The Watchlist: May 2016

Back again and a distinct lack of films this month compared to April…

Films

Blue Jasmine

My English teacher back in A Level tried to convince us to watch this due to its striking similarities to A Streetcar Named Desire, one of our exam texts. It’s clear to see that those links run deep here with former socialite Jasmine rocking up at her working class sisters having lost everything, and suffering from the same kind of mental health issues as Blanche Dubois. Shockingly, for someone who’s arty and liberal, this is the first Woody Allen film I’ve ever seen and in all honesty probably isn’t the best one to choose as an introduction to his work. I mean, that wasn’t my aim watching this, it just ended up that way so I will try and dive into some more Allen as the year progresses. A solid film but nothing special – it basically asks the age old film questions, “who do you want to be?” and “what is happiness?” in a slightly more contemporary way.

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Mermaids

Cher and Cher alike! I worked out that she would have been in her mid-40s when this was filmed and released which was very surprising to me. She turned 70 this year! Unbelievable. Anyway, this is the first film I’ve watched Cher in and that was undoubtedly my main draw to this. She plays a single mother constantly running away from her mistakes, upping sticks and dragging her two children half way across the country in the process. Cher’s strong, as are the child actors featured too but that can’t distract from how dull, unnecessarily slow and heavy the plot can feel. Extra time in the edit suite and a good portion could be done away with easily to give it a more rounded, pacier feel. It hasn’t scared me off Cher films forever but I was largely unimpressed.

Television

Storyville

  • Dance With A Serial Killer
  • Tabloid: Sex In Chains

I find it very easy when watching things on demand to immediately reach for a box set drama or comedy rather than a documentary, possibly because they’re not as prominent in search or they’re spoken of less on social media. With iPlayer there’s often swathes of archive documentaries available to view, in part due to the fact a lot of them are shown as filler at 2am on BBC Four and are automatically added to the service. I watched a lot of Storyville and Timeshift documentaries as a teenager without Netflitumblr_ltqfcbc0lw1r2jvaoo1_500x so it was nice to leap back into bed with a few Storyville documentaries.

The first I watched this month traces a French investigator following his gut instinct to apprehend a serial killer; the second is about a woman I had no idea existed but those over 50+ almost certainly will. Model Joyce McKinney became obsessed with her Mormon boyfriend and tried to kidnap him, tying him up in a Dorset cottage and sleeping with him continuously. It became a tabloid sensation as you’d imagine. The interesting thing with Storyville is that the documentaries never have a format – they’re all individual, different lengths and often co-produced with other countries’ broadcasters. Tabloid: Sex In Chains is presented as a talking head docu, tracing Joyce’s life. The mormon neglected to be part of the documentary but his side of the story is explored and journalists who worked on the story at the time also feature. There’s also a fascinating insight into her life post-media sensation; she never found love and tried to live her life in solitude as much as possible. Her life takes an almost sad turn towards the end of the documentary with events involving cloned dogs and all sorts. Bizarre but fascinating.

Blue Eyes

This has been a fairly strong Scandi-noir drama which made a conscious effort to be relevant to the current political happenings in Europe with the rise of the far-right in many countries, including our own. The final few episodes of this are very explosive, however, the political aftermath itself (politics and terrorism run concurrently through the show) is a little difficult to follow. The finale comes to a head on election night with all political factions  continuing to fight, shown in the last twenty minutes of this in a rather rushed fashion leaving it all a bit openended. It looks highly unlikely there’s to be a second series but at least we met lovely Simon though, eh?

cunkos-01Cunk on Shakespeare

If you’re not aware of Philomena Cunk I demand you get on YouTube immediately. A feature of Charlie Brooker’s Wipe series, this was Diane Morgan’s first standalone programme as the character. Her self serious narration and interview techniques are some of the funniest things on television these days and it’d be great if the BBC viewed this as a pilot and greenlit some more episodes. An interesting look at how they made the programme was posted online: in essence, it’s all improvised and they’ve got enough material left over to sink a battleship.

Grace And Frankie

I adored the first series and rejoined Netflix (I took a break back in February) to watch Season 2. In all honesty, I’d forgotten about the entire dynamic behind the show beyond Grace, Frankie and the ex-husbands so the way it gently reintroduced the children (oh them! etc.) and beauty business (oh that! etc) was appreciated. It continued in the same vein as S1 and didn’t try to reinvent itself, continuing to be gently funny and feature a healthy amount of the ever affable Lily Tomlin with her frankly glorious bright eyed smile. This isn’t a laugh a second network comedy, it’s more deep than that but it does contain some fabulous lines. As always it’s great to see older woman portrayed on screen as something other than doddery old fools or bit part players – G&F is about them and proudly so, and isn’t afraid to talk about sex for older generations either (yam lube!)

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Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

This seems to be real marmite comedy over on Twitter – for every person who loves this there’s another who detests it and was never able to get into it. Season 1 had a strong start but some incredibly weak episodes and a overall poor second half even with Jon Hamm and Tina Fey in it.* Thankfully this sustains a decent level throughout and contains the occasional killer line that Tina Fey and the team of the writers are all known for through 30 Rock. It’s nice to see Tobias’ character develop but I still really struggle to appreciate Lillian as a character though – I find she’s too often the same joke or plot device regurgitated in each episode.

*as an aside, having now seen the OJ Simpson drama earlier in the year I now understand that Tina Fey’s lawyer character was a direct parody of Marcia Clark!

Rita S3

I think I’m right in thinking S3 was a Netflix co-production, having proved popular on the streaming service but initially canned by its original network. A lot has changed in Rita’s life – she’s newly single and son Jeppe has moved out which means she’s now alone in her house, rattling around. Episode 2 really highlights this beautifully and the worries that Rita has now she’s single and alone. An elderly spinster teacher who has taught at the school since forever dies suddenly and staff membdownloaders struggle to write a eulogy for her: it turns out nobody really knew her. The end of episode where former pupils attend her funeral and sing her praises cements to Rita that she has had an impact on people’s lives and will be remembered regardless what happens. Rita is also (in true Rita fashion) on a one woman crusade to change the school for the better and ensure those who need extra help get it.

This is the final series of the show, sadly, but I’ve really enjoyed watching it over the past year. A nice soft drama with really great comic moments which doesn’t stick to stereotypes to portray characters. Of course, having a young gay character in Jeppe helps too!

Going Forward

A spin off the darkly funny Getting On set in an NHS hospital, Going Forward sees Jo Brand return without Vicki Pepperdine and Joanna Scanlan. As far as I understand, Brand wasn’t interested in doing the show in America and left them to their own devices and decided to nurse this baby (no pun intended) herself. For the first time we see Kim Wilde’s family (her husband is Omid Djalili) and her new role working for a private home help firm but still under the strain she was before as she tries to help others on a limited budget and with considerable time constraints. The series is largely improvised, which, although impressive, is probably its downfall and led to quite a few scenes feeling like repeats of those from a previous episode (notably those inside the taxi). It could be tighter and it could be funnier but that’s not to say it wasn’t good, although it did fall into the trap of introducing a TV trope in the form of the slightly scatty Aunt. Overall a solid 6/10 and a welcome return for Hillary at the end rounded it off!

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