slow couple of weeks for TMINE. Basically, just the regulars and not much new TV or movies. Which is shame, because the cinemas are open now! Just nothing on I want to watch yet. But I will!

The regulars are, as you will recall: Debris (US: NBC); Mythic Quest (Apple TV+); and Jupiter’s Legacy (Netflix). Debris has been solidly decent, with the usual blend of nasty alien tech, conspiracies and unpleasantly weird things happening to people. I’m not sure about the SAS guy, but maybe I’m judging him badly. I should also point out it’s been nice to see Erica from Being Erica again, too. Doesn’t time fly?

Mythic Quest has been alternately great and not too bad. When it’s nasty, it’s very very nasty and funny; this week’s episode was a little too nice and undermined Danny Pudi’s character substantially, as well. Plus there’s something politically odd about a white male telling a gay female character she needs to stop blaming the world for all her problems – and for the episode basically to support him. It works with the characters, to be fair, but all the same… hmmm.

Jupiter’s Legacy ended pretty decently. The departure of Steven DeKnight midway through the season was pretty obvious, since the gore factor went down from ‘insane’ to ‘zero’ more or less instantly. But I did really enjoy the second half of the season, with its greater focus on the Great Depression and how the heroes got their powers – hadn’t realised that the show was going to be (spoiler alert) quite so literal, with Jupiter being not just the Roman god but the planet as well . Very weird watching the daughter from My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 being a drug-taking superheroine (or villainness), though. Would very much recommend to anyone who likes superheroes, though.

But what did you watch?

Without Remorse
US TV

What have you been watching? Including Jupiter’s Legacy, Kung Fu, Mythic Quest and Without Remorse

WHYBW is back to Mondays, so no new Debris to review this week. But I have been watching some new shows. It’s almost like old times, hey?

Kung Fu (US: The CW) isn’t so much a reboot or revival of the original 1970s show – or even Kung Fu: The Next Generation – as a complete reimagining, albeit with some similarities to the original. Set in modern times, it has a Chinese-American girl going on holiday to China, discovering it’s been organised as a marriage matchmaking by her mum, and does a Mulan – running of to join a local female-only Shaolin temple. After the temple gets burned down by an Evil Ex-Pupil and her Sifu killed, she heads off to the US and is reunited with her family. And is accompanied by the ghost/memory of her former master.

Sounds a bit familiar at least, to fans of the original, but there the similarities peter out, as our heroine firstly has to join forces with her (gay) brother, her Crazy Rich Asians computer hacker sister and the studly local youth centre T’ai Ch’i master to fight crime in San Francisco – particularly the gang boss who’s extorting her parents. Secondly, Evil Ex-Pupil is on the hunt for eight magic swords that will give her awesome magical powers, and our heroine might be the only one who can stop her – and might have magical powers herself.

It’s a slightly weird combo that actually just about works, although the kung fu is almost as bad as the original’s. The crime fighting and family relationships are more interesting than the magical side of things, which is just a bit bobbins. But the characters didn’t really engage me, so I won’t go past the first episode, I don’t think.

Jupiter’s Legacy (Netflix) is a massively more promising affair. Based on the graphic novel by Mark Millar, it’s a musing on… well, lots of things, TBH. It sees one generation of nearly immortal people given superpowers during the Great Depression having to deal with the fact in modern times that their kids have superpowers – and maybe different attitudes towards morality et al to them. Is killing always wrong, do they need a code to keep them in check, should they have intervened in World War 2 and stopped the Holocaust?

There are elements of Watchmen, The Boys and more in there, but this is very much its own beast. Its showrunner is Steven DeKnight, who was of course responsible for both season 1 of Daredevil (Netflix) and Spartacus, so you can probably tell this is a definite 18-certificate affair when it comes to the gore. As well as being pretty dark and as ‘realistic’ as something like this can be, though, it’s also pretty funny, has a great cast and has keep me interested for four episodes so far. I’ll let you know how the rest of it pans out.

Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet (Apple TV+) returned with a two-parter and was gloriously funny. The cast are the same but there has been some character movements – new pairings, some advances in relationships – but largely it’s the same show, mulling on the difficulties of creativity. It felt a bit more office comedy than before, with less on games per se, more on just general workplace difficulties. But the nastiness, smartness and general amusement were very much back in force.

Lastly, we have Amazon’s latest addition to its Tom Clancy collection, Without Remorse (2021), which is an origin story (set in modern times, nevertheless) for Clancy’s non-Jack Ryan anti-hero, John T Clark, that sees Michael B Jordan going from regular Navy SEAL-type to becoming a clandestine superman when his wife is predictably killed by Russian bad guys in retaliation for MBJ killing one of theirs, etc, etc.

Honestly, it was both dull and dark. Dark and dull. In that order. Very predictable, with everyone talking the talk and shooting the shot in a hope that all that manly super-efficiency at not having any emotions will compensate for not having any real personalities, characters or plot. This is despite again a decent cast, particularly, MBJ. You could see pretty much everything coming, right up to the creation of (spoiler alert) Rainbow Six right at the end, particularly as it was all shot like a video game.

But what did you watch?

Mythic Quest
Streaming TV

What have you been watching? Including Mythic Quest

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

Last week, WHYBW pulled a sickie, thanks to the Covid vaccination giving me possibly the worst illness I’ve had in years. I’m better now, but not looking forward to number two in July… Thankfully, invalidity still didn’t stop me from watching TV, so I’m up to date with pretty much everything.

Debris (US: NBC) has continued to be pleasantly unpleasant. Although each episode still ends with some heartwarming proof of the delights of human nature, it’s usually accompanied by something horribly unpleasant and some Fringe cast-offs, such as (spoiler alert) a telekinetic/telepathic girl ramming a relative’s head into some metal shards to stop him using his own mind-control to get our heroes to shoot themselves . There’s also lots of distrust and backstabbing, and the effects of the miraculous space debris seem largely to be settling down on things passing through other things – with suitably biologically unpleasant results.

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier (Disney+) concluded with accompanying name change (no, no spoilers) in a slightly odd way, it has to be said. A magnificent speech and the bits in the Smithsonian were desperately moving, but the final half seemed more like an effort to set up about half a dozen spin-off shows and movies than a decent denouement. Plus for a show called The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, there really wasn’t much Winter Soldier this episode.

For All Mankind (Apple TV+) also had a very moving as well as exciting season finale. Lots of soapiness in the preceding episodes that was very draining and slowing of the plot, but how can you knock (spoiler alert) Moon War! and its own outer space version of the Cuban Missile Crisis but in the 80s? Plus props for references to Space: 1999. All in all, not as good a second season as the first and everything sort of petered out with various storylines, such as Molly’s medical condition, but I imagine season three will pick that up. All I can say is, thank God we’re into the 1990s now. I’m so sick of 80s nostalgia and period pieces.

Last up, we had the return of Mythic Quest (Apple TV+). Not 100% inspiring this one, which I think was written by one of the cast members and saw our heroes and heroines return to the office after a year of Covid for their annual pick-me-up LARP party, only for it to go disastrously wrong. Some good chuckles to be had nevertheless and some nicely cynical moments. Also surprisingly big budget, as we entered actual fantasy sequences towards with some solid effects, and with a surprise guest voiceover by Anthony Hopkins. But I’m hoping the series-proper is a little bit more focused on the bad behaviour and the niceties of game design than this ep was.

But what did you watch?