What have you been watching? Including Hamlet (NT Live/Barbican), Limitless and The Player

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 had a last minute ‘Cumberemergency’ on Friday, which meant that I suddenly didn’t have the time to write ‘What have you been watching?’ Sorry about that, but hopefully, this will make it up to you.

Last week on the blog, I reviewed a big slew of first episodes from all manner of different countries:

And today I passed a third-episode verdict on BBC America/BBC Two’s The Last Kingdom.

That means that after the jump, you can find reviews of the latest episodes of 800 Words, Arrow, Blindspot, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, CSI, Doctor Who, The Flash, Grandfathered, Limitless, The Player, Y Gwyll and You’re The Worst. Yes CSI, since I finally got around to watch the final ever episode of that.

One of those shows is getting promoted to regular. Can you guess which one it is? Not CSI, obviously.

(Actually, I haven’t managed to watch the very latest episodes of either Y Gwyll or The Beautiful Lie, because it’s really Sunday and this is a scheduled post I’m writing before both of them have aired. I’ll let you know about them next time.)

I did try to watch the first episode of Con Man as well. However, I gave up 5 minutes when it started becoming cringe comedy on the plane and Tudyk tried to get a fan to give up his seat for him. No extended music sequences in my TV shows, no cringe comedy in my comedies – those rules are sacred.

Anyway, let’s talk about the ‘Cumberemergency’, since I was called upon at the last minute to accompany my mother-in-law to the theatre. Or was it a movie? Maybe it was both. Or neither.

Hamlet (The Barbican)
The National Theatre’s latest version of Hamlet, performed at the Barbican and starring that Benedict Cumberbatch from off the telly. Except it was one of those NT Live things where they film the play as it’s performed and beam it into cinemas everywhere. Except the cinema in question was at the Barbican, so they might as well have just knocked a hole in the wall and let us look through it.

Anyway, Hamlet‘s one of those plays where every director tries to make his or her mark by doing something radically different. The last version I saw at the Barbican was the Stephen Dillane (The One Game, The Tunnel, Hunted, Game of Thrones) one where he went naked for a scene.

On top of that, Hamlet exists in three different versions, some which have scenes that aren’t in the others. The result is that I always forget what’s in the play and spend the whole time thinking “I don’t remember this. Is this in the original?”

In this version, our Benedict is playing a very bereaved, but generally good-egg Hamlet, who’s a bit annoyed his mum’s remarrying so soon after his dad died – except his dad’s ghost reveals that actually, he was murdered. He doesn’t get very pissed off like Mel Gibson or naked like Dillane, but does plot his revenge, all while his girlfriend goes super-loopy.

Unfortunately, the NT Live experience is basically the worst of both worlds. Despite my flippancy, the NT production does look very innovative, interesting and surprisingly funny, giving all the scenes genuine meaning. Bennie gives a great performance as Hamlet, making interesting choices such as the removal of any hint of sarcasm from the ‘what a piece of work is man’ monologue to make him a disappointed optimist rather than an embittered child-man. Siân Brook is marvellously barking as Ophelia. Ciaran Hinds’s Claudius is the surprising weak link, straining to effect a Yorkshire accent for no discernable reason, but still a decent stage presence.

But any sense of theatre’s immediacy is lost in the cinema. It looks nice, but you don’t feel anything, because the actors aren’t there on stage in front of you. Similarly, it’s not cinematic enough, despite the director’s best efforts to include crane shots and the like, for you to get the benefits of the directorial options and camerawork available to movies.

The play’s split into two acts, the first 2h, the second 1h, and the first certainly feels the full 2h as a result of these problems. It’s not the production’s fault, it’s simply a problem of the medium.

So don’t do NT Live if you can. The play’s the thing, after all.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Hamlet (NT Live/Barbican), Limitless and The Player”

US TV

What have you been watching? Including The Oresteia (Shakespeare’s Globe), Y Gwyll and The Flash

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.

I haven’t quite managed to review the first episodes of everything I’d intended to, this week. The CW’s My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is still on the pile, as is CBC’s The Romeo Section, which will both have to wait until Monday or Tuesday next week.

However, miraculously, I’m up to date with everything else. Elsewhere, I reviewed the first episode of The Last Kingdom (US: BBC America; UK: BBC Two), and I passed third-episode verdicts on The Player (US: NBC), Quantico (US: ABC; UK: Alibi), Blood & Oil (US: ABC), The Grinder (US: Fox) and Grandfathered (US: Fox).

