Thor: Ragnarok
Film reviews

Movie Monday: Thor – Ragnarok (2017)

Once in a while on Monday, TMINE will review the select few movies it’s had time to watch when it’s not been watching TV. The film reviews A-Z lists every film ever reviewed here

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a varied one. It has the James Bond-style adventures of an African King in Black Panther, the West Coast techno-adventures of Iron Man, the outer space comedy of Guardians of the Galaxy and the magical, reality-warping drama of Doctor Strange. Even within individual franchises, there’s diversity. Captain America was a Rocketeer-styled World War 2 period drama, for example, while Captain America 2 was more of a gritty Parallax View piece of spying.

So you never know what you’re going to get with any given Marvel movie. Thor began as a romance, in which geeky scientist Natalie Portman discovers that the buff bloke she met on a New Mexico road is really Thor, the Norse god of Thunder, exiled from Asgard and looking for redemption, if only his mischievous brother Loki will let him return home.

Thor 2: Dark World was a little bit funnier, but a little bit more of the same, as Thor helps protect the Earth from some Dark Elves who are after Portman. No one really liked it, particularly since there’s literally no way to get the Northern Line from Charing Cross to Greenwich, certainly not in the middle of a battle.

Thor: Ragnarok

Now we have Thor: Ragnarok. Fans of Norse myth will of course know that Ragnarok is the prophesied end of the gods, when giant wolves, serpents and the like come to kill the gods, so expectations were naturally for something a bit sombre, particularly since the Marvel franchises come in packs of at most three movies (eg Iron Man, Captain America) so this was also set to be the last of the Thor movies. Then, of course, there’s Cate Blanchett playing Hella, the Norse goddess of Death. Again, a move that didn’t suggest laughs a minute.

Certainly, watching Thor: Ragnarok, there is an underlying sadness to proceedings, when favourite character after favourite character from previous movies meets a quick and untimely death. But in the hands of director Taika Waititi (Eagle vs Shark, What We Do in the Shadows), it’s fair to say that Thor: Ragnarok is also the funniest Marvel movie to date. Seriously, it makes Guardians of the Galaxy look like a Ken Loach movie at times.

That’s despite Thor losing his mighty hammer Mjölnir, splitting up from Portman and landing up on a planet where he has to fight to the death for Jeff Goldblum against the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

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Sorry Australia: Hyde & Seek, Rosehaven, The Secret Daughter and The Wrong Girl

Sorry, Australia. And indeed fans of Australian TV. For ages, I’ve been promising to review all manner of new and exciting – and, it turns out, not so exciting – Australian TV shows. However, thanks to a deluge of US and Internet TV, I’ve being failing hopelessly.

This weekend, however, I made a massive effort to play catch up with all of them. I’ve not been 100% successful, since I’ve not yet started SBS’s Deep Water, but since that’s a four-part mini-series that’s already finished, I might as well watch all the episodes before letting you know what I think of it prior to its eventual BBC Four airing.

After the jump and to save myself a whole lot of time, mini-reviews of the first few episodes of all the other shows. Just to give you a tantalising preview of what I’m going to say, though:

  • Definitely watch: Hyde & Seek (Nine)
  • Probably watch: The Secret Daughter (Seven)
  • Maybe watch: The Wrong Girl (Ten)
  • Don’t watch: Rosehaven (ABC)

Continue reading “Sorry Australia: Hyde & Seek, Rosehaven, The Secret Daughter and The Wrong Girl”

US TV

Review: Roadies 1×1-1×2 (US: Showtime; UK: Amazon Prime)

In the US: Sundays, 10pm ET/PT, Showtime
In the UK: Mondays, Amazon Prime

Although the theory of ‘the auteur’ is eminently quibblable, it’s fair to say that you can spot the work of Cameron Crowe a mile off. Whether it’s Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, Elizabethtown or We Bought A Zoo, his work is usually characterised by an indie sensibility; a central male-female, potentially romantic relationship; quirky dialogue; a focus on music; and a lot of heart but not much brain. You won’t get very far through Roadies, Showtime’s new series about those unsung heroes and heroines of the live music industry, before proclaiming it as possibly the most Cameron Crowish piece of work that Cameron Crowe has ever done.

