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bob the moo

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S2: Satisfyingly dark and engaging, with great visual design. Tries too hard to be edgy at times., 23 October 2016

The first season of this show took me by surprise; I had known absolutely nothing about it and was drawn in very quickly. Despite this I didn't jump into the second (and final) season until very recently. Perhaps it was a worry that it would not be as good now I knew the style, or that there would be no more after this. The second season opens by jumping back to the start of the Network and the development of the virus. In some ways it is a bold move because it throws us away from the cliffhanger of the previous season, while building more around characters who had been higher level rather than people. It also gives good space to the justification of the idea, as well as showing the level of ruthlessness even in those early stages.

The remainder of the season gets the old gang back together again, although with changed motives and allegiances. It continues the journey towards release of the virus, and does so with the same style, cruelty, violence, and impact. At times some of the scenes are trying a bit too hard to shock, and are only there to do so, but otherwise it wears its dark tone very well. The visual design is striking – with its heavy use of primary colors in large blocks providing a clash with the darkness of the plot and action. It builds its conspiracy well, and it sells its ideas forcefully so that you don't really question it too much. The writing is mostly very good, and there are some very memorable scenes which produce a sense of dread in the ordinary, or that lead to sudden callousness.

I would have liked a third season to bring it to a close, but then on the other hand it would have risked being a rerun of this thread but with a different Mr. Rabbit. Instead I like to think that the show is driven by the core idea of a 'solution', and that the idea doesn't get wiped out even if other things do. Two very strong seasons here – perhaps it is better to have it perfectly contained in just these 2 seasons.

Weiner (2016)
Entertainingly spectacle but doesn't manage to find a bigger point, 23 October 2016

There can be few in the western world who don't know the morality tale of Anthony Weiner – the politician married to a close aide of the Clintons, who fell from grace when he posted a shot of his underwear to Twitter instead of sending a direct message. In this film he allowed a fly-on-the-wall film crew to follow him as he relaunched his career with a run to be mayor of New York. Of course, we all know that the scandal never truly left him, and in the end it came back worse as it transpired that he never shook of his addiction to flirting and sexting online.

To follow the tawdry tale in the papers is one thing, but to do so from the inside makes for a different experience. The film becomes an interesting cringe-inducing spectacle as a result, which makes you marvel at the sheer character of Weiner – at times he is narcissistic; or a great political showman; or a man with compulsion and self- control issues; or someone treated really unfairly by the media. Really he is all of these and the film lets us see that. As such it allows us to feel for him when he has to deal with endless personal questions (including O'Donnell's unprofessional 'what is wrong with you?') but at the same time it is impossible to look past how much he brings this on himself, and how he tried to lie his way out the first time, then thought he would never be caught again.

Around him the film lets us see other interesting characters. Huma Abedin perhaps is seen in a different light now that her involvement with the Clinton Foundation exec and 'pay for play' is a matter of public record, but here it is hard to watch her graceful attempts to weather the storm while being endlessly humiliated by her husband. The film doesn't question her motives for staying with him (political or love?) nor does it show us enough to draw a conclusion on that. Likewise the bunch of eager young staffers around him, all of whom appear to be bottling up frustrations the best they can – you get the feeling that this is as much about the Clinton's being a few degrees away, rather than a great belief in Weiner himself.

As an insider look at a tabloid scandal, it is 'entertaining' and engaging, with great editing to give it pace and impact. However it doesn't manage to connect to anything bigger than itself – which is a shame given the great opportunity that the access and timing gave them. At the end of the film even Weiner muses that the film will never be about more than the scandal, and he is right, they cannot get away from it. There are points to be made about the scandal- obsessed media, but yet since the film is doing this itself, that never totally flies; and it isn't smart enough to ever hold a mirror up to the audience and ask 'why do you find this interesting?'. This lack of a bigger point is a weakness in the film, but there is enough energy and content in the film to give the viewer plenty to mull over, even if the film doesn't seem able to do it itself.

Roundly poor, 23 October 2016

I have read the graphic novel from which this film comes, but it has been years and I did not bring anything to this film version other than the hope that it would be a good film. I also didn't care that it got an R-rating in the US; I cannot think of a film that was 'good' simply because it was graphic, and those excited that a franchise got such a rating are really missing the point. Anyway, watching the film was a serious disappointment. The first half was dull and lacking anything that really linked to the second half in a satisfying manner. I really do not care whether or not it is in the source material, for me it was more that it was dull and disconnected. The second half I the film proper and to be fair it is better, but not as good as it needed to be.

