Tuesday 21 January 2020

The Insider guide on what to watch in the next 7 days

Cheryl Cole of The X Factor
Cheryl Cole of The X Factor

Doug Whelan

Television. The X Factor. Saturday and Sunday, 8pm, TV3. Here we go again.

It's time to face the music, let's get ready to rumble, etcetera. You can apply any number of exaggerated catchphrases to this, the eleventh series of the massively successful and enormously popular singing competition.

Has it really been 10 years? Yes it has, and looking back over the winners and runners-up, it's fair to say a handful of them have gone on to successful music careers. Some were never heard from again, but that's life. For every Leon Jackson (who?) there's a One Direction, and the queues for auditions are surely longer than ever this year, given that after 10 years there are teens for whom X Factor is a way of life, and to their eyes, the only way one has a chance at being a successful musician.

Arguments and conspiracy theories about X Factor abound, but for today, just settle in and bask in the glow of the new and improved judging panel that wisely jettisoned the dead wood and brought back the reason people loved the show back in its heyday: Cheryl Fernandez-Versini as she is apparently now known. Or is it just Cheryl? Who knows.

Anyway, she and Cowell have apparently put their differences aside (they're marketing themselves as 'frenemies' now) and join newcomer Mel B and stalwart Louis Walsh on the judging panel.

Cowell and Cole aren't the only sign of turning back the clock: the auditions process is back to being done behind closed doors rather than in front of a baying audience. There are two reasons for this: one, it makes for much better TV - who ever liked the live auditions? And two, it was probably a nightmare to edit.

It must be a bit embarrassing for Cowell and his production company to have to backtrack by three or four years in order to get the ratings up again, but give the people what they want, as the fella says. The ratings slump the show suffered during the tenure of Gary Barlow and poor old Tulisa Contostavlos saw the show go from the most talked-about show on TV to the most boring.

Will the old faces and approach restore it to its former glory? That's entirely up to the viewers, but this Saturday is sure to be a ratings bonanza as people tune in just to get a look at Cheryl, Britain's sweetheart.

Look closely for masterful editing and time devoted to likely future frontrunners. And sure let's not take it all too seriously. Much better that way.


Boardwalk Empire

Seasons 1 - 4 available on Sky On Demand from September 1

The last train to Atlantic City is now boarding. The fifth and final season of the slow-burning 1920s-set drama arrives on Sky Atlantic later this month, so now is a good time to catch up.

There are lots of reasons to love Boardwalk Empire. First off, there's the one and only Steve Buscemi. In the lead role of prohibition kingpin Nucky Thompson, he turns in the performance of a lifetime, inspiring sympathy and support in the viewer even through the most ruthless and calculated acts.

Danny Huston also deserves special mention for the role of tortured war veteran Richard Harrow. Behind the camera is executive producer Martin Scorsese, whose reputation speaks for itself.

But the real strength of Boardwalk Empire is its rich visual storytelling. The vast budget is evident on the screen, and while the iceberg-slow plotting sometimes frustrates, it's always a rewarding watch.


Electric Picnic 2014

Saturday, 8pm, RTE Two

For the first time RTE will be broadcasting live from the festival. Good news. The broadcast won't quite be to the level of saturation the BBC gives to Glastonbury each June, but baby steps.

For an impressive four hours on Saturday night, presenter Eoghan McDermott will bring musical highlights of the weekend so far, as well as guest interviews and probably the obligatory walk around the festival to meet the "revellers" that make the festival what it is.

It's great that the national broadcaster is willing to fork out for the live show; it would have been all too easy to bung a hastily-edited one-hour show together and call it coverage. So, for those who didn't manage to get a ticket to the sold-out event in Stradbally, Co Laois, this is probably going to be the next best thing.


21 Up: New Generation

Monday and Tuesday, 10.35pm, BBC One

Back in 1964, the BBC kicked off a highly ambitious documentary series called 7 Up. After selecting a large group of seven-year-old children, representing a cross section of society, they would meet and interview them about their lives every seven years as they grew up, married, had children and careers and negotiated life as best they could.

The most recent edition was 56 Up in 2012, but in 2000, to mark the new millennium, the Beeb established a "new generation" of participants and this week sees the third outing, 21 Up.

