The Watchlist: April 2016

Woah now, this is a bit late so bear with me while I try and cast my mind back to what my opinion was on something I watched nearly two months ago…

Films

The Lady In The Van

My Mother went to the cinema for the first time in over a decade to see this so I felt almost obligated to watch it at some point so I could also say “ever so good!” in the same way my Mother ends up describing everything she’s ever liked, ever. We don’t go in for detailed plot analysis in this family, it’s just a case of boredom or self-congratulation on sitting through a film and mildly enjoying it.

the-lady-in-the-van-04-1

Based on a true story, this sees Maggie Smith as the aforementioned Lady in the Van parked outside Alan Bennet’s not so humble abode in London (it’s not a mansion, but by today’s standards it appears sizeable). Featuring two Alans in many scenes (utilising the same method as Angela Lansbury in one of the GREATEST episodes of Murder, She Wrote where she also plays her cousin Emma, aka filming everything twice and splicing it together like magic), and cameos from each of the original History Boys cast this is a really lovely British film. Nothing strenuous, softly funny and touching too. One you can happily watch with your nan.

Quartet

Of course it would be a *ridiculous* suggestion to say I merely watched this film because I knew Luke Newberry was in it, but indeed, the truth will out. In reality he’s barely in it but plays some cockney, rap loving youth who I struggled to find endearing but then seems to bizarrely change character towards the end and become Luke Newberry again. Go figure. Here he is in a tuxedo.

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A retirement home for musicians is a lovely idea, and the film centres around one performer (Maggie Smith again- hiya!) who moves in having not performed for years – let alone with the other members of her old quartet who also happen to be wiling away their time in the country manor they call home. A stellar British cast and another unobtrusive, gently funny Sunday afternoon watch.

Man Up

During the promotional activity for this film, Simon Pegg was very proud of the fact this film was a proper British mid-range rom-com on a mid-range budget. Studios don’t necessarily greenlight such things anymore chooisng to focus on blockbusters or indie films, and we’re many years away from the days when Hugh Grant was in them all. Man Up has what I’d describe as a C-list British cast – actors and actresses you recognise instantly but struggle to place (“wasn’t he in Gavin & Stacey for three episodes?”). It’s not a terrible film but could easily have been far, far better if they’d bothered to put some more jokes in. By far the biggest issue for me though was that Simon Pegg’s character just wasn’t *at all* likeable. This rom-com wants you to feel the same affinity with both characters on the date but Simon Pegg just comes across as an arse, and not in a Hugh-Grant-in-Briget-Jones-unobtainable-arse-way. Seemingly the writers realised this half way through the script and included a scene with him crying in a toilet cubicle as a result but it was too little, too late.

Unknown

I haven’t watched a thriller in ages so plucked for this and it ticked all the boxes. Not overly long, it features the right amount of car chases, “???” moments and trepidation for a Saturday night in. Liam Neeson’s identity has been stolen and he’s desperate to put the pieces back together. When the ‘reveal’ happens its a proper “WOAH NOW” moment. Not the best thriller in the world by any means, but decent.

Sisters

Woo, Tina Fey! I loved 30 Rock but wasn’t massively aware of her other work than Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and her resemblance to Sarah Palin which will haunt her to the grave. Fey teams up with former co-writer and co-star Amy Poehler (remind me, I should probably commit to Parks & Rec sometime) for a film whose trailer makes it look dreadful. I was genuinely afraid to watch this in case my idea of Fey crumbled in front of my very eyes but plucked for it while aboard a flight. In what came a surprise to me, it’s not actually that terrible. Featuring a solid American comedy cast, there’s plenty of jokes and you never feel like they’re being unnecessarily smutty. You could almost watch it with your parents. However, a good twenty minutes could easily have been shaved from this movie to make it a tighter and a better production.

banner-brooklyn-brooklyn_film_844x476Brooklyn

Headline: I cried at the end of this and had to hide my tears on the plane out of fear that a flight attendant would ask me if I was okay and that’d set me off again. Based on the Colm Tóibín novel (Nick Hornby adapted it for the screen) it sees Saoirse Ronan given the chance of a new life in NYC, away from back-water Ireland. She settles in (living in a boarding house owned by Julie Walters – what a thrill!) and as you’d imagine falls in love with a young Italian stan who I also unashamedly fell in love with. Called back home, Ellis (Ronan) must choose what she wants from life. I was on the edge of my seat during the last twenty minutes of the film during her decision making process. It’s not a film necessarily full of twists and turns, it’s purely a 1h 52m drama full of love, nostalgia and self discovery but crucially it’s never plodding. Adapting this story for the screen could have seen it become an incredibly dull, worthy piece of cinema but it successfully avoids that and any mid-century period tropes that befall many pieces.

