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63 reviews in total 
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Near-peerless comedy masterpiece, 11 January 2010

This is the first series of "Black Adder" and the only truly great one. The scripts are masterpieces of TV comedy writing - one belly laugh after another, and all perfectly structured plotwise, while at the same time being bizarre, original and very intelligent, without resorting to the pointless unfunny absurdity of lower quality Python. There are too many highlights to single out any particular episode or scene. They are the finest thing Richard Curtis or Rowan Atkinson would ever write. For me the first series was right up there in the pantheon just behind the Young Ones (my gold standard of TV comedy) and ahead of Fawlty Towers. It made me understand for the first time why Rowan Atkinson was so admired as a comic actor. I still laugh when I remember his Earl of Doncaster impersonation or the way he said "Hello peasant!" The supporting cast is also outstanding, especially Brian Blessed, Rik Mayall, Frank Finlay and Jim Broadbent as the show-stealing Spanish translator. Their acting considerably enhances the jokes. In fact there is not a dud performance in the whole series, helped no doubt by the absence of Fry and Laurie.

The usual and irrelevant complaint about the first series is that the character of Edmund is contemptible, stupid and weedy rather than strong, clever and sarcastic. But the original Edmund is for laughing at, rather than laughing with. The former category of comic characters is invariably much funnier, while the latter is the domain of unfunny standup comedians desperately trying to be loved. Perhaps having a strong, admirable lead character gives the audience somebody to identify with rather than mock and deprecate, but I struggle to understand why that is desirable in a comedy. I never could understand why Ben Elton's sub-Carry On humour in the later series was more highly regarded by some. Perhaps it is because the later series had a louder laugh track?

Although the budget may have been considered exorbitant, it allowed for much more variety in the type and setting of the jokes than the later studio bound, cheap-looking and visually tedious series. The large budget wasn't wasted, but used to good comic effect, especially in crowd scenes like the witch trial. The opening theme is perhaps the grandest, funniest and catchiest original theme song ever heard in a TV comedy. We may never see television comedy with such high production standards ever again, so enjoy this one. It is one of the few comedies that bear repeated viewing.

31 out of 61 people found the following review useful:
Drawn out kitchen sink soapie, 2 January 2010

Let's face it, John Lennon is interesting because he was a member of and a major songwriter for the Beatles. Most of his interesting non-musical experiences happened as a consequence of his Beatles membership. For some reason this film decides that all of that is less important and interesting than his relationship with his aunt and mother during his late teens. The founding of the Quarrymen and Beatles is just a minor subplot. We don't even get to their Hamburg experiences.

Instead what we get is a humdrum kitchen sink soapie that leaves you wanting less. Its main dramatic focus is the belated revelation of how John Lennon's stern aunt became his guardian even though his more attitudinally compatible mother lived around the corner. This is all explained in one scene, having been previously hinted at a few times in dream sequences. The rest of this overlong film is mainly padded out with tedious scenes of banal domesticity portraying John's rebelliousness, his mother's immaturity and flightiness, and his prim aunt's strictness. There's a bit of teenage truancy, mild sexual encounters and what passed for teenage hijinks in the 1950's, again quite dull. There are a few scenes hinting at his burgeoning interest in rock and roll and growing musical skill, but this is portrayed in an uninteresting manner and is mainly towards the end. If banal kitchen sink soapies are for you then you might like this movie, but it has little to do with John Lennon the musical icon. It is almost false advertising to use his name.

There were some interesting aspects of Lennon's life during this time, such as his art school experiences, his manipulative pursuit of Cynthia, his compulsive mocking of the physically flawed and the early struggles to get gigs. However all this is left out of the film. I suspect many of this film's flaws come from the film being based on a single memoir by one person who knew only one aspect of the subject's life. This is a common flaw with celebrity memoirs and biopics, but it's an especially major flaw when the memoir deals one of the least interesting aspects of one of the least interesting periods in his life.