And after the jump, you can find reviews of the latest episodes of 800 Words, Arrow, Blindspot, The Flash, Limitless, The Player, Y Gwyll and You’re The Worst.

On top of all that, though, I managed to find time to go to the theatre, too.


The Oresteia (Shakespeare’s Globe)
The second of the three Oresteia‘s this year (Almeida/Trafalgar Studios, this, HOME), the Globe’s adaptation isn’t as radical a reinterpration as the Almeida’s, giving us pretty much the original text bar a few excisions. There’s even singing, too.

However, text is one thing, production is another, and between director Adele Thomas and the cast, what we have is every bit as radical, giving us comedy, thanks in part to a Klytemnestra who is quite clearly bonkers, and even sci-fi and horror towards the end, with the Furies/Erinyes reinterpreted as zombies. And while the the Almeida gave us an entirely new first act derived from the myth, here we have just the slightest incursion in the final moments from what would have been the fourth accompanying play to the Oresteia. Which is all almost as bonkers as Klytemnestra. 

As well as some really interesting staging – a lot of which unfortunately requires the poor ‘pit audience’ to scoot out the way of the oncoming action – there’s some excellent costuming, too, that combines early 60s fashions with classical Greek armour, and that gives us an Athena who makes you think for a moment there really has been an epiphany.

The first act/play could probably have done with some trimming, since it does plod along a bit and drift into inaudibility when it’s mostly the chorus, but the rest of it goes along at a clip and is imaginatively handled, for once showing us why the second of the plays is called The Libation Bearers. Generally good, with some horrifically gruesome moments, but probably a bit funnier than it should have been, too.

Agamemnon in the Globe's Oresteia

Klytemnestra in the Oresteia

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including The Oresteia (Shakespeare’s Globe), Y Gwyll and The Flash”

What have you been watching? Including The Bakkhai, Impastor, Glitch and The Whispers

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.

I’m back! Miss me? Of course you did. Well, maybe. But I’m back either way and raring to watch some tele.

In fact, I’ve been watching some tele for the past month… past two weeks anyway, most of which was catching up with the previous three weeks I’d missed. So after the jump, I’ll be talking about those shows I managed to watch and in most cases see through to the end of their seasons: Glitch, Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal, Impastor, The Last Ship, Mr Robot, True Detective and The Whispers. Oh yes, and despite my promises to the contrary, I also tuned in for the first episode of season 4 of Continuum. Humans I’ll get round to once my lovely wife has cleared her backlog of My Kitchen Rules Australia.

But over those five weeks, I came up with a new rule: no new tele during August. If you start airing your new show in August, it’s dead to me, because you picked a very silly time to start it.

That means that although Netflix gave us not only Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp as well as Narcos, I’ve not watched either of them. Or any of Amazon’s Casanova and Sneaky Pete. HBO’s Show Me A Hero? Please don’t. Showtime’s Blunt Talk? Honestly, no. Public Morals? Can stay private, thank you very much.

Which isn’t to say I won’t watch them at some point. Indeed, if you’ve started watching them, let me know if they’re any good so I can prioritise them accordingly. But for now, I’m not in a rush to tune in, particularly since the Fall 2015 season is about to dawn on us with more than a dozen new shows, so I’ve got to schedule accordingly.

On which subject, I did manage to watch the pilots of a few of those forthcoming shows, including Lucifer, Blindspot and Minority Report – hopefully I’ll be reviewing them over the next couple of weeks.

I also watched some movies and went to the theatre a bit, too.

Walk of Shame (2014) (iTunes)
One of those films that on paper I should have loved since it features Elizabeth Banks, Gillian Jacobs and Willie Garson. Except I really, really didn’t.

It sees Banks play a goody-goody TV journalist who’s just been dumped by her fiancé and turned down for a new job, so decides to let loose and has a one-night stand with James Marsden. Except then she finds out that she actually has got the job after all, provided she can get into work that morning. Wouldn’t you know it? Things go hilariously badly in her attempts to get there on her ‘walk of shame’.

Unfortunately, Walk of Shame is not so much borderline misogynistic and offensive than actually misogynistic and offensive. Iit’s also without any of the redeeming quality of ‘being funny’.

The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009) (Netflix)
Lovely wife and I used our holiday to read some actual books, including a whole stack of journalist Jon Ronson’s, amongst which was The Men Who Stare At Goats. An investigation of the US Army’s post-Vietnam dabbling with psychic powers, the book is largely an account of Ronson’s investigations as he visits one former ‘psychic soldier’ after another to learn what happened as the army tried psychologically to deal with its loss.

