The Watchlist: November 2016

Please Like Me S4

I’ve gone on about this show an awful lot this year. It’s probably my favourite new discovery and I recommend it to everybody. When Amazon Prime recently picked up S1-3 I was hopeful they’d do the same for S4 and stream an episode a weekly, parallel to it airing in Australia. And they did! What a shock that was, I think that was the first time something I’ve wished for has ever come true.

For a show that’s now four series in it’s a surprise that this one features the first proper ‘going away’ episode. A classic sitcom trope, the group going away camping together was well delivered and devoid of clichés. There was a large amount of disdain online for Josh this series but he doesn’t seem any more irritating or complicated than before – Arnold is the one who’s changed. My favourite character, Claire, has moved on with her life and appears sporadically via phone call. This was a conscious decision by Josh Thomas to portray real life friendships honestly; sometimes people just drift apart, it doesn’t mean they hate each other. Re: character development, I’ve become a real fan of Ella this series. She was a little irritating last series and, although little has changed, she seems to have come into her own more and it’s nice to see Tom happy.

tumblr_o5dlj8dij81r00hyjo2_1280The Outs S2

Do you remember when everyone kept going on about HBO’s Looking as this superb seminal piece of gay drama? It wasn’t. This isn’t either, but it’s a damn sight better. The Outs is a web series that appeared online before web series was cool to mild acclaim. This time round it’s been picked up by Vimeo and they’ve thrown a load of money at it – and my God, can you tell! The production values have clearly increased substantially.

It took me a while to get back into the groove with the characters again, but it’s nice to see they’ve all slightly developed. And everything is unpatronisingly relevant in the way it’s presented. The show does a great job of being part of the ‘now’ without really meaning to be and the way it deals with issues such as suicide, HIV, monogamy, long distance relationships and happiness is great. I wouldn’t say this is necessarily a laugh a minute comedy but it has its moments and is really pleasant to watch. I happily binged it in 48 hours. And judging by the series ending, there’s clearly going to be a S3.

Class

Somehow, and inexplicably, Class got so much worse post Ep 4. I was holding out hope back in October because it showed promise but then the scripts got even more clunkier and the plots even more dull. Shadow Kin? Shadull Kin more like. Still, at least there was more gratuitous sex scenes and if you’re going to have unattainably attractive actors at least use and abuse them like so:

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*wipes brow*

Transparent S3

Look at me with an Amazon Prime subscription again! I got it for Please Like Me, and I’m a little afraid the Amazon computers are going to lump me in with all the Grand Tour watchers given their proximity of release. Anyway, since I was last on S3 of Transparent appeared. It’s probably the weakest of all the series. I felt there was little in the way of character development, it was all same-old, same-old. The flashback episode was pleasant enough though and the (updated!) opening titles are still so, so perfect.

I don’t feel that the show can in any way be described as a comedy anymore. There was barely a funny moment in it – the only amusing thing I counted was in the final episode where Shelly ~”gets a gay with her room”~ on board a cruise ship. You could count the terrible shot continuity as amusing though, I suppose, if that’s what they were going for.

Skam

Crikey, look at me with my TV shows with gay plotlines this month. The ‘internet’ (tumblr teens/30-something gay men) have been going mad for this Norwegian teen drama this month. S3 is airing currently and focusses on Isak’s coming out story and first gay relationship, with a guy called Even. Forget Skins, this is a thing of beauty. Adults barely feature in the entire series, it’s all about teenagers and their own world and bubble. You might see an adult silhouette, or a text message or their torso but that’s it. These teens are struggling through life themselves and helping each other out and not everything is action-packed. There are scenes where characters just shoot the breeze, or sit alone on their bed texting and browsing the internet which feels incredibly authentic. There’s enough action, and enough beautifully shot scenes (the soundtrack too!) that brings everything together to create a really wonderful show.

maxresdefaultThe Norwegian broadcaster refuses to syndicate the show online so it’s down to Tumblr blogs and Google Drive accounts to find the latest instalment, lovingly translated into English by Norwegian teens. Annoyingly, links disappear almost as quickly as they appear. In its native country, however, episodes don’t just air weekly: scenes are posted online in real-time, as they occur, and texts and Instagram posts from the ‘characters’ appear throughout the week too. It’s clear to understand why its become quite the phenomenon, and Tumblr loves a gay storyline so this ticks all the boxes. S1-2 from the past couple of years are on my to watch list too, with each season focussing on one specific character but the same groups being present throughout.

There’s a couple of bits that are a little difficult to get your head around: high schoolers living alone, away from their parents (I think I read there was a rent grant in Norway and it’s not that uncommon?), people seeming to be quite rich and carefree and… oh, yes, everyone being so young. Some were born after the millennium ffs! That aside, the acting is sublime from people so young. And, as an opposite to Class, it’s nice to see teens on-screen with flaws. Spots, acne and problems. Skam just gets so much right.

streetmateStreetmate

I love a good dating show and I was mildly aware of the existence of Davina McCall’s Streetmate from the late-90s. It was brought back recently for a one-off edition on Stand Up To Cancer. I subsequently tried to find clips of the original on YouTube but there’s none  around, not even many of the ITV2 Holly Willoughby version from the late-00s. And then, on a fluke, I typed it into All4 and lo, all the episodes from all three series popped up! I then subsequently binge-watched around 20 eps and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

First surprise: the format. It took a little while to get used to it actually, I wasn’t expecting that the actual ‘street match’ element would be such a slim part of the show. The rest is made up of pre-date getting ready where you learn about the participants in more detail, the date itself and then the post-date interview filmed a few weeks later which features the question “did they ring you?” which seems so lovely. These days the question would probably be “did they send you a nude?”.

Talking of nudes, there is a surprising amount of naked male bums and ab close-ups in the pre-date section. A decision must have been taken between series however, as they (sadly) all but disappear in S2. It took a while for there to be an episode featuring a gay man but a couple did appear eventually. Lesbians still remain non-existent I’m afraid though. And the post-show voxes are a treat – which in essence involve asking random members of the public about their sex lives. Richard Whitely appears in one (!!) but with a more sedate question, understandably*.