As for the implementation aspects of a flawed concept, the film has an overall slightly cheap low budget look, although the acting is adequate. It's a little jarring though that they use a handsome actor to play Lennon and an ugly actor to play McCartney. Kristin Scott-Thomas is surprisingly convincing despite playing against type in an unglamorous role.

A flawed but occasionally brilliant landmark, 31 December 2009

This film was a stylistic, cultural and commercial breakthrough, the first hugely profitable Australian film in decades, and the start of the revival of the Australian film industry. The humour was utterly non-PC and outrageously crude for its day. At last the hideous ocker in England was portrayed on film in all his drunken ribald glory.

However time has not been kind to it. Some of the individual jokes are still hysterically funny, such as Spike Milligan's introduction to the hotel, the Indian aphrodisiacs, and Delamphrey's attempts at psychoanalysis. Other jokes have worn thin though having been adopted by the culture at large (e.g. the largely invented Australian slang) or use of similar jokes by other comedians. Much of the humour doesn't go beyond simply using the crude invented slang in conversation. Today it isn't particularly outrageous or funny. The purportedly stereotypical depictions of English snobbery and Australian crudity are too extreme and grotesque even for a comedy, and further detract from the effectiveness of the comedy.

Another major flaw is structural. "The Adventures of Barry Mackenzie" and its main character is based on a series of self-contained comic strips. A movie on the other hand is built around scenes of protracted dialogue, development within a scene, and development of the narrative across scenes. Indeed Humphries himself has stated he didn't believe his comic strips could be adapted for film for this very reason. As a result the film is highly episodic, with some very tendentious, unfunny and laboured links written to string the episodes together. This isn't helped by the fact that Humphries is essentially a solo performer whose stock-in-trade is the self-contained one-liner. He usually has a relatively brief setup (if any) leading to his jokes in stage performances. In consequence the dialogue is often stilted and unnatural, clumsily and unfunnily targetted towards the recitation of slang expressions or the delivery of some other self-contained comic idea. I don't normally criticise comedies for flaws in structure or logic because they are essentially vehicles for jokes, but in this case these flaws are distractingly obvious and jarring, and the jokes aren't funny enough to prevent the viewer noticing.

Still, the funniest of the jokes are classics, and overall it remains enjoyable. The sequel is funnier though, perhaps because it resolves (but only partially) some of the original's flaws.

On a historical note, the opening shot shows the Hegarty's private mini-ferry approaching the Luna Park pontoon wharf, which many Sydneysiders would fondly remember but neither of which now exist.

14 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Very good, but with the usual flaws, 25 July 2009

As a hardcore fan, I really enjoyed this Joy Division doco more than I expected. Given that they were a shortlived band from a provincial area, and had only achieved up-and-coming status at the time of their demise, any documentary maker must face the challenge of the severe lack of video footage of the band, and poor quality of what is available, further exacerbated by the death, and hence unavailability for interview, of some of the key players viz Curtis, Hannett & Gretton. What's more, their active years coincided with Manchester's large-scale redevelopment, hence their old haunts have long since been torn down and replaced. Offset against this is the newfound openness of the remaining players to giving honest and full answers in interviews. They had previously been very reticent, particularly about Curtis whom they professed to be sick of discussing as they tried to establish New Order independent of the Joy Division legacy.

Overall, Gee rises to the challenge brilliantly. Gee's solution was to use extensive interviews with remaining members, brief interviews of many of the bit players, and waffling from some intellectuals explaining the band as being products of their time and place. This is combined with general video footage of 1970's Manchester, snippets of the limited available TV & gig footage, arty stills of the band taken mainly by Anton Corbijn with discussion of the photos' backgrounds, stills showing external shots of the band's old haunts then and now (the "Places that are no longer there" series), and the odd audio recording (e.g. Ian's hypnosis tapes, John Peel getting the speed wrong playing "Atmosphere") with oscilloscope visuals. The briefness of the video snippets used and the snappy editing successfully prevents the viewer noticing the paucity of the source material. Though we are constantly made aware that we are discussing a time and place and singer that are long gone, it all seems appropriate given that their music was mainly about loss.