We ended up wondering how the book could be adapted as a movie with Ewan McGregor and George Clooney, and the answer is: by fictionalising it. McGregor plays a journalist recently dumped at the outbreak of the Iraq war (the point where Ronson’s book ends) who bumps into a ‘contractor’ (Clooney). Clooney is a ‘jedi warrior’, trained by the US army to be invisible, burst clouds with his mind, walk through walls, stop a goat’s heart goat by staring at it and more. Or try to, anyway.

The movie is then a juxtaposition of McGregor’s learning in modern day Iraq about what it is to be a Jedi warrior (the irony is not lost on the film’s producers. At all) and flashbacks to the foundation of the army’s Jedi warrior movement by Jeff Bridges.

The film is a bit clumsy as a satire, trying its best to weave real world elements from Ronson’s book into the fictionalised journey, but ultimately normalising them, rather than making them as genuinely weird as they were (Bridges’ real-life counterpart was the man who came up with ‘Be All That You Can Be’, back when he thought that wars could be stopped by small children holding baby animals in front of them). It’s better if you’ve read the book, but Clooney is great to watch whether you have or not.

The Bakkhai (Almeida)
The second of the Almeida’s major productions of ancient Greek plays, this sees Ben “Paddington Bear” Wishaw playing the god Dionysus, visiting ancient Thebes to bring his religion to its population of women, and finding resistance from the king, Pentheus (Bertie Carvel from Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell).

In contrast to the Almeida’s radical reworking of Aeschylus’ Oresteia, this version of Euripides’ classic text is one of the most traditional productions I’ve ever seen, with the text rarely deviating from the original except for the occasional modern bit of humour, the chorus singing all their lines and the cast being just three men who share all the roles between them. Much is made of the gender-blurring and homoeroticism of the play, as Dionysus grants Pentheus’ desire to see what his debauched female followers get up to by persuading him to wear women’s clothes (Carvel plays his own mother, too). But it’s not until the end and Dionysus reveals his terrifying true nature that the show’s real power and tragedy kicks in.

Probably a bit too traditional for its likely audience, judging by the reserved applause at the end of what are tour de force performances by both Carvel and Wishaw, but well worth it if you’re a lover of Greek tragedy.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including The Bakkhai, Impastor, Glitch and The Whispers”

US TV

What have you been watching? Including Rules For Living, True Detective, The Last Ship and Suits

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.

Last week, I had the bright idea to shift ‘What have you been watching?’ to Mondays, as several Sunday shows were finishing and Thursdays were starting to fill up with new shows.

Stupid idea. Very stupid idea. A quick glance through the schedules revealed that I should leave things as they were, as as well as replacements for the existing Sunday shows and a couple of returning shows, there was a whole bunch of new Friday shows to deal with, too.

Thankfully, I’ve just about made it through this week’s viewing selection, with only Sunday’s Humans to work my way through still. Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed the first episodes (and sometimes more) of:

That means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of the usual regulars: Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal, Humans, Stitchers, Tyrant, Westside and The Whispers. We’ve also got the return of The Last Ship, Suits and True Detective to consider, as well as the second episodes of Clipped and Proof. Some of these are getting the chop. Can you guess which, Tigers?

But first, some theatre!

Rules For Living (National Theatre)
A dark comedy starring that Stephen Mangan (Episodes, Dirk Gently, Green Wing), Miles Jupp (Rev, Neville’s Island), Claudie Blakley, Maggie Service and Deborah Findlay from off the tele, as a family getting together for Christmas. Jupp and Mangan are brothers, Findlay the mum, Service Jupp’s actress girlfriend and Blakley Mangan’s wife whom Jupp has pined for ever since they were kids.

The play’s focus, oddly enough, is cognitive behavioural therapy and the idea that we acquire ‘rules for living’ over time that while initially helpful, can eventually lead us to fixed behaviours that only make us unhappy. Only by learning what our rules are and breaking out of them can we become happy.

The play’s conceit is to put each character’s rule on a scoreboard at each end of the stage, so that the audience knows the rule, when the character has to obey it and what the exceptions to the rule might be. At the end, everyone’s score gets tallied up and the winner ‘rewarded’.

Rules For Living is both very funny and uncomfortable; it’s also uneven and occasionally forced, with elements of plausibility being stretched very far at some points. But it’s still very enjoyable, occasionally saddening, occasionally raw and by the end of it, you’ll be wondering what your own rules might be.

