‘The ABC Murders’ – BBC1

Spoiler warning: details about the murderer lie below!

Mustache-twirling Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is a beloved character in literature, in cinema and on TV. Recently he’s been re-imagined as a Hollywood action hero by Kenneth Branagh in a slightly strange but ultimately well-received version of Murder on the Orient Express. So now to the BBC’s Christmas drama schedules, a big part of which has been Agatha Christie adaptations by Sarah Phelps. Over the past few years she’s brought us Ordeal by Innocence, And Then There Were None and Witness for the Prosecution. Ginger and restrained adaptations are not Phelp’s style. How do you rip up the rule book but stay true to the source material?

It turns out all you need to do is wait. The passage of time makes characters different people, more fragile and sympathetic, more human. John Malkovich portrays the great detective as a weary yesterday’s man – the ying to David Suchet’s dapper and self-important yang. He’s dismissed as just another nosy parker by the young and very serious Inspector Crome (Rupert Grint). The world has moved on since Poirot’s celebrity heyday. This is all done in an extremely heavy-handed fashion as Poirot’s retired police pal Japp literally drops dead in front of him. Alright, alright, we get it – everyone is mortal. Poor old Poirot is lonely; in desperate need of a Scooby gang – despite first appearances he’s no good at coping with life alone and forgotten.

Enter the murderer who remembers Poirot at the height of his powers and wants to play a game. By letter he tells him he’s off to kill a series of people throughout the UK whose names start with each letter of the alphabet in turn and it’s up to Poirot to figure out the connection between the seemingly random victims stop him. What an effort from the murderous mastermind to troll Poirot pre-Twitter. Think of the expense in stamps alone!

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Christmas Telly Round-Up 2018

It’s New Years Day and I’m feeling charitable so this blog is brought to you in a whisper, with a cold flannel (for your forehead) and a bacon sandwich (for your mouth… if you need instructions on how to eat a sandwich, maybe don’t get out of bed yet). Read my round-up of the best Christmas telly and figure out what you want to watch on catch-up to keep the festive feelings flowing, and I’ll pop to the shops for paracetamol. Alright?

Click and Collect – BBC 1

Dev and Andy off to save Christmas

A classic tale of mismatched neighbours Andrew (Stephen Merchant, playing exactly the sort of person he always does) and Dev (Asim Chaudhry) from Bedford on a 9 hour mission to save Christmas and buy the must-have toy (Sparklehoof the Unicorn Princess) for Andrew’s daughter. Dev is the lonely chubby one, separated from his family at Christmas, and Andrew is the awkward angry intellectual, successful but bad tempered with a family who loves him for some unseen qualities. Dev teaches Andrew to be a happier man and a better father, and despite themselves they’ll be best buddies for life. Basically it’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles or Jingle All The Way for the small screen. It looks lovely with cosy camera angles suited to our suburban action heros. There’s great pacing throughout with real tension and subversive moments of mischief. Neither lead performance is all that over-the-top and their situation, while silly, seems entirely probable. An unexpected gem.

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‘Watership Down’ – BBC1 /Netflix

Christmas is a time for giving and receiving, and spending a lot of money on presents that may not be exactly what the recipient really wanted. Do you have friends and relations who give great gifts or have you been in training for weeks to perfect your thank-you face? Shining eyes under a paper cracker crown, broad grin, scrabbling around in the box hoping they’ve included the receipt? “Thanks very much for the 6 pack of pan scourers Nana!” Does that sound familiar at all?

The new Watership Down adaptation showing on BBC1 and Netflix made me think they should have kept the receipt. This was one of the early festive highlights with a rumoured budget of £20 million for state-of-the-art CG animation and seems to have put the flop in Flopsy Bunny with very mixed reviews across the board. And it’s not just the ‘we should never do remakes’ crowd feeling grinchy towards these cottontails.

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‘The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell’ – Netflix

Sometimes TV shows come along and they’re more than one blogger can handle. Welcome to this original collaborative effort between yours truly at Dead Pixel Test and Birmingham food blogger extraordinaire Laura who writes over at Full to the Brum. Your usual Dead Pixel Test fare is above, seasoned with Laura’s unique take on this singular show, and her thoughts in full on each episode is your delicious dessert buffet below.

In the week where TV fans are lamenting the silencing of an animatronic cat, I might have just the thing to cheer you up. The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell is a strange box of delights, released on Netflix in the build-up to Halloween, which is of course goth Christmas.

This out-there show is based around wholesome pastimes of baking, crafting and sewing but Christine specialises in some shocking creations. And she sets out her stall early. The first thing we see is Christine painting what seems to be an actual human skull and then absentmindedly biting off a spiders leg. Our host is a totally glamorous 1950s housewife with a sort of romantic Snow White look about her. Her set is a gorgeous pastel coloured kitchen with gothic hints in the spiderweb patterned kitchen cabinets. It’s as if the Stepford Wives weren’t obliging robots at all but had their own secret coven.

