Stuart’s Entertainment Review (The Detectorists, Peaky Blinders, Manhunt Unabomber etc)

February 12, 2018

A roundup of some of the shows I’ve been watching lately…

The Detectorists

Because this is considered a ‘gentle’ comedy, I made the mistake of thinking that it was something akin to Last of the Summer Wine. In actual fact, this show is probably the best BBC sitcom in a long, long time. It’s not what I would consider hilarious, but it has its moments. The main thing though is that the characters are likeable and relatable and the story across all three seasons is one you can invest in.

It’s feel good and charmingly British.

Peaky Blinders

Perhaps less charmingly British, but British nevertheless is Peaky Blinders.

Packed with big name actors and some absolutely brilliant performances, it’s entertaining and gritty throughout.

It’s not exactly the most original of plotlines – a family rise to prominence in a historical setting – but that setting is a good one, and the story does progress as the show goes on.

I also liked how it used modern music instead of stuff that perhaps might have seemed more fitting to the era.

Manhunt: Unabomber

What I like about this show is that it’s an apparently mostly accurate retelling of a genuine FBI case, so while it’s not the most exciting show you’ll ever see, it is at least informative and interesting.

Running for only 8 episodes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, but if I had any criticism, it would be that the time hopping, non-linear nature of it seemed unnecessary.

The Good Place

I thought I’d written a review of The Good Place after I watched season 1 on NetFlix last year, but apparently not. And I’m glad I didn’t because I probably would have said I thought it was a bit light and no more than average. I kept watching though and just finished off the second season this evening, and I’ve got to seriously recommend it.

It’s not a laugh out loud comedy – indeed I don’t really remember ever doing that while watching it – but what it is is clever. It makes you think while still being fun.

And unlike so many other shows there’s genuine development, not only of characters, but of plot; the show is now in a completely different place (no pun intended) than it was at the start.

Like I say, I’d recommend it highly. It’s well worth your time.

Lovesick

Previously known as Scrotal Recall on Channel 4, this show was bought by Netflix and renamed as something that perhaps has more marketability.

I’d never seen it before Saturday, but I’m hooked now and have binge watched it over the last couple of days.

It’s a bit derivative of How I Met Your Mother (the leads may as well be called Ted and Barney) but it has that more adult, British twist to it in terms of the language and the style of humour.

More than the other two comedies in this list it’ll make you chuckle, but it also has a story that’s decent enough to sustain it.

Riverdale

Watched the first episode but it didn’t grab me. I think Pretty Little Liars has filled my ‘Teen Drama for BFFs’ quota for the next wee while.

Danger Man

A much older show, but I’ve recently started watching the 1960s Patrick McGoohan ITC show.

For when it was made it does seem high budget, and though the episodes tend to resolve far quicker than they should, it’s a decent watch.

Of course, knowing me as you do, dear readers, part of the fun is identifying the actors who have appeared in Doctor Who at one point or another.

Let’s just say when Patrick Troughton showed up with his Salamander voice on, I was pretty thrilled.

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Movies: The Cloverfield Paradox Review (or “Pish”)

February 6, 2018

This should have been a review of I, Tonya, but I’ve come to accept that I just can’t go to the cinema after 8pm anymore without falling asleep.

So instead, we decided to stay in and watch The Cloverfield Paradox; that way if I fell asleep on the couch at least I could rewind bits.

And that’s exactly what happened because despite taking a couple of caffeine pills to keep me going, I did fall asleep. The pills did nothing…nothing!!

The thing is though, part of the reason I fell asleep was because this movie was pish. If it had been exciting, it would have kept my attention, but alas it didn’t.

So what was wrong with it?

Well, think of it like this…

Imagine a really good episode of Doctor Who. No matter what way you swing it, part of what makes it a good episode is because of The Doctor. There are other things going on, but the writing and performance of the lead character will add something to it. Without him, it wouldn’t be as entertaining.

Now imagine a poor episode of Doctor Who. Even in this example at least you’d have the acting and performance of someone like David Tennant or Peter Capaldi to provide a little chink of light,

Finally, imagine a poor episode of Doctor Who without The Doctor, and then imagine that episode running for three times the length.

It gives you a cold shudder doesn’t it?

Well that’s what The Cloverfield Paradox was like. A poorly thought out, lazily written yawn fest on a space station that tried to be clever but failed to capture my imagination, and based on other reviews I just skimmed, everyone else’s too.

It took me about half an hour to even realise what was going on, and then once I did get up to speed, I just wasn’t impressed. It was dull ‘And Then There Were None’ stuff that seemed to exist solely to build to a ‘shocking’ twist that unnecessarily tied it in to the other Cloverfield films.

And that’s in spite of it having a stellar cast and what looked like a decent budget.

That all counts for nothing if the story doesn’t cut the mustard.

And this story did not.

You should avoid it, because like I say, it’s pish.


Movies: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri Review (or “Not My Cup of Tea”)

January 30, 2018

When lots of people passionately recommend a film to me, and then I watch it and don’t particularly enjoy it, I wonder if it’s my issue or theirs.

Why is it I don’t like this critically acclaimed picture that so many people rave about?

Sometimes it’s a mystery, but other times it’s obvious and in this case I know exactly why I don’t see the attraction in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri.

I just don’t like this relentless churning out of movies and TV shows set in rural, backwater parts of the USA. The environment doesn’t appeal to me, I wouldn’t want to live there and I tire of seeing actors put on these exaggerated accents and pretend to be country bumpkin hicks.

If Three Billboards had a gripping, fast paced story then I might have enjoyed it more, but unsurprisingly given the setting, it was pretty slow and ponderous as it examined life in ‘Disenfranchised America’. It’s as if stories told in that neck of the woods are incapable of being presented in any other tone.