One of main enjoyments of Streetmate is the 90s just quietly bubbling away in the background. The old cars, the defunct shop brands seen in the background, the soundtrack. It’s such a lovely trip down nostalgia avenue**. I feel like this show could have real potential for a comeback and would be quite big online. If I had any get up and go I’d create and film a version for YouTube called ‘Match Street’ with slight format tweaks to avoid a lawsuit.***

* talking of ‘slebs the not-yet-famous actor Don Gilet appears in one of the very first eps as a friend of a date participant
** not my nostalgia, I would have been in nappies
*** the show’s based on an American concept actually which is incredibly difficult to find any reference to online. The only thing I could find was this clip where the host sets up a couple at a retirement complex.

Black Mirror: Hated In The Nation

This was always going to be my Black Mirror treat. A feature-length episode to be savoured with drink and food, and my God was it great. As always it ticks the relevant box oh so well, being set in the very near future (2017 I think?). Katie Hopkins-esque columnists, public shaming through social media, band-wagon jumping, bees dying out, government surveillance and hackers; it’s all there. The episode begins in media res, as we see the beginning of a government investigation into some terrible and as-yet-unexplained event. We zoom back to the day when it all started and slowly, over the course of 90 minutes, everything becomes painfully clear. Outstandingly good.

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Buble At The BBC

I struggle to understand people who hate Michael Bublé. I feel like they’re cut from the same cloth as those who make out that they despise Coldplay. There’s a certain element of snobbishness involved and yet in reality I bet they could sing and hum an awful lot of their songs. And when it comes to the Boobs, he’s one of the nicest people in show business with time for everybody. Claudia Winkleman was her lovely self here as the Beeb try to replicate the success of their 2015 Adele special. I don’t think it was as successful and the hidden camera element where Bublé was in disguise didn’t work anywhere near as well as Adele and her lookalikes. However, it’s great to see music on prime-time TV. If we have to shove an interview in there and some little game than so be it.


Films

Arrival

Never before have I felt such a great disconnect in terms of my opinion vs. that of the masses. This film has been praised all over the place and people have been going wild for it on social media. I hated it. Like, really, really disliked. The fact it was sci-fi wasn’t the issue (the length of a film matters more to me) but I found the entire thing incredibly dull. The entire middle of the film as Amy Adams & co try desperately to communicate with the alien visitors was incredibly repetitive. Any ‘high-drama’ in the film was achingly dull. *spoiler* Oh no, the countries aren’t talking to each other anymore! Oh no, the explosives might go off with them inside! Yawn.

And don’t get me started on it being overly sentimental. Throwing a dying kid in the mix, some sad music and a potential new boyfriend does not automatically make the entire thing acceptably moving. There’s barely any depth to the characters either, I felt no connection or fear for them whatsoever. Everything seems incredibly basic and uninspiring, even when reviewed knowing the ‘twist’. In fact, with the ‘twist’ at the end, I can’t help but think the entire film eats itself at that moment. It ends shoddily and bizarrely both slowly and quickly. The solution presents itself very quickly but is then explained in agonising detail.

Oh, and the British input in the entire film was a Brit scientist saying “you cheeky bastard”. Got to love a stereotype! The most interesting thing during the film for me was a lady in the auditorium tripping as she went to the loo, loudly proclaiming “oh, shit!” leading to hysterics from the audience.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals on the other hand, the other Amy Adams film out this month, I adored. This is designer Tom Ford’s second cinematic direction after Colin Firth’s A Single Man. Right from the incredibly poetic opening in Nocturnal Animals, which is up there as the most bizarre thing I’ve seen on the silver screen, through to the end, it had me gripped.

Presented as a thriller within mundanity, Amy Adam’s character is sent a manuscript of a new book by her former boyfriend. Suffering from insomnia she reads through the book and the action plays out on-screen, in between her trying to get a grip on her life. The book and real life are intertwined and there’s the knowledge throughout that the former boyfriend may well be using the entire plot as a metaphor for their relationship. There’s some real tense moments throughout and the way the action can suddenly stop as the reading stops adds to the effect. It’s exactly like being deep into a book within your own life.

Also within the film is the sense of time passing as we see the real life relationship between Gyllenhall and Adams’ characters, and the way they and it changes over time. Is happiness how you define it, or how your societal status defines it? Can it be temporary? Do we all turn into our parents as we age? Eventually, Adams’ character realises the wrong steps she took in her life but gains no triumph from the realisation. It’s too late. It seemed perfect that way.

Hypernormalisation

The name Adam Curtis doesn’t mean anything to me. Well, at least it didn’t until Bitter Lake appeared as an iPlayer exclusive. I’ve still yet to watch that but thought I’d dive in with Hypernormalisation as it seemed incredibly relevant judging by the description. The post-truth world we live in and the echo-chambers we build ourselves are all presented here within a larger context. Trump features heavily too and having watched this after his win in the US presidential election, it all seems more sad and bizarre. Some of his history I knew already from the copious amount of articles about his less than straight past but it was interesting to see it weaved into a wider global context.

p04bpbyzI’m ashamed to say I don’t know all that much about the middle-East or recent global history besides that of the UK. I’m not sure that’s all my fault though. The recent past fascinates me far more than ancient history and yet it’s barely taught in schools. Instead, there’s an obsession with the two world wars and the bloody Tudors.

This doc is lengthy (I mean, of course it would be) and far from succinct but is easily spread over a few days with obvious places for you to bail for a night’s sleep. Important and relevant, but this is all just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve become self-aware of our situation but there feels like there’s no way of doing something about it. Shouting into the void doesn’t help, the liberals are decimated and all we can do is stare into the oncoming iceberg (Titanic reference, the best I can do).

Lost In Translation

I would discuss this film in great detail but I lost interest half way through. It bubbled away in the background until the end but I can’t for the life of me remember what happened. Just the way it is.

