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The Desecration of a Classic
8 October 2019
I watched the original R&B when it first aired 60 years ago, then introduced my children to the show via VHS and later DVD. After all those decades, the original show is still charming and witty, able to please children and adults.

I was apprehensive when I saw that a "reboot" was being made, but I thought I'd watch and give the new version a chance. I didn't last more than five minutes. The original was gentle and understated. The first episode of the new version begins with screaming and violence, which seems to return every time the scriptwriters are at a loss (which is often). The voice of Bullwinkle was quite good; Rocky not so much, and I didn't stick around long enough for Boris and Natasha. But the artwork is not retro 50s - it reminded me of the style (and manic pace) of much later cartoons such as "Ren and Stimpy" or "Dexter's Lab." The producers have completely missed the vibe of the original, and turned it into something unwatchable. I'm glad I still have the complete original set on disc.
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Poldark: Episode #5.1 (2019)
Season 5, Episode 1
Another adaptation goes off the rails
30 September 2019
Warning: Spoilers
The stars in my review are for the lead actors, the scenery, and the music. The fact that there are only FOUR stars out of 10 is because of my disappointment that yet another classic set of stories has been mangled by British producers who think they know better than the creators.

The BBC mangled Father Brown, Granada tainted Miss Marple, and most of the Beeb's current drama shows of ANY variety are bound by PC groupthink. Up to now, Poldark has stayed fairly close to the original books, at least through the end of book seven (season four). They could have just stopped there...or decided to jump to book eight, but no! A showrunner with literary ambitions has decided that her vision for Poldark would be far better for us know-nothings. Besides, the Beeb wanted to milk the original cast rather than let them age 10 years or be replaced entirely.

So of course, we have to introduce slavery, which MUST now be included in anything historical. And ranting against capitalism. And the usual characterization of Christian characters as crazy people. And since that stuff is boring to the average viewer, we must keep them awake with: a FIRE! an ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT! and GEORGE GOING BONKERS! What a shame that literature (even the popular type as exemplified by Winston Graham) can't be treated with respect. What a sad way to end a powerful series.
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Good Cop (2012)
Good while it lasts, but incomplete
21 November 2018
We watched this show with our Britbox subscription. The first two parts were each 100 minutes. Britbox wanted to charge a fee to watch the 3rd and 4th episodes (each only 50 minutes), but the descriptions matched things we'd already seen. If you are a Britbox subscriber, don't get caught up in this show because you will be seriously let down by plot threads that are unresolved.

I gave this a 7 based on what we saw, but I almost gave it a 2 based on the frustration of an unfinished story. The trivia says that the BBC pulled the plug on the last installment...really? It would have had to be "in the can" since they were running on successive weeks. So what happened to the conclusion? I guess we'll never know.
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Inside No. 9: The Harrowing (2014)
Season 1, Episode 6
Did I Miss Something?
4 November 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I've been enjoying this show, which I didn't know existed until it popped up on the "Britbox" service recently.

The first five episodes of season one were enjoyable, each in its own way. This one started out like a lost "Night Gallery" episode (in fact, there are very strong parallels with the episodes "Cool Air" and "The Sin Eater."). As usual, the boys build up the suspense until we finally meet the monster upstairs. Creepy!

Then we get the horror twist and find out what's in store for our protagonist (the actress who played Sophie on "Detectorists"). And that's it. The last 10 minutes add nothing to the plot; no final twist, just a girl about to be attacked by a guy who looks like Gollum in a Depends. Very disappointing. I even ran the ending back again to make sure I hadn't missed something, but no. I hope season two picks up the pace again.
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Split (IX) (2016)
All buildup; no payoff
9 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
The only reason I gave this film any points at all is because of James McAvoy's performance, which was impressive in its range (see similar films by Peter Sellers or Alec Guinness to compare).

I enjoyed "Sixth Sense" and "Signs" and have been waiting ever since to see if MNS can create another film on their level. The answer seems to be no.