Zootopia (Zootropolis)

I watched this in North America so it was Zootopia for me and what an absolute gem this film is. When you don’t have children to entertain your exposure to animated films as an adult is often limited to Christmas and Easter when they’re on BBC One. I’m afraid watching animated Pixar/Disney/Dreamworks films thesedays would somehow rain on the parade of my memories of animated films in my childhood. However, I watched Wreck It Ralph last year and *adored* it and it turns out I adore this too. The attention to detail is astonishing, to the point where I feel a second (slow motion!) watch is warranted – recreating the Western world in animated form and the nuances and brands that are incorporated has fascinated me since Burger King and Gap were incorporated into Shrek 2. Touches that appeal to adults and children viewing an adult world helps create jokes that are funny to all – the annoyance of parking tickets and the sloths running the government agency are brilliant examples.

The overall philosophy behind this film is acceptance of others from different backgrounds, something that children have an inept feel for when young – in fact this film almost serves more as a reminder to the adults than anyone else. Little Jimmy will play with any boy and girl and it’s only through years of being surrounded by casual racism from parents and elders that opinions are hardened and formed. An all star cast, a feel good vibe and a catchy theme song courtesy of Shakira the gazelle cements this film as a new found favourite of mine. zootopia-wallpaper-disneys-zootopia-39294733-1920-1080

Television

Follow The Money

I like my foreign, Scandi-noir drama but BLOODY HELL there’s a lot of it these days. I already feel like I’m behind on most things and then another “must watch Danish thriller” comes along. I heard good reports about this so watched the first two episodes before they disappeared off iPlayer. A few more days passed and I suddenly thought “why should I watch anymore?”. I’d given it two hours of my time and hadn’t thought about it since then so that’s that – I’m moving on. Undoubtedly (as with many dramas) it probably became amazing by episode 6 but alas, FtM’s time for me was up. Kudos for the opening titles though: they were by far the best bit*

*on that note, why is British TV so afraid of great opening title sequences? It feels to me like we can’t wait to get them over with; some shows barely breaking the 30 second mark. Throw up some actors names and a director with some quirky shots and animation and it can set up a show properly, and become a staple. Please Like Me, which I’ve blogged about before, incorporated the opening titles as a key part of the show and I loved it for it.

The Day Today

This is one of those shows continually referenced by people over 30 on Twitter, whereas many people my age would have no idea who Chris Morris is. I’ve always wanted to watch this properly, having loved clips I’d seen and having been a big fan of the Ianucci-Partridge stuff with Rebecca Front, David Schneider and Patrick Marber. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s remarkable how relevant TDT is over twenty years later – it understood the media better than the media understood themselves, seemingly. Times have obviously changed since 1994 with the advent of rolling news and Buzzfeed et al, but the TV tropes it parodies are still very much a part of our viewing today. There’s a piece in one of the first episodes about early citizen journalism, peoplhqdefaulte with camcorders filming events first and phoning for the emergency services later, incredibly prescient of the news media now we live in a world of smartphones and social media.

Also: the DVD is the oddest thing in the world with the most bizarre DVD menu. It’s laborious to get to what you want, but it was all purposely designed that way by Chris Morris himself and there’s a load of hidden Easter eggs to try and find. Admittedly this is difficult viewing on a Mac in 2016 given it was made for a DVD player and remote circa 2004 but clicking around a bit brings up some extras. There’s a list of them here.

The Newsroom S2

This season starts ‘in media res’ (and they said my English Literature A Level would mean nothing to me!) aka in the middle of things. Clearly someone, somewhere has f*cked up big time. Lawyers have been hired to unravel the biggest failing that can ever befall a serious news organisation; the broadcast of categorically untrue news. The pieces come together as the episodes continue, with the usual Aaron Sorkin personal dramas taking place around it. Interestingly, Sorkin must have understood that S2 would need a different feel to it. In the commentary for S1 he was incredibly proud of only using real events in the recent past as the background for each episode and yet BOOM with S2 there’s an entire fake news story that nearly cripples the network (not a spoiler btw, its clear from the beginning).

I was thinking half way through the season whether or not this was a bit dull and worthy. I was enjoying it (although some critics panned the Newsroom) and its almost soap opera-esque delivery of things. In essence the show is just people in a microcosm, like in everyday life dealing with their personal issues and work. I then had the stupid thought of “it’s just people talking really, there’s nothing involving a gun or suspense in this show like other dramas” when within the very episode I was watching that was completely reversed. Also notable is that one of the episodes this season is presented in real time alongside the news broadcast they’re producing. Fairly enjoyable, although as I’ve said before, without a grasp of American politics I’d be completely lost half the time.