Highlights included seeing the decaying 1970's Manchester which so inspired and suited their music. It was great to see pictures of the venues I'd only read about, even if they were old stills. There were few truly new facts for the Joy Division anorak, but it did give a sense of time and place and mood to known facts, and put faces and personalities to names. It was fascinating to hear Bernard's detailed account of Ian's first seizure, and the band's reactions to hearing of Ian's suicide first-hand. They are typical northerner artists, in that their brilliant, highly emotional music is created by remarkably dour people, and their sense of humour is cringeworthy. Though the band find their own anecdotes hilarious, Gee edited most of them into an incomprehensible mish-mash to hide how dull and unfunny they were. Lindsay Reade and Lesley Gilbert are remarkably beautiful for fiftysomethings, while the young Annik Honoré is much less pretty than her hold on Ian would suggest. She is overly melodramatic in interviews. Genesis C_Ornflakes is an even bigger freak now than in his Gristle days, and his stories lack credibility.

On the negative side, the intellectuals and their thesis-pushing grated. Joy Division were neither commenting on nor a product of an intellectual notion of "modernity". They were a bunch of rather ordinary Mancunians dreaming of a more exciting life than their dead-end jobs, who happened to be musical geniuses and with a singer/lyricist obsessed by darkly melodramatic bands like the Velvet Underground and the Doors. Nor were they anti-Thatcherites with revolutionary sympathies as the intellectuals claim. The Thatcher government took power in May 1979, whereas punk and post-punk emerged under the previous Labour government. As his wife and bandmates revealed elsewhere, Curtis himself was an ardent Tory with robustly "traditional" views on women and immigrants, while Stephen Morris has said he didn't vote in the first election for which he was old enough through lack of interest.

47 out of 74 people found the following review useful:
The reason cinema was invented, 22 June 2009

Having previously seen "Date Movie" and "Epic Movie" (also by these gentlemen) and "Plan 9 From Outer Space" (by the equally talented Edward Woodward) I was gasping and sweating and feeling my anus slacken with anticipation when I heard this movie was going to be released. I was even more delighted when I saw the trailer. All too often comedy movie trailers contain all the best jokes, leaving nothing funny for the actual movie. I knew this movie was going to be great when I saw the trailer and there wasn't ONE FUNNY BIT IN IT!!!!! Clearly these were film makers who did not need to advertise their greatness, as they could rely on their genius to advertise itself. I knew we were going to experience a comedy masterpiece on par with "Diff'rent Strokes", "Australia's Funniest Home Videos" or Michael Jackson's cosmetic surgery.

I set up camp outside the box office 2 days before tickets went on sale to be sure we got the first tickets accompanied, after a sound thrashing, by my wife and my little boy. For two days and nights we struggled on that lonely sidewalk against hunger and thirst and heat and exposure, and towards the end we had to resort to drinking our own urine. But it was worth it, because when "Meet the Spartans" finally opened we were the only people in the cinema.

And what a movie it was! My own memories are a little hazy given the addled state I was in after two days in the street. For my own part, I was laughing and hollering too much at the little purple animals floating around in the cinema to notice much of the movie. I do remember bits of the trailer getting repeated over and over again, but that must have been the hallucinations as well. However I do remember my wife and my little boy found it so funny they were too astonished to laugh. After a while the exertions of the previous 2 days took their toll and they fell asleep with their precious heads lolling into my unwashed groin. But shoot, I wasn't complaining :-) All in all it was probably the greatest day of my life, and perhaps anyone's life.