I thought this would be a psychological thriller, which it leads you to believe. But it ends up being a cheesy "comic book" style movie, with scantily-clad teenage girls being abused and a supernatural human monster. I thought at least there would be some big "reveal" near the end to make it satisfying, but there wasn't. Are we supposed to be impressed that it all took place in a zoo? (Notice that "zoo" starts with zzzzzzz...) Or that this film is apparently a sequel to "Unbreakable," a forgettable movie I saw ages ago?

There's also a subtext about child abuse which is disturbing. The psycho was abused as a child, and we learn that the survivor girl ALSO was a creepy uncle. She has marks on her body from cutting and from cigarettes, which we don't see until about 1:42:00 - self-inflicted, or done by uncle? And at the end we learn she is still in the custody of said uncle. This girl is supposed to be smart, yet she says nothing to anyone about the abuse?

Now MNS reveals this is the "middle film" in a trilogy. And if you're familiar with other middle films of trilogies, you know that usually means an unsatisfactory ending and a plot that just treads water. That's what we have here, folks. Don't waste your time, despite good performances by McEvoy and Buckley.
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Grand Piano (2013)
Hit lots of wrong notes
9 November 2017
Damien Chazelle must have had a horrible time with music lessons growing up; at least that's my guess after seeing his screenplays for WHIPLASH and GRAND PIANO. The plot is a mix of SPEED, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, and PHONE BOOTH. Who is the mystery man who threatens a concert pianist unless he plays a flawless performance? That portion of the plot unravels fairly well, with a few "aha" moments. But the movie's riddled with errors, from the bizarre drive through Chicago (up and down several fairly close streets, but lasting from day until night), to the concert which starts at 9:30 (what?), to the talky conductor who's more like a game show host, to the concerto that conveniently has piano-free moments allowing the star to vanish offstage for long stretches at a time, to the "impromptu" song by a soprano in a box seat which somehow the orchestra has parts for. The music itself is laughable: a symphonic mess of various styles, none of which is terribly difficult for the pianist. Some of the cinematography is nicely executed, but overall it's a pretty silly exercise that would have made a fun TV episode. As others have noted, it's a short film extended by 12 minutes of credits. Elijah Wood and the camera operator do a good job of "faking" the piano parts. It's harmless fun, not to be taken seriously.
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Dunkirk (2017)
Not your typical war film
27 August 2017
Dunkirk is not a typical "war movie" that revolves around a set of stock characters. It's an attempt to tell a very involved historical narrative by creating a few plot "threads" that represent the various aspects of the event (the pilots, the soldiers on the beach, the commanders, the civilians). It was helpful to me to have just finished reading Walter Lord's book on the subject. I think a lot of viewers are left stranded because they have virtually no context for what they are seeing, except for a few brief sentences on the screen at the beginning. There are some fine actors (Branagh, D'arcy etc.) who aren't given much to do. Director Nolan once again hides Tom Hardy's face for almost an entire movie (he was Bane in the Batman trilogy), and there isn't much traditional dialogue. The only "fleshed out" thread is about the civilian boat owner (Mark Rylance), his two young helpers, and the slightly mad soldier they fish out of the water (Cillian Murphy, alias "Scarecrow"). That story really helps hold the movie together, and brings out the most emotional response. The movie as a whole is an incredible visceral experience, almost an assault on the senses, between the overwhelmingly noisy soundtrack and the acrobatic shaky-cam visuals. The occasional still shot brought incredible relief after bouncing up and down inside a hull or chasing a Heinkel through the air. Even though the story is not sequential, or complete in terms of the Dunkirk operation, Nolan provides enough "you are there" bits and pieces to tell the story from the evacuation beach back to England. The last shot was a little odd: all sound ceases, and we see the face of one of the soldiers on a train for just a couple of seconds, with the sound of him crinkling his newspaper. Hans Zimmer's almost non-stop score was a barrage of scratching strings, moaning brass, and interminable drones and long, half-step descents. It was the audio equivalent of a root canal, and made Penderecki's "Threnody" seem like one of the snoozier tracks from a Mantovani LP. When he finally gave us an actual tune (one of Elgar's best), it was such a relief that it triggered a gut-level emotional response. The cinematography was top-notch, and as always, Nolan has an eye for unforgettable visuals. So by all means see it, but you would be well served by doing some historical homework first.
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Black Mirror: The National Anthem (2011)
Season 1, Episode 1
Degrading piece of garbage
24 November 2016
This program is described as being in the science fiction or thriller genre. Other people told me it was like a contemporary version of the twilight zone. None of these descriptions is remotely like what was presented in the first episode of the series. This episode is a twisted piece of filth that degrades the many British actors who lowered themselves to take part in it. It wasn't even much of a mystery, since there is a very clear spoiler early in the episode that gives away the name of the perpetrator. Don't waste your time. I will not be watching any more of this series. I wonder if this was written before or after the famous story about Prime Minister David Cameron and the pig.
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Father Brown: The Wrath of Baron Samdi (2016)
Season 4, Episode 10
The most far-fetched episode of all
7 August 2016
Everyone is already aware that the show runners have brazenly departed from Chesterton's original vision of Father Brown. This episode shows that they have now gone completely off the rails.