Into their 20s, some subjects are still at home with their parents, while others have gone out in to the world. Whatever they're doing, this enthralling series looks set to shine a light on life in the modern world, and illustrate just how much things change without our even noticing.

See you back here in seven years.


The Grand Seduction (12A)

Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch


Brendan Gleeson leads the cast in this madcap comedy based on the 2003 French Canadian film of the same name. Welcome to Ticklehead, Newfoundland, a tiny fishing village barely surviving in the modern world.

Almost the entire town is collecting unemployment benefit, and things are so bad even the mayor has decided to up sticks and move to the closest city. De facto mayor Murray French (Gleeson) isn't willing to give up on his beloved home town though and comes up with a plan to attract an oil company to build a large treatment plant in the town, thereby creating jobs and saving the day.

The only thing Ticklehead is missing is a doctor. Big Oil won't set up shop unless there's a practicing GP in Ticklehead, so Murray's new task is to make the dilapidated village irresistible to Taylor Kitsch's trendy big-city doctor Lewis.

There are shades of Doc Hollywood in reverse in the comedy of errors and deception that follows as the entire town rally around Murray to fix the place up and give it a lick of paint, as well as set up a number of schemes to sell the place to Lewis.

Some of their methods are questionable, such as the fact that they blackmail him in to coming in the first place, as well as Murray's idea that the local postmistress flirt with the engaged doctor. Not only that, but the inventive locals also set up an elaborate surveillance on the good doctor's phone, in order to better deceive him into staying.

If this all sounds a little bit creepy, it is. But Brendan Gleeson's ringleader sells it all to his accomplices so well that it's hard not to root for them - there are worse places one could end up living than Ticklehead, after all.

Filmed on location in the wind-swept Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, director Don McKellar makes use of the unique vistas, especially during a sequence where the town attempt a game of cricket on a Cliffside. In fact, the entire region feels more than a little like Ireland away from Ireland, including Brendan Gleeson's unique presence.

His Newfoundland accent is somewhat hard to take at first - surely a contender for the world's most irritating - but those sad eyes beneath the great big bushy beard and hulking frame retain that uncular charm of his. Once his desperation to save the town shows underneath the light-hearted deceit, it's easy to see where it's all going.

Taylor Kitsch turns in a fine performance too, going from cynical, big city doctor looking down his nose at the primitive locals to fully-fledged member of the community.

All in all, The Grand Seduction is a charming and energetic little comedy drama with likeable performances and an enviable (to some) setting that outweigh its flaws, including being maybe 15 minutes too long.

New Releases

Million Dollar Arm (PG)

Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, Aasif Mandvi

You can’t beat a sports underdog movie for unashamedly hokey charm and loveable characters you can root for — especially when they’re based on a true story. In Million Dollar Arm, Jon Hamm plays down-on-his-luck sports agent JB Bernstein, who comes up with the idea to mine India’s cricket culture for potential baseball stars. He sets up a Britain’s Got Talent-style televised contest to find potential sports stars, despite culture clashes and a sceptical media standing in his way.

The first half follows Bernstein’s trek through India, which is portrayed in all its crowded and colourful glory, with director Craig Gillespie just about resisting the temptation to paint it as a backwards mess. Once the story moves back to the US and follows Bernstein’s prodigies on their road to success (or otherwise), the film settles in to tried and tested sports underdog clichés. Bell and Mandvi provide able support, as does Alan Arkin in full-on Alan Arkin mode. Hamm’s undeniable charm carries the film to its somewhat predictable conclusion, even if he “learns a little something about himself” one too many times in the third act.

Films of the Week

As Above, So Below (15A)

Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman

A group of impossibly good-looking historians and adventurers explore the vast catacombs of Paris in search of treasure and enlightenment, only to find quite the opposite in this entertaining found-footage horror.


Let’s Be Cops (15A)

Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans Jr

Two unemployed losers impersonate cops for fun but quickly end up in over their heads in this unfunny comedy. 


Lucy (15A)

Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman

A young woman develops omnipotent powers after overdosing on an experimental drug in Luc Besson’s competent action thriller.


Deliver Us From Evil (16)

Eric Bana, Edgar Ramirez

This religious-themed horror looks and sounds great but never quite decides on what it wants to be. Eric Bana is wasted, yet again.

Irish Independent

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