The Watchlist: October 2016

There’s a lot this month, brace yourself…

Television

Class

I worked out that I haven’t properly watched Doctor Who since 2010. This was around the time that a) I was growing up and getting into ‘adult’ TV more b) David Tennant regenerated into Matt Smith*, and most importantly c) Stephen Moffat took over as ‘writer’ (I use the term loosely given the dirge that comes from his keyboard**). I was keen to jump on board with this even if I was just out of its teen target audience. I haven’t watched a sci-fi show for a while, and there were lots of people comparing it to Buffy on social media, so I leapt in feet first.

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The first episode felt very contrived. They obviously had the difficult task of introducing every character to us but it didn’t feel particularly subtly done. Also, there was the feeling that they were trying a bit too hard. I know young adult fiction is great for representation and being relatable, but having a gay character who is happy in his sexuality, a gay character whose parents don’t agree with his sexuality, a football loving character whose girlfriend dies and then subsequently suffers from unresolved grief, his classic father figure, the brainbox who has been moved up a few years for being so clever and whose father has died and mother is very strict, and last but not least, the violin playing slim teen girl who doesn’t have any friends and has to care for her disabled mother who became paralysed after her manic father forced their car to crash is a lot to take in. And of course, to top it all off, they’re all very attractive. I understand why they’re all attractive (acne and spots do make it difficult to film scenes out of sequence) but it’d be great to have a character who isn’t a slim, attractive teenager. There’s always some dreamboats in every year but everybody has flaws beyond their ‘secret’ home life when they’re at school, and yet Class fails to show these. Where are the people doing crap at school work? Where’s the person who got dressed in two seconds this morning because they woke up late? Where’s the person worried about their weight? Hell, why can’t we have a non-slim character where their weight isn’t presented as a character point? Everything’s all too well quiffed.

That all aside, this series has promise if you try to watch it and enjoy it for what it is. There is a fair bit of gratuitous blood (“look at us, we’re a grown up grisly Doctor Who!”) and an odd nonchalance from every authority that shit loads of people die and disappear from one school and no-one cares, but there we go. I am a little disappointed that there hasn’t been an internet meme created a la Barb from Stranger Things after Coal Hill’s Headmaster is eaten by a monster and thus disappears. #Justice4TheN1ceHead

On top of grown up blood scenes, there’s a fair bit of sex too – episode three sees the gay characters so busy fucking each other senseless they fail to realise the world is ending around them. Admittedly, I would probably also spend the end of the world in bed but more out of laziness than through great company.

*Christopher Ecclestone is still “my” Doctor though
**pot, kettle

Black Mirror

hafgaftstsuhsdfygdsh! That’s the noise I made when new episodes of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror arrived on Netflix. I understand that Netflix’s thang is to release episodes in bulk, however, I do think it would have benefitted them to strip this back and release one a week. There’s arguments for and against this when it comes to anthology series, but I think it would have allowed time for people to watch an episode and discuss it and get that ‘watercooler chat’ in. Black Mirror isn’t a show to binge-watch; you need to time to appreciate its nuances after each episode.

As a result, I took my time with this series. I watched episode 1, Nosedive, and episode 3, Shut Up And Dance (ta, Walk the Moon) on the same weekend; episode 4, San Junipero a week later and then rounded off the month with episode 2, Playtest.

Nosedive is a nice gentle start to the series and falls into the ‘plotted’ category of Black Mirror. There’s two episode styles seen over all three series – the ‘onion’ and the ‘plot’. The ‘onion’ presents the viewer with a certain reality at the beginning of the episode but then we’re slowly drip-fed facts and things twist, as we learn what we’ve seen should actually be viewed from a different perspective and the layers within the episode’s world become apparent. San Jun fits into this category and in previous series, White Bear. Playtest does to an extent too. On the other hand Nosedive is a linear episode. We’re not necessarily given all the facts to begin with (there’d be no point watching if that was the case) but there’s a solid narrative along a timeline. Shut Up And Dance follows this too.

There’s a real beauty in the way Black Mirror presents the near future in a way that is so believable. The pastel colours in Nosedive really make it stand out. Another great point in Black Mirror is the cast. There’s always a great collection of notable actors and actresses, often British, who aren’t necessarily main characters or protagonists but pop up for a scene or two. Most Black Mirror’s tick the box for believability, but Nosedive’s main device particularly so. If there was indeed a rating system in place I can guarantee I’d be in the low 3s.

21-black-mirror-rankings-w529-h352Playtest was a little weak in my eyes. A little bit smug, with a clever ending but it felt a little unsatisfactory overall. The protagonist wasn’t particuarly likeable either and the episode took a long time to get started.

I felt an immense pressure to love San Jun after people were waxing lyrical about it on social media. That pressure probably ruined it for me a little, but it was a genuinely lovely episode presented in a beautifully arty way, travelling across the decades. It’s probably the episode I would choose to go back to and rewatch in the future.

Shut Up And Dance was the first episode written and set in the ‘now’ rather than the near future. Starring Alex Lawther as a teen caught wanking by his webcam it did seem very realistic after news stories about revenge porn and Russian webcam spies in recent years. This was one of the episodes where you could transplant yourself into the roles – how far would you go, under pressure, as you desperately try to avoid public shame? The public shame element crops up in the final episode of S3 too but more on that in the Nov blog.

160201_ft_occupied-crop-promo-xlarge2Occupied

I feel like I haven’t watched a decent foreign drama in a while; they all seem to come out the woodwork in autumn and winter I find so I’m sure they’ll be plenty in the coming months. This one is available to stream in its entirety on Netflix and revolves around an original idea by famed Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø. Norway has elected a new government with a fairly sizeable majority on the policy of phasing out fossil fuels after a flood devastated swathes of the country a few years previously. However, the rest of the world are less keen on Norway’s new method of power production, which does away for the reliance on traditional oil and gas. So much so that Russia ‘temporarily’ occupies Norway… wait for it… on behalf of the EU! Things escalate, as you’d imagine and there’s desperate bids to end everything diplomatically but a far-right ‘Free Norway’ movement springs up to complicate matters. But can everything be blamed on them? The truth unravels over the series, which is plotted on a month by month basis. We follow the Prime Minister and immediate cabinet, the head of the Security Service, the PM’s bodyguard turned secret service agent, his judicial wife and a journalist adamant on exposing the truth behind everything and his wife who conveniently runs a restaurant that’s failing but becomes a Russian hangout.