Another quirk of the the play is that it’s staged ‘in traverse’ – that is, the play is in the middle of the theatre almost like a pit, with the audience mostly on either side of the stage.

In traverse

We were in the front row, which meant that we were as little as a couple of feet away from the cast (and some nice looking cake) at some points. However, if you want to avoid (spoiler alert) being hit by food during the food fight I’d recommend sitting a couple of rows further back or wearing something that can be washed clean easily.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Rules For Living, True Detective, The Last Ship and Suits”

What have you been watching? Including Big Hero 6, The Audience and Hannibal

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.

Life is good. Summer is here. I’ve watched loads of tele. Elsewhere, I’ve reviewed and previewed:

I’ve also passed verdict on the first four episodes of UnREAL (US: Lifetime) and the first three of Between (Netflix). That means that after the jump, I’ll be looking at the latest episodes of: Game of Thrones, Halt and Catch Fire, Hannibal, Sense8, Silicon Valley, Stitchers, Westside and The Whispers.

But before that, not only have I watched a movie, I’ve been to the theatre again:

Movies

Big Hero 6 (2014)
The first Disney animated movie to be based on a Marvel comic, Big Hero 6 sees a group of nerds come together to become science and technology superheroes when they’re faced with a man with an army of tiny robots. Led by a teenager called Hiro, they’re also helped by an inflatable healthcare robot called Baymax who can’t quite get to grips with this fighting thing superheroes do…

It’s actually quite a sweet little film, albeit with slightly traumatic moments that might disturb little children, with ironically Hiro learning from the caring Baymax how to be a better person and hero. Despite being a bit ‘boys and toys’, there are also a few good female nerd roles and some bits that will make you laugh out loud. The East meets West location of San Fransokyo is brilliantly realised, too.

Theatre

I’ve already reviewed The Oresteia (Almeida) elsewhere.

The Audience (Apollo Theatre)
Once a week, in a tradition that goes back to the time of Queen Victoria, the reigning monarch of the UK meets with the current Prime Minister to be updated on current events and to discuss matters of relevance to the both of them. In the hands of playwright Peter Morgan (The Queen), what could be purely a matter of historical interest instead becomes a song of praise to both the institution of the monarchy and the Queen herself.

The play flits between historical periods, giving us Prime Ministers from Churchill through to David Cameron, with the Queen acting as a fixed point in time who can compare Anthony Eden’s misadventures in Suez with Tony Blair’s in Iraq, Cameron’s small majority with Wilson’s, and act as a confessional for all of them. But it also looks at how the Queen herself changes over time, starting from a young, independent woman wanting to be involved in matters of state through to the mature monarch who accepts the needs of the constitution for her to back the government in everything, whatever she might feel personally. She also gets to have her own sounding board. Who, you might ask? Well, who could possibly provide the Queen with an audience except herself?

Rather than put the boot in as The Queen perhaps did, the play, which has been updated since its original run with Helen Mirren to include both Blair and Cameron at the expense of Callaghan, humanises both the Queen and all the Prime Ministers: Churchill is the traditionalist who mentors the new queen but also wants to postpone her coronation for political purposes and forces her not to change her name when she marries; Eden was right about Mussolini and Hitler and is convinced Nassar is the same; Wilson is the upstart socialist from Huddersfield with the eidetic memory who becomes paranoid as Alzheimer’s starts to rob him of his faculties; and Brown is the economics expert who believes his destiny was to lead the country – but who knows that he’s not got the right skills for the job. Even Major is redeemed: the man everyone remembers as little more than the tail end of Margaret Thatcher’s regime is here the man who brokered deals between warlords in the Balkans but who’s constantly undermined by his supposed allies.

And then there’s Margaret Thatcher…

Kristin Scott Thomas is excellent as the Queen, having to endure numerous quick changes of costume and jumps between time period, yet still surely making even the most ardent republicans feel something for the most powerful woman in the world, the firm proponent of the Commonwealth who was happy as a mechanic in the war and who would probably vote Labour if she could. In this she’s helped considerably by Izzy Meikle-Small as her younger self, who’ll make you wonder if the Queen is really just a grown up Arya Stark.

Hats off also to David Calder (Star Cops) as Churchill, Gordon Kennedy (Absolutely) as Gordon Brown, Michal Gould as John Major, Nicholas Woodeson (Rome) as Harold Wilson, and Highlander’s David Robb as Anthony Eden.

I’ll happily confess that both my wife and I wept buckets during the play and would happily go and see it again.

Continue reading “What have you been watching? Including Big Hero 6, The Audience and Hannibal”