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Family Guy (1999)
Still too soon to know
Family Guy has just come over to England, aired in Rupert (Fox) Murdoch's Sky satellite service (like The Simpsons, The PJs, King of the Hill and Futurama before it). It's being aired straight after the much-hyped (and not bad at all) Futurama, but it doesn't suffer in comparison to Groening's new opus; in fact, given the weight of expectation on the "Simpsons in Space" it's started off better. Creator Seth MacFarlane (only 25, doesn't it make you sick?) has diligently combined several successful formats - dopey but loveable Homer-type dad, over-the-top Dr Evil-type villain (except in nappies), wiser-than-his owner dog (as in Wallace and Gromit, a massive UK claymation success less well received in the States). But characters are nothing without writing, and where Family Guy scores high is the rapidfire joke quotient - and in particular the TV references; nearly a dozen in the second show alone, from witty skits of NYPD Blue, Roadrunner and Scooby Doo to quick references to such TV tittletattle as Rosie O'Donnell's adoption of a child. Maybe MacFarlane has set off at too high a pace and the series will lag, but in the meantime, buckle up your seatbelt and enjoy intelligent TV for the short attention-span generation.
The Secret Pact (2001)
It's tough being a kid sometimes. Especially when you watch a hit-man murder both your parents in front of you in cold blood. So you're put on the Witness Protection Program. You find a friend, and it seems like maybe this world ain't so bad after all. Then it turns out that your new buddy works for your parents' killer. It all adds up to a tragic life for one kid, meaning we get to sit and watch a passable thriller for two hours.
Irish American story
Matthew Settle portrays an Irish American involved in dodgy stuff in New York. Eventually, the unloving attentions of a violent gang (is there any other kind?) persuades him to leave the girlfriend behind and legs it out West. Funnily enough, he faces similar problems there too. So is he a bad apple from the Big Apple? Course not, he's misunderstood. Is this a stereotyping drama? To an extent. Should you watch it? Depends whether you have anything more pressing to do, like ironing the carpet. There again, you could watch it to see what Linda Kozlowski gets up to when hubby Paul Hogan's not around.
The Royle Family (1998)
Hilarious minimalist working-class laughs
An excellent cast given a superb script creates a minor comedy gem. Set in the downtrodden post-industrial north of England, the action rarely strays outside the living room of the titular wisecracking family, as tightwad patriarch Jim Royle (Ricky Tomlinson) holds court, kept in check by long-suffering wife Barbara (Sue Johnston, who had previously played Tomlinson's wife in the soap Brookside) and ordering around young son Antony (the remarkably assured debutant Ralf Little). The storyline of the first series revolves around the impending marriage of daughter Denise (Caroline Aherne) to her boyfriend Dave (Craig Cash), but the show is more about one-liners and character interplay than plotline; writers Aherne, Cash and Henry Normal keep the gags coming relentlessly as the action meanders in real time. A second series is in the works.
A Father for Brittany (1998)
Can a man adopt?
Andrew McCarthy pays the bills as a grieving widower who wishes to adopt a poor little baby girl. Trouble is, The Man (ie the unfeeling authorities) don't fancy letting a man look after a child on his own. Hey, it's the 90s, dudes. Lighten up.
The Silence of Adultery (1995)
The plot goes like this. A man takes his autistic child to an unconventional new therapy centre. There he finds a doctor who wants an affair with him, and so they have one. This doesn't help the therapist's already shaky marriage. I don't see why I should bother giving you a critical analysis of a film this bad. It's hackwork from a man who's directed 40 straight-to-cable films in ten years. It was probably designed by committee around the title; they then thought, let's make the woman the sharky marriage-wrecker, and let's have autism in there for the sake of cheap sentimentality.
As if you couldn't guess
An attempt at a female buddy-movie. Three about-to-be-newlywed chums are taken to Australia for a photoshoot; there, things transpire, skeletons emerge from closets, ghosts from the past come back for a haunting, and the vampires who suck the blood of love seem set to transform the impending marriages into the undead. Which is all you'd expect from a film helmed by TV-series director Gwen Arner, with the three leads being Connie Sellecca (cable-movie stalwart), Shawnee Smith (who lives for roles in Stephen King adaptations) and Twiggy (famous for nothing other than being thin thirty years ago).
Blind Witness (1989)
You know the film Mute Witness, a cracking mix of comedy and thriller in which a mute woman witnesses a snuff-movie murder? Well, that's a good film. This similarly-titled shambles isn't. What happens is, blind woman Victoria Principal (yes, the one from Dallas) suffers from having her home broken into and her husband murdered. She vows revenge, as you do, but get this: the baddies mean to kill her too. And that's supposed to be a twist, as if they wouldn't kill her anyway when they realise she's on their tail. Luckily, she gets a bit of help from nice policemen Paul (American Graffiti) Le Mat and Matt (Grace Under Fire) Clark, who probably shudder when they remember this waste of celluloid.
Sex with the Stars (1980)
No stars, in every sense
Typically witless sex comedy. Plot? A magazine astrologer is put under pressure by his vulgar American publisher to bed women of each different star sign in order to spice up his flagging column. Fill in the blanks.
Sunset Beat (1990)
Only one reason this is on...
This is a standard adventure in which the protagonists are crime-fighters, the bad guy is an extortionist and of course he's psychotic. Some of the 'stars', such as Michael Deluise, Markus Flanagan and Erik King, you may never have heard of, and quite right too; however, someone else featuring in this film is George Timothy Clooney, two years after being attacked by killer tomatoes and four years before he started dressing in green smocks, and his subsequent (and unrelated) rise to fame is the only reason this nonsense is still being aired today.