But don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t bad. The plot did have some merit – even though I thought it lacked any sort of proper conclusion – and I can understand why people like it, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

For purely aesthetic reasons I would consider this one to avoid, however in the likely event you don’t have that seem level of disdain for the setting as I do, and don’t mind your movies to be slow and ‘sleepy’ then you should give it a chance.


Movies: The Post Review (or “Interesting, But Not Exciting”)

January 29, 2018

When it comes to The Post, I reckon you’re going to be in one of two camps; either you’ll have found it interesting or utterly boring.

My girlfriend Mhairi certainly thought it was the latter.

To her, the trailer made it look like it would be an exciting watch, but all that stuff only happened in the last 15 minutes, by which time it was devoid of any drama.

It just wasn’t her cup of tea.

I enjoyed it though. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t exciting and if I’m honest it was more than a little bit worthy, but it provided an account – whether entirely accurate or not – of an important point in the history of the government vs the press that is often overlooked in favour of Watergate and other scandals.

And I also enjoyed it because of its strong cast of recognisable, high quality actors, not least Tom Hanks.

Could it have been better? Yes, of course it could. I don’t think it would be fair to expect it to be exciting, but if I was to have one major criticism, it would be that it’s about the Washington Post rather than the New York Times, who were the ones who actually released the Pentagon Papers in the first place. Would they not have been the better choice to focus on?

For me at least, this is a movie I would recommend going to see, but be aware that you could just as easily come away from it finding it as boring as Mhairi did.


Movies: Darkest Hour Review (or ‘Good, But Nothing We Haven’t Seen Before’)

January 29, 2018

The reviews of Darkest Hour seem to focus on Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill, and on the surface, that’s fair enough because he is entertaining.

But here’s where I have an issue; why is it that playing Churchill in a manner that we might consider accurate – and how many of us have studied video of him enough to know if it truly is – so worthy of praise? It seems to me that everyone manages to do it well enough because his is a voice and manner that is ripe for impression.

So while Oldman plays Churchill as well as any of us might expect, I don’t really think he plays him any better or worse than any number of actors who have given it a go over the years. The only difference is that while John Lithgow just looked like John Lithgow doing a stoop and a funny voice, Oldman seemed to have transformed himself physically as well.

Anyway, that aside, The Darkest Hour was a decent enough effort that looked good and kept me entertained. It told an interesting story, but dare I say a story that we’ve been told about – one way or another – in multiple TV shows and movies over the last few years, and so it didn’t feel fresh or exciting.

The other issue I had with it was that it wasn’t quite sure what it wanted to achieve with Churchill’s secretary, played by Lily James. At first it looked as though the film was going to be played as being about Churchill from her perspective, but she very quickly faded into an incidental character.

It just seemed a bit pointless to me.


Movies: The Foreigner Review (or “Jackie Chan vs The IRA: What’s Not To Love?”)

January 5, 2018

The one recurring point made in reviews of The Foreigner – which is labelled a NetFlix Original movie in the UK even though it seems to have had a cinematic release elsewhere – is that because it’s based on a book written in 1992, the subject matter feels slightly dated.

That’s a fair observation; the idea of IRA bombs in the UK and Pierce Brosnan playing Gerry Adams does feel a little bit out of sync with modern society.

But I think we can forgive that.

The Foreigner – or Jackie Chan vs The IRA – comes across like the type of movie that someone who loves ‘worthy’ cinematic presentations would hate.

It’s a pretty basic story, it’s entirely predictable, there’s sometimes a bit too much talking and it’s a little bit silly even though it’s supposed to be played straight, but it’s entertaining, and that’s what counts.

The story of an unimposing Chinese restaurateur – who just so happens to be ex US special forces – exacting revenge on the IRA in the quest to find the man responsible for planting a bomb in London that killed his daughter is just Death Wish done in a different mould, but that’s exactly the sort of thing I love. There’s plenty of daft fight scenes in odd settings, there’s over the top accents, ridiculous policing and other stuff that will make you chuckle even though you’re not supposed to.

And it works.

Put it this way, it lasts just under two hours and it flew by, whereas a fair amount of movies that go that length or 20 minutes over, feel like they have taken an eternity to conclude.

Chan, despite being a bit older now, can still handle himself while Brosnan is hammy but enjoyable as the Adams impersonator.

I thought it was great fun, so if you like this sort of thing, it’s well worth a watch on NetFlix.


Movies: Molly’s Game Review (or “Poker Is Never Going To Be As Clever As The West Wing”)

January 4, 2018

Anyone familiar with Aaron Sorkin’s work as a writer will know that it’s usually razor-sharp but very wordy.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his first foray into directing on the big screen, Molly’s Game – a movie about an ex-skier who accidentally stumbles into the world of organising high stakes poker games – is no exception.

But due to the movie’s over-reliance on narration and directly explaining plot points and characterisation to the audience, it was too wordy.

And that was both a help and a hindrance to my enjoyment of it.

On the one hand, as I sat there in an overly hot cinema – really, it was like sitting inside an oven – I felt that Sorkin was trying too hard to make a story about poker as clever and snappy as The West Wing, and that was never going to happen.

On the other hand, afterwards it occurred to me that by telling the story like that, he saved it from being really boring. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the most exciting film in the world, but it wasn’t boring.

In fact, Molly’s Game turned out to be an entertaining watch, although like just about every movie to come out of Hollywood it overstayed its welcome by 20 minutes. Also, it had a weak ending, but that seemed inevitable based on how the story developed.

Should you see it? Well there are worse ways to spend an evening, but when you consider it’ll probably be on NetFlix or Amazon Prime by about May, a trip to the cinema is in no way essential.