I was delighted to learn that there was a "Meet the Spartans 2". If there was one film crying out for a sequel, it must surely be this one. As with "Weekend at Bernie's", you just got the feeling that one movie was not enough to fully explore the vast richness of ideas on display. One can only hope it will produce more sequels than the Star Wars and the Police Academy series combined.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
John Waters eat your heart out, 25 August 2008

"It's such a fine line between clever and stupid" goes the immortal line from Spinal Tap, and this film reinforces that message. The direction and cinematography and editing are as look-at-me slick, stylish and gimmicky as the most 80's of music videos. But oh my goodness the plot. I came to this comments board after seeing the film hoping, once my laughter had subsided, to make the obvious "drugs are bad m'kay" jokes, mock the ludicrous plot, and point out that this film outdoes Reefer Madness for camp, self-parodying counterproductive hyperbole. But I see plenty of others have beaten me to the punch in stating the obvious. This film is the Monty Python "Salad Days" skit writ large. Try drugs, and you will end up getting your infected arm amputated, your game-show-addicted mother will get shock treatment in a loony bin after trying to slim down to fit into her red dress, and funniest of all, your white girlfriend will be forced to fellate over-endowed black men and have foreign objects inserted into her anus at orgies in exchange for drugs. I could almost visualise John Waters and Ed Wood and William S. Burroughs making up this plot over a few cones of wacky tabbacky as they laughed and masturbated themselves silly. Except that they would have cast Divine as both the mother and girlfriend if they had been directing, and they would have called it something like "Naked Flamingoes from Outer Space" rather than given it the pretentious title that it actually had. And they wouldn't have taken it all quite so seriously. Watching this film, I honestly expected a Ron Jeremy cameo at any minute. The whole plot sounds like one of his Catskills routines, complete with long-suffering Jewish mothers doting on their disappointing sons. How they managed to avoid having Ellen Burstyn say "You coulda been a doctor like that nice Dr Spencer" I'll never know.

All that said, despite the clichés and the pretentiousness and the ludicrous, heavy-handed, moralising, didactic plot, the film has its merits. I wasn't overly bored, the direction was OK, if a little hammy, and the acting was adequate, if a little hammy. Still, I don't understand the rating of 8.5/10 and the rave reviews. That puts it higher than "2001: A Space Odyssey", which is even more ludicrous than the plot.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Waiting for GTO, 20 July 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Some of the last century's most celebrated works of art explored existentialist themes, featuring characters who waste their entire lives on repetitive, futile trivia, waiting in vain for some external redemption, even as they throw away opportunities to escape their rut. Dino Buzzati's novel "Desert of the Tartars", the most affecting novel I have read, was the standout in the literary field, and was made into a superb film. "Waiting for Godot" was the most celebrated theatrical example. But for me, the standout film in the genre is "Two Lane Blacktop". While the "Desert of the Tartars" film and Antonioni's Blacktop ripoff "The Passenger" were excellent, they, like the above-mentioned novel and play, were self-consciously artsy, the characters and situations artificial and fantastic. "Two Lane Blacktop" by contrast is believable & unpretentious, yet still an intelligent masterpiece. You can imagine such characters really could exist. Some people seem to think it's all about cars and drag racing, or is plot less. But as Hellman pointed out, the plot is entirely in the subtext. The Tennessee hitchhiker summed up the movie's true theme when belittling GTO's fantasies: "It's not important. What we got: 30…40 years?" Cars bore me, but I watched this 3 times in a row.

Like their cars, the nomadic main characters have stripped their lives of anything that might slow them down - relationships, non-automotive possessions, permanent homes, even names and identities beyond their automotive roles. Unconcerned with external appearances, they travel hundreds of miles slowly to drive a quarter-mile quickly, to make just enough money to continue the cycle. "How much bread we got?" from Driver elicits the reply "300 racing bread, 20 to spend" from Mechanic, which sums up their priorities. Their talk is similarly minimal, and what little they say concerns cars and racing. When Mechanic needs to communicate a single, complete sentence, he asks Driver to stop the car because "it's gonna take a long time". The only variance in their conversation topics (when Driver tells Girl of the even more minimal lifestyle of cicadas) is revealed by Hellman in his commentary to be an improvisation, prompted by excessive cicada noise during filming. No future, no past, on a road to nowhere, going nowhere fast - all clichés, but the boys live them out literally.

