Thursday 26 April 2018

Insider guide on the best of what to watch this week

Meet The McDonaghs
Meet The McDonaghs

Doug Whelan

The Insider guide on what to watch this week

Meet the McDonaghs: Friday 26th, 9.30pm, RTE Two

RTE's current talent singing contest The Voice of Ireland may not have provided any singing careers of note to its contestants, but it has generated plenty of headlines. One such aspect of the show was the "journey" (to use the parlance of reality TV talent contests) of one Kelly McDonagh Mongan.

Part of Ireland's travelling community, Kelly was heavily pregnant during filming of the show which gave her a quirky back story (not to mention a headache for the show's producers who may have feared/hoped that Kelly might go in to labour during the live show) and left her with a lot of interest from TV production companies.

She eventually was a runner-up on the show and subsequently appeared in the one-off documentary What Kelly Did Next. Exhibiting a shrewd sense of PR that contrasts with her wide-eyed I'm-just-lucky-to-be-here sensibility, Kelly is back on screens this week in Meet the McDonaghs, which follows not only her on her quest to become a successful singer, but her entire extended family.

At first glance, the obvious influence on a programme like this is Channel 4's My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. But with its cheerful voiceover and slightly sarcastic tone, that show can sometimes make for slightly uncomfortable viewing. Instead, Meet the McDonaghs is more observational and matter-of-fact, focusing in part on Kelly's dream of becoming a successful singer as well as observing the family's ordinary everyday life.

In the latter, Kelly confesses that she feels more nervous singing for her peers in the travelling community than people in the settled community. There's such a focus on how you look that the music takes a back seat.

Of course, our comments about Channel 4's effort notwithstanding, the weddings are a big part of life among travellers, there's no getting away from that. For producers to ignore it or play it down for hope of being a bit different would be disingenuous. So if that's what you're after, the fake tan, big dresses and unique sincerity of the culture's tendency to get married very young, then that's all in there too.

Also in the first episode is a look into brother Arthur's promise as an amateur boxer. He's won several medals at all-Ireland and international level. At the time of filming he's focused more on coaching rather than competing, leading to interesting footage of him pep-talking and training in the ring.

 

Mildred Pierce: Sky on Demand from October 1

You can't really talk about the 'movie stars doing TV' thing as a new or even rare phenomenon at this stage. There are just too many, you can't move for A-listers and Oscar winners introducing their latest small screen project. But that's not to say it's becoming passé either. Not at all. But it's a crowded field and some efforts are overlooked, such as Kate Winslet's effort with Mildred Pierce. This miniseries - a remake of the classic 1945 melodrama starring Joan Crawford - came

and went fairly quickly but Kate's rousing performance, a strong supporting cast in the shape of Guy Pearse, Evan Rachel Wood and Melissa Leo (movie stars all) make this a unique and satisfying watch. Winslet plays Mildred, a protective mother who moves heaven and earth to protect her children

 

The Hardy Bucks Movie: Saturday, 9.30pm, RTE Two

We don't usually highlight movies on our TV page but an exception might be worth making for the world premiere of the movie spin-off of Hardy Bucks, the wildly successful mock-documentary that made Eddie Durkan, the Viper and friends household names in Ireland over the past few years.

Setting out from Castletown, Co. Mayo, the Bucks make their way to the Euro 2012 championship in Poland, getting in all manner of hilarious scrapes along the way. Made on a shoestring budget and apparently with little in the way of planning from one day to the next, The Hardy Bucks Movie is a pretty hilarious road movie that perfectly captures the mood among Irish fans at the disastrous Euro 2012 tournament.

It's also a pretty successful film adaptation for a show that began as a humble 10-minute video sketch on YouTube and became a phenomenon.

The Fear: Monday October 29, 10.30pm, RTE Two

The nights are getting longer and there's a bit of a nip in the air. That means many things to many people but one of the signifiers is the return of lots of RTE's flagship comedy shows to Monday nights, including hidden camera fun with The Fear.

Jennifer Maguire and co are back on the streets around Ireland pranking unsuspecting members of the public with costumes, ruses and the nerves of steel that give the show its name. Some of the sketches work better than others, but who could forget last year when Maguire was confronted by a knife-wielding Crumlin Mammy who was going to protect her property from water meter installation whatever the cost.