Odd enough right? Well, lets meet her team. Christine’s rag-tag adopted family are all incredible puppets made by the Jim Henson Company. The stand-out star here is resurrected roadkill Rose who leaks partially digested food out of her seams. Not letting a little thing like that hold her back she’s a insatiably horny murderous scene-stealer, with hobbies including eating herself into a diabetic coma, torturing neighbours and humping gnomes. Rankle is the sarcastic talking mummified cat from ancient Egypt (a descendant or ancient ancestor of Salem, depending on how you see it) who still expects to be worshiped. Big cuddly Edgar looks to be part Bigfoot, part werewolf, there’s a giant one-eyed fuzz ball in the basement and huge but useful tentacles that live in the fridge. The creatures, especially Rose and Rankle, definitely get the best lines. These Henson creations are certainly not kid-friendly and the show would be hideously saccharine without them.

For a program ostensibly about baking, it’s astounding that zero cakes actually get made. It’s like joining an episode of the Great Transylvanian Bake Off mid-way through a showstopper challenge when the dull and messy jobs are done. Christine’s specialities are sculpting, painting, and decorating with enviable precision. Everything she produces is extremely obsessively beautiful, everything is a masterpiece. Piped royal icing teeth and claws seem to be her trademark, which looks like the fiddliest job ever. If Marilyn Mason ever gets married again he knows who to get in to do the buffet.

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‘Mystery Road’ – BBC4

Here’s a tip from Helen at entertainmentviews.co.uk on how to help fill the gap The Bridge left behind. How about a foreign detective drama shot in a bright warm landscape where you don’t have to read any subtitles? Aussie drama Mystery Road was on BBC4 earlier this year. If you missed it why not enter her competition to win a copy on DVD?

Entertainment Views

Star rating: ****

A new BBC Four crime drama from Australia, Mystery Road is worth a watch if you enjoy this particular genre and fancy a fresh take on your standard whodunit.

From the first episode the scene is set, and the location sets the tone of the drama, the team behind the show have certainly made the most of what Western Australia has to offer and it makes for some superb shots. The areas of Aboriginal land which were also used and added to the atmospheric approach which provided a very real overall feel to the television series.

The central character of Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson) came across as somewhat of an introvert in the loosest sense, my initial impression of him was that of arrogance and nonchalance – certainly not an instantly likeable individual. However, as he gets to work on the task in hand…

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‘Making a Murderer: Part 2’ – Netflix

Fifteen years ago if you had an extensive collection of serial killer literature on your bookshelf your date might leave with certain preconceptions about you and they might not be in a hurry to see you again. These days they’ll probably ask you what podcasts you’re listening to, whether you’ve seen The Staircase or who you think really killed Sister Cathy in The Keepers. True crime has come out of the closet and the first major show on Netflix that did that was Making a Murderer. Even if you were living under a rock three years ago you’d still have heard about it. It was easily Netflix’s most talked-about series ever, and arguably the most important true crime TV show in decades. Now it returns for a long-awaited second series.

The original investigative filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos are back and hard at work, embedded in the ongoing troubles of the Avery family and their apparent relentless persecution by the American justice system. If you need a quick refresher Steven Avery was originally convicted of a sexual assault on Penny Beerntsen despite having a solid alibi. For that he served an 18 year sentence. That conviction was finally overturned in 2003 and he was freed. He then filed a $36 million civil lawsuit against Manitowoc County and the law enforcement officers who framed him. Just two years later Avery and his 16 year old nephew Brendan Dassey were tried and convicted by those same institutions for Teresa Halbach’s murder. She’d disappeared after photographing a car at Avery’s salvage yard.  The hugely flawed conviction was clear to anyone with even a passing interest in how the police should work as vulnerable Brendan was coerced into his confession during a hugely irresponsible questioning where he had no responsible adult or legal council present. The video footage of his confession remains grueling to watch.

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‘Big Mouth’: Series 2 – Netflix

Have you seen Big Mouth on Netflix? It’s an animated series that is joyful, sordid, intelligent, stupid, revolting and tender all at once. Like the painful adolescence it portrays so well it almost defies description. It’s created by Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett and based on Kroll and Goldberg’s teenage years growing up in Westchester County, New York. Nick Kroll voices his fictional self. Can you imagine anything more cathartic to redress the issues of your adolescent years. It’s essentially an animated version of Mortified with a lot more jokes.

Our 6th graders surfing the hormone tide are Nick and Andrew and their friends Jessie, Missy and Jay. Sooner or later their own personal hormone monster comes calling and will not leave them alone. Maurice is the male monster come to frustrate, antagonise and educate the boys – he’s often-times unhinged and absolutely uncontrollable. Connie the ‘monstress’ is a particular favorite of mine. She’s a wildly insatiable earth-mother in-tune with her emotions and preaching body confidence to the girls. But in the next breath she’s telling Jessie “You want to scream at your mother and laugh at her tears”. Reader, a more accurate description of female adolescence does not exist.

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