Weekly Roundup (13/1/13)

Hey, look at this. I’ve stayed true to my word and I’m back for my second weekly roundup of 2013. Here’s what I’ve been watching and writing about this week. 

Saul - Homeland

Last week I worked my way through the first season of Twin Peaks, and although I’ve boshed through the first five episodes of season two already I won’t be talking about that again quite yet. No, instead I’ll talk about the show that I’ve now completely caught up on – Homeland. Yes, I was a little bit late to the party with this one and while the second season was airing on Channel 4 my girlfriend and I set to work on the first season. After a four-episode marathon last night we finally finished the second season too. Now, I quite enjoyed the first season. It had a great set-up, the principal cast all totally bring it and I genuinely didn’t see most of the twists and turns coming along the way. Most importantly it felt like a really taut show. Every scene seemed essential to the overall story they wanted to tell, and it seemed impeccably paced and planned out. It wasn’t flawless, but it was a solid and engaging season of television. The second season, by contrast, is absolutely bonkers.

The pace is furious from the get-go, and aspects of the story you’d imagine could have been spun out throughout the entire season are resolved within a few episodes. After those crazy opening few episodes (and the truly awful fourth episode New Car Smell) there’s then the excellent and contained Q&A, but following that sublime hour of television the show then jets off at full speed again. The difference is that before the furious pace was in a straight narrative line, but after Q&A it veers all over the place. There are some frankly ludicrous plot contrivances (notably the hit and run and pacemaker debacles), and the introduction of Zuleikha Robinson’s character is lazy in the extreme. 

However, it’s not all negative. The main characters are all still compelling, and Mandy Patinkin (the series’ MVP) has a beard of unparalleled magnificence. Rupert Friend also proved to be a great addition, and his character provided a nice change to the CIA dynamics. It’s still frequently thrilling, and despite some nonsensical stuff going on around the edges, the main thrust of the story is still enough to keep one hooked. I’m not exactly sure what I thought of the final episode (in which a big old reset button is effectively pushed), but regardless I’ll still be back next season. Maybe they can strip it back to what it was in the first season – sacrifice a little bit of ambition in order to trim that fat. 

Gangster-squad

Moving onto movies, this week I watched Take This Waltz…but sadly I won’t be discussing that one. I’ll be focusing on the two films I caught the big screen this week. The first was a press screening of Gangster Squad (Empire Leicester Square, Screen 1), and I reacted the the movie a whole lot better than most people seem to have. It has to be said that after reading the cogent arguments of the movie’s nay-sayers I’m not quite as on board with it as I first was, but I’d still give it a middling 3-star endorsement. Yes, it’s cartoonish and inconsequential, but did anyone really look at Sean Penn’s face on the posters and think it would be anything else? It looks fantastic, and even though their characters are paper-thin and under-used, most of the supporting cast are spot on. Ruben Fleischer’s direction can tend towards the shoddy but at least he’s showing some ambition with what he tries to do visually, so as far as I’m concerned it’s a flawed but entertaining piece of work.

Les Misérables

Next up was the inescapable behemoth that is Les Miserables (Cineworld O2, Screen 2). I’ve seen the musical before and I enjoyed it without falling totally in love with it. A similar thing happened with the movie. I liked the movie – I should stress that before I begin to criticise it – and in the same way that those Abba songs survived the abomination that was Mamma Mia, the best songs on show here are simply too good to fail. But that’s just it; the film soars in spite of the filmmaking. Tom Hooper’s not a bad director by any stretch, but I don’t believe he’s a particularly good one either. His wacky camera angles are extremely off-putting and his colour palette is drab in the extreme. Perhaps uninspiring is the best word I could use to describe him. Sure, his extreme close-ups and long sweeping shots add something that you just don’t get on stage (and the choice works superbly during Anne Hathaway’s all-conquering ‘I Dreamed A Dream’), but that seems to be his only trick. When Samantha Barks sings ‘On My Own’ later in the film he uses the exact same bloody technique, and by that point it’s tired. 

Hooper also seems in two minds about the scale he wants his film to have. The opening sequence, complete with a dodgy CGI ship and a fluttering piece of CGI paper, suggest that he’d like it to be an epic translation of the musical. Yet as the film goes on the action unfolds on sets that look like they were built to resemble the original stage setting (I’m thinking of the ‘Lovely Ladies’ set and the barricade, for example) and seem oddly small in comparison to some of the stuff we’ve seen before. It’s just so frustratingly inconsistent, and that coupled with Hooper’s (and cinematographer Danny Cohen’s) ugly visual style makes it a film that’s no fun to look at. You could say that that’s the point for a film about The Miserable Ones, but then shouldn’t it start to pop visually when the flag-waving begins? Well, it doesn’t. Maybe that’s the reason that it really begins to drag during the second half of its 157-minute running time, and that’s not something I ever felt while watching the stage production. Hooper needs to be given credit for making the decision to perform the songs live on set and for crafting the ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ sequence with such aplomb, but he’s still a director I remain to be convinced by. Cast-wise, I thought Hathaway, Barks and Jackman all stood out, while Crowe (obviously) and Seyfried (whose Eponine seems dead behind the doe eyes) dropped the ball somewhat. On the whole it’s still a thumbs up from me, but with serious reservations, and when it unavoidably has to be compared with the other films in the Oscar race then I have to start getting a little down on it because it comes up short in comparison.

qt

Right, well that went on longer than expected. Maybe I should have just written a full-on review. No matter, on to what I actually have written this week. Apart from Sunday night’s Golden Globes live-blog I haven’t had anything new go up on HeyUGuys, so it’s mostly stuff for The Playlist. The news stories I wrote this week were about Life’s Too Short, Da Vinci’s Demons, J.J. Abrams, Oz The Great and Powerful, The Grandmaster, This is 40, Robin Williams, M. Night Shyamalanadingdong, Robopocalypse, Stoker  and Quentin Tarantino. The last one’s my favourite, and not just because that was the one I pitched rather than being commissioned. Tarantino’s interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy was a fascinating watch, and so bloody interesting to discuss. The comments section went mad for that one, which is always nice, and I think we were one of the first (if not the first) movie sites to run the story too. 

That’s just about it for this week. There was no new podcast last week either, but we’re back in the “studio” recording our first proper show of 2013 on Monday and we have an excellent line-up of guests confirmed. See you next week. 

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