First, we are expected to believe that a poor man from Haiti can somehow travel to England, obtain a car, and track down his girlfriend. Second, we are expected to believe that a Catholic priest in the 1950s would be accepting of voodoo religion going on in his own house. Third, that the same priest would sleep in the same bedroom with his housekeeper.

The people who run the show don't seem to have any clue as to the morals and practices of people before their own generation. It is a shame that they have so utterly destroyed one of the icons of 20th century English literature.
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Thriller: The Ordeal of Dr. Cordell (1961)
Season 1, Episode 24
Depraved by the Bell
8 March 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This is a strange mixture of the SF "mad scientist" trope with a serial killer story. Dr. Cordell is trying to find an antidote for nerve gas, but ends up creating a new gas that permeates his protective mask. Will he turn into a monster? Grow to be 50 feet tall? No - the only result is that he goes nuts when he hears bells ring. The first victim is his landlady's parakeet, and the trouble escalates from there.

We're left for awhile wondering how a mysterious gas can cause "tintinnabulophobia," but then the resident doctor takes it to the ridiculous limit with his explanation: the gas could alter the chemistry of a man's brain. So if, perhaps, when he was a child, he was tormented by an older sibling using a toy bell, the change in chemistry coupled with the "trigger" sound of a bell causes these old memories to come flooding back, followed by homicidal rage. I kid you not. Tortured by a toy bell.

This is one of prolific THRILLER contributor Donald Sanford's only original scripts, and it's a mish-mash of clichés from a variety of genres. Robert Vaughn handles his Jekyll/Hyde role well, and there's a lovely twisted tribute to VERTIGO at the end. But the highlight for us baby boomers is the opportunity to watch Napoleon Solo murder "That Girl," Marlo Thomas.
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Spaceballs (1987)
Too little too late - a horribly unfunny spoof
9 January 2016
I saw this film in first release back in 1987 and thought it was pretty awful. The main problem (and many critics agreed with me) was that Mel was several years too late for this film to be a good topical spoof. It came out four years after the third STAR WARS movie, after dozens of other spoofs had been made on TV.

So here in 2016 in the wake of STAR WARS reboot fever, I thought I'd revisit the film on Blu-Ray to see if I had misjudged it. No, it was still just as awful as the first time. The casting is terrible (who would hire George Wyner and Dick Van Patten as main characters?), the jokes are grade-school level, the timing and direction are almost always off, and there is a sense of desperation to get a laugh. (As Roger Ebert pointed out, Brooks keeps repeating the lame line "May the Schwartz be with you" as if eventually it will become funny.)

Rick Moranis and John Candy, who were riding the crest of SCTV popularity at the time, are completely wasted, except for Rick's improvised play-with-dolls scene. There are a few good laughs - about one every fifteen minutes - especially the closer when John Hurt paid Mel back for producing ELEPHANT MAN by reprising his ALIEN performance.