It’s a very interesting premise, and something that feels oh so realistic throughout. There’s some interesting mock BBC bulletins that appear in the series which seemed interesting to me (even if the actor playing the newsreader seems to be parodying the BBC a little too far). I assume they were chosen as they’d be in English, adding an international flavour to proceedings. On that note, this series, although Norwegian, seems to spend as much time with scenes in English (to the point when you suddenly jolt upright at the sudden realisation there are no subtitles even though you’re half way through the scene) as Norwegian scenes and those spoken in Russian. Amusingly there’s references to Britain being part of the EU in this series too. I wish!

Taskmaster

I’ve been aware of Taskmaster for a while, catching the odd half of an episode in previous series but I’d never committed outright to one. I think I might have committed to S2 but I have a real dislike for Katharine Ryan which annoys me more than my actual annoyance at her. I feel like people will think I’m being misogynistic because she’s a female comedian and often the ‘token female’ on panel shows. It’s not that! Please, don’t think it’s that!

Anyway, Taskmaster is basically great and everybody should watch it. It’s a refreshing change to the tired old panel show format which clogs up the comedy slot on TV these days. In fact, Dave seem to be the only channel creating new and different comedy shows these days so kudos to them. I wonder if they’re all on there because no other channel will commission them…

Dave ‘check shirt’ Gorman, Al ‘moneybags’ Murray, Paul ‘innit’ Chowdhry, Rob ‘I’ll come on to him later’ Beckett and the ever excellent Sara ‘don’t want to put a comment in inverted commas because I really like her’ Pascoe. On the subject of Rob Beckett, he appears to me like that annoying child in your year at school who thought they were hilarious. Like, the bee’s knees of comedy. They probably had mildly kooky parents who encouraged them much to the exasperation of everyone else. And occasionally, say once a month, he’d say something genuinely funny during an RE lesson and everyone (even the teacher!) would laugh but that would only end up encouraging him and he’d try to emulate the success of that joke, fail and then just repeat that joke for the next week out of context, desperate to get some laughs. That’s how I view Rob Beckett.

Morgana Robinson’s the Agency

11784361-high-morgana-robinsons-the-agency-nat-cass-bagsI’ve been mildly aware of Robinson for a few years having never actually watched any of her programmes. She’s cropped up on Charlie Brooker programmes playing Russell Brand back when he was a thing, and I was aware of ‘Natalie Cassidy is just doing this now’ references on social media from her C4 show a few years ago. Also, she cropped up on celebrity Bake Off earlier in the year and this video where she pretends to be Fearne Cotton is v good.

This is a neat idea for a impressionist series and it’s delivered well. Nice mix of celebs, presented in a mockumentary style as we see inside their lives. Obviously, some of her impressions are weaker than others. Danny Dyer and Greg Wallace do nothing for me, her Miranda just about passes but Robinson’s Adele, Natalie Cassidy, Joanna Lumley and her Fearne Cotton are superb. In fact, she manages to be more Fearne Cotton than Fearne Cotton herself has ever managed. And obviously, the Cassidy performances are superb and I was thrilled to discover there would be an entire episode dedicated to her!  (Ep 5, if anyone’s interested)

Also, as an aside, Morgana as Natalie Cassidy had a chat with actual Natalie Cassidy on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show during the promo train and *thrillingly* when they asked real Cassidy what she was doing today she replied with, “I’m taking my dad to the supermarket!”; which is such a mock Cassidy thing! Oh, how I chuckled.

National Treasure

Headline: I didn’t like this. People were going mad for it on social media and I felt like they were watching a different programme to me. Yes, it’s an incredibly relevant drama but everything felt over-stylised in its way. Scenes shot with poor lighting for no reason other than to make everything seem more menacing or threatening than the reality. Admittedly, my predications for its ending proved incorrect so there was at least that. Although not terrible, if someone said to me “should I watch this?” I’d say no, go and watch something more worthwhile.

First Dates

This show has definitely hit a groove now and is clearly a money spinner too. International versions are springing up all over the place, Fred (the maitre’d) has somehow released a book on love just because he’s French and there’s been a spin off show created. Saying all this, I’m not so keen on the new waiter they’ve hired in. He’s lacking in any perceptible charm and charisma. Whichever episode aired in the first week of October was a stand-out, classic First Dates. Great from start to finish. Hunt it out.

Films

Remarkably only one proper film this month…

hero_manfromreno-2015-1Man From Reno

This has been on my Netflix watchlist for a while and a dark Saturday evening seemed the perfect time to click play. It sees a famous Japanese crime fiction author (Jessica Fletcher in a kimono if you will) return to San Fransisco and get caught up in a criminal plot. The film is half in English it and half in Japanese with subtitles, something I wasn’t necessarily expecting but was a pleasant surprise. I wonder how many people were turned off by the subtitles though, expecting a minor all-English blockbusting thriller.

There is a thriller element to this but I feel like the actual plot itself is too weak to warrant the suspense that they tried to build up. I won’t ruin it by explaining any further but when the reveals begin to happen in the back end of the film you do think “is that it? It’s been working up to that? Were all the deaths worth it?”. Saying all this, it’s not a bad film and I’d recommend it wholeheartedly. The anecdote about the dropped melon is something to look out for if you don’t know it already

Stutterer

Look at me watching a short film! To make matters even more cardigan-wearing and sipping camomile tea-esque, I only watched this because the New Yorker posted it on their website. I was mildly aware of it for winning an Oscar a while ago and if you’ve got a spare few minutes hunt it out. It’s a short film, so I won’t talk in depth about it – just go and enjoy it. And not purely because there’s an attractive male protagonist which might have swayed me a little.