Crowe’s never been one for putting plot above character, so it’s a little hard to say what Roadies is actually about, other than that it’s a show about roadies – and the first episode is an introduction to all of them. The ostensible focus of the show are Luke Wilson (Idiocracy, The Royal Tenenbaums, Legally Blonde, Enlightened), the tour manager with a failed marriage and who now sleeps with women literally half his age, and Carla Gugino (Watchmen, Threshold, Wayward Pines), the production manager with a failing marriage and who doesn’t sleep with anyone. They have such The Thin Man chemistry together and obvious devotion to one another, everyone who meets them thinks they’re married – except they’re not!

However, Crowe seems more interested in Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later), the young roadie who’s heading off to film school because she’s stopping believing in the music. If only she could recover her faith. Most of the first episode follows her around as she slowly rediscovers that faith thanks to all her fellow roadies, who are all a motley bunch of amiable characters: Ron White, the old hand who may have murdered two people but all the bands like; Keisha Castle-Hughes (Game of Thrones, The Almighty Johnsons, Whale Rider), the lesbian; and Peter Cambor (The Wedding Band), the guy from New Jersey who worked with Elvis Costello for a while and got stuck with his accent. There’s also Machine Gun Kelly, a roadie for another band with a strange relationship with Poots, which gets explained at the end of the first episode (spoilers, sweetie).

Crowe’s one real concession to plot comes from Rafe Spall (The Shadow Line, I Give It A Year), the semi-menacing English finance guy who used to work in sports and ‘real estate’ so doesn’t really get music, but who’s been sent over to make some budget cuts. Who’s for the chop? Probably not Poots, judging by the other age-inappropriate, Crowe-typical relationship that gets thrown into the mix. Probably no one, in fact, as Spall gradually learns that it’s love and people, not numbers, that keeps everything working backstage and you remove a piece of that bizarrely intricate puzzle at your own risk.

That first episode is in many ways lovely and heart-felt, albeit a bit saccarine and divorced from reality, with obvious love for music and people oozing from every scene – even for Spall and the creepy stalker girl who wants to do odd things with microphones (Jacqueline Byers). The trouble with auteurship, though, is that unless you’re Aaron Sorkin and prepared to consume superhuman amounts of cocaine to write a classic script every couple of weeks for umpteen years, it’s not something that can transfer over easily from film to TV.

The result is that even though Crowe directs the first two episodes, he hands over writing duties to others from episode two. Winnie Holzman (My So-Called Life) is the first to pick up the slack, but although she’s good in her own right, she’s not up to being Cameron Crowe. The result is faux-Crowe and a little bit painful to watch without his heart-on-a-sleeve gushing. It doesn’t help that Wilson pretty much checks out after the first episode, even if everyone else is working hard, particularly Spall whose role switches from menacing to comedic from the second episode. To be fair again, Wilson does give a near-perfect performance as someone who’s coming down after smoking heinous amounts of weed, so there’s that one small concession to reality, at least.

If you like Cameron Crowe, it’s worth watching the first episode at least, as long as you consider it as a one-off short movie. Watching any more than that would be intolerable. You can watch a trailer below, and if you’re in the US, you can watch the first episode for free here.

What have you been watching? Including Game of Thrones, 19-2, Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau) and Zoolander 2

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. 

State of the country, politics, the world, et al right now:

Sob. Oh well, let’s talk about tele to try to cheer ourselves up. Last week, I reviewed the first few episodes of:

However, a few new shows have also stuck their heads up the parapets this week, so in the next few days I’m hoping to review Greenleaf (US: OWN), Queen of the South (US: USA) and maybe The Night Of (US: HBO) – it’s only a mini-series.

Obviously, this was supposed to go up over the weekend, but owing to post-referendum blues and a general desire to boxset a certain French TV show, that didn’t happen. However, I haven’t had time to watch anything more than Game of Thrones from last night’s usual bumper crop of shows. So after the jump, I’ll be talking about that, the latest episodes of more or less the only shows that don’t air on a Sunday – BrainDead, Cleverman and Outcast – last Sunday’s Preacher, Secret City, Silicon Valley, Still The King and Westside, as well as the return of Canada’s good show, 19-2, and the whole of season 1 of Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau). Some are for a-chopping, though, and some are on a lifeline.

(For those of you wondering, I couldn’t be bothered to watch episode 3 of Animal Kingdom or Uncle Buck, after their uninspiring performances last week. Soz)

But first, a movie!