I have a rule of thumb about Mel Brooks movies: they are funny in inverse proportion to the amount of time that Mel is on screen. In SPACEBALLS he gives himself TWO roles which is twice too much Mel.

I suppose a group of fifth-grade boy scouts on a field trip might enjoy watching a film like this, but it feels like a bunch of second-rate TV skits glued together. Mel began to slide after "Young Frankenstein" and this film was fairly far down the slide.
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Pianomania (2009)
Piano technician vs. Demanding pianist
13 September 2013
I'm a classically-trained pianist and composer, so behind-the-scenes movies like this have a lot of appeal for me. I respect the piano technicians, such as the film's protagonist Stephan Knüpfer, who know how to coax the right sound from an amazingly complicated instrument. This documentary is a tribute to his skill, and especially his patience, as he deals with pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, an ultra-demanding control freak who will just about drive you insane as you watch.

Aimard's attempts to get Knüpfer to recreate the many piano tones he has in his head forms the main plot thread of this documentary. In between grueling sessions of watching Aimard complain about the shape of a particular note's tone, the documentarians have inserted scenic pictures of Vienna, and clips of other, less annoying pianists, including two comedians who provide much-needed relief for the Aimard-induced tension.

There are some lovely shots of the interior mechanism of the piano, as well as behind-the-scenes looks at Vienna's concert hall. But overall, I found this film tedious due to Aimard's perfectionistic attitude. Would anyone else put up with it? Knüpfer seems to relish it somehow, because it presents him with a technical challenge. The film rambles on, cutting back and forth to the main story for no apparent reason, and be warned: 90% of it is in German with subtitles.

Definitely for the piano lover only.
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Action-packed walk on the noir side
2 July 2013
Who would go to see a film called "Armored Car Robbery"? It sounds like a documentary, or maybe a how-to flick for yeggs. A zippier title would have been more fitting for this taut little noir film, in which intrepid cops (using all that hi-tech early 50s gadgetry) track down a gang of crooks who pull a clever heist right outside a crowded athletic stadium. This is a very early effort for Richard Fleischer, who would later direct box office hits such as SOYLENT GREEN and THE BOSTON STRANGLER. The story moves along at an unflagging pace, with William Talman keeping our attention as the slightly unhinged brains of the gang. It's a great post- war period piece, and deserves to be aired more often.
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A delightful look at early 50s pop culture
2 July 2013
I knew I was going to like this movie when a 25-year-old Stan Freberg walked onto the screen in an early scene, playing an employee at an ad agency. In fact, I would have given this movie a good rating just on the basis of all the TV icons in the cast: Fred MacMurray, Jesse White, Natalie Schafer, and in tiny cameos John Banner and Hugh Beaumont. And speaking of cameos, how about Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor, and Esther Williams? Yes, they're here too.

This comedy is WAY above "B" picture level, with a snappy script by the team of Frank and Panama, who earned their comedy medals writing for Hope/Crosby and Danny Kaye. Howard Keel does a fine job in his dual role, while Fred and Dorothy try to please a cantankerous sponsor and keep their phony cowboy happy at the same time. There are plenty of laughs, and some plot twists to keep you wondering how it's all going to work out in the end. If you watched TV in the 1950s, you'll especially enjoy this gentle satire of the entertainment and advertising industries of the time.
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Billy Jack (1971)
Everything you hated about 1970 rolled into a ball
12 May 2013
I was a high school sophomore when this movie came out. It was one of the iconic movies of the period, but I managed to miss it until 2013 when I caught it on cable TV. All I knew about its content was what I learned from the Paul Simon SNL parody "Billy Paul" which ran a few years after the film's release. I had the impression that it was a sort of violent revenge film along the lines of "Death Wish."