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Matt Shepard Was A Friend Of Mine

I’m ashamed to say, as a gay man, that I was unaware of who Matt Shepard was until the Orlando shooting earlier in the year. Someone on social media tweeted about how it was incorrect to assume all homophobia in America was shocked out of society when Matt Shepard died, or words to that effect. A cursory Google brought up the Wikipedia page and I gave it a quick skim. I didn’t know all that much about the case or its details, Matt’s life or experiences, so this documentary seemed a good place to start (albeit many months later). It does a good job of presenting him as human, with loves and disappointments without being overly sentimental. We know where its all heading so it was wise not to force this point down the viewers throat every few minutes. I did some more research after watching it which brought up this very interesting Guardian article about a book a journalist released a few years ago, shedding new light on the murder and motives.

The Watchlist: August 2016

Films

The Lobster

I hold my hands up here: I actually watched this film in July and forgot to add it to my list to add to that month’s blog. An unlikely oversight actually as I believe that The Lobster might be up there as one of my favourite films ever. It’s dark and macabre, set in the near future where singletons are carted off to a hotel to find a perfect match. If they’re unsuccessful they’re turned into an animal of their choice. There’s so many layers to this film to go into but I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it because I’d recommend it to anyone. The most interesting element of the film is the hotel itself (run by Olivia Colman) and it’s a shame that the focus shifts away from it in the second half but I understand that the plot had to develop. The visits to the city as they pretend to be couples are interestingly done and the ending to the whole film is so darkly twisted but oddly romantic as well. How far would you go for someone you loved?

There’s a lot of interesting social commentary buried deep within this film. There’s a fascination within the hotel of finding someone with whom you have something in common with, something to bond over and start a relationship. Everybody is pigeonholed into the boxes of what they like and dislike these days, with Tinder et al showcasing your music choices, your favourite films and your Facebook page likes. As much as these do help define you as a person common cultural affinity is not the be all and end all of a relationship. And of course, the other commentary is that its impossible to be happily single. The expectation in this dystopian fantasy is that those who are single cannot function efficiently, they’re a drain and without a mate then your life is pointless. There is an assumption (that I make as much as anybody else) that single people are unhappy in their status and consistently on the hunt for someone. It’s wrong but society presents it in that way – going to a restaurant on your own as a single person? Tragic! etc. Also, amusingly, children are given to couples who argue in their marriage to force them to get along. Au contraire!

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Paddington

I turned against animated films in my teens somehow believing that they were childish. I think I failed to understand that being family friendly does not mean that they’re dull for adults; in fact I’d say most animated films have little nods to the adults with in jokes and innuendo that will go over most kids’ heads. Admittedly, Paddington *technically* isn’t an animated film per se, it’s live action with animation. I remember there was a lot of fear about this movie prior to its release in that it would ruin the Paddington franchise (not helped by Colin Firth backing out) but the end results are utterly charming. There’s a tangible solid plot, it’s amusing and the combination of live action and animation doesn’t look ridiculous. A great family movie, all star British cast and it contains Ben Whishaw, Peter Capaldi and Julie Walters. What more could you want?

The Legend Of Barney Thomson

For a film that only came out a year ago I was surprised to discover I had no knowledge of its existence. I merely plucked for it while scrolling through Netflix and was pleasantly surprised. It revolves around dear old incredibly-dull barber Barney Thomson who spends most of his time shepherding his mother from place to place. Things accidentally spiral out of his control and he becomes Scotland’s most wanted man and the more he tries to fix the situation the worst it gets. This is a twisted film, morose and dark but very watchable – and just over 90 minutes long! Perfect! There’s some violence but this is presented in a heightened sense, not in a comedy grotesque Hot Fuzz way, and there’s a fair bit of swearing (hello Scotland!) but I enjoyed it.

Television

Murder Most Horrid

I hadn’t watched this show for years – it was originally streaming on a mostly forgotten service called SeeSaw which was a collection of a whole host of content from across the BBC, ITV and C4 which you could watch on demand with short ad breaks at intervals. It was probably a little ahead of the curve to be honest and might thrive today (although broadcasters are oddly protective of their shows now, only licensing them to certain services, often their own) – I think the team behind it went on to try and get the doomed Project Kangaroo and alter YouView off the ground.

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Anyway, that aside, I remember enjoying series one and two immensely when I watched them. Dawn French plays a different character in each episode in a completely different scenario, all with one defining link – there’s death and a murder involved. These are still incredibly good actually, a little dated in places given it was set in the 90s, but I can see these as being ripe for a BBC Two daytime re-run. Oddly, I found some of the episodes in S3 & 4 incredibly weak , particularly the S3 opener. This seemed odd to me as the show had been off air for a few years before it returned, surely you’d want to come back with a bang? There is some really great plot ideas here though – the abattoir worker who becomes an executioner, the Grim Reaper trying to get to her next appointment and the Head Of Obituaries in a TV company who resorts to killing celebrities to help keep her job. It’s also nice to see some very recognisable actors pop up before they hit the big time! And the theme tune is great too… “as soft as the smoke from a barrel…”

Naked Attraction

Look, I’m not judging you if you watched and enjoyed this show… I did. It feels little smutty and dirty and people were degrading it on Twitter but you have to admit it’s an interesting and original concept. Six naked people are slowly revealed to someone looking for love and they are then whittled down to one to go on a date with. Admittedly, I may have watched this purely to see some naked people on TV originally (no erections though, obviously – I did think judging potential sexual partners on their flaccid penis was a little pointless, but y’know) but kind of got drawn into it all. There were some sound issues with some episodes and the individual booths weren’t mic’ed up properly so you couldn’t here the naked people clearly when they spoke but I think it was an okay programme. It certainly got people talking! The date section at the end though was incredibly abrupt which made it appear like the entire thing was purely to get cocks and tits on TV. There was also the inclusion of lots of faux science sections as if that somehow made the entire thing incredibly relevant: “men with a large Adam’s apple are more attractive to 62% women!”