The immaculately groomed GTO (both man and car) picks up hitchhikers to inflict on them his self-aggrandizing life story, a different one each time. "Image and performance, that's what it's all about" he says, but that's another lie, and everyone see through and tires of him immediately. His lies invariably fail to win the respect he craves, so he tells more. The immaculate presentation conceals a leaky carburetor, personal failure and alcoholism. The one time GTO tries to tell the truth about himself, Driver stops him with "I don't wanna hear about it. It's not my problem." to maintain the context-free eternal present. Life on the road is about always leaving and never arriving. Similarly the Girl jumps wordlessly into their lives, jumps from man to man, then ends the movie by yet again leaving wordlessly with yet another nomad, symbolically dropping her baggage as she does so.

The cross-country race promises a break in the Sisyphean lives of the characters, with a large prize to the winner. They all tell the Girl insincere fantasies of going to Florida and beyond after winning to keep her around. But no sooner does the race start than both sides lose interest in achieving any real goal. "It doesn't interest me to be 500 miles ahead" says Driver, and Mechanic fixes their rival's carburetor trouble. When GTO races ahead with the Girl overnight while the boys are distracted earning cash, he slows to a crawl by next morning, and the boys easily catch up. Yet they turn back after going past him, and talk to him & Girl of picking up spares in Ohio instead of racing to Washington. Both parties stop when they see each other's cars parked at cafés. The only important thing to the boys is to impress upon others their automotive superiority, not earning money that might change their lifestyles.

The move was cut down from 3½ hours and it shows, in that there's not a single redundant scene in the 102 minutes of this ostensibly slow and plot less movie. The acting is flawless, apart from Laurie Bird, which is surprising given how few professional actors were used. Taylor especially is utterly convincing with his brooding, charismatic man-on-a-mission intensity. Bird (who suicided at 25) is suitably sulky and aloof, but her delivery is unconvincingly wooden.

Much as Joseph Conrad said of sailors, through their perpetual motion and dynamic impermanence the characters lives never change. Every road, drag strip, motel, conversation, gas station and roadside café is essentially the same. The film's final dialogue ends with GTO's biggest lie, closing with: "Those satisfactions are permanent". Nothing, least of all satisfaction, is permanent for these characters. The film's celebrated finale is perfect - burnout is the only possible exit from their locked-groove lifestyles.

6 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Sequel to "Loose Schoolgirls", 18 August 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I enjoyed this sequel to "Loose Schoolgirls", but not as much as the original. The girls have graduated from Saint Ool's Catholic Girls School and are now at Caldwell University. Strangely, Father Hedgehog has also left the school and gone with them as their chaplain, and not surprisingly he is as strict and depraved as ever. The scene in the college's automobile workshop with Diggler's hermaphroditic grandmother has to be seen to be believed - they actually manage to use up an entire 4L bottle of motor oil just during the backwood section. Compared with its predecessor, director St Aubin plays up the comedy aspects. I was rolling on the floor laughing and pleasuring myself in the section where Fatima goes down on the crucified pig. The bit where Patrice bites off Miranda's nipples because she thought they were Smarties was also very funny. All in all, while not as good as the original, I have to say that Jemma Clarxxxon and Trixxxi Vixxxen look as enticing as ever, and I'll certainly be checking out their other films.

Fight Club (1999)
0 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Another Donnie Darko, 22 July 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's either this or Casablanca or Donnie Darko as the most overrated American film ever, and just behind Donnie Darko as the most pretentious. I had heard about the cult status of this film, and the book it was based on, years before I saw it, though what little of the plot I knew about didn't make it seem terribly interesting. Sure enough, it wasn't.