There is a real lack of grit and atmosphere in the delivery. For all the time spent with Batgirl, the film could have fleshed out dialogue, horrors, and conflict between the characters. Instead this felt truncated and lacking roots. For all the potential in the led two, there was little delivered but yet just enough to indicate what it could have been. It felt rushed, which may have been true because the film as a whole has a cheap feeling. The animation has little character or depth, and looked basic in both detail but also in movement. Searching online as to why, it seems that the animation was every 4 frames, which contributes to a choppy feel despite reducing cost. The voice work is good throughout, just a shame not to have a better product to deliver.

The Killing Joke had a lot of hype, most of which I ignored. Even with no preconceptions and reasonable expectations though, the film didn't deliver, and feels cheap, rushed, and poorly filled out.

Interesting even if it doesn't really recreate a time/place, and fumbles the link to the modern age, 23 October 2016

This documentary put me in mind of Rumble in the Jungle, the documentary about the fight of the same name; like that one, Best of Enemies looks at a staged conflict which had an impact on popular culture. In this case it was a series of televised debates between Vidal and Buckley – two men on polar political extremes. It was interesting to watch this in the run up to the 2016 Presidential Debate between Trump and Clinton (at the time of writing this, the first one will be in 2 days' time) because it hearkens back to a time where the discourse was a little more civil. It is also interesting to note that there is still an edge to their communication, with Vidal using snide insults (as is the liberal way), and Buckley using more direct language in a jokey way (as is the conservative way).

Not knowing anything about these debates, the film does a pretty good job of introducing the characters and their tensions, however it doesn't totally deliver in some key ways. Specifically it didn't bring out the period and the event as well as I would have liked; with Rumble in the Jungle you had a real sense of time/place, as well as the cultural importance of the event. With these debates that was not quite there; it didn't show enough of the debates to really explain why they were such an audience grabber. Likewise the film did not really link to its wider impact particularly well – a lot of this plays out under the credits, which felt weird considering that this was the moment of that shift.

As an event, and with its large characters, it still is an interesting and engaging film, but it doesn't feel like it captures the event or its cultural impact in as compelling a way as it could have done.

Engaging in the dignity it allows its subjects, 23 October 2016

I knew of the director of this film (Sean Dunne) from his film American Juggalo, which a depressingly frank observation on those at an ICP gathering. It was a film that was strong in the way that it didn't judge or narrate but just let the people speak for themselves. The approach is the same here as a small crew head onto the parking lots and public spaces of Florida to meet Floridians hanging around.

I've not been to Florida, but don't really have any desire to do so – not least because if there is a 'crazy thing happened' or 'hapless criminal' story in the news, it often seems to be from Florida. This film seems to have an eye for characters who fit that sort of mold, but it doesn't set out to make a joke of them or mock them for being oddballs (which, frankly, they all are). Instead it treats them with a dignity that they probably don't wholly deserve – an approach that makes the film more engaging as a result. It is also tragic though, and many of those featured certainly have substance abuse issues or mental health problems; so it is troubling to watch them potter away from camera muttering to themselves.

Technically the film is not particularly polished. This is partly understandable given the way it was made, but it does still have a good look to it. The presence of the boom in the shot is so consistent that some wag created an IMDb credit for it (although the pendant in me notes that it should be 'uncredited'). This is a little off putting, but it is the heart of the film which makes it worth seeing, and it is an engaging, depressing, and interesting experience.

Archer Vice: Keeps the strengths but not consistent enough in this rather unnecessary reboot, 23 October 2016

Much like the wonderful 'Always Sunny', the strength in Archer is not its plotting, but rather its selfish and colorful characters. So it was a strange decision then to not only reboot the series away from the spy business, but also to run all the episodes along a season-long thread. In some shows this is the best direction, but in this case I am not so sure it really worked. As a season-long narrative it didn't really compel, and as much as it provided a thread to follow, it remained the random moments and the call-backs, which still delivered the goods.

The consistency of the characters and their behavior is what makes the season work; the drug-trade thread perhaps provides a decent frame to it, but not too much more than that. The writing lacked the high hit rate of laughs of previous seasons, with the plotting taking more time, but it was still funny. The delivery of the voice cast is as good as ever, with the best lines well done. The return to the spy game suggested by the finale will hopefully see a return to the core of the show but without the baggage of the previous four seasons. This fifth season will be good enough to please fans, but not bring enough to justify this reboot continuing beyond the one run.