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Fleabag

What a show this is – ostensibly filthy but it’s got some great lines within it: “how did you two meet?” “he fucked me up the arse”masking the huge amounts of pain that are protagonist, “Fleabag”, feels. She’s coming to terms with her best friend’s accidental suicide and more is revealed about it as the series goes on. She’s also desperately trying to be happy and believes that being sexually active is somehow the only way to this. She uses her sexuality as a gateway, believing that’s all she’s somehow worth and yet also trying to stick up for feminist values at the same time. This is really funny but also incredibly mellow in places. There’s been lots of comparisons to Miranda in the press given the looks to camera that Fleabag gives, but these are far cleverer in their timings than Miranda and really involve the viewer in her world. Breaking the fourth wall is one of my favourite dramatic devices, be it in film or books, and it’s used to aplomb here, both unnervingly (there’s a to camera monologue while she’s having sex) and also in a hilarious and an emotionally raw way too.

Jessica Jones

Bit late to the hype on this one. People were raving about it late last year and I was little scared off it by the fact it was marvel product. I’m not big into superhero films. I find them incredibly repetitive and dull, with the same peril each time and the same ‘city destroyed in an epic battle’ ending. And let’s be honest, we all know the superhero will win. I tried to start The Flash TV series and fell off it (Arrow and Daredevil didn’t interest me) but I thoroughly enjoyed Agent Carter, so I knew I wasn’t completely against all Marvel series. Jessica Jones though? Almost outstanding. Like Agent Carter, Jones is portrayed as a human being (albeit with more character flaws than Carter) but with powers and abilities and belief she’s the only one who can bring down the baddy. In this case it’s David Tennant who is formidable as Kilgrave. Always appearing snappily dressed (so envious of Kilgrave’s suits) he can control people with words – whatever he says they do, unquestioning. I was pleased Tennant landed this role in retrospect. Having played the Doctor it must be incredibly hard to be somehow typecast going forward (Eccleston might have been right to quit…) and the similarities between the Doctor and Kilgrave are a little unnerving to begin with – admittedly the similarities are just ‘British guy in a suit’ but STILL.

Jones has a load of people around her, many of whom she pushes away by being the moody bitch that she is. There’s her hallmate who looks so much like musician The Weeknd even his own mother would struggle to differentiate, her best friend the childstar turned talk show host, the bar manager (Luke Cage) she begins a troubled romantic liaison with. There’s a lot to her past though and lots of things that overlap, slowly drip revealed at the show goes on and there’s enough to keep plates spinning in series two. I admit I found the finale a little flat and disappointing but overall the series delivered on an interesting concept incredibly well. Up there as one of the best series I’ve watched.

Also, surprisingly, alongside The Weeknd confusion it turns out Jones isn’t played by the woman out of Torchwood?! Who knew.

The 80s with Dominic Sandbrook

This documentary series got a little bit lost and I feel it didn’t create quite the buzz it could have done, as it was aired during the ‘limpics. There’s a cultural obsession with the 80s; the music, the politics, the societal change and there’s been countless documentaries focussing on it. It’s difficult to tread too much new ground but Sandbrook manages to present it in a light, new way. He presents a host of the things he deems to be the most important and influential in that decade to ordinary people (Delia Smith over Margaret Thatcher for example)  although the obvious bits come into play too. And of course, given the territory, the pop music soundtrack was 💯.

‘limpics

The only time in four years I’ll ever get drawn into the sporting world. It’s just nice to have easily accessible streams and programmes on TV showcasing sports like gymnastics, badminton, handball, diving etc. The BBC’s coverage was second-to-none as always and a special mention should go to the madness on BBC Four every evening with the Copacabinmen, Maria the bride and Dan Walker. Once again all the cynicism and politics in the world seem to broadly disappear for two weeks (particularly on social  media) and its glorious.

All Aboard the Country Bus – More slow TV from BBC Four. Glory days! It alos aired just after the ‘limpics, the perfect antidote to having “our” channel taken over by sports coverage. Someone on Twitter described it as the channel for people who had notes to get out of PE when they were younger and they couldn’t be more right.

Only Connect – back again with a slightly new format this year. I can’t watch it as much as I’d like due to my work shifts but I always enjoy it when I stick it on.

First Dates – don’t get me started on the scheduling madness again. It appeared for three episodes than buggered off. Bloody hell Channel 4!

The Watchlist: July 2016

A bit of an odd month this month. I went into a bit of a voluntary cultural drought and wasn’t in the mood to start watching any new series of a big American drama or comedy. Instead, I went back and watched episodes of the ol’ familiar in my life. Also, a change in my circumstances (new job! New flat!) half way through the month impacted on my ability to watch bits and pieces as regularly as I used to.

Films

The Fundamentals Of Caring

Netflix Original! Netflix Original! For something that in essence is the equivalent of a straight-to-TV or straight-to-DVD movie, Netflix sure trumpet their exclusives a lot. Starring Craig Roberts out of Submarine (and Tracey Beaker, apparently? I have no memory of him whatsoever), Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez of all people (it took me a while to figure out where I knew her from) this is all about living your life to the full and not precariously through a screen. Oh the irony, as I sit here watching Netflix like its some life-giving organ rather than the life-the-fundamentals-of-caringsucking reality. This is an alright film – a good length, a solid plot and not too shoddy acting. Is it great? Nope. About as average as its possible to be and it could be funnier but it wastes 90 minutes of your life so whatever.

Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close

I feel like this film has been staring back at me from streaming services’ homescreens for years now and I’ve always intended to get round to watching it but was always a little afraid it’d be a bit heavy going and never found myself in the mood for it. However, its time came and I’m glad it did. There’s always the fear that when you’re using 9/11, or something of a similar nature, as a plot device it can be easy to sway towards being crass in delivery or completely unoriginal and be using it for the sake of using it. ELAIC delivers on it incredibly well though, as the life of a young boy and only child is affected by the death of his father who was in one of the Twin Towers. Thomas Horn as Oskar Schell is *outstanding* and it was a real surprise to me to discover on IMDb that he’s not done anything since. I really hope if he still has his acting talent as a now young adult he will pop up again in something. Moving and heartbreaking this is a must watch – there were tears.

