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Strike Back: Retribution
TV reviews

What have you been watching? Including Strike Back: Retribution and Spider-Man: Homecoming

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you each week what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently and your chance to recommend anything you’ve been watching. TMINE recommends has all the reviews of all the TV shows TMINE has ever recommended, but for a complete list of TMINE’s reviews of (good, bad and insipid) TV shows and movies, there’s the definitive TV Reviews A-Z and Film Reviews A-Z

We’re now entering mid-mid-season in the US, that time when a number of shows have their November finales and a new set of somewhat lesser shows get ushered onto the scene to fill the airwaves. It beats alternating new episodes with re-runs I guess, but it does mean I had to endure S.W.A.T. (US: CBS) this week. Young Sheldon (US: CBS) has also made its return – but more on that later – and there are more to come now the likes of Will & Grace have bowed out.

Elsewhere, I reviewed Babylon Berlin (Germany: Sky 1; UK: Sky Atlantic) and the whole of Stranger Things 2 (Netflix), but there are a few new shows floating around the airwaves that I’ll be looking at later in the week. CBC in Canada has decided to staple The Murdoch Mysteries onto Miss Fisher’s Mysteries to give us (you guessed it) the ubiquitous Lauren Lee Smith in The Frankie Drake Mysteries, so I’ll be letting you know what I think of that in the next couple of days. Sperm-crimes drama Sisters (Australia: Ten) has somehow been slipping by me over the past couple of weeks, so I’ll try to play catch-up with that, assuming it’s any good.

After the jump, then, the latest episodes of the regulars: The Brave, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, Great News, Marvel’s Inhumans, Mr Robot, Professor T, Star Trek: Discovery, Travelers, Will & Grace and Young Sheldon. 

I’ll also be casting my eye over one new show, Strike Back: Retribution, as well as a movie: Spider-man: Homecoming. See you in a mo.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Strike Back: Retribution and Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Internet TV

Review: Lifeline 1×1 (YouTube Red)

If you decide to base a TV show around time travel, it immediately causes problems in terms of plotting. Travelling forward in time isn’t a problem, but travelling or sending information backwards through time potentially results in effect preceding cause. Small wonder that scientists argue that either such time travel impossible or it requires the existence of ‘many universes’.

TV doesn’t have many universes, but it does have script writers who can make reverse time travel happen at the stroke of a Final Draft macro. But making their plots make sense afterwards? That’s trickier.

Take Lifeline, which is YouTube Red’s time travel drama series very, very loosely based on the Robert Heinlein short story Life-Line. The premise of it sounds reasonable enough at first. The idea is that there’s a life assurance company called Lifeline that knows when its clients are going to die so sends in agents to prevent those deaths. Which is nice, obviously, but how exactly does the company know the times of death so accurately?

Ah. Glad you asked. You see, all their clients get an implant in their arms that broadcasts their vital signs back in time 33 days. As soon as those broadcasts start indicating the client is having a hard time of it, the company steps in to save the client – among whose number are Lifeline‘s exec producer Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He even appears in the company’s promotional video.

Sense no

Now, already you’re thinking to yourself of some possible problems. If the insurance company can send itself messages from 33 days in the future, why is it even bothering with being an insurance company when it could just be winning the lottery every week?

This is the point where the script writer could issue some sticking plasters and say that that would change the future somehow before it happened and your Lotto numbers would never come up.

Except Lifeline says the future is fixed. That’s why there’s no point simply sticking the future deceased in a locked room for 33 days, for example. Fate will somehow find a way to off the unlucky person.

Hmm. So why bother trying to save anyone at all, if the future is fixed? Surely they’ll die no matter what, while you’re cashing in your Lotto tickets?

Now come the plasters. Lifeline argues that the future is fixed… until just before the point the information comes from, after which everything goes onto a new timeline. Whatever shall be shall be, que sera sera – at least for 32.99999997 days.

Doesn’t make any sense does it? That’s just meaningless. Why 33 days? Why not 5? If it’s that close, won’t the Lotto numbers or stock prices still be valid, and you don’t have to dick around with that assurance malarky any more?

Still, that’s the set-up and you’ll spend roughly 90% of the show’s half-hour run remembering that it makes no sense, which is a tad distracting.

But assuming you can if not accept then tolerate that nonsensical basis for the show, what do the writers do with it?

Up-set the

More nonsense, that’s what. Although it’s nonsense with a certain amount of imagination and intelligence all the same. A paradox? Yes. Welcome to time travel, newbie.

So, as well as the capacity to send messages back in time, said insurance company’s boss (Usman Ally) has the ability to send people forward in time, too. (He has other secret technologies, include a memory-wiper. What he’s doing in the life assurance industry, I couldn’t say).

Rather than letting agents lead a normal life and just getting them to show up in 33 days’ time, Lifeline actually sends them forward in time 33 days to just before the fatal problem emerges. Chief among the accident-averting agents is Zach Gilford (Friday Night Lights, The Family), who also happens to be married to fellow agent Amanda Crew (Silicon Valley).

Here the show does work relatively nicely as a metaphor for busy, jetsetting couples who only get to spend a few days together each month and who are missing out on life in general. Sure, everyone points out how young you stills look, but that’s because you’ve only lived a few weeks out of the past two years, while they’ve had to live through all of it. And they do seem to have a nice time at work.

But again, wouldn’t Lifeline be worried that everyone notices its agents are all the same ages as when they were recruited? How long could you be an agent for before you had to retire? How long would you want to be?

Stop asking questions. Questions won’t make you happy.

By the end of the first episode, however, everything’s gone a bit pear-shaped, someone’s breaking the rules and some people are dead. Oh no. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have had a warning about that sooner?

Stop it.

Anyway, that’s your free episode. After that, you’ll have to stump up another £1.89 per episode for the remaining five episodes to see what happens.

End the

By the end of it, as well as enduring a hefty amount of nonsense, I’d realised that I had no real interest in watching any more of it. Sure, the somewhat cheap production values nostalgically reminded me of some classic straight-to-VHS 90s movies such as Megaville. Crew is actually quite good, too, and Ally is enjoyable as the benevolent (or is he?) boss.

But Gilford is a bit nondescript. Most of the other characters have no personalities at all or are dead. The one fun thing about the first episode – Crew and Gilford’s relationship – ain’t happening any more. And all that really leaves at the end is the utterly nonsensical set-up and it’s arbitrary, nonsensical rules.

So there’s just nothing there to really make me want to see how it turns out. The first episode is free and you can watch it below, after the trailer. I wouldn’t recommend it though.

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.

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

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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