Instead, it's a 2-hour reminder of how truly awful the hippie era was, full of pretension, naiveté, new-ageism, and horrid folk songs that make you want to pull a Belushi with the guitar player. The plot itself takes about 60 minutes to unravel; the rest is filler, featuring "music" or improvised comedy by the 60s troupe "The Committee" (including Howard Hesseman under a stage name). The clichés flow freely, and the characters are all cardboard cutouts, but at least things are livened up by a few good fight scenes featuring the "pacifist" Billy Jack. It's the kind of movie you'd expect when a husband/wife team writes a script, then give themselves the starring roles and the director's chair. With any luck, this film will cure any nostalgia you may still have for the late 60s/early 70s.
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Top of the Lake (2013– )
Top of the Lake: Bottom of the Barrel
21 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The essential content of this dreary mini-series could have been shown in 90 minutes, and even then might not have been worth the time. There were several occasions in the first few episodes when I almost gave up, but I figured that at some point, the filmmakers would have to get on target and actually deal with the plot. But no...after seven hours it all turned out to be a waste of time. What was billed as a "mystery" is little more than a perverse soap opera, filled with incest, child abuse, rape, murder, and an inordinate amount of bad language. There are loads of useless plot elements (such as the odd commune of women led by Holly Hunter) which end up having no meaning whatsoever, yet there are MAJOR plot elements which are either not wrapped up at all, or given short shrift in a breathless finale. The writers' only way to maintain interest is to have characters peel off their clothes, including quite a few who should NEVER be seen naked in public. (I guess I should have anticipated this, considering Campion's horrible 1993 monstrosity THE PIANO.) Don't believe the hype. You will want to flagellate yourself (as, incidentally, one of the characters does on more than one occasion) when you are through.

The two stars are to honor the beautiful country of New Zealand, where the series was filmed. The scenery is gorgeous. Sundance Channel would have done better by splicing together the nature shots and making a travelogue.
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Roommates (1961)
Takes one to know one...
21 February 2013
I should confess right away that I spent two years as a student in a conservatory, and have spent all my life hanging around with musicians. I'm sure that influenced my positive opinion about this movie, and I can understand why other reviewers who don't share my background don't find it funny.

I knew I was going to enjoy it when the opening credits featured cartoons by the inimitable Gerard Hoffunung. The cast list also promised a host of Britain's most amusing character players. The script and score are by Bruce Montgomery, a fine mystery writer and film composer. And how odd that the opening scene outside the music school used the exact same filming location as was used for the hospital in "Doctor in the House." (Not to mention that the doctor's nemesis also plays the students' nemesis here, too.)

Of course, as others have pointed out, most of the actors are too old for their "student" roles, and the plot is fairly thin (but typical for a sitcom). What's funny for me are all the jokes and situations that any working musician will have had to deal with: overbearing teachers, time-wasting teachers, blabbing conductors, over-confident student hot-shots, conflict between "serious" and "pop" music, etc. If you don't know who Barbirolli and Sargent are, you'll miss a couple of jokes. (And you might not also catch the "skeletons on a tin roof" joke from Sir Thomas Beecham.) There's even a tip of the hat to Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, if you look carefully at the music school sign.

The 90 minutes breezed by, and the HD version available on Amazon Prime looked pristine on my iPad. Recommended highly for musical people; and fairly highly for fans of mid-century British comedy. Kenneth Williams alone is worth the price of admission.
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Carol for Another Christmas (1964 TV Movie)
Serling at his most naive and preachy
31 December 2012
If you've watched Twilight Zone and Night Gallery (and I've seen them all), you know that when Rod Serling had a point to make, he could be very heavy-handed, obvious, and preachy. This film, unfortunately, is like three of those episodes strung together.

I grew up during the early 60s, and I remember the pro-UN propaganda we regularly received in grade school, going as far as asking us to collect coins for UNICEF while Trick-or-Treating. The UN was still fairly new then, and perhaps we were all more starry-eyed about what it could accomplish. The intervening decades have proved what a useless, crony-laden, corrupt, meddling outfit it truly is. So it's hard to watch this UN propaganda without cringing. (To be honest, the UN is not specifically mentioned, but its supposed missions are trumpeted throughout, and it WAS made as a plug.) So here, we get Sterling Hayden as the embodiment of everything lefties like Serling hated: militarism, isolationism (oddly enough), nuclear weapons,individualism, racism...fill in the blanks. There's even a little kid with a pretend gun, in case you didn't get the message about violence. The dialog is on par with Serling's other politically-motivated scripts, pretentiously poetic and deadly serious.