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Television

A Very Secret Service

Netflix Original! Netflix Original! I know we’ve discussed this earlier in the post but another issue with the phrase ‘Netflix Original’ is that it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve produced and commissioned the show themselves. A whole host of BBC stuff (including Happy Valley) is billed as Netflix Original over in America purely because they’re the media company broadcasting it in some sense. Here, this is a French series by the TV channel arte and Netflix picked up worldwide distribution rights. It took me a few episodes to get into this but by the end I quite enjoyed it. It’s not side-splittingly funny but there’s humour there (although some of it is a bit bizar73802-au-service-de-la-france-une-comedie-incisive-et-hilarante-ce-soir-sur-artere. Why do they keep going on about the state of the protagonists suit?!) and the main set is fantastic. It’s all based in the French Secret Service in the 1960s complete with token misogyny and bureaucracy and a belief that France is the best thing since slice bread even though their empire is crumbling around them. It’s all presented tongue in cheek and it’s got a great themetune to boot. I would say, however, that its a real shame that the one high ranking female spy is purely there as a plot device. We never see her in action really and she often uses her sexuality to get things done. Double- timbrée!

Boy Meets Girl

I really want to like this show and yet there’s something nagging at me… that it’s not actually very good. I feel like with a lot of linear TV shows sometimes you watch them purely because there’s hope, on a week by week basis, that the next episode will be an improvement. Boy Meets Girl is one of those shows for me. Obviously it’s great to have a transgender character on screen played by a transgender actress but if the scripts and plot aren’t up to scratch there’s only so much I can excuse… Essentially, this is a 30 minute drama with the occasional joke. To class it as a comedy is misleading. Meh.

Miranda

Judge me all you like but I loved Miranda when it first aired and still do – proper studio, slapstick comedy is lacking in this modern age. Admittedly, I’m one of those terrible people who prefer comedies without laughter tracks but if it’s a studio based comedy then I can make an exception. I must have watched all the series at least four or five times now and there’s still many moments that make me cackle. I’m not so sure S1 has aged necessarily well viewing it seven years on but it’s an old familiar for me, a comedy comfort blanket when I’m not up to watching anything else.

Please Like Me

FINALLY, this show is now legally available to view in the UK via streaming service Amazon Prime. As a result, I also delved back into this, watching the occasional episode (out of sync). I won’t go into too much depth as I’ve discussed it earlier in the year but this is a *must watch*.

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Jonathan Creek

Another comfort blanket for me when nothing else will do, although not an old familiar. I’ve mainly watched this in the past when I’ve been ill but I wasn’t willing to wait any longer to continue with it. All episodes are completely new to me aside from the very recent specials but this show is right up my alley. Mysteries, comedy, self contained episodes and all wrapped up nicely by the end. Strong casts, good solutions blah blah blah. This time round I polished off S4 and although not as strong as previous seasons (how could it be without Caroline Quentin?) this still had a lot going for it. Whether or not the new 2016 special will do too we shall see.

Celebrity First Dates

Once again Channel 4 continue to mess with my head by having new episodes of First Dates airing at a completely random time and then only for a few episodes. It moves position more than someone in a doctor’s waiting room with piles. ‘slebrity First Dates though is a nice idea and it’s always great when the date have no idea who they are.

The Watchlist: June 2016

Films

Just one this month…

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Departure

There was a period of my life when I was around 17 when I seemed to watch an endless succession of coming-of-age films as some kind of distraction from the fact I *should* have been coming of age and wasn’t. There were no wild parties, no flawed romances, no new friends or exciting strangers crossing my path. I was just bumbling through with no epiphanies and hiding my sexuality like any good teen homosexual. I’ve still got a soft spot for the genre and fast forward to 2016 and here’s a gay coming of age film from Peccadillo films. Starring Juliet Stevenson as a mother coming to terms with her crumbling marriage, she’s gone to France to clear their French holiday home and has taken her only son with her. Elliott is played by Alex Lawther who’s a chap you can imagine being in every BBC period drama for the next ten years. And *would you believe it* the son is gay and a handsome stranger happens to cross his path! I jest, I jest. But srsly, Elliott’s this lonely, arty individual who’s working on his poetry and falling in love for the first time (and with carrots). This is actually a really nicely done film. Sure, it doesn’t really go anyway in particular and isn’t going to change the world but it’s a lovingly crafted drama with strong leads.

Television

Orange Is The New Black: S4

One of the most talked about programmes of the past few years returns and people were a little anxious about Season 4. S3 was mocked for being too dull but I have to say I enjoyed it and found it refreshing – the thing that keeps OITNB together is the strength of its characters and S3 focussed on them and showed the background of many of those in the fringes. Clearly, however, producers are worried about how to keep the OITNB train rolling. Characters are great, but there’s only so much you can do within a closed prison environment – their answer? Bring in a shedload of new characters. If the prisoners can’t go out and meet new people let’s bring the people to them. In this season, inmate numbers are up with a fresh intake (it’s a privately run prison now and they’ve doubled capacity), there’s a load of new guards and a new Head Honcho called Piscatella (seemingly the very definition of a gay bear on Grindr). Caputo is up against it as ucleerf6xeaaxfelsual, trying his best with little budget and now under the constraints of a corporation. Once again, the show moves further away from Piper – her storyline has been told, as has Alex’s and Red’s and Burset’s… and the series suffers from having no real focus. Sure the character ensemble is strong but you need something to ‘rally’ the troops as it were and there’s nothing here. As much as enjoyed the pace of S3, S4 didn’t learn from its mistakes.