Zoolander 2 (2016) (iTunes)
Sequel to everyone’s favourite Ben Stiller movie, although it only became such once it came out on DVD, since it tanked a bit at the box office. It sees Stiller, Own Wilson, Will Ferrell, et al, returning as their original characters, who have all gone their separate ways after Derek’s school collapsed just a couple of days after opening. Then incomprehensible fashion designer Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) invites them to star in her new fashion show in Rome, and they’re soon imbroiled in a Da Vinci Code parody that sees the likes of Justin Bieber being killed off to protect a terrible, terrible secret, with fashion policewoman Penelope Cruz their ally in solving the crime.

I was a bit wary of this, since it got bad reviews, and the movie itself is really not much more than that Da Vinci Code twist on the original Zoolander structure. However, surprisingly, it’s actually quite gigglesome, with plenty of laughable moments, huge numbers of odd cameos (Kiefer Sutherland, Susan Sarandon, Fred Armisen, Anna Wintour et al), references to everything from Dune to Star Wars and the general surrealism that pervaded the original still managing to percolate through. 

Very stupid, but cheered us up a lot on Friday.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Game of Thrones, 19-2, Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau) and Zoolander 2”

800 words
Australian and New Zealand TV

Review: 800 Words 1×1 (Australia: Seven)

In Australia: Tuesdays, 8.40pm, Seven
In the UK: Mondays, 2.15pm, BBC One. Starts April 9 2018

Stories about city slickers who up sticks and head off to the country, where they find a better, quieter life, aren’t exactly new: think Doc Martin (and its many adaptations), Hot Fuzz, Hart of Dixie, Doc Hollywood and, erm, City Slickers. But generally, when they do head off to the country, it’s not another country.

However, 800 Words gives us just that, presenting us with a recently widowed journalist (Erik Thomson) who decides to relocate his family from Sydney, Australia, to the New Zealand coastal town he used to holiday in as a child. Whether that’s because Australian TV network Seven wanted something a little bit more exotic or its because New Zealand production company South Pacific Pictures (Outrageous Fortune, Shortland Street, Westside, The Almighty Johnsons) had got tired of trying to get funding from NZ On Screen and figured it could get more cash from Oz, I couldn’t say.

There he has to deal with all manner of disasters, including shipwrecks, dangerous sculptures, building works, nudists and his two bereaved and often sullen teenage children. But wouldn’t you know it? Thanks to the friendly but sometimes strange townspeople, it turns out that his life in his new home isn’t as bad as all that. Or at least it wouldn’t be if he didn’t insist on writing up 800 words of his thoughts about it every week for a major Australian newspaper that’s accessible over the Internet.

The show is created by James Griffin, who as well as being responsible for creating and writing most of those South Pacific Pictures shows, wrote 800 words a week for 12 years for New Zealand’s Canvas magazine, so knows what he’s talking about. Although I couldn’t get by on UK magazine pay rates for 800 words a week, let me tell you, and I’m sure hoping that Griffin dispensed more words of wisdom than Thomson does here: “Logically, the best place to start the story of a new beginning is at the beginning.” That’s 2% of your word count gone already there, mate, and I’m pretty sure any sub worth their salt is going to edit that out anyway.

Griffin’s presence also assures 800 Words a certain quality of writing, both dramatic and comedic, albeit a bit male-oriented. Here he gives former Plainclothes mate Thomson both plenty of screentime and an implausibly large bevy of mostly much younger women to chase after him. To be fair, Thomson is the show’s main draw, having starred in Seven’s long-running family comedy drama Packed To The Rafters for years and won several awards.

But it also means that bevy of women aren’t desperately well characterised yet (“My mum’s great with women’s feelings, terrible with men’s” being the most any of them gets yet) and sometimes don’t get to wear any clothes and Thomson’s teenage daughter (Melina Vidler) largely only gets to pout, hunt for phone signal and storm out of every scene.

Apart from the general joking, there’s a fair bit of comedy from Woody (The Doctor Blake Mysteries’ Rick Donald, who seems to have returned to Oz after a brief foray into the US), an implausibly thick but genial ex-pat Australian builder. As you might imagine, there are also some bittersweet moments as Thomson has to deal with the death of his wife and his children’s general misery.

But this is largely a show admittedly designed to feel a lot like Packed To The Rafters, equally admittedly without Rebecca Gibney, who’s off elsewhere on Seven with Winter. Rocking the boat, being too innovative, giving too unflattering a view of NZ are probably not on the menu. It’s intended to feel comfortable and familiar.

If you like your drama to feel like a warm hug, or you’re a fan of The Almighty Johnsons and (understandably) want to see more of Michelle Langstone and John Leigh, 800 Words could be for you.