The fact that I gave it any stars at all reflects the high quality of the production and the acting. The cast does all it can with the material, and the set decoration and lighting are top-notch. Even the print itself is pristine, sharp and clear as the old TZ shows. Henry Mancini wrote the score, although the lovely tune "Carol for Another Christmas," which appears on his Christmas album, doesn't seem to show up in the movie that shares its name. For Serling fans, this is something to sit through just to say you did it. For others, except the most wide-eyed, naive, hopey-changers who believe (as the script and our current president repeats often) that talking is the solution to everything, it's a dull, wordy Dickensian dud.
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Time capsule from the swinging 60s
8 September 2012
Rowan and Martin's "Laugh-In" was one of the cultural icons of the late 1960s, the "don't-miss" show if you wanted to be considered cool at the water cooler (or the playground, in my case). I never saw this movie when it was released. My parents would have found it scandalous. These days, it's much tamer than the majority of prime-time comedy shows, even those for "family viewing." It opens with a funny stand-up routine by Dan and Dick, commenting on the credit roll. This is the closest the movie gets to capturing the spirit of the TV show, and R&M are the ONLY cast members from the series to appear. So it's not really a "Laugh-In" movie; as others have pointed out, it's more like an Abbott and Costello monster film, or a racy episode of "Scooby-Doo." The plot is paper-thin, but that's OK, because the screen is always brimming with 60s goodness, especially in the forms of Carol Lynley and Julie Newmar. How can you miss with character actors like Mildred Natwick, Fritz Weaver, David Hurst, Dana Elcar, and 60s TV staples Leon Askin (Hogan's Heroes) and Robert Reed (Brady Bunch)? The ending has a Pythonic twist to it (a few years before 'Holy Grail'), with a funny version of the "who shot the gun" film cliché.

All in all, this is probably a film that only veterans of the 60s will enjoy. It's mindless, but an entertaining way to spend an evening.
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Nightwatching (2007)
Pretentious, blustery eye candy
8 September 2012
This was my introduction to the work of Greenaway, and will likely be my last foray into his world. I watched this film because I'm an art lover and enjoy a good mystery. The taglines for this seemingly endless bit of cinematic self-indulgence seemed to indicate that it was a clever murder mystery involving Rembrandt's "Night Watch." If you stay awake, you may actually see about 30 minutes of material related to that plot line. The rest is beautifully-composed, impeccably-lit, lushly-costumed twaddle.

Greenaway takes us from one beautiful shot to the next, giving us many reasons to admire his visual sense, while we scratch our heads wondering why he can't seem to get a plot going. He manages to cram a lot of sex and vulgarity into the story, for whatever reason, but little insight into the "real" Rembrandt or his art. I'm tempted to watch his documentary "J'Accuse," which theoretically delves more into the artistic side of this story, but I'm afraid that I'll just waste two more hours being lulled to sleep by "l'hauteur de l'auteur."
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New Tricks: The Truth Is Out There (2009)
Season 6, Episode 2
An episode out of character with the series
14 August 2012
I was not surprised to see that the writer and director of this episode had also been involved in the series MI-5. It's full of the same kind of anti-American paranoia that is typical of the other series. Tiresome, worn-out plot elements include sinister American military men, CIA cover-ups, and Guantanamo Bay. This is a much heavier episode than usual, and is very much out of character with the rest of the series. I hope this is only an aberration, and not a sign of things to come.

