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TV and shit what I have been watching

Parks & Recreation ended its penultimate series at pretty much the same standard as the previous five – almost unheard of for a long-running comedy. I noticed whilst watching earlier seasons that former The Simpsons showrunner Mike Scully is on the writing staff, a show whose successful first decade is well-aped by Parks character-first approach, world-building and loveable ensemble. For all the great material put out on BBC and Channel 4, I’m convinced shunning the 20+episode season writing-room approach in favour of six 25-minute chunks is a great failing of British sitcoms. 

Louie is unstoppable in its fourth series, pure auteur-art that drifts further from the mainstream (or any attempt to milk jokes) with each episode. I’m still bitter I missed getting live tickets for Louis CK’s London gigs last year. 

Game of Thrones. I’m up-to-date having blitzed three seasons over Easter. I wish I’d watched those first thirty episodes before visiting the Northern Irish Causeway Coast last autumn, the various locales lost on me at the time. Even as a non-reader of the novels, its apparent HBO have stumbled upon the preferable method of adapting this type of story, my prayers for a glorious eight-season run of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower more likely by the day Thrones maintains its success. 

Hannibal proved its worth in a triumphant second year, learning from the mistakes of the imperfect premiere season and finding focus with its (flexible) backstory to the Thomas Harris’ novels. It’s going to be interesting watching the gang segue into that timeframe over the next year or so, whether they’re comfortable to deviate radically from canon or whether we’ll see relatively straight adaptations of Red Dragon & Silence of the Lambs. With this cast and creative team I’m convinced it’ll wind up as the definitive screen telling of those stories.

Fargo had me from the first episode, but the surprise reveal mid-series of its status as a sequel rather than a loose remake to the Coen Brothers classic tipped it over into perhaps my favourite new show of the year after True Detective. The cast roll with the black, off-kilter Coeny tone and the possibilities are endless for further stories in this strange little universe. Here’s waiting for the 2015 greenlight!

24: Live Another Day, half way through the reduced run, is a nice little nostalgia trip to early-era Bauer, with hilarious London setting and Stephen Fry as Prime Minister. In lieu of a feature film, it’s a fine way to send off the character on a high after a disastrous final three years on the original run.

 Marvel’s Agents of Shield was something of an endurance challenge for the first thirteen of fourteen episodes; an easy hit that never quite struck the target. Post-Captain America: The Winter Soldier though, gears have just started to whir, previously facile characters springing to life and a largely unsuccessful show starting to discover itself as a complimentary piece to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ll probably continue watching it next year. 

Mad Men is done with the first block of its two-part seventh series and they’re pulling back to the strengths of the first three years with the microscope on Don Draper and the wider cast in the periphery. All things end, but it’ll be especially sad to see a show as fresh, engaged and consistent as Mad Men finish up the sixties.

Filmy things

Exhibition (dir. Joanna Hogg). I’ve enjoyed all three of Hogg’s films, however Exhibition feels like she’s stretching her legs, balancing the love for middle-class angst with some daringly experimental and creative touches in sound design and interior exploration. The staid, static approach worked perfectly for her earlier dramas, but this feels like an important development in style, opening up all sorts of possibilities for where she could head next. 

Short Term 12 (dir. Destin Daniel Cretton) is almost perfect but would be too humble to admit it. A drama set in a facility for disturbed teenagers should be tough material, but the film is warm-hearted to its core. Cretton, through beautifully understated writing and direction understands that there’s nothing more interesting then real life. 

Godzilla (dir. Gareth Edwards). Summer 2014 is on fire with a weird consistency rate and most of the big releases hitting their mark. Surely this would’ve been the sort of project you would’ve earmarked for failure, but Edwards’ has delivered a picture with superhuman levels of patience, holding off the big payoffs for the final act whilst teasing and charming the audience through the opening ninety. It’s a real craftsman’s blockbuster, strangely old-fashioned in an industry that thrives on cheap thrills and instant gratification. 

X-Men: Days of Future Past (dir. Bryan Singer) is the third decent X-Men picture on the go, a feat I would’ve thought impossible during the dark five-year patch at the end of last decade. Fox have pulled it around, got their house in order, and are again delivering big budget superhero cinema of a very good, if unremarkable, quality. There’s been a little chat about how Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence were dragged back kicking & screaming on their trilogy contracts, careers having blossomed since signing for First Class, so its little surprise they seem less enthused then the old-hands from the 2000 and 2003 pictures. Stewart & McKellen seem to be enjoying themselves after a lengthy absence; Bryan Singer weeping for joy behind the camera that X-Men is back to save him from the wilderness. 

Edge of Tomorrow (dir. Doug Liman) has no right to work as well as it does. Liman’s been producing unmitigated shit for years and the marketing campaign has been sloppy and unappealing, yet the film works on its own terms, it’s funny as hell, it mines the well-worn Groundhog Day concept, and it deserves to be the hit it likely won’t be. A lot of that rests with Cruise, who gets a worse press than he deserves for a guy who’s spent thirty years performing to a high standard in these sorts of movies, always ready to prove his detractors wrong following the distracting intrusion of his personal life.

The Kings of Summer (dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts) fulfilled my greedy periodic desire for indie coming-of-agers, that most attractive of genre, with some impressive performances from the young cast and an appealing, adventurous story in which the three leads abandon their shitty parents to live in a self-constructed house in the woods. Apparently the director might be making a Metal Gear Solid video game feature next. I guess in Hollywood, anyone’s corruptible…

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