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 18.26.51.pngFlowers

Spread over a week with an episode at 10pm each night, this dark twisted comedy is like EastEnders on steroids in that “it’s all about faaaaamillllllyyyyy”. Focusing on the Flowers family and the bizarre circumstances that surround them you begin to see that in fact they’re not odd but perfectly normal. They’re just trying to muddle through like the rest of us, putting up with their family members and neighbours like we all do and dealing with all things life throws at us. This is funny – not necessarily LOL territory – but its dark dry wit is great and it opens the show up for a good bingewatch.

At the heart of it is sadness and depression and Flowers does a bizarrely brilliant task of displaying depression on screen as it is in reality. We have a huge tendency in Britain to forget about mental health and not talk about it, going with the “what’s he got to be depressed about?” line or ignoring it completely. Depression can be crippling but equally it can become a part of someone’s life where they have good and bad days. People imagine that if you’re depressed you just sit at home in a chair staring at wall all day without the energy to get up, and, though there is an element of that, many people get up, go out, deal with life’s mundanities and events and continue to feel glum with a weight upon themselves. Flowers shows that. What we learn by the end (in a brilliant fashion – eps 5 & 6 are superb) is that each member has their own sadness and their own battles, but they’re well hidden – as I think truly it is with all of us.

Mr Robot

Bringing down ‘The Man’ is something that almost obsesses some people, with the rest of us walking around in a slave daze to capitalism – so far, so unoriginal. Mr Robot (like The Circle) has one company, E[vil] Corp, who own everything and is the story of their attempted downfall by a hacker group. I’d been meaning to watch this for ages; it had intrigued me when browsing Amazon Prime and then a few months ago I watched a compilation of all Rami Malek’s scenes in a mediocre American sitcom in which he played a teen coming to terms with his sexuality (gay guy watches TV show because a gay guy is in it SHOCK!). I wasn’t particularly aware of his work before then, Googled him and Mr Robot popped up and I think it’s fair to say that this is his breakout role.

He gives an incredible performance but I couldn’t help but be thoroughly disappointed by all the ‘big’ reveals in the final few episodes. They all felt a bit flat and almost as if they’d been borrowed from a soap opera –  there’s a time and place but I just expected more. There’s clearly some weak episodes within the series and the finale didn’t tick many boxes for me (it petered out) but overall the series was about Elliott coming to terms with himself and his mental issues and it delivered this with aplomb. The stand out episode for me would be ep 6 where the ending left me open mouthed. Overall, strong but not amazing. We’ll see what S2 brings.

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Boomers I hadn’t watched the first series of this and I’m definitely regretting it now. Based around three baby boomer couples, this comedy is as well acted and well written as you’d imagine a BBC One comedy to be. You can always tell if something is a BBC One comedy if it uses the word “sex” as a punchline and this definitely falls into that category. It is great though, nice and light, unobtrusive and an easy, funny watch.

Two Doors Down I never saw the original pilot episode from many moons ago but having watched the series I’d rate it as a solid and enjoyable comedy, . Admittedly though, I probably wouldn’t have committed to watching this without the inclusion of a gay couple in it (again, I’m a terrible cliché, I know)

EastEnders this month saw the return of Johnny complete with a new head. The character means an awful lot to me for obvious reasons so I was eager to see his on screen revival. I think it’s fair to say I was far more accepting of Johnny 2.0 than most (he was slated), but it’s a soap opera – people take time to settle in and I believe he now has, although his ForlornFace™ did wear thin after a while.

First Dates this has been a runaway success for Channel 4 in the past eighteen months but Christ on a bike guys, sort out your scheduling. The number of shifts in day and time is verging on ridiculous; show it some love!!!!1!

Blue Eyes This continues to be great Swedish political thriller, with an oddly relevant undertone – the rise of a far right, racist group both politically speaking in an establishment sense and in terms of terror. Adam Lundgren (my future husband of Don’t Ever Wipe Tears fame) is in it and I’m struggling to adjust to him being the bad guy.

People vs. OJ Simpson everyone seemed to be talking about this and rightly so. Flawless from start to finish, this never dropped the ball and there were no weak episodes – incredibly surprising with a US drama or comedy, given most series have at least two! I did read, however, one person critiquing the presentation of Simpson as a snivelling, weak man rather than the strong, tall, charismatic God he was in reality and I think they had a valid point.

 

 

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