This movie gives pretentiousness an even worse name than it already had. It has the anarchic nihilism of an old Etonian in a punk outfit, the laughs of a Bob Hope routine, the outrageous pranks of South Park's Captain Kaos, the acting subtlety of an amateur pantomime, the philosophical depth of a fortune cookie, and the coherence of a William S. Burroughs cutup.

And then there's the "plot". It seems to consist of a number of separate unrelated ideas which are strung together into what is supposed to be a story, but with no obvious attempt at logical integration. A man is dissatisfied with his humdrum life. So of course he attends group therapy sessions for conditions he doesn't have. Then he meets his alter ego, Tyler Durden, who of course devotes his life to pulling unfunny satirical pranks. Then, naturally, they start fistfights with each other up for thrills. Witnesses see the obvious appeal of these fistfights and start joining in to form a secret nationwide movement. The movement understandably turns into an anti-consumerist terrorist cult financed by selling home-made soap. Finally Tyler Durden is revealed to be the protagonist's alternative personality whom the protagonist starts to fear and dislike, so he kills off his imaginary friend by shooting himself in the head, while managing to survive the injury himself. I kid you not, that is this film's pathetic excuse for a plot. Perhaps this is really just a clever satirical comment on the arbitrary nonsensical plots of Hollywood action movies. But that wouldn't make it any less lame.

As if this nonsensical plot isn't tedious enough, the film-makers drag out its exposition, so that it has the length and pace of an Antonioni movie, despite the relentless action. It feels even longer than its already excessive 2 hours plus.

I only rated it 3/10 because I have seen worse movies that I still gave 2/10. It probably deserves less. I realise that many somehow think this film is amazing. If so, it only proves that we have created a future where everything is amazing for 15 minutes.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Aspiring Ozymandiases, 28 January 2007

This doco is a wonderful demotivator for anyone who wants to make an independent film. It follows the fortunes of three small aspiring American independent film-makers as they try to make their dreams of creating their first films a reality. The films are "Personal Foul", "Only a Buck" and "Beirut: The Last Home Movie". The film-makers work their guts out and put a great deal of their own money and time on the line. They face endless wearying troubles trying to convince distributors to carry their film, many of whom resemble divorce lawyers in the way they manipulate and exploit their clients' hopes. Needless to say all three film-makers fail to become stars after losing their shirts. Of the three, only Jannifer Fox ever made another film, and that wasn't until 12 years later.

Gerry Cook was the most upbeat and happy of the trio, and his comedy film seems to have got a good reception, even if he did return straight back to obscurity. The intense and serious Jennifer Fox took the endless discouragements to heart, but it didn't seem to faze her determination to get her film released. With her somewhat slurred speech, she didn't come across as very bright in this doco, but maybe she was just tired.

The saddest of the trio was Ted Lichtenfeld. His sad drama about a loser teacher seemed to mirror his own life vis-a-vis this movie. He seems to have lost a fortune on his movie. This doco climaxes with Lichtenfeld securing a premiere of his movie in Rockford, Illinois, the town where it was filmed, at a small and unglamorous suburban cinema. After the screening, the doco makers interview some of the old folks who had been persuaded to see "Personal Foul". Their responses were hilariously memorable, and were the motivation for me to review this doco. "How did you like like the film?" was the question put to one old lady. She tried to be kind, but her facial expression and hesitant tone of voice gave away her true feelings that she had unpleasantly wasted two hours of her limited remaining time on this earth. When asked what she liked about the film she replied, in one of the great examples of damning with faint praise, that it was good to see Rockford in a movie. Another unexcited film-goer expressed the same hilariously limp sentiment. Lichtenfeld's doleful insistence at the end that it was all worth it and that he was satisfied with what he had done rang very hollow indeed, like he was desperately trying to convince himself.

This wasn't a riveting doco, but if you can laugh at other peoples' misfortunes and shattered dreams, you may get something out of it.

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