The start of the series is unbelievably fluffy and, dare I say it, a little dull. There’s lots of plates spinning continuously that aren’t all that interesting. The only thing keeping it going is the ability to bingewatch the show. I firmly believe that if this was a linear TV programme aired weekly audience would drop off a cliff week by week, with some of the end of episode cliffhangers incredibly woeful. It picks up towards the second half and the message of inherent racism in society becomes reinforced well (and tragically) in the final episodes. It’s clear to see, however, that OITNB is little tired – the ending of S4 hints at changes to come though…

The Americans: S1

This show’s very hidden away in the UK. Originally picked up by ITV it was given a Saturday night ‘late’ slot that ended up being pushed back later and later and now it resides on Sky exclusive channel ITV Encore. I was keen to get back into it – I’d heard good things about it, and indeed, raved about it myself when the first season was over our way. Somehow in the intervening years I’d convinced myself that I’d watched the first half of S1 and then dropped out for whatever reason and was going to start with S2 watching instead. I plumped for a full rewatch which was probably wise – it turns out I’d merely seen the pilot and then never watched it again although I loved it. The complete ineptitude of ITV Player back in 2013 must have scared me off committing.

This is a strong drama. The Cold War era is endlessly fascinating but its easy to make TV dramas set around that time full of clichés and unsurprising (saying this, The Game on BBC Two last year was great). The Americans spins the perspective around and goes with the ‘anti-hero’ device, something I’d say is surprisingly under utilised in dramas, as we follow Soviet spies living a life of an American couple. It’s strong, it’s tightly plotted and ensures you commit to the characters – it’s very comparable to Mad Men. (Hopefully it won’t fall into the trap of taking viewers for granted – I fell strongly out of love with Don Draper mid way through the show even when it was trying to convince me to continue worshipping him) Obviously, with any drama, there’s some weak episodes here but overall for a first season it’s a strong start. Some of the flashback scenes do feel a little convoluted and cheesy so I’ll be interested to see if they make a return in S2.

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UnREAL

Oh, reality TV. While everyone seemed to be going nuts for Love Island I settled for the other thing everyone was going on about – a TV drama set behind the scenes of a Bachelor-esque reality TV show and written and produced by someone with real life experience of the genre. The two main characters here are Rachel, the great but flawed producer on the show who hates it but is great at her job, and chief producer Julia, played by Constance Zimmer. This became oddly unsettling to me because Julia doesn’t seem all that different from the press officer Zimmer plays in The Newsroom.

Episode 1 is a very strong opener and the series overall isn’t terrible but the show clearly thinks it’s far more clever and different than it is in reality – “look, our protagonist works on a TV show that belittles women and makes them look like man hungry objects but wears a ‘This Is What A Feminist Looks Like’ t-shirt for two episodes!” – and yet falls into the same dull traps as any dirty big American TV show. Airing on Lifestyle over there, a network not exactly known for strong dramas (indeed this was their first series, they took a stab in the dark greenlighting this), they viewed S1 almost as a pilot within itself. This interview with the show’s producer in the New Yorker is worth a read. It gets very spoiler heavy half way through so tread carefully.

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The Disappearance

This month’s foreign drama of choice is this French family thriller with the classic device of ‘young girl disappears’. So far, so dull… and yet The Disappearance gets so many things right. The ensemble cast is incredibly strong and particularly Alix Poisson as the girl’s mother. For a show that follows so many TV mystery tropes (the parents aren’t perfect, the brother’s a little mysterious, there’s an Uncle, there’s a boyfriend, there’s infidelity, there’s a male and female cop duo) it feels remarkably original. It’s a real shame, however, that the female police officer was wasted as a character. Every seed that was sown about her personal life was forgotten about quickly and yet she gave the impression of being a far more intriguing and layered character than divorced-male-cop-with-mildly-rebellious-plot-device-daughter. There’s enough red herrings to keep you hooked and armchair detectives will feel satisfied. Fans of Broadchurch or The Missing will love this and it’s far superior to the former.

City In The Sky

If there’s one thing that TV doesn’t need another of, it’s a transport documentary. You can’t move for them in the schedules – when one on the London underground finishes, there’ll be on on Stansted Airport round the corner. That said I (and obviously many others!) can’t get enough of them. City In The Sky tries to do something different with the air travel documentary and focusses on the elements on flight – the preparation and take off, the journey itself and the landing. The series is so called because its estimated that at any given time there’s a whopping 1.2m people in the sky toing and froing between destinations and the ‘city’ is expected to double in size in the next two decades. There’s very little here that I haven’t seen explored before in other documentaries and yet it comes across as remarkably fresh, in part because the two presenters, Dallas Campbell and mathematician Dr Hannah Fry, are extremely likeable. They’re not telling you things but exploring it with you and holding your hand along the way. I do detest the ‘hip’ method of the presenters “texting” each other throughout each episode though – this isn’t an episode of Hollyoaks.

p03szkr1Mum

There was a lot of people on Twitter claiming this was the best sitcom since sliced bread. The most startlingly thing for me was its similarity to Simon Amstell’s impeccable Grandma’s House – even the house the episodes revolve in looks more or less identical! Just by some happy coincidence all the characters happen to have popped round on the same day and everything falls into place from there. This is a sitcom that thrives on the mundane – it’s slow, it’s ploddy, it’s awkward, it’s in real time and successfully manages to be a good mirror for real life. Poor old Mum puts up with crap because it’s easier than arguing (isn’t that always the way? Anything for a quiet life, eh) and the characters we meet in Episode 1 are the same as those in episode 6 but we’ve learnt far more about their character, their nuances and everyone isn’t what they seem on the surface. I hate to use the overused onion analogy but their is a bit of layer pulling going on here. Kelly is a masterpiece.

Love, Nina

Helena Bonham Carter in something not directed or produced by Tim Burton – what a treat. I enjoyed this; a very light BBC One sitcom.

Panorama: The Orlando Massacre

Kudos to the production team for focussing on those inside rather than the gunman. This is the story of the clubgoers and their retelling of events inside Pulse that night. I’m not ashamed to say I cried watching this.

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.

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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.

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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.