You can't plan for comedy gold like that but that's the risk of doing shows like this. Let's hope the public give the people what they want. Just as long as nobody gets hurt.

The Equalizer

Starring: Denzel Washington, Chloe Grace Moretz (Three stars)

Watching The Equalizer, it's impossible not to imagine Liam Neeson in the role of Robert McCall. Such has been the influence of Taken in the past number of years in justifying older actors holding on to those action roles well in to their 50s and beyond. But you'd be as well to put Neeson out of your mind, despite the similarities here, as this is Denzel Washington doing what he does best and what he's done for most of his career. Besides, if anyone else was in the role, this would be a different and far worse film.

McCall is a meticulous man, living a quiet life since, we learn, the death of his wife. He times everything he does with military precision. His daily routine is identical, including pep talks at the DIY superstore where he works and a nightly visit to a local diner for tea and a spot of reading. It's here where McCall makes the acquaintance of a young prostitute named Lena (Moretz), and a friendship begins. It's these early scenes where The Equalizer is at its best. Director Antoine Fuqua (with whom Denzel won the best actor Oscar for Training Day in 2001) takes the time to develop his characters and their relationship, and though clichéd it may be, Washington and Moretz make the best of the material.

However, if you think a paternal friendship between a retired CIA assassin - for that is what he is - and a teenage prostitute is clichéd, you ain't seen nothing yet. When Lena is savagely beaten by her Russian mafia pimp, McCall can't stand by and do nothing, deciding instead to take swift and decisive action. So begins a procession of increasingly violent showdowns, with Denzel using anything and everything he can get his hands on as a weapon while the sadistic Russian mob enforcer draws ever closer to him.

The Equalizer is nothing we haven't seen before (not least of all in the 80s TV series upon which it is based), but Denzel Washington's charisma effortlessly carries the film. In the sensitive early scenes, he exudes a fatherly wisdom, paralleling his own life with that of the protagonist in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Later on, the action scenes are impressively staged and we firmly believe in his superhero-esque skills. But that's also kind of the problem. McCall is so tough and so together, that the entire might of the Russian mob is no match for him at any point. He's always one step ahead and it never feels like any of this is any trouble to him. It doesn't sit well with the seemingly vulnerable man we met in the beginning of the film.

Meanwhile, Chloe Moretz is underused and the supporting characters are barely there. But between Denzel's strong performance and Fuqua's well-staged action sequences there's enough to recommend The Equalizer. Just don't expect anything new.

What We Did on Our Holiday

Starring: David Tennant, Rosamund Pike, Billy Connolly

"Oh look, it's Little Miss Sunshine." So says Rosamund Pike towards the end of this British comedy drama in a line that must have been included as a hat-tip. For What We Did on Our Holiday owes more than a little to that 2006 Oscar nominee, right down to the kooky, mischievous grandparent who prompts a lot of soul-searching and what-have-we-learned here moments.

Separated couple, David Tennant and Pike, pack the kids and drive up to Scotland for his father's birthday party, but the trip ends up being a momentous occasion for all the wrong reasons.

Originality aside, there's enough here for a compelling story to be told, but the film falls down almost everywhere else. It suffers from jolting shifts in tone, going from shouting matches to cutesy-kid sketch comedy, while the whole affair is shot like a BBC sitcom: harshly lit and directed only on a technical level. The spectacular Scottish scenery feels a little wasted too. And by keeping the focus on three precocious children rather than the warring adults, it's not clear who the target audience is supposed to be.

Four of the best

Maps to The Stars

Starring: Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson

Pattinson and director David Cronenberg's second collaboration explores the darker side of Hollywood in this sharp satire that's as enjoyable as it is unpleasant.

I Origins

Starring: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling

Boardwalk Empire's Michael Pitt explores the mysteries of creation through the complexities of the human eye in this weighty sci-fi drama.

Noble

Starring: Deirdre O'Kane, Liam Cunningham

Strong performances throughout lift this biopic of Chrisina Noble, the charity campaigner who changed millions of lives in Vietnam in the 80s.

The Riot Club

Starring: Max Irons, Sam Claflin

The dark side of wealth and privilege come out in this flawed but entertaining story based on Cambridge's real-life Bullingdon Club.

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