It also has one of the worst endings of any episode in the series. We are left believing that the CIA has managed to put a stop to the investigation and has bribed or threatened anyone who could assist the UCOS team. It's just another symptom of the anti-American sentiment that is so rampant at the BBC.
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Glorious 39 (2009)
Fine film at first, that fizzes flat at the finale
13 August 2012
As others have mentioned, this film begins as a Hitchcockian thriller, in which an innocent party becomes privy to information that powerful people would rather keep quiet. (Surprisingly, unlike most British political thrillers, the villains are pacifist lefties.) The writer/director builds the suspense by keeping us in the dark about who the bad guys are, and putting the main character in more and more peril. But the plot gets tiresome when we start getting red herrings about whether the main character is telling the truth or hallucinating; and the denouement is unfulfilling and not slightly illogical. I was REALLY enjoying this film until it started to unravel about 3/4 through.
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Moog (2004)
For Moogaholics only
22 June 2012
I was captivated by Moog synthesizers at age 12, when "Switched On Bach" was released. I've read many things by and about Bob Moog over the years, and was looking forward to seeing this documentary. But sadly, it's a missed opportunity. First of all, the video quality looks like an 8mm home movie from the 1970s, rather than a 2004 production. Secondly, it's very amateurishly done. For instance, when you have Bernie Worrell, Rick Wakeman, and Moog together to talk about synths, do you think you could possibly pull them into a quiet room, instead of holding a 10-minute interview in a busy hallway with so much background noise that the voices are hardly audible? There are interesting bits here, including archive footage of the Moog assembly line and Gershon "Popcorn" Kingsley with his Moog Quartet. But there's a lot of BAD synth music too, and poor visuals. If you're a die-hard Moog fan like myself, you'll put up with it. If you're not, skip it.
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The IT Crowd: The Work Outing (2007)
Season 2, Episode 1
One of the best sitcom episodes of all time
15 April 2012
Besides being the best IT CROWD episode of the series, I think that "The Work Outing" stands alongside some of the best sitcom half-hours of TV history.

The first series had established the groundwork of the three main characters, but had confined them to their workspace. But writer/director Graham Linehan opens up this season two premiere by "opening up" the physical space and taking his team to a theatre for the performance of "Gay: The Musical." The bits of the musical that we're allowed to see contain the wackiest songs since "Elephant!" (from "The Tall Guy") or "Springtime for Hitler" (from "The Producers"), but what's even funnier are the situations that Jen, Moss and Roy get involved in while on their "outing." The comic timing of this episode, and the clever way that Linehan builds the pay-offs to his gags, are priceless.

You might also want to pause your DVD on the theatre poster, where you'll see the names of many of the crew listed as part of the cast.

It's a bit more like "Seinfeld" than "The IT Crowd," but it's consistent with what we already know about the characters. I've watched this episode several times and never tire of it.
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Dizzy, dismal relic of the swinging 60s
28 March 2012
This film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, but no's the kind of "transgressional" film that critics love, those films that break taboos and mock tradition. (That mockery is very clear in "The Knack." One of the recurring narrative devices is using commentary by "old people" on the horrible behavior of the young. Many of these comments contain "unwitting" double entendres: oh, how clever we script-writers are!)

It's a flimsy plot about a man about town who can have any woman he wants (indeed, they line up outside his flat), and his downstairs neighbor, a naïve teacher who'd like to learn how to get women to like him. It's told in Lester's early style, with loads of quick cuts, odd angles, mannered dialog, etc. A new woman arrives on the scene and a sort of competition ensues for her "favors." The plot advances at a sluggish pace, bogged down by long set pieces, including a silly slapstick sequence in which three characters move a huge iron bed frame from a junkyard to the flat. Near the end, the suave ladykiller almost has his way with the girl, but she goes into a state of psychological shock in which she imagines she has been raped. This is actually played for COMEDY, and the word "rape" is used about 100 times in a painful denouement. Oh, how transgressive we film-makers are!

THE KNACK is one of those films that tried so hard to be hip and contemporary that today, it's almost impossible to watch without cringing. John Barry's score adds even more "nails-on-the-blackboard" ambiance with its relentless, shrill pop sounds. I'm sure this was all very shocking at the time, which seems to have been the main idea behind this regrettable relic from the swinging 60s.
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