Juvenile (2016)
Stylish and with great proximity, 23 October 2016

This documentary goes inside a Serbian correctional facility for juveniles, although the way it does it is not to send in an interviewer but rather to send in the camera as a floating spirit. This approach is not so easy to pull off, as observing of course tends to change that which is being observed, however in this case it works very well. The resulting film is not a razor-sharp expose of anything, but it has a natural atmosphere which it complements with a stylish eye and presentation throughout. The sense of wasted time, small beef etc is there, but so too is a sense of people and hopes – albeit mostly downbeat and oppressed by the reality of their situation.

It feels a bit long due to this style, but it is still a memorable short which puts the viewer in a place surprisingly well.

Does what you expect but is on a good base, 23 October 2016

I remember seeing the first trailer for this film, which was all whizz-bang effects, silly stunts, and fast movement – it looked awful. The next trailer looked better, maybe because it had more context. Certainly watching the film the context and base helps cover for the film doing all the blockbuster stuff that you know it is going to do. What I mean is that it does have the feel of the original series in some small way. The focused planet-bound story, the look of the sets, the action of the characters, all has a familiarity and slightly older feel that doesn't come from the effects.

This and other base elements which work well do make it easier to enjoy the blockbuster nonsense. The fact that the plot has holes, and that the plot devices are often silly, doesn't matter as much because the film has a decent sense of humor without openly making fun of itself. Generally the cast go along with this, with a good mix of the serious and the dryly amusing. The core cast do well even if some of them really have very little to do; Boutella was a strong character, while Elba make for a good presence albeit in a lot of make-up.

In the end it all becomes special effects, rapid movement, and bang- for-buck; but it does do enough well enough outside of this that it makes it easier to get into it and go along for the ride.

S1: A little soapy at times, but does well by focusing on Sam/Al and constructing around that, not just the drama of the week – although also then doing that too, 18 September 2016

There is always a bit of trepidation when it comes to revisiting a show which you last watched in your childhood; often you remember stuff with overly affectionate memories. With Quantum Leap this was less the case, since I remember it as a weekly show on BBC2, and although I watched it each time, it was not something that really left a big mark on me. It is interesting to view it back with a slightly more critical eye, to see how the first season is constructed.

The starting point is very much Sam, Al, and the project. The main stories tend to be a little on the soapy side, and mostly they are strong enough to really make you care about the characters or their situation on a very deep level. It is wise then that Sam and Al are strong characters, because our engagement with them brings us into any specific story. This also explains some of the seemingly weaker decisions – eg the chance that Sam would leap close (and unrelated) to a previous (future) partner is unlikely, but it does help us engage with him (and is certainly more interesting than the story he actually is there for). There are some weaker episodes in terms of resolution (Piggy Sue is not funny enough as an idea to cover for it as the end of an episode which was otherwise a so-so romance). Mostly though it is fun enough.

The performances are likable even if a bit soft. Bakula is a good lead; likable and quite easy to watch. Meanwhile Stockwell is fun even if some of his non-PC mannerisms are a little dated now, and perhaps limit him as a character of fun. The always changing support cast are mostly pretty good, doing solid jobs with no time to develop a character. For sure it is broad perhaps, but they are background and at least they mostly avoid full-on cliché (although sometimes this is the goal, and it works). It never totally shakes off the soapy element of many of the stories, but it has good core focus to draw the viewer in, and is delivered with a good ear for humor and drama to make for easy entertainment with lots of potential.

S4: Still very good, but some familiar material and some that pushes the viewer away too hard and too long, 18 September 2016

Stewart Lee is very much an acquired taste, and I guess on his fourth season, the casual BBC2 viewer that he often speaks directly to are really all long gone. Perhaps this is why this season pushes harder at the viewer albeit in similar ways. His material is consistently centered around this character of self-reflection and self- loathing; so while the openings and titles suggest a specific theme, it is this element that is always in play. This does generally work, because it manifests itself in pointing out something else which was good, or challenging the audience for not liking something that was good. However, when it works best it is based off the back of something.

Mostly that is the case here, although too many times it is the material played for itself. Some of it does feel familiar (I am sure he used the 'don't applaud your own ability to remember something' bit before), but for me the weakness was that it worked so hard to push the viewer away. In the first seasons maybe this was targeted at the casual viewer, but in this fourth season (with none left) it does feel deliberately harsher as it aims for those people that normally like him. I am one of those, but in the end the 'list of food on a man' bit didn't work, and the breakdown surrounded by ghosts also didn't quite work.

Otherwise, I did find it another strong season. His bitterness and look at his own craft throughout makes it engaging on several levels, even if I do think this season